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cleaning up bottles with you (new year's day)

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Buck doesn’t want to leave Eddie alone.

Scared out of his mind only scratches the surface of how tonight made him feel. Christopher’s phone call. The locked door. The silence that greeted him when he finally got through. They all accumulate, a weight threatening to pull him under. He hadn’t known what he would find, and then it had been so quiet. 

Buck hadn’t even heard him breathing. He’d thought…

When it comes to losing Eddie, his mind always goes to the worst. 

Now, Buck watches Eddie’s chest rise and fall as he sleeps on the couch, fitful. His face is puffy, tear-stained, but he’s not behind a locked door. He’s alive. He’s alive. Behind relief, helplessness builds, restless energy coiling in Buck’s gut. There’s no mud to dig through, this time. No blood to staunch, no gun held to his head. Only memory. 

Buck knows what it means to be trapped there. 

He’s not leaving. Nothing could drag him away. But he can’t just sit. 

His feet carry him to Eddie’s bedroom. 

Buck hasn’t spent much time here. In the early days of Eddie’s recovery, though, there had been moments: Eddie gritting his teeth as Buck eased him into a t-shirt, murmuring apologies the entire time; Eddie staring straight ahead with determined eyes as Buck helped him into the sling again, swallowing back his pain meds without complaint. He’d been so strong. He’d cracked jokes. Buck believed them, wanted to believe them. He needed Eddie to be okay. 

Eddie wasn’t. 

Buck exhales, taking in the extent of the damage to the hinges. A part of you knew. And he had known. He watched Eddie grow thinner, more tired, quieter. He felt Eddie withdraw. 

He just hadn’t realized how deep the wound ran. How freely Eddie bled. 

But Buck has a hard time chastising himself for past blindness when Eddie’s present pain is evidenced before him, so terribly contained. An ache builds at the image springing to mind: Eddie learning what happened to Mills, setting the phone down, and locking himself in. 

Buck can’t fix Eddie. Not right now. But he can clean up the mess. 

As quietly as he can, he gets trash bags from the kitchen. He sets to work on the worst it the damage, splintered pieces of the wall, torn pillows that can’t be salvaged, the wreckage of the treadmill and the lamp. He plucks away the larger glass shards. The rest will have to wait for the morning, when he can vacuum without waking Christopher or Eddie. 

He tries to go about it perfunctorily. It’s hard, when blood from Eddie’s knuckles chart a map of his destructive path. The traces are faint, nearly too light to see, yet bile rises in the back of Buck’s throat, swift and burning. He can’t stomach the sight of Eddie’s blood. Not when he knows how it feels, splattered across his face and shirt, seeping through his fingers and flowing over paling skin, stained under his nails; not when he knows how it tastes on his lips. It’s not like when Eddie was shot, when it seemed more blood left his body with every blink. 

It’s worse now. Now, Eddie knew he was bleeding and did nothing to stop it; or perhaps, he couldn’t stop it. 

I should have realized, Buck thinks wildly. I should have realized. Eddie could have left him tonight and Buck wouldn’t have known why until he broke down the door. He would have stood there, helpless, once again the guy who couldn’t protect Eddie.

His legs shaky, Buck sinks onto the edge of Eddie’s bed, avoiding the glass. He could trace the outline of Eddie on this mattress; he sees the indent of his shoulders and hips. How many nights had Eddie lay here, sleepless? How much worse would it have gotten tonight, had Christopher not called? Buck sees a path sprawling out in his mind. He veers in the other direction before he can take it too far, then tries to inhale.

The breath snags in his throat, almost but not quite a sob. He wants to wake Eddie up and scream, Why didn’t you call me yourself? Why didn’t you call me before you got the bat out? Buck already knows why. The questions would serve no purpose, and they’re well past them. All Buck can do is make a plan for tomorrow. 

Eddie needs to lean on him, so Buck needs to make himself strong. 

Inhale. 

Eddie could likely sleep in his room tomorrow, with new sheets and a duvet. Buck will make both a priority tomorrow—Eddie’s shoulder ached even in the 118’s beds, so he doesn’t imagine the couch is doing it any favors. 

Exhale. 

There will be a tomorrow, and more after that. Buck will stay. Taylor won’t be happy, but Buck has to stay. He promised Eddie and Christopher—the next time they needed him, he’d be there. He wouldn’t leave them alone again. Taylor will have to understand. Hell, maybe she’ll like having the loft to herself for a few days. 

Inhale. 

He stands. 

Exhale. 

Buck props up Eddie’s door on his way out, leaving the frame empty. 

Eddie is still asleep on the couch, the collar of his shirt finally drying. Buck studies him, the ache in his chest intensifying. I’d carry it all for you. When he was dating Abby, he stayed awake wishing he could take her pain from her, to carry it for her. He better understands, now, that it isn’t an option. Still, the old instinct is there. He’d take all of Eddie’s pain and shoulder it himself, but he can’t, so he’s here. He’ll stay. 

Eddie will be dehydrated when he wakes. Buck gets a glass of water and sets it on the coffee table, then sits in the armchair, right at Eddie’s side. When his phone vibrates, he places it beside the cup. He assumes it’s Taylor. He told her no more lies… but he can’t tell her the truth of what happened tonight. The only person he thinks he can tell, for himself, is Maddie. Eddie would hate anyone knowing. 

So it will be between them. Just him and Eddie. 

 

***

 

Eddie wakes with a headache. 

His eyes are heavy when he blinks, his temple pounding. For a moment, the weight of last night is suspended, held in the first suggestions of morning light.

In a single breath, it returns. 

The shame creeps in first, insidious and gripping. He hears his father’s voice in his head, his drill sergeant’s, berating his lack of control. He hears Christopher’s panicked cries next. Sees Buck’s wide eyes. Eddie was supposed to keep it together. He was supposed to be in control. This was his problem. His. 

But that wasn’t working, was it? He’s afraid, more afraid than he’s ever been, and he can’t keep it in. He doesn’t know what he’s going to do next. 

He turns onto his side, hoping the heavy feeling in his chest will shift, too. It doesn’t. 

Eddie didn’t really expect it too. Not much changes, these days. 

On his side, he spots a glass of water resting on the coffee table, the ice unmelted, condensation barely sweating onto the coaster. Buck’s phone sits next to it, the screen facing up. Eddie doesn’t mean to look, but when it vibrates, he sees a text from Taylor. 

Another text from Taylor. 

Eddie knows why as soon as he glances up. 

Buck is slumped in the armchair, chin dipped into his collarbone, his clothes rumpled and arm hanging slack over the armrest, like he was reaching for the couch. His back will hurt, Eddie thinks. With Eddie on the couch, there was nowhere else for Buck to stay. 

He stayed anyway.  

He stayed. 

Eddie contained himself. He locked himself in, the same way one would box a bomb. He’d resigned himself to remaining in the aftermath with every other broken thing. Except from the couch, he spots his bedroom door, fully off its hinges, propped up on the wall. 

Buck broke through the door.

Buck pulled him from the wreckage. 

Buck…

By the door sit six black trash bags, neatly tied. 

Eddie stumbles to his feet, head pulsing. He didn’t. His heart tightens as he approaches his bedroom. He shouldn’t have. 

It’s clean. Perfectly, entirely clean. Buck saw Eddie at his worst, with blood on his knuckles and tears on his face, and decided to stay. Buck saw Eddie at his worst and stayed up all night cleaning Eddie’s mess. Buck took care of Christopher, Eddie’s heart. 

Eddie could cry again. 

“Eddie?” Buck’s voice from the living room, and then a groan. That’s his back hurting—but Eddie can’t bring himself to tease or smile. All he can do is stare at his clean room and remember his own name on Buck’s terrified lips. He’s not the only one. 

He scared Christopher, but he also scared Buck. A small part of him screams that he’s something to be feared. He did, after all, tear his entire room apart and put several holes in the drywall. But that’s not the whole truth. Christopher and Buck aren’t scared of him. 

They’re scared for him. 

“Eddie.” Buck comes down the hallway,half-running, reaching for a door to close before his hand passes through the frame. “Don’t go in there yet. I didn’t vacuum.” 

When Eddie looks at Buck, it feels like the first time. Still, he’s familiar. Still, he’s Buck. But Eddie sees something else beneath the surface, a strength he could never believe himself was for him. Buck takes care of his family. 

Eddie never knew how to ask to be taken care of. Even now, he can’t bring the words to his lips, but he blurts, “What am I going to do?” Because he doesn’t know. He doesn’t expect Buck to know, even, but he has to ask. There’s nobody else he wants to ask. 

Without hesitation, Buck says, “You’re going to make an emergency session with Frank for today. Me and Chris are going to get lunch and buy new sheets for you, stop by my apartment for some clothes, and then pick you up. I’m thinking pizza for dinner.” 

Buck’s conviction dizzies him. He could almost laugh that he didn’t expect this, because of course, of course Buck has a plan. 

“Buck.” Eddie closes his eyes and braces himself. He knows what he needs to do, what is best for everyone. “It’s too much.” 

Too much to ask. Too much to expect. Too much to reckon with, that last night, Buck stepped in so seamlessly and shielded Chris from the worst of it. Too much, too damn much, that Buck saw him like that and not only stayed, but made a plan. Eddie’s adept with rescues and disasters. It’s one thing to be there in the midst of a crisis, when the fire is still burning. It’s another to remain once it’s put out, when only smoke and ashes remain. Eddie’s afraid he’ll never be normal, but he’s also afraid Buck and Christopher will inhale too much of his smoke. 

He’s afraid he’ll suffocate them. 

“You can’t fix me,” Eddie says.

You can’t save me. 

“Not trying to.” Buck offers a half-smile. “For today, all I need you to do is go to therapy and eat some pizza. That’s it.”  

“What about after today?” Eddie presses. 

Because Buck likes to fix things. Buck likes to save people. Eddie doesn’t know if he can be fixed or saved, but he also doesn’t know how to say, I need you without also adding, if you stay now but leave later, it will break me all over again. 

“You’ll…” Buck hesitates, then say, “You’ll get better.”

“What if I don’t?”

Buck meets his eye, not a trace of insincerity in his expression. “Then I’ll still be here. Do you want breakfast before or after Chris wakes up? Oh, your water.” 

Before Eddie can protest or process the gravity of Buck’s words, Buck motions him away from the bedroom, back to the couch. Eddie sits, and Buck hands him the water. Eddie takes slow, deliberate sips. Buck turns to go to the kitchen, the pauses.

“You will, okay?” Buck says. “You’ll get better, Eddie. We’ll get you feeling normal again, whatever you want that to mean.”

Then Buck is going to the kitchen, offering a gentle smile over his shoulder. He leaves the door open, and once the water has soothed the burn in Eddie’s throat, Eddie follows.