your summer sun forever
[on ao3 here] | buck/eddie | 7 600 words | 5x09 (monster) coda
Buck should have known they wouldn’t let it go.
It takes a few shifts, each one starting with a Look that Bobby levels him with as soon as he walks up the stairs, but nobody actually asks. Not until the morning Buck walks in with his eyes still red, because it was a choice between being on time or splashing enough water on his face to get the puffiness to go down.
“Did you break up after all?” Hen asks as soon as he sits down for breakfast, her eyes gentle, picking up a conversation from days ago.
Next to her, Eddie looks up sharply from his phone. Buck avoids his gaze.
“No,” he shrugs, reaching for the butter. “We’re okay. We’re on the right track, I think.”
“Buck,” Eddie and Hen say at the same time. Buck’s not sure when this mind-meld thing happened between them, and he’s not liking it.
“I swear, we’re fine,” Buck says, and looks at Ravi, who is flawlessly performing disinterest and craning his head just so to hear them better. “She, uh. She told me she loved me, actually, so.”
Bobby sits down on his left. Buck doesn’t look at him, either.
“And what did you say?” he asks, putting down a plate of scrambled eggs made exactly the way Buck likes them, still a little on the runny side. He looks down at the careful sprinkle of chives, the freshly cracked black pepper that’s so fragrant it tickles in his nose, and wills himself not to cry again.
He’s fine. Isn’t he?
“I said it back,” he says. “Obviously.”
“Obviously,” Hen nods, picking at a slice of toast. “So that’s it? Crisis averted?”
And Buck’s not sure what to say to that. He’s not sure when it became this difficult to open the cage of his ribs and let other people see inside, doesn’t know if it was a conscious decision.
All he knows is that he looks at Hen with her furrowed eyebrows, and at Eddie who tips his chin down and chases Buck’s eye every time he tries to look away, and doesn’t know how to bridge the million-mile gap of the dining table. He doesn’t know how to say that he woke up at four in the morning with Taylor by his side, freezing cold. That he paced his apartment for hours with no idea why.
That his girlfriend, who loves him, rolled out of bed an hour before she was meant to be at work and walked out with a coffee and a kiss on the cheek.
“Crisis averted,” he says, and bites his lip to get the sting in his eyes to go away. He’s still a little rattled about Oklahoma, is all.
They’ll settle into being together. Into being in love.
Hen nods very, very slowly, and reaches out to squeeze his wrist. Bobby makes some kind of noise Buck is too afraid to identify. He doesn’t look over.
Because Eddie has him trapped, blinking at Buck with an expression Buck’s never seen him wear.
He’s not quite sure how he finds himself standing in the middle of Target with three weeks to Christmas.
Buck could swear it was just summer, swear it was just May, when the sun really starts bearing down and the smell of hot asphalt perpetually hangs in the air. But he’s here: staring at a couple of throw pillows with reindeer on them, listening to Bing Crosby croon over the store radio, and trying to locate something that’d feel like Christmas cheer somewhere in the vast hollow of his body.
“Those pillows do something to you?” Eddie asks, rolling up with the cart, making more noise than a human being should be capable of producing.
Buck blinks. His hands relax involuntarily where they’d been clenched around the edge of the box.
“They’re just ugly,” he shrugs.
Eddie leans in to inspect the pattern. He’s wearing a Santa hat, because they did the toy drive yesterday afternoon and were left with dozens of the things after everything wrapped up. Buck had picked one up on a whim when they were changing out of their uniforms and set it on Eddie’s head, and it’s stayed there since.
“Yeah,” Eddie concludes finally, reaching out to run his fingers over the sequins and full-body shuddering. “Mine are nicer.”
Buck rolls his eyes, even as something—flickers, in the darkness. “We can’t all have seven boxes of decorations crammed in the closet.”
“No, we all could,” Eddie counters, “it’s just that everyone else is weak. You have to commit to Christmas, Buck.”
And he’s not saying it to Buck – there’s a soft light in his eyes, a little muted as it always is these days, but unmistakably teasing – but Buck still feels himself shrinking, a little bit. He’s always doing that these days.
They make their way away from the seasonal items and toward food, which is what they’re actually here for, because Eddie’s fridge is apparently empty and Buck’s just tagging along out of a lack of anything else to do. He could probably use groceries, too, but he didn’t grab a basket and he’s also just—not hungry, lately.
“You know,” Buck says, when he’s passing Eddie the fifth container of Christopher’s favorite yogurt that’s on sale, “I don’t think I’m gonna decorate for Christmas this year.”
Eddie gasps. Physically. A stooped old lady turns around to check on him.
“What?” he asks. “Why?”
Buck shrugs, moving a couple of paces to reach Eddie’s favorite yogurt, which he won’t buy unless Buck forces it on him because it costs more than three dollars.
“I don’t see the point,” he says, and he knows Eddie’s staring at him, but he has all this yogurt to focus on. He doesn’t have to look back. “Taylor’s going to her aunt’s, we’re working on the 23rd so I’ll sleep half of Christmas Eve, I’m going to Bobby and Athena’s on Christmas Day, and then we’re at work again, so—“
“You’re also coming to ours,” Eddie interrupts. Buck sucks in a lungful of fridge air that burns on the way down. “For Christmas Eve. And Christmas Day morning. Right?”
Buck swallows, but the lump in his throat doesn’t move. His stomach, for some reason, chooses to growl then, as he straightens up so, so carefully, and turns around. Eddie’s leaning on the shopping cart, a tub of strawberry Chobani in his hands, the pompom of his Santa hat resting on his cheek.
They’re in a fucking grocery store. There has to be some kind of cosmic irony in that.
“I, uh,” Buck licks his lips, “of course. If—if you still want me to.”
He hadn’t been planning on it. He hadn’t been planning on it, and in the face of Eddie’s wide eyes, it makes him feel like a criminal.
Eddie just blinks, for a while. People jostle him from both sides, trying to get at the discount he’s blocking, and Eddie stares at Buck across what feels like half a continent but is at best four tiles on the floor of a Target.
Buck scratches the back of his head. His stomach is turning, and something in his chest tugs and tugs and tugs him forward.
It’s a feeling. It’s been a while since he took those for granted.
“I mean,” he says eventually, after he overhears someone saying they’re going to get security, “we made those plans—“
“Last Christmas, I know,” Eddie replies, and he sounds—God, Buck expects him to sound angry, and he’s just. Not. “And you think something’s changed since then about Chris and I wanting you with us?”
Buck blinks. Eddie’s silhouette blurs under the fluorescent lights, the black of his shirt bleeding into the red of the hat.
He should be angry about this, too, he thinks. He used to be. For months and months he wanted to rage at Eddie, to scream until Eddie looked him in the eye so they could actually talk. Now he just wants to step forward and push the cart away and ask Eddie to hold him, just for a second, just until he gets his feet back under him.
“I didn’t want to,” he swallows again, “assume.”
“Assume,” Eddie repeats, toneless. The speakers overhead crackle to call someone into aisle six.
Buck rubs a hand over his face. “I just don’t want to overstep, okay? I—I don’t want to step on your toes, Eddie. He’s your son. I’m just—“
“Don’t,” Eddie says, so quietly Buck wouldn’t hear it if it was anyone else, anyone whose voice doesn’t set the pace of the blood in Buck’s veins. “Don’t finish that sentence, holy shit.”
And he steps around the cart, leaving the yogurt in it. Steps right up to Buck, shrinking the distance until it’s three tiles, then two. Until they’re standing on the same one.
There’s a quiet fire burning in his eyes, the kind Buck hasn’t seen in a long while. He can’t look away from it.
“You can assume,” Eddie says, “that you’re always welcome. That when it comes to Christopher, you can step on as many of my toes as you want.”
Buck’s fingertips go a little numb. He’s overcome, out of nowhere, with a surge of sensation that feels like waking up after a long winter, like taking in air instead of whatever poor substitute he’s been living on. Like breathing life back into pieces of himself he thought he’d lost.
He wants to reach out and touch.
“It’s weird,” Eddie says, and tilts his head.
Eddie shrugs. One tile becomes two again. “Not knowing what’s happening in your head,” he says, and reaches out a hand. He’s just close enough that his finger close around the zipper of Buck’s jacket.
“Where’d you go, Buck?”
Eddie doesn’t let him slide again.
Before, when he asked Buck about his plans and Buck would stammer because Taylor was maybe working late depending on how the story developed but Buck better get home anyway just in case because he doesn’t want her to come and not find him there and—
Before, when Buck couldn’t give a straight answer, Eddie would hear him out, and smile a smile that Buck wishfully imagined to be a little sad, and told him he’d see him later.
Now, he’s patient through the first five seconds, and then he says:
“Okay. You’re coming with me.”
And Buck does.
He doesn’t realize how much he’d missed things until he has them back: the way Eddie’s front door creaks when opened too wide, the cinnamon reed diffusers that Eddie pretends just materialize in his house without any interference from him, the familiar pans and spatulas and appliances, and—Christopher. God, Christopher.
In the lead-up to the holidays, Buck gets to leave work driving Eddie’s truck, and drive it back in for their next shift two days later. He tags along to school dropoff; they stop for coffee and pastries on the way back, park in the back of whatever nondescript parking lot is closest, listen to the radio and watch the pale white glare of the winter sun.
And they talk. It’s a little creaky at first, a little like navigating a house in the dark, where everything is familiar but things that have been there for years suddenly jump in to trip you up. But they sit down together, when the house is empty and the chores are done and Buck’s girlfriend is off chasing something or other. They sit down and relearn things that used to be as easy as breathing, tiptoe around things that might just always be there from now on. The familiarity of it blooms under Buck’s skin delicate like a spiderweb, so tentative he doesn’t dare acknowledge it until it puts down roots. He’s warm again, sometimes: when Eddie looks up from the crossword and makes a face; when he finds a book he thought he’d lost tucked away in Eddie’s bookshelf with the bookmark still inside; when Carla and Christopher tumble through the door, and Buck’s name is the first thing out of Christopher’s mouth.
When he wakes up one Tuesday morning sprawled all over the couch, in bedding that smells of Eddie’s lavender detergent, and realizes that he’s hungry.
He’s the first one awake, so he pads into the kitchen quietly, pausing to look at the little puddle of sunrise that’s just started creeping in, pooling in the sink, painting the frog soap holder he’d bought for Eddie’s kitchen on some random grocery trip early in the year.
Buck moves around without making noise, sliding over the tile in his socks, looking for the things he needs. He gets the fruit, the bread that’s tied shut with a knot instead of a clip because Eddie is a heathen. He pulls out mugs, starts the coffee, gets out the juice, plucks the eggs out of the tray with careful fingers, humming something until he catches himself and stops before he gets too loud.
He whisks his eggs together, grabs six slices of bread out of the bag, slices up tomatoes and cucumbers.
There are green peppers is the crisper drawer. Eddie hates green peppers.
“Are you kidding me?”
Buck turns around. Eddie’s leaning in the doorway, clearly fresh out of bed, in a creased white t-shirt and a pair of shorts. He’s squinting in the light, rubbing the corner of his eye, the spot where the pillow had creased under his cheek and drawn a soft pink line.
“Morning?” Buck says, and his smile comes easily. He moves away from the stove to the coffee machine. “I’m making breakfast, if you want.”
“If I want,” Eddie laughs, his voice still hoarse. Buck wonders if these are the first words Eddie has said today. “I’m starving. Just let me get—“
“Here,” Buck says, holding out the mug, ear out. It’s hot, but not hot enough that he can’t hold onto it until Eddie pads across the kitchen and takes it. Half a teaspoon of sugar, dash of creamer. Buck could make it with his eyes closed.
He just hasn’t in a while.
“Oh my God,” Eddie groans, wrapping both of his hands around the mug and inhaling the steam. “I’m dreaming.”
“I can’t believe you’re this much of an anti-morning person,” Buck says, and returns to the eggs. He doesn’t quite brush against Eddie, but he does graze the edge of his sleeve. “It’s just coffee.”
“Coffee that would have taken me at least five minutes to put together,” Eddie says, leaning against the fridge right next to Buck, peeking into the pan.
When Buck turns to him, he’s grinning, eyes dancing under his ridiculously messy hair, and there it is again: a warmth that reaches every last vestige of darkness inside Buck and swallows it.
“Thank you, Buck,” says Eddie, and then Christopher’s awake too, crashing into Buck’s side and demanding to help with the toast with his glasses still askew.
Eddie says it again just as they’re leaving, the usual rush to get everything packed up and out of the door in time for school. Buck’s staying behind to clean up, and he’s just passing the doorway with their stack of plates when Eddie pops up in it, red-cheeked, already wearing his shoes.
“Buck,” he says, as if Buck wasn’t right there and already staring at him.
“Yeah,” Buck says, and thanks God he has his hands full, because he thinks he might—
“Thanks for breakfast,” is what Eddie says. He smiles, reaches out, squeezes Buck’s forearm.
The touch leaves behind an easy kind of heat, and it lingers.
It’s a ten-car pile-up.
Rationally, Buck knows that Taylor’s probably going to be there, but he’s somehow still not prepared to see her when they all make their way back to the truck.
He’s not really sure he wants to see her, is the thing, because—the cars are secured, and cleanup’s already arriving, and they have everyone en route in an ambulance or at the hospital already, but there was a woman.
Marjorie, “call me Marge”, forty-three, mother of two. She was on her way home, leaving a business meeting early because her youngest had started throwing up and wanted her mom.
Marjorie was there, and then she wasn’t. Buck can still feel her hand in his when Taylor walks up to him.
“Hey,” she smiles, so pretty, so put together, and he goes through the same exercise as always, trying to fish for a feeling that isn’t there. “Long night?”
It’s only then that he realizes the sky is lightening. God, they’ve been out here for hours.
“Something like that,” he says, and takes off his turnout coat so she can lean in and kiss him, put her hand on his shoulder without staining herself. He barely grazes her side with his fingertips, because his hands are dirty. “You been out here long?”
“Couple of hours,” she smiles, and it’s softer, these days, the way she looks at him. She loves him. “They wouldn’t let us in the front until you secured everything, though. I heard there was a casualty.”
Buck tenses. He opens his mouth, and has no idea what’s going to come out of it, but Taylor finds words first.
“Are you okay?” she asks, her hand small and soft on his grimy cheek. She looks at him, and he’s the first one to look away.
He knows how to do this part. He imagines a string coming out of the top of his head, pulling him up, and stacks his vertebrae one on top of the other, a straight spine that takes near-superhuman effort to maintain. He pulls his shoulders back, purses his lips until he can tug the corners of his mouth back and try for a smile.
It’s not her, he knows. Comforting him isn’t what she does, and that’s okay.
“Course,” he says, relieved when she smiles back at him, her other hand running through his matted, sweaty hair. “This is the job, you know? On to the next one.”
She runs her fingers over the ridge of his eyebrow. Buck’s freezing cold; it’s January, and his jacket’s still hanging off the crook of his elbow.
“Okay,” Taylor says, and he bends down where she stretches up, for a brush of lips over his cheek. “Good luck, then, firefighter Buckley. You better go, I think your captain’s trying to kill me with a look.”
Buck laughs and looks over his shoulder. Bobby’s behind him with a hand on his hip, the truck waiting with the door open.
“Yeah, I better go,” he says, and it feels suspiciously like relief. “I’ll see you at home?”
She grins with her teeth out. Buck remembers, distantly, finding it adorable.
“Race you there,” she says, and then she’s turning around and disappearing in the crowd.
Eddie’s eyes find Buck the second he steps into the truck. They freeze, just for a second, looking at each other, and then Eddie’s inclining his head at Ravi and switching places with him, so Buck can slump into his seat and know that if he needs to fall, Eddie will be at his side.
They make a U-turn and head back toward the station, toward the sunrise.
“Okay, gang,” Bobby says from the front, his voice rough with exhaustion. “Two hours to go. Hopefully we can—“
And then the radio crackles to life.
Buck doesn’t hear what it says, trusting Bobby to take him wherever he’s needed. Instead, he closes his eyes and exhales all of the tension wound around his bones, letting his body fall where it will.
His head lands on Eddie’s shoulder, which doesn’t surprise him in the least. Eddie puts his chin on top of it, pinning him in place, and Buck shivers a little with how safe he feels. He folds his hands in his lap, intertwines his fingers, so he doesn’t try to reach out for something that isn’t his to take.
“Bobby says he’ll give us a minute to clean up once we’re done with this next one,” Eddie says, because he knows Buck isn’t listening, voice rumbling from his chest straight into Buck’s. “Hold on another half an hour, okay?”
“’M fine,” Buck mumbles. Eddie’s jacket smells like metal and airbags, but also like him, always like him. Cinnamon and woody aftershave and something Buck’s never been able to define. “All good. Just resting my eyes.”
“Sure,” Eddie says, so quietly Buck wonders if it even came out of his mouth. He runs a hand through Buck’s hair, then pulls away, rustles with something. “Here,” he says, as he pries Buck’s hands away from each other with gentle fingers and presses something into them. “A pick-me-up.”
Buck blinks his eyes open. Then blinks again, for good measure.
“I have no idea why you like them,” Eddie says, and Buck pulls away just in time to see him rolls his eyes and look out of the window with a smile tilting the corner of his mouth. “Especially when Snickers exist.”
He does. He does, because they talked about this not that long ago, after Christopher found a list of candy that’s no longer made, and absolutely had to quiz them both on if they’ve ever had any of it, which then led him and Buck down a rabbithole of hard to find candy. Buck had seen the Peanut Chews and was immediately transported to being all of five years old, curled up with Maddie on her bed after their parents made him cry because of something he couldn’t remember if he tried, sharing with her by breaking each finger in half instead of taking one whole because she was convinced one always had more peanuts in it.
Eddie knows this. He was there for that discovery, as well as the subsequent disappointment when Buck found out it’s basically impossible to buy them in LA.
And here he is, handing Buck a Peanut Chew.
Buck’s throat squeezes so tight he can’t speak for a second. He closes his hand around the chocolate bar, not caring that he’s probably going to melt it. “Eddie—where did you—“
“Coats have pockets, Buck,” Eddie says, like Buck’s being deliberately obtuse. “It was in the inner one, so it might be a little squished, but should be edible.”
Buck blinks down at his hands, up at their teammates slumped against the windows with their eyes closed, up at Eddie. Eddie, who’s smiling the same wishfully-sad smile he used to back when he’d let Buck go home and wallow in his empty apartment.
“Eddie,” he says, and then they’re on the scene and tumbling out of the truck.
Just before he jumps off, Eddie reaches out and closes a hand around Buck’s lax, trembling fingers, crinkling the wrapper.
“Hey,” Buck says when Eddie opens the door. “Don’t say I told you so.”
“Wasn’t going to,” Eddie says. His eyes are dark under the dying bulb in the porch light, and shadowed when he steps back to let Buck in.
He takes in the living room, dark except for the standing lamp that paints a neat orange circle on the ceiling. The TV is off, but there is plenty of evidence of a movie night: the remote sticking out of the couch cushions, popcorn scattered under the coffee table, a tangled nest of at least three blankets spilling off the couch and onto the floor.
“I just missed him, didn’t I,” Buck says, and hates himself for sounding choked up. It’s his own fault.
“Fell asleep ten minutes ago,” Eddie confirms. His arms are crossed over his chest, but not like he’s angry. More like he’s holding himself together. “Go look in on him if you want.”
Buck wants. He always wants, always the wrong thing.
“No,” he shakes his head, moving toward the kitchen so he doesn’t disturb whatever leftover peace is still hovering in the living room.
He doesn’t deserve to see Christopher. Not after today.
“You’re not irreparably damaging him by skipping one movie night,” Eddie says, following him in. “He was okay. You explained it to him. We even sent you a goodnight text.”
Buck hadn’t checked his phone on the drive over, too upset and embarrassed and terrified. He takes it out of his pocket now, and ignores every notification that isn’t Eddie’s contact, his name followed by the frog emoji.
foodnigjt Bucky, the text says, accompanied by a picture of Christopher all tucked up in bed, giving the camera a thumbs up, his other arm curled around the lemur plush Buck got him on their first ever trip to the zoo together.
Buck presses the back of his hand to his mouth to stifle a sob.
He puts his phone down on the counter, reaches blindly for the fridge, and goes to open it until Eddie puts a hand over the door.
“This isn’t a beer situation,” he says, so much gentler than anything Buck deserves. “I’m making you a coffee.”
“It’s nine o’clock,” Buck says, but he moves away from the counter when Eddie gestures at him, soaking up the tears in the corners of his eyes with the sleeves of his most expensive shirt.
“Yeah,” Eddie says, running water, “and you’re one of those freaks that don’t react to caffeine, so you’re going to sit there and drink your coffee and tell me what the fuck happened.”
Buck doesn’t have a reply to that. Instead he sits, under the ceiling light over Eddie’s kitchen table, and watches his best friend move along the counter, stepping from one foot to the other softly like a dance: two mugs, sugar, creamer, teaspoons, all in different places. The machine hums to life, echoing off the tile, and Buck watches the line of Eddie’s back, the way it hunches at the top when he clinks a spoon against the side of the sugar container.
“I don’t know what happened,” he says while Eddie’s not looking. He scratches at a dent in the tabletop from the time he accidentally dropped a butter knife. “We got to this dinner and went around in circles for like two hours, and she’s introducing me to everybody, I’m her boyfriend and did you know I’m a firefighterand all these weird old women in their little fucking hats are squeezing my arms and stuff, and I’m like—I thought, okay, I’ll suffer through this, it’s really important to her and I can take it.”
Eddie sets a mug down in front of him, a little harder than necessary. A splash of coffee ends up on the table, and Buck wipes it off with his sleeve, feeling some kind of pathetic vindication as he watches the stain spread on the fabric.
“But then?” Eddie asks, taking the seat next to Buck. He’s very much not one of those freaks that don’t react to caffeine, and will be up for hours if he drinks the whole thing.
Maybe it’s on purpose, because Buck showed up on his doorstep feeling and looking like somebody disassembled him and put him back together all wrong, but he doesn’t want to think about that.
“Then, after we met literally every single person in the room, she turns to me and,” he has to swallow, to breathe, to convince himself he’s not nauseous at the memory. “She turns to me and goes, thank you, you can probably take off.”
“So obviously I asked her why, and she said I’ll probably be bored anyway, and when I tried—“
He’d offered to stay to support her. That’s what he does, that’s who he is, that’s who he’s always been. He weathers things.
But he can’t say it, for some reason. He can’t look Eddie in the face and say it.
“So she sent you home,” Eddie says. “Because she showed you off and was going to be busy schmoozing for the rest of the night. After she told you that you absolutely needed to be free.”
After she specifically asked him to get out of movie night, in those exact words. Buck hasn’t told Eddie that, but he thinks maybe Eddie’s managed to read it between the lines.
He pinches his bottom lip between his fingers.
“It’s like,” he says, staring at this drink, at the edge of Eddie’s hand in his eyeline, “she likes me. She wants me. But there’s still this—wall. I’ve been—I’ve been trying, Eddie,” he says, and doesn’t look up, “I’ve been tryingto give her what she needs from me, but then when I need something—“
Eddie’s hand, in Buck’s periphery, moves until his fingers are just shy of Buck’s sleeve, the edge of it that’s stained a light brown.
Buck looks at that hand, the one thing he remembers from when he was blind with pain and pinned under a firetruck, the hand he’d grabbed to pull Eddie to safety. The hand that mixes sugar into coffee with a surprisingly delicate touch, and sweeps Christopher’s hair off his forehead like he’s made of something precious.
He looks at that almost touch, and thinks about the things he needs, and tries not to shake apart right where he’s sitting.
Finally, he looks up. Eddie’s eyes are wide, earnest, a dark brown in the light.
“I don’t want to,” he shakes his head, staring at Buck like he’s willing him to understand something, “I promised myself I wouldn’t be this fucking guy, but God, Buck. You deserve better than this.”
No, Buck thinks, as he flinches and takes his hand back, safe in his lap. No. There is no better. Taylor loves him, and this is what that is.
“Why can’t you see it?” Eddie asks. His voice is shaking. “You deserve someone who makes you happy.”
“I am,” Buck says, and can’t even say the full sentence. I am happy. He might be, actually, here with Eddie, alone and warm and settled and safe, but this is a soap bubble of a moment. If he breathes too hard, it’ll burst.
“Don’t give me that,” Eddie replies, and the bite of anger in his words makes Buck raise his head. “That’s bullshit, Buck. I’ve never seen you less happy. You lovebeing there for people, but you were fucking miserable when you were telling me about this dinner she asked you to, so from where I’m sitting it looks like she’s been taking and you’ve been giving and getting nothing in return.”
Buck closes his eyes. He doesn’t know who Eddie’s angry at, but he hopes it’s not him. He couldn’t stand it if it was him.
His hands are cold where he wraps them around his mug. It’s been a long time since he was last cold around Eddie, and it feels wrong, like being turned wrong side up, inside out.
“She loves me,” he says, and he sounds like a child.
Eddie sighs. “Sure,” he says. “But maybe that means something different to her than it does to you.”
Buck sniffles. Eddie’s chair scrapes over the floor, and then his knee is knocking into Buck’s, an anchor just like it is sitting in the back of the firetruck after they’ve been through something horrific.
“Maybe,” Buck says, and digs the heels of his hands into his eyes. “And I’m not—it’s been—it’s been hard. But she loves me.”
Eddie’s hand closes over his knee. “So?”
“So,” Buck sniffs, pathetic, “no one’s ever told me that before.”
And then Eddie’s silent. Everything is silent, actually; the fridge, the neighbor’s barking dog, the buzzing lightbulb overhead, all of them taking the breath Buck is desperately reaching for, his lungs shrinking to nothing right inside his body.
Eddie’s hand disappears, and the sudden absence of touch forces Buck to open his eyes, to look straight at Eddie, whose eyelashes are clumped together.
“Buck. Don’t,” he says, and his lips twist, like there’s more, and Buck wants to reach out and take it, to put his fingers on Eddie’s lips and pull the words out of him, because there’s something else, there has to be something else, there has to be something better, there has to be someone somewhere who makes him feel like—
“Don’t do this to yourself,” Eddie says. He smiles, without joy, but with the weight of the world in his eyes. “Please don’t do this. Let her go.”
And the abyss of loneliness suddenly seems much less insurmountable with Eddie waiting on the other side.
He doesn’t tell anyone for a couple of weeks. He’s pretty sure they figure it out, because he feels and looks like roadkill for a few days before his mood stabilizes, but he doesn’t say the words and they don’t ask.
It’s—better, he thinks. Taylor did love him, does love him. She’d told him more than once when he was trying to end things, threw it at him like a dagger and missed, because his heart wasn’t hers to break. But they’re free of each other, and she can maybe find someone who fits her better.
And Buck—well. Buck can just keep going.
He’s been thinking about it, now that his nights are free for staring at the ceiling or at the blank walls of his loft or out at the city all twinkling and alive from his dark balcony. About everything Taylor couldn’t give him. About why he didn’t exactly miss those things while they were together.
So he can step out into this new phase, a Buck 4.0 or whichever fucking version he’s on, knowing who makes him happy. Knowing what he’d want, if he got to choose.
He’s okay, he’s okay, he’s okay. He’s okay with everything.
“You’ve been staring into there for ten minutes,” Eddie says, and Buck blinks. He’s in the locker room.
He doesn’t remember how he got to the locker room.
“You okay?” Eddie asks, moving quietly to his own locker, rustling with his bag. “You don’t look so hot.”
“Thanks,” Buck scoffs. He blinks at the inside of his locker door – a photo strip from the aquarium, the card Christopher gave him at his welcome back party with the Buck (BFF) pride of place in the center, the ticket stub from when Maddie took him to his first concert – and slams it shut.
“I mean it,” Eddie says, and the rustling stops. “You okay? You’re swaying.”
Buck looks down at his feet. They seem to be rooted to the ground, but everything else around them is—moving. Huh.
The only reason he doesn’t fall and crack his head wide open on the floor is because Eddie catches him.
“Okay,” he says, and keeps repeating it under his breath as he gently sets Buck the rest of the way down, a steady okay okay okay okay that’s so comforting it makes Buck want to cry. “What’s wrong? Are you dizzy? Seeing double? Can you see? I’m gonna go get Hen, but—“
“No,” tears out of Buck, his stomach suddenly swooping at the thought of being left alone. “No, just—stay here. I’m okay.”
“You just fell. To the ground.”
“I didn’t,” Buck tries to grin, and his face protests, “you caught me.”
Eddie exhales through his nose, a long, calming breath. He adjusts Buck’s jacket where it’s bunched up so Buck can lean back comfortably against the bench, with Eddie on one knee in front of him.
“Buck,” he says, still fussing, keeping a couple of fingers on the underside of Buck’s wrist as he checks his pupils. “What’s going on with you?”
And then it seems ridiculous that he hasn’t told Eddie, of all people. Eddie who holds him, steadies him, catches him. Eddie who gave him a home and a favorite coffee mug that lives right next to Eddie’s in the cupboard.
“I broke up with her,” he says, and he can feel it drain out of him like poison, suddenly lightheaded. “Two weeks ago, but I haven’t been—I didn’t want to say anything and then I didn’t know how—“
But Eddie hugs him, pushing him back into the bench with a force that almost knocks Buck’s breath out.
“I’m proud of you,” he says, his hand gentle where it cradles the back of Buck’s head, and Buck let his forehead drop down to Eddie’s shoulder. Lets himself breathe. “I’m sorry, but I’m so proud of you.”
Buck fists his hands in the back of Eddie’s shirt. Thinks God, and please, and I wish.
“Thanks,” is what he says out loud.
Eddie pulls away, hands smoothing a stray strand of hair off Buck’s forehead.
“How do you feel?” he asks, and he looks like something’s changed, lighter, brighter. His eyes shine where they sweep over Buck to make sure he’s okay, the kind of gentle light that used to live in them before a bullet ripped through their lives.
“Miserable,” Buck says, the truth. “Like I’ll be alone forever, but I guess that’s fine.”
Eddie huffs. “You won’t be alone forever, Buck.”
Buck wants to touch the pointy tip of his ear, the slope of his nose, that little freckle under his eyes. Just to see. Just so he can know what he’ll always be missing.
Because he wants Eddie. The truth of it is as simple as anything has ever been: he wants Eddie, he wants Christopher, and he wants to come home to them for as long as his legs will carry him over the threshold, and probably after that, too.
“Won’t I?” he asks the ceiling. “I mean, think about it, Eddie. What kind of person does this make me? She’s—she’s in love with me, she said I was the first person she really fell in love with, and I broke her fucking heart. And I know exactly how that feels. I know exactly what I did to her.”
Eddie touches his jaw, just a ghost of a sensation. It’s enough to get Buck to look back down.
“That’s nobody’s fault,” he says, his eyes serious. “She wasn’t your person. It would’ve been even less fair in the long run, to both of you.”
Buck bites his lip. He feels like a kid, sitting on the floor with his legs stretched out, looking straight at everything he wants and knowing it’s his own fault that he can’t have it. He wants to throw something, just for the uncomplicated catharsis of it, because he’s only just realized, and it’s—hard. Figuring out how to survive Eddie is going to be the hardest thing he’ll ever do.
“I don’t know,” he says. Shakes his head. He already has a person, is the problem, and he doesn’t know that he can be somebody else’s while that’s true. “I just don’t—I don’t know why I didn’t love her like she wanted me to. Maybe I’m just broken, you know?” he huffs. “Who could—I mean, who could possibly love someone like me?”
Eddie’s breath hitches.
“What the fuck are you—what do you even—“ he breaks off, and pinches the bridge of his nose. “Buck.”
And then he looks up, a gentle light.
Buck opens his mouth around empty air. Eddie reaches out to close it, and his hands linger this time, soft, grounding.
“I have,” he says, his lower lip trembling a little. “And I do.”
Buck shakes his head. Maybe he’s lost it for good, or maybe—maybe Eddie’s just saying something else.
“Sure,” he says, the inside of his throat like sandpaper, “but not like—like Taylor.”
Eddie chuckles. He shuffles closer, and kneeling on the floor must be killing him, but Buck can’t get any of his limbs to move, can’t do anything other than look and look and look and try his hardest to quash the hope.
This doesn’t happen. Not to him, and not like this.
But Eddie runs a thumb over Buck’s cheekbone, and he grimaces, and a little smile steals his way onto his face.
“Definitely not like Taylor,” he says, her name all wrong in his mouth. “Better. I can love you better than that, if you let me.”
He takes one of Buck’s hands in his. Smiles, slow and sweet and uncomplicated, his first-thing-in-the-morning smile. “If you want me to.”
“If I—“ except Buck can’t speak, because it definitely sounds like it might be happening to him, and it’s like a punch right to the stomach, the impossibility of it all. “If I want—Eddie, you—“
“Yeah,” he grins, and ducks his head, almost shy. “I know you need to hear it out loud, Hen’s been yelling at me for months to get it together, but—“
Buck reaches forward. He can’t see where his hands are going, isn’t really aware of anything that isn’t Eddie, and Eddie catches him as easily as he always has, a steady hand on Buck’s elbow, another one on the side of his neck.
He kisses his best friend for the first time tangled in an awkward pretzel on the locker room floor at work, and knows as soon as Eddie inhales, as soon as he takes Buck’s bottom lip between his teeth, that he’ll never kiss anyone else.
“I don’t, actually,” he breathes, Eddie’s, Eddie’s face in his hands, Eddie’s little puff of laughter breaking over his mouth, “not from you.”
Because Buck can see it now, now that he’s had the words aimed at him and found them so hopelessly wanting.
Eddie loves the same way Eddie does everything: steady and quiet and determined. He loves when he lets Buck see him in his rumpled state first thing in the morning, and when he says thank you for a passable plate of scrambled eggs like Buck has handed him the world. When he’s the last one listening as Buck goes on a tangent about something unbearably obscure.
Eddie loves in taking one look at Buck and knowing he’s putting on an act, and in taking him yogurt shopping, and in the way he’s trusted Buck with his heart over and over and over.
He loves in impossible to find chocolate bars and late night cups of coffee.
“Well,” Eddie laughs, his hands, his eyes, all of it on Buck like nothing else exists, “fucking tough, cause I have it together now.”
He pulls away, and then comes back in to rest his forehead against Buck’s.
“I love you,” he says, and the smile is audible in his voice. “I want to love you the way you need to be loved.”
Buck laughs. “You do,” he says, nods a little, Eddie’s face warm against his. “Eddie, Jesus. You love me so well I didn’t even realize until a few days ago.”
Eddie frowns. “How does that make any sense?”
“It did in my head,” Buck says, and kisses him again, because getting to do that is a reality that’ll take a while to sink in. “It’s because—you’ve always been there. You’ve made me feel safe and seen and heard from the moment I—“
“Pretty sure I made you feel pissed off the moment I met you,” Eddie interrupts, and Buck huffs an offended laugh, swatting at him until they’re falling away from each other and Eddie has to grab on to Buck’s shirt to stay upright.
“Fuck you, I gave you the floor for your romantic confession,” Buck says, and kisses Eddie once, twice, just because. “I was going to say that you’ve made me feel like that from the moment we stepped out of the ambulance.”
“You absolutely weren’t,” Eddie grins, and looks at Buck like he’s the only thing in the room. It’s entirely overwhelming, and sets Buck’s skin alight from the top of his head to the soles of his feet, but he figures he has a hell of a long time to get used to that.
“Yeah, okay,” he rolls his eyes, “I wasn’t.” He wraps his arms around Eddie’s shoulders, draws him in, just to feel him close. “But I love you,” he says into Eddie’s temple, “I do.”
And a little thrill runs through him when he realizes that they’ve just finished their shift; that they’re off for the next two days and Buck can just go to Eddie’s and stretch out on the couch and help Christopher with his art project and be home, without needing to justify it with something else.
Someone clears their throat in the doorway.
“Boys,” Hen says. Eddie pulls away, and rearranges his legs so he’s also sitting with his back against the bench, but he stays warm and steady against Buck’s side. “This room has glass walls.”
“We’re aware,” Buck grins, and he—God, he’s so giddy he can’t even bring himself to be embarrassed about any of it.
Hen purses her lips, then nods. “As long as you’re aware,” she says, but Buck is almost positive her eyes are shinier than normal. “I am so happy for you that I’m not going to subject you to my feelings about it and I’m gonna go home to inflict them on my wife, but—“ and she points a finger at Eddie, who shrinks a little, “nice work.”
Eddie blinks. “Thank you?” he says, with a warmth in his voice that makes Buck want to pull him closer. “Probably couldn’t have done any of this without you.”
“Definitely couldn’t have done it without me,” she grins. It softens into a smile when she turns to Buck.
“And Buckaroo,” she says. “From now on, always remember that you matter, too.”
Buck’s still misty-eyed about it when Eddie takes his hand outside the station, leads him to the truck, and distracts him with a kiss as he presses the car keys into his hand.
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