This is a bad idea.
Buck knows, from the moment he pulls up to the small cottage Eddie’s renting, that this is most likely not going to end well. And by that, he means it’s almost certainly a definite. It’s been a few weeks since their tentative truce at the station, but no matter how hard he tries he still can’t manage to find actual common ground with his best friend. Buck’s never felt so goddamn lost when it comes to Eddie, and it’s a feeling he really doesn’t like.
He also can’t help but feel like in their absence from each other they’ve managed to actually drift farther apart than Buck had ever really considered. It was something that had seemed impossible before it actually happened.
Their friendship had birthed faster than Buck’s ever experienced. He remembers it all, remembers feeling like he was punched in the chest when he first laid eyes on Eddie; with attraction, with jealousy, interest, and absolutely everything in between.
Now, though. Now, he can barely get the man to look him in the eyes.
Buck screwed up, with the lawsuit and dropping contact without notice, but this -- uneven ground -- is one of the things that makes it readily apparent just how much he hurt Eddie with his impulsivity.
Having that knowledge, carrying it around, it really sucks. Buck’s been known to take it hard when he’s at fault for the pain of someone else, but with Eddie it cuts especially deep.
Even though he can’t take back the lawsuit, there is a large part of him that wishes he at least had foresight. Foresight to let Eddie know what he was planning to do (and maybe, just maybe, there is a small part of him that wishes Eddie would try to stop him, even), foresight to see how much damage he was about to do. Buck knows that it would have changed everything.
And the thing is, he doesn’t even blame Eddie for how upset he is about everything. If it were reversed, Buck would be pissed, too. He never could have imagined Eddie would care enough to be upset at him in the first place.
Still. There’s no excuse. Buck knows that, and he’ll spend the rest of his life apologizing to Eddie if that would make things better between them.
(He hopes it will.)
He’d be lying if he said it doesn’t throw him through loop after loop, though. They’re best friends, sure, but it’s not like Buck really has the healthiest view on what it means to being best friends with someone. Buck is always used to being the one who cares the most, tries the most, loves the most.
He breathes out a sigh.
Buck has to fix this. Buck will fix this. Despite the reality that he’s most definitely scrambling at the broken pieces of his relationship with Eddie, he still finds himself wanting to spend more time with him. Buck seeks him out during work, internally cheering whenever Cap pairs them up. Eddie doesn’t ever look nearly as pleased, but that’s okay. Buck could take that, as long as he remains close.
They made up nearly a month ago, now, but Buck still hasn’t actually been successful at getting Eddie to hang out with him outside of work.
Eddie’s always busy.
Buck has no idea with what. Apparently, he lost the privilege of asking with the lawsuit.
Funny, that. How Buck only went through with it in the first place to try and get everything back. Now, though, now he’s lost even more than he had going into it.
His chest aches at the thought, and his hands clench against the steering wheel. He breathes out another sigh, trying to will himself to finally move out of the car and onto the porch. He’s been here for almost thirty minutes, and the man still isn’t home. Suddenly the excuses Eddie fed him about being pulled between meetings and other obligations doesn’t seem so much like avoidance. It’s nearly eleven and the man isn’t home. Maybe it is as simple as being busy.
Buck’s startled out of his thoughts by a sharp knock on the window. He jumps, higher than he’d ever admit to, and turns so fast towards the sound he swears he almost gives himself whiplash.
Of course, it’s Eddie.
His face, miraculously, is free of bruises tonight. It’s something that buck is absurdly grateful for; he’s not sure how much longer he can stand the sight of bruises so plain on Eddie’s face. Eddie won’t open up about it, or even acknowledge there’s something wrong in the first place, either. It doesn’t matter how or where he pokes, Buck can’t seem to push him enough into talking about it. It’s frustrating, to be faced with yet another wall Eddie refuses to knock down between them.
A wall he wouldn’t have hesitated with before.
Buck knows part of him deserves it.
It’s why he’s never held Eddie’s feelings against him.
Buck rolls down his window, finally. “Hey, man,” he greets like he’s not suspiciously hanging outside his best friend’s house for no reason.
“Hey, man ?” Eddie repeats, and the weight of disbelief in his tone is the only thing that drowns out the latent anger. “Really? Why the hell are you even here, Buck?”
Underneath everything else, though, his voice is tired . Buck’s heart aches; he doesn’t think Eddie’s ever used that tone on him before, not in the beginning. Not even when he probably deserved it. It’s somehow worse than anything else he’s heard in his voice tonight.
“Um,” Buck says, eloquently.
He takes a breath. “I wanted to talk to you.”
Eddie raises an eyebrow, scoffing softly. “What would we have to talk about?”
Buck ducks his head, fingers flexing around the steering wheel. He had expected Eddie to be less than friendly, but this far icier than he’s prepared for. For the first time, he’s afraid he’s already too late, the damage irreparable.
Eddie may have forgiven him, but maybe that’s as far as he’s willing to take this anymore.
“We have a lot to talk about, Eddie. You know that,” Buck says, and if his tone is just a tad bit desperate, then that isn’t anyone’s business but his own.
“I’m not going to invite you inside,” Eddie says, squaring his shoulders. “If that’s what you’re waiting for out here. Whatever you need to say to me, you can say right here.”
That stings even worse. It must show on his face because the briefest flashes of guilt bleeds into Eddie’s gaze. He doesn’t retract his statement, though; instead he seems to harden his stance, as if to make his words ring true to himself, too.
“Oh,” Buck says, honestly a bit lost for words. There is bile crawling up his throat, his hands are gripping the steering wheel so tightly by now that his knuckles are starkly lit against it. He needs, with sudden ferocity, to be absolutely anywhere other than here. Talking to Eddie doesn’t seem as important anymore.
If anything, he should probably take this as a sign.
There really is no other way for Eddie to make his feelings clearer.
This is what you get , he tells himself, this is what you get for pushing it.
“Well, um. That’s that, then. Thanks, I guess, for letting me know. So I didn’t waste anymore time out here. I’ll just -- yeah, I’m gonna go, man.”
Tears are tickling along the rim of his eyes and he knows he’s not going to make it much longer without losing all control. So, Buck goes to roll up the window to make his escape, but it seems like Eddie’s made a decision himself, as he’s leaning forward before Buck can. Leaning over like this has him blocking his path, unless he’s in the business of pissing off his (actually still estranged?) best friend. That’s definitely not something he subscribes to, especially not now.
Getting back into Eddie and Christopher’s good graces is just about the only thing he can bring himself to subscribe to anymore.
Maybe not so much now , but.
Buck is not one to give up. He can’t let that change now. He only needs to go home, regroup and lick his wounds.
He narrows his eyes at Eddie when the man refuses to move. “ Please .”
“Buck,” Eddie sighs, shaking his head tiredly. “Why do you keep pushing this?”
“It was a mistake. The whole thing was a mistake, Eddie, I swear .”
“I know it was, but there’s a lot I still need to work through, and you still did it. Forgiving you for the job and forgiving you… that’s something I haven’t reached. Yet.”
Buck laughs, though it comes out humorless and more of a sob than anything.
He’s only been kidding himself this entire time, hasn’t he?
“Yeah, yeah I get that, man, I do. I don’t want to rush your process or anything, I just miss you, and Christopher, and I guess I’m kind of starting to realize just how badly I screwed up. I knew how badly, but I -- I didn’t know what else to do at the time.”
Some of the anger returns. “Really? You had at least ten options at your disposal, Buck, don’t give me that. You could have come to me .”
Buck snorts. “Yeah, what? So you could tell me to suck it up again? That my life isn’t over just because I’m not a firefighter anymore?”
Buck feels sick satisfaction at the way Eddie flinches, and hates himself for it.
“Buck, that’s not fair--”
“Really? It isn’t fair?” Buck asks. “This job is all I have, Eddie. It’s everything to me. My life didn’t even really begin until I moved out here and found it to begin with. Don’t you understand that?”
“You can’t really believe that,” Eddie argues, incredulous.
“Why can’t I?”
“You have Maddie, and Bobby, and everyone else on the team. You have --” Eddie cuts himself off.
Buck bites his lip so he doesn’t do something he regrets, like ask who exactly Eddie was going to mention before aborting the statement. He’s not sure he really wants to know.
“They’re my family, yeah, but they’re -- I’m not their problem or their responsibility. I’m on the one who has to deal with myself when I go home to my apartment every night, not anyone else.”
Buck cuts him off, not yet done.
“I need you to know that if I would have known how much this would have pissed you off, I wouldn't even have considered it. I just wanted to be back with you guys. I didn’t want to be left behind.”
“I’m not angry ,” Eddie says, angrily. He must realize how it sounds as he makes a face before taking a breath. He amends, “I’m not just angry. I -- I never expected you to leave us.”
Buck feels the tidal wave of guilt crash through him. Hurt is even worse. He doesn’t know if he can deal with that. Hurting the people he cares about is something he doesn’t handle well, which is only more mortifyingly ironic since his impulsivity tends to make that hard to avoid sometimes.
“I especially never wanted to hurt you. Any of you. I’m sorry for everything with the lawsuit and the lawyer. I don’t blame you for being mad at me, Eddie, I guess I just suck at dealing with it.”
Eddie’s expression softens, and this time when he takes a breath it sounds a little more controlled.
“I’m not exactly being fair to you,” Eddie admits to him, and glances back at the house. “It’s getting late.”
Buck swallows. “Yeah. I should probably get going.”
“No. We should continue this conversation inside. I shouldn’t be so dismissive with you, and I am sorry for that.”
Buck isn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth. They’ve already said more to each other than they have in the last month alone. He could be walking into his doom and he wouldn’t care in the slightest; at least Eddie is actually talking to him again. They have more to discuss, anyway. There’s a lot that’s been left unsaid between them, even if there are some stones he feels reluctant to turn over.
“Okay,” he whispers.
Eddie nods, finally stepping away from the car so Buck can roll up the window and step out of the car. Eddie takes off towards the house without glancing back to make sure Buck is following. He sighs, takes a breath to steady himself, and follows the other man to his front door.
“I’m going to go check in with Carla and relieve her,” Eddie tells him softly as he opens the door so they can enter the house.
“Yeah, sure,” Buck says, and then proceeds to stand awkwardly in the doorway while he waits for Eddie to return.
He can hear the hushed tones of the two of them talking to each other, though he can’t make out what exactly they’re saying. There’s the soft call of laughter. It makes Buck bite his lip, run a hand through his hair; not too long ago he could’ve been there with them. It sends ugly feelings flooding through him, all the anger and resentment built up he pretends doesn’t exist.
Carla stops on her way out when she notices Buck standing by himself like a loser. Her eyebrows raise, probably for not already being sprawled out on the couch like he usually is. There are now unwritten boundaries in the sand. The last thing he wants to do is ruin them.
He doubts she knows the extent of everything, especially since she wastes practically no time at all to close the distance between them, pulling him into a bone-crushing hug.
It makes him smile. He really has missed her.
“Buckaroo!” she greets. Carla pulls away a few seconds later to narrow her eyes at him. “About damn time you showed your face around here again. You sure know how to let a girl know when you’re going to drop off the planet for a bit.”
Buck can feel his ears turn red to accompany the guilt that churns in his stomach.
“Carla,” he says, voice warm despite the internal war of emotions. “I’m sorry. Let me make it up to you? I do know a lot of great lunch spots. My treat.”
Her expression folds in on itself within seconds and then she’s smiling at him again. “You know I can never stay mad at this face for long. We can talk more about you treating me to lunch soon.”
Buck smiles at her, unable to help it despite his mood. Carla is an angel and she always brings out the best in him.
Carla presses a kiss to his cheek before she heads for the door, wishing him a good night as she goes. He waves after her, distantly aware of the soft padding of Eddie’s footsteps making his way back to the living room after, presumably, checking on Christopher.
“Is Christopher doing better?” Buck asks as soon as Eddie is fully in view.
An unreadable expression takes over his best friend’s face, only this time it doesn’t look completely negative, or negative at all, really. Buck can’t make it out for the life of him, but the near permanent furrow between Eddie’s eyebrows all but disappears, which he counts as a win.
“He’s doing better,” Eddie finally says. “You calling him last week really helped. I don’t think I ever thanked you for that, actually.”
Buck breathes a sigh of relief. “You did, but it’s nice to hear again. I’m glad he’s doing better, I was really worried about him for a while. I know how terrifying those nightmares can be,” he admits, perhaps a bit uncomfortably.
And just as quickly as it disappeared, the furrow seems to be back.
“What do you mean?”
Buck’s hand comes up to scratch the back of his neck in discomfort. He knows he doesn’t need to be; Maddie and Chimney have told him enough that it’s a natural part of working through trauma, but he finds himself feeling more than a little ashamed of having nightmares in the first place. Nightmares are something he had hoped he’d left behind in childhood, but if he’s being honest with himself, it’s not like he’s ever been very good at outrunning them.
Especially not when it really mattered.
“I have them sometimes. A little more frequently than I’d like, I guess.”
Eddie blinks at him. “About the tsunami?”
He nods. “Yeah. And the truck, too. Never thought I’d find a nightmare worse than a never ending cycle of getting crushed by a ladder truck, but the tsunami was a real game changer.”
Eddie’s fist clenches at his side. “And you said nothing about them?”
“I didn’t want to burden you,” Buck explains, wincing as he already knows what Eddie will have to say to that . “And with everything that happened last year with Maddie… I couldn’t talk to her about it, either. Not when she had her own baggage to deal with.”
Eddie’s been standing at the far edge of the living room since he walked back into view, but now he takes a cautious few steps forward, eyes fixed on Buck’s face the entire time. Buck watches him carefully, not because he thinks Eddie is a threat, but more because he’s never been able to keep them off of him for long before anyway.
“You’re not a burden, Buck. I would have helped you.”
Buck shakes his head, sucking his lip loudly between his teeth. “I know you would have, but I’m glad I didn’t go to you. Christopher’s trauma is enough to navigate, no use in adding mine to the mix.”
“I didn’t tell you I’d have your back just for fun, Evan,” Eddie whispers.
Buck freezes, momentarily paralyzed from the weight of Eddie, for the first time he’s heard it, using his first name. “What?”
“Those aren’t words I say lightly, Buck,” Eddie continues. “They’re born out of necessity overseas, I’ll admit that, and while it’s something that’s implied with the rest of the team, I said it to you for a reason. ‘Cause I meant it all the time. Including nightmares and any other demon you’re struggling with.”
Buck chokes on his next words, “I guess I was scared of hearing you tell me to suck it up again.”
Eddie flinches again. It isn’t nearly as satisfactory this time.
“I’m sorry,” whispers Eddie, and it sounds like it’s torn from his throat. “I shouldn’t have belittled your situation like that.”
“I understand why you said what you said, Eddie. I’m not mad or anything like that. I just didn’t want to contribute more to how pathetic you must think I am.”
Almost as if he can’t stand to be so far apart from him any longer, Eddie closes the remaining distance between them to sit beside Buck on the couch. He doesn’t reach forward to touch him or anything like that, but it’s as close as Eddie has voluntarily put himself to Buck in the last few weeks. It makes his heart pound, having him so close like this.
“Buck, I don’t think you’re pathetic. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone stronger.”
Buck snorts, unable to help the laughter that spreads through him like fire.
“Now I know you’re only trying to get back in my good graces again for what I said earlier,” Buck says.
Eddie’s hand settles on the top of Buck’s knee like a brand. It takes every last drop of willpower to stop himself from pushing his knee into the touch.
“Would I ever lie to you?” Eddie asks, tone earnest and packed full of that same emotion that’s so hard for him to name. “You’ve survived more than I thought capable of someone.”
“Eddie--” Buck starts to protest, cheeks flaming red at the unadulterated praise leaving his best friend’s mouth.
“I mean it, Buck. You’ve nearly died three times in the last year alone. I almost want to wrap you in bubble wrap. Or maybe make you your own personal bubble.”
“I think there’s only one man on earth who can pull off that look, and it definitely isn’t me,” Buck jokes.
“I’m serious, Buck.”
“So am I. I know I’m not a practical kind of guy, but bubble wrap, Eddie? That just sounds all kinds of terrible.”
“Why do you make caring about you so damn difficult?” Eddie asks, voice gaining some of the angry notes it’s lost since Buck’s self-deprecating meltdown.
“I don’t mean to,” Buck says, so softly he’s not sure if it’s even audible.
The hand on his knee squeezes, Eddie’s face soft and open and it’s like coming up for a breath of fresh air after spending too long buried.
“I know you don’t. This whole thing has kind of spiralled out of control, hasn’t it?” Eddie asks.
“Yeah,” Buck says. “I never meant for it to get like this. I didn’t mean to push you away, I’m sorry. I’ll spend the rest of our friendship making it up to you, Eddie, I swear.”
Eddie squeezes again. It’s only then that Buck makes the connection that Eddie is still touching him. He can’t help himself this time, and foolishly, selfishly, leans into the touch.
“None of that. It’s not going to be a thing anymore, okay? I’ve been so angry and focused on the past that I haven’t allowed myself to enjoy that you’re back.”
Hope sinks its claws in the base of Buck’s spine and tugs. “You really missed me that much, huh?”
Eddie just gives him a flat look.
The pressure at the base of his throat suddenly lifts. Maybe this is really happening, maybe Eddie is really saying all these things to him, affirmations and apologies he never expected in the first place. It’s honestly so relieving he thinks he might blackout for a moment.
“I missed you, too, Eddie.”
A small, almost shy smile teases at Eddie’s lips. “It’s getting late, Buck. We both have a shift tomorrow morning.”
Buck’s mouth drops open in surprise. “You pay attention to that?”
“Someone needs to watch out for you.”
Buck rolls his eyes. “Yeah? Well that’s fair. Since I’ve never stopped looking after you.”
He gets a full smile now. “I know.”
Buck awkwardly tries to take his leave a few minutes later.
They still have things they need to talk about, of course, Buck isn’t trying to kid himself here (for once), but he feels like the other shoe has finally dropped and it wasn’t even a disaster. It’s more than he thought possible even just hours before, and he finds himself grateful that out of all the guys he could’ve befriended and fallen in love with, it is Eddie.
“I’m going to head out, I think,” Buck says, once it’s been quiet for a few minutes. “Like you said, it’s late, and you should probably get some sleep.”
Eddie, who has relaxed back into the couch at this point, from exhaustion or relief or both, Buck’s not sure, but he’d like to think it’s a mix of both, jolts forward to grab gently at Buck’s wrist.
“You can just stay here. I’d rather you didn’t drive this late at night.”
Buck doesn’t want to be that fool who questions greener pastures, but…
“Are you sure?”
“Of course,” Eddie says, nodding his head. “Plus, Chris is going to flip when he sees you in the morning. You might just wake up with him jumping on you in excitement.”
Like his best friend knows it, that seals the deal and he nods. "Well, I do love surprising him. Is, uh, is that spare toothbrush still here?"
Eddie's eyes flash but he nods with a soft smile. "Of course. Right where you left it."
Warmth pools in his chest at the ease of Eddie’s words. His best friend may be struggling with his anger lately, but now there’s pretty solid proof -- he kept the toothbrush, the toothbrush he knows Eddie bought for him after the second or third sleepover when he was crashing on different couches -- that once Eddie worked through it, they would’ve worked their way back up again. Even if Buck hadn’t shown up tonight.
But, he’s glad that he did.
Who knows how long it would have taken by itself. Buck is plenty of things, sure, but patient has never been one of them.
He pads to the guest bathroom next to Christopher’s room, sure to keep his gait light as to not wake the little man. True to Eddie’s word, the -- his -- toothbrush is right where he left it all those months ago. He refuses to allow himself to tear up at the thought of a toothbrush of all things, and instead brushes his teeth to stave away the feeling.
By the time he makes it back out to the living room, there’s a cozy looking blanket folded at the end of the couch, and a couple pillows are fluffed up on the other end. Buck flushes when he sees them, though Eddie is nowhere in sight and he can’t hear the man pattering around anywhere. Assuming the other man went straight to bed, Buck sits on the couch with a heavy sigh.
Tonight didn’t go as horribly as he had feared when he first got the idea in his head, which is a plus. Buck is pretty sure things are definitely on their way back to their own normal if they’re not already there, and he is so goddamn tired he has no idea how he’s even sitting up right now. He runs a shaking hand through his hair, collapsing onto the couch.
“You okay?” Eddie asks.
Buck doesn’t jump , but he does flail a bit, long limbs shooting out in an attempt at balance. He rights himself eventually, opening his eyes to peer blearily at the vague outline of Eddie standing in at the mouth of the hallway.
“Holy shit, man. I thought you went to bed.”
“No,” the man says, shaking his head. He leans against the wall and smiles at him. It is just barely tinged with sleep. “Wanted to check on you first.”
Buck’s heart pounds against his ribcage, a worn-in, familiar beat by now. “I’m not going to sneak off, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
He can’t be sure, in the darkness of the living room, but it’s almost as if a flush gathers on the tops of his cheeks.
“The thought had crossed my mind,” Eddie says, a light tease to his voice. It does a pretty good job at hiding the concern that lies in his eyes. “Do you need anything?”
Buck doesn’t really have the heart to tell him that he’s probably not going to sleep -- Eddie wouldn’t like that, all things considered -- so he shakes his head.
“I don’t need anything, Eddie. I’m all set,” Buck assures him, saluting him.
Eddie rolls his eyes, but the small smile that quirks his mouth upwards is genuine, at least. “I’m just down the hall, Buck.” He says it like it’s Important, like if Eddie finds out he had a nightmare or something equally as mortifying and didn’t tell him about it, he was sure to hear about it in the morning.
“Thanks, Eddie,” Buck whispers. “Goodnight.”
Squeak. Turn over. Squeak. Turn over again. Squeak.
Buck lands on his back, letting a disgruntled breath fall from his lips. Christ, this really is the worst . Not only can he not get comfortable, but his brain can’t stop going over everything that happened tonight. He knows that they have more than that to talk about; have weeks, months of unresolved tension and unsaid words between them. But for the first time since Eddie had put a hand on his shoulder and told him just how much he trusted him with his son, Buck is feeling like they may have a chance.
Eddie will only ever want friendship with him, Buck knows, and that’s okay . For the first time since he realized his feelings for his best friend, it is what it is and he’s not going to fight it. The fact that Eddie still wants to be his friend is enough for him.
It has to be.
Sleep, it seems, is not going to be an easy thing tonight. Not that it is any night, really, especially here lately. While he’s never been a stranger to insomnia, being willing to avoid sleep sometimes to escape the hellish landscape of his dreams is, admittedly, new.
Buck turns towards the voice, feeling his eyes open in surprise when he finds Eddie standing there, looking as awake as he had when he first left. Which had to be at least half an hour ago. Here he is, now, though, looking at Buck with such blatant concern he’s almost a little relieved.
“Eddie?” Buck says, softly, as to not disrupt the calming stillness of the house. “What’s wrong?”
Eddie is silent for a few moments. From the look on his face, it seems he’s trying to decide how best to say something or if he should say it at all. Buck hopes it’s not to tell him to go home after all, as obviously his tossing-and-turning on the couch has kept him up as well. Buck finds he really doesn’t want to go home, not right now.
Buck furrows his brows. “Eddie…”
“I think we’ll both sleep better if we’re in the same room,” Eddie says.
Buck wants nothing more than to fall asleep that close to Eddie, but it’s almost a little too good to be true. “I don’t know if that’s a good idea.”
“I don’t know if I’ll be able to fall asleep tonight,” Buck admits.
Eddie’s lips stretch into a soft smile. “Humor me, Buck?”
Well, fine. If Eddie wants to resign himself to a night with no sleep, then Buck is obviously not equipped to stop him. And maybe it has a little to do with the fact that the thought of spending the night so close to Eddie, even if it is a sleepless one, is too tempting to ignore any longer.
Buck nods, grabbing his pillows before following Eddie down the hallway to his bedroom. Buck’s been in here a few times before, but this is deliberate in a way that it’s never been before. Eddie’s room is clean, the covers wrinkled and kicked back from when the man left his bed. Buck stares at it, swallows, and debates the merits in at least trying to sleep on the floor. Now that he’s here, this close to Eddie in such an intimate setting, he’s not sure he can be in bed with him without doing something stupid.
“The bed isn’t going to bite, Buck,” Eddie says, and when Buck glances in his direction he finds his best friend smirking at him.
He knows he should make a play at being annoyed, or whatever, but he is just so stupidly grateful Eddie’s looking at him again that he sits on the edge of the bed without another thought.
Buck clears his throat. “Are you sure this is okay? I don’t wanna keep you up, man.”
Eddie walks to the other side of the bed, burrowing beneath the covers. He looks at Buck expectantly, waiting for him to get situated himself, probably, so Buck does. It takes a moment for him to get in a comfortable position, lying respectably far away from Eddie so he doesn’t get weirded out.
Would Eddie get weirded out?
The man is pretty tactile, like Buck.
“You’re thinking too much again,” Eddie says. “Just relax, Buck. You’d be surprised how much having someone there helps.”
Buck swallows, chuckling a little, though it sounds strained even to himself. “You sound like you’re speaking from experience.”
Eddie doesn’t even hesitate.
“When I first got back from overseas, whenever I wouldn’t be able to sleep or woke up haunted, I’d sit outside Christopher’s door. It helped.”
Buck’s heart, without question or explanation, warms into a pile of goo.
The thing is, he can picture it perfectly in his head. Can imagine the way a tired and still feathering at the edges Eddie, huddling outside his sleeping son’s door just to feel close enough to someone again. They didn’t know each other back then; he can’t stop thinking about what would have changed between them if they had.
“Okay,” Buck whispers, relaxing into the bed for the first time since he laid down. “Thanks, Eddie.”
God, Buck really hopes so.
Buck doesn’t wake up screaming.
He does, however, wake up to screaming. Excited screaming, from one young little man who is currently wiggling around on the bed. Buck allows himself a small smile, still so sleepy he’s not sure what’s even happening before it all comes rushing back to him. Last night, the argument, Eddie inviting him inside, actually for once talking through things. Buck’s eyes flutter open, and he notices that Eddie isn’t in bed; probably hasn’t been for a while.
He wonders where the other man had gone, but his attention is quickly stolen by Christopher’s beaming and expectant face. Buck grins back at him, reaching out to gently grab his upper arms to steady him into a hug.
“Christopher!” Buck cheers, and absolutely none of the excitement in his voice is forced. “I missed you so much, little man.”
Christopher wiggles closer, looping his arms around Buck’s neck to hug him. “Buck! It really is you. Daddy said you spent the night last night but I didn’t believe him.”
It’s an innocent enough comment, but the guilt that washes through him is potent enough he’s glad he’s already on his ass.
“I’m sorry about that, buddy. I know it’s been a long time since we’ve been able to hang out,” Buck admits regretfully.
Christopher shakes his head, pulling away from the hug to lay his hand on Buck’s cheek, just like he did all those months ago when they were on the pier right before everything fell apart right before them.
“That’s okay, Buck, you’re here now,” Christopher says, ‘cause he truly is the sweetest kid in the entire world, and Buck, just as truly, does not deserve neither him nor his father.
“That’s right, buddy. I am here, and I’m not going anywhere. Never again, okay?”
Christopher smiles, patting his cheek. “I know, Buck. You always come back.”
Buck has to swallow against the current pressure in his throat, but ruffles Christopher’s hair regardless.
“That’s right, Chris. I’m like a boomerang.” Or something .
Christopher erupts into a symphony of giggles. “You’re weird.”
“He really is,” comes Eddie’s voice, and when Buck looks up, Eddie’s watching him with a fond, bright expression. Buck’s chest compounds, and he feels, for a few moments, as if he’s levitating off the bed in his euphoria.
“Good morning to you, too, as -- Eddie .”
Eddie just laughs at him. “You two boys ready for breakfast? I cooked up something special.”
Buck raises an eyebrow. “What?”
Christopher moves down the bed towards Eddie to get off of it, signaling for Eddie to help him the rest of the way. “That means he made one of our favorites. That’s what Daddy always says when he makes my favorite.”
Eddie’s cheeks go pink, but he looks more amused at Christopher’s words than truly bothered, so Buck laughs as he gets to a standing position as well.
“Oh? I’m even more excited for breakfast now.”
Buck catches the tail end of Eddie’s smile as he turns away to lead them into the kitchen, and hides a smile himself. While he’s a little disappointed he couldn’t wake up next to Eddie, he knows he should probably be grateful instead. He most likely avoided a very embarrassing situation, and he’s sure he was all kinds of wrapped around Eddie before he freed himself.
He hasn’t slept that deep in a long while. Maybe not since before the ladder truck accident, if he’s being honest with himself. It’s nice. If all he knew it would take was sleeping next to Eddie to get some damn relief, he would have begged to sleep in his bed forever ago.
The kitchen is a mess of pots and pans. There’s a huge stack of blueberry pancakes cooling on the kitchen table. There’s a healthy pile of scrambled eggs and some bacon and sausage off to the side. Buck’s stomach rumbles loudly in anticipation.
“Are those blueberry pancakes?”
“Yeah,” Eddie says on a smile. “Of course.”
Buck beams. “I love blueberry pancakes.”
“Daddy told me they’re your favorite, so I helped him make them!” Christopher tells him, his excitement almost too big for his voice.
Buck, stupidly, feels tears prickle at the eyes once again and has to swallow several times before he feels solid enough to reply. He had been so close to never having this again, so close to believing actually making up had been beyond their reach, that to be comforted with the early mornings with his two boys seemed like nothing more than a day dream he used to settle his own head.
Buck is here, and Eddie looks happy, like he’s finally gotten everything he’s needed the last few months as well.
(Though maybe he’s projecting on that one.)
"You guys are the best."
"We know," both of them say in unison, which only makes Buck laugh again, though it's wet this time.
"But, so are you," Eddie adds on.
"Buck is the best," Christopher says with a decisive nod. "Can we eat now? I'm hungry."
Eddie laughs, ruffling Christopher’s hair. “Sure, buddy. I think we better listen to him, Buck.”
“No argument here,” Buck says with a smile, ducking into the chair.
It feels, unbelievably enough, as if he’d never left.
“Bucky?” Christopher asks.
Buck has just finished washing up the dishes from breakfast -- much to the amusement of Eddie, who argued with him for the first few minutes and then gave up when he caught sight of the determined glint in Buck’s eye -- and is drying his hands on the towel Eddie keeps by the sink. He turns towards Christopher, trying not to show how much the nickname pleases him.
He’s always loved kids, but Christopher is definitely the first kid he’s been around for such a long time like this. He swears Christopher has taught him more than the reverse, and he’s absurdly grateful for it.
“What’s up, buddy?” Buck asks. “Everything okay?”
Christopher nods, but he’s biting his lip. “You promise you won’t leave again?”
Buck nods, crouching down to Christopher’s eye level immediately. He had known, from Eddie, that the kid had missed him but seeing it for himself is another thing entirely. It's almost consuming, the grief and regret that he's never felt like this that floods forward. Letting down Christopher, as it turns out, sucks. Buck really does try to smile at him reassuringly but it probably only ends up looking strained.
“Oh, buddy, I promise that’s not something you have to worry about again, okay? I’m sorry for not being around lately.”
Christopher’s expression only turns more pensive. “Was it cause of the bad dreams?”
Buck swallows. “Bad dreams?”
“Yeah.” Christopher’s voice is so small Buck’s not sure if he really heard it, but the look on his face says all he needs to know. “Is that why you went away to get better?”
Buck, personally, is quite proud of himself for keeping it together thus far. It’s really heartwarming, especially because he knows he’s not going to be able to keep up the streak for much longer. To know, however stupidly, however impulsively unintentional, that he hurt Christopher like this hurts not in the same way that it hurt him to know he hurt Eddie.
Hurting Eddie had been a punch to the chest, the inescapable reality that through his haste to just do something he ended up hurting Eddie is something he’s not sure he’ll ever forgive himself for. He knows he didn’t mean to. He knows he was only trying to make things better, but Buck also knows Eddie is right. He had plenty of options at his disposal. The fact that he chose the fastest one isn’t even important to him anymore.
Buck nods. “They played a part.”
Christopher steps forward to give Buck a hug, looping his tiny arms around his neck. It reminds him so much of the tsunami, of carrying such small, vibrant life in his hands that for a moment he is brought right back. There’s water in his ears, on his hands, everywhere around him and for a startling moment he’s sure he almost starts screaming.
Buck’s not there anymore. They’re not there.
“My dad helps me with my bad dreams,” Christopher says. “Maybe he can help you too. I can help!”
Buck smiles. “He does help, doesn’t he?”
Christopher nods. He pulls away, and then disappears down the hallway that leads to the bedrooms.
Buck doesn’t start crying until the sounds of his crutches completely fade away.
He doesn’t know how long he stays there, crouching for a boy who left already, but he’s still there when strong arms wrap around him from his right, pulling him into a firm, but soft, chest. A calloused hand slides into his mess of hair, and Buck doesn’t even hesitate before turning, hugging Eddie back.
There’s no one else it could be.
“Buck,” Eddie whispers. “Hey, hey. What’s wrong? Talk to me.”
For a moment, he can’t. The words get caught in his throat, and he can feel them scrape along the way when he tries to force them out. How does he even explain this when he has no idea what’s going on? He isn’t equipped to deal with this, his emotions are always so strong they’re too thick to parse, and Eddie being so close certainly isn’t helping him get his head on straight.
Not that he so much minds that part, though. Eddie’s always welcome to stay as close to him as he wants.
“I failed him,” Buck chokes out.
Eddie’s arms tighten and flex around him. Buck fears it’s in agreement. “You didn’t fail anyone, Buck.”
“Yeah, I did,” he whispers, utterly, wholly heartbroken. “I failed him during the tsunami, and I failed him afterwards. I was too busy being caught up in my own shit I didn’t realize how much he would miss me. Maybe part of me thought it would be better if I wasn’t there.”
“ What ?” Eddie asks, tensing against him. He pulls Buck’s face away from his chest so he can cradle his face in his hands. His touch is gentle, his skin warm and calloused, and Buck finds he has never felt anything as comforting as the weight of him there. Eddie’s gaze is just as heavy on his face, and Buck finds himself wilting beneath it.
Buck is expecting a lot of things; lectures, maybe, disappointed glances, more likely, but what he doesn’t expect is for Eddie’s thumb to start stroking across the surface of his cheek. Buck fights himself for a few moments so he doesn’t lean into it, but eventually he can’t hold back any longer. He avoids Eddie’s gaze, though, which causes the man in front of him to let out a breath.
“You really believe that?” Eddie’s question is soft, his tone unreadable but somehow it still manages to pierce his chest.
Buck doesn’t know how he’s expected to think anything different. Sure, Eddie had forgiven him a long time ago for losing his son, for endangering him. Even though the man assured Buck it wasn’t his fault, all of the choices he could have made instead cloud his head whenever he takes a moment to breathe. Abandoning the little guy, as much as it wasn’t Buck’s intention, somehow feels worse.
He came back. Buck always comes back.
He doesn’t want to leave. Not again, not now, not ever .
“You do,” Eddie says to himself, once it’s clear Buck can’t bring himself to say anything in return. He pulls Buck against him again, tucking Buck’s face against his neck. His hands, this time, are rubbing up and down the length of his spine. Buck shudders, and pretends the reason is anything but the fact that it’s Eddie touching him. “Buck, I need you to listen to me, okay? I obviously have been needing to say some things to you for a long time, and I want you to listen to every last word.”
Buck looks at him in confusion. “I always listen to what you tell me, man.”
Eddie shakes his head. “Please, Buck.”
“Uh, okay,” he says. He has a feeling whatever Eddie is about to tell him is going to be uncomfortable, or emotional. Most likely both. He just hopes he’s ready to hear it, whatever it is. “Lay it on me.”
“What happened, with the tsunami and the aftermath, none of that is on you. You were in a natural disaster, Buck. You couldn’t have predicted that, and you followed protocol to the last letter. You did everything you could for him, have always done everything you could, from the first few weeks we worked together. I know that you’re still going to beat yourself up for it. But I wish you wouldn’t. It is not your fault, and I will not blame you for it.”
Buck bites his lip. “How can you forgive me so easily?”
Eddie’s hand tangles in his hair as he pulls away, stroking the strands between his fingers. Buck hasn’t had his hair stroked since he was a child, most likely by Maddie, and it’s as nice as he remembers it to be.
“There’s nothing to forgive,” Eddie’s voice is final, not exactly hard, but certainly not as forgiving as it has been the rest of the night.
Buck sighs. “I still let him down with everything that happened after.”
“Maybe,” Eddie allows, voice understanding and so, so warm. “But that’s the great thing about kids Christopher’s age. They bounce back. As long as it doesn’t become a habit, which I don’t think it will. You’re beating yourself up enough as it is.”
Buck shakes his head, pulling away from Eddie’s grip to show how serious he is. “I won’t break my promise to him, Eddie. You gotta believe me.”
Eddie smiles at him. “I believe you, Buck.”
“Okay,” he whispers.
“I won’t break my promise to you, either.”
The other man’s expression melts. “I know, Buck. I won’t break mine either.”
“You never did in the first place, Eddie.”
Eddie shakes his head. “Hey, stop, Evan. You’re not the blame for everything here, okay? What happened was a two-way street. I should have pushed to talk to you more after I heard about the lawsuit, but I didn’t. I could have tried harder, too.”
Buck laughs, and it’s only a little wet this time. “Two breakdowns in twelve hours, who am I becoming?”
“You’re still you. A little cracked, but you. We’ll get through this, Buck. But together this time,” Eddie says, significantly, as if he’s trying to will away Buck’s impulsivity with his words alone.
He’s doing a pretty damn good job if that’s the case.
“Okay,” Buck whispers. “God, I feel like an idiot. I should have just talked to you about this.”
“We both should have,” says Eddie.
Buck sighs, fully prepared to tear into himself again. “I--”
Eddie cuts him off with a soft touch.
“We only have to make sure we’re here for each other from now on, yeah? Keep up our end of the bargain.”
“Yeah,” Buck whispers. “I can do that.”
Eddie’s hand brushes through his hair again. “Me too.”
Companionable silence falls over them. Buck has no idea what it says about them, about Buck, about this, that not once do either of them pull away from each other. The hug in the station was great, but it wasn’t nearly enough for Buck after spending so long without Eddie by his side like before.
It’s only better now that Eddie isn’t pulling away from it too soon.
He doesn’t know how long they stay there, but Buck’s thighs are starting to go numb, and while he’d like to think his stamina in the gym is pretty impressive, this is testing him. He can’t stop the first tease of laughter that leaves him, and eventually he’s shaking with it.
Eddie lets out a chuckle. “You good, Buck?”
Buck is better than good, all things considered.
“I didn’t think we were going to get back anything like what we had before,” Buck admits, still unable to keep a lid on his amusement. “I couldn’t stop thinking about how I badly I screwed up, what I turned down in order to be with you guys and I couldn’t even get back my best friend. And here we are.”
They finally pull away from each other; Buck falls backwards on his ass from the momentum of it all, but mostly from the fact that his legs are definitely fully asleep now that he’s not being supported by Eddie. Eddie’s eyes go wide, but when he hears the laughter that pours out of Buck, he smiles.
“What did you turn down?” he asks, curiously.
It’s then that Buck realizes two things:
One, that Bobby told Eddie (and presumably, the rest of the team) as minimal details as possible about his reinstatement. The second is that he probably owes it to his best friend to be as honest as possible.
“Oh, I thought Bobby would have told you,” Buck says. “The city offered me a huge settlement since they didn’t want to take it to court. That lawyer was ecstatic, man. I -- I turned him down, though.”
Eddie meets his eyes. They’re a storm he cannot begin to conquer, and that is why he is unable to look away. “You mean you could have won and you said no?”
Buck shifts uncomfortably. Shit. Is Eddie mad at him again?
“I... guess? In a way, yeah. But I couldn’t be a firefighter, and I couldn’t be with you. My family . So I said, no thanks. No amount of money is worth not being able to do what I love.” With who I love hangs in the distance between them, but neither of them make a move to acknowledge it.
Eddie’s jaw is working, syncing with the clenching of his fists in his lap. He’s looking at Buck like he’s seeing him for the first time.
“You did that for us?” he asks. “The team? It wasn’t even guaranteed you could get your job back.”
“Yeah,” Buck says simply.
“I know I could have used the money, probably would have been set for life. I know you said I was being selfish by taking out the lawsuit, and I should have told you. But I only ever did it to get back to you guys. If that wasn’t even in the cards then the deck wasn’t worth playing.”
Buck still can’t decipher the look in Eddie’s eyes. The other man takes what seems to be a steeling breath, meets Buck’s gaze one more time, and pushes forward to kneel in front of him. Eddie is close enough now that Buck can feel the way his breath tickles across the top of his cheekbone, the tops of his ears. He smells like coffee and toothpaste and Buck’s knocked off his feet at the thought of doing the impossible.
He’s used to this, at least, the feeling of desire rooted so deep in him that he carries it with him everywhere. Eddie stowed the seeds long before Buck was ready to admit it to himself; regardless of how Buck personally felt about it. Falling for a coworker had never been worth the risk before, but he didn’t have that choice with Eddie.
“You know, Buck, you’re so self-sacrificing sometimes it’s infuriating,” Eddie says, and the smile tugging at his lips is the only reason he doesn’t get defensive.
“Hey!” He pouts. “That’s not nice to say to the guy pouring his heart out to you, you know.”
“I wasn’t finished,” Eddie tells him, still smiling. “You should have told me this yesterday.”
Buck tilts his head. “Why?”
Eddie’s grin turns equal parts mischievous and fond. “That would have been it for me.”
“It for you?” Buck asks, not really getting it.
His best friend’s hand reaches out, then, landing gently on his cheek. When Buck doesn’t pull away, determination starts to leak into his expression. Eddie’s thumb only starts to caress him when Buck can no longer hold himself back from leaning into the touch. Buck is so sure the other man can hear the way his heart pounds in his chest, he almost wants to slip out of his grip to brain himself on the floor.
“I didn’t know you could have settled,” Eddie continues, as if oblivious to Buck’s inner turmoil. “Bobby didn’t pass along the full details. He only told me you were being reinstated and that the case was resolved.”
“He wanted me to tell you guys myself,” Buck says, in realization. “Well, I guess this is me finally telling you, then. Sorry it took me so long.”
Eddie rolls his eyes as his thumb skates over the spread of stubble Buck was too lazy to shave this morning. “I swear, Buck, if you apologize one more time I’ll have to do something drastic, like kiss you quiet.”
Kiss him ?
Eddie is definitely threatening to kiss him while Buck has dried tear tracks on his cheeks and breakfast still cooling on his breath. The look on his face is fond, fonder than he looks at anyone other than Christopher, and then he’s frozen for an entirely different reason.
Eddie’s threatening to kiss him because he wants to. For some unknown reason, his best friend has decided he wants to kiss Buck . At one point he had been sure Eddie had wanted to kiss him. He still remembers the way Eddie had visited him in the hospital after the bombing, waiting until a time he knew Ally wouldn’t be there. Eddie knows how much he struggles with being alone, and it is especially hard in the hospital. The sterile environment only compounds the awkwardness; how alone you are in a building bustling with activity.
They had been working towards this. Maybe they were on the cusp of it, right after the tsunami. His throat tingles, the dip of Eddie’s thumb against the column of his throat a feeling he carries around with him like every other part of him now.
Eddie’s about to pull away from him. Buck can feel it in the way his hand has started to tremble against his skin and it is the absolute last thing in the world Buck wants. He snakes a hand up to gently grasp at Eddie’s wrist, holding him in place. They both know that Eddie could easily break away if he really wanted to, but the fight evaporates out of him almost immediately at the touch.
Buck meets his gaze and smirks at him. “I’m sorry.” Eddie’s eyes widen, but before he can really start to process it, Buck’s close enough to see the swirl of browns in Eddie’s eyes. Buck always did love brown eyes. “I’ve been waiting for this for way too long to not be the one to kiss you,” he says, and well.
Then he does exactly that.
The simple pressure of Eddie’s lips against his is enough to undo him, and he’s gasping into the kiss within moments. Eddie is slow and sweet about it, though, even as he takes advantage of the open press of Buck’s mouth to do something obscene with his tongue. Buck makes a sound he’s never thought himself capable of making before, pulling the shorter man until they’re collapsing together on the floor in a dizzying mess of limbs.
The moment is ruined as Buck’s elbow slams back into the floor. He’s groaning for an entirely different reason now as tickling pain shoots up his arm. Eddie, on the other hand, is looking at him in astonished amusement that sends molten fire through his bloodstream. God, he wants Eddie to look at him like that forever.
“Why does the universe hate us so much?” Buck groans, once he’s finally able to speak again. Eddie’s lips are already starting to bruise from their kissing. It is very hard not to crawl over him to kiss him again.
Buck’s truly pretty proud of himself for managing to tough it out.
“Hm. I think the universe is trying to tell us we should kiss in a comfortable position next time.”
Buck laughs. “Oh? You see a lot of kissing in our future, do you?”
Eddie’s reply is earnest.
“Preferably. I don’t know if I can go on not kissing you any longer.”
“Oh. So you want to kiss me again? More than once? Like as a boyfriend kind of thing…?”
“I would hope so, given that I’m in love with you.”
Buck would have fallen on his ass again if he wasn’t still sitting from falling on his ass for the first time.
“Are you sure?”
Eddie looks like he wants to laugh, or maybe cry, or even both. Instead, he’s suddenly close enough to kiss the corner of Buck’s mouth, and then the top of his cheekbone, finally flirting with Buck’s birthmark.
“I’ve never been more sure of anything,” Eddie promises. “If you don’t feel the sa--”
“ No , Eddie, that’s not what’s going on here. I didn’t think this would be possible after everything.”
“Oh, Buck,” Eddie whispers, fondly. “That was never in jeopardy. You will always have a place here.”
Buck surges into motion before the last word has fully left Eddie’s lips, crashing their mouths together once again. This kiss is just as good as their first one, maybe better, since no one’s in danger of falling into embarrassment this time. Eddie’s arms wrap around him, pulling him in until he’s straddling his best friend’s lap. The thought makes him giddy, causing helplessly lovestruck chuckles to tumble into Eddie’s mouth, but if it bothers the other man he doesn’t so much as hint at it.
Buck forces himself to pull away when he’s unable to stop the way his hips cant down, unabashedly seeking friction. He’s leaning their foreheads together a second later, content in basking in how close Eddie is.
“I love you,” Buck whispers. “I was only ever trying to get back to you.”
The sound that leaves Eddie then is choked. It is happy and sad and all of the months of feelings that laid unacknowledged between them for so long.
“I know,” Eddie says, leaning in for another chaste kiss. Buck closes his eyes, allowing himself to enjoy the sweetness of Eddie’s lips once again. Like he’s ever been able to deny himself that . Or anything, really, when it comes to Eddie. “Can you promise me something?”
“ Anything .”
Buck’s eyes are still closed, but the smile in Eddie’s voice is unmistakable.
“Only leave if you’ll take us with you.”
Buck beams and seals his promise with another kiss. “Oh, you won’t be able to get rid of me after this, Diaz. Don’t you worry. You’re stuck with me, I promise.”
Eddie’s grip tightens on him. “Good. I love you, too, Buck.”
And the funny thing is?
Buck doesn’t even have to think about it anymore.