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a leaf falls on loneliness

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Sometimes, Buck wakes up drowning. Sometimes, Buck wakes up with a crushing weight on top of him and an empty feeling inside him and he can’t—get—free. And for all the times in between, he wakes up, terrified out of his skin with no reason why.

This is one of those nights.

He shoots out of bed and scrambles for the light, patting himself down—both arms, both legs, no blood, no holes. He’s fine, he’s fine, he’s fine, he’s fine.

It takes a while, of him clutching at his chest, of his heart hammering out of his ribs, of his lungs caving in on themselves, before he realizes: he’s fine.

Christopher Diaz is at home. Safe.

There’s no truck. No waves. No clots. No bombs.

Just him. Evan Buckley. In his bed. In his room. Making an idiot of himself at four in the morning.

It’s too early for his shift. Too late for sleep.

***

Buck has never been one for cardio. Yes, he runs, but he’s never been a runner.

Until now.

If he runs long enough, and hard enough, and fast enough, his brain shuts down. His thoughts narrow down to the ache in his thighs, the burning in his lungs, and the constant chant of, “God, when will this be over?”

He’s sure someone out there will have something to say about this particular coping mechanism. He knows it’s not exactly healthy (or safe), but it’s what he has.

On the other side of the park, another man is running the same route. Buck sees him some nights, pace steady but determined.

Buck wonders if he’s running from his head too.

***

“Look, look,” Buck says at lunch, “I’m just saying, it’s possible that a ghost called 911.”

There is a collective groan from everyone around the table.

“Not this again,” Hen groans.

“Buck,” Bobby says slowly, like he’s talking to a child, “we’ve talked about this before, remember? Ghosts do not exist. They do not call 911.”

“How do you know, have you met one?”

There is a beat.

“No. No, I have not, because they don’t exist.”

“No, people just haven’t discovered them yet. It’s different.” Next to him, Eddie moves Buck’s glass of water out of reach so he doesn’t knock it over with his hand gestures. “Russel Hoang was at home, alone, when he fell. His phone was across the room, out of reach. Someone called 911 for him. What if, maybe, it was his dead wife’s ghost?”

There is another beat as the crew looks around, then Eddie says, “he has a point, Cap.”

“Alright,” Bobby declares, “agree to disagree, Buck.”

Buck claps. “Yes.

“And you are on dish duty.”

“Aw, man.

Eddie laughs and pats his back, making Buck grin and say to Bobby, “I think I’m gonna need some help, Cap.”

“Eddie can help you.”

“You’re the worst,” Eddie groans.

Buck laughs and, watching him, Eddie’s glare slowly softens into a smile. Buck’s heart does something strange and he bites his lips, turning back to his lunch.

“You want to come over tonight?” Eddie asks later, gently nudging Buck away from the sink so he could take over the washing. Allegedly -- emphasis on the allegedly -- Buck makes too much of a mess when he’s washing dishes and speaking at the same time.

“Depends, you gonna make me clean your kitchen as payback?”

“Well, now that you mention it, that’s not a bad idea.” Eddie grins. “Chris just got a new Lego set and he asked if you would come over to play with him. Seeing as how you two are pretty much the same age…”

Buck rolls his eyes. “Very funny. I’ll have you know Legos are a perfectly good pastime for people of all ages.”

“If you say so,” Eddie says, still smiling. “So? You want to come over? I’ll get us some pizza.”

Any night he doesn’t have to spend in his own company is a good night. A night with the Diaz boys is absolutely the best night.

“I’ll be there.”

***

Buck doesn’t think that if he were to say, “I’m in a bad place”, that anyone would turn him away. Really, he doesn’t. The 118 has too many good, kind people for that.

But every time he wants to open his mouth, to say something, to reach out to Eddie or Bobby or Hen or Chim, he hears Eddie yelling, “you’re exhausting.”

—you’re exhausting, you’re exhausting, you’re exhausting—

So each day he does his job and he laughs and he jokes and he pretends he’s the care-free goofball he’s always been. And each day he packs away his bruises and his worries, takes them home to his empty loft with its quiet rooms, and licks his wounds in silence.

***

“BUCK!”

Buck laughs and lifts the little ball of energy in his arms. “Hey, Superman. Did you miss me?”

“Of course he did,” Eddie answers for his son, rolling his eyes. “He barely even looked up when I came in.”

Chris groans and rolls his eyes. “I was watching Spiderman, dad.”

“Yeah, Eddie,” Buck goads, “he was watching Spiderman.”

Eddie rolls his eyes again and claps him on the back. “Come on in, pizza’s almost here.”

Chris cheers, kicking his legs, which Buck takes as indication that he wants to be released.

“Can Buck and I play with my Legos?” Chris asks, picking up one of his crutches and grabbing onto Buck’s hand. Buck picks up his other crutch and lets himself be led into the kitchen.

“After dinner, if you’ve finished your homework, maybe.

“Aw, dad.

Buck leans down. “Come on, Superman. I bet that homework is a piece of cake for you. Get it done quickly, and I’ll talk your dad around.”

Chris throws his head back in exasperation and pivots to where his homework is spread out in the living room, groaning all the way.

“He learned that from you,” Eddie tells him.

“Did not,” Buck says, even though he probably, totally, did. “You need help with that salad?”

“Nah, but you can set the table.”

Buck had never thought small, domestic things like helping with a salad or setting a table would be anything other than tedious. But here, now, in Eddie’s house, setting the table feels like a privilege. Like he’s being allowed in their home as part of the family. There was a time, after the lawsuit, he didn’t think he’d get to have this again.

“You alright?”

I don’t know, he wants to say, but I’m better when I’m with you.

(you’re exhausting)

Buck forces a grin. “Yeah, as long as you promise we get to play with Legos after dinner.”

“Dios, you’re worse than he is.”

Buck stays and plays with Chris until Eddie forces his son into bed. Then stays until he’s read Chris enough stories to have Eddie dragging him out of the room. Then stays and nurses a beer until it’s gone warm.

Eddie yawns.

“Sorry, I’ll get out of your hair.”

Eddie shakes his head and nods at the bottle in Buck’s hand. “You haven’t even finished your beer.”

“I’m good,” he says, dumps the drink down the sink. “Sorry, I didn’t realize it was so late.”

“Hey,” Eddie says gently, “I like spending time with you and you’re always welcome here.”

“Thanks, Eddie.” Buck says, meaning the words more than Eddie knows, then forces himself to put on his jacket and walk away.

Maybe it won’t be so bad tonight.

***

“Where did you serve?”

The other runner’s name is Cole Terrence. He looks around Bobby’s age, and has an open, easy personality that calms Buck’s nerves.

“Serve?” Buck blinks at him. “Oh--Oh, no, no, no. I’m not a, uh,—”

The other man raises his hands. “Sorry, when I see someone running at 3 in the morning like the devil’s running after them, I assume they’ve seen action.”

“No, no,” Buck shakes his head, “just can’t sleep.”

Cole narrows his eyes and Buck resists shifting on his feet the way he sometimes does when Bobby is sizing him up. “What do you do, son?”

Buck beams. “I’m a firefighter.”

“Ah,” Cole says, nodding, like something’s become clear to him now.

There’s something in the tone, in the look, that has Buck’s smile sliding off his face.

***

Buck stares at the scene in front of him, lips parted, eyes wide.

“Buck.”

“Yeah, Cap?”

“Don’t. Laugh.”

“I’m not.”

He can hear snickers in his earpiece and swallows against the urge to burst out laughing himself.

What are you guys doing? Help me.

“Captain?” Bucky says very, very slowly.

“Yes, Buck?”

“Permission to go inside the truck and laugh.”

“Permission granted.”

Buck practically runs to the back of the truck, bursting into a fit of laughter as soon as he’s cleared.

“Oh my God,” Eddie gasps.

“He’s--he’s--” Buck collapses against Chimney, clutching his stomach. “--he’s--”

“Alright everyone,” crackles Bobby’s voice, “settle down. Buck I’m going to need your help out here.”

“Okay--okay--” he takes a deep breath, and clears his throat, “--okay--I’m--”

His eyes lock on Eddie’s and immediately the two men start snickering again, leaning on each other to hold themselves up.

Buck.

Coming.

The man glares the whole time Buck is treating him, which Buck thinks is fair enough.

“Are you in any pain or discomfort right now, sir?”

“He said it would make my greatest wish come true,” the man says instead.

“Well." Buck shrugs. "That might still happen.” Hey, anything is possible.

“I can’t imagine wanting anything that badly.” Chimney says at the end of their shift.

“I can,” Hen says, “if someone tells me to dye myself purple, put on a donkey suit, and serenade some snakes, and I’ll have a baby, I’m there in a heartbeat.”

“I’m with Chim,” Eddie says, “you can’t just rely on miracles for the things you want. You gotta work for them. Otherwise, what’s the point?”

“I’d do it.”

Chim rolls his eyes. “Yes, we all know you’d do it, Buck. You probably wouldn’t even ask for a wish before doing something like that.”

“What would you wish for?” Eddie asks.

Buck, who’d been frowning at Chim’s comment, shrugs. “I don’t know. Six months ago, I would have said just to be back here. Now, I guess I have everything I’d wish for.”

Chim scoffs and the conversation pivots to what everyone would wish for.

“There’s nothing you want that you’d make a wish for?” Eddie presses again. “Not money, or a yacht, or--”

“Nope.” Buck grins. “I am perfectly happy.”

Bobby wishes they would all just shut up and go home.

***

Buck wishes he hadn’t filed the lawsuit. He wishes he’d been there for Eddie and Chris when they needed him.

He wishes he had someone else’s body. One that worked properly and didn’t have screws in its leg, and a few screws loose in its head.

Buck wishes his parents had been better. He wishes they’d loved him and Maddie. He wishes he hadn’t had to teach himself how to be, how to feel. He wishes they’d taught him how to love a normal amount so the people he loved wouldn’t become so unbearably indispensable to him.

He wishes someone would keep him.

He wishes he could sleep.

He wishes.

***

“There was this kid,” Buck says, an untouched coffee cooling in front of him, “he blew up my truck, and--and I was trapped under it--”

Cole sits back in his seat. “You’re that firefighter.”

Buck nods and swallows. “Guess it made the news.”

“That’s an understatement,” Cole scoffs. “But then, it’d be understandable, why your job would be hard after that--”

“--No, no,” Buck shakes his head. “My job is the only thing that isn’t hard.”

Cole says nothing, and Buck licks his lips, sitting up and putting his elbows on the table. He tells him everything, about the blood clot, the tsunami, the terror of losing Chris in the chaos that followed, and the lawsuit that was the icing on the cake.

When he’s finished, Cole sits back, stunned. “Wow.”

“Yeah.”

***

As a rule, Buck lets Eddie win when they’re playing video games. Usually, they only play video games when Chris is there, and cheering his father on, so Buck is happy to take a bit of teasing from his best friend for his almost spectacular losing streak, if it means both the Diaz boys smile like that. Eddie is so naturally good at everything he does, no one else thinks to question it. No one, that is, except for Denny Wilson.

“You’re letting him win,” Denny accuses one day.

Buck freezes, and everyone gathered around the pair in Eddie’s living room, turns to look at him.

Buck glances at Eddie then back to Denny and forces a chuckle. “Uh, no, buddy, Eddie won, fair and square.”

“No,” Danny glares, “you let him win. You could have beat him at the beginning with that move you taught me the other day. Remember, the one with the lava.”

Buck casts a look at Hen, help.

Fighting back a smile, she reaches for their controllers, handing one to Karen. “Both of these boys are terrible at this game. Let’s show ‘em how it’s done, honey.”

“I’ll get some more snacks,” Buck blurts, practically running into the kitchen.

He feels, more than sees, Eddie follow him.

“Do you think we have any more of those cookies Karen made?” Buck asks, riffling through the cupboards, and wincing at his use of the word ‘we’. “Or did I eat them all?”

“Buck, have you been letting me win so I’d look cool in front of my kid?”

Buck turns slowly and makes a face. “No?”

Eddie crosses his arms. “So all this time, me winning the title…”

Buck makes another face. “Sorry?”

Eddie rolls his eyes but he’s smiling. “You know what this means, don’t you?”

“Uh--”

Eddie steps closer, until there isn’t much separating the two of them. “It means we’re going to go again until I prove I can take you.”

Buck swallows--don’t say anything inappropriate, he chants. “Right,” he says, swallowing again and licks his lips.

He thinks he sees Eddie’s eyes flicker to his lips, but then he’s gone and Buck’s sure he imagined it.

There’s a boom of laughter from the living room and someone is calling for Buck to hurry up with the snacks and Buck feels lighter than he has in a while.

Later, when Eddie has made him play round after round of the same video game, and Buck is yawning (and still managing to beat the other man), Eddie asks him if he wants to stay over.

“We’ll head in together.”

“Nah,” Buck shakes his head, “I got to feed my neighbour’s cat.”

Maybe tonight won’t be so bad.

***

“Have you tried therapy?” Cole asks.

Buck cringes. “Yeah, uh, I tried that once. Before all of this. Didn’t really work out for me.”

“What happened?”

“She, uh,” He gives a breathless laugh, a self-deprecating smile. “I had sex with her.”

Cole’s eyebrows shoot up, and Buck’s face heats up.

“It was a phase.”

“That’s not a phase, son. That’s malpractice.”

Buck shrugs. “Yeah, well, she was treating me for sex addicition. Guess that, uh--”

He doesn’t get to finish because Cole had started sputtering. “She was treating you for sex addiction and she had sex with you?”

“It was just a phase,” Buck says again, voice small. Buck 2.0 (3.0?) has come a long way and he’s been trying so hard to be better.

“It doesn’t matter.” Cole insists. “That woman took advantage of you and her license should be revoked.”

Well, that’s new. He hadn’t thought about it that way. “Uh, I mean, she doesn’t work for the department anymore.”

Cole shakes his head. “Jesus, kid. You’re a right mess, aren’t you?”

“I know,” Buck says, eyes fixed on the table. He knows.

“Hey.” Buck looks up and Cole smiles at him kindly. “Most people are. It’ll be okay.”

***

“Chris’s class wants to go to a waterpark,” Eddie says the moment Buck answers his phone.

Buck closes his fridge door, frowning. “Okay?”

“Chris--he--he doesn’t want to go because—”

It clicks. “He’s afraid of water.” Shit.

“Yeah, because of the--”

“--the tsunami, right.” He shakes his head. That poor kid. “What are you going to do?”

“I told him he doesn’t have to go this time, if he doesn’t want to, but he agreed to try coming to the pool with me today to see how he feels about water.”

“That’s great, Eddie. What’s the matter?”

Eddie lets out a breath. “He wants you there. With us. When we try. I know it’s your day off today, and you’re probably busy, but I was wondering--”

“Yes.”

There’s a pause. “Yeah?”

“Yes, Eddie, of course. You don’t even have to ask.”

“Right.” There’s something in his voice that Buck can’t quite place, but it doesn’t sound bad so Buck doesn’t worry about it. “Well, I was thinking, in like an hour? And then we can grab lunch, after?”

“Sure. Text me the address.”

When he gets to the parking lot, Chris is excited as always to see him, but his natural energy is noticeably subdued. Buck exchanges worried glances with Eddie before plastering a wide smile on his face and kneeling in front of Chris.

“You ready to do this, bud?”

“I guess.” Chris says with a shrug.

“Hey, your dad and I will be there the whole time, and you know I’m a good swimmer, right?”

“Right. You saved everyone.”

Buck smiles, swallowing a lump in his throat. He hadn’t saved everyone. He had barely saved Chris.

“Come on, Chris,” Eddie says, watching Buck carefully. “Let’s go get changed.”

It takes more than a little coaxing from both men to get Chris into the water. In the end, they both get in the pool to prove that the water only comes up to their waist, before Chris is willing to risk it.

“Yeah, Superman, you got this!” Buck cheers, exchanging grins with Eddie over Chris’s head. “Just lay down and float and we’ll be right here.”

“Don’t let go, okay?”

“Never.”

They walk the length of the pool with Chris floating between them, supporting his body with their hands.

“Turn back. It’s too deep,” Chris says, reaching up to trace where the water is now at his dad’s chest.

“Aw, but your dad’s so short,” Buck teases, “of course the water is too deep for him.”

Eddie glares, but there’s no heat behind it, and Buck just grins back unrepentantly.

“Hey, Chris,” Eddie says, “you think you’d be okay if we let go now?”

Chris thinks about it. “You can let go. But not Buck.”

Hey.

“Sorry, Eds. Guess your kid knows I’m the better swimmer.”

“You wanna—“

“It’s okay, dad,” Chris says, “Buck can swim in a tsunami.”

“That’s right, buddy. You tell him.”

Eddie rolls his eyes, but slowly, gently, lets go of Chris.

“Buck?” Chris asks after a few minutes.

“Yes?”

“Is it okay if I still don’t want to go on the class trip?”

Buck’s eyes fly to Eddie. “Yeah, Superman, of course. Is the water still bothering you?”

The boy nods, looking ashamed.

“Hey, if you don’t want to go—”

“I want to go. I’m just...scared. I know it’s stupid.”

“It’s never stupid to be scared. And you went through something very scary,” Buck says, “and it left a lot of people very scared. But I’ll tell you what, if you want to go to the waterpark with your friends, I can bring you here as many times as you want til then until you feel okay to go. Would that be good?”

Chris doesn’t say anything, but sits up and wraps his arms around Buck. “I love you, Buck.”

Buck hugs the kid close to him, blinking back tears. “I love you too, Christopher.”

He looks over at Eddie and sees him watching them, a tender, soft look on his face that makes Buck’s heart hurt with what if.

***

“I don’t mean to keep whining. I know you have your own problems.”

“You’re not whining. You experienced a lot of trauma in a very short time. You’re processing.”

“Still,” Buck says, “if you want to talk about anything, I’ll listen, I promise.”

“I know you will, kid.” Cole sighs. “I’ll tell you. And I’ll tell you for one reason only. Because you don’t think you're allowed to take, unless you’ve given enough. So if you need to hear about my sad story to let me help, I’ll tell you.”

Cole had been a high-ranking officer in the army, until a mission gone wrong 8 years ago.

“In five minutes, everyone was dead. Except for me. They said I’d never be able to walk again.” He looks smug, tapping his legs, like, yeah, I showed those doctors. “For a long time after I came back, in the hospital, in therapy, I was angry. Angry and not coping well. I drank to the point of blacking out almost every night. I lashed out at my wife, at my doctors, at my friends...at my kids. Everyone who tried to reach out to me, I burned. Eventually, my wife couldn’t do it anymore. The night she left, she got into a car accident. My wife, in critical condition, because she’d been too upset to get into that car. My kids--they couldn't count on me and they knew they couldn’t count me.

“The next day, I threw out all the alcohol, went straight to the VA. Signed up for everything I could to straighten myself out. It was hard, but I did it, eventually. And my wife, thank God, she came out of it okay. And I fixed things with my family. I’ve been sober 6 years now. Celebrating my 30th anniversary soon. One of my kids is starting med school in the fall. The other one is going to be president, one day.”

Buck smiles at Cole’s proud grin. “So it turned out okay.”

“Eventually, it did.” Cole takes a breath. “I used to come out here and run myself ragged every night, until I was too exhausted for nightmares. Now, I do it as a habit and to remind myself of how close I was to losing everything. That’s how I knew you were running from your demons too.”

Demons.

Right.

***

“You know,” Buck says, “you make a pretty good pillow.”

Underneath him, Eddie grunts, tries to shift their position. The space is too tight for two grown men in LAFD uniforms to move. “Glad I could help.”

“Buck, Diaz, you okay?”

“Yeah, Cap,” Buck shouts up the hole they landed themselves in, “though I think we may be stuck.”

“You got enough oxygen?”

“Yeah, Cap. It’s a snug fit, but we’re fine until rescue.”

“Stay put,” Bobby orders, “your area looks stable. We’ll send someone in as soon as we have everyone out.”

“Copy that, Cap.” He looks down at Eddie. “Are you okay? Did you injure anything? Hit your head?”

“I’m good,” Eddie says. It wasn’t a big fall. “You?”

“You covered my fall.” Buck grins. “My hero.”

Eddie grunts again. “I’m very happy for you. Meanwhile, I have a piece of rock digging into my head.”

“Oh, here,” he says, and flails around, trying to free his arms.

Eddie’s hands shoot up to hold on to his waist. “What—”

“Hang on—” he gets one arm loose, and brings it up, slipping his hand under Eddie’s head, where--ouch--there is a very sharp edge of a rock. “There. Is that better?”

Eddie doesn’t say anything, and Buck glances down, worried. His breath catches at the way Eddie is looking at him. It hits him suddenly, that he’s pinned close to Eddie—to Eddie—and that —and that their lips are barely inches apart.

Don’t stare.

“Yeah,” Eddie says, voice barely above a whisper. “That’s better.”

***

It’s not the same. You’re not pinned anywhere. You just don’t have a lot of space to move. Rescue is coming. Eddie is with you. Focus on Eddie.

Don’t think about his lips.

***

“This is awkward, isn’t it?”

“What makes you say that?” Eddie asks dryly.

“Seriously, should we try to, like, talk or something? Don’t you think it’s awkward that we’ve just been lying here in silence for 20 minutes?”

“I think it’s awkward that we’ve been lying here for 20 minutes. I don’t know that us talking is going to turn the ship around on that.”

There’s a long stretch of silence and Buck shifts a little, making Eddie hiss and say in a huff, “seriously, Buck, it’s bad enough without you moving around so much.”

Buck stops. “Sorry.”

“I know it’s uncomfortable, I know you like to talk a mile a minute a minute, I know you’re worse than a hyperactive child, but just put yourself on pause for ten goddamn minutes until we’re out of here.”

“I’m sorry,” Buck says again, stung, “it was just my leg, that’s all.”

There’s a pause, and then: “Shit.”

And then: “I--I forgot about your leg.”

Well, lucky you.

“You can move, if you want.”

“It’s fine.”

“No, really, it’s okay--”

“I said I’m fine,” he snaps.

***

You’re fine. You’re not pinned. You’re fine. You’re fine.

***

“Buck…”

“We don’t have to talk,” Buck says, looking everywhere but Eddie. It’s hard to do, given that Eddie makes up 90% of his field of vision, but he’s managing.

“Buck, come on, don’t be a baby. Just, let me--” Eddie shifts under him, wrapping his arms tighter around Buck, and lifting one knee up. Buck’s legs slide between Eddie’s, and Buck gives a sigh of relief when his leg is no longer stuck at such an awkward angle.

“Thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” Eddie says softly, “you should have said something sooner.”

Buck stays quiet, staring at the same lump of rock. The hands around him give a small squeez.

“Chris aced his math test.”

Buck considers staying stubbornly silent, but it’s an olive branch, and he’s never been good at denying Eddie anything.

He drags his eyes back to Eddie. “Yeah?”

“Yeah.” Eddie smiles back, looking a little relieved. “He was worried.”

“He had no reason to be. I knew he would ace it. He’s a very smart kid.”

“I know,” Eddie says, “and you taught him that thing for the multiplication.”

“Oh, yeah, I had to look it up,” Buck admits, “but it’s been coming in pretty handy. Apparently that’s how kids are taught in Japan.”

“Well, Chris sure appreciated it.”

The conversation flows after that. They talk about Chris and sports and the latest gossip at work, until eventually, they hear Chim’s voice above them.

“Alright, break it up, lovebirds.”

***

You’re fine.

***

“Ugh,” Eddie sighs, sitting still as the paramedics look him over. “I can’t wait to get home and hug my kid.”

“Lucky,” Buck teases, “we should all have a Chris to go home to.”

“You can come over if you want.”

I do, Buck thinks. I do want. I want so badly.

Maybe he could--no. No, Eddie has his own problems.

“Nah, I’m going to need my own bed tonight.”

“Firefighter Buckley, have you been looked over?”

Buck smiles at the paramedic. “Yeah, I’m fine. Eddie cushioned my fall.”

Eddie scoffs.

“What about your hand?”

Buck blinks and raises his hand to his eyes. “Oh.”

“Is that from--?”

He looks over at Eddie, who is frowning at him.

Buck rolls his eyes. “Yeah, it’s fine. Someone was using it as a pillow for a good two hours.”

“Are you sure nothing is broken?” the paramedic asks, taking his hand to inspect it, pressing down on the knuckles.

“Yeah, the bruising is just from the blood thinners.”

“Can you wrap it for him?”

“Eddie, I’m fine,” Buck says with a sigh.

“No, he’s right,” the paramedic says, “here, sit down. I’ll wrap it for you. You can take it off in two days.”

Buck sighs again, but lets her guide him to the seat next to Eddie.

They’re quiet for a while, and Buck pretends he doesn’t notice how intensely Eddie is staring as the paramedic wraps his hand.

“You didn’t have to keep your hand there,” Eddie finally says.

Buck looks up to shoot Eddie a quick grin. “Better my hand than that pretty head of yours.”

“Oh, you think my head is pretty, do you?”

“You know I do,” Buck says, fluttering his eyelashes.

Eddie chuckles and turns back to the paramedic who is instructing him to take it easy for a few days--”there’s nothing broken and no internal bleeding, but you’re going to have some bruising.”

When Buck turns back to his own paramedic, her eyes are flitting between the two of them, a small smile on her lips. Buck shifts uncomfortably. “Am I all done?”

“Yup!” she says a little too loudly, “all done.”

She packs up her gear and shoots him a parting wink before leaving.

Buck blushes and rolls to his feet. “Alright, I’m, uh, I’m gonna head out. Call me if you or Chris need anything, okay?”

“Thanks,” Eddie says.

He’s almost out when Eddie calls him and he turns around. “Are we okay?”

“Yeah, man,” Buck says easily. “Of course we are.”

Maybe he’s wrong and tonight won’t be a bad night.

***

“Come on, kid, breathe.”

Buck tries, but he can’t get his lungs to work properly. He lets Cole push him down towards a bench, tucks his head between his knees.

A strong hand comes up behind him, rubbing his back. “Jesus, what were they thinking leaving you alone like this?”

Buck shakes his head, gulping in air. “They didn’t know. I didn’t tell them.”

“And they didn’t ask.”

He shakes his head again. “They don’t think they have to ask. They think if I have a problem, I’d tell them.”

“So why don’t you tell them?” Cole asks once Buck is no longer in the middle of a panic attack.

Buck takes a breath--breathing, what a concept, right?--and keeps his eyes on where the sun is just peaking out over the horizon.

“They--” he scrubs his hand through his hair, “--they have their own problems. I can’t just keep bringing up something that happened so long ago. Besides, Eddie took the brunt of the fall. I barely got a scratch on me.”

“And he walked away with bruises, I’m sure. And you walked away with--”

He cuts himself off, pursing his lips.

He doesn’t need to finish.

They both know what he walked away with.

***

“So, explain to me, again, how you found a bag full of money while out on a run, and you turned it right over to the police without taking any of it.”

“That’s what you’re supposed to do.” Buck says, looking at Bobby for support. The other man nods.

“Like, all of it, you didn’t even take like, a bill to pay for your breakfast?”

Buck looks between everyone standing over him. “No?”

“You weren’t even tempted?”

He just blinks at them. What is he not getting?

“But...it wasn’t my money.” He shrugs. “That would be stealing.”

“Yes,” Chim says, “but if you spent it, it would be like shopping.

Buck frowns at him. The older man looks back, disgusted. “God, did you and Maddie, like, not own a television when you were growing up?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Chim,” he tells him.

They don’t let the topic drop. It’s all he hears about all day, how he could have been filthy rich if he’d just grabbed the money and ran.

Three days later, he drops an even bigger bomb on them.

You did what?

This time, even Bobby is looking at him like he’s crazy.

“Wait, wait--”

“--no one claimed the money--”

“--and you said you didn’t want it?”

Buck shrugs, digging into his carton of noodles. “I told them they can donate it. It didn’t feel right.”

“Why couldn’t you tell them to donate it to my bank account instead?” Hen asks.

“Sorry,” he says, shooting her an apologetic look, “didn’t think of that.”

“Settle down everyone, Buck did a good thing.”

Thank you, Bobby.”

“I just can’t with him right now,” Chim says, standing up. “I lost my appetite.”

“Me too.” Hen says, throwing down her chopsticks in disgust and following Chim.

Buck watches them go. “So I shouldn’t tell them about the five million dollars settlement money I turned down?”

Bobby chuckles. “Let’s save that for when we’re trying to give Chim a heart attack.”

Bobby stands up and puts his food away, patting Buck on the back as he passes. “You did good. I’m proud of you.”

Buck beams at the praise, digging into his food with gusto. It takes him a minute to realize that Eddie is flicking looks at him out of the corner of his eyes.

“What?”

Eddie shakes his head. “Nothing, nothing.”

A pause.

“So, five million dollars?”

“Yeah.” Uncomfortable, Buck shifts his body just slightly away. “Don’t tell me you forgot about my lawsuit.”

“No, I just didn’t know--” Eddie licks his lips. “You turned down five million dollars?”

Buck tries to shrug again. It’s harder this time. The noodles slip through his chopsticks. “Yeah, I wasn’t doing it for the money, Eddie. I just wanted to be back here.”

He looks up when Eddie doesn’t say anything for a long time.

“What?”

“Nothing,” he says again, with a soft shake of his head, and turns back to his own food. “So where did you ask them to donate the money?”

“The Cerebral Palsy Foundation.” Buck tells him, reaching for a dumpling.

Eddie’s head snaps towards him, and the look he gives him makes Buck squirm. “Really?”

“Damn,” Hen says, coming back up the stairs, and picking up her carton of food. “That’s actually really sweet. I can’t even be mad about that.”

Buck turns away from Eddie’s probing eyes. “I see your appetite is back.”

Hen rolls her eyes. “Yeah, yeah. Gimme those spring rolls.”

Buck does so, pretending he doesn’t notice that Eddie is still looking at him.

“That’s--that’s really nice of you, Buck,” Eddie says, sincerely.

Buck shakes his head. “It’s no big deal.”

Eddie grabs his arm, making him look up.

“It is.” Eddie says, holding his gaze. “It really is.”

Buck swallows and licks his lips, unable to look away.

Distantly, he hears Hen’s chair scrape back slowly. “Okaaaay.”

“Anything for Chris, you know that.”

Eddie smiles. “Yeah.”

They turn back to their food. Buck can’t be sure, but he thinks Eddie may be blushing as much as he is.

***

“Do I have something on my lips?” Buck asks, reaching up to wipe at his mouth.

Eddie frowns. “No, why?”

“Nothing, you just keep looking at ‘em.”

By the fridge, Hen gives a big bark of laughter. Both their eyes snap towards her before Buck, blushing, turns back to Eddie. “Sorry, that sounded weird. Nevermind. Ignore me.”

“Okay,” Eddie says, standing up to throw his leftovers out. “See you downstairs.”

“Yeah.”

Buck resists the urge to hit his head against the table.

‘You keep looking at my lips.’ What an idiot.

***

One of the benefits of SEAL training--and there are not many as far as Buck is concerned (although drown proofing certainly came in useful during the tsunami)--is that you process fear differently. You react to stress differently.

Buck is impulsive, yes. He’s reckless, yes. And generally a little slow on the uptake, he knows. But one thing he’s not is a coward. He can keep a clear head in an emergency. Make the decisions that need to be made.

Usually.

It’s when someone he loves gets in trouble that he loses his head. The SEALs had tried to train that out of him too.

Sometimes, he wishes he’d let them.

“You want to tell me what the hell you were thinking rushing in there like that?”

Buck stares down at his hands. He’d tried to wash all the grime off, but it's still caking under his fingernails. “I’m sorry, Bobby.”

“No, that’s not good enough, Buck. I gave you a direct order and you not only disobeyed me, you deliberately put yourself in danger.”

“I know,” Buck says, “I do, I just—I saw Eddie trapped in there, and I don’t know what happened, I couldn’t think, Bobby, I’m sorry. I had to get him out.”

“And what if something had happened to you?”

“It--it wouldn’t have mattered, Bobby.”

“Excuse me?”

He looks up, takes in Bobby’s enraged expression, and swallows. “It’s Eddie.”

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”

Buck turns quickly on his heels, and immediately takes a step back at the look on his friends face. “Eddie--”

Eddie starts advancing on him. “What the fuck--”

Buck is raising his hands to start placating when Bobby steps in between them. “Eddie, cool it.”

“Cap--”

“Walk it off, Firefighter Diaz,” Bobby says, “now.

Eddie glares at Bobby, chest heaving, and Buck thinks he should intervene, let Eddie take a swing at him if it means he doesn’t take a swing at Bobby.

Finally, Eddie takes a step back and Buck releases a breath.

“Go get yourself sorted out, and we’ll see you tomorrow.”

With a final glare at Buck, Eddie turns on his heels and stomps out of the station, pausing only to pick up his bag.

Buck watches him go and when he looks back at Bobby again, the other man is watching him like he knows something Buck doesn’t even know himself.

“Come on,” he says gently, “let’s talk in my office.”

***

“Bobby,” Buck starts as soon as they enter his office. “I’m really sorry, I know I messed up. I—”

“We’ll talk about that in a minute,” Bobby says, leaning against his desk. “First, are you going to tell me what’s been going on with you?”

Buck feels his throat close up. “I--I don’t know what you mean.”

Bobby gives him a look. “Buck, I don’t need to be a shrink to know that something’s been wrong for a while now. I know you’ve been through a lot, so I’ve been trying to give you your space, but I need to know that you’re okay.”

“I--I am,” Buck stutters, “really, Bobby--”

“We don’t have to talk about it right now if you’re not ready, Buck,” Bobby tells him, “but I want you to know that you can always come to me.”

“I know that.”

“Do you?” Buck nods. “Good. Because you’re one of the most important people to me too, Buck. And if there’s something hurting you, I want to know. And I want to help.”

“Thanks, Bobby,” Buck says, blinking back tears.

“And at some point,” Bobby says gently, “not now, but when you’re ready, we’re going to have to discuss Eddie.”

Buck sucks in a breath.

“Bobby--”

The other man shakes his head. “It’s okay, Buck. When you’re ready.”

Buck nods again, swallowing the lump in his throat.

“Now.” Bobby straightens and walks around to the other side of his desk. “About your little stunt…”

***

A half-hour reprimand, and instructions to rest for the next few days, and Buck is allowed to leave. His body is aching all over, but his leg is especially painful to the point that he can’t take a step without limping and he really wishes he’d brought his car into work today. Or thought to charge his phone.

It’s gonna be a long walk.

He stops when he steps outside and sees Eddie leaning against his truck, arms crossed and glaring at the pavement.

“Eddie? What are you still doing here?”

“I didn’t see your car,” Eddie says, not looking up, “thought you might need a ride.”

“Yeah, I, uh, ran to work.”

He looks up at that, eyebrows raised. It’s not exactly a short distance to run. He opens his mouth, but Buck cuts in before he can ask anything, “I’d love a ride, thanks.”

He takes a step, the pain in his leg making it awkward, and he winces.

Eddie huffs and comes forward, taking his bag in one hand, and his arm in the other, guiding him to the car, muttering in Spanish the whole way.

“You know, I can sort of understand you, right?” Buck says as Eddie swats his hands away to very aggressively fix his seatbelt for him. Buck lets him, but it’s not like he’s injured his hands.

Eddie shoots him a dirty look and switches, presumably, to Swedish.

Buck shifts uncomfortably in his seat and tells himself that whatever is happening in his gut right now is just another symptom of his current injuries.

“Hey,” Buck says at one point when he notices that they are one hundred percent not going to his home. “That’s not--”

“Shut up.”

Buck, wisely, does.

He stays quiet even when Eddie manhandles him into his house and places him on his couch.

“What’s wrong with Buck?” Chris asks, hovering as Eddie aggressively plies Buck with blankets and quilts and pillows.

“Everything,” Eddie says, tucking Buck’s blankets so tightly around him, he can’t move his arms.

“I’m fine,” Buck assures Chris, smiling at him softly, then yelping when he gets a pillow in his face, and another blanket piled on top of him. “I don’t have a cold, Eddie.”

The other man glares and Buck immediately backs away, as much as his blanket/pillow prison allows him. “I mean--”

Eddie points at him and spits something that Buck doesn’t even want to know what it means, but it makes Chris giggle. Buck looks over at the boy.

“Daddy called you a bad word.”

Buck smiles. “Yeah, I got that, buddy.”

Eddie, seemingly done with whatever the hell he was doing to Buck, stomps off into the kitchen. Buck watches as Chris’s face falls as he watches his dad, teeth worrying at his bottom lip. Poor kid’s probably not used to seeing Eddie like this. Hell, Buck’s barely seen Eddie like this.

“Hey, Superman, you want to play a game?”

Chris beams. “Yea--”

No.

“Aw, but, dad, I’ve done all my homework. You can check.”

Eddie takes a breath and forces a smile for his son. “No, honey, you can play whatever you want. Buck is not allowed.”

“My hands work fine, Eddie. I can hold a controller.”

The smile slips off Eddie’s face and he glares at Buck. “You’re going to sit there and think about what you did today.”

“What are you, grounding me?”

Eddie crosses his arms and raises an eyebrow.

Buck sputters. “You can’t ground me, Eddie. I’m an adult. You have no jurisdiction over me.”

There’s a moment of silence and Buck thinks he may have won this round.

“Adult remains to be seen.”

Buck lets his head fall back with a groan.

***

Eddie cooks them chicken noodle soup for dinner. Buck hates chicken noodle soup, and he would like to point out again, for the record, that he doesn’t have a cold but he takes the soup and accepts seconds and says nothing of that to Eddie. Thankfully, at least, it’s one of the few dishes Eddie can produce that is actually edible.

Eddie, for his part, makes a concession to the terms of Buck’s confinement, and he’s permitted to watch television cuddled up with Chris. Buck makes it through two episodes of Chris’s show before his eyes start slipping and he drifts off to sleep.

Maybe tonight—

***

“Dad?”

“Yeah, bud?”

“Why is Buck sad?”

“He’s just tried, buddy. And he got hurt today, remember?”

“I don’t mean right now. I mean the rest of the time.”

“What are you talking about, Chris?”

“He just always looks sad. Why is he sad?”

“I don’t know, Chris. He looks fine to me.”

“Yeah, because you’re looking. He’s happy when you’re looking. He’s sad when no one’s looking.”

There’s a long bit of silence and Buck hears, “come on, let’s go to bed.”

The voices drift off.

***

It’s cold and Buck’s shivering.

He throws his hand around for his blanket, but there’s no purchase and his eyelids are too heavy for him to sit up and look for it. He whines and throws his hand around one more time. Nothing.

There’s a chuckle from somewhere in the room. Buck can’t remember if there is supposed to be someone else with him right now but the sound is warm and the voice is safe so he’s not worried.

“How did you manage that?”

A minute later, he’s covered with a blanket and he smiles, snuggling into its warmth.

A hand runs through his hair. He knows that touch. Just can’t remember who it belongs to right now. He turns into it.

“What’s going on with you, Buck?”

***

Buck doesn’t know what he did wrong. One minute they’re all laughing and joking, helping some models who’d gotten their hair stuck in a strange-looking torture contraption, the next Eddie is glaring at him.

“Eddie?”

The other man shakes his head, like he’s disappointed but not surprised, like of course, Buck did what he did. Like it’s typical Buck.

Buck steps away from the model who’d been asking him about his workout routine to stare at Eddie’s retreating back.

He swings his eyes to the rest of his team, who’ve abandoned their own work in favour of watching the two of them.

“What—?”

“Don’t look at me,” Chim says, turning away. “I don’t know anything.”

He looks to Hen who shrugs and returns to tending to her own model.

He turns to the model, Trudy, because she was there, maybe she knows what happened, but she just blinks back at him guilelessly.

Eddie is white-knuckled and silent on the ride back to the station, staring straight ahead and ignoring the worried glances Buck keeps throwing at him.

He’s tense and subdued at lunch, glaring at the table and ignoring any of Buck’s attempts at conversation. He doesn’t even blink at being assigned dish duty.

Buck jumps to his feet. “I’ll help.”

“I’m fine,” Eddie says, brushing past him.

Buck’s not sure, but he might burst into tears soon.

“I need your help downstairs,” Bobby says, placing a hand on Buck’s shoulder.

Buck looks at his hand for a minute then nods and follows him downstairs.

He pretends he doesn’t hear the voices upstairs, arguing back and forth, but each time he hears his name he shrinks further into himself.

He may have just lost Eddie and he doesn’t even know what he did.

As soon as Chim and Hen make their way downstairs, Buck is pushing past them, ignoring the other two calling his name.

He has to try.

Eddie’s hands are braced against the sink, head down and looking utterly dejected when Buck gets to the kitchen. He doesn’t look up when Buck walks up to him, but his shoulders visibly tense.

“If you tell me what I did wrong,” Buck says quietly, “I’ll fix it, I promise.”

Eddie just shakes his head.

Buck holds perfectly still.

Finally, Eddie releases a breath and straightens up, turning to look directly at Buck. “You didn’t do anything wrong, Buck.”

Buck just looks back at him. “Eddie, I don’t understand.”

Eddie reaches up, hesitating for a second, before putting his hand on Buck’s shoulder. “I promise, you didn’t do anything.”

“Yeah?” he asks a little breathlessly, hope surging.

“Yeah. It’s my fault. Nothing about today that was your fault. One hundred percent, it was all me. And I’m really, really sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Buck rushes to say, “really, it is. As long as we’re okay.”

Eddie’s thumb moves to stroke absently at Buck’s neck. “We’re okay.”

Buck lets out a relieved laugh and Eddie gives him one of his Eddie smiles and then they’re pulling each other into a bear-hug.

Eddie’s arms feel as steady and sure as they always have. Buck breathes him in.

***

“So, like, I have to check. Are you aware that you’re in love with Eddie?”

Buck chokes on his beer and looks at his sister. “Maddie.”

“Because I know that you’re in love with Eddie. I just want to make sure you’re aware of it.”

First, Buck says: “Don’t be ridiculous. Of course not.”

Then, Buck says: “You’re just seeing things, because you’re so determined for me to be in a relationship.”

Then, he says: “If you don’t drop it, I will tell Chim about that time in high school, with Paul Butcher.”

Finally, Buck says:

“Maddie, I can’t. I can’t be in love with him. I’ll lose him. He’s my very straight best friend, and if I love him, I’ll lose him.”

I can’t lose him, he says. I can’t lose Chris.

When she pulls him into a hug, he buries his head in her shoulder like he used to do when he was a kid, and they both pretend he’s not crying.

***

“Hey.” Buck blinks when he swings open the door and sees Eddie standing there, shifting nervously in one spot. “What’s wrong?”

Eddie thrusts up the bag he’s holding and Buck has to move back quickly to avoid getting hit in the face with it.

“I brought Italian.”

Buck steps back to let him in. “Okay? Why?”

“Uh, well, Chris is at a sleepover and I haven’t seen you in a while, so I thought I’d bring a home cooked meal and we’d hang out.”

Buck doesn’t know what to make of that or the way Eddie is looking at him as he says it. “Uh...great. Great. Well, thanks.” He pauses. “So, uh, you cooked?”

Eddie shoots him a look. “No, you can breathe easy. Carla cooked.”

“Oh, thank God.” ‘Cause he’d have eaten it, and smiled, and said it was delicious, but he’s really glad he doesn’t have to. Though it does beg the question, “why did Carla cook for us? We could have just ordered a pizza.”

“She, uh, wanted it to be special.”

Buck shoots him a questioning look, but Eddie can’t see because he has his head buried in the fridge.

“The beer’s, like, right there,” Buck says.

“Got it.” He resurfaces with two beers, and slides one towards him, leaning back against the counter in a way that looks distinctly not-casual.

Buck’s frown deepens. “You okay? You look red.”

Eddie gives him a tight smile. “Fine.”

“O-kay.” This was officially the strangest thing that had happened in a while. “Why don’t you sit down here, and I’ll warm up the food.”

“No, I’ll do—“

“Eddie, no offence, I don’t trust you with reheating Carla’s food.”

Eddie chuckles and holds up his hands in surrender.

“Oh, nice, chicken parm.” He looks up from the baggie. “I love chicken parm.”

“Yeah, I know.”

They talk as Buck takes care of the food and Eddie sets the table. Eddie has a nervous energy around him, like he’s vibrating in his own skin, and it’s making Buck nervous too. But Eddie is right, they haven’t seen each other in a while (Buck’s fault, again) and Buck hasn’t realized how on edge that had made him. Seeing him, even when he’s acting strange, is like a balm to frayed nerves.

“So, what’s been going on?” Eddie asks as they sit down for their dinner. “What’s been keeping you busy?”

“Uh, you know, um,” Buck fakes a cough, “just, uh, some doctors appointments, some errands.”

Some moping, because he’s trying to figure out how to co-exist with his best friend, now that his sister has made him admit his feelings out loud.

“Why were you at the doctors?” Eddie frowns. “Everything okay?”

“Yeah, yeah, just routine checkups. Doctors think—“ the oven dings “—hang on, that’s the dessert. I should take it out.”

“Can’t believe Carla made us cake, too.” Buck says, pulling on his oven mitts. “She went all out.”

“Yes, she—“ There’s a knock at the door. “—I’ll get it.”

“Thanks,” Buck says, taking the cake out and frowning at it. He’s never made chocolate lava cake before, but Carla’s instructions had just been to warm it...it looked warm enough—

“Can I help you?”

“I’m looking for Evan Buckley?”

“Uh, yeah, sure—“

Buck sticks his head back. “Cole?”

The older man’s shoulders sag with relief. “Hi, kid.”

He puts the cake down and makes a beeline towards him. “What are you doing here? Everything okay? What’s wrong?”

Cole rolls his eyes but pulls him into a hug. “I’m fine. I was worried about you.”

Buck, because he has never in his life, turned down a hug, hugs him back just as tight, even though he has no idea what the fuck is going on.

Why was everyone acting strange? Did someone put something in the water?

“I’m fine. Why, do you know something I don’t?”

“You haven’t darkened my running route in over a week.” Cole says, pulling back. “I got worried. I thought you might have…”

Realization dawns on him. “Oh. But I texted you.”

“Forgive an old man for being paranoid. You’re not exactly known to be forthcoming when something’s wrong.”

“Sorry.” Both men’s eyes fly to Eddie. “Who are you?”

“Cole Terrence,” the older man says, shaking Eddie’s hand, at the same time that he claps Buck’s shoulder. “Buck and I are midnight running buddies.”

Eddie’s eyebrows shoot up and then he’s frowning. “Buck?”

Buck gives a nervous chuckle and turns to Cole instead. “Uh, you want to join us for dinner, Cole?”

It’s Cole’s turn to raise his eyebrows as he looks over Buck’s shoulder at the set dinner table. “You must be Eddie.” He doesn’t wait for an answer. “Well, I apologize for interrupting your dinner. Good to see I worried for nothing. Eddie, it was nice to meet you. Buck, I’ll speak with you later.”

“Later, Cole.” Buck says, watching Eddie cautiously as the other man examines him. When the door shuts, they barely even notice.

The silence that follows is stifling.

“So.” He claps his hands. “Shall we eat?”

“Buck.”

“The pasta was delicious.”

“Buck.”

He sits down and takes a giant bite of the food. “Seriously, she’s outdone herself.”

Buck.” Eddie snaps. “Are you seriously going to pretend that didn’t just happen?”

“It was just Cole. It’s fine.”

“Stop lying to me!” Buck jumps a little. “Why does a man, who I didn’t even know existed, show up, out of nowhere, worrying if you’ve hurt yourself? Why are you part of the super exclusive After Midnight Running Club? Why does Chris worry that you’re sad all the time?”

“Wait,” Buck cuts in, “Chris is worried about me?”

“That’s right, Chris, is worried about you. He keeps asking me why you’re sad. And I don’t know what to tell him, Buck! I don’t know why you’re sad, I don’t know anything!”

“I—I didn’t know that.” Way to go Buck. You did it again. “I’m really sorry, Eddie. I didn’t mean to worry him.”

For a minute Eddie doesn’t say anything, then he drops to the chair. “I’m not upset because you’ve worried Chris, Buck. I’m upset because something is wrong and you won’t talk to me.”

Buck picks his fork back up, twisting his pasta around it again and again, watching the tines as he does so.

“Buck, what—“

“I…” He takes a breath, releases it slowly. “I haven’t been feeling really well. Lately. In my head. I can’t sleep.” He swallows. “I get a lot of nightmares.” He licks his lips. Does it again for good measure. “I started running so I could cope better. That’s how I met Cole. He’s been trying to convince me to go to therapy, but after last time I tried that, I don’t really…” He looks up at Eddie. “I’ve been trying to get better. I swear.”

“Why didn’t you say anything?”

“I—“ He twirls the pasta around his fork one last time then drops it with a clank. “I didn’t want to bother you.”

“How could you possibly think that you’d be bothering me?”

Buck risks a quick glance at Eddie, before dropping his gaze down again. “I know I can be...exhausting. I don’t mean to be, and I don’t mean to make my problems other people’s problems. Sometimes I can’t help it—I know I do dumb stuff—but I’m trying to be better.”

“What fucking asshole told you you were exhausting?”

Buck hesitates.

One of Eddie’s hands reaches over to cover his. “Buck?”

For a minute all Buck can do is stare down at where their hands are linked. He’d been right. They do fit well together.

“Buck? You—“

“Uh, you did,” he says and clears his throat, “you know, that day in the grocery store.”

Just like that, Eddie’s hand is snatched back. “What?”

“You know, at the grocery store, during the lawsuit. You were yelling, and I asked why you couldn't see my side of things and you—“

Eddie sits back, like Buck has just knocked him out. “I said because that’s all you see. I said you were exhausting and you whine about your life when we all have our own problems.”

“Yeah...I mean, it’s okay, Eddie.”

“Buck...I was angry.

He nods, takes a sip of his beer. “I know, it’s okay. I get that. But just because you said it when you were angry, doesn’t mean you don’t think it when you’re not angry. And I—I don’t want to be a burden.”

“You’re not a burden, Buck, I promise. I—I don’t know what to say.”

“You don’t have to say anything,” Buck rushes to say. “I told you—“

Eddie shakes his head, having no indication of having heard him. “I thought the street fighting was the end of the damage I caused with my anger issues. I thought I was starting to make up for everything. Turns out I haven’t even made a dent.”

“You were going through a really bad time, Eddie,” Buck reminds him. “And you needed me there, and I wasn’t. I don’t blame you for being angry.”

“Yeah, yeah, and you apologized for that a thousand times, and I just said, ‘don’t beat yourself up about it.’”

Eddie purses his lips, keeps his eyes locked on the table. Buck watches him chew on his lips for a minute, then two.

Finally, just when Buck is about to say something, Eddie gives a humourless laugh and scrubbs his hands across his face.

“Eddie?”

“I was going to ask you to dinner tonight.” Eddie tells him. “Like, a date dinner. With music and candlelight and I’d get to kiss you at the end of it.” He sniffles. “And all this time you were scared of coming to me—you were scared of me.”

Buck, who’d sat up at the mention of date, stares at him. “Wait, what?

“How fucked up is that? You had a truck fall on you, had a pulmonary embolism, and survived a tsunami, and I called you exhausting—”

“—wait, Eddie, what about the kissing?—“

“—What do I do with that? How do I—do I tell you I’m sorry? Do I get to do that? Do I still get to call you my friend? It’s okay, if you don’t want to—”

“—No, go back, go back to the kissing, Eddie. What about the kissing?”

Eddie shakes his head. “It doesn’t matter now.”

“—it matters, I swear it matters—“

“—it’s too late—“

“—it’s not too late. Ask. Ask me to dinner. See what happens—“

“—I blew my shot and I didn’t even know it—“

“—Oh my God, Edmundo, will you shut up?!”

Eddie startles back, staring at Buck with wide eyes. “Buck?”

Buck sits back and takes a deep breath. Then takes a few more, just to be sure. “Now. What the fuck was that about a date?”

“Uh.” Eddie’s hand flies to rub the back of his head sheepishly. “Sorry?”

“Eddie. I am going to need so many more words.”

“I’m in love with you?”

Buck’s not even sure his brain works anymore. “Those—those are good words.”

A small smile begins to form. “Yeah?”

“Yes. Keep going.”

“Uh,” he gives a nervous chuckle. “I don’t know where to start. I, I don’t know when I started to fall in love with you. By the time it hit me, I was already there. Which you can understand was a problem, because as far as I was aware, I was very straight. So the fact that all I could think about was kissing you, was more than a little confusing.”

Buck grins triumphantly. “So you were looking at my lips.”

“Yes, yes, I was.” Eddie smiles back. “So anyway. I was driving myself and Chris and Carla and Frank and Hen and Chimney and Bobby crazy because I couldn’t figure out my own head—and then you started avoiding me, which made me drive everyone more crazy. And I thought I have to know if I have a chance. Even if all I got to do tonight was just put my cards on the table and wait for you to make a decision.”

“Wow,” Buck says.

“Yeah.”

Wow.

“Yeah.”

“Like, really, wow—“

“Buck!” Eddie gives a soft, exasperated laugh. “Did I break you? Do you need to process? Should I go?”

“Don’t you dare.” Buck’s hand shoots out to keep him in place, even though Eddie hadn’t actually made any move to get up.

“Okay,” Eddie says, covering Buck’s hand with his own, thumb running gently over Buck’s knuckles. “Do you think you can give me a few more words this time?”

“I’m in love with you too,” Buck says finally, and it feels like a weight has been lifted off of him. “Like, really, stupid in love with you.”

The smile he gets from Eddie is blinding. “Those are really good words.”

“I know,” he says, vision blurring. “But now you owe me a kiss.”

Eddie gives a wet laugh, and Buck is mollified to see that he’s not the only one embarrassing himself by crying. “What about dinner?”

“Fuck dinner,” Buck says, standing up, and pulling on Eddie’s arm.

Eddie laughs and rolls to his feet easily. “Don’t tell Carla that.”

Buck’s not sure which one of them closes the gap between them, but suddenly Eddie is everywhere and he’s moaning as the other man parts his lips, slipping his tongue into Buck’s mouth.

Buck’s knees buckle and he stumbles into the kitchen table, Eddie’s strong arms are the only reason he stays upright.

“Buck,” Eddie says when they pull away for air, “we should slow down.”

“Good idea,” he says, pulling Eddie back for another kiss.

“We need to talk,” Eddie says the next time they pull apart.

“Absolutely.” He crashes their lips together again.

***

Eddie, being the voice of reason, as always, doesn’t let them go further than some heated kisses that night.

They need to talk. About everything. All the fights and the hurt and the scars between them. All the stories they only know one side of. It’ll be hard, it’ll hurt, but they know they have each other now.

And they’ll be okay.

(Buck, being Buck, convinces Eddie that they can makeout in bed, with a pan of chocolate lava cake between them.)

***

“Wait, a second—“ Buck rolls on top of Eddie who takes his weight with a small grunt.

“This is familiar,” he says, pulling Buck closer.

Buck ignores him and sits up so he’s straddling Eddie. “Carla made us dinner.”

“Yes,” Eddie says, following Buck up and kissing under his ear, down his jaw. “We’ve covered this.”

Buck tilts his head to give him better access. “She made my favourite and then she made dessert.”

“She did,” Eddie says, running his tongue on a particularly sensitive spot then grazing it with his teeth. Buck’s breath hitches and he pushes at Eddie’s chest; this is important and he needs to concentrate.

Eddie leans back on his elbows and waits, a small, soft smile on his face.

“Carla was totally wingmaning you!”

“Yeah,” Eddie admits sheepishly. “She said if I brought you my own cooking you’d run for the hills. Although, she didn’t seem too worried about my chances.”

“Weeell,” Buck says, “if you’d attempted another casserole—“

“—Hey! You said it was good!”

“I lied, Eddie,” Buck says, “I was in love, I wasn’t going to insult your cooking when—what—what did I say?”

All teasing is suddenly gone from Eddie. “That long?”

“Uh,” Buck rubs the back of his neck. “Yeah?”

“Why didn’t you say anything?”

“Because...because I didn’t think you’d want to hear it.”

Eddie nods and chews on his lips. “Hen said it had to be my move because you take your cues from me.”

“Well...” Buck lifts his shoulders. “Yeah.”

It’s not like it’s a secret.

He yelps when Eddie moves suddenly, rolling them over to hover over Buck.

Buck lies still, afraid almost to breathe as he watches Eddie watch him. He feels naked and exposed (not possible, Eddie had been very strict about his no-nudity policy tonight) and like Eddie can see right through his every thought, every insecurity.

Finally, Eddie leans down and captures Buck’s lips with his own. The kiss is soft and tender, and Buck has never felt so loved or so safe. A tear slides down the side of his face.

“I’ll make it up to you,” Eddie promises softly when he pulls away, his lips brushing against Buck’s. “I’ll make it all up to you.”

***

“Well, hallelujah!” Athena chants as she steps into the station, clapping her hands.

Buck and Eddie spring apart, wiping at their mouths.

“Bobby told me, and I just did not believe him until I saw it with my own eyes.” She looks at them like a proud mother with her idiot sons. “You two finally got your act together.”

“Yes,” Hen says, walking up to them, “and they’ve been insufferable ever since.”

“Seriously,” Chim adds, “I almost lost my breakfast when I walked in on them this morning.”

“Really?” Bobby asks, joining the group. “I thought I told you two to cool it while on the clock.”

“We’re not on the clock now,” Eddie says, “and we weren’t doing anything this morning.”

“You were staring into each other’s eyes.”

Buck grins and reaches for Eddie’s hand. “Have you seen his eyes? Can you blame me?”

“No, have you seen your eyes? Your eyes are—“

“Oh, shut up,” say Athena, Bobby, Chim and Hen, turning on their heels and walking away in four different directions.

Buck and Eddie watch them go.

“It is way too fun to mess with them.”

***

“Bobby?”

“Yeah?”

“I think I’m ready to talk now.”

***

Buck’s nightmares don’t go away.

But they do get better.

And they keep getting better until, eventually, he stops running to escape his own head. Now, most nights, when he goes on a midnight run, it’s out of habit--and to speak to an old friend.