Eddie stirs as the world comes to light.
It’s not a new thing, to be awoken at what feels like the crack of dawn, in a muffled imitation of wake. A stream of cold air ghosts over Eddie’s sleep-warm skin as the bed’s other occupant shifts away, rough calluses catching on the expanse as they move. An involuntary groan leaves him at the sudden chill, and in the deep shadows of his awareness, he hears a low chuckle.
The intuition of someone close makes itself known, strong fingers carding through his hair and tucking the covers tighter around him. He’s felt those fingertips soothe jagged edges around his soul in some of his darkest moments, knows who that is without opening his eyes.
Eddie would know that touch in death.
Buck leaves the room with a soft snick of the door, and although all his limbs are sleep-heavy, Eddie rolls into the warm space left behind, breathing in the traces of the man he loves still left on his pillow.
Slowly, he drifts off.
This time, it’s not the light that wakes him.
Eddie can’t pinpoint exactly what makes his eyes flutter open, but the room seems lighter, the muffled noises from outside filtering through the cracks in the wood.
Eddie lays in bed, simply listening to the white noise of life surrounding him, murmurs that make themselves known — the low hum of chatter beyond these four walls, the stray sounds of cars setting out on their daily commute. Birds chirp faintly beyond the glass windows, occasionally tapping their beaks in a tinny plea for attention.
He floats in this hazy security for a while, unwilling to get up and face the day. The covers are warm where they previously tucked around him, his bones heavy with the weight of this comfort.
For once, he doesn’t feel the need to shut an alarm off and rush around the house, stacking tasks along his spine until his back feels bowed over with them. Not just because it’s a Sunday, but because he knows he doesn’t have to worry about things alone today. He doesn’t need to shove his feet into a full-body mask in a last ditch effort to hide the exhaustion that seems to carve itself in his bones lately.
For the first time in a long time, Eddie wakes up feeling light.
His eyes crack open when twin laughter slips under his door to wrap around his heart, strings pulling tight to urge him out of bed. He knows that sound, knows it belongs to the best parts of him, and is helpless to do much else than follow their pull.
He slips out of bed, eyes lingering on the reading glasses on his side of the nightstand, the book about fossils on Buck’s side, complete with a water bottle.
There’s a drawer in here that Eddie never set aside for Buck, but somehow became his anyway — much like himself, he thinks. He wonders, if anyone were to come in here, what they’d think — if they’d think this room belongs to two people instead of one.
Eddie’s not sure why he’s chosen this particular day to ponder upon his and his best friend’s relationship, but now that he sees Buck’s fingerprints over a room he doesn’t even live in, he can’t think of anything else.
He wonders how much more of his life would change if they finally dipped over the invisible barrier holding them back from plummeting in the icy chill of the unknown.
He wonders if instead of gravitating towards each other only in the vulnerability of sleep, if they’d fall asleep tangled together every night. He wonders what it would be like to consciously be able to pull Buck close, just as he wonders every morning he wakes up with Buck curled into his side.
Or like this morning, when Eddie first roused — flat on his stomach as Buck’s arm pressed him further into the mattress, a welcome weight to keep him grounded after countless rough nights. He wonders if those intimate touches will go beyond this room, if they’ll increase, if they’ll feel more confident about it — if they won’t second-guess every touch they make like it could be their very last.
A quick stop in the bathroom shows him much of the same. Buck’s toothbrush laid out, neatly set to the side. The mirror cabinet has a spare bottle of his hair gel and aftershave, the latter a woody scent that follows Buck and wraps around Eddie tighter than his comforter had. There’s a plastic razor he only uses if he absolutely has to — the nights he stays over coinciding with work mornings.
Eddie doesn’t know what to do with the feeling that swells up through his abdomen, radiating around his torso until pricks and needles adorn the skin. He exhales slowly, curling a hand around the door to the bathroom to open himself up to a world where this is his.
The longing in his chest only exacerbates as he stumbles through the hallway, only barely catching himself on the walls as he comes to a stop in front of the kitchen door. The light is somehow brighter here, warmer with the sound of the two occupants as they spin their own Sunday routine.
He hasn’t been spotted yet, against the side of the fridge as he is, so he takes the time to indulge. He listens to the chatter as his son and best friend prepare breakfast, struck dumb by the brightness of Buck’s smile. He can’t see Christopher, but he can feel Buck’s affection across the house, sunshine laced in every gesture as they mix something together.
He doesn’t trust that this isn’t a dream.
Sometimes, Eddie doesn’t believe that there could be anyone else on this Earth that loves Chris as he does, with all he has. There’s a reckless abandon to the way Eddie’s molded his life around his kid, happily letting Chris steer the ship if it meant the kid was happy and safe.
It’s when he sees Buck smiling like that at Chris, patient and kind as always, that he realizes that only one other person could match him letter for letter. Buck may not be Chris’ father, but there’s endless patience and fondness in a voice that calls Eddie’s son his own. Combined, the realization rests in the hollow of his throat in a familiar locket he’s been wearing for years, the latch opening up to the exact two halves of his heart.
Even here, in this liminal space where they haven’t moved to define exactly what this is, Buck doesn’t waver. He stands taller than ever, easily fitting into Eddie and Chris’ lives like he’s always been there. Eddie and Buck haven’t so much as kissed, but their hugs grow more intimate, nights more sacred, and days spent in the comfortable knowledge of one another they’ve always had.
It’s scary to think about sometimes — the weight of all this love should feel heavy, should be akin to Atlas’ burden, but Eddie thinks it’s the lightest thing he’s ever carried.
His acceptance of the love, however, is another story entirely. The chainmail of his guilt spent what felt like eons pressing him deeper into the ground, before Eddie realized it's always been this family to cushion him from any marks being left on his skin.
And Eddie can’t close the box where he’s hidden his most private thoughts, that it’s this family that’s pulled him through every dangerous situation he’s been stuck in — the well, being shot on the street, being taken hostage . He’d known that at least Buck was safe, so Chris would be safe, but that didn’t mean he stopped fighting.
If anything, they were his light at the end of the tunnel, and Eddie would always do what he needed to come back to it.
Christopher’s laugh draws his attention like a beacon, and lost in thought, Eddie hadn’t noticed them move over to where the waffle iron is plugged in. It’s the machine Eddie convinced Buck not to get a smart version of, not above playing dirty about the house it was going to be stored in — as if this house was anything like home without Buck here. They had compromised by having the best features, but without the AI telling them what to do.
(Unlike the coffee maker, which sits at its place of pride in the corner.)
The waffle maker was an important piece of their Sunday routine — just as much as one of them. He watches as Buck gently urges Chris back to pour batter into the hot iron and then carefully closes it. They both lean a cautious distance in, bursting out laughing when a sizzle escapes, high-fiving and Eddie loves them both so much he can taste it — like Eddie’s own brand of ambrosia.
One glance at the clock ticking away proves it’s eight-thirty and his heart is running leaps and marathons, far too fast for how early it is. Each rhythmic tick of the seconds’ hand sets off a mental clock in Eddie’s head of the time he has to seize this, and never let it go.
He must make some kind of noise, because both heads look up at him. He has no choice but to reveal himself, feeling unbearably naked with the thoughts flitting across his mind. Eddie knows that there’s no way in hell he’s ever been able to hide from Chris or Buck, and the idea pushes his sternum closer to his spine.
“Dad’s spying again,” Chris says dryly, his wide grin betraying the words.
It’s Buck’s smile that does him in, makes the last of his willpower crumble.
The brightness of the one he’d been giving Christopher doesn’t dim when he looks at Eddie. If anything, it gets brighter, until Eddie thinks he’d rather go blind than stop looking at him — and that’s the kicker. He’s still smiling like the sun incarnate, eyes bright and full of an ease Eddie doesn’t always see in him, framed by crow’s feet that make him look fonder. The dimples around his mouth from how wide he's smiling seem pressed in Eddie's bones, in rewrites of this man he loves.
His hair is a rumpled mess, the lines of his face more prominent in the morning sun, but he looks soft, inviting — as if Eddie could slip his palms underneath his shirt and press them to his skin to keep them close for as long as this life will let him.
Eddie loves him because Buck’s been his home for years but this is the first time he sees that he’s Buck’s, too — that there’s a reason for the relaxed slope of his shoulders in Eddie’s kitchen, barefoot as he pads around. That there’s a reason Buck’s as comfortable as he is here, opening cabinets with an ease of someone belonging here.
As he and Buck stretch their locked gaze in the feet separating them, Eddie thinks of the naked fondness in Buck’s tenor as he’d laughed this morning, and of the care with which he’d wrapped the covers tighter around Eddie.
Eddie knows Buck belongs in this home, but maybe, they can belong to each other, too.
The ding of the waffle maker interrupts them, a jarring sound in the lull of security, and Eddie doesn’t manage to catch the flinch before it creases his expression. Buck turns back to it before Christopher can touch the hot machine, using a plastic fork to peel off the freshly made breakfast carefully.
“Dad, come see!” Chris gestures wildly, as if this is the first time — as if this hasn’t been routine for weeks.
Eddie prays that his son’s excitement never fades, just as he combs fond fingers through the unruly mop of curls on his head. “I’m looking, Chris.”
The edges of the waffle are slightly charred but as Buck cuts it into pieces for each of them to try, Eddie finds that the crisp, fluffy and delicious texture hasn’t changed by heating the iron too long. The sweet vanilla taste of it slides another puzzle piece into place of their Sunday, and urges them just that much closer towards a starting point that winds its way around Eddie’s bones and connects him to Buck.
Buck and Chris exchange yet another high-five, repeating a routine of greasing and re-pouring the batter, this time deciding to take the waffle out thirty seconds earlier. Eddie’s content to stand back and watch as Chris presses the nozzle on the spray can of oil, something he can do from a distance. Buck doesn’t balk when one corner sizzles a little too brightly from too much oil, simply moves it along to pour the batter in.
His heart, today, feels like it’s melting around his rib cage, sneaking past crevices that Eddie once thought safe from this consuming feeling, the last pieces of his willpower that he’d been clinging to dissolving. He knows how foolish that thought was as he stands here, struck dumb by the realization that any effort to resist this pull was futile.
Eddie was always going to sink into this security — not with the pain that comes with drowning, but with the relief that comes with opening his lungs to their full capacity for the first time with a clean breath.
“Did you brush your teeth?” Eddie asks Chris, smoothing a few curls down at the back of his head. His son winces and grins up at him with all the innocence in the world. Eddie tries to give him a stern look, but he’s sure all he manages is an unbearably fond one as he gestures towards the door.
With one last look at where the waffle is cooking, and strict instructions on not to do anything else without him, Chris walks off, leaving him and Buck standing alone in the beams of sunlight streaming through the windows.
This time, when Eddie looks at him, he sees Buck’s hair gleaming like spun gold and burnished copper, the edges of him softened by the day and sleep. His heart gives a hopeless lurch in his chest, and when Buck pulls him closer to wrap his arms around him, still smiling with the world’s light in his expression, Eddie’s helpless to do much else but sink.
He lifts a hand, lightly scratching the short hairs at the nape of Buck’s neck, smiling when Buck makes a content noise low in his throat. Like this, their height difference is almost negligible because Buck can somehow curve his broad form down to fit his nose in the space behind Eddie’s ear, tucking close as they share the comfort of the morning.
These embraces are new, too. Before, it was a battle to keep himself at a respectable distance — always careful not to ask too much of his friend, always careful not to reveal too much of himself. But here, Eddie can’t help but think that Buck tries to tell him something with this vulnerability, with the way he folds into him. He knows he does, with the way he wraps his arms around Buck’s shoulders like it means something.
The chime of the waffle maker pulls them apart again, and briefly, Eddie considers breaking the thing so he doesn’t have to be pulled away from Buck again.
Buck quickly takes the fresh waffle and plates it, while Eddie takes over greasing the oven and ladling the batter. As they work in a comfortable silence, Buck reaches behind Eddie to pick up a mug, pressing into his hands with all the care of handling something fragile.
(This morning, Eddie feels like he has fragile stickers all over his skin, washing over this wave of affection that seems to push him closer and closer to the arbitrary lines they’ve drawn in the sand.
But loose sand always shakes the ground from out under one’s feet, and Eddie’s been slipping for years.)
His coffee’s made exactly how he likes it, the slight hint of cream softening the bitterness of sugarless coffee and although it was Buck to bring it to him, Eddie can’t help but tease him for it. “You can’t just use the normal people's coffee maker?”
Buck laughs as Eddie warily eyes the coffee maker, a raspy, full sound that reverberates across the cabinets. “She’s not your enemy.”
“Some things don’t need to be talking,” Eddie retorts, holding the mug close to let the familiar aroma wake him up.
“Some people shouldn’t be scared of coffee makers,” Chris says as he comes back in, baring his teeth for Eddie to see. He tweaks his kid’s nose, grinning when Chris bats at him.
The first sip of coffee gives him a rush that ebbs some of the sleep clinging to his muscles, and Eddie moves to help his boys with breakfast. He pulls stacks of fruit out of the fridge, fills toppings in bowls and washes the strawberries.
Buck sticks to making the waffles while Chris pulls out syrup from the cabinet. Eddie pretends not to be paying attention when he pushes his luck with the chocolate syrup and whipped cream too, hiding his smile behind his coffee.
The amused look Buck sends him warms him more than his drink.
Eddie slices the strawberries the way he knows Buck likes them, slipping a piece into his mouth when Buck isn’t looking. The sweet fruit bursts along his tongue, and the day gets that much brighter.
“I saw that,” Buck murmurs in his ear as he moves past him, a warm hand splaying across his side to move him away from the swinging cupboard door, stealing a piece from Eddie’s fingers as he holds one up for him.
Eddie lets the impression of those fingers sink into his skin like a tattoo, and thinks that no, this is what makes his day brighter — just being in a space where he’s free to exist without expectation.
The domesticity of sharing this life with his best friend and son is almost painful in its own right, winding with the fear of losing this contentment, but Eddie’s more in love than in fear, and he’s not surprised when the next words slip from his mouth. “I love this.”
He doesn’t look up from the cutting board, doesn’t linger on it — he simply continues slicing the berries. Christopher laughs at him, taking his own berry from the board, but Buck, in Eddie’s peripheral vision, pauses.
He’s not surprised that Buck sees the underlying words Eddie had wanted to say, but hadn’t been able to. They’ve grown into this pattern of letting their silence write the words for them, in sentences far more coherent than either of them could pen down — Eddie reads Buck just as well as Buck reads him.
“You just like waffles,” Christopher pipes up. “The waffles make you emotional.”
Eddie laughs softly, nodding. “Yeah, that must be it.”
It could be, but it’s not. It’s the idea that after years of struggling for stability, Eddie has it. Years of trying to climb wave after wave only to end up with the tide crashing over his head — each drowning him a little longer than the last — he’s finally balanced himself.
They sit on it all through breakfast, all through the bare clean-up Chris does before darting off, all while they pick up the plates and put away the bottles. It lingers as they banter back and forth, the lull of the morning filling with energetic conversation and sparking the day to life.
Eddie watches Buck move around the kitchen in the golden morning, indulging while it’s just the two of them. He drinks in the way an old shirt of Eddie’s curves arounds Buck’s biceps like a glove, before stretching over broader shoulders and just about skimming his waist.
His pajama pants are patterned with dinosaurs wearing sunglasses surfing on skateboards, and Eddie has to admit that he’s never thought he’d ever see Buck wearing something like that, but it only makes the cloying feeling in his chest grow. As his friend shifts and moves, slivers of tan, warm skin peek out from above the waistband, making him all the more rumpled and soft and home.
His own shirt fits differently, Eddie now realizes, in a way that only happens when he mistakenly puts on one of Buck’s — loose in the shoulders, hanging over his shoulder blades to pool gently at the small of his back. The soft, worn cotton bunches above his own comical pajama pants, printed with some sort of bird wearing the ugliest ties he’s ever seen.
Eddie looks down to find Harrisburg Area Community College football printed across his chest, and knows that this is a shirt that has Buckley emblazoned over his college number, 55. Buck’s shirt doesn’t have Eddie’s name on it, but the faded letters that spell out El Paso can’t be mistaken as anyone else’s.
He thinks it’s a fitting metaphor for what he’s about to do.
It’s not until the iron is set off to the side to cool completely, and Buck is perched on the counter to dry dishes that Eddie thinks that this is the right moment. His hands are nearly elbow-deep in soapy water as he washes the plates, handing them off to Buck, and they’re both soft and the most vulnerable versions of themselves, before they put on the faces that carry them into the outside world, but Eddie knows that this is where they’re meant to turn the chapter into consciousness.
He knows that this is the next part of their story, where the words are penned by both their hands instead of by their subconscious, and where Eddie doesn’t need to read in between lines to see Buck’s love for them.
Part of him knows he’s never had to, but a larger part of him wasn’t ready to accept that Eddie could be the recipient of that.
“I love you,” Eddie breathes into the still space between them, with Buck’s knee pressed against Eddie’s hip. The dishcloth pauses, water dripping onto the floor in its own metronome as Eddie’s soft whisper travels the gap.
It’s quiet, but Eddie isn’t anxious for it. The relief of finally releasing his biggest truth in the form of eight letters melts into his veins, carefully carrying every sentiment to his heart.
Buck curls his hand around a soapy wrist, gently guiding it under the water to rinse off the suds before tugging Eddie between his legs. He doesn’t seem to care when Eddie’s wet fingers paint the cotton shirt, and Eddie can’t either — not when Buck’s thumb is brushing the hair at his temples.
Strong, deft fingers sink into the strands at the back of his head, angling him upwards for a soft kiss imprinted by Buck’s smile — the first kiss for the rest of their lives. Eddie makes a content noise that Buck inhales, softly moving against him with his palms scraping over the stubble on Eddie’s face.
In turn, Eddie slides one hand upwards to cradle Buck’s neck, thumb resting on his pulse point like it has a home for him there. Eddie supposes it does, with the iterations of his partner on every part of him. His other hand traces the laugh lines that are creased into his skin.
Buck crosses his ankles behind Eddie’s back, pressing them closer those last three inches as they kiss, pressing years of affection into every point of contact. Every moment between now and you can have my back any day flickers in the space between them, every emotion thrumming stronger as they finally weave together into one.
Eddie tilts Buck down so he can press his forehead against his as they separate, sharing a breath in the two inches that separate them. He nudges his nose alongside Buck’s and says, again, “I love you.”
“Funny you should say that,” Buck murmurs, a wide smile splitting his expression. “I love you, too.”
Eddie’s helpless to do anything but taste that blinding smile, and let the sunlight cast its shadows over him.