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wherever we're together, that's my home

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He doesn't want to go home.

He's bone tired; his head is throbbing and he's in desperate need of a hot shower and a long nap, but he doesn't want to go home.

Doesn't want to step over the threshold.

Doesn't want to set foot in the place that has never fully felt like home, even though it is… he's lived there for three years, after all.

But he still thinks of it as just a place to sleep.

He's torn inside, feeling like he should be elsewhere - feeling like something is missing, something is wrong, some part of him is incomplete and he's not really sure why. Everyone is safe and accounted for; everyone has gone home to their families… they've come through it again, and they're all fine.

But Buck's not fine.

He hasn't been fine for months. Maybe he's never been fine in his whole life.

~

He tries with Taylor. Tries to be a good, attentive boyfriend. Tries not to let her dig too deeply under the surface, tries to keep things light and breezy. He's in a relationship, and it's fine - she's great. She's committed, which he wasn't expecting. She's all in, and he's… trying.

Trying to trust her.

Trying to put his doubts aside and the lingering nagging voice in his head that keeps whispering that it's not right, that she's not the right person for him.

If not Taylor, then who?

~

When she leaves for work, he does something he never usually does, and pours himself a stiff drink. Bourbon, neat - he takes a shot of it to slow down his racing heart, and then stands for a few moments in his silent, empty loft, with the furniture that Maddie helped him pick out.

He can't talk to Maddie. She's gone.

Chim's gone as well, and Buck misses him more than he'll admit to the others.

Hen's busy with med school, Bobby's busy with Athena and Harry (rightfully so) - even Albert is working nonstop.

Eddie's been different since the shooting - he's even more closed in on himself than usual, and Buck can't get through to him.

Buck's alone. He's desperately alone.

Sometimes it smacks him in the face out of nowhere and takes his breath away - the emptiness, the hollowness of being truly fucking alone. Everyone else has someone and somewhere to go, and Buck just goes to the loft. The empty, silent loft.

All of his friends have so much going on that Buck doesn't want to burden them with his issues, but sometimes he wonders if they have any idea what's really going on with him. Maybe they think he's doing okay, because he's with Taylor? Maybe they think he's still seeing his therapist?

He isn't. He hasn't spoken to Dr Copeland since the shooting. She wanted to talk about it and he just… can't.

He can't.

Eddie won't, and Buck can't.

~

He sleeps the whole day. Taylor comes over after her shift and he fucks her slowly, grinding inside her - it's instinct, now. Sex. It doesn't even really mean anything to him anymore. He's just a body built for pleasure and he gives that pleasure to Taylor, and she gasps and comes, scratching her nails down his back lightly. He thinks how meaningless it all is.

How he doesn't really want her.

He just can't face it yet.

Maybe love is a thing that can grow; maybe it's not love at first sight. Maybe it's something that comes slowly and then one day he'll open his eyes, see Taylor and be like, yes. Love. I love her.

He doesn't think so.

~

He gets a text from Eddie the next morning.

Come over.

There could be a hundred different meanings behind that text - they're doing some kind of activity, they need Buck's help, they want to hang out - whatever it is, it doesn't matter. Buck gets the text and replies, On my way.

He never really knows what Eddie is thinking - well, that's not entirely true. Sometimes he can read his mind - they can exchange a thousand unsaid words with a single look, but lately… he's never felt more isolated from Eddie. He feels adrift, like Eddie is keeping him at an arms' length. He's felt that way since Ana, but even more since the sniper… since the Will… since his place in the lives of the Diaz family became cemented.

He feels like he has one foot in and one foot out; like he's not really sure where he's supposed to fit. He loves them both - loves Christopher like he was his own son, loves Eddie so deeply that he can barely put it into words or think too long about it before it starts to hurt. It's like his heart is aching, it has been for years and he just wants it to stop.

Still, he goes to their house, lets himself in and takes a deep breath. Eddie's baking cookies; it wafts out of the kitchen and smacks him in the face and it's like he gets hit with a wave of want, need, must have - he forces that deep down inside and swings a gleeful Christopher up into a hug.

Christopher touches the bandage to his forehead lightly, worriedly - Buck hugs him, breathes in the scent of his hair and it's like that part of him that has been out of whack since the prison riot clicks back into place. His soul quietens. Christopher is in his arms. Eddie's standing in the doorway to the kitchen, wiping his hands on a towel, smiling at him softly.

Buck's home.

~

"I'm sorry about the other day," Eddie says to him when they're alone. Christopher is watching TV on the couch, a cookie in each hand.

"What for?" Buck asks, genuinely confused.

"For…" Eddie trails off, chewing the inside of his lip. "For turning into that guy. That crisis guy, you know? I forget sometimes that you weren't in the army, and… maybe I was abrupt or something—"

"I was just fucking glad you weren't shot," Buck interrupts him, quietly, and Eddie gives him a wide-eyed look. "The gun went off and…" he clears his throat, shrugging. "But you're fine. We're fine. It's okay."

Eddie frowns - his forehead furrows, and his warm, chocolatey eyes are trained on Buck. It's like there's something he wants to say but he's holding back, but it's been like that for months. Years, maybe.

And maybe Buck isn't ready, or he's scared… he doesn't know, but he doesn't want to talk about it right now.

So he says, "What did you want to do today?"

Eddie blinks. The moment passes, and then he says, "I just wanted some company. Is that okay?"

Buck can't help the slow smile that spreads across his face. "Yeah," he says quietly. "That's okay."

~

It's a quiet day at the Diaz house. Eddie has a list of projects he wants to complete, so Buck dutifully follows him around - they fix the light in Christopher's room, and then clean out the linen cupboard. Eddie unearths a box from their Texas move, and sits down on the ground to open it.

"I think it's the stuff from when I was a kid," he explains, as Buck takes a seat on the floor across from him. "I'm pretty sure? Mom boxed it up for me when I moved in with Shannon but I haven't looked at it in years."

Buck's interested - he doesn't have anything from when he was a kid. He thinks maybe his parents have some stuff leftover at their place, but he's not sure, and he has no interest in going back to Hershey to find out.

Eddie rips masking tape off the box and opens it - everything is neatly packed inside, some of the clothes in plastic. He unearths a high school football jersey and passes it over to Buck, along with a knitted sweater and a matching scarf. When Buck holds them up curiously, Eddie says, "My grandmother - on my mother's side - made them for me when we took our one and only ski trip. Mom wanted me to keep them. Maybe Chris will fit them one day."

Buck nods, turning the sweater over in his hand. He can tell it was handmade with love, and he runs his fingers over the careful knitting and then looks over at Eddie again. He's holding a high school yearbook in his hands, flipping through it, and he finally lets out a chuckle and passes it over.

"Back row," he says, tapping a picture. "Football."

"I bet you were quick," Buck murmurs, examining the picture. It's a team photo, and Eddie's at the back - distinctively Eddie, with a swoop of brown hair curling across his forehead.

"I was okay. I'm better at baseball." Eddie pauses, and then says, "You played too."

"Yeah. Quarterback." Buck shrugs at him. "I never really liked it. It was just something to do."

"Me too." Eddie reaches for the yearbook, and flips through it again. "I never really liked high school either."

"No?" Buck leans against the wall, tucking his knees up to his chest.

Eddie shakes his head, shrugging. "Nah. Does anyone?"

Buck had liked it, insofar that it meant he had somewhere to go that wasn't home. "It was okay," he acquiesces. "But I don't keep in touch with anyone."

"Me either. I think if I went back to El Paso I'd run into a few people though." Eddie closes the book, and then reaches into the box. "Oh, I might give these to Chris," he says, pulling out a box of matchbox cars. "I had a little collection. Do you think he'll like them?"

"They come from you," Buck points out. "Of course he will."

The smile that crosses Eddie's face is filled with warmth.

Something inside Buck aches.

~

Taylor's working late, so he has no reason to rush off. When he's at Eddie's house he usually takes over the kitchen - Eddie valiantly attempts to help him by chopping vegetables, and Christopher usually sits at the table and makes fun of them.

It's so easy and carefree; it feels natural. Being with Eddie and Christopher has always felt right in a way that nothing else has before. He doesn't feel like an outsider, or like he's overstayed his welcome. He fits with them. It's the only place he really, truly belongs.

He's searing the chicken when a wave of sorrow hits him out of the blue - god, he aches, and he's tired, and he's just… so fucking lost. He doesn't know who to talk to or even what's really wrong, and so he finishes the chicken in silence, listening to Eddie help Christopher with his homework - he puts everything in the oven and then excuses himself, and in the bathroom with the door closed, he can't hold back a sob.

There's so much wrong and he can't say it out loud - if he starts talking, he might never stop.

Maddie and Chimney, and his parents, and the shooting and now the distance, again, and he's with Taylor and he's trying but it's not working and it's not what he wanted, and he's not sure why he thought it would work this time, with her, but it's not working.

He's never felt so fucking helpless and scared.

~

Five minutes later, he returns to the kitchen, a smile on his face, and sits down with them to help Christopher with his homework.

He doesn't notice the strange, concerned look Eddie gives him.

He serves dinner and they eat in the kitchen. Eddie has a batch of Abuela's sweet tea and Buck has two glasses (it's his favourite; it's delicious) and afterwards they eat ice cream while watching The Office - Christopher has decided he loves comedy, and they're working their way through different TV shows. Buck likes Brooklyn Nine-Nine the best; Eddie prefers Parks & Rec and The Good Place.

They put Christopher to bed, and Buck leaves right after - Eddie offers him a beer but he makes an excuse about needing to meet Taylor and hurries out the door, away from Eddie's tidy house on his quiet street. Back to the city; back to his loft… back to loneliness.

~

If Taylor realises something is wrong with him, she doesn't mention it. They don't really get too deep anyway - Buck's been hiding from her since the moment they started dating again.

A part of him thinks it's foolish - why is he so scared to be vulnerable around her? If he's vulnerable, that's opening a door to her, showing her a piece of him that she hasn't really seen before, but it's also opening him up to rejection. Taylor might not like him if she sees all of him.

So he doesn't tell her how much he's missing Maddie and Chimney. He doesn't tell her that he occasionally calls Maddie just to listen to her voicemail message, or that he's been trying to text Chimney with no response. He doesn't tell her that seeing Eddie with a gun pointed at him again shattered something deep down inside that he can't put back together.

He wears a Buck mask. He hides Evan from her and wears a mask - he makes her laugh, he takes her on dates, he fucks her until she comes and then he spoons her and thinks, I can do this. This is good.

~

One day, the mask slips.

Maddie calls - Taylor's there with him, and Buck wants to take the call in private but she's concerned - of course she's concerned, they all are. Maddie has postpartum depression and she ran away.

He just wishes he was alone for this - he wants to talk to Maddie, god he desperately, desperately wants to talk to Maddie, he wants to cry in her arms, he wants… he wants his fucking sister back, and when she says she doesn't know when she'll be back, he nearly loses it.

"I think you should just come home," he pleads, turning his back on Taylor, trying not to cry. "Everyone here is worried, we could all help you - I could help you. I could come and pick you up, and bring you home—"

"Evan, we talked about this. I just need some time." Her voice is soft but firm.

Unwilling to take no for an answer, he says, "But you can't just abandon everyone, Maddie - you have Chim and Jee, you have me, you have a whole life here. You need to come back."

Maddie's silent for a long time, and when she finally responds, her voice is a little more icy. "I told you what I needed. I'm not ready to come back yet, and I need you to respect my wishes."

"You have postpartum depression—"

The words are barely out of his mouth when she abruptly ends the call.

He tries to call her back, and it goes straight to voicemail.

Distraught, he stares at the phone in his hand like it's a brick and thinks about smashing it on the floor, but Taylor is there, and she's rubbing his arm and gazing up at him with concerned, worried eyes.

"It's okay," she says gently. "It's okay, Buck. She'll be home soon."

He pulls away from her, his throat clenched - fuck, fuck, fuck.

"Are you… all right?" she asks nervously. "Can I do something?"

I want my sister, he thinks clearly. "I'm okay," he manages to say. "It's okay."

"You know, you can talk to me about it - I know how worried you are. Is there anything I can do?"

She's worried, she's fucking worried and he can't talk to her about it because it hurts so much. He can't talk to her about it because that's making it all about him, and it's not about him. It's about Maddie and Chimney. He's not selfish.

"I can't even imagine how you're feeling," she says - he has his back to her, but she rests a hand on his shoulder. "I can't believe she's been gone this long. I know you guys used to talk all the time - it must be so hard, not—"

"I'm sorry, I can't," he says, wrenching away from her and stalking to the stairs, tears burning in his eyes. "I'm sorry."

"Buck," Taylor starts, but he's taking the stairs two at a time, heaving with sobs. "Buck!"

It's not about me, it's never about me - she asked me not to talk to Chimney and I was just trying to do the right thing, but I should've told him when I realised how much he was hurting, and it's totally understandable that he was upset, I get it. I totally get it.

I just miss them so much.

He slams the door to the bathroom shut and shoves the heels of his palms against his eyes, trying to stem the flow of tears. Maddie and Chimney aren't even the real problem, they're just a symptom, one of the things pulling him underwater. One of the reasons he's drowning.

~

He apologises to Taylor when he emerges from the bathroom - he lies and tells her that he's still in therapy and that everything is a little raw, but he's okay. He's desperately worried about Maddie and wants her to come home - of course Taylor understands, and she hugs him tightly; she kisses him and says all the right things; she absolves him of his guilt and offers to cook dinner for him.

Instead he says, "That's okay. You're meant to be meeting your friends for drinks - why don't you do that? I'm not great company right now."

She protests - she could stay, she wants to take care of him, but he waves her away convincingly. I'm fine. You go, have a great time.

When she finally leaves, he can breathe again.

He has a shot of bourbon and starts upstairs to the bedroom - he's just going to sleep until he has to be awake for work, but his phone vibrates in his hand. It's Eddie.

You busy? Want company?

He's flooded with relief, and stops on the stairs, leaning against the wall. Eddie's quiet, reassuring presence will be enough to make him feel better, less alone. Sometimes, Eddie is the only person Buck wants to see and talk to. The only one who really gets him.

He shoots off a quick reply. That'd be great. Come on over.

~

Eddie brings beers and pizza, and they eat on the balcony.

"You're quiet," he finally remarks, swigging from the bottle. "Everything okay?"

Buck can't hide anything from Eddie - even though a part of him wants to. He offers by way of explanation, "I spoke to Maddie tonight."

"Oh," Eddie says with surprise, sitting up a little straighter. "I thought… maybe it was something with Taylor."

Buck shakes his head silently. Sometimes he wonders if Eddie is just waiting for them to break up, like he's constantly surprised that they're still together even though it's been six months. Maybe Eddie doesn't really like Taylor… but he's never said anything to Buck about it.

"How's Maddie doing?" Eddie asks, changing the subject, and suddenly there's a lump in Buck's throat and he has to hide his face. "Buck? You okay?"

"I miss her," he manages to say.

Eddie lets out a sigh. "Yeah, I know you do," he murmurs. "I know."

"I thought she'd be home by now," he admits, still unable to look at Eddie. "I thought they'd both be back."

"It might take some time, but they'll be back soon," Eddie reassures him. "Everything will go back to normal."

Buck wants to shout at him and say that nothing has been normal for months, that he's dying inside and he's not sure why, that he can't understand how Eddie can just have panic attacks and suddenly stop and be fine, that the shooting didn't affect him the way it affected Buck - why can't he see how scared he is, all the time? If not for Maddie and Chimney then for Eddie, and for losing his people, his family…

He looks over at Eddie wordlessly, tears burning in his eyes. He holds the words in and swigs his beer instead, but a tear breaks free and slips down his cheek.

Buck doesn't notice the way Eddie's eyes widen slightly, or how he twitches in his seat, like he's holding himself back.

~

They move from the balcony to the couch. They've finished the beer and are drinking bourbon and Coke - Buck is buzzed. It helps him forget. Makes him feel good.

Eddie's right beside him on the couch, one arm thrown up behind his head, his legs stretched out. Their shoulders are pressed together. Buck can smell his deodorant - Eddie showered before he came over, like he always does. He's always clean and nice.

Sometimes Buck wonders if Eddie's wearing a mask as well.

They're watching baseball. Buck's always found baseball pretty boring but he indulges Eddie, because he loves it so much. A commercial for a new zombie movie comes on and Eddie grimaces, shaking his head. He's always hated horror movies. Buck thinks it's because his sisters used to make him watch them when he was a kid and he has lingering trauma from it, but Eddie says it's just because he can't suspend his disbelief long enough to enjoy them. He's always thinking about what he would do in that situation; what steps he would take to survive.

So Buck asks him, "If there was a zombie outbreak in LA, and we had to get out of the city, what would you do?"

Eddie mutes the TV, which means he's going to give a careful, thoughtful answer. "Where are we when it happens?"

"We're at work. Christopher is at school."

Eddie hisses, pursing his lips, thinking it over. "Okay," he finally says. "We have to face facts pretty quickly, Buck, which means that we need to make hard choices. We need to get to Christopher, which probably means abandoning the team. We steal the fire truck—"

"We shouldn't," Buck interrupts. "The roads will be chaos. We need to find another way."

"But if we have the fire truck we can plow into things," Eddie points out. "We can create a path."

"We can't leave the others to die," Buck points out.

Eddie blows out a frustrated breath, leaning forward with a look of determination on his face. "So… okay. It depends on how far we are. We can't go by foot - there are zombies, right? So… man, I still think we steal the truck, or we take a car - but whatever, we need a vehicle so we take a vehicle. And then we go the back way as much as we can. We stay off main roads; we avoid freeways and we go the long way to the school. We need weapons, though—"

"We stole those from the truck," Buck interrupts.

Eddie grins at him. "Good. So when we get to the school, we—"

"Remember that your girlfriend is a reporter with access to a helicopter?" Taylor's voice startles them both. She's standing in the kitchen, wearing a black dress, listening to them with a grin on her face.

Buck's heart sinks. He was actually having a good time.

Eddie rises to his feet, pulling his phone out of his pocket. "Hey, Taylor," he says easily. "I'll just order an Uber and get out of your hair."

"No need to rush off," she replies, wandering over to them. "I wasn't expecting Buck to have company."

"Yeah, I kind of… invited myself over," Eddie explains awkwardly. "Christopher is with my Abuela for the night."

She smiles at him, but there's a kind of emptiness to it. "Just the boys hanging out then," she says, turning her attention to Buck. "You okay, babe?"

Buck doesn't notice how Eddie stiffens. He rises to his feet as well, a little unsteadily, and says, "Yeah."

"Oh, you've been drinking," Taylor says with a laugh. "Oh no. Drunk Buck."

He nods, waving a hand at her - losing his balance a little, stumbling over his feet, nearly tripping over the coffee table until Eddie catches him easily and hoists him upright again.

And Buck suddenly realises he's in Eddie's strong arms, and his heart aches so much that he can hardly breathe, but Eddie's patting his back, and squeezing his shoulder, trying to make eye contact and asking, "You good?"

He's not good. He's not fucking good, but he nods, and pulls away from Eddie, and something else inside breaks.

~

Taylor doesn't like Eddie. She doesn't tell Buck as much, but he sees the way she grimaces when he mentions Eddie; can see the tight pull of her lips when he talks about making plans with him and Christopher for the weekend. She never comes out and says anything, but her body language is enough. Taylor's not a fan.

She introduces Buck to her friends - she says it's an effort to get him to meet people outside of the station. He likes them all fine, but he doesn't feel like he fits. They're all Hollywood people, they work in the industry and they're just different. They don't make him feel bad - he's charismatic, he can charm anyone - but he doesn't want to get to know them any better.

He tells the team about it and they all laugh. Hen takes him aside later and tells him gently that she and Karen don't have a huge friendship group either, and that's something that happens as people grow older - they trim the fat, and keep the most important relationships close. She's worried that Taylor made him feel bad about himself, and he reassures her that he's fine, she was just trying to help - she's trying.

Hen gives him a knowing look and then asks, "Are you?"

And his throat closes up again. He can't speak, so he looks away from her.

They're both quiet for a few long moments. Her hand is on his shoulder, solid and warm, comforting. He realises that one day she won't be working with him anymore and he has to swallow back tears, staring at the brick wall, feeling like the world is closing in again.

"I'm worried about you," Hen says in a low voice, and he nods. A tear slips down his cheek. "You're sad, Buck. You're not yourself. We can all see it."

He wonders who she means - does Eddie see it? Eddie would say something, though. Wouldn't he?

"Are you still seeing your therapist?" she asks worriedly.

Buck actually risks a glance at her, and shakes his head.

"Oh, Buck." Her grip tightens on his shoulder. "I think maybe you should give her a call, okay?"

"Don't tell Bobby," he hears himself whisper.

Hen shakes her head. "I won't, but please give her a call and book a session. Just one session, just for someone to talk to. That's all I'm asking."

For some reason - maybe it's the genuine concern in her voice, or the way she's clutching his shoulder like she's afraid to let go - Buck nods. Later that afternoon, he books a session with Dr Copeland.

~

It doesn't go well.

He's cried during his sessions before but he's never sobbed - full bodied, heaving sobs that burst out of his chest, and Dr Copeland actually looks concerned and just keeps repeating over and over that he's safe, that it's okay, and that he can talk to her about anything.

It all comes spewing out. Maddie and Chimney - how he thinks about them every day, how he still feels so guilty and it's a guilt that won't go away until he can actually see and talk to Chimney again. How all he wants is a hug from his big sister but he knows that's selfish and he knows she needs help, that she needs to get better, but he just misses her so much it hurts.

He talks about how Eddie was shot and how they haven't fucking talked about it; how Eddie's blood splattered across his face and sometimes at night he wakes up choking and coughing, the metallic taste of blood on his lips.

He talks about how Eddie won't look at him, how there's a wall between them and they don't talk the way they used to, and how he misses him so much even though they see each other every day…

He talks about how scared he is about everyone leaving him behind; that one day Eddie might meet someone new, again, and this time she will be the one and he'll lose his tenuous position in their lives. If he doesn't have Eddie and Christopher, he doesn't have a home. He doesn't have a home.

He cries miserable tears and hates himself.

Dr Copeland listens and says, "Evan, I think we need to set aside some time to talk in person."

And he just feels like a failure because he couldn't even do therapy right the first time.

~

He doesn't tell Taylor that he's seeing Dr Copeland again. He doesn't talk to her about any of it. When she suggests that they go out on Friday night with her friends, he agrees to it, even though he feels like a raw, open wound. He puts his Buck mask on and hits the town.

He drinks, a lot.

He dances with Taylor and they make out in the hallway of a club.

There's a guy hanging around - a tall guy, with dark hair and dark eyes. He's looking at Taylor and Buck is watching him look at Taylor and even in his drunken state of mind he doesn't really care all that much. And then it turns out that Taylor knows him - they went to college together, his name is Bryce and he's just moved to LA and is working for CAA.

And just like that, he has Taylor's full attention, and Buck is invisible.

It's not her fault. He's drunk, and usually that means he becomes even more charismatic and chatty, but tonight he can feel blackness creeping in; can feel misery in the pit of his stomach and he just wants to go home.

She's with her friends, so when he takes her aside and tells her that he's not feeling great, but that she should stay, it doesn't take much convincing. He kisses her goodbye, apologises to everyone, and staggers out of the club and onto the street.

He orders an Uber - it doesn't recognise his address so he fumbles for a while until he figures it out, and when the car arrives, he collapses into the backseat.

He wakes up to the Uber driver prodding his arm, and looks out the window blearily. He's at Eddie's house.

Home, he thinks with relief.

It's the middle of the night; the house is dark and quiet. Buck lets himself in silently, toes off his shoes near the door and makes his way to the couch. Eddie keeps a spare pillow and blanket in the cupboard in the living room, so he retrieves them and collapses onto the couch to sleep it off.

~

That's where Christopher finds him the next morning, standing over him, patting his face. "Buck," he's whispering insistently. "Are you alive?"

He opens his eyes, regrets it, and closes them again. "No."

"That's funny, I could've sworn you were snoring about ten minutes ago." Eddie's voice is soft, affectionate. "You okay, buddy?"

No, he thinks.

"No?" Eddie asks with alarm. "Buck?"

Fuck, he said it out loud. He said it out loud.

"I'm okay," he tries to correct, but Eddie is ushering Christopher down the hall to the bathroom for a shower, and then he's back in the living room, kneeling on the floor in front of him.

"What's wrong?" Eddie asks, and suddenly his hands are on Buck. He's checking his pulse; he's pressing a hand to his head to check his temperature - he's running through it all methodically, like a medic, and Buck aches and it hurts and he wants and it hurts.

It hurts.

He buries his face in his hands and tries not to whimper.

"What can I do?" Eddie whispers. "What do you need? Water? Coffee? Aspirin? Talk to me, Buck."

He's silent for a long time. Eddie's hands are on his shoulders, rubbing methodically, and Buck feels so broken and tired that all he can do is lie back down on the couch and pull the blanket over his head.

"Okay," Eddie says quietly. "You stay here. Get some sleep."

He doesn't even realise when he begins to drift off again.

~

He stays at Eddie's all day. Eddie takes Christopher to school and comes home - he leaves a bag of fast food on the coffee table that Buck eats, and then falls back asleep. In the middle of the day he awakens to find Eddie in the armchair with his legs stretched out, reading a book - they make brief eye contact, and then Buck pulls the blanket up and goes right back to sleep.

It's the best sleep he's had in months.

He wakes up again when Christopher comes home, and this time he actually manages to drag himself off the couch - mostly because Carla is fussing over him affectionately, patting his cheek and dragging him down the hallway to the bathroom so she can wipe his face with a damp towel and talk to him in private.

"Are you okay?" she asks in a low voice, eyes narrowed and trained on him suspiciously. "Did something happen to you?"

My best friend got shot in front of me and my sister and brother-in-law left and I'm completely broken inside.

"No," he says, and tries to smile at her. "I'm okay."

"Eddie's worried. I've talked to him a few times today. He even spoke to your girlfriend - she was looking for you." Carla raises her eyebrows at him. "I think you and Eddie need to sit down and have a good talk, don't you?"

He shakes his head. "No," he says honestly. "Eddie doesn't want that."

"I think you'd be surprised," Carla says gently, patting his arm.

~

He eats an afternoon snack with Christopher, Eddie and Carla in the kitchen before wandering out to the backyard to call Taylor. She's pissed, and he can't really blame her.

"You just abandoned me last night," she begins. "I thought you were sick or something - I was really worried about you, Buck. I came back to the loft and you weren't there - I was really freaked out!"

"I'm sorry," he says, because what else is there to say? "I really wasn't feeling well."

"I thought you were going home."

I am home. "I think I put Eddie's address into the app," he tries to explain. "And when I got here, I just… stayed."

"All day?" Taylor sounds alarmed. "Do you want me to come pick you up? I could leave work - god, I was worried sick. I almost called your captain."

"I'm fine," he says, and his voice is calm and steady. "I'm sorry I didn't call. I was sleeping off a hangover all day. Are you okay?"

"Yeah, just… worried about you." She sounds upset. "When are you coming home?"

I am home, he thinks again, and dismisses it. "Tonight. I'll have dinner here and then I'll come home. Don't leave work, okay? I'll see you tonight."

"Okay," she agrees. "Okay. Sorry. I was just really freaked out when I couldn't get through to you. I kept thinking that something had happened, you know? And then I was like… god, if I've let him go off alone and something happened to him, your friends will murder me. Especially Eddie."

He laughs, and she actually chuckles as well. "Yeah, well," he says, clearing his throat. "I'm his insurance policy. He'd be pretty pissed off if I disappeared."

There's a long pause, and then Taylor asks, "What does that mean?"

Fuck. He lets out a laugh - nervous laughter, trying to change the subject. "Sorry, just a joke. Okay. I'll see you when I get home."

"See you then," she replies, and he ends the call.

He's never told anyone about the guardianship. He tries not to even think about it - sometimes, though, when Eddie is being held hostage in an ambulance and fear is thick in his throat, it's all he can think about. The implications of Eddie's trust.

For Eddie and Christopher, Buck would do anything - and Eddie knows it.

~

He plays off the incident as a funny anecdote - "Oh, I was so drunk I gave them Eddie's address instead of mine and then crashed on his couch all day!"

He doesn't notice Eddie worrying away at his bottom lip, or how Bobby exchanges a concerned look with Hen. He covers it up and moves on, and when he mentions it to Dr Copeland at his next session, she asks a question that stops him completely.

"But why did you go to Eddie's house?"

He pauses, and then lies. "It was an accident."

Dr Copeland assesses him with a look that plainly says she doesn't believe him. "Even if it was an accident, you could've rectified it when you arrived there."

He lies again. "I was really drunk."

"Evan." It's a plea for honesty.

He folds, and says in a soft voice, "I just wanted to go home."

"Home," she repeats. "Does Eddie's house feel like home?"

He nods, miserably, his head lowered. "I sleep so well when I'm there. It smells nice… and they're always there when I am, there are people around… it's nice. It's all I've ever wanted, my whole life. A home like Eddie's with people who love me."

She writes something in her notepad, and then meets his eyes. "Evan, have you and Eddie ever had a conversation about the shooting? Other than when he told you that he appointed you as Christopher's guardian?"

He shakes his head. "I don't know how to bring it up with him. I don't know if he wants to talk about it."

"Is he in therapy?"

"No. I don't think so." He scrubs his face with both hands and then leans forward, right on the verge of tears. "It's like there's this… thing between us. Blocking us. And… I want to talk to him, I want to talk about it but… I'm scared to bring it up. It was the most terrifying—" suddenly he can't speak again; his throat closes and he lets out a whimper, covering his face.

Eddie's blood is all over his face and staining his white shirt - the white shirt that is folded up in a bag in the bottom of his wardrobe, still covered in blood - Eddie's blood tastes metallic and it's in his face and eyes and Eddie's dying right in front of him; his fucking life is ebbing away and pooling in the street, and…

Buck's sobbing again, miserably.

Dr Copeland stands behind him and rests her hand on his shoulder - a firm touch, not unwelcome, not overstepping. Just reassuring.

"Evan," she says gently. "I want you to think about talking to Eddie. I want you to sit down and plan out some things you want to say to him. You don't have to have the talk - just think about what you want to tell him. Okay?"

He wipes his eyes with the tissue she offers him, and nods tearfully. "Okay."

~

He makes a list in the Notes app of his phone, whenever he thinks of something new.

Do you know that I still have nightmares about you getting shot?

Do you know that losing you is my biggest fear?

Do you know how much you mean to me?

Taylor notices him tapping away one night, and leans over curiously. "Who are you texting?"

"No one," he replies honestly. "I'm just making a list in my Notes app."

"Oh." Taylor shrugs at him, and turns back to the TV. "Shopping list?"

"Yeah," he lies. "I keep forgetting stuff."

"So annoying. Especially since they changed the layout at the supermarket. I hate having to go down every aisle, you know? I like to have them memorised," she says, and taps her head. "I know it's dumb, but it's the little things."

"It adds time," he agrees, as a message from Eddie pops up.

Christopher wants to go bowling. Saturday. You in? The place has hot dogs.

He laughs, and replies, Sure. Pick you up?

"Who's that?" Taylor asks.

"Eddie," he replies. "Christopher wants to go bowling on Saturday."

"Ah." Taylor arches her eyebrows, and says nothing - but her lips tighten a little.

Buck makes a note in his app.

Were you scared? I was terrified. I'm terrified of losing you.

~

For the first time in a long time, Buck feels happiness - and it's all because Eddie Diaz is truly terrible at bowling.

Actually awful - their first game, he doesn't connect with the pins once. Christopher has better aim and he's using a light ball and a ramp. Buck helps him line up his shots for the first couple, but then he's on his own - and he's pretty good! He even gets a spare, but Eddie… Eddie is hopeless.

And he's mad about it, Buck can tell - he's trying to be good-natured and relaxed but he can't connect with the pins at all. Buck finally takes pity on him and asks, "Have you ever bowled before?"

Eddie pushes his hair off his forehead and gives Buck an unhappy look. "Not as an adult."

"Can I give you some pointers?"

He knows Eddie doesn't want to say yes - can feel him preparing to turn him down; can see the wheels turning in his head - pride winning out.

But Eddie surprises him and says, through gritted teeth, "Okay."

When it's his turn again, Buck joins him at the line. "You're looking down at the ball," he tries to explain. "When you throw the ball, you're looking at it. You need to be looking where you want it to go. You have good form - you're throwing it well, you're just not pointing it where it needs to go."

Eddie holds the ball up - his is blue and sparkly; Buck's is green, and Christopher's is bright red ("Like a fire truck!" he'd exclaimed) - and positions himself.

"Keep looking ahead," Buck instructs, taking a few steps away. "You got this."

He half expects Eddie to bark at him, but instead he flashes him a grateful look and then takes his shot. This time, he connects - with one pin, but it's better than nothing, and Eddie whoops, holding his hands over his head.

"Baby steps," he says to Buck, who beams at him.

"You're good at taking instruction," Buck replies, patting him on the shoulder as Eddie's ball pops out again. "Just do exactly what you did before."

Eddie does, and he knocks over three pins. Christopher cheers and claps for him, and Eddie turns to face them, a huge smile on his face. "Thanks, Buck," he says gratefully.

The full force of that dazzling smile is directed solely at Buck, who soaks it up - and is still on a high as he lines up for his turn.

He hears Eddie's laughter from behind him and then a combined, "Go, Buck!" and glances over his shoulder to find them grinning at him.

Buck winks at them, and turns to face the pins. God, I love him, he thinks, and lets the ball fly. A strike, dead centre, but his brain is buzzing even as they're cheering and clapping for him.

I love him.

I love him.

Oh fuck I'm in love with him.

"Show-off," Eddie says, helping Christopher up to the line. "What a show-off."

Buck meets his eyes briefly, the smile fading from his face, as all new anxiety settles in.

I'm in love with my best friend.

This is the worst fucking thing that's ever happened to me.

~

He tries to deny it, at first, but fuck, does it explain some things.

Like how sometimes the mere sight of Eddie takes his breath away.

How he's never felt more comfortable or at ease with anyone in his whole life.

How effortlessly Eddie can comfort and reassure him when he's spiralling.

How being with Taylor has felt wrong since the beginning. How can he be all in with Taylor when his heart has belonged to someone else the entire time they've been together?

And it's terrifying, because there's no way Eddie feels the same way. Absolutely no way at all. Eddie's straight, that much Buck is sure.

He's not - he doesn't really label himself, but if the opportunity presented itself, and he was interested, he'd have no problems hooking up with a guy. He's just never really considered the idea of falling in love with one - especially not Eddie.

But the more he thinks about it, the more it makes sense - how his stomach flipped the first time he laid eyes on Eddie, and how he'd shoved all that attraction deep down into the pit of his stomach and tried to pretend it didn't exist.

And now he has to do that again, because… he can't love Eddie. He's in a relationship with Taylor, and things are going well, and he's trying to make that work and he just… can't throw everything away on the off chance that maybe Eddie might feel the same way.

~

On Monday morning, out of the blue, Chimney arrives at the station with Jee-Yun in his arms. He's home, and he's greeted enthusiastically by everyone. Hen throws her arms around him and Jee-Yun, Bobby claps him on the shoulder, and even Eddie greets him with a hug and takes Jee-Yun out of his arms so he can have a cuddle.

Buck hangs back, away from everyone, until Chimney finally asks, "Where's Buck?"

At that, he disappears through the side door and leaves the station, intending to head down the street until he's intercepted in the car park by Eddie, still holding Jee, who reaches for Buck as soon as she sees him.

He crumples. "Jee," he croaks out, taking her out of Eddie's arms and into his own. "Hi, baby."

She coos and plants her face against his shoulder.

Eddie folds his arms across his chest, gazing at Buck fondly. "Come on," he says, tilting his head to the door. "Don't run away. Come back inside. It's okay."

He nods, already on the verge of tears, but when they turn around they find Chimney making his way across the parking lot towards them, his hands shoved deep in his pockets, eyes trained on Buck.

"Hey," he says, a little gruffly. "Hey, Buck."

"Hey Chim," he replies, his voice cracking. "Glad you're back."

Chimney nods. "Me too," he says, and glances at Eddie briefly. "Can you give us a sec? Will you take Jee in to see Hen?"

Eddie smiles, patting Buck's briefly before taking Jee-Yun out of his arms again. "Sure thing. Come on, cutie. Let's go see Auntie Hen."

Once they're alone, Buck meets Chimney's eyes and almost breaks. "Chim, I'm… I'm so sorry, okay? Maddie asked me not to tell you, and… I was just trying to do the right thing by both of you. I fucked up."

"You were in the middle, I know that," he replies quietly. "I'm really sorry I hit you, Buck. I was… out of my mind. You know?"

He nods, swallowing hard. "Yeah, I get it. I just hope… you can forgive me?"

Chimney's shoulders slump. "Of course I can forgive you," he replies. "You told me where she was… and I know she was angry at you for that, but she'll be okay, Buck. She's getting the help she needs, and she'll be home soon."

"I really miss her," he admits hoarsely.

Chimney nods. "She misses you too," he says, and holds his arms out. "Can we just put this behind us now?"

Buck wastes no time wrapping him in a hug, and Chimney laughs, clapping him on the back. "Yeah, it's behind us," he says gratefully. "I'm glad you're home."

"Me too." Chimney pulls away, smiling at him. "You want to come over tonight so we can catch up over a beer?"

He nods gratefully. "That'd be awesome."

~

Hen, Eddie and Bobby come to Chimney's as well - they weren't technically invited, but they weren't going to miss out, and the five of them laugh and catch up for a few hours. Chimney tells them about Maddie, how he's been able to get her the help she needs. She's in a treatment facility in Northern California, working with dedicated professionals - she's making progress, but she's not ready to come home. And she's not ready to talk to Buck.

He misses her - it's an ache that doesn't really go away, but at least she's safe. And she and Chimney are good, and she'll come home eventually.

Chimney asks Buck to put Jee to bed, and he's more than happy to do it - he carries her into Maddie and Chimney's bedroom, sits on the edge of the bed and rocks her to sleep, gazing down at her with adoration.

That's where Eddie finds him, leaning against the doorframe with his arms folded across his chest. Buck looks up at him with a smile, happier than he's felt in weeks. Part of his family is home.

"It suits you," Eddie whispers, and when Buck gives him a puzzled look, he clarifies, "you with a baby. You'll be a great father, Buck."

"Not as good as you," he murmurs, rising from the bed and carrying Jee-Yun over to the crib.

"Better than me." Eddie joins him at the crib, resting a hand on Buck's shoulder.

Buck makes sure Jee-Yun is wrapped up securely, the baby monitor is on, and then blows her a kiss before leaving the room, Eddie at his side.

"You okay?" Eddie asks worriedly.

Buck nods at him. "Feeling a bit better," he says honestly.

"Good." Eddie tucks his hands in his pockets. "How's Taylor?"

He pauses - Eddie rarely, if ever, asks about Taylor. "She's good," he finally says. "She's busy with work."

Eddie nods - he's giving Buck an inscrutable look, and Buck suddenly feels hot all over. "What are you doing on Friday night? I wouldn't mind getting a drink at the bar."

Pleasantly surprised, he says, "Yeah, I'm free. Taylor has a work thing, so… that'd be good."

"Great." Eddie smiles at him, and claps a hand on his shoulder again. "Come on. Bobby suggested we play cards. You want another beer?"

He follows Eddie back out to the living room and settles beside him at the table, feeling for the first time in a long time that most of the pieces of his heart have been put back together.

~

On Friday morning, he and Taylor have a fight.

She's frustrated with work, but there's more to it than that - he thinks it's something to do with him, but he's not quite sure. For whatever reason, she's on edge from almost the moment she wakes up, and even after he makes her coffee and breakfast.

They're sitting at the kitchen island together, both on their respective phones, when she asks, "Did you pick out an outfit for tonight?"

He blinks at her, confused. "No? For what?"

Taylor takes a sip of coffee and says, "For the party tonight. I told you to put it in your calendar, remember? It's not black tie, but like - cocktail attire. I could go upstairs and pick out a shirt and jacket for you."

He's silent for a few drawn out moments, wracking his brain - had she mentioned it to him? No, right? He'd definitely remember if she'd asked him to come with her.

"You never invited me," he says carefully. "You told me it was happening, and that you'd bought a new dress - but you never invited me to go with you."

Taylor stares at him disbelievingly. "Buck, it's a work function. It's implied that you're coming with me. You're my plus one."

"You never—"

"I shouldn't have to ask you!" she practically explodes, and shocked, he holds his hands up innocently.

"You need to at least tell me that I'm invited," he stresses. "I made plans with Eddie for tonight."

Taylor's eyebrows shoot up. "Eddie."

"Yeah. I thought you were busy," he says. "You told me you had this thing, so I made other plans."

She's angry, and she rises from her seat, snatching her plate and coffee cup from the table and then dumping them in the sink. Bewildered, he watches as she storms over to the living room to grab her bag and laptop from the coffee table, and then starts over to the door.

"Taylor," he says, sliding off the chair. "I'm sorry! Why are you so pissed at me?"

She lets out a frustrated sigh, and turns to him, her hair whipping off her shoulder. "Because it's like… it's like you're not in this relationship with me," she says angrily. "You knew I was going out tonight - if you thought you might be invited, wouldn't you ask me? But it's like you didn't want to be invited; you just wanted to do your own thing. You're my partner, we've been together for over six months and… it's like you're stuck! And I know that things are hard right now, and you've had a rough time, and… I get it, Buck. I see how unhappy you are, but… I'm really, really trying, okay? I want to be in this with you."

"I am in it with you," he says helplessly. "Taylor, I am."

"It doesn't feel like it, not lately… maybe not at all," she replies quietly, and suddenly she looks close to tears. "I thought you really liked me… before the shooting? I thought we had something special, and now… I don't know. It's like your heart's never been in it. Like you'd rather be with someone else."

"I'm not cheating on you! I'd never do that," he protests. "I fucked up, okay? I… thought it was like a work thing that I wasn't invited to, I thought… you didn't want me to come. But I'll cancel on Eddie and come with you. I'm your boyfriend, and if I'm invited, I'll come along."

Taylor considers him for a few long moments, and then relents. "Maybe I forgot to tell you," she murmurs, chewing her lower lip. "I just feel like you're not really in this. Like… there's something going on with you that you won't talk to me about."

"I'm fine," he stresses, stepping over to her. "I'm feeling better now that Chim is back."

"Yeah, I know," she murmurs, suddenly looking guilty. "I'm sorry, okay? You don't have to come tonight. Go and have a beer with Eddie instead."

"I can cancel—"

"No, I don't want you to cancel. Next time, I'll make sure you know you're invited too." She pokes him in the chest, smiling up at him tentatively. "I just… maybe we need to sit down and talk about things, you know? Make sure we're both on the same page."

"Yeah, we can do that," he replies. "I picked up an extra shift tomorrow, but I could cook dinner for you on Sunday night?"

Taylor nods, a relieved smile on her face. "Okay," she agrees, rising up on her tiptoes to kiss him. "I love it when you cook for me."

~

She's on his mind all day, and not in a good way.

He knows he's been lying to her - hell, he's been lying to everyone for months. He's not fine. He's struggling in silence and therapy is hard, and he's tired all the time… he's putting one foot in front of the other, trying to keep a brave face, and dying on the inside.

He goes to the bar with Eddie after work - they watch TV, they share a plate of buffalo wings and ranch, and drink a couple of beers. It's nice. It's fine. They don't talk much, and he doesn't notice the way Eddie keeps eyeing him.

He heads home afterwards - it's only a few blocks from the loft, so he walks, hands tucked in his pockets, head down. He stops off at the liquor store closest to his building and grabs a fresh bottle of bourbon - he's finished the last one.

Less than ten minutes later he's trudging down the hallway to the loft, fumbling for his keys, and when he lifts his head he realises that a familiar figure is waiting at his door, his arms folded across his chest.

Buck stops, confused. "Did you forget something?" he asks curiously. "Did you try to call?"

Eddie shakes his head. "I… got halfway home and asked the guy to turn around and bring me here," he confesses, "but I forgot my key. I just got here."

"What's going on?" Buck steps up to the door to let them in, the bottle tucked under his arm - he pauses when Eddie tugs it out curiously, and suddenly feels ashamed.

Even though he has nothing to be ashamed about - he can buy a bottle of bourbon if he wants to.

Once they're both inside, Eddie wanders over to the kitchen and sets the bottle down. He pulls out two short glasses from the cabinet and pours them each a drink. "Ice?" he asks Buck, who toes off his shoes near the door.

"None for me," Buck replies, still confused. "Why are you here? Are you okay?"

Eddie drops two ice cubes into his glass, and then shrugs. "I don't know. Honestly, I don't know, I just… didn't want to go home to an empty house. Is Taylor coming back tonight, or…"

"No, she's at this work thing, she'll go back to her place after." Buck moves to stand beside him, picking up his glass. "You could've said something at the bar."

"I only decided afterwards." Eddie takes a sip of his drink, and then licks his lips, examining the amber liquid in the light. "This is nice. I don't think I've tried this one before."

"Yeah, it's my favourite." Buck motions to the couch, and Eddie follows him into the living room. They sit down beside each other, not touching, but close, and he lets out a trapped breath, leaning back against the couch cushions, trying to relax.

They're both silent. Eddie stares blankly at the darkened television, brooding, and Buck suddenly realises that he's been waiting for a moment alone with Eddie, like this, for months.

And suddenly he can't hold it in anymore. "You nearly died in front of me," he blurts out, liquor loosening his tongue.

Eddie's head snaps in his direction, his eyes widening.

"You nearly died, and then… a month ago you had a gun in your face and you had no fucking reaction," he continues, babbling, everything that he's been holding inside suddenly breaking free. "And… fuck, it's like, you don't want to talk about this but I have to talk about it, how… how… you dying is the worst thing I can imagine. If you died? I'd never be okay. Ever. God, I'm not okay now," he practically moans, leaning forward, his hands pressed to his head. "I'm not okay, Eddie."

"I know you're not," Eddie murmurs. "I'm not okay either."

"Then why won't you talk to me—"

"Because I can't talk about this stuff, Buck," he says, waving his hand dismissively. "What's the point? I'm moving forward, I'm—"

"You're pulling away from me," Buck says miserably, and Eddie gives him another concerned look. "I saved your life… I had your blood all over me, and I had to tell Christopher and—"

"Buck, I know—"

"Do you? Do you have any idea what it was like for me?" he demands. "It's like… my whole life has been disposable. I was only born to be spare parts for someone else, and I couldn't do that right - my parents never forgave me for it, and… all my life, I've been searching for the place that feels like home, you know? And sometimes I think, well, maybe my life is fucking disposable - maybe it would've been better for all of us if I'd been shot, and I'd died… maybe everyone would be happier. Maybe Maddie wouldn't have left." He's crying - hot, miserable tears are streaming down his face. "You would all move on without me. You'd all be fine."

There's a long, heavy silence - Buck can't look at Eddie. Can't face him.

And then Eddie says, in a low, disbelieving voice, "Buck… do you really think I'd be okay if you died? Do you really think that Christopher and I would just… move on? Be fine? That we wouldn't be absolutely fucking destroyed if we lost you?"

Destroyed.

"You'd be okay," he tries to say, choking the words out.

"No, I wouldn't." Eddie's voice is deathly quiet. "I'm not okay now, Buck. I haven't been okay for months. I'm barely hanging on by a thread. I just keep putting one foot in front of the other and hoping that one day I'll wake up and feel better, but it hasn't happened yet. And I don't know when it will."

At that, Buck finally manages to look at him. Eddie's jaw is set; he's swallowing reflexively, and his eyes are shining with tears.

"I'm not okay either," Buck whispers, and at that, Eddie finally looks at him.

His beautiful brown eyes are full of sorrow. "I know."

Buck sucks in a breath, pressing his hands to his face again. "Things have been weird between us."

"I know," Eddie says again.

They fall silent. Buck wrestles his emotions under control and sits back, wiping his eyes. "I'm in therapy again," he admits, and Eddie swallows hard. "I thought I was better… so I stopped. And now I'm going again."

"Because of me?"

"Because of everything." He wipes his eyes again, looking around the loft. "I just don't think you'd miss me if I was gone, Eds. I think you'd be okay."

Eddie barks out a laugh. "Fuck off," he says thickly. "Fuck off I wouldn't. You're the best friend I've ever had in my life." He pauses, and then adds, "You're my… my closest person. There's no one I'd rather be with."

Buck slumps against the couch. He should feel happy or relieved to hear Eddie say the words out loud, but instead, his heart feels hollow. "Well," he murmurs. "Me too."

"You have a girlfriend."

"I'm not in love with her." Saying it out loud is a surprise, even to him. "I keep waiting to fall in love with her and it's not happening."

Eddie exhales - like it's a relief to hear? "You should take your own advice," he suggests.

"But then I'll be all alone. Really fucking alone," Buck admits, and suddenly, he's weeping again. "I've been alone for so long and I'm tired of it, Eds… I'm so tired."

"I'm tired too," Eddie whispers, his voice cracking. "I'm tired, and I'm scared, and I'm… lonely. But you have me, Buck. You have me and Chris. You won't ever be alone when you have us."

Buck lets out a bitter laugh. "You'll meet someone."

"No, I won't." Eddie's voice is low. "I'm not even looking, Buck. I just… okay. I'm going to say something really fucking stupid but I just want you to have an open mind, all right?"

He wipes his eyes, and looks over at Eddie. "Okay."

Eddie's wringing his hands together. "Christmas is coming up," he says in a low voice. "And it's just us this year. Abuela and Pepa are going to Texas, but I have to work so I can't go. And… I know this is a big ask, okay? I know you might already have plans."

"It's still a month away," Buck points out reasonably.

"Right." Eddie clears his throat. "I was hoping you might… stay with us for a while."

What.

Buck stares at him unblinkingly, letting the words sink in. "You want me to stay with you?"

Eddie nods, his lips pressed together tightly. "I'm asking you for help," he says in a voice barely above a whisper. "And I know it's a lot. It's too much, but… I want to give Christopher a great Christmas and I can't do that without you. You're struggling, and I'm struggling, and… maybe we can help each other." He pauses, and then adds softly, "I always feel better when you're around. Maybe I could help you too."

I can't stay with you and not fall more in love, he thinks wildly, but even as that thought is rushing through his mind he's saying, "Yeah, okay. I'll stay with you."

Because it's home. They're his people and he'll be home.

"What about Taylor?" Eddie asks hesitantly.

Fuck, he hasn't even thought about that… and really, isn't that the most telling thing? Eddie offers him a lifeline and he takes it, knowing what it will mean for his relationship.

"I think it's over anyway," he says, for the first time. "I'll talk to her."

Eddie finishes the last of his bourbon, and settles back against the couch cushions. "I'm sorry."

I'm not, Buck thinks - he finally has some clarity. It's not Taylor, and it never was. It's always been Eddie. Maybe friendship is all it will ever be, but it's better than nothing.

"It's okay," he says quietly. "I just really wanted… to fall in love with someone."

Eddie meets his eyes. "Me too."

~

When Taylor arrives in the morning, Eddie's still at the loft. He's getting ready to leave, standing in the kitchen, sipping a coffee and accepting a piece of toast from Buck when Taylor steps inside, and instantly falters.

"Buck?" she asks, looking from him to Eddie in confusion. "What's going on?"

"Eddie spent the night," he explains.

For some reason, Eddie clarifies, "On the couch."

"Okay," Taylor says slowly, clutching her bag tightly. "Um… okay."

Eddie snatches his keys and phone from the bench and says, "I'll go down and order an Uber. Talk to you later?"

Buck nods at him, popping another piece of bread in the toaster. "Yep. I'll text you."

I'll text you when it's done, and then I'll come over. To stay. For a while.

Taylor seems to relax when Eddie leaves, and then she's at his side, rubbing his back. "What'd you guys get up to last night?"

"Just talking," he replies. "Talking stuff out."

She's silent, her hand on his shoulder. "Do you feel better?" she asks after a moment.

Yes and no. "Yes," he finally says, turning to face her. "But now I need to talk to you about something."

And just like that, she pulls away from him, and lets out a laugh. "Oh, okay," she mutters, shaking her head. "I know what this is about. Eddie came over last night, and you guys talked, and… now you're breaking up with me."

The toaster pops behind him, but he ignores it, his eyes trained on her. "I'm not breaking up with you because of Eddie," he says slowly. "It's not that."

Taylor presses her lips together, shaking her head slightly. "Then why?"

He's honest. "I've been struggling for months, and it's not fair to you."

"I told you that you can talk to me about it," she says unhappily. "You won't open up."

"I know," he admits, his eyes on the ground. "I just can't."

There's a long silence until she finally asks hesitantly, "You don't trust me?"

He meets her eyes again and admits the truth. "I don't think I do. And I know that's really shitty - you haven't done anything. This is all me, and I'm sorry."

Taylor screws her face up, folding her arms across her chest. "I thought we were on the same page," she says. "We talked about this - I told you that I'm all in with you, that I really want this to be something good. Did you lie to me when you told me you wanted the same thing?"

"It wasn't a lie."

Tears shine in her eyes. "You just don't want it with me."

He pauses, and then says quietly, "No. I'm sorry."

She heaves a sigh, stepping away from him, shaking her head. "I really let my guard down with you. I've been trying, and it's not enough."

"This is my shit," he says again, and she looks over at him sadly. "This was going on before you and I got together - everything with my parents, and… Eddie being shot, and… my sister, and Chimney… I've been struggling for months. I'm really tired, and I just can't do this anymore. It's not fair to you - I know that. You're great, and you deserve more than what I can give you. I'm really fucking sorry."

Taylor's silent - he can tell she's upset, but trying to stay in control of her emotions. "Is it Eddie?" she asks suddenly, narrowing her eyes at him. "Is Eddie the reason you're breaking up with me?"

He shakes his head. "No," he replies - but it's not quite the truth. "I'm breaking up with you because… you deserve someone who wants to be all in with you. I can't give you that."

Her jaw clenches slightly, and then she says, "Why have we even stayed together this long? If you haven't been happy, why didn't you just break up with me months ago?"

"Because I really wanted this to work," he says quietly. "And it's sinking in now that it's not… and I don't think it will."

"So that's it," she mutters, looking around the loft. "We're done."

"I'm sorry," he offers again. "I really am sorry."

Taylor shrugs at him. "It doesn't really help, Buck."

They're both silent for a long time.

~

Once she leaves, Buck packs a bag, empties out his fridge and pantry, and moves to Eddie's house that afternoon.

Christopher is beyond overjoyed, and once Buck is settled with his things tucked away in the chest of drawers in the living room, and some of his other clothes hanging in Eddie's wardrobe, he breathes a sigh of relief. Eddie and Christopher discover a box of Belgian chocolates in his bag of food and hold it up eagerly - Buck's laughing as he nods, and they all sit down together to share the box.

It feels good. It feels like he can breathe again - like the weight that's been dragging him down for months has lifted, a bit. Not entirely, but a little.

It's a quiet afternoon at the Diaz house. Buck spends some time in the kitchen - he makes a loaf of banana bread and practically has to guard it with his life when Eddie starts circling, trying to take a slice while it's still piping hot. He then decides to cook dinner, and as he's chopping peppers, Christopher wanders in and takes a seat at the table, watching him.

"How long are you staying?" he asks curiously.

Buck glances over his shoulder. "Until Christmas, I think."

Christopher nods, glancing over his shoulder - checking to see if Eddie is in the vicinity, Buck guesses, but Eddie's eating banana bread and watching a movie in the living room.

"What's up?" Buck asks him, dumping vegetables into the pot on the stove.

Christopher seems to wrestle with what to say, and then settles on, "Dad's… sad. Even Carla noticed. I asked him what would make him happy and he said that I make him happy, but… I don't know. And then I asked him if you make him happy and he said yes. And now you're here."

Buck smiled at him. "You guys make me happy too."

"Are you sad, Buck?" Christopher asks worriedly.

He wonders how much he should say, and finally admits, "I've had a rough few months, kiddo. I'm glad your Dad asked me to come stay with you guys."

"On the couch," Christopher points out.

"It's a pretty comfy couch," he says with a laugh. "I don't mind it."

"He won't let you share with him because you snore," Christopher teases.

Chuckling, Buck says, "Well, I have it on pretty good authority that your Dad snores as well. I sleep right next to him in the bunks at work."

"Then you could just share his bedroom," Christopher suggests brightly.

"I don't think he wants that," Buck says, shaking his head in amusement. "Are you sure you're okay if I stay?"

"Yeah, it's good." Christopher gave him a satisfied smile. "I love it when you're here."

"Well, I love being here," he says simply. "As long as you don't get sick of me."

"I'll never get sick of you, Buck."

Buck's heart is fucking full.

~

It's funny how easily they settle into a routine. Buck cooks, Eddie cleans, and Christopher makes fun of them as much as possible. There's a natural rhythm to it, an ease, as though they've had years of practice. In the mornings, Eddie wakes Christopher and gets him ready for school while Buck organises breakfast. Carla usually arrives at the tail end to take Christopher to school - she's endlessly amused by their new living arrangement, but she looks pleased as well. There's a twinkle in her eyes whenever she's watching Buck and Eddie discuss their daily plans.

At night, after dinner, they usually watch some TV or play video games. Buck's been living with them for about ten days when Christopher has an especially bad day at school - he and a friend had a falling out, and he's sad, miserable, his face pressed against Eddie's shoulder.

Puberty is beginning to hit, Buck realises, but keeps that thought to himself. Christopher's only ten, only just into double digits, but Buck clearly remembers how tenuous friendships were when he was that age. He's never seen Christopher genuinely upset before, and he frets, watching as Eddie speaks to him in a low, reassuring voice.

"It's just a misunderstanding," Eddie explains to him, one arm around his shoulders. "I know that Riley was hurt that you didn't choose him as your partner, but you just need to tell him that you thought he was partnering up with David."

"But I did tell him that," Christopher says miserably. "And he's still mad at me."

Eddie nods, glancing up at Buck briefly, before regarding him seriously again. "Maybe he feels a little bit possessive of you because you're his best friend," he says gently. "It's just a mix-up, kiddo. Why don't I come with you to school tomorrow so I can be there while you talk to him?"

Christopher gives him a long look, and then sighs and says, "No. I can do it."

Eddie nods at him, pushing his hair off his forehead. "I know you can. Instead, how about you get Carla to call Buck and I after school so you can tell us how it went? We're working a 24-hour shift tomorrow but I want to know what happens, okay?"

"Okay," Christopher agrees, worrying away at his lower lip. "I didn't mean to upset him, Dad."

"I know, buddy." Eddie hugs him close. "It's just a little misunderstanding. It'll be okay. Right, Buck?"

"Right," Buck agrees, kneeling in front of them. "You're a popular kid. I'm sure everyone wants to be your partner."

"I wish Riley had been my partner because he's better at maths than I am," Christopher complained. "But Joey asked me and I didn't want to say no."

Buck smiles at him. "These things happen," he says. "But you and Riley have been friends for a long time - you'll talk it out tomorrow."

Christopher nods, letting out a sigh, leaning against Eddie. "Do you and Dad fight?" he asks curiously.

Buck glances at Eddie, whose eyes are sparkling with amusement. "No," he replies honestly. "Because your Dad knows that I'm always right."

"Hey now," Eddie objects, and Christopher lets out a giggle. "That's not true. We have little arguments here and there but we get over them, because we're best friends."

"The bestest friends," Buck teases, and a funny, almost-wistful look crosses Eddie's face before he smiles at him affectionately.

"The bestest," he echoes, hugging Christopher close. "Real friendships - the ones that stand the test of time - have ups and downs. If you can survive the little hiccups, you can survive anything."

Looking reassured, Christopher hugs Eddie tightly and then holds out his arms so Buck can hug him as well. Buck feels Eddie's hand rest on his shoulder and closes his eyes.

~

"Wait, wait," Hen says the next day, a cup of coffee in her hand - she's stopped in the middle of the kitchen, staring at Buck quizzically. "What did you say?"

"I broke up with Taylor over a week ago," he repeats, and now everyone is looking at him with raised eyebrows - even Athena, who was only meant to be dropping by for a few minutes.

She's been at the station for half an hour.

Hen plants a hand on her hip. "Explain."

"He broke up with Taylor over a week ago," comes Eddie's dry response. He's seated at the table beside Chimney, who has half a blueberry muffin hanging out of his mouth.

"Why didn't you tell us, Buck?" Bobby asks, scratching Taylor's name off the guest list for his and Athena's annual Christmas party.

Buck shrugs, leaning back in his seat, inadvertently kicking Eddie's outstretched feet beneath the table. Eddie kicks him back, and they grin at each other. "I don't know. I've been busy," he replies honestly. "It slipped my mind."

He doesn't see the look Hen and Chimney give each other, or the way Athena raises her eyebrows at Bobby - he's too focused on Eddie, who is gazing at him fondly.

You look beautiful today, Buck thinks wistfully - Eddie looks beautiful every day, but today he looks… different. Soft; his hair falling across his forehead, his shoulders relaxed. He looks well-rested. He looks happy.

Eddie kicks him under the table again, pointedly, and in retaliation, Buck balls up a napkin and throws it at him.

"Busy," Bobby says, cutting into his train of thought. "Something else going on?"

Buck looks at Eddie again, who sits up a little straighter. "Yeah," he said, clearing his throat. "Buck's staying with me and Chris for a while. Until Christmas, maybe longer."

Everyone's silent.

He suddenly feels uncomfortable - he's not sure why they all look so confused and concerned. He looks over at Eddie again, whose eyes are on him - warm, comforting, chocolate brown eyes with just a hint of honey. Buck can't help but smile at him.

Hen breaks the silence. "Are you okay?" she asks Buck with genuine concern. "Because we've all… noticed that you've been a little quieter lately. A little more subdued. We just haven't wanted to pry."

He should be a little miffed that they've obviously been talking behind his back, but honestly, it's nice to know they care. He shrugs and says, "Yeah, um… I'm back in therapy. Things have been tough, and Eddie's throwing me a lifeline. He and Chris are keeping me on my toes. Honestly, I think they just wanted someone to cook for them."

His joke works, and the tension lifts as everyone laughs. "You learned from the best," Bobby says proudly.

"Bobby's protege," Athena adds, smiling at him warmly. "I'm sure Eddie and Christopher are reaping the benefits."

"Oh, we are," Eddie agrees.

Buck watches Hen exchange a look with Chimney, and then Chimney straightens up and says gently, "Hey, Buck… you know Maddie's coming home, right? If this is… because you're worried she's not coming back, I promise you, she's definitely coming home. She just doesn't know when."

He shakes his head. "It's not about that," he replies, and then acquiesces, "Well, not entirely. I don't know. I just haven't been happy. I was trying to make things work with Taylor, and then everything with you and Maddie happened, and before that, Eddie got shot and then we got taken hostage and…" he trails off. "It's just been a lot."

He looks over at Eddie again, who lifts his shoulders in a tiny shrug, and then smiles at him. Under the table, their feet knock together.

~

Buck's been living with Eddie and Christopher for three weeks when Eddie finally cracks.

He's been off all day, agitated, quiet, keeping to himself. Buck knows Eddie well enough by now to give him some space, but once they're alone and Christopher is in bed, he can't hold back anymore.

"What's going on?" he asks, passing Eddie a beer and taking a seat beside him on the couch. "You wake up on the wrong side of the bed or something?"

Eddie sighs, pushing his hair off his forehead. "No."

Anxiety settles into the pit of his stomach. "Did I do something?"

"No. It's not you." Eddie's brooding, staring at a fixed spot on the carpet - and with Buck's eyes boring into him, he finally relents. "The police are still wrapping up the sniper thing. I guess there was some kind of inquest or something, and they used that Victim Impact Statement I swore after it all happened in court… and the press was there."

"Taylor?" Buck asks worriedly.

Eddie shakes his head. "No, no… a different news station. While you and Hen went to get coffee this morning I saw a clip of it, and they showed my picture, and…" he trails off, staring at the rug. "And they talked about me like I was dead."

Buck sits up a little straighter. "What do you mean?"

"They kept repeating that phrase I hate," he murmurs. "Decorated war hero. Silver Star recipient. Like… that's all I am. It's been playing on a loop in my head all day." He takes an unhappy swig of beer, and heaves a sigh. "He's dead. He's dead! So why do they keep bringing this shit up? They put my picture all over the news but they don't talk about Bobby, or the woman from the 184 - why do they keep dragging me into this? I was just standing on the street, Buck. I don't even think about it anymore."

He doesn't think about it anymore?

How is that even possible? There's not a day that goes by that Buck doesn't think about the metallic taste of blood, or the way Eddie's eyes had closed, the terrifying sound of the gunshots, the shattering glass, the blood pooling on the pavement…

He's silent for too long, and Eddie finally looks at him - it's enough for him to break.

"I think about it every day," he manages to say, his throat clenched. "Every single day."

"Buck…"

"No, I mean… I get it. You were out of it, you… probably don't remember," he continues, his shoulders tense. "So you don't remember me dragging you to safety or throwing you in the truck… you don't remember any of it. But… I remember all of it. Every fucking second. Your blood was all over my face, and when I got to the hospital I stood there in the bathroom and washed it down the drain." He can barely speak, but he manages to add, "You nearly died in front of me and… every single day I wish it was me instead of you. Every fucking day."

"We talked about this," Eddie says through gritted teeth. "You're not expendable. Your life isn't worth less than mine."

Buck finally meets his eyes. "It is," he says quietly, and a look of pure heartbreak crosses Eddie's face. "It's like I said… you and Chris, you'd be okay without me. I'm not trying to piss you off, I'm just… telling you how I feel."

Eddie nods, swallowing hard - he swigs his beer and then stands, setting the bottle down on the mantle before turning to face him again. "I can't think about it," he suddenly admits. "Because I've come too close to dying too many times, and I need to be here for Christopher."

"And you will be; I'll make sure of that," Buck says quietly.

"That's not what I'm saying," Eddie says imploringly. "You need to be here as well, Buck. We're doing this together now. I've moved you in."

Buck makes a face at him, confused. "It's just temporary."

Eddie shakes his head - he's holding back, and Buck has no idea what he's actually thinking until he says, "For months I've watched you tell everyone that you're okay, that you're fine, that you're not heartbroken over Maddie and you're not traumatised from the shooting. I convinced myself that you were okay because you were still with Taylor, and you were still putting one foot in front of the other… and then I saw that bottle of bourbon and I knew you were as fucked up as I am about everything." He pauses, swallowing hard. "I remember your eyes, and the blood on your face. I dream about it. I remember you saying my name and telling me to hang on."

"I thought you never think about it anymore. I thought you were out of it," Buck murmurs.

"I don't think about the shooting or the sniper… I think about you," he admits, his voice low. "I was out of it, but I knew you were there, and… I felt safe, knowing you were there with me. Knowing that you'd take care of Christopher… If I never woke up, he'd be okay. You guys would have each other."

Buck scrubs his face with his hand, shaking his head. "You seem to have this idea that I'd be okay without you," he mutters.

Eddie barks out a laugh. "Funny," he replies. "You said the same thing."

They both fall quiet. Buck slumps back against the couch and drinks the last of his beer, lost in thought. It was his default setting - the belief that love was something that was earned by acts of sacrifice; that he was only born to save a life and so it made sense that he should go out the same way. Saving a life.

He looks up at Eddie again - he's wearing blue jeans and a brown henley, and he looks tired. Like he hasn't had a decent sleep in months. Buck feels the same way.

"Why did you ask me to stay?" Buck asks him quietly. "The real reason."

Eddie looks over at him again - his expression softens, and he says, "You make us happy."

Wow, he thinks, but self-doubt instantly creeps in. "Until you meet someone new."

"I'm not going to meet anyone new," Eddie says cryptically, and then clears his throat. "Listen… I'm not good at this stuff, Buck. I'm not good at opening up. You know that."

"You've gotten better," he points out, and the hint of a smile appears on Eddie's face.

"That's your doing," he murmurs, and then clears his throat. "But uh… I do remember that day. And I remember your face. And I dreamed about you, and I think that's the thing I remember the most. Dreaming about you."

Buck's heart begins to beat a little faster, and he sits up straight, his eyes trained on Eddie. Dreaming about me?

He wants to ask what the dreams were about, but Eddie's wandering over to take the bottle of beer out of his hand, already moving on as if he hadn't said anything at all.

"Do you think I should call the news station and tell them to stop putting pictures of me on TV?" he asks. "Or should I get Bobby to do it?"

The moment is over.

Buck says, "I think the news station would tell you that they'll do whatever they want."

"Yeah, well, I don't want to be a news story."

"But you've got a face for TV, Eds," he teases, and at that, Eddie brightens. "Of course they're using your picture."

Eddie shrugs at him nonchalantly, a smirk on his face. "Nah," he says. "You're the pretty one."

With that, he saunters into the kitchen, and Buck's jaw nearly hits the floor.

~

Something's shifted.

Something about Eddie is different - in a good way. A really good way.

Maybe it's because they finally talked about the shooting, or maybe it's because it's Christmas, and the house is decorated and presents are under the tree… Buck's not sure what it is, but Eddie's happier.

And by extension, so is he.

They're four days out from Christmas and they sit down together in Eddie's bedroom, a pile of presents on the bed, and attempt to wrap them. Buck's terrible at it, but Eddie is surprisingly good - meticulous and careful, making sure that each present is wrapped perfectly and neatly tied with a bow. He has an assortment of wrapping paper and ribbons, and he admits to Buck that he replenishes his stock every year so that the presents always look different.

There's something about Christmas that makes Eddie sparkle, and while he's never said anything, Buck thinks that deep down inside he must really love it. Maybe he keeps that part of himself hidden but it comes out during the holidays - the first year, Buck was surprised at how dedicated Eddie was to decorating the house from top to bottom, but now it's just who Eddie is. The Christmas guy. The guy who never met a bauble he didn't love.

Bobby and Athena are having a Christmas Eve party, so on the night of the 23rd, they spend the night in, watching Christmas movies. They start with Home Alone and finish with Christmas Vacation, which Christopher laughs all the way through.

Buck puts him to bed that night - he's wiped out, and falls asleep before they can even discuss what book to read. Buck shuts off the light and then retrieves the small wrapped present he'd kept hidden away at the top of the linen cupboard, and finds Eddie in the living room with the overhead lights out. The twinkling lights on the tree are the only illumination in the room; streaks of green, red and gold painted across a dark ceiling, splashed across Eddie's face.

It takes his breath away, how utterly beautiful Eddie is - he's just so lovely. He's a lovely person and he's lovely to look at; he's gentle and kind, full of empathy and compassion. The love Buck feels for him is almost unbelievable - and there's no chance, no way Eddie could ever love him back.

It should break his heart, but it doesn't. Being here is enough, even if it's rapidly coming to an end. Being with them for Christmas is enough. His home. His people.

"Eds," he says, and fears that his voice might betray him with a tremble or a stutter, but it's strong and clear. "I got you something."

Eddie turns to him, a slow smile spreading across his face. "You did? It's too early for Christmas."

"This is a pre-Christmas gift," Buck explains. "I had to buy it for you." He holds out the small wrapped box, and Eddie takes it from him, their fingers brushing together lightly.

It sends a jolt of electricity coursing through him.

He doesn't notice the way Eddie has to stop himself from reaching out to touch him again.

Buck watches as Eddie turns the box over in his hands before carefully opening the paper. It's dumb - it's not anything special, but Buck saw it at a gift shop and couldn't help but buy it for Eddie, the man who loves Christmas.

It's an ornament - a holiday armadillo, complete with a Christmas sweater and Santa hat. Eddie snorts out a laugh and looks over at his tree with its assortment of decorations, and says, "How'd you know this was exactly what we needed?"

Buck shrugs. "You didn't have one - but I didn't tell Chris, so I'm wondering when he'll notice."

"Ol' eagle eyes will notice right away," Eddie murmurs, taking the ornament out of the box and admiring it. "I fucking love Christmas," he says, almost to himself. "I love it so much."

"I know you do."

Eddie glances at him with an expression so fond it almost makes him melt. "Pride of place," he decides, stepping over to the tree. "Dead centre."

He's lit up by glowing lights as he places the armadillo on the tree, rearranging things so it stands out. With that, he takes a step back and nods approvingly.

It takes every last bit of strength and willpower for Buck not to reach out for him; to pull him into an embrace and kiss him - to stand in front of the tree and tell him how he really feels. Instead, he wanders over to the couch and begins to ready his bed for the night, humming Jingle Bell Rock under his breath, trying not to think about how Eddie's eyes seem to glitter like gold in the right light.

~

And he doesn't know that Eddie stands in his bedroom that night, pacing back and forth in an effort to stop himself from returning to the living room - he doesn't know that Eddie's willpower breaks around 2am, like it usually does, and he creeps out to the living room to watch Buck sleeping. He doesn't know that sometimes Eddie checks his pulse; he doesn't know that one night Eddie sat beside the couch and fell asleep, and had to make a dash for his bedroom when he awoke with the sunrise.

He doesn't know that Eddie has been wrestling with his feelings for months. He doesn't know that when he says things like, "I wish I was the one who was shot," it actually physically hurts him, because all Eddie has ever wanted to do, from the moment they met, is keep Buck safe. To make Buck happy. To make Buck smile.

Buck doesn't know any of this. Nobody does. Eddie never tells a soul.

~

Bobby and Athena's annual Christmas party is always a fun night. It's Christmas Eve, and it's their year to have Christmas Day off, and everyone is relaxed and loose. Buck's had a few drinks, he's stuffed full of good food, and he and Hen have even sung a couple of songs together - The Little Drummer Boy and Winter Wonderland.

When he's not entertaining everyone with his excellent singing voice - Chimney's booing be damned - he's stuck like glue to Eddie, who is wearing a maroon sweater, black slacks, and looks… unbelievably good. Happy. Light. Contented.

Christopher's hanging out with the kids - they see him from time to time; hear him laughing with Denny and Harry. Harry's doing a lot better, and the boys get into a little bit of mischief when they steal a tray of Christmas cookies from the food table and take it into Harry's room to share.

Buck busts them, steals four cookies for himself and Eddie, and promises not to tell Athena - who subsequently busts him right in the middle of his sentence.

He returns to safety - Eddie - and settles in beside him again, watching as Bobby and Michael sing a terrible rendition of Wonderful Christmastime. Eddie's laughing, a glass of wine held loosely in his hand - when they finish and everyone cheers, he turns to Buck with the softest expression.

Buck shifts so their shoulders are touching - can't not; can't fight it. Can't fight it anymore. Wants to touch. Wants to be closer; wants to press against him. Wants to know how he tastes.

They're at the back of the room - there are people around, but nobody is paying attention to them. Eddie's lips curve into a smile - his free hand slips down between them, his fingers brushing against Buck's leg. Buck turns to him, biting his lower lip - Eddie's so close; he's so fucking close, and he smells amazing and…

The moment is broken when Athena's voice rings out. "Who wants eggnog? Eggnog, anyone?"

They straighten up. Buck looks away, but Eddie's fingers nudge his leg again insistently… and before he even realises what he's doing, he slips his hand down as well and brushes their fingers together.

Eddie takes his hand and squeezes it, and Buck's heart is pounding so hard he worries that everyone in the room might hear it.

~

It's late when they arrive home, after midnight. Christopher is asleep in the back of the car, and Buck carries him inside the house and takes him down to the bedroom. Eddie follows him in, and together they put Christopher into his pyjamas and tuck him in bed. He opens his eyes long enough to mumble, "Merry Christmas," and Buck watches as Eddie presses a kiss to his forehead in reply.

I love them so much.

They don't speak until they're in the living room, and it's one single word from Eddie that changes everything.

"Evan," he says quietly, and gives Buck a desperate, yearning look.

He loves me too, Buck suddenly realises - it's like a flash of truth, like his eyes were closed and now they're suddenly open - Eddie's love has been pouring out of him for months and Buck simply hadn't realised.

He does now, though. He sees it. He sees it shining through Eddie's eyes, the way that he hesitantly reaches a hand out before attempting to pull it back - no, Buck takes his hand and pulls him in close.

For this, he can be brave.

Because this? Is everything.

"Eddie," he breathes.

They're staring at each other. The lights on the tree change colours and suddenly the room is lit up in gold, and it's a sign. Buck's not afraid anymore. Eddie loves him too.

He leans in and kisses him for the first time, and Eddie practically melts into his embrace. The kiss is tentative at first, soft, delicate. Eddie pulls back briefly and whispers his name again before leaning back in - Buck closes his eyes and lets himself be swept away in the touch, taste and feel of Eddie's lips against his own.

And then he realises they're swaying, ever so slightly, almost like they're dancing, and Eddie's smiling and holding him close, and everything makes sense.

~

He's floating on air.

He's in Eddie's bed, and they're both undressed, and Eddie's cupping his face and kissing him tenderly, as though he can't get enough. And Buck can't get enough either - he slides his hands over Eddie's warm skin, up and down his back, his fingers brushing over the raised flesh where his scars are. Eddie shivers beneath his touch.

When they finally part and take a moment to gaze at each other, it feels like Buck's eyes are open for the first time. He sees Eddie; sees all the love pouring out of him - love for him.

It feels like a miracle.

Eddie strokes his cheek, gazing at him with dark, serious eyes. "I've been trying to tell you," he admits, swallowing hard. "For weeks."

"You moved me in," Buck realises.

He nods. "Yeah. Couldn't… stand the thought of you in that loft by yourself anymore."

"You gave me the strength to break up with Taylor."

"I knew you weren't happy." Eddie grimaces, and then adds, "Not that I arrogantly think that I can make you happy, or—"

"You do," he says quietly. "You know you do."

Eddie nods, and presses a lingering kiss to Buck's forehead. "It's just that… I'm not sure how to do this, and… I'm really scared, you know?"

He nods. "Me too."

It's the truth. Falling in love with Eddie was the easy part - everything after that has been utterly terrifying. Buck's been in love once before, with Abby - but that absolutely paled in comparison to this. To Eddie, and everything they've built together.

They're lying on their sides in Eddie's beds, gazing at each other. Buck rests his hand on Eddie's hip and is surprised at how easily it fits there; how they fit together so well. Eddie's fingers trail down his face, grasping his chin briefly before sliding down to his chest - he splays his hand over Buck's heart, drumming his fingers lightly.

"I love you," Eddie breathes - his voice is barely above a whisper. "Buck? I love you."

Buck's heart soars. "I love you too, Eddie."

Eddie's smiling at him with pure adoration. "You're the only one I want," he admits. "I've been fighting it for years."

"You don't have to fight it anymore," Buck promises him, and Eddie visibly relaxes, like a weight has been lifted from his shoulders. "I'm right here with you, Eds. I've got your back. I love you and Chris so much - I'll do anything for you. You don't have to worry anymore."

"Neither do you," Eddie whispers, cupping his face again. "Listen to me - every single day I thank god that I met you. That you've had my back and literally saved my life - sometimes I think how shitty my life would be if I'd never come to California. If I hadn't met you. I found you, and… you made my life better."

Buck's suddenly close to tears. "You made my life better too," he says hoarsely. "You and Christopher… gave me a family."

"You completed ours," Eddie says sweetly.

Buck kisses him again.

He's kissing Eddie, and it's Christmas, and for the first time in a long time - maybe ever - it feels like everything is right in the world.

Well, almost everything.

~

He's thinking about Maddie even as he enjoys the best Christmas of his life - opening presents with Eddie and Christopher, drinking hot cocoa and wearing matching Christmas sweaters that Eddie lovingly picked out for them. Christopher's has a dinosaur in a Santa hat; Eddie's has three fat snowmen, and Buck's has a reindeer with a light-up red nose.

Christopher already knows about them, and Eddie admits that he asked him if he would be okay with it around the time Eddie was debating whether or not he should ask Buck to stay with them. Of course Christopher is fine with it - he's happy that he doesn't have to keep his dad's secret anymore, and when Eddie kisses Buck under the mistletoe, he looks at them with amazement. Like he can't really believe it - like he's never seen his dad so happy.

As happy as he is, Buck still thinks about Maddie.

He sends her a text around midday - Merry Christmas. I love you. I miss you. Can't wait to see you.

He doesn't get a reply, but he hasn't for weeks. That's okay. He knows she'll be back soon.

They've already decided that they're going to have a fancy Christmas dinner, so the three of them spend the afternoon in the kitchen together. Bobby gave Buck specific instructions on how to prepare the perfect turkey, and he follows them to the letter. He also bakes ham, but that's mostly for Christopher, who has loved baked ham ever since he first had it at the station Christmas party.

He's busy in the kitchen while Eddie sets the table - he and Christopher sing along with Christmas songs while he prepares their dinner. Every so often Eddie bustles back in and slides a hand across his back, or kisses his cheek, or holds the mistletoe over his head again so he'll stop and give him a proper kiss.

Eddie Diaz, Buck is discovering, is a hopeless romantic.

Buck barely registers when the doorbell rings - he's bent over in front of the oven, checking the temperature of the turkey - and he doesn't pay attention to the voices coming from the living room. Someone steps into the kitchen and he says, "Eds, come look at the turkey. It's a thing of beauty."

"It smells delicious," a familiar voice says, and Buck snaps to attention.

Maddie's standing in the doorway, wearing a sparkly red dress, wringing her hands together. Her hair is short - that's the first thing Buck notices - and when they lock eyes, she smiles at him tearfully.

"Hi," she offers, swallowing hard. "Chim picked me up this morning."

He's holding back, feeling unusually anxious. "Are you… doing okay?"

Maddie nods. "I'm taking it day by day," she replies, "but… yeah. I think I'm going to be okay."

She looks better. The last time he saw her, he hadn't realised how much she'd changed - how truly unhappy she was. He can see that she's lighter, that some of the weight has lifted from her shoulders.

Still, he holds back. "I'm sorry that I… betrayed your trust," he says, on the verge of tears. "I had to tell Chim, I just… I had to—"

"No, I'm sorry that I put you between us," she says, her hand over her heart. "I never should've done that. And I'm sorry that… I ran away, that I left you… I'm sorry I haven't been here. I told you I'd never do that again, and…" she trails off. "Old patterns are hard to break, I guess."

"Yeah, I know," he agrees, and gives her a hesitant smile. "But you're back."

Maddie nods quickly. "I'm back," she says, and holds her arms out. "For good."

Buck steps into her embrace - he wraps her in the biggest, warmest hug, and he feels whole again.

~

He, Eddie and Christopher have Christmas with Chimney, Maddie and Jee-Yun, a precursor for things to come. Buck doesn't know it yet, but they'll have Christmas together every year from then on, in some form or another.

For now, he and Eddie keep things quiet. They're stuck in that weird place between friendship and how-do-we-act-like-a-couple-now anyway, so it's easy to default to not touching, not kissing. But under the table, Eddie hooks his foot with Buck's.

After dinner, Buck walks Maddie and Chimney out to the car, mainly to steal one last cuddle from Jee-Yun. Maddie takes her out of his arms and places her in her car seat, and while Chimney makes sure she's secured, Maddie hugs him again.

"How long?" she whispers in his ear, and he freezes. "You and Eddie. How long?"

How she figured it out, he has no idea, but he breathes back, "About twenty-four hours. How did you know?"

Maddie laughs, and pats his back. "He couldn't take his eyes off you all night."

He holds a finger to his lips, and she nods, kissing him on the cheek.

Chimney straightens up, closing the car door, and reaching out to pat Buck on the shoulder. "I'm going to give the meal a nine out of ten," he says, "and it's only because you didn't make the stuffing the way Bobby does."

Buck rolls his eyes. "Go to Bobby's house then."

"Nah, I'd rather annoy you. Merry Christmas," Chimney says with a grin, and actually gives him a hug. "I hope you like the socks I picked out for you."

"You're such a giver, Chim."

"I know, Buck. I know."

~

Later that night, in Eddie's bed, cosy and warm, Buck asks Eddie the question that's been on his mind all day.

"When did you know you were in love with me?"

Eddie's head is on his chest - they've been fooling around, touching and kissing. He's seen Eddie naked a hundred times and never thought much of it until now, when he can finally put his hands and mouth all over his beautiful olive skin. Eddie practically vibrates beneath his touch and Buck loves him so much.

He takes a long time to answer, and Buck waits, carding his fingers through Eddie's hair. He's never realised how much it curls when it's free of product, and Eddie likes having his hair played with. Eddie likes to be touched, and Buck loves touching him.

Eddie finally says, "I loved you… from the start, almost. I didn't know that's what it was, but yeah, I loved you… and then I fell in love with you somewhere along the line. I figured it out when I was shot, and you were the last person I saw… the person I dreamed about, the second person I asked about - after Christopher - when I woke up. It's just taken me a while to figure it out."

Buck pushes his fingers through Eddie's hair and says, "I've wanted this for so long."

Eddie smiles sadly at him. "Me too."

"Can we just be honest with each other from now on?" he pleads, and Eddie laughs. "I'll tell you the truth, Eds. That's the deal."

"Okay," Eddie agrees. "Deal."

 


 

Epilogue

 

"Hey, Buck," a familiar voice says.

He's at the farmer's market, toddler strapped to his chest, adding vegetables to a basket - he's totally focused on that, and the little girl tugging at his collar and wanting him to blow another raspberry at her, that he doesn't react until Taylor is standing right beside him.

It's a total blast from the past - he hasn't seen her in five years.

"Oh, hey!" he says with surprise. "Long time no see. How are you?"

"I'm great," she says with a smile, and then nods at the little girl patting his face insistently. "Who's this?"

He grins, turning so she can see her fully. "This is Emma. Can you say hi to Taylor for me?"

Emma's more focused on him, and purses her lips until he blows a raspberry at her. She giggles, throwing her head back, and pats his face again with pleasure.

"She's beautiful," Taylor says genuinely. "She has your eyes."

"Ah, thanks," he replies, brushing a hand over Emma's curly blonde hair. "She's a bit of a mix of the both of us. She's got Eddie's temper."

"I heard that," Eddie says from behind him, dryly, Christopher at his side. "Hey, Taylor."

"Hi, Eddie." Taylor tilts her head to the side, regarding Buck fondly. "I feel like I've seen your whole life unfold on Instagram. The engagement, the wedding and now this… I'm really happy for you, Buck."

He laughs, glancing over at Eddie affectionately. "Thanks. We're doing really well. I saw you relocated to New York - a step up, right?"

She nods, folding her arms across her chest. "Yeah, it's going really well. I'm just back in town for a couple of weeks… I kinda hoped I'd run into you somewhere? Just to say hi, and… I'm glad you're doing well."

"I'm glad you're doing well," he says simply. "I'm still following you as well, you know."

She grins. "No hard feelings then."

"None from me, Taylor," he replies, as Emma pats his cheek and babbles at him again. "Great to see you."

"You too," she replies, smiling up at him. "Take care, Buck."

"I always do," he quips, and then spots a punnet of big, bright red strawberries. "Oh, Eds - I'll make strawberry shortcake instead of a pie. Abuela will like that, won't she?"

"If you're making it, you know she will," he replies.

Distracted again, Buck waves to Taylor before turning back to the produce. "I'll get two," he says to the lady running the stall, as Eddie's arm slips around his waist.

"You still follow her?" he murmurs in his ear.

Buck leans against him. "The only time I open Instagram is to post another picture of the baby, Eds. Don't worry."

"Hmm." Eddie kisses his cheek, pats his back, and then turns to Christopher. "Hey, Chris, we'll get burgers for lunch. Sound good?"

~

That night, when both kids are asleep, Buck collapses into bed beside Eddie, who drapes himself over him comfortably.

"We've got Christopher's parent-teacher night on Monday, and then Emma's doctor's appointment is on Tuesday," Eddie says tiredly. "And then your parents are in town on the weekend."

"Here to spoil the grandkids rotten."

"Mmm. I don't mind." Eddie smiles at him. "Weird, today. Seeing Taylor."

Buck nods. "Yeah, I haven't thought about her in years," he replies. "It just made me realise how much happier I am now."

"Settled," Eddie says through a yawn.

Buck brushes his fingers through his hair. "Yeah."

"Me too." Eddie pauses, and then adds, "Marrying my best friend was definitely the way to go."

"There was really no other choice," Buck teases, rolling them over so he was on top. "You're kinda stuck with me."

"Good," Eddie says with satisfaction. "You're the only person I want."

Buck kisses him softly, and thinks to himself, we just took the long way around, but we figured it out in the end.

~

He hasn't worn a mask in years.

He still keeps lists in his phone - things the kids have done, or funny things Eddie says. Random things that happen here and there; things he knows he'll forget if he doesn't jot them down.

He never stands outside the door to their home and thinks how he doesn't want to come inside - that feels like a lifetime ago. And sure, it's not perfect all the time - Emma comes down with pneumonia and spends two nights in hospital when she's three, and Eddie, Buck and Christopher spend sleepless nights waiting for her to be okay. Eddie's family is never easy to deal with, and Buck still has issues with his parents, but… he's thankful for everything in his life that led him to Eddie and Christopher.

His people.

His home.

 

~the end~