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when i was shipwrecked (i thought of you)

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It’s a very normal Thursday afternoon and the middle of a twenty-four hour shift, and Eddie’s anxiety is dialed up to the max.

He wouldn’t consider himself an anxious guy by nature, more even-keeled, honestly, if you ask him. Steady, reliable, dependable. He’d carved out that identity at age seven, molding himself until he was as sturdy as a house. Of course, little things broke, here and there; he’d left more than once, not offering as much help as he should have to his wife, his parents, his son—but he’d fixed it. He came back and he fixed whatever leak in the roof or hole in the wall he’d left, and he’d been safe ever since.

Until now.

His sanity is hanging on by a thread, everything threatening to crash all at once, and whatever stability he’d had is being chipped away until he’s nothing but the small seven year old boy who’d cried when his abuela and abuelo left Texas to be closer to his abuelo’s family, and his dad had let him until they’d gotten inside and he’d said, “We don’t do that, Eddie.”

We don’t do that echoes in his head as he sits, head between his knees as he takes deep breaths in the bunk room. His eyes sting, but he blinks the tears away, taking another deep, desperate breath. We don’t do that. I don’t panic

“Oh,” he hears, and he looks up to see Hen blinking at him. His chest twinges uncomfortably. “Are you… should I get Buck?” Her voice is soft, and she tilts her head at him discerningly. He shakes his head.

“No.” He swallows, clearing his throat. “No, I’m, uh. Meditating.” He presses his lips together in a thin line, and Hen puts a hand over her mouth, clearly trying to cover a smile.

“Okay,” she says, her voice a little brighter. “Do you want to tell me why you’re… meditating?”

She stays in the doorway, phone in her back pocket, like she won’t come in if Eddie says no. And by all accounts, Eddie should say no. He loves Hen, and Hen loves him, but they don’t talk about things besides school curriculum and raising a pre-teen. He trusts her with his life, sure, but no one should have to see the deepest, darkest recesses of his psyche. It’s too dangerous, too scary. It’s a vast, never-ending expanse of hot, arid desert wasteland. Hen shouldn’t have to wade into that. No one should.

But Buck, his brain argues. Buck’s tried.

Eddie sighs. He’s got to be better about this. “I broke up with Ana.”

Hen nods. “I know. Chim told me.”

“Of course.” Eddie shakes his head, lets the corners of his mouth quirk up. “I should know by now. No secrets here.”

“Were you trying to keep it a secret?” She steps in fully, now, setting the book in her hand on the bunk in front of her before she makes her way to Eddie. She sits across from him, leaning against the post of the bunk.

“No,” Eddie says automatically. Hen raises an eyebrow. “Yes? I don’t know. It was a lot.”

“The break up?”

“The… everything.” Eddie takes a deep breath, the pain in his chest settling in like an old friend. “We started dating, took it slow, I got shot, and…” He cuts himself off, frustrated. “Things with her were nice. Easy. I made it a big deal by… I don’t know. I don’t know.” He chews on his bottom lip, looking up at Hen. Her face is open, zero judgment clouding any of her features. “She was around too much. There were things… I didn’t want her to see.”

Hen hums. “Well, you have to open up to someone about it,” she says. It’s light, not demanding, but Eddie hears a slight reproach anyway. “Why not Ana?”

And that’s the question, isn’t it? Why not her? She was kind, caring, nurturing; she loved Christopher and was more understanding of it than most women would be of him having a kid. But still it felt… odd, wrong to have her in his house. She didn’t fit. 

But had he let her try? Had he made any space for her?

“It’s just…” he trails off, exhaling audibly. Hen frowns. “It didn’t feel right. Something about it wasn’t right. She was nice, she was pretty, but there was something wrong with me.”

Hen’s mouth twists around, her lips pursed as she thinks. “Nothing’s wrong with you,” she says, and then she falls quiet. Eddie lets her. He watches her think, watches thoughts roll around in her brain as her brows furrow, and she lets out a sigh. “Maybe nice and easy wasn’t what you needed.”

Eddie gets that. It was the opposite of Shannon, being with Ana. Shannon pushed him to the brink; Ana didn’t push him at all. Shannon fought with him, fire in her eyes. Ana never yelled. Shannon loved Christopher for who he was. Ana… well. That’s an unfair comparison, he thinks. Shannon was, after all, Christopher’s mother.

“I don’t have easy relationships,” he says, in lieu of… all of that. Hen huffs out a little laugh, and Eddie swallows. “Ana was easy to be around. But then… then she wasn’t.”

Hen nods. “Did something change that?” 

He opens his mouth to speak, and the bell rings. He gives her a small smile, and she stands, holding her hand out to him. He lets her help him up, and she squeezes his hand once before she lets go. You’ll be okay, it says, and Eddie swallows his heart back down into his chest, pushes down the panic clawing at his throat, and he’s back.

Steady, reliable, dependable.

The call itself is a fairly routine office kitchen fire. They’ve gotten a lot more of those, lately, now that people are back in the office and apparently don’t understand how to use a microwave. The manager’s embarrassed face twists into frustration as Bobby asks patient questions, like is anyone still inside and I’m not being judgmental, my team has to know if there’s anything flammable in the kitchen. Buck’s shoulder bumps his, and his eyes are sparkling, laughter in them as he tries, valiantly, to not laugh at the man’s distress at Bobby’s fairly innocuous probing. Eddie bumps him back, and Buck hides a laugh behind a cough while Hen rolls her eyes, but her eyes betray her amusement anyway. Eddie would probably do anything to keep Buck as happy as he is right now.

Bobby sighs, put upon, and sends Eddie over to the people outside with Hen, and sends Buck in with Ravi to do an office check. It’s been a week, but Eddie still feels wrong at not being inside with Buck. Chimney’s moved to be part time for the foreseeable future, and Eddie gets it, he’s paramedic trained and Ravi’s not, but does Ravi care about Buck? What if Buck gets worried about Maddie on the call? Ravi doesn’t know anything about Maddie besides the fact that Chimney’s with her and she’s Buck’s sister. And what if Buck needs to talk and Ravi’s the only one there to listen? Eddie trusts himself with Buck’s feelings infinitely more than he trusts Ravi.

Not that he doesn’t trust Ravi. And Buck’s always done a good job at training probies, because Buck’s a truly excellent firefighter. (Eddie knows. He was once the probie Buck helped along.) It’s just… with the emotional things, Eddie’s better equipped. He knows Buck. It should be him.

“Lost in your head?” Hen asks, pulling something out of her bag. “Thinking about Ana, still?”

“No, Buck,” Eddie answers, taking the stethoscope from Hen. Hen blinks. “Just worried about him.”

Hen’s eyes soften. “Because of Maddie?”

“We haven’t talked much, lately,” Eddie confesses. It’s something he feels guilty about; he told Buck about the panic attacks and then Buck found out about Maddie and he’s been a wreck ever since. And Eddie doesn’t blame him, of course not, but he’s worried. A Buck who’s withdrawn is more concerning than any other version of Buck, in Eddie’s opinion. “Not about him, at least.”

“Oh, no?” Hen hums, thoughtful. “Tell me more in a bit.”

They make quick work; there’s only a few minor burns or injuries, and Eddie and Hen look around, trying to see if anyone else needs help when Buck and Ravi come running out of the building, holding someone in their hands.

“It’s unsafe!” Buck yells, and Eddie and Hen take the person from Ravi’s arms, laying them down. Eddie’s heart pounds at Buck’s distress, but he doesn’t have the time. “The structural integrity is coming down, we didn’t have time—” Buck’s voice cracks on the last word, and he shakes his head. “We gotta get out of here.”

“Okay, Buck,” Bobby says before turning to the small but sizable crowd gathered behind him. “Everybody, start backing up! Come on!”

“Buck?” Eddie hears Ravi ask, and then Hen hands him the scissors for him to get the person’s shirt open, and he tunes out everything else.

“Really bad burns on her chest,” Hen says, and Eddie winces; Hen’s right. The burns on this woman are much worse than anyone they’d checked out earlier. Hen moves to begin bandaging as Eddie outfits her with an oxygen mask. “She’s going to need a hospital.”

“You guys need anything?” Buck asks, and Hen beckons him over. “You need me to hold her down?”

“Please,” Hen says. “It’s going to hurt.”

“Hey,” Eddie says. “What’s your name?”

“Jenna,” the woman rasps through a cough. “Sorry… about this.”

“No need to apologize, Jenna,” Buck says gently. “I’m sorry about this. But you’re gonna be okay.” He holds her shoulders down, and Eddie makes quick work of putting the IV through the charred skin on her arm. Jenna yowls in pain, and Buck shushes her. “I know, I’m sorry.”

“You’re doing great, Jenna.” Hen smiles down at her. “We just gotta get you on the backboard, okay?”

“Stupid… entry level… job,” Jenna mutters, and it takes Eddie by such surprise that he barks out a laugh. Buck glances up at him, small smile on his face. “Thanks.”

“It’s what we’re here for,” Eddie says as they move her to the ambulance. “You might want to think about quitting, though.”

Buck laughs, and then the doors to the ambulance close, leaving Eddie in the back with Jenna. She stays pretty silent, her face creased in pain where there’s no burns, so Eddie narrates everything he does, trying to give her some peace of mind before they make it to the hospital. 

He’s always liked being a helper. He thinks that’s what he was meant to do his whole life—be a helper. He’d always bandaged up Adriana and Sophia when they’d hurt themselves, kiss their foreheads and tell them they’d be fine. They always believed him. Steady, reliable, dependable Eddie would never steer them wrong. For others, his house is always stable.

The doctors take Jenna, and Hen looks him over, appraising. “You’re really good at being a medic,” she says, and Eddie just shrugs. “No, really. You ever thought about doing the training?”

Eddie blinks. “Sometimes, yeah. I’m okay being just an advanced EMT, though.” He smiles at her. “Lets me help you out when Chim’s gone, but also stick around here. I like the 118.”

Hen smiles back at him. “Well, we like you here, too.” 

The ride back is filled with mindless chatter, until they pull into the station, and Eddie spots Chimney talking to Buck, who’s holding a sleeping Jee-Yun in his arms, looking down at her with the softest, most loving expression. His chest aches, and he leans against the side of the ambulance, watching them.

“Eddie?” Hen asks, and Eddie just shakes his head.

“Just weird seeing Buck holding a baby.” His voice comes out a little strangled, and he clears his throat. Hen raises an eyebrow at him. “I mean. Look at him.”

Hen follows Eddie’s gaze, and her face softens, too. “It’s so weird seeing Chim as a father now. But it suits him.” She shakes her head. “And Buck’s an uncle. But he’s always been so good with kids.” She pauses, and Eddie turns to her. “I mean, you’d know. With Christopher and all that.”

Eddie nods, small smile on his face. “Yeah, he’s great with Christopher. I’m lucky.” Hen just hums, and Eddie furrows his brows. “What?”

“Oh, nothing,” she says, but there’s mischief in her expression. “Just doing some thinking.”

Eddie doesn’t quite know what that means, so he turns back to Chimney and Buck, and watches Buck kiss the top of Jee-Yun’s head, rocking his body back and forth slowly, while he nods at something Chimney says. 

And if Eddie’s heart flutters a little at the sight, well, he pretends he doesn’t notice.

It’s four in the morning on Eddie’s day off, and his phone is ringing. He can’t even think about forcing his eyes open as he slides to answer. “Mmlo?” he mumbles, and he hears a sigh.

“Eddie, we’ve got a problem,” Chimney’s voice says, and Eddie sits straight up in bed, suddenly wide awake.

“What? What is it? Is it Maddie? Is it Jee? Is it Buck?” Eddie tumbles out of bed, adrenaline fueling him, and Chimney laughs quietly, stopping him in his tracks.

“No, no, Eddie.” Chimney coughs a little. Eddie’s breathing slows a bit. “God, Buck’s really rubbed off on you, huh?”

“What?!” Eddie asks, alarmed, and Chimney laughs again.

“Sorry, Eddie. I know it’s early.” Chimney sighs then, and Eddie knows before he’s even asked. “Mrs. Lee is sick.”

Eddie rubs a hand over his face. “And Buck’s working, so you need a babysitter?”

“I’m sorry,” Chimney says automatically, and Eddie shakes his head, almost forgetting that Chimney can’t see him.

“No, no, that’s not—” He cuts himself off, running a hand through his hair. “Don’t apologize. I’d be happy to.”

“I know it’s your day off—”

“Doesn’t matter,” Eddie says with finality. “I’m happy to help, you know that.”

“Yeah,” Chimney says, a note of awe in his voice. “Buck said you’d say that.”

“What time do you need me?” Eddie asks, and before he knows it, he’s called his tía, who’s making her way over to take Christopher to school, so Eddie can watch his best friend’s niece. At least it’s something to keep him occupied while Christopher’s gone. God knows he needs it.

When he makes it to Chimney’s house at 6:30 in the morning, it’s a little hectic.

“Eddie, god, I can’t thank you enough,” Chimney’s saying as he bustles around the kitchen. “I know it’s last minute, and I’m so sorry, and I’m sure you’re tired—”

“Chim, it’s fine.” Eddie places a hand on Chimney’s shoulder to try and calm him down. “I told you on the phone, I am good here.”

Chimney deflates, relief in his features. “I would have asked Buck, but—”

“He’s working. I know.” Eddie pauses, taking a moment. “Is… do you know if he has a car seat? Or if you have an extra? I’m going to need to pick up Christopher at six, but—”

“Oh, Buck’s not working a full twenty-four,” Chimney says. “He’ll be here at… shoot. I don’t know. But—”

“Oh, then he can get Christopher.” Eddie smiles. “Cool. And don’t thank me again,” he interrupts before Chimney can get another word out. “We’re good here, promise.”

Chimney snaps his fingers, pointing at Eddie. “Considering giving you ‘uncle of the year,’” he says, duffle slung over his shoulder. Eddie’s chest twinges at the word uncle. “You’re the best! Bye Jee, love you!” And then he’s gone, Jee-Yun still sitting in her highchair, staring up at Eddie with the widest eyes. It breaks Eddie from whatever spell he’d been under, and he smiles down at her softly.

“Hi, Jee,” he says quietly. “I know you probably wanted Uncle Buck, but you’re stuck with me for now, okay?” She babbles happily at him, and he smiles wider. “Awesome. I bet your breakfast of sweet potatoes was really good, huh?”

He scoops her up, settling her on his hip while he cleans up her dishes, setting them next to the sink. He bounces her a little, and she giggles at the movement. It makes him smile, and he walks with her to the living room, setting her down in the play pen, and she crawls around slowly, her singular focus on the plush stuffed penguin admirable.

It’s funny; when Christopher was born, he didn’t know anything about being a dad or how to take care of a baby. He kind of missed the baby years; he’d been there for a week, and then a month, and then Christopher was a toddler, and then a fully grown kid. There was no manual, no way of knowing how or when a baby would need something, but then Adriana had a baby. And Eddie helped out as much as he could, and he realized babies were kind of the best. They just want to be loved. And Eddie’s got a lot of love to give.

He looks at Jee-Yun, then, and she maneuvers into a sitting position, picking up the block in front of her, and she hits another block. It makes a hollow, echoing noise, and she blinks in surprise. Eddie laughs. “Did that surprise you?” he asks, sliding to the floor to sit by her.

“Bah!” Jee-Yun responds, and Eddie nods seriously.

“I see.” She tilts her head at him. “What do you think about that?”

“Bah!” she says again, and Eddie laughs.

“Tell me more, Jee.”

She babbles at him a little, and he responds with the proper surprise or disdain every time. He’s sure it sounds insane to overhear, but she’s so cute, and she clearly likes to talk, so Eddie’s happy to talk with her. They have a full-fledged conversation while he gets her lunch ready, and she giggles and giggles every time he makes a funny face. It’s soothing, he thinks, to be so trusted.

She doesn’t do much crying, though, and Eddie’s surprised. Chimney talks a lot about his sleepless nights, so Eddie had figured the crying would have been an all hours of the day type deal. It’s at the exact moment he thinks this that she lets out a little cry into her food, and when he checks the time, it’s ten minutes past her nap time. So she’s definitely tired.

“You okay?” he asks her, and she blinks up at him sleepily, a little whine escaping her. He picks her up and she settles into him, snuggling her face into his neck. “Okay, let’s take a nap.” He walks slowly, the way he used to do with Christopher when he’d get up to take care of him in the middle of the night the one month he was home. It worked like a charm every time, and it seems to work now; Jee-Yun’s breathing slows, her little puffs of air hitting his neck. He sets her down in her crib slowly, and when she doesn’t stir, he breathes out a sigh of relief. His phone buzzes twice, and he expects it to be Chimney, or Buck, or even Christopher, but it’s a name he hasn’t seen cross the top of his screen in a long while.

Maddie Buckley, 1:39 pm
Can you call me?

He blinks, hitting the call button almost automatically, leaving the door open just a crack as he walks out of Jee-Yun’s room. She picks up with a breathless hello, and he frowns. “Maddie? Is everything okay?”

“How’s Jee-Yun?” she asks, and relief washes over him. Worry about a child is something he knows intimately well. 

“She’s fine. Just fell asleep, actually.” He sits on the couch, letting his head fall back. “She’s been good.”

“That’s good,” Maddie says, and her voice cracks a little bit. Eddie’s heart breaks. “That’s really good.”

“Maddie,” he starts, but he cuts himself off with a sigh. “What have you been up to?”

Maddie barks out a laugh in surprise, and Eddie grins so wide at hearing her laugh that his cheeks hurt. “Are you checking up on me?” she asks. “I’m not the Buckley you’d usually go for.”

Eddie’s face feels hot, and he laughs a little, too. “What, I can’t check up on a friend? You asked me to call, in case you forgot.”

Maddie’s laughter dies out a little, and she sighs. “Yeah, I did. Chimney texted, said there was an emergency and he left her with you instead of Mrs. Lee or Buck, and…” She trails off, and Eddie waits her out. He’s good at that. It’s funny; out of everyone in his little makeshift family, he’s probably talked with Maddie only a handful of times, nothing particularly deep about any of the conversations. He doesn’t want to push her, but he knows she’s trying to say something. She doesn’t continue though.

“And…?” he prompts, and she sighs again.

“I don’t want you to think I don’t trust you,” she begins, and Eddie nods.

“Hey, I didn’t think that. I won’t think that.” His voice gets softer. “I’m not usually who she’s left with. Throws off her routine. You just wanted to make sure she’s good.”

To his horror, Maddie sniffs, and her voice sounds thick when she speaks. “I know you’re good with kids,” she says. “But I worry.”

“Of course you do,” he says. “You’re a good mom. That’s what any good mom would do.”

Maddie lets a little sob escape from her mouth, and Eddie’s chest twists uncomfortably. He’s so glad she’s getting help, but he wishes the universe would give her a fucking break—she deserves it. “You know,” she says, sniffling again, “I get why Buck gravitated toward you.”

Eddie snorts, and she laughs a little again. “What do you mean?”

“You just have a way of making someone feel worth it,” she says quietly. “You offer it so freely.”

“Eh.” Eddie shrugs. “To people I care about.”

“Thank you, Eddie.” Maddie takes a deep breath and lets it out shakily. Eddie murmurs an of course into the phone. “For watching her, for caring. For being so reliable. For… I don’t know. Is it bad that I’m glad to be away?”

“No,” Eddie says. “You’re doing it to be better for your kid. That’s not nothing, Maddie.”

She hums, sounding far away. “Thanks.”

“It’s nothing.” He lets his eyes close, and he hears someone call for her. “Take care of yourself, okay?”

“You too, Eddie. I didn’t forget about everything that happened,” she says with a warning in her voice, and he lets out a laugh. She does, too, and he can hear a smile in her voice when she says, “Bye.”

He lowers the phone to his thigh, and the anxiety in his chest begins to build. Maddie’s okay, he says to himself. I’ll tell Buck I talked to her. His breathing gets a little shallower, and he presses his hand to his chest. I don’t panic, he thinks, like a mantra. I don’t panic.

Except he does, now. It’s this new, fun thing he’s decided to do. A tear slips out, and he wipes it away angrily, hears his dad’s voice saying we don’t do that, Eddie. We don’t do that. I don’t panic.

I don’t panic.

It doesn’t help, no matter how many times he says it. He’s still scared, the tears falling faster. Shit, he thinks, and he tries to slow his breathing. What was that thing he taught Christopher to do when he was upset? His thoughts won’t slow down. It’s threatening to pull him under, and all too quickly, his breathing is more like hyperventilating, and his eyes burn.

What the fuck is wrong with him?

He doesn’t know how long he sits there, trying and failing to breathe. He tries to focus in on a noise outside, or a singular point above the TV; none of it works. He lets his head fall between his knees to suck in some air. Still, nothing.

Steady, reliable, dependable Eddie is gone, replaced with some fucking imposter that can’t handle a barely emotional conversation with his best friend’s sister, whose kid he’s watching. And, fuck, Jee-Yun, is she okay? Is she still asleep? Eddie never worried about SIDS before, but right now, and he’s not even watching her— 

He runs into the room frantically, and when he gets in there, he watches Jee-Yun’s chest rise and fall. His heartbeat finally begins to slow. She’s okay. She’s fine. She’s still asleep. Eddie checks his phone; about an hour has passed since his talk with Maddie, and suddenly, he realizes he never texted Buck or Christopher about school, and—

Could he stop fucking letting people down, maybe? Could he do any better? Why can’t he do better?

He stays very still, watching Jee-Yun breathe, and he calls Buck. It rings four times before Buck picks up.

“Eddie? Is everything okay?” Buck laughs a little as he answers, and Eddie frowns.

“Um, yeah,” he replies. He sounds wrecked, and he can practically hear Buck’s frown through the phone.

“You sure? You sound a little rough.”

“Is Jee okay?” Eddie can hear Chimney in the background.

Buck chuckles. “Pretty sure he would have led with that, Chim.” It gets quieter, then, and he thinks Buck’s moved away from people. “You sure everything’s okay?”

“Yeah,” Eddie says again, like it’s all he can say. “I just, I forgot to tell you that I can’t pick up Christopher, because I’m at Chim’s, and—”

“I know,” Buck interrupts gently. “Chimney told me. I texted Chris, told him I’d pick him up around 4:30, after quizbowl.”

Eddie breathes out a sigh of relief. “Okay.”

Buck is quiet for a long time, then, and Eddie just listens to him, sits with him in that quiet. Every so often, Buck will speak to Chimney or Bobby, but Eddie just stays quiet. If he tries hard enough, it’s like he’s there with them. Mercifully, the bell doesn’t ring. 

Eventually, Buck clears his throat. “You okay?” he asks.

“Okay,” Eddie responds. Buck sighs. “Thanks.” 

“Of course, Eds.” He can visualize Buck’s soft expression, his gentle eyes. His stomach twists and turns. “I’ll see you soon, okay?” Before Eddie can fully respond, Buck’s ended the call, and Eddie feels stuck, watching Jee-Yun’s face scrunch up, and he barely has time to think that’s a Buck face before she begins to cry. 

“Oh, hey,” he says, reaching for her. She cries more, even as he picks her up. “Hey, sweetheart, what’s wrong, huh?” He bounces her a little; she cries. He changes her diaper; she cries. He sings to her; she cries. (That one’s fair, though; Christopher always says he’s very out of tune.) He thinks it through, walking back and forth with her, murmuring softly to her, and then it hits him.

Teething.

He goes to the freezer, grabbing a teething ring, and she gums at it, drooling everywhere, her cries beginning to subside, and the anxiety fades. She snuggles into his neck, and he sits on the couch with her, holding her to his chest.

“You’re okay,” he says, absentminded. “You’re okay.”

She’s still hiccuping when he notices it’s almost time to eat a snack, but she’s so content to just sit there that he almost doesn’t want to move. He stays still a little longer, until she gets fussy, and he sets her down in the play pen, walking to the kitchen to get the cut up banana Chimney left. He’s exhausted now, but he looks over to see Jee-Yun crawling fast for a soft block and manages a small smile. He thinks of Maddie, then, and how if he feels even one-fifth of how she felt, he almost understands how awful it must have been.

Before he knows it, the front door is opening, and he hears Christopher and Buck before he sees them. The click-clack of Christopher’s crutches, Buck’s soft laugh at something Christopher says: any heaviness on his chest disappears at the sound.

“Eddie!” Buck says, and he’s beaming. Eddie feels lightheaded. “What’s up? How’s Jee doing?”

“She’s good.” Eddie stands, kissing the top of Christopher’s head. “Hey, kid. How was school?”

“Good,” Christopher answers. He looks up at Eddie, mischief in his eyes. “Buck said we’re taking Jee to his place.”

This doesn’t surprise Eddie; Chimney’s not going to be back until tomorrow morning, and Buck doesn’t like sleeping on Chimney’s couch, so Eddie nods, ruffling Christopher’s hair. “Sounds good to me.”

Buck’s crouching down, looking at Jee-Yun with all the love in the world, when Eddie looks over at him. It’s blinding, to be honest. Evan Buckley looking at you with such fervent love and devotion will never not feel completely overwhelming. Eddie would know; it’s been directed at him once, after the well. 

(He doesn’t think about it.)

“Hey,” Buck says softly. Jee-Yun turns to him, her eyes sparkling. Buck smiles. “How’s my best girl? Were you good for Uncle Eddie?” He looks to Eddie for confirmation, and Eddie’s stomach twists again at being called “Uncle Eddie.” He nods regardless, and Buck scoops her up, settles her against his chest. “Awesome. It’s because you’re the best.”

“I thought I was the best,” Christopher complains, but he’s got a big smile on his face, and Buck rolls his eyes exaggeratedly, which makes Christopher laugh loudly. Jee-Yun giggles, too, which makes both Buck and Eddie bark out a laugh. “Jee thinks I’m funny.”

“Because you are,” Buck confirms, pressing a kiss to the side of Jee-Yun’s head. “What do you say, Diazes? Shall we get going? I have a bunch of extra stuff at my place now, so we don’t need to bring anything except her bag…”

Buck walks toward Jee-Yun’s room, still talking, and Christopher trails after him, asking excited questions in response, and Eddie’s smile grows. He wants this forever. Everything, every part of it; Buck, Christopher, and him—that’s all he needs. And—

Oh. Oh no. He shuts his eyes for a moment, inhaling sharply.

He’s looking at Buck, and feeling something strictly not platonic at all. 

Something about this should be surprising, but when Buck, Christopher, and Jee-Yun make their way back to him, he’s struck with how not at all shocked he is. Fuck, he’s an idiot. How did he not see it sooner? 

Buck’s mouth is moving, but Eddie can’t hear anything. It’s like the world decided to slow down completely while he has this fairly life-altering realization that he really should have figured out sooner. Buck’s frowning then, and Eddie blinks, everything coming back into focus.

“—die? Earth to Eddie,” Buck’s saying. Eddie just blinks. “Edmundo.” Eddie scrunches his nose up at that, and Christopher giggles. “Oh good, you’re still in there. Come on, let’s go. Follow me to mine?” Buck looks him in the eye, and he knows what Buck’s not saying. You good here?

Eddie nods. “Right behind you.” I’m fine.

Buck narrows his eyes for a moment, sussing him out, but evidently everything seems just peachy, because he nods, smiling a little, and gestures for Eddie and Christopher to go first. So they do, and Christopher asks Buck something that Eddie doesn’t quite catch, and when Eddie turns to look back at him, he’s struck again with the thought of how good Buck looks with a baby.

Fuck. He is so screwed.

It’s just that Eddie can’t stop thinking about it. Now that he’s noticed, it’s like everything revolves around him feeling something for Buck. He takes Christopher to school, he thinks about Buck. He goes grocery shopping, he imagines Buck’s there with him. And the thing is, it changes nothing. Everything’s the exact same. It’s like Eddie’s never not had him, somehow. He met Buck and was ruined.

Logically, though, that can’t be right. Because there was Buck, sure and steady, a year after moving to LA, but then there was Shannon, and Shannon was the first love of his life. And Buck and Shannon had been in his life at the same time for so brief a moment that it’s almost like it never happened. Buck didn’t judge him for letting Shannon back in his life. Buck let Eddie cry about Shannon asking for a divorce and then, in what felt like the same breath, say she was leaving again, and, God, if that doesn’t hurt to think about. 

But Buck had been there. Buck had wormed his way in and stayed. When he was injured, Eddie would take Chris to Buck’s place instead, and they’d hang out there, just the three of them, sometimes four of them when Ali was still around. But mostly it had just been them. And taking care of Buck had let Eddie focus on something other than his wife dying right in front of him, and it let Christopher focus on watching someone heal from an injury, and it made them both feel better, to be with Buck.

Eddie swallows. He can’t think about it too much, because if he does, his chest will hurt, and if his chest hurts, he’ll panic, and if he panics, someone’s going to notice. And he doesn’t want anyone to notice. 

The bunk room has become his new solace. It’s rare that anyone spends any time there during the day, so it’s a place to sit and think and be left alone, which is just what Eddie needs. He needs to deal with this alone, because it’s his problem, no one else’s. The anxiety is just constant at this point, and he wonders when, if ever, he’ll feel sturdy enough to stand again. 

He can feel his body shaking, and distantly, he finds himself feeling good about getting better at hiding his panic attacks. No more passing out or loud gasping noises—he can hyperventilate if he’s alone, truly, but that’s rare, so now he just silently shakes, trying to push it down, down, down until he can’t feel it anymore. If he keeps pushing, smiling through the day, maybe his chest will stop aching for once, or even for good.

It subsides after a few minutes, at which point he shakily lifts his bottle of water to his lips and takes a sip, the coolness of it shocking him back into reality, almost. He needs that, needs to be better at not panicking on the job. It’s just that, well.

There’d been a gun. 

It hadn’t been pointed at him, but it had been pointed at their patient. Chimney had held his hands up, trying to talk the guy down, but it had only made the man more angry. He shook the gun in his hand, pointing it at his bleeding friend, and Buck and Hen had moved in unison. Just hang on, Buck had said, gentle as always. We only want to help you. Let us help you. They were getting somewhere, Hen talking in low tones and Chimney and Buck ready at a moment’s notice to grab the patient when the guy fired the gun again.

The patient died.

Buck had yelled.

Eddie didn’t, no, couldn’t move. He’d just been stuck, completely stuck until Buck was, for some fucking reason, standing in front of Chimney and pushing Hen back and talking to the guy like he was rational. Eddie wanted to scream. This man is incapable of being rational! he’d thought, rather unceremoniously. Why are you standing there?!

No one else was shot. Bobby had caught the man by surprise, gotten the gun away. Chimney had reached for it, turned off the safety, and kicked it away for the police. Eddie still couldn’t move.

“Eddie?” he hears, and he’s not sure if it’s a memory or if it’s right in front of him, but he doesn’t answer either way. “Eds. Hey.”

Eddie’s eyes flick up to meet Buck’s; Buck looks supremely guilty. Eddie can’t bring himself to care. He looks back down. “What.”

Buck sighs. “Eddie, come on.”

“Come on?” Eddie does look up then, for real this time. The pressure in his chest is only building even more. “Really? That’s what you want to say to me right now?”

Buck looks him in the eye, fire in them, and Eddie knows this conversation isn’t going to be fun for either of them. “Yeah, it is. Because you wouldn’t look at me, and then you ran in here and hid for thirty minutes, and I was willing to give you time—” He cuts himself off, shaking his head. “I want to know why you’re upset.”

Eddie rolls his eyes. “I don’t really want to tell you.”

“Oh, seriously?” Buck throws his hands up in the air, slamming them back down on his thighs. Eddie frowns harder. He can feel somewhere in his body that he likes when Buck pushes him. It means Buck cares. “That’s not gonna fly, Eddie. You need to talk to me.”

“I don’t need to do anything!” Eddie snaps, and Buck flinches. It’s barely there, and Eddie does feel bad, but he needs Buck to stop before he keels over and dies in the bunk room. “There’s nothing to talk about! Would you just leave it?”

Buck stares at him, mouth in a hard line, and Eddie stares back. His heart pounds. Buck blinks. “No,” he says. “I’m not going to just leave it.”

“Fucking Christ, Buck,” Eddie mutters. “I can’t, okay?”

“Can’t? Or won’t?” Buck challenges.

Eddie stays quiet. Buck doesn’t move.

They’re at an impasse; if Eddie says nothing, Buck will presumably sit there until their next call. If Eddie says it’s the break-up that’s bothering him, Buck will know it’s a lie. And Eddie can’t talk about it. He just can’t.

He knows he was naive to think all of the panic stemmed from Ana. And he hadn’t really thought that anyway. He’d just foolishly hoped that breaking up with her would solve all his problems, but it turned out it had only created more problems. Because here was Buck, beautiful and brutally honest and so fucking persistent that any other time, Eddie would have been grateful. Here and now, though, he’s just one snipped thread away from crashing to the ground.

“Eddie,” Buck starts, and Eddie shakes his head. “No, listen. You got shot, our last call had a gun—”

“I know,” Eddie says evenly, feeling anything but. “I was there.”

Buck snorts, but he doesn’t sound very happy. “Jesus, Eddie, would you let me talk?” Eddie bites on his bottom lip to keep himself from talking. Buck stares for a moment, then continues. “You got shot.”

“Stop saying that,” Eddie growls. Buck doesn’t move. “Just stop it.”

“No.”

“Buck, enough.”

“No!” Buck yells, and then he quiets down. “I’m not your kid, I’m your best friend. You don’t get to tell me what to do.”

“I just said I don’t want to talk about it!”

“You have to acknowledge it!” Buck pleads, and his voice cracks on the last word. Eddie looks back at Buck, then, and his eyes are red-rimmed, eyes big and wide. His voice gets quieter, breaking more with every word. “Eddie, I watched it happen, okay? I watched it happen, and I couldn’t do anything—”

“Buck, stop,” Eddie interrupts, horrified. “You saved me.”

Buck shakes his head, and suddenly his shoulders are shaking. Eddie’s chest gets tighter with every passing second. “I couldn’t— I was watching you die.”

“Buck,” Eddie breathes, reaching for his wrist. He can feel his own tears building; he blinks them away rapidly. 

“And then I had to watch that again,” he says thickly, and suddenly Eddie feels so guilty for snapping. He squeezes Buck’s wrist, and Buck smiles a little before sniffling again. “I had to do it.”

“No,” Eddie responds, and his own voice sounds tight. “I couldn’t handle that.”

“I had to do something.” Buck sounds desperate. “You understand.”

Eddie does, he really, truly does. He gets exactly what Buck means, because the reason he’d felt so stuck was because he thought he was watching Buck get shot. He’d watched Shannon die and Buck get crushed under the ladder truck within weeks of each other, and he doesn’t think he could handle Buck actually going somewhere he couldn’t follow. He couldn’t go through that again. 

He swallows, deciding to offer Buck something, even if he can’t… even if he can’t think about it. “I thought you were hit, too,” he says quietly, and he hears Buck inhale sharply, feels Buck’s fingers wrap around his wrist and squeeze. “I saw… so much blood.” He chances a look up at Buck’s face; he’s watching Eddie indulgently, and he takes Eddie’s other hand in his own. “I thought you were hurt. When I woke up, I panicked because you weren’t there. Ana had to tell me you were with Christopher, that you hadn’t been—”

“Eddie,” Buck breathes, his face contorted in such sorrow Eddie has to look away. “Why didn’t you say something?”

Eddie shakes his head. “I couldn’t.”

Buck shuts his eyes and a tear falls. There’s a shout for them from the loft, and Eddie and Buck take a moment and just breathe. “Okay,” he says, sniffling. “Okay. Let’s put a pin in this.”

Eddie breathes out a watery laugh. “Please.”

Buck drags him into a quick hug, and Eddie feels at peace the entire five seconds before Buck lets go. “Okay. I’m sorry I put you in that position.”

Eddie shakes his head, smiling a little. “No, I know you. You’re only sorry you made me cry.”

Buck laughs loudly, then. “Maybe.” He stands, holding a hand out to Eddie, and they stumble close together. It would be so easy to just— But he doesn’t, and Buck just runs a hand over the top of Eddie’s head, and Eddie lets his eyes close for a minute. “Let’s get back out to the loft, okay? Let the others know you’re good.”

Eddie swallows, smiling at Buck, his whole body tingling still from the touch. “Okay.”

Eddie wonders if how many times they’ve said okay is inversely proportional to how okay they actually are, and he follows Buck slowly up the stairs, rebuilding his walls one step at a time.

Christopher asks Eddie about Ana five weeks to the day after he breaks up with her.

“We haven’t seen Ana in a while.” Christopher sounds very casual, and Eddie looks up from his computer, raising an eyebrow at him. His face belies any nonchalance he tries to have, though, and Eddie raising his second eyebrow has him cracking almost immediately. “You broke up with her.”

Eddie sighs. “I did. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you right away.” He is sorry; he hadn’t meant to keep it a secret. They’d just been busy, and he hadn’t wanted to throw it in casual conversation. Hey, Christopher, sorry, I broke up with my girlfriend and you can’t see her anymore. It seemed too uncaring about Christopher’s feelings. “Do you want to talk about that? How it makes you feel?”

Christopher leans forward, staring right into Eddie’s eyes. “I don’t really know,” he says, and Eddie coughs, surprised. Christopher keeps staring. “Buck told me, anyway.”

“He— What?!” Eddie frowns, pulling out his phone. You told Christopher about me and Ana? he types out, setting it face down on the table. “Are you okay?”

Christopher nods effusively. “Yeah, dad.” He shrugs, but his eyes seem brighter. “I just thought you were trying to figure out how to tell me.”

Eddie shakes his head; God, he loves his kid. “You’re too smart for me,” he says, and Christopher giggles. Eddie loves that sound. “Are you really okay? You’re not upset?” He looks down at his phone. You didn’t? Eddie sighs.

“Are you upset?” Christopher asks, and Eddie blinks at him.

“Um.” He tries to think about it, to rationalize any of the feelings he’d had. He… wasn’t upset, not really, not the way you’re supposed to be after a break up. He was upset about the panic, and how he was going to keep hiding it, but he didn’t exactly want to say that to Christopher, either. Honesty, he thinks, is always the best policy. “No, I’m not. It’s okay to be upset, Christopher. I know you liked her.”

He braces himself for a fit, as Christopher has been wont to do, but it never comes. Instead, Christopher just shrugs. “I mean, I guess.” Christopher looks up at him, homework in his folder already. “She was nice as my teacher.”

“What do you mean?” Eddie asks.

“Well, sometimes she told me I couldn’t do things,” Christopher says, and Eddie’s blood runs cold. “Not, like… I mean, she liked me! She wasn’t mean, I guess. She just wanted me to use my crutches all the time, or told me to stop doing things. Kind of like a mom.” Christopher sighs, then. “And, I know, that would happen with any girlfriend.”

Eddie frowns. “She wasn’t trying to replace Mom, mijo. I’m sorry she said that,” he says, and Christopher sighs again.

“I know that.” Eddie tilts his head at his son, trying to figure out what Christopher is getting at. “But that’s not what I mean.”

“Then tell me what you mean,” Eddie says.

Christopher looks at him like he’s trying to figure him out. “Buck tells me what to do all the time,” Christopher says bluntly, and Eddie’s heart stutters. “And it’s never bad coming from him.”

“Christopher,” Eddie begins, and Christopher just blinks. “I guess I just don’t know where this was coming from. I thought you loved her.”

“She’s nice,” Christopher says. “It’s just not the worst thing ever if I don’t see her again.” And then he opens his textbook, ending the conversation for the time being.

That hits Eddie like a ton of bricks. He’d spent all this time thinking Christopher would be upset if he broke up with Ana, only for Christopher to surprise him and just not care at all. Christopher barely looks bothered, if he’s honest with himself, and he lets his head drop to the table, hiding his face in his hands. All that time he’d spent with her, for Christopher, only for her to have given Christopher limits he wouldn’t have. Only for Christopher to say it didn’t matter and bring Buck into the conversation. 

Buck, who Eddie can’t stop… feeling things for. Christ.

“Christopher?” Eddie speaks softly, as if bringing this up will push all his feelings to the surface. Some part of him doesn’t want Christopher to know, because Christopher is the most observant kid in the world. Christopher looks up, brow furrowed. “What did you mean when you said Buck tells you what to do?”

Christopher places his chin in his hand, tilting his head as he thinks. He looks like Shannon when he does it. Eddie packs that particular thought away. “Well,” Christopher starts, “when you were in the hospital, Buck took care of me.”

“Yeah, he did.” Eddie smiles a little, and Christopher does, too.

“He got me up, put me to bed, made my lunch for school sometimes, too.” Christopher smiles wider. “And he always helped me with my homework. He’s the best at homework help.”

Eddie wrinkles his nose, and Christopher laughs. “Better than me?” Eddie asks, and Christopher laughs harder. “Okay, that’s fair.”

“And when he stayed here, and your medicine made you tired, Buck made dinner, and he talked to me, and he made sure I did all my work,” Christopher continues. Eddie just looks at him, content to listen. “Sometimes, Buck sends cool articles to me if he thinks I’d like them. Lots of articles about space.”

“Buck’s pretty great, huh?” Eddie knows Christopher feels this way. It’s no secret. He’s just… thinking about some things, now.

“The best,” Christopher gushes, starry-eyed, and then he sobers. “And he doesn’t think I’m stupid.”

“Hey,” Eddie says gently. “You’re not. You’re the smartest kid I’ve ever met.”

Christopher rolls his eyes. “You have to say that, you’re my dad.”

“I do not!” Eddie exclaims, and Christopher smiles. “But I say it anyway because it’s true.”

“Fine.” Christopher closes his textbook. “Buck doesn’t think I’m stupid. He talks to me like a regular person. Like you do.” Eddie blinks, but Christopher keeps going. “A lot of people just look past me, or talk down to me, but you don’t. Buck doesn’t.” Christopher shrugs. “Ana did.”

“She did?” Eddie’s voice cracks a little, so he clears his throat. “You didn’t say anything.”

“I thought you really liked her, Dad.” Christopher laughs a little. “I just wanted you to be happy.”

Eddie closes his eyes, his stomach dropping. Of course his kid is just like him. Of course. He takes a deep, shaky breath, and opens his eyes. Christopher looks a little guilty, then, but Eddie doesn’t want that. He needs Christopher to be okay.

“Hey, buddy, I’m not mad, okay?” Eddie says, and Christopher nods. Eddie sighs. “No, really. I’m not mad.” He shifts to the chair next to Christopher, holding his shoulders gently. “I just want you to talk to me when something bothers you. Especially something like that. I won’t be mad, I promise.”

“You don’t talk to me when things bother you,” Christopher points out, so matter-of-fact that Eddie almost curses. Almost. “You got shot.”

Eddie shuts his eyes. “I know, Christopher.”

“You’re sad,” Christopher says, then, and Eddie’s eyes fly open. “You’re sad, and if you won’t talk to me, and you won’t talk to Buck, then you should talk to a therapist.”

Eddie raises both eyebrows at his son. “Wow, Christopher. Tell me how you really feel.”

“Well!” Christopher looks him dead in the eye, expression all Buck, and Eddie realizes there have been conversations he wasn’t privy to. “You told me that if I don’t talk to you or Buck about the tsunami then I have to talk to a therapist. If you won’t talk to me or Buck about being shot then you should talk to a therapist.” Christopher raises an eyebrow at him, and he sees his own face reflected back at him.

“Well.” Eddie blinks, and Christopher blinks, and Eddie shakes his head. “I’ll talk to Buck.”

“Okay,” Christopher says hesitantly. “You could talk to a therapist, too?”

Eddie snorts, pressing a kiss to the top of Christopher’s head. “I said I’ll talk to Buck.”

Christopher sighs, long-suffering, but he smiles anyway. “Fine. As long as you actually do.”

Eddie gets up, and Christopher asks for mac and cheese for dinner, and Eddie takes two deep breaths. In, out. In, out. He knows he needs to talk to Buck. It’s just a matter of bringing it up, is all. But he’ll do it.

Chimney’s off work again, so Eddie’s with Hen in the ambulance again, and that’s fine, it really is, but they get called to a three alarm fire, and paramedics aren’t strictly necessary, so he thinks Bobby’s going to put him with Buck.

He doesn’t.

Hen leads instinctively, which is fine by him; Buck tends to lead when they’re together, too, but it’s never something they talk about directly. It just is. They’re so in sync that anyone would be hard pressed to find something they don’t do well at a scene. It’s just—Hen’s not Buck, and he feels antsy not knowing where Buck is at all times.

“He’s fine,” Hen says, in between banging on office doors and clearing rooms. “You’re so fidgety.”

“‘M not fidgety,” Eddie denies automatically, and Hen snorts. He rolls his eyes, clicking his radio on. “This is Firefighters Diaz and Wilson, bravo side is clear.”

“Yeah, you’re not fidgety, and I’m not gay.” Hen takes one more look around before gesturing for him to follow. Eddie snorts at her comment, but otherwise leaves it alone. They make their way back the way they came, and Buck’s voice comes in, crackly but strong. 

“This is Buckley and Panikkar, delta side is clear.” Buck’s voice is low, and it sends some sort of shiver down Eddie’s spine. He swallows, and Hen stares at the side of his face. Eddie ignores it. “Cap, wait, not clear. There’s a problem.”

Eddie’s blood runs cold.

“What is it?” Bobby asks, and there’s a loud crash.

“Um.” It’s Ravi this time, and Eddie’s heart is pounding. “The supports are falling, there’s a victim, and the floor’s unstable.”

“Fuck,” Hen hisses. Eddie closes his eyes. He will not run, he will not run

“Can you get out?” Bobby asks urgently. There’s no response for one, two, three— “Buckley, Panikkar, come in!”

“Unclear, Cap.” Buck’s voice is steady, and Hen sighs in relief as Eddie’s entire body relaxes at hearing Buck’s voice. “Ravi’s got the victim… Ravi?”

“Buck, hold your position,” Bobby says, but Eddie looks at Hen, and even though she shakes her head, Eddie’s already moving, clicking his radio on.

“Buck, Ravi, we’re coming to you,” he says, and Hen, for all her irritation, follows close behind.

Bobby bites out a half-hearted warning, but it doesn’t get very far; Hen mimics a bad connection on her radio as they make their way to Buck and Ravi. The smoke gets thicker by the second, the closer they get to the delta side, and Eddie sends a thank you prayer up for oxygen masks. By the time they make it, the victim is limp in Ravi’s arms and badly burnt, Eddie notes, and Ravi is trying his damndest to pull them toward the door, to no avail. 

“Dead weight,” Hen murmurs sympathetically, and Eddie’s heart sinks. Oh, Ravi. “Ravi, I think…”

“We’re so close,” Ravi says, and Buck puts a hand on his shoulder.

“We need to get out of here.” His voice cracks a little, but that’s the only thing betraying his emotion. Otherwise, Buck’s as steady as the support beams are weak, and he’s ready to pull back as the fire rages around them. Eddie’s so proud. “Ravi, they’re not… they’re gone.”

“No!” Ravi shouts, but he drops the victim’s arms regardless. “No, Buck.”

“I know, but—”

Boom.

Eddie and Hen dive for the floor as the supports nearest to the window come crashing down in what feels like slow motion. Eddie can hear Bobby’s panicked calls, Ladder 118, come in, come in now, but Eddie’s a little too out of it to fumble for his radio. He tries anyway, moving through molasses. “Cap, this is Diaz for Ladder 118.” He swivels his head around—there’s no dizziness, that’s good—and Hen’s slowly moving to a sitting position. “Correction; Diaz and Wilson. Over.”

“Ladder 118, this is Panikkar.” It comes through with vague feedback, and Eddie can hear him. He sounds dazed. “I think I hit my head.”

“We’ll check you out,” Bobby promises. They all wait, holding their collective breath, for a response that doesn’t come. “Firefighter Buckley, do you copy?”

There’s no response. Eddie feels sick. Maybe he did get a concussion. “Buck, come in,” Hen says this time, voice just short of desperate concern. “Buck, answer.”

“Buck!” Ravi yells, though not into his radio, and Eddie is moving before he’s even realized, clambering off the ground clumsily as he makes his way toward the sound of Ravi’s voice. “Buck, come on, answer!”

“Buck!” Eddie shouts this time, and he can hear Hen behind him as they come upon Ravi, gripping the shoulders of Buck’s too still body. “Buck, Evan, come on.”

Buck groans, eyes blinking open, and Ravi blows out a relieved breath, laughing slightly as he grabs his radio. “Ladder 118, Firefighters Panikkar and Buckley reporting, over.”

“Good,” Bobby says, and even through the staticky radio, he sounds immensely relieved. “Get out of there, now.”

It takes both Eddie and Ravi supporting Buck to get him out of there, but that’s mostly because he’s completely out of it from the fall. They sit him in the ambulance, and Eddie makes quick work of checking Buck over thoroughly before going to grab something from the truck. Buck sighs. “I’d wanna check you for a brain bleed, Buck,” Hen clucks sympathetically, and Buck frowns. “Just to be on the safe side.”

“A brain bleed?!” Eddie stalks back over, and Buck grimaces. Eddie would laugh in any other situation; it’s funny that he can tell that Buck just knows he’s about to get reemed out, except it’s not actually that funny, because Buck was unconscious for far too long. “Hen, do you really think so?”

“I feel like I’d know,” Buck says, a little more steady than he’d been walking out of the place, “if I had a brain bleed.”

“That’s what everyone thinks,” Hen says. “But many people have died because they didn’t get it checked.”

Buck looks alarmed at this, but she just pats his cheek, walking away, leaving Eddie alone with Buck for the first time since their weird talk in the bunk room, and Eddie looks at the bruise above Buck’s right eye, almost directly mirroring his birthmark, and his stomach twists at how fucking close he came to—

“Never do that again,” Eddie says, voice low. Buck frowns. “Never, do you hear me? I know you jumped to protect Probie.” Eddie lifts his hand to trace the bruise with his thumb, wiping off some of the blood in the process. Buck shuts his eyes. “Don’t.”

“It’s my job.” Buck leans into Eddie’s hand, and Eddie maneuvers it to cup his cheek, rubbing his thumb soothingly across Buck’s cheekbone. Buck opens his eyes. “We save each other.”

“Who would have my back if you didn’t?” Eddie’s voice is so quiet it barely makes a sound. “Don’t make me think about that.”

Buck’s eyes are suspiciously glassy, and Eddie opens his mouth to ask if it really could be a brain bleed when Buck replies. “‘M sorry,” he says, and Eddie shakes his head. “I didn’t mean to, this time.”

“I know.” Eddie’s hand moves down Buck’s jaw and settles onto his shoulder as he presses his thumb into the divet of Buck’s collarbone. He rubs a slow circle there, and Buck shivers. “I just can’t, Buck.”

“I’ll be more careful,” Buck promises, and Eddie swallows the lump in his throat as his eyes prickle with tears. “I know I… with Chris, you know?”

Eddie hums. “I’m aware.” He brings his hands back up to Buck’s face, cupping it gently. He speaks softer. “Don’t do that again.”

Buck stutters out a “wouldn’t dream of it,” and Eddie’s stomach is in knots, and Buck’s eyes flicker to his lips before Bobby sets a hand on Eddie’s shoulder, startling them both out of their stupor. “Hey, Cap.”

“Buck, how’s the head?” Bobby looks all business, but when Eddie looks up, his eyes are concerned. Eddie breathes in, out. Steady.

“Fine.” Buck shrugs. “Hen wants me to get checked at the hospital.”

“Well, the 143 will take you.” Bobby waves one of their paramedics over. “We’re gonna need the ambulance, unfortunately.”

Buck and Eddie wince at the same time, and Eddie takes a deep breath, finally chancing a look at Bobby. Bobby just looks like he always does, though, and Eddie nods. “What’s next?”

Hen and Eddie wave Buck off before they step into the ambulance, shaking off one near-death experience just to drive to another. Eddie tries not to think about it, but Buck not responding for however long it took was one of the worst moments of his life, and it only lasted about one minute. He’d already told Buck about thinking he’d been shot, too, and then Buck had jumped in front of a gun on a call, and then he’d protected Ravi with his body because Ravi was vulnerable and scared after holding a dead person. Eddie doesn’t know how many more close calls he can handle with Buck being in immediate, terrifying, soul-crushing danger before Eddie’s heart gives out right then and there.

Hen clears her throat. “So.” They speed through the intersection, following Bobby as they rush to the next scene. “Did you want to talk about it?”

Eddie swallows. “About what?”

And, look. He knows he’s being obtuse. He’s fully cognizant of his inability to handle anything. He panicked after a call because Buck had stepped in front of a gun last week, and he’d almost kissed him because Buck had been out cold for a minute today, but it’s nothing, really. 

Hen sighs. “When we get back to the house—”

“There’s nothing to talk about, Hen,” Eddie says, but then Bobby radios them to say that the 136 responded, and they can turn around. Eddie’s chest tightens. “Oh, wow.”

“Excellent timing.” Hen pulls off to the side, letting the truck pass them before she pulls back onto the road. She’s silent until they hit a red light and a blocked intersection. “Eddie.”

“It’s just Buck,” he says, and Hen nods. “He’s my best friend.”

“And I understand that.” The police wave them through, and then they’re cruising along at thirty miles per hour. “But Chimney’s my best friend, and I love him a lot, but I certainly do not look at him the way you look at Buck.”

Eddie’s mouth feels dry. “Buck is hot,” he says, and Hen’s eyebrows go all the way up to her hairline. “No rules stating you can’t find your best friend hot.”

“Not really what I meant,” Hen starts, “but we can start there.”

They pull into the station, and Eddie could try and escape, tell Bobby he needs something to do, but Hen’s stare tells him he’s not going anywhere, and she pulls him into the bunk room.

They sit opposite each other, just like they had only a few shifts prior, Eddie’s elbows on his knees and Hen leaning against the bedpost like this is something she and Eddie do every day. Eddie sighs, because he doesn’t really know where to start, and he thinks Hen might want him to.

She saves his ass, regardless. “So. Buck is hot.”

Eddie grimaces. “I mean, I know you’re a lesbian, but objectively—”

“No, yeah, you’re right.” Hen chuckles. “He’s not my type. You’re much closer.”

Eddie snorts, running his hands through his hair. “I’ve always been universally appealing to everyone.”

Hen nods. “Even boys?”

And, yeah, that’s the kicker, here. He’d called Buck hot, which was fine. Of course it was fine. Guys can tell their guy friends they’re hot. But something had shown on his face, must have, because Hen was treading carefully, like she thought Eddie hadn’t meant to say that, but also steamrolling him to get him to talk because she thinks he needs to. She walks that line rather well. 

“Even boys,” Eddie confirms, and Hen smiles. It’s freeing, he thinks, to say it. “And I also… find them appealing.”

Hen presses her lips together like she’s trying not to laugh. Eddie thinks that’s fair. “So you like guys, you like women. You think Buck is hot. All true?” Eddie nods. “Still doesn’t explain what I kept Cap from interrupting.”

Eddie shakes his head. “Look, Buck is hot, and he’s my best friend. I can both think he’s hot and love him and also just be friends with him.”

Hen shrugs. “Sure, I get that.”

“He’s just… he acts like he doesn’t matter.” Eddie huffs frustratedly. You think you’re expandable but you’re wrong. “He acts like if he sacrificed himself for any one of us that everyone would just move on.”

Hen is quiet for a moment. “Well, that would be difficult.”

“I know!” Eddie exclaims, and Hen sighs.

“I mean.” She shakes her head. “We would, eventually. I’ve lost people in my life, more than I’d care to admit. And losing Buck would sting worse than a lot of them.”

She’s close, but no cigar, Eddie thinks. Because he doesn’t know if he would move on, is the thing. Buck says everyone and includes Eddie and Christopher in that. Eddie and Christopher should be an exception, though. Because there’s no fucking way that Eddie would just move on the way Buck thinks he would.

So he swallows, bucks up a little. “I think,” he says carefully, “that losing him would break something in me.” Hen’s eyes soften, and he glances down, away, anywhere but her face. “He says I’d move on but I don’t think I would, Hen.”

“So, the panic after the call with the gun…?” Clearly, she’d noticed something was up. He knows Buck didn’t say, wouldn’t share his information like that.

“I can’t lose him, Hen.”

“You lost Shannon,” she points out. “And look at you now.”

And Eddie would think that’s fair, except it’s not, because Shannon had been his first love but the intensity of his feelings toward Shannon, as beautiful and wretched as they were, don’t hold a candle to the mere possibility of Evan Buckley being gone.

“It’s not the same,” he argues, voice shaking, and Hen frowns.

“It’s not?” She leans forward, catching his eye. “He’s your best friend, you think losing him would break you, your words, not mine.” She tilts her head, waiting for him to look back at her. “You panic at the thought of him dying, because you got shot right in front of him—”

“Everyone wants to bring that up,” Eddie mutters, but Hen ignores him.

“You got shot right in front of him. He saved your life, and you thought he was hurt.” Her eyes are a bit sad, and Eddie swallows again. The panic claws at his throat, trying to escape. His shoulders shake almost imperceptibly. “You thought he died.” 

“Hen,” he begs, and she closes her eyes for a brief moment before touching his knee. A tear falls no matter how hard he tries to stop it. “I can’t lose him. Not… not now. Not before I—” He cuts himself off, frowning.

“You love him,” Hen says simply. Which, no, that can’t be right.

Well, obviously it is. It is right. He does love Buck. He doesn’t… no. “I mean, of course I do?” Eddie furrows his brows, looking back at Hen. “He’s my best friend.”

“You know something, Eddie?” He tilts his head at her. “Karen was my best friend, too.”

Eddie feels like he’s been sucker-punched in the gut, because suddenly he gets why Hen was so concerned, why she kept looking at him, telling him Buck was probably fine. Why she gave him and Buck that space in the back of the ambulance today. And of fucking course. “Hen…”

“Would it be so bad?” she asks him, and he thinks about it for one brief, beautiful moment: coming home to Buck, waking up next to Buck, Buck cooking in his kitchen, kissing Buck. And—  

Oh

Hen watches him, and he swears she can see the moment he figures it out, because she squeezes his knee, and he exhales shakily. Of course. It wasn’t just that Buck is hot, or that Buck’s hot and his best friend. Buck is his best friend, one half of his whole world, the only one he trusts with Christopher more than himself, the only real reason that he’d gotten through that first year as a probationary firefighter. Of course he’s—

Christ, he’s so fucked.

“I can’t,” he says, and Hen’s eyes are sadder now. “Because if he… if he were gone, it would break something in me.” He takes a deep breath. “But if he left, voluntarily, I think it would break me irreparably.”

Hen sits up straight, and she holds her arms out hesitantly, but he surges forward, letting her hold him for one moment and take all of that, everything he’d said to her. She hugs him back, clinging to his shirt, and she mumbles into his shoulder. “For what it’s worth…” She pulls back, looking him directly in the eye. “I thought the same thing about Karen.”

The bell rings, then, and they both stand, running to the turnout gear, and Eddie turns it over and over in his head until he could play the conversation back with his eyes closed. 

Hen’s left Eddie with a lot to think about, and think about it he does. He’s unaccustomed to it, but he can’t stop thinking about it. So he begs off a trip to the grocery store with Buck and Christopher to talk to Frank again, not about his PTSD, but about his mid-thirties sexuality crisis involving his best friend. Eddie clocks what he thinks is disappointment on Frank’s face when Eddie says the word “sexuality,” and he frowns.

“Is this bad?” he asks, instead of anything remotely comprehensible. Frank frowns back at him.

“Bad… to talk about your sexuality?” Frank tilts his head, giving him a discerning look. “Do you think it’s bad?”

“I mean, not really?” Eddie sighs, scrubbing his hands over his face. “Objectively, being... not straight is totally fine. I more meant on your end.”

“Oh!” Frank’s face clears, and he shakes his head. “I’m sorry, Eddie. I can see how it may have come across that way. It’s just, when you said you had discovered something, I thought it would be in relation to the shooting.”

Eddie blinks, biting his lip. He wants to laugh so badly at the image of usually calm and collected Frank being flustered because Eddie can’t string a sentence together. He lets out a little laugh. “No, sorry. I…” He shakes his head. “It’s just… Buck.”

Frank nods; if he’s remotely surprised, he doesn’t show it. “What about Buck?”

Eddie thinks through how to say this in the most effective way. He’s been calling it a crisis in his head, ever since he’d realized that the feelings of warmth and fluttering in his stomach were related to anything Buck said or did, but that doesn’t really feel right to him. He’d talked with Hen, which only illuminated things more, and suddenly it wasn’t so much his sexuality as it was just Buck. Being attracted to men was one thing, being in love with his… with Buck, well, that just— 

“Screws me up, I guess,” Eddie says, shaking his head. “It’s just, I think somewhere, some part of me always liked men.” He pauses, deflating when he doesn’t know where to go.

“Sure.”

 Eddie takes a deep breath. “And, like, realizing that what I felt for Buck was… attraction, that was scary, but in a middle school crush type way, you know?” Frank nods, but Eddie barely notices. “But it’s not just attraction.”

Frank raises an eyebrow. “Oh?”

Eddie feels his lunch trying to come back up, but he stamps it back down, swallowing roughly. “I don’t know if I can say it.”

“Why not?”

“Saying it makes it real.” Eddie blinks rapidly, twisting his lips into a pursed frown. “If I say it, then I have to acknowledge it.”

There’s a long pause, then. Eddie’s breathing is a little faster, not concerningly, but he focuses on it, trying to calm himself. Frank says nothing. It’s only awkward because Eddie made it so, but he can’t bring himself to care. 

“Hen had to say it,” Eddie blurts out. Frank nods again. “Hen had to say it, and even then I just pretended like it wasn’t that serious.” He shakes his head. “She knows, though.”

Frank sighs, but it’s not in any sort of condescension or precocity. “What’s bad about acknowledging it, whatever it is?”

That’s a fair point, if he’s honest with himself. It’s just that… if he acknowledges it, then it’s real. If it’s real, then he’ll have to think about it, and if he thinks about it, he’ll have to deal with it, and if he deals with it, he’ll end up saying something. And saying something is just about the absolute worst thing he could probably do, because—

“He doesn’t feel the same.” Eddie chews on his lip as his leg bounces. “You know when you just… you know, you know someone so well that you can read every single expression on their face, every thought probably running through their head? I feel like I’d know, you know?”

“You’d know what, Eddie?” Frank asks. Eddie huffs in frustration, and Frank sighs. “It’s just that you’re talking around the issue, here.”

“Because if I say it, it makes it real!” And like, what part of that is Frank not understanding? Frank’s a smart guy. Frank gets it. Frank is very forthcoming and realistic with him. Frank is trying to goad him into saying it. “And I can’t make it real.”

“It’s already real, Eddie,” Frank says simply, and Eddie freezes. “It’s bothering you so much that you’ve gone to great pains to avoid talking about ‘it.’” Frank uses air quotes, and Eddie just blinks at him, face screwed up in what’s supposed to be distress but is probably coming across more like he stubbed his toe. “But it’s real, because maybe you didn’t say it out loud, but someone did.”

“That doesn’t matter,” Eddie argues weakly, and Frank shrugs.

“Sure, but I think you know better than most that abstract, intangible things can still be very, very real.” Frank sets his pen down and clasps his hands together. “Like the nightmares.”

“The shooting and Buck are two separate issues.” Eddie takes a shallow breath, exhaling quickly. “They don’t… they aren’t connected.”

“But Buck was there,” Frank says. “And that’s something you experienced with him. Just you and him. And that scares you.”

“He thought he was watching me die,” Eddie snaps, and to Frank’s credit, he doesn’t flinch. “He said that. He thought he was watching me die, under his fingertips. He army-crawled under a truck to save me. A truck, you know, that he was once crushed under.” Eddie’s voice starts to shake. There it goes, all that stability he’s craved this whole time. He doesn’t know why he’s so mad, but he is, and he’s got to let Frank know that he’s mad. “He did that for me? When I—”

Frank pauses to let Eddie gather his thoughts, but Eddie’s shaking too hard. “When you…?”

“When it’s me?” Eddie yells, and then he slaps his hand over his mouth. Frank frowns, but instead of it being his usual concerned frown, it’s just profoundly sad. Eddie shakes his head. “I’m not worth all that.”

Frank sighs heavily. “Why not, Eddie? Can you explain it?” Eddie shakes his head, shaking too hard to avoid crying. Again. Lately, it feels like all he does is cry. “Okay, that’s all right. What if I make a guess, and you tell me whether you think it fits?”

Eddie mulls that over in his head. It’s easier that way for him. He’ll have to figure it out on his own someday, but that day is absolutely not today. He nods, then, and Frank takes a breath. 

“You’re not worth Buck’s love because Buck is a good person, and you think you’re a bad person,” Frank tries, and boy, does he hit the nail on the head.

“Buck is good,” Eddie stresses, and Frank nods. “He’s so good. Profoundly. He just makes everything easier, and all I do is complicate everything.”

“For whom?”

“Everyone?” Eddie laughs, running his hands through his hair. “I mean, since the moment he was born, I’ve let Christopher down. I left, and then I left again, and I let his mother down—”

“Shannon,” Frank interjects, and Eddie nods.

“And my parents.” Eddie throws his hands in the air. “Don’t get me started on my parents. God, all I’ve ever done is disappoint them, what with getting a girl pregnant out of wedlock, liking men—” He shakes his head. “Being the worst fucking father to Christopher.”

“Do you think your parents are right?” Frank asks, but it sounds more like Frank thinks his parents are wrong. 

Eddie rolls his eyes. “I don’t know.” He picks at his lip compulsively. “I worry they are. I… I just love him so much, and I know him. And I know what he can and can’t do. And my parents… they don’t trust me with him. They just don’t. If I make one mistake in front of them it’s like I might as well have committed murder.” His voice is getting thicker as he talks, and this time, Frank doesn’t stop him.

“And poor Buck—immediately upon learning about Christopher, he just…” Eddie thinks back, marveling at Buck’s candor, his behavior. “He just stepped in, and he helped. He just did that without me asking, because I wouldn’t have asked. And all I do is take from him.”

“I don’t think that’s quite true.” Frank interrupts him again, this time with more fervor. Eddie blinks. “From what I understand, Buck and Christopher experienced a very serious trauma together, right?” Eddie nods. “You gave him your trust. You told him, in no uncertain terms, that he had your trust, and you trusted him with the most precious thing in your life.” Frank pauses for a moment, to let that sink in. “That’s not nothing, Eddie.”

Eddie frowns, because he hadn’t really thought of it that way. “I guess.” He pauses, then, shaking his head. “I just think Buck deserves better. Even if he wanted me.”

“I think,” Frank says carefully, “that you need to let Buck decide if he loves you or not. And not make that decision for him.”

And for some reason, Eddie starts to cry.

Eddie wakes up in the bunk room at work thinking about his dead wife.

(He grimaces. Maybe not the best choice of words, but he’s the only one who can hear his thoughts, anyway.) 

It’s the middle of the night on an extremely slow shift. Eddie blinks the sleep out of his eyes, looking to his left, and Buck’s in the bed next to him, snoring softly. Eddie smiles, soft and gooey and so in love, and he’s lucky that bunk room gets so dark. His face, while a very real manifestation of his feelings, is embarrassing.

He lets himself feel it, though. He and Frank are working on that, feeling things. The sensation is odd, though very welcome; after literal years of pushing his feelings down and telling himself they don’t matter, he’s working through one at a time. Today, he’s feeling in love with Buck.

Okay, so maybe that’s every day. He still thinks it should count.

The thing about feeling things is that even if he wanted to feel only one at a time, the entire prospect of feeling just opens him up like an autopsy: his raw, unfiltered feelings just displayed for the world to see. So this morning, he’d woken up to a text from Buck, a picture of Jee-Yun holding the plush penguin Eddie and Christopher had gotten her and someone misses her Uncle Eddie as a caption, and he’d felt very in love at that moment. Which then led to the grief of being a widower at age 31 about six hours later, and that was one he wanted to stomp on until it turned to dust.

(“Is there something wrong with grief?” Frank had asked. It didn’t feel like one of his therapist questions, Eddie noted. It was genuine, from the heart. Frank really wanted to know his answer.

“Yeah, I shouldn’t have to feel it,” Eddie had replied, and Frank had concealed his surprise pretty quickly, but then Eddie wanted to know Frank’s thoughts, and they’d gone back and forth until Frank told him, point blank, that he needed to grieve the relationship.

“You can’t change the outcome,” Frank said. “Only your feelings about it. And you’ll only live in further denial if you keep this up.”

Eddie huffed. “I know she’s dead,” he’d snapped, and Frank only shook his head.

“The denial of your feelings, Eddie.” It had been rather silent after that.)

So the grief surrounding his wife’s death lingers around him like the stench of cigarette smoke, wholly noticeable to everyone but just subtle enough that people don’t feel the need to ask. The shift is slow enough that it offered Eddie time to think, which usually would bother him, but Frank had practically prescribed it. You’ve got to sit with it, he’d said. Let yourself feel whatever you feel.

So he crouches next to Buck’s sleeping figure, and he swallows harshly, and he feels angry at being left by his… he shakes his head, tries again. He feels angry at Shannon for leaving. Full stop. He’d said that was unfair to her, and Frank had nodded. Sure, he’d replied, but it’s how you feel. You’re allowed to feel something that’s unfair to someone else. So Eddie does. He feels angry at Shannon for leaving him twice. And he looks at Buck, and he feels some sort of deep sadness that Buck and Shannon never met. He’s not sure they would have liked each other, or even tolerated each other for his sake, but he does wonder what it would have been like, if they’d known each other. If Shannon had lived.

He wants to parse this out, fit it into his neat little boxes like he can everything else, but it’s impossible. He has no way of knowing if he and Shannon would have worked things out, even though he secretly hopes they wouldn’t have. Because Buck is right in front of him, close enough to touch, and Buck complements Eddie in a way no one else has, and Eddie’s never believed in soulmates, not really, but if they did exist, Buck is probably his.

He brushes his fingers against Buck’s shoulder gently, and he can’t decide if it’s a lack of self-control or an act of self-love that he does it. Buck stirs regardless, no doubt from the months of practice of waking himself from the deepest slumber on Eddie’s couch to wake Eddie from a nightmare. Buck blinks sleepily at him, a smile stretching across his lips.

“Hi,” he croaks, clearing his throat. Eddie’s heart thuds so loudly he wonders if Buck can hear it.

“Hey.” Eddie speaks a little louder, sighing. “Sorry to wake you.”

Buck stretches slowly as he sits up, moving one inch at a time until he’s touching the top bunk before he shrinks back down to normal size. “No, don’t be,” he says through a yawn, still smiling at Eddie. “You okay?” He moves over, patting the space next to him, and Eddie crawls in next to him, their shoulders pressed together. 

The moonlit patch on the floor dances around, the slight breeze rattling it through the skylight. It’s quiet, and Eddie’s content to just sit there with Buck, no words necessary. Buck, a usual gap filler, remains silent, the warmth from his body seeping into Eddie’s through where their arms touch. Eddie can hear Hen’s near silent breathing from across the room, and he and Buck both sense when Chimney wakes up, slipping out of the room almost unnoticed. Eddie catches his eye, though, and Chimney salutes him, closing the door quietly behind him.

“I woke up thinking about Shannon,” Eddie says so quietly he might have thought it. Buck hears him, though, because of course he does, and he brushes their hands together, hooking his pinky onto Eddie’s. “Frank says I need to name her.”

Buck frowns, sniffling a little. “What does that mean?”

Eddie presses harder into Buck; Buck gives him easy resistance. Got your back, it says, and Eddie breaths in, out. Steady and reliable. “Shannon and I were separated longer than we were dating or married.” Eddie clears his throat more loudly than he’d anticipated, and he and Buck freeze momentarily, but Hen just snuffles, still sleeping. They release their breath together. “For a while, she was just ‘my wife.’ People in El Paso eventually didn’t even know her. I just had a wife in California taking care of her sick mother.”

“Must have been odd,” Buck says. 

Eddie hums. “Yeah, a little.” He picks at a loose thread on the sheets, unravelling it slowly. “She was also ‘Christopher’s mother.’ She was Shannon if people knew her, but I didn’t name her if they didn’t.”

Buck nods, as if he gets it. “And that allowed you to escape the grieving process,” he observes, not judging, not concerned. Just… as it is. Eddie blinks, suddenly overcome.

“Yeah.” His voice cracks and Buck squeezes their pinkies. “I’m not very good at grieving.”

“I don’t know that anyone is,” Buck says gently, and Eddie moves to lace their fingers together. “I don’t think grieving is something to be good at, Eds.”

“But I don’t even let myself start,” Eddie chokes out, and Buck slides a hand up Eddie’s arm, and Eddie takes it, barreling into Buck’s chest. Buck is steady, reliable, dependable. If Eddie can’t be, then Buck is. “Where do I start?”

Buck’s hand moves up and down his back, slow and easy and comforting, and he smells like home, and Eddie loves him. He can’t believe he’d denied it for so long. “Wherever feels right,” Buck murmurs into Eddie’s shoulder. Eddie lets himself cry, and Buck doesn’t complain, and they sit there, still hugging until their next call comes in.

When he walks into Frank’s office the next week, he names Shannon without calling her any other descriptor. Just Shannon. “It’s more personal, that way,” he says, and Frank nods. “It forces me to confront it.”

Frank smiles, and so they begin.

Christopher comes down with the flu on a Thursday afternoon during his five week winter break.

He’d woken up a little less energetic, but Eddie had chalked that up to just being a growing pre-teen. And he would have continued to had Christopher’s cheeks not gotten red as he napped through their third viewing of Coco in two weeks. Eddie moves his hand to Christopher’s forehead, and sure enough, he’s a little too warm.

Eddie sighs. “Hey, buddy, can you wake up for me?” Christopher groans, burying his face into Eddie’s side. “I know, I know. But you feel feverish.”

Christopher nods. “I don’t feel good.”

“I bet.” Eddie stands, and Christopher falls back into the couch cushion, his red cheeks in stark contrast to the blue fabric. As pitiful as he looks, he’s still the cutest kid Eddie’s ever seen, and so he leans down and presses a kiss to the top of his head. “I’m going to grab the thermometer and the medicine, okay?” 

Christopher just hums, so Eddie takes that as his cue to grab his stuff from the medicine cabinet. He’s got the Motrin and the thermometer balanced in one hand when his phone rings abruptly, and he drops the thermometer in the sink, and the Motrin clatters to the ground. 

“Shit.” He fumbles, sliding to answer without checking who it is as he goes to grab the Motrin from the floor. “Hello?”

“Uh, hey, Eddie.” It’s Buck, and he sounds upset. “How-how’s your Thursday?”

Eddie frowns. “It’s been okay, Buck. Christopher’s got a mild flu, so, you know, soup and tea and all that.”

“Oh, man.” Buck clears his throat. “That blows. Does he need something? I could grab it if you want, uh, but I guess I’ll let you go, then? So you can take care of him?” Buck’s talking a mile a minute. Eddie wants him to slow down.

“Hold on. Why don’t you talk to him for a minute?” Eddie suggests, if only to keep Buck on the phone. He needs to know why Buck sounds so hurt. “I just need to grab some medicine. And you know he loves talking to you.”

Buck laughs, a little watery, and says okay, so Eddie leaves everything in the bathroom, walking back out and handing the phone to Christopher, who perks up substantially when Eddie tells him who it is. “Hey, Buck!” Somehow, his enthusiasm for talking to Buck is never dimmed, even in sickness.

Eddie quickly grabs the medicine and thermometer, makes a pit stop in the kitchen for a glass of water, and then settles next to Christopher on the couch, who’s excitedly rambling about the rocks he learned about last week. “Hey,” Eddie interrupts gently, and Christopher turns to look at him. “Take this for me, please?”

Christopher does, barely pausing to swallow. “And then I got to see a real geode!” Christopher coughs a little, sticking his tongue out at Eddie, who laughs. “That was disgusting.”

Eddie can’t really hear Buck’s response, but he sounds mostly excited, even if Eddie knows he’d sounded hurt on the phone. “Hey, put the phone on speaker.”

“—was disgusting?” Buck’s asking, when Christopher switches to speaker audio. “Hi, Eddie. This was a private conversation with Christopher, but I guess we’ll have to be nicer, now.”

“Oh, were you talking about me?” Eddie laughs again, and Christopher giggles, listing into Eddie’s side. “All bad things, I’m sure.”

“You know it. Hey, Chris, what was disgusting?”

“The grape medicine,” Christopher sighs. “It’s so bad.”

“Yeah, but it’s easier to swallow the liquid,” Eddie says, and Christopher nods knowingly. After a moment, he says fuck it, and asks. “Buck, you should come over.”

Buck pauses for a while, so long Eddie’s half convinced he hung up. “I wouldn’t…” Buck grunts, cutting himself off. “I wouldn’t want to impose.”

“But I miss you,” Christopher says, and, yeah, that’s what Eddie wants to say. “You should come over so I can see you. Because I’m sick and it’ll make me feel better.” Eddie wants to roll his eyes, because Christopher knows that Buck would do anything for him, but he’s kind of proud. Classic kid manipulation. 

Buck laughs, and it doesn’t even sound fake. “How can I argue with that?” Eddie can tell that he’s moving when he hears Buck’s keys jingle. “I’ll see you guys in ten.”

“Love you!” Christopher yells into the phone, and Buck responds a beat too late with a soft “love you too” before the phone call disconnects. It makes Eddie’s heart thrill.

He takes Christopher’s temperature, tells him it’s 101.3, and “the medicine should help it stay down,” because Christopher always likes knowing exactly what’s going on with him. Eddie’s sure Christopher gets it from him. So Christopher nods, letting his eyes close again.

“You’re welcome, by the way,” he mumbles into Eddie’s shoulder, blinking innocently, and Eddie raises both eyebrows. “I got Buck to come over.”

“Thank you?” Eddie says, quietly amused, and Christopher opens an eye to stare at him.

“Is that not what you wanted?” Eddie thought he’d have a little time before his kid started in on him. When he doesn’t respond, Christopher opens his other eye, giving Eddie an extremely unimpressed look. “Dad, I’m ten, I can see things.” He pauses. “My glasses help, though.”

Eddie laughs, pressing a kiss to Christopher’s forehead. “Okay, kid. We get it, you’re the funniest person here.” Christopher smiles up at him, and Eddie unpauses the movie as they wait for Buck to come home. 

Christopher’s just managed to doze back off when Eddie hears the front door open. “Hey—” Buck cuts himself off, eyes wide as he takes in the scene in front of him. “Hi, guys,” he says, quieter this time as he makes his way to the couch. His eyes roam over Christopher softly and he frowns, smoothing Christopher’s hair back. “How’s he feeling?”

Eddie shrugs an answer. “Does he still feel warm to you?”

“A little,” Buck says, and then he leans forward to press his lips to Christopher’s forehead; it’s so natural for him, like he didn’t even think about it, and Eddie’s stomach is in knots. “Not too warm, though.”

“Buck?” Christopher mumbles, and Eddie watches Buck’s entire face melt, his smile small, soft, and happy. “You came.”

“Of course I did.” Buck runs his hand over the top of Christopher’s head again. “How are you feeling, buddy?”

“Not great,” Christopher admits, and Eddie squeezes him gently. “Better now that you and Dad are both here.”

Buck’s smile grows, and when he looks up at Eddie, it’s almost blinding. God, Eddie loves him. “Nowhere else I’d rather be,” Buck says fervently, and Christopher preens. Eddie’s heart could burst. “Do you need anything?”

Christopher hums, pretending to think, and then he grins. “Cuddles?” he asks, and Buck laughs quietly, already moving to Christopher’s other side.

“You got it, kid.”

Eddie puts a different movie on that none of them really pay attention to, and he watches Christopher slump deeper into the couch, snuggling into Buck’s side, reaching for Eddie’s hand. Eddie squeezes it once, and Christopher’s hand remains tightly wrapped around his own.

There’s a long while where the only noises are Christopher’s soft snuffles and the low volume of the TV. Eddie’s heart pounds like he’s just sprinted up five flights of stairs in his turnout gear. He moves his head slowly, and he sees Buck staring down at Christopher, that love and devotion that was directed at Jee-Yun just fully on display. Of course it’s been him this whole time. Of course it has.

“Are you okay?” Eddie asks, and Buck just hums, stroking Christopher’s hair for a moment. “You sounded upset on the phone.”

“Oh.” Buck clears his throat, finally dragging his gaze away from Christopher to look at Eddie. It’s only then that Eddie sees how red Buck’s eyes are. “I broke up with Taylor.”

Eddie feels thirty things at once, but two stick out the most: relief and sadness. Relief that he doesn’t have to worry about Taylor anymore, and sadness at how upset Buck is. “Shit.” Eddie’s hand find’s Buck’s on the back of the couch. “I’m sorry.”

“I’m… not?” Buck sighs. “Also, you’re not either. You never liked her.”

Eddie shakes his head. “You liked her. That’s enough for me.”

Buck smiles, though a little watery. “I’m not… I’m not crying because I’m sad I did it.” He bites his lip, and then he squeezes Eddie’s hand and doesn’t let go. “I’m not sad. I’m just done, I guess.”

Eddie’s chest feels tight. “With what?” he asks, sounding smaller than he meant to.

“Trying with people who don’t try with me.” Buck finally looks at Eddie, and Eddie can read every emotion on Buck’s face except one. He’s got resignation, melancholy, anger, relief, and something. It’s the something that drives Eddie crazy. He just can’t place it. “I mean, fuck, Eddie. My parents never tried, Abby never tried, Taylor certainly didn’t.” He shakes his head. “I can’t believe I stayed with her as long as I did.”

“You wanted her to be different,” Eddie says, squeezing Buck’s hand back. Buck smiles a little. “There’s nothing wrong with that.”

“You,” Buck says, “are being very generous toward her right now.”

Eddie huffs out a laugh. “Well, everything I want to say shouldn’t be said in front of Christopher.”

That makes Buck smile in earnest, and, yeah, of course it’s Buck. Eddie doesn’t know how he’d avoided it for so long. He knows he loved Shannon, but God, Buck is something else. “I just think I let her use me.” Buck blinks rapidly, trying not to cry, and Eddie wants to hug him so badly. “I wanted… it’s almost Christmas, you know?” Eddie does know. He’d invited Buck over for Christmas, and by extension Chimney, Maddie, and Jee-Yun, and Buck had enthusiastically accepted. “And I invited her to come, thinking maybe she’d… I don’t know. Want to see me?” Buck laughs, but there’s no mirth in it. “Stupid me, I guess.”

“You’re not,” Eddie says quickly, and Buck tilts his head. “Stupid. You’re not stupid.”

“Feels like it.” Buck’s voice cracks. “She said she had to work. Every plan I tried to make with her, she had work. Every time she’d come over, she was working. And I get loving your job, but what about loving me?” Buck’s voice cracks on the last word. “And I asked her to spend time with me, time not… having sex, and she just…” Buck trails off, biting down harder on his lower lip. He looks back at Eddie, tears falling, face saying I can’t say it, will you?

Eddie’s heart breaks. “She said no.”

Buck nods, and he pulls Christopher a little closer. Christopher goes easily, burying himself in Buck’s chest. Buck exhales, shaky and slow. “She said she didn’t understand what the problem was. I was like, spending time together? Something we don’t do? I just want to see you? And she said she didn’t know why she tried when I was—” Buck cuts himself off, his breaths coming faster, and suddenly, Eddie gets it. He gets why Buck pushed him so goddamn hard to figure out why he was panicking, because Eddie feels helpless watching Buck cry like this, watching Buck be so upset over someone who didn’t care about him.

“She’s the idiot,” Eddie says. “Not you.”

“No?”

Eddie shakes his head, and he measures the risk, and he takes it. “I don’t know how someone could look at you and not love you,” he says quietly. Buck’s breath hitches, and Eddie looks at him, and in that moment, awe splayed across Buck’s face, Eddie gets a little brave. “It seems impossible to me.”

Buck cries a little harder, still mostly silent. “You’re my best friend,” he says, stuttering over his words. It doesn’t feel like rejection, somehow. “You have to say that.”

Eddie sighs. “I don’t, actually.” He scoots closer to Christopher and Buck, reaching around Christopher to pull Buck closer. “You’re my best friend, too.”

Eventually, Christopher wakes up just enough to get ready for bed, and Eddie asks Buck for help in putting Christopher to bed, to give him something to do. Buck kneels next to the bed and Eddie sits at the foot of it and squeezes Christopher’s ankle. Christopher smiles. 

“All right, buddy,” Buck says, giving Christopher his softest smile. Secretly, Eddie calls it his Christopher smile. Buck never has to know. “Time to sleep so you can feel better in the morning.”

“Will you stay?” Christopher asks, and Buck looks to Eddie. Eddie shrugs.

“Up to you,” he says, and Buck sniffs.

“Sure.” Buck looks at Christopher like he’s trying to work something out. “Are you okay?”

“You’re sad,” Christopher says, and Buck blinks, surprised. “You looked sad when you came over, and you sounded sad on the phone, and when I woke up your eyes were all red like you’d been crying.”

Buck seems lost for words, so Eddie jumps in. “I think he just needs a hug from his favorite Diaz.” Eddie nudges Christopher’s foot, and Christopher complies, throwing his arms around Buck’s neck. Buck buries his nose in Christopher’s hair, breathing him in, and Eddie’s heart hurts in the best way. 

“You know what would make this even better?” Buck asks, and Christopher looks at him, smiling. 

“If Dad joined the hug,” he replies, and Buck smiles. They turn to him, identical expressions on their faces, and Eddie shakes his head, crawling over to join them.

Buck holds them both tightly, like it’s the only thing keeping him here, and Eddie swears his heart is pounding so hard that the whole world could hear it. “I needed a hug from both my Diaz boys,” Buck mumbles, and then he presses a kiss to Christopher’s head. “Wow. I think that could cure any disease.”

Christopher giggles. “No way.”

“Yes way.” Buck pokes Christopher’s side, and he giggles again. “Okay, now it's really time for sleep.”

“Buck’s right, kid.” Eddie kisses Christopher’s head, too. He tries not to think about how domestic this all is. “You’ll feel much better in the morning.”

Christopher nods, eyes already closing. “Okay, Dad. Love you.” He opens his eyes, staring at Buck. “Love you, Buck.”

Eddie and Buck speak in unison when they say, “I love you, too.”

Eddie leaves Christopher’s door open just a crack, and before he can ask Buck if he wants to watch something, Buck’s swept him up in a hug. “Thank you,” he says, and Eddie hugs him back, feeling very normal about all of this. “I needed this so badly.” 

“We’re always here,” Eddie murmurs, and Buck just holds him tighter. 

Even when they’re in separate rooms later that night, Eddie can’t stop smiling.

Of course, two days before Christmas, Eddie’s in a pickle about work. 

“I’m sorry, Eddie,” Carla’s saying on the phone, and Eddie shakes his head.

“No, don’t worry, honestly,” he says, though he himself is extremely worried. He genuinely has no available childcare, now. Abuela and his tía were out of town until later that night, and Carla’s been in an accident, and he’s this close to crying on the phone with Bobby about what to do, because he needs the money. Christmas, he thinks, put them in a bit of a financial bind until he gets paid again. “Keep me updated on how you’re feeling.”

He hangs up, and everything feels unmanageable, his chest is tight, and he’s seconds away from a panic attack when he calls Buck. Because Frank told him to seek out something that’s comforting, and Buck is comforting.

“Eddie?” Buck sounds rough, rougher than if he’d just woken up. Eddie frowns. “Eddie, what’s wrong?”

“I…” Eddie’s breaths are still coming a little too quickly. “It’s—”

“Okay, Eddie, I got you, okay?” Eddie tries to focus on that, on Buck saying he’s got him. “Can you try to take a deep breath for me?”

“I am,” Eddie squeezes out, and Buck sighs, relieved.

“That’s really good.” Eddie focuses on what he can hear; the rustling of sheets, the jingling of keys, the noise Buck’s Jeep makes when it starts up. “Eddie, I’m on my way, okay?”

“Work?” Eddie questions, and Buck chuckles, but it turns into a cough.

“Even if I was going, which I’m not, we still have well over an hour to get to the station,” Buck answers.

Eddie frowns. “Why?”

Buck takes a moment. “I got Christopher’s flu,” he says, and Eddie realizes it’s because he hadn’t explained his question. “And before you say anything, I’m totally fine to be driving. But since I have a very mild 100 degree fever, I told Bobby I wasn’t going to be in until the 26th.”

“Okay,” Eddie croaks out.

“Eddie, I’m almost there, okay?” Buck’s turn signal is on. He’s on the first turn or the second turn, Eddie doesn’t know, but either one means he’s less than five minutes away. “Can you take another deep breath for me?” Eddie does. “Great. Awesome. Shit, there’s a cop, so I’m gonna put the phone down, but I’m not hanging up, okay?”

Eddie manages to laugh, though it comes out rather strangled. “What about bluetooth?” he asks. It’s the first full sentence he’s strung together in a few minutes, and Buck sighs, sounding relieved.

“Okay, so, something funny about the bluetooth in my car,” Buck starts, “is that I have to manually connect it, and I didn’t do that today.” Eddie realizes it’s because of him, and his breathing picks up again. “Hey, Eddie, no, don’t do that. Nothing is your fault, okay? I’m just worried about you.”

“You’re sick,” Eddie chokes out pathetically. He’s so pathetic.

“You are not pathetic,” Buck says vehemently. “And I don’t care. I’m in your driveway, so I’m hanging up.” The line goes dead, and Eddie is staring at his phone, vision blurring, when Buck opens the door. “Eddie, hey, come sit down, all right?”

Eddie lets Buck lead him to the couch and sit him down. Buck sits next to him, leaning casually against the back but watching Eddie closely. “Carla got in a car accident.”

Buck sits back up, alarmed. “Is she okay?”

“Yeah, she is.” Eddie breathes in, out. Not steady, but getting close. “I think. She called me, sounded a little dazed, but she’s fine.”

Eddie watches Buck scroll through thought bubbles in his mind, eyes darting side to side, before he looks back up at Eddie. “So I’ll watch Christopher, then,” he says, and Eddie blinks.

“What?”

“Well,” Buck says, “your abuela and Pepa are out of town until tonight, and Carla’s not coming in, so.” Buck nods. “I’m not working, obviously I can stay here and watch him.” Buck checks his watch. “And you have fifty minutes until your shift starts, so good thing you called me, huh?”

“You don’t have to—” Eddie cuts himself off, and Buck looks at him, no judgment in his face. “I shouldn’t have freaked out.”

Buck’s brows furrow. “Okay? I don’t think that’s very fair to say.”

“I should be able to handle this,” Eddie repeats. Buck shakes his head, and Eddie groans. “I should be able to problem-solve.”

“Eddie, you’re a single dad,” Buck says. Eddie sighs. “With a lot of help, sure, but today is just a weird day. And there was nothing to handle, really, except you should have called me before you thought too long and hard about who was watching Christopher.” Buck moves his head around to catch Eddie’s eye, and Eddie bites back a smile; Buck learned that from him. “Because I would have just come over immediately.”

Eddie almost blurts it out right then and there, but that wouldn’t be fair to Buck, who’s only a week removed from his almost seven month relationship, and also to him, because he has to leave. “You are incredible,” he says, and Buck flushes. Eddie’s sure it’s the fever. “If you feel worse—”

“I’ll call,” Buck promises. “But I won’t, and Christopher and I will have the best day.”

Eddie smiles. “I know you will.”

Buck practically pushes Eddie out the door, with a have fun and be safe thrown in, and Eddie spends his entire drive to work just thinking about how lucky he is that he found someone so willing to wade into the mess that is his life and stay, even if it’s just platonic. He’s never been luckier.

And of course, the day is ridiculous from the get-go. 

The calls one-up themselves in ridiculous fashion. It’s relatively mundane at first; a few cats in trees make for funny stories, naturally. Then, dispatch is calling them to the dispatch center—someone had fallen down the stairs and was too groggy for comfort, and instead of just reaching out for help, Josh had called Maddie who told him to just send an RA unit to dispatch. Eddie shouldn’t have laughed, but Chimney had Maddie on the phone and she was laughing so hard that it was hard for everyone else not to.

There’s nothing life-threatening, though, just call after call after call, no downtime, no relaxation. 

“Is Buck really sick?” Chimney asks over the headset, frowning. “He never gets sick.”

“It’s a very, very low-grade fever,” Bobby says, and Chimney nods. “But with covid precautions still in place, he couldn’t come in. And he shouldn’t. He needs the rest.”

Hen shakes her head. “Remember when he showed up with the actual flu in his probie year?” she asks, and Chimney barks out a laugh. Hen chuckles fondly, throwing Eddie a pointed look. “Bobby drove him home. He was delirious—I think his fever was 104.”

“I texted him,” Chimney remembers. “Every hour, just to make sure he was still alive. Poor kid couldn’t take care of himself.”

“He’s a caretaker,” Bobby says. “He wants to help others. People who help others don’t accept help very well.”

“Good point,” Chimney says, shooting Eddie a look. “Glad to know he’ll still be at Christmas, then.”

“Oh, he will.” Eddie shakes his head, thinking of what Christopher and Buck are up to. “He’s actually at my place right now. I got really lucky. Carla got in an accident, and my family’s out of town, so it’s… good timing?” Chimney and Bobby share a look. Eddie has no clue what it means.

Hen laughs. “You sure he didn’t call off just to hang with Christopher?”

Eddie’s chest surprisingly doesn’t tighten. “Pretty sure. He said he called in at like 3:00 or something, and I called him at 5:30.”

“3:02,” Bobby confirms, though he, too, swivels around to look at Eddie. “That’s nice of him, though. To take care of Christopher while you’re at work.”

Eddie nods. “It is. I’m very grateful.”

“Some best friend,” Chimney says. “I don’t think Hen would do that for Jee.”

“I have my own child,” Hen shoots back, and Eddie and Bobby make eye contact and laugh. He’s so glad this is his team.

So, despite being mildly delirious by the time the calls slow enough to eat, it’s a good day. And then Buck calls him. He frowns at his phone, as though it’s playing a practical joke on him. “Are you going to get that?” Bobby asks, and it spurs Eddie into movement, and he answers, not moving.

“Buck? Are you feeling worse?” he asks, and Chimney glances at Hen, and then they both turn to look at him. He ignores it.

“Uh, no, it’s not that.” Buck takes a deep breath. “Um. Your parents showed up?”

Eddie drops his phone, and Ravi startles. Hen scrambles for the phone. “Buck?” she asks, and she pulls Eddie up. “I—”

“I can do it, Hen, you eat,” Chimney says, taking the phone from Hen, and he grabs Eddie’s elbow, leading him to the bunk room. “Buck, you’re on speaker.”

“Is Eddie okay?” he asks, and Eddie barely remembers walking here, let alone anything else. “Chim, is he panicking?”

“I don’t know.” Chimney checks him over, and Eddie swats his arm away. “Are you panicking?”

“Maybe?” Eddie’s voice is high in pitch when he responds. “I can’t tell.”

“Okay, breathe with Chimney, Eddie,” Buck says, low and soothing. “It’ll be fine. I’m here with Christopher, I can see him. It’s fine.”

“Eddie, you know the drill.” Chimney’s quiet but steady. Eddie is none of those things. “Breathe with me.”

So Eddie does, but he needs to know , he needs to hear everything from Buck right now. “Why?” Eddie asks, and Chimney stays with him, hand on Eddie’s back. “Why are they there?”

“For Christmas?” Buck says, and Eddie scoffs. “I don’t know. Look, they showed up, and Christopher got excited. I don’t blame him. Your dad said that when he called Abuela about her Christmas plans she’d mentioned your house.”

“And he took that as an invitation?!” Eddie exclaims. Because his dad is many things, but stupid isn’t one of them, and Eddie knows Abuela wouldn’t have invited his parents without his express consent. “Jesus. Chimney, if you guys want to reconsider—”

“Ah, no.” Chimney gives him a pointed look. “Families don’t scare me. We’ll be there, Eddie.”

Eddie sighs, and Buck makes a broken sounding noise. “Eddie, they’re just asking him a ton of questions. Nothing malicious, all right? It’s okay. I’m not leaving.”

“Okay.” Eddie shakes his head, and then the rest of his body, trying to rid himself of any nervous energy. “Okay. Fuck.”

“We’ll see you tomorrow morning, okay?” Buck says. “Be safe.”

“Thank you.” Eddie rolls his neck. “I will.”

Naturally, the last call of the day goes awry. It’s nothing bad, but Eddie ends up with some bruised ribs and a cut above his eye, and Eddie stumbles through the doorway of his home at 7:30 am, exhausted beyond belief and just wanting to hug his son.

He toes off his shoes, smiling at the sight of Buck on the couch until he realizes that Buck is totally awake. “Buck?” he hisses, and Buck jumps, almost dropping his phone. “Why are you awake? It’s Christmas Eve.” They aren’t related, but in Eddie’s sleep-deprived mind, they’re basically the same thing.

“Uh, your mom woke me up an hour ago,” he says, rubbing the back of his neck. Eddie frowns, but Buck rushes to reassure him. “She didn’t mean to, but she was on the phone with Sophia, and they were talking loudly. I think she forgot I was here, because she went outside at some point.”

Eddie sighs. “She was talking to Sophia?”

Buck hums his assent, looking at Eddie. “Rough call?” Eddie shrugs. “Wanna talk about it?”

“Not right now.” Eddie scrubs his hands over his face. “Right now I want to know why my parents are here.”

“Um, no.” Buck stands, steering Eddie toward his bedroom. “You’re going to go to sleep for a few hours. You look beat.”

As if to prove Buck’s point, Eddie sways into his chest. Buck just raises an eyebrow, and Eddie sticks his bottom lip out. “My body betrayed me.”

Buck rolls his eyes, but it comes out so, so fond that Eddie feels himself flush. “Your body is telling you to go to sleep.” Buck gently shoves him into his room, and Eddie laughs. Buck smiles at him, so bright and beautiful that Eddie almost slips up again. “Good night.”

“I think you mean good morning?” Eddie teases, and Buck shakes his head, laughing as Eddie flops onto his bed.

“Okay, Eddie.” Buck gives him that unreadable expression again. Eddie will spend the rest of his life trying to place it. “Good night. Or morning. Whatever you want.”

And then he leaves Eddie’s door cracked a bit, just like he did over the summer. Just in case you need me, he’d said then, and Eddie takes that for what it is now, and he falls asleep, feeling safe and warm and loved.

When he wakes up, it’s ten in the morning, his mouth feels like cotton, and his head is pounding. “Ugh,” he says, and then his door opens, Christopher barging in.

“Dad! You’re awake!” he exclaims, and he pushes himself onto Eddie’s bed, curling up next to him. “Merry Christmas Eve!”

Eddie laughs, pressing a kiss to his curls. “Merry Christmas Eve, mijo.” He looks toward the door, then back at Christopher suspiciously. “Did you leave Buck with Grandma and Abuelo?”

Chris rolls his eyes fondly, and in that moment, he’s a dead ringer for himself. It’s like looking in a time traveling mirror. Eddie loves him so much. “Buck called Maddie,” Christopher explains. “So… not really. Why are they here?”

Eddie tilts his head. “What do you mean?”

“I didn’t think they were coming for Christmas.” Christopher looks up at Eddie, so trusting and innocent. “They said you invited them, but I didn’t think you did.”

Eddie pauses, considering what to say. Christopher is maybe the most perceptive kid of all time, he thinks, so lying is out of the question. Eddie doesn’t like lying to him anyway, so usually, any and all mentions of his parents are filtered through his fact-based schema. But this is harder to answer. 

“I didn’t invite them,” Eddie says eventually, and Christopher nods. “Did you want me to? They’re here now, and we won’t kick them out.”

“No,” Christopher agrees. “But they make you sad.”

“No, they don’t,” Eddie argues, but Christopher just looks up at him.

“You didn’t call them when you got shot because you said Grandma would be overbearing.” Christopher leans into Eddie’s side. “And Buck said that you shouldn’t because it would make you more upset.”

“I heard my name,” Buck says, knocking lightly. Eddie has never been more grateful for the interruption. “Hey, how are you feeling?”

“More like I should be asking you that,” Eddie says, waving him over. Buck sits on Christopher’s other side and ruffles his hair. Christopher smiles. “How are you feeling?”

“Good as new!” Buck exclaims, and Christopher gives him a glare. Buck holds his hands up in surrender. “All right, maybe not good as new. Still have a little sore throat and congestion, but other than that, no fever. I’m all good.”

“Good,” Eddie repeats. “Didn’t want you accidentally getting Jee sick.”

“Okay, rude,” Buck says, and Christopher giggles. Buck pokes his stomach, and Christopher giggles again. “Betrayed by both of my Diaz boys.”

Eddie shivers imperceptibly. My Diaz boys. It has a nice ring to it. “How’s Maddie?” he asks.

“Good.” Buck looks at him. Eddie looks back. Christopher looks between both of them. “Are you going to talk to your parents?”

Eddie shrugs. Buck looks like he wants to say something, but he stops himself, glancing down at Christopher. Eddie sighs. “Hey, buddy, can you go tell Grandma and Abuelo that I’ll be out in a little bit?” Christopher nods, but he looks suspicious as Eddie lifts him off the bed. “Don’t look at me like that.”

Christopher frowns. “That was just an excuse so you and Buck could have a grown up talk,” he says, and Buck laughs. It makes Christopher smile a little, even if he still looks suspicious.

“Your dad and I just need to talk about Christmas dinner, buddy. Is that okay?” Buck looks at Christopher, no worry of any fault or misgivings, and Christopher nods, starting off down the hallway to talk to his grandparents. Buck turns to him.

Eddie sighs, talking before Buck can. “You think I should talk to them.”

“I think Christmas will be awkward if you don’t,” Buck says, but he shakes his head. “No. I just wanted to warn you that they’re upset that this is the first they’ve seen of you since your injury. They made it very clear to me that you brushing off their attempts to visit was unacceptable.” It sounds like he’s quoting. That’s definitely something Eddie’s mother would say.

“My bad for not wanting my parents involved in every aspect of my life,” Eddie mutters bitterly. He thinks he’s entitled to a little privacy in how he chooses to raise his kid. 

“Eddie.” Buck’s look is so unimpressed that Eddie flushes in embarrassment. “Your parents want to talk to you. I need to go shopping for whatever we’re making for dinner. I will take Christopher with me, but you need to talk to them, for your own sake.”

Eddie sighs. “I know.”

“Hey, it’ll be fine,” Buck says, squeezing his shoulder. Eddie’s shoulder burns from the touch. “We’ll be back in a few hours, okay? Just walk out with me, I’ll buffer for a few minutes.”

So Eddie nods, stretching out before he stands, and he pulls on different jeans and his softest sweater, and follows Buck to his main living area. “Buck, are you ready?” Christopher asks, and Buck laughs.

“How could I not be?” he responds, lifting Christopher up while Christopher laughs. “You’re too big for me to do that, now.”

“No way,” Christopher argues, and Eddie smiles at them, and then he catches his mom’s eye. “Grandma, we’re going to get food for dinner.”

His mom frowns, but before she can answer, Eddie speaks, so quietly he’s not sure he makes a noise. “Hi, Mom. Hi, Dad.” Buck tells Christopher to go find his jacket, and Christopher does, so Eddie spoke loud enough for others. “It’s nice to see you.”

“That’s funny, Eddie,” his mom says, and Eddie shuts his eyes. “Because we haven’t heard from you in a long time.”

“I was busy,” he lies, and all of a sudden, there’s that familiar tightness in his chest, the panicky feelings he’d had around Ana, with people mistaking her for Christopher’s mother, and how he knew his parents would have loved her. He takes a deep breath.

“Okay, we’re off,” Buck says, scrutinizing Eddie like he’s worried this plan to distract Christopher was the wrong one. It wasn’t, Eddie’s sure of that; he just wishes Buck could be in two places at once. Eddie nods, and he watches Buck war with himself before he steps over, puts a  hand on Eddie’s shoulder, and places a soft kiss to Eddie’s temple. “We’ll be back.”

Eddie blinks after him, shell-shocked, when his father’s voice brings him back. “—hell was that?!” Ramon exclaims, and Eddie shakes his head. “Well, Edmundo?”

Eddie sighs. “I want to explain myself,” he says. “Because it wasn’t fair that I iced you out.” It actually was fair, he thinks, but he shouldn’t say that. It would help absolutely no one.

“You should explain yourself,” Helena bristles. “I’d like to know why we were rebuffed at every turn, when all we want is to help you!”

“Mom,” Eddie says patiently, and she huffs. “Mom, please. I don’t want to fight. We should be able to talk about this without devolving into an argument.”

“Eddie, we are trying to be patient with you,” Ramon interjects, and Eddie raises his eyebrows, because that could not be further from the truth. “But you are making it very difficult.”

Eddie has a million things he wants to say. A million things he’s hidden from his parents over the years, a million reasons he didn’t pick up the phone and call, a million reasons he moved to LA. So he starts with the simplest, taking a hard left from the conversation they’re having. “I’m bisexual.”

Helena blinks. “Okay?”

Eddie looks between her and his father, and he furrows his brows. “I like women and men,” he says slowly. “And in trying to be open with you, I am sharing that with you.”

Ramon is quiet for a long time. Eddie watches as he processes this information, and he eventually lands somewhere. “Are you trying to make us angry?” he asks, and Eddie sighs. “Is that what this is?”

“Ramon!” Helena snaps. “Not the time.”

“No, maybe it is,” Eddie says, “because there are a lot of things I kept from you because for every single decision I make, I feel like you judge me.” Eddie’s chest feels a little lighter. He’s in awe of himself, if he’s honest. He just said that to his parents.

“Edmundo!” Helena turns to him. “We don’t judge you, we just want you to make the right decisions,” she implores, her eyes big and wide. She looks vaguely sympathetic, but something about it isn’t right to Eddie.

“Right decisions for who, Mom?” Eddie scoffs, crossing his arms. Helena huffs, rolling her eyes. “No, you know what, you start.” He’s fuming. He’s so glad Buck took Christopher. “I want you to tell me what horrible, god awful decisions I’ve made.”

“Your ex-wife,” Ramon says. Eddie blinks, incredulous. “She left you.”

“She’s dead,” Eddie shoots back.

“She left you with Christopher, after you had been gone, in the army, helping her to pay for treatments!” Helena yells. “What part of that isn’t a mistake?”

“The part where I can’t see the future, Mom!” Eddie yells, standing up. “How was I supposed to know that she was going to find taking care of Christopher too difficult to handle? I’ve been doing it just fine for five years by myself, and it’s the best thing in my life. So I’m so sorry that I made ‘a mistake’ in your eyes, but Christopher is certainly not a mistake.” Eddie’s chest is heaving, and Ramon stands then, too. He got this from his parents, after all.

“No one is saying that Christopher is a mistake!” Ramon’s hands are in the air, gesticulating wildly. “Shannon was the mistake!”

“Without Shannon, Christopher wouldn’t be here.” Eddie slams his hand on the table, and Ramon jumps. He sighs, quieting his voice. “There are ways to reframe your thinking, you know. You never had to like her. You just should have respected my decision.”

Ramon shakes his head, immediately incensed at this. “Your decision was bad! Why should I let you make bad decisions?” He sounds genuinely shocked, and Eddie wants to laugh. He wants to laugh and scream and cry and kick them out of his house, but this reckoning has been a long goddamn time in the making, and he’ll be damned if he stops it now.

“Because I was a kid!” Eddie yells, and Ramon shuts his mouth. “You have three children. You should know that children make mistakes. Children make dumb decisions. I was not immune to that!” Eddie walks a few steps away from the table and turns back to them. “Yes, having unprotected sex with Shannon was stupid. But Christopher was not a mistake. Christopher is the most important person in my life, and any dumb decision I made shouldn’t overshadow how wonderful my son is.”

Eddie sighs. This conversation isn’t going the way he wanted, which isn’t exactly a surprise to him. He just… foolishly hoped his parents would have pulled their heads out of their asses. He wanted to be calm, understanding, give them time to speak, but they make cutting comment after cutting comment, and it’s getting under his skin. 

When they don’t answer, Eddie continues the conversation one-sided. “What’s the next one, huh? Going into the army?” Helena sighs, and Eddie shakes his head. “I have my reasons for that, too. It was suffocating living under your grasp. And then I had to come back, parent Christopher by myself except, oh wait, I couldn’t, because you were there at every turn, telling me how everything I did was wrong.”

“You could have hurt him, Eddie!” Helena’s pleading with him, but he shakes his head. “What would you have done then?”

“You do realize,” Eddie says, “that you didn’t know what you were doing with him, either, in the beginning, right?” Eddie stares at her. “I had Shannon there who, for all her faults, at least gave me actual instructions on what to do? What foods he could have, What was easiest for him to swallow? Instead of criticizing everything I did?”

“Christopher is special,” Helena says. “He’s so important, and you can’t lose sight of that. We never did!” She stands, taking his hand. He yanks it away. “He would be better off with us. In El Paso. And you know that. Christopher is—”

“Christopher is not your do-over child!” Eddie snaps, and Helena shuts her mouth, chastised. He’s breathing hard, and his heart aches at his parents refusing to understand him. He tries so hard every single day to be a good father, and here is his mother, telling him he’ll never be good enough. Better off with them over his dead body. Except not even then, he thinks, a little vindictively, but mostly it’s just sad. “He is my son. And I love him enough to keep trying with him. Not to just give up on him and start over with my grandchild.”

“Edmundo,” Ramon starts, but Eddie shakes his head. “You do not talk to your mother that way.”

“Okay,” Eddie says simply. That’s fine, he thinks. They clearly don’t want to listen. “Well, you don’t get to tell me how to parent my child. So get out of my house.”

“What?” Helena asks, and Eddie resists the urge to roll his eyes. “Eddie, you can’t be serious.”

“Mom, I love you,” he says, and she scoffs. “No, I really do. But there is a reason that I didn’t invite you for Christmas. It’s because I didn’t want to have this conversation when none of us was ready for it.”

“We have been ready!” Ramon says, but Eddie just shakes his head.

“No, you haven’t,” Eddie says. “I wanted this to be a discussion, and instead you’re trying to fight me on everything, and I don’t want that.” He picks up his phone. “I’m calling Abuela.”

She picks up immediately, and Eddie watches his parents as he asks her if they could stay with her. His father is still fuming, furiously talking his mother’s ear off. His mother, on the other hand… well. She looks conflicted. He looks at them, and he sighs. 

“I’m sorry that I yelled,” he says, and he finds that he means it completely. “Abuela says you can stay with her. I hope I’ll see you tomorrow.” 

With that, he picks up their breakfast dishes, and walks into the kitchen, shutting the door behind him, and he sinks to the ground, bringing his knees to his chest. Somehow, his chest doesn’t feel as tight with anxiety. Right now it’s just heartbreak. He can scream and cry, beg and plead for them to trust him, to love him, but they just won’t, and it hurts

He stares at the island, the door to one of the cabinets half closed from where Buck had haphazardly taken a tupperware container out for the Christmas cookies Eddie knows he and Christopher made yesterday. The thought makes him feel a little better. There’s a knock on the door.

“Eddie?” his mother says through the door. “You forgot a plate.”

Of course, he thinks. Another criticism. She comes in anyway, not waiting for an answer, and sets the plate by the sink, crouching down to his level. He sniffs, not looking at her, and she presses a kiss to his head. “I hope we see you tomorrow, too,” she says, like it’s not her decision, and then she’s gone. He hears the front door close, and he knows he should get up and lock it, but it’s all he can do to just sit on the floor, and let himself feel this. 

He thinks Frank would be proud.

He lets himself cry, no sobbing or hyperventilation, but just tears streaming steadily down his face. Finally something steady about him. He knows didn’t help things by accusing them of judging him and not trusting him, but it’s so hard for his life to be on constant display for criticism. He wants to feel loved and supported regardless of his parenting skills, and he has it on pretty good authority that he’s at least doing a decent job.

The front door opens, then, and he hears Christopher’s voice wafting through the house, asking about garlic mashed potatoes and ham, and he hears Buck answer, vaguely, and it’s soothing. He’s so happy that Buck is good for Christopher. He—

“Eddie?” Buck leaves the door cracked, like he knows Christopher will come looking eventually, and he doesn’t want to make it harder for him to get in, and Eddie doesn’t know why that makes him want to cry again. He doesn’t, though. Buck sits right in front of him, anyway, his absurdly long legs a little cramped as he block’s Eddie’s view of the half-opened cabinet. He closes it with his back. “They left.”

“Yeah.” Eddie’s head falls to his knees. “I came out to them. We fought.”

“I figured.” Buck’s feet nudge Eddie’s ankles. “I’m proud of you.” He pauses, thinking for a moment. “Was it bad? The fight, I mean.”

Eddie laughs humorlessly. “When is it not?” He inhales, exhales. In, out. A little shaky. Buck’s gaze is steady, though. Buck is steady, Eddie thinks. Buck is dependable, reliable. Buck left him in the lurch once, and then never did it again. Buck, Eddie thinks, is a good man. “They don’t trust me.”

Buck hums. “Is there a reason?”

Eddie looks up. Buck looks kind, gentle, and… that last one. Eddie’s noticed it more, lately. And he knows it’s an emotion that Buck has shown on his face more than once, even before Eddie really noticed it, but when he tries to place it, he comes up blank. “I let Adriana escape, once,” Eddie admits, and Buck frowns. “I was ten, she was eight. Sophia was four and didn’t escape the terrible twos until she was about twelve.” Eddie sighs. “My mom was tired, and my dad wasn’t around, because he never was. So I was trying to get Sophia to put her toys away before Mom came and yelled at us for being loud.”

Buck nods, soft smile on his face. “You and Adriana are very similar, huh?”

Eddie thinks about her, thinks about Sophia, and smiles. “Yeah, we are.” He swallows. “Sophia was throwing a fit—Mom babied her, you know, and she kind of… she resents our mom for that. And I was begging her to stop screaming, and I was ten, and Adriana ran out the door.” Eddie bites down on his lip. “I didn’t notice. Her best friend’s mom called, asking why Adriana showed up at their house asking to play.” 

“And you think,” Buck says, “that your parents don’t trust you because of something that happened when you were ten?”

“I mean, what else would it be?” Eddie shakes his head, feeling somewhere close to hopeless. “I spent my whole life trying to make up for that. My mom was so mad. She hovered over us after that. She asked if I’d done it on purpose to make her feel like a failure.” Eddie scoffs. “I was ten. I wasn’t smart enough to do that.”

Buck’s gaze hardens, but Eddie knows it’s not directed at him. “You were a kid.” Buck speaks so softly that Eddie almost strains to hear him. “That wasn’t okay of her to put on you.”

“I don’t think she remembers,” Eddie muses, almost detached. Like now that he’s let himself think about this, it all makes sense. “She just knew after that moment I couldn’t take care of them.”

“You shouldn’t have had to,” Buck says. “You were a kid.”

Eddie shrugs. “Maybe.” He sighs, lets his head fall back against the cabinet. “And then I came home, and I couldn’t parent Christopher right. I worked three jobs until I could get back on my feet.”

“From what?” Buck’s gaze remains steady. If this was anyone else, Eddie would shut it down. But it’s Buck. 

Buck has seen how messy the inside of Eddie’s head is, how scary and dark and empty it is in there, and instead of running for the hills, he stayed. He planted his feet and refused to move, no matter how hard Eddie pushed. He didn’t just help with Christopher, he helped Eddie. He told Eddie was a good father, and told Eddie when he made mistakes. But instead of just telling him, Buck problem-solved with him. Buck took Eddie’s mess and made it his, too, so that Eddie wouldn’t feel alone in it. Buck saw Eddie struggling and decided to struggle with him before helping him out of it. Because, to him, Eddie wasn’t a failure. He was just a person who made mistakes and deserved a little grace. When Eddie turns his eyes back to Buck, he sees it on Buck’s face. He realizes, now, what that unplaced emotion is.

Love.

Eddie swallows the lump in his throat. “My PTSD.” It comes out a little cracked, more than a little hushed, but Buck nods anyway, like he knew, but he just wanted Eddie to tell him. “I don’t… I wasn’t myself when I came back.”

“Why would you be?” Buck moves a little closer to him, placing his hands on Eddie’s kneecaps. “People don’t just come back from war unscathed.”

“I know,” Eddie chokes out. “But my parents expected me to be, right? I was a hero. But all I could see was blood on my hands.” Eddie breathes in, out. “I didn’t want to be a hero.”

“Oh, Eddie,” Buck says, so gentle and loving that Eddie wants to break down, wants to cry, wants to scream and rage about how unfair it is that he has been suffering for so goddamn long, and all he wants is for Buck to hold him. “You don’t have to be a hero, you know. Being you is enough.”

Eddie nods, jaw trembling, and he just breaks.

(six years ago

“You need help, Eddie!” Shannon screams, and Eddie’s body is just filled with inescapable rage. “You can’t blame everyone else for your problems!”

Eddie bangs his head against the wall. “I am trying to be a normal person!” Eddie screams. “The VA doesn’t have an opening! I don’t want to be angry, but I can’t stop it! It’s just constant and forever and it hurts!”

“You don’t have to go to the VA!” Shannon throws her hands up, incredulous. Eddie scoffs, turning away from her. “You have a fucking child, who needs you, and you’re just abandoning him again!”

“I am right here!” Eddie pleads with her, and Shannon just shakes her head. “I don’t know how much more I can take!” His voice cracks at the end, and his body fills with shame and embarrassment.

But Shannon shakes her head, her eyes betraying how sad she is as she approaches him, slowly, like he’ll break forever if she moves too fast. “Eddie,” she says softly, and Eddie realizes he’s shaking. He can’t stop it. Whether it’s rage or sadness or numbness, he doesn’t know. “Eddie, we need to get you help.”

“I know,” Eddie says back. He goes, eventually, after she leaves, and his parents judge him more harshly than he judges himself.)

Eddie has a vague memory of Buck holding him while he sobbed. His arms were safe. He thinks Christopher came in, too, cupping his cheek and holding him from the other side, and Eddie feels like such a mess that he can’t even be upset that Christopher is seeing him like this. 

But it’s Christmas. Christmas is supposed to be fun, a celebration of family that he looks forward to every year. He wants to be okay. 

He comes back to himself eventually, curled around a pillow on his bed, his door open wide, and a glass of water next to his bed. He’s sure he did some of this work, but he doesn’t remember doing it. He can hear Christmas music in the distance and Buck’s off-key impersonation of Nat King Cole and Christopher’s loud cackles, and he takes a deep breath.

“Take it away, Christopher!” Buck exclaims, and Christopher is quiet before they both break into laughter. He stares up at the ceiling, smiling, and it doesn’t even feel forced.

He makes his way to the living room, where Buck and Christopher are decorating a gingerbread house, and Buck looks up, smiling softly at him. He nudges Christopher with his elbow, and Christopher looks up, excitedly clapping. “Dad!” he yells, and Eddie chuckles. “Come help us! Buck says you’re better at gluing the gumdrops on, anyway.”

Eddie slides in next to Christopher, kissing the side of his head. “Did you guys buy this at the store earlier?” Then, Eddie sniffs. “Are you cooking?”

Buck laughs. “Nothing special, Eddie, come on. Just mac and cheese, you know the drill.” He shrugs, pressing a gumdrop to make the door handle. It falls off, and Buck pouts. “This frosting is the worst.”

“Maybe you’re just not using it right,” Eddie argues, and Buck turns the house to face him, his expression saying be my guest. So he grabs a little bit of the frosting, and carefully, slowly, puts some on the gumdrop, then some on the door, and it sticks. He smiles, turning toward Buck, a smug expression on his face. “See?”

Buck shakes his head, smiling so sweetly Eddie’s heart pounds. “Of course,” Buck teases, but it’s so fond and full of love that Eddie just takes a deep breath, opting to watch Christopher work. He’s intensely focused, tongue poking out of the side of his mouth, and Eddie’s fascinated. He wonders what Christopher’s thinking.

“Buck, candy cane, please,” Christopher says, and Buck dutifully hands it over. Christopher sticks it on the fake grass, pressing it down until it stays on its own. “Perfect.”

“Looks great, buddy.” Buck turns to look into the kitchen, and then squeezes Christopher’s shoulders. “Go wash your hands, please.”

“‘Kay,” Christopher says, pushing away from the table. He maneuvers himself easily, ambling down the hallway, and Eddie just watches him, in awe of how grown up he is, how independent he is now. Part of him misses when Christopher would just snuggle into him, but another part of him is just immensely proud at how his son is growing up.

He feels Buck’s gaze before he sees it, and when Eddie glances over, Buck’s got his chin in his hand, just smiling at him. “How are you feeling?”

Eddie pauses, considering. “Lighter,” he settles on, and Buck perks up, smile growing in that gentle way Eddie loves so much. His first instinct is to apologize, but that feels wrong, so he stops himself, changing his words. “Thank you. For being here.”

Buck nods. “Nowhere else I’d rather be.” Buck stands, then, and ghosts his fingers over the top of Eddie’s head as he heads into the kitchen to check on the food. “Can you grab plates?”

It’s domestic, the way Eddie and Buck dance around each other in Eddie’s kitchen. Buck pulls the mac and cheese out, and Eddie hip checks him gently as he walks by him with the plates. It pulls a surprised laugh out of Buck, and Eddie would do anything to hear that again. Buck plates the food quickly, and Christopher asks if he can have lemonade with it, so Eddie goes to grab a glass and finds the lemonade already next to him, as Buck puts Christopher’s plate in front of him. And when they sit at the table, Buck looks like he belongs there, like it’s always been Eddie, Christopher, and Buck. He thinks back to dinners with him, Christopher, and Ana, and how Ana always felt just slightly out of place, and he couldn’t really place why. 

This is why. He knows it. He’d already made this little family. And he watches them talk excitedly with each other, and he listens indulgently, happy to just absorb all the increasingly fun and weird information they store in their heads to discuss with each other. Christopher asks him a question, and he responds, of course, but he’s more than content just taking it all in and existing with the people who love him.

He knows that Buck loves him. For some reason, it’s not as scary as he thought it would be.

(“Will you stay?” he asks, later that night. Buck furrows his brows. “In my room, I mean.”

Buck’s expression clears, and his face is open, hopeful, trusting, and a little apprehensive. Eddie squeezes his wrist. “Sure, Eddie.”)

He wakes up on Christmas day, curled into Buck’s shoulder, Buck snoring softly. Eddie’s heart is so full it could burst. He spends at least five minutes weighing the pros and cons of kissing Buck’s shoulder, and ultimately just does, and Buck blinks awake, turning to face Eddie. “Morning,” Buck grumbles. Eddie can feel it from where his chin rests on Buck’s chest. It’s… kind of hot. “Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas,” Eddie says. He rolls over, stumbling out of the bed. “I’m surprised Christopher hasn’t—”

“MERRY CHRISTMAS!” Christopher bursts through the door, and Buck laughs loudly. “It’s time for stockings!”

Eddie laughs, too, pressing a kiss to Christopher’s curls and asks, “How about hot chocolate, too?” Christopher yelps excitedly, and Eddie turns to ask Buck to come with. Buck looks at them with all the love in the world, and Eddie swallows. Their eyes meet, and Eddie’s smile softens into something less gleeful and more content. “You coming?”

Buck nods, rolling out of bed, and the day begins in earnest. 

They drink hot chocolate on the couch, watch Christopher open his presents, meticulously ripping the wrapping paper. Buck and Eddie put their hot chocolate down at the same time to hand each other a present, and then they both laugh, and Christopher watches them, laughing along with them. Eddie got Buck a book that he and Christopher picked out together, and a keychain made out of meteorite. Buck swallows, looking a bit overcome, and when he hugs Christopher in thanks, he stares at Eddie, blinking rapidly, mouthing a thank you at him.

(Buck got him a new watch, and a new chain to put his St. Christopher medal on. Eddie doesn’t kiss him, but it’s a near thing.)

Chimney and Maddie show up with a sleeping Jee-Yun in the early afternoon, and it strikes Eddie that he hasn’t seen Maddie since before she’d given birth. Buck gives her the longest hug, and they’re both a little teary-eyed when they pull apart, which no one mentions. Chimney claps Eddie on the back, giving him a look, and Eddie nods. I’m okay. Chimney nods back, moving to high-five Christopher, and Buck takes Jee-Yun from Maddie, and Eddie barrels toward Maddie, hugging her.

Maddie lets out an “oof!” and hugs him back. “Oh my god,” she says into his shoulder, laughing a little. “Are you okay?”

Eddie smiles at her. “Just very glad you’re here,” he replies, and Maddie gives him a blinding but watery smile, and he pushes her past the threshold. His home is happy to have more people inside it.

Chimney puts the food they brought in the warming drawer, and he turns to Eddie, giving him a look now that they’re alone. “I got nothing from Buck,” he begins, and Eddie recoils a bit in confusion. “Is everything okay with you and your parents? I tried to ask, but I thought texting you would be kind of dumb, so I texted Buck and all he said was it’s fine.” Chimney looks harried and stressed, and Eddie chuckles. “Is it fine? Are you okay?”

Eddie pulls Chimney into a quick hug, and Chimney melts into it. “I’m good, man,” he says, and Chimney pulls back, smiling. “Thank you for the other day.”

“Of course.” Chimney elbows him lightly. “What else are friends for?”

Christopher ends up watching Jee-Yun with the utmost fascination as she pulls herself up on the coffee table. He tells her good job, and Eddie’s heart twinges happily. “Oh my god,” Buck says, awestruck. “Since when can she do that?!”

“Since last week,” Maddie says dreamily, her hands hovering lightly around Jee-Yun's sides. “She’s almost one, you know. I can barely believe it.”

Chimney sniffles, and everyone’s head turns to him, and he wipes a tear away. “Look, it’s a big milestone for me, all right?” Buck laughs, clapping Chimney on the shoulder, and Maddie rolls her eyes. “I’m allowed to be emotional!”

“It’s very important to cry,” Christopher says very seriously, and Eddie chuckles, ruffling his hair. “That’s what Dad says.”

“Well, your dad is very smart,” Maddie says, scrunching her nose at Christopher, who scrunches his nose back at her. Jee-Yun turns to Christopher then, and babbles something at him. Christopher just blinks. “I think she agrees with me, Christopher. What do you think?”

“I think she’s right,” Christopher nods. “She likes Dad.”

Eddie rolls his eyes. “She likes the penguin,” he argues, and Buck shakes his head.

“Just remember I almost gave you uncle of the year,” Chimney warns, and Buck’s face morphs from fond to offended, grabbing a pillow to whack Chimney with. Christopher giggles, causing Jee-Yun to giggle, and Eddie’s house is warm and cozy and full of love. 

Albert gets there a little later, and Buck pulls him into a long hug. “Man, where have you been?” Buck asks, and Albert laughs. “I’ve missed you.”

“How’s work?” Eddie asks once Albert is sitting, and Albert shrugs, holding Jee-Yun close to his chest. “Difficult?”

“I almost wish I was at the 118 with you,” Albert says wistfully, and Chimney frowns, squeezing Albert’s shoulder. “My captain is not the best.”

“Where are you again? The 136?” Buck muses. Albert nods, bouncing Jee-Yun a little. “Do you work with Lena?”

“Oh, yes!” Albert nods, and Jee-Yun’s fist bats at his face. He catches it, kissing the side of her head. “Lena’s very nice.”

Eddie goes to grab beers for Buck and Albert, wine for Chimney, and Maddie gets up to help him, meeting him at his kitchen counter. They work in tandem, grabbing things easily, and he’s struck by just how well she knows his kitchen, too. She blinks. “Do you want wine?” he asks, and Maddie takes a moment.

“Are you drinking?” she counters, and Eddie tilts his head, considering. “Because I haven’t… since. And I don’t want… maybe one glass?”

Eddie looks at her, squeezing her shoulder. “You don’t have to,” he says. “But you’re safe to, if you want.”

Maddie smiles. “I’ll think about it,” she promises, and Eddie secretly decides to join her in her sobriety today until she makes a decision one way or the other. 

It’s almost dinner time, and Eddie hasn’t even noticed that his actual blood family hasn’t shown up until he gets a text from his tía. We are on our way, it reads, and his heart fills with trepidation. Your parents are with us. He wordlessly gives his phone to Buck with slightly shaking hands, and Buck reads the text, frowning, and taps out a response. Thanks, it reads, with a thumbs up emoji. 

“It’ll be fine.” Buck’s voice is low and soothing, and Eddie leans into his side. Buck kisses the top of his head. Eddie feels a tingle down his spine. “We’ve all got your back.” Eddie knows it’s true; he’s just surprised his father showed up at all.

Tía Pepa, Abuela, and his parents ring the doorbell not fifteen minutes later. Eddie freezes momentarily, but he stands up to grab the door regardless. Instead, Maddie breezes past him, opening the door like she lives here, giant smile on her face. She’s protecting him, he realizes, and his chest aches.

“Hi!” she exclaims, welcoming them in. Pepa kisses her cheek, and Abuela smiles at her. His parents frown at her, polite but confused. “I’m Maddie.” She sticks her hand out to Ramon, and he takes it. “Buck’s sister.”

“Hi Ramon, Helena,” Buck says as Abuela pulls him in for a hug. “Merry Christmas.”

“Abuelo! Grandma!” Christopher exclaims, and he speeds to them, hugging his grandfather’s legs. Eddie smiles at the sight, as his mom crouches down to give him a forehead kiss. “You came!”

“Of course we did,” Ramon says. “It’s Christmas!”

Christopher talks Ramon’s ear off about what he got as a gift as Helena walks over to him slowly. Buck pulls Abuela toward the kitchen so she can drop off her dish, but he casts Eddie a look. Eddie clocks it immediately. You good?

Eddie nods, and Buck continues walking. Seamless, like they’d barely paused.

“Hi, Mom,” he says, and she smiles at him. “Merry Christmas.”

“Eddie,” she says, and to his horror, she’s tearing up. “Eddie I—”

“I just want to have a good Christmas,” he says, and she nods. “And I want you to have a good Christmas. So not now, please.” He opens his arms. “I’m happy you came.” And he is, he really is. His relationship with his parents may be strained, but he still has love for them, and he’s glad they’re here. Helena steps into his arms, and he’s seven years old, crying in his mother’s arms over Abuela moving to California, and he’s 34 at the same time, and his mom is hugging him and even though he thought he’d ruined everything, she’s still hugging him.

“Later, then,” she says, pressing a kiss to his cheek, and he nods.

Dinner is a lively affair. Jee-Yun decides she loves mashed potatoes, and she’s practically covered in them by the time dinner is done. Eddie and Buck laugh as Chimney’s face gets red, but his eyes are practically shaped like hearts as Maddie coos at their daughter, wiping her face. Christopher laughs wildly at a story Albert tells about a call, and Buck shakes his head at Albert’s supposed antics, and Abuela leans over to quietly tell Eddie that she’s happy for him.

“Happy for me?” He frowns, looking over at her.

“You and Buck,” she says, gesturing between them with her head, and Eddie flushes.

“Oh, Abuela, it’s not…” he starts, but he sees her incredulous face. “Not yet, at least.”

She nods, satisfied. “Well, you should tell me when the wedding is, so I can plan,” she says, very matter-of-fact, and Eddie almost chokes on the tamales she made. Buck catches his eye, and they look at each other for a moment. Buck studies his face, and decides that whatever he sees is good, so he smiles, turning back to feed Jee-Yun a bite of mac and cheese.

“Does she like it?” Christopher asks urgently. Maddie laughs.

“I think she does, buddy,” Buck replies, as Jee-Yun bats her fist at Buck’s arm, crying out for a moment. “She can’t get enough! You’re the best sous-chef I could ask for.” Christopher smiles, smug, and then returns to staring at Jee-Yun with rapt fascination.

“Christopher, you helped make this?” Albert asks, and Christopher nods happily. “Wow, you’re going to be so much better at cooking than Buck.”

“Hey!”

“You let him cook?” Ramon interjects, and suddenly, it’s like the table freezes. Christopher deflates almost immediately, Eddie’s heart breaks, Chimney frowns, and Jee-Yun, clearly picking up on some tension, babbles angrily. Pepa rolls her eyes, elbowing her brother. “What?”

“He helps,” Buck says simply, shrugging like it’s no big deal that he’s defending Eddie’s son to Eddie’s parents, right now. Eddie’s chest feels tight, but not in a bad way, somehow. “He’ll tell me if he doesn’t want to.”

“Christopher helps me make salad all the time,” Eddie says, too far from casual for anyone to think he’s not mad, but he calmly takes a bite of his roasted carrots. “Buck’s right; he’s a great helper.”

“Christopher,” Maddie begins, “would you want to help me bake some Christmas cookies?” Christopher perks up a bit. “I made too much dough, so I brought some over. Maybe we could make them when dinner’s done?”

“Yes!” Christopher cheers, and then his head swivels to Eddie. “Can I?”

“Maybe you should rest,” Helena says delicately. Eddie takes a deep, steady breath. God grant him the patience. Abuela scoffs, though, and Helena frowns.

“I think Eddito can decide for his son, no?” Abuela offers in Helena’s same saccharine tone, and Buck hides a laugh behind a cough, which makes Eddie want to laugh. Maddie presses her lips together, eyes dancing with amusement, and she sips at her water. 

Eddie takes another deep breath. They’ve got his back. “Of course you can, Christopher.” Eddie ruffles his hair, and Christopher grins. “Just after you eat your carrots, please.”

Christopher groans, and Eddie and Buck laugh. “But Dad!”

“Vegetables are really good for you, kid,” Chimney says. “I didn’t eat enough of them when I was a kid, and now I’m way shorter than my little brother.” He tilts his head toward Albert, who grins maniacally, and Christopher giggles.

“Buck, on the other hand, always ate his vegetables,” Maddie says, placing her fork on her plate. Eddie wants to force her to eat another roll, or more potatoes, but he knows she’s trying, so he won’t. “And he’s super tall.”

“I wanna be tall like Buck!” Christopher exclaims, and Eddie rolls his eyes fondly.

“Then you gotta eat your carrots,” Buck points out, and to prove his point, he stabs one with his fork. “We’ll finish them together, okay?”

Dinner wraps up without incident, and Eddie and Buck stand to clear the plates. Between the two of them they finish quickly, though Jee-Yun has grown attached to the spoon both Buck and Maddie had been feeding her with, and she won’t give it up for anything.

“Come on, Jee,” Buck’s saying, and Maddie can’t stop giggling. Eddie leans against the wall, watching the scene unfold. “It’s dirty! We gotta get you a clean spoon, okay?”

“Negotiating with an almost one year old is difficult, Buck,” Pepa says, walking to the living room. “You are picking a difficult battle.”

Buck huffs, grabbing the spoon. Jee-Yun’s grip tightens. “Jee, you’re my best girl. I can’t believe you’re making me look so silly,” he murmurs, and Maddie laughs harder, pressing a kiss to Jee-Yun’s hair. Eddie decides he should intervene, then, and he walks over, Jee-Yun looking at him with a gummy smile on her face.

“Hi, Jee,” he says, smiling at her. “You think you could help your Uncle Buck out here for a second so we can make some more cookies?” He pokes her side gently, and she giggles, her grip on the spoon relaxing enough for Buck to grab it from her. He raises it triumphantly, and Christopher, Chimney, and Albert laugh from their perch on the couch. Maddie looks down at Eddie, her eyes suspiciously glassy. “You okay?” he asks.

She nods, handing Jee-Yun to him. He takes her easily; she’s tired enough that she immediately snuggles into his neck. “I’ll help Buck clean?” she offers, and he shakes his head, ready to refuse, when she puts a hand on her shoulder. “So then Christopher and I can make the cookies.”

“Okay,” he says, and Maddie turns that blinding Buckley smile on him, and he knows exactly where Buck gets it from. 

The conversation in his living room is animated, Christopher re-telling an entire movie from beginning to end as Albert and Chimney listen, completely enraptured by the story. Eddie sits on the arm of the couch, Jee-Yun falling asleep on his chest, and he just takes it all in, Abuela smiling softly at Christopher, his parents listening intently. He feels… good.

He feels good.

He hands Jee-Yun to Chimney, who takes her, the love on his face evident as he kisses all over her face. Eddie smiles, watching the scene in front of him, when two hands clamp down on his shoulders gently, and a chin rests atop his head. “Hi, Buck.”

Buck just hums, moving his head a little. “Hey, Chris,” Buck calls, and Christopher looks over from where he’d engaged his grandparents in a conversation about photosynthesis. “Maddie’s ready for her helper, now.”

Christopher cheers, apologizing to Helena and Ramon before he takes off for the kitchen, his crutches clacking excitedly on the wood floor. Eddie watches him go, his heart bursting with love, and he knows Buck is watching, too, probably feeling the exact same way. God, Eddie loves him. 

“He’s so big now,” Ramon says, a slight frown on his face. “It’s been so long since we’ve seen him.”

Eddie just hums, and Buck gently pushes him to move onto the couch cushion. Buck positions himself where Eddie had just been, but keeps an arm around Eddie’s shoulders. “When was the last time?” Buck asks kindly, and Ramon looks up, a little shocked.

“Probably Shannon’s funeral, I suppose,” he answers, and he looks… remorseful. Buck hums.

“I’m sorry it’s been so long,” Eddie says quietly, and Buck squeezes his shoulder. “Life just got a little hectic.”

“I understand,” Helena sighs, sipping at her wine. “Kids can be a handful, even just one of them.” There’s a slight edge to her tone. Eddie would wonder if he was reading into it, but Buck tenses so minutely only Eddie can feel it.

He blinks. “Mhm.”

It’s quiet for a moment, and then Jee-Yun begins to cry, so Chimney and Albert head for the guest room, where Jee-Yun’s stuff is.

There’s a quiet, tense moment. Ramon clears his throat. “Can we talk about it, Eddie?”

“Por favor, Ramon,” Pepa says, and Buck snorts humorlessly. “Honestly.”

“No, I’d like to know.” It’s not as angry as it was the day before, but the ice is still there. Eddie frowns.

“Did you come here today just so we could have this talk?” Eddie asks. Ramon stays silent. Eddie sighs, his head falling back against the couch before he sits up. “Seriously, Papi? You’re kidding.”

“We weren’t called about you being seriously injured until it had been a month, Eddie,” Helena says, her voice cracking. Buck’s thumb rubs comforting circles into his shoulder. Eddie takes a deep breath. “We’re your emergency contact—”

“No, you’re not.” Eddie blows out a breath, scrubbing his hands over his face. He leans into Buck’s side. You can go help Christopher and Maddie, he tries to say silently. Buck squeezes his shoulder, and stays put. “You’re not my emergency contact anymore, Mom. I needed someone closer.”

“If you just came back to El Paso,” Helena tries, but Abuela cuts her off.

“He’s told you many times he has no intention of doing so.” Her voice is firm. “Really, Helena.”

“Then who?” Ramon asks. There’s silence. Buck clears his throat. Pepa grabs her and Abuela’s wine glasses to take them to the kitchen. “Edmundo, what is this?”

Eddie swallows. “Buck’s my emergency contact.”

Helena’s brows raise to her hairline, practically. “Buck?” she spits, incredulous. Buck shifts uncomfortably. “Your co-worker? With the same job as you? You both run into fires for a living.”

“You should be a bit more grateful,” Abuela says. “He saved Eddie’s life.”

“And we are very grateful for that!” Ramon’s voice raises incrementally as he speaks, and Buck holds up a hand, stopping him in his tracks.

“Ramon, there’s no yelling in this house,” he says, and Eddie’s literally never loved him more. “This is a calm discussion, and if it doesn’t stay that way, then you’re going to leave.” Eddie didn’t know he could fall more in love, but he’s pretty sure he just did. Standing up to my parents, he thinks. A turn on. Got it.

“Buck, listen,” Ramon starts, but Eddie shakes his head.

“Nope.” He stops Ramon’s train of thought right there. “Buck’s right. We can have this talk without yelling.” Privately, Eddie’s not so sure that they can make it through this conversation without yelling, but he doesn’t say that. He’ll take Buck’s optimism any day. 

“I just don’t understand,” Helena says, looking at Buck. “Not that I don’t trust you, of course.”

“I understand,” Buck says graciously. Eddie wants to kiss him so badly. Eddie is also so mad at his parents. He contains multitudes. “Eddie has his reasons. And I appreciate the trust.”

Helena frowns, looking to Eddie for some sort of confirmation. Her eyes are big and wet, and he knows this conversation isn’t going to go the way he wants it to. “Eddie,” she starts, and Eddie sighs. “We just want what’s best for you.”

“I am 34,” he says, and Helena rolls her eyes. “No, seriously, Mom. I’m an adult, okay? You don’t think I know what’s best for me?”

“I think that you make decisions impulsively,” she says, and Buck scoffs. Eddie wants to drag him into his bedroom and kiss him within an inch of his life and then some. Helena’s ire stamps that right out, though, when she turns it on Buck. “You have thoughts about this?”

“I’ve never known Eddie to make an impulsive decision,” Buck says easily. Eddie’s breath hitches. “I’ve watched him agonize over decisions for months, decisions that should be easy that he takes so much time making because he doesn’t want it to be wrong.” Buck’s voice is soft but passionate, and Eddie’s heart races. He looks at Buck, and Buck doesn’t look back as he continues to speak. “I’ve watched him make decision after decision, always putting Christopher first, and that is so admirable, it really is, because Christopher absolutely deserves that type of love.” Buck pauses for a moment, and then he looks at Eddie’s parents, and Eddie would not want to be them right now. God. He loves Buck. 

“Of course he does,” Helena begins, and Abuela sighs, long-suffering as ever. Eddie gets it.

Buck speaks before Eddie can, though. “No, you’re not listening.” He doesn’t deflate at all, just keeps going. “Eddie needs to make decisions for himself too, Helena. You and Ramon don’t let him do that.”

Helena drops her wine glass on the floor. “Buck,” Eddie squeezes out, but Buck just shakes his head. “I should—”

“I’ll grab it,” Buck says, and Eddie knows that this isn’t him running. It’s Buck letting him handle this. He loves Buck so goddamn much

He lets Buck get up to grab the broom, and he looks at his parents. “He’s right,” Eddie says. His parents say nothing, just gape at him. “He’s my emergency contact. That’s final.”

“But what if something happens to you?” Helena pleads with him. Eddie shakes his head, shutting his eyes. “What if you die, and then we have to uproot Christopher again?”

“You won’t,” Eddie says simply, because he’s far beyond caring, at this point. He thinks Buck’s love makes him brave. “Because you’re not his legal guardians, either.”

He watches it hit his parents in what feels like slow motion. The words take a moment to sink in, but once they do, everything happens all at once. Ramon is furious, and he begins to yell. “Edmundo!” he snaps, and Eddie shakes his head. “You’re not in your right mind.”

“I am.”

“How could you do this? You keep us from Christopher and then you do that to the umpteenth degree!” Helena screeches, and Eddie sighs. “Is this some sort of punishment?!”

“It’s not—”

“You give him to who?!” Ramon yells. “Your— your friend? He doesn’t know what Christopher wants, what Christopher needs!”

“Ramon,” Abuela snaps. “Enough.”

No, Mama, because he is losing it!” Ramon stands, even more furious than before. Eddie can see Buck holding the broom and dustpan, watching this scene unfold. He looks at Eddie, and Eddie knows he has to put a stop to this.

“Hey!” He uses his command voice, one that he hasn’t broken out since his army days, and Helena and Ramon stop. Abuela jumps, slightly. He lowers his voice, then. “Mom, Dad, that is enough.” Helena tries to speak, but he doesn’t let her. “Buck is my choice, okay? There is no one who will fight for Christopher, love Christopher more than Buck does. That includes you.” Eddie shakes his head. “I chose him because he saved Christopher in the tsunami. He waded through dead bodies, bleeding and bruised just to find my son because he loved him enough to keep trying. So no, I am not ‘losing it,’ Papi. I am very firm in my decision. And you will respect it.”

It’s quiet, then, and his parents don’t say a word. He’s stunned them to silence. Some petty, vindictive part of him is pleased. “I think you should go,” Buck says quietly. Helena jumps anyway. “I told you if there was yelling you would be asked to leave.”

“You don’t tell us to leave a house that isn’t yours,” Ramon tries, but Eddie laughs.

“He can, actually,” Eddie says. Ramon shuts his mouth. “Buck’s allowed to do that.”

His parents leave, and Abuela and Pepa follow slowly, saying goodbye to Christopher and Buck and Eddie like they won’t see him again as soon as tomorrow. Eddie feels exhausted, and Maddie pokes her head out of the kitchen, her soft curls flowing. She looks at Buck first, checking him over, and then looks at Eddie. “Are you okay?” she asks them both. Buck glances at Eddie, then back at Maddie, nodding, and he moves to go find Chimney and Albert. Christopher throws his arms around his dad, squeezing him, and Eddie holds him for a moment, before Christopher follows Buck back to the guest room.

“I don’t know,” Eddie says, answering Maddie’s question. She jumps a little, but her eyes soften, and she nods toward the kitchen. He leaves the door open, hopping up on the counter. 

“Cookie?” she offers, and he smiles, taking it from her. They’re peanut butter kisses: his favorite.

“Thanks,” he says, and he takes a bite. They’re just as good as when he and his grandmother used to make them.

“So.” Maddie leans against his sink, tilting her head at him. “Buck, huh?”

Eddie blinks. “What?”

“He’s Christopher’s legal guardian,” Maddie says. Her tone is… hard to read, he realizes. He feels a little uneasy. “He’s your emergency contact. You allowed him to kick your parents out of your house.” Her eyes narrow. “When did you guys get together?”

Eddie chokes on a bite of his cookie, coughing a little. Maddie hands him a glass of water, which he accepts gratefully. “What?”

Maddie stares him down. He shakes his head, she tilts hers, and his eyes widen. “Oh my god,” she says. “You’re not. Oh my god.”

“Maddie, it’s—”

“You… but you know,” Maddie says, and Eddie flushes, shoving the rest of the cookie in his mouth. “You know you love him.”

Eddie sniffs, clearing his throat. “Yeah.” He blinks up at the ceiling. “Figured that much was obvious.”

Maddie takes a step forward, putting her hand on his knee. He blinks again. He doesn’t think he really has any tears left in him. “I’m glad it’s you,” she says, and he looks at her, brows furrowed. “I’m glad you’re the one who loves him. He deserves that, and so do you.”

“Maddie.” Eddie bites his lip and exhales, shaky and slow. “He deserves—”

“You.” Maddie’s conviction is astounding. “You love him as he is. What more could I want for him?”

“He’s just so good,” Eddie says, and then he slaps his hand over his mouth, like he’s just realized he’s speaking to Buck’s sister. Maddie laughs, and she sounds genuinely delighted. “I don’t know how to be what he deserves.”

She hops up next to him, handing him another cookie. He takes it gratefully, and she grabs one too, and they eat in silence for a while, before Maddie speaks. “You know,” she starts, “when I left, I was so guilty.” She swallows, staring out the window into Eddie’s backyard. “I was so sure that I was doing the right thing by leaving, but I felt so guilty. And then Chim found me, and I went to treatment, and—” She cuts herself off, sighing as she brushes the crumbs off her pants. “And I just kept saying that I was a terrible, awful person for leaving. I’d left my brother with my awful parents, I left my partner with my kid because I couldn’t handle any of it.”

“You’re not terrible, Maddie.” He covers her hand with his and squeezes.

Maddie sighs. “I know,” she says. “My therapist eventually told me to stop saying that. And I didn’t get it. In my mind, I was right. But to Chimney, to Jee, to Buck, I was just another person having a rough time. Another person that they all love, just… not dealing with my shit the way I should’ve. And there is a lot that I had to unlearn. A lot that I’m still unlearning.”

“Yeah,” Eddie breathes out. “I’m doing that, too.”

Maddie smiles, squeezing his hand back. “Today’s a good day.” She nods. “And I’m happy. I love Christmas. Yesterday wasn’t so good.” Eddie frowns, and she shakes her head. “It’s going to be like that. I’m not going to have a good day every day. And Chimney wants to help me,” she says, like she’s still trying to believe it herself. “When I have a bad day, Chimney wants to help me wash my hair, and take Jee to the park, and cook dinner and do the laundry when I can’t.” Maddie laughs, a little watery, and Eddie puts an arm around her. She leans into him. “Because he loves me.”

“Of course he does,” Eddie says, and Maddie laughs again.

“Why can’t Buck be that for you?” she asks. Eddie is silent, because he’s not sure he knows the answer. “It’s just something to think about.”

There’s footsteps, then, and soft laughter, and it stops abruptly in the doorway of the kitchen, like the intervenors are hesitant to interrupt. “Hey,” Eddie hears Chimney say, and then he and Buck come into Eddie’s line of sight. “You guys okay?”

“We’re good,” Maddie says, giving Eddie a squeeze, and then she ducks out of his grasp, letting Chimney help her hop down. “We’ve got cookies.”

“Cool,” Chimney smiles, kissing the side of her head. “We have hungry guests.” He grabs the plate, and they take it out to Christopher and Albert, who cheer at the sight. Buck watches them go with a happy, wistful expression.

“What?” Eddie kicks his foot at Buck’s thigh, missing slightly. Buck just shrugs.

“I’m just glad she found Chimney,” he says, voice thick. “She deserves that happiness.” He shakes his head, then, looking at Eddie with the most open expression. “Thank you,” he says, and Eddie knows what he means. For making me Christopher’s legal guardian, for trusting me, for standing up for me to your parents.

“Always,” Eddie promises. “I’ve got your back.”

“And I’ve got yours.” Buck grabs his hand and squeezes. “Let’s go eat some cookies before Chim and Maddie have to take Jee home, okay?” He goes to pull Eddie off the counter, but Eddie pulls him in instead, and Buck looks up at him from where he stands in between Eddie’s legs, eyes wide. “Eddie?”

Eddie just hugs him, and Buck melts into it, pressing his face into Eddie’s neck. Eddie feels the tickle of Buck’s eyelashes, his soft breath on his collarbone, and he kisses the top of Buck’s head. “Thank you,” he says, “for having my back, too.” They stay there for what feels like hours, just holding each other in Eddie’s kitchen. There’s a mess, Eddie thinks, but Buck will help him clean it. He always does.

Buck pulls back, stepping away finally. This time, Eddie lets himself be pulled off the countertop, and they re-enter the living room, where his family is, and despite everything, Eddie thinks Maddie’s right. Today is a good day.

Something is different after Christmas. Not bad, just different. 

Eddie notices it when he and Buck are on the same team again. It’s New Year’s Day, 2022 coming in full swing, and Eddie has a pretty good feeling about this year. He and Buck have always been in sync, but Eddie feels like he can absolutely read Buck’s mind, right now. Buck gives him a look from where he’s buckling Eddie into the harness. You sure you want to do this?

I’m sure, Eddie answers, and Buck gets it because he pats Eddie’s chest, letting his touch linger for a moment before he goes to lower Eddie down. “Buckley for Captain Nash,” Buck says into his radio. “Diaz is heading down now. Over.”

“Copy.” Bobby’s voice comes through loud and clear as Buck slowly lowers Eddie to the car that’s dangerously perched on the side of the cliff. “The girl, Marnie, should be fine. You need to grab her and get out.”

“What about the mother?” Eddie asks, and the rope stops moving. Eddie glances up; Buck’s expression is hard. You heard Bobby, Eddie can imagine him saying. 

“No time for that,” Bobby answers. “We’ll reevaluate once Marnie is with Hen and Chimney.”

Buck stares down at him, and Eddie tugs on the rope once. Okay. Buck understands, because the rope continues moving, and he can see Marnie, all of six years old, leaning out the window and crying. Eddie’s heart hurts. “LAFD!” Eddie shouts, and Marnie looks up at him, her eyes glassy and scared. He gets closer to her, and he lowers his voice, smiling at her. “My name is Eddie, and I’m going to get you out of there, okay?”

Marnie nods, introducing herself as Eddie looks at the car, trying to figure out how to get Marnie out without dislodging it. “What about Mommy?” she asks, and Eddie sighs.

“We’re going to come back for her, okay?” Eddie tries not to make promises he can’t keep, but if he knows anything about his team, it’s that they’ll do their very best to make sure the mother is okay. “What’s her name?”

“Sara.”

“Okay, Marnie. Can you slowly unbuckle yourself?” She nods, and he hears the buckle click. “Great job. Put your arms around my neck, okay? We’re going to pull you out really slowly.” She moves a centimeter at a time, and then, when she gets close enough, she throws her arms around Eddie’s neck. He grabs her, his hand splayed across her back, and he gets ready. “Okay, tuck your knees. I’ll count to three, and we’ll go. One, two, three, tuck!”

The car careens wildly, and Marnie yelps. Eddie reaches out with his free hand to grab it. Sara groans, which, while concerning, at least means she’s still alive, and Eddie will take that. “Mommy!” Marnie screams, almost inconsolable, and Eddie holds her, trying to get her to stop thrashing.

“You’re okay, Marnie,” he says, steady and strong. She looks at him, tears falling, and he nods at her. “You’re fine.” Then, he radios in: “Buck, bring us up.”

Marnie whimpers, but Eddie holds her close, telling her it’s fine. She’ll be fine, and see, he says, “That’s Buck. He’s going to help me, okay?” They get closer, and Bobby switches with Buck quickly, and Buck reaches down. Marnie’s grip tightens on Eddie. “It’s okay, Marnie, Buck’s got you.” 

Buck wiggles his fingers, sending Marnie a big grin, and Marnie giggles softly. “You’re Marnie?” Buck asks. Marnie nods, half-hiding her face in Eddie’s neck. “I’m Buck. I want you to meet my friends Chimney and Hen, okay? You gotta grab my hands first, though.”

Marnie wrinkles her nose. “Those are funny names,” she says, but she reaches out, and Eddie hoists her up. Buck grabs her quickly, and Eddie climbs back over, as Chimney and Hen take Marnie from Buck.

“I’m going to need help,” Eddie says, looking at Buck, and Buck… looks at Bobby. Eddie blinks. He didn’t expect that at all, and something about it stings. 

Bobby looks back at him, confusion on his features, but nods at the harness. “Buck, suit up.”

Eddie helps Buck attach his harness, too, and whatever weirdness had caused Buck to ask Bobby for permission before following Eddie into a ravine has dissipated. Eddie pats the rope, hooked into place, and he flattens his palm against Buck’s chest. Buck catches his hand and squeezes. “You okay?” Eddie murmurs, and Buck nods.

“We’re gonna need a basket,” Buck calls back to Bobby, and Bobby nods, and they both begin the journey down.

Of course, as if this rescue wasn’t going to be hard enough, rain begins to pelt their helmets, and Eddie feels soaked through in about a minute. Bobby’s voice crackles through the radio, asking if they’re okay to keep going, and Buck responds in the affirmative, so they keep going. 

“You ever been rock climbing?” Buck asks him, squinting at him through the rain. Eddie shakes his head. “This always reminds me of rock climbing.”

“Rappelling down a cliff?” Eddie looks down; they’re almost there. “I feel like maybe rock climbing isn’t for me.”

Buck shrugs, and they both try to find their footing on the slick cliffside. Eddie’s foot slips a bit, and his stomach drops. “Hey!” Buck says, reaching out to steady him. “You’re good.”

Eddie swallows, and he peers inside the car, where Sara’s eyes are closed and her breathing is shallow. “Sara?” he calls to her, and Buck kneels lightly in the backseat and places two fingers on her pulse point. “You got anything?”

“Weak and shallow, but there.” Buck’s clinical about it, but he sucks in a breath when he sees how her legs are pinned. Shit, Eddie thinks. “Shit,” Buck says. Eddie couldn’t agree more.

“She’s unconscious,” Eddie muses, and he bites his lip, thinking. “I don’t want to just pull on her and risk hurting her more, but—”

“She might not feel it,” Buck finishes. The rain comes down harder, and Buck swears again. “Jesus. It’s like the universe is trying to send us a sign.”

Eddie shakes his head, trying to see if the seat is damaged, and he says, “the universe does not send signs, Buck.”

With four hands, they manage to get the front seat pushed back a little so Eddie can work on moving Sara’s legs. She groans again, her eyes fluttering open, and Buck rushes to soothe her. “Hey, hey, hey, Sara,” he says, and she turns her head, shutting her eyes as pain creases across her face. “My name’s Buck, a-and my friend Eddie is outside, and we’re going to get you out of here, okay?”

“Okay,” she whispers, and Buck sends her a blinding smile that she returns. “You look like an angel.”

Buck turns bright red, and Eddie barks out a laugh, which has Sara slowly turning her head to look at him. He smiles up at her, moving her left leg slowly. “You’re not the first person to say that, Sara. Does it hurt too much if I move you like this?”

“No.” She coughs, and Buck secures her with a neck brace. “Am I dying?”

“Not if we can help it,” Buck says confidently. “We’re going to get you out of here.” Eddie thinks, not for the first time, that Buck’s calling really is being a firefighter. He’s so genuinely good, and he cares so much. He didn’t lie to Sara, because privately, Eddie thinks it’s not looking good, even if they can get her out of there on time. He also didn’t scare her, and Eddie is grateful, because it makes it easier to move her if they can pull her out of the car to the side of the cliff.

Buck sends him a look, Eddie returns it, and they get Sara out of the car. The car lurches, then, and Eddie pulls Sara back, and he hears Buck yelp as the car tips. “Buck?!” he screams, and it’s like it’s been ripped from his chest. He slowly, slowly gets Sara situated, then makes his way toward where the car is dangling. “Buck? Buck, can you hear me?”

There’s a long moment where Buck doesn’t answer, and Eddie doesn’t breathe. “Yes,” Buck grunts out, finally. “But my ribs hurt.”

Relief floods through Eddie’s whole body. “Okay, okay, don’t move,” Eddie says unnecessarily, and Buck breathes out a laugh. “And don’t laugh, either.”

“You’re… worried,” Buck coughs, and Eddie clicks his radio. It doesn’t work.

“Fuck!” Eddie says, hitting the radio. He’s leaving a patient to die, and Buck is stuck in this car that’s about to tip over the edge. Eddie’s going to throw up. He clicks again, the radio works. “Bobby, Buck’s stuck. I need a basket to get the victim up.” His voice is shaking, he sounds panicked. 

“Eddie, it’s okay,” Buck says, and Eddie finally looks at him. Buck looks worried. “Eddie, you need to get Sara to the paramedics.”

“I’m not leaving you,” Eddie snaps, and Buck’s eyes suddenly look very sad. “No.”

“Eddie—”

“Basket incoming,” Chimney’s voice says over the radio, and Eddie wants to scream.

“Eddie, go secure the victim,” Buck commands, and Eddie knows he’s right, he knows it, but he also feels like the moment he steps away from the car it’s going to go overboard, and Buck’s going to get tangled up in the rope, and— “Eddie, baby, look at me,” Buck says, voice quivering. Eddie looks, his whole body shaking. “It’ll be okay. Go.”

“I—”

Buck shakes his head. “She doesn’t have a lot of time,” he says, voice cracking, and Eddie takes a hesitant step back. “Good. Go put her in the basket, get her up to Hen and Chimney, okay? You can do that for me, right?”

Eddie takes another step back, and it feels like his heart is being ripped out of his chest. “Buck, please.”

“Just keep going, Eddie.” So Eddie does. 

He feels for the basket, never turning so far away that he can’t see the car in his periphery, and he secures Sara in, checking her vitals one more time. “You okay? Can you feel your toes?” he asks her, and she frowns, looking up at him.

“You’re crying,” she says, and he shakes his head.

“It’s the rain,” he lies, and clicks his radio, finally, finally tearing his gaze away from the car. He feels like he’s going to throw up. “She’s ready.”

Chimney pulls the basket up, and Eddie walks slowly to the car, where Buck has stayed very still. “Eddie,” he says, and Eddie shakes his head. “No, I need you to listen—”

“I’m not doing this,” Eddie says, and he steps closer. Buck protests. “I’m not. We’re getting you out of here, and we’re going home, and we’re going to cuddle with Christopher until we have to go back to work again, okay?”

Buck whimpers a little, then, and Eddie catches sight of a cut on his forehead. “Eddie, please.” Buck’s crying, Eddie notices, and Eddie can’t do this. “Eddie, it’s not safe, and if you climb in here with me, you might not make it back out.” Buck’s almost sobbing now, and Eddie can’t stop shaking. He has to stop shaking, or he won’t be able to get Buck out. “Eddie.”

“Buck.” His voice is thick, and he steps closer. “I need to get you out.”

“I’m sending Bobby down,” Chimney’s voice says over the radio, and Eddie bites down on his lower lip. “Buck, just hang on, okay?” What doesn’t bode well, Eddie thinks, is the fear in Chimney’s voice.

Eddie takes another step, and the car wobbles. “Buck!” he screams, but the car doesn’t tip over. “Buck, can you try and untangle yourself?”

Buck shakes his head, and Eddie notices then that Buck’s shaking, too. “The car will fall if I try,” Buck says. “And the rope around my neck is a little too dangerous. It’d, uh.” Buck takes a gasping breath. “It’d break.”

“Okay,” Eddie says, and he wishes this could just be like any other rescue, except it’s not, because this is Buck, and losing Buck would break him. All of him, he thinks. Losing Buck would break him entirely. He’d put himself back together for Christopher, sure, but he wouldn’t be the same, not even remotely.  “Okay, Evan, just hold on.”

“Eddie, you can’t.” Buck sounds frantic. “It’s not safe, and you need to think about Christopher—”

“I don’t want you to be scared,” Eddie cuts him off, crying in earnest now. “I’m going to climb in, and I’m going to help you, and we’re going to get you out.”

“But, but,” Buck stutters, and Bobby’s voice comes over the radio.

“Eddie, do you have a safe entry point?” he asks.

“Affirmative.” Eddie responds. He knows everyone can hear how scared he sounds. He can’t bring himself to care. “I’m going to untangle Buck from the rope.”

“Cap, don’t let him,” Buck says, and it’s like the world freezes. “It’s not secure. The car could fall more.”

“Buck,” Bobby says. “We’re getting you out. We’ve got you, okay?”

“What if you get hurt, Bobby?” Buck sobs. “I don’t want you to get hurt.”

Oh, Buck, Eddie thinks, his heart breaking, and he hears Bobby behind him. “That’s what we do for people we love, okay?” Buck cries harder, and so does Eddie. Bobby clears his throat. “If I didn’t think we could, I wouldn’t try, okay?”

Eddie moves slowly, methodically, and he knows that Buck’s cries are going to haunt him for days the closer he gets. Eddie would step into a million situations like this with Buck, is the thing. Eddie would walk through fire without turnout gear to sit with Buck and hold his hand if he was scared. Eddie gets it now, he thinks, why Buck felt so stressed when Eddie told him about the will. Because it put Buck in the impossible situation of choosing between Eddie’s life and Christopher’s. 

Eddie steels himself. This can’t be impossible.

“I’m here,” Eddie says, stepping through the door. The car lurches dangerously. Buck looks up at him, eyes red, tear tracks on his cheeks. “I’m here, okay? Let me help you.”

“Christopher,” Buck whispers, frantic and worried, eyes darting around like this could fall around them at any time. “Eddie, you can’t—”

“I know,” Eddie says, and he moves slowly for the rope, but it really is tangled. “I know, Buck.” He knows what he has to do. “Do you trust me?”

Buck takes several broken breaths. “Of course.”

Eddie nods. “Bobby,” he radios. “I’m going to cut him loose.” Bobby responds in the affirmative.

Buck’s eyes widen, and he shakes his head. “No, Eddie, no, no—”

“You just hold on to me, okay?” Eddie moves toward Buck. “I’m not going to drop you.”

“If we both die, Christopher doesn’t have either of us,” Buck hisses, still hiccuping from his sobs, but he puts his arms around Eddie regardless. Eddie holds him close, feeling Buck shake against him. “Eddie.”

“We’re not dying today,” Eddie says, and then he cuts the line.

One moment, Eddie and Buck had been inside the car, the next, they were clinging to each other, rain beating down on them, Buck shaking in his arms. “You’re okay,” Eddie says, so relieved he could almost choke on it. “You’re okay, sweetheart, you’re okay.”

“Fuck you, Eddie,” Buck says back, but he buries his face in Eddie’s neck anyway. “Christ. Never do that again.”

When they make it back up, Hen grabs Buck, wrapping him in a towel, and Chimney does the same for Eddie. He towels off his hair, and tries to catch Buck’s eye from where Hen is making sure he didn’t break any ribs, but Buck won’t look at him.

It’s fine.

“I am very grateful today was only a twelve hour shift,” Chimney breathes out, and Bobby nods, scrubbing his hands over his face. Eddie’s heart is still racing. Buck still won’t look at him. “When we get back, I might just skip out and go home.”

“Yeah,” Hen says. “I’m going to make Karen get soup so that I can have something warm.” Bobby responds, something about Athena’s cooking, but Eddie can’t stop looking at Buck. Buck, who was about to let himself die again. Who’s now upset with Eddie because Eddie decided saving Buck was more important to him than living through the pain of Buck dying. He can’t do this anymore. They’ve been hurtling toward something too quickly, ever since Eddie had been shot, and they’d gone through far too much in a short amount of time and Eddie knows they need to talk about this.

Back in the locker room, Buck is seated on the bench, his head in his hands, and Eddie shuts the locker they’ve been sharing, turning around. “We need to talk,” Eddie says, and Buck’s red-rimmed eyes meet his. Eddie swallows. “When we get home. We can’t keep doing this and not talking about it.”

Buck slowly stands, picking up his bag and hoisting it over his shoulder. “Yeah,” he agrees, and Eddie reaches for Buck’s wrist, squeezing gently. The ghost of a smile passes over Buck’s face.

The drive home is silent, almost uncomfortably so, and Eddie watches the moonlight pass over Buck’s face, thinking he’s so incredibly lucky that he has Buck. When he saw Frank last week, he’d explained Christmas and his and Buck’s weird orbit around each other, and how he felt like something had to give. 

Now, as Buck turns onto Eddie’s street, Eddie’s sure that something’s about to give. There’s just no way that it won’t, not with how emotionally wrung out they are after their call today, with how Buck won’t even look at him, with how Eddie had felt like leaving Buck in that car was going to kill him if he took one more step away. 

Buck pulls into the driveway, parking next to Eddie’s truck, and he sighs. “Eddie,” he says tiredly, and Eddie hums. “We have to put Christopher to bed.”

“Yeah.” Eddie swallows, squeezing Buck’s knee. “We’ll talk after that.”

Eddie watches as Buck falls to his knees, scooping Christopher up in the biggest hug, breathing him in like it’s the only thing that will bring him comfort. Eddie knows the feeling, feels the pull right now, and both Buck and Christopher reach for him, pulling him down into the hug, too. 

“How was work?” Christopher asks, muffled by Buck’s jacket.

Eddie laughs, though it’s strained and coarse from all the yelling he did before. “Stressful. But we’re here, kid.”

“I missed you today,” Christopher says, placing one hand on Buck’s cheek. Buck squeezes him tighter. “Carla made chili for dinner.”

“My favorite,” Buck says quietly, before kissing the top of Christopher’s head and standing, walking slowly to the kitchen.

Christopher frowns after him, looking back at Eddie. “Is Buck okay?” he asks. Eddie nods. “Maybe he needs another hug, then.”

“We’ll give him another one,” Eddie promises, and when they make it into the kitchen, Carla’s all packed up and ready to go, patting Buck’s cheek as Buck fills two bowls with chili. She makes her leave, giving Eddie a pointed look, and then Christopher is hugging Buck’s waist, pressing his face into Buck’s stomach.

Buck frowns, crouching next to him, and Christopher throws his arms around Buck’s neck. Buck’s arms circle around his little frame easily, and Buck rubs his back gently, rocking them back and forth. He looks up at Eddie, and Eddie just shrugs, grabbing the bowls and setting them on the kitchen table. “Hey, buddy,” Buck says. “Everything okay?”

Christopher nods. “I just love you both.” He looks over at Eddie, and Eddie holds his arms out, and Christopher steps into them, holding tight. Buck looks close to tears, and Eddie pulls out the chair next to him, lets Christopher climb onto his lap, and Buck sits next to them, Christopher resting his feet on Buck’s thigh. Christopher looks a little more settled with this arrangement, and Eddie kisses his hair, relishing in the fact that Christopher still lets him do this, still wants this affection. 

Buck leans on his hand, smiling at Christopher. “Tell us about your day, bud.”

So Christopher does, and neither Eddie nor Buck eat much, but they happily listen to Christopher rattle off what he and Carla did. “I learned how to play speed,” he says, and Eddie snorts, squeezing Christopher against his chest. At Buck’s confused look, Christopher explains what it is, and how it works, and Buck looks intrigued.

“You’ll have to teach me,” Buck suggests, and Christopher lights up. “Tomorrow, though. Tonight, it’s almost time for you to sleep.”

Christopher frowns, looking up at Eddie, and Eddie raises his eyebrows. “Uh uh, Christopher,” he says, and Christopher huffs dramatically. “It’s almost 9:30. You should have already taken a bath.”

Christopher looks back to Buck. “Please?” he drawls, and Buck laughs, shaking his head. Christopher groans. “Neither of you are any fun.”

“Hey!” Eddie exclaims, poking Christopher’s side. “We’re both very fun.”

“Says you,” Christopher grumbles, but a grin peaks out when both Eddie and Buck poke his sides at the same time, tickling him a little. He yawns, then, and Buck stands, grabbing his and Eddie’s bowls.

“What do you say, kiddo?” Buck places the bowls in the sink, turning back to Christopher. “One chapter of Percy Jackson, then bed time?”

“Yes, yes, yes!” Christopher cheers. “I’ll go change super fast.” He speeds off toward his room, and the look on Buck’s face is so paternal that Eddie wants to kiss him right then and there.

He doesn’t, though. Instead, he stands, grabbing the sponge, and starting the dishes while the water’s still cold. “You want to go get him settled?” Eddie asks quietly, and Buck leans against the dishwasher, looking down at the floor. “I’ll put these in, set it, and meet you guys in there.”

Buck’s mouth twists around as he thinks. Eddie sets the bowls in the sink, reaching for Buck’s hand. Buck lets him, and they stand there for a while, Eddie rinsing the mess from the bowls into the sink with one hand, his other just holding Buck’s. Eventually, Buck squeezes, giving Eddie a small smile before making his way back to Christopher’s room. Buck says something Eddie can’t really hear, but it has Christopher laughing.

Eddie thinks both he and Christopher didn’t laugh as much before Buck came into their lives. He’s glad they laugh now.

He starts the dishwasher, breathing deeply, before heading back to Christopher’s room. He stands in the doorway, Buck having already started the chapter. Christopher listens intently until his eyes start to blink slowly. Eddie smiles, and Buck slows down at the end of a section, placing the bookmark in the middle. “We can read more tomorrow, okay?” Buck suggests quietly, and Christopher nods. “Okay. Good night, Chris.”

“Good night, Buck,” Christopher says through a yawn. “I love you.” Buck’s response comes out choked, and Christopher deigns not to comment.

“Thanks for telling us about your day,” Eddie says, coming to kneel beside Buck. He squeezes Christopher’s knee through his duvet, and Christopher smiles. “I love you. Sleep well.”

Christopher barely mumbles a “love you, too,” before he’s almost completely out, and Buck takes a deep, shaky breath, reaching up to turn off Christopher’s light.

“C’mon,” Eddie murmurs, his hand running over Buck’s back. “Let’s go talk.”

They make their way to the living room, sitting on the couch, and Eddie remembers how just a few weeks ago they were here, Buck having just broken up with Taylor, and then they were here again, on Christmas, Eddie defending Buck to his parents, and last night they’d been here, clinking their beer bottles together as the clock hit midnight, downing the remaining drink, and heading to Eddie’s room like it was completely normal that Buck would sleep in there.

Maybe it was. Maybe that’s their new normal, now.

“I am furious with you,” Buck starts quietly, and Eddie swallows the lump in his throat.

“That’s fair,” Eddie concedes. He means it.

“You could have died, Eddie.” Buck’s voice is shaking again. “I can’t go through that again.”

“To be fair,” Eddie says, and as he does, he takes a leap of faith, “neither can I.”

Buck blinks at him in surprise, his face going through a million different emotions before he lands on quietly determined. “You stepped into that car with me today,” Buck says. Eddie nods. “And you did it knowing how dangerous it was.”

“You were scared.” Eddie moves closer to Buck. “You were scared, and you were crying, and I couldn’t take it away, and I felt helpless.”

“I didn’t want to die.” Buck’s voice is thick. “It was the first time, I think—” He cuts himself off, his voice breaking. Eddie curls an arm around him, pulling Buck into his chest. “I think I understood, when you said you had something to live for,” Buck continues. “Because I didn’t want to leave Christopher, and I didn’t want to leave you.”

Buck’s head is right above Eddie’s heart. Eddie is sure that Buck can hear how fast his heart is pounding. “I couldn’t let you be alone during that,” Eddie murmurs. “You told me to think of Christopher, and I had. I thought of him that whole time, and then suddenly I could see that you thought you weren’t getting out of there, and I was thinking about what I would tell him.” Eddie’s bottom lip quivers. “How I would even get through that. I don’t know that I would.”

Buck’s still shaking when Eddie hugs him tighter. “Having to choose between getting you home and getting home for Christopher is the worst thing you’ve ever put me through,” Buck admits, and Eddie shuts his eyes, guilt rolling around in his stomach. “Because Jesus, Eddie, I don’t know how you expect me to be able to go on without you.”

“You’re expecting the same of me.” Eddie says it quietly, but Buck sits up, looking at him with awe, wonder, and love. “Every time you put yourself in danger, I wonder if it’s the last time I’ll see you before I see you in a casket.” Eddie’s voice cracks, but he keeps going. “I told you about Christopher because I needed you to know how important you are, not just to him, but to me.”

“Eddie.” Buck’s crying again, but he lifts his hand to wipe away Eddie’s tears. Eddie sniffs.

“I’m so scared,” Eddie confesses. “Scared that I’m going to fuck this up, and I can’t afford to fuck this up because—”

Buck looks at him, looking all of fifteen, twenty, and thirty at once. “Because what, Eddie?”

“You’ve ruined me for anyone else,” Eddie says, and he forces himself to look Buck directly in the eye, no matter how scared he feels. “Losing you would break me. I’m never going to love anyone else, Buck,” Eddie admits, and it’s freeing. “I’ll never love anyone the way I love you.”

Buck laughs, a little watery, and he cups Eddie’s face so gently. Eddie breathes in, out. Steady. “Fuck, Eds,” Buck says, and then he leans in and kisses Eddie, like he’s hungered for it for years. Maybe he has, Eddie thinks, and he wraps his arms around Buck’s neck, and they just kiss and kiss until they stop to breathe. Eddie will never be tired of kissing Buck, he thinks, and he laughs. “Eddie?”

Eddie keeps laughing, and leans in to kiss Buck again. It’s awkward, their teeth clinking together because neither of them can stop laughing, and Eddie kisses Buck again and again and again. He’s making up for lost time, he thinks. He’s allowed.

“Eddie, Eddie, baby, wait,” Buck says between kisses, and Eddie pulls back, frowning at him. Buck rolls his eyes, but he’s still smiling. “Stop pouting. I just… I love you, you know. God, I hope you know that. I’ve been so obvious for years now.”

“Years?!” Eddie pulls all the way back, offended, and Buck laughs. Eddie can’t be too offended for long, though, because he thinks Buck’s laugh is the answer to all his problems. Metaphorically. “You’re saying we could have been doing this for years?!”

“No,” Buck says, “you weren’t ready until a few months ago.”

Eddie pouts again, and Buck kisses it away, and Eddie lets him. He feels… incandescently happy. It feels unbelievable. He rests his forehead against Buck’s, and the reality of it all hits him, then, and he thinks it hits Buck too, because they’re both shaking like they had when the call ended. “I couldn’t watch you die again.” Eddie swallows his tears. Buck sighs. “I already did that with the ladder truck, and the day—”

“I know,” Buck says, kissing his forehead. “And that’s… It’s something I love about you. You just make up your mind about something and do it.” Buck rubs his thumb over Eddie’s cheekbone, and Eddie lets himself lean into the touch. “You made up your mind to save me, and then you did. I just—” Buck cuts off, looking up at the ceiling, unshed tears glistening in the moonlight. “I didn’t want to lose you so soon.”

“We need to figure that out,” Eddie says quietly, because he’s not really willing to leave Buck behind. He also knows, logically, leaving Christopher without either of them isn’t an option. But it feels like a terrible catch-22 that he’s put himself in, even if he knows in his heart he was right to do so.

Buck kisses him again. “Tomorrow,” he promises against Eddie’s lips, and Eddie nods, still shaking, clinging to Buck. “For now, we should sleep.”

Eddie nods, and they walk to Eddie’s room wordlessly, changing slowly out of their jeans and sweaters. Eddie lays down, and pulls Buck down next to him, like he’d done since Christmas, but this time he can kiss Buck’s forehead, cheek, nose, lips—so he does. Buck scrunches his nose, but otherwise keeps his eyes shut, and Eddie smiles.

“I love you,” Eddie says. “And I’m not just saying that because of today.”

“I know,” Buck murmurs. He opens his eyes, looking at Eddie, exhausted and wrung-out and peaceful. “I’ve known for a while.”

“Oh yeah?” Eddie traces his finger down the slope of Buck’s nose. Buck smiles.

“Mhm.” Buck catches Eddie’s hand, kissing the back of it. “Since Thanksgiving, I think.”

Eddie blinks, trying to think of anything that happened on Thanksgiving, and he comes up with absolutely nothing. “Weren’t we working on Thanksgiving?”

Buck nods. “And Maddie came home that day. And I was out of my mind with worry, and Chimney wasn’t texting me back and I couldn’t sleep, even though I hadn’t slept the night before.” Eddie does remember this, but he has no idea where Buck’s going with it. “And you let me curl up on the couch next to you, and you stroked my hair and said we could call Chris, because Chris always makes us feel better, and you just did what you did today.” Buck looks at him, and Eddie realizes that Buck’s been looking at him with love for a long, long time. “You stepped into that shit with me. Because I wasn’t alone if you were there.”

“You’re not alone,” Eddie says quietly. “And you did it first.” Buck furrows his brows. “You didn’t try to fix my problems. You just took them and made them ours.” Eddie’s almost overcome with emotion. “And I wanted to push you away but you cared so much and you wouldn’t let me, and I’m really glad you made my problems our problems. You loved me enough to do that.”

“And I’ll love you enough to keep doing that.” Buck tucks Eddie under his chin. “We help each other, you know. You help me want to be better.”

Eddie falls asleep that night, and he thinks that Buck makes him want to be better, too.

It’s funny; Eddie didn’t know how unhappy he actually was until he let himself actually be happy. 

It’s a process, he knows, and he wakes up every day, trying to catalogue what type of day today will be. Today, on a Saturday in May, almost one year to the day of him being shot, he wakes up, and he feels… fine. Not great, not bad, just okay. He’ll take that.

His arm flails out to the other side of the bed, but it’s empty and cold, and he frowns, squinting at his alarm clock. 6:53, it reads, and Eddie sighs, rolling out of bed and pulling on a shirt to go find Buck.

He passes Christopher’s room; Christopher is still asleep, and Eddie stops to watch him breathe for a moment, before he follows the soothing sound of a running dishwasher and a sizzling pan, and he finds Buck sitting at the table, scrolling through his phone, stretched out t-shirt hanging rather tantalizingly off his shoulder.

“Morning, baby,” Buck greets, distracted by something on his phone. Eddie just kisses the top of his head in response, already heading for the coffeemaker. “Hey, how much do you know about Chernobyl?”

Mid-pour, Eddie sets the carafe down, turning around to face Buck. “Why are you asking me about Chernobyl at seven in the morning?”

“Because I had a question about chemical disasters after we watched that movie last night,” Buck says, still scrolling. “Did you know that people to this day in Sweden are still affected by Chernobyl? Like, it affects their choices in porn.” Buck blinks. “Wow, that’s really weird.”

Eddie snorts and resumes pouring his coffee. “You’re something else, you know that?”

Buck doesn’t answer, and Eddie frowns, turning around to see him furiously typing something out on his phone. “Eddie, it literally correlates with the chemical exposure,” Buck says, looking up at him, eyes wide. “That’s so fascinating.”

Eddie sits down, sipping his coffee, and he waits for the world to wake up by listening to Buck list random facts about chemical disasters, the way tanks are made, and the difference in morning people (Buck) versus night owls (Eddie), and Eddie wants this for forever and a day. 

“Hey,” Eddie says, during a lull in Buck’s googling spree. Buck looks up, tilting his head. “What would you say if I said I wanted to get married?”

Buck freezes, setting his phone down. “If this is a proposal,” he begins, “it’s really bad.”

Eddie laughs, so open and free he can’t believe he didn’t let himself feel this way. Buck flushes, pleased that he’s made Eddie laugh, and Eddie loves him more than anything, so he tells him that. Buck turns even more red, and Eddie moves closer to Buck. “It’s not a proposal,” he says. “Yet. I just wanted to put it on your radar.”

Buck’s eyes soften, then, and he squeezes Eddie’s hand. “Eddie, I would literally marry you today if you wanted.”

Eddie blinks. “We have Bobby’s birthday party later,” Eddie says, and Buck shrugs. “Evan Buckley.”

Buck grins. “I’m just saying, Eds.” He shrugs. “Chimney would lose it if we got married before him.”

“Oh,” Eddie laughs, and Buck pulls him closer. “So it’s all about Chimney.”

“Duh,” Buck says, trying to hold in his laughter. “I can’t believe you just figured it out. I was just trying to one-up his big love story.”

“Were you?” Eddie murmurs, and Buck hums in response, pressing kisses to Eddie’s collarbone. “Well, how do you think you did?”

Buck’s lips still over Eddie’s gunshot wound, and then he reaches out to run his fingers over the scar. “I don’t know,” he says, looking up at Eddie. “Depends on you.” Eddie feels his smile turn from teasing to genuine. He’s pretty sure his eyes are permanently shaped like hearts now. “What do you think? How’s our big love story going?”

“I think,” Eddie says, leaning forward to brush his lips against Buck’s, “it’s pretty damn good.”

Eventually, he’ll have to get ready for the day, and Buck will get Christopher up, and they’ll eat eggs and toast in the kitchen (or maybe breakfast tacos, if Eddie can convince Buck to make them). Eventually, he’ll have to move from this spot on the kitchen table, where Buck’s got his head on Eddie’s thighs, reading out fish facts from Instagram, and he’ll have to deal with the entire world instead of his little perfect one inside his house. Eventually, they’ll go to Athena and Bobby’s to wish Bobby a happy sixtieth birthday, and he and Buck will end up being so sappy someone will tease them. 

But for now, he just sits, listening to Buck speak while sipping his coffee, and despite waking up just fine, he thinks, today is good