“Oh come on, Maddie! It’ll be fun!”
It was nearing midnight on a cold autumn evening, but the Buckley siblings were still awake as ever. These kinds of late-night talks were becoming more frequent, and Buck could attribute that to finally getting together with Eddie. After spilling their emotions to each other under that tree-covered gazebo, things got a whole lot better for the two. The team at the firehouse was incredibly understanding, and Hen had cheered quite loudly as Chimney handed her a twenty dollar bill.
While they had yet to go on an official date, Buck had no intention of rushing anything, and was just grateful that he even had a chance to have this with Eddie. That left him with an excited feeling all on its own that kept him all giddy and hyper.
Maddie was leaning forward on the kitchen island as she sipped on a small glass of wine. “Buck, aren’t you two already dating? You don’t need me there as a buffer.”
Buck didn’t have a glass of his own wine, but he was drinking some nice cold water. “Yeah we are, but... don’t you think it’s a bit early for us to be spending a night alone together?”
Maddie gave him a confused look. “What’s wrong with that? It’s only a football game.”
Buck could only duck his head in embarrassment as his face reddened, and Maddie could feel the shift in atmosphere.
Her frown quickly disappeared as it was replaced with a more concerned expression. “Buck…”
“I-I know its kinda stupid to think that way, but this—” Buck waved his hands in no particular direction before continuing, “—this relationship with Eddie is so much more important than anything I’ve had before. I’m scared that, under the wrong circumstances, or hell, even the right ones, I’ll screw it all up.”
His sister sat quietly at the other end of the island, intently listening to him. He was going to have to thank her for that later.
“And Eddie… he deserves so much more than to be treated like that on our first night alone.” Buck was now also leaning against the marble counter, nervously fumbling with his glass of water. “So… you understand why I want you there, right?”
Maddie carefully set her wine to the side and reached out across the table. Buck accepted the offer and gently set his hand in hers. “Yes, of course I understand. I’m sorry I didn’t before.”
Buck gave a slight smirk and looked up at his sister. “Thanks.”
They spent a few moments in silence, hand in hand, before Maddie made an attempt to break the now somber mood. “So, since I’m gonna have to be there… you think I could bring Chim?”
At that, Buck had let go of Maddie and took a step back. He crossed his arms as he spoke. “Oh! I see… so there’s a hidden motive here.”
Maddie scoffed. “No! It won’t be like that!”
“So what exactly is it going to be?” Buck’s smirk had turned into a complete smile at this point. “Do you need him there to learn a thing a two about football?”
“Excuse me! I know plenty about football!”
“Yes, really! I’m a Buckley, too, y’know! I’ve watched our family go crazy over sports longer than you!”
Buck’s phone started vibrating as they continued their trademark sibling argument. He started for it as he began to giggle. “That doesn’t prove anything.”
“The hell it does! I can even tell you most of the rules and names for stuff. Like, how—”
Before Maddie could say more, Buck immediately recognized the picture that had appeared on his ringing phone. “Um, hold that thought.”
“Buck! I’m still talking to you!”
He held his phone up so that Maddie could see who was calling. Eddie’s name was at the top of the screen, and a photo of the two men in a selfie position filled the background. “Sorry, it’s Eddie. Boyfriend trumps sister.”
“Fine, take the call. I’m gonna make my own to Chim.” As she left the kitchen with an admonished look, her phone in hand, Buck was left alone and eagerly answered his own phone.
“Hey, baby, what’s up?” Buck decided to go for the casual greeting, though the insert of a pet name was unexpected, even for him. He hoped Eddie didn’t pay too much mind to it.
But that was probably the least of Buck’s concern as he listened to the other end. At first, Eddie didn’t speak, and only breathed heavily, suggesting a high level of physical exhaustion. Buck tried to stop his mind from going haywire, but he knew that was futile.
“Eddie? What’s wrong, are you alright?” His panic had carried through into his voice, making his speech a little shaky.
Not as shaky as Eddie’s, however. “B-Buck…”
“Hey, hey, it’s okay, I’m here… Eddie, can you hear me?”
More silence filled with deep gasps for air.
Buck had to grasp at the kitchen counter for support, otherwise he believed he would have truly collapsed onto the floor. “C’mon, Eddie, talk to me… You’re making me worried…”
Eddie took in some more breaths before finally responding. “I-I’m sorry… Um… Can you… Can you come over? P-Please…”
With that request, Buck had immediately perked up. He almost ran straight for his car, but barely held back the instinct. “Absolutely! Of course I can come to you.”
“Y-You can let yourself in, r-right?”
Buck sure could. Eddie has given him a spare key for the days that he would pick up Chris from school. Though, he never would’ve imagined having to use it like this. “Yeah, I can. Do you need me to call 9—”
“No!” Eddie yelled into the phone, scaring Buck enough to make him flinch. “I-I mean, no, it’s not that big a deal… I… I just want you…”
“Okay, okay. That’s fine, I’m on my way right now. I’ll see you soon, promise.”
Maddie had slowly walked in just as Eddie ended the call without another word. Her face showed a mix of worry and concern. “Is Eddie okay?”
“I really hope so. I’ve gotta head over to his, so I’ll catch you tomorrow?”
“Yeah, no worries. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Maddie had given Buck a hug before he strode to the front of the house with haste. He quickly grabbed his coat and keys from the small table beside the couch and was out the door without a glance back. He ran into his truck, started the engine, and briskly, yet carefully, drove away onto the street.
The vehicle was going as fast as legally possible, but Buck could swear it was the slowest ride of his entire life.
Buck tried his hardest not to run the red lights, ignore the stop signs, and speed up when the road was empty. But as he approached Eddie’s driveway, he threw all caution to the wind and practically jumped out of his truck.
During the drive, he was consumed by his own unsettling thoughts. Buck attempted to stave them off by focusing on the road, but nothing he could do would make them go away.
Buck had noticed how out of breath Eddie was when they were talking over the phone. Maybe he had gone on a run? No, it was too late at night for that. He could have been doing something at his house that required a lot of energy. Like what, though?
Then his thoughts strayed down the wrong path, just how it usually does.
What if someone had broken in? But, his house is well secured! What if someone was threatening Eddie to bait Buck out? Who would do that, though?! With the ordeal that Maddie had unfortunately gone through almost fresh in his memory now, he couldn’t help but think of the worst.
As he rushed up the concrete walkway to the front door, Buck observed the facade of the house. The windows were all intact, so no signs of forced entry. He took out his key ring with unsteady hands, which were more likely from the frigid air of the night, but some of it could be caused by his worry for his lover.
Buck made it to the door, and struggled a bit getting the spare house key to fit into the lock. They had even slipped, but he caught them just before they had the chance to fall to the ground.
“Come on, you stupid keys…” Buck muttered to himself. He could see his breath puff out in a small cloud.
Not soon enough, he heard the door click.
Before really thinking through the possible situations, Buck burst into the house, but was careful to shut the door somewhat quietly. He took slow and deliberate steps into the living room, trying to listen for any sounds that came through the silence. When he didn’t hear anything, Buck took his chances and called out. “Eddie? Chris? You guys here?”
No response came, but as he sneaked closer to the bedrooms, something caught his attention.
Or rather, it was someone. And they were… crying?
The muffled sounds became clearer as Buck entered Eddie’s bedroom, and approached the bathroom. The place was fairly dark, save for the light that poured out of a slightly ajar door.
“Eddie? ” Buck whispered, before warily pushing the white door open.
What he saw was something that would terrify his dreams for a long while. There was blood all over the vanity, the bright marble defiled by a layer of crimson red. A first aid pack was left wide open in the sink, with its contents strewn across the counter. Shards of glass laid beside the sink, patches of blood still fresh on some of them.
But the sight that had shocked Buck the most… was Eddie. He was sitting against the wall closest to the door, his knees pressed against his chest, and his arms wrapped around tightly. His face was hidden from view, but drops of tears could be seen falling from his cheeks.
It was enough to break Buck’s heart.
“Eddie!” he gasped, a hand reaching to cover his mouth. His other one braced the door frame. “W-Wha—”
Eddie quickly lifted his head from his arms, and looked at Buck with such grief that it pierced through his soul. “Buck… you’re r-really here…”
Buck dropped down to the cold tile, and cautiously crawled over to his suffering boyfriend. “Of course I’m here. I’ll always be here for you.”
“I’m sorry,” Eddie choked out, another wave of tears hitting him.
“No, no, it’s fine.” As soon as Buck got close, he quickly reached out with open arms. “C’mere.”
He could see Eddie hesitate for a second before he slowly shifted positions, burying his head into the other man’s broad chest. Buck could only put his arms around him, resting a hand on Eddie’s quivering back, and one on the back of his head. He hoped that was enough to comfort him. He just wished he could do more to make the tears stop falling; for Eddie to never have to feel this way again. At least he was safe in Buck’s embrace. He was content to sit here for as long as he needed to.
Once Buck could hear Eddie’s breathing calm down, he gained enough courage to speak up, his voice soft in a way that he reserved only for his love. “Are you feeling better now?”
Eddie nodded his head lightly. “A little bit,” he whispered, Buck’s chest muffling his response.
Buck ran his hand through Eddie’s unkempt hair. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“That’s okay.” Eddie steadily turned his body around, but was careful not to escape Buck’s arms. He was now rested between the other man’s legs, his back on Buck’s front.
It was then that Buck saw it. Eddie’s hand was messily wrapped in a medical bandage, with some of the red blood permeating through the white cloth. The sleeve of his sweater was also stained, he noted.
“Eddie, what happened to your hand?”
Eddie’s face contorted into one of shame, and he hastily hid the injured hand from Buck’s view. “It’s… I…”
“Eddie, please, I just want to help.” Buck stared at the sorrowful man, and waited until their eyes met. His usual bright brown eyes showed nothing but anguish.
“Can we… talk about this tomorrow?”
Buck sighed. He wanted to understand, but he also didn’t want to force anything out of Eddie. “You promise to tell me everything?”
“I don’t know about everything, but…” Eddie had looked away briefly, but quickly turned back. “Okay, yeah. I’ll… I’ll tell you everything.”
“Okay.” Buck pulled Eddie even closer. “Let’s get you to bed, huh? You must be exhausted.”
Buck did his best to lift the both of them from the bathroom floor, and eventually the two were walking to the bed, Buck’s arms still affectionately wrapped around his boyfriend.
“Hey, where’s the little guy?”
Eddie’s voice was still quiet, and a little strained as he answered. “With... Shannon.”
The name sent shivers down Buck’s spine. He knew it was unreasonable to feel this kind of resentment towards the mother of Eddie’s child, but still. The lady hasn’t been in Chris’ life for long, certainly not as long as Eddie. And now, all of a sudden, she wants to ‘make up for lost time’? Buck internally rolled his eyes. He had thought he had seen the last of her after Eddie signed the divorce papers, but it seems Shannon will be overstaying her welcome.
As Eddie sat down, his injured hand came into Buck’s view. That sweater definitely needed to be washed soon. “Do you want to change? You’ve got some… stuff on the sleeve.”
Eddie took a glance at it, and saw how much blood had stained his clothing. “Um, yeah, that’s a good idea.”
Buck turned on one of the bedside lamps to help him find the closet, but as it illuminated the room, he noticed some things he hadn’t before.
First, there was a trail of blood leading from one side of the bed to the bathroom.
Second, there was broken glass spread on that same side of the bed, where the red path appeared to begin.
“Eddie, is this where you got hurt?”
Eddie’s gaze followed where Buck’s finger pointed, and his face became flushed once more. He didn’t need to say anything for Buck to get an answer.
“I’ll clean this up after you get dressed, alright?”
Eddie looked away as he spoke under his breath. “I’m sorry…”
Soon, Eddie was changed into a black tank top with a dark green hoodie. As he settled into the other side of the bed, Buck went to the kitchen to grab a hand towel and a dustpan. He swiftly cleaned the broken shards, and threw them away in the kitchen’s trash can. When he returned from his duties, he noticed that Eddie was already fast asleep, his soft snores making Buck smile, if only a little.
He thought about leaving, but Eddie probably wasn’t in any state to be left alone. Besides, he wanted to make sure that his man was safe for the night. He shed his coat and jeans, leaving his shirt and boxers on, and climbed into bed with Eddie.
He could feel Eddie instinctively gravitate towards his form, and Buck’s heart skipped a beat as he slung an arm over his chest. This would be the first time they sleep in the same bed together, and if Buck was being honest, it wasn’t exactly in the way he hoped it would be.
But, there would be another time for that. For now, he just needed to be there for Eddie.
The morning came all too soon, and the two were now walking through the same park where they had confessed their love. Buck thought it would be a good idea to talk about it here, as he noticed that Eddie didn’t feel quite comfortable enough in his house right now. The calming atmosphere of the place was still as effective as before, relaxing Buck in a way he never thought possible. He hoped Eddie felt the same.
They found the gazebo poking out of the forest, the same one they had kissed under, as the golden leaves from the trees fell atop the wood roofing. It was far enough from the main part of the park, so no one else would be able to see or hear their conversation. They sat along the interior benches, their shoulders right next to each other.
“Y’know, this is a pretty nice place here,” Buck brought up.
“Yeah, Chris and I sometimes go here after school. It’s very family friendly, and even with everyone coming here it’s somehow still quiet,” Eddie tiredly agreed.
Silence befell the two men, and while Buck was content to stay like this with Eddie, he needed to know why he was so distraught last night.
“So, are you ready to talk about it?”
Eddie leaned forward, and Buck almost regretted asking when he felt his warmth leave him, even through his shirt and coat. He noticed his uninjured hand held the sleeve of his hoodie close. “I guess I owe you an explanation, huh?”
Buck leaned back instead of following Eddie, just in case the man needed some space for himself. “I know I said ‘everything’ last night, but you only have to say what you’re comfortable mentioning. I’m not trying to force you, or anything like that.”
“I know, and thank you. I want to tell you everything eventually, but maybe not all at once, y’know.” Eddie gave a small chuckle.
Buck returned with his own soft laugh. “I know.”
Another moment passed before Eddie resumed. “So, it’s something that I’ve been dealing with for a while. It started soon after I retired from the army. I’d have these… horrible nightmares, and I would relive some of the most terrifying things in my entire life. At first, I went to a military therapist for a while. It was kinda hard to take care of Christopher, too, especially after… y’know.”
Buck saw that Eddie turned toward him, and he nodded his head with a smile, signaling him to continue. He made sure to give Eddie his full attention, and he wanted him to know that.
“Anyway, as difficult as it was, the sessions helped a lot. My night terrors slowly became few and far between, so I thanked them and stopped going. That’s why I didn’t mention it before. I thought that I had gotten better.”
Eddie paused, and Buck could hear him sniff a little. He raised the hand that was now completely covered by his jacket sleeve to his mouth, and soon enough his boyfriend began gently crying. Buck took initiative, and pushed himself forward to put an arm around Eddie. He made sure to pull him close.
“But they’ve started coming back. Not for long though, maybe for a couple nights now, but they’re definitely back. Though, they aren’t exactly the same. I’m in Afghanistan, and I still dream of getting attacked or losing the soldiers I… I couldn’t save.”
Another sob escaped Eddie, and he turned to face his lover. “But now, I don’t just see my comrades. Sometimes I see our team at the firehouse, and other times… I see you.”
Buck softly brushed his fingers across Eddie’s good hand. “Eddie…”
“It’s awful… sometimes you’re getting ambushed, sometimes you’re in the front lines… and sometimes you’re… you’re… oh god, Buck!”
Eddie instantaneously rammed his head into Buck’s shoulder, and he was rapidly losing his composure. Buck could only hold on as tight as he could.
“S-Sometimes I see you on the ground… motionless. You aren’t breathing, but I’m trying my damn hardest to help you. But… but nothing I do ever works, and I always wake up in shock before I see you… die…”
Buck could feel his own tears form, threatening to fall. “Jesus Eddie… I’m so sorry. I had no idea…” Buck pulled back from Eddie, brushed away the brown curls that fell over his forehead, and rested his free hand on his cheek. He noticed the growing stubble, suggesting Eddie hadn’t been shaving for a while now. “But look at me, okay? I’m fine, see?”
“But what if someday you aren’t? Especially when you inevitably move in with me… God, there were pillows fucking everywhere, the bedroom was a mess! Not to mention the glass of water I broke! Who knows what I would’ve done if you were there, too!”
Buck now placed both of his hands to the sides of Eddie’s head to hold him firm, and to keep steady eye contact. Both their eyes were filled with tears, but Buck pushed past them to focus on the man in front of him. “Eddie, stop, calm down. Nothing is going to happen to me. I swear on it.”
Eddie desperately shook his head in Buck’s hand. “No, y-you can’t promise that.”
“You’re right, I can’t promise that. But I can promise that I will do everything in my power to make sure the both of us are safe. You hear me?”
“Buck…” It was Eddie’s turn to bring his uninjured hand up to his face. “You’re so incredible… You know probably one of my darkest secrets, and you’re still here. You deserve someone better. Someone without so much baggage…”
“Hey, don’t talk like that. You think I don’t have baggage of my own? If I wanted easy, I would’ve settled for one of those coffee shop girls. But I want this with you, okay? I love you, and nothing you say can change that.”
Buck gave Eddie the biggest smile he could muster through his damp face, and the grin that was returned by Eddie was one of the brightest he had ever seen from the other man.
“God, I love you so much…”
They closed the small distance between their faces, and their lips met in a soft, gentle kiss. It wasn’t charged with desire, but with a different kind of need. The need to keep each other safe.
And damn anyone who believed Buck wouldn’t keep his promise to Eddie. He learned from a special someone, after all, that you don’t break promises. Ever.
They soon regrettably separated, their foreheads resting on one another.
“I-I think I’m gonna go back. To my therapist…” Eddie whispered, and it was the most vulnerable Buck had ever heard him. “Will… will you help me do that?”
“You already know the answer to that question. Of course I’ll help you. I will support you in any way I can. I made a promise, remember?”
Eddie chuckled, despite the flowing tears down his scruffy cheeks. “Yeah, you did. I’m counting on you.”
Buck went in for one more kiss. “I won’t let you down.”