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a Moonsea

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 It begins with the stars, and a firetruck. One that blows up, throwing him out of glass and sliding across hard concrete. His mouth tastes of asphalt and smoke. He feels nothing at first, just a burning across his face and hands. He feels pressure on his leg next and then hears a ringing that just won’t go away. Buck feels himself reaching out for something, for someone, but his hands land on empty air. He’s never really felt so alone until this moment.

 He thinks of his failed suicide attempt as a teenager, and even then, he wasn’t really alone. Bartending in South America, he had friends, if you could call them that. He didn’t have to be alone. He did feel alone, but it’s nothing to here and now. He hears someone speaking, a deranged bomber that’s nothing more than a kid making a mistake. Buck holds no anger or begrudging attitude towards him, he feels a quiet sense of empathy.

 He’s not quite on his back, but not entirely on his stomach either. Buck twists to try and get free, free of whatever he’s under, heavy and immovable, but he can’t. Instead he half screams and groans in frustration and a new kind of pain. His eyes look through the smoke of fire and red, flashing lights, and voices that don’t come close to making sense, not over the ringing in his ears. In his head.

 That’s when he sees them, eyes moving up to that great big expanse of sky. It’s dark and it should be almost pitch black for a number of reasons. One, the weather said a cloudy night tonight. Two, in a city like LA, there are too many lights to ever see the night sky properly. Rarely if ever has Buck seen the stars in the middle of the city. But now he lays on hot pavement, and he sees them. They shine and twinkle down on him.

 The moon is barely a sliver of light, but it’s there, and it’s something, and Buck holds onto it. Holds onto it like it’s everything. Because for right now, it is.

“I’m the Captain!”

 His hearing grows better, but it’s all still slightly muffled and far away. He knows this kid. Freddie. Knows what happened. Buck can remember the fire and his father, but everything else is just a little too hazy. A little not right. His eyes automatically go to the sky again, to the stars where something is familiar. Where some things make sense.

 Maybe he hit his head. He must have. There was glass, and other things, and he aches. All over. The more he lays here unmoving, the more he feels. The pain builds like a pressure gauge. More and more. He tries to hold on. Tries to catch the brightest star in hands that move up in grabbing motions, out of their own accord. But just as he thinks he’s grabbed them, another hand takes his. Grounding and warm, filled with latex, but no less familiar.

“I’ve got you, Buck.” Eddie says, and Buck knows that voice. Knows Eddie somehow, someway, so he nods. Let’s Buck and the others try to move him, but the pain becomes unbearable. Hurts too even exist. “This isn’t going to work.” Buck hears Eddie say again, from somewhere. Hand still in his.

“We need more people.”

 There’s a prick in his skin and then there’s something wonderful filling his veins. He can feel it of course, like a soft burning before it echoes into an ocean under his skin. Filling him into a lighter oblivion. It still hurts enormously so when the truck is gone, when they drag his bloodied form out, finally, but it’s not as bad as he knows it could be.

“We’ve got you.” More sure, but not Eddie. It’s not Eddie. Someone else, someone else who is familiar.

“Buck? Can you hear me?”

 There’s a light shining in his eyes, and he wants to move it away. To flick it to the side as he tries to see those stars again, to see that crescent of a moon, no matter how small, but he can’t. His arms feel like jelly. They feel heavy, too. He can’t move them, can’t move the light away. He keeps his eyes open though, blinking groggily as he tries to capture those twinkling wonders, but then there’s more light. Blindingly so.

 He doesn’t smell asphalt anymore, or smoke. No concrete under his fingers. No pressure on his leg. Nothing. Everything is too bright, and he’s stifled inside. No longer in cold open air. He feels the loss like a punch to the gut. Something inside moving away, shifting into the air, outside where he’ll never feel it again unless he goes there. But he can’t, not right now, because his limbs are heavy and getting heavier. Weighing him down.

 Tears hot and warm leak from his eyes, down his skin, and he feels a sob threatening to burst out. He reaches for an invisible something that he can’t quite explain, but he doesn’t grasp it. Not yet. Not now.

“It’s okay, Buck. You’re fine.” A slightly panicked Eddie recites, a warm hand in Buck’s hair, pushing it down, a touch so soft.

“You’re going to be fine, Buckaroo.” Another voice, feminine, strong.

 But it does nothing to stop this hole in his stomach, in his chest. Does nothing to quench this feeling that he’s lost something. Something big and immeasurable. Eddie’s hand might still be in his, the other stroking his hair back with all the comfort in the world, but he still feels something missing.

 A forehead presses into his and someone’s tears- Eddie’s tears, mix with his own.

 He closes his eyes and let’s himself cry with him. Let’s Eddie cry with himself. A grief unspoken, different, somehow similar.

“Hang on, Evan.” Eddie’s voice is barely a whisper, a choked and croaking sound that holds more emotion than Buck has ever seen him hold.

 He tries to reach out, to comfort back, but his arms are so heavy, it’s all he can do not to drift into somewhere else.

 For three days after he wakes up, Buck doesn’t speak. Instead he looks out the window, the big ones in the hospital that show the world outside as big and wide. The ones that allow for every inch below to be scoured, every inch above, too Buck soon learns. He lays in bed and looks out there to the stars that aren’t visible. He lays there and waits. Only sleeping when daylight arrives and the stars wouldn’t be visible anyway.

 Maybe it’s the moon, he wonders briefly. Maybe it’s not bright enough to see anything, but he knows better than that. Knows that it’s because of Los Angeles. The city and its lights. Too bright too see much of anything, the smog too. Exhaust and other fumes. It’s a tragedy really. Back in Hershey, in South America, he could see everything. See them all. He never really appreciated them then, that was his mistake.

“Why won’t he speak?” His sister, Maddie, she asks it anxiously. Fingernails biting in her mouth as though she were nineteen again, waiting for the mail anxiously. Hoping to see an acceptance letter into the college of nursing. Afraid if she doesn’t. Their parents didn’t help much with that, but Buck tried, all of nine, he tried.

“He hit his head pretty hard, and there was a small bleed, it’s possible that’s the reason, but he also went through a serious trauma. We just don’t know for sure how the brain is going to react in either case.” The doctor explains slowly.

“Or if they’re both happening at the same time?” Bobby inquires.

“Exactly.”

 Maddie doesn’t ask anymore question or demand anymore answers like most parents would, because she knows. Buck remembers that much. How great of a nurse she was until bastard Doug entered the scene. Buck’s eyes remain on the sky throughout the conversation, to the windows filled with darkness and lights, artificial. Manmade. He wonders briefly if Eddie will finally come.

“Buck?” Maddie asks gently, a warm hand touching his own, squeezing gently. “Can you hear me?”

 He’s not stupid, but he supposes saying nothing and staring at invisible stars might give off that impression. Besides he hears the pain in Maddie’s voice, and he hates it. She’s seen and felt enough of that, so he looks over and smiles crookedly teasingly. She smiles back, a little hesitant, and a lot surprised.

“Where’s Eddie?” He asks, his voice rough from lack of use.

 She laughs a little hysterically, half a sob as her eyes tears up. She tries to say something, but she can’t. Buck feels guilty for that, but he barely recognized the days and nights pass, and go by. Everything has been happening very fast. Bobby says quickly, coming to her rescue, “Eddie’s been with Christopher, Buck, remember? Christopher got the flu.”

 Buck perks up that, panic welling up in his chest and eyes wide. “Is he okay?”

“He’s fine.” Maddie says, her worse finding herself now. She smiles, tears gone now. “Eddie texted me this morning to say that his fever broke. He’ll come as soon as he can.”

 Buck shakes his head against that idea. “He should stay with Christopher.” He says quickly, his voice not sounding like his own. He’s barely said anything, but the exhaustion creeps in. Slow at first until it’s encompassing all of him. He feels it dragging him now, eyes shifting closed as they try to peek one last time outside.

“Sleep, Evan, it’s okay. You’re exhausted.” Maddie tells him gently, hands reaching for his blanket to pull it up. Just like when he was a kid. When Maddie would tuck him in at night.

“It’s okay, Buck. Someone will be here when you wake up.” Bobby promises, a hand warm on his arm.

 Buck finds his eyes and smiles sleepily as he gives in to the pull. Eyes drifting shut as some sort of drugs work through his veins. His mouth mumbling one last thing before he’s gone entirely, “Thanks dad.”

 The hand on his arm stills, then relaxes.

Buck drifts.

“Well look who finally decided to wake up.” Is what he’s greeted with when he finally opens his eyes. Buck sees sun shining through, making him cringe away just a little. He’s not used to it. Usually he sleeps through the day, but Eddie catches on quick. He’s standing up and shutting the blinds quickly until Buck can see again.

“Thanks.” Buck tells him sincerely.

 Eddie comes back over with a chuckle and sits on the chair beside his bed. His smile is big and resounding. It makes Buck feel like maybe he’s looking at the sun all over again as Eddie says teasingly, “Finally talking, huh? It’s about time, I was afraid they’d want to lock you up in the looney bin.”

 Buck smiles. “I’ve been there before already, totally overrated. I mean, what kind of looney bin doesn’t even have good pudding?”

 Eddie looks at him in confusion, some slight concern spilling in, but he says nothing. For that Buck is forever grateful. He didn’t mean to say all that, but they must have him on some really good drugs still, which is fine with him. His leg still has metal rods sticking through it. He tries not to look. Makes him queasy and panicked.

“Don’t worry, Christopher wouldn’t have let them take you away without a fight.” Eddie says seriously, a laugh on his lips that Buck reciprocates with his own.

“You know he looks innocent but he can fight dirty.”

“Oh, believe me, I know.”

 Buck’s smiling, and it won’t go away, but then he remembers what Maddie and Bobby said. His smile falters a little as he tries to sit up more, now confused. “Is he okay? Maddie said he had the flu.”

 Eddie swallows, cheeks flushing red in guilt. Buck knows within seconds what it is. Why he looks like that, and it sparks some anger, but it all falls away just as suddenly as it appears. “Christopher was never sick, was he?”

“I- I’m sorry.” Eddie says frowning. Eyes the saddest Buck’s ever seen them. “I just- I couldn’t. Not after- after…”

“Shannon.” Buck whispers her name, and feels grief pool in. Greif that he has no right to. It leaves a hollowness here in this room. They grow silent and even the sun disappears behind some clouds.

“I’m sorry.” Eddie says again, and he looks like he wants to say more but he doesn’t. Buck knows he won’t. Ever.

“I’m not mad.” Buck tells him. “Are you okay?”

 Eddie laughs, chuckling darkly as his eyes holding some unshed tears when they meet Buck’s own. “You’re asking me that?”

“I’m going to be fine, Eddie.” Buck tells him, a nod of his head as the smell of smoke and asphalt, an awful burning drifts in. “Are you?”

 Eddie doesn’t say anything after that, not for a long time until the door bursts open and a kid full of energy and pure precious joy runs in. “Buck!”

“Christopher!” Buck yells back just as excitedly, Eddie’s eyes lighting up too as Christopher launches himself at Buck for a big hug. Buck takes it, eyes still trained on Eddie’s in concern. He whispers into Christopher’s ear, “You know I think your dad could use a hug, too.”

 Buck watches the confusion on Eddie’s face as Christopher walks over around the bed and leans up to him, hugging him tightly. Eddie’s eyes soften, and he hugs back, face pushing into Christopher’s shoulder. He holds him for a long time, and Christopher lets him. Eddie’s eyes opening for only the briefest of moments to look to Buck and mouth the words, ‘thank you.’ Buck smiles at them both before looking up to Carla who watches fondly with a knowing smile. Buck feels his own falter in the face of that.

 Something is missing.

 He feels like he’s lost something, that feeling from before, all the memories, they form and merge together into something knew. Something a little terrifying.

“Buck? Buck are you okay?”

 When he gets out of the hospital, his leg is encased in a white cast, from knee to toes, and he needs crutches. Big ones that fit under his arms with a tight nudge. Maddie’s there, helping him to the door, her car parked right out front even though it must have cost a fortune in hospital parking fees. It’s dark out, and Buck breathes in the air with his eyes shut and a smile on his lips. He feels the first vestiges of rain, smells it in the air as he looks up. There are no stars above visible to the naked eye, not now, not in the middle of the city, but Buck knows they’re there, and he finds something settling within, found, the longer he stands there.

“Buck?” Maddie asks gently.

 Buck knows that he can’t stand here forever, no matter how much he’d like to, so he nods and follows her into the car. A tightening in his chest as the pressure of the car implodes on him. He has windows though. Eyepieces into the world beyond, and he looks through them, forehead pressed against the cold glass, even when small droplets begin to fall, turning into massive ones. A storm oncoming.

“I’m taking you home, right?” Maddie asks, and Buck doesn’t miss the hitch in her breath, the uncertainty. The worry.

 He doesn’t talk as much as he used to. As he should. He knows that, but as much as he doesn’t want to see his friends hurt or confused, his family, talking lately becomes hard. Like peanut butter stuck between teeth, clamping them down against a silent scream. But maybe the silence is louder than any scream could ever be.

“Home.” Buck echoes, but that apartment, he hasn’t had it long enough to call it anything close to that. And shit. The stairs.

 When he gets home it takes an impossible amount of time to get up the stairs, but he makes sure to wave off Maddie first. He makes sure that he’s alone because he has to. He’s used to doing things alone, having her hover makes him feel strange. A twisting in his gut and an uncomfortable tremor in his fingers. There was a time as a child when Maddie would give him baths, hold his hand through scary nightmares, and drive him to friend’s birthday parties. When he broke bones trying to climb the highest trees, she’d be there and he’d let her. But here, and now, years later, he’s just not used to it. He’s taken care of himself for a long time now, he knows no other way.

 She frowns but leaves him and he climbs up those stairs like climbing Everest. Something he’s always secretly wanted to do. And he huffs out a large breath as soon as he sits down on the mattress. He hears the bed do a kapluff as he sits. As he tries to breathe. Who knew that laying around all day would be so exhausting?

 When his breathing is under control he reaches under his bed and pulls out the laptop he never uses. He’d use his phone but after the explosion, it got lost. He still needs to get a new one. In fact Buck’s not really sure where the old one ended up. Probably not salvageable either way though. He tries not to think about it, his chest is heaving now with more than exertion, and instead it’s with anxiety. An anxiousness to get where he’s going, but not in the physical sense. Not this time.

 He opens up google and types in one word, ‘stars’.

 Buck’s new little obsession stays under his bed, buried beneath old shoes and an even older baseball bat, curtesy of an old friend from across states lines, maybe even further. For protection of course. He goes on with the healing, watching proudly as Eddie receives full firefighter status, no longer a fledging in a sea of red and rescue. If some small jealous part of himself pipes up about Eddie being finally being a real firefighter when he himself has ceased becoming one, he ignores it. This is Eddie’s day. He won’t let his mind, and by extension himself, fuck it up. He just wouldn’t. Not for Eddie. Not for Christopher who looks so proud. Him feeling much the same.

“Congratulations, man, seriously.” Buck tells him, and he means it. A big smile on his face, heart asunder. He stands in the face of true beauty.

 Eddie smiles too, a half one that’s full of affection. “Thanks, Buck.”

 They hug each other, and it’s quick, a pat on the back, but it’s warm. Everyone goes along with cake and laughter. Stories shared between them, when Buck slips out. Eye lingering on Eddie ad Christopher who steals cake from the other. He leaves and goes out to the fresh air where he can breathe. It’s still daylight out, but he slips his sunglasses on anyway, and looks up to the sky, clouds drifting by. Sun tinted.

“You alright there, Buck?” It’s Athena. She sneaks up on him quick and sudden, but Buck leaves no room to act surprised.

“I’m good.” He says instead, looking to her briefly through dark tinted shades, a smile on his lips. Easy and carefree.

 She smiles back but doesn’t look like she quite believes him. “Are you sure?” She asks him. “It’s just your best friend is celebrating in there and you’re out here. The whole 118, all of us.”

 She includes herself, with Maddie, with Eddie’s aunt. Carla and others, as she should. They’re a family. A unit. They all have their places, except… Except he’s not sure where his own place is anymore. If he still has a seat reserved for himself. He knows what the doctor said. Seen a future where he’s not in this firehouse anymore.

 It should scare him.

 Instead he feels a quiet sense of relief, a breath exhaling that he never knew he was holding. Now that is scary.

He takes off his sunglasses and smiles again, eyes on hers. “I’m good.” He repeats.

 She nods. “You don’t talk as much as you used to. There was a time we could never get you to shut up.” She doesn’t say it harshly, instead it’s filled with similar affection to Maddie, to Bobby. She sounds concerned. Uncertain. Maybe even a little off-balanced.

 Buck wishes that he could comfort her, but something tells him that it isn’t his job to anymore, and even if it is, he can’t. So instead he shrugs and puts his sunglasses back on. Eyes to the sky. Lost in stark curiosity. “Sorry, Athena, I don’t know what to tell you.”

“Just tell me if I should be worried. If we should be worried.”

“I’m not worried.” He admits softly, not sure where exactly it comes from. Only knowing that it’s true and honest. Words soft and croaky like he’s speaking for the first time in three days all over again.

“Okay.” She puts her own shades on, eyes turning to where Buck is looking.

“Okay.” Buck echoes.

“What are we looking at?”

“Everything.” He smiles, big and full, and full of wonder.

 Ali breaks up with him on a Sunday. She tells him that it has nothing to do with his injury, or not being a firefighter anymore. He doesn’t correct her, instead Buck nods. He’s been expecting this. It makes his heart twist in anger and it hurts, but staring at her tear filled eyes, he lets it go. They were never meant for greater things. “It’s okay, Ali, I understand.”

 She hugs him. “Oh, thank you, Buck, and I’m sorry.”

 He watches her go much like he watched Abby go, not wanting her to, but unable to go with her. To give her what she needs.

 But what about what he needs?

 A tsunami hits and Buck is with Christopher on a pier looking at the ocean. They’re talking about what Christopher wants to be when he grows up, what Buck wants to be, too. Buck admits it softly to the kid, afraid of what he’ll say. Afraid of what it will mean. Of it being real. He feels guilty, as though he’s letting Christopher down, letting them all down. His team.

“I don’t know if I want to be a firefighter anymore.” He looks down ashamed. “I don’t know what I want to be anymore.”

 A hand touches his cheek warm and alive. Big brown eyes staring into his. “You’re going to be okay, kid.”

 It touches something deep within Buck and he smiles, all warm and alive, and okay. Because sometimes it’s okay to not be okay. Christopher smiles back and moves his hand away, turning to his big teddy bear that they won together. Buck laughs a little as he thinks of Eddie’s reaction. Of them getting home and him seeing how humongous it is. Head shaking in mirth, lips turned down trying to be serious, but ending up smiling anyway. Giving in. Helpless against Christopher. It’s okay though, most people are.

 Buck sees the water before anyone else. Coming alive, big and all encompassing. At first he thinks it’s a regular wave, nothing too spectacular, but then it grows and grows. And he’s running. He’s got Christopher in his arms and he’s running. Yelling, “GET DOWN!” People start to take notice. Stalk of what’s going on. They run and scream, and suddenly they’re all swept under.

 Water pushing and pulling. Unrelenting. Unforgiving.

“CHRISTOPHER!”

 The rest is too painful to think about. He knows that and remembers being with Christopher. Telling him stories and singing dumb songs. They help people and save people. Buck thinks that maybe they’re going to be alright. But there’s shockwaves, and more water than Buck thought was possible. He knew the ocean was big, but this seems impossible. Somewhere in it all, Christopher is ripped from his arms, and he has to fight. To find. To-

 But then he’s bleeding, and drifting on something like a board. His head fuzzy and all he can see is darkness except for the stars. Suddenly they’re there in the blackness of a new night. Despite LA smog and exhaustion, and everything else in-between. He can see those stars, like the night of the firetruck on his leg, crushing it.

 He watches the lights in the sky, and sees the moon half-filled this time. He wonders what is up there and beyond. He thinks about more then what he just see and drifts into a world that’s not what he knows. Buck has the distinct feeling that he should keep fighting, but he snagged his leg on something and his other aches in pain. He remembers tasting blood at Athena and Bobby’s party. The one for himself where he was reinstated.

 He acted happy. Buck played his part, but something tugged in his gut and he wasn’t entirely sure that he wanted to be there. If this is who he is anymore.

 He doesn’t know who he is.

 He’s floating through bloody water and stars of things he doesn’t understand. And Christopher is gone. Taken away by a cruel ocean. Somehow Buck knows that’s not the case. That Christopher will be just fine. Or maybe it’s wishful thinking, all he knows is that he’s checked every VA hospital, every bed and body bag. Christopher is just gone. Sometimes people just disappear and they’re never found.

 Where do they go?

Where did he?

 The water rocks him forward…

 Buck wakes up in the hospital and Christopher’s arms are around him. There’s tears and apologies, and nightmares. Dreams that Buck thought were over, dashed against a building, against waves of terrifying speed and strength. “You’re okay.” Buck whispers into his hair. Over and over. “You’re okay.”

“Buck.” Is what Christopher sobs back.

 Eddie’s gentle but firm voice, shaking only a little saying, “You’re both okay.”

“I’m so sorry.” Buck says it anxiously, apologies coming with everything he’s got.

“You have no need to be.” Eddie says quickly.

“Thank you, Buck.” Christopher says, and Buck is crying. Crying because he doesn’t deserves it, because in a way he did really give up.

 He whispers it. “I gave up.” But either they don’t hear him, or they pretend not to, because nothing is spoken of it since.

I didn’t give up! I didn’t give up!”

 Buck can hear Maddie’s voice screaming in his ear. Words desperate, hands cold like ice wrapping around himself. She never gave up. Not like him. She fought and bled, scrapping by whatever she had to, even perhaps her humanity itself, just to get away. To live and love, and survive. He didn’t.

 He just, drifted in blood loss, in a sea of blood and death. The moon’s light lighting up his face, dried tears clinging to his lashes like a dash of death that will just not go away. Buck remembers what Eddie said, about trusting him, and never giving up. How does he explain to him that he gave up? Because of some bizarre sixth sense notion that Christopher was fine?

 He won’t give up again.

It’s about time you picked up the phone.” Maddie’s voice is angry and frustrated, and just a little bit concerned. Buck holds onto that, onto her, and breathes it in. He sits on the edge of his bed surrounded by books on astronomical events, on the physics of this reality as best as they understand it. There’s a book on moon landings, ‘fake or fact?’ in big bold letters on one of them. Another talking about swamp flares and aerial phenomena, unknown aerial phenomena. His laptop is opened to a webpage on constellations. Somewhere around here there’s a map of LA and surrounding areas with big black crosses on it. Good spots for star gazing.

“Sorry, Maddie, I’ve been busy.” Buck explains as he writes something down in a small black book filled with other scribbles. Random phrases and books. Things to look into that caught his eye, and made him curious. He closes it carefully and shifts the phone to his other ear as he stands up and makes his way to his stairs. He forgot to eat dinner again.

Suing the department and Bobby? Yeah, I heard. What are you thinking, Evan?” Her words are harsh and uncompromising. Something tells Buck that she’s been having some long chats with Chimney. He decides not think about how much that hurts, about how Maddie is already taking his side over his own. He reaches for the KD and a pot.

“I’m thinking that I’m not going to give up.” He tells her honestly. “Not again.”

Bobby’s always had your back, so has your team. You just need more time to heal.

“My leg is fine.” He says stiffly, hands hovering over the tap before pushing it up to fill the pot. “The doctors agree, and the Chief signed off on it. It’s just Bobby. He’s making me stay behind. I’m not giving up. I’m not.”

 Her breath is shaky. He feels a spasm of guilt for the turmoil he’s causing her. She’s literally stuck in the middle, but Chimney is just a boyfriend, one of his good friends, or at least he thought he was. He’s her brother. Shouldn’t that matter more? Buck thinks it should but then he thinks of Doug, of the door closing behind them both. Whether it was truly her choice or not, she did have one. A shitty one. But she had one. Why didn’t she fight then? Why wasn’t he enough? He never has been though.

Are you sure this is what you want to do, Buck? I love you, but this- you told me once that this is your family. That I am, too.

 He remembers that conversation, because of course he does. Buck stares at the water as it starts to boil and reaches for the KD pack, tearing the cardboard off the top he retrieves a bag of macaroni. “They are. You are.” He tells her. “I’m fighting to get back to them.” It sounds wrong even as he says it, like something just doesn’t fit right anymore. He thinks of his conversation with Christopher before the water hit. He thinks of the pain in his leg as he runs at the gym. He thinks about that missing piece within, something he lost, and is trying to find. The pain and hurt, the loneliness of separation from the rest of them. His team. Buck thinks of all of these things, and he wants to give up this fight. The one he’s trying to convince Maddie is so worthwhile. But then he thinks of drifting under galaxies and moonlight, and giving up.

 He won’t. He won’t give up again.

The water boils over.

“I have to go, Maddie.”

Buck, wait-”

 But the call is already disconnected. Buck sets his phone down carefully and takes the pot off the burner, turning it off quickly. He pushes the KD away, too, because he’s suddenly not very hungry. Besides, his books are waiting.

 Buck doesn’t care what any lawyer says, he’s at Christopher’s the next day when he’s sure that Eddie is already hard at work at the station. He knocks on the door lightly, a little nervous, but excited to see his favourite kid. Carla answers the door with a look of first surprise, then a smile as she shakes her head. “I thought you couldn’t be here, Buckaroo.”

 Buck shakes his hand as if to shake it away, walking inside as Carla steps aside easily. “Like I’d let anyone tell me that I can’t see my favourite, kid.”

 She shakes her head but says good-naturally, “Our little secret, huh?”

Buck is a little sheepish as he asks, “If you don’t mind?”

“I won’t mention it.” Carla says finally. “But if Eddie asks, I’m not lying for you. Or to him.”

“That sounds fair.” Buck says easily as he unzips his jacket, eyes turning to the living room for Christopher, but he’s nowhere in sight. He looks back to Carla who nods to his bedroom. Buck smiles gratefully and walks over, peeking his head in carefully.

 Christopher looks up, tears in his eyes, and it breaks Buck’s heart. He’s beside him in a heartbeat, arms wrapping tightly around him as Christopher sobs into his neck. Buck doesn’t know what’s wrong, but he holds him tightly, soft words of, “It’s okay, it’s okay, buddy. I’ve got you. Everything’s going to be okay.”

 When they pull away and Christopher is wiping the tears away, Buck helping, Christopher says softly, “I mi- missed you, Buck.”

“I missed you, too.” Buck’s voice cracks, his heart shattering. “I’m sorry it took me so long to get here.”

 Christopher smiles. “That’s okay. You’re here now. Le- Let’s play Legos!”

 Buck laughs a little, but still concerned. “Of course we can, but, well, Christopher, is something wrong? You know you can talk to me, or your dad.”

“Dad’s already too sad. About mom.” Christopher says quickly, big wide eyes looking up to Buck. “Please don’t tell him.”

 Buck nods, but he’s not so sure if he can swear on that. He doesn’t push telling Eddie, but he does ask as carefully as possible, “Is this about the tsunami?”

 Christopher looks down to the drawing he’s making, the colour blue held tightly in one hand. “Maybe.” He mumbles.

“I cry, too sometimes.” Buck tells him in the silence that leaves. “I have nightmares about the water, about…” He looks down to his chest where there’s a hollow piece now and then back to Christopher. “I’m afraid and sad, too sometimes. But we don’t have to be forever.”

 Christopher continues to colour, but he looks like he’s listening.

“Talking to people helps, I’m told anyway… You can talk to me.”

 Christopher stops colouring and says, “I miss mommy. Dad’s always sad. And angry. Stupid death.”

 Buck feels it hit him squarely in the chest. He watches Christopher colour, so much on those small shoulders. He’s lost his mom and been to hell and back, and if Eddie isn’t dealing with things, not talking about it, that is worse. He remembers his own parents ignoring everything, putting on fake smiles and robotic gestures. It really screws with someone’s head. Made him unable to express or feel much of anything, properly. Even he knows how screwed up he is. Buck tried therapy once, that didn’t really work out. All he got was rubber stamped and shame, more empty than before.

“I’ll help you.” Buck promises him, pulling him into a hug that Christopher smiles up at him at. Buck smiles back, but his is filled with a little more anxiousness. “You know what? I have a great idea, how about we bake a cake. Maybe that will help cheer up your dad.” And you. “You can pick out the flavour and decorations.”

 Christopher smiles wide at that. “A cake!” He says excitedly, but the more seriously, “Dad said you don’t know how to bake.”

“I can cook some stuff.” Buck says indignantly. “How hard can baking be? Besides, I’m sure Carla can help us if we’re really struggling.”

“Okay!” Christopher’s smile grows, and so does Buck’s.

“Come on then, better go see what we can find for a recipe. What kind of cake are you thinking?”

“Red velvet! Dad’s favourite!”

“Red velvet it is then.”

Eddie: Did you come over and bake a cake?

Eddie: I guess you’re still not talking to me, huh?

Eddie: It was good btw

Eddie: I’m still angry about the lawsuit

 Buck looks down at his messages, and lets out a grin in the face of them, large and unhelped. It’s dark now and Eddie must have got home after his shift. He wonders briefly if Carla was being her usual mysterious self about it all, but still somehow able to tell Eddie exactly what happened. Christopher, although he might be asleep, probably will tell him everything in the morning.

 Buck was nervous that Eddie would be angry or upset. That maybe he wouldn’t want himself to be using that spare key anymore, not that he needed it when Carla was there, but still. He knows Eddie is pissed beyond belief about the lawsuit, but it seems that he’s not too angry to be happy that Christopher is happier. Buck has no doubt that Eddie has noticed something up with him, but Christopher hasn’t said a word. Because he’s worried about Eddie. Because Eddie’s sad. Because Eddie’s still going through stuff with Shannon.

 It’s a bitch of an unsatisfactory situation, that’s for sure, and Buck is usually anti-therapy, but maybe it’s time he starts becoming pro-therapy. He opens his laptop and puts up a new tap, typing in quickly, ‘LA therapists.’ He looks and searches and finds that the best ones cost an arm and a leg, especially the child therapists. There’s no way Eddie has that kind of money, nor does he have it. Except that he could. 

 It’s just a thought. An idea. But it manifests, and it grows until the day of the deposition becomes here and now.

 It’s brutal, there’s no denying that, and every devastating face adds to Buck’s suffering, by the tenfold. He finds himself staring at his paper in front of himself, a small drawing of the Leo constellation he drew earlier with a black pen. He did it while he was waiting for everyone to set up, for their first witness.

 He watches the stars from one point to the other, little scribbles that don’t do the real thing justice. He wonders why animals. Buck wonders if they’re animals at all. Who put them there? And why? Is it for navigation like the earlier tribes of this world? Or is it for stories like the Greeks and Romans predicted? Do the planets exist the way we think that they do? Can anything get through the Van Allen Belts? Are we real?

 Buck watches from across the hall as his team files into an elevator and stares at him, daggers from each eye landing on him. Cutting in and bleeding, but he stands still. His lawyer with his hand on his shoulder that Buck shakes it off because he never wanted this, not really, and he wants to take it back. He does. But he doesn’t give up. And Christopher is counting on him. Buck never wants to see that kid cry again.

“You did the right thing, Buck.” His lawyer is happy, overjoyed. Buck thinks maybe it would be easier if he were, too, but he’s not. Instead he glares up at the man and takes the stairs.

 When he gets home he practically rips the suit off and snuggles into sweats and a tee shirt that Eddie left behind once. He curls into his bed, half of it filled with books and papers, notes, and studying guides. Maps and materials for mapmaking. His laptop is on the edge, still on but sleeping closed. Buck knows which page he was last on, something about the Book of Enoch, a scripture that details the motion of the sun and moon. Old texts.

 He doesn’t open it back up, instead Buck pulls the covers over his head, and doesn’t get up for ten days.

 On the tenth, his lawyer calls. Buck dawns something like jeans and a hoodie that he pulls up over his head tightly. The sun hurts his eyes when he walks outside, and it makes him cringe away, seeking darkness. Soon enough he’s in the lawyer’s office, the man grinning from ear to ear as he says with excitement, “We won. Well, we didn’t win-win, but they want to settle.”

“How much?” He asks because it has to be enough for Christopher, for Eddie too. Therapists are expensive, the best enormously so. He needs to do this, for them, and to make it right. Make something right in this messed up world where firefighters get blown up and kids go missing under vats of water so deep and thick it could kill an elephant. Where the stars never shine in LA expect on nights of chaos and pain. Lost and confused, a drift in a sea upon the moon.

 He pushes a piece of paper over, across his desk, and Buck stares down in shock. He’s never seen that many zeros before. Buck’s parents had money, but never like this.

“I know. It’s a lot but it’s what you deserve. I just need your okay on this and your consent in writing, and the money is yours, of course with a small sliver to myself for my work and diligence.”

 Buck barely hears him, his eyes are lost on O’s of black… Shifting down and across like some kind of snake coiled in and in on itself. Sss…

“Buck?”

 With that kind of money… He never has to worry about working again. Christopher wouldn’t have to worry. Neither would Eddie. And Maddie, she could do whatever she wanted. Take a year off and go to Paris. And he… He wouldn’t have to worry. Buck knows that he can’t sit around doing nothing, but- but what?

“Earth to Buck?”

 Buck’s eyes snap up to the lawyer who looks a little concerned, but Buck suspects it’s mostly for himself. He’s not that naïve.

“Ready to sign?”

 Christopher is going to be fine. He will be.

Buck picks up a pen. Blue this time. Not black.

 Buck calls around and finds a therapist who specializes in veteran’s and survivor’s guilt especially. He doesn’t just spout a bunch of bullshit either, He’s a veteran too. Part of the first wave of soldiers deployed in Iraq after 9/11. The one’s who ended up picking up parts of dead comrades and friends after explosions that rocked the sand dunes that surrounded them. First time real warfare, real war had been fought in a long time.

 He finds a child therapist who deals with traumatic events and grief. The therapist has two degrees, a third is a doctorate. He’s had many successful patients. Stunning reviews. Buck talks to him a little about the tsunami and about Christopher, just a little. He wouldn’t say too much until Eddie agrees. If he’ll agree. The therapist is good though, even psychoanalyses himself in that short conversation about his parental relationship with Christopher, how he feels like his. A secret he dares not mention, but that the therapist caught onto in seconds.

 Buck opens his phone to Eddie’s last message and stills in guilt and horror, and all awful manner of things. It claws and digs, and he’s sorry. So sorry. For all of it.

Eddie: You took the money!?

Eddie: How could you, Buck!?

 Buck takes a deep breath and sends a message, finally, in response.

Buck: i need 2 see u

Buck: can i come over?

 It’s been a long time since he’s had to ask, a really long time. It hurts more than it should. More than Buck has the right for it to.

Eddie: Fine.

 Buck let’s out a breath and just as suddenly grabs onto another.

Okay.

 Facing Eddie here in his house is somehow far worse. There’s moments of anger and resentment, but as soon as Buck has the words, “I’m not here about the lawsuit, I’m here about Christopher,” out of his mouth, Eddie stops. All tension leaving him, bleeding into concern that’s paramount. Bleeding into Buck’s own. He’s glad it’s night, and even happier that Christopher is already sleeping. He can’t have this conversation with him here, it just wouldn’t work.

“What about Christopher? What are you talking about?” Eddie’s words are still angry, pointed and cruel, but they soften at his son’s name. At Christopher’s. Concern and parental love outshining all else. It leaves a tightening in Buck’s chest that he doesn’t miss. Leaves him struggling for breath, but it’s not entirely in a bad way this time.

“He’s not okay, Eddie. Not about the tsunami, and definitely not about his mom.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Eddie’s voice is deadly, and it makes Buck freeze from trying to walk closer. To touch, to comfort. Instead he holds himself back. Let’s his outstretched hand curl into himself. He nods. “Maybe I don’t, but you must know something isn’t right with him.”

 Eddie shrugs. “He’s been having nightmares.” He goes for nonchalance, sitting down on the couch, tensed up. He’s still guarded, eyes nervous as they look from Buck back to his hands.

“I’m sorry I told my lawyer those things, I promise you, it wasn’t my intention for any of you to get hurt. But can’t we just put that aside for now.” Buck’s voice is desperate, cracking on every word. “Come on, Eddie, this is about Christopher. He’s way more important than however angry you are at me right now.”

 Eddie sits for a long time, jaw clenched in rage. A firing burning thing that makes Buck feel the heat whenever he gets too close. Eventually Eddie nods and bites out a, “Fine.”

 Buck nods with him, the slip of paper in his hand with the therapist’s name and number moves just a little. Anxiously holding onto it.

“What do you suggest?” Eddie asks finally.

 That’s his cue. Buck reaches out and offers the paper with his head lowered, and eyes skittish. He’s afraid to touch Eddie, to look at him. He feels an anxiety creep within his skin the longer he’s here. He should feel better, usually he does here, but Eddie’s bouncing his knee up and down, and he won’t relax. He’s on edge, and that makes Buck on edge, too. Plus the anger and disappointment, Buck was never good with those things.

 He just wants to go outside. See the sky.

“A therapist?” Eddie asks incredulously. “You’re suggesting a therapist? You?”

 Buck nods, a small smile on his lips at his reaction. “Come on, Eddie, he’s been through hell. You both have. The bottom one’s for you.”

 Eddie stands up then. “No. No way. I don’t need someone in my head right now. That’s the last thing I need.”

 Very quietly Buck whispers, “Maybe it’s the first.”

“Buck…”

“Just think about it, Eddie, please? For me? For Christopher?”

 Eddie considers it for a long time, tongue gliding along his mouth in that way that usually makes Buck’s skin shiver. Knees weak.

“I’m still mad about the lawsuit.” Eddie says sternly, and anger is definitely still there, but Buck can hear the reluctant agreeability there. He can hear Eddie giving in, for Christopher, and it makes Buck smile.

“Okay.”

 He sees Eddie fighting down his own grin, body a little more relaxed, but he does fight it and today he wins.

“I’ll go.” Buck says, and it hurts, but he means it. He goes.

Eddie doesn’t stop him.

 Christopher goes but Eddie doesn’t. Buck tries his hardest not to comment on that fact, things between them are already so tense. Soon enough, when Buck thinks maybe it’s helping the kid, he gets a call from Carla about how she can’t cover into the late hour like Eddie asked. Something about overtime, but Buck knows that’s impossible. Thirty years ago maybe, but they have laws now about first responders and medical staff working too long. Too long and they become tired, too tired and they make mistakes. Making mistakes means people die.

 He doesn’t mention this to Carla.

“Thanks, Buckaroo, I wouldn’t have asked you, it’s just, with Eddie’s aunt’s poor health…” She trails off apologetic.

 Buck only shakes his head and smiles. “Forget about it, you know me. I love spending time with my favourite kid.”

“Well, I’m afraid you won’t be playing any Legos tonight, he’s already fast asleep.”

 Buck smiles all the same. “Guess I’ll raid Eddie’s beer then.”

Carla’s eyes turn disapproving as she holds up a scolding finger. “Don’t you dare. You’re on blood thinners, remember?”

 Buck rolls his eyes as Carla makes her way to the front door. “How could I forget?”

 She laughs. “Goodbye handsome.” And then she’s gone, and Buck is alone in the quiet of the Diaz household. He finds himself walking over to Christopher’s room on light feet, peeking his head into the crack Carla left in the door to find that Christopher is indeed curled up and fast asleep. Arms tightly holding a stuffed teddy bear, the one Buck got him to apologise for the lost big one they won. It’s nowhere near the same size, but Christopher was happy about it regardless. It makes something in Buck so very warm to see. A smile on his lips as he carefully pulls up the door and retreats to the kitchen.

 Buck forgot to eat again, and he knows that Eddie will either have extra takeout leftovers or some of his aunt’s amazing authentic Mexican cooking. Buck can’t get enough of it. He asked Bobby once to help him cook something like it, but before they could give it a shot the firetruck happened. The tsunami. The lawsuit.

 He hasn’t really talked to Bobby since.

 Suddenly not feeling very hungry Buck reaches for a beer instead, blood thinners or no blood thinners, one won’t hurt. But as soon as he’s tasting the liquid, he knows that it’s not normal beer. Pulling away he looks to find a non-alcoholic sign on the front. 0%. Eddie never drinks this stuff. In fact Eddie once said, ‘what’s the point if there’s no alcohol in it?’ So that begs the question, why did he buy it?

 Buck tries not to think about the why because if he does then it leads him down a rabbit hole he can’t get out of. Instead he goes to the couch and flips on an old rerun of MASH. He used to watch the show all the time, it was the only thing really on. His parents weren’t big fans of cable television.

 He drinks the beer. Watches the show. All the way until Eddie stumbles in clearly exhausted and a little dishevelled. His eyes look to Buck’s and as he takes in his frame, they turn more surprised. Buck mirrors that sentiment, although there’s more concern in himself as he sees the obvious bruising along Eddie’s jaw. “Eddie?” He asks in concern, beer forgotten as he walks over and reaches out to touch him. But Eddie pulls away flinching, and Buck expects there to be anger from the other. Something, but there is none. Just an exhausted Eddie asking, “What are you doing here, Buck?”

“Carla had to go home. She called me to take over. Said you were doing overtime, but we both know that after a double shift that’s impossible, so tell me what’s really going on here, Eddie. Because you look like you just came back from doing thirty round with Rocky.” Buck rambles, he’s nervous, tired, frustrated, and really hungry.

“Nothing.” Eddie shrugs off. “Just at the gym with Bosko, the newest firefighter for the 118.”

 Buck tries not to let that hurt, but it does, snaking in and dragging him now. Pulling tightly as though he were wrapped in chords filled with stinging electricity. Suspended in air. “Okay. But you really don’t expect me to believe that, do you? Come on, Eddie, I know you.” Buck insists.

 Eddie closes up, eyes a little afraid as he shakes his head against Buck’s accusations. “I don’t know what to tell you, Buck, everything is fine.”

 Buck stares, unbelieving, and Eddie stares back, stubborn as hell.

“Fine.” Buck grits out, arms crossed over himself.

“Fine.” Eddie says back, arms doing the same.

“Have you eaten yet?”

“Have you?”

“Chinese?” Buck offers.

“Only if you wait at the door, I don’t want to-”

“Wake up Christopher.” Buck finishes for him, a nod of his head, and then a little softer as he says, “I know.” Neither do I.

 Eddie looks guilty, but it’s only there for half a second before he’s looking to Christopher’s bedroom, then to the bathroom longingly. “I’m going to take a shower.” He doesn’t look to Buck again, instead walking over to check on his son and then going to have that shower.

 Buck watches him, unable to look away as his shirt is removed and a monster bruise dances on his skin as he walks into the bathroom, door shutting behind him. It’s the only thing that makes him snap out of his stupor. Head shaking he reaches for his phone and orders the food. They don’t talk about this again, at least not for a while, but it stays in Buck’s mind. Haunts him. A lingering ghost that will not dissipate.

 Buck visits the University of Southern California on a Friday when all of the students are itching to get out and leave for the weekend. Maybe to study for a big test on Monday, or maybe it’s a party at some fraternity. Some big mansion that’s owned by a really rich student. Buck supposes if he were to apply here, that rich student might be him. That thought alone leaves him stopping in his tracks before the big building. He’s not yet used to the idea of all the money in his savings account. Too many zeros to count, and far too many investors giving him calls all of the sudden. He ignores every one.

 In fact the only things he’s really spent that money on are Christopher’s therapy, his apartment rent, and medical bills. The one’s that the department no longer covers. It’s barely anything for him now, but if it were the same bill before the lawsuit, he’d be in major debt. Not that he’s bragging or anything. He also has bought many books, too many. His apartment is starting to look like a library in all honesty, and when Maddie came by unexpectedly a few days ago she thought she entered the wrong apartment.

‘You read!?’ She has asked incredulously. ‘Something other than comic books?’

 Buck’s reply has been simple, ‘I’ve always read, Maddie.’

 And it’s true. When he was a kid he’d go to the library a lot on his free time, aside from the football team and basketball team, things he didn’t particularly like but thought that would make his parents proud. They never went to a single game. Besides, without cable, reading was all they both had. Maddie could understand that, after she thought about it, and then the whole library business was dropped.

 What he failed to mention to Maddie was his planned visit to a university. One with a great physics department, with astronomy degrees and history degrees. Facts of the world and life. Because soon enough, books aren’t all he wants. Not enough, not entirely. There’s more out there. So much more. And he wants to know it all. Discover it.

 Most people feel like most of everything has already been discovered, that everything is known, but Buck knows that’s all just an illusion. He knows there’s more. Can feel it in his bones. Sees it in every star.

“Hello, can I help you?” A young man asks, younger than Buck but not that much younger. He’s handsome, too.

“Uh, just looking. Working up the courage to go in actually.” Buck admits softly, a laughter on his lips.

 The guy smiles. “Yeah. It’s got that impression on people. I was scared shitless to go in myself.”

 Buck chuckles with him before the guy is swinging his bag over his shoulder and holding out a hand to shake. “I’m Connor.”

“Buck.” Buck says easily as they shake on it. “You’re a student here?”

“Third year, going on to my fourth. I’m studying business economics,” His face scrunches up like he’s tasted something bad, “And physics.”

 He smiles at the last part and Buck smiles, too. “That’s why I’m here.”

“Oh, cool. What are you thinking of going into? I mean you’re not a student yet, right?”

“Just looking.” Buck admits softly, the idea of school tempting, burning up his skin the more he thinks about it. But the real kicker that has him excited is all the cool telescopes he’ll have access to. To study. To understand. That’s what he wants more than anything. “But, uh, I was thinking astronomy.”

“Very cool.” Connor nods. “If you want I could show you around the building? The semester has already started, but you could audit until January.”

“Audit?” Buck asks.

“Yeah, sit in, take notes. Study and learn without the credit though.”

 Buck thinks on it for a few minutes before nodding. “It’s not like I’m doing anything else.” He says eventually.

“Got a lot of free time on your hands?”

“You could say that. So about that tour…?”

 Connor smiles wide and generous. “Come on then. Maybe we’ll even bump into Nutty Professor Neven.”

“Nutty Professor Neven?” Buck can’t help but laugh, Connor soon joining him as he tells some pretty tall tales about the good professor. Despite it all, Buck thinks he might actually like the guy, if he ever gets to meet him that is. He’s still not sure about this all. Connor seems to be fond of him too though as he admits, “He’s my favourite.”

 And maybe just maybe Buck’s found a new friend.

 He’s sleeping. Buck is asleep and dreaming about flying up into stars, heavenly bodies of light and something that doesn’t yet have a name. He’s smiling and floaty, and everything is beautiful when a beeping makes him still. Stop… He sits up quickly in his bed, a number of books falling off of him including a notebook or two. A loud noise that wakes him up all the more. His first thought is a question of why someone is calling him in the middle of the night but when he looks around and sees the light coming through bright and large, he realizes it’s still the afternoon. He must have fell asleep while reading again. He did stay up all night last night, maybe that’s why.

 His phone beeps again, reminding him of why he did wake up. Buck reaches for it quickly, opening it up to two new messages.

Eddie: You were right.

Eddie: I do need help.

 Buck’s heart is in his throat, beating furiously. His eyebrows stuck together in concern as his palms sweat. Is Eddie okay? What happened? But Buck doesn’t have to wonder soon, or think of a message to say back, to ask or think, because Eddie is sending another. A third message coming through with a beep.

Eddie: Can you come pick me up at the station?

 Buck’s response is quick, simple, and honest.

Buck: on my wya

 He doesn’t have time to fix the spelling, he’s already pushing books away and stumbling out of tangled sheets, out of his bed onto his cold hardwood floor. He reaches for socks and his hoodie and rushes downstairs with both, all the while trying to be mindful of the books stacked on one side of the stairs. And there are a lot.

 Maybe Maddie is right. Maybe he should open a library. But later, right now Eddie needs him. That’s enough to forget about everything else, even his increasingly strange dreams and his grumbling stomach. Food all but forgotten.

 When he gets there Eddie is standing outside the firehouse. He stands with his jacket thrown over him, and his eyes lost and unfocused. Buck is relieved to see that he’s not alone though, there’s someone else. A woman with long blonde hair and a mean, ‘don’t mess with me’ looking face that’s smoothed out and soft. She looks apologetic, sorry but not really. Bosko. Buck makes sure to pull up right beside them, ignoring the ‘no parking’ signs in his quest to get there quickly.

 He rolls down his window and tries to smile. “Hey, Eddie.”

 Eddie looks up then eyes red, and Buck’s heart clutches. He’s been crying. When has Buck ever seen Eddie cry? Eddie doesn’t say anything he just gets inside and slams the door behind him loudly.

“Eddie.” Bosko, or Lena as is her first name, says a little upset. Trying to draw him back in, to say something, but Eddie doesn’t, not to her.

“Are you okay?” Buck says, asking because he has to. His own fingers clench around the steering wheel, afraid and concerned. Hurting because Eddie is.

“Just drive, Buck.”

 Buck drives. He drives with silence between them all the way up until they’re in front of Eddie’s house. Buck parks and doesn’t move, because he’s not sure what to do. Part of him wants to ask a million questions, the other part just wants to hug the stubborn bastard. Eddie looks like he wants neither, so Buck does nothing except ask one simple question, “Do you want me to come in with you?”

“No, not today.” Eddie shakes his head, and Buck tries not to push, he does his best because he knows how Eddie needs space sometimes. Quiet. His mind too loud. He doesn’t talk enough, not as much as himself, or at least himself who used to did. He’s quiet because his mind is anything but. Buck has realized this slowly, gently through moments of barely there touches, and hearts pulling to the other out of despair and pain.

“Okay.” Buck tells him. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah.”

 But Eddie doesn’t move. He doesn’t get out and Buck is already reaching for that slip of a business card in his pocket. The one that he’s been holding onto since forever. He hands it over to Eddie who stares for a long time at it before taking it. He looks at it some more and says still looking at it, “The department has therapists.”

“Funny enough I don’t trust the department therapists.” Buck says with humour on his lips that’s more self-deprecating than anything else. “Besides, they’re bunny rabbits, this guy is the real deal. Has more degrees than all of us, and experience, too. He’s not just talking out of his ass.”

“You’re already paying for Christopher’s bills, I’m not going to let you… No, Buck.” Eddie shakes his hand, holding the card back out to Buck, but Buck doesn’t take it.

“Come on, Eddie, you need help and it’s not just for yourself, it’s for Christopher, too. You know why he doesn’t talk to you? About any of this?”

 Eddie looks confused. “What are you talking about Buck?”

 Buck tries to be kind and patient, but it’s hard. Christopher is just a kid and he’s more adult than the both of them combined. He sees more than Eddie ever really has lately. “He doesn’t talk to you because he sees how sad you are. How upset you are, Eddie, and he- he’s the kindest selfless kid out there, he doesn’t want to burden you.”

 Eddie scoffs. “That’s crazy.” But there’s a hint of uncertainty there.

“But it’s true, and you know it. I mean, think about it, you aren’t there to tuck him in anymore. In the morning he finds you covered in bruises, and you never talk about his mom.”

“Buck.” Eddie spits his name out, a clear warning. And Buck, he watches Eddie’s hands curl into fists, but he doesn’t stop. He can’t.

“Never mentioning her, it’s not the way to deal with grief, Eddie. Not the healthy way.”

“What the hell would you know?”

 Buck pushes Eddie’s hand filled with the card back to himself. “I know more than you think. Please. Just make an appointment.”

 Slowly, after many long moments of silence sitting here in Buck’s car, Eddie nods, and for Buck that feels like some kind of victory, but he knows that this is going to take a while. Time. “Um, Eddie?”

 Eddie’s hand stills where it’s on the car handle to open it. His eyes looking up to meet Buck’s nervous ones. “Can I hug you?” He asks it slowly, hoping to get an answer, but afraid of the response. He watches Eddie’s red eyes flicker with confusion and hints of lingering desire before he’s pulling away from the door and moves more towards Buck.

 Eddie nods, and Buck is moving in, pulling him closely, tight against himself. Warm and loved, he holds him there and tries to convey everything he means to say but never can. Eddie stills in the touch, in his hold almost shocked, but after a few seconds hugs back, just as tightly. Just as warmly. He buries his face into Buck’s shoulder and Buck finds his hand reaching to the nape of Eddie’s neck, resting their firmly. Anchoring Eddie in, anchoring himself.

 He feels that shaky exhale leave Eddie’s lips slowly, something like relief blowing across his skin. The kind that one gets after a nice long cry. Something that releases so much. Allows one to really feel, let it all go and out.

 Before Buck pulls away, he whispers sincerely and honestly, “I’m just a text away.”

He watches Eddie nod, and it’s enough. For now it’s enough.