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of routines and embraces

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It’s a quiet night, one of the rare ones where even the constant hum of the city seems silent, when they take one more step.

There’s a lot of steps to take, Eddie thinks. A lot of things to work through, a lot of landmarks to hit before he feels even remotely ready to give up the last bit of his heart. Other than that, it’s belonged to Buck for a long time, in what Eddie now knows he was blind to.

Buck, who’s sitting on his porch with two beers, waiting for him.

Eddie thinks they might've been waiting for each other for a long time.

“He wiggled another story out of me,” Eddie says as he joins Buck on the back porch, folding his legs underneath himself and taking the proffered bottle.

“It’s your fault for falling for it all the time,” Buck teases, laughing. The sound brightens up the darkness that’s fallen over the house, but Eddie plays off the warmth in his chest by rolling his eyes.

Instead, he offers his friends a story from their life in El Paso, one tidbit in a whole lifetime of ups and downs. “When we were back in El Paso, bedtime was pretty much the only part of the day that I could constantly be there for. One of the jobs I was working ended around 6:30, and I used to have a job that had a night shift after he slept, so I’d go home to eat dinner and spend the evening with him. It was the only thing I could be there for, without fail.”

Buck clearly doesn’t miss his word choice. “I wouldn’t say it’s the only thing at all. I may not have known you back then, but I know you now, and it’s pretty safe to assume that you don’t give yourself enough credit. Even if you’ve gotten better at it.”

Eddie doesn’t think even his parents knew him back then, but he doesn’t comment on the astute observation. He’s self-aware enough to recognize he has gotten better at it over the years, especially as Christopher’s grown up. But back then, when he was still falling short despite putting in more than he had to give, it was a struggle to believe he could ever be enough for anyone. 

Sometimes, it still is.

Instead of saying any of that, he stays quiet, taking a sip of his beer, turning his thoughts towards the boy sleeping soundly inside.

Christopher had very quickly grown out of picture books once they started the regular nightly reading routine. He’d tuck himself up under Eddie’s chin and follow along, sometimes falling asleep before they even got halfway, other times stubbornly picking up a second. 

The day Chris had brought home one of those Step Into Reading books with a blazing 2 in the corner instead of a 1, Eddie’s mind had raced so far ahead, already panicking at the thought of him growing up. Adriana had been the one to tell him to relax, giving him some of the books his niece had grown out of just a couple of years before. Some of those were still sitting in Christopher’s room.

That first book had been about penguins. Eddie remembers that.

Ultimately, he’d wrestled his irrationality under control. They’d curled up together and Eddie had listened as Christopher sounded out the harder words, nailing it seven out of ten times.

“Did you know we need about eight hugs a day?” Buck blurts out, randomly. 

Eddie’s eyebrows shoot up as the fact registers, still confused as to why Buck’s saying that to him. “Oh?”

“Yeah,” he nods. “You know, for maintenance. We need four to survive, eight for maintenance and twelve to grow. We just don’t do it.”

Eddie watches him quietly, trying to figure out what he’s thinking. He’s lounging with a faint smile on his face, completely relaxed. Eddie thinks he senses a little amusement too, the way Buck gets when he catches any of them off-guard — which happens more often than not. 

Then he catches sight of his best friend’s open expression, complete with the tiny hint of invite that always hangs between them. The one that dares the other to shove them into a place they can’t come back from. 

And Eddie just wants

Without thinking too much about it, he moves closer to Buck and wraps his arms around him.

Surprisingly, Buck jolts from the uncharacteristic action — which in itself is strange, given that he’s the one who brought it up in the first place. Regardless, his arms wrap around Eddie not even two seconds later and Eddie...Eddie sinks into it.

It’s a little awkward, both of them sitting weirdly for this kind of hug, but Buck hugs with his whole body and even in this limiting position, Eddie feels completely wrapped up. Any pulled muscles are completely worth this one embrace, because his mind is finally silent.

It becomes evident very quickly that Buck, for as tactile as he is, clearly isn’t planning on going anywhere anytime soon — or maybe that’s just Eddie projecting. Then Buck’s arms move to hook behind Eddie’s torso, and he drops all thoughts of projecting, moving that last inch until their thighs are flush against one another, fitting them closer together.

It’s familiar to have the weight of one of Buck’s hands in the middle of his back and one draped across his shoulder, dragging them together. 

Eddie can’t help but notice how well they just fit.

When they do let go, leaving nothing but cool air between them, Eddie can’t resist but comment. “So that’s one of eight. Don’t let me down, Buckley,” he winks, immediately feeling stupid for it. He’s out of practice with everything, but the flush dusting across Buck’s face makes him feel a little better. 

“Holding you to that, Eddie,” he laughs, tapping his beer bottle against Eddie’s as they turn their attention back to the night.

After that, it becomes a thing.

Buck didn’t know there were so many types of hugs, but now he’s catalogued a whole list of them in his mind.

They’re mostly specific to Eddie.

He hadn’t meant to blurt out that specific fact the first night. He’d just seen the faraway look in Eddie’s eyes and said the first thing that came to mind. For the confused, intrigued look on his best friend’s face, he couldn’t bring himself to regret it, because Eddie wasn’t thinking about the past anymore, and that’d been the whole intention.

Then Eddie had hugged him, and Buck really couldn’t regret it. Not when Eddie was determined to make a habit of it — a habit that Buck had been too terrified to initiate.

Most of the embraces they’ve shared have been brief, littered across each other’s skin in bright flashes that Buck can see on his skin even after his friend leaves. And when they pull away, Buck can see Eddie tally each one in his mind the way he himself does, with the same iota of disbelief.

Buck still hasn’t brought himself to believe this is really happening. 

Expecting eight hugs a day out of literally anyone sounded ridiculous to him the first time he’d heard it, and it sounds just as ridiculous now. Regardless, his touch starvation is the highest it’s been in years, so Buck will take what he can get. 

It’s their thirteenth hug that proves to be the most addictive one, the one that sends Buck tumbling down a line of ‘I can’t live without this anymore.’

They’re coming back from what was meant to be a routine call, but turned ugly quicker than they could blink. 

One more patient lost to the clutches of death.

The mood in the truck, as it always is after a tough call, is somber. Buck and Eddie are the only firefighters in the cab of the truck. Bobby’s sitting in the front seat, Wes is driving and Hen and Chim are in the ambulance.

And Eddie’s watching him.

Buck has never learned how to move past death in his life. No matter how many times he’s tried to get to a place where he can move on and do the next task he’s assigned, he’s never quite been able to manage it without some degree of distraction.

It’s always sitting in the back of his mind. He’s constantly running over all the things he knows about the patient they lost, committing it to memory. He’s constantly mourning the people they lose in his head, categorizing all the things they could’ve done differently.

The mental list that started with Devon has only gotten longer over the years, and as much as Buck loves his job, he loathes this part of it.

Eddie hooks his foot behind Buck’s, his gaze shifting away from Buck’s skin with the point of contact. It’s bulky and awkward for the heft of their shoes, but it takes Buck out of his mind for a second as he pushes his ankle back into Eddie’s warmth. 

No one says anything when they pull into the station, only Bobby halfheartedly asking them to get some rest while he starts on lunch. Absently, Buck thinks that lunch is probably going to be a full spread, knowing Bobby’s propensity to cook too much when he’s in a mood like this. 

He’s hardly been on the clock for three hours, with nine more to go. Buck doesn’t know how much help he’ll be like this but he puts it to the back of his mind as he hangs up his turnout coat.

Eddie touches his arm from the locker next to him, beckoning him to follow with a tilt of his head. Buck follows him mutely, trying to shake the slight tremble from his fingers. The shock of losing someone is beginning to wear off, and he can feel his chest start to cave in from the thought of a family having an empty chair at their table tonight. 

Eddie leads them into one of the private bunks, blissfully empty. Given that it’s not even noon, it makes sense. Buck looks curiously at his friend as Eddie locks the door, turning to face him.

“Are you okay?”

Buck always wondered why those three words could push buttons, without fail, every time — including right now. Unbidden, he can feel hot pressure prick at his eyes, and he looks away to stop his friend from seeing him like that.

Clearing his throat, he gives Eddie whatever random answer he first thinks of. “Yeah.” He winces immediately at the sound of his voice, meeting Eddie’s disapproving gaze.

“Well,” Eddie starts slowly, reaching for him with a look Buck’s ever really seen around Christopher, “come here then.”

Eddie hugs him tightly.

Buck lets himself fall into his partner, wrapping his arms just as tight around Eddie’s broad shoulders. His tears stubbornly won’t fall, leaving an uncomfortable ache around his head but at least his chest feels less like it’s going to cave in at any moment.  

Eddie says nothing, lets the two of them stand there quietly, sharing too much space for being at work. One hand idly presses firmly against his side periodically, stopping Buck from getting stuck in a whirlpool of his own thoughts. 

He sucks in a shuddering breath, tilting his face downwards until his mouth is pressed against Eddie’s shoulder. At the back of his mind, he registers that this is probably too close, and that he needs to back away but Eddie shifts his grip until he’s somehow hugging him tighter and that’s what does it.

He breaks.

This time, the tears do come, slowly dampening Eddie’s shirt and leaving a swirl of embarrassment in their wake. He knows the man won’t belittle him for needing to cry, for being so emotional, but a part of him is always scared of taking too much.

“I’ve got you,” Eddie whispers, one hand sliding up his back to press against the back of his neck, keeping Buck where he is. The unbarred affection only makes him cry more, muffling gasps and shudders into Eddie's shift. There’s a sense of not deserving this that comes over him at times like these, where the whole world feels unfair and there’s nothing Buck can do to stop it.

“The uniform is my costume,” he says after he manages to get himself under control. They still haven’t moved, but Buck begins talking, spurred on by having Eddie so close without having to look him in the eye. “I told Bobby that once, the Halloween after the lawsuit. Told him that I put this on, and I’m someone who makes a difference, who can help. And then things like today happen and I just...feel like I’ve failed it. Like I’m not worthy of wearing it anymore.”

Eddie doesn’t let him get away with no eye contact this time. Buck only barely manages to stop himself from whining when Eddie pulls away, but forces himself to listen. His hand still rests on his shoulder, keeping that point of contact between them, and there are too little inches between them, leaving Buck feeling exposed and vulnerable.

“You know, that’s the thing about uniforms. Everyone can wear a uniform. But not everyone can carry what they mean, you understand?” Eddie would know — he’s worn two uniforms that’ve meant vastly different things, so if anyone understood the weight of flimsy cloth, it is him. “There’s a reason that not everyone can work jobs like these. If you weren’t worthy of the uniform, you wouldn’t be standing here. You’re here because you understand what it means to be a firefighter, to work emergency services knowing that sometimes, we’re going to face the uglier parts, like death.”

“What’s the point if we can’t save people? How do you get past it?” The questions fall from his lips before he can stop them.

There’s no pity in Eddie’s gaze, which relieves Buck in multitudes he can’t put in words. “Honestly, sometimes, there is no getting past it. You have to recognize that you did the best you could with the situation you were placed in, and then move forward. I know it doesn’t help because it sounds like a textbook definition, but when it comes down to it, that’s all that’s left. Nothing we say or do is going to bring anyone back.”

Buck knows he’s right. 

They had immediately jumped into the thick of the accident, Buck and Eddie breaking people out of their cars and Hen and Chim doing medical triage. Wes and Bobby had been assisting the whole way, too, just like a well-oiled machine.

There had been no one dead on arrival, no indication of the accident being one of the ones where there would be no survivors. The irony of all of it was that the man they’d lost had been one of the healthiest ones, all up until he’d collapsed. Buck still didn’t know what exactly happened to him, but they’d lost his pulse and all he could focus on was alternating compressions with Chim. They’d tried their best, but couldn’t resuscitate him.

They’d tried their best.

Just because he knows all this doesn’t mean he believes it right now.

As if Eddie’s reading his mind, he says, “we have time.”

So they take that time, waiting for the alarm to go off again, neither of them in any mood to eat anything. Buck lays down on his side, staring blankly at the door while Eddie sits on the edge of the bed, pulling a book out.

Buck studies him for a moment, pointedly avoiding the dark spot on his shoulder. 

As much as Eddie had been the one comforting him, Buck knows that he struggles with losses on calls, too, just in a different way. It’s rare that Buck can reach him when they’re at the firehouse, but he’s always been able to help when they’re alone. 

There’s a tightness to his expression that relaxes when he sees Buck looking.

“You don’t have to hide from me, you know,” he says quietly.

Eddie shakes his head, smiling at him. “I’m not. This was as much for me as it was for you.”

Eddie doesn’t lie to him, so Buck doesn’t push. Content with that, and out of energy for anything else, Buck lets his eyes slip close.

Eddie’s words follow him in sleep.

I’ve got you.

The first time he’d heard of skin hunger, Eddie was being discharged from the army.

He’d been wondering for months why he felt so on edge, why he constantly felt that a puzzle piece was missing. It had less to do with being shot out of the air and more with an unknown restlessness he didn’t know what to do with.

As it turned out, touch starvation was the culprit. He’d gone months without being touched skin-to-skin, the last being Shannon and Christopher just before he’d boarded the plane. 

It was a therapist at the VA who told him about it just before he was due to be home, that he was possibly touch starved. Eddie had been curious, sinking back in his seat to focus on the woman’s words. He hadn’t realized that not being touched in any way could be so anxiety inducing. 

There were platoons where Eddie had heard of all the members practically laying on top of one another during their deployments, leaving all of the toxic bullshit surrounding any type of touching behind, and now he knew why that was. Unfortunately for him, in hindsight, his platoon wasn’t one of them. 

He’d gotten home to an armful of his wife and son, realizing exactly how skin hungry he had been at that moment.

Eddie thinks that with this new system he and Buck have adopted recently, he’s never going to be touch starved again.

The thought comes to him as he watches Buck pace around his apartment, shooting periodic glares and annoyed looks his way. The same looks that’d gotten Eddie to abandon his truck at the station and get into Buck’s Jeep instead.

“Will you just talk to me?” Eddie says when he can’t stand Buck’s constant motion anymore. This earns him a scathing glare, and Buck advances on him.

“Why did you go back in without me?”

“Because it’s my job, Buck. The same reason you run back in.” 

This time, it was a house fire, set by a candle on an open flame. The resident had forgotten about the candle completely when she went to take a nap, and one gust of wind was enough to blow the cloth over the flame, setting it on fire.

Poor woman had woken up to her whole house in flames, disoriented enough to forget her pets completely. That had been the reason Eddie ran back in. Her dogs were difficult to find in a roaring home but he’d managed it before the whole house came down. 

“The woman was hysterical. You were there, Buck, you saw her. And we couldn’t just leave them there!”

“That’s not what I’m asking you. I’m asking why you went in without me ,” he emphasizes. “I turned around and you were gone.”

Eddie feels suspiciously like he’s being chastised by his parents, but he can see the lingering panic in Buck’s eyes, so he answers, “I wasn’t thinking.”

That was clearly the wrong thing to say, because if looks could kill, Eddie would be six feet under. Still, he maintains his honesty, knowing that Buck would expect nothing less from him. Despite that, the words set Buck off on a tirade that has more swear words than Eddie’s ever heard from him in all the time he’s known him.

He can’t help but just watch, still feeling the relief in Buck’s gaze when he’d come out, then shifting into alarm when the house crumbled not even a minute later. Eddie had just barely made his way out, a fact that he’s beyond grateful for.

He’s been on the other side of this equation, the one glaring at Buck for taking unnecessary risks that could’ve ended badly. He knows what spurs it on, and he’s familiar with the anxiety that lingers for days afterwards, surging almost every time Buck’s out of his sight.  

If he could muster any amount of courage, Eddie would’ve kissed Buck to shut him up. As it turns out, he can’t so he does the next best thing.

He hugs him.

Buck’s hands are propped on his own hips when Eddie does this, so he has to slip his arms in the space between arm and torso, setting his chin on his friend’s shoulder.

Buck quiets down, bringing his arms to stretch around Eddie’s shoulders. The anger in his stance drains immediately, leaving him warm and pliant against Eddie. 

Vaguely, Eddie muses how Buck’s hands can wrap around his entire torso, engulfing him in nothing but the familiar warmth of his friend. This is, out of all the other hugs they’ve shared, the most intimate one, just for the way they’re arranged. Eddie doesn’t think even air can get past where they’re pressed together, holding on tightly.

“Are you done now?” he asks tentatively.

“Ten seconds, and you would’ve been crushed under that house,” Buck whispers, his breath ghosting over Eddie’s ear, sending goosebumps down his spine. “It’s my job to be reckless, not yours.”

“It's not yours either,” Eddie counters. “The house looked fine. I know that doesn’t mean anything, but…” He’s out of words. There’s not really much he can say because he shouldn’t have sprinted back in without his partner. “I’m sorry,” he settles on instead.

He feels Buck’s smile as he shakes his head. “Just don’t do it again.”

They’re almost two months into this new routine when it changes, yet again.

This time, it’s a mundane change, brought about by nothing but time on hand, a silent home and the night to seal it in. They’re moving around Eddie’s kitchen with all the ease of months behind the movement, Buck clearing dishes while Eddie washes them, then swiping down the counters, then ending the night with a drink and a movie.

“So,” Eddie says out of nowhere, slowing the stream of the water. Buck looks up at him where he’s leaning against the sink, drying each dish Eddie passes him. “You know how you told me that we need eight hugs a day for maintenance?”

Buck doesn’t know where he’s taking this. “Yeah?”

“And four for survival, and then twelve for growth?”


Eddie hums, a multitude of expressions flying across his face, too fast for Buck to catch. He cocks his head, trying to figure out what his friend’s thinking. There’s a weird set to his mouth that Buck belatedly realizes is nervousness.

What does Eddie have to be nervous about?

He debates with himself here. Should he put the washcloth down to give Eddie his full attention, or should he just wait it out?

He chooses the latter. If Eddie's the one to bring it up, he’ll finish his thought. There’s not much he leaves hanging between them, so Buck trusts that, taking the proffered plate from him without a single word.

“What about kisses?”

He nearly drops the plate.

Eddie’s looking at him with a hint of amusement for the floundering expression that Buck’s sure is stuck on his face. But his heart feels like it stops and jackrabbits all within the span of two sentences — and that doesn’t sound healthy, because it isn’t — and all Buck can think about is finding an answer for the question.

He sets the plate and washcloth aside, digging his phone from his pocket and typing furiously. Eddie chuckles as he increases the water pressure, but Buck ignores him as he scans the page.

It’s an article from The Telegraph, and it clearly states that the perfect relationship involves five kisses a day.

His first thought is, ‘who has enough time to count kisses.’

His second thought is, ‘I need to meet this quota with Eddie.’

With a mouth drier than a desert, Buck says, “five.”

“Interesting,” Eddie says, shutting the water off and bracing his hands on the sink. He fixes him with an intense, resigned look, eyes crinkling at the corners with it and throat clicking. “What are we doing here, Buck?”

He doesn’t know what they’re doing — he almost never does. Still, he needs to ask. “What do you mean?”

There’s a lot of blurred lines in their relationship. Boundaries that have been pushed and shoved to the point of no recognition, steps taken and overtaken these invisible lines that Buck doesn’t even think exist anymore. There’s a lot of things Eddie could be talking about. 

“You’re my partner,” Eddie states simply. “And I don’t mean just work things. In everything . We’ve only gotten closer since we’ve started...hugging under the guise of maintenance. How much further are we going to take this?”

“I didn’t think we were ready,” Buck whispers. “There’s just been...a lot going on. And I didn’t want to push you away by trying something we’re not ready for, something we can’t come back from no matter how much we try.”

Eddie nods. It’s a valid explanation. They’re adults whose decisions impact other people, but most importantly, Eddie is the single most important adult in his life, steadily moving up the ranks to fix himself to the top over the years. Buck, with all the things he wants from him, has never been in a rush to make them exclusive for this very reason. He doesn't know what he'll do if he ever loses Eddie.

There’s a lot of risk, but some of the best things in life come from risks. 

“You know, sometimes, I have to actively tell my brain that we’re not together,” Eddie admits quietly, holding his gaze. Buck wants to look away, even though he knows the affection in his friend’s eyes is for him . He also knows that his own expression is more or less the same, because he’s never learned to hide an emotion in his life. “It’s not even that you’re my best friend. There’s just...a lot of ways our lives are looped together. Something that goes past friendship, but I need to hear it from you that I’m not just imagining things. I don’t want to get hurt again, and I don’t ever want to be the one to hurt you.”

“It’s the same for me,” Buck tells him. “On the days that I stay over, all I ever think about is why it can’t be like this all the time. Chris….he’s a big part of my life, Eddie. You both are, and I can’t risk that.” Then, thinking over the night, he amends it. “Well, I didn’t want to before now.”

“You wouldn’t be risking anything. I have to believe that this means something, and I’m tired of pining after the things I want.”

Despite himself, Buck wants to laugh at the word Eddie had used. He doesn't, but he wants to.

Pining. That’s exactly what they were doing — despite knowing that they had something good, something strong, something worth fighting for, they'd been sitting ducks for months. Buck hadn’t let himself fully believe that Eddie could be into him, because he hadn’t wanted to ignite hope. He hadn’t wanted to latch on.

He’s done all three of those things anyway, but for Eddie laying himself bare in front of him, Buck can do nothing but shift, pulling Eddie into his body.

“We should probably get working on those five kisses. They’re necessary for a successful relationship,” he manages, sliding his arms around Eddie’s waist. 

Eddie laughs, grinning widely as he leans forward, hooking his elbow behind Buck’s neck to keep them as close as possible as he presses their lips together.

Buck’s been kissed a lot, but this easily is the best kiss he’s ever had, if not least for the intimacy and inevitability of it.

There’s no awkward fumble as they kiss, but they spend a long time doing it, wrapped up in each other. It’s almost unbearably gentle, slow and passionate, and all these things Buck isn’t used to anymore. Things he doesn’t remember ever sharing with anyone.

Buck drifts his hands up Eddie’s back to his hair, weaving fingers into thick hair to tilt his head back, deepening the kiss and swallowing the rough sound that rises from Eddie’s throat. Heat unfurls through his stomach until he thinks his knees aren’t going to hold him up anymore.   

When they finally part for air, Buck opens his eyes slowly, finding Eddie beaming back at him. The clear happiness on his face makes Buck smile in turn. They’re still pressed together from chest to toe, still sharing the same breath, and part of Buck still feels like this is a fever dream.

“I love you,” Eddie says, moving to press a kiss against his cheek, and another against his jaw. Buck grins, not being able to resist stealing another kiss.

“I love you, too.” 

Eddie isn’t surprised that things don’t change between them.

The only thing that really changes is now, he’s not forced to remind himself that he and Buck are not together, no matter how much they may resemble the other couples that surround them.

Now, Buck’s his boyfriend. The mere thought of it makes him smile like a fool.

They keep things to themselves for a while, wanting to ease into a new facet of their relationship before they let the world know. The only person they’ve told is Christopher. 

It’s a decision Buck brought up, after not wanting the scrutiny he’d had during Abby while they were figuring things out, but not wanting Eddie to have to hide things from Chris.

And Eddie gets it. Every part of his life has been under a magnifying glass since the day he was born, and after Chris was born, under a microscope. He’s watched all the people back home dissect his life choices until Eddie’s second-guessing everything he does, and to an extent, he still does it. It’s become an unintended consequence of letting everyone’s words get to him.

Having something private, for himself, is a luxury Eddie knows has never been afforded to him and Chris when they were in El Paso. It was one of the reasons he’d decided to move in the first place, tired of his parents coddling Christopher, tired of fighting with them left and right, and absolutely unwilling to let Christopher be continually uncomfortable in being treated differently from his cousins.

It’s the best choice Eddie’s ever made.

The next one is finally taking the jump with Buck.

Buck, who’s starfished across him, fast asleep.

This is a new type of hug Eddie can always get behind, one that’s quickly becoming his favourite as the days fly by. 

Buck’s snoring gently into his shoulder, but his weight is grounding where Eddie lays quietly, ghosting barely-there fingers across his boyfriend’s skin. It’s early, enough that the sun is hardly peeking through the blinds, but late enough that the moonlight has continually dimmed.

Eddie tilts his chin down to press his lips to Buck’s head, hopping on every thread of thought his brain offers, weaving another complicated tapestry of linkages. It’s not anything bad, for once. He hasn’t woken up gasping for air, hasn’t woken up to his son calling out for him, and hasn’t woken up to Buck stuck in the dregs of a nightmare, either.

This time, Eddie thinks he’s woken up so he can savour this moment.

“It’s too early for you to be thinking this loudly,” Buck’s sleep-hoarse voice makes him jerk with surprise, only barely catching himself from biting clean through his tongue.

Buck tilts his head sleepily at him, and Eddie has to stifle a laugh at the half-closed eyes and bleary expression. “What’re you thinking so hard about?”

“Nothing,” Eddie says, tangling a hand in Buck’s curls. “Just that I love you.”

The words make Buck perk up a little. Eddie watches as he leans over to peer at the time blinking on the clock. “You’re thinking about how much you love me at four twenty-six in the morning?”

“Yeah,” he replies simply.

Buck hums, shifting somehow tighter against him and bringing a hand up to brush a thumb along his jaw. “I love you, too, you know. But I love you more when you’re well-rested and not a grump. Even if your grumpiness is adorable.”

Eddie has to laugh that time, drawing Buck up so he can kiss the corner of his mouth. “Yeah, okay. I’ll go to sleep.”

This is clearly satisfactory for 4:30 am, because Buck settles back down, tapping a light rhythm on Eddie’s shoulder as he drifts off again. 

Eddie smiles, feeling wholly content for the first time in a long time, and wraps his arms tighter around his boyfriend’s body.

And he sleeps.

In the morning, Buck finds another thing to add to their routine.

“Where do you even find these things?” Eddie asks as Buck flutters around the bedroom, seemingly looking for something. 

“Saw it in a video,” he answers absently, digging through the dresser until he finds two of Eddie’s black tank tops. “Ah-hah! Put that on.”

Eddie only barely catches it before it hits his face, glaring at Buck. Then he watches his boyfriend strip off his own shirt, and suddenly, his annoyance evaporates.

“Is this a strip tease? Because I’m very onboard with this, right now,” Eddie says, trailing his eyes down the length of Buck’s bare arms, the ones that make him think ungodly thoughts. The tank stretches across his build, a lot tighter than Eddie’s well-fitting one, and the thought settles like a hot flare at the base of his spine.

“Not right now, but that’s totally on the cards for another time as long as you do it, too.” Buck comes over to him, gesturing wildly. “Now sit cross-legged. Are you okay if I sit on you?”

One of these days, Buck’s research binges are going to kill him.

“You’re not that heavy,” Eddie tells him as he scoots over to the center of the bed, leaning back against the headboard.

“I weigh more than you.”

“I said you’re not that heavy, not that you weigh less than me,” he laughs, beckoning his boyfriend forward as he crosses his legs. Buck clambers on, swiftly settling down with his ankles linked behind Eddie’s back, and arms braced on his shoulders. Eddie automatically slides his along the length of Buck’s waist, keeping him close.

Eddie grins for having Buck on his lap, hand wandering south before Buck slaps it away with a laugh. “This is supposed to be intimate, not sexy.” 

“Fine, we’ll do it your way,” Eddie teases, resolving to keep his hands to himself. “What do I have to do?”

“This is...another kind of a hug, I guess,” Buck explains. “One where the focus is on intimacy and not sex. It’s supposed to make your relationship stronger, but I just like being close to you.” He shrugs nonchalantly, but Eddie can sense his nervousness, and holds him closer for it.

“This relationship is iron-clad, babe,” he replies, dragging his palms along the length of Buck’s spine until he’s pressed forward, forearms resting at the top of Eddie’s spine. “I like having you close, too. More than what’s probably reasonable.”

It’s true. Buck’s weight is grounding where he’s perched, and he thinks that he likes the idea of doing this without the expectation of sex. Buck’s arms bracket his shoulders, head tilted into the crook of Eddie’s neck. His palms are a welcome weight against Eddie’s shoulders blades, warm and anchoring.

Eddie shifts slightly, making Buck’s ankles lock tighter around him. He takes a deep breath and rests his chin on his boyfriend’s shoulder, letting his eyes fall closed.

Fuck, if this is what meditation is supposed to feel like, he wants to do it all day. 

Eddie doesn’t know how long they sit like that for, but even as he feels his legs going numb, he thinks he’d rather die than have Buck move right now. They’re both big men, and even though Eddie’s the one holding Buck right now, there’s a strange sense of feeling protected that overtakes him — one that he’s not familiar with.

“This is the best idea you’ve ever had,” he whispers, not wanting to break their peaceful bubble. Buck hums his agreement against his skin, pressing chaste kisses along all the bare spots he can reach. There’s no heat to any of it, just a wave of warmth that encloses both of them.

He takes another deep breath, inhaling the scent of Buck’s clean, cologne-free skin. His curls tickle the tip of Eddie’s nose when Buck moves, and he moves so he doesn’t accidentally sneeze all over him.

“I didn’t know you were going to hug me that first night,” Buck brings up after a while, one hand moving to scratch at the short hairs at the nape of Eddie’s neck. “I just said the first thing to come to mind, and because I wanted you to stop thinking.”

“It worked. I didn’t think it through; all I knew was that I wanted to hug you, so I did,” he confesses.

Buck pulls back to look him in the eye, pushing his weight off Eddie’s legs to sit right in front of him instead. Eddie wants to protest, but he can feel the blood rushing back to his legs and the small bite of pain distracts him from saying anything. “I’m glad you did.”

“You’re probably the only thing I’ve wanted only for myself,” Eddie says quietly, the words fumbling in his mouth. He’s still not a hundred-percent with confessions, still doesn’t know how to properly word them, but for the blinding smile that takes Buck’s expression, Eddie thinks that it doesn’t matter.

Buck leans forward, shifting his legs until they’re underneath Eddie’s knees. “I’m all yours, Eddie,” he says, and then kisses him as if he hasn’t just obliterated Eddie’s world where it once stood with four words.

“Can we do this one again?” Eddie asks when they part. “All things considered, it’s your research binges that brought us here.”

His boyfriend laughs and nods. “Yeah, we can do this again. We’ve got all the time in the world.”

All the time in the world to be with Buck. Eddie likes the sound of that.

“This worked, didn’t it?” Buck asks, looking amazed — even though this was his idea.

“For feeling closer to each other? I definitely think so,” he agrees.

This embrace goes on the mental list, too. Eddie’s long since stopped keeping track of how many embraces they’ve shared, but he’s remembered how each one’s made him feel. This one goes under the protected, centered and stabilized categories.

There’s a lot that Eddie’s underestimated about touch, but as he watches his boyfriend throw his shirt back on, he’s beyond thankful that Buck thought to mention it that one night.

Buck kisses him once on his way out the door, calling Christopher’s name happily as he bounds down the hallway. Eddie watches him go, feeling struck with how much he loves this man.

So thankful.