Buck and Chim, during and after that scene in Home and Away.
Read it here or on AO3.
It comes out of nowhere, and it comes out of everywhere, everything pent up and held back finally set free.
It comes out of nowhere, and it rings in his skull like a hammer on an anvil, the strike of steel on steel.
It comes out of nowhere, and leaves him reeling, righteous indignation rising, bleeding through the shock.
He doesn't move, at first. The blow falls and the door slams and he's frozen still, and the lights that flood his apartment in the darkness are like a display case in a museum. He wonders if anyone saw, looking out their windows into his as if his world is a stage. What they assume, if they saw. What sequence of events they imagine led to this.
She left, but she'll come back. It was so simple, in his mind. I made her a promise I had to keep. Pinky swear. I can fix this, I can fix this, I can fix this. Until the edges start to fray.
They're more than frayed, now, here with the shock wearing off and the pain setting in. Something has given way, snapped, the tension more than the line could take. And he'd been standing there, wrong place, wrong time, and caught the recoil in the face.
That's it, right? Wrong place, wrong time? Because he knows what Maddie needs. She just needs time.
She always comes back.
Chim just hasn't done this before. It's hard, the first time. But she always comes back.
He's sure, and his face is starting to throb. He unsticks his feet and closes the blinds. Strips, and showers, and gets half-dressed again. Sits on the couch arm, feet on the cushions, phone in his hand.
Who? Who do you call, and what would you say?
What could you possibly say?
He texts Taylor, short but enough that she could read between the lines. That maybe she would call. Come over. Stay the night.
Yeah, she says, a lot going on here, too. A photo from work, always work alwayswork, and he blinks back tears at the sudden rush of this is never going to (work) and saliva fills his mouth but he will not. Puke, cry, feel any of it right now.
Just that low ache. The way the skin around his eye is already getting tight. The headache setting in deep.
He could do something about that. Ice it, numb it, dull the pain.
Wouldn't feel right.
He lies on the couch and stares at the ceiling until the world blurs, and at some point sleep takes him and he dreams of losing Maddie-Chim-Eddie-Bobby-everyone.
His fingers hover over Eddie's name in his phone in the middle of the night, after this single dry heave over the trash can in the dark. I can still taste your blood on my tongue; please tell me you're alive.
He presses his palms to his face instead. His breath catches at the pain, but he just leans in.
He's still holding the phone come morning, blinking back to consciousness.
Certainty rises with the sun: She made me promise and She always comes back.
He makes coffee, makes breakfast, holds that certainty in his chest. Texts with Eddie like everything's fine. Makes it two hours of stop-and-start conversation before Eddie says, You want to come over? Chris would love to see you. Buck stares at the words, and turns the camera to selfie mode, and snaps the picture and hits send.
Jesus Christ, Buck, and then there's nothing for a while.
A knock at the door, even though he has the key.
He opens it.
A breath sucked in quick between teeth at the sight, and a hand, strong and warm, on his jaw, near his eye. In so close.
It all spills out without Eddie having to say a word. He moves around Buck's kitchen like he lives here (god, the thought of it), and then he's back in close, and the ice is coldcoldcold and when he flinches away it's into Eddie's waiting palm.
"Gotta do it," he says, with this undercurrent of why haven't you yet? and the answer is—
The answer is—
He sets his jaw and leans into the cold, into the pain, away from Eddie, and the momentum carries him out the sliding glass door.
Eddie lets him go. Follows behind with two beers in hand and stops too far away.
"She'll come back," he says, and Eddie just looks at him, those eyes those eyes those eyes, and he says it again: "She always comes back."
Begging for it to be true.
Not many more words for the whole first beer, and when Eddie takes the empty out of his hand and sets it on the table next to his own and gestures for Buck to actually put the ice on his eye while he goes in for a second round, it feels like some kind of exhale.
"What am I supposed to do?" Was I supposed to break a promise? A Buckley sibling pinky swear?
"She's your sister. And you're the guy who likes to fix things. But maybe this isn't something you can fix."
- - -
It comes out of everywhere. Out of everything. Eight days of torment; of sleepless, sickening fear. Of finding out that in the end, what wins are Buckley family secrets and lies. He'd thought—
It would be naive to say he'd thought they were past that. That kind of shit runs deep. He'd just—
Thought they were in this together.
Sometimes he's managed three hours of sleep in a row, when his body just fucking gives out. He's running on coffee and adrenaline and fear and delusion (is it delusion if you know it's not real?), and on desperate, desperate hope. And Buck's been there, all along. Eddie, too, tagging along, doing laundry and dishes and diapers and meals without ever asking or being asked.
Jee-Yun looks up at him like he's some magical creature, the way he smiles at her and tickles her chin. Buck watches them both with his heart on his sleeve, spilling out of his fucking chest, and Chim wants to cry and puke and punch through a fucking wall at how goddamn perfect they look, like some family in a magazine, and how they, he and Maddie, never got the fairytale.
He'd thought they did. For a while.
Apparently he's good at being fooled.
So maybe he should've seen it coming. But he didn't. Eight days of betrayal. Of straight up fucking lies.
"Did you know?" Sickness roiling in the pit of his stomach.
And he's not affronted, or offended, not attempt to deny it. He's just resigned.
Resigned, and then explaining to his goddamn face why all of this makes sense; why Maddie's the one who's thinking straight, here, and he's just losing his mind.
It boils over like sap in a pan, angry and acrid, and his fist meets flesh and bone.
He doesn't regret it.
He will, later. But in that moment? It's the only thing that's felt real all week.
He drives even though he knows it's a terrible idea; even though he's shaking hard. He drives, and he finds himself telling his phone to call Hen, and she picks up before he can change his mind.
A ragged inhale, and a choking sob, and her voice in his ear, all around him, in the car. "Are you driving? Pull over. I'll come to you."
He pulls over in some warehouse parking lot, empty for the weekend, and stumbles to the edge, and pukes in the gravel.
His knuckles are starting to throb.
He loses time, he's pretty sure, because he blinks and Hen's there, getting out of her car, striding toward him, arms open wide.
"He knew," he says. Sobs into her chest. "He fucking knew this whole time."
This angry, protective sound, deep from within her with her arms around him tight, and somehow that's what makes his knees give out, like a sanity check that came out in his favor for the first time all week.
She catches him, and holds him through the wracking sobs, the outpouring of grief, and, once he can see straight, follows him home. Takes him inside. Pours him a drink, and lets him talk himself out, and spreads a blanket over him on the couch when he can't fight the exhaustion any more.
Jee-Yun's asleep in the back within the first fifteen minutes, but it takes him an hour to settle. It feels good, to have a direction. Somewhere concrete to start.
Jee-Yun wakes up eventually, ready for food and attention and a diaper change, and he finds a park where they can do all of the above in the shadows of some trees. Spreads a blanket on the grass so she can play for a while.
There's a text from Buck. He takes a shaky breath and opens it.
i'm sorry, it reads. for thinking i could fix everything. i don't know what the right move is here, but i love you. all three of you.
This is the right move, Buck. This is the only move. He hits send, and then looks down at Jee, and opens the camera app. Sends three photos of her playing with her feet. He stares at his screen long enough that the read receipts appear, and then sends, The punch was too far. I shouldn't have done that. Is your eye ok?
yeah, it'll be fine. The typing dots appear. Disappear. Reappear. talk when you get back?
Yes, he sends, and pockets his phone. "Okay, Jee." He gathers up her and the blanket and the toys, and faces the sun. "Let's go."
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