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Vacations In the Afterlife

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December 27th

 

Eddie takes in a deep breath and the air is so cold that it feels like he’s taken a big bite of ice cream, straight out of the freezer. He stomps his feet in the snow and tucks his head deeper into his big knitted scarf, watching his breath huff out in little white clouds.

 

“Can you actually see anything?” He asks Richie, who’s peering through a big chunky pair of binoculars out at the scenery.

 

Below them the mountainside is endless and glittering white, the snow frosted on the tops of the pine trees.

 

“Hmm, wait a second.” Richie hums and turns, scanning slowly until the binoculars are trained on Eddie. “Oh fuck, wait cutie alert.”

 

“Oh my god, shut up.” Eddie tells him, swatting at him with gloved hands. “You’re so annoying, I thought you saw the stupid bird. I hope this bit is worth us getting frostbite.”

 

He’s blushing anyway and part of him wonders if that’s ever going to stop getting flustered by Richie’s terrible flirting, even after nearly six months of being together.

 

Richie puts down the binoculars so Eddie can see him grinning.

 

“I thought I saw it. But it turns out all birds look pretty much exactly the same.”

 

“Stan would kill you for saying that.” Eddie tells him and Richie holds his hands up with a helpless expression.

 

“What do you want me to say? They all have feathers, right? They flap a lot, it’s hard to see.”

 

 “We should get a move on. We said we’d be at the cabin by now and I don’t know what time it gets dark up here.”

 

“Worried we’re gonna get eaten by wolves?” Richie asks him but they start walking again, up the mountain path. “It was your idea to walk this last part.”

 

“Walking is a great way to stay fit.” Eddie tells him primly. “It’s good for your cardiovascular system.”

 

“Good for yours maybe. I’m old. And fragile.”

 

“You’re younger than me dipshit.”

 

“Only by like three months. Physically, I have the body of an eighty-year-old.” Richie complains and Eddie rolls his eyes at the drama.

 

“Pretty sexy for an eighty-year-old.” Eddie says and catches hold of Richie’s scarf to pull him in for a quick brush of lips. He really shouldn’t be rewarding the bitching, but he can’t help it, Richie looks good like this, his nose and cheeks flushed red from the cold.

 

“I always knew you were into DILFS.” Richie says, and pulls Eddie closer by the hips. “Is this why you wanted to walk the last part? You didn’t want to make out in front of the uber driver?”

 

“In your dreams Tozier.” Eddie huffs but this is actually pretty accurate. “I’m helping you birdwatch.”

 

“Aw, such a sweetheart.” Richie drawls and smacks a loud kiss on his cheek.

 

Eddie grimaces and pushes him off even though he loves it, he loves it so much.

 

Richie had been talking about finding this bird for weeks, ever since he had told Patty about their trip to the Rockies and she had gifted him Stan’s old binoculars.

 

Eddie’s life has taken a lot of weird turns since that last summer in Derry, so much so that meeting regularly with Stan’s widow doesn’t even seem that strange to him now. It had started when Richie had mentioned off-hand that he had talked to her a couple of times on the phone, though how that initial conversation had gone Eddie can’t even imagine. When she had gone to stay with her sister in Pasadena she hadn’t been far away, and Richie had been the one to suggest lunch.

 

That first meetup had been incredibly awkward for the first half an hour, Richie babbling while Patty and Eddie had eyed each other warily over overpriced salads. Then Eddie had made some stupid complaint about the Californian weather and Patty had smiled properly for the first time and said she hated it too, how much she missed Atlanta, and it had all been easy from there. It turned out Patty was just as desperate for information on Stanley’ childhood as they had been for her stories about Stan-As-An-Adult.

 

They had  told her about how Stanley used to hand-press his Boy Scouts uniform and let them cheat off him in math and how coming up to his Bar Mitzvah he had endlessly practiced reading off the Torah, even though it had made him stressed and irritable.  In return Patty had told them about how Stan had taken her to the Natural History Museum on their first date and how he had been too nervous to look at her the whole time they had been walking around. She had told them about Stan’s jigsaw puzzles and the trivia nights he had made them go to and the way he had been frustrated sometimes at his work but always calm and gentle and how much she had loved him, how much she still loved him even now.

 

I didn’t understand afterward, she had said at one point, I was so angry with him. I didn’t understand why he couldn’t have shared it with me. Or let me help him. I would have.

 

Eddie hadn’t known what to say so he had looked over at Richie. How to possibly explain without sounding crazy? They had hinted that Derry hadn’t been exactly idyllic but that was a pretty big way to sugar-coat the absurd reality of a murderous space clown.

 

He was scared. Richie had said, slowly and it had been strange to see him so serious, so sincere. He had a good reason to be. The things we went through as kids…They would make anyone feel hopeless. If I know Stan, he wouldn’t have wanted to put that on you.

 

Patty had looked almost angry for a moment.

 

 But that’s what marriage is, she had said, It’s trusting each other with all the terrible things, the awful things. It’s about not having to be alone with it. I just wish, I wish that….

 

It doesn’t mean he didn’t love you. Eddie had blurted out then, He must have wanted to keep you away from all of that. He wanted to keep the life you had in separate from all the bad shit.

 

Patty had laughed, although none of it had seemed very funny, and looked over at them. You two seem to have come out of it alright.

 

Eddie had almost wanted to tell her about the lingering panic attacks, the scars on his chest and face, the way Richie still woke up in the middle of the night shouting. Then Richie had reached under the tabletop and grabbed tightly onto his hand and said, Yeah, it took us a while to get there.

 

“What’s the name of Stan’s bird again?” He asks now, in the snow. “The Blue Headed Rose Finch?”

 

“The Grey Crowned Rosy Finch.” Richie corrects him sternly. “Someone’s not paying attention to all the Wikipedia articles I keep reading out.”

 

“I listened the first time.”

 

“You need to be looking too! This little bitch is reclusive. They breed at a higher altitude than any other bird in America Eds.”

 

“Oh my god, I know about the altitude, enough with the altitude.” Eddie grouses and sets off walking again. “I was the one who suggested we get the car to go ahead with the luggage. That’s helping.”


“You’re no ornithologist.” Richie calls after him. “You just wanted to lure me out into the wild to have your wicked way with me. It’s not gonna work though. I’m pure of heart and immune to seduction.”

 

Eddie grins over his shoulder. “You sure about that?”

 

Behind him Richie tilts his head considering and Eddie wonders if he’s remembering how he had tried to give Eddie an under-the-blanket hand job on the plane.

 

“Yeah okay, maybe not.” Richie agrees and jogs to catch up.

 

The drive is wide but slippery and the trees on either side of them make Eddie feel very small. It shouldn’t be far now, judging from the map on Eddie’s phone and part of him feels a little nervous. The other part is almost giddy with anticipation. He hadn’t seen the others face to face for over six months, not since they had waved goodbye in the hospital parking lot.

 

It’s strange how he had been fine (sort of, not really) without them for most of his adult life and now he’s desperate to see their faces again after just half a year.

 

As they come around a corner in the path something furry on all fours barrels towards them over the snow and, before he can think, Eddie stumbles back against Richie crying out, “Fuck, wolf.”

 

Richie laughs and crouches down as the thing gets closer, his arms outstretched.

 

“Cutest wolf I’ve ever seen.” He says and then the dog is knocking him backwards into the snow, yelping excitedly and licking at his face. Eddie, who still feels jumpy, frowns down at Richie who’s laughing, cooing out, “Good girl, who’s a good girl?”

 

“It could still have rabies.” Eddie points out but he smiles because okay, that is a pretty cute dog, even with all the slobber. He recognizes her from the endless photos that Ben and Beverly spam the groupchat with. Laika, he remembers and isn’t that just like Ben to name his dog after a doomed Russian space experiment?

 

“This is Ben’s dog, idiot.” Richie tells him, screwing up his face when the dog tries to lick his eyeballs. “ She doesn’t have rabies. What she has is lovely little paws, oh you’re so cute, yes you are.”

 

“They must have just beaten us.” Eddie says, peering up through the branches, and there it is, just ahead, a thin curl of chimney smoke.

 

“Hey, help me up.” Richie says and when Eddie takes his hand, he tugs Eddie down into the snow with him and kisses him in the snow, with the dog running excited circles around them and it’s fucking freezing.

 

Eddie goes along with the kiss just long enough to distract him and then shoves a big handful of snow down the back of Richie’s neck.

 

Richie yelps, saying “Oh, you dick, that’s cold.”

 

Eddie laughs but then they’re tussling in earnest, rolling around in the snowdrift like they’re fucking thirteen again. Richie has the upper hand, crouched on top of him with two big handfuls of snow and Eddie’s scrabbling but he’s distracted by Richie’s grin, the way his hair has fallen into his face.

“Don’t you fucking do it.” He warns but Richie just laughs diabolically, and Eddie braces himself for the ice up his nose.

 

“I really thought you guys would have more of a honeymoon period before it got to this.” A deep voice says and Eddie turns his head to blink at Mike, standing shaking his head with a backpack slung over his shoulder.

 

“Mikey!” Richie yells and then he’s pulling Eddie up with him so they can have three-person hug, something that should by all rights be incredibly awkward but is in reality just really fucking nice.

 

“Good to see you guys.” Mike says and he looks great, free and easy in a way that Eddie’s maybe never seen before, at least not as an adult. “Would you believe I missed you?”

 

“I don’t.” Richie says. “Not on your grand tour. What are the babes like in Paris?”

 

“Babes? Really?” Eddie echoes, rolling his eyes and Mike laughs.

 

“The babes are nice. Very French.” Mike says. “I have so many pictures.”

 

“Of the babes?” Richie asks and Eddie elbows him, not ungently.

 

“Of interesting historical sites.” Mike says and then launches into telling them all about Notre Dame and how busy the room with the Mona Lisa was and how you aren’t allowed to put butter on your croissant or the waiter will glare at you.

 

They keep picking their way over the slush as they talk, the dog tagging at their heels and then suddenly the cabin comes into view. The word cabin doesn’t really do it justice though, because this place is huge, two stories high with a wraparound porch and wide windows that look out over the view.

 

Beside him Richie makes a low whistle. “Jesus, this isn’t what I pictured when they said cabin. Didn’t Ben use the word cosy?”

 

“Gotta say I’m glad that the others are the ones shelling out for this.” Mike mutters and Eddie has to nod.

 

“I don’t know how you got away with not paying,” Eddie says, giving Richie the side-eye.

 

Richie holds up his hands in protest. “Hey, I’m a starving artist! Plus, they know I’m playing sugar daddy to you right now.”

 

“Please don’t ever call yourself that again.” Eddie groans and it’s not even completely true, Eddie has a lot of savings but most of them are tied up in the divorce proceedings right now.

 

 Part of him suspects Richie does kind of get off on it just a little bit, picking up the tab at restaurants and helping Eddie pick out new furniture for (their) Richie’s apartment.

 

“No leads on the job hunt yet huh?” Mike asks sympathetically.

 

Eddie shrugs. “It’s not that I couldn’t find a risk analyst position. I mean I have a pretty good reputation in the business.”

 

“Eddie’s a shark.” Richie pipes up, proudly.

 

“It’s just that I’m not sure I want to do that anymore.” Eddie continues. “Maybe this is the midlife crisis.”

 

“I think the midlife crisis might have been fighting an alien in a sewer.” Mike points out. “So, what do you want to do instead? Medical school? Uber driver? You’re scary enough.”

 

“I’m not scary.” Eddie says threateningly. “I’m very nice. People would be lucky to be driven around by me.”

 

“Yeah, if they like drivers with road rage.” Richie says and Eddie’s about to cuss him out when the door to the cabin opens and Bev is in the doorway, waving and grinning at them.

 

“Why are you walking, idiots?” Bev calls out. “It’s 35 below out here.”

 

“That’s what I’ve been trying tell them!” Richie says, jogging ahead and when he and Bev meet on the porch he pulls her up into a hug, spinning around in a blur of red hair and Richie’s trailing red scarf.

 

“Fuck, actually yeah why are we doing this?” Eddie mutters, jumping on the balls of his feet to stay warm. “Actually, I know that, we’re dumbasses, but why are you walking?”

 

“The bus only goes so far up the mountain.” Mike tells him. “Plus, it feels good you know? To see stuff like this up close. I’ve been trying to do that more. Make the most of where I am.”

 

Eddie gets it. He knows all about getting a second chance at life. Trying to do it properly this time.

 

In his case, of course, the feeling is quite literal.

 


 

 

Inside the cabin Ben has a set a fire, and he leaves sooty handprints on all their clothes when he hugs them, but Eddie can’t bring himself to bitch too much, he’s so happy to see them all again, to have them close. They’re all talking at once, interrupting and yelling and at some point, someone pulls out a bottle and starts spiking the hot chocolate and so by the time Bill turns up they’re all incredibly loud and rapidly tipping over the edge of tipsy.

 

Eddie goes to answer the door, pulling himself reluctantly out from under Richie’s arm and nearly tripping over the dog. When he opens the door he can feel himself swaying a little.

 

On the other side Bill is shivering with snow in his hair and he takes one look at Eddie’s loose grin and red face and says accusingly, “Y-You assholes st-started without me!”

 

“For the record this was all Richie’s idea.” Eddie says. “Or Beverly’s. I can’t remember who had the schnapps.”

 

Bill laughs and doesn’t look that mad and when he opens his arms, Eddie goes in for the hug, feeling the snowflakes on Bill’s scarf melt against his cheek.

 

“H-how are you doing Eddie? R-really?” Bill asks when he pulls back, always the big brother, even now.

 

“I’m good Bill, I’m really fucking good.” Eddie tells him and it’s true, it’s actually true this time.

 

Bill looks up at the sound echoing from down the corridor and grimaces.

 

“Oh g-god are they, is th-that singing?”

 

“No.” Eddie mutters darkly. “I wouldn’t call that singing.”

 

When Bill shows up in the doorway the other stop butchering Hit Me Baby One More Time and look up at him with drunken surprise as if they had forgotten why Eddie had left in the first place. Beverly and Ben are sprawled on the rug in front of the fireplace and Mike and Richie are trying to share a sofa with the dog.

 

“BIG BILL!” They yell in a near chorus, Mike waving the schnapps bottle over his head in greeting.

 

Bill shakes his head in disapproval and says, “You a-are all so drunk. It’s n-not even 7 pm yet.”

 

“Oh shit, that’s late, we should have been making food!” Richie exclaims and then scrunches his face up in worry. “We have food, right? This isn’t gonna be a cabin fever cannibalism situation?”

 

“We have food!” Ben says. “We stocked the place up yesterday. I was gonna make tacos.”

 

“I l-love you all but n-none of you should t-touch a stove right now.” Bill says firmly. “I’ll cook.”

 

Mike and Ben go off with him into the kitchen, supposedly to help out but more seemingly more to sit around chatting on the countertops and getting in the way. Which leaves Eddie, Richie and Beverly with the schnapps bottle.

 

The hot chocolate is long gone at this point but they try bravely to carry on drinking without it.

 

“Wait, no, this is actually disgusting.” Beverly says, screwing up her face when she tries to take a straight shot.

 

On her lap, the dog whines sympathetically, it’s tail slapping against the floorboards and she reaches down to scratch it behind the ears.

 

“Gimme, gimme.” Richie says, stretching over from where he’s curled around Eddie on the sofa to grab the bottle. “I’m no lightweight Bev, this shit is like water to me.”

 

“I don’t think that’s something to brag about.” Eddie says mildly and then Richie nearly spits out the drink all over them both when he tastes it.

 

“Oh ugh, ugh ugh ugh.” Richie says, half-retching. “That shit is nasty.”

 

Eddie sniffs the top and takes a tentative mouthful. He considers it and then goes, “What are you guys talking about? This is fine. It’s minty.”

 

“It tastes like mouthwash Eddie.” Beverly says incredulously and Eddie frowns.

 

“I always liked mouthwash.”

 

Richie laughs so hard that Eddie can feel the vibrations through his back where it’s all pressed up against Richie’s chest.

 

“Of fucking course you’d like it, it tastes like medicine.” Richie says and then, “Does this mansion have a wine cellar?”

 

It doesn’t but Beverly has obviously prepared for this situation while she and Ben were stocking up the cupboards, so the wine is flowing freely by the time Bill and the others serve up dinner. Which is probably a good thing because it turns out that while Bill is brave and kind and their fearless leader, one thing he can’t do is fucking cook. Maybe it’s the result of getting famous and rich too young or maybe it’s just that Bill spent too much time in front of a laptop in his twenties but whatever it is, the food is nearly inedible.

 

“Is it o-okay?” Bill asks when they’re all sitting around the big kitchen table and they all avoid making eye contact with each other.

 

“It’s great Bill.” Mike says warmly, taking a big deliberate bite and Eddie can almost see his eyes watering. “Thank you.”

 

“This food is- “, Eddie starts and then he feels Beverly kick him under the table and give him a pointed glare.

 

“It’s tasty.” He finishes weakly and then tries to choke some down. It’s somehow both burnt and weirdly cold in the middle. If Eddie survives death by clown twice only to be taken out by food poisoning, he’s gonna be pissed.

 

“Yummy.” Richie chokes out and besides him Ben nods and gives an enthusiastic thumbs up.

 

Bill glares round at all of them and then throws his napkin down in defeat. “Y-you are all such bad l-liars. Th-this tastes terrible.”

 

They all erupt at once, laughing and shouting and Ben looks nonplussed, still eating.

 

“Wait you guys were lying?” He says, blinking. “This is good.”

 

He chews and then considers for a moment. “Then again I’ve been eating salads for most of my life.”

 

“Does Audra do all the cooking?” Beverly teases, a little later on, when they’ve decided the food isn’t so bad with enough salsa and cheese on top. “You misogynist, Bill.”

 

“F-fuck no.” Bill snorts. “She’s w-worse than me. We mostly eat t-take-out.”

 

“How is she?” Ben asks gently. “How’s it going with you guys?”

 

Bill who has caught up with them pretty quickly by snagging a bottle of red to himself, gives a dopey kind of smile.

 

“It’s better. S-so much better.” He says. “Sh- she says sorry she couldn’t come b-but the re-shoots are dragging on.”

 

“And uh, she knows more now?” Mike asks and Eddie and Richie give each other a loaded glance because they had wondered privately about this, how much Bill had said.

 

“Sh-she knows everything. I told her it all.” Bill says simply.

 

“Everything?” Eddie says in a strangled voice.

 

“The murders, Derry, the fucking clown?” Richie says behind him. “She believed you?”

 

“Not uh-exactly.” Bill says, frowning. “N-not at first. First, she th-thought it was a joke. Then she thought I wuh-was having a breakdown. It took a-a while.”

 

“I’ll bet.” Beverly says wryly. “At least it’s too crazy to be a lie. Even for someone with your imagination.”

 

By the time he and Richie finally stumble upstairs to their room it’s nearly 3AM and Eddie is giggly from the alcohol and the pure organic high of being near the rest of the Losers again.

 

They aren’t even the last to leave; Beverly and Bill are engaged in some incredibly complicated card game that neither of them seem to know the rules to, and they show no signs of stopping anytime soon. Mike and Ben have long since passed out though, Mike in his room and Ben on the sofa with the dog drooling on his chest.

 

It takes them nearly half an hour to make it from the living room to their bedroom, partly because they’re both too drunk to find the light switch and nearly fall down the stairs twice as a result, and also because they keep stopping to make out against various surfaces.

 

“You’re so sexy.” Richie mumbles into his neck in the corridor. “Have I ever told you that? I feel like I haven’t told you that before.”

 

“You, ah, mentioned it once or twice.” Eddie says, grinding up against the leg Richie’s shoved between his thighs. “Did I look especially sexy tonight?”

 

He fumbles at Richie’s shirt, feeling a button pop but not caring when he gets his hand on all the warm skin underneath, raking his fingernails lightly over Richie’s ribs.

 

So much. Loads. Very.” Richie groans. “You looked sexy in the snow, you looked sexy in the firelight. You looked so fucking sexy eating Bill’s disgusting tacos.”

 

Eddie kisses him, sloppy but heartfelt and feels the hard press of Richie’s erection against his hip.

 

“Ugh, you still taste of schnapps.” Richie says, pulling away and making a face. “Still sexy though.”

 

“You love it.” Eddie tells him. “You love my schnapps mouth.”

 

Then the door behind him opens and it’s only Richie’s arm around his waist that stops him falling onto his ass. When he cranes his neck around Mike is standing in the doorway with a pained expression, looking like he’s just woken up.

 

“Could you guys do this in front of literally anybody else’s room?” He says pleadingly.

 

Eddie croaks out a horrified apology, but Richie is laughing and pulling him away, snapping a salute at Mike who just looks long suffering.

 

“That was humiliating.” Eddie says when they’re safely inside what is hopefully their room and the door is closed. “Was that humiliating? I’m too drunk to tell.”

 

Richie doesn’t look very embarrassed; if anything, he looks hornier than before, pressing Eddie up against the door and biting gently at the curve of his neck. His big hands are on Eddie’s waist, holding him, moving over him through the fabric. Eddie shivers and it still gives him a little tug in his stomach to feel small like this, wrapped up in Richie, covered by him.

 

“I’ll show you humiliating.” Richie whispers into his ear and Eddie can smell the whiskey on his breathe, feel the rasp of his stubble. “I can humiliate you so good baby.”

 

“What does even mean?”

 

“I’m gonna do so many things to you. You won’t even know my own name when I’m done with you.” Richie says and the way he says it so hot that Eddie almost doesn’t mind that it’s pure nonsense.

 

He laughs into Richie’s mouth and says, “Get in bed okay, I’ll be there in five minutes.”

 

“Okay.” Richie says happily and then, as if he can’t help himself, “I love you.”

 

“I love you too.” Eddie says, feeling like his heart has grown three sizes, like an old Bugs Bunny cartoon. “Keep yourself warm for me ok?”

 

“I can do that.” Richie says, reluctantly pulling away but keeping one hand on Eddie’s hip. “I’ve had a lot of practice.”

 

“At jerking off?”

 

“Jerking off thinking about you.” Richie tells him and it sounds more earnest than dirty talk should. “I’m a fucking pro. Jerking off and waiting and thinking about you Eds. All the things I wanna do to you. With you.”

 

Eddie kisses him hard and says, “You should put that on your resume.”

 

In the bathroom he tries not to rush, wanting to draw out the slow burn of arousal that’s been there since he saw Richie’s throat work around the schnapps shot, maybe from before then and can it be good for you, Eddie frets tipsily, to be low key constantly turned on for nearly half a year?

 

When he re-emerges, fresh faced and a little more sober but just as turned on, Richie is sprawled on top of the bedsheets; naked and snoring loudly.

 

Eddie sighs.

 

“You are so lucky I’m in love with you.” He tells Richie’s unconscious body and then crawls in bed with him, shoving at him until he can get the covers over them both. He tucks his nose into the curls at the nape of Richie’s neck and huddles up close, still frustratingly horny but also feeling a sort of savage joy in this moment, the intoxicating at-long-last intimacy of it all.

 

 He falls asleep between one breath and the next and doesn’t dream at all that night, not even of the spiders.

 

 

December 28th

 

The next morning Eddie wakes up early, with a slant of sunlight falling across his face. It’s bright, too bright for how badly his head is aching, so he curses and falls out of bed to close the curtains. Outside of the covers and the warm tangle of Richie’s arms the room is freezing and when Eddie looks out the window the world looks like the top of a Christmas cake, the fresh layer of snow untouched and gleaming.  He meant to fall right back into bed but instead he just stands there for a moment, taking it all in. In the sunlight he can see their room for the first time and it really is nice; sloping ceilings and wooden furniture and a big colourful patchwork quilt over the bed. All he can see of Richie is a mop of dark curls poking up from under the blankets and one foot kicked out over the edge.

 

The sight of Richie’s bare foot makes him feel strangely protective, like something soft tugging at his chest, and he moves over to pull over the blanket more securely. You could get sick from sleeping in a cold room, if you weren’t careful.

 

When he looks at his watch, he sees it’s not that early at all, nearly 9 AM but he can’t hear anyone else in the house moving around, just Richie’s soft breathing from the bed. He feels too awake to go back to bed so instead he goes to rummage through their bags until he finds his running stuff.

 

He sits on the edge of the bed to tie up his laces and feels Richie’s sleep-warm arm wrap around him from behind.

 

“Eds?” Richis says muzzily. “What’re you up?”

 

Eddie shushes him saying, “Go back to sleep, I’ll be back soon. I’m just going for a run.”

 

Richie hums, makes a sleepy attempt to grope him and then makes a disappointed noise.

 

“Wher’ your little shorts?” Richie mumbles.

 

“This isn’t L.A dipshit, it’s freezing outside. If I wear those shorts here my legs will fall off.”

 

“You don’t have to go running in them.” Richie says stubbornly, sounding a little more awake. “You could just wear them back to bed.”

 

He hammers in the point by pulling up the back of Eddie’s jumper and kissing the small of his back.

 

Eddie laughs and twists round to look at him properly. Richie’s face is all creased up on one side from the pillow and his hair is a mess, but he makes a valiant attempt to look seductive, waggling his eyebrows.

 

“Go back to sleep.” Eddie tells him again and leans down to kiss him. “Or you’ll be cranky all day.”

 

“M’ not the cranky one.” Richie says but he’s already closing his eyes, burrowing himself deeper into the nest of blankets.

 

Eddie creeps through the house but it’s still and silent, with everyone presumably sleeping off their hangovers. Downstairs is a disaster zone of empty glasses and half eaten plates of food and Eddie feels a weird pang looking around thinking, Stan would be so fucking pissed if he was here, he would be up at the crack of dawn trying to make us clean up and maybe it’s because of this thought that he spends an extra five minutes moving the worst of the mess to the kitchen. In her basket Laika lifts her head up briefly to watch him but quickly loses interest and goes back to sleep.

 

The minute he steps outside the air is so cold Eddie almost gives up and heads right back in. He’s wearing thermal leggings and like three layers of specialist running gear, but he could be naked for the biting chill in the air. But running is still something fairly new to him, something precious in its novelty, so he cranks up the music in his headphones and sets off over the snow.

 

It’s a lot harder running on the freshly packed snow than on the warm tarmac of L.A streets and it’s not long before Eddie feels the ache in his legs, his breathe coming out in white puffy clouds. He follows the trail into the woods that Ben had told him about last night and he can almost feel the extra effort wiping away the sluggish remnants of his hangover. The rhythm is easy and familiar by now and he picks up the pace, the freedom of the trail in front of him making him faster, stronger.

 

It had been a revelation almost, to realize how much he loved his body in moments like this. Before he had started running, he had only really felt it having sex with Richie, the pure exhilaration of movement. For most of Eddie’s life his body had been a worry or liability at best, a constantly risky and dangerous cage that he had been trapped in, always running the risk of failing him somehow. But in moments like this, panting against the wind and straining his muscles he felt free from all of that, filled with a wild kind of joy that made him run faster, push himself harder because he could do this, he could do this well.

 

The trail is bordered on either side by tall pine trees, an endless procession of dark, snow frosted shapes rolling by. He runs until he can’t anymore and then he leans panting against a tree trunk, staring out at the view through a break in the trees.

 

They really are in the middle of nowhere. He can’t see any signs of human life in the mountainside below, not even another cabin. They could be the last people on earth, just the five on them inside and Eddie out here in the snow and rather than being disturbing the thought is calming somehow. He wouldn’t mind it really, if the apocalypse had happened somehow; just as long as they were all together.

 

Something in the corner of his eye catches his attention, a dark movement in the trees and he turns his head, yanking off his headphones. He holds his breath, scanning the dark twisted branches but there’s nothing, just birdsong and the small tinny voice of Whitney Houston coming from the speakers in his gloved hands. He takes a step back towards the house and then he looks down at the snow, the fresh footprints he’s left. There’s a lot, packed on top of each other and Eddie frowns wondering suddenly if he’s backtracked somehow. It’s almost too many, but just when he’s about to crouch down and look there’s a sudden crack! of a branch breaking and he nearly jumps, heart hammering.

 

He cranes his neck and there’s nothing but a smug looking squirrel.

 

“Fuck you.” Eddie tells it and jams his headphones back in and runs back the way he came. It’s not running away if you’re just running period, he tells himself, but he still feels mad at himself for being so twitchy, even now.

 

It helps that Richie seems to feel the same way, both of them taking the long way home to avoid dark alleyways and jumping at car alarms but it feels less embarrassing when they’re together and can laugh about it. Sometimes Eddie wonders if he’s going to stay this jumpy for the rest of his life, keeping a fucking nightlight on when he and Richie are in the retirement home. Maybe that’s okay though, as a price to pay for being alive and together. Eddie can grit his teeth through a few nightmares for that.

 

When he gets back to the cabin he goes straight up to their room and crawls in bed without showering, even though he hates that normally.

 

“’Lo Spaghetti.” Richie mumbles happily and then shrieks when Eddie puts his ice-cold hands all over Richie’s back.

 

With all the wrestling that ensues and the inevitable handjobs that the wrestling leads to, it’s a while before they make it downstairs, but Eddie is clean and showered, dressed in a big woollen jumper. The warm smell of coffee and cinnamon indicates they’re not the first up and when they walk into the kitchen Beverly is sitting at the counter chatting to Mike who’s taking something out of the oven.

 

“Are those pastries?” Richie asks in an elated sort of tone and Beverly laughs.

 

“Better. They’re vegan pastries.” Mike says smugly and Richie furrows his brow, as if thinking hard.

 

“If they smell like that, I don’t give a fuck, I’ll go vegan.” He says and scrambles up onto a bar stool besides Beverly.

 

“You wouldn’t last one day.” Beverly says, rolling her eyes.

 

Richie puffs up his chest, saying, “Is that a challenge Marsh? How about you put your money where your mouth is?”

 

“With pleasure, Tozier.” She says, grinning sharply and Eddie groans and heads for the coffeepot.

 

Mike pours him a mug and the two of them stand side by side in silent solidarity, watching as Beverly and Richie launch into it.

 

“These actually taste really good.” Eddie says in some surprise a little later, around a mouthful of Mike’s cinnamon rolls. “What recipe is this?”

 

Mike smiles proudly. “Eh, I don’t really use a recipe. I bake a lot so I kind of just do it by memory now.”

 

No recipe?” Eddie asks, alarmed. “Is that safe?”

 

Mike laughs at the expression on his face. “It’s easy really, I’ll show you.”

 

Eddie feels wildly out of his depth, but he listens intently when Mike walks him through the basic rudiments of baking gingerbread. There’s something kind of exciting about the rules and regulations of it all, the precise ratios of flour and butter and it’s fun seeing Mike passionate about something other than conspiracy theories and monsters.  He gets so involved (especially after Mike relents and lets him take notes) that at one point he looks up and Richie is gone and Beverly is sitting alone at the counter, head buried in a sketchbook.

 

“He and Bill went to go look for some bird?” She tells him, a smudge of pencil high on her cheekbone.

 

“Oh.” Eddie says. “Stan’s bird. Did Bill see it?”

 

“He just seemed excited about it.” Beverly says. “I think it’s an excuse to go throw snowballs personally.”

 

“What’s Stan’s bird?” Mike asks, confused.

 

“Patty told us about it. Apparently, Stan always wanted to do a bird watching trip up here. It’s called the Grey Crowned uh, something.” Eddie says and then scowls when he can’t remember the name.

 

“Oh.” Mike says and then looks suddenly very sad. “I miss him.”

 

The three of them are silent for a moment.

 

“I bet he was a good cook.” Eddie says morosely. “I bet Patty let him wear an apron.”

 

“You can wear the apron if you like.” Mike says, rolling his eyes. “But we’re not even doing anything messy yet.”

 

“The apron is essential.” Beverly says gravely and Eddie nods fiercely because yes, she gets it.

 

A little later when Eddie is somehow covered in flour and baking grease, despite the apron and despite the fact that Mike has somehow remained immaculate, there’s nothing to do but sit back and wait for the gingerbread to bake.

 

“What are you drawing?” Mike asks and Bev spins round the sketchbook to show them roughly pencilled figures, men and women in shorts, boots and thick, practical belts. Eddies doesn’t know much about clothing, but he can tell there’s something different here, something unique about them. One sketch is of a younger girl in dungarees with a key dangling from around her neck and Eddie recognises it even as he sees the ghost of young Beverly in all the designs, all her strength and bravery and pure fucking style.

 

“I’m sick of business casual and ballgowns.” Beverly says, tracing her hand over the paper. “I wanted to try something new. More practical.”

 

“Do we get a discount on the end product?” Mike asks softly, his eyes fixed on a sketched-out winter coat.

 

“For you Mike, I’ll design a whole wardrobe.” Beverly tells him. “Something to impress the Parisians.”

 

“You’re really fucking talented.” Eddie blurts out and then winces because he sounds surprised.

 

Beverly just laughs and goes a little pink around her nose. “I mean, it’s all just rough ideas right now but I’ve talked to some of my old contacts and they say it could be big. Turns out that I didn’t really need Tom’s expert business advice after all.”

 

She doesn’t say it with bitterness, but the mention of her husband makes her a little withdrawn after that, retreating into her sketchbook, only emerging when the gingerbread comes out the oven.

 

“You can’t make the house yet, the icing will melt.” Mike protests but Eddie is too impatient, so his roof keeps sliding off.

 

After that Mike takes over construction and appoints Eddie as chief decorator which really just means he gets to decide where to put the gumdrops.

 

It’s messy and there’s icing everywhere but Eddie is feeling pretty proud of their creation until Ben rolls up with bedhead and creates a fucking gingerbread mansion in about five minutes flat.

 

“Bev, what do you think about the second floor?” Ben asks, squinting at his creation with his tongue poking out from concentration. “Should I add flying buttresses for support?”

 

“I hate you.” Eddie tells him. “You work with glass and steel not fucking cake, this shouldn’t be a transferable skill.”

 

“Don’t listen to him Eddie, he’s playing mind games.” Mike says darkly, holding onto the door to stop it falling off. “His house is all show, we’ve got the solid foundations.”

 

“Build those buttresses babe.” Beverly says cooly. “Do we have space for a tower?”

 

“You say we as if you’re helping.” Eddie grouses. “You can’t take the credit for this just because Ben will let you.”

 

“I can and I will,” she replies smoothly. “Gumdrop boy.”

 

“I’m chief decorator.” Eddie hisses. “Mike said so.”

 

“Who’s a gumdrop boy?” Richie’s voice calls out and then he and Bill are in the doorway, red cheeked and trailing in snow.

 

“Not me!” Eddie says sharply as Mike explodes into laughter beside him, nearly dropping the whole house in the process.

 

“Ben d-did you build th-this by yourself?” Bill asks, crouching down to stare at what is admittedly, the Taj Mahal of gingerbread houses. “This is r-really fucking cool.”

 

“Well, Beverly helped.” Ben says, looking bashful.

 

No, she didn’t!” Eddie and Mike say at the same time, but Beverly just grins smugly and kisses Ben on the cheek.

 

“You’re amazing.” She tells him and Ben goes bright red.

 

“Am I amazing?” Eddie asks Richie who is squinting critically at the lopsided blobby cabin he and Mike have spent three hours on.

 

Richie looks for a moment as if he’s going to try and lie but then he can’t seem to stop himself.

 

“I love you Eds, but this is the worst fucking gingerbread house I’ve ever seen. There’s something very wrong with this gingerbread house. If this gingerbread house was an animal, I would take it outside and shoot it. Out of mercy.”

 

Eddie scowls and throws a glob of icing at him, but there’s something warm expanding in his chest at Richie saying that he loves him front of everyone here, so easily and simply.

 

 


 

 

 

None of them want to dismantle Ben’s masterpiece in the end so they end up breaking up the other house to eat. Richie insists on taking about three hundred pictures on his phone first, apparently for future blackmail purposes but Eddie suspects more because he finds it cute.

 

For all its ugliness it tastes pretty fucking good and they’re all sitting around by the fireplace eating and drinking coffee when Beverly comes back from a smoke break, pale and shaking.

 

“You need to see something.” She says, in a carefully controlled tone. “Outside.”

 

They all take one look at her face and then they’re on their feet, clustering around her.

 

“Wh-what is it Bev?” Bill asks tightly and Eddie sees Richie pick up the poker by the fireplace. Mike has his feet set as if he’s bracing himself and Eddie sees the same determined, grim expression echoed on all their faces. Eddie knows it’s the trauma that makes them like this, but it feels good to not be alone in it, know they’re all feeling that same flight or fight reaction.

 

“It’s alright it’s just…” Bev says and then falters. “Well, come and see.”

 

They follow her to the doorway and lying there on the porch is the freshly slaughtered corpse of a rabbit.  It’s very small, a tangled patch of fur in the middle of a big puddle of red snow and steam is rising from the wounds.

 

“It’s not been dead for long.” Eddie says quietly, and Richie’s hand is on his arm, keeping him close.

 

“It must be an animal attack.” Mike says hesitantly and they’re all silent, weighing it up in their minds. It could be an animal it’s true, this isn’t the city after all. The fear that it’s something else hangs unspoken in the air between them.

 

“Where’s Laika?” Ben says suddenly and then he’s stumbling out past the rabbit, onto the porch, cupping his hands to his mouth and yelling, “Here girl! Laika!”

 

He sounds on the edge of frantic and Bev steps forward to take his hand.

 

“Ben…” she starts but then out of the trees there’s a flash of brown fur and Laika is loping over the snow towards them, tongue lolling out her mouth.

 

Ben crouches down to wrap his arms around her, saying, good girl, good girl, into her fur and the rest of them look at each other.

 

“So who’s gonna deal with Thumper here?” Richie asks. “Anyone feel like eating rabbit tonight?”

 

Eddie shudders and gags a little at the thought.

 

“I c-can get rid of it.” Bill says. “Sh-should we b-bury it?”

 

“Wait!” Eddie yelps and then he runs back to the kitchen to rummage under the sink. When he comes back he shoves a packet of yellow rubber gloves at Bill.

 

“You can catch a lot of things from dead animals.” He says darkly and Bill takes them, bemused.

 

While he and Mike go off to find somewhere to dump the corpse, Richie and Eddie are left alone of the porch looking at the bloodstain. Just a little way over Ben and Beverly are fussing over the dog but it’s far enough away to be out of earshot when Richie pulls Eddie into a hug, muttering “Are you okay?” into his ear.

 

Eddie lets himself lean into the touch. “Yeah, why? It’s just a dead animal on our porch, bleeding everywhere. I mean maybe that’s just what living in the country is like.”

 

Richie hums, resting his head on top of Eddie’s. “I keep thinking about you going running out there by yourself this morning. Maybe I should have come with you.”

 

“You think you could keep up?” Eddie teases. “I would have been fine. I’m a lot bigger than a rabbit.”

 

“Sort of.” Richie mumbles and then laughs when Eddie kicks him gently on the shin.

 

“Keep talking like that Trashmouth and you’ll be sleeping in the dog bed tonight.”

 

“Sure.” Richie says. “Like you could keep yourself away from this body.”

 

Eddie pulls him down and kisses him, making it just a little bit dirty, so much so that he can hear Beverly making exaggerated retching noises from somewhere to the left. Eddie gives her the finger without breaking the kiss.

 

It’s easy to push away the lingering fear when he has this.

 


 

 

 

That night they bully Bill into showing them one of his films.

 

“Y-you can watch Attic Room if you wuh-want, it’s t-terrible, but not Black Rapids.” Bill says stubbornly, crossing his arms on the couch. “I’ll w-walk out if you muh-make me watch. I don’t c-care if I freeze t-to death.”

 

Attic Room is a tv serial, this is movie night.” Richie says pleadingly. “C’mon Big Bill how bad can it be? You got that nomination for the screenplay!”

 

“Isn’t Audra in Black Rapids?” Ben says, scrolling through the Netflix blurb.


“Sh- she’s the only good thing in th-that shitty film” Bill mutters into his bag of instant popcorn.

 

They’re sprawled out over two couches, but they’re not kids anymore, and space is tight. Somehow Bev has managed to manoeuvre it so that she and Ben have a whole couch to themselves, the dog curled up sleeping by their feet. Which leaves four adult men to fight for space over two couch cushions; as a result, Eddie is practically on Richie’s lap which would be more embarrassing if Richie didn’t seem so happy about it.

 

Outside it’s dark already, the snow blowing up against the large windows. Just looking out at the dark mountainside makes Eddie shiver and burrow deeper under the blanket.

 

“All in favour of watching The Black Rapids?” Bev calls out and everyone except Bill shoots their hand up.

 

Bill twists his head to glare at Mike next to him, who looks a little guilty.

 

“Et tu Mikey?” Bill accuses.

 

“I’ve already seen it three times.” Mike shrugs. “It’s not that bad.”

 

“Three times…?” Eddie mutters and Mike looks embarrassed.

 

“I told you, I kept tabs on you when you were gone.” He says and then clears his throat. “Let’s just start the movie.”

 

Ben presses play and they all sit and watch a kid walk down a dark street in the rain to the strains of a threatening string orchestra.

 

Eddie isn’t really paying attention though; he’s thinking about Mike reading all of Bill’s books, watching his films. He had probably kept up with Richie’s career too, read news articles about Beverly’s wedding, her first fashion show. Sometimes Eddie forgets that Mike had never forgotten like the rest of them. Eddie wonders if that was lonelier somehow.

 

If Eddie had remembered maybe he would have turned out completely differently. Would he have been such a coward if he had remembered fighting in that sewer at eleven years old? Would he have taken so many pills, felt so alone all the goddamn time? Would he have married Myra if he had remembered Richie? 

 

He’s not sure he knows the answer. Maybe nothing would have changed at all.  He might have watched Richie’s shows a little differently. With a little more hunger; a lot more regret.

 

 Sometimes Eddie catches himself in loops like this, all the woulda, coulda, shouldas as Richie like to say.

 

Right now, right here in this moment, he focuses on the feel of Richie’s warmth by his side, the feel of his hand on Eddie’s leg. Richie catches him looking and smiles, the blue tv light reflected in his glasses.

 

“You scared already?” Richie whispers, not very quietly and next to them Bill groans.

 

“Wh-who would be scared? It’s cl-classic two fake outs, one j-jump scare.” He complains loudly. “The director wuh-was such an asshole, I told him this was h-hokey.”

 

“Jump scare?” Ben asks and then yelps when the monster pops out of the water, dragging the kid down under the surface.

 

Shhh.” Mike tells them. “This is a good part.”

 

They watch the monster hauling itself out of the river, still gnawing on a severed leg and give an inhuman roar. Then the words, THE BLACK RAPIDS come up on the screen, bright yellow and dripping in classic eighties style and Beverly laughs.

 

“These special effects are…”

 

“-I know, I know.” Bill says despairingly. “It all suh-sounded so good on paper, it was scary.”

 

The rest of the film is fairly standard stuff, a plucky young writer returning to her hometown to delve into the mystery of the river deaths. They all cheer when Audra turns up, dressed in Hollywood nerd glasses and saying lines like, You can outrun a lot of things…. but not the past, and, So much for a happy homecoming.

 

She’s charismatic and obviously doing the best she can with the lines, but it takes a while for Bill to stop making horrified noises at every hacky line.

 

“So this chick is a crime reporter slash horror writer with a dark past?” Richie drawls. “Self-insert much Bill?”

 

“And you guys started dating on this set right?” Mike says and Eddie nearly chokes on his popcorn. “While she was playing this character?”

 

“Sh-shut up.” Bill says, muffled into a pillow while the rest of them laugh. “I h-hate you all.”

 

“Aw, her childhood friends are here to save the day.” Beverly coos a little later. “Is the annoying chatty one supposed to be Richie?”

 

“Annoying?” Richie says, offended. “That’s my favourite character! He’s got pep.”

 

Eddie privately agrees but he doesn’t want to say so because he’ll never live it down. The not-Richie character has terrible fashion sense and a regrettable moustache but he’s undeniably funny, and hey, Eddie’s always had a thing for comedians. He likes him so much in fact that it’s actually pretty upsetting when he gets murdered about an hour into the film.

 

“Oh shit, did I just die?” Richie says as the body onscreen gets wheeled out on a stretcher while Audra lets fall a single perfect tear. “Did you fucking kill me off Bill?”

 

“It wuh-was a lot more m-meaningful in the book.” Bill mumbles but he’s avoiding eye contact.

 

“At least you died heroically.” Eddie says and then winces because that hits a little too close to home.

 

 He can feel Richie’s eyes on him, so he changes the subject. “Hey, so this is all happening in the main character’s head right?”

 

“You haven’t r-read muh-my book?” Bill asks, sounding wounded.

 

“I’ve been thinking about it and I’m pretty sure that’s not the twist.” Ben says pensively. “It’s a coma dream. Definitely a coma.”

 

Bill splutters defensively but Beverly is holding up her hands saying, “You’re all wrong, she’s the monster killing people. It’s a metaphor.”

 

Onscreen Audra is telling her remaining childhood friends that the power of friendship will save them, that they just need to believe. Eddie suddenly notices that Mike’s mouth is moving soundlessly along with the dialogue, his eyes fixed on the screen. He looks transfixed and Eddie feels a sharp protective pang in his chest, thinking about Mike seeing this in the cinema for the first time in the dark, looking up at the screen and hoping.

 

“Let’s all shut up and watch Bill’s film.” Eddie says decisively and they watch as the monster is taken down with a silver knife in its chest and shoved down into the dark rapids where it belongs. Audra hugs her friends goodbye and gets into her car and it’s actually pretty moving until she looks in her rear-view mirror and they’re suddenly gone, just like that.

 

“Wait, what the fuck?” Richie asks as the credits roll. “Are her friends ghosts? Did I miss something.”

 

“No.” Bill says. “E-Eddie was right. They w-were in her head. Sh-she doesn’t have any f-friends.”

 

Ben makes a sad noise. “So it was just her fighting the monster alone the whole time?”

 

“S-something like that.” Bill says. “E-everyone hated th-the ending. They wuh-wanted to change it. But I s-said no.”

 

Eddie wonders if Bill would write a different ending now, if he had the chance.

 

It’s not late yet, only just gone nine so Bill and Mike go to make more popcorn while the rest of them squabble about what to watch next.

 

“Rambo.” Richie says loudly, holding the remote just out of Eddie’s reach with his stupid long arms. “We need to watch Rambo. For the nostalgia.”

 

“What nostalgia?” Ben asks, baffled. “What’s wrong with The Notebook?”

 

“We’re not watching The Notebook and we are definitely not fucking watching Rambo.” Eddie growls, trying to fucking climb over Richie to reach the remote.

 

“Aw, you’re breaking my heart here Eds. We watched it in the theatre as kids, don’t you remember?” Richie whines and then huffs when Eddie pokes him in the ribs.

 

Rambo came out in 1982.” Bev points out. “You would have been seven years old Richie.”

 

Eddie has noticed they all do this, get into weird petty arguments over details from their childhood. He thinks sometimes it’s symptom of forgetting for so long, this desire to pick over even the most mundane details of the missing years.

 

“I was a cool kid.” Richie says but then frowns. “Maybe I mean Rocky. I wanna say, the fourth one?”

 

“We never saw Rocky V.” Eddie says huffily. “My mum didn’t let me remember? It was Pretty Woman. I remember you spilling popcorn everywhere.”

 

“Oh Jesus, was it really?” Richie says and Eddie takes advantage of his shock to steal the remote. “Fuck I made us way straighter in my memories.”

 

“That must have been after I moved.” Bev says and she sounds little sad.

 

“You had a lucky escape.” Eddie tells her darkly, searching for it on Netflix. “We had to see that movie like five times.”

 

Why?” Bev asks and Richie just points at Ben who sinks very low into the cushions, looking mortified.

 

“Aww, babe did you have a thing for redheads?” She teases and Ben groans and puts his head in his hands.

 

“I miss when we were all making fun of Bill.” He says morosely and Richie cackles.

 

Being compared to an early 90’s Julia Roberts must do it for Beverly because she’s dragging Ben off to bed not even half an hour into the film (although maybe dragged is the wrong word because Ben is nearly tripping over himself to follow her).

 

Bill and Mike claim the empty sofa but it’s not long before they’re snoring, slumped against each other with popcorn spilling over the blanket.

 

Eddie is enjoying himself though, enjoying being curled up like this in the dark, so he just shoves himself deeper into the blankets and leans his head back against Richie’s chest, enjoying the rumbling vibrations every time Richie laughs.

 

Outside he can hear the wind howling against the shutters.

 

“It’s weird that George from Seinfeld is the villain in this.” Richie mutters. “Did I just blank that from my memory?”

 

“I can’t believe I forgot that terrible blonde wig.” Eddie says. “How does she fit all her hair under that?

 

“CGI Eds. Movie magic.”

 

Bill lets out a soft snore and his head falls onto Mike’s shoulder.

 

“Are they fucking cuter than us?” Richie asks, narrowing his eyes. “That doesn’t seem fair. They aren’t even a couple.”

 

“Maybe.” Eddie says. “At least we have more sex.”

 

The movie is a whole lot better now that Eddie isn’t fifteen and having to pretend he’s into Julia Roberts and he’s actually pretty caught up in the plot when he realises that Richie has fallen weirdly quiet, tensing up against him.

 

Onscreen, Vivian is signing Kiss in the bathtub and for a minute Eddie thinks that maybe Richie is also concerned about the safety of having an electric device near water but then he realises it may have more to do with the bathtub itself.

 

It’s not like this happens all the time, Richie isn’t having panic attacks every time he goes into their bathroom at home, but it happens often enough that Eddie can recognise the signs. It’s not always triggered by the same things, in the same way that Eddie doesn’t freak out every time he sees a spider, it’s a lot more random than that, and doesn’t always make a whole lot of sense. They had both watched horror movies for fucks sake and walked past the giant Joker poster outside their apartment every day without breaking down crying about clowns. But sometimes it would happen, one of them would hear something stupid on the radio or watch some kid walk a little too close to a storm drain and it would all come rushing back, the fear and horror and vivid memory of it all.

 

Eddie had never managed to remember the first time he had died but he dreamt about it a lot, the loneliness, tiny things scuttling over his body. Sometimes he woke up with the phantom feel of long hairy spider legs in his mouth and he had to rush to the bathroom to retch it up, brushing his teeth over and over to get the sensation away.

 

When Richie woke up yelling in the night it was hard to get the reason out of him, but it was usually because he had seen Eddie with a hole in his chest again. Or that he was still crouching on Beverly’s childhood bathroom tiles, but this time Eddie wasn’t waking up. He never wanted to talk about it after, just wanted to be held.

 

“You okay?” Eddie asks him, whispering even though the others are asleep. He has to crane his head up to see Richie’s face and it’s a funny angle when he’s against Richie’s chest like this.

 

“Peachy keen, Eds.” Richie says, and gives a hollow sort of attempt at a smile. “Just enjoying Richard Gere.”

 

“That’s your type huh?” Eddie asks, keeping his tone light, like Richie’s entire body isn’t fully tensed. “Old men?”

 

“Stressed out businessmen in suits. Very sexy. I like em’ cranky.”

 

“Does that make you the kooky call girl?” Eddie asks, shifting slightly to place himself more firmly in Richie’s lap, twisting around so now he’s the one looking down. “Are we going to have sex on a piano?”

 

Richie still looks a little green, but the bathtub scene is long gone, and he looks distracted by the little wiggling motions Eddie is making.

 

“Do you uh, want to have sex on a piano?” Richie asks and gasps when Eddie works his hands under the blankets, over the tent in Richie’s jeans. “Won’t that be noisy?”

 

“How about we keep things quiet instead?” Eddie says softly into Richie’s ear. “Very, very quiet? Can you do that for me Rich?”

 

Richie blinks and then glances over at Mike and Bill who are still soundly asleep.

 

“You want to? Right here?” He asks, a little strangled and Eddie lets out a soft huff of laughter.

 

“You don’t like that idea?” Eddie asks and then grinds down to make Richie whimper. “Who’s scared now?”

 

“All that time I spent fantasising about you, I never thought you’d be this kinky.” Richie says and then gets his hands-on Eddie’s hips and leans up to kiss him. For a moment Eddie lets himself get caught up in it, Richie’s wet mouth, the rasp of his stubble, the warm heat of him.

 

Then he manages to fumble open Richie’s trousers and he’s grateful for the blanket that still covers them because Richie is rock hard in his hand and his hips are twitching upwards.

 

“Oh God.” Richie groans into Eddie’s neck. “Oh fuck, oh Jesus, Eddie.”

 

“What do you want?” Eddie asks, kissing behind his ear. “I’ll give it to you. You want me to blow you?”

 

“Eddie, fuck don’t say shit like that, I’ll come, I swear to god.” Richie practically squeaks out. “And Mike and Bill will wake up and I’ll never be able to look them in the eye again.”

 

Eddie grins down at him and moves his hand experimentally around Richie’s dick.

 

“You shouldn’t be thinking about them right now. You should just be thinking about me.”

 

He emphasizes his point with a kiss, deep and dirty and when he pulls away Richie is babbling, “I do, I think about you all the time, I can’t not think about you, fuck.”

 

“So what do you want? How do you want me?”

 

“I want to fuck you.” Richie gasps out and Eddie lets out a shaky breathy, feeling the sharp tug of arousal low in his stomach.

 

“Here?” He asks uncertainly, because he might be kinky but he’s not that kinky.

 

“No.” Richie says and then he’s somehow taken the lead, twisting round so Eddie’s the one backed up against the cushions. “I want to take you upstairs and lay you out, all naked and ready for me. I want to take my time. I don’t want anyone else there, I don’t want anyone else to see you, hear you. Just me.”

 

He’s punctuating his words with small bites to Eddie’s neck, his hand rubbing circles lower and lower on Eddie’s chest, his stomach.

 

The movie is still going on, but Eddie swears his can hear his heart beating in his chest; Richie’s eyes are very dark in this light and hungry.

 

“Okay.” Eddie breathes out, nodding. “Okay let’s do that plan.”

 

They leave Bill and Mike sleeping with the movie still playing and by the time they reach their room Eddie’s jumper is long gone and most of Richie’s buttons are undone. Eddie has never once in his life been like this with anyone, this eager for it, so desperate he couldn’t even wait till they were alone but something about Richie makes him so impatient, so unwilling to lose even a second after years wasted apart.

 

For all of Eddie’s impatience, Richie is greedy in the time he takes, the fastidious care used to strip Eddie down to nothing, running his hands over Eddie’s waist, his stomach, the inside of his knees and calves. Richie is still half dressed by the time Eddie is naked and laid out on the bed underneath him.

 

“C’mon, c’mon take your clothes off.” Eddie pleads, feeling strangely exposed like this, like it’s not just his body that’s naked and on show here.

 

“Patience Padawan.” Richie says, but his tone doesn’t really match the words, watching Eddie with something close to reverence. He’s running his hand over the scar on Eddie’s chest, leaning down to kiss it softly, and the action is familiar now, but not less overwhelming.

 

Eddie shivers under the force of it and Richie must think it’s from the cold because he strips off his shirt and covers Eddie with the long length of his body, kissing him almost chastely for all the talk of fucking.

 

“You want my fingers? You want me to open you up?” Richie asks and Eddie squirms under him, reaching blindly for the lube on the bedside.

 

“Yeah, yes, just hurry, I wanna get fucked already.” Eddie whines and he’s already so turned on just from the thought and the memory of the last time, back in L.A in the afternoon sunshine. It wasn’t always this way round; they had gone through pretty much everything on the bucket list twice over at this point, but Eddie still goes crazy for this, the feel of Richie’s long fingers slipping inside of him.

He’s still a little loose from messing about this morning, when Richie had sucked his dick under the covers and worked his fingers in one by one and the feeling of being full again is addictive, making him feel crazy, unhinged with desire.

 

“You look so fucking hot right now baby. You look so good, you’re fucking gorgeous.” Richie tells him, not even looking at what he’s doing, just watching Eddie’s face as he tried to take a full breath.

 

Eddie can’t even form the words to answer he’s so wired up, he feels like he’s falling apart at the seams, feeling Richie’s hand working at him, Richie kissing at the inside of his thigh. Eddie has his leg hooked awkwardly over Richie’s shoulder and it’s way too ambitious a position for their ages.

Eddie’s going to feel it in the morning, the ache of it and the ache from where Richie will have fucked him, and the thought almost makes him come right there.

 

“I’m ready, I’m ready, fuck me, c’mon.” Eddie says when he can’t stand it anymore and Richie huffs out a noise somewhere between laughter and desire.

 

“You always say that and then you always bitch the next morning.” Richie says. “Let me do this for you sweetheart, we have time, we have all night.”

 

“I can’t last all fucking night.” Eddie says on a gasp when Richie’s fingers hit just right. “Richie, please.”

 

Something about the way he said it seems to light some new fire in Richie because his grip goes all tight on Eddie’s thigh and he’s pulling his fingers out and lining his dick up.

 

“Are you sure you’re ready?” Richie asks, hesitating like he always does, like he has every time since the first night in that motel all those months ago. Eddie had used to find it frustrating but now it’s almost endearing, the way Richie still seems to feel the need to check that it’s alright, that he can really have this.

 

“Yeah, I want it.” Eddie tells him. “I want you.”

 

Then Richie is pushing in and both of them are holding their breath, as if they share the same pair of lungs and Eddie scrabbles at Richie’s back, caught between the need to pull Richie closer and the extreme, almost overwhelming, closeness of it all.

 

“Fuck, yes.” He almost sobs. “Fuck.”

 

Richie is kissing his face, smoothing a hand over Eddie’s head and muttering nonsensical, soothing things into his ear even though Eddie can feel him almost shaking, the tension tight in the muscles of his back and legs.

 

The angle isn’t great like this, missionary style and Eddie has his knees pulled up almost to his ears and that’s gonna be a fucking bitch of an ache in the morning but it’s worth it to see Richie’s face, to hear the soft, broken noises he’s making into Eddie’s neck.

 

“Does it, do you feel good?” Eddie asks, hearing the ragged edge to his own voice. He can’t stop touching Richie’s hair, his face, the hard edges of his glasses which Richie always insists on keeping on even though they fall off most of the time.

 

He feels filled up, stretched open, and he’s dizzy from how good it is, the electric buzz in all the places Richie is touching him, inside and out.

 

Richie pulls his face back to look at him and his mouth is open and red. “Yeah. Yeah it feels good, you feel so fucking good Eddie, I love you so much.”

 

“I love you too.” Eddie says and then, when Richie thrusts he gasps and says, “I love your dick more.”

 

“Yeah?” Richie asks and starts fucking him in earnest, so hard Eddie’s eyes almost roll back in his head. “I could do this forever. This is all I want to do Eddie, I just want to fuck you like this for the rest of our lives, you’re so perfect, you’re so fucking beautiful like this.”

 

“Fuck.” Eddie chokes out and wishes he could think of something dirty or sappy to say but his brain is just white noise and heat right now. “Yeah, Richie don’t stop, don’t ever stop.”

 

“I won’t.” Richie promises him, sounding undone, wild. “I was made for this, made for fucking you and you look so good, sweetheart, so fucking sexy, you were made to take my dick like this.”

 

This last is enough to make Eddie lose it completely and when Richie reaches down to wrap a large hand over his dick it only takes two tugs before Eddie is shaking apart with a bitten off shout, feeling fireworks going off behind his eyelids. When he opens his eyes, Richie is looking down at him, fucking him in erratic thrusts, saying, “Eddie, Eddie, Eds, I-“

 

“It’s okay. It’s okay.” Eddie tells him and then when he catches Richie’s mouth in a kiss, Richie comes hard, his hand clutching at Eddie’s bare hip.

 

Later on, after they’ve showered and they’re lying wrapped around each other in bed, Eddie feels Richie tracing over the same spot. It feels tender and when Eddie looks down, he can see faint bruises coming up under the skin. It makes him shiver and when he looks up Richie looks a little guilty.

 

“Sorry.” Richie blurts out. “I shouldn’t have grabbed so tight. Does it hurt?”

 

“No.” Eddie tells him, reaching up to rub his thumb over the curve of Richie’s downturned mouth. “I like it. I won’t break you know. You don’t have to worry so much dumbass.”

 

“I know.” Richie says softly and they were probably loud enough to wake Mike and Bill downstairs but for some reason it feels right to whisper now, under the covers. “I know you won’t Eds.”

 

 

 

 

December 29th

 

 

It’s nearly eleven in the morning by the time Eddie goes running and as predicted he’s still aching from the sex the night before. It gives him an edge though, an almost masochistic joy in the way his muscles protest and he makes it much farther into the woods this time, his footsteps crunching in the fresh snow. He thinks he sees a flash of small pink-tinged wings through the branches and Eddie slows to look after it, thinking of Stan. There’s nothing there but when he looks through the trees, he gets a sudden nervous drop in his chest, watching the endless dark branches criss-crossing over each other, tangled and full of shadows.

 

Eddie gets a sudden horrible feeling that he’s being watched. The scar on his cheek itches.

 

He glances back in the direction of the house, looking up through the treetops and he can see a thin pillar of smoke rising through the clear blue sky. Ben or Beverly must have set the fire going already and the thought is comforting, make him run a little faster back home, even though his legs are beginning to protest in earnest.

 

When he arrives back Mike and Bill are outside, dressed in some of the ugliest neon snowsuits Eddie has ever seen. They’re bright purple and yellow and the two of them look like they’ve stumbled off the set of some movie with a name like Extreme White Out or Downhill Shredders.

 

“What?” Is all Eddie can ask, hands on his knees, still out of breath. “What is this?”

 

“We’re loading up the car.” Mike says, holding up a duffel bag. “Did you forget we’re skiing today?”

 

“Yes.” Eddie says. “But why do you have matching outfits? Terrible matching outfits.”

 

“Bill picked these out for us all.” Mike says and Eddie’s heart sinks because that means he’s going to have to look like that too.

 

Next to Mike, Bill puffs up his chest, looking offended with a handful of ski poles.

 

“Th-These are cool. Beverly t-told us we look good.”

 

“Beverly is lying.” Eddie says flatly. “Is she wearing these too?”

 

Beverly it turns out, is not. A little later she and Ben saunter out in well-fitted pure white snowsuits with tastefully fur trimmed hoods, looking impossibly sleek and beautiful. Eddie, who has lost the battle and is now wearing the ugliest clothes of his life, hates her passionately.

 

“Great.” Richie bitches beside him where the two of them are leaning against the car. “So they get to look like sexy secret agents and the rest of us look like a Worst Fashion Mistakes of the 80s cringe compilation.”

 

“Is this 80s?” Mike asks, looking down at himself. “I don’t remember dressing like this in the 80s.”

 

“I think you all look lovely.” Beverly tells them straight faced and next to her Ben fails at hiding up his laughter with a fake cough. 

 

It’s not until they’re bundled into two cars driving away that Eddie wonders why they would light a fire if they were going out all day. He cranes his neck to peer through the rear-view window and just before the cabin disappears from view, he sees there’s nothing coming from the chimney at all, not even a wisp of smoke.

 

It bothers him a little but he’s not about to freak the others out based on something he saw from a distance, with a view blocked by trees. It might have been something else, the trail of a plane or even another cabin on the mountain so he doesn’t bring it up.  With Bill’s terrifyingly relaxed attitude to driving on snowy roads and Mike and Richie bickering in the backseat, Eddie gets distracted quickly.

 

They follow Ben and Beverly’s car for around an hour before they reach the ski slopes

 

“Do you do this a lot?” Eddie asks Bill dubiously when the glittering white hillside comes into view and the reality of it all comes crashing down.

 

“Oh y-yeah.” Bill says enthusiastically. “I know it l-looks scary but it’s really fuh-fun. The adrenaline g-gets me every time. You’ve n-never done it?”

 

“I’ve done a bit.” Eddie says and doesn’t say that in was in an indoor slope in college that he had been dragged to, and that he had gone five metres down a baby slope before quitting for good.

 

“I don’t wanna brag but I’m something of a pro.” Richie crows obnoxiously from the back seat. “If you guys need any tips just ask. I’m happy to help out a couple of newbies.” 

 

“You’re so full of bullshit.” Eddie shoots back. “I bet you’ve never skied in your life.”

 

“I have.” Richie insists. “I’m a planker, a bomber; a genuine powder hound.”

 

“Okay, you made at least one of those up.” Mike says, narrowing his eyes.

 

Richie shrugs. “Well, I’ve seen Ski Patrol like fifty times so I think I’ll pick it up pretty quick.”

 

Eddie frowns and feels a thread of anxiety settle in his chest.

 

“Is there a beginner’s slope?” He asks Bill. “Like, a flat one?” 

 

There is it turns out but it’s still not flat enough to stop Eddie feeling like he’s going to break his legs. Only three of them actually have any real experience so Bill walks Mike through it while Beverly tries in vain to stop Richie stabbing himself through the foot with the spikey end of the pole. Eddie has Ben for an instructor, which is secretly a huge relief because only Ben has the calm and patience required for the job.

 

“You won’t break anything, I promise.” Ben says gently. “I’m right here. You just have to move.”

 

“Shouldn’t I be wearing a helmet? I feel like I should have a helmet.”

 

“You don’t need a helmet Eddie, it’s five metres.” Ben reassures him. “I’ll catch you if you fall.”

 

The idea of being caught by Ben’s big muscly arms isn’t unappealing but it’s the thought of Richie watching him that makes Eddie push past the fear and really try. It’s terrifying and Eddie is pretty sure he’s going to die the whole time, but Ben is a good teacher and soon Eddie is moving around fairly naturally.

 

“You got this!” Ben says, grinning when Eddie makes it down a tiny downhill stretch and Eddie smiles back, feel giddy with the rush of it.

 

That afternoon when they’re all lined up at the top of their first real slope, his optimism drains away quickly. It didn’t seem so high when they were going up on the ski lift and Bill keeps reassuring them it’s for beginners, but Eddie looks down and the drop feels pretty immense, like he’s tipping off the edge of the world.

 

“Ready?” Beverly calls out and Eddie looks over to see Mike wearing the same look of fear.

 

Bill is the first to push off, shouting, “Hi-Ho Silver Away!”

 

“Nerd.” Mike mutters and then, screwing up his eyes, “Oh Jesus, I guess I’m doing this.”

 

Then he’s swerving with surprising grace down the hill, leaving a trail of expletives behind him.

 

“You guys okay?” Ben calls out and Eddie catches Richie’s eye, trying to transmit all his terror.

 

“Uh, you guys go ahead we’ll catch up.” Richie says and Beverly nods, tightening her sunglasses. She and Ben take off as if synchronised, moving as easily as fish in water.

 

When it’s just the two of them at the top of the slope Eddie looks over and say, “I don’t know if I can do this. I mean I felt pretty good earlier but now I’m pretty much a hundred percent sure I’m going to crash into a fucking tree. Or fall off the cliff. Or break my leg or-“

 

“Woah, woah, Eds.” Richie says, pushing back his glasses so Eddie can see his face, fur lined and red cheeked. “We don’t have to, you know. They have a chalet thing down there, we could just go drink mulled wine or whatever. I’m gonna be honest, Ski Patrol wasn’t as scary as this.”

 

“You’re scared too?” Eddie asks and just knowing that makes everything a little easier.

 

“We’re about to go down a cliff with branches strapped to our feet. Of course, I’m scared. But y’know. After everything else this is pretty minor.”

 

Eddie thinks about everything that had happened to them, the dark and the cold and the monsters and worse than that, the fact that it had all been so close to going another way, so many times and yeah, a hill doesn’t seem so bad. In a way it’s a fucking privilege it is to be scared of skiing when he could be scared of dying or being un-dead or even the long slow death that the rest of his life had been in the years before remembering Derry.

 

“So do you wanna go down?” Richie asks him and Eddie loves him, he loves him so much.

 

“Yeah.” Eddie says. “But I bet you five dollars I’ll get there first.”

 

Then he turns and pushes off the edge of the slope, hearing Richie curse behind him.

 

Bill is right, the adrenaline is insane, and Eddie can’t help but fucking love it, even though his heart is beating out of his chest and his entire body is straining from the effort of not falling. It’s all white snow and blurred trees and speed and then before he knows it, he’s at the bottom and the others are cheering him as he slows to a halt.

 

Eddie pulls down his hood and yanks his glasses off, beaming at them and then a moment later Richie slides down, wobbling dangerously saying, “Okay, fuck that, I’m too old for this shit, never again.”

 

“It’s okay honey.” Eddie tells him cheerfully. “If you need any tips, just ask, I’m always happy to help out newbies.”

 

By the time they’re driving back to the cabin that night they’re all exhausted; aching and cold but Eddie feels a deeply rooted contentment, slumped against Richie in the backseat of the car while Beverly drives them through the dark. Ben is telling them about this new project he’s working on and the radio is playing quietly and then at some point Richie reaches over and takes his hand, large and warm. He doesn’t let go all the way home.

 

That night Mike and Ben cook pasta and afterwards while everyone is talking over the table, Eddie notices that Beverly has been absent for a while now. He’s worried until he looks out the big French windows and sees her smoking out on the balcony, looking over the view.

 

She looks cold and Eddie slips out to join her, bringing two mugs of the mulled wine that Richie had insisted on making for them all.

 

Beverly smiles when he presses it into her hands.

 

“It’s beautiful out here isn’t it?” She says. “It’s funny though, I miss the city a little bit.”

 

“It’s strange that it’s so fucking quiet.” Eddie agrees, joining her where she’s leaning against the railing. “I don’t know if I could be here alone.”

 

“Me neither.” Beverly says and then, eyes still on the view, “You know I always wanted to be alone when I was little. I fantasized about growing up and being a hermit. Living on a farm by myself. Or a cabin like this. I thought that I would only be happy alone-until I met you all.”

 

Eddie swallows and nods. “I used to have this dream where I woke up and my mom was gone. And I could just live in that house on my own and keep going to school like normal. Make my own meals, pick out my own clothes.”

 

“She wasn’t very nice was she?” Beverly asks quietly. “Your mom?”

 

Eddie thinks about it, the way he had felt small and smothered and yeah, some of the time frightened by his mother, frightened by the intensity of her love for him.

 

“I loved her.” He says defensively. “Even after I grew up and remembered…even though now I realize…”

 

He doesn’t finish because he doesn’t really know how to. Abuse seems like too big a word, too scary to apply in retrospect. His mother had loved him but she had hurt him too. He had loved her and he had been frightened of her and relieved in a way when she had finally died. All these things were true and somehow didn’t cancel each other out.

 

“I loved my dad too.” Beverly says quietly. “I still do. And I loved Tom once. Even after he started to hit me. For a little while. Do you ever think it’s strange that we grew up and fell right back into the same traps? Do you think that would have happened if we had remembered?”

 

He and Beverly have talked about this before but only briefly. Enough for Eddie to know that Beverly’s husband had been violent, and enough for Beverly to know that Myra had been controlling. It wasn’t the same really; Myra wasn’t evil she had just been wrong. Wrong about Eddie and wrong for him, but Eddie had been wrong for her too. In the end they had fed into each other’s worst natures but there had been affection there too, at the start.

 

Tom Rogan though; that was true evil. Someone who could hurt Beverly like that, who could hurt anyone like that… it made Pennywise seem like a sweetheart in comparison.

 

“I don’t know. Maybe we would have made the same mistakes anyway.” Eddie says, wrapping his hands around his mug to feel the warmth. “I mean I would have at least, I’m more of a dumbass than you.”

 

There’s a burst of noise from inside, the sound of Richie shouting over Ben and Mike’s laughter and Eddie and Beverly look back and then at each other.

 

“We got really fucking lucky.” Eddie says. “I can’t believe it sometimes.”

 

Beverly looks fierce for a moment, her red hair glowing softly in the light from the window.

 

“No.” She says. “It wasn’t just luck. We broke the pattern Eddie. We did that.”

 

Eddie looks at her, framed against the dark mountain and he takes a breath before nodding.

 

“Yeah. Yeah I guess we did.”

 

 

December 30th

 

Eddie wakes up and then immediately wishes he hadn’t. The combined effects of running, skiing and the admittedly very worth it sex last night has left him feeling like he’s been run over by a snow plough. Every muscle aches and when he stretches he actually yelps from the pain.

 

“Wha?” Richie asks, startled upright besides him and Eddie just groans pathetically.

 

“I think I’m dead. Or dying.”

 

“Aw is someone sore?” Richie asks, closing his eyes and wrapping himself Eddie like an octopus. “Poor baby.”

 

“Is that sarcasm?” Eddie whines. “Are you being sarcastic to me on my deathbed?”

 

Richie swats him on the ass. “Suck it up champ, you’re the one who said you won’t break.”

 

Eddie curls into him and then right as he can see Richie about to drift off, pokes him in the ribs with a finger.

 

“Give me a massage?” He asks hopefully.

 

“I’m asleep.” Richie grunts into Eddie’s chest. “Shh-shh.”

 

“C’mon, I’m achy.” Eddie says and then when Richie pretends to snore says, “Fine I’ll ask someone else. I bet Ben gives good massages.”

 

Richie cracks open one eye. “I give better massages than Ben. One hundred percent.”

 

“I know.” Eddie says, wheedling. “You’re so good at it Rich, you’re the best. Nobody touches me like you do.”

 

“Are you using that voice on purpose?” Richie accuses. “Are you really trying seduce free labor out of me?”

 

“Is it working?”

 

“Ugh.” Richie says, sitting up finally. “I wish you weren’t so stupid sexy.”

 

It does actually start to feel better when Eddie’s all laid out on his front with Richie’s knees on either side of him and his fingers working out the kinks in his back. It’s not just a sex thing, Richie genuinely is pretty good at this, not just because of his long fingers and the general enthusiasm at touching Eddie’s bare skin. They had first discovered it back when Eddie had needed someone to rub lotion into the scar tissue on his back, when it had still been gnarled and itchy. That first time Richie had seemed incredibly nervous, so gentle around the wound that he had barely touched Eddie at all.

 

“Tomorrow is New Years Eve.” Eddie says, turning his head so he isn’t muffled by the pillow. The feeling of Richie’s hands on him makes him feel like a pat of butter melting under the sun but he doesn’t want to moan. He knows from experience that if he moans the massage gets sexy and side-tracked, which is nice, but for now he just wants the muscle relief.

 

“Duh.” Richie says. “That’s why we’re here dumbass.”

 

Eddie rolls his eyes. “I know. I just mean it’s weird to think this is our first one.”

 

“We did New Years when we were kids. Remember sneaking out to go to Bill’s house?”

 

“I mean as adults. With champagne and kissing and shit.” Eddie says, remembering everyone in their pyjamas, watching fireworks go off in the distance, through Bill’s bedroom window. 

 

“I would have kissed you back then too.” Richie says. “If you weren’t so worried about cooties.”

 

“We can make up for it this year.”

 

“You just assume you’re getting my midnight kiss?” Richie asks, fingers teasing out a sore spot. “I’m a hot property. I’ve got suitors lined up round the block for the pleasure of my smackaroo.”

 

“Oh yeah? How many?” Eddie asks. “I’ll fight them off.”

 

“My knight in shining armor.” Richie says and leans down to kiss the knob at the top of Eddie’s spine.

 

It shouldn’t be that weird spending New Years together; they had already done Christmas after all. Eddie was used to excruciatingly choreographed picture postcard Christmases with Myra’s extended family where he would get quietly drunk in the corner. Richie was used to spending Christmas in bed eating Chinese takeaway and watching Groundhog Day.

 

The first Christmas together they had compromised by spending the day drinking eggnog in bed together, but they had never gotten around to watching any Bill Murray movies. Instead they had put on It’s a Wonderful Life as a joke but then Eddie had looked up to see Richie crying at the ending.

 

He had agonized over what to get Richie for a Christmas present, not sure if they were even doing that, but then he two months Richie had joked that Eddie should take up knitting to help with his stress. Eddie had gone out and bought wool out of pure spite but then it turned out knitting was really fucking difficult and he had spent more time dropping stitches than actually making any headway. It took him ages to get right and the end result was very lopsided and choppy, even though the color had been nice, a soft kind of red that he thought would look good against Richie’s skin. It had sort of been a gag gift but then when he was handing the wrapped package over it had suddenly felt mortifying and very sincere and he had almost grabbed it back and thrown it out the window.  Then Richie had opened it and started crying again and Eddie had opened his present and it was a fucking handmade mixtape so maybe they were both massive dorks.

 

By the time the two of them make it downstairs its more like brunch than breakfast but everyone else seems just as worn out by skiing yesterday. They sit around, drinking coffee well past noon and at some point, Bill disappears off to go skype Audra. They get through two games of Scrabble but when Mike breaks out the Monopoly Eddie starts to feel the need for fresh air so he goes upstairs to change into his running gear.

 

“Are you sure you want to go out?” Ben asks dubiously when Eddie waves goodbye from the doorway. “The forecast says the snow is only going to get worse.”

 

“I’ll only be half an hour.” Eddie says, lacing up his shoes. “Don’t let Richie be the banker, he skims from the till.”

 

Richie sticks his tongue out at him. “Don’t get hypothermia asshole.”

 

Before he goes out Eddie looks back at them, clustered on the floor around the board with the fire roaring behind them. Ben is counting out the money while Beverly and Richie squabble over who gets the top hat. Mike is setting up the board with Laika on his lap and he’s scratching her absently behind the ears while she looks up at him, love-struck. In the next room Eddie can hear Bill’s muffled voice on the phone.

 

Eddie feels a rush of affection and he thinks again how lucky he is but also that Beverly was right; they made this future for themselves, they fought for it tooth and nail.

 

Outside it’s a lot colder than he’s used to, and there’s no early morning blue sky, just the snow clouds pressing down from above. It’s not snowing hard, just small white flecks in the air, but Eddie still thinks he should keep this run on the short side. On impulse he sticks his tongue out to taste the snowflakes and then winces because that’s probably not sanitary.

 

The woods are a lot darker at this time of day, even though it was just after 2pm when he set out and Eddie has to watch his step more carefully.  He jogs for about fifteen minutes down his usual trail before something on the path ahead catches his eye and he slows down to a walk. Up close he can see it’s the edges of something black poking out of the snow, something small and when he bends down and brushes away the snow, he sees it’s a pair of binoculars.

 

At first Eddie think that its Stan’s pair, that Richie and Bill must have dropped them when they went out birdwatching the other day, but Eddie knows that Richie would never be so careless with something so precious. Then when he picks them up and turns them over, he realizes that they aren’t Stan’s at all; these are sleeker and not half as heavy. While he turns them over in his gloved hands the snowflakes settle on them, coming in thick clumps now, like feathers.

 

His music is turned up loud over the sound of the wind, Blondie telling him that she’s not the kind of girl to give up just like that, and because that Eddie doesn’t notice that someone is behind him, not until there’s a hand tight on the back of his neck. Then, before he can turn or even open his mouth to shout, something is coming down hard on his head, lighting up fireworks of pain behind his eyes and he’s crumpling to his knees in the snow.

 

After that there’s nothing but darkness.