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What You're Looking For (Has Been Here The Whole Time)

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The thing is, Buck's back to being alone.

He lives on his own again, and after a shift that seemed to have more parents and kids than normal, and hearing all about it from the parents he worked with, it gets harder to go home and know there's no one to go home too.

The rest of them go to families, but he doesn't, and Chim and Maddie have it so hectic lately that going over would do more harm than good.

And honestly, Buck's fine, Buck's good, he's been working on himself and if some days he only just manages to talk himself out of spiraling well. It's normal. Part of recovery.

Before he would have just given in.

That's the hard part about being older and wiser, of having to be your own adult.

And the little things help. There had been a moment when they had clicked again and Buck was in the loop, picking up the man-child under the trellis and agreeing with Eddie about parenting.

Until they were back in the truck and someone, no, not someone, Bobby, of all people, teased Eddie about how he'd have to figure that out with Ana.

Because Buck isn't his co-parent, not really, wasn't Christopher's anything beyond his nebulously defined Buck.

By the time he was Buck's age he'd probably vaguely remember him as an imaginary friend.

Not that Buck's going anywhere, if he has any say in it, but tomorrow wasn't promised. Between his line of work and 2020 he more than knew it.

The point is, he's off balance their next shift, when they’re talking about it still and he needs to square the fact that babies will be the topic for the next eternity and he’s just going to be left out. On the sidelines.

Eddie senses that he's quiet. For now, at least, they're still on the same wavelength, that special frequency Buck has only found with him, that connection.

"Just promise me no showing off with the saw today" Eddie smiles, trying to get Buck to do the same. And he should but he can't.

"You know I love kids, man. Is it so bad that I still don't have one of my own?" And that's a little too raw and he should walk it back, explain he hasn't slept so well, the loft is too quiet now, given the face Eddie is making.

There's a little crease between his eyebrows and a tension in his eyes like Buck just said something truly horrific and he tries "I-'' and promptly gets cut off by the bell and they're off.

It’s a small house fire, followed by another, followed by a bigger one and when they finish with that they’re suddenly done and off for the night and Buck kind of wants to do something stupid like koala cling to Bobby who claps his shoulder with a "good work out there today".

Instead, he tries to duck out without anyone's eyes on him because he feels raw and exposed even though he shouldn't. He’s fine.

That means that Eddie definitely notices and follows him out.

"Hey about earlier-" he starts because the man doesn't let go, ever, he's like a goddamn pitbull and Buck can't quite deflect with "don't worry about it I was just-".

Eddie reaches for his shoulder "Buck, wait just-" and he can't suddenly, because Buck is great at waiting and hoping and wishing and being denied over and over again.

"I'm fine, okay, it's just that some of us don't get the happy ending-'' and Eddie pins him against the car door.

Granted, it's more their momentum and Buck turning but it's effective, Buck melting into him the way he always does when Eddie presses their bodies together.

At some point he realized nothing stops Buck in his tracks quite like a hug. Even if from the outside this would look like a base or two past that.

Nobody touches Buck like Eddie does and he loves it and Eddie, the asshole knows that.

"What's going on with you, huh?" Eddie asks and his voice is soft and low and concerned and his forehead is on Buck's and like this he can't hold on to the anger, to the hurt.

"I. I'm just tired. I can't get used to the loft being empty and…" "And?" Eddie prompts because he knows Buck well enough to know that that's where he hides the important part.

"And I've barely seen you and Chris in weeks. I mean I'm not trying to guilt you —he hurries to get that in— I know that you haven’t had the time, that it's been Pepa and date nights but. I miss my best guys'' Buck says because he does, because Eddie's getting pretty serious about Ana and Buck is happy for him, he is, all he wants is for Eddie to be happy.

Buck just wishes he could be happy too.

"Come home then" Eddie says, like it's that simple. "It's a school night" Buck protests, feebly, because he wants it so bad his mouth practically waters.

"Chris'll be more than happy to see you, you're right, it's been too long" Eddie says, smiling so close it's practically against Buck's skin.

And honestly, in that moment, he actually thinks it could all be okay.

But for once, the Diaz house is absolutely no comfort.

When he walks in, there's a woman's scarf by the door, clearly to remember to return it after she was relaxed enough to leave it behind.

There are leftovers he didn't cook in the fridge and they smell great when Eddie heats them up.

Christopher's hugs are still perfect and loving and soothing. But his little guy can't stop going on about how fun movie night with Miss Flores was, how they let him pick the movie and sit in the middle, like Buck and Eddie always do.

"You really like her, huh?" Buck says with a supportive smile because for this kid he'd break his own arm if he had to and Buck will never ever intentionally cause him pain.

"Yep. She's got really pretty hair" which tracks because at Christopher's age that's really all the criteria he has for a stepmother and oh fuck Eddie is going to marry her.

Not tomorrow, not this year, but that's where this is heading, clearly. And Buck is going to be there and smile at the altar as Best Man and it is going to hurt the whole fucking time.

But he smiles and plays with Chris because the one good thing about being everyone's throwaway is that he knows to make the best of the time while he has it.

When they put him to bed, Eddie offers him a beer and Buck accepts. There'll be buddy nights in the future, but nothing like this again. There won't be the room.

He thinks he's managed it, being normal, like earlier today has blown over.

He doesn't fool Eddie of course.

It's worked on Bobby and Maddie, perfected on his parents, but Eddie always sees him plain.

"Don't shut me out, man, c'mon" he says, pressing close to Buck on the couch because he plays dirty.

And Buck could say a lot to that because Eddie is reigning King of the Freeze but his arm is warm and heavy on Buck's shoulders and playing at his sleeve.

Chim and Hen say they're too touchy, Buck would like them to kindly fuck off.

Eddie grounds him. Makes him feel safe. At home.

Only he's not, and clearly never will be.

"It's not fair, is all'' he mumbles into the neck of his beer bottle. "To...you?" Eddie says and he isn't teasing but frowning and Buck knows he's thinking if he's done something wrong, made him feel bad.

"No, man, to you. You've got this great kid and a beautiful girlfriend and here you are stuck with me" he says. Born a burden, after all.

"Buck, you're my best friend. That means my shit is your shit and your shit is my shit. And for most of this, it's been more mine. Let me carry yours for a bit" he says, and he's so deadly serious that Buck has to snort a laugh.

He really thinks that, which is worse. He doesn't get that letting Buck in on it is more reward than he's ever had. More intimacy, more trust, than he ever hoped for.

"I'm just lonely, man. Which, as you know by now, is my default state. There's no magic bullet for that" he says, but no cure is more like what he feels.

"Then stay tonight" Eddie practically begs and when Buck's jaw drops with an automatic denial he does: "please. If what's on your mind is what's fair to me sleep over, I'll feel better".

Which is a little underhanded and calculated to get Buck to say yes which he does, of course. He wants to, anyway.

It's an ugly sort of satisfying, like pressing down on a bruise, to see Eddie still has an extra set of sweats for him, still takes the right side of the bed.

He'd stayed a while during the pandemic, to help Eddie settle Chris because he'd been the first to crack and give Chim and Hen more space at the loft as they organized.

It had been nice, waking up together. Enough to learn how bad Eddie needed a new coffee maker and that he wanted to stay forever.

Which hadn't been asked and he hadn't said.

But it's different, too.

Because the clock is ticking, now. And in the dark, they don't fall asleep.

Eddie just turns and looks at him and they stay like that, enjoying the quiet.

As Buck's eyes adjust, he can see that Eddie is smiling, a little, and that he seems content to just watch Buck.

There's enough moonlight, and streetlight, coming in through the blinds that Eddie's lips look rosy and full. Like an illustration of Prince Charming in a fairy tale.

Buck's never kissed him. And he might never get to.

For all that, technically speaking, they've had sex twice.

Once back when Buck was still determined to hate him, fast and hard and angry in the locker room, a whirl that came and went so fast that they ended up mostly clothed and uncomfortably sticky, wide-eyed in disbelief that they'd done that.

No one knew.

And the second had been after Abby, after she broke his heart again, and Buck was kind of a mess and Eddie was also kind of a mess and they'd been drunk on the couch because Christopher could spend nights away from home back then.

It had been sloppy and achy and melancholy and theirs and they'd never really talked about it again beyond we good? And yeah, man of course.

He hadn't wanted to rock the boat, happy with what he did have.

But that didn't matter now and Buck wanted and he'd never have the chance again.

With a soft rustle of the sheets, he leaned in and pressed his lips to Eddie’s.

And then they were kissing and it was sweet and soft and perfect, Eddie breathing against him and running a hand through his curls.

Until it's not sweet but charged, hot and heavy and Eddie’s dragging Buck under him by his thighs and Buck wants him to, wants to do this.

Wants Eddie to want him.

But he doesn’t, he has a girlfriend and Buck is warm and convenient and stupid and pushing him away.

In the blue light, Eddie looks flushed and wild eyed and scared.

"What? I mean I- sorry are you okay, did I-" "Eddie stop" Buck says and his mouth snaps shut with a click.

Slowly, he looks down and realizes he's still mostly on Buck.

He leverages himself off, awkward and Buck should bolt. He shouldn’t stick around to see if he can make this even worse. And somehow, he doesn't, just sitting up on the headboard and pulling his knees to his chest.

"Sorry" he mumbles awkwardly and Eddie shakes his head, his whole body along with it.

"Pretty sure that's my line" he says and Buck can't let him think that, think that he's the one that fucked this up.

"I'm sorry. I don't know why I did that, you have a girlfriend, hell you're gonna marry her-"

"What?!" Eddie says, springing back up from where he'd shrunk back. "Who said anything about that?" He says and Buck's heart breaks again.

"C'mon man. Your kid loves her and she's perfect. This? This isn't real. It never was. I was just being greedy. I just wanted to kiss you. Just once" and Eddie makes a sound like he's hurt and hurt bad.

Like he hears on the worst cases on the job.

"Buck. What the fuck was I supposed to do. Everyone was pushing me to move on and you weren't an option- '' and now it's Buck's turn to keen. He knew that. It still fucking hurt to hear.

"Just once Eddie. I know I started it but please. I have to watch you...you've had me twice now and you clearly didn't think it was anything worth keeping me around for. I just wanted a kiss". And that's the thing isn't it.

Because if he was Eddie's? He'd put out every night and twice on Sundays with a smile.

He'd cook and clean and be there for Chris because he loves them and if this was his life, he'd love Eddie. The whole way.

He could do it, knows he could make Eddie cry, do it so good and so sweet. He would make it worth it, him staying, the thing he wants most. This man, this family.

But Eddie knows all that. And Buck too. And all his baggage and all his shit and he weighed all that up and didn't pick him.

Doesn't actually want him like that and that was okay because he was still the best friend Buck had ever had. Buck had been good, with loving like that.

"That's not what fucking happened" Eddie growls, sounding furious, sounding gutted. Like he’s the one bleeding from this.

"Yes, it did I was there" Buck says because they're not rewriting history, he will not be turned into a coworker with a sad crush to be palatable to Eddie's new life.

"It was you that didn't want me" Eddie says. "I thought. I mean. I thought it wasn't good enough. I mean, I don't have much experience. Shannon was pretty much it. I thought you didn’t like-"

"Eddie —he interrupts because he can’t, because he was so goddamn stupid, because he lost his chance— I love you. I'm so gone on you it's not even funny. I love you all the time. Like this, on purpose. I'd marry you tomorrow, if you wanted".

It's a lot, probably, but Eddie deserves to know and he's so tired of hiding it, of being in reach and never reaching.

He wants this life and there's no point in pretending otherwise.

Eddie sinks into the mattress, hand over his eyes, hissing fuck as he goes like a deflating balloon.

The silence is heavy.

But Buck doesn't feel scared. Eddie will do what he can not to hurt him, despite it all. Buck knows him that well too.

"I've been trying so hard" Eddie says at last, into the gloom, prying his hand off like it hurts. His eyes are luminous, wet enough to drown the light.

"To make this work, to make her fit. She's great Buck. But the thing is. I don't fucking want her to fit. I just want you" Eddie’s throat works as he talks, low and hoarse like the words are being pulled out with pliers.

"What?" Buck whispers.

"I don't want to take a chance one someone that might be good for me, for us, when the person that's best for me, us, is here and somehow wants me too".

Its Buck's wildest, deepest, most masturbatory dream. So, he ruins it.

"You don't mean that Eddie, you can't-" "Of course I do. Because I love you, because I’ve been trying to get over you".

"Don’t'' Buck says because it can't be true, he can't let himself believe

"Baby. You know I love you" Eddie says, and he does, and Buck's crying or maybe they both are but they’re kissing too, desperate and in love, and it's ugly and gross and probably snotty too but every second of it makes his chest lighter, makes Eddie relax against him like he's finally letting go after months of tensed muscles.

"This is gonna be a mess in the morning" Buck says because it is and he has to say something and he's been saying I love you, I do, I'm sorry, I love you for what feels like hours.

"So we'll clean it up" Eddie says and kisses him and ducks his head against Buck’s chest to whisper gracias a dios, te amo, quédate. Stay.

And Buck will. For as long as he can.

Which, if Eddie has his way, is forever.