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You square all the corners, I straighten the curves

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1.

The first time it happens (well the second, if he’s being technical), it’s by accident. It’s the Saturday after Thanksgiving and the kickoff day of the firehouse’s annual Holiday Assistance Program. Every year, they put up holiday decorations on the first day it's socially acceptable, and have a small event with cider and cocoa to encourage members of the community to sign up to participate in the program, to either give or receive meals and gifts during the holiday season. It’s his second year on supervisory duty, manning the sign-up table. Last year, Bobby assigned it to him as a punishment. Well, he actually didn’t say that, he said it was just that Buck was, “so good with kids,” and “did such a great job with Halloween.” Last year, Buck was willing to do just about anything to get back in the good graces of his team. It had ended up being a fun day though, since Bobby and Eddie let Christopher be his assistant. He didn’t realize it was going to be a yearly commitment, but there are worse ways to spend his day than watching Christopher in a Santa hat charm pretty much every person that set foot in the firehouse for the event.

Really, Buck would be having an awesome time, if not for the fact that he’s been hit on rather aggressively at least a dozen times so far today. There was a time when this would’ve been a highlight for Buck, rather than a detractor, but he isn’t that person anymore and doesn’t have any desire to be. But though some things have changed, namely his desire to fuck any woman who looks his way, some things haven’t and he’s still a people-pleaser by nature. He hates not being able to give people what they want, despises when he feels like he’s let someone down, or not lived up to what they expect him to be. It’s one of the reasons why the lawsuit was so brutal on him last year. Seeing the look of disappointment on Bobby’s face, on Eddie’s, had nearly killed him. And though of course it’s worse when it’s someone he cares about, Buck still feels shitty about disappointing even strangers, so rejection is hard for him. When he was Buck 1.0 he managed by, well, making it clear he was only looking for a one time thing and then basically not rejecting anyone. Then he was with Abby, and then Ali. Turning someone down because of a girlfriend softened the blow. People respected and understood that, knew it wasn’t about them in particular. Now he has no such crutch to fall back on, and so he turns into a stuttering mess, and has been doing what he can to avoid and deflect all day.

The woman talking with him now, he thinks her name is Emilia, is particularly tenacious. He’s tried to redirect her a dozen times, trying to get her to fill out one of the two forms, or to buy one of the stations calendars. When that hadn’t worked, he’d left the table to get Christopher a snack, even though he ate thirty minutes ago and didn’t really need one, but she was still there waiting when he returned. Now, she’s got a tight grip on his bicep and is batting her eyelashes coquettishly. Every sentence she utters is laced with innuendo, and Buck can tell she’s working her way up to asking him out, and he breaks out in a sweat as he struggles to think of a gentle way to let her down. He recognizes the lonely glint in her eyes. The holidays can be a difficult time for people. They have been hard for him in the past, particularly the years Maddie was with Doug. Growing up, he and Maddie hadn’t had many happy holiday memories, but they had each other. The years she was out of touch, he tended to skip holidays all together, or tag along with friends, which didn’t quite quell the loneliness. Now that he has Maddie again and the 118, particularly Eddie and Christopher, he’s felt more like he has a place where he belongs. If Emilia feels even a fraction of the loneliness he felt in the past, he doesn’t want to pile on with a cruel rejection. He may not want what she’s offering, but he also doesn’t want to hurt her feelings.

He thinks he might be saved when the part of the squad that is actually working today returns from a call. Emilia glances over as the team disembarks, and Buck holds out hope that maybe she’ll set her sights on someone else, but she stays put, taking one step closer so she’s practically on top of him again. With the table behind him and Christopher next to him, he doesn’t have a lot of space to maneuver. He’s considering yelling to one of the team hoping they’ll see his distress and rescue him, when Christopher beats him to the punch, shouting, “Daddy!” gleefully the second Eddie clambers down from the truck. As Eddie makes his way towards them, Buck’s breath catches as he notices the gash on Eddie’s forehead. He hates to think of Eddie getting hurt on a call, especially when Buck wasn’t there to watch his back. When Eddie swoops Christopher up into his arms, Buck can’t stop himself from reaching out to graze the cut. Eddie covers Buck’s hand with his own, removing it gently from his face.

“I’m ok,” Eddie says softly. “It’s superficial, no big deal.” He tries and fails to look annoyed at Buck’s fussing, but fondness seeps through. Buck knows Eddie appreciates that Buck worries, just like Buck appreciates when Eddie worries about him.

“Can’t trust anyone to look out for you when I’m not there.”

“Well, try to stay on Bobby’s good side then, so you don’t keep getting stuck doing shit like this.”

Before Buck can retort, Christopher interrupts, “Daddy, I have to go to the bathroom.” Eddie drops Buck’s hand, which Buck hadn’t even realized he was still holding, and they both turn their attention to Christopher.

Now that he feels assured Eddie’s ok, he realizes Emilia is still looking at him expectantly, and he remembers he was looking for a diversion, and thinks this might be the perfect one. “I can take him, Eddie, if you’ve got to debrief from the call.”

Eddie must miss the desperate look in his eye, because he just claps Buck’s shoulder and replies, “Nah, I’ll take him. We’ll both be back in a few and I’ll hang out with you both until we get called out again.” Buck’s mood is slightly lifted, since these days nothing seems to brighten his spirits more than having Eddie and Christopher nearby, but it doesn’t help out with his current situation. With a sigh, he turns back to Emilia, expecting her to sidle closer again, and resume her flirtation, but to his surprise she’s taken a few steps back, and has a wistful, rather than heated, look in her eyes as she watches Eddie and Christopher leave.

“I’m sorry.” She looks embarrassed and a little shy all of the sudden, such a difference from the boldness from a few minutes before. “I didn’t realize that you were with someone.” Buck wrinkles his nose in confusion, not following her words at first. She continues, “You have a beautiful family.” He follows her gaze to Eddie and Christopher’s retreating forms as realization hits. She thinks he and Eddie are together, and Christopher’s their son, just like that elf woman had two years ago. He nearly opens his mouth to correct her, when he realizes this is a perfect out. She doesn’t look pissed or hurt, just a little melancholy.

There’s no harm in letting her think they’re together, so rather than deny it, he just smiles and says instead, “Thank you. I’m a lucky guy.” It doesn’t feel like a lie rolling off his tongue. She may be imagining their relationship a little differently than the reality, but he feels like Eddie and Chris are his family, and he does feel lucky to have them. Emilia quickly fills out a volunteer form as Buck had been trying to get her to do for the past 15 minutes, and walks off, pausing briefly to say a few words to Eddie as he’s on his way back with Chris, before walking out to the street. Once she’s outside Buck heaves a sigh of relief, hoping that’s the end of his awkward interactions for the day.

Apparently that’s not to be as Eddie returns to the table with a confused look on his face. “Buck, why did that women just apologize to me for accidentally hitting on my boyfriend?”

Buck drops his head into his hands and groans. The universe cannot give him a fucking break. When he drags his gaze back to Eddie, Eddie is still looking at him expectantly, and Buck realizes he’s not going to let it go, so he has no choice but to try to explain and hope Eddie isn’t weirded out.

“That woman, her name’s Emilia, I think, umm she was, I guess, flirting with me. Pretty aggressively actually —“

“She was touching his arm a lot!” Christopher pipes up helpfully.

“—and I was trying to figure out a way to let her down nicely when you showed up. I think she had it in her head that I was Christopher’s father, so when he called you dad, she made some assumptions. She thought we were together, and backed off. And well, I kind of let her...” He waits anxiously for Eddie’s reaction, searching his face for any signs of discomfort. He looks surprised for a minute before barking out a laugh.

“Wait, so you were too chicken to turn down a woman so you pretended we were dating? That’s one way to do it I guess.”

Buck laughs a little too, though he’s a bit defensive about the chicken comment and oddly offended that Eddie seems to find the idea that they could be dating so ludicrous. Does Eddie think Buck’s not attractive enough to date? He’s not sure where that thought came from, but is clear it’s not one he should say out loud, so instead he explains, “First of all, she assumed, I just didn’t correct her. And I don’t like hurting people, it’s hard for me!”

Eddie’s gaze softens. “Yeah, I know it is. You’re a good guy.” He pauses for a moment before asking hesitantly, “Why were you looking for a way to turn her down anyways? I know you haven’t dated in a while, and she seemed cute enough. And obviously interested.”

“That’s not enough for me anymore.” Buck answers honestly. “I’m looking for something more than that. Someone I can actually connect with, and that’s not what she was angling for. I want something that’s actually real.” Buck’s suddenly struck by how true that is. He’s exhausted by the prospect of dating and meeting lots of different women. He’s content to wait until he finds something that feels meaningful.

“Yeah, I know what you mean. Well, feel free to use me as an excuse to escape the women who are just looking for Buck 1.0.” Buck gets the sense that Eddie’s joking, but he thinks he really may do just that.

 2.

The second time Buck and Eddie pretend they’re dating (Buck’s decided the first time two years ago doesn’t count since Eddie doesn’t know it happened), it’s on purpose, but it isn’t even Buck’s idea. They’re out for Chimney’s birthday, and he’s insisted they go to the bar where he and Maddie like to do karaoke. It’s crowded and loud, and the moment he steps through the door, he wants to walk back out. It’s been months since he’s been in a place like this, and he finds he doesn’t miss it. He spends most of his free nights these days with watching movies with Eddie and Christopher, or quiet dinners in with Chimney and Maddie, or Bobby and Athena. Cringing, he recalls the time he was in this bar, shortly after he finally accepted things were over with Abby, and he had sex in the bathroom with Taylor Kelly. It’s not a fond memory.

He spots Chimney and Maddie on stage of course, wanting to kick off the festivities with their sickeningly cute routine. He doesn’t think anyone else yet from the 118 is here yet. Bobby and Hen were both planning to come in after they checked in at home. Eddie texted a few minutes ago that he’d dropped Chris off at a sleepover and was headed this way, but as Buck scans the bar, he doesn’t see Eddie’s tall familiar figure. He does see someone else though and lets out an involuntary groan. Of fucking course. As though the mere thought summoned the devil herself, Taylor Kelly is suddenly standing in front of him.

She’s as attractive as ever, gazing up at him through long eyelashes, and flashing the same teasing smirk that had Buck stumbling after her into the bathroom against his better judgment two years before. But strangely it has no effect on him now. Rather than feeling lust pooling in the pit of his stomach, all he feels is a vague sense of nausea, thinking about how he’d nearly reverted to his old ways with Taylor. He may have only had one aborted therapy session in his life, but he’s smart enough to see that his Buck 1.0 actions were motivated by a desperate attempt to find connection and affection, something that was severely lacking in the Buckley household growing up. Though he was always chasing after it, Buck never knew what to do when he had it, so he hadn’t ever stuck with anyone for longer than a few days until Abby. Seeing Taylor now, he’s reminded of the desolation he’d felt in the days after he finally accepted it was over. Even though by that time, he’d built something more for himself, more community and support, it had been hard for him to see that, to trust that the 118 and even his sister would stick around for him, when even Abby hadn’t. They’re not pleasant memories and not ones he wants to revisit tonight, after a long shift and while he’s feeling a little melancholy as he always does around the holidays.

But either Taylor’s not reading the cues of discomfort he’s throwing off or she doesn’t care. She takes a step closer, twirling her hair around one finger, and offers to buy him a drink and “reminisce about old times.” The familiar dread about rejecting someone creeps in before he remembers that this is the same girl who threw him out of her news van half-dressed. She’s probably the one woman where he doesn’t have to feel bad or worry about her feelings. She certainly never worried about his. He opens his mouth to decline the offer, but before he can, he feels an arm wrap around his back and a hand settle on his hip. He knows before he even looks up that it’s Eddie, as tension he didn’t realize he was holding leaves his body, replaced by the sense of calm that Eddie’s warm, steadying presence always seems to give him.

For a minute he’s a little confused as to what’s going on. He and Eddie are generally tactile friends; they hug pretty often, Buck has been known to throw an arm around Eddie’s shoulder when the situation calls for it (and honestly recently, whenever he feels like it, which seems to be more and more these days.) Eddie has a tendency to grip Buck’s shoulder to bring his focus back to Eddie when Buck’s anxiety is spiraling, but even for them, an arm around the waist is, well, the word that comes to mind is intimate. What’s stranger still is that while it should feel weird, it doesn’t. The gesture feels possessive in a way, and Buck finds he kind of likes it.

As Eddie reaches out a hand to greet Taylor and reminds her they’ve met before, the edge in his voice and the arch of one of Taylor’s perfectly shaped eyebrows finally clues Buck in to what’s going on here. Eddie is rescuing him, just as he’d done unwittingly at the firehouse a few days ago. It’s so sweet that Buck can’t help but grin fondly at Eddie, which, he realizes belatedly, probably helps sell the relationship. It seems to convince Taylor anyways.

“Oh, I see. So this is a thing now?” She gives them both an appraising once over, and Buck wills himself not to blush at her scrutiny, instead choosing to drop his arm around Eddie’s shoulder. “I always thought you didn’t like me much,” she gestures towards Eddie, “I guess I see why now. You know, though,” she says thoughtfully, the heated look returning to her eyes. “There doesn’t have to be animosity between us. I don’t mind sharing if you don’t.”

Buck nearly swallows his tongue when he catches her meaning, and he feels his whole body heat. A threesome with Taylor Kelly is not appealing to him at all, but the sudden flash that goes through his mind of what it might be like for him and Eddie...well it does confusing things to him, so he banishes the thought, as Eddie shoots Taylor a sharp glare that has her throwing her hands up in capitulation. “Ok, relax. I was just kidding.” She winks at them both before turning on her heel and flouncing away. Buck could swear he hears her mutter “kind of” under her breath as she walks away, but he can’t be sure. He wonders briefly what it says that Taylor, who has a little more context than Emilia, has no problem believing instantly that he and Eddie were together. But whatever the reason, he’s just glad to have her gone.

There’s no reason now for them to keep their arms around each other, but the affection feels nice after the day he’s had, so Buck knows he’s not going to be the one to pull away. He might not be ready to examine too closely why he craves Eddie’s nearness lately, but he’s also not going to turn it down when it’s offered.

He realizes he should probably actually greet Eddie rather than stand here in silence enjoying the way Eddie’s body feels pressed against his. “Well that was effective...again.” He laughs to himself as he recalls the initial look of shock on Taylor’s face before she schooled her features to her typical cocky smirk.

“Well you seemed like you could use an out.” Eddie replies, returning his smile, before his expression morphs to one of uncertainty, as he drops his arm from where it’s still curled around Buck’s waist. Buck follows suit, missing Eddie’s warmth the minute he takes a step away. “You did want an out, right? I didn’t just cockblock you?” Eddie asks worriedly, blushing like he’s never said the word cock out loud before. Unbidden, Buck’s brain floods with thoughts of other situations in which he might use that word. He shakes his head trying to knock out the inappropriate thoughts that seem uncontrollable today. He recognizes that he probably should consider why these thoughts are plaguing him, but this is not the time or place, especially when they’ll be joined by other members of the team soon.

He tries to keep his expression neutral as he responds to Eddie’s question. “No, I definitely wanted an out. I told you, I’m not about that anymore. She always kind of made me feel like shit, you know? And, even when I was attracted to her, I didn’t like her. She’s not a very good person, and I think we bring out the worst in each other. I want to be with someone I like, who I respect, who respects me, you know?” And he does want that, even if he feels exhausted at the prospect of trying to find it at this point.

“I hope you find that, Evan, I do,” Eddie responds sincerely, though a shadow Buck can’t quite interpret passes over his face. Maybe grief over Shannon still, or maybe he’s just uncomfortable because despite their closeness they don’t tend to confide in each other much about their love lives.

Aside from a few conversations about Shannon when Eddie was trying to make things work with her before her death, and Eddie’s teasing about Buck’s “invisible girlfriend” when he wasn’t ready to let go of Abby, they don’t tend to talk about women with each other. He’s never really wanted to ask about Eddie’s dating life, if he even has one right now. It’s been nearly 18 months since Shannon died and Buck doesn’t think Eddie’s been on even one date. And Eddie hadn’t ever seemed eager to discuss Buck’s relationships either. He hasn’t really had one in over a year, since things ended with Ali. He’s had a few dates here and there since then, but nothing with even a hint of a future. But Eddie never bugs him about it, like Maddie and Chim constantly are. He doesn’t even participate much in the razzing Buck gets from other members of the team when women hit on him during calls either. It’s an absence he hadn’t thought about much in the past, but now he wonders if there is a meaning behind it. He’ll add that to his list of strange things to contemplate about their friendship at a later date.

But for now, he catches sight of Chim and Maddie headed their way after another successful karaoke duet. As Eddie follows him to the table Chimney and Maddie have snagged, his outlook on the night is brighter, the noise and the crowd feel a little bit more manageable. It might not be his ideal night anymore, but Taylor hasn’t reappeared, his sister is here, his best friend is by his side, and the rest of the 118 squad is on their way, so he thinks it just may end up an enjoyable night.

3. 

The third time, Buck swears he’s just returning the favor. It’s Harry’s birthday party, and everyone who isn’t working has been invited along with their families. Buck, Eddie, and Christopher arrive together, since Buck crashed on their couch last night, a common occurrence lately. As they enter the backyard, Christopher makes a beeline for swing set.

Eddie, his hands full of the presents they brought for Harry, as well as a few snacks Athena asked them to pick up, nudges Buck, “Hey, will you get him set up over there andmake sure he doesn’t kill himself trying to keep up with the bigger kidswhile I figure out where Athena wants this stuff?”

Buck is more than happy to comply. He loves feeling useful. When he’s feeling low sometimes he worries that Eddie invites him over so often out of pity for him, knowing he doesn’t have that much going on, but times like this, he feels like he can actually be helpful to Eddie, give him an extra set of hands, and ease his burden as a single parent just a little bit. Plus, any minute he gets with Christopher is a good one in his book.

He sets Christopher up on the swing, pushing him slowly until May offers to take over. She adores Chris, and is always careful and gentle with him so Buck acquiesces, taking a minute to look around for Eddie, who hasn’t made his way over to them yet. It seems he’s been waylaid by a woman, probably the mom of one of Harry’s friends, near the gift table. It’s hard to tell from where Buck’s standing, but Buck is pretty sure she’s got her hand on his arm, and is standing closer than is usually socially acceptable. His focus narrows the place where the woman’s hand meets Eddie’s arm, and he has an irrational desire to stalk over there and remove it. That, he tells himself, would be inappropriate, and he doesn’t actually want to cause a scene in front of Bobby and Athena’s friends. He’s contemplating his options when Eddie glances his way, and though it’s hard to tell from a distance, Buck swears Eddie gives him a desperate look. At the very least, he doesn’t look happy to be the object of this woman’s attention, which gives Buck a more subtle idea for how to make the woman back off. Really, he’s just returning the favor after Eddie’s helped him out a few times. His motives are pure and if it lines up with what Buck wants to do anyways, well so much the better.

Decision made, he asks May to watch Christopher for a few minutes, and marches across the lawn. Before giving himself a chance to think better of it, he drapes an arm over Eddie’s shoulder and reaches out a hand to introduce himself, not caring that he interrupts the woman mid-sentence. She shakes his hand warily, introduces herself as Sonia, and asks, “Do you two work together?” while her gaze ping pongs between Buck and Eddie, seemingly trying to discern their relationship.

Apparently, the arm over the shoulder isn’t enough to telegraph a romantic relationship, or this woman is particularly oblivious, so on impulse, Buck replies, “Among other things,” and presses a kiss to the side of Eddie’s head. Eddie stills at the contact, and at first he thinks he may have gone too far, but after a moment Eddie relaxes into him. Buck continues, “Christopher’s looking for you, when you’ve got a minute.” Eddie nods at him and makes his excuses, looking, Buck notices, a little glassy eyed and out of sorts as he makes his way over the play structure. Buck turns back to Sonia and flashes his biggest smile, “Sorry to steal him away.” He’s pretty sure she can tell he’s not sorry at all, but she just smiles thinly back at him before scampering away, looking a little disappointed and embarrassed.

Buck’s feeling pretty pleased with himself, when it suddenly occurs to him that he and Eddie engaged in that little display in the middle of a backyard full of all their coworkers. He spins around to see if any of his team members are nearby, but the only one who might have witnessed the events is Michael, who is standing over by the table stacking presents. Buck nearly convinces himself that Michael didn’t see anything, when Michael catches his eye, smirks knowingly at him, and sends him a wink before resuming his task. Buck doesn’t know Michael well, but he has a feeling he can count on his discretion about whatever he thinks he knows. Which is a relief, because he’s not sure he’s ready to explain why he and Eddie have been pretending to date over the last two weeks. He knows rationally that they’d probably find it hilarious, and any teasing would be lighthearted, but it feels private, like it’s something he wants to keep just for himself. Besides, Eddie doesn’t handle the teasing as well as he does, and Buck worries if Eddie gets too embarrassed, he‘ll pull away, which is the last thing Buck wants. Buck admits he’s enjoyed the closeness and intimacy he feels with Eddie in the moments when they’ve been pretending to be a couple.

The truth is, Buck is starting to realize that he enjoys any time he gets to spend with Eddie more than just about anything else. Even with this party, he hadn’t been much looking forward to it, until Eddie confirmed he and Christopher would be attending. It’s not that he doesn’t like spending time with other members of the 118 and their families, but sometimes he can’t help but envy that they have loving partners and children, while he doesn’t. Because the fact is, he wants kids, even though the thought of parenthood is always a little scary for him. He never had any good parental role models growing up, but still he knows with a bone deep certainty that he wants a family of his own. But knowing he wants it, and getting it are two different things. He can’t find a woman he wants to go on a date with, much less settle down and have kids with. And it’s not that he doesn’t meet women. He does. And not all of them are like Emilia and Taylor, looking just for a fling. In the last year, he’s met at least a dozen women who seemed nice, and like they’d be open to dating, to taking things slow, and trying to build something real. At first, after his relationship with Ali ended, he was preoccupied with his recovery, with getting his job back, and then reingratiating himself to the 118. But even he has to admit, things have been stable for a while and there’s no good reason for him not to be dating more. Except every time he thinks about asking someone out, instead of being excited by the idea of a date, he finds his mind wandering to what Eddie and Christopher might be doing that day, and feeling disappointed by the idea that they might want to come over or have him over and Buck would have to turn them down if he’d committed a date. He never has that envious feeling when he’s with Christopher and Eddie, maybe because he never feels on the outside looking in when he’s with them. And he never gets sick of them, in fact every time he walks out their door, he’s looking forward to the next time he can see them again. He’s started to wonder what it means that there hasn’t been a woman he’s met in ages where the prospect of a date with her sounds better than a movie night with his best friend and his son.

Well, actually, Buck has a sneaking suspicion that maybe he does know what it means, and it’s getting harder and harder to ignore. It feels like if he acknowledges these feelings, they might get stronger, to the point where he’ll actually have to do something about them, and he’s kind of at a loss for what that might be. He’s never been in this position before. And it’s not just that Eddie’s the first man he’s been cognizant of crushing on, (In retrospect, he’s pretty sure he had a thing for his high school Spanish teacher, one of his coworkers from the bar he worked at when he first got to LA, and possibly a few others), it’s more that he’s never had feelings for someone he was friends with. With Abby, yes, they got to know each other before jumping into bed together, an important step for him, but they both knew that’s where they were headed, that they were working towards a romantic relationship. With Eddie, they have such a strong friendship, and it feels like if Eddie doesn’t reciprocate, he could lose that.

He thinks of those awful months last year with the lawsuit, and the brief silent treatment that followed, and how hard it was for both of them, and he’s not sure it’s worth the risk, especially when these feelings are so confusing, even to Buck himself. Plus, it’s not just Eddie he stands to lose if things fall apart, but Christopher too, and Buck’s just not sure he could survive that. He usually attacks things head on, but the stakes here are so high that for once he’s exerting some caution. So he hasn’t said anything to Eddie, hasn’t actually said anything to anyone. But considering his visceral reaction to watching someone flirt with Eddie, and the fact that he can’t stop replaying the moment where his lips touched the side of Eddie’s head over and over in his mind, Buck doesn’t think he’ll be able to hide how he feels for much longer. But he can today at least, he thinks, as he rejoins Christopher and Eddie. He resolves to enjoy the afternoon, enjoy feeling like part of a family, because even if he doesn’t have everything he wants from Eddie, what he does have is pretty damn good.

4.

The fourth time it happens, Buck’s not really sure what’s going on. They’re at Christopher’s parent-teacher night about a week-and-a-half before Christmas. Buck was so touched when Christopher asked if he would come that he nearly cried. He’s only been to Chris’s school a few times to pick him up, and hasn’t had a chance to explore, and he’s amazed at how beautiful the campus is, and how dedicated the teachers seem. They’ve toured the individual classrooms, and now are in the gym where the kids’ science projects from the recent science fair are on display, so the parents can look at the projects and mingle with the teachers before leaving for the night. Eddie stops to chat with woman Buck believes to be Christopher’s art teacher. Chris soon gets bored of the conversation and drags Buck away to look at the projects, while Eddie stays behind. Christopher excitedly explains his project to Buck, and Buck can’t believe he’s lucky enough that this kid wants him around. Christopher decides he wants a picture of him, Buck, and Eddie in front of his project, and Buck can tell Christopher’s flagging a little, so he encourages him to sit for a minute, while he runs to the other side of the gym to grab Eddie.

Eddie’s still deep in conversation about the PTA and doesn’t notice Buck approach, so he touches his hand to Eddie’s lower back to alert him to Buck’s presence without interrupting. Eddie leans into the touch, and smiles at him while finishing his thought. When there’s a pause in the conversation he asks, “What’s up, is Chris ok?” But there’s no real urgency in his tone, Eddie knows if Chris wasn’t ok, Buck wouldn’t be politely waiting for the conversation to finish.

“Oh yeah, he’s fine. Just wants a picture of the three of us with his science project whenever you’re done here.” Buck turns his attention back to the teacher Eddie was speaking to. “So sorry to interrupt, there’s no rush really, we can wait a few minutes if you need to wrap up here.” He realizes she probably has no idea who he is or why he’s here, and he can’t really think of a succinct way to explain that wouldn’t sound weird. Most kids don’t bring their dad’s best friend to parent-teacher night, so he settles for just giving his name.

To his surprise, the teacher’s eyes light up in recognition. “Oh, you’re Buck? I’m Mya. Well, Ms. Soto to the kids. Christopher talks about you all the time. It’s great to put a face to the name! I mean Christopher’s artwork is pretty good, but I’m still not sure I’d have been able to pick you out of a lineup based on his drawings.” Before Buck has time to melt too much over the fact that Christophe draws pictures that include him, she continues, addressing Eddie now. “You know, Mr. Diaz, I’m impressed with the way you’ve handled everything since Chris’s mother passed. I know so many students who have never warmed to their parents new partners even after a divorce, much less a parental death. The fact that Christopher and Buck are so close is really a credit to you and the ways you’ve helped him with his grief. It’s a credit to both of you, really.”

Buck feels momentarily touched at the sentiment, before realizing that Eddie’s going to correct her any minute. They aren’t actually together, and here, there’s no reason to pretend. He can’t deny the fact that he wishes it were real, wishes he could wrap his arm around Eddie any time he wanted, not just when one of them is trying to let a woman down easy. Wishes he were going home with them tonight, instead of to his empty apartment. But it isn’t real, and even though it shouldn’t, Buck knows that hearing Eddie say it is going to hurt.

He braces himself to hear the denial, but instead, Eddie just smiles and says, “Thank you, that’s really nice to hear.” He glances over to where Christopher is sitting by the science projects, head on his hands, nearly falling asleep at the table. Eddie smiles softly, a smile Buck knows is reserved for Christopher, though Buck has been lucky enough to have it thrown his way a time or two as well.

Mya follows his gaze. “I’ll let you two get back to Chris before he falls asleep over there. Nice to talk with your both.”

As she walks away, Buck remains rooted to the spot. Why had Eddie let Mya assume they were dating? There was no reason to do it, and Buck can think of a few complications that could arise from Christopher’s teachers thinking they were a couple, like mentioning it in front of Christopher and confusing him, or mentioning it to Eddie’s aunt who sometimes does pick ups, or God forbid, Carla, who would think it was hilarious, but would never ever let it go. And he can’t think of any reasons for Eddie not to correct her, unless, the optimistic part of his brain pipes up, maybe the thought of denying it hurt Eddie the same way it hurt Buck. As he’s come to accept that what he feels for Eddie is more than friendship, he’s tried not to let himself hope that Eddie could feel the same way. They’ve had a few moments, sure, but as far as he knows, Eddie is straight, and he’s never given any overt indication that he wants more than friendship, but maybe this is his subtle way of testing the waters, and he’s waiting to see how Buck reacts.

It’s not until Eddie tugs gently on his arm that he remembers that they are supposed to be making their way over to Chris, but before they join him, Buck decides he has to ask. He covers Eddie’s hand with his, and Eddie stills, looking at him quizzically. “Hey, how come you didn’t correct her? No reason to pretend here, is there?” Buck’s heart speeds up, unsure of exactly what he’s hoping Eddie will say.

Eddie blushes, and looks down at the floor. “Oh, sorry. I didn’t think you’d mind.”

“I don’t. Not at all. I just wondered if I missed something.”

“Oh...umm…” Buck’s not sure he’s ever heard Eddie stumble over his words like this before. It is, he finds, completely adorable. “Well, I’ve gotten a flirtatious vibe from her in the past. Since she’s Christopher’s teacher, and I have to see her again, I thought it might be awkward, so letting her assume was the easiest thing to do.” Buck looks over at Mya dubiously. He hadn’t picked up on anything at all flirtatious in the conversation with Eddie, and he’s pretty sure he remembers Christopher saying that Ms. Soto has a wife, so he’s having some trouble believing that what Eddie says is true. Either he’s really bad at judging when someone’s flirting with him, which, well, Buck guesses he might be, or he’s lying. When he looks back at Eddie he’s still avoiding Buck’s gaze.

The traitorous part of his heart where he holds onto hope wants to think Eddie’s lying, and just clinging on to any excuse to pretend, but he tries to temper it. Either way, Buck’s getting what he wants, at least for right now, and he’s not about to waste the opportunity. Instead of challenging Eddie, he pulls Eddie’s hand from his arm, but instead of dropping it, he laces their fingers together. When Eddie looks searchingly at him, he shoots him his most winning smile. “Well, we’ve gotta sell it, right? Just in case she looks over here.” Eddie doesn’t argue, just tightens his grip on Buck’s fingers and leads the way over to Christopher. Buck doesn’t let go of Eddie’s hand for the rest of the night.

5.

The fifth time Buck and Eddie pretend to be dating, it’s premeditated. It’s less than a week before Christmas when Eddie approaches him nervously while Buck is cleaning the rig after a call. Since parent-teacher night Buck swears something has shifted between them. Or maybe it’s just Buck’s perception that’s shifted. Outwardly, nothing has changed. They spend most days together, either at work or at Eddie’s house, but every word they speak to each other feels more significant somehow, like there’s so much more they aren’t saying. Every time their arms graze it feels electric, and Buck feels a loss each time they move away from each other. He finds himself reaching unthinkingly for Eddie’s hand when they’re walking side by side, or sitting on the couch together, and at times he’s barely been able to yank his hand away before Eddie notices.

And at times he thinks Eddie feels something too. Eddie seems goes out of his way to touch him at times, putting his hands on Buck’s hips to maneuver around him in the kitchen, or pressing into his side on the couch. Sometimes Buck catches Eddie staring at him, a soft look on his face. He flushes when their eyes meet and turns away. Those are the times, Buck is convinced Eddie might feel the same way. But other times, he feels Eddie jerk away quickly from a hug, adding a bro-ish backslap for good measure, when Buck was hoping the hug might linger. Times when Eddie peppers his language with the word “friend” so much that Buck worries his feelings are beginning to show and Eddie’s trying to subtlety convey that he’s not interested in anything beyond friendship.

And Buck loves their friendship, but the scary truth is, he knows he wants more from Eddie. Though it isn’t what he thought his future would look like, he can no longer imagine a future without Eddie. At first he thought this just meant that he and Eddie would be best friends, the kind that stay in each other’s lives forever, but when he thinks about a future for Eddie that includes some faceless woman, it feels so wrong. He feels overwhelming jealousy at this imaginary woman, who would get to have moments with Eddie and Christopher that he would miss. It’s obvious that he doesn’t want to be Eddie’s friend, he doesn’t want to be Christopher’s “fun uncle Buck.” He wants a permanent place in their lives. He wants them to be partners, in every sense of the word. He just has to figure out how to make it happen.

Every time Eddie takes a pause before he speaks, Buck hopes maybe he’ll make a confession of his own, or give Buck a clue as to the way forward, but so far he hasn’t. Now Eddie stands in front of him, looking nervous, and Buck’s heart beats faster in anticipation foolishly hoping this will be the moment where things will change.

“So, I need a favor.”

Hmm not exactly a promising start, but Buck’s answer is automatic. “Of course, anything.”

“My aunt is throwing a holiday party tomorrow night and she made sure to specify that it’s adults only. That Christopher isn’t invited.”

Buck doesn’t understand Eddie’s nervousness in asking for a babysitting help. He’s done it for him 100 times before. “And you want me to watch him? You know I will.”

“No, Carla’s watching him that’s not the problem.” Eddie takes a long deep breath in, like he’s stealing himself, and Buck wishes he’d just spit it out, the anticipation is killing him. “Well, it was weird, them not wanting me to bring Chris, so I got a little suspicious and finally got my Abuela to admit that my aunt’s trying to set me up with someone.”

Buck’s smile drops as he contemplates Eddie on a date to a family party, when all Buck has to look forward to is a night of Netflix and takeout. He hates her already, this nameless woman. He realizes maybe Eddie’s waiting for him to respond. “Hmm, a setup huh? How do you feel about that?”

Eddie gives him a strange look, like the answer should be obvious. “Not looking to be set up, obviously, but my family, well, they aren’t that good at hearing no. So this is where that favor comes in.”

Buck’s so relieved that Eddie sounds horrified at the idea of a set up, that he’d forgotten that Eddie was trying to ask him something. “Whatever you need.”

“Maybe you should wait until you hear it. Because in the moment, I was a little flustered? I guess? Terrified more like it, contemplating spending a night trying to make small talk with some stranger that thinks I want to date them, so somehow I ended up telling my abuela that I was seeing someone. And then she insisted that I bring them to the party, and I’m pretty sure I said yes. So what do you say of another evening of pretending to date?”

Well, it might not be everything he hoped Eddie would say, but a night spent together with an excuse to touch Eddie as often as he wants sounds pretty good to Buck. He agrees immediately before realizing that there might be a small flaw in this plan. “Wait, so I’m completely happy to do it, but won’t it end up causing more issues with your family? Won’t you showing up with a guy as your date make them ask a lot of questions?”

Eddie looks at him confused. “Why? My family knows I’m bisexual.”

Buck thinks his brain must have short circuited because there’s no way Eddie just said what he thinks he said. Because if Eddie was going to tell Buck he was bisexual, he wouldn’t just drop it into conversation so casually right? He definitely misheard him. “Wait, what?”

“I’m out to my family. In fact, I may have already told them you’re the one I was bringing as my date. They’ve always been fine with it.”

Ok. So he didn’t mishear. Eddie is bisexual. And out. Just not to Buck. “How come you never told me that?”

Eddie’s brow wrinkles again. “That I’m bisexual? You knew that...didn’t you?”

“Nope. Pretty sure I would’ve remembered something like that.” If he’d known Eddie was into men as well as women, he’d likely have figured out his own feelings a lot sooner.

“But...I mean my aunt asked if we were dating the first time she met you. And I’ve talked to you about my ex-boyfriend before.”

“What, I don’t remember that at all. Are you sure she asked that? And what ex-boyfriend?”

“Alex? I dated him before Shannon. I know I’ve talked about him.”

“Oh. Umm I thought Alex was a woman.” Truthfully, Buck hadn’t listened too closely when Eddie mentioned exes, which wasn’t often, since he didn’t like thinking about it. It’s entirely possible he missed a pronoun or two.

Eddie’s confusion shifts to worry and doubt. “Uh, well, surprise? It’s not a problem for you is it? I’d understand if you’d rather not come to the party now. I guess...I just...I thought you knew is all.”

“No, no, no. Of course it’s not a problem.” Buck trips over his words trying to reassure Eddie. A part of him wants to add that he’s bisexual too. He’d been planning to tell him basically that at some point, but hearing Eddie use the label so confidently and talk about having had a relationship with a man, he suddenly worries he doesn’t have the same claim to the word. He knows intellectually that he doesn’t need to have sex with a man to be bisexual, but this revelation has put him off balance and his head is spinning too much to make any decisions other than assuring Eddie he still wants to be his date—his fake date to this party. “I’d be insulted if you brought anyone else. I’m so there.” He smiles brightly at Eddie, hoping he can’t sense any of the uncertainty he’s feeling.

Eddie smiles back at him, weakly, and Buck senses this conversation has thrown him for a loop as well. Buck bumps Eddie’s shoulder with his own. “This is gonna be awesome. Christmas with your fam, I can’t wait.”

***

As Buck gets ready for the party, he’s more nervous than he’s ever been for a real date in his life. Even more than his first one with Abby, which given how that turned out, doesn’t bode well for him. All day his mood has swung wildly between hope and gloom about his chances with Eddie since learning about Eddie’s bisexuality. On the one hand, having confirmation that Eddie is into guys is good news, but Buck had kind of thought that maybe Eddie liked him but hadn’t made a move because, like Buck, having feelings for men was new to him, and he was grappling with his sexuality. That obviously isn’t the case, so Buck is left to think that Eddie sees him as just a friend and that’s why he has never tried to make a move. Except...well there are moments where Buck swears he sees something in Eddie’s eyes, a softness that’s only there when he looks at Buck and Christopher. And Buck’s pretty sure that Eddie was lying about Christopher’s teacher hitting on him last week, which would mean that Eddie didn’t have any real reason not to disabuse her of the notion that he and Eddie were dating, but instead he’d chosen to hold Buck’s hand all night. That has to mean something, doesn’t it?

By the time the doorbell rings, he’s dressed, but no less confused. But he has a whole night ahead of him with Eddie and he’s not going to waste it. Maybe after tonight he’ll have some clarity. He just has to not do anything stupid. But as he opens the door, and sees Eddie standing there in a button down shirt, with the sleeves rolled up, showing off his forearms, a part of the body he had no idea he was drawn to until this moment, he knows the likelihood of getting through this night without making a fool out of himself is slim.

He manages to greet Eddie and make it to the car without any embarrassing incidents. They pull up to Eddie’s aunt’s house, Eddie walks around the car and opens his door, holding his hand out to Buck. Buck’s breath catches at how much he wants. Wants to hold Eddie’s hand, wants to feel his arm around him, wants this to be a real date, wants a relationship, wants a future. As he grabs Eddie’s hand and let’s him pull him out of the car, Buck makes a decision that they will have that future. He’s Evan Buckley, and he goes after the things he wants. He starts by lacing his fingers through Eddie’s, like he’s been longing to do since parent teacher night, and revels in the quick squeeze Eddie gives his hand as they walk up the path. He’s still unsure about what Eddie feels, but if Eddie doesn’t think of him as boyfriend material, well Buck has tonight to show him what kind of boyfriend he can be.

***

It turns out being Eddie’s boyfriend is pretty easy. Basically Buck just allows himself to do everything he’s been wanting to do, but consciously and subconsciously holding himself back from, because they don’t fit into the confines of a friendship. He’s always attuned to Eddie, from the years of working together and friendship, so it’s easy to play the doting boyfriend, filling his drink as soon as it’s empty, making sure to snag extra sweet potatoes for him when they come out, noticing Eddie’s caught in conversation with his abuela and might not get any before they’re gone, pulling him out of a conversation with his uncle when he notices the muscle in Eddie’s jaw working overtime, the way it does just before his patience snaps. And of course, he takes every possible opportunity to touch Eddie, twining their hands together when walking from the living room to the dining room, looping an arm around Eddie’s waist and putting his head on Eddie’s shoulder when making small talk, putting a hand on his thigh when they sit next to each other on the couch. Though Eddie gives him a few bemused glances, he plays along, pulling Buck closer to him when the moment calls for it, thanking him for the food and drinks with a soft smile and a wink.

The act definitely works on Eddie’s family, who, just as Eddie had claimed, have no problem with Eddie bringing a man as his date. They welcome Buck into their home with open arms and cluck about how cute he and Eddie are, and how they’ve been wanting Eddie to bring someone home for ages. More than one person pulls him aside to say they’ve never seen Eddie so happy. And it does seem like it’s true. He’s smiling easier and looks more relaxed than Buck’s seen him around anyone other than him and Christopher. Buck’s rarely been happier either. It’s odd because when he was with Abby, Buck felt like he was playing a part. Trying to prove he was mature enough, serious enough. He always worried that if he relaxed and was himself, she’d decide he wasn’t what she was looking for, which she’d done in the end anyways. But tonight, even though technically they are putting on an act, Buck’s never felt more like himself. It’s just so easy, and Buck can only hope that someday Eddie sees it too, how good they could be for each other.

The nights winding down, and they start making the rounds to say goodbye, so Eddie can relieve Carla. As they’re saying goodbye to Eddie’s cousin, Buck sees Eddie’s abuela gesturing for them to come to her on the other side of the living room. They’ve already said goodbye to her, so Buck’s not sure what she wants or why she and Eddie’s aunt are giggling to each other, but Buck’s already learned that in this family, you do what Abuela tells you to do, so he tugs Eddie in her direction.

“Abuela, what do you need?” Eddie asks, dropping a kiss on her cheek. “You know we’d love to stay, but Christopher’s waiting on me.

“I know, I know. I’m just so happy that you finally brought Evan to visit with us. You must bring him back with you the next time you come.”

Buck smiles and says sincerely, “Of course, I’d love to come back anytime you’ll have me.” He hopes like hell he can keep that promise.

She smiles sweetly at him, before casting her gaze on Eddie. “Before you go, just one more hug.”

Eddie obliges, but eyes her suspiciously. Buck now notices her smile seems a little bit too innocent, and his aunt is still trying to hide giggles behind her hand.

Buck’s not sure exactly what’s going on, but he’s a little wary even as Eddie steers him towards the front door, a hand on his lower back. As they are about to pass through the entryway, Abuela’s voice calls out, “Mijo! Stop.” Eddie stops in his tracks, and Buck looks back to see her pointing at something above their heads. A mix of anticipation and dread flood through him because he has a feeling he knows what she’s pointing at, and if Eddie really doesn’t have any feelings beyond friendship for Buck, this is going to be awkward as fuck. A quick glance up confirms his suspicions: yup, mistletoe. He and Eddie seem to make the realization at the same time and their eyes meet. Buck’s not sure exactly what Eddie will see in his eyes, but hopes he’s not looking too eager. Because honestly, after this night, really after the last few weeks, Buck wants Eddie’s lips on him anyway he can. Eddie looks...conflicted, though, and the last thing he wants is to force Eddie into something he’s uncomfortable with, even if a rejection will crush him.

Abuela’s voice breaks through his reverie. “Mijo, you know how important holiday traditions are to me.” Her tone is a little teasing, but he still wouldn’t disobey her if he was in Eddie’s shoes.

Eddie seems to be thinking the same thing, and quirks a questioning eyebrow at Buck, seeking permission. Buck nods in a way he hopes is subtle, though he can’t be sure as he’s overcome by nerves. As much as he feels certain he wants nothing more than to kiss Eddie, he’s suddenly not sure he wants their first kiss, his first kiss with a guy, to be for show in front of Eddie’s entire family.

But as Eddie slides a hand gently down his jaw, until it settles at the back of his neck, everything else floats away, until he can’t see anything but Eddie. His heart threatens to beat out of his chest when Eddie moves towards him, and lays a gentle kiss to his cheek. It’s just a brief press of lips, but Buck’s entire body lights up. He doesn’t even have it in him to feel disappointed by the cheek kiss, not when Eddie pulls back slightly and looks at Buck with such warmth, like Buck is the only one he can see too. For a minute Buck considers pulling Eddie back in, kissing him for real, but the moment already feels like enough. He’s pretty certain he sees all the confirmation he needs in Eddie’s eyes, but this is too important to gamble on. When he kisses Eddie for the first time, he doesn’t want there to be any doubt about his intentions.

“Oh alright, good enough. I guess you always were a bit shy.” Abuela’s well meaning tease breaks the moment, and Eddie’s hand drops from his neck, though Buck doesn’t let it go far, grabbing his hand again as he has all night. “You boys can go on home now. Give Christopher a hug from us.”

They’re quiet on the way back to Buck’s apartment. Eddie looks deep in thought and Buck’s still flying high from the whole night, how warm and right it felt, that he doesn’t want to say anything that might break the spell.

He’s surprised and pleased when instead of dropping him off, Eddie parks and insists on walking him up to the door of his apartment. They linger briefly there and Buck wonders if they are just going to stare at each other in silence for an eternity.

When Eddie speaks, its with an uncharacteristic nervousness. “Thank you, you were the best date I could’ve asked for.” The barest hint of a smile crosses his face, but he’s not speaking in the joking tone Buck might expect given the statement.

“Of course. It was easy.” He means that in the best possible way. It was easy and fun. Showing him everything that a relationship could be between them.

“So, I’m taking Christopher to see Santa tomorrow night. Do you want to come?”

His answer is immediate. “I’d love to.” He smiles widely, anticipation at another night with Eddie thrumming through him. The night really couldn’t get more perfect, except it does, when Eddie leans up and presses a kiss to his cheek, here in Buck’s entryway, no mistletoe, no nosy relatives, just the two of them.

+1

The stars are out, the night is crisp, and Christopher is bouncing with excitement, and fifteen minutes in, it’s already Buck’s best date ever. Because Buck has decided, this is a date. And if Eddie doesn’t know it now, Buck’s going to make sure he does, by the end of the night. Because all of this is getting ridiculous. They are perfect for each other, Buck knows it and he’s pretty sure Eddie does too, and all they need to do is get out of their own way.

“Daddy, is it time to see Santa yet?” Buck smiles fondly at Christopher, thinking for the millionth time how lucky he is that he gets to be a part of his life and knowing he wants to be with him every day.

“Yeah buddy, let’s go.”

As they leave Christopher in line, insistent as always that he wants to do it himself, Buck recognizes the elf they saw here two Christmases ago. His laugh at the memory draws her attention and she looks at them both, eyes narrowing slightly as if trying to place them. She looks to the line at Christopher and back to them, before her face brightens in recognition.

“Oh, it’s you guys!!” Buck can’t help but smile at her, matching her enthusiasm, though he knows this conversation will probably be confusing for Eddie. “You guys were here last year, or was it two years ago, maybe? Gosh the Christmases all blend together.”

Eddie looks doubtful. “You remember us? You must see thousands of people in this job.”

“Yeah, but you guys stuck with me. Your son is so adorable and you guys just look at him like he’s your whole world. You look at each other that way, too. It’s just nice to see, and I’m so glad to know you all are still together and in love as ever. Gives me hope, you know?” She smiles mistily at them.

Before Eddie can speak, Buck grins at her, and just like he did two years ago, on an impulse he didn’t understand then, but does now, he simply says, “Thank you.” He takes this as the sign he’s been waiting for. He grabs Eddie’s arm to drag him to the fountain, tucked a bit away, where they can still see Christopher, who is about 10 kids from the front of the line, but are removed from the crowd.

“What was that about?” The question doesn’t sound annoyed or even bewildered. There’s hope and anticipation there, the same kind Buck feels buzzing through his veins. This is the moment when something is either going to happen or it’s not. Either way, he had to know. His thoughts are going a million miles an hour as he tries to figure out the right words to use, how to convey what he feels, what he wants. Eddie takes his silence as confusion and clarifies. “Who are we pretending for here, Evan?”

“Who’s pretending?” Buck takes a brief moment to send up a prayer that he’s not reading the heat that flickers in Eddie’s eyes wrong, as he takes Eddie’s face into his hands, pausing long enough to give Eddie a chance to back away if he wants to, before he presses their lips together. Buck had intended the kiss to be short. Just the answer to a question. He’d planned to kiss Eddie because he just had to know what it would be like, and then planned to back off, gauge Eddie’s reaction, and talk, but that option flies out the window the minute their lips touch because Buck can no longer think about what’s sensible, he can’t think about anything at all, except Eddie’s mouth beneath his. He leans into this kiss, sliding one hand into Eddie’s hair to pull him closer. And suddenly Eddie is kissing him back and there’s no hesitation or tentativeness in the way his mouth opens up under Buck’s. Eddie quickly takes control of the kiss, licking into Buck’s mouth, his hands gripping Buck’s hips and pulling them flush against his own, drawing a low groan from the back of Buck’s throat, as sparks ignite from every point their bodies are touching.

As lack of oxygen forces them to pull apart, Buck whimpers at the loss. As soon as he gasps in a breath, he leans forward once more, planning to capture Eddie’s mouth again. He can’t believe how much time they wasted when they could have been doing this, but weren’t. Now that they have he never wants to stop. But though Buck’s lust addled brain probably would’ve pushed Eddie against the nearest flat surface, and kissed him until they both forgot their own names, Eddie’s always been the sensible one, and he interferes with Buck’s plan, stilling Buck’s movement with a gentle hand to the chest.

Buck forgets to be mad when he sees the tenderness and want in Eddie’s eyes, as he brushes one more soft kiss to Buck’s lips pulling back. As normal functions return to his brain and he remembers their surroundings he’s forced to admit that this isn’t an appropriate place to get carried away the way he wants to. Besides, they probably should talk.

“So…” Buck ventures. “No more pretending, right?”

Eddie laughs. “No more. Good thing, too. I’m not sure how many more opportunities for fake dating I could make up.”

“Make up? Which ones did you make up?”

“Just the last two.”

“So your family wasn’t trying to set you up?” Buck asks incredulously.

“Not exactly. They were giving me a hard time begging me to bring you. They’ve been convinced for a while that there’s something between us. That you know, I was…”Eddie blushes, something Buck thinks he’ll never stop finding adorable.

“Super into me?” Buck shoots Eddie his best cocky grin, before his features slide back into the lovesick expression he’s sure he’s been wearing all night. “Obviously the feeling is mutual. But why didn’t you just tell me? Ask me out for real? We wouldn’t have had to do any of this pretend stuff.”

“I wasn’t sure you were into guys at all, let alone me. I thought you knew I was bisexual, and that I’d signaled my interest in you pretty clearly. I figured if you were into men and into me, well, the ball was in your court. I wasn’t really sure what was going on with the fake dating stuff, but thought maybe you were trying to figure out your own feelings, and I’d just wait to see where you wanted to take things. It wasn’t until the other day when I realized you were oblivious as hell and didn’t even know I was bisexual, that I realized maybe you might need more overt signals.”

Buck feels like Eddie also could’ve just kissed him at any point over the last month or really over the last two years and that might’ve been easier than all this, but everything they’ve been through has led them to this point, and he can’t bring himself to regret a second of it. But he doesn’t have time for misunderstandings and he thinks they might both be oblivious idiots so to be on the safe side he thinks he should spell it out. “So to be clear, we are together now. Dating, boyfriends? Right? Just to avoid any more confusion.”

Eddie laughs, which is quickly becoming Buck’s favorite sound in the world, kisses him firmly once more, and agrees. “Right. Now come on, boyfriend, we better not miss Chris’s pictures with Santa.”

Buck winds his arm around Eddie’s waist, and as they watch Chris babble animatedly in Santa’s ear before smiling wide for the camera, he realizes he can’t think of a single thing he’d ask Santa for right now. With Eddie and Christopher by his side, it feels like every fervent wish he’s ever made, for connection, belonging, for family, has already come true.