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1

The first time Buck gets injured again after getting crushed by the firetruck is during the tsunami. He hadn’t even needed to enter the hospital, the EMTs were kind enough to stitch him standing up as he lost his mind with worry over Chris. Buck’s attention had been drawn grudgingly back to the EMTs in question as they started making noise about a CT scan. Buck resisted, reacting less than graciously by snapping out, “I’ve had a concussion before. This is not it. Besides, I never even hit my head.”

The EMTs backed off after that, but clearly, his comment hadn’t inspired confidence in his health history. He ended up submitting to the scan later, after a kind stranger returned Chris to Eddie largely unharmed but for the shock.

Now, Buck panics, hesitating in a way he isn’t used to at the sight of blood dripping from an open gash running from his index finger across his thumb. He’d just been cutting up some vegetables for some recipe Maddie wants to put together for dinner tonight with Chim and the rest. He’d lost focus for a moment when the timer went off. Maddie had left a roast in the oven while she went on a grocery run.

The blood drips into a small pool beneath his hand and streaks down his arm as he lifts his palm to inspect the wound. A voice in the back of his mind distantly reminds him that it wouldn’t work itself out on its own: So, move. Finally, snapping out of it, he dives for the roll of napkins and staunches the admittedly shocking outpour of red. Then he swivels in place to lean over and turn off the oven. Even if it’s not ready, Buck decides, it would be better to take care of the hand first so he doesn’t bleed on a perfectly good roast.

He tucks his hand, wrapped, against his chest and grabs for his phone on the island by the offending knife and cutting board. He dials the first person he thinks of, taking a slow breath. Words cannot describe how much he wants to avoid the ER. If he never saw the inside of a hospital again it would be too soon.

“C’mon, c’mon. Pick up, pick up,” Buck repeats like a mantra under his breath, clenching his hand then wincing as the movement tugs at the tender edges of the split skin.

“Hey, what’s up man?” Eddie’s voice came across the line, warm and soothing as a salve. Buck felt the tension leak from his shoulders where it had taken up residence without his permission.

“Eddie,” Buck exhales, unbearably relieved. “I have a weird question.” Buck shifts his hand against his chest, deciding it would be worth it now to unwrap it. Buck sucks in a sharp breath at the sight it reveals.

“Uh-huh,” Eddie says, suspicious even across the crackling speaker. Buck knows that it’s Eddie’s day off too, by virtue of their schedules pretty much matching up for the last couple of months. Buck also knows that he’s supposed to see Eddie in a couple of hours along with everyone else. Logically, there is no real reason that he should call. He could have texted, or maybe sent a Snapchat, and it would have been less damning. But, Buck was still on the verge of panicking, picturing the cold enclosing walls of the hospital room he’d been trapped in, immobilized by his injury. Logic wasn’t exactly a key player here, being the point.

“I cut myself with the kitchen knife. How do I fix it?” Buck blurts, compelled by the fact that a few napkins had been unable to stop the bleeding and his rising panic.

“Christ, Buck, I don’t know I’d have to see it. Can you drive? The nearest ER to you is probably—” Eddie starts, surprised but unperturbed.

“No hospitals,” Buck cuts him, feeling irrationally betrayed. As if Eddie could possibly know about his newfound aversion. He hadn’t talked about it to anyone. He barely even admits it to himself unless pressed to—like now.

“Buck, you can’t be serious—”

“I am!” Buck says sharply, then, “Sorry, I— I'll just wait until Maddie gets back from the store.” He goes to hang up the phone, but before he can, Eddie calls his name.

“Too late, I’m already five minutes out from Maddie’s place,” Eddie says calmly. Buck hadn’t even heard the other man get in the car.

Buck nods before remembering that Eddie can’t see him, then says something in acknowledgment. Eddie then instructs him to rinse out the gash and they hang up. True to his word, Eddie arrives five minutes later, with Christopher in tow. Buck feels the guilt and shame bloom in his chest when he sees them and realizes the time. Eddie must have just picked up Chris from school. Chris didn’t seem to mind all that much though, happy to see Buck despite the circumstances. The kid’s smile, wide and genuine, reminds Buck that he is not a burden to these people. That if the roles had been reversed Buck would have done the same. It assuaged some of the turmoil roiling in his gut. It made him that much more intent on following Eddie’s gentle instructions.

From nowhere, it seems, Eddie produces a small first aid kit and sits Buck down on a stool in front of the island. Eddie tosses around a quick glance, eyes easily finding the scene of the crime. He turns his gaze back on Buck after a moment, deft fingers preparing the suture kit, not an ounce of reproach in his warm eyes. Buck is able to detect a hint of concern, however, and smiles broadly to dispel the shadow that’s fallen over room. With Buck planted firmly in front of Eddie and Chris distracted by the television, Eddie gets to work without another word.

Buck really shouldn’t let himself be affected by Eddie’s warm palms against his. But, since he’s going to be receiving several stitches, Buck allows himself to take a little comfort in the other man’s steady presence. After Eddie finishes wiping the area with alcohol and a bit of a topical numbing agent, he sets Buck’s palm on the counter on top of a clean kitchen cloth. While they wait for Buck’s hand to become numb, Eddie finally looks at Buck—searching for who knows what in his expression.

Buck does his best to be transparent, allowing the calm he feels surrounded by to be reflected back at Eddie.

“It’s not too bad, just a little deep there between your thumb and index,” Eddie comments mildly, remaining watchful of Buck’s reaction. “If we went to the hospital, it’s likely you wouldn’t even have a scar.” Buck feels himself tense up involuntarily. Eddie must notice but he doesn’t say anything more. Instead, after a few beats, he takes Buck’s hand into his warm one again and picks up the needle. Buck looks away, focusing instead on the sensation of his palm against Eddie’s—the only thing tethering him to this side of sanity.

2

Buck has been back on the rig for two months without incident. He’s been very cautious, for him at least, treading lightly and taking no unnecessary risks. So, the last thing he expects is to get hurt doing something perfectly mundane (with no sharp objects involved).

Buck is at the Diaz residence, helping Eddie and Chris put up Halloween lights. Currently, he’s perched on the highest rung on a ladder, stretching to secure lights on the roof.

“Careful, Buck!” Christopher calls from the ground. He clutches a pile of fake cobwebs in his arms as he squints up at Buck in the midday sun.

“'Course, bud,” Buck says, pulling the string of lights taut before turning to pick his way back to ground level. Before he can move, however, a tap at the window next to his head startles him. He jerks back and the ladder sways perilously beneath him. The last thing he hears before falling is Eddie’s voice calling his name and Christopher’s reflexive yelp. He has the wherewithal to jump from the ladder and attempt to land somewhat on his feet. The overcompensation, while it lets him land less harshly, jolts the ladder toward him. Before he can put his palms out to stop it, the ladder clangs against his skull, sending him flat on his back in the grass.

“Holy shit, Buck, are you alright?” Eddie’s voice breaks through the fog surrounding his thoughts after what feels like hours of floating, trying to gain his bearings.

Buck hears Chris gasp at Eddie’s use of a bad word, but it has a far-away quality Buck associates with head trauma. He’s too disoriented to muster up the anxiety he would normally feel at the possibility that Eddie might take him to the hospital. But, he is for all the world, in a daze. He feels Eddie’s hands on him, cool despite the heat of the afternoon. He had been in the attic, Buck realizes, getting more decorations.

“Yeah, Buck, where did you think the attic was?” Eddie answers him out loud. Buck fuzzily realizes he must be actually voicing his “thoughts." Eddie’s exasperation evaporates as he assesses Buck’s state of mind. Eddie’s hands, which he’d rested on Buck’s shoulders, were now tugging him up under his arms. Buck squawked indignantly as he tried to get his legs underneath himself. After a few agonizing moments of struggling, Buck let himself go loose-limbed—Eddie put him on his feet quite easily after that. But, Buck didn’t have time to marvel at the strength of his friend (or how it was definitely one of his top five most attractive qualities, up there with his hands—) because he pitched forward, just managing not to face-plant into the lawn by the grace of Eddie’s strong arms.

Holding Buck up was only the half of it, though, as Buck proceeded to dry-heave into the grass. Luckily, nothing came up, saving Buck the mortification of having puked in his best friend’s front yard.

Eddie soothes Buck by running a palm along the length of his spine in slow motions, “Sh, sh, you’re alright. Just let it happen,” Eddie rumbles.

Buck nods, although the instinct is still to resist the rise of bile in the back of his throat. After a few minutes of deep breaths, and Eddie’s continued calming words, Buck finally eases into a fully upright position.

“Dad? Is he alright?” Christopher’s voice sounds closer than before and Buck blinks blearily as he tries to find the kid. Once he does it’s a challenge to focus on his face so he lets his gaze slide away, waving his hand in what he hopes is a reassuring gesture.

“Yeah, we’re gonna take him to the UrgentCare down the street just to be safe, though,” Eddie says. Buck snaps his eyes up to meet Eddie’s but can’t hold the other man’s gaze for long with blurry vision. Eddie was waiting for his reaction, already looking at Buck, daring him to challenge him in front of Chris' worried and watchful eyes. Buck knows he has a concussion. He knows going to get checked out is the smart thing. At least it’s not a hospital, he thinks. But, it’s barely any consolation at all.

Buck takes comfort in the fact that, though Eddie is insisting on something Buck would rather avoid, he doesn’t remove his stabilizing arm from around Buck’s waist. He’s strong and solid against Buck’s side as he leads him to the truck, Chris in tow. And if Buck leans a little more into Eddie than is strictly necessary, Eddie doesn’t seem to mind. Though Buck’s mind is muddled, he can feel Eddie squeeze him a little tighter for a moment before he finally releases Buck and helps him into the passenger seat.

3

Buck crawls into his bunk at the firehouse, determined to sleep. He’s tired. Tired of being angry. Tired of the ache in his leg. Tired of constantly being benched. Cap wants Buck to learn his lesson for betraying the team. And that’s fine. He messed up, he knows he did. But, he just doesn’t know how much more of this he can take. Privately, he’d asked Chim, Hen, and Eddie not to interfere when Cap decided Buck needed a lecture or extra busywork. But, it was a close thing on several occasions. Chim and Hen knew all too well what it was like to be shunned by an inhospitable firehouse. But, Buck knew that it was not the same, that the treatment they received was on behalf of others' preconceived, incorrect, notions of what a firefighter should look like.

Buck had betrayed the trust of his closest friends, not to mention his colleagues who depended on him in life-or-death situations to always have their back.

And he has been working his ass off to earn that trust back. Really, the only person not on board with his reinstatement had been Cap. Even the other firefighters at the 118 had long since eased their cold-shoulder. But, an upsetting trend still continued. Cap kept Buck off the rig until he was done with the blood thinners; then again after the tsunami. While the team worked and answered calls, Buck cleaned the firehouse top to bottom. While they ran drills, Buck restocked and detailed the truck. While they had meals Buck was reviewing his training and keeping up to date on new protocols.

Buck decides to let himself feel bad about it for a few minutes before resolving to actually sleep. Before his allotted self-pity time runs out, though, his bed dips with the weight of another person. Buck turns out of reflex more than anything to see Eddie perched next to him. Eddie doesn’t look at him just stares down at his hands, seeming to search for answers in the deep lines of his palms and fingers.

“What’s up?” Buck asks, tentative. Eddie at one a.m. on a double shift was usually reticent, borderline non-verbal unless they were on a call. Buck used to think that it was to conserve energy, but he recently got the feeling it ran more along the lines of self-preservation. The small hours were when their defenses were weakest—when they were tired and more likely to confess something they’d never say in broad daylight. Buck had had enough midnight chats with Chim to know the vital truth of this. Eddie, on the other hand, ceased to say anything after being up a certain number of hours. Buck didn’t know what Eddie didn’t want to say. But, he relates to the instinct.

Eddie doesn’t respond out loud, predictably, instead, he motions for Buck to scoot over. Buck does so less than gracefully, and Eddie lies down on his back next to him. They’re pressed shoulder to ankle, setting Buck’s entire right side aflame with the flutter of anticipation. Buck still isn’t sure what Eddie wants or if he’s even going to speak when Eddie slides his hand silently into Buck’s.

It doesn’t magically fix everything.

But, it does make Buck feel like he’s flying. Like the time he was suspended above a rollercoaster or on the outside of an upended train. Heart hammering in his chest, Buck squeezes Eddie’s palm gratefully and chances a look at his closest friend. For a second he lets himself wish because when he turns his eyes on Eddie, Eddie is already looking at Buck. For a moment, Buck thinks he catches a glimpse of all Eddie doesn’t or can’t say in his warm brown eyes. His gaze skates over Eddie’s face, his faint crow’s feet and freckles and mouth, before meeting his eyes again. Buck wants to say something but Eddie’s reticence is contagious. Buck finds that he’d rather safeguard his vulnerable one-a.m.-words until he’s strong enough to say them in the daytime.

Eddie releases his hand, turning to face Buck on the little space there is left on the bed. A bed that was not built for two grown men, mind. Buck thinks Eddie might break the silence but, instead, the other man seems to get comfortable and closes his eyes. His forehead rests on Buck’s shoulder as their only point of contact. Buck can feel Eddie’s breath every time he exhales against the bare skin of his arm. Buck suppresses a shiver and resolves to close his eyes and chase sleep. It’s surprisingly easy, with Eddie next to him, and the promise of tomorrow hidden by the dim twilight.

4

It was a routine call. A warehouse fire that needed taming. They weren’t expecting any civilian casualties. Just as well, they were prepared for anything.

They put out the fire quickly and went in to assess the source of the flames. Inside, they split up. The building was old, made up of corrugated metal and galvanized steel beams. Buck had climbed up to the second floor when a telltale rumble jarred the building and the whole team braced for the aftershocks of a mid-strength earthquake.

The foundation of the building must have been weak because suddenly Buck tips as the structure and its contents capsize. He gets rushed up against the Eastern wall along with several crates of miscellaneous equipment on wheels. Unlucky for him, they are positioned perfectly to pin him against the wall. He calls out but receives no answer. The team likely can’t hear him over the din of the building creaking and groaning as it readjusts to its new position half in the ground. Panic threatens to seize him and he fights the urge to struggle against the weight on his back.

“This is Buck, I’m pinned. Over,” Buck rasps into his radio where he’s barely able to reach it with his jammed arm. The only mobile parts of him are his left foot and wrist. The weight of the equipment slowly squeezes the breath out of him. He stands completely stilly, trying not to make worse an already precarious situation.

“Buck! Can you hear me?” Cap’s voice calls, echoing in the building’s metal walls.

“Over here!” Buck shouts taking rapid, shallow breaths, realizing that he can’t turn his head. “Fuck, fuck,” he begins to mutter although he gets the feeling he’s just wasting his breath. But, he can’t stop because the pit of his stomach has dropped as though he’s just fallen from a great height. And although it’s not a hot day, Buck feels heat flush across his shoulders and behind his sternum, making it hard to breathe despite himself.

“We’re coming Buck,” Cap says shortly. Obviously, “Hang tight,” and “Stay put,” were foregone conclusions. Buck just tries to keep breathing. Every time he closes his eyes, though, he remembers the weight of the firetruck on his leg and has a hard time not screaming. Buck’s memories are bleary at best, blurred entirely by tears at worst. The flash of the lights, the smell of gasoline leaking from somewhere unseen, the feeling of Eddie’s hands on him when he finally reached Buck’s side. Buck forces his eyes to open and tries to recall something, anything else, reminding himself that this is not the same. His injuries are minor. He’s just stuck. Pinned. Not crushed.

It doesn’t take long for Cap to reach him. Buck vaguely hears him talking to Eddie and Chim and soon the weight is lifted from Buck’s body. He almost sobs in relief but manages to retain his composure as Eddie and Chim check him over for injuries. They’re interrupted by Bobby who marches them out of the compromised building. Buck glances at Cap with what must be a piteous expression because the older man looks down and away, mollified. Buck curses himself internally for his bad luck because things were finally returning to normal. He ate at the table last Friday for the first time. He’d been back on the rig for nearly a month. He’d even made a pretty daring rescue last week that went abnormally well for everyone involved.

Now, looking at his captain, Buck can see at least half of his hard work unraveling right before his eyes. He didn’t let Chim and Eddie help him back to the truck, choosing instead to tough out the ache in his shoulder. He would get it checked out but he couldn’t take the idea of risking becoming considered an invalid again. Sometimes he thinks that he’s still somehow pinned beneath that truck, and he can’t get out, can’t get back to normal. He dreams not of the pain but of his friends' retreating backs. He shouts for them and tries to leverage himself out from under the weight which has transformed from a rig into a hospital bed.

Buck smothers these thoughts as he comes up on the truck and ambulance. Lights are flashing and a group of reporters calls out to him from a distance for a statement. They’re barely being held back by the line the police have set up.

“Buck, I called Maddie to let her know you were all right,” Hen greets from her spot perched on the ambulance. She’s tending to someone, probably not from the fire but who had a nasty gash on their forehead. They were probably hit by falling debris from the building. Buck winces as Hen applies a swab to the open wound, sympathizing with the guy who clenches his teeth but remains otherwise silent under Hen’s hands.

“Thanks, Hen,” Buck says appreciatively, glancing at the small news team which likely caught the warehouse-collapse on camera. He blew out a gusty breath, reaching into his pocket to phone Maddie and reassure her of his safety himself.

After he gets off the phone with his sister, the rest of the team is ready to head back to the station. Chim and Hen take their concussed patient to the hospital first, so Buck, Eddie, and Cap arrive to a mostly empty firehouse. Before he can launch into lecture mode, Eddie intervenes with questions about the upcoming training event in San Francisco. Knowing Eddie’s done this on purpose, Buck makes a beeline for the stairs, which he climbs painstakingly slow. Once in the lounge he grabs a few ibuprofen and an ice pack and settles onto the couch. He takes a moment to be grateful for Eddie’s distraction but immediately laments the man’s absence.

Later, after Buck is sure he’s fallen asleep at least once, Eddie joins him on the sofa and tells him to sit up.

“Let me take a look at that shoulder,” Eddie says, tone allowing no argument from Buck. Buck obeys and even turns to allow Eddie access to the joint in question, feeling it twinge with the motion. Unable to hide the wince, Eddie hears and tuts at him softly. With gentle hands he kneads the pads of his fingers into Buck’s shoulder, seeking out the source of the pain. Buck melts into his ministrations, feeling his ears go hot with the attention. Eddie pays him no mind though. He’s like a man on a mission, threading through each sinew crisscrossing Buck’s shoulder and the tender underside where his ribs expand and shrink in a tight breath.

“You’re going to have a pretty gnarly bruise,” is all Eddie says and Buck assumes that means there’s no cause for further alarm. The last part of Buck that was still tense from being pinned and reliving the nightmare of being beneath that truck loosens. He allows Eddie to continue touching him, smoothing out his metaphorical bent and ruffled feathers. He is more upset that the accident still has such a hold on him. He doesn’t know how to express this out loud though, so he just leans into Eddie’s hands, feeling a little needy. Eddie indulges him, sliding his hands over the uninjured parts of Buck until he's is dozing upright.

Eventually, Eddie prods him into a horizontal position with his calves across Eddie’s lap. He mumbles a quiet thank you before he finally drops off. He doesn’t think Eddie hears it, but he feels Eddie squeeze his ankle at the last moment.

Buck is sure he smiles in his sleep.

5

Buck tries to hold on as long as he can. But, in an unprecedented stormy season, the city’s drainage system has crumbled under the pressure trying to keep up.

Clipped to a grate so he doesn’t float away, and using his shoulder to prop a civilian’s head above the deluge, Buck manages to take a gasping breath before getting pushed beneath the water again. Eddie is in a similar position across from him. Instead of supporting someone, though, he dives beneath the water to help unstick the civilian’s caught limb. Buck is able to take one last breath before he decides that it’s more important to keep his charge above water. He ducks into the murky sewage and uses his body to shore up the woman above him. He holds on as long as he can, knowing very well he can only hold his breath for a minute or two max. But, he trusts Eddie to work as quickly as he can.

Buck’s vision grows spotty and his lungs feel like they might burst. He tries not to panic but knows he won’t have control for much longer. Something dark and rough tangles around his hands where they grip exposed rebar. At this rate, he realizes belatedly, he’ll either drown or—


Eddie takes a deep breath of air when he finally breaks the surface again. He only has a moment to feel triumphant at releasing the woman’s foot from where it was caught in the damaged storm drain because then he realizes Buck has disappeared.

Eddie quickly grabs for the harness dangling down from the open manhole in the ceiling. He attaches it to the woman, who’s fully clothed, soaked from head-to-foot, and heavier because of it. Once he knows that Chim’s got her, he dives back under the water after Buck. He tries not to think too hard about what he might find, remaining calm save for the hammering of his heart.

The water sluicing over his gear and face takes on a colder and deadlier rhythm once he’s below the surface. He can’t see anything much which causes his heart-rate to ratchet higher and he has to force himself to focus. Eddie swims forward, reaching his hands out tentatively to hopefully catch hold of Buck.

Just as he’s about to be forced to return to the surface to take a breath, Eddie’s hand catches on something solid and clothed. It’s Buck’s shoulder. He doesn’t hesitate to tug at first, in a hurry to pull Buck up and out of the vortex of water and dirt. But, before he can, he realizes Buck’s arms are caught rigidly around a rod that’s been exposed by years of the water rushing against the brick walls of the sewer.

Panic flashes in Eddie’s chest and he has to let go of Buck to return to the surface. He takes one gasping, desperate breath and dives back under, knowing where he needs to go now. The first thing he does is grasp Buck’s arms which have remained stiff around the rod despite being unconscious. Eddie sees that his hands have somehow been caught in this position by some floating debris. Eddie rips it from where it’s wedged in the crumbling brick and mortar while the water causes him to bob and dip despite his best efforts.

Finally, Eddie grabs Buck’s arms and frees them, slinging one over his shoulders and dragging the other man back to the surface. By the grace of god, Eddie is able to muster up the last of his strength and toss him onto the small ledge next to the malcontent, wastewater river. He throws himself up after his partner and reaches up, signaling the team for another harness. Realizing what must have happened quickly, Cap and Chim kick the winch into gear and another harness tumbles through the manhole into the sewer moments later. He hears Hen’s voice over the radio but can’t make out the words over the din of the roaring water in his ears. He hoists Buck into the harness and tugs on the line twice to let Chim know that they can extract him. Eddie doesn’t wait for another harness, electing to scramble up the rain-slick ladder instead.

Once at the surface, Eddie lurches for Buck where he lays prone on the wet asphalt still tangled in the harness. Eddie kneels next to Buck and takes over compressions wordlessly. He puts his all into pushing Buck’s heart into a serviceable rhythm and overall feeling like his own heart is the one that’s stopped.

He approximates that it’s been a few minutes since he last saw Buck breathe.

Breathing hard, sweat joining the rainwater across his brow and down his shoulders, Eddie continues CPR. His breaths take on a desperate cadence and more than once Hen tries to relieve Eddie. Eddie only doubles down, unable to think past this moment or the feel of Buck’s ribcage bending beneath his crossed palms.

Buck jerks, head turning to the side as he coughs up water and bile. Eddie sits back in relief, his shoulders visibly rising and falling as he breathes in the air as greedily as though he’d been deprived of oxygen this whole time too. The relief is palpable in the air, but Eddie still resists when Chim tries to remove him from Buck’s side.

Instead of getting up on his own, he leans over Buck and before he can think better of it catches the blue-eyed man in a fear-singed kiss that burns through his whole body.

“I thought mouth-to-mouth wasn’t protocol anymore,” Buck rasps when they break apart and Eddie has never been more glad to hear someone sound so alive. Eddie cups the side of Buck’s face and touches their foreheads together and laughs weakly into the paltry space between their mouths. Suddenly overcome with a feeling like grief, the dashed promise of it, the threat of its overhanging shadow dissipating in the rain as it turns to mist, Eddie squeezes his eyes shut and is grateful to be able to think that the tears that fall might be raindrops on his face.

“What the hell would I do without you?” Eddie’s voice grinds out of him, half-lost in the sound of the howling storm. Water drips off of him, glinting in the red and blue lights of the truck and ambulance.

Before Buck can answer, though, Eddie is dragged off of his teammate and deposited on the back of the ambulance. He watches as they put Buck on a gurney, detachedly, coming down from the adrenaline high. Someone places a shock blanket around his shoulders and guides him from the mouth of the ambulance so they can load Buck up. Eddie climbs in behind him to the protest of absolutely no one.

+1

Buck catches Eddie looking lost, sometimes, and he knows who he must be thinking of.

In one of those moments, when Eddie pauses and the rest of the world continues to swarm around him, Buck approaches him cautiously. He places his hand gently on Eddie’s shoulder and squeezes. Eddie barely acknowledges him, eyes glued on the window, watching Christopher and his friend play outside. The late-afternoon light casts everything in a golden glow—a warm, molten color that slows downtime.

“She would be so proud of you, Eddie,” Buck says because it’s true and Eddie deserves to hear it.

“Yeah?” Eddie replies absently. “I don’t know, sometimes—” he cuts himself off, clenching his jaw and ducking his head.

“Sometimes?” Buck gently prods. He doesn’t want to push Eddie but he desperately wants to know what’s going through his mind. Even if he can’t find the right words to soothe whatever is bothering the other man, he knows there’s merit to just saying it out loud. There’s something restorative about telling someone else, like for a moment they help you shoulder that burden and it doesn’t hurt so much.

“I think all the time about what Shannon would want,” Eddie continues after a beat, voice taut, still refusing to look at Buck. “About what she would want for Christopher, for his future.” Eddie’s shoulder shudders almost imperceptibly beneath Buck’s fingertips. Buck slides his hand across Eddie’s back, then, offering him a place to shore himself up against in the curve of his arm. Eddie acquiesces, curling in a bit toward Buck’s chest.

Buck lets silence fall over them, watching Chris laughing freely with his friend through the window. If Eddie decided to share more or less today, well, it would be his choice.

“And the thing that I know she would want the most,” Eddie continues again, so quiet Buck almost doesn’t hear, “is to be here.” Eddie’s voice has turned watery, and Buck hears the other man sniff even as he wraps his arms around Buck’s center. Eddie holds on for dear life, trying to control his breathing.

Buck uses the arm around Eddie’s shoulder to guide him to the couch. He takes one last peek out the window to make sure Chris is okay and then turns his full attention back to Eddie. He tugs the other man closer to his side, hoping more than anything that he didn’t make things worse.

“Shh, sh, it’s okay,” Buck says, “please don’t cry. Or, I mean, cry if you need to. I’m sorry. Whatever you need.” Buck feels suddenly awkward even as he squeezes Eddie against him briefly, more (he fears) for his own comfort than anything. Maybe family would be better for this. Buck doesn’t know. What he does know is that he’ll stay however long Eddie will have him.

He can’t imagine what it would be like to lose someone so close; not a family friend, not an aunt, but the mother of his child—his wife. Buck knows Shannon and he were far from the perfect couple, but he’d cared for her once, and probably always would.

Buck continues to whisper soothing nothings into Eddie’s hair, rubbing a hand up and down his back. He prays, belatedly, that Chris and his friend will stay outside a moment longer—if only to save Eddie from embarrassment, or worse, more sadness. Buck doesn’t have to worry long because Eddie pushes himself upright and finally meets Buck’s eyes. His brows eyes are red-rimmed and glittering with unshed tears. Buck’s heart aches to see the man he loves so much in such pain.

“Of course she would want to be here. For Chris and for you,” Buck says before he can lose the nerve.

“It’s not fair,” Eddie says vehemently, “that I get to have this and she doesn’t.” The way he says it makes it sound like a confession. He sounds like he expects to be punished like he thinks he deserves that. Buck feels an unexpected surge of protectiveness rise up in him. He runs into burning buildings with this man, rappels into collapsing hotels with this man, holds the lifeline which secures the safety of this man daily but can’t protect Eddie from the harm he does to himself.

“It isn’t fair,” Buck surprises himself by saying, “but, isn’t that all the more reason to enjoy it? Just because she can’t be here doesn’t mean she wouldn’t want you to be happy.”

Eddie huffs a laugh, then, making Buck startle. Smiling has caused the tears to fall from Eddie’s eyes onto his hands where they rest, palms up, in his lap. Panicking, but trying not to show it, Buck hovers his hands over Eddie’s shoulders wondering what to do.

“Are you okay?” Buck asks, alarm leaking into his voice.

“Yeah, Buck. More than,” Eddie says, still laughing a bit and reaching up to scrub his face with one hand. After a beat, Eddie throws his arm across Buck’s shoulders and pulls him back into a hug so tight it gets kind of hard to breathe. Buck is surprised for a moment and then melts, deciding a little oxygen is a small price to pay to help Eddie—if not by taking away his pain, then by giving him something to remind him he’s not alone.