(For @lilmeier who requested Eddie renovating Buck's apartment only for Buck to realize through a shared blanket what home really means)
You’re like a perpetual roommate in your own apartment.
Ali had said those words to him, once. They didn’t register as anything significant at the time, but in retrospect, as with most things, they burrowed beneath his skin and found a home there. He feels their weight against his chest, shackles around his ankles, some kind of foreboding shadow following him from his bed to his kitchen to his couch to his bathroom. You’re like a perpetual roommate in your own apartment.
It’s a problem he clearly doesn’t have a clue how to fix, so he calls the most qualified person he knows.
“God, finally, I’ve been waiting for you to let me loose on this place.”
Buck steps to the side to let Eddie and Christopher through. “Well, hello to you, too.”
“Now, are we talking full control, or are you gonna be micromanaging my every design choice?”
Buck locks the door and trails him to the kitchen. Christopher rolls his eyes at his father and settles into the couch, flipping the TV on. Buck stands across from Eddie at the counter and watches him flick through his white binder. “You’ve come prepared.”
“Yeah, well, you’ve made a serious request.” Eddie’s gaze roams through the apartment, cataloguing everything. Buck feels exposed in a way he never has before around Eddie. They spend so much time together, at both their places, and yet here Buck is openly admitting to the clinical sterility of what is supposed to be his home, and Eddie more or less agreeing. The feeling isn’t altogether unwanted, just new. Untrodden. Unfamiliar.
Eddie shakes his head, blowing a low whistle through his lips. “Yeah, this is gonna be at least three trips.”
Buck splutters. “I’m sorry?”
“No, I heard you, I’m just trying to figure out why.”
Eddie turns his head around to flash him a brilliantly crooked smile, and suddenly, whatever the reason, Buck doesn’t care. As long as Eddie’s face keeps doing that he’ll be fine. “You’ll see.”
So, Eddie spends another few hours in Buck’s apartment at the counter, head buried in the binder. Buck busies himself with Christopher, chatting and playing video games and making fun of his father. When dinner rolls around they leave, and Eddie tucks his binder under his arm with something in his eyes teetering between a threat and a promise.
Buck isn’t allowed to join him on the shopping trips.
It takes four, or so Christopher complains to him over the phone one night, spread over the space of a week. And only when Eddie suffices he has everything he needs does he lug his haul over to Buck’s place. It’s tremendous, and it takes him two trips, and Buck feels a needle of regret pricking the back of his skull. But there’s a way Eddie gets when he has his white binder in his hands and a pencil tucked behind his ear and a rant about color theory spilling from his mouth. It makes Buck’s toes curl, makes his heart clench, makes him want to sit and listen to Eddie talk about the refined art of color coordination until the end of time.
He jerks to attention, already feeling his cheeks warm. “Huh?”
“I asked if you wanted to help or just be surprised.”
Buck laughs, walking around the counter to the fridge. A blast of cold air hits his face and he relaxes. “Yeah, right, because I want to be steamrolled by you around every corner. I’m not a masochist, Eddie.”
“Wow. I’m not that bad.”
“Yes you are,” Chris pipes up from Buck’s couch, and Buck pulls a popsicle out of his freezer and grins.
“The voice of truth has spoken,” he teases, ripping open the wrapper and hopping up on the counter. Eddie flicks a cursory glance toward Christopher to make sure he’s not watching before giving Buck the middle finger. Buck garbles a laugh around his popsicle and contents himself to trail Eddie with his gaze as the other man moves around his apartment.
The whole process takes an hour, is surprisingly quick, and Buck’s not sure if that means his apartment is just small or simply that far gone. Eddie puts out a few plants. “Real plants,” he tells Buck, “so don’t forget to water them.” He fits his bed with a few more colorful pillows and a brighter comforter. Swaps all the black and white imagery in his bathroom out for scenic views of an italian landscape. A deep orange dish towel hangs over the edge of his sink, and it matches the deep orange oven mitts on his counter. He recognizes some of Christopher’s drawings on the walls, and then a smiling picture of Chris at the beach in a magnetic frame on his fridge. “Christopher’s idea,” Eddie is sure to tell him, but the quiet, pleased grin doesn’t slide from his face.
The last thing is a deep blue blanket thrown over his couch, identical to the one at the Diaz house.
Buck grasps the fabric in his hands, feeling the soft caress against his arms as he bunches it in his grip.
Eddie clears his throat. “It isn’t always about getting new things,” he says, and he can’t meet Buck’s eyes as he does. “Sometimes it’s about what feels familiar.”
The words echo through his mind long after they leave.
He sits on the couch wrapped in the blanket, thinking, staring, hearing the words on repeat. The thing is, it is familiar. It feels like a comfort. And his apartment looks better, just not different. It’s a bandaid on a gaping wound, a simple paint job over incurable rot. Just like the reason for the renovation job. The reason for Eddie and Christopher in his space. Because for moments, for minutes and hours at a time, his apartment feels like home. Eddie’s laughter warms the sterility of the space. The clack of Christopher’s crutches presses comfort into the neglected crevices. And the fond, scathing roast sessions between father and son over bed time or Eddie’s black thumb or his lack of cooking skills or Christopher’s bedhead in the morning, makes everything so bright and bold Buck feels like he needs to shield his eyes.
And then they leave, and they take it all with them.
It’s how Buck always ends up on their doorstep, through their front door, joining them in the kitchen or the living room, never a guest or a roommate in their house.
“Buck!” Christopher calls, and Eddie just smiles from the kitchen table where they’re working on his math homework.
“Hey,” he says, grabbing an apple and settling down. “Oof. Fractions, huh?”
Christopher sighs. “The rules are different when you add them than when you multiply them. Math is dumb.”
“Whoa, math is not dumb,” Eddie chastises, squinting at the problem set in front of him. “It is definitely harder than I remember, though.”
“Nah, you’re just old. You’ve had a lot of time to forget stuff." Buck takes the paper from Eddie and sets it back down in front of Christopher. “It’s multiplication, so you have to go straight across. No need for a common denominator.”
Chris squeaks in triumph and scribbles away. Eddie kicks Buck’s foot under the table and their eyes lock. “Don’t like the new digs?”
Buck winces. “No. They’re . . . honestly, the place looks the best it has since I toured it.”
“So what’s the problem?”
Buck doesn’t know how to say it. Doesn’t know if he’s allowed to say it, to put such a potentially cataclysmic shift into their little universe of three like that. But maybe he doesn’t have to, because Eddie’s eyes soften like he knows, and he must, because he leaves the kitchen and returns a minute later with the familiar blue blanket and drops it over Buck’s shoulders. It’s the same one they got him for his own apartment, but when he wraps it around himself, it feels like Eddie’s laughter, and it feels like Christopher’s smile, and it feels like their subdued banter over what dessert he deserves for cracking the code of fractions. It's another key. Another key in a long line of keys Buck has tried for the lock in his chest.
Except this time, this key, it fits.
This time, it turns.
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