When Buck was young, tinsel was never an option.
Every time December rolled around, Buck’s mom had them go through their stuff and donate old clothes and other things they no longer used. One year— Maddie’s last with them before she went to college— she came across an old box, one she hadn’t opened since before Buck was born.
It was her old dress-up clothes. Maddie had gasped and insisted she dress up one more time, and she’d dragged her six-year-old brother right into the mix. Buck remembers it being fun, and his mom had taken photos. Even his dad had laughed, though he was not exactly pleased with the sight of his son in a dress with a fake feather boa wrapped around his neck. He’d eyed Maddie critically after that, but Buck never did figure out what the problem was.
Buck only remembered Maddie helping him get back into some sort of cartoon pajamas and telling him that these kinds of clothes were only used for dress up and for fun. The words sounded harsh and unlike her, and he remembers how sad she seemed after.
Buck didn’t understand until one Christmas when Maddie was already out of the house, he came across some decorative tinsel garland. He was in his early teens and it reminded him of the feather boa, such a fond memory for him. In an attempt to make his parents laugh, he’d wrapped one around his neck and slipped into some of his mom’s heels. He remembers sauntering into the kitchen with a smile on his face.
“Does this remind you of anything?” he’d asked his mother. Of course, she’d laughed, recalling that time from a handful of years ago that his sister had dressed him up.
His father did not like it, not one bit. His face screwed into disgust, and he’d stepped forward and quickly tugged on the ends of the garland in an attempt to remove it. Looking back, Buck still isn’t sure if his father had known that it was wrapped around his neck when he pulled on it, but it’d tightened enough to restrict his breathing for a moment before the plastic snapped apart.
The loose pieces fell to the ground, and Buck’s mother had run forward to him as he gasped for breath. His father had spit words at him that Buck didn’t even know existed. He ditched the heels there in the kitchen and ran up to his room to hide away as his parent’s yelling got loud— so loud that police had come to investigate a noise complaint.
His father was telling the truth when he said he and his wife were just arguing— he’d never lay a hand on her and Buck is sure of that— but he lied when the police asked if anyone but his wife was home. Buck didn’t know why, and he was scared to find out.
When his mother came up to talk to him later, he learned that it’d left a mark on his neck.
It never bruised, and eventually, they all moved on from it, but Buck never forgot.
He never forgot the way that his dad had tossed out the tinsel garland, then the loose tinsel as well after seeing Buck smile while decorating the Christmas tree with it. He remembers looks being passed between his parents, but his father never spoke of it again.
His mom sat him down after that, using words like fag, gay, and sin . Buck hadn’t ever even shown an interest in guys, so why did his dad think such things all because of his dress-up joke?
Nevertheless, Buck did end up liking guys, and it was fucking great. What was so sinful about liking some guys the way he liked girls?
He kept that to himself, though, and his father kept tinsel away from Christmas because, “Our son doesn’t need to be worried about pretty things. It’s the woman’s job to decorate, anyway.”
So, naturally, once Buck was on his own, he used all the fucking tinsel he could— well, as much as he could without it looking tacky. When he first moved to LA and lived with roommates, he’d been nervous, but his somewhat friends had said that a tree was a must even if not everyone was going to celebrate.
After it was all said and done, the four roommates had collapsed onto their trashy couch and stared at it critically.
“It’s missing something,” one of the guys said.
Buck smirked. “You guys ever hear of tinsel?”
And tinsel had turned out to be the best thing that could’ve happened to them.
They’d all danced with tinsel on the tree and the garland wrapped around their necks and they’d all become closer that night.
But then one of his roommate’s parents became sick, so he and his girlfriend left and were replaced to manage rent, and then another roommate moved out and another. By the time he was in the LAFD, he was the last of that group.
Maddie knows that something is off as soon as she walks into the Diaz-Buckley household.
It’s the couple’s first official Christmas together, and she knows Buck had decided to go all out. She’d stopped by with the intent of sharing holiday cookies, and they’d known she was coming so she’d been given the okay to walk in when she got there. Upon entering the house, though, she can literally feel something missing.
Her thoughts are interrupted as Eddie comes into the room, nearly slipping on the tinsel that covers the ground. Maddie hadn’t noticed it before, but now that she looks around, the only place it seems to be is on the ground.
“What happened?” she asks, dread filling her stomach.
“No idea.” Eddie shakes his head.
“Did it have to do with the tinsel?”
Eddie makes a face. “I think so,” he admits, unsure. “We were just finishing decorating and we were dancing and— shit, I don’t even know. It was only like five minutes ago. His entire mood shifted and he started tearing all the tinsel down.” He looks around the room at the fallen decoration, then to the tree where some ornaments had fallen in Buck’s haste to get the tinsel off of there, too. “I’m pretty sure we didn’t even have this much up, some of it just spilled out of the bag.”
Maddie sighs and passes over the container of cookies. “I’m going to head out. But I’ll tell you this: he’s got a bad history with tinsel. It sounds stupid, so he’ll probably tell you that himself, but hear him out.”
Eddie nods, taking the cookies from her. “Is he going to be okay?”
Maddie offers a small smile. “I have no doubt he will be as long as you listen.”
“I can do that,” Eddie assures her.
“Then go take care of my baby bro,” she whispers. “I’ll visit another day.”
When Eddie approaches the room, he takes a heavy breath and plays Maddie’s words over in his head.
Buck is lying on his stomach on the bed, face tilted to the side so he can stare out the window at the rain. Buck usually loves early December rain, but right now it only seems to reflect his sadness back at him.
Eddie sets the plate he’s holding on his nightstand before mirroring Buck’s position. When he meets his husband’s eyes, he sees that they’re still rimmed with tears. Buck looks sadder than he’s ever seen him.
“Talk to me, babe,” Eddie whispers.
Buck stares at him with his cheek smushed against the comforter.
“It’s stupid,” he mutters, turning his face the other direction.
“I’d bet my ass it’s not,” Eddie says.
Buck gasps and props himself up on his forearms. “You can’t put an ass like that on the line, Eddie.”
Eddie can’t help but laugh. His laughter trails off the more he stares at Buck. He rolls onto his side and brings his hand up to Buck’s face, cupping his cheek. “Tell me what’s wrong.”
Buck sighs and flops onto his back. “It’s so stupid.”
“Nothing that upsets you is stupid, Buck.” At his words, Eddie can see Buck smile a bit.
Buck remains facing the ceiling as he sighs again. “Long story short, one year I did dress up with Maddie. I was, like, six or something, and everyone thought it was funny. But then I did it when I was older, as a joke for my mom really, and it wasn’t so funny.” Buck rubs at his eyes and takes another deep and steadying breath before continuing. “My dad pulled on the tinsel to take it off my neck, but it ended up choking me.” Eddie’s heart aches at the words. “It was only for a second, and I’m not sure if it was on purpose, but it terrified me.”
“So, earlier when we were dancing…?” Eddie trails off and Buck nods. Buck had been dancing with a string of garland around his neck and Eddie had joined in. Eddie’s intent had been to move the garland to the man’s waist and dance close to him— he had no idea that had been what set him off.
Buck continues talking, telling Eddie about the aftermath of it and how his father had gotten rid of it all. Buck honestly doesn’t care for how tinsel looks all that much, but it reminds him of who he is and it feels like a solid middle finger at his father.
“I’m not scared of you,” Buck tells him softly. “I just felt really stupid because I’ve never been triggered— not like that, at least— and not about that, either.”
“It’s not stupid,” Eddie insists. “How many times do I have to say it for you to believe me?”
“I probably won’t, no matter how many times you say it,” Buck tells him honestly. “But you can help me by passing me a cookie and helping me rehang the tinsel.”
Buck offers him a smile, and Eddie returns it readily.
Yeah, they’ll be okay.