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In the moments before Eddie Kaspbrak dies, he does the most selfish thing he can possibly imagine.

He reaches up, with his one trembling hand, covered with his own red, sticking blood, and he grabs Richie’s face. The blood smears all over his chin, and his stubble, and Eddie stares for a moment before he tugs him close, as best he can. It’s more like a suggestion, with all of his strength gone, but Richie does him the favor of leaning in anyways, letting Eddie guide him into place so he can lean up and whisper with the last of his breath, right into Richie’s ear, “I love you. I just wanted to say - I’m sorry. I really fucking love you, and I’m sorry.” He laughs a little, just a huff - but then he can’t really make any more noise.

And whatever sound Richie is making, whether he’s laughing or crying, is lost along with everything else as it all fades into darkness.

Because - if there was really one reason Eddie came back to Derry, it was Richie. He didn’t know it before he got there, only knew the tug in his chest - but as soon as he walked into the restaurant, he knew.

He remembered being 13 and awkward and in love and as clumsy as possible about it, bringing Richie ice cream he never asked for, and shoving him around just to touch him. He remembered promising himself the night he was leaving that he’d tell Richie, that he’d find a way - but Richie slept in the day Eddie left Derry, and Eddie never saw him again.

Until the restaurant. Until now, now that both of them are 40 and exhausted and miserable, and now Eddie’s dead.

But at least he did the one thing he really set out to do in all this. Maybe he couldn’t save anyone, and maybe he couldn’t really fix anything important. All he’s ever really done is make his own life worse, over and over, and drive himself into the ground - but at least he finally told Richie.

At least he finished something, he thinks to himself, waiting for the rush of oblivion.

Then, Eddie wakes up face to face with a giant turtle.

“What?” he says, so shocked it comes out sort of flat.

You do not need to speak to me, my child, the turtle says, somehow, without ever opening its - mouth? Eddie feels vaguely like some turtles maybe have beaks, and this is what’s haunting him at this moment, instead of any of the thirty thousand questions that would probably make more sense.

“I think I’m uncomfortable with the concept of talking telepathically with a-” He stops, gripped with a sudden fear that calling the turtle a turtle is somehow rude.

It is not inaccurate to call me what I am. I choose to appear to you in this way, the turtle think-says, and all Eddie can do is to stare at it, mouth falling open as he searches for words.

“I’m just-” Eddie stammers, finally. “Is there any chance you could explain to me what the fuck is going on?”

In time you will understand. There are things you need to see - things you must be shown.

“So that’s a no, then?” Eddie asks, feeling very strongly he isn’t going to get an answer that isn’t just more vague bullshit.

In fact - though it isn’t audible, obviously, something strange happens to the air or the light and Eddie abruptly gets a very clear sense that the turtle - the giant fucking unexplained mind turtle, is laughing.

Let us begin, the turtle says, once its laughter has settled - and then the darkness and the turtle both disappear in a blinding flash of white light.

When the brightness clears from his eyes, and Eddie can finish blinking it away - he finds himself inside a house he doesn’t recognize.

The house is still bright - there are plate glass windows from floor to ceiling, and he can see a pool out back, and the ocean even further out, because the house is walking distance from a beach and sunlight pours in through the windows. If he really strains he can even hear the waves. 

The whole place looks like something out of a catalogue, some kind of collection of famous Hollywood homes.

Then Richie comes stumbling out of a room and turns it into a twirl, throwing his arms out on either side of him before he stops, facing Eddie, a grin on his face. “Well, Eds, what do you think?”

Eddie’s heart pounds in his chest. How did he get here? What is happening? Richie’s looking right at him, and he looks a little tired but otherwise no worse for wear - he’s basically clean shaven, his hair clean and curling easily around his ears. He has on a t-shirt and jeans and Eddie has no idea what to do except just stare. Richie blinks again, his smile faltering a little, and he drops his arms.

“What, is it too much? I mean - to be fair I do just live here, I didn’t like buy it or clean it up-”

Then there’s a sigh from directly behind Eddie and he turns to be face to face with - himself. There’s a pinch in his brows and his arms are crossed, but still he’s holding himself - stiffly, like he’s injured.

Self-conscious, Eddie rubs the heel of his palm over his chest, but there’s no injury there anymore, because he’s dead. He breathes out slowly, feels his lungs shift, and - well, he has no explanation for that, or any of this actually, but he’s not in pain.

“I just - I think I’m just realizing I don’t have any idea what the fuck I’m doing,” the other version of him says. “You live in a fucking catalogue house, Rich.”

“Yeah, because I like - thought it was what I was supposed to do. I - actually usually I just live in like, an apartment in Chicago, but I have this place because they always say you have to be in LA, and, like-” Richie stops, and huffs, and steps closer to Eddie - to both versions of him, because he’s standing directly beside himself. “I haven’t known what I’m doing for basically 25 years. Or - maybe ever. But now we both have a chance to figure it out.” He smiles again, cautiously, his eyes all big behind his glasses, and Eddie’s heart lurches like it wants to jump right out of his chest and into Richie’s hands.

Richie’s - stupidly big hands. Eddie just keeps staring at him, because now he has a chance again, and he doesn’t know how long this chance is going to last, or if all of this is going to disappear, or if he’s really dead or not.

Still, he glances back up at Richie’s face, and he smiles back.

“I guess you’re right,” the other Eddie says, taking another step towards Richie. “I mean - it’s definitely new. Essentially that is the definition of a new start.”

“See? You got the spirit. The world’s our oyster!” Richie yells, reaching out to grab Eddie by the shoulders. “What do you wanna do first?”

“I wanna-” Eddie says - and he watches as there’s a pause. He knows exactly what he’s thinking - exactly what he doesn’t say when instead he laughs, and shouts, “I wanna eat a fucking pizza!”

“That’s it, Eds! Let’s order some fucking pizza!” Richie yells back, and they both fall into laughter, leaning closer together.

In spite of the injury, the other Eddie looks totally relaxed now, like he’s forgotten all about it in the face of Richie’s touch and his laughter.

Eddie gets it. Even just watching is almost enough to make him forget that he’s dead.

Do you see? The turtle suddenly asks, all around him.

Eddie jumps, and looks around, but Richie and the other Eddie aren’t reacting, and it seems like he’s the only one who can hear the turtle - and Eddie can’t see it anywhere.

“See what?” he asks.

There are things you must see, the turtle repeats.

“Is this like - a Christmas Carol thing?”

Another.

This time, when everything goes bright and shifts, Eddie is expecting it a little more, but he also - feels it more. The ground moves under his feet, wind whips around him, it feels somehow like all of the atoms are shifting - which if they’re moving through time somehow, sort of makes sense, even while it absolutely doesn’t.

The whole time-travelling theory grows stronger when Eddie blinks away the brightness this time to find teenage Richie behind the wheel of a beat-up little Ford Festiva.

He has the same mop of curls, same giant glasses and goofy grin that Eddie still vividly remembers. His heart gives a little lurch. Seeing this Richie in motion again, he can see all the same little expressions and quirks he still has as an adult and - that’s the boy Eddie loved, the man he loves now, still, and he can feel it in every bone in his body with a fluorescent kind of ache.

“Eds, come on dipshit, let’s go!” Richie calls, honking the horn loudly.

“I’m fucking coming, asshole!” Eddie shouts from the window, and Richie just laughs, loud and bright, leaning out of the car window to lean his chin on his crossed arms.

When Eddie’s teenage self comes stumbling through the front door, he’s weighed down with luggage, a duffle bag over one shoulder, a smaller bag over the other, and a suitcase hoisted in his arms.

“Are you gonna fucking help me or what?” Eddie calls out.

“But I just love to watch a big strong man at work,” Richie answers, fluttering his eyelashes as he speaks in a high-pitched southern drawl.

Teenage Eddie juggles his bags enough to flip him off, even as one side of his mouth quirks up, and Richie laughs, his eyes still locked on Eddie as he struggles all the way down the stairs of the front stoop.

Once all the luggage is in the trunk or the backseat, Eddie stops before coming around the front of the car, just standing by the driver’s side window, looking down at Richie, and at the car, and blinking like he can hardly believe it.

“We’re really - doing this,” he says, a little out of breath.

Richie smiles at him, slow and genuine. “Yeah, Eds. Unless you’re gonna chicken out on me.”

Eddie shakes his head quickly. “No fucking way. We’re - we’re doing it. We’re going to New York, and we’re not coming back.” Reaching down, he places his hand on the door, right next to Richie’s, their pinkies nudged together. “Fuck Derry. Fuck - all of this.”

“Fuck yeah,” Richie says, and he moves his hand to bump his knuckles against Eddie’s.

It’s only after watching all of this play out in a sort of daze, after putting all the pieces together of what’s happening, that actual Eddie realizes.

“This never happened,” he says out loud, even though no one can hear him.

Not in your memory, the turtle answers.

“I mean not-” he watches his teenage self smile at Richie, excitement shining in his eyes, before he runs around to the passenger side of the car and hops in. “Not at all. This didn’t happen to me. I would remember. We didn’t - we never even planned anything like this. I was too - and Richie never said anything.”

But it could have. If one of you had planned. And somewhere - in some other time, it did.

“So you’re saying this is - this actually happened, in some other universe. We - Richie and I, we-”

Eddie watches as the Richie and Eddie in the car turn towards each other, shimmering and giddy, but just as they lean towards each other, hovering over the gear shift, everything shines bright and shifts again, disappearing in a wash of light.

The two of you are universal constants. Linked, no matter the circumstances.

“But we barely know each other now, we’re just - I mean he was my best friend and I - but he’s 40, and we’re both so... It’s just not very realistic to say that everything has to be like that now-” Eddie rambles as he rubs at his eyes - only this time, when he opens them, he finds a cluttered apartment.

There’s a poster for one of Richie’s comedy tours, some kind of framed memorabilia from when he was on SNL - but there’s also one of Eddie’s jackets hanging by the door, and a pillow he recognizes as one he very nearly bought once, before Myra had told him it was too “loud.”

In the kitchen, he can see himself standing in a t-shirt and pajama bottoms, stirring a mug of coffee before blowing across the top.

A cat leaps up onto the counter, and Eddie watches himself just smile at it indulgently before scratching gently behind one of its ears.

“G’morning, Lion-O,” other Eddie says in a still sleep-rough voice.

“How are you up and in a decent mood before me?” Richie grumbles as he stumbles in from the bedroom, in just a t-shirt and a pair of boxers.

He’s stretching one arm up over his head, and the other is scratching at his stomach, and Eddie tries not to stare too hard even though no one can see him.

Then - well, then, Richie comes into the kitchen, places a hand on the counter for balance, and presses a soft, lingering kiss to his Eddie’s lips.

Eddie watches in a daze as the two of them trade indulgent kisses until Richie pulls away to yawn, and then to laugh.

“I guess I need some coffee after all.”

Rolling his eyes, the other Eddie picks up a mug that was waiting on the counter and presses it into Richie’s hand. “Like you ever don’t.”

The light catches the wedding band on Richie’s finger, then, as he wraps his hand around the mug, and Eddie finds the matching one on his own hand. They’re - married. With a cat. And an apartment, and a coffee maker. Eddie knows how Richie takes his coffee, and Richie knows he can’t stand mornings, and - they’re married.

They kiss.

Eddie blinks, and shakes his head, hard, but nothing disappears.

“This can’t be right,” he says out loud.

It is simply another possibility, the turtle answers - as if it’s any kind of fucking answer.

“Yeah but it’s not - fucking possible. He would never - I mean Richie’s - have you even heard his comedy? It’s all fucking dick jokes and - my girlfriend caught me jerking off to her friend Samantha, now that’s what I call a nasty breakup, she’s throwing my stuff at me and I can’t even catch it because I’ve still got cum all over my hand!”

There’s - that shimmer again, the not-quite-sound of the turtle’s laughter. All jokes aside, I cannot show you what does not exist. I am simply here to share the many connections I am aware of. The many branching paths.

“Is this - I mean, obviously this happened here, but - is this - how much is different here?”

You may be surprised how little. However - note the dates. Your return to Derry has not happened yet. You found each other before Mike called, here.

“Before he-” Eddie looks over at both of them again, watching as they drink coffee and make jokes, and realize that they do look - younger. Early 30s, maybe. “That’s possible?”

In some universes, yes. You help each other.

“But this is the only one where we’re - married?”

No , the turtle says simply. It can happen after, too.

“So he - sometimes he - feels it, too,” Eddie murmurs, watching as Richie nuzzles at his temple and kisses him there, softly. It’s more an outward statement of disbelief than him really realizing anything.

Always.

That pulls him up short. “Wh- Okay, clearly you’re omniscient or something, or you think you are, but there’s no fucking way-”

Always , the turtle repeats so loudly that it makes Eddie feel like his brain is rattling in his skull.

“Well it’s not like he said anything in my - I mean it’s not like you can prove it-”

But just like that, everything is shifting, only - it’s not so bright this time. There’s darkness, and the air whipping around him seems harsh and whistling, almost angry.

It looks like the same apartment - but now, it’s mostly bare. Cluttered, but still somehow strangely empty. There’s less on the walls, less light, no cat - no evidence of Eddie anywhere. Just clothes on the back of the couch, takeout containers on the table.

Richie comes stumbling out of the kitchen with a bottle of whiskey clutched in his fist, staring through Eddie and seeing absolutely nothing.

“You can send a man to Derry to fight an evil fucking clown, but you can’t make him any better,” Richie mumbles as he sits heavily on the couch and takes a drink right out of the bottle. “Isn’t that right, Stan?” he calls out - and it’s enough to make Eddie look around, but all he can find is what Richie’s actually looking at - a folded sheet of paper on his table. “Kill the clown and win and somehow I still fucking lose,” Richie continues. “Lose the only person I ever gave a shit about, the only person I ever-” He cuts himself off. “Maybe that’s not fair. I love Bev and everyone, but it’s not - it’s not the same, Stan. You don’t-” Richie trails off, staring at nothing again, this time his eyes landing somewhere beside his television, just staring at the wall. There are deep, dark bags under his eyes, and it’s obvious he hasn’t shaved in a week. His t-shirt is stained, his hoodie worn out - and all Eddie wants to do is touch him, but when he walks over and reaches out his hand - he just can’t. He goes right through.

“Richie,” he says out loud - but of course no one hears him.

“I guess it’s probably how your wife must feel, right? But it’s - worse somehow, because I don’t have any right to feel like this. And then I’m an asshole for saying that’s worse. I guess I barely knew him, but I still-” Richie tugs at his own hair, and takes another long drink of his whiskey. “I don’t know what to do, now that I can’t just forget him again. I don’t know how to go back to - living like that. I don’t know what the fuck to do. What do I do, Stan?”

The paper doesn’t answer, obviously. And Richie - Richie starts to cry, deep, wracking sobs, with his face shoved in his hands, and the bottle slips from his hand and spills out over the floor, and he makes no move to pick it up.

Eddie sort of feels like he might throw up.

“What - what’s gonna happen to him?” he asks, choking out the words around the catch in his own throat.

Nothing more you want to see.

“What the fuck does that - that’s not right. You can’t just - this is what happens after? If I die? Surely he must - there must be some version where he’s okay, where somebody stays with him, right? Where - Bev moves in with him and they help each other, there has to be something-”

He is never the same. There is always a sadness. His life is always shorter. Bad habits, bad decisions -

Squeezing his eyes shut, Eddie pushes his hands on either side of his head, covering his ears like he can block the turtle out somehow. “God, stop just - fucking stop it! I don’t want to see anymore.”

You feel that you have seen enough?

Anger rushes through Eddie, and he opens his eyes to find himself surrounded by nothing but darkness - no turtle to be seen. “Why the fuck would you show me all of this?” he cries out, feeling at this point like he’s just shouting into an empty void, the wind whipping around the large, blank space he’s in.

Because to truly save Richie means that you must save yourself, booms the voice, echoing through his skull, through the cavern, through his chest.

“Well I think it’s a little fucking late for that!” Eddie shouts back.

You are here because the universe recognizes it must correct itself, the turtle says with its unshakeable absolute certainty. You are worth saving, Eddie Kaspbrak.

While it’s obviously not a non-sequitur in the eyes of the turtle, it catches Eddie completely off-guard. He feels a little like he’s been stabbed in the chest again, honestly, and his face grows hot, his eyes starting to sting - no one’s ever told him anything like that, in all the 40 years he’s been alive. He probably should have just gone to therapy or something and maybe someone would have, but - now instead, the first person to say it with words isn’t a person at all, but a giant mystical turtle, and Eddie’s about to cry by himself in some kind of inexplicable cosmic void.

It does seem exactly like the same sort of shit that’s been happening to him all his life, but that doesn’t mean he has to be happy about it.

Swallowing down the lump in his throat, Eddie manages to choke out, “But why? It’s not like - I didn’t even kill it. I couldn’t. I’m just - no one. Just some kid from Derry who grew up and wasted his life. I mean - for Richie, sure, but still like - cosmically he’s not that important, is he? He’s just - important to me.”

You have both saved the lives of countless beings. More than you can fathom. It - the being you have all so bravely chosen to destroy, has devoured planets. If left on Earth, It would have destroyed everything in Its wake and moved on once more. It has done it many times before. In this, It did not lie to you.

This leaves Eddie with so many questions he hardly even knows where to start - but the turtle doesn’t even let him.

This is your reward , the turtle finishes, reappearing to lock eyes with Eddie.

“What is? Just - knowing the truth? Seeing a bunch of shit I can’t have? Seeing what happens because of how bad I fucked up?”

No. This , the turtle answers - and once more Eddie is thrown into a cacophony of light and sound, feeling the universe rearrange itself around him.

He startles awake - sliding down the wall of a cavern. The last time, though, he was bleeding out, and in shock, and couldn’t feel anything, already. Now - now, instead, he can feel the scratch on the way down, and a pain in his arm but - he’s fine. Adrenaline rushing through his system, wracked with confusion but - he’s not dead. He’s not bleeding.

Richie comes sliding down behind him, and he’s screaming Eddie’s name and - he’s not dead, and Richie’s here.

“Eddie!” Richie calls out, rolling to a stop beside him. “Eddie, fuck,” Richie pants out, and his hands grapple for Eddie, clutching at his jacket and his shirt. “Eddie, where’s-”

“Richie,” he says, panting, wrapping his hands around both of Richie’s. “Richie, I’m okay.”

“But I thought It - it looked like-”

“No I - I know, but I’m fine. Look, hey, I’m okay.” He takes one of Richie’s hands and places it flat against the center of his chest, right over his heart.

Richie’s hand sits wide and warm over his sternum, and they both sit there for a few breaths, Richie finally looking up to meet Eddie’s equally wide eyes.

“You’re - fine,” Richie says, haltingly.

“Yeah, buddy. I’m fine,” Eddie tells him, and he reaches out and wraps a hand around the back of Richie’s neck - right as the rest of the Losers come sliding down behind them.

“Eddie! Richie!” Everyone’s crying out - and before long they’re surrounded, everyone nudging each other out of the way and grabbing, checking with their hands to make sure no one’s too badly injured.

It’s not long before they all realize Eddie and Richie are both fine - and while Richie’s still looking intensely at Eddie, his brow furrowed, and Eddie wants to see what Richie knows or remembers, or really saw - they still have a fucking interdimensional clown to take care of first.

Only - at that exact moment, Stan comes stumbling in and looks around at all of them, grinning madly.

Everyone stops, Eddie included. But then, Eddie is the first one to leap up and greet him. “Holy fuck, Stan,” he says out loud.

“Wait, b-but-” Bill says, and everyone else is sort of mumbling behind them, maybe wondering if this is some kind of trick but - Eddie knows better.

“You saw it, too, didn’t you?” Eddie asks, grabbing Stan by the shoulders. “The turtle.”

Stan nods once, laughing a little. “Yeah, I did. If I was the only one - I really might think I was crazy.”

Everyone else looks even more confused, behind them.

“Fucking - did you just say turtle?” Richie asks.

Ignoring him for the moment, though, Stan just peeks around Eddie to wave at everyone. “Uh - yeah. Sorry I’m late. There was a-” He stops himself, seeming to remember where they are, and what’s happening. “Well. I’m here now.”

There’s another long moment where no one moves.

Then, somewhere above them, the clown says, “I can still smell you - having all seven won’t help you, either. Just means there’s more to eat! And I’m getting hungry .”

With that, everyone leaps up and - well, in a way, It’s right. Having all seven of them doesn’t change much - because either way, the fucking clown dies. Just like the time when he was dying, when he could only hear most of the fight, Eddie tells them all the same shit about choking the leper - but this time, they’re all there to shout at the clown until it’s small enough to beat the shit out of. 

Then - well, they beat the shit out of It.

Eddie takes a particular kind of joy in ripping off one of Its stupid spider arms, but out of the corner of his eye, he can see that Richie does, too. He means to turn and ask, to figure out what Richie knows - but then the cavern starts caving in, and they’re all running out, shoving at each other, and Richie is tugging his arm, and - then they’re out.

The sun is so bright it’s nearly blinding, and they all stand there squinting into it, watching as the old Neibolt house falls in on itself.

For a moment, all of them are standing there, holding hands and arms and sleeves, clutching at each other like kids, still half waiting for the clown to jump back up, for the house to move, for something else awful to happen.

Nothing does, though. For at least a minute, there’s total silence, and then a collective exhale - and then Richie immediately turns and points his finger at Eddie.

“What the fuck is this shit with a Turtle?” he says, his hand still shaking slightly.

“It’s-” Eddie starts, but doesn’t know how to go on. Richie seems - freaked out, and Eddie’s still feeling oddly peaceful, but he’s also already having his doubts about that ridiculous claim the turtle made about how Richie feels the same in every universe.

Clearing his throat, Stan chimes in to answer instead. “When I died, I woke up and I saw some kind of - giant turtle. He showed me what happens when I’m not here. To you guys, and to Patty, my wife, and then he - put me back somehow. To - the day I would have left. I got here as fast as I could, after - everything with Patty.”

“So you-” Richie says, and then his eyes widen, and he turns back to Eddie. “You - you saw it, too. Why’d you see the Turtle? You’re fine.” Then Richie steps towards him, and Eddie can feel the rest of the Losers turning their attention to Stan, realizing that whatever is happening is mostly between him and Richie now.

“I wasn’t,” Eddie says simply.

“Those things I saw in the deadlights. That happened. You - you did get stabbed. You died. You-” Richie stops, stumbling over his words, going abruptly pale. “That was real?”

Eddie nods, and shrugs. “I - died. Once. Or - maybe in more than one universe, I don’t know. I know I died here, and the Turtle - showed me things. Other universes, where things were different, and then he sent me back. He told me the universe was correcting itself. Correcting its mistakes, basically.”

Rushing forward, Richie wraps his arms around Eddie and pulls him close, one big hand cradling the back of Eddie’s head. “I can’t believe you almost - I still remember you - there was blood everywhere, and you - the last thing you said was that horrible-”

Eddie tenses. “Huh?”

“You made that stupid fucking joke, and then you just died, I couldn’t believe you-”

Pulling back, Eddie puts his hands against Richie’s chest to hold him off, his heart pounding, his stomach churning. Even just from the adrenaline crash, he’d probably be lightheaded, but now what Richie’s saying is starting to make him feel genuinely ill. “What are you talking about? That’s not - what joke?”

“The last thing you said before you died, dipshit, I’m not - listen, I’m not the one who tried to make a fucked your mom joke right before I literally fucking choked on my own blood and shit, okay? So you don’t have to get all pissed off like it’s my fault somehow, get your own last words and stop stealing my jokes if you want better last words-”

“That’s not - what? You’re saying you - you saw some universe where the last thing I said to you was fucking - I fucked your mom? Is that what you’re saying?”

Richie blinks at him, brow furrowing. “Is that - not what you said?”

It’s still so fresh in Eddie’s memory - the warmth of Richie’s face, and his body, the way his stubble felt under Eddie’s sticky palm. The way his expression had cracked open, the look in his eyes - Eddie can close his eyes, still, and see it. Feel it. “No,” he says quietly, nearly whispering the word. He clears his throat. “No, that’s not what I said. In - not in the universe where I died, no, I didn’t make a stupid fucking joke. I mean - I probably should have-”

“No, you shouldn’t have. It sucked. It really fucking - what - I mean, it makes sense It would show me just, the worst possible universe, you know, so - thanks for that, but - if that’s not what happened, what - what did happen?”

Eddie wrinkles his nose, his face scrunching up as he glances away, self-conscious. “Rich, I don’t - does it even really matter? I was - dying.”

“Doesn’t that mean it was probably important?” Richie asks, his hand still resting on Eddie’s neck, his thumb shifting gently and seemingly subconsciously over Eddie’s nape. “I mean - that’s just a guess, but if you thought you were gonna die, and you wanted to make it count-”

“I didn’t,” Eddie blurts out, grasping at the lie that’s just popped into his head. “I didn’t make it count, I’m - I could hardly breathe, I couldn’t even finish a sentence. I didn’t make it count.”

For a moment, Richie seems to buy it. The tension eases, and the sounds of the other losers trickle back into Eddie’s consciousness, the way they’re all ribbing Stan in the background, hugging him tightly and teasing him about his wife.

Then Richie looks confused again. “Then what’s the big deal?”

Eddie’s mouth twists up. “I just - I tried to say something, but - I don’t know what you heard. I died right after. And - it wasn’t a joke. But maybe it’s for the best you didn’t hear me, here, or - in the Deadlights, because it wasn’t - they weren’t very good last words, either.”

Something awful breaks over Richie’s face - the expression is familiar, Eddie realizes with a kind of gut punch, because it makes him look just as haunted as the Richie who’d been drinking alone and talking to an absent Stan. “I didn’t - I didn’t just see the one version. Now that you - there was more than one. Just like your fucking turtle shit, but the - the bad version. Just all these fucked up - in one of them you couldn’t finish what you said, it was like you - all the breath went out of you in the middle of your sentence, and you said you - always. But you didn’t say - always what.”

“I just said - always?” Eddie asks with a hitch in his voice, struck by the turtle’s words about Richie’s feelings.

“No you said-” Richie struggles, staring at the air over Eddie’s shoulder. “You know I always- and you didn’t finish. You couldn’t.” Richie glances at him, and then away again. “You touched my face, and you said that, and then you died.”

Eddie knows what he meant to say. It’s the same as what he really did say, in the version where he really remembers dying. “Are you sure you want to know?”

Richie opens his mouth, and then closes it again. “I think - whatever I come up with is gonna be worse. So you might as well tell me.”

“Worse?” Eddie asks. “Richie it’s not - what the fuck do you think my dying words were gonna be, that I always hated you?”

Even though Richie laughs, it comes out hollow. “Actually I just thought you were gonna tell me you always hated it when I called you Eds.”

“Dipshit,” Eddie says, completely at a loss for tact when it comes to Richie, just like always. He grabs Richie by the back of the neck and pushes up onto his toes to knock their foreheads together. “I don’t hate it when you call me that, I never did. Don’t be stupid.”

“Actually, I’m basically terminally stupid,” Richie says, oddly high-pitched.

“I don’t hate you or your stupid nicknames. You wanna guess again?”

“Not really. Because I - nothing else coming to mind really makes any sense.”

Screwing up every ounce of courage he can muster, every bit of it he’d lost since leaving Derry and found again in the sewer, he closes his eyes and exhales in a rush. “I love you. I always did. That’s what I wanted to tell you.”

“Oh,” Richie says. “Well - uh. Thanks, man. Love you, too.” He slaps Eddie’s back half-heartedly and goes to pull away, but he gets stuck because Eddie’s grip on him was still too tight.

Eddie lets go, but just a half-second too late, so he’s reeled Richie back in on accident. “Not exactly the response I was expecting,” he admits.

“Well - we all love each other! That’s great,” Richie says too loudly, and he pats Eddie on the shoulder again, and turns around. Eddie recognizes the bluster from the way he’d showed off his LA house, the sort of awkward twirl, the way he makes himself bigger instead of smaller.

Everyone else is looking at them now, and Eddie’s heart is sinking, slow and heavy, down to his stomach. Very suddenly, he becomes aware again that his clothes are disgusting, that he is covered in sewer water and sludge, that there was probably - fucking clown goo on his hands, still, when he and Richie were touching each other.

The fucking open wound on his cheek is still there.

Resisting the urge to gag, suddenly, Eddie wraps his arms protectively around himself and spins on his heel. “I need a shower, right now, or I’m going to die.”

“Well some of us were - th-thinking of going to the q-q-q-quarry - if you guys wanted to c-come,” Bill tells him.

It’s easy - too easy, to give in and freak out about something stupid, instead of all the awful complex emotions rolling in his stomach. “You want me to wash off all of the filthy sewer water with - more fucking dirty water? Are you serious? We all probably need to go to the fucking hospital, we’ve probably all - I mean I could have sepsis, just from the stab wound and the exposure to - literally, a sewer, the rest of you got hurt down there, scrapes and - and all of that bacteria in the fucking quarry water? Are you kidding?”

“Wow, it really is just like old times,” Bev says, smiling a little - and Eddie wants to be good-natured, and laugh with his friends, he wants it so badly that he aches, but he just shakes his head.

“I’m not - this isn’t time to play around. I’m gonna go back to the Town House to wash off, with real soap and water, and anyone with - fucking sense can come with me.”

He starts walking, basically power-walking, back in the direction of the Town House.

He expects no one to follow him - maybe, depending on how shaken up he’s feeling or how badly he wants to call his wife, maybe Stan.

Instead, when he hears heavy footfalls behind him, he turns, and finds Richie.

He stops. “Since when do you have sense?” he snaps.

Richie stops, too, and blinks at him. “Well - I mean never, but I - I thought maybe you wouldn’t wanna go back alone.”

For someone who just broke his heart into a million shattered little pieces, it’s strangely thoughtful. Eddie just glares at him. “I don’t need a fucking - bodyguard or something. Bowers and the clown are both dead.”

“Yeah,” Richie says, voice oddly small - and Eddie remembers too late that Richie is the one that actually killed Bowers.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to-”

“I don’t wanna - you almost died.”

Eddie turns back to look at him again. “Yeah?”

Rocking forward just a step, Richie comes closer, and then leans back again. “I don’t - I need to know that you’re fine. Right now. Just for - a little bit. I need to be able to - make sure you keep not being dead.”

The vulnerability, especially right after all Richie’s bluster in front of their friends, feels wrong. Eddie can feel the tension creep into his own shoulders as he turns to go back to his marching. “For what? I mean, sure, whatever, feel free, but - it’s not like there’s much of a point.”

“What the fuck does that mean?” Richie calls after him, and then he’s rushing up behind Eddie, grabbing him by the shoulder and forcing him to turn around. “Stop, Eddie, just-”

“God, I’m going to - kill that stupid fucking turtle!” Eddie almost screams, shoving Richie’s hand off his shoulder. He turns his face up to the sky and shouts, so hard it makes him hoarse, “Do you hear me you big giant fuck? I’m gonna come up there and kill you my fucking self! I’m gonna choke you out and I don’t give a shit - what kind of cosmic fucking interdimensional bullshit you’re into, all right? I’m gonna kill you!”

Richie startles, shuffling back a little as he stares at Eddie with widened eyes, and while Eddie is still catching his breath, they both just end up standing there, staring at each other.

Then - Richie, the absolute fuck, starts laughing. Laughing hard, too, all high pitched unstoppable giggles, so hard he’s doubling over a little, sounding almost pained with it, and Eddie is helpless to do anything but start laughing with him.

The thing is - it hurts Eddie, too. He knows he’s being ridiculous, that this whole fucking thing is ridiculous, but he can still see all those things the turtle showed him when he closes his eyes - his and Richie’s teenage plan to run away together, their domestic morning, their wedding rings, their cat.

But none of those things were real. And when the turtle said Eddie mattered, that Richie couldn’t live without him - it lied. Lied for a good reason, maybe, to convince Eddie it was worth coming back, to get all seven of them there to kill It, sure, maybe that was worth breaking one sad little idiot’s heart.

None of it changes that Eddie, the sad little idiot man himself, has had his heart broken. So very quickly, his laughter edges into the hysterical, and then he’s crying instead.

“Wh- hey, Eds, whoa,” Richie says, still panting through his giggles, but quickly realizing Eddie’s tone has changed.

“The turtle lied,” Eddie chokes out through his tears, feeling small and pathetic and all of 13 years old again. “The stupid fucking cosmic turtle lied to me, why would it do that? What’s the fucking point?”

“What - what did it lie about?”

“It told me-” It told me you loved me, Eddie manages to keep himself from saying. He gasps in a breath, and tries to speak coherently. “It told me it - mattered. That I had to come back, that I - that I was worth saving. But it doesn’t matter. I didn’t do anything. In - in the other versions, you did it without me, and everything else was the same. So what’s the point?”

“What’s - what’s the point?” Richie repeats, all the humor gone out of his voice. “Are you saying you wish you’d stayed dead?”

“I’m just saying it - I don’t make a difference, here, except to - pull you away from everyone else, to be weird about not going to the quarry, to make - everything worse, so why? Why did it send me back? It said this was my reward, to get another chance, but - chance at what? Ruining everyone else’s fun? Fucking - fucking everything up, like I always do?”

Eddie’s heart is racing now, his breathing picking up, and he can tell his crying has started to verge on a panic attack.

Sensing it, somehow, maybe just from childhood familiarity, Richie places his hands heavy on Eddie’s shoulders and encourages him to lean over a little. He slows down his own breathing, and presses Eddie’s head to his chest, so he can feel it move. “C’mon Eds, breathe.”

“See?” Eddie says between slow, deep breaths. “I can’t even - do this right. How the fuck - am I cosmically important? To - you - or to anyone.”

Richie’s hands tighten on his shoulders. “Because you definitely are to me. And - if you can’t appreciate what that fucking turtle did, I will. Maybe he knew that.”

“But you don’t even-” Eddie starts, and stops. “What difference does it really make? We’re just gonna go home, and maybe - text each other once in a while, if we don’t forget everything again. What does it matter?”

“It matters because I can still text you. It matters because I can - know you’re out there, working your boring fucking incredible job, and being married, and not being dead. Maybe even being happy.”

Clenching his hands into fists, Eddie resists the urge to shove Richie away again. “I don’t wanna be married. Or - not to - I don’t wanna be married to - my wife, I just want-” I want to be married to you, I want us to be married with an orange tabby cat, and kissing over the coffee maker. “I just want what the turtle showed me to not be some stupid fucking lie.”

“What did it show you?”

Pulling back, Eddie straightens up and takes one more deep breath in and out. “Better - versions of my life. Ones where I didn’t fuck everything up. One where we-” Eddie realizes he’s said too much, and scrambles for the least incriminating way to finish his sentence. “One where we left Derry when we were teenagers. Just - got in your car and left, so we couldn’t forget each other.”

“All - all six of us?” Richie asks.

Eddie shakes his head. “Just - just us.”

There’s a long pause. “Oh,” Richie says finally.

Exhausted, Eddie slowly starts walking again, his hands shoved in his pockets. “It said we were - linked. I guess all seven of us, but it just - it just told me that we were. The two of us. And it showed me all these - other universes, just like Stan. And it showed me one - really awful one, and said that to save you, I had to save myself. But - it didn’t really give me much of a choice. And clearly it had no idea what it was talking about.”

“Save - me? From what?”

Slowing to a stop, Eddie just stares down at his feet, and the cracks in the sidewalk. “You were upset. Stan was dead, too, and you were talking to - a letter or something, that he sent. You were drinking. You sounded - I mean it seemed - bad. Like you were going to do something stupid.”

“Everything I ever do is stupid,” Richie tries to joke, but it falls flat. “So you - the turtle told you to save me.”

“Well - I said, why the fuck would you show me all this when it’s too late? And then it said - you know, that I had to save myself, and you, and - implied because we killed It, we would get to be happy, or something.” Eddie scoffs a little, and starts walking again. “Obviously that’s going great so far.”

“Why would you - I mean what does happiness even look like? Do you know? Because I don’t.”

Unfortunately, Eddie does. “I just know it’s probably not going home to someone I hate, and a job that I hate, and an entire life that I really fucking hate, that I just - thought I had to be stuck with, because I thought I didn’t have a choice.”

Behind him, Richie’s steps slow to a stop. “Earlier, when you said-”

“Don’t.” Eddie stops him. “Just don’t. It’s fine. I shouldn’t have said it.”

“Well you - I mean, we all love each other, right? And we probably don’t say it enough-”

“I didn’t say it to anyone else, I said it to you. Either you - if you know what I mean and you wanna pretend you don’t that’s fine. I mean it’s not but it’s - if that’s how you wanna deal with it, I can handle it, just maybe - could you wait until tomorrow? And today we could just - stop talking about it.”

“Eddie, are you saying - I mean are you-”

“For fuck’s sake,” Eddie mutters under his breath, stopping even though the Town House is now literally within sight. He has to close his eyes and press his fingers to the center of his brow, or he feels like his head is going to explode. “When I said I love you, I meant I love you. Not - fucking, I love you, bro! Or whatever. That stupid - God it wasn’t even the turtle’s fucking fault. That was what I said, before I died. Those were my last words. It was stupid. I thought I could - do something brave, maybe, for once, but - it wasn’t brave, it was selfish and stupid and all I probably did was - hurt you or make you feel weird and then I died. And now that fucking turtle showed me all this shit where - it said - we were linked, and we were married, and - I got - confused. I don’t know. I don’t wanna talk about it anymore.”

“Married?” Richie squeaks out.

“Sometimes,” Eddie says, exhaustion seeping into his voice as he starts walking, finally making it to the steps into the Town House, taking his time on the way up. His legs feel like they’re filled with sand. “Just - I don’t know, in one thing he showed me. And he said - other times, but he was lying, what does it matter?”

“What do you mean he was lying?”

“For fuck’s sake, why don’t you just ask the fucking turtle?” Eddie snaps, turning around to face him.

“Because I can’t ask some turtle that might not even exist!” Richie yells back - and there’s something Eddie hadn’t even considered.

Not that the turtle doesn’t exist - Stan saw it, too, and the experience was far too real. Eddie knows the lying cosmic turtle existed. He just hadn’t considered that Richie might not even believe him. Might think the whole thing was some strange death hallucination.

A weariness settles over him, and he sighs. “It told me you - always have feelings for me. That in every universe we’re - that us being-” Eddie stops, and huffs. “That I’m not the only one. And I said it must be wrong, and it said - it made this big fucking deal out of how it was true in every single universe, no matter what. That’s what it told me. But it - was lying, or maybe you’re right and I made the whole thing up and somehow I just magically came back to life, what the fuck do I know?”

“Eddie,” Richie says - so softly that Eddie can hardly hear him.

“I’m going to take a shower.”

“But - dude, this is a lot to process, okay?”

“Oh, is it?” Eddie demands, resisting the urge to turn around just to gesture angrily at Richie. “Is it a lot to process for you? Because I confessed my feelings to someone, literally died, woke up to meet a fucking turtle god who showed me universes where shit I barely even let myself dream about was all true, and then woke up again to find out I had another chance but - in some universe where everything fucking sucks again, so excuse me if I think maybe I have a little bit more to process.”

“Oh,” is all Richie seems able to say back to that.

They finally, somehow, actually make it back inside the Town House, and Eddie really wants to just collapse in a chair in the lobby somewhere and never get up again.

Instead, as he stands there, staring at the furniture, Richie catches up with him and places a hand gently on his shoulder. Eddie jumps slightly, but then just turns to look at him.

“So, uh,” Richie starts. “I’m realizing it’s possible I was accidentally a gigantic asshole in front of all our friends because I sort of - panicked and then kept getting distracted by the - turtle situation.”

“Richie-”

“No, you gotta - I love you, too, okay? Like way - way more than is reasonable, way more than makes any fucking sense, right, because I’ve known you, adult you, for like a day and a half or something but you - you’re still so - you. You move your hands the same way when you get all pissed off, and you pretend like you’re trying not to laugh at my dumb fucking jokes and you just - I love you. And when I - when I think about you dying down there - I just. Can’t. I can’t think about it. I can’t - imagine how I’d ever - move on from that, and that’s like an insane thing to say, right, because, again, a day and a half but it - it’s like there’s this whole world of possibility in us seeing each other again and remembering, and you being alive, and - the idea of getting all that for such a short time and then just - losing it cause you fucking died, because that stupid fucking thing got you-”

Eddie’s chest feels like it’s being cracked open. He reaches out just to touch Richie’s shoulder in disbelief but - it’s real, and solid.

This is real. Richie’s really here - and so is he.

“So the turtle didn’t lie,” Eddie says stupidly, looking Richie in the eye again.

Richie blinks down at him, expression going all soft, and huffs out a nervous little laugh. “Uh, yeah, I guess not. So I guess uh - you can probably stop shouting at the sky turtle.”

“I mean - I don’t think it’s a sky turtle,” Eddie tells him, frowning slightly. “When I saw it, it just sort of appeared, it’s more like a fucking - void turtle or something, I don’t-” He gestures with his hand, almost smacks Richie in the face with it, and then stops himself.

Then Richie says, “God, I fucking love you,” and kisses him on the mouth.

It should probably be sloppy or unpleasant, because they’re both still so gross and covered in every imaginable disgusting thing but - Richie’s mouth is warm, and gentle, and brushes so softly against Eddie’s that Eddie is helpless to do anything except just melt against him, holding onto his shoulder like it’s the only thing left tethering him to the Earth.

Richie pulls away to say, “So you - yeah?”

And Eddie says, “Yes,” and tugs him back in by the back of his neck and kisses him harder. This time is a little bit sloppy, because both of their mouths were still slightly open, but Eddie can only think about how it’s Richie, and Richie’s breath, and the inside of his mouth, and he catches Richie’s lower lip in between his and presses his tongue against it, and Richie makes the most fantastic startled sound that Eddie has ever heard in his entire stupid life.

“Mm- Eds, did you - god there’s probably still so much gross shit on my face, is it - I mean your blood can’t be on there-”

Richie’s sort of mumbling in between presses of their lips, almost like he’s forgotten how to stop talking, and Eddie just keeps kissing him, slow and lingering, plush presses of lips against lips.

“I don’t care. Kiss me some more,” Eddie tells him.

“I- yeah. Okay.”

And Richie does.

Except while they’re trying to figure out how exactly to walk up the stairs without stopping their kissing, and both of them keep bumping into things, Richie manages to get out, “I guess I have to like, pray to the turtle god now, right?”

Eddie tells him to shut the fuck up - but he’s not sure how much of an effect it has when it’s mumbled directly into Richie’s mouth.

It turns out that feeling is better than almost anything the turtle ever showed him.

Except he does still want the cat. 

They can talk about that later.