Bobby’s noticed Buck’s been... off, to put it mildly.
It hadn’t been noticeable enough while on the job because he’s sure that—just like him—Buck seems to dump his regular brain out and replace it with his firefighting one as soon as the bell rings.
But in the in-between? When they’re waiting for calls?
Let’s just say Harry and May—even in their peak adolescent angst—had more energy than Buck. And at first he cracked jokes about Taylor wearing him out when she used him as a sounding board for investigations, but the smile he gave Bobby looked worn out—pale and distressed and too beaten down to hold its shape any longer.
So Bobby gave Buck time.
A warm glance here and there to remind him that there’s a chair waiting for him whenever he needs to find a place to let the heaviness rest. The thing is that he never really sat down and talked with Buck—making hallow a carved-out a space in the loft of the station was the kind of confessional Eddie needed, but not Buck.
No, he and Buck would normally speak in the kitchen in between chopping carrots and celery and then maybe they’d shed a tear or two but they’d blame it on the onions they chopped twenty minutes ago.
That was their space.
Buck hasn’t cooked in a while. Hasn’t even made it to the kitchen island to pick at the pesto pasta with his fingers when he thinks Bobby isn’t looking—hiding his basil-covered fingers behind his back or worse—cleaning them off on the thigh of his uniform pants. He all but drags Buck by the ear to help him out now.
As much as he wants to pretend that he still believes that whole speech when Buck was a probie that this is not a family where he takes Buck to a Springsteen concert and he calls him Pops, he just—
He’d be lying if it wasn’t at least a little true, as time went on. He loves that dumbass kid like his own. So seeing him like this? Yeah, it hurts. It hurts seeing him look so small , huddled up in the corner of the couch and reading a book Bobby’s pretty sure Dr. Copeland suggested for him.
He can’t watch anymore, “Hey? Buck?”
Buck lifts his head, and his eyes are wide and a little out of focus. The expression reminds him a bit of the deer he and his friends would coax to follow them at Camp Weegeewagen and how careful they had to be not to spook them.
“How about you cook something with me. How does a casserole sound?”
“Bobby, I–” Buck starts, but Bobby lifts a hand.
“Not taking no for an answer, kid. Join me.”
Buck is in over his head—Eddie and Maddie are gone and whatever the fuck he has with Taylor is eating him up—but Bobby squeezes a warm hand on Buck’s shoulder as he sidles up next to him and prays to God Buck grabs it to pull himself out before he drowns.
Leaving the book on the table, Buck follows Bobby as he heads back towards the kitchen, “Where do you want me, Cap?”
It comes out timid.
More like I’m lost. Where do I go?
And Bobby needs Buck to know that the answer will always be here. You can always be here .
So he claps his hands together and takes on what the team has dubbed his Guy Fieri persona—even pulling on the Flavortown Fire Departmen t apron they got for him for his birthday last year. The dorky Captain Dad shtick is about the oldest trick he has in the book, but it’s gotten Buck out of his own head more times than he can count.
“We’re making a good ol’ tex-mex casserole,” Bobby points at him, faux-serious, “Your job is the prep. Can you handle it?”
Buck just nods, but that’s unacceptable. “Sorry, what was that?”
He gets an eyeroll in return, “Yes, Chef.”
And is that a—
Maybe a small tug of a smile?
There we go , Bobby returns an easy grin.
In orchestrated movements, they gather the tomatoes, onions, beans, corn, beef, and cheese along with the spices they need from the spice rack. They’ve made this before together—it’s become a bit of a staple around the firehouse since it’s easy to modify into a vegetarian version, too. It’s also one of the first recipes he taught Buck because it’s generally pretty hard to fuck up and only needs one pot—of course, that was the selling point before Buck had become a bit of a cook himself and gotten a pair of elbow-high, 1950s style gloves for dishwashing.
A lot has changed since then.
Maybe Buck needed a dad, and Bobby needed to be that for someone.
But it’s a tricky thing, isn’t it? He’s not really Buck’s father—that title is reserved and taken for granted by an asshole in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Bobby can’t fully take that place, and it’s times like these where he doesn’t know if he needs Buck to see him like one or if he’s overstepping a boundary he hasn’t quite figured out how to chart on the map.
At first, taking on the responsibility was a sort of… penance for burning his own in their sleep.
He never really let go of the guilt.
Yet as much as he jokes about Buck giving him gray hair, watching him turn into a steady rock of his own for the people around him brings Bobby too much peace for this to be an appropriate sentence for his sins.
And—if only for a moment—he forgets that he’s damned.
That’s a problem for his soul later down the road, but for now, he has a son who needs him.
“You been showing Taylor anything I taught you over the years as sous chef?”
“Ah… we, uh… I don’t really—” Bobby’s never seen limes juiced that hard. “We’re both tired, so we just end up heating something o-or going out to eat.”
That’s… it just doesn’t quite add up.
That’s not Buck.
Buck loves loud and quiet all at once—Bobby’s seen it himself and heard about it firsthand.
Eddie would tell him about the mornings he’d open his fridge and find that Buck has sneaked in tupperwares-full of food with little sticky notes saying things like Chris’s favorite (: . Or small, covered ramekins with chili-chocolate mousse labeled veggies :(( because when they were labeled accurately, Chris had found them during a midnight trip to get a glass of water, and the next day, Eddie had a chocolate-smeared ten year old snoring on the couch in a dessert-induced coma with four empty ramekins on the floor.
The topic had come up when Bobby suggested that Eddie get a few cooking lessons in with him but was struck down instantly when Eddie had said that he’s good for months between Buck and Abuela’s cooking.
(He’s not sure how much Eddie realizes he admits when he tells him about the way Buck takes care of him and Chris—Athena says they’ll figure it out in their own time.
Maybe she’s right.)
The point is, this isn’t a Buck he recognizes, and Bobby’s been around for every software update. Right now, Buck is one worst day ever from hitting a breaking point—sitting with nothing but his demons and a hell of a pride to swallow before he can let out a small help.
(Bobby’s still grateful that Hen and Buck had found him that day. That’s when he’d given up on pretending this was just a job, and these were just coworkers.)
“Y’know… sometimes…” He drags, “if you keep eating that processed shit, you’re gonna start getting used to it.”
“Is that so bad? It’s easier,” Buck grumbles.
Is it so bad to stick it out? Take what’s already lying around, ready to be eaten?
“Well, let me ask you something,” The onions and beef hiss as they hit the oil—occupying the space he’s taking to consider his phrasing, “Does it feel good?”
Bobby doesn’t get much more than a shrug—Buck is suddenly extremely intent on dicing the tomatoes perfectly.
“Buck, I’m gonna tell you the same thing I told Eddie a year ago.”
Buck flinches, just a little, at the mention of Eddie’s name. Bobby’s not sure how much they’ve talked since he’d quit, but he’s worried the space between them is getting too wide for them to cross.
“If you’re so focused on what you don’t have, you’ll miss the chance to have something real.” He walks around him to grab the diced vegetables to toss into the pot, “Now—for you—I think that advice still goes. But I’d also add that you’re so focused on what you do have, you end up trying to trick yourself into thinking it’s something you want .”
“I can’t be alone anymore, Bobby. I-I-I can’t. I’d rather eat the fucking eggo waffles shit than wake up hungry from a dream about homemade pancakes and find out I don’t even have a kitchen to cook in.”
“Who says you don’t have a kitchen?”
Buck pinches the bridge of his nose in a move eerily identical to something Bobby has noticed Eddie do, and he’d laugh at the irony if Buck wasn’t already on edge.
“How about we stop with the food analogies. I’m getting confused.”
“You started it,” Bobby teases, “but fine. Why are you settling for Taylor? Buck, she’s…” Bobby was going to say a great woman , but the grudge he still holds from that time she wanted to broadcast his unintentional acid-induced suicide attempt stops him from being too magnanimous. “You two don’t seem to be on the same page—long-term. Or am I wrong?”
The question lingers there, between them, and Bobby starts to think that Buck hadn’t even considered where this would be heading.
“I think I’m asking for too much.”
“Fuck, Bobby. I don’t know.” Buck scrubs his face, and the fragility in his voice is replaced with something sharper—a desperation, “From Taylor, from Maddie, from Eddie. From God. The Universe. Karma. I don’t know, choose one.”
Bobby knows a thing or two about feeling like he’s been given more than he deserves, so he tugs a little on that thread to see where it leads, “Why do you think that?”
“It’s why they all leave, right?” Buck’s eyebrows knit together, “It’s too much for them.” The admission seems to shock him because he’s looking up at Bobby now—eyes wide and searching for a way to excise the shame.
“Maddie and Eddie aren’t leaving you , Buck. They’re looking for themselves. Your sister and your—” Bobby catches himself, “Your sister and Eddie have given so many pieces of themselves to everyone around them and—if you do that too much—pretty soon you fall like a Jenga tower. They need someone there for them, now, so they can patch the foundation.”
Buck mumbles, “Eddie said something like that when Maddie first left.”
Bobby just hums, stirring the casserole as he tosses in salt. “Homemade meals taste better because they take time. Attention. Care. You’re never going to get that from a box.”
(He hopes Buck doesn’t get too pissed off by comparing Taylor to a box of Hamburger Helper.)
“I thought we were done with food analogies.”
Bobby just shrugs—smiling, “You prefer the boardgame ones?”
The silence settles around them again, and Bobby stirs in the spices—casting a sideward glance at Buck in the meantime to catch the way his face softens at first, but then pinches again, tight.
“What happens if I fuck it up?”
“You remember what I told you when you asked me that same question with Abby? I said something like why don’t you try something new—why don’t you try to get to know her. ” Bobby puts down the spoon and turns to face Buck directly, “Buck. Hey, Buck, look at me. I’m proud of you, kid.”
Buck opens his mouth to murmur out what sounds like a what for? , but Bobby pushes on.
“I’m proud of you. And I’m proud of how far you’ve come from being that little shit causing me trouble all the time. You know, you had me worried there, after you stole the engine. Thinking I just got assigned some punk ass hot shot who signed up just for the uniform and the uniform chasers.” He grabs Buck’s shoulder again, squeezing it once before letting go, “But you proved me wrong. Again, and again, again. And not just out there, on calls. Buck you—”
Buck’s staring intently at the cucumber he’s twirling in circles on the counter—his eyes red-rimmed and wet.
“You let yourself love people, and I know you were scared to. Especially after Abby.”
He lets out a humorless laugh, “Yeah, that kind of fucked me up.”
“But you did it anyway. You learned how to step in. You found Eddie someone to help take care of Christopher, and, more importantly, you made something with him. A home. Kid, you make them both happy in a way I don’t think they knew they could be again—after everything. And… and they make you happy, too.”
Buck meets his eyes again, “Bobby…”
“Think about it.” Bobby then points the wooden spoon at him, “Heartfelt talks don’t mean you’re out of dish duty, though.”
Another eyeroll, “Yes, Dad.”
Bobby’s face twitches in a smile— yeah, that’s my son .