They’re ten hours into a twenty-four hour shift and Eddie is sitting at the kitchen table, playing cards with Hen. Buck has long since graduated from breakfast food, so he’s helping Bobby cook dinner while Chimney hovers and tries to steal bites of stir fry. It’s been a slow day, only receiving a handful of relatively minor calls, so everyone is in good spirits.
Not for the first time, Eddie hears a solid wack! sound through the air as Chimney makes his move and earns himself a smack with the wooden spoon for his efforts. “What is wrong with you?” Buck asks, making a face as he tosses the spoon in the sink and grabs a clean one. “That chicken isn’t cooked enough. You’re going to get sick.”
“I have survived a piece of rebar through the skull and a coma and being stabbed,” Chimney counters. He steps forward like he’s going to try it again, but he side steps at the last minute and grabs a sliced carrot from the pile on Bobby’s cutting board instead when Buck brandishes the new spoon at him. He pops it in his mouth, says, “One little piece of slightly undercooked chicken is not going to be my downfall.”
“That is the dumbest logic. Why don’t you just start eating it raw since you’re so–”
“That is not the same–”
“Kids,” Bobby interrupts dryly, not looking up from the green pepper he’s cutting into thin strips. “Enough with the bickering, please?”
That works for all of five minutes until Chimney apparently commits some other kitchen offense Eddie doesn’t see and they’re off once again. For all Buck couldn’t make eggs several years ago, regular cooking lessons and being laid up for months watching the Food Network has left him nearly dogmatic in the kitchen. Instead of intervening, Bobby sighs and lets it run its course.
It’s all very loud and chaotic and – nice. After the particular hell the last year has been with Shannon dying and Buck almost dying and the tsunami and the street fighting, the sense of normalcy is welcomed. He’s missed the ease he experienced his first year with the team, nothing but good-natured bickering and comfort and a sense of belonging not even the army gave him.
“I have literally never met someone so bad at this game before,” Hen says after she wins for the fourth time in a row. Or maybe the fifth. It’s all started blurring together at this point.
Eddie shrugs, leaning back in his chair and stretching. “Gin’s not my thing.”
“What is your thing?”
“Lately? Mostly Go Fish.”
“And he sucks at that too,” Buck calls out, his momentary distraction the window Chimney needs to finally be able to snag a piece of chicken from the pan. Bobby smiles down at the cutting board, but Buck doesn’t seem to notice. “Christopher always beats him.”
“That’s because my kid is a genius,” he says, unable to keep the proud grin from breaking out on his face. “And last time I checked, he always beats you too.”
He and Hen play a few more rounds, all of which he loses, before dinner is ready. There’s this brief moment once they’ve all fixed their plates that they pause, waiting for the alarm to sound. Eddie never gave it much thought how often their meals get interrupted before they even start until Chimney had busted out like, a full spreadsheet with months of data and declared they were cursed.
After a second of bated breaths, the alarm doesn’t sound and they dig in. Even still, a leisurely pace is not a luxury they have at a fire station, so it takes less than twenty minutes before they’ve all finished. They’re just clearing the last of the plates off the table and are starting to work on the dishes when Buck’s phone rings, and he pulls it out of his pocket with a frown.
“Maddie?” Chimney asks, raising an eyebrow. “I thought she was working today.”
“No, I don’t recognize the number.”
“Telemarketer?” Hen offers.
“I love how you all assume the only options are Maddie and a sales call,” Buck says, glancing up from the screen long enough to shoot them a dirty look. “I have friends, you know.”
“Yeah, and they’re all in this room,” Eddie says as he starts to load the dishwasher.
“Buck, just answer it,” Bobby says, looking exasperated.
He makes a face, but he does answer it, moving off to the side of the room near the stairs so they can’t eavesdrop. Even still, they all pause what they’re doing and watch as he speaks with whoever is on the line. The conversation lasts only a couple of minutes before Buck is hanging up and heading back their way, looking slightly bewildered.
“So what’s the verdict?” Eddie asks, leaning back against the counter.
“Do you guys remember a guy named Max Carraway?” Buck asks. At their blank looks, he adds, “The surfer from a couple weeks back?”
Right. Two surfers had collided and one of them had been knocked out when the other’s board popped up from the water and hit him in the side of the head. The other surfer had gotten him out of the water within seconds and he was already regaining consciousness by the time they arrived, but he had a nasty cut on his temple that required a hospital visit for stitches. All in all, not one of their more memorable calls.
“Anyway,” Buck continues. “That was him. He wants to buy me a drink as thanks apparently?”
“How do these people keep getting your number?” Hen asks at the same time Chimney throws his hands up in the air and says, incredulously, “Seriously? You didn’t even do anything. I’m the one he bled all over.”
“Yeah, but my beautiful face was the first thing he saw when he regained consciousness,” Buck says, jumping to the left when Chimney promptly throws a wadded up dish towel at his head.
“This isn’t going to be another Ali situation, is it?” Eddie asks, mock solemnly. “Because you were so heartbroken last time.”
“First of all,” Buck says, rolling his eyes, “I wasn’t heartbroken. And second of all, he’s just being nice.”
“You guys want to come in here and help me?” Bobby asks from the sink where he’s elbow deep in soap suds. “We can talk about Buck’s date later.”
After the initial ribbing, they all more or less forget about the entire conversation. You save a person’s life, they tend to be appreciative. Sometimes that appreciation comes in the form of a letter, sometimes in the form of a stop by the fire station to personally thank them. Occasionally in the form of baked goods, though Eddie doesn’t partake in those anymore. One trip was more than enough. So while it is a little strange that Buck has twice been called on his personal line by someone he’s helped save, it’s not so out there that Eddie spends any real time thinking about it.
He works one more shift that week that ends up being much more intense than the first one when there’s a ten car pile up on the freeway and an office building fire within hours of each other. By some miracle there’s only minor injuries at both scenes, cuts and bruises and burns that will only take a couple of weeks to heal, but Eddie is still exhausted when the day is finally over. He spends his following two days off alternating between relaxing, spending time with Christopher and doing some repair work at his abuela’s house he’s been meaning to get around to for weeks.
All in all, he’s feeling refreshed and ready to tackle whatever comes their way when he makes his way into the fire station for his shift on Monday morning. He’s the last one in, everyone else already upstairs in the kitchen, so he drops off his stuff and changes before he joins them. In a turn of events, Bobby is sitting at the table with Hen while Buck makes breakfast on his own. Well, not entirely on his own. In an even more puzzling turn of events, Chimney is by his side listening with a serious expression on his face while Buck talks him through flipping an omelette.
Twenty minutes later, they’re digging into a spread of bacon and toast and omelettes that are slightly wonky looking but taste perfectly fine. Bobby looks it all over with a face that Eddie is sure is reminiscent of the one he made when Christopher finally poured his first bowl of cereal without half of it going onto the table in the process – slightly stunned but also incredibly, ridiculously proud.
Halfway through breakfast, Chimney suddenly says, “Oh!” as he pauses with a strip of bacon halfway to his mouth and turns to Buck. “Did you end up going on your date this weekend?”
There’s a general hum of interest as everyone remembers that was this weekend and Eddie is ready to start teasing him along with everyone else, but Buck looks – shifty, is the only way Eddie can think to describe it. He doesn’t stop eating, but his shoulders start slowly creeping upwards toward his ears and he keeps his eyes firmly on his plate. He finishes chewing his eggs with painstaking concentration and swallows before saying, “Yeah, on Saturday night.”
Eddie isn’t the only one who’s picked up on the suddenly weird, uncomfortable mood if the looks everyone exchanges is any indication. For all they teased him about it last week, he didn't seem to really care all that much. There was a lot of sighing in exasperation and rolling his eyes, but no real irritation. Buck’s not the kind of person to get upset about something like that, so his shift in demeanor is notable to say the least.
There’s a handful of seconds where everyone is awkwardly silent as they look at each and at the top of Buck’s hunched head and then back at each other trying to figure out what to say. It’s Hen who finally breaks it, asking, “Was it…” in an uncertain tone before she falters.
“Fun?” Eddie offers, at a loss.
“Uhuh,” he says to his plate, spearing another piece of omelette. “He actually asked me to get drinks again this coming up weekend.”
“Is this turning into some kind of stalker situation?” Bobby asks, voice light but starting to look a little concerned. “Should I call Athena?”
“What? No, nothing like that,” Buck says, finally looking up. He seems taken aback at Bobby’s question, which should be a relief, but he’s growing tenser by the second and it’s starting to make Eddie genuinely worry about what’s going on. “It was fine. He was fine.”
“So why does it look like you’re having a competition with the countertop to see who has the least give?” Chimney asks and promptly jerks when Hen presumably kicks him under the table.
“I just – well. I think this is maybe an Ali situation after all,” he says, turning his attention back to his food. He’s not eating the eggs so much as he’s demolishing them into mush with his fork at this point. His tone of voice is casual, but Chimney’s observation was an apt one. Every inch of Buck’s body language is screaming I’m uncomfortable!
“Meaning?” Eddie drawls and resists the urge to throw something at Buck’s face just so he’ll tell them what the hell is going on instead of making them drag it out of him.
“Meaning drinks is code for a date. He asked me out on a date.”
Which – okay, Eddie is even more confused now. It’s hardly the first time Buck has been asked out by a man. Hell, in the years Eddie has worked with him, he’s lost count of how many times he’s seen a man ask Buck out and Buck always reacts the same way he does as when a woman asks him out – he turns vaguely red and he laughs awkwardly and he lets them down gently. Classic Buck 2.0. Whatever this is, it’s something else.
“So did he not take it well or…” Hen trails off and if Eddie wasn’t so completely unsure of what’s happening right now, he’d be laughing at the slow and measured way they’re all speaking to each other when usually it’s a lot of yelling and interrupting and chaos. “When you let him down, I mean.”
“I didn’t. Let him down.”
Another brief pause ensues as the implication of that sinks in and once again they all exchange looks. Somewhere during their silent screaming match of “You say something!” and “What do I say?” and “Anything, Jesus!” Buck looks up and glances around the table at them. He’s still tense as hell, but there’s something like defiance on his face, like he’s saying, “Here’s a part of myself. Can you guys accept it?”
Chimney is the first to speak. "Jeez Buckaroo," he says, huffing out a laugh. “All this drama for one little date? You had us genuinely in fear for your life here.”
His teasing tone breaks through the unbearably awkward mood and they all start laughing, but Buck in particular seems to just melt into his seat as the remaining rigidity bleeds out of him. He looks embarrassed, but also completely, overwhelmingly relieved.
“Well,” Bobby says once they've all settled down. “Why don’t you tell us about this guy. Max, right?”
And in the chaos of questions and yelling and teasing that commences, Buck meets his eyes from across the table. His shoulders are still a little hunched, face a little unsure, so Eddie quirks his lips up at him like he’s answering, “Yes. Always yes.”
“So is this going to be a problem?”
Eddie nearly jumps out of his skin, whirling around to see Buck leaning against the wall at the entrance of the locker room with his arms crossed over his chest. They'd gotten back from a relatively minor call about twenty minutes ago involving a car accident, but the little girl he'd pulled from the back seat had been so scared that she had promptly vomited all over him. His jacket hadn't been fully zipped, so he'd headed to the locker room for a shower and change of clothes as soon as they returned.
“Jesus, Buck,” Eddie says, pressing a hand to his heart and sagging back again the row of lockers. “You scared the hell out of me.”
Eddie rubs a hand down his face as his heart dislodges itself from his throat and slowly makes its way back down into his chest cavity. Only once it’s resumed its usual pace does he fully process what Buck had said. “Wait, what?” he asks. “Is what going to be a problem?”
“You know,” Buck says with a shrug, gesturing around the room like that’s supposed to mean something to Eddie. “About this morning. Because you seemed fine at first, but you – I don’t know. You’ve been weird all day.”
Eddie immediately feels like the world’s biggest asshole. Buck’s stance is aiming for casual, but he’s practically vibrating with tension and his crossed arms look more like he’s hugging himself. “Hey, no, Buck,” he says, taking a step forward with his hands raised up in a conciliatory manner. “It just caught me by surprise.”
“Because if you’re not–”
Eddie doesn’t want to actually hear the end of that sentence, so he waves Buck off and takes those last few steps around the bench and toward him. By the time Eddie reaches him, he’s straightened up off the wall and shoved his hands into his pockets. He puts a hand on Buck’s shoulder just like he did all those months ago in his apartment after the tsunami, trying to catch his eye until Buck finally lets him. “Listen to me. I don’t care that you’re…” he trails off as he realizes that never actually came up earlier.
“That you’re bi,” he finishes. “Seriously. You’re right, I was weird today, but it’s not–” he cuts himself off, trying to put into words this strange feeling he’s had all day. “It’s because you’re my best friend and I thought after all this time I knew everything there was to know about you, but it turns out there was this like, fundamental thing I didn’t know about you and it threw me off guard. I know that’s stupid and selfish, but that’s all it is. I swear.”
“Sorry I didn’t tell you,” Buck says sheepishly and reaches a hand up to rub at the back of his neck. “Everyone assumed and it was just easier to let them, I guess. And then there was Abby and Ali and it never seemed like the right time.”
“Hey, you’re the only one that gets to decide when it’s the right time,” Eddie says, giving his shoulder a shake. “You don’t owe us every detail of your personal life, so don’t be sorry. And I’m sorry if I’ve ever done anything to make you feel like you couldn’t be honest.”
“Nah, it was nothing like that,” Buck says with a shrug. “But you never know. You are this like, macho military type after all.”
“Macho – are you kidding me?” Eddie asks, voice going up an octave with exasperation. His hand drops from Buck’s shoulder as he takes a step back in disbelief. “Do you remember my first few days here? Who spent them literally and metaphorically puffing his chest out? It wasn’t me.”
“I was not–”
“You were flexing left and right like–”
“I’m not listening to this slander anymore,” Buck says over him, but Eddie catches the smile on his face just before he turns and walks out of the room.
Months go by and Eddie is starting to seriously question the honesty of his conversation with Buck in the locker room.
The 118 met Max about a month into them dating. He, Buck and Chimney were walking into the locker room fifteen minutes before their shift started when someone called out, “Hey, Buck!” They’d all turned to see a tall, tawny haired twenty something year old guy hesitating just inside the doorway, holding up a cell phone. “You left this in my car.”
“Wait a second,” Chimney said, looking delighted. “I know you. Get in here. I’ve got so many questions.”
So Max got roped into staying for breakfast and while he was obviously a little intimidated at first, he stood his own against the endless questions about how he was recovering from his accident (“Brain cells are still firmly intact.”), why he reached out to Buck instead of Chimney (“Aren’t you dating his sister?”) and what he does (“Currently losing the will to live as a doctoral student at UCLA.”). Buck looked more and more embarrassed the longer the interrogation went on, but he also kept shooting Max these little disbelieving but pleased looks every time he complimented Bobby’s cooking or made Hen laugh or joked with Chimney. It was like he was passing a test Buck hadn’t even been aware he was giving.
“I like him,” Bobby said shortly after Max had left to go to class and Buck practically beamed he looked so happy. “He seems good for you.”
Suddenly Max was around all the time. He was picking up or dropping off Buck at the station, always coming in to say hey to everyone if he didn’t have a class he had to rush off too. He was at Bobby and Athena’s for a dinner party, he was helping Chimney and Maddie move into a bigger apartment, he was thoroughly charming Karen at Denny’s birthday party. He was at Buck’s place when Eddie stopped by unannounced on their day off because Christopher wanted to see him. Max was everywhere, all the time, and he was always touching. His shoulder pressed along Buck’s, placing a hand on his lower back, their ankles locked under a table. It never seemed possessive or overbearing exactly – the gestures seemed almost absentminded, like it was second nature at that point to be touching. Buck had no complaints if the blushing and dopey smiles were anything to go by.
Eddie hates him.
He can’t pinpoint exactly what it is he dislikes about him. Strictly speaking, there is nothing wrong with Max. He’s smart and he’s charismatic and he treats Buck well. He teases him just as much as they do, but he’s also the first to defend Buck when the teasing goes a little too far – when Chimney takes a shot at his intelligence (“Actually, he’s probably smarter than half the people in my program.”) or when Hen jokes about Buck’s old ways (“Who doesn’t have a 1.0 version?”). The team likes him and Maddie likes him and most importantly, Buck likes him. Eddie wasn’t around for Abby, but he was for Ali and Ali never made Buck light up the way Max does.
Eddie just – cannot stand him. He’s doing his best to suck it up and plaster a smile on his face, but one month turns into two and two turns into three and people are starting to notice. Not Buck, thank god, but the rest of the team. Bobby is the first to say something when they’re side by side at the sink washing dishes after dinner. Hen and Chimney are sitting on the couch playing video games, but Buck had disappeared shortly after dinner with Max in tow to show him something in one of the ladder trucks.
Eddie is focusing very hard on the pan he’s cleaning instead of what that might be code for when Bobby finally speaks up. “Not a fan of Max, huh.” It sounds less like a question and more like a statement of fact, voice pitched low so it doesn’t carry.
He looks up sharply, pan nearly slipping out of his soapy hands. “Why do you think that?” he asks, a little too quickly to pass for casual.
Bobby raises an eyebrow. “You didn’t answer the question.”
“Neither did you.”
They stare each other down for a handful of seconds before Eddie finally breaks. “It’s not that I don’t like him,” Eddie says, which is blatantly untrue and they both know it. “He’s just – around a lot, you know?”
“He seems to make Buck happy,” Bobby points out.
“Yeah, he does.” He shrugs and plasters on a self-deprecating smile, more than willing to play the part of the petty, jealous best friend if that’s what it takes to make this conversation end. “Guess I’m just not great with sharing.”
Bobby doesn’t look convinced, but he does drop it.
Chimney is next, during a dinner party at Bobby and Athena’s about a week later. Everyone else is outside scattered at the tables and around the grill, but Eddie had excused himself to go to the bathroom a couple of minutes ago and just – hadn’t come back out yet. He’s just pulled a beer from the fridge and is removing the cap when Chimney slides the glass door open and slips inside.
“Got a little sharp out there with Max earlier,” Chimney says after a brief pause.
Eddie takes a pull from the beer before saying, “Did I?” Both to obfuscate and because he’s genuinely not sure. He tries to block out the majority of their conversations as soon as they’re over. He doesn’t even remember what they were talking about earlier – traffic maybe?
“Uhuh.” Chimney narrows his eyes. “Eddie, I gotta ask. Does this have anything to do with Max being a guy? Because if it is–”
“Of course not,” he interrupts, voice hard. But if he’s being honest with himself, even he’s starting to wonder. He meant what he said when he told Buck he didn’t care about him liking guys, but now that Buck is actually with one Eddie isn’t so sure. He hadn’t exactly been a huge fan of Taylor Kelly or Ali either, but he didn’t dislike them the way he dislikes Max. Maybe this is some latent homophobia rearing its ugly head and Buck was actually right all those months ago when he joked about Eddie being some macho military guy who can’t handle his best friend not being straight. Eddie doesn’t want to think that’s what’s going on here, but he seems to be the only one who has a problem with Max.
“Look, man,” Chimney says, shaking his head. “Whatever is going on with you, you need to get it together before you put Buck in a position where he feels like he has to choose. That won’t end well for anyone. Now stop lurking in the kitchen and get out there before people start wondering if you fell in.”
Hen doesn’t say anything outright, but she clearly notices something. Every time Max is around Eddie feels her eyes on him like he’s a particularly difficult math problem she wants to solve. He sincerely hopes she lets him know when she figures it out.
“Hey, do you want to come with me and Christopher to the zoo on Saturday?”
It’s a Thursday night and he and Buck are cleaning up from dinner while Christopher sits in Buck’s living room watching TV. It’s something they’ve done dozens of times before, but less recently as of late. Not that Buck hasn’t invited them – it’s just that Max also tends to be there and while Christopher hadn’t seemed to mind, Eddie had. So this is the first time in weeks that it’s just been the three of them. Just like old times.
“Max and I are actually going to be in San Francisco,” he says, shooting Eddie an apologetic look. “There’s a concert we want to see, so we’re staying the weekend. Maybe the weekend after that?”
“Yeah, of course,” Eddie says, trying to keep his face perfectly blank. “No problem.”
Eddie is very careful to keep his suddenly sour mood under wraps, not wanting either Christopher or Buck to pick up on it and start asking questions, but it’s hard when he looks around the apartment and sees traces of Max everywhere. An unfamiliar laptop, a UCLA sweatshirt, an extra toothbrush in the bathroom, a DVD case for a movie he knows Buck doesn’t like. He’s just everywhere, all the time, and the longer it goes on the more Eddie worries this is turning into something way more serious than he initially thought.
He ends up taking Christopher to the zoo on Saturday anyway, not because he’s being spiteful, but because he had already mentioned it to Christopher a couple of days beforehand and he doesn’t want to disappoint him. He is a little disappointed anyway when he finds out Buck won’t be joining them, but he bounces back quickly enough – Eddie buys them tickets to feed the giraffes and Christopher nearly vibrates out of his skin with excitement when he finds out.
All in all, it’s a good day. They feed the giraffes and they take a guided tour through the botanical gardens and they hold a snake. After lunch at the cafe, Eddie hikes Christopher up on his back and they walk through the remaining exhibits, stopping occasionally to read the informational plaques and take pictures. It’s somewhere between watching his son scream in delight as a giraffe’s huge tongue snatches a bundle of acacia leaves from his hand and staring at a cactus that’s bigger than both of them combined that the awful, twisted mass in his chest caused by Buck’s absence fades away.
His light, happy mood lasts until later that night when his abuela brings it up while they’re on the back porch watching Christopher play after dinner. Eddie had caved at the gift shop, buying Christopher the stuffed giraffe in addition to the crystal growing kit, and he’s currently getting it covered in dirt as he drags it around the yard. “I thought Buck was supposed to join you two today,” she comments.
He takes a sip from the bottle of Mexican Coke she always seems to have in her fridge before saying, “He went out of town with his boyfriend.” He tries his best to keep his tone neutral, but some of the bitterness seeps into his voice anyway.
“Edmundo, jealousy is not a good look on you,” she admonishes.
“Yes, you are,” she says, giving him a pointed look. It’s the one she gives him whenever she thinks he’s being particularly dense about something, like when he told her at thirteen it’d be fine if he waited to study for his algebra test on the way to school or when he told her at twenty-three he and Shannon were going to be together forever, so they might as well get married now before the baby comes. “You can lie to him and you can lie to yourself, but you can’t lie to me. You’ve come to rely on him not as a friend, but as a partner. This was bound to happen.”
“Abuela,” he protests weakly, even as that twisted feeling in his chest returns. “It’s not like that.”
She waves a dismissive hand in the air. “Maybe it is, maybe it’s not – but Eddito, either way something needs to be done.”
The worst part, he reflects on the next night as he lies in bed staring at the ceiling, is that she’s completely right. He doesn’t treat Buck like they’re friends. Maybe he did at first, but somewhere along the way that changed. Maybe it was when Buck introduced him to Carla because he saw how overwhelmed Eddie was with everything or when Buck acted like there was nothing he wanted to do more than spend his night off taking Christopher to see Santa, but regardless of when it happened, it happened.
It’s like his abuela broke the lock and now the floodgates are opening.
He finds himself looking back on all these moments they’ve shared and seeing them from a new perspective. The satisfaction he’d felt the first time Buck smiled at him after they removed the bomb from that guy’s leg. The irritation when Taylor Kelly started flirting and Buck flirted right back. The fear when Lola pointed a gun at him. The heart stopping, blood curdling horror of having to stand ten feet away while Buck’s leg was crushed under a ladder track and the subsequent feeling of utter helplessness at the way he screamed as they lifted it off of him. Choking on a feeling he’s never been able to pinpoint as he held his son in his arms after a grueling minute of thinking he would never be able to again and realizing he’d have died without Buck.
All these moments, reexamined and reconfigured in his brain.
Jesus, no wonder the lawsuit made him so angry. He was reacting not as someone who couldn’t speak to his best friend, but as someone who couldn’t speak to his partner. He had been filled with so much righteous anger that he hadn’t even paused to consider why he was so upset that Buck didn’t take Christopher’s well being into account when making that decision. In his mind, it was Shannon all over again, but in reality, it was nothing like that. Buck might love Christopher enough to answer his phone in the middle of the night when he has a nightmare or to spend hours wading through six feet of water a week after having a pulmonary embolism to find him, but Buck is not Christopher’s father and he’s not Eddie’s partner and Eddie has been treating him like he is all this time.
No wonder you’re so jealous, he thinks, slapping his hand over his mouth to stop the hysterical laughter that’s rising in his chest from releasing and waking up Christopher. Your boyfriend is dating someone else.
So Eddie is in love with Buck and Buck is in love with someone else and he’s going to suck it up and deal with it like an adult instead of the petty child he’s been channeling these last few months. Buck deserves every ounce of happiness in the world, and as much as he wants to be the one providing it, he has to accept that he’s not. Max makes him happy and Eddie is going to be happy for him even if it kills him in the process because Buck deserves to have someone in his life who sees him and appreciates him and doesn’t yell at him in a grocery story because his head is shoved too far up his own ass to see what’s right in front of him.
“Hey, you and Max should come over for dinner tomorrow night,” Eddie says first thing Monday morning when he sees Buck in the locker room. Chimney and Hen are both in there too, and their heads whip around to stare at him in shock.
Buck pauses with his shirt halfway on. “At your place?”
“Yes,” he says with much more conviction than he actually feels. He is a grown ass man who has patched up bullet wounds in a war zone and disarmed a bomb and climbed up a collapsing skyscraper. He can do this. “If you guys aren’t doing anything.”
“Uh, yeah. Sure,” he says, but he sounds a little uncertain and his eyebrows furrow as he looks Eddie over like he can sense there's something off with him. “I’ll double check with Max, but it should be fine.”
“Great. I’ll cook.”
It’s only after Buck finishes changing and leaves the locker room, shooting Eddie one more bewildered look over his shoulder, that he sags against the lockers like he’s run a marathon. He hears a snort and turns to see both Hen and Chimney staring at him, looking both pitying and like they’re holding back laughter.
“Someone finally get a clue?” Chimney asks, raising an eyebrow.
Eddie doesn’t actually end up cooking because that’s not something he really does, but he does pick up pizza and makes sure the house isn’t completely littered with clutter from one end to the other before they get there that evening. Buck walks straight in without knocking like he always does, but Max hesitates in the doorway looking uncomfortable as Buck scoops Christopher off the floor and hugs him.
“Glad you could make it,” Eddie says, waving him in.
“Uh, me too.”
It’s awkward. There’s no other way to describe it. Christopher helps ease the tension a little bit by chattering about school and a new movie he wants to see and everything else that’s caught his attention lately, but it’s still incredibly uncomfortable. Buck might not have noticed Eddie’s glacial mood as of late, but Max sure has. He’s polite, but he watches Eddie out of the corner of his eye like he can sense the I’m in love with your boyfriend vibes coming off of him in waves and Eddie tries to compensate for months of acting like a complete dick by asking way too many questions about Max’s doctoral program and his family and his interests.
“Like Indiana Jones?” Christopher asks, wide eyed, after Max tells him he’s studying to be an archaeologist.
“Kind of like Indiana Jones,” Max says around a slice of pepperoni. “It’s not quite as exciting in real life though, and we don’t keep any of the stuff we find.”
“Because it belongs in museums for everyone to enjoy or back with the family of the people it belonged to.”
It gets better as the night goes on and Eddie finds himself almost having a good time. Max really is a nice guy, answering Christopher’s dozens of questions about archaeology with nothing but patience and enthusiasm and listening attentively as Christopher tells him about feeding a giraffe at the zoo. Buck shoots Eddie a wounded look that physically makes Eddie’s heart ache in his chest, but he’s quick to cover it with a smile when Christopher asks if he wants to see the crystals they made.
“They aren’t very big yet,” Christopher tells him.
“Crystals are always cool no matter how big or little they are,” Buck says seriously. “Lead the way, little man.”
Christopher immediately starts telling him about how they made the crystal as he leads Buck to his room. Eddie listens to their enthusiastic chatter with a small smile tugging at his lips until it turns inaudible as they make their way deeper into the house. It’s only when he sees Max shift on the couch from the corner of his eyes that he comes back to himself, clearing his throat and schooling his expression into something a little less lovesick.
“Sweet kid,” Max comments.
“Thanks. I kinda like him.”
“You know, two weekends a month I give surf lessons down at the beach. I’d be happy to teach Christopher, if that’s something he’d be interested in. Free of charge, obviously.” He huffs out a laugh, rubbing at the scar on his temple. “Promise I’m better at it than my first impression might lead you to believe.”
“You can say no,” Max says, shrugging. “I just thought I’d offer.”
“I appreciate it,” Eddie says quickly, recognizing an olive branch when he sees one. “But Christopher’s not really a fan of the ocean.”
“Right, that makes sense.” He gets this knowing, embarrassed look on his face like he should have known better than to ask, which – of course. You don’t date someone for months without telling them about that time you almost died in a tsunami. Eddie desperately tries not to think about the two of them curled up in bed like twin parentheses, Max listening sympathetically as Buck tells him about one of the worst days of his life.
“Listen,” Eddie begins, gripping the edge of the couch cushion to steal himself. “I just want to say sorry for the last couple of months. I know I–”
“It’s fine, man,” he says, waving him off. “Buck’s told me how close you two are so I’m sure it’s been weird having this guy suddenly come into his life and start monopolizing his time.” He quirks his lips up, adding, “I hated my best friend’s girlfriend for ages.”
He can tell by the look on Max’s face that they both know that isn’t what’s happening here, but if he’s willing to pretend then so is Eddie. “I don’t–”
He’s cut off by the sound of Buck and Christopher’s voices as they emerge from Christopher’s room, and a few seconds later they come into view – Christopher holding onto his stuffed giraffe with one hand and the collar of Buck’s shirt with the other as Buck gives him a piggyback ride. “So I heard there was a little accident during the crystal making,” Buck says, raising an eyebrow at him.
“I might have spilled a very small amount of boiling water onto the counter,” Eddie says reluctantly. “And the floor.”
“And your hand!” Christopher untwists his hand from Buck’s collar and pats him on the cheek to get his attention. “Dad said a bad word.”
“Did you ground him?” Buck asks, leaning his head back to look at him.
“No, because Dad said he was very sorry and promised not to say it again,” Eddie says. “Chris, do you want more pizza?”
The answer is yes, so Buck puts him down and sits down on the arm of the couch by Max. “So what were we talking about?” he asks quietly, eyes flitting between the two of them.
“You, obviously,” Max answers, wrapping his arm around Buck’s waist and settling his hand on his hip. “I was actually about to tell Eddie how bad you are at surfing.”
Eddie really wasn’t expecting to have a sexuality crisis in his thirties, but he thinks he handles it relatively well. He might spend more than one night cringing at the thought of having to be the best man at Buck’s wedding and scrolling through Buck’s Instagram feed like he’s a lovesick thirteen year old, but he doesn’t come up with some grand scheme to break them up or cry into his pillow every night.
Weeks go by and he does start to distance himself. Buck is his best friend, but he isn’t his partner and he has to stop treating him like one. He stops relying on Buck for anything to do with Christopher – no more late night phone calls, no more invites to father and son time, no more babysitting. He’s not going to keep them apart, but he has to draw a line in the sand. The last thing his kid needs is to lose another parental figure if Buck decides to up and move two or three years from now because Max got a job offer out of state or because they want to raise kids somewhere quieter.
He does it subtly enough that he doesn’t think Buck picks up on it. It’s not like they all don’t still see each other outside of work – there seems to always be some dinner or party or celebration that requires the whole team to get together. It’s often enough as to not feel jarring. A couple of times Christopher asks if Buck can come with them to this or that, but he tells him each time that Buck is busy and each time Christopher’s disappointed face cuts into him like glass.
One of those times they’d been at his abuela’s house, and after Christopher had left the room, she turned to him and said, “This is not what I meant when I said something must be done.”
“Abuelita, I’m doing my best.” His voice cracked in the middle of the sentence and she’d clicked her tongue, but she still cupped his cheek with her hand and told him everything was going to be okay just like she’s always done when he’s upset.
On his worst, most selfish days he wishes he was still in the dark about his feelings. He might have acted like a jealous, petulant asshole but at least then he didn’t know why. He didn’t know what that awful, choking feeling in the base of his throat meant. Now he knows exactly why he feels like shit and there isn’t anything he can do about it.
Hen and Chimney apparently filled Bobby in on his revelation, which is at least convenient if not slightly mortifying. For all they like to poke and prod and tease, they seem to have picked up on his unhappiness and they’re nothing but kind and sympathetic. Hen even somehow convinces him to meet one of Karen’s friends, someone she’s worked with for years with a kid of her own. They don’t call it a double date, but that’s essentially what it is, and Eddie spends the night making awkward small talk at a too crowded restaurant with a stranger he has zero interest in getting to know. She’s nice and she’s attractive, but there’s no spark there and they don’t exchange numbers at the end of the night.
He downloads a dating app a couple of days later. He sets his interest to men and women and scrolls through profile after profile, but he manages to find something wrong with every person he sees. Her eyes are more on the green side of blue than he cares for, he’s seen too many old movies. If he’s being honest with himself, he’s not even sure he’s attracted to men in general or if Buck is the exception, but in the end it doesn’t really matter because none of these people are what he wants. None of these people are Buck. He deletes the app within an hour of downloading it.
So he resigns himself to the fact that this is just how it’s going to be. It’s hardly the first time he’s had his heart broken – the first being when Shannon left them and the second when she died. As awful and all-consuming as that pain had been, he’d survived it. Gone down a dark path for awhile there, but that isn’t going to happen this time around. He’s got his family and the 118 and his health. He’s still got Buck too, even if it’s not in the way he wants.
He’s not going to feel like this forever, no matter how much it feels like it right now.
“Are you mad at me?”
Eddie jumps about a foot in the air, knocking his elbow on the open locker door as he turns around. Like all those months ago, Buck’s standing just inside the doorway with his arms crossed over his chest. Unlike last time, he’s not even trying to look casual. Buck wears his heart on his sleeve and Eddie sees everything he’s feeling reflected on his face – confusion, hurt, worry.
Eddie’s nerves are already frayed from a hectic morning – it was a teacher work day at Christopher’s school so Carla was supposed to watch him today until Pepa got off tonight, but she’d gotten sick earlier this morning and he’d had to scramble to figure out what to do. Bobby would have been fine if he brought him to work again, but they’d gotten lucky last time that all the calls they’d gotten had been minor. As much as Christopher had loved spending the day with them, the fire station is no place for a kid. In the end he decided to drop him off at his abuela’s, making Christopher promise that he would be very, very good for her, but it made him late for his shift.
He can’t handle anymore emotional turmoil today, so he turns back around and starts messing with the bag in his locker just to have something to do. “No, why would you think that?”
“You’ve been distant lately.”
“Sorry, man,” he says, wincing as he hears the sound of footsteps approaching him. God, can’t he catch a break today? “Things have just been chaotic.”
“Eddie, look at me.”
He schools his feature into something he hopes resembles calm before he shuts the locker door and turns, adjusting his watch for a few more precious seconds of not having to look Buck in the eye. “What?”
“What do you mean, what?” Buck asks, beginning to sound angry. From the corner of his eye, he can see Buck’s hand clench into a fist at his side. “You’ve been off for weeks and you won’t even look at me and – I don’t know. Are you fighting again?”
Eddie looks up sharply. “No, of course not,” he snaps, unable to keep the heat out of his own voice. “Why would you even ask that?”
Buck throws his hands up in frustration. “I don’t know, maybe because I have no idea what’s been going on in your life recently. Would you just–” he cuts himself off, rubbing at the back of his neck with his hand. “Would you please just tell me what’s wrong? Did I do something?”
“Buck,” he says measuredly, spreading his hands out. He needs out of this conversation like yesterday. “I am fine. Everything is fine.” So fucking fine, would you please let this go? “I’ve just been busy with Christopher and I know you’re busy with Max, so–”
“Max and I broke up.”
A brief silence. “What?”
“We broke up. Like a week ago.”
“What happened?” he asks faintly, the rush of blood in his ears so loud he can hardly hear himself speak.
Buck shrugs, looking unbothered. “He got offered a position on a dig site in Belize for the summer and I wasn’t willing to do long distance after everything that happened with Abby, so we broke up.”
“Just like that?”
“Yeah, Eddie,” he says, eyebrows furrowing. “I haven’t mentioned it to anyone yet because I know it’s going to be a whole thing, but I’m fine. Well, Bobby and Maddie know, but I haven’t told anyone else. It’s really not that big of a deal. Seriously.”
Eddie’s brain is just – not computing right now. “So let me get this straight,” he says slowly. “You’ve been dating this guy for almost half a year and you two are together all the time and he basically lives in your apartment but you’re completely fine that it’s over now?”
“First of all, he was not living with me,” Buck says. “And second of all, I liked Max, but I wasn’t exactly planning the wedding, you know?”
Another brief pause and then – “What the fuck?” The volume of his voice actually startles both of them, but his brain has finally caught up with this conversation and he cannot control the maelstrom of disbelief and anger and relief inside of himself right now. “No, Buck, I don’t know. How would I possibly fucking know? I thought you two were serious. Like marriage and kids serious. I mean, I’ve seen more of that guy in the last six months than I have the majority of my own family. He is literally always around. You melt into a puddle of goo every time he smiles at you or holds your hand or – of course, I thought it was serious. Why wouldn’t I?”
The bewilderment on Buck’s face slowly fades the longer Eddie rants and gives way to something else, something Eddie is way too frazzled to pinpoint. He does notice Buck taking a few steps towards him, slowly and cautiously like Eddie is a ticking time bomb, but even that feels distance. “Eddie,” he says softly.
“Don’t punch me, okay?”
Before Eddie can respond, Buck cups a hand to either side of his face and kisses him. It’s brief – a peck that’s over almost as soon as it begins, but his eyelashes flutter closed at the first touch of dry, soft lips and take a brief eternity to reopen.
Buck is watching him closely, eyes darting from one part of his face to another in rapid succession. He looks – nervous, definitely, all wide eyes and sweaty palms where they’re still cupping Eddie’s cheeks, but he also looks hopeful. Cautiously hopeful, but hopeful nonetheless.
“Since–” Eddie clears his throat, swallows. “Since when?”
Buck huffs out a laugh, his hands sliding from Eddie’s face down his neck to hold onto the top of his shoulders. “Remember how I was a total jerk to you for days and then you complimented me once and I basically turned into – what did you call it? – a puddle of goo on the floor? Since then, more or less.”
And that is just – a lot to process. He’s been laboring under the assumption here that this thing is strictly one-sided, that he was going to have to watch Buck get married and have kids with Max, or someone else down the line if they didn’t work out. And he was prepared to do that, really, because that’s what you do for someone you love. You let them be happy even if that means watching them share a life with someone that isn’t you. It never occurred to him that he was an option. He’s been so caught up in his own head that he didn’t stop to think that maybe, just maybe, Buck had sensed this thing between them long before he did. He shouldn’t be surprised because Buck might be a dumb ass sometimes, but he’s also incredibly intelligent and well-in tune with himself and his emotions. Of course he figured out in days what it took Eddie years to realize.
Turns out Eddie is the oblivious idiot in this scenario.
Buck’s voice breaks him out of his reverie. “Hey, Eddie?” he asks, a note of desperation in his voice. “You want to maybe tell me what you’re thinking? Because while I appreciate that you haven’t punched me yet, I kinda don’t know–”
“Oh, my god, I’m not going to punch you,” he says, twisting a hand in Buck’s collar and yanking him down a few inches so the angle is right when he slams their lips together. There’s nothing brief about it this time – it’s all tongue and teeth and heat. He has the fleeting, hysterical thought that he’s never had to raise up on the tips of his toes to kiss someone before, but then Buck’s hand starts sliding down his back to grip at his waist and pull him closer, and his mind goes pleasantly blank.
“I really thought you knew,” Buck gasps out when he pulls back to take a breath, cheeks flushed and eyes wide. “I can’t believe you didn’t know.”
“You’re much better at keeping a secret that people give you credit for.”
Buck chokes out a laugh at that, dropping his head onto Eddie’s shoulder. “Eddie, everyone knows,” he says. “The team and my family and probably your family and random Christmas elves–” Eddie makes a questioning noise at that last one, but Buck just shakes his head, hair brushing the side of Eddie’s neck “–and my point is that I thought you knew. I thought you knew and you not saying anything was my answer.”
His heart aches at that and he wraps one arm around Buck’s shoulder and the other around his waist to squeeze him against himself. “I’m sorry,” he mumbles into Buck’s shoulder, pressing a kiss right below his collarbone through his shirt. If the last couple of months have been torture for him, he can’t imagine how Buck must have felt for years thinking his feelings were unrequited. “I’m sorry it took me so long to figure everything out. I don’t know if you know this about me, but I’m not exactly the best with feelings. Or self-awareness.”
Buck snorts and moves to pull back, so Eddie drops his arm from his shoulder but leaves the one at his waist. “I was actually aware of that,” Buck says, eyes crinkling at the corners from how wide he’s smiling. “Guess I’m going to have to be the emotionally mature one in this relationship. Scary, right?”
“No, not at all,” Eddie says earnestly, resisting the urge to melt at the casual, sure way Buck says “relationship.” Like it’s inevitable, like there was never any other endgame than this right here, pressed together from chest to knees, faces so close they’re breathing each other’s air. “I have complete faith in you.”
The sudden sound of someone clearing their throat has them springing apart like they’ve been burned, Buck nearly tripping over the bench in the process. Eddie grabs him by the waist with one hand and the wrist with the other before he tumbles over.
Bobby is standing in the doorway, eyebrows raised to approximately his hairline as he takes in their disheveled state. Eddie doesn’t even want to think about what they look like right now, but he can take a guess: all flushed cheeks and wide eyes and mussed hair and rumpled uniforms. Buck starts squirming beside him, running a hand through his hair and over his face like that’s somehow going to make it any less obvious what they've been doing.
“Shift's already started,” Bobby says slowly, eyes darting between the two of them. He looks like he’s trying very, very hard not to laugh.
“Yep, we’ll be out in a second,” Buck says, his voice comically high.
Bobby blows out a breath and shakes his head as he turns to leave, but over his shoulder he adds, “Schedule a meeting with HR and fill out the necessary paperwork. ASAP.”
They wait until they can no longer see him – through the glass walls, Jesus – before they start cracking up, falling into each other like they’ll collapse onto the floor otherwise. Buck clings onto him and shoves his face against Eddie’s neck. “Oh, my god,” he says, sounding mortified even as his chest heaves up and down with laughter. “I’m actually going to die.”
“Why? Because your dad knows we were making out in here?”
“Shut up.” He ducks down to kiss him anyway, trying to prolong this moment for just a few more seconds before they have to pull themselves together and get to work, but Eddie’s chest is so full with happiness and relief and love that he can’t do much more than smile against Buck’s lips.
The first thing Max does when he walks into his apartment for the first time in nearly four months is takes a shower. Actually, the very first thing he does is drops his duffle bags onto the floor with a groan and face plants onto the couch because he’s never been so tired in his life. Then he takes a shower. The second thing he does is call Buck, lying in bed with a towel still wrapped around his waist.
They hadn’t spoken since he left, which was to be expected. He knows all about Abby and how unwilling Buck was to ever be put in that position again, so he’d understood why Buck wanted to end things before he left. Still, there’s no harm in calling and touching base. Belize was an incredible opportunity and he doesn’t regret going, but he’s missed Buck and he wants to see him.
“Hello?” He answers on the third ring, sounding a little breathless but happy, like he’d been laughing when he picked up the phone. There’s noise in the background – people talking and laughing and kids shouting, and his voice is raised to be heard over it all.
“Hey, it’s Max,” he says, lips pulling up into a cheesy grin as soon as he hears Buck’s voice. “I just got back."
“Max, hey,” he says, sounding surprised but pleased. “Give me one sec, I can barely hear anything.” After a few seconds the noise fades, not completely, but enough that he’s able to hear the sound of Buck’s breathing through the line. “Sorry about that. It’s insanely loud here.”
“Where are you?”
“The zoo. Anyway, how are you? How was Belize?”
“It was great,” Max says. “Listen, I was wondering if we could meet up for dinner or something. To catch up.”
“Oh, um, actually” he breaks off with an awkward sounding laugh and Max can almost see him reaching a hand up to rub the back of his neck like he always does when he’s nervous. “I’m kind of seeing someone.”
He immediately connects the dots both because he remembers the hurt look on Buck’s face when Christopher told him they’d gone to the zoo without him and also because he’s not an idiot. “Let me guess, Eddie?”
“Buck, come on,” he says dryly. “I’ve known you two have a thing for each other since the first time I saw you in the same room together.”
A brief pause ensues before Buck says, “I’m really sorry, Max.” His voice is soft, earnest, and he sounds guilty as hell. “I had a lot of fun being with you, but I’ve been in love with Eddie for years. Turns out it wasn’t quite as unrequited as I thought. Nothing happened until after we broke, though, I promise.”
“Hey, no worries,” Max says reassuringly, waving him off even though he can’t see the gesture. That thought never even crossed his mind because Buck isn’t that kind of person. “I know it didn’t. Seriously. I’m glad you two worked things out.”
“Thank you,” Buck says, letting out a sigh of relief. “Take care of yourself, okay?”
“Yeah, of course. You too.” Max tosses the phone onto his bed once they've hung up and looks up at his ceiling, blowing out a breath as he takes a second to check in with himself. He’s disappointed obviously, but he also feels almost relieved. He wasn’t lying when he said he’s known since the beginning – he spent nearly six months waiting for the other shoe to drop. As much as he’d liked Buck, both of them deserve to be with someone who’s all in.
And anyway, he’s been on the receiving end of Eddie Diaz’s glares enough to last a lifetime, thanks.