Chapter 1: Conveniently Yours
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.
Chapter 2: Falling Deeper
Work kicked my ass this week, so I didn't have time to get this posted before now. Hope everybody enjoys the second half! ❤️
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“I can’t believe you knew this whole time and didn’t say anything, Cap,” Chimney grumbled, standing at the island and stealing pieces of vegetables as Bobby chopped them.
“I only knew because they had to sign paperwork,” Bobby said, batting Chim away. “And it wasn’t my place to say anything.”
“Something this big, you didn’t even tell Athena?”
“No, though I’m sure Hen has by now.”
“Texted her as soon Eddie kicked us out of the locker room. Must be busy, though. All I got was the surprise emoji face fifteen minutes ago.”
“How do you think it happened?” Chim asked. He leaned back against the island, having given up on stealing food after Bobby whacked his hand with a spoon. “I mean, there’s keeping your relationship on the down low and then there’s ‘Surprise! We got married!’”
“I’m sure they had their reasons to keep it quiet, Chim.” Hen shook her head at him. She had half her concentration on the conversation and half on an anatomy textbook.
“And I’m sure they wouldn’t appreciate us speculating like this,” Bobby warned. Whatever he was making smelled delicious. Maybe stew? They hadn’t gotten that for a long time.
“But aren’t you curious?”
“Of course, but I’m sure they’ll tell us when they’re ready. And don’t bug them, Chimney.” He pointed the wooden spoon at him, and Chim held up his hands.
“Wouldn’t dream of it.”
Hen snorted. “Right.”
“I just want to know how none of us noticed. Their whole relationship happened under our noses and we never suspected!”
Hen snorted again, more forceful this time. “You know why.”
“I knew that busted pipe was a bullshit reason for Buck to move in with Eddie. Was there ever really a busted pipe?”
Buck shifted on the stairs, grunting. This position was murder on his leg.
“All right?” Eddie mouthed, and Buck nodded, stretching out his leg so it wasn’t trapped under Eddie’s anymore.
“Think we should go up there?” he asked in an undertone, worried the station’s acoustics would carry his voice.
Buck felt a little bad for eavesdropping but since everyone was gossiping about him and Eddie, the guilt was minimal.
He grimaced. He wouldn’t be able to maintain this position for much longer. Eddie reached over and rubbed his calf, which only reminded Buck how closely they were smooshed together. Chim and everybody reduced to background noise as he breathed deep to avoid an embarrassing reaction from Eddie’s fingers massaging his cramped muscle.
“Who we spying on?”
“Chimney mostly,” Buck replied, then yelped as he belatedly realized Athena hovered over them, wearing one of her patented Athena Looks.
They untangled themselves and stood slowly. Everybody had gone quiet upstairs.
“Hello, boys. I hear congratulations are in order.”
Poking him in the side, Eddie rolled his eyes and shook his head. “What he means is thank you.”
“Hm-mm.” She pushed between them and walked upstairs, going into the kitchen for a hello kiss from Bobby.
Trailing behind her, Buck couldn’t help feeling jealous of their casual intimacy. He’d never have that with Eddie.
Bobby was cooking stew. It smelled even better up here. Buck’s mouth watered. He loitered by the stove, hoping Bobby would let him taste it, but also to avoid Chim’s assessing stare. They’d changed the subject in a very obvious way that would’ve clued Buck into their talking about him and Eddie, even if they hadn’t overheard everything.
Bobby had just asked Buck to grab bowls and spoons when the alarm screeched through the station. Buck sighed and hurried after everybody to the trucks. Thankfully after that, they settled into a normal day, with back to back to back calls, and there wasn’t time for anyone to pry into their marriage.
“Wow, Dad. You look really nice.”
“Don’t sound so surprised, kid,” Eddie said dryly, sinking onto the couch to slip on and tie his shoes.
“He’s just not used to seeing you in something besides jeans and a henley,” Buck said, coming in from the kitchen, and Eddie stared dumbly for a moment.
Buck’s new suit had been hanging in their closet for a week now, but it was different actually seeing him in it. It fit him perfectly, showing off his broad shoulders and slim waist. Gorgeous. He shook his head to dispel the thought and bent over his shoe, concentrating harder on tying the laces evenly than needed.
“You ready to go, buddy?” Buck asked Chris, squeezing the boy’s shoulder.
He nodded but scrunched his nose up. “My shoes are pinching my toes, though.”
Eddie pushed off the couch, then ruffled Chris’ hair, which earned him an annoyed huff. “If you’d stop growing, your shoes would still fit.”
“Maybe Buck should stop feeding me,” Chris said with a delighted grin. It was Eddie’s favorite Chris smile, the one where he was so pleased with himself and couldn’t contain his happiness.
However he’d fucked up in life, Chris was the one good thing he’d done.
“I could let your dad start cooking again,” Buck suggested.
“No!” Chris yelled, drawing it out into seven or eight syllables.
“All right, all right. Stop ganging up on me and get your butts in the car.”
He put his hands on Chris’ shoulders and crab-walked him toward the door while Buck and Chris laughed at him. Buck scooped up the keys from the entryway table and locked the door behind them, then tossed the keys to Eddie when they got to the truck.
The venue Maddie had found for the reception was almost an hour outside of the city. It was a pleasant drive, with the sun shining and Buck and Chris chattering away about an upcoming science project that would undoubtedly leave their kitchen in ruins.
Buck stopped talking abruptly when they finally reached the end of the long drive and the large barn looming amidst a stand of pine trees.
“That is way bigger than the pictures Maddie showed us,” Eddie said, slowing the truck and leaning over the steering wheel.
“And much nicer.”
He glanced at Buck, saw his own guilt reflected in Buck’s eyes. How much had she and Chimney spent to give them a reception for a wedding that wasn’t even real?
“Eddie,” he murmured.
“I know. We’ll make it up to them somehow.”
The inside was even grander, with cathedral ceilings, a gleaming dance floor, and tables draped in crisp white linen. White LED lights wound around rafters and down the walls, making everything glow golden. Flowers in clear glass bowls stood in the center of each table, red roses, because they were Eddie’s favorites and he didn’t care if it was cliche, and white peonies for Buck.
Chris raced off to play with Jee-Yun and Chim, tossing out an absent “I will!” when Eddie told him to behave. Maddie spotted them and after leaving instructions to the people setting up, wove her way around the tables to greet them.
“What do you think?” She spread her arms and spun side to side to encompass everything, and her dress fluttered around her prettily.
“Mads, this is amazing,” Buck said, hugging his sister absently as he continued to look around the room. “We would’ve been cool with streamers and some candles on the tables.”
“Streamers?” Maddie rolled her eyes, and even Eddie knew streamers were for kids birthday parties and not fancy wedding receptions.
“This is way more than we were expecting. Thank you,” Eddie told her. She smiled at him, and apparently pretty smiles were a Buckley family trait.
“I’m still mad at you for not telling me.” She lifted her head to glare at Buck but clearly didn’t buy his innocent who, me? face and poked his chest. “I can’t believe I had to find out on my own.”
Buck’s eyebrows pinched together. “How did you, by the way?”
“Jeez, look at the time! People will be arriving soon. I should check on the food!”
She slipped out from under his arm and hurried away, leaving Buck with his mouth open.
Eddie hid his snicker behind a hand, then pushed into Buck’s arms when Buck pouted at him. Buck immediately hugged him back. Turning his face into Buck’s neck, he breathed in the scent of Buck’s aftershave, the sandalwood familiar and soothing.
“Maddie went all out for us,” Eddie said.
“Yeah. I kinda feel like an asshole, having her go to this much trouble when we’re not really married,” Buck replied quietly.
“Yep. Feels shitty lying to people when they’re so happy for us. I’m sorry I got you into this mess.”
“I’m pretty sure I volunteered. And I’d do it again.”
The arrival of guests cut off Eddie’s response. He sighed and smoothed a hand down his shirt as Buck turned to shake hands with O’Donnell from B shift.
For the next hour, they drifted from person to person, hugging everybody and enduring their questions and happiness. Eddie felt overwhelmed and a bit sick with guilt, but having Buck close helped. Sometimes, Buck would entwine their fingers or rest his hand on Eddie’s back, and that helped too.
Chris and Denny dragged Buck onto the dance floor, one hanging off each hand, Jee-Yun toddling behind. Eddie stood talking to Chimney and Maddie, only half paying attention to the conservation as the rest of the kids gathered around Buck.
Chimney walked off to get a drink for Maddie, leaving Eddie alone with her. He shifted his feet, checking himself before he crossed his arms and sliding his hands into his pants pockets instead. He and Maddie never had much one-on-one time and truthfully, he found her kind of intimidating. He looked over to the other side of the room where a dozen kids now surrounded Buck, dancing to the 80s playlist coming over the speakers. Buck balanced Jee-Yun on his hip while he spun Chris around in circles. Eddie could hear their giggles from here.
“You guys thinking of having another kid?”
Eddie choked out a laugh. “Are you?”
“Touché.” She silently watched Buck and the kids for a minute. “He’ll be a good dad.”
“He already is.” Despite Chris not being his, Buck easily stepped into the father role. Even at the beginning when he barely knew Eddie, he was there in a way no one else ever had been. And now he was doing all this for them. Eddie wondered what he did to deserve someone as kind and loving as Buck in his life.
Slipping her arm through his, Maddie asked in a falsely cheerful voice, “So, do I need to give you the shovel talk?”
Did he say kind of? Make that extremely intimidating.
“No. The last thing I want to do is hurt him, Maddie.” And this wasn’t real, so he was hardly in danger of breaking Buck’s heart.
“His heart’s been bruised so much before.”
Buck noticed him watching and waved. Seeing Buck’s bright grin, Eddie couldn’t help smiling back, like there was an invisible string connecting their mouths.
“I think his heart is pretty safe with you,” Maddie said, and Eddie startled, having completely forgotten she was there. Maddie rolled her eyes and stepped away. “Go on. I can tell you’re pining because you’ve been away from him for too long.”
Eddie flushed, bending down to kiss Maddie’s cheek. “Thanks. For everything.”
She grinned at him and really, those Buckley smiles were lethal.
“Hey.” Buck greeted him with a one-armed hug since he still held Jee-Yun, bouncing her along to the music. “Did you come to dance?”
Eddie laughed. “No. That’s your thing.”
Jee-Yun stared at Eddie, her big brown eyes wide, and reached a tiny fist out toward him. He bumped it with his own, then melted inside when she giggled and swayed toward him. He held out his arms, and she came right to him, tucking into his chest, loosely wrapping a fist around his tie. Buck looked at her softly and combed her hair back.
“What was Maddie saying? You had a weird look on your face.”
Eddie tickled the spot under Jee-Yun's chin, just to hear her giggle.
“She wanted to make sure I wouldn’t break your heart.”
Buck laughed, but it sounded funny. “Yeah. No possibility of that.”
Eddie side-eyed Buck, a question on the tip of his tongue, but his train of thought was derailed by Jee-Yun kicking him in the gut as she scrambled to get down, having spotted her dad walking over.
“Well, I guess we know where we rank in her affections,” Eddie said, watching Chim swing Jee-Yun up into his arms.
Buck snorted, and that was better. Eddie always felt vaguely unsettled when Buck wasn’t smiling. Turning toward Eddie, he straightened Eddie’s tie, then smoothed his hands over Eddie’s lapels and up to his shoulders. He held on for a long moment, eyes intense on Eddie’s face, before he stepped back. Eddie rocked back on his heels, disoriented for a second. Buck looked away and cleared his throat.
“Dancing is thirsty work. Buy me a drink?” Buck asked, smirking.
Rolling his eyes, Eddie steered Buck toward the bar with a hand in the small of his back. “Yes, Buck, I’ll buy you a drink from the open bar.”
They picked up a couple glasses of champagne and water for Eddie since he still had to drive them home later, and sat at one of the empty tables. Buck knocked back a glass of champagne in two swallows while Eddie sipped his water. Buck leaned back in his chair, stretching his legs out. They seemed especially long in his dark suit pants.
“Is that all Maddie said, about breaking my heart? You were talking for awhile.”
“She also asked me if we’re planning to have more kids,” Eddie said, and Buck choked on his champagne.
Setting the glass down, Buck wiped his chin. His gaze wavered, darting away from Eddie’s and back again. “Is that—is that something you want? Another kid?”
“I don’t know? I’ve never really been in a place to consider it.” Between the Army and the breakdown of his marriage with Shannon, whether or not to have more kids was the last thing on his mind. And it hadn’t exactly been a concern since moving to LA. He thought about Buck dancing with Jee-Yun and her happy giggles and the way she snuggled into Eddie’s chest after reaching for him. He smiled. “Maybe. Someday, when the timing and everything is good.”
Buck made a noncommittal noise and fiddled with his mostly empty glass.
“Do you? Want kids?”
Buck shrugged. His jaw tensed, though, and Eddie could read him well enough to know this wasn’t a casual, throwaway conversation for him. He bumped Buck’s shoulder, then kicked him in the ankle when that didn’t get a response. Buck sighed and finished his champagne, sliding the glass toward the middle of the table.
“I do, yeah,” he answered eventually. “Not sure it’ll ever happen for me, though.”
“Of course it will.”
He said it in a way that shut down further comment, so Eddie let it drop. He leaned against Buck’s side, and Buck brushed a hand over his knee. It was nice, this little bit of peace amid the chaos of the day. It didn’t last nearly long enough, however, as Abuela approached before Eddie could get too comfortable with Buck’s arm around him.
“No, sit, sit.” She gently pushed him back into his chair, then patted his cheek. “We want to borrow your husband for a moment.”
“Uh.” He glanced over Abuela’s shoulder to where Pepa and a handful of cousins stood with serious expressions, though Pepa kept breaking into a smile. Part of him wanted to say no, because god knew what they planned to say to Buck, but they’d all come here, for him, whereas his parents refused to acknowledge their marriage. Never mind that it wasn’t real. At least now he knew for sure where they stood.
“It’s okay,” Buck told him, squeezing his arm. “I think they just want to give me the obligatory don’t hurt our boy speech like Maddie did earlier.”
“Don’t worry. I’m very charming.” He smiled crookedly, and Eddie reluctantly admitted to himself it was very charming. “Besides, your abuela loves me.”
He snorted, then startled when Buck leaned over to kiss his cheek before getting up. He stared after him until Hen slid into Buck’s empty chair, Karen beside her. Eddie shifted, wary. He knew that look in her eyes, like a bloodhound sniffing out a story. He’d seen plenty of people crack under that gaze. He steeled himself for her no-doubt pointed questions.
As it turned out, Hen and Karen were just the beginning of getting pulled into one conversation—interrogation—after another, as if everyone decided to seize on the opportunity to corner Eddie now that he was alone. After what felt like forever, he finally extracted himself and found Buck by the dessert table, picking through the cookies for the one with the most chocolate. Eddie wrapped his arms around Buck from behind, burying his face between his shoulder blades, and instantly felt the tension in his own shoulders ebb away.
“You all right?” Buck asked, caressing a finger over Eddie’s knuckles.
“They’re all vultures,” he replied. And I missed you.
“Hmm. Which one of us was excited for a party?”
“A party, yes, maybe with a decadent cake and presents, not everybody I know grilling me for answers I don’t have.” He understood their curiosity, but his and Buck’s hastily put together, rehearsed story hardly satisfied anyone.
Buck shifted around to hug Eddie properly, and that was better. Buck’s hugs always made things better.
“It’ll be over soon.” His hand settled low on Eddie’s back, his breath ghosting over his temple. Eddie shivered. “Would some of that decadent cake help?”
“Cake?” He perked up at that, and Buck laughed, a pleasant rumble that shook something loose in Eddie’s chest.
“Oh, fuck off,” Eddie grumbled, turning his face into Buck’s chest and groaning.
Buck combed his fingers through Eddie’s hair and massaged his scalp. “Wonder who that could be?”
“I don’t know, but they need to go away.”
“I’ll get it.”
He scooted forward. Eddie tightened his arms around Buck’s waist for a moment, then let go with a sigh. Buck disentangled himself gently, depositing Eddie back onto the couch with a quick peck to his forehead. He planned to shoo off whoever was at the door then maybe work on Eddie again to eat something. He didn’t want to socialize after such a shitty day.
There was a stranger on their porch. He wore a dark brown suit, carried an old-fashioned briefcase, and gave Buck a bemused look, one eyebrow raised.
“You must be Mr. Buckley.”
“I am. And you are?” He hoped he didn’t come across as rude, but he wasn’t in the mood to deal with a salesman or whoever this was.
“Herbert Graves,” he said, in a tone that meant Buck should recognize the name. “From Blue Star Insurance,” he clarified.
Buck blanched. Fuck. They did not need this right now.
Rearranging his face into the polite smile he used for curious onlookers on calls, he stuck his hand out to shake, then moved back to let Graves in.
Buck left Graves standing in the entryway, examining the framed pictures sitting on the table, and hurried over to Eddie. He still slouched on the couch, a few inches from lying down completely, staring morosely at a Toyota commercial on the TV.
“Hey.” He squeezed Eddie’s shoulder, then trailed his fingers up Eddie’s neck to cup his jaw. “Mr. Graves is here for a surprise visit,” he said in an undertone, glancing up at Graves and—was he going through their mail? What the hell?
Closing his eyes, Eddie slumped forward so his head landed on Buck’s stomach. “Seriously?”
“Yeah. I’d tell him to leave but—”
“No, that’s probably a bad idea.” He sat up straight and let Buck pull him to his feet.
“We can do this,” he said, sounding way more confident than he felt.
Eddie huffed a laugh. “Sure.”
Buck was now glad Chris had gone to a sleepover with a classmate, though they’d hesitated at first. After a day like this, full of smoke and death, snuggling with Chris helped soothe the ache. But the drop-off time was before the end of their shift and Chris had been bouncing in excitement for days. They hated to disappoint him. Apparently the universe did one thing in their favor.
They walked over together to where Graves was now sorting through a thick pile of papers in his briefcase.
“Mr. Graves,” Eddie said.
He shook Eddie’s hand while staring directly at Buck. “You didn’t change your last names.”
Well, that was direct.
“It’s easier at work,” Buck explained, since Eddie seemed to’ve blue screened. “It’d get confusing with two Diazes. Or two Buckleys.” But now that the idea was out there, Buck ached to be a Diaz, to actually be part of their family and not just a best friend with temporary status as husband.
“Hmm.” Graves finished digging in his briefcase and extracted a yellow legal pad and a cheap Bic pen. He jotted down a long note, which Buck strained to read, but it unfortunately seemed to be in code.
Buck exchanged glances with Eddie. Sweat had gathered at his temples, and Buck could see his pulse thrumming fast in his neck. He shuffled closer and linked their hands, brushing his thumb over the back of Eddie’s. Eddie flashed him a quick, trembling smile, then turned back to Graves as he recapped his pen.
He pointed with his pen to a picture on the entryway table. “This is new.”
“It was at my apartment. I brought it with me when I moved in.”
It’d sat on his nightstand since Christmas, an off-center selfie of Buck and Eddie, Chris smooshed between them with the biggest smile on his face. Buck stuck a Santa hat on Eddie’s head for the picture, which Chris found tremendously funny.
Graves rotated, taking in the whole room. “You didn’t bring much else with you.”
Because he was subletting his apartment, which he suspected Graves already knew.
“I brought what I needed. Besides, the important things were already here.” He raised their joined hands and kissed Eddie’s palm. Eddie’s eye twitched in an aborted eye roll, and Buck smirked.
Buck was really starting to hate that response. He wished he could read Graves better, but his expression remained neutral no matter what.
Graves prowled around the house, inspecting everything and asking them dozens of questions as they trailed behind. Seemingly innocuous ones like who woke up first or how they preferred their coffee and more pointed ones like what side of the bed they slept on.
“The left,” Eddie replied, just shy of snapping. He’d been getting more agitated by the question. He needed to calm down before he said something he’d regret.
“That’s where he starts anyway. He ends up sleeping on top of me most of the time.”
Eddie opened his mouth, then closed it with a click, unable to deny Buck’s statement. It was rare these days if he woke up without Eddie sprawled across his chest or spooning him, head tucked next to Buck’s on the same pillow.
“Would you like us to open the dresser drawers next?” Eddie asked sweetly. Too sweetly.
“Mr. Graves,” Buck jumped in before things could escalate. “Would you like a drink?”
“Yes. Water will do, thank you.”
Even that was in a monotone.
“Great. We’ll be right back.”
He herded Eddie out of the room and down the hall. Leaving Graves in the living room, probably snooping through their mail again, he swung open the door and got Eddie into the kitchen before he broke in front of Graves.
While Buck collected glasses, Eddie went to the fridge for the filtered water. He set the pitcher on the counter with such force that Buck thought it would shatter. Or maybe that was Eddie’s emotional control.
“This is the day from hell.” Dropping his head back, Eddie blinked at the ceiling and whined deep in his throat.
Buck agreed. Between the apartment fire and now this, he just wanted to crawl into bed with Eddie and shut out the world for a few hours.
Crossing to Eddie, he drew him into hug, offering what comfort he could. Eddie sighed and tucked his face into Buck’s neck, fists clutched in the back of Buck’s shirt.
“Wasn’t your fault,” Buck murmured. Eddie still smelled like smoke, despite the rinsing off at the station and the more thorough shower he’d taken once they got home.
“Feels like it,” Eddie replied, voice raw and broken.
Eddie's pain made Buck feel like he was being dragged through burning coals. And he got it, got thinking I could’ve done more and the spirals of what if, but they couldn’t afford to indulge in that right now.
“It’ll be okay.” He pressed a kiss to Eddie’s temple and squeezed the back of his neck. “We’ll get through this, and tomorrow will be a new day.”
“Did you get that from an inspirational quote of the day calendar?”
“Shut up.” He pinched Eddie’s side, but Eddie only pulled him closer, tightening his arms.
Fuck. He wanted a redo of today.
He glanced up just in time to see the kitchen door swing shut. He bristled at the intrusion of their private moment, then did a panicked replay of their conversation, afraid they’d given themselves away. He didn’t think so. He hoped.
“Come on,” he said, easing away from Eddie even though he wanted to hold on and protect him from their grim reality. “We should get back out there before he wonders what we’re doing in here.”
He lifted the pitcher and put it back down, exhaling loudly. Buck took it from him and filled the glasses, balancing them between his hands while Eddie held open the door.
“Ready?” Buck asked.
“No, but let’s get it over with. I’m sorry about all this.”
“Don’t apologize. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”
Eddie gave him a grateful smile. Under other circumstances, if they were really married and Eddie was really his, Buck would kiss him. Instead, he nudged him out of the doorway and stood at his back as they walked back in to face Graves again.
Sitting in the armchair, he wrote on the legal pad, a wall of incomprehensible text Buck really wished he could read. He passed out the water, then sat next to Eddie on the couch. Graves drained his glass in mechanical swallows that made Buck wonder if his whole personalty was this bland or if he was secretly super into paintball or swinging or something.
Graves leaned forward to set his glass on the coffee table and sat back, fixing Buck with a flat-eyed stare.
“Mr. Buckley, why did you marry Mr. Diaz?”
Eddie sat up straighter and narrowed his eyes. “Hey, that’s—”
Buck put his hand on Eddie’s knee and squeezed, shaking his head minutely. They couldn’t afford to antagonize Graves.
“Because I love him. Because he’s my best friend and my partner and I can’t imagine not marrying him.” His voice wavered at the end and he hoped he wasn’t giving himself away with his honesty, but the soft smile Eddie gave him calmed the nervous energy crackling along his skin.
“Hmm,” Graves said, making a note on his legal pad.
Shit, what was next? Their favorite sexual positions?
Luckily that was his last zinger, and he moved onto easy questions after that. Well, easier anyway. By the time Graves snapped his briefcase closed and stood, Buck felt like he’d been stripped and dragged backwards through a thorn bush—exposed, itchy, and dirty.
“We’ll be in touch,” Graves said, thrusting his hand out.
Buck walked him to the door, though he wanted to shake him and demand to know whether they passed this absurd test. He couldn’t handle another one of these interrogations. As soon as Graves cleared the doorway, Buck shut and locked the door, beyond caring if it appeared rude.
“We should eat,” Buck said stopping in front of Eddie where he slumped on the couch.
“Buck.” He scrubbed his hands over his face. He looked exhausted, completely spent.
Heart aching, Buck combed Eddie’s hair off his forehead, then dug his fingers into the base of his skull. Eddie whimpered and fell forward, digging his forehead into Buck’s stomach.
“I don’t think I could eat.”
“Please humor me, even if it’s just a piece of toast. You’ll regret it later if you don’t.”
Buck had bolted down a peanut butter sandwich and half a banana sometime in the afternoon, but Eddie had claimed he wasn’t hungry. He’d let it go at the time because there was too much else going on, but it was late. Eddie needed to eat something today besides the oatmeal and fruit from breakfast.
“Okay.” He sighed, and it sounded like it came all the way from his toes.
“Just something small and then we can crash.”
“I’d rather just crash, but you’re gonna be annoying about this, aren’t you?”
“We can eat in bed if that helps.” Anything to get some food into him.
Buck grabbed his phone off the nightstand and jammed his finger at the screen without opening his eyes. It took a few tries but eventually the alarm turned off. He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. It was too damn early, still the middle of the night. Yawning, he stretched his toes, careful not to dislodge Eddie, who was currently spread out on top of Buck, his face half smashed into Buck’s armpit, one hand curled around Buck’s hip. He traced a finger along Eddie’s eyebrow and down across his jaw. He was so beautiful, the worried crinkle between his eyes smoothed out in sleep. He even found the drool spot on his t-shirt adorable.
He wished he could stay here forever, with Eddie curled up on his chest, but they had plans and a strict timetable. He gently shook Eddie’s shoulder and when that didn’t work, poked his cheek. Eddie snorted and jerked, half sitting up. Snickering into his pillow, Buck watched Eddie look around in confusion before his eyes settled on Buck and he smiled.
“Hey,” Buck said, running a hand up Eddie’s arm. “Are you with me?”
Eddie rubbed his hands over his face. “Yeah. Just give me a few minutes.”
Buck sat up and combed his fingers through Eddie’s tangled, fluffy hair. He tried not to luxuriate in the feel of the soft, silky strands slipping through his fingers. Eddie leaned into the touch, humming quietly, eyes sliding closed again. Buck gave up the job after a few minutes; he’d need an actual brush, and it wouldn’t matter anyway. It would just be the three of them.
Glancing at the clock, Buck sighed.
“We should get going,” Buck said, dragging himself away from Eddie and swinging his legs over the side of the bed. “Can you make coffee? I’ll get Chris up.”
Eddie wandered out, scratching his stomach and yawning. Buck dug out a clean t-shirt, then padded down the hall to Chris’ room. He was curled into a tight ball with the covers over his head, a little lump in the center of the bed. Buck smiled and stood in the doorway for a minute. Pulling the covers down, he rubbed Chris’ back, but he slept even harder than his dad, so it took more effort to get him up.
“Hey, kid. It’s time to go.”
Chris grumbled something Buck couldn’t understand, swaying slightly. Buck slid Chris’ glasses on for him and bodily dragged him out of bed and down the hall. This would’ve been easier a couple years ago when Buck could still carry Chris, but he was too big now and seemed to be growing at lightning speed. He simultaneously loved seeing the little man Chris was growing into and missed the precocious seven-year-old he first met.
He sat on the living room floor with Chris and got their shoes on. Eddie came out a minute later carrying two large travel mugs of coffee, a plastic bag swinging from his wrist.
“Snacks,” he explained when Buck raised an eyebrow at him. “And a juice box for Chris. Just in case.”
“Awesome. We ready to roll?”
Now that he was more awake, Buck's excitement was starting to build. He bounced on his toes and grinned at Eddie when he rolled his eyes. Chris walked like a zombie out to the truck. Buck kept a hand on his shoulder so he wouldn’t trip and face plant in the driveway. He got Chris situated in the backseat; he was asleep before Buck even buckled his seatbelt.
“You okay to drive?” Buck asked Eddie.
“Yep, I’m good.”
“All right, let’s get this show on the road!” He rubbed his hands together and grinned.
“Just get in the truck, Buck.”
He settled in the passenger seat, stretching his legs out and resting his head on the seat back so he could watch Eddie out of the corner of his eye.
“How far do you want to go?” Eddie asked as they pulled out of their neighborhood.
“We still have over half an hour. Um, just into the hills, I guess. Far enough out that the lights of the city aren’t too bright.”
They didn’t talk much as they drove out of the city and into the surrounding hills. Buck checked his phone to make sure the timetable hadn’t changed, even though it’d been the same all week, but he didn’t want to miss anything. A total lunar eclipse on a clear night when they didn’t have to work and Chris didn’t have school the next morning was a minor miracle, and he planned to enjoy the hell out of it.
This was also a mini celebration as Graves had called a few days ago to say he’d closed their investigation. He found no fraud on their part, though an undercurrent of warning threaded through his voice. They decided to keep things as-is for now, just in case, even though Buck’s ability to handle things as-is was shaky at best lately.
“You’re really looking forward to this, huh?” Eddie said lightly, an amused smile ticking up one corner of his mouth.
“Yeah. One of the rare times Maddie came home from college, she dragged me out of bed in the middle of the night and made me stand in the driveway to watch an eclipse. I was grumpy and mad about it then. I was a teenager and out there in my boxers. It was chilly and I was tired and just wanted back in bed.”
Eddie snorted. “I can picture your angry pout while Maddie shakes your arm and tells you to appreciate the rare beauty you’re getting to witness.”
Buck smiled. “Pretty much. I dove back under my covers as soon as she let me.” He looked out the window at the dark sky, broken up by pockets of lights from neighborhoods. “But now it’s one of my favorite memories. I didn’t get to see Maddie much then, and I felt lost and alone so much of the time, stuck at home with just me and my parents. That night is a bright spot for me.”
Eddie reached over and squeezed his knee, leaving his hand there for a long moment before grabbing the coffee and taking a sip. Buck immediately missed the warmth and weight of Eddie’s hand and faced the window so Eddie wouldn’t see his disappointment.
“Thank god for Maddie.” Eddie said quietly.
She’d always been his angel. He might have lost sight of that a time or two, but he for sure knew now how amazing and precious their relationship was.
They drove for another ten minutes once they got out of the city. Eddie pulled off into an empty parking lot. Several lights were broken, leaving this section in relative darkness and affording them a pretty good, unobstructed view of the sky. While Eddie spread blankets in the bed of the truck, Buck coaxed a sleepy Chris out of the backseat, unbuckling his seatbelt and guiding him out so he didn’t hit his head on the door. Chris grumbled incoherently at him, and Buck smiled. There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do for this kid. Or Eddie.
“Hey, buddy,” Buck said, maneuvering Chris in the right direction. “Look up.”
Chris tipped his head back so it rested on Buck’s chest. “Oh, wow!” He pointed at the sky, sounding way more awake now. “Dad, do you see it?”
Eddie leaned on the side of the truck, looking fondly at Chris. “Yeah. Pretty cool, huh?”
“Come on. Let’s lay down so we can watch it better,” Buck said, nudging Chris.
They climbed into the bed of the truck and lay on their backs, Chris between them. Eddie had piled several thick blankets back there, creating a soft cushion for them. Buck spent as much time watching Chris, eyes wide and mouth open slightly in awe, as looking up at the eclipse, though it was amazing. It didn’t matter that he’d seen one before. Stars and the movement of the night sky was fascinating. He caught Eddie’s gaze over Chris’ head and felt trapped by his soft expression, at the fondness and love there. In these moments jealousy sometimes hit him. He wished his own father would look at him like that, like the world was all right as long as he was happy. But he was glad he got to share in some of these moments with Eddie and Chris.
The eclipse seemed to last an eternity. Alone out here, away from the bustle and flow of the city, the only sound a faint breeze occasionally rustling the leaves of a nearby tree, they could be the only people in the universe, just them and the beauty of the moon and stars.
Buck blinked, and it was over, the sun and moon already drifting apart. He thought belatedly that they should’ve recorded it, but it felt like a violation somehow to have gotten their phones out for such a hushed, private moment.
“That was amazing,” Buck murmured.
“It was awesome!” Chris replied and launched into a replay of the eclipse like they hadn’t all just seen the same thing.
Buck and Eddie exchanged an amused smile over Chris’ head and patiently listened until Chris wound down.
After, Eddie fetched the drinks and snacks from the truck. They nibbled on the crackers and carrot sticks Eddie brought and admired the few stars visible here. They talked in hushed voices, about maybe taking Chris to the planetarium and the article on peanut farming Buck had read earlier. Chris’ burst of energy quickly fizzled out, his eyes slowly drooping until he curled up and fell asleep.
“We should probably get back,” Buck said, running a hand through Chris’ curls.
Eddie shifted closer and rested his head on Buck’s shoulder. “In a bit.”
Buck closed his eyes. It was getting harder to deal with this, with having Eddie except in the way he wanted. Married but not. Sharing their lives but needing to hold back.
But with Chris asleep between them, head pillowed on Buck’s knee, and Eddie dozing on his shoulder, there was no place Buck would rather be.
Eddie finished strapping Buck’s harness on, then tugged to make sure everything was fastened securely. A strong gust of wind buffeted them, and Eddie braced himself with a hand on Buck’s shoulder. The wind was why a hang glider was stuck on the side of a cliff and probably why the hang glider was out there in the first place. And it was one of the reasons he was wary of sending Buck over the cliff for a rope rescue.
He didn’t doubt Buck’s ability to safely get to the hang glider, far from it, but he’d been uneasy about this call since they climbed into the truck and Bobby gave them the rundown, knowing Buck would be the one doing the rescue. They’d done this a million times. He knew that if anyone could safely pull off this rescue, despite the strong wind and steep, jagged cliffside, it was Buck, but worry still clouded his mind.
He clipped the rope to Buck’s harness, then rested his hands on Buck's chest. He stared at the LAFD logo on his shirt, because he was too afraid to meet Buck’s eyes for some stupid reason.
“Be careful,” he told Buck.
Buck covered Eddie’s hand, stopping his nervous tapping. “I’ll be back topside before you know it,” he replied, sounding as confident and eager as usual.
Glancing up, he caught Buck looking at him intently, a soft smile curling his mouth.
“Buck, Eddie, you ready?”
Eddie startled slightly at the crackle of Bobby’s voice coming over the radio. Lately it seemed like he got easily distracted by Buck, the rest of the world slipping away to the periphery.
“All set, Cap,” Buck said, not breaking eye contact with Eddie, one eyebrow raised.
Nodding, Eddie turned away. He blew out a breath and took up position at the winch. Just before he stepped to the edge, Buck grinned and smacked a kiss to Eddie’s forehead. It startled Eddie out of his dark thoughts, and he laughed, shoving Buck away with an annoyed huff.
Giving him a thumb’s up, Buck told him, “I’ll be right back. Promise.”
Of course he would. He had to.
He started the winch, watching as Buck disappeared over the edge, his heart in his throat. It went smoothly until Buck’s voice drifted up, a sharp shit that made Eddie immediately stop the winch.
“Buck, you all right?” he asked and waited impatiently for the crackle of Buck’s voice over the radio.
“Fine. Wind knocked me into the cliff. I banged my elbow, but I’m fine. Keep going.”
He wasn’t breathing hard and didn’t sound like he was in pain, so Eddie cranked the winch again. After several tense minutes, Buck announced he’d reached the hang glider.
“He’s awake but groggy, probably from concussion,” he said. The wind whistled in the background. “Likely other injuries as well, maybe a broken leg. Looks like he got battered against the cliff pretty good. We’ll need the basket.”
“Copy that, Buck. We’ll send Chimney down. Hang tight.”
“Not planning to go anywhere, Cap.”
They got Chimney ready to go down and then Eddie had to worry about someone else clinging to the damn cliff, though it wasn’t as sharp as his fear for Buck. In a blink, Chimney swung the basket over the edge. Eddie and Bobby helped transfer him to a gurney, then Chim and Hen rushed off to the ambulance.
Eddie had his finger on the radio button when Buck's voice came through, far too jovial. Eddie gritted his teeth before he snapped at him. It wasn’t Buck’s fault Eddie was feeling anxious and off kilter.
“Okay, Eddie. Bring me up.”
It felt like he didn’t breathe until he saw the top of Buck’s head. The moment Buck’s boots hit solid ground again, he could finally inhale without it burning. He barely stopped himself from hauling Buck into his arms, because that would be ridiculous and over the top for a simple rope rescue.
“Told you I’d be back,” Buck said, fingers busy on the clasps of the harness.
“Yeah, you—” He cut off and grabbed Buck’s face, ignoring his indignant hey! “You’re bleeding! Why didn’t you say something!” It came out harsher than he intended, but his heart was rabbiting in his chest and there was blood smeared on Buck’s cheek and arm and oh, shit. “Are you hurt anywhere else?”
Gripping Eddie’s wrists to stop his frantic pat down of Buck’s torso, Buck ducked his head to catch his eye. “It doesn’t even hurt. I’m okay, Eddie,” he said gently.
He deflated, briefly closing his eyes and trying to calm down. What was wrong with him?
Buck studied him for a long moment, then let him go to finish getting out of the harness. They packed up the gear and in the truck on the way back to the station, Buck suffered through Eddie checking the scrape on his face. He cleaned the blood off his face with an alcohol wipe, then held some gauze to the still oozing wound. He’d need better supplies than what he found in the truck’s first aid kit, but it would do for now.
It was an unusually quiet ride, everyone picking up on Eddie’s mood. Buck pressed his knee and shoulder against Eddie’s, thumb sweeping over his wrist where his pulse still raced.
“Come on, let me patch you up,” Eddie said, tugging Buck toward the ambulance as soon as they shed their gear.
Buck huffed but followed him along easily. Cupping Buck’s face, he turned his head to inspect the wound on his cheek. The rush job from earlier stopped the bleeding at least. He frowned, caressing the bolt of Buck’s jaw, just under the scrape.
“So what’s the diagnosis? Will I live?”
Eddie rolled his eyes. He refused to think of Buck’s wide grin as adorable. “Shut up and have a seat.”
Sitting on the back of the ambulance, Buck kicked one foot and waited while Eddie set out supplies. He worked on his cheek first, standing between Buck’s legs and trying to focus on the task and block out the hum of activity around them. He cleaned the wound, which thankfully didn’t require stitches, then applied several butterfly bandages. It hopefully wouldn’t scar.
“You’re glaring at my face like it personally offended you,” Buck said, tapping Eddie’s ankle with his heel.
Eddie grunted. “Give me your arm,” he said gruffly.
Buck’s elbow was a mess. The scratches were superficial, but small pieces of rock had embedded into his skin.
Picking up the tweezers, Eddie bit his lip. “This might hurt a bit. You want me to numb it first?”
“No. I’ll be fine.”
Eddie nodded and got to work. Buck flinched a couple times but sat still otherwise.
Buck’s injuries could’ve been so much worse. Eddie had to concentrate hard and draw on his Army training to keep from running through worst-case scenarios. He blocked everything out to the extent that it took him too long to notice that Buck had hooked a foot around his calf and drawn him closer. He stroked Eddie’s side, as if Eddie were the one hurt and needed comforting. But maybe he did. His hand shook slightly as he dug rock fragments out of Buck’s elbow. He didn’t know what happened to his usual control.
Eddie exhaled a shaky breath and set down the tweezers. He pitched forward, like a marionette with its strings cut, and landed on Buck’s chest, face buried in his favorite spot between Buck’s neck and shoulder. Buck dropped his injured arm and wrapped it around Eddie’s waist.
“You’re being weird,” Buck said against his ear, and Eddie shivered.
“I know.” And he had no idea why. It was a routine call, and they’d made it back relatively unscathed, Buck’s scrapes notwithstanding. Why was he still so rattled? “Something about that call just made me uneasy.”
“We’ve done hundreds of rope rescues.”
“And I was safe because you were on the other end of my line.”
Eddie flushed. He would always be on the other end of Buck’s line.
“I’m okay,” Buck repeated for the tenth time.
He burrowed closer, because having Buck warm and solid against him was loosening the tight band of fear around chest, so he could inhale fully again. Buck pressed his mouth to Eddie’s temple. It wasn’t quite a kiss, but it helped to feel Buck’s breath ghosting over his skin.
“Eddie—” Buck started, but the alarm blaring interrupted him.
Reluctantly letting him go, Eddie stepped back. Buck smiled crookedly and shrugged as he hopped up. They hurried to join the others to put on their gear. He climbed into the truck behind Buck, something still gnawing at his gut.
The voicemail came in while they worked to contain a house fire. A simple one, with minimal damage, luckily, and everyone got out safe, including the family pets. Eddie grabbed the cat from its hiding spot under a bed and Chim, much to his dismay, carried out the tarantula tank. Buck liked that kind of call. No one got injured, the family would be able to repair the damage to their kitchen, and Buck got to make fun of Chim for being afraid of a little spider.
Back at the station, he followed Eddie out of the truck, jumping down the step and already shrugging out of his turnout. He needed to shower off the soot and smell of smoke. He stripped out of his gear and fished his phone out of his pocket. He replied to Maddie’s text, a vid of Jee-Yun dancing to Bon Jovi, and told her about Chim’s adventures with the tarantula. No way would he let Chim spin the truth on that one. He listened to the voicemail on his way to the showers, walking slowly and hanging at the back of the group so he could hear over the sound of everyone’s chatter and laughter.
Hey, it’s Therese. I finished school—yea PhD!—so I’m moving back home to Toulouse. You’ve been a great sorta landlord and I’ll miss the loft terribly. Thanks so much for making everything so easy. It helped having a comfortable home to go to during the stressful thesis-writing process. Anyway. I leave a week from Tuesday. Let me know where I should leave the key and if there’s anything else you need me to do. Thanks again!
He stopped, nearly smacking into the wall. It seemed unbelievable, but he forgot about his loft most of the time, unless Therese needed something, and that happened very rarely. Now he had to figure out what to do. He could sublet again. It had worked out great with Therese. Maybe she could recommend a friend. But something about that didn’t sit right with him. He didn’t want to leave it vacant, but now that Therese would be gone, he balked at someone else moving in.
He thought about how hard it was getting to only have pieces of Eddie when he desperately wanted all of him. He thought about having his own space again, where Eddie wouldn’t cloud his mind. He thought about pancake breakfasts and curling up at night with Eddie. He thought about moving on before his heart broke completely.
Therese’s voicemail was on his mind throughout the rest of their shift. It felt like a sign. Or maybe he’d just been looking for an excuse.
“You okay?” Eddie asked on their way home, cutting his eyes toward Buck from the driver’s seat.
Buck nodded, fiddling with his seatbelt. He should talk to Eddie but not now. Right now he wanted a nap and some space to figure things out.
“Sure? You were quiet today.”
“I’m fine. Just tired.”
Eddie rolled to a stop at a red light and shifted in his seat to stare at Buck. “It’s not just today,” he said after searching Buck’s face. “You’ve been off lately.”
Sighing, Buck scrubbed a hand over his face. “Yeah. I know.”
“What’s going on?”
“The light’s green.”
“What?” Eddie scrunched his nose in an adorable frown.
“Green light.” Buck gestured just as a series of honks blasted from behind them.
Eddie let up on the brake, but any hope Buck had of him dropping his questioning soon died. “You’d tell me if something’s wrong, right?”
An hysterical laugh caught in his throat. “Don’t worry about me.”
“I always worry about you.” He pulled into the driveway and turned off the truck but grabbed Buck’s arm before he could get out.
“Can we just go inside?” Buck said before Eddie could ask anything. He dropped his shoulders, pressing his fingers into his eyes.
“Yeah,” Eddie replied quietly. He squeezed the back of Buck’s neck, then reached for the door handle.
Buck kicked off his shoes and set his bag by the door. He’d get it later. He headed toward the kitchen. “Are you hungry?”
“Mm, just want sleep.” Stretching his arms over his head, Eddie yawned, his jaw cracking loud enough that Buck heard it a few feet away.
“Just some toast?”
“Come to bed, Buck.” He spun Buck around by his shoulders and walked him down the hall. “You can feed me later.”
Eddie only let go when they reached the bathroom and planted him in front of the sink. Rolling his eyes, Buck handed Eddie his toothbrush. They knocked shoulders as they brushed. Eddie locked eyes with him in the mirror and flashed him a toothpaste sudsy smile. Buck helplessly smiled back and trailed after Eddie to their bedroom.
“Can you set the alarm?” Eddie asked around another yawn, stepping into his sleep shorts.
Eddie flopped onto the bed and scooted over to press his face against Buck’s chest, curling around him. Buck’s fingers automatically sank into Eddie’s hair, combing through the soft waves and scratching at his scalp. Eddie sighed contentedly and within minutes, his breathing evened out into sleep.
Buck scrolled through his phone. He texted Therese to congratulate her on the PhD and let her know he’d get back to her on the rest of it. He put on his relaxation playlist, but sleep still eluded him.
Me: Need Maddie and Jee time. Busy later?
Maddie: Come for dinner. We’re making lasagna. Plenty for the three of you too
Me: Just me tonight
Buck didn’t explain, just told her he’d be over later and set his phone on the nightstand. He could feel a headache gathering behind his eyes. He should sleep. They planned to go to the park with Chris after school, and he’d be a zombie if he didn’t shut off his brain and get some rest.
Squeezing his eyes closed, he wriggled as much as he could with Eddie’s dead weight draped over his chest, attempting to get into a more comfortable position. Eddie only snuggled closer and tightened the hand on Buck’s side. Buck rubbed between Eddie’s shoulder blades, then started the breathing exercises his therapist taught him. They usually worked quickly, but he had to run through a dozen cycles before his mind cleared enough for him to drop off to sleep.
Jee-Yun ran up to him with her arms outstretched, yelling “Uncle Buck! Uncle Buck!”
Heart clenching, he grinned and bent down to scoop her up. Her tiny arms wrapped around his neck, and she clung to him, smacking a wet kiss to his chin. He pressed kisses to the top of her head.
“How’s my favorite Jee? You being a good girl?”
She giggled, ducking her head to hide her face in his neck, which meant she’d probably gotten into trouble recently. Buck laughed and tickled her knee. He was glad he got to see the cute side of Jee-Yun and didn’t have to deal with her terrible two-ness.
“Where’s your mommy and daddy?”
He carried her into the kitchen and found Maddie and Chim in the middle of a cooking mess. Pots and measuring cups were strewn all over the counters, and what seemed like every sharp knife laid by the cutting board, stained red with the guts of tomatoes. No matter what, they inevitably destroyed the kitchen every time they cooked. At least their food tasted good, though, unlike Eddie.
“Another Buckley-Han special, huh?” he said, stopping far enough away from the island that he and Jee-Yun were safe in case something went horribly wrong. Again. “Smells good.”
“Thanks!” Maddie grinned, sticking her fingers in the tub of ricotta cheese. “I like your new necklace. Looks heavy, though.”
“It’s kinda wiggly. Might return it.” He blew a raspberry on Jee’s cheek. Her giggle chased away some of his sadness. This was just what he needed.
“Hey, Buck. Babe, taste this,” Chim said, thrusting a spoon at her without waiting for a reply. She glared at him a little but slurped up some of the sauce.
“Needs more garlic.”
“You always say that.”
“Because you never put enough in.”
While Maddie and Chim bickered about garlic, Buck took Jee-Yun into the living room, calling over his shoulder “Just tell me if you need help!”
He sat on the floor with Jee-Yun and for the next 45 minutes, she used him as a jungle gym, a roadway for her toy car race, and a highchair for her baby doll while she fed it fake peas and steak.
“You’re good with her,” Maddie told him, walking into the room drying her hands on a towel.
“It’s easy. She’s my best girl. Aren’t you, Jee?”
She looked up at him with a toothy smile, then continued to spoon fake peas at the doll. The peas disappeared when you hit a button. Buck was oddly fascinated by it.
Maddie's laughter had an edge to it. “Next time she has a temper tantrum, I’m bringing her to your place.”
Buck winced. He didn’t know where his place was anymore, but Maddie didn’t need him to dump all his baggage in her lap, so he just tapped her foot with his when she settled on the floor in front of him.
“Dinner will be ready in a few. Chim sent me out for drink requests. You want wine?”
“Yeah.” He paused, rethinking his answer. Wine made him maudlin, and he was in enough of a shitty mood without adding to it. “Actually, I’ll just have water.”
She studied him for a long moment, elbows on her knees and chin in her hands. She leaned forward, narrowing her eyes, and Buck tipped back, feeling caught out and antsy with it.
“Are you okay?”
Biting his lip, he stalled for a second before deciding to tell her part of the truth. “No. Just figuring some things out. But I’ll be fine.”
“Soup’s on!” Chim shouted from the doorway, doing a weird…jazz hands thing. His dopey grin pulled a smile out of Buck.
Maddie gave Buck a we’ll talk about this later look and stood up with Jee on her hip. “Let’s go see if Daddy burned the garlic bread,” she said, brushing the hair out of Jee’s face.
“It is lightly golden brown, I’ll have you know. I burn it one time.”
Maddie patted his chest and reached up to brush a kiss to his cheek. Buck climbed to his feet, watching them smile at each other, a little heartsore but mostly grateful they’d found each other and were happy. Despite it all, LA had been good to him and Maddie.
“You don’t have to do that,” Maddie told him, reaching for the dirty dishes in his hands.
“I want to.” He held them over her head, then placed them on the counter, flicking on the hot water. “Where’s Chim?”
“He and Jee went on a walk.” She hip-checked him out of the way, stealing the washcloth out of his hand. “I’ll wash. You dry.”
Buck huffed, frowning. That was her not-so-subtle way tell him he needed to talk. He’d noticed the worried glances she and Chim exchanged during dinner and knew his halfhearted conversation hadn’t fooled them. He couldn’t even scrounge up enthusiasm for making fun of Chim’s tarantula misadventures.
He opened his mouth to say he was fine, that she didn’t need to big sister him.
“I’m in love with Eddie,” he blurted instead.
Maddie raised an eyebrow. “I should hope so. He’s your husband.”
“But he’s not. Well, he is but only on paper.”
She turned to stare at him. “What are you talking about?” she asked slowly.
Setting down his towel, he leaned back against the counter and crossed his arms. “It’s complicated.”
“Then explain it to me.”
So he did, starting with how he’d been in love with Eddie for years, which meant he’d do anything for him, including getting married to help him and Chris.
“No one was ever supposed to find out. That’s why we didn’t tell you.”
Maddie covered her mouth with her hands, her eyes wide. “And then I barged in and told everyone. Oh, Evan. I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay. We were naive to think it wouldn’t get out. It just—it seemed so simple at the beginning. Eddie needed help, and I could give it to him. And then we got investigated for insurance fraud—” Maddie’s eyes widened, and he added hastily, “Everything’s fine now, but it’s why I moved in and why I stayed. We thought it’d be best to keep up appearances in case the investigator came sniffing around again even though we’d been cleared.”
“And now?” She cupped his hand between both of hers.
He swallowed, shaking his head. “Being married to Eddie is everything I’ve ever wanted, but I don’t know how much longer I can keep doing this. I love him so much, Mads, but playing at being a family when we’re not is breaking me.”
He bit his lip to hold in a sob, but Maddie turned to envelope him in a hug and it was no use fighting the tears anymore. Burying his head in her shoulder, he clutched the back of her shirt. Once he started, he couldn’t seem to stop crying, months—hell, years—of confusion and turmoil and love pouring out of him. When he could breathe again, his head throbbed and the skin around his eyes felt thin and chapped.
Maddie handed him the dishtowel, and he wiped his eyes and blew his nose.
“You should talk to him,” Maddie said softly, squeezing his arm.
“I can’t.” His stomach twisted. He couldn’t ruin their friendship, and losing Eddie might break him for real.
“You might be surprised.”
He shook his head. “I can’t, Maddie.”
Sighing, she rubbed his back as he turned toward the sink to wash his hands. “At least be honest with him about wanting out.”
But he didn’t want out, not really. Not yet anyway, and that was the problem. It would be easier if he could simply walk away and they could go back to how things were before, but now that he had a taste of what being with Eddie could be like, he just wanted to stay. It was a half-life, but he needed Eddie and Chris.
The front door opening interrupted her. Maddie gave him a sad smile as Chim and Jee-Yun's excited chatter drifted to them from the living room. Relief washed through Buck. He didn’t have the heart to keep talking about this.
“Uncle Buck! Up!” Jee-Yun demanded, colliding with the back of his knees.
He forced a smile and bent down so she could climb up his chest and wrap her arms around his neck. She patted his cheek, giving him a kiss that was more of a lick and giggling. He closed his eyes against the tears gathering again and carried her into the living room, ignoring Chim’s curious stare.
Later, while Chim put Jee to bed, Maddie sat next to him on the couch and cupped his cheeks. It reminded him of all the times she took care of him as a kid, and he was so damn glad he had her.
“You okay?” she asked, searching his face.
“No.” He laughed wetly and cut off with a gasp that scraped his throat when Maddie brushed a kiss to his forehead. “I don’t know what to do, Mads.”
“You wanna stay tonight? I can offer you a couch too small for your dumb long legs and a blanket with snags in it. But there will also be breakfast and Jee cuddles in the morning.”
“That sounds great. Thank you.”
While she collected bedding for him, he texted Eddie to let him know he wasn’t coming home.
Me: Had too much wine. Staying on Maddie’s couch tonight
A lie but better than the truth. I’m in love with you and don’t know how to handle it anymore without my heart getting broken.
Eddie: Okay. Will miss you. Give Jee a snuggle for me
It made tears prick at his eyes again. He sent a smiley face emoji back and turned off his phone.
He lay awake in the dark a long time, hyperaware of all the unfamiliar noises of the house and unused to sleeping alone without the familiar weight of Eddie’s head pillowed on his chest.
“How are you guys this bad at bowling?” Maddie asked, then fell against Buck as they giggled.
Chimney narrowed his eyes, standing next to the ball return with his hands on his hips. He exchanged an annoyed look with Eddie, which seemed to set Buck and Maddie off even more.
“Seriously,” Buck said, though his voice came out strangled between gasping laughs. “You’re capable, athletic guys, but you just suck.”
“Hey now!” Chim protested, but it wasn’t like they could deny it. The screen above their alley displayed their scores in damning black and white. Eddie and Chim together added up to less than half of Buck’s, and Maddie beat him by several points. It wasn’t Eddie’s fault his ball kept going in the gutter. He needed the bumpers, like the kids used at disco bowling at Chris’ classmate’s birthday party a few months ago. Earlier, Buck nearly choked on his beer when Eddie blamed it on an off-balance ball and switched them out. He was on his third ball now, with no improvement. He’d given up a couple frames ago.
“Next time we’re splitting you two up,” Eddie said, reaching for his ball, or what he thought was his ball. It wasn’t like it mattered at this point.
“Right. No more Buckley siblings,” Chim said, waving vaguely between Buck and Maddie, with their matching salmon-colored bowling shirts. They owned their shoes for fuck’s sakes. “It’s gonna be Buckley-Han against Buckley-Diaz.”
Buck’s face twisted into a strange expression, pain clouding his eyes for a moment before he grinned. Eddie took a step toward him without thinking and slid on the polished alley floor, which of course set them off again. Eddie hated bowling.
“Hurry up and get your gutter balls, Eddie, so Buck and I can show you how it’s done,” Maddie called, but her giggle ruined the bullying tone.
Chim sighed. “This is embarrassing.”
“I don’t know.” Eddie shrugged toward where Buck and Maddie were leaning on each other, literally crying with laughter. “Anything that puts those smiles on their faces is worth it.”
Chim’s pout morphed into a sweet smile, his gaze gentle as he looked Maddie. “Yeah.” He turned to Eddie. “It’s easy to want to make the Buckleys happy, ya know?”
Eddie nodded, knowing exactly what he meant, despite the awkward wording. He clapped Chim on the back and almost dropped his ball. Buck snorted. Eddie sent him a glare over his shoulder, then stood at the top of the lane, staring down at the pins. He ignored the gutters. His nemesis. Sucking in a deep breath, he held it for a moment, then exhaled slowly.
“You’ve got this, Eddie!” Buck cheered, a hint of mockery sneaking in.
Eddie used his free hand to flip Buck off. He did his walk-up and watched through narrowed eyes as the ball shot down the lane. It flirted with the left side gutter before hanging a bit toward the center. To his utter surprise, it clipped a pin, which ricocheted off others. His mouth fell open a little as four pins fell over and spun out. He cheered, even though it was pathetic to be so excited about four measly pins. It was the most he’d gotten in one go so far tonight.
“Nice!” Chim told him, holding his hand up for a high five. “Now do that again!”
Eddie retrieved his ball and did his best to replicate what he’d done last time, but he overcorrected too much and the ball sailed right down the righthand gutter. He sighed in disgust and trudged over to slide into the seat Maddie had just vacated.
“It’s okay,” Buck said, pressing his shoulder against Eddie’s.
Grunting, Eddie propped his elbow on the little desk and rested his chin in his hand. He hated that their scores appeared on the boards above the lanes, visible to the whole damn alley. People probably thought Buck and Maddie were playing with a pair of children.
“Hey, you having fun? Even though you suck?”
“Ha ha.” He pinched Buck’s thigh, which only elicited a chuckle.
Buck wrapped his hand around Eddie’s before he could do it again, thumb sweeping over his skin in a way that soothed some of Eddie’s frustration.
It was good to see Buck genuinely smiling and laughing. He’d been quiet lately and wouldn’t tell Eddie what was wrong, even though something was clearly bothering him. Something under Eddie’s skin itched at not being able to help him, especially after everything he’d done for them.
Maddie stood behind Chim, guiding him through the best stance and best place to release the ball, but there was more laughing than teaching.
“Do you think she really wanted him to learn or was it an excuse to get her hands on him?” Eddie asked, biting his lip in amusement as Maddie goosed Chim and he jumped.
Buck snorted, then scrunched up his nose. “I’d prefer not to think of my sister getting handsy, thanks.”
“You wouldn’t have a niece if she didn’t like getting handsy, Buck,” he pointed out, and Buck groaned. He smirked. He may suck at bowling, but he knew which one of Buck’s buttons to push.
Whatever Maddie taught him worked; Chim actually knocked down two pins and another one on his second go. Not a resounding success but not too shabby, considering.
Maddie and Chim walked arm-in-arm back to them, Maddie leaning her head on Chim’s shoulder. Eddie felt a tiny stab of jealousy and squashed it before it could grow. Maddie had been through hell; she deserved all the happiness. Eddie just wanted some of what they had.
“You guys want to eat before the next game?” Maddie asked.
“Yes,” Eddie replied, probably too quickly, but he needed a break. They’d paid for three games and already played two. Some greasy pizza and wings would help get him through the rest of the night.
They settled at a table in the bar area and ordered a pizza and a couple dozen wings, with a pitcher of beer that was soon refilled. Buck picked this alley because the food was actually good, unlike the edible cardboard at most places. As Eddie bit into his Cajun BBQ wing, he had to agree. It wasn’t as spicy as he expected, but he polished off half a dozen and fought Buck off for the last one.
“No, you don’t understand just how bad it was!” Maddie said, waving her glass around so the beer threatened to slosh out. “I had to be the supportive big sister and meanwhile he looked like the storebrand version of Malibu Ken!”
“Hey!” Buck sat up straighter and pointed at Maddie. “It wasn’t that bad!”
“You were orange, Evan, and wore a puca shell necklace!”
Buck blushed, and it was downright adorable. But maybe that was the four beers Eddie had downed talking.
“I’m gonna need copies of those pictures,” Chim said, leaning across Maddie’s lap and stage whispering. “For reasons.”
“Oh, god. You’re gonna plaster my shame all over the firehouse, aren’t you?” Buck moaned and covered his face with his hands.
Chim nodded vigorously. “Yes. Absolutely.”
“Don’t worry, Buck. Mrs. Lee told me about how he’s used to spike his hair with half a bottle of gel. I’m sure she’d be happy to share some pictures.”
“Thank you, Maddie. You’re forgiven.”
“Did I mention he also had frosted tips? And wore parachute pants?”
Buck burst out laughing, loud and free. It was one of Eddie’s favorite sounds, right up there with Chris reading to himself and giggling at something funny. He could listen to Buck laugh like that for the rest of his life, easy. It was a good plan; spend the rest of his life making Buck laugh as much as possible, because he couldn’t imagine a future without Buck in it, being a pain in the ass and supporting Eddie, helping to guide Chris into adulthood. Being stuck to Eddie like a burr, but there was no one else he’d rather have by his side. There was no one better than Buck.
He filled their house with so much light, it was impossible for Eddie not to bask in it and want to surround himself with it forever.
Eddie stopped with a wing partway to his mouth, going still and hot all over.
He was in love with Buck. He was hopelessly, inconveniently, completely in love with Buck. His best friend, his partner. His pseudo husband.
Something clicked into place, like finding the right combination for a lock. How had he missed this? It seemed so obvious now. And so fucking terrifying.
He swallowed his bite with difficulty; it went down like lead, choking him. Buck rubbed his back, but that made it worse. Eddie shrugged away from his touch and reached for his beer.
Buck’s beautiful, concerned face put him over the edge. Eddie tossed the wing onto his plate and rubbed his hands on his thighs, not caring about the BBQ sauce now staining his jeans.
“I’ve gotta—bathroom,” he stammered, scrambling out of his chair and nearly tripping over it and Buck’s foot in his haste to get away.
“Eddie, are you—”
He cut Buck off with a wave of his hand and didn’t look back as he hurried through the bar area, weaving through the tables toward the back of the room. He wasn’t sure if he was going to be sick or cry, but he felt something inside him breaking, felt wrong inside his own skin. The wings sat heavy in his stomach, and he regretted eating so many now.
The bathroom was empty, thank fuck. Lurching into a cubicle, he slammed the door shut and hit his knees. Despite the bile churning in his stomach and burning his throat, nothing came up. He gagged a couple times, eyes stinging, wishing he could just throw up and settle the nausea wracking his body.
He couldn’t be in love with Buck. He couldn’t. Fuck.
Buck was his best friend and the best man he knew, but that was the problem. Things were already so complicated, with this marriage-but-not and living together. They didn’t need to add feelings into the mix. He needed Buck in his life; he’d never make it through the rougher calls or the tough days as a single dad, even the simple annoyances of life without Buck providing a sympathetic ear or warm hug. He’d never forgive himself if he ruined their friendship.
What if he lost Buck for good?
Crying on the floor of the bathroom was not how he imagined this night ending. Back to the side wall of the cubicle, he leaned his forehead on his bent knees and tried to work through the mess in his head. He wasn’t good at this. He was good at repressing and ignoring. For Chris, he was getting better at acknowledging and expressing his emotions, and as a fuck you to his dad’s be a man attitude. But something this big and this complicated…
He wasn’t sure how long he sat there, but his ass started to go numb and he didn’t figure out a damn thing. Climbing to his feet, he inhaled a shaky breath and unlocked the cubicle door.
At the sink, he washed his hands and face and dried them with the scratchy brown paper towels. He glanced in the mirror, then looked away after a cursory impression of red, puffy eyes. He was a mess, more so inside where a mix of emotions still bubbled and made him feel wobbly. Off balance. He gripped the edge of the counter until it dug into his palms, attempting to calm down enough to go back out to Buck and the others.
When Buck tentatively came into the room a minute later, a fresh wave of tears nearly sent Eddie back onto his knees. Buck took two long strides and gathered Eddie into his arms. Murmuring comforting words, Buck curled one hand around the back of Eddie’s neck and swept the other up and down his spine. Eddie tucked his face against Buck’s shoulder and willed himself to stop crying, but it was too much. Having Buck this close and being unable to kiss him—and Eddie wanted to kiss him so badly his bones ached with it—was unbearable. Getting shot hurt less.
It’d be easier if Buck weren’t so goddamn kind and attentive and worried about him. Being surrounded by Buck’s warmth and concern was so much worse.
When his tears slowed and he no longer sobbed into Buck’s shoulder, Buck cupped Eddie’s face and brushed his tears away with his thumbs.
“Hey,” he said softly. “You okay?”
Buck’s bright blue eyes were steady on Eddie’s face. He really was beautiful, stunning in a way Buck didn’t seem aware of, but it was his beautiful heart that Eddie loved most.
“I’m—” He stopped and closed his eyes, swallowing past the lump in his throat.
I’m overwhelmed. Scared. So fucking in love with you.
Wrapping his hand around Buck’s wrist, he tried out a smile, but it felt brittle and dissolved before it could fully form.
“I’m fine.” His voice broke on the last word, and Buck frowned, searching his face. “I’ll be fine,” he amended, because he’d get through this somehow. It would just take time.
“Okay,” Buck said, but he sounded skeptical. “What’s going on?”
Eddie shook his head. “It’s nothing.” It was everything, but he didn’t have the courage to tell Buck that.
Buck sighed and pressed a soft kiss to Eddie’s forehead that brought more tears to his eyes, then hugged him again. He shouldn’t indulge in the comfort of Buck’s arms, but he’d sooner rip his heart out than walk away right now. He sank into the embrace and breathed in Buck’s familiar scent.
“Do you want to go home?” Buck asked. He slid his fingers into Eddie’s hair and scratched at his scalp.
Eddie hesitated. It was fun before his inopportune epiphany threw a wrench into things and knocked him for six. But he wasn’t sure how normal he could act now that the truth had smacked him in the face.
“No,” he replied after a minute of silence. “I’ll be okay.”
“Good. We still have another game to play. I was enjoying kicking your ass.”
Eddie laughed. It sounded hollow and watery and did nothing to convince Buck he was all right.
“Are you sure you don’t want to go home?”
“Who’s gonna get all those gutter balls if I leave?”
Buck grinned at him. “I’m sure there’s a 5-year-old that could take your place.”
“Ha ha.” Eddie straightened and pushed away from Buck. “Go on out. I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
“Okay.” He kissed Eddie’s forehead again and backed toward the door. “See you in a minute.”
As soon as the door shut behind Buck, Eddie let out a long breath, shoulders sagging. He washed his hands and face a second time. There was no disguising he’d been crying in a bowling alley bathroom, but he felt slightly less off kilter.
Later, when he had the time and space, he’d figure out how to deal with these new feelings for his best friend. Or maybe they weren’t so new. He’d figure that out too. But for now, he’d bowl—terribly—and let Buck and Maddie make fun of him.
Buck’s bubble of deniability finally burst on a random Thursday. Nothing extraordinary happened to precipitate it. He just looked at Eddie, sitting at the table eating breakfast with the morning sunlight shining golden on his face, and knew he had to move out. Tears pricking his eyes, he ducked his head and forced himself to finish his omelette.
Eddie sensed something was wrong but didn’t push after Buck told him he was fine, just stuck close to Buck all shift, buying him a donut after a rough call and sending him concerned looks. It only made things worse.
He survived the shift, somehow. The next day after they’d gotten Chris to school and passed out for a few hours, Buck muted the honeybee documentary on the TV and shifted to face Eddie.
“Can we talk?” he asked, swallowing.
Eddie must’ve caught his serious tone. He put down his phone and searched Buck’s face. “Are you all right?”
“I—” he bit back an hysterical laugh and rubbed his temples.
“Buck?” He squeezed Buck’s knee, hurt flashing in his eyes when Buck moved that leg to tuck under him.
“I’m going back to the loft,” he said, quick, before he could change his mind.
“I’m moving out.”
Eddie stared at him for a long moment. “Why?” he asked quietly.
“Because you don’t need me here anymore. The insurance investigation is closed. Graves hasn’t contacted us in a long time, and he’s the only reason I moved in.” Graves wasn’t the reason he stayed, but that love for Eddie was why he was leaving now.
Eddie opened his mouth several times only to close it again. Buck had never seen him at such a loss for words. He tended to keep things close to the chest—he didn’t ramble about anything like Buck—but he didn’t hold back with Buck, not anymore.
“I know Chris still has PT. We can stay married so you can get the better insurance, as long as you need.” Because that was all Eddie needed him for.
“Right. Chris’ PT.”
“I know how important that is to you. To us both.”
“Impor—” He cut off with a strangled noise. “What are we going to tell Chris? He’ll want to know why you’re not here.” Eddie sounded hoarse, and he blinked rapidly, fingers kneading at his thigh.
Buck clenched his own fists so he wouldn’t reach out to soothe the restless movements of Eddie’s hands or drag him into a hug.
“I don’t know.” He licked his lips. “I’m not leaving permanently. I’ll still be here for movie nights and to cook dinner sometimes so Chris doesn’t starve.”
His joke landed like a lead balloon. Eddie laughed, but it had a bitter edge to it.
“Why are you doing this now? What happened?”
“Nothing happened. It’s just time for me to go home.”
“You are home.”
Buck shook his head, turning away from the hurt and devastation in Eddie’s eyes. Eddie could so easily talk him into staying, because that was what he really wanted and because he hated to disappoint Chris or hurt Eddie and Chris in any way. But this playing house, being so close to what he wanted was killing him. It was just an illusion, a soap bubble that would pop with the softest touch, and sometimes Buck felt like he’d be the one to shatter. He had to leave while he still could, before things exploded in his face and he regretted everything. He never wanted to regret marrying Eddie.
This was the right thing to do. And Buck hated it.
Buck left a few days later. He packed the basics, just enough to get him through a couple weeks, and fled while Eddie and Chris were at Abuela’s. Because he was a coward and knew he’d give in at one look of Chris’ sad face and stay forever.
Stepping into the loft, he dropped his bag by the door. He hadn’t been back here in months. A new painting hung on the wall, the colors muted and washed out. He found new mugs in the cupboard. Blue and white striped curtains in the bedroom. A sweater Therese forgot draped over the back of the couch. He stood by the coffee table, searching for any kind of familiarity. He felt like a ghost in his own house, haunting this empty space that wasn’t home anymore.
Flopping on the couch, he flicked on the TV. It was too damn quiet here. He texted Maddie to let her know but didn’t expect a reply while she was working, then turned off his phone. He drifted for a while, the voices from the TV flowing over him without comprehension, eyes unfocused. He startled at a loud knock on his door. The remote shot out of his hand and landed somewhere he couldn’t see. He ignored it for now, stumbling off the couch as whoever banged on the door again.
For one brief, delirious moment, he thought it would be Eddie on the other side of the door, but he was unsurprised to find Maddie standing there. It looked like she’d raced here after her shift. She wore her dispatch shirt and a worried expression.
“Buck. Are you okay?”
“Maddie,” he managed to choke out, then collapsed against her like all the energy drained out of him at once.
Whatever had kept him in a fugue state earlier cracked and a sob escaped him, broken and sharp enough to slice his throat raw. Maddie caught him, arms coming up around his shoulders.
“It’s all right. You’ll be all right,” she murmured, stroking her fingers through his hair.
He sagged, his knees no longer holding him up, and leaned heavily on Maddie. He couldn’t breathe. He felt like someone had ripped his heart out of his chest and scattered the splintered pieces at Eddie’s feet. It was the end of something he’d tried to hold so gently in his hands but instead he screwed up the whole thing. He couldn’t see how his relationship with Eddie would ever be the same, and he’d done it to himself.
“Come on,” Maddie said.
She nudged him toward the couch, and he followed, curling up with his head in her lap. He cried until he felt hollowed out and empty, until his head ached and his eyes burned. Even after he calmed somewhat, he didn’t move, seeking whatever comfort he could find in Maddie’s soothing embrace.
Her phone dinged a dozen times, a strident sound that abruptly brought Buck back to reality. He dragged a hand over his face and sat up.
“You can answer those if you need to,” he said as her phone lit up with several more messages. His voice was rough, scratchy, and he just wanted to go to bed and pull the covers over his head and not come out for days.
“No, it’s okay. It’s just—” She winced. Buck pretended not to see it. “It’s Chim checking you’re okay.”
That was probably a lie, but he let it go.
“I’m hungry. Are you hungry?” She put her phone on the coffee table, facedown.
“I don’t know, Mads,” he hedged. His stomach rolled at the thought of food.
“I’m going to order something, and we’ll see if you’re up to eating when it gets here, okay?”
Smiling, she stood up, then cupped his face and kissed his forehead. “It’s gonna be okay. I know you’re hurting right now, but I promise it’ll be okay.”
He jerked his head in a nod. He trusted Maddie, even though right now he felt like nothing would ever be right again.
While Maddie ordered food—Buck didn’t know or care what—he went upstairs to wash his face and change into a worn t-shirt and sleep shorts. The shirt smelled like Eddie. Lifting the collar over his nose, he inhaled deeply. He stayed in the bathroom for a long time, his heart aching and trying to will away the fresh tears.
“Hey, just in time,” Maddie called, shutting a drawer with her hip and carrying forks and plates to the table.
She’d gotten Thai from Lyeh, his favorite restaurant just down the block. He forced a smile and slid into a chair. Several takeout containers sat on the table. It smelled amazing and he appreciated Maddie ordering all his favorites and none of her own, but he only picked at his food, choking down a few mouthfuls to make her happy. He mostly moved the noodles around on his plate, his shoulders slumped and half-listening to Maddie telling stories about Jee-Yun.
“Buck? Hey.” Maddie tapped his hand until he looked up at her. “Do you want something else? I can—”
“No. No, I’m not really hungry. I think I’ll just go to bed.”
It was barely 2 p.m. Maddie pursed her lips, then squeezed his hand.
“I’ll clean everything up here. You go on up.”
“Thanks.” There was so much else he could say, about how much he loved Maddie and what she meant to him, but he didn’t have the energy to order the words into something coherent. And Maddie already knew anyway.
After shutting the shades to darken the room, Buck crawled into bed and pulled the covers over his head. He expected Maddie to leave once she put the leftovers away, but he heard her light tread on the stairs. A minute later, she lifted the covers and climbed onto the bed, settling next to him. He couldn’t see her face with the covers back over their heads, but that meant she couldn’t see him either and he preferred it that way.
They lay there in silence for a long time. Buck tried not to think of Eddie and what he and Chris were doing right now. Abuela probably sent them home with plenty of leftovers so he wouldn’t need to worry about feeding Chris for a few days.
“I know it’s stupid, but I miss him already,” he whispered.
“It’s not stupid.”
She brushed his hair off his forehead, and something about the soft touch undid him. He pushed his face into the pillow and let the tears come.
When he finally fell asleep hours later, sheer exhaustion pulling him under, Maddie was beside him, her hand linked with his. It wasn’t the same as having Eddie curled on top of him, but at least he wasn’t alone.
Buck hunched his shoulders as he pulled into the driveway. Eddie should be at PT with Chris, but he still let out a relieved breath when he didn’t see Eddie’s truck. He turned off the Jeep and sat still for a moment, steeling himself to go inside. He needed more clothes and his tablet, which he’d overlooked in his haste to leave. He didn’t feel comfortable asking Eddie for it at work. He should pack up the rest of his stuff and take it back to the loft. He hadn’t brought much with him at the beginning of all this and most of it would fit in a couple boxes, but he couldn’t summon up the energy to do it.
He used his key to unlock the front door. He supposed he should give that back to Eddie sometime, but doing so felt…final and he hadn’t quite given up hope that they’d get through this and be friends again.
The house felt like a stranger’s, even though two weeks ago he sat on that couch with Eddie pressed against his side while they watched a stupid cooking show and Chris knelt at the coffee table doing homework.
Stopping in the kitchen, he grabbed his favorite mug first. Not that he needed it, but he missed drinking out of it every morning. It held two cups’ worth of coffee, was a bright neon pink on the outside, and a dolphin perched on the bottom. Chris cackled in the store when he saw it, and Buck bought it because of that joy. And the eye roll Eddie gave them when Chris showed it to him.
Padding down the hall, Buck nudged the door open and entered their room. It physically hurt to see their bed. The sheets were rumpled, the comforter hanging crookedly off the side. Eddie must’ve been in a hurry if he didn’t take the time to straighten the covers. He set his bag on the bed and sank onto the edge of the mattress. Sleep—when he did sleep—was fitful and disturbed lately. He missed the weight of Eddie draped over his chest and waking up to Eddie’s beautiful face smashed into the pillow next his.
It’d been a rough couple weeks. Maddie stayed with him that first night, leaving her own family to take care of her pathetic little brother, but he’d been alone since then. And lonely, so terribly lonely. Going to work was both better and worse; he was surrounded by people instead of rattling around his empty apartment, discontent with everything, from the food in his fridge to the channels on his TV, but Eddie was there, seemingly filling the entire firehouse with his presence so Buck could never escape it. Everybody clearly knew something had happened between them, but their careful avoidance of the topic was somehow worse than a million questions would be. The worst part, though, the part that tied Buck’s stomach in knots and made him ache, was how well he and Eddie still worked together. Calls went smoothly, with them anticipating each other’s moves and instinctively understanding what the other needed. A good rescue was electrifying, but the adrenaline crash afterward left him bruised and heartsick.
Shaking away the dismal thoughts, he levered off the bed and went to the closet. He ran a finger over the sleeves of Eddie’s shirts, feeling dumb and pathetic, before sliding a few of his own shirts off the hangers. He checked to be sure they were his first; their closet had gotten jumbled over the last few months. It’d seemed silly to separate their clothes when they sometimes shared items anyway. He folded the shirts into his bag, then went back for pants.
He stilled when he heard the front door open and close, rooted in place by his panic. Eddie should be at PT with Chris! He glanced around the room, like another exit had materialized in the last second so he could escape without seeing Eddie. Eddie appeared in the doorway before he could move or hide or anything besides stand there like a fly caught in a spider’s web.
“Hi,” Eddie said softly, leaning against the doorjamb with his arms crossed. He looked as rough as Buck felt, dark circles smudged under his eyes, a line pinched between his brows, and a cut on his jaw from shaving too fast that morning.
They stared at each other for a long moment, then Buck dropped his head to break the eye contact. He couldn’t handle the little bit of hope shining in Eddie’s eyes.
“I didn’t know you’d be here,” Buck replied. He shook out a shirt and refolded it, just to have something to do with his hands, something to stop him from crossing the room and wrapping himself around Eddie.
“Chris’ PT got rescheduled this week. He goes tomorrow after school.”
“Oh.” Buck looked down at the shirt clutched in his hands. It was one of Eddie’s after all, but he couldn’t seem to let it go. “I just need more of my stuff. I’ll be out of your way soon.”
“I wish you wouldn’t go. I wish you’d come back home.”
Buck shook his head. A floorboard creaked as Eddie came closer, stopping in the middle of the room. “I can’t.”
“Why?” Eddie’s voice wobbled on the word, betraying the emotion he’d kept in check until then. “Did I do something wrong? Or not do something?”
“No. It’s nothing you did. It’s me.” He wanted something he couldn’t have, someone he shouldn’t.
“What do you mean?”
Buck risked a glance at Eddie. He was close, too close, but he looked devastated, eyes wet with unshed tears and his breathing uneven. Something inside Buck broke, and he couldn’t hold the truth in anymore. The words clamored at the back of his throat, fighting their way out. He might choke if he had to swallow them again.
“I did all this because I love you and I love Chris, but I can’t pretend anymore. This isn’t real. This isn’t my home. You’re not my husband, and this isn’t my family.”
“But you want it to be?”
Buck lifted his head and looked Eddie in the eye for the first time. “More than anything.”
“I can’t do this anymore. I can’t act like everything’s fine and I’m not in love with you. It hurts too much.”
Eddie pressed his fingers against his closed eyes and swayed. Buck wondered if this was where Eddie let him down gently—I love you but not like that—because Eddie would never hurt him.
“Buck, I love you. I’m in love with you.”
“Please don’t lie to me.” He was wrong. That was crueler than anything else Eddie could’ve said.
“I’m not—” Eddie stepped close and cupped Buck’s face, holding him like he was something precious. “You are everything to me, Buck. I think I’ve been in love with you for a long time. I just didn’t realize it until recently.”
Buck choked out a sob, his hand flexing around the shirt, desperate to reach out for Eddie but still not trusting this enough to take the chance. Eddie smiled gently and brushed Buck’s tears away with his thumbs.
“I love you. Please believe me.” Eddie pressed kisses to Buck’s cheek and eyelid and a lingering one to his birthmark. “I’m sorry it took me so long to figure it out, but I love you, Buck. Please believe that.”
“I don’t—I’ve wanted this years. I never thought—” He stopped, exhaling a shaky breath.
“I love you,” Eddie murmured, his lips catching on Buck’s skin with each word. “I love you so much. Believe that.”
“I was too scared to say anything. I didn’t want to lose you.”
Buck lifted his arm to wrap around Eddie and belatedly realized he still held the shirt. He tossed it behind him onto the bed, and Eddie’s soft snort loosened the tightness crawling across his shoulders. He traced the arch of Eddie’s cheekbone with his fingertips and down the sharp angle of his jaw, breathless with the wonder of getting to touch Eddie like this. Resting his forehead against Eddie’s, he settled his arms around Eddie’s waist.
“I love you, Eddie, you and Chris.”
“I love you too.”
Eddie raised his head and captured his mouth in a kiss. It was soft and slow and off-center. It was perfect. Buck melted into it, into Eddie, drinking in Eddie’s soft sigh and the way his breath hitched.
“Buck,” Eddie murmured, then shifted so their mouths lined up at the right angle.
Sparks danced along his skin, his knees wobbling as Eddie licked his bottom lip. There was nothing soft about this now, after years of desperately wanting and denying himself this touch, Buck couldn’t hold back, and Eddie met ever thrust of Buck’s tongue with a growl that reverberated through his chest, a broken, hungry sound that Buck loved.
Rucking up Buck’s shirt, Eddie splayed his hands over his back, each fingertip like a brand on Buck’s skin. Buck gripped him tighter, pressing them together from chest to thighs, all their angles slotted in together easily. They fit. He always thought they would but never guessed they’d actually get here, Buck’s heart galloping in his chest, Eddie kissing him like he wanted to crawl inside Buck.
His hands drifted down to cup Eddie’s ass. Eddie gasped, nails digging into Buck’s shoulder blades and scraping down his spine. Sliding a thigh between Eddie’s, he scattered kisses along Eddie’s jaw and latched onto his throat.
“Wait, wait. Buck, hold on.”
He pushed away from Buck, hands wrapped around Buck’s forearms. His eyes were glazed, his mouth red and kiss-swollen. It took remarkable restraint not to tackle him to the bed and discover all the ways to make him moan.
“You have no idea how much I want you,” Eddie said.
“Oh, I have some idea.” Buck smirked, and Eddie huffed at him.
“Later, I promise.”
He rubbed his thumb over the inside of Buck’s arm. It should tickle, but Buck shivered, as much from the hungry look in Eddie’s eyes as from his touch.
“Why not now?” Buck asked, not bothering to hide the whine in his voice.
“I have to pick Chris up at the library. I only came back because I forgot my wallet.” Eddie shrugged, smiling wryly.
Buck laughed, and it felt good to release the tension. Eddie’s smile turned soft and fond, and Buck wondered how he’d missed it before, the tender way Eddie looked at him.
He looped his arms around Eddie’s waist and drew him closer again. “Sorry to derail your plans.”
“Best derailment ever.” He kissed Buck’s jaw, pressed the lightest butterfly kiss to his mouth. “Come with me to pick up Chris?”
Buck smiled. He’d missed the kid so damn much. “Yeah.”
“And then come home and never leave again?”
“I can do that.”
Running a hand into Buck’s hair, Eddie guided him into a kiss, sweet but brief, because Chris was waiting for them. Eddie slipped his hand into Buck’s as they left the room, and Buck squeezed back.
Epilogue. Forever and Always
Eddie stood at the bathroom counter and finger combed his bed hair into something less resembling a bird’s nest. He’d already brushed his teeth and there was no reason for him to linger anymore. He stared in the mirror and exhaled a long breath. He felt like he should be more nervous but mostly he was excited. He raked his hand through his hair one last time and stepped into the hall.
Buck and Chris got up a couple hours ago. Eddie appreciated them staying quiet so he could sleep in after his overtime shift. It’d been an easy day, relatively, but still long. He’d woken briefly when Buck rolled out of bed, turning into Buck’s kiss to his cheek. He was back to sleep before Buck crept out of the room. As he walked down the hallway now, he heard Buck singing off-key in the kitchen, some pop song Eddie didn’t recognize. He stopped in the living room, where Chris sat curled up under a blanket on the couch reading. Leaning over the back of the couch, he kissed the top of Chris’ head and handed him a small green box.
“Is it today?” Chris asked excitedly, sitting up to face Eddie and setting down his tablet.
“Yep. Hold that for me until I tell you, okay?”
“Okay!” He tossed the blanket off and closed his fist around the box, looking up at Eddie with an eager smile.
Eddie ruffled his hair and headed toward the kitchen. Buck was at the sink doing dishes, singing along to the music on his phone and swaying to the beat. Eddie watched him for a minute, so damn grateful that he hand’t lost this because of his own fear, that Buck was brave enough to bare his heart. Those two weeks after Buck moved out had been excruciating, needing to take care of Chris the only thing that kept him going. But that was a hazy memory now, standing in his kitchen bright with late morning sun and Buck in front of him, nearly as bright. Eddie crossed the room and wrapped his arms around Buck from behind, kissing the back of his neck. Buck hummed and rocked back into him.
“Morning, sleeping beauty. Thought you were never getting up.”
“Bed was too big without you in it.” He rucked up Buck’s shirt so he could splay a hand over his flat stomach, thumb sweeping over the smooth skin.
Buck snorted. “When I left, you were star-fished in the middle and taking up plenty of room all by yourself.”
“Shut up,” Eddie said and nipped his neck, which only made Buck laugh.
Eddie spun him around and, heedless of Buck’s wet, soapy hands, tilted his chin up for a kiss. Buck snaked his arms around Eddie, one hand skating up his back to grip the short hairs at the back of his head. Licking into Buck’s mouth, Eddie slid a thigh between Buck’s and crowded closer, pinning him to the counter. Buck indulged him for a minute, sucking on his tongue and rolling his hips into Eddie’s. Before it could go too far, Buck slowed them down, mumbling something about Chris against Eddie’s mouth. And yeah, okay. Fair. Chris was just in the other room and waiting for Eddie. It’d been awhile since they were alone, though, and Eddie would like nothing more than laying Buck out on their bed and licking him all over. Instead, he stepped back, still within the circle of Buck’s arms and rested his head on Buck’s shoulder.
“You want breakfast?” Buck asked, running his hands through Eddie’s hair and trailing little kisses along his temple. “Chris and I just had cinnamon toast, but I can do scrambled eggs for you?”
Eddie shook his head and pressed a kiss to the spot on the underside of Buck’s jaw where he missed shaving this morning. “I’m good. But I have something for you.”
“A present? Oh, really?” He waggled his eyebrows and dropped his hands to squeeze Eddie’s ass, and Eddie laughed.
“Mind out of the gutter, Buck. But maybe we can convince Hen and Karen to take Chris for a sleepover this weekend.”
Buck perked up at that and kissed him again, and it was awhile before they came up for air.
Eddie shivered at the sight of Buck’s kiss-swollen mouth but held a palm against Buck’s chest when he leaned back in.
“Later,” he promised. “It’s not exactly a present, but do you want it?”
Eddie went to the kitchen door and called, “All right, buddy. You can bring it in now.”
He held the door for Chris, and Buck stared between him and Chris with a puzzled frown drawing his eyebrows together.
“Here you go, Dad,” Chris said and passed him the box.
Eddie smiled and thanked him. Chris squirmed, giggling a bit. Turning back to Buck, he opened the box and revealed a pair of rings, platinum and shining in the sunlight. Buck went absolutely still and swallowed, then looked up at Eddie with tears in his eyes.
“I know we can’t wear these at work and I know we did this whole thing ass backwards, but I love you. We both do.” He inclined his head toward Chris, who nodded vigorously. “I just wanted—” He faltered, forgetting the speech he’d hastily pieced together yesterday between calls.
“Proof that we belong to each other?” Buck said, voice wavering.
They didn’t need it. Eddie knew Buck was his as much as he was Buck’s. Buck was wrapped around every sinew and bone, entwined with every part of him, but there was something profound about having something tangible they could hold onto.
Buck cupped his face and drew him into a lingering kiss. Eddie ignored Chris’ faint noise of disgust and melted into Buck, sucking on his bottom lip.
“I don’t care that we did it backwards,” Buck said when he pulled away. “We got there in the end. And I love you.”
“We can do it again someday. Renew our vows or whatever.”
“You just want more cake.” His smile was brilliant, and Eddie’s breath stuttered at the tenderness and love in Buck’s eyes.
He gave the box back to Chris and plucked out the ring for Buck, slipping it onto Buck’s finger. He brushed the tears off Buck’s cheeks and kissed him.
“I love you,” he told Buck, caressing his face.
“I love you too.” Buck put the ring on him, then lifted his hand to press a kiss to his palm.
“You guys are gross,” Chris complained, scrunching his nose, but a grin peeked out.
Eddie laughed wetly and grabbed Chris into a hug, Buck wrapping his arms around both of them.
Thanks so much for all the kudos and lovely comments! ❤️