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cigarettes and outer space

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They meet for the first time over the phone, after she stands in the middle of the floor at dispatch and yells into her headset at the dumbass criminals on the other end of the line. Abby pretends to offer them a safe escape in exchange for their willingness to leave the little girl unharmed. They believe her, Athena and Buck take over, and all Abby can hear for the next few heart-stopping minutes is screaming and scuffling. Next, there are gunshots and the sound of rushing water before everything goes quiet. Frustrated at her helplessness and worried about the little girl, Abby calls Buck’s name until he answers, demanding to know the outcome of the situation. He obliges, letting her know all is well and holding her solely responsible for saving the little girl’s life. She doesn’t play it off the way she knows some of her coworkers would. She doesn’t bother with false modesty because well, damn straight.

He’s the only one in her years on the job to acknowledge that she plays just as big a part in saving lives everyday as they do. The first responders on the scene, the ones that show up on the truck with the sirens and lights and uniforms and gear, they do the heavy lifting. Abby’s stuck on the phone, miles away in front of her computer screens. She’s dependent on other people to fill her in on the action, but if it weren’t for dispatchers like her, they’d never get there in the first place. She can tell from the sincerity in his voice that he means it, that he’s not just blowing smoke up her ass for the sake of propriety. It’s not much, but its validation and appreciation at a time in her life when she sorely needs it.

Abby recognizes his name when he shows up on the local news a few nights later. He’s being interviewed about an accident with a roller coaster, about the death of a man he was in the middle of trying to save. Abby’s captivated by the TV screen for a few moments before she has to go tend to her mom. Buck is young, so young, new to the job and so green that he’s never lost anyone before. She knows that feeling. Horror and bewilderment and failure all mixed into one, only she’s never had to watch it unfold before her eyes. In her case, there’s screaming or struggling or gunshots. There’s labored breathing or pleading for life. Then the line goes dead and all she hears is the excruciating finality of goddamn fucking dial tone.

The reporter shoves a microphone in his face, hails him as a hero. His pained expression tells Abby what she already knew. He doesn’t feel like a hero. He feels responsible for the man’s death. She knows what that’s like too, has had those times where she thinks if only she’d figured out the exact location sooner, deescalated a situation faster, given instructions more clearly. If only she’d been better, everything would have turned out okay.

She wants to reach through the screen and hug him, but eventually settles for a phone call. The calls continue and they mostly bond over the job. They provide support, give advice, and share their hard-won wisdom. Sometimes they banter and flirt. It’s cathartic and it’s fun. It’s nothing serious.

Abby’s fine with him being just a boy toy. Buck is little more than half her age and just as cocky as he is gorgeous. The most she really hopes for out of this is good sex, at least at first. Luckily for her, that’s exactly what she gets. When Matt laughingly calls her a cougar, she socks him in the shoulder and rolls her eyes. It is a bit of an ego boost, though, knowing that she turns Buck on every bit as much as he does her.

When he treats her mom like a person instead of a burden, Abby finds out that he’s just as kind and compassionate as he is muscly. He plans elaborate romantic dates that she usually has to cancel, and he takes it as well as a person can. From then on, he aims their dates a bit closer to earth. Still, she has reservations about making it serious, feeling guilty about stealing his youth while she sits dutifully by her mom’s bedside. She tries to let him off the hook and he surprises her instead, swearing that he’s in for the long haul.

She’ll never tell Matt that she calls Buck first when their mom dies. She doesn’t even say anything, just sobs into her cellphone while he talks to her soothingly, trying to calm her down. He keeps her on speaker up until she’s wrapped in his arms. He rubs her back and lets her soak his shoulder in tears. He’s warm and solid and patient and just so very, very there. For the first time in a long, long while, she feels like maybe she’s found her home.

She’s lost without her mom to care for, but life is also full of possibility again. She realizes that she’s lost herself. She doesn’t know who she is or what she wants. Abby knows she has to go to Ireland, though. For herself and for her mom and for the little girl inside of her who is still determined to travel the world. If she doesn’t, she’ll resent her choices and herself and Buck, and she doesn’t want that. She tries (though not very hard, if she’s honest with herself) to convince him to go be young while he still can, that she doesn’t know how long she’ll be gone and she doesn’t expect him to wait for her. He won’t listen because he’s Buck and because he’s stubborn as hell.

Abs, he tries to say urgently, I lo-

She puts a finger to his lips. She can’t let him say it, not right then and not in the airport, because if he does, she’ll break and she won’t ever get on the plane.

Me too, she whispers instead.

Two months later he’s waiting for her at the gate when she lands, just as he promised. This time, she lets him say it.

He keeps stealing glances at her even after she’s been back a few days, and she pretends not to notice until they’re in the middle of breakfast one morning and she catches him while he’s pretending to scroll through his phone. Now you’re just being a creeper, she accuses. He plays it cool, raising one eyebrow at her and replying, I’m not the one that pulled your personal cell number out of my dispatch logs.

She develops the habit of running her fingers over his tattoos when they lay together in bed at night. He teases that if she’s so fascinated, she ought to get one of her own. Abby dismisses the idea at first, but gradually grows more comfortable with it. She throws a dishtowel in Buck’s face when he suggests that she get a tramp stamp: his name in script decorated with flowers and leaves. She retorts that he should get her portrait on one of his biceps first.

They decide on matching old school telephone receivers. Buck adds his to his forearm, near the bend in his elbow. Abby gets hers on her abdomen just beside her hipbone. The pain makes her gasp, but she surprisingly finds it kind of erotic. Her reaction must have showed while on the table because Buck barely makes it into the elevator afterward before he presses her into the wall and grabs a handful of her ass. Jesus, Abs he damn near growls into her ear, everyone in that whole place wanted you. She can feel him harden against her and decides to torture him just a little more. She forces her voice into faux innocence. Even the women? His chin is on her shoulder, his nose in her hair. His hand ventures forward and he has his own revenge when she releases a breathy sigh. Yeah, he says, even them.

Her tattoo is sore, so once back at their apartment, they improvise. Buck lets Abby shove him up against the fridge and kiss him so forcefully she thinks their lips might bruise. Her nimble fingers make quick work of his belt and she sinks to her knees in front of him, dragging his jeans and boxers with her as she goes. He’s fully erect and she teasingly strokes him a few times, base to tip and around the head. Abby, he moans before she hears his head fall back against the fridge door, fuck. She smirks to herself and then takes him in her mouth, further and further, and it’s not long before he comes. She swallows and licks him clean, and when she’s done, she sits back on her heels and gives him her best Cheshire cat grin. Buck reaches for her hand and pulls her up against him, kissing her fiercely. You’re amazing, he tells her reverently. She’s having trouble focusing on much beside her own throbbing need, and lucky for her, he’s all about reciprocation. Within minutes, she’s spread underneath him on their bed, the stubble on his cheek rough against the inside of her thigh. He lavishes attention on her clit with his tongue and she’s so wet and ready that when he finally slides his fingers inside her, she comes almost immediately. Spent, they lie together on the bed, Buck’s fingers slowly tracing a delicate line up and down Abby’s stomach. She laughs when he asks her so when’s your next tattoo?

A few years later they finally spring for actual rings. The plain bands match, and they each have the inside of the other’s ring engraved with a short message that they never share with anyone else. There’s no ceremony, no legally binding documentation, and Abby doesn’t even remember to wear hers half the time. Buck teases her about commitment and tradition long enough that she finally buys a thin silver chain and starts wearing her ring around her neck.

Close to my heart, she says when she shows him. He grins and gently lifts it, pressing a kiss to the spot on her bare chest where it hangs against her skin. His ring stays on his finger for only a few more days before he follows her lead.

Months after, she’s making herself a cup of coffee while at work one night. Her cellphone buzzes insistently and her stomach drops into her shoes when Bobby’s name lights up the screen. She hurriedly tucks herself into a small corner of the break room area behind the fridge and manages to answer right before her voicemail picks up.

Captain Nash, she hears herself say tentatively.

Abby, he says sympathetically. He takes a deep breath. There’s been an accident.

Buck’s unconscious when she gets to the hospital, and they still aren’t certain of the extent of his injuries. There are mentions of smoke inhalation, soft tissue damage, risk of infection. They think he might have hit his head, but there’s no sign of a concussion. He’s burned badly across one of his legs, she finds out, where he was pinned under heavy debris. Third degree, and there will be grafts and surgeries in his future. She doesn’t care about any of that right now, though, she only cares that he opens his eyes.

Abby doesn’t know who pulls the strings, but nobody ever comes to kick her out of his room. Bobby sits with her first, then Hen and Chim and Athena in shifts. She stays for 24 hours, then 36. She’s closing in on 48 when all of them band together and insist she at least go home and shower, change clothes, eat something and take a long nap. She only agrees to leave when Bobby promises not to leave Buck’s side and to call her the second anything changes. His own stipulation is that she let Athena accompany her home. She’s too tired and emotionally wrung out to argue. Athena ends up being exactly what she needs, providing a ready source of strong and silent support. She doesn’t judge when Abby breaks down in her car. A mother first and cop second, she pulls over and gathers Abby into her arms and lets her cry. Your cowboy won’t let some little fire take him out, she says confidently. You’ll see.

Athena gently and unobtrusively makes sure Abby is fed, showered and rested. She’s there when Abby wakes up hours later, ready to go back to the hospital. Nothing has changed when they return, but the mood is different. Abby can feel the worry, hear the whispers. She chases everyone out, wanting to be alone with him. She talks to him like he can hear her, tells him a few dumb jokes, and at one point, scrolls through her phone and addresses the news headlines. It’s late on the fourth day when she slides her chair up close to his bed and whispers into his ear, pleading with him to wake up. When there’s still no response, she lays her head on his chest and falls asleep to the steady beat of his heart.  

The next morning she wakes up to a familiar hand around her wrist and her favorite pair of sky blue eyes staring down at her worriedly. Abs, he says softly. She swears to herself that her name has never sounded more beautiful.

Oh, she breathes, oh. She has no other words when she very gently hugs him amidst all of his wires and IV lines except for you scared the hell out of me.

The next few days are a flurry of medical jargon and visits from a never-ending stream of friends and coworkers wishing him well.  Athena finds a quick minute to joke I told you so, and for the first time in over a week, Abby laughs. She throws her arms around the other woman and squeezes hard, taking her by surprise. Thank you, she says gratefully, for everything. Athena pulls back and smiles, her hands on Abby’s shoulders. She winks. You bet.

He’s the same old Buck, for the most part. He’s determined to do whatever he can to heal as fast as possible, to get back out there on the job. He’s even positive about the damage to his leg, expressing relief he’s not going to lose it. Something is off, though, she thinks. He keeps eyeing her as if he’s trying to decide something. Finally, in a rare stolen moment of privacy, she finds out what it is. He digs his ring out from under his hospital gown, still on its silver chain. They’d taken it off of him when he was admitted into the hospital, and it was the first thing he asked for upon waking up again. He reaches for her neck and she places a hand on his, helping him fish hers out from under her shirt.

I thought I was gonna die, he tells her emotionally, and all I wanted was to ask you. What do you say we finally make this official?

She grins, then leans forward and kisses him deeply, pulling him toward her and knotting her fist in his hospital gown.

His eyes sparkle impishly afterward. So you’ll think about it, then?