“I just need you to take a step back, just for a little bit. It’s not permanent; it’s just until Ana and I can get our feet under us, you know?” Eddie’s eyes were worried but his smile was hopeful. Buck felt sick.
Eddie wanted him to step back, to leave. He was around too much; in their space too much; in their lives too much; always too much. God, Buck really must have exhausted them until Eddie had had enough; he couldn’t tolerate Buck anymore. Buck had to hand it to him; he’d lasted longer than anyone, besides Maddie. Maybe he should tell him that. The last man standing, finally bowing in defeat.
Rather than spit out any of the self-loathing; the apologies; or the desperate begging swirling around Buck’s mind he offered his best friend an understanding smile. An enthusiastic nod added for extra effect. “Yeah, of course, man. I totally get it.” And he did. God, did Buck get it . “You know where I am if you ever,” want me back “ …need anything.” Buck left the firehouse before Eddie could. A hollow victory.
Weeks passed in silence. He got the occasional phone call from Chris at first but even they tapered out. Eddie had been partnered with Hen whilst Chim was away so Buck couldn’t even use that as an excuse to speak to Eddie. Not that Eddie had been ignoring Buck or anything but Buck had made sure to limit their interactions; God knows he didn’t want to ruin their professional relationship too.
Bobby had given him the occasional concerned frown but Buck knew he was more than preoccupied with helping Athena recover from her attack. Hen herself was constantly prepping for her exams and barely looked up from her textbook on a good day. It left Buck free to wallow and be miserable without anyone poking or prodding at him. Though he wondered if they’d have noticed him drowning even if they had been looking. If there was something his parents had taught him it was how to present the picture perfect version of himself at all times.
It had felt strange almost, donning the ‘Evan’ mask as ‘Buck’, but it had been a necessity. He’d never had to create a ‘Buck’ mask so the trusty ‘Evan’ one had had to do. It wasn’t a perfect fit, not like it used to be, but he managed to tuck the messy ‘Buck’ parts of his personality behind the edges until not even a stray thread peeked out.
It was fine. Buck was fine. He had been alone before and he always knew he would be again. He, just maybe, had held out a small hope that it wouldn’t end up happening. The promises, made by people he’d come to call family, lulled him into a false sense of security until they were all flitting away at the same time, leaving Buck deserted, surrounded only by the shattered shards of his ridiculous hope.
He started to avoid his apartment like the plague; it only served as a reminder of how empty Buck’s life felt. He threw himself into working out, trying to stay away from Buck 1.0’s habits, though the idea had crossed his mind when he’d found himself startling awake for the fifth time in one night. Instead of heading to a bar he’d gone for a run and hadn’t stopped since.
Buck ran for hours every night he was off and hiked the longest trails he could every day he was off. He’d never been fitter and he refused to acknowledge that his increased exercise wasn’t the only reason his clothes were fitting looser these days. And if he kept a list of obscurely located cliffs in the back of his mind then that was just for him to know.
As the weeks continued to drag by, he’d begun to consider his options more seriously. There was nothing left for him in L.A. That was a fact. No Maddie. No Chim. No Eddie. No Chris. Bobby and Hen pulling further away every second. No, he had no reason to stay in L.A. He was haunted by memories on every corner, stalked by his failures down every street. But if not here then where? Did it even matter? Buck didn’t think so. Late at night he couldn’t help but think that he didn’t need to figure out somewhere to go if he left by a different method altogether. Those cliffs never felt closer than when Buck was huddled under his cold empty sheets in the pitch black.
And then Chim walked back into the firehouse as if he hadn’t been gone for months. The team greeted him loudly and warmly. Buck slipped through the side door before he could be noticed. It wasn’t that he was fearful of the man but he didn’t want to taint his reunion with the team. He wasn’t sure how long he leant against the rough brick of the building before the sound of the alarm had him sneaking back in and up into the truck unnoticed.
His phone rang as he sat staring at the ocean that night, his bare feet buried in the sand in an attempt to ground himself. The sound made him jump a mile and he idly wondered how long it had been since anyone had called him. Maddie’s name being displayed brightly made Buck’s chest ache. He wanted nothing more than to run to her and scoop her into his arms, never letting go. But that wasn’t what she needed. She needed space from him. Time. The same that she always did. The same that everyone always needed from him. Exhausting Evan who didn’t know how to do anything except drain those around him until they finally cut themselves free of him.
He answered with a quiet “Hey, Maddie.”
“Evan. Hey.” That was all she said. The urge to fill the silence, to speak first, was overwhelming but Buck reined himself back. No. Maddie needed space not Buck’s incessant babbling. “Evan, you there?”
“Are you okay?” No.
“I’m good, how are you?” He bit his lip. Was that pushing too hard? Would she hang up now, too tired from even these few words. Buck’s throat hurt with all of the ones he’d swallowed already.
“I’m… I’m better. And I'm back. For good.”
“Good, I’m glad.” The pause was excruciating.
“I… I wanted to see you. I went by your apartment but you weren’t there.” Buck wasn’t sure how much to say.
“I was out.”
“Right. Are you still?” He frowned.
“Am I still what?”
“Oh, um, yeah. I went for a run.”
“Now or earlier?” The answer was both really but it wasn’t one that would fit the ‘Evan’ mask.
“It’s a bit late isn't it?” Her laugh sounded forced; Buck grimaced. Unsure what kind of explanation Evan would give, he answered with a shrug she couldn’t see. “Well, maybe we can do breakfast?” Her cheer sounded forced too.
“Sure, the place we used to go to?”
“Yeah, normal time?” There wasn’t a normal time, not anymore. That time had stopped having any meaning long before Maddie left.
“Okay, see you then.” She hung up before Buck could say goodbye. That was at least normal.
The breakfast was stilted and Maddie's smile was fragile around the edges. Buck made sure his ‘Evan’ mask remained firmly in place. He was happy she was back; and feeling better; and was working on herself; and she didn’t blame him for not telling Chim at first; and she didn't blame him for then telling Chim later. Buck was happy for her. Really.
Or he would have been if the numbness hadn’t begun to set in months ago. If he hadn’t completely stopped himself from feeling much of anything weeks ago. Maybe if she’d come back before then he would have felt the warmth of her embrace or the comfort of her hand on his. But the barrier had been put up and Maddie hadn’t been on the inside when it happened. So now there was always going to be a barrier between them. Buck wasn’t sure he regretted it; he missed the warmth she brought now but he wouldn’t feel the cold when she left.
To celebrate the happy couple’s return Bobby had declared a team get together at his and Athena’s place at the weekend. Buck didn’t go. He was sitting on the same beach when his phone rang again. He didn’t answer it this time. He turned his phone off after the fifth call.
“Buck, we missed you Saturday.” It was the first words Chim had said to him. It was possibly the first words directed purely at Buck, in the firehouse, in a week. Buck shrugged and gave him an apologetic smile as he grabbed an apple.
“I’m just making breakfast, Buck.” Bobby scolded him. He shrugged again, taking a large bite as he left the loft as quickly as he’d come. He was still working out in the gym when the alarm went off an hour later.
A knee knocked against his as the truck drove to the scene, Buck moving out of the person’s way automatically. When the knee nudged him again Buck frowned at the offending appendage; there wasn’t exactly a lot of room to avoid everyone but they’d managed it fine every other ride. He blinked when he recognised the leg. Eddie. He hadn’t been in the back of the truck for months. Figures. He had been spoiled by the amount of room in the ambulance and was apparently struggling to adjust back. Buck looked back out the window, his legs pressed tightly against the metal.
“You good, man?” Buck frowned slightly when Eddie clapped him on the shoulder once they’d rescued the family from their house. It hadn’t been an intense scene and Buck knew he hadn’t done anything to cause concern either.
“Yeah,” He answered, probably sounding more than a little suspicious. Eddie seemed to grimace before smiling again. His hand hadn’t moved from Buck’s shoulder and he felt uncomfortable under the weight of it but throwing it off would disfigure his ‘Evan’ mask. He would have to let it rest there until he had an excuse to move away.
“You just seem…” Eddie looked like he didn’t know how to finish his sentence. “You’re just quiet today.” Buck was quiet everyday but it was no longer Eddie’s job to notice or care. He shrugged in answer. Eddie frowned at the gesture but unfortunately it didn’t dislodge his hold.
“Alright, 118, let’s pack it up.” Buck scurried away before Eddie could say anything else. His knee bumped Buck’s again on the drive back to the station.
Buck was in the bunks reading when Eddie entered, stopping at the sight of him. “Hey, man, what are you doing in here?” Buck looked pointedly at his book before meeting Eddie’s searching gaze again. He didn’t know what Eddie was looking for but he knew his mask was firmly in place and that the older man wouldn’t find a single crack. “Right.” Eddie rubbed his hand against the back of his neck as he laughed self-consciously. “I meant, why are you reading in here?”
“It’s quiet.” Buck hoped Eddie would get the hint. He didn’t.
“Okay, well, Cap made lunch so…” He trailed off meaningfully. Buck offered him a small grateful smile.
“Thanks for letting me know.” He went back to reading but Eddie hovered in the doorway.
“Aren’t you coming?” he asked eventually. Buck didn’t look up at him this time.
“Nah, I’m not hungry.”
“You didn’t eat breakfast, Buck.” He could hear the frown in his voice and a part of Buck still wanted to jump up and fix it; he forced himself to keep his eyes trained on his book.
“I ate before I came in.”
“You never do that.” He did look up then with a raised eyebrow and eyes too cold for the mask but he couldn’t fit his next words through the mouth hole anyway.
“How would you know?” Eddie flinched away from the underlying accusation.
“Buck…” When that appeared to be all Eddie could say to defend himself Buck scoffed somewhat unkindly and returned to his book once again. “Buck, please, just… just come have lunch with everyone.” He didn’t bother acknowledging that Eddie had even said anything and it wasn’t long before he was gone again. Buck ruthlessly pushed down whatever feelings were trying to bubble up in his absence.
Buck stayed in the bunks for the remainder of the shift, only emerging once someone from B Shift had come in and given him a confused frown. Inexplicably, Eddie’s truck was still parked next to his Jeep when Buck exited the building. The man himself, however, was leaning against Buck’s driver’s door.
“There you are.” Buck threw his bag into his back seat before he turned to face his ex-best friend. Eddie seemed to be studying him as he blocked Buck’s way.
“Did you need something?” The question seemed to startle Eddie as if he had been previously unaware of his position.
“Right. Um, would you- do you have plans?”
“Yeah, Buck, you know, plans? That thing where you’re intending to do something with your time.” Buck could tell he meant it to be teasing but it felt far too sharp a jab anyway.
Buck used to have plans, intentions for his time, things to look forward to. He didn’t remember the last time he had plans. “Plans for what?”
“For now?” Eddie’s brows were beginning to furrow in the way Buck always itched to smooth out. He pushed the nagging sensation away easily.
“You really waited around to ask what I’m planning to do with my life?” He still hadn’t budged an inch out of the way and at Buck’s question he only took a step closer.
Buck tilted his head slightly as he considered how to get out of this bizarre conversation. He couldn’t muscle Eddie out of the way and he could gamble that getting in Eddie’s space would make him back off but it wasn’t guaranteed. Especially considering Eddie seemed to be puffing his chest out the way he used to when he was going to be stubborn about something. So, maybe not. On a hunch, Buck started to back away slowly but not subtly. Eddie appeared to be more than willing to follow him.
“No, Buck, I waited around to ask you to come over.”
“Yes, come over, have dinner, hang out; it’s been… it's been a while.” Buck’s chest flared with pain and he had to bite his tongue against the venomous words that wanted to spill out. Eddie didn’t deserve them and Buck didn’t want to show just how pathetic he’d been in his solitude.
“As in tonight?”
“Yes, as in tonight. Follow me home?” Buck had managed to lure Eddie fully away from his door by the time he was asking Buck that with an unreadable look. Sidestepping the man, Buck shrugged and offered him an empty smile.
“I’ve got plans, sorry.” He was opening his door and climbing in before Eddie could reply but when he went to close himself in, Eddie stood in the way again.
“Tomorrow then?” His voice almost sounded pleading to Buck but he had no idea what Eddie was pleading for. All he wanted to do was go find somewhere to run himself to the ground and, at each obstacle Eddie was throwing up, Buck could feel the anxious energy increasing its buzzing under his skin.
“I’ve got plans.” Buck was going to run himself into the ground tomorrow too.
“Buck, please. Just-” Eddie’s hand reached out as if to touch Buck but he flinched away before he could control the movement. A crack in the mask. He thought Eddie almost looked hurt but Buck wasn’t sure what could be hurting him. “Just one dinner, please, Buck.” It was whispered into the space between them. “I know I don’t deserve to ask but Christopher misses you. Please, Buck.” There was a sudden stinging behind Buck’s eyes that wasn’t as easy to push down as it should have been.
God, how Buck yearned to see Chris again; his heart hurt every time he thought about him. He knew Christopher probably didn’t miss him, not really, but Buck missed him so badly. His resigned sigh was inevitable as soon as Eddie said his son’s name.
“I’ll follow you back to yours.” He had to fight to keep the emotion out of his voice. Buck knew he was going to have to run that much further tonight if he was going to get even an hour of sleep.
“Thank you, thank you. Okay, I’ll, um, see you there.” Eddie stepped back but he did it slowly, his eyes never leaving Buck’s. As soon as he could, Buck swung his door closed, desperately needing the physical barrier if nothing else.
Eddie didn’t leave his truck until Buck had parked his Jeep in the street and hopped out. “There was room to park in your usual spot, I can move your-”
“It’s fine where it is.” It wasn’t his usual spot. Not anymore. Besides he assumed Ana would be parking in that spot now and Buck wouldn’t get in the way again.
“Okay, if you’re sure. If you change your mind later I can-”
“Are we going in or did you change your mind?” Buck interrupted as Eddie seemed to be intent on babbling, something Buck was sure he didn’t used to do, rather than opening his front door.
“Oh, right, yeah, um…” Eddie finally opened the door, giving Buck a small smile over his shoulder.
He couldn’t help but hesitate at the threshold but before Eddie could do more than frown the clack of crutches against the floor headed towards them. Bracing himself for whatever the boy’s reaction was going to be, Buck waited stiffly. “Hey, Dad, did you- BUCK!” The yell that exploded out of him upon seeing Buck stood in the doorway had the annoying stinging back in his eyes.
“Buck! Buck! You’re here!” Chris threw himself bodily at Buck, somehow still trusting that Buck would catch him, as he wailed. As soon as Buck had lifted him in his arms the boy wound his limbs tightly around him, stuffing his face into Buck’s neck. He felt wetness against his skin and soaking into the collar of his shirt, causing him to tighten his arm around Chris’ waist and bring a hand up to cradle the back of Chris’ head.
“Chris? What is it? What’s wrong? Are you okay?” Buck felt himself becoming frantic as the boy simply shook his head. He made eye contact with Eddie who looked to be on the verge of crying too as he watched the scene but made no move to intervene. “Chris, come on, kiddo, talk to me, please?”
“I missed you so much, Buck. You can’t ever leave again!” The answer was muffled but Buck heard every pain filled word. It felt like getting punched in the gut. He could feel cracks all across his mask so he dropped his face to hide in Chris’ curls. He took the opportunity to inhale the scent of his shampoo, still the same comforting smell after all this time.
“I missed you too, so much. More than anything.” The confession was just for Chris, too quiet to carry down the hall to Eddie.
“I love you. I nev-never said it to you. Is that why you w-went away?”
“No, buddy, not at all. I promise you. I love you, too. You’re my favourite person in the whole wide world and always will be, no matter what.” The words finally seemed to calm Chris, his head shifting to lay against Buck’s shoulder. Buck gently wiped the tears from his reddened cheeks. “Okay?” He nodded, a small smile popping out before fading just as quickly. He fisted his hand in the front of Buck’s shirt tightly.
“I’m not going anywhere; your dad invited me over for dinner.”
“No. Ever.” Rather than address the freezing pain that caused, Buck pasted a light smile on his face.
“Hmm, do you think Bobby would let me do my job from here? I could get a really long hose and lean out your window, what do you reckon, little man?” The teasing had the desired effect, Chris giggling with a smile that stayed. Buck relaxed slightly as they started debating the logistics of Buck firefighting from Eddie’s house. Eddie, curiously, had disappeared into the kitchen as soon as Buck had sat down on the couch, Chris firmly in his lap.
He encouraged Chris to talk about the latest school yard drama as soon as his eyes started getting watery again, keeping him distracted from his sudden clinginess. He added his own hiking adventure stories when he started to get quiet again. When the boy asked to see pictures Buck stated that he was too busy appreciating the view to remember to take pictures. He didn’t tell him that he hadn’t seen the point in taking pictures when he had no one to show them to.
Eddie finally reappeared, declaring that he had ordered pizza rather than attempting to cook himself or forcing Buck to cook. Buck was pretty sure he just didn’t want Buck thinking he could get comfortable here again. Not that Eddie had to worry about that; Buck might be a slow learner but he liked to think he had finally learnt his lesson.
“Is Ana on her way?” Chris stiffened in his lap, his head swinging round to his father who was wincing and rubbing the back of his neck.
“Ms Flores’ coming over? You said-” The fury in Chris’ voice shocked Buck, making him gape down at him.
“Ana’s not coming over, mijo. I hadn’t gotten around to telling Buck that we broke up is all.” He glanced over at Buck as he placated his son, his hands up in surrender. And suddenly things were making a little more sense to Buck.
“Oh. I’m sorry to hear that.” He muttered but his gut twisted uncomfortably as he realised that just being in Eddie’s house again had started to rekindle his stupid, stupid hope. Only now, hearing that Eddie had wanted him around because the Diaz boys were clearly missing the now ex-girlfriend and he knew he could get Buck to fill that gap until he found someone else, did that hope crash again.
“Don’t, Dios, Buck, don’t be sorry for that.” Eddie’s voice was low but insistent, his brown eyes burning into him even from the other side of the room. Chris had relaxed in his arms again and was quietly watching their interaction. Not knowing what Eddie wanted him to say, what he was meant to be sorry for, Buck didn’t reply.
Eddie’s shoulders seemed to droop a bit before he appeared to shake off the weird moment. “Okay, you want to pick a movie, mijo?”
“Yes!” And then the boy was off, debating the pros and cons of the movies that had been released in Buck’s absence and that Chris insisted Buck watch with him. By the time a movie had been picked the pizza arrived. Buck was surprised to find Eddie had ordered him his favourite but didn’t comment on it. He watched the movie quietly with Chris sat between him and Eddie on the couch.
The boy kept up a running commentary, only requiring minimal input from Buck and Eddie, so Buck was mostly free to stare blankly at the screen as he fought the instinctive relaxing of his muscles. He screamed at them that this was temporary, they weren’t really back, but his body wasn’t getting the message.
Finally the film was over and the renewed attention from both Diazes had Buck’s anxious energy returning full force. “Alright, buddy, I’ve got to get going.” He ruffled Chris’ curls, expecting a playful whine of indignation but the boy launched himself onto Buck’s lap instead, latching on again. “Whoa, what-”
“You can’t leave, Buck!” Buck looked at Eddie, completely at a loss for how to detach the man’s child from himself. Eddie’s face had returned to the sad expression he’d worn when Chris had clung to him earlier.
“No! You said I had to spend time with Ms Flores so I could see my Buck and I spent time with her but I still didn’t get to see Buck. You promised I could see Buck!” The boy was positively glaring at his father, his hand twisted harshly in Buck’s shirt.
“You can see him, Chris, okay? Whenever you want, as long as Buck’s free, you can see him.”
That was news to Buck. He didn’t particularly want to start spending time with Chris again only to have him taken away as soon as Eddie felt like it. Not only would the pain possibly kill him this time round but it would only succeed in confusing the boy and he didn’t deserve that. But Buck had always been weak when it came to Chris. To both of the Diaz boys really.
“We’ll figure it out, Chris.” Buck reassured him though he was pretty sure that whatever they ended up figuring out was going to hurt one or both of them in the process. “But right now I need to go home and you need to get ready for bed.” The sound of sniffles broke whatever was left of Buck’s heart so he let loose the chokehold he had on himself and allowed himself to cuddle him close.
“I don’t w-want you to go-o.”
“Shh, it’s okay; I’m not going far. And the quicker you go to sleep the sooner you’ll see me again.” He placed a lingering kiss amongst his curls before standing and gently depositing him back onto the couch. Chris looked up with streaming eyes and a wobbly lip but he still smiled as he held his pinkie up.
“Promise?” Buck looked at Eddie for some kind of direction but he was averting his face as he tucked Chris under his arm. Without any other option, Buck curled his finger around Chris’ much smaller one.
“Promise. You’ll see me again, Superman.” Buck ruffled his curls one last time before leaving the suddenly suffocating house as quickly as he could.
That night Buck ran until his legs collapsed underneath him, landing in a heap on a random street. He sat there until the first rays of sun started peeking over the tops of the nearby buildings. When he finally got back to his apartment he sprawled across his couch but sleep continued to evade him.
It was barely ten in the morning when there was a knock on Buck’s door. He startled so badly he flipped off the couch, banging his elbowing on the coffee table. His curse turned into a groan as he tried to stand on his wobbly legs. Grumbling under his breath, he managed to make it to the door by the time there was a third round of knocking.
Finding a blank faced Eddie on the other side was an unpleasant surprise. “Hi?”
“You gonna invite me in?” Sighing, Buck stepped aside as Eddie strutted into his apartment, not stopping until he was sitting at the dining table. Buck really was not in the mood for whatever the hell this was today. Nevertheless he offered his guest a drink, pouring both of them a glass of water before he sat across from his ex-best friend.
“I’m here to apologise.” Buck’s fingers flexed around his glass.
“For what?” In an unexpected burst of energy, Eddie pushed away from the table and started pacing back and forth.
“‘ For what’? Jesus Christ, Buck, I’m not sure there’s much that I don’t need to apologise for! I mean I fucking told you to take a step back! What kind of asshole does that? And I had all these ridiculous excuses in my head for why but none of them were logical or even reasonable. And God knows none of them were good enough . You’re- you’re my best friend and I just… I...”
He took a deep breath before retaking his seat. Buck was sure his mouth was hanging open but he couldn’t find any words to say. Eddie ran his hand through his hair sending it in every direction but seemed unfazed as he stretched across the table to lay his fingertips lightly on Buck’s forearm. “Evan, I can’t ever express to you how sorry I am. You didn’t deserve it. And it wasn’t what Chris or I wanted. You could, uh, probably tell from yesterday.” He cleared his throat before continuing on. “I’m sorry for that too. I didn’t mean to blindside you, I just thought…Dios, I don’t know what I was thinking. I’m pretty sure that’s why we’re in this mess; I wasn’t thinking.” Eddie laughed awkwardly as he leant back again, crossing his arms with his shoulders hunched forward.
Buck sighed, his fingers starting to tap restlessly against his glass. “Eddie.” The man’s head snapped back up to Buck but his shoulders seemed to hunch further as if bracing himself. “You don’t have anything to apologise for.”
“Buck.” His name came out strangled, Eddie seemingly horrified for some reason.
“Come on, it’s not as if I didn’t know that I was around too much. I’m sorry that you had to tell me when I knew better.”
“No, Buck, God, no. You weren’t around too much; you could never be around too much. We want you with us all the time, that never changed. Ana suggested- I thought-” Eddie sighed as he ran both hands through his hair.
“Chris was struggling. He didn’t want to spend time with Ana, so Ana was frustrated because all he ever wanted was to see you. She- She said that maybe if he spent more time with her and less with you, just long enough for him to be happy with her, then it would help in the long run. And I… I didn’t like it, Buck. You have to know it wasn’t what I wanted; I never wanted space from you or distance between you and Chris. But I knew that if it was just for a little while we would still be okay. And, Dios, I wanted it to work with her so badly, you know? I was- I was desperate. Like, if I could make it work with her then I wasn’t a complete fuck up and maybe my parents would be proud of me for once. Fucking pathetic, I know.”
Buck was amazed as he watched tears start falling down Eddie’s cheeks, being harshly wiped away before they could get very far. He wondered if Ana had been the one to bring out this side of Eddie. He certainly hadn’t seen it before.
“That’s… It’s okay to… do that, Eddie. Of course you want your parents’ approval and your relationship to work. No one can begrudge you that. You did what you had to for your family; you don’t have to apologise for that.” Buck tried to keep a kind smile on his face but he knew his eyes were still empty. He hoped Eddie couldn’t see it because he meant what he was saying. It just hurt to feel much of anything, let alone happiness, for the man right now.
Eddie shook his head emphatically. “No, I didn’t. Ana is not my family but you are. And God knows I didn’t do any of this for you.” His laugh was a little bit manic. Buck shook his head slowly, causing Eddie to frown at him.
“I’m not your family, Eddie.” And that only caused more tears to trail down from his big watery eyes. Buck could have sworn he felt his heart clench; he didn’t want to hurt Eddie. He never wanted to hurt anyone.
“Evan. You are my family. You always will be. A-and even if you don’t want to be a part of our family anymore I will always consider you family. There is nothing anyone can do, including you, to change that.” Buck sighed, his eyes flicking down to watch as he smeared condensation around his glass.
“Eddie…I don’t know what you want me to say.”
“You don’t have to say anything, Buck. I know I hurt you and maybe I’ll never make it up to you but I’m going to spend the rest of my life trying.”
He looked back up to be met with a painfully earnest Eddie leaning across the table towards him. His hand was midway towards him as if he’d gone to reach out again and had stopped himself. It caused an uncomfortable twisting in Buck’s gut. He looked down again. “We both know that’s only going to last as long as it takes for you to find someone else.” Hearing the sharp intake of breath his eyes shot up as he hurried to reassure the man. “And that’s okay, Eddie! You need a partner and neither you nor Chris deserve to be alone whilst you’re looking. But…” He swallowed around the sudden rush of emotions that tried to crawl up his throat. “But I can’t be that for you. I’m too needy and too clingy and it… It did hurt the first time around and I’ve adjusted, you know; so I can’t-can’t go back to being your fill in. I’m sorry.” His eyes lowered in shame. He wished he were stronger and he liked to think he had his moments, but with this? This he would never be strong enough to do.
Eddie got up, accompanied by the loud screech of the chair, before he stumbled around to Buck. When he dropped to his knees in front of Buck, tears streaming down his face, Buck’s breath caught in his chest. “Buck, I swear to you. I will never do anything like this again. I swear on Christopher’s life that I will never willingly leave you or let you leave us ever, ever again.”
“No, Buck, listen. You are it for us, for me. There’s not going to be another girlfriend or boyfriend. Only you. I only want you. God knows I don’t deserve you but I am begging you to give me another chance. I won’t let you down again. I-I…I love you, Evan.”
And then tears were welling in Buck’s eyes and making their journey down his face. The pressure in his chest finally easing after months of holding back the tide. His heart soared free of its cage and his mask fell away. “I love you too.” Eddie’s resulting smile was blinding. He lifted gentle hands to cup Buck’s face, wiping his tears away with strong thumbs.
“There will never be anyone else for me, Evan. I love you so much and I am so sorry, mi amor.” Buck’s breath hiccuped as he tried to get himself back under control. Not the chokehold he’d had before but enough to not be a complete and total disaster.
“Just don’t-don’t do it again, Eddie, please. I love you both so much and I can’t-”
“Shh. Never again; I promise.” He pulled Buck down into his warm embrace and Buck obliged, burying his wet face into the crook of his neck. He felt Eddie press his lips against his head and his arms tightened around him. “I love you” was murmured into his curls and then pressed into his temple before resting softly against his lips. The slow meeting of their mouths was chaste but Buck had never felt safer in his life.