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Broken Record

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Richie grabbed a bottle of bourbon on the way back to his room.

Mike had gone home, Bev and Ben had went upstairs together, Bill was brooding. “You need to get some s-sleep,” he told Richie as he blew by him towards the inn’s bar, hopped over the counter and found a full bottle of Jim Beam waiting for him like a Goddamn promise fulfilled.

“Yes, sir,” Richie considered saluting, but he was too exhausted to manage it, too worn down and run over to boast any sort of shtick. He was fucking done. He pulled himself up the stairs and along the hallway, legs heavy, mind heavy, and passed by Eddie’s empty room beside his own. Don’t go there, not now, not ever. Bourbon in hand, he unscrewed the cap as he pushed his room’s door open with his shoulder.

The room was dated in what he supposed was meant to give it a vintage vibe, but it was too authentic and faded to be anything but original, he’d thought when first checking in - a bronze chandelier caked in dust, wallpaper browned with cigarette smoke, a lumpy bed covered in crocheted orange and brown granny squares - but now he noticed nothing aside from that corner bed beckoning him. He tripped over a tasselled carpet as he slumped onto the bed and leaned against its headboard, intending to do his best to pass out from alcohol poisoning. Derry’s fucking finest.

Eds. Oh Christ, Eddie.

Eds and his stupid, empty room that shared the wall behind his bed. Richie pressed a hand against that wall, felt the tobacco melted into it, the sticky tar glued to the wallpaper from decades of cheap cigarettes smoked by travellers passing through - because who the hell would ever want to stay in a place like Derry for more than a night or two - and he wondered what Eddie would be doing if he’d made it out alive. If he wasn’t crushed under the weight of that nightmare house, left alone in a fucking sewer like forgotten garbage. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Eddie hated the fucking sewer

He’d probably be sleeping. God knows Rich should be. But that frenetic energy that once drove Eddie to pace around the clubhouse and rant endlessly, to talk with his hands and tap his foot rhythmically against the metal back leg of Ritchie’s desk one row in front of his in geography class - maybe that sort of panicked, nervous energy would have kept him awake on a morning like this one. 

Maybe he would have needed company. Maybe Rich could have been that company.

He drank. The bourbon burned his throat. 

It was devastating, just how much he’d forgotten, Richie thought idly, hand still firm against their shared wall; memories that seemed less like casual childhood recollections and more like the foundational tenets a person was built on, the sort of memories you store away for life because they mark you, and he’d only just remembered them. The screwed up shit he should be in therapy for - the cistern and the Paul fucking Bunyan statue and Eddie’s scream when Pennywise had him pinned in the kitchen on Neibolt - all that bullshit wasn’t the important stuff; they weren’t the memories that shaped him somehow even in their absence. No, the defining memories were quieter, and Richie thought how the fuck did I forget this, how did I forget you - the stamp stamp stamp of Eddie’s runners as he traipsed through the Barrens ahead of him, leading him somewhere, anywhere, it didn’t really matter where or why as long as they were together; the distinct ding of Eddie’s bike’s bell on the driveway outside Richie’s house, summoning him to school or the arcade or the quarry or again, where-the-fuck-ever, because the prospect of the destination wasn’t what made Richie throw his still-open backpack over his shoulders and run outside with his laces untied; the press of forearms against one another on a shared armrest at the Capitol Theater during a Halloween showing of The Thing, and Eddie leaned into him, breath held, as on screen MacReady tested the blood samples with an electrified wire; a full-mouthed “Suck it, Bowers,” as the two of them ran down a school hallway away from a call of “Fucking fags,” and Eddie was indignant, disgusted at the idea… and so Richie plastered the same grossed-out expression across his face as he yelled, “Suck a dick,” back behind him as he charged after Eddie.

A childhood of forgotten experiences and buried wants. Remembered only a few days ago, and now Eddie - 

He took a long swig of bourbon and hit the back of his head against the headboard. Eyes closed behind cracked glasses, the triad of Deadlights still burned into his retinas, bright and circling above him. An incandescent flash of orange and red, a scream (Eddie?), an eldritch roar, and then, quite disconnected from all that, the outside of the house on Neibolt, still standing somehow, and Bill was halfway up the front steps, talking, and Eddie was just in front of him, within only an arm’s length, and Richie wanted desperately to reach out across the divide that separated them for decades and take his hand, pull him away from all this, lead him down the street, away from this Goddamn horror show they had no fucking right to be involved with. Take him home. Somewhere safe. Far from this hellhole. Anywhere. But Bill was still talking, something about going in alone, and then Richie could almost feel himself saying something about killing this fucking clown, and with that they all walked up the front steps and entered the house, but Eddie wouldn’t walk out.

Richie blacked out.

*

*

*

“...this curse, this fucking thing that’s inside you all, it started growing the day I m-made you go down to the Barrens because all I cared about was finding G-G-Georgie.” Richie’s gaze wandered from Bill to Eddie in front of him, watched him watching Bill on the steps of the house; Richie followed every one of Eddie’s inhalations and exhalations, transfixed by the evenness, the ease with which he breathed. Keep breathing, you idiot, he thought without a clue why. “Now I’m going to go in there and I don’t know what’s going to happen but I can’t ask you to do this.”

Somewhere to his left, Bev picked up a fence stake from the ground. “Well, we’re not asking you either.” (Eddie was still breathing.)

Mike stepped forward, “We didn’t do it alone then, Bill. So we’re not going to do this alone now.” (Eddie was still breathing.)

Then Ben beside him, “Losers stick together.” (Eddie was still breathing.)

Richie counted Eddie’s breaths and thanked a God he didn’t believe in for the steady rise and fall of his chest as Eddie said, “So does somebody want to say something?”

“Richie said it the b-best when we were here last,” Bill said. (Eddie was still breathing.)

“I did?” He tore his eyes away from Eddie long enough to look up at Bill. “I don’t want to die?” 

“Not that.” 

What had he said? Fuck, it was so long ago. “You’re lucky we’re not measuring dicks?” (Eddie was still breathing.)

“No.”

“Let’s kill this fucking clown?”

Bill smiled. “Yeah.”

Richie looked again to Eddie and briefly thought I need to keep him breathing. Then he gritted his teeth and nodded to Bill, “Let’s kill this fucking clown.”

*

*

*

 

“Hey, fuck face!” Pennywise threw Mike across the cavern and rounded on Richie. He picked up a rock, and he almost thought of a time twenty-seven years ago on the banks of a stream across from Bowers and his moron friends, Mike caught between them in the water. “Want to play truth or dare? Here’s a truth: you’re a sloppy bitch.” It almost had the decency to look offended. “Yeah that’s right. Let’s dance. Yippee-ki-yay, mother - ”

The cavern exploded in an oppressive surge of red and orange light, undulating across from him like some kind of sea monster, some protozoan creature from one of Eddie’s eighth-grade biology notebooks he spent a semester cribbing notes from. That was the last coherent thought Richie had before being raised off the ground: the image of himself sprawled across Eddie’s tidily made, plaid bedspread, binders scattered in front of him, copying Eddie’s neat notes with his own chicken-scratch. Eddie had jumped on the bed next to him, comic book falling open between them, socked feet touched his, only briefly, and a flushed, panicked need.

And then everything around him - the rocks, the lair at the center, Pennywise himself, the other Losers - all of it was absorbed in the heat and brilliance of that light. Everything burned away like a piece of Eddie’s note paper in a flame, and the world was reduced to three spinning orbs that seared his pupils and ignited deep into his retinas. An all-encompassing roar, animalistic and brutal, somewhere ahead of him. And then visions of Eddie: his chest dripping blood, his eyes glassy; face down in the cistern; a slice of a claw and the drop of his head from his body, a scream Richie thought was his own; limp in Richie’s arms outside the collapsed house; floating in the Deadlights.

The scorching light dulled around the corners of his sight, and he felt himself land on the rocks below, the visions forgotten before impact. His eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness of the cavern again, and it was only Eddie he saw, leaning over him, his ever-present worried expression mixed with tentative elation. “Hey Rich, wake up.” He could barely see anything around him, but Eddie was alive, thank fuck this idiot was still alive, still breathing. “Hey, yeah there he is, buddy. Hey Richie, listen. I think I got It, man. I think I killed It. I did, I think I killed It for real.” 

He tasted the splash of Eddie’s blood before he saw the claw stab clean through his chest. Blood sprayed from both the gaping wound and from Eddie’s mouth as he whispered, “Richie? Richie?” 

Eddie was yanked back and Richie was only somewhat aware that everyone around him was yelling. His vision was still white-hot, a triangular afterimage branded into his eyes from the Deadlights.

“Eddie?” He asked to no one, a desperate plea into the abyss. 

Like once, so long ago, he’d barely whispered “Eddie?” to a car’s rear bumper disappearing into the horizon as Eddie was driven away by his mother, out of state, out of his life for what amounted to forever once Richie left too, some years later, and the memories of him faded altogether.

There was flailing movement Richie couldn’t track, but he heard Eddie’s pained grunts and cries, the sound of a body - oh, God, that was Eddie - hitting stone after stone as he was flung into a crevasse across the cavern, and the thud thud thud of every roll. 

Richie staggered to his feet and ran towards the sounds; he stumbled down the rocks, the world around him still a muted blur of photo-bleached images. Running footsteps tapped behind him, but Richie got to Eddie first. 

Eds. It was bad. It was beyond just bad. His chest was macerated; spilled tendons and muscles and organs, and deep red blood coating his shirt, and for a moment Richie couldn’t move, couldn’t speak, couldn’t fathom this had happened to Eds. It was a trick of the Deadlights, some sort of It-induced hallucination, a nightmare made real. It had to be. 

But Mike and Ben were laying him against the cavern wall, and Eddie’s breath was a series of hitched, staccato beats. (Eddie was still breathing.) And Richie would recognize his breathing anywhere.

He threw off his jacket, balled it up, and pressed it against Eddie’s torn chest.

Somewhere near the opening of the crevasse there was hammering and a singsong, “Come out and play, losers.” Richie could barely hear it. He timed Eddie’s breaths. (Eddie was still breathing.)

Richie stayed bent beside him. “He’s hurt really bad. We’ve got to get him out of here.” 

“How are we supposed to do that, Richie?” Bev asked, not unkindly.

Eddie’s brown eyes, slitted in pain, met Richie’s. “I almost killed It. The leper. My hands were at his throat. I could feel him choking. I made him small. He seemed so weak.” His voice was quiet and slow, not his usual hyper, addled cadence, and Richie kept a hand on his shoulder, watching the irregular rise and fall of his bloody chest. “He seemed, he seemed so weak.”

Mike rambled about the bullshit ritual that got Eddie into this nightmare, Ben found some passageway, Bev said something about making Pennywise small. But Richie wasn’t listening to any of it. He stayed knelt with Eddie (Eddie was still breathing.) 

And then they were moving him again, Rich’s arm was around Eddie’s waist as he carried him with Ben through the tunnel, away from the hammering and hissing at the entrance to the crevasse. Eddie cried out as Richie lowered him back down to the ground, helped him lean against a smooth rock face, his jacket still tight against the wound. That would help right? It was slowing the bleeding. Eddie - I don’t know what to do. You’re the one who knows about medical shit. Tell me what to do? (Eddie was still breathing.) 

The others left through the end of the tunnel. There was yelling in the cavern, the sound of frantic running on rock.

Eddie’s eyes opened and closed. With every flutter of his eyelids, deep brown eyes - ones Richie would know anywhere, even with his own vision still shot to shit - those eyes found Richie’s and held his gaze until they drifted closed again. Keep them open. Look at me, look at me - didn’t I ask you that before? When we were kids, huddled together on the kitchen floor on Neibolt? I thought I was going to die and I just wanted to see you. Don’t close your eyes, just keep looking at me. Let me see you some more. It’s been so fucking long. Keep breathing.

“Richie, I’ve got to tell you something.”

Anything. “What? What’s up, buddy?”

“I fucked your mother.” Eddie laughed just a little, but it devolved into bloody coughing. Coughing was good. Coughing meant breathing, right? (Eddie was still breathing.)

Richie cushioned Eddie’s head with his hand, felt his damp hair between his fingers, and leaned a little closer. “My mother would have destroyed you, dude,” he whispered, “Chewed you up. You’re not man enough for Mrs. Tozier.”

Eddie smiled and blood spilled from his mouth, eyes alight with something familiar and comforting, a tradition, a second language that was theirs; the two of them on their bikes in the middle of a quiet street somewhere between Richie’s house and Eddie’s, a sparred litany of fuck yous and eat shits and your mothers; a fight over the hammock, a fight over the last can of Coke, a fight over who jumped the furtherest off the jumping rock, excuses all of them; a fond shout of “You’re disgusting, you know that, Richie,” as Richie flung a handful of mud in Eddie’s direction, and Eddie only hesitated for a split second before dipping his own hand into the soaked earth and throwing more back at Richie, laughing a little manically.

Mud flinging. It was what they did. And so Eddie opened his mouth, ready to throw some more, but only a sputter of blood came out with a painful gasp.

“Hey, man,” Richie pressed a little closer. “Don’t talk, okay? You can tell me to fuck off later. Just keep breathing right now.” (Eddie was still breathing.) 

Eddie nodded and blinked hard to keep his eyes alert.

Whatever bullshit the rest of the Losers were doing, it seemed to be working. Richie glanced away from Eddie and watched as It recoiled, shuddered, shrank, shifted into another form, one right after the other. 

“A dumb, fucking clown!” Richie called out, mimicking whatever Bill was shouting. His hand squeezed Eddie’s shoulder. “Almost out, man,” he added. “We’re almost out of here.”

Let’s kill this fucking clown and get Eddie the hell out. Get him to the hospital, get him a transfusion and stitched up, fix whatever was causing that rasping, crackling breath, then get him the fuck out of Derry. Richie got up and joined the others. (Eddie was still breathing.)

*

*

*

“Richie - ” Bev’s voice broke.

“Eddie’s gone.” Bill said, somewhere behind him.

“He’s alright. No, he’s just hurt. We’ve got to get him out of here. He’s hurt, Bev. Bill, he’s okay. We’ve got to get him out of here, Bev.” He was okay, he was okay, he was okay, he had to be okay. (Eddie had just been breathing.)

“Richie - ” She sounded like a child again.

“What?”

“Honey, honey, he’s dead.” (Eddie had just been breathing.) “We have to go. Come on, come on, Richie.” Not without him. He’d lost him before so many years ago and hardly fucking survived it, he only now realized.

Eddie was so still, his eyes open and glassy, but he’d just been breathing; Richie had made sure he was breathing. Because...because...because he swore he remembered Eddie not breathing before, and he wouldn’t, couldn’t let that happen again. 

“We’ve got to go.” Bill grabbed Richie’s shoulders. 

The floor started to shake beneath him. A rumble of rocks against rocks, a summer avalanche, a rockslide, an earthquake nowhere near a fault line. He could hear smashing somewhere further down in the cavern, and an impossible underground wind picked up around them. Bill was pulling him back but he clung to Eddie, wrapped one arm around his back and threaded his fingers through his sweaty hair. He pressed Eddie’s head against his shoulder in a sort of sick parody of an embrace he used to fantasize about, and he buried his face in Eddie’s bloody neck. (Eddie had just been breathing.)

Mike or Ben or Bev or all of them had joined Bill and he was heaved off the ground, torn away from Eddie. “Guys, we can still help him,” he cried, and he threw his body forward, tried to dig his heels into the shattering rock giving out under him, but they dragged him away. (Eddie had just been breathing. He could still be breathing.)

And later, after Ben had hauled him up the hatch and across the drowned cistern, after Mike had somehow pulled him up the well and out of a collapsing house, after they’d watched as the house finally imploded into the ground, after the panic and fight and desperation ebbed into exhaustion and he’d fallen on Neibolt sobbing and puking, after Bev managed to lead him to the quarry, defeated, and after he cried some more in the water and then shambled back to the inn, broken open inside but too dead-tired to show it, after all that, he ignored Bill when he told him, “You need to get some s-sleep.”

Richie grabbed a bottle of bourbon on the way back to his room. 

*

*

*

The house on Neibolt was still standing. Richie didn’t know why this surprised him.

“So does somebody want to say something?” Eddie asked, still breathing.

“Richie said it the b-best when we were here last,” Bill said. 

“I did?” He tore his eyes away from Eddie long enough to look up at Bill. “I don’t want to die?” 

“Not that.” 

What had he said? Fuck, it was so long ago. “You’re lucky we’re not measuring dicks?” 

“No.”

“Let’s kill this fucking clown?”

Bill smiled. “Yeah.”

“Let’s kill this fucking clown.”

*

*

*

The house on Neibolt was still standing. Richie didn’t know why this surprised him.

“So does somebody want to say something?” Eddie asked, still breathing.

“Richie said it the b-best when we were here last,” Bill said. 

“I did?” He tore his eyes away from Eddie long enough to look up at Bill. “I don’t want to die?” 

“Not that.” 

What had he said? Fuck, it was so long ago. “You’re lucky we’re not measuring dicks?” 

“No.”

“Let’s kill this fucking clown?”

Bill smiled. “Yeah.”

“Let’s kill this fucking clown.”

*

*

*

The house on Neibolt was still standing. Richie didn’t know why this surprised him.

“So does somebody want to say something?” Eddie asked, still breathing.

“Richie said it the b-best when we were here last,” Bill said. 

He tore his eyes away from Eddie long enough to look up at Bill. 

He remembered what he said like it was Goddamn yesterday.

“Let’s kill this fucking clown.”

*

*

*

Richie grabbed a bottle of bourbon on the way back to his room and wondered whether he’d forget Eddie again when he went home to L.A.

His childhood memories had dulled into only the vaguest of outlines when he fucked off from Derry to L.A. at nineteen, but the impressions of them had remained, sharp and raw and painful in a way he’d never been able to understand after the specifics dimmed. If he drank enough he’d get sappy and be inclined to muse that something like a hole had been carved into his soul in Eddie’s wake when his mother had dragged him off to Hartford only months after It (“I don’t want to go,” Eddie had told him, his brown eyes locked with Richie’s, “I don’t know what I’ll do without you,” and Richie hadn’t said anything because the words that threatened to spill out of his mouth would ruin everything). He’d been trying to fill that hole for almost three decades, and he hadn’t realized why he always felt so depressingly empty until he showed up at Jade of the Orient and saw Eddie’s dopey face. It’s you, he’d thought at the restaurant, several drinks in, it’s always been you. How did I forget you?

But he wasn’t drunk enough to dwell on that thought yet, so he took another gulp of bourbon and thought instead maybe I should stumble my way up to the kissing bridge and throw myself over it, and he snorted at the fucking cliche of it all and how incredibly dumb this whole thing was, like something out of a really bad book, the sort of trash Bill would write. Derry and killer demon alien clowns and everyone back together like they’d never parted and fucking tribal rituals and Eddie bleeding out and he’d just got up and left him to die alone and Jesus when did he start crying? He drank more, tears slipping over his lips with every swallow, and he briefly wondered how much of the bottle it would take before he passed out. 

It would be a kindness to forget. Eddie’s face, his Goddamn doe eyes widened in shock and pain, blood pooling out of his mouth, dripping garishly down his chin, and Richie had been covered in it; blood that Eddie’s heart had just pumped had soaked Richie’s hands, slivered under his nails and into the cracks on his glasses. It was in his stubble and eyebrows, smeared over his shirt and arms, and no amount of quarry water could wash it away. He dripped Eddie’s blood. He would forever.

He could catch the next flight to L.A. and drift back into lazy, languid emptiness. If he forgot why he felt so hollow, then at least then he could chase something to fill it, even if it was pointless. He wouldn’t know it was pointless though, wouldn't remember brown eyes staring at him lifelessly and the stillness of his unmoving chest, wouldn’t remember those eyes alight with recognition only hours before, a hesitant, “Hey, man,” at the restaurant, an awkward, one-armed half hug, a lingering glance that made Richie ache in a way he hadn’t thought possible prior to returning to Derry. He used to ache like that all the fucking time, he remembered now.

If he forgot, he could go back to fucking random groupies, drinking himself sick, chasing another Netflix special. It would be easier.

But would he even forget now that It was dead? Who the hell knew. None of this shit made any sense. He stopped trying to figure it out and drank until he didn’t taste the bourbon anymore.

Richie blacked out.

*

*

*

It was just the two of them alone in the tunnel. Eddie’s chest was ripped open, Richie was holding his jacket against the wound, the others had just left to try and shrink It down to size, and Richie thought I’ve been here before.

It must have been the laboured sound of Eddie’s breathing that ticked something off in his memory. Years of witnessing his supposed asthma and panic attacks, long seconds spent searching Eddie’s second fanny pack for a spare inhaler as Eddie gasped for breath beside him, an afternoon in Bill’s garage examining maps of Derry when Eddie wheezed, “That’s where I saw it. That’s where I saw the clown,” between gulps of air, and Richie knew that struggled, raspy inhale even twenty-seven years later. 

“Richie, I’ve got to tell you something.”

“What? What’s up, buddy?”

“I fucked your mother.” 

“My mother would have destroyed you, dude. Chewed you up. You’re not man enough for Mrs. Tozier.”

Eddie opened his mouth, but only a sputter of blood came out with a painful gasp.

That sound. That fucking sound. He’d heard that exact sound before. A crackling inhale of a collapsed lung crushed by broken ribs, filling with blood. Where the hell had he heard that sound before? 

“Hey, man. Don’t talk, okay? You can tell me to fuck off later. Just keep breathing right now.” 

*

*

*

Eddie’s chest was ripped open, but he was still breathing.

“Richie, I’ve got to tell you something.”

“What? What’s up, buddy?”

“I fucked your mother.” 

“Mrs. Tozier always did have shit taste in men.” And before Eddie could respond, “Hey, man. Don’t talk, okay? Just keep breathing right now.”

*

*

*

Eddie’s chest was ripped open, but he was still breathing.

“I know you’ve got shit to say, but don’t talk, okay? Just keep breathing right now.” Eddie nodded, eyes struggling to stay open. “Maybe we shouldn’t have burned your inhaler.” Eddie laughed and spewed blood in Richie’s face.

*

*

*

Eddie’s chest was ripped open, but he was still breathing.

“I know you’ve got shit to say, but don’t talk, okay? Just keep breathing right now.” Eddie nodded, eyes struggling to stay open. “Does any of this seem familiar to you?”

Eddie managed, “Track and field day.”

Richie laughed, “I said no talking.”

*

*

*

Eddie’s chest was ripped open, but he was still breathing.

“I know you’ve got shit to say, but don’t talk, okay? Just keep breathing right now.” Eddie nodded, eyes struggling to stay open. “You know what this is? This is sixth-grade track and field day when you had that asthma attack and Mr. Hickson let me hang out with you on the sidelines, and we got to just sit there and watch Bill and Stan make asses of themselves running around the school yard all day.” Somewhere in the cavern Bill was yelling like a jackass. “Having flashbacks, is what I’m saying.” Eddie laughed and spewed blood in Richie’s face.

*

*

*

Eddie’s chest was ripped open, but he was still breathing.

“I know you’ve got shit to say, but don’t talk, okay? Just keep breathing right now.” Eddie nodded, eyes struggling to stay open. “Remember when I popped your arm back into place? Think I could do the same with your lungs? Or is that higher than my pay grade?”

Their eyes met and Eddie managed, “I was just glad it was you who did it.”

“You were screaming Do not fucking touch me the entire time.”

Eddie smiled, “I wouldn’t have let anyone else do it though. Just you.”

Something caught in his throat and it tasted like cheap bourbon and tears. “I’m going to get you out of here, Eds.”

“I know.” Eddie coughed and spewed blood on Richie’s face.

Richie didn’t bother wiping it off. Instead, he knelt forward and touched Eddie’s bandaged cheek with gossamer-light fingers and almost caressed him before stopping himself. “I said no talking.”

Eddie leaned into his touch. “You asked the question, man.”

*

*

*

Richie knew where the bourbon was stored behind the bar on the way back to his room, and he wondered whether he’d forget Eddie again when he went home to L.A.

He didn’t want to forget, he thought vaguely, one hand pressed against their shared wall, the other holding the bourbon to his mouth. The world around him already dimmed and blurred in an alcohol-created fog. The dust on the chandelier glowed in the hazy, antique light. 

Forgetting would mean forgetting all of it, and he didn’t think he could survive that, not now when he’d only just reclaimed it.

The summer of 1987, before Pennywise, before the sound of Eddie screaming for help in that fucking kitchen on Neibolt would wake him from sweat-soaked nightmares in his childhood bed, before everything went to hell, they’d all spent long days at the quarry. Bill and Stan would build rafts with scattered branches and driftwood and he’d try to sink them; Eddie would lay on a rock with a comic until one of them, usually Richie, would drag him in. “Don’t be such a pansy,” he’d said more than once, and Eddie would kick him under the water and yell, “Your vagina’s going to get a yeast infection from this contaminated water,” and Richie would laugh and dunk him some more.

The press of thighs underwater as they fought. A brush of a hand against his when they’d both pulled themselves up on Bill and Stan’s raft. A joking, somewhat muffled “Screw you, Tozier,” as Richie stuffed the last of Eddie’s mom’s horrible wheat-free, nut-free, dairy-free cupcakes in Eddie’s mouth. The catch of round, brown eyes looking in his direction, darting away when Richie turned to him. Were you looking at me? Can I look back at you? He would have liked to ask. But he didn’t, because he wasn’t a fucking queer, he told himself over and over. But riding his bike back home on those days, trailing behind Eddie, his stomach was taut with both anxiety and something else: a warm, almost reassuring flutter that spread over him when Eddie was there.

He couldn’t forget this. He couldn’t forget only hours ago when they’d walked to the clubhouse and their strides fell together at the back of the pack, and Eddie looked over at him, eyebrows furrowed in an expression Richie couldn’t begin to parse. He bit back words that had been stuck in his throat for decades - I missed you even after I forgot you. You were everything to me, Eds - and words that were more recent - You grew up good. You don’t take after your mother, thank fuck. You've changed but your eyes haven’t. He swallowed each word then like he swallowed the bourbon now. Their eyes had met on that walk, idled together for a little too long, and Richie thought about making a Wookiee sound or doing a kissy face or some other bit because if he didn’t break that contact, didn’t draw attention away from the abject want he was sure was painted across his dumb-as-rocks face, well, what the fuck would Eddie think when he caught on? But he just looked away, face a little red. Silent for once.

Richie sat the bourbon on the nightstand and threw his glasses next to the bottle. He slumped down on the bed and curled into moth-eaten pillows. The alcohol was still warm in his throat and chest, his tears cool against his fevered face. He might be sick, puke it all up like he did the day Mike called. That was only days ago. It felt much longer.

Richie blacked out.

*

*

*

Eddie was so still, his eyes open and glassy.

“We’ve got to go.” Bill grabbed Richie’s shoulders. 

Richie looked across the cavern in anticipation of a boulder crashing into the center of the lair. Splintered chunks of rocks ricocheted out from the impact and into the air, and Richie saw an especially large piece of stone fly up and land with a crash exactly where he knew it would. 

He held onto Eddie, unmoving and ashen, then turned to Bill and said coolly, “I’m not leaving without him.” And Bill was trying to pull him away, and Richie could have sworn this had happened before, but that didn’t make any sense so he shrugged off the thought just as he shrugged off Bill behind him. He pushed Bill back as the others looked on hesitant, then he bent over to haul Eddie up. He was limp and heavy, dead weight, but his blood was warm and he’d just been breathing, and so Richie rested him over his shoulders as delicately as he could manage. Eddie’s arm draped over his chest, and Richie wrapped his fingers around his wrist to keep him in place. 

And if he couldn’t feel a pulse that was only because the cavern around them was collapsing more and more with every second, and Richie couldn’t focus on counting the beats of Eddie’s heart right now.

“Honey, he’s dead,” Bev repeated, crying openly.

“We need to run now,” Mike yelled over the pounding of the falling rocks around them. “You can’t carry him. It’s too late.”

Ben dodged a chunk of debris and stepped back. “Richie, please.”

“Go!” Richie motioned them forward. “I can still help him. I’ll keep up.”

They looked to Bill, whose face was all deep creases and lines. A boulder fell feet behind them and Bill urged everyone forward. “Now, everyone go.”

Bill shouldered Eddie with Richie, and together they trailed behind the others. 

A rumble of rocks against rocks, a summer avalanche, a rockslide, an earthquake nowhere near a fault line, and Richie squeezed Eddie’s wrist as if to say I’m going to get you out of here, Eds.

So many yards ahead, Bev looked back as she reached the vertical channel leading to the cistern; her eyes met Richie’s then Bill’s, and with a pleading expression, she disappeared up it.

The wind from the destroyed Deadlights picked up, and Bill and Richie struggled forward, battered hard to their left. Bill ducked as debris catapulted past his head. Over the gusts, Richie yelled, “Does it feel like we’ve been here before?”

“We have, Richie.”

“No, not when we were kids. I - uh - I don’t know.”

An explosion sounded somewhere above them - not an explosion, Richie thought fleetingly, an implosion, the fucking house was collapsing - and Richie held tight to Eddie as they were knocked back away from Bill. The air was heavy with rocks and wood, and grey water rained down from above, from the cistern; he lost Bill to the chaos of the storm, lost sight of the channel upwards. It was just him and Eddie. 

Something struck him in the side of the head, hard and heavy. He fell back, desperately trying to position himself to break Eddie’s fall, but he couldn’t manage it. The rocks below him were jagged, and he thought he could feel blood dripping down his face. Richie reached for Eddie and blacked out.

*

*

*

The house on Neibolt was standing again. 

Bill was talking about going in alone. How?

“So does somebody want to say something?” Eddie asked, still breathing, still fucking breathing and alive and not dripping his Goddamn organs out of his chest.

“Richie said it the b-best when we were here last,” Bill said. 

“Holy fuck.”