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So here’s the problem.

Eddie Diaz is good at a lot of things. He’s handy in the house and in the yard and garden. He’s an extremely efficient shopper and he likes to think that he’s a great dad.

“You are,” Buck says, because Eddie’s been into saying his stream of consciousness out loud lately. Thank you, Frank.

“Maybe,” Eddie replies, miming zipping his lips to Buck so that he can continue with his monologue. “But I think I’m just relatively efficient in most things, you know?”

“Now you’re just bragging,” Buck grins and takes a swig of his beer. They’re sitting on Eddie’s couch approximately nine weeks after Eddie quit the 118 and started working at dispatch, a few hours after Christopher went to bed with the television playing quietly in the background.

“No I’m not, I’m just – what do they call it? Like, a jack-of-all-trades, master of none,” Eddie continues. “Except.”

“Oh, I can name a few things,” Buck laughs. “Cooking, for one.”

“That one is not my fault.”

“You can’t keep blaming the stove for all your kitchen atrocities, Eddie, especially since you’ve burned stuff in multiple kitchens.”

Eddie groans. “If you could let me finish.”

“That,” a sly grin spreads across Buck’s face as his eyes dart over to Eddie, and Eddie knows what’s coming before he even says it, “Is what she said. Or he said?”

Eddie takes a swig of his own beer and rolls his eyes. “That’s what you said, idiot.”

Buck laughs into his beer bottle before setting it down on the table, his hand sliding over to rest high up on Eddie’s thigh, his eyes gleaming in the light glow from the television. His hand leaves a burning trail along Eddie’s thigh, creeping higher with each passing second and Eddie knows that this is going to end back in the bedroom and he’ll never be able to finish his monologue once that happens.

“Buck, listen to me,” he says, grabbing Buck’s wrist and lifting it off of his thigh as Buck attempts to slide it up to Eddie’s zipper. “I think that I’m . . . Bad at my job?” He phrases it like a question, because – well, because he knows it but he’s not sure if anyone else has clocked that fact yet.

And Buck, much to Eddie’s confusion, blinks at him for approximately four seconds before breaking out into fits of loud, deep laughter.

“Oh my god,” Buck says between giggles, his eyes watering now and his face turning redder by the second. Eddie really does love to see him laugh, because Buck’s laugh and smile are probably up there in his list of top 10 things in the whole world, but he really wishes he had any kind of clue about what was going on right now. “I’m sorry, babe, it’s just – I mean, Eddie, you are just – you are terrible at being a dispatcher.”

Eddie squawks in protest. “I am not!”

“You just said that you are!”

“Yeah, but!” He knows he’s borderline shouting now, and that they’ll probably wake Christopher any second now, but what the fuck. “Nobody else was supposed to know!”

“Eddie, my love, my life,” Buck is still laughing, the tears now running down his face as he fails to compose himself. “We all know you’re terrible at it. We’ve worked with dispatchers our whole careers, so we know what good ones are like.”

Eddie crosses his arms over his chest and frowns at Buck, which only lasts for approximately five seconds because, ever since they finally got their shit together approximately three weeks ago, he feels like he might die a little if he’s not touching Buck at any given point in time. He reaches out and runs his hand along Buck’s chest before sighing and collapsing into his side. Buck’s arm comes and wraps around him, holding him close to his chest with his hand threading through Eddie’s hair.

“I’m not that bad,” Eddie grumbles into his chest, letting one of his hands trail up under Buck’s shirt, tight abs flickering under his gentle touch as he strokes his hand back and forth.

Buck tightens his hand in Eddie’s hair, gently tugging backwards until Eddie is looking slightly up at Buck. He leans in close enough so that their lips are brushing, Buck’s warm breath blowing gently across Eddie’s mouth before he kisses him, deep and slow with just a flick of tongue.

“I’ve been keeping a list,” Buck murmurs against Eddie’s mouth before kissing him again. “Let’s start from the beginning.”


1.

“Okay,” Maddie says, turning to him with a smile. She’s been back in town for a little over two weeks now and, according to Buck, is in so much therapy that she barely has time for work, but they’re working on it. She came back a solid three days after Eddie quit the 118, and Eddie isn’t sure if that has any correlation, but he is forever thankful for her because he knows it did help soften the blow for Buck a little bit. “You lead the next call.”

“Uh, no thank you,” Eddie says quickly. It’s only his second day on the job and it’s only been a whole week since he officially left the 118, because, apparently, it’s extremely easy to get a job as a dispatcher when you’re a former firefighter and army medic.

“Uh, yes,” Maddie rolls her eyes, gesturing for Eddie to pick up the headset. Eddie begrudgingly does so, because he does know what it’s like to argue with a Buckley and that there’s no hope for his victory.

Eddie stares at the computer and wills it not to ever notify him of an incoming call again. He’s literally a former first responder who has dealt with a wide variety of emergencies for years and years, so the fact that he’s now offsite, safely seated in a desk chair with just a headset on, should be a piece of cake for him.

Except that he’s twitchy, and with every call he wants to stand up and bolt to the scene, and he can’t think for long enough to focus on what’s happening because he is just not an auditory guy, okay, he likes to use his hands and he needs to see things to know what’s going on. He knows Buck probably has a fancy name for this kind of learning.

He shoots Buck a text: What kind of learner am I?

Buck replies, almost instantly, in a series of four messages.

kinesthetic. 100%
why
is it that boring over at dispatch
dont let maddie tell u any embarrassing stories about me

Eddie snorts and turns his phone facedown on the desk, Maddie rolling her eyes at him, obviously having seen Buck’s name at the top of the screen. Eddie’s leg twitches in the chair, tapping against the floor as they continue to wait for a call to come through.

Much to his dismay, it does. Maddie gestures at him, and Eddie lets out a sigh before answering the call.

“9-1-1, what’s your emergency?”

“Hi, oh my god, you sound hot,” a woman’s voice says through the phone. Eddie has to  seriously hold back his groan and urge to immediately hang up on the caller.

“Ma’am, can you state your name, location, and nature of your emergency?” Eddie says, remembering Maddie’s instructions about redirection

“I’ll tell you anything you want to know, gorgeous,” the caller says. “My name is Mary Louanne Samson, aged 79, approximately 1 million in savings, and I live just off of Cloudlane Boulevard, right on the beach, doll, you would –”

“Ma’am, are you having an emergency?” Eddie says through gritted teeth, because he is not in the mood to be hit on by some granny.

“Oh, I sure am,” she says. “My husband is dead.”

Eddie splutters, choking on air and muting the call for just a second as he lets out a cough. Maddie’s eyes are wide next to him, a laugh clearly trying to bubble out of her mouth. He unmutes the call. “Is he breathing?” Eddie asks.

“I just said he was dead,” she deadpans.

Maddie gestures for Eddie to send a unit to the scene. Eddie does so, and, of fucking course it’s the 118 that is now in route.

“Is his chest rising and falling?” Eddie prompts her, ignoring the little butterflies that are forming in his stomach at the thought of him having any interaction with Buck while at work. Which is silly, because Buck still has a girlfriend and Eddie quit his job –

“Oh, it sure is, but he’s not responding anymore,” Mary Louanne Samson says in reply. “I’m calling more as a courtesy, truly, because you sound –”

“Ma’am, help is on the way,” Eddie replies quickly, what Buck affectionately calls his ‘dad voice’ now firmly in place. “Monitor his breathing and if he stops –”

“If he stops, I won’t be doing a damned thing about it,” she says. Eddie audibly groans into the receiver and does a spin in his chair. Maddie is now watching him with wide eyes, hand hovering over the keyboard as if she’s ready to click the channel to her own headset at any point.

“You cannot withhold medical treatment if there is no advanced directive in place, that is illegal on so many levels, this is your husband –” Eddie chokes out the word, husband husband husband ringing in his ears with the image of Buck flashing across his vision, and now is so not the time to even begin delving into that. “You could absolutely kiss your 1 million dollars in savings goodbye if you –”

“Dispatch,” Bobby’s amused voice sounds from the other side of the line now. Eddie pauses, mouth open to continue his reprimanding. “The patient is now with the medics.”

“What about –” Eddie starts, but Bobby cuts him off.

“She’s now trying to pick up Firefighter Buckley,” Bobby says, and Eddie can tell he’s trying not to laugh. “It’s not going well.”

Eddie can picture Bobby taking just a step closer to Buck, because suddenly he can hear them a lot clearer, Buck’s voice ringing throughout Eddie’s headset and absolutely not causing his heart rate to rise a little bit.

“Ma’am, please take a step back and – and no, please keep your hands to yourself; your husband is alive and fine –”

“No thanks to me!” She yells, and Eddie’s had about enough of this woman.

“Yeah, no shit!” He says, loud enough that he hopes she can hear him.

A few seconds of silence, followed by Buck covering up a laugh with a cough while the woman starts screaming in the direction of the phone.

“Diaz,” Buck’s voice is light, and Eddie knows that his eyes would be sparkling with laughter if he could see him. “I think you need a little more training.”

“He does,” Maddie chimes in with a sigh. “Thank you, Firefighter Buckley and Captain Nash.”

“So his training is going well then, huh?” Buck laughs. Maddie rolls her eyes and clicks off the line, swiveling her chair around to face Eddie fully, her eyes glowering at him as her arms cross.

Eddie shrugs at her, not really feeling an ounce of regret. He suddenly realizes why everyone on the internet is so mean, because it really is so much easier to tell people how it really is through a telephone without having to see them directly.  He hates this job.

“Frank told me to work on expressing myself,” he supplies unhelpfully with another shrug.

Maddie groans. “Therapized Eddie maybe should stay at home and let stoic Eddie who has trouble with self-expression handle the calls,” she says, rubbing her temples. “You can’t yell at people on a call.”

Eddie shrugs again and swivels in his chair. He really wants to be near a punching bag right now.

His phone buzzes, and he flips it over to see another series of texts from Buck.

maybe keep the dramatics to a minimum on the calls man
u dont actually need to argue with everyone u meet
but it was good to hear u
miss
whoops sorry typo

Eddie frowns at the last text, and he tries desperately not to jump to conclusions, but he is pretty sure that Buck was about to type ‘miss you.’

“Okay,” Maddie pulls him away from his phone, nodding at the computer alerting him to another call. “Find your manners for this one, please.”


2.

A week and a half later, Eddie’s finally released from Maddie’s supervision after he proved able to keep his manners in check for at least three consecutive calls. Except now that he’s by himself, it’s almost even worse because now he really doesn’t have anyone to talk to other than the callers, and Maddie already reprimanded him for getting up to bother her between every single call.

He should be thankful it’s at least a slower day, because he’s heard stories of the others’ first days and he really doesn’t want a natural disaster to happen right now when he’s safe inside a building and Buck is –

Eddie groans and accepts the next call that comes through.

“9-1-1, what’s your emergency?”

“There’s a warehouse collapse around the corner of Madison Avenue, oh god, I’m inside . . .” The voice says and continues to rattle off the name and address. Eddie immediately dispatches a unit to the scene, and, really, he shouldn’t be surprised anymore that he always seems to dispatch the 118.

Eddie tries to keep the caller calm, but he gets more and more agitated as the minutes drag on, Eddie hearing from Bobby that the 118 is having some difficulties getting to the scene secondary to piled up traffic in the area.

“Sir, do you know how many people work in the building?” Eddie asks, because he can see the calls piling up on the big screen with the same address listed, and now he’s getting a little worried and wondering if they should request additional units.

“Way too many, man, this is like, Amazon levels of big,” the guy groans. “God, this bookshelf is heavy. . .”

Eddie perks up at that, frowning at the screen as he types the new information onto the form. “Okay, sir, I know this is a longshot, but do you have a chainsaw near you?”

“A – what?!” The guy asks, voice higher now. “I don’t have a chainsaw, do people just – have those?”

Eddie opens his mouth to say that of course people have them because Buck literally always has one, whether at work or at home or in the shed of Eddie’s house and it has come in handy a good amount of times, thank you very much, but he’s cut off by the sound of footsteps on the other end of the line, followed by a very familiar voice.

“Dispatch, 118 is on the scene,” Buck’s voice sounds through the phone. “This guy was right in the entryway; the others are making their way deeper into the building.”

“Copy,” Eddie says, then pauses when the guy groans.

“Do you have a chainsaw?” He asks Buck. Eddie groans into his hand. “He asked if I had a chainsaw.”

“Who did?” Buck says, and Eddie basically see his eyebrows rising.

“The 9-1-1 guy.”

“Now, listen,” Eddie says with a huff. “It just would have been helpful –”

“Why would he have a chainsaw, Eddie?” Buck huffs, grunting a little as he presumably shifts some of the rubble off of the man. “He’s stuck under a storage shelf.”

Eddie pauses, glancing at the television on the wall that displays news coverage. He raises an unimpressed eyebrow when he sees Taylor Kelly reporting outside of the very same building that Buck is currently standing in.

“Hey,” he says, “Your girlfriend is on the television.”

“Carrying him out now, Cap,” Buck says, presumably into his radio, before addressing Eddie again. “Eddie, you can’t – you’re at work.”

Eddie shrugs. “I’m bored. He’s fine now.”

“Are you not supervised today?” Buck asks after a few moments where he’s addressing the medics, the guy presumably fine if Buck was able to just walk out of the building with him. “And she’s not my girlfriend anymore.”

Eddie – splutters, because that is actually brand-new information to him. He looks at Taylor Kelly on the television again, and she looks just as put together as she always does, not a single ounce of sadness on her face as she continues to report on the damage behind her.

“Maddie set me free,” Eddie says, but right as he says it, Maddie looks over at him and crosses her arms. “But I think I’m in trouble.”

“Oh my god,” Buck laughs. “Get off of the line before you get fired.”

“You will tell me more about this breakup later, Buckley,” Eddie says. Buck squawks in protest before hanging up the line, likely to keep Eddie from just continuing to babble in his ear.

Eddie spins in his chair a few times, but he keeps glancing at Taylor Kelly with each revolution, because he so, so desperately wants to know more about the breakup. He thinks – hopes, really – that it hasn’t been long, because he thinks that Buck would have told him at least shortly after it happened, unless . . .

He sighs and drops his head onto his desk. He hates his job. He’s in love with Buck. Those are really the only two thoughts that run through his head all day long.

“That was better,” Maddie says over his shoulder, tapping him on the back of the head three times to get his attention. “Not great advice, but he wasn’t dying so it’s not a big deal.”

“It would have been good advice if he had a chainsaw,” he grumbles. He lifts his head up and looks at her. “Hey, did you know Buck and Taylor broke up?” He knows he has a one-track mind, but he really doesn’t care right now, not when he desperately needs more information about this potentially ground-breaking revelation in his life.

“Yes,” she says simply, looking at him with a glint in her eye that he can’t quite place. “But I am definitely not talking about that with you of all people.” She heads back to her own desk without another word to him.

And that – well, that whole interaction certainly threw Eddie for a loop, because Maddie definitely knows something that he doesn’t and why wouldn’t she want to talk about that with him? He knows that they shouldn’t be gossiping about people behind their backs, but Eddie knows he is a bit of a gossip, it really is just one of his core character traits. So he thinks that he deserves to be in the know about the breakup and he knows that Maddie knows that, so there must be a reason . . .

But he doesn’t want to get his hopes up, so he stops thinking about it.

Well, he stops thinking about it for all of four hours, right until his shift ends and he bolts to his car and makes his way to Buck’s apartment. He knows Buck got off of his own shift two hours ago and he’s most likely at home, especially since he is apparently no longer dating Taylor Kelly.

Eddie knocks on Buck’s door three times in quick succession, like he always does, a little signal for Buck to know that it’s him before he even has to look. A firm tap tap tap, in rhythm with Eddie’s rapidly beating heart.

Buck sighs as he opens the door. “I should have known you would come over.”

“What happened with Taylor?” Eddie demands as soon as he steps into the apartment, no need for further greeting. Buck looks at Eddie for a long moment, making no inclination to move further into the apartment. He’s standing between Eddie and the rest of the room, so Eddie has nowhere to go either than up against the closed door or back out into the hallway.

“I knew this would be killing you the rest of your shift,” Buck grins at him easily, but his eyes are soft and searching Eddie’s own as if he’s looking for something. “Nosy little bastard.”

“Are you okay?” Eddie asks, voice dropping to a softer tone now because – because he hated Taylor, he really did because she was terrible for Buck, but Buck did like her and he maybe even loved her, and he does still want to make sure that his friend is okay.

“Yeah,” Buck replies quietly. He clears his throat. “I broke up with her last night, so it’s – it’s fine, I think.”

“Oh.” Eddie swallows. “Um, okay, that’s good.”

He looks at Buck and wonders if he should just come out and tell him right now. Buck is single and Eddie is single and Eddie is in therapy, and he’s learning to express himself and to tell people what he’s feeling and what he wants, and what he wants right now is to tell Buck he loves him and for Buck to push him into the door and have his way with him.

Eddie blinks at his own thoughts because he’s not actually sure where that came from, but he’s pretty sure now isn’t the time for any of that.

“She just, uh, I just realized some things,” Buck shrugs. “I’ve known for a while now anyway, it just was – confirmed, and then she screamed at me when I said it wasn’t going to work after all, and then she left.”

“Some . . . things?” Eddie asks eloquently.

Buck smiles softly at him, but there’s just a hint of sadness to his eyes. His hand reaches out to grab Eddie’s wrist, like he’s seeking some comfort and warmth from Eddie, and Eddie gladly will give him whatever he wants right now if only for that little bit of sadness to vanish from his eyes. “Not today,” he says quietly. “It’s just – been a long 24 hours. Don’t think my heart can handle anything else tonight.”

Eddie deflates a little bit but nods, but Buck doesn’t let go of his wrist. Instead, it drops down to Eddie’s hand, his fingers threading with Eddie’s own before giving it a gentle squeeze.

“But,” Buck says quietly as he squeezes Eddie’s hand again, “It was about this.”

Eddie blinks down at their hands before looking back up at Buck, but he doesn’t know what else to say without just confessing his big, gay feelings right there.

Instead, he settles for a topic that he knows will get a rise out of Buck. “So, Maddie says that I shouldn’t ask callers if they have a chainsaw,” he says, and Buck snorts and groans and tugs Eddie to the couch, but his hand doesn’t leave Eddie’s for the next thirty-four-and-a-half minutes.


3.

“Dispatch to responders, be advised, the license plate in question is –” Eddie start to say, but then freezes because – because –

“One second, please,” he says into the microphone again before muting the call and switching back to the caller, because he forgot the license plate number. Like an idiot.

“Ma’am, can you repeat the license plate number for us?” Eddie says. He hears the woman on the other end of the line sigh before quickly listing off the letters.

“7DRP921,” she lists them quickly. “Blue Trailblazer. Currently on fire. I'm not in it currently, but it's kind of hard to miss.”

“Thanks,” Eddie says before clicking back to the dispatch line. “Dispatch to 727-L-30 and Engine, 118, vehicle is a Blue Chevy Trailblazer, plate number seven-Daniel-R . . . River . . .” He says it slowly, and damn, maybe he really should have practiced thinking of words that start with each letter because coming up with them on the spot is surprisingly difficult.

And of course this is a call with both Athena and the whole 118 involved.

“Those are only three figures, dispatch,” Bobby’s amused voice sounds through the headset.

“Uh, last four are Peter-nine-two. . . one?” He ends it like a question, because the woman really did list them way too fast, but he thinks that he got it. He has no idea why it is suddenly impossible for him to remember a 7-digit license plate number, especially since when he was actually a firefighter, he had no issues identifying the cars by the number, but there must be something with actually having to remember them and remember them in order while also trying to find words that go with the corresponding letters and, fuck, he really just wants to tear some shit up with a chainsaw.

“Make, model, and number are a match,” Athena’s voice sounds through the radio. Eddie lets out a sigh of relief, exhaling a breath he didn’t even realize he was holding. “Thank you, Dispatcher Diaz.”

“Yeah, Dispatcher Diaz,” Buck’s amused voice sounds through the radio now. “Real good work.”

Eddie’s heart flutters at the sound of his voice, slightly scratchy through the mediocre sound quality of the dispatch headsets but still enough to make it sound like he’s talking directly into Eddie’s ear. Which, he is, but it’s still not the same without Buck’s warm breath against his skin.

Eddie swallows, because it’s now been a full week since Buck and Taylor broke up, and they are right on the verge of – well, something, and Eddie isn’t sure what exactly, but he is pretty confident that Buck might also be in love with him. He’s held Eddie’s hand several more times since that first night in Buck’s apartment, and there may have been a slight, brief press of lips to Eddie’s cheek, and if Eddie’s been letting his arms linger around Buck’s waist when they hug for longer than usual, then that’s their business. But it all feels like something is brewing and just waiting to tip over the edge.

“Thank you, Firefighter Buckley,” he replies, biting his lip to try to hide the grin in his voice. “Nice to hear you.”

“Nice to hear you, too,” Buck says, and now Eddie can’t even hold back his grin anymore, because Buck sounds so much like Buck that Eddie thinks his heart might burst.

“Oh my god,” Chimney’s voice sounds through the headset now. “Please take the flirting off of dispatch so that all of the first responders in Los Angeles don’t have to be witness to this insanity.”

Buck laughs as Eddie chokes on air, a flush spreading across his cheeks. “Copy that, Firefighter Han,” he says through gritted teeth. Maddie is to his right, obviously having heard the call because she is trying to contain her laughter and utterly failing.

But, because Buck always has to be Buck, he has to get one last word in before Eddie disconnects from the line. “Dispatcher Diaz, please expect a private call in approximately 30 minutes.”

Oh my god,” Chim sound even more exasperated now, and Eddie grins at the mental image of him throwing his hands up and walking in the opposite direction, because he knows that is probably exactly what he’s doing right now. “That is not –”

Thank you, Dispatcher Diaz,” Bobby’s exasperated voice says through the phone. “That will be all for now.”

The line disconnects and Eddie buries his face in his hands.

“You and Evan need to figure this out,” Maddie says, closer now, her hand reaching over to gently pat his shoulder. “To put us all out of our misery.”

Eddie groans. “I don’t know if it would be better if we – if we were . . .” He trails off, because he is not mentally sound enough right now to even entertain the end of that sentence, the tendrils of want spinning webs around his heart and his brain and low in his gut at all times of the day. It’s becoming almost impossible not to just call Buck and tell him that he is so desperately in love with him that it actually hurts.

“Oh, the flirting will be worse,” Maddie supplies. “But at least you’ll be happy.”

Eddie makes a noise akin to a dying bird before banging his head on the desk.

He hates his job, and he’s starting to think that he actually might be truly bad at his job. But at least he still gets to hear Buck at work sometimes, even if it’s not in the same capacity.


4.

“Dispatch to Engine 118. Your victim is a male, mid-thirties, nonspecific location but, and I quote, ‘somewhere by the river,’ Eddie deadpans into the receiver. He is so insanely tired and bored that it isn’t even funny anymore.

He spins in his chair once, twice, three times before the room starts to spin a little bit and he has to stop.

“Uh,” Buck’s voice says, and Eddie perks up at the sound because he thought Buck was off today, so this is a welcome surprise. “There’s a lot of rivers, Eddie.”

“Thought you were off today?” Eddie replies as he tries to triangulate the position of the caller again, groaning when he receives an error message.

“Ravi called in. Stomach flu,” Bobby supplies.

Eddie hums. “Unable to pinpoint location. Caller did say that he was on the trails just south of the pier, though.”

“Copy,” Bobby says. “Keep trying for that location.”

Josh now has the caller on a different line, so Eddie can tell that he’s still alive and conscious because he can hear Josh still talking to him and trying to calm him down. He hums and types on the keyboard again to try for the location one more time, groaning when it continues to come back as an error.

“God,” he sighs, and while he doesn’t forget that his microphone is on, he does maybe forget that he’s live on a dispatch line and not just on a private call with his friends. “I am so bored.”

A series of surprised laughs and snorts follow from all the members of the 118, Buck’s loudest of all of them while Chimney is all but giggling with glee.

“Maybe best not to talk about how bored you are while at your place of work, Dispatcher Diaz,” Bobby says, voice amused, and god, Eddie really does miss all of them so much that it physically hurts sometimes.

He thinks about the conversation he had with Christopher the other night and how he admitted to Chris that he misses being a firefighter, and how Chris said that he just missed Eddie being happy, so there’s that. But he doesn’t know if he’s ready yet, and he knows that he and Chris have at least a few more therapy sessions before he can really be confident in making any other life-changing decisions.

Eddie spins in his chair again before standing up and perching on the seat of a chair, feet planted on the cushion, crouching on the chair in a squat like a bird hovering over their nest. Josh shoots him a concerned glance, but Eddie just shrugs at him, because the longer he stays in this job, the more he is literally going to lose his mind.

“Hey, Eddie,” Buck says after a few minutes of just listening to them drive into the trails, Bobby instructing everyone to look for any signs of their caller. “Why do 9-1-1 dispatchers never work outside?”

Chimney groans. “He’s in a bad dad-joke phase,” he says. Eddie laughs and rolls his eyes, because he is, unfortunately, aware of this. He and Christopher have spent many, many nights the past few weeks listening to Buck tell far too many bad and corny jokes at any given time. Much to Christopher’s chagrin, they are truly dad jokes, but the thought makes Eddie’s insides feel warm with the thought of Buck being a part of their family like, officially, which is a ridiculous thought to have when he and Buck haven’t even kissed.

Yet, his brain supplies immediately, and the fact that Eddie doesn’t immediately tamper down the thought is enough to make his insides spark with want.

“Oh, I’m aware,” Eddie replies with a sly grin. “Where do you think he gets it from?”

“I wish you would stop rubbing off on him, it’s like you’re both still here but there’s only actually one of you present,” Chimney sighs. “I don’t know if it’s better or worse this way.”

“Worse,” Bobby chimes in instantly. “Definitely worse.”

Eddie barks out a laugh, but his insides are warm just knowing that they do all seem to miss him. “Finish your joke, Buck.”

“Why do 9-1-1 dispatchers never work outside?” Buck asks again, and Eddie knows it’s because he likes to hear the joke told all the way through.

“I don’t know, Evan, why?” He sighs.

“Because it’s an inside job.”

Everyone in the engine groans, but Eddie just grins in his seat, still perched on the cushion like a damn hawk. “You’ve done better.”

“Listen, I’ve been holding onto that one for weeks,” Buck says. “I have to time them properly.”

“You really don’t, they’ll be just as bad if they’re not timed well,” Eddie replies. “And, hey, after your shift, if you want –”

Oh my god, stop flirting,” Maddie groans to Eddie’s left. Eddie looks over at her to see her rolling her eyes and inserting herself into the call. “Josh was able to get a more specific location from the caller. From your current location, he’s about 300 feet up the trail and then just off the right edge of the cliff by the elevation sign.”

“Thanks, Dispatch,” Bobby says, and then Eddie can hear rustling as the rest of them start prepping to get out of the truck.

“No, thank you Dispatcher Buckley,” Chimney says. “Eddie was no help.”

“Hey –!” Eddie starts to protest, because excuse him, he wasn’t the one on the line with the caller, thank you very much, and his location tracking only works if there’s good service in the area, so what else was he supposed to do?

“Dispatch, we’ve located the caller,” Bobby says, cutting Eddie off. “We’ve got it from here.”

“Copy,” Maddie says, disconnecting herself from the call and giving Eddie a look before walking back to her own desk.

“Be careful,” Eddie says quietly after a few seconds, because he knows Buck is still there; knows he wouldn’t leave the call without saying goodbye first.

“Always am,” Buck replies. He pauses for a moment, and Eddie can hear him swallow. “Hey, um. After our shifts, do you – do you want . . . ?”

And Eddie doesn’t know quite how Buck is going to finish that question, but he does know that tone of voice, and they’ve been teetering on the edge of this for ages now, so it only feels natural that he says yes.

“Yeah, yeah, of course,” Eddie replies instantly, voice a little breathy. He clears his throat. “Chris is with abuela tonight, so you can –”

“I’ll be there right after I get off,” Buck says quickly, his voice light like it is when he’s trying his best to suppress his grin. “Like, right after I get off.”

“Okay,” Eddie murmurs, his hands coming up to hide the smile on his own face, because he really doesn’t need the other dispatchers to know what a softie he is for this man, even if he is sure that they know already. “Okay.”

“I gotta go,” Buck says. “I lo. . .” He cuts himself off with the clearing of his own throat, but Eddie feels his heart lurch in his chest anyway. “I’ll see you later.”

Eddie clicks off the call and drops his head onto his knees, banging his forehead against them three times in a row. He feels like a stupid, dumb teenager with the way his heart is pounding in his chest, and he wants nothing more than to just keep spinning in the stupid desk chair until he tips over.

He knows what Buck was about to say, and he really doesn’t think he’ll be able to survive another single day without hearing Buck say it or getting to say it back.

“Clock out early,” Josh says suddenly. Eddie glances over at him with a raised eyebrow. “You are making me anxious with all your energy over there.”

“Sorry,” Eddie replies sheepishly. “Sitting all day is just . . .”

“I know. But go before you make me want to sit in my own chair like that.”

And, well, Eddie doesn’t have to be told twice. He gathers his things quickly before Josh can change his mind or before a natural disaster hits, and he’s home within forty minutes after only stopping to pick up some takeout from the nearest Italian restaurant. He stares at his empty table, wondering if he should set it nice but then not wanting to make assumptions about why Buck all but invited himself over. He finally settles for just setting the containers of food on the table and then pacing until he hears the telltale sign of keys jingling in the lock.

And, okay, Eddie had no plans for this, he really didn’t. He thought that they might just eat dinner and then watch a movie, and Buck would probably sleep on the couch or maybe go back to his own apartment after nursing a few beers with Eddie as the movie played in the background. They would talk about everything and nothing like they usually do, addressing every conversation except for the one they’ve been dancing around for a few weeks now.

So Eddie really didn’t plan this, he swears. But something snaps inside of him when he sees Buck closing the door to his house, dressed in a tight-fitting t-shirt and a pair of sweatpants that he must have changed into after his shift, and Eddie crosses the kitchen to him in a few large, quick steps, eyes focused on Buck as he sets his keys down on the little table by the door. His eyes linger on Buck’s hand as they drop the keys, long fingers leading to large hands, leading to nice and toned forearms and biceps and Eddie, Eddie wants so badly that he doesn’t think he’s ever wanted anything more.

“Hey, man, it smells great in here, did you get that ravioli that I like from Antonio’s?” Buck asks as he toes his shoes off. Eddie is barely listening, focused only on getting as close to Buck as possible right this second. Before he knows it, his hands are soft on Buck’s waist, shirt worn and scrunched under his grip. Buck looks at him with wide eyes as Eddie guides him slowly backwards, warmth simmering between them as his gaze meets a sea of blue, pupils blown wide with surprise and want and desire. Eddie slots in close, his legs tangling with Buck’s as he gently presses him against the door, tugs on his shirt, and drags Buck’s mouth to his in a deep and wanting kiss.

Buck makes a startled noise against his mouth but instantly kisses him back, his own arms wrapping around Eddie’s shoulders to attempt to drag him impossibly closer. Eddie fists the front of Buck’s shirt as the kiss morphs into something deeper, dirtier, the slight smell of sweat and smoke lingering on Buck and filling Eddie’s brain, intoxicating him with only thoughts of Buck and Buck’s smell and the feel of Buck’s hands running slowly down his back. His hands burn a trail in Eddie’s skin, leaving him warm and hot and wanting.

Eddie pulls back after what could be minutes or hours, their lips still touching with every breath. Bucks’ eyes are closed, his nose bumping against Eddie’s with every inhale, the sounds of their heavy breathing filling the silence of Eddie’s quiet, empty house. Eddie’s mouth feels like it’s on fire, his skin burning from where Buck’s touching him, every nerve-ending alight in a way that Eddie’s never felt before.

“Is this real?” Buck whispers and, god, his voice really is just so much better when not through a tinny headset.

“Yeah,” Eddie murmurs before capturing his mouth again, slotting himself even closer to Buck, hands slipping up under Buck’s shirt to feel the soft, rippling skin of Buck’s chest under his hands. He groans into Buck’s mouth as Buck deepens the kiss and lets his hands wander down to Eddie’s ass. His hands feel like fire even through the fabric of Eddie’s work pants. “It’s real.”

The dinner goes uneaten that night, hastily put into the refrigerator as they make a mad, stumbling dash for Eddie’s bedroom with wandering hands and mouths and gasps filling the house, and Eddie falls asleep that night to the feeling of Buck’s I love yous etched into his warm, kiss-bitten skin.


5.

Eddie is proud of himself, because his chair-spinning tolerance is now up to thirteen revolutions before he feels like he’s going to pass out.

“New record?” Maddie asks. Eddie nods, the room only spinning slightly as he does so, so he still considers it a victory.

It’s a slow day for dispatch, for whatever reason, but Eddie will not say that out loud, thank you very much. He’s not a superstitious man, but he does not want to have to answer one more phone call than he has to on this stupid shift. All he wants to do is go home and kiss Buck, because it’s Buck’s day off and Eddie hates his job.

Eddie’s computer alerts him to a call. He presses the button to send it to a different dispatcher with only a single sigh coming from Maddie’s direction.

“I have no idea how you haven’t been fired,” Maddie says. Eddie shrugs.

“Me neither, actually.”

A snort sounds from his right, and Eddie would recognize that sound anywhere. He swivels in his chair, coming face-to-face with a smiling Buck.

“Hey!” He says, resisting the urge to bound out of his chair and into Buck’s arms, because he is well on the other side of thirty, thank you very much.

“Hey, handsome,” Buck says once he’s in front of Eddie, bending down to give him a small kiss that’s just on the other side of not-quite-work-friendly before pulling up an empty chair next to Eddie and sitting down. His legs are too long to be contained to the chair, sprawled across the floor between them with his foot coming to rest against Eddie’s ankle. Eddie’s leg twitches with both restless energy and with the pent-up urge to just throw himself at Buck.

Buck is dressed in worn jeans and a simple button-up Henley, sleeves pushed up to his elbows, exposing his forearms in a way that Eddie is pretty sure should be illegal.

“What are you doing here?” He asks, keeping one eye on the computer so he can just transfer any calls that come through.

“Came to see my man in action,” Buck shrugs. Maddie groans from her desk.

“Do not encourage his bad work practices, Evan,” she sighs. “He really doesn’t need any more distractions; he finds enough as it is.”

Buck raises an eyebrow at him, and Eddie feels a little exposed right now. They’ve talked it to death, really, about Eddie leaving the 118 and joining dispatch, about how Eddie hates it, about how Christopher all but told Eddie to please, Dad, please go back to being a firefighter because we can’t take it. But it’s one thing for him and Buck to talk about it and another for Buck to see, in-person, how truly miserable he is at his job.

Eddie can see the question in Buck’s eyes, the silent you okay? He bites his lip and shrugs, and Buck’s eyes turn slightly down at the corners as he continues to study Eddie’s face.

Because, the thing is, Eddie is a controlled man. He likes to keep things orderly and calm. He has his systems in place for a reason and he follows them religiously until they break. By all intents and purposes, being a dispatcher should be Eddie’s ideal job. It’s all buttons and rules and step-by-step instructions, all of which should check every box in what Eddie thinks is a well-controlled life.

But, what most people don’t know about Eddie, what really only the people closest to him do realize, is that Eddie lives for adrenaline. He loves a little chaos in his life. When things go wrong, he likes to find the best mesh of chaos and order – hence the war and moving to L.A. after Shannon left; hence his relationship with Ana and his abrupt break-up with Ana. And being a firefighter isn’t all that different, because he does still get all the rules and regulations and the order of it all, but the adrenaline that comes with running into burning buildings and grappling down cliffs is not something he thinks he can ever replicate. It soothes the little aching monster that craves feeling inside of him.

Buck knows this. Frank definitely knows this because Eddie has talked it to death in their most recent sessions, as he’s weighed the pros and cons of returning to firefighting.

Buck’s hand comes to rest on Eddie’s thigh, squeezing it gently, his large hand burning against Eddie’s skin. He looks up at Buck again, blue eyes meeting brown and warming the prickling sense of restlessness that Eddie’s been feeling for weeks while at work. For the first time all shift, Eddie doesn’t feel like he needs to swivel in his chair or perch in it like a hawk.

“You should try sitting on an exercise ball,” Buck murmurs, voice low. It’s as if he can read Eddie’s mind. “Might help with the twitchiness.”

Eddie sighs. “Nothing can help with my boredom.”

Buck lets out a quiet laugh just as Eddie’s computer lights up. He’s just about to transfer the call when he sees Maddie’s sharp glare aimed in his direction, so he just sighs and answers it, hoping that Buck’s hand that’s still on his thigh won’t distract him too much.

“9-1-1, what’s your emergency?”

He can feel Buck watching him, eyes heavy and focused as Eddie types the caller’s information onto the screen.

And, just because he can and because he wants nothing more than to see Buck smile, he chooses his next words very carefully. “Okay, help is on the way. Now, this is very important. Do you have chainsaw nearby?”

Buck retracts his hand and buries his face in it, stifling his laughter against his palms as he rocks back in his chair.

Job complete, Eddie thinks. He finishes the call and wonders just how quickly Amazon can deliver an exercise ball.


+1

Eddie grumbles as he walks into work, for no real reason other than the fact that he has to sit at his desk all day. He spent hours last night listening to Buck go through his list of the times he’s clocked Eddie being a bad dispatcher, and he’s a little exhausted from how late they stayed up talking and then kissing and then, as predicted, all the talking stopped the second they started making out on the bed.

Buck is on a shift of his own today. He left Eddie’s house this morning with a long, slow kiss and a bagel sandwich wrapped in tinfoil before hopping into his Jeep and driving down the street.

So Eddie finds himself in a both a good and a bad mood today, the good only slightly outweighing the bad if only because he can still feel the bruising press of Buck’s mouth against his own.

He’s barely settled at his desk – now equipped with a large exercise ball rather than a desk chair, thank you very much – when the first call of the day flashes on the screen. Eddie sighs.

“9-1-1, what’s your emergency?”

Oh my god hi, yeah, um, I have a slight situation here because I somehow hotwired my car so that it could exceed the speed on the speedometer, right, but now any time I take my foot off the accelerator it like, starts to make the car rumble and smoke, but then it goes away as soon as I press back down on the accelerator, so like, I think I somehow made my car into a bomb?” The caller rambles quickly, not letting Eddie get a word in edge wise until he’s done.

“Where are you driving?” Eddie asks as he types. “Name? What’s your current speed?”

“Name’s Carl. I’m on the freeway near exit 23 heading north, going approximately 80 miles per hour just because that’s like, the flow of traffic, you know?” The guy sounds a little desperate now, and Eddie can hear the edges of hysteria creeping into his voice. Eddie quickly clicks to dispatch both fire and rescue and police to the location.

“Help is on the way,” Eddie says to him. “Stay calm and do not take your foot off the gas, okay? Let me just notify fire and rescue about the situation.”

Eddie quickly clicks to the dispatch line. “Dispatch to Engine 118. Police presence also requested. Malfunctioning hotwired car along the specified location; caller unable to take his foot off the break secondary to potential car explosion. Currently going approximately 80 miles per hour to, quote, ‘maintain the flow of traffic.’”

“Copy,” Bobby says instantly, voice low and serious. “Okay, here’s the plan.”

Eddie listens as they go through the plan. Eddie absolutely does not like the plan, because the plan involves Buck leaping into a speeding vehicle, trying to decrease the speed by slowly releasing pressure on the accelerator, applying the emergency break right as the car hits a relatively safe speed, and then getting out of a potentially exploding vehicle as quickly as possible, all without injuring either himself or the passenger.

Eddie clicks back to the line with the caller clearly still panicking. “Okay, sir, if you ease your foot on the accelerator but still keep it pressed, what does that do?”

“Uh,” the guy stammers, clearly doing what Eddie just said. “It seems to be fine. Slows down a little bit, no weird rumbling or smoking.”

“Great,” Eddie replies before clicking back to the dispatch line to let the crew know.

“Okay, Dispatch,” Bobby says. “We’re in position. Firefighter Buckley?”

“Ready,” Buck says, and Eddie can hear the slight grin in his voice. “Oh man, this is going to be awesome –”

“Your job is to get in, slow the speed, apply the break, and get out, Buck,” Bobby tells him, voice stern. “Dispatch will walk the caller through it. As soon as that speed drops to one that won’t kill you both, you apply the break and get the hell out of there. That’s it. Nothing else.”

Eddie feels like his heart is in his throat, because – because if something goes wrong while Buck is in the car or while Buck is jumping from a moving vehicle . . .

And that’s when it hits Eddie that Buck’s safety is dependent on him right now.

He’s been in these situations so many times before, but this feels – different, although not insignificant. It’s not quite the same as pulling Buck away from a falling ceiling or securing his line to a sudden onslaught of wind while Buck is on the ropes. In the past, Eddie’s relied on instincts and quick, physical reactions to allow him to keep Buck safe, always thinking that his only two settings for self-preservation are Keep Buck Safe and Get Yourself Home to Christopher.

But there’s something similar to the feeling he has now, because Buck’s life, while not in his direct hands as it may have been in the past, is now relying on his voice, and on his instructions, and Eddie has never felt more responsibility in this job than he does right this second. It might be selfish, maybe, but all he’s ever wanted to do is save and help people, and Buck just happens to be one of his top two favorite people, so of course it makes sense that Eddie still feels the overbearing weight of responsibility of keeping Buck safe.

“Be careful, Firefighter Buckley,” he says, voice stern. “Listen for my instructions.”

“Copy that, Dispatch,” Buck replies, his voice softer now, and Eddie can tell that the reality of the situation is finally appearing to him. “You’ve got my back.”

Eddie takes a deep breath before clicking back to the caller because, if there’s one thing he knows that he’s good at, it’s having Buck’s back and keeping him safe.  

Eddie relays the plan to the caller, who is all for literally any plan that will get him out of the speeding vehicle in one piece. He keeps waiting to hear Buck entering in the vehicle, his heart in his throat and his stomach churning with anxiety as the minutes keep ticking by.

“Buckley to Dispatch,” Buck’s rough voice sounds through the radio after the minutes keep dragging by. Eddie feels his heart clench even more knowing that Buck is now actually in danger. “Safely in the vehicle.”

Eddie schools his expression and takes a deep breath. “Glad to hear it.”

“Ready when you are,” Buck says, quieter now. “Seatbelt disengaged. Read for deceleration.”

“Copy.” Eddie swallows. “Okay, Carl, start slowly easing your foot off the gas, but do not full release the pressure. Just like we did before, yeah?”

“Yeah, yeah, yep,” the caller says, his voice slightly less panicked now. “Okay, speed is 70.”

“Good. Keep going,” Eddie replies. “Doors unlocked, Buck?”

“Unlocked and ready to be pushed the hell open,” Buck replies.

“Speed is 60,” Carl all but squeaks. “Oh my god, I am sweating.”

“You and me both, my guy,” Buck tells him. Eddie lets out a small laugh.

“Do not take your foot off the gas,” Eddie reminds him, because the fact that all it might take is an instant second of release for the car to go up in flames is enough to remind Eddie that his insides are currently cement. “Update?”

“50, dropping to 40,” Buck supplies this time, his voice a little strained and making Eddie want to reach out and just pull him to safety. “Jesus Christ, this is taking so long.”

“You’re telling me,” the driver says.

“30 miles per hour,” Buck says a few moments later. Eddie nods and alerts the 118 engine that they should expect ejection shortly.

“Carl, once that speed hits 25, you open the door, turn your back to the door, cross your arms over your chest and let Firefighter Buckley do the rest,” Eddie tells the driver. “Do you understand?”

“Yeah, yeah yeah yeah,” Carl replies, the anxiety creeping back into his voice. “Okay, okay, 25 –”

“Now, Buck!” Eddie all but yells, and now all that he can do is wait while he listens to what he hopes is the door opening, the emergency break clicking, and Buck and Carl tumbling out of the moving vehicle. Eddie’s ears ring in the silence that follows, straining to hear anything to let him know what is maybe going on. His heart is well past his throat now and in the fucking ceiling, because he just needs to hear him –

But instead of that, he hears the sound of a car exploding, loud enough to make his ears start ringing. Eddie jumps in his seat and mutes the call, not wanting to disconnect but not wanting to send his heart rate skyrocketing even more than it already has. He steadies his breathing and closes his eyes for a second, breathing in through his nose and out through his mouth, trying to drown the sound lingering in his ears, but he needs – he needs –

He clicks back to the dispatch line. “Dispatch to Engine 118,” he says low, voice rough. “Uh, status?”

Silence again, and Eddie seriously feels like he might either pass out or throw up if he doesn’t hear anything in the next 0.02 seconds.

“Buckley to Dispatch,” Buck’s voice is rough, and Eddie can still vaguely hear the sounds of a burning car behind him. “Caller is safely out of the vehicle.”

“Medics with him now,” Chimney replies. “No major injuries.”

“And –” Eddie starts and pauses.

“I’m good, Eddie,” Buck says softly. “Just some scrapes and bruises.”

Eddie lets out a breath, the air filling and expanding in his lungs. He didn’t realize that he stood up in the process of the call because, when he looks around, his exercise ball has somehow rolled over toward Josh’s desk, who is now looking at him with a smile and a thumb’s up.

“Good,” Eddie tells Buck, once he feels like his voice is able to work again. “Good, that’s – Good. I’m glad.”

Buck’s voice has an amused edge to it. “Good work, Dispatcher Diaz,” he says. “Might be your best work yet.”

“Oh my god,” Eddie groans, rubbing his face with his hand.

“No, he’s right,” Josh tells him from his desk. “Excellent work, Eddie.”

“Who knew that all he needed was Buck to be in a life-or-death situation for him to be good at his job?” Chimney asks, and Eddie can hear the firm swat of what he assumes is Hen smacking him in the chest.

“I could have predicted that one,” Hen says, and Eddie squawks in protest.

“There’s hope for you yet,” Josh tells him.

And it’s there, right now, after an extremely successful call where he saved both the caller and Buck, that he knows what he needs to do.

And he’s talked it to death with Christopher, and with Buck, and even with Bobby a little bit, because he needed to make sure before he made any rash or impulsive decisions.

But right this second, Eddie isn’t thinking about not making any rash decisions, because he never wants to sit on the fucking exercise ball again.

“There’s no hope for me, actually,” he says, making sure his receiver is still on so that the 118 can hear him, too. “Because I’m quitting. Like, right now. I never want to set foot in here again.”

Josh squawks but then laughs, and Eddie hears the tail end of Buck cackling through the radio before he takes his headset off, gathers his things, pops the fucking exercise ball with a pair of scissors, and walks out the door and to his truck.

He feels lighter than he has in months, not only because he just quit the most miserable job of his life, but because he is . . . he’s different than he was when he started. He talks to his son now, about everything, about his feelings and Christopher’s feelings and things that are bothering them. He has Buck, like he always did, but in an even greater capacity now. He doesn’t know where the road will take him in the future, but he does know where the road will take him next.

He drives on autopilot to the station, where the crew has only just returned and are all exchanging bills of money into Buck’s open, greedy hands.

“Did you all fucking bet on when I would quit?!” Eddie asks, his voice exasperated as he sidles up to Buck’s side, leaning into him and feeling his warmth all along the length of his body.

“Yes,” Buck replies instantly, pressing a kiss to his mouth, his empty hand brushing through Eddie’s hair. “And I won.”

“Rigged!” Chimney says from the loft. “This was planned.”

“This was not planned,” Eddie huffs, wrapping his arms around Buck and leaning into his chest as Buck stuffs the money in his pocket. “You okay, Ev?” He asks him, giving Buck a once over as Buck nods. He does seem fine, just a couple scrapes and bruises that are visible on his arms and face, but Eddie knows that he’s going to want to give him a more thorough medical exam just to make sure.

“Never better,” Buck replies, kissing him again just as Bobby rounds the corner and motions for Eddie to join him in his office.

“Welcome back, Firefighter Diaz,” Bobby says as Eddie pulls away from Buck, and he can feel Buck’s eyes lingering on him as he follows Bobby into the office. “Let’s discuss logistics, and I have some paperwork that both you and Buck need to sign.”