A few weeks had passed, and though he knew he wasn’t out of the woods, Buck did feel like he was making progress. He had started seeing a therapist, Dr. Copeland, with whom he met regularly, and to his surprise he found it helped him a lot in understanding his feelings and where they came from. He had also been prescribed antidepressants as a temporary measure to get him out of his worst headspace he worked up to a healthier mindset he could manage without medication. Buck had taken a couple weeks off work to sort everything and had just recently gone back to the firehouse on a part-time basis. It felt good to be back at work, in his element with his team, and the crew was being a great support in his journey. Eddie had also been a rock for him, distracting him and pulling him out of his head, as well as a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on when he needed it. It was in no way helping Buck in managing his feelings for his best friend, but he had acknowledged and accepted that he needed Eddie in his life, if only as a friend.
“What are your plans for Christmas? You know, since we’re not working this year?” Buck asked as he and Chim played pool during a lull in their 24h-shift, Hen watching them as Bobby prepped their next meal.
Eddie had gone home a couple of hours earlier as he was on a short shift, picking up Christopher from school and promising Buck pizza and ice cream once his own shift was over.
“Nothing special, just us and the kids. Karen’s family might visit.” Hen replied.
“It’ll be quiet for us this year,” Chimney said, “Just Maddie and me, one last quiet Christmas before the baby arrives. What about you, Bobby?”
“Yeah, got big plans for Christmas, Cap?” Hen added.
“Yes actually, Athena and I are hosting the whole gang. Us, the kids, Michael and his boyfriend David, plus the kids’ grandparents.”
“Sounds like quite the party you’ve got planned.” Chim commented.
“Buck? Any Christmas plans? You’re more than welcome to join us, you know.” Bobby said with a warm smile.
“Thanks Cap, I appreciate that. I uh… I already got plans though.” Buck replied.
“Awesome! With Eddie?” Hen asked.
The alarm chose this particular moment to blare through the station, sending the crew running to the trucks and ambulance. Buck let out a sigh of relief grabbing his turnout coat and sitting in his usual seat on the rig.
Literally saved by the bell, eh? The voice in his head mocked him. It was quieter theses days, not as omnipresent as it used to be, but it still reared its ugly head whenever Buck got too lost in his own thoughts.
It’s not like you actually have plans for Christmas, now is it? Of course you don’t. You’re going to spend it alone. Why would anyone want to spend it with you, they all have their own families. You wouldn’t be welcomed anyway.
Buck shook his head, taking a deep breath to ground himself as the truck pulled up to the scene, focusing on the job at hand.
It was later than he would’ve liked when he walked into Eddie’s house after shift, their last call stretching well past their scheduled finish time.
“Buck!” Christopher greeted his enthusiastically, coming over to hug him at the door.
“Hey Superman, good to see you!”
“Dad, now that Buck is here, can we watch a movie?”
“Sure, mijo, got pick one. Let Buck come in and relax for a minute.” Eddie replied, ruffling the boy’s hair in passing as he stepped closer to his best friend. “You okay? You’re home late, did something happen?” he asked, checking him over for injuries before he could help himself.
“I’m fine, Eds.” Buck replied, noticing how Eddie was being more tactile than usual. “Just a big call at the end of shift, that’s all. Fire broke out in an apartment complex. Kind of like the one on Atwater earlier this year, remember?”
“I could never forget that rope rescue.” Eddie replied with a teasing smile. “Are you sure you’re alright though?” He added seriously.
“I-… it was a rough day…” Buck admitted, rubbing the back of his neck. “I’ll be okay, though.”
“I’m here if you want to talk about it, you know. Or if you just want to cuddle with Christopher while watching Dory again.”
“Thanks, Eds…” Buck replied with a soft smile.
“Dad! Buck!” Christopher called impatiently from the living room.
“Go on, let’s not keep him waiting.” Eddie said. “I’ll fix you a plate, meet you there in a minute.”
Buck smiled at him, dropping his work bag by the door, and heading to the living room to join Christopher.
“Here, Buck! You gotta sit in the middle!” the boy said, patting the space next to him on the couch.
“Why’s that, buddy?”
“So both me and Dad can give you cuddles!”
“Aw, thanks Christopher! You know how much I like your cuddles!”
“Here you go, Buck.” Eddie said as he walked in the living room, handing the younger man a plate with a few slices of pizza and a can of soda.
For a brief moment, Buck felt a wave a ease and contentment wash over him at the comfortable domesticity of their actions. He quickly snapped out of it with a shake of the head, accepting the plate Eddie was holding and reminding himself not to get caught in daydreams and wishful thinking. Reality was painful enough on its own.
Buck was by himself in the kitchen, finishing up the dishes and tidying up while Eddie was putting Christopher to bed. The dark-haired man joined him as Buck was wiping down the last of the counters, coming to stand next to him.
“You’ve been quiet this evening,” Eddie pointed out. “Are you sure you’re feeling okay?”
“Yeah, I’m alright Eddie. Thank you for having me again tonight. You… you don’t have to keep doing this, you know. I really don’t want to impose, so just say the words if I’m too much.”
“Buck, you could never impose. We love having you here.” Eddie replied, stepping closer to his friend, bringing a hand up to rest on his forearm, a soft and reassuring weight. “I want you here, all the time.”
Tension was quickly filling the air, and Buck felt his heartbeat speed up, noticing how Eddie’s eyes had turned darker as he stepped even closer, the warmth of his hand keeping him in place. His brown eyes flicked down to Buck’s mouth for a moment, his tongue poking out to wet his lips, and Buck instinctively mirroring his actions. He inched forward; the movement almost imperceptible as Eddie did the same, eyelids fluttering as if to close.
“Dad!” Christopher suddenly shouted from his bedroom, both men jumping back and effectively breaking the moment.
Eddie headed down the hall, coming back mere moments later, giving Buck a chance to get his heartbeat under control.
“He wants you to read him a story…” Eddie said, scratching the back of his head as a slight blush tinted his cheekbones. “He says you do the voices better.”
“Of course.” Buck replied, avoiding his best friend’s gaze as he walked by him on the way to Christopher’s bedroom.
The nine-year-old easily managed to bargain for two extra chapters of The Reptile Room, not that Buck put much of a fight. In truth, he wasn’t entirely sure was had just happened in the kitchen, or how to deal with it, so reading the adventures of Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire gave him the opportunity to stop his mind from spiraling. It all came back full force, though, when he returned to the kitchen after Christopher finally drifted off to sleep. Eddie was there, waiting for him, casually leaning against the counter.
“Hey, uhm… Do- do you want me to go?” Buck asked, hating how his insecurities bled through his voice.
“Of course not. Why would I want you to go?” Eddie replied, like he and Buck hadn’t nearly kissed not 30 minutes earlier.
“I… I don’t know… I just thought, maybe…-”
“Stop thinking so much Buck. We’re okay. Come on, let’s go to bed.” Eddie said, heading down the hall to the bedroom, looking over his shoulder to make sure Buck wasn’t thinking about making a run for it.
The younger man stopped by the bathroom, brushing his teeth with the spare toothbrush he now kept next to Eddie and Christopher’s and washing his face before joining his best friend in the bedroom. Eddie was already under the covers, scrolling through his phone. He looked up, giving Buck a warm smile. He suddenly looked incredibly soft in that moment, and it took Buck by surprise, as he stared as him for a second to long and resisting the urge to bury himself in his strong muscled arms.
“You alright there?” Eddie asked, raising a questioning eyebrow, and causing Buck to snap out of his thoughts.
“Yeah, yeah… sorry…” he mumbled in reply, changing into shorts and a worn t-shirt before slipping under the blankets, his back towards his friend. “Goodnight Eddie,” he added, squeezing his eyes shut and willing sleep to come.
Eddie woke up in the middle of the night, not quite sure why, eyes landing on the alarm clock on his nightstand. 3:45 am, it read, red analog numbers slightly blurry through sleep-filled eyes. It took him a few seconds to find what had woken him, quiet whimpers coming from the other side of the bed. He turned around to find Buck curled tightly around himself, face scrunched up in pain and breathing erratic. Eddie instinctively pulled him into his arms, feeling how Buck shook in his embrace, and focused on whispering soft reassurance into his ear. The younger man startled awake a few moments later, Eddie rubbing comforting circles on his back.
“E-… Eddie?” he asked anxiously.
“I’m here Buck. You’re safe, I’ve got you.” Eddie reassured him, pressing a soft kiss into his hair, and tightening his hold as he felt Buck grip his shirt tightly.
The younger man burrowed into his chest, a sob escaping his lips as tears rolled down his cheeks.
“Hey, you’re alright Evan. It was just a dream.” Eddie shushed, rocking him into his arms. “Do you want to tell me about it?”
Buck shook his head vigorously, hiding his face in the crook of Eddie’s neck.
“Shh, it’s okay, you’re okay. I’ve got you, I’m not letting you go.”
“Promise?” Buck asked, desperation obvious through his tear-thick voice.
Buck’s sobs subsided, the sniffles turning into hiccups, then deeper breaths as he fell back asleep, exhausted. Eddie pressed another kiss into his hair, sighing deeply before closing his eyes again, relishing in being able to hold his best friend close, if only in the dead of night.
They never talked about the nightmare, or their almost-kiss. They kept going about the little routine they had created. Buck worked on a reduced schedule, keeping up with therapy and spending time with Christopher whenever he could. Eddie made sure to keep him close, rarely letting him spend a night alone despite his own full work schedule. He could see Buck was getting better, but he couldn’t help but feel like there was still something holding him back. He knew there was no timeline to recovery, and that Buck would get there in his own time, and in the meantime, he’d take care of showing him how important he was to both Christopher and him. With Christmas fast approaching, it seemed like the perfect occasion to show Buck how loved he was.
The 24th rolled around, Eddie going through great lengths to decorate his house, much to Christopher’s delight. He knew how much Buck loved Christmas and he wanted to create the most festive atmosphere for him to enjoy. The previous night had been one of the rare nights Buck hadn’t stayed over at the Diaz’s instead spending it at the firehouse, pulling a 24h shift. With his schedule up on the fridge next to Eddie’s own, he expected the younger man to be back by 10am, by when noon rolled around without any sign or word from Buck, he started to get worried. By 1 o’clock, and with texts and calls going unanswered, Eddie had had enough.
“Bobby? Yeah, sorry to call you on such a busy day,” Eddie said. “Have you heard from Buck?”
“Not since shift ended.” Bobby replied over the phone. “He said he had plans, I assumed he was going to your place.”
“Crap, okay. I think I know where he is. Thanks Bobby, I’ll go find him. Merry Christmas!”
“Merry Christmas Eddie! Take good care of our boy.” the Captain said before hanging up.
“Christopher? Get ready, little man, we’re going out!” Eddie called.
“Where are we going, Dad?” the boy asked, slowly getting up from where he had been playing with his LEGOs on the living room floor.
“It’s time for Operation ‘Bring Buck Home’, what do you say?”
“Yes!” Christopher squealed in excitement. “We gottta have Christmas with Buck!”
“Alright then, not time to lose! Let’s go!”
Eddie efficiently got his son settled in the truck, driving to Buck’s apartment, and letting himself in with his spare key.
“Stay down here for now, Chris.” he said, setting him up on the couch with some cartoons. “Buck might be tired, and maybe a bit sad too, so we’ll have to be extra gentle with him, okay?”
Christopher nodded solemnly, Eddie ruffling his hair with affection before heading upstairs to the bedroom area. As he was expecting, he found Buck in bed, bundled up in his blankets and staring straight at the wall with unseeing eyes.
“Hey Buck,” Eddie greeted him softly, sitting at the bottom of the bed.
“Eddie? What are you doing here?” the younger man replied, snapping out of his trance. He slowly rolled onto his back before sitting up, legs crossed and blankets falling from his shoulders to pool at his waist.
“We came to get you, of course. There’s no way I’m letting you spend Christmas alone. Why didn’t you come home after shift?”
“I… I figured you’d want to spend Christmas with your family… Thought I’d get out of the way.” Buck replied, looking down and picking at an invisible thread in the sheets.
“You are my family, Buck. You’d never be in the way, don’t ever think otherwise.” Eddie said, shifting closer on the bed. “Look, it’s okay to have bad days,” he added, reaching over to cover Buck’s fidgeting hand with one of his own. “If you want spend Christmas in bed, that’s totally fine. But we’ll be spending it together with Chris, the three of us.”
“Eddie… I-” Buck pleaded, though he wasn’t sure what he was pleading for.
“It’s alright, we’ll just take it one step at a time. There’s no pressure.” Eddie said softly, his other hand coming up to cup his friend’s jaw, thumb rubbing soothingly on his cheek.
Something darkened in Buck’s blue eyes, akin to hope and longing, but with anxiety tinting the edges.
“Stop thinking for just a minute, Buck. Trust me.” Eddie whispered, inching closer. “Tell me to stop and I will.”
Buck’s eyes flicked down to Eddie’s lips for a split second as he leaned in a little. The dark-haired man gathered his courage and finally brought their lips together. The kiss was soft, but there was power and decisiveness to it, Eddie trying to project to Buck how much he cared for him. Buck froze for half a moment but quickly kissed him back, cautious at first before melting into the kiss. They broke apart after a few moments, Eddie pressing their foreheads together, noses brushing softly. Buck kept his eyes closed, as if he were afraid to open them and find out he’d been dreaming.
“Hey, querido, look at me.” Eddie said, a hand moving to rest on Buck’s neck.
The younger man slowly opened his eyes, Eddie suddenly faced with the maelstrom of emotions swirling around in them.
“We’re good, Evan. We’re good.” he reassured him, Buck letting out a relieved sigh. “Alright, do you feel like you can get dressed? We’re taking you home.” Eddie added, squeezing the younger man’s neck softly before getting up.
“Yeah, you’re coming home with Christopher and me. I was serious about what I told you earlier.”
“Are… are you sure, Eddie?”
“Of course I’m sure.” he answered, his tone serious. “Do I need to kiss you again to convince you?” Eddie added teasingly.
“Well… maybe, yeah?” Buck replied with a small smile, looking bashful as a blush spread over his cheeks.
“Alright then, I see how it is.” Eddie chuckled, coming over to kiss him again, as softly as the first time.
Buck couldn’t help the contented hum that escaped his lips as Eddie pulled back, eliciting a small laugh from the older man.
“Come on, get ready. These are prime Christmas Eve hours, you know.”
“Yeah, okay…” Buck chuckled. “Should I bring anything in particular?”
“Uhm… actually, bring a nice shirt or something. Christmas dinner at Abuela’s tomorrow.”
“Yeah, really. Hell, she’ll have my head if I neglect to bring you.” Eddie replied. “I swear, you are definitely her favourite. After Chris, of course.”
Buck huffed in response, but got dressed quickly and packed his bag, remembering to grab Christopher’s gift from where he had stashed it in his closet.
“Ready to go?” the dark-haired man asked as he exited the bathroom after getting ready, joining him and Christopher in the living room.
“Buck! I’m so happy you’re spending Christmas with us!” the boy exclaimed.
“Me too, buddy, me too.” Buck replied, offering him a warm smile.
Even though he was feeling better than earlier, most of his anxiety and insecurities pushed down for the moment, Buck still felt heavy and tired. He was starting to regret agreeing to spend Christmas at Eddie’s, his treacherous mind pulling him back under dark swirling water. He didn’t want to ruin the holiday with his mood, but also didn’t want to disappoint the Diaz boys by backing out now. Eddie seemed to sense his doubts and uncertainty, placing a reassuring hand on the small of his back and giving him a comforting smile.
“Shall we go, then?” Eddie asked. “How about we pick up some Chinese on the way home?”
“Yeah, that sounds good.” Buck agreed, returning his smile.
Maybe he’d have a good Christmas after all, he thought, listening to Christopher chatting on from the backseat, Eddie humming Christmas songs under his breath and the smell of Chinese take0out filling the truck cabin as the three of them drove home. No, he’d definitely have a great Christmas, Buck realized, letting the warmth of his two boys wash over him.
Eddie could definitely sense that Buck still wasn’t feeling his best, so he opted for them to have a quiet night in, with Christmas movies, cookies, and hot chocolate. Fortunately, he had all the ingredients for Mexican hot chocolate, which was probably the thing he did best in the kitchen. After dinner, he set up his boys on the couch with Home Alone and a plate of cookies, joining them a short while late with three piping hot mugs of hot chocolate.
“Be careful with that, Chris, it’s hot.” he warned his son as the boy carefully took his cup from him.
“Duh… it’s in the name, Dad.” the nine-year-old replied cheekily.
“Of course, silly me…” Eddie chuckled. “Here you go, Buck.” he added, handing him his mug before settling next to him on the couch. He threw an arm around his shoulder and gently pulled him into his chest.
Eddie heard a contended sigh come from Buck, followed by a small surprised moan as he took a sip of the hot beverage.
“Wow, Eds. Who knew you could make something this good?” he commented.
“It’s Abuela’s recipe, and the only one I can actually make.” Eddie replied before leaning to press a kiss to Buck’s temple, basking in the blush that spread across the younger man’s cheeks.
Unsurprisingly, Buck fell asleep early into the evening, eyelids growing heavy as he finished his hot chocolate. Eddie let his sleep against him, only shaking him awake as the credits to Home Alone 2 rolled on the TV screen.
“I’ll go put Chris to bed, you stay here.” he whispered to him.
Eddie got up from the couch, scooping Christopher into his arms, the boy having also succumbed to sleep. When he came back from his son’s bedroom, he found Buck tidying up in he kitchen, putting the leftovers in the fridge.
“Buck, you’ve got to stop doing all the cleaning around here.”
“I’m the guest, it’s only fair.” the younger man shrugged.
“You’re not a guest. You haven’t been a guest here in a long time.”
Buck only shrugged again, looking down.
“Buck, what’s going on? Talk to me.”
“What are we doing, Eddie?” he asked nervously, his gaze finally coming up. “Because if it’s not serious to you… I-… I don’t think I can do it… I’ll understand, I will. I mean, I know I’m a lot to take on, and I wouldn’t blame you if it was too much… if I was too much… But I-… I need to know now.”
“Buck… It is serious to me, it really is. Of course it is.” Eddie replied, stepping loser. “I’m not toying with you; I could never do that. I want it all Evan, the whole package. I want everything with you.”
“Oh, thank God…” Buck let out a sigh of relief, his stance visibly relaxing as his face broke into a grin.
“Come here, you.” Eddie said, pulling him into his arms.
It was Buck who initiated the kiss this time, soft at first but quickly turning more heated as he brought a hand up to run through Eddie’s hair. The older man gently pulled away after several moments, a little out of breath and knowing full well his pupils were blown wide with lust.
“Fuck, that’s hot… you’re so hot.” he breathed out.
“Do you want to take this to the bedroom?”
“Yeah… yeah, I do.” Eddie smiled. “Just… uh… you should know I’ve never done this… you know, with a man…” he added, looking down.
“That’s alright, Eds. Don’t worry about it, just trust your instincts, and do what feels right. There’s absolutely no pressure, we’ll go at your pace.” Buck said reassuringly, cradling his jaw in his large hand to bring his chin up again.
“Thank you, Buck”
“Nothing to thank me for. Let’s just sleep tonight, alright?”
“Yeah, that… that sounds good.” Eddie replied somewhat shyly.
“I have a feeling Christopher will be up and at ‘em early anyway.” Buck joked.
“You’re right.” the dark-haired man chuckled. “Big day tomorrow.”
They both got ready for bed, slipping under the covers, and making out lazily until Eddie noticed Buck's eyelids growing heavy, movements slowing down. He pulled away a little, thumb coming up to rub softly at the birthmark near his eye.
“I love you…” he whispered, not even realizing the words were coming out of his mouth before he heard them himself his eyes widening in shock, as did Buck’s. Eddie opened his mouth to apologize, take it back, anything, but Buck beat him to it.
“I love you too.” he said quietly, a soft content smile on his lips.
Eddie felt relief flood through him, combine with the pure love he felt for the man lying in his arms. He placed on soft kiss on Buck’s lips, reveling in how his mouth curled up in a smile, then another on his birthmark before closing is eyes and cuddling closer to Buck.
“Goodnight Eddie…” the younger man whispered.