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i won't follow my dreams (no, they've all got me waking up screaming)

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I was delivered holding scissors
I live deliberately, I'm a quitter
And a winner anyway
Cause I never agreed to participate in this game
Won't follow my dreams
No, they've all got me waking up screaming
I can let them go from me
After all there is no "I" in team

 

Buck’s not sure when they started. The nightmares.

Dr. Copeland told him, a few sessions in, that usually when his mental health starts to deteriorate it usually has a trigger. Buck knows, now, that it’s a pattern. Something happens, he engages in “self-destructive” behavior, he gets hurt. Once, Dr. Copeland had suggested it was self-harm and Buck couldn’t breathe, because that made it sound so much worse than it was, so now she just calls it self-destructive.

Regardless, it was a pattern. A pattern can be broken.

Buck doesn’t know when the nightmares started, or when they got bad, or why they’re happening. Just that suddenly, he’s struggling to get a full night’s sleep without them, and he’s starting to dread his nighttime routine. He finds himself making excuses to stay up late–his dishes get done by hand, his apartment gets deep cleaned twice, he visits the library and grabs some autobiography he hardly cares about, he picks up violin again. The instrument feels clunky and small beneath his fingers, not at all like it was when he was a kid taking private lessons, still trying to chase his parents’ approval. Still trying to be good enough to be loved.

The strings hiss and squeal under his fingers, and he readjusts the bow again. He’d always struggled to keep it perpendicular to the violin. He tries a scale again.

Usually, by now, Taylor would be asking Buck to come to bed, but she’s been distant lately. Spending more and more time at her place. Buck suspects they’re both skirting the issue–they’re the same in that way. Terrified of failing in a relationship.

Buck starts a new piece, a waltz. It’s a simple, slow piece, but it’s full of double-stops, and Buck isn’t used to the sensation of playing two strings at once, or getting his left hand fingers to move at different times.

Eventually, Buck gets to a point where he can sort of play through the first two pages of the piece. His fingers and wrist hurt.

He hangs up the violin and bow on a wall mount and stretches his hands out. He settles on the couch and turns on the TV, surprised to find that it’s almost four in the morning. Buck needs to be up in an hour and a half for his shift, so he can’t possibly go to bed now. It’ll be fine.

He curls up with a blanket and tries to watch reruns of Mythbusters, but his exhaustion catches up with him, and he’s asleep before he even realizes his eyes are closed.

 

Buck’s at a funeral. He knows because he’s in a church and everyone’s dressed in all-black formalwear, or their dress uniforms. Buck’s the only one dressed in something casual, something colorful, his old red jacket, white shirt, khakis, and white tennis shoes. The same clothes he’d worn on the day of the tsunami.

“You couldn’t even be bothered to dress up?” Someone scoffs, and Buck turns to see Maddie and Chimney. They’re not crying, they don’t look sad. They look angry. They look mean.

Everyone’s looking at him. Buck thinks, ‘Who’s funeral is this?’

He looks to the front of the chapel, through the aisle between the pews, and his knees give out. At the front of the room is a picture, haloed in a wreath of evergreen, of Eddie and Christopher. There are two coffins.

“No,” Buck gasps, disbelief coursing through him. He doesn’t move–can’t move, he just collapses, hands shooting out to catch on the smooth wood of the pews.

Nobody comes to comfort him. They’re all looking at him as he tries to breathe around the immeasurable and all-consuming thing gripping his heart and squeezing painfully.

The people giving speeches talk directly to Buck. Everyone says the same thing. That Buck could have saved them, if he’d just tried a little harder. That it should have been Buck.

After, Buck is still on his knees in the pews, but somewhere around Bobby’s speech, he can’t hold himself upright any more. His hands tremble so hard he lands on his hands and knees, staring at the ground.

The carpet in front of him is covered in shadow, and he looks up to see Bobby staring directly down at him.

“Don’t bother coming into work again,” He sniffs, disgust written plain on his face, “It’s clear that you aren’t fit for duty.”

Buck stares with his mouth open, and he stays that way until the chapel is empty. Someone must have taken the caskets and the pictures with them. Buck’s alone.

Buck doesn’t cry. Everything’s caught in his throat. Sobbing wouldn’t be a release, not really.

He does finally stand up, though. He walks to the front of the room, to the empty space where Eddie and Christopher once sat.

He’s thinking of what to say–he has to say something–but the sound of his alarm interrupts him.

 

Buck wakes up with a start, and his neck aches. He’s still got the feeling of built-up pressure in his chest, and he still feels just as alone. He also feels like he hasn’t slept at all.

That’s not how the nightmares always go. The only real constant is that someone dies, and it’s Buck’s fault. Buck wasn’t fast enough, Buck forgot to call them, Buck let them make a stupid decision and they died because of him. And, naturally, after they die, everyone else leaves him.

Buck’s got an appointment with Dr. Copeland in a few days. He’ll bring it up then.

Buck stands and stretches, and he almost falls over from lightheadedness. He just–he just needs a coffee.

Buck brews a strong cup for himself, and pours two extra into a large travel mug. As soon as he can drink it without burning his tongue, Buck downs the whole cup. He tries to make eggs and zones out, burning them so badly he can’t possibly eat them.

And, of course, by then, it’s too late to make something else (not that there’s much in his fridge anyway), so Buck showers, changes, and gets into his Jeep.

Going into work and seeing people smile at him isn’t as reassuring as it probably should be. More than anything, it feels weird. Unresolved.

But he absolutely cannot let a fucked up dream affect his work. He can’t–he needs them to be dreams, not prophecies. He has to be okay.

“Hey, Buck, you feeling alright?” Hen asks from the couch.

Buck nods. “Yeah. Didn’t sleep great.”

Hen pouts sympathetically at him, and Bobby looks up from his crossword.

“Are you good to be out in the field today? You look a little awful,” Bobby asks, “It’s okay to take a break if you need one, Buck.”

“I’m fine,” Buck insists, placating, “Just need to let the coffee do its job.”

Thankfully, that’s the end of that, except Eddie is a little late and misses the whole exchange, so Buck has to deal with Eddie’s separate interrogation.

“Are you sick?” Eddie asks, pressing the back of his hand to Buck’s forehead, “Are you eating enough?”

“You’re staring to sound like Isabel,” Buck teases, although it settles something in him to hear Eddie’s voice, to hear Eddie talking to him and looking after him. It’s kind of pathetic, really.

“You didn’t answer me,” Eddie gripes, “Any nausea? Muscle aches? Fever or chills?”

“I’m just fine, Eddie,” Buck smiles, pulling Eddie’s hand down from his forehead before he does something stupid. Like kiss his knuckles.

Eddie frowns and squints at Buck, but lets it go. The coffee and occasional adrenaline high of the shift keep Buck awake until it’s time to go home.

Of course, just as soon as he gets done changing into a dirty t-shirt and basketball shorts, he finally crashes, and he feels so sluggish he might fall asleep standing up.

 

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Eddie asks on their way out the door.

“Peachy,” Buck says, even though he knows it’s not convincing, “Just need to get some sleep.”

Even though he knows that isn’t going to happen.

“Do you want me to drive you home?” Eddie suggests, “I don’t want you falling asleep at the wheel.”

“I promise I can drive, Eddie,” Buck says, “It’s just twenty minutes home, anyway.”

Eddie looks like he’s about three seconds from arguing, so Buck adds, “I will text you as soon as I get home. Promise.”

Eddie huffs, but acquiesces. “Fine. But you text me the instant you get home, Buck. I’m worried about you.”

“I appreciate it, Eds, but you don’t have to,” Buck insists, turning to unlock his Jeep. He waves to Eddie with a bright smile as he climbs in, and keeps it up until he’s on the highway. Just in case Eddie’s watching him as he drives.

 

He’s not sure how he gets to his apartment. It’s honestly kind of a miracle that he doesn’t get into a wreck. Maybe he should have let Eddie drive him–but they would be too close for too long, and Eddie might ask questions that Buck wouldn’t have a satisfying answer for. Especially when he’s just so tired.

Buck makes himself another pot of coffee, strong. He pours it into the mug and goes to put the pot back so he can take off his shoes.

Except, somehow, the wires in his brain cross and he forgets the whole “put the coffee pot back on the counter” step of the plan. As he goes to untie his shoes, a few things happen: he spills blistering hot coffee down his leg and drops the pot, shattering glass all over his kitchen floor and splashing coffee back up his ankles.

Buck hisses and tries not to fall to the ground, hands shaking with the pain.

It’s okay, he thinks, it’s fine. He goes to pick up the shards, so he can clean up the mess. The glass is still hot, and when he pulls his arm back, he sees that there’s a long, bloody gash on his arm. Buck startles and suddenly the ground is wet and slippery beneath his feet, and he goes tumbling.

Buck can no longer convince himself that it’s fine. He’s on his hands and knees in his stupid kitchen in a puddle of coffee with burns on his legs and glass in his knees and he’s dripping blood on the floor and he’s so tired.

But he can’t sleep. He can’t handle it again, can’t bear to see everyone leaving him again. Can’t bear to fail Eddie and Chris again. Plus, he’s not exactly in a great place, physically, to sleep right now.

Then, he hears his doorknob rattling. “Buck?” Taylor calls.

“In here,” Buck croaks, “Didn’t know you were coming by today.”

“I just wanted to… give you back your overnight clothes,” Taylor says, turning the corner and finally locking eyes with him, “Buck? Are you okay?”

She looks scared.

“Fuck, I don’t know,” Buck says, laughing almost-hysterically, “I–I don’t know how this happened.”

“Well, it looks like you dropped your coffee pot and slipped,” Taylor sighs, grabbing a towel from under Buck’s sink, “Here, put this on your arm. I’m going to call Eddie.”

Buck can’t help but wonder when Taylor got Eddie’s phone number. He tries to put the towel on his arm, but as he shifts back onto his knees they scream out in pain and he lets out a pained sound before he can bite it back. Taylor pauses, puts the phone on speaker, and goes to help Buck onto his feet.

“Taylor? What do you want?” Eddie’s voice, tinny and irritated, floats out of her phone.

“Buck’s cut himself up on his fancy coffee pot,” Taylor says, “Normally I wouldn’t call you, but this looks like it’s a bit above my paygrade.”

“Buck’s hurt?” Eddie asks, and there’s a twinge of panic in his voice that Buck hates, because he hates that he could ever make Eddie feel bad, “I’m on my way. How bad?”

“You’re on speaker, by the way,” Taylor says, “I don’t know. Big cut on his arm, there’s probably some glass stuck in his legs.”

Jesus,” Eddie mutters, “Okay. I’ll be there in a few. Don’t touch anything.”

“Oh trust me, I won’t,” Taylor says, grimacing as she gets a little smear of blood on her hand. Slowly, she helps Buck up to his feet, getting him settled on a chair. Eddie hangs up.

“Were you coming over to break up with me?” Buck asks, looking at the (admittedly, small) box Taylor’s put on the counter.

Taylor sighs and grabs the mop. “I love you, Buck. I really do. I just–”

“I’m not enough,” Buck says, refusing to look over at her, “I get it.”

“No,” Taylor says, and she sounds a little mad, “Buck, this is why I waited so long to do this. Because you always do that. You always make everything your own failure. It’s not–we’re just not compatible. I love you, Buck. As a friend. As a person. We’re not meant to spend the rest of our lives together, and you know that.”

And Buck does know it. But he’s stuck between self-flagellating and guilt for self-flagellating and even if it’s not his fault it sure as hell feels like it. “I’m sorry.”

“Buck, the whole point of this is that it’s not your fucking fault!” Taylor snaps, “Sometimes shit just doesn’t work out! God, you can be so infuriating sometimes!”

And just as Eddie walks into the apartment, Taylor shoves the mop into his hands and says, “He’s all yours now, Diaz.”

Buck can’t hear anything but the anger in her voice. She’s mad at him. She probably doesn’t ever want to talk to him again–and maybe she was right, that they didn’t love each other the right way, but Buck did love her.

Finally, Buck breaks, letting out a sob. Eddie scrambles to sit in front of him, a first-aid kit hitting the floor.

“Jesus, Buck, you look…” Eddie trails off, hands gingerly on the sides of Buck’s knees, where there was no burn or laceration, “How’d this happen?”

“Dropped the coffee pot,” Buck chokes out, “Burned my legs. Tried to pick up the glass. Cut myself. Slipped and fell. Looks worse than it is.”

“You’re a mess,” Eddie says with a strangled laugh, shaking his head, “Here, let’s get you out of your shoes first–”

Eddie coaxes him through taking off his shoes and socks. He gets up to grab some more stuff–an armful of towels from Buck’s laundry basket and some water bottles from under the sink, and he kneels back down in front of Buck. Under different circumstances, Buck would be delighted to see Eddie on his knees in front of him. Thankfully, there are shards of glass sticking out of his knees preventing him from getting a boner right now.

“Okay, I’m going to clean everything off now so I can get a better look,” He says, gloving up and taking the cap off one of the bottles and holding a towel just below Buck’s knees. The fabric, even if it’s soft, presses right up against Buck’s worst burn, and he hisses.

“I’m sorry,” Eddie soothes, pouring water over the crux of Buck’s knee. It soaks the towel Eddie’s holding, and some of it dribbles down Buck’s leg to the towel under his feet. It stings.

When Eddie pulls back, he’s the one that hisses. “Jeez, Buck, how hot do you brew your coffee?”

“Spilled it from the pot right after it was done brewing,” Buck says through clenched teeth, “Was probably close to boiling.”

“These burns are pretty serious,” Eddie says, “Tomorrow, you need to go see a doctor, okay? I would make you go tonight, but they don’t cover that much of your body, and I can bandage them here.”

“Okay,” Buck nods, trying to stop crying. The thought of going to another doctor makes him want to bang his head against the wall. He’s incredibly grateful that Eddie hasn’t mentioned the tears.

Eddie grabs the tweezers and a sharps container, and starts picking out the glass, pausing every once in a while to wash the area with water again. Buck watches, transfixed, and tries not to pass out. His knee looks, honestly, pretty fucking nasty, and it’s the one that’s not still covered in drying blood and coffee.

When Eddie’s done with the first knee gently placing sterile gauze over the wounds and taping them on, he looks up at Buck. “You’re shaking.”

Sure enough, Buck looks down and sees his hands trembling. “Yeah,” Buck sniffles, “Sorry. Just–in a lot of pain.”

“Of course,” Eddie says gently, “I’m just worried about shock.”

Buck shakes his head. “I haven’t lost enough blood to go into physical shock. It’s just from the pain, I promise.”

“We’re almost done,” Eddie says, although it sounds like Buck hasn’t managed to assuage his fears in the slightest. He turns to the other knee. The second one is a little worse, just for the fact that the blood has already partially congealed on Buck’s skin, so Eddie has to wipe it off to get a good look at the burns and glass. Even if it hurts, Buck can recognize that Eddie is being so, so tender with him. He apologizes at every little noise Buck makes, rubs the uninjured parts of his leg to soothe him when he’s not using both hands, pauses every once in a while to give Buck a moment to breathe.

Finally, finally, Eddie’s patched Buck’s legs back together. “You really need to stop doing this to yourself,” Eddie admonishes, throwing away all of the packaging for the bandages and switching his gloves. Eddie pulls another chair up, boxing Buck’s knees in with his own and leaning forward. “Arm.”

Buck obediently lifts the towel, revealing gummy, half-dried blood in the wound.

“Good, it’s clotting nicely,” Eddie observes, placing a fresh towel on Buck’s knee so he can lay his arm down. “I don’t think it’ll need stitches, but I’m going to put some butterfly bandages on it. It might scar.”

Buck nods, and Eddie seals the wound. It’s not that long or that deep–a couple inches up the inside of Buck’s wrist.

When Eddie’s done, he puts a layer of gauze over the bandages, then some tape to keep everything together. By that point, Buck’s having trouble keeping his eyes open. When Eddie disposes of all the trash and his gloves, he rubs Buck’s arm, apologizing again.

“I’ll finish cleaning up,” Eddie murmurs, “You get some sleep.”

Buck, who hadn’t even realized he’d been relaxing, shoots up, gripping the arms of the chair in panic. “No, Eddie, I’m fine.”

Eddie gives him a look. “Buck, nobody who’s fine reacts to being told they need to sleep like that.”

“I promise I’m fine, just… haven’t been sleeping great lately,” Buck admits, “I’ll talk to Dr. Copeland about it at my next session. I’ll be fine.”

“Buck, are you having nightmares?” Eddie frowns. Buck picks at the hem of his shorts.

“It’s nothing bad,” Buck shrugs, like a liar, “Just… weird. Can’t get enough sleep, keep waking up in the middle of the night.”

Eddie sighs. “Buck, will you ever let me just take care of you?”

“I–I can’t,” Buck says, dangerously close to tears (or the truth), “Can’t let people take care of me any more. Don’t want to fall back into that pattern.”

Eddie raises an eyebrow at him, waiting for him to elaborate, but he doesn’t. Can’t. How do you tell your best friend you’re scared that you’ll start to associate hurting yourself with affection again? That even the past few minutes have been so nice and the very thought makes anxiety thrum in his chest?

At some point, Eddie gives in. “Okay, Buck, you just… you need to sleep,” he says, something desperate and exhausted creeping into his voice, “I don’t–I can’t make you let me take care of you, no matter how much I want to. But you need to sleep. Please, man. At least lay down and try to relax.”

Eddie flashes him a pleading look and, really, it’s unfair. Buck’s tired and should be given a mulligan because he has enough trouble resisting Eddie’s big, soft eyes on a normal basis. “Okay.”

Eddie visibly relaxes, swiping a hand over his face. “Thank you, Buck. Do you need help getting around?”

Buck shakes his head, but as he gets to his feet he stumbles sideways into Eddie’s arms anyway. “That’s what I thought,” Eddie teases, maneuvering Buck onto the couch. Buck’s blanket and pillow are still there from the night before, and Eddie makes a big show of tucking him in, shaking the blanket out over Buck’s body and pressing the edges of the blanket under him.

Buck lets him, if only for the fact that it seems almost like Eddie’s doing it out of habit. Especially when he smooths Buck’s hair back and kisses his forehead. “Sleep tight. I’ll finish cleaning, but then I have to go.”

And as much as he tries to focus on the sounds of Eddie gently disposing of the glass and mopping up Buck’s blood and spilled coffee, all it does is give him the perfect white noise to fall asleep to.

 

Some time later, Buck wakes up with a gasp, scrambling at the blankets. He can’t quite remember the dream–something about Maddie, and Doug. What sticks with him is the horrible conviction that something bad has happened.

It’s not until he’s got his phone out and he’s dialling Maddie’s number that he realizes three things. One, Doug is dead. Two, it’s dark outside. Three, Maddie is dealing with a baby and probably wouldn’t appreciate being woken up at whatever-o’clock by her brother after a stupid nightmare he can’t even remember.

Buck hangs up before the call goes through. He sits on his couch, breathing like he’s just run a marathon and trying to calm down. But the more he thinks about it, the worse he feels. He just got Maddie back. She just returned home. He can’t call her–what if he chases her off? What if it really is his fault when she leaves this time?

The silence in his apartment is oppressive. Buck’s still tired, although he feels a lot more awake than he did before. He checks the time–just past eleven. Not terrible, but Lord knows he’s not going back to sleep tonight.

The silence is going to kill him. Buck turns on the TV and walks around his apartment, double-checking all the locks and shutting all the blinds. He doesn’t know why, but he doesn’t feel safe. He feels like something is going to lunge around the corner and… something. Every movement hurts–pulls at the bandages on his burns, but it’s nothing compared to the paranoia that grips him.

It’s not logical, of course. But that’s not the point.

His phone’s buzzing on the coffee table. Maddie’s profile picture smiles up at him. Very briefly, he considers not picking up, because he really doesn’t think he can talk normally right now, but that would just raise more suspicion, so he accepts the call and sits back down on the couch.

“Buck? Is everything okay?” Maddie asks, and she sounds exhausted.

Buck feels like shit for bothering her. “Sorry, Mads. Must have butt-dialed you.”

“You sure?” Maddie asks softly, “It’s been a while, Buck.”

Has it? Buck thinks. What ends up coming out of his mouth is an awkward chuckle and, “Yeah. Been busy lately. I’m sure you have, too.”

“Never too busy for you,” Maddie reminds him, “It’d be nice to see my baby brother again.”

“We can set something up soon,” Buck says, although he’s been kinda shit at keeping appointments lately, “Sorry about this. I’ll let you get back to sleep.”

“I wasn’t–” Maddie starts, but she stops suddenly, like she’s thinking, “Buck, it’s not that late, especially since I don’t have a shift tomorrow. Talking to you is honestly… it’s really nice, Evan.”

Buck can’t help the way his breath shakes at that. He doesn’t want to cry again, especially after the mortifying display he’d given Eddie earlier, but that sentence gets him alarmingly close. “It’s nice to talk to you too, Maddie.”

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Maddie pries, “You sound… Buck, it’s okay to not be okay.”

Buck’s hit with it very suddenly, the sheer exhaustion of it all. (Not physically. Physically, he feels the same. But, Lord, he is so tired of seeing something terrible every time he closes his eyes.) He sniffles a little and lets out a shaky breath. “I’m okay. Just… realizing how long it’s been. I miss you.”

“I miss you too, Buck,” Maddie says, slowly, like she’s trying to parse the meaning of what Buck said, “Where are you right now?”

“My apartment. Why?” Buck asks, suddenly feeling a bit like he’s playing a very high-stakes game of poker. He doesn’t know what they’re playing for, but there’s a hidden meaning behind every question.

Maddie pauses, and Buck knows she’s listening for something. “Okay. How does tomorrow work?”

“What?”

“To meet,” Maddie huffs, and the laugh that leaves her sounds off. Forced.

Buck purses his lips. “I–uh–I’m taking tomorrow off. Haven’t been feeling great. Wanted to catch up on sleep.”

“Evan, Eddie told me about you trying to transfer out while I was gone,” Maddie says plainly, “I know you’re not doing well. I need you to tell me very directly, right now, that you have not hurt yourself and are not planning to hurt yourself.”

“I–Maddie?” Buck squeaks, caught completely off-guard, “–no! No, I haven’t hurt myself. You know I wouldn’t–”

“I know you would,” Maddie argues, “And I’ve seen you do it before. I know you’re not… you’ve grown so much since you were a kid. But that sounded… Buck, I’m a dispatcher. I’ve heard people leave suicide notes that sound a lot like what you told me earlier.”

And to hear it laid out like that, ugly and exposed, makes Buck want to cry all over again. “I’m so sorry, Maddie. I never wanted to worry you. I promise I’m not hurt.” On purpose.

“Okay,” Maddie says, and she sounds a little choked up too, “I’m sorry for jumping to conclusions–I just–I’m worried about you, Evan.”

“I wouldn’t do that to you,” Buck promises, “Even if I… even if I wanted to. I wouldn’t do that to you, or Eddie, or Christopher.”

“Okay,” Maddie says, finally sated, “If you ever feel like you want to… please, tell me.”

Buck wouldn’t, because he would hate himself forever for truly scaring Maddie like that, but that’s not how these conversations go, so he says, “Of course. Hey, I think I’m gonna go back to sleep now.”

“Get some rest,” Maddie says, “I love you, Evan.”

“I love you too, Mads,” Buck says, a smile finally creeping onto his face, “Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.”

 

Buck doesn’t sleep. He sits on his couch, too exhausted to do anything, and stares at the TV, not really absorbing anything on the screen. His alarm goes off at its usual time, and that’s when the anxiety starts.

He has to call in sick. He has to. There’s no way he can go into work looking like he got hit by a bus. But, even though it’s been years since the lawsuit, he worries.

By the time he has Bobby’s phone contact pulled up, his head is buzzing painfully with nerves. He’s awake–he’s more awake than he’s been in a long time. He calls Bobby.

“Buck?” Bobby wakes up at the same time Buck does, but sleep still clings to his voice, like he’s still in the process of getting up, “Is everything okay?”

Buck sighs. “Yeah, Bobby. Everything’s fine. I just–uh–came down with something. I’m gonna need today off. And probably a few more days.”

“What’s wrong, Buck? Do you need to go to the doctor’s?” Bobby asks immediately, and there it is again, the same naked concern that makes Buck feel like an utter failure. “Do you need me to pick up some medication? Do you want something to eat?”

Buck tries to laugh at Bobby’s mothering, because that’s how people should react to stuff like that, but it comes out all forced. “No, Bobby. I’m–I’ve got everything I need here. Just feel like hot garbage.”

“Okay,” Bobby says, although he sounds hesitant, “You know if you need anything, you can come to me, right?”

“Of course, Bobby,” Buck says, “And I really appreciate it. I promise I will be back to normal soon. I just need some rest.”

“Then I won’t keep you,” Bobby says, “If you need anything–”

“I know,” Buck interrupts, “I’ll say so. Don’t have too much fun at work without me.”

“It’s never the same without you,” Bobby says, “Feel better soon.”

 

After his conversation with Bobby, Buck lays back down, thinking about how much he wants rest. True rest, not nightmare-riddled sleep in three or four hour increments. He’s so tired.

Maybe if he tried drinking, or some melatonin he could avoid it. But the thought of being sleep deprived and drunk, or being trapped in a dream for even longer is too much. He can’t. The thought of falling asleep makes his heart kick up and his chest tighten.

He’s not sure how long he sits there, but eventually he hears a key rattle in the door of his apartment. He wants to get up, wants to see whether it’s Maddie or Eddie, but he’s just so tired.

“Buck?” Maddie asks, and Buck’s torn between anxiety and relief.

“Hey, Mads,” Buck says, “Sorry, I–uh–I’m still just tired.”

Buck hears Maddie set something down on the counter, the squeak of her shoes on the linoleum, then she gasps and rushes over to Buck.

“Oh my God,” she says, kneeling in front of Buck. Buck smiles at her, but she doesn’t smile back. To his horror, Buck realizes Maddie looks like she’s on the verge of tears.

“Evan… what did you do?” Maddie asks, hands shaking as she grabs Buck’s hand.

Oh, right. The bandages. And, now that he looks at his arm, the one Maddie’s examining, he realizes what it looks like. “Maddie, I promise I didn’t–”

“No, Evan, you promised me last night that you wouldn’t hurt yourself!” Maddie sniffles furiously, wiping at her eyes with her free hand.

“I didn’t do it on purpose, Mads,” Buck says, moving to sit all the way up. He brings Maddie up so she can sit next to him on the couch. “I broke my coffee pot last night and accidentally cut myself up on the glass. Gave myself some pretty gnarly burns, too. Eddie looked at them last night, I promise I’ll be fine.”

“God, you scared me,” Maddie says, wrapping Buck up in an absolutely crushing hug, “I brought Jee over to see you, by the way.” She mumbles into his shoulder.

“Well, why didn’t you say so?” Buck says, squeezing Maddie once before letting her go, “Let’s go see her!”

Buck can hardly contain himself as he walks over to the kitchen. There, on the island, in her carrier, is Jee-yun, who babbles happily when she sees Buck.

Buck unclips her, and she grabs his fingers in her little hands. “She’s so big,” Buck says, turning to smile at Maddie, who’s still walking over.

She smiles back at him, although it’s tinged with sadness. “I missed so much of her life so far.”

“Hey, so have I,” Buck says easily, “And yet, I’m still her favorite.”

“I’m sorry I did that to you,” Maddie murmurs, wrapping her arms around Buck again, “I didn’t… I wasn’t thinking.”

“It’s okay,” Buck assures her, turning to hug her properly, “How many times do I have to tell you I forgive you?”

“You shouldn’t,” Maddie grumbles, “That’s, what, three times I’ve left you now? Four, if you count the time Doug kidnapped me.”

“First of all, I don’t count the time Doug kidnapped you,” Buck says, rolling his eyes, “And second of all, you were struggling. I’ll never blame you for needing to leave.”

“I wish I didn’t,” Maddie says, “I regret it so much.”

“You can regret it all you want,” Buck says, “Doesn’t change that it happened. You’re just causing yourself more grief by not forgiving yourself.”

Maddie nods, burying her face in Buck’s shoulder. “God, Evan, I missed you so much.”

“I missed you too, Maddie,” Buck says softly, laying his head on top of hers. Beside them, Jee coos again.

Maddie breaks the hug, turning to her. “Hi, baby! Are you ready to see your Uncle Evan?”

Jee gurgles happily when Maddie picks her up, waving her hands at Buck. Maddie turns to give her to Buck, and Buck reaches out to take her, but suddenly all he can see is the coffee pot falling from his hands, and he imagines dropping Jee-yun instead.

“I–I–” Buck starts, feeling panic claw its way up his chest, “Can we go sit down?” He asks, sounding a little strangled.

“Buck, what’s wrong?” Maddie asks, holding Jee with one arm so she can guide Buck over to his living room chair. Buck sits down and rubs his eyes with the heels of his hands, trying to scrub the mental image from his brain.

“I just–I dropped the coffee pot last night,” Buck says miserably, “And I can’t stop thinking that maybe I shouldn’t… hold her? I dunno. I can’t stop seeing me dropping her.”

“Buck, you know you wouldn’t drop her,” Maddie says, passing Jee over to him. Buck takes her, and she settles happily on his lap, sitting back against his stomach and smiling. Buck can’t help but look down at her fondly. She’s so little. She doesn’t know not to trust him yet.

When he looks up again, he sees Maddie with her phone out, shamelessly taking pictures. “These are going to the group chat.”

“Maddie,” Buck whines in protest, but his phone buzzes on the coffee table with a few text notifications.

“Sorry,” Maddie shrugs, not sounding very sorry at all. Buck’s phone continues to buzz, and Maddie leans back, reading the messages with a smile.

Unfortunately, the smile slides off her face. “Hey, Buck, what’s this Eddie’s saying about you going to the doctor?”

“I–uh–was supposed to go today, for the burns,” Buck says, flushing, “I… haven’t gotten around to it.”

“What? Why not?” Maddie asks, frowning, “Actually, you know what? I’m taking you right now. Come on.”

Buck’s got a headache just thinking about the doctor.

“Calm down, I’m just taking you to the minute clinic,” Maddie sighs, taking Jee from Buck, “If you needed to go to a specialist, I’m sure Eddie would have taken you himself.”

“Can’t you just look them over?” Buck whines, “You’re a nurse.”

Was a nurse,” Maddie says, “And I can’t prescribe you pain meds or antibiotics.”

“I don’t need pain meds,” Buck says. Sure, it hurts. The bandages scratch uncomfortably at his skin every time he moves and even when he’s not moving there’s a constant, low-level ache from the burns. But he’s had enough pain meds to last him a lifetime. He’s sick of them.

“Whatever,” Maddie says, “You still need antibiotics. And if you start to even suspect an infection, I want to know about it.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Buck rolls his eyes, walking with Maddie out to her car.

Maddie unlocks the car and glares at Buck. “Get in.”

“Jesus! I’m going,” Buck throws his hands up in surrender. He climbs into the passenger seat, Maddie buckles Jee-yun in, and she gets into the driver’s seat. Buck was only pretending to be annoyed at Maddie, but when he looks over at her, she looks pissed.

“How long were you going to put off going to the doctor?” she asks, as soon as the car is in motion and Buck can’t leave. The instant Buck looks over at the door handle, she puts the child lock on anyway.

“I don’t know.”

Maddie shoots him a glare. “You were going to, what, just hope that it didn’t get infected?”

“Maddie, I am so tired of going to the doctor,” Buck sighs, dragging a hand over his face, “Can’t you just let it go?”

“No!” Maddie exclaims, “No, Buck, I can’t. Why aren’t you taking care of yourself?”

And that stings, because Buck wants to take care of himself. Really, he does, he’s got a therapist and he’s working on his self-esteem issues. He’s just… exhausted, all the time, and he can barely function, so how is he supposed to find the energy to schedule an appointment and actually go to it?

Instead of answering, Buck just glares at the road in front of him. It’s not that he doesn’t think Maddie would get it, but he’s just… he doesn’t want to engage with the argument any more. He’s upset, and he’s exhausted, and the sun is too bright, and the road is too loud, and his injuries hurt.

“We’re here,” Maddie says, sounding like she’s picked up Buck’s sullen mood.

Buck gets out of the van and walks into the urgent care. The overly-sterile building reeks of misery and it saps what little energy Buck has left.

“Hi, how can I help you?” The receptionist asks, her perfectly friendly voice grating on Buck’s nerves.

God, he’s tired. “Hi, I dropped my coffee pot yesterday and got some pretty nasty burns, and I just wanted to get them checked out.”

 

Overall, the visit to urgent care isn’t that bad. He gets his wounds redressed, the RN confirms that he won’t need stitches in his arm, and he gets a prescription for amoxicillin. Maddie has to leave about halfway through, when Jee-yun starts fussing and she realizes it’s time for a feed, but only after Buck tells her he’s absolutely sure he can find a ride home.

(“Are you sure, Buck? I can–I don’t know, I can have Chimney take his lunch and bring me some food from home–”

“Maddie, I would literally rather die than do that. I promise I’ll get someone to come pick me up, and if nobody’s available, I can just call an Uber.”)

The problem is, naturally, that everyone he knows is at work. Eventually, he texts Karen to ask if she’s available. Even though he’s never really talked to her except to make plans with Hen and Denny, his only other option is Carla, and he knows she’s on today, and he’s not about to let Christopher see him like this.

Thankfully, it’s a Saturday, and since Karen has a normal office job she’s off work. Buck only has to wait ten minutes after his appointment for her to show up, and when he settles into her car, he almost regrets it because she looks at him with warm concern that makes him feel like he can’t hide anything from her.

“Oh, sweetheart,” she says, “Let’s get you something to eat. You look awful.”

“Thanks,” Buck croaks, already feeling like she’s stringing him out under a microscope.

“What do you feel like? In-n-Out? Zaxby’s? There’s a Sonic somewhere around here–”

“I kinda just want McDonald’s,” Buck says, because McDonald’s is easy. He doesn’t have to think about what he wants.

Karen takes him through the drive thru, orders him two cheeseburgers and a sprite, and drives off. It’s not until they pull into the driveway that Buck realizes she hasn’t taken him back to his apartment.

“This isn’t–”

“You really think I’m gonna let you go back to your own place looking like that?” Karen raises an eyebrow at him, “No. Denny’s seen worse.”

“Thanks,” Buck says, letting Karen corral him into the living room. She deposits him on the couch and hurries off, rummaging through the hall closet.

“Hi, Buck!” Denny says cheerfully, barrelling into Buck for a hug. Buck hugs him back, because even if Christopher will always be his favorite, he’s got a soft spot for all of his friends’ kids.

“Hey, kiddo,” Buck says, squeezing Denny once before letting him go, “Sorry, I’m not feeling up to playing today. I got hurt. But as soon as I’m better, we can definitely do something.”

“Okay!” Denny smiles, completely unfazed, “I was going to go to my room anyway, I got a new book. I just wanted to say hi.”

“Thanks,” Buck says, smiling back. Denny’s smile really is contagious. Denny wanders off to go do God knows what, and Karen returns with some gel ice packs, a thick, fluffy blanket, and a mug of sleepytime tea.

“I–Karen, I can’t,” Buck whispers, staring at everything that’s been laid out in front of him, “I can’t sleep.”

“What do you need? Pain meds? Allergy meds?” Karen asks easily, “Do you have a fever? Hen’s… Hen, so we’re stocked up on pretty much everything.”

“I mean I can’t sleep,” Buck says, and everything that’s been building up is threatening to spill over at any moment, “I’ve been having bad dreams.”

Karen sits at the armchair by the couch and takes one of Buck’s hands in hers. “About what?”

“I–I–” Buck stammers, trying to get the words out without dissolving into a puddle of tears on the floor. It’s not working.

“Hey, it’s okay,” Karen soothes, rubbing Buck’s knuckles, “You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.”

“Thanks,” Buck says, taking a shuddering breath, “How’s… how’s Denny doing?”

“He’s been great,” Karen smiles gently, “He’s getting used to the foster process, I think. He always does so well with them.”

“He’s a good kid,” Buck says, leaning back into the couch, “I’m sure you’re proud of him.”

Almost against his will, Buck’s relaxing.

“Well, you don’t have to sleep, but you need to rest,” Karen says, standing and running a hand through Buck’s hair, “Why don’t you lay down and get comfortable, and I’ll put something on the TV.”

It’s a trap, Buck knows, but he obediently unfolds the blanket and kicks off his shoes. Karen shuffles off, replacing Buck’s sleepytime tea with something herbal and fruity.

“It’s raspberry,” she says, stroking a hand through Buck’s hair again. Buck hums, leaning up to take a sip. It’s delicious and warms him to the bones.

“Thank you,” Buck says, resting his head on the overstuffed arm of the couch. Karen hums, walking away again. Soon, Buck can hear the clink of dishes, and the soft sound of music floating over from the kitchen.

Buck shouldn’t sleep. He can’t. He can’t be that vulnerable in front of someone else–especially not Karen or, God forbid, Denny–but the couch is so comfortable, and he’s so warm…

 

Buck’s back at the scene of the shooting, but this time, it’s different. This time the bullet goes through Eddie’s head, and he’s dead before he hits the ground.

He can’t be dead. Buck can’t lose him, not now, not before he’s told him how much he means to him–

Captain Mehta tackles Buck to the ground as another shot rings out. Buck wishes it had hit him.

Later (he doesn’t know how much later) he’s at Eddie’s house. He needs to take care of Christopher.

He needs to tell Christopher his father isn’t coming home.

Chris wails and turns to Buck and screams, “You let him die! I hate you!”

The next morning, Eddie’s attorney–a faceless woman with dark brown hair who bears a surprising resemblance to Ana–wakes Buck up with a knock on the door.

“You were supposed to take care of him,” she says, “But, obviously, you’re not capable of loving a child. Not the way he needs. So instead, I have arranged for Edmundo’s parents to take him.”

Behind her stand two people Buck’s sure he’s met before.

Chris doesn’t want to go with them, but they take him anyway.

Buck’s left alone in Eddie’s house, and he feels like a ghost again. Nobody checks up on him, nobody asks if he’s okay. It’s what Buck’s been waiting for since he arrived at the 118; they’ve finally forgotten him.

“Buck?” Someone asks, but Buck’s a ghost. He’s not there, he can see through his feet straight to Eddie’s hardwood floors–

 

“Buck?” Karen repeats, a hand on his shoulder, “You sounded like you were having a nightmare. I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, no,” Buck gasps, jolting awake, “I–uh–was not having a fun dream.”

To his horror, Buck realizes he’s crying. He prays to whatever God exists that Karen doesn’t notice, but because God hates him, she frowns and kneels down in front of him.

“What’s wrong, Buck?” she asks gently, in a voice that makes him feel all of five years old.

Buck shudders, trying not to sob. “I–the dream–I–it’s stupid.”

“It’s not stupid, Buck,” Karen says, reaching forward to wipe Buck’s cheek where tears roll down his face, “It sounds like it was an upsetting dream. Here, sit up, my knees are too old to be doing this–”

Karen grunts and helps Buck up, sitting next to him on the couch and throwing her arm around his shoulders. “What was the dream about?”

“The shooting,” Buck admits, “I saw Eddie… die. And then I had to take care of Christopher, and I didn’t–they took him away. They said I didn’t take care of him the way he needed.”

“I’m sorry, honey,” Karen murmurs, rubbing Buck’s shoulder and squeezing him closer, “That sounds awful.”

“It’s stupid,” Buck shakes his head, “It’s just a dream.”

“It’s not just a dream if it’s hurting you like this,” Karen says, “It’s not stupid.”

Buck’s tired, and it’s the tenderness of the hand on his shoulder that finally breaks him. “It’s not just this dream, it’s–I keep having them. I’m so tired, Karen. I can’t sleep through the night, and I wake up exhausted, and I’m tired of it and I just want the nightmares to stop.”

“How long has this been going on, Buck?” she asks.

“Few weeks,” Buck says, picking at his fingernails, “Maybe a month.”

“And you haven’t talked to anyone about this?”

“I’ve had a handle on it until recently,” Buck sniffles, “Sorry. You’re not my therapist, I should be dumping this all on you–”

“Buck, I asked,” Karen interrupts, “I want you to unload it all on me. You’re my friend and I care about you.”

“Thanks,” Buck says, leaning into her, “I just… everything else has a clear reason. I have panic attacks when I hear noises that sound like gunshots because I saw Eddie get shot, I try to self-isolate when I think people are mad at me, you know? But these don’t… I don’t know why.”

“I think you’re stressed,” Karen says, tightening her grip on Buck’s shoulder “And, you know, I’m not a therapist, but the job and everything that’s happened to you, it’s a lot. I think what happens is you expect a nightmare, so you go to bed anxious, and then you have a nightmare. Maybe being alone is making it worse, too.”

And… that makes sense. It makes a lot of sense. “But I wasn’t alone today, and I had a nightmare.”

“Maybe I’m not the person you need,” Karen shrugs, finally letting go of Buck and leaving him to puzzle over that statement. Not the person he needed?

For some reason, it makes Buck think of Eddie and Christopher.

Buck decides not to dwell on it, instead opening his phone. He has, of course, been absolutely inundated with text messages. Most of them are in the groupchat, following the picture of him holding Jee.

bobby: Buck, when did you get hurt?

henrietta: awww

chim: Yeah buck when DID you get hurt

edmundo: He accidentally spilled coffee all over himself and gave himself several lacerations and a few 2nd degrees. He’s SUPPOSED to go to the dr today and get them checked out

Then, of course, they all decide to take it up with him, separately.

bobby: Buck, why didn’t you tell me you’d gotten hurt?

henrietta: are you doing ok? is there anything i can get you when i get off shift?
henrietta: karen told me shes taking care of you. i’m glad someone is

chim: Hey man are u doing OK? Maddie seemed upset when she texted me

Buck responds to all of them, hoping he sounds legitimately tired and not depressed and pathetic, and that’s when Eddie texts him.

edmundo: Want 2 come over tonight? Christopher has been begging to see you

And that was Karen’s solution, right? But Buck thinks about what he looks like, covered in bandages, in dirty clothes, with bags under his eyes the size of the entire metropolitan area, and he can’t inflict that on Christopher. It might scare him, or make him sad. And Buck can’t do that to him.

Evan Buckley: i look like a mess. chris probably shouldn’t see me like this

edmundo: He won’t care. We’ll have an evening in. Watch some movies.

It sounds nice. It sounds so nice.

Buck can’t.

His phone’s ringing.

“Buck?” Eddie asks, when he answers, “Are you doing okay?”

“I–Eddie,” Buck sighs, “I feel like absolute shit. I don’t think I can…”

“You don’t have to be okay,” Eddie offers, “It’s not exactly hard to see that you’re struggling. But you don’t need to be okay for Christopher’s sake. You can just come over, Buck. He’ll understand.”

“I’m at Hen’s,” Buck says, giving in, “Karen drove me over after I went to urgent care today.”

“I’ll be over after shift to pick you up.” Buck can hear the smile in Eddie’s voice, but he just feels a sinking dread. He’s going to destroy his relationship with Christopher. He’s going to fuck up, and then Chris will never want to see him again, and–

“What’s going on up there?” Karen asks, sitting in her comfortable leather chair with a steaming mug of tea in her hands, “You look tense.”

“I know. I–Eddie invited me over,” Buck says, “I don’t–Chris always worries so much about me, when I’m hurt. And I don’t know if I can–if I can be happy and cheerful around him today. I’m just… tired.”

“Hey, if Chris is going to worry, he’s going to worry,” Karen says, “He’s not going to go through life without getting hurt, you know that.”

“I can’t be the person who hurts him,” Buck says, haunted by the thought.

Karen hums. “I understand the impulse, but you’re not choosing to hurt him. Sometimes hurt is unavoidable. Anyway, don’t you think he’d be more hurt by you avoiding him?”

“So… I can’t win, is what you’re saying,” Buck says, smiling sadly.

“Winning is getting better, Buck,” Karen presses, “Not isolating yourself like this.”

Buck sighs, giving in. “Okay.”

 

Karen puts on Cosmos, and Buck’s happy to not really pay attention to anything except the brilliant colors flashing across the screen and the comforting, deep timbre of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s voice.

Buck’s alarmingly close to drifting off again when keys rattle in the front door. Karen perks up and is over at the entryway in time to greet Hen with a hug and a kiss. Eddie waves at Buck from behind them, and eventually they break apart. Hen walks over to him with a look of overt concern on her face, and Buck feels guilty once again.

“How are you feeling?” Hen asks, her hand coming to run through his hair in an exact repeat of Karen.

Buck considers saying he’s fine, but Hen fixes him with a look that sees right through him. “Like shit.”

“I’m sorry,” Hen says sympathetically, “I think Bobby’s going home to stress cook right now, so you’ll probably get some soup in a few hours.”

“Thanks for the heads up,” Buck snorts. Of course, after that, his brain’s far too fried to come up with any more words to say. Hen settles for a kiss to the top of his head, instead.

“Get out of my house, Buckley,” Hen teases, hand gentle on his shoulder. Buck allows her to help him stand up and wrap him in a hug. Hen’s hugs are always the warmest, most comforting that Buck’s ever experienced.

Eddie’s still standing in the doorway, and although he’s smiling, it looks thin and forced, and it wavers when he gets a closer look at Buck. He must really look awful.

“I need a shower and a fresh change of clothes,” Buck says, even though the thought of figuring out those things makes him want to cry.

“Okay, we can take care of that,” Eddie says, ushering Buck out to his truck. Buck’s still pretty sore, but by now the way people keep touching him, like he can’t do anything, like he’s made of glass, is starting to feel overwhelming. It’s easy, when he’s tired like this, to get irritated.

“I can get it,” Buck says, in a tone of voice he immediately regrets, when Eddie tries to help him into the passenger’s seat.

Eddie doesn’t mention it, and Buck spends the rest of the drive picking at his shorts in miserable silence.

 

When they get to his apartment, Buck spends a while staring at the car door handle, trying to will himself into getting out. Eventually, Eddie takes pity on him and says, “Why don’t I go get you your stuff? You can wait out here and you can borrow my shower.”

“Thanks,” Buck says, trying not to utterly lose it out of frustration. Eddie glances at him, concerned, but steps out of his truck to go grab some clean clothes for Buck.

He’s quick, probably, because Buck’s hardly has time to get bored before Eddie’s passing him a tank top and a pair of boxers and shorts. “If you get cold you can borrow some of my sweats at home.”

Buck’s sure he doesn’t mean it that way, but he glows with the way Eddie says home–like it’s theirs, together. He lets the scenery pass him by, not really thinking of anything on the drive to Eddie’s house.

For reasons Buck chooses not to examine, it’s far easier to get out of Eddie’s truck at his house than it was at Buck’s apartment. Buck walks up to Eddie’s door and waits for Eddie to open it. Chris is already on the other side, waiting to greet them, and he lights up when he sees Buck.

“Buck!” Chris exclaims, wrapping his arms around Buck’s middle.

“Gently, mijo, Buck’s not feeling so good,” Eddie says, stepping past them and ruffling Chris’s hair. Buck can see Carla raise an eyebrow at him from the kitchen, and he feels Chris’s touch go all tender around him.

“We were just cleaning up,” she says, “Chris wanted to get into that watercolor set Pepa got him.”

“What’s wrong, Buck? Are you sick?” Chris asks, with a pout on his face.

Buck flounders for a moment, completely unsure, but Eddie’s back with a glass of water and says, “Chris, Buck’s been having trouble with nightmares lately. Why don’t we get him tucked into bed so he can get some rest?”

Buck has several objections to this course of events, but Chris is leading him by the hand to Eddie’s bedroom. Buck allows himself to be guided into bed, and Chris scrambles up so he can sit next to him. Eddie hands him the glass of water and kisses Chris’s hair.

“I made you a painting, Buck,” Chris says, a little shyly. Buck feels a tremor of panic at the thought of making Chris shy, of making him feel like he can’t be as bright as he normally is, but Eddie shoots him a look.

“Why don’t you go grab it so we can show Buck?” Eddie suggests, and Chris perks up, sliding down from the bed and wandering off in the direction of the kitchen. Eddie takes his spot, wrapping an arm around Buck’s shoulder. “He’s a sensitive kid. It’s not a bad thing that he’s gentle with you now.”

“I just don’t want to hurt him,” Buck whispers, finding himself on the verge of some greater emotion again. It’s frustrating, being on such a hair-trigger, but the exhaustion makes him feel like he has the temper of a particularly volatile toddler.

“I know, and you won’t,” Eddie assures him, “If you do, I’ll kick your ass.”

Buck lets out a shaky breath, and finds himself smiling. “Will you–I don’t want him to see me have a nightmare.”

“I can figure something out. It’s been a while since he’s stayed at Pepa’s,” Eddie offers, “But I don’t want you to self-isolate any further than you have been. I’ve been doing my therapy homework, okay? And, Karen kinda ratted you out to me. So you’re stuck here, or with Maddie, until you’re better.”

“I’ll never forgive her,” Buck says dryly.

Eddie rubs Buck’s back absentmindedly until Christopher comes back in with a stack of dried and drying watercolor paintings.

“That’s my cue. I’ll say goodbye to Carla and see about setting something up with Tía Pepa,” Eddie says, sneaking another kiss from Chris’s head before walking back off into the kitchen, leaving the two of them alone together.

Chris drags himself up onto the bed again, and Buck feels a little awkward. And then Chris hands him the first watercolor portrait, which is just kind of a mess of colors, and says, “Carla says it’s abstract.” and Buck wonders how he ever thought he could go without seeing Chris.

Buck tries to keep conversation with Chris, but he keeps slipping in and out of the present moment, and eventually, Chris picks up on it.

“Are you tired?” He asks, “I can let you get some sleep.”

“Thanks, buddy,” Buck smiles, “I’m sorry I’m not up to really being here with you.”

“It’s okay! We all need to sleep sometimes,” Chris says easily, “I love you, Bucky. I hope you feel better.”

“I love you too, Christopher,” Buck says as Chris kisses the top of his head. Chris leaves the watercolor paintings on the bedside table and turns the lights off on his way out.

And, again, Buck tries not to fall asleep. And, again, the exhaustion wins.

 

Buck wakes up gasping for breath, a full-fledged panic attack waging war in his chest.

“Hey, woah,” Eddie says, somehow right there and kneeling in front of him as he swings his legs over the side of the bed, “Buck, you’re safe. You’re right here. Deep breaths, okay? In through the nose, out through the mouth.”

“Okay, yeah,” Buck says, trying to slow his racing heart. He doesn’t remember what his dream was about, just that Eddie being here only settles him half as much as it usually does.

“Hey, it’s okay,” Eddie soothes, a hand on Buck’s knee, “You’re okay.”

Buck wants to be okay, but he’s not. The longer he sits, the more the panic wears off and the exhaustion, the frustration, is back. He’s so tired, and he bows forward, sobbing into his hands. Eddie shifts, standing to wrap Buck in his arms.

“Has this been happening every time you go to sleep?” Eddie asks. Buck nods into his chest, feeling exhaustion still pawing at his chest.

“Talk to me about it, tell me what happened,” Eddie says, releasing Buck and sitting next to him on the bed.

“Can’t remember,” Buck says, wiping his eyes and trying to regain his composure, “For the most part, they’re about–uh–losing you guys. The 118, but especially you and Maddie and Chris.”

“I’m not going anywhere, Evan,” Eddie promises, taking Buck’s hand in his.

Buck scoffs. “That’s what you say now, but in the dream, it’s always a different story.”

“Well, no offense, but your dreams and my actual literal decisions are two separate things,” Eddie points out, “You’re my best friend. It’s going to take a lot to change that.”

“I just… I’m so tired of losing people, and it can happen at any time, and part of me is scared of people dying, and part of me is scared of people choosing to leave,” Buck admits, “You’d think after all this time, I’d be used to people leaving, right?”

Buck can see Eddie swallow, something sad flashing in his eyes. “No, Buck. I don’t think you ever get used to people leaving.”

“It just… I’m so tired, and I don’t know how to get it to stop,” Buck says, and he knows the look he’s giving Eddie is asking for answers the other man doesn’t have, but he wants to be cradled and told that it’s going to be okay.

Eddie wraps his arm around Buck’s back and rubs his shoulder. “I’m here, Buck. Whatever you need.”

“I think I need to call my therapist,” Buck says, sniffling, “I have an appointment in a few days, but I don’t think this can wait that long.”

“I think that’s a good idea,” Eddie says, patting Buck’s knee, “Why don’t I order us a pizza?”

 

Thirty minutes later, Buck’s put in a request for a Zyprexa prescription from his psychiatrist and has homework from his therapist to quote: “take his mind off things before going to bed.” Which he’s tried, sort of, but maybe putting on a background TV show and spiraling isn’t really taking his mind off things.

Eddie knocks on his own bedroom door and pokes his head in. “Pizza’s here. Don’t tell Chris, but I’m kinda tired after my shift and I just want to eat in bed.”

Eddie flops down on his bed, two pizza boxes in hand. He hands Buck his usual–veggie–and opens his plain cheese pizza. When he leans back against the headboard and takes a bite, Buck notices just how pronounced the circles under his eyes are.

“My therapist says I’m stuck in a horrible feedback loop,” Buck says, talking with a mouthful of pizza, “I expect a nightmare, I get anxious about sleeping, it makes me have a nightmare. She says I need to distract myself, and basically forget I’m falling asleep.”

Eddie nods, humming. “That makes sense.”

“Wish it didn’t,” Buck grumbles, “I got a prescription for Zyprexa from my psych that should be filled tomorrow or Friday. I hate taking meds.”

“It’s so you can sleep, Buck,” Eddie says, “It's not a bad thing. It's not a failure.”

Buck sighs and glances over at Eddie, and immediately regrets it. Eddie’s put his half-eaten slice back down in the box and is staring over at Buck (who is in his bed) with something warm and worried in his eyes.

“I–I can’t–” Buck gasps, because if he spends one more second looking at Eddie’s doe eyes he’s scared that everything will come tumbling out of his mouth and then Eddie will leave for real and he won’t be able to wake up and–

“Buck, what’s going on?” Eddie asks, standing and catching Buck on the shoulder before he even makes it to the bedroom door.

“I’m sorry,” Buck says, fighting not to cry, or throw up, or hyperventilate, or something equally embarrassing, “I–Eddie–”

“Evan. If you don’t tell me, I can’t help,” Eddie implores, and his eyes are boring straight into Buck’s head again.

“Stop looking at me like that,” Buck begs.

Eddie blinks, but his gaze doesn’t waver. “Like what?”

“Like you love me,” Buck says, quiet and miserable, “Like you really love me. You keep–when you look at me like that, it gives me so much hope.”

Oops.

Buck’s the one who looks away, before he’s vaporized in the intensity of Eddie’s stare.

Evan,” Eddie says, and he’s quiet, but he’s not sad, “Please.” His hand comes over to cup Buck’s cheek, drawing him back to his horrible, soft eyes. “How could it be anything other than love?”

Buck feels his lip tremble, and he can’t help it. “I love you.”

“I love you too,” Eddie says, “And I’m not leaving.”

Eddie leans in, and presses a kiss to the corner of Buck’s mouth. Buck breaks, taking Eddie into what must be a bone-crushing hug. He buries his face in the crook of Eddie’s neck, and part of him hopes that he can stay there forever.

“I wanted to tell you,” Eddie says softly, “But you weren’t–I didn’t want to tell you when you were hurting. I didn’t want you to do anything because you were worried I’d leave.”

“Eddie,” Buck says, smiling into Eddie’s collarbone, “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”

Eddie pulls Buck back and bumps their foreheads together. “I’m not leaving, Buck.”

“Careful, keep saying it like that and I might just start to believe you,” Buck says, breathing out and feeling everything unwind for the first time in a long time.

Eddie presses another kiss to Buck’s lips. “That’s the point.”

 

Eddie picks up Buck’s prescription the next day and makes him take a shower while he’s gone. The water is uncomfortable on his burns and cuts, but it’s more than worth it to feel clean again.

Buck goes to sleep at 8:45 in the morning on a Thursday and when he wakes up, it’s dark again and he feels groggy and warm and there’s a pair of arms around his waist and Eddie’s breath tickles on the back of his neck.

He still doesn’t feel completely better, and Dr. Copeland had assured him that would happen, but for the first time in a long time, he hasn’t opened his eyes with someone’s name on his lips and his heart thudding painfully in his chest.

He’s so relieved he could cry.

Eddie stirs behind him, pressing even closer and slipping a hand under Buck’s shirt. Buck wonders if he’s dreaming–Buck hopes he’s dreaming, because this will still be there for him when he wakes up, and it would be the nicest dream he’s had in a long time.

“Evan? How are you feeling?” Eddie asks, voice rough from sleep.

Buck feels positively boneless in Eddie’s arms.

“Better.”