Buck walks into the locker room, ready to go home after his shift. Glad to see the sun still out for once as he’ll leave the station. He sheds his clothes mechanically, his eyes focusing on nothing in particular yet, his mind going a million miles an hour.
It’s been a couple of weeks since Abby and him talked yet, that conversation has been playing in his head ever since then. Her apology, closure, whatever you want to call it, had only done more harm than good. A reminder of all his faults.
He’s been replaying his relationship with Abby to try and figure out where he went wrong. What he could have done differently to make her stay, or at least have her say goodbye to him before she left forever.
In what seems like centuries ago, while Abby and Buck were dating, she had always been hesitant about every step they took in their relationship. Always wanting to wait and watch the current, rather than diving deep into the unknown. Buck had always thought that she had some sort of issues with commitment.
Turns out she just had issues with him. Seeing that in only two years, she had found herself not only a loving fiance, but two kids on top of that to call a family.
A nasty part of Buck wants to resent her, to unleash all the hurt inside of him.
He pushes that part of him deep down because even if he’s not in love with Abby, he still wants her to be happy. After everything she’s been through, it’s the least he can do for her. He can’t begrudge her for paving her own path after years of only existing to help others.
He just wishes it wasn’t at the expense of his own heart. He’s getting sick and tired of being the one left behind.
Back in Hershey, his parents were too caught up in their own work to even give him a second glance. Much more interested in their jobs and their friends and their vacations. Interested in anything that wasn't their children.
Maddie was the only one who had cared about him but she left. He can’t blame her for Doug, would never blame her for him. But she left him once, far before Doug ever came into the picture. Fed up with her life in Pennsylvania, she applied to every out-of-state college, and she got in, to every single one of them. Then, she left him.
Abby loved him and then left him. More than fine having a new life and new relationships knowing that Buck could’ve been waiting for her, on his hands and knees for her to come back.
Ali couldn’t understand him. She never understood why he needed to be a firefighter. He was the one running headfirst into danger and she was the one who couldn’t handle the job.
The same job he sued his own department for, resulting in all of the people he considered family becoming wary of him.
Contrary to people’s (Chimney) beliefs, Buck is not stupid.
Sure, they all had their own lives and had their own reasons to leave but why is it that he's always the one waiting for them to come back? Like some puppy who couldn't understand why the front door wouldn't open anymore.
He knows he’s the issue here. Something stated explicitly by people before.
Just stay away from me, I’m not sure I can survive your help.
Sure enough, Red didn’t survive his help. Sometimes, Buck thinks about what would’ve happened to Red, if he hadn’t gone to that bar that night. Would he have died the same day? Earlier? Later?
Maybe he should’ve taken Eddie up on his offer for Christopher’s sleepover.
Because you’re exhausting!
Or maybe he finally made the right decision for once.
Buck wants to be a good person, he really does. He just gets wrapped up in his own head. Not seeing what everyone else is feeling, what everyone else is needing. Even when he tries to make things better, he just makes it about himself.
The revelation of this fact makes the ache in his chest unbearable. It's always been there but, now it cannot be ignored.
Buck is not someone you come home to after a long day at work. He is no a permanent fixture in people's lives. He is only a memory that will pop up one day, that'll have you thinking 'Huh? Wonder whatever happened to him?"
He wants to figure what he does wrong each time. If someone could stay long enough to give him a list of what he could do better, Buck would gladly follow it to the letter.
He knows if he tells anyone (Maddie, Eddie, hell even Chimney) they’ll tell him that he is loved.
He isn't though. He is tolerated and liked yet never loved. Buck wants to have someone waiting for him at the door when he comes home. He wants to wait for someone to come home.
Everyone else has someone they come home to.
After a shift, Bobby and Athena go home to one another. If Bobby can muster enough energy, he'll cook warm meals for dinner. Athena will call up Michael and force him to come over, share a drink before he has to go.
In the station, Hen calls Karen at breakfast every single morning. Reminds her that she loves her and the kids. Then Karen will put the phone to Denny and Nia, who will babble nonsense but Hen lovingly listens and responds nonetheless.
If Maddie or Chimney lose one too many people on calls, they find comfort within one another. Sometimes that isn't enough and Chim will go back to his own apartment for the night to annoy Albert and Albert will let him because that's what brothers do. Meanwhile, Maddie will call Josh, who drops everything to come over and gossip mindlessly because he knows that's what she needs right now.
And Eddie? He's the luckiest of them all. He gets to go home to Christopher. He gets to hug him and pepper his face with kisses when they lose a kid on a call. Tells his son how much he loves him before calling it a night. If Eddie needs more, he always has his Abuela and Tia to help him, something they can't help but remind him of on a near daily basis.
Who does he have?
A voice in his head that sounds far too much like Eddie pipes up.
You have us.
Buck can pretend all he wants. He can pretend that all those road trips, afternoons at the aquariums and movie nights are for his family, a family who finally wants him around.
Eventually the pretending has to stop though because Eddie will want to complete his little family for real one day. And soon after, Buck will be pushed out of the picture frame, possibly literally. No more talking in hushed tones on the road because Christopher has finally fallen asleep. No more grossing out Eddie with all the interactive exhibits. No more cuddling close and waking up early to stare at the two for a little bit longer.
No more Eddie.
Perhaps it's a good thing. Eddie needs to find someone else and Buck cannot be selfish with this. He can't keep stealing his attention away when he deserves to find someone to call his wife. Buck being in the picture halts all progress in doing so.
Eddie is his first best friend and Buck wants him to be his only best friend. Yet, one again, Buck has monumentally fucked over another dynamic in his life with his stupid feelings.
He's in love with the man and he can't even be honest with him about it because Buck is still so selfish. Deathly afraid of losing the greatest relationship he's ever had with another person.
The ache behind his ribcage is still there, hammering away as it finds home in his throat now. It's erratic when Eddie invites him over for another Buckley-Diaz movie night and all Buck can feel is the pity in his eyes, his voice. He's unwanted, not for the first time and definitely not for the last time.
God, he wishes Eddie would stop trying already. He keeps up his facade of wanting to be around Buck, keeps trying to be welcoming and inviting him into his life, when Buck knows it's the opposite of what he wants to to do
Maybe that’s why he starts to take a step back.
At the end of a call, where Eddie was once more being ogled by women as he did his job, he asks Buck to come over for a beer. He grazes his shoulder against Buck's and Buck glances down to his hand, and can't help but picture a wedding ring there one day.
So, Buck lies through his teeth, as he informs his of plans he has to hit the gym.
It’s not just Eddie, though.
Maddie asks him to come over to help Chimney assemble the crib and Buck makes up an errand he has to run.
A chore he's been putting off. A check-up he keeps having to reschedule. A therapy session, even though he's withdrawn from counselling long before any of this happened. If Bobby asks, if Chimney asks, if Hen, Athena, anyone asks, he's always got something else to do.
Come to think of it, the last time he was in a room with all of them was at May’s graduation party.
It's easier this way, not just for him, but for everyone. If Buck 2.0 couldn't get people to stay, Buck 3.0 won't have any people that can leave.
A hand startles him out his downward spiral. Without looking up, he knows whose calloused palm that is.
“Hey, I was wondering if you wanted to come around mine. Christopher has been dying to tell you about camp.”
Eddie smiles genuinely, his eyes crinkling at the ends, and for a second, Buck almost caves.
As he shoves his uniform into his duffel bag, Buck barely looks up to respond.
“Sorry,” he clears his throat a bit before continuing, “I’ve got a rough night ahead of me. Important errands to run”
“Oh, okay." he sounds disappointed but Buck doesn't let that defer him, "Have fun, I guess.”
As Eddie walks away, Buck’s chest tightens and he knows it’s unfair because he is his own creator of hell. He did this to himself. He made himself so awful that he has to push people away for their own good.
At least he wasn’t completely lying to Eddie, he does have a rough night ahead of him.
His first week away at college had been an eye-opener in far too many ways. Nothing short of the grandeur of what he would call an epiphany. Except epiphanies are usually positive.
College was fantastic because it brought along sex, alcohol, and drugs. It felt like time was non-existent as you get shitfaced in a shitty frat house with even shittier people.
He’s well aware that filling the ache inside of him with any of these is not a sustainable lifestyle.
But who cares about sustainability? Some people aren’t built to last and unfortunately for him, Buck was one of those people.
Walking into his apartment, Buck only has one thing on his mind. He leaves his work bag by the door, peels off his shoes, and strolls into the kitchen.
He beelines to one cupboard in particular, and he swings it open to reach for the bottle of his strongest whiskey. Foregoing a glass, he drags his feet towards the couch.
He fumbles with the remote as he switches on the TV, selecting the first title that sounds mind-numbing enough. As the opening sequence plays out across the screen, Buck raises the bottle to his mouth, drinking a hefty amount in one go before wincing as he swallows.
Hours tick by and the bottle is slowly drained, accompanied by empty beer bottles. If Buck were in a better state of mind, he would’ve been ashamed. Good for him that he is absolutely plastered, then.
Yet not plastered enough to ignore the pounding at his door, knuckles rapping against the wood. He doesn’t bother to answer it, if it was urgent someone would’ve called his cellphone, and if it isn’t, then they can come back another time. Instead, he leans his head against the back of the couch, eyes drifting shut.
Eventually the knocking comes to a stop, and Buck can’t help but sigh in relief. He must’ve jinxed it somehow because it’s short lived. He hears the tell tale sound of a key being inserted.
He scrambles to make himself look presentable, tugging at his shirt and hair. All in vain seeing that the stupid bottles are still sitting on the coffee table.
The door creaks open and he sees Eddie walk inside, his mouth opens to greet him, only to comically close as he sees the sight of Buck and the living room.
He hastily jogs over, reaching for the whiskey bottle, examining it.
“Jesus, Buck, was this a new bottle?”
Shrugging, Buck hopes that Eddie realizes he won’t be good company and leaves.
Who’s he kidding? Eddie has always known he wasn’t good company.
“So this was the important errand? Drinking yourself to death?” he sets the bottle down and places his hands on his hips, looking down at Buck in more ways than one.
“Look Eddie, I don’t know what you want me to say.”
“I want you to tell me what’s going on with you.” his eyes soften as his voice goes low, “Is this about Abby?”
“Yes and no.”
Taking a deep breath, Buck braces himself as he stands up from the couch. The world is swirling and he’s certain he’s one bad turn away from throwing up bile but, he still manages to grab a couple of the bottles before heading over to the kitchen.
Once in front of the kitchen sink, he drops to his knees to open the cabinet door. Wincing a bit.
He can hear Eddie’s footsteps as he follows him into the kitchen, no doubt trying to look for any more empty bottles.
“C’mon, Buck, give me more to work with.”
A flash of anger strikes through him as he can’t help but compare this to every time Buck has tried to help Eddie, only to fail miserably.
He closes the cabinet harshly. The sound reverberating through the room. Sitting up against the cabinet, he extends his legs out.
“You want more to work with?” he huffs out, “Abby left me waiting for her while she went out to Europe. My leg got shattered underneath a truck. And while I was in recovery, Ali broke up with me because she couldn’t handle it." he lets out a bitter laugh, "She couldn’t handle my broken bones!”
He starts to get up, ignoring the spinning room, in favour of staring down Eddie, who looks like he’d rather be anywhere else.
Well too damn bad because he’s the one that showed up.
“I vomited up blood. I lost my spot at the station. I lost Chris in a tsunami. I watched you guys put someone else’s name over mine. I sued the department only to come back and find that every meaningful relationship I had made in my life was destroyed. I watched on the sidelines as my sister was stuck in a hostage situation. I mourned a person that I had only known for a matter of days. I watched you get buried under dirt. Digging at the ground like some sort of maniac, thinking that I would do anything to get you back to me, to Christopher”
Eddie breaks eye contact to look up at the ceiling, his mouth in a firm line as he tries to take a deep breath. His eyes shining with tears.
“And then to top it all off, the only person I have ever been in love with that loved me back shows up after two years of no contact, and she’s engaged. She moved on with her life but, I’m still stuck in the same place. Is that enough to work with?”
Taking a step forward, Eddie tries to close the distance between them.
“Buck, I’m sorry, man. I should’ve known and I should’ve-”
“You should’ve what, Eddie? I don’t know how you could fix me." Buck takes a step back until he backs into the counter, "I don’t even know how to fix me!”
The force of his shout has him stumbling a bit. Arms shoot out to grip at Buck’s biceps, stabilizing him.
“Let’s get you into a bed.”
At that, all the rage in Buck has dissipated, all he’s left with is this hollow feeling that's all too familiar. He feels exhaustion settle into his bones but, he knows this tiredness won’t be solved with sleep. It never is.
“Eddie, go home.”
His hands drop from Buck’s arm, and he misses it so much in that moment, but he covers it up quickly.
“What? Buck, I'm not going to leave you like this.”
If this were any other day, Buck would've spent millions to hear those words tumble out of Eddie's mouth. Now, though, he feels nauseous as he hears them, none of it attributed by the alcohol and lack of food in his system.
He doesn’t want Eddie’s pity. All he wants is Eddie.
Too bad Buck knows he can’t have him.
“Fine, if you won’t leave. I will.”
Grabbing his keys and a jacket, Buck walks out of the door. Leaving behind a bewildered Eddie.
Buck ends up in a bar, sitting alone at a bar stool once again. The place is swimming with activity. People dancing, taking shots, fumbling with one another as they go to the bathroom for not-so innocent activities.
He takes a sip of his drink, unsure of what he ordered exactly. He’s one second away from going back to his apartment when a woman walks up to him.
“Hey, you look a little down.”
Buck chuckles a bit, as he swirls his drink in his hand. He was expecting a pick-up line but that works too.
“Well, if you don’t have anything to do, me and my friends were actually about to head to this party. Anyone’s invited and you seem like you could use the company.”
He looks up from his drink to smile at the woman. She’s got some tattoos littered on her arm and a tiny slit in her eyebrow. She’d be intimidating if she wasn’t grinning at him.
“I’d like that, thank you.”
He downs his drink in one go and flags down the bartender to pay his tab.
“I’m Veronica.” she offers her hand out, rings and bracelets adorning it.
He grasps her hand, shaking firmly, “I’m Evan.”
He’s on edge the moment he enters the dingy house. Red cups are laying on every surface. Music is blasted through the sound system. The flickering lights give him a headache but, it’s a welcome distraction from what’s happening in his chest.
As he walks into the house, he immediately loses sight of Veronica. She goes off with the promise of seeing him around the party. He’s thankful for that, he doesn’t feel like talking to anyone.
The crowds gather suddenly and Buck can’t breath anymore. He moves around and cuts through the kitchen to try and get to the basement, losing himself amongst all the sweaty bodies.
He pries open the door and slips inside. The light’s are already on and it takes him a moment to realise there’s someone else in there.
Blinking, Buck sees a woman crouched on the floor. He makes eye contact with her, like he’s a deer in headlights.
“Oh, sorry, I didn’t know anyone was in here.”
“It’s fine, you can stay.”
He breaks away to look down at what she’s doing. Her hand is steady as she holds a driving license, and a little packet of white powder.
“Relax, dude,” the woman sounds amused, “It’s just coke.”
“Yeah I know, I just-” he trails off, unsure of what to say exactly.
“Look, I’m guessing you burst in here because you wanted to get away from that party as much as I did, so just sit down and stop freaking out, man.”
Buck must look sceptical because she laughs again, but not maliciously.
“This isn’t some after school special. I’m not gonna peer pressure you into doing drugs.”
Buck contemplates for a moment, then sits down on the floor across from her.
“What are you doing down here?” he asks.
She shrugs, shaking out a little powder onto the table.
“I came to see if anyone wanted to buy any.” she gestures to the door, “But it’s not really that kind of night.”
Buck can’t help but be enraptured by what the woman’s doing, flattening and chopping the powder until she’s got a clean line.
“What about you? Why you down here?” she says, startling him out of his trance.
“Not in the mood.”
He’s trying to keep his tone light because the last thing he needs to do to this poor lady is bring up his issues.
“Do you want some?”
The word ‘no’ is forming on his lips but he hesitates. He hasn’t done any drugs (aside from those brownies) since his college years. He’s been too worried about them messing up his abilities to do his job.
The same job that gave him a family.
A family that is going to leave him one day.
Buck nods and presses closer to the table.
“Wait.” Jennifer says and pulls out a five dollar bill from her pocket, rolling it into a tube.
She hands it over to him and nerves light up in him before he squares his shoulders and lowers his head. He puts the end of the tube to the line and snorts.
Jennifer takes the bill back, and cuts herself a line.
No matter how many times Buck does coke, he can't help but ask the age old question.
“Hold up. Let me try something.”
She licks the end of her finger and dips it into the remaining powder. Without warning, she sticks her finger into his mouth.
He never used to do this in college.
It takes Buck a minute to realise she’s rubbing the granules onto his gums. It tastes sharp and salty and for a minute he wants it to stop.
He doesn't tell her to stop though.
His gums start to go numb and he freaks out a little but Jennifer laughs at him and tells him it's normal, so Buck calms down and tries to decide how he feels.
He feels okay. Better than okay. His world doesn’t feel like it’s about to crumble quite so soon.
And then it’s like the world is accelerated and Buck ignores the buzzing in his pocket, in favour of kissing Jennifer.
The high is starting to wane, as Buck fumbles with his keys to his apartment. His hands slip from the rain. His jacket is soaking wet, clinging to every curve of his body. With every slightest movement, he hears his clothes wring themselves. Everything is uncomfortable from the unnerving feeling of the fading numbness in his gums to the hint of copper coming from the blood underneath his nose. His back is all scratched up and there’s an undeniable hickey at the base of his throat.
He gives himself a break, letting his hand go limp on the keys. For a moment, he just stares at the wood mocking him. A reminder of yet another failed attempt at dulling the ache inside of him. He remembers Ali researching well into the night about possible places to call home.
But, she had left before they could even throw a housewarming party.
At least she had called things off before she fled Los Angeles.
A bitter taste crawls into his mouth, and he knows it’s not the coke or the drinks.
Before he can break down in the middle of the hallway, Buck opens his door and walks inside.
Shrugging off his damp jacket, he deposits it onto the floor, uncaring for the mess he’ll have to clean later. After toeing off his shoes, he’s about to head up to his bed and tumble into the sheets. As he puts one hand on the railing, he spots the light emanating from the TV. The volume is turned impossibly low without it being muted and in front of the bright screen is Eddie.
His eyes shoot up from what he was watching to Buck, immediately standing up and walking over to him.
The bitter taste in his mouth thickens into something worse. Anger? Longing? Frustration? Who knows?
All he knows is that he doesn’t want to see Eddie.
“What are you still doing here?” Buck spits out, self-consciously pulling the collar of his shirt to hide the hickey.
Eddie sighs as if he’s already exasperated with the situation that he put himself in. All he does is stuff his hands into his pockets, looking at anything that isn’t Buck.
“I didn’t like the way we ended things earlier and Chris is with Abuela, so it wouldn’t -” his words come to a halt, as he looks up at Buck’s disheveled state.
His eyes widen as he catches sight of the blood underneath his nose. He takes another step closer, trying to get a better look.
“Holy shit, what happened to you? You get into a fight or something?”
His words spark memories in Buck’s head, how he would poke and prod at how Eddie got hurt and how he never got straight answers until it all had long ended.
If he never got answers, Eddie sure doesn’t.
“Or something. Now that you’ve checked on me, can you please leave?” he motions with his hand to the door, uncaring for pleasantries anymore.
“Buck” he steps impossibly closer, “Let me clean you up. Then, I’ll be out of your hair. I promise.”
Knowing that there was no way Eddie would leave without getting him patched up, Buck reluctantly nods.
Without waiting for another word, Buck moves away from the stairs, leading him and Eddie to his bathroom.
He flips the lights, immediately regretting the decision as he feels the impending headache behind his eyes.
Dropping to his knees in front of the sink cabinet, Buck fishes out the first aid kit. He shoves it into Eddie’s hand before plopping down onto the closed toilet seat.
As Eddie sets the kit onto the counter, Buck shoots daggers at the back of his head.
After finding some cotton pads, Eddie settles himself between Buck’s legs, tiling his face up to the light. His hands are cool against Buck’s clammy skin, no doubt flushed pink.
He wipes gently at the blood before wadding up the cotton and tossing it into the trash, without moving away from him.
At some point, Buck’s eyes have closed free of his own volition. Yet, he can still feel Eddie examining him almost microscopically.
“Buck,” he breaks the silence, “Did you go drinking after you left?”
He can’t help but snort.
“Gee, what gave it away?”
He doesn’t care about the drinking thing anymore because in the grand scheme of everything, he’d rather Eddie knows about the alcohol than having an inkling about the coke.
Two fingers come up, suddenly, pressing against his pulse point under his jaw. He pulls away with a whimper before Eddie has his hand cradling the back of his head, keeping him steady.
He doesn’t need Eddie to tell him about his hammering heart rate.
“Can you open your eyes for me?”
A defiant part in Buck wants to say no. Another part of him knows that he’s in deep shit now.
He slowly blinks his eyes open, adjusting to the light. It reminds of all the times he was in the hospital, coming back to consciousness, after a truck shattering his leg, a pulmonary embolism, a tsunami…
The pale white walls and the smell of antiseptic certainly don’t help with the association.
Eddie has his brows furrowed as he looks down at his face, and he knows he’s blown it. His eyes are probably more black than blue right now.
“Eddie, whatever you think is -”
It’s too late to even bother feigning sobriety because Eddie has one thumb against the corner of his mouth, and he feels him rub at the powder that is still there somehow, even though it’s been hours and he was in the fucking rain.
“What else did you do, Buck?” he whispers, his voice lead-heavy.
“What else, Buck?”
He looks into Eddie’s eyes and he knows he can’t lie, no matter how much he wants to.
Eddie rips away from his body like he’s been burnt.
“Fuckin’ hell.” he curses leaning against the wall opposite Buck, “You have to stop, man.”
The dormant rage flares up in him again, this conversation parallelling something far too familiar. Why is it that Eddie thinks he has authority over Buck's life, when Buck clearly doesn't have any over his?
“It’s only been once so far.” he muttered, dragging a hand across his face.
“Jesus, Buck, you know you can’t get into stuff like this.” he huffs, waving his arms around, “You’ve got an addictive personality. The sex, the drinking, and now the coke.”
The high is fleeting and is now replaced by the overwhelming dread that he’s been carrying inside of him since everything started. He places his elbows on his knees, looking at the floor between his legs.
“How do you think Chris would feel about his Buck wasting away, doing drugs?”
His body reacts before his mind does. Shooting from the toilet seat, he strides towards Eddie, until he’s breathing the same air as him.
“Do not bring up Chris.” he whispers.
“Why shouldn’t I?” Eddie pushes, his face contorted with a mixture of emotions.
“Because you didn’t think about Christopher when you were out street fighting.” he jabbed, thinking about what could’ve happened to Eddie and how he wouldn’t have found out until it was too late, “At least this way, the only person I’m hurting is myself.”
It’s a low blow but, it’s an effective one because Eddie looks down, ashamed.
“It’s different and you know it.”
“Yeah, because Chris isn’t my kid,” and his voice cracks a little bit, “And he will never be my kid.”
Eddie opens his mouth to argue back but, whatever he wants to say is cut short.
A wave of nausea hits Buck, and he turns around to face the toilet seat. Clumsily flipping it open, he throws up in the bowl.
All that comes up is bile, stinging all the way from his stomach to his mouth. He closes his eyes, which is a bad idea. Now, everything feels like it’s spinning on the axis of the planet so rapidly and he can't see. His chest feels tight and all the bruises from earlier that night have settled in.
He gasps, once he's retched up his stomach's contents. A palm falls to the small of his back, and another on his shoulder, and he leans into it. Chasing after the fleeting warmth, after hours of being stuck in the cold with some woman he barely knew, doing things he wishes he could forget.
The next moments are a bit of a blur. His wet clothes are pulled off and for a second he's sitting on the freezing tiles, with only his boxers on. Eddie leaves and he feels more alone than he ever has. He's about to start crying when Eddie reappears, helping him into a pair of sweatpants and a comfy hoodie.
“I should’ve gone with you tonight,” Buck confesses, a little delirious from the symphony of feelings his body is experiencing.
His body is maneuvered, propped up against the side of the bathtub with Eddie's help, who then goes to grab a warm, fluffy towel from underneath the sink.
Wrapping Buck up in the cloth, he settles down next to him. He's a magnet of heat in comparison to Buck, and he finds himself leaning into Eddie's chest, wanting to be held for the first time in years.
And Eddie fulfills his wishes. He places his arms around Buck's body, squeezing tight. He feels Eddie place his chin onto his damp curls.
A hand rubs up and down his back, pressing the towel into his damp skin, “Why didn’t you? I missed you.” Eddie says, voice muffled by Buck’s hair, “I miss you when you’re not around.”
Buck mutters something to himself that even he can’t comprehend. All of his thoughts scattered across the planes of the universe.
“Afraid,” Buck surprises himself by saying, "Of you."
Even though he can’t see Eddie’s face, he knows what his face is doing. He knows his eyebrows are knitting together and he's gnawing slightly on his bottom lip before he releases it to speak.
“Why were you afraid of me?”
“You,” he whispers, “Leaving me first.”
He feels Eddie tense up, his arms tighten around Buck like he could run away and never come back in an instant. Isn’t that a marvel to think about? Someone worrying about him for once.
“Thought it would be easier if I was the one to leave for once.” Buck mumbles into Eddie’s shirt, “Can’t be left behind, if you’re the one leaving.”
His weekend is spent in a daze of wandering around his apartment and sleeping. He doesn't bother to eat anything, his stomach still uneasy at the thought of food.
Buck doesn’t bother trying to call Eddie, or anyone for that matter. He probably should, considering Eddie has enough information against him to get him fired. But, by now, Eddie has called Bobby and they’re both waiting for him to show up to work.
It would probably be a good thing though, save himself the embarrassment of being the last one left standing, instead he gets to be the first one to say goodbye.
Before he knows it, his first shift of the week rolls around. Swinging out of bed, Buck goes to get ready for the biggest shit show of his career.
Except everything is normal. Average. Ordinary.
Bobby pats him on the back as usual, cheery as he greets him. Hen waves him good morning before she goes upstairs to get herself a cup of coffee. Chimney chats with in the parking lot as they enter the station together.
Nobody seems to know anything about what happened. Nobody seems to suspect anything either.
Counting this as a blessing, Buck decides to not look for trouble by questioning the others. Instead, he makes his way to the locker room, ready to face another day.
He strips himself of his civvies, stepping into his uniform with practice ease. His shirt's almost done up when he sees Eddie walk into the locker room.
Out of his peripheral, he sees him open his own locker, shuffling out of his clothes and into his own uniform.
To everyone else, Eddie is fine. A little quiet but that can be chalked up to the fact that he's no morning bird.
Buck’s not everyone else, though. He can read Eddie like his favourite book, he can anticipate the words before he reads them. He sees the tension in his shoulders and how he keeps clenching his jaw.
He slams his locker shut and walks over to Eddie, feigning casual.
“Are we going to talk about it?” he says, pretending to fix the buttons on his cuffs.
“About what?” Eddie shuts his own locker before looking at Buck, “About how you drank a liquor store’s worth within hours? About how you went out and came back in the dead of night looking like a nightmare? About how you’re doing coke now?”
He’s glad that Eddie’s late because everyone else is upstairs milling about, waiting for breakfast to be served. Buck doesn’t want anyone else to know how fucked up he is.
“Are you going to tell Cap?”
“I should,” and Buck stops breathing before Eddie finishes, “But, I won’t.”
Relief fills Buck’s lungs as he finally exhales for the first time in days. He knocks his shoulder into Eddie’s and laughs a bit.
“Thanks man, I really-”
“Not so fast,” he folds his arms across his chest, “I won’t tell Bobby if you start being around more.”
Buck’s smile falls, and he wavers.
“Eddie, I can’t.”
“Buck, I am keeping a dangerous secret that affects not only your life but the lives around you. This is the least you can do.”
He grinds his teeth at the accusing tone Eddie has, wanting to snap at him. Buck knows he’s right though, this secret isn’t one that should be kept, not by Eddie, at least.
Soon after Hen calls them up to eat breakfast before Chimney gets ahold of it all. Her eyes twinkling when she notices them engaged in a staring contest.
Settling into his seat beside Eddie, he gets ready to eat and avoid any conversations he can. Afterall, no one can invite him to do anything, if he avoids talking to them.
His plans to never converse again go south when Chimney points at him with his fork stuffed with pancakes.
“My oh my, Buckaroo,” and Buck internally groans, “Is that a love bite I suspect on your neck?”
Buck’s eyes widen as he tugs the uniform of his collar closer to his neck, barely hiding the mark. He's probably flushing down to his collar bones now, anyways.
“Who’s the lucky lady, Buck?” Hen inquires, even though her eyes are looking at Eddie.
Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Eddie stiffen a little bit.
“No one.” he answers, picking at his food, “She’s just some girl I met at this party.”
Bobby comes up from behind him, placing another pancake on his plate, pan still in hand.
“Maybe you can invite this ‘no one’ to the family barbeque on Saturday.”
His leg starts bouncing underneath the table, and he's sure Eddie can feel it from how close they're sitting. The barbeque had completely slipped his mind. Usually he has pre-thought out excuses to ensure no one can be suspicious. Maybe he can make up some lie that he has a doctor's appointment, he hasn't used that one in a long time. Or that he has to feed his neighbour's cats.
“You are coming, right?” Bobby asks as he settles into his own seat once more.
All of it is in vain because he remembers the promise he made not long ago, and he practically feels Eddie waiting for his mouth to form the word ‘yes’.
“Yeah, wouldn’t miss it.” he grits out.
Buck 2.0 loved gatherings. Not parties per se but, rather sunny afternoons on green grass. He loved how you could feel the affection in the room, the buzzing happiness. Kids rolling around with one another while the adults float around babbling nonsense. He loved how even after the sun had long ago set, no one wanted to go home just yet.
Buck 3.0 doesn’t love gatherings. Buck 3.0 doesn’t love anything. Afterall, love, like everything else, had an expiration date. What’s the point of wasting your time?
Examining his appearance for the hundredth time, Buck stands in front of his mirror in the bathroom. If only to drag out the minutes before he has to suffer. He didn’t bother with anything much, just a hoodie and jeans. HIs hair is a mess of curls and usually he’d put in the effort to tame it but, it’s not like he’s going to be there for long anyways.
As the seconds tick by, he realizes he’s got to get going. He shuffles down the stairs, grabbing his keys before he tugs on his shoes. Within a minute, he’s out the door and headed towards his Jeep.
Buck has a well thought out plan for tonight’s barbeque. He’s going to arrive at the Grant-Nash household with no more than a minute to spare before he’s considered officially late. He’ll have a drink or two, stay for the hot dogs, and as soon as it’s been two hours, he’ll leave.
He mentally checks off the first box on his list, as he knocks on the door, before awkwardly stuffing his hands in his front pockets. Not used to being at this address anymore.
Not a moment later, Athena opens the door, her arms stretched out wide, ready for a hug.
He wraps his arms tight against her shorter frame, squeezing a little more than usual. For all he knows, this could be the last time.
The revelation shouldn’t hurt considering he’s the one doing the leaving this time around but, it does. It stings. A lot.
She leads him inside. Most of the group is sitting in the living room, keeping themselves occupied with chatter and cards. Meanwhile, Bobby is outside grilling hotdogs with the help of Michael. Near them, he spots the kids playing some sort of game out in the backyard, May supervising them. Buck finds Denny, Harry, and Nia. He strains his neck to try and find a mop of fluffy hair until he hears his name being called.
He whips around to find Christopher behind him, a grin stretched out on his face.
This was the hardest part about being Buck 3.0. Letting go of Christopher Diaz. He could put everyone else on the back burner but, never Chris. Deep down, Buck knows it’s for the best. He traumatized the kid, it’s better than he disappear, taking the reminder of one of the worst moments of his life with him.
He bends down to pick up Chris, setting him on his hip.
The kid buries his head into the space between his neck and shoulder, throwing his arms around him. His soft strands of hair tickling him.
“I missed you.”
He places a hand on Chris' back, hugging him back just as tightly.
“I missed you too, buddy.”
He walks into the backyard, still holding Chris, who’s going a mile a minute about what happened at camp. Setting him down on the grass, away from where all the kids are playing and away from Bobby and Michael, he crouches to his knees to make eye contact with him.
“Not that I don’t love to hear you talk, I’m pretty sure you’d rather play with the other kids.” he ruffles his hair, “How about we continue this conversation later, buddy?”
The other kids shout for Christopher to hurry up and join them already, something about uneven teams. As Chris makes his way over to the others, Buck is still for a moment.
How is he supposed to leave Christopher behind? How is he supposed to keep him at arm’s distance?
His thoughts are halted when he hears footsteps come up behind him. Wiping a hand across his face, Buck turns around to find Maddie.
Logically, he knows that there’s barely anything to look at, but nevertheless, his eyes focus on her stomach. He knows there’s a Buckley-Han baby growing in there. He knows there’s another family member he’ll have to leave.
It’s all for the greater good. That baby will never know about the astronomical fuck up their Uncle Buck was.
Now, he knows he’s in trouble. Of course, Eddie would tell Maddie. Annoyance bubbles up inside him at Eddie for telling his pregnant sister about his newly discovered hobby. He’s no doctor but, he’s pretty sure stress is not good for the baby.
“Why is it that I had to hear from Chimney that you are seeing someone?”
All of his stress is alleviated in that moment. He can work with this.
“I’m sorry.” and he is, he really is, “It was something new and I didn’t mean for them to find out before you.”
Maddie looks at him for a second too long, and Buck feels far too vulnerable, like she can pinpoint everything he's hiding. Motioning with her hand, Maddie ushers him to sit down on an outdoor bench, away from Bobby and Michael's earshot.
Soft music is played through the speaker system in the house. The fresh air loosens some of the tension inside him. Laughter comes up from all around the property.
It’s a stark contrast of his last Saturday evening.
Maddie wrings her hands in her lap, something she does only when she's worried.
“Buck, I’m not mad that you didn’t tell me. It's just-” Maddie cuts herself off before settling her hands down, “You haven't been around much. After Red and Abby and this whole year, it feels like you're pulling away and I don't-”
“Hey." he stops her rambling, "Listen, we’ve both been busy. You and Chimney have a baby to prepare for. And I-”
What does Buck have?
“-I’ve been trying to process everything.”
Maddie nods her head in understanding, folding her arms around herself.
“But, you’re okay, though?”
“I’m getting there.”
Apparently, it’s a good enough answer for Maddie because she grins at him for what feels like the first time in months, and tells him how much she loves him.
The words feel artificial but, he responds back nonetheless, mouth full of cotton. She's been saying those words a lot more after he confessed about his feelings when Red died. Buck knows she doesn't mean it, she just doesn't want to deal with his problems later on. It's only three little words for her.
She pats his knee and excuses herself to go use the bathroom.
An hour passes by and no one has bothered to bring him inside for a talk. He’s still nursing a beer that Hen offered in passing and picking at the remainder of his hot dog Bobby had set down in front of him. Sat in the same spot, he watches as the sun slowly settles. Even the kids have gone inside to play on some console, fighting over the controllers until May steps in.
The lack of conversation would be bliss, if it didn’t hurt so much. He pushes through it, though. Buck’s only got another hour before he can make his escape and drink his weight in alcohol.
He feels a body settle down next to him. He turns his head to see Eddie, who’s got his own beer in hand.
An uncomfortable silence stretched between the two, something that never used to happen.
“Thank you,” he says with nothing else on his mind, “For not telling anyone.”
“That night,” Eddie croaks out, setting his bottle down on the ground, “You said you were afraid of me leaving first.”
Buck wishes Eddie would forget about that night. None of it matters anymore. Nothing matters anymore.
“Buck, I’m not leaving you. We’re forever.”
Until you find someone else.
Not trusting himself to speak, Buck nods.
“I’m sorry I freaked out about the coke, I know it was only once. Just-” he falters, “If you ever feel alone or sad or anything, come talk to me please. I don’t want you to resort to all of this.”
You’re exhausting .
“Of course man. I don’t know what happened, it was a rough couple of weeks and I guess I couldn’t keep it all in anymore.” his lies come out far too easily.
“I love you, Buck. You’re my best friend, I hope you know that.”
“I love you, too.” his mouth tastes stale and he really wants to go home now but he can’t. It’s only been an hour, “I've never had a friend like you before.”
Before his next shift at the station, Buck comes to a decision. It’s most likely going to backfire but, he’d rather set everything on fire, than wait anxiously for it to happen.
If he stays at the 118, he’ll never be able to fully shield himself from the torment that the others will leave behind in their wake, as they go on to pursue their own lives. Hen is already preparing to become a surgeon. Chimney and Maddie are having a baby. Bobby will have to retire one day. And Eddie-
Eddie will find some woman to fall in love with, and Buck will only be a memory.
He marches into Bobby’s office, his confidence lessening with each step he takes closer.
Buck brings up his knuckles to rap at the door quietly, and within a second he hears the soft mumbling of ‘come in’.
Bobby looks up from his paperwork for only a minute to see who it is before getting back to whatever it is he’s doing.
Knowing that if he doesn’t do it now, he won’t do it ever, he cuts to the chase.
“Can I have the paperwork for a transfer?” he blurts out, off beat.
The pen Bobby had been holding is dropped, and it rolls off the desk onto the ground. Not expecting Buck to bust in and say those words.
“Why?” Bobby questions.
Buck doesn’t know how to answer the question without incriminating Buck 3.0 and the ache in his chest and all of his plans to leave before anyone else can.
He doesn’t know what to say so he ends up saying nothing.
“Sit down, Buck.”
Taking a deep breath, Buck sits across from Bobby, curling his hands into fists in his lap. His back ramrod straight.
“I’ve been noticing you’ve been pulling away from everyone for a couple of weeks now.” Bobby gently states, “Is this why?”
Nodding, Buck goes with Bobby’s explanation because it’s far better than anything he’d come up with.
“Talk to me, Buck. Why do you want to transfer?”
“When I talked to Abby,” Buck notices Bobby inhaling sharply at the mention of her name, “She said she left L.A to find herself, and she did. Abby found a great life outside of here. I’m not going as extreme as leaving the country but -”
Even though it’s all lies, it feels oddly like he’s confessing something big.
“This station is my life, it’s my family, it’s my friends. I have no identity outside of this. And when we all inevitably lose touch, and I know we will, Bobby. Don't lie to me.” he stops Bobby’s train of thought before he can express it, “I will lose everything. I need to exist outside of the 118.”
For a minute they just look at each other, until Buck delivers the final blow.
"You once said a firehouse isn't a family." he echoed, "You were right. It shouldn't be."
Buck can pinpoint the moment Bobby’s heart breaks and he sears it into his memory. He can track the man’s train of thought. Trying to calculate where he went wrong. Trying to come up with ways to make him stay. Trying to fix whatever is wrong with Buck.
Trying and failing.
“There’s nothing I can say or do to change your mind is there?”
“It’s not final, Bobby.” he strangely finds himself wanting to comfort the man with false reassurances, “I just want to have the papers in case.”
He loves Bobby, he doesn’t want to hurt him.
But, he doesn’t want to get hurt either.
With nothing left to say, Bobby solemnly walks over to his filing cabinet and finds the transfer papers, setting them down in front of Buck.
When he comes home after his shift, he sets the transfer papers delicately onto his coffee table. He finds a pen and sits down on the floor in front of his couch, ready to fill it out.
Buck barely finds the strength to fill in his name. The ink smudges on the paper, with how shaky his hands are getting.
Groaning, he drops the pen to the surface and leans his head on the cushion of the couch. Buck fishes his phone out of his pocket, and begins to find a contact that he didn’t even know he had saved.
Jennifer comes over as soon as she can, and with her she brings a six-pack of beers and a little baggie full of white powder, shaking it enthusiastically when he opens the door for her.
Like before, Jennifer and Buck sit across from each other, on the ground, in front of a coffee table. She pours out the coke onto the surface, already grabbing her driver’s license.
Meanwhile, Buck decides to crack open a beer. Openly staring at Jennifer who doesn’t mind the attention.
Retrieving a bill from her pocket, she rolls it into a tube, offering it to Buck.
Now, Buck didn’t invite Jennifer over because he wanted to get high. He knows what it looks like but, he genuinely invited her over for only some beers.
He knows he has some sort of predisposition to addiction. He knows he should stop and quit before he’s gone too far down the line.
Eddie certainly thinks he should.
Buck accepts it and snorts the neatly cut lines, as she looks around his living room from where she’s sat. Her eyes catch the LAFD logo printed in colour on the transfer papers.
“You’re a firefighter?” she asks, no judgement in her voice, only curious.
“Yeah,” he hands over the bill, “What about you?”
“Nurse.” she answers before cutting her own lines.
Isn’t that horrific? Two people whose careers are dedicated to saving citizens are sat doing coke at eight-thirty, the sun still shining outside his windows.
As she finishes, Buck copies her moves from last time. He licks the end of his finger and dips it into the remaining powder, before sticking it in Jennifer’s mouth. She doesn’t push his hand away, only amused, smiling as he rubs the granules against her gums.
By the time Buck’s done, he’s grinning at her as well.
“Thanks for the warning.” Jennifer says eventually.
“I’m just returning the favour from before.”
The great thing about Jennifer is that he knows that she’s not romantically attracted to him. In no way shape or form is she interested in calling Buck her boyfriend. Obviously, they’re sexually attracted to each other, you don’t just sleep with people that aren’t pleasant to look at. Any other day, this combination would take a blow at his self-esteem but tonight it’s only a benefit.
There’s only a split second of eye contact before Jennifer’s mouth is on his.
It’s not like Abby, or Ali, or any other girls he’s kissed. It’s harsh and aggressive in all the right ways. Jennifer tastes like salt and her tongue is bruising in Buck’s mouth.
And holy shit no girl has ever dominated him like this before and it’s really hot.
They end up on the couch, Jennifer on top of him, grinding down on his hips, and Buck is slowly getting harder by the moment, bucking upwards, until Jennifer mouths at his neck, leaving a hickey in her wake.
She tugs off his shirt over his head, tossing it aside before she lifts her own shirt up. Her fingers are sharp as they trace the tattoos on his chest, almost like he’s getting inked again. He’s going to have scratches for days.
Then, she’s tugging at his jeans and Buck’s hands fumble as he attempts to undo his belt. Impatient, Jennifer does it for him. Instead of throwing it behind her, she loops it around Buck’s hands, effectively tightening it enough that he can’t get his hands loose.
She leans down to kiss him and whispers into his mouth, “This okay?”
“More than okay.” he hisses.
Jennifer’s hands are on his jeans, working at the zipper, while Buck lets out short, fast pants.
Maybe Buck 1.0 was on to something.
Before she has the chance to pull his jeans off, the apartment door opens and Eddie is standing there.
It takes Eddie a second to understand what the hell is going on and when he does he blushes to his neck.
“Shit, my bad.” he apologizes.
“It’s fine. But, could you please take your cock block somewhere else, Eddie? I'm kind of in the middle of something.”
There’s a series of emotions playing across his face that Buck can’t keep up with, even more so in his drug addled state.
“Sorry,” he says and turns to go.
Until he catches sight of the coffee table.
When Eddie turns back around, his face is filled with fury. For a moment, Buck wonders if this is the first thing his opponents used to see.
“What the fuck is this, Buck?” he spits out.
“What does it look like, Eddie?” he bellows, slowly, impatient with the situation.
“Wait, your name is Buck? I thought your name was Evan.” Jennifer asks, a little out of breath still.
“It’s a nickname.” he offers lamely.
Eddie takes a step forward and picks up Jennifer’s shirt before handing it to her, ever the gentleman.
“I think you should leave.”
Putting her shirt back on, she agrees, “I think so too.”
Barely having enough time to gather her things, Jennifer flees the scene, shutting the door quietly behind him.
Eddie kneels beside Buck, pulling his hands free from the belt, flinging it to the side.
“Get up. Now.” Eddie orders, and he doesn’t wait for an answer, instead grabbing his wrist and dragging him to his feet.
At some point, his nose started bleeding again. And there are a couple of scratches on him that have torn skin. He hisses in pain as the cool air of the bathroom hits his body.
He shoves Buck into the bathroom, seating him down on the closed toilet seat.
He looks like a mess right now. Bleeding. Scratched up. Jeans half done up. Marks on his wrists. No shirt.
Eddie sets down the first aid kit with a smack onto the counter. Opening it to find some cotton pads and antiseptic for his scratches.
Unlike last time, Eddie isn’t gentle with him. He forces his way between Buck’s legs, yanking his head up to the light by his hair, and he’s pretty sure he’s still high because that shouldn’t have turned him on so much.
Soon after, Eddie applies antiseptic to all the tiny lacerations on his body, putting a little too much pressure.
“You done being angry yet?” he barks out, and if it’s possible, he looks even more furious than he had when he first walked in.
Separating himself from Buck, Eddie leans against the opposite wall.
“What the hell were you thinking!”
“It’s only a bit of coke, Eddie. I’m not an addict.” Buck scoffs, “It’s called having some fun.”
“That’s fun to you.” he retorts, “Letting some girl, who didn’t even know your nickname, touch up on you. Tie you up and fuck you.”
“I don't know why you're so upset.” he rebukes, "We're both consenting adults."
"Do you even know her last name?"
"Does it matter?"
"Yes!" Eddie pushes himself off the wall, marching over to him, "Sex is a big deal, especially when you're doing risky stuff like that. You have to do it with someone you know and trust. "
"Did you want to be the one tying me up, fucking me? Get off your high horse, Eddie." he sneers, "People hook up constantly. You don't need to know shit about a person. I'm sorry that you can't get off without the person knowing how fucked up you are."
Then, it goes silent. Eddie doesn’t respond and for a minute, Buck knows he’s fucked up again. Eddie will leave him despite all of his efforts.
He doesn't know why he said it. His thoughts were running together and he wanted to hurt someone instead of being hurt. All it did, though, was amplify the feeling underneath his bones.
Without the shouting to distract him, Buck realizes how cold it is. Goosebumps pop up across his body, as he shivers.
“I’ll grab your shirt.” Eddie says quietly.
Within a moment he walks back in, tossing the shirt to Buck who gratefully puts it on. Welcoming anything that will take his attention away from the current situation.
Then, Buck spots the papers in Eddie’s other hand, how his hands are gripping it tightly enough that there will be creases afterwards.
Eddie’s face is blank, as he holds them up.
“You’re transferring?” his voice cracking, “Is this why you’ve been pulling away? Doing coke and fucking some woman you barely know?”
“No, Eddie, God no,” he exclaims as he stands up a little too soon for his inebriated state, “I’m bracing myself. For when you all leave. It’s self preservation.”
“I’ve told you multiple times, Buck.” scolding him like he’s Christopher, “Nothing’s gonna change just cause we don’t work under the same roof. We’re forever.”
It feels like the lawsuit all over again. How he wished someone would see his version of everything. How no one understood what he was doing. How they all left him alone after he quit his job.
Christopher was right. Eddie is a liar.
Everything's going to change if he and Eddie don't work together anymore. Everything is already changing too fast for his liking.
“Until you find someone!” Buck pulls at his hair, frustration edging away at him, “One day you'll find some really nice woman who loves Christopher as much as you do, and I'll be pushed away. You won't have time for me, won't make time for me. And I know it's selfish but, I don't want to be left behind again.”
He slowly slides down against the bathtub, pulling his knees to his chest, as he still clutches at the ends of his hair.
“Eddie, everyone leaves.” he voices, sounding hollow, “I’m just trying to make it easier by leaving first.”
In some sick parallel, Eddie slides down next to him. Pulling Buck towards his chest, and Buck goes willingly. Eddie embraces him into his arms like he's some sort of child that needs comforting. It's mocking but, he can't stop himself from relaxing.
“What do you mean?”
“Hen is going to become a surgeon. Chim and Maddie are having a baby. Bobby needs to retire some day. And you…” he trails off.
“You’ll leave me too.”
Before he knows it, he’s falling asleep, tiredness settling into every muscle.
Buck wakes up in his bed, with no memory of getting there. His head is killing him and there’s a familiar emptiness inside of him. He rolls over to see a notecard, some pills, and a glass of water on his nightstand
Retrieving the note, he opens it.
Sorry I had to leave, I had to pick up Chris before my shift. There’s some Advil on the nightstand and a glass of water.
Take care of yourself. I mean it.
I love you, Buck.
He swallows the pills and chugs down the water desperately before stepping down the stairs to his living room.
As he gets closer, true to Eddie’s words, there’s no trace of anything that happened last night. All there is are the transfer papers placed neatly on the centre of the coffee table, a pen not too far away.
Buck picks up the first sheet and glances over it. Fully prepared to continue filling it out. He grabs the pen and falls down onto the cushions.
He tries to fill out the next section, but unease fills his stomach and he knows he can’t. His hand clenches around the pen enough for his knuckles to go white.
He’s too much of a coward to leave first. Buck can’t handle the thought of leaving. He knows that as long as he knows the crew is out there somewhere, he won’t be able to stop the ache inside of him, the ache that’s expanding and swallowing his chest cavity whole.
So, Buck makes another decision, another plan to avoid being left behind.
Grabbing a backpack from the closet, Buck sets out to make one of the best/worst/last decisions of his life.
He searches through his medicine cabinet, finding all the pill bottles he possibly can, and he dumps their contents out into this small tin box he found laying around. Buck flings the container into the bag, then goes to the kitchen.
He pulls open that Godforsaken cupboard of his and grabs a bottle of vodka, throwing it into his bag as well.
Buck’s about to grab his keys and leave when he remembers something he learned from some article he read online.
Backtracking, he opens his fridge and grabs a carton of milk, to line his stomach.
His hand is on the door handle when he feels the buzzing in his pocket. He’s about to ignore it, but something inside him tells him to check it.
Whipping it out, he sees Eddie’s name across the screen. He slides the accept button easily for what'll be the last time.
“I know this is an insanely inappropriate favour to ask considering all the things going on but, can you watch Christopher. Carla’s busy and had to cancel. Abuela and Tia are in El Paso.”
“You want me to watch Christopher, after seeing what I did last night?”
“I’m not gonna lie. I’m still pissed. But, I know you love Chris and you won’t ever do anything to put him in danger.”
Lies are already forming on the tip of his tongue before an unbidden thought enters his head.
This is your last chance to see Christopher.
“Yeah, I’ll watch him.”
“Thank you, Buck. You’re a life-saver.”
The line ends and Buck is standing at his door still holding the backpack. After giving himself a moment to recollect his thoughts, he shoves the backpack back in the hall closet.
Buck opens the door to find Eddie in his uniform, his hands resting on Christopher’s shoulder who’s dressed in a bright yellow shirt.
His clutches click against the floor as he goes to hug Buck’s legs.
After a short squeeze, he lets the boy make himself comfortable in the living room.
Buck stares at Eddie, taking in the way his uniform stretches across his body, how his smile is slowly falling. He’s memorizing Eddie, which is evidently useless because he’s going to die and he’s pretty sure you don’t remember things when you’re dead.
Still he commits him to memory. Painfully aware it will be his last time seeing him in person.
“You okay?” Eddie asks, something glinting in his eyes.
“I will be.”
Eddie bids his farewell soon after, shouting his ‘I love you’s as he shut the door. All Buck wants to do now is play Legos with Christopher.
He can’t though, he has to have a serious conversation with the kid.
Chris is on the floor building some sort of robot with his Legos, mumbling something to himself when two pieces are hard to pry apart.
Buck sits down next to him and gently takes the pieces from him, separating them with ease before handing them back.
“Chris, I need to talk to you about something.” he says, “It’s serious.”
Christopher sets everything down and crawls into Buck’s lap, who welcomes his tiny, warm body against his own.
"I want you to know whatever happens in these next couple of days isn't your fault." he breathes out, his chest seizing up with the words, "I want you to remember this, okay buddy? You can't blame yourself when you get older because of what I'm doing."
“What are you doing?” Chris asks, his head tilting to the side.
“I’m gonna go away for awhile, buddy.” he explained.
Buck’s heart hurts so bad right now to have this conversation but, if he’s going to leave he has to make sure he protects Christopher for the next years. He can’t traumatize the kid even more than he already has.
“When are you coming back?”
Buck ignores the question in favour of asking his own.
“I need you to be strong when I leave. For you and your dad. Just like how you were strong when your mom left. Can you do that for me?”
“I’ll do anything for you.” he throws his arms around Buck’s neck, hugging him, “I love you Buck.”
“I love you too, Superman.”
He lets himself break for a moment, crying into Chris' hair.
Who can deny a dying man's wish?
Eddie cooks subpar in the ideal conditions so you can manage the disaster he is in the kitchen when he’s distracted.
All that’s been on his mind is Buck and coke.
He knows it’s not that big of a deal. Everyone does cocaine occasionally, it’s a party drug.
But, he’s a firefighter, he gets called whenever those party drugs go wrong and sometimes people die. He can’t wrap his head around why Buck would do what he’s doing after seeing that. Why would he put himself in harm's way? He already play his 'get out of death free' card far too many times. Buck is lucky but, he can't be that lucky.
His racing thoughts capture his attention for a moment too long, seeing that the pasta water is boiling over.
“Dad,” he hears, “Why is Buck leaving?”
He turns to see his son at the table, colouring away with his crayons.
“What do you mean?”
Eddie manages to turn the dial of the stove all the way down to zero without scalding his hand. He pulls up a chair and sits down next to his son.
“Buck told me that he’s leaving for a really long time, and that he needs me to be strong for you. Like how I was strong when mom died.” the crayon in his hand slowly stops moving, “Is Buck not gonna come back?”
“Your Buck loves you so much.” he ruffles his son’s head, masking the concern on his face, “He’ll always come back for you.”
“He said that when I get older, he wants me to remember that whatever he’s going to do isn’t my fault.”
Eddie’s blood runs cold at the declaration. He wants to start panicking, calling everyone he knows to see if they know where Buck is, if he’s alright. He wants to breakdown in a crying fit even though he doesn't know anything definitive yet because even the thought of Buck leaving is enough to send him on a downward spiral.
He can’t do any of that yet because if something is wrong, he can’t let his son see it right now.
“Hey, how about you go to Abuela’s for dinner seeing that I clearly can’t cook?” his laughter is artificial to his own ears and hopes his son can’t hear it, “I have to do something anyway.”
The others have a night shift, so after he drops Christopher off at his Abuela's, Eddie drives off towards the station. He breaks several laws on his way over, as he desperately dials Buck's number over and over again, hope dying inside of him bit by bit as he hears his stupid voicemail.
He still has his phone against his ear, calling him one more time, as he enters the station. When it goes to voicemail again, something breaks inside of him. Sobs erupt from his chest, as he's stood in the middle of the firehouse. He knows he looks insane coming in here in the middle of night wearing pyjamas, crying his eyes out between the trucks but, he doesn't care because Buck is gone.
His knees buckle and he’s about to fall to the ground, when he feels arms wrap around him, keeping him upright. It’s Hen and Chim. They try to murmur something soothing in his ears but, it goes in and out.
In front of him is Bobby, who’s trying to get him to settle down and follow his breathing.
“Deep breaths with me, Eddie. Deep breaths.” he follows Cap’s instructions, trying to get a grip, “Can you tell me what’s wrong?”
“Buck is gone.”
His chest is about to cave in on itself and nothing makes sense anymore because Buck is gone.
Through a watery voice, Eddie tries to explain the situation the best he can, the quickest he can. Telling them about what Christopher told him, about Buck leaving like Shannon. How he called Maddie earlier and she's been trying to call Buck too. How he's been trying to call him.
“Okay, Eddie, don’t jump to the worst conclusion, okay?” Bobby reassures, even though his own voice is filled with worry, “There could be a million-”
His radio cackles at that moment, and Bobby's about to turn it off when he hears his name.
“Captain Nash. This Captain Anderson of the 142”
“We’ve found one of your members in a park passed out. An Evan Buckley. Empty bottle of vodka, carton of milk, and tin box with some pills. ”
The room goes silent and Eddie has tears streaming down his face. He can't go through this again. He can't lose another person he loves.
And then it hits him hard.
He never told Buck he loved him, was in love with him. And now he'll never get another chance because on top of being a horrible friend, Eddie is a coward who couldn't come clean.
“Is he-” Bobby takes a minute before he can even ask.
But, he doesn’t have to.
“He’s going to be fine, Captain Nash. We loaded him up and he’s on his way to the hospital.”
Buck is laying on a hospital bed for what seems to be the hundredth time, yet it still hurts like it’s the first time. His eyes are closed and he seems younger in his sleep. Far too young to have gone through what he has.
Athena and Bobby go home first, to shower and change. Bobby informs him that he’s going to cook something for everyone, bring some coffees around.
Hen decides to go home and offers to take care of all the kids for the night, Harry, May, and Christopher. Michael comes over to help, everyone understanding his apprehension with hospitals. Karen’s already picked up Christopher, explaining the situation to his Abuela, while Christopher was in the other room. Holding his Abuela while she cried.
Maddie stays by her brother’s bed side for a long time but, eventually Chimney convinces her to go home and get some rest. He gets Albert to pick her up. Soon after, however, Chimney has to go home when Maddie wakes up from a nightmare, unable to be soothed over the phone. Josh visits when his shift’s over but doesn't stay long when he hears that Chimney needs backup in calming Maddie down.
Eddie is the last one left.
In the end, it was some woman who had broken into the park with her friends on a drunken escapade. She saw a man passed out in a puddle of his own vomit, pills and a bottle scattered around him. Even in her inebriated state she had managed to dial 9-1-1.
She saved him. And Eddie doesn’t even have a face or a name to put to this hero. She had declined the ride to the hospital and offered no contact information. So, Eddie doesn’t even have a way of tracking down the woman and telling her how he owes her so much for giving him another chance.
He knows Buck overdosed on purpose. Those over-the-counter painkillers aren’t like cocaine, you don’t accidentally take too much, not enough to kill yourself.
Buck’s out of the woods for tonight but the doctors want to keep him in for at least twenty four hours to see if he’s got any permanent damage to his liver. Eddie will take a damaged liver over death any day of the week.
I am sick of being on the other side of those hospital doors.
Ain’t that the truth.
Eddie’s sitting next to his hospital bed, his hand wrapped up in Buck’s, avoiding all the IV lines. He wants to cry again but he’s too tired. Everything had come crumbling down in the matter of hours before being rebuilt in half the time.
He stares at Buck’s face for a long time, trying to memorize what he almost lost. Takes in his birthmark, how he hasn't shaved in the last couple of days, how his hair is even curlier than Eddie thought was possible.
“Take a picture, it’ll last longer.”
It takes him a minute to figure out where the voice is coming from, before Buck starts to blink owlishly.
Turns out he isn’t too tired to cry because tears stream down his face and don’t stop. A watery chuckle escapes his throat as he calls out Buck’s name.
The relief is drained eventually, and in comes the irrational anger.
“What is wrong with you!” he chokes out, “I thought I told you to come to me when something was wrong.”
The tiny grin on Buck’s face evaporates. He lets go of Buck’s hand, who almost claws to get it back before Eddie stands up.
“I almost lost you tonight, and if it weren’t for Christopher, I would’ve gone to sleep while you choked on your own vomit.” he reprimanded even though his face betrayed him.
“I hate you so much, Evan Buckley,” and Buck’s face falls with the declaration and a sick part of Eddie is glad, “You could make sure Christopher never blamed himself but, what about me? And I don't care how selfish I sound because I almost lost you and I wouldn't have known the last goodbye was just that, know that this afternoon when I said I loved you, it could've been the last time.”
All Eddie can do is drop back down to Buck's side, pushing his face into his chest, trying to remind himself that he is still very much alive, listening to his rapid heartbeat.
“I hate you so much, Buck.” he sobs, and he knows it’s not what he should say to someone who just tried to kill themselves but he’s been through an emotional wringer and he’ll say whatever he wants, “Don’t leave me, Buck. Please don’t leave me. I love you, so much.”
He's so in love with this man and he almost killed himself. And top it all off, he was still trying to lessen the blow. Pull apart from everyone. Make sure his kid, their kid knew he wasn't the reason. None of it matters though because it didn't work, Buck didn't die, someone found him in time, and he is so grateful for everything in this moment. In between gasps, he looks up at Buck's face, how he's crying too.
Eddie grabs both sides of Buck’s face, kissing him like a madman. Putting every ounce of love and adoration into it. Trying to get Buck to realize that Eddie needs him, that he is the reason for his living and dying breaths.
After a moment, Eddie slows down, his brain and mouth coming to the same conclusion, that Buck isn't reciprocating.
Just as Eddie’s about to pull away, Buck reels himself closer, trying to get even closer to the man.
He breaks off for a breath but, doesn’t go too far, “Please don’t leave me, Buck.”
The first few months are the hardest, a weird deja vu to the truck bombing which seems like an eternity ago with how everything’s been.
Eddie forces him to move in with him, too afraid to let him out of his sight because the last time he did…
Eddie gives Buck his own bedroom, not wanting to have Buck feel like he has to share his privacy. He doesn’t mind but Eddie doesn’t like to infringe on Buck, letting him have his own space for his own stuff.
More often than not, however, Buck’s sleeping in Eddie’s bed.
They don’t let Christopher know the scary bits of what happened. All he knows is that Buck got hurt and now needs to stay home to heal. They’ll explain to him what happened when he’s older. He’s a kid and doesn’t need to think like that, not yet.
The worst part of this was not being allowed back at work. It always is for Buck.
The leg injury was physical, tangible. Something he could work towards and feel the results right away.
His issues don’t quite work like that. The results aren’t easy to see. Internal conflicts can't be dealt with in a timely manner.
Some days he’s fine. Eddie arrives home, and Buck is cuddled up with Christopher reading a story, or he’s cooking dinner. Those are the good days, when they can forget about the nightmare that had happened not too long ago. They can go on walks together in the neighbourhood and Buck doesn’t feel like a burden.
Then, there are the bad days, where he does feel like a burden. Those days are easy to mix up with the good ones because Buck is good at pretending but Eddie always catches him. Forcing him to talk about his feelings, as Buck ignores him in favour of staring out the window. Sometimes he yells, sometimes he wants to crawl up and die, and do it properly this time.
The worst day was when Abby came to visit. It was a good thing that Christopher was out for the day, too bad Eddie was as well.
They had gone to the grocery store to pick up some extra ingredients they needed, while Buck started on preparing dinner.
A knock at the door threw all his plans array.
There was yelling. A lot of it. A dish had been accidentally broken, cutting Buck's hand open as he slid to the ground crying.
Jesus, Buck, you can’t just blame every little thing on me. It’s not my fault you placed all your happiness in one person. I certainly didn’t.
In the end, Eddie came home to a crying, bleeding Buck and an apologetic Abby. With a lot of forced politeness, Eddie got Abby to leave. Even though he looked like he had a couple of choice words for her.
Buck was inconsolable for a while. He knew Eddie hated when he thought he couldn’t help him.
But he did help him by being there, by holding Buck, rubbing his back and pulling him tight to his body.
Slowly but surely, Buck gets back on track again and he learns to let go of Abby, declining her offer to meet up again, deleting her number, and blocking her on several platforms.
He still talks to Jennifer because it isn’t her fault his brain got so muddled. Eddie still holds the belief he should delete her number because she’s the reason he did coke in the first place.
He doesn’t though.
She comes over but, she never brings anything with her other than a couple of video games and takeout. Eddie warms up to her after that. They even start hanging out without Buck.
Their other friends come over a lot too and he goes over to them.
Maddie and Chimney come over and bring baby Irene with them. Buck always steals her away from them but he knows they’re secretly grateful because parenting around the clock is hard. Albert pops by with some random movie he found in the shop. Buck comes to the call centre at the end of Josh’s shift to drag him to a crazy arcade he saw, even though Josh is the last person to be seen there.
Hen takes him and the kids to museums, zoos, aquariums, any places that interest both Buck and little children. Though Hen is the best in their family with words, she lacks them when finding Buck laughing, almost as if she thought Buck was lost to them even though he was right there.
Something he did not expect was to have a close friendship with Karen. She confides in him that when she was a teenager she attempted suicide as well. Karen understands him, gets all the weird feelings he’s having. They bond over stuff like wikipedia articles and obscure documentaries. Sometimes she leaves drunk voicemails in his box, and when Buck is in need of a boost, he listens to her ramble on about 'how Buck was the kindest person she'd ever met and if she wasn't gay she would've married him on the spot.'
Bobby takes the longest to come around. Naturally, Athena takes the decision away from him by inviting Buck to the house. At first Bobby doesn’t know how to speak to him but then Buck cracks a joke and Bobby realizes that the kid he loves is still there, he just got a little lost. They even go camping once, with Michael in tow.
Eddie has it the hardest, Buck thinks. Sure, the others have seen him on bad days but Eddie sees him on every bad day. Yet he still believes in Buck.
Buck does too sometimes.
With the help of many therapist visits and prescriptions to help ease some of his internal conflicts, Buck is ready to get back to work after months of medical leave.
He’s walking into the firehouse, the first time in months wearing his uniform, his head down as he makes a list of things to do at home later today, when he hears a shout that nearly gives him a heart attack.
Everyone, all of his family, is standing in the middle of the firehouse. A cake set out in front of them on a table. A banner hangs behind them that reads ‘Death:0 Buck:4’. Streamers hang from every corner and balloons are strewn all over the place.
Laughter bubbles out of him, as people come over to greet him one by one. Clapping him on the back. He’s having the best time of his life and it’s odd that the alarm hasn't rung yet but, hey he’s not going to look a gift horse in the mouth.
He looks around the room to see the people he loves, the people who love him, having the time of their lives. It's overwhelming in all the right ways, and he knows now that when he woke up in that hospital all those months ago, it wasn't some cruel fate who decided Buck didn't deserve an easy death.
It was someone, somewhere, knowing that Buck had a family waiting for him to come back.
Some days he'll forget this, maybe he'll never be able to truly grasp how much everyone loves him, but he knows that it doesn't matter because these people will still be there at the end of the day to remind him.
After several bites of cake, Eddie pulls him into a supply closet, flickering the light on before shutting the door.
“Are we having a workplace quickie right now?” he jokes, “Kinky.”
Eddie doesn’t laugh though, he still looks serious, his brows furrowed.
“I’m in love with you.” he blurts out, "I know I said it before at the hospital but it was such a hectic time, that I thought maybe you forgot about it. And then you were moving in, and you were on your way to getting better, and I didn't want to derail any progress by having stupid feelings that you probably don't reciprocate-"
His words are smothered by Buck’s mouth, laughing into the other’s mouth.
Buck is okay.
And if he’s not, he will be.