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Damon really likes Eddie Kaspbrak.

He knows that their coworkers find the other man far too uptight and aggressive, but Eddie's tantrums never fail to make Damon laugh. Something about Eddie reminds Damon of a small dog ready to bite anyone who tries to pet him on the ankles. Of course, Damon grew up with a dog who was one of those small dogs, so he's well versed in how to gain the trust of small angry creatures. Befriending Eddie certainly isn't easy, but it's a worthwhile endeavor. After a few months of casual conversations, gifts of coffee and plain breakfast bagels (Eddie's wife won't let him eat flavored bagels- bad for his allergies, apparently), Damon asks if Eddie would like to join him for a drink some night next week. He's reluctant at first, being preconditioned not to interact with coworkers outside of the office, not to mention the fact that his wife wouldn't like it if he got home late, but eventually Damon convinces him that going out one time couldn't hurt.

Meeting Eddie outside of work goes well, and eventually it becomes a regular thing. At least one night a week, Eddie and Damon go to sports bars and comedy clubs and just hang out and laugh together. Damon sees a side of Eddie that never emerges in the office- one that is quick with a smile and even quicker with a comeback. Damon knew he would enjoy Eddie's company, but he never would have imagined that they would become best friends, which seems to be the direction they're heading. Damon has never been to Eddie's home, but that's alright- he knows that Eddie has a hard time opening up and he won't begrudge him that privacy. He does eventually convince Eddie to come visit his home, however, and it becomes a regular thing for Eddie to flee to Damon's guest room when he and Myra have had a fight.

He and Myra haven't always fought like this, Eddie claims, but Damon suspects that's because Eddie never had the backbone to defend himself against the woman before. The more Eddie and Damon see one another, the more it becomes obvious that, as confrontational as Eddie seems in the office, he's incapable of standing up to his wife. One night when particularly trashed, Damon even catches Eddie referring to her as "mommy" in the middle of ranting about her. At this, Damon balks, and decides that Eddie might need more help than just Damon's support as a friend. He starts dropping hints that Eddie may need to consider therapy, but eventually decides that he needs to be more explicit about it. He tells Eddie explicitly that his relationship with his wife seems unhealthy and he thinks he should see a professional about it. Eddie turns the idea down without a thought, but Damon is unwilling to back down and pushes him on it. After a fight that Damon worries might end their friendship, Eddie storms out of his house, returning home to Myra.

Unfortunately, the fight occurs on a Friday, and Damon doesn't see Eddie again until Monday. He accepts that he could have ruined anything, but he knows that his points needed to be made for Eddie's sake. He goes into his own office immediately upon arriving at work, wanting to avoid any sort of public confrontation. Eddie can be loud enough to be heard a floor away if he wants, though, so closing his door still might not do much if the other man wants to fight.

Thirty minutes into the workday, there is a knock on Damon's door. He opens up and Eddie comes in, dark circles under his eyes. He confesses that Damon was right, but Eddie just didn't want to see what was right in front of him. He thanks Damon for being a good friend, and says that he understands if Damon is unwilling to continue their friendship in the face of his behavior. He scoffs and pulls Eddie in for a hug, promising that he's still here to support him no matter what. Eddie seems emotional at the affection, and confesses that he spent the weekend searching online for a therapist who he thinks might work for him. He also admits that he managed to get an appointment for later that week with the therapist he thought seemed most promising, which prompts Damon to pull him in for another hug.

Eddie asks if they could have dinner that night, as he wants to make up for his behavior, but Damon confesses he has a date with a guy he's been seeing. He doesn't want to make Eddie feel rejected, however, so he suggests that all three of them should hang out at Damon's place after he and Zach have had dinner. He's sure Zach won't mind- the other man has been wanting to meet Eddie since Damon talks about him all the time anyway. Eddie seems caught between asking about Damon dating a man and talking about Eddie to said man, but in the end just says he'll see them tonight before walking back to his own office.

The meeting of Zach and Eddie goes well- Zachary is an incredibly relaxed guy and he easily puts Eddie at ease. All three men have a great time as they watch Trashmouth Tozier's latest special, making fun of all the sexist jokes and booing at the particularly raunchy humor. Eddie confesses at one point that he hates how attractive he finds the man on screen, and Zach and Damon both rib him endlessly for it. Zach points out that Tozier is one of the worst closet cases he's ever seen, oversexualizing women to cover up his own desires, which makes Eddie freeze for a second, only to acknowledge that Zach might be right. Zach concedes that it's rather sad that Tozier is hiding his sexuality considering how much friendlier mainstream media has become to the LGBTQ+ community since they were kids. As he talks, Eddie seems to pull into himself more and more, eventually checking his watch and saying that it's about time he should go, otherwise he and Myra will fight and he really doesn't want to deal with that tonight. He leaves quickly, shooting Damon a small smile and telling Zach it was nice to meet him as he goes.

Once Eddie is out the door, Zach asks Damon why he hadn't warned him Eddie is gay. Damon feels like a bad friend as he confesses that he didn't actually know until that night either. He knew Eddie hated his wife, but he didn't think that it was because he was using her as a beard, he thought he just married her due to his mommy issues. As he and Zach lie down, he hopes that he and Zach didn't just push at something that Eddie isn't ready to face.

Two hours later, he's certain that confronting his sexuality has sent Eddie spiraling, as his doorbell rings at one in the morning and Eddie is on the other side of the door, suitcases in hand. As he barges his way in, Eddie confesses that, as he was talking to Myra about his day, he mentioned his time spent with Damon and Zach. Myra has never had anything nice to say about Damon, but when Eddie said that he was dating another man, Myra's insults immediately became incredibly homophobic, and she insisted that Eddie could never see Damon again with a vitriol that Eddie had never seen from her.

Hearing the hatred spewing from her mouth, Eddie realized that even therapy couldn't save his marriage, so he packed his bags, took off his wedding ring, told Myra he wanted a divorce, and headed straight to Damon's place. He looks a little sheepish at this last confession, and admits that he wasn't sure where else to go. Damon makes it clear that Eddie is welcome to his guest room for as long as he needs it. As Eddie starts to drag his luggage upstairs, he pauses, seemingly needing to get one last thing off his chest. He confesses that he's gay, and says that if it's going to change anything, Damon should tell him to go now. Damon is obviously confused, pointing out that he, too, is gay, so it would be rather hypocritical of him to treat Eddie any differently for that fact.

Eddie bursts into tears and Damon scoops up his luggage to shuffle him into the guest room. Zach pokes his head out of the master, sees Eddie, and goes right back to bed, knowing that Damon will likely be with Eddie for a while.

As they sit on the guest bed, Eddie confesses that he's always known he was gay. He told his mother once when he first went off to college, and she had a fit, reminding him of all the diseases one can contract as a gay man, ranting about AIDS, and insisting that she would never see her son again were he to ever date a man. He details the following years of celibacy and doing his best to convince himself that he was wrong and he isn't gay, he just doesn't have a sex drive because of all his medications. He eventually found Myra and latched on to her since she didn't seem to care that he didn't want to touch her, even relished in what a gentleman Eddie was. As Eddie continues explaining his time dating and inevitably marrying Myra, Damon feels sick. He holds the smaller man as he cries and does his best to comfort him, but he knows that it will be a long time before Eddie can recover and potentially start to date again after his experiences. He puts Eddie to bed as the sun starts to rise and calls in sick for the both of them, promising himself that he'll do his best to look out for his best friend in the coming months.

Eddie's divorce is rough, but Damon and Zach support him through the process. He stays in Damon's guest room the whole time, and eventually Damon insists that it isn't his guest room, it's Eddie's room, and he should decorate it however he wants. Eddie can't remember the last time he had a space to decorate however he wanted, if he had even had such an opportunity, so he spends and afternoon going wild- dragging Zach to pick out paint and wallpaper and convincing Damon to come furniture shopping and then pulling both men to the antique store to help him pick out knick knacks and wall art.

When Eddie's divorce is finalized, he makes some noise about how he should probably get his own place, but when Damon says he's still welcome as long as he likes, he opts to stay. He considers moving out again when Damon and Zach get engaged, even though they can't legally get married yet, but they point out that literally nothing has changed other than them wearing rings, so he might as well stick it out.

Living with Damon and Zach helps Eddie lighten up, but he still mostly maintains his overly professional persona in the office. Damon is his only coworker who knows what Eddie is really like, and that makes him feel incredibly special. He feels like he knows almost everything there is to know about Eddie… until the day that Mike Hanlon calls.

**************************************

Eddie barges into the house, the door slamming against the wall in his rush to get in and make it up the stairs. Damon wasn't expecting him home for another few hours- he wonders if something bad happened while Eddie was at the car shop. He had been spending most of his weekends there recently, and Damon thought the hobby was helping a lot with the other man working through his stress from the work week. That doesn't mean that something couldn't have happened to upset him, however. He pokes his head out of his bedroom as he hears Eddie sprinting up the stairs.

"Eddie? You okay? Do I need to get the first aid kit?" He looks Eddie over, but physically there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with him. He looks more upset than Damon's seen him since the night he left Myra, though, so he immediately follows Eddie into his bedroom despite the lack of response.

"Eddie? You're freaking me out a little. What happened?" As he walks in, Eddie is flying around the room, grabbing a suitcase and stuffing clothes inside haphazardly. At Damon's question, Eddie whips around, a manic look in his eyes.

"I just got a call from a childhood friend from Derry, Maine. The town where I grew up. The town I had FORGOTTEN I grew up in." Eddie immediately continues grabbing clothes from his closet as he finishes speaking, as if he's a shark that will die without moving. Eddie has told Damon about his childhood-centric insomnia before; even therapy couldn't help recover the memories of the first sixteen years of his life that Eddie had suppressed.

"Okay, so you grew up in Maine and you heard from a friend that you suddenly remember. You are packing a suitcase because… why?" Damon reaches out, halting Eddie on his way back to the suitcase from the closet. His eyes dart around left to right like a caged animal when he is stopped. Seeing the look on Damon's face, however, he takes a deep breath and tries to explain.

"When I was a kid, I made a promise that if something happened, I would go back to Derry. Well, that thing has happened. And Mike is calling all of us to make sure we come back." Damon doesn't like how deliberately vague Eddie's response is- the two of them haven't kept secrets from one another in years. They're so open that Zach always jokes that it seems like Damon and Eddie are dating rather than Damon and him, though that always results in Damon and Eddie both gagging, the two of them seeing one another as brothers more than anything.

"You're going back to keep a promise you made as a kid to friends you didn't even remember until one of them called? Eddie, you have to see why I'm concerned here. I know you've been doing a lot better with spontaneity in the past few years, but this would be too spontaneous even for me! If you're so dead set on this, can Zach and I at least come with you? I want to make sure these people aren't taking advantage of you." At Damon's request, Eddie pulls away, fire returning to his eyes.

"No. You and Zach stay here. It'll be dangerous and I don't want either of you involved. This is my fight, my trauma, not yours." As he walks back to the suitcase, Eddie squares his shoulders, his movements becoming much more controlled than before. He starts sorting through the clothes he haphazardly threw in his suitcase and begins sorting them, only placing specific items back into the bag. Most of the clothes that make the cut are Eddie's workshop clothes- outfits that he doesn't mind getting messy with grease and sweat. One nicer outfit makes the cut- a royal blue button down that Zach always insists compliments Eddie's complexion and a grey pair of skinny jeans that has resulted in many a man flirting with Eddie when Damon and Zach have taken him clubbing. Eddie never takes any of the men up on their flirtations, but Damon still wonders if he has an agenda in packing them for this trip.

As Eddie sorts and packs, Damon remains frozen, unsure what to say in the face of Eddie's vehement insistence that he has to go to Derry alone. He knows that to push the issue would be counterintuitive of him, since he's happy for Eddie to assert himself and what he wants in their daily lives, yet he wishes this isn't how he chose to do so. He supposes that's the point of being assertive, though.

When it appears that Eddie is all packed, he pauses for a moment, looking uncertain. Slowly, he walks over to his bedside table and opens the drawer, pulling out his inhaler and placing it gently into the front pocket of the suitcase. Damon hasn't seen Eddie use the thing in well over a year at this point, and it's been much longer than that since Eddie was using it regularly. It took Eddie a while to wean off of it, even once he discovered that the contents, along with all of his other medications, were placebos. The fact that he feels like he needs to take it on this trip means that he's really worried about backsliding, which only heightens Damon's concern.

"Eddie…? You're going to be okay, right?" Damon doesn't know what to make of the expression that crosses Eddie's face- it looks to be part hope, part fear, and part desperation.

"I'll do my best to make sure of it." He looks grim as he picks up his suitcase. "I crashed my car when Mike called. Can you drive me to the airport?" He starts walking out of the room and down the stairs at the question, leaving Damon boggled. He steels himself, knowing that he'll drive Eddie to the airport and will support him in his decisions, even if it makes him worry. He refuses to be another person who controls Eddie because he's afraid for him.

He follows Eddie, making his way downstairs and outside. The drive to the airport is eerily silent, neither man sure what to say. When they arrive, Damon hugs Eddie tightly to himself across the console. "Take care of yourself, please. I don't know what you're getting yourself into, but I don't know if I've ever seen you this afraid, and you've got me scared. I love you and Zach loves you- you're our family and if you get hurt, we'll follow you to Derry and kick ass, okay?" Damon feels himself tear up and he clutches Eddie tighter. He wishes he knew what was happening. He wishes Eddie hadn't booked a flight so soon. He wishes Eddie never got that call. But it's too late to change any of that now, and he just has to hope for the best.

"I love you both too, and I'll do my best to come home." Eddie pulls Damon in tight before exiting the car, giving a small wave as he walks away. Damon watches until Eddie enters the airport before driving home. It's going to be a long few days.

**************************************

The next day at work is strange. Damon doesn't remember the last time Eddie had ever called in, as he didn't even miss a day of work during his divorce, and his explanation of "family emergency" has the office gossips in a tizzy.

Eddie and Damon tend not to publicize their friendship in the office, so Damon still gets a front row seat to everything people are saying about his best friend that day. Most of it is the usual office gossip, but the commentary Damon overhears between two of their coworkers in the breakroom is particularly vicious. He hovers outside the room, listening in, afraid that they might try to involve him were he to enter. He can't identify the speakers by their voices alone, but the first speaker sounds male and the second seems to be female.

"Do you think someone died?"

"Maybe he ran off to elope!"

"As if! Who would want to marry Kaspbrak? There's no way that man has a single romantic bone in his body. He's a grumpy divorcee with a superiority complex. No, whatever this is, it certainly isn't a happy occasion. Someone's died."

Damon has to grit his teeth to stop himself from speaking up. He knows that Eddie has high standards and that he hasn't become more social with their coworkers even since the divorce, but that doesn't excuse them talking about him like this. He thinks he could have stayed quiet if they hadn't kept going.

"Have you ever met a man with a stick so far up his ass? I mean, he's undeniably attractive, but it's ruined by that scowl that never seems to leave his face."

"He never comes to work parties with everyone. It's like he thinks he's better than us."

"Well he certainly doesn't think of us as people. Did you hear he made Delores cry last week? She won't even walk past his office now!"

"What a jackass. I hope they fire him for calling in like this. No one wants to handle his nightmare clients while he's gone."

This was the straw that broke the camel's back. Damon immediately turns the corner and walks into the break room, looking livid.

The man and woman in the room, who he now recognizes as Phil and Velma, blanch upon seeing the look on his face.

"You okay there, Damon?" Phil asks, chuckling awkwardly.

"Repeat what you just said." Damon replies, deadpan.

Phil shuffles uncomfortably. "What do you mean?"

"The thing you just said about Eddie. Repeat it."

"Man, Damon, Kaspbrak's a dick. Don't act like you don't know it. I just meant that I think the office vibe would be a lot more chill if he wasn't around." Phil shrugs as he responds, but he still looks nervous, as if Damon's demeanor is confusing him.

"Uh huh. And you, Velma. What were you saying about Delores?" He turns his eyes to the woman and she physically flinches.

"He… last week. Delores got called into Kaspbrak's office and he yelled at her so much that she cried. She's terrified of him now. Are you okay, Damon? You aren't usually this intense." Velma scratches her face with a single finger as she speaks, unwilling to look Damon in the eye.

"Am I okay? Yeah, I'm fine. Just stressed. Out of curiosity, did Delores tell you why Eddie yelled at her so much?" He steps closer as he talks, now within arms length of the two.

Velma looks up at him from underneath her bangs as she answers. She still seems nervous, but there's a rebellious glint in her eyes. "No. But it doesn't matter. Nothing could excuse treating her that way."

"Nothing, huh? How about costing a client nearly a hundred thousand dollars by making a filing mistake? Do you think that possibly would merit yelling at someone? Especially when Eddie is the one who had to be yelled at by the client for two hours first? Do you think that maybe makes his fifteen minute lecture for Delores a little more understandable when management wanted to fire her for that mistake?" Damon keeps his eyes on Velma's as he rants, watching confusion and then regret cross her expression.

"Oh… is that really what happened?" She asks quietly.

"Yes. Obviously Delores didn't want to look bad so she didn't share that tidbit with you. But I think both of you-" at this, he looks over at Phil as well "might respect Eddie a little more if you actually considered the reasons behind his actions. Eddie has some of the most demanding clients we have on the books, and he protects everyone else who works with them from bearing the brunt of their anger. So if he yells at someone for a little while? It's likely that the client yelled at him for at least twice as long, and then Eddie probably had to stick his neck out to management for whoever made the mistake. He can't hold everyone's hands all the time- he has to trust that people can do their work. And if being kind won't get the job done and they still make mistakes, yelling is the most efficient way he knows to make sure that the lesson sticks. Have you noticed that his team has the lowest turnover rate in the company? If he's so miserable to work with, why is that? As for the work parties- I don't go either, if you hadn't noticed. Being a jackass isn't the only reason not to go. Some of us have social anxiety that makes those sorts of things really difficult. Of course you'd never consider that Eddie has anything like that going on in his personal life, though." With that closing point, Damon turns and struts out of the room. He hears quiet apologies following him from both Phil and Velma, but he isn't the one they should be apologizing to. He just hopes they spread the word that people should give Eddie a little more slack when he gets back.

Eddie has always asked Damon not to stick up for him at work, but Damon figures that Eddie can't really be upset at him for what he does when the other man isn't in the office. Chuckling to himself at the thought of dealing with Eddie's righteous fury, he walks into his office, feeling a little less stressed.

**************************************

That night, Damon gets a call from Eddie. He picks up before it can ring more than once. Zach shoots him a look from next to him on the couch, so he puts it on speakerphone immediately.

"Eddie! Did your flight go okay? Were your other childhood friends there, or were you the only one to go back?" Damon has many more questions, but Zach pinches his leg in warning before he can continue. He sighs, but tilts his head in acknowledgement that it won't do him any good to overload Eddie with queries.

On the other end of the line, Eddie sounds tired, but there is an underlying happiness in his tone as he replies. "Flight was about as bad as you'd expect, but that's not anything new. As for my friends, they all made it." Damon can hear a smile in Eddie's voice as he continues, "They all look just like I would have imagined once I remembered them. Turns out we all forgot one another- something about the typical strangeness of Derry at work- but it felt like we'd never been apart when we all started talking again at dinner. Bev and Ben still made doe eyes at one another, Bill still tried to corral everyone and make us talk business, Mike still stayed on the fringe to watch the rest of us, and Stan still helped me give Richie absolute hell for his stupid jokes. Can't believe I forgot him, maybe if he'd have told his own jokes and not used a fucking ghost writer…" the last sentence sounds unfocused, as if Eddie didn't even mean to say it aloud. After a moment of hesitation, he continues. "It's really nice being back with everyone. I don't know how long I'll stay, but even if I go, seeing them all like this was worth the trip."

Zach and Damon share a smile, glad that Eddie is at least having a good time despite his dramatic departure. "Have you fulfilled the promise you made, then?" Zach asks, having gotten the necessary backstory from Damon when he got home that afternoon.

Eddie sighs. "Mike says by coming back we've fulfilled the promise, but it really doesn't feel like it. I'll see how tomorrow goes, then I'll decide if I'm staying to help or not."

"Well, if you need us to come help with anything, just let us know. We really wouldn't mind." Damon replies, hoping that maybe now that he's actually facing whatever personal demons lie in Derry, he'll be more inclined to take the offer of support.

"No, no. You two stay home. This will only take a few days either way." Damon hangs his head, hopes dashed.

"If you're sure… be careful, Eddie."

"I will. I'll talk to you tomorrow night if I can. Love you guys."

"Love you too." Zach and Damon echo.

After the call drops, the two men look at one another.

"You see what I mean? Please?" Damon implores.

"Fine. But we'll just be close-by. I refuse to act any more like that mother of his than we have to. That would be unfair of us."

Damon punches his fist in the air as he runs off to pack an overnight bag. Zach rolls his eyes at his partner's enthusiasm. He hadn't been home to see Eddie that afternoon, but he couldn't help but agree with Damon that this trip to Derry seems incredibly out of character. That, along with Eddie's returning memories, is causing a bad feeling to settle at the pit of his gut. Staying in Bangor for a few days won't be the end of the world. And if nothing bad happens in Derry, Eddie will never even need to know they followed him. They don't intend to act like his mother and try to stop Eddie from doing anything dangerous, but they'll sure as hell be there to pick up the pieces if Eddie needs them afterwards.

**************************************

Settling into the motel in Bangor, Damon looks at his phone anxiously. "I'd really hope he would have called for the night by now."

Zach takes away Damon's cell, placing it on the bedside table. "He'll call when he can- watching it won't change anything."

Damon groans as he jumps onto the bed, splaying out across the sheets. "I know that you're right, but I still have a bad feeling about this. Something in the air smells wrong here, and we aren't even all the way in Derry, just the outskirts."

Zach silently agrees with Damon's description, though he knows that acknowledging such a thing will only make the other man worry more, so he doesn't deign to reply.

After some more griping, he convinces Damon that they should go to sleep, after allowing him to turn his ringtone up to max volume so they'll be awoken if Eddie calls.

They sleep for a few hours, but shortly after midnight Damon gets a call. He fumbles around in the dark for a moment, but grabs the phone, answering the call without checking caller ID.

"Eddie?" He chokes out huskily.

"Mr. Peters? This is Nurse Roslyn from Derry Medical. I'm calling because you're Edward Kaspbrak's emergency contact." At her words, Damon feels ice creep down his spine and he sits up, suddenly wide awake. Zach blinks up at him, eyes bleary as he tries to wake up.

"Yes, I'm Damon Peters. What's wrong with Eddie?" Suddenly, Zach sits up as well, having joined him in being fully awake upon hearing Damon's tone and question. He gestures frantically for Damon to put the phone on speaker, but Damon simply makes a "cut it out" gesture, not trusting his trembling fingers not to hang up the call on accident.

"Mr. Kaspbrak has a stab wound through the left cheek and he's been impaled, his friends claim the injury was caused by a beam from a collapsing building. We've just finished his first surgery for the chest wound, and he's stable for now, but we need your permission to further treat the stab wound in his face since he isn't awake to consent and the wound isn't life-threatening."

Damon starts nodding his head before she even finishes, and upon realizing she can't see him, replies. "Yes, absolutely, do whatever he needs. What's the hospital address? I can be there shortly."

The nurse relays an address, Damon flying across the bed to grab a pad of paper and a pen to write it down. He repeats the address back, and after receiving confirmation that he recorded it correctly, ends the call.

"We're going to Derry." He says to Zach as he hops out of bed, throwing clothes on and collecting all their personal effects as quickly as he can. He explains the situation, as much knowledge as he gained from the call, as they drive to the hospital. Luckily, Derry is small enough that the drive only takes fifteen minutes, even with them not staying within the city limits.

Zach parks the car as close as he can get to the entrance when they arrive- luckily there are only a handful of other cars in the parking lot. The two men make eye contact quickly before nodding and exiting the car, communicating silently that they can handle this together. They clutch at one another's hands as they walk in, uncaring what any small town bigots may have to say about it when they need one another's comfort. As they walk towards the front desk, Damon takes the lead. There are only a few people in the waiting room, a mother and her child off to the left and a group of six adults murmuring to one another in the corner on the right. Damon clears his throat to attract the attention of the front desk attendant.

She looks up at him, a blasé expression on her face. She quirks an eyebrow in question. "Can I help you?"

"Hi, I'm Eddie Kaspbrak's emergency contact. I received a call a few minutes ago saying that he's out of surgery?" At Eddie's name, Zach notices the eyes of the adults in the corner all zone in on him and Damon. Damon is too focused on the nurse to see their reaction.

The attendant sighs as she pulls up the relevant file. "Yes, he's in room B16. Visiting hours are over, so ordinarily you wouldn't be allowed to see him, but since you're acting as his medical power of attorney you can head back to his room. Just don't disturb the other patients on your way." She points towards the entrance to the back as she speaks. Damon immediately begins walking that way, dragging Zach along with him.

Right as they reach the doors towards the patient rooms, the crowd from the corner stops them. "You're h-h-here for E-eddie?" One of them asks, stuttering. He's short, even more so than Eddie, and he has red hair. He's covered in dirt. In fact, looking at the group, all of them seem to have grime and blood all over their faces and clothes. Seeing them all together, and recognizing the stutter from Eddie's description of his friend Bill, Damon realizes that these must be Eddie's childhood friends. He feels rage boil in him as he looks at them, guilt written across their faces.

"Which one of you is Mike?" Damon asks, voice flat. A tall, broad shouldered man raises his hand. His hair is greying, and he looks older than the rest- more tired and worn out by life. He is the only African American among them.

Damon clenches his teeth, doing his best not to lash out. Zach squeezes his hand, prompting Damon to take a deep breath.

"I'm trying very hard not to yell at you right now, because I know Eddie wouldn't want me to do that. Really, I'd love to punch you in the face for bringing him here and getting him hurt, but I know that staying was his choice and you aren't to blame for that. But what happened to him? Why was he in a collapsing building? Why didn't he remember anything about his childhood? What is wrong with this town?!" Demon's voice peaks at the last question, Zach knocking their shoulders and shooting him a look, seeing that the front desk attendant won't put up with their shenanigans for long.

Eddie's friends all look at the floor at his questioning, seeming unwilling, or perhaps unable, to answer. After a moment, Bill speaks up again, seemingly acting as the de facto leader. There's a fire in his eyes and his stutter is practically gone as he speaks. "There is a lot wrong with Derry, but the worst of it is gone now. Eddie helped us make sure of that. As for what happened to him- he was impaled and we couldn't stop it. Do the details really matter?" At the words "we couldn't stop it," one of the group, a tall man with curly hair and glasses, chokes out a sob. Damon stares at him, momentarily distracted by how familiar he looks.

"Richie Tozier?!" He asks, flabbergasted. Zach chokes out a laugh, realizing Damon is right about the other man's identity.

"No wonder Eddie makes us watch his standup all the time." Zach replies.

"No, no, no, that's definitely because he's, as Eddie would say, 'far too fuckable for his own good,' but being childhood friends is a good reason too." At this, the two burst into laughter, glad to be reminded of the kinds of ridiculous things Eddie says when embarrassed, rather than thinking of him lying in a hospital bed, all alone.

When they finish their giggle fit and look back up at the group in front of them, expressions of shock reflected across all their faces. Richie, in particular, looks like he might cry. Damon and Zach glance at one another, baffled. "We didn't just out him, right? I mean, he's been out to everyone he knows for years now. I don't think he would mind us telling you, considering, but I'm surprised it didn't come up when you all shared details of your lives between childhood and now."

Seeing the concern on Damon's face, another of Eddie's friends speaks up. She's the only woman in the group, but she looks just as fierce as any of the men. "To be honest, we probably did a bad job of catching up. I'm sure he would have told us if we'd had more time. Most of us we're pretty certain he didn't like girls like that as kids, anyway. Personally, I was more surprised that you knew, and that he was so open about his attraction to Richie. He did his best to be circumspect about that when we were kids, though it still seemed pretty obvious even then." She looks fond, reminiscing about the memories, a small smile on her face. Most of the men are nodding their heads in agreement, though Tozier still looks flabbergasted, his eyes flicking from one friend to another as if betrayed. Before Damon can reply, she continues, "Oh! I'm Bev, by the way. Beverly Rog- err… Marsh. Sorry. In the process of a divorce." She scratches at her elbow, seeming uncomfortable at the admission. One of the men, a tall, handsome man who wouldn't look out of place on the cover of GQ, steps forward and wraps an arm around her.

"I'm Ben Hanscom. It's nice to meet you. Eddie spoke fondly of his roommates- it's good to put faces to names." At Ben's introduction, Eddie's other friends all seem to realize that they haven't introduced themselves.

"Hi, my name's Stanley Uris, but my friends call me Stan."

"I'm Mike Hanlon, though I suppose you already know that."

"Bill D-Denbrough, at your s-s-service."

"Richie 'Trashmouth' Tozier's the name and comedy is my game. And that's a wrap on members of The Losers Club. Glad someone can finally go back there and let us know how old Spaghetti Man is doing!"

"Beep beep, Richie!" Multiple members of the so-called "Losers Club" admonish. At their tone, Richie seems to deflate.

"Really though… please let us know how he's doing. They wouldn't tell us anything since none of us are on his medical records." His eyes look haunted at the admission.

Damon feels horrified. How long have Eddie's friends been here, waiting to hear anything from the medical team? He looks at Zach and the other man nods, already knowing what Damon intends to do. He lets go of his hand and walks over to the friend group, starting to make his own introductions and explaining what the nurse said to Damon during her call. While Zach keeps most of the Losers distracted, Damon grabs Richie's wrist and drags him through the double doors, hoping the woman at the front desk won't notice the switch. Richie fights the hold for a second until he realizes what Damon is doing, at which point he follows along meekly. He fills Richie in as they search for Eddie's room. Knowing that Eddie is stable has Richie tearing up again, so Damon looks away respectfully.

He wonders what the relationship between those two was as kids, though Eddie's attraction, Bev's commentary, and Richie's obvious attachment to Eddie makes it pretty clear that the two spent their youths pining after one another, and it seems Richie's feelings remain the same now that his memories are back. Damon doesn't exactly approve of Richie's comedy, but he'll give him a pass considering the ghostwriters Eddie mentioned and the fond exasperation in his tone while doing so. The few men Damon has ever seen Eddie humor with a date all looked like bad clones of Richie- Damon had teased him for having a type, but he's seeing the man who made the mold now. So even without seeing Eddie awake, he knows how Eddie feels about Richie. And he knows how self destructive Eddie can be. He decides then and there that, when Eddie wakes up, he won't let him hide from himself- he's going to make sure that Eddie has the happiest future imaginable after this.

With that in mind, he turns to Richie as they finally enter Eddie's hospital room.

"Eddie probably won't want to stay here for long. He hates hospitals, and waking up here will likely be incredibly triggering for him. There's a hospital back at home that he's more comfortable with, so as soon as he's as travel safe as he can be I'm going to have him transferred there. Even if I have to have him moved in a private helicopter, I want him to be comfortable when he wakes up." Damon sees the light dimming from Richie's eyes, so he knows he needs to continue quickly. "I don't know what your plans are after this- Eddie is the one who follows your career, not me- but if you aren't busy, would you want to come back to New York with us? You could stay in Eddie's room. He certainly won't be needing it until he's well enough to come home." Before he can even finish speaking, Richie pulls him in for a bone-crushing hug.

"You're sure you don't mind?" Richie asks as he pulls away, eyes squinting like he's ready to face rejection.

"Of course not! Eddie's miserable enough to deal with when sick- I'm sure he'll be a nightmare with an injury like that. Better there be three of us to deal with him rather than just Zach and me." Damon offers Richie an encouraging smile, certain that inviting him was the right choice. As the two men sit on either side of Eddie's hospital bed, Damon thinks that they're going to get through this alright.

**************************************

A month later, he questions if they're going to get through this alright.

Richie and Eddie are driving him absolutely insane as they tease one another, neither willing to admit their feelings. Damon promised himself he wouldn't push the issue during Eddie's recovery, but it's finally time for Eddie to be discharged from the hospital that afternoon, and Damon won't put up with it any more.

Which is why, despite promising that he would get an air mattress for Richie for the guest room so that Eddie can take his room back, he has instead done nothing of the sort. If sleeping together doesn't make the two talk, he'll give in and confront them in the morning.

On their way back from the hospital, Damon drives while Richie sits with Eddie in the backseat. The two men are bickering about whether or not Richie paid enough attention to the nurse demonstrating how to change Eddie's bandages, but it seems to Damon that both men are just using the argument as an excuse to touch one another to "demonstrate how it should be done." He tries to ignore them, but the constant movement in the rear view mirror is rather distracting. Luckily, the drive home isn't long, and soon enough Damon is pulling in to the driveway.

He makes sure Eddie makes it up the stairs to his bedroom alright before saying goodbye to the two men, not wanting to be alone in the house with them while they flirt. Knowing that they would be unbearable, he already made plans for dinner with Zach earlier in the day, so he makes his excuses and books it before Richie or Eddie can remember to ask about the air mattress.

He heads to pick Zach up from work, the other man having preemptively taken public transit that morning so they wouldn't have to worry about an awkward car shuffle situation on the way back from dinner. A few minutes after Zach joins him in the car, he receives the anticipated call from Eddie.

"Hey Eddie- everything alright? We don't need to take you back to the hospital already, right? I'll kick Richie's ass if he tried to wrestle with you and pulled your stitches." Damon hears Eddie choke out a laugh on the other end of the line.

"No, I'm fine. Richie's been on his best behavior." Damon hears Richie shout "Lies and slander!" In the background. Eddie sighs before continuing. "I was just wondering where you put the air mattress you bought? I wanted to go ahead and get it set up for Richie in the office so he doesn't whine about having to do it later."

"About that…" Damon replies. "I forgot."

"You WHAT?!" Eddie screeches. "Where is he supposed to sleep? You know how terrible our couch is on anyone's back, and even if it wasn't as hard as a rock, Richie's definitely too tall for it anyways. I can't drive, so I can't get us to the store, and Richie doesn't even have a car here, so he certainly can't go to the store to get one. You'll have to pick one up on the way home from dinner. It's the only solution." Eddie sounds incredibly put out with this conclusion, but his tone brokers no argument. Damon argues anyway.

"Eddie, I love you like a brother, but there is no chance in hell I am braving the store again after dinner tonight. The way I see it, we have two options. Richie can just sleep with you since you have a king bed anyways, or since I'm the one who forgot to get the air mattress, I'll put him up in a hotel room for a night. He'd probably enjoy a night to get away from all our bullshit anyway. I can't imagine he isn't sick of hearing mine and Zach's nighttime tv shows and early morning playlists."

Eddie hesitates before replying. "I guess you're right. He's probably sick of all of us at this point." Damon hears Richie squawk indignantly at that statement. "I'll see what he wants to do." Eddie's speech is muffled as he pulls away from the phone to talk to Richie, but Damon can still make out most of their conversation.

"He forgot to buy the air mattress."

"I gathered- what was that about me getting sick of you, Spagheds? You know I want to be around you as much as I can."

"Yeah, but Damon pointed out that maybe you'd want a night away from all of us? He offered to put you up in a hotel for the night so you can relax without us and not have to deal with sharing a bed with me."

"Sharing a- is that the other option? Hotel or sleeping here with you?"

"Um… if you want to, yeah? I wouldn't mind, but I've been told I'm not a pleasant partner to have in bed, and I'm sure you don't want to listen to me tossing and trying to get comfortable with the bandages all night. Plus, I have a tendency to cuddle? I wouldn't want to make you uncomfortable."

"Eds, you can cuddle me all night long if you want." There is a pause, after which Richie continues. Damon wishes he could see either of their facial expressions during this discussion. "Really- I'd be fine sharing a bed. We did it all the time with a much smaller bed as kids, yeah?"

"You're sure you aren't getting sick of us? I'd really understand if you need to get away for a night. Or for longer than that, even. I know I've been… a handful while in the hospital. Those places just bring out the worst in me."

"Eddie…" even muffled, Richie's voice sounds tender as he continues "I know I joke about loving Mrs. K, but I remember how often she dragged you to the hospital. Even as a kid I hated her for putting you through that. So I understand more than anyone why medical facilities freak you out so much. I promise it hasn't bothered me, being here to support you while you've recovered. I chose to be here, yeah? It isn't like Damon and Zach bribed me to stay and keep an eye on you or something. I wanted to come and help. I didn't want to go home, because that would mean being somewhere I couldn't see you every day. So no, I'm not getting sick of you, and you can tell Damon that I don't need his hotel room- I'm getting a full serving of Spaghetti cuddles tonight."

"Okay." Eddie's voice sounds choked as he replies, and Damon thinks he hears a sniffle, though he couldn't say which man the noise originated from.

"Damon? You still there?" Suddenly Eddie's voice is much clearer- he's speaking directly into the phone again. Damon wonders if he realizes how much of that conversation he had overheard, and decides to pretend that the speaker wasn't strong enough to pick it up.

"Yup! So am I making a booking?"

"No, um. We'll be alright for tonight. Don't worry about it." Eddie's voice is soft, as if embarrassed to actually say that he and Richie will be sharing a bed.

"Okay, well, let me know if he changes his mind! We're at the restaurant, though, so I'd better go. Let me know if you need anything, though."

"Yeah, alright. Tell Zach I said to enjoy date night and that he's my favorite since you're a forgetful idiot."

"Love you too, buddy. You enjoy your date night, too. Don't do anything I wouldn't do!" Damon quickly hangs up before Eddie can respond. He looks over at Zach to see his fiance rolling his eyes, which only makes his smirk widen.

"Phase one complete." He tells Zach, smug.

"And if phase two doesn't go to plan?"

"Then I'll tell them both to their faces that they're idiots and are in love with one another and they need to work their shit out or we'll be staying in a hotel room until they're tolerable to be around again."

Zach just sighs, but Damon knows he secretly approves by the way the other man squeezes his hand as they walk into the restaurant together.

**************************************

Upon returning home that night, Zach and Damon immediately retreat to their bedroom, not wanting to disturb the couple in Eddie's room. They go to bed quickly and quietly, hoping to wake to their scheme yielding the intended result. Zach isn't hopeful, but Damon maintains enough optimism for both of them.

"Are you really going to confront them if neither of them confesses?" Zach murmurs.

"I don't know… I think I should. It's obvious how much they care for one another, and the way they look at one another makes it clear it's romantic, so I know that I wouldn't be lying to them, but I also don't want to push them too far. If they aren't ready, I understand that- they've both been through a lot recently- but I get the feeling if they don't say it soon they'll get too deep in their heads about it. I just want Eddie to be happy, and I think you'd agree that, even though we haven't known Richie very long, I'd like him to be happy as well."

"I don't think Richie's had a lot of that. Remember that first night we were watching his standup with Eddie?"

Damon nods.

"Well, I don't remember what I said exactly, but I know I commented on what a closet case he was, and while I feel like an asshole for being so blunt about it, the underlying sentiment behind my statement was valid. Richie has obviously been hiding from himself for a long time. Did you notice how reluctant he was to touch any of us when we first brought him up here to help with Eddie? How he'd obviously start to lean in only to flinch away? And all the time he'd start to say something serious only to crack a joke. I don't think Richie was just closeted in that he wasn't out as being gay- I think he hid his whole personalitt from himself. It seems like he didn't let himself get close to anyone. He hasn't spoken to anyone on the phone that I've seen other than his manager and The Losers in the past month- is there no one from his life before returning to Derry that cares enough to want to hear from him? So yes, I want Richie to be happy, but I think he's going to be just as lost, if not moreso, than Eddie was when you first started befriending him. I know I wasn't there for the first part of you and Eddie getting close, but was he like this too?"

Damon hums, considering the question. "Eddie seemed adrift, but he was lost in a different way than Richie. I think Richie knows who he is but is flinching away from it, but Eddie had taken his true self and hidden it away so deep that he didn't even recognize it himself at first. To be safe with his mother and Myra, I think that's what he had to do- if he knew the desires he had buried deep down, they would have hurt him too much to go on. So he convinced himself that he was actually whatever they wanted him to be. It's why he was so reluctant to go out and spend time with me at first. He legitimately didn't think he needed any human interaction. Richie knows that he needs it but is afraid to ask for it. I'd like to say that my experience with Eddie will be helpful in convincing Richie that we're comfortable with him showing us as much of himself as he wants, but this is really a completely different problem even though it stems from similar trauma."

Zach grumbles, turning over and pulling Damon into his chest so he can spoon the other man. Damon scoots closer and rests his hand alongside Zach's on his chest.

"Do you really think barging in and making them bare themselves will really help them be more comfortable with one another and with us in the long run?"

Damon pouts, though he knows Zach can't see it. "No, I suppose not. I just wish I could expedite their happiness. All their other friends have paired off already, you know? I want that for them too."

"But pressuring them isn't going to solve anything."

The only response Zach gets to his comment is a groan from the man in his arms. He laughs, smacking Damon lightly.

"Just think about it for me before saying anything in the morning, alright?"

"Fine, alright. I love you."

"I love you too. Sweet dreams."

As the two men drift off to sleep, Damon admits to himself that Zach is right. He won't push things, but that doesn't mean he won't try and meddle if it seems like neither man will ever make a move.

**************************************

When they wake up the next morning, there is music echoing throughout the house, seeming to originate from somewhere on the first floor. They creep downstairs, wanting to inspect the scene before deciding how to approach.

Eddie is standing at the stove, focusing intently on the pan of eggs in his hands. Next to him, Richie is dancing and lip-synching dramatically to the music. To the uninitiated outsider, it would look like the two men are both in their own worlds, but Damon sees how Richie stays close to Eddie as he dances around, his eyes constantly aimed at the other man in case he has to step in and support him, and how Eddie, despite his focus on cooking, darts his eyes over to Richie every few seconds, a small smile on his face at the other man's antics.

Eddie is wearing his usual sleep attire- a massive sleep shirt and boxers, and Richie is in sweatpants and a tank top, which is more clothing than he'd been wearing to bed while Eddie was in the hospital. During the previous month, Damon or Zach would often come downstairs in the morning to find Richie clad only in a pair of boxers as he rifled through the fridge. Damon mentally makes note of the fact that he decided to be more modest in front of Eddie. Based on that alone, he suspects that a confession still hasn't occurred, and he feels comfortable walking into the kitchen unannounced, his fiance trailing behind him.

Richie spots him immediately, and shouts a "Morning boys!" before continuing his performance. Eddie just glances up with a smile, looking more peaceful than Damon's seen him since before he left for Derry. The happiness on Eddie's face causes a weight to lift from Damon's chest- he hadn't realized how worried he was that regaining his childhood memories would really set Eddie back, especially after his time in the hospital, but just seeing his happiness to be home, Damon feels that Eddie will be alright after all.

They all have an enjoyable breakfast that morning, sitting together at the kitchen table, before Damon poses a question that's been worrying him.

"When do you think you'll be able to come back to work, Eddie? I mean, you were seriously hurt, and I know our job isn't exactly low stress… are you going to be able to come back? Do you even want to?"

Eddie looks pensive for a moment, and his eyes look towards Richie so fast Damon isn't even really sure he saw it. "I want to go back. I can't explain why, but I get a lot of personal satisfaction from what we do, even if it's stressful. I was actually thinking I could go back next week."

"Next week?!" All three men shout in response. Richie seems the most incensed, standing up and knocking his chair to the floor at Eddie's proclamation.

"Eds, you can't go back to work next week! You just left the hospital- what if you're too weak or you need to rest in the middle of the day? You can't just jump back into work like that!" Eddie glares stubbornly at Richie.

"I can and I will! What else am I supposed to do, laze around the house all day? I'm tired of being confined to a bed nearly all day- I want to be productive again. And I refuse to sit here alone all day every day- at least there are people in the office." He growls out the last sentence, looking away from everyone as he finishes.

"What the fuck do you mean alone? What am I, chopped liver?" Richie exclaims.

"You? Richie, I can't ask you to stay here with me. I know you have a home and a job back in LA, and I won't ask you to keep putting off going back to your life and your career for me. I know you must have to go home." Richie can't see Eddie's face, but Damon can, and the tears shining in Eddie's eyes are clear from where Damon is sitting. This feels like a private moment he shouldn't be witnessing, but the two men started arguing in front of him, so there's no retreat now.

"What life? What career? Fuck man, what home? I have no friends in LA, I cancelled my tour when I left for Derry and I lost pretty much all my contacts for doing that, my reputation is shot because the media thinks me forgetting everything on stage was because of some drug bender, and I told Steve to sell my house when I first came here because I realized that I never wanted to go back to LA to be without you and the other Losers." Richie is nearly panting as he finishes his rant, having not stopped to take a breath through the whole speech. Eddie turned to look at him midway through, and the look on his face remains wrecked even after Richie stops talking.

"You… sold your house?" Eddie whispers.

"All that, and me selling my house is the part you choose to focus on, Spaghetti?" Richie smiles, but it looks fake.

"I just didn't know. I thought you were going to leave. I didn't want to assume that you wanted to stay as much as I wanted you here." Richie's mouth drops open at Eddie's rare demonstration of weakness.

"Eddie-baby, of course I want to stay. I love you. I mean, you in the sense of you and the Losers. The general you. Yeah. But I want to be wherever I can be to see all of you. And LA is so far from everyone. So I figured I should just… move to New York since you and Bev are here and I think Ben is going to move here too once he and Bev are done hiding in Nebraska during her divorce? And I think Mike said he wanted to settle in New York outside of NYC after he finishes his road trip. If Bill doesn't come back here after filming wraps on Attic Room I would be surprised. Stan is the only holdout, and Patty is definitely going to convince him to join us. So… I don't want to be the only one not nearby."

Eddie's face drops at the last sentence. "So it isn't you wanting to be here. It's just you not wanting to be left out."

Richie immediately looks panicked. "No! That's not what I'm saying either! Fuck, Eds, why are you making this so complicated? I just don't want to be anywhere you aren't, okay? Everyone else being here is just a bonus. And I know I can't stay here forever- I'll have to house hunt, and I'm sorry for taking advantage of your place this long, but I just want to be here for you. I don't even want to let you out of my sight, really. Not in a creepy way like your mom! I just. Damn it. I just mean that I want to be here all the time for if you need me. But I don't want to hover or prevent you from doing anything. If you really want to go back to work I won't try to stop you- I'll be there in your corner! I want to be available, that's all." Richie looks ready to spontaneously combust as he finishes, his face bright red from embarrassment at all his slip ups.

"Then stay." Eddie responds, the glint in his eyes as he looks up at Richie immediately familiar to Damon. It's the look he always gets when he's ready to face a particularly difficult challenge- when he's preparing himself to do something torturous and come out the victor.

"Stay… where?" Richie doesn't seem to have noticed the glint that was immediately evident to Damon- he just looks confused.

"In New York. In our house. With me. Stay."

"Eddie… how do you mean that? I can't answer unless I know how you mean that. Because that sounds like… I need you to be clear." An aura of fear hovers around him as he responds- he looks ready to bolt any second if Eddie doesn't respond how he expects.

"Idiot. You've got to know how I mean it. Stay with me. Every day from now on. It can always be just like yesterday- spending the day together and then going to sleep together."

Richie starts to cry as he covers his face with his hands, but it still doesn't look like Eddie's response was enough. He still looks afraid. "Eddie. Eds. I need you to say it. I won't believe it unless you say it."

Eddie sighs, standing up slowly as if to not spook Richie away. He pulls Richie's hands away from his face and replaces them with his own on both of Richie's cheeks, tilting the taller man's face down so he has to look Eddie in the eye. "Richie Tozier. I have been in love with you for as I can remember. I loved you when we were kids and you set my arm in Neibolt and I loved you as adults when you tried to save me in the cavern. I love you now when you're trying so hard not to reveal too much of yourself to me because you're afraid of overwhelming me. But you don't have to be afraid. I can take your love- I can handle every ounce of it. I need all the love I can get. So give it to me, okay?" At this, Eddie starts to tear up, his fear finally showing. Damon knows that he had pointed out some of Richie's more revealing behaviors to Eddie, but he's incredibly proud that Eddie is feeling confident enough that he accepts how Richie feels about him without even needing to hear it. Even a year ago, Damon doesn't think Eddie would have been able to see such a thing without hearing the words directly from Richie multiple times. Eddie has made so much progress, and Damon knows that he'll only continue to grow more self-assured with time as he works through more of the issues caused by his mother.

Richie's reaction after Eddie's confession is slow, as if he's afraid Eddie is an illusion that will vanish like smoke if he disrupts him. His hands rise from his sides and wrap around Eddie's waist, pulling the two of them flush against one another. He's practically whispering as he responds. "I've always loved you. Since the first day I saw you when you yelled at me for not coughing into my elbow properly and grabbed me to show me how to do it right. I knew then that you were special, but I don't think I ever could have imagined how much you mean to me. I love you so so much Eddie baby." Richie kisses Eddie on the top of the head as he finishes, hiding his face in his hair. Damon suspects he just doesn't want Eddie to see the depth of emotion in his eyes, but he knows that Eddie will help Richie get comfortable enough that he's willing to be fully vulnerable eventually.

After a few minutes of being wrapped around one another, whispering things that are too quiet for him to make out, Richie and Eddie retreat from their own world and glance around the room. Richie looks mortified as he realizes that their entire confession had an audience. Eddie just looks a little embarrassed.

"Sorry about that. I just couldn't wait to say it. I'm sure you two understand- I've walked in on you in compromising situations enough." At that, Zach and Damon both smirk, prompting Eddie to roll his eyes. Richie seems to calm down considerably upon realizing that neither man is upset at what they'd witnessed.

"Yeah, yeah. Go relish in your new relationship. Don't worry about us. I feel like I should say something along the lines of 'if you hurt him, I'll hurt you,' but I just can't see one or you hurting the other. So instead I'll say that we aren't opposed to you living with us for as long as you want, Richie. We've kept Eddie here this long, so we might as well pull you in too." Richie tears up again at the welcome, and just nods in response. Eddie chuckles as he grabs him by the hand and drags him upstairs.

Damon opens his mouth to comment, but before he can get a word out Zach cuts him off. "Don't say it." Damon smirks- he's going to say it.

"My plan worked." Zach sighs, knowing that he can't even refute Damon's statement.

"Fine, them sleeping together was enough to push them towards the confession. You don't have to be so smug about it, though."

Damon just laughs at the pout on his fiance's face. Everything is working out and he couldn't ask for anything more.

**************************************

Entering into a relationship with Richie leaves Eddie as happy as Damon has ever seen him. Over the next week, he often comes home to see the two men snuggled together on the couch, a lazy smile on Eddie's face. Often, Eddie will wave him over to join them, and he'll hop on the end of the couch, letting Eddie's feet rest on his lap. Eventually once Zach gets home each night all four of them end up in a cuddle pile on the couch. Part of Damon had worried that Eddie entering into a relationship would necessitate a change in the nature of their friendship, but it seems that Richie is just as content with the way they act together as Zach has always been. Damon would have understood if things needed to change, but this is really the ideal scenario- instead of getting further from Eddie he's getting closer to Richie.

Now that Richie has been offered a permanent place in their home, he's quicker with a joke than ever. Damon thought he had seen the real Richie during his month staying with them while Eddie was hospitalized, but Richie has opened up so much more over the past week that Damon has to wonder how much he was holding himself back before. The Richie he sees now laughs freely, touches everyone in the house constantly, and makes all sorts of terrible "your mom" jokes. Seeing the real Richie has really allowed Damon to understand what Eddie loves about him- he's a jokester, but he listens intently whenever Eddie speaks; he acts brash, but he doesn't know how to take a compliment; he's loud, but it's only because he's afraid to be perceived. He compliments Eddie in a lot of ways, and Damon really enjoys seeing how the two of them play off of one another.

Damon thought he and Zach were happy living with Eddie, but after only a week he can't imagine ever going back to just the three of them. Richie is the puzzle piece he never realized they were missing. Luckily, it seems like Richie has no intentions of ever leaving. He's attached himself to Eddie at the hip and yes, perhaps the two of them are a little codependent already, but Damon thinks they're happy to be that way. He only wonders how Richie will handle it when Eddie goes back to work next week.

As the four of them lay together on the couch that Saturday, he decides to ask. "Are you really feeling ready to go back to work, Eds?"

"Don't call me Eds! Ugh, Richie, I cannot believe you use that nickname enough that other people are picking up on it." Eddie, from his position with his head in Richie's lap, reaches up to pinch the larger man in the side upon seeing his smirk. Richie yelps before responding.

"C'mon Eddie-Baby, I think it's cute that your family is picking up on all your nicknames." He ruffles Eddie's hair as he speaks, smiling all the while. Eddie grumbles, pouting for a moment before addressing Damon's original question.

"Yeah, I think it'll be fine. Will be good to get away from this idiot for a while every day, at least." He points a thumb at Richie. The other man gasps in mock offence.

"Moi? How dare you? Maybe I'll find some other small angry man to spend my afternoons with- how would you like that?"

"As if anyone else could put up with you like I do."

"I made it twenty-seven years without you! You want to bet that no one else would put up with me? I'll bet Benverly would be happy to have me."

"Yeah, maybe for a week before they call me and beg me to come get you. But it's alright- I wouldn't want you anywhere else anyway." Eddie gives a soft smile at the admission, wrapping up the teasing for the time being.

Richie freezes with his mouth open, having to stop himself from uttering a comeback immediately. Damon chuckles at the twitterpated expression on his face.

"So you think you can handle going back, then? Not going to be too much incompetence in one place for you?" Zach steers the conversation back on track.

"Oh, I'm sure I'm going to want to kill Delores when I see the status of the Johnson account after a month without my intervention, but it'll be worth it to be productive again. If it's too bad I can always take a long lunch. I still have time off saved up from never taking a vacation and they can't stop me from using it if I need it for medical reasons unless they want me to slap them with a lawsuit quicker than they can say 'medical leave.'"

"I don't know- they've all been scrambling without you. They may be happy enough to have you back that they stay on their best behavior for a while. They've been running around like chickens with their heads cut off the whole time you've been gone. I don't think they realized just how much you spoke to the clients to keep them off everyone else's ass." Damon chuckles, thinking of how much everyone in the office has come to appreciate Eddie over the past month and a half. The number of complaints about what a hard ass he is declined dramatically the longer Eddie was on medical leave. Damon doesn't think he's heard a single insult in well over a week. Part of that might also have been due to him ripping Phil and Velma a new one before taking his own week off to go to Derry and get Eddie transferred back to New York, but he hopes that most of the shift is due to everyone finally appreciating all of Eddie's hard work. Quite frankly, he thinks the whole office should spend the next year kissing Eddie's ass to apologize for the way they've always treated him. He thinks that prediction is a little optimistic, however deserved it would be.

"We'll see how it turns out. I'm not too worried." Ending the conversation, Eddie stands up and stretches. His mobility still isn't completely back to what it once was, but he isn't struggling with stairs as much anymore after a week at home and his physical therapist says he should be able to resume light jogs soon since he refused to remain completely inactive even while in the hospital. Damon is really proud of the progress he's made. He can't help but wonder what their coworkers will think of the new cheek scar- he's sure those reactions will be memorable even if the reactions to an obviously still recovering Eddie aren't. As Richie joins Eddie in climbing off the couch and the two men walk off to their bedroom, Damon smiles thinking about what will happen Monday morning.

**************************************

Damon and Eddie carpool on Monday, Eddie still not wanting to get behind the wheel too soon just in case. They arrive early so that Eddie can try and catch up on all the emails he missed while away- he had been checking some of them on his phone, but Damon had made him promise not to actually answer any until returning to the office, much to Eddie's chagrin.

After making sure Eddie is settled in his office alright, Damon makes his way to the breakroom, seeing no point in starting his own work so early and wanting to hear what people have to say upon realizing that Eddie is back.

The first few people to arrive are all unaffiliated with Eddie and his team, and Damon makes friendly small talk with them as they pour cups of coffee and make their way to their own offices. As far as members of Eddie's team go, the first Damon sees that morning is Roxas, the team's intern. He doesn't enter the break room immediately- Damon first sees him because he freezes outside the doorway, staring down the hallway. Damon presumes he has seen the light on under Eddie's door. After staring for a moment, he dashes into the breakroom, looking around wildly. He makes eye contact with Damon and rushes over immediately.

"Is Mr. Kaspbrak back today? Is he doing okay? Have you seen him?" He blurts out. Damon smiles at his enthusiasm. Roxas is actually one of the few people at the company other than Damon himself who likes Eddie. Maybe it's because the intern is still in college and is only twenty, but Eddie has always been more gentle with him than other members of his team, understanding that he is still learning and will be more prone to making mistakes. Roxas is always the first to apologize if he messes up as well, and almost never makes the same mistake twice, which is more than Damon can say for most of Eddie's other underlings. As such, Roxas seems quite excited at the prospect of Eddie being back to work, practically vibrating as he stands on the other side of Damon's table.

"Yeah kiddo, he's back. Got in early this morning. He's got a gnarly scar on his cheek, but I wouldn't comment on it. Still recovering from his other injuries too, so I wouldn't expect to see him outside of his office chair. He probably wouldn't mind you popping your head in to say hi though, as long as he isn't on a call." Roxas looks shocked at the mention of the scar, but nods rapidly at the idea that Eddie will likely remain in his office all day.

"Absolutely Mr. Peters! I'll be quick!" At that, he dashes out of the break room, presumably to Eddie's office. Damon hears a knock down the hall and a quiet "Come in!" so he assumes Eddie is at least going to have a pleasant first coworker experience of the day.

Unfortunately, the next of Eddie's team to make it in is Delores, who is one of the few who still seems sour on the other man, possibly because Damon outed her for her lies about Eddie's lecture. She doesn't even look in the direction of Eddie's office as she enters the break room, and Damon hopes it takes her a while to realize he's back as she stumbles back out of the room towards her own desk, coffee in hand.

More team members enter over the next half hour, but most either don't react to Eddie's return or at least don't notice until after they've already left the break room. Damon notes that the few people who do react all seem rather pleased, though he notes a distinct undertone of fear from some of them who are more prone to mistakes. Hopefully Eddie doesn't have to yell too much on his first day back.

As it gets to be closer to his official start time, Damon makes his way back to his office, shooting Eddie a quick message on the office slack system to let him know his observations and ask him how the morning has been so far.

"Hey! You holding up okay in there? I know Roxas popped his head in- get any more visitors this morning?"

"Everything's fine. Was nice to see Roxas- he seems happy I'm back, at least. Theresa, Rick, and Gavin popped their heads in as well just to say hi. I think Harry and Delores are probably hiding, but I'll get to the emails of whatever they did wrong while I was gone eventually."

"Yeah, I was going to say keep an eye on Delores. I may have mentioned her mess up the other month to Phil and Velma when they were complaining about you being a hardass and I think she's still a bit pissed about it."

"You know better than to stick up for me like that. We keep our friendship outside the office for a reason."

"A stupid reason. I don't give a shit if people see me differently for being associated with you. I hate hearing them talk about you like that."

"You know you shouldn't be cursing so much on slack. Management can screen these messages if they want."

"Fuck it. They can see me curse if they want. Not like they can fire me for it when you certainly won't complain about me doing it."

"Yeah, yeah. Anyway, it's easier for you to know what they're really saying about me if they don't know we're friends. And you know we'd both go crazy if we couldn't track that."

"Well, now that Roxas has been here for a while we could just ask him what they're saying about you. We've been hiding our friendship for years like we're in the closet or something. Isn't nearly dying supposed to make you want to stop hiding?"

"I wish you could see the withering look I am shooting at you right now. But I know you're right. I just also know how they feel about me and you know I want to protect you from that. They all like you so much." Damon might not be able to see or hear Eddie through the words on the screen, but he can still imagine the look Eddie is describing.

"If they don't like me because we're friends then they never really liked me to begin with. How many of these people do I actually see outside of the office? None of them but you. Plus, it's not like HR hasn't known we've lived together for years. Quite frankly I can't believe no one has figured out we're friends before now."

"Fine. We'll see. Maybe we can leave together today."

"You say that like we wouldn't have left together anyway since I'm your ride."

"You know what I mean. Publicly leave together."

"Thank you. I really am proud of how much more progress you've made in opening yourself up to people in the past month. I'm glad you're comfortable with all your loser friends knowing we're friends- surely our idiot coworkers can't be scarier than that." Damon can't hear Eddie from here since his office is the first door off the hallway right by the front desk and the other man's is at the end of the break room hallway leading in to the main part of the office, but he imagines this comment would make Eddie laugh.

"You're right. It's silly to keep something like being friends a secret anyway. I just don't want our coworkers to know me like that, but it's stupid not to be willing to open up a little. Admitting we're friends is a little easier than admitting I'm gay, I guess." Now Eddie is the one making Damon laugh- he can't help the bark of laughter that emerges at the comparison, covering his mouth quickly to prevent himself from making any more noise.

"Well, there's only one way to find out. We'll have to exit the friendship closet."

"Fine, fine. But you have to tell Roxas he's our eyes and ears for office gossip now."

"Deal." Damon closes the slack window, still chuckling at the idea of admitting their friendship being like coming out of the closet for Eddie. He knows that, though the official reason Eddie and Damon never displayed their friendship in the office was so Damon could listen in on Eddie's underlings without having to use stealth, the real reason has always been that Eddie has a hard time letting their coworkers know anything about his personal life. When he was married to Myra they all judged him for being so "whipped" and seeing the pity in their eyes during the divorce infuriated him, so Eddie didn't want to have to see any judgement from their coworkers on the nature of his and Damon's friendship. Damon knows that he's quite well-liked in the office, and Eddie is the office pariah, so if they had announced their friendship from the beginning people would have had all sorts of questions for Damon about Eddie and they would have treated Eddie as if Damon was only friends with him because he felt bad for him. Now, though, they've been best friends for nearly a decade, and have lived together almost as long, so no one will be able to question the validity of their friendship once they admit to it. They'll still have to answer questions about why they kept it quiet for so long, but Damon supposes that's merely the cost of secrecy. He finds that he's excited to be able to bother Eddie during the workday in person rather than over slack, however, and such thoughts keep a smile on his face until lunchtime.

**************************************

Lunchtime at the office is usually pretty hectic, people either rushing in and out the door to go pick up food, crowding into the break room to eat their packed lunches, or hovering near the front desk to grab their food from a delivery driver. As his office is so close to the front desk, the latter generally means that Damon has a hard time concentrating from the noise on days when he opts to take a later lunch. His office location is also why he notices when the front lobby suddenly goes eerily silent. Wondering what could have caused such a reaction, Damon exits the office and turns the corner only to see Richie, standing across from Velma at the front desk, gesticulating wildly as he asks where he might find Eds, a backpack slung over his shoulder. Everyone in the lobby, Velma included, are just staring at him in shocked silence. Sensing that no one is going to be able to pull themselves together enough to respond, Damon jumps in.

"Richie, what are you doing here?" Immediately the other man turns to him and his eyes light up. He walks over to him as soon as he recognizes the speaker.

"Well, I was bored at home and I realized that you and Spaghetti Head didn't pack lunches this morning! I would have made one for Zach too but I don't actually know where his office is. So anyway I spent some time digging around in the kitchen and taught myself how to make lasagna from a YouTube video! And I made some garlic bread and stuff too. It's all in here!" He shrugs his shoulder, indicating the backpack slung across his back.

"You got bored at home alone so you decided to learn to make lasagna?" Damon quirks an eyebrow.

"Yeah! I thought about making spaghetti but that seemed a little on the nose… I didn't want Eds kicking me out without even trying what I made!" Richie grins, looking pleased with himself, and Damon can't help the laugh that shakes his body.

"Alright, alright. I'll take you back to his office, then." Before turning around, Damon realizes that he should likely address the crowd. "Did he get signed in, Velma?" He directs to the secretary, pointing a thumb at Richie.

"He… no?" Velma still looks rather lost.

Damon looks at Richie expectantly. "Well, go sign your name then."

Richie's smile widens as he bounces back over to the front desk, signing his name on the visitor line with a flourish, adding the time for good measure. "Thanks!" He exclaims to Velma, making his way back over to Damon immediately. "Lead on, my good sir!"

Damon just shakes his head as he leads the way back to Eddie's office. The noise in the lobby explodes as soon as they turn the corner.

"Have fun making a scene?" He asks as they walk.

"Absolutely! Have to get my kicks in somewhere." Richie giggles.

The walk to Eddie's office takes less than a minute, and Damon knocks quickly before sticking his head in. Seeing that Eddie is alone in the room and doesn't seem to be in the room, he steps in, pulling Richie behind him and then closing the door.

"I brought you a present." He says, gesturing dramatically at Richie.

"And I brought you a better present!" Richie continues, throwing himself down into one of the two chairs across from Eddie's desk and rapidly pulling out multiple tupperware containers of lasagna, garlic bread, and silverware. Eddie sits frozen as his workspace becomes covered in food.

"You… came to my office?" He stares at Richie, seeming lost.

Richie deflates a little upon seeing the look on his face. "Is that okay? I didn't mean to intrude, I just thought we weren't hiding anything."

"We aren't!" Eddie exclaims immediately, causing Richie to relax marginally. "I just wasn't expecting you today. I mean, Damon and I had discussed letting our friendship be public knowledge, but I hadn't planned to do that and come out all in one fell swoop. It's fine, though! I'm glad to see you, I just wasn't expecting it." Damon can see that Eddie is panicking a little, his need for control asserting itself, but it's also obvious that he really is happy to see Richie.

"I mean, you don't have to say we're together if you don't want to…" Richie looks a little uncomfortable at the idea even as he proposes it.

"No, I'm not ashamed of you and I'm not going to lie about us. I want everyone to know, I promise. I'm just not used to exposing myself to my coworkers like this. I promise it's just really new to me, trying to be okay being seen. It's a me problem. It's something I'm working on, though. This is a bigger step than I was planning on making today, but I can do it." Determination slowly grows on Eddie's face as he speaks, causing Richie to smile.

"Thanks Eddie-baby! I love you too." Richie laughs as he speaks, as if trying to seem nonchalant and make Eddie's confession into a smaller issue than it really should be, but it's obvious to Damon that Eddie can read Richie well enough to see that's going on, and he reaches across the desk to grab the other man's hand.

"I love you so much. You didn't do anything wrong. I am happy to see you and once my coworkers have realized we're together, I'll be happy for that too. It's just facing the moment of being vulnerable in front of them that's intimidating me. Now let's eat this pasta, okay?" All three men smile softly as they dig in to their food, enjoying the comradery of the moment.

**************************************

An hour later, it's time to see Richie out. While eating the three men made an executive decision for both Damon and Eddie to escort him back to the front desk, allowing people to see both Eddie and Damon and Eddie and Richie together all at once. Damon figures that the news of Eddie and Richie's relationship will be a big enough event that they won't even have to field any questions about Eddie and Damon's friendship since both bombs will be dropping at once.

They all can't help but laugh as they exit Eddie's office, the taller man ruffling Eddie's hair and knocking Damon with his hip playfully. Some people in the hallway stare, but no one dares to say anything upon seeing the odd trio. The walk is still quite short so they reach the lobby quickly, but luckily the area has mostly cleared out now that most people have concluded their lunch hour. Velma and a few stragglers still look on in confusion, however.

"Thanks for bringing us lunch, Rich. You gonna be home when we get there, or will you be off bothering someone else?" Damon asks teasingly.

Richie, ever the dramatic, gasps and swoons onto Eddie's side. "Eds! Do you hear this? Damon implying that I bother people?! Are you not going to defend my honor?"

Eddie pinches Richie in the side, making him yelp and leap away. "You do bother people, you attention-seeking asshole. You're lucky we put up with you. But you'd better be home when we get there. I want to do movie night tonight." He grins up at Richie as he speaks, negating his teasing insults.

"You don't put up with me, you looooooove me. And don't forget it's my turn to pick the movie!" Unable to stay out of Eddie's space for long, he crowds close to him and boops him on the nose as he finishes.

"Actually, it's Zach's turn, but good try." Eddie counters, causing Richie to groan.

"Zach always picks old musicals, though! I don't want to watch Carousel again. I might die if I'm exposed to that, Spaghetti."

"Well, you're gonna have to deal with it. Get out of here, Damon and I have work to do." He smacks Richie lightly on the ass as he waves him off. Encouraged, Richie leans down and pulls Eddie in for a quick kiss before dashing towards the elevator.

"Love you Eddie baby! See you at home tonight! Take care of my Eds this afternoon for me, Damon!"

Eddie rolls his eyes as Richie rapidly pushes the elevator button so that the doors will open, stopping having ruined his dramatic exit.

"Love you too, idiot."

"Don't worry Rich, I'll keep an eye on him."

The elevator doors finally open and Richie leaps in with an "ah-ha!" of excitement. He waves rapidly, staring at Damon and Eddie until the doors close.

As they look around the lobby, all eyes are on the two of them. Not really having made a plan, all the best friends can do is grab on to one another as they laugh themselves silly. They'll have to explain what just occurred eventually, but for now, they can relish in the ridiculousness of the moment.

Things will probably change in the office going forward- Damon looks forward to being able to harass Eddie while on the clock, and he thinks that maybe Richie visiting them will become a regular thing. He can't say for sure, but he thinks maybe Eddie opening up will make their coworkers like him more, too. Maybe in the future they can drag Zach and Richie to work events with them. Damon knows that change and openness have both always scared Eddie, but Richie is making both of those things easier for him, so Damon can't help but think he's glad Eddie picked up the call from Derry after all.