He doesn't stick around for long. It's too frustrating to just stand there and watch his friends, his team, get to work without being able to help, without being allowed to help. He heads back inside the store, taking care of their groceries and studying the back of each object to keep his mind busy. He hands the bags to Chimney once the team has taken care of everything, giving him a small smile that doesn't quite reach his eyes. Meanwhile, everyone's putting their gear back inside the firetruck and they halt their movements when they see Buck approach. He doesn't pay them much mind, he's too focused on Eddie who is leaning against the side of the truck, arms crossed and glaring.
When Buch reaches him, he sighs, rubbing a hand over his face before he dares to meet Eddie's eyes. They're a storm of controlled fury and Buck's not at all prepared to be on the receiving end of that stare. For a moment he simply looks at him, the angry frown between his eyebrows, the clenching of his jaw and the clear challenge in his eyes. Eddie's a force to be reckoned with, sharp angles and soft edges all at once. Buck has missed him, he just doesn't know how to tell him.
"You don't know what it's like," is what comes out of his mouth. His voice is calm, tired and he says it without judgment. Eddie's frown deepens. "You don't know how important this job is for me. It's more than just a means to pay my bills. And I know it's not why you do it either," he adds before Eddie can argue, "but it's different for me. I don't have anything else."
Buck can tell that this isn't what Eddie had expected. His face falls, the cold anger now replaced by hurt. He's taking it the wrong way, Buck thinks, as he rubs at his eyes. He sighs again, taking a step closer.
"Don't give me that face," he says, "You know that's not what I meant. I know that I have you and Christopher and Maddie and the team. You guys are my family." He looks over at the rest of them who've all gathered in a half circle around them. They're standing far away enough to give them some privacy but close enough to overhear their talking so Buck knows that they're listening.
"But what else do I got, huh?" He turns back to look at Eddie, feeling hopeless and so utterly lonely that it makes his heart ache. "I live and breathe for this job. I wake up every morning with a purpose, with a goal to be the best version of myself that I can be, to do good and help people, no matter the consequences. This is what I do. Not having that is ruining me. Can't you see that?"
Buck's pleading now, furiously blinking away the tears that have gathered in his eyes. His gaze drifts over to Hen, Chimney and Bobby, a bitter smile on his lips as he addresses them.
"You all have your families to come home to. Your wives and girlfriends and kids. We don't really see much of each other outside the station, do we? A dinner here and there maybe? You have great lives outside of the job. But me? Being a firefighter is my life. It starts and ends there, it thrives and falls with it."
He locks eyes with Eddie again and there's no warmth to be found in those deep browns that have become home to him. Buck feels lost. "You can't expect me to just suck it up. You can't expect me to just sit there and be fine with losing what makes me feel whole. Cause I don't know who I am without it."
Eddie's face crumbles with every confession, pictures of a depressed, utterly quiet Buck after the accident flooding his mind. It wasn't just about being in pain or being frustrated with not being allowed back to work. It was about feeling helpless, about not knowing what to do with himself, about not having something to hold onto. Eddie realizes now, that the signs have been there all along. Buck's parents have never been in the picture, the few girlfriends he's had in the past have left, Maddie moved out, his leg got crushed and he was told he might never be a firefighter again. He worked his ass off to get back into the field and was denied, forced to do something that didn't make him happy. He thought he had lost Christopher in the tsunami, thought he had ruined his friendship with Eddie. There's no way he isn't suffering from PTSD. If Christopher has been having nightmares, Buck might have had them too. He's been lonely and depressed all along, focused on nothing but the 118. And now that he's lost that too? Eddie doesn't want to imagine how Buck must've been feeling. He wants to slap himself for not picking up on it sooner.
"I'm sorry about the lawsuit, I really am," Buck interrupts Eddie's thoughts, "It's not how I wanted it to go but I didn't know what else to do."
"You could've talked to me," Eddie argues and his voice sounds rough, foreign even to his own ears.
"Would you have listened?" The question is genuine and it makes Eddie ache all over.
"Buck…," he says his name like he's in physical pain and he reaches out for him, clasping a hand behind Buck's neck and pulling him closer. "Of course I would've listened, buddy, you're my best friend. How could you even think that?"
Buck makes an exasperated sound, muscles tensing beneath Eddie's fingers and so Eddie tries to calm him down, his thumb rubbing soothing circles against the side of his neck.
"You had enough on your plate, what with Christopher and his nightmares and losing his mom. I didn't wanna add to that, didn't wanna burden you."
Eddie exhales shakily, pressing his forehead to Buck's for a short moment before he pulls back, searching his eyes.
"You could never be a burden. I'm sorry for making you feel like you couldn't talk to me. I don't want you to feel like that ever again, you hear me? You're my people, Buck, and I need you by my side. Chris wasn't the only one who missed you y'know."
Buck's eyes widen in disbelief and Eddie gives him a sad smile, finally realising that Buck didn't know how much he's loved. Eddie muses that people don't really let him know. Hell, he didn't let him know, didn't tell him enough how much he values their friendship. He's not gonna make the same mistake again.
"You don't have to hide from me or shield me from your problems or whatever. I have your back, remember?"
Buck nods, wiping at his eyes with the back of his hand and unconsciously drawing Eddie's own away from his neck. He takes a couple of much needed breaths, needing to distance himself a little so he doesn't suffocate from the weight of it all.
"I have your back too, okay?" he murmurs after a few seconds of silence, "I know I haven't been the best friend lately. I've been so focused on my own suffering that I didn't think to consider yours and for that I am so sorry."
"I know," Eddie breathes, leaning his head against the truck and wiping a hand over his face, never once taking his eyes off of Buck.
"I swear I never meant to hurt you or Chris. God, I made such a mess of it all." The frustration is evident in his voice and Eddie watches helplessly how Buck clenches his trembling fingers into a fist. Eddie wants to reach out and ease the tension in his body but something is holding him back.
"I know you didn't," he says and desperately hopes it's enough. "It's okay, Buck."
Eddie isn't mad anymore, he understands where Buck's coming from. He's tired of fighting and arguing. He's tired of being so damn angry all the time. He just wants his best friend back in both his and Christopher's life.
"It's not." Buck sounds like a stubborn child, crossing his arms across his chest and pursuing his lips. Eddie can't help but find it endearing.
"Yeah it is," he responds, and when Buck finds him hiding a smile, he considers that maybe Eddie's right after all.
They stare at each other for a moment, both lost in thought. The warmth Buck was missing earlier is back now, blooming brightly in his chest. It's stronger this time, this overwhelming feeling of longing, the urge to belong somewhere, anywhere. Buck doesn't quite understand it but it's been with him for a while now, the stages familiar and comforting. It's a second heartbeat, he realises with shocking clarity. Looking at Eddie now, he can feel it deepest, that sense of belonging, that rhythmic thumb of another purpose, a different reason to wake up every morning. The seconds pass and the tension between them grows and Buck realises that it's Eddie. It's always been Eddie.
"You're my people too, y'know."
And Eddie smiles at him, that soft and genuine little half smile that is reserved only for him. Buck can't help it, his gaze drops to Eddie's lips, forbidden but unashamed, and he feels the blood rush to his cheeks as he finds himself being caught. He rubs at his neck, looking up at Eddie from beneath his lashes but he just smiles and rolls his eyes a little.
"Come here," he murmurs and Buck goes without a second thought. Eddie pushes from the truck as Buck reaches him, pulling him into a strong hug. He can feel Buck exhale against his shoulder, all that pent up tension leaving his body at the contact. Buck closes his eyes, breathing him in. They seperate eventually, smiling at each other until Bobby suddenly breaks the silence.
"You're coming home," he orders, "where we can all keep an eye on you."
Buck laughs, a joyful and relieved sound, and Eddie can't put into words how much he's missed him, how much he's longed to see Buck happy. His hand moves on instinct, gently tapping against Buck's wrist. Buck swallows visibly at the touch but the bright smile never leaves his face. He looks over at Eddie and doesn't feel so lost anymore.
Home, he thinks, as he tangles their fingers together, the ghost of Eddie's breath tickling his neck, this is where I belong.