Chapter 1: A Pulse - Your Pulse - Is the Only Thing I Can Remember
Chapter title from "If There's a Rocket Tie Me To It" by Snow Patrol.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It happens so fast. One second Buck is crossing the fallen log over the river with the kid in his arms. The next, another fallen tree sweeps down the swollen river and rams into the logs they’re balanced on. Buck tightens his hold on the kid before he falls into the racing water, only barely grabbing hold of the log himself.
But Eddie goes under.
Buck can do nothing but watch in horror while Eddie’s ropes tangle under the logs and suddenly go slack. For just a second, Eddie’s head pops up over the rapids and Buck catches his eyes.
And then he’s gone.
Buck is only aware of trying desperately to untangle himself from his own ropes and harness so he can get to Eddie when hands grab him and haul him ashore. He thrashes and he’s sure he’s screaming or his throat wouldn’t feel this bloody.
The worst part is they shouldn’t even be on the call. With the storm, everyone’s been asked to go farther than usual, and they kept not having transports and getting sent farther east to the next call, until they were practically on the edge of Los Angeles County.
He only finds out later that Chim and Hen had to sedate him to get him off the scene. He learns later that Bobby stayed at the river coordinating Search and Rescue and didn’t leave for three days.
He discovers he gets a three day grace period before he’s expected to do something more productive than stare at the wall of his apartment in catatonic shock.
“You should’ve let me stay and look,” Buck tells Bobby when he turns up at Buck’s apartment. “Why didn’t you let me—"
That’s as far as he gets before Bobby’s hugging him. Buck breaks down, and he can’t stop the sobbing. It’s not like when Eddie got shot. It’s like the well, but so, so much worse. There’s no — no body for Buck to drag to safety, and now he can’t even fight the river the way he’d clawed at the mud.
“Because we couldn’t lose you too,” Bobby says and it’s not in his captain voice. It’s in the same tone Buck’s heard him use with Harry and May, the tone he’s heard Chimney use with Jee-Yun, the tone he’s heard Eddie use with Chris.
And that just breaks Buck even more. Chris. God, he doesn’t know how he’s going to tell Chris.
Chris. Who is now his legal dependent.
Bobby just lets him sob into his shoulder until Buck can’t really stand up anymore and then he steers him to the kitchen barstools. Bobby fixes him a glass of water and a cup of coffee and then some food while Buck tries to stop crying long enough to actually function.
It can’t be a losing battle. Chris is going to be home from summer camp in three days and Buck has to have his shit together by then.
“I would prefer to give you a few more days before I had to ask, but do you have his parents’ contact information?” Bobby asks when he places a plate in front of Buck and hands him a fork.
“Um, yeah,” Buck says. He forces himself to take a bite. “It’s not on his file for emergencies, though?”
Bobby doesn’t answer right away, like he’s deciding what to say. Finally, gently, he says, “His aunt was his secondary emergency contact.”
Buck frowns. “Why does his secondary contact—"
“Buck, it was you,” Bobby says. Gently. Since it’s obvious the wrong word at this time is going to shatter him irreparably. “If you’re not up to it, I can be the one to call his parents, and let them know, give them Christopher’s sched—"
“No!” The word is out before Buck registers it leaving.
“No,” Bobby repeats slowly.
“They, um, they don’t need to know Chris’s schedule,” Buck says.
Bobby is quiet again, considering slowly. “Buck, I know for right now, he’s still considered missing presumed, but eventually, Chris is going to have to be with his legal guardians.”
Buck swallows past the jagged glass lump in his throat. “I — I know. But, uh, but that’s me, too.”
And now Bobby just stares at him, blank, across the kitchen island.
“He did it after the well,” Buck says and he can feel himself starting to crumble again. “He told me last year after the sniper. I—"
And his voice cracks and he can’t keep speaking.
“How long had you been together?” Bobby asks, and for the first time he just sounds baffled.
“We weren’t,” Buck says. Bobby clearly doesn’t believe him if the way his eyebrows have risen is anything to go by. “We weren’t. Bobby, I never even told him that I - that I love him.”
When he breaks again, he thinks Bobby believes him. Buck had only admitted it to himself sometime last year. Around the time when Eddie got shot. And he hadn’t had time to tell him because things had been complicated with Ana and Taylor and then by the time they weren’t, Buck had been too scared to take the plunge. Because — ironically — he’d been too afraid of losing Eddie.
Bobby places him on no-arguments-allowed bereavement leave. Buck doesn’t actually try to argue, for once. Especially because, as soon as he’s picked up Chris from summer camp, and as soon as he’s explained the conversation, Chris refuses to let Buck out of his sight except when he’s sleeping (which he will only do if Buck stays in the same space as him) or when he’s in therapy.
Necessarily, this means Buck’s own therapy has to take place when Chris’s does. Within the first week, they develop a routine of taking their emotionally wrought selves to get ice cream afterwards.
A week of intensive grief counselling is all they get to themselves before Helena and Ramon descend on Los Angeles like an avenging plague. Buck almost doesn’t let them in the front door of Eddie’s house. Abuela and Pepa have been over almost every day since Chris got back from camp, always bringing food and always hugging both of them goodbye like Buck is part of the Diaz family beyond just being Chris’s guardian while Eddie is... missing presumed.
The first day, before they’d left, Abuela had paused to cross Buck.
“I’m - I’m not Catholic,” he’d said.
She’d waved away his concern and kissed him on both cheeks. Buck has never had a grandmother before, but he’s got a feeling that no matter what he tries from here on out, he’s got Isabel Diaz.
Whatever that emotion had been, he gets the exact inverse and opposite when he opens the front door to Helena and Ramon.
It’s early — too early — and Chris isn’t awake yet. Buck had been reluctant to sleep in Eddie’s room for the first night. But Chris refused to sleep at all unless he could be snuggled against Buck’s chest and Chris’s bed didn’t fit both of them and the couch wasn’t comfortable enough on its best days, and at the end of the day, Buck didn’t think Eddie would mind.
It had almost broken him, that first night. Because the pillow beneath Buck’s head had smelled so much like Eddie. He’s sure Chris had heard him crying, but he hadn’t tried to assure Buck everything was going to be okay this time. Buck has been telling himself ever since that he’s more concerned about what that means for Chris’s mental state than he is for his own well-being.
The night before Helena and Ramon turn up on their doorstep, Chris hadn’t slept well. Which meant, of course, neither had Buck. So he’s a little out of it and a lot still cavernously hollow inside with the loss of Eddie, and he’s not in a place to deal with Eddie’s parents.
In the end, he’d let Bobby be the one to call them. He tells himself it’s because he’d thought they’d be more respectful of a figure of authority, and not just because of his own cowardice.
“We’re here for our grandson,” Helena says. Neither of them has red-rimmed eyes. Both Buck and Chris have looked like shit for the past week — and an extra six days on top of that for Buck — and they’ve gotten to a point where staying hydrated is an actual problem.
He’s just reading into things — he hopes — but to him, their expressions have an unbearable tinge of “I told you so” coupled with relief at finally getting what they’d wanted all along: Eddie’s son, so they can have a do-over. As if every good and beautiful and perfect thing about Eddie hadn’t been in spite of them, rather than because of them.
“Chris is still sleeping,” Buck says. His voice sounds hollow to his own ears. He can’t imagine what it sounds like to them. “If you come back later, we can maybe do lunch. Lunch is sort of the best time of day.”
Helena and Ramon glance at each other. Buck remembers meeting them on their way back from the forest fires in Texas a few years back. They’d been good hosts to the exhausted team of firefighters from the 118.
Buck’s pretty sure the only times they spoke to Eddie while they were there had been to say hello, move back home immediately, and goodbye.
“I meant, we’re here to take him back to Texas,” Helena clarifies.
“Yeah,” Buck says. He’s too tired, way too tired to be tactful. He rubs at the stubble on his jaw. It’s built up. He needs to shave. “Over my dead body.”
In the next few weeks, while August burns out into September, Helena and Ramon don’t leave LA. They also don’t try to kill Buck, which he sort of thought they might. Instead, they pick a different dead body.
Instead, they start the process of having Eddie declared legally dead.
Buck’s response is to sign the lease on his apartment over to Albert and move permanently into Eddie and Chris’s house. He doesn’t want to move into Eddie’s room, especially after Chris starts to be okay sleeping in his own bed. Buck doesn’t — he can’t feel like he’s trying to replace Eddie because he never, never could and doesn’t want to. He’s allowed to sleep on the couch until Maddie comes over early one morning and catches him at it.
“Buck,” she says, her voice thick with compassion.
“I can’t,” he says. His voice breaks a little and he’s glad Chris is still asleep.
“Let us help,” she says. “The way you and Chim helped me last year. Please?”
And what’s Buck supposed to say to that aside from “okay”?
He doesn’t let them get rid of any of Eddie’s things. It doesn’t hurt that Eddie had a pretty spare wardrobe to begin with so there’s mostly enough space in the closet and dresser for Buck’s clothes without even having to move anything. Chris sits on the foot of Eddie’s – Buck’s – bed beside him while Maddie unpacks Buck’s things.
Buck understands – god, he understands – but it breaks his heart all over again how quiet Chris has gotten.
“You know,” Maddie says. She picks up a dark blue t-shirt from one of the drawers that Buck quickly identifies as one of Eddie’s LAFD shirts. “This would probably make pretty good pyjamas.”
She hands it to Chris and he hugs it close and leans into Buck’s side. That night, when Buck goes to tuck him in, he’s wearing it.
“Buck?” Chris asks quietly when Buck takes his glasses and folds them neatly on the bedside table.
“Yeah, buddy?” Buck asks.
“Are you going to leave too?”
Buck has to take a second to compose himself before he can answer. “I’m not going anywhere,” he promises. “Never.”
“Dad wasn’t going anywhere either,” Chris says. It isn’t the first time they’ve talked about Eddie’s – about the river. But it’s the first time they’ve managed it without both of them immediately bursting into tears.
“I know,” Buck says. “I know, and it was an accident. But we’ve got more people on our shift now, and whenever we’re in a super dangerous situation, now I make them do it, and I stay on the outside holding the ropes.”
Bobby had been floored – grateful, but completely stunned – when Buck’s first shift back had included that request. Buck’s days of stupid stunts had already been tapering off, ever since Eddie told him about his will, and now they were simply…done. It still squeezed Buck’s heart with fear – and the slightest tang of envy – when they sent Albert and Ravi to do the kinds of crazy shit he and Eddie had done, but all he had to do was think about Chris and then it was the easiest decision in the world.
“Do you promise?” Chris asks.
“I’ll do you one better,” Buck says, and holds out his pinkie.
Chris stares at it, a little hazily since his glasses are already on the bedside table. “Your finger?”
“It’s a pinkie promise,” Buck says. “They’re extra special promises you never get to break. Maddie and I made a bunch of them.”
“What do I do?” Chris asks.
Buck loops his pinkie around Chris’s and, for the first time since Buck had picked him up from summer camp, Chris gives him a quick grin.
“I promise, I am going to avoid as much danger as I possibly can,” Buck says.
Chris squeezes his finger around Buck’s. “Okay,” he says. “Love you.”
“I love you, too, kid,” Buck says, kissing the top of his head. “So much.”
Chris lets go of his finger and snuggles down into his pillow. “As much as you loved Dad?”
“It’s – um – it’s a different kind of love,” Buck says and wonders who told Chris that. As far as Buck’s concerned, the only people who know he was – is, will be until he dies himself – in love with Eddie are Bobby and Buck’s therapist. “But I love you just as much, and maybe even a little more.”
“Okay,” Chris says, and nods into his pillow.
Buck kisses the top of his head again and then turns out the light.
He leaves Chris’s door open a crack and then has to face the reality of sleeping in Eddie’s bed – his own bed – by himself. Buck hugs a pillow to his chest and cries himself to sleep.
He dreams of his last glimpse of Eddie’s face before he disappeared beneath the water.
Magda Maguire has been a nurse in the coma ward in this part of California’s only hospital since she finished nursing school. St Joseph’s serves Nowhere and every other township and CDP in the area, which makes it an incredibly slow place to work. There’s not a lot of places around Nowhere.
But, they have a pretty darn good long-term care practice for coma patients, so sometimes they end up with people from farther away. People whose families don’t want to pull the plug, people with living wills that say they can’t, and Magda has spent the past fifteen years being their primary carer.
She knows all of them, even if she’s never seen their eyes or heard their voices. Some of the stories she’s collected from the occasional visitors they get, some of them she’s picked up from their files, some of them she looked up online when she was willing to take the time to let Nowhere’s patchy, near-useless dialup internet start working at her house. It’s Nowhere’s claim to fame: only town in all of So-Cal that still uses dialup. They’d been missed by cell phone towers too, and every time Magda makes an attempt to go into a city, it feels like she’s time-travelled.
There’s one patient she doesn’t know about. Or, at least, doesn’t know anything useful about. Their John Doe, brought in after a freak rainstorm back in August. They’d pulled him from the river near-drowned, with a head injury, a significant collection of broken bones, and all of his clothes in tatters. From the material that had eventually been placed in his personal effects, should he ever want them or should someone come to claim them, he’d probably been white-water rafting and fallen in, only to get swept away before his partners had been able to get him. Or, he’d been alone.
The only other personal effect he’d had on him – no wallet, cell phone smashed to glittery powder – was a St Christopher medal. Magda had taken that from the administrator who was trying to inter it with his tattered tactical clothing and clipped it back around his neck when they’d brought him to the coma ward. The one additional clue they have about John Doe’s identity is that he has four bullet wounds: three long-healed, one relatively recent, within the past eighteen months.
Magda imagines he was some sort of adrenaline junkie. Maybe a daredevil type, because who else would go white-water rafting during a storm?
It isn’t like she can ask him, and she has no effective details to try and look up, should she be willing to take the entire day of screeching dialup tones and loading pages it would require. The troubling thing is that they’d kept him knocked out when he was first brought to the hospital, a medically-induced coma to keep him from injuring himself further after the surgeons had fixed his broken limbs. He’s not in a medically-induced coma anymore. He just…hasn’t woken up.
He breathes on his own, which is more than Magda can say for a lot of her patients. He does it well enough they can’t keep him intubated; his body fights against that, which gives Magda some hope. He seems like a fighter, to have survived all of this. She doesn’t know him, obviously, she can’t, but she hopes he survives this, too.
“Good evening, everyone,” she says when she comes into the coma ward for her last rounds before she heads home for the day. “Love what you’ve done with your hair, Casey. Your sister sure fixed that up nicely for you, didn’t she?”
Casey – Casey Kelly, 33, car accident, sister with survivor’s guilt, two nieces, CPA, two years here – doesn’t answer.
“And Mr Hendricks, you look just fresh as a daisy,” Magda says, moving on to the old man’s bed once she’s checked Casey’s vitals. “Your grandson left you the loveliest bouquet, don’t you think?”
It’s silk, not live, which seems appropriate for a hospital wing full of the patients stuck in limbo.
“I think it brightens up the place, too,” Magda continues as if Mr Hendricks had answered. She checks his stats, marks them down on his chart, and moves on to John Doe. “And how’s our John Doe doing today?”
She’s already checking his vitals and thinking to herself that she should get one of the orderlies in to cut his hair and shave him, so she is deeply unprepared for John Doe to open his mouth and say, “Thirsty.”
He doesn’t know where he is. That particular problem is not helped by the fact the town he’s in is apparently named Nowhere. He’s exhausted, even though he’s apparently been in a coma for the better part of two months, and he’s sore like someone stuck his body through a tumble dryer.
“Actually, an old-fashioned washing machine mangler might be more accurate, since you were in a river,” his new friend the coma nurse says. “You really don’t remember anything?”
And then there’s the other thing.
“No,” he says. He can talk, he can walk, he can laugh at the Spanish bickering a family of four is doing in one of the hospital lobbies – so, great, he can be confused in two languages – he thinks he could probably drive, or hold a pen, but…
“Not even your name?” the nurse, Magda, asks.
He shakes his head. He can function, but when it comes to himself, there’s just a blank.
“You know, there’s this old Jim Carrey movie, he’s in a car accident and he loses his memory and he gets mistaken for an old hometown hero in the town that finds him, even though he’s actually an asshole Hollywood producer,” Magda says. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen it, but I’m pretty sure he gets his memory back and gets the girl.”
He nods, slowly. “Who’s Jim Carrey?”
“Right,” Magda says. “We’re gonna get you some brain scans, okay?”
“Because I don’t know who Jim Carrey is?” he asks, guileless.
Magda stares at him for a beat like she’s not sure if he’s serious, and when she figures out he’s not, she laughs.
“Oh, so you’re funny,” she says, rolling him down the hall towards a different part of the hospital. “I thought you’d be serious and rugged or something.”
He smiles for a second and then looks down at the casts on both his legs. He’d reportedly broken a significant number of bones during his trip down the river, but for better or worse, he’d been in a coma for most of the agonising part of the recovery process. After the MRI for his head, they’re going to stick basically his entire body in an x-ray to see how he’s recovering, and then he gets to be in an actual hospital room instead of the coma ward.
“I’m not…sure how I’m going to pay for all this,” he says as Magda takes him to the MRI.
“That’s not something you need to be worrying about right now,” she replies. He doesn’t really have any choice but to trust her since, well—
“Alright, Mr…I’m sorry, I’m not sure what to call you,” the MRI tech says, looking down at his patient file.
“Me neither,” he replies.
“You’ve got a St Christopher medal,” Magda says. “Maybe your name is Chris?”
He considers it, while Magda unclips the medal in question and tucks it securely in her pocket.
“Patron saint of travellers, right?” he says.
“That’s right!” Magda sounds delighted he remembers this much, but he’s not so sure it’s worthy of celebration.
“Pretty sure Sunday school catechism falls into the procedural memory category,” he points out. Her name is Magdalene Maguire, so he figures she’s probably pretty damn Catholic herself.
“Fair point,” she says. “What do you think, though? Chris?”
He turns it over in his head and for whatever reason it feels familiar , but it doesn’t feel like him.
“No, I don’t think so. I think Chris is–” my son, some distant, otherwise silent part of his brain says. But the implications of that idea – that he might have a son named Christopher, while he’s been in a coma for almost two months and doesn’t even know what his own name is – hurts worse than the broken ribs. “St Jude might be more appropriate.”
“You’re not a lost cause yet,” Magda states, and then she and the MRI tech get his broken body into the machine.
When he gets transferred to a proper room – shared, but the other half is unoccupied at the moment – all he’s left with are his own thoughts. Well, his thoughts and an ache in his sternum. At first he thinks it’s medical, but after his new nurse and then a doctor check him, it turns out to be emotional rather than physical. He doesn’t remember his own name, let alone anything else about his life, but he’s broken-hearted. What a fucking state of affairs.
There’s a TV in his room but all it gets is the solitary local news channel here in Nowhere. The news is utterly unremarkable. It tries to cover some international and even state-wide events but then it fizzles out to just talking about local news, and the local news is that nothing is happening and it may as well be 1995 so far as technology is concerned.
Weirdly, that makes him feel a little fond of the small town in the middle of, well, nowhere.
He’s more or less alone in his room, recuperating, for an entire day. The only company he gets are the nurses who come to provide him with painkillers and the support staff that bring him food.
And then, the next day, Magda shows up. She’s not wearing scrubs, so he assumes it’s her day off. And she comes bearing gifts.
“Okay, so I figured you’re probably bored as hell,” she says. “Since you don’t even have happy memories to keep you company – you still don’t, right? Your memories didn’t come back overnight?”
“They did not,” he confirms. Just the nagging pain and the idea of Christopher, but looking at that one too closely just makes the pain that much worse.
“Sorry,” she says. “Anyway, I brought you a crossword book, and a dictionary to go with that, and a sudoku book in case you’re crap at the crosswords, and! I thought you could poke at this and see if anything jumps out.”
“This” turns out to be a baby name book.
It’s battered and worn and looks well-used. The thought of baby names makes his hand drift to his St Christopher medal. It’s a rote reflex though, that’s for sure. Something he’s done a million times.
“You’ve got a few kids?” he asks Magda, picking up the baby book with his unbroken hand.
She scoffs. “Oh, sugar plum, not my gay ass.”
The sudden profanity makes him burst out laughing in surprise, which makes his ribs twinge, but it also feels nice to laugh about something. It covers the ache in his chest just a little.
“No, my friend runs a lending library for queer resource books since our internet around here is dialup at best, and so she’s always got a few baby name books on hand for any trans folks looking for ideas,” Magda says. She shrugs. “Or, you know, amnesiacs who don’t have any form of ID.”
“Right,” he says. “Thank you. I’ll take a look. See if anything jumps out at me.”
“Or we can always just keep cycling through the saints. Whichever feels most appropriate on any given day,” she suggests. “St Anthony, maybe?”
He laughs again at that. He doesn’t feel like a Tony – probably not, anyway – but if ever there was a lost thing.
“Sounds appropriate,” he says.
She smiles at him, all freckles and dimples, and pulls a pair of DVDs out of her bag. “What would you say to a movie?”
And honestly, what else is he going to do with his time?
For the next few weeks, Magda comes and checks in on him during her lunches and on her days off. She helps him with the crosswords when they contain cultural references he doesn’t remember – the sudoku was a losing battle from the very beginning as it turns out; he is not good with numbers, and he really hopes that’s a consistent thing rather than an after effect of his head injury – and they go through the names in the borrowed baby book. None of them really seem to fit, though, and so mostly they stick to cycling through various saints.
The day he gets all his casts off and gets to see how pale and atrophied three of his four limbs are, he insists on Jude. It’s going to take months of physical therapy to get everything working correctly again, and even then, there’s no telling if he’s actually going to make a full recovery. Physically, he’ll probably be functional again, but when it’s been a month since he woke up from his coma and he still hasn’t regained a single memory, he can see his doctor trying very hard to stay positive.
“There’s always a chance,” the doctor says. “And Nurse Maguire was telling me you have nightmares that include things from before you woke up, which does mean the memories are still in there somewhere, they’re just…”
“Locked,” he says, and then digs his teeth into the inside of his lip before he can start tearing up in frustration.
He wants to know who he is. He wants to know why his chest hasn’t stopped hurting since he woke up. He wants to know how he ended up in the river, and he wants to…well, he wants to go home, but first that requires knowing if he’s got a home to go to.
“It’s definitely a Jude sort of day,” he tells Magda when he gets escorted back to his hospital room.
“I’m sorry, hon,” she says.
He’s pretty sure they’re close to the same age, but she feels like a big sister, and since she’s officially the only person he knows, there’s something a bit comforting in that.
“And they’re going to discharge me in a few days, did you hear that?” he asks. “At which point, I will have no name, no identification, and be homeless without the ability to get housing or a job because of the whole, you know, lack of name or identification. And the probable million dollars of medical debt.”
Magda is on shift today, and she narrows her eyes at him over the top of the clipboard with his medical chart on it.
“First things first, you won’t be in debt,” she says.
“How?” he asks, glum. Because everything is fucking hopeless and he’s still heartbroken and doesn’t know why. Was there someone with him when he was white-water rafting or whatever he’d been doing to end up in the river? Was he there with his partner? Does he know, deep down, that he’s lost them forever? Is he right that the reason his hand keeps going to his St Christopher medal is because he’s got a son? Because if so, then – god, he can’t even imagine. If he’s heartbroken because there are people looking for him, and missing him, people somewhere that he loves, and who love him? And he can’t even remember his own name, let alone theirs?
It is an exquisitely specialised subsection of Hell.
“Because I know a girl in billing and gosh, wouldn’t you know it? Keeping track of a record for a John Doe without a social security number is like catching an eel with a bar of soap,” Magda says.
He stares at her in disbelief.
“And you’re not going to be homeless, because I have a spare room, so long as you don’t mind cats,” she continues. “And as for a job, it’s a small town. Someone’s gonna be willing to pay you under the table for something until we figure out a more secure plan. We don’t get the feds here. We’re not close enough to the border or a city.”
It all makes his chest constrict, which only adds to the constant ache of longing and missing.
“Why would you – why are you doing all this for me?” he asks.
Magda shrugs. “A couple reasons. Partly because I read a lot and I took a mythology class in college and there were a few too many myths where someone didn’t offer hospitality to the broken, weary stranger who turned out to secretly be one of the gods in disguise and their entire village got smote for it.”
“Which is why all the saints’ names, right?”
“Right,” she agrees with a quick smile. “Partly because you’ve clearly got a good heart, even if you’re the sort of person who’s been shot four times.”
He grimaces. He hadn’t had a lot of remodelled fractures in his x-rays – mostly just the new ones from his river journey – but there had been those four bullet wounds. Unsettling, to say the least.
“But mostly because you’re the first patient I’ve had in fifteen years who talked back,” Magda finishes. “So what do you say? Cats?”
“I think I can probably handle cats,” he says.
He has no idea how he’s ever going to repay her.
The Jim Carrey movie Magda refers to is The Majestic, which IMDb informs me has a meta score of like 27. I have almost no memory of it because I think I saw it when it came out in 2001 and not since, but I'm pretty sure it's something I used to traumatise babysitters (along with What Dreams May Come because I was a morbid child).
Chapter 2: I Was Always Set to Self-Destruct, Though
This chapter's title (like the previous) also comes from "If There's a Rocket Tie Me to It" by Snow Patrol.
Thank you all so, so much for your outpouring of excitement (and heartbreak, which, mood) over this story!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Helena and Ramon Diaz officially get Eddie declared dead on October 1st. It’s only been seven weeks since the river and Buck wants to – he doesn’t know what he wants to do. Fight them, even though he’s never hit anyone in his life, maybe.
Part of him knows he should…he should accept it. He has to acknowledge, somewhere inside, somehow, that Eddie’s – that it’s been two months and Eddie’s not coming back. But he doesn’t know how he’s supposed to accept that when he eats breakfast across the table from Eddie’s son every morning. And he doesn’t know if he should even tell Chris that it was Helena and Ramon who got Eddie declared dead, not the State of California. Chris is already doing what he can to avoid spending time with them in favour of Buck and he doesn’t really want to make that worse.
It’s also on October 1st that Buck goes to work, and he gets sucked into a structure fire. Hen’s not on shift since she’s doing med school stuff, so Buck had been helping Chim with the medical side of things, but Albert and Ravi need backup, and Bobby doesn’t really have a choice but to send Buck in.
It’s the first time since the river that he’s been in this sort of danger and the thought of Bobby having to go back to Buck’s – Eddie’s – Buck’s – house and tell Chris…it nearly paralyses him in the field.
Thankfully, Ravi knocks him on the shoulder and Buck snaps out of it long enough to help with the extractions from the building.
When they get back to the station, Buck stays jittery.
“What’s up?” Bobby asks, sitting across from him at the table and glancing conspicuously at Buck’s coffee cup like he suspects Buck’s had too much. “You been sleeping okay?”
Buck dodges that question – no, but he’s managed to fall asleep without crying into Eddie’s pillow at least for the last week – and fidgets with his coffee cup. “I, um, I was thinking that maybe – maybe I could do, um, maybe you could put me back on light duty.”
Bobby stares at him for so long that Buck thinks he’s turned to stone.
“Let’s talk about it again in a couple days,” Bobby says, finally. “And you know that if you need any help – with Chris, or just for yourself – you can call us night or day, right? We only live ten minutes away.”
Buck swallows back the lump in his throat. “Thanks.”
Bobby nods and gets him another cup of coffee, which Buck appreciates. He’s vaguely aware of Albert and Ravi trying to play pool as quietly as possible so as to not disturb his and Bobby’s serious conversation, and of Chim reading something on the couch, but his focus has narrowed to just the surface of his coffee.
“Does it – does it ever get easier or does it just feel like this forever?” Buck asks.
“What does it feel like?” Bobby asks gently.
“Like someone scraped half of my soul out of my body with a Halligan,” Buck replies. He’s never really been one for poetic language, Michelangelo quote tattoo aside, but there aren’t simple, mundane ways to describe the way he feels without Eddie.
“You’re never going to stop missing him,” Bobby says, which, yeah, Buck knows what two-plus-two is. “But someday, eventually, you’ll wake up and the fact that he’s gone won’t be the first thing you think about.”
Buck has no response to that because it sounds so fucking fake. But Bobby would know.
“How’s Chris?” Bobby asks, giving him the most sympathetic look.
“Better than me,” Buck says. He rubs a hand over his face to try and get his shit back together. “Actually, I’ve got parent-teacher conference night next week, and I was wondering if I could drop Chris with you guys?”
“Of course,” Bobby says. “Is Carla going with you?”
Buck nods. Between Carla and Abuela and Maddie, he and Chris are pretty well supervised, which Buck appreciates. He doubts he’d be even a little bit functional if it weren’t for them. But he has to be. He has to have his shit together for Chris’s sake.
“I’m serious about the light duty thing, by the way,” he says.
Bobby nods again. “We’ll talk about it.”
Buck has the next day off and the minute he gets home from taking Chris to school, Helena and Ramon are waiting on the porch.
“Where’s Chris?” Helena asks.
Buck stares at her blankly. “It’s 8:30 on a Thursday,” he says. “Where do you think?”
“This game isn’t funny anymore, Buck,” she says, following him inside when he unlocks the front door. He could bodily remove both of them from the house, but he can’t be bothered. “He’s our grandson and now that Eddie’s gone, he’s our responsibility.”
“No, he isn’t,” Buck replies, heading straight for the kitchen. He flips the coffee maker on and has to steel himself against the now upsetting memory of planning that prank on Eddie with Chris’s help.
“It’s been two months,” Ramon says, gruff but reasonable. “He’s—”
“No, not Eddie,” Buck says. “I – I know Eddie’s – Chris isn’t your responsibility.”
“Of course he is,” Helena says. “And you’re not going to be able to challenge Eddie’s will.”
Buck raises his eyebrows. They haven’t read it yet. Buck has. He’s seen the fully printed, legally binding document with his own eyes now. He’d gone to Eddie’s lawyer when Helena and Ramon first showed up just to make sure, and, well, he’s sure.
“Neither are you,” Buck says.
“What are you talking about?” Ramon asks.
“I’m not being obstinate for fun,” Buck says, and he doesn’t like his own tone of voice, but he’s incredibly sick of these two showing up at his house at all hours trying to take Chris. “Eddie changed his will years ago now so that I get custody of Chris.”
They both recoil and it’s clear they don’t believe him.
“Why would he do that?” Helena asks.
“I don’t know, maybe because I pulled him out of a tsunami?” Buck says. “Or maybe because Eddie knows I love Chris like he’s my own. Or maybe because Eddie—”
The thought is “Maybe because Eddie loved me as much as I love him” but Buck can’t finish it. It hurts too much.
“You can check with his lawyer, but I’m not making this up,” Buck says. “And for right now, I would really appreciate it if you would get out of my house so I can have breakfast in peace. I had a long shift, and I’m very tired.”
Helena and Ramon don’t say goodbye when they leave.
After he eats something, he curls up on the couch and thinks about playing a video game but instead ends up taking a nap. It’s interrupted an hour later by a knock on the door.
Buck groans and pulls himself out of the throw blanket, fully prepared to call the cops – Athena at a minimum, maybe Williams too – on Helena and Ramon if he has to, but when he opens the door, it’s not Eddie’s parents.
Hen is standing on his porch.
“Hey, Buckaroo,” she says, and opens her arms for a hug which he gratefully takes.
“Hey,” he says. “What are you doing here?”
He lets her in and hastily straightens his depression nap nest off the couch.
“Chim texted me,” she says. “He was worried.”
“He didn’t say anything to me,” Buck says.
“Buck, you know Chim loves you like you’re his brother,” she replies. “He’s always worried about you.”
“Yeah, I get that one when he scolds me and Albert in the same tone of voice,” Buck says. “Can I get you anything? I’ve got – uh – coffee and water? Also juice.”
“I’m good, but thank you,” Hen says, and takes a seat. She pats the couch cushion next to her until Buck sits as well. “Chim says you were talking to Bobby about going back to light duty?”
“That’s what he was worried about?”
Hen raises an eyebrow over her glasses. “We all remember how it went the last time you were on light duty.”
“This would be different though, because it would be my choice,” Buck protests. “Because I can’t – it’s just me and Chris, and I was already the backup plan, so I can’t put myself in danger.”
“No, no, I get that,” Hen assures him. “And it’s a very responsible and mature choice to make, but also none of us wants to see Fire Marshal Buck come back, that was a bad time for everyone.”
Buck does allow himself to laugh a little at that. “Yeah, it wasn’t good, was it?”
“Uh-uh,” she says.
“There’s other light duty, though. I could do admin work for the department or the union or—”
“And go crazy inside the hour,” Hen finishes for him. Which is also true.
“I just – I don’t know what else to do,” he says.
“Which is why I’m here,” Hen says, and from her bag, she pulls a thick tome.
The California paramedic textbook.
Buck can do nothing but stare at it.
“I’m getting closer to my residency, Bobby’s getting closer to retirement, Chimney’s getting closer to captaincy, and the 118 could definitely use another paramedic,” Hen says. “You’d stay in the ambulance the majority of the time, which isn’t always, but living isn’t a risk-free endeavour anyway. And, you wouldn’t go crazy.”
Buck takes the textbook.
“Plus, while you’re doing the training, you’d even get to spend some shifts at the hospital rather than in the field,” Hen adds. “And you know Chim and I are gonna be happy to help you study.”
“You think I can actually do it?” Buck asks. “I wasn’t ever really good at the whole…school…thing.”
Although, to be fair, he hadn’t got kicked out of either school he’d gone to for academics.
“The way you binge research things?” Hen asks, giving him an incredulous look. “You did well on your EMT certification, didn’t you?”
“Yeah, but that’s a lot less than paramedic,” Buck points out.
Hen scrutinises him for a second. “If you don’t want to—”
“I didn’t say that.”
And she smiles at him. “Good. Besides, the pay grade’s a lot better than light duty and you’ve got a kid now.”
“Yeah, assuming my not-quite-in-laws stop trying to steal him,” Buck says.
Hen frowns. “They’re still giving you grief?”
“They just found out this morning about Eddie’s will, so I guess we’ll see what they try next,” he says.
Hen gives him a sympathetic look that almost makes him start crying. Not that it takes a lot.
“Why don’t you and Chris come over for dinner,” she suggests. “My mom’s cooking something she claims is gonna be great and I know Denny would love to see Chris.”
“Yeah,” Buck says. “That would be nice.”
She hugs him when she leaves, and kisses him on the cheek, and Buck is left with the paramedic textbook.
The three people whose opinions Buck most values – Chris, Maddie, and Bobby – are universally approving of Hen’s suggestion, and Maddie even offers to brush off some of her nursing skills to help him study.
“So you would be a medic like Dad was?” Chris asks.
“Kind of,” Buck says. “But I’d just be in LA, not anywhere far away. I would still be working at the 118 with everyone.”
“I can help you study too,” Chris offers.
“Mmhm,” Buck says, narrowing his eyes. “And how exactly is your studying for your math test going?”
“Buck,” Chris protests with an eyeroll that reminds Buck so much of Eddie he expects it to hurt. But for the first time in two months, it doesn’t. It aches, of course it aches, but it doesn’t feel like he’s being stabbed.
“You remember what they were saying in the show the other night,” Buck says. “Can’t be an astronomer if you don’t do your math homework. Besides, someone in this house needs to know how to do math, and that ship has definitely sailed where I’m concerned, so that means it’s up to you.”
Chris heaves a dramatic, near teenager-worthy, sigh.
He’s eleven, going on twelve soon, Buck realises. Pretty soon, he’s going to have a fully-fledged teenager on his hands. It strikes him then that Eddie was nuts. It hasn’t been long enough since Buck himself was a teenager for him to be taking care of a teenager of his own. Why couldn’t it have been that he and Eddie parented Chris together? Why the hell did Eddie unclip his fucking harness?
He manages to shove the thoughts away and focus his attention on making sure Chris does his math homework and doing his own studying for his paramedic certification, but when he gets into bed, he recognises what it is. All his recent confrontations with Helena and Ramon have forced him out of the denial (tinged with depression) part of the process, and now he’s angry (still heavily tinged with depression).
He’s gone over the sequence of events so many times in his head, all the ways it could’ve happened instead. If Eddie hadn’t unclipped his harness to get out from under the logs, Buck would’ve been able to pull him out. But instead –
And now Buck’s alone with a kid. A kid he adores, and who he’d never give up for any reason, but he’s still alone. Made all the more bitter by the fact he and Eddie weren’t ever really together. They were just…best friends. Because Buck wasn’t brave enough to just fucking tell him how he felt. And now he’ll never know if he’s just deluding himself when he thinks that maybe, possibly, probably, Eddie loved him back.
Buck lets himself have just that one night to be angry, and then, just as predictably, it peters out into double depression. But when he tells his therapist about it, and about allowing himself his one night of anger, she’s proud of him for not trying to stifle it and instead working through it.
“You said you were never together,” she says, scrutinising him over the top of her notepad. “But how long were you in love with him?”
“I’m still in love with him,” Buck says.
“I know,” she replies. “But when did that start?”
“I don’t know,” Buck lies. “I guess it happened gradually over the years and then one day I woke up and he was it.”
He does know. He knows the exact minute of the exact day because it scared him so badly.
Eddie was too shaky to drive himself and his son home after their day with the earthquake, too busy coming down from the sudden release of adrenaline when he’d heard that Chris was okay after a day without cell service, and so Buck had driven him to go get Chris from his school. Buck had watched through the window of his Jeep while Eddie ran forward to grab Chris in the biggest hug he possibly could. And it had smacked Buck over the head so damn hard it might as well have left a concussion.
But the knowledge Buck has been in love with Eddie for four years and done nothing about it, said nothing, told no one, until after Eddie died, all because the intensity had scared him so much? On a good day that makes it tragic. On most days, that just makes it pathetic.
He doesn’t tell his therapist that, just goes to collect Chris from his own appointment and then take him for ice cream.
When they get home, Pepa has let herself in with her key and is cooking a dinner that smells delicious.
“Tía Pepa!” Chris exclaims, and wraps her in a hug which she returns with enthusiasm.
“Hola, mijo,” she says, kissing the top of his head.
Absently, it occurs to Buck he should re-learn the Spanish he knew in Peru. Chris is taking Spanish class now that he’s in middle school, but they should be able to speak it at home, too. And then it occurs to him that he has no idea how much Spanish Eddie spoke with Chris, or if everything Chris has comes from spending time with Abuela and Pepa.
He wonders how many years it’s going to take for him to start parenting Chris the way he’d instinctively parent him as opposed to always second guessing himself by virtue of what Eddie had been doing. Then again, Eddie’s still the most functional and consistent dad he’s ever spent close time observing, so maybe, somehow, if he’s lucky, the way he’d parent Chris would instinctively be the same way Eddie had.
He only snaps out of his train of thought when he feels a hand on his face.
“And how are you?” Pepa asks him.
“I’m okay,” Buck says. It’s true, for certain values of okay.
Pepa nods like she knows exactly how full of shit he is and turns her attention to Chris. “I think you have some homework to do?”
Chris sighs and heads off to the dining room to do his homework but not before he says, “You can just say you have to have an adult conversation.”
Buck and Pepa watch him go for a second and then Pepa presses a hand over her heart.
“He’s growing up so fast,” she says.
“Yeah, I almost had a breakdown the other day when I realised how soon he’s gonna be a teenager,” Buck says.
Pepa squeezes his arm and then goes back to stirring whatever heavenly concoction is on the stove. “I talked to my brother today.”
And the reason for her presence is revealed.
“Ah,” Buck says, and takes a seat on the counter. “How bad?”
“Ramon and Helena are shocked you were telling them the truth about Eddie’s will,” she says. “And they wanted my advice because I know you better than they do about what they could say to you to convince you to give them Christopher.”
Buck groans and presses both thumbs into the corners of his eye sockets, trying to alleviate the instant headache. “Great.”
“I told them that I was too busy to help them since they went through the trouble of having my nephew officially declared dead and then didn’t do him the courtesy of writing his obituary,” Pepa says.
Buck’s stomach turns. “Oh, god, I didn’t either, I should—”
She stalls him by patting him on the knee very briefly. The Diaz family as a whole, Buck has learned, is very touchy. He’s used to it with Chris, and Eddie, but Pepa and Abuela are like that too. It’s an entire universe of difference from his own upbringing.
“I’ve got it handled,” Pepa tells him. “But just be forewarned, they are going to try and convince you.”
“Thanks,” Buck says. “But the only thing that could convince me to let Chris go with them to Texas is if Chris wanted to and—”
“I hate Texas!” Chris calls from the other room, thoroughly shattering whatever illusion they’d had of privacy in their conversation.
Buck gestures towards the dining room since Chris has made his point for him and Pepa gives him a fond look.
“The last time we all saw each other -- before they found out about the will -- they asked him if he wanted to come with them to Texas and he locked himself in his room, and now he says he doesn’t want to talk to them again,” Buck explains. Pepa nods like she suspected no less. “So I’ll get it through to them or, I don’t know, I’ll get a restraining order or something, but don’t worry, Chris isn’t going anywhere.”
Pepa looks at him like she can read his soul.
“Eddie was lucky to have you,” she says, quietly enough that Chris can’t eavesdrop.
It makes Buck’s eyes prick with tears and fuck, it’s been two months and one week; surely, surely, sometime soon he can stop being an emotional wreck. (It doesn’t seem likely.)
“I was just lucky to know him at all,” Buck says.
Pepa pats his knee again but all she says is, “Now, help me cook.”
Before parent-teacher night, Buck and Chris have dinner at Bobby and Athena’s. Bobby cooks while Athena walks Buck through the dossier of questions she’s compiled over the years to ask May and Harry’s teachers. And then she wants to know how his paramedic training is going, even though he’s just started it, and for all that it’s been a week, Buck is able to tell her he’s doing well.
“It was a very mature decision,” Bobby says, setting a few dishes down on the table. “I’m proud of you.”
“Thanks,” Buck says, and feels himself smile just a little. He hasn’t really smiled since August.
“Both for that and also for that,” Bobby adds, nodding his head towards the living room where Chris and Harry are looking at something on Harry’s iPad. “It seems like you’re doing okay at being a dad.”
Buck winces. “I’m not – I can’t be – I’m not his dad.”
Athena squeezes his hand. “Buckaroo, you being his father figure now doesn’t erase Eddie. And besides, lots of kids have more than one dad.”
“But I’m not—”
He doesn’t know how to articulate it. He can’t say that he’s Chris’s dad. It feels like a disservice to Eddie, and disloyalty, and… and maybe someday it won’t feel like that anymore, but for right now, he can’t.
“Okay,” Bobby says, soothing. “You’re still doing a good job.”
Buck snorts. “Yeah, maybe hold off on that one until after I’ve talked to his teachers.”
Bobby and Athena both smile at that, and then Athena calls the boys over to eat.
After dinner, Buck meets Carla outside Chris’s school. She holds onto his arm the entire time as they look for Chris’s science classroom and Buck appreciates her so much. When they find the room, the teacher shakes Buck’s hand, but gives him a thin smile.
“Sorry, I think you’re in the wrong room,” she says. “I’ve got Christopher Diaz’s father this time slot. Whose parent are you?”
“You had Chris last year, too,” Buck remembers suddenly. Chris had told him, after all, that he had the same science teacher again because she’d switched from fifth to sixth grade. He’d been excited about it. “He said you were his favourite last year.”
She frowns, just a little. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be confused, I just met Mr Diaz last year, and…”
And, because he was Eddie, he’d made one hell of an impression.
“We had, um, there was an accident,” Buck says and looks to Carla for help.
“There was a family tragedy,” she says calmly.
“Oh,” the science teacher says, and gestures them down into the seats across from her. “I’m sorry to hear that, Mr…”
“Buckley,” Buck supplies.
“But I suppose it explains something I wanted to talk to Chris’s – guardian, I suppose – about,” she says.
“Is everything okay?” Buck asks, instantly alert.
“He’s fine,” she assures him, holding up a hand to try and keep him from panicking. “His grades are wonderful, and he’s been particularly fascinated by our solar system unit. I just noticed that he’s been a lot more withdrawn this year and has been a lot quieter and isn’t engaging as much with the other students, so I wanted to make sure things are okay at home. But, apparently, I have my answer.”
“Yeah,” Buck says. “We’re working on okay, but it’s, um, it’s a work in progress.”
“I understand,” she says. “Chris is still a pleasure to have in class, and he’s a very bright, well-behaved boy. I just worry a little about his social engagement.”
“Okay,” Buck says, because that’s something they can work on, right? Chris is hanging out with a peer right now, even. “Thank you for the heads up. I appreciate it.”
“Of course, Mr Buckley,” she says. “And I’m sorry for your loss.”
Buck has to clear his throat a few times before he can get a “thank you” out, and when he does, it’s still strangled.
It doesn’t help that he proceeds to have the exact same conversation with Chris’s math teacher, Chris’s language arts teacher, Chris’s social studies teacher, Chris’s Spanish teacher, Chris’s art teacher, and Chris’s gym teacher.
When he and Carla leave the school, finally, Buck can do nothing but groan for a minute. He’s so unprepared for this whole “parenting” thing he hadn’t even realised he was supposed to call the school and tell them what was going on. Belatedly, it occurs to him that the only reason the school’s been letting him pick Chris up at all must be because Eddie had already had him down as an approved contact. Because Eddie is -- was -- the best dad.
“You okay, boo?” Carla asks.
“I’m fine,” he says even though it’s a blatant lie and he knows that she knows that. “I’m gonna talk to him about it. I think I’ve just been worried that if he starts doing badly at school, Eddie’s parents are gonna take that as ammo to use while they sue me for custody or something, and I forgot to make sure he was still, like, talking to people.”
Carla nods and squeezes his arm. “And what about you? Are you talking to people?”
“I talk to people all the time,” Buck says. “I talk to everyone at work, and to Pepa and Abuela and you, and Maddie, and…”
Carla looks unimpressed. “And when was the last time you did something with a friend? That wasn’t work related? And your charming and lovely eleven-year-old ward doesn’t count.”
Buck has to think about it for a long time, but he finds the answer eventually. It was a few days before the river, while Chris was still at summer camp. He and Eddie had taken advantage of a child-free evening to go to an actual bar and play pool. Buck had been too distracted by the way Eddie grinned and laughed every time he sank a ball that he’d been unable to compete effectively and Eddie had proceeded to absolutely destroy him.
Eddie Diaz was the world champion at that particular skill. Destroying Buck.
Buck stares at Chris across the breakfast table. Chris avoids his eyes, focusing hard on his cereal.
“Your teachers say you’re doing really well in class,” Buck says finally.
“Okay,” Chris says, still not meeting Buck’s eye.
“But they’re worried because you don’t talk to anyone,” Buck says.
Chris takes a big spoonful of cereal and stares at the bowl. “I talk to people.”
“Do you?” Buck asks.
“Okay, so why aren’t you talking to them as much? You had fun with Harry the other night, right? And you and Denny were total chatterboxes when we had dinner at Hen and Karen’s,” Buck continues. “So what’s up with the not talking at school thing?”
Chris doesn’t answer.
“You’re not in trouble, buddy, I just need to know what’s going on,” Buck says.
Chris shrugs again. “We’re only going to be in these classes for a year.”
Buck exhales. “And then you’re going to be in different classes,” he finishes.
“But Harry and Denny aren’t friends from school,” Buck adds, “so they’re…safe.”
Chris very briefly meets his eye and then looks away again.
Buck has no idea what to do with this. Part of him wants to say that it’s totally okay to just have friends for a little while, that not every friend has to last forever, but by this point in his life, Chris hasn’t had anyone last forever. Not his mom, not his dad, not…
“Okay,” Buck says. “Well, maybe we can work on spending some more time with Harry and Denny. I just don’t want you to get lonely, bud.”
“I’m not lonely,” Chris says. “I have you.”
And if that doesn’t just shatter Buck’s heart all over again.
It’s second nature now. The first thing he does when he wakes up in the guest room at Magda’s house, after he’s removed one of the cats from his chest, is write down everything he can remember from his nightmares. They fade so fast, all the details absorbing into whatever black hole ate his memories. He’s managed to get a few to stick long enough to record them, but not many. He thinks he can safely say he was in the military at some point, which – as Magda points out – hopefully also explains why he’s been shot.
After he writes down what he can remember from the dreams, his next step is to rub at the ache in his chest that hasn’t gone away. There’s someone out there, someone whose face he can’t even dredge up, who he misses like a hole in his heart.
As has become custom, when he starts rubbing at his chest, the cat headbutts his hand away and curls up in a fluffy ball on his sternum, purring. He’s pretty sure the frequency of cats’ purring is supposed to have healing qualities, but he’s not entirely sure how even the best of cats could heal a broken heart when he can’t remember what broke it.
When he leaves his borrowed room, Magda is eating breakfast and points him towards more toast and a coffee pot. She’s already in her scrubs so he’s going by himself today.
“Anything new?” she asks.
He sighs and pours himself a cup of coffee. “I don’t think the river was the first time I almost drowned.”
Magda grimaces. “I worry about you.”
“That makes two of us,” he replies and joins her at the breakfast table. “I just – why can’t any of the non-traumatic memories come out in my sleep? Why is it only ever something awful?”
“I don’t know,” she says. “Hey, maybe you could go to the library today and check out what they’ve got by way of books on memory?”
He doesn’t have anything better to do, so he goes once Magda’s left for work.
The Nowhere Library is small – like everything else in Nowhere except the hospital, which is the town’s primary employer – and he quickly finds himself in the non-fiction section, searching for books about memory. He pulls a book off a shelf to examine it, but when he moves it, he creates a gap that goes all the way through to the next row of books. And there’s a small face with glasses and a stuffy red nose staring at him between the covers.
“Um, hi,” he says when the kid just keeps staring at him.
The kid sniffs a truly prodigious amount of snot back up his nose and blinks balefully at him. “Do you know anything about outer space?”
Before he can come up with any sort of response, the librarian from the front desk runs over to them and grabs the child.
“Billy!” she scolds. “Leave the man alone. He’s just trying to find a book.”
“He’s fine,” he assures her while Billy sniffs again.
The librarian grimaces and focuses her attention on him for a second. “Wait, you’re – you’re Magda’s amnesia guy, right?”
“Yeah,” he says. “Word gets around, huh?”
“It’s a small town,” she says. “Also, once upon a time she was my sister-in-law, so, we talk.”
“What’s amnesia?” Billy asks.
“Billy,” the librarian scolds. Billy ignores her.
“It means I don’t remember things,” he explains to Billy.
“Like things about space?” Billy asks.
“I remember things about space,” he says, and discovers as he says it that it’s true. “Like there used to be nine planets, but that was before you were born.”
“We lost a whole planet?” Billy asks, eyes wide. “What happened to it?”
“We decided it was too small to be a planet,” he says. “Because there were too many other little planets like it that we didn’t count as planets, so we had to make a decision and either all the little planets would get to be major planets, or that one planet wouldn’t get to be anymore.”
He has…no idea where this knowledge is coming from.
“What was it called?” Billy asks.
“Pluto,” he says.
“Like Mickey’s dog?”
He laughs. “Yeah, just like.”
“Do you know anything about tsunamis?” Billy asks, and his mom groans.
“I’m so sorry,” she says. “They were supposed to be doing a natural disaster unit in class today but he’s out sick, so instead he’s bothering you, Mr…”
“Uh, no idea,” he says, shaking her hand. “You’re…”
“Laura,” she supplies. “Maguire. You really don’t remember your last name?”
“Or the first one,” he says.
“I’m so sorry,” she says. “What does Magda call you?”
“Lately? Antonio,” he says.
“Oh, like for St Anthony,” Laura says and he nods. “Sorry, I know that’s not actually funny, it’s just…”
“Very appropriate?” he offers.
“Who’s St Anthony?” Billy asks.
“He’s the patron saint of lost things,” he says. “Why do you want to know about tsunamis?”
“There was one in Los Angeles a few years ago,” Billy says.
For reasons he couldn’t ever begin to explain, the combination of a child talking about a tsunami in Los Angeles makes his chest tighten with fear. It fades quickly, but it’s definitely a notable thing.
He’d woken up convinced he’d almost drowned before. Maybe he’d been in the Los Angeles tsunami.
Before he can try to answer Billy’s question, a bell rings at the front counter. Laura looks between them, a furrow in her brow, and the bell rings again.
“He’s not bothering me,” he promises.
Laura takes that as confirmation that it’s okay for her to go do her actual job and leaves him with Billy.
He ends up spending the entire day looking at books about space and natural disasters and dinosaurs with Billy, and forgets that he’s meant to be looking for memory books. Something about it feels so familiar, like this is something he’s done before. It makes his hand drift to his St Christopher medal if he thinks about it hard enough.
Laura doesn’t come back for Billy until the library is closing for the day. When she finds them, Billy’s cold has gotten the better of him and he’s sleeping in a ball on one of the library comfy chairs with a jacket for a blanket.
Laura looks between him and Billy, clearly noting the lack of jacket on his shoulders, and exhales.
“I don’t suppose you babysit,” she says, and he smiles. “Also, Magda called. Said you should meet her at the bar when I finally kicked you out.”
“Thanks,” he says. “Where do you want all these books?”
“On the cart,” she says. “I’ll have to count them back in tomorrow. Circulation.”
He nods and collects all the stacks of books he and Billy have gone through to pile them on the cart she indicates.
“I’m serious about babysitting,” Laura says, handing him his jacket back.
“Yeah, sure,” he says. “He’s a good kid.”
For some reason, it makes the ache in his chest worse. It’s been getting worse, he realises, ever since he came out of the coma. Every day he spends without whoever it is he’s missing hurts a little more.
It’s the only thing on his mind when he finds Magda in the bar. Nowhere being what it is, there’s only the one.
He finds Magda in the back near the shuffleboard table and the dartboard. She’s already got two beers in front of her and waves when she spots him.
“How was your day?” she asks. “Also. Onion rings or fries?”
“Onion rings,” he says. “My day was fine. I met your sister-in-law, and your nephew, and she asked me to babysit sometime.”
“Oh, neat,” Magda says. “Yeah, my brother’s a jackass, but he had good taste in women. The Maguires kept her in the divorce instead of him.”
He raises his eyebrows, not quite sure what to make of that, and Magda snorts.
“Sorry, that’s…mostly a joke,” she says, and then clears her throat awkwardly enough that he gets the sense it’s really sort of not. “But you like kids?”
He takes a sip of his beer rather than answer immediately. “I, um, I think I have one.”
Magda covers her mouth in horror. “Oh God.”
“And I don’t know how to – I don’t know how old he is or if he’s alone or if he thinks I’m dead or if I was even involved in his life and I don’t know how to get home to him,” he says, surprising himself a little by the sudden outpouring of words. It just deepens the ache in his chest.
Magda doesn’t get a chance to reply before a waitress comes to take their order. When the waitress comes back, it’s with onion rings and two more beers. She’s followed almost immediately by a woman in a sheriff’s uniform. Her nametag reads “Deputy Lupo” and she frowns down at their table, eyes sharp.
“Is there a problem, Officer?” Magda asks, batting her eyes.
“You’ve had a strange man living in your house for weeks and haven’t let me run a background check,” Deputy Lupo says, and then her face breaks into a smile and Magda pushes a spare chair out from the table for her.
“Jo, this is my friend, currently Antonio,” Magda introduces. “Antonio, this is my – um – this is Jo.”
“Nice to meet you,” he says, shaking the hand Jo offers. “And believe me, I wish I could have you run a background check on me. But I don’t know my name.”
“Yeah, Magda was saying about that,” Jo replies. “I can’t imagine.”
“Isn’t law enforcement supposed to have, like, facial recognition software?” Magda asks.
Jo scoffs. “Maybe in the city. Here, it still takes us like a month to run fingerprints because we’ve got to send them off to an actual lab that can scan them.”
All three of them freeze.
As one, they look down at his hands.
It doesn’t really count as skipping out on a bar tab if you intend to go back later and have a law enforcement official with you, he decides while the three of them run for the sheriff’s office. It’s later, when he’s washing the blue ink off his fingers, that he realises there’s a new emotion pricking against the sharp ache in his chest: hope.
I rewatched "Stuck" last night to make sure I hadn't done a complete hatchet job to Pepa and Abuela here, and remembered the "my nephew is a saint" line which I had totally forgotten about when I started having Magda call Eddie various saints' names.
Also, fun fact, you must be certified as an EMT to be a firefighter in the state of California! This is actually true most places, with exceptions for (that I know off the top of my head) New York and Texas. So Buck, Bobby, and Eddie are all technically EMTs in the show (and Albert and Ravi now) although Eddie, of course, has more training on that front because of the Army. Marjan would also have been an EMT in Miami because it's a requirement in Florida too (so far as I could find), but I am not sure about Paul and Chicago. [reading rainbow "the more you know!" meme]
Chapter 3: This Is Hurt Like Kindness, Breaking You with Gentle Hands
Chapter title comes from "Heal Me" by Snow Patrol.
Thank you all again for your enthusiasm and willingness to come on this heartbreak journey even though the happy ending is not yet available
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“No, they would have to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that you’re an unfit guardian,” Eddie’s lawyer says. “And they can’t do that. You have too many character references and Christopher is old enough that his opinion would get taken into account.”
“Yeah, okay, thanks,” Buck says, keeping the phone pressed between his ear and his shoulder while he chops peppers. “Probably helps that two of the character references I’d have are Eddie’s grandma and aunt, right?”
“Yeah,” the lawyer says. “And my client was exceedingly clear in his estate planning. Do you think they’re going to try and take legal action?”
Buck groans. It’s the first week of November. Eddie’s been gone for close to three months, and Helena and Ramon have not gone back to Texas.
“Mostly, they just won’t leave me alone,” he says, grateful that Chris is playing a loud video game in the living room and can’t overhear him.
“From what you’ve said, you’re getting pretty close to having a decent stalking and harassment case against them,” the lawyer replies. “Let me know if I can help with any of that.”
“If it comes to a point where I need to get a lawyer to deal with them, you’ll be my first call,” Buck promises. “And thank you.”
“Of course,” the lawyer says, and they hang up.
They haven’t had direct contact with Helena and Ramon since the memorial service Abuela organised. Part of him wants to be furious at them: their son died and instead of doing something civil like being the ones to write his obituary or organise his memorial, they’ve been spending all their time trying to drag Chris four states away. But at the same time, he figures he’s not allowed to be mad at them for the first two things since he hadn’t done them either. And besides, he doesn’t really want to burn that bridge for Chris’s sake. Chris might not want to go with them now, and he doesn’t want to move to Texas, but someday, maybe, he’s going to want to have some kind of relationship with his dad’s parents, and Buck doesn’t want to be the one to take that away from him. Eddie might not have wanted Helena and Ramon to be the ones to raise Chris, but he’d never indicated to Buck that he should pour gasoline on that particular avenue of communication and drop a lit match.
But they’ve recently taken to showing up while Buck’s on shift and trying to bludgeon their way past Carla to talk to Christopher without his supervision, and it’s nearly to the point that Buck’s nervous to go to work.
Buck sets the phone down and scrapes the peppers into the frying pan. “Chris! Wash up for dinner, please!”
He gets a grumble and an audible eye-roll but Chris does as he’s asked.
They sit down to dinner a few minutes later and Chris picks at his food, a bit listless.
“What’s up?” Buck asks.
Chris shrugs and pushes a pepper around on his plate.
“Hey, come on, communication policy, remember?” Buck says.
They’d instituted it after parent-teacher night. As soon as he’d figured out Chris wasn’t telling him something as crucial as the fact he had no friends at school by design, it had sent him into a panic spiral. And then he’d ended up having to talk to his therapist about his own parents and their utter disinterest in his life except when he’d damaged himself, and it had hurt enough when he was a kid, but now that he’s more or less a parent himself, it’s simply unfathomable.
“You’re a better cook than Dad,” Chris says finally. “I made fun of him for it.”
“Yeah, so did I,” Buck says. “But your dad liked to tease people about stuff, so he was never upset when we made fun of him for being a bad cook.”
Chris shakes his head. This, clearly, isn’t the issue.
“I like your cooking better,” Chris says. Buck’s heart sinks. “And it makes me feel…I don’t know. Bad.”
“Guilty?” Buck suggests, and Chris nods. Buck can empathise. It snarls his chest in guilty thorns too.
“I’m not supposed to like anything better with him gone,” Chris says so quietly it gives Buck’s heart ample space to break. Again.
“I don’t think he’d be upset with you for liking my cooking better,” Buck says when he’s taken a minute to breathe and knows his voice is going to come out correctly. “And I don’t – I don’t think he’d want you to be sad forever. I think he’d want you to know that you’re allowed to be happy, right? Even if it’s without him. It’s what all parents want for their children. But if it makes you feel any better, I promise I will make you some steamed spinach and boiled brussel sprouts for dinner for the rest of the week.”
Chris makes a face at him and Buck smiles.
“No,” Chris says. “Gross.”
“Phew,” Buck says, exaggerating his relief as best he can. “Good, because I didn’t want to eat that and I didn’t want to have to explain myself when you caught me eating ice cream at three in the morning.”
Chris giggles for a second and then looks back down at his plate while a very familiar sadness steals over his face again.
“How about this?” Buck says. “What if it’s just…different? What if maybe we just think about some things as being different than they were. Not better, and not worse.”
“Like apples and oranges?” Chris says.
“Yeah, exactly,” Buck replies. “Except neither of us likes apples, so maybe oranges and mangoes.”
Chris considers this for a while and then finally takes a big bite of his dinner. Buck hopes his relief doesn’t show too much. He doesn’t want to deal with Chris not eating on top of everything else.
That night when he tucks Chris in, he’s taken Chris’s glasses and kissed him on the forehead when Chris mumbles, “Dad would want you to be happy too.”
“What are you boys doing for Thanksgiving?” Hen asks, sitting down across from him at the table in the loft.
“We haven’t gotten there yet,” Buck says. “I have to talk to Abuela and Pepa and figure out if they’ve got some kind of plan with their family first. I know Maddie and Chim and Jee are going to the Lees’ and we’ve got an invitation there, depending on what the Diazes are doing. Why?”
“Good,” Hen says, and reaches across the table to squeeze his hand. “I was just making sure, and if for any reason everything falls through, you’re coming over to our house.”
“Thanks, Hen,” Buck says.
“Mmhm,” she says and turns her attention back to her med school textbook. Buck follows her lead and looks back to his paramedic book.
“Aww, study club,” Chim says, claiming a seat at the table.
“Shouldn’t you be studying for the captain’s exam?” Buck asks.
Chim gapes at him. “I still don’t know what to do with you now that you’re all responsible, Buckaroo.”
“You did the same thing when Maddie got pregnant,” Hen reminds him.
“Yeah, but it wasn’t, y’know, night and day for me,” Chim says. He gestures at Buck. “Not like this.”
“Study for your captain’s exam, Chimney,” Hen says, and Chim grudgingly pulls out the exam book.
They’re allowed to sit in relative peace for about an hour before Albert slides into one of the remaining empty seats at their table and Ravi grabs the other.
“Book club?” Albert asks. “Boring.”
“More like adult club,” Ravi says.
“We’re adults,” Albert says.
“Are we, though?” Ravi asks. “Compared to these three?”
“Fair point,” Albert says.
“Did you boys want something?” Hen asks. “Or are you just bored?”
“Little bit of both,” Albert says. “Buck, is your house good for a boys’ night?”
Buck blinks and looks up from his textbook. “For a what?”
“Boys’ night,” Albert repeats. “You, me, Ravi, Howie, maybe Cap, Chris. We’ll watch the game and order pizza?”
“Um, I don’t—” Buck starts, but Chim cuts him off.
“Oh, definitely,” he says. “Buck and Chris have a great TV. We’re all off on Friday, right? And it’s not a school night.”
“I’ll tell Cap,” Ravi says. “Maybe he can bring Harry.”
“Don’t forget Michael and David,” Chim suggests while Ravi runs off to find Bobby.
“Thanks for hosting, Buck,” Albert says, and flashes Buck a bright smile that says he knows exactly what he’s just done.
“Maybe you boys can take Denny too, and Karen and I can have date night,” Hen suggests.
“Great idea,” Chim agrees, and none of them let Buck get a word in edgewise.
When the bell goes and they rush for the engine and their turnouts, he’s finally able to say, “That was an ambush.”
“It’ll be good for you,” Chim says. Buck opens his mouth to protest. “And for Chris.”
And Buck can’t argue with that. He’s not sure, exactly, how he feels about the fact he has such a clear piece of leverage against him now.
Well, no, he is clear, but it’s messy. On the one hand, he loves Chris and he’s glad he’s learned he’s the sort of person who will do literally anything if it improves his – his child’s life, but on the other, he hates, with every cell in his body, the cost of this knowledge.
It’s Friday mid-morning and Buck is home alone. Chris is at school and Buck doesn’t have work. All he’s got is studying and household maintenance. When he takes a break from his paramedic work, he decides to spend some time cleaning the living room. If a bunch of people are going to be descending on their house tonight, he wants to look like they’re functioning okay.
They sort of are. Chris, what with being eleven, is resilient and is bouncing back better than Buck is. But that’s always been the case, and Buck absolutely hates that Chris has lost enough people in his life for this to be a pattern. He hates that he can know that when Chris lost Shannon – both times – he bounced back faster than Eddie had, and he hates remembering that when Eddie had been shot, Chris had needed to comfort Buck when he was the one falling apart.
He has the brief, horrible thought that Chris deserves someone better than Buck to take care of him.
It’s followed instantly by a full recoil at the idea of letting anyone else take over.
Buck folds the throw blankets on the couch and straightens the pillows. He clears some empty glasses off the coffee table and gets a dust cloth to deal with the mantel.
It’s as he’s dusting that he finally notices there are new picture frames. The mantel has had pictures of Eddie and Chris, Chris, Chris and Shannon, for as long as Buck has known the Diaz boys. But there’s a pair of new pictures there too, and Buck doesn’t remember when they arrived or where they came from. The first is of Eddie and Chris and Buck with Chris’s skateboard rig. Chris is beaming to beat all hell in the picture, but the way Buck and Eddie are looking at each other in the picture makes him want to cry. It’s all thank you and adoration and – and love.
Buck should’ve told him. He should’ve told him every day, every single day.
A voice in the back of his head points out that Eddie had never said it either, but Buck just has to glance at the picture Carla had taken to know that it’s not true. Eddie had told him. Eddie had said, “There’s no one in this world I trust with my son more than you,” and he’d said, “No one will ever fight for my son as hard as you,” and he’d handed Buck his still-beating heart on a silver fucking platter and Buck had done…
Before he can completely dissolve, he acknowledges the other new picture on the mantel. He knows for sure then that Carla is the culprit – it makes sense, aside from him and Chris, she spends the most time in their house – because it’s a picture only she could’ve taken. In it, both Buck and Chris are sound asleep on the couch. Chris has tipped sideways into Buck’s ribs and his glasses are askew and Buck, in turn, has collapsed sideways enough that he’s practically shielding Chris from the rest of the world, arm around his shoulders. They’re both smiling a little in their sleep and it occurs to Buck that it’s probably the most either of them has really smiled since the river.
Chris was right the other day, Buck knows. Eddie would want Buck to be happy too. And Buck’s going to do his fucking best to fake it for Chris’s sake, but…
He checks the picture of the three of them again and can’t stand the way his face looks in the picture. Because it tells him a story he wishes wasn’t true: the only times in any of the thirty fucking years he’s been alive that he felt truly happy were the times he spent with Chris and Eddie, and he doesn’t know how to make that math work now that Eddie’s gone.
Buck gets himself together before he picks Chris up from school, and he even manages to fix a smile on while he helps Chris with his homework.
“Buck, can we make a garden?” Chris asks as they look over his science homework. “Ms DeLilo was saying we don’t even have to buy the seeds, we can just use the ones that come out of the tomatoes and bell peppers we eat.”
“Plant theft, cool, I like it,” Buck says, and Chris laughs. “Uh, I mean, stealing is wrong, and bad, and also, technically, I think that would make the plants clones, so—”
“Plant cloning is cool,” Chris says.
“Exactly,” Buck replies. “I like the way you think, kid.”
He ruffles Chris’s curls and Chris grins at him.
“Dad said he had a black thumb,” Chris says a minute later. “Do you?”
Buck considers. “I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve ever tried to grow anything before.”
“So it’s a mango situation,” Chris says.
“Yeah,” Buck agrees. “Okay, come on, let’s get your homework done before everyone shows up for boys’ night.”
They’re only just finishing the last of Chris’s math problems when there’s a knock on the door that turns out to be Bobby and Harry. There are hugs all around and then Chris has to show Harry his latest Lego creation in his room and the kids disappear.
“How was your day?” Bobby asks Buck, squeezing his shoulder.
“Not great,” Buck admits.
“If you want us to go home—”
“No, I – no, I think having you guys around might help,” Buck says.
“Good,” Bobby replies. “Let’s see if we can get a salad together and try and get the kids to eat it with the pizza.”
“Losing battle,” Buck says, but helps Bobby rustle up the necessary ingredients from his fridge anyway.
“That was the one nice thing about you,” Bobby says. “You were always willing to eat your vegetables.”
Buck frowns at him and gets a smile in return.
“Unlike certain recent probies I might mention,” Bobby says.
“You just…dad all of us, huh?” Buck asks, dumping a handful of halved cherry tomatoes into the salad bowl.
“Some of you need it more than others,” Bobby replies. “You? Albert? Absolutely, constantly, as much as you’d allow. Ravi? From time to time, and honestly, mostly about his vegetables.”
Buck snorts and then, against his will, sobers. “You never had to parent Eddie though, did you?”
Bobby considers for a minute and sighs. “I had different advice to give him. More about being a father rather than acting like one.”
Buck nods, because that makes sense. Eddie was older when he started as a firefighter than Buck was, or Albert or Ravi. And he was already a dad.
“And he occasionally needed advice about navigating life as a widower,” Bobby continues. Buck grimaces. “I’ve given you some of that, but at this point, all I can really do is remind you that I’m here if you need me.”
Buck has too much of a lump in his throat to say anything, so he just nods.
“And for the record, Buck? I might try and parent Albert and Ravi when the occasion calls for it, but they’re both my probies. You’re…not,” Bobby continues.
“I’m not?” Buck asks.
Bobby doesn’t get to answer because there’s another knock on the door. Buck goes to let Chim and Denny in and gratefully accepts the beer that Chim offers while he sends Denny to Chris’s room. It’s only a few minutes later that Albert and Ravi show up with yet more beer and also the pizza, and Michael and David show up a few minutes after them. Michael and David have never been to his house before, so Buck gives them the nickel tour and can see in their eyes when they notice exactly how much of the décor and objects standing around the house say “Eddie Diaz” rather than “Evan Buckley.”
Buck almost breaks when Michael puts a hand on his shoulder and says, “How are you doing?”
“I’m, um,” Buck starts.
“Boys! Pizza!” Chimney calls loudly, thankfully preventing Buck from trying to lie to Michael.
Chris, Harry, and Denny spill out of Chris’s room to come grab food – Harry takes a brief detour to hug Michael and David hello – and then they’re all crowding into the living room to watch the game.
It’s nice, having all of them over. For a few minutes – not consecutive ones, but there are at least seven of them – Buck gets wholly invested in what’s happening in the game and forgets that he’s bereft and miserable. Of course, when he remembers, later, there’s the added layer of guilt.
Oranges and mangoes, he reminds himself, and fuck but he hopes that works better on Chris than it does on him.
As the game draws to a close, he finds himself dozing off against the arm of the couch with Chris snuggled up to his side as close as he can get, completely passed out. The edge of his glasses is digging into Buck’s ribs but he can’t find it in himself to care.
“You two are adorable,” Albert says as everyone’s getting ready to leave.
“Yeah, yeah,” Buck replies. Chris makes a grumbling noise and wraps his arm around Buck’s stomach, snuggling in closer.
“You two will be way less sassy about it when you’re dads,” Chimney says, giving Albert and Ravi a scolding headshake.
“I’m gay,” Ravi says like this precludes him from fatherhood.
“Hey now,” Michael says and Buck has to laugh at the deer-in-the-headlights look Ravi adopts. “Lots of queer men have kids.”
“Yeah! Two of my three dads are gay,” Harry supplies. Buck manages to catch David’s expression just in time to see the look of fondness and love that crosses it. The expression is echoed in Michael and Bobby’s faces and Buck wishes – god, he wishes so much that he was parenting Chris with Eddie rather than in his absence. He wishes –
And it strikes him then, for the first time. Wishing he was doing this with Eddie rather than by himself feels like a cop out. It feels like some kind of admission of inability and that isn’t why he wishes it, but it’s been long enough now that it’s just…so fucking messy.
He can do this. He can raise Chris to be a happy, functional adult, probably. And it’s going to be a privilege and an honour and it’s going to be the best thing he ever does, no matter what comes after. It just…aches. Because it’s the first time he’s consciously acknowledged that he’s not missing Eddie for the parenting skills or the being Chris’s dad thing. He’s missing him because even though he can do it alone, he would so, so much rather do it with Eddie.
They should’ve had this years ago. It should’ve been years they’d spent with the three of them curled up together on the couch, snuggled together as a family unit. It should be both Buck and Eddie saying goodbye to everyone as they left. They should be gossiping together over Chris’s sleeping head about whether Albert was as queer as they suspected and whether he and Ravi were looking at each other the way “best friends” shouldn’t. Buck and Eddie were the world’s leading experts on that particular front, after all.
But instead, it’s just Buck, by himself, whispering to a dead man over their son’s head.
They’re in the second week of November and he’s on shift when he gets a call from Chris’s school.
“Hi Mr Buckley, this is Lee Ann at the front desk,” the receptionist says.
“Is everything okay?” Buck asks. They’ve put out the structure fire they’re currently at, and Bobby is reading the homeowners the riot act in the background. Buck and Chim hadn’t even needed to transport anyone, because the residents had all evacuated before they’d even called 9-1-1. It was a simple matter of an older microwave and a tinfoil-wrapped leftover burrito.
“Chris is fine, no worries there,” Lee Ann says. “I’ve just got his grandparents here to pick him up early, but they’re not on the list of people approved to collect him and Chris didn’t bring a note this morning, so I’m just calling to check in.”
Buck’s pretty sure his heart, stomach, small and large intestine, and maybe his liver for good measure, fall through the floor.
“Excuse me?” he asks.
Lee Ann takes a second to answer, and when she does, the soundscape behind her is different, like she’s taken her Bluetooth headset and moved to the copy room. “There’s a couple here claiming to be Chris’s grandparents, saying that Chris’s guardian gave them permission to pick him up early.”
“I haven’t given anyone permission to pick him up early,” Buck says, and his heart has returned to his chest now, but it’s also trying to skip out through his ribs.
“I was kind of getting that impression. They were acting a little shifty,” Lee Ann says. “It seemed like – I mean, we try not to gossip, but a little like they might be running with the whole ‘possession is nine-tenths of the law’ thing.”
“I will be there as soon as I possibly can,” Buck says, already mentally calculating the distance between their current location and Chris’s school. But he’s on a call, and the only vehicles he has access to are the engine and the ambulance. Which is not…effective. “Don’t let them take Chris. They have no legal rights to him, whatsoever.”
“They’re his grandparents for real though?” Lee Ann asks, dropping her customer service politeness.
“Yeah, Chris’s biological father’s parents,” Buck says. “And they’ve been trying to get custody from me since their son died.”
“I can have them escorted from the school premises,” Lee Ann offers.
Buck considers for a second, but shakes his head before he remembers she can’t see him. “I’d rather know exactly where they are.”
“You got it,” Lee Ann says. “We’ll see you soon?”
“Yeah,” Buck confirms and hangs up.
Bobby is still lecturing the homeowners with the shit microwave but nothing’s even smouldering anymore so it’s not like they can’t leave.
Chim, Albert, and Ravi are looking at him out of the corners of their eyes like they’re trying not to seem like they were eavesdropping.
“Um, hey, Cap?” Buck calls.
Bobby holds up a finger at the homeowners and turns to Buck.
“Firefighter Buckley?” he asks.
“Eddie’s parents are trying to kidnap my kid,” Buck says. “Do you mind if I take the ambulance to Chris’s school for a second? It’s within our dispatch radius.”
All four of his shiftmates’ faces go slack in shock and horror.
“We’re going,” Bobby says, like it’s not even a question. “Everyone, load up.”
They take the full convoy of the engine and the ambulance to Chris’s school, and Buck’s co-workers position themselves outside the rig in their turnouts, imposing and cool, and also willing to answer the questions about being firefighters that are posed to them by the class of eighth graders that come outside once they’ve parked.
Buck, on the other hand, makes his way directly to the office where he finds Helena and Ramon sitting in two of the chairs. Their expressions are somewhere between guilty and firm and Buck can’t stand them. In that minute, he can’t stand a single thing about them. He feels like, if pressed, he could breathe fire.
“Now see here—” Ramon starts, standing out of his chair before Buck even opens his mouth.
“No, you see here,” Buck snaps.
“He’s our grandson,” Helena pleads, holding onto her husband’s arm.
Buck has a second to wish they were doing this somewhere other than the front office of Chris’s middle school before she continues.
“Look, Evan, we – we didn’t do everything right by Eddie,” she says. Buck isn’t sure whether it’s the use of his first name or the admission of guilt that makes him freeze more. And then she proceeds to say the exact wrong thing. “But Chris is – Chris is the last thing we have of our son.”
We live with the reminder staring us in the face every day, Margaret Buckley’s voice filters in from decades and layers of repressed memories away.
“You must understand,” Ramon says, picking up his wife’s thread. “Chris is our chance to—”
“No,” Buck interrupts.
They both recoil.
“Evan—” Helena tries, but Buck doesn’t let her finish. He’s distantly aware of Lee Ann watching them like it’s a volleyball match, and he’s sort of aware that he’s using his helmet as a punctuation mark while he gestures with his hand, but neither fact stops him.
“No, Chris isn’t the last thing you have of your son,” he says, and without warning he’s… disgusted. “He’s not – he’s not your chance for a do-over. He’s not a reset button, he’s not – Chris is Chris. He’s – he’s brilliant, and he’s funny, and he’s the best kid on the goddamn planet, and most of all, he’s himself. He’s not your replacement for the son you broke when he was growing up!”
Both Helena and Ramon recoil at that, holding each other’s arms like they can’t believe Buck is saying this to them.
“And he deserves to be raised by someone who sees him for who he is rather than people who want him to fill some gap they made themselves,” Buck says.
He’s tearing up as he says it, and a single tear falls from Helena’s eye.
Buck stares at them, waiting for them to contradict him, and pulls out his phone. Athena’s on his speed dial and she answers on the second ring, which coincides perfectly with Ramon saying, gruff, “And you think you’re that person?”
“You’re goddamn right I am,” Buck says.
“Buck? What’s wrong?” Athena asks on the other end of the line.
“Hey, Athena,” he says, and even though his eyes are still leaking, he doesn’t feel the slightest amount of regret. “I need to file a restraining order.”
The name is fading on his lips, even as he wakes up. He sits bolt upright in bed, holding onto his chest like it might somehow keep the pain from overwhelming him. But he doesn’t know that anything could stop it. He doesn’t think there’s any sort of pressure that could hold in the sensation like gnarled, wizened, sharp fingers digging into his chest, trying to pry apart his ribs and pull out his heart, his lungs, every other piece of vital fluid.
He grips his chest, the slight sting when his grasping hands pull on both the t-shirt and his chest hair grounding him back in his reality.
His reality, which is the pre-dawn hours here in Nowhere, in Magda’s house, with now two of the household’s three cats keeping him company while he has nightmares.
Magda is in his bedroom doorway. Her pyjamas consist of plaid flannel trousers and a slightly oversized Nowhere Softball shirt that he suspects belongs to Deputy Jo Lupo, if only because he’s never heard Magda mention sports once in the months he’s known her, and he’s known Jo all of three weeks and she doesn’t stop talking about them.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you up,” he says.
Magda rubs her eyes and shakes her head. “You didn’t.”
“Liar,” he replies, and gets a quick grin in response.
“You said Christopher, again,” she says. “If it helps?”
“I’ve kind of figured that out,” he says, pulling the medal out from under the collar of his t-shirt. The expression Magda turns in his direction is so heartbroken that he can’t let it stand. “God, what are we gonna do if Jo’s fingerprint scan turns up that I’m, like, a serial killer or something?”
Magda purses her lips, unimpressed. “Look, I know none of us technically know you, but I’m pretty sure if you were a serial killer, whatever innate traits that go with that would’ve shown up by now.”
“Yeah,” he says, because she’s right. “But it’s not like my ‘innate traits’ have turned up anything useful.”
“Sure they have,” Magda says. “You’re good with kids, and you’re kinda funny, and you’re an introvert but you’re not shy, and if you don’t actually have a cat at home, you seriously need to get one because they love you.”
He looks down at the two cats sprawled across his legs and the one that isn’t asleep returns his gaze with a lamplit yellow stare that slowly narrows to the cat version of undying trust.
“Plus? The way you gave that guy at the bar the Heimlich the other day and snapped into it before me or Jo could get our feet under us? You were obviously in the medical profession somewhere,” Magda continues. “Hey! Maybe you were an Army medic!”
“Yeah,” he allows, because it’s easier than arguing with her. He knows Magda pretty well by now. She wants to believe the best in people, even though she’s used to them letting her down. Her brother is the perfect example and part of him wants to go track down Matthew Maguire and drag him back to Nowhere by his ear so he can apologise to his wife and be there for his son and sister. But at the same time, he knows he doesn’t have a leg to stand on until he figures out where he’s from and finds his son and his…
His doctor, who kindly ignores the fact the name he gives on medical forms without any sort of social security number is Antonio Espero, says that the vague impressions and déjà vu he gets, along with the things he retains from nightmares and dreams, are the best building blocks he has to go on for his own identity. So he has to assume that the nagging guilt he feels about disappearing on his son – Christopher, surely – every time he thinks about his medal or about Matt Maguire and Billy, has a reason. Like maybe getting washed down a river and losing his memory isn’t the first time he’s left Christopher. And God, he hopes it’s only because of his time in the military, but part of him – the subconscious, worried part – says no. It tells him that he’s the worst father, that he’s irredeemable and that the medal he keeps around his neck is the only memento he has of his family.
And he hopes – espero – that this is just…leftover. Or, at the worst, that it’s new. That it’s because of the amnesia.
“I’m gonna go start the coffee pot,” Magda says. “And then we’re going to figure out what we’re bringing to Thanksgiving on Thursday.”
“Yeah, okay,” he says.
He has to take a minute to collect himself. He hugs the cats – he really should get one of his own if he doesn’t have one back home – and appreciates their purring against his aching ribs, and he lets the few tears that were already trying to escape fall onto their mottled tortoiseshell fur. It’s one thing for Magda to know he cries about his lost history, and another to let her see it happen. It’s a stupid pride thing – and not in the bright, pleasantly connotated gay sort of way – and he sort of hates that it exists in him, but it also feels familiar.
When he’s collected himself well enough, he heads into the kitchen. Magda is grimacing at a notepad and nods him towards a cup of coffee when he joins her.
“Okay, so you can’t cook,” she says.
“We don’t know that definitively,” he replies.
“Antonio? You have successfully made coffee and cereal in the two months you’ve been conscious in my house,” Magda says. “You burnt toast without changing the toaster settings.”
Magda raises both eyebrows at him.
“I can make sandwiches?” he offers. He’s made them for Billy while babysitting often enough in the past month.
“So as long as it doesn’t involve heat, you can make it,” Magda translates. She considers. “Ooh! No-bake cheese cake! The kind that sets in the fridge instead of the oven.”
“Sure,” he agrees, and she jots down the note to call Laura later and promise this.
Magda, as it turns out on the night before Thanksgiving, is as bad at food that doesn’t require heat as he is at food that does require it. Between them, they manage a graham cracker crusted cheese cake to bring to Thanksgiving dinner and the people they celebrate with even accept it as edible.
Billy declares it delicious, but that feels like an exaggeration. Their Thanksgiving party is composed of Magda, Laura, and Billy Maguire and Magda’s parents/Billy’s grandparents, himself, and Jo. He can only hope that Christopher, wherever he is – whoever he is – has a good Thanksgiving himself.
As November turns into December, he slowly acknowledges that he’s getting desperate. Every time he sees Jo around town or at the bar, all he has to do is look at her and then she shakes her head. He’s asked, and she’d done her best to flag his fingerprints with every sort of “urgent” and “time sensitive” mark she could when she sent them off to the state lab, but no matter how many times she calls, they tell her that they haven’t gotten to it yet.
“I can’t – I can’t be gone for Christmas,” he tells Magda as December continues in the same vein as every other month since he woke from his coma. “It doesn’t matter if I don’t remember them, Christopher needs to know I’m alive and that I miss him. Even if I was a deadbeat dad.”
Magda gives him her best sympathetic look and squeezes his hand. “I’m sure you weren’t.”
“How do you know?” he asks.
“Because,” she says. “If you were? I don’t think concern for your son’s wellbeing would’ve transcended your ability to remember your own name.”
“I – yeah, I guess,” he says.
Magda considers him for a minute and then grabs a box of Legos. “Help me wrap this.”
He agrees, because wrapping presents for Billy is as close as he can get to where he’s supposed to be right now.
It seems oddly appropriate that the day Jo shows up on their doorstep with a thick, bulging manila folder is the shortest day of the year.
It’s December 21st, and she holds the folder close to her chest with a dewy haze in her eyes. He’s gotten to know Jo in the past few months, and he knows she’s a competent, compassionate, but very business-like deputy to the sheriff, and a dedicated, observant, but not pushy not-quite-girlfriend to Magda. Jo is not the sort of woman who tears up at things, but he imagines – briefly – that if her background check running his fingerprints had turned up something truly awful, she would feel bad about needing to arrest and incarcerate him.
“Jo?” Magda asks, peering around his arm at her. “What’s up?”
“I – um – I got the information back from the fingerprint lab,” Jo says, her naturally husky voice choked by something. “And I did my own internet searches, which is why it took me an extra day.”
Part of him thinks “what’s one day after the four months I’ve spent here, conscious and not” and part of him thinks “why the hell didn’t you come yesterday?”
“It’s that bad, huh?” he asks, and the tears that have been threatening to fall spill down Jo’s face.
“No,” she says, emphatic. “No, Eddie, it’s not.”
The name feels like someone’s kicked him in the stomach, but it doesn’t unlock anything. It just feels…familiar. It reminds him of the way he’d felt the first time Magda had suggested that maybe his name was Christopher. Christopher had been familiar, but it hadn’t been his. He knows why now – probably – and “Eddie,” conversely, feels like it’s familiar and like it’s his.
“Come in,” Magda says, dragging Jo into the living room and nudging one of the cats away from the open door with her foot. “Tell us everything. I’ll get the whiskey.”
Jo sits down on the couch and he – Eddie, he’s Eddie, in a way that he never quite connected with Antonio; not that either is better or worse, just that one is familiar after thirty-odd years of use and one isn’t – sits down in one of the two armchairs Magda had stolen from a thrift trip into Nevada.
Magda returns to the living room a few minutes later with three glasses full of amber liquid. It strikes him as more than one single serving of whiskey is supposed to be, but he doesn’t comment. Magda’s dedication to drinking Irish whiskey in the southern Californian borderlands-adjacent town of Nowhere is some kind of admirable, even if tequila is cheaper.
“So, lay it on us,” he prompts when Magda has folded herself cross-legged into the other pilfered armchair. “Who am I?”
He’s been able to figure out so little that he feels confident in. He’s mostly sure he has a son named Christopher, and he’s mostly sure he was at least raised Catholic, and he’s mostly sure he’s Latino, and he’s mostly sure he was in the military, and he’s mostly sure he worked in some sort of medical response system, and he’s mostly sure he’s almost drowned more than once. It isn’t a lot to go on.
“You’re Edmundo Diaz,” Jo says. That feels familiar too, but he also feels like Eddie is much more him than Edmundo. “You were born on September 1st, 1988 in El Paso, Texas. Your parents are Helena and Ramon Diaz.”
He nods. The names aren’t familiar, and neither is the birthday, but all information is welcome at this point. He takes a sip of the whiskey Magda’s provided him
“Ancestry.com told me that your grandparents on your dad’s side are – were – Isabel and Edmundo, so at least that explains the old-fashioned name,” Jo continues.
“You looked my family up on Ancestry.com?” Eddie asks.
“Yeah,” Jo says. She clears her throat and takes her own sip of whiskey. “One of your sisters must have put everything in. You’ve got two of those, by the way. Sisters. Sophia and Adriana.”
He can’t imagine they were particularly close, before he disappeared, but the notion of only having two sisters rings false now. He glances at Magda out of the corner of his eye and catches her looking back. It’s mutual, then, the understanding that no matter who he is and where he’s supposed to be, Magda is his sister now.
“You, um, you were married,” Jo says. “Your – your wife died in 2019. Her name was Shannon.”
Eddie feels it like the echo of a hollow smack. It continues to be his own personalised sort of hell that he can remember vague pieces of the pain but not the people involved. But then, that tracks with the way all his nightmares have gone since he woke up.
“Why has he been shot?” Magda asks, leaning forward in her seat.
“Three of the times were in Afghanistan,” Jo says. “You got a Silver Star, for your meritorious service as a medic.”
A knot of tension he hasn’t even been able to acknowledge when placed against everything else that’s tied up inside him loosens and lets go. He was a medic. He’d been there to help, not to deal more damage.
“One, the most recent, was in LA,” Jo continues. “The one in your right shoulder.”
He lifts his hand up and touches the scar. It’s not quite a conscious movement, but when his fingernail traces over the scar tissue, it sends white-hot feedback through his brain. It’s not pain, exactly, but it’s not positive either.
“There was an incident last year of a former LAPD SWAT sniper targeting firefighters,” Jo says. “Three firefighters were shot, including both Eddie Diaz and Bobby Nash of the 118. You were a firefighter.”
Magda laughs, but not like it’s funny. It’s a ragged, relieved sound, and she immediately claps a hand over her mouth.
“Firefighter is so much better than white-water rafter,” she says when Eddie and Jo turn to look at her.
“And, um, you’ve got an obituary,” Jo says, and that she pulls from her dossier to hand to him.
He scans it, unsure whether the scanned-then-printed version of the newspaper typesetting has made the thing blurry or if it’s his own eyes betraying him. It talks about his service in the Army, and about his time in the LAFD, but it’s the last line that kills him.
“‘He’s survived by his partner and their son, Christopher,’” he reads.
“Your, um, your partner wasn’t legally binding, as far as I could find,” Jo says, her face full of regret. “But I’m pretty sure his name is Evan Buckley. You, uh, you almost died in a well a few years back, on a rescue, and there’s a video of him trying to dig you out with his bare hands. It nearly went viral on YouTube.”
Eddie nods, not quite sure what to do with this. The pain in his chest, which has progressed from persistent ache to insistent agony over the past two months, could be just because of Christopher – God, he’s got to get home to Christopher – but it could also, surely, be because of two people. There’s enough pain nagging at him for an entire life, not only fatherhood.
“Did you get his—”
“Yeah, I’ve got a copy of his driver’s license,” Jo says, finishing Magda’s question before she can fully ask it. “I mean, it’s invalid because, legally, he’s dead, but it’s got an address.”
Eddie takes the file folder from her when she extends it across the living room. There’s a silence while all three of them drink their whiskey and one of the cats independently adopts each of them.
“I’ve got to go home,” Eddie says, staring down at the photocopy of his invalidated driver’s license. It has his address on it, somewhere in Los Angeles. It’s not anything he’s familiar with, but then, he’s not truly familiar with the name Eddie.
“Yeah,” Jo agrees, and even that one syllable is thick with emotion.
Magda sniffs and tosses back the rest of her whiskey. She checks her watch and frowns. “It’s late. Are you okay if we leave tomorrow?”
Eddie nods, suddenly nervous. He’ll be home for Christmas, he just has no real idea what he’s going to find.
I took Latin instead of Spanish in school but I'm pretty sure "espero" can be translated as both "I hope" and as "I wait." Just, y'know, for the extra pain.
Also, since we don't technically know how old Eddie is, I made him a year younger than Ryan, the same way Buck is a year younger than Oliver.
Chapter 4: I Call Out Your Name, It Feels Like a Song I Know So Well
The chapter title, again, comes from "Heal Me" by Snow Patrol. Chapters five and six have same song as a title source too and I did not pick them to intentionally be in pairs, but oh well.
Thank you all so, so, so, SO much for your kindness and enthusiasm. Now seems like as good a place as any to mention that the full run of lyrics in the title song is, "Leave the light on, I'll be coming home. And make sure that my side of the bed is warm."
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Buck and Chris spend Thanksgiving with Abuela and Pepa. Eddie’s sister Sophia, who lives in Santa Barbara with her children and husband, joins them. While Chris’s cousins seize him in a familial kinship that is totally foreign to Buck – since both his parents are only children as far as he knows; honestly at this point, they could’ve been lying about not having siblings or living parents, just to keep him from finding out about Daniel – he is trapped in the kitchen by Sophia and Abuela.
“You took out a restraining order against my parents,” Sophia says, and Buck cannot decipher her tone.
“They tried to take Chris from his school,” he says.
“Oh, bro, I totally meant that as a compliment,” Sophia says. “Pass me those poblanos.”
Buck hands over the peppers in question and returns to his assigned task of chopping things.
“They never totally cared about me or Adriana,” Sophia continues. “Like, they were interfering and obnoxious about our lives, but Eddie, you know, they just…they couldn’t stop themselves. It’s why we live in California. So my parents are at a distance.”
“Yeah,” Buck says, because he doesn’t know what else he’s supposed to say.
“And I totally get it if you want nothing else to do with the Diaz family?” Sophia continues. “But I know my girls love Chris, just to pieces, and we’d be sad to lose him.”
Buck side-eyes her and she grimaces.
“Which, I’m sure my parents also said something like that,” she says. “I just mean in a support and friendship way. Cousins hanging out, you know? You have cousins, right?”
“No,” Buck says. “Just a sister. And, well, these days also a niece, and my brother-in-law, and his brother works with us at the fire station and is a good friend.”
“Why aren’t they here?” Sophia asks, and it takes Buck a second to realise her offence at the fact Maddie, Chim, Jee-Yun, and Albert are somewhere else for Thanksgiving dinner is genuine.
“They’re at my brother-in-law’s parents’ house,” Buck says.
Sophia frowns at him. “And you’re here?”
“We were invited to the Lees,” Buck says, unsure if that’s what she’s looking for. But she nods approvingly, so he figures that yes, it was. “I just thought it was probably for the best that Chris get to spend Thanksgiving with his family.”
Sophia nods again, but slower. “We’ll have to figure out a better solution next year. Combine families or something.”
“Yeah,” Buck agrees, and considers the invitations to Thanksgiving he and Chris had received from Isabel Diaz, the Lees, Carla, Athena, and Hen. If they truly found a way to combine his whole family, they would certainly end up with a Thanksgiving to remember.
It’s later, much later, that night and he’s helping Pepa wash dishes while Sophia and her husband try to corral their half-asleep children into the car. Chris is passed out on the couch with his head in Abuela’s lap and she’s absently stroking his hair while she reads her magazine.
“Neither of you fought me,” Buck says, accepting a plate to rinse and dry.
“About what?” Pepa asks.
“Eddie gave me custody of Chris, and Helena and Ramon spent three straight months trying to take him away, but you and Ab – your mom – Isabel—”
“Abuela,” Pepa supplies, the corner of her mouth twitching.
“You both just…let me keep him without arguing,” Buck says.
“Of course we did,” Pepa says, placing a soapy hand on his wrist. “Buck, we’ve listened to Chris talk about you like you hung the moon for as long as he’s known you.”
Buck wishes he could blame the stinging in his eyes on the sharp lemon scent from the dish soap.
“And we listened to Eddie talk about you like you were the sun,” Pepa continues. “Maybe he didn’t officially drag you into the family before he died, but you’ve been part of Eddie’s family for as long as he’s lived in Los Angeles.”
The lump in Buck’s throat is too severe for him to attempt to speak, so all he can do is nod.
The first week of December finds them over at Maddie and Chim’s place for dinner and to help get all the Christmas decorations out and set up. It’s going to be Jee-Yun’s second Christmas and there’s a real chance she’ll remember things this time.
Since she’s not quite two, she isn’t exactly helpful when it comes to unboxing decorations and Buck, Maddie, and Chim have to keep prying pieces out of her mouth. It’s looking like it’s going to be a losing battle, and they’re going to have to wait to actually unpack anything, until Chris pulls his Switch out of his bag and waves it towards Jee.
“Jee, do you want to see my island?” Chris asks, booting it up.
Jee is instantly entranced by the lights on the small screen. She tucks up against Chris’s side, watching with bright eyes. As Buck’s heart shatters into a thousand little pieces for probably the millionth time since August and the river, Chris sneakily loops his arm around Jee to trap her in place and keep her from going after the Christmas tree ornaments. If Jee notices, she doesn’t care.
“I’m gonna cry,” Maddie whispers so just Chim and Buck can hear her. When Buck turns to look at her, she’s tearing up and has her hand pressed over her mouth and her phone out to snap a picture.
“Can I – can I get a print of that?” Buck asks quietly.
Maddie nods, and then they both manage to collect themselves and get back to the business of unboxing Christmas decorations. Jee, thankfully, remains transfixed by Chris’s Animal Crossing game so they don’t have to worry about her ingesting pieces of tinsel.
“Just think, in a couple years, Chris is gonna be a teenager and then we’ll never get to see him be cute with small kids again,” Chim comments, adjusting a few of the branches on the tree they’re setting up.
“First off – Chris is always going to be cute,” Buck says. He’s Eddie’s kid, after all. There isn’t a different outcome there. “Second off – I am trying very hard not to think about the T word.”
Chim laughs and Buck smiles.
“It’s good to see you smile again, man,” Chim says, quietly enough that Maddie can’t hear from the other side of the tree.
Of course, pointing it out makes the smile slide from Buck’s face in a wave of guilt. For a second, Chim looks like he wants to say something, but in the end, he just sighs and goes back to decorating the tree.
And, of course, Chim’s disappointment adds a whole layer to his guilt over smiling, and…
And he doesn’t know how to do this. He’s pretty sure he’s got Chris handled, but he doesn’t know how he’s supposed to do the social thing. It’s easier to pretend to be okay in front of a kid than it is to pretend to be okay in front of Maddie and Chim and Bobby and Hen, who all know him so well. He doesn’t know what he’s gonna do about it when Chris grows up.
Bobby’s advice still rings in his head every morning when he wakes up in his – Eddie’s – his bed. One day, in theory, he’ll wake up and the fact that he’s lost Eddie won’t be the first thing he thinks about. And it’s stupid, it’s so fucking stupid, because it’s not like they ever shared a bed. It’s not like Buck knows what it’s like to wake up with Eddie, or how it feels to have Eddie’s face on the matching pillow beside his own be the first thing he sees every morning.
But Buck can conjure him there. He can picture the messy bedhead and the stubble and he knows how much Eddie hates – hated – waking up in the mornings. He knows the grumbles and noises of protest Eddie would make when the alarm went off, and he wonders if – if they’d been together – if maybe some of those mornings, Eddie would’ve simply turned off the alarm, rolled over, and buried his face in Buck’s shoulder with the mumbled request for five more minutes.
The illusory dream vanishes when Buck’s alarm rings again and he smacks it off.
Sometimes he wonders if he was this in love with Eddie when he was still alive or if, somehow, losing him made it worse. He’s pretty sure the answer is both. He had been this in love with Eddie, but he hadn’t been allowed to touch it. He hadn’t been able to look at it directly, because he was too afraid that doing so would ruin the beautiful thing they already had. But now that Eddie’s gone, he can look all he wants, and all it does is ache.
Ten days before Christmas, they get called to a family disaster. A pair of teenagers are trapped on the roof in their underwear and the only window they can access is clearly blocked from the inside with something that looks heavy and immovable. A middle-aged man is lying in the yard on top of a broken picket fence – part of which is jutting through his abdomen – and a crooked ladder is lying next to him. The last player in the scene is a middle aged woman in a bathrobe with her hands on her hips who looks like she can’t decide whether to be more annoyed with her impaled husband or the teenagers who have clearly trapped themselves on the roof.
Bobby directs Ravi and Albert to go get the kids and Buck and Chim head to the injured man. His wife folds her arms.
“Is he gonna live?” she asks.
“What do you think, Paramedic Buckley?” Chim asks, snapping his gum and giving Buck a reassuring grin. Buck is not quite a paramedic yet, but he’s getting close.
Buck assesses the situation and gets the gauze and tape from Chim to pack the wound, as well as the morphine to keep the guy from writhing in agony. There’s nothing quite like splinters in your kidney for good Christmas fun.
“Patient is stable and cleared for transport,” Buck says. “We’re going to get your husband to the hospital, but the fence missed his spine and it seems like it also missed any major blood vessels.”
The woman nods and takes that as enough cause to start scolding her husband.
“What the hell were you thinking, Phil? No one’s used that ladder since Marley was born and—”
“That brat kid was naked in her bedroom, Sheila!” Phil protests.
“She’s eighteen, Phil!” Sheila snaps back, and Buck and Chim studiously avoid making eye contact while Sheila reads him the riot act all the way into the ambulance.
Chim volunteers to drive, so Buck is stuck in the back with the bickering couple.
“She’s still my baby girl,” Phil pleads. Buck keeps a comment about that being misogynistic and reductive to himself, and instead focuses on making sure Phil arrives in the hospital in one piece.
“Oh, honestly, Phil,” Sheila says.
“Help me out here,” Phil says, turning to Buck.
Shock is one hell of a drug, Buck decides. As is morphine.
“I’m afraid I don’t have an opinion,” he says. “My son’s eleven, so I can thankfully say this isn’t gonna be a problem I have to worry about for a while. But as a firefighter, let’s talk a bit about ladder safety.”
Sheila nods approvingly and Phil groans and – mostly to keep him distracted from the fact there’s a piece of fence sticking out of his abdomen – Buck does spend the rest of the trip to the hospital talking about ladder safety.
They hand Phil off to the ER staff and Buck returns to the front seat of the ambulance. They’re halfway back to the station when he registers what he’d said.
And it had been instinct, reflex, a quick and easy truth he hadn’t even needed to think about. He thinks, probably, that the guilt and the grief are going to swallow him whole.
Thankfully, Chim doesn’t call him on anything and Buck is allowed to spend the rest of his shift pretending he’s not dying inside. At least he’s got practice with that, these days.
When he gets home in the morning, he’s trying to figure out how to apologise. He’s Chris’s legal guardian, his custodian. His family, yes, sure, absolutely, but he’s not Chris’s father. He can’t be. That’s Eddie’s space and it always will be, just like the right side of the bed. He can think it – and he has thought it before – but giving it voice is simply wrong.
He’s still turning his wording over in his head when he walks into the house. It smells like Carla made breakfast and when he gets to the kitchen, he finds the woman in question plating the scrambled eggs and bacon and toast.
“Morning, boo,” she says, kissing him on the cheek. “How was your shift?”
Buck starts to say it was fine, but he gets distracted by the bowl of fruit salad on the breakfast table. Everything in it is a lurid shade of orange. It wouldn’t be striking, except he knows they’ve got a bag of grapes and a pre-cut container of watermelon pieces that Chris had badgered him into getting the last time they were at the store.
The only fruit in the salad appears to be oranges and mangoes.
Carla follows his stare and purses her lips. “Chris’s request,” she says. “He said he wanted to talk to you about a ‘mango situation’ and I don’t know what exactly that means, but he was pretty insistent about it.”
Buck frowns. There are small pots with the starts of tomatoes and peppers in the kitchen windowsill, but gardening has been the most recent mango situation they needed to discuss.
“He still asleep?” Buck asks.
Carla nods and Buck takes a quick second to drop his gear bag in his room and then taps gently on Chris’s door. There’s no response, so he pushes it open.
At the sound of the door opening and light spilling in from the hallway, Chris wakes. He smiles at Buck and puts on his glasses.
“Good morning,” he says.
“Good morning,” Buck echoes. “Carla made breakfast.”
He doesn’t get as far as “and she said you wanted to talk to me” before Chris, lured by the smell of bacon, is out of bed and all the way to the kitchen.
Carla doesn’t stay past a cup of coffee. Buck gets the impression that she knows exactly what Chris wants to talk to him about and knows that whatever the conversation is might be best had just between the two of them.
After Carla leaves, Buck narrows his eyes at Chris.
“You’re being suspicious,” he says.
“No I’m not,” Chris replies.
“Mmhm,” Buck says. “Suspicious.”
It gets him a little smile, which was the goal.
“So what’s up? We’ve even got the fruit salad,” Buck says.
“I don’t want to call you Buck anymore,” Chris says, which is not what Buck was expecting in any way.
“Um, okay?” he says. For a wild second, he wonders if Chris actually knows that his first name is Evan, but it’s absurd to think that’s what he means. And Chris proves it a split second later when he adds, “Or Evan.”
“What do you want to call me?” Buck asks.
“Carla helped me come up with some ideas,” Chris says and he’s nervous enough that it’s making Buck nervous too. “Because you can’t be Dad, because Dad was Dad.”
“Right,” Buck says, or tries to say, but his voice is strangled.
“But maybe you could be Pops?” Chris suggests.
Buck almost says no on reflex. He knows Eddie wanted him to look after Christopher in the event of his death, but that doesn’t extend to replacing him. Not that Buck ever could. There’s no way. And he knows Chris isn’t asking him to replace Eddie – oranges, mangoes – but his immediate reaction is that he can’t.
And then he sees Chris’s expression. Chris doesn’t want him to replace anyone, but he does want an adult in his life to choose him. He wants an adult to belong to, and Buck is so damn familiar with that feeling it nearly kills him right there in the dining room.
“I would be honoured,” Buck says.
He figures he’s allowed to cry over this, and when Chris gets worried, it’s the first time in a long time he’s able to say, “No, it’s okay, buddy, they’re happy tears.”
Chris looks unconvinced, but hugs him tightly.
“I love you, Pops,” he says, which, predictably, just makes Buck cry more.
“I love you too, bud,” Buck replies. He squeezes Chris as tightly as he can for a second and then lets go so he can dry his eyes. “What do you say after breakfast, we try to finish the Christmas decorations?”
Chris agrees enthusiastically. They’d gotten the tree a few days after they’d been at Maddie and Chim’s, and that’s done, but the rest of the house is still a little sparse. It occurs to him later, while he’s hanging lights over the bedroom doors, that he’s never decorated a place he lives for a holiday.
“Pops, is Jee-Yun too little to go see Santa?”
Buck has woken up in weirder ways, but five days before Christmas on Chris’s first day of winter break, he discovers that waking up because a child is standing next to your bed and staring at you is a little unsettling.
Reflexively, he looks to his right at the empty pillow, and then to Chris.
“Um, what?” he asks, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes and sitting up.
“Is Jee-Yun too little to go see Santa? Because we could take her,” Chris says.
Buck blinks at him. “You want to go see Santa?”
“I’ll call Maddie and check,” Buck says.
Maddie tells him that Chim has picked up an extra shift today so it’s just her and Jee, and they would be delighted to accompany him and Chris to see Santa.
“This was a fun idea,” Maddie says, linking her elbow through Buck’s and resting her head on his shoulder.
Jee is equally fascinated by all the lights and toys and candy and scents from the Christmas fair and by Chris. When they reach the line for Santa, Chris gets Jee to grab onto his sleeve so they can stick together.
“Pops! We’re getting in line!” he calls.
Chris is, of course, totally capable of going through the line by himself, but Jee isn’t two yet so Buck and Maddie join them.
“Pops?” Maddie asks Buck in an undertone.
“It’s new,” he says.
She smiles at him. “It suits you.”
Buck shrugs. “I just wish…”
“I know,” she says.
“I’d give anything,” Buck says, and then has to stop because he doesn’t want to start tearing up at the Christmas fair.
Then it’s Chris and Jee’s turn to get their pictures taken with Santa and to make their wishes and as Buck and Maddie pull out their phones and take pictures, Buck abruptly recalls the last time he’d been here. He’d been here with Eddie and Chris, and they’d been talking about Shannon, and the elf had told Buck that he and Eddie had an adorable son. He’d been too taken off guard to say anything other than “thank you.” And now, four years later, he’s Pops and he’s missing Eddie.
He hates the passage of time.
“So?” he asks Chris when he’s tucking him into bed that night. He’s had more sugar than any child realistically should in one sitting and it took way too long for him to crash, but now, Chris’s eyes are barely open. “What did you ask Santa for?”
“Can’t tell you,” Chris mumbles.
“Oh, but, see, turns out that parents have this nifty direct line to the guy at the North Pole,” Buck says. “And if you tell me, I can make a call.”
Chris smiles sleepily into his pillow but he doesn’t open his eyes.
“I asked for you to be happy again,” Chris murmurs and in the next breath, he’s asleep.
It’s fine, Buck decides as he turns off Chris’s light and heads to his own room. He wasn’t using his heart anymore anyway.
By some miracle, Buck isn’t working on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, but he is working on December 23rd. Or, at least, he’s supposed to be, but his morning had started with Carla saying she was going to be running late. Buck has attempted to make up for soon-to-be-lost time by getting his uniform on here at the house and making Chris a better breakfast than cereal.
“Yeah, sorry, I should only be like fifteen minutes late,” he tells Bobby.
“It’s not a problem,” Bobby promises. “I’ll get one of the guys from B shift to stay over.”
“Thanks,” Buck says, and there’s a knock on the door. He has a second to think that it’s weird because Carla has keys, and then he opens the door.
The woman on his doorstep isn’t Carla. She’s younger, maybe mid-thirties, with a whole Pollack painting worth of freckles and a sweater that might be hand-knit. A car that must be hers – an ancient Land Rover – is parked at the curb and Buck can just make out the shape of a man sitting in the front seat.
“Um, hi,” the woman says. “Is this the Diaz house?”
Buck’s chest tightens just a little. “Um, yeah,” he says. “Sorry, just a second.”
She nods and he turns his attention back to the phone.
“Bobby, I’ll call you back when I’m on my way in,” he says and gets a confirmation before he hangs up.
“Sorry, I know this is weird,” the woman says and her eyes flick over his uniform. “Just caught you, huh?”
“Um, no, my – I wasn’t on my way out, yet,” Buck says. “Who are you?”
“Gosh, sorry,” she says. “My name’s Magda Maguire. I’m a nurse at St Joseph’s Hospital in Nowhere.”
“Is that a place?” Buck asks.
“In a manner of speaking,” Magda says. “The – the thing is, about five months ago, we got a John Doe in our coma ward.”
The possible implications of her words catch Buck like a pool ball to the head, but one that ricochets away before it can fall into the pocket and devastate him.
“Okay,” Buck says. “Why are you…”
“He woke up on October 1st—” Magda continues. Two and a half months ago, Buck’s brain supplies. The day Helena and Ramon Diaz officially got Eddie declared dead. “But he’s suffering from some pretty severe retrograde amnesia. His procedural memory is intact but the rest of it is sort of…gone. And the doctors think there’s a chance for a spontaneous return still, since he’s got nightmares, but, because he didn’t know who he was, it took us a really long time to figure out who he…”
The car door opens and the passenger from Magda’s front seat steps out onto the drive.
Buck’s entire world turns sideways.
He’s been in shock before, but never quite like this. He can’t even start to react in any normal or meaningful way. All he can do is stare.
Absently, he’s aware of lifting his phone to his ear and calling Bobby back.
“H-hey, Bobby, I can’t come in to work today,” Buck hears himself say.
He looks different. His hair’s a little longer and he hasn’t put anything in it. He’s been lazier about shaving, too, and the stubble on his jaw is thicker than usual. And he’s thin, almost upsettingly so, but Magda had said he’d been in a coma for a few months so maybe that’s not too surprising. But something that feels like thawing is starting in Buck’s chest.
“Buck?” Bobby’s voice is so distant he may as well be shouting it from the 118’s engine bay rather than speaking through the phone. “Is everything okay?”
“E-Eddie’s in my front yard,” Buck says, and then the phone slips from his hand and he faints.
Eddie is nervous the entire drive to LA. His mind just keeps providing him with what ifs, over and over again. They’re the same ones running on a loop and he can hardly stand it.
What if he really was a deadbeat dad and they took his apparent death as good riddance?
What if the ache in his chest is for some secret life, not for his son and his partner?
What if he doesn’t recognise them?
What if he does?
“I can hear you thinking,” Magda says.
“I would be thinking a lot quieter if we weren’t still lost,” Eddie replies. They’d left Nowhere the day before, but since Magda lives in Nowhere and has for years, she doesn’t own a smart phone or have a GPS and as it turns out, Los Angeles is the most confusing street map anyone’s ever devised.
They’d reached LA at midnight the night before and Magda had begged to be allowed a few hours of sleep before they had to drive through an unfamiliar city looking for a place, and so now it’s seven in the morning and they’re still looking.
“Wait, this is the street,” Magda says, turning onto it with a screech.
“We’re going the wrong way,” Eddie says, scanning the numbers outside. His heart keeps doing this strange backflip and the sensation kind of makes him want to puke. “We have to turn around.”
Magda pulls a u-turn on the pleasant residential street. His pleasant residential street. He keeps his eyes fixed on the house numbers and everything inside him freezes when he finally sees it.
“That one,” he says.
Magda slams the brakes – Magda is not the best driver, but since he’s legally dead and his driver’s license is invalidated, he couldn’t help – and they stop.
“You’re sure?” Magda asks.
“It’s got the right number,” he says.
“Does it feel…familiar?”
He considers. He doesn’t recognise the duplex, but something about it feels like a word stuck to the tip of his tongue.
“I think so,” he says, and Magda parks.
He unclips his seatbelt, hand on the door, but Magda stops him.
“Maybe I should go first,” she says.
“Why?” he asks.
“Because as far as they know, you’ve been dead since August, and we can’t say whether or not your memories are going to come back just because you see your family again,” she says. “It might be kinder to give them a little bit of warning.”
Eddie lets go of the door handle. She has a point.
“Besides, maybe they moved after you died, so we need to find them and I don’t want you to get your hopes up,” Magda adds.
She gets out of the car before Eddie can answer and heads up to the front porch. She knocks and takes a step back.
Only a second later, the door opens. Eddie can only see the man in the doorway because he’s so tall and Magda’s so short, but he’s wearing a navy blue LAFD uniform with the sleeves rolled up. Eddie can’t really see his face from here, but he has the same tip-of-the-tongue feeling he’d had about the house.
The man on the porch – Evan Buckley, according to the dossier Jo had cooked up for him – lowers the phone from his ear and talks to Magda for a minute. Every few seconds, his gaze tips towards the car where Eddie’s sitting until Eddie can’t take it anymore. He needs to get a better look.
He steps out onto the lawn. Now that there’s not a tinted car window in the way, Eddie can make him out clear as day. He doesn’t just feel familiar, like a word he can’t quite taste. He feels known, even though Eddie doesn’t truly remember anything. He can’t remember what it feels like to run his hands through those blond curls and he can’t remember how many times he’s kissed the birthmark on his left eyebrow. He can’t remember if his eyes were always that sad, or if this is new.
But even just looking at him, half of the agonising sensation that’s been growing in his chest between his ribs and under his sternum since he woke from the coma simply…disappears. Eddie’s home, and it’s not the house – although the house is technically home too, he supposes – it’s that home is shaped a lot like Evan Buckley.
Eddie takes a step closer to the porch while Evan holds his phone back up to his ear. He says something Eddie doesn’t catch, but his eyes don’t leave Eddie’s. And then his phone slips from his hand and he crumples like a broken puppet.
Eddie runs for the stairs but Magda’s managed to catch him as best she can. At least there won’t be two head injuries in the family , Eddie thinks, and gets his arms under Evan’s before all six-something feet and two hundred odd pounds of him can crush Magda.
He hauls Evan upright as he comes to. When his eyes have finally opened all the way – blue, and a very nice shade of it; Eddie had no idea that he’s apparently a sucker for blue eyes – it’s impossible to read the emotions in them. There are simply too many flickering across his face too quickly for Eddie to make sense of any particular one.
But there’s nothing ambiguous in it when Evan grips the back of Eddie’s neck in one giant, calloused hand and pulls him in as close as he can. Before Eddie’s face gets buried in the polyester of Evan’s uniform, lips press against his temple. A little bit more of the snarling monster that’s been crouched in his chest and tearing out his insides disappears.
Eddie has no choice but to melt into Buck’s chest, and the way Buck is holding him makes it clear that if there was a way to melt into him literally, until all their atoms were mixed together, that’s what they would be doing.
The boy’s voice cuts off abruptly and Buck lets go of Eddie.
“Chris,” Buck says. “I’m—”
But Chris is just staring up at Eddie in the same blank shock Buck had moments earlier. Eddie looks down at him and he doesn’t remember him, the same way he doesn’t remember anything else, but he knows him and he can breathe right for the first time in months. The horrible ache in his chest finally, finally, goes away entirely.
Which is the moment Chris bursts into tears and throws himself into Eddie’s arms. Eddie hugs him so hard he sweeps Chris off the ground, and only realises he’s crying too when his shoulders wrack with sobs. He’s not sure whether it’s him or Chris who reaches out to grab Buck and drag him into their circle, but then there are strong arms around both of them and Buck’s crying too.
It takes Magda a good ten minutes to steer the three of them inside and aim them at the couch. Eddie thinks he’d be content to simply never move from this spot again: squished into the couch cushions between his son and his – Buck?
Where did he get Buck from? Based on the uniform, he’s got a pretty good idea where he found the man, but he can’t account for the name. It sends a sudden jolt of electricity down his spine. It’s a memory.
It isn’t followed immediately by a flood of others, which is a little disappointing, but it almost makes him giddy anyway. He’s got at least two memories now – Chris’s name and Buck’s name – and most importantly, he’s answered his most nagging question: Does he have a home and a family who want him back?
And the answer is a resounding, booming loud yes.
Meanwhile at the 118, Bobby is just staring at his phone and the ended call like "...oh no, Buck's going to have to spend Christmas getting an MRI, what terrible timing."
Chapter 5: When I Hear "You and I" After I've Been Lost at Sea
The chapter title comes from the song "Sail Away" by Koethe. The complete set of lyrics is actually "When I hear 'you and I' after I've been lost at sea, I surrender even better than the memories" which makes me laugh in this context.
Alternate chapter title: "Rumours of my demise have been greatly exaggerated." You can decide amongst yourselves whether it's the Mark Twain quote or the Rise Against song.
And thank you, again, so, so, so much for your outpourings of love for this story. I hope you like this one, too!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Eddie never wants to move from this spot. He has his son in his arms and Chris’s crying has turned into quiet snuffles, and his back is pressed against Buck’s chest. Buck’s arms are around both of them, holding him and Chris as close as they can get, and he’s got his forehead pressed to Eddie’s shoulder like this is somehow going to mask the fact he’s crying too.
Eddie lets go of Chris with one hand and gently runs his fingers through Buck’s curls. It makes Buck shudder, just a little, and when Eddie turns and presses a kiss to the side of his head, Buck sniffs. And Eddie knows, like he hasn’t known a single other thing in the past two and a half months since he woke up, that this is exactly where he’s supposed to be.
It’s the last moment of quiet peace they get.
The front door swings open – the newcomer has keys – and a woman steps into their front room calling, “Sorry I’m late, Buckaroo—”
And then she sees Eddie and shrieks.
The shrieking calls Magda from the kitchen, and while Eddie, Buck, and Chris try to get themselves untangled enough to explain the situation to – family friend? Chris’s nanny? Someone Eddie knows, either way, she feels familiar – the situation devolves because a uniformed police sergeant shows up on their doorstep as well. She feels familiar, too.
“Buck, Bobby called, he said you were—” she starts, and then cuts off with a shocked gasp, clasping one hand over her mouth and the other over her heart when she sees Eddie.
The entryway traffic jam only worsens when a fire department vehicle claiming it belongs to Battalion 7 pulls up and a man in uniform jumps out of the SUV and runs for their door, calling for Buck. He collides with the police sergeant, freezes at the sight of Eddie, and then very quickly crosses himself.
Right, Eddie thinks. Not just Buck and Chris thought I was dead.
He isn’t sure which of them moves first, but seconds later he’s enveloped in hugs from the first woman and the fire captain. From the corner of his eye, he sees the police sergeant put a steadying hand on Buck’s shoulder, which Buck leans into gratefully.
“Oh, god, Abuela,” Buck says suddenly, and grabs his phone.
“How old is she?” the sergeant asks, pulling the phone from Buck’s hand.
“Eighty something?” Buck says.
“Maybe let’s think this through before we give the woman a heart attack by telling her that her grandson is back from the dead in time for Christmas,” the sergeant says.
“Right,” Buck says. “I’ll call Pepa first.”
“Pepa?” Eddie repeats.
It’s the first time he’s had the opportunity to ask a question that proves his amnesia, he realises. Because the doubt that flickers in Buck’s face says that Eddie is definitely supposed to know who Pepa is.
“Your aunt,” Buck supplies, and Eddie nods.
Jo had found his sisters in her search, but nothing about his extended family.
The exchange gives everyone else in the room pause.
“Eddie?” the first woman asks and he wishes very much that he remembered her name the way he had Chris and Buck’s.
“I think we could all use a good explanation for this miracle,” the sergeant says, and gestures to the living room furniture.
As they shuffle around for places to sit, and as Buck and the first woman set about getting coffee for everyone, Eddie has a chance to examine the mantelpiece. It’s covered in framed pictures, most of which are of Chris. Some are of Chris and a woman whose face makes Eddie’s chest ache – his late wife, Chris’s mother, he guesses. Some are of Eddie and Chris. There’s a fun one of Eddie, Chris, and Buck, and considering how in love they look in the picture, Eddie can’t fathom how much the past few months have sucked for his…partner. There’s one picture of Buck and Chris napping together on the couch, and one brand new picture of Chris and a small toddler with black hair, both of them wrapped up in Christmas sweaters and staring at a screen. It’s so adorable it squeezes his heart.
“So, what…” the fire captain asks, accepting a cup of coffee from Buck. He doesn’t take his eyes off Eddie.
“Actually, can I ask a question?” Magda pipes up, drawing the attention of everyone else. “I don’t mean to dredge up bad memories, which I have to imagine this would be, but how did Eddie end up in the river?”
While they consider what to say, Eddie returns to a seat on the couch. They’re less snuggled together than they were before the others arrived, but Chris stays sitting in his lap and Buck’s arm stays around him.
“There was a storm,” the fire captain says eventually. “The river flooded and there were a series of fallen trees.”
“We went to do a rescue, a kid who’d been camping and gotten separated from his parents,” Buck says. “There was a sort of bridge that the fallen trees made. You got the kid, and had just given him to me, but—”
“Another tree got washed down the river and impacted with your bridge,” the fire captain says. “You fell in, and got pulled under, and to keep from drowning, you unclipped from your ropes.”
And then he’d been washed away, all the way to Nowhere.
“You don’t remember the incident at all?” the sergeant asks.
“Um, not exactly,” Eddie says, and looks to Magda for help.
“So, I’m a coma ward nurse,” Magda says, which thankfully gets everyone to stop staring at him. “We had Eddie wash up as a John Doe, severe injuries, didn’t wake up from the surgical anaesthesia. He ended up in my ward until October 1st, when, to everyone’s surprise, he woke up.”
“You’ve been awake since October?” the fire captain asks, and Eddie can hear the reproach in his voice. Eddie can’t remember their exact relationship, but based on the protective look he shoots in Buck’s direction, Eddie gets the strangest sense he’s just upset his own father-in-law.
“I’ve been awake, but I have fairly serious retrograde amnesia impacting specifically my autobiographical memory,” Eddie says. “The doctor I was seeing in Nowhere thinks the memories are still there, and I’ve been able to get a few pieces back here and there from, uh, nightmares, but…”
“Until two days ago, we didn’t know his name,” Magda supplies. “And unless being here’s jogged his memory, I’m pretty sure Eddie and I could both use a round of introductions.”
There’s nothing but dead silence in the room for a minute and then Chris twists in his lap to look up at him, hurt.
“Dad, you don’t remember me?” he asks.
“I know you," Eddie says. “And I’ve missed you every single day. I just didn’t know how to find you because I didn’t know who I was. But I still knew I was your dad.”
Chris sniffs but nods and leans back into Eddie’s chest.
Clearly trying to be subtle about it, Buck starts to remove his arm from Eddie’s shoulders. Eddie grabs his hand to keep it there and when he feels Buck turn to stare at the side of his head in confusion, Eddie meets his gaze.
“I know you, too,” Eddie tells him, and for some reason, that makes Buck look like he’s going to tear up again.
But he also stops trying to take his arm away.
“Um, well, I guess I’ll go first,” the fire captain says. “I’m Captain Bobby Nash. I’ve been your fire captain since you started at the LAFD four years ago.”
“I’m Athena Grant-Nash,” the sergeant says. “Bobby’s wife and a friend of yours. My son Harry and Chris are pretty good friends.”
“I’m Carla Price,” she says, giving Eddie a very soft, fond look. “I’ve been Chris’s helper since around the time you started at the LAFD, ever since your man there introduced us.”
“My man?” Eddie echoes, unable to keep a small smile off his face when he looks to Buck.
Buck flushes which sends an unexpectedly familiar flood of warmth through Eddie’s chest.
“And I don’t think we caught your name,” Athena says to Magda.
“Oh, sorry,” she says. “Magda Maguire. Eddie’s been staying with me since he was discharged from the hospital. Actually, I have a whole list of things he’s supposed to be doing from his physical therapist and from the neurologist, but I imagine you’re going to need to have him legally un- declared before he can see any medical professionals here in LA.”
“I can look into that,” Carla says, and accepts the stack of papers Magda pulls out of her bag. “There has to be a protocol for this somewhere. It can’t be the first time.”
Eddie thanks her, and then finds himself answering everyone’s questions about Nowhere and what he’d been doing there while his memories failed to come back. He doesn’t really listen to his own answers. He’s too distracted by how grateful he is to actually be holding his son.
That relative peace is shattered only a half hour later when a woman he assumes is his Tía Pepa and another he assumes is his abuela join them. Abuela doesn’t quite faint since she’d had warning, but she does cross him, and spends the rest of the morning whispering, over and over again, “Es un milagro.”
It’s a miracle.
It takes an impressive amount of time to get the house back to themselves. Eddie has to promise his abuela and Pepa at least seven separate times that he’ll be at their house on Christmas Eve in time for midnight mass before they go home. Carla only leaves when she’s been allowed to squeeze him tightly with the comment, “I know you don’t remember me, but I’m so happy you’re home.”
“I might not remember you, but you feel familiar,” he assures her, and gets a pat on the cheek for it.
As it turns out, they don’t have a guest room. Magda’s assurances that she can get a hotel room are shot down viciously by Bobby and Athena who apparently live ten minutes away and have had a spare room since their daughter moved out on her own.
And then it’s just Eddie and Chris and Buck.
All of the shock and emotional turmoil of the day has knocked Chris out. It isn’t surprising, Eddie decides. When he steps into Chris’s room to tuck him in, he’s struck with the best sense of déjà vu. He’s done this before, hundreds of times, and even if he doesn’t consciously know the routine, he has the muscle memory of what to do.
“Dad, will you read me a story?” Chris asks. He’s already tucked himself under his blankets, and all Eddie has to do is pick up the book on the bedside table.
“Haven’t we already read this one?” Eddie asks, scanning the cover of the Phantom Tollbooth. The thought surprises him. He wonders if it’s because Chris’s shampoo smells so familiar. His doctor in Nowhere had said over and over again that scent was one of the strongest memory triggers.
“Yeah, but I like it when you read it,” Chris says.
And so what is Eddie possibly going to do but sit beside Chris on his bed, arm around his shoulders, and read to him until he falls asleep?
“I love you so much,” Eddie whispers. He kisses the top of Chris’s head and gets a happy murmur in response.
As gently as he can, he extracts himself from Chris’s bed and only discovers when he stands up that Buck is leaning in the doorway watching them. From the fond, lovelorn look on his face, Eddie guesses he’s been there a while.
He takes another minute to just look at Chris. His memories might not be back, and might be indistinct and hazy at best, but hugging his son feels familiar, and he can recall Chris’s laughter, and most of all the overwhelming feeling of love.
He wants the details back. He wants every minute of his life with his son back in his head. And it might slowly kill him not to have those memories, but maybe, if he tries hard enough, they can make so many new ones. He just doesn’t know if it’s ever going to be enough.
Eddie turns off Christopher’s light and nudges Buck out of the doorway with a hand on his chest. He’s not consciously aware of stroking his thumb over Buck’s heart until Christopher’s bedroom door is shut and he notices Buck is just… staring… down at his hand.
Unexpectedly self-conscious now that it’s just the two of them, Eddie pulls his hand away.
“Uh, I’m gonna take a shower,” he says and doesn’t mention it’s mostly just because he wants to sniff all the shampoo bottles and track down what might be left of his own aftershave, as well as Buck’s, to try and find more memory triggers. “And then can we talk?”
Buck swallows and then nods. “Yeah,” he says. “Sounds like a plan. Do you need me to – I guess you probably didn’t forget how to work a shower, right? You don’t need a crash course in how the dial works or anything.”
“Nah, motor skills are good,” Eddie says. His eyes trace the long lines of Buck’s body and he’s hit with such a powerful surge of want that it feels a bit like getting kneed in the stomach. He wonders how recently they’d had sex before he washed down the river.
He shouldn’t ask Buck to join him in the shower. They should talk first.
“I’ll, um, be in the kitchen,” Buck says, and flees down the hall.
Eddie heads to the bathroom and spends the entire time he’s in the shower searching for memories.
And he finds them. Not many, nothing too specific. He remembers tucking Chris into bed when he’s got wet hair, and –
And Chris, inexplicably damp and clutched in Eddie’s arms like Eddie’s terrified of losing him. And – and Buck? His face is bruised and scratched and he’s filthy for some reason, but there’s such a pure expression of relief on his face.
Eddie’s going to have to ask for context.
He turns off the water and finds a clean towel in a console, then heads to their room. He’d been in it earlier just long enough to drop his bag of the approximately six things he’d acquired living in Nowhere, but this time he has a second to really look. There are more pictures on the dresser, to go with the ones on the mantel in the living room. There’s a small family of three which includes the toddler in the picture with Chris he’d seen earlier. The woman turns up again in another picture with Buck – must be Buck’s sister, Eddie decides. There’s another picture of Buck and Christopher next to a disastrous science fair project of a volcano gone wrong that – that Eddie almost remembers. He wonders if he took the picture.
“For proof the next time you two ask why you’re not allowed to do experiments together unsupervised.”
Like the other bits and pieces and snatches that have come back, it isn’t followed by a flood of recollection. But it’s a concrete memory of his own presence in their lives and he’ll take it.
The last picture on the dresser is of him and Buck and it’s about the dorkiest thing Eddie’s ever seen. He’s holding a party glass of red wine and smoking an inflatable pipe while Buck, decked in more Mardi Gras beads than any one person should ever be wearing, tries to Hulk out of his shirt.
Eddie laughs and then sets about trying to find pyjamas. He could just wear what he’s been wearing in Nowhere, of course, but he wants something that was his before. He finds a somewhat worn out and not quite suitable for work LAFD shirt that says Buckley on the back and a pair of cut off sweats and then goes to return his towel to the bathroom.
True to his word, Buck is in the kitchen washing dishes. There’s a dishwasher, but he’s doing them by hand. Something to keep him busy, Eddie guesses.
“So, um, how much do you remember?” Buck asks when Eddie leans against the counter beside him.
“Bits,” Eddie says. “I remembered Chris pretty quickly, and we managed to figure out I was probably in the army and was some kind of medical responder. Was I a paramedic or just an EMT?”
“EMT,” Buck says. “But you were a medic in the army before that.”
Eddie nods, because he’d learned that last part. “But you’re a paramedic?”
“Almost,” Buck says, rinsing the soap off a handful of silverware. “I’m still in training. I only started after – because I needed to be as far from danger as I could get for Christopher’s sake.”
“Right,” Eddie says. Buck’s hand is shaking on the plate he’s washing and Eddie puts a steadying hand on his elbow. Buck inhales sharply and holds it for a second before exhaling and when he does, he’s not shaking anymore. “I can’t even imagine what kind of Hell it’s been for the two of you these past few months. Like, it sucked beyond words to be heartbroken and missing people I couldn’t totally remember, but the two of you still remembered me.”
“Yeah, um, well, Chris, you know, he’s – he’s the best kid, and he’s so good at recovering from traumas,” Buck says and Eddie’s chest aches that his son has gone through enough traumatic incidents to be good at them. “I kept thinking that maybe you gave him to me as much for my sake as for his because I would not be nearly as functional as I am if we hadn’t had each other.”
Something about the way he phrases it gives Eddie pause.
“Of course I would’ve left Chris with you,” he says. “I know we’re not married for some reason, but—”
Buck drops the plate into the bottom of the sink with a clatter. It doesn’t break, but as he picks it up, he turns an alarmed look on Eddie.
“Uh, quick question – what do you remember our relationship being?”
Eddie stares at him. Buck’s alarmed expression doesn’t change.
“Well, this is clearly our house, you got custody of my son when I was presumed dead, Chris calls you Pops, my obituary said I was survived by my partner and our son, and I’m in love with you, so I’m not exactly sure where I got the math wrong?” Eddie says.
It takes Buck an unexpectedly long time to answer, and when he does, all he says is, “You don’t remember your own name but you know you’re in love with me?”
“My procedural memory is still intact,” Eddie says. He shrugs. “I didn’t forget how to breathe either.”
Buck’s face twists for a second like he doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. “Are – are you saying being in love with me is like breathing?”
It takes a lot of Eddie’s willpower not to step into Buck’s personal space and wedge himself between Buck and the kitchen counter, get his hands on every piece of him he can reach.
“Yeah,” he says instead. Buck still has that look on his face. “Why are you acting like that’s the first time I’ve said that?”
Buck’s expression picks a direction to break then: he snorts.
And Eddie gets it.
“It is, isn’t it,” he says.
“Yeah,” Buck says. “And I’ve spent the past five months regretting the fact I never told you, either.”
Eddie nods slowly. He can’t imagine how they managed to dance around this for as long as they apparently had, considering he barely has real memories of Buck and is still having difficulties keeping his hands to himself. He wonders if they just…never touched.
“I mean, technically, you still haven’t,” Eddie points out.
Buck blurts out an “I love you” before Eddie’s quite finished his statement.
Eddie lets himself take Buck’s hand. “Why don’t we go to bed and you can tell me all the things the background check failed to catch.”
Buck hesitates, glancing first at the half-washed dishes and then at the couch. “You don’t want me to sleep on the couch?”
“Buck, why the hell would I want you to sleep on the couch?”
Buck doesn’t have a compelling answer for him and eventually just follows Eddie down the hall to their room. Which they’ve apparently never shared before.
Eddie claims the side of the bed that only has an alarm clock on the end table and wishes he had a phone or a book he was reading or something so that he had some sort of distraction from Buck changing into pyjamas.
But he doesn’t, and so all he can really focus on is the well-muscled expanse of Buck’s back and the indistinct lines of ink that curl around his ribs.
He cannot begin to fathom how much worse this pining must have been when he had his memories.
“So, if you only moved in after the river,” Eddie says and Buck jumps. He pulls on a sweatshirt that would probably roast Eddie alive if he tried to wear it to sleep, and a pair of shorts, and…socks.
“The pictures on the dresser are yours?” Eddie asks while Buck hesitates to climb into the bed beside him. Eddie just watches him, waiting.
“Two of them,” Buck says. He checks his phone for something and then turns off the lamp on his bedside table. Eddie copies him and turns on his side so he can look at Buck. “The picture of Maddie and Chim and Jee and the picture of me and Maddie.”
“Maddie is your sister?” Eddie asks.
“You remember that?”
Buck sighs. “Yeah, she is. I had to tell her like six times that the house was full today to keep her from showing up. I figured it would probably be a bit overwhelming. Well. More overwhelming.”
Eddie nods, because, yeah. Probably.
“Chimney – uh, Howard Han – is her partner,” Buck continues. “Their daughter is Jee-Yun and she thinks Chris is the best thing ever. Chim’s at the 118 with us. He’s a paramedic, too, but Bobby’s probably gonna retire next year and we’re all hoping Chim gets the captain’s seat.”
Eddie nods and does his best to internalise the information.
“And so I’m the one who put the pictures of you and Chris and you and me in here,” he says. Buck nods. “I sort of remember taking the one of the two of you.”
“Really?” Buck asks, a spark of excitement in his voice. And he finally turns onto his side as well, so he can see Eddie. “What, um, what else do you remember? Like actually remember?”
“Uh…” Eddie thinks about it. “I remembered that your name is Buck, not Evan. And I think I almost drowned once before the river, right? Did that have anything to do with the Los Angeles tsunami a few years ago?”
Buck is quiet for a second. “Um, no,” he says. “You almost drowned saving a kid from a well. And that was when you made me Chris’s guardian in case…”
Eddie frowns. “Then why did hearing about the tsunami freak me out?”
“Be-because Chris and I got caught in it,” Buck says.
The flash of memory that had come to him in the shower pops back up.
“We were on the pier where it hit,” Buck says. “I was recovering from, uh, a thing, and you were working so you got me to look after Chris, and…”
And they’d gotten caught in the tsunami. And they’re fine now, so even though the residual fear grips at Eddie’s chest for a second, he can let it go.
“I’m glad you had each other,” he says.
Buck clears his throat and Eddie doesn’t even need the four years of memories to understand that he’s about to say something self-deprecating.
“So, how did we meet?” he asks, cutting Buck off at the pass.
“At work,” Buck says. He laughs, just a little. “You were so annoyingly competent I thought Bobby was trying to replace me.”
“So I’m good at my job?” Eddie asks. Not that he can do it for a while, since he’s got to get through physical therapy still, and then there’s the whole…not entirely remembering how to do it. Individual procedures, sure, but not the greater systemic parts of being a firefighter.
If he even wants to do it anymore.
“Uh, yeah,” Buck says like this should be obvious. “And it didn’t help that you’re, y’know, you, so not only were you super competent, you were also just obnoxiously hot.”
Eddie laughs. “That must have been very upsetting.”
“I was so jealous, man,” Buck says. “And we were competing for the hot firefighter calendar, too. It was rough.”
“Who won?” Eddie asks.
“Chimney, actually,” Buck says.
Eddie hums. “Well, you clearly got over your jealousy, so how did that happen?”
“Oh, it wasn’t much,” Buck says and from his tone of voice, Eddie knows he’s intentionally full of shit. “We just pulled a live grenade out of a guy’s thigh together. Your standard bonding experience.”
Eddie laughs, just a little.
“And you said I could have your back any day,” Buck continues. The lightness of the moment vanishes like it’s been washed down the river. “And then I didn’t, and I’m – I’m so sorry, Eddie, I should’ve—”
Because Buck blames himself for Eddie’s disappearance.
“Hey,” Eddie interrupts, effectively silencing Buck’s apologies when he reaches for him. Buck goes quiet when Eddie grips the back of his neck, his fingers tangling in Buck’s hair. “You had the important thing.”
“I did?” Buck asks and Eddie can hear the beginning of tears in his voice.
“Yeah,” Eddie says. He thinks about Chris, and Chris’s ability to smile, and how well he seems to be doing even though yet another horrific trauma has been dropped on his shoulders. “You had my heart.”
When his alarm goes off in the morning, Buck flinches awake. He can’t make himself open his eyes. Yesterday, he knows, was a fever dream. Eddie isn’t alive, he’s not back, he didn’t tell Buck that despite severe enough amnesia he couldn’t remember his own name, he remembered Chris and Buck and that he loves them. Buck’s going to have to spend Christmas in the psych ward somewhere, have an MRI, and won’t that be a remarkably terrible first Christmas for him and Chris to spend together and –
And then Eddie’s arm falls across his chest and slaps blindly for the off button of Buck’s alarm.
“Five more minutes,” Eddie mumbles, burying his face in Buck’s shoulder.
Buck has no excuse for bursting into tears of relief, but he does.
Eddie startles and pushes himself up on one elbow. He has the worst bedhead Buck has ever seen on a person, which is considerably impressive what with both Buck and Chris having curly hair.
“No, what’s – don’t,” Eddie murmurs. He’s still half asleep but he’s clumsily patting at Buck’s face like that’s going to make him stop crying.
“Sorry,” Buck sniffs and then because he can, he wraps his arms around Eddie and pulls him down. “Sorry, I just – yesterday was a lot.”
“Yeah,” Eddie agrees, tucking his face back into Buck’s shoulder. “I’m not going anywhere, I promise.”
Buck nods but tightens his arms around Eddie. He never wants to let him go if he can help it.
When his snooze alarm goes off a few minutes later, Eddie groans but sits up to turn it off properly. Buck isn’t expecting it when Eddie follows this by leaning down to kiss him. His breath hitches and he catches Eddie’s bottom lip in the process. He doesn’t fully process what’s happening until the very tip of Eddie’s tongue passes along his and then he has to put a stop to this because if he doesn’t do it now, they’ll end up naked in a matter of minutes.
“I don’t know if that’s allowed,” he says, pressing his forehead against Eddie’s and running his hand through his hair. He can feel it then – a misshapen area on the back of his skull and the remains of a surgical scar. He hadn’t looked at any of the paperwork Eddie’s friend – just friends? – Magda had given Carla the day before, but if he was in a coma for two months and is still in need of physical therapy, then he must have been extremely damaged going down the river.
“Kissing is illegal?” Eddie asks, bumping the tip of his nose against Buck’s. It’s achingly adorable and Buck is extremely in love with him.
And Eddie apparently equates being in love with him with breathing.
“Kissing when you don’t entirely remember me and there’s a weird knowledge-based power dynamic thing?” Buck replies.
“Are you lying to me about anything to do with our relationship? Or, hell, about me?” Eddie asks.
“No, of course not,” Buck says.
“Right, and you could’ve very easily Overboard’ d me, since I thought we were in a relationship to begin with,” Eddie says. He leans back to look Buck in the eye and holy fuck Buck has missed his face. “But you didn’t.”
“What does 'Overboard’ d’ mean?” Buck asks.
Eddie sighs and sits back. Buck takes the opportunity to sit upright and has to fight against his own hands since the only thing he can really conceive of doing at that moment is pulling Eddie into his lap.
“It’s a movie. Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell. She’s rich and gets amnesia and he convinces her he’s her husband,” Eddie summarises.
“Creepy,” Buck replies. And then he frowns. “Did you spend your time in Nowhere watching movies about amnesia?”
“Magda and I have the same sense of humour apparently,” Eddie replies. Buck nods and doesn’t get a second to ask about their relationship before Eddie adds, “Her girlfriend thinks we’re both weird.”
Buck nods again, because Eddie does seem to consistently befriend lesbians in his absence, and then Eddie leans in to kiss him again.
It takes every ounce of Buck’s willpower to break the kiss.
“I just – I just don’t want you to get your memories back and hate me for taking advantage of you,” he says when Eddie frowns at him.
At that, Eddie finally sits away from him, back on his own side of the bed. He’s so thoroughly disturbed the blankets then that Buck can actually see what he’s worn to bed. He hadn’t noticed the night before – too distracted by the whole everything else – but he’s wearing Buck’s ratty, falling apart LAFD shirt that he’d first gotten when he made it through the academy. Buck doesn’t think he’d even been assigned to the 118 when he got that shirt, and he’d been – well, not half his current weight and bulk, but maybe two thirds – and it’s still hanging off Eddie’s shoulders, at least a size and a half too big.
“I kept making them check me for cardiac problems,” Eddie says, snapping Buck out of his concern over Eddie’s stature.
“When I first woke up from my coma,” Eddie says. “I had this – it started like an ache, but over the months it just kept getting worse, like – like something dull and jagged was trying to claw my heart out of my chest—”
“A Halligan,” Buck offers without meaning to. It was how he’d felt, after all.
“Yeah,” Eddie says. “I got at least three chest x-rays but the pain wasn’t anywhere near the broken ribs or where my lung collapsed or anything like that. And it didn’t go away until I came home yesterday.”
“When you saw Chris,” Buck says. It makes sense to him, after all. Losing Eddie had only taken half of Buck’s soul, since the other half belonged to Eddie’s - their - Eddie’s son.
But Eddie shakes his head.
“I mean, yeah, of course, obviously, Chris,” Eddie says. He grinds the heel of his hand into his eye socket and Buck only just stops himself from reaching over and gathering him to his chest. “But the first time I felt like I could breathe without it hurting since I woke up from the coma was when I saw you. And yeah, the pain didn’t go away entirely until I had Chris, too, but…”
Buck has never seen Eddie cry, he realises. He’s seen him tear up – at the hospital after he got shot when Buck was telling him that it would’ve been better for Chris if Buck had been the one lying in that hospital bed – and he’s seen him on the verge of falling apart – after Shannon died – but he’s never actually seen tears fall down Eddie’s face.
And he wasn’t sure he’d ever hate anything more than Chris crying, but, well, here it is.
“There’s a – there’s a really good chance I won’t ever get my memories back,” Eddie says. “Not entirely. But one of the only things I do remember is that I love you, and I want to be with you, and I don’t know what the hell was wrong with, uh, both of us before I – but the thing is, if I do get my memories back, I’m not going to forget all of this, and I’m, like, of sound mind and judgement or whatever, so can I please be allowed to kiss you?”
Buck has to take a second to brush the saltwater off his own face.
“Does it – does it have to be right now when we’re both crying and have morning breath?” he asks.
Eddie’s answering laugh is more from surprise than actual humour, Buck supposes.
“So you’re saying it would’ve been better if I’d actually asked you to join me in the shower last night like I was thinking about?” Eddie replies.
Buck feels his jaw drop and even though Eddie’s still a little teary, he grins.
“Well, fuck, now I’m gonna be thinking about you naked all day and we have to go to your abuela’s house for mass,” Buck says.
“Is this a new problem for you? Spending all day thinking about me naked?”
Eddie asks it all innocent, with a curious tilt to his head that Buck’s seen him do before, but is also entirely convinced he picked up as an expression from Buck himself. A memory, maybe? Or just muscle memory?
But the innocence of his expression is belied by his words and also the way his fingers are fidgeting with the hem of Buck’s sweatshirt, the back of his knuckles brushing ever so softly against the bare skin of Buck’s stomach.
“I will have you know,” Buck says, attempting haughty. He doesn’t think it works very well, if Eddie’s slightly wolfish grin is anything to go on. “That I have always been a perfect gentleman, and did not even once spend a solid three weeks dreaming about your abs after the first time I saw you.”
Eddie laughs, and Buck leans in to kiss him quickly. Because he can.
But there’s still the morning breath problem, so it’s only that quick kiss and then they’re getting up and heading to the bathroom to brush their teeth and then Buck heads to the kitchen to get coffee going and Eddie goes to wake Chris up.
Buck is filling a coffee cup when he hears Chris cheer, “Dad!”
It’s got the same tone as his morning heartbreak before Eddie reminded him he really was back and alive.
And loves him.
When they join him in the kitchen, Buck doesn’t realise he’s tense until Chris lets go of Eddie to wrap him in a good morning hug.
“Merry Christmas Eve, Pops!” Chris says.
“Merry Christmas Eve,” Buck echoes, hugging Chris back and kissing him on the top of the head. He doesn’t like how far he has to lean down to do it. There should be at least another foot to go, and his back should feel like it’s cracking in two.
When Chris ends their hug, he goes back to Eddie and drags his chair at the breakfast table in close so that he can cuddle against Eddie’s side. Buck finishes with the coffee, and a Christmas hot chocolate for Chris, and wonders if the unbearably fond look in Eddie’s eye is going to fade if he gets his memories back. If he’s going to be upset at Chris calling Buck Pops. If he’s going to think Buck tried to replace him, even though he and Chris had had lengthy conversations about exactly that.
He tries to convince himself not to dwell on it and instead gives his boys their beverages.
The next beat in their morning is a text from Athena asking if they’d like Magda to join them for the day, with a reassurance that Athena and Bobby – and Harry – find her charming and would be happy to keep her as needed.
“It would probably be good to have her with us for Abuela’s,” Eddie says when Buck relays the message. “I don’t, uh, I don’t really want to tell my extended family I don’t know who they are, and if there’s a stranger to introduce…”
“Oh, god, no, you’re right,” Buck says, shooting back a text to Athena to request Magda’s presence ASAP. “Chris, can you even imagine what your Tía Sophia would do if she knew Dad didn’t remember his childhood?”
Chris gives him a theatrical gasp.
“She’d tell you so many funny stories that weren’t true,” Chris tells Eddie.
“Sounds like sisters,” Buck and Eddie say together, and Chris bursts into giggles.
“I don’t have a sister,” Chris says. He looks between Buck and Eddie with a serious expression. “Can I have one? I know I have Jee but she’s my cousin and a baby.”
The entire comment smacks Buck in the face and then kicks him in the stomach. Chris is just assuming that now that Eddie’s back, they’re going to stay a family unit, the three of them. He’s assuming that Buck’s going to stay one of his dads, and that Maddie and Chim are going to continue to be the aunt and uncle he has in LA, and that Jee-Yun is going to be his cousin forever.
Buck has no idea what sort of complicated custody situation they’re about to end up in. He technically has legal guardianship of Chris, but he can’t imagine what happens to that once Eddie is legally returned to the land of the living. Obviously, Eddie is 100% Chris’s dad, and Buck has no claim beyond anything Eddie would offer, and he wouldn’t want to try and claim anything Eddie didn’t. And maybe, yeah, he and Eddie are starting to navigate a romantic relationship, which will presumably make everything easier to deal with, but… But Buck doesn’t want to stop being responsible for Chris. He just…wants to get to be responsible for him for better reasons.
“Well, that’s going to have to be something Pops and I talk about,” Eddie says, cutting right through Buck’s entire anxiety spiral. “But we will take your request under advisement.”
Chris nods, satisfied, and takes a sip of his hot chocolate. And Eddie – the way Eddie looks at Buck across the breakfast table is full of the same fondness and expectation of permanence that was in their – Eddie’s – their son’s voice when he asked for a sister.
“Let’s just try to make it through Christmas first, yeah?” Buck suggests.
“The best Christmas ever,” Chris says.
Buck can’t even begin to describe the mood at Abuela’s house when they show up for dinner before midnight mass. Every Diaz in the place wants to grab hold of Eddie and declare him a miracle – Buck will not argue with that label – and so it takes some manoeuvring to keep himself and Magda close to Eddie’s person so that any miscellaneous cousin can be introduced to Eddie’s nurse friend, the one who took care of him while he was half dead, Magda, yes, she does know midnight mass, she’s Irish, thanks, or to Eddie’s partner, Evan, yeah, no he’s been home with Chris while Eddie’s been missing presumed, he’s beyond grateful to have him back in their lives – oh, you didn’t know Eddie likes men? Weird, what rock have you been living under?
It’s an overwhelming evening and thankfully, no one faults Eddie for it when he falls asleep in one of Abuela’s armchairs prior to the pilgrimage to the church. And no one disturbs him, because Chris has curled up on him. Chris, Buck notes, is genuinely asleep, but he catches Eddie’s eyes slitting open to check for company a few too many times to buy his exhausted act.
“Wait, so you seriously weren’t together before Eddie got amnesia?” Magda asks Buck as all the cousins and aunts collect themselves together to get ready to head down the street to the service.
He likes her, he decides, and not just because she brought Eddie back to him. She and Eddie have a similar deadpan, slightly-too-soon sense of humour, and in another life where she wasn’t a lesbian and he wasn’t extremely taken, he thinks they’d probably have hit it off.
“Nope,” Buck says. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’ve been in love with him since roughly thirty-six hours after I met him, but it was just…never the right moment.”
Magda sighs. “Yeah, I get that one.”
Pepa’s voice reaches them and Buck uses his height advantage over the Diaz family to wave her over. In the process, he catches sight of Eddie, squished between Abuela and Sophia, with Chris over his shoulders in a piggy-back ride. When Eddie catches his eye, he grins, and both Sophia and Abuela follow his gaze before instantly turning to Eddie to harangue him about his love life.
Pepa dodges her mother and niece and nephew and falls into step beside Buck and Magda.
“I just wanted to thank you,” Pepa says, squeezing Magda’s hand. “All of us in the Diaz family owe you a debt and if you ever need anything, please let us know.”
“That’s very sweet of you, but like I told Antonio – Eddie, sorry, habit – he’s the first patient I’ve had in all fifteen years I’ve been a nurse who talked back,” Magda says.
“Antonio?” Buck asks.
“St Anthony,” Magda says like that’s supposed to explain it. “It’s what we were calling him before we got the results back from his fingerprinting.”
Buck, whose childhood experience of religion was non-existent, can only shrug helplessly.
“The patron saint of lost things,” Pepa supplies. “I always did say my nephew was a saint.”
“See, we Irish, we pray to the saints for anything relevant,” Magda says. “St Patrick? Great for snakes in your garden. St Anthony? Perfect for your car keys. Not so much for your lost heterosexuality.”
Buck bursts out laughing without meaning to and only sobers when Pepa gives him an amused, disapproving look.
Which reminds him.
“You know, Eddie told me something interesting,” he says to Pepa. “He said his obituary – which you wrote, because your brother and sister-in-law were busy trying to steal my son, and I was busy trying to, like, survive – concluded that Eddie was survived by his partner and their son.”
“Did it?” Pepa asks, with a feigned innocence Buck is extremely familiar with in Diazes. He’s seen it often enough in Eddie and Chris. “Fascinating.”
“And I know that you know that Eddie and I weren’t…” Buck starts.
“Maybe not,” Pepa says, while she links her elbow through his and pats his hand. “But I know what you were supposed to be, and – I assume – what you are now. And miracles aside, I thought having it in his obituary might…help, if Ramon and Helena got ugly.”
Buck kisses her on the cheek before he says “thank you.”
I don't understand how I ended up writing two multichapter fics in a row where there's gotta be bizarre consent conversations around memory? I don't know how this happened. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Chapter 6: You Know I'll Never See Your Face and Say It's Not Enough
Chapter title comes, again, from "Sail On" by Koethe.
And thank you all, so dearly, for your continued support of this story. There will be an epilogue after this, but this is the end of the main bulk of it.
Potential content warning for a brief discussion of American health insurance.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
They spend Christmas as a whole, giant, extended family based around their firehouse. Eddie gets very hugged by people who introduce themselves as Hen, Karen, and Chimney, which feels familiar and kind of normal, and then by Buck’s sister Maddie, which does not feel familiar.
“Did we do this before?” he asks when she hugs him.
“No, but you were supposed to be my brother-in-law a long time ago and I’m really, really glad you’re alive,” she replies, which he accepts.
It had been…comforting and exhausting to re-meet his entire family on Christmas Eve, less a sister and his parents. Somehow, it’s only comforting to meet the “fire fam,” as Hen calls them. And it’s perfect, and so, so welcome to see Chris beam and be excited while he pals around with Athena’s son Harry, and with Hen and Karen’s son Denny. He never leaves the room Eddie’s in, though, and keeps making sure they have clear lines of sight on each other. Eddie appreciates that. And it’s perfect to have Buck constantly touching him the entire day.
He knows, without a shadow of a doubt, unquestionable, unambiguous, and inalienable, that he’s in love with Buck and he was well before the river. Even if he does – hopefully – get his memories back, he can only imagine he’ll be grateful for his amnesiac self for finally crossing that particular gap. Like, he appreciates Buck’s conscientiousness and concern, he does, it goes a long way toward convincing him that he’s really, really found the right person to spend his life with, but also.
Also, he needs to have gotten Buck naked, like, yesterday.
“It’s nice, hearing you say you love our Buck,” Hen says on Christmas Day, nudging him with her elbow.
“God, how cagey have I been about it?” Eddie asks. He might not have told his biological family about the amnesia – aside from Abuela and Pepa – but their fire fam knows anyway, and all they want to do is help. Nothing that even smells vaguely like judgement comes off any of them.
“Well, I’ve had my suspicions,” Hen says, the corners of her mouth twitching. “But until the amnesia, you’d never copped to liking men.”
Eddie frowns at her and she shrugs back. He realises then that he never once questioned it. Jo’s background check had told him he’d had a wife once and had a man now, and nothing about that had given him pause.
“At least the amnesia also let me forget how to be repressed,” he says and Hen chokes on her eggnog. “What about Buck?”
At the sound of his name, Buck looks up from the drinks table and smiles at him, all dimples and bright eyes. The version of Eddie who’d found and picked him, Eddie thinks, had impeccable taste.
Hen sighs. “Buck was gonna take his own stubbornness about admitting he was in love with you to someone’s grave.”
Eddie raises an eyebrow.
“Apparently, my empty one,” he offers, and she snorts.
“I’m so glad you’re home, Eddie,” she says.
“Me too,” he says.
Magda spends their shared Christmas party chatting mostly with Buck’s sister about being a nurse. At one point, they collect Athena’s and Michael’s (Eddie doesn’t know him, of course, but he shows up with a bottle of brandy and a significant serving of eggnog, so Eddie loves him) daughter, May, into their conversation and start trying to convince her to go to nursing school. When Eddie isn’t talking to Hen or Chimney or Albert or Ravi or Bobby about firefighter things, he finds every excuse to keep an eye on Chris while tucked against Buck’s side. He likes all of these people, and he knows they’re family, knows it without having to be told even, but Chris and Buck are his people.
When they get home, Chris announces that it’s still the best Christmas ever and refuses to go to sleep until he passes out and Eddie has to carry him to bed. He has the vague idea that Chris was not this big the last time he did this, which would make sense as it’s been five months and Chris is eleven and therefore growing like a weed, but he also has the vague idea that this is a thought he has every time he picks Chris up.
He gets Chris safely snuggled into his bed and goes to brush his teeth. When he gets to their room, Buck is already in bed, scrolling through his phone with one of the ties of his sweatshirt stuck between his teeth.
“I’m confused,” Eddie says while he changes into his own pyjamas.
“Isn’t that, like, a constant state for you right now?” Buck replies on autopilot.
Eddie snorts and climbs into bed beside him. Buck keeps scrolling his phone, and then, a second later, realises what he’s said.
“Oh, god, sorry, I didn’t mean to—”
“It was funny,” Eddie interrupts.
“Good because I picked up the habit of making jokes about things a little too soon from you,” Buck replies, and takes his eyes away from his screen to give Eddie a quick grin, and then goes right back to it. “What are you confused about? Specifically?”
“You,” Eddie says.
Buck lowers his phone and tips his head to the side.
“I’m trying to figure out how you can be both the hottest guy I’ve ever seen in my life and also just…extremely adorkable,” Eddie says.
Buck’s dimples pop out when he smiles. “Adorkable? Did you pick that up from Magda?”
“If it’s new, then yeah, I’d assume so,” Eddie says. He leans across to Buck’s side of the bed and kisses him – minty fresh and tear-free, unlike the last time they kissed in bed. Buck melts against him for a second, but then his attention darts back to his phone.
Eddie manages to keep his annoyed sigh internal. Knowing Buck, he’s looking up ways to fix amnesia or something.
“What are you looking at?” he asks, pillowing his head on Buck’s shoulder.
“I didn’t get you a Christmas present,” Buck says, which is absolutely not what Eddie is expecting.
“It would’ve been kind of weird if you had,” Eddie points out. He runs his hand across Buck’s chest, enjoying the warmth and even the soft cotton of his sweatshirt, no matter how much he’d prefer it to be just Buck’s skin.
“I know, but I feel bad,” Buck says. “Especially since I got Chris so many and I got you, uh, none.”
Eddie hums, attempting to sound sympathetic while his fingers find the hem of Buck’s sweatshirt and slip under it onto the smooth skin of his stomach. He can feel Buck’s abs contract at the sudden, unexpected cold touch. Not that Eddie’s hand is cold by any normal standards, but Buck’s skin, doubly insulated by his sweatshirt and the comforter, is near feverish to the touch.
“I’ve, uh, I’ve got a suggestion,” Eddie says, innocent. “For a Christmas present.”
“Yeah?” Buck asks, his voice catching in his throat while he lowers his phone to his bedside table. “Does it – does it have anything to do with where your hand is?”
Eddie pretends to consider, too busy enjoying the way Buck’s eyes are getting dark and the way gooseflesh breaks out in waves when he lightly drags the tips of his fingers under Buck’s waistband.
“It might,” he admits, and is only delighted when Buck’s response is to roll them over and kiss him into the mattress. He’s even happier when it means he gets Buck’s sweatshirt off and has the opportunity to spend at least part of the night tracing each of Buck’s numerous tattoos with his tongue.
It should’ve happened years ago. Eddie doesn’t need his memories back to know that. He can taste it in the way Buck kisses him and he can feel it in the way his own hands tremble when he holds Buck closer to him -- as close as is physically possible to get.
But selfishly, he’s almost glad it hadn’t. That this is the first time they’ve touched each other. That he’d never had this and forgotten what it felt like.
It is, truly, the best Christmas.
“I can’t believe I let you sleep in my guest room for months, and all you have to offer is your couch,” Magda gripes at him on December 27th.
“Excuse me?” Eddie replies. “Have you seen the real estate differential between LA and Nowhere? The fact that we have two bedrooms on one firefighter’s salary is a frickin’ miracle.”
“Renting is a shit market anyway, you should buy a place,” Magda says.
“Owning a home? In this economy?” Buck replies from the stove where he’s making all of them breakfast.
“Surely you’ll be able to buy a house on two firefighters’ salaries,” Magda says. “Or, you know, worst comes, you can all just move to Nowhere and join our fire service. Pretty sure you can buy a house there on unemployment.”
“Do you guys even need a fire service in Nowhere?” Buck asks. “Population, what, one thousand?”
“Five, thank you,” Magda says, comedically defensive. “And don’t you snark at me, Buckley, I kept your loverboy from going nuts or trying to claw out his own ribs for three months.”
“I never tried to—” Eddie protests, and then recalls a few of the nightmares he’d woken up from while he was living with Magda. The wretched, horrible, agonising monster that had been trying to claw his heart out while he missed Christopher and Buck had, once or twice, left him clawing at his own flesh.
“Eddie?” Buck asks, when Eddie doesn’t finish his sentence.
“I just – I really missed you guys,” Eddie says.
Buck abandons the chocolate chip pancakes he’s cooking and pulls Eddie into an embrace that aches.
It’s nice for the week between Christmas and the New Year, because Buck takes vacation time and Chris is on a school break, and so they have their whole little family together. And Buck and Eddie get to learn the ways the small touches drive each other crazy, and the ways the more prolonged cuddling requires asking Magda to take Chris out for ice cream so they don’t scandalise their son. Eddie learns just the right way to kiss Buck to get whatever he wants; Buck discovers against Eddie’s will the exact right part of him to drag his teeth across to make what’s left of Eddie’s sense of self disappear in a puff of lust and smoke.
But then the year ends and Magda has to go back to Nowhere – only after she’s made him promise to visit whenever he can – and Buck has to go back to work so they don’t starve, and Chris – very reluctantly – has to go back to school.
He comes home from his first day back in tears. Eddie still isn’t allowed to drive because he’s still legally dead and therefore doesn’t have a driver’s license, so Carla brings him home only for Chris to run directly into Eddie’s arms.
“What’s wrong?” Eddie asks, hugging him as tightly as he can. “What happened?”
He catches Carla’s eye but she looks as lost as he feels. Chris had apparently been crying too hard on the drive home to explain.
“They called me a liar,” Chris says finally. “I told everyone that my dad came home for Christmas and they said I was lying.”
“And then they said I was imagining it, but you’re here,” Chris continues. “You’re really here.”
“Yeah, buddy, I’m really here,” Eddie assures him.
“Because you always come back,” Chris says.
Eddie glances at Carla again to find the same faint concern on her face that he feels inside. It’s probably not healthy for Chris to believe Eddie’s unkillable, but it’s also way too soon after his return to be having that conversation.
“I’m always going to fight to come home to my family,” Eddie tells him. “And that means you.”
Chris nods against Eddie’s chest and then sniffs. “And Pops?”
“He’s always going to fight to come home too,” Eddie says and is profoundly grateful Buck is almost a paramedic now instead of just a firefighter. The fight’s easier if you’re not in a burning building.
“No, I know he’s going to,” Chris says like Eddie’s being dumb. “He made me a pinkie promise. I meant you can’t just fight to come home for me. It has to be for him too. Because he was so sad while you were gone, Dad. He’s not allowed to be that sad again.”
Eddie’s heart aches and he hugs Chris tighter.
“Of course it’s for him, too,” Eddie says. “I just meant – you’re always gonna be the number one priority. Because of how much I—”
And here he has to pause. He doesn’t remember how Chris and Buck’s closeness grew before they reached a point where Eddie was willing to make his – theoretically platonic – best friend Chris’s legal guardian in the event of his death. But he doesn’t have to remember it when he’s spent the past couple weeks observing the results.
“—because of how much we love you,” he says. “You’re always going to be our priority, even though we love each other too.”
“It’s a different kind of love,” Chris informs him in a knowing tone. “That’s what Pops said.”
“Yeah,” Eddie agrees. “Exactly.”
“A mango situation,” Chris says, nodding like this means something significant. Eddie glances to Carla for explanation but she just shrugs.
When Buck gets home from work in the morning, they don’t have a lot of turnaround time to get Chris in the Jeep and ready to go to school, and almost no time to talk. There had been a call that ran over and so Buck’s still in uniform. Eddie wonders if this sort of morning was easier when it was Carla staying overnight with Chris, since Carla could drive Chris to school and Eddie – currently an undead stay-at-home-dad – can’t.
Eddie goes with them to drop Chris off and makes a point of getting out of the Jeep to hug Chris before he heads inside. This is greeted by loud whispering from parents and even some kids alike. He has to wonder how many of them he knew before the accident.
Chris is definitely in a better mood when he heads into school, even if it tears at Eddie’s chest to watch him disappear into the school building.
“You okay?” Buck asks when Eddie gets back in the Jeep.
“Yeah,” Eddie says. It’s mostly true, anyway.
Buck steers them away from the curb and towards the main road back to their house, and when they’re stopped at a light, he leans over and kisses him.
“Do you want to do something today?” he asks. “I don’t think there’s anything we need to be doing, so it could be anything. Ooh, hey, you’ve basically never been to LA before, right, so I could take you to your favourite places and see if you like them still!”
Eddie is pretty sure his entire chest is going to melt out from under him with the amount of fond and love he feels for this man. He watches Buck’s face while he keeps talking about needing to go home and change and shower first, but how then they can do whatever. Traces of the sadness Chris mentioned still linger around his eyes and the corners of his mouth.
“Why weren’t we together?” he asks, only a little aware that he’s cutting Buck off mid-sentence.
“I – what?” Buck asks, turning onto their street. “What do you mean?”
“I’m so in love with you that it transcended severe enough amnesia that I only know what my name is because someone else told me, and you’re so in love with me that our son had to specifically request that I never leave again for your sake rather than his own, so like, why the hell was our first kiss on Christmas Eve and why was Christmas the first time we had sex, because I’m pretty sure this has been the state of affairs for, like, as long as we’ve known each other,” Eddie says.
Buck pulls into their driveway and parks, but is having visible trouble letting go of the steering wheel.
“Because I was too afraid to tell you,” he says.
Eddie considers that answer. “No, because I should’ve told you, too.”
“You did,” Buck says. Eddie blinks and recoils a little, which Buck catches. He grimaces and hastens to add, “No, I mean, not in so many words. You were, uh, a lot more repressed before the amnesia? But you definitely tried to tell me – I think – and I was just too scared to hear it. Because you and Chris are the most important things to ever happen to me and I didn’t – I couldn’t – risk losing that.”
He laughs, just a little bitter.
“And, then, of course, I lost you anyway, so…”
“I’m right here, Buck,” Eddie says. He pulls Buck’s hands off the steering wheel and holds them. “I know it’s not all of me, but I’m here and I am absolutely yours.”
Buck sniffs. “It’s absolutely enough of you,” he says, and leans across the front seat to kiss him. “I should, uh, I should go take a shower and change out of my uniform and then we can figure out what we’re doing today.”
Eddie nods. “You know, I could probably use a shower too.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Buck says, and kisses him again.
They don’t actually get around to the whole “getting dressed” part of showering until they have to go pick Chris up from school.
The day Eddie is legally declared alive again, he also wakes up bitterly sore from the physical therapy appointment he’d had the day before.
“I’ve got to take Chris to school, and then I have a shift,” Buck says, kissing his shoulder and very gently rubbing at some of the tension in Eddie’s previously broken leg. “But it’s only ten hours, and Carla’s going to pick Chris up. And if you want, she’s also happy to take you to the courthouse to pick up the paperwork and then to the DMV to get your license renewed. Or we can go tomorrow.”
“All I want to do right now is go back to sleep,” Eddie grumbles and feels Buck’s lips curl into a smile against the bare skin of his back.
“Well, text me,” Buck says. “And I’ll leave you some breakfast.”
Eddie nods and mourns the loss of Buck’s touch when he gets out of bed and heads off to do productive adult things with his day. Eddie is briefly woken again when Chris is leaving for school, because he comes in to give Eddie a hug goodbye, and then he’s allowed to try and sleep off the aftermath of his “life altering” injury recovery. He likes his physical therapist well enough, she’s decent at what she does, and he’s especially grateful to her for willing to work around his bizarre legal status and weird insurance issues, but, he reflects, he liked the therapist he worked with after he got shot again way better.
He finally drags himself out of bed sometime around ten and heads to the kitchen where he discovers that Buck has left hash browns in the oven on the warming setting. He fishes out an oven mitt and removes them, turns the oven off, and starts looking for coffee.
“Good morning, Eddie,” the fucking Hildy in the coffee maker says. “Would you like your usual?”
Buck’s been pretty good about turning the thing all the way off before Eddie encounters it in the mornings since he’s been back, but at the same time: “Buck should’ve just left you in the closet under the Christmas decorations where I put you when he bought you,” Eddie tells the coffee maker. “Or, like, lobotomised you.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way, Eddie,” Hildy says. “Preparing one black coffee!”
“That’s not how I take my coffee,” Eddie grumps, stabbing a fork into the hash browns.
“The sugar is on the counter beside me,” Hildy says.
Eddie glowers at it but takes the coffee. “I don’t know why they thought you were funny, but that was a—”
It hits him all at once.
His physical therapist after he got shot again.
Getting shot again.
That series of calls they went on where he kept running into vaguely malicious Hildy devices.
The coffee maker.
Chris’s wholehearted delight when Eddie freaked out and the definite smile he’d been able to hear on Buck’s face when they’d talked on the phone about it.
Playing pool with Buck at the bar while Chris was at summer camp a couple nights before the river. Laughing at Buck for being so distracted when Eddie thoroughly trounced him, knowing full well that what Buck had been distracted by were the new jeans Eddie had worn specifically for that occasion.
Showing up at Buck’s apartment with Chris for a surprise movie night at the end of Chris’s fifth grade school year to find Buck already baby sitting Jee-Yun, passed out on his couch.
Having to deal with Taylor fucking Kelly for months while Buck never quite dated her.
Breaking up with Ana.
Sitting in the hospital saying, “Because Evan, you came in here the other day saying it would’ve been better if it had been you who was shot. You act like you’re expendable but you’re wrong.”
The well. Oh, God, the well.
Building Chris that skateboard with Buck.
“There’s no one in this world I trust more with my son,” he’d told Buck after the – the tsunami and God, he’d meant it.
Holding Chris so, so tightly when he found him again, and the overwhelming feeling of gratitude he’d had toward Buck for keeping their – his – their son safe.
The ladder truck.
Sitting on his parents’ porch in El Paso with Chris in his arms, promising he was never, ever going to leave him again.
He isn’t fully aware that he’s sunk to the floor until the back of his head hits against the cabinets. He left Chris again. He swore – he promised – he made every single vow he possibly could that he wasn’t going to do that ever again, and then he –
He doesn’t realise he has his phone out or that he’s called Buck until Buck’s voice fills his ear.
“Hey! What’s up?” he asks, so bright and so much the same sunshine-turned-human that’s been making Eddie’s aching chest suffer since his first day at the 118. “Everything okay? Can Carla not get Chris or something?”
“Can – can you come home?” Eddie asks, and he can hear his own broken voice echo through Buck’s phone.
Buck doesn’t hesitate. Of course he doesn’t, Buck doesn’t know the meaning of the word, but it still helps.
“Yeah, of – of course,” he says. “I’ll be there in a sec. Just gotta clear it with Cap. Are you okay?”
“I’m not injured,” Eddie says.
Although, if he was, Buck is almost a fully trained paramedic now and part of him wants to see that. He wants to watch Buck be as capable and competent as Eddie’s always known him to be and feel confident about it.
He’s still sitting on the kitchen floor with his back against the cabinets when the front door opens and he hears Buck calling for him.
“Eddie?” Buck asks. “Eddie, where are – hey, I thought you said you weren’t injured.”
Buck kneels down on the floor in front of him, resting his hands on Eddie’s bent knees.
“Eddie?” he repeats. “What happened?”
He reaches for Eddie’s face, checking his eyes for pupil response and movement, and in the process leans forward so his torso is firmly stuck between Eddie’s thighs. Literally the only good thing to come out of this whole incident, Eddie decides, is that he’d forgotten how to be repressed for long enough to get his shit together.
“They’re all back,” Eddie says, miserable. “My memories are back.”
Buck, of course, does the most Buck and also worst possible thing in response, which is to stop touching his face and start to lean back and away. Sure that – because he’s Buck – now that Eddie remembers everything, he’s going to regret their relationship.
“Don’t you fucking dare,” Eddie says, squeezing Buck’s torso between his legs to stop him from moving. “This is the only good thing to come out of all this so don’t you fucking dare try to take it back.”
The slightly sad, hopeful smile he gets in response reminds him exactly of the way Buck had looked when Eddie forgave him after the lawsuit.
“O-okay,” Buck says and stops trying to move. “But, shouldn’t getting your memories back be a good thing?”
It should be. Eddie has all of the good memories back now, and they’re trying to shine brightly through the gloom, but—
“I left him again,” he says. His eyes sting. “I promised him I was never going to leave him again, and then I – I left him.”
The stinging in his eyes is turning quickly into burning and he tries to smack his head against the cabinets to make it go away. Buck moves faster, though, and when Eddie’s head connects with the surface behind him, it’s cushioned by Buck’s hand.
“Maybe let’s not add another head trauma to the list, okay?” Buck says. Eddie just stares at him, despondent. “You didn’t leave him.”
“Buck, I was gone for—”
“You died, Eddie,” Buck interrupts. “I know you didn’t really, but I just mean – it’s not like you re-upped or took off in the dead of night without any explanation.”
“But I left him,” Eddie says. He doesn’t know how the hell he’s ever supposed to forgive himself for that.
“Do you know what he remembers?” Buck asks. He stops cradling the back of Eddie’s skull – apparently somewhat satisfied that Eddie’s not going to try and knock it into the cabinets again – and drops his hand to Eddie’s shoulder. His thumb rests on the pulse point beneath Eddie’s clavicle and the whole conversation suddenly feels familiar. “He remembers that you came back. The thing he remembers is that his dad loves him so much he came back from the dead for him.”
“Which is eventually going to be a problem,” Eddie points out.
“Yeah, we’re not thinking about what this all did to Chris’s understanding of mortality right now,” Buck says, because he’s clearly noticed it too. “He doesn’t think you left him, Eddie. And I know he’s told you that himself.”
“Yeah, but when he said it, I didn’t remember that I’d left him before,” Eddie says.
“But you came back then, too,” Buck reminds him.
But Eddie can’t really hear him. He hears the words, his ears are fine, but they can’t quite click.
“I’m the worst father,” he says, and then, very suddenly, Buck is mad at him.
“Don’t even joke about that,” Buck snaps. “You want bad fathers? We’ll get yours and mine to duke it out for the title in a parking lot, if we could get either of them to care long enough to try. But Eddie? You’re the best father I’ve ever seen.”
“That’s not – that’s not true.” He’s only seen Buck actually angry a few times, and it’s always had to do with parents. “You’re – you’ve been so damn good with—”
“The only reason I even knew how to do any of this? The only thing that let me survive these past months by myself? Was because I was following your example,” Buck says. “If it wasn’t for you being the best fucking dad on the planet, I would’ve been totally lost at sea here. And if you hadn’t raised the best damn kid in the world, I would’ve been just—”
“FUBAR?” Eddie offers.
“I don’t know what that means but probably,” Buck says.
“Fucked up beyond all recognition,” Eddie replies.
“Then yes, absolutely,” Buck says. Eddie snorts and wonders – not for the first time, but for the first time in a long time – how he somehow convinced Buck he was worth anything, after he’d spent the first thirty years of his life never being enough.
Buck kisses his forehead and Eddie lets his eyes fall shut. He doesn’t know how he did it, but he is so unbelievably grateful that he did.
“So here’s the plan,” Buck says, kissing Eddie softly on the mouth. It’s the first kiss since he’s had all their years of history back and it’s not to say that kissing Buck before hadn’t warmed him or anything, but without the added layers of context, it also hadn’t precisely unbroken his heart.
“Is the plan kissing?” Eddie asks, chasing his mouth when Buck leans back. It’s nothing special because it isn’t their first kiss, but it’s...it’s also their first kiss while Eddie’s been himself and it is thoroughly capable of distracting Eddie from anything else that might be going on in their lives, to such an extent that he wants more, immediately, please God, don’t stop kissing him now.
Buck’s lips quirk into a confused but pleased smile. “Did you want me this badly before all of this happened?”
“Um,” Eddie says, and feels the flush break out across his face. “I mean, there’s a reason I had to stop hugging you or we were gonna have to find the nearest flat surface and that was gonna be a problem at work.”
For a second, Buck just beams at him and then, to Eddie’s great relief, leans in to kiss him again. And Buck is a phenomenal kisser, not that Eddie didn’t know this already, but he puts so much care and attention into even this small kiss that it just about destroys Eddie. He knows all of it now, all of the different ways he is and always has been unlovable in his life, and yet, somehow, Buck still kisses him like that.
The kiss doesn’t last long enough, and Eddie pouts at him.
“But no, the plan is we’re gonna go pick up Chris early from school,” Buck says, “and then we’re gonna go to therapy.”
“That’s not as fun as kissing,” Eddie replies. He forgets that he’s still sore until Buck pulls him up from the floor.
“No,” Buck agrees. “But it’s good to know what I can use to bribe you with to make sure you actually go to therapy.”
“You can’t actually bribe me with sex,” Eddie scoffs.
Buck raises his eyebrows and the corner of his mouth twitches. “Eddie, you literally asked me for dick for Christmas.”
Eddie scrunches his nose and looks away, because he cannot actually deny that one. “Fine.”
“We should get real clothes on,” Buck says, steering him towards the bedroom. Eddie is still in his pyjamas, and Buck is still in his uniform, neither of which is entirely appropriate for therapy. Although, frankly, when it’s emergency therapy, a first responder’s work uniform and sloppy pyjamas might be about right.
“We could—” Eddie starts when Buck starts unbuttoning his shirt.
“You’re not getting out of this by distracting me with sex,” Buck scolds. “We’re going.”
Eddie grumbles but stops trying to seduce his way out of therapy. “Next thing, you’re gonna make me call my parents or something.”
There’s a long, awkward silence in their bedroom. At no point since Eddie came back at Christmas, nearly two full months ago, have his parents crossed his mind in any capacity beyond "oh, yeah, I have those somewhere." As far as he knows, they may still think he's dead.
“Oh, God, I need to call my parents,” Eddie says.
And Buck hasn't mentioned them, not even once, which means either he hasn't thought about them or... or they'd fought him for Chris and things had gotten bad.
“Therapy first though,” Buck says, and Eddie just sighs.
It takes them over a week after Eddie gets his memories back to get around to calling Helena and Ramon. Buck spends most of those days worried about Eddie – which, to be fair, is his standard state of being – and watching Chris try to be secretive about his worrying about Eddie. When Eddie is at physical therapy, Buck calls him on it.
“What’s up?” he asks. He’s had his best results if they’re both doing homework, so he waits to ask until Chris has his science homework out and Buck is sitting across from him with his paramedic work.
“Why isn’t Dad happy anymore?” Chris asks. “He was so happy when he got home, and now he’s got all his memories back and he’s sad again. I don’t get it. Because you’re happy now and I’m happy now, so I don’t…understand.”
“He is happy. Mostly,” Buck says. “It’s just that he got all of his memories back at once, and there have been some pretty awful things that happened to him, and so he just needs a bit of time to work through all of that again.”
“Awful like Afghanistan?” Chris asks.
“Yeah,” Buck says. “That’s definitely some of it.”
“And Mom?” Chris asks. “And when you almost died twice? And when he got shot? Oh. Okay, I think I get it now.”
“Yeah,” Buck says.
“Then it’s lucky he has us,” Chris says decisively. “Do you think we can help cheer him up?”
“Did you have something in mind?” Buck asks, which is how they end up spending the rest of Eddie’s physical therapy session baking cookies.
When Eddie gets home, he’s a lot sore and a little grumpy about it, but his whole face goes soft when Buck and Chris offer him a plate of warm cookies.
“This doesn’t look like homework,” Eddie says, hugging Chris against his chest and taking one of the cookies.
“No, but it was working at home,” Buck says, offering his best, winningest smile.
Eddie rolls his eyes – looking exactly like Chris in the process – but kisses Buck hello anyway.
Something is clearly lingering on his mind though. They don’t talk about it until after they’ve tucked Chris in, and then, of all absurd mundanities, the problem turns out to be health insurance.
“It turns out coming back from the dead doesn’t qualify as a special enrolment period,” Eddie says, leaning into Buck’s side on the couch and rubbing a hand over his eyes.
“And we don’t technically qualify for a domestic partnership so I can’t add you to my insurance,” Buck says. Eddie tilts his head back, like he’s looking for Buck’s face for clarification. “I asked the union and HR.”
“Oh, God, does Chris have health insurance right now?” Eddie asks.
“Um,” Buck says. He’s pretty sure the answer is yes, based on the premiums coming out of his pay checks, but that was while he had legal custody and he doesn’t actually know what the situation is now that Eddie isn’t legally dead. “I – I think so? If I still have any sort of legal custody of him, then yeah? But if it reverted entirely to you – which it should and which would make the most sense – then I don’t…know?”
Eddie groans. “We’re going to see my lawyer tomorrow.”
“Yeah,” Buck agrees.
They go see Eddie’s lawyer after they drop Chris off at school.
“Buck still has some kind of custody over Chris, right?” is the first thing out of Eddie’s mouth and Buck and the lawyer both stare at him. He sounds…concerned. Like he wants Buck to still have some kind of custody.
“Well, it’s a little complex, considering that his custody was dependent on you being dead,” the lawyer says. “But un- executing your will is… why do you ask?”
“Can we have shared custody?” Eddie asks.
“You want me to still have custody?” Buck asks. Eddie gives him a quick frown like Buck’s being stupid and then goes back to looking at their lawyer.
“The most straightforward way to do that would be stepparent adoption,” their lawyer says. “But as far as I know, the two of you aren’t married, so we’d need to look at other—”
“We can get married,” Eddie says, casual. Buck gapes at him, as does their lawyer. Eddie doesn’t seem to notice. “Can we start on the paperwork for Chris now, or do you need our marriage license first?”
“You’re not even gonna ask me?” Buck demands. Eddie finally looks away from the lawyer’s desk to look at Buck. “First the whole ‘custody of Chris’ thing and now – whatever the fuck this is?”
Eddie grimaces. “Sorry, God, I’m sorry, you’re right, I’m not – I got carried away with the whole idea of maybe trying not to waste time, and then there’s the whole health insurance debacle and—”
“I mean, obviously my answer is yes, but like,” Buck says. It feels like the moment in the hospital all over again. When Buck was trying to take Eddie home after he’d been shot. Eddie knows him, knows him down to the marrow, and somehow, unbelievably, the only response Eddie has to this knowledge is the desire to tie them together in every way possible.
“No, you’re right, it’s something we need to actually talk about instead of me just…assuming things again,” Eddie says. He groans and rubs the bridge of his nose.
“I’ll start on the stepparent adoption paperwork,” the lawyer says, looking between them like they’re somehow the most insane clients on the docket. “You two go home and figure out your details. And when you can, bring me your marriage license. Also, let me know if you want to remove the restraining order against Mr Diaz’s parents at any point.”
Buck winces. Eddie slowly turns to look at him. The lawyer gives them both a placid smile and shoos them from the office.
Eddie doesn’t say anything until they get to the Jeep.
“Before I got my memories back, I was just assuming we’d had a shitty relationship, or that I’d been raised by Abuela, and that’s why I hadn’t heard from them,” Eddie says. “I didn’t realise it was because my fiancé had a restraining order out on them.”
Buck sticks the keys in the ignition and frowns at him across the front seat. “You’re seriously gonna call me your fiancé after that shitshow of a proposal that was an assumed yes and a suggestion of just hopping over to the courthouse to file paperwork, never mind what our – your – our son would do to us if we got married without him or what – god forbid – my sister or the rest of the 118 would do?”
“That is not the conversation, Buck!” Eddie says, but there’s a mix of chagrin and nearly impish delight on his face. “You took a restraining order out on my parents.”
“They tried to take Chris!” Buck says, driving them home. “I mean, they tried to take him, and then when I wouldn’t let them, they had you declared dead so that your will would go into effect, and then they realised I got custody, and then they were pretty much stalking our house, and basically attempted to kidnap him, Eddie. Thank god for Lee Ann at the front desk, or Chris would be somewhere in Texas and you and I would be playing much worse legal games than needing to get married for health insurance reasons.”
Eddie is quiet for a while as they drive. It isn’t until they’re turning onto their street that he says, “I mean, that’s not the only reason we should get married.”
“No?” Buck asks.
“It was my first question when I got home,” Eddie points out. “I couldn’t figure out why we weren’t married, since we fit so well in each other’s lives and we’re in love and, honestly, even if we weren’t, the way you are with Chris just -- tomorrow’s not promised to anyone and we know that a bit better than most people at this point, so, you know, the idea of not spending the rest of our lives together is unthinkable.”
And then, Eddie has the audacity to fucking shrug at him.
“I swear to god, Eddie, if you don’t stop saying the most romantic shit I’ve ever heard in my life in the same casual tone of voice you use when you’re talking about fucking baseball, I am going to go insane,” Buck says.
“‘Of course I remember I love you, I didn’t forget how to breathe either,’” Buck quotes back at him, because that comment is going to be stuck in his head for the rest of his life. “Like it was the fucking weather.”
Eddie has the grace to look a little ashamed of himself. “Sorry, would you prefer a dramatic performance?”
“No,” Buck mumbles. Something about the matter-of-fact way Eddie keeps saying these things makes them more believable, but it’s also that much harder to hear. Part of him still doesn’t feel like Eddie should be saying - believing - these things at all.
“Do you not...want to?” Eddie asks.
“No, I very much do,” Buck says. “I’ve seen the opposite of spending the rest of my life with you, and I was not impressed.”
“Okay then,” Eddie says. Like it’s just easily settled now and they haven’t just had the most intense possible past seven months.
Buck sighs and parks the Jeep. “You really should call your parents.”
They head for the house and while Eddie takes off his shoes, he says, “Should I, though?”
“What do you mean?” Buck asks.
“I mean this in the nicest way possible but your parents are not invited to be part of our lives at any point going forward,” Eddie says. Which, yeah, Buck had kind of figured that one out for himself already. Sometime around when he’d simply...never called them to let them know about the change in his life circumstances. “Maybe mine shouldn’t be either.”
Buck considers. It isn’t really his call because they’re Eddie’s parents, but at the same time, Eddie is asking for his opinion.
“My parents would’ve let my son go into the system,” Buck says, slowly. “I mean, if I’d had a kid and then I was gone, my parents would’ve just...let the kid go. I’m not saying your parents did things right, because they didn’t, and the only reason I got them to go back to Texas was because I yelled at them and took out a restraining order and said that if they left the state I wouldn’t press criminal charges against them for attempted kidnapping, so, like…”
He trails off, not quite sure what he’s trying to say.
“They do it badly but they do care?” Eddie suggests.
“Something like that,” Buck says. “But, also, like, I’m obviously not going to be upset if you don’t want anything to do with them. I mean, I tried at first to make sure the option of communication was still open between them and Chris if he wanted it, but they just kept…”
Eddie chews on his lip and Buck really wishes he knew what Eddie was thinking.
“When you told me about your will, you said you didn’t want them to raise him, not that you never wanted them to talk to him again,” Buck says finally. “But they’re your parents and parents are, uh, really fucking complicated.”
Eddie sighs. “Maybe I can call them and, I don’t know, take my turn yelling at them for having me declared dead?”
“Well, someone should,” Buck says. “I yelled at them for other things, since as far as I knew, you really were gone.”
Eddie nods slowly. “What exactly did you say when you yelled at them?”
Buck shrugs like he doesn’t remember. Eddie lifts an eyebrow at him but doesn’t pry.
He calls Helena and Ramon on speaker phone sitting at the kitchen table while Buck makes them lunch.
“Eddie!” Helena exclaims when he says hi. “Oh thank God. I can’t believe we had to hear from Isabel that you’re alive. You’ve been back since Christmas but this is the first time you’ve called us? We’ve tried your house phone a hundred times!”
“Yeah, it got disconnected. And I was never actually dead,” Eddie says. “Only legally. So, thank you for that.”
There’s a pause before Helena and Ramon answer.
“What else were we supposed to believe?” Ramon asks. Buck tries to chop vegetables for the salad a little quieter so it doesn’t get picked up by the phone’s mic. He wonders if it’s a Diaz family thing to take important phone calls on speaker with one’s spouse. It certainly never happened in the Buckley house.
“I don’t know,” Eddie says, rubbing the bridge of his nose again. He looks over at Buck. “What’s the time period between someone vanishing and when you can declare them dead, if there’s not an obvious reason to assume they’re dead?”
“Seven years,” Buck says automatically, quiet enough that Helena and Ramon can't pick it up.
“Right, seven years, so you guys could’ve let me still be alive and not crushed my son’s heart,” Eddie says back to the phone.
“We’re sorry for that,” Helena says. “Obviously we never wanted to hurt Chris, and we’re glad to know you’re okay.”
Glad. Buck isn’t actually sure, now that he thinks about it, that “glad” ever figured into the equation. He’d simply been too relieved for anything else. Like, of course he is glad Eddie’s home and okay -- putting weight and muscle back on every day and working through things with his therapist, no matter if Buck has to bribe him to make him go -- but if he was asked to describe how he feels about Eddie returning… well, he’s just pretty sure that “glad” would take a while to show up. There are simply too many other, stronger, better things that come before it.
“Well, we’re so glad you’re glad,” he says without meaning to. Eddie shoots him a look that has Buck pressing his lips together as firmly as he can to keep from laughing.
“Evan is…still there?” Helena asks.
“Yeah, Mom, we’re married,” Eddie says, looking back at his phone where it’s lying on the kitchen table.
Buck stares at him but Eddie simultaneously avoids his eyes and holds a finger to his lips. Buck supposes that’s one way to get out of inviting them to the wedding, if they have a proper one. Present it as a fait accompli.
There is a long, long silence from Eddie’s parents.
“Married?” Ramon asks finally.
“It was a really easy decision, honestly,” Eddie says, and Buck can’t tell if he’s affecting the casual tone or if he means it. “He’s been the person I trust most with Chris for basically as long as we’ve known each other and I figured out pretty early on that he’s the person I trust most with me, too. So, you know. Marriage and staying together forever was the next logical step.”
There’s another long, too long, silence.
“He – he certainly does seem to love Chris,” Helena says finally. “Enough to fight to keep him at any cost, which is…”
The finale of that thought is “which is more than I can say for Shannon” but to Buck’s relief, no one voices it. He never got to know Shannon particularly well, and Chris’s memories of her are hazy at best, and Eddie’s are so coloured by mixed feelings that it’s impossible to get an accurate impression. Eddie’s parents have never made any secret about hating her, but Buck simply can’t get behind the idea. If it wasn’t for Shannon, none of them would have the extreme privilege of knowing Christopher, and Chris alone makes everything else worth it.
It hits him then that it’s the same reason he can’t find it in himself to hate Helena and Ramon Diaz. He might not like them very much and they may have only avoided a custody battle in court because the court system for custody battles is painstakingly slow, but if it wasn’t for them, he wouldn’t have Eddie. He wonders if he’d believed this before he yelled it at Helena and Ramon in Chris’s school: that children aren’t worth something because they’re pieces of their parents; the parents are redeemed through their children.
“We’re going to have a reception,” Eddie says. “Next month. If you promise to be civil, you can come.”
“Are we even allowed to be there? Legally?” Ramon asks.
“I’ll get the restraining order lifted so long as you promise not to try and take our son,” Buck replies.
“Of course we won’t,” Ramon says. Buck’s not entirely sure he believes him, but it’s not like they’ll be alone there. And it’s not like Chris is willingly separated from Buck and Eddie when he’s not at school.
“And I want to be clear about something here. I forgive you for having me declared dead,” Eddie says, because Eddie’s capacity for forgiveness is breathtaking and Buck still doesn’t understand how he does it. Buck certainly doesn’t forgive them. “But under no circumstances are the two of you ever spending time alone with Chris again. Ever. And if you do -- or say -- anything we find unacceptable at the reception, you will not see Chris again until he’s eighteen and can make that choice himself.”
Helena and Ramon are silent for a long, long time. Buck thinks he can sort of hear them whispering in the background, like they’re debating this.
“Understood,” Ramon says finally.
“Will your parents be there, Evan?” Helena asks. “I’d be curious to meet them.”
“No, they won’t,” Eddie says. “They’re not invited.”
“At all?” Helena asks, and Buck thinks she sounds a little stunned. He hopes it helps solidify the idea that if they try anything, they will indeed be cut off forever.
“My parents had me for spare parts,” Buck says. “And resented me for it not working for the following – uh – I’ll be thirty-one this year, so that long.”
Eddie reaches over and tugs him away from the cutting board. His hand is on the inside of Buck’s thigh because that is the easiest place to grab and pull, and it burns through his jeans.
Holy shit, Buck finally has time to think. Eddie proposed.
“That’s – that’s terrible,” Helena says. To her credit, she sounds like she means it. Which Buck appreciates.
Eddie’s thumb strokes a small circle on his leg and Buck assumes since they’re on the phone with his parents that he means this as a gesture of comfort, but it is extremely distracting.
“Yeah, it’s why I snapped at you guys,” Buck says. Eddie frowns at him and Buck takes a seat at the kitchen table, mostly to keep Eddie from fondling him while he’s trying to talk. It does not work. “You said Chris was a second chance, and it – it reminded me too much of my own parents, and I took it out on you.”
Helena and Ramon are quiet for a moment.
“You…had a point,” Helena admits. Buck wonders if their conversation would be anywhere near as tidy and civil if Eddie hadn’t come back from the dead and if – as far as Helena and Ramon know – he wasn’t their son-in-law. “Christopher is the best child anyone here has ever had the opportunity to spend time with, and – and you were right to point out that he should be appreciated for that rather than as some sort of replacement.”
Eddie’s eyes are heavy on Buck’s face now that he knows exactly what Buck had said to his parents, and Buck discovers that he can’t actually make himself look at Eddie directly. He knows what expression he’s going to find there and they have to make it through this conversation in some semblance of cohesion. It wouldn’t do for his first civil conversation with his future-in-laws to end awkward because Eddie has jumped him in the middle of the kitchen.
“Hopefully, going forward, we can all find common ground in the fact we love Christopher and want the best for him,” Eddie says. “As long as we keep the understanding that what Buck and I want for him is going to take priority.”
Buck doesn’t look at Eddie. He can’t.
If he does, he’s pretty sure that their first civil conversation with Eddie’s parents as a couple is gonna end awkward because he’s jumped their son in the middle of the kitchen.
And he understands, at least somewhere inside, that part of the reason Eddie is including him in this – the adoption, talking to his parents, all of it – is because he’s still shaken. He’s still concerned that he’s not a good enough father, and he wants Buck there for backup and reassurance. And the devastated look on his face when Buck got home and Eddie had his memories back is going to haunt him for years. But, on the bright side, they’re getting married apparently, and, well. Buck’s got his back. Any day.
“We’ll send you the details for the reception,” Buck says, and lets himself look at Eddie.
His eyes have gone exactly as dark as Buck predicted, and he’s doing that thing he does where he holds his bottom lip between his teeth that has always, since the first time he did it in the gym at the 118, made Buck want to do nothing but gently remove that lip from Eddie’s teeth and place it between his own.
“And maybe we could call Chris sometime this week?” Helena asks.
Eddie’s response of, “Yeah, maybe, we’ll talk about it, Mom, bye,” is a little muffled because his bottom lip is otherwise engaged.
They both fumble to hang up the phone – Eddie’s new cell phone, because Buck had cancelled the house phone when he took over the bills for the house, and had just gotten Chris a cell phone because it was easier and cheaper – and it makes a horrible few garbled notes, cuts Helena and Ramon off, and activates Siri, who then starts chatting with the Hildy in the coffee maker.
“We—” Eddie mumbles, unable to fully reclaim his bottom lip because Buck is nibbling on it. “—are gonna have—” The horrible screeching of their dining chairs scraping across the linoleum floor and banging into the walls drowns out Hildy and Siri’s recursive conversation and Buck pulls Eddie’s shirt off over his head, delighting in the expanse of well-muscled tan skin this gives him access to. “—a very serious conversation—” Eddie cuts himself off by popping the buttons off Buck’s shirt and following that by mouthing along the bared skin of Buck’s chest while he goes. “—about how much technology is in this house.”
“You,” Buck says, cradling Eddie’s head in his hands and pulling him up for a real kiss while they stumble down the hallway to their room. They don’t have a ton of time, school gets out at three, but they definitely have enough. “Are an insane technophobe.”
Eddie tackles him onto the bed, pinning him to the mattress, and holy fuck Buck is here for that. “Technology is creepy,” he says, kissing along Buck’s jawline and then down the side of his throat. “And we should move to Nowhere.”
“Seriously?” Buck asks while Eddie undoes his belt and unbuttons his jeans.
Eddie grins at him and Buck is pretty sure Eddie grinning, hair mussed from Buck’s hands, lips reddened from Buck’s ministrations, is his absolute favourite way for Eddie to look.
“No, I just wanted to see your face,” Eddie says. Buck tsks at him and Eddie laughs before he leans down to kiss him again. “We’re definitely lobotomising the coffee maker before we get married though.”
And what the hell is Buck supposed to do with that except laugh?
It's a hallmark of his character that Eddie Diaz forgives people, even when they don't deserve it. And parents are complex, man.
But I will guarantee you that if, at any point in the future, they cross one of the boundaries Eddie set for them, that will be it. The plug will be pulled, and Eddie will make good on his promises. Whether this happens at some point, I will allow you all to decide amongst yourselves.
Chapter 7: You Feel Like the Sun on My Face
Here it is, folks. The epilogue. It is short, and fuzzy, and kinda silly in places. Mostly, just a quick look at the future of the Buckley-Diaz family a few months out from the last chapter and then a year or so out. The full timeline of the fic is available in the end notes.
Thank you again for all of your love and support, and I'm so grateful to all of you ♥
The chapter title here comes from "Favorite Place" by All Time Low.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
For whatever reason, Buck hadn’t expected Nowhere to have hills. He only realises he’s been picturing it as a desert plain town when the road takes them into the low mountains. Thankfully, the river they lost Eddie to for a while doesn’t run into Nowhere itself.
“Just up on the left,” Eddie says, pointing out the windshield. Buck follows the instructions and they find themselves on a sunny street lined with frankly adorable bungalows.
From the back seat, Chris pipes up to ask, “Are we there yet?”
“Almost,” Buck says. He glances at Eddie. “Right?”
“Left, actually,” Eddie says, pointing again.
Buck waits until they’ve turned to shoot him a tiny glower, which gets him a bright smile in response. Eddie points out the house they’re headed to and Buck parks the Jeep beside the ancient, somewhat battered, Land Rover.
They’ve barely stopped moving before the front door of the house bursts open and Magda runs out to greet them. Eddie is first out of the car to say hi and grabs her in a hug that sweeps her off her feet.
They hadn’t seen her for the wedding. The ceremony itself had been a courthouse thing, with way too many people jammed into the judge’s chambers (jury’s still out on whether Bobby or Abuela had cried more). Magda had come to the reception a month later, though, and had taken it upon herself to spend the entire night babysitting Ramon and Helena so she could gush about what a wonderful person their son is. Buck isn’t sure exactly how much Eddie had told her about his parents’ part in having him declared dead, but the few times Buck had caught snatches of their conversation, it had been exceedingly obvious that Magda knew enough to thoroughly season their conversation with salt.
Chris gets the next hug, and then it’s Buck’s turn.
“Let’s see them, let’s see,” Magda says, grabbing Buck and Eddie’s hands and inspecting them. She purses her lips, turning their matching fingers over. “You know those are gonna fade, right?”
“Yeah,” Buck says. “The tattoo shop had signs all over the place about it. And technically, it’s against dress code regs to have hand tattoos, but our union rep is very gay and thought it was sweet so we got special approval.”
“Plus, I figure when they start to fade and we have to get them redone, we can use it as an opportunity to renew our vows,” Eddie adds in his best baseball-weather-insanity-inducing tone of voice.
“You’re a sap,” Magda informs him just as blandly. “Come in, come in out of the heat.”
Buck grabs their bags from the back of the Jeep and they follow her into her house. They are immediately greeted by a trio of cats who start wending their way around Eddie’s ankles and butting their foreheads into his calves and shins until Eddie stoops to pick one up and drape it over his shoulder. The cat snuggles into his neck, purring and rubbing its face against him.
For an absurd moment, Buck feels a touch possessive. That’s his husband’s neck, thank you, weird interloper — and then he realises he’s jealous of a damn cat.
“I’m glad you’re here,” Magda says, shooing the other two cats away before they can wind their way around Buck’s and Chris’s ankles and trip them. “I mean, I’m glad you’re here just to see you guys, although I still can’t believe you want to spend your honeymoon in Nowhere—”
“I voted for Hawaii,” Chris says.
“Glad one of the three of you has sense,” Magda says. “But I’m glad you’re here because my neighbour’s cat got out a while back and, well.”
She leads them into the kitchen where a cardboard box is full of squeaking, purring, tiny kittens.
Chris drops to the floor before Buck even has time to process what they’re looking at and is reaching in to stroke each of their mottled tabby heads.
“Oh my God,” Eddie says, scooping the adult cat off his shoulder and kneeling down on the floor beside Chris.
“Oh my god,” Buck says, in a wholly different tone than Eddie, which makes Magda giggle.
“Can we take one?” Eddie and Chris ask in unison, looking up at Magda with matching, unfairly adorable, expressions. They’re both still completely windswept from the drive, although this hasn’t done too much damage to Chris’s hair. Chris, unlike Eddie, had been slumped down in the backseat playing video games and didn’t catch as much of the wind. Eddie, on the other hand, is tousled and messy just the way Buck likes him, which is very upsetting since he’s also now holding kittens and is looking between Buck and Magda with those stupid, ridiculously soft, big brown eyes and Buck is –
“Look at its face,” Eddie says, cupping one of the kittens in his hand and bringing it up beside his own face.
“Why did you do this to me?” Buck asks Magda.
Magda laughs so hard she snorts. “You’re welcome.”
They have dinner at Nowhere’s primary bar and restaurant, which Chris finds entertaining because he’s not allowed in bars in LA and none of the restaurants they go to have things like pool or shuffleboard. They’re joined for dinner by Magda’s girlfriend Jo, and Magda’s sister-in-law Laura, and Magda’s nephew Billy.
It’s nice to meet the people who looked after Eddie when he was gone, even if Laura does have an obvious crush on Eddie. Listening to them catch up, it’s clear that neither Eddie nor Magda have noticed this, but at one point during dinner, Buck catches Jo’s eye across the table and can tell that she definitely has.
And Buck gets it. God, he gets it. Eddie’s Eddie. Add that to the fact Laura’s got a young son a few years younger than Christopher, who clearly adores Eddie too, well. Who could resist?
But it’s also clear from the way Laura makes sure to pull Buck into the conversation that Buck does not need to worry about her flirting with his man. It’s just a crush, and so he can sympathise.
Billy, on the other hand, is determined to try and impress Christopher with his knowledge of natural disasters.
“Did you know there was a tsunami in Los Angeles a few years ago?” Billy asks, and Buck and Eddie stiffen at the same time.
“Yeah,” Chris says with a casual shrug. “Pops and I got caught in it.”
Billy’s jaw drops while Magda, Laura, and Jo turn horrified looks in Buck and Eddie’s direction.
“That must have been—” Laura starts and then trails off. Buck understands. What the hell do you even say to that?
“It was fine,” Chris says in the same bland and casual tone Eddie likes to use for similarly inappropriate situations. Buck hasn’t figured out yet if it’s a genetic thing or a learned behaviour. “We just kept swimming. Besides, I had my pops, so I knew it was going to be okay.”
It’s been a while since the tsunami was the worst day of Buck’s life, considering the other very, very horrible days he’s had since, but thinking about it still fills him with the bottomless terror he’d felt when Chris had fallen off the fire truck.
The tsunami. The well. The river.
Maybe he should just keep his boys away from any and all bodies of water. Maybe they should move to Arizona or something. Somewhere dry as dirt.
His fatalistic spiralling is interrupted by Eddie’s hand landing on the back of his neck. His thumb rubs along the muscle and his fingertips brush into Buck’s hair. Buck had not been aware that his anxiety had this particular off-switch until fairly recently, but he’s damn glad Eddie discovered it for him.
“That’s always how I know things are gonna be okay, too,” Eddie says. He kisses Chris on the top of the head and when he leans over to kiss Buck, too, it feels like a promise.
It’s the third call of the shift and Eddie could not begin to explain the events that led to the current situation. The five of them – him, Buck, Chim, Albert, and Ravi – get out of the trucks and find themselves simply…staring. There’s a collection of teenagers, an upright piano, an improvised winch pulley system, and the teenagers that aren’t pinned under the piano are running through the field desperately chasing a –
“Is – is that an ostrich or a dog in a costume?” Ravi asks.
“Okay folks,” Chim says, snapping into captain mode. “Han, Panikkar, you’re on containment of – whatever that is before those kids do any more—”
Before he can finish saying “damage” one of the kids chasing the dogstrich trips over something and swears loudly, complaining about a broken ankle.
The members of the 118 sigh, tired.
“Buckley, Diaz, you’re on our piano men,” Chim says, pointing towards the still inexplicable upright piano that is – well, it’s certainly no longer upright.
“Wait, which one?” Buck asks.
“What do you mean ‘which one,’ there’s two dudes stuck under the piano,” Chim says, giving Buck an unimpressed look.
Eddie manages to keep a straight face when he turns to Chim and explains. “You just said ‘Buckley-Diaz.’ You’re going to have to be more specific.”
He’s pretty sure he can see Chim’s soul leave his body in annoyance, like it might be looking for help in the form of Hen, currently doing her residency, or maybe Bobby, to drag him back from retirement.
“Paramedic s, plural, Buckley-Diaz,” Chim says. “Go tend to the people trapped under the piano. I am going to deal with the broken ankle.”
“See? Was that really so hard?” Buck asks.
“If you weren’t my wife and child’s favourite person besides me,” Chim starts.
“Chris has both of you beat where Jee’s concerned,” Eddie says, grabbing the field kit out of the ambulance.
Neither Buck nor Chim try to argue that point whatsoever. Instead, they all head to their respective patients. On arriving at the piano, Eddie’s surprised to discover that one of the people pinned is a full-fledged, middle-aged adult rather than a teenager like the rest of the people in the field.
“Want to tell us what happened here?” Eddie asks, checking for a pulse in the man’s trapped leg. He finds it and tells Buck, who nods and keeps checking in on his patient.
“Clearly you don’t have teenagers,” is all the man says.
“As of last week,” Eddie says. “But maybe a week into thirteen is too soon to start worrying about…uh…”
He scans the field and sees Albert and Ravi and the rest of the pack of teenagers still chasing the dogstrich thing through the tall grass.
“…whatever this is,” Eddie finishes.
“Come on, Eddie, you never got up to shenanigans when you were a teenager?” Buck asks. He checks his patient for possible spinal injuries and declares her clear. “Don’t have access to the foot to check for a pulse, though.”
“Why would there need to be a pulse in my foot?” the girl asks.
“So that we can make sure blood’s still circulating to it,” Buck says. “Can you wiggle your toes?”
The girl nods, a little shaky.
“Awesome,” Buck says. “That’s a good sign.”
They eventually get the piano off the two – no arterial bleeds, thankfully, just some bad fractures – and get them transported. When they get back to the station, Ravi and Albert still don’t have a concrete answer on the species of the creature they’d encountered and spend the rest of the shift hotly debating it.
“Come on, Eds, no shenanigans?” Buck asks while he makes dinner.
There had been a minute, after Bobby’s retirement, where Chim had attempted to step into the mantle and uphold the tradition of having the captain of the 118 make dinner for everyone. After two weeks of burning smells lingering around the loft and a pizza delivery girl who became familiar enough that one of the women on their shift finally had time to get her number, Buck had gently shifted Chimney away from the stove and taken over.
“I’m afraid to ask what your definition of teenage shenanigans is,” Eddie replies. He considers for a second, and then a terrible thought occurs to him. “Don’t you dare tell Chris about anything you did as a teenager. I don’t want him getting ideas.”
Buck gapes. “You don’t even know what I did as a teenager! For all you know, I was in study club.”
“Mm, yeah, see, I do know what you did as a teenager,” Chim says, trying to steal a piece of something from Buck’s cutting board. He gets a spatula to the back of the hand for his trouble. “Because Maddie told me. And Eddie is definitely right.”
“See if I feed either of you dinner,” Buck sniffs.
More to be annoying than because he actually wants some of the carrots Buck is chopping, Eddie gives Buck his best puppy-dog eyes. Buck folds instantly and extends a piece of carrot across the counter. Eddie takes it and shoots a smug look in Chim’s direction.
“I’m telling Bobby you guys are being gross at the station again,” Chim says.
“That was a much more effective threat when he was still our captain,” Eddie points out.
Chim sighs. “I’m never gonna get either of you to fear me, am I?”
“I mean, you could try, but with the whole you being married to my sister thing, and therefore being both of our brother-in-law, it seems like that would make Thanksgivings awkward,” Buck says.
Chim sighs again. “Any chance of you two ever knocking off the Abbot and Costello bit with your last name?”
“Not even a little,” Eddie promises.
Chimney sulks away and Eddie laughs.
“Do you think we should ever tell him it was Chris’s idea and we didn’t do it specifically to spite him?” Buck asks.
Eddie considers. “Nah.”
When their shift ends and they get home, they’re greeted by an increasingly familiar sight: Chris sprawled on the couch, playing a video game, with the cat wrapped around his shoulders like a stole.
“Hi!” Chris says, turning away from his game to smile at them.
Eddie drops his bag and crosses directly to the couch to hug him. He has no idea how much longer he’s got before Chris is too grown up and “cool”, in that way young teenagers get, to be glad to see him when he comes home. An incredibly selfish part of him hopes that all they’ve gone through means that it won’t ever happen, but another voice tends to add that if it does, it means Chris has fully healed from all of their shared family traumas.
When he hugs Chris, the cat slinks away from Chris’s shoulders and stalks over to her favourite member of the Buckley-Diaz family, winding her way around Buck’s ankles and mewling in her squeakiest, most pitiful way until Buck sighs and scoops her up. The cat likes both Eddie and Chris, but Buck is her unquestioned favourite.
Eddie understands, he does, but he is just a little jealous. And it doesn’t help that every time he calls Magda to ask if she has any more kittens for them, she laughs at him.
“How far did you get?” Buck asks, slinging the cat over his shoulder where she lays happily limp like a ragdoll. He drops down onto the couch beside Chris and takes the controller to start looking around whatever level of whatever game it is they’re both obsessed with these days.
“Coffee?” Eddie asks Buck.
“Yes, please!” Buck says.
“Yes, please!” Chris says and follows this with a smile he’s picked up directly from Buck, which is highly troubling to Eddie’s ability to be stern when the occasion calls for it.
“Absolutely not,” he says to Chris.
“Dad,” Chris whines, and then rolls his eyes. “Pops, can I have coffee?”
“That trick only works when I’m not around for the first no,” Buck replies, grinning at him. “Besides, you don’t want to start with the caffeine. You’ll end up short like your dad.”
Eddie gasps, pressing his hand over his heart. “I take it back, Chris, you can have coffee so you don’t grow into a giant freak of nature like your pops.”
“That’s not how genetics work,” Chris informs him, but keeps grinning just like Buck anyway.
Buck hands the controller and the cat back to Chris and jumps up from the couch. Eddie stays where he is, leaning in the kitchen doorway, eyebrow raised while Buck stalks towards him.
“Giant freak of nature?” Buck repeats.
“Well, I’m certainly not short, so therefore, you’ve gotta be--”
That’s as far as he gets before Buck grabs him by the thighs, lifts him off the ground, and carries him into the kitchen while Eddie laughs and Chris makes teenager-like retching noises. When they’re entirely out of view from the living room and Chris has started playing his game again, Buck presses him against the wall and kisses him. They’ve been together almost two years now -- officially; all the years before it when they may as well have been are murky at best -- but Buck still kisses him like Eddie is something precious he can’t imagine ever letting go of. It would make Eddie weak at the knees if, y’know, Buck wasn’t holding him up already.
But it’s early in the morning and their son is in the other room, so a quick kiss is all Eddie gets.
Buck sets him down and turns around to their normal, un-smart, app-free coffee maker.
“Freak of nature,” Buck mutters. “You like me being bigger than you.”
“Never said I didn’t,” Eddie replies. “Doesn’t make you any closer to average, though.”
Buck snorts and keeps making coffee. To Eddie’s bemusement, he makes Chris a cup that’s mostly hot chocolate with an espresso shot’s worth of drip coffee in it. Sometimes--less and less these days, but still sometimes--Eddie wonders how things might have gone if he hadn’t come back. If they’d never figured out who he was, if his memories had never returned. He wonders how close Buck and Chris would be as they navigated Chris’s teenage years just the two of them, or if they would even have stayed just the two of them. If they would’ve eventually found someone to step into the empty spaces he’d left in their lives, someone who wouldn’t have ever left them.
It’s a useless train of thought, of course, because Eddie did figure out who he is, and he did get his memories back, and it gets easier every day to accept that he didn’t leave them, not really. It helps that when these thoughts come up, he can just mention it to Buck. And because he’s Buck, he somehow manages to know exactly how to reassure Eddie that no, he and Chris wouldn’t have found someone else -- which, honestly, is as comforting as it is upsetting -- and no, Eddie had definitely not left them. After a particularly bad nightmare a year into their marriage, Buck had jokingly offered to get Eddie microchipped like the cat, and when Eddie had considered that a little too seriously, had then immediately bundled them off to therapy.
It had required a lot of bribery.
It’s getting difficult these days to find new ways to hold onto Chris and Buck. Having Buck adopt Chris, getting married, getting their wedding rings tattooed on, sticking their surnames together – it all helps, but Eddie’s not sure it’s ever going to feel like he’s done enough.
And then Buck grins at him, all dimples and bright eyes, like Eddie’s the only thing he ever wants to look at. And it cuts through the doubt and guilt and worry that still circles around Eddie’s head sometimes. Because however tightly Eddie’s holding on to Chris and Buck, Buck is holding on just as tight. Because when Buck smiles at him like that, Eddie knows he’s home.
The full timeline of this fic as it takes place over a theoretical season 6 is this:
- Early August 2022: Eddie is washed down the river
- October 1st, 2022: Helena and Ramon have Eddie declared dead; Eddie wakes up from his coma
- Christmas 2022: Eddie is returned home
- Late February 2023: Eddie is freed from legal limbo and is declared alive again; Eddie's memories come back
- Early March 2023: the boys marry
- April 2023: they host a wedding reception
- June 2023: They visit Nowhere and adopt a kitten
- Sometime in 2024: Chris turns 13; a week later, the final scene.
I don't know what other notes need to go here, but I appreciate all of you for reading this and I hope you've enjoyed it.
Oh! And their cat's name is Antonia.