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Come Rain Or Come Shine

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Buck found himself alone in his apartment at the end of a 24h shift. Again. While it had been a few months since he had dropped the lawsuit and been reinstated, he couldn’t help but feel like things weren’t quite as they used to be before the truck bombing and everything that followed. Buck maybe wasn’t the brightest, but he wasn’t stupid. He knew well enough he had brought this upon himself.

It’s your fault, you know. You’ve got no one else to blame but yourself, the nagging voice in his head reminded him. These days, the voice sounded a lot like Eddie’s. It was yet another reminder of something he desperately wished for but knew very well he could never have. He had known for a while that his feelings for his best friend were no longer platonic. Who was he kidding, he was head-over-heels in love with Eddie, but he how could he risk the best thing that ever happened to him by confessing to Eddie? No, he would never risk lose him and Christopher, especially not that way.

You’re probably already losing them anyway. You could never get anyone to stick around, now could you? the voice chimed in again, a harsh reminder of the near-constant loneliness he felt. It was true, Buck realised. He had only seen Christopher twice in the last month and a half, life seemingly finding ways to mess up the carefully constructed balance and routine he had managed to build around the Diaz boys. It had been barely two months since the well incident which had left him emotionally wrecked. In the aftermath, though, he had put his energy into helping Eddie get back on his feet, compartmentalizing his own feelings and leaving them to be revisited later. Or, as Buck would prefer, never. A mere two weeks later, he was once again confronted with death as he met and subsequently lost Red. The late firefighter had forced Buck to confront his own life and future, and despite confiding in Maddie about his fear and loneliness, not much had changed in that department. Not much of a surprise there, he knew he was but one person with issues, he should be more than capable of handling them himself. He had no business bothering others when they had their own lives to manage. The final nail in the coffin of his latest bout of depression had been Abby’s sudden reappearance in his life. Happily engaged, and with a family. Buck was happy for her, he really was, but even after their talk, he couldn’t help but feel like he had never truly been enough for her. He realized now that he what they had meant a lot more to him than it did to her. While it had changed him – he hoped for the better – it was now clear to him that he was a convenience to have around, not someone to get seriously invested or build a life with. Revelations like this left Buck wondering how many more of his current relations were similar. With whom else did he build their relationship to more than it was? With his friends, his team, his family? As the events of the last few weeks had shown him, it was most likely that he did. It was especially hard for him to convince himself otherwise when he got back to his cold and lifeless apartment after another one of his suggestions to hang out had been turned down by the rest of the team.

Instead, he tossed his work bag near the door, grabbing a beer from the fridge before flopping down on his couch. He mindlessly flipped through the channels for something to watch, settling on some home renovation show. He should probably eat something, Buck thought, stomach grumbling in a sharp reminder that his last meal had been a hastily eaten sandwich before jumping on a call hours earlier. He knew the fridge was empty, and the cupboards were also pretty bare. He would have to go shopping on his day off tomorrow. In the meantime, he scrolled through his phone for takeout, but none of the options called out to him. He didn’t have much of an appetite.

Not like you’ve earned it anyway. You were useless today, not good enough, the voice in his head said judgingly, taking him back to his teenage years when food had been one of the rare things over which he had had some control. Exiting the delivery app, he closed his eyes with a sigh, rubbing a hand over his face. He was exhausted, he realized, and even his bed suddenly seemed too far away for him to drag his sorry ass up the stairs. Sighing again, Buck gathered what was left of his energy and slowly got up, turning the TV, and opting to trek upstairs to his bed. He knew his back and leg would make him regret spending the night on the couch. He silently thanked himself he at least had that much self-preservation left, stripping to his boxers, and falling into bed. Exhaustion had the one advantage of letting him fall asleep quickly, Buck thought as he felt his eyelids grow heavy, sleep coming over him moments later.

***

As he would find out, opting to sleep in the comfort of his bed was a double-edged sword. Come morning, Buck couldn’t seem to muster the energy to get up. Whether it was the comfortable cocoon of sheets and pillows, or the lack of anything worth getting up for, he felt forcing himself to get out of bed was too much of an effort for him to even try. Buck drifted in and out of sleep for most of the day, his phone remaining stubbornly silent on the nightstand, a harsh reminder that everyone else had better things to do than worry about him.

By the time mid-afternoon came around, Buck’s stomach was cramping painfully from hunger. He finally dragged himself out of bed and into the shower. Staring at his reflection, taking in the bags under his eyes and how his skin looks pastier than he’d like. He knew he had to eat something, lest someone noticed how pale he looks, or worse he passed out on shift the next day. However, grocery shopping definitely felt like too much of a feat for him to get done today so he opted instead to order a pizza. Munching half-heartedly on a slice, he couldn’t help but regret his choice of meal, even if he knew it was better than not eating at all. He’d have to squeeze in an extra workout had the station tomorrow, making a mental note to come in earlier and hit the gym. He had to be at his absolute best. There was now way he could give Bobby the slightest reason to bench him again. Even if things could never go back to the way they used to be – your fault – and even if he often felt like he meant less to his teammates than they meant to him, his job was the one place he felt he could do some good and he’d be damned if he let it be taken away from him again. If only he hadn't gone and fucked it all up with this stupid lawsuit...

***

Chapter Text

Eddie had been worried about Buck for a few weeks now. Well, to be entirely honest, Eddie always worried about Buck. But the past weeks had been hard on everyone, especially, it seemed, on the youngest member of their team. While he seemed his usual self when everyone was around, joking and smiling like he normally would, Eddie could see how his smiles were a bit tight, his laugh a little strained, and how the façade would slip when he thought no one was looking.

After Red’s passing, Eddie had wanted to be there for his best friend, but Maddie had quickly taken over the damage control and he had preferred to let Buck deal with his grief with his sister’s help. She was his family, after all. When Abby had made a sudden reappearance not long after, Eddie had been angry at Buck for risking his life to save her fiancé. She had left him behind like a dirty old sock and he didn’t think he could ever forgive her for hurting his best friend, no matter how Buck assured him he was over her. Still, the younger man had wanted some time alone to deal with the aftermath of their conversation at the park, processing the closure he finally got from Abby.

Now, however, it sees that whatever funk Buck was in at the moment was lingering longer than it should. Eddie knew very well that not everyone dealt with grief and heartbreak the same way, and that there was no timeline for recovery, but Buck had been clear: he was well over Abby, and while the half-assed apology she gave him didn’t really feel like one, it had given him the closure he needed to close that chapter of his life. Still, Eddie couldn’t shake the feeling that there was more to Buck’s current mood than the reappearance of his now-engaged ex-girlfriend, or even his grief Red’s passing and their short0lived friendship. He mulled over his thoughts as he walked into the station, noticing that Buck was already there looking like he had just finished a workout as he headed for the showers. Eddie took his time getting changed into his uniform, hoping to catch his best friend before going upstairs to join the rest of the team.

“Hey man, you okay? I haven’t seen you come in early for a workout in a long time.” He asked as Buck strode out of the shower, a towel wrapped around his waist.

“Yeah, of course I’m okay. I’ve been slacking off my workouts recently, gotta get back into it.” The younger man replied.

“Buck, you look fine to me. Really, how are you doing? It feels like forever since we hung out.”

“I’m fine, Eddie, just a little tired. What about Friday, movie night with Chris?” Buck asked, buttoning up his work shirt.

“Christopher’s got a sleepover on Friday. Another birthday party. I swear, this kid had made more friends in a year than I ever did in my whole life.” Eddie joked.

“Oh…” Buck’s smile fell for half a second, almost unnoticeably, “Well, let me know if you want to hang out.” he added, quickly closing his locker, and heading out of the locker room.

“Sure, of course.” Eddie replied, raising an eyebrow, and not missing the way Buck’s smile didn’t reach his eyes, or how he was avoiding meeting his gaze as he followed him upstairs.

“Good morning, guys!” Hen greeted them cheerfully as they entered the common area.

“Morning, Hen.” Buck replied, heading to the coffee machine to pour himself a cup. He added some creamer, then took out a second mug out of the cupboard, filling it and adding a spoonful of sugar. He stirred it in for a moment before turning around and presenting him to Eddie.

“Thanks Buck, he said, letting his fingers brush against Buck’s as he took the mug, smiling at the slight blush that spread across his cheeks.

“No worries.” the blonde replied, clearing his throat, and turning back around to retrieve his own coffee mug.

“Hey Buck, you’re looking a bit under the weather, are you alright?” Bobby asked, joining his team in the kitchen.

“Yeah, I’m just a little bit tired, that’s all.” he replied.

“Rough night?” “Yeah, something like that.” Buck shrugged.

Eddie exchanged a knowing look with Hen, neither of them quite believing their teammate’s explanation. It seemed Bobby shared their concern, opening his mouth as if to push the matter, but the alarm suddenly rang across the station, effectively cutting him off. Everyone rushed to the truck and ambulance, the Captain clapping a hand on Buck’s shoulder in passing and noticing the tension in the young man’s body. He made a mental note to check on him later, but for now he had to focus on the call.

“What do we got, Cap?” Eddie asked once they were on route.

“Fire in an office building. Dispatch said most people are being evacuated but a few might still be stuck in the elevator and upper floor.”

“Roger that, how long until we get there?”

“We’re two minutes out.” Bobby replied, turning on the trucks sirens as they crossed an intersection.

Once they reached the site, Eddie and Buck worked together as effortlessly as usual, rushing inside while Hen and Chimney checked on the office workers who had already been evacuated. The ladder truck from station 106 pulled over as Bobby dispatched his orders, immediately getting to work on setting up the hoses up.

“Buck, Eddie, head to the elevator, and get those people out. Then scout the upper floor. The office manager said only seven people were unaccounted for.”

“Got it Cap, let’s go.”

The two men made their way into the building, working in tandem to make quick work of the elevator, helping the five people stuck inside, and directing them towards the exit. They radioed Bobby to keep him aware of their progress, moving up the stairs to the upper floor, where the fire had started. The smoke hadn’t quite progress down too much yet, but the air was starting to thicken around them as they made their way into the stairwell.

“LAFD! Anyone here?” Buck yelled out, Eddie and him making their way across the cubicles.

“Over here! Help!” a voice shouted across the office space.

“We’re coming your way, stay where you are!”

The smoke was getting pretty thick around them as they moved towards the victim. They found a young woman kneeling beside another man whose leg was trapped under a supply shelf that had been knocked over.

“Hey, I’m Eddie, this is Buck. We’re going to help you out of here.”

“What’s your name?” Buck asked, moving to the victims’ side.

“I’m Lizzie, he’s Oliver. The shelf came down when people rushed out of the building. He pushed me out of the way, but now he’s the one trapped. I couldn’t just leave him…”

“Alright, Oliver, can you tell me where it hurts?” Buck questioned.

“My leg and knee mainly, maybe bruised my back falling over.”

“Any pain in your neck, or head?” Eddie asked, “Can you wiggle your fingers and toes for me?”

“No pain in my neck, head feels okay too.” Olivier replied, moving his feet and fingers.

He started to cough as the air kept getting thicker with smoke. Buck and Eddie made quick work of the supply shelf, lifting it out of the way before helping the victim up.

“Can you walk?” Buck asked him, Oliver shaking his head and hissing as he tried to put weight on his injured leg. “Don’t worry, I’ve got you.” he added, “Put your arm around my shoulder.”

All four of them made their way out of the office space towards the staircase, Lizzie leading the way, followed by Buck and Oliver, Eddie behind them.

“Buck, we’ve got to hurry.” Eddie said as they got to the stairs. “Yeah, alright. Oliver, we’re not going to make it down fast enough like this. I’ll have to carry you, is that okay?”

Oliver nodded in acceptance, coughing again through the smoke. Buck picked him up, careful of his injured leg, leading the way with Lizzie and Eddie following him down the stairs. They made their way outside quickly enough, Eddie letting Bobby know on the radio.

“Alright, let’s get you two to Hen and Chimney over there, they’ll check you out. I’m pretty sure Hen will want to have a doctor take a look at the leg.” Eddie said, leading the victims to the ambulance, Buck still supporting Oliver.

"Thank you both so much for your help!” Lizzie thanked them.

“Oh, you know, just doing our jobs.” Buck smiled back.

“My boyfriend is going to be so jealous when I tell him we were rescued by two super hot firefighters.” Oliver added, sending a cheeky wink their way.

“Yeah, those two get that a lot, “ Hen said with a chuckle. “Now let’s get you to the hospital, that leg definitely needs an x-ray.”

“Buck, Eddie! Let’s wrap it up, it’s time to go!” Bobby called them over to the firetruck.

They both made their way back to the truck, working together to put the equipment away before climbing into their respective seats. Chimney and Hen would meet them back at the station after dropping off their patients at the hospital. As Bobby drove away, Buck let out a long sigh, slumping down in his seat and resting his head against the window for a brief moment.

“Hey, you okay? I could’ve helped you carry him down if you wanted.” Eddie said.

“I know, I’m good. Don’t worry about me.” Buck replied, giving him the same smile he always gave him these days, the one that didn’t reach his eyes.

“You should take a nap when we get back, you look pretty drained.” Eddie added, humming in agreement, which surprised him as Buck was rarely one to admit to any weakness.

As soon as they got back to the station, Buck took off his gear and headed to the bunk room, leaving Eddie and Bobby to share a concerned look before they headed upstairs. Bobby slowly started working on lunch prep, their morning call lasting a couple of hours and bringing them well past mid-morning.

“Eddie, chop these vegetables for me, would you?”

“Of course, Cap. Hey, do you know what’s up with Buck lately?”

“I was actually hoping to ask you the same question. You guys are usually joined at the hip, I figured you might have an idea.” the Captain replied.

“We haven’t hung out all that much lately, to be honest, with everything that’s been going on. I figured he needed some time to himself to process it all but, I don’t know, it doesn’t seem to have done much good. I’m not even sure how to approach him now.” Eddie admitted.

“I know what you mean. Abby meant a lot to him; she really did change him. Perhaps he just needs more time.”

“He assured me he was over her, though, and I do believe him. So, I don’t know what to think anymore.”

"Last time we left Buck alone, we all remember what happened. I think we should let him know he’s not alone, that he’s still got us.”

“I wanted to invite him to hang out on Friday, but I don’t know, he didn’t really seem into it.” Eddie said, remembering the short exchange he’d had with Buck that morning.

“Hmm. Well how about this, next time we have a weekend off, let’s have a team barbecue. I’ll talk to Athena; we could host it at our place. It’s been a while since we got together with everyone.” Bobby suggested.

“That’s a great idea, Bobby. And we both know Buck can’t say no to Athena.” Eddie agreed with a smile.

“I’ll rope him into taking Christopher to the aquarium in the meantime. This should help get him out of his funk.”

“It’s settled then,” Bobby smiled. “Let me just call Athena to confirm, but we should be good to go.”

***

Back in the bunk room, Buck had fallen asleep as soon as his head had hit the pillow. He didn’t quite know why he was still so tired; he had slept on and off most of the previous day. Yet here he was, exhausted after one small call. While falling asleep had been quick and easy, Buck jerked awake not half an hour later, panting and sweat beading on his forehead. He sat up for a moment, hands bracing his head, elbows resting on his knees while he tried to get his breathing under control. He couldn’t quite grasp what distorted memory had caused him to jerk awake, but he knew it wasn’t his usual nightmares. No tsunami, no bomb, no firetruck crushing his leg, no grocery store, or even mudslide. Near-forgotten moments from his teenage years clutched and poked at the edge of his memory, not quite there but still reminding him of a time he would rather forget, moments from ages ago when he was another person in another city.

Sighing deeply, Buck considered his options. He could either try to go back to sleep, perhaps subjecting himself to more nightmares, or he could get up and join his team in the common room. But that would mean enduring their questions, looks and teasing comments, and he wasn’t sure he was up for it at the moment. He looked at his watch and sighed again. It was nearing lunch time and that was something else he didn’t feel like dealing with. He had managed a good workout earlier that morning after he had indulged in pizza the previous night and he wasn’t sure he’d have the strength to squeeze another one in after shift if he had lunch. No, he decided, he was only going to eat dinner, Buck decided, going back to bed. He curled up in his bunk and pulled the blankets high, squeezing his eyes shut. It seemed sleep was to evade him, however, as he kept tossing and turning to no avail. He stilled in his bunk however, when he heard the door squeak open, and steadied his breathing as best he could. Footsteps came up to him, and he felt a weight settle on the edge of the bed. Gentle fingers carded softly through his sleep-mussed curls.

“We’ll save you a plate, Buckaroo. Try to get some sleep.” Hen whispered, tucking his blanket a little higher around his shoulders before exiting the bunk room, softly closing the door behind her.

Buck squeeze his eyes shut tight, curling into a ball, and willing the lump in his throat to go away. He sniffled as a single tear escaped from his closed eyelids, turning around on the mattress several more times. He couldn’t seem to find a single comfortable position, but he kept trying nonetheless, eventually falling into a restless half-sleep.

***

The rest of the shift went by relatively uneventfully. Buck had emerged from the bunk room the next time the alarm had rang, not looking anymore rested than when he went in. Eddie noticed immediately, keeping a close eye on his partner as they worked to extirpate a couple from their car that had skidded off the road, then as they rescued a man who had gotten stuck falling off some scaffolding. He gently tugged at Buck’s arm as the truck travelled back to the station after their last call, the younger man letting his head rest on his teammate’s shoulder, eyes closing an breathing evening out within moments. Eddie gently shook him awake as they pulled into the station, relieved that the other crew was already there for shift change.

“Hey, we’re back. Let’s get you home, yeah?”

“Hmm, no…” Buck mumbled, “Gotta go to the gym first… get groceries too.” he added, rubbing his eyes sleepily and looking about fifteen years younger than his 28 years of age.

It was adorable, really, Eddie thought, watching the subtle pout Buck always got on his lips when he was sleepy.

“No, Buck, come on. You’re not going to the gym, are you nuts? You went this morning. Here’s what we’re going to do, alright? You’re going to grab your stuff, then we’re going to pick up Christopher from Abuela’s, get home and watch a mind-numbing Disney movie with my kid.”

“Eddie, I-“ Buck started to protest.

“Nope, no arguments. Let’s go.” Eddie cut him off, giving him the look he usually reserved for Christopher when the nine-year-old put up a fight to eat his vegetables.

Buck only let out a resigned sigh in rely, slowly making his way to the locker room to get changed. Not long after, they were sitting in Eddie’s truck on their way to pick up Christopher.

“Hey, what to you feel like eating for dinner? Do you feel up to cooking, or would you rather we get take-out?” Eddie asked once they were stopped at a red light. “Buck?” he added when he got no reply.

“Hmm? Oh, sorry… uhm… I don’t really have a preference, whatever you want.”

“Alright, we’ll see what I have in the fridge, go from there?”

“Sure, sounds good.” Buck replied, stifling a yawn.

They pulled up to Abuela’s house soon after, Christopher squealing in excitement when he saw Buck.

“Buck! I missed you so much!”

“I missed you too, buddy! How’s school?” he answered, hugging the boy tightly.

“Eddito! How come you haven’t brought that young man around here in a long time, hmm?” Isabel asked her grandson while Christopher and Buck chatted away.

“I’m sorry, Abuela, we’ve both been really busy.”

“Well, no matter, he’s here now. Here, have some tamales for your dinner, and make sure Evan eats a few extra. He’s lost some weight.”

“Thank you, I will.” Eddie thanked her, wrapping her in a one-armed hug as she handed him a big Tupperware full of her famous tamales.

“Alright you two, let’s go!” he added to his boys, watching fondly as Buck helped Christopher into his car seat before settling into the passenger seat.

“Hey Dad? Can we watch a movie tonight?” Christopher asked with a hopeful smile.

“Hmm, I don’t know… do you do all your homework for tomorrow?”

“Yessss Dad!”

“Alright, alright, I was just checking, bud! Well then, I suppose we can watch a movie.”

“Yay!” Christopher cheered in the backseat, Buck twisting around to smile at him as the boy proceeded to tell him all about his week at school.

Glancing at the both of them, Eddie noticed how some of the tension finally melted out of Buck, some if the worry easing from his face. His smile was finally unguarded, his eyes regaining the spark Eddie loved to see. They got home a short while later, Christopher keeping on chatting with Buck while Eddie warmed up his Abuela’s tamales. Beside him, Buck threw together a quick salad as a side. The dark-haired man set up the table, reveling in how effortlessly his best friend was moving around in his kitchen, imagining how easy it would be to have him there with him all the time. The oven timer beeped suddenly, snapping him out of his daydream as he retrieved two beers from the fridge, Buck filling their plates. Minutes later, the three of them were sitting at the dinner table, digging in their meal. Eddie couldn’t help but be relieved at Buck enthusiastic appetite, and how he was interacting with his son. The nine-year-old seemed to help Buck finally relax and laugh openly, which warmed Eddie’s heart and eased his worries a little. After dinner, they moved to the couch, Eddie setting up the movie per Chris’s request.

“So, Superman, what are we watching tonight?” Buck asked.

“Coco!” the boy replied eagerly, his father flipping through Netflix to find the movie. “You’re going to love it, Buck!”

“I’m sure I will, I can’t wait.” the blonde replied, ruffling Christopher’s hair as he settled against his side.

While Buck’s enthusiasm was commendable, it seemed he was still pretty tired. Eddie watched fondly as the younger man fought a losing battle to keep his eyes open, nodding off then jerking awake again a few times before finally succumbing to sleep not even half-way through the movie.

“Alright Chris, time for bed now. We got to be quiet, let’s not disturb Buck.” Eddie told his son once the movie was over.

“Goodnight, Bucky.” the boy whispered before getting up as carefully as he could.

Eddie went through Christopher’s bedtime routine with him, reading him a chapter of his book before kissing him goodnight. He then cleaned up the kitchen and packed his son’s lunch for the next day. As he returned to the living room, Buck suddenly jerked awake, sitting up on the couch. His breathing was a little too quick for Eddie’s liking and wide worried eyes met his own chocolate gaze.

“Christopher? Where is he?” Buck asked anxiously.

“He’s safe, Buck. He’s in his room, he just fell asleep for the night.”

The younger man let out a long, relieved breath, and rubbed both hands over his face. Checking his phone, he made to get up.

“I’m sorry I fell asleep, I’m terrible company. Here, I’ll help you clean up.”

“Nothing to apologize for, Buck. The cleaning’s done.”

“Oh… I’m sorry, I should’ve helped, I- “

“Buck, it’s fine, don’t worry about it.” Eddie cut off his protest, reassuring his best friend.

“Still… uhm… I should probably head home then; I’ll call an Uber. You know, get out of your hair.”

“Stay the night. It’s getting late and we have a shift tomorrow anyway.”

“Only if you’re sure, Eddie. I- I don’t want to impose, or…” Buck said, insure.

“You’re not imposing, I’m offering. Plus, it only makes sense to drive to work together, since your car is still at the station.”

“Yeah, okay, I suppose you’re right.” Buck agreed, somewhat reluctantly.

“Your toothbrush is still in the bathroom, go get ready for bed. I’ll set up the couch for you.”

“Eddie, no, I can do that. Just get me a blanket, I’ll be fine.”

“It’s not up for discussion, Buck, you’re exhausted. Don’t try to pretend otherwise. Just go. You can borrow a t-shirt and sweatpants if you want, you know where they are.” Eddie said, all but pushing his best friend towards the bathroom, not giving him the chance to reply.

He then set up the couch with some sheets, pillows, and warm blankets. It might not be the most comfortable couch around, but Eddie was determined to set it up properly regardless. Buck emerged from the bathroom a few minutes later, looking positively adorable dressed in sweatpants that were slightly too short for him and one of Eddie’s old army t-shirt that stretched across his shoulders. Seeing Buck in his clothes did things to Eddie’s heart and stomach, things that confused him and that he tried his hardest to ignore. Now certainly wasn’t the time for him to confront any non-friendly feelings he might have for his best friend.

“Here you go, all set.” he said instead with a smile.

“Thanks Eddie. I’m sorry again I didn’t help clean up.” Buck replied, sheepishly looking down at his hands.

“Buck don’t be silly, there’s nothing to be sorry about. It’s not like there was a ton of dishes or anything.”

The younger man only shrugged in return, still not meeting Eddie’s eyes.

“I’m going to head to bed. You know where to find me if you need anything.” Eddie added.

“Goodnight Eds, thank you. For everything.” Buck replied, finally looking up.

“Don’t mention it, that’s what friends are for. Goodnight Buck.” The dark-haired man replied, squeezing his best friend’s shoulder as he walked past him to the bedroom.

He didn’t miss the flash of something in Buck’s eye, but it was gone too quickly for him to hope identifying it. He had some feelings of his own to sort out anyway, he thought, and he had to figure himself out first before he could give thought to anything more. Eddie got into bed, deep in thought, turning off the light but leaving his door open in case either of his boys needed anything. He quickly fell asleep, the image of Buck dressed in his clothes echoing through his mind.

Chapter Text

Buck found himself surprised when he awoke the next morning to the sound of Christopher’s crutches coming down the hallway. For the first time in weeks, and despite a slight soreness in his back, he had slept soundly through the night, no once waking up.

“Buck! You’re still here!” the boy greeted him enthusiastically as he got up from the couch.

“Sure looks like it buddy! What do you say I make you French toast for breakfast?"

“Yes please! Best Monday ever!" came the excited reply.

“Alright superman, do your stretches and I'll get started on breakfast.”

Buck quickly got to work in the kitchen, turning on the coffee machine then starting on the French toast. He was just finishing up, cutting up a few strawberries to put on the plate when Christopher came back from the bathroom, dressed and ready for the day. Eddie followed a few steps behind him, his hair a mess and looking still half asleep. Buck felt his heart constrict at the sight, warmth spreading across his chest as he watched the older man stifle a yawn, scrunching up his nose in that adorable way of his while he poured himself a fresh cup of coffee.

“Mhmm,” Eddie hummed in approval, “I could definitely get used to this.”

Buck turned back to the stove, trying to disguise the blush he knew was tinting his cheeks, grabbing the plates to set them on the table as Christopher sat down.

“Here you go, tuck in!” he said in lieu of reply, ruffling Christopher’s hair in passing. “Hey Eds, do you think I could hop in the shower real quick?” he added.

“Of course, bathroom’s all yours.” Eddie replied, sitting down. “Buck, this is delicious.” he added after taking a bite of his breakfast.

“What can I say, Bobby’s a good teacher!” the younger man called jokingly as he headed to the bathroom.

Eddie shook his head with a fond chuckle, making quick work of his delicious breakfast before making sure Christopher had everything he needed in his school bag. Buck came out of the bathroom a few minutes later, running a hand through his hair, spreading in some product that effectively got rid of his curls, much to Eddie’s disappointment.

“Okay Chris, it’s almost time to go, go brush your teeth buddy.” the older man said, “Buck, leave the cleaning, have something to eat.” he added, seeing his best friend gather the dirty plates from the table.

“I snacked a lot while cooking, I wasn’t really hungry in anyway.” Buck replied with a smile, which Eddie noticed was a bit strained. The blonde busied himself with doing the dishes and quickly tidying up the kitchen, refusing to meet Eddie’s eye.

“Are you all ready to go, bud?” Eddie asked his son as he returned from the living room, choosing for now not to push Buck about whatever was going on with him.

“Yup!” Christopher replied cheerfully.

“Alright then, if Buck’s ready, it’s time to go!”

Buck nodded in reply, grabbing his own bag before following the Diaz boys to Eddie’s truck. He helped Christopher into his seat before going around to the passenger side. They dropped the boy off at school, the nine-year-old hugging Buck tight before going inside. Fortunately, the traffic wasn’t too heavy for a weekday and they got to the station with ten minutes to spare.

“Buck, Eddie, good to see you both!” Chimney greeted them, sending a wink their way which had Eddie puzzled and Buck blushing. It was certainly not the first time they came into work together but, true to himself, Chim was not going to miss an opportunity to tease his coworkers.

“So, I spoke to Athena last night and it’s settled.” Bobby addressed his team as they cam up the stairs. “August 1st, team barbecue at our place. I expect to see every single one of you there, with your families.” he added, seeing his team’s puzzled expressions and remembering he had only discussed the idea with Eddie.

“Oh, that sounds awesome Bobby! Karen and the kids will be thrilled!” Hen exclaimed, Chim nodding enthusiastically next to her.

“Can’t wait!” Buck added cheerfully, but again Eddie noticed a tightness in his smile.

He sat on the sofa, his partner plopping down next to him and immediately taking out his phone, most likely to dive into another of his research rabbit holes, while Chimney and Hen started on a game of pool, Bobby watching on with a smile.

“Hello? Is anyone in?” a voice came from downstairs a few minutes later, snapping Eddie out of his worried thoughts about his best friend.

“Yes, can we help you?” Bobby called back, heading downstairs to greet the young couple who had just walked into the station.

“You guys rescued my boyfriend from his office building yesterday. We thought we’d stop by to thank you again in person. We brought some brownies.” A tall and thin man said, handing a contained to Bobby after shaking his hand.

“Oh good, they’re store-bought! We can actually eat those.” Chimney said excitedly. “We love carbs.” he added with a wink.

“I’m sure these two coming by today has nothing to do with how the victim found you both so hot yesterday.” Hen whispered to Eddie, elbowing him cheekily.

“Oliver, good to see you on your feet.” Eddie addressed the short brown-haired man, ignoring Hen’s comment. “How’s the leg?”

“Just a bad sprain and some ligament damage, but nothing too dramatic. I have to wear a brace for the next few weeks.” Oliver replied with a smile from where he stood on crutches, a thick brace around his right knee.

“The worst part is the rehab after. Physical therapy can be a real pain, let me tell you that.” Buck replied jokingly, but Eddie could tell his heart wasn’t really in it.

“Wait a minute…” Oliver’s boyfriend chimed in, eyes scanning up and down Buck’s body, taking him in. “Evan? Evan Buckley?”

“Oh my God… Davey?” Buck exclaimed, laughing as he and the other man pulled each other into an accolade. “I can’t believe it, David Miller?! What are you doing in LA?”

“I just signed a contract with Los Angeles Ballet, moved on from Boston a few months ago.”

“That’s awesome man, I’m so happy for you! I think you’ll really like LA.”

“Thanks, we’re really liking the city so far! What about you? A firefighter, that’s so cool! I would never have guessed.” David said, clapping Buck on the shoulder.

“So, how do you two know each other?” Hen asked, a mischievous glint in her eyes.

“Yeah, I mean, it’s not every day that we get a glimpse into Buckaroo’s mysterious past.” Chim added teasingly.

“Oh, we went to high school together. We were even roommates the last two years.” David replied cheerfully.

“Wait, roommates? In high school?” Eddie questioned. Suddenly, found himself a little on edge at how close Buck and David seemed to be. It sparked something ugly inside of him, something he wasn’t quite ready to examine too closely.

“We lived in a dorm. Boarding school.” Buck’s reply came quickly, words clipped and paired with a look to his friend that signified he didn’t want to say more.

“Don’t they know about...? Oh, I’m sorry Evan, I had no idea.” David apologized.

“Don’t worry about it.” the blonde gave him a tight smile in return.

“What don’t we know?” Chimney chimed in.

“Nothing, Chim. It’s nothing.”

“Well, uhm… we should probably get going. We wouldn’t want to take too much of your time.” Oliver intervened, sensing how the conversation was quickly turning sour.

“Yes, of course. We’ll get out of your hair. Evan, here’s my cell number, let me know if you want to meet up sometime.” David said. “Thanks again for rescuing this guy.” he added. “We really are grateful.”

“Just doing our job. Thanks for stopping by, we appreciate it.” Bobby replied.

“Yeah, and thanks for the brownies, guys!” Chim added.

“Good to meet you, David! And take it easy on that knee, Oliver.” Hen said in turn.

“It was great to see you again Davey. I’ll be in touch soon, alright?” Buck concluded, pulling his friend into a short hug before the couple made their way out of the station.

As soon as they were out of sight, everyone turned to Buck, obviously expecting some kind of explanation. The young man, however, only sighed before turning around and heading to the locker room. The others exchanged a puzzled look, Eddie making to follow him before Bobby placed a calming hand on his shoulder.

“Let him be for a moment. I’m sure he needs a but of time to process.”

Eddie acquiesced, instead following his teammates as they made their way back to the lounge.

“So, what was that about?” Chimney asked once they had all settled on the couches in the common area.

“No idea,” Hen shrugged, “Eddie, you guys are tight, did you know about this?”

“I had no clue…” Eddie sighed, “Who even send their kids to boarding school anymore?” he questioned.

“Rich people like Phillip and Margaret Buckley apparently.” Chimney shrugged. “Maddie never mentioned boarding school though, so I’m pretty sure she didn’t go.”

“Wait, Maddie would’ve been leaving for college around the time Buck started high school, no?” Hen reflected.

“Guys, that’s enough speculating. The only person who could tell us about it is Buck himself. And we’re not going to interrogate him. He’ll talk about it if and when he wants to and our only job is to listen and support him whatever he decides.” Bobby intervened.

“I’ll go check up on him.” Eddied added, heading downstairs.

He was halfway there when he saw Buck exit the locker room, meeting his best friend at the bottom of the staircase.

“There you are, I was worried you were off getting lost in you own head again. You okay?” Eddie asked, throwing him a concerned look.

“I’m fine, Eds… Just… I wasn’t expecting to bump into an old high school buddy today, that’s all.” came Buck’s reply, accompanied by yet another tight smile.

“Are you sure?”

“Positive. It’s… I don’t know, it’s complicated. I thought I left that part of my life behind, and suddenly it’s here again.” Buck replied with a shrug.

Eddie threw his arm around his best friend’s shoulder, giving him a little squeeze as they both climbed the stairs back to the mezzanine.

“Hey guys… uh, I’m sorry about how I reacted earlier.”

“There’s no need to apologize, Buck.” Bobby said immediately.

“You don’t owe us anything, Buckaroo. We shouldn’t have asked.” Hen added.

“It’s none of our business in the first place.” Eddie said, pulling Buck next to him as he sat on the couch.

“No, I-… I owe you guys an explanation. It’s just, I don’t really want to talk about it much…” the younger man said, elbows resting on his knees and hands wrung together.

Buck’s whole demeanor was reading nervousness, anxiety seeping out of him, and Eddie gently set a hand on his knee, giving him a reassuring squeeze and a smile as Buck met his gaze.

“How about this: we get to ask one question each. 4 questions, that’s it. And you don’t have to answer anything you’re not comfortable with.” Eddie suggested softly.

“Okay, yeah, that doesn’t sound so bad. Go ahead guys, ask away…”

“I’ll start,” Booby said, “Where did you go to high school?”

Buck let out a long sigh, clearing his throat before answering.

“Edgewater Ballet Academy, in Manhattan.”

“Wait, did you say ballet?” Chimney asked incredulously.

“Is that your question, Chim?” Hen said with a smirk.

“Well, I mean… yeah, I guess it is?”

“Yeah, Chim, ballet… I started dancing when I was five. My mother thought I could make it pro, sent me to a fancy school in New York.”

“Did you like it, or was it like something your parents forced on you?” Eddie asked.

“I did, I loved ballet. But I don't know, it was high school too, so I guess it could get pretty rough at times” Buck shrugged again.

“What happened after that? Why’d you stop dancing?” Hen questioned.

“Got injured, didn’t get on contract after graduation. I decided to take a gap year, and I guess I just never went back…”

“Wow, Buckaroo, I’m kind of speechless.”

“So, was every guy in your high school gay?” Chim suddenly let out.

“Chim! Oh my God, I taught you better than that!” Hen exclaimed.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean that, it came out so wrong!”

“No harm done, Chim. It’s a common misconception, actually.” Buck said, letting out a small chuckle and surprising everyone with it. There was no bitterness in it, Eddie noticed, and it lightened the mood a little. “Like everywhere else, most people are straight, some are gay or bisexual. But there was plenty of experimenting happening, let me tell you that.” he added with another small laugh.

Eddie almost choked, disguising his surprise with a couch as he took his hand off Buck’s knee to cover his mouth. Chimney and Hen burst out laughing, and Bobby’s eyes went wide, but he still smiled at the youngest member of their team.

“You can’t possibly be serious, Buck.” Chim commented.

“It’s a bunch of teenagers living together in a dorm. Chaperone or no chaperone, we all know what happened behind closed doors.” Buck replied cheekily.

The alarm chose this moment to blare through the station, effectively cutting off the conversation as the crew ran downstairs to the truck.

***

This was probably one of their busiest shifts in a long time, with back to back calls that had them rushing around the city all day long. None of the calls were particularly bad or difficult, but they barely had time to make it back to the station before getting called out again, sometimes not even making it that far before another call came in. This worked out great for Buck, he thought to himself, as it prevented him from dwelling on what he had shared with his team earlier. His teenage years were not something Buck liked to dwell upon. They had been rough years for him, and while he had overall enjoyed the time he spent at the ballet academy, he knew it had left deep mark on his, physically and mentally, and it as baggage he hadn’t been prepared to revisit. He had a lot of memories he would rather ignore, especially while on shift. Luckily, calls kept coming in and Buck was able to focus on the rescues, creating a little bubble around himself and the team in which he could hide away from his past.

“Well, I don’t know about you guys, but I’m definitely ready to go home and pass out.” Chimney said in the locker room once their shit had finally ended, everyone getting ready to go home.

“Oh, absolutely!” Hen agreed. “Buck?”

“Yeah, for sure.”

The younger man took his time getting changed, lingering at his locker as he noticed Eddie doing the same.

“Hey, are you okay? You’ve been kind of quiet today?” Buck turned to his partner after saying goodbye to Hen and Chimney.

“Yeah, I’m fine. Just a bit tired, it’s been a long day.” Eddies reply was clipped, and something twisted in Buck’s chest at the coldness of his tone.

“You sure? Look, Eddie, I’m sorry if that was weird this morning, I didn’t mean to- “

“I’m fine, Buck.” The dark-haired man cut him off.

The young man let out a sigh, closing his locker softly before heading towards the door without another word, shoulders hunched and eyes downcast.

“Wait, Buck…” Eddie called, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that. It’s just… can I ask you something?”

“Sure.”

“What you said earlier, a-about ballet, and people at your school, uh… e-experimenting? Did-… were you including yourself in that?” Eddie asked nervously.

“Oh… well, uhm… yes… Look, Eds… I’m bisexual, it’s not a secret. I’ve been out since I was fifteen.”

“You never told me that.”

Buck couldn’t quite make out what the meaning behind Eddie’s words was, his tone turning abrupt and defensive again as a hard mask slipped over his features.

“I-I guess it never came up… I didn’t-… I didn’t think I needed to…” he stammered.

“Look Buck, I gotta go, okay… I’ll see you tomorrow.” Eddie said, running a hand over his face, letting out a sigh and shaking his head as he grabbed his bag and left the room, careful not to brush against his friend or look at him on the way out.

Buck tried to swallow past the lump that had suddenly formed in his throat. He didn’t quite understand what had just happened. He was almost in a daze as he drove home, oscillating between confusion, hurt, anger and sadness, emotions shifting through him in waves as he revisited every interaction he had had with Eddie though the day, every thing he had said, every little comment or gesture. Deep down, he knew exactly what had caused his best friend to turn away from him but examining every minute detail kept his mind busy long enough for him to drove home without wrecking his car. As soon as he stepped into his loft however, he knew it was a matter of seconds before everything came crashing down upon him, barely making it to his bed. He burrowed himself in his comforter, hugging a pillow tightly against his chest as he finally broke down, ugly sobs escaping his mouth and tears streaming down his cheeks. Buck ended up crying himself to sleep, waking up again several hours later as his alarm blared from his phone.

Much like a few days earlier, Buck felt he lacked any strength to get out of bed, but this time, there was an added weight across his chest, heavy on his lungs. A mix of hurt and disappointment had settled deep within him, a bone-deep tiredness taking over his body. He reached over and grabbed his phone from the nightstand, shooting a quick text to Bobby, calling in sick before turning off the device altogether. He barely brought himself to take of the jeans he had fallen asleep in the night before, then pulled the blankets high around him again, letting himself fall prey to his darkening thoughts.

Rationally, Buck knew there was no use in wallowing, that he couldn’t control people’s reaction to his sexual orientation. He had learned long ago it was best not to pay attention to stranger’s comment and reactions, and he was secured enough in his identity that he usually wasn’t affected. But having his best friend react so negatively drove a spear through his heart. He had just lost Eddie and Christopher, and all because of who he was. He’d probably have to transfer stations as well if Eddie couldn’t bring himself to work with him anymore. On top of the lawsuit, it might be best for the team if he left anyway. At least the rest of them could stay together and bring in another recruit to replace him. Buck had seen how replaceable he was to them after the embolism, it wouldn’t be hard to find someone to take his place. All in all, he felt like his life was crumbling around him once again, and there was nothing he could do about it.

Chapter Text

“Hey, where’s Buck?” Hen asked, looking at her watch about fifteen minutes after their shift had begun. “It’ really not like him to be late, at least not without calling first.”

“No idea… Eddie’s in the gym getting angry at the punching bad, so maybe that’s got something to do with it?” Chim replied.

“Buck called in sick,” Bobby called from the kitchen. “I’m sure there’s nothing to it.”

“You didn’t see Eddie’s face when Buck mentioned what went on in his high school dorm.” Hen pointed out. “He looked like he had just bit into a lemon or something.”

“You don’t think he’s… homophobic, do you? That doesn’t seem like him at all…” Chim questioned, casting a look towards where Eddie was still going to town on the punching bag.

“He’s always been fine with Karen and I, and he was pretty close with Lena Bosko for a while.” Hen shrugged. “But sometimes people, especially men, can react differently when it’s their own gender.”

“In any case, I’m not getting involved. They can sort it out on their own.”

“I’m sure it’s nothing, guys.” Bobby chimed in. “If something did happen, they’re both adults; they can figure it out themselves.” he added, closing the matter.

The atmosphere was tense throughout the day, confirming Hen and Chimney’s theory that something had indeed happened between Buck and Eddie, the latter being moodier than usual and speaking only when someone addressed him directly.

“Eddie, can I have a word in my office before you go?” Bobby called to him a their 24h shift was coming to a close. “Let’s step in my office for a moment, shall we?”

“Sure, Cap. What’s up?” Eddie replied, following him inside, frowning as Bobby closed the door behind them.

“Why don’t you tell me what’s got you so tense today?” the older man asked with a pointed look.

“It’s nothing, Bobby. Didn’t sleep well last night, that’s all.” the dark-haired man said, meeting his Captain’s gaze with a challenging look of his own.

“Eddie…” Bobby sighed, “Look, you don’t have to tell me, but if something is bothering you, you should talk about it with someone. Are you still seeing Frank?”

“I have a session tomorrow actually…” Eddie replied, deflating from his defensive posture. “I- I don’t know, Bobby… I think I screwed up.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s just… Buck came out to me last night… He told me he was bisexual and, I don’t know… I guess I didn’t really react well…”

His Captain sighed, but otherwise remained silent, an invitation to keep on talking.

“It just took me by surprise, that’s all!” Eddie said defensively at Bobby’s silence. “I couldn’t care less if he’s bi, straight, or anything else for that matter. Only… I don’t understand why he never told me. We’re supposed to be best friend, and he couldn’t even trust me with that!”

“He probably felt like there was no need to formally come out to you. I mean, it was never a secret, he even went to Pride with Hen and Karen last year.”

“So, everyone knew but me?” Eddie huffed. “Have I been paying him that little attention?” he asked incredulously.

“Look, Eddie, my advice would be to talk to Frank about it. I’m sure he can help you make sense of this whole situation. Just, if I may, don’t let this thing between you and Buck sit for too long.”

“You’re right, Cap. I’ll talk to him.”

“Oh, and Eddie?” Bobby called to him as he was headed towards the door. “We’re all here for you if you need anything.”

“Thanks Bobby.” he replied with a strained smile.

Against his better judgement, Eddie called Buck as soon as he got home. The call went straight to voicemail, however, as did the other three calls he tried to place to his best friend through the day. He tried to take his mind of his best friend’s silence, busying himself with errands and chores around the house. Part of him knew he was entirely to blame for the tense situation he now found himself in, but another part of him couldn’t seem to comprehend why Buck had never told him he wasn’t straight. He hadn’t lied, per se, but it also felt like he hadn’t quite told him the truth, like he felt he couldn’t trust Eddie with that side of him. His first day off went by in a blur, Eddie spending most of his time deep in thought. Though he tried to hide his turmoil, Christopher was a smart kid, and he saw right through his dad’s cheery façade, asking him if he was okay at least four times, and being extra cuddly.

His session with Frank surprisingly helped a lot, even if Eddie still didn’t like to admit therapy was good for him. While he now had a better understanding as to why he had reacted as he did towards Buck, he nevertheless felt like he needed a little more time to organize his thoughts. He did send his best friend a text, asking him if he was free later. His message received no reply, however, and his tow attempts at calling went straight to voicemail again. By the time he had to pick up Christopher from school, Eddie had made a decision. Cursing himself for waiting so long to fix his mistake, he quickly sent a message to his Abuela, asking if she could take his son for the evening. He knew he couldn’t let things between him and Buck sour again.

“Hey Chris, how do you feel about a sleep-over at Abuela’s tonight?” he asked, looking at his son in the rear-view mirror.

“Okay Dad” the nine-year-old replied with a grin. “Are you going to go see Buck?” he then asked knowingly.

“Yeah, buddy, I am.”

“Good. He seemed a little sad the other day. Will you give him a hug for me?”

“Of course, Chris. I’m sure it’ll make him feel better.”

Eddie drove to his Abuela’s place, dropping off his son and ignoring the stern look she sent his way. How his grandmother knew there was something wrong with Buck, he’d never know, but he had learned long ago to stop asking that sort of question. He then made his way to Buck’s apartment, parking next to the jeep and climbing the short flight of stairs to the front door. Knocking on the panel, he waited a few moments, listening for any noise coming from inside, before digging his keys out of his pocket and letting himself in. The air inside the loft hung still and heavy, and there wasn’t a sound to be heard. Stepping inside, Eddie spotted Buck’s work bag abandoned by the door, but nothing else indicated his best friend was home.

“Buck?” Eddie called, his voice resonating through the empty space in front of him. “Buck are you there?” he called again when he got no answer.

It had been a while since Eddie had been to Buck’s place, he realized, taking in how the place was lacking in warmth. The loft barely looked lived in, he observed as he climbed the stairs to the bedroom.

“Buck?” he said once more, spotting the body curled up under the blankets.

“Why are you here?” the reply came from under the comforter, Buck’s voice hoarse from disuse.

“I… I was worried about you…” Eddie answered, taken aback by the question.

Buck scoffed, tightening the blanket around his shoulder.

“I’m alive. You can go now.”

“Buck, please…”

“Go away, Eddie. Your silence told me everything I needed to know.” the younger man mumbled, a surprising amount of venom seeping through his tone despite how low his voice was.

“If you checked your phone, you’d see I wasn’t, exactly silent. I’ve been trying to reach you since yesterday.” Eddie said defensively.

“And say what, Eddie?” Buck confronted him, suddenly sitting up in his bed, letting the blanket fall from around his shoulders.

Eddie had to hold back a gasp as he took in his best friend’s exhausted featured and the hurt in his red-rimmed tired eyes.

“You made it clear enough that you didn’t want anything to do with people like me.” the blonde added, his gaze both challenging and defeated.

“I’m so sorry Buck, I really am. I never meant to make you feel that way. I don’t care that you’re bi, I really don’t.” Eddie apologized, carefully stepping closer. “Look, I know I’m kind of terrible at expressing my emotions, and I’m sorry for that. I had a session with Frank today, and he helped me make sense of what I felt. I know I was in the wrong, and this is totally on me, but I’d like to explain if you’ll let me.”

Buck only shrugged in reply, his gaze falling on his hand. All his bravado had dissipated as soon as Eddie had apologized, and he just looked hurt and defeated now, like he was expecting Eddie to pour salt on his wounds.

Eddie took a deep breath before saying his piece, “When you told me you were bisexual, I don’t know, I felt like the reason you had kept it from me was that you didn’t trust me enough. It felt like I wasn’t enough for you to share that part of yourself with me. I mean, everyone else seemed to know, so I couldn’t understand why you didn’t feel like you could tell me. I was hurt, and I wasn’t quite sure what to say, so I chose not to say anything… Which I now realize was the wrong thing to do…” he finished with a sigh.

He searched his best friend’s face for any sign of emotion, trying to get him to meet his eye, but Buck’s gaze remained stubbornly cast downwards.

“Buck, I’m really sorry… I know now it had nothing to do with you not trusting me. Please…”

“I thought I’d lost you for good, Eddie… Christopher too…” Buck finally said, voice thick with tears.

“Oh Buck, no, never! I’m so sorry I ever gave you that impression.” Eddie exclaimed, horrified, vehemently reassuring him.

“It’s okay Eddie,” the younger man sniffled, “I didn’t think about how it would make you feel… I should’ve told you earlier.”

“Oh my God, Buck… Evan… that’s- that’s not for you to consider, what are you talking about?” Eddie said, perplexed that he would even think for a moment it was his fault.

“It’s alright though, Eddie. Just… let’s move on, okay?” Buck replied, clearing his throat a little.

“If that’s what you want. I really am sorry about all this.”

“It’s fine, don’t mention it.”

“One more thing though,” Eddie added, shifting a little closer to Buck. “Christopher asked me to give you a hug because you looked sad.”

Buck let out a wet chuckle, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand and looking up, blue eyes finally meeting brown.

“He’s a really great kid, isn’t he?”

“The best.” Eddie confirmed. “So, may I?”

Buck nodded, the dark-haired man pulling him into an embrace. He let out a shuddering breath, Eddie tightening his arms around him, and if their hug lasted a little longer than what was strictly normal for two platonic friends, neither of them was about to complain.

Eddie ended up spending the whole evening with Buck, starting by slowly coaxing him out of bed and towards the bathroom. He ordered Chinese take-out for them both while the younger man showered, emerging looking a little more like his old self. Eddie, however, was still taken by how dark the bags under his eyes were and how sunken his cheeks looked, making a mental note to keep an eye in his best friend to make sure he ate and slept properly. He devoted the evening to doing just that, escorting Buck back to bed after he was satisfied with how much he ate. He tucked the younger man in, drawing he blankets tight around him and sitting by his side until his eyelids grew heavy and his breathing evened out. And if Eddie pressed a soft kiss to Buck’s temple, lips brushing against his birthmark, well that was between him and his conscience.

Chapter Text

While things returned to normal between Buck and him, Eddie couldn’t help but feel like his best friend still was a little guarded. His smiles remained tight and his eyes rarely lit up when he laughed anymore, no matter how many weeks passed. Even the barbecue at Bobby and Athena’s, while a great event, did not succeed in bringing back the carefree Buck Eddie had come to miss. Worse even, it seemed to him the younger man was distancing himself from the team and from him, slowly like he didn’t want it noticed, but pulling away nonetheless. The only time Buck came over anymore was for their weekly movie nights with Christopher, and Eddie worried to see him so distant, but he didn’t know how to approach his friend about it, fearing that confrontation would only spook him in pulling back further.

Eddie was right, of course. Buck had indeed been taking some distance from the team. He was only protecting himself, and also letting his teammates breathe and build their own lives without him taking up space with his problems. It was better for everyone if he stayed out of their way, he’d tell himself as he spent another evening alone. He’d find himself left alone in the dust one day, everyone building families around him while he remained decidedly alone. Despite what people said about being single and the whole “plenty of fish in the sea” spiel, not everyone found someone, their special person to spend the rest of their life with. Some people were meant to remain alone, and to Buck, it was becoming clear that it was to be his lot in life. He had never been wanted, not really – he knew that – and there was no reason it would ever change. He was simply learning to accept his fate and not bother his friends with his loneliness.

The only thing he allowed himself to keep up – for his sake as well as the boy’s – were the movie nights with Christopher. He had promised him he’d always be there for him and that was a promise he intended to keep as long as Eddie would let him. He knew it would be painful to watch from the sidelines when Eddie unavoidably build another family for himself and his son. Buck was just pre-emptively stepping back in the hopes of softening the blow he knew would come when Eddie inevitably met a beautiful, charming lady to perfectly fill the hole Shannon left. He knew it would hurt. Hell, pulling away from his friends hurt already. But he knew he had to content himself with the smallest of moments, no matter how painful. Because if he couldn’t have more, at least the pain gave him something to feel, something else than the constant emptiness in him. And if Buck might have thought he sometimes saw Eddie stare at him a little longer than normal, that the accolades and shoulder clasps sometimes lingered a few seconds, he knew deep down it was nothing but wishful thinking on his part. Added to the memories of their fight in the grocery store, of the angry words Eddie threw at him, were his best friend’s reaction at his coming out, how he’d removed his hand from Buck’s knee as if it had burnt him, and the harsh disappointment painted on his face as he’d stormed out of the locker room that day. It only served to confirm him in his insecurities and further reminded him that he could never have what he wished for. He could never be a part of Eddie and Christopher’s family unit, not truly. He would take the small moments of friendship though, the few hours a week he allowed himself to have, but nothing more.

***

Not matter how much Buck seemed to pull away from his outside of work, Eddie rejoiced that they were still working together as seamlessly as always, enjoying their usual camaraderie. He clung to those moments, happy that he still got to watch his best friend’s back on their shifts, something he was particularly grateful for considering Buck’s natural recklessness and propension for trouble.

The team was responding to a call in an apartment complex. The building had been ablaze when they arrived on the scene, Eddie and Buck making quick work of evacuating the last few residents still inside.

“Diaz, Buckley, evacuate immediately!” Bobby called over the radio as the swept through the last floor. “The structure is becoming unsafe; the flames are spreading fast!”

“Roger that, Cap. On our way out.” Eddie replied, heading to this exit with Buck behind him.

They were making good progress, Eddie glancing over his shoulder periodically, when a loud crack resonated through the smoke-filled air, the floor suddenly giving way underneath Buck and sending the young firefighter tumbling down on the floor below.

“Buck!” Eddie yelled, his heart skipping a beat. “Buck, are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m alright. I have a clear corridor to the exit.” he replied from below. “What about you? How’s the floor looking?”

“It’s fine, I can make it out on the other side. I’ll meet you outside.”

“Understood, see you there.”

Eddie made his way out of the building as quickly as he could, immediately scanning the other exit points for his partner. He breathed out a sigh of relied as he saw Buck emerge as well, seemingly unharmed. They gave each other a reassuring nod and quickly got back to work, manning the hose to take efficient care of the blaze.

“Hen, could you check Buck over before we go? He took a bit of a tumble earlier.” Eddie asked once they were wrapping up.

“No need, I’m totally fine!” Buck protested.

“You’re limping. Don’t think I haven’t noticed.” Eddie said, giving him a pointed look.

The younger man huffed, pursing his lips as he let Hen take him over to the ambulance for a check-up. She poked and prodded at him, frowning as he hissed in pain when she pressed on his ribcage.

“What happened?” Bobby asked, coming over.

“The floor gave way while we were making our way out. He fell through to the story below.” Eddie replied.

“It’s no big deal, Cap. I’m telling you, I’m fine!” Buck protested again.

“You got some bruised ribs, Buckaroo, so yeah I’d say it’s a big deal. You’re lucky it’s not worse.” Hen cut him off. “And I can tell your leg’s bothering you as well.”

“Okay, it’s settled. Buck, you’ll be the man behind for the rest of the shift. And I’m taking you off the roster for the next couple of days.” Bobby declared.

“Two days?! Cap, come on! I’ll be fine to work tomorrow!” Buck exclaimed.

“It’s not negotiable Buck. Now let’s wrap up here.”

The young firefighter huffed in frustration before limping over to the truck and getting into his seat. He spent the entire ride back to the firehouse glaring out the widow, arms crossed over his chest and pointedly ignoring Eddie’s nudges against his knee. When they got to the station, he barely took the time to put away his gear before stomping away to the bunk room. Eddie let out a long sigh, shaking his head in fond annoyance, and following his best friend to try and talk some sense into him.

“Hey there,” he greeted him. “You alright? You gave me a bit of a fright earlier.”

“Why’d you rat me out, then?” Buck said, obviously frustrated.

“What? Buck, you took a fall, I wanted to make sure you were okay.” Eddie replied, taken aback by his friend’s tone.

“I thought you were supposed to have my back!” the blonde accused, anger boiling over. “Now I’m getting benched again!”

Realization suddenly washed over Eddie as he took in Buck’s words.

“Buck, I always have your back. Always have, always will.” he replied calmly. “Especially when it means looking out for your health because you won’t do it yourself.” he added pointedly.

Buck sighed heavily, sitting down on a bunk. Eddie knelt in front of him, taking both his hands into his.

“Look, Bobby’s just making sure you heal properly. He wants you 100% healthy, Buck. You can’t give this job the best of yourself if you’re trying to work injured. You know that as well as I do.”

“I know… you’re right.” Buck sighed, defeated. “It’s just…”

“Hey, stop that. Don’t let yourself overthink it.” Eddie reassured him, knowing very well what his friend was about to say.

“I’m sorry I got mad at you. You didn’t deserve that.” the younger man apologized, giving Eddie a sheepish look.

“It’s alright, Buck. I get it.” he smiled at him. “Now, how sore is your leg?”

“My leg’s okay. It should be back to normal with a few stretches.” Buck replied. “That’s not what I’m worried about.” he then mumbled under his breath, almost too low for Eddie to hear.

“What was that? What hurts?” Eddie questioned, shooting his partner a worried look.

“It’s probably nothing… I got this pain in my foot, it’s manageable for now. It feels a lot like something I got way back when I was in high school.” Buck replied. “It went away within a few days back then, so I’m sure it’s nothing.”

“Buck, you should get that checked out, it could be serious.”

“Eds, I’m already off work for the next two days. I’m sure it’ll be fine by the time I get back.”

“Come on man, you can’t be serious.”

“Look, if it still hurts by then, I’ll talk to Bobby and have it checked out. If it’s like what I had in high school, it’s nothing rest and a few Advils can’t fix.”

“I don’t like this, Buck. But fine, I’ll give you a couple of days. I’ll hold you to it though. If it still bothers you in two days, I’m taking you to the doctor myself.” Eddie said, using the voice he usually reserved for Christopher when the boy tried to bargain his bedtime on a school night.

“Yes, Dad…” Buck replied cheekily, his small smirk warming something inside Eddie’s chest.

“Alright, let’s go join the others. I think Cap’s making chili for lunch.” the dark-haired man concluded, pulling Buck up from his bunk as he stood up, leading him to the kitchen.

***

Eddie couldn’t say he was surprised when, a couple of days later, Buck tried to hide his pain once again. Against all odds, he had convinced him to sleep over after their weekly movie night for the first time in months. As Buck moved around his kitchen with practiced ease, whipping up pancakes per Christopher’s request, Eddie marveled a little at the laid-back domesticity but couldn’t help but noticed the subtle hobble his friend tried to disguise.

“Looks like we’ll be taking a trip to the doctor’s today.” he said, pouring himself a cup of coffee.

“What? No, I’m fine! I’m just due for another Advil, that’s all.” Buck protested.

“If you still have to take painkillers, you’re not fine. Come on, Buck, we had a deal.” Eddie raised an eyebrow at him.

The younger man huffed in reply, knowing when to concede defeat.

“You probably shouldn’t even be running around the kitchen right now. Here, sit down, let me do that.”

“And let you burn the pancakes? No Eddie, Christopher would never forgive me!” Buck joked.

“Yeah Dad, get out of the kitchen!” the boy added cheekily from his seat at the dinner table.

“Betrayed by my own son, I can’t believe it!” Eddie faked, swooning in mock offense before ruffling his son’s hair. “Are you excited to go back to school soon, mijo?” he added.

“Yeah. I like going to day camp but I’m excited for third grade.” Christopher replied with a grin.

“I bet, Superman.” Buck smiled at him, placing a plate of pancakes and fruit in front of him. “You’re going to do great.” he added fondly.

After breakfast, they dropped Christophe off at day camp, an arts and crafts camp Carla had recommended. Eddie nearly had to wrangle Buck in the passenger seat, the younger man trying – and failing – to come up with excuses to stop by his apartment before seeing the doctor.

“I don’t trust you not to go home and just drug the pain away.” Eddie told him as they drove over to the clinic. “I’m taking you to the doctor myself and that’s final. Plus, it’s been forever since we hung out just the two of us.”

“And you figured the doctor’s waiting room was the best place to remedy that?” Buck replied, trying to joke, but his tone betrayed how nervous he felt.

“I’ll take what I can get.” Eddie smiled at him while parking his truck in front of the clinic. “Hey, it’s going to be okay Buck.” he added, reaching over to squeeze his partner’s knee in an attempt to comfort him.

“You don’t know that…” Buck mumbled, shaking his head as they walked up to the front desk.

He quickly stated his business to the receptionist, filling in the medical forms before taking a seat next to Eddie in the waiting room. Thankfully, there weren’t many people, so they didn’t have to wait too long, a nurse calling Buck’s name not ten minutes later.

“Want me in the room with you?” the dark-haired man asked, knowing how uncomfortable Buck was in medical settings.

“Please…” his best friend replied softly, voice barely above a whisper.

Eddie followed him into the examination room, the doctor first asking the standard questions then conducting a quick check-up. He frowned at the state of Buck’s bruised foot, to which Eddie had to hold back a gasp, before ordering an x-ray and an MRI.

“Well Mr. Buckley,” the doctor said once he got the results of the scans, “it doesn’t look like anything’s broken. However, it seems you bruised your bone on your left heel. It’s most likely a result of the fall you sustained the other day.

Buck huffed in frustration, swearing under his breath from his seat on the examination table. The last thing he needed was more time away from work, time he knew he’d end up spending by himself.

“Now, you’re lucky.” the doctor added. “It’s not such a serious injury and there’s no fracture, so it shouldn’t take too long to heal.”

“How long, Doc?”

“I’m going to have you on crutches for at least a week. Rest your foot and try to keep it elevated. Ice it twice a day for about fifteen minutes. Come back in a week for a check-up, you should be fine by then with a few more days of light duty.”

Buck looked devastated, Eddie’s heart breaking at the sight of the tears welling up in his eyes.

“I’ll leave you to get dressed now. There will be crutches and a prescription for painkillers at reception for you.” the doctor concluded, giving Eddie a sad smile before leaving the room.

“It’s going to be alright, Buck.” Eddie reassured him, taking his hands between his own. “It’s only what, ten days? At most? And I’m sure Bobby will find you something to do at the station, there will be none of that Fire Marshall light duty again.”

“I’m just scared… that I’ll get benched again, that I’ll be seen as a liability…” came the soft confession.

“That’s not going to happen, Buck. You got injured on the job, it could’ve happened to anyone. You just need a bit of time to heal, that’s all.” he said comfortingly.

“Another week alone, yay…” Buck mumbled under his breath, as if he didn’t want Eddie to hear.

He got off the examination table and grabbed his clothes to change out of the hospital gown he had to put on for the scans.

“We’ll figure something out, Buck, don’t you worry about it. Come on, get dressed, I’ll grab your stuff from the front desk.” Eddie told him, giving his shoulder a reassuring squeeze before leaving the room.

He headed to the front desk, collecting the crutches and painkillers. He made an follow-up appointment in a week’s time, thanking the receptionist before placing a quick call to Bobby to let him know of Buck’s situation. The younger man joined him in the lobby as he was hanging up, walking slowly, and looking absolutely defeated.

“Who was that?” Buck asked, nodding at the phone.

“Bobby. I cleared everything with him. You’re off work for the next week then on light duty at the station until this schedule rotation ends.” Eddie replied. “Here, take those.” he added, handing Buck the crutches, watching him closely as he adjusted them to his height with a practiced ease Eddie wished he didn’t have.

“How do you fee about going to that burger joint you like for lunch?” he suggested, feeling like he needed to keep Buck’s mind busy, at least for today.

“You don’t need to babysit me, Eds. I’m okay.” the younger man replied with a sigh. “I’m sure you have plenty of things you’d rather do.”

“Actually no, I really don’t.” Eddie answered, giving his best friend a challenging look. “I always want to hang out with you Buck. This is not babysitting.” he said. “Also, it’s been a while since we properly hung out. I… I miss you Buck.” he added a moment later.

“Don’t say that.” Buck mumbled, shaking his head and turning away, starting to make his way towards the parking lot.

“Why not? It’s true” Eddie replied seriously.

Buck stopped walking and sighed, taking a few moments to reply.

“Because people might figure out that you’re secretly a big softie.” he finally said, a small smirk on his lips.

Eddie laughed, “Come on then, follow the softie, it’s time for lunch.”

They made their way to the burger joint, a little hole-in-the-wall place where Buck had first brought Eddie when he was still settling in LA. It had since become their go-to place whenever one or either of them needing cheering up, or just to relax a moment.

“Are you sure that’s enough for you, Buck? Eddie asked as the younger man picked at the salad he had ordered, Eddie digging into his own burger and fries.

“I’m not very hungry… and you know, not all of us can maintain their perfect bodies while eating whatever they want.” Buck joked, gesturing at Eddie’s plate, but his smile was tight, and his chuckle sounded forced.

“What are you on about?” Eddie frowned.

“Well, you know… I’m not going to be able to train properly for a while. And I really can’t afford to put on any more weight at the moment, so… I’m just taking precautions” his best friend shrugged, looking at his plate and purposely avoiding Eddie’s gaze.

“Buck, that’s ridiculous. If anything, you’ve lost weight recently.”

“And a good thing too.” Eddie barely heard the blonde mumble, voice so low he wasn’t even sure he’d heard it in the first place.

Eddie only huffed in reply, shooting him a stern look but decided not to push the matter for now. They were in public after all, and he was relishing in the fact that Buck had agreed to hang out in the first place. He didn’t want to ruin it just yet. They ate in silence for several minutes, the hustle and bustle of the lunch-time rush filling the space around them. Finally, Buck let out a long sigh, setting down his fork before breaking the silence between them.

“My parents are supposed to be in town this week.” he said. “To visit Maddie and meet Chim.”

“And how do you feel about that?” Eddie asked carefully. He knew Buck’s parents were a touchy subject.

“I don’t know… I haven’t since them since the summer before my senior year. Barely had any contact since I got to LA.”

“Maybe it could be a chance for you to reconnect?”

“There’s a reason we’re not in touch, Eds… They’re not bad people, they just weren’t cut out to be good parents. And I was a child that demanded a lot from them, I suppose.” Buck shrugged. “They’re only coming to see Maddie anyway; I just happen to be here too.”

Eddie hummed thoughtfully, raising an eyebrow and giving Buck a enquiring look, encouraging him to say more.

“It’s just… I finally felt like I was doing something they could be proud of, that I could show them I’m doing something meaningful… But I can’t do that now, not if I can’t work. Even if it’s just for a few weeks, it won’t matter to them… It’s stupid, really- “

“Buck, hey, no.” Eddie cut him off. “There’s nothing stupid about that. You want to show them that you’re doing good, it’s understandable. I’m sure they’ll be happy to spend time with you anyway, regardless of your injury, and they’ll see what a great firefighter you are.”

“You don’t know my parents, Eddie… They’re… a lot. I’d like to spend as little time as possible with them, actually. But because I can’t work, now I have no excuse to avoid dinner with them.” Buck huffed.

“We’ll figure something out, Buck. It’ll be fine.”

“How can you always be so optimistic?” Buck asked, blue eyes wide for Eddie to see all the anxiety in them.

“I have the best role model in that department. You might’ve met him: curly blond hair, glasses, name’s Christopher.” Eddie replied with a soft teasing smile, causing Buck to let out a small chuckle and finally crack a smile of his own.

“Alright, let’s wrap this up and go home. It’s been way too long since I’ve kicked your ass at Mortal Kombat.” he added cheekily.

***

The only good side Eddie had been able to find to Phillip and Margaret Buckley’s visit was that Buck was so nervous about it that he barely put up a fight at spending time with him and Christopher for the first few days of his recovery. Eddie also had those days off, and, to his delight, they had shared an afternoon at the aquarium, Buck spouting off random facts about marine life and Christopher having a blast. To Eddie, it finally felt like he had his best friend back. He realized how much he had missed Buck’s constant presence in their life and how complete he felt now that he was back in it fully. Also, he was slowly starting to examine the strange feelings that emerged every time Buck laughed freely or interacted with his son. He was starting to suspect he was feeling something more than friendship for the younger man when he caught himself starting at him longer than he should, and letting his touches linger against his skin. He was still unsure about how he felt, but he reveled in Buck’s presence and in the fact he let Eddie keep a close eye on his recovery.

Nevertheless, the day soon came when Eddie had to go back to work, leaving his son and best friend together for the day. It was also the day the Buckley siblings had been summoned by their parents for dinner at one of the most expensive restaurants in town. Buck had been particularly anxious the previous night, Eddie hearing him tossing and turning on his couch into the small hours of the morning. Chimney looked worse for wear, he noticed as he walked into the firehouse, and seemed particularly on edge.

“So, Chim? Finally meeting the parents tonight, how do you feel?” Bobby asked during a lull in their 8-hour shift.

“Don’t remind me, Cap… I’m so nervous I think I’ve been nauseous all day.”

“I’m sure it’ll be fine, Chim.” Hen reassured him. “Looking at how Maddie and Buck turned out, they can’t be that bad.”

“Oh no, they are, from what Maddie told me. Their dad’s a nasty piece of work apparently.” Chimney contradicted.

“They did send Buck to a boarding school as soon as they could, so how much did they really raise him?” Eddie pointed out.

“Speaking of Buck, how is he holding up? I know he doesn't have the best relationship with their parents.” Chimney inquired.

“He was a nervous wreck when I left him with Christopher this morning. I don’t know that he slept more than a couple hours last night.”

“I’m surprised he hasn’t asked you to join us,” Chim added, “Maddie suggested it herself.”

“He hasn’t said anything.” Eddie said, a little perplexed at the idea. “I mean, if it can help him deal with the anxiety of the dinner, I’m all for it.”

“Well, Maddie and I are inviting you on his behalf. We all know Buck has trouble asking for help even when he needs it and I’m know he’ll be glad to have you with him. And, from what Maddie said, it might be good to have an extra set of hands on deck.”

“You don’t mean they could get physical?” Hen asked incredulously.

“I don’t think it’ll come to that, but better safe than sorry.”

“Karen and I can take Christopher for the night. Denny has been begging us for a sleepover for weeks.” Hen offered.

“Thanks Hen, I appreciate it. Let me just call Buck real quick to work out the details, but you can count me in, Chim.”

Eddie quickly dialed Buck’s number, excusing himself to the bunkroom for a little more privacy.

“Hey Eds,” Buck picked up on the third ring. “is everything okay?”

“Yeah, everything’s good, just checking in. What are you guys up to?” Eddie asked.

“We’re good, we’re at the park. What’s going on, Eddie? You never just ‘call to check in’.” Buck said, seeing right through him.

“Busted…” he chuckled. “No, we were just talking about the dinner with your parents tonight, that’s all.”

“What about it?” Eddie could hear the confusion in his best friend’s voice, picturing the way he’s was probably frowning adorably.

“Chim and your sister though it might be a good idea if I came along. You know, like a buffer of sorts.”

“Why would you want to do that, Eddie? My parents are terrible.” Buck exclaimed, perplexed.

“The more reason for me to come, it might be easier if I’m there with you. Maddie and Chim have each other, you’ll have me. You won’t have to sit through it alone.” Eddie tried to convince him.

“What about Christopher?”

“Hen offered to take him for the night. Sleepover with Denny.”

“Eddie are you sure?” the younger man said, running out of arguments. “You really don’t have to do this.”

“I want to, Buck,” he reassured him. “I know a little about difficult parents. It’s always easier to bear with a friend.”

“Thank you, Eds...”

“Of course, Buck. Now, I should be home around 5 o’clock. I’ll get ready and meet you at your place?”

“Can-… can I pick you up instead? I’ll drop Christopher off with Karen later, then I have to stop by y apartment to get ready.” Buck suggested instead.

“Yeah, that works. Let me know if anything changes.” Eddie said before they exchanged their goodbyes and hung up.

Eddie was glad Buck had accepted his offer, happy to be there to support his friend. He did have a feeling, however, that the evening was to be anything but simple.

***

It was a little after 6 o’clock when Buck knocked on his front door.

“It’s open, Buck! Come in!” Eddie shouted from his bedroom, putting the finishing touches on his outfit, straightening his tie one last time.

He made his way to the living room to meet Buck, grabbing his wallet and keys from where he had left them on the dresser.

“How do I look?” he asked cheekily as he came into the room, but his breath suddenly caught in his throat at the sight of his best friend. Buck was dressed a perfectly fitted navy suit with a simple white shirt, a light blue tie highlighting the sharp color of his eyes.

Buck seemed to freeze for a moment as well, clearing his throat before answering, “Perfect. Good choice with the black suit, very classic. Dad will approve.”

“I figured black was a safe choice, I’m glad I was right.” Eddie replied, taking in Buck’s appearance, who had gelled his hair to hide his curls, much to Eddie’s disappointment. He also noticed something else amiss with the younger man.

“What happened to your birthmark?”

“Oh… I, uh… covered it up. My mother doesn’t like to see it.” Buck replied, looking a little embarrassed. “It’s nothing a bit of foundation won’t fix, and it’s one thing she won’t be able to comment on.” he added with a shrug.

“Buck…- “

“I know, Eds, I know… But I’ve learned to pick my battles and that’s not one worth fighting.” Buck shrugged again. “Ready to go?” he then asked, effectively closing the matter.

“Where are your crutches? You shouldn’t be walking without them yet.” Eddie pointed out, frowning as he noticed Buck’s subtle limp.

“They’re in the jeep. I’m not taking them out of there though.” Buck replied, avoiding Eddie’s eye as he slipped into the passenger seat.

“Buck…- “

“I’m not discussing it.” he cut him off again, Eddie having no choice but to let the matter drop again.

Buck drove them to the restaurant, where they met with Maddie and Chimney. The siblings shared a long hug, Maddie whispering something in her brother’s ear, smiling gently at him. She brushed her fingers at his now-covered birthmark, tutting softly.

“Here they come.” She then said, nodding in the direction of a well-dressed couple coming their way.

“Madeline, Evan, good to see you both.” the man greeted his children, their mother exchanging stiff embraces with both of them.

“Do introduce us, dear.” Margaret Buckley said to her daughter, gesturing at Eddie and Chimney expectantly.

“Mom, Dad, this is Howard, my boyfriend.” Maddie introduced.

“Pleasure to meet you, Mr. and Mrs. Buckley.” Chim greeted them politely.

“Oh, you’re Howard? Who is this then?” Mrs. Buckley asked in surprised, waving a perfectly manicured finger at Eddie.

“I’m Eddie. I work with Howie and B-… Evan.” Eddie said with his most charming smile.

“Hmm very well…” she said, looking him up and down like a piece of meat. “Shall we go inside, then?”

The group made their way inside, and soon found themselves seated, a bottle of wine split between them as they looked at the menu. Buck declined the wine, however, as did Maddie.

“Not for me, thank you. I’m driving.” he politely said.

“Oh, come on Evan, you can have a glass.” his mother insisted.

“No thank you Mom, I… I’m actually on some medication right now, I shouldn’t be drinking at all.”

“You’re not injured again, are you?” Mr. Buckley asked.

“Yes, I uh… I hurt my foot on a call last week. It’s nothing serious, I’ll be back to work soon.”

“One would think that by now you would’ve found something you’re actually good at. Now, if you keep getting injured, maybe firefighting is too demanding for you.”

“With all due respect, Mr. Buckley, Buck is a great firefighter. Our job is dangerous, and accidents do happen, but that doesn’t mean it not the right job for him. He’s one of the best I’ve seen in the field.” Eddie intervened, glancing at Buck’s sullen expression, and gently squeezing his knee under the table.

“I see you still insist on going by that ridiculous nickname, Evan. Seriously, it’s time to grow up. It’s no wonder you can’t seem to find a nice girl willing to stay with you if you still insist on behaving like a child.” Margaret said, pursing her lips, then waving the waiter over. “I’ll have the coq-au-vin, with escargots to start.” she ordered casually.

“I’ll have the consommé, then the steak, medium-rare.” Phillip added.

“The Provençale soup for me, with the ratatouille please.” Maddie said, smiling at the waiter.

“Same for me, please.” Chim said, winking at his girlfriend.

“Make that three, if you don’t mind.” Eddie added, looking at the menu with a clueless expression that would probably have Buck’s heart melting if he hadn’t been so lost in thought.

“I’ll have the salade lyonnaise please.” he said, finally looking up from his menu.

“An appetizer for you, sir?” the waiter asked.

“Just the salad, thank you.” Buck replied with a strained smile.

“And another bottle of the white.” Margaret added to their order. “Evan, I see you’re still watching your diet. That’s good, God knows you put on weight so easily.” she added casually, taking another sip of her wine.

“Of course, Mom.” Buck replied, giving her own of the tight smile Eddie was starting to hate.

“Madeline, when’s the wedding?” their mother then asked, turning to her daughter.

“We’re going to wait until after the baby’s born. We want to focus on getting ready for the birth first.”

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense for us to plan a wedding at the same time.” Chimney added.

“That seems quite sensible. We all know the dangers of an unplanned pregnancy, what with how this one turned out.” Phillip said, gesturing towards Buck, who couldn’t help but flinch at the comment.

“Dad!” Maddie hissed.

“It’s not too late to make something of yourself, Evan.” Mr. Buckley continued, ignoring his daughter. “You were too weak to become a SEAL, and clearly you’re took weak to be a firefighter, with all those injuries.”

“Ballet wasn’t your big break either; a shame, really, considering the money we invested in your training.” Margaret jumped in. “I can’t say it was much of a surprise, though. I mean, you couldn’t even dance a principal role once, no dance company was ever going to take you on, even in the corps de ballet.” she admonished.

“I’m sure I could find you a place at the firm, in human resources or something like that. Not something that requires you to think too much, mind you.” their father kept on talking

Eddie could feel the tension growing inside his best friend who now had both hands fisted on his lap, brows furrowed, and resolutely staring at the empty plate in front of him. Beside him, Eddie had never been as uncomfortable and angry at someone he had only just met, sharing a horrified look with Maddie and Chimney across the table.

“Dad, stop! It’s not the time, nor the place for such a discussion!” Maddie butted in. “Buck’s doing well for himself here in LA.”

“Shush, Madeline. You’re father’s right. Evan needs more guidance in his life. You know him, he doesn’t really think before he acts, and he doesn’t make the best decisions. Working construction instead of going to college, really? What was he thinking? No, what he needs is an easy desk job back in Pennsylvania so he can finally settle with a nice girl. I’m sure we could find him someone who’d see past that ugly mark on his face.” Margaret said with a smile so fake it could have been painted on.

“Unless you’re still going through that ‘phase’ of yours?” Mr. Buckley asked with a pointed look, his upper lip curling into a nasty snarl. “Seriously, Evan, you can’t keep using ‘bisexuality’ as an excuse to sleep around.”

“Oh Evan…” came the disappointed addition from Mrs. Buckley. “We only want what’s best for you.”

Buck was practically vibrating in his chair, Eddie noticed, trying his hardest to contain his emotions, and judging by the slight twitch in his tightly clenched jaw, it was a losing battle. Having had more than enough for one night, Eddie suddenly decided to take the matter into his own hands.

“Okay, I’ve had enough of this. Come on Buck, let’s go.”

Buck turned to him, eyes wide and confused.

“Excuse me? what do you think you’re doing?!” Margaret all but shrieked.

“You have no right to talk to him like that-” Eddie said, his own anger starting to bubble.

“We have every right, he’s our son!” Phillip interrupted.

“Your son?! You barely talk to him, and you haven’t seen him in years! Despite the fact that he almost died three times just this year!” Eddie was nearly shouting now. “You don’t get to give him shit for the career he chose or belittle him for who he is. Not when you shipped him off first chance you got. Don’t you dare pretend like you know what’s best for him when you don’t care about his happiness in the first place! I hate to be causing a scene, but Buck doesn’t deserve to put up with your comments. Maddie, I’m really sorry about this; Chim, I’ll see you at work tomorrow.” he concluded, then got up and grabbed Buck’s hand to pull him out of his chair. “Let’s go Buck, we’re leaving.”

Eddie all but dragged Buck outside, not missing a beat when the younger man wordlessly tossed him the keys to his jeep. He drove them back to his place, guiding his best friend inside and to the sofa. The blonde hadn’t said a word yet, seemingly oscillating between anger and hurt, obviously still trying to process the evening. Eddie took off his suit jacket, helping Buck out of his before finally sitting next to him on the couch and pulling him into a hug without a word. He felt the exact moment his friend started to crack, involuntarily letting out a sob he had been trying to suppress. Eddie tightened his arms around Buck as he cried into his chest, gut-wrenching sob coming out of his mouth and shaking him to the core. The dark-haired man held him through his hurt, rubbing his back soothingly and murmuring comforting nonsense in his ear. It took a while for Buck’s sobs to subside, his tears soaking Eddie’s dress shirt, but eventually, the cries turned into hiccups, then shuddering breaths. Eddie slowly released him, still making sure to stay close to him.

“Nothing I did was ever good enough…” Buck let out, sounding as heartbroken as Eddie felt looking at him in that moment. “And nothing I do ever will be…”

“Buck, listen…” Eddie tried to comfort him. “Your parents don’t matter. They obviously don’t know you or the great man you’ve become. Maybe they have these grand ideas of what success looks like but that doesn’t mean anything because that’s not who you are. The Buck I know is amazingly brave, selfless, and compassionate. You’re my best friend and you’re absolutely incredible. And if your parents can’t see that, they don’t deserve to be in your life. They can go to Hell for all I care.”

That last comment earned him a tiny wet chuckle, which Eddie considered a small victory.

“Do you really mean that?” Buck asked, the insecurity raw in his voice. His bottom lip was wobbling again, eyes wet with tears.

“Of course I do, Buck. I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it.”

“Thank you, Eddie… for having my back out there.”

“Anytime Buck, anytime.” Eddie answered with a soft smile as Buck wiped the tears from his cheeks.

“I should probably get home…” the younger man said, looking insecure again.

“Stay the night? Please?” Eddie asked. He was aware of how desperate he sounded, but he realized he didn’t care. He wanted to keep Buck safe in his arms through the night, in the hopes of keeping the demons at bay. “I don’t want you to be alone tonight.”

Buck only nodded in reply, looking relieved. They both got ready for bed, only this time, instead of getting out a pillow and a blanket for the couch, Eddie took his best friend’s hand and led him into his own bedroom, gently coaxing him into bed. He then turned off the light and settled beside him, taking a deep breath and gathering his courage before pulling Buck close to him, arm curling around his chest.

“Is this okay?” he asked in a whisper.

“Yeah, thank you…” Buck hummed in agreement. “Good night Eddie.”

“Good night Evan.”

Chapter Text

It was nearing mid-morning when Eddie awoke, relishing the warmth of the man cuddled into his chest before recalling the events of the previous night. He couldn’t help the urge to run his hand through Buck’s hair for a moment, fingers getting slightly caught in the gel residues. Still, Eddie cherished the feeling of soft curls under his touch, willing time to still if only for an instant. Buck’s eyes fluttered open, baby blues slowly focusing on Eddie’s own chocolate gaze. The younger man unconsciously burrowed closer into his friend’s embrace for a second before letting out a long sigh and rolling out of it and unto his back.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Eddie asked cautiously.

Bucks stayed silent for several moments, staring at the ceiling above him. He screwed his eyes shut for a second, running a hand over his frowning face and sighing again as if to brace himself.

“It was my mother’s dream to become a professional ballerina. That didn’t work out, obviously… Maddie wasn’t into ballet, so when I showed an interest in it, she kind of just latched on to that. I was five, and I still remember it clear as day. My parents didn’t want a second child, and even then, they didn’t really try to hide it. So, when my mother suddenly paid attention to me, I felt like I was finally doing something right…” he said, voice barely above a whisper.

It was Eddie’s turn to sigh, reaching to grab his best friend’s hand under the cover, squeezing it comfortingly.

“I was good at it, you know. And I liked a lot, I really did. It made me feel free, in a way; it was almost like an escape. And my parents didn’t seem so disappointed in me all the time, so it made sense to me to go to high school in New York. It took me a few years to realize it really had been a convenient means for them to get me out of their way now that Maddie had left for college.” Buck kept talking.

Now that he had started, he couldn’t seem to stop the flow of words coming out. He had never really told anyone about his childhood and high school experience. Even Maddie didn’t know half of it. It was all coming out now, and Buck felt like he couldn’t stop talking, words and feelings tumbling out like an avalanche.

“I stopped travelling home for Christmas and such. I only went back for summer holidays, just because the school didn’t allow students to stay over the break. Anyways, high school was high school, I guess… just add the competitive and superficial aspects of ballet, coupled with bitchy teenagers. Not that I have anything to compare it with, I had a tutor at home throughout elementary, so I really have no idea what schools are normally like… I didn’t really care about all the drama, for the most part, I danced because I liked it. Well, that was at first… the image obsession and competitiveness got to us all at some point. It was all about performance, really. After the first couple of years, I had only danced in the corps de ballet at our end-of-year show, and my mother made it clear that I was not meeting her expectations. She and my dad wouldn’t be coming down from Pennsylvania for anything less than a principal role. So, I tried to get that role for the next four years. I mean, I was a decent dancer, but nowhere near good enough to make principal, especially not next to someone like Davey Miller. Even back then, he was so incredibly talented. He’s a good guy though, he was probably my best friend back then. He never put me down, or anything; he even stood up for me. I never understood why. I mean, half the people in our year thought I was only there because my parents were rich and bought my way in. I wouldn’t be surprised if they did, honestly. I was quite chubby as a kid, and schools like the one I went to rarely take on children like that…”

“Buck…” Eddie started, heart breaking at how emotionless and detached the younger man seemed to be recounting his childhood, but Buck just kept on talking.

“I finally made it tough, senior year. I got the principal role in the show we were putting on, Don Quixote. I was on could nine, really, I was finally going to show my parents that I was good enough for something, that I wasn’t just a waste of money. But you know me, ‘Bad Luck Buck’…” he said, the emotion starting to creep back in, his voice wavering slightly.

“I got injured, two weeks before opening night. Fractured my foot when I messed up the landing on a jump, a double cabriole derrière. Such a stupid injury too… Anyway, I was out of the show, couldn’t dance for a month… I missed out on the chance to show my parents I could be something, missed out on scouts from dance companies too. I barely left high school with a diploma, so I decided to take a gap year. No college was going to want me anyway. That’s how I ended up bartending in South America. No exactly the successful ballet dancer my mother wanted, and certainly not a man who could represent the Buckley name in my father’s firm.”

“Buck, you’re so much better than you give yourself credit for.” Eddie reassured him, squeezing his hand again, interlacing their fingers.

“Not according to my parents, I’m not.”

“It doesn’t matter what they think. You became the amazing man you are today all on your own, despite your parents.”

“I’m so messed up, Eddie…” Buck confessed, his voice thick with the tears he was holding back. “No wonder everyone I try to date takes off fist chance they get.”

“No, Buck. There’s nothing messed up about you. You went through some incredibly shitty things, and you’re so, so strong for coming out of it the way you did. I’m sure you’ll find someone who will appreciate and love you like you deserve.” Eddie said softly. “Someone who will love you and make you so happy.” he added a moment later, his heart squeezing in his chest.

Beside him, Buck held back a sob, biting his lips to keep himself from ruining the only good thing in his life.

You make me happy, you and Christopher. You’re everything I could ever want and more, he so desperately wanted to say, but he knew it was the quickest and easier way for him to lose his best friend for good. Such a confession would only drive Eddie away. So, he bit back the words, reminding himself that the older man was straight, and even if he wasn’t, there was no way he’d be interested in Buck, who came with way too much baggage and way too many demons to ever be a trusted step-parent.

“I don’t deserve you.” he said instead, trying to keep the tears from spilling on his cheeks.

“Of course, you do.” Eddie replied firmly, not missing a beat. “Hey, what do you say we go pick up Christopher then grab breakfast together?” he suggested.

“IHOP?” Buck asked, hopeful.

“Sure, why not. I know a little boy who’s going to be very excited about that.” Eddie replied with a grin, squeezing Buck’s hand in his one last time before releasing it.

***

In the weeks that followed, Buck and Eddie fell back into their comfortable routine as Christopher went back to school and Buck returned to work. They were once again joined at the hip, and the disastrous dinner with Phillip and Margaret was never mentioned again. The only difference was that, when Buck slept over at the Diaz’s house, it was no longer on the couch, but in bed next to Eddie. They often woke up cuddled up to each other, but that was something else that was never mentioned.

Eddie came into the firehouse one morning after dropping off Christopher at school, looking strangely confused and deep in thought.

“What’s got you thinking so hard this early in the morning?” Hen asked him as he entered the loft.

“You guys remember the cute manager from that coffee shop on Wilshire?” he said, his teammates nodding in reply. “Well, uh… she asked me out this morning…”

“Ooh, Eddie! Good stuff, man!” Chimney cheered.

“What did you say?” Hen pushed.

“I- I said yes…” Eddie confirmed. “It was kind of a spur of the moment decision, I don’t know if it was the right thing to do.”

“Give her a chance, you could be pleasantly surprised. And, it’s about time you got back out there.” Hen reassured him.

“What’s going up?” Buck then asked as he jogged up the stairs to join his teammates.

“Eddie’s got a date!” Chim replied with a teasing smile.

“Oh… that- that’s great, good for you man.” Buck congratulated him, clapping him on the shoulder as he walked past to drop unceremoniously onto the couch.

“You want to come over on Friday, Buck? Christopher’s been going on about watching the Star Wars movies with you.” Eddie asked, seeing how forced Buck’s smile had seem.

“I can’t Friday, I’m busy… I’m meeting up with Davey and Oliver for drinks.” the younger man declined, another strained smile on his lips.

“It might give you a chance to put yourself back out there too, Buckaroo. It’s been a while since Ali.” Hen pointed out.

“Oh, I don’t know about that…” he shrugged, picking at his nails. “I- I’m not exactly looking to date right now…”

“Well, if you don’t find anyone to your liking at the bar, I’m sure your friend and his beau would be open to – how did you put it again? – ah yes, ‘experiment’ with you.” Chimney joked, causing Eddie to promptly choke on the sip of coffee he had just taken.

To Buck’s relief, the alarm blared through the station, giving him the perfect out to the awkward conversation as the team rushed to the truck, heading to a five-car accident downtown.

***

“Hey Buck, is everything alright?” Hen cornered him in the locker room the following day at the end of their shift.

“I’m okay, Hen, just tired.”

“Is your leg bothering you? Your foot?” she pushed, knowing how likely her teammate was to hide his pain.

“No, no, it’s all good.” Buck said.

“Then perhaps it’s the fact Eddie has a date that’s bothering you?” she pointed out knowingly.

“Wh-… what? No, it- it’s not that!” the blonde protested.

“But it is something, isn't it? Come on, Buckaroo, I’ve seen how you look at him.”

“It doesn’t matter, Hen…” the younger man let out a defeated sigh. “He’s straight, and nothing could ever happen between us anyway.” he added, shaking his head.

“I wouldn’t be so sure about that, Buck. You should talk to him.”

“No, I can’t risk it. He’s got a chance at happiness here; I’m not going to stand in his way.” Buck replied in a tone that left no room for discussion.

“You deserve to be happy too, Buck…”

“I am happy, Hen. Don’t worry about me.” he replied with a sad smile. “I’ll see you tomorrow, alright?” he added, closing his locker before waving goodbye to his teammate.

Hen watched him walk out of the firehouse with a sigh. That boy was too selfless for his own good, she thought, and so oblivious. Eddie was no better in that department, mind you. She could see clear as day that those two idiots were in love with each other, but neither of them seemed to want to do anything about it. And with Eddie dating again, Hen worried about what it might do to Buck, knowing how likely he was to pretend nothing was amiss.

***

It had been six weeks since Eddie had started dating again, and it seemed to be going well, much to Buck’s chagrin. Not that he would say anything about it, of course. He preferred to keep quiet on the matter, giving his friend space to enjoy himself without having to worry about him. So, he didn’t sleep over at the Diaz’s anymore, and made sure all their time together involved Christopher.

Buck was currently sprawled out on a couch at the firehouse, pretending to read something on his phone and not at all listening in on Eddie asking Chimney about recommendations for his 8th date with the coffee shop manager, Rosa.

“You could take her to see a show or something? I’m sure there’s something cool going on right now.” Chim suggested.

“That’s a good idea, thanks Chim. It would be a nice change from dinners and movies.”

“Hey, how is Christopher reacting to the whole thing? You know, you dating again?” Hen asked, watching Buck from the corner of her eye.

“He’s been really good with it actually. I have to say I was a little surprise, but he’s taking it all in stride.” Eddie replied, and his next words made Buck’s blood freeze in his veins. “I’m thinking of introducing Rosa to him soon.”

“Already?” Chim questioned, raising an eyebrow.

“Well, it’s been going really well, and it’s getting more serious. I figured I should see how she is with him, how she treats him before we get much more involved.”

“Makes sense I supposed.” Chimney shrugged.

“Hey Buck, want to hang out tonight? Christopher misses you.” Eddie then asked, turning towards his teammate.

“Can’t. Busy.” Buck replied sharply, not looking up from his phone, before getting up and making his way to the gym.

“What’s up with him?” Chimney asked the others, frowning.

“He’s been acting a little weird for weeks now. He’s a lot quieter than he used to be.” Eddie observed.

“He’s giving you space to date, Eddie. I’m surprised you haven’t realized.” Hen pointed out.

Dios, I’m such an idiot…”

“Yeah, you are. Talk to him, Diaz, I mean it.”

“I will, Hen, I promise.”

Eddie knew he had to talk to Buck. He didn’t like this awkward strain between them, but he couldn’t seem to find the right time, not the right words to broach the subject. So, he kept pushing it back, telling himself he’d do it later. A few days had passed, however, when he found something in his locker at the end of shift, something that gave him the perfect icebreaker.

“Buck? Did you leave tickets to LA ballet in my locker?” he asked, turning towards his best friend who was changing back into his civilian clothes next to him.

“Yeah. I figured you could take Rosa if you want.” Buck replied, his attempt at cheeriness falling flat.

“Wow, uh… thank you. That sounds great, actually. I’m sure she’ll love it.”

“I can watch Christopher for the night too if you’d like. I know it’s a little last minute.” the younger man offered.

“I appreciate that. And I know Christopher will too, he’s been asking about you.” Eddie replied with a soft smile.

“He can always call me, you know. For anything.”

“It’s not the same as seeing you in person, though.” the dark-haired man pointed out, pulling on his sneakers.

“I know, I’ve just been a bit busy lately. Buck explained.

“Busy doing what?” Eddie asked, intrigued.

“Oh, you know, just getting myself a life outside the firehouse. Because, as Bobby loves to remind me, the job isn’t everything.” Buck replied. And if his ‘life outside the job’ consisted of lying in bed stating at the ceiling and trying to fin the will to do anything else than sleep, well no one had to know.

“Oh, uh… good for you, man.” Eddie said, a little taken aback at the hint of bitterness he detected in his friend’s casual tone.

“Anyway, I’ll see you soon. Text me the details for the show, I’ll be at your place when you need me.” Buck concluded, grabbing his bag and walking out, leaving Eddie alone with his thoughts. That talk definitely didn’t go as planned.

***

Buck knocked on the front door at 5:30 on the dot as Eddie was finishing getting ready in the bathroom. He ran a comb through his hair, checking his reflection in the mirror one last time before making his way to the living room to great his best friend, all the while adjusting his tie.

“Hey Buck! Good to see you, man.”

“Y-yeah, you too Eds. You, uh… you look nice.” Buck replied, voice slightly strangled as he took in the burgundy button-up and black dress pants that seemed to hug Eddie’s muscles in all the right places.

“Thanks! I figured I’d make an effort, you know, since it’s the ballet and it’s getting more serious and all.”

“I’m happy for you, Eddie. You deserve it.” the younger man replied, forcing a smile. “You should probably get going, don’t want to be late.” he added.

“You’re right, I should go.”

Eddie kissed Christopher goodbye, wishing him a good evening with his Buck before gathering keys and wallet and heading to the front door.

“Thanks again for this, Buck. I owe you one.” he smiled at his best friend.

“Don’t mention it. Have fun, let me know if you want me to stay overnight.” Buck replied with the same strained smile that didn’t reach his eyes.

“I doubt it’ll come to that, but thanks for the offer.”

“Keep it in mind.” the blonde shrugged, avoiding Eddie’s eye.

Eddie raised an eyebrow at him, but finally waved him goodbye, getting into his truck and driving the short distance to Rosa’s place. She looked great in chic cocktail dress paired with a simple necklace and earrings, kissing Eddie softly in greeting.

“I must admit I didn’t take you for a dance kind of guy, so this was a surprise.” she said teasingly as they drove to the Performing Arts Center.

“A good surprise, I hope?”

“Of course! It’s just not something I expected from you.”

“It’s Buck that got us the tickets, actually, and offered to babysit. I can’t take the credit, I’ve never been to the ballet myself, if I’m honest.”

“That’s really thoughtful of him! So, when do I get to meet the famous Buck?” Rosa asked with a grin.

“Soon, for sure. We just have to find a moment when we’re all free.”

“Tell me about him then, he seems to be a pretty important part of your life.”

“He’s really great.” Eddie said, proceeding to tell Rosa all he could about Buck while they drove through LA traffic.

They finally reached the arts center with about fifteen minutes to spare, Eddie opting to pay for underground parking instead of trying to find a spot nearby in the streets. They made they way inside and through the theater to their seats, the dark-haired man looking around curiously. Posters advertising the show caught his eyes, the title Don Quixote strangely familiar to Eddie, but he couldn’t quite place it.

“Wow, these are great seats! Buck must’ve paid a fortune for these.” Rosa exclaimed as they reached their seats, a few rows behind the orchestra pit.

“That’s one of the perks of family tickets, you get them for free.” a voice joked on their left.

Eddie tuned towards it, faced with a familiar young man smiling broadly at him.

“Oliver! It’s good to see you, man. Is Davey dancing in this show?” the firefighter found himself asking enthusiastically.

“Yeah, he’s dancing the principal role.” Oliver replied.

“Rosa, this is Oliver. His boyfriend David is an old friend of Buck’s.” Eddie introduced them.

“Nice to meet you.” she smiled politely.

“Likewise.” Oliver replied. “Speaking of Buck, where is he?”

“He’s at home with my son. He offered to babysit. Why do you ask?”

“Well, I must say I expected to see him here tonight. He mentioned the tickets were for a special occasion when he asked Davey for a pair of seats.” Oliver shrugged. “He must’ve meant you, my bad.”

“Oh, uh… I suppose he did, yeah.” Eddie replied, his enthusiasm suddenly dimmed. Could it be that Buck had wanted to take him to the ballet? He didn’t let himself dwell on the possibility too long, reminding himself that Buck was his best friend and nothing more, and that it was only another of his generous acts of kindness. It did remind him, though, of how giving and selfless Buck was, especially when it came to Eddie and Christopher.

As the lights dimmed, he took his seat, still deep in thought. On his right, Rosa gave his hand a soft squeeze that jerked him back to reality. He shot her a smile as the orchestra started playing, but he found himself distracted, imagining accompanying Buck to the ballet instead. To his surprise, he didn’t find the thought as disconcerting as he’d imagined. As dancers soared and pirouetted across the stage, Eddie let him mind wander, picturing Buck in their place, leaping with strength and grace, tights highlighting perfectly sculpted legs, rich costumes accentuating chiseled arms. He squirmed in his seat, trying his hardest to remain focused on the show and his date, and pushing down thoughts of his best friend as far away as he could, if only for an evening.

The show finally came to a close, dancers bowing to the crowd under the spectators’ applause, Eddie joining in somewhat absentmindedly.

“Good to see you again, Oliver. Tell Davey I said hi, and congratulations for the show. It was amazing,” Eddie bid the young man goodbye as he and Rosa were leaving.

The ride back to Rosa’s place was silent, Eddie still deep in thought over images of his best friend he couldn’t seem to keep from flooding his mind, and feelings he didn’t know how to explain. Reaching her house, he walked her to the front door, pausing at the threshold.

“Do you want to come inside?” she asked politely, but it was clear from her soft tone that her heart wasn’t really into it.

“I think I better go home….” he replied. “Rosa, I… I think-”

“Eddie,” she cut him off. “I had a really good time tonight, but I don’t think we should see each other anymore.”

“What? Why? I… I don’t understand…”

“There has been something on your mind this whole evening, Eddie. Or should I say, someone? Look, tonight has been great, and thank you for taking me out, but it’s clear your heart is already spoken for. I’m not going to stand in your way.” she explained with a knowing smile.

“W-what? No, I-… uh… I’m not-” Eddie spluttered, confused.

“You’re a great guy, Edmundo Diaz, but I think it’s time you take a good look at yourself. Figure it out. And when you do, talk to Buck. Tomorrow isn’t promised to anyone.” Rosa concluded. “Goodnight Eddie, take care of yourself.” she added, placing a soft kiss on his cheek before entering her house, the door closing behind her with a soft click that cemented the conclusion of their relationship.

Eddie stood frozen on her doorstep for a few moments before making his way back to his truck and driving back home in a daze.

The house was dark and quiet when he got inside. Eddie looked around, noticing how Buck had cleaned up the living room and washed the dishes, and even folded the load of laundry Eddie had left in the dryer. The young firefighter had dozed off on the couch, which was where he found him after checking up on Christopher. He watched his best friend’s sleeping form for several moments, taking in his soft snores, and the ever-present worry lines that remained even in his sleep. With a small resigned sigh, he gently shook him awake, knowing how bad a night on his couch would be on his back.

“Buck, hey…”

“Eddie? You’re back already?” Buck mumbled, eyes half-open.

“It’s nearly midnight, Buck.”

“Oh crap… I should go home then, let you go to bed.” the younger man said, rubbing sleepily at his eyes.

“Hell no, man. There’s no way I’m letting you drive home like this.” Eddie protested.

“I’ll call a car, it’s fine.”

“Buck, shut up and stay the night, okay? Just come to bed.” the dark-haired man all but ordered.

Regardless of his conscience telling him it might not be a good idea for him to rush back to Buck like he always did without first figuring himself out, he couldn’t help it. He needed his best friend close, even just for tonight.

It was a testament to how tired Buck must have been that he wordlessly let Eddie lead him into the bedroom, agreeing to sleep over for the first time since he had started seeing Rosa. The shorter man tossed sweatpants and a t-shirt at his best friend, heading to the bathroom to get ready for bed. When he emerged, Buck was already under the covers, fighting to keep his eyes open. A fond smile on his lips, Eddie settled on the other side of the bed turning off the light. Despite his best judgement and his confused feelings, he threw an arm over the younger man’s waist, pulling him close. Something settled deep in his chest as Buck let out a contented sigh, nuzzling against him, his breathing evening out within seconds as sleep finally claimed him, Eddie following moments later.

Chapter Text

The other side of the bed was cold when Eddie woke up. It was as if Buck had never been there in the first place, not a trace of him left behind bar the t-shirt and sweatpants neatly folded on top of the dresser. A small part of him wished Buck had stayed, Rosa’s words running through his mind as he thought of his best friend soft with sleep. Sighing and feeling a little disappointed, Eddie got out of bed, got dressed, and made his way to the kitchen to get breakfast started. Minutes later, he heard the sound of Christopher’s crutches coming down the hallway.

“Good morning, mijo! Did you have a good time with Buck last night?” he greeted his son.

“Mhmm!” the boy hummed in agreement. “Dad, can I ask you a question?”

“Of course, Chris. What is it?”

“Is Buck okay?”

Eddie blinked in surprise, pausing for a moment at the question.

“What do you mean? Did something happen?”

“No, he just seemed sad. And he doesn’t smile like he used to…” Christopher replied quietly.

“I don’t know, Chris. He might just have been a little tired.” Eddie tried to reassure him even though he was himself worried about his best friend.

“A-and, he didn’t have any ice cream with me. Buck never says no to ice cream.”

“It’s probably nothing. Maybe he was just not feeling super well but try not to worry too much. I’m sure he’s fine.”

“Okay Dad…”

Eddie’s phone then started ringing, Maddie’s name flashing across the screen.

“Maddie? How are you?” he greeted her.

“Hey Eddie, I’m good, thanks. Hey, have you heard from Buck at all today?” she asked.

“No, why? What’s wrong?”

“Oh, nothing to worry about. He was supposed to come over to help us paint the nursery, but I can’t get in touch with him.”

“Do you want me to swing by his place?” Eddie suggested, worry suddenly spiking up.

“No, there’s no need for that. He probably just overslept, there’s nothing to worry about just yet.” Maddie replied.

“Alright, well let me know if there’s anything I can do.”

“Of course, will do. Thanks Eddie, have a good day!” she said with her usual cheer before hanging up.

Something didn’t quite sit right with Eddie. He was worried about his best friend, but at the same time, his own feelings were all jumbled. He kept revisiting his evening with Rosa, the ballet and the thoughts that ran through his head then, and what she had said to him. Could it be possible he had feelings for Buck, feelings that went above normal friendship? He knew that the younger man meant a lot to him. He had been an undeniable and constant presence in his life since he moved to LA, offering stability and comfort whenever he or Christopher needed it. Eddie was worried about him though, and he could tell something had been bothering him for a while. Hell, even Christopher had noticed something was amiss. Without another thought, Eddie dialed his best friend’s number, intent on talking to him, but the call went straight to voicemail like it did so often lately.

“Crap,” he swore under his breath, immediately trying again but getting the same disappointing result.

His eyes fell on his son who was quietly playing with his LEGOs on the living room floor, a soft smile gracing his lips as he watched him for a few moments. Part of him wanted to rush to Buck’s apartment, but rationally, he knew he had to make sense of his own feelings if he didn’t want to mess up the best relationship of his life.

“Dad? Can we go to the park today?” Christopher suddenly asked, lifting his head from his latest brick creation, and effectively pulling Eddie out of his thoughts.

“Absolutely Chris, that’s a brilliant idea!” he agreed, smiling at his son who gave him his signature 100-watt grin in return.

Eddie felt a fraction of weight lift off his shoulders, basking in his boy’s carefree energy. Some fresh air would do him good, and the park was as good a place as any to reflect on some of the realizations he had the previous night.

***

Buck had lost track of own long he had spent in bed, pushing off his bed covers and only finding the will to get up because he couldn’t possibly be late for his shift. He couldn’t afford any slip up, not physical, not in his performance, and he certainly couldn’t let his teammates know that he had spent his entire day off his bed. Again. He certainly couldn’t let them see how getting up, even for work, was getting a little harder every day. No, he had to be perfect. Maybe he was pushing himself a little too much, but it would get better. He just had to push past this, whatever this was. Get over himself and his stupid feelings. God knows his feelings had only ever served to get him into trouble. Too needy, too clingy, to loud, too much, he heard the voice in his head chirp as he opted once again to skip breakfast in favour of working out before his shift started. Maybe that would help him focus on something else than that nagging voice.

“Hey Buck! Nice to see you’re awake today.” Chim greeted him teasingly as he entered the station.

“What?”

“You told Maddie you’d help paint the nursery. That was yesterday.”

“Shit! Jesus Christ, Chim, I’m so sorry! I overslept, I- I completely forgot...” Buck exclaimed, horrified at himself.

Wow, you really are selfish. How could you forget that? Too busy wallowing to lend a hand. the voice in his head said, sounding a lot like his father.

“Don’t beat yourself up, man. These things happen, it’s done now.” Chimney tried to reassure his friend, raising an eyebrow at how panicked he seemed.

“Maddie’s mad at me, isn’t she? Or disappointed? She should-…”

“No, Buck. She’s not mad, or disappointed. Not at all. She says you’ll have to put the crib together all by yourself though.” Chimney replied, trying to joke a little.

Buck tried to argue he deserved her anger, that she should see his failure for what it was, but he suddenly felt light-headed, dizziness coming over him so quickly that he had to sit down on a bench in the gym, putting his head between his knees.

“Hey man, are you okay? You’re looking a little pale…” his co-worker rushed to his side.

“I’m alright, Chim, I just need a minute. I’ll see you upstairs, okay?”

Chimney nodded, giving him a pat on the back as he walked past him. Buck took a few moments to gather himself, then headed to the showers. He turned the water on to the coldest setting, hoping it would settle him a little. He made quick work of cleaning up before going back to the locker room and putting on his uniform.

Can’t even help your own sister… And you think you’re fit to help people here? God you’re pathetic. Useless. Can’t do anything right, can you? the voice kept nagging on with the same snarky but disappointed tone that characterized his childhood.

***

Buck wouldn’t meet his eye, or even look in his direction, Eddie noticed as shift went on. Something was definitely wrong with him, and he was about to confront his best friend about it, but the alarm rang through the station before he had a chance to even talk to him. Fortunately, the call was an easy one, a simple kitchen fire with more smoke damage than anything else. The crew quickly headed back to the station, nothing out of the ordinary. However, as they exited the truck, Buck appeared to trip on his own feet, narrowly avoiding crashing face first onto the floor by grabbing one of the truck handles.

“Are you okay?” Eddie asked, immediately moving to his side, a hand coming to rest on the small of his partner’s back in support.

“Yeah, I’m- I’m okay.” Buck mumbled, but he looked pale and tremors ran through his hands.

“That’s twice today, Buckaroo.” Chimney pointed out.

“I’m… woah…” Buck slurred, stumbling towards the stairs. “I just… need to sit down for a bit.” he added.

He took a couple shaky steps, holding on to the railing, before his knees gave out. Eddie was beside him in a second, catching him before he hit his head on the stairs.

“Woah there, Buck. Take it easy, let’s go upstairs, yeah?”

“When was the last time you ate anything?” Hen asked, coming over with her medical bag.

“I-… I’m not sure…”

“Here, let me test your blood sugar level.” she said, inserting a test stripe into the meter then pricking Buck’s finger to collect a drop of blood.

“Eddie, Chimney, get him upstairs.” Bobby instructed.

They both lifted their teammate, practically carrying him up to the loft despite his weak protests and settling him down on one of the couches.

“How are you feeling, Buck? Does it hurt anywhere?” Chimney asked.

“No, just dizzy…” came the mumbled reply.

“That’s not shocking, his blood sugar lever is way too low. I’m surprised he didn’t crash earlier.” Hen intervened. “Here Buck, take those.” she added, handing him a couple of glucose tablets.

“I’ll get him some juice.” Eddie said, going into the kitchen and coming back with a glass of orange juice.

He sat on the couch next to Buck and handed him the glass, carefully watching him as he emptied it in small sips. His heart broke a little as he took in the sight of his best friend, heavy bags under eyes devoid of their old spark, skin pale and clammy, and cheekbones too pronounced on a usually healthy round face. Eddie felt incredibly guilty, he should’ve seen earlier that something wasn’t right with Buck, but he had been far too taken with his new budding relationship to notice. So much for that, he thought…

“Here Buck, eat this.” Bobby said, gently handing him a plate with half a BLT sandwich. “You can have the other half in an hour.”

“Thanks Cap.” Buck whispered, slowly eating the sandwich, chewing like it took all his will and energy, his eyelids dropping a little as he placed the now-empty plate on the coffee table.

“Buck, can you join me in my office when you’re ready? I’d like a word.” Bobby then said in a voice that was gentle but left no place for argument.

Buck previously sleepy eyes were suddenly wide open, his whole frame tensing up and breathing rapidly turning shallow as he drew in quick shaky breaths.

“Buck? Hey, breathe, you’re okay.” Eddie tried to reassure him, his betraying his own worry.

The young man bowed his head and shut his eyes, closing and opening his fists, and stretching his fingers out in a rhythmic pattern as his breathing gradually slowed down until he was taking long deep breaths. Opening is eyes again, a determined acceptance in his gaze, he got up from the couch and strode towards the Captain’s office with the resigned posture of a man walking to the gallows.

“What just happened?” Eddie asked, confused.

“I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure he just brought himself down from a panic attack…” Hen said, perplexed.

“Since when does Buck have anxiety?” Chimney added.

“No idea…” Eddie whispered in reply, Hen shaking her head beside him.

Buck sat down in Bobby’s office, fighting the panic still clawing at his chest. His mind was running wild with scenarios, the best one a suspension, and the worst, well he didn’t want to think about that one.

What a fuck-up you are. Look at you. You’re lucky Bobby’s not just firing you in front of everyone. It’s more than you deserve.

Buck shook his head, trying in vain to silence the voice which was becoming increasingly omnipresent. He didn’t think he could put up with it for much longer. In front of him, Bobby sat down behind his desk, but he couldn’t bring himself to look up, too afraid to see the inevitable disappointment painted in on his Captain’s face. He had failed him. Again.

“Buck, look at me, son.” came the gentle command, and the young man slowly lifted his gaze, finding only worry and compassion in Bobby’s eyes. “What’s going on? I’m worried about you, we all are.”

“It’s nothing, Cap. I’m alright.” he mumbled.

“You almost fainted, Buck. Twice today, according to Chim. What if it had happened on a call? What then?”

“I’m sorry, Bobby. It won’t happen again, I promise.” Buck said apologetically. “I know I messed up, I disappointed you, but I swear I can handle it.” he added, the panic creeping into his voice.

Of course you can’t handle it. You’re so messed up you can’t even do the one job you were ever decent at, the voice chimed in. Only this time, another voice replied, sounding strangely like Maddie: It’s okay to need help, Evan. You don’t have to do it all on your own.

Buck fought against the sob that was clawing at his throat, trying his hardest to swallow it down as his breathing sped up again. Only this time, his emotions were too strong, and he couldn’t manage to slow it down, his anxious mind taking over.

“Hey, hey… Buck, listen to me. Breathe with me for a minute. Slow breaths, in and out.” Bobby reassured him. “I’m not mad at you, or disappointed.” he added once the younger man’s breathing had settled again.

Buck strangely felt much calmer now, almost settled, in a way that left him feeling a dull emptiness instead of the constant whirlwind of self-loathing, anxiety, and guilt. Which is why he had no protests left at his Captain’s next words.

“And don’t try to tell me you’re okay, Buck. You’re not and haven’t been for a while.”

“You’re right…” Buck sighed, all fight draining out of him. “I… I think I need help, Bobby…” he added, fighting the tears that welled up in his eyes.

“What’s going on, son?”

“I’m just… so tired… I- I’m tired of being me, Bobby…” he confessed, voice low and ashamed.

“You- you don’t mean… have you thought about-” the Captain asked, horror and desperation bleeding through his words.

“Once or twice… not anymore though… I don’t even have the energy for that.” Buck shrugged. He didn’t care anymore, exhaustion leaving him empty of any and all feelings, and removing his brain-to-mouth filter.

“When?”

“After the embolism… and after the lawsuit when I came back to work.’

“Buck… I’m so sorry.” Bobby gasped, gutted at the revelation.

“It’s alright. I get it, Bobby, I really do.” Buck replied. And he did, he understood that it was that whole fiasco was his own fault, and that he shouldn’t have expected to be coddled.

Bobby took a few seconds to process, blinking at the young man.

“I-… it’s not alright, Buck. Far from it. I-“

“Can we not talk about it now?” Buck interrupted.

“Sure.” Bobby replied, a little taken aback. “I… uhm… the department has therapists I can refer you to if you want.”

“I don’t want to see one of the department therapists. It’s not all about the job… I’ll-… I’ll see someone though… It might be time for me to try therapy again, finally get over last time’s epic fail.”

“I’ll get you recommendation for therapists outside the department. I, uh… I have to send you home for the rest of the shift, Buck. It’s protocol, I hope you understand.”

“Yeah I get it. Could I take a few days off?” Buck replied, eyes empty and voice devoid of any emotions.

“Of course, just keep me posted. Will you be okay on your own?” Bobby asked, worried.

“I’ll be alright, Cap. I’m used to being alone, and it’s nothing I haven’t been through before.” the younger man answered detachedly, forcing a smile.

He stood up, making his way to the door before stopping and turning around.

“Bobby? Could you-… could you tell the team? I don’t think I have the strength to sit through their questioning.”

“Of course, I’ll explain. Take care of yourself, alright.”

Buck gave him a small, minuscule smile in return before leaving the office, making his way down the stairs and into the locker room.

“What’s wrong with Buck?” Chimney asked as Bobby followed out of the office a few minutes later.

“I’ve sent him home for the rest of the day. He’s taking a bit of time off too.”

“Why? He’s not injured, is he?” Eddie questioned.

“No, not physically anyway. He… he’s not in a good place mentally…”

“Is it safe for him to be on his own, Cap? We all know what happened the last time Buck couldn’t work...” Hen noted.

“I’ve given him the name of a few therapists, he said he’d look into that. And he’s off of work for a least a few days.”

“You mean he didn’t fight you on it? He didn’t try and convince you he could work?” Chimney asked, incredulous.

“No, he asked for the time off himself, actually. He was surprisingly calm.”

“Maybe he’s maturing? Becoming more responsible?” Hen suggested.

“No, something’s not right.” Eddie pointed out. “When have you guys known Buck to do anything else than fight tooth and nail to be able to work, to prove he’s at 100%?”

“You’re right, Eddie, it’s unlike him.” Bobby said. “But we have to consider that this may be his way of fighting this time. He did ask for help, which is a step in the right direction.”

“Still, we should keep an eye on him.”

“Absolutely, that goes without saying.” Hen agreed.

“There’s something else you guys should be aware of.” the Captain added. “Buck told me he had thought about taking his own life.”

“What? When?” Chimney exclaimed, Eddie and Hen looking as devastated as he felt.

“Not recently. After his embolism, then again after the lawsuit.” Bobby replied gravely. “I know it’s my fault, I wasn’t there for him and I feel so incredibly guilty.”

“We’re all equally to blame.” Eddie said. “We weren’t there for him, none of us were. And we haven’t been there lately either.” he added with a defeated sigh. “I’ll check on him after shift.”

“Go now Eddie, and make sure he eats something. The poor boy is wasting away.” Bobby said before the alarm blared, calling the rest of the team away.

***

Buck managed to keep his emotions in check while he drove back to his place, surprising himself. Making his way inside his condo, he flopped down on the couch, wrapping a blanket around his shoulders, and turning off his phone. He didn’t want to be disturbed and it wasn’t like anyone would try to reach him anyway.

Look at you, alone again. That’s how you should be, out of everyone else’s way. You can’t fuck up if you’re not there. Best stay away now.

Buck had fully expected to break down, to have the bulk of his emotions come crashing down on him, but nothing happened. He felt nothing, a heavy emptiness weighing on his chest as he stared at the living room wall in front of him, unmoving and motionless.

***

As soon as the firetruck had pulled out of the bay, Eddie got changed and ran out of the station. He didn’t care that he left the team down two men, he had to get to Buck as quickly as he could. Fortunately, LA traffic was on his side and, paired with the countless infractions he almost committed, he made it to his place in record time. Parking his truck behind Buck’s jeep, he rushed up the short flight of stairs and banged on the door.

“Buck! Buck, open up!” he shouted.

Much to his surprise, the door opened a few moments later, Buck greeting him like nothing had happened.

“Hey Eds, what’s up? What are you doing here?”

“H-hey… I, uh… I didn’t want you to be alone. Are… are you alright?” Eddie asked, perplexed.

“Of course I’m okay. Why wouldn’t I be?” Buck replied, his face blank and emotionless. It wasn’t the usual carefully crafted mask he had been showing later, however. Instead, it was the face of a man who had accepted defeat and didn’t care about what happened to him anymore.

“I… well, uh… you-…” Eddie stuttered, suddenly even more confused. “Uhm, can I-… can I come in?”

Buck only shrugged in reply, stepping aside to let him in.

“There’s coffee if you want. Or beer in the fridge, if you feel like day-drinking.” the younger man said, flopping down on the couch again.

Eddie helped himself to a cup of coffee before joining his friend in the living room. He sat down next to him, noticing how blank his face still was, eyes staring but unseeing.

“Do… do you want to talk about it?” he asked carefully.

“There’s nothing to talk about.”

“Are you sure? Because I think it might help…”

“Are you actually advising in favour of talking about feelings? Wow, Edmundo, I never thought I’d see the day.” Buck tried to joke but it came out bitter instead.

“Buck…” Eddie warned.

“Don’t worry about it, it’s just a phase.”

“A phase? Like the one when I almost punched a guy to death? Or do you mean a phase where you pull away from your friends and family for no reason?” Eddie replied, his worry fueling the anger that rose as he spoke. “Or a phase where you hide your injuries and pull out reckless shit on a call because you think you’re expendable or some shit? Or are you talking about how you’re practically starving yourself and fainting on shift? Don’t pretend it’s a phase, it’s more than that. You gotta take care of yourself, Buck…” he added, deflating a little with his last sentence.

“What’s the point?”

“What’s the point?! Seriously, Buck?” Eddie all but exploded. “What am I supposed to tell Christopher if something were to happen to you? He's already noticed how sad you’ve been. He's worried about you! And what about the rest of the team? What about Bobby? You’re basically a son to him, he can’t lose another child! Listen, Buck… we need you to be alright.” he added one more sentence, softly as he saw Buck’s detached façade start to crack, “I need you…”

Buck let out a choked sob, a hand coming up to press against his lips to try and contain the emotions that were bubbling up. It was a lost cause, however, another gut-wrenching sob falling from his lips and an single tear escaping as he screwed his eyes shut.

“I’m so tired… I’m tired of feeling like this…” Buck said, voice cracking before he broke down, full-body sobs wracking his tall frame, head falling to his chest as he curled into himself.

Eddie immediately pulled Buck towards him, gathering him into his arms as the younger man kept sobbing.

“I’ve got you Buck, let it out. I’ve got you.” he whispered, rubbing his back in soothing motions, Buck’s hands clinging to his shirt.

He kept crying in Eddie’s arms, as if all the hurt, the insecurities and anxieties he had been bottling up were coming out at once. It broke Eddie’s heart to see his best friend like that, and he wanted nothing more than to take it all away.

“You’ll be alright Buck. Whatever it is, we’ll get through it together, I promise.” he said, one hand still rubbing calming circles against Buck’s back, the other one coming up to rest on the nape of his neck.

“Don’t… don’t make promises you can’t keep…” Buck replied, the sobs finally subsiding but his voice still thick with tears.

“Hey, I’m here to stay. I’m not leaving.” Eddie reassured him, “Whatever you need, I’m here.”

“No… you can’t do that.” the younger man shook his head, trying to push himself away but Eddie only kept his hold tight until he settled against his chest again. “I’m making it about myself again, you have other stuff to worry about than me.”

“I am worried about you Buck. I always worry about you. I want to help, and that’s not you being selfish. Not at all. I really do want to help.”

“I don’t deserve you…” his friend sniffled, wiping his eyes with the back of his hands and slowly sitting up again, Eddie reluctantly letting him go.

“Of course you do.” You deserve everything, he wanted to add. “Now, why don’t you go take a shower, freshen up a little, and I’ll make us something to eat.” he said instead.

Buck hummed in agreement, still a little out of it, and trekked up the stairs to the bathroom. Eddie quickly took stock of the fridge, sighing at how bare it was and settled for making omelets. He managed not to burn them, sliding the food on plates as Buck emerged about 20 minutes later, letting himself fall heavily on a barstool.

“Here you go. I hope it’s edible.” Eddie said, placing a plate of omelet and toast in front of him.

“I’m sure it is. I’m not really hungry anyway.” Buck replied.

“You’ve got to eat something. Come on, man, you’re wasting away.”

“Fine…” the younger man huffed, picking up his fork and poking at his food.

Eddie grabbed his own plate and joined him, both of them eating in silence. He wasn’t sure what to say, choosing to stay quiet instead.

“Why can’t I stop feeling like this?” Buck suddenly asked, looking so vulnerable it took all of Eddie’s willpower to not take him in his arms again. “What’s wrong with me?”

“There’s nothing wrong with you, Buck.” he reassured him. “You’ve been through so much in such a short period of time. You just have to give yourself a chance to process everything.”

“I just… I feel so weak… Why can’t I just get over myself and move on?”

“The fact that you’re still here is a testament to how strong you are. You’re still fighting here, Buck. And it’s not about getting over it, it’s about taking care of yourself and actually dealing with everything that happened. It’s okay to need help, Buck. It has nothing to do with being weak. In fact, there’s strength in asking for help.”

“I… I think I should probably see a therapist… But I don’t know… I don’t exactly have the best track record with therapy… What if I’m so messed up even therapy can’t fix me?”

“What happened with Dr. Wells isn’t on you. There’s no way in hell it was your fault. She was in a position of power and she took advantage. You’re not something to be fixed, Buck. You’re not broken. But I’m glad you’re considering therapy. It’s helped me a lot, and I think it could help you too.”

“I’ll think about it Eds… I want to stop feeling like this… but I’m not making any decisions today.”

“As long as you promise to think about it.” Eddie said, giving his best friend a pointed look.

“Yeah, yeah, I promise…” Buck mumbled half-heartedly.

“Good enough. You want to watch a movie? Something not Disney?” Eddie suggested.

Buck seemed more settled now, and the older man wanted to keep him that way as long as he could, pushing for elements of their old routine to try and keep him grounded.

“Sure, why not.” Buck shrugged. “You choose though, I’ll probably fall asleep.”

“Die Hard? It’s nearly December, and some people say it’s a Christmas movie.”

Buck shrugged again, moving to the couch, and wrapping a blanket around his shoulders. Eddie set up the movie and joined him on the sofa, watching from the corner of his eye as his best friend slowly but surely dozed off. The blanket slid off his shoulder, Eddie suddenly noticing how his shirt hung too big on his thin frame. While he had kept his muscle mass, Buck had definitely lost more weight than was healthy, which made Eddie frown, guilt gnawing at him. He ordered shawarmas for dinner, shaking Buck awake so he could eat and queuing up Die Hard 2 for the evening. The younger man fell back asleep shortly after, periodically waking up for a few moments before his eyes closed again. When the movie finally came to an end, credits rolling on the screen, Eddie resisted the urge to wake his friend by running his fingers through his soft curls, instead opting to gently shake his shoulder. Buck startled awake, blinking rapidly, and taking in his surroundings.

“Hey, ready for bed?” Eddie asked softly.

Buck grunted in reply, stretching his long limbs before getting up.

“Could… could you stay? I mean… if- if you can?” he then asked in a sheepish whisper.

“Of course, Buck. Whatever you need.”

“What about Christopher?”

“He’s with Pepa for the night, and Carla’s taking him to school in the morning. There’s nothing to worry about.”

“Okay, thank you Eddie.”

“Don’t mention it. Go brush your teeth, I’ll meet you upstairs.”

Buck hummed, treading up the stairs in slow, sluggish motions. Eddie used the downstairs bathroom to get ready for bed, tidying up the kitchen a little. He then headed upstairs to the bedroom where he found Buck waiting for him sitting on the bed, wearing only sweatpants. The older man managed to hide the slight hitch in his breath at the sight of his best friend, willing away the blush he felt crawling up his neck. Of course, he had seen Buck shirtless before, but it felt different this time, both domestic and intimate, the younger man looking soft and pliant, planes of smooth skin calling for Eddie to run his hands across. Instead, he shook his head and grabbed sweatpants of his own from Buck’s dresser, pulling them on before sitting on the other side of the bed. They both got under the blankets, laying on their backs and staring at the ceiling.

“I’m proud of you Buck.” Eddie said quietly, turning on his side to face his friend.

He almost missed the hitch in Buck’s breath in the darkness of the bedroom, but he didn’t, wrapping him into his arms as Buck turned towards him. He burrowed into Eddie’s chest, small quiet sobs escaping from his mouth as tears ran slowly down his cheeks.

“I’ve got you Buck; you’re going to be alright.” Eddie whispered, giving into his earlier urge, and softly running a hand through his curls. He kept the motion going, and his grip reassuring around Buck until he felt his breathing even out. Only then did Eddie allow himself to press a soft kiss to his brow, before closing his eyes and drifting off to sleep.

***

When he woke up the next morning, Eddie took a few seconds to admire the man sleeping in his arms. He smoothed out the worry lines on his forehead with a gentle touch of his thumb, taking in how young he looked when asleep.

I’m in love with Buck, Eddie suddenly realized, awareness hitting him like a ton of bricks and dissipating the last of his sleepiness.

He was surprisingly okay with it, Eddie realized, thinking on just how easy it had been for him to fall for his best friend. But no matter how strongly he felt about Buck, he knew he couldn’t act on his feelings right away. Even if the younger man was interested, Eddie knew he needed time to take care of himself, and get better, before he could think about springing anything romantic on Buck. Whatever he needed, he’d do anything in his power to give it to him.

Eddie let out a resigned sigh, carefully extracting himself from the bed, cautious not to wake up a still-sleeping Buck. He wrote him a quick note, which he left under Buck’s phone on his nightstand. He had to go to work, but he knew it wasn’t a good idea for him to leave without an explanation, knowing how quickly Buck’s mind could jump to conclusions and spin out of control. Before he could think on it, Eddie placed a soft kiss on Buck’s brow, and another on his cheek. He grabbed his wallet and keys from where he had left them on the dresser before leaving for work with one last longing look over his shoulder.

***

It was well past 10 o’clock when Buck woke up, tossing and turning in bed for a few moments. Part of him had expected to wake up alone, but he couldn’t help the pang of disappointment he felt when is eyes landed on the decidedly empty spot next to him. He let out a long sigh, rubbing the sleep form his eyes, then grabbed his phone. He scrolled through his social media absentmindedly, reading the few messages his teammates had sent him before noticing the small scrap of paper on his nightstand. Curious, he picked it up, his eyes quickly scanning its contents.

----

Hey Buck,

I had to leave for work, and I didn’t want to wake you. You looked like you could use the sleep. Try to get out of bed today, alright? Maybe go for a walk or something. And eat, please. I should finish around 7pm, I’ll pick you up after shift. My place, movie night. Christopher has been asking for you.

See you later, take care.

Eddie

----

Buck felt a smile tug at his lips, the motion almost foreign. He got out of bed, putting on some jeans and a t-shirt. He had to admit it was nice to have something to look forward too in his day, even if it was just a movie night with the Diaz boys. It made him feel like he still had a place, somewhere he belonged. He picked up one of the therapist cards Bobby had given him yesterday, the small printed digits of the phone number staring back at him. He could do this. He’d have to work on keeping his feelings for him under control, but maybe, just maybe, with Eddie in his life, he was going to be okay.

Chapter Text

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.

“Promise.”

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.

“Home?”

“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.”

“Really?”

“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.

“Goodnight Evan.”