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Late Onset Demon Syndrome

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Eddie wasn't feeling too great. Maybe it was a fever, maybe it was his pyrokinesis playing tricks on him, but either way he was cold and shivery, and his joints and muscles were achy and weak. He'd been feeling the onset for the better part of the week, but it was only just today that the symptoms were severe enough to warrant a sick day.

After telling Manny he had the flu that morning, he'd spent most of the day asleep until he woke up starving in the late afternoon. He took a moment to just lie there and bask in his misery. Everything sucks and I hurt and uuuugggghhhhh…..

And then he got up because he really was pretty hungry and if he didn't eat something soon he was going to collapse into a pile of spiked leather and suffering. His legs were just a tad unsteady as he made his way toward the cafeteria, and about halfway there he was wondering if it would just be easier to have someone bring him something instead. Or just put him out of his misery, whichever came first.

When he finally reached the dining area, he took a moment to catch his breath. Vertigo had started to set in a few minutes ago, and he was slowly losing the will to keep going. Hunger, though, was a great motivator. Just as he was about to get up and brave the rest of the cafeteria, however, he was interrupted by the sudden appearance of Guybrush.

"Hey, Eddie, you doin' ok there buddy?" He and his partner, it seemed, were also looking for something to eat and had noticed him spacing for a second in the corner. He'd been about to tell them he was fine, but the more he thought about it, and the more the world slowly spun around in a circle, the more he realized he didn't want to be standing up right now.

"I… actually, no, not really. I probably shouldn't have gotten out of bed today, but it's lunchtime and room service isn't really a thing."

"Oh, well we could go grab something for you, if you'd like." Nelson was a problem-solver, as always.

"Thanks guys, that would be great." He gave them his ID. "Just… whatever's good, and a lot of it, I'm starving."

"Sure thing! Be back in a few."

Eddie found the nearest empty table and settled in to wait, glad his friends were such nice people. He folded his arms on the table and put his head down to try to quell some of the dizziness, but he must have dozed off because it seemed like moments later Nelson and Guybrush had returned with enough food for all three of them. Or maybe four of them, because they'd brought him almost enough for two people.

Gratefully, he dug in, and they shared a pleasant lunch break together until they'd finished their meals and it was time for Nelson and Guybrush to get back to work.

Hobbling his way back towards his dorm, he could feel a headache coming on. Maybe he could convince Guybrush to swipe some of the good stuff from the infirmary. He could already tell he was gonna need it.

&&&&&&

That night was one of the worst he'd had in a long time. Even with some not insignificant painkillers in his system, the aches had intensified and the chills had gotten worse. A few extra blankets helped with the shivering, but he couldn't take any more painkillers for fear of an overdose which meant he spent a lot of the night lying awake as his legs apparently attempted to break themselves.

He hadn't had growing pains in over a decade, but he would swear up and down that the aching in his legs felt exactly the same, just much more intense. Instead of being centered mostly in the larger muscle groups and joints however, these were focused almost exclusively on his knees, shins, and ankles; whatever they were, though, they were stopping him from getting any sleep.

When his alarm went off the next morning, and he still hadn't gotten any rest, he just turned it off and continued to lie there. When he didn't show up Manny could either come find him or just assume he was still sick. His legs hurt so much there was no way he was getting out of bed just to tell him he shouldn't be getting out of bed.

Eddie took a double dose of the painkillers he'd gotten off Guybrush - probably okay based on his size and how long it'd been since his last dose - and resolutely tried to go back to sleep.

&&&&&&

When he next woke, it was late afternoon again and the pain in his legs was gone. Manny was also shaking him gently by the shoulder to wake him up and see how he was doing. Still bad, but less bad than last night.

He'd also brought Nelson and Guybrush, and together they'd all brought lunch to share. Apparently the two had remembered what he'd said yesterday about needing food but being too sick to get it himself, and taken some initiative.

As they ate together right there in his room, they talked about the weather, office gossip, their lack of upcoming missions, and eventually some of his symptoms. He'd mentioned the aches, but he hadn't really described last night's fiasco; it just didn't seem like very good mealtime conversation, y'know? In the end they'd all agreed that whatever he had sounded pretty flu-like, but there was also something about it that seemed off. Some vibe or small detail they couldn't quite pin down.

The longer the visit went on, however, the more he started to want it to end as soon as possible.

He couldn't quite pinpoint the exact source right now, if it was something about his illness or something in the way his friends were talking to him or just his whole situation in general, but currently it seemed like the whole world was designed specifically just to piss him off.

Maybe it was just how little sleep he'd gotten combined with the headache that was slowly returning.

He was keeping a pretty firm lid on it at the moment, but eventually he knew his patience was going to wear thin and punching Guybrush in the face would just be so satisfying. Which was weird and totally uncalled for because he'd done nothing but try to help him. But he'd also probably make the most gratifying victim sparring partner.

Nelson would either run away or pull his gun and then the fight would be over too quickly. Manny might take him up on it, but despite his assertion that he wasn't any different from a regular guy he was still pretty fragile, being made of preserved bones and all, and despite apparently wanting to hurt his friends he didn't wanna… hurt them, y'know?

Guybrush though. Guybrush could be interesting. Whatever fight Eddie could start, Guybrush might just wanna finish. He would lose horribly, because there was no way Eddie wouldn't be victorious in bashing his face in, but he'd probably put up just enough of a fight to make the whole thing worth it and let him get rid of the damn ITCHING in his knuckles.

It wasn't even a surface level itch he could just scratch and be done with, it was down deep in all the joints of his hands. Maybe… maybe some good old blunt force could get in there and get rid of it. Or maybe he needed to find a distraction because he probably ought to stop this train of thought before he gave in and destroyed every relationship he had with his friends.

" -die? Eddie you still in there?" Nelson was snapping his fingers at him, trying to get his attention. Annoying. Apparently he zoned out hard enough that he'd missed almost the entire conversation that had been going for the last five minutes. Great.

He buried his face in his hands, massaging his eyes and trying to get a better handle on his aggravation. Eventually, when he felt just a smidge calmer, he let his hands fall into his lap. "Sorry, could you repeat whatever you just said that was important? I didn't hear any of it."

Nelson didn't look surprised. "We figured. The short version is, we think you should go to the infirmary and get checked out. Some of the things you described could get pretty serious and… honestly? You're kind of scaring us."

Scaring them. Oh, they hadn't even SEEN scaring them yet. "Scaring you? In… in what way?" Get a grip Eddie, they're just concerned.

This time Guybrush took the lead. "Well, to start with you didn't hear us calling you for almost a minute, and Eddie… look at your hands." 

Oh huh. When had that happened? His hands had turned red and sinewy, like he'd dipped them in boiling water or broken all the blood vessels beneath the skin. "That by itself is concerning enough, but the headaches, the hunger, the fever, and the weakness too? You should see a doctor."

That one word. It was… it was accurate… but it tripped something in his brain that just couldn't let go of it. Weakness. Weakness. WEAKNESS. He tried to get a grip on himself, but it was too late - he was seeing red. They thought he was Weak? That he couldn't handle this? Couldn't handle himself?? Oh he could handle himself. He could handle himself so well that he wAS GONNA-

That was about the time that his headache graduated to full blown migraine and stabbed him between the eyes. 

Eddie had crumpled forward and dug the heels of his palms into his eyes, hoping some kind of pressure somewhere would let him find relief from his throbbing skull. His friends had startled forward and were looking at him - at his weakness - with fear in their eyes, and Nelson had yelled something at Guybrush. Or… at someone? Guybrush actually wasn't here anymore.

"If you call the paramedics I swear I'm gonna-aauUGH-" The pain was no longer all over his skull, instead it was centered on his temples, like someone had driven an ice pick through the sides of his head. Moving his hands around to investigate the area, though, maybe someone had.

He could feel, still hidden by his hair, two sharp points forcing their way out, and they weren't stopping. All his aggression now forgotten, Eddie suddenly felt like his heart had stopped. What was going on?!?

His friends could see it on his face as blinding pain went to recognition and then on to fear. Approaching very cautiously, Manny knelt on the side of the bed and gently tried to guide one of his hands away from the problem area so he could see what had happened. When Eddie immediately forced his hand back down onto his head to more securely hide whatever was bothering him, Manny tried again a little more firmly.

"Eddie. I can't help you if you won't let me see what's going on." What Manny saw when he'd pried his partner's hand away, though, scared him like none of the other symptoms had. Eddie was growing… horns?

How was that even possible?

As soon as Eddie's condition had shown signs of a dramatic downturn, Guybrush had taken off towards the infirmary to fetch some emergency help. The EMTs should be arriving any second now.

Nelson took Eddie's other hand away from his head, and he was wide-eyed as the sharp horns pushed onward out of Eddie's skull and curved upward and to the front. They weren't too long, maybe six inches at most, but they were still longer than any human planned on having and there was no way Eddie wasn't freaking out right now. Blood from the broken skin had matted in his hair, and his eyes were wide and distant, his breathing shallow and shuddery.

When he started to raise one of his trembling hands to inspect the new appendages, Manny gently stopped him and held it in his own. 

At that point the paramedics finally arrived with a stretcher and Guybrush in tow. Both medical personnel and the pirate were briefly stunned by the roadie's altered appearance. Horns?!?

A moment later, however, the EMTs' training kicked in and they got to work. As one of them started removing the blankets covering Eddie, the other pulled out a small pen light and began checking him for signs of shock. He was, in a word, unresponsive, and so with more urgency they transferred him to the gurney and spread one of the blankets back over him before rushing out of there and back to the infirmary.

All three Wildcards were left standing stunned in an empty room, with no idea what had happened. For a moment, they all shared eye contact. In the next moment, they were all running down the hall to follow the paramedics.

&&&&&&

As it turned out, smelling salts had more traditional uses than just letting psy-cadets skip out on classes; namely, bringing stunned emergency patients back to awareness. When Eddie and the EMTs had reached the infirmary, the first thing they'd focused on was treating him for shock and keeping him present in reality. 

After he'd proven he was aware of his surroundings and wasn't going to keel over braindead, he was whisked off for all kinds of X-rays and scans. Apparently no one wanted to touch him until they were sure the horns were structurally sound and he hadn't messed up his head somehow. 

He wasn't trying to zone out again, but everything still melted together into a blur as he tried to process what had happened to him. It…  it had to be some kind of trick, right? People didn't just grow horns! It had to be some kind of group hallucination, or he was dreaming, or he'd finally lost his mind because there was no way in hell he'd just decided to sprout horns for no good reason. Eventually he was set up in a private room and left to contemplate his situation on his own. 

This…  this couldn't be happening. That's all there was to it. Maybe Guybrush had picked up on his angry thoughts about him earlier and decided to play a practical joke. Maybe he'd been captured while on assignment and held captive for so long he'd been trapped inside his own mind and the illusion was starting to break down. While he was at it, maybe he'd been abducted by aliens or stepped into an alternate dimension - anything was possible because he'd just grown a godforsaken set of horns.

Every now and then a member of the nursing staff would pop in to get some menial task out of the way, one of which was disinfecting and cleaning up around the wounds on his head; whoever was out there interpreting his test results must have deemed him sturdy enough to handle. The easiest way would've just been to have him take a shower or something, but he still didn't trust his legs after all the BS they'd been giving him recently. The nurses had done their best to clean the area with some wet washcloths instead, so now only patches of his hair were wet and stuck to his head right on top of the most sensitive areas. Annoying.  

After what seemed like ages , the other Wildcards were finally allowed in to see him. He was glad for the distraction, being alone with his thoughts for too long was going to send him spiraling right back into hysteria. The three burst through the door and were by his side in an instant. Guybrush was fastest, but Nelson and Manny were only behind him by a hair. "What happened?!"

"I don't know, man… I don't know." His concern made Eddie feel bad for even suggesting it, but he needed to be certain. "You didn't have anything to do with this, did you?"

Guybrush blinked for a moment, surprised. "No, of course not! Why would you…," then he seemed to remember that his specialty was incredibly realistic, seemingly solid hallucinations. "Oooh, yeah okay I could see how you might think that. For the record though, no. For a while there, you were too far away for me to keep an illusion like that going, and I'm assuming that since they're still here the horns didn't disappear at any point."

Alright, so he hadn't been sabotaged by his friends. That was good, it meant he could still trust them, and that, in itself, was a relief.

"What did the doctor say?" Manny asked.

"I don't know. I haven't really seen anybody yet, they just took a bunch of x-rays and left me here. When I say I don't know, I really do mean: I don't know." He bit his lip to try and tamp down the quiver in his voice.

Manny put his hand on his arm and tried to calm him down. "Alright, mijo, it's okay. I'm sure someone will come by soon. For now though, let's just relax and think about something else."

He pulled up one of the few chairs that had already been in the room while Nelson and Guybrush went and found some of their own. Carefully, Manny tried to keep the conversation steered away from his head and toward topics he might find distracting, like new albums he was excited about or his favorite building techniques or just… anything that wasn't about him and his horns.

Guybrush and Nelson started contributing topics of their own as well, and soon the rising hysteria he'd been about to be overtaken by had simmered down to a low-level anxiety as he focused on his friends. He still had a headache, though, and the next time a nurse showed up he asked her for some pain medication, if it was allowed.

In an effort to stay away from talking about his medical situation, his friends chose not to comment, but he could still see the curiosity in their eyes when she returned with a pretty strong pill for him. Slipping back into the conversation, it wasn't long until they were back to talking about nothing and waiting for someone to finally tell him what was going on.

&&&&&&

Eventually, they were interrupted by a knock on the door. It was one of the doctors and a representative from HR. "If you gentlemen will excuse us, we have a few things to discuss with Mr. Riggs."

Reluctantly, his friends left him alone with the two professionals, promising to be back as soon as possible. His new visitors took two of the vacated chairs and, as soon as the door closed, all their attention was on him. It kicked that simmering anxiety back up to a near boil; It was… too much. Too intense. Cornering. Shoving those feelings to the side for the moment, he did his best to give them his full focus.

"Mr. Riggs, are you aware of the serious harm you could have done to yourself with this alteration?" Aaaaaand they'd immediately lost him. 

"What… what are you- what??"  

"The horns, Agent Riggs. The ones you decided to put on your head through psychic modification?"

They... thought he'd done this to himself? For what, fun?? "I'm only gonna ask this one more time; what are you talking about?"

"Mr. Riggs, please don't insult our intelligence. The horns are obviously the result of a misguided attempt at psychic body modification, and we need to discuss how you learned the technique." The HR rep's tone was overly professional, and yet it still managed to carry a vibe like he was looking down his nose at Eddie. 

It was astounding how little he seemed to be listening to what Eddie was saying. "I'm serious; back up - psychic what? Are you trying to tell me this happened because of some previously unknown power of mine?"

The agent was unamused, but at least the doctor was willing to humor him. Maybe he still hadn't ruled out brain damage and was taking pity on him. "Not quite. Psychic body modification is the practice of altering one's physical appearance through mental means. It's less of a power and more of a… process, carried out by intense focus and the participant's desires for their new form. Almost anything is possible, but even attempting to change a small part of your own physiology can be incredibly dangerous. You yourself risked all manner of brain damage, skull fractures, deformities, and even death."

Alright, that was… scary. But helpful. It was, at least, a rational explanation for what might be happening to him. It didn't explain how he'd personally done it, though, especially with no prior information on the processes involved.

"Okay… now, say, hypothetically, someone did it without meaning to. What could maybe cause that to happen?"

Whatever the doctor had been about to say, the agent was faster. "You can't honestly expect us to believe that you just accidentally grew a fully formed set of horns. It just doesn't happen. The level of focus required means it must have been purposeful and voluntary." 

This guy was making him mad. He was already stressing enough about this, he didn't need to be told it was impossible on top of having no idea how he did it. "Look, man, all I know is I was sick this morning, my friends showed up to check in on how I was doing, and then this happened. For literally no reason. I don't know how I did it, and I sure as hell don't know how to fix it."

"Ah! Your friends, that'll be a promising place to start. I've already started compiling a list of people I'll need to investigate, but if you could give me the names of everyone you regularly come into contact with, that would speed up the process considerably. You say you don't know anything about the technique, but it's very possible one of them could have been teaching you under the guise of something else. Cases like this need to be taken very seriously Mr. Riggs, if we don't find the delinquent spreading this practice it's only a matter of time before someone gets hurt, maybe killed."

"I-"

He just kept on going, rolling right over whatever Eddie had been about to say. "I know this might seem severe for someone of your background, but thorough inquiries are what's necessary to find the miscreant responsible for spreading such dangerous information."

Had he… had he just implied he was some kind of lowlife? That his friends or coworkers could be dangerous criminals? The HR man was still talking, but the words were spiraling around in his head without actually holding any meaning. How dare he? He was working himself up over this, over nothing, this guy was clueless, but come on?? Really?!

This guy didn't know what he was talking about. He'd done nothing but come in here and try to tell him about what an idiot he was, he hadn't listened to a word he'd tried to tell him, and now he was insinuating things he had no business sticking his ugly nose in. 

That moron had gone silent and now both he and the doctor were staring at him again. Yeah, keep doing that, see what happens. "Mr. Riggs, are you-"

" JUST- not now. Gimme a second." All at once, the lights in the room were too bright, and he was being overwhelmed by all the stimuli. He closed his eyes, and was about to start rubbing them when he felt someone quickly but gently stop him from touching them.

"Mr. Riggs, I need you to open your eyes for me." Cracking them open, he could see the doctor had stood up and was leaning over him, inspecting his face with some concern. "As wide as possible, please."

Eddie squeezed them shut again. "Can't… 's too bright in here…" 

He felt the doctor leave him, and then after a moment most of the lights in the room dimmed to a reasonable level. Opening his eyes, he could see the doctor returning to him. He'd faltered for a moment when his gaze landed on Eddie's face again, but if anything whatever he'd seen made him look more determined.

Carefully, the doctor began inspecting his eyes. He gently moved the lids around, had him look in different directions, instructed him to blink a few times, and asked him if he was in any pain, but aside from the sudden light sensitivity Eddie couldn't understand what had the doctor so spooked all of a sudden.

"Everything okay, doc?"

"I… yes. I'll need to send for a proper optometrist, but everything appears to be in working order. Did this… did this really happen all by itself?"

"I'm gettin' real tired of the guessing games - did what happen?"

"Your eyes. You've- ah, they've changed colors and started glowing."

"You've gotta be kidding me." Glowing eyes. Yeah, alright, sure. Fine. He already had horns, it wasn't like today could get much weirder. He knew at some point the hysteria from earlier would probably be back for him with a vengeance, but right now he'd just about had enough of it for today.

Both professionals were looking at him in puzzlement. They'd just watched it happen right in front of their eyes, he couldn't possibly make it any clearer that he didn't know what was going on. "This is… highly unusual."

"Really, doc? Are you sure? Seems pretty normal to me. If fact, I'd even say-" 

The HR agent cut him off. "Yes, alright, Mr. Riggs, we believe you. Or at least, I believe-"

The doctor rounded on him before he could antagonize Eddie any further. "It would appear that the situation is wildly different from what it initially appeared to be. Now, unless there's anything else you need from Mr. Riggs to complete your report, I think it's time you took your leave."

The agent almost looked shocked. "I- that is… No. But any further developments need to be filed with the department of-" The doctor cut him off again.

"Yes, I still remember the protocol. Now, if you'll excuse us, I have a patient to attend to." 

As soon as the door clicked shut, the doctor turned to Eddie apologetically. "You'll have to excuse him. Modification cases are so rare that they are, almost always, the result of some sort of suspicious activity." He pulled out a notebook and pen, and calmly asked him to start at the beginning.

Eddie told him everything, from the apparent flu symptoms all the way down to the weird urge to fight Guybrush and the painful things his legs had been doing last night. The doctor performed a quick physical exam, but he couldn't see that anything else on him had changed.

"Now, company policy for cases like this, where someone has successfully performed a psychic modification, is to keep them under observation for at least a week. This lets us make sure that whatever the patient did isn't going to negatively affect their health." He put his notebook back in his pocket. "Typically this time is also spent in both conventional and physical therapy to prevent any long lasting trauma. In your case, I'm going to amend the policy to two weeks without an incident, just to make absolutely certain that whatever is causing this truly has run its course." He stood up to leave.

Eddie nodded. "That's fair. Before you go though, is there anything else you could tell me that might be good to know?"

The doctor thought for a moment. The data available on body mods like this was scant due to the danger of collecting it, but there was one last thing he felt he ought to warn him about. "If this truly is involuntary, I would urge you not to resist any other changes that occur. The only thing more dangerous than an ill-advised transformation is an incomplete one." 

Eddie pulled a face imagining all the horrible things that could go wrong just by stopping mid-modification. "Got it. Thanks for the advice, doc."

With any luck, though, he wasn't going to need it.

&&&&&&

His luck didn't actually hold that long. The very next day his ears sculpted themselves into points, and four days after that the chronic itching in his fingers manifested into claws. Every new feature was a setback that restarted the two week timer that kept him in the infirmary, and every time it was frustrating to see his progress get taken from him by his own body without his consent. 

It helped that he wasn't alone. His friends visited at least once a day, and stayed as long as they reasonably could. Some days the visits only lasted long enough for a short conversation to check in on him. Other days, his small room became the temporary Wildcards office as everyone pulled up a chair and did their paperwork right there in the infirmary. Sam and Max even stopped in once or twice; they had business elsewhere and couldn't stay too long, but as soon as they'd heard weird stuff was going on they'd turned up to see what they could do. It was… nice.

He'd almost made it to about a week without an incident when, for lack of a better word, he found himself teething.

He was constantly flexing his jaw and probing his teeth with his tongue, absently chewing on just about anything he could conceivably put in his mouth. He'd cracked through so many of Manny's pens while catching up on his backlog of paperwork he probably owed him an entire pack as a replacement. Nelson had even given him some gum from his stash.

One afternoon, he'd caught himself biting down on the silverware that came with lunch. The plastic, inedible silverware. One minute, he'd been eating his meal like normal. The next, he must have zoned out or something because he'd absolutely mangled the plastic fork before he'd realized he was even chewing on it. He didn't notice, either, until one of the tines had been severed and gotten caught between two of his teeth like a particularly painful popcorn kernel.

That single sharp stab had taken him by surprise, and, more worryingly, had spread through his jaw until most of his mouth was just one large bone-deep ache. What had previously been a subconscious proclivity towards chewing things was now rapidly turning into a compulsion he just couldn't satisfy deeply enough. 

For the rest of the day it was all he could think about; how badly his teeth were bothering him, how much he wanted to sink his teeth into something, how satisfying it might be to bite someone. If he hadn't spoken much when his friends came to visit, it was because his jaw had been clenched in an attempt to relieve the discomfort in a way that didn't do lasting damage to things.

That evening, as a release for all his pent up irritation, he'd given in to the urge to chew on something, anything and started gnawing on the metal tray one of the interns had brought dinner on. His rational mind must have checked out at least an hour ago under the stress of the constant frustration his teeth had been giving him, because his rational mind wouldn't have allowed him to bite down on solid steel with all his might. For obvious reasons.  

It wasn't until the intern returned for the tray, and then immediately turned around to go get the doctor yet again, that he realized he'd broken most of his teeth during the frenzy and replaced them with sharper, more durable fangs. His lower canines were much longer, as well, and were more comfortable sticking out of his mouth like tusks.

Spitting out tooth fragments, he threw the tray across the room and buried his face in his hands; that was another two weeks on his sentence.

&&&&&&

Every time something new manifested and he'd finished getting it checked out by the medical team, he then still had to give a statement on every symptom he'd been feeling before the change, both physical and mental. Pictures were taken for posterity, and then copies of everything were placed in his chart, sent to the research department, and added to his steadily growing file down in HR.

He hadn't seen that douchebag agent ever since the doctor had sent him on his way; apparently the front desk wouldn't let him through for 'agitating the patients'. Which was good - if they ended up in a room together one or both of them were going to lose their jobs when Eddie inevitably broke the moron's neck.

Also prohibited from bothering him were the dozens of research assistants helping the scientists studying his case. He was the most exciting thing to happen in at least a decade, and psychic body modification was a hot topic just because so little was known about it. Everyone was talking about him and theorizing about what could be going on, but no one was allowed access until his two weeks were up. 

He was technically listed as a quarantine patient, so breaking the perimeter without the express permission of the doctor overseeing his care was serious enough to get people fired; otherwise he would've been mobbed by all the researchers who wanted to collect data from him. The only ones with clearance to see him were the medical personnel and his friends.

After the incident with his teeth, and a lot of dental and orthodontic appointments, everything seemed to calm down. No more muscle cramps, no fever, and fewer urges to start fights with people for no reason. He was still easily irritated, but he was starting to get a handle on that and, in any case, he'd already had ample amounts of patience to begin with. Occasionally his feet felt stiff and his legs were still a bit weak, but he attributed that to the fact that he'd been stuck in the infirmary for almost a month and had fewer opportunities to walk around.

One way or another though, his time in the infirmary ran out at last and he was scheduled to be discharged the following day. All that remained was a final consultation with the doctor.

"No symptoms? Absolutely nothing that could be signaling another modification?"

"Nope, not since the teeth came in." For the first time in a while, Eddie felt hopeful. He was done; he was leaving tomorrow and he could go do whatever he wanted at any time anywhere. The infirmary was nice and all, but he'd spent way too long here.

"Well Eddie, I think that about does it. Come tomorrow morning, you're free to go."

Eddie was beaming a wide, sharp-toothed grin. "Thanks doc, for everything. And from the bottom of my heart, I hope to never see you again."

The doctor laughed as he stood up to leave. "No, I should hope not. Still, don't hesitate to come back if something doesn't feel right."

"I won't." As the door clicked shut behind the doctor, he felt his excitement ratchet up a few more notches. It was all over and he could go home and sleep in his own bed and work at his own desk and never come back to the infirmary until he had some normal injury. Sure, he had several new features now, but at least they fit his aesthetic; he could make it work.

As the door opened again and his friends started to file in, his wide, fanged smile was more genuine than it had been in a long time.

&&&&&&

His dream that night was… odd. 

It'd started normally enough, just the regular nonsense, when he'd realized he was standing in his mindscape. Or… a dream world that looked like his mindscape. Probably. Dreams could be weird like that.

The valley of Bladehenge appeared to be untouched. The wildlife were grazing as normal, the forests were quiet, and all the monuments were still standing. Mt. Rockmore still loomed all its heavy metal awesomeness on the horizon, and Bladehenge itself was fine. The sky, though, was a maelstrom of fire and smoke. It's not like he was an absolute expert on everything that went on in his head, but he'd never seen anything like it before. 

And then he saw the Demon. It was small and fast, and it jumped on some kind of motorcycle before he could do much more than start moving in its general direction. The little monster took off, and Eddie summoned the Druid Plow to pursue it.

He caught up to it and ran it down just as it was about to merge onto a highway he'd never seen before. It belonged here, obviously, as the gate was shaped like Ormagödden's head, but he had no idea where it might lead him. He could have just driven away. He should have just driven away. Instead curiosity got the better of him.

The road itself was just a simple straightaway, but every now and then another one of those weird demon biker things would show up and he'd ram it with his car. Eventually the road ended and he'd had to leave the Plow parked in front of some kind of temple full of more pictures and carvings of Ormagödden. It was kind of freaky; this place would totally fit right in in his own mindscape, but in all the psychoanalysis and introspection he'd done as a Psychonaut he'd never once come across it. So what gives?

He pushed onward, facing more and more demons and wading through fields of bone and gore as he went further and further into Demonland. He left the rock and roll monuments behind until he was surrounded by scorched mountains in an untouched wilderness, still walking beneath the same firebombed sky. He just kept going. Further and further until it became monotonous. Just keep going. Just keep walking.

He was walking barefoot down an endless bed of hot coals, surrounded on all sides by demonic figures and people he hated jeering at him. Every time he tried to grab one, the personage dissolved into smoke and reformed somewhere else in the lineup just to taunt him harder. It was frustrating; every time he reached out to teach one of those punks a lesson, they just slipped through his fingers. Eventually he just stopped bothering, though ignoring them didn't stop the seething anger from coiling in his gut.

At last, he reached the end of the gauntlet and walked out into a small clearing surrounded by more demons. A fighting ring. The soles of his feet were baked and sore; it felt like he'd been walking for miles on end.

The demons on the opposite side of the ring parted to let his challenger through. To let himself through. Only this version of Eddie had taken the demon aesthetic up to eleven and, instead of being content with just the horns, claws, and glowing eyes, had sprouted various spikes, cloven hooves, and a huge set of wings. Every inch of skin he could see was the same red that his hands and forehead had turned, and even his hair had taken on a reddish overtone. 

He was frozen in place as the Demon-him pulled a flaming battleaxe off his back and began to approach him. His legs were locked and wouldn't move, there was nowhere to go; but, when his opponent reached him, he didn't swing at him like he'd been anticipating. Instead, he reversed his hold on the weapon and offered Eddie the handle. Numbly, he took it - what else was he supposed to do? 

Demon Eddie turned to walk back into the crowd, but as he walked away he glanced back over his shoulder and smirked

The hell was that for? He felt a flare of anger, but as he looked back at the double-bladed axe in his hands, the world around him started to fade away until it was just him and his new weapon. The soft glow coming off the engraved surface lit up the darkness, and as he stared at it he realized he recognized it somehow, deep down in the back of his mind. The Separator - that was its name. 

He continued to stare deep into the flames burning off the axe's blades until he realized he wasn't staring at a fire at all. He was back in his hospital room, staring into one of the dim lights they left on for safety. He was awake.

For a while he just laid there. The dream… the longer he thought about it, the angrier he got. What the hell was that?? He had enough going on right now without also dealing with his own Dante's Inferno in his sleep! And what was up with that alternate Eddie at the end there? Who did he think he was, just dumping his old cast-offs on him?

And then he realized there were some similarities between the two versions of himself, and several differences he didn't like the implications of. Was that… was that where he was headed? 

All at once he couldn't breathe. There was… there was no way he was just going to up and sprout wings, was there? He hadn't felt anything in his back, at all, and he'd heard somewhere before that people literally couldn't handle them, that a human skeleton couldn't possibly find room for another set of socket joints. It would be… too much. It was too much. It was all too much. He was scared, and he was getting frustrated because of it; he shouldn't be scared right now, he was getting released in the morning. He needed… he needed a walk. He needed some air. He needed to focus on something else for a while and forget the dream. Tossing the covers aside, he swung his legs around and stood up.

As soon as he'd slipped off the bed, his left leg had refused to support any of his weight and buckled under him painfully. His feet weren't responding to him the way he'd thought they would, and the weird way he'd landed on them meant he lost his balance almost immediately and fell sideways onto the floor. 

Wincing, he reached down to rub his aching leg. His eyes widened as he felt around the contour of a very unexpected bend in his shin. Had he broken his leg?! Dread creeping over him, he looked down to find that not only was the apparent break perfectly centered on his tibia, the muscles spasming around it weren't trying to pull it back into place; instead, they were curving it around to a much more severe angle and shifting his ankle forward. Further, it seemed while he was sleeping his feet had been traded for clunky black hooves split down the middle. He wasn't done. No, no, NO HE WAS SUPPOSED TO BE DONE-

In his immediate panic the only coherent thought among his overwhelming anxiety and revulsion was NO MORE. NO MORE OF THIS. The temporary relief he felt when the shifting in his leg ground to a halt was almost instantly crushed by a wave of abject horror as he considered all the other features he might soon unwillingly share with his dream-self.

&&&&&&

Premonitions were a funny thing. Sometimes, it was like getting mugged by the future as Nelson's visions showed him exactly what was going to happen. Other times, though, it was more subtle. A few words perhaps, or just a feeling like he should go somewhere, do something. He had one of those feelings right now, and it was guiding him back toward the infirmary. 

He'd already stopped in for a visit with Manny and Guybrush during the day, so Eddie wouldn't be expecting him until tomorrow at least, but he just couldn't shake the thought that he should check in on him, that something could be wrong. Normally visiting hours were over, but he and the other Wildcards had been granted 24 hour access due to the circumstances. 

For a moment, he stood outside the door and wondered if he should really be bothering Eddie so late; he was probably sleeping, and he'd see him in the morning when he got released. The future wasn't set in stone and his premonitions had been proven wrong in the past, maybe whatever this was could wait. Or maybe he should just peek in and make sure.

All his worrying was validated when he opened the door and found Eddie on the floor having some kind of fit. Instantly Nelson was inside the room and reaching for the call button; something was wrong and he needed help now.

Eddie was lying on his side, shaking, and his whole frame was stiff with terror. He'd wrapped one arm around his face, while the claws of his other hand were buried in the linoleum.

Being careful not to touch him, Nelson crouched and gently tried to get his attention.

"Eddie? Eddie are you okay?" Stupid question, Tethers, obviously not. "What's wrong?"

For about a minute, Nelson was convinced that he was too far gone to have even noticed him, much less heard his questions. Then, the half-demon picked his claws out of the flooring one by one and pointed with one trembling finger down towards his feet.

Oh. Oh no. Yeah, Nelson could see the problem. At some point since he'd last seen him Eddie's feet had been transformed into solid cloven hooves, and now it looked like his legs had been in the middle of restructuring themselves when he'd started having a panic attack on the floor. His right leg appeared to be unchanged, but his left was twisted and malformed. The unfinished modification was way more concerning than the changes themselves; stopping halfway could mean he'd lose the leg.

By now the nurse had poked her head in and realized the situation was going to require a lot more assistance. No doubt she was out there rousing various doctors and technicians to be on standby for when Eddie needed them. Nelson felt two of the orderlies standing behind him, waiting to help Eddie back up and onto the bed.

"Eddie? You've gotta relax buddy. I know this looks bad, but remember what the doctor said? It'll be much worse if you don't let it finish." Eddie was shaking his head, no, no, no, please, no… "I know, I know, but it's gonna be okay. Your legs will be fine; you just need to let this run its course. On the bright side, you don't have to do it here on the floor if you don't want to; these guys will help you up and you can lie in bed while this sorts itself out."

Nelson was right, and Eddie knew it, he just… It was just… No. No no no. He was so totally done with this whole psychic modification business and he refused to contemplate yet another involuntary change. He knew it was probably going to happen eventually whether he wanted it to or not, but this was the first control he'd had over this mess since the beginning and… maybe since he'd stopped it… maybe, just maybe… maybe he could go back the other way? The chances were slim - he didn't even know how he was doing it in the first place, he had no clue how he planned on reversing it - but just letting it happen had been absolutely out of the question. 

He also… wasn't exactly sure what it would take to start it up again. He was stuck and his legs still hurt but his left hurt even more and he was going to lose it wasn't he because he was stupid and didn't let it finish and- he was spiraling again. Focus. Nelson was here, and he was smart. Maybe he could help him fix this. It would also be nice to get off the cold floor tiles. Breathe. Just breathe. He took a few deep, shaky breaths and willed himself to get a grip just long enough to be helped.

Nelson watched as Eddie tried to reel himself in. At last, he pulled his arm away from his face and made eye contact, nodding once to tell him he was ready. Nelson backed away, and the orderlies stepped around him and began helping Eddie get up. They were careful not to let him put any weight on his halfway-shifted legs, and withdrew as soon as he was securely back in the bed, leaving Nelson to try and reason with the half-demon.

He pulled a chair over to the bedside. This could take a while, especially since Eddie was starting to lose it again. This time he'd buried his head under one of the pillows, and as Nelson watched he could see the tremors coming back. There were no further developments in his legs.

"Eddie, you know what'll happen if you stay like this. Just… take a deep breath, and let your brain do what it needs to. There's no way that isn't hurting you, but I'm sure it'll hurt less if you just keep going."

He mumbled something, but it was too muffled by the pillow. "Can you repeat that for me?"

Eddie tried again, louder this time. "Can't. Don't know how." He sounded scared, desperate. 

Nelson sat back for a moment to think. This was bad. Whatever else happened tonight (this morning? It was pretty late) Eddie had to finish fixing his legs. Scouring his brain for any little detail he'd heard over the past few weeks that could help, he started thinking about some of the things Eddie had told them about experiencing the modifications. He'd said before that he'd been feeling angry and aggressive sometimes when the changes happened; maybe… just maybe those feelings could be part of triggering them. If he could make Eddie mad enough, maybe it would be enough to open him up for the rest of the metamorphosis. Thinking on what he'd probably have to do, though, he just hoped Eddie would be able to forgive him afterward.

"So… are you just going to give up? Just lie there and let yourself lose the use of your legs? Because I don't think even the best surgeon is gonna be able to restore this much damage." Careful Nelson, angry - not depressed.

Eddie had frozen when Nelson had finished his first question. By the end of the statement, he'd pulled the pillow away from his face and was looking at his friend in shock. What… what was he saying?

"Yeah, you heard me. There's no way you can just walk away from this… literally, actually, I'd be surprised if you could walk at all with those big old hooves." Was he…? Was he trying to be a jerk? Why?? He didn't need this right now!

Eddie's eyes were wide as he stared at Nelson in bewilderment, and as hurt crept in the former FBI agent could see he'd struck a nerve. Good. "What's wrong Eddie? Finally realizing that you can't be the best roadie in the world anymore? I hope your crew is as good as you say it is, because they're going to need to find a new leader for the next tour." Now that was just rubbing salt in the wound. Nelson hated every word he was saying, but if his theory was correct it was necessary to help him. I'm sorry Eddie, I don't mean it!

Eddie rolled over and faced away from him, "If you're not here to help, just leave me alone." Before you get hurt. If Nelson kept going, kept pushing him like this, he probably wasn't going to be able to stop himself from doing something incredibly violent. There was a slight waver to his voice as his emotions started to get the better of him. He'd been happy Nelson was here, but now he was attacking him and it hurt. Everything hurt.

"Y'know, actually, I think I like the hooves. They match the horns, and now you can probably find work at a petting zoo or something."

That one was pretty weak, all things considered. Nelson wasn't very good at this… Manny or Guybrush would have been better at coming up with insulting things to say, and irritating ways to say them. In a last ditch effort, he tried to think of the worst thing he could possibly goad Eddie with.

"How long do you think they're gonna wait before they fire you? After all, it's not like you can be a Psychonaut with such poor control over your own mind. It's bound to happen at some point, especially since you don't really fit the company image anymore." Keep going, push harder.

"Oh, and it'll be such a relief to Manny - hopefully his next partner won't have so many problems."

Eddie snapped with a roar. He'd turned back to the puzzle agent, snorting fire and snarling, death in his eyes, and raised one of his arms to take a swing at him- but he was stopped by a sickening crack as his right leg took the opportunity to bend backwards and match the left. All the rage in his face instantly turned into agony as his legs continued to restructure themselves.

As Nelson watched, he could see the bends reform themselves into proper joints while the long bones of Eddie's legs resized themselves. It was terrifying to look at, but Nelson needed to see it for himself that they'd finished transitioning; amputation was at stake here. Slowly, the proportions settled into something that Eddie could probably walk on, with practice. Both legs were identical, and at last the transformation was complete.

Eddie had been panting heavily throughout the ordeal, and his white-knuckled grip on the bed had torn holes in the sheets where his claws were digging into the mattress. He'd crumpled in defeat as soon as his legs had released him, and now he was softly crying in exhaustion and relief. 

Nelson was glad it was over, but the things he'd had to say to make it happen made him feel terrible. There… there was no way he was ever going to forgive him, or at least not in the near future. They sat there in the near silence as Nelson gave Eddie time to recover and regain some of his composure. 

After a while, he went for the call button again; the change needed to be documented, and the doctors needed to make sure he wasn't going to hurt himself with the current configuration of his legs. As the first of the medical personnel started to file in, Nelson simply said, "I'm sorry," before leaving Eddie in the hands of the infirmary's most capable.

&&&&&&

The next day, Nelson was anxious as he waited for Manny and Guybrush to come into the office. He hadn't gotten very much sleep after what had happened last night.

He wasn't looking forward to telling them that Eddie was in fact not being released today, and had instead had his most intensive modification yet. He also wasn't looking forward to admitting all the horrible things he'd said in the name of the greater good.

Nelson walked back to his desk and sat down. How could he have taunted Eddie like that? Sure, it was necessary, but he'd definitely crossed some lines last night. He could have found other ways to aggravate him that didn't involve such personal jabs. Eddie probably never wanted to see him again after what he'd said to him.

Before he could get too deep into his own guilt Guybrush walked in, sunny as ever. The sheer force of his cheerful disposition was enough to at least put a positive spin on Nelson's thoughts of impending doom. At least Manny'll kill me quickly.

"Gooood morning Nelson! And how are you doing to-" Guybrush cut off his greeting when he noticed Nelson's mood. He was immediately filled with concern for his partner. "Are you okay?"

"... define okay. Physically, I'm fine. Or at least I will be until Manny gets here and finds out what happened last night." Nelson replied.

"What? What happened?"

Briefly, he explained how his premonition had led him to check in on Eddie and the events that took place afterward. He didn't bother trying to hide just how vicious some of his remarks had been. How raw the ordeal had left their friend. He'd just find out anyway when Eddie told everyone when they visited him.

"Ooooo, yeah, no that is pretty bad. But you said he was fine afterward?"

"I… think so? He wasn't any worse. When the doctors showed up I figured he was gonna want some privacy, so I kind of left before all the testing started up." Nelson had started wringing his hands together nervously. How could he have left? Eddie probably needed his support and he'd just left him there to deal with all the trauma on his own. He was such a terrible friend.

Guybrush thought for a moment with his good hand stroking his goatee. "Well, as far as getting murdered by the grim reaper goes, I think he's gonna be too busy checking up on his partner. And by then, you'll probably have enough time to apologize properly and prevent your untimely death."

"You rang?" Manny had walked in on the last two words of Guybrush's sentence.

Guybrush immediately put on his most innocent face, which meant Manny was instantly suspicious. "Oh hey Manny! Well, looks like everyone's here now, you ready to go see Eddie?"

Manny narrowed his eye sockets at him. "... Yes. Is there anything you should be telling me before we go?"

Guybrush made a show of thinking about the question, but his charade was interrupted by Nelson owning up to his mistakes. "Yep. Eddie got hit with another mod last night."

Manny was surprised for a moment. And then, true to Guybrush's prediction, he turned around and started heading in the direction of the infirmary without asking for any additional information. The two looked at each other for a moment - Guybrush made an I told you so face at him - and then they were both out the door and following the skeleton.

When they reached the infirmary, Nelson had signed in right alongside his partner, but when they approached Eddie's room he stopped in the middle of the hallway. When he noticed his partner wasn't following him anymore, Guybrush turned around and stopped as well. "C'mon, what are you waiting for?"

"I… I don't know, Guybrush, he probably doesn't even want to see me after what I said to him. I-I should just leave him alone for now, until he's feeling better." He'd taken a half-step back down the hall, but Guybrush had reached out and put his hand on his shoulder.

"Tell you what - I'll go in first, and if he asks where you are I'll let you know he wants to see you. I won't even bring it up, it'll be all him. Then, if you don't hear anything, you can go back to work and no one will know the difference. Sound good?"

"I… " he couldn't see any flaws in the plan. He did want to check up on Eddie, he just didn't want to make things worse. "Okay. Alright, let's do that." 

Guybrush had scarcely been in the room two seconds before he pinged him. He's asking about you. Nelson felt a small spike of anxiety, before counting to five and slipping inside.

Eddie looked exhausted; no doubt he hadn't gotten much sleep either with all the exams that needed to be done. The covers had been pulled away from his legs so Manny could see the extent of last night's adventures, but the skeleton still hadn't tried to murder him in cold blood so it didn't look like he'd heard about the exact circumstances yet. About how badly he'd probably hurt Eddie.

"You figured something out last night, didn't you?" Eddie had looked him in the eye and asked his question with no preamble. His tone was much less negative than Nelson had been expecting. 

He was briefly taken aback, but he knew what the other man was talking about. "I… yes. Eddie I'm so sorry, I just- you had to finish it, and I- I just thought-"

Eddie cut off his nervous stammering. "Yeah, I know. It's cool man, it's fine. You're forgiven. I was havin' a rough time last night, but it would have gotten a whole lot worse without your help." His forgiveness was genuine, and Nelson was just so relieved-

"But, to get back to the important part, what made you do it?"

Manny was getting the feeling he was missing some important information, and he was regretting not grilling Nelson for details before coming down here. In the interests of not derailing what looked to be an important conversation, however, he figured he'd just ask Eddie about it later.

Nelson took a deep breath to get rid of the last of the bad feelings before explaining his thought process. "Well, you'd gotten stuck and you said you didn't know how to keep it going, so I tried to think of things that might help you get back in the right frame of mind. I remembered you'd mentioned feeling angry and aggressive whenever a change started to come over you, and the uh, the situation last night seemed like a time for desperate measures, so I thought maybe… maybe those feelings might not just be a symptom, they could also be a cause."

The pieces seemed to be clicking into place for Eddie. "So… that's why… ooooooooh, that's why- "

"Yep. That's why. And I'm still sorry about it."

Manny was looking between the two of them suspiciously, like he'd definitely be having words with one or both of them later.

"Don't be. That's such a big clue; you have no idea what a relief it is to finally have some idea about what's going on with this mess." Eddie was smiling tiredly at him.

"I mean… we can't be 100% sure that's what actually happened. It's also possible making you mad just broke whatever mental block you had stopping the shift."

Eddie thought on it for a moment. "Nooo, I think your original theory's correct. That first time? When I got the horns? I was stupidly angry then too, and at that point I didn't even know there was something to stop - let alone try to. The same thing happened when that idiot from HR tried to call you guys criminals. He annoyed me, I got mad, he pissed me off, and then Bam! Brand new set of eyes. You guys gotta admit, there's a pattern here. Seems like just about every time I've almost lost my head over the last few weeks, it was immediately followed by a shift."

That… was actually some compelling evidence. Once or twice could just be coincidence, but consistently across every occasion? There was at least a strong correlation. 

"There's… there's definitely more to it than just getting mad. I don't know how much more there is, and I definitely don't have any control over this yet, but it's a good place to start. I can't stress this enough Nelson, thank you."

"I… you're welcome. Glad I could help." Nelson smiled at him. 

Pulling up a chair, Guybrush kept the conversation rolling. "So, I assume it'll be another couple weeks before they're letting you out of here, right?"

"Yep. It's probably a good thing, though, because this is gonna need way more recovery time than the other stuff did. I'd appreciate it if you guys could keep bringing some of my paperwork with you."

"Yeah, of course!" Guybrush waved off the question like it was silly he'd think they were ever going to stop. "So, do you think you'll take some time off after this? Those new hooves'll probably take some time getting used to."

Eddie's face fell a bit at the accidental reminder that not only was he different, he'd gone so far away from normal last night he was probably going to have to re-learn how to walk. Guybrush noticed the misstep and quickly tried to lighten the mood.

"On the bright side, you don't have to worry about stubbing your toes anymore." Guybrush was smiling impishly at him.

"Will someone else hit him for me?"

"Awww, c'mon Eddie!"

"No, seriously. If I have to do it I'm gonna end up putting him through the wall."

&&&&&&

He spent the next two weeks in and out of physical therapy making sure his legs were still strong enough to support him. He’d seen at least half a dozen orthopedic specialists checking out the new nightmare bends in his calves; apparently most of the bones in his feet had been commandeered by the hooves that replaced them, and so what he'd felt during the restructuring was his leg replacing those bones and setting up a new ankle someplace more convenient.

He wasn't in any pain and the shifted joints had a good range of motion, so all that remained was to make sure they could withstand being walked on. Most of his exercises were focused on helping him figure out how to balance on his new hooves and gain enough coordination with them to be able to walk. The hardest part was the fact that he didn't really have a heel anymore, or at least, not one like he was used to. It was a miracle he hadn't broken his tailbone yet after all the times he'd lost his balance instinctually trying to rest back on a heel that just wasn't there.

The feeling of being able to flex his ankle so far up his leg was weird. Who was he kidding - everything about him was weird now. His hands, his feet, his entire face - everything. He was practically a completely different person. Did he even still count as human anymore? What on earth was he going to do when he finally got out of here? Nelson hadn't been serious when he'd taunted him that night, but some of those barbs were effective for a reason - they had a point to them. He was a total freakshow.

He'd probably still be able to swing being a roadie; he couldn't think of any self-respecting metal band that wouldn't love it if their crew head was an actual demon. If modification like this was really such a taboo though, would he still be allowed to work with the Psychonauts? Would other agents even still want to work with him? Or would he spend the rest of his career watching them all look at him like he was some kind of sideshow attraction?

Manny was an oddity for sure, he got weird looks all the time, but at least he could say it probably wasn't his fault he was a skeleton. Eddie though. Even if he didn't know how, he'd still done this to himself and he was sure as soon as the research department ran out of questions he probably didn't have answers for he was going to end up at the very bottom of the office hierarchy. And drag Manny down with him.

If there was one bright spot about his situation, it was that at least his friends didn't treat him any differently. At least they still had confidence in him, even if he didn't anymore. He adamantly refused to get his hopes up again as the two week observation period drew to a close; if he was going to get struck by another mod and start the whole painful process over he was not going to be devastated by it again.

One way or another though, the time passed without incident and he didn't have any more symptoms, for real this time.

&&&&&&

Manny could tell Eddie was having a rough time in the wake of his leg mods. Nothing they'd been able to say or do in the past two weeks had really been able to lift his mood for very long, though he was making more of an effort to hide how badly he was feeling. He'd even pretended to be excited about the end of his quarantine period when they came to visit, but the sentiment hadn't reached his eyes. Manny could see he was probably heading towards some kind of crash if they didn't do something to head it off.

When Nelson and Guybrush left Manny had stayed behind to confront him about it. After only a little bit of pushing Eddie told him about all the doubts he had about reintegrating back into a somewhat normal life. Which, okay, so they weren't entirely unfounded, but giving up like this certainly wasn't going to help. He'd done his best to reassure him that he saw him no differently, that of course he still wanted him to be his partner, and if anyone else in the office wanted to say something about his new look they'd have to take it up with Manny first. They were in this together, had been for a long time, and if Eddie thought he was going to abandon him now then he had another thing coming.

Talking about it helped some, but this wasn't something that could be fixed overnight by one conversation; it was going to take time and a lot of confidence boosting. When he'd gotten home that evening though, still trying to think of something he could do that would help his partner feel even just a little bit better, he got an idea. And if this didn't help, he was pretty sure almost nothing would.

&&&&&&

He was… free. He'd actually done it. Two whole weeks without another mod. He didn't want to think too hard about it, just in case it jinxed him and triggered something, but… He'd done it. Finally. He'd finished filling out the discharge paperwork, he'd changed out of the scrubs and back into the pajamas he'd been admitted in, and he was ready to go.

There was a knock at the door, immediately followed by his friends opening said door and filing inside.

"Morning, Eddie," Manny greeted him, "Big day, huh?" Manny just radiated smooth assurance, and honestly it was helping soothe a couple of his frayed nerves. Everything's gonna be fine.

"Morning, guys." Eddie smiled at them. "You have no idea how ready I am to get out of here."

"I dunno, I've got a pretty good imagination," Manny said, "I'll bet you you'd start climbing the walls if they tried to keep you another day. Luckily you're a free man now, so there's nothing they can do to stop you from leaving."

"And it's Saturday, which means you've got the whole day to do whatever you want." Nelson added, helpfully.

"Actually, if you guys don't have any plans this afternoon, Elaine and I'd love to have you over for lunch. What d'you say Eddie? Barbecue to celebrate?" Guybrush was smiling hopefully at him.

No one seemed too surprised by Guybrush's question, which gave him the distinct impression that they had planned this beforehand. It… would be nice to get out of the Motherlobe for a little while though. And hanging out with them did sound like fun. Plus, if they were just going to Guybrush's place he wouldn't have to worry about running into anyone and scaring them with his demon-y facade.

"... y'know what? Sure." He needed to stop by his dorm to get changed, but after that they'd be able to head off toward the Threepwood-Marley residence.

Following his friends out into the hallway, though, it was a lot longer than he remembered it. He'd figured out how to walk on his new hooves and he'd even spent some time pacing in his room this morning for practice, but out here with everyone around to watch him clatter his way outside he was starting to lock up and overthink. Come on, Eddie, you can do this. It's just one little hallway. And then another. And a few more after that. And… all the ones in between his dorm and the front entrance. 

Y'know, he'd been taken to his therapy sessions in a wheelchair by an orderly, he could probably ask to borrow that wheelchair for just a little bit longer, right? Although… that would just be admitting defeat. Besides, he wanted to walk out of here on his own two feet. Anxiously, he took a shaky step forward. And another. And another… he was too slow. He was making everyone wait on him and two weeks had definitely not been enough practice for this and now he was going to make a fool of himself in front of everyone and-

Manny had walked over and offered him a hand to help him keep his balance. Gratefully he took it, though he wasn't sure there was too much the skeleton could do if he started to go over. Soften the fall with TK maybe? Carefully, the group made their way slowly but surely back towards the infirmary doors. Once or twice he came dangerously close to losing his balance, but the longer they walked the more it became less of an issue and faded into the background, his 27 years of experience taking over and letting him focus less on each individual step and more on his surroundings.

By the time they reached the doors that led back into the rest of the Motherlobe walking had become something simple, something easy, something he could do without thinking about. Which was good, because a loud voice out in the hallway immediately demanded his attention.

"Eddie!! Lookin' good man!" Glottis was waiting for them outside the infirmary doors, and greeted Eddie like absolutely nothing had changed.

"I- ah," Eddie's brain had temporarily stalled out; he hadn't been expecting the mechanic and for a moment his instincts told him to flee back inside. "Glottis! H-hey man, it's great to see you!" He smiled nervously. What was he doing here?

"What's it been, a month? Two? C'mere!" The big man pulled him into a hug that left him scrabbling for purchase on the tile floor. Glottis didn't seem to mind his clumsy attempts to remain standing, and after a few moments Eddie managed to get his hooves back under him and properly return the embrace. 

"Manny told me this mornin' that you were gettin' released today, and I thought I'd come on in for a bit and see how you were doin'! It's been too long, Eddie, Manny needs to bring you over more." 

Glottis' big confident grin was as wide as ever, and as he beamed at Eddie the half-demon could tell that his friend was legitimately happy to see him. Horns and all. When he'd mentioned Manny Eddie had immediately thought the skeleton had just put his roommate up to this, but no; Glottis just couldn't help being genuinely supportive. It was just who he was.

As they continued their journey back toward Eddie's dorm Glottis filled him in on all sorts of things like gossip from the around the shop, his latest projects, and embarrassing things Manny had done back at their apartment. In return he asked plenty of questions about Eddie's last tour and some of the new ideas he had for improving Clementine. It was just so… normal. It was easy to lose himself and just feel like he was taking a casual walk with his friends, just like old times.

And then he caught the edge of his hoof on an uneven floor tile. His life flashed before his eyes as he tripped and pitched forward, but before he could fall Glottis wrapped one large hand around his bicep and Manny grabbed the other with telekinesis. Carefully they helped him get his shaking feet back under him and made sure he was alright. His heart was racing, but otherwise he was okay. Probably would've broken off one of his horns falling face-first into the floor if they hadn't caught him though.

"Th-thanks guys," Eddie smiled weakly at them, and after another moment to let the adrenaline wear off they were on their way again.

Eventually they reached his dorm and he brought everyone inside; no point in making them stand in the hallway while he got dressed in the other room. As he closed the bedroom door, he wasn't entirely sure how he was feeling.

On the one hand, he'd just spent two weeks absolutely convincing himself that his new form was the end of his old life as he knew it. But standing in his unchanged bedroom, changing into his unchanged clothes that still fit him mostly the same, he started to wonder just how different things were actually going to be.

His friends were right outside that door waiting for him and, if Glottis was any sort of metric, maybe people wouldn't be as repulsed by him as he was imagining. Or they'd chase him out of the office with torches and pitchforks, angry mob style, but he could at least deal with that when it actually happened. Leave the worrying for another day; tomorrow at least.

After all, with his friends standing beside him, what really was there to worry about?