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Filling the blanks

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His house is empty. Not the ‘regular day’ kind of empty, when he walks through the door and he announces himself, just to remember that Audra is supposed to be out, in a charity event or even at the other side of the shore, filming her next big project. Not when he shouts her name and she’s sitting in the backyard or reading with her headphones on. Those times, he can tell she’s going to be there sooner or later. He never intended her to be an ‘all-American housewife’, who would wait for him with a homemade meal on the table and the happiest of smiles on her face —he knew whom he was marrying when he decided to propose, and he’s certain none of them could have taken that style of life— so it’s no big deal.

But today it’s different. Today he just got off from a plane and went through customs like he would do every time he would go out of the country, with the unavoidable idea that Audra wouldn’t come back to their home. A home that is no longer ‘Mr. and Mrs. Denbrough’s home’, but only his.

Now it’s all about him. People from Hollywood and New York and all the important cities will send Christmas cards to him alone. When producers and celebrity agents call, they will only need to talk to him. Contracts, bills to pay, postcards will only include his name, because there’s no need to another one. Because he doesn’t have anybody else.

It’s going to be hard. He knows it’s going to be hard. Reporters already know what happened —something involving a car accident during their improvised travel to Derry, a complete but somehow comforting lie— and they will be all over him in no time. Probably tomorrow. For a few days, he will have to sit down or stand up behind a thousand microphones, answering every uncomfortable question, lying to the faces of people who made him who he is, and accepting condolences for something that didn’t happen, forced to keep the secret for the rest of his life.

After the initial shock, everyone will start to forget. And he will forget, too. Maybe they’ll make him remember in a year or two, asking him to deliver a speech about her in a tribute, or wanting to find out, in interviews, how someone can be as strong as him when it comes to losing a beloved-one. But it will all be a blur. He will recall her red hair, her freckles, the feminine curves of her body, but not a single thing that she told him, or the sound of her voice, or the touch of her skin. It will feel like telling stories about a distant ancestor who he never got to know.

He already feels like he loves her less than he did when he left Derry. It will only take him three or four days to start to remember her like a forgotten high school girlfriend, and, to be frank, the thought isn’t that scary. Now her memory is interlocked with the memory of It and what It did to them. Bill doesn’t want to ever be capable of recalling it again. He wants to sleep his eight hours at night, he wants to be able to look at a paper boat or a sewer drain without feeling like crying… he wants to be left alone.

But he also wants her. Not only her red hair, her freckles or her shape. He wants the things she used to say, her voice, her skin. The warm presence of her body pressing up against his back when the winter became too much, her laugh lighting up the stunning emptiness of this haunted house, the sound of her shoes against the floor. He desperately needs all the details that proved Audra was there, was with him, was alive.

He can feel it. The unforgiving hand of oblivion taking her from his hold and into the darkness. Just like it will take all the Losers —like it actually did once—. Just like it will take Stan and Eddie, no matter how much it hurts right now.

It doesn’t make any sense. He doesn’t want it to hurt, but he somehow wishes he could keep the pain, too. His whole life is made out of these people. They were his wife and best friends. They went through so much to get to this point. He doesn’t want to wake up one day when he’s old and see his past as a cloud of confusing images that aren’t enough to make a single whole picture. He doesn’t want to forget all the sacrifice they all made for him. He doesn’t want to forgive himself.

It hurts now, he repeats to himself, leaving his suitcase on his bed —his and only his, no more cold feet looking for each other under the blanket, trying to warm up—. It won’t hurt forever. I forgot once and I can forget again.

Getting out of the bedroom and shutting the door —he can’t stand being there right now—, Bill can’t help but thinking about Georgie. He died at six years old. They only spent six years together almost three decades ago, and yet the memory is so vivid now he feels he just lost him again. It was defeated for good, they killed It, but that won’t bring Georgie back. That won’t bring his childhood back, or the moments they couldn’t share, or the afternoons when he would want to play something silly and Bill would tell him to go away, because that was for children and he wanted to be a big boy.

Today he’s a big boy. He’s a fucking big boy who wishes he would have done things differently. He wishes he had the chance to actually talk to his brother, help him to get a girl to like him in middle school, the whole ‘I’ll tell mom you were doing x or y’ experience. His prom, his eighteenth birthday, applying for college. How would it feel to hold his nephew? He couldn’t even have children of his own, and now he’s certain that he never will.

But, most of all, it makes him feel sick, how after all this, he forgot what happened to Georgie. It makes him feel sick how he’s going to forget him again. He was ready to sacrifice his friends for this personal battle, and he can’t even keep the victory with him. They trusted him enough to follow him to the end of the world, and he couldn’t even protect them. He couldn’t make sure they all were safe.

Feeling completely battered, thinking about Audra, he remembers the woman in New York, waiting for her husband to come back with no one to tell her he is gone. Or the other woman in Atlanta, who found the love of her life in a bathtub full of his own blood. Now he knows how it feels like and he shares the pain, but it won’t ruin his life like it ruined everybody else’s. Maybe he was supposed to die instead.

With the giant boot of guilt pressing him against the ground, Bill decides to do the only thing he can think of. The pain —especially this kind of pain— will eventually die, but he’s got the power to make it immortal. He never wanted anything more than the Losers, his brother and Audra to be immortal. So he gets into his studio, opens up his laptop and starts to write.

It doesn’t come out easy. He sits in front of his desk, staring at the accusing blank document as the dim streetlights filter through the blinds and paint a bit of orange in the darkness of the room, for half an hour with everything in his mind but nothing to say. The tic-toc of the clock on the wall becomes critical, pressuring him, warning him about how his time is running out. Nothing will be the same tomorrow. Every minute that passes without him writing is a step closer to the abysm, to oblivion.

He doesn’t understand. Words used to be his thing and now they’re gone. Perhaps he wasn’t as strong as he thought he was. He could be strong because he was with his friends, and any other feeling of influence that didn’t come directly of being around them was a façade, a false hope. Now he only has himself and he has to find that strength in his own heart.

Suddenly, it happens. He pushes a button and a letter appears on the bright screen. A few more letters become a word, and that words team up with another one to build a sentence. After that it feels so natural again. Simple, short sentences, full of truth and meaning. They start to fill the page. His fingers travel over the keyboard, taking no time to think about the style or literary value of what they’re typing. Like the old times. Paragraphs begin to get more and more heavy, complex, but most of all, honest. Without him even noticing, they’re telling a story.

The story he was always meant to write. The story about seven kids finding strength and trust in each other, overcoming all their fears, defeating the evil monster that was not only in their hometown, but also inside themselves. Everything because they had friendship; because they loved each other more than anything. And finally forgetting, going separate ways, recovering their lives.

Nobody would know. Nobody will know, except Bill. It might not be the best choice, or the healthiest way of living, but it feels right. It makes him feel bold, in full control, drunk in power. If he keeps writing and revising every day, they will stay with him. It couldn’t take them away, not even getting killed in the process. Bill has challenged the limits of what is possible, and of course it’s exciting, of course it’s a pinch of vigor in the middle of so much tiredness, so much resignation.

Then something happens. A spark. A sudden rush of adrenaline that goes from the soles of his feet to the top of his head, making him shiver. It isn’t like anything that had ever happened to him and he can’t put it into words. He almost jumps out of his seat, completely taken by surprise. Maybe that’s how it feels to get electrocuted.

But it’s not over. That’s not half as scary as what happens next. In a fraction of seconds, just a brief instant, his sight gets full of images that travel at the speed of light, overwhelming him because, somehow, he can process them all. Like a movie in fast-forward inside his head, right in front of his eyes.

A white room. Doctors, so many doctors. The sewers. A church that looks more like a haunted house. An enormous woman lying on her back, opening her legs. It makes him want to puke. Damn, he’s going to puke. A toilet. A fucking toilet with water raising up, but the water isn’t water. It’s red. A hand reaches out from inside the toilet. It seems to be some kind of monstrous claw. No, wait, it’s not. This is God’s hand. He can tell, feel it. The sewers again. Everything hurts. Richie is crying. He wants him to stop crying, but he’s fading away. The world around him is fading away as his heart gets filled with joy.

The last moment is like being in a giant uterus made of honey. Even though it’s a weird image, that’s what it feels like. He’s in a safe and sweet place, protected, fulfilled. The pain is gone. The visions are over.

Bill is horrified. This can only mean one thing; It is back. Of course! It was so innocent of them to think they could get out of this. He suspected it, but he didn’t dare to say anything. Everyone seemed so happy after defeating It, so eager to come back to where they were. He wasn’t selfish enough to rain on their parade, and now he realizes he was wrong. It obviously wanted them to believe they were out of danger. It was a part of its plan.

He needs to get up and call them. He can find them easily, in a question of minutes. No matter if it ruins their lives again, they made a promise. It can’t be out there, hurting people, and probably hurting them sooner than later. This is their responsibility now.

But he can’t move. Not that he’s simply shocked; he physically can’t move. His body won’t take orders. All it will allow him to do is just sit there, staring at the screen. He can’t even scream. He’s helpless.

“I-I’m not af…” He tries to mutter, “Af-afraid of you.”

Nothing happens.

“D-did you hear me? I-I’m not afraid.”

More silence.

“You can’t do an-anything to me. We k-k-killed you.”

His left arm starts moving. His left arm starts moving without him telling it to do so. His hand is raising towards the keyboard, slowly. So slow that he doesn’t notice it until it’s almost there. So slow that it doesn’t feel human.

He attempts to stop it, trying to move his other arm. But he can’t even feel it.

“We defeated you once, w-we defeated you twice, we c-c-can…”

The hand finally reaches his laptop. Bill is hypnotized by it. He’s not capable of take his eyes off of it. Something terrible will happen, he knows.

His index finger touches a key. His pupils go back to the screen, watching the letters appear, one by one.

B… I… L… L

Now he really can’t talk. His voice can’t find a way out. His mouth won’t make a sound.

“P-p…” He forces out, “Please.”

No answer.

“W-what do you want? We w-won. We already won.”

Two words.

Help me

“I-I don’t know how to h-h-help you. You’re a f-fucking monster! What would you…”

N… o… t… It

Not It, not It, not It. If this isn’t It, then what is it? It’s an entity that can take control over his body, for God’s sake!

He has to choose his words carefully.

“W-who are you?”

His fingers curl for a second before pressing the buttons to spell a name. The last name he would have think about in that moment.

Eddie

Finally, he can move. Not completely, but just enough to throw his back against the back of his seat and shake his head from side to side, in absolute amaze and denial. This can’t be. This can’t be happening.

When he manages to talk again, his voice sounds raspy and inhuman.

“N-no,” He whispers, “No, you’re l-lying.”

His arm remains still and Bill feels panic burning inside his chest.

“You’re lying!” He accuses, now shouting, “E-Eddie is gone.”

Tears are blurring his vision as his mind grows full of memories that are still too fresh; wounds that aren’t closed yet. Whatever it is, who or what is doing this, it’s cruel. He couldn’t even take Richie subtly blaming him of abandoning Eddie down in the sewers, and this thing —at this point he hopes it’s It, because he can’t imagine what he’ll do if it’s something even more evil— wants to bring it all back. But he knows better. He learned from Georgie and he won’t get fooled again.

“Eddie died,” He remarks, more for himself than for anything else, “I-I watched him die, okay? I’m not falling for your… your bullshit. I’m n-not scared!”

His arm raises once more towards the keyboard.

“Le-leave me alone! I w-won’t… you won’t… Leave us all al-alone!”

His hand keeps getting closer to his laptop.

“I don’t trust you, I don’t trust you, I don’t trust you…” Bill repeats, swaying back and front.

Please, Bill

“N-no, fuck you! You’re not Eddie! E-Eddie left in our arms. And y-you killed him! Let him rest now. Let me rest now!”

You know I’m telling the truth

Bill can’t help but exhale a brief, sarcastic laugh at that.

“H-how could I know? I-I mean… how could it be? You’re just trying to f-fuck up my head! Y-you’re mess-messing with my head, aren’t you?”

Bill

“Shut the fuck up! G-get out of my body!”

I don’t want you to cry

“T-then leave me alone!”

I can’t

Bill gulps as his sobs start to recede.

“W-why?”

Probably-not-Eddie doesn’t answer.

“Why can’t you leave me alone, Eds?”

This is the first time he accepts the possibility of this being Eddie. He doesn’t believe it, but he has to tell himself that it might be, just so his terror won’t take over again. And as soon as he does so, an intense wave of pure happiness shakes him violently. If he wasn’t so frightened, it would be the best feeling ever.

“A-are you… trapped?” He insists.

Y… e… s

Bill shivers.

“Who? Who t-trapped you? Are you… are you scared?”

No…

Just lost…

That’s why I came here

“S-so you want me to help you to… to find the way o-out?”

Please help me

“How?!” He desperately questions, “H-how can I help you? I-if you’re actually him—”

I’m Eddie, trust me

“I want to trust you,” Bill whimpers, “But it’s so hard. It’s so fu-fucking hard.”

You can’t help me if you don’t trust me…

You know I’m Eddie

“I don’t! I don’t know a-anything!”

But you feel it

“F-feeling is not enough!”

You’re my best friend, Bill…

You feel it in your heart

That somehow makes a click. A literal ‘click’ sound inside his head, which snaps him out of his hypnotized state and makes his hand drop. It’s gone and he’s the owner of his body again. He finally can breathe.

He flexes his arm and watches his fingers, mesmerized by them, in absolute freedom. He moves them and even counts them, and when he’s sure the nightmare is over, he feels operated by a completely different force. An unpredictable impulse of turning his hand and rest it against his own chest.

Suddenly, he becomes aware of his heartbeats and, immediately after doing so, the same rush of bliss threatens to push him out of his seat. He holds on to the chair and closes his eyes tight. This constant overwhelming should be enough to give him an infarct, but it doesn’t. Instead, it makes him think he heard something.

Bill bites his tongue and tries to listen with attention. It’s like someone whispering and he can’t tell from what part of the house it comes.

For a few seconds, it’s just silence, until, at last, he can hear it loud and clear.

Thank you

It comes from inside his mind. And it’s Eddie’s voice.

Chapter Text

“Oh my God…” Bill mutters, covering his mouth with trembling hands.

Eddie’s voice talked to him from inside his head. Eddie is still out there, communicating, asking for help. His help. Is this even real? Maybe it’s just autosuggestion. His imagination playing tricks on him, his own urgency of redemption and memory speaking through a familiar voice he left behind. He’s alone now, after all, and with a huge history of always being around people, it isn’t impossible that his current mental state can make him hear things that aren’t real and losing control over his own body. Maybe he’s finally going crazy, as It promised he would.

But, somehow, it feels real. He can feel a strange energy running through his veins, not invading but naturally flowing with his own. He can feel an unknown stream of thoughts bubbling behind the curtain of his conscience, not as if they were in the sector of his mind he can’t decode or manage, but as in a full entity inside his head, separated from everything else. It’s something he won’t ever be able to put into words, and he doesn’t feel like he has to do it, either. Even though he’s incapable of understanding it, there’s nothing apparently wrong about it. Not bad, just different and overwhelming.

“Oh my God,” He repeats, “You’re… you’re actually h-here.”

Sorry I freaked you out. I didn’t know how to—

“N-no, it’s okay, it’s okay,” Bill interrupts as soon as he hears the sadness in Eddie’s voice, “Just… Fuck, you’re… How? I-I mean… I thought you were… It bit your arm o-off.”

I guess It did.

He sounds humorous and Bill can’t help but smile imagining him shrugging, as if they weren’t talking about something as serious as what they’re discussing. However, the warm feeling of the moment vanishes when he remembers how confusing it all is.

“I’m losing my mind, aren’t I?” he whispers.

When Eddie talks again, he seems to be as solemn as him.

You’re not. I know it’s hard to understand, but it’s real. I would never lie to you.

“B-but… how can this happen? How can you c-come back from d-d-death?”

Eddie sighs.

I can’t. I’m still dead, I’m just… stuck. I don’t really know what it’s all about, either. I feel like I was supposed to jump out of existence, but I can’t.

“W-why? Is there a reason?”

Yeah. I don’t know how to explain it. Bill, there’s a lot of things I can’t tell you. Like, unspoken rules that I know by… I don’t know, by heart. And I hope you understand, ‘cause I’ll probably say some weird stuff and you’ll want to know why or where did it come from. And maybe you’ll get mad at me. But I really need you to trust me. That’s the only way you can help.

Bill gravely nods, wondering if Eddie can see him.

“Y-you know I trust you. I always did. J-just tell me… I’ll do anything, just t-tell me.”

Eddie stays quiet for a few instants. His friend is starting to think he’s gone when he speaks again.

Get yourself a cup of chamomile tea first. It’s good for digestion.

 

Bill sits down at the kitchen table, staring into the orange liquid that fills his cup, watching his teaspoon drawing wavy circles on it as if it had a hypnotic effect. It’s almost five in the morning and the early rays of sunshine are leaking through the large windows of the room. He hasn’t slept, but he’s wide awake and certain that he won’t be able to go to bed for a while.

“Okay,” he announces, after taking the first sip of his drink, “I’m l-listening.”

I don’t really know where to start. I guess I just can’t rest. And I’m not even tired, but I feel like I have to rest. I have to… well, leave. I feel like I’m not supposed to be here anymore.

“Is it like… like some kind of in-instinct?”

Yeah, an instinct. That’s how it feels like. Look, it’s not like I went to heaven and St. Peter stopped me at the door and said ‘No, you’ve got things to do in Earth’. I don’t even know what comes next. But I… I think God is waiting for me, you know?

Eddie was a Christian, Bill remembers. No matter what he thinks about religions or spiritual views; Eddie believes there’s a heaven up there, out of the mortals’ comprehension. And he can’t imagine how it must be knowing that paradise, that your god himself is waiting for you, and not being capable of following its lead.

“W-what’s stopping you?” He carefully asks, “Do you know what’s w-wrong or…—”

I think I know. I think I know what I have to do. But I can’t do it alone.

Bill takes another sip of his tea, his throat tightening and his eyes hurting, anticipating tears.

“T-tell me what I can do.”

Eddie waits, probably putting a lot of thought in his next words.

I’ve got an unresolved matter. Like… something I had to do when I was alive, but I couldn’t. And I won’t rest ‘til I finish it. Don’t ask me how I know it, I just… It’s the kind of thing you only understand when your time has come. People with unfinished business stay here forever.

Bill frowns, even more puzzled than earlier.

“D-does that mean… Have you m-met Stan? He made a p-promise he couldn’t keep. Is he—”

No. Stan isn’t here. I don’t know what happened. Maybe he helped us in some way to kill It and we didn’t see it. I have no idea where he is, but he’s resting. He did what he had to do.

Knowing that Stan is at peace —wherever he is— brings a certain comfort to Bill’s heart, even though he feels bad for Eddie and it makes him question if he will leave any unfinished business when he dies. Now, when he looks at people in the street, moving in synchrony and ignoring everyone else around them, he will find himself wondering if they’ve got their lives as solved as they think. Is there anything he has to do that he hasn’t done yet? What if defeating It wasn’t the only thing that was a part of his essential destiny? What if his destiny is somewhere else? What if Richie was right and they couldn’t leave Eddie down there, in the place he hated the most, forever?

Bill starts to understand what Eddie is saying. There’s mysteries about life and its volatile nature that the living aren’t supposed to unravel. Secrets that bring more questions than answers and put a whole system in danger. Things that are meant to stay in the darkness of the other world, hidden from the eyes of those who need the suspense and security of ignorance to keep moving forward. But now it’s not the time or place to have an existential crisis. All that matters now is that Eddie needs him.

“W-what’s your unfinished bus-business?”

No answer. He remains silent, wondering what kind of unresolved matter his friend could have, wanting to find out as soon as possible. But Eddie doesn’t say anything and it gets distressing pretty quickly.

“A-are you still there?”

Yes.

Eddie’s voice is low and hesitating, with a hint of shame that makes Bill’s stomach flip.

Please don’t hate me, Bill.

He sounds broken, there’s no other word to describe him. And hearing him talking like that is almost enough to break Bill, too. The pain is so strong, so visceral, that it trespasses the limits of their separated consciousness, crushing him like it was him who has something to fear. It hurts how Eddie thinks Bill could ever hate him, of course, but that’s not even the worst part. The worst part is that he’s feeling just as frightened and guilty as Eddie feels.

“Y-you’re my best friend,” he softly tells him, “I would… I would never h-hate you. No matter what you do. I’d n-never…—”

If you want me to leave after this, I’ll get it. I can do that. I’ll just find another way and—

“Don’t. I… I want to h-h-help you, Eddie.”

Silence.

“Just tell me, p-please.”

He hears Eddie take a deep breath.

Okay… I’m…

And then he drops the bomb.

I’m in love with Richie.

Bill doesn’t answer at first. If the real world obeyed to the rules of fiction, he would have his mouth full of tea and spit it out as soon as Eddie pronounced those words. But that doesn’t happen. Instead, he just sits there, parting his lips every time he thinks he has something to say and closing them again once he realizes he doesn’t. It’s that kind of revelation that defies the boundaries of language, escaping from his understanding and making any possible sentence lose all its meaning.

If the real world was perfect —if he was perfect—, he could say that he doesn’t care, that it doesn’t change the way he sees Eddie, that it won’t affect the way he’s going to remember him. But that would be a lie. It does matter. It changes it all.

Now, he no longer thinks of Eddie as the sick kid who was surprisingly brave when he had to be, who was constantly abused by his mother and died trying to protect his friends. He doesn’t see him as a hero anymore, but as a victim. And yes, all of them were victims at some point, all of them were looked down at because of who they were, but it doesn’t hold the same impact when he realizes that everything people accused Eddie of being was true. Every doubt, every suspicion, damn, even every bully has been proven right.

He doesn’t want to feel like that. He doesn’t want to think that Eddie was everything people always said he was and nothing more —even though he knows that’s completely false—, he doesn’t want to feel betrayed because he was his first real friend and he never had the courage to tell him. He was always on the good side of the battlefield, supporting the fight of the less privileged, and he never bit his tongue when it came to defend a fair cause.

And here he is, reviewing his whole life, trying to find hints of what seems like a dirty secret. A secret he would never have found out if a single thing would have been different. A secret that Eddie —it doesn’t matter what he says now— would have never told him in the first place if he had a better option. It hurts. It confuses him. How could Eddie like Richie? Actually love him? Building a whole life without him just to come back from death to let him know how he felt?

He had a wife! Bill, himself, heard them talking during a short phone call when they were in Derry. Eddie said he loved her and wished he was with her. What if It didn’t kill him? Was he so ready to go back home and live the rest of his years with a woman he didn’t feel anything for, after seeing Richie again? And he was asking Bill to trust him?

Suddenly, Bill feels as betrayed as Mrs. Kaspbrak should be feeling in her lonely house in New York. However, the next thing he hears tones him down enough to actually listen.

Eddie lets out a breathy laugh. A laugh of relief.

I really get it if you think I’m disgusting, but… I can’t believe I said that. I can’t believe I finally said it. I feel so…

“Free?” Bill asks, completely unaware of the subtle smile that emerges from his lips.

Yes.

That’s enough. He still has a lot of questions, he’s still confused, but that’s not important. What’s important is the incredible joy that blossoms from Eddie’s shaky voice. What’s important is that, after forty years of denial, after sacrificing himself for the people he loved, he’s at peace with himself.

Bill feels it, too. It tickles his toes, it caresses his hair, it warms up his insides. Like a spring rushing through his body, turning all the pain into something beautiful and full of meaning, like only an epiphany can. He hopes Eddie can’t read his mind as he feels his most extreme reactions on his own flesh, but that’s just a minor worry compared to the magnificent of this new-found emotion. The incomparable ecstasy of a soul brother achieving happiness.

“I… I don’t get it,” He says, “You and… and R-Richie? H-how? When did it happen? How l-long?”

I’m not sure. I think it was always there. I just… I didn’t want to notice.

“B-but I always thought you c-couldn’t stand him. What do… I mean, what do you l-like about him?”

It’s gonna sound weird, but… Remember when It… when It attacked me?

Bill gulps at the memory.

“Y-yeah, of course.”

It hurt at first. It really, really hurt. But it also felt great.

“G-great?”

I never felt anything like that. Even… even when I was a kid, I knew something was wrong with me. My mom would take me to church and Sunday school and teach me how to pray, but I never thought I had to do it. It didn’t feel like it was saving me from hell.

I knew I was going to hell, Bill. I knew it. Every time someone told me I would go to hell if I did something bad, I wanted to tell them I was already condemned. I was condemned since I was born. There was something so inherently wrong with me.

Even after finding out what my meds really were, even after finding out I didn’t have asthma, I still felt like I was sick.

“You’re not s-sick, Eddie,” Bill hurries to assure him, “There’s nothing wrong with you.”

I know now. That’s what I was trying to say. Remember when I passed away? That was when I understood it. The pain was horrible, but it wasn’t all. What I really felt was like… like discovering a new religion. I know it sounds stupid and fucked up, but that’s what I thought. And I couldn’t wait to get out of there and travel around the world, telling everyone the truth. Letting everyone like me know they… they weren’t broken.

“But you couldn’t.”

No, I couldn’t. I thought ‘at least Richie will know’, and I really tried to tell him. I wanted to be honest for one time in my life. I was thinking about the best way to say it. It seems pretty simple now, but back then it was a big revelation. I didn’t know how to explain it. And I took too much time.

Bill silently nods, thinking what would be the best way to say it as well.

“Y-you were going to tell him you l-loved him, right?” He whispers.

Well done, it took me almost thirty years to get to that conclusion.

He chuckles at the bitter, but also funny answer. They both can tell there isn’t any hostility or resent in that. Just two friends meeting again, joking and having their first real conversation in a very long time.

“There’s still something I don’t under-understand.”

What is it?

“If the only thing you have to do is tell him you… you love him, w-why didn’t you just go to him di-directly?”

I tried, but I guess it doesn’t work like that. I couldn’t get inside his head like I did with you. He couldn’t see me or hear me. I also went to the other Losers, but I couldn’t talk to them, either. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Mike deserves a rest after everything that happened, and Ben and Bev are having a baby, so…

“And I’m alone. I’ve got nothing to d-do here.”

Bill, you know I didn’t mean it like that.

Bill laughs it off.

“It’s okay, E-Eddie. It’s good to hear from you again.”

I really missed you. Maybe that’s why you’re the only one who can hear me. You were the person I admired the most. My best friend.

Even though it’s heart-warming to know that, Bill can’t help but feel a bit ashamed. Ashamed of things he thought he could forgive himself for doing. Oblivion was such a comforting promise in some level and now it isn’t an option anymore. Now he has to live with every decision he made and he knows he didn’t make the best choices sometimes.

“E-Eddie, I’m sorry. I didn’t… I didn’t mean to… It g-got Audra. I thought I could… s-save her. You were gone, I couldn’t h-help you anymore. It was still there. W-we were still t-there. I just… At that m-moment I thought the best t-thing I could do was… protect the ones who—”

You don’t have to explain. Really, Bill, I get it. You did what you had to do.

“But it wasn’t fair, Eddie!” He snaps, tears running down his cheeks, “You d-died because you wanted to s-s-save us.”

That’s right, I wanted to save you. I wanted to save my best friend and… and the love of my life. And I did. You didn’t ask me to do that, I did it because I wanted to. Because you guys were important for me and I wouldn’t let It hurt you. And I still think it was the best choice I could make, ‘cause I gave you two a second chance.

“W-what if I don’t want that second chance?”

Bill, please…

“I-I promised It wouldn’t take any of us! I fucking promised, and you know it. And I couldn’t s-stop It. Y-you guys trusted me.”

You don’t have to be a hero.

“You didn’t have to be a hero, either!”

I’m not a fucking hero, Bill. I was a victim and so were you. You can’t pretend you could have done anything. You were staring into the damn deadlights. I don’t regret what I did, but don’t act like it meant nothing. Don’t act like you’d rather be dead instead, ‘cause that’s fucking selfish. That’s like saying ‘you know what? My friend died for nothing’. Is that what you think or what?

Bill rubs his face in frustration.

“O-of course not.”

Eddie sighs.

If having me around makes you feel bad or if you don’t wanna—

“No. Don’t leave, p-please.”

I really don’t want to—

“I don’t c-care about who you love. It’s… it’s kind of w-weird, but… If you made it this far just to… to tell him, I t-trust you.”

You’re not disgusted or scared?

“A bit scared, yeah. A bit… co-confused. But you’re my family, E-Eds. We’re all family.”

I know you tried so hard to be a hero. For Georgie, for the Losers, for your wife… I know how much you wanted it and how disappointed on yourself you are. But now you can be a hero for me. And if you do, if you help me, I’ll never forget it.

Never forget, Bill thinks. It sounds wonderful.

“S-so…” He clears his throat before continuing, “So I just… call Richie and t-tell him?”

I’d rather do it in person, if you don’t mind. I’d like to use… my own words. I know it sounds stupid, but—

“N-no, I mean, it’s fine. C-can you really… do that? Speak through… through me?”

Yeah. I can control your body, too. I did that first ‘cause… Well, ‘cause I didn’t have a better idea. You couldn’t hear me if you didn’t trust me, so I had to talk to you in other way. I guess I didn’t think you could think I was It. I thought that maybe you just… didn’t remember. But it was too recent and I—

“W-wait, you can control my body and speak t-through me? Like, whenever you want?”

Technically, yeah.

“Y-you didn’t need me to trust you, then. You could have just—”

Travel to LA and talk to Richie without asking you?

“Well, y-yes.”

I’d never do that.

Bill feels the corners of his mouth raising as the voices of what sounds like a thousand morning birds in the backyard fill the silence with music. This, what Eddie just said, is the most sincere thing he has ever heard. If there was still a small shadow of doubt at this point, it has been dismissed for good. Not even It, with its manipulative manners and phony kindness creeping out through the sewers of Derry, could sound this honest. He notices now that this is the way only a real friend could talk.

“L-let me fix a few th-thing, okay?” he says after a while, “Just pull some s-strings. This isn’t the best of… of moments. I have to… I have to move things around a b-bit first. B-but… We’re together in this.”

Does that mean—

“I’ll take you to Richie.”

Chapter Text

Five days. Five days go by before Bill gets on the plane that will take him to Los Angeles. That will take Eddie back to Richie. Five days of answering so many questions and so many phone calls that he thinks he’s going to run out of voice. Five days of the press, the producers, even family members pressuring, wanting to know all the details, just as he predicted.

Did Audra scream? Did they have time to scream? Was there a lot of blood? How did it happen? Had they been drinking? He patiently denies everything that might be controversial, blaming an imaginary deer that got in the middle of a road they never drove together, and yes, they screamed, and yes, lots of blood, and no, he isn’t an alcoholic or a bad driver. Accidents happen. It could happen to anyone. And he repeats that a lot. It could happen to anyone.

But It happened to them. Even if the reporters don’t know it, even if the leeches of show business can’t start to imagine it, It won’t happen again. They made sure of it, with all the sacrifice and all the bravery needed. They paid the price for humanity, and he would lie if he said it doesn’t make his chest swell with pride sometimes.

Of course, he can’t, and he has to give speeches about road safety and cry his heart out for the cameras, as if Audra’s face wasn’t a blurred spot in the landscape of his memory at this point. He sits in front of the big television in his living room and watches every coverage of what happened, hoping that he can still see a picture of her and recognize her as the woman who was in his arms less than a week ago, not as a friend he had in kindergarten or a distant aunt.

He stands by the empty coffin that carries the weight of her symbolic body —the car was never found, it got lost in the depth of an unknown river, even though it’s still in Derry, safely hidden from the eyes of the world—  and looks down, his eyes burning from forced tears, because he can’t even cry anymore. He feels dry and it doesn’t matter. He has to stand there, stare at her parents, stare at the journalists, stare at London’s grey skies and say what everyone wants to hear. She’s out there, she’s not gone, she will live forever.

He doesn’t sleep that night. Sleeping is so hard with everything that’s going on. Sleeping is so hard without someone at the other side of the bed. So he looks at the ceiling and lets hours die. At least he still has a friend to talk with.

The natural awkwardness of having a host in his own body vanishes rather quickly, considering how weird the situation is. At first, he’s afraid that sharing what should be only his will end with the loss of his own identity. What if the line between them gets too blurry? What if they actually become one? Who is going to be the one to get ‘kicked out’ if something goes wrong? Every time he sees a disgusting picture or hears of a new disease and feels a chill going down his back, he asks himself if the feeling is really his. Every time he manages to say a difficult word without stuttering, he wonders if that was really his voice.

In addition, the nature of Eddie’s influence over him is so confusing —even for Eddie himself— that Bill is scared of thinking too loud. Eddie could read his mind if he wanted to, they know that, and even though he’s healthily ethical about his new abilities —and he makes it clear every five minutes, because the slightest doubt could be the end of everything— this is all new for him. He doesn’t completely understand the rules of the game he’s playing. He gets anxious and insecure. The first night, he even asks Bill if he wants him to go away, because he can’t accept such a selfless act of trust. Because he thinks he’s going to ruin it.

“I-I told you I’d h-help you,” Bill reminds him, trying to ignore the intense whimpering inside his head, “I’m not let… letting you down again, okay?”

He can’t see him, but he’s sure Eddie is nodding. And what he says is the absolute truth. He won’t let him down, no matter how heavy it all gets.

But that doesn’t mean Eddie can’t make mistakes. Mistakes so serious that could put their friendship in danger. Mistakes that could end with Bill’s life. Eddie is still a human being. A human being isn’t supposed to have such power over another, regardless the circumstances.

“We’ll learn t-t-together,” Bill promises, patting his own shoulder as if his friend could feel it.

They do learn together. They learn that Eddie can ‘shut himself down’ if Bill wants to be alone, which is great, especially when he has to go to the bathroom. Bill can also get completely disconnected when Eddie is in control, if he puts a lot of effort into it. Every small thing he can do takes a lot of effort, a lot of ‘mind’. But he can, and that’s what matters. A few days of practice and he’s able to do it almost readily.

When Eddie takes command, Bill sees everything as he’s watching a movie recorded by a camera that’s inside his eyes. It’s scary, so he prefers to ‘stay out’. If there’s a way of knowing if he’s there or not, Eddie chooses not to use it. They also learn that Eddie can’t move or feel his right arm, probably a sequel of Its attack. However, that isn’t important. He can hug Richie with one arm.

Actually, that’s not bad at all. If he had his two arms, he wouldn’t let him go. It’s a good thing that Richie will have the option of running away if he wants to.

They talk a lot about that, too. About how Richie will react, what will they tell him, how will they convince him. The plan is arriving to Los Angeles in the Sunday morning and go to his house at night, after the interview he’s going to give on a talk show. He’s been giving a lot of interviews, they discover through a quick research, because he is about to jump from comedian to drama actor in a film about the WWII. His character isn’t the protagonist, but it’s still important for the plot and has its fair share of intense scenes.

Bill smiles when they find out about this. Richie always depended on humor to avoid the stress of more weighty matters. Not even the trust they shared was enough to get him out of that shell. No one could ever tell what Richie was thinking or feeling, and any attempt of going deeper would be laughed off, at best, or told to fuck off, if he was having a particularly bad day. He made a living around his jokes and his voices, and found a way to run from that seriousness that, they’re sure, scared him. Now, by taking a part in a movie that is supposed to be humorless, he’s subtly deciding to not run anymore.

Richie is maturing. He’s ready to be serious and become the adult he always tried to deny. It somehow hurts to think he’s turning into someone else, but it feels like the pain a mother feels when her son leaves for college. It’s the pain of pride, and also a good signal. The perfect conditions are there. The time has come. And when they lay in bed, talking about all these worries about what Richie will say or do, this can only mean hope.

What if he doesn’t believe us?

“He will.”

Why would he? I mean—

“E-Eddie, I believed.”

But it’s not the same. You believed ‘cause you didn’t have a better explanation. You can hear my voice inside your head. Richie will only hear you.

“But it’s you. Y-You’re going to do the… the talking.”

Will that be enough?

Bill closes his eyes. Sometimes, when he does that, he hopes he can actually see Eddie. But that never happens. Instead, he sleepily smiles and nods.

“T-trust me.”

He falls asleep without waiting for an answer, and Eddie stands there, in some spot inside his mind he can’t reach, ignoring all the warnings, all the fears, just asking himself that simple question. Can he trust Bill?

I trust you.

Of course he can.


 

Richie’s house is huge. Huge in a ‘this was designed for a whole family’ way. It’s a modern, rectangular piece of marble raising in one of the highest spots of the city, giving the impression of being hanging from the cliff, about to fall to the abysm of little yellow lights. The place seems to have more windows than walls, but the curtains are closed and it’s so far from the street that it’s impossible to see what’s happening inside. Surrounded by a ten feet fence with an electronically locked door, it’s obvious that they’re standing in front of a celebrity’s home.

Bill gets out of the taxi and walks towards the digital doorbell. As he does so, the aggressive song of the crickets is the only sound that really catches his attention. It’s like this house is a fort away from society, a bubble of isolation inside the capital of loudness, of constant motion, of communication. Nothing of this feels natural. Not even the charming aroma of recently cut grass that emanates from this palace’s infinite garden. This doesn’t feel like Richie.

That’s it. There’s no way to delay this. They came here and they have to stand up to this choice. Forty years of shame sway on the tip of his index finger as it gets closer to the button. He’s really doing this.

Wait.

His hand drops. He isn’t sure if it’s Eddie physically stopping him or his own impulse of doing what he’s told to prevent the situation from getting worse.

“W-what’s wrong, Eddie?”

His heart starts beating faster, almost frantically, forcing him to take deep breaths in order to calm himself down.

“Eddie?”

Bill, I’m sorry. This was a stupid idea.

Bill gulps.

“What do… what do you m-mean?”

I can’t do this. I can’t make you do this. He’s gonna think you’re insane.

“S-so what? We’re not lying.”

You guys are friends. He really cares for you. I can’t ruin your lives like I ruined mine. My life is over, you two are staying here.

“Y-you’re being dumb, E-Eddie. We… we would never see each other a-again. You’re the one who has something to… to l-lose.”

What? Heaven?

Eddie’s tone is as cynical as Bill has ever heard it before. It exasperates him.

“W-well... yes! Or… or whatever comes n-next. Don’t you want to find… find out?”

He makes a pause, thoughtfully licking his lips.

“Don’t you w-want to see Stan again? Don’t you want… don’t you want Richie to… to know?”

Does he really need to know? What good can it make now?

Bill rubs his temples, grunting with annoyance. Making Eddie feel bad isn’t his intention, but he can’t deny it’s frustrating and unfair. Not unfair for him, but for Eddie. He had finally summed up enough courage for confessing his feelings, his truth, and now the right moment may never come again. Now the moment may be lost forever. It’s up to Bill to bring it back.

“I can’t… I can’t tell you Richie’s going to f-f-feel the same. I can’t even tell you he won’t… h-hate you. I don’t know. I don’t know if he… if he needs to h-hear it. But I do know you… you need to say it.”

Eddie remains silent.

“R-remember when you told me? You didn’t know if I would… a-accept you. You were terrified. And still you… you laughed. It made you feel so… so f-free. We even used that word. Don’t you want to… don’t you want to f-feel like that again? You said it was the best f-feeling in the world. Who cares what Richie thinks? This isn’t about him; this is about you, E-Eddie. I’m here for you.”

But—

“Listen, Richie will f-forget it. Shit, I’ll forget it, too. We’re gonna forget as soon as I… as we leave. You’ll remember it f-forever. This was always for you. You’re the one who won’t rest if… if we don’t d-do this. Richie will die and go to heaven… or hell, or the… or the u-universe, I don’t know! It doesn’t matter. He has his en-entire life. Do you think… E-Eddie, do you think I care at this p-point?”

He’s your friend.

“You’re my friend, too! R-Richie doesn’t… need me r-right now. He didn’t ask for my h-help. You did. And I’m gonna… I’m gonna help you. I’m gonna help you with or without your c-c-copera… your help, okay?”

What do you mean?

“We can… l-leave, if you want. We can go back to the h-hotel and you can get out of my body and… and keep float-floating around or whatever you’ve been d-doing. But I’ll come back here. I’ll t-tell him. ‘Cause I know that’s what you… what you wanna d-do. I’m gonna let Richie know you loved him. T-that’s not your choice, it’s mine. What you can d-decide is if you wanna be… be there, if you wanna look at him in t-the eye, if you wanna talk to him one… last t-time, or if you’d rather… run away from y-yourself like you did your whole… your whole life.”

Maybe a bit harsh, but he knows this is what Eddie needs to hear right now. He can’t force him to do something he doesn’t want. Even if he could, he wouldn’t do it. Convincing him is the only way, and he will do whatever it takes to make it happen.

“Y-you said I tried to… to be a hero for everyone. Well, you always put e-everyone above you. Your mom, your wife… Eddie, you f-fucking died for us. Just this time. Just this time do s-something for… for yourself. You deserve a good rest.”

Eddie doesn’t answer. And Bill sighs.

“I get it.”

There’s nothing left to do. Eyes on the ground and hands in pockets, Bill turns around on his heels and starts walking back to the street, taking his phone out to call a cab. The gravel way of the house’s entry creaks rhythmically under his feet. It’s so disappointing that he can’t even get mad about the wasting of money on that stupid trip. He’s just sad. For Eddie and for himself.

This was not only meant to give Eddie’s life a closure, but it would also give one to his own. It was the way destiny or God or whatever controls the giant dollhouse that is the world, had to tell him ‘You’re still needed, you’re still useful, you’re not done.’ And it didn’t work out.

“Hello, how can I help you?” A female voice says across the telephone line.

“H-hello, I need a…” He starts, still moving.

Suddenly, his feet stop. And it wouldn’t shook him if it wasn’t for the fact that he knows he didn’t order them to do that. He didn’t order them to do anything.

“N-nevermind,” He tells the operator, and hangs up.

A smile escapes from his lips when Eddie finally says something. The only thing he could have said.

Alright, sorry… Let’s do it.

“Y-you sure?”

Yeah… I mean… yeah. We’re together in this, remember?

Bill’s smile grows wider.

“I’d never forget.”

Chapter Text

“Yeah?” Richie’s tired voice comes from the speaker of the electric doorbell.

Bill isn’t aware of what he had just done until he hears him. Before that, he simply pushed the button and waited for something to happen. It doesn’t feel that meaningful. But now, now that he knows Richie is there and there’s no way of going back, it all acquires a new importance. It’s weird how so many little actions like getting an airplane ticket, sitting on a plane and taking a cab can sum up to become such a transcendental experience. That’s all it takes to end forty years of denial. And a paper boat can be enough to break a family.

“Who’s there?” Richie insists, openly annoyed.

Bill clears his throat and notices Eddie’s difficult breathing in the back of his mind.

“H-hi, Rich. It’s B-Bill and…”

Wait. Not yet.

“It’s Bill,” he corrects himself.

Richie doesn’t say anything.

“B-Bill Denbrough. From… D-Derry.”

Bill licks his lips as they both wait patiently. Is a week all it takes? They can’t be sure. Being together, it’s obvious they won’t forget. But Richie is alone, and maybe he’s perfectly capable of moving on that fast.

“R-Remember?”

This time, Richie sighs.

“Yeah, of course. Give me a second.”

Suddenly, the gate starts vibrating.

“Come in.”

Bill nods as if Richie could see him and pushes the door open. It’s heavy. When he comes in and hears it closing behind him, he finds out everything in that house seems heavy, grandiloquent, exaggerated. The garden is way too big. Not even that complex, with lots of flowers or fountains or shrubs with animal shapes. Just plain large; foot after foot of short grass, healthy and bluish under the moonlight, and a broad way of gravel zigzagging all the way to the front porch. There’s probably a pool in the backyard, but this side of the house looks huge and vaguely upsetting. Vaguely empty.

They make it to the door and Richie is standing there. Bill can tell Eddie is nervous because he feels it in his own stomach and often finds himself fighting against the instinct of running away as he keeps moving forward.

“Calm down,” he warns him in a low voice.

Sorry.

The yellow light that comes from the inside through the open door, makes Richie look like a shadow, so it’s impossible to imagine how he’s feeling until they’re face to face with him. It’s a mixture of a well-received surprise and the expected fear of this meeting being about bad news.

“Hey,” he says, obviously trying to play it cool.

“H-hey,” Bill replies, scratching the back of his head.

They get quiet for a brief moment, Richie awkwardly looking around in search of something to say that can interrupt such a dense silence.

“It’s… good to see you again, Big Bill.”

The familiar nickname catches him off guard. It almost takes him back to the town they grew up in, where they went through the most traumatic experiences they could have imagined, where they learned that no one cared about anything. Where they lost two friends.

“I’m glad to s-see you, too, R-Richie,” he smiles, but it doesn’t seem genuine.

Richie nods, chuckling a bit. His content laugh fades away when he remembers what happened.

“I heard about your wife… I mean, not that I had to hear about it, I was there, but, you know. Everyone is talking about it on T.V. and... it sucks. It really sucks. I’m sorry, man. I didn’t get the chance to tell you I’m sorry back then.”

He gives Bill a small pat on the shoulder and Bill can’t help but smiling with sadness because of such a friendly gesture.

“I’m s-sorry, too. Thank you.”

“No problem. Just keep moving forward and you’ll be fine. It’s all about surviving.”

“W-well,” he says, staring at his feet, “It’s always been about sur-surviving, r-right?”

He notices Richie has gotten tense. It’s clear that they’re taking this ‘grown-up conversation’ way too far for him. He takes his time to talk again and, when he does, Bill can tell he’s trying to take weight out from the whole thing.

“It’s getting kind of chilly, don’t you think? Wanna come inside and… I don’t know, maybe have a beer or something?”

“I’ll say no to the b-beer, but I can… c-come in, if you don’t mind.”

“Of course I don’t. You’re lucky that all the strippers already left,” he jokes as they go into the house, “And I hope you don’t mind if I say yes to that beer.”

“Not at all, R-Rich.”

Richie closes the door behind them and Bill finds out he’s in the fanciest place he has ever seen. The interior of the building is even bigger, with a large corner sofa right in the middle of the living room, modern furniture like Barcelona chairs everywhere and a transparent coffee table along with them, and a huge kitchen integrated to the landscape. The dominant colors are black and white and several pieces of contemporary art —that Richie probably despises secretly— hang from the tall walls.

Astonished by the luxuries that surround them, Bill walks towards the couch and sits down, while Richie goes to the fridge and gets his beer.

“You sure you don’t want one?” he asks, not looking at him.

“No, t-thank you.”

“Alright, you’re the guest. But I wouldn’t sit there if I were you. Actually, I wouldn’t sit anywhere in this house.”

“W-why?”

“If something is in my house, I probably fucked someone on it.”

Before Bill can process what he just heard, his body stands up.

That’s it. I’m leaving.

“No!” He exclaims, louder than he intended to sound.

Richie stares at him from the kitchen, beer in hand and eyes wide open.

“Shit, I was kidding. I love that couch. I wouldn’t fuck anyone on it.”

Both Bill and Eddie sigh with relief and sit down again.

“Chill out, man,” Richie continues, “You look like you just—”

“Heard a ghost?”

“I was gonna say ‘saw’ but okay, you’re the writer.”

After shrugging, Richie goes back to the living room, sets the bottle on the coffee table and takes a seat next to Bill.

“Uh… you’ve got a… a n-nice house,” Bill comments, not sure of how to start a conversation.

Richie’s eyes seem to light up.

“Oh, why, thank you, Billy, my darling!” He answers, in a ridiculous southern belle voice, “Momma will be so pleased to know you find the family farm quite this—”

“Beep beep, R-Richie,” he chuckles.

They share a quick laugh. Bill can hear Eddie laughing, too. It feels so much like the old times he’s certain that he would be crying, if they weren’t busy enjoying the moment. But it doesn’t last long. As soon as the importance of the real reason they are there comes to light again, he stops. And Richie must feel the new atmosphere of seriousness, because he stops, too.

“Hey, I don’t wanna look like a bad host or anything, but… what brings you to my humble abode?”

It’s time. This isn’t a casual visit, and Richie knows it. He has to tell him the truth or give Eddie the space to say it himself. He waits a few seconds, but nothing happens. Eddie, who just instants ago was controlling him to leave because of a disgusting joke, is nowhere to be seen or heard. He won’t even talk.

“It’s…” Richie says, his grin falling and turning into a worried expression, “Everything’s fine, right? It’s not… It isn’t… Everything’s just… fine, isn’t it? I mean, we tore Its heart out. We…”

Bill soon gets what Richie is thinking.

“Oh, no, of… of course. It’s not about… It’s d-dead. It won’t c-come back.”

“Oh, great,” Richie exhales, relieved, “Well, you could have said that first, don’t you think?”

“S-sorry, I guess I’m a bit… n-nervous,” he smiles.

“Nervous? Why?”

Bill stares down at his own hands, fingers intertwined on his lap, foot tapping the carpet.

“I… Y-you know, with everything… what happened to A-Audra. We were… we were making a m-movie and now… Now I’ve got to talk to p-producers and get a new… a new actress or… cancel the p-project.”

“Oh, so… business trip, huh?”

“Yeah, buh-business trip. And I… I thought I could visit ‘cause… Well, we for-forgot once. We could make thing d-different this… this time. Like… keep in touch.”

This is not going like they planned. This wasn’t supposed to happen. But Richie seems so genuinely glad because he thought about continue with their friendship, that he doesn’t have the heart to rain on his parade. Maybe it’s better that way. He needs Richie to trust him as much as he can, if he wants the whole ‘unfinished business’ thing to work out.

“Uh…” Richie replies, “Yeah, why not? I mean, Bev kinda wanted to do something similar. She gave me her number and all. You know we were really—”

“C-close. Yeah, I know,” he nods, “So, have you… called her?”

“Nah, I don’t know if I will.”

“W-why?”

“She probably changed all her ways of contact, after… Well, after all the shit that sick fuck did to her. And she’s gonna marry Haystack, remember? They’re even looking for a baby. Even though I’d be the most amazing uncle ever, families aren’t my thing. They deserve their cute, suburban life, without someone to remind them of… of what happened. I guess the past is in the past for a reason… Shit, that’s deep.”

“It really is, R-Rich,” Bill chuckles, “But I don’t… I don’t think you’re right about t-that.”

“About what?”

“F-families not being your… your thing.”

“Oh, Bill, come on. ‘Hey, Haystack Jr., look, it’s Uncle Trashmouth!’ and I show up wasted and with two models in short dresses under each arm. Can you imagine?”

He shakes his head while frantically laughing, and Bill can’t help but laugh, too.

“It doesn’t sound that b-bad,” he jokes.

“No, you don’t get it. It’s Haystack Jr.’s birthday party. He’s turning five and all his friends from kindergarten are there! And then I try to hit on his super-hot teacher and pass out on the cake.”

“Okay, you’d be the w-worst uncle ever,” he agrees, still laughing, “But that doesn’t mean f-families aren’t your thing.”

“What makes you think that?”

“R-Richie, we are family. We always… we always were. Since f-forever. And you were always t-there for me. For… for everyone.”

Something changes in Richie’s face when he says that. His features get softer, sadder. He looks down and Bill knows, in that moment, that he broke his shell.

“Not for everyone,” Richie mumbles, and reaches out to get his beer and give it a sip.

“W-what… what do you mean?”

His friend laughs bitterly.

“We were the lucky seven. How many of us are still around?”

“Rich…”

“How many of us are still around, Bill?” He insist, a little more firmly.

“F-five, but—”

“That’s right, five!” He settles his beer back on the table with a loud noise and stands up, “Five of seven. Fucking five of seven.”

“R-Richie, that doesn’t have anything to do with you.”

“Oh, it doesn’t?”

“Of c-course it doesn’t!” he snaps, “We had a d-decision to make. You and I decided to c-come back, Stan decided to… to run away. That doesn’t m-make him better or worse, but it was his… his choice.”

“Oh, right, it was his choice. And what about what Eddie chose? Did he chose what happened to him, too?”

“W-well… yeah. No one f-forced him to—”

“Don’t give me that shit. It was us who were staring at the deadlights. It was us who left him alone, even knowing he was like a lost fucking puppy.”

“That’s b-bullshit! He wasn’t like… like that. What he did was b-brave.”

“Yeah, and you really taught him how to be brave, didn’t you? You really taught how to not give a shit.”

“Eddie didn’t n-need me to teach him how to be b-brave, ‘cause he was!”

“And how did he end? Huh, Bill, how did he end? What did ‘being brave’ bring to him?”

“He s-saved us.”

“Don’t say that.”

“W-why not? He did!”

“No, fuck you. Don’t turn his death into a poetic sacrifice or something like that. This is not one of your novels. He was coughing blood, Bill! It was dirty, it was disgusting, it was everything he hated… And we left him there. You made me leave him there.”

“W-what was I supposed to do? Carry his… his body out of the f-fucking sewers? It was still alive! It had my w-wife. My wife was still… a-alive.”

“And where she is now? Cool, we killed It, when are your wife and your brother coming back to life? When are Stan and Eddie coming back to life?”

Bill doesn’t answer. He just stares up at Richie, who was walking around the coffee table until a few seconds ago, and is now standing in front of him. By the look in his eyes, Bill can tell he regrets what he said. And of course he’s mad. Damn, he’s infuriated. He wants to punch Richie on his stupid face for all the poisonous things that come from his mouth.

But this is not about Richie. He needs to remember this is not about Richie. It’s about Eddie and, even if Richie doesn’t want to see him like that, for Bill, Eddie is a hero and his sacrifice was the most poetic and worthy thing ever.

Richie sighs.

“Shit, man,” he says, rubbing his temples, “That was a shitty thing to say. I’m sorry.”

“It’s a-alright, Rich.”

“I’m just…” He sits down beside him once more, “Look, I really don’t wanna talk about Eds, okay? I just don’t wanna think about him.”

“Maybe that means we should… we should start t-talking about it.”

“No, I really don’t—”

“Maybe you s-should.”

“Why?”

“It’ll make you feel b-better.”

“I’ll feel better when I can’t remember anything of this shit.”

“But you can… f-feel better now.”

Richie groans, exasperated, and stands up.

“Ugh, you really want me to talk about my feelings? Fine, I’ll tell you how I feel. Take notes to use it in one of your stupid books, if you want.”

Bill nods in signal of being prepared to listen.

“Here’s how I feel,” Richie continues, “I feel like a fucking asshole, okay? That’s exactly how I feel: like a fucking asshole.”

“R-Richie—”

“No, listen to me. Remember when we met again? When we all, except Stan, were there? Everyone was excited. I mean, yeah, it was the worst situation possible, but we were glad to see each other again. ‘Cause we were best friends and we missed each other. Well, wanna know how I felt when I saw him?”

He makes a pause and Bill doubts if he’s waiting for an answer before telling him. However, Richie keeps talking without any confirmation.

“I was disappointed. I was so fucking disappointed I wanted to… I don’t know, to go back home!”

Bill feels a flip on his stomach and that’s the only way he can tell Eddie hasn’t left. He rubs his own shoulder in an attempt of comforting him.

“I was disappointed ‘cause I remembered everything. How ‘brave’ he was. How he didn’t take shit from anyone, not even me. He always spoke his mind and called me out when he thought I was being an idiot. Damn, when we were kids, I’m sure he could have bit my fingers off if I tried to pinch his cheek on a bad day.

”He even told his mom to fuck off when he found out about all the lies she told him. And you know how scared of that woman he was. Eds basically… feared nothing. But he changed. You can’t tell me he was the same when we met again.”

“Of c-course he wasn’t. So many… so many y-years…”

“No. It’s not about growing up. He didn’t grow up; he gave up.”

“W-what are you—?”

“He gave up, Bill! He grew softer. After all the shit that woman did to him, he ran right under her boot again when he had the chance. He yelled at her and then apologized, and looked after her ‘till she died. I heard him talking to his wife on the phone when we were in Derry. She’s the fucking same person his mother was! She controlled him in the same way his mother did. And he took it. And he told her he loved her and couldn’t wait to go back to her. Thirteen years old Eddie wouldn’t take that. He would fight back. And then I realized that that Eddie didn’t exist anymore… and I felt so disappointed. I couldn’t believe he allowed the world to tame him.”

I didn’t mean to leave. I didn’t mean to do anything of that.

It’s the first time Eddie speaks in a while, and Bill knows he expects him to say that out loud. But Richie is not over yet.

“And then he… Then he kicked Bowers’ ass. He killed him. And he went and died for us. I know he died for us, okay? I just don’t wanna think about it. And I felt… and now I feel like an asshole. ‘Cause I felt disappointed on a friend that gave his life for mine. There, that’s how I feel. Are you happy now?”

Bill, tell him I didn’t mean to leave. Please.

“H-he didn’t mean to leave, R-Richie.”

Richie looks confused.

“What?”

I made a promise.

“He made a p-promise.”

“A promise?”

She didn’t want me to hang out with you guys anymore. She wanted to lock me away from everyone.

“His mom. His mom didn’t want him to… to s-see us.”

“What the—”

I promised her I’d took every pill and be with her forever if she…

“He p-promised her he… he’d do whatever she w-wanted…”

Didn’t make me get away from you.

“If she didn’t… make him get a-away from… from us.”

Richie thinks it over. His expression is skeptical, but Bill knows he’s trying to process it. He isn’t opposed to trust him and what he’s saying, it’s just that it’s not only hard to believe, but it also feels so far away. Bill has been with Eddie this whole week, his questions were answered and he had time to digest all the new information.

For Richie, who spent all these days alone and is consciously waiting to forget and resume his life, the events around It must feel, at best, like an odd dream he doesn’t want to remember. Being face to face with what happened has to be a big shock. They all thought it was over, and now it proves it will stay with them for years, even if they can’t put their finger on what is going on.

“How…” Richie begins, and Bill holds his breath, “How do you know that?”

“Uh… S-sorry?”

“How do you know about that? How can you know about that promise Eddie supposedly made?”

That’s it. If he keeps waiting for the right moment, it will never come. The right moment is now.

“’Cause Eddie… Eddie is not g-gone.”

Richie takes his time to answer.

“Fuck, really? You’re giving me the ‘he will live forever in our hearts’ speech? That’s why you came here?”

“No, R-Richie, you don’t… you don’t get it.”

“I totally get it. Alright, the man is dead, he was our friend, it sucks. Poor guy, seriously, what a shitty way to go. But he’s gone and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

“H-he’s not gone. Lis-listen to me—”

“You’re the one who wanted to care for the people who are still around. I don’t say it in an ‘it’s all your fault’ way. I mean, you’re right, let’s worry about the living, that’s the best thing to do. And… I’m a Christian, too, you know? Okay, the worst Christian ever, but I still am. If believing that those who left are somewhere and look after us is your thing, that’s amazing. But I—”

“I-I’m not giving you the… the f-fucking ‘he lives in our h-hearts’ speech, id-idiot,” Bill interrupts him, frustrated, “I can literally hear him in my… h-head.”

Richie frowns. Until now, the tone of his voice has been empathetic, almost amused, like he thinks Bill is going through a denial phase and he doesn’t want to break his bubble. Like he’s so over this all that listening to Bill talking about Eddie still being around awakes his compassion. Now, that compassion is gone. He stays in silence for an instant, he takes a few steps back, and everything that’s left is perplexity.

“What?” He questions.

“I know it’s hard to b-believe, but… Eddie’s here. Here,” he taps his own temple with his index finger, “He’s inside my… my head.”

“Uh… are you into scientology or another crazy celebrity cult? ‘Cause this sounds like cult stuff.”

“N-no, please, listen. Eddie d-died, but he couldn’t… he couldn’t leave. He still had something to d-do on… on Earth.”

“Oh, so you are into a cult. Okay, won’t judge you, I just… It’s scientology, right?”

“Will you just h-hear me out, please?”

“I just wanna know if it’s scientology!”

“No, I’m not into fucking s-scien-—”

“Scientology,” he finishes, pointing at him.

“What-whatever, I’m not. J-just listen. E-Eddie got into my b-body because he had to… to do something. And that’s why I’m h-here.”

“Buddhism!” He exclaims.

“No! F-fuck, no, you don’t even know what B-Buddhism is ab-about, do you?”

“I first thought about Judaism, but Stan was Jewish and he never got possessed or anything like that.”

“Fucking God…”

“Are you sure it isn’t scientology?”

Bill groans and stands up.

“I’m not a fucking s-scien-scientologist! This isn’t… This isn’t r-religious stuff or cult stuff or w-whatever you said. I’m telling you the truth! A f-few days ago, Eddie got into my body and asked for my help. He said he wanted to leave, but… h-he couldn’t. He has un-unfinished business and he won’t rest ‘till he takes c-care of it. It has something to… something to do with you and that’s why I came. I’m just trying to h-help him.”

“Man, are you okay? You want me to call someone or anything? Are you doing drugs?”

“He’s here r-right now.”

“’Cause let me tell you, drugs aren’t cool at all, okay? If your friends pressure you to take them, they’re not your friends.”

“He’s hearing this whole c-conversation.”

“Bill, I won’t ask you again, put all your drugs on the table.”

“Please, R-Richie! You’ve got to listen. He… he needs you to l-listen.”

Richie growls.

“Okay! If it means that much for you, tell me. C’mon, tell me what ‘Eddie needs me to know’. I’m sure it’s gonna be bullshit.”

“Y-you’re such an idiot! He was in love with you!” Bill snaps.

This time, he seems to reach the part of Richie that has been hiding during the whole meeting. Sure, he had his emotional moments, but now he looks so hurt, so enraged, Bill starts thinking he’d be capable of committing murder at this point.

“Excuse me?”

Bill crosses his arms over his chest. Even though he is scared, he has to stay firm.

“W-what I said.”

Richie takes a deep breath, as he’s trying to calm down. He probably doesn’t want to harm him and has to put a lot of effort into controlling himself.

“If that was supposed to be a joke, you should leave the comedy to me, Big Bill.” He quietly warns.

Bill gulps, building up enough courage to not withdraw what he’s saying.

“It’s not… it’s not a joke.”

“Bill, really, take that back. This isn’t fucking funny.”

“It’s not a j-joke!”

“Look, I’m really trying here, alright? I’m trying not to break your nose for this, ‘cause you’re my friend and I care for you and I know you’re going through some heavy shit right now. But if you don’t—”

“J-just think about it! Why… why would I l-lie to you? W-we fought an… an evil demon clown! Is this… That’s not harder to be-believe?”

“No, it’s not fucking harder to believe! I saw that thing, It was there, It killed people. But you’re telling me our dead friend is inside your body or whatever and that he was…”

“I-in love with you,” he completes, soft and careful.

The words still affect Richie like the first time he pronounced them. It’s like Richie is sticking to his common sense, looking for a logic explanation, and every time Bill tells him Eddie loved him, it goes past his rational side and goes straight to his unconsciousness. He is not ready to accept it, but he knows it.

Despise this, it doesn’t pulls him out from his anger for too long.

“Okay, you’re asking for it,” he tells him, a look of determination and fury in his eyes as he walks towards Bill, rolling up his sleeves.

Bill wants to stand there and use his words, try to bring Richie back to his senses without physical violence. But during his attempt to be polite, a fist gets shot against the air, and it passes so close to his face he realizes talking is not an option.

Luckily, Richie had a beer and is upset, while Bill remains sober and functional, so his reflexes are enough for him to bend and avoid another punch.

“P-please, you’ve got to—” he begs, taking the first chance he gets to run away from his reach.

“Shut up!” Richie shouts, going after him and throwing more arbitrary hits that never touch him.

They trot around the couches and chairs of the living room, even walking over them when it’s necessary. Bill knows Richie is not at his best form. When they were kids, it would have been a very tough fight and any of them could have won, but now Bill is sure he’s capable of sending his friend to the hospital.

He doesn’t have a reason to escape. Also, escaping wouldn’t be a hard thing to do. If he hurries, he can get to the door and Richie won’t ever be able to find him.

There’s a lot of things he could do, but only one will help Eddie.

“R-Richie, I don’t wanna… I don’t wanna fight with y-you…” He says when he’s at a safe distance.

“Oh, you don’t wanna fight?” Richie mocks him, shortening the gap between them, “Sure, you’re so over this, aren’t you? You’re so fucking mature. Well, if you really wanna be a man, then come here and fucking fight like one!”

Bill is cornered now. His back is touching the front door —subtly palming the doorknob, in case he can’t no longer control the situation— and he can smell the alcohol in Richie’s breath and feel his hands grabbing his collar. They’re in pause, no more pulling or throwing fists, but it won’t last. They both know it won’t last.

“I-I’m not gonna fight you. I… I won’t. You’re my f-friend.”

“Then why are you doing this, Bill? What the fuck is wrong with you? Are you… I don’t know, are you gay for me? You want my dick or something? I mean, c’mon, your wife died like… a week ago! What do you want from me?”

“I’m not gay! I’m just… I’m trying to… to help E-Eddie.”

Richie reliefs a cynical laugh.

“You’re trying to help Eddie? How? What the hell are you talking about?!” he reclaims, shaking him.

“I already… t-told you. I promised I’d… I’d h-h-help him.”

His eyes are starting to burn, filling with tears that Richie doesn’t seem to mind. His fury is consuming him, turning him into someone else. If the term ‘monster’ applied for them like it applies for common people, that would be the word to describe him right now.

“You’re fucking crazy, Bill! I don’t know what this all about, why you’re trying to make me believe in your ghost bullshit or what do you want from me, but you’ll shut the fuck up. I don’t wanna hear anything and the least you can do now is saying you’re sorry.”

“S-sorry? For what?!”

“For spreading lies about him! You can’t say shit like that, he’s not here to defend himself!”

“But—”

“No, you listen! He was not a faggot, got it? Get it inside your fucking head: Eds was not a fag—!”

He doesn’t end the sentence. As soon as he tries to repeat the insult, Bill’s left hand raises and slaps him in the face so hard it makes him lose balance. So hard his fingers leave a red mark all over his cheek.

Bill wants to apologize. He’s mad, of course, but he didn’t mean to take it that far. He didn’t mean to do that. However, the expression of regret won’t come out. He can’t talk. He can’t move one single muscle. All he can do is stand there, staring at the prettified mess that is Richie at this moment, looking at him with wide eyes and his chest raising and falling agitatedly, as his feet make him go backwards, short and slow steps.

“Don’t call me that,” Bill’s voice murmurs, except that he didn’t order it to do that.

Richie watches, even more disconcerted than before, be it for the words themselves or for the fact he didn’t stutter once.

“W-what?” he asks, no trail of wrath in his tone.

Bill can see the bottom of his own frowned eyebrows as his chin raises in a gesture of challenge. His left fist is closed, but his right arm hangs against his body, not moving at all.

“I said don’t fucking call me that, Richie.”

Richie gulps, still touching the mark on the side of his face. His eyes look slightly wet.

“You know I…”

Silence.

C-come on, Eddie. You can d-do it. I know you can. I know how b-brave you are.

Bill’s lungs slowly fill up with air. Then his mouth exhales.

Richie is waiting.

“You know I love you.”

Chapter Text

The last time Eddie saw Richie crying, he was about to say a sentence that was meant to never get finished. Now that he did it, now that he said it, now that the unbearable weight of silence is lifting off of his chest, he doesn’t feel any better and Richie is crying again.

“You…” he starts, covering his mouth with both hands as tears finally fall from his eyes, “No, you’re lying. This is all… this is too fucked up, Bill. Please drop it.”

Eddie sighs and tries to walk towards him, reaching out, as if one touch could be enough to demonstrate he’s telling the truth. But Richie won’t let him. Instead, he jumps back as if his fingers could burn him. When he lowers his hands and closes his fists —not as in an attempt of physical aggression, but in a coping mechanism that looks almost child-like— Eddie notices his lips are trembling. He had never seen him this vulnerable before.

“Just leave,” Richie begs, voice broken, “It was a super funny joke, okay? I don’t care anymore. I promise I don’t care anymore. You don’t have to say sorry or anything at all, alright? Just get out of my house, please.”

“Richie…” Eddie pleads, in the same tone.

“Bill, please, I’m telling you it’s fine, okay?! It’s fucking fine. I’m not mad, I just want you to leave.”

Eddie wants to insist. Even after that word and how it made him think he didn’t love Richie anymore for a brief instant, Eddie wants to take his honesty to the end and make sure his friend believes him. They both need that. However, he can’t get any sound out of his throat. Damn, he can’t even get air through it.

Richie’s eyes go wide and all supplication disappears when he stops for a second and sees what’s going on. Eddie wraps a hand around his own neck as his expression mutates from merciful to completely terrified. His breathing speeds up and becomes frenetic, desperate.

 “What?” Richie asks, worried for the first time in the whole night, “What’s wrong?”

“I’m… Fuck, I can’t…”

F-fuck, no…

Bill understands quickly and tries to take control again, but be it because of Eddie not wanting to let him or because of his reaction being too strong for allowing him to do that, he can’t. It’s like trying to wreck a brick wall only with his mind, and he keeps hitting against it as their vision goes blurry with every thrust.

Eddie is all alone in this. He arches his back and runs a nervous hand through his hair, gasping like a fish out of water while Richie watches, frozen, still incapable of facing what’s going on.

“Beep beep, Bill, you’re starting to freak me out,” he warns. It’s not a threat; just a warning.

H-he’s not me!

“Richie, please…” Eddie implores, “I can’t breathe! I’m having an…”

Please, do s-something! Richie, h-help him, he’s not… l-lying!

Bill throws his metaphorical fists against this imaginary wall, hoping Richie will listen. He knows Eddie is not okay. Even without a body to feel it, he can tell.

“What the fuck? What do you want me to do? I…”

Eddie’s face turns red and his legs go weak, causing him to fall on his knees. Using his good hand, he frantically checks his clothes.

“Where my… where’s my in-…” he mumbles, sounding more and more out of his mind. And then he remembers, “Shit, I left it in my other body!”

“Man, seriously, this is…” Richie starts, confused and uncomfortable, his eyes going everywhere but in Eddie’s direction.

“Please!” Eddie cries, “Please help me, I can’t breathe. I really… Shit, I’m… I can’t…”

R-Richie, please! You know who h-he is! You know it’s Eddie!

Eddie looks up at Richie with pleading eyes, hand still on his own chest, breathing still fast. Richie hesitates. He’s clearly scared and something inside him has to tell him this is serious, but disorientation won’t let him react. He stares down at him, eyebrows curved with concern and fear. His thumbnail is trapped between his shaky lips.

“Please…”

Richie sighs, still shocked, still panicking, but with a new-found determination that can only be awaken by deep trust in a friend.

“Okay, you really wanna go all the way with this. I know what to do, get up.”

He takes his hand and tries to pull him up. However, it’s like grabbing a string and he just manages to get him a few inches away from the ground before he falls again.

“What—?”

“Sorry,” Eddie breathes out, “I can’t… I don’t control this arm.”

“Oh my fucking God,” Richie grumbles before recovering a heaviest confidence in his voice, “Fine, let me…”

He lowers himself and puts his arms around Eddie’s waist. Eddie rests his hand on Richie’s shoulder as they finally succeed to get him up. Then they go back to the corner sofa and Richie makes sure he’s alright.

“You good?”

Eddie nods.

“Awesome, I know what to do, just… Wait here and don’t you move, okay?”

“Like I could go anywhere!”

“Keep up the amazing work!” Richie shouts, rushing out of the living room, upstairs.

Eddie lays back against the back of his sit, sighing while trying to get a grip of his breathing.

You’ve got to… c-calm down, Eds. Richie’s gonna h-help you, yeah? J-just breathe with me. In and out.

Bill guides Eddie for the next minutes until Richie comes back, only to pass in front of them at the speed of light and rush into the kitchen. They hear water running and doors being opened and slammed, before their friend returns, still running and holding up, like it’s some kind of war trophy, an object Eddie can’t identify.

He doesn’t get to ask what it is, because as soon as he opens his mouth, something made of plastic goes in and shots a sweet substance into his throat. He closes his eyes when he recognizes the feeling, his breath easing down, his muscles relaxing.

“That’s it,” Richie says, “So much better, huh?”

“Yeah,” Eddie quietly confirms as the inhaler leaves his mouth.

Richie sits beside him and rubs his back in comforting circles.

“How you doing, buddy?”

“I’m… I’m okay now… Thank you.”

“No problem.”

Eddie rejoices in the possibility of breathing normally again for a while, but once his eyes are open and he rationalizes what happened and what’s laying on the coffee table, the only thing he can do is wondering why.

“Why do you… Why do you have this?”

Richie seems taken aback by the question, but he soon laughs it off.

“Oh, you mean this old thing? Well, I…”

He closes his mouth, looking for the right word to say. Or maybe the most acceptable way to explain it. His hand is no longer rubbing Eddie’s back.

“Go on?” Eddie encourages.

Richie sighs, scratching the back of his neck.

“You probably don’t remember this but… One day, when we were kids, you… I mean him… I mean…”

“You’re talking about Eddie?”

“Yeah.”

“Then you can say ‘you’.”

He doubts for an instant, but almost immediately nods.

“Alright, so… your mom said really shitty things to you. Like, super heavy stuff. And you were so upset you came to hang out with us and you… you forgot your inhaler. And that same day, you had an attack.”

“Yeah, I remember that,” Eddie concurs, “It was horrible.”

“We managed to calm you down, but… we thought we’d lose you. Until It, I never thought… I never thought there could be anything in the world that could scare me that much.”

He reaches out and grabs the inhaler again, staring down at it and turning it around between his fingers.

“So I began to carry this thing around. In case you forgot yours.”

Eddie is speechless. He takes the inhaler from Richie’s hands and looks at it, too. The weight of it, its texture, its shape… its realness is overwhelming.

“Rich…”

“And when you found out about the bullshit it turned out to be, I remember I went and asked my dad what ‘gazebo’ meant. He chuckled and said ‘I’ll assume you mean placebo’ and then explained it. I asked him how could I make one and he answered that anything could be a placebo if the person who was taking it believed it would help, but the easiest way to do it was with water and sugar. So I started to fill the inhaler with that.”

“But… we knew it was bullshit. We knew it didn’t work.”

“Maybe it didn’t work… but it did help you.”

Eddie can’t help but smile. A soft, barely noticeable smile.

“It did help,” he agrees, “Thank you, Richie.”

“I never knew why I couldn’t get rid of it. I didn’t remember you or anything that happened, but I felt like I had to keep it. When I saw you in the ground, gasping, I understood… I understood everything.”

After finishing the sentence, Richie runs his hands over his face while releasing a frustrated groan, resting his elbows on his knees.

“Fuck, this is so messed up,” he growls, “How can…? Ugh, I can’t believe you’re here. But, I mean… it has to be you. Bill was right, why would he lie to me about this? He wouldn’t joke like that. Not even I would joke like that!”

“Richie—”

“And… and… damn, we fought a demonic clown! What the hell? This shouldn’t freak me out as much as it does. This isn’t that weird!”

“To be fair, it is a bit weird,” Eddie chuckles.

Richie doesn’t laugh. Shocked as he is, all he can do is remain silent, his mind working intensely to review every detail of their meeting. Eddie can’t tell at what point he began to believe them, but now that he does, it’s clearly a lot to take in.

“Shit,” Richie suddenly gasps, moving his hands away from his own face.

“What?”

“Sorry, nothing, it’s just…” He smiles, shaking his head, “My cheek kinda hurts, you know?”

Eddie frowns, confused. And then he remembers.

“I’m sorry about that,” he mutters.

“It’s okay, I deserved it.”

Richie shrugs, downplaying the importance of the matter. Even though it makes Eddie feel better for a little while, they can’t pretend it didn’t hurt both of them. They can’t pretend he didn’t confess his feelings and they can’t pretend that word wasn’t said. Of all the creative ways Richie always had to insult people, none could be as harmful as that one. And still, he chose to use it.

“I’m sorry, too,” he finally declares, quiet and ashamed.

Eddie stares at him.

“You know, for calling you a fa—”

“It’s fine, just don’t repeat it,” he answers, hand in pocket and a sad look in his eyes.

He stands up from the couch, ready to leave the topic behind, the feeling of betrayal too strong to let him sit beside Richie without breaking down. He doesn’t want to talk about it. He doesn’t want any more fights over something he can’t change. Over something he no longer wants to change.

“Eds,” Richie insists, “you know I didn’t—”

“Seriously, Richie, it’s fine,” Eddie interrupts him, “You just said what you thought. It’s not like no one ever said that to me before. It just hurt to hear it from you.”

“But that’s not what I think!”

“Really?” he questions, turning back at him with an eyebrow raised.

“Really! I only said that ‘cause I thought Bill was joking. I thought he was disrespecting your memory, that’s all. If I knew it was you, I wouldn’t—”

“Good to know you wouldn’t call me a faggot in my face.”

“Spaghetti man, come on, you know I didn’t mean it like—”

“Don’t call me one of your stupid names right now!” he shouts, “Don’t call me one of your stupid names after calling me that.”

Richie’s eyes open wide at the sudden change in his tone.

“Eds, calm down, you know I didn’t—”

“No, no, please don’t say that again, it just made it worse,” he cuts him off, shaking his head.

“What?”

“Don’t go ‘oh, if I knew it was you, I wouldn’t have said I think you’re a faggot, I would have just keep it to myself’. It’s fucking horrible, okay?”

“But I really don’t have a problem with that, Eds! Really, it’s no big deal. I’ve got a lot of friends who are… who are like… like you!”

“Great, what do you want? A medal? You can’t even say it!”

“You don’t get it, it’s hard for me!”

“What? What is so fucking hard for you?”

“To… to accept you’re like them!”

Eddie feels his blood burning with anger.

I-I’m gonna fucking k-kill him…

“Why?” He reclaims, “Why, Richie? Why is not wrong for them but it’s wrong for me?”

“’Cause that’s what they wanted, Eddie!”

His voice comes out so loud it resonates in all the walls. It even feels like it resonates in the whole city, and now everyone in LA knows what they’re discussing. It’s scary and a part of Eddie wants to shush him, tell him to speak lower so no one will find out about his secret. But he’s not like that anymore. He doesn’t have to hide anymore. And all it’s left is confusion.

“Who?” he softly asks.

Richie looks down, not answering.

“Who wanted that, Richie?”

Eddie hears him gulp and waits. Seconds after, Richie slowly raises his head, looking at him in the eye. He seems troubled.

“Everyone,” he responds, voice barely above a whisper, “Bowers and his stupid friends, the idiots at school… Fuck, even your mother at some point. At some weird point.” He sighs, “Everyone in that hell town. And they were right.”

“Richie…”

“Look at this place!” Richie explodes, standing up and opening his arms to show what he means, “Pretty fucking amazing, don’t you think? Well, I bought it. I bought it on my own, no help from my parents or anything. I came to LA with nothing and here I am now.”

Eddie watches in silence.

“Look at my teeth.” Richie points at his own mouth, “See? Got them fixed! I got everything fixed. Life fucking smiles at me and asks me to take it home. No more huge glasses or people beep-beeping me. The whole country laughs at my jokes. I’m one of the better dressed men in this fucking city, goddammit! I fuck actresses, supermodels, pop stars. I can’t even get out of my house without a hot twenty-something beauty giving me her number.

”They said I wouldn’t make it, huh? They said I’d die a virgin, huh? They said I wouldn’t go anywhere. Well, joke’s on them! I’ve got everything I’ve ever wanted. People think I’m hilarious, people think I’m smart, people want me to sleep with them. Go tell the thirteen year old nerd in Derry he would come this far. Go tell all those assholes that that loser would come this far.”

“Richie—”

“Oh, but wait, I’m not the only one. Haystack got hot, got the job of his dreams and married the woman he’s been in love with since he was a kid. Bev designs clothes for the gods, practically. She faced her abuser and won her own life over. Stan had a nice life. Sure, It fucked it up, but before that he got a wife he loved and he was happy with her.

”Bill became famous. He took all the shitty stuff that happened without even realizing it and turned it into something people would make him rich for. He married an actress and he was respected and no one cared about his stuttering anymore. People only wanted to hear what he had to say.

”Mike survived hell. Mike really survived hell. He sacrificed himself so all of us could live our lives. And yeah, maybe he didn’t make it as good as he deserved, but he still had a good job. He worked with books and history and all the nerdy stuff he loved so fucking much. It wasn’t perfect but it was something.

”We all made it. We all proved them wrong. Richie is actually funny, Ben is hot, Bev is more than just her body, Bill is more than his stuttering, Mike is more than the black guy and Stan was more than the Jew. But—”

“But Eddie was still the faggot,” Eddie quietly nods, looking down, “Is that what you’re saying, Richie? Is that what you think about me?”

Richie sighs.

“Ugh, why do I always have to be the bad guy?” He mutters, “No, Eds, that’s not what I mean at all! I just… I just really wanted them to be wrong about you, like they were about everybody else. I didn’t want them to win.”

Eddie doesn’t say anything. Bill has been completely silent for a while. Richie takes the beer bottle from the table and takes a sip.

“They didn’t win, Richie,” Eddie suddenly clarifies, “They almost won, they were winning, but… they didn’t win.”

Richie just stares back at him, puzzled.

“I know they thought I was just a faggot, but I’m starting to wonder if that’s what you think, too. ‘Cause… I’ve got a job, too, you know? Not only a job, but my own business. I loved cars and I made them my living. I drove for actors, musicians, politicians. All kind of famous, respectable people that maybe you fucked at some point of your life. They trusted me with their safety ‘cause I was good at what I did.

”I had my own place, too. A very nice place. And a woman who loved me more than anything waiting for me there. That’s something I think you don’t have. I mean, I don’t see it anywhere.

”I was successful, I did everything I thought I wanted to do, but I wasn’t happy. Forty fucking years, Richie, and the only moment of true happiness I ever had was when I was dying. ‘Cause I finally understood. I finally had something that money couldn’t buy. And it felt amazing. It was the first time all that success translated into something I could really feel as mine. I would take those five minutes of ‘being just a faggot’ over years of ‘proving them wrong’ anytime.”

Eddie hasn’t stopped to really look at Richie until now. Although he seemed to be doing that during the whole speech, it was just to make a point and he didn’t care about how Richie was reacting then. Everything that mattered was showing how sure of his words he was. He was just trying to feel powerful. He couldn’t tell his mother and the people from Derry all of this, but he could tell someone who needed to listen. That was enough.

Now it’s time to analyze the consequences of that decision. It won’t change anything, he already said what he had to say and he isn’t planning to take it back, but he wants to reap the fruits of what he sowed.

Richie has his arms crossed and is looking down at his own feet. It’s strange, because Eddie expected a burst of attacks and insults, the kind of stuff that used to happen when someone confronted Richie when they were kids. Or simply a smartass response, something for his compressed fury to hold on. But he’s standing there, biting his lower lip, looking like a child who got called out by his parents.

He’s not that far away from what Eddie is saying. He’s close enough for Eddie to reach out and grab him and take him out from the bubble he is trapped in. Just the smallest of pushes…

“Maybe you should start asking yourself if proving them wrong is that worthy,” Eddie concludes, “For me it wasn’t. Do you think that you being unsatisfied with your perfect life will teach them a lesson? ‘Cause I think that’s what they really wanted.”

Richie doesn’t reply. He stays still, so encapsulated by his own, indecipherable thoughts that he’s no longer in the scene anymore. Eddie waits, but nothing happens. The bubble doesn’t pop.

D-drop it, Eddie. You did what you… h-had to do. Let’s go.

Eddie nods and turns around, walking towards the exit.

“Goodbye, Richie. Have a nice life.”

You deserve b-better.

His fingers are almost around the doorknob when it happens. Richie says something.

“Did you really mean that?”

Eddie turns back at him, skeptical.

“Mean what?”

Richie inhales deeply.

“You know… that.”

“I meant everything I said, Richie.”

“Yeah, but… Bill said you were…” he gulps, “In love with… with me.”

The answer takes a while to come, but when it does, there’s no shadow of reluctance on it. Confident as a bullet between the eyes.

“Yes.”

“Is that true?”

Eddie nods seriously.

“You’re in love with me?”

“Yes.”

“Not as friends.”

“Not as friends.”

“In a homosexual way.”

“Yes.”

“In an ‘I would suck your dick’ kind of way.”

“Well, maybe not at this particular moment. I’m pretty fucking pissed off right now.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be.”

Richie exhales the smallest amount of air and sits back on the couch.

“Shit, this is… this is a lot,” he mumbles, “I… I don’t know what to tell you… When… when did it start? How did you realize? I know most people just wake up with the revelation that Richie Tozier is the hottest man on Earth, but… you? I thought you were better than that.”

“Could you talk like an adult for one second, please?” he complains, walking back to him, “This is not a joke for me.”

“Damn, Eds, I seriously hope it isn’t, ‘cause you’re giving me a heart attack.”

“I shouldn’t have said anything,” Eddie whispers, sitting next to him, “This was such a stupid idea. Falling in love with you is such a stupid idea in general.”

“I know, right?”

“I’m sorry I told you.”

“I’m kinda sorry you did, too… You’ve… you’ve given me a lot to think, you know?”

“It’s always dangerous to make you think too much,” he chuckles.

Richie giggles, too.

“I could live without knowing it,” he admits, abruptly saddened.

“Yeah, but I couldn’t leave without telling you.”

“I don’t…” He releases a breathless laugh, probably feeling as stupid as Eddie feels, “Fuck, I’ve got to be really honest here, alright?”

“That’s all I’m asking from you.”

“I never… thought about you… in that way, you know? Well, I never thought about any of the Losers in that way. I just… I didn’t think about it. I never saw you like… more than a friend.”

Eddie can’t hide his disappointment. He knew it would happen, but it still hurts.

“I get it… Thanks for—”

“No, wait, there’s more.”

“Oh, fuck, there’s more…”

Richie turns a bit on his seat, now facing him. His lips are parted and convulsing in an almost imperceptible way, perhaps revealing that there are words behind them fighting for coming out. Eddie notices the thick ball of spit sliding down the insides of his throat. This has to be the hardest thing to say for him and Eddie is willing to wait all night long if he must. He came this far to tell his truth and he won’t leave without hearing Richie’s.

“Look, Eds, you never gave it a thought, as far as I know. I didn’t do it, either. It never crossed my mind. But… fuck, this really changes everything, doesn’t it? It’s like when a girl you’ve never been interested in says she wants you and then you start thinking ‘do I want her, too?’ I mean, that kind of thing.”

Eddie’s heart flips.

“Who am I in this situation?” he manages to ask, voice walking on a tightrope, “The girl?”

“Yeah! I-I mean, no. I mean… Fuck, this so hard to explain. I just… I’m just sitting here, trying to remember everything. I feel like… like I missed something. Like It’s still got a part of my memory. A super important part when it was obvious you wanted me and I didn’t notice. Some kind of hint, I don’t know. This is a mess.”

“No, it isn’t,” Eddie corrects him, almost smiling and taking his hand, “I feel like I missed something, too. It all hit me in one instant, too. But you know what? I didn’t question it. I didn’t review my whole life trying to find the exact point when I started… loving you. ‘Cause I didn’t feel like I had to justify myself. This is not a trial, I didn’t do anything wrong. That’s why I can’t tell you when I realized. I don’t have that answer, and if you really understood how I feel, you wouldn’t need it, either.”

Richie looks down, conflicted.

“Jesus fuck…” he whispers.

“What?”

“Nothing, it’s just… you’re holding my hand.”

Eddie looks down, too, and finds out he never let go. The warm presence of the back of Richie’s hand under his palm is terrifying. Everything that he can feel through Bill’s five senses is overwhelming somehow, but Richie’s fingers between his is another level of shock he isn’t prepared to tolerate. Still, he keeps holding his hand, experimentally caressing it with his thumb.

“Oh, yeah,” he confirms, “Want me to… to let go?”

Richie goes stiff.

“Oh, no, it’s okay, really. It’s just…” he gulps, “It feels… different… weird.”

“Oh… you mean good weird or—”

“Good weird,” Richie states, without a shadow of a doubt, “Definitely good weird.”

“Good weird is good.”

“Yeah… it’s good.”

They stare at their hands, mesmerized. They seem to fit together so perfectly, like they were meant to be. Eddie feels embarrassed for thinking that, for becoming such a cliché. He recalls the moments in their childhood when Richie would return from playing in the mud or holding frogs, and try to touch him with his dirty hands. Or when, in cold winter days, he would put them on his cheeks, making him screech from the freezing feeling. Or those legendary birthday parties, always finishing with Richie eating cake without a fork and running after Eddie with his fingers painted with chocolate just to freak him out.

He used to want Richie’s hands so far away from him. He used to hate them so much… and now he feels like he couldn’t live without them. Even without being actually alive, even after dying, he knows he would die again if Richie stops this.

Eddie looks up to his eyes again and Richie imitates him. He didn’t remember his eyes were so big. Maybe the glasses magnified them, but he never thought about them regardless that attention-calling trait. It’s like he never looked at him until now. And by the way his friend is staring back, he could say this is the first time Richie looks at him, too.

Then Richie chuckles.

“Holy shit, this is so embarrassing,” he confesses, shaking his head, “I’m sweating. I feel like an awkward twelve year old.”

“That’s how I feel all the time,” Eddie says, smiling.

“Fuck, man, it’s horrible,” Richie keeps laughing, “How do I make it stop?”

“I don’t know! I just… I don’t know.”

They stay like that for a while, irresistibly amused by their own unease. It’s the best thing they can do, now that their friendship is ruined, for better or worse. There’s no way they can dance around it forever. Be it for a nice closure or a temporal pain in the heart, this will take their relationship to a different place. A place that is scary for both of them, a place that could break them, but different, after all. They both know they need different more than anything.

“I can’t believe this,” Richie whispers, leaving all the jokes behind, “Shit, Eds, you’re here. I can’t… You came back, I’m talking to you. I never thought I’d get to talk to you again. This is… this is fucking insane! I feel like I’m going insane. You’re sure you aren’t It, right?”

“I promise you I’m not It,” Eddie smiles.

“I… Damn, I need you to understand how weird this all is,” he insists, running his free hand over his cheek, making him jump a bit, “’Cause I know it’s you. Like, I really know it’s you. But it’s also Bill. I mean, this is Bill’s face. And I’m so fucking confused.”

“It’s okay. I’m confused, too.”

“There’s so… so many things I want to say. So many things I could never even begin to—”

“Try, Richie,” he murmurs, altering between looking into his eyes and paying quick stares to his lips, “Please try. I wanna hear everything.”

Richie’s fingertips travel down the line of his jaw, until his thumb reaches his lower lip and gently caresses it. Eddie closes his eyes at the touch. It’s measured, tentative, like they’re testing unknown waters and don’t want to drown. Without even realizing it, he gives Richie’s thumb a soft peck.

“I’m so sorry, Eds,” Richie finally breaks, “I can’t believe I left you there. I knew you hated it, I knew you’d be scared, and still I—”

Eddie slowly opens his eyes.

“Stop that,” he begs, “You didn’t leave me there. Can’t you see? I’m here. Bodies mean nothing. When you’re gone —and I hope it happens when you’re very, very old—, you’ll understand that bodies mean nothing. They’re just… they’re just the shape we take to move around the world and feel sensory stuff, nothing else. I’m not in the sewers, I’m here with you. That piece of flesh is rotting and will never be found, but we’re sitting on your couch having a conversation right now. So please don’t apologize. You did what you had to do and I’ll never hate you for that.”

“I… Look, I know you’re right, but you don’t get it. You don’t know how much it fucking hurts. I watched my best friend die. That shit… that shit isn’t rational, it’s like Jackie Chan kicking you on the chest. It just… it hurts so fucking much and you can’t see that.”

“I know it hurts, Richie. Really, I do. It hurt to see you cry, too. That’s why I smiled. I didn’t want our last moment together to be a horrible memory or a traumatic thing. But it really hurt me to see you crying and how I couldn’t do anything to fix it.”

“Why did you have to do that, Eds?” he whimpers, “Nobody asked you to do that. We got ourselves in that place, you didn’t have anything to do with it.”

“Would you let me die?”

Richie frowns.

“Sorry, what?”

“I’m asking you if you would let me die… if I wasn’t already dead. Would you have left me there, staring into the deadlights?”

“What kind of stupid question is that? Fuck, Eds, of course I wouldn’t.”

“Then why is it wrong when I do it? ‘Cause I didn’t do it out of pure friendship?”

Richie exhales a humorless laugh.

“No, really, tell me. Is it about me being gay for you? You think it makes it some corny big gesture from a romantic drama? Some Titanic bullshit?”

“Man, are you fucking serious? I’m glad you saved my life, I don’t care about the reason, but I’m kinda sad you had a horrible death, what’s so homophobic about it?”

“I told you I love you, you fucking asshole, and you can’t even give me a proper answer, but you’ll just say ‘nothing homophobic going on here’.”

“I just don’t have a proper answer! Sorry, Eds, I don’t! I’m fucking confused. I never looked at a man, and I know that’s something ‘straight’ guys say all the time, but it’s the truth. And now I’m not sure if I’m just thankful ‘cause you saved my life and sad ‘cause you died or if I’m…”

He goes quiet before saying it, but Eddie knows well enough. The only reason why he doesn’t interrupt him, is because he’s aware how bad Richie needs to say it. That’s a necessity he can definitely understand.

“I think you get the picture,” Richie finishes, ashamed.

“Yeah, I think I do.”

“I know you didn’t come here to hear me say ‘I have no idea of what the hell is going on…’ I know you needed a ‘me too’ or a ‘fuck off.’ I’m sorry, Eddie Spaghetti.”

“Don’t call me that. But… I guess that’s better than a ‘fuck off’,” he chuckles, “It isn’t a ‘fuck off’, right?”

Richie smiles, too.

“Not a ‘fuck off’ at all.”

“But it isn’t a ‘me too’, either,” Eddie sighs.

“Look, Eds, the thing is…” Richie starts, squeezing his hand for the shortest moment, “I don’t know.”

Eddie looks up at him, perplexed.

“What?”

“Guess this is one of those things that would be a lot easier if you really were here now. Like, your body. Don’t get me wrong, Bill’s eyes are stunning,” he laughs, “but… I wish I was looking at yours. Your real eyes, that now feed the family of a hard-working worm who—”

“Beep-beep, Richie.”

“Sorry, got a bit carried away. I just think… it’d be so… I mean, it shouldn’t be that complicated… if… you know… Ugh, I really want to ask you something, but I don’t know the straight way to say it.”

Eddie can’t help but laugh.

“Then say it in the gay way.”

Richie lets go of his hand, closes his eyes and inhales deeply, like an actor who is preparing to come out to stage. Damn, maybe he does that before acting. And now he’s doing it because of Eddie.

“Alright, I’ll just… say it, okay? But don’t get me wrong.”

“Richie, no one ever gets anything you say, just do it.”

“I’ll do it, I’ll do it! I’m just taking my time, ‘cause… Well, here I come… Can I… Can I kiss you?”

The request takes Eddie by surprise, giving him no chance of camouflaging his shock. His expression doesn’t go unnoticed for Richie, who doesn’t waste a second before start explaining himself.

“I mean, it’d really help me to figure out if… if it’s a ‘fuck off’ or a… ‘me too’… But, I mean, you don’t have to do it. I won’t make you do something you don’t wanna do. I’m not even sure I wanna do it, I just think it would help. And, you know, people say I’m a good kisser. Like, a girl once told me I was the only guy she knew who took his time and didn’t go for tongue-on-tongue action too soon, and that’s when I was nineteen, so it says a lot…”

“Richie—”

“And my ex-girlfriend, not the latest one but the one before her, went crazy when I did that thing… You know, the thing of…” He does a weird movement with his lips that makes Eddie want to run away and never come back, “And that’s a very popular thing. And I was in a romantic comedy like, four years ago, and Vogue said it was one of the best kisses of the year, so—”

“Richie, I—”

“What I’m trying to say is that you won’t be disappointed, if that’s bothering you, but you don’t have to do it if you—”

“Will you fucking listen to me?”

Richie shuts his mouth and gulps.

“Rich, there’s nothing I’d like more than kiss you right now, really, but… this is not my body. I’m not the only one you should be asking for permission.”

They both stay in silence for a while. Richie looks disenchanted, but Eddie can tell he knows he’s right. After everything Bill did to make this last goodbye possible, the goodbye life decided to take away from them, they can’t disrespect him like this. He’s their friend above everything else. Even above their questions.

D-do it.

Eddie jumps at the sudden voice inside his head. Richie goes alert like a hunter’s hound.

“What?” Eddie asks, dazed.

“Is he talking to you?”

“Shhh, I want to hear him…”

Do it if you w-want to, Eddie. It’s okay.

“Bill, are you… are you sure? This is still your body and still your decision. You’ve got the last word on it…”

I-I know. And I’m sure. You both need this… c-closure. I’m not stopping you.

“Fuck, this is… but do you really—”

Eddie, you asked me to t-trust you. Now I’m asking you to… t-trust me. C’mon, kiss him like you mean it.

There’s a complicity in his tone that makes Eddie smile. Richie, who only can hear a half of the conversation, is impossibly confused.

“He said yes?”

Eddie nods, practically shining with happiness.

“Fucking God, he said yes!” Richie exclaims, so excited he almost sounds like he just proposed. Then he takes Eddie by the chin and makes him lean to the side, shouting into his ear, “Thank you, Billy!”

“You know he can still hear you when you talk normally, don’t you?” Eddie groans.

“Oh, don’t you try to change the topic on me, Eds. C’mere and give daddy a kiss.”

And this is the moment when I leave you guys alone.

“Only if you don’t ever call yourself daddy again.”

“No promises,” Richie winks, putting his hand on Eddie’s chin again, this time to bring him closer to his face.

Eddie closes his eyes and gives in. There’s nothing else to do. This is the actual climax of his life. Not his graduation, not his wedding, not his final sacrifice; this. All those years of surviving without living were built specifically to come to this conclusion. Once Richie’s lips meet his, it will all be over. He has to make it count.

It’s a soft touch with the slightest of pressures. They stay together for a few seconds and all Eddie can think about is how unfair it is that Bill is the writer, not him. Because this is the kind of kiss he wished he could describe in the most delightful and detailed way, using all the literary devices that would make the great authors of history claim ‘purple prose, purple prose!’ and go after him with tridents and sharp pencils like a lynch mob. But he can’t do that. He doesn’t have the words to do that.

There’s so much life in this kiss, that’s the only thing Eddie can really say about it. The whole life of any human being could be summarized with this kiss. The hesitation and gentleness of every first kiss, the hunger for new experiences of teenagers who start to discover the other’s body, the trust and dedication of two friends who know they would literally die for each other. Everything compressed in such a simple, yet so meaningful gesture.

Richie’s lower lip caresses Eddie’s upper. Still a touch, no sound or wetness required. Eddie melts against the feeling, their noses rubbing together in an almost awkward way. Richie’s hand is on his cheek and he leans the side of his face against it. They keep brushing their lips together, surrendering to the overwhelming magic of being so close after they thought they had lose each other.

That’s how it ends. They separate and slowly open their eyes, trying to control their panting. Richie was right, it is like being twelve years old again. It feels so unreal, so unbelievable… but not unnatural. Unnatural is the only thing that doesn’t cross their minds.

“I love you, Richie,” Eddie whispers.

Richie bites his lip and groans. It kind of seems like he’s about to puke, but it’s not enough to qualify as a gagging.

“It’s okay, you don’t have to say it back.”

“I want to…” Richie tells him, “I mean, I wish I could, but…”

“You’re not ready,” Eddie finishes, a sad grin on his face.

“I’m sorry.”

“Please don’t—”

“Someday I’ll be,” he hurries to explain, “Just… not today, Eds. Not when you need me to be ready. And I’m really fucking sorry for that.”

Eddie shakes his head, unexpectedly amused.

“Richie, I don’t need you to be ready. Now or in forty more years, I don’t need you to,” he smiles, taking his hand, “But, when you’re ready, I’ll be waiting for you… if you still want me.”

“It might take a long time.”

“Yeah, but… it’s gonna take a lot to drag me away from you.”

Richie looks disconcerted for a while, and then laughs.

“Oh, fuck, I remember that song!” he says, “Shit, I… I remember everything.”

Eddie looks down.

“I’m gonna miss you, buddy,” Richie confesses.

“Yeah, me too, but we’ll see each other again… Very fucking soon if you keep up the cancer sticks.”

“And there he is. I’m officially convinced you’re Eds.”

“You still doubted it?”

They laugh again. Considering the situation, laughing is getting way too easy.

“We’re really… meeting again, aren’t we?” Richie dares to ask.

“Sure, why not? I mean, you’ve been my personal hell since we were kids. Like it would be so easy to get rid of you.”

“Now you’re just being mean,” he jokes, “And right when I was starting to think you were a friendly ghost.”

Not willing to listen to more nonsense, Eddie kisses him again. This time with more confidence, more possession, and all Richie can do is take it as it comes and throw his arms around Eddie’s neck, the thought of how no woman in all his life has kissed him like this or made him feel this way invading his mind.

But as soon as it started, it’s over. Eddie backs off and blinks a few times, as if he just came in and has no idea of what is going on. Richie gets it, no matter how much he wished he didn’t.

“He… he’s gone, isn’t he?” He asks, voice low and vacillating.

Bill bites his lower lip, eyes watering. He expected this to happen and he’s been preparing himself for it, but he still needs to convince himself he’s as upset as Richie is. Whatever takes his mind off the fact he can still taste Richie’s mouth on his own.

“I-I… I think he is,” he confirms. The next thing he knows is that they’re in each other’s arms, crying. “I’m so… s-sorry, Rich.”

Richie doesn’t answer. He limits to hold him tight, almost as if he was pretending that Eddie is hiding behind those clothes and hair and face. He refuses to accept a person, a whole person with a name and a job and lots of people around them, can disappear just like that. Being life the most important possession any human being can have, it can’t be fragile and volatile enough to fly out of a body in a mere instant and never come back. It can’t be that simple.

However, he has to face it. Eddie is no longer there. He’s gone. The only thing that exists right now is Bill. His good, old friend Bill, who is showing him support and empathy in a hug that says everything. Who went through all this work just to help both Eddie and him. Bill has to be enough. He must. He should.

Richie is doing all he can to turn this idea into his new religion and philosophy, when he notices something. Bill’s right arm is not holding him anymore.

“You really thought I would leave without saying goodbye?”

Richie grabs his shoulders and pushes him away, a shook expression on his face. Eddie laughs.

“You little shit!”

“I’m sorry…” he apologizes, still chuckling, “I really am, I just… you didn’t think I wouldn’t say goodbye, did you?”

“I don’t know, you’ve been such a spiritual pretentious asshole since you transcended and discovered the secrets of the fucking universe.”

He’s kinda right.

“Well, but I wouldn’t go like that. I mean, unless Bill wants me to…”

They silently wait for an answer that Bill is taking way too much time to give.

You can s-stay as long as you w-want.

Eddie smiles.

“He’s okay with it.”

“Shit, I knew it! Thank you, Billy!” Richie shouts into his ear again.

“Okay, but you really don’t need to do that.”

The three of them laugh.

“I hate to ruin the party,” Richie says, “but exactly how long are you allowed to stay before he recurs to the nearest exorcist?”

“I’ll have to ask him…”

I’ll be in LA for t-two weeks. I’ve got to fix some… st-stuff. You know, producers and e-everything. You can stick around ‘till I go back to England.

“We have two weeks.”

“Two weeks!” Richie exclaims, hopping out his seat, “But that’s such a short time and there’s so much to see! I won’t even be able to take you to all the shitty places where I go to get drunk or get high or get drunk and high or—”

“Richie, that sounds amazing, but I’m really tired and Bill has to be up super early tomorrow. We should get going.”

“Oh.”

“But we can see each other after Bill’s meeting. We could have lunch together and then you can take me to your… shitty places to get drunk and high, if Bill doesn’t mind.”

I don’t mind.

“He doesn’t mind.”

“Uh… well, that’s awesome. My worky things are in the morning, too, so… Guess I’ll see you then.”

“I guess so.”

After a few more uncomfortable chuckles, Richie walks them to the door.

“1PM tomorrow?” He smiles.

“Don’t be late, Trashmouth,” Eddie imitates him.

“Make sure to wear your lace underwear.”

“Please don’t wear the elephant boxers.”

“I threw them away! I’m too fat for them now, anyway… and long.”

“Too much information.”

“Yeah, definitely too much,” he winks.

Eddie rolls his eyes and laughs. They’re serious again before the previous jokes even get the time to settle in.

“You think this will work?” Richie asks, “I mean… us? This scary, weird new thing?”

“Rich, we bit the shit out of a child-eating demon clown… do you really think this is weird and scary?”

“Maybe not that scary but… clearly weird.”

“That’s what I like about you.” He gently holds his hand and squeezes it. “We’ll figure it out.”

Richie nods without hiding the soft smile that reaches his lips.

“Goodnight, Eds.”

“Goodnight.”

With everything said, Eddie turns around and starts walking away, into the dreamily darkness of the garden. Once he hears the front door shutting down, he lets Bill take control again.

“That went w-well,” Bill admits.

It wasn’t a ‘me, too.’

“It wasn’t a ‘fuck off.’”

Eddie doesn’t talk.

“Y-you’ll be fine, Eddie. Just trust me.”

Always.

Chapter Text

Eddie can’t say he didn’t think about canceling the date. Actually, canceling the date has been the only thing on his mind since he and Bill left the bed. He spent the whole morning contemplating the idea, trying not to be too loud, since his friend needed to put all his effort into looking wrecked and lonely for the eyes of the producers. He didn’t even hear the conclusion of the meeting, and he felt afraid of asking. The last thing he wants is to make it seem like he doesn’t care about Bill’s problems.

He built up a few excuses, too. Lying to Richie shouldn’t be that hard, and he was already reluctant about the ‘new scary, weird thing’, so he wouldn’t insist or ask for any further explanation. Bill could get sick, or devastated after discussing his wife’s death, or Eddie could simply have come to the conclusion that he doesn’t love Richie. At least not as he thought. He was confused, that’s all.

He doesn’t even need to cancel. He took care of his unfinished business, he’s allowed to leave whenever he wants. And, to be honest, he could use an eternal nap after everything he’s gone through. Richie will wait for him and, when he finally realizes Eddie won’t come, he’ll go home and start to forget.

Richie said he wanted to forget. He said he wanted to get over Eddie’s memory and death. Eddie not attending their lunch would be the best thing that could happen to him.

And, damn, this is not just about Richie. Eddie himself isn’t sure if he wants to go back into the dating scene. He thought he would get away from it forever when he got married, and he can’t help but think he shouldn’t be doing it at his current age. He went out with a few girls when he was younger —always during his short seasons of ‘I’ll become strong and independent and I’ll show my mother I can live without her’— and everything he can recall from that dark era is awful.

All different from the others: tall, short, blonde, brunette, curvy, skinny; but all of them with the same demanding, enthusiastic voice, going on and on about their lives and wanting to find out more and more about Eddie’s. Asking, digging, questioning. Did he have lots of friends while growing up? He couldn’t remember. How many ex-girlfriends? None, they never lasted enough to earn that title. How could someone like him still be single? Sonia Kaspbrak, that’s how.

The most voluptuous ones would lean towards him, their giant breasts spreading all over the table, making him think about cows and lose his appetite for the rest of the night. The most demonstrative liked to casually play with his pinky ring and put their hand on his shoulder while acting like his jokes were super funny and bat their eyes while smiling sweetly at him. The shyest ones barely made any eye contact and they usually had a friend who called pretending a relative of them had a car accident, just in time to save them from the silence when it became unbearable.

But all of them had something in common. They expected to be taken home, and held, and kissed, and, sometimes, made love to. That was the concept Eddie couldn’t stand. And God knows he tried to explain it without hurting anyone’s feelings. Some took it well, but the ones who would cry and tell him he didn’t like them were the worst. He ended up putting his hands on their cheeks, making them look at him in the eye and talking about how they were amazing and deserved better for hours until their ego was restored.

Yeah, you deserve better, he thought. Preferably anyone but me.

I’ll call you, he’d say, and he’d never call. He didn’t give them his number because he was too scared of his mother picking up the phone. The only time he felt like he could trust someone with such personal information, was a ginger girl he met in college. She was nice and funny, and Eddie felt randomly willing to keep seeing her. Of course, he later concluded he only liked her as a friend, but the connection was there. He always connected with ginger girls, even though he couldn’t put his finger on the reason behind it.

When Sonia found out about her, their house almost exploded. She accused him of not loving her anymore, of trying to leave her. She cried and screamed that he had changed, that he felt like he was too good for his mother.

“You use people and then throw them away,” she sobbed, “I dedicated my whole life to you, to keep you safe and healthy, and now that you think you can take care of yourself, you want to get rid of me as soon as possible. But you’re wrong. You’re sure you can make it on your own but you’re wrong, Eddie. You’d be nothing without me.”

That was their biggest fight and the only time he decided to remind her about the fake meds. He was convinced it would make him win the argument and his whole life. However, it only made it worse. By the time she was crying in his arms, telling him she loved him and she didn’t want to lose him, he had already promised he would never date someone without letting her know again.

And he kept that promise. The next one was Myra and their relationship barely touched the dating phase. They got married by inertia and he acted like he loved her till the very last day.

So Eddie isn’t a professional on dating. He didn’t enjoy it, and somehow, going out on a date with Richie doesn’t seem right. What would they do? Sit down and eat their meal and pretend they don’t know everything about each other? Will Richie try to flirt with him like he would flirt with the random, hot women he’s used to date? How does a first date work when you already admitted you’re in love with the other person? Does Richie expect him to hold the doors open for him and pay the bill, like his previous romantic interests? Or will Richie do that for him? If that’s the case, how can he make it clear that he doesn’t want to be treated like a lady?

Fuck, how does gay dating work, anyway? Eddie hasn’t even considered that word yet. He just knows he likes Richie, he’s attracted to him and he doesn’t like women, which, by default, should make him gay. But the term isn’t something he’s accustomed to. He tries to act like an expert for Richie, because he understands that Richie is going through a lot and he needs someone to guide him. He makes an effort because Richie needs him, and that’s what finally convinces him that he can’t just cancel their date.

Richie needs him. Yes, Eddie loves him and wants to be with him, but that’s not the most important part of the deal. If he leaves the world and Richie falls for another man —or even a woman— and gets married and completely forgets about him, it won’t matter. Hurting and mattering aren’t the same thing. Essentially and most significantly, he will be happy for him. He doesn’t mind if the true love of Richie’s life is someone else. The only thing he cares about is that Richie accepts himself.

The confusion on his face and in his voice the night before, made Eddie’s heart shrink. He knows that doubt, that guilt, and he doesn’t want that for Richie. He wants him to look at himself in the mirror and, regardless of who’s in his bed that morning, feel no shame about liking both men and women and realize nothing can change that. After years of denial, Eddie knows the best gift he can give to someone he loves, is helping them to get to that point of awareness and freedom.

No, he won’t cancel. He can’t. His unfinished business might be completed, but he still has something to do. He won’t let Richie down.

“Okay,” he nods decisively, fixing the collar of his shirt in front of the mirror, “How do I look?”

Bill chuckles.

Y-you look amazing, if I do say so myself.

Eddie smiles too. He has spent the last twenty minutes wandering through the bathroom, looking for lotions and deodorants and hygiene products that Bill didn’t even know existed. As soon as they left the studio office, Eddie concluded they had to shower, and despite the insistence of his friend on how they were clean enough, he took that decision to its most extreme consequences. To the point where Bill is starting to think they might never leave the room.

Bill tried to be understanding and supportive. He gets it; life hasn’t been nice to Eddie, principally on the romantic department. The best thing he can do is play along and do anything he can to make it easier for him. But when Eddie resolves that their hair just doesn’t look good enough and that it’s probably because of the shampoo, so they should shower again, Bill knows it’s time to stop.

Okay, w-wait a minute… What’s wrong with my h-hair?

Eddie freezes with his hand inches away from the shower faucet.

“Oh, nothing,” he quickly clarifies, scared of Bill taking it the wrong way, “It looks good, really, but—”

Then why would you c-change it?

“’Cause… ‘cause it doesn’t look good on me, alright? It looks amazing on you, but not on me.”

Bill releases an exasperated sigh.

Eddie, we’ve literally got the same f-face.

Eddie opens his mouth to reply but, sooner than later, he realizes he doesn’t have any argument to what he wants to say.

Also, we’re gonna be late if we—

“But there’s so much I need to do,” he answers immediately, alarmed, “We… we haven’t shaved.”

W-we shaved this morning! What are you t-talking about?

“I know we did, fine? But I’m not convinced. Your skin feels weird and… and I’m sure it doesn’t look just-shaved enough… Maybe with some lotion…”

Eddie, s-seriously, you’re gonna leave America without lotion for three years if you k-keep that up. I’m telling you it looks fine. The only reason why you think it’s w-weird is ‘cause you’re not used to facial hair. I p-promise you Richie won’t notice the fucking d-difference!

Bill catches Eddie’s expression on the mirror and recognizes that maybe he went too far. Eddie looks shocked and almost betrayed. Perhaps they’re arguing about something insignificant, but with the emotional rollercoaster that the previous days had been, it makes sense that it affects him. Bill thinks about how to apologize without sending him a ‘you’re right’ message.

Sorry I s-snapped at you.

Eddie nods, saddened.

“It’s okay. Guess I deserved it.”

He forces a little smile and shrugs, and Bill panics at the misunderstanding.

N-no, Eddie, of course not. You… you didn’t deserve it, alright? I just really d-don’t want you to be l-late. And I’m scared that you might be…

Eddie stands back in front of the mirror and looks into his own eyes, searching for the other person that lies behind them.

“That I might what?” He softly asks.

T-trying to… back off.

At the start, he just looks confused, like he might had heard wrong. There’s no way Bill is implying what he thinks he implied. Then, shock hits him; Bill did say that. And after a fleeting moment of fear —what if it’s Bill who’s trying to back off?—, he’s plainly hurt.

“What the fuck?”

I-I just—

“No, really, the fuck are you talking about? Backing off? Why would I be backing off now?”

I d-don’t know. You’ve tried to back off b-before. Maybe you got scared or—

“Oh, sure, I forgot I’m a fucking pussy. Of course I’d get scared and try to back off. Of course I’m not an adult who can decide for himself and—”

Wow, c-calm down, Eds. You’re being d-defensive. I never said you were a coward. I don’t think that.

Eddie rubs his dead arm and looks down, suddenly demoralized.

“Well, Richie thinks that.”

W-wait… what? What did I miss? When did he s-say that?

His friend exhales a breathless laugh.

“You know, last night… He went on and on about how he wished I was more like when we were kids and how disappointed on me he was. And you can’t tell me it’s not true, ’cause I heard it and it was exactly what it sounded like. Guess that’s one of the things he wouldn’t say to my face, huh?”

Eddie, I—

“But I can’t really blame him. I would have been disappointed in me too, if I noticed how… how I was letting my mother and Myra tame me.”

B-but they didn’t! E-Eddie, can’t you see? They couldn’t tame you. If they did, how… how could you have come back? How could you have r-returned to Derry and… and… S-she was begging you to go back to New York. She would have done a-anything to make you stay. But you decided to do what you t-thought was right, no matter what she s-said. She didn’t have full control over you, and neither did your m-m-mother.

“Then I guess Richie just doesn’t see it that way…”

Of course Richie sees it that way! L-listen, the only reason Richie was d-disappointed was ’cause… ’cause he wanted his friend back. And so did the rest of us. It’s true, we wanted the old Eddie back, but not because he was b-brave or strong… we wanted him back ’cause he was happy. ’Cause he wanted to keep moving f-forward, and overcome his… his fears, and travel the world on his… on his train or w-whatever.

And when we saw you again after almost t-thirty years, sad and defeated, it hurt. But not in the way you think. It didn’t hurt like it does when… I don’t know, when a war hero d-dies. It hurt like it does when you realize your best friend is living an u-unhappy life.

B-but you proved us wrong! ’Cause you still had the same fire in you. You still have it, E-Eddie. You r-re-rekindled it when you came back, even if your wife didn’t want you to. And when you… k-killed Bowers. And when you gave your life for… for us. And by coming to me now and letting me know… by letting R-Richie know… Man, you’re made of stone.

Bill means it. Eddie knows Bill means it. And the comforting feeling of the person he admires the most talking about him like that, it’s almost unbearable. He never thought something as reassuring as what Bill just told him could be this overwhelming, this physically hurtful. But even when it feels like dying all over again in the best way possible, there’s still a shadow of doubt in his eyes.

Bill breathes out.

Hey, it’s okay if you’re mad at R-Richie. Really, what he said was just horrible and you s-shouldn’t ever let anyone talk about you like t-that. So I just want you to f-forget about your feeling for h-him, about your cosmic mission, about It, about e-everything, and allow yourself to feel hurt. ’Cause the people you love can be assholes, too… especially Richie. And they can say shit they shouldn’t. And if that shit m-makes you sad or angry or any other f-feeling… it’s alright. But maybe you… if you’re still mad, you shouldn’t…

“Bill, I’ll go,” Eddie clarifies, “I already said I would. And I’m not doing it just for myself. Richie needs me now. He’s confused, he’s scared, he’s—”

He’s an adult. He’s my b-best friend and I love him, but he’s an adult. It’s not your job to… to figure out his life for him. That’s s-something he has to do by h-himself. Please, just… stop trying to be deep, stop trying to be existential, stop trying to… s-save him. You already did that. What he does from now on… it… it’s up to him. You’re not his ticket out of the c-closet, you’re not his spiritual guide. You’re just his friend who wants… who could start a r-relationship with him. That’s all you’ve got to be. And you’ve got to a-ask yourself if you… if you still want that. ’Cause if you don’t and you f-force yourself… well, someone will end up hurt.

Eddie nods his head thoughtfully, lips closed.

Please, just… think it over. Rich’s not a bad guy. He doesn’t d-deserve your resent just because you held on to something… s-something you weren’t ready to do. And you don’t deserve it, either.

“I understand what you say, but I still wanna do it. Not because of Richie, not because I just want to go out with a guy… I want to do it for myself. I know he said some shitty stuff… and I’m not gonna act like it didn’t hurt. Fuck, it still hurts a bit, but that’s not the point. I’ve been letting everything get in the way of… of what I want. And down there, with my arm gone, bleeding to death, all I could think about was how nice it would be to leave that place like nothing happened and simply… be with him. I won’t miss this chance. I wanna take it.”

Bill sighs and takes control of his right arm to rest a hand on Eddie’s shoulder and give it a sympathetic squeeze.

T-then I’ll be with you in every step of the way… l-literally.

Eddie can’t help but chuckle, but the laugher fades away when he rationalizes everything.

Are you okay?

He blinks a few times, shocked.

“Yeah, I just noticed… this is the first time I got nervous before a date… for the right reason.”

Bill laughs, too.

It’s what you d-deserve. And it’s how it’s g-gonna be from now on.

Eddie raises his left hand and puts it over Bill’s, a soft smile on his face.

Yes, this is how it’s going to be. This is how it always should have been.


 

They’re supposed to meet at a small cafeteria that Richie chose. Eddie is sure he wanted it to be in such an unknown place because he didn’t like the thought of people finding out about it, but since this is Bill’s body and the last thing Eddie wishes is for his reputation to be affected by this experience, he can’t get mad. Richie and Bill are both very famous people, and a picture of them going out on a date —especially when Mrs. Denbrough has been gone for such a short time— would break the internet. They can’t take risks.

Also, he doesn’t mind privacy. After all, Richie is not the only one who’s trying to get used to the gay thing. Even though they already held hands and kissed, doing it out in the open world feels different. None of them are ready to take that step.

So he goes to this little bar, full of colorful murals and artsy details here and there, and stands in front of the glass door, building up the courage to open it, knowing what’s waiting for him on the other side. Once he does it, he doesn’t have any trouble to find Richie. He’s not far away from the exit, and is being loud enough while picking up his jacket and phone, prepared to leave. Eddie can hear him mumbling, talking to himself.

“Uh, Eds, sorry I couldn’t go I just…” Richie practices, “I had to… I had to check on my… No, that sucks, he’s not gonna buy that… Eds, sorry, I should have called but my grandma is in the hospital and… No, fuck, no, he knows my grandmother is dead… Okay, Rich, you can do it, one more time… Eds, I’ve got syphilis… Damn, what the hell I’m thinking? Ghosts don’t give a fuck about STDs… On the other hand, is Eddie who we’re talking about, so maybe…”

He starts walking to the door while saying this, so immersed on his monologue that he doesn’t notice Eddie’s presence until they’re face to face. His expression when he sees him is so priceless that Eddie can’t even get angry.

“Do you have to be at somewhere else?” He grins, maliciously.

Richie opens his mouth and shuts it, his index finger raising as if he had something to say, even when he doesn’t have a clue.

“You were trying to leave, weren’t you?”

He gulps and nods without a word.

“I really want to say I can’t believe this, but actually—”

“Eds, it’s not what you think,” Richie quickly explains.

“Oh, what is it, then?”

“Listen, Eddie, I… They’re gonna send me to… I’ve got… I’ve got gonorrhea, okay?”

“Didn’t you have syphilis like… thirty seconds ago?”

“That one too… also my ex is pregnant.”

“Let’s sit down and order the fucking food. I’m starving.”

He’s walking to the table, chuckling and shaking his head, before Richie can throw another excuse, and he doesn’t have any option but following him and taking a seat.

Here they are, only a dark wood surface and two menus between them, forced to have every conversation they’ve ignored since this madness started. Richie secretly wonders if the serious conversations will ever end, and Eddie kind of wants them to stop, too, but they know they’re necessary. It’s what they have to do.

“I really didn’t want to stand you up,” Richie says, and he sounds honest.

“It’s okay,” Eddie cuts him, “You’re scared, that’s all. I was scared, too.”

“Did you think about standing me up?”

“Uh… well, maybe not that scared, but definitely nervous. Bill said I was gonna leave America without lotion for three years if I kept that up,” he laughs a bit, “Just wanted to smell good, honestly.”

Richie nods, surprisingly solemn, and after a few seconds he seems to realize it was supposed to be a funny moment and not a transcendental one, so he makes one of his pathetic attempts to be smooth. They usually work… with twenty-something-year old girls. But Eddie is not a twenty-something-year old girl begging him to sleep with her. So it comes off forced and teenager-like.

“Oh, you… you do smell good, I guess?” He stutters, “Shit, I didn’t mean to say that. I mean, I wasn’t putting a lot of attention into it and it’s not like you don’t smell good all the time or anything… I mean, you have smelt better… No, wait, I really didn’t mean to say that. What I’m trying to say is… It’s not Bill’s lotion, I guess? Like, it’s you, your last body smelt nice, too… Well, probably not right now, but—”

“Beep-beep, Richie. I get the picture.”

Richie groans, frustrated, and looks down.

“Sorry, this is a bit weird for me. This doesn’t happen often.”

“What?”

“Well… this!” He makes an exaggerated gesture with his hands, “C’mon, you can’t tell me this isn’t weird.”

Eddie frowns, but the amused smile remains on his face.

“I thought you were used to go out on dates and talk to people.”

“Oh, yeah, I sure am.” He takes a breadstick from the basket between them and gives it a bite, “But this isn’t a… normal situation, you know?”

“Because I look like Bill or…?”

“No, I don’t care ’bout that… It’s just… Argh, it’s hard for me to talk to guys.”

“Richie, what the fuck?”

“I know it’s stupid, okay? You don’t need to tell me...”

“But you’re a guy, too!” He exclaims, trying not to burst out in laughter.

“Yeah, but you’re not just any guy. Like, there’s normal guys and there’s you! I mean…” Then he notices what he said, “Fuck, I know what it sounded like but it wasn’t supposed to sound like that. It’s not because of the… the thing.”

“The thing?”

“Yeah, you know…” He leans towards Eddie and whispers, “The thing.

“Do you mean…” Eddie imitates him, still making an effort to control his chuckles, “The gay thing?”

“Yeah, that’s exactly what I mean.”

“Hi, may I take your order?” A waitress who neither of them knows where she came from suddenly asks.

That’s when they remember they’re in a public place and they’re so close their noses almost touch, so they both jump away from each other and stridently clear their throats while opening the menus.

“Billy, I was thinking of ordering the Philly cheese stake sandwich, what do you think?” Richie says, a little too loud.

“Uh… yeah, it sounds like a good idea.”

“Would you like to have one, too, Bill Denbrough, my best friend?”

“Just order whatever,” Eddie groans, rubbing his temples.

“Okay, so that will be, please,” he tells the waitress.

She nods, takes the menus and walks away. Their relieved sighs when she’s gone can be heard in the whole restaurant.

“You’re over-acting,” Eddie warns.

“Over-acting? I’m a fucking actor!”

“If you act like that in your movies…”

“Well, my fans don’t seem to care.”

“Do your fans know you can’t even have a normal conversation with a guy?”

“I already told you you’re not just some guy! You’re… Eddie!”

“Oh, right, the thing.”

“It’s not about the thing.”

“Sure it isn’t…” Eddie rolls his eyes.

“I’m getting a sense of déjà vu with this talk…”

“Yeah, we already had it, and you still can’t say the word ‘gay.’”

“Ugh, man, give me a rest. This ain’t easy.”           

“Richie, we only have two weeks. You said you wanted to say it back, but you weren’t ready. I’m giving you all the time I can, but I think you just don’t want to be ready at all. Do you even like me?”

“Of course I fucking like you, asshole!” He snaps, remembering to keep his voice low, “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t. I wouldn’t have kept that stupid, fake aspirator around if I didn’t. But this is hard for me, okay? It took you forty years to come to terms with… with the thing! And you still expect me to be all over you in less than 24 hours. At this time yesterday I was the straightest guy in town.

”I love women, alright? I love how they look and how they smell and how they run their nails down my back.” He sighs, “But… but looking back, I also liked how you looked and your smell and I… I’ve spent the whole fucking night thinking about your nails running down my back. And it’s so confusing and frustrating.

”I’m not gay, Eds! I know you want me to say I’m gay, but I really don’t feel like that. You’re the one who makes me feel this way. And I want it to stop but not really at the same time. Just… See? This is why I can’t say it. I’m sorry, but as soon as you’re gone, the feeling will be gone and I’ll go back to normal. There’s nothing we can do. So what’s the point of thinking it over? This goes nowhere.”

Once he finishes, he’s surprised to find out Eddie doesn’t look mad or done with the drama at all. Instead, his eyes are sad and understanding, like the only thing he could conclude from his rant was that Richie is unhappy and he doesn’t want him to feel like that. The waitress stops them from continuing talking when she comes back and puts their sandwiches in front of them, but when she leaves, they know they can’t ignore everything that’s been said.

“Then why are you here?” Eddie quietly asks, before giving his sandwich a bite.

“Why am I here?” Richie questions, puzzled.

“Yeah, why did you come if you thought it went nowhere? Why waste your time?”

“It’s what I do, Eds. I make out with someone and my mind goes all over the place, and I think ‘damn, this could be good’, so I give them a try ’cause this time could be different and I might prove I’m not just the funny guy on T.V. Then we get to know each other and they realize they don’t want just sex. They want you to undress your soul and tell them about your childhood trauma and have a lot of meaningful conversations that go on for hours. They want you to get married and have babies and buy a nice little house in the suburbs.

”Then they find out you can’t give them those things and try to change you. And when you realize you’re just the fantasy of the emotionally inaccessible guy… you tell them to put their dress back on and leave your house, and the next weekend you make out with someone new.”

Eddie remains mute.

“Sorry, I’ve been watching BoJack Horseman,” Richie apologizes, tearing off the bread’s crust, “But, hey, that’s fine. We’re just two old friends hanging out and…”

There’s an uncomfortable silence. The kind of silence Eddie desperately wanted to avoid. However, it isn’t like the ones he used to share with his previous dates. Those were terrible and scary, full of ridiculous attempts to restart the conversation, even when it was already dead. This silence feels like something needed, natural. They don’t want to rush out of it for the sake of stop being awkward. They want to work it out once they have something to say.

“Well, at least you don’t have to tell me about your childhood trauma,” Eddie shrugs, and Richie smiles, “I’m sorry if I pressured you. I didn’t mean to—”

“No, Eds, I’m sorry. I felt so bad about you being gone, and there was nothing I wanted more than you coming back… And when you do it, I just decide to be an asshole and call you names and act like you wasted your whole life, ’cause you didn’t throw everything you had away for things you didn’t even remember. It wasn’t fair.”

“Hey.” He looks around and puts his hand over Richie’s, “It’s okay if you like both, you know?”

“What?”

“Men and women. Seriously, it’s fine. You don’t have to pick a side… at least for me. I’m okay with it.”

Richie lets go a small, bitter laugh.

“Yeah, you say that now—”

“And I’ll say it again later if you need me to. I’ll say it every day ’till I leave: there’s nothing wrong about it.”

“Oh, c’mon, don’t make it a coming out story. We kissed and I liked it. I never wanted a guy before, just you. When you leave, this leaves with you.”

“What if you meet another man?”

“It took me forty years to meet you, and we’ve known each other since before I could even read. I think I’ll be fine.”

“You can’t say that. You don’t know that.”

“Listen, Eds,” he starts, firm, “I know one thing: I’ve been treated like a freak almost my whole life. I’ve been punched and kicked and thrown into trash cans. My glasses got broken so many times I ended up buying contacts. And look at me now.” He opens his arms, “Sorry, but I can’t go back to be a freak again.”

Eddie leaves his sandwich on the plate and stands up. Despite how tears are doing everything they can to fill his eyes up, his face stays impassible.

“I never thought you were a freak, Richie,” he says, “And the other Losers didn’t think that, either.” He grabs his coat from the chair’s back, “We used to be enough for you. I’m sorry you need everyone else to love you now. I’m sorry you gave up.”

Richie’s eyes are wide-open.

“Wait, Eds, where you going?”

“I’m leaving, Rich,” Eddie answers, already walking to the door. He hears Richie’s steps behind him, but he doesn’t stop, “Call me when you make up your mind.”

“Man, what the fuck? C’mon, you know I… Eds, please, I… You know how I am, you know I say stupid things…”

They walk out the restaurant, Eddie first and Richie a few steps after him.

“So I have to sit there and be your punching bag, just because you can’t get your shit together?” Eddie demands, face on fire as he turns around to look at him, “You’re fucking forty, Richie, and you still act like a child. I can leave whenever I want, you know? I could have left yesterday if I wanted to. But you said you wanted me to stay, and now it’s like you’re dreaming of the day I’m gone so you can go back to being straight or whatever you are. I felt like a freak, too, but I got over it because I love you. And I grew up in the same town, with the same people and going to the same church. You don’t have an excuse. Next time you’re not sure about being ready for something, just fucking say ‘no.’ Maybe you like losing time, but I don’t have time to lose.”

Putting his fingers against his lips, Eddie loudly whistles to call a cab, which is parking next to the sidewalk within a matter of seconds. He’s about to open the backseat door, when Richie yells.

“And I can’t lose you again!”

Eddie lets go of the handle and looks at him.

“Really, man, what the fuck have you done to me?” Richie continues, “I keep thinking I’m on a nightmare or a bad acid trip, ’cause I can’t believe this shit. I’m… I’m going crazy. This can’t be happening, you can’t be back from death, I can’t… I… I’m not gay!”

Eddie takes a few steps closer, gaze still reluctant. The fact that Richie doesn’t go back isn’t surprising enough to distract him of the topic. When he talks again, his voice is soft, comforting, as he stares into Richie’s eyes.

“No, you’re not gay.”

“I’m not…” Richie mutters, lips trembling.

“You aren’t.”

“I’m not,” he repeats, with more confidence, “I’m not gay. I… I’m… I like… both. I like both, Eds.”

“You like both,” Eddie nods, a smile blossoming on his face as he cries at the same time.

Richie can’t help but laugh out loud. Normally, Richie’s exaggerated reactions would piss Eddie off, but, with this one, he feels like it’s justified. When he figured out his own sexuality, he couldn’t even finish a sentence, when all he wanted to do was shout it at the top of his lungs. He’s just glad Richie has the opportunity to celebrate it as noisily as he wishes.

“Shit, I’ve been such an idiot with you, I’m sorry,” Richie laments, “But this time for real.”

“It’s okay,” Eddie assures him, “You were very confused, I should have been more understanding.”

“Oh, don’t worry, you waited your whole life to get some, it’s fair that you wanted it as soon as possible.”

“Beep-beep, Richie.”

“So, let’s get this one thing straight—”

“We’re not,” he jokes, rolling his eyes.

Richie looks shocked.

“Wow, Eddie Spaghetti gets off a good one!” He exclaims, taking Eddie’s dead hand and giving it a hi-five, “But, seriously, I wanna make sure I got it right… You… like me… in a gay way.”

“True…”

“And I…” He points at himself, “Like you… in a bisexual way!”

“You’ve got it,” Eddie smirks.

“And that means we… you and I… are on a 75% gay relationship.”

“Last time I checked we were just having our first date.”

“Oh, yeah, almost forgot,” Richie coincides, scratching the back of his neck, “I guess I kinda ruined that, didn’t I?”

“Well, not yet… our table is still there. Maybe we could… still have lunch together?”

“You’re okay with that?”

“Sure… Are you okay with that, too? It’s not just about what I want and you’ve been through a lot, so...”

“It’s alright for me.”

“Then let’s go.”

They laugh again and walk inside, playfully bumping into the other’s side, chuckling all the way back to their table.

“I know this is fucked up,” Eddie says, taking his sandwich, “I mean, me coming back, Bill and I in the same body. I guess I focused so much on my own feelings I didn’t think about yours. So, if you have any questions about this—”

“I’ve got a few, yeah.”

“Just ask me. I promise I’ll tell you everything I can.”

Richie takes a sip of his glass of Coke and nods thoughtfully. He puts it back on the table and starts rubbing his own chin.

“I have one…”

“Anything you need to know.”

“If one of you gets a boner—”

“Okay, okay, okay,” he interrupts, “Do you have any non-sexual questions? Something that doesn’t have anything to do with body reactions at all?”

Richie thinks it over.

“Actually… No, not that many.”

“Well, that saves some time.”

They both giggle.

“Hey,” Richie mumbles, “thank you for dealing with me. I know it’s hard.”

“Deal with an arm getting bitten off your shoulder and then talk about hard stuff,” Eddie grins, “But really, don’t thank me. You don’t need to. I’m glad things went this way.”

“You know, I… I think I changed my mind. I do have a question.”

“Tell me.”

“If you survived… if you finished that confession and miraculously didn’t die… what do you think would have happened?”

Eddie gives it a thought.

“I’m not sure. What do you think?”

“Oh, fuck, I think that probably… I would have gotten scared and told you I didn’t feel the same. And we’d have gone back to our everyday lives and forget about each other.”

Eddie nods, contemplatively.

“Well, I don’t think that. I mean, I guess you could have gotten scared or too confused. Maybe you would have rejected me. But I don’t think I could go back to Myra… I wasn’t happy with her and I knew I’d never be. I found out what I wanted when we met again, but I always knew what I didn’t want.”

“Yeah, you’re right. But what if… I don’t know, if actually looking at your face and hearing your voice made it easier to process? What if I said it back and I brought you to California with me and… we got married? Like, big Hollywood wedding? Happy ever after and all that jazz?”

“Maybe,” Eddie chuckles, “But we’ll never know that.”

“No, we’ll never know…”

It’s Richie’s time to take Eddie’s hand. When he feels the pressure of his fingers over his, Eddie freezes.

“I’m glad things went this way, too, Eds.”

Dating is not that bad at all.

Chapter Text

Things start flowing surprisingly naturally after their tense first date. There’s still a feeling of uneasiness for a few days, of course, but Eddie thinks it has more to do with the normal anxiety of getting in a new relationship than with being actually uncomfortable with each other. Even though Richie seems to have his moments of doubt and both Eddie and Bill are sure his brain explodes at least twice in a day over the whole situation, it’s also obvious he’s making a genuine effort to make things work.

On Tuesday, he invites Eddie to the movies. It’s such a simple concept, almost a high school thing to do, but without even realizing it, he’s giving Eddie something he has craved since he found out he was supposed to like girls in a certain way: the standard experience of just going to the theater with someone he’s into.

Just a movie. A generic, manly movie, full of races, explosions and shallow dialogues. Characters that are hot for the sake of being hot, for the entertainment of merely looking at them. Because in an era of cool superhero films and remakes at least fun to complain about, they decided to go to the theater the only week of the year when there’s nothing interesting to watch.

And they condemned themselves to just watch, indeed. As stupid as it seems, even after Eddie had the nerve to cynically think they were doing something teenagers did, none of them is brave or mature or whatever enough to consider reaching out to take the other’s hand. They’re even afraid of taking their eyes away from the screen. So they sit there for the two insubstantial hours that the movie takes to tell its boring story, wishing they were somewhere else. Somewhere where they could talk with each other, although a few minutes earlier the thought of having a conversation made their stomachs flip.

They don’t get to see each other on Wednesday. Richie has to go film a few sketches for the show where he co-stars with some other comedians, and Bill still has to deal with more interviews and meetings about Audra’s death. It seems like they might cast another actress to play her role in the movie, but Bill isn’t too happy with it. However, Richie finds time to call at night, when everything has calmed down a bit, and he and Eddie maintain a casual talk about what they did that day.

Thursday turns out to be much more interesting. For the first time since Sunday, Eddie visits Richie’s house. Both of them being so nervous about people discovering their relationship, keeping it behind closed door is the most viable alternative. But that doesn’t turn it into a dirty secret, as Eddie feared at the start. On the contrary, the privacy is not only safe, but it also feels like a nice change.

When he got married, he felt he was supposed to scream it from the top of his lungs, to make sure every soul on earth knew Eddie Kaspbrak was heterosexual. With Richie, it’s completely different. The sensation of not having to prove anything is exhilarating.

They spend the whole afternoon on the couch, playing vintage videogames they used to love as kids and eating a terrifying amount of pizza. No part of that plan screams “dating”, but it doesn’t have to. In the end, they’re just enjoying something they haven’t done in years with their favorite person in the world, and they wouldn’t trade that for the most romantic and awkward dinner ever.

At some point, Eddie gets a weird feeling inside his chest. It makes him freeze for a second, as he thinks it might be a panic attack, and Richie stops what he’s doing when he notices the change on Eddie’s face, but it soon goes away and they can relax. Suddenly, Eddie understands.

“Bill, are you okay?” he questions, worried.

Bill hesitates before answering.

Y-yeah, I just… F-forget it.

It’s so obvious. They had yet another meeting that morning. A particularly emotional one, which left Bill as devastated as he would be if Audra had just died again. He tried to fake calm, not wanting to ruin his friends’ date, but he’s only human. He can’t hide it forever.

“C’mon, man,” Richie encourages, touching his shoulder, even though Bill couldn’t feel it through Eddie’s control over his body, “Help Eds with this level. He clearly needs it.”

Eddie frowns.

“Hey, I don’t need help!” He protests, trying to sound angry with a smile on his lips, “I’m about to make it, thank you very much.”

He still lets Bill play with them, though, allowing him to take over the arm he can’t move, and which is probably making it harder for him to kill the final boss.

By the time they beat the whole game, it’s dark outside. Richie walks them to the door, uncertain about if he should take Eddie’s hand or not.

“Will I see you tomorrow?” Eddie says, in that strange flirty tone he has developed during the last week, characterized by not sounding flirty at all.

Richie looks down, scratching the back of his neck.

“Shit, I’m not sure ’bout that. You know, it’s show night and—”

“Oh, right, your show.”

There’s a short silence. Out of the blue, they’re both so disappointed they can’t manage to speak. The unexpected dose of reality that brings the mention of Richie’s job is too much to take, popping the bubble that made them think they had all the time in the world. Maybe he’s wrong, but watching the scene from the back of his own mind, Bill could assure that Richie would gladly give up his whole career to spend that Friday night with Eddie.

“Then Saturday?” Eddie forces a soft grin.

“Sure… or… Why don’t you come with me?”

Even Richie looks taken by surprise by his own initiative. Eddie can just stare in astonish.

“You mean to the studio?”

“Uh… yeah, why not? I think you’d like it.”

The other man doesn’t find the words to reply. This feels almost unreal, like a weirdly elaborated and twisted prank. Richie wants him to go with him to the studio? To the place that has consumed his life and ruined relationship after relationship, because he was married to his work and he’d never put another human being above it? Damn, this has to be a sacrilege to him, and he still wants to do it for Eddie. He cares for Eddie that much.

“Fuck, of course, the anxiety,” Richie groans, misreading his confusion as rejection, “You wouldn’t want to be there. Sorry, Eds, it was such a stupid idea to even—”

“No, no, no, that’s not what I’m… Rich, are you sure you want me there? With all your co-workers and your boss and…”

“Why wouldn’t I want you there? I mean, you used to drive for celebrities, so you wouldn’t pass out if you saw someone famous. Also, they would love you. Showbiz people can be assholes, but sometimes even they need something cute to look at, and who’s cuter than you?”

It was supposed to come out as a joke, but now the implications of him complimenting Eddie are so different that he can’t help but turn red as a beet as soon as he realizes what he said.

“It sounded less weird when we weren’t dating,” he apologizes, clearing his throat, trying to play it cool.

Eddie shakes his head and chuckles.

“Actually, it sounds less weird now.” He sighs, “I don’t know, Richie. I don’t know if I’ll feel comfortable.”

“Look, you don’t have to stay or talk to anyone if you don’t wanna,” Richie quickly clarifies, “You don’t even have to be yourself. You’ll be acting like Bill and he’s already super accepted in Hollywood, being this big author and all. Everything will be alright.”

“I just don’t want to invade you.”

“Oh, c’mon, you wouldn’t be invading me. I want you to. Please invade me. And if you still have some limos in your power, consider having me invading you.”

“Rich, you could literally buy three limos if you wanted. What the fuck are you talking about?” He laughs.

“Yeah, but my regular chauffeur is a sixty-year-old guy with a British accent I can barely understand. I think we can agree that Billy’s body is a way better option… especially with this equally hot guy inside him, no pun intended.”

Eddie rolls his eyes, repulsed.

“Honestly, if I’d have known you’d be this disgusting, I would have let you think you were straight and gotten to Heaven as soon as possible.”

“Sorry, too late for that, you’re stuck with me for one more week.”

They both giggle at that. Giggling is the only thing they can do to avoid thinking about it.

“So I’ll see you tomorrow? Seven P.M.?” Richie concludes.

“Uh… yeah, seven P. M.”

“Cool.”

“Yeah.”

For an instant, it seems like Richie is leaning forward, getting closer to Eddie’s face, as if he wants to do something Eddie has been wanting him to do since forever. But, like he usually does, he stops and takes a step back, laughing nervously.

“Night, Eds,” he finishes as he goes back inside the house and shuts the door, fast like a lightning.

“Goodnight!” Eddie shouts, making sure he can hear him, out-of-his-bliss enough to be amused.

 


 

Friday is when the serious stuff begins. Since he will have to pretend he’s Bill in front of people who will most likely try to start a conversation, Eddie has to prepare to keep things as accurate as possible. And he can’t say he isn’t more scared than excited. After all, if there’s a chance of him ruining Bill’s life, this must be the one. There’s so many things that might go wrong, so he has to make sure he’s ready to improvise. Luckily, being married to a woman must have been the best acting practice ever.

It doesn’t turn out as bad as he thought it would. Richie’s co-workers are funny and considerate at best and distant and respectful at worst, and both options work well. They don’t seem very obsessed with “Bill’s” presence at the studio, being as used to interacting with famous people as they are, and they’re so focused on getting the job done that they wouldn’t run to ask him for his autograph anyway.

The gravest thing that happens is when one of Richie’s comedy partners makes a comment about how Bill should be a guest star in the show sometime when he walks by him, and it’s playful and open, like he really wants him to participate. Eddie will have to let Bill know he’s that popular.

But definitely the best part is how Richie manages to look at him when the people and the cameras aren’t paying attention. Sometimes it becomes so obvious that Eddie panics and frantically gestures to warn him about the danger of getting caught. And once the red “ON AIR” sign turns off and everyone starts congratulating each other for their performances, the first thing Richie does is run to where Eddie is sitting and ask him what he thinks.

“Amazing,” he answers with a smile, “Probably the first time I see you actually being funny.”

“Hey, that’s mean!” Richie protests, feigning offense, “And also a lie. You’ve had your good chuckles with me in the past, if I remember rightly.”

“Maybe, but that was a long time ago…”

“And I just proved I’ve still got it.”

They don’t have time to laugh before one of Richie’s co-workers comes to them. It’s a female production assistant, blonde and stylish, whose blouse is barely capable of covering up her breasts. They’re big to the point it’s ridiculous and even Eddie has to look at them, shocked.

“Hey, Rich, we’re gonna go get some drinks,” she announces in a low, thrilling voice, placing her hand on Richie’s arm, “Want to join us?”

Richie seems to consider the offer for an instant, but 0.5 seconds of eye contact with Eddie make the decision a lot easier.

“Uh… actually, I was planning to drive Billy back to his hotel. So, yeah, not tonight.”

Fuck yeah, not tonight, Eddie says to himself, getting a weird satisfaction out of the blonde girl’s —who looks young enough to be his daughter— stunned expression.

C-calm down or you’re gonna b-b-burn a hole into the ground.

He almost forgot. Bill is there, too, and he could read his thoughts if he wanted to. Perhaps he’s being doing that during the whole night. His face turns red and then white in a blink of an eye.

“Oh, your friend can come too, if he wants,” the production assistant grins, staring at Eddie in a way that makes him uncomfortable. “Seriously, Mr. Denbrough, I love your books. We’d be honored to have you dining with us.”

Flattered, not by her flirting —he hasn’t thought about being intimate with someone since Audra died— but by her compliment, Bill has a moment of weakness and quickly takes over.

“W-well, maybe I can—”

Then Eddie regains control.

“No!” He corrects, far too loud, “I… I mean, I’d really like to and I really appreciate the invitation, but… I’ve got so much work tomorrow.”

“On Saturday?” Blonde girl questions, raising an eyebrow.

“Yeah, it’s… it’s kind of hard to explain. My point is, I should be sleeping right now, so…” He fakes a yawn, “Too tired to think about getting drinks.”

“Sorry, Darling,” Richie shrugs, visibly amused.

The woman nods.

“Maybe some other time.”

She hasn’t even walked away when Eddie turns around and goes in the opposite direction, a deep frown on his face. Richie immediately follows him, chuckling.

“Jealous much?”

Darling much?” Eddie bites back, sarcastic.

“That’s literally her name!” Richie laughs, raising his hands in signal of innocence, “Darling Larkin. Super smart and talented, let me tell ya.”

“Oh, I bet you’ve had lot of chances to appreciate her talent.”

“Jesus Christ, this is hilarious! I never thought I’d live to see Eddie Kaspbrak getting jealous.”

Eddie seems scandalized by the accusation, even though it’s evidently true.

“Jealous? Of her? Please…”

“Well, that’s what I thought at first, but maybe it’s her who you want? ’Cause if that’s what we’re talking about, I don’t think you have reasons to worry.”

“Excuse me?”

“Eds, c’mon, don’t tell me you lost your straighty-sense when you kicked your own ass out of Narnia. She was totally hitting on you!”

“Okay, first of all, ‘straighty-sense’ is officially banned from all of our conversations. In the second place, are you fucking delusional? She was not hitting on me.”

“Uh… yeah? Of fucking course she was?”

“You mean she was hitting on Bill.”

“Yes, and on you, by extension.”

Eddie laughs bitterly, shaking his head as he takes the principal door of the studio and holds it open for Richie.

“Such a gentleman,” Richie grins.

“I try,” Eddie responds, rolling his eyes, “But, seriously, you’re—”

“Absolutely right? ’Course. But even if you wanna believe this is just about Big Bill’s writer charm, allow me to let you know a lot of girls hit on you when you were in your old body.”

“Must have missed it.”

“Too busy drooling over me, maybe? My turn!” He claims when they get to his car, holding the passenger seat door open for Eddie this time.

“Such a gentleman,” Eddie jokes, getting inside the vehicle.

“I try.”

Richie runs around the car and takes his place at the driver’s side. Soon, they’re pulling out the parking lot and heading to the highway.

“What do you mean by drooling over you?”

“Fine, daydreaming about me, if that makes you feel better.”

“I wasn’t! I didn’t even know I liked you back then.”

“Whatever you say, Eds…”

Eddie then realizes Richie is just playing with him and he shouldn’t encourage him by playing along. So he decides to cross his arms over his chest —or at least attempting to do that, forgetting about his dead arm for an instant— and keep his mouth shut for the rest of the ride.

“Hey,” Richie suddenly speaks, “you’re not really mad, right?”

Eddie exhales.

“No, I’m not. Just… please just tell me you didn’t fuck her.”

Richie takes a deep breath, licking his own lips.

“I didn’t fuck her.” Eddie stares at him, “Really, I didn’t. But we… I mean, we did some stuff. Never more than heavy petting, though.”

“Okay,” he nods. “Sorry.”

“It’s alright, but… Well, Eds, no offense, but if you’re gonna get this jealous every time you run into someone who has slept with me, maybe LA is not the town for you.”

“C’mon, I wasn’t jealous. Why would I even be jealous about things that happened so long ago? No, definitely not jealous.”

Richie chuckles, sight on the road.

“Good, ’cause you’ve got no reason to be. I haven’t fucked anyone since we started dating.”

The word ‘dating’ activates a spring inside Eddie that causes his eyes to duplicate in their size and his heart to start bumping with violence. They established they were going to date a while ago, but hearing the completion of that plan so clear in Richie’s voice provides it of a new sense of novelty and risk that is difficult to handle.

“Really?” Eddie insecurely asks, even though what he actually meant to say was ‘dating?’

“Well, duh! What kind of asshole do you think I am? I don’t fuck other people when I’m in a serious relationship.”

The frustrated tone almost passes the message under the radar. Still, Eddie is quick to understand what he said, and knowing that he knows, Richie is quick to correct himself.

“I mean relationship as in… you know what I mean, we’re not just… fooling around or anything, right? We’re out here… going out on dates, and I introduce you to people and we hang out and kiss and…”

“As in a serious relationship?” Eddie smiles, amused by Richie’s awkwardness.

“You can’t just give me a break, can you?”

“I literally came back from dead for the sole purpose of not giving you a break.”

“Dude, you’re an annoying little ghost, huh?”

“I’m sorry.”

Although Richie laughs it off, embracing the teasing mood their conversation has gained, Eddie is very serious about his apologize.

“No, really, I’m sorry,” he insists, “I’m being unfair. I said I was gonna convince you there’s nothing wrong with you, but I start a fucking argument the first time I see you talking to a woman. It’s not alright. How can I make you accept yourself when I’m acting like I can’t accept you all the time?”

Realizing he won’t be able to avoid the discussion, Richie sighs again and takes Eddie’s hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze.

“Gonna tell you a secret, Eds. The first week after… after we killed It for good, I tried to go back to normal. Y’know, parties, alcohol, hot girls, the usual for me. But I couldn’t do anything. And I mean anything. Not even a small surprise in the morning.”

“Do I really need to know that detail?”

“Look, all you need to know is that I couldn’t do anything ’cause I only could think about you. And it wasn’t even the gay for you thing; I just couldn’t stop feeling bad over you. Losing you was… the worst thing that ever happened to me. So, in case you’re wondering, I haven’t even thought about fucking someone else since I remembered you existed.”

Eddie senses a smile incubating behind his trembling lips when he hears that confession, but he still feels too guilty to let it out.

“That doesn’t make my shitty behavior less shitty.”

“Hey, this is new for both of us. The weird, scary, new thing, remember? And we’re probably going to fuck up a lot. All we’ve gotta do is stop promising we won’t fuck up anymore and simply… try not to fuck up in the same way twice. Eventually we’ll run out of ways to fuck up and we’ll be the perfect two.”

Eddie grins.

“You think so?”

“Honey, I know so. Luckily for you, I’m a professional in the art of fucking up, so I don’t have a lot of mistakes left to make.”

“I’m not sure I’m so good at… being bad? I mean, I’ve fucked up before but it usually was because I wasn’t into women.”

“But today you fucked up in a new way!” Richie sounds far too excited for what he’s saying, “And the world didn’t end, did it? You just learned something. C’mon, Eds, tell me what you learned.”

“Rich…”

“Oh, please, I won’t give you any more shit about it. I’m having the time of my life with you. Just say it out loud, what did you learn?”

“Not to call you out on… talking to women?”

“I mean, if you see me making out with some girl, you’re more than allowed to call me out. But also, now you know I wouldn’t cheat on you. I couldn’t think about it even when I thought you were gone forever.”

Eddie nods his head, processing it.

“And you,” he announces with a smile, “know that when I’m actually gone forever, you’re more than allowed to rebuild your life.”

Richie gives him a concerned and slightly hurt look out of the corner of his eye. Eddie continues, voice smaller, smile fading away:

“If you fall for someone else… you can do whatever you want.”

A thick silence floats in the warm air inside the car, between them. A sudden sadness takes over and Eddie has to remind himself that crying isn’t acceptable now. The least thing he can do after that humiliating display of jealousy and emotion, is showing he’s still a human.

Fortunately, he doesn’t need to do anything. Richie is the one who tries to light up the mood again, saving him from his own feelings.

“Okay, but when you’re gone forever, you’re not only allowed but encouraged to cheat on me with Freddie Mercury, deal?”

Eddie laughs out loud.

“Beep-beep, Richie.”

They keep their fingers intertwined all the way to Bill’s hotel.