They're sitting at a big table at the Jade of the Orient, and everything feels familiar and different all at once. They're all older, Bev's hair is longer, Mike looks tired. Ben is hot, Bill is famous and so is Richie, and Eddie has a wedding band on his finger. But despite the decades that they'd forgotten to know each other, being together still feels right and easy in ways most things in life don't. Stan, leaning against the back of Richie's chair, only feels a little bit left out.
He's forfeited the right to truly partake in this reunion, after all, has left his body in his bathtub in the hope it might make it easier for the Losers to survive without him. After Mike's call he'd spent hours trying to convince himself that if he faced It once and survived he could do it again, but he was still states away from Derry, sitting in his living room in Atlanta and trying not to make Patty worry, and fear was still closing coldly around his heart. He tries not to think of his wife opening the bathroom door. He hadn't stayed to see it happen, he couldn't take her grief.
He had Eddie on his side that summer all those years ago, always clutching at his inhaler and yelling about how they were kids and they should be having fun, and that camaraderie in cowardice had been comforting. But deep down, Stan always knew that Eddie was braver than him. The proof was in the way he ran down closer than the rest of them, making himself an easier target and getting his shoes wet, during the rock fight with Bowers, the way he went into Neibolt with Bill and Richie with a stiff upper lip the day he broke his arm, the way he stood up to his mother and climbed down that rope into the caverns with his arm in a cast, the way he kicked It in the face with a manic scream of "I'm gonna kill you!" when the rest of them were scrambling for weapons. The proof is in the fact that he is sitting there, alive and committed, at that table in the Jade of the Orient and that Stanley is not.
Richie does a shot without using his hands - a blowjob shot, he informs everyone, which Stan finds infuriating - and then lets the shot glass clatter to the table. He fixes Eddie with a look, the same look he'd fixed him with every day when they were kids - all mischief, but with a twinkle in his eye because Eddie is his favorite person to bother (and favorite person in general, Stan thinks) - and Eddie gets his wine glass in a death grip and takes a sip. He knows what's coming just as well as any of the rest of them, and he's ready. He's been ready since he got over the shock of seeing everyone again and suddenly remembering who they were, since everyone shook it off and started talking like friends do. Stanley has watched them go through this a million times, and even though it's been decades and he forgot for most of those years, he feels that old irritation and frustration growing in his belly, that desire to interfere. He's never seen Richie and Eddie happier than when they're each being a thorn in the other's side. Too bad he's not exactly corporeal, or he may actually do something this time. Everyone would be better off, maybe even Eddie's wife.
Richie smirks and opens his mouth - that alone stokes the fire already burning in Eddie's eyes, and Stan rolls is eyes - and says, "So wait, Eddie. You got married?"
Eddie points his glass in Richie's direction and the wine almost sloshes over the rim. "Yeah, why's that so fuckin' funny, dickwad?"
"What, like to a woman?"
Richie is fighting to keep a grin off his face, but Stan, who has moved to Mike's side and has his chin propped on the oblivious man's shoulder, can see the trepidation in his eyes. Eddie looks stricken for a fraction of a second before he replaces it with that same exaggerated, indignant rage he'd always presented as a child. "Fuck you, bro," he says, and takes another sip of wine.
Richie, looking absolutely tickled, hollers, "Fuck you!"
Bill, ever the mediator - or instigator, Stan thinks - says, "What about you, Rich? You married?"
Richie says yes, and Bev lets out a peal of bell-like laughter and calls bullshit. "No, I got married!" Richie looks defensive, but Stan knows better. "You didn't know I got married?"
Eddie puts his glass down on the table and looks surprisingly genuine when he responds, "No!" For only a moment, he looks troubled. Stan might feel bad for him, if he weren't such an idiot. Eddie knows better than to believe anything Richie says in moments like these, but he supposes if he were in his place, if he were that infuriatingly stupid, he may react the same. After all, Richie isn't afraid, at least not in the same ways Eddie is. Richie would take authenticity over comfort any day. And Eddie knows - he knows - that if Richie got married, it would be for love and nothing less.
Stan leaves Mike's side and drifts toward Bill, who snorts his drink out his nose when Richie says to Eddie, "No, yeah, your mother and I are very happy."
The discussion devolves further - Eddie shrieks about how that is so not funny, and Richie falls into a Jabba the Hut impression at Sonia Kaspbrak's expense - but it eventually comes to a serious juncture when they inevitably realize that there are six full seats while one sits empty and, never mind the horrifying creatures that sprout from their fortune cookies only a few moments later, Stanley circles the table and brushes his fingers over his friends' shoulders, their cheeks, their hair, and apologizes for what he's done, but assures them that he's here and he won't leave.
They can't hear him, but he'll keep this promise anyway.
Later, he stands with them on the front walk of the house on Neibolt. Bill just tried to be a martyr and go in alone, which is typical, but he probably knew when he tried to give them an out that none of them would take it. Stan thinks he'd be tempted, if what was down there could still hurt him. But just like when they were kids, even if It could, once he'd made it that far he wouldn't have abandoned them. He just might have been too afraid and gotten them killed.
"Does someone want to say something?" Eddie says, shifting his weight uneasily from one foot to the other.
"Richie said it best when we were here last," says Bill, fearless Bill, and Richie meets his gaze with a baffled look.
"I did?" And at Bill's nod he quotes, "I don't want to die?"
"That you're lucky we're not measuring dicks?"
Richie thinks on it for a moment and then offers, "Let's kill this fuckin' clown?"
Bill smiles. "Yeah."
Richie's returning smile is uneasy, but he steels himself. "Let's kill this fuckin' clown."
They start shuffling toward the porch, and Eddie is clearly dreading this. Stan sidles up beside him, bumping their shoulders together. Eddie doesn't react, let alone stumble from the weight knocking into him.
"You can do this, Eddie." Stan says anyway. "You're the bravest one of us."
Inside, Stan is reminded that It's tactics are as tasteless as ever.
He scowls as he watches the head of his preteen self talk and then sprout spider legs before lunging to attack his friends. He finds it a bit insulting, but on the same token he's mad that It can use him against the Losers this way.
On the other side of the door that slammed shut, Mike is holding a screaming Ben up as his stomach gets carved by an invisible force - "home at last," it says, in big bloody letters; Stan thinks there are much wittier things to write, but he's not the murder clown - but Bev's got him covered. She spots Pennywise in the mirror in front of them and smashes it to pieces.
Eddie has pressed himself flat against the wall when the little curly-haired monstrosity disappears, and it takes Richie all of five seconds to plant himself in front of him and ask if he's okay. Eddie just shakes his head wordlessly, and Richie doesn't get a chance to say anything else before his attention is drawn upward to the snarling Spider-Stan clinging to the ceiling above him.
"Oh. There he is," he says, and Stan cringes, just before it drops onto his face and makes him crash to the floor.
Eddie hyperventilates, Bill grabs at the head and keeps the teeth away from Richie's face but can't get the legs to let go.
"Eddie! Get the knife!"
Eddie wheezes a breath, frozen to the spot, and shakes his head again.
"Dammit, Eddie, get the knife!"
Stan likes to think that if he could he'd grab the knife and use it just to get Bill to stop yelling, but realistically he thinks he'd be shrinking into the corner next to Eddie. The door crashes open again and Ben, ever the white knight, takes the initiative and stabs the knife into Spider-Stan's skull.
Stanley can't help but cringe.
Bill blows up on Eddie, and from his perspective, it's called for. Even Eddie seems to think he deserves it, looking down and muttering that he's sorry. The rest of the Losers are quiet in the background as Richie wipes drool off his face.
Bill points out that they've already lost Stan, does Eddie want them to lose Richie too? Stan doesn't think that's fair, but he knows Bill as well as he knows Eddie, and he knows he doesn't mean it. He's just trying to keep everyone alive.
"No I-I don't want Richie…" Stan puts a hand on Eddie's shoulder and squeezes. "I was just scared. Please don't be mad, Bill."
Eddie sounds desperate and ashamed and terrified, and Stanley wishes he could tell him it's alright.
When they reach the well and have to climb down, Eddie stops.
The others are going ahead, and it's best, Stan thinks, that it's Richie who stops with him and not Bill. Although he suspects Bill may have had enough time to soften and feel guilty by then, and Richie would probably give him hell if he hadn't.
Richie gives Eddie a pep talk in a way only he could, soft-voiced and sincere but still fitting in a joke at Myra's expense and giving a little slap to the open stab wound through Eddie's cheek.
"You're braver than you think." He says, and Stan approves, because it's what Eddie needs to hear.
Richie's hand holding Eddie's wrist seems to ease him, if only a little, and he murmurs a sincere thanks, Rich.
They climb down.
Beverly gives Eddie a broken piece of metal fencepost.
"Take this," she says kindly. She knows he's afraid, but she knows he can do this if he has reason enough to believe. He looks at her with big eyes, imploring, curling his fingers slowly around the rusty metal spike. "It kills monsters," Bev adds. "If you believe it does."
Stanley, not for the first time, thinks that he loves Beverly Marsh very much.
A lot of things happen very quickly after that. They each burn their artifacts. The Ritual of Chüd fails. They all get split up.
Bev gets drenched in blood and nearly drowns in it, Ben almost gets buried in the clubhouse he built. They pull each other out with the power of love or some bullshit like that, all Stan knows is that for a second he is panicking, thinking they are about to die, and the next Ben is screaming something about the color of Bev's hair and she escapes her bathroom stall and pulls him out of the dirt.
Mike gets knocked off his feet while they're all running for safety and stays hiding behind a rock where he lands, pinned in the main cavern by It still roaming around him.
Bill dives into the water and ends up in the basement of his parents' house. He kills Fake Georgie when he starts blaming Bill for his death, and then he kills his preteen self when he does the same thing. It's supposed to be symbolic, Stan thinks. Bill is going to stop blaming himself, and it's about goddamn time.
Richie and Eddie run down a smaller passageway where the now giant Pennywise can't follow, and come up to the Very Scary, Scary, and Not Scary At All doors. Behind Very Scary they find Betty Ripsom's legs skipping toward them out of a closet, and slam the door. Behind Not Scary At All, they fawn over a Pomeranian until it turns into a tentacled monster.
"Next time we just go with regular scary!" Eddie yells as they run away.
"Next time?" Richie shrieks.
Stan loves them.
Bill takes a wrong step, and ends up in It's sights. Mike yells his name and lunges, and when he gets trapped in It's claw, everyone stops dead. Bill mouths no like he can't find his voice, and Stan thinks if his heart were still beating, it'd stop right then.
There's relief, breaths taken, when Richie charges out - Hey, fuckface! - and distracts It enough to drop Mike. "Yeah, that's right!" He yells when It turns on him. "Let's dance! Yippee-ki-yay, motherfu-"
The stone he was about to throw clatters to the ground. Richie's jaw is dropped open, arms swinging limply at his sides. The Deadlights shine in his eyes, and as he begins to float Stan feels cold and knows the rest of them do too. He watches helplessly.
And then, in the silence of nobody else knowing what to do, Stan hears Eddie.
"If you believe it does," he's saying to himself, white-knuckling the fencepost Bev had given him. He repeats it a couple times, looking between his hands and Richie. It's throat pulsates and the Deadlights pull Richie a little bit closer, and Eddie's eyes blaze. He charges.
"Beep beep, motherfucker!"
Eddie's throw is perfect. He's barely taken the time to aim, but the makeshift spear sails straight into It's throat and makes It choke, spluttering as It drops Richie.
Eddie lets out an excited holy shit as It shrinks in on itself. He allows himself only a second to survey his work before he's running for Richie, yelling unintelligible half sentences as he tries to get him to come to. "There he is!" He says when Richie finally looks at him. "Rich, listen - I think I got It, man! I think I really killed It!"
And Richie is just looking up at him in absolute bewilderment, eyes huge behind his glasses. One of his lenses cracked when he fell. His hands reach up and are halfway to Eddie's face when Eddie lets out a strangled cry of pain, and Richie doesn't register the massive claw that's just stabbed into Eddie's back and burst out his chest like that scene in Alien, he's only seeing Eddie's face crumple, seeing a string of blood dripping out of his mouth as he lets out a desperate Richie? and remembering countless times they'd argued about who spat the better loogie into the quarry. But Stan screams, and so does Bev. Bill's mouth is frozen open in a silent yell, and Ben and Mike are merely staring like they can't tear their eyes away as Eddie is lifted and swung around by the claw that's been shoved through his body. Horror is slowly dawning on Richie's pale face.
Stanley is already beside Eddie when he hits the ground, but Richie is scrambling to his feet and the rest of the Losers follow close behind him. Richie falls to his knees at Eddie's side, fumbles to remove his jacket, holds it to the wound.
Eddie speaks, but Stan isn't paying attention to much of anything past the growing bloodstain over the jacket Richie is trying to use to stop the bleeding. There's a bit of talking, Mike exclaiming, "All living things must abide by the laws of the shape they inhabit!" And then they're forming a new plan while Pennywise scrabbles at the opening to the cave they've entered and sing-song demands that they come out and play.
It's Eddie who convinces Richie to leave him and join the others, because they're already two down and they need him to finish this. Stan is saying, "Go, go, I'll stay with him," but it falls on deaf ears.
As it turns out, all they've ever needed to do to defeat It is eliminate the fear, and belittle it into nonexistence. It's so stupidly easy, Stan thinks as he watches them do it, as he yells along regardless of whether or not he's really helping, and watches It shrink before they crush It's heart in their hands. He's trying to keep pressure on Eddie's wound but his hands are useless. So many deaths could have been avoided if only they'd known what to do all those years ago.
There's only a short moment in the aftermath before Richie is saying "Eddie, Eddie" and leading the rest as he hurries back to their fallen comrade. He's still awake, but barely, and when Richie replaces his hand over the wound Eddie covers it with his own.
"We did it," Richie's saying. "You did it, Eds. You're gonna be okay, we're gonna get you out of here."
Eddie's gasping, trying to focus on Richie, but his eyes keep slipping to the spot on his left where Stan is, and Stan feels an ugly kind of hope in his tummy that someone can finally see him. But if Eddie can see him, that means Eddie is dying too. Eddie's out of it, but even he knows Richie's in denial, grasping at straws. He squeezes Richie's hand, skin slick with blood. His eyelids flutter and he looks up at Richie with those big doe eyes that had never once hidden how he felt. "Rich," he breathes. "Gotta tell you something."
Stan feels hope, and he knows Richie does too by the way he perks up, just a little bit. Come on, Eddie, Stan thinks, desperately. Be brave, be honest. While you still can.
"I fucked your mother." Is what Eddie says, and Richie's face falls but he laughs as he starts to cry.
"You're an idiot!" Stanley yells, rubbing at his watering eyes, at Eddie.
Eddie's fading fast, but his eyes flicker to where Stan stands, so upset he's shaking, and his eyebrows furrow. He tries to say something but fails, and his eyes flutter closed.
Richie is still in denial. Ben lays a hand on his shoulder and he shakes it off, but it happens very slowly. Suddenly, his friends are all moving in slow motion, and Stan watches in confusion that grows into fear when they all join Eddie in being completely still. Frozen in the middle of movement. Richie's mouth is open, stuck in the middle of saying we can still help him for the hundredth time. Bev's tears have frozen halfway down her cheeks. Ben is stuck with his muscles flexing, as he'd been starting to haul Richie to his feet, Mike and Bill just behind him and just about to help.
Stan knows he is physically useless but he still tries to knock Mike over. He should be unsteady, with one foot in the air, halfway through a step, and maybe pushing him forward will make them resume. Mike doesn't budge, and neither does anyone else. Dread is building in Stanley's stomach. Is this a trick? Did It survive, is It still just fucking with them? Is It about to amble around the corner on those spider legs and tear them all to pieces?
Maybe he's still thirteen years old, maybe he never escaped the sewers that summer. Maybe none of them did. Maybe they're still down there, caught in the Deadlights, floating like Bev did, like all the kids did. Maybe growing up, moving away, forgetting his friends, maybe it was all a trick. Maybe it's still 1989. Was Patty ever real? If she wasn't, he doesn't have to feel guilty for abandoning her. If she wasn't, the best part of his life has been a lie.
There's light pouring in from the mouth of the cavern they're in, growing brighter, and Stan charges toward it. "Where are you?" He demands. He's delirious, which maybe shouldn't be a thing for a ghost, but then again he thinks it's kind of fucked up that ghosts are a thing. "Where are you?" He yells again, louder. Nothing seems to be there, but then Pennywise was always good with the eerie silence before a jump scare.
He never thought he'd be asking Pennywise to show Itself, but then again he supposes he never really thought he'd die in his bathtub and follow his childhood friends around as a ghost, either. He's not afraid anymore. Not for himself, anyway. What else can be done to him now, other than having to watch the other Losers die?
He made the grand, logical, yet still questionable decision to remove himself from the board in the dangerous game the Losers hadn't realized they were still playing with Pennywise, but now, in an unforeseen turn of events, he's become the only mobile player left. He will do anything, anything, to ensure a win for the Losers Club of 1989.
He's not sure precisely what it is that alerts him to the presence behind him other than the sudden absolute knowledge that it's there. He whirls to face it, and has to shield his eyes from the whitest, brightest light he's ever seen.
It's not a voice, so much as words being crammed into his head and his mind forced to comprehend them. It's uncomfortable, and he rubs at his left temple.
He tries to look up again, find the source of the not-voice, but again has to look away. A part of him wonders if this is what Bev and Richie saw when they looked into the Deadlights, but his entire being is being flooded with an insistent kind of calm. And while it feels incredibly unnatural and he's still ready to fight with everything he's got if he has to, this is entirely the opposite atmosphere that It always created.
Stanley Uris, he hears again, and his fingers find both temples this time. He doesn't know what this is, doesn't know if he believes in it, but it must have power.
"Can you… can you save Eddie?" He finds himself asking, disregarding everything else. Never mind asking this thing that's so incomprehensible he can't even look at it what it is. It can be anything, it can be God, Beelzebub, or a giant cosmic fucking turtle for all he cares. Whatever it is, it can freeze time. That can't be its only superpower.
There's a long moment of silence, the light dims just enough to be noticeable and then glares back full force. Edward Kaspbrak, it says this time.
"Yes," Stan says, because he thinks it understands. "Yes, Eddie Kaspbrak."
It's a question this time, and Stan cocks his head. More thoughts are forced into his skull, and he grits his teeth and holds his head against the pressure.
He sees a vision of Patty holding a pregnancy test and sitting on the edge of a bathtub that's never been full of his blood as happy tears trail down her face, and he feels his heart clench at what he's taken from himself and from her.
Patty had brought up the idea of having kids a few months before Mike called from Derry, and Stan had wanted that. They both had. He still does.
When he opens his eyes again they're wet, and he stares into the blinding light as long as he can stand. "I made a choice. A bad one, but I made it. Eddie was brave, and he came back, and he tried. He doesn't deserve to die."
Stan had a feeling that might be the deal, and he only nods solemnly. "Save Eddie." He says again. "Please. He's got a lot of life left to live. If he and Richie can dig their heads out of their asses, maybe it'll be a real life this time."
It's true. Stan really thinks, if they're just given a little more time, Richie and Eddie will come to terms with themselves. Maybe they forgot each other and how they felt, maybe even forgot learning things about themselves. But the moment they were brought back together they were Richie-and-Eddie again, at each other's throats with the most gentle of attacks, and if they were locked in a room together long enough it'd leave a hickey.
Stan has a wife. He wishes he could give himself back to her, but he knows who deserves this second chance, and it's not him.
Looking up into that light, though, Stan has the oddest feeling that he's being laughed at. Not in a condescending way, although he can't help but feel a little offended. It's like he's a child again, and his mother is chuckling at him for putting a "d" at the end of "religion."
Why not both?
And with that, the light fades. A feeling of bone-deep exhaustion seeps into every fiber of his being, like a sickness pumping through his veins, but you can only feel an ache like that if you're alive. He sucks in a surprised, gasping breath. It almost hurts, like that first breath after sitting at the bottom of the pool for as long as you can. He stretches his fingers, kicks at a rock and watches it actually skitter across the ground. He rakes his hands through his hair and lets out a single, too-loud laugh.
He's thankful, if a bit off-put. He doesn't know what Patty knows, doesn't know if there's a dead body that used to belong to him still out in Georgia, doesn't know if he has a death certificate and a lot of explaining to do, or even if this new body will last outside the limits of Derry, Maine. But right now he's giddy, and the entire place is starting to crumble, and he really needs to go if he's going to keep the life he's just been given back. He turns and stumbles back to where he left the Losers.
They're all scrambling. They're dodging falling rocks and gawking at Eddie's lack of a gaping chest wound, mostly, and Eddie is staring confusedly at Richie, who's hanging off his shoulders and weeping like a widow in a Friday afternoon soap opera.
When Stan grabs Richie and starts pulling him - and Eddie, since Richie's not letting him go maybe ever - toward the exit, Bev lets out a loud gasp. Honestly, all his friends could star in a really bad Bollywood drama, Stan thinks. And he'd watch it, because he loves them.
There's a question at the tip of Bill's tongue that gets cut off when a particularly large piece falls from the stone ceiling above them and lands at his feet. No time, they all agree silently, and Stan leads them back to the rope they used to climb down and begins to usher them out ahead of him. Richie sends Eddie up first, and follows close behind. Bev scurries up, Ben follows, and then Bill pushes Stan ahead of him. He wants to argue, but that would take more time than it would just to go, so he does. He makes it to the sidewalk at the front of the House on Neibolt, Bill and Mike hot on his heels, just as it folds in on itself with a horrendous noise and a pathetic puff of dust.
Bev, Ben, Eddie, and Richie have collapsed on the front lawn. Bev and Ben lay side by side, on their backs, chests heaving. They're just staring into the sun, fingers intertwined. Eddie's on his back, too, but Richie's sprawled half on top of him.
"You're crushing me, asshole," he says, but there's no heat in it. He's running his fingers through Richie's tangled and dirty curls. Richie merely hums in response, pressing his face into the fabric of Eddie's torn and stained hoodie.
Stan smiles. He turns to Bill and Mike, who are already looking at him. "I really can't explain it," he says, shaking his head. "It's… Unreal." He pauses, then holds his arms out. "I could go for a hug, though. I guess."
Mike and Bill oblige. Stan thinks he might crack a rib, but he doesn't mind. He feels more arms envelop him from behind and knows the others have dragged their asses off the lawn. Good, he thinks. You come back to life and all your friends do for the first three minutes after escaping near death is canoodle.
"Stan the Man," Bill says softly, simply. He doesn't say anything else, but it's full of affection and he squeezes just a little bit harder. Mike is crying, he thinks. So is Bev. He can feel Eddie's bony chin digging into his right shoulder. Ben's nearly got his arms around all of them, the bear of a man he's become. Richie says Stanley Urine but Stan's answering swat is gentle because their Trashmouth is still so close to tears.
"I hate you," he says. He lets that linger for a moment before he lets out a chuckle, and it earns teary laughs all around.
He doesn't know how he ever forgot these people.