They forgive him. At the end of the day, Buck knows this to be a fact, but it doesn't stop the prickles of uncertainty from gathering under his skin. It’d been a while since he heard the words leave Hen, Chim, or even Bobby’s lips, but Buck supposed that meant he was to believe them, that everyone had forgiven him. The only one he’d had a difficult time believing was Eddie, which was why he’d brought it up that night in his kitchen – when he’d been slightly tipsy on beer and Christopher’s laugh – because it was hard to believe Eddie’s words when his actions were the opposite and he still wasn’t opening up to Buck.
Sometimes Buck thinks it’s his pathological need to be accepted and valued, but he can’t help but wonder if everyone is actually as forgiving as they claimed to be. With Hen and Chimney, it seemed like that was the case. Out of everyone, they were the only two people who tried to see things from his perspective. Bobby regarded him as nothing more than a petulant child, a wrong-doer, and Eddie had been unreasonably angry. Well, until Buck found out that he was street fighting, but that was besides the point.
He was still having nightmares. The ladder truck, the tsunami, Maddie. Everything was a blur of nameless faces, with mouths that sucked up every insecurity and spat it back down his throat. Buck tried to avoid them, started diving back into internet research that stretched into the wee hours of the morning. It helped if the topic was interesting, but Buck would take anything as long as he didn’t fall asleep. If he was asleep, then he was reliving everything. It was like he was Bill Murray, stuck in a time loop with no end, forced to repeat the same events until he got it right. Except, there was no getting it right.
The thing is, Buck knows that he should be more upfront with Bobby. It’s a Captain’s duty to ensure that all members of the team are in the right state of mind, and able to perform their tasks efficiently. But after all the grief Buck caused him with the lawsuit, telling Bobby about his nightmares – like a child – seems like more trouble than it’s worth. What was he supposed to say; ‘Hey Cap, I can’t come in today because I was all up night having a panic attack and throwing up’? Buck didn’t see a conversation like that going well. Not because Bobby wouldn’t be understanding, but because it would be so typical of Buck to come up with an excuse and leave them a man behind because he was worrying too much about himself.
Instead, Buck stares at photos – the recent ones – of Christopher, of Maddie, hell he even looks in the mirror from time to time, until his eyes are burning with sleep because he needs the assurance that all of them are alive.
It was hard to separate his nightmares from reality, especially when he woke up drenched in sweat, having to talk himself out of a panic attack. It was a constant thing, having to remind himself that it was all in his head, that it was his mind playing a cruel trick on him. But minds were twisted, Buck had known that since he was a child, crawling under his parent’s duvet because there was a monster under the bed. Now, there was no comfort. He closed his eyes and was swallowed in darkness before his fears came to life.
Friday Nights at Eddie’s were a gift from God, and even if Buck didn’t consider himself to be particularly spiritual, he thanked the higher powers that gave him forgiving people like Eddie Diaz and his son. Sometimes, he found himself edging closer to what they used to have, when he fell asleep on Eddie’s couch after talking all night. Nowadays, he quietly made his way out the door before Eddie could ask any questions or tell him it was time to leave.
Tonight, was no different.
Christopher, as always, had fallen asleep halfway through the movie, Ice Age – he’d been particularly interested in mammoths after his recent unit in school – and Eddie had left to put him to bed. The silence surrounded Buck telling him that he’d overstayed his welcome, so he stood up, barely suppressing a wince as he stretched his limbs and made his way to the front door.
“Heading out already?” Eddie’s voice called out from behind him, marring confusion. Buck took a few seconds to school his emotions before turning around.
His breath caught in his throat when he saw Eddie’s face. Eyes tired and watery, hair askew, with a questioning glance on his face. “Yeah,” He cleared from his throat, “figured I bugged you enough for one night.” It’s meant as a joke, but Eddie doesn’t laugh. If anything, his lips pull into a frown.
Eddie scoffs after a moment, but his eyes are warm. “Don’t be ridiculous, Christopher could never get sick of you,” The words are spoken so softly, with such severance that Buck can’t help but be drawn further away from the door, as if Eddie had him in some sort of gravitational pull.
He doesn’t know why those words decide to make an appearance in his mind, but they show up like dirty shoes on a carpet, because it seems that as much as you clean it – or in Buck’s world, remember that you’re forgiven – it’ll never be like it once was. Deep down Buck knows that these words shouldn’t have power over him anymore. He and Eddie talked it out several times, they’d been good for months, but there was always a lingering doubt. Words spoken, especially angry, had some form of semblance in real life. In one way or another, Buck was exhausting, even when he tried to do the right thing.
“You still here with me, Buck?” Eddie’s voice pulls him from his thoughts, leaves him gaping like a fish trying to find the right words.
“I’m uh-yeah,” he mumbles, lamely. Buck knew Eddie would see through his half-answer, but he also banked on the fact that Eddie wouldn’t push him. Eddie wasn’t a big talker, especially when emotions were involved so he was certain that as far as this conversation went, he was in the clear.
“You sure?” Eddie takes a few steps towards him, hand twitching as if to reach out.
Buck steps back. “I’m always okay. Just tired. Nothing I can’t handle.” He wants to leave it at that, wants Eddie to see that he can handle his own issues, that he isn’t just some leech who sucks everyone dry. With the way Eddie’s staring at him, so openly concerned, Buck feels on the verge of a panic attack, so he blinks his eyes twice, clears his throat, and takes another step towards the door. Eddie’s mouth opens slightly, but Buck doesn’t allow him to speak. He can’t handle any more words of encouragement; he needs to be alone.
It takes five seconds for Buck to walk out of the front door, Eddie’s silence stretching behind him until it’s snapped by the slam of his Jeep door.
Red changes things. Well, in actuality, Red changes nothing, but it brings to life more of the insecurities Buck had been filled with. A brave firefighter whose team was his family, it sounded familiar, sure, but Buck had only focused on one thing: the loneliness. Red had found a family in his teammates, much like Buck at the 118, but years of lost communication and regret had tarnished it and left behind a man living in the glory days wishing things were different. It makes him think about his situation with Bobby, Hen, Chimney, Eddie, and everyone else he holds so close to his heart.
Buck can’t help but feel guilt. He doesn’t want to be one of those people who need constant reassurance, but he is, he’s certain he always will be. It means almost nothing that he’s heard the same washed-out speech from all of them at least a hundred times. Everyone put the lawsuit behind them, but Buck couldn’t seem to believe it. He didn’t want to tell anyone about his fear of being left, but after Red it seemed like the worries burned his tongue. He once again needed to be coddled like a child.
Everyone’s in a competitive game of pool when Buck brings it up, seemingly more focused on making a shot than paying him any mind. He understood of course, they all saw it as Buck making a fuss over some non-existent thing, only it didn’t feel that way, at least not to him. So, he pushes forward, allows himself to be vulnerable and share his worries, but like everything else, it blows up in his face.
Chimney, albeit unknowingly, strikes the all-too-familiar match. "So, it’s all about you then?"
And Buck knows that the words are meant in a teasing way, he watches them all chuckle at Chim’s words, like it’s a secret joke between the rest of them, but a small part of him can’t help but wonder if this is how they see him, how they've always seen him; selfish.
It isn’t as though they’re wrong. The lawsuit was selfish, Buck in his entirety was selfish – is selfish. He’d never done anything for anyone until he became a firefighter. And even though Eddie tries to reassure him, tell him that would never happen, Buck’s left wondering, thinking about the day each of them decide to leave. Eddie’s words are soft, but Buck had always had a hard time with words. It was easy, beyond easy, to believe any criticism thrown his way, but soft words, promises, those were never real. Abby spoke a lot of soft words to him, then she left. His parents had been nothing but soft words if it meant that he was out of their way because, ‘We don’t have time to worry about that right now, Evan.’
After Red Buck allows himself to hear these words and find a way to accept them.
“That won’t happen to us.” Eddie tells him.
“Better not.” He grumbles out. Buck knows it will happen though. There are many things in life that are inevitable, leaving was one of them.
Then Red dies, and Buck is left talking to Maddie in the quiet of his kitchen. She tells him that he was a good friend to Red, and he can’t help the words that spill from his mouth.
“Was I? Or did I just do that thing that I always do and make it about me?”
Maddie stares at him for a few seconds, Buck knows that she’s trying to find the correct response because he’s sitting here with red rimmed eyes and a broken voice, until she’s grasping his pinky and telling him she’s not going to leave him again. He knows that she believes it, probably as much as she did the first two times she made that promise. But instead of bringing up the conversation they had before, about being left, Buck shakes her pinky with his own because even if he can’t believe Maddie’s words, he’ll allow her to hold onto that promise for as long as she can.
Bobby is at his front door five minutes after one of his more gruelling panic attacks. Buck sees him through the peephole holding several grocery bags with a tired smile on his face. He groans into his palms. At this rate, Buck had to have the worst luck in the world, no argument.
It takes an extended period for Buck’s laboured breathing to quiet, and by then Bobby’s knocking has intensified, his fervent banging in rhythm with Buck’s heart. Taking a final calming breath, Buck opens the door, welcomed to Bobby’s white-washed face that almost immediately schools into calm as Buck stares at him.
Bobby looks at him sheepishly, as though he came uninvited – which he technically did, not that Buck would ever pass up the opportunity to spend time with the older man. “Figured you hadn’t eaten today, so I brought some ingredients. Thought I could teach you how to slow roast pork with some cream potatoes,”
“I’ll never turn down a cooking lesson from my own personal Guy Fieri,” Buck snorted out. Bobby rolled his eyes, but the look he gave in response was nothing short of fond.
“Just start cubing these potatoes there, Buck,”
Not needing any more instruction, Buck set off to cube several potatoes before setting them in a pot of boiling water. After he placed in all of the potatoes, Buck stared at Bobby, watched as the man moved through the kitchen with ease. As far as Buck was concerned, Bobby could walk into any kitchen and charm it in a matter of minutes. But as nice as it was to think about Bobby making a home in the kitchens of the world, it didn’t answer why he was in Buck’s. It wasn’t uncommon for them to see each other outside of shifts at the station, but Bobby, like most of Buck’s friends and family, had always made sure to call ahead and make sure he was home.
Bobby’s hands tremble slightly as he closes the lid of the slow cooker before turning it on. Buck figures he ought to ask why his Captain came to his apartment on their day off just to show him how to slow cook a pork tenderloin but stopped himself shortly. The conversation he’d had with Maddie a few days ago, about Red’s death, was still fresh, and even if the conversation was not something he planned on sharing with anyone else – especially with how well it went the first time at the station – Buck knew that Maddie had probably expressed her worries to Chimney, who had in turn told Bobby.
“I’m sorry to have just barged in on your day off, Buck. I know that’s probably a little weird.” Bobby stared at him with a neutral expression, but his off tone had a knot coiling in Buck’s stomach. It felt like his body had been struck by a match with how much it was burning. How dare Maddie disclose such a personal conversation to Chimney? How dare Chimney tell Bobby about it?
“It’s fine,” Buck begins.
Bobby cuts him off, “It’s really not,” he levels Buck with a soft smile. Buck doesn’t return it.
“Why are you here, Bobby?” He asks in a rush. The words felt like ash on his tongue, exploding into a cloud of dust in front of him.
“I told you already, Buck. I found a new recipe and I figured- “
“Bobby,” Buck squawks out, “Did Chimney tell you something?” Bobby’s face pales, meaning Buck’s instinct had been right. He feels his anger growing.
“We’re all worried about you, Buck.” Bobby begins tentatively, “One minute you’re still this happy-go-lucky kid, and the next you’re coming into work having an inner turmoil about your future because you met another fire fighter who had a bad shot at life,”
“Didn’t seem like you were very worried the first time I brought it up.” Buck doesn’t mean for it to sound angry, but he can’t help it. He’d chosen to share his feelings with people who laughed, and then made jokes about how self-centred he was.
“I’m always worried about you, kid.” Buck rolls his eyes at that. “Buck, I mean it. You’re a part of this family. You are not going to lose any of us, I promise you that.”
Buck wants to believe it, but his mind is a muddled mess of doubt. “How can you promise that?” Bobby walks closer and puts his hand on Buck’s upper arm.
“You’re right, I can’t. There’s always going to be that doubt in life and I’m sorry that I can’t prevent that, but Buck, I am going to use everything in me to make that promise for as long as I’m alive.”
Buck scoffs at that. “That’s not something you can promise, Bobby,”
“I can, and I did. You shouldn’t have to go through anything alone, Buck.” But Buck already knew that. He had to be 100% in order to do his job.
“You’re right, Bobby and I know that, but the job-,”
“This isn’t about the job, Buck. You shouldn’t have to feel that way. I’m sorry I haven’t done a better job of preventing it,”
Bobby’s hand is warm, and his words are so genuine that Buck melts into them. These words are nothing like Maddie’s, they aren’t to make anyone else feel better. There’s no empty promises.
“Thank you, Bobby,” It felt like words were too much for Buck in that moment, his eyes were alight with tears, neck warm with embarrassment and love.
“Anything, anytime.” Bobby says in response, “and not just because I’m your captain.”
They both smile at that.
“So, what kind of sauce are you cooking this roast in?” Buck asks with a raise of his brows.
Bobby chuckles softly, “Tell you what, if you can guess, I’ll give you my lasagne recipe.”
Buck doesn’t guess the sauce correctly, but Bobby still promises to show him the recipe. For the first time in a few weeks, Buck feels content.
It takes Eddie all of five minutes to corner Buck in the locker room and interrogate him at the start of their next shift.
“Alright man, what’s going on with you?” Buck has an excuse lining his tongue, but based on Eddie’s look, he’s ready to intercept it, “Don’t bullshit me, Buck. You’ve been acting strange ever since Red.” Buck’s too slow to hide his wince at hearing the late man’s name, and it’s something Eddie catches, because of course he does. People like Eddie, soldiers, don’t come back from the war for being unobservant.
“It’s nothing,” Buck tries to reason, “just a bad sleep.”
Eddie doesn’t even look halfway convinced. “Oh yeah? So is your sleeping routine the reason you haven’t come over for movie night with Christopher in over a week?” The words, the tone of voice, it’s all so familiar. Buck feels shame, so similar to what he felt during the lawsuit at Eddie’s words, it takes him a few seconds to recover.
“I’m sorry, I can come see Chris after shift today. I know he has that science project coming up,” Buck isn’t trying to kiss Eddie’s ass with his words – he knows he’s been distant from Eddie, well, from everyone except Bobby – but if he keeps the conversation on Christopher, he keeps it off himself.
“He finished it already, which you would’ve known if you’d been bothered to show up,” There’s a hard edge to Eddie’s words, but Buck notices instantly the difference between Eddie from the lawsuit and present Eddie; the anger – or rather, the lack thereof. Eddie’s words are sharp, but instead of the anger that Buck was expecting, he hears nothing more than hurt and confusion that appears to be swallowing Eddie whole.
“I know, I just figured that I might need some time to myself. I just needed to be in my own corner and-,”
“Focus on yourself?” The insinuation of Eddie’s words is sickening, and Buck feels his resolve beginning to slip.
“I know what you’re going to say, but Eddie-,”
“I get it, Buck. Loud and clear.” Eddie turns sharply after that, his back stiff and rigid.
The words puncture Buck and he takes a few steadying breaths, pushing his palms into his eyes before making his way upstairs to the kitchen. He stops short when he notices Bobby lurking by the locker room entrance, a solemn expression on his face.
“Buck?” Bobby’s voice is warm – though rough from fatigue – and it cements Buck to the ground.
“Morning, Cap. Want me to head upstairs and start cutting up some food?” Despite what he may be feeling, Buck wants Bobby to believe that everything is okay. If not for the conversation they had last week, then to prevent Buck from being sent home to have a ‘personal day’.
“Buck, what was that?” Buck shakes his head at Bobby’s words, looking anywhere but the man in front of him. Bobby steps closer, “Buck, I thought you talked to Eddie.” Bobby doesn’t phrase it like a question, he says it as fact which means that this was just another thing Buck had done to let someone down.
“I just did,” is all Buck can get out because his throat is closing in on him. Not here. Not here. He can’t have a panic attack here, even though he feels the steady drumming of his pulse speed up, and his hands begin to shake. Buck swallows quickly and clenches his fists, forcing himself to remain calm – at least for the remainder of the conversation, until he can situate himself in a bathroom.
“You and I talked about this, Buck. You experienced a lot of trauma this year, you’re allowed to take time for yourself,” Bobby’s eyes are the colour of burnt toffee and Buck is stuck in them. “Just make sure to-,”
“I know. I’ll talk to him later.” It’s easier to lie to Bobby, especially when he’s worried, because Buck has no intention of talking to Eddie at all, at least for today. “Need any help with the food?” He asks again, because he knows Bobby will drop it this time. He isn’t like Buck, doesn’t push a button until it’s broken.
“Yes, Buck. Go ahead and start on the fruit,”
“Aye-aye Captain,’ Buck rasps out, pointing his hand like a hook. Bobby rolls his eyes good-naturedly before turning around. When Buck doesn’t follow him, he looks back with a raised eyebrow. “I’ll meet you up there. Had a large coffee on the morning commute.” It seems to do the trick and Bobby leaves upstairs while Buck carefully makes his way to the bathrooms on the lower level of the station.
Once he’s locked in the bathroom, Buck allows himself to fall apart. His breathing comes in strangled gasps, making him sound like a wild animal in the dead of winter. He places his hands on the wall, leaning his head against the cool material. Pacing would make too much noise. Buck hoped this was just a normal panic attack, he didn’t have the energy or the time to spend twenty minutes calming down.
“You’re fine.” He rasps out. “You’re fine, you’re fine, you’re fine,” the words leave him in a rush of breath. Buck clenches and unclenches his fists, hopping on his feet to forget just for a moment what’s going on. What can I see? He chooses to focus on that, it was from a particularly helpful website that gave advice for dealing with panic attacks in public, which until today Buck had never dealt with. Buck’s able to name six things that he can see – the toilet, the floor, the door, the garbage container, toilet paper, and his hands – before he realizes the method isn’t working.
His breathing is the same, although the uneven gasps are becoming more frequent, until he feels his coffee and breakfast bagel come spilling out of his mouth and into the toilet. In less than three seconds, Buck is on his knees gagging into the toilet and choking on air.
You’re fine. Stop it, he tells himself.
It takes a minute or two – or five, Buck hasn’t been keeping track – for the nausea to pass and once it does, he’s back on his feet taking in gulps of air. Aside from his sexual escapades as Buck 1.0, Buck had never been more thankful for an empty bathroom. He makes his way across the bathroom slowly, legs wobbly, and rinses his mouth and face in the sink. When Buck reaches the door, he’s expecting to see nothing but the emptiness of downstairs – instead he’s met with the worried face of Chimney. Not the worst person he could’ve run into, but based on the man’s expression, Buck’s anticipating the questions that will inevitably be thrown his way.
“Buck, are you okay? I heard you hacking up in there. Do you need me to check you out?” While the concern is nice, the last thing Buck needs is someone checking him out. He’s thankful that, at least from Chim’s perspective, his bathroom panic attack had sounded more like someone with the flu.
“I’m good, Chim. Must have been that bagel I got this morning,” Buck aims for a joke and thankfully it lands because Chimney gives him a half smile before placing a hand on his back and ushering him up the stairs.
“Everything okay you two?” Bobby asks once they’re upstairs. For a minute, Buck worries about what to say when Chim, thankfully, speaks for him.
“Yeah. Sorry, Cap but this one decided to puke his guts out in the bathroom.”
Hen wrinkles her nose, “Well I ain’t going in there today,” she says, winking at Buck. “You’re okay though, Buckaroo?”
Buck feels himself flush with embarrassment from having everyone’s eyes on him. Bobby, Hen, and Chim in amusement; Eddie with an unreadable expression. Buck makes his way to the table – seeing as though Bobby had sliced the fruit and set the plates out – opting to sit in between Hen and Chimney, keeping his eyes on the table as he does so.
He sees Hen and Chimney staring at him wide-eyed before turning their attention to Eddie, but Bobby – especially because he had witnessed their conversation in the locker room – seemed to understand. That doesn’t mean Buck misses Eddie’s furrowed eyebrows or the way his shoulders drop dejectedly.
Buck sighed. It didn’t matter, he wasn’t talking to Eddie anyway.
It takes Buck until lunch time to finally break. Eddie’s sad eyes had been staring at him all morning to the point where he couldn’t take it anymore. After helping Hen clean the table and starting on the dishes from their meal, Buck decides to talk to Eddie, he didn’t want this weird non-fight to go on any longer. He missed Eddie, and he knew that Eddie missed him back.
“You seen Eddie?” He asks Hen when the man in question is no longer at the table chatting with Chimney.
“He got a phone call in the middle of you serenading Hen with the wooden spoon,” Chim rolls his eyes at that, “Christopher’s school called.”
The words set Buck into motion, the smile dropping from his face. “Is he okay? Did something happen? What did Eddie say-,”
“Relax, Buck. I’m sure it’s fine,” Hen comforts with her warm voice
“Yeah. You’ve got nothing to worry about, man. It was just his teacher,” Chimney starts before scratching his chin, “Amy, right?”
“Ana,” Buck says without thinking. He really should’ve been more embarrassed, knowing the name of a woman he’d never met, but Eddie had talked about her so often – at least until the well – that it didn’t feel weird to know her name.
Chimney snaps his fingers. “Right. Thanks, Buckaroo,” He says, and then he’s gone, probably to try and call Maddie before the alarm went off.
Hen must’ve noticed something in his expression because as soon as Buck turned back to the sink, she was on him with questions, “Are you okay, Buck? You feeling nauseous again?”
“Never been better, Henrietta,” Buck smiles at her, pleased with the way her face scrunches up – something she’d always done when anyone referred to her using her full name – and hopes that she’ll drop it.
Hen doesn’t seem fazed.
“Is this about Eddie?” Buck cringes at the question. Even though he knew everyone was confused about what exactly was going on with him and Eddie. They were always talking and now they weren’t.
“Not really,” Buck answers because it’s the truth. His inner turmoil focused on a lot more than Eddie Diaz, even if his nightmares now included losing Eddie in the well.
“What’s this about, Buck? You know you can tell me, I won’t judge that,” The words are so kind and sincere, but also laughable. Buck can’t help but wonder where these words were a week ago, when he needed some actual reassurance, not half-assed replies during a pool game. It makes him scared to open up and tell Hen. He doesn’t need any more regrets.
Buck stays quiet, opting to take a wet plate from Hen’s hands and start drying it with a cloth. She snatches it back from him.
“I know there’s something, just tell me,”
Buck, knowing that silence won’t please Hen, instead tries the same approach he’d used on Bobby last week. “I’m trying to fix it on my own.”
Hen’s brows dip downwards, her mouth curving towards her chin. “Look, if this is about what happened with Red…” She trails off, probably gauging Buck’s reaction. After making note of his flushed face and downcast eyes, Hen opens her mouth to speak again, but Buck beats her.
“I don’t want to make anything about me,” He tells her earnestly, because Buck doesn’t want to be known by his work colleagues and family as selfish.
Whatever reaction Buck had been expecting from Hen, it certainly wasn’t this. She pulls the dish cloth from his hands, throwing it onto the counter beside him, before grabbing Buck’s shoulders and hauling him in for a hug. Immediately his brain tells him to recoil, that he’s receiving the same pity he was getting before, but Buck knows this is different. Hens arms are warm and safe, and so after a grueling internal debate, he allows himself to fall into her freely.
“I’m sorry, Buck,” She whispers over and over again, “I’m so sorry.”
Buck hides his burning tears in Hen’s neck, moving very little, almost statue-like, afraid that if he holds on too hard Hen’s embrace will crack, leaving him cold and alone. He still enjoys the hug nonetheless because it’s no secret that Buck thrives on physical affection. It was something he’d never been shy about, but there were still moments where he wondered if he was too much.
Hen’s embrace begins to feel suffocating, shame slowly washing over Buck as he realizes just what’s happened. She knew. Not exclusively or anything, but Hen knew enough to bring it up as a concern to everyone else. It would’ve been nothing new, to have everyone look at him with disappointment - and sure, he could laugh it off or smile - but he’d still go home at the end of the day, look in the mirror and wonder why he couldn’t be better for everyone.
Buck pulls away from Hen slowly because he doesn’t want her to think that anything’s wrong, even though he can feel himself beginning to choke on his breath. He shuts his eyes tightly before raising his head, eyes slick with moisture from his tears, off of Hen’s neck.
In… Out… In… Out
He repeats it like a mantra, reveling in the fact that he’s able to calm himself down this time before rising fully, opening his eyes, and staring at Hen with a smile he knew she loved.
“We’re okay, Buck,” She whispers to him, patting her hand on his shoulder.
“Thanks, Hen,” Buck blinks down at her honestly, because it might not have solved everything, but it keeps his breathing even.
“I’m not going to say anything, not if you don’t want me to, and mostly because I know that Cap’s already talked to you. I don’t want to make some big speech out of things either because I’d much rather whoop your butt on the PlayStation,” they both stop to chuckle at that, “but know that I’m here, Buck, and that I think you’re the most selfless person I’ve ever met.”
Selfless. Buck liked the way that word sounded. He repeated it in his head as Hen set up the PlayStation, both of them oblivious to the fact that Eddie was stood on the top step of the staircase and had heard everything.
The day after their shift Buck finds himself parked in Eddie’s driveway – ironically enough, on their Friday movie night – to sort out the one stone left unturned in the past year. His relationship with Eddie had been stretched thin, cracked, and then mended with tape. Both of them had allowed so much of their trauma to blind them, turn them against one another, and walk away on more than one occasion. Buck couldn’t do it anymore. If almost two weeks without Eddie’s company had taught him anything, it was that he couldn’t handle being without Eddie.
He walks up the driveway to Eddie’s front door, standing there with his fist raised before he feels the inexplicable urge to turn around and drive away as fast as he can. Then, he remembers Eddie’s sad eyes, the hurt in his voice, so Buck lifts his fist higher and knocks three times on the door, breath blowing out of his cheeks.
Eddie opens the door with a raised eyebrow as if he couldn’t understand what Buck was doing at his house. Granted it was 10:30 at night, but that had never mattered before. And Buck wasn’t sure he wanted Christopher to be awake for this conversation.
“You need something?” Eddie asks quietly, his tone defensive, but luckily, Buck had been prepared for this.
“Yeah,” He drawls out smoothly, “My best friend.” Buck knows the words are cliché, and judging by the look on Eddie’s face, he doesn’t seem to believe them.
Eddie’s eyebrows are furrowed, his brown eyes staring searchingly at Buck before he steps to the side, allowing Buck to step into the house. Instantly, Buck feels a thick coating of tension on his shoulders as he steps past Eddie and into the kitchen.
“Surprised you’re still calling me that,” Eddie begins after a moment of silence, “You know, considering you seem to want nothing to do with me,”
Buck feels his throat closing in. “Eddie-,” He chokes out.
Eddie holds his hand up, “No, I need to get this out first.”
Buck nods slowly at Eddie, gesturing for him to continue. Eddie sighs loudly, rubbing his palms on his jeans before staring at the junction between Buck’s shoulder and neck.
“Can I ask you something?” Eddie asks in a rush, not even waiting for Buck to respond before he opens his mouth again, “Do you think I’m pissed at you or something?”
Buck stills at the question, feels his heartrate increasing, toes curling inside his socks. It’s a difficult question to answer because Buck knows that had he been asked this two weeks ago he would have, with absolute certainty, said that Eddie was angry with him, just pretending not to be. Now, he knew better than that, knew better than to allow such damaging thoughts to leave him keeled over a toilet, breath running ragged. It didn’t mean the thoughts had just stopped, but Buck knew, especially after yesterday, that Eddie wasn’t angry with him.
That didn’t mean he knew how Eddie felt otherwise though.
“I did, at one point,” Buck shrugs, “you know, especially after the lawsuit and-,”
Eddie cuts him off with a shake of his head, “I told you I was past that, Buck.”
“I know, I guess there was a part of me that still wasn’t.”
“Did that have anything to do with Red?” The way Eddie brings the man up this time is different, softer, but the conversation is slowly heading to the point of no return.
Buck nods at Eddie’s question, his mouth feels too dry to open. Eddie breathes slowly through his nostrils, a faint whistling sound surrounding them that, under any other circumstance, would have Buck falling over with laughter.
“What happened with Red, Buck, I-uh,” Eddie stumbles over his words, “It isn’t going to happen to you.” Buck, for reasons he can’t comprehend, feels guilty at Eddie’s words, an apology scraping against his teeth.
“I’m sorry,” Buck blurts out before he can stop himself, his eyes mirroring Eddie’s wide ones.
“For what?” Eddie asks, and he seems so genuinely confused that Buck almost decides to go back on what he was going to say, but he can’t. In order for Eddie and him to be okay, Buck needed to be honest.
“I just- I’ve had a hard time dealing with everything that’s happened this year. The ladder truck was one thing, but then there was the tsunami,” Eddie flinches at the words, but Buck’s too deep in his own mind to notice, “I felt like I was letting everyone down, and then we had that apartment fire when I saved Gladys on the rope and I remember nobody had time to celebrate after. I get it, I know you guys have your own thing going on, and that was fine, but then I met Red and he talked about being alone and-,” Buck’s words begin to leave his mouth too quickly to fully comprehend, his hands shaking, body warm all over. He feels a pressure on his shoulder, Eddie’s hand, pressing into him, holding him in place.
“You’re not alone, Buck. When I invited you to Chris’s sleepover, I was being serious. I mean, not only would you have saved me from several nine-year-old’s on a sugar high, but I always enjoy having you around, man.” Eddie’s eyes bore into Buck’s through the entirety of his speech, his thumb rubbing along Buck’s pulse point.
“I know, it just felt like intruding, I guess. I don’t know, Eddie, I don’t want to come between anything,” Buck pretends that he’s not thinking about Ana Flores when he says this, and the way Eddie talked about her. He remembers the shy way that Eddie had brought her up, it was almost annoying.
Buck can’t help but wonder what Eddie says about him to other people.
“I saw you with Hen.” Eddie mumbles out quietly, and for a moment, Buck’s confused, until he remembers the way he cried into Hen’s shoulder yesterday. He can’t meet Eddie’s eyes.
“How did you-?”
“I was making my way back up the stairs when I heard you telling her about ‘solving it on your own’,” Eddie pulls his hand off of Buck’s shoulder, looking at the ground before meeting Buck’s eyes. “Look Buck, if this is about what Chimney said, or even me, about making things about yourself – you gotta know man, we never meant it like that.”
Buck’s first instinct is to laugh. A deep, harsh, cruel laugh that would chill Eddie to the bone, make him feel even a sliver of the panic that Buck can’t seem to get rid of. ‘We never meant it like that.’ Eddie sounded sincere, but it seemed like the furthest thing from the truth.
“You aren’t wrong though, Eddie. I do that,”
Eddie shakes his head, “No you don’t. Look, when I said that in the grocery store, and at your place, it was because I missed you. I mean- God, Buck. You’re my best friend, you were always there and then I couldn’t contact you.”
“I’m right here.” Buck says, staring into the soft brown of Eddie’s eyes.
“I know. You better not do it again, asshole.” Eddie responds, raising his finger as if to scold a child.
“I won’t. I swear, Eddie.” Buck feels warm as he speaks, Eddie’s gaze full of content. “So, I should probably get home.”
“Yeah, it’s pretty late.”
Buck ever so discretely checks the wall clock. 11:00 p.m. He cringes. “I’m so-,”
“Buck, if you say you’re sorry again,” Eddie says in a warning tone, but there’s a soft smile pulling at his lips.
Buck grins sheepishly, “Sorry,” he says, dipping his head down.
“Lucky for you, I was just about to put on some Streetfighter. Care to join?” Eddie asks, his eyebrows raised, motioning his arm towards the living room.
“Yeah,” Buck returns Eddie’s smile, “I’d like that.”
Buck lost at Streetfighter that night but seeing the smile on Eddie’s face was worth it as he threw his hands up in victory. He missed this, being with Eddie. The only thing that could make it any better was Christopher, but Eddie assured him that Chris had already made plans for them to go to the aquarium next week.
Buck walked to Eddie’s front door with a full heart, reaching for the doorknob, Eddie shuffling close behind.
“Hey Buck?” Eddie’s voice calls from behind him.
“Yeah?” Buck turns around, watching Eddie bounce on his feet nervously.
Buck waits a few moments for Eddie’s reply, but the older man is staring at him with that unreadable expression again. Then, before he can blink, Buck’s pulled into Eddie’s arms, wrapped tight in the scent of cedarwood, and the feel of Eddie’s warm skin.
“I’m glad you came.” Eddie whispers into Buck’s neck.
“Me too.” Buck replies, and relishes in the feel of Eddie’s arms around him.
Buck leaves the house a few minutes later, trading another smile with Eddie. It reminded him of the last time he’d left Eddie’s house, the negative connotations that went along with it. But after shutting the door of his Jeep, Buck saw Eddie waving at him from the front door, soft smile still on his face.
He drove home, skin warm and buzzing, seeing Eddie’s smile every time he closed his eyes. It was the final piece to a puzzle that Buck had long believed to be broken. As he pulled into his apartment complex, Buck knew that everything would be okay. Things were different now; they were better.