Things have been getting better.
It’d been hard to avoid the fact that he’d hit rock bottom when his best friend found him vomiting violently into his kitchen sink after barely making it down the street of his neighborhood, and he couldn’t fool himself that this was something he could handle on his own anymore. Not only that, but there was no way Buck would’ve let him, anyway.
So he’d gone back to Frank and returned with a diagnosis of agoraphobia and PTSD, and it was a starting point.
With Frank’s guidance, they’d been carefully pushing him back into the world, first with small things like pulling back the curtains in the living room just enough to let the sunlight filter through, and then eventually with bigger things, like car rides and short walks around the neighborhood and in-person appointments. It frustrates him to no end that things he used to never think twice about are suddenly these huge obstacles, but he - he was working on it.
He still has more bad days than good, more days where the world seems too much to bear and all he wants to do is hide, days where he lets himself give in - pulls the covers over his head and tries to forget.
But even on those days, he’s not alone. Buck is there, too, constant and unfailing. He pulls back the curtains and cracks the window open just enough to let a little bit of air in before slipping under the covers, shielding him with his body until everything seems a little less.
He’s there on the good days, too, and for all the days in between. He plays their favorite podcast on the drive to Eddie’s physical therapy appointments and stands protectively at his side during their daily walks around the neighborhood, and it’s different.
The last time he’d come home with scar tissue and nightmares that clung to him like a second skin, he’d carried it alone. And he’d wanted it that way, or at least he lied to himself enough times he believed it.
Because more than anything else, he knew that it was how it had to be. His list of wrongs had towered so high above him, a mountain just waiting to collapse and destroy everything in its path, and he couldn’t add to it - not if he could help it. So he kept everything to himself and it didn’t matter - it didn’t fix anything or stop the mountain from crumbling, but he held onto it anyway, an instinct he wore like an old sweater.
At least, until Buck weaved his way into his life and pulled him from the rubble, swapping out his old, scratchy sweater for something softer.
So, it’s better. He’s getting better, even if it doesn’t always feel like it.
Today, though, it does - it’s Christopher’s last day of school before summer, and when Buck tells him he’s running to the store to grab some ingredients for the brownies he wants to make to celebrate, he finds himself blurting out, “I’ll come with you.”
It comes out a little less casual than he would’ve liked, but he’s grateful that Buck at least doesn’t question him, just gives him a meaningful look and a hint of a nervous smile. “You wanna walk or drive?“
“Let’s drive,” he suggests.
It’s only a few minutes to the grocery store. Buck plays his music low in the background, and it’s almost enough to drown out the underlying thrum of anxiety.
Except, they pull into the parking lot and his breath drags a little at the sight of the tall apartment buildings across the street. It’s almost enough to make him stay still in his seat and lock the doors. But he breathes again, around the pit of fear, and glances at Buck, who is already looking at him in a way that squeezes his heart.
“You’re sure about this?”
He nods, and Buck squeezes his good shoulder gently. “Okay, but just - say something if it’s too much.”
And if it was anyone else, he thinks he might resent the implication that he couldn’t handle something as simple as a trip to the grocery store, but from Buck it only warms something in him, reminds him that he doesn’t have to prove anything to him, and that he’s not alone in this.
So he gives a small smile and a slight roll of his eyes. “Alright,” he acquiesces, pushing himself off his seat, “Let’s go.”
They walk across the lot, and the itchy feeling of being too exposed creeps under his skin once more, the hairs of his arms raised and his palms sweaty as he surveys the apartment building across the street, the cars he could duck behind for cover, the few people walking around. His hands shake as he stuffs his free one in his pocket, his entire body wanting nothing more than to flee and seek refuge in the relative safety of the grocery store. But he forces himself to match Buck’s pace, and blessedly it’s not even a minute before they’re inside.
He lets himself relax when the automatic doors close behind them. Buck presses his shoulder against Eddie’s good one comfortingly and gives him a soft look that asks “You okay?”
Eddie just nods, letting out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding onto. “Lead the way, captain.”
“Gladly,” Buck says cheekily, bouncing as he heads towards the baking aisle.
And it’s not so bad after that, really - Buck has a way of making everything light and easy, and it doesn’t take much before the anxiety from before begins to evaporate. He lets Buck boss him around, fetching the ingredients Buck reads off from his list.
“On it,” Eddie huffs out a laugh, rolling his eyes as reaches across the aisle.
Buck squints. “That’s baking soda.”
“Is there a difference?”
And that launches Buck into a rant about the very legitimate and serious differences between baking powder and baking soda, which ends in a judgy “How have you lived this long, for real?”
Eddie scoffs, grinning, “Yeah, that’s real rich coming from you.”
“Hey, at least I have basic knowledge,” he retorts.
“Buck, you just learned that narwhals are real a few days ago.”
He squawks, “How was I supposed to know?”
It doesn’t take them long to gather the rest of the ingredients, as well as some extras of the snacks Buck likes to keep around their house, and before long they’re heading back out the parking lot.
The feeling of unease returns, and he feels hot and jittery as they make their way back to the car. He knows Buck notices but he doesn’t say anything, just sticks close to him and talks like normal.
“I’m thinking if I start now, I can probably get these finished before Chris gets back fr-”
He cuts himself off as someone slams their car door a little too hard, and then Eddie’s being thrown to the ground, his shoulder connecting with the ground and sending shockwaves of pain ricocheting through his body.
The familiarity of the pain and of the hot pavement below him makes everything foggy, blurring the edges of the present as he tries desperately to ground himself, to not slip, not now.
The sight of Buck almost immediately anchors him, and then promptly sends him into another cold panic. His best friend is curled over him, blanketing his body with his own, and he knows he’s safe here, safe with Buck, but something’s wrong.
There’s no answer save his ragged breathing, labored and strangled, and it only heightens his anxiety.
“Buck,” he urges.
He flinches then, pulling back slightly, just enough to look at Eddie. His mouth drops open as he takes in Eddie, his gaze wild and frantic until it lands on his shoulder. His hand comes up to hover above the area in a terrified disbelief and Eddie’s stomach twists, having a pretty good idea of where Buck is right now.
And it’s only a moment later that his fears are confirmed.
“You’re bleeding,” Buck breathes out in horror.
Panicking slightly himself, he tries to reassure, “No - no, Buck, I’m okay.”
But it falls on deaf ears as Buck scrambles to shrug off his hoodie and bunch it up against Eddie's shoulder, and stars immediately shoot across his vision at the agonizing pressure. He shouts as Buck begs, “Just - just hang on, Eddie. I need you to hang on for me.”
Gritting his teeth against the pain, he urges, “Buck, I’m okay. You gotta snap out of it.”
A pained, confused noise gets trapped high in his throat but he just presses against Eddie’s shoulder harder, his hands slipping against the fabric of his hoodie.
“Somebody - someone, help. Please,” Buck cries, his voice cracking desperately, “He needs help.”
This catches the sight of a few onlookers, a middle-aged lady and her husband who are the only other ones out in the parking lot right now, and Eddie internally groans when he sees the woman reach for her phone.
“I’m okay,” Eddie reassures them, waving them off pointedly and thankfully they get the message. The woman pockets her phone and reluctantly, they start to move away, even if they look back over their shoulders every few steps.
With them gone, he turns his attention back to Buck, whose vision darts around, as if looking for somewhere to take cover.
“We - we need to get you out of here,” he chokes out, and Eddie can’t let it get that far, doesn’t want to think about being dragged as he had been that day. His shoulder’s already screaming at him as is and he isn’t sure how much more he can tolerate.
So he grabs Buck’s wrist, firmly pulling his hand away from his shoulder. “Buck, look at me.”
And he does, thank God, the edge in his voice seemingly dragging Buck from the nightmare playing out before him, at least momentarily. Buck’s eyes lock on him, desperate and torn, and Eddie nods his head before taking a deep inhale and silently encouraging Buck to do the same.
Slowly, he explains, “There’s no blood. We went to the grocery store to get the stuff for your brownies, remember?”
A broken noise slips past his lips. “N-no, you’re -”
“Safe,” he interjects, holding Buck’s gaze. “We’re both safe.”
And he still doesn’t know how much he trusts that himself, but he can’t let himself go there right now.
Instead, he just prompts, “Tell me five things you can see right now.”
“I-I can’t,” he stutters out.
“Yes, you can. Come on.”
He manages to talk Buck through the rest of the grounding technique until his eyes lose that faraway look and he starts to come back to himself.
But almost as soon as he does, his face crumbles as he realizes their situation.
“I’m sorry - I’m so sorry.” His voice is devastated as he glances at Eddie’s shoulder and then back at his face. “Are you hurt?”
Despite the throb of pain that agonizes his shoulder, he shakes his head, reassuring, “I’m okay - everything’s okay. Let’s just get out of here, yeah?”
Buck nods and pushes himself off the ground, offering a hand to help Eddie up a moment later.
And from there, it’s a quiet ride back to the house. A weighted silence presses on them, making him feel almost claustrophobic in the confines of the Jeep, and he’s never been more grateful that the grocery store is so close to home. They pull into the driveway only a few minutes later, and Buck still isn’t looking at him, just hops out of the car and lets them both inside without a word.
But as soon as he's through the door, Buck’s pushing himself into the living room, his back turned to Eddie as he starts to pace. “Eddie, I’m so sorry. This was supposed to be about you and making you feel okay in public and then I just go and tackle you in the middle of the parking lot. Who does that?”
“Buck, it’s not like you asked to be triggered.”
Buck turns to him then, his eyes wild and red-rimmed. “Yeah, but-”
“No, no ‘buts’ - it doesn’t work like that and we both know it.”
Eddie tilts his head towards the couch and says, “Come on, sit down. You’re making me anxious just looking at you.”
He drops to the couch with an air of resignation, and Eddie joins him a moment later, sitting carefully on the coffee table across from him.
The air is heavy with all the words unsaid and inevitable. Buck’s head is ducked as his leg bounces, and Eddie aches at how visibly he’s trying to stifle his anxiety, to keep it from bubbling over.
He leans closer, letting his knee press against Buck’s and asks, “Has this happened before?”
His skepticism must show on his face because Buck defends, “I’m not lying - it hasn’t been a problem for me, really. There’s no way Bobby would let me on calls if I was losing it at every loud noise.”
And a part of him is relieved at that, but a certain awareness tugs at him and closes its fist around his heart.
He swallows around the lump in his throat. “It happened because you were with me, right?”
Buck’s face falls, and he clamors, “Eddie, no- “
“Buck, you said that you didn't have a problem with this until today, what else-”
“It’s not like that, Eddie, please.”
He makes to speak, but Buck beats him to it, “Look, I-I will go back to Frank and I’ll make sure it’s not a problem, okay? I can still be there for you, I promise.”
“Buck, breathe,” he urges gently, his head spinning from the whiplash of the conversation, “I’m not saying you can’t, I’m just worried about you.”
Buck just shakes his head stubbornly. “And I’m telling you that you don’t need to be - I will get it under control.”
Frustrated, he groans, “Buck, that’s not what I’m trying to say.”
He finally looks at Eddie, his eyes wide and wet as they consider him, and he shrinks a little.
“I know it’s not,” he says, small and sorry. “I just - I hate that I’m adding to your plate right now.”
“And I feel like I’ve been putting too much on yours.”
“You haven’t,” he says miserably, looking up, “Eddie, I wanna be here, okay? It helps.”
“How?” He asks without entirely meaning to.
Because ever since the shooting, there’s been a small voice in the back of his head that tells him his mother had been right all those years ago, that he’s only good at dragging everyone down with him. He’d known it for sure on the nights he'd wake Christopher up from a nightmare, or the nights he could feel Buck hovering in his doorway before heading back to the living room, and the guilt of putting them through this was almost too large to breathe around. And now - now Buck’s having flashbacks in parking lots because of him, and it’s too much for anyone to want to stay.
“Eddie, you almost died,” Buck explains, his face screwing up slightly, “I almost watched you die. I - you fell and for a moment I really thought -”
He swallows roughly and tries to take a steadying breath before continuing, quieter. “I know it was just a moment, but I can’t shake it. I mean, I know you’re alive and that you’re okay, but I can’t - I don’t feel like I can trust it.”
“Being here, being with you...it all feels a little less, you know? It sounds dumb, but I just - I need to know that you’re okay.”
And it takes him aback, because even after all this time he still doesn’t know what to do with the warm blanket over his barbed wire.
In the end, he just says, “It doesn’t sound dumb.”
Buck looks at him, equal parts hopeful and uncertain. “It doesn’t?”
“No,” he affirms gently, getting up to sit next to Buck on the couch. “It doesn’t. I’m just sorry you got dragged into this in the first place, I guess. You wouldn’t be dealing with any of this if-”
“Did you fire the gun?”
Eddie rolls his eyes. “No, but -”
“Stop it. You have nothing to be sorry for,” Buck says, “Besides, I’m not sorry I was there. I mean, I wish it hadn’t happened, but it did and I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.”
“I know,” he says, letting out a breath.
And he understands, truly - he knows Buck needs to have his back just as much as he needs to have Buck’s. He remembers all too well the horror he felt when he found Buck at the VA hospital and was slapped in the face with the knowledge that he and Chris had been caught up in a tsunami and he hadn't even known. He’s all too aware of the low hum of anxiety that presses on him when Buck works a shift without him, or the fear that lurches within him when Buck goes somewhere he can’t follow.
Because he'd truthfully follow Buck anywhere, and he knows Buck would do the same for him, no matter the cost.
He sighs and slowly drops his head to rest on Buck’s shoulder. “We both went through this, and I just...I want us to be okay.”
“Me too,” he says quietly.
A comfortable silence falls over them, and a hand comes up to thread through his hair, soft fingers pressing gently into his scalp. They’d been doing this since the shooting, on nights where Eddie couldn’t sleep or days he couldn’t force himself to leave the safety of his covers, and if it weren’t for the dull ache in his shoulder, he thinks he could easily drift off like this, warm and safe in Buck’s presence.
After a while, he says, “Thank you, by the way.”
Buck’s hand stills in his hair for a moment before picking back up, if not a bit more hesitant. “Um, for what?”
“For protecting me back there, in the parking lot.”
His gaze travels down to Eddie’s shoulder before flicking away as his face twists into a grimace. “I hurt you.”
“You would’ve taken a bullet for me.”
Buck looks at him helplessly, his eyes wide and wet. “Well, yeah. But I didn’t do anything when it mattered.”
“You did,” he insists, “Buck, I wouldn’t have made it out of there if it hadn’t been for you.”
When he sees Buck isn’t convinced, he tries, “Why do you think you’re the only one I feel safe going out with?”
Something flickers across his face and the look in his eyes is almost challenging. “Eddie.”
“I mean it. I wouldn’t be able to do this without you, Buck. You helped - you’re helping. So just - shut up and let me help you sometimes, too.”
“You always help,” he says, so quiet and honest it makes his heart stutter briefly in his chest.
Eddie manages to huff out an uneven laugh, sinking into the couch. “Yeah, well, more help probably wouldn't hurt.”
He sighs, “I know. I’ll call Frank tomorrow.”
“Good,” he says, dropping his head back down to Buck’s shoulder.
After a moment, Buck asks, “We’re gonna be okay, right?”
“Yeah, Buck. You and me - we got each other’s back. We're gonna be just fine.”
"Okay," he breathes out, and it's enough.