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Hiding the Christmas Present (of You and Me)

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In hindsight, maybe Buck didn’t have to work on Christmas.

But in his defense, he’d gotten very used to spending most holidays alone.

He could remember a time when he hadn’t. That’d been when Maddie would come into his room and wake him up with a promise of Christmas magic and rub his back until he could be convinced to uncurl himself from the warm cocoon of his bed. He’d never been one of those kids that woke up at the crack of dawn ready to catch Santa in the act. He waited for Maddie instead. 

He and Maddie would sit in the small window seat she had in her room the night of Christmas Eve and would press their faces against the glass trying to catch a glimpse of a reindeer and sleigh with every twinkle of a star in the sky.

“There he is! Quick, Evan, make a wish just in case he forgot!”

Eventually, Maddie would trick Buck into thinking that the navigation light on a plane was Rudolf and would convince him to go to bed because Santa was coming. By then it would be hours past his bed time and the cold Pennsylvania wind would make the hardwood floors of their house freezing enough to numb their feet.

Maddie always did try to keep the spirit of Christmas alive when she was home. When she left, she took the spirit with her. One time, when Buck had been thirteen, he’d slept until noon because it was the first Christmas Maddie hadn't come home and spent it with Doug’s family. By the time he’d gone downstairs, his parents had opened their gifts and had engrossed themselves in their newspapers and coffee cake without saying a single word to him.

So, yeah, Buck had gotten used to spending all of the calendar holidays on his own.

This year had been different though because this year had been intentional.

Buck had taken it upon himself to make himself busy during the holidays. So, he’d jumped at the chance when the second shift lieutenant had cornered him in the locker room to ask if he could cover for Robinson who needed to fly to upstate New York after his aunt had slipped on slick ice and broken her hip. Buck knew the lieutenant had sought him out because Buck had a reputation of being ‘eagerly agreeable’ when it came to picking up extra shifts. Maddie thought it was because he was a pushover.

“Not a pushover, Buck,” she’d said. “You’re just not your best advocate when it comes to people taking advantage of your willingness to help. You’ve never liked telling people no.”

And she wasn’t wrong but she was wrong about this.

Besides, the hard work would keep him busy while he stayed out of the way. It was either that or lock himself in his loft.

He didn’t think anyone would mind.

He’d been wrong.

His whole team seemed to mind.

It started when Bobby had brought him into his office.

Bobby never used his office. Like never. He preferred to do his paperwork up in the loft where he could have a thumb on the pulse of the shift at all times and was in earshot of his team. So, when Bobby called for Buck and then disappeared into his office, Buck couldn’t help but feel his stomach bottom out in a nauseating swoop at the sight of his back because there wasn’t a lot Bobby thought required a ‘closed door discussion’. Buck followed after him with a confused glance at the team and a nervous rub of his clammy hands on his thighs.

But the impossibly tight clench of his gut that you get when the world suddenly dropped from beneath you turned to confusion when Bobby pulled out the latest schedule and was asking if Buck was sure that he was okay covering for second shift. Which was nice but unnecessary.

“Buck, you worked on Christmas the last three years,” Bobby had said. “You pulled a twenty-four hour shift last year, a twelve hour the year before that, and the eight hour shift before that. It’s definitely your turn to have off if you want it.”

Buck had been touched because Bobby had essentially said he would step in and find someone else if Buck wanted. But the whole thing wasn’t as big of a deal as the frown on Bobby’s face said it was.

And, okay, maybe a tiny part of him wanted to take him up on it. A tiny part of him wanted to come out from the invisibility he was cloaking himself in. But he didn’t dare breathe a word of that tiny part of himself that shaped into a bud of hope.

That wasn't up to him.

He could do this.

He didn’t have to acknowledge the small bruise of hurt that came with it.

Again, it was either work or stay all day in his loft by himself so really, it was a no brainer. Besides, he wasn’t about to make one of his team, who had people they could actually spend Christmas with, take his place.

“It’s fine, Cap. Happy to help.”

Bobby watched Buck for another long, deliberate moment before he grabbed a pen and flipped through the pages of the schedule.

“Okay,” he said. “Then, what holiday do you want?”

Buck frowned.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, if you’re going to give up Christmas then I’ll make sure to make up for it by giving you first choice for the rest of the year.”

And that sounded… Buck didn’t know. To anyone else, that would be a sweet deal because holidays were a rare commodity for a first responder. The higher ups tried to distribute the time as fairly as they could. People with families were usually given one of the major holidays and everyone else would shift through birthdays, anniversaries, and celebrations amongst themselves.

Buck didn’t really have any of those so it felt wrong to take one first.

Buck shifted his weight from his toes to his heels and shrugged.

“Um… It’s not really a big deal. I don’t mind.”

But Bobby just stared at him and Buck really didn’t want to be a part of this conversation anymore so he settled.

“Okay then April Fools' Day.”

Bobby blinked.

“If I schedule you off, are you going to come in anyways thinking it was an April Fools' joke?”

“… No.”

Bobby threw his hands to his side and choked out that tight laugh he did whenever he thought Buck was being ridiculous.

“Buck---”

And Buck really didn’t want to be talking about time off anymore because it was starting to make that tight feeling across his skin come back. The tight feeling that had started in his chest and spread all over when he’d woken up to seeing his leg covered in plaster and unable to feel anything but a throbbing pain dulled by hospital meds. If anyone asked, Buck would spend six out of the seven days of the week at his job. He loved his job. His job was the one thing that made him feel like a person.

Well…

It used to be.

Now there…

No, they hadn’t talked about it. It was fine. Buck was fine. 

But his job was the one thing in his life that made him feel seen and he was happy to do it.

“Look, Bobby, I really don’t mind. That first year, I took the twelve-hour shift because Maddie was finally around and I thought she’d want to spend it together but then she didn’t because of all the stuff with Doug so I just stopped by at your engagement party instead. The year after that we were all on so it’s not like it was that big of a deal.”

“But you can’t tell me you don’t want a single holiday off?”

Buck shrugged. “The only holidays that matter, I spend with you guys so it really doesn’t bother me.”

The rest of the team didn’t seem to get it. Hen had been like Bobby and asked if he was sure at least half a dozen times, Chim had offered to split the shift, and Eddie kept shooting pinched, knowing expressions in Buck’s direction whenever it got brought up.

But Buck didn’t mind.

Really, he didn’t.


So, that’s how Buck found himself working a twenty-four hour shift from 4pm on Christmas Eve to 4pm Christmas Day. It wasn’t as bad as it sounded. The majority of their shift was spent putting out Christmas Eve dinners that had shifted from medium well to done as in charcoal in a blink of an eye, untangling people from weird Christmas kinky mistakes, and a few accidents at the ice-skating rinks around downtown Los Angeles. Buck had lost count of how many calls they’d gone on because someone had fallen while perfecting their Christmas decorations and there’d even been one interesting call where some guy had decided to steal a massive cow statue--- “It’s a reindeer! It’s Dasher!” The owner had cried--- from a yard where the homeowners put on a light display in sync with the local Christmas radio station so hundreds of people in their cars watched the crime happen before the would be kidnapper tripped over Dasher’s legs and somehow got himself trapped in a sewer grate that caused traffic to shut down for over an hour.

Just another day.

It would’ve been better if he’d been doing it with his team but that meant they wouldn’t be able to spend Christmas with their loved ones so he sucked it up. Operation Surprise Christmas ‘I Wanted Turkey’ Dinner had gone off without a hitch the year before but that had a lot to do with Athena helping Buck do it. With Bobby home this year, he doubted Athena would want to spend her time trying to do the same for a different shift.

After spending so many years used to the solitude of holidays, Buck had almost been overwhelmed with empathetic energy when they firehouse had opened their doors to the public that first Halloween he'd worked at the 118. Everyone had been riding on a completely different level of adrenaline that night. Buck could have tasted it on his tongue.

And they shared that rush together.

Christmas had been the same.

Jumping from the loneliness of another year where Maddie didn’t answer his calls or respond to his Christmas cards to finding a group of people to share in the holiday spirit had almost made Buck dizzy with excitement. It brought a life to the day he hadn’t felt in a long time.

But being without them--- and it wasn’t the crew because they were great; it was just different--- wrapped that loneliness back like a worn blanket over his shoulders.

An irrational sting of rejection too.

He ignored that in favor of laughing along to some story Fraser was telling about his cousin in Chicago because laughing was easier than sitting in the puddle of his own self-pity. It gave him a distraction from all the things he was missing. Hen’s giggle that she always seemed full of whenever they stumbled across something particularly festive. Chim’s nervous thrusting off his phone in Buck’s face while he tried to find Maddie the perfect gift. Bobby grinning with pride as the house was done up with lights and trees that made the trucks glisten at night. Eddie’s relief that for once he could have a Christmas with Christopher that wasn’t big and wasn’t a disappointment and was just right for the two of them.

Buck had gotten used to the heavy feeling of being in a space that was too big to be in by himself. He used to go out on the lawn with a beer and stare up at the sky as he'd call Maddie and swallow the tightness in his throat when she wouldn’t answer before he would leave a message in the void of what he suspected was an unopened voicemail.

He could still remember the first Christmas he had with the 118. They’d worked an eight-hour shift and other than Hen, none of them had been too anxious to head home so Chim had invited Bobby and Buck over for some beer and take out. Buck had left buzzing and for the first time in a long time, he’d gone to bed with a smile on his face that dulled the ache in his chest when Maddie didn’t answer the phone again.

But that was then and even though Buck was still alone for the holidays, he wasn’t lonely and working on Christmas Eve was awesome.

The 118 had gotten into the tradition of decking out the ladder truck and engine in Christmas lights two captains before Bobby transferred in and it was a tradition that was highly anticipated by everyone. Santa--- O’Malley dressed as Santa rather--- would sit on top of the truck and wave at all the kids in the neighborhoods that they drove through. Ever since Bobby strapped Buck and Eddie on top of the moving fire truck racing down the runaway under a plane, they had a few of Santa’s helpers roped on top as well. HR really couldn’t get too mad when the drive was a great success for community outreach so they kept doing it. OSHA went crazy with the safety regulations and the truck couldn’t go over the single digits on the speed limit but whatever. Everyone loved it.

Which is how Buck was harnessed to the cable on top of the truck with a few other guys from the crew.

Families would gather on the lawns in their matching pajamas and scream and cheer when the truck turned the corner onto their streets. Kids would run to the edge of their yards and wave so hard at Santa that their little bodies would threaten to topple over in their excitement. The enthusiasm was contagious but Buck’s face was starting to hurt from his cheery grinning.

He was also starting to get sore and a little cold because the sun was setting and even if the truck was only going five miles per hour, that didn’t keep the chill from whistling by. He was going to ache deep in his joints that night from balancing his weight with the truck and he was ready for a hot shower. But when they turned onto the last street, Buck couldn’t help but perk up a little.

He could see Hen and Karen from his perch on the truck and Denny was unmistakable as the bouncing head of curls screamed in excitement with the rest of the kids on the street. They were on his side so Buck held onto his cable and turned so he could wave. But as he got closer, something caught his eye.

Well, a couple of things. Hen was very clearly holding up her phone with one hand and laughing with her family while Karen held Nia on her hip. But between them was a massive marker and glitter decorated sign. Buck lifted a hand to see and nearly fell over when he read the words in big bold green and red marker:

MERRY CHRISTMAS BUCK!

The sign had Christmas trees and presents drawn around the edges and Buck’s name was being shouted from their lips as they pulled closer.

“Buck!” Denny yelled when the truck finally got close enough and he waved up at Buck as if he was trying to be seen in a crowd.

Hen cackled out that ridiculous giggle of hers and Karen let go of the sign to help Nia wave up at him.

Warmth settled somewhere deep in Buck’s chest and he smiled back at them. Maybe it didn’t mean much but it meant a lot to him because they didn’t have to single him out like that but they did. The rest of the crew were Hen’s coworkers too but Buck was the one with the sign.

“Looking good, Buckaroo!” Hen called as she lifted her camera and Buck was very quickly reminded that he had long plush reindeer antlers attached to his helmet.


Embarrassment aside, hearing Hen laugh and seeing the sign was enough to pull Buck out of his holiday funk for the rest of the ride across town. He carried it with him all the way back to the station where he’d been untethered from his harness and allowed to hurry off to shower before making it back in time to eat the delicious dinner the lieutenant’s wife made for the house.

The meatloaf had nothing on Bobby’s cooking but it was a warm meal that they were able to finish without the bell interrupting them so Buck wasn’t about to complain. The conversation amongst the team was light and easy but it still didn’t take long for Buck notice the slight gaps in the connection. How there were inside jokes he wasn’t in on. How everyone had someone to talk to and Buck was left to bounce from conversation to conversation. He got it though. He was a puzzle piece in the wrong box.

Maddie calling to facetime came at the perfect moment when Buck had started to feel himself slip into the autopilot he’d been operating on all day. He ducked downstairs and stepped out into the chill night air just as his sister’s face appeared. She’d gotten a haircut since the last time he’d seen her. Her long chocolate curls were chopped into a sassy bob that skated along the tops of her shoulders but give it a week and the long hair would be back. The Buckley genetics department meant that their hair grew fast and where Maddie’s curls were beautiful and elegant, Buck’s were always wiry and full.

“Merry Christmas Eve, Evan,” Maddie said with a grin on her face that made her nose wrinkle and her eyes sparkle.

Buck didn’t think the whole glowing pregnancy had been a real thing but Maddie was proven him wrong. It was hard to believe that this was the same sister that had approached her favorite holiday the last couple years like a skittish cat suspicious of any gentle hand that wanted to pet her. Maddie was like a whole other person and despite her protests, she wore pregnancy as beautifully as the prettiest dress in her closet.

“Merry Christmas Eve,” he said back with a smile. “What are you guys up to?”

Buck let himself bask in the sound of his sister’s voice as she talked about the buffet that Mrs. Lee put out and got teary eyed when she explained how Mr. Lee had said some of the kindest things to Chimney about being a father. Buck was glad because he knew Chim had been withdrawn and bitter for a few days after he’d told his own dad in Seoul about the baby. No one had the heart to ask but they knew it hadn’t gone well.

Hearing Maddie’s bell of a laugh through the phone soothed the ache in Buck’s chest a little but it still made him miss her a little more too. Almost as much as he had missed her those nights he’d sat by himself in their parents’ house and looked up at the stars in search of snow.

He was happy for Chim and Maddie. The Lees sounded like amazing people who had opened their arms to Maddie and Albert solely because they were important to Chimney. Buck couldn’t really imagine his own parents doing the same.

Maddie was in the middle of telling Buck about how Mr. Lee and Albert had bonded extremely fast over their mutual love over golf and someone named Inbee Park when Chimney stumbled into view of the camera.

“Merry Christmas, Buckaroo!” Chim crowed, clearly in one of the best moods Buck had ever seen him in. “Or should I say Dasher? Maybe Vixen?”

“No,” Maddie added. “Buck’s definitely Comet.”

Buck felt the heat of a blush pool into his cheeks and rolled his eyes.

“Hen sent you the pictures.”

“And videos!”

Somewhere someone was playing Christmas music a little too loudly because Buck could hear the echo being carried by the wind. The sound was like a ghost of his earlier melancholy and Buck felt his smile flinch a little at the reminder that while he was laughing and chatting with his sister, he was still stuck on the outside of it all. Like he was the moon and everyone else was down on another planet; leaving Buck to drift in a separate orbit.

Even in the dark, Chimney and Maddie caught it and their joy dimmed. Buck could’ve cursed himself for being the cause of it.

“Buck, that offer still stands if you want to join us for dinner tomorrow after your shift,” Chim said.

And as much as Buck was tempted to take the offer, he knew that in the end he would just bring the mood down. Maddie and Chim didn’t deserve that. This would be their last year to celebrate before the baby arrived. They deserved to have a fun time without worrying about Buck. There was only one person who could cure his perpetual bad mood that left him moping when he had no reason to be and sadly, neither Chimney nor Maddie were them.

“Are you sure, Buck?” Maddie asked, taking the phone back and stepping aside so they could talk in private.

He almost caved there because even if he was determined to carry around his bruised heart, hearing his sister’s voice and being surrounded by nothing but Christmas reminded him so much of when he was a little kid and Maddie would tickle him awake announcing that Santa had arrived. He missed his sister for so long that it was hard to shake off those nostalgic longings even now that she was back. Because when Maddie came back, she was different. She’d dropped the magic of Christmas somewhere along the way and it wasn’t until they were screaming at each other in her first apartment after Chim’s failed attempt at gifting her a Christmas tree that Buck had realized that.

So, he still missed that Maddie sometimes.

But he loved the new version too and Maddie deserved an uncomplicated Christmas.

Buck forced himself to keep drifting at his own orbit and lifted a smile onto his face.

“I’m sure,” Buck said. “I get off tomorrow at four anyways so I’m just going to crash. Thanks though.”

It was as close to an ‘end of discussion’ that Buck was ever going to say and Maddie frowned, unconvinced.

“It’s fine, Maddie.”

“Buck---”

“I would’ve spent the holidays by myself anyway. You had Chim’s parents and well… you know.”

Maddie was the only one who knew and he’d sworn her to secrecy the moment she found out. But he didn’t want to take the risk of anyone else overhearing. That would’ve been a disaster.

“Did he say something?” Maddie asked.

Buck shook his head. “He didn’t have to.”

Because that was how it went.

They were still a secret. It was stupid to think that was going to change because of one day of the year. They weren’t there yet. It was fine. It wasn’t his fault that Buck had no one else. And they certainly weren’t at ‘meet my whole family and celebrate the holidays with them’ stage yet.

Come to think of it… Buck had never been to that stage in any of his relationships.

But he was pretty sure he could get there with this one.

Just not this year.

“But if he hasn’t said anything then how do you know?”

Because I do. I don’t get to decide. I just have to be patient and wait. I’m a lot for one person to present to their family on Christmas and expect everything to run smoothly.  

He didn’t say any of that. Because then Maddie would try to make him feel better and Buck didn’t want to feel better. He wanted to get through the next 48 hours and go back to normal where he didn’t feel so alone for no rational reason.

“I got to get back inside, Mads,” Buck said instead.

Maddie’s mouth pressed into a thin line and Buck could see the internal debate on her face but then she sighed.

“Are you outside?” She asked and when Buck nodded, she smiled. “Make sure to look up for Santa.”

“Make sure to look up for Santa, Evan,” Maddie would say when her hands would hold him up so he could press his face against the window without falling over. “He’s going to be way up there. Do you see him?”

“Love you, Maddie.”

Maddie’s head tilted and she winked at him.

“I love you too, Buck.”

Buck sighed and ended the call. Maddie meant well and she helped but Christmas time with Now Maddie left Buck missing Before Maddie that much more. The Maddie that Buck believed could do anything and who could twist the magic of Christmas in her delicate fingers like a strand of tinsel was gone.

Buck looked up at the sky and made his wish just in case Santa forgot anyway.

He should’ve known not to set himself up for disappointment but for a moment he wanted to wish. So, he did and then turned to head back inside where he made his excuses and went to bed.  


They only had one call in the middle of the night and that was to a small kitchen fire where someone had been trying to slow cook the biggest ham Buck had ever seen and then promptly forgotten about it as they went to sleep. Nothing too crazy and soon they were back at the house and left to sleep undisturbed until Christmas morning.

If he’d been a little distant and a little withdrawn and a little down on Christmas Eve, Buck was in a whole other ballpark when it came to Christmas Day. Because Christmas Day brought the surprise of families showing up at the station and preparing them breakfast to wake up to. Eggs and bacon and coffee and pure, syrupy sugar wafted through the entire loft. Laughter and squeals and booming cheers clang on ever metal surface and bounced into the rafters as kids and wives and boyfriends embraced one another.

He blamed it on getting caught up in the excitement of it all. For a moment, Buck was present and swimming in the depths of all the Christmas cheer and grinning. He slipped from the protective detachment he’d been clinging to and enjoyed the moment. The elation of the others at finding their families all around was sweet in the air on his tongue and infectious. Who wouldn’t be riding that blissful excitement? Because there was so much joy being shared by everyone it was easy to get swept up with it.

But as he looked around--- for who, he didn’t know... he did but he didn't admit it--- and didn’t see anyone for him, Buck felt himself plummet back down like a feather to the cold hard ground of reality.

Buck checked his phone.

Nothing.

Right.

Suddenly, stuck in the middle of crowd he didn’t belong in and being in the way, Buck weaved through the families and embracing couples to the coffee pot, snagging a cookie on he went. Christmas Eve was hard but that was like being slammed into a brick wall. All kinds of ugly feelings started to creep into Buck like out-of-control ivy in his veins and constricting around his heart. He swallowed back the lump in his throat that accompanied the burn at the back of his eyes. It wasn't surprising and it was expected but still.

Feelings like hurt and rejection that made no sense because Buck understood why it needed to be this way, choked him. He was used to the struggle each year his Christmas card went unanswered by Maddie. The feelings were always hot and lumpy in his chest and would arrive without fail every year. He’d gotten used to acknowledging and then dismissing those feelings as quickly as he could.

But this was ten times worse.

This hurt in a way he’d expected and yet it was still managed to knock the wind out of him.

But that was the thing with being someone’s dirty little secret. You didn’t get to do things like Christmas morning.

Not that he’d ever said that to Buck. And calling himself a dirty little secret wasn’t fair.

But Buck was feeling lonely and maybe a little hurt and it was his own fault getting upset over something he never should’ve expected to begin with.

It wasn’t even like it’d been a conversation. The relationship was only three weeks old. But he went from being single and being alone to being not so single and still being alone. The finality of an expectation and missing the stop for consideration was pretty humbling and Buck didn’t have any room to be upset.

But he was.

He was and he was miserable and he hated himself for it because he knew it was all on him. Suddenly, the Christmas music was too grating against his ears and the sugar in the air was too sweet and coated his throat and the cheering was turning to screaming and the colors of the trees and the gifts were too bright and it was too much. Too much going on and passing by him in a blur.

Buck took his pity cookie and the largest cup of coffee he could find and made his escape from the festivities that were quickly souring into something smothering and hard so that he didn’t ruin the mood with the very real possibility that he might cry.

He didn’t know why he was like this. The rational part of his brain was warring with the very deep cracked hole of his insecurities and it was leaving him raw and thin. He knew the reasons. He’d told himself them like a mantra leading up to the day. He understood. He wasn’t surprised. He’d expected this.

But that didn’t change the fact that he was alone on Christmas when he had a---

“Buck?”

Buck whirled around at the call of his name and felt the cookie in his hand crumble to the floor when his fingers pressed too hard against it. Bobby and Athena were hurrying into the station with a little bit of flustered frustration on their faces that they quickly wiped away with matching smiles.

“We’re sorry we’re late. Traffic this morning was awful,” Athena said as she pulled Buck into a fast hug. “Merry Christmas, Buckaroo.”

“What---” Was all Buck could get out before Bobby was replacing Athena with a hug of his own.

“Merry Christmas, kid.”

Buck was still reeling from Bobby and Athena’s appearance that he didn’t even realize they were carrying presents until they were suddenly in his arms.

“W-What … Uh… What are you guys doing here?”

Athena gave him a look she only served when Buck was being particularly stupid. Bobby dropped a hand on Buck’s shoulder and gave him a little shake.

“You didn’t think we’d let you celebrate Christmas alone, did you? It’s family breakfast!”

“We knew Maddie would be with Chim’s folks so we thought we'd step in,” Athena added.

Bobby and Athena… came for family breakfast… with him?

Buck stopped, still trying to wrap his head around the fact that Bobby and Athena were there, when he’d so desperately needed to not feel so alone. His own parents didn’t even call him when he’d got promoted from probationary firefighter but Bobby and Athena took time out of their own day to come visit him? On their day off? On Christmas? 

For Buck?

Buck blinked at them, lost in trying to process that stunning realization.

“I don’t… What about May a-a-and Harry?”

Athena waved off his concern with a flick of her hand.

“We did their gifts last night. They’re celebrating this morning with Michael and his mother.”

Bobby’s hand on Buck’s shoulder was warm and perfect and the spinning that Buck didn’t realize had accompanied his downward spiral slowed down to a manageable pace where Buck could take a deep breath. That ugly voice in his head--- the one that had been telling him he was a secret; that he wasn’t a priority--- tried to scream over the hum of contentment that Bobby was just there to set an example. He was the captain of the 118 and worked with the crew upstairs as well as several other firefighters at the station. But that didn’t change the fact that Bobby and Athena, knowing Buck would’ve been alone, to celebrate at least Christmas morning with him.

He looked at Bobby and then Athena.

“You…” He tried to swallow past a different kind of lump in his throat. “You guys didn’t have to do that.”

Bobby smiled knowingly at him and pulled him to his side. Athena lifted a hand to cup his face and brushed her thumb on the apple of his cheek.

“Of course, we did,” she said. “That’s what family’s for.”


The surprise of Bobby and Athena’s visit had been enough to fuel Buck through the rest of his chaotic Christmas shift that ran over because a gas leak had forced an entire apartment building to evacuate onto the sidewalk and given Buck three hours of OT. By the time he was heading home, listening to the last remaining Christmas songs on the radio before the station switched back to eighties rock, Buck was feeling more settled than he’d been in weeks.

And maybe Maddie was right.

Buck was never his own champion when it came to how he felt. But when you’ve been told your whole life that you’re a bit much, life became a lot easier when you just accepted with what you were given.

To be perfectly honest, this Christmas had maybe been one of the worst Christmases Buck had ever had. But his team had showed up for him. They knew he would need them and they showed up and nudged him from his protective shell he’d disappeared into the moment he’d realized the reality of what his Christmas would look like that year.

His own parents hadn’t even done that.

And maybe that was the root of his problem. Maddie (after she moved out), his parents, had all had their own priorities when it came to Christmas and Buck was never on those lists. At some point along the way, Buck didn’t even have himself on his own list anymore. Once upon a time, Buck had loved Christmas. He’d loved the magic Maddie brought. He’d loved the snow. He’d loved the warm feeling you carried around like a blanket. But then, Buck had started to let others dictate what enjoyment he could get out of the holidays. He’d spent so much time feeling like he’d been left behind that he’d worked himself up to the point of tears and tears just simply do not belong on Christmas. The anxiety of feeling like his feet were cemented to the ground had caused a kneejerk reaction that had sent him spiraling. He’d been carrying a chip on his shoulder that made him see things in a situation that had nothing to do with him. And yes, Buck was self-aware enough to know that his feelings at the time were valid, but he also knew that he probably could’ve cranked them down a notch.

Eddie had a son and a family to spend time with on Christmas. He and Buck had only been dating for less than a month (even though it felt like a lifetime). Just because they’d agreed to keep it quiet for a while didn’t mean Eddie was ashamed or something. It was unfair of Buck to put that on Eddie when Eddie had done nothing to warrant that kind of panic.

But he also needed to take Maddie’s advice. He needed to be his own advocate.

Armed with the confidence and the good mood lifted by the surprises his family had gifted him, Buck finally arrived home with enough take-out food to put him in a food coma where he would sleep off his shift. Then, he would call Eddie and talk to him. Tell his boyfriend how he felt and be honest about what he needed.

You know? Like the adult thing to do.

Buck slipped his key in the door--- juggling his work bag, the food bag, and the gift bag he stole to carry home the sweatshirt, gift card, and new wok Athena and Bobby had given him--- and was immediately assaulted with the smell of cinnamon and pine and chocolate.

“Surprise!” Christopher cried from beside a Christmas tree that had definitely not been there when Buck had left his apartment the day before.

“Merry Christmas, Buck!”

Buck thought he was done crying but he found himself getting a little choked up as he stumbled through his door.

A Christmas tree with decorations and lights and enough tinsel that Buck was sure he was going to be finding it for the next year sat proudly in his living room on full display. String lights were wrapped all the way up the bannister to his loft and draped across his windows that gave Christopher and Eddie’s faces a soft glow as they beamed up at him.

Christopher was the first to move forward and his little body crashed against Buck’s legs as he leaned in for a hug.

"What are you guys doing here?" Buck asked as he wrapped an arm around Chris' shoulders.

“Well, it seemed someone forgot to put up some Christmas decorations so we figured we’d do it for you,” Eddie said, smug and a little too innocent of a grin on his face.

“We waited to do Christmas for when you were done with work,” Christopher added, casting a thinly veiled impatient glance at the tree where presents were waiting to be unwrapped.

Buck sent Eddie a stunned look.

“You didn’t have to do that.”

“Of course, we did,” Eddie said as he set his beer down and leaned against the counter in that way he knew made Buck hot all over. “You’re family.”

“Can I get started on presents now?” Christopher asked, already inching towards the tree.

“Go ahead, mijo.” Eddie nodded. “Start with your stocking. I’ve got a present to give Buck.”

“You do?” Buck asked, not even caring that his voice took a turn towards the pitchy side whenever he felt a little too overwhelmed.

Eddie hummed and beckoned Buck over, waiting for Buck until he stood in front of him before crooking his finger a few times. Buck leaned closer, tilting his head to give Eddie’s whisper his undivided attention, but Eddie curled a hand around Buck’s neck and met him halfway. The touch of their lips was a pleasant surprise and sent a thrilling shock down Buck’s spine that he hoped would never go away.

But then he stopped and pulled away because as much as he loved that shock, the shock was a product of an edge Eddie and Buck danced along for the last three weeks of sneaking around to try and steal as many kisses and as many touches as they could without being caught.

“Eddie---” Buck cut his gaze to Christopher who was settling himself in front of the tree and going through his stocking.

Buck started to step away, feeling the heat pool in his face as the sting of rejection from earlier crept back in again, but Eddie snaked an arm around Buck’s waist and pulled him flush against him. The primal aggression that underlined all of Eddie’s movements--- even the gentle ones--- made Buck weak in the knees and he fell against Eddie’s chest.

“I told him last night.”

A different kind of sting throbbed in Buck’s chest. The good kind. The kind that came from a surprise you weren’t expecting but loved all the same. Buck looked at Eddie and then back at Christ before settling on Eddie with a hopeful smile.

"Really?"

Eddie gave him one short jerk of a nod and smoothed a hand through Buck’s hair as if to ease the vibrating sting himself. He turned his hand so that his knuckles could drag from knot to seam of Buck’s jaw before he tapped the underside of Buck’s chin with his thumb and kept his hand latched there.

“I never want you to feel like I’m hiding you.”

Buck ducked his head. Eddie had known. He’d known all along and hadn’t said anything because that’s what Eddie did. He gave Buck space.

Maybe too much space.

He brought Buck’s hand to his lips and kissed each of the knobby points of his knuckles.

“I wish you would’ve told me.” Eddie’s lips trailed across Buck’s skin that seared away the numbness that had been settling deep in his bones.

“I’m sorry.”

“Hey,” Eddie shook his head. “Don’t be sorry. Just talk to me.”

He pulled Buck close to press a quick, chaste kiss against Buck’s lips before dragging his nose to nuzzle Buck’s face and sealing a little encouragement with a kiss on his brow in the center of his birthmark. Buck sighed, feeling some of the tension seeping out of him.

“It didn’t start bothering me until the lieutenant asked me to cover. For like one second, I almost said no because I actually had a reason too but then… we hadn’t talked about it and you freaked out that time your abuela almost walked in on us and just…” Buck dropped his gaze down to his fingers and latched them onto the hem of Eddie’s Henley. “Every time… I start to want a little more… the other person runs away and I know I’m a little much but I started to feel like a dirty secret and then I panicked because I don’t want to be alone anymore.”

Buck braved a glance up at Eddie and fought against every instinct that told him to run when he met Eddie’s honest, open gaze. Telling Chris about them had been a big deal for Eddie. He deserved some of Buck’s bravery too.

“Everyone else always had someone else on Christmas and I finally did too but I didn’t want to intrude.” Buck shrugged. “I… I really like… when I’m with you and I like myself when I’m with you and I wanted it so badly but then…”

He stopped and tried to swallow back the heat that was clawing up his throat because he definitely didn’t want to keep crying and he certainly didn’t want to cry in front of Christopher, but being honest with Eddie felt a lot like burning himself alive and he didn’t know if he could do it. Eddie’s thumbs pushed along Buck’s cheeks and worked out the tension at the hinge of his jaw.

“What Buck?”

Buck sucked in a breath and held it.

“I didn’t think I deserved… this.” He confessed on the exhale. “All of this. You and Chris and Christmas…”

Eddie dropped his hand into the crook of Buck’s neck, his thumb pressed onto the pulse point of his throat, and looked so exasperated that it hurt.

“Buck,” Eddie said. “If there was anyone who deserves this, it’s you. You deserve all of this and more. I’m sorry I didn’t say something sooner. We were going to invite you to Christmas but you’d already taken the shift and if there’s something you’re going to learn, it’s that Christmas gets a little chaotic when you have a nine-year-old. It took me a little longer to catch that something was up.”

Buck opened his mouth to argue because it’d been all on him and he knew that and Eddie didn’t have to apologize for wanting to focus on his son. But Eddie stepped forward, slotting himself into Buck’s space and kept Buck’s head held high with the subtle firm direction of his hands.

“But you were always going to be my gift.” Eddie nodded over to Christopher who was busy laying out the things in his stockings in a very specific pile. “That kid adores you. You really think he was going to be upset if we celebrated Christmas with you? He was so mad at me last year that he asked if he could celebrate with you instead, remember?”

Eddie shook his head and pulled Buck to meet his lips for another searing kiss that sent all kinds of tingling electric volts down to his fingertips. He curled his fingers around Eddie’s wrist, feeling his pulse hammering against the skin, and opened himself to let Eddie kiss him until he was dizzy. When they broke apart, sucking in air like it was the first breath they’d ever taken, Eddie dropped his forehead against Buck’s and lowered his voice to a whisper.

“That’s when I knew, you know? When my kid was so disappointed that I was missing something as monumental as Christmas morning, that he turned to you because you were the next best thing in his mind.”

He kissed him again and again and once more for good measure.

“You’ll never been my secret, Buck. You were always going to be my gift.”

Buck lifted his arms and wrapped them around Eddie’s shoulders to which Eddie responded in kind and tightened his arms around Buck’s waist. The knot of his fists in the small of his back pushed him closer and Buck shamelessly sought the comfort of Eddie’s all-encompassing warmth. He would go through a thousand Christmases alone if it meant he got to spend a thousand more days in Eddie’s arms. But he wouldn’t have to. Not from the way Eddie was saying it. And that thought alone was enough to send Buck soaring into the clouds to thank Santa personally for remembering his wish.

“Dad! Buck!” Christopher called, finally sounding impatient enough to put a little whine in his voice. “Presents!”

Buck glanced over at the clock and whistled when he saw the time. Eight o’clock really was pushing it on waiting to open presents on Christmas. Eddie chuckled and pulled away.

“Let’s go open presents with the kid,” he said before he smirked and leaned forward to whisper in Buck’s ear. “I’ve got another present to unwrap later.”

A sneaky hand slipped down from the small of Buck’s back to the swell of his ass and squeezed before the weight of Eddie’s hand disappeared and he turned on his heel to head over to the tree.

And Buck maybe had gotten used to spending Christmas alone but he wouldn’t have to anymore.