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The Space Between Sleep

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There’s nothing in the world quite like hearing your child scream.

It was bad enough when Christopher had been a baby. There had been no end to the doctors, the family members or the strangers on the street who would tell him “he has to learn to self-soothe”, “Don’t worry”, “He’ll learn, they always do”. “You’re still a good dad.” Those had been the tight, red-faced cries of hunger or frustration or simple tiredness before there was any other language he could use.

This is worse.

When Christopher first wakes up screaming after the Tsunami he survived it’s two nights later.

He didn’t sleep the first.

The sound of it; harsh and ragged through a seawater-torn throat, terrified in a way that’s a shrill rake in his bones, is possibly one of the worst things Eddie has ever heard, and he hears people’s horrified screams every day. He’s startled out of sleep by it, the noise ramming down his spine like a gunshot, and then he’s staggering to Christopher’s room in the dark, his chest so tight he can barely breathe.

Eddie manages to calm him down; holding Christopher tight and talking aimlessly to tug him back from the nightmare, breathing through his teeth in the hopes that it will hold back his own tears. Christopher doesn’t need to see him cry, too. The screams stem into hiccuping cries and heaving sobs which slowly parch into quaking breaths before the exhaustion of it pulls him back to sleep again, still folded into Eddie’s lap with tear stains dried on his cheeks.

It doesn’t just happen the once.

The doctors tell him that it’s natural, after the trauma that he survived, that there would be an adjustment period, and that no one could say for sure what that adjustment might be. A month, two months, six. Maybe a year, maybe five. Eddie bites his tongue as he listens to their sympathetic, distant voices down the phone and tries not to hold it against them that they just can’t understand.

They might be doctors, but they’re not the ones raising the sweetest kid in the world and feeling their heart break at the fact he might still have nightmares when he’s fifteen. It’s too much for Eddie to process.

It’s not just at night, either, though that’s definitely an ongoing source of anxiety and disruption in the Diaz home.

Christopher shies away from small things that never used to bother him. He gets anxious about washing his hands, hates eating scrambled eggs, won’t walk on the kitchen tiles in socks. The rushing sound of cars sometimes makes him flinch as they go past and they have to leave the house ten minutes early on a Friday, every Friday, because the neighbour’s sprinklers come on and the mist sprays across their front path.

It’s really no surprise that the Tsunami left scars, and that noises and sensations remind him of it. Eddie’s with Christopher more than he sees anyone else, even the 118, but he’s seen Buck since it all happened; left Chris with him again just three days afterwards, the day following the first nightmare.

Trauma looks different in an adult, in someone trained for crisis and disaster, but Eddie thinks Buck must be dealing with his own kind, even if not all of it matches Christopher’s. He keeps leaving them together in the hopes they can help each other.

 

The point is, Eddie is used to the screams at night long before Christopher’s nightmares start to morph.

It’s been more than a week after, closer to two, when Christopher wakes up screaming again for the second night in a row. It shocks Eddie awake, but he’s already alert as he throws off his blankets, like his brain is adapting to wait for this.

He’s glad that he wakes up so quickly, but the fact that he needs to is a source of corrosive pain, eating away at him.

Christopher is hyperventilating when Eddie gets to him. He’s knotted into his bedsheets, his throat wrung tight and cracking with hiccups, tears etched into his red cheeks. Eddie reaches for him, tugs him up from the bed and into his lap, rocking and stroking at his hair and murmuring in a constant stream to bring him back.

“You’re safe, you’re safe, I’m right here, it’s okay, Kid, you’re okay. Breathe, just breathe, I got you-”

The words pour out, as always, and he can’t stop himself saying them - often the same things, over and over - even though in the back of his mind he wonders if they’re useless.

Christopher comes back slowly and the screams take form, collapsing rough and pinched into syllables and letters.

“Buck-w-want B-uck. Where’s B-Buck. He’s d-ead, is-isn’t he? Like mom?”

“No, Kid,” Eddie gasps into his hair around the feeling of his heart dropping a whole beat. “No he’s not. He was in the hospital, remember? Then he was with you? You’ve seen him. He’s okay.”

“I sa-w him go,” Christopher cries, hitched breaths snagging his words, shredding them up. “He was i-in the water and then it too-k him. He was dead and i-it was my fau-lt. I hurt him.”

Eddie forces himself to breathe through the tightness in his own chest and the blood rushing in his ears.

“Hush, hush, hey. He’s okay. It’s not your fault. Don’t ever think that.”

He knows that Christopher has seen Buck since; he’s personally left them together but the doctors have explained this to him; that sometimes trauma blurs the lines between nightmare and reality and it can be hard to differentiate at first. Chris is still lost in the grips of it, somewhere in his subconscious; in a version of the Tsunami where Buck never left.

It’s enough to send a skittering pulse of horror through him. He’s already had to find a way to deal with the faint whispers in his head that say they could have died on a loop sometimes, but this is more. Christopher gets stuck in that version of reality, maybe as often as nightly.

“It is, though,” Christopher cries. He flails in Eddie’s grip, tearing at the blankets still twisted around his legs, and then at his clothes when they pull, fingers scrabbling into the cotton. “He was s-aving me and I l-lost him and he fell down and ne-ver came up and it’s my fault.”

Eddie gently grasps his hands, prising them away from scratching at his pyjamas and tosses away the knotted blanket with his free one.

“Buck’s fine, Mijo , I promise,” he says even though he can hear his voice shake.

Christopher, trembling, tugs a hand free but he doesn’t scratch at his clothes; he swipes hard at his face, rubbing through the tear stains; the ones that have dried tight in the skin and the ones that are still wet. He rubs hard enough to redden his cheeks even more and Eddie quickly pulls his hand down again, this time grabbing for the edge of the blanket so he can wipe at them more carefully.

“He didn’t come up,” Christopher gasps tearfully as his voice cracks. “The w-ater took him aw-ay.”

“Shhh, hey, he’s fine,” Eddie rocks him again, combing fingers through his hair, laying down the blanket so he can hold Christopher’s hands away from his face. “You want to talk to him?” We’ll call him first thing, okay?”

Christopher shudders as he swallows a sob and he looks up, eyes wide and glassy and desperately hopeful in the dark. “I can- can talk to him? Is he- Can I talk to him no-w? Please?”

“I don’t-”

“Please, Daddy,” Chris presses, his face crumpling as new tears spill from his eyes. Eddie quickly swipes them away. “Please. I want to t-alk to Bucky.”

The digital clock glowing through the dark on the bedside table says that it’s 1:47 in the morning. Buck will be home, but he’s also probably - hopefully - asleep.

Still.

Eddie knows him.

And he knows that if he doesn’t do this because he doesn’t want to bother Buck, then Buck’s the one who’ll most likely tear into him over it.

“Yeah, yeah okay,” he says, and the instant he says it, some foreign tightness in his chest loosens in a rush. “Come on, we’re getting my phone, okay?”

Christopher, still heaving breaths that alternate between shallow, tremulous things and deep rattling ones in his lungs, each louder and more heart-rending than the last, clings to his hand as Eddie leads him back down the hallway. His sobs muffle to hiccups and he curls himself into a tiny ball as he tucks himself into the empty side of Eddie’s bed, like if he gets small enough, the nightmares won’t find him.

Eddie snatches up his phone from the side table. Buck’s been on his speed dial for the better part of a full year, and thumbing to the keypad is muscle memory. The phone is ringing faster than Eddie can really process that he’s doing it.

The ring seems too loud, to vivid and startling, cutting through the cloaked dark and the muted soundtrack of Christopher’s sniffles and lagged breathing. Eddie swallows hard but has barely a second to wonder whether this was a mistake, whether he’s asking too much.

On the second ring the line connects and Eddie’s breath rushes out, relief pouring through his bloodstream like spring water. He hadn’t even started to wonder what he would do - how he might calm Christopher if they couldn’t contact Buck.

“Eddie?” Buck half gasps. His breathing comes in tense snatches down the phone, his voice wrung and worried and tinged with awe or desperation. He doesn’t sound like someone recently asleep.

The sound of it reminds Eddie of the look on his face when he had collapsed into Hen’s arms, delirious with panic, relief, blood loss and adrenaline crashing out on him. Eddie thought he’d lost his son for thirty seconds. Buck had been looking for him for hours against all odds and mounting physical injury.

“Yeah it’s me,” he says. His voice comes out thready and it pulls a strangled sound out of Buck on the other end of the line. “I’m so sorry. I know- I know that it’s late but-”

“Is he-” Buck hesitates, trips over the trembling words. “Is he okay? Christopher?”

Eddie glances at him. He’s stopped shaking and Eddie’s not sure if that’s good or bad. “He had another nightmare.”

He hears Buck pull in a breath, the hiss of it between his teeth. “Another one,” he repeats. “He-it...he’s okay, though? Was it...different?”

“He thinks-thought...He’s okay now, mostly, but-” Eddie rubs the back of his neck and forces the rest out- “When he first sort of woke up he thought you died. I couldn’t convince him you were okay. Well. As- Anyway...he wanted to…”

“He’s awake?” Buck’s voice breaks, the words raw, torn out of him. “Put him on. If that’s what-”

“Yeah,” Eddie assures him, nodding and moving over to Christopher. “I hoped that would be okay, just for a moment. Sorry, I know it’s two am-”

“Eddie,” Buck cuts him off. “It’s okay. I. I want to. Really.”

Eddie exhales, pauses, feels something under his breastbone shift and settle, turning from fragile uncertainty to iron and fibreglass.

“Thanks, Buck,” he murmurs. “Here. I’m passing you over.”

He holds out the cell phone and Christopher twists in his balled up shape to reach out for it.

“Just a few minutes, okay?” he reminds quietly.

Chris nods, crowding it to his ear and folding around it, half lost in the pillows like he can somehow protect the words he pours into the speaker.

“Buck?” he asks tentatively.

Buck’s reply is just audible to Eddie as he sinks onto his side of the bed; muffled and a little tinny but enough that he can lay down and still follow along.

“Hey, Buddy.” Buck sounds lighter already. Eddie can picture his exact smile as he lets his eyes slip closed. “I’m right here. How you doing, Kid?”

“Good,” Christopher murmurs tremulously, shy and touched with reluctance. His fingers pick idly at the fold of the bedsheets underneath him. “Are you okay?”

“I’m alright. It’s a bit scary going to sleep though, isn’t it?”

Christopher hums.

“Yeah, me too,” Buck continues easily. He apparently doesn’t need Christopher to uphold the conversation, content to do it alone as Chris’ breathing smooths out and the hiccups stop. “But you have your dad there, and he’s never gonna let anything happen to you, you know.”

“What about you, though?” Chris asks plaintively just as the thought crosses Eddie’s mind. Buck lives alone, and that’s not something that’s slipped past Christopher, even emotionally wrung as he is.

“I know you’re safe,” Buck replies before Eddie can open his mouth and say something stupid like he’ll never let anything happen to Buck either. “And if you’re safe, I’m okay. You remember what you said to me on the pier?”

Eddie opens his eyes, turning his head in time to see Christopher nod fervently, fingers a little gentler around the phone. “You saved me. And all the other people.”

He can hear Buck laugh hollowly for a cut off instant. “You saved me too, Buddy, but I mean before that. On the bench. You remember?”

Christopher nods again. Eddie knows he’s not being subtle now, about the way he’s straining to hear Buck’s side, but Chris is singularly focused on his best friend’s voice and doesn’t seem to notice.

“You were sad,” Christopher remembers. “And I said you’re gonna be okay, Kid.”

The words hit Eddie’s brain and hang there for a moment without comprehension. Then they pulse hard into his chest like someone doing CPR. His breath rushes out and the back of his eyes sting. Tears clot high in his throat and his ribs feel too tight. They’re words he recognises; words he’s said himself, countless times.

“Yeah, that,” Buck breathes finally, a whisper through the phone. “And you’re right. I’m gonna be fine, and you are too, okay?”

“Okay,” Chris answers.

They all know it’s not so simple, but right now, in the dark early hours, it’s enough that Chris believes him.

“You think you can do your dad and I a favour and try to sleep again? And you can call me any time you need, yeah. We’re gonna be okay, kid.”

Eddie bites his tongue and swallows tears. There’s a worn out, glowing look on his son’s face that’s wiped out the frantic lost one from before the phonecall.

It hurts, in a way, that he couldn’t do this himself, but he knows - knew before this, the Doctors warned him, too - that there are some things he just can’t do. He’s been able to soothe the other nightmares, talk him back, but this one- this was just the first that is a little out of his reach.

Buck lived through this with him, and he’s just grateful he has a best friend who’s so selflessly prepared to be there to help pick up the pieces he can’t put back together.

“Alright, Kid,” Eddie says finally into the lull that falls after that. “Both of you need to go back to sleep. Think you can let Buck go now?”

Chris slowly nods, whispering a reverent “Bye, Bucky” into the phone before returning it.

Eddie stands up, crossing to the window to put just a little distance in now that Christopher is yawning. He thumbs the volume down button on the side of the phone anyway.

“Thank you,” he whispers into it. “He was- anyway. I really didn’t want to disturb you and I’m sorry to put this on you, and in the middle of the ni-”

“Eddie!” Buck’s voice rings at him. “It’s okay. I swear. You....you didn’t wake me up. And...I love that kid. It’s my fault he was there, that he’s dealing with any of this at all. I want to help. I mean it; night time phonecalls, writing him cards, watching him as much as you’ll let me, dropping him off at doctors. Whatever. Whatever you need.”

Eddie presses his fingers to his eyes, forcing the tears to go back even as they burn him from the inside out. He can’t cry in front of Christopher, not right now.

“I’m not sure- I can’t-” But he stems the words, too. He doesn’t want Chris to hear them, to know how lost he is.

Buck seems to hear what he couldn’t say anyway.

“Help him?” he asks, impossibly gentle. “You’re already helping him, Eddie. You’re there for him, you’re listening to him. He needs that. Don’t take this the wrong way, either because God knows I feel better when you have my back, but I’m glad you weren’t there with us.” He breathes out unevenly and it shudders down the line but he continues anyway. “I got torn away from him so fast I got winded. It was like being punched in the chest hard enough to stop your heart. I’m surprised I didn’t pass out. It’s a miracle I found him at all just the first time.

“So maybe you don’t know exactly what he’s going through because you weren’t in it, but you’re his father. You’re there now and that’s what he needs.”

Eddie glances over his shoulder, wondering if he can see something of Buck’s certainty in the boy bundled in the bed. Christopher is asleep, though, still curled tightly up like a cat and his curly hair crushed into the pillows. The leftover tension that’s been curdling in the pit of Eddie’s stomach finally starts to unwind, leaving him feeling oddly adrift in his own bedroom.

He knows Buck’s wrong about part of that, though.

“He needs a support system,” he says. “And you’re right; that’s me, but it’s not just me. It’s doctors and friends and it’s you, too. He’s sleeping right now and twenty minutes ago he was screaming because he thought you were gone. But yeah, if you could do me a favour and not get into any more natural disasters without me, I’d appreciate it.”

Buck makes the bitten sound of an almost laugh, like it’s been startled out of him. “I’ll try,” he says. “I’m glad it helped. And...thanks - for letting me talk to him. For trusting me with him.”

“Meant what I said,” Eddie replies. “Get some sleep, too, alright?”

“Yeah. Think I’ll give that a go now. I’m here, though; whatever you need. I meant that, too.”

“I know. Night, Buck.”

Eddie pauses, listens for the reply and then the dial tone before he hangs up.

He pads across the room to Christopher’s sleeping, coiled form, feeling almost light-headed with the pulsing relief in his bloodstream. It will be short lived; he’s seen trauma enough to know that the road back is a journey, not a sprint, but for now, it’s enough to drown out the shadow of worry that’s draped through the house like a shroud.

It’s enough, for right now to know that Christopher is asleep again and that across town, Buck is as okay as he can be, too.

Eddie doesn’t really want to move Chris and risk jostling him awake again - his hold on dreams is so tenuous in the wake of the Tsunami - so he gently frees the blankets trapped under his legs and lays them back over him before climbing in on the other side.

One thing at a time, that’s what everyone says, for as long as it takes.

 

.

 

Life carries on in their new normal.

Carla watches Chris for at least half the week, always showing up at the door on time with a smile and ready to adapt to whatever’s needed in the moment.

She introduced Christopher to dry shampoo, and it smells artificial and leaves his hair with a kind of chalky texture, but it means Eddie doesn’t have to coax his trembling son to endure tipping his head back in the bathtub nearly so much. Not long after that, she bought him a pair of socks with little tacky rubber grip patterns on the soles so that he didn’t skid on the tiles in the kitchen any more.

Buck was right when he said she was just what he needed, he just couldn’t really have anticipated back then how much of a godsend she would be.

Eddie gets his two weekend days with Chris, but outside of those, when it isn’t a Carla day it’s a Buck day.

Eddie drives him over to Buck’s place early before he has to be at the firehouse to start his shift, and he stops there to get him before they go home. From what Chris says, the two of them watch movies, experiment in the kitchen - once setting off a smoke alarm, but Chris says this with an emphatic ‘shhhhh, you’re not supposed to know’ - and go on small outings to the local store or the swings in the park.

Buck is still scared to take him too far out, and Eddie doesn’t push him.

It’s a Wednesday, two days after the early morning phonecall to Buck and Eddie manages to finagle himself a half shift and duck out on the 118 just after noon.

He slides into his car in the lot outside the firehouse, waving at Hen as he pulls the door closed, and taps out a text to Buck.

12:03pm
Free for the afternoon. Where are you guys?

He turns over the engine and sheds his jacket into the passenger seat and then there’s a reply waiting.

Buck 12:03pm
My place. Hurry and there might be some lunch left.

Buck 12:04pm
In the interest of not finding natural disasters without you, how do you feel about coming to the Zoo?

Buck 12:04pm
Its inland.

Eddie smirks. He knows they never went, that they weren’t ready to, the first day Eddie dropped Christopher off with Buck when he was still battered and bruised and looked like a single unkind word might knock him over. He recognises his own teasing words from that day, though. He’d thrown them around in a way that was familiar; trying so hard to let normalcy and implicit trust crack that guilt-ridden look on Buck’s face. He recognises the text right now for the attempt to reach out that it is, and the admission that they’re still not ready to go alone.

12:04pm
Inland is good. Count me in. See you in ten.

He backs out of the parking lot and leaves the firehouse behind without a look back, hooking a right at the intersection and heading for Buck’s rather than home.

Christopher proudly informs him that he helped to make the faintly questionable looking pasta bowl that they all dig into, and then Eddie ushers him and a wary Buck out to the car. They don’t go near the marine exhibit, or the arctic circle and they even steer clear of the duck pond and the otters. They see the savannah, though, and watch the tigers getting fed, roam the farmyard and explore the reptile house.

Buck gets talked into holding a Tarantula by a six year old little girl.

An amused staff member tells them the spider’s name is Dolly as she lifts it out, and Buck’s jaw ticks, shoulders rigid as it’s lowered towards him. The little girl watches closely and her parents look on, biting their smiles. Eddie stops Christopher from falling over in laughter when Buck almost drops it.

It’s harder to tell, whether Christopher has the same agoraphobia of leaving the house with Buck, or whether that’s more of an adult fear. Eddie thinks it’s Buck’s alone and Christopher simply never pushes to go out. Maybe the two of them aren’t ready to be alone in the world again, but if that means that for now at least, Eddie gets to be there for moments like this - Buck leaving the reptile house shaking off exaggerated shivers and sending Christopher into new peals of laughter - then Eddie’s going to take it while it lasts.

 

.

 

Christopher sleeps through the night. And the night after that.

They’re restless sleeps; Eddie hears him shifting, muttering, sometimes crying out. He sounds melancholy, not scared, and his dreams don’t sound happy, but he doesn’t wake.

The glowing numbers on the digital clock by Eddie’s bed say its 2:54 on Saturday morning when he’s shattered from sleep by familiar, wrenching cries from Christopher’s room. They rebound shrilly off the walls as Eddie goes out to him and it takes him a moment to realise that it’s actually raining. The angry drumming of the drops on the roof and on the window panes are loud as bullets but they barely even register, drowned out with Christopher’s terror.

Eddie’s used to navigating blind, and he only flips on the light when he’s in his son’s bedroom. Brightness floods in, burning his eyes and Eddie’s heart lurches.

Chris is clawing at the blankets, his legs tangled up in them, face red and streaked with tears. His eyes are glassy and distant in a way that has nothing to do with his glasses being hung over the lamp but everything to do with his mind twisted up in whatever dreamworld he’s fighting his way out of.

“I’m drowning!” He screams, a sound that feels too huge and too painful for such a tiny person. “Dad, I’m drowning- I can’t swim, I can’t. I’m tired. It hurts, it h-hurts!”

Eddie scoops him up like always. He’s not sure what else he can do and at least this seems to do something. He helps tear away the blankets, careful not to pull on him too hard, so that at least Chris won’t hurt himself if he keeps trying. He’s not sure what it is about the bedsheets that terrorises him exactly, just that getting rid of them is always a good start.

“Hey, hey,” he says. “You’re not drowning, you’re right here, see? I’ve got you, Kid. I’m not letting anything happen to you, alright? You don’t have to swim any more.”

He keeps talking even if he thinks it’s just the sound that helps, not the words themselves.

Christopher calms gradually, the cries turning to sobs that stick in the back of his throat. It’ll be sore again in the morning. At least Carla has helped him stock up on fruit smoothies for him to drink while he’s still not keen on glasses of water.

“You want to talk about it?” Eddie asks gently when the silent tears have slowed and he’s breathing with his whole lungs again.

Christopher makes a muffled, cracked noise of dissent and hides his face into Eddie’s shoulder.

Eddie’s scared of hearing it, in so many ways. He’s scared of knowing what exactly Chris lived through, what he’s haunted by. And yet he’s still more scared that he’ll never want to talk at all.

Eddie forces himself to swallow around the lump in his throat. “Okay. That’s okay, Mijo . We don’t have to. Not right now. But I want to know how to help so you think maybe you can just tell me what woke you up just now?”

Christopher hesitates, face pressed into Eddie and his fingers are bone white, clenched in the fabric of his shirt. But then he expels a shaky breath and says, “I was swimming.”

Eddie waits. He watches Christopher’s fingers shake, let go of his shirt, and then go up to clamp over his ear at the same time his other hand fixes over the other ear. Eyes tight shut, he continues.

“Buck put me on the fire truck. And then it was gone. It hurts.”

Alarm flashed down Eddie’s spine white-hot like being struck by lightning. He cradles Christopher’s head and tries to hide the sudden buzzing under his skin, the wild impulse to run him to the ER.

“Does it still hurt right now? Or when you were asleep?”

“When I was asleep,” Christopher says, loud over his own clamped ears.

“Where did it hurt, Christopher?”

“My chest,” he says, and moves a hand to point at the centre, just above his sternum, before fixing it back over his ear.

“But not now?” Eddie repeats.

Chris shrugs then slowly shakes his head uncertainly.

Eddie rubs at his back and breathes, trying to let go of the panic spitting through his nerves. He’s not in pain; he knows that rationally, and so would Chris if he weren’t still trying to differentiate between being awake and being asleep. So instead, he diverts him.

“What else do you remember from the dream?”

Christopher shuffles, fingers scrunching open and closed against the sides of his head. It’s not with the same ferocity as the way he’s been yanking at his blankets or swiping at his face; it’s almost like a form of self-comfort.

That’s when Eddie realises - so, so late - that now the screaming has stopped, he can hear the rain again. If he can, so can Christopher.

He’s failing him. He doesn’t know how to help, what to watch out for until it’s already too late.

“There was a lady,” Chris says then. “A dog was barking. Lots of yelling.” He looks up, eyes teary between the clasp of his hands. “Buck was gone.”

He says it with trepidation; like he’s worried that Eddie will cast it away as unimportant or that he’ll tell him that Buck is, actually, gone. His mouth wobbles.

“Yeah, he got pulled away,” Eddie says gently. “But we found him, and we found you. You’re both okay.”

Chris nods slowly, still with a watery expression and it doesn’t take much to know he’s unconvinced. He glances over his shoulder at the window and says, in a very small voice, “I don’t like the rain.”

Eddie rubs his back and tries not to let the helplessness he feels spill into his voice. “I know, Buddy. I’ll put the TV on so you don’t have to hear it.”

Chris slowly pulls his hands from his ears and they hover at the sides of his head. He says, “Buck doesn’t like the rain either.”

Eddie feels strangely tempted to laugh. It’s not a segue that he thought was coming, but then...it’s also not really surprising, when he considers it. It must just make sense to Christopher that if they suffered the same thing, they might fear the same things, too. Eddie doesn’t know how to tell him it doesn’t always work like that.

He’s not even sure he can. Buck had been awake before they called last time, he’s sure about that, so they do apparently share some form of struggle with sleep. Buck has a fear of leaving the house with Christopher to care for, but Eddie doesn’t know what other shapes the trauma has taken for him.

“I’m sure Buck’s fine, Kid,” Eddie says. “He can put his TV on, too.”

“But...what if he’s not?”

Eddie thinks he should probably be more wary of the fact that his kid is clearly steering this conversation and he’s likely being played but…

It’s three in the morning, and he’s just glad that it seems to be distracting him from the rain and whatever leftover shadows of the nightmare might still be tied up in his blankets.

“Can we call him?” Christopher asks. “Please?”

Eddie hesitates for a moment. He doesn’t want to get into the habit of calling Buck - mostly because he thinks it could easily be a hard one to break - but he remembers the earnestness in his voice last time. He thinks about how small Chris’ voice is as he asks for this when he won’t ask for any other kind of help.

He knows Buck would want him to call.

(He actually doesn’t really want to ever see Buck’s face if he found out that Eddie thought of calling because Christopher asked, and then didn’t).

“Okay, we can call him,” he sighs, and tries not to be too relieved or too jealous when Christopher hugs him tightly, finally dropping his hands from his ears properly to do it. “Just for a minute,” Eddie says firmly. “He needs sleep and so do you.”

Chris agrees.

Eddie turns on the TV for him, notching up the volume before he ducks out. Their neighbours have been really understanding so far, but even if this is their breaking point, Eddie will take that over leaving him listening to the rain on his own again. He snatches up his phone from his own room, pulling up Buck’s number and calling it before he can second guess, still standing at the foot of his bed.

It only rings once.

“Eddie?” Buck’s voice is raw, exhausted in a way that’s bone deep, but none of the roughness in it sounds like he was asleep moments before. Vaguely, Eddie wonders if he should be more worried than he’s letting himself be.

Or perhaps he’s best not asking those questions. Worrying about his best friend’s sleeping patterns might be crossing some kind of line, one that’s harder to see in the dark.

“Hey,” Eddie murmurs, and then, purposely, “Sorry to wake you up.”

Buck doesn’t respond to it either way, “Is Christopher okay?”

“He just…” Eddie isn’t sure how to word it. This isn’t the blind panic of last time. This is just… “he was worried. About you. The rain woke him up and he’s having a bit of a hard time.”

He starts for the door, reaching out to catch the frame and guide himself down the hall, but Buck’s sucked in breath makes him pause halfway to Christopher’s room.

“It was the firetruck,” Buck offers. His voice is low, catches on the words. “While we were on  the top of it after the first wave, there was this loud dripping, I guess. Could hear it everywhere, every time the weight shifted. The truck was half flooded and the whole thing is steel plate. All the water running...I- with everything else going on, I didn’t think about it - I wasn’t even sure he was listening, but I guess…”

“It got stuck in his head anyway,” Eddie sighs.

“It’s not a sound you really hear anywhere else,” Buck says, self deprecation etched into the words. “I’m sorry.”

“Stop apologising,” Eddie cuts him off. “It’s not your fault. And all of us are going to get through this.”

“Yeah,” Buck says, though it barely sounds like he agrees. “Can I- is it okay if...if he still wants to talk to me?”

“Of course it is.” Eddie pushes himself off the wall and pushes Christopher’s door open.

His son is coiled at the head of the bed, rocking to himself with the blankets still thrown to the foot of the mattress. Eddie makes a mental note to bring up the bedsheet thing to the doctor.

“Hey, Chris, it’s Buck. Just a minute, okay?”

Christopher is already reaching for the phone and Eddie let’s it go.

“Hello,” Chris mumbles into it.

There’s a waiting kind of quiet before- “It was a bad dream,” Chris says.

And Eddie realises that he never put the call volume back up after the last time. He’s going to have to content himself with listening just to Christopher’s half.

It’s not that he doesn’t trust Buck to say the right thing. It’s just that he feels oddly out of place, excluded from their lives in some small but significant way, as he listens to the lapses of silence between Christopher’s soft responses. He can’t fully bring himself to mind, though; not while he’s watching the stiffness leach out of Chris’ spine and shoulders, and the way sleep starts to creep back into his eyes.

He has the fleeting thought that it would just be easier if Buck were there himself, because if he knows him, he’s also trying to pick words carefully and not overstep, and Eddie’s used to communicating with him in a single, rushed look.

The forming idea is shoved aside by Christopher holding out the phone to him.

“He’s still there,” Chris says, yawning. “He said I had to try to sleep some more.”

“Okay,” Eddie says, feeling like he’s on autopilot even though this is completely new. “You try to sleep then and I’ll say bye to Buck for you.”

“Thanks, Dad,” Chris yawns again. He doesn’t protest as Eddie carefully places the blankets back over his slumped form, sure not to tuck him into them. “Love you,” he hums.

Eddie’s heart stutters and he bites down the rush of sharp affection in his chest. “Love you, too, Mijo . Sleep.”

He ducks out of Chris’ room, pulls the door mostly closed and lifts the phone again.

“Buck?”

“Still here,” he says. “Thanks. For letting me.”

“Thank you,” Eddie replies, suddenly exhausted himself. “For wanting to.”

 

.

 

Another three nights pass.

Eddie goes back to work, Carla takes Christopher out to the park, Buck helps him make waffles.

Christopher doesn’t wake up screaming.

He wakes up, though. So does Eddie; the silence is a relearning process and he wakes up automatically just when he hears a floorboard creak or a bedspring flex.

He hears Christopher the first night; the shuffle as he pushes all his blankets off and gets up. There’s the faint hum as he goes to put on the TV and the tense, anticipating quiet that falls afterwards. He waits for a few long minutes, watching the glowing numbers on the clock flick over and then gets up.

Chris is still awake, curled on his side, eyes open in the dark and fingers tracing patterns over the side of his model firetruck.

The second night, he pretends to be asleep.

Eddie hears him shuffling around, waits, and goes to check. His eyes are closed, but his small frame is too still as he holds his breath.

Eddie feels shards of his heart splintering through his ribs, a stabbing kind of pain. He deliberates and finally retreats, warring with himself, then lays awake until the sky outside is just starting to streak with sunrise, wondering whether he’d been right to let Chris keep to himself, or whether he’d taken an easy out.

On the third night, Eddie is ready for the pressure in his chest to try to crush him, ready for the fixed-still shape of his son in his bed not long after he’s woken up. The TV isn’t on like before, but Christopher isn’t asleep.

“Ice cream?” Eddie asks him.

Christopher twitches, visibly seems to consider, and then opens his eyes hopefully.

So they sit on the couch at one in the morning with two bowls of neapolitan as Scooby Doo reruns play on the TV. Chris prods his spoon through the scoop in his bowl and Eddie keeps cutting his up because he’s not a child and the thought of eating ice cream in the middle of the night doesn’t quite have the same appeal.

“You know it’s okay to wake me up, right?” Eddie says casually as he flattens a bit of vanilla into the bottom of the bowl. “It’s okay if you want to talk or come find me.”

Christopher ducks his head over his own spoon.

“I didn’t want you to be sad,” he mumbles into his bowl, voice raspy.

Eddie forces aside the familiar lurch of his heart and the way his throat caves in. “It makes me sad if you’re scared or upset,” he insists. “So you come find me, okay? No matter what. We’re going to get through this together.”

Christopher nods and sticks his spoon in his mouth. Eddie just hopes the silent acknowledgement is enough. He falls asleep not long after, empty bowl teetering in his hands, and Eddie rescues it, then very carefully carries him back to bed.

In his own room, now closer to four than anything else, he compulsively checks his phone as he crashes back into the pillows, sleep tugging at the back of his eyes.

There’s no missed messages. He wonders for a second just how many times Buck wakes up in the middle of the night and lays there or paces his room, caught up in his head, not wanting to worry anyone. Eddie can’t make himself call, though. Something about it feels different when it isn’t Christopher doing the asking.