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Still A Buck

Chapter Text

 

Sometimes it just hit him out of nowhere. Buck never could tell where it came from or where and how it faded away each round. Mostly he would just sit still at the table alone until something distracted him from it. The feelings of stillness and vacancy. The kinds that made him want to do nothing, just let time past by until his inner thought won and told him Enough, you needed to move.

 

Today, two hours before his shift, was just like that. Buck lied awake on the bed with his uniform over his chest. He looked at the badge of LAFD on the sleeve.

 

You’re still Buck. You’ll always be Buck.

 

The young man let the shirt fall on his face as he sighed. It wasn’t only Maddie who had said that. He knew he was Buck, he would always be Buck.

 

Only Maddie did not understand being Buck was not enough because it was nothing like being Maddie. Being Maddie meant you were smart, dependable, mature, sensible, along with all wits and bright future. Without her job as 911 operator, she could still help people other way. Her sole existence brightened Buck’s life as she did to other people around her, such as their parents. She went through traumatic events and still helped others, even strangers, especially strangers. He went through Tsunami and came back not only a failure in taking care of Christopher but also brought misery on everyone he loved.

 

Being Buck meant you were stupid, annoying, immature. But Buck who was firefighter meant he could be useful, finally had a worth to keep around. If he weren’t a firefighter, no one who had met Maddie would ever understand why she kept her little brother around but with his job, at least they thought they were siblings who loved to help and even Buck was an annoying little brother, he tried to do good. He tried.

 

He cried.

 

45 minutes later, Buck got up, feeling better. He was good to go.

 

-

 

“And here I thought I have seen everything.” Athena commented after finishing crowd control. Everyone looked up at the man, an artist, being glued from neck to toe to a big billboard over the top of quite tall building. Some glue shooter machine malfunction while he was trying to redecorate the board for the city’s art festival. Fortunately it was one of not quite new, built during the time where high-rises had not become much a thing in human civilization. Eddie and Hen secured the man neck the moment they managed to sew some dried glue off. Buck and Chim were busy cutting off the rest, extracting the man free.

 

“Seriously, your facial structure is so right. May I touch it?” The artist looked straight at Eddie. His request was pure determination.

 

Buck and Chim had to hold their bubbling laughter with all their might to focus on the task. Hen did as well because she knew if she laughed, the other two would follow.

 

“It is how it is as you can see, Sir.” Eddie answered. He seemed amused but did not show any sign of giving in even though the artist continue to praise his…everything. Buck wondered what would Bobby do with him this time if he faced another near death experience from chocking on laughter too hard during a job.

 

“You three are so helpful.” Eddie smacked Buck’s back after they delivered the artist to a hospital.

 

“How could we have helped you? It’s not like Buck can call you dad like he did Bobby last week when that woman was hitting on our captain -- who loves and respects his wife very much so Buck’s prank was really appreciated.” Chim quickly added when Bobby eyed him knowingly.

 

“Hen dared me.” said Buck.

 

“Please, I was just asking how would she react if you called him dad.”

 

“And at that time when we were helping a woman whose head stuck in the pipe, remember? You having a son did not stop her at all.” Buck climbed into the truck along with everyone. Eddie pulled the door shut.

 

“I’m confused though.” Chim changed the topic a bit. “Buck, you don’t really take any action with people during calls. Why chased after that one?”

 

“Ali? She insisted Eddie helped her, not me. Plus, when she contacted me, it had been awhile after the earthquake.”

 

“No, the news woman. Your female counterpart.”

 

“Maddie said I might have narcissistic tendency more than she thought.” Buck huffed.

 

“That ‘Would You Fuck a Clone of Yourself? on Buzzfeed.” Hen nudged Chim’s side. “Looks like now we know who among us would totally fuck his own clone.”

 

“Chimmy’s clone would definitely be evil.”

 

Even Eddie and Bobby failed at hiding their snorting. Buck felt proud of himself even more.

 

-

 

Then a bad day came like a season. It did not start gloomily. No out of blue tiredness weighting on his entire body when he woke up. It started quite colorful actually. He carpooled with Eddie since his jeep needed a check-up. Christopher was dropped at school before Eddie came picking Buck up from his apartment but Christopher left cookies for Buck on the backseat. “I wonder if he really thought I wouldn’t notice or he knows I’d pretend to overlook so his Buck could get cookies.”

 

“This is Chris, Eddie, of course it must be the latter.” Buck bit a cookies, letting chocolate chips melt in his mouth. “Man, this is even better than the last time. You guys planning on taking over Bobby’s kitchen?”

 

“Actually, only cookies work out.” Eddie confessed. “I mean I can cook a meal but bakery is really not my field. Who makes bread from scratch anyway?”

 

“Bobby.”

 

Eddie lifted the right hand in surrender. “Gotta give it to him. He and Athena cook better than my parents.”

 

“You think they know by now we’ve been finding more excuses for them to cook?”

 

“They can’t not know.” They grinned. “When did you realize other kids have different kind of parents?”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“Like, well, I thought every dad is the same until I was eight or nine.” Eddie shrugged. “My dad, he’s kind but he also gets concerned over everything. I thought dads are like that then I met my friend’s father and that man is the opposite of my dad. All chill and so optimistic.”

 

“My parents are -- average, I guess?” Buck hesitantly chose the words. “Straight from happy pie family poster. Never swear, friendly with everyone, mom loves to cook, dad loves to collect those tiny ships in bottle glasses? I went to my friend’s house on my own without Maddie for the first time when I was nine and, damn, that was hard to forget.”

 

“What?”

 

“Her parents were fighting with their neighbor. Big fight. They threw water, garbage over the fence. Her dad was this close to go over the fence to punch the other guy and her sister was cheering him while flipping the bird at the adult. That moment nine years old me finally found someone as cool as my sister.” Buck cracked up a smile a bit thinking back of how young him got impressed by those thing. “Turned out they were fighting because the neighbor’s dog got sick and they blamed my friend because she has severe cynophobia.”

 

“What really happened?”

 

“The wife bought some weird dog food from her friend and didn’t tell anyone. The dog survived, don’t worry. Their yards though, not so much. But that day I realized each house has different kinds of parents. Some get so pissed when other people say bad thing about their kids. Pretty sure you would deck anyone who dare bad mouthing Christopher.” He could not help but add.

 

“Of course, but what do you mean? Are your parents that kind…you know, teaching you to curl fist and go punch anyone who pick on you yourself?”

 

This time Buck barked a loud laugh. “Man, I’d pay to see my parents do that.” He shook his head. “Nah, mine just…don’t get angry, you know? Maybe because no one ever bad mouthed Maddie in front of them. And, well, you can’t say someone’s bad mouthing you if it’s accurate.”

 

“Like what?”

 

“I jumped into the pool from third floor because my friends dared me. You can imagine what followed. Teachers lectured me for two hours and my parents could only just nod along, man, I felt sorrier every minutes there but when we got back home, they only told me they glad I didn’t get hurt because they knew it wouldn’t be the last time I did something stupid.”

 

Eddie frowned but nothing too serious. “Wait, then how do they feel about your job now.”

 

Buck shrugged with a big grin. He collected Eddie’s laughter.

 

-

 

Then the day turned bad in one swift movement. They were at pool party. Some people spiked the drink believing they were the only one who did it and now half of the guests were under influence of mixed drugs, injured or in the pool. Buck and Eddie dived down to help everyone up to get checked by Hen and Chim. Bobby was with other firefighters and polices, securing every guest from causing harm. Nobody really drowned, only panicked or hallucinated. Buck had got three people off the pool but this big guy was the most challenging since he seemed to think Buck was a shark and they were in the middle of ocean.

 

The hardest part was that the man knew how to fight even being so drunk and in the water. Bark did not want to wait until the guy could not move from water finally got into his lungs so he tried cornering him until he struggled back against the edge of the pool and let others pull him out.

 

It worked. Only that Buck wished it would have worked before the man suddenly turned on full fight mode and charged at his illusional shark. In one swift movement of strong fist, it hit Buck’s jaw. The pool’s edge cut his arm before he was pull underwater.

 

Being on blood thinners, they sent him to ER, again.

 

-

 

He did not know how to express how grateful he was for human civilization to develop hospitals while also hated being in it as well.

 

It was hard to breathe for him here.

 

-

 

“Here, Buckaroo, pick again.”

 

Eddie walked on Hen offering a fanned out card deck on her palms to Buck at the end of the shift. They finally let the blond haired get out of hospital after keeping him for like four hours.

 

“What are you guys doing?” Eddie had to ask.

 

Chim who sat on the back of the sofa hovering over Buck, trying to peek which card he chose. “We’re trying to see if we can scientifically prove whether Buck has the worst luck by default or not.”

 

“I’m telling them I have good luck.” Buck countered. Eddie thought he sounded more tired than usual “I survived being crushed by firetruck. My leg’s still functional. None of you said Chim has bad luck and he got rebar through his brain then came back 100%.”

 

“Because that’s a real miracle.” Chim crossed his arms in confidence. “And I got stabbed because Dough was an absolute piece of shit while you keep getting hurt because you must have pissed universe off somewhere in your life.”

 

Eddie patted Buck’s back. “You can’t win this one. Wanna get some pizza with me and Chris?”

 

“Ah, I’d love to but Maddie is coming to drag me to grab a bite with her and throw up later because she and Chim won’t stop footing each other.” He dodged Chim trying to smack his head. “The party’s on the news and they have to talk about  me getting sucker punched in the pool so Maddie knows.”

 

“Bold of you to think I wouldn’t tell her later if it hadn’t got to the news.”

 

Eddie nodded. “Aright, raincheck?”

 

Buck nodded back. “Raincheck.”

 

He filled this vacant feeling inside his chest with banter between himself and Chim until Maddie showed up.

 

Her eyes were red even though she acted like she hid it well by pretending to complain about staring at the screen all day was so close to drive her to nearby spa and put cucumber over eyelids. Chim bought it because he had nothing to suspect. But Buck knew, today was not great. He joked with his sister and obviously soon to be brother in law during dinner. Maddie ruffed his hair and hugged him from behind when she walked past behind his chair at the restaurant.

 

“Mom and dad called you, didn’t they?” He murmured when Chim left the table for restroom.

 

Maddie’s lips tightened. A confirmation.

 

Today was a bad day.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Buck rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. “Sorry.”

 

“Buck, it’s not your fault.” Maddie replied immediately. “Stop thinking it’s your fault.”

 

“I just hate making you fight with them. Seriously, Maddie, it’s no big deal. They know how I am. They love us. They only have different ways to treat us because we’re not the same, that’s all.”

 

“You didn’t make me.” Maddie hissed fiercely. She glanced at the restroom direction to make sure Chim was not near or in hearing range. “I had asked them to called you for like a hundred times. It’s not a hard thing. What’s the point of calling me, asking me how am I doing when they know you get hurt?”

 

“They know you get upset when I get hurt.” Buck argued.

 

“Anyone would know, Buck,” Maddie’s voice raised. “I’m not the weird one, it’s them.”

 

Buck looked away. “Remember when I jumped into the pool from third floor?”

 

“So those bullies in your class would give you friend bag the money?”

 

“Yeah, if Eddie brings this up, just let the detail slide. No one’s gonna believe it.”

 

“You told Eddie?” Her anger subsided a bit by the little surprise. Neither of the Buckley siblings even noticed when did it become a thing, them not talking about childhoods and parents to anyone in L.A. or anyone who did not know them before coming here. Mostly they felt unfair to each other. Buck knew Maddie could not mention their parents without feeling so angry. Maddie knew he could not talk about their family without feeling his parents and sister were like a family in some first grader’s English book while he was just a student who opened the book. You knew people in the book were friendly and would love to meet you, however, they were not mean to care for you.

 

That was how his family was until Maddie told him word by word family needed to be more than that and she was going to be it for him.

 

A waiter, not Chim, walked past behind Maddie’s chair. The brother wondered where the man was. The bathroom’s queue could not be that long.

 

“This morning. It came up.” Buck moved to awkwardly scratched the back of his head. “He was asking about when did I know each parents are different and, you know what, it kind of reminded me that parents aren’t just different from one family to one, they can be different to their children too.”

 

“No.” Maddie firmly refused. She looked him straight into the eyes, refused to let him avoid her gaze even. “You can only treat your children differently but equally only when you care for them all equally first. I hate to say they don’t love you, but I’d rather be an asshole than let you keep believing parents who don’t care if their son is alive or dead even though he tries every way to make them proud is anything close to good parents who deserve your gratitude. If Bobby were our dad, he wouldn’t pat you on the head for jumping into that pool after you spent hours listening to teachers berating you like you’re a burden to their school. Hell, can you imagine Eddie not saying anything if it were Christopher. Can you imagine him not being so angry and beg his kid not to do something like that ever again?

 

“Well, but that Chris we’re talking about. Anyone would wish and do anything to make sure they never have to lose him. I would. I do.”

 

“And I wish the exact same thing about you, for you.” Maddie looked up at the restaurant’s ceiling. She used only the tip of her fingers to brush beneath the eyes. An almost tear. “People who love you would. They do.”

 

“’Hey, guys.”

 

They both turned. Buck has a teasing for Chim taking so long in the toilet waiting on his tongue to change the subject but it stopped right there when they saw a girl on Chim’s back. She was so small.

 

“So, have you ever gone to the toilet and found a girl playing hide and seek like…two miles from her house?”

 

A convenient new topic not needed, apparently. They called Athena and she already had two adults worried sick for a girl with the same description. The restaurant were not really noisy so Buck heard two stressful voice from the other end of the line.

 

Chim insisted this meal was on him. Maddie hugged her little brother again shortly but tight. “Don’t forget to take your med and be careful when you take shower.” He watch Chim and Maddie took the girl to their car before went for his own jeep.

 

Not wanting to go back yet he decided to drive around the city.

 

-

 

Buck ended up in a pop up artistic venue. An art organization set it up for upcoming art festival. He had been driving aimlessly for half an hour and saw a chance to park so he took it since he was not in a mood for convenience store shopping.

 

The young firefighter looked around. Staffs were setting up things like portable bunch of trees, creatively decorated pillars with each artist names plus signatures on them. Also lights, lot of light in shapes and colors. He hoped Christopher liked these when he told him about them later, maybe suggesting the boy to come with his abuela since Buck had zero knowledge in art, classic or post-modern. Buck took the first available bench he saw. He wait for a whole minute to see if someone was going to yell at him this was an art piece but no staffs paid anyone mind so Buck relaxed. There were other passersby taking an early look as well.

 

Remembering Maddie’s worry, he tucked up the right sleeve to check his bandage. Nothing wrong, only the same small heavy feeling when he thought about being in the hospital alone for getting injured during the job once more. Buck learned from training course just because they were the first responders to panic worth incident did not mean getting hurt was a mandatory in their job description. There were protocols to keep every member safe on a call. Chaos and situation being out of control that caused them harm, Buck still disappointed in himself when he could not solve it fast enough. Any injury came with possibilities of sending him out of this job, he learned that now, back to being just Buck.

 

Only a Buck. “He was just being Buck.” His parents used to say along with a small amused huff of wind when their relatives commented on how Buck was not quite as promising as Maddie. She was almost finishing medical school, he was composing message asking his teacher to let him retake a math exam, fixing his bad grade. Maddie was years older than him. She drove back home when mom told her on a phone they think maybe Buck should drop out since his already bad grade declined even more when he entered senior year. “Come on, Maddie. School is not for someone like Buck. I know you dream big about becoming doctor and saving people. It’s good, sweetie but not everyone is made to create impact to society. Some just live by day to day. Your dad and I are not embarrassed. It’s how he is. You’re putting too much pressure on your brother.” Mom told Maddie kindly. Buck was outside the room at that time, his back against the wall next to the door frame, listening in with those emptiness above his head

 

I know you can help people while traveling too but it’s not what Buck wants. He isn’t into traveling. He just wants to have a stable place in this world, and to help.

 

Sweetie, he’s not responsible enough to help anyone. That would be asking too much of him, so I just think let’s stick with traveling would be a good start. Also, We only suggest dropping out because I don’t want to see him so stressed over his future. He needs to know we don’t expect anything from him. He can travel, gain more experiences from around the world.” That actually sounded great. He eventually traveled and stayed for a while in South America after leaving Navy SEALs. The only bitter point was that he did not want to explore the world as much, even when they told everyone it was the only thing suitable for their son. “There’s nothing wrong, being free spirited, I mean.

 

Do you two really think that, or you just hope free spirit means he’ll eventually get out of your sight?

 

“Huh, aren’t you the other firefighter?” A voice snapped Buck out of his reminiscing. Buck rolled the sleeve down as he looked up to see the artist from today’s call. Behind the man was a big pile of…junk.

 

“Yes, how is your neck?”

 

“Just sore. Thank you again.” He waved it off.

 

“Not going to work on your glue art on the top of a building?” Buck smiled. “I never knew glue gun could be that big.”

 

“Customized from the factory.” The man grinned proudly. “Nah, my sponsors asked me to postpone that project until I have a decent team to do something like that again. Can’t argue after the gun malfunctioned and almost turned me into a wax doll.”

 

“And this is your other work?” Buck looked over the man’s shoulder once more. He did not possess any sense of art but he was pretty sure any artwork installed or to be installed in the middle of public space should not have a piece rolling down from the top to his feet like this. The young man picked the -- tape cassette -- up. “Wow, I haven’t seen this since flip phone.”

 

The artist took back. “No, these are my materials. I’m going to make new work real quick. It’s a show anyway.” He tilted toward a camera on tripods Buck had not noticed at first. “Record my process, share, follow my channel.” Buck looked at a name card as he pulled out his phone to follow the artist’s channel on Youtube.

 

“Lux?” He read the name.

 

“My artist name.” Lux clarified. “John is for male lead in action movie. Lux sounds to me like his artist friend who's going to tell stories about him.”

 

A notification showed up in the middle of the screen. It was from Eddie.

 

“I find it’s so cool when you explain it like that.” Buck replied sincerely as he tapped to check the message.

 

09:45 pm

Hey, can we meet? I have something I think I should give you as soon as possible.

 

Buck considered his reply when Lux spoke. “Come to think about it, I never thought about firefighters when they’re not working before. Does it feel different like clocking out from the table. Leaving the desk until tomorrow comes or you always rescue people.”

 

“People always rescue people.” Buck said with ease and gratitude, remembering the young man who helped him stopped the blood back when he was looking for Christopher at the pier. Remembering a stranger who saved that precious boy until he saved in Eddie’s embrace.

 

He typed Sure. Want me to go to your place? I’m not at my apartment. then sent.

 

“Not me. Someone in danger? I’d freeze. Never know what to do. My folks wants me in medical field, I said hell no. Anxiety would have killed me before I even treat my first patient. I can’t hold that much of responsible of someone’s life. Too direct.” Lux turned to the pile behind him. He crouched down at the front of a bright yellow toolbox. “Hey, you’re friend with that charming guy, right? Wanna help me? You have time?”

 

“Well, I do have pics of Eddie but I think you need permission from him first.”

 

“Oh, no, this is actually something I can’t depend on him.”

 

09:48 pm

Where’re you right now?

 

Buck never put in thought much about how sometimes you could heard the writer’s voice in their written or typed text, yet he found the worry in Eddie’s was all too clear. I’m at pop up venue. What’s wrong? Is everything alright? He looked back at Lux as he waited for another reply. “What do you mean -- Wow, you work fast.” Buck blinked. Lux mended and glue things together and now the junk pile already seemed like it was in a halfway to becoming a big human head.

 

“Experiences. 15 years of them actually.” Lux hummed. “I have your friend’s face memorized in my brain, man, along with many faces I want to put in this work. Making the main structure is not hard. It’s the details I love and hate.”

 

09:50 pm

Send me your location. I want to see you.

 

Buck’s fingers stuttered, if that was possible. He did as Eddie asked though.

 

“So, could you tell me how’s your friend like? To be honest I like his seriousness on his face when I first saw him. It has edge and sharpness. Any vague information is fine. I don’t dig deep into any stranger’s life. Big company and the state invade our privacy enough.”

 

“He’s --”

 

09:52 pm

I’m on my way.

 

“He seems like everything-is-under-control kind of guy but he’s actually a worrywart. I think they all are back at the fire station. He’s friendly with everyone and he’s really kind. When I first met him, he was this, like, mature, to the point that I’ m sure when I’m the same age as him now, I would never get to be the same level of matureness.” Buck laughed at himself as a pause. “But as we get along, he sometimes let himself be childish with me. He’s a dad, you know. A goddamn good dad and his son’s awesome as well. They love each other so much. They’re the best team. The way he treat his most important people in his world made you wish you were -- are you taking notes?”

 

Lux was writing on his left palm. “I have forty-eight people I want to put in my work, man.”

 

“How?”

 

“The perk of artistry. You grind everything you want to talk about into shape and color. You know, your friend made me think of yellow and black and gold, like this, see?” He picked a ragged rug from the ground. “I’m gonna put it here as a skin and paint around here too. Maybe some gold and light pink up here. Your birthmark is quite a character as well. Alright, continue your yearning.”

 

“I’m not yearning!” His cheeks flushed but the dimmed lighting of where they were hid them. With hotter skins, Buck felt the coolness of shadow at the night even clearer.

 

Lux looked at him. “Yeah, sure. We all want to be our friend’s world while smiling like that.”

 

“Like what?” Buck lifted his right hand to cover the lower half of his face.

 

“Man, from what you’re saying, it’s either you like him as a wholly him so much, or you’re in the mood for daddy kink.”

 

Buck choked on just the air. The breeze of L.A. and the temperature of his own face.

 

“Buck.”

 

He almost choked on that familiar voice too since he was already at it. Eddie walked to them. “Oh, hey, Eddie.” Buck stood up. “Remember Lux?”

 

“I complimented your face while I was being glued to a billboard. Come see my art, here’s my channel.” He offered Eddie the card like it was his automatic response.

 

“Your neck okay?” Eddie put the card in his jeans’ pocket.

 

“Getting better. When I focus on my work I barely feel the soreness. Hey, your friend are helping --”

 

“And leaving!” Buck interjected. “Let’s let him work in peace. Come on, Eddie.” He rushed Eddie back on the path the older man walked here. “Are you alright? How’s Christopher?”

 

“He’s alright. Chimney’s with him.”

 

Buck paused to process. “Chimney?”

 

“He came to me. Said you had a fight with Maddie.”

 

“What? No, we didn’t!”

 

Eddie breathed out a relief. “Oh, okay. How’s your cut?”

 

“You said you have something to give me.”

 

“I forgot it at home.”

 

Buck stopped walking. They were at the entrance of the venue. The lights around here were a lot brighter he saw Eddie’s hair being messier than usual, as if Chim had woken him up from sleep and he rushed out here. “What’s wrong? No way you’d leave Christopher at home just to check on me.”

 

Eddie gave up the pretense in one sigh. “Chimney’s worried. He said he saw you two fought big once and you looked distressed like how Maddie was back then. And I’d check on you, man. It’s not like I leave my kid alone.”

 

“Thanks, but Chimney overthinks.”

 

“You sure? Because after you came back from hospital you didn’t look so good either. Talk to me, Buck.” Eddie stepped closer. “When I left the station this evening, I saw Maddie. She was yelling at someone on the phone about them not calling you. Crying too.”

 

“Ah, that. Yeah, that would be our parents.” Buck swallowed. He shifted his gaze to the street then to the busy venue. “How about we take a walk in here if we’re going to talk?” He secretly wished Eddie would tell him that a waste of time, that he needed to get home so Chim could get back to his own house and let tonight be done already. Everything was so small but Buck did not understand why everyone acted like it was too hard to let go unaddressed. Not when Eddie agreed and start walked beside him. “This is interesting. You should take Chris here when it opens.”

 

They walked with no exact destination, Buck tried to look around but he barely focus on the surroundings. All of them looked like rain and he was on the other side of window.

 

“Buck, are you alright?”

 

“I am.” He was being honest, even though Eddie’s eyes did not buy it at all. “It’s quite an old issue between me and Maddie. Never gonna go away I guess?” He admitted. “Mostly because it’s confusing as hell for me.”

 

“What’s confusing?”

 

“My sister and my parents.” Buck mused. “Mom and dad always call Maddie if they know I get hurt on anything bad happens. Maddie get upset about this.” His friend’s confusion was clear he did not even need a brighter light to see. “She hates that they never call me or want to check on me. They call because they’re worried about Maddie because she must be worried about me.”

 

“What -- how -- that doesn’t make sense.” Eddie frowned. “What?”

 

“Maddie thinks they don’t care about me and it’s so confusing, man.” Buck let his gaze wander. His hands both tucked in the pockets of his trousers. “I think they have their own way. Maddie wants what’s best for me, cares for me, worries about me. Mom and dad wants me to feel no pressure. They want me to feel free, right? It’s why they don’t check up on me. It’s why they don’t want to talk to me while I was in the hospital. They never ask of me anything. Nothing at all. They never pressure me to be anything. That’s a good thing, right? They never ask me to do better. When I jumped out of the window, they didn’t get angry at me, didn’t tell me to be careful because they know it’s how I am. They want me to be me, just me, because it’s okay, right?”

 

He paused when felt a light squeeze on his shoulder. Eddie was close, so close. “Buck, how would you feel if none of us 118 checked on you when you were in the hospital. What if Bobby never went with you on any PT session?”

 

“I mean it would be totally normal.”

 

“But how would you feel?”

 

Buck looked down. “Like shit.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Because it’s clear no one cares. No matter how much I show them I’m trying. It’s not enough to hold on to me like I hold on to them I --” He shook his head before looked up once more but anywhere that was not Eddie. “People need to stop using 118 against me. We’re talking about my parents. It’s not the same.”

 

“How is it not the same, you idiota.” Eddie tightened the grip on Buck’s shoulder. “Buck, when you told me that story this morning, I thought you were downplaying it, trying to emphasize how understanding your parents are to you but if that’s all they really did to raise you…Tell me, when you’re all alone in a room, in your house, what do you want.? When you sad, when you feel lonely, what do you want?”

 

It was like Eddie had seen those moments Buck hated in both physical world and his own internal world. Where he was both young, a small child, but also where he was an adult but lying down on an empty surface just the same, staring at closed door with no intention to move. For a while, nothing was worth moving for until something inside him changed its mind.

 

Once in a time like that, that door opened.

 

And Maddie, in her teenage years, walked in slowly then scooped him up, comforting him until those things teachers said about him being irresponsible and a bad influence on his peers faded away when he cried on her shoulder.

 

And Eddie showed up with Christopher, telling him he trusted Christopher with Buck, that Buck saved the kid. Eddie thanked him for not giving up. Athena chiding him to think better and not to judge other people’s choices. Bobby waiting until he showed him progress, showed the captain that he learned a lesson, that he could do better. Them giving him a second chance. Hen telling him to be patient, that everything bad would get better because she believed nothing bad stuck with him, Chim believing Buck belonged at the 118 just as much as Chim, saying their situations were once similar.

 

“I want them to wait for me.”

 

Wait as he kept trying, wait because they believed he was going somewhere. Wait for him to get up. Wait until he finish crying and walked to them.

 

“But they didn’t, they never do.” He slowly admitted. “Why is it so hard for them to not conclude, not assume my life that I’m going to end up dead somewhere in the ditch? Why? Where is the criteria of how much I need to achieve so they would stop giving up on me?”

 

The next thing Buck became aware of, was that he was engulfed in Eddie’s warm and tight embrace. His hand in Buck’s short blond hair.

 

“I don’t know.” Eddie whispered. “But screw them. Stick with us. Stick with people who don’t understand what’s so hard about showing you they care and love you. There’s nothing complicated about wanting you to be safe. Ask Bobby. He’d rather go bald than let you hold a knife while you’re on blood thinners.”

 

Buck laughed wetly. It was when he realized he was crying.

 

But he was not alone in his room, and Eddie waited for him.

 

-

 

A week later, they took Christopher to the art venue. “Do we have to?” Eddie asked embarrassingly when Buck insisted they needed to check Lux’s work out.

 

“Man, it’s like he serenades you and people he finds charming. You want to see it, right, buddy?” Buck asked Christopher for support.

 

“I want to see dad’s statue.” Christopher nodded.

 

“It’s not my statue!” Eddie corrected without real heat.

 

“Hey, it’s there.” Buck picked the boy up and rushed to the work, hearing Eddie following behind. It was as Lux described. A giant human head built from junk, painted with various colors and it looked really good, really vibrant.

 

There was another head facing the first one though. He could tell both had gentle smile and longing gaze in the eyes. “Wow, he worked really fast. Here, superman, he said this colors are for your dad.” He pointed at the yellow, black and gold around the left eye of the first head.

 

“It’s really like you, daddy!” Christopher eagerly told Eddie. The man shyly chuckled. “And that one’s like you, Buck.”

 

“Huh?” He followed where Christopher point. It was the second head, at the top of its left eye was painted with bright orange red, white, and bright blue.

 

Lux had installed the description a steel plates next to each head. Buck and Eddie had to bent down to read. “I collect the faces from people I have met, turned them into shapes and colors but my interpretations would never be enough so I collect the faces of people who know them too. I’m fascinated with emotions when we talk about someone we love.” He read it to Christopher.

 

“Buck, are you alright?” Christopher asked softly.

 

“Yes, why?”

 

“Your face is really red.”

 

He held Christopher to his chest as he crouched down, letting the boy’s feet touch the ground, because how else he was going to hide his face. Unfortunately Eddie already saw and the boy’s hair was not enough to cover Buck’s red ear and the back of his neck.

 

“Oh, look, bud. He’s as red as that color. Maybe you’re on to something.”

 

“Eddie, I love you, but shut up.”

 

“I love you too, you know?”

 

When he lifted up his head, Eddie was crouching down in front of him, one of his palm supporting his cheek. “It’s alright. I’ll wait for this too.” Buck was not sure if he had depression. He never thought about it since it never interfered with his work. He also did not know if he ever wanted to find closure from his parents or accept fully that they did not love him, or at least not the way he deserved. But Eddie and Maddie promised they would wait.

 

They would wait and be here with him like he would do for them.

 

“I know. I love you too.”

 

The blue in Buck’s eyes was really bright right now,

 

because it was his. It was him.