Buck used his key to get inside Eddie’s house, already talking as soon as the door opened.
“Hey, sorry I’m late. If we leave right now, we can still make the movie.”
Eddie held up a hand as he paced the length of the living room, phone to his ear. His face could best be described as a thundercloud, brows drawn together, red spots on his cheeks from biting back whatever angry tirade was building.
Wondering what was going on to get Eddie that riled up, Buck slipped past him and settled on the couch. He flipped through a book on polar bears Chris had left out while he waited, mentally filing the facts away so they could discuss it later.
After a few minutes, Eddie growled and threw his phone. Buck managed to catch it before it cracked on the coffee table. Muttering, Eddie scrubbed his hands over his face. He seemed to have shrunk in on himself. Buck had never seen him like this, as if he were a heartbeat away from biting something or crying.
“You all right?” he asked softly, which was a stupid question because he obviously wasn’t.
“They changed the way Chris’ PT sessions are coded for billing so insurance won’t cover them anymore. And I can’t afford to pay for them on my own.”
“That sucks, man. I’m sorry. There’s nothing they can do to help?”
“No. I’ve talked to the physical therapist’s office, the insurance company, even the damn medical billing place, and it’s always the same thing. ‘We understand you’re upset, Mr. Diaz, but I’m afraid there’s nothing we can do. Please let us know if you have any other concerns.’ I’d like to shove their ‘have a great day’ down their throats.”
“I don’t know what to do. Chris needs those therapy sessions. He’s been doing so much better, especially since he started working with Sean.”
Chris adored Sean. He was funny and knew how to ride that line of indulging Chris and pushing him just a little bit more. Chris was getting stronger in leaps and bounds between the sessions with Sean and the new exercises he gave him to do at home.
“Could you cut down the number of visits?”
“I could. But I don’t want to have to.”
He took up pacing again. Buck watched him for a minute but the next time he got close, he wrapped a hand around Eddie's wrist and tugged him down onto the couch.
“Please sit. You’re making me dizzy.”
Eddie let out a choked off laugh and hunched over, elbows digging into his knees, head buried in his hands. Stomach churning, Buck rubbed his back. It was tight with tension. For a second he thought Eddie would shrug him off, but he exhaled and leaned into the touch.
“We’ll figure something out,” he said, putting as much confidence as possible into it. “There must be something we can do. I can’t believe your insurance won’t cover it.”
“It would if I was on the family plus plan.”
“Aren’t you already on the family plan?” They’d talked about it when the city changed insurance companies last year, everybody but Buck bitching about how much more expensive it was to have kids on your plan and Buck wisely keeping his mouth shut, even though he’d gladly pay more if it meant he had a family.
“The family plan, yeah. This is the family plus plan, which you can only get if you have a spouse.”
“That’s bullshit. What about single parents? Or people that live together and have families but don’t want to get married?”
“I don’t think the insurance company gives a shit, Buck. They just want their money.”
“But that’s discriminatory!”
“It’s the way it is.”
A rant was building but after looking at Eddie’s shuttered expression, he let it go. It would do nothing to help. It was so fucking unfair.
“We’ll figure something out,” he repeated. Come hell or high water—or Eddie’s stubbornness about accepting help—he’d make sure Chris got his PT sessions.
“This isn’t your problem, Buck. I just needed to vent.”
Shoving Eddie’s shoulder, he glared at him. “Don’t be an idiot. You’re my best friend and I love Chris and we’ll figure out together what to do so he can get what he needs.”
“Yeah,” he said, but there was no conviction to it, as if he’d already given up.
He looked so despondent, so utterly crushed under the weight of the responsibilities that seemed to keep piling up on his shoulders. Buck wrapped an arm around his shoulders, wishing he could do more, that he could solve all Eddie’s problems and erase the worry lines around his eyes. But maybe he could cheer him up tonight, or at least distract him.
“Listen, we might’ve missed the movie, but that doesn’t mean the whole evening is a wash. Chris is at Abuela’s, right?”
Eddie nodded. “He was mad he couldn’t come with us. It took me ten minutes to get him to stop pouting and coax him into the truck.”
He bit his lip to hold back a smile. “Why don’t you go get Chris and I’ll get snacks? We could pile blankets and pillows on the couch and have a movie night here?”
“Yeah? You don’t mind?”
“Of course not. Hanging out with my best friend and his annoying dad is my favorite thing.”
Eddie snorted and lightly punched Buck’s thigh. “Okay. I’ll text Abuela and let her know I’m coming by early.”
Buck jumped in his jeep and headed to the store while Eddie went the opposite direction to go to Abuela’s. He beelined straight to the candy aisle and filled his basket with a dozen of their favorites, including two bags of Reese’s Pieces for Eddie, then grabbed a box of extra buttery popcorn too. He browsed the beer but he wanted something besides Bud or Corona, so he did a quick google search to find the peach-flavored craft beer Eddie liked but would never buy for himself. A liquor store fifteen minutes away had it in stock. It was out of the way but seeing Eddie’s smile would be worth it. He deserved a treat.
Buck’s phone pinged as he pulled onto Eddie’s street.
WHERE ARE YOU???
All caps. Oops. The trip to the liquor store took longer than anticipated. He didn’t bother with answering, just parked the Jeep and used his key again to get in the door.
Chris noticed him first and flung himself at Buck for a hug, which turned out to be a ploy to grab the bags of snacks. He sat on the floor and started rummaging through everything, cheering happily when he saw the Twizzlers.
Reaching over Chris’ shoulder, Eddie snatched the candy out of his hand. “Wait for the movie, kid. And thank Buck for all this.”
“Thanks, Buck,” Chris said, like it was pulled out of him. He was acting more like a moody teenager every day, and he was barely eleven.
Eddie rolled his eyes and ruffled Chris’ hair. “Go pick out a movie. And nothing scary. We don’t want to give Buck nightmares.”
Buck stuck out his tongue, and Chris giggled all the way to the living room, plopping on the couch and picking up the remote.
“Good luck with him when he’s sixteen and thinks the world is against him,” Buck said, smirking.
Eddie groaned. “I’ll just lock him in his room. It’ll be fine.”
Laughing, he passed Eddie the beer. The cardboard handle was started to cut into his palm. “Here. This is why I was late getting back.”
Eddie silently stared at the six-pack for so long that Buck shifted uncomfortably, afraid he’d misremembered and picked up the wrong kind.
“You bought me Golden Rock?” he asked, an odd hitch in his voice.
Buck shrugged, rubbing the back of his neck. “It’s not a big deal.”
His face softened into a fond look that sent Buck’s heart racing a little. “It is a big deal. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” I’d do anything for you. He swallowed that down and bent to scoop up the abandoned bags. “I’ll go make the popcorn.”
Going into the kitchen, he stuck the popcorn in the microwave and snagged a drink out of the fridge for Chris. He could hear Eddie and Chris bickering about the movie. The breathiness in Chris’ voice meant he was trying to be serious but failing. A fact confirmed a minute later by the loud burst of laughter. Eddie and Chris giggling together was probably Buck’s favorite sound ever.
He carried everything into the living room, sliding into his spot on the couch, and deposited the bowl of popcorn in Chris’ lap.
“What are we watching?” he asked, taking the beer Eddie handed him. He usually preferred something darker, but the peach gave it a pleasant crisp taste.
“Captain America!” Chris exclaimed, wiggling and almost upending the popcorn.
“Only because I talked him out of Coco for the fiftieth time this month and Jaws.”
Chris giggled into his glass, and Eddie poked his ribs, right where he was the most ticklish, prompting Buck into rescuing the bowl before they all ended up covered in buttery popcorn.
“Start the movie, you menace,” Eddie told Chris once things settled down.
Propping his feet on the coffee table, Buck sank into the cushions, beer resting on his stomach, eyes more on Eddie tearing into his Reese’s Pieces than on the movie. He could see the strain of putting on a happy face for Chris in the stiffness of his shoulders and the muscle ticking in his jaw. He wanted to hold him close and kiss a smile back onto his face.
Eddie caught him staring and arched an eyebrow. Flushing, Buck ducked his head and picked at the label on his bottle. The story of the brewery was printed on the back, some bullshit about wanting to start an ethical business where people could get drunk without worrying about imbibing harmful chemicals. The year the brewery started caught his attention. 2011. The year Chris was born. He glanced at Eddie and Chris, heads together as they whispered about something in the movie, and his heart clenched painfully. It was no secret the Diaz boys were his favorite people.
He needed to find a way to help them, and he would. Somehow.
Chris was old enough to put himself to bed now. Eddie missed the days of tucking him in and stretching out next to him while he read a story. Chris still liked to cuddle—while watching movies or when he was sick—and Eddie planned to hold on to those times as long as possible.
Quiet blanketed the house, the only noise coming from the sitcom rerun on the TV, volume on low. Eddie felt restless. He should wash up the dishes from dinner or throw a load of laundry in the washer. Instead, he switched off the TV and padded down the hallway to check on Chris. He pushed open the door and smiled. Chris lay spread out, one arm flung off the side of the bed, open book covering half his face.
Eddie gently picked up the book and slipped off his glasses, then set them on the nightstand. He fished the flashlight out from under the covers and flicked it off. He should give Chris a talk about staying up past his bedtime, but it felt silly to chastise him for sneaking a book of all things. Straightening the covers over Chris’ shoulders, Eddie kissed his forehead and backed out of the room.
Chris was his world. He was tired of feeling like a failure when it came to taking care of his kid. Part of him would always wonder if his parents were right, that Chris was better off with them, that he’d bring Chris down. It was a heavy weight that sat in the pit of his stomach every day. Buck could tell him twenty times a day that he was a good father, and he’d sometimes believe it. But if his parents said anything, which they often did, he went right back to doubting himself.
“Don’t all parents worry about screwing up their kids?” Buck asked once, both of them sloppy drunk off top shelf whiskey, splayed over Buck’s couch like their bones had dissolved.
Eddie shrugged or tried anyway. His shoulder was trapped under Buck’s, but he felt too comfortable to move. Buck was like a warm blanket, and LA was actually chilly tonight.
“I guess,” he replied, once he realized he hadn’t answered out loud and Buck couldn’t read his mind.
“Well, take it from someone whose parents did screw him up, you’re doing an amazing job.”
“You’re an amazing dad with an amazing kid. Stop being mean to my best friend.”
“Your best friend? I’m not being mean to Chris.”
Eddie thought about that conversation when he was at his lowest. At least he had Buck in his corner.
He had to find a way to navigate through this insurance issue and still get Chris what he needed. But first he washed the dishes and did a load of laundry. At least he could still handle simple things like housework.
Out of things to tidy, he gathered all his bills and other paperwork and settled at the dining table, determined to find a way around this damn insurance issue. He crunched numbers and shuffled stuff around, went on a google tear that ultimately ended in wasted time. No matter how he rearranged things or cut corners—he didn’t need to buy coffee when he had a fancy coffee maker at home—the numbers just didn’t add up in his favor.
Sighing in disgust, he threw his pen down and raked his hands through his hair, tugging until his scalp hurt.
He could pick up overtime, but that was only sustainable for so long before his body protested and rebelled. The same would be true of taking on a second job. Both would leave him with less time with Chris too, and he wasn’t willing to do that.
Maybe he should play the lottery. Or rob a bank, like they were accused of doing a few years ago.
His phone lit up with a traffic alert, drawing his attention to the time. After 11. He wouldn’t solve this tonight. Might as well go to bed.
Moving silently through the house, he turned off lights and checked the locks. He poked his head in Chris’ door again; he was in the same position, chest rising and falling evenly. After a stop in the bathroom, Eddie changed into a t-shirt and shorts and face planted on the bed.
He woke up sometime later to the sound of his door opening, then the mattress dipping as someone climbed into bed with him. His sleep muddled brain clocked that it wasn’t Chris; the body was too big, and he knew Chris’ breathing. Muscles tensing, he slowly moved his hand toward his phone but before he could reach it, he heard the other person whisper, “Eddie?”
He deflated, though his heart still raced.
“Buck? What the fuck, man? You scared the shit out of me.” He flopped over onto his back. He could just barely make out Buck’s silhouette in the dark.
“Sorry.” Buck sat cross-legged next to him, close, his knee pressed against Eddie’s side. “I thought I made enough noise.”
Eddie rubbed at his eyes, attempting to wake up and process the situation. “What are you doing here?”
“I was thinking, about the bullshit insurance thing.”
“In the middle of the night?”
“I couldn’t sleep.” He plowed on before Eddie could ask about that. “It’s been bugging me, and I want to help. I know you won’t let me pay for Chris’ PT because you’re a stubborn asshole—”
“Hey,” he protested weakly. He didn’t need to see Buck’s face to know he was giving him an annoyed but amused look.
“Anyway. Since you won’t accept my money, I have another idea.”
Buck sucked in a breath, then blew it out slowly. “You could marry me.”
“What?” He must be dreaming. He couldn’t marry Buck. That was completely ridiculous. Wasn’t it?
“Marry me. It’s the perfect solution. You could get on the better insurance plan and Chris’ PT would be covered.”
Buck kept rambling, but Eddie had trouble tracking the conversation. He was still half-asleep and he felt like he’d stumbled into an alternate reality, one where his best friend woke him up in the middle of the night and blithely proposed.
He startled out of a doze, lulled to sleep by the familiar cadence of Buck’s voice. “Yeah. Sorry.”
“What do you think?”
“I think that it’s—” He fumbled his phone off the nightstand and checked the time. “It’s 3:24 a.m. I have to be up at 6 with Chris. Can we do this tomorrow?” Eddie said when had the necessary brain power to tell Buck how crazy he was.
“Oh. Right. Sorry. I should’ve waited but I couldn’t sleep because this was buzzing around in my head and—”
“Buck.” He flailed a hand toward Buck’s mouth to shut him up but mostly hit his cheek. It was enough to stem the flow of words, though. “Sleep now. Talk tomorrow.”
“Sorry. I’ll head home.” He backed off the bed, feet hitting the floor with a soft thud.
Rolling over, Eddie grabbed his wrist before he got far. “Don’t be an idiot. Stay on the couch.” It practically had a permanent dent from Buck’s body, he slept on it so often.
“You just want me to fix breakfast.”
“Yep. Go to sleep, Buck.”
He let go of Buck’s wrist and snuggled down into the covers. He felt the ghost of a touch on his cheek, but it was fleeting and might’ve been his imagination. He fell asleep as soon as he closed his eyes.
Buck rubbed his eyes and stretched, his back cracking pleasantly. Turning onto his side, he found Chris sitting on the floor by the coffee table, engrossed in a book.
“Hey, buddy,” he murmured softly. He checked his phone. 5:45. No wonder he was still tired.
“It’s early. Have you been up long?”
Chris shrugged and set down his book. “Just a few minutes. I didn’t mean to wake you up.”
“You didn’t, buddy. Don’t worry.” Sitting up, he ruffled Chris’ hair. “You want pancakes?”
“I can’t leave you to the mercy of your dad’s cooking,” Buck said and grinned at Chris’ giggles.
He hit the bathroom, then met Chris in the kitchen. He gathered all the ingredients and pulled his griddle out of the cupboard, neither of which Eddie would have without Buck. Eddie tried his best, but he and Chris would survive on takeout and cereal if Buck didn’t routinely show up with groceries and cook for them, often under the guise of trying a new recipe.
Chris helped him whip up the batter, chattering the whole time about his book.
“Do you want orange juice?” Buck asked, slicing strawberries in lieu of frying bacon, because he cared about clogging their arteries and not because he was the Fun Police as Chris accused him of a few weeks ago.
Buck poured him juice and set the plate in front of him, and Chris pretty much inhaled an entire slice of French toast before Buck made it back to the stove.
He was just putting the last few slices on the griddle when Eddie came into the kitchen, eyes still half closed and hair sticking up on one side. Buck felt a pang of guilt for waking him up last night, but he’d been full of restless energy and couldn’t settle until he talked to Eddie.
“Morning, sleeping beauty,” Buck said, handing Eddie coffee and patting down his fluffy hair.
Grunting, Eddie stuck his face in the mug, then slumped into a chair at the table.
“Food will be ready in a sec.”
“It’s really good, Buck,” Chris said around a mouthful.
Buck winced. “Thanks, buddy, but close your mouth next time.”
Chris snickered. Shaking his head, Buck plated the French toast, then used the leftover batter for scrambled eggs, which he gave to Chris since he was clearly starving and hadn’t eaten in a whole twelve hours.
He and Eddie tucked into their breakfast while Chris filled them in on the hot sixth grade gossip. Eddie looked bleary-eyed at first but grew more animated as the caffeine kicked in. He glanced at the clock on the microwave, then tapped Chris’ nose to stop the flow of words.
“Time to get ready,” Eddie said. “Put your dishes in the sink and go get dressed, okay?”
Chris pouted and slowly stood. “Okay. Are you coming with us, Buck?”
“Of course,” Buck replied.
Once Chris left the room, Eddie pinned Buck with a flat-eyed stare. Buck cleared his throat, knowing what was coming and not ready for it, even though it was his idea. It seemed easier to talk about in the dark, where Eddie couldn’t see him and his face wouldn’t possibly betray his true feelings.
“Was I dreaming, or did you propose last night?”
Buck flushed, shifting awkwardly on the chair. “It wasn’t exactly a proposal.”
Eddie stared at him, one eyebrow raised. “Close enough. You really want us to get married?”
What a loaded question. In the rare times he let himself think of a future with Eddie, this wasn’t even close to how he pictured it, but he would do whatever Eddie needed.
“It’s a good solution,” Buck said, tapping his fingers on the table restlessly.
“It’s a crazy solution,” Eddie replied with strangled laugh.
“Dad! Where’s my starfish shirt?”
Eddie sighed, rubbing his temples. He pushed to his feet but stopped to look back at Buck. “Can you hang out after we get Chris to school so we can continue this?”
“Yeah, sure.” He’d planned to do the exciting tasks of laundry and scrubbing the shower. Spending the day with Eddie beat anything else. “I’m gonna shower while you make sure Chris is ready.”
Eddie nodded and rolled his eyes as Chris hollered for him again.
Buck grabbed clean clothes out of the bottom drawer of Eddie’s dresser, then headed to the bathroom for a quick shower, only washing the essentials. If nothing else, being a firefighter taught him how to shower in less than five minutes. After, feeling more awake and ready to face Eddie in the light of day, he went back into the kitchen and packed Chris’ lunch. He finished in time for them to herd Chris out the door, more or less on time.
“There’s something I want to talk to you two about,” Chris piped up from the back.
Buck raised an eyebrow, exchanging a look with Eddie. “What’s up, kid?”
“I have to do a project for science on an animal.”
“Right. You mentioned that last week. Did you choose something yet?” Eddie asked.
“Yep. The sea lion.”
“Nice!” Buck said. Of course Chris picked something besides the popular bears and big cats.
“I think we should go to the zoo this weekend. For research.”
“For research,” Eddie said dryly. “Of course.”
“You want me to get an A, don’t you, Dad?”
Buck hid his snort behind his hand. He loved that kid so much.
“And this has nothing to do with you just wanting to go to the zoo?”
“No!” Chris managed to sound properly scandalized. Maybe he’d be an actor someday.
“Buck and I will talk about it but if you get your homework and chores done, we can probably go on Sunday.”
“All right! Thanks, Dad!”
Eddie stopped in the drop-off line and twisted in his seat to watch Chris.
“You got everything?” he asked.
“Have a good day, buddy,” Buck said.
“I will! Bye, Buck! Bye, Dad!”
Chris slammed the door and rushed off to meet his friends without a backward glance.
“I’m not sure I want to be around for his rebellious teenage years,” Buck mentioned, watching a gaggle of kids surround Chris with high fives and overly complicated handshakes.
“Oh, no. That’s when things get interesting. You’re not bailing on me then.”
“Hmm, true. Chris will need a place to runaway to when he’s pissed at you.” And Buck would gladly be that safe place for Chris.
Eddie rolled his eyes but didn’t deny it. They spent the rest of the drive in comfortable silence, Buck singing along to the country playlist Eddie had playing on the radio, emphasizing his twang and making Eddie laugh.
Buck expected Eddie to press him for an explanation as soon as they got back to the house, but instead they settled on the couch, the news playing in the background. They could be reporting an alien invasion, and Buck wouldn’t know. He was acutely aware of Eddie sitting on the other side of the couch, angled toward Buck with his socked feet on the cushion between them. He dozed a bit. He hadn’t slept much the past few days, worried about Eddie and then waffling about whether to bring this idea to him.
“Hey,” Eddie said, nudging him in the hip with his toe, and Buck forced his eyes open. “You ready to talk?”
Buck nodded, pushing up into a sitting position. He didn’t remember sliding down on the couch.
“So?” Eddie prompted when Buck remained silent.
“It’s a simple plan. We get married. You get better insurance.”
“Simple. Right. I can’t let you do this. It’s too much.”
“It’s hardly a big sacrifice and it just makes sense.”
“In what world does it make sense for me to marry you?”
Buck struggled to keep his face neutral when it felt like his heart had cracked in two. But he plowed on, undeterred, shoving his feelings down. He was well-practiced in ignoring them and pretending everything was okay.
He ticked off each point on his fingers. “You need better insurance. You need to get married to get better insurance. I want to help you. Ergo, you should marry me.”
Eddie laughed, shaking his head. “I think you’re missing some points in there.”
“It’s a good plan, Eddie.”
“It’s insurance fraud, Buck. Which is illegal. I don’t know what the consequences would be, but I bet they’re not pleasant.”
“Only if we get caught. And no one would have to know.”
“Bobby would. When there’s a change in status, your employer has to submit paperwork. After Shannon—” He cut off and swallowed.
Buck wrapped a hand around Eddie’s ankle, rubbing a thumb over the bone. “You okay?”
He jerked his head in a short nod. “Anyway. Bobby would know.”
“But it’s Bobby. He won’t blab our business to anyone.”
“But we’d be married and we’d have to stay married for who knows how long.”
“Only on paper. It wouldn’t be real.”
“It’s not a big deal,” Buck lied.
“What if you meet someone and want to marry them for real? Or I do?”
He doubted the former and refused to think about the latter.
“We’ll cross that bridge if we come to it.”
“Eddie.” Leaning forward, he uncrossed Eddie’s arms and held onto his wrists. “You’re my best friend and I’d do anything for Chris and I love you both. Please let me do this for you.”
Eddie stared at him for a long time, chewing on his bottom lip, before he sighed.
“Yeah. It’s insane, but, yeah, let’s get married.”
Buck grinned and dragged Eddie into a hug. Eddie tucked his face into Buck’s neck. Buck closed his eyes, letting Eddie’s warmth seep into him.
“You won’t regret this,” Buck promised him.
Eddie held the door open to the physical therapy office for Chris. As soon as he cleared the doorway, Chris took off like a shot, blowing through the waiting room to join Sean by the weights. Shaking his head, Eddie stepped up to the desk to check in with the medical assistant.
“Sorry about that,” he said, handing Megan his insurance card.
“No problem, Mr. Diaz. We’re used to it. Sean is quite popular with the patients.”
That was a good thing, but he didn’t appreciate being fourth on Chris’ list of favorite people, behind Buck, Sean and his science teacher’s iguana, which Chris had been obsessed with lately.
He filled out the sign-in sheet and headed into the large therapy room, sliding into a seat on the side reserved for guests. Today was a light exercise day, some leg work but mostly stretches. He wouldn’t be worn out for dinner and the park with Buck later. Buck planned to make lasagna, and Eddie had been thinking about it all day.
He watched Sean put Chris through his paces for a few minutes. Sean had upped his reps last week and while in the past Chris struggled with that, lately he breezed right through. He was getting so much stronger.
His phone buzzed in his pocket so he fished it out, unsurprised to see Buck’s name pop up.
Buck: Been looking into options for the wedding and it looks like LA county courthouse is our best bet
Buck: Vegas is too far and everywhere else is too idk? Formal?
Eddie: The courthouse is good
He and Shannon did the big church wedding and reception with 350 of their closest friends and family, despite not wanting the spectacle. Their moms insisted and meddled until Eddie and Shannon gave in. They’d had fun, ultimately, but would’ve preferred something smaller.
This wedding needed to be as fast and low-key as possible. Just them, because no one else could know. If they told even one person, it’d soon run through their whole group.
Buck: Apparently you can get a marriage license pretty quickly and get married same day in LA county
Buck: Might want to go on a week day though to avoid crowds
Eddie: Thanks for doing the research
Buck: No worries. You know I love it
Eddie: What’s the cost?
Buck: Not much but don’t worry about it. I’ll cover it
He knew Buck was simply being his usual generous self, but it still cut deep that he couldn’t provide for his own son to the point that his best friend was forced to marry him. Yet another way Eddie failed at being a good father. He seemed to rack up more every day.
He could argue with Buck, insist he could pay for his own damn marriage license, but he chose to let it go. Sometimes he felt utterly exhausted by the weight of his pride.
Eddie: What day do you wanna go?
Buck: Our next day off is wednesday
Eddie: Cant. Promised Schultz I’d work her shift so she can go to her daughter’s game
Buck: Hanging with Maddie and Jee-Yun for Buckley bonding time
Buck: Next Friday?
That was further out than Eddie preferred, but of course these next two weeks were the only time their schedules wouldn’t line up. They spent most of their days off together, even if it was just to go grocery shopping or grab a quick breakfast at the end of their shift.
Eddie: That works. You can come over after for movie night
Buck: I’m there :D
Buck: You’ll need a copy of your birth certificate and other shit I forgot to write down
Buck: I’ll check and get back to you
Buck: How’s our superman doing?
Eddie looked across the room. Sean had moved Chris onto floor exercises now, both of them sitting cross-legged on the bright blue mat and stretching their arms above their heads. Sean dropped his arms but encouraged Chris to extend higher. When he did, a frown of concentration crinkling between his eyes, Sean poked him in the stomach. Chris collapsed, his bright laughter unmistakable even across the room.
Eddie: Think he’s gonna actually fly someday
Buck: Damn straight. He’s the strongest little man I know
Eddie’s heart felt like Buck was squeezing it in his fist. It meant more to him than he could ever say that Buck loved Chris so fiercely and had so much confidence in him. People tended to only see Chris’ limitations, but Buck saw all of him and celebrated his achievements as hard as Eddie did.
Buck: Gonna head out now. See you soon! :D
After half an hour of mindlessly scrolling through his phone, it went off in his hand. He jumped like it’d bit him, then glanced around to make sure no one saw him act like an idiot.
Buck: At the store now. Do you need anything?
Before Eddie could respond, Buck’s next text came through.
Buck: Already got milk and your hazelnut coffee :)
Eddie: Bread and gatorade
Buck: Yep. Did you ever get more children’s tylenol after Chris’ fever last month?
Eddie: No. How did you remember that?
Buck: I pay attention, idiot
But it was more than that. He not only paid attention, he did whatever he could to help. Eddie would be SOL without Buck, even leaving the whole marriage thing out of it. He often anticipated their needs, providing ballast before Eddie even realized he was listing in the wind.
Before he could get too in his head, Megan waved him over, so he texted Buck to let him know they’d be leaving soon and shoved his phone in his pocket.
“They’re just finishing up,” she told him. “If you could take care of the payment now, Mr. Diaz?”
Eddie winced at the amount she told him. He couldn’t keep paying for these sessions on his own for too much longer. His meager savings had already dwindled dangerously close to zero. Marrying Buck better work, because he refused to disappoint his kid. Again.
“Do you want to set up his next appointment? Or do you need to check your schedule?”
He hesitated. He hated to disrupt Chris’ sessions, but it would take awhile for the change in insurance to go through, assuming nothing came up to delay the wedding. He ran the numbers in his head. It’d be tight, too tight, but he could survive for a couple months, if he cut any extra expenses and picked up a couple more overtime shifts. It sucked, but he’d do it for Chris.
After making the appointment, he walked over to where Chris sat on a stack of mats, giggling about something with Sean.
“You ready to roll, buddy?” He gripped Chris’ shoulders, and Chris tipped his head back against Eddie’s stomach to pout at him. “Buck’s waiting at home for us,” he prodded. He hated using Buck as a goad to get Chris to do what he should but needs must.
“Lasagna?” Chris asked, perking up.
“That’s the plan.”
“Okay!” He hopped off the mats, Eddie holding one elbow to keep him steady. “Bye, Sean!”
Sean waved goodbye. “See you next week, Chris!”
They got stuck in traffic behind an oversize load. Eddie drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, eager to get home to Buck, but the house on wheels fascinated Chris, and he asked a dozen questions about it, few of which Eddie could answer.
“We’ll ask Buck when we get home,” Eddie said. If Buck didn’t know, he’d at least happily look it up.
Finally pulling into the driveway, Eddie parked beside Buck’s Jeep, then helped Chris out of the back, though he mostly hovered in case he stumbled rather than doing anything in particular. The house smelled amazing when they walked in. Chris dropped his bag by the door and beelined for Buck in the kitchen. Rolling his eyes, Eddie toed off his shoes, then picked up Chris’ bag. He stopped in the kitchen doorway and watched Chris ramble to Buck about his day. Buck turned from frying something at the stove—onions and garlic by the smell—leaning against the counter and giving Chris his full attention.
“Can I help with the lasagna?” Chris asked when he wound down.
“Yep!” Buck ruffled his hair, grinning. “Go wash your hands first.”
“And put your bag in your room,” Eddie said, holding the bag out. “Where it belongs,” he emphasized, which Chris of course ignored.
“I cannot wait to watch you deal with him when he’s a teenager,” Buck said, a really irritating note of glee in his voice.
Eddie sighed, rubbing a palm over his face. “I’ll just send him to you when he’s being annoying.”
Buck’s sincerity kinda blew Eddie’s mind. Sometimes, on his worst days, he didn’t know why Buck put up with him.
Thank you. I don’t know what I’d do without you. My life is better when you’re here.
But he didn’t say any of that. Buck already knew.
“You all right?” Buck asked, knocking Eddie out of his thoughts.
He walked the rest of the way into the kitchen and wrapped his arms around Buck. Letting out an oh of surprise, Buck returned the hug. It was a bit awkward, with Buck slightly sideways and one hand occupied with stirring the sauce in the pot. Eddie shifted closer, tucking his face in Buck’s neck. Buck hummed and rubbed circles on Eddie’s back with his thumb.
“What’s this for?” Buck asked, lips brushing Eddie’s temple, causing him to shiver.
He shook his head. Buck’s arm tightened around him briefly before he stepped away as Chris clattered into the room. He gave Eddie a look, then clapped, grinning big and goofy at Chris.
“Who’s ready to get their hands dirty?” he shouted.
“Me!” Chris replied just as loudly, bouncing in place.
“Not me!” Eddie said, earning twin looks of pity from Chris and Buck.
“It’s just you and me then, kid, because your dad is boring.”
Chris giggled, and Eddie couldn’t summon up any indignation that they were making fun of him again, because they were sunshine together, filling the kitchen with so much light it hurt his heart.
When Buck walked in the unlocked front door, he found Eddie in the kitchen. He stood at the sink, staring out the window and sipping out of a travel mug.
“Hey,” Buck said.
He leaned his hip against the counter and looked Eddie over. He’d seen Eddie in this navy blue suit before, but it was different this morning, knowing he put it on for their wedding. It wasn’t the wedding to Eddie he imagined—when he let himself think of it—but he indulged himself now. The suit fitted Eddie perfectly, showing off his broad shoulders and trim waist. While he opted for a plain white shirt and black tie, he set it off with a shocking red pocket square. He looked beautiful. Buck ached to touch him, to smooth his hands over Eddie’s chest and go in for—
“Coffee?” Eddie asked, and Buck jumped, kicking his heel against the cupboard.
“Uh, no. I have some in the Jeep.”
“We should probably go, huh?”
“Where’s your tie?”
“Oh.” He pulled it out of his pocket, ignoring Eddie’s exasperated sigh and eye roll. “I couldn’t get it to go straight.”
“Give it to me,” he said, setting his mug on the counter.
Buck passed it over with a grin. This was his plan anyway. Buck sucked at every kind of tie.
“Did you even try or just assume I’d do it for you?”
“Well.” He drew the word out until Eddie huffed at him.
“How have you not learned to do this yet?” He stepped closer and looped the tie around Buck’s neck.
“Because I have you.”
“Right.” He quickly manipulated it into a Windsor knot—maybe? He wasn’t an expert on knots by any means—like it was no big deal. “You do have me.”
Buck swallowed, undone by the feel of Eddie’s fingers brushing his throat as he tightened the tie. He stared past Eddie’s shoulder at the wall. They were standing too close and Eddie was too tempting. Today would already be weird without Buck making it awkward. Every second Eddie spent tugging at the fabric to tweak the knot jangled Buck’s nerves even more.
“There. Perfect.” Eddie stepped back and put his hands on his hips.
Buck shook out his hands, trying desperately to regain equilibrium. He pretended to check the time on his phone and found a text from Maddie. What are you up to today? If she only knew…
“We should head out,” Buck said, slipping his phone back in his pocket.
“You ready for this?”
“Not at all.”
A beat of silence passed and then they both burst out laughing. It was enough to diffuse the tension crawling under Buck’s skin. Eddie's giggles sounded exactly like Chris’ when he laughed at his own jokes. That got Buck going again, which of course set Eddie off too.
“Okay, okay. Stop,” Eddie wheezed, pressing a palm to his side.
Buck wiped his eyes. “Sorry. It’s not even funny. Why are we laughing?”
“Shit, I don’t know.” He blew out a breath, wrestling his face under control.
It took another couple minutes, but they managed to calm down and make it out of the house. While Eddie locked the front door, Buck climbed into the Jeep. Gripping the steering wheel, he breathed in through his nose and out through his mouth a few times, centering himself and shaking off the last of the laughter. By the time Eddie settled in the passenger seat, Buck felt better. Hopefully it lasted the rest of the day.
Traffic was shit, as usual. They planned to be at the courthouse first thing to avoid the rush but ended up arriving an hour late. They had the whole day free but getting it over with early was a plus for Buck.
While they waited in line for the marriage license, Buck scrolled through his phone. What began as a short article about a beached whale somehow led him to the wiki article on Icelandic volcanoes. Engrossed in the article—and already mentally planning a vacation to Iceland with Eddie—he inched forward in line whenever Eddie touched his elbow. He didn’t notice they’d reached the window at the front until Eddie placed his hand in the small of his back and said his name quietly.
“Oops. Sorry.” He slipped his phone in his pocket, grinning at the eye roll Eddie aimed at him.
The civil servant, a bored 20-something with dyed black hair and a hole in his eyebrow from a missing piercing, just blinked at them.
“Hello, I’m Dylan. What can I help you with today?” he asked in a monotone.
“Uh,” Buck said, briefly taken aback. “Marriage license?”
Dylan rattled off the list of paperwork they needed to present, fingers quick on his keyboard and not looking at them at all. Eddie pushed the folder across to him. In no time at all, Dylan inputted all their information and reached over to grab their license off his printer.
“Congratulations,” he said, sliding the paper to them. It was the most disinterested congratulations Buck had ever received.
“Thanks,” Buck replied anyway, because Maddie drilled manners into him, harping on them still, even though he was over 30 and had been on his own for nearly a decade now.
“Check over everything and make sure the info is correct.”
He crowded shoulder to shoulder with Eddie to read it over. It was so strange to see their names laid out like this, with Certificate of Marriage emblazoned along the top. Buck’s stomach clenched, and it took a minute to actually focus on the words.
“It’s good,” Eddie said.
“Then you’re set. Anything else I can help you with?”
Woo. Dylan needed to learn to contain his excitement.
They walked off to the side, Eddie quiet beside him. Buck stopped and turned toward him, brushing a hand over his hip. Eddie stared at the marriage license, an unreadable expression on his face.
“You okay?” Buck asked.
“Yeah, it’s just—Shannon and I didn’t want to get married, at least not then. But she was pregnant, and our families pressured us into rushing into a wedding. And now—”
“Here you are, rushing into another wedding you don’t want.”
Buck flinched, ducking his head to hide the hurt in his eyes. Eddie might not mean anything by it, but Buck’s heart still broke at the reminder that Eddie would never marry him unless forced.
Eddie dropped the license into the folder with their other papers. “Just feels surreal, you know?”
Buck snorted. “Bit of an understatement.”
He grinned and gestured to the bank of chairs. “Let’s sit. This could take awhile.”
Nodding, Buck followed him to a pair of chairs by the window. He pretended to scroll through his phone but instead checked out the other waiting couples. Most appeared around their age and dressed similarly in suits or dresses. One man in his 80s, wearing a bright red plaid suit, laughed quietly with his bride, a woman young enough to be his granddaughter. Buck brimmed with questions about them, and he nudged Eddie’s shoulder, pointing them out with his chin. Eddie grinned, then went back to his phone. Buck wondered what people thought of him and Eddie, if it was obvious they didn’t belong.
As the morning dragged on, Buck grew more restless. There was only so much candy crush he could play before his eyes started blurring, but the hushed, expectant atmosphere of the room didn’t lend itself to talking. He fidgeted in his seat, bouncing his leg, until Eddie pressed a palm to his knee. The warmth of it seeped through the thin fabric of his pants. He stilled, feeling heat flood his face. Eddie kept his hand in place for another beat before pulling away. Swallowing, Buck turned toward the window, watching the steady stream of cars going by.
Twenty long minutes later, a woman by the door called, “Buckley. Diaz.”
Buck startled. Eddie rose to his feet smoothly, drawing Buck up with him, a hand under Buck’s elbow.
“Just you two?” Her name tag read Maggie, and she gave them a pleasant smile as she ushered them into the room.
“Uh, just us,” Buck replied.
“No problem. Just means I get to stand up for you! Give us a moment to check you have everything squared away. You have your license?”
After Eddie handed over the marriage license, she left them to confer with another woman at the front of the room. Buck had expected a courtroom, but they stood in a small room with nondescript beige carpet and wood-paneled walls. There was a makeshift altar at the front and a desk to the side where the Commissioner of Civil Marriage sat, reading over their paperwork. A brass nameplate with Juliet Herrera etched on it doubled as a paperweight. Buck’s third grade teacher was Mrs. Herrera. He’d loved her, often spending recesses inside with her, helping to grade papers and just talking. He’d lay awake at night and wish Mrs. Herrera was his mom. It was irrational, but seeing the Commissioner’s name relaxed him.
Maggie laughed at something the Commissioner said, a musical laugh that ended in a snort.
“She certainly enjoys her job,” Eddie murmured.
“I don’t know. Seems like a good gig to me. Getting to be part of people’s happiest moments.”
Eddie looked away, and Buck’s shoulders sagged. Because this wasn’t their happiest moment, far from it. For a second, he felt cheated, then immediately squashed that thought. And stomped on it for good measure. This was his idea. No use getting emotional about it now.
“All right, gentlemen! Let’s get you married!” Maggie beckoned them forward.
Eddie turned to the front, but Buck stopped him with a hand on his arm.
“Does my tie still look okay?” he asked, not sure why it mattered, but it did.
Eddie rolled his eyes and patted Buck’s chest. “You look great, Buck.”
“Oh. Thanks. You too.”
“Come on. Before we lose our nerve.”
Buck sucked in a deep breath and let it out, following Eddie up to the front.
“Commissioner. Or Mrs. Herrera? Thank you for doing this for us today,” Buck said.
“Please call me Juliet,” she told them, shaking their hands.
“Eddie.” He pointed at himself, then waved toward Buck. “And Buck.”
“And it’s my pleasure. Shall we get started? Any vows you want to incorporate?”
“Uh, no.” Buck flushed. What would their vows be? I promise to stay married to you until you don’t need me anymore?
“Okay. Join hands and face each other. Eddie, we’ll start with you. Repeat after me…”
“I, Eddie, take you, Buck, to be my lawfully wedded husband.” Voice steady, he squeezed Buck’s hand and flashed him a small, soft smile before continuing. “I vow to love, protect, and care for you as long as I live.”
At least they’d easily be able to keep these vows. Buck felt like less of a fraud as Juliet repeated the vows for him.
“I, Buck, take you, Eddie, to be my lawfully wedded husband. I vow to love, protect, and care for you as long as I live.”
“You have your rings?” Juliet prompted.
“Oh. We can’t wear them because of work so,” Eddie replied, shrugging uncomfortably.
They agreed rings weren’t needed, given the circumstances, but Buck wished they’d gotten them, just to mark this day somehow, as proof that they were inextricably linked.
“No worries. Not everyone does rings. I once had a couple exchange key rings instead, and another couple planned to buy a new TV because they said it was ‘more practical’ than jewelry.”
Buck brightened. “Eddie.”
“No. We don’t need a new TV.”
“Can live with what we already have. But we’ll figure something out.”
They didn’t need to, but Buck appreciated the gesture.
“My laptop could use an upgrade,” he offered, and Eddie laughed, his eyes crinkling into the grin Buck only saw when he startled a laugh out of him. Buck grinned back, and some of the tension seeped out of his shoulders.
Juliet shifted, causing the bracelets on her wrist to clank together, and Buck’s attention abruptly shifted away from Eddie and back to her.
“Sorry. We interrupted your flow,” Buck said.
“Don’t apologize. You’re sweet. And we’re just about done.”
Already? It seemed so quick after all the anxiety and trouble getting here.
“Just a couple things to finish up.” She beamed at them. “I now pronounce you wed. Congratulations! You can kiss now,” she said, winking.
Buck panicked, his nerves ratcheting up again, but Eddie swayed closer, his face oddly blank. Buck closed his eyes, steeling himself. The peck Eddie brushed over his lips barely lasted a second. He wasn’t sure if it could be classified as a kiss. It still made his pulse race.
Eddie pulled back, raking a hand through his hair. Buck stood there, reeling a bit and feeling stupid for letting something so simple get to him.
Juliet led them over to the desk so they could sign paperwork and in a blink, they were ushered from the room.
They stood outside the courthouse amid the bustle of the crowd. Buck was married. To Eddie. He should feel different, right? But it all seemed the same, the only evidence of changes were the papers in Eddie’s hands.
Other couples around them posed for pictures or celebrated with loved ones. Buck looked away, jealous and lost and a little angry at himself.
Clearing his throat, Buck stuffed his hands in his pants pockets and stepped closer to Eddie to avoid getting mowed down by a pair of determined looking men in dark suits with briefcases.
“What now?” he asked. They still had a couple hours before picking Chris up at Abuela’s. They promised he could pick the movie for tonight.
Eddie tilted his head, thinking for a long moment. “Wanna get ice cream?”
That surprised a laugh out of Buck. Eddie grinned at him. He was ridiculous and beautiful, and Buck wanted…he just wanted.
“Ice cream sounds great,” he said.
Buck pulled into the parking lot and turned off the Jeep. Draping his arms over the steering wheel, he watched out the windshield for Eddie’s truck.
This weekend had been weird and weirdly lonely, not at all the way he’d pictured his wedding weekend. They’d done movie night with Chris on Friday and then he didn’t hear from Eddie for two days, except for some scattered texts. He knew this marriage wasn’t real, that it was his idea to do this, but part of him couldn’t help feeling sad or disappointed. Empty. Which was completely ridiculous. He was well aware of that.
Eddie parked next to him a few minutes later before Buck’s thoughts could spiral further. Eddie grabbed his bag and leaned against the door with his arms crossed while Buck dawdled, putting off the inevitable. When Buck got out of the Jeep, Eddie smiled, then reached for the drinks holder sitting on the hood.
“You ready for this?” Eddie asked, handing Buck a paper coffee cup.
“No.” He popped the lid and took a sip, surprised to taste caramel. “You got me a macchiato?”
“Figured you’d need the pick-me-up this morning.”
Eddie shrugged, then picked up his bag and slung it over his shoulder. “Come on. Let’s get this over with.”
Right. He took another swallow of the drink and followed Eddie into the station.
It was quiet. B shift was out on a call, and they’d specifically arrived early to avoid the curious looks of their coworkers. They changed quickly. Buck’s hands shook as he buttoned his shirt. Up to now, his focus had been on the wedding itself and getting through that without breaking down. There was no reason to freak out now, but obviously his body disagreed, because his heart was pounding and his palms were sweaty.
Manila folder in one hand, Eddie arched an eyebrow. “Ready?”
“No. Are you?”
“Honestly? Kinda starting to freak out a bit.”
“You look calm.”
“That’s because you can’t see that my stomach has butterflies the size of boulders in it.”
Buck snorted. Knowing Eddie was nervous helped settle his own nerves. He bumped their shoulders together and smiled.
Eddie knocked on Bobby’s open office door. He half-heartedly pecked at his keyboard with one hand, his chin resting in his other palm. He looked up at them hovering in the doorway with a bemused smile.
“Hey, you got a minute?” Eddie asked, shifting awkwardly under Bobby’s assessing glance.
“Of course. Come in and have a seat.”
They slid into the chairs across from Bobby’s desk. Bobby sat up straight, hands folded on the desk, eyebrow raised while he waited for one of them to say something.
Buck exchanged a glance with Eddie, then sucked in a deep breath.
“We got married this weekend,” he said.
Bobby blinked but otherwise didn’t react. “Come again?”
“We got married?” He hadn’t meant for that to be a question, but Bobby’s composure threw him off. He expected confusion, curiosity at the least, but Bobby acted like they’d told him they decided to switch to almond milk.
“That’s our marriage license.” Eddie said, indicating the folder he’d set on the desk.
“Okay.” His voice brightened, mouth kicking up into a smile as he swiveled in his chair and riffled through a pile of manila folders. “I have some papers you’ll need to sign for HR so you can continue to work together.”
They’d expected that. Relationships within a firehouse weren’t forbidden, but HR made you jump through several hoops before they approved it.
“Gotta tell you, I’ve had these ready for two years. I was beginning to think I’d never have to use them.”
Buck’s mouth fell open, and Eddie sat up, back rim-rod straight. Bobby kept talking, but Buck’s head filled with a strange buzzing.
“I’ll just need to fill in the date,” Bobby continued, seemingly oblivious to their discomfiture. “Oh, do I need to update the names? Are you Buckley-Diaz now or—”
Buck struggled to regain his composure while Bobby mused about getting them new turnouts. Why hadn’t they foreseen this detail? Shit.
“No!” Buck blurted, shrinking back in the chair at the startled look Bobby gave him. He gripped the chair arms, his knee bouncing, until Eddie leaned closer and pressed his shoulder to Buck’s. “We, uh, we’re keeping our names. At least for now.”
“Okay,” Bobby said slowly. “I highlighted the parts you need to sign and date. I’ll make copies so you have records of everything as well.”
He passed them each a small stack of papers. It was much more than Buck anticipated, not at all a simple “I promise not to let my personal life affect my work.” He skimmed everything quickly, signing and dating where indicated, feeling numb and somehow panicked at the same time. He glanced at Eddie, saw his calm face and steady hand. He may only be unemotional on the surface, but it was enough to anchor Buck and bring him back to himself instead of spiraling.
“Congratulations, guys. I’m sure I speak for everybody when I say this is a very welcome surprise,” Bobby said, tapping the stack of signed papers on his desk.
“Oh, um.” He pressed his knee against Eddie’s, needing that small point of contact. “Can you not tell anyone about this? It’s—”
“None of my business,” Bobby finished. He cocked his head thoughtfully but spread his hands. “It won’t leave this room. I promise.”
He nodded, inputting something into the computer. “I’ll get this sent to HR right away. I’ll let you know when the red tape is cleared. You should receive a link in your email in a couple days so you can update medical insurance and whatever else you need to do.”
Eddie slid their copies of the paperwork into his folder and stood. Buck hurriedly followed suit.
“I’ll see you out there,” Bobby said.
They came out of Bobby’s office and nearly smacked right into Hen as she walked by. She jumped back, and Buck rocked back on his heels, banging his elbow on the wall. It didn’t hurt, exactly, but it was a nice distraction from his panic over Hen possibly overhearing them with Bobby.
“Hey, Hen,” Eddie said, casually shifting the manila folder into his other hand and dropping his arm to hide it behind his leg.
“And what are you two up to?” Hen asked, crossing her arms and giving them each a once-over.
“Nothing,” Buck replied with forced nonchalance. He felt like he had I’m lying! tattooed on his forehead. He wondered how long he could do this before his guilt had him blurting out the whole thing.
She peered past Eddie into Bobby’s office, like she could suss out their secret so easily.
“Hmm. If you say so.” She turned to Eddie. “Karen and Denny are putting the tent up in the backyard this weekend. Denny wanted me to ask if Chris would like to come. Harry’s coming over too. We’re going to barbecue and let them eat too much candy and stay up too late.”
“Sounds like a blast. Can I join?” Buck used to go camping with his best friend’s family every summer and despite the sometimes leaky roof of the tent and only having a sleeping bag between him and the rocky ground, he’d loved it.
“You volunteering to help wrangle kids hopped up on sugar, Buckaroo?”
Grinning, he slid his arm over her shoulders. “On second thought, I think Eddie and I’ll take advantage of your generosity and go see a movie or something.”
She looked at him sideways, pursing her lips. “You’ll have to host the next sleepover.”
“Deal.” He kissed her cheek, and she huffed at him.
Spotting Chimney, he left Hen and Eddie to hash out the details for the weekend but stopped in his tracks when Bobby abruptly stepped in front of him.
“Buck. Come help me with breakfast.”
He eyed Bobby warily but obediently trailed after him up to the kitchen. He loved cooking with Bobby and learning new recipes. He’d tried to pass his knowledge on to Eddie, but he’d realized long ago that Eddie would forever be hopeless in the kitchen.
Bobby went to the fridge and began pulling veggies and other ingredients out and piling them on the counter.
“What can I do?” Buck asked eagerly, drying his clean hands on a towel.
Bobby thrust a cutting board at him, and Buck deflated.
“We’re making omelettes so chop chop.”
Bobby chuckled and clapped him on the back. He grabbed a bowl to crack eggs into, humming under his breath.
It was quiet up here. Someone had left the TV on the news, but the volume was on mute. No one had followed them upstairs yet. Settling into chopping, Buck steeled himself for questions about marrying Eddie. Bobby must be full of them, and he’d never be able to keep them to himself in Bobby’s place. Instead Bobby rambled about the fishing trip he was planning with Harry, once they agreed on where to go, and how he used to go fishing in Canada with his uncle every year. His discourse on the best lures had Buck's eyes glazing over, dangerous with a sharp knife in his hand. Maybe if he severed a finger, Bobby would stop talking about fishing. He finally wound down before Buck could maim himself.
People trickled upstairs as they smelled the food cooking. Buck tried not to get drawn to where Eddie sat on the couch, bickering with Chim about what to watch. It was inevitable, though. He could find Eddie in a crowded room with his eyes closed. Always knowing where Eddie was had saved them both on calls. It was a comfort but also tied his stomach in knots.
Turning back to the stove, he caught Bobby watching him, a thoughtful look on his face. Buck’s cheeks heated, and he ducked his head. Embarrassment choked him.
“I’m happy for you,” Bobby said quietly, flipping the last omelette. “For both of you.” He cut his eyes to Buck and smiled, crinkly-eyed and bright.
Buck felt like an asshole. He swallowed back an apology and turned away from Bobby to hide his guilt. Fiddling with a salt shaker, he stammered out a thank you. His stomach clenched but when Bobby simply nodded, he relaxed.
“Grab plates and forks and gather everyone up,” Bobby told him.
“Yes, sir. Right away, sir.”
Bobby rolled his eyes and swatted Buck with a towel. As he danced out of reach, laughing, he sent up a silent thank you that he had Bobby in his life.
“That’s me.” Eddie eyed the man standing on his porch. “Can I help you?”
“Herbert Graves. I’m an investigator from Blue Star Insurance.”
Eddie froze in place, his stomach clenching uncomfortably. Graves held up an ID, which Eddie examined quickly, then stepped back to let the man inside. He set his briefcase on the floor by his feet, clasped his hands behind his back, and looked around the entryway with clear interest.
“What can I do for you, Mr. Graves?” Eddie asked, struggling to keep his silent refrain of oh, fuck from showing on his face.
“Your account was flagged due to some irregularities we found.”
“Yes, when someone having issues with their insurance seemingly marries out of the blue, especially to a firefighter of the same house, we take notice, Mr. Diaz.”
“It’s Eddie,” he said absently. He wished Buck were here. “It wasn’t out of the blue. We planned it.” Technically true.
“Hmm. Is Mr. Buckley home?”
“He’s working an overtime shift.”
“When is he expected to be home?”
“Not until tonight.”
“You were married to a woman before.”
Eddie reeled from the change in topic. He fought the urge to tell Graves it was none of his business and shove him out the door. He really wished Buck were here.
“I’m bi,” he replied, keeping his voice as even as possible. “Been out since high school. Would you like to talk to the pitcher I dated senior year?”
“That won’t be necessary.”
Graves dismissed him with a short nod and turned to look at a picture of Chris on the wall. Eddie scowled. Coming out his sophomore year had caused his relationship with his parents to deteriorate. He’d spent as much time as possible hanging out with Sophia and her roommates at her apartment on campus, just to get away from the tension at home. Sophia welcomed him every time, let him camp out on the couch for entire weekends, even though it must’ve annoyed them to have a moody teenager underfoot.
“You met Mr. Buckley at work?”
“Yes. He was a territorial jerk until a grenade almost blew us up. It was a real bonding experience.” He couldn’t help smiling at the memory, Buck sniping at him for a couple days and his disbelieving, awestruck smile when Eddie called him a badass under pressure. He never would’ve guessed then just how close they’d end up, how much a part of each other’s lives they’d be.
“And you started dating—”
“Because we realized we were more than friends.” Shit, he was flying by the seat of his pants here. They should’ve discussed this or come up with a fake backstory, but they never expected to need it. His answer skirted the truth; they were a lot more than just friends, just not in the way that usually implied. He hated to outright lie—he emphasized telling the truth to Chris—but he would if pushed.
“Hmm. And that hasn’t caused problems at work?”
“No. Buck and I were partners before we became anything else. Our jobs are more important than anything else, and we know how to be professional, whatever is happening in our private lives.”
Eddie was suddenly glad Buck was here enough that he had shoes piled by the front door, a toothbrush in the bathroom, and extra clothes in Eddie’s closet. Hell, right now he wore an LAFD hoodie with Buckley emblazoned on the back; Buck left it one day and Eddie refused to give it back, loving how soft and comfy it was. These were all signs that Buck was entwined in their lives, even if it was clearly not enough to satisfy Graves.
He seemed eager to talk to both of them together and not just Eddie on his own. After 15 minutes of probing Eddie with pointed questions about Buck and their relationship, Graves placed his pad and pen into his briefcase and snapped it closed. Eddie wiped his sweaty hands on his pants when Graves wasn’t looking. Graves betrayed nothing of his thoughts, and Eddie worried he’d given them away with a stupid answer. He knew Buck, better than he’d known anyone else, but fuck if Buck ever told him about a motorcycle accident, he certainly didn’t remember it. But he would never think Buck’s “reckless past” was a concern or reason to keep him away from Chris.
Seriously, fuck this guy.
“We’ll continue to look into this, but my interview is done for the day,” Graves said and nodded, one sharp motion of his head.
Eddie wasn’t sure what to say since get the hell out of my house wasn’t an option, so he subtly edged Graves toward the door, hoping he wouldn’t linger too long.
Nearly to the door, Graves paused abruptly and turned back to study Eddie. He denied Graves the satisfaction of seeing him panic and kept his arms loose at his sides.
“You’re not wearing a ring,” Graves said, eyes on Eddie’s empty left hand.
He was tempted to describe de-gloving in graphic detail to see if he could shock a reaction out of Graves, but it would only make things worse, so he suppressed his annoyance. “We can’t wear them at work. We decided to spend the money on something else instead.”
“Hmm.” He opened the door and glanced back over his shoulder. “I’ll be back, when Mr. Buckley is home. We have much to talk about.”
Eddie swallowed. The subtle emphasis on home was no accident. Fuck.
“Have a good day, Mr. Diaz.”
Yeah. Not likely.
Graves hadn’t even pulled out of the driveway before Eddie had his phone out to call Buck.
“We fucked up,” he said, hating how his voice came out wobbly.
“What’s going on?” Buck’s boots thumped on stairs and then a door slammed, cutting off the background noise of the station.
“They sent an insurance investigator. He noticed irregularities in my account.”
“They’re gonna find out we lied. I knew this was a bad idea.”
“Hey, it’s all right.” Buck’s voice dropped, taking on the soothing tone he used when talking Eddie down from a nightmare. “We’ll figure it out. I’ll be over once—”
The siren cut him off, and Buck swore.
“I gotta go. Try not to worry. I’ll be over later.”
The call ended before Eddie could reply. Tossing his phone to the side, he pulled the sleeves of the hoodie over his hand and buried his nose in the soft material. It smelled like Buck, the sandalwood of his aftershave and pure sunshine, and stopped him from going into full-on panic mode.
Eddie pushed into the hand combing through his hair for a moment until his sleep-muddled brain caught up with him. His eyes popped open, and he jerked his arm up a second before he registered the scent of Buck’s aftershave, much stronger than what lingered in the hoodie he still wore.
“Whoa, hey! It’s just me.”
Buck rubbed Eddie’s shoulder, and Eddie deflated back into the couch. His neck hurt from the awkward angle he’d been sleeping in, half-sitting and his torso twisted to face the back of the couch. He didn’t even remember closing his eyes, let alone sleeping.
“Buck.” He scrubbed his hands over his face and into his hair as all his senses came back online and his heart rate returned to normal.
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to surprise you.”
He shook his head, then stretched it side to side to work out the kink. “What time is it?”
“Just after midnight.” Buck moved from his perch on the coffee table and settled next to him, digging his fingers into the knotted muscles of his neck. Eddie hummed in thanks and relaxed against Buck’s side.
“Oh. That’s late.” No wonder he’d passed out. Buck was only doing a partial shift and should’ve been here hours ago.
“Yeah. There was a fifteen-car pileup on the highway.” Buck kept his voice low, mindful of Chris sleeping down the hall, and it soothed some of Eddie’s leftover tension from the Graves’ visit.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine.” Eddie couldn’t see him because at some point he’d closed his eyes again, but he knew Buck was smiling. “It was mostly fender-benders and minor injuries. No fatalities.”
“Just took awhile to clean up the scene. And two of the drivers got into a fight and had to be restrained.”
Eddie snorted. “Because you didn’t have enough to deal with.”
Buck shrugged, laughing softly. “Feel sorry for O’Donnell. He got in the middle to break it up and took a fist to the chin for his trouble.”
Buck dropped his hands and Eddie barely held back a noise of protest.
“Are you okay? What happened with the insurance guy?”
Eddie’s muscles immediately tightened again. He groaned, flopping back against the couch. He gave Buck a quick rundown. Buck’s eyes widened at some of the intrusive questions, and he made a disgusted noise.
“He seems—” Buck trailed off, scrunching his nose.
Eddie grunted. “He definitely thinks something’s off. He wasn’t subtle about thinking you don’t live here. And he’s right. He did research on us. We are in such deep shit.”
“You don’t know that.”
“You didn’t see his smug face when he was leaving. And he’ll be back. What are we gonna do?”
Buck shifted to sit sideways on the couch, leaning his elbows on his knees. Eddie stared at the blank TV.
“This wouldn’t be happening if I could provide for my kid,” Eddie said, voice breaking on the last word despite his attempts to rein in his emotions.
“Stop that,” Buck replied harshly. He dug his fingers into Eddie’s thigh until Eddie looked at him. “You’re an amazing dad, and I’m not gonna let you talk shit about yourself. It’s okay to need help sometimes, Eddie.”
Eddie squirmed and sighed as Buck continued to glare at him. He held up his hands, and Buck eased his grip.
“All right, I hear you.” Warmth spread over him. It wouldn’t make him stop feeling like a failure, but he appreciated Buck’s faith in him. “That doesn’t solve our problem, though.”
Resting his chin in his hand, Buck worried his bottom lip with his teeth. “I could move in?”
“I can’t ask you to do that. You can’t give up your apartment for me.”
“It would just be temporary, until things are settled with the insurance investigator.”
“You would do that? Give up your own space and privacy for me and Chris?” He wondered what he’d ever done to deserve having Buck in his life.
Buck’s face twisted into a weird expression Eddie hadn’t seen before but smoothed out a moment later. He shrugged. “I’m here all the time anyway. Not much would change.”
Eddie rubbed a hand over his face. Things were happening too fast and too much for him to keep up with, and he hated not feeling in control of his life.
“Yeah.” There was a lot to figure out, like what the hell reason they’d give to Chris and everyone else about why Buck was suddenly moving in, but at least they had a plan. Or one step in the plan anyway.
“It’s late. We should go to bed,” Buck said, hiding a yawn behind his hand.
Eddie blew out a breath and nodded. “Yeah.” Maybe things wouldn’t look so bleak in the morning.
“I’ll just grab a pillow and blanket out of the closet.”
Buck halted halfway off the couch, glancing over at Eddie with a small frown. “What?”
“If you’re going to be living here, you can’t sleep on the couch every night. I can’t let you do that.”
“I’ll be fine, at least for tonight.”
“Don’t be an idiot. Come to bed, Buck.”
“Okay, okay. You don’t have to twist my arm to sleep on a bed.”
Eddie rolled his eyes, then took Buck’s hand and pulled him off the couch. They brushed their teeth and changed in silence. Exhaustion laid over Eddie like a blanket, dragging his shoulders down and slowing his movements. Buck met his eyes in the mirror and smiled around his toothbrush, bumping their shoulders together.
He changed into shorts but kept Buck’s hoodie on, then slipped under the covers, watching Buck empty his pockets and turn off the lights. They’d slept in the same bed before but not enough to have usual sides. Buck hesitated as he approached the bed and swung the other direction to climb in opposite Eddie.
Despite being so damn tired, he couldn’t sleep, hyperaware of Buck’s breathing and the crinkling of the sheets every time he shifted.
“Hey,” Buck said, rolling over to face him. He found Eddie’s hand and threaded their fingers together. “We’re gonna be okay. We’ll get through this.”
He took solace in Buck’s confidence and finally relaxed enough to fall asleep, Buck’s hand still wrapped around his.
“Chim! We have visitors!” Buck exclaimed, then clattered down the stairs, Chim hot on his heels.
Eddie leaned over the railing and saw Maddie coming in with Jee-Yun on her hip. Buck snatched his niece out of Maddie’s arms before Chim cleared the bottom step. Jee-Yun threw her arms around Buck’s neck and giggled as he peppered kisses to her face. They made an adorable picture, with matching dopey grins, Jee-Yun looking so tiny tucked protectively into Buck’s arms.
“It’s a good thing that kid takes after Maddie or else she’d be super goofy-looking,” Hen said, settling at the railing next to him.
“The Buckley genes are clearly superior,” Eddie said, watching Buck and Chim bicker about who got to hold Jee-Yun. Buck won, by virtue of his height and him simply walking away. Chim chased after him with an indignant “hey!”
“Mm-hm. Maddie’s almost as pretty as Buck,” Hen said with clear amusement in her voice.
“Yeah,” he answered without thinking.
Hen side-eyed him, but he was already moving to meet Buck at the top of the stairs. When Jee-Yun saw Eddie, she squealed and waved, claiming a piece of Eddie’s heart. Those Buckleys were all charmers.
“Just in time for lunch,” Bobby said, setting a stack of plates and forks on the table. “Pull up a chair, Maddie.”
“Impeccable timing as always, honey,” Chim said and kissed her cheek.
Maddie grinned, tilting her head. “I am that good.”
“Buck, set the table.” Bobby nodded toward the plates and slipped on oven mitts to pull the pot roast out of the oven.
“Ha!” Chim crowed and stole Jee-Yun while Buck protested, pouting exaggeratedly.
Eddie and Hen exchanged amused glances and joined everyone at the table.
It was quiet as they ate, except Jee-Yun singing a nonsense song about a…bunny? Maybe. She sat on Chim’s lap, occasionally stuffing food in her mouth. As soon as they cleared their plates and talk resumed, though, she wriggled away from Chim and walked around the table to Buck. She patted his knee until he picked her up, throwing Chim a smug look.
Eddie let the conversation flow around him, content to help Buck and Jee-Yun build a tower out of wooden blocks, though Jee-Yun spent more time banging a block against the table. Everyone naturally raised their voices to be heard over the noise. There was something captivating about Buck when he was around Jee-Yun. Any kids, really, but especially his niece. His face came alive, his smile soft and full of awe, like he couldn’t believe this precious child actually liked him.
“So,” Chim said, turning to Buck with a sly grin that rang all Eddie’s alarm bells. “Wanna tell us why you and Eddie have been coming into work together for the past week and a half?”
Buck jerked, sending his tower of blocks tumbling across the table. Jee-Yun’s quiet “uh-oh” was possibly the cutest thing Eddie’d ever heard, but he was more concerned for Buck and the wild look in his eyes. Buck shifted back in his chair, hunching his shoulders. It reminded Eddie of a cornered animal, and he pressed his knee against Buck’s in silent comfort.
Of course Chim would ask when Buck was trapped by a kid on his lap and under the scrutiny of a tableful of people.
“He moved in,” Eddie said. “Temporarily,” he added to forestall any wild speculation on Chimney’s part but based on the way Chim perked up and leaned toward Buck, it hadn’t worked.
“Oh, really? Do tell.”
They knew it’d get found out eventually. Living together was harder to hide than a convenient marriage, but they’d hoped for a longer lead time. Damn Chim for being so annoyingly observant and a giant gossip.
“Aliens!” Buck blurted, and Eddie mentally facepalmed.
“Aliens?” Hen asked, an edge to her voice.
“Yes, a family of martians took over my apartment so I moved in with Eddie.”
Everyone stared at Buck like he’d turned into one of these martians. Buck resolutely kept his gaze on stacking the blocks into another tower.
“Evan,” Maddie said slowly, “are you feeling all right?”
Buck rolled his eyes. “A pipe burst in the bathroom. My place is a mess. It’s gonna take awhile to fix.”
“Crashing on Eddie’s couch.”
Eddie felt heat flood his face but hoped no one else noticed since their attention was on Buck. He was getting used to sleeping next to Buck every night—he was warm and calming, and Eddie did not want to explore that, thank you—but their sleeping arrangements were nobody’s business except his and Buck’s. And Chris’, he supposed. He was also getting used to how much Buck touched him. Buck was always tactile, with shoulder bumps and the like, but now there were hugs after a bad shift and Buck’s hand on his hip in the morning as he handed Eddie a cup of coffee and cuddling on the couch while watching movies with Chris. Eddie soaked it in like parched ground and Buck was a steady, cooling rain after years of drought.
“Did anything get ruined?” Maddie asked, frowning.
“Nothing important. Nothing I can’t easily replace.”
“And how is that going, being stuck with Buck 24/7?” Hen sat back, crossing her arms and propping her feet up on the edge of Eddie’s chair. Smirking, she prodded him in the thigh.
“It’s been great,” Eddie replied. He thought about tickling her ankle but decided to be the bigger man. He also thought about how things hadn’t changed much since Buck moved in. It was nice having someone else there to remind Chris to brush his teeth or make sure fresh coffee was waiting for him every morning. But Buck was over all the time anyway, and he stayed the night more often than not. This was just…extra Buck, and Eddie wouldn’t complain about that, especially if it kept them out of jail for insurance fraud.
“Bet Chris is loving having you around,” Bobby said, smiling warmly. Nothing about his expression gave away that he knew the truth, or at least the truth as they told him.
“Uh, yeah, I guess.” Buck ducked his head, his cheeks glowing pink.
Eddie wanted to hug him and tell him anybody would be lucky to have him as a roommate, but Maddie’s phone went off, blasting 9 to 5.
“Oh, shoot. I’ve gotta get Jee-Yun to daycare so I can go to work.”
Jee-Yun made the rounds, kissing everyone goodbye. After they left, Buck and Chim deflated, and there were only sporadic calls to distract them. For hours.
Just after midnight, a fire at an office building sent them scrambling into their gear.
“Thank god,” Chimney said, racing down the stairs in front of Eddie. “I was about to volunteer to do dishes I was so bored.”
Eddie snorted, shoving Chimney toward the ambulance and hopping into the truck after Buck. He settled into the seat across from Buck and caught his eye, raising an eyebrow in question. He’d been quiet since lunch. Eddie thought Buck handled the others’ interrogation—that was the only word for it—pretty well, considering how much he hated lying to everyone, but he knew Buck felt like shit about it. Which made Eddie feel like an asshole and the worst friend for putting Buck in the position of having to keep secrets.
“You okay?” he mouthed at Buck.
Buck grinned and gave him the double thumbs up. He knew Buck’s smiles by now, and this one was genuine, the excited but focused one he wore before big calls.
The office building should’ve beeen empty, according to the owner, but they did a sweep anyway. Off-hours provided the perfect opportunity for dubious activities, and you learned real quick “should be empty” didn’t mean someone wasn’t banging their coworker in a conference room or stealing important files.
Eddie and Buck jogged toward the stairs, making it up the six flights to the top floor without incident. The fire started on the fourth floor but on the east side of the building, so this floor remained mostly clear of smoke. It got progressively worse as they finished their sweep and headed down. It was a relatively small building and luckily had an open floor plan consisting of large cubicles. They were able to check each floor quickly.
On the second floor, he could barely see Buck walking in front of him, his shout of “LAFD! Call out!” lost amid the noise of hoses and people yelling and sirens.
“No one’s in here, Cap,” Buck reported once they finished the search of the first floor. He stood at the base of the stairs, water dripping onto his helmet and shoulders. At least the sprinklers had worked. Things would’ve been much worse otherwise.
“Fire’s under control,” Bobby replied. “The 133 are going to wrap it up. We have another call.”
“On our way out, Cap.”
Buck clapped him on the back, and they moved toward the door.
A slight cracking noise, barely audible over the chaos around them, was all the warning they got.
“Buck! Look out!”
Eddie dove as he shouted, but he wasn’t quick enough. The edge of a piece clipped Buck’s shoulder just as Eddie barreled into him. He knocked into Buck and rolled them until they hit the far wall, Eddie taking the brunt of the impact. He laid there for a long moment, arms still around Buck, breathing heavily into the back of Buck’s neck. Eventually, he pried his fingers off Buck’s chest and sat up. He scrambled to his feet, then pulled Buck up and into a hug.
“Oof.” Buck exhaled, laughing weakly.
“You okay?” He hoped Buck couldn’t feel how fast his heart pounded.
“I’m good. You?”
“Buck! Eddie! Where are you?”
Bobby, shouting from not too far away.
“Here!” Buck replied, turning his head so he wouldn’t yell in Eddie’s ear.
Bobby jogged around the corner soon after. He stopped when he saw them, bracing a hand on the wall and sagging in relief.
“Thank god. We heard the crash, and you weren’t answering your radio.”
“Oh.” Buck blushed, trying to run a hand through his hair but getting stopped by his helmet.
He’d used his left hand. The debris had hit his right shoulder.
“What happened?” Bobby asked.
“Part of the ceiling collapsed. Eddie pushed me out of the way in time.”
“Well, I’m glad. Are we secure here?”
“Yep. We were heading out. Don’t know what rattled the ceiling loose.”
“All right. We finished the sweep in the rest of the building.”
He eyed them both, that knowing—annoying—smile curling the corners of his mouth, and Eddie realized he and Buck were still standing close, not quite hugging anymore but as good as.
“Take a minute,” Bobby told them, clapping Eddie on the back and slowly picking his way back through the rubble to the door.
Eddie dismissed him from his thoughts as soon as he was out of sight. He tugged Buck’s turnout off and shoved his hands inside his t-shirt, manipulating and probing his shoulder to check for tears or dislocation. Buck huffed in annoyance, but there were no groans of pain or wincing.
“Eddie. I’m fine. It doesn’t even hurt.”
Eddie ignored him, leaning closer to peer at Buck’s skin. There were no abrasions, but he’d probably have a bruise later.
“No pain when you move it or anything?” he asked. He removed his hands but didn’t step back.
“It’s fine. If anything hurts, it’s my back from you landing on me.”
He rolled his eyes at Buck’s stupid grin, refusing to be baited. “Ha ha. I just saved you from another concussion.”
“I know.” He said it quietly, and his expression grew serious. “Thank you.”
Shrugging uncomfortably, he wiped a smudge of dirt off Buck’s chin. “You can pay me back by cooking breakfast when we get home.”
Buck’s laugh echoed eerily around the empty space. “Like I wasn’t gonna do that already? We can’t send Chris off to school on cereal every morning, Eddie.”
“Buckley, Diaz, finish up inside. We’re ready to head out.”
Eddie wondered if Bobby had actually said their names as one—Buckley-Diaz—or if it’d been his imagination.
“On our way, Cap.”
He bent down to grab Buck’s turnout, then held it out for Buck to slip into. Spinning back around to face him, Buck crowded close and rested his forehead on Eddie’s.
“Few more hours and we can go home,” Buck murmured.
Eddie nodded. He needed a shower and to see his kid, and he really liked that Buck thought of his little house as home.
“I thought the terrible twos thing was a joke, but after Jee-Yun had a meltdown because I gave her the wrong kind of yogurt I’m a believer,” Chimney grumbled, slumping dejectedly on the bench in the locker room.
Hen and Eddie laughed, though it was tinged with hysteria as they no doubt remembered the tantrums of their own kids.
“Just wait until she hits the horrible threes,” Hen said, clapping him on the back. “Or goes to school and brings home all the bad habits of her classmates.”
Chim blanched. “It gets worse?” he asked in a choked off voice.
Hen and Eddie exchanged amused glances.
“Sure does!” Eddie told him jovially.
“But when she runs to you for a hug when you get home or falls asleep on your chest, it’s all worth it,” Hen added, and it seemed to perk Chim up.
Buck laughed with everyone else but as Hen started a story about one of Denny’s epic tantrums, he turned back to his locker to hide the smile sliding off his face. He inhaled and held it for a beat before blowing it out slowly, letting the sadness wash through him. He wanted that, so badly, the snuggles and giggles and first steps. Hell, he even looked forward to middle of the night diaper changes and wiping snotty noses. Living with Eddie and Chris gave him a taste of being a dad, but he wasn’t. He wasn’t even a stepdad, really. As much as he would love to be part of the Diaz family, it would all end when this marriage did and they went back to their lives.
Silently berating himself to get it the fuck together, he shut his locker and propped his foot up on the bench to tie his boot. Eddie shoulder bumped him, raising an eyebrow, and clearly Buck hadn’t hidden his shift in mood as well as he thought. He shook his head, and his forced smile became a snort because Eddie was buttoning his shirt wrong, and that was the best thing he’d seen today.
“Idiot,” Buck said, unable to keep the affection out of his voice.
Eddie’s brows drew together in a puzzled frown. Buck wanted to kiss him. Instead he tugged Eddie closer by a belt loop, then unbuttoned his shirt for him.
“You’d think someone your age would be able to dress himself.”
He batted Eddie’s hands away and started doing up the buttons, trying not to imagine doing the opposite and peeling Eddie out of his clothes. He ducked his head, fighting the blush crawling up his cheeks.
“God, get a room, you two.”
Eddie flipped Chim off. “You’re just—”
“Evan Alexander Buckley!”
“What did you do?” Chim asked.
Buck held up his hands. “I didn’t do anything!” Well, except for…
Chim met Maddie at the door to the locker room, but she stepped around him, beelining for Buck.
“I can’t believe you, Evan!”
Buck backpedaled until he hit the lockers, wincing at the angry volume of Maddie’s voice. She may barely reach his chest, but she was formidable when she wanted to be.
She stopped right in front of him and glared. “Why didn’t you tell me you married Eddie?” she demanded.
Oh, shit. Fuck.
There were gasps all around. Buck ignored them.
“How did you find out?”
“So it’s true?” someone to the side asked, but Buck only had attention for his tiny dynamo of a sister, pinned to the locker by her fierce stare.
“The question is not how I found out. The question is why didn’t you tell me?”
He opened his mouth then closed it with a click.
“That would be my fault,” Eddie said, slipping his hand into Buck’s and squeezing. He didn’t flinch as Maddie turned her gaze to him. “My parents aren’t exactly, uh, in favor of this. We wanted some time to enjoy it before the shit hit the fan.”
“Oh. Oh, Eddie.” She deflated and stepped forward to wrap him in a hug, made awkward by the fact that he wouldn’t let go of Buck’s hand.
Buck boggled. He couldn’t believe she bought that so easily, though if they were really married, Eddie’s parents wouldn’t approve and wouldn’t be shy about letting him know.
“I’m sorry they can’t accept you,” she said.
“Thank you.” Eddie gave him a wide-eyed look, and Buck shrugged.
Maddie let go of Eddie and moved over to crush Buck in a hug. Wrapping his arm around her, he held her close. Usually, he loved hugs from Maddie, but he felt like he didn’t deserve this one. They were misleading people, and that made his gut twist guiltily.
“I’m so happy for you. I’m mad you didn’t invite anyone.” She narrowed her eyes at him, but a smile immediately broke free. “But I’m so happy, for both of you.”
“I want to throw a reception for you.”
“Oh, we don’t—”
“Let me do this for you. Please?”
Buck exchanged glances with Eddie and got a small nod in return. “That-that would be great.”
“Great! You don’t have to worry about anything. I’ll take care of all the details.”
“Don’t go crazy, please. We just need something small.”
But Buck could already see her wheels turning. Now that she’d gone quiet, everyone else took that as their cue to ask questions, none of which they could answer. Because this wasn’t real, and no one was supposed to find out. He clung to Eddie’s hand, and Eddie pressed his shoulder against him, a ballast Buck could always rely on.
“Hey, can we have some privacy for a minute?” Eddie asked, cutting off the barrage of questions.
Everyone nodded and slowly shuffled out. Maddie, the last one, smiled brightly and shut the door, but of course no one went far. They milled about less than ten feet from the locker room, not even pretending to hide their curious looks and whispered speculations. Whoever designed a glass-walled locker room was an idiot.
Buck didn’t blame them, he supposed. He’d be curious too.
“You okay?” Eddie turned to face him and stepped closer, dropping his voice.
They were still holding hands. Buck wondered if Eddie realized. He wondered if Eddie realized how well they fit.
“No. Yes. I don’t know.”
He blew out a breath and banged his head against the locker a couple times. They didn’t anticipate people finding out, which was hopelessly naive. He just wanted to help Eddie, and Chris, and it all kept getting more and more tangled. How was he ever going to get out of this mess? Did he want to?
Eddie butted his forehead against Buck’s shoulder and sighed, then hummed as Buck scrubbed his fingers through his hair.
“It’s gotten so complicated,” Eddie said. “But at least we’ll get a party out of it.”
Buck snorted. “There’s always a silver lining.”
His was right here, crowded into his space, feeling like home more than anything else ever had.