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who's afraid of the little plastic pasta man?

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It starts, like—well, like almost nothing ever does—with the late-night shopping channel.

Look, it's not that Buck makes a habit of watching it—it's just that it's the middle of the night, and he's the only one on shift who is apparently incapable of sleeping, and there's nothing else on tv, and he's far too comfortable in his nest on the couch to get up and start fiddling with any of the gaming systems.

And, okay, maybe he kind of finds the ridiculous cadence of the salespeople soothing. 

And, okay, maybe he's a little bit fascinated by the sheer variety of things on sale. Gadgets he's never even considered might exist, but which he is now increasingly convinced he needs. 

His phone is in his hand before he fully knows what he's doing, and he's pulling up the website listed in the corner of the tv screen. When the site asks for a delivery address, he puts in Eddie's house without thinking about it.

It just makes sense. He does most of his cooking at Eddie's house, anyway. It just doesn't seem worth it cooking for one when he's alone at his loft.

It's not because he's in love with Eddie. Really, it's not. It just makes his life easier when he doesn't have to try and adjust recipe ratios so he doesn't make too much for just himself and end up with leftovers slowly mouldering in his fridge.

Really. 

The alarm goes off just as he hits confirm, and in the only mostly controlled chaos of the apartment fire they're sent to, he forgets all about his spur-of-the-moment purchase. 

Until he's on Eddie's couch watching a movie with Christopher and the doorbell rings, and Eddie comes back from opening the door holding a package and looking confused. 

"It's—for you," Eddie says, looking at Buck. "Why are you getting mail sent to my house?"

"I'm not—oh!" he says, practically leaping off the couch. "I forgot!" He grabs the package from Eddie and heads into the kitchen.

"Forgot about what?" Eddie asks, trailing behind him. 

"I was watching the shopping channel the other day—"

"I'm pretty sure nothing good has ever come of the sentence I was watching the shopping channel," Eddie interrupts.

"Then you're clearly not talking to the right people," Buck says, working to get the box open. "Anyway, so I was watching the shopping channel, and—" he pulls out the contents of the package and brandishes it at Eddie. "See?"

"What am I seeing, exactly?" 

"It's a singing pasta timer!" Buck exclaims. "Look, you put it in with the pasta, and then it starts singing when the pasta is done."

Eddie takes the box Buck is holding out and inspects it. "He looks creepy." 

It's... not an inaccurate assessment. The timer is made of white plastic, and shaped like a rotund man in a chef's hat with uncomfortably pursed lips. 

"I don't think you're really supposed to look at him," Buck says. "I mean, you know what they say about watched pots and boiling."

Eddie huffs. "Still creepy, though. And putting a humanoid thing in boiling water also seems creepy.”

"He's plastic," Buck points out. "I don't think he's exactly bothered by the heat."

"I don't want to teach my child—"

He's interrupted by a laugh from the doorway, where Christopher is leaning on his crutches. "He's not real, dad."

"There you go," Buck says. "Chris knows that he's plastic. Why are you so opposed to letting the little pasta man help you stop overcooking your pasta?"

"I'm not—" Eddie starts, and Buck raises his eyebrows.

"Fine," Eddie sighs. "I just don't—how does he know?"

Buck blinks at Eddie for a second before he realises what Eddie means, and then he's laughing before he can stop himself, so hard he has to grip the kitchen counter for support.

"Eddie," he says when he can breathe again, trying hard to keep his tone as neutral as possible. "Are you afraid of the little plastic pasta man?"

"No!" Eddie says, and it would be a lot more convincing if he wasn't still holding the timer and eyeing it warily. "I just don't like it when things know things."

"It's hardly Hildy," Buck says, still trying to hold back laughter. "It's just a thermometer and a timer, look, it just senses when the water starts to boil and counts time from there. I promise you it doesn't have any kind of unnatural knowledge of pasta."

He gets a glare for that, but it melts into a sheepish grin soon enough. "Well, in that case," Eddie says, sounding like he's acquiescing to something much more harrowing than a plastic pasta timer. "I suppose he can stay." 

They try him out that very night, and Eddie almost jumps out of his skin when the timer starts singing. Buck only laughs at him a little. 

Later, once they've put Christopher to bed and get started on cleaning the kitchen, Eddie tries to hand the now-clean timer to Buck. Buck stares at him, uncomprehending.

"Don't you want to take it home?" Eddie asks. "It had your name on the package, I assume you bought it for yourself." 

"Good thing, too," Buck says. "I'm not convinced you wouldn't have tried to exorcise it if you'd opened it without me around."

"No comment," Eddie says, and Buck laughs.

"I was gonna just leave it here, though," Buck says. "Assuming you're not going to try and cleanse it with holy fire in the middle of the night?" 

"I make no promises," Eddie says. "Why? Don't you want it after all?"

"It's not that," Buck says. "I just—don't really cook so much at the loft. Not when it's just for me."

"Oh," Eddie says. "Well, I'm happy to share custody. Full visitation rights." 

"Perfect."

"We already co-parent an entire child, what's one unnecessarily humanoid kitchen appliance on top of that?" 

Buck freezes with a glass in his hand, suspended halfway to the cabinet he was returning it to. They haven't talked about Christopher, about any of it, not since Eddie was released from the hospital. They certainly haven't talked about co-parenting. "Eddie—"

"Buck."

Slowly, Buck turns to face Eddie. He doesn't know what he's expecting—regret, maybe, or that fish-out-of-the-water face Eddie sometimes makes when he says the wrong thing without thinking—but all he finds on Eddie's face is fond amusement. 

"You can't tell me you're that surprised," Eddie says.

"No, I just—we haven't really—you've never said," Buck says. 

"Only because I didn't think I needed to," Eddie says, barely holding back an eye roll. But unlike when other people roll their eyes at him, it doesn't make Buck feel small. Just warm. 

"I'm saying it now, okay?" Eddie continues.

"Okay."

 

Two weeks later Buck is watching the late-night shopping channel again when Eddie emerges from the bunk room and settles on the sofa next to him.

"What are you—no," Eddie cuts himself off when the words smart pan flash across the screen. He snatches Buck's phone out of his hand and hides it in his pocket.

"Eddie," Buck whines. "I was just going to—"

"No, you're not," Eddie says. "I can accept the pasta man, but you are not bringing a smart pan into our kitchen. I am drawing a line. The line is drawn. No artificial intelligence that also controls temperature, not in our house."

And Eddie's staring him down like he's expecting Buck to argue, but Buck's brain is stuck on one thing. One specific word, to be exact. 

"Our kitchen?"

Eddie gives him the same look he sometimes does on a call when Buck doesn't immediately get moving. The one that means catch the fuck up, Buckley.

"We share custody of a child and an upsettingly realistic pasta man," Eddie says. "How is this news to you?"

"You keep not telling me things!" Buck says. "What else are you not telling me? Are you secretly royalty or something?"

"No, but I am in love with you," Eddie says. 

Buck stares at him. "If you're just trying to distract me from the smart pan, that's a dick move.”

"Just trying to—jesus christ," Eddie mutters. "Okay, do you believe me now?" and then his lips are on Buck's and, okay, maybe it wasn't just a distraction. Because Buck's kissed a lot of people in his life, but very few of them have kissed him like this. Like he matters. 

Eddie pulls back just enough to look Buck in the eye. "Okay?"

"Okay," Buck says, and leans in to kiss Eddie again.

Some time later, Eddie pulls away again, and this time he's frowning at Buck. "You better be trying to feel me up right now," he says. "You better not be trying to get your phone to order that unholy frying pan."

Buck grins. "I can multi-task."