For whatever reason, Buck hadn’t expected Nowhere to have hills. He only realises he’s been picturing it as a desert plain town when the road takes them into the low mountains. Thankfully, the river they lost Eddie to for a while doesn’t run into Nowhere itself.
“Just up on the left,” Eddie says, pointing out the windshield. Buck follows the instructions and they find themselves on a sunny street lined with frankly adorable bungalows.
From the back seat, Chris pipes up to ask, “Are we there yet?”
“Almost,” Buck says. He glances at Eddie. “Right?”
“Left, actually,” Eddie says, pointing again.
Buck waits until they’ve turned to shoot him a tiny glower, which gets him a bright smile in response. Eddie points out the house they’re headed to and Buck parks the Jeep beside the ancient, somewhat battered, Land Rover.
They’ve barely stopped moving before the front door of the house bursts open and Magda runs out to greet them. Eddie is first out of the car to say hi and grabs her in a hug that sweeps her off her feet.
They hadn’t seen her for the wedding. The ceremony itself had been a courthouse thing, with way too many people jammed into the judge’s chambers (jury’s still out on whether Bobby or Abuela had cried more). Magda had come to the reception a month later, though, and had taken it upon herself to spend the entire night babysitting Ramon and Helena so she could gush about what a wonderful person their son is. Buck isn’t sure exactly how much Eddie had told her about his parents’ part in having him declared dead, but the few times Buck had caught snatches of their conversation, it had been exceedingly obvious that Magda knew enough to thoroughly season their conversation with salt.
Chris gets the next hug, and then it’s Buck’s turn.
“Let’s see them, let’s see,” Magda says, grabbing Buck and Eddie’s hands and inspecting them. She purses her lips, turning their matching fingers over. “You know those are gonna fade, right?”
“Yeah,” Buck says. “The tattoo shop had signs all over the place about it. And technically, it’s against dress code regs to have hand tattoos, but our union rep is very gay and thought it was sweet so we got special approval.”
“Plus, I figure when they start to fade and we have to get them redone, we can use it as an opportunity to renew our vows,” Eddie adds in his best baseball-weather-insanity-inducing tone of voice.
“You’re a sap,” Magda informs him just as blandly. “Come in, come in out of the heat.”
Buck grabs their bags from the back of the Jeep and they follow her into her house. They are immediately greeted by a trio of cats who start wending their way around Eddie’s ankles and butting their foreheads into his calves and shins until Eddie stoops to pick one up and drape it over his shoulder. The cat snuggles into his neck, purring and rubbing its face against him.
For an absurd moment, Buck feels a touch possessive. That’s his husband’s neck, thank you, weird interloper — and then he realises he’s jealous of a damn cat.
“I’m glad you’re here,” Magda says, shooing the other two cats away before they can wind their way around Buck’s and Chris’s ankles and trip them. “I mean, I’m glad you’re here just to see you guys, although I still can’t believe you want to spend your honeymoon in Nowhere—”
“I voted for Hawaii,” Chris says.
“Glad one of the three of you has sense,” Magda says. “But I’m glad you’re here because my neighbour’s cat got out a while back and, well.”
She leads them into the kitchen where a cardboard box is full of squeaking, purring, tiny kittens.
Chris drops to the floor before Buck even has time to process what they’re looking at and is reaching in to stroke each of their mottled tabby heads.
“Oh my God,” Eddie says, scooping the adult cat off his shoulder and kneeling down on the floor beside Chris.
“Oh my god,” Buck says, in a wholly different tone than Eddie, which makes Magda giggle.
“Can we take one?” Eddie and Chris ask in unison, looking up at Magda with matching, unfairly adorable, expressions. They’re both still completely windswept from the drive, although this hasn’t done too much damage to Chris’s hair. Chris, unlike Eddie, had been slumped down in the backseat playing video games and didn’t catch as much of the wind. Eddie, on the other hand, is tousled and messy just the way Buck likes him, which is very upsetting since he’s also now holding kittens and is looking between Buck and Magda with those stupid, ridiculously soft, big brown eyes and Buck is –
“Look at its face,” Eddie says, cupping one of the kittens in his hand and bringing it up beside his own face.
“Why did you do this to me?” Buck asks Magda.
Magda laughs so hard she snorts. “You’re welcome.”
They have dinner at Nowhere’s primary bar and restaurant, which Chris finds entertaining because he’s not allowed in bars in LA and none of the restaurants they go to have things like pool or shuffleboard. They’re joined for dinner by Magda’s girlfriend Jo, and Magda’s sister-in-law Laura, and Magda’s nephew Billy.
It’s nice to meet the people who looked after Eddie when he was gone, even if Laura does have an obvious crush on Eddie. Listening to them catch up, it’s clear that neither Eddie nor Magda have noticed this, but at one point during dinner, Buck catches Jo’s eye across the table and can tell that she definitely has.
And Buck gets it. God, he gets it. Eddie’s Eddie. Add that to the fact Laura’s got a young son a few years younger than Christopher, who clearly adores Eddie too, well. Who could resist?
But it’s also clear from the way Laura makes sure to pull Buck into the conversation that Buck does not need to worry about her flirting with his man. It’s just a crush, and so he can sympathise.
Billy, on the other hand, is determined to try and impress Christopher with his knowledge of natural disasters.
“Did you know there was a tsunami in Los Angeles a few years ago?” Billy asks, and Buck and Eddie stiffen at the same time.
“Yeah,” Chris says with a casual shrug. “Pops and I got caught in it.”
Billy’s jaw drops while Magda, Laura, and Jo turn horrified looks in Buck and Eddie’s direction.
“That must have been—” Laura starts and then trails off. Buck understands. What the hell do you even say to that?
“It was fine,” Chris says in the same bland and casual tone Eddie likes to use for similarly inappropriate situations. Buck hasn’t figured out yet if it’s a genetic thing or a learned behaviour. “We just kept swimming. Besides, I had my pops, so I knew it was going to be okay.”
It’s been a while since the tsunami was the worst day of Buck’s life, considering the other very, very horrible days he’s had since, but thinking about it still fills him with the bottomless terror he’d felt when Chris had fallen off the fire truck.
The tsunami. The well. The river.
Maybe he should just keep his boys away from any and all bodies of water. Maybe they should move to Arizona or something. Somewhere dry as dirt.
His fatalistic spiralling is interrupted by Eddie’s hand landing on the back of his neck. His thumb rubs along the muscle and his fingertips brush into Buck’s hair. Buck had not been aware that his anxiety had this particular off-switch until fairly recently, but he’s damn glad Eddie discovered it for him.
“That’s always how I know things are gonna be okay, too,” Eddie says. He kisses Chris on the top of the head and when he leans over to kiss Buck, too, it feels like a promise.
It’s the third call of the shift and Eddie could not begin to explain the events that led to the current situation. The five of them – him, Buck, Chim, Albert, and Ravi – get out of the trucks and find themselves simply…staring. There’s a collection of teenagers, an upright piano, an improvised winch pulley system, and the teenagers that aren’t pinned under the piano are running through the field desperately chasing a –
“Is – is that an ostrich or a dog in a costume?” Ravi asks.
“Okay folks,” Chim says, snapping into captain mode. “Han, Panikkar, you’re on containment of – whatever that is before those kids do any more—”
Before he can finish saying “damage” one of the kids chasing the dogstrich trips over something and swears loudly, complaining about a broken ankle.
The members of the 118 sigh, tired.
“Buckley, Diaz, you’re on our piano men,” Chim says, pointing towards the still inexplicable upright piano that is – well, it’s certainly no longer upright.
“Wait, which one?” Buck asks.
“What do you mean ‘which one,’ there’s two dudes stuck under the piano,” Chim says, giving Buck an unimpressed look.
Eddie manages to keep a straight face when he turns to Chim and explains. “You just said ‘Buckley-Diaz.’ You’re going to have to be more specific.”
He’s pretty sure he can see Chim’s soul leave his body in annoyance, like it might be looking for help in the form of Hen, currently doing her residency, or maybe Bobby, to drag him back from retirement.
“Paramedic s, plural, Buckley-Diaz,” Chim says. “Go tend to the people trapped under the piano. I am going to deal with the broken ankle.”
“See? Was that really so hard?” Buck asks.
“If you weren’t my wife and child’s favourite person besides me,” Chim starts.
“Chris has both of you beat where Jee’s concerned,” Eddie says, grabbing the field kit out of the ambulance.
Neither Buck nor Chim try to argue that point whatsoever. Instead, they all head to their respective patients. On arriving at the piano, Eddie’s surprised to discover that one of the people pinned is a full-fledged, middle-aged adult rather than a teenager like the rest of the people in the field.
“Want to tell us what happened here?” Eddie asks, checking for a pulse in the man’s trapped leg. He finds it and tells Buck, who nods and keeps checking in on his patient.
“Clearly you don’t have teenagers,” is all the man says.
“As of last week,” Eddie says. “But maybe a week into thirteen is too soon to start worrying about…uh…”
He scans the field and sees Albert and Ravi and the rest of the pack of teenagers still chasing the dogstrich thing through the tall grass.
“…whatever this is,” Eddie finishes.
“Come on, Eddie, you never got up to shenanigans when you were a teenager?” Buck asks. He checks his patient for possible spinal injuries and declares her clear. “Don’t have access to the foot to check for a pulse, though.”
“Why would there need to be a pulse in my foot?” the girl asks.
“So that we can make sure blood’s still circulating to it,” Buck says. “Can you wiggle your toes?”
The girl nods, a little shaky.
“Awesome,” Buck says. “That’s a good sign.”
They eventually get the piano off the two – no arterial bleeds, thankfully, just some bad fractures – and get them transported. When they get back to the station, Ravi and Albert still don’t have a concrete answer on the species of the creature they’d encountered and spend the rest of the shift hotly debating it.
“Come on, Eds, no shenanigans?” Buck asks while he makes dinner.
There had been a minute, after Bobby’s retirement, where Chim had attempted to step into the mantle and uphold the tradition of having the captain of the 118 make dinner for everyone. After two weeks of burning smells lingering around the loft and a pizza delivery girl who became familiar enough that one of the women on their shift finally had time to get her number, Buck had gently shifted Chimney away from the stove and taken over.
“I’m afraid to ask what your definition of teenage shenanigans is,” Eddie replies. He considers for a second, and then a terrible thought occurs to him. “Don’t you dare tell Chris about anything you did as a teenager. I don’t want him getting ideas.”
Buck gapes. “You don’t even know what I did as a teenager! For all you know, I was in study club.”
“Mm, yeah, see, I do know what you did as a teenager,” Chim says, trying to steal a piece of something from Buck’s cutting board. He gets a spatula to the back of the hand for his trouble. “Because Maddie told me. And Eddie is definitely right.”
“See if I feed either of you dinner,” Buck sniffs.
More to be annoying than because he actually wants some of the carrots Buck is chopping, Eddie gives Buck his best puppy-dog eyes. Buck folds instantly and extends a piece of carrot across the counter. Eddie takes it and shoots a smug look in Chim’s direction.
“I’m telling Bobby you guys are being gross at the station again,” Chim says.
“That was a much more effective threat when he was still our captain,” Eddie points out.
Chim sighs. “I’m never gonna get either of you to fear me, am I?”
“I mean, you could try, but with the whole you being married to my sister thing, and therefore being both of our brother-in-law, it seems like that would make Thanksgivings awkward,” Buck says.
Chim sighs again. “Any chance of you two ever knocking off the Abbot and Costello bit with your last name?”
“Not even a little,” Eddie promises.
Chimney sulks away and Eddie laughs.
“Do you think we should ever tell him it was Chris’s idea and we didn’t do it specifically to spite him?” Buck asks.
Eddie considers. “Nah.”
When their shift ends and they get home, they’re greeted by an increasingly familiar sight: Chris sprawled on the couch, playing a video game, with the cat wrapped around his shoulders like a stole.
“Hi!” Chris says, turning away from his game to smile at them.
Eddie drops his bag and crosses directly to the couch to hug him. He has no idea how much longer he’s got before Chris is too grown up and “cool”, in that way young teenagers get, to be glad to see him when he comes home. An incredibly selfish part of him hopes that all they’ve gone through means that it won’t ever happen, but another voice tends to add that if it does, it means Chris has fully healed from all of their shared family traumas.
When he hugs Chris, the cat slinks away from Chris’s shoulders and stalks over to her favourite member of the Buckley-Diaz family, winding her way around Buck’s ankles and mewling in her squeakiest, most pitiful way until Buck sighs and scoops her up. The cat likes both Eddie and Chris, but Buck is her unquestioned favourite.
Eddie understands, he does, but he is just a little jealous. And it doesn’t help that every time he calls Magda to ask if she has any more kittens for them, she laughs at him.
“How far did you get?” Buck asks, slinging the cat over his shoulder where she lays happily limp like a ragdoll. He drops down onto the couch beside Chris and takes the controller to start looking around whatever level of whatever game it is they’re both obsessed with these days.
“Coffee?” Eddie asks Buck.
“Yes, please!” Buck says.
“Yes, please!” Chris says and follows this with a smile he’s picked up directly from Buck, which is highly troubling to Eddie’s ability to be stern when the occasion calls for it.
“Absolutely not,” he says to Chris.
“Dad,” Chris whines, and then rolls his eyes. “Pops, can I have coffee?”
“That trick only works when I’m not around for the first no,” Buck replies, grinning at him. “Besides, you don’t want to start with the caffeine. You’ll end up short like your dad.”
Eddie gasps, pressing his hand over his heart. “I take it back, Chris, you can have coffee so you don’t grow into a giant freak of nature like your pops.”
“That’s not how genetics work,” Chris informs him, but keeps grinning just like Buck anyway.
Buck hands the controller and the cat back to Chris and jumps up from the couch. Eddie stays where he is, leaning in the kitchen doorway, eyebrow raised while Buck stalks towards him.
“Giant freak of nature?” Buck repeats.
“Well, I’m certainly not short, so therefore, you’ve gotta be--”
That’s as far as he gets before Buck grabs him by the thighs, lifts him off the ground, and carries him into the kitchen while Eddie laughs and Chris makes teenager-like retching noises. When they’re entirely out of view from the living room and Chris has started playing his game again, Buck presses him against the wall and kisses him. They’ve been together almost two years now -- officially; all the years before it when they may as well have been are murky at best -- but Buck still kisses him like Eddie is something precious he can’t imagine ever letting go of. It would make Eddie weak at the knees if, y’know, Buck wasn’t holding him up already.
But it’s early in the morning and their son is in the other room, so a quick kiss is all Eddie gets.
Buck sets him down and turns around to their normal, un-smart, app-free coffee maker.
“Freak of nature,” Buck mutters. “You like me being bigger than you.”
“Never said I didn’t,” Eddie replies. “Doesn’t make you any closer to average, though.”
Buck snorts and keeps making coffee. To Eddie’s bemusement, he makes Chris a cup that’s mostly hot chocolate with an espresso shot’s worth of drip coffee in it. Sometimes--less and less these days, but still sometimes--Eddie wonders how things might have gone if he hadn’t come back. If they’d never figured out who he was, if his memories had never returned. He wonders how close Buck and Chris would be as they navigated Chris’s teenage years just the two of them, or if they would even have stayed just the two of them. If they would’ve eventually found someone to step into the empty spaces he’d left in their lives, someone who wouldn’t have ever left them.
It’s a useless train of thought, of course, because Eddie did figure out who he is, and he did get his memories back, and it gets easier every day to accept that he didn’t leave them, not really. It helps that when these thoughts come up, he can just mention it to Buck. And because he’s Buck, he somehow manages to know exactly how to reassure Eddie that no, he and Chris wouldn’t have found someone else -- which, honestly, is as comforting as it is upsetting -- and no, Eddie had definitely not left them. After a particularly bad nightmare a year into their marriage, Buck had jokingly offered to get Eddie microchipped like the cat, and when Eddie had considered that a little too seriously, had then immediately bundled them off to therapy.
It had required a lot of bribery.
It’s getting difficult these days to find new ways to hold onto Chris and Buck. Having Buck adopt Chris, getting married, getting their wedding rings tattooed on, sticking their surnames together – it all helps, but Eddie’s not sure it’s ever going to feel like he’s done enough.
And then Buck grins at him, all dimples and bright eyes, like Eddie’s the only thing he ever wants to look at. And it cuts through the doubt and guilt and worry that still circles around Eddie’s head sometimes. Because however tightly Eddie’s holding on to Chris and Buck, Buck is holding on just as tight. Because when Buck smiles at him like that, Eddie knows he’s home.