Word Count: 4,840
Warnings/Spoilers: None in particular for this chapter.
The colours of the television blurred in front of his eyes as he clicked through the channels, voices talking over voices and music chopping to other music. He should have gone to bed an hour ago but he was restless for no apparent reason and the thought of going to bed, the very idea of feeling like this and trying to close his eyes, was enough to make him shudder. Changing channels, staring at flashes of faces or fuzzy shapes, was at least a better distraction to the silence and his thoughts drifting to the tsunami.
There was a knock at his door, almost hesitant, and he frowned. Abandoning the remote and leaving the television on some random show, he opened the door and knew his frown hadn't abated when he saw Eddie shifting his weight from foot to foot.
"Hi?" he said, gaze sweeping over Eddie's jacket and jeans and scarf combination, his cheeks and eyes slightly red like he'd spent a lot of time outside in the winter wind or he'd been crying.
"Hi." Eddie's eyes wandered aimlessly, fingers twitching at his sides. "I, um… I was in the neighbourhood and I- I hope you don't mind that I'm, um…dropping by unannounced."
Buck's gaze narrowed. "It's…fine. Why were you over this way?"
"No reason," Eddie shrugged, but he still wouldn't meet Buck's stare and that said volumes more than his quiet words. "I was, uh… I just thought of you and… I mean, I didn't know if you'd still be awake but I thought I'd, um…stop by. If I could. If that's okay."
Buck hesitated for a moment before standing aside, motioning Eddie into his apartment because he really couldn't turn Eddie away when he looked seconds away from skittering away. "It's okay. I couldn't sleep anyway and was looking for something to watch on TV."
Eddie's fingers fiddled with the buttons of his jacket but he wasn't undoing them. It looked like he just needed something to play with and Buck felt the hairs at the back of his neck rise at this version of Eddie, the one who appeared to be unravelling at the seams but couldn't find the words to admit it.
"Come here," he murmured, fingers catching on Eddie's coat and tugging the other man towards him.
Eddie inched closer, allowing Buck to push buttons through button-holes and peel the jacket from his shoulders, exposing the navy button-down shirt underneath. He didn't comment on the small shudders rippling down Eddie's spine and evidently moving across his shoulders as he unwound the white scarf from his neck, hanging both articles of clothing on the coat stand by his door. He didn't comment on the thin ring of colour around Eddie's eyes which left him looking slightly unhinged. He didn't comment on the way Eddie's mouth seemed to twist around unspoken words, his throat tensing from time to time as if he was preparing to say something that then never eventuated.
He observed Eddie, weighing his options. "Do you want a drink?"
"No, I… I'm good."
Lost for what to do, Buck tilted his head towards his couch and Eddie gave a tentative nod, toeing off his shoes as Buck returned to his living room area. Buck settled against one end of the couch, patting the space in front of him when he saw Eddie's eyes darting around like they hadn't done this multiple times before. Eddie's lips pressed together but eventually he settled in the space between Buck's legs, stiff-backed with slight trembles still travelling through his frame.
Buck adjusted some of their limbs to find a more comfortable position, one arm curving against Eddie's back and the other running lightly through his hair. Curled together like this, he could feel the tension Eddie was holding in his body and the shallow inhalations that he couldn't possibly miss. He wondered what it was that had triggered such a reaction and where Eddie had come from and whether he planned on staying overnight when they had a shift tomorrow.
"You can tell me anything, you know," he murmured after at least ten minutes of silence had dragged out between them without a sound from Eddie. The jerky nod he received did little to soothe his concerns but he kept running his hand through Eddie's hair, fingers curling behind his ear and over his jaw or the back of his neck from time to time because Buck knew it helped comfort Christopher.
One show had seeped into another show before Buck felt any of the rigidity in Eddie's posture start to unspool, but he held in his words and his questions because he didn't want Eddie to clamp down again. He knew the sort of courage that it would have taken Eddie to show up in such a state and he knew how easily Eddie could turn up for work with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Buck wasn't willing to jeopardise Eddie starting to relax by poking around with intrusive questions.
"I wanted… I wanted to fight tonight," Eddie whispered, halfway through whatever colour and noise concoction was spilling light and sound into Buck's apartment. "I wanted to go to a fight and break something but I knew I couldn't because you know, and Bobby knows, and we have work tomorrow and I… I didn't know what else to…to do."
Buck brushed the softest of kisses against the top of Eddie's hair, clenching his eyes and fighting to regulate his breathing and heartbeat and thoughts to not betray how Eddie feeling like that and coming to see him made him feel. He increased the pressure of his arm around Eddie's quaking shoulders, as if that could somehow keep Eddie together better. "Then I'm glad you came here, man," he said, nosing at the top of Eddie's hair and listening to him release a shuddering exhale. "Is this okay?"
"Yeah, this is… It's good." Eddie gave a small nod, cautious fingers tangling into Buck's sweatshirt. He went quiet, another swirl of colour and light and muted sound before he spoke again. "Thank you, Evan."
"Any time," Buck assured, a promise he would keep up to and including the point where Eddie hated him, died, or started dating someone. He just hoped Eddie didn't feel the way his heart spasmed at those thoughts. He couldn't imagine losing Eddie from his life but he also knew friendships could disintegrate and he'd come close to ruining what he had built between them last year.
"Is Chris with Abuela?" he said, drifting his fingers over the swell of tense muscle he could feel in Eddie's arm and trailing them towards his wrist.
"Carla," Eddie mumbled, a sharp inhale sticking in his throat. "She- She picked him up from school."
He nodded even though he blinked at the confession, because Chris would've finished school hours ago. Had Eddie been feeling like this all day? He remembered what Eddie had said about being in Buck's neighbourhood. Had he been circling around, trying to work up the nerve to knock? It made him hurt just to think about it.
"Do you… Do you want to talk about why you wanted to fight?"
The silence settled again for a long time again, a heavy cloak that Buck was in no hurry to dislodge when he felt Eddie's shoulders tense again at the question. Eddie would, or wouldn't, talk in his own time. If he'd wanted to say no, he would have. If he really hadn't wanted to talk, he would've exploded and stormed out. Staying put meant he either wanted to talk or he was even more scrambled than Buck had suspected, but at least he stayed. He didn't see Buck's question as a threat or a demand and that seemed like a minor victory.
"You're coming to Christopher's party on the weekend, right?"
Buck startled slightly at the abrupt change in topic, the sudden question in the relative silence of his apartment. He rested his cheek against the top of Eddie's head, wrapping him into a loose hug. "Of course, man. Wouldn't miss it for the world."
"Okay." Eddie's hand uncurled and curled again, like he was trying to remind himself he had something to hold onto or maybe because he'd wanted to let go and then decided he couldn't. "Okay."
Eddie didn't end up offering an explanation. He stayed overnight but insisted he wanted to be on the couch on his own which was…weird but Buck allowed him the space. He was disappointed to find Eddie had left before Buck descended, but he was absurdly grateful that he'd repaired things with Eddie enough that the other man showed up to be held instead of being beaten up to the point of bruises and blood and broken bones.
The fact he didn't know what had left Eddie so on edge seemed a small price to pay for the continuing secrets and assurance of his safety.
When he checked his phone while nursing a coffee, the corners of his lips upturned at the simplicity of Eddie's message printed across his screen:
He traced his fingers over the message, bottom lip caught between his teeth, before he typed out a response:
call me if u need anything
By the time he arrived at the 118 for his shift, Eddie was dressed and his eyes were clear and he was joking with Chim and Hen between calls like nothing had ever been wrong the night before. It hammered home that Eddie could've shown up to dozens of shifts and seemed like his regular self even when he'd been falling apart.
Buck tried to pretend he didn't feel cold inside at the thought.
He bounded up the stairs to Eddie's front door, the package wrapped in Superman paper tucked under his arm. He smiled at the small collection of multicoloured balloons strung to the doorknob of Eddie's house and could hear the buzz of noise inside the house of people talking above the low beat of some sort of music. He steeled himself against it, fully aware that Eddie's family was also inside which just made this whole party thing even more daunting than it would've been.
"Buckaroo!" Athena hollered when he passed the kitchen. He winced around a smile, retracing his steps to wave and ducking his head slightly when everyone from the 118 started calling greetings to him.
"I need to-" He pointed further down the corridor and Athena and Maddie made little shooing gestures, so he continued walking until he located Eddie hovering in the doorway of the living room and watching Chris play games with Denny and other kids his age who were probably from his school. "Hey, sorry I'm late," he said, brushing their shoulders together and trying to dispel some of the rigidity in Eddie's posture that screamed how much of an overprotective parent he was trying not to be.
"I'm not the one you need to apologise to," Eddie said, but there was no heat in his words when he offered Buck a small smile and nodded his head towards Chris. "He's been waiting for you all day."
"Better make up for my disappointment," Buck joked and Eddie snorted and elbowed him, nudging him towards Chris. Buck deposited the present on the dining table and crept towards the back of the couch to approach Chris, covering his eyes with one hand and making the kid squeal and protest his inability to see the game. "What's more important, the game or me?" he murmured into Chris' ear and the kid started laughing, tiny hands moving to swat at Buck's wrist.
"The game, Buck. Obviously," Chris said, tipping his head back when Buck removed his hand and smiling so wide Buck wondered if his cheeks hurt. It was impossible not to smile in return at the happiness in Christopher's expression.
"Well, in that case, I'll take back my birthday wishes and keep them for myself," he teased.
Chris held up his arms and Buck dragged him until his feet were on the cushions, keeping his hand on Chris' waist for steadiness when the kid wrapped his arms around Buck's shoulders for a hug. "But it's my birthday!" Chris protested, poking his fingers into Buck's shoulders.
"Oh, is it?" Buck glanced around in mock surprise, pretending to notice the assembled Diaz family members in one corner for the first time. Eddie's Abuela was smiling at them even as she listened to something Pepa was saying. "So that's why there are all these relatives of yours here and everyone said it was so important I get here."
Chris pulled back from the hug, patting his cheek and giving a small shake of his head even though he was still smiling. It was the sort of look Buck had seen on Eddie more times than he could count. "You're silly, Buck."
"I just like hearing you laugh," Buck said, smiling as he ran his fingers through Chris' hair to adjust some of the curls and then fixed the slant of the cute striped cardigan he was wearing. "Happy birthday, little man."
"Thank you!" Chris grinned at him, all teeth and scrunched eyes behind his glasses. "Now, can I go back to my game?"
Buck chuckled and helped spin Chris so he could plonk him back on the couch and resume the game he was clearly invested in. He wandered over to Eddie, who was still in the doorway but now biting his bottom lip in an attempt to hide the smile that had made the dimple reappear in his cheek.
"Don't take it personally. He doesn't get to play games here much."
Buck sniffed and tipped his head dramatically towards Chris. "I will so take it personally. So much for thinking I'm important."
Eddie's laugh trailed after him as he returned to the kitchen to those from the 118. He instinctively moved towards Maddie first, draping an arm around her shoulders. She tangled her fingers into his hand where it hung from her shoulders, squeezing it as he dropped a kiss to her head and squeezed back.
"Glad you made it. We were starting to think you got lost," Hen said and he stuck out his tongue at her.
"She's not wrong. You've probably been to this place more in the last month than we have in our entire time working with Eddie," Chim said and if they'd been at the station, or Maddie wasn't around, Buck probably would have flipped him off.
"Traffic was hell," he said with a shrug, smiling slightly when Maddie's arm slid around his back. "I'll make it up to Chris later."
"Sometimes I forget that kid is Eddie's, not yours," Chim said and Buck started imagining places to hide his body.
The conversation shifted away from prodding at his connections to Eddie and Christopher, thank God, but that didn't stop Hen and Chim from ribbing him for his familiarity with Eddie's kitchen when a Diaz relative appeared and started searching for something Buck could locate easily. When he grew tired of feeling like the two were setting him up for something he didn't want to understand, he motioned to Bobby across the room that he needed a word. Bobby followed him out of the house and they stepped outside onto the porch at the same time as a wind swirled down the street, making Buck pull his jacket tighter across his shoulders to block it out.
"I-" He bit his lip, eyes darting inside the windows of the house to spy the assembled blood and found-families that loved Eddie and Chris. "Look, he'd hate me for saying anything but- Can we keep this between us?"
Bobby's eyebrows seemed unsure whether they should rise or dip into a frown. It was almost comical that way they jiggled on his face. Almost. "I don't want to agree to something if I'm not sure what I'm agreeing to…"
Bobby's deliberation was…fair, Buck supposed. He'd probably do the same thing.
"I just- I need to know someone else is looking out for Eddie," he said, his words blending as he spoke in a bit of a rush. He wasn't exactly thrilled to expose any part of how Eddie was coping right now but he'd had several restless nights after the shift where Eddie had seemed completely focused and okay even though the night before he'd been shaky and wanting to go to a fight. "With- With the fighting, you know?" He saw something flash through Bobby's eyes which made him hastily explain, "He's not. Fighting again, I mean. I know he's not. But I- I just worry? Still?"
He sounded like a bumbling fool and he wanted to smack himself in the head. Repeatedly. He'd been debating saying something and saying nothing to Bobby for days. Perhaps he should've gone with the 'nothing' option.
Bobby's eyebrows finally settled on lowering, the assessing and calculating look that Buck knew all too well from his rehab period drifting into his gaze. "Do you know something more than you're telling me, Buck?"
"No." It was a little too fast, and a little too sharp, and did nothing to sound anything less than a complete lie. Bobby's face conveyed as much. "No, I just- I- He's my partner, right? And we both know I'm the impulsive one that makes stupid decisions so I- I need you to- to be the level-headed one and take him and his responsibilities to Chris into account on a call just in case he's trying to be a hero or something."
Bobby stared at him, clearly expecting something more specific and Buck was determined not to give it to him. He couldn't betray Eddie like that. He didn't even know why Eddie had wanted to go to a fight but the memory of Eddie's words, that he'd either wanted to take someone out or be taken out, had haunted him for weeks. Knowing that Eddie's frame of mind could've been in that same space again, but he'd acted completely normal on the call, had scared him. So he needed Bobby to pay his partner some attention but he couldn't provide more details because he didn't have them. And his days of trying to work out whether to say something had now left him with this awkward and uncomfortable conversation.
"Okay." Bobby didn't look convinced, or satisfied, but he reached out a hand to clasp Buck's shoulder and squeezed gently anyway. "This was a smart thing to do, Buck."
He smiled, somewhat sheepish and somewhat terrified of Eddie ever finding out that he'd said anything to the Captain. He wouldn't put it past Bobby to confront Eddie in a way that made it clear he knew something which then led to Eddie confronting Buck and- He attempted to derail that train of thought before it sent him spiralling with panic. "Just trying to do right by the team, Cap."
Bobby still seemed to be analysing every reaction, every word, every look, but he let Buck's shoulder go and shooed him back into the house.
"Where'd you two go? Eddie wanted to do cake but he realised you'd vanished and decided to wait."
"Quick chat," Bobby said, circling his arm around Athena and kissing her head briefly. "I'll find him and tell him we're back and ready for the cake extravaganza."
Buck hoped Eddie just assumed he'd disappeared with Bobby for something entirely unrelated as he joined the crowd in the small dining area. Isabel was helping Chris into a seat at the head of the table while his friends clustered around him. Buck could hear Pepa rummaging in the kitchen and calling out in a stream of Spanish. Buck hung back in the doorway, observing the beaming smile on Christopher's face as conversation bustled around him. It still took his breath away, sometimes, how suddenly he could get smacked in the chest with a wave of emotion when he realised how close he'd come, how close they'd all come, to losing Christopher in the tsunami. Moments like this, watching Eddie's Abuela run her fingers through Chris' hair and Eddie calling a reply in Spanish were moments he tried to commit to memory for when he woke up and questioned why he'd fought to survive all the water.
"You really do love him, huh?"
His eyes snapped to the left where Michael had sidled up to him, a smirk on his face and an arched eyebrow highlighting the amused sparkle in his eyes.
Buck's heart thumped and twisted in his chest. "He's a great kid," Buck said, the words slightly mumbled, but Michael just rolled his eyes.
"Everyone else might be as blind as a dingbat around here but friends do not bat their eyelashes at one another the way you so often do," Michael said, pressing his lips together to stifle his grin when Buck felt his jaw drop in surprise and alarm and fear. Was he that obvious? Did the others know? Did Eddie suspect anything? "Take it from a certified gay, Buckley. I know what I'm seeing."
"I- You- I'm not-" And okay, yes, he knew there was something between them but he knew Eddie didn't feel it and - Jesus.
Michael's shoulders quivered with barely concealed laughter. "Well, if I wasn't certain about it before, I definitely am now. You're as red as a stoplight."
Buck scrunched his nose, lips pressed into a tight line, and resolutely snapped his attention towards where everyone had started to sing a very out of tune and unsynchronised version of Happy Birthday, with Eddie lowering large chocolate cake covered in nine candles in front of a clapping and delighted Christopher. When everyone was done cheering Buck turned to his left, ready to mount some sort of defence against Michael's accusations, but the man was gone.
With a huff, Buck tried to ignore how his whole body felt aflame with nerves.
"You didn't have to stay and help clean up, you know," Eddie said, for the fourth time, as Buck shoved leftover wrapping paper into a bag.
"And leave you with this?" He waved at the chaos that had erupted in Eddie's usually immaculate home. "What sort of friend do you take me for?"
"The one who usually makes the mess in my kitchen and leaves me to clean it up."
"Okay, first of all, rude." He threw the bag at Eddie's laughing head, watching paper spill from the opening as it moved in a perfect, rustling arc. "Second of all, everyone knows that whoever does the cooking doesn't have to do the cleaning."
"Oh, is that right?" Eddie said, throwing the bag back at him where it bounced off his ear and then fell into his arms. "In that case, my life just got a whole lot easier when I do 98% of the cooking around here."
"That was not-" He grunted, picking up another piece of paper that had escaped the bag, as Eddie started chuckling again. "You know, here I was thinking we did the cooking together which meant we had to share the cleaning duties."
"You'd burn my house down if I wasn't right beside you," Eddie pointed out which…was possibly true. But Buck wasn't willing to admit that.
"I'm a firefighter," he said, tipping his head back and squaring his shoulders to find the two inches of height he knew he had over Eddie. "I can avoid burning homes down with my cooking."
Eddie fixed him with a very critical look that was clearly designed to make Buck's confidence waver. "You sure?"
He tossed the bag on the floor with a scowl. "Alright, clean your own house, you absolute-"
Eddie dissolved into fresh laughter at his fake temper tantrum but Buck used it as an opportunity to find Chris in his room. The floor was piled with presents that the kid had been slowly putting away, adding new books to his shelves or placing ornaments on the little desk in one corner and pinning cards to his corkboard.
"Hi, Buck." Chris gave him a little wave and then shuffled over to him without his crutches, wrapping loose arms around his waist. "Thank you for coming today."
"I wouldn't have missed it for the world," he promised, running his fingers through Chris' hair. "Did you have a good time?"
"The best." Chris tugged free of him and then clambered onto his bed. "I didn't open your present yet, though."
"Yeah. I wanted to open it with just you."
He refused to concede he thought he might have been stabbed in the eye with emotion by a newly-minted nine-year-old.
"Alright." He sat next to Chris as the boy reached for the wrapped box resting on his pillow. "I, um… I hope you like it."
Chris smiled, fingers catching against the paper and tearing. "It's from you, Buck. Of course I'll love it."
It was so simple, so blissfully simple and warm, that Buck couldn't help but wrap his arm around Chris' body and pull the kid into his side as the discarded paper slid to the floor by Buck's feet. Christopher's fingers were less confident with the tab holding the box together so Buck helped with a small tug and then Chris was opening the box.
"Ooooh…" Chris withdrew the small bag with straps, the large yellow C emblazoned against the navy blue.
"It… It attaches to your crutches," Buck said, feeling suddenly awkward and nervous and shy around the kid. "So you can carry little things with you."
"Wow!" Chris squished into his side. "Thanks, Buck! This is awesome!"
"Yeah, but-" He hesitated, fingers curling at Christopher's sides. "Close your eyes and hold out your hands for me?"
Chris looked up at him, a puzzled frown above his pouting mouth before he did as requested. Buck reached for the bag, tugging it out of Chris' hands and opening the zip. He withdrew the figure inside and placed it in Christopher's waiting hands, tiny fingers curling instinctively around the plastic.
Chris looked down and made a soft little gasping noise that pulled at Buck's heart in ways he'd never be able to capture or explain if anyone asked. "Oh."
"It's, uh… It's a Marvel comics character. Her name is Silhouette and she's a superhero who uses crutches just like yours," he explained, pausing when Chris looked at him with eyes shimmering with tears. Had he made a mistake? Had he done the wrong thing? Was he not meant to find gifts that reminded Chris he had a disability? It was all so new to him. Had he- "She- She reminded me of you after you've been such a superhero this year and-"
"Buck, I love it," Christopher said with such heartbreaking sincerity that Buck thought he might end up crying. Chris reached his arms up and around Buck's neck, holding on so tight that Buck could feel the small dig of the action figure's crutch in his shoulder blade. It was painful, but not unbearable. "Thank you, Buck. This is awesome."
Buck was only too happy to wrap his arms around Chris in return, clinging to him and inhaling the soft scent of his soap and feeling his warmth. It helped settle all the insecurities and anxieties he'd had since ordering the special gift.
"I need to show Dad," Chris said abruptly, releasing Buck just as suddenly and sliding to his feet with the bag in one hand and the action figure in another. "Dad!"
"Look what Buck got me!"
Buck bit his lip as he followed Chris into the hallway, leaning against the doorframe of the kid's room as he watched Eddie crouch in front of Christopher to examine the bag.
"It attaches to my crutches and then this was inside," Chris explained, waving his hand with so much excitement that Eddie had to catch his wrist to hold it still and see what it was. When Eddie looked over Christopher's head to meet Buck's eyes, there was so much emotion in the hazel depths, so much gratitude and warmth and hope and something that Buck wanted to believe was love but would deny because Eddie couldn't possibly-
But there was still a clear storm of feelings in Eddie's eyes and he didn't know what to do with them so he gave a slightly wobbly sort of smile and looked away so he could keep himself composed.
"Did you thank Buck for these very cool presents, mijo?"
"Yeah. He's the best," Chris said with a nod, waving the action figure around again. "He said I'm a superhero just like her, Dad!"
There was a choked sort of laugh that fled Eddie's mouth as he touched a hand to his son's cheek, but his eyes were still fixed on Buck.
"Yeah, you are," Eddie murmured, and Buck – honest to God – had no idea if Eddie was talking to his son or to Buck.
He wasn't about to ask.