Two weeks after the tsunami, things have mostly returned to normal. It’s slightly unnerving for Buck to see life go on as if nothing happened, when so much did happen and when he finds it difficult to move past that.
Things are good, he tells himself. His wounds have mostly healed by now, just pink scars left where he nearly bled out. His body doesn’t ache when he moves, not like it did when he was finally able to rest when he saw Christopher safe in Eddie's arms, like it did for days afterwards.
It’s not his body that’s the problem here.
It’s his mind, it’s how he can’t seem to get a moment of peace from the memories. He hasn’t dared to go near the beach, when just taking a shower nearly sends him to a panic attack. He doesn’t remember when was the last time when he slept and didn’t dream, when was the last time he didn’t scream himself awake. When he didn’t wake up screaming for Christopher.
And it’s his heart, how the guilt weighs heavy in his chest, even after the short conversation he had with Eddie when he dropped Christopher off at his place a couple days after the tsunami. Christopher has come over many times after that, and when Buck is with him there are moments when it’s a little easier to breathe, when he can see with his own eyes that Christopher is okay.
But always, without a doubt, his mind supplies him with “but not thanks to you” .
Eddie told him that he trusts Buck, that none of it was Buck’s fault. He told Buck that the way Christopher sees it, Buck saved him. And that’s enough for Eddie.
But it’s not enough for Buck.
Eddie only knows Christopher’s side of the story and Buck can’t accept the trust and the forgiveness when he knows that Eddie doesn’t have the whole story. It would be so easy to just move forward, to never tell Eddie what really happened, to accept this forgiveness and move on.
Except it isn’t easy, and every day Buck doesn’t talk to Eddie about it feels like a day he’s lying to him.
He tried, the first time, but it was clear that Eddie didn’t want to hear it. Buck knows that Eddie isn’t one to have heavy conversations, especially ones that have a high chance of turning emotional, and he knows that the way he’s avoiding the longer, more detailed story of the day of the tsunami is probably as much for himself as it is for Buck’s sake.
But Buck needs him to know, can’t go on pretending everything is fine.
That’s why he finds himself parked in front of Eddie’s house just after ten one morning when he knows that Eddie has a day off. He specifically waited for today, when he knew that Christopher would be at school and Eddie would be home alone. Now they would be able to have the conversation without needing to worry about shielding Christopher from it. The boy is doing surprisingly well all things considered and Buck doesn’t want to remind him of anything, doesn’t want to make him relive memories that Buck wishes he could learn to forget himself.
Just because Buck isn’t doing as well, doesn’t mean he can’t be glad that Christopher is. It makes him admire the boy’s optimism and strength even more.
Buck grips the steering wheel a little too tightly, his knuckles white as he looks at the house. He’s never before been afraid to walk in.
He takes a deep breath and lets go of the steering wheel, unbuckling his seatbelt and getting out of the car before he can change his mind and drive back to his flat.
He’s been putting this off for too long, and while Buck knows that there's a possibility that when he tells Eddie the whole story, he’s going to lose the friendship he has with him, he also knows that it’s going to happen sooner or later, and he’s not going to be able to handle another day of lying by omission.
It feels like his heart is in his throat when he knocks on the door and waits for Eddie to open it.
Eddie looks surprised but happy to see him, but Buck can’t find the strength to fake a smile. It makes Eddie furrow his brows and step aside as he motions for Buck to come inside.
Buck does, and he dries his sweaty palms to his jeans.
“Come on,” Eddie says and leads him to the living room. “Sit down.”
Buck doesn’t say anything, but follows Eddie to the living room and sits down on the couch with him. The television is on, some kind of a sitcom playing there while Eddie was apparently folding laundry if the pile of clothing on the table is anything to go by.
Among the clothing, Buck spots a familiar yellow shirt and he turns his head away sharply, closing his eyes as flashes of that yellow in the dirty water come to the forefront of his mind, completely uninvited but strong.
Buck’s eyes snap open and he looks at Eddie who’s suddenly a lot closer than he was a moment ago. His hand is on Buck’s shoulder and he’s looking at Buck with concern clear on his face.
“What’s going on Buck?” He asks gently, and the tone almost brings tears to Buck’s eyes. He wonders if he’ll ever hear that tone again after he tells Eddie what he came here to tell.
“I need to talk to you,” Buck says and tries his best to hold eye contact.
Eddie gives him a slow nod, looking confused. Buck doesn’t blame him.
“About the tsunami,” Buck continues, and he can see a flash of something in Eddie’s eyes before he pulls his hand away from Buck like it burns.
Buck wonders if that’s a sign of how this conversation is going to go, but instead of panic now all he can feel is a deep sadness and resignation. He wouldn’t blame Eddie if he never wanted to see Buck outside of work again, knows it’s what he deserves.
“Buck,” Eddie starts, moving a little away from Buck as if the physical distance will also distance him from the conversation. “You don’t need to.”
“I do,” Buck says. “I do need to. I need you to hear the whole story. I need you to know all the facts. I can’t accept your forgiveness when you don’t know what I did.”
“I know you did all you could,” Eddie says, his words sure. Buck smiles sadly at how fast Eddie says it, how sure he is of the words he says.
“But I need you to know everything,” Buck says, and this time Eddie doesn’t argue. He looks apprehensive but stays quiet, showing Buck that he’s listening.
“I-,” Buck starts but his words fail him, and he doesn’t know where to start. Eddie doesn’t push him, and eventually, Buck decides to start from the beginning. After all, he’s here to give Eddie the whole story.
“We were at the pier when the tsunami came,” he starts.
Once he starts, he doesn’t stop. He lets the words pour out and doesn’t stop to think about them because he’s afraid of what will happen if he lets his mind focus on them for too long. He feels like he’s back at the pier, back in the water, and back at that fire truck. He can’t look at Eddie as he speaks, doesn’t want to see whatever expression is on his best friend’s face.
“Things seemed relatively good then,” Buck says as he tells about how they waited for rescue on top of the fire truck. “We were playing I Spy. That’s when the water started bringing bodies with it. So many dead people in the water and there was nothing we could do to help them.”
Buck looks at Eddie then, just quickly before he lowers his eyes back to his hands that he’s wringing together in his lap. Eddie looks horrified so Buck speaks quickly.
“I picked Christopher up and turned him so his back was to the bodies,” he says, because he doesn’t want Eddie to worry about Christopher seeing that. “We continued playing I Spy with things high up on the sky until the bodies were past us.”
“Thank you,” Eddie says then. Buck looks up at that, for the first time holding eye contact since he started talking. “For not letting him see that.”
And no, this isn’t what Buck is here to tell. He’s not here to tell Eddie about the parts he did right that Christopher doesn’t know about, he’s here to tell him about the parts he did wrong.
“The next surge brought more people,” Buck says, desperate to make Eddie see the truth. “And they were alive.”
He remembers it all as clear as if it happened an hour ago, has played it over and over again in his mind since it happened, thinking of different ways of how he could have done better, how he should have acted.
“I tried to help them climb into the truck with us,” Buck says, his eyes aimed somewhere over Eddie’s shoulder but looking somewhere far. He tries his best to distance himself from the moment, even if it means going back to that moment. If he focuses on Eddie’s reaction he’ll never get the words out of his mouth. “I turned my back on Christopher, and then I heard the sound of someone falling.”
Buck feels physically sick as he says the words, the guilt only intensifying as he hears Eddie gasp. He continues before Eddie has a chance to say anything.
“I tried to look for him,” he says, his voice coming out wobbly but he pushes forward past the tightness in his throat. “I couldn’t see him anywhere so I jumped in the water, hoping the stream would take me in the same direction it took him. I tried so hard to find him, Eddie, I really did.”
He lets the tears fall then, feeling hollow now that the story is out there, now that Eddie knows how he lost his son. While it is unclear how their friendship will be after this, there are no more secrets hanging between them, no more false sense of normalcy. Buck knows he has no right to cry, but he can’t help it. He leans his elbows to his knees and hides his face in his hands as the sobs wrack his body.
“Buck,” Eddie says, and Buck can feel a hand on his shoulder. He doesn’t dare to look at him.
He can’t read the tone, so Buck takes a couple of deep breaths and tries to calm down before he straightens his back and looks up at Eddie. This is not about him, and he’s going to face whatever Eddie is going to say to him head-on because he knows whatever it is, he deserves it.
“Thank you for telling me,” Eddie says. His face is solemn and his eyes glisten with tears Buck knows he won't let fall, but at least Buck can’t see anger there. The next words Eddie says take Buck’s breath away.
“But it doesn’t change anything.”
“What?” Buck says weakly, not sure if he can trust his own ears. “Didn’t you hear-”
“I heard how you saved him from the water and brought him on top of the fire truck where you’d be safe for the time being,” Eddie says. “I heard how you tried your best to keep him happy and to distract him, I heard how you didn’t let him see all the horrible things you had to see. I heard how you also did your job, helping other people to safety. As far as you thought, Christopher was safe. You couldn’t have known that he would fall over.”
“But I shouldn’t have turned my back on him,” Buck argues, his tone raising a little. “He was supposed to be my priority! Not some strangers in the water! Didn’t you just hear what I told you?”
“We help strangers every day at our job,” Eddie reminds him. “You wouldn’t be the person I know if you’d just let them drown when you knew you could help them. I can’t tell you what I would have done in your situation, because I wasn’t there. And I’m so fucking sorry you had to be there, the both of you. You did the best you could in that awful situation you were in. And yes, I did hear what you told me. I heard it loud and clear in every word you said, how much you care about my son and how hard you tried to find him. That was an awful day, and you did the best you could. There’s not a bone in my body that blames you for any of that, Evan.”
The words bring a new wave of tears to Buck’s eyes because Eddie is really forgiving him. And while it’s going to take a while for Buck to believe those words as much as Eddie seems to believe in them, it’s easier now when Buck knows that Eddie knows the whole story and still thinks Buck is worthy of forgiveness.
“There aren’t many people I trust with my son,” Eddie says. “But you are definitely one of them.”
Eddie pulls him to a hug after that, and Buck tries to breathe deep and stop crying. His emotions feel like a mess, in part because he hasn’t been sleeping well, and in part because this conversation has been a lot.
“I was so scared,” he says eventually when he has managed to calm down his tears. “I was scared for Christopher, not knowing if he was safe and if he was, how afraid he would be to be alone.”
Eddie holds him tighter at the admission and Buck knows his heart must hurt to imagine his son in that situation.
“Everything was fine,” Eddie reminds him, reminds them both. “He was safe and a kind lady kept him company. Christopher has only told me good things about her. Apparently she sang the same song to him his abuela sings to him sometimes. The only thing he was worried about was you.”
Buck’s breath shakes on the way out.
“I was terrified of seeing you,” Buck admits, because apparently his mind has decided to come clean of everything now that he started. “I couldn’t face you knowing that I had let you down.”
“Buck,” Eddie says immediately. “You didn’t let me down. You can’t predict natural disasters.”
“I know,” Buck says and finally pulls away from the hug. “But that’s how I felt.” Then, after a short break. “That’s how I still feel.”
Because even though Eddie knows now and still chooses to forgive him, things aren’t miraculously good. They are better, and there are no words Buck can use to describe how much it means that Eddie is willing to forgive him even after knowing the whole story, but it will take time until Buck can fully forgive himself, if he ever will.
“Well,” Eddie says, and smiles for the first time since opening the door to Buck earlier. “I guess I just have to keep reminding you then.”
Buck likes that thought, in no small part because it means that Eddie and Christopher aren’t going anywhere.
“You good?” Eddie asks then, his voice serious again. Come to think of it, this is probably the longest serious conversation they’ve ever had and despite knowing that Eddie is uncomfortable with them, Buck has to admit that he’s also pretty good at them.
“I will be,” Buck says with a small smile, and he really believes his words.
“Good,” Eddie says. “You’re stuck with us now, Buckley. We’re not letting you go.”
Buck files that away to be thought about later, when he’s not emotionally drained and when he has the time to take that sentence and study it and wonder if it means the same to Eddie as it means to Buck.
But the time for that is later.
“You need help?” Buck asks nodding towards the pile of laundry on the table.
“I’m not saying no to that,” Eddie laughs and throws Buck a shirt from the pile.
Christopher’s yellow shirt.
Buck is pretty sure it wasn’t intentional, judging by the way Eddie tenses as he sees Buck catch the shirt. It looks like Eddie is going to either apologise or lean over to take the shirt back, but Buck unfolds the shirt from the ball it was bunched into and lays it against his legs.
When he starts to fold, Buck breathes in deep and focuses on here and now.
Eddie squeezes his shoulder briefly in silent support but doesn’t say anything, and Buck is grateful. There has been enough heavy talk to last them a lifetime, and now Buck is more than happy to just fold laundry with Eddie while a sitcom plays in the background.
Buck feels calm for the first time in weeks.