"Which one is your dad?" she asks.
Chris surveys the drawing with her. "They both are."
The first day Buck met Chris was a long one. No earthquake warnings had been noted when he showed up for work, leaving him clueless on just how many hours it would be before he would get back home and how exhausted he would be by then. He also wouldn't have guessed how high up he would climb, the exact way he'd come back down and then how deep underground he would venture, all before this one shift would be over.
And after all that, Chris was still the most unexpected part of that day.
Buck already knew he liked Eddie. Begrudgingly at first, he admired the man's good looks and skill on the job. He watched the new guy with that resentment harbored by someone who was never good enough his entire life and could already see himself being bested and replaced by the newcomer. His place with his fire station family was threatened and Buck felt justified growling his discontent over it. The new recruit could probably make it anywhere, but for him, this was the only family he's had in years, ever since he lost touch with Maddie.
But then Eddie, for some inexplicable reason, didn't resent him back for being an ass. Buck made his welcome as uncomfortable as possible, then full on escalated things with him in that tense confrontation at the gym in front of a peer and talked down to him. But on the job, Eddie appreciated and complimented him anyway. Smiled at Buck and called him brother. Validated him by seeing him for the competent firefighter that he was and suddenly things clicked, that this wasn't going to rob Buck of his newfound family, it was going to extend it.
He just didn't foresee to what a degree it would. Not even when he was asking Eddie about who he was looking for after the earthquake had struck. The phone handed over to Buck and the picture of Christopher on its screen, the trust it implied, were enough to take him by surprise, but then he was swept over by another feeling. The sweet smile of this kid, the little curls, the way something about him vaguely reminded Buck of Eddie, maybe those big, expressive eyes, it was doing things to him that he couldn't explain or even wanted to, so he tried a distraction from them by exclaiming that he loved kids. Because he truly did. He was full of years of love that had nowhere to go, other than to be offered, to an extent, to random children he would interact with for short instances. He would always be at ease upon meeting them, with their innocence and lack of judgment, with their immediate acceptance of him and the way they reminded him of what his childhood could have been.
But this boy was different.
That was the feeling at the pit of Buck's stomach, though it was based on a picture alone, making it clearly illogical. He handed over the phone back to Eddie and started contemplating what to say in order to put this man's mind at peace regarding the risks during this earthquake.
On some level, the answer was always going to be - nothing. Until they'd get a signal and the call could make it through to Christopher, nothing would calm Eddie down. Buck still tried, as soon as they were alone inside the highrise. But he accepted that could only have partial success, so the first thing that he did, after seeing that the cellphone network was back online and replying to his sister, was to inform Eddie about it. Watching the call between father and son as it was being made... It was, in a sense, beautiful. To see all the small nuances of how his face lit up, how the corners of his eyes crinkled with contained relief and joy at the sound of his son's voice. If Buck could sacrifice something in that moment to make sure this expression would be preserved, he would do it without hesitation.
The ride together over to Christopher's school together was not even a question. Buck insisted and Eddie scratched his chin doubtfully, but then he smiled and that was it.
On the drive, they talked about the normal stuff, like the insanity of some of the things they had been through that day, small things such as the music that was playing on the Jeep's radio and, for some reason, the past. Not a lot of it, but enough. Buck's adventures as a bartender in Peru and Eddie's stint in the army. They didn't say it, but in what they both recounted, it was easy to hear the echoes of droplets falling into wells of loneliness.
Realizing that was weirdly companionate and made it feel not quite as alone anymore.
But nothing, nothing could prepare Buck for what he saw when he parked his Jeep by the entrance to the school. The way Eddie jumped out. The actual sunshine that was beaming out of the boy who was waiting for him. The small circle they made spinning around, happy in their reunited hug. For one isolated instant, not a care in the world could touch them.
And something stirred inside Buck, towards both of them. Two loves of two very different natures, neither one logical, both of them real and reaching into his soul, giving birth to opposing forces: an unstoppable desire to join their hug and an immovable need to protect their little bubble from any outside interruption, including from himself.
Nothing could have prepared him for Eddie and Christopher. And nothing, Buck hoped, would ever take him away from them now. When they climbed into the Jeep, all he knew for sure was that meeting Chris was exactly like finding the last piece of a puzzle. The journey there was long and full of errors, but the last step was effortless, slipping into place with the ease of that which was meant to be.
Buck and Christopher didn't just hit it off. They forged a bond. It was evident that they would as soon as their smiles mirrored each other. From that evening on, their homes became intertwined as the three of them spent most of their free time together. It was what Buck longed for. He had so much catching up to do... On spending time with Chris and discovering the world through his eyes. On deciphering what a partner looks like when meeting the same warmth in Eddie's.
But that's as far as things ever went. Buck knows better than to rock the boat. He's seen enough to recognize that if he does, he will drown. No matter what he feels that he is in relation to them, he has no claim here beyond being Eddie's friend. If something were to happen, if Buck would say something and get rejected, he wouldn't only lose his best friend that he's come to secretly love, he would also lose the right to be a part of Christopher's life.
Unbearable. All of that.
So he bites down on whatever it is he would have liked to express about his feelings for the Diaz boys and replays in his mind every baseball video game match he's played with Chris. He holds on to the instances when Eddie has shown he cares, telling himself this is enough. Because even if it's not everything, it is good as it is, and it's most certainly better than nothing.
It all works out just fine. Daylight hours are easy and so are the evenings and nights that they spend together. It leaves only a small amount of time to contemplate how quiet Buck's loft is when they're not around.
It works. It's fine.
Until this afternoon, when Maddie dropped by his place unannounced, asking for a recipe Bobby had given him for a dish she knew Chim's parents loved, because they were coming over that evening, sooner than they were expected.
Her showing up like that isn't a big deal, she gets to do that once in a blue moon, privilege of a loved older sister. She usually doesn't, especially not the more that she's built for herself a life of her own in L.A, which Buck is thrilled by. Her happiness is one of the main things he's always wished for. And today that happiness includes the way she smiles at Chris, relaxed after she got what she came there for, watching him as he builds a fortress from Lego pieces.
"This one's in Spain," he explains solemnly. "It's called Mola."
"It's beautiful," Maddie beams at him. "Oh, and what's this?" She picks up a drawing that Chris had completed earlier and set aside, probably to take it home with him.
"It's us," he replies as if it's obvious. "I drew the three of us playing together before you came."
"Awww, I love that! Which one is your dad?" she asks, holding the drawing up at an angle that allows her to look at it while Chris can come over and point out the answer.
He doesn't move from his spot by the table with the Lego bricks on it. Instead, he turns to look at the drawing and as he surveys it, he answers, "They both are."
And the room goes completely silent.
Chris, simply because he has nothing else to add and goes back to his Legos. Maddie, probably because she's not sure what to say, her eyes darting awkwardly between the paper in her hands, Eddie and Buck, apologetic and soft with worry. Eddie, well. It's hard to tell what he's thinking, but he is completely pale. And Buck?
Buck is paralyzed.
A million things are speeding through his head, so quick that he can't make out any of them and all that's left in the pit of his stomach is the duality of want and fear.
"I'm..." Eddie starts, but stops to clear his throat awkwardly, before he continues. "I'm sorry. Don't worry about it, Buck. It doesn't mean anything. He didn't mean it."
Oh, but that burns.
Maybe even physically, it feels like Buck's face is on fire and the entire LAFD force wouldn't be able to put it out. Because for a second, for one abrupt, deceitful split of a second, something huge that he's longed for had felt like it might be his and wasn't that a new experience for Buck, even briefly, when he's been rejected by loved ones for longer than he's been alive? That moment of duality was enough for him to have hope and feel a part of his ache for these two healing, soothed by a sense of the miraculous. He, Evan Buckley, who wasn't wanted even by the people who brought him into this world, was chosen by this boy to be a second dad. Buck's love, for once, was reciprocated in the same vein in which it was given.
Then those words came and crushed all of that.
Christopher raises his head from the Legos, turns his eyes to Buck, then to his own dad, before he matter of factly states, "Yes, I did."
Just like that, the room is filled with light again, more than before in fact, because it's not a momentary false hope of his love being requited, as other relationships have turned out to be. He's loved Christopher and cared for him as if he were Buck's own from the first moment he saw this kid. He jumped into the raging waters for Chris and it wasn't even a question. He tied his joy and his sorrow to this child's happiness and well being. How could Buck not be filled with joy when he's discovering that yes, it does go both ways and, because of that, on some level, Chris is in fact a little bit his boy, too.
He may be overstepping, but he has to do this. Buck takes the drawing, soaks it in with a long gaze, then walks over to the kitchen. Everything in there is smooth and pristine, unpersonalized, much like the rest of his apartment. He takes out the duct tape he had stored in one of the drawers, rips some out with his teeth and uses it to put the drawing up where it belongs now, on the fridge door. The bright colors and happy, messy shapes stand in contrast with the rest of the room. It's the best it has ever looked.
Buck turns around to find three pairs of eyes on him. He can't read them, but there's an expectancy in the air, that compels him to speak.
"I'm glad you did." He's addressing Chris directly, ignoring the adults and putting his hand on the drawing without breaking eye contact. "I mean this, too."
Buck has more to say, but not from this distance. He walks over to where Christopher is seated and crouches down next to him, putting one hand on his knee.
"I would happily be whatever you wanted me to be. And if that would be your second dad, I'd be really proud to."
Chris slips his arms around Buck's neck and hugs him. "I love you," he whispers into the embrace.
Walking through the desert for forty years and finally finding water that wasn't a mirage wouldn't have felt this good.
Buck returns the hug. "I love you, too."
He didn't notice a silence wrapped up the room after that, not until Maddie cuts through it. "Ummm, I should probably go. Chim is waiting for me, he's already started the dinner preparations and I have..." she holds up the recipe, but doesn't finish the sentence. "I'll see you guys, bye." She waves awkwardly at Buck and Chris, followed by a glance and tense smile in Eddie's direction.
Maybe a sister doesn't need a confession to figure out the elephant in her brother's room.
The door closes after her and Buck has to move away from Chris to lock it. He passes Eddie by, who doesn't react in any way. There are so many reasons why this man is a mystery, even to people who think they know him well. Buck may know him best, but he still can't make out what he's thinking right now. Which probably means there will be no answer, at least not until Chris has fallen asleep and they're alone. That makes sense, Eddie wouldn't want to chew Buck's head off in front of his son.
...Theirs. In a sense.
It's so new and precious to reflect on that.
And tense as things might get, it's also worth whatever will come next.
"Buddy, do you need help with your castle?" Eddie inquires as he sits down next to his son.
"Fortress," Chris points out. "There's a difference."
"Yeah," Buck backs his boy up. "Castles were built for nobility, so it was the status of their owners that mattered, while fortresses were meant for defense, the only thing that counted was that they were fortified."
He approaches the Lego structure and takes a seat next to Chris, getting a high five as he does.
Buck swallows around the small lump still stuck in his throat and chooses to focus on the liquid gold that's spreading through his body, golden like his Chris.
Eddie stares at him. "I stand corrected," he says, returning to the Lego pieces. "So where does this piece of the fortress go?"
They spend the rest of their afternoon together completing the fortress and when they're done, Buck agrees with Chris that it's too perfect to be taken down. They have a session of picture-taking with it on his phone and he promises he'll send them all to them in their group chat. He already decided that he won't be taking it down for now, but he keeps that as a surprise for Christopher's next visit.
"Alright, mijo. That's the second time you've yawned. It's our cue to go," Eddie says in his 'now I mean it' tone.
"But Dad..." Chris is trying, but all real resistance has left his voice, replaced by fatigue.
"No buts. Can you walk or do you need me to carry you?"
He falls quiet immediately and looks between the two of them. Buck's pretty sure that he would have preferred to be carried, but he's hesitant on which of them to ask. He settles on, "I'll walk."
Maybe they should say something, but the distance to the Jeep, parked in the building's basement, isn't so big that Buck's worried. He puts a reassuring hand on Christopher's back, a reminder that he is there if the fatigue gets to be too much, only to bump into Eddie's fingers. He was doing the same thing on his son's other side.
Chris often falls asleep a short while after the drive home starts when he's this tired and this evening is no exception. Buck registers his figure, splayed out across the backseat in an attempt to find the most comfortable position. He's even more adorable like this, but his vulnerability stands out more as well. There are so many dangers out there that might hurt him, not to mention the dangerous people who won't think twice before harming him. Buck swears to himself again that he would do anything in his power to protect his boy. From anyone or anything, including any attempts to come between the two of them. Except...
Except if Eddie objects. If he says this is too confusing for Chris and they need to stop. Buck would argue and plead, he would make his case and get others to make it on his behalf as well, he would fight... but at the end of the day, he would respect Eddie's wishes and rights as a parent. It would tear him apart and he'd never accept it, but this is the only person in the world who could keep Buck away from his boy.
And Eddie's not speaking.
They usually talk on these drives home. In hushed voices when Chris is asleep, sometimes having to struggle to subdue their laughter. It's rare that they don't chat, though when that happens, it's a companionate silence, comfortable and full of the night sights zipping past the Jeep's windows as they take those in together.
It's never like this. So similar to the first time Buck drove them home and yet, so very different. He glances at Eddie, but the man's eyes are focused on the road ahead, his hands folded in front of him. He's closed off and that's another bad sign. There have been too many of those since Christopher's response to Maddie's question took them all by surprise.
But if it's bad, Buck has to have that come out already. The uncertainty is killing him. Will he drive them home and drop them off only to be told never to come back again? That they'll keep their acquaintance strictly professional from now on?
"Eddie," these thoughts are tearing him apart and he speaks out before he even has an idea what he wants to say. "About what I said earlier, I'm... If it helps, I'm..." he gets stuck on his second try, too. Because he can't say that he's sorry, not when he doesn't mean that.
"I could kiss you."
"What?" Buck can't connect the dots. Because they don't connect, damnit. What...?
"What you said, what you did with the drawing... If we were alone there, if..." Eddie's voice is cracked along his own fears and Buck has heard him talk about his struggles often, but rarely about what he's scared of. Then again, underneath the cracks, it almost sounds like want. "If I was sure that I wouldn't be... offending you, I guess. Then yeah, the way you love Chris, God! When for years I thought I was the only one, that I would be alone... I could kiss you."
Buck's hands on the wheel are trembling. Once was a miracle. Twice in one day is unfathomable. He wants to swallow, but his mouth is dry. He looks in Eddie's direction again and this time Buck catches his eyes, bigger and darker than ever before. Open. Right into his soul.
"How about now?"
Buck would chuckle if he weren't so desperate to hear what Eddie would reply. "Could you kiss me right now?"
He seems at a loss, incapable of responding and Buck's brain is already preparing to accept the rejection and loss after all. But then the confusion is replaced with something indescribable and beautiful, mixed with a certain doubt and hesitancy. "I could. Is that even a question? Of course I could kiss you right now, but you're driving."
Buck would laugh, he's so overwhelmed with emotions. Instead, he directs the Jeep to the nearest curb and as smoothly as he can without being too sudden, he parks.
"I'm not driving anymore." He turns to Eddie. When their gazes meet, it's a plea and a challenge. Mean what you said. As more than a friend. Please.
It's a moonless night, but there's a nearby house with electricity-saving lighting that drowns everything in silver anyway. Eddie's white henley gives the illusion of shining in it. But his eyes definitely do and Buck is trying to comprehend it as those glimmering dots of light reflected in them keep getting closer until he is, Eddie is kissing him.
There's warmth against Buck's cheek. It's being caressed and he's free to return it. He does, he takes and gives everything back, the cheek holding, the thumb stroking along it, the kiss... Deep and conveying everything their words could only partially relate.
There's so much to figure out, but not right now. It can wait. Happiness and love take precedence. Buck belongs. Not just with his sister, who he adores, but has a family of her own, not only to the 118, who have basically adopted him, but not one of them could actually make him an integral part of their personal world. Except for Eddie. Buck belongs with him. And with Chris. He opened up his heart to them without expectations and this kiss tells the detailed story of how they did the same. They've bonded together, all three of them. Not by blood or by name, but by choice. Buck is Christopher's other dad. He's Eddie's partner. No formality in the world, no force, can break that. He is loved and he loves. He's found his place in the world and it's not a spot, it's a perfect circle.