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Nobody else I’d rather know

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Sometimes, Buck thinks about being known. He thinks about being really, truly known, and seen, and he feels a fear like he’s never experienced before.

Not the kind of fear he felt as a kid, when he first realised that nothing he ever did would quite be good enough for his parents. Not the kind he feels when he runs towards a fire, while everyone else is running away. And it’s not the kind that fills him so completely every time someone he loves is in danger.

No, the fear of being known is something else entirely. Because if someone was to ever really know Buck, and still not want him, he doesn’t know how he could survive. The fear is so thorough, so all-encompassing that he can feel his very bones trembling beneath the weight of it.

one.

The air - or lack of - beneath Buck’s covers is musty and too-warm, is almost damp on his skin from where his breath has no way to escape. It feels stale, and thick with sleep and sadness, and something more - something that’s maybe starting to take the shape of loneliness, but Buck is afraid to look too closely at that.

He can’t make himself move, though. If he pulls back the covers then he has to face the day. He has to face a world where everything keeps going but Buck is stuck in place; a world where Buck isn’t a firefighter anymore - where he isn’t anything.

So he closes his eyes again, and lets the familiar sound of Los Angeles traffic outside of his window lull him back to sleep.

It’s a fitful one, like it always is these days. It’s plagued with half-memories, and images that are too fleeting for him to quite grasp onto. It’s like even while sleeping Buck’s mind is racing a mile a minute, like he can’t slow down for even a second, lest he be caught off guard.

But then the covers are being yanked away from him and the air is cool, and the light is too bright, and Buck wants nothing more than to just hide away again. It’s Eddie standing over him, looking down on Buck like he’s absolutely got better things to be doing right now, but he’s here anyway.

And Buck knows he’s been avoiding his phone, hasn’t replied to a text or answered a call in days, and hasn’t left his apartment in even longer. But everything is too much out there. Buck doesn’t know who he is without the uniform, and he doesn’t ever want to have to find out.

He’d rather nobody else find out either, because Buck before he was a firefighter wasn’t the kind of person worth knowing. So it’s just easier, really - to stay hidden away from everyone, and their pity that he’s sure will soon turn into frustration.

“Get up,” Eddie orders.

“Why, man? Come on,” Buck grumbles, pulling the covers back over himself.

He doesn’t want to have to see the world, or Eddie to see the mess that he’s become. It’s embarrassing, and it hurts, and he doesn’t want Eddie to leave him (just like everyone does) but no one in their right mind would ever stick around if they saw him like this.

But then the cover is being pulled back off him again, and Eddie is saying, “Because it’s morning, and you have things to do.”

Buck doesn’t though - he has absolutely nothing worth getting out of bed for except his job, and even that’s been taken from him now. So he says as much to Eddie, as he tries to hide away again. But Eddie won’t let him, and Buck is barely back under the covers before it’s being tugged out of his grasp once again, and Eddie is bossing him around.

And it’s - Buck doesn’t even know. Because Eddie doesn’t need to be here, he doesn’t need to be making this kind of effort with him when Buck isn’t even willing to make this effort for himself. But he’s here anyway, like he knows Buck needs a kick in the ass to get him going.

Buck has felt like this before, when he got kicked out of college the first time because he couldn’t force himself to go to class. It was like his bed sheets were holding him hostage, like there was something sitting on his chest that was so big and so immovable that he had no choice but to wait it out.

It happened in Peru for a few weeks too, and he lost his first bar tending job because the thought of leaving his room made his head so fuzzy it felt like he was underwater, fighting against the current. And then before Abby came along, when instead of not leaving the apartment, he slept with everyone who smiled at him just to fight off that dull ache in the pit of his stomach.

Those times he had no one to pull the covers back so he could finally see the sunlight again. He had no one to let him wallow for a while, but then pull him up from under the waves when it started to hurt more than help.

But now Eddie is here in his apartment, telling him that his life isn’t over even it feels that way right now. Christopher is here too, smiling so bright and warm that it feels like sunbeams shining on his face. And, “He’s hanging out with his Buck today,” Eddie tells him.

Okay, maybe Buck needs this. He needs to feel useful, like he’s doing something good and worthwhile, like he’s giving back just as much as he takes. And this is something that he can do, because in a world that’s all messy and complicated, and too damn hard sometimes, Chris has always been easy. He’s fresh air when Buck is suffocating, and Christopher looks at him like he’s got the answer to every question in the world.

So, yeah. He needs this.

Buck doesn’t know how Eddie knows - how he figured out the one thing that Buck would drag himself to the surface for - but he does. He did. And he doesn’t know what he’s done to deserve it, to deserve the way Eddie trusts him with his most precious love. But he’s glad for both of those things, because they make Buck want to try.

They make him want to keep swimming.

two.

Buck feels like he can breathe for the first time in weeks - maybe even months. It’s like the vice that was clamped around his chest, growing tighter and tighter, has finally broken off. And his hands are still shaking a little bit, from all the leftover adrenaline, but it’s a small price to pay for having his heart back again.

Because when Eddie had said, “I forgive you,” and then pointed his finger at Buck and warned, “Just don’t do it again,” it felt like maybe things were going to be okay after all. Like he was on his way home, after weeks and months of feeling like he’d lost his way.

And Buck hasn’t known a moment of peace since that bomb went off and his leg was crushed, along with what felt like all of his hope for the future. But now - now he feels like he can let his guard down, just a little. It feels less like the world is ending, and more like it’s starting to recover, to heal like Los Angeles did after the water swept everything away.

But there’s a part of Buck, hidden way deep down where he’s too afraid to look, that worries this has changed things irreparably. Eddie may have forgiven him, he may have pulled Buck in and laughed with him, and assured him they were okay, but. Buck can’t help feeling like things are never going to be the same again.

Maybe it’s naive, to hope that their friendship could go back to the way it was before Buck betrayed it - before he spilled the 118’s deepest, most painful secrets to get his job back. Before he abandoned Eddie and Christopher when they needed him the most. But still, he can’t help hoping that they have a chance. And he can’t help worrying that he doesn’t deserve one.

So maybe that vice isn’t gone after all, maybe it’s loosened a bit but is still there, still squeezing his heart like one wrong move could end it all. And maybe that’s what Buck deserves, something to keep him on his toes to stop him from being so selfish ever again - if the reminder is always there, cold and surgical and harsh in his chest, how could he ever forget?

There’s a knock at the door. It’s loud and determined, and it echoes through Buck’s empty apartment like a reminder of just how alone he is sometimes. But it’s better now, it is - and it’s nowhere close to what Buck craves, but it’s enough. He’ll take whatever he can get.

So he opens the door, and all his breath seems to leave him when he sees Christopher and Eddie standing there. Chris is holding a dvd tight to his chest, and Eddie has Chris’ hand in one of his, and a pizza box in the other. They’re both smiling, and Chris wastes absolutely no time in throwing himself at Buck.

“Hi Bucky,” he says, arms wrapped around Buck’s legs.

Buck bends down, folds Christopher into his arms like he’s been aching to do for months. And god, he’s missed this kid so much that he has to close his eyes and turn his face into Chris’ hair to stop himself from crying. The kid smells like his favourite apple shampoo and a hint of Eddie’s cologne, and the tightness in his chest loosens just a tiny bit more.

“Hey Christopher,” Buck says. “I missed you.”

And he doesn’t dare look up to Eddie as he says it, because his voice cracks and it gives away all the pain that he’s been holding inside of him. But also because this is his fault, he never would have had to miss Chris if he hadn’t been so damn stupid.

But that’s over now, and Chris is hugging him back and saying, “I missed you too,” and the smile on his face is so precious that Buck would wage wars just to keep it there.

“What are you guys doing here?” Buck asks, when they finally move from the doorstep and make it inside the apartment.

“Pizza and Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse,” Eddie says, reading from the dvd case Chris hands over to him.

Buck raises his eyebrows, waiting for more of an explanation than that. Because they haven’t done this in months, and they’ve only just fixed things between them, so the last thing Buck expected was them to show up at his loft like they’ve never been apart. He goes to open his mouth to ask, but then Christopher beats him to it.

“Dad said you might need some help to feel good again,” Chris says.

Then he just walks into the living room, like what he said is no big deal - like it hasn’t sent Buck careening sideways and scrambling for something to hold on to. Because he hadn’t mentioned it, would never even dare ask for reassurance that things were really okay between them. But Eddie knew it anyway, knew that Buck would be anxious, and overthinking things, and that he might need a little help to accept Eddie’s forgiveness.

Eddie is watching him, a half-bashful, half-hopeful look on his face, and it takes Buck a second to just, like, breathe. It’s not for the first time that he’s felt so impossibly thankful for Eddie and Chris, so indebted to them for all the ways in which they keep him afloat when it feels like he’s about to go under. But this is such a sudden, overwhelming feeling that Buck has to scrunch his eyes closed again so he doesn’t cry.

“Thank you,” Buck says.

“Of course,” Eddie replies, and that’s that.

When Buck opens his eyes Eddie is shuffling around his kitchen, getting out plates, and Christopher’s plastic cup with a swirly straw and juice in, and two glasses of water for himself and Buck. It’s so natural, so easy that it feels like there was never a time when they weren’t a part of his life - like the months of distance just disintegrate between one second and the next.

His apartment - his whole life - instantly feels less hollow, less lonely now that the Diaz boys are here to take up all the empty space. Christopher’s jacket is slung over the chair and both their shoes are in a messy pile by the door; there are three drinks on his coffee table, and three plates of pizza crusts, and Eddie’s arm is pressing against Buck’s while Chris rests his feet in Buck’s lap. The tangled knot of hurt, and frustration, and longing, seems to unravel in his chest.

Buck has missed them more than he knows how to say, and he needed this more than he has words for. But it’s good - things are good. He turns his head to the side and Christopher is already fighting sleep, and Eddie has a half-smile curving at the left side of his mouth, and they’re okay. They’re okay.

So maybe their friendship can’t go back to the way it was before, but maybe it can move forward instead. Maybe it can be something better.

three.

Buck feels drained in a way that he hasn’t for a long time. They’ve had so many calls that have ended in heartbreak, that they’ll carry with them for as long as they live, and this may have been one of the worst.

He can still see the anguished faces, can feel the flames as they licked at his heels, can smell the burning flesh that told them they were already too late. And they’re used to losing people - it’s the worst part of what they do - but it’s hardly ever so many all at once. It’s rare that they walk away from a scene feeling like they’ve done nothing to help, but this time it feels like they may as well have never been there at all, for all the good it did.

The fire ravaged the building so quickly, so entirely, that there were only a handful of survivors out of almost fifty. Dozens upon dozens of people lost forever, who won’t get to go home to their families tonight; even more loved ones left behind with the agony of losing them - that eternal grief that never goes away, only eases with time.

Bobby is silent, Hen’s hands are shaking, and Chim’s face is pallid when they finally make it back to the station. Buck is desperately reaching, grasping for something to say that might make all of this sting just a little less, but he comes up empty. Anything he did say would fall on deaf ears anyway - no one is ready to be comforted right now, they all just need to let themselves feel this so they can move past it.

And it feels weird, sometimes, to be surrounded by so much tragedy and death, and still have to move on from it. But they don’t have a choice - if they let the the guilt, and the loss, and the hurt take hold, it would consume them. So they have to feel whatever they feel, and then pack it neatly away in a box and shove it to the far corners of their mind, where none of them dare to go for fear that they would never escape the darkness there.

They all deal with it in different ways. Chim and Hen text Maddie and Karen, and then they sit together and talk - about anything and everything that comes to their mind, just something that doesn’t make their hearts ache. Bobby head up to his office, probably to call Athena, or the kids, or even Michael - just someone to reach out to who feels like solid ground.

And Buck would be with Eddie usually, would find comfort in knowing that they’re both hurting the same, but will heal too. Eddie isn’t on shift today though, has a rare Saturday off to spend with Christopher. And Buck is beyond glad that this isn’t something he had to witness, that for all the trauma he’s had to survive in his lifetime, this won’t be another thing he has to add to the list.

Buck doesn’t want to bother them or interrupt their time together, it’s just - there’s a part of him that can’t settle until he knows they’re both okay. Logically, of course, he knows that they’re absolutely fine. But there’s an itch he can’t scratch until he knows for certain, so he pulls out his phone to send Eddie a text.

Hey, you and Chris are both okay, right?

His worry for their safety outweighs his worry that he’s bothering them, and he sends the message. He doesn’t even bother to click off the chat, just watches as the messages changes from sent, to delivered, to, finally, read. And before he even gets the reply, Buck is breathing a little easier.

Yeah of course, is everything alright? Eddie sends back, and Buck lets his head tip backwards and rest along the back of the couch for just a minute.

Yeah. Rough call, just wanted to make sure you were both okay.

Buck doesn’t check his phone after that, because he knows if he did he wouldn’t be able to drag himself away - wouldn’t be able to break that contact with Eddie and Chris. So he shoves it back into pocket and joins in with Hen and Chim’s conversation.

And it’s slow, but the tension in their bodies begins to ease, and they laugh a little, and the burden in their shoulders starts to weigh a little less. It’s good that they have this, that they can lean on each other and know there’s always someone willing to hold that extra heaviness for a while.

A silence falls over them, but it’s comfortable, or - it’s more comfortable than it would have been just thirty minutes ago. Then Chim is looking over Buck’s shoulder and frowning, and when he says, “Diaz?”, Buck spins around.

And sure enough, Eddie and Christopher are walking into the firehouse with smiles that light up the whole room and - oh, donuts.

“Hey guys,” Eddie says as he walks over.

“What are you doing here?” Hen asks, as they all stand up to greet them.

Buck doesn’t even hesitate to pick Chris up in his arms - crutches and all - and hold him tight to chest, for maybe a beat too long. But Christopher doesn’t say anything because he’s a treasure, and he holds on just as tight, for as long as Buck needs him to.

“We thought we’d stop by and bring some refreshments,” Eddie says, holding up the box of donuts and the tray of coffees. “I got sugar and creamer too.”

Chim makes grabby hands and immediately snatches the donuts off Eddie, so Buck puts Chris back down so he can get one before they get inhaled by everyone else. And Chris is just too precious to resist, so Chim even lets him pick first. Eddie puts the tray of coffees down on the table, along with a handful of sugar packets and little pots of creamer.

Buck is about to take one of the coffees when Eddie picks one up and hands it to him. This one has Buck written on the side of the cup, but all the other cups are blank. Buck raises an eyebrow at Eddie, and he doesn’t blush, but his cheeks are maybe tinged a little pink.

“Cinnamon oat milk latte,” Eddie explains with a shrug of his shoulders.

And that’s - yeah. Eddie made sure to get Buck’s specific order even though no one else got that treatment, not even Bobby. A warmth spreads through Buck that has nothing to do with the coffee in his hands, and he takes a sip of it to stop himself from saying something stupid like I love you.

“Thank you,” he says instead.

“I got you,” Eddie replies, and Buck thinks he’s maybe talking about more than the coffee.

Eddie and Buck sit down beside each other, then Chris squeezes next to Buck and proceeds to tell everyone about their day so far. They got breakfast out and Chris had pancakes, then they went to the park, and Eddie even treated them both to an ice cream cone while they sat in the sun.

With every word that Christopher and Eddie say, with every laugh that Chris lets out, Buck feels the grief from the call begin to ease. It’s like unwinding the string on a kite so it can fly properly - it doesn’t disappear, but it feels a little more manageable.

Chris is in the middle of telling Hen and Chim about their last Buckley-Diaz night, where Eddie had gotten so competitive that he hid all of Buck’s monopoly money. They’re all laughing, and Buck can feel Eddie’s fingertips brushing over his shoulder where his hand is stretched out along the back of the couch, and when he turns to look at him, Eddie’s eyes are already fixed on Buck.

“You didn’t come all the way to work on your day off, just to bring us coffee,” Buck observes, quiet so he doesn’t interrupt Chris.

“And donuts,” Eddie adds.

Buck just gives him a look, until Eddie chuckles and shrugs one shoulder. “Sounded like you needed to see him,” he says, nodding towards Christopher.

No truer words have ever been spoken. Buck would have never asked for it because he didn’t want to disturb their day, but Eddie knew what he needed - he knew Buck needed to see Chris and hold him in his arms to alleviate some of that anxiety swirling in his stomach.

And Buck doesn’t know how, because they have bad days all the time, and it’s not uncommon for Eddie to sneak off and FaceTime Chris after rough calls just to soften the blow. But for Eddie to know that this was different, was more, it does something to Buck’s heart that he refuses to acknowledge while sitting here with all of their friends.

Because Buck loves Eddie, loves him so much that every nerve in his body knows what wanting him feels like. But Buck just - he can’t touch that here, he knows how transparent he is, how it would be written all over his face if he even dared to think it. So he doesn’t, and when he sees Bobby finally come out his office, he waves him over just for something to do that isn’t want.

“Cap, look who stopped by!” Buck calls.

Bobby’s face lights up when he sees Eddie and Chris, and even more so when he sees the coffee and donuts waiting for him.

“Hey Christopher,” Bobby says. Then, to Eddie, “What are you guys doing here?”

He’s already got a donut stuffed into his a mouth and is clutching the cup like it’s a lifeline. They all chuckle at him, and nothing feels as fragile anymore.

“Thought you might want some snacks,” Eddie says, giving the same reason that he gave to Hen.

“You thought right,” Chim tells him, and Chris giggles.

But Eddie is looking at Buck, and it feels like it’s just for them, the real reason that they came. Buck is glad he and Chris have cheered the whole team up - how could they not? - but he also knows that Eddie came here for Buck, because it was what Buck needed but didn’t know how to ask for.

Thank you,” Buck mouths to Eddie. Eddie just smiles and nods, then he squeezes the back of his neck and it settles the last of the static crackling beneath Buck’s skin.

four.

Buck’s whole body is trembling. It feels like he’s been cracked wide open, and his heart, and lungs, and bones have been replaced with soaking wet earth. The earth that Eddie was buried beneath, that is still caked under Buck’s fingernails from where he’d clawed at the ground to try and reach him.

They’re at Eddie’s house, because he had refused to let Buck go home alone tonight, and maybe because Eddie didn’t want to be alone either. So they’re sat side by side on the couch, and the whole house is deafeningly silent with Chris at a sleepover.

There’s hardly any space between them at all, but after today, after losing sight of Eddie for what felt like hours, every millimetre feels like a mile. He doesn’t know if he’s allowed to close that space though, and part of him is convinced that if he touches Eddie now, Buck will shatter to pieces.

So Buck stays still, with his hands clenched into fists on his knees. Eddie is twisting his hospital bracelet around his wrist, again and again, and Buck can’t stop watching it - is fixated on it because it’s a reminder that Eddie is here, he’s alive, he’s okay.

He almost wasn’t, though.

This is the closest he’s ever come to losing Eddie, and it felt the same way that losing Christopher felt; a terror so deep that if Buck’s body is found one day, years after he’s been buried, they’ll find today carved into his bones, etched onto whatever is left of his heart. It’s a feeling he’s never going to forget, not even when he’s old and can’t remember his own name - he’ll always remember this fear.

Eddie sighs beside him, and it’s the loudest thing in the whole house, the whole world. It sends a shiver through Buck’s body, because he’s here, he’s here, but only just. Somehow. Miraculously.

“That was a close one,” Eddie says, after the silence has been stretching between them for so long that the air feels charged.

Buck laughs. Not because it’s funny, but because he doesn’t know what the fuck else to do. He doesn’t know what to do with all of this adrenaline that’s still coursing through his bloodstream, that’s making him shake so much it feels like his teeth are rattling. He maybe wants to cry, or scream, or fucking yell at Eddie, or kiss him.

It’s too much. It’s too much and Buck can’t breathe, can’t make his thoughts settle and his mind go quiet.

“You ever do that again and I’ll kill you myself,” Buck warns, and he half means it too.

Because Christopher can’t lose another parent, Buck won’t let that happen. And fuck, Buck thinks he’ll actually die if something happens to Eddie, if he loses him like he almost did tonight. He’s not sure if that’s a grief he could come back from.

“I’m okay,” Eddie says.

And suddenly, Buck is so painfully, uncontrollably furious. Because that should have been him down there. Buck has no one counting on him to come home, not now that Maddie has Chim. But Eddie, fuck. Chris would have no one if Eddie had died tonight, and that’s not fucking okay. It’s not okay that Eddie was willing to risk that for even a second.

Buck, irrationally, wants to hit something. He clenches his fists tighter, so his nails are digging crescent moons into the palms of his hands. The slight sting of it is the only thing that’s keeping him grounded, keeping him here and present.

“You almost weren’t,” Buck says through gritted teeth.

“But I am,” Eddie insists.

And it’s just - Buck doesn’t know how to keep all of it inside any longer.

“You nearly fucking died,” Buck yells.

He jumps up to hover over Eddie as he points a finger at him, but Eddie doesn’t even flinch. Something crosses his face though, something too soft and tender for a moment like this, a moment where Buck feels so inescapably angry that for a second, he’s not sure if he can control it.

Eddie stands up, and Buck thinks good. He wants him to shout back, wants them to scream at each other until they’re blue in the face about how reckless they both are. Needs to do something, anything, that will give his heart a reprieve - will let Buck feel something other than this dread that’s suffocating him.

But Eddie is reaching out, and his hands are nothing but gentle as he pulls Buck into his chest. And Buck wants to fight - wants to yell and scream and hit - but then his body is sinking into Eddie’s without Buck ever giving it permission. His arms are wrapping around Eddie and he’s holding him so tight it hurts, and he’s crying, fuck - they’re both crying.

And Buck has no idea how Eddie knew he needed this, because Buck didn’t even know himself. But as they hold each other - each other’s pain - Buck knows this is what he needed all along. He needed to touch Eddie, needed to feel his warm skin against Buck’s own, and their hearts beating together. He needed proof he was alive, really alive, and here.

“It’s okay,” Eddie says.

And it will be.

five.

Buck’s hands aren’t shaking anymore, but they still don’t feel like they belong to him. It’s like his whole body is made of separate fragments - spare parts that have fallen to pieces too many times, and have never quite been put back together right.

He doesn’t think he’s ever felt whole, not really, not in any ways that count. There’s always been something way deep down that’s felt out of place, dislodged, like he’s missing something. Missing the part of himself that would make his parents love him, would make people stop leaving, would make them want to stay.

The only thing that’s ever even come close to filling that hole is his job. Being a firefighter is who Buck is. He couldn’t save the one person he was born to, but he’ll sure as hell do everything he can to save anyone and everyone else.

But that moment, earlier - when Saleh was stuck, and the fire was getting closer, and Buck couldn’t do anything, no matter how hard he tried? That’s the closest he’s ever been to really giving up. Because if he couldn’t do this one thing - if he couldn’t save Saleh, then how was he ever going to be able to save himself?

Learning about Daniel had fractured Buck’s life, and his heart, into infinitesimal pieces. And in that factory, as every hope of making it out started to fade, Buck just didn’t think he had the strength to put it all back together again. For a moment, he wasn’t even sure that he wanted to.

But then Eddie was there, and so was Chim, and Hen, and Bobby, and they were pulling with him - helping him carry all of that weight. And he couldn’t believe that they came back for him, that they risked their own lives to save him when he’s just - he’s just Buck.

And then it was Athena standing there, telling him, “You never give up, that’s what being Buck means to me,” and it felt like maybe he did have something to fight for.

That this family he’s found, who loves Buck not for what he can do, but just for who he is - they can be his reason to fight when he forgets how to fight for himself. That Maddie, and the 118, and Eddie and Chris, give him a reason to always battle to make it home to them.

Buck doesn’t even make it past the couch before falling asleep, still in his LAFD t-shirt and with his boots laced up.

It’s only when his front door starts to rattle that Buck wakes up, flinching at the noise invading his senses. By the time he’s standing up, ready to defend himself from whoever’s entered his apartment, Eddie is walking through the door. He’s holding Buck’s spare key in his hand, and he startles when he sees Buck standing there, watching him.

“Shit,” he hisses, clutching at his chest. “I did knock.”

“I fell asleep,” Buck answers through a yawn, and Eddie winces.

“Sorry, for waking you.”

He doesn’t make any attempts to leave, though. Instead he dumps the keys on the kitchen counter, hangs up his jacket, and kicks off his shoes. Buck isn’t sure what’s going on, because he’s still half asleep and also because he’s pretty sure that he and Eddie don’t have plans today.

“Is everything okay?” Buck asks, as Eddie takes a seat in the spot where Buck had been sleeping just moments earlier.

Eddie looks up at Buck, then at the space beside him expectantly. Buck just sits down, because he’s too tired to question, or argue, or even think, really. But then it’s nice, when his arm presses against Eddie’s - it feels like an anchor, something to keep him tied to reality and stop him from drifting away.

Because Eddie and Christopher have always been his tether. It was a lie, when Buck said that the only thing to ever fill that hole in his chest was his job. That isn’t true. Eddie and Chris fill it so perfectly that it feels like there was never anything missing in the first place. But they’re not his, not really. At least - they’re not his to keep, not for any length of time, and not in the way Buck wants them.

So he can’t let himself think that, because if he goes there, if he lets them occupy that space in his chest, when he loses them he won’t ever recover from it.

“Not really,” Eddie says, and Buck’s heart misses a beat.

“What’s wrong?” Buck queries, panicked.

“You almost gave up today.”

It steals the breath from his chest, the way Eddie says it. Because it sounds like the worst thing in the world, the way Eddie’s voice cracks, the way Buck can see his hands shaking if he focuses hard enough. He feels so guilty that his stomach begins to turn.

“I’m sorry,” he says, and he means it. He’s never wanted to hurt anyone.

Eddie shakes his head, laughs sadly as he turns his head to look at Buck. His eyes are red, not like he’s been crying but like he’s close to tears, and Buck wants to make all of that go away.

“I can’t imagine what you’re feeling right now - can’t even begin to understand any of this,” Eddie says. “But I know what it feels like to have things inside of you that you don’t wanna touch because it hurts too much.”

And god, of course Eddie does. Everything that Buck’s feeling, all this hurt, it’s child’s play compared to the trauma Eddie had to suffer through - had to make it out of. Buck would never pretend that his struggles come even close to the things that Eddie had to endure.

He’s about to open his mouth, to explain that he knows it’s nothing compared to what Eddie went though. But Eddie is holding a hand up to silence him.

“And that’s okay, Buck. You don’t have to be ready right now. You don’t have to forgive your parents, or even Maddie, not until you’re ready to. You get to say how, and when, and if it happens at all,” Eddie tells him.

And it’s - it’s something that Buck didn’t know he was allowed to do. It kind of felt like, right from the beginning, he was going to have to forgive them. Because that’s what family does, and that’s what they are, even if it’s never really felt that way.

But to hear Eddie, the person he trusts most in the world, say that to him - it makes him feel like maybe it’s true. Maybe he doesn’t have to forgive his parents for all the ways in which they broke him, all the lies, and the hurt, and the issues they’ve forced on him. Maybe it’s okay to be angry at them, and Maddie too, because he deserves to feel that.

He deserves to be allowed to feel all of this, and he didn’t know that until Eddie looked him in the eyes and told him so.

“Oh,” Buck replies, his voice barely even a whisper.

He feels a hand curling around his own, and he hadn’t realised he was drumming his fingers against his leg until he’s stopped - until Eddie is holding his hand. Their fingers lace together, and Buck’s hands still hurt from pulling on the rope, but Eddie’s skin feels soothing against his own.

“Just - you can talk to me, you know?” Eddie says. “You don’t have to, but I need you to know that you can. About anything. Okay?”

The expression on Eddie’s face and the look in his eyes is so earnest, so sincere that Buck can feel tears start to build at the back of his eyes, and he has to swallow down a sob. Eddie pulls their joined hands to his chest, wraps Buck’s in both of his own, and holds it against his heartbeat.

Buck nods. “I don’t know how to talk about it right now,” he confesses. “But I will. Eventually I will, when I know how I’m feeling.”

Eddie smiles then, like Buck has said the right thing. And that piece in his chest, the part of him that craves validation and praise starts to shine, bright and warm, and he can’t help but smile back. He likes this, likes feeling like he’s doing the right thing - like he’s good enough.

“And I’m not trying to push you, this is all your choice,” Eddie tells him. “But I really think you should talk to Maddie. She loves you Buck, so much. And it’s up to you whether you forgive her, but I think she at least deserves a chance to explain herself.”

He’s right. Of course Eddie is right. He always is when it comes to Buck, when it comes to what he needs and how he’s feeling. And Buck is angry with Maddie right now, and that’s okay, but she does love him, he knows that - has always known that. And she was just a kid too, when Daniel died. She was never allowed to grieve her brother because their parents wouldn’t let her, so she’s just as much a victim in this as he is.

So Buck will talk to her. He’ll listen, and he’ll try to understand because Maddie deserves that from him. And if he’s not ready to forgive her yet, then he thinks that’s okay. But he also thinks that he’d never be able to stay mad at her, even if he tried.

“Okay,” he agrees, but the word is muffled by another yawn.

Because he’s still so tired, tired of hurting, and trying, and failing. But it’s a different kind of tired now, it’s not a whole-body weariness that feels like it’s never going to go away. Now, it feels like a good sleep and a day with his family - with the people who choose him, every single time - will be enough to take that edge off, enough to bleed the exhaustion from his aching limbs.

“Thank you for coming,” Buck mumbles, his eyes already starting to close. “I didn’t want to be alone.”

He thinks he hears Eddie say, “I know,” but he falls asleep between one breath and the next.

plus one.

Buck shows up at Eddie’s with a six pack of beer and his game face on.

He’s fully prepared to eat as much food as humanly possible, get almost-but-not-quite drunk, and beat Eddie at every single video game that he owns. They’ve had the week from hell, and Chris is sleeping at Abuela’s, and Buck is ready to just leave all the shitty calls behind him.

He doesn’t bother knocking, just strolls straight into the house with a “Yo, Diaz!”, as an announcement of his arrival.

“Kitchen,” Eddie replies, so Buck makes his way through to the back of the house.

Eddie has his head in the fridge when Buck arrives and places the six pack on the counter. It’s then that he notices the cake on the side, a slice already cut off like Eddie is just about to eat it.

“Abuela baked?” Buck asks. “Sweet.

He picks up the slice, because Eddie steals his food all the time so he’s only getting him back. And it’s centimetres away from his mouth when, out of nowhere, Eddie’s hand comes up and slaps it away.

“Dude!” Buck exclaims, looking at the perfectly good piece of cake that’s just splattered onto the floor.

But when he looks up at Eddie, the expression he’s wearing is just concerned. “Did you eat any?” He demands.

“I didn’t have the chance!”

“It’s lemon and poppyseed, Buck,” Eddie explains. “You’re allergic to poppyseed.”

He says it with a sigh, rolling his eyes like he doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do with Buck.

But Buck doesn’t know what to do with that. Because he doesn’t remember telling Eddie he was allergic to poppyseed, and he must have at some point, obviously. But it would have only been in passing, just a casual, offhand remark that he would never expect anyone to remember. Yet Eddie did - he remembered.

It just hits him, so suddenly, that Eddie knows him. He knows Buck in the way that he’s always found so, insurmountably terrifying. The way he’s never wanted anyone to know him - the way he never thought he was worth knowing.

And slowly, in bits and pieces, and tiny little fragments, it all slots into place. Eddie buys the toothpaste that Buck likes now, for when he sleeps over. He buys the laundry detergent that doesn’t make Buck’s skin itch, because they end up doing their laundry together more often than not. Eddie knows Buck’s order at that authentic Mexican restaurant downtown, and the coffee he drinks, and his fucking allergies.

Eddie knows when Buck needs a kick up the ass, and when he needs to be reassured. He knows when something is bothering Buck but he doesn’t know how to talk about it, and he knows when Buck is worried that he’s being too much.

And Buck knows all these things about Eddie too, because of course he does. He’d just never considered, not even for a second, that Eddie would bother to know the same. But he does, he has, all along.

Buck has to sit down before he falls down, and Eddie is there in front of him in an instant. He’s holding his shoulders, shaking him slightly as he looks in his eyes.

“Buck, are you okay? You sure you didn’t eat any?” He asks.

And Eddie is worried, and panicking, and fuck -

“You love me.”

The words tumble from Buck’s mouth before he even has a chance to really process them. And they’re quiet, disbelieving, but they reverberate around the whole room - fill every empty space until they’re surrounding Buck and Eddie.

Eddie - who’s eyes are wide and his mouth has fallen open in shock. His cheeks are tinged pink, and maybe he is blushing after all. And Buck can practically see the gears turning in his head, but it doesn’t have to be this hard anymore, he thinks. Maybe it’s actually really, really simple.

“I love you too,” Buck says. “Just for the record.”

He says it because it’s the biggest truth he knows. And also because he wants to chase away that nervous look on Eddie’s face. It works, because the grimace is stretching out into a smile, so wide and so warm that it makes Buck feel hot all over.

“Oh,” Eddie whispers, and Buck can’t stand the distance for a second longer.

He closes it in an instant, and when their lips finally touch Buck feels seen. He’s never known hands more gentle than Eddie’s as they cradle his face, his thumbs rubbing circles against the hinges of Buck’s jaw. He wraps his arms around Eddie, pulls him flush against his chest so there’s not a breath of room between them.

That space in Buck’s chest, the hollowness that he was born with - he can feel it slowly filling up. His heart is hammering against his rib cage in the best way, and the tips of his fingers are tingling. Eddie tastes of the toothpaste Buck likes, and Buck can’t seem to remember what it was like to feel anything other than whole.

“Love you,” Eddie murmurs against his lips. “I love you.”

And Buck used to be so afraid of being known, of being seen, because if people were ever to see him the way he sees himself, no one would ever care about him again.

But Eddie sees him even better than Buck sees himself. He sees the broken, and the frightened, and the mean and the ugly; he sees the lonely, and the aching, and the healing. He sees it all, and he loves it just as much as he loves all of the best, most shiny parts of Buck. Eddie loves him despite all of his fractured pieces, or, maybe even because of them.

So when Buck thinks about being known now, he doesn’t feel so scared. He thinks being known by Eddie Diaz is kind of a beautiful thing.