"Can we have one more?" Two sets of hopeful eyes turned to Eddie and he laughed, crossing his arms at his son and best friend.
"Christopher, you have school tomorrow and Buck has work."
Buck screwed up his face and stretched himself across the couch, pulling Christopher off the floor and resting him up on his chest, wrapping his arms around the giggling kid. "You can't take him from me, Eddie. I'm stronger than you."
Eddie rolled his eyes, unable to stop the smile spreading across his face. His best friend was an idiot. He shook his head and attempted to be stern, hands on his hips.
"I don't think so, Buckaroo. Chris, tell Buck goodnight."
Christopher flailed as he squealed, finally arranging his hands where he wanted them and gripped Bucks shirt. "No, Dad! I want one more!"
Eddie should have stuck to his guns. He should have stuck to Christopher's bedtime routine. But watching his best friend tickle at Christopher's side to make the both of them squirm and laugh was something he wasn't sure he'd see again.
After the tsunami, when he'd found Buck, Eddie had thought his son was gone. Buck had been so beaten up, so scared of what Eddie would think of him and for a few terrible seconds, Eddie had thought that his son had been lost like so many others.
And then he found him. He was alive, safe, barely even hurt. But he'd seen so much. Both he and Buck had taken a few days to come right. They'd struggled, Buck more so than Christopher, weighed down by his guilt and Eddie had worried that they'd never come completely right.
It had been a couple of weeks now and Christopher no longer shivered at the rumble of trucks or anything that mimicked the sound of an incoming wave. He still had nightmares but he was back to his chatty self, his drawings focussing more on the now and less on that day.
Eddie still worried about Buck.
He was trying to deal with it on his own, which essentially meant he was ignoring it. He clearly wasn't sleeping, the dark circles under his eyes and the unfocused gaze at work spoke volumes to how Buck was really feeling. It also didn't escape Eddies notice that Buck would make any excuse he could to spend more time at the Diaz residence. Eddie didn't mind and Christopher certainly didn't but it made Eddie worry that Buck was afraid to be alone. All the "I'm fine''s had to stop.
And if that meant letting the two of them stay up past bedtime and watch nature documentaries then fine.
"One more. I mean it." The two boys let out a triumphant cry and Eddie tried to at least pretend that the mile he gave them was in inch instead. "But only after you get ready for bed. That means PJ's, teeth," He looked to Buck, raising his brows to make sure he knew he was serious. "Meds."
Buck rolled his eyes and threw a mock salute. "Right away, Captain. You ready, Chris?"
He lifted the boy back onto his feet, wide palms wrapped around Christopher's waist until he was sure he was steady. The kid started making his slow, wobbly way to his bedroom as Buck got himself off the couch, watching the boy with a fond smile.
"I know that every parent thinks their kid is the greatest in the world but I really do think you have the very best."
Eddie nodded, reaching for the plate he left on the kitchen counter. "Believe me, I know."
He handed the plate over to a surprised Buck, receiving a raised eyebrow for the sandwich and pillbox resting on it. "What's this?"
Buck dropped the eyebrow and blinked at his friend, mild glare being returned with an idiot grin. "Yeah, I got that part Eds. Why are you giving me a sandwich and why are you giving me a pillbox? Where did you even get my meds from to fill it?"
Eddie leaned on the counter and picked up his half-finished beer, taking a sip as he gestured to the plate. "The sandwich is an attempt to bulk you back up and the box is so you don't forget a dose. Maddie helped me pick them up."
Buck mirrored Eddie's position against the counter and smiled, teasing. "You know when I said you had the greatest kid in the world I meant Christopher, right? Not me?"
Eddie rolled his eyes. "Just eat it, would you?"
Buck laughed and bit into his food, nudging his arm against Eddies as he chewed. "You know you don't have to worry about me, right?"
Eddie let out a non-committal grunt, completely unconvinced.
Eddie put his beer down and made his way to Christopher's room, pointing a finger back to Buck as he did. "Coming, Buddy! Finish that sandwich, Buckley."
Buck shook his head, feeling both coddled and so, so loved. He was used to taking care of himself but Eddie couldn't help but be a dad and it felt nice for someone to care so much that they took care of you without being asked or asking anything in return.
He dutifully ate his sandwich and had his meds before sneaking a pull from Eddie's beer.
"Hey." A sharp flick to his ear made Buck turn and laugh as Eddie snatched bottle back. "No, drinking on blood thinners, you moron."
He nodded towards the bathroom. "Anyway, Christopher wants his Buck to help him brush his teeth apparently."
Buck loved that title and he brushed his hands down to make quick work of getting to the kid's side. Eddie followed, hanging back in the doorway as he watched Buck let Christopher lean back against him to keep upright, teasing the boy as he tried to brush his teeth, giggling all the way through what should have been a mundane task.
He wasn't exactly sure how it happened, or when, but Buck was so firmly a part of their family that Eddie was sure he'd be in it forever. And not just the 118 family but the three of them, Eddie, Christopher and Buck.
He and Christopher hadn't been missing anything, they'd loved Christopher's mother, sure but they were enough, just the two of them. Buck wasn't a puzzle piece squished into an empty slot. He was extra. And Eddie was so grateful to Buck for growing their family and for loving Christopher that he didn't quite know how to say it. But he was determined to.
"Okay, I think they're all clean, let's get this last episode going, huh? Before your dad changes his mind."
Christopher was eager to follow the plan and squeezed Bucks hand tightly as he walked the kid down the hall to the couch. "I wanna watch the one about the frogs!"
Buck settled himself on the couch again and pulled Christopher up to sit next to him, cuddling him close to his side as he wiggles his fingers out motioning for Eddie to join them without even thinking.
Eddie accepted the open arm and sunk down into the couch next to Christopher, the kid sitting safely between his two favourite people. Bucks' arm settled on top of the couch, slung behind Eddie's neck.
The episode was interesting, though Christopher had watched it twice already, and Eddie barely concentrated as Bucks restless fingers scratched at the nape of Eddie's neck, eyes glued to the TV and probably not even realising what he was doing.
Christopher loved the frogs jumping over the screen so much he often pointed them out and named the species before the narrator had a chance, distracting Eddie enough to miss the point in which Buck fell asleep.
It wasn't until the episode had finished that he noticed, Bucks soft snores the only remaining noise in the room.
"Dad. I think Bucks ready for bed."
Eddie smiled at the sight of his best friend, dead asleep, head tipped back, cheek resting atop Christopher's head.
"Yeah, I think you're right. Let's get him tucked in and you into bed, okay?"
The boy nodded as carefully as he could before Eddie gently rolled Bucks head back, off his kid so that Christopher could get free. The firefighter let out a contented sigh as Eddie pulled his son from the couch and started to rearrange his friend.
Chris went to get a blanket as Eddie pulled at Buck's feet, lifting them on the couch and taking his boots off, laying him down with a pillow under his head. Chris dragged a blanket over the top of him and bent down to kiss Buck's forehead, whispering so as to not risk waking him. "Goodnight, Buck."
Eddie kept a hand on his sons back as he led him out, turning off the lights as they went. "Night, Buck."
Eddie jolted awake, habit immediately pulling his feet to his son's room before he could even remember getting out of bed, only to stop when he heard the shout again.
"Christopher! Where are you?!"
Buck. Eddie jolted forward, ready to rush to his friend's aid when he heard another cry, this time from Christopher's room. "Dad!"
He opened his door to find his son already sitting up and pushing his blankets away, his eyes panicked but awake. "Dad, Bucks having a bad dream!"
Eddie nodded, glad he didn't have two nightmares to contend with at once. "I know, kid. I'm gonna help him, you stay there."
He ran to the lounge, flicking the hallway light on before he got to Bucks side and gripped his shoulder. "Buck. Wake up."
His whole body was tensed up, hands fighting against the blanket and feet kicking at the end of the couch, chest heaving from the force of his gasping breaths.
"Christopher!" His terrified shout broke off into a sob, gasps becoming strained under the weight of it.
Eddie tried again, shaking him harder and raising his voice. "Buck! Wake up!"
The final call did it and Buck bolted upright, heaving in a breath, his hands flailing.
Eddie left him enough room to lash out if he wasn't all the way awake, voice low and calm. "Buck. You're okay, It was just a dream."
Tears dripped off Buck's chin as he pulled in ragged breaths, whole body trembling as he blinked through the dim room.
It didn't look like he knew where he was and Eddie ventured out a hand, gently rubbing his palm across Buck's chest like he did to Christopher when he got upset. "Hey, Evan. You with me?"
The rare use of his first name pulled Bucks attention and he finally caught sight of him, eyes widening in horror as he shook his head, hands reaching for Eddie and gripping his shirt, desperate. "Eddie? No, no, no. You weren't supposed to see me yet. I-I promise, I was going to tell you but I had to find him first and- Eddie."
He was scared, mind stuck back in the moment they'd reunited at the VA hospital. His head dipped down as he sobbed, hands weak against Eddie. "I can't find him. I tried, I promise. I didn't mean to. I had him, Eddie, I did but then the water-it just."
Eddie shook his head, wrapping a palm behind Bucks neck and dipping down to catch his eye. "Hey, no Buck, you did find him. He's safe and so are you. That's all over with now."
Buck shook his head, trembling so badly that Eddie swore he could hear his teeth chattering.
"You're here, at home and you're safe. Christopher is fine. You got him back, Buck. Do you remember? It's Thursday. You came over for dinner after work. Christopher insisted on cake and pasta."
Buck sniffled and blinked as he processed the information. Eddie took his hand back from Bucks chest to catch the tears across his jaw, wiping them away and brushing the backs of his fingers across the others cheeks to dry them.
"Come back, Buck. You're okay."
"Dad? Is Buck alright?"
Eddie turned to find a worried Christopher stumbling over to them and wrapped an arm around his waist as soon as he was close enough. "Yeah, buddy. How about you talk to him for a bit, okay? I think he'd like to hear your voice."
Buck was blinking at the two of them, breaths calming as Christopher climbed onto the couch and onto his lap, dropping against his chest, head on his shoulder and sighing.
"It's okay, Buck. I know bad dreams are scary."
He came back to the present once Christopher was in his arms, Eddie could see the change in his eyes and watched as Buck wrapped his arms around the boy, closing his eyes as he breathed in, face buried in Christopher's curls.
Eddie sank back to his haunches and sighed, finding Bucks eyes once he opened them and looked hesitantly upwards.
"You okay?" There were other questions he wanted to ask. Why have you been dealing with these on your own? Why didn't you tell me they were so bad?
But it was too much for three in the morning and he allowed Buck the time to simply breathe.
Buck nodded, hands rubbing slow lines up and down Christophers back as if he was the one that had woken up screaming. "I'm sorry for waking you."
Eddie shook his head and Christopher copied the motion, voice partially muffled by Bucks shirt. "Don't be sorry just be asleep."
He closed his eyes, fully intending to stay where he was for the rest of the night and Buck laughed, laying back as Eddie tucked them both in.
"You okay with him there?"
Buck nodded, sighing as his body calmed down from the crash of adrenaline, holding the kid as if he were the only thing keeping him warm.
"Kay. Let me know if you need anything, alright? Anything."
Eddie knew that Buck wouldn't want to talk about it so soon afterwards, or perhaps not at all but he needed to know that he could when he was ready. Buck couldn't meet his eyes, lifting a hand from Christopher to rub at his own.
There was nothing else to do, no more coddling to be done until morning so, even though it felt wrong Eddie left the two to sleep and went back to his own bed.
There was no repeat nightmare for the night but there was a very embarrassed Buck at breakfast. In fact, Eddie didn't have a chance to attempt a conversation about the nightmare or even offer some coffee before Buck was apologising again and excusing himself with a lie about getting to work early.
Eddie let out a defeated breath as Christopher turned to him, worried. "Dad?"
"I think Buck needs some help."
Eddie couldn't agree more. "I think you're right."
Buck felt terrible. For losing Christopher, for waking them up, for leaving them like that but he didn't know how to keep making up for his mistakes when he couldn't stop messing up in the first place.
Eddie had told him over and over that he wasn't at fault for what happened but he couldn't help but give some stock to that little voice inside him that said Eddie would eventually reach his limit for Bucks bullshit.
He didn't want to lose what he had but he didn't know how to make it better. It seemed like his presence only hurt, and it killed him inside to think that maybe the best, kindest thing he could do for the Diaz boys was to leave them alone.
"Evan, that's crazy. They love you, we all love you and that's never going to change."
Maddie wrapped an arm around her brother and squeezed, rubbing her hand over his shoulder blades. She wished he was still small enough to hold like she used to.
"I know that I just...I can't stop seeing it, Maddie. I had Christopher, I was keeping him safe. I distracted him from all the bodies floating past and-and-" His voice broke and he hated it but he couldn't stop the tears that choked him.
He shook his head and scrubbed at his eyes. "No, I should have kept a hold on him. If I hadn't lost him he wouldn't be having nightmares and he wouldn't be scared of the beach. It's my fault that he needs a therapist and that Eddie has to pay for it and-"
"Evan, stop. You know that you never would have forgiven yourself if you'd let those people die."
Buck sucked in a breath so ragged it hurt his chest, hand pressing to his eyes as his voice broke apart into pieces.
"I saved them, Maddie. But I didn't save Chris. I lost him. And I can't forgive myself for that. I can't."
Buck tried to avoid him but it was kind of difficult when you're on the same team and your best friend knows all of your moves. Eddie didn't waste any time in ambushing him at the station.
"Hey, no stop, Buck. I know you can hear me."
Buck froze, back turned to Eddie where he tried to turn away and retreat.
"I don't know why the hell you think I'd be mad at you but I'm not. So, can you come here, please? So, we can talk."
Buck took a deep breath and turned around, hesitant eyes finding a tired-looking Eddie waiting for him. He hadn't closed the distance between them, hadn't encroached upon Bucks space, just waited for him to make the choice.
"Maddie talked to you, didn't she?"
Eddie nodded and Buck shook his head, kneading his fingers into his temples.
He couldn't avoid him any longer. Didn't want to.
Buck made his way to Eddie, head down as Eddie pressed a gentle hand to his back, leading him to the couches upstairs.
Buck shook out his hands as he sat down, anxiety already rippling through him like a wave and-fuck, his mind wouldn't shut up.
Eddie sat down and did the head tilt again, concern pulling his hand towards Buck and taking it back again before he could touch him. "Hey, it's alright. Take a deep breath. You're still in control here. I'm not going to make you talk about anything you don't want to. But I want to understand."
Buck did as he was told, pulling in a deep breath and releasing it slowly as he forced his shoulders to relax. "Understand what?"
"What you saw. What you went through and why it's still scaring you. Maybe if I knew what you keep dreaming about I could help."
Buck shook his head, eyes refusing to meet Eddies. "Ed's-"
"Look, you refuse to go to a therapist and Maddie says you won't tell her about what happened so...Please, Buck. I can't see you suffer in silence anymore. And maybe if I knew what you and Cris went through I could help him too."
Buck finally met his gaze, his glare meeting a raised eyebrow, daring him to refuse. "Wow, using Chris against me? Really?"
Eddie shrugged, almost smug. "Yeah, well you aren't going to let me help for your sake are you? Come on, man. I need to know why you still feel so guilty about saving my son."
Buck lowered his eyes again and pulled his feet up, curling up into a ball at the end of the couch, feeling vulnerable and exposed as he tried to speak.
"What, uh, what do you want to know exactly?"
Eddie's shoulders lost a touch of their tension, relieved that he was allowed to help, finally.
"Tell me about your nightmare."
Buck took a moment to centre himself before speaking, his voice coming out emotionless as he tried to distance himself from what he was saying to keep from breaking down again.
"I just relived the moment that I lost Chris. We were on the ladder truck, I was distracting him from the...the bodies and debris that were floating by and I couldn't stop thinking about Chris being one of them. I didn't want to leave his side, I promised myself that I wouldn't. But then the water started to recede and people needed help."
His eyes were distant now, mind falling back into that moment when he knew he had to make that choice. Eddie felt cold, listening to it like he was the one that had been dunked in cold water.
"There were so many of them, crying out for help and swallowing water for it every time they were pushed under the waves and...I didn't want to leave him, Eddie. But I couldn't let them die."
His eyes found Eddies, pleading as if he even needed to ask him to understand. Eddie nodded, encouraging him on. "Its okay, you did the right thing, Buck. Keep going."
"So, I told one of the other people on the truck to watch Chris and I went to help, to do what I could. But the-the water. It was pushing against the truck and moving so fast that it...it shook and before I knew it...Chris was falling in."
His throat was closing up, choking him and he gripped the couch with both hands, squeezing to try and focus on anything but the ache in his chest. "Headfirst in the water, calling for me, begging me to help him and he was...he was just gone. I jumped in to try and go after him but the wave was too fast. I-I spent the rest of that day looking for him but it didn't matter where I went or how many other people I saw dead or hurt, I couldn't find him. And all I could think about was how scared he must have been."
Eddie closed his eyes and took a second to get rid of that image of his son, alone and in danger and of Buck, on his feet and hurt for ten hours before he finally collapsed once Christopher was found.
"Buck, your nightmare was so bad and when you woke up you were still confused, you didn't know where you were. Are they always like that?"
Buck rubbed a hand over his eyes, nodding. "Yeah, maybe a couple of times a night."
Eddie couldn't imagine how exhausted Buck was, not just from the lack of sleep but from having to relive the worst day of his life over and over.
"After a few days, I just stopped altogether."
Eddie was almost afraid to ask. "Stopped what?"
Shit. "Aw, Buck. And you've been dealing with this on your own?"
Buck looked chastised, shoulders curling up to his ears as he tried to explain himself.
"That's why I didn't want to leave you and Chris the other day. I didn't mean to fall asleep, I tried not to but then I was just so exhausted and I figured that being close to you guys would...I don't know. Help. I always wake up thinking he's still gone."
Eddie almost didn't know what to say. His friend had been going through all of that pain by himself. And he hadn't known.
Buck sniffed and brushed a tear from his cheek, feeling stupid as he pulled his hoodie sleeves up to cover his hands, balling them up into fists.
Eddie had so much pity in his eyes he was hard to look at but at the same time it was sort of nice that someone finally knew just how much he was hurting. And maybe Eddie could help.
"Buck...how do you usually snap yourself out of it?"
This time the man laughed, wrapping his arms around himself as he smiled. "Do you remember that voicemail you guys sent me a day after the tsunami?"
Eddie nodded. Chris had been begging to see his best friend and Buck hadn't been answering any calls so, Eddie had used his son's charm to break through. It had been a voicemail full of giggles and squeals from Chris and a few from Eddie himself as they tried to coax Buck into accepting some company.
"Hey, Buck! Dad said you've been sleeping but you have to get up now! You can come over and help Daddy make pancakes."
"Yeah, come on man, we'll get you nice and fat again."
Christophers laugh was like air to Buck and it always helped to settle him after his nightmares. "Bucks not fat! He's big and strong and he can carry me really high."
"He's not going to be strong for long if he doesn't start eating our pancakes again."
Buck smiled fondly, feeling safer just thinking about it. "It helps."
Eddie stood abruptly from the couch, Buck watching him in confusion. "Where are you going?"
Eddie grabbed his jacket and ran off, calling back over his shoulder. "Getting something that'll help you sleep!"
He paused just before he got to the door, skidding against the ground as he turned around. "Oh, and do me a favour and record something for Chris, okay?"
Buck had no idea what he was talking about but Christopher loved the idea.
"Okay, now give the heart a little kiss to fill the bear with lots of love! Shake it up high so he's always happy! Rub it on your muscles so he's big and strong!"
"Like Buck!" Christopher was so happy he was wiggling so much that Eddie had to hold on to him so he wouldn't fall down and he was just as excited. It would work. They'd make Buck feel safe again.
Christopher was so excited that he insisted on going to the firehouse right afterwards to give his present to Buck himself.
The firefighter ran to meet the kid, sprinting over and sweeping him up in his arms as Christopher laughed.
'Hey, there's my favourite kid! No offence to anyone else's."
Eddie came up behind them and touched a curled finger to Christopher's chin. "Tell him what we brought, buddy."
Buck put the boy down and knelt in front of him as Eddie handed him the box.
"You got me something? You didn't have to do that."
He held on to Chris's hips to keep him steady as the boy explained. "Daddy said that you have bad dreams like me so, we got something to help."
Eddie opened the box and let Christopher pull the bear out. It was soft and fluffy, smelt like strawberries and was adorned with glasses and little crutches that were attached to the arms.
Christopher held it out to him and Buck swore he damn near cried. "It's a Chrissy-bear. So, I can make you feel better after a bad dream."
Buck didn't know what to say. He took the bear and pressed his nose to its head as Christopher continued. "We out our voices in it."
He squeezed the bear and yep, Buck was crying. Christopher's voice was first, laughing already as he spoke. "I'm okay! You saved me! You d-don't have to be scared"
Eddies smiling voice joined in and Buck was sure he wouldn't be able to speak. "We love you, Buddy."
Christopher's voice returned, quiet and freaking adorable."I love you, Buck."
He could swear he could hear sniffles from the team gathered around and he was glad he wasn't the only baby bawling.
"Thank you, Chris. I love it."
Eddie pushed another box forward and Christopher pulled out another bear, this one dressed as a firefighter, a cape around his neck like a superhero.
"Daddy got me one too to make me feel better when I'm scared. It's my Bucky-bear."
Buck looked to Eddie. "Is that why you wanted me to record a message?"
He nodded and Buck turned back ti the kid in front of him, the one that he loved more than he ever thought possible. "My voice helps make you feel safe?"
"Yeah. Like when you saved me."
Buck couldn't believe how lucky he'd gotten getting to have such amazing, incredible people in his life.
He wrapped his arms around the kid, tears wetting Christopher's neck as Buck held him.
"I love you, kid."
It was such a sweet gesture and yes, Buck was an adult and probably too old for stuffed toys but he wouldn't consider giving up his Chrissy-bear for anything. He loved it and he found that it really did help.
Eddie was glad to see that Bucky-Bear was helping too, waking up in the middle of the night to Christophers screaming, only to get to his door and find that he needn't interfere at all.
Through the crack in the door as Eddie held it an inch open, he could see Christopher hug his bear tight, listening to the recorded message that Buck had made him.
"I love you so much, Christopher. Everything's going to be okay. I'm here."
He watched as his son sighed, mumble barely audible it was so quiet. "Just keep swimming."
He rolled over and went back to sleep, safe and sound.
He'd be okay and Eddie found a message from Maddie in the morning letting him know that Buck would be too.
It was a picture of their favourite blonde, dead asleep, his Chrissy-bear squashed against his chest, arms holding it tight while one hand gripped its ear, Maddie's message texted below.
Full nights sleep. Finally. Thanks to you for loving my brother.
And he did. He really did.