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Bear with Me

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            He was back on the fire truck. The water was surging back out to sea, and as Buck strained to help pull someone up from the water, he saw Christopher slip and fall- just like he did every time. Buck tried to shout, he worked desperately to get through the crowd of people sheltering on the fire truck’s roof, but by the time he got to where Christopher had gone in there was no sign of him. The water just kept rushing by. The faces around him turned to Buck, blank and expressionless, silently judging. Buck had failed. He’d let Christopher fall in. He’d lost him-

            Buck woke up with a start, drenched in a cold sweat. It was the same dream again… it was always the same these days… Buck shook his head trying to clear it. Eddie was fast asleep next to him, his breath coming in a soft, steady rhythm. Buck watched him for a minute and shivered a little. Buck had gone to bed in just a pair of shorts, and no matter how much Eddie tried to protest to the contrary, Eddie tended to steal more of the covers from Buck once Eddie fell asleep. Buck was just glad he hadn't woken Eddie up again. The past two nights Buck's thrashing around had pulled Eddie right out of whatever more pleasant dreams he was probably having. As nice it was having Eddie there to help calm him down, and for Buck to be able to just talk to him when Buck woke up from one of his nightmares, Eddie had a twenty-four shift tomorrow. He needed his rest. The beds at the firehouse were a poor substitute for a good night’s sleep-even if Eddie could fall asleep in the firehouse bunks faster than anyone else Buck had ever seen. Buck smiled to himself. Eddie was something of a contradiction when it came to sleep. Eddie could go from fully awake to out like a light in just a few minutes if he wanted, but he never failed to wake up for even the smallest noise. Buck credited it to the time Eddie had spent in the military. In a job like that- even more so than as a first responder- Buck had to imagine you learned pretty quick how to grab sleep when you could.

            The floorboards creaked a little as Buck eased himself out of bed. He padded across the carpet to the bathroom as quietly as he could and shut the door behind him. Only then did he risk turning on the light. Buck groaned a little when he caught sight of his reflection. He looked even worse than he felt-and Buck felt exhausted. He hadn’t had a good night’s sleep since the tsunami. The first few nights after it was all finally over, Buck had found himself going to Christopher’s room every few hours and peaking inside, desperate to reassure himself that his nightmare was just that. Chris was safe.

            Buck leaned back against one wall of the bathroom and slid down to the floor. He hated that he couldn't get over this. The only positive thing Buck could say was that at least Christopher was handling it. The kid was like a damn superhero…

            A knock came from the door. “Buck?” Eddie’s voice was still a little muddled with sleep. “Can I come in?”

            Buck reached up from where he was sitting to turn the doorknob. The bathroom door swung open, and Eddie stepped inside, blinking as his eyes adjusted to the light.

            “You okay?” Eddie asked.

            Buck nodded slowly. “Sorry I woke you up.”

            Eddie sat down next to Buck and slung an arm around Buck’s shoulders. “I told you not to worry about that.”

            “Yeah…”

            “You kept him safe. Just remember that.” Eddie sighed and squeezed Buck’s shoulder. “And I promise you the dreams will get easier…”

            Buck nodded again. He knew he just needed more time. But that didn’t make closing his eyes at night any easier.

            “You know Chris was talking about that giant bear you helped him win again the other day?” Eddie smiled fondly. “He was telling one of his classmates it was even bigger than he was.”

            Buck snorted. “It really was…”

            Another knock came from the bathroom door, this one a little quieter. Buck and Eddie exchanged knowing looks.

            “What are you doing up Christopher?” Eddie asked.

            “Checking on you.” A small laugh came from the hallway, and just a few seconds later Christopher’s smiling face was peaking through the bathroom door. “What’s going on?”

            “Noting buddy.” Eddie started to stand up. “Go back to bed little man.”

            Christopher gave Buck a serious look. Buck couldn’t help smiling back.

            "I had another bad dream. Your dad was just helping me talk about it."

            “That’s good.” Christopher nodded seriously. “I brought something to help too…” Christopher nudged the bathroom door open a little further, and Buck and Eddie both caught sight of the large bowel of ice cream he had balanced precariously on one of his crutches.

            Eddie frowned. “Looks like somebody’s been into the freezer…”

            “Yep.” Christopher smiled proudly.

            Eddie and Buck exchanged knowing looks. Christopher was grinning, and Buck was already finding it hard to keep a straight face. From the look of things, Eddie was struggling too, but so far he was doing a better job than Buck.

            “Ice cream huh?” Buck laughed. “That’s gonna help me feel better?”

            Christopher nodded. “Ice cream makes everything better.”

            Christopher walked over and placed the bowel in Buck’s hand. Buck laughed again when he got a better look at it. It really was a mountain of ice cream. Buck picked up the spoon and took a small bite.

            “You know- “ Buck took another small bite, and eyed the rest of the bowl. “I may need some help to finish all of this…”

            Christopher beamed and pulled a second spoon out of his pocket. “I can help.”

            That finally broke Eddie, and he laughed just as hard as Buck. “Alright Chris, I think maybe you can help Buck there. But only because it’s a special occasion; no ice cream before bed every night.”

            “Even if Buck needs it?” Christopher was already taking his first big scoop.

            “Even then.” Eddie eased himself back down to the floor, and Christopher settled down on his dad’s lap.

            “You’re dad’s no fun.” Buck laughed. “Maybe he needs some ice cream too.”

            “Oh yeah?” Eddie cocked an eyebrow at Buck.

            “Yeah.” Buck got another spoonful of ice cream and waved it towards Eddie’s face. “Open up.”

            Eddie rolled his eyes but did it all the same. Buck smile wider and started to move the ice cream closer to Eddie, only to dollop a little of it onto Eddie's nose at the minute instead.

            Buck grinned. “Oops.”

***

            Buck did sleep better after that. In the morning he was less of a zombie and instead only mostly tired. Eddie left early to get Christopher off to school before heading off to work himself, leaving Buck all alone in the Diaz household. Buck took his time making himself breakfast, and afterword cleaned up a little. He made sure to wash his own dishes, and the ones leftover from Christopher and Eddie too, just to give Eddie one less thing to have to do when he finally did get home. Christopher was going to stay over at his grandmother's house tonight, and between that and his current lack of a job, Buck was left with pretty much his whole day free. He sighed. He needed to do something. Going through the motions and just moving from his apartment to Eddie’s place every few days wasn’t going to help him put that stupid tsunami behind him any sooner. Buck half-heartedly picked up the newspaper. He supposed he'd need to start looking for a new job before too long. But there was still only one job that Buck really wanted.

            The newspaper got pushed aside, and instead, Buck picked up a couple of pictures Eddie had left laying on the table. The pictures were some of the ones Buck had sent Eddie of his day out with Christopher before everything went to hell. There was one of them eating cotton candy, going on a ride, and another of Christopher hugging that giant bear, grinning from ear to ear. Buck smiled, it was nice to remember there had been some good moments at the pier too.

            The bear… Buck frowned for a minute, studying the picture. Buck remembered how excited Christopher had been to win it. Chris had been disappointed to lose it too, but like with so many other things in his life the kid didn’t let it get him down. As hard of a time as they’d both had of things lately Christopher was still a beacon of optimism for Buck. There were a lot of things Buck couldn’t do for Christopher- ways that he’d let the kid down as his nightmares loved to remind him-but this? Buck smiled, an energy he hadn’t felt in days coursing through him. He could do this.

***

            It was harder to track one down than Buck had thought. He tried the Internet first, but the few giant bears that came up when he looked weren’t anything like the one Christopher had won. That’s when Buck started trying other amusement parks. It took a couple of hours but Buck finally found a carnival that looked like it might have the kind of thing he was looking for. Buck drove across down to check it out, but when he circled through all the games the only giant stuffed animal any of them had as prizes looked like some kind of weird orange rat.

            Buck spotted one of the carnival workers on a break as he was getting ready to leave and jogged over to him. “Hey uh- excuse me?”

            The man was older than Buck, gruff with a thick build and a bushy beard to match it. He smiled at Buck. "What can I help you with son?"

            Buck smiled. “Well uh- I’m looking for a bear. I was hoping you could help me.”

            The man smiled wider and gave Buck a quick once over. “Hmm. I think I could help you out.” He winked at Buck. “What did you have in mind?”

            “Oh-no. No sorry,” Buck flushed brilliantly. “I- uh I meant a stuffed bear. Like a carnival prize. I was hoping you might know where I could find something like that. For my- well for my boyfriend’s son.”

            “Hah.” The carnival worker laughed. “Too bad.” But then he smiled again. “Alright. What kind of bear are you talking about?”

            Buck showed him the picture of Christopher and the bear and the worker suggested a few places Buck might try. Apparently, there was a whole world concerning which carnivals and companies carried what kind of prizes. Buck just tried to stay focused on the giant bear for Christopher and followed along as best he could.

            A week later Buck called Eddie. He’d finally struck pay dirt. Eddie had no idea what Buck had been up to this whole time of course, but when Buck called him saying he needed to bring his truck and meet him, Eddie headed out. When Eddie finally got to the location Buck had texted him, he picked Buck out from the crowd immediately. Buck was standing out by the gate with the cockiest grin on his face Eddie had ever seen, and a bear almost taller than Buck propped up next to him. Eddie gaped at him.

            “Buck what did you do?”

            "Won Chris another bear," Buck said smugly. "But it's too big for my car."

            “I can see that.” Eddie eyed the giant stuffed animal skeptically. “Where exactly do you plan on putting it?”

            “In your truck," Buck said. "Obviously."

            Eddie rolled his eyes. “I meant at the house.”

            "Oh." Buck grinned. "Well, clearly that will be for Chris to decide."

            “Right…” Eddie shook his head. “How did you manage to find an even bigger one?”

            Buck laughed. “You’re just jealous you didn’t think of it first.”

            “Sure…” Eddie smiled. Sometimes it was almost like he was raising two kids. He bent down to help Buck carry the plush monstrosity to his truck. “Really I’m just convinced Chris is going to think you’re some kind of a miracle worker after this…”

            “Well-“ Buck winked at him. “I don’t get many complaints.” Buck was beaming. When Christopher got home today he’d have his giant bear waiting for him- and it would be because of Buck. Buck breathed easily. His arm was a little stiff from all the baseballs he’d had to throw at milk bottles to finally the thing. Buck had a feeling he would sleep well tonight.