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“I need your help,” Eddie tells him the moment Wayne pulls the screen door open. He’s all nervous energy, bouncing on the balls of his feet with his thumb in his mouth and hair even messier than usual, a little wild-eyed, the way he sometimes gets in the middle of learning a new song, writing out a new campaign. 

 

“If you’ll let me in the door I’ll do my best,” Wayne tells him, and Eddie bounds back three steps, tapping his fingers against his thigh. The TV’s on, tuned to – “Are you watching baseball?”

 

“No,” Eddie says, automatic, and then, “Yeah. Shit, yes.”

 

 

It's the dead of summer, and if the AC unit in this trailer ever worked it was before Wayne's time, and Eddie is wearing a cropped shirt with the arms chopped off and a pair of tiny green shorts he knows aren't Eddie's.

 

Eddie notices the raised eyebrow. Wayne is Not Allowed To Ask About It , but Eddie throws him a bone anyway. "Steve left them, it is hot as balls, do not judge me, I'm in a crisis."

 

He's not allowed to comment on the Steve situation at all, really, so he doesn't ask Eddie what improbable situation led to Steve leaving those particular shorts amongst the pile of clothes at the end of Eddie's bed, or ask him how that could be construed as friendly behavior. 

 

The first time he’d tried to hint that maybe he’d noticed Steve Harrington eyeing up his nephew like the best cut of meat at the butchers he’d gotten the cold shoulder for half a week because Steve Isn’t Like Me, Wayne, and I’m Trying To Be Cool About That. Only, Steve is definitely Like Eddie , in some way, because despite Eddie’s best attempts to convince himself that Steve Harrington is the straightest man in Indiana, Wayne knows the boy well enough by now to know that he doesn’t look at the rest of his friends the way he looks at Eddie. Knows he doesn’t use his two beers as an excuse to stay the night at Robin Buckley’s house. Knows he doesn’t leave his workout clothes on the pile at the end of Nancy Wheeler's bed just to see if Nancy will wear them around the house.

 

(“They did actually date, Wayne, they were like…star crossed lovers, or some shit. You just wait. She’s single, now. Again. Just you wait, Wayne.”

 

Only, Wayne’s gotten used to having them all around, by now, this ragtag group of unlikely friends, and Wayne hasn’t seen shit from either Nancy or Steve that indicates they are anything but ex-lovers who have stayed improbable friends.)

 

 

"We're rooting for the blue team," Eddie says, and Wayne huffs out a laugh. 

 

"We are not," Wayne intones, giving his nephew an incredulous look. 

 

"Yeah, listen, Steve's team is the Bears, or whatever -."

 

"Wrong sport. He's definitely not a Bears fan. God damnit Eddie, you had to fall in love with a Cubs fan?"

 

Eddie nods, snaps his fingers. "The Cubs , yeah, that's - hey, no , shut the hell up, old man, I am not - "

 

And that's about enough of that, honestly. Wayne's dealt with this shit for long enough.

 

"You're asking me for a crash course in an activity you once called Meatheads Smacking Their Balls, you’re planning a surprise road trip to take this boy to a game, and you’re rooting for my team's rivals, boy, so you can cut the shit about not being in love with him."

 

“It’s never gonna happen, Wayne, so, like – it doesn’t matter, okay? This is me being a friend. This is me investing in things he likes just like he listens to Metallica and knows way more about DnD than he lets on in front of the kids. This is – friend shit.” Eddie pauses. “Besides, how the hell was I supposed to know your team and his team are like, mortal enemies?”

 

This is categorically not Friend Shit, and Eddie’s too blinded by the box he’s trying to shove Steve in to pay attention to the fact that all the things Steve knows now he knows for reasons that have nothing to do with being just friends.

 

Wayne doesn’t push it. He’d nearly lost the kid, is the thing, and Eddie’s got his diploma now so Wayne’s going to have to come to terms with the fact that Eddie’s got at least one foot out of Hawkins already, and he wants to spend time with his nephew before he packs his shit in the van and moves on. So he doesn’t push it.

 

“Let’s talk about the bases,” Wayne says, pointing out the diamond on their shitty TV, and Eddie cracks the cover on his composition notebook, pen twirling in his hand – like its a normal fucking thing to take notes when trying to learn about a good buddies interests.

 

 

“Thought Steve was a basketball guy,” Wayne says one afternoon, when the Cubbies are blissfully not on his TV. 

 

“Wayne, it’s the middle of the summer, there’s no basketball right now.”

 

“Oh, is this an urgent thing, then? Gotta bond over Steve’s interests within the next few weeks?”

 

Eddie shoots him an ornery look. The composition notebook is filled with disorganized notes, a diagram of a diamond, sketches and doodles and cramped writing. 

 

"It's a bit much, don't you think?" Wayne asks, because he's still not sold on Harrington as a whole, hasn't quite pinpointed why Eddie's so twitterpated about him. 

 

He likes the kid, thinks it’s probably good for Eddie to see the world a little less black and white, rich and poor, conformist and nonconformist. Respects the kid, for all that shit back in the spring he doesn’t quite understand, and his steadfast loyalty since. Isn’t sure he understands him, though. He sure as shit doesn’t get why Eddie’s head over heels for him.

 

"Wayne. My dearest uncle. My favorite family member. I need you to get over your dislike and listen to me very carefully, because I will only say this once or you'll hold it over my head forever."

 

Wayne waits.

 

"He saved my life," and he shoots Wayne a glare when Wayne opens his mouth with a clever shot about never falling head over heels for anyone back in ‘Nam. "He fucking - nursed me back to health like a regular old Florence Nightingale." Again, not good enough for the devoted way Eddie trails after Harrington. Not enough for the stars in his eyes. "He listens to every single song I play him even though he hates at least half of them. He listens to me talk about Tolkien and King and Pratchett for hours without complaint. He actively listens when I talk about DnD. " Getting closer to warm, not that Wayne wants to admit it. "And I've just been over here, enjoying all that attention, shitting on his music taste and his preference for sitcoms and literally every hobby he has and if you don't teach me everything there is to know about baseball before Saturday night I will never not be the worst friend on the face of this green earth."

 

"Friend," Wayne says with a snort, and Eddie scowls. But - it's a fair point. More insightful than Eddie tends to be, too. There's a good chance this is going to pan out to be something serious, something Wayne can't grunt his way around. 

 

Damnit, he's gonna have to be nicer to Harrington. The Cubs fan.

 

“Why Saturday?”

 

"Got tickets to a game," Eddie says. “But you can’t tell him, it's a surprise.”

 

Wayne sometimes feels like his entire life since taking Eddie in has just been a series of Benny Hill moments. He wouldn’t trade it for the world. 

 

Eddie’s a good kid, a kind man, flamboyant and loud and he knows exactly who he is, but he’s been desperately terrible at figuring out how other people feel about him for his entire life. Wayne still wakes up some mornings wondering if today is the day Eddie picks a fight just to prove Wayne never loved him. He’s got a gaggle of friends who’d kill for him but sometimes when they’re not paying attention he’ll skirt around them like he doesn’t quite understand why they haven’t ditched him, yet. He’s too much, a lot of the time, and Wayne is fairly certain he leans into that to avoid getting hurt when people don’t love him as much as he loves them.

 

Wayne doesn’t understand why it had to be the Harrington boy, of all people. But he’s pretty sure Eddie’s not barking up the wrong tree, this time, so he sighs. Taps his knuckles on the crown of Eddie’s head as he stands, shuffles into the kitchen to make them something to eat. Tells himself not to push, too hard, and when he returns he goes over the strike zone one more time.

 

 

Eddie drags the phone cord as far as it will stretch, but Wayne can still hear the breathless laugh that leaks out of his nephew while he things Wayne is still asleep.

 

“I’m not telling you shit, Harrington. Bring a change of clothes. And resign yourself to the fact that I’m driving.” 

 

Wayne’s got a cramp in his calf he’d like to shake out, but the cot is creaky and he knows Eddie will hear if he moves, so he stays still.

 

“Listen, I promise you won’t hate it. I might, but – not, shut the hell up, dude, we’re doing a you thing.” A pause. “Christ, man, sometimes people just do things for other people. You’ve had your redemption arc, fucking reap the rewards for once in your goddamn life.”

 

Quiet, and then Eddie’s voice drops too low for Wayne to catch whatever it is Eddie says. His footsteps are quiet, soft, when he finally returns the phone to its cradle, and Eddie stands there for a moment. Sighs, before his footsteps retreat back to his room.  

 

 

Harrington smiles from the stoop, a pair of sunglasses hanging off his nose. “Hi s-Wayne,” he says, lips turning towards a grimace for just the space of a moment before he shifts into that cocky shithead stance that doesn’t quite fit his bones just right. Wayne didn’t know him, before, but he’s heard the stories about what the kid was like in high school. He’s grown, changed – wouldn’t be here in Forest Hills waiting for Eddie to stumble out of his room if he hadn’t, that’s for damn sure – but sometimes pieces of it leak through. 

 

“Steve,” Wayne says, and pushes the screen door to let Steve in. 

 

“Is he –?”

 

“Behind, as usual. You want something to drink?”

 

Steve shrugs, pushing the sunglasses up over his forehead. Gestures with a thumb behind him, towards the Beemer parked at a slant next to Eddie’s van. “Got a cooler in the car.” And then, because he can’t quite seem to help himself, he tips his head forward, tries to catch a glance at Eddie’s room, down the hall. The door’s shut. Harrington’s eyes drop down, and then up, meeting Wayne’s, like he’s been caught. “He tell you what we’re even doing?”

 

Wayne’s heard the whole plan multiple times, but he’d promised Eddie he wouldn’t spoil it, so he shrugs. Stands there awkwardly, aware that Steve sort of treats him like a parent he desperately wants to impress, aware that Eddie has no goddamn clue what that means, in the scheme of things. 

 

“Do you – should we, like, call, when we get there? Wherever there is?”

 

It gets harder and harder every day not to like this kid, even if his taste in sports teams is shit. “Not your keeper,” Wayne tells him, but Steve presses.

 

“No, but – I mean.” Hand digging through the hair at the nape of his neck, Steve levels him with a more serious look. “He always calls to let you know if he’s going to be out, so…”

 

Wayne has the idea that Steve doesn’t have a great relationship with his parents. Sometimes, when Wayne isn’t bone tired when he gets home from work, he’ll sit around the table with Eddie eating breakfast, and lately Steve’s been there more often than not. And he’s noticed how carefully Steve edges into conversation, the way his eyes light up a bit when Wayne and Eddie really get going on ribbing each other, the way he relaxes into it, slowly, then all at once.

 

“If you wouldn’t mind,” Wayne says, even though he doesn’t really need the reassurance that Eddie’s still kicking quite the way he used to. He has the irrational urge to give Harrington a noogie, which is not helped when Steve lights up, nods his head like he’s been given an important task. Let Wayne Know Eddie’s Safe.

 

He likes the fucking kid, goddamnit. Even if he’s a Cubbie fan.

 

Eddie tumbles out of his room with a curse, hair piled up on top of his head, a pair of shorts that Wayne knows had once been jeans, a loose white tank, a backpack he’d seen Eddie take to school maybe three times in seven years stretched over his shoulder. “Steve,” he says, wide eyed and careful like he hadn’t expected to see him there. 

 

“Can you please just tell me where we’re going?” 

 

Eddie’s eyes narrow. “No. I’m letting you pick the music because you’re letting me drive your precious baby, but you have to earn that knowledge.”

 

“You gonna blindfold me before we get there?”

 

There’s an idea,” Eddie says, and Steve swallows audibly next to Wayne. Wayne sort of wants them both to leave, now.

 

“You should get going,” Wayne says, and Eddie darts a look in his direction like he knows exactly what he’s thinking and doesn’t approve. And then Wayne is shuffling them both out the door, watching as Eddie catches the keys Steve tosses him, as Steve ducks his head into the passenger seat of his car – he can already hear Eddie laughing as he starts the car and something new and poppy blasts out of the speakers. 

 

Steve leans his head out the window, catches Wayne’s eye. Gives him a salute that should feel mocking, and somehow just looks a little bit dorky, and then Eddie is throwing an arm across the front seat and peeling out of the lot in reverse at a speed that makes Steve shout something Wayne can’t decipher over the sound of tires on gravel.

 

 

Wayne has to work, but he still finds himself tuning the radio to a station that will report on the outcome of the goddamn Cubs game, when it’s over.

 

 

Eddie tumbles into the trailer on Sunday morning sporting a dark pair of sunglasses and a Cubs jersey. The sunglasses look exactly like the ones Steve had been wearing the afternoon before. The Cubs jersey is brand fucking new and an abomination.

 

Steve stumbles in after him, waving halfheartedly, and Wayne stares at the pair of them. 

 

"What the hell are you wearing, kid?"

 

"Everyone knows the merch is half the experience, Wayne," Eddie tells him, a theatrical little shit even if he's definitely still hungover. The glasses stay perched on his nose long after Steve closes the door. Wayne clocks the look he sends at Eddie. Soft, fond. Smitten.

 

Christ.

 

 

“Hypothetically,” Eddie says when Wayne pushes his way through the door, and he’s used to it, is sometimes disappointed when his nephew isn’t poised at the front door ready to give him a heart attack when he gets home from work. 

 

“Christ, son, can I at least get my boots off?”

 

“You can take off your boots and use your ears at the same time.”

 

Wayne grunts. Toes at the heel of one boot once the door is shut. Eddie dances a circle around the kitchen in silence until Wayne turns his gaze toward him. “Well?”

 

Eddie’s mouth ticks up, and Wayne watches him for a moment, waiting for it – Eddie tugs a lock of hair across his mouth, one arm slung all the way across his chest and curling around his ribcage. He’s been waiting for this one.

 

“Hypothetically, say you weren’t – wrong about Steve. And me. Me and Steve. Us.”

 

“Nothing hypothetical about that,” Wayne tells him as he gets free of the second boot. 

 

“No one asked you to be such a know-it-all.”

 

Wayne sucks in a deep breath. Blows it out through his nose. It was a long shift. He’s got all the time in the world for his boy, but he does carry on, sometimes. “Is this hypothesis going somewhere?”

 

“Hypothetically, are you ever gonna stop scaring the shit out of Steve at every opportunity? Because like – okay, so he doesn’t have the best parents, you know? Shitbags, both of them, even though I’m not allowed to – anyway. The point is.”

 

Wayne hums.

 

“The point is that he thinks you hate him. And I know you don’t hate him. I know for a fact you’ve been pretending to sleep so you can snoop on my phone calls with him and I know if you didn’t approve you wouldn’t hesitate to say something to me, so –.”

 

“Eddie. What does this have to do with the hypothetical?”

 

“He wants to make us dinner.”

 

Because he can’t help himself, Wayne asks, “A hypothetical dinner?”

 

“You’re infuriating.”

 

“And you’re dancing around the point.”

 

“Listen, old man, I’m pretty sure this is an ‘impress the parental unit before I kiss the living daylights out of Eddie Munson’ dinner and I’m trying to ask you to be on your best behavior because I’d really like to stop imagining it and experience it.”

 

“Couldn’t find another way to phrase that, could you?”

 

“Did you want me to be more graphic?”

 

Wayne sighs. He’s been watching this dance long enough. If he’s honest with himself, and he usually is, he’d also like Steve to get it over with so Eddie can stop imagining it. Steve’s a respectful kid. It seems unlikely he’ll attempt seducing Wayne’s nephew while Wayne’s still within hearing distance. 

 

Eddie, on the other hand, he’s not sure he trusts to keep it in his fucking pants. The moment that boy kisses him Eddie’s going to be insatiable.

 

“I can do Thursday. Shift starts late.” It’s a solid plan. Let Steve cook them dinner, rib him about the Cubs July slump, get the hell out of dodge for a twelve hour shift. Eddie opens his mouth and Wayne holds up a hand. “I will be on my best behavior as long as you can promise me to remember that you have your own room and the rest of this home is communal space.”

 

Eddie’s grin is wide, wide enough to dimple his chin, wide enough that Wayne almost, almost feels bad about giving him quite so much shit.

 

All he’s ever really wanted is for Eddie to be happy. To feel loved. And while he still doesn’t get it, he knows, at the very least, that Steve Harrington has plenty of love to give.

 

 

Wayne actually hates Steve Harrington, he decides, windows rolled down and the oldies station turned up. Eddie’d been introduced to the Lore as he calls it, by an enthusiastic twelve year old in the seat next to them down the third base line, and if Eddie hadn’t already had a firm stance as a fan of the Cubs, well. 

 

“Screw all the metaphors you made about Strahd, dude – the myth, the legend, the absolutely batshit curse should have been the first things you told me. It’s like you don’t even know me.”

 

Harrington makes a complicated move, worming his hand behind him awkwardly so that he doesn’t smack Wayne in the face as he reaches back to tug on a lock of Eddie’s hair, and Eddie beams from the backseat. 

 

Fine. He loves the asshole – would fight the devil himself just to make sure these two boys had the chance to keep smiling at each other like that.

 

“God as my witness, I’ll be dead before they win the whole thing again,” Wayne tells them both, just to be contrary. 

 

Eddie doesn’t take the bait the way he’d expected. A hand flies over the seat. “A hundred bucks, old man.”

 

Steve whistles, challenging, and then laughs when Wayne levels him with a glower. 

 

Wayne hasn’t had much luck scaring Harrington in recent months – not since he’d nearly come to blows with the senior Harrington in the parking lane outside Melvalds. Now he gets double the bullshit when Eddie and Steve gang up on him.

 

Wayne shakes Eddie’s hand, firm, unyielding. Delights in the way Eddie tilts his head back and laughs, wide, bright, carefree in the dying light as they chase the setting sun, like he’s happier here in this moment than he’s ever been. 

 

 

Wayne picks up his phone on the first ring. It’s loud – he can barely hear a thing over the din of noise in the background. 

 

“I’m not even gonna make you pay up, old man, we fucking won!”

 

He can hear Steve’s voice, melding with the crowd, a chant or a cheer or maybe he’s just screaming like the rest of them, and Wayne has had the TV on mute for the last few minutes but it sounds like the crowd has somehow gotten louder than it was before. 

 

He’s getting up there in years, has a cough that never quite leaves and his eyes are shot to shit, but the one thing that hasn’t changed is how much he loves his kid. “Happy for you,” he tells him, isn’t sure Eddie can hear it over the crowd, but he says it all the same. “Still gonna kick your ass come spring.”

 

 

“What the hell are you wearing, kid?” Steve asks, hands on hips when Jesse comes careening out Wayne’s front door in the brand new Yadi jersey Wayne had dropped way too much money on. Once upon a time this shit had been at least somewhat affordable. He doesn’t say so – the last time he’d thrown a ‘back in my day’ around, his grandkids had pulled up a picture on one of their phones and giggled at it for twenty minutes. 

 

( “Ah, the patented Old Man Yells At Cloud,” Eddie remarked when Wayne asked and Steve hadn’t had a clue either. “They’re being mean to you, Wayne, you should fight back. Tell ‘em about walking uphill both ways in the snow, that’ll get ‘em good.”)  

 

Eddie catches Jesse at the waist, swings him into his arms, digs his fingers into Jesse’s waist until Jesse squeals with laughter. 

 

“You think this is a game to me, Wayne? You think breaking our family in two is a game? We’ll never recover from this. I’m going to have to bring this one back, it’s defective.”

 

Jesse screams with delighted laughter when Eddie makes a heel turn and pretends to make his way for the van.