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The first time Ravi meets the A-shift, they remind him a little too much of the football jocks from high school — mostly because there’s definitely something wrong with all of them.

They’re infamous at the 118 — at any firehouse really. You know, after one of them got crushed by a firetruck and the other survived a piece of rebar straight through his brain and another one of them got trapped at the bottom of the well during a storm and came out of it cracking jokes. Ravi’s only been at the 118 for one day, but gossip travels extraordinarily fast here. Somehow, these guys named Buck, Eddie, Hen, and Chimney seem to always be at the heart of it all.

(“Do not get on their bad side,” Richardson, one of the younger firefighters, tells him in the locker room when Ravi asks if there’s anything he desperately needs to know before he’s thrown off into the deep end. “Shouldn’t be hard. They’re all good people, but they’re like...they’re like the popular kids. Cap’s favorites. Just don’t do it.”

“Diaz did,” Cassidy interjects. “Look at him now.”

“Yeah well he had to pull a live grenade out of a man’s leg to remedy that.” Richardson claps Ravi on the back before turning to leave. “B-shift usually leaves that to the bomb squad. Everyone on A-shift has a death wish. Never join A-shift.”)

Anyway, Ravi’s pretty content with taking that advice and running with it, because for all of B-shift’s goading praise, A-shift actually seems clinically insane and he’s not planning on interacting with them unless he absolutely has to. It’s only been 20 hours, so Ravi doesn’t know much about the inner-workings of the firehouse, but he’s seen enough to start packing up a little quicker when Bobby enters the firehouse.

And then, one by one, the rest of A-shift trickles in, and look Ravi doesn’t know any of their names, but he’s only human, so when a very tall, very attractive man strides in the bay doors, looking for all the world like he owns the place, it’s possible — like a little bit, microscopically possible — that Ravi decides, if he looks like he belongs there and walks at just the right angle…

He walks at the right angle. The problem is, now that he’s here, he’s not really sure what to do with it. He thinks, best course of action, he just keeps walking, forward and straight out the doors, even though his duffle bag is still in the locker room. 

He’s not a huge believer in fate, but it seems like the universe does indeed have other plans.

“Hey probie!” very tall attractive man yells, making Ravi flinch so hard he drops all of his books, and hadn’t Cassidy literally said to him, snorting all the while, “This is a fire house, not a library.” And god, maybe he should’ve listened instead of striding around like he isn’t just fresh out of the Academy and great now he has to quit and-

He takes a breath. Steadies himself because he’s 25 and this is his workplace, calls the slightly less attractive now man ‘sir’ sarcastically (his friends say no one really knows the difference between his sarcastic voice and his normal voice, but it’s the thought that counts), and refuses his help as — and now he can see the name tag — Firefighter Buckley, looking rightfully contrite, asks him how his first shift was.

Ravi nods warily and shrugs to seem suave. “Oh, pretty quiet,” he says.

Wrong answer, apparently. Though, in Ravi’s defense, he hadn’t known there was a right one. “Whoa!” Buckley protests. 

“Did he just-?” the woman asks, shell-shocked.

And finally, the third guy. “No!” he shouts, backing away like Ravi’s some sort of feral animal. “No!”

“Sorry,” he frowns, because what..? Clinically. In. Sane. “I just said it was-”

A-shift seems intent on not letting him speak. They bicker in incomprehensible sentences about curses and horror movies while Ravi stands there, frozen, 15 minutes after his shift ended, because he’s not quite sure that this isn’t a nightmare so what else can he possibly do except clutch his books and wait, maybe, for the earth to swallow him whole?

Then just because his life can’t possibly get any worse — this is the last time he’ll ever pursue a handsome stranger, thank you — Captain Nash comes out onto the balcony with a frown on his face and scans the floor below, looking for his victim. “Who used the q-word?”

Everyone points at him and Ravi considers just transferring, or maybe asking for shifts that always intersect with C-shift instead of A-shift — because he already knew they were weird, but this is more cultish than anything and Ravi’s honestly worried that if he stays here for too long, they’ll recruit him too and because he’s already dropped out of grad school he’ll have no choice but to accept, and then he’ll have to tell his parents that he unwittingly joined a cult, which he’ll know will sound ridiculous but is exactly how this seems to be panning out and—.

But apparently Ravi’s got a guardian angel in the shape of the man leaning against the firetruck, looking just as skeptical and confused as Ravi feels. His eyes flicker to Buckley’s body before he even looks up at Captain Nash and Ravi figures, because it’s only been a day but he’s heard the rumors, that this must be Diaz.

“What am I missing here?” Diaz asks, and the alarm goes. Ravi’s not sure, and he’ll never admit to it, but he thinks that that might be entirely his fault. 

Buckley claps him on the shoulder and levels him with a disappointed stare at the same time. And you know what, Ravi’s not quite sure how he got here, but he decides the only dignified thing to do is to shuffle off to the side so that the ladder truck doesn’t run him over and try his best to forget any of this ever happened.

He’d say, for anyone keeping track, that this was probably the last moment any part of his life contained a sense of normalcy.

 

Ravi finds Buckley, Buck, @whatthebuck on Instagram 5 minutes after he shuts his front door.

His roommates are all out of the house, all starting work or class just as Ravi finishes. Two of them are friends from grad school — you know, the one he dropped out of to join the academy? after he thought long and hard about what it was he wanted, and his girlfriend broke up with him, and he had a minor crisis about paying kindness forward, and realized how he was so not doing that by going into the marketing field? 

Anyway, two of them are friends from grad school and the other one they met only recently, when they realized that they couldn’t possibly afford L.A. rent with just the three of them, especially with Ravi on a probationary firefighter’s salary. The point is, they’re all gone and he has the house to himself and it's 11 in the morning, so the only person left to lament to is his mother. Obviously. 

“I said the word “quiet” and they got so upset at me,” he groans from where he lays on his small bed in his tiny room. “I don’t know, amma. There’s this guy, Buck, everyone loves him, and he was asking me all these questions, and I got nervous so I was rambling and, wha- no I do not like him, stop listening to everything Ananya tells you.

His mom says something about getting him married ( I’m only 25, leave me alone!) and Ravi, as usual, takes that as his cue to hang up. “Okay, bye. No, I really gotta go. Okay, love you. Bye.”

He’s not…look, Ravi doesn’t spiral. Really, he doesn’t. But you put an Indian guy — wiry and timid and probably kinder than the world demands from people like him, who always draw the short straw — in a station full of men. Or ‘real’ men as society would call them (his sister has a master in Political Science. Tradition has escaped the Panikkar family but they all get to hear a rant on her newest social justice cause every Christmas), and he’s going to get nervous. Just a little bit. 

He survived childhood cancer; he survived coming out as (“I don’t know! I don’t have a label. I just like guys and I like girls!” “Okay, kutta, but what are you?) to his very Indian family and all the shouting that came with it. He can survive being yelled at by A-shift.

You deserve to be here, he reminds himself. Just as much as anyone. You worked hard. You graduated from the Academy just like everyone else did. You got recruited to a house that wanted you, just like everyone else did. Captain Nash decided he wanted you on his team and it’s done. 

Now you have to maintain that, his father’s voice says in his head. That is what is important.

He sighs and bangs his head against the headboard. He never has to interact with A-shift again, technically, if he doesn’t want to. He closes his eyes. Maybe they should all just leave it at that. 

At about 9 pm, Ravi wakes up to his phone buzzing incessantly and he scrambles for it like it’s an alarm. It must be important, right? Maybe someone needs a ride or there’s a shift that needs covering or— 

38 calls probie

THIRTY EIGHT!!!

!!!

 -_-

He blinks blearily, not quite sure if this is real life or whether he’s been stuck in a nightmarish alternate reality ever since he walked into the 118. He’s not sure what’s more frightening, the urgency or the fact that this unknown number really just typed out ‘-_-’ instead of using an emoji. Ravi doesn’t know who the number belongs to, but he’s got a pretty good guess. 

Is this Buck from the station?

yeah  

what’s your name ?

Ravi.

cool! thanks probie

Ravi blinks into the darkness, mourns his ruined sleep schedule, and then gets up to go make dinner.

 

Two weeks after Ravi un-finds a hidden treasure chest and almost gets accused of murder, there’s a sniper on the loose.

And look, his condolences to Diaz in the hospital. He likes the guy — he’s the only one that ever tells Buck to knock it off when he spots Ravi and assigns him all the worst tasks in the station as a sort of hazing thing. (Even if Buck comes by later to tell Ravi all the million ways he’s doing it wrong and effectively does half the chores himself, but it’s the sentiment that matters). 

So he likes Eddie. He likes Eddie more than some of his coworkers on B-shift. It doesn’t make this situation any less fucking weird. 

Anyway, he gets transferred to A-shift amongst all the chaos, dons a bulletproof vest, prays even though he doesn’t go to temple nearly as often as his mom wants him to, and they get to work.

“Are you mad?” his sister demands after he gets home from his first shift, bone-weary but gratified. This was the job he signed up to do and he was doing it well and Ananya screaming in his ear wouldn’t change that. “You couldn’t have stuck with the marketing degree?”

“And done what with it, Ananya?” He demands, balancing his phone on one shoulder as he preheats the oven for yet another frozen pizza. “I get to save people by being a firefighter. Isn’t that why you majored in politics? To help people?”

“First of all,” she replies condescendingly, because she’s younger than him and incredibly annoying. “You can’t major in politics and also I’m getting a graduate degree in public policy. So maybe think about that.”

“I was just saying—”

“Amma’s on my back,” she continues. “Like I can stop you from doing your job or something. I don’t know. What am I supposed to tell her? Sorry that Ravi’s so hell bent on getting himself killed but have you tried convincing him not to do anything? Like—”

“It’s not a joke, you know.” Because yeah, he’s acutely aware of the fact that it might get him killed and Eddie Diaz is in the hospital and that one girl from the other station had gotten a bullet through her foot only an hour after the first attack. But it’s still.... What else is he supposed to do? He loves his job, he loves the city of Los Angeles, and he loves helping people. He’s going to don the vest. Staying home isn’t even an option.

“Yeah,” Ananya says quietly. “I know.”

They sit in silence for a few seconds. The oven beeps. Ravi startles then yawns. “Okay, bye. I’ll talk to you later.”

“Okay,” his sister agrees, a bit too solemnly for Ravi’s liking. “Be safe.”

“I will be,” he says. They’re not supposed to make promises they’re not sure they can keep, but it’s his sister. “Bye.”

He hangs up the phone and puts the pizza into the oven, trying very hard not to think about the bulletproof vest sitting in his bedroom. The 118 groupchat gets a text from Buck: eddie’s awake. just went to the hospital. 

Ravi breathes a sigh of relief and scrubs his hands over his face. He thinks about his friends and the wary eyes they watch him with when he leaves for his shifts, what it would be like if one of them were in the hospital. If it was S—

You’re lucky, he reminds himself. Because Buck just returned from his partner’s hospital bed, and he’s still going to work everyday. And you’re luckier than he is. So yeah, maybe he doesn’t know what exactly he’s gotten himself into, with the 118, but if Buck can do this, then maybe Ravi can be a little brave about it too.

 

Ravi’s gone through a lot of changes in the last few months: he started saving up to rent his own place, he ironically agreed to join A-shift, and he downloaded TikTok. As a mature, rational adult, all three of these things are of equal importance.

(Also, emphasis on ‘ironically’. He ironically — one might say sarcastically — agreed to be on A-shift.)

He’d joined them at the beginning of Eddie’s recovery back in May. And then, in August when he came back, no one ever changed the schedule. So every day Ravi walks into the station half-expecting someone to look him over and tell him that B-shift ended 4 hours ago; Bobby asks him what his schedule is for the next two weeks and Ravi just shrugs and mumbles something and points to the printed copy on the wall.

Because, you see, the issue at the 118 is that no one tells Ravi anything. He’s actually still not sure that Captain Nash isn’t Buck’s father, even though he now knows that Cap’s married to a woman whose ex-husband realized he was gay 20 years after they got married, oh and Chimney’s dating Maddie, Buck’s sister, and they have a kid together, and Buck used to be roommates with Chimney’s brother, Albert, until he wasn’t and Hen and Eddie aren’t currently dating any family members of the 118 but that might all change when Buck and Eddie finally get their heads together and—

Anyway, the point is no one tells him things.

It’s unbearably hot at the station, courtesy of the blackout. Sweat sticks to his shirt and every exhale feels labored, like he’s trying to breathe through molasses, which wouldn’t be so awful if he was in good company. Unfortunately, he’s at the fire station, his stomach is growling in hunger because he hates poached eggs or whatever Bobby’s rehydrating from a plastic bag, and Buck is sitting beside him, oblivious to it all.

Oh yeah, and he’s got a clipboard.

“After a requisition form has been submitted, you will be issued a personal charging device,” the power czar says. “Once, and only once, it is dead, you return it to the probie charging pool, and it will be recharged for you.”

“You can just say Ravi,” he steps in, because it’s starting to sound a lot like ‘personal charging device (affectionate) and probie charging pool (derogatory)’. “Ravi will recharge it for you”

“One charge per 24 hours is the limit,” Buck continues, raising his voice and absolutely ignoring Ravi except to point a finger at him in annoyance. “Do not attempt to bribe me or you will be docked two charges.”

Chimney makes eye-contact with Ravi and frowns. His eyes seem to say “blink twice if you’re being held hostage” and Ravi thinks about it — really, he does — but he’s kind of afraid of being docked two charges, or god forbid three, so he just sits there and waits for Chim to outwit the power czar. 

(Ravi’s starting to think that Buck might be a larger threat to Los Angeles than any city-wide blackout. He doesn’t verbalize this, of course, but he’s pretty sure that if he did, the population of L.A. would agree with him.)

“Give me a charger,” Chimney says; very calmly, very diplomatically. An everyday girlboss. “Or Uncle Buck will never see his niece again.”

Buck blinks. He looks puzzled at the new development…defeated, one might say. Wild West showdown music is playing in the background. He motions to Ravi with his hands, only half-aware of his actions as the weight of Chimney’s threat sinks in. “Give him the charger.”

Ravi’s impressed. “Well-played,” he congratulates, pressing the charging block into Chim’s outstretched palm. 

“So let this be a lesson,” Chimney says, as if Ravi is in a position to be teaching Buck lessons. “Never give Buck a clipboard. Never.”

Ravi watches as Chim stalks off and turns back to Buck, wondering what nonsensical task awaits him next on Buck’s checklist. Ravi’s gotten to know Buck better these last few months, and look, he’s attractive, sure — everyone knows that — but he’s also kind of…strange. Strange in a half, sort of endearing way, but strange.

Buck’s also on straight TikTok. Which makes absolutely no sense since there’s no way he’s straight. Except, it kind of does…make sense…since he’s so, very, repressed about it. Ravi has a work/life balance and does not spend all of his free time thinking about his job and his coworkers. But he thinks if there was ever a group of people begging to be psychoanalyzed, it’d be the A-shift at the 118.

“You didn’t tell Eddie like, half of those rules,” Ravi comments, because he’s bored and in want of drama. 

Buck looks at him like he’s stupid. “It’s Eddie,” he says, like that explains anything. Though, since it’s Buck saying it, it kind of explains everything. He turns back to his clipboard and starts flipping through the pages, updating everyone’s charging tallies. He very noticeably doesn’t mark anything next to ‘ Firefighter Diaz ’.

Ravi really wants to ask Cap if being mentored by Buck qualifies him for overtime pay.

He’s not really paying attention to the rest of it, shooting off a text to his roommates, scrolling through TikTok and Twitter until the cell phone towers go out again. It’s a nice distraction from the heat, until Buck hits him on the shoulder and motions for him to follow.

That’s when it happens.

Eddie has a partner. 

Said partner is resting her hand on their child’s shoulders. She’s got curly hair and is well-dressed and is incredibly beautiful and Ravi’s trying to keep from blinking in confusion. Because Eddie and the woman are smiling at each other and Buck is nodding along with them and no one thought to tell Ravi that Eddie has a girlfriend. 

Ravi hates it here.

He’s got Yelena Belova in his head monologuing, Don’t say that. Please don’t say that. It was real. It was real to me and manages to shake himself out of it. “Hi,” Ravi says, trying not to be unreasonably upset by this development, since he’s an adult who’s not abnormally invested in his coworkers' love lives. “This must be your wife!”

Let it be said that even in these trying times Ravi was nothing but cordial.

“Not yet!” Christopher cheers, and Ravi’s confusion deepens. Buck and Eddie share one of those glances that Ravi can’t parse, but Eddie’s cheeks flush and he looks nervous all of a sudden; on uneven footing. Buck’s frown deepens.

Eddie asks Ravi to take Ana on a tour of the station, even though it’s near pitch black and there are cots strewn everywhere. Eddie says this because he doesn’t want the salad to wilt. And you know what, maybe Ravi had jinxed the entire station last April, because nothing about any of this has ever been normal since then.

“Uh, okay,” Ravi says. “I'll show you all around. Come on, Chris.” 

He lets Christopher wander ahead of them, since it’s obvious he knows his way around the station and most of A-shift are familiar faces to him, but a part of Ravi wants to ask Christopher to please stay right next to him and Ana because holy shit this is so awkward and why were Buck and Eddie like that back there and why is Ana glaring at the floor and what the actual hell—

“Sorry,” he offers, because there’s only so long they can walk together in absolute silence without everyone else in the station picking up on it and therefore gossiping about it. “I didn’t mean to assume—”

“That’s okay,” she says, in a tone that’s very clearly not okay. “I guess he doesn’t talk about me much.”

Oh, yikes. What does Ravi even say to that, except, “This is the ladder truck. It carries our equipment.”

Ana nods. Her voice is distinctly teacher-like and Ravi kind of hates it.  “It’s the only one with a ladder?”

“Yeah.”

She nods again and then swoops in to introduce herself as Christopher greets Hen, like maybe Eddie talks about her to more significant people in his life. He doesn’t, but Ravi can’t bring himself to be offended. Mostly, he’s just confused.

God, I am so sorry for complaining about Buck, he thinks morosely. If any of you want to create a small emergency for me, like right now, I would be so, so grateful.

The alarm doesn’t ring.

Eventually, Ana and Christopher leave. The alarm rings literally 3 minutes after they do and Ravi thinks maybe the universe exists just to spite him but he finds himself in the ladder truck with a combination of firefighters from all three shifts. None of them are a part of the A-shift squad, so Ravi lets out a breath he didn’t know he was holding

“I should make a TikTok series about the 118,” Ravi mutters.

Garcia, a long-time member of A-shift snorts. “Okay, Taylor Kelly.”

“... Who?” 

Later, in the middle of the night when no one can sleep for more than 15 minutes at a time before they overheat, Ravi treads up to the kitchen to grab a water bottle in a half-asleep sort of daze. He doesn’t know much except stairs, fridge, stairs again. There are others in the loft, he’s sure, but apart from some mumbling, he’s too tired to care.

Something about an ex-spouse, he thinks drowsily. Whatever that means. He nestles into his bunk with all the eloquence of a baby giraffe — Buck says they’re not allowed to talk about zoo animals at the station anymore, oops — when Cassidy’s words catch up with him.

Yeah, Diaz has a girlfriend. Crazy right? After everything that happened a few years ago? You know, it’s not who I expected it to be but it's good to see he’s moving on with someone.”

Oh, Ravi’s got a bad feeling about this one.

 “Hey,” Ravi says jostling one of his friends from B-shift. “Scale of 1 to 10, how bad would it be if I assumed Eddie Diaz’s girlfriend was his wife in front of him?”

Lee groans. “Did you do it in front of Buckley?”

“Yeah?”

“A hundred,” she replies, turning the other direction before Ravi can demand to know why.

He falls asleep pondering it. Then, at three in the morning, it hits him. He bolts upright in his cot. Oh my god, he thinks. Buck and Eddie are divorced, and everyone forgot to tell me.

 

Now that Ravi knows what he’s looking for, the signs are overwhelming.

For example, Buck comes to work one day with a black eye and doesn’t say anything about it. That in itself isn’t too strange — if Ravi had gone and done something stupid outside of work hours, he probably wouldn’t want the rest of the team knowing either — but Eddie’s eyes track Buck whenever he’s in eyesight, even though he never says anything to Buck directly, and everyone kind of just, lets that happen.

It’s…okay, Ravi’s not scared of Eddie; really, he’s not, but Buck and Ravi are partners now. They have been ever since Chim left (man, Ravi feels awful about that one but when a random lady with tears in her eyes thrusts a baby into your arms, you don’t ask questions). Anyway, Eddie’s eyes being on Buck effectively means that Eddie’s eyes are also on Ravi. And whenever Buck gets annoyed and sighs, Eddie glares at Ravi like it’s his fault.

Which, okay, it kind of is. But that’s neither here nor there.

All this is weird at best, but Ravi’s learned not to ask. He just does his silly little chores and fills up his silly little task book so that he can attend his silly little graduation in 6 months and keeps his head down. He’s learned it’s better that way — you never know when the universe will decide he’s spending a little too much time with A-shift and shift its dosage of bad luck around accordingly. 

When Buck announces he’s putting in for a transfer, Ravi’s first thought is Oh god no. 

His second one is, Well, there’s an idea. 

It seems, evidently, that Ravi contains multitudes.

“And you said ‘I like being me,’” Marcus states, crunching on some Doritos. “To this guy you’ve got a crush on—”

“I do not have a crush on Buck,” Ravi interrupts. “Like, let’s get that straight. Please.”

“How?” Avi pops in seemingly from nowhere. “Get it? Because he’s not—”

“Yes, thank you, Avinash,” Marcus says drily. “Your wit knows no bounds.”

Avi brandishes a fork in his direction and they dissolve into snickers. It wasn’t hard to find 3 other people that would let Ravi, queer and out, live with them — especially in L.A. — but he thinks he got lucky with these ones, even if Marcus thinks he has ‘Schmidt’ from New Girl energy and insists on keeping his bike in the living room so it ‘doesn’t rust’.

It’s late, but Sebastian, the only one that gives good advice around here, is stuck at work, postponing game night by a few hours. Ravi’s going to take the chance to vent anyway. He thinks if he has to experience it at the station, it’s only fair that he brings it back here.

“Anyway,” Ravi continues. “Yes. I did say ‘I like being me’ to him. I do like being me, and I don’t think he does.” 

Avi sits on the barstool beside him, resting his head on his hand and scrolling through his phone, only half paying attention. He’s in his last year of his third degree in Programming and comes off as a little air-headed about everything, but is actually one of the smartest people Ravi knows. Ravi knocks his knee against his, accidentally making him refresh his For You Page. Avi rolls his eyes and gives him the finger.

Marcus, who he also met in grad school, makes a questioning noise, digging out vegetables from the fridge for salsa, and gestures for Ravi to continue. “What makes you think that?”

“He tried to put in for a transfer,” Ravi explains. “And, well, before that he threatened me with a chainsaw.”

Avi pauses his scrolling. Marcus knocks his head against the freezer door. There’s a beat of silence and then, slowly, with much more care than usual Avi asks. “A chainsaw?”

“Ravi,” Marcus says. “Do you need to contact the firefighter union?”

He splutters; opens his mouth to answer when the lock to the front door clicks and it opens. “Honey, I’m home!” Sebastian calls. “And I brought beer.”

Avi groans and mutters beneath his breath.

“Don’t worry, Avi, I got your White Claws too,” Sebastian quips. Ravi can hear the grin in his voice as he opens the shoe cupboard in the foyer. Avi perks up slightly. Marcus rolls his eyes. Ravi sinks back into his rickety barstool and waits for Sebastian to come into the kitchen and tries to slow his heart rate into something quantifiably normal.

Okay look, the thing about Sebastian is…okay the thing about Sebastian is that Ravi thinks he could be in love with him one day. He’s a little shorter than Ravi with brown hair and brown eyes and a laugh that makes Ravi feel…things, which sounds like an absolute cop-out answer but really is the truth. Ravi’s got experience being in love with people (fine, one person — Shreya, the girlfriend that dumped him), and Sebastian ticks all the boxes. Like, the ones Ravi didn’t even know he had. He’s just so—

Anyway, the other thing about Sebastian is that, as far as Ravi knows, he’s incredibly straight. 

And Ravi doesn’t even mean straight in a 3in1 body wash, “no homo” type way. Sebastian’s straight like Chris Evans is straight, a physical embodiment of that white cable-knit sweater he wore in Knives Out and general political awareness. He’s so comfortable in his sexuality that he laughs when Ravi calls him ‘queer-coded’. Once, Ravi sent him a Tiktok that said “when a man is simultaneously heterosexual and kind…to me that is queerbaiting” and Sebastian cackled so loud, Ravi could hear it from the other room.

Gay drama, it seems, follows Ravi everywhere.

“I also bought some new clothes, so you guys have to tell me if I took stupid,” Sebastian continues rambling. Ravi quite literally thinks he could listen to him forever. “It’s for a thing, later. Anyway, I’ll text them in the groupchat. Anyway, part two, why are we all gathered in the kitchen?” Sebastian moves around Marcus to place the grocery bag on the counter and wash his hands at the sink. “Are we finally having our Avi intervention?”

“Hey!”

“You’ve got to stop listening to Kanye West, man,” Sebastian dries his hands and then shuffles to lean on the granite, a little too in Ravi’s space. Ravi doesn’t want him to move. “It’s bad music. He’s not gonna take it personally if you don’t buy his 200 dollar plain black face mask.”

“It’s only 160,” Avi counters. “It’s a statement.”

“You’re funding his 2024 presidential run, man,” Sebastian retorts, sharing a glance with Ravi that’s…it’s… Ravi flicks him on the arm. “Anyway, what are we talking about?”

“Ravi’s boss is trying to maim him,” Marcus says, tossing vegetables into the blender. There’s a frown on his face. It’s subtle, but present enough that Ravi thinks he might actually be worried.  “He thinks it’s because he got into a fight with his ex-husband.”

“You’re putting words in my mouth,” Ravi protests. “And Buck isn’t my boss. Look, the chainsaw is whatever. The point is that Buck tried to transfer and he wanted me to fill his spot, as a probie. Shouldn’t I be worried about that? Should I be trying harder or should I talk to Eddie for Buck, or—?”

“Definitely no on the last one,” Avi interjects.

“Yeah, no,” Marcus agrees. “What if you make things worse? Then Buck’s gonna hate you, or that guy Eddie’s gonna hate you, or they’re both going to hate you and before you know it, bam! Two chainsaws, bro.”

Avi nods in agreement. “Two chainsaws.”

Ravi stressfully runs a hand through his hair.

They’re not wrong, probably, but Ravi can’t help but feel like he dropped the ball somehow. Something is up with Buck, something more than the broken family thing Hen was talking about, or maybe something adjacent, and no one else looks like they’re planning on fixing it. Ravi isn’t sure whether he should follow their lead or not. From what he can tell, their ‘lead’ is just making everything worse.

“What about you?” Ravi asks, tilting his head to the left. Sebastian’s still right next to him; their arms brush against each other. “You usually have advice on this sort of thing.”

“Yeah…” Sebastian draws out, worrying his bottom lip with his teeth. He looks at Marcus and then focuses back on Ravi, hesitating. “Isn’t Buck the one you have a crush on?”

“Again?” Ravi demands, throwing his hands up in the air. “I do not have a crush on Buck! He, it’s—he’s Buck.”

“Wouldn’t blame you,” Avi comments earnestly, like he does sometimes, as if trying to prove he’s actively anti-homophobic. “He’s very attractive.”

Ravi groans and puts his head down into his arms. When Marcus and Avi laugh and Sebastian says nothing, he cracks an eye open to look at him. “Look what you’ve done.”

Sebastian’s cheeks turn red. He opens his mouth to say something. “I don’t–”

The blender goes. Sebastian murmurs something under his breath.

“What?” Ravi asks absentmindedly.

“Nevermind,” Sebastian says a little too quickly. “It was nothing.”

 

Mostly, Ravi wants to go home, eat some Maggi noodles, and stare at Aishwarya Rai and Hrithik Roshan watch Dhoom 2 even though he doesn’t understand Hindi. And then, maybe, when the adrenaline wears off, he’ll go to sleep and try and forget he was ever stuck in a prison riot.

Fate has other plans. 

He’s not scared. Not really — it happened and it’s over and he’s okay and his team’s okay and Buck and Eddie were held hostage but they’re okay too, and really nothing happened. Ravi did his job and he did it well and Bobby’s proud of him and—

His phone chimes with a text and he jumps in his seat. It’s just Marcus, wondering if anyone was planning on eating the last bagel in their pantry, but something about it feels hollow. Ravi feels hollow. He almost died. Again. But it’s like—

Look, he just thought he was done being afraid of dying. That’s all.

It’s 6:30. Ravi’s running on barely any sleep. A text from Sebastian that reads, “Hey, saw the news. You okay?” sits unopened in his phone. Bobby’s walking over to talk to him and Ravi thinks if he has to say one word about yesterday, he might lose it, actually.

“That's okay,” Bobby assures him. He’s got an air about him that says this isn’t the first time he’s picked up young firefighters and taken them in. “We can just have breakfast and not talk about it together. What do you say?”

Ravi thinks about going home. All three of his roommates are about to go to work or to class or in Avi’s case, sleep in until forcibly woken up by his alarm 1 minute before he has to log into Zoom. If he goes back now, he’ll be alone. Or, maybe he won’t and…

He thinks about Sebastian’s text in his pocket; searches for an answer that doesn’t end with something a little too close to the truth and can’t find it. “Okay,” he says. 

Bobby grins. “All right.”

The breakfast place is right around the corner, but Ravi’s legs are like jelly as they walk down the sidewalk. He doesn’t know what it is, exactly — maybe the tail end of an adrenaline rush — but he’s glad no one else is around to see it.

Bobby insists on paying, and Ravi doesn’t have the energy to argue like his dad taught him to so he settles for ordering the cheapest thing on the menu: a house coffee, decaf, and an everything bagel. The cashier offers him a small smile, or a squint of her eyes behind her mask to show that she’s a non-threatening individual. Ravi does the same. He’s not sure if it works.

Cap goes up next and orders a chai tea latte with extra water and light milk, which means it’s no longer a chai nor a latte and since it comes from a brown, sludgy syrup Ravi’s having a hard time classifying it as a tea either. To top it off, he asks if the barista could possibly add some nutmeg to it and—

Ravi needs to sit down.

“So,” Bobby says across from him. “How’s your training coming along?”

“It’s good,” he replies on auto-pilot. It’s the same answer he gives his parents when they ask. “I mean, Buck’s really teaching me a lot. He’s a great mentor.”

“He’s a good kid,” Bobby agrees, a nickname, it seems, that’s only reserved for Buck. Obviously, by now Ravi knows that Buck isn’t actually Cap’s son, but sometimes he wonders. “Really, he’s one of our best firefighters, though I doubt he’d ever believe me if I told him.”

“Is he okay?” Ravi finds himself asking. “Buck, I mean. He seems…”

Bobby looks like he wants to say something like, “Literally no one on A-shift is okay and I specifically brought in a group of strays with trauma so that I could fix them,” but of course, he doesn’t, because then he would have to admit — “I’m not sure,” he says quietly. “You’re definitely helping him though.”

Ravi’s baffled. Buck’s made it very clear that, if he’s not being neutral at best, Ravi most certainly never helps. “Huh?”

Bobby looks stuck, trying to figure out how to explain it without either offending Ravi or offending Buck, who isn’t here but the sentiment stands. “You keep his mind off all of it. You and Hen. You know, with those tic-tacs and stuff.”

Ravi blinks. “...TikTok?” he ventures.

Bobby nods and leans forward across the table. “Do you think I should download it?” he asks seriously. There’s a literal sparkle in his eye. Ravi’s dizzy at the change of topic. “Buck says there’s a huge need for fire safety videos.”

“Oh yeah,” Ravi says, hoping that TikTok is sane enough for teenagers not to thirst over a 50-something year-old married fire chief. “You’d be famous for sure.”

 

“Where were you?”

Ravi jumps, stubbing his toe on the wall beside him. “Ow,” he hisses, resisting the urge to be overdramatic and hop on one foot like a cartoon character. “Sebastian, what—?”

“Sorry,” Sebastian mutters, though he doesn’t look very sorry. He’s standing a few feet away, at the end of the hallway, leaning on the wall, frowning. He doesn’t look tired — Sebastian never looks tired — but he’s got a bad habit of picking at his fingers when he’s nervous.

His fingers look like he’s been nervous all night.

“Sorry,” Sebastian repeats, uncrossing his arms and tilting his palms up in a helpless gesture. “I just…you know, I just got worried, man. The news coverage was insanely non-descriptive and just, bad, so I—”

“I’m fine,” Ravi says, head fuzzy with a lack of sleep and unsure of where this is going. “I was at the prison, and then I got out, and I had breakfast with B-my Captain.”

“Okay.”

“Okay?”

“I was worried about you.”

And Ravi aches, because Sebastian is straight and Ravi can’t have him, but here he is, upset about a missed text back and some shitty news coverage and how is Ravi supposed to deal with that? He doesn’t spiral. He doesn’t. But here, he doesn’t know what to do. Because it’s Sebastian — kind and warm and good —  and noncomprehensive as it is, sometimes Ravi’s just…

Sometimes he’s just Ravi.

“I’m sorry,” he replies, and fakes a yawn, only distinctly aware that it’s 9am and Sebastian has his Latinx Literature in the 19th Century class in person at Kaplan Hall at 9:15. He readjusts the strap of his duffle bag on his shoulder. “I’m going to…”

Sebastian looks like he’s trying to swallow a goose egg. “Yeah, man,” he says finally, shuffling out of Ravi’s way and on to the living room couch. “Sleep well.”

Ravi doesn’t spiral. He doesn’t.

 

Between the tension at the station and his upcoming 6-month exam, Ravi doesn’t get much of a chance to dwell on anything that isn’t written down in his task book or tip-toeing around Buck and Eddie and the ghost of Taylor Kelly that lingers underneath it all. So when the hospital fire hits, he’s already stretched to his limit. 

Then Rupert dies trying to save him and Ravi thinks about the universe and his bad luck, and he thinks, for a second, maybe he doesn’t like being Ravi after all.

“I get why he did it,” Ravi murmurs, sitting in the back of the ambulance. He holds his phone in his soot-coated hands, toying with it so that Hen won’t see them shake. Hen makes a questioning noise. Ravi draws in a shuddering breath.

His cancer isn’t a secret. And most of the time he’s proud of it — to talk about how he survived all the hospitals and treatments and came out without the kind of regret that cancer survivors sometimes have: a loss of their childhood and a sort of vindication about all the bitterness. But here, with his coworkers that are beginning, for better or worse, to border on friends, here as a firefighter, that feels different. Not like a weakness, necessarily, but something to be hidden away anyway.

“It's not exactly fun party talk,” Ravi mutters. “It was chemo on the weekends instead of soccer tournaments. But those people cheered me on just the same. They saved my life.” He shrugs. “So I get why he ran back into the building.”

“I guess that's why you do it, too,” Hen comments. She squeezes his shoulder. Ravi shoots her a grateful smile. The hospital’s all evacuated, but he’s about to suggest he goes and helps Buck before he locates a chainsaw when the man himself crosses their path. Not, that he’s paying Hen and Ravi any attention.

“You got them out, Eddie!” Buck says, heatedly, and Eddie walking in tow throws his hands up, equally as frustrated. “I mean, I don’t under—”

“Well, that much is clear,” Eddie mumbles as they walk (angrily — Ravi’s pretty sure he’s never seen anyone walk so angrily before, but they are) away from the ambulance and start throwing equipment into the ladder truck with a frightening intensity. 

Buck either doesn’t hear Eddie or chooses to ignore him, but Ravi decides that he’s had a bad enough night without approaching Buck when he’s…like this. Hen looks like she agrees.

“So…” Ravi trails off.

Hen sighs. “Just leave it,” she says. “If there’s anyone that can parse Eddie out, it’s Buck. And vice versa.”

Ravi thinks about the rumors. “So they’re, like.” He flicks his wrist — the universal sign for not straight. Hen shoots him a strange glance. He does it again to help clarify, acutely aware that he’s sitting in the back of an ambulance after watching someone die for him and divulging all his childhood trauma to someone he only became friends with a couple of days ago.

Hen looks at him like he’s lost his mind. He might’ve, actually: a product of his environment. He’s so lost in thought that when his phone buzzes, he almost drops it. 

Ravi’s not really sure what he’s expecting when he unlocks it, but Sebastian, outside of the groupchat, saying, “ Hey can we talk? ” certainly isn’t it.

It must show on his face because Hen snorts. “I know that expression,” she says. “Come on, what is it? Or rather, who?”

“That’s scary, you know that?” Ravi asks her, only a little unnerved by the way she sees right through everyone. “Anyway, it’s just my friend.”

Hen raises a disbelieving eyebrow. “Uh huh.”

“Just my roommate,” Ravi clarifies, shooting back an “ of course and hoping the heat in his cheeks isn’t too obvious — he’s extremely brown, so it probably isn’t, but apparently Hen can read minds or something, so he resolutely doesn’t look at her. “Sebastian.”

She makes a surprised noise, which Ravi was expecting. The 118 is progressive enough, but the default for people who look like him is ‘straight’. Maybe she’s surprised that Ravi’s got a thing for a guy; maybe she thinks Sebastian really is just a roommate. Either way, Ravi’s more focused on what the hell Sebastian wants to talk to him about that’s so important that he sends Ravi a cryptic text right after an insane structure fire.

“Well,” she pats his arm and forces herself to her feet. “Whatever it is I’m sure it’ll be fine, Ravi.”

Hen might be telepathic, but she’s not very good at predicting the future. When he gets back to his apartment that night, Marcus’s car isn’t in the driveway and Avi’s shoes aren’t haphazardly lying in the middle of the hallway, just behind the front door. Which means it’s just Ravi, and it’s just Sebastian. 

Ravi’s been thinking about this conversation for the past week. Best case scenario: Sebastian confesses the very secret, very deeply hidden feelings he’s been harboring for Ravi ever since they’ve known each other and they all live happily ever after and Ravi moves on to helping Buck and Eddie get back together as is best for the entire LAFD.

Worst case scenario: Sebastian tells Ravi he’s actually moving out when his lease expires in January, but he still wants to remain friends and so they keep trying to talk and eventually they don’t anymore, so one day, Sebastian’s getting married to a girl Ravi doesn’t even know, and he still gets an invite to the wedding so of course he has to go and then—

Okay, Ravi’s spiraling. Just a little bit. He learned from the best, after all.

Sebastian’s room is directly across the hall from Ravi’s. The door is shut, but the lights are on and Ravi can hear the distinct voice of Ted Lasso streaming from Sebastian’s laptop. He moves to place his hand on Sebastian’s door handle, and pauses.

The thing is, Ravi knows what’s happening here. He knows that the closed door means that Sebastian’s giving him an out — a way of saying we only have to talk if you want to too. And that’d be great, if Ravi knew what was going on, because the last time they spoke one-on-one, all Sebastian said was “I’m worried about you” and then went to bed.

And what the hell is Ravi supposed to do with that?

“Hey,” he calls, knocking softly on Sebastian’s door. “Sebastian? It’s me, Ravi.”

Okay, yeah, he knows that’s one of the stupider things he’s said. Of course he’s Ravi. God, he’s just gonna go bang his head against the wall. He was perfectly normal 6 months ago. His life was perfectly normal. Like, yeah, he thought Sebastian was hot, but he wasn’t analyzing him like a Bronte novel, and he doesn’t know how, but the 118 definitely has something to do with all this, because now he’s here, saying stuff like “It’s me, Ravi” and—

Sebastian opens the door. 

“Hey,” he says, grinning. His smile falters as he gives Ravi a once-over. “Are you sure you don’t want to shower or change fir—”

“No,” Ravi says, bouncing on the heels of his feet and pretending he hadn’t sped (okay, not really, Ravi doesn’t speed. That’s kind of terrifying) home. “Please just tell me.”

“It’s not a big thing,” Sebastian insists, and Ravi’s becoming increasingly aware that they’re about to have a very important conversation in the hallway between their rooms, while Ravi’s practically bouncing on his toes like an energetic puppy dog, strung up on adrenaline, and Sebastian looks a little bit like he wants to kill himself.

“You say everything’s not a big thing.”

“Yeah, that’s true,” Sebastian concedes, teetering back and forth like he’s about to pass out. “But listen, I just, I think I was a bit weird last week? After the prison thing. And you know, I wasn’t trying to be overbearing, or weird and motherly or anything. And, I don’t know if you saw the text and..actually that’s neither here nor there. It’s just that…I don’t know, I couldn’t go much longer without telling you.” 

Sebastian inhales deeply, steeling himself up for something. Ravi holds his breath. “Okay, like, it’s just that I care about your safety a lot. I care about you a lot, and—”

The front door slams open with a large thud! noise that makes Ravi flinch and then immediately worry about their safety deposit.  “Excuse me!” Avi shouts, obviously wasted. “Excuse me! I’m new in town, and it gets worse!”

“Oh, Christ,” Priya, Avi’s British girlfriend, says.

“Nothing could possibly be worse than dealing with you right now,” Marcus snaps. Ravi can hear them shuffling through the foyer. Marcus raises his voice. “Sorry guys! Hope we didn’t interrupt anything.”

Ravi doesn’t know the answer to that. He turns back to look at Sebastian just in time to watch his face shutter into something less…annoyed. He’s focused very intently on the wall behind Ravi’s head and is slow to answer.

“Nah,” he says, an odd twist to his voice. His voice is quiet. There’s no way anyone except Ravi can hear him. “Not interrupting anything.”

Ravi’s not dumb. If it were anyone other than Sebastian — very, very straight Sebastian — he might wonder if they were a bit fruity. You know how a tomato is considered a fruit? Kind of like that. Ketchup or something. Anyway, the point is, Sebastian is an onion: he’s got layers, but he’s not a fruit.

Yeah…yeah that makes sense. Ravi thinks he should probably go to bed before he comes up with any more metaphors.

But then he’s looking at Sebastian again, thinking about it — about what he could possibly have followed that up with, and he wonders, if maybe…if maybe Sebastian sees what Ravi sees. That yeah, he is ‘just Ravi’, but he likes being Ravi. He wonders, if maybe, Sebastian likes that he’s Ravi too.

“Hey,” Ravi asks, because he has to know. “Are we okay?”

Sebastian snaps out of whatever daze he’s in. “Yeah, Ravi,” and to Ravi’s relief, it looks like he’s telling the truth. “We’re good. Go get some sleep.” There’s a crash from the living room. They both wince. “I’d better go help before Marcus pops a blood vessel or something.”

 

“Don’t be stupid,” Ananya says as soon as Ravi picks up the phone. “That man is in love with you.”

Ananya,” Ravi hisses, hopping up and down trying to put his shoes on, a piece of toast stuck in between his teeth so everything comes out muffled. “You’re on speaker phone.”

Ravi has about 5 minutes to get out of the door if he wants to be on time for his shift. And Buck’s taking over his training today, so boy does he want. He probably should’ve let his sister go to voicemail, but he enjoys talking to her sometimes (don’t tell her), and he desperately needs advice from someone who won’t sugarcoat anything to spare Ravi’s feelings.

“Okay, well I’m right,” she says. “I’m literally always right. I’ve never been wrong in my entire life, but you’re not ready for that conversation.”

“What?”

“Morning,” Marcus greets, coming into the kitchen. He’s dressed, checking the watch on his wrist every so often even though the oven clock is right there, but he doesn’t carry that hurried air of someone who’ll have a chainsaw buzzing in front of his face if he’s a few minutes late to work.”Is that your sister?”

“Hello Marcus,” Ananya says for Ravi, mumbling incoherently around his toast. “Please tell Ravi that he’s being stupid.”

Marcus shares a glance with him. Ravi finishes tying his shoelaces and spits the toast back into his right hand, scooping up his phone and his duffel bag in the other. “Hi, Ananya,” Marcus says tentatively. “Why is Ravi being stupid?”

Ananya starts to say something like, “Why isn’t Ravi being stup—” but she doesn’t get that far before he’s switching her over to handheld mode. He nods at Marcus, and then he’s out the door.

“You’re connected to the Bluetooth,” he tells Ananya, squinting at the traffic that appears as soon as he hits the main road. “If you want to—”

“Listen,” she interrupts. “You can tell me Sebastian is straight, if you feel like lying. Trust me, as a woman — a very hot, attractive, smart, et cetera et cetera woman — I have dealt with a lot of straight men. There’s being comfortable in your sexuality and then there’s giving impromptu speeches about how much you love your roommate—”

“No one said the l-word.”

“Sebastian is not straight,” Ananya finishes, completely ignoring Ravi as she does. “And he likes you.”

Ravi pauses, giving her neither a confirmation nor a denial. “Don’t tell dad,” he says instead. “He’ll tell me that I’m supposed to be studying, not getting distracted by ‘trivial things’.”

“I’m not going to tell dad,” she agrees. “Amma though—”

“She’ll ask me a hundred questions and then call me the next day and ask the same questions all over again,” Ravi complains. “And then she’ll ask me for his birth chart, or maybe his entire family history, and then she’ll judge him.”

“Mmm but consider this, it’ll be very fun for me.” The last half of her sentence is drowned out by a series of people honking at each other. The true LA life. “Also, I won’t be at home for Christmas.”

Ravi raises his eyebrows even though no one can see him. “What do you mean you won’t be at home for Christmas?” he asks. “You live there.”

“And by doing so I’ve been saving money,” Ananya replies. “Enough money to go to New York with my friends for a week, so rip to you, but I will not be there. Don’t you have a shift on Christmas Eve anyway? So like you’ll only be here the 25th and the morning of the 26th? Do you really want to spend half your vacation in the airport?”

“I was going to come back anyway!” Ravi protests. “You see my sister.”

Ananya tsks. “You didn’t hear it from me,” she says. “But Amma and Achan want to go on a couple’s vacation or something, so if you came home in January instead of Christmas…I mean, we’d have more time to spend with you then anyway…”

“Okay, okay, I get it,” Ravi mumbles. “I’m pretty sure only Avi’s leaving town for the holidays anyway. We’ll figure something out, I guess.” He pulls up to the station. “Okay, I gotta go.”

“Okayyy,” Ananya sing-songs. “Keep me updated about you-know-who!”

“I will,” Ravi confirms, putting his car in park. “Bye. Don’t tell Dad.”

 

“Probie,” Buck says, elbow digging into Ravi’s side. Ravi tries to ignore him in favor of his study book. “Hey. Hey probie. What’s going on with you?”

“Leave him alone, Buck,” Bobby chides from the kitchen — not cooking, just sitting at the bar with some paperwork in front of him. “He’s trying to study.”

Ravi shuts his book. “It’s fine,” he says, because the words stopped making sense an hour ago and Buck’s got this expression on his face that’s making Ravi worry for him: a little too vacant behind the eyes. “What do you mean?”

“Tell me something interesting,” Buck says with a fake boredom. Ravi doesn’t miss the way his eyes flicker to the first floor, where Hen and Eddie are restocking the ambulance. “What happened to that guy you were texting?”

Ravi blinks in surprise. Something coils in his chest and then loosens. “I never told you—How do you know about that?”

Buck shrugs and sits up on the couch to look at Ravi more intently. “I just know these things,” he says. “You’ve got the same expression on your face when you text him that you do when you talk about him. Your roommate, I mean.”

“I guess…” Ravi hesitates. “It’s just, you never said anything before.”

Buck looks up at the ceiling. Distance-wise, they’re only sitting about two inches away from each other. Ravi hadn’t realized how close they were until now. “I didn’t want to make you uncomfortable.”

“Then why ask now?”

“Well,” Buck glances back to make eye-contact with Ravi. His gaze flickers to the ladder truck again. “You haven’t texted him in a while.”

And suddenly, Ravi feels a rush of affection for his mentor, with all his chainsaw wielding tendencies. He’s always heard about Buck’s moral compass; he’s seen it first-hand, even: the way Buck fights for the people he cares about, the way he’d do anything for his friends. It hits him then, one the couch, that Ravi might be one of them.

“We talked a couple of nights ago,” he admits. “Or tried to. He was telling me that he cares about my safety, but he’s also just like that, and we got interrupted. My sister thinks he’s in love with me, if that counts for anything. But she used to run a Tumblr blog in high school, so I’d take it with a grain of salt.”

Buck makes a strangled noise. “You-he talked to you?” he demands. “Like, you guys had a conversation about…” He waves his hand in the air. “Your feelings and stuff?”

Bobby snorts from his bar stool. Buck shoots him a withering look and Cap puts his hands up in surrender and starts to gather his things so that he can go downstairs. Ravi doesn’t respond to Buck’s rhetorical question. He thinks that would just be embarrassing for the both of them.

In front of them, the TV finishes its ad break and tunes back in to the news. Channel Eight. Taylor Kelly stands front and center. Buck makes a sour face that compels Ravi to ask, “Trouble in paradise?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t call it paradise,” Buck says automatically, pausing once he realizes what he’d just said. “Okay, listen, sorry to make this all about me, but you don’t know Taylor, so you’re the only person I can come to for advice that won’t judge me. Or her.”

“You’re certainly setting it up that way.”

“Shut up, probie,” Buck says, in the same tone of voice Ananya uses. He lowers his voice and turns up the television. “Listen, you can’t tell anyone this, but she told me she loved me the other day.”

“Oh my god,” Ravi replies with an age-old wisdom. He’s not going to tell anyone at the station, but he’s immediately wondering how to break the news to Marcus, who’s very invested in Buck and Eddie’s romantic lives. “What did you say?”

“I said ‘good’.” They both wince. “And then I said it back.”

“You said ‘it back’ or—”

“I said ‘I love you’ back? I’m not a 17 year-old with his first girlfriend, Ravi.”

“It was just a question!”

“I am never coming to you for advice again,” Buck decides. “But also, what do you think?”

“About what?”

“About—” Buck takes a deep breath and continues in a tone that doesn’t allow the rest of Los Angeles proper to get in on the question. “I don’t know, man. Do you think I’m in love with her?”

Ravi stares at him, bewildered. He’d love to help, but… “Buck, how would I know if you’re in love with her or not?” he asks. “You said it back. What makes you think you’re not in love with her?”

“I don’t know,” Buck says. “I think I might’ve said it back because no one’s ever told me they love me before.”

Eddie and Hen bound up the stairs then, teasing each other about something medicine-related. Ravi’s kind of grateful they did, since his immediate response would’ve been something along the lines of, “ God, I’m so sorry man. Also, did you know I had cancer as a kid? ” because of that unspoken rule about reciprocation in conversations about past trauma. Ravi and Buck shoot each other a glance and nod at each other like they’re having a secret conversation.

Eddie picks up on it instantly. He gives Ravi a defensive stare like Ravi’s encroaching on dangerous territory. Ravi takes one look at Buck and wants to snap at Eddie to get his act together, for Buck’s sake, so that he can see that a good relationship isn’t supposed to be about the past. But he doesn’t. He’s starting to understand why everyone knows not to mess with the BuckandEddie of it all. It’s all a very careful balance.

Ravi’s phone buzzes. It’s Buck. Ravi tries to look conspicuous about it since Buck isn’t really bothering to. 

also, do you think eddie’s being wired

weird*

Nah

Well

?

I mean you guys are all weird tbh

But I think you’re fine

Buck sighs.

“What’s going on?” Eddie asks, placing a possessive hand on Buck’s shoulder as he passes him on his way to the other end of the couch. 

Ravi takes that as his sign to shuffle over. Buck rolls his eyes at him and Ravi just shrugs. Behind them, Hen laughs beneath her breath.

“Nothing,” Buck mutters, turning Taylor Kelly’s voice up even louder.

Eddie, for his part, waits at least 5 seconds before reaching for the remote and changing the channel. 

 

When Ravi updates him about the ongoing love (with a capital L) triangle, Marcus practically begs to come to the Christmas party at Bobby and Athena place.

“I’ll just talk about how God impacts all my decisions and how guilty I feel about everything,” he says. “They won’t even know I’m Jewish.”

“I don’t think that’s a prerequisite,” Ravi says. “Since I was actually invited, and I’m not Christian either.”

“Not with that energy,” Marcus replies, clicking Add to Cart on a gaudy green and red sweater with bells on it.

Ravi gets back from his shift at 3 o’clock on Christmas morning. Somehow, he stays awake watching TikToks of suburban women restocking their kitchens until 4:30. Bobby sends him a text about the change of venue at 9, and then calls him to make sure he got the message at 10. 

All this is to say that when he stumbles into the kitchen running on 5 hours of sleep and the first thing he sees is Marcus wearing a reindeer headband, blasting Ariana Grande’s Christmas album and taking off a very suggestive apron that says “ Wanna taste?” he doesn’t have it in him to comment. Instead, he gratefully takes the coffee and the eggs and bacon he’s being handed and makes a mental note to add something on to Marcus’s holiday gift. 

“I love you,” Ravi says around his breakfast. “Merry Christmas.”

“Merry fucking Christmas, man,” Marcus cheers, blissfully unaware that Ravi’s not sure whether the room’s swaying or he is. “What’s the game plan?”

“Change of venue,” Ravi murmurs, waiting for the coffee to kick in and ‘love’ reacting to the picture that Ananya had sent him earlier in the morning of her and her friends in New York. “So we’ll probably stick around for lunch, and you can snoop into Buck and Eddie’s love life, and then we’ll come back and order takeout.”

“Sounds fun,” Sebastian comments, dragging a navy suitcase with a broken wheel over the kitchen tile. “Don’t miss me too much.”

Suddenly, the coffee seems to work ten-fold. Ravi finds himself on his feet somehow, like he’s about to physically stop Sebastian from—”Where are you going?”

“Take a guess,” Marcus mutters behind him. Ravi’s very appreciative of the scrambled eggs, but he ignores him.

Sebastian cocks his head, looking himself over like Ravi’s about to tell him he’s wearing two different shoes. “The airport?” He asks finally, giving Ravi a strange but unreadable look. “And then home?”

This is your home, Ravi thinks immediately, even though it doesn’t make sense and isn’t even remotely true, seeing as Sebastian’s only lived here for 6 months. Ravi doesn’t say anything; doesn’t know what to say that isn’t incredibly overdramatic or unreasonable. He never really knows how to do what Sebastian does — to tell Sebastian that Ravi cares about him without actually making it romantic.

So Ravi’s very keen on not saying anything at the moment. His head is still foggy with sleep and Sebastian sticks his hands in his pockets and then takes them out to rub his arms like he’s cold and the entire thing is awkward. Marcus whips out his phone and starts texting someone.

“I told you this,” Sebastian insists. “I-I texted the entire group chat — ‘ Hey, going home to deal with my homophobic parents on Christmas Day. Wish me luck.” You literally liked the text, Ravi.”

“I couldn’t have.”

“You did, actually,” Marcus confirms. “Like the text. If only because Sebastian told me that you did. You know, since it was a pretty important text.”

“I couldn’t have,” Ravi repeats, not paying attention to a single thing except Sebastian and the suitcase in his hand and the fact that maybe Ravi’s been exaggerating everything this entire time because he does that. “Because I don’t remember doing it.”

Sebastian shakes his head. Ravi swears he hears him scoff, which is so unlike him it makes Ravi want to call him out on it. “Look,” Sebastian says. “It’s not…it’s not a big deal, but I do have to catch my flight. Which means I have to get in my Uber now.”

“When do you get back?” Ravi asks, because he can’t help himself.

Sebastian’s eyes soften. “The 27th,” he replies. “Don’t go wading into any more prisons please.”

Ravi’s heart thuds and his stomach twists into something all too familiar and exhilarating; the height of a swing set, a good kind of falling. “I won’t,” he says. “Have a safe flight.”

Sebastian laughs back, easy and Ravi’s favorite sound in the world. It’s always easy with Sebastian. Ravi feels like that’s the only thing he knows for sure. He nods at Marcus, wishes him a happy 25th of December, claps Ravi on the shoulder — Ravi wants to kiss him so bad — and leaves through the garage door.

Ravi can feel the heat in his cheeks. He does his best not to make eye-contact with Marcus, who’s sipping his coffee near the breakfast bar and is so suspiciously silent for so long that Ravi thinks he might not even still be in the kitchen anymore and maybe it’s safe to…return to his breakfast…

Marcus is wearing a shit-eating grin, eyes flickering back and forth between Ravi and the door Sebastian had just exited out of. He clicks a button on his phone and All I want for Christmas by Mariah Carey starts playing. Coincidentally. “I’m not going to say anything,” Marcus says.

“Good,” Ravi mumbles, even though his heart feels like bursting out of his chest. He returns to his seat sort of dazily. “Great.”

“I will point out though,” Marcus continues, grin never faltering. “That he told you not to wade into prisons, and I did not get that same appeal for my safety.”

“That’s probably because you’re not a firefighter,” Ravi reminds him. “Or something along those lines maybe.”

“It’s the sentiment, Ravi.” Marcus spins around the kitchen making smacky kissing noises. Ravi doesn’t remember telling Marcus or Avi about how he feels for Sebastian — lest they really reenact New Girl, specifically that episode where Schmidt tries to break Nick and Jess up — but then again, he hadn’t told Buck either. Which probably means that he’s extremely obvious.

I just want you here tonight,” Marcus sings, picking up a broom in his right hand and swinging it like he’s some sort of jazz musician from the twenties. “ Holding on to me so tight—

Ravi finishes his breakfast. He’s got a sense of deja vu — like Sebastian’s said something about text messages before — but they’re already running late and Ravi thinks Athena Grant likes him but he’s not entirely sure so it’s probably best if he doesn’t do anything to jeopardize it. Because Bobby isn’t scary but his wife is.

“You’re driving,” Ravi says, tossing him the keys.

“I love your love, man!” Marcus points a finger at Ravi dramatically and clutches at his heart. “I’ll be the best man at your wedding.”

“There’s no wedding,” Ravi replies, unsure of what’s actually happening; a bit nervous that one text message might explain it. “You’d have to fight Avi.”

“Fuck Avi, bro,” Marcus says seriously. And then he pinches Ravi for good measure.

“Ow!” Ravi protests, following him to the car. “What was that for?”

Marcus winks at him, that knowing expression on his face. Ravi’s still not sure whether or not he’s dreaming. And maybe he needed it, because Sebastian’s words only hit him when they’re 5 minutes out from the motel.

Did he say homophobic?”

 

Ravi’s trying to focus on the Christmas party — namely holding Marcus by the collar of his shirt like he’s an excitable puppy dog (which is only harsh until you’ve seen him interact with an open bottle of white wine) — but he can’t stop thinking about Sebastian. This isn’t a problem until Marcus starts talking about them to anyone who’ll listen.

“Basically, you had to be there,” Marcus says to Sophie Lee from B-shift, who’s shooting Ravi an amused look as he buries his face in his hand, the left one still holding on to Marcus. “But Ravi thought he liked some random text message about sweaters but he actually liked a text about Sebastian’s homophobic parents and then he thought Sebastian was straight this entire time. Isn’t that embarrassing?”

“Super embarrassing,” Sophia agrees. “Wait until you hear what he said to Eddie Diaz during the blackout.”

“Oh, I know all about that,” Marcus says decisively, throwing an arm around Ravi’s shoulders. “They’re like Ravi’s favorite topic. I think—are those macaroons?”

Ravi doesn’t grab his sweater fast enough and he leaves, wandering off in a macaroon-spirited daze. It’s not far from where Ravi’s at, still thinking about people that aren’t currently here. But he forces himself to blink out of it and say something to Sophie, who’s still hovering nearby. 

“Please don’t let this get around,” Ravi pleads. “If Buck finds out—”

“It’s cute,” Sophie smirks into her lemonade. “I’m happy for you.”

“Everyone says that.”

“We’re a family,” Sophie responds. She’s only one of a few people from B-shift at the event, and C-shift is all on call, but she looks content; like she belongs. “We’re happy for each other.”

Ravi doesn’t know what to say to that. He’s been teetering on the edge of friends and family for a while — unsure of when he’d even crossed that boundary from his rigid label of coworkers that he had back in May — and she’s absolutely not wrong, but it’ll always feel like too much to entrust Ravi with. He belongs here, with Buck and Hen and Bobby and Eddie and all the rest of 118, and he belongs in his apartment, with Sebastian and Avi and Marcus. He thinks he’s finally coming to terms with that.

“Thank you,” he says finally. “That’s really…thank you.”

Sophie raises her glass. “Merry Christmas, Ravi.” Her gaze looks at something in the distance. “Speaking of happy people, your friend is talking to Bobby with a very gleeful expression on his face.”

“Merry Christmas,” he says, very quickly, excusing himself from the conversation and turning at a, quite frankly frightening speed, so that he can turn back time and maybe erase everything Marcus has just said from Bobby’s mind.

At least it’s not Avi, he chants. At least Marcus has some tact. Sometimes. Unlike Avi. At least it’s not Avi.

That’s probably more than a little unfair to Avi, actually, seeing as the first thing out of Bobby’s mouth when Ravi trips over his own feet to get there is, “Ravi, I was just talking to your friend…Sebastian?”

And Ravi remembers that conversation on the station loft, sitting on the couch with Buck and Bobby in the kitchen behind them. Ravi knows he’s a bit of a mess, a put-together mess, and in the totality of firefighters at the 118 is he really even that much of a mess? Anyway, he knows he’s a bit all over the place, but Bobby cannot genuinely think that Ravi’s type is a white man.

Marcus, of course, looks delighted about this assessment. “I’m Ravi’s other roommate, Marcus,” he says. “But I’m honored that you thought of me as a queer man. Ravi tells me I exude straight people energy. Then again, he thought Sebastian was straight, so—”

“Ignore him,” Ravi offers. But Marcus is throwing around words like Sebastian and not straight and Ravi’s so buzzed he finds that he doesn’t actually care that much about how he comes off to his friends new-found family. “Uh, Merry Christmas, Cap.”

Bobby raises his eyebrows but draws him into a hug that’s entirely too…Bobby’s just so dad-shaped. And Ravi loves his own father so much but he can see why Buck treats him like he does. The 118 is still strange but Ravi’s grateful they have each other and it’s extremely cheesy, but it’s Christmas, and Ravi’s grateful he has them too.

“Merry Christmas to both of you!” Bobby says brightly. “So about S—”

“Sorry to interrupt,” Eddie says. He looks nervous about something, but only slightly; his hands are in his pockets, and he looks up to meet Bobby’s eyes with a steely resolve. “Cap, I was hoping to speak to you about something?”

Ravi glances over to where Buck’s talking to Hen, completely unaware of this apparent conversation that’s so important, Eddie needs to talk to Bobby about it on Christmas Day. He’s got a bad feeling about it, but he’s learning that sometimes it’s more helpful to be there for the fallout.

And boy, is there going to be a fallout.

It’s only a few minutes later that Marcus points out, “Eddie’s motioning you over,” and Ravi goes; stands on an invisible line with Hen, Buck, and Ravi on one side and Eddie undoubtedly on the other. Ravi and Eddie never speak — about anything really — but Ravi feels like he knows what’s about to happen with much more surety than Buck does.

“Sorry, I don't want to take you guys away from the party,” Eddie says. Ravi doesn’t think Buck’s even breathing next to him. “I just had some news that I don't want you to hear from anyone else.”

“H-Hold on,” Buck stutters. “First, you're having this deep, intense conversation with Bobby. Now you gather us here for some announcement?” Ravi’s pretty sure Buck means for it to come out like a demand. It doesn’t.

“Is everything okay with Christopher?” Hen asks carefully, as if Ravi would be privy to that information. This is Buck’s family, carefully constructed, and it’s been falling apart for months. Ravi doesn’t know what he and Hen are doing here, in this conversation, but then again maybe he does.

“He's worried about me.” Eddie says, looking at all of them individually: Hen, Ravi, Buck. His gaze lingers. “About the risks I take while I'm at work.”

“That's a lot for a ten-year-old to be thinking about,” Ravi comments, because he’s been there, and it is, thinking about death. He came out the other side of childhood cancer, he’s an adult now, and it still is.

“Yeah,” Eddie mutters. “Probably too much. So I think I have to make a change.”

There’s something he’s not saying, Ravi knows. Something about him and Buck. And maybe it’s not his place to interfere, but it seems incredibly careless of Eddie to make this decision without talking to Buck and then tell him about it in front of a crowd on Christmas Day, because looking at him, it’s obvious Buck still doesn’t see it coming. 

Eddie holds eye-contact with Ravi as he speaks — maybe because it’s safer that way. “I’m leaving the 118.”

His gaze shifts over to meet Buck’s. Safer or not, Ravi thinks it’s inevitable that it always will.

 

For a lack of better adjective, A-shift on the afternoon of the 26th is incredibly bad.

Eddie’s resignation is effective immediately, which makes sense considering the circumstances but leads to an extremely disjointed shift with no one available to cover. Ravi’s working double-time — going out on med calls with Hen and helping her stock the ambulance before the alarm inevitably rings again and they have to scramble into the ladder truck. 

On those calls, Ravi’s partnered with Buck, who’s kind and actively asks questions when Ravi talks about Sebastian and is a very, very good person almost too much of the time.

It feels like Ravi’s the only one who remembers that.

“I don’t get it,” Buck says, for approximately the 19th time today. “It’s.. I don’t get it. Why would Eddie leave?”

“He got shot, Buck,” Bobby reminds him, because this is only the second or maybe third time he’s heard this tirade and he’s still trying to rationalize it. 

Buck bites back a retort and Ravi wants to point out that, “Buck was there, actually” because that’s clearly what Buck’s getting at, even if he won’t say it for whatever reason, but Hen shakes her head at Ravi minutely. Ravi doesn’t like it, but he settles back against the leather seats. One of us will talk to him, Hen’s look seems to read. But not here in this ladder truck.

But the thing about it — the only thing about it really, because Hen and Bobby know Taylor Kelly and they’re just as protective of Eddie as they are Buck and really, Ravi has none of those restraints — the thing about leaving well enough alone is that Buck just—

He looks so sad.

“He could’ve just talked to me, you know,” Buck continues, most of the fight seeping out of his body as it does every few minutes before he finds cause again. He looks exhausted, which is worrying, but even more so since they’re headed to a house fire. Not a particularly dangerous one, allegedly. But still a fire in a house with flammable objects and one of the first things they learn is to never expect a fire to go your way.

“Focus, Buck,” Bobby says, in response.

They pull up to the fire and Buck is the first one out of the truck. Bobby’s mouth is set in a hard line, like he’s about to tell Buck to sit this one out and do triage with the 4 residents standing on the sidewalk. Ravi jostles Buck’s shoulder before he can.

“Come on, we’ve got to do a sweep of the house,” Buck mutters, grabbing a hose line. “Hurry up, probie.”

“You told me you were going to stop calling me that,” Ravi says, and Buck cracks a small grin, and Ravi’s…

Ravi doesn’t quite know what to do; he’s not planning on interfering with anyone’s personal drama, but Buck’s his friend. Ravi’s there for his friends. 

There’s no one inside the house when they get there — which is a relief — but Bobby had told them to try and salvage whatever was left of the top floor, so they’ve still got work to do. It’s not new, wading into flames, but it’s still yet to become familiar. Ravi’s just glad that he and Buck don’t have to split off on their own.

“Machine fire,” Buck yells over the noise. They’re climbing the staircase. “From the laundry unit! Left side of the house is unstable, so let’s put out the flames on the right and get out of here!”

“Copy that,” Ravi shouts back, nearly tripping over something on the stairs. Smoke is collecting in front of him, but is that…? 

“Hey,” he says softly, crouching down to try and scoop up a black, or maybe just gray and covered in soot, cat into his arms, bulky from his turnout suit. The name tag reads: Jacket, which is an odd name for a cat but Ravi’s not judging. “What are you still doing in here?”

“Ravi!” Buck demands, trotting back down. “What are you—?”

The steps fall out underneath him and Ravi doesn’t even have time to move.

Man, he thinks, pretty sure he’s about to get seriously injured, at the very least. I haven’t even texted Sebastian about yesterday.

And then, he’s alive, on the top of the stairs. Jacket’s sitting on Ravi’s shoulder, claws digging into the cloth, and Buck is clutching the back of Ravi’s turnout: eyes wide and breathing heavy — the only indication that Ravi was ever not where he was supposed to be being the uncomfortable twist in his shoulder where Buck had yanked it.

“Cap,” Buck says into the radio after what feels like an eternity but is probably only one second. “The staircase collapsed. Ravi and I are coming out of the top window.”

“With Jacket,” Ravi manages, because he’s unsure of how to say “you saved me” with all the gratitude he feels.

“With Jacket,” Buck confirms. “Come on, man. Let’s get out of here.”

 

Okay so basically I’m fine

I twisted my shoulder

Officially

Officially it’s a twisted

???

How??

Are you okay?

Ravi answer

Sorry Avi was saying something

It was a house fire

Stairs collapsed

Oh my god

Are you okay?

Fine

Just

Ravi?

Just a little shaken up, I guess

Ravi picks up on the first ring. Maybe he should’ve waited — there are unwritten rules about this stage of a relationship, after all, and Ravi’s not too sure that at some point in this conversation he won’t say something even more stupid like, Haha why didn’t you respond to my text, haha.

But he thinks both he and Sebastian are glad he didn’t wait, in some unspoken way. “Hey,” Ravi says, thumping his head back on the couch cushion and trying not to jostle his shoulder. “Isn’t it like, 4am in North Carolina?”

Sebastian laughs, but it comes out shaky. “Maybe I’m magic,” he offers. “Or maybe I have my volume turned on for you, or something.”

It lands a little more awkwardly than Ravi’s used to from Sebastian. There’s a distant hum in the background that Ravi can’t place, and Sebastian doesn’t sound like he’d just woken up. “Are you okay?” Ravi asks.

“Fine,” Sebastian says, in a way that indicates he’s clearly not fine. Marcus and Avi are chatting in the kitchen and Ravi’s shoulder aches, but all of that seems distant. “This isn’t about me anyway.”

“Says who?” Ravi demands, tired of people he cares about being walked over like they’re ancient ruins, destroyed irreparably. He clicks the Facetime button. When Sebastian accepts, he’s in a moving vehicle and his phone is shaking in his hands.

“You have a twisted shoulder.”

“I’m also in the apartment,” Ravi says. “And you’re in a car even though your flight isn’t until 5pm. What’s wrong?”

Sebastian huffs. “You never know how to quit, do you?” But his tone of voice makes it clear that it’s a good thing. “It’s my parents.”

“What about them?”

“Apparently I ‘ruined Christmas’ by coming out to them,” he says dryly. “Also I’ve been kicked out of the house, so I’ll be home about 15 hours early, if that’s okay with you.”

Sebastian, what —” Ravi breathes, sitting up and knocking his shoulder against the armrest in the process. Sebastian winces in sympathy. “You weren’t out to them?”

Sebastian makes a so-so motion with his hands and his face leaves the screen for a moment. He adjusts his mask. “Not explicitly,” he says. “I’m bisexual so I always figured I would fall in love with a girl and we just wouldn’t have to acknowledge it.”

“What changed?”

“I wasn’t even sure I was going to do it,” he says. “I just…dinner was wrapping up and I told them about this boy back home that I think I could be in love with. I told them that maybe it’s overdramatic of me, since I don’t even know if he likes me back, but I’m pretty sure there isn’t a universe that exists where I get over him and move on.”

Ravi blinks. Sound travels a little too well from the living room to the kitchen — Ravi can’t hear the chatter any more. “Oh,” he says dumbly.

“Holy shit,” the Uber driver mutters, turning down the music.

“Yeah,” Sebastian shrugs, like anyone has ever made romantic speeches to Ravi on his feet like that. Like there might be a universe that exists where Sebastian would have to move on. “So.

“I-is this why,” Ravi stutters out. “The dinner, my texts, you—”

“Yeah,” Sebastian repeats. “Also, historically, we don’t have a great track record with texts. Also, I’m here, outside, so if you’re going to give me an answer I don’t like, I’d rather not walk in the door right now.”

Ravi makes a sound that’s a cross of something in between an affirmative and maybe a duck squawking and hangs up the FaceTime. He waits, and then he stands, and then suddenly he’s meeting Sebastian at the front door as Born This Way plays inside and Sebastian’s grinning and Ravi’s legs feel like Jello and—

“Hi,” Sebastian says, searching Ravi’s face for something. Ravi doesn’t know what. He thinks his feelings are fairly obvious and have been for the last 6 months. “About that question—”

“I can’t believe you’re not an onion,” Ravi interrupts. “Oh my god, you’re ketchup.”

Sebastian makes a confused noise. “Yes?” He asks, knitting his eyebrows together. “Is that, is ketchup a good thing? Are you sure you just took Ibuprofen?”

“Oh my god,” Ravi repeats, gripping Sebastian’s forearms, because he’s real and this is happening and he doesn’t even need Marcus to pinch him. “Yes, I really, really like you and you’re incredible and god I just like you so much and also I want to kiss you right now so if you want—”

“Kiss him!” Avi yells. Ravi’s not really sure which one of them he’s talking to. But it doesn’t really matter because Sebastian’s grinning at him and they’re closer than they’ve ever been and holy shit Ravi’s leaning in and Sebastian’s leaning in and—

“Wait, wait, wait.” Ravi pulls away and steadies himself on Sebastian’s arm. He’s warm underneath him; steady. “Look, you’ve just had a hell of a day. I don’t want to take advantage—”

“Ravi,” Sebastian laughs. He must know it’s Ravi’s favorite sound in the world. “Shut up and kiss me.”

He does. 

(Everyone cheered).

 

In February, Sebastian meets the 118 for the first time.

It’s later than Ravi thought it would be, since the 118 is so intertwined in each other’s personal lives. But between Eddie leaving and coming back and Chimney coming back and Ravi wondering if he was supposed to stay and Buck wondering a little bit of the same for himself, there never seemed to be a half-decent moment. Really, today is one of the first good days they’ve all had in a long time.

“I don’t get to do this ceremony very often,” Cap announces to the small crowd gathered in front of them. “But when I do, I always think about how lucky I am to serve with some of the finest people I know. To be a firefighter takes strength, and intelligence, but unequivocally, it also takes courage. It takes a kindness and bravery that not many people possess.”

“Ravi embodies all those traits and more,” Bobby continues. “After an extremely tumultuous year for the LAFD, Ravi has come out the other side with a dignity that surpassed expectations entirely. I am incredibly proud to announce that your probationary period has finally come to an end. Welcome to the Los Angeles Fire Department, Firefighter Panikkar.”

Ravi can hear Buck’s loud cheer and Hen’s whooping. He catches Ananya’s loud, “ Hell yeah, Ravi!” — his parents not much more subtle. Still, his attention catches on the second table from the front, where Sebastian’s clapping, not making a scene, but grinning at him with a brilliance that drowns out everything else.

“Thank you, sir,” Ravi says, standing up as straight as he can and beaming when Bobby pins the badge to his uniform. Everyone gets up and starts mingling. They’re happy; Ravi’s happy. He wasn’t sure they’d get here in one piece, the 118, but they have. 

Bobby shakes his hand. “Thank you, Firefighter Panikkar,” he replies firmly, absolutely butchering the pronunciation, but Ravi forgives him. He gestures to Buck, and Eddie, and then BuckandEddie as a unit. “I know it hasn’t exactly been…”

“Normal,” Ravi finishes with a laugh. “Don’t worry, I’m kinda getting used to it.”

Bobby chuckles — extremely dad-shaped as always — and is pulled away by his son (Harry, that is). Ravi hugs his sister and his parents, answers all their questions about the intricacies of the ceremony, and lets them go. After that, he wanders for about 5 seconds, shaking hands before succumbing to the gravitational pull of Avi’s banner — 3-feet wide and extremely gaudy-looking.

There’s also the gravitational pull of his boyfriend. That one isn’t too much of a hardship.

“Congratulations, Ravi!” Sebastian cheers, saddling up right beside him — Marcus, Avi, and Priya not far behind. “How does it feel to officially be a firefighter?”

“Honestly,” he replies. “Not much different than being a probie. But it does mean that Buck has to stop calling me—”

“Firefighter Panikkar,” Buck claps his hands together, mimicking Bobby in every way possible. “Congrats, man.”

“Thanks!” Ravi chirps. Marcus and Avi share a look beside him, but Ravi’s not sure why. Sebastian’s shoulder digs into his. There are a few seconds of really awkward silence, and the only person that’s not either smirking or frowning is Priya, Avi’s girlfriend.

“You must be Buck,” Sebastian says finally, offering him his hand even though he looks like he’d rather step on the back of Buck’s boots. Ravi winces, internally preparing himself for some kind of stand-off — an off-kilter TikTok POV maybe. Behind him, Avi snickers.

Ravi’s just about ready to step in and suggest they go somewhere else. Then, remembering something, Sebastian’s expression shifts entirely. “Thank you,” he continues, genuine gratitude on his face. “For pulling Ravi off that staircase.”

Buck, who had looked bewildered this entire time, smiles in return. He’d joked earlier about giving Sebastian ‘the shovel talk’, and while Ravi appreciates the sentiment, he thinks he’d much rather prefer this. “Of course,” he replies, taking Sebastian’s hand and shaking. “That’s what we do.”

 

After their shift ends, Eddie corners Ravi in the locker room.

You would think, by now, everyone would’ve learned that the locker room walls are made out of glass and aren’t sound proof at all, and there’s definitely a correlation between that and the gossip circle at the 118, but maybe it’s clear that everyone benefits too much from the drama to mention it, because somehow they keep winding up here. 

Ravi’s unlacing his boots when he hears the door open. He doesn’t turn to look until Eddie coughs hesitantly.

“Hi.”

“Hello?” Ravi sort of half-asks. He and Eddie don’t talk is the thing — not without fielding from Buck or Hen. He likes the guy — literally everyone likes him — but neither of them are as outspoken as the other members of A-shift.

Or, well, Eddie’s outspoken around Buck, but Ravi supposes that’s another thing entirely.

“Did you need something?” Ravi asks again. “Did I stock the ambulance wrong or…”

“No, it’s just—” Eddie looks completely lost, even more so than he did before he left and then came back. “You have a boyfriend, right?”

“Yeah,” Ravi says carefully. He knows it’s not an issue, not with Hen, and Buck and Eddie, but the question is still out of left field. “Is that—”

“No, no!” Eddie interrupts, looking mortified. They’re still standing up. Ravi’s got one boot on and one off and feels like maybe Eddie could’ve waited before ambushing him with these questions that have very obvious answers, but it’s whatever. “I just, and then you thought he was straight for a while, right?”

“Oh my god, did Sophie tell you about that? Yikes. Embarrassing, I know. But thank god one of us was brave enough to actually do something about it. And also, in my defense—”

“You don’t have to…” Eddie trails off and chuckles a little wistfully, shaking his head. “You know what? Nevermind.” He claps Ravi on the shoulder, already turning to leave. “I’m happy for you, man.”

Ravi thinks back to the last few months, of everything that’s gone down at the 118. No, he thinks, That was still weird.

 

And then, one week later, when he walks in on Buck and Eddie making out in the bunk room, it all makes sense.

“Oh my god,” Ravi says.

Eddie leans back on his arms, snickering, and Buck sighs heavily, though his cheeks are tinged red. “Listen—”

“Oh my god,” Ravi repeats. “Are you guys finally getting remarried?”