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Starts with the Heart

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After he almost got fired, Buck had more energy than he knew what to do with. Sex was out. Sex, at least the way he had done it, made him stupid. But without it, he was at loose ends. Without that frantic build up followed by total release, he felt like a live wire, electricity humming in his veins. So, one day after his shift, when he was so hopped up he felt like he was coming apart at the seams, he left his apartment.

He made his way through the streets of LA, letting the now familiar sound of traffic and people wash over him. Buck wasn't sure exactly what it was he was looking for, except maybe a way to burn off some of the energy that crawled under his skin, a way to ignore the images that seemed to wait behind his eyelids if he let himself stop too long.

Sleeping with his therapist had been a mistake. On a whole bunch of levels. But, you know, she did her job. Sort of. That episode, more than any of Bobby's lectures or almost losing his job, had been a wake-up call. Buck couldn't trust himself. Not when it came to sex. So he was quitting cold turkey.

But that just meant there was nothing to distract him from the job. Nothing to do with all this energy coursing through him.

He came to a stop, frustrated. This wasn't helping. The walk was giving him too much time in his head. It wasn't pushing him hard enough to drown out the rest of it.

He finally let himself take in his surroundings, trying to figure out exactly where his restless feet had taken him. It was like any other street corner in LA.  An insane number of cars even on the surface streets, palm trees lining the road.  Storefronts with loud colors and bold letters along the street.

And there, almost as if an answer to a question he didn't know he was asking, was a storefront different from the rest.

No kitschy name, no in-your-face advertising in the window.  Just wide windows offering a view of large space with a raised ring in the center, walls lined with spaced-out punching bags, an American flag hanging proudly in the center of the wall across from the windows.

"Old School Boxing" declared the sign above the door.

Buck was crossing the street before he'd made the conscious decision to do so.

Pulling the door open, he made note of the small Army sticker that was placed just above the handle with a smile. If this place was run by a veteran, it might be able to give him a run for his money.

The moment he stepped through the door, he felt something in him...not relax exactly. Ease was more like it. The buzz under his skin settled down from something that made him want to crawl out of his skin into a more manageable excitement. This was his kind of place. Not just that, but it would work. He could feel it.

There were people at some of the bags already, which was a surprise to him what with it being a little after 9 AM. Still, he wasn't going to complain. The sound of gloves hitting vinyl settled him, and he let the noise wash over him.

A man watching one of the people at the bags closely glanced up at him as soon as he walked in, but he soon turned his focus back to the man working the bag. After a few corrections and murmured words that Buck couldn't make out, he clapped the man on the shoulder before turning away from his student to make his way over to where Buck stood by the desk.

"You here to box?" the man asked.

"Hell yeah," Buck said, already up on his toes, taking a few swipes at the air before grinning at the man in front of him.

The man crossed his arms, giving Buck a truly unimpressed look.

"Your form is shit," he said.

Buck blinked in surprise, his hackles raising. He was in great shape. He knew it. It was something he took pride in. It wasn't all about vanity, though he was a big enough person to admit that was part of it. Buck liked to look good. But his muscles weren't just for show, like most of the ones he saw at his usual gym. He needed to be strong. He was willing to bet that his routine to make sure he was in shape for work would leave most people curled up in a small ball on the floor.

"Get on the bag and we'll fix that," the man said."

Mike was a hardass. A serious hardass and kind of an asshole. He worked Buck harder than he’d been worked since he went out for the SEALS. Even reminded him of the asshole of the drill-sergeant.

But by the time they were finished, Buck’s muscles burned, he was out of breath, covered in sweat. But most of all, his head was quite. For the first time since he'd decided to quit sex, he finally felt like he fit in his own skin.

“Thanks,” Buck said to Mike, meaning every word. “I needed that.”

Mike gave Buck a long assessing look before his hard face softened just a touch.

“Cop?” Mike asked him.

Buck gave the man a smile, impressed with his insight.

“Firefighter,” Buck said, unwrapping the gloves from around his hands.

Mike nodded, but didn’t thank him. Buck was grateful. It was one thing in an emergency, after just having done something that was worth being thanked for. But he never knew what to do with the people off the street who were all effusive praise as soon as they found out what he did. It reminded him a little too much of Buck 1.0.

Instead all Mike did was throw a towel at his head, which Buck snatched out of the air.

“How’d you know?” Buck asked, wiping at his face, breathing finally starting to slow down to something close to normal.

“You don’t move like a Vet,” Mike said. “But you got ghosts like one.”

Buck gave the man a long look before he nodded. This job…this job could eat you up from the inside out if you let it. And without sex, he wasn’t sure how to stop it.

Mike had known, though. Had given him just what he needed, even when he couldn’t figure it out himself.

“Yeah,” Buck said at last. “Yeah, that’s right.”

“They’re quiet for now though, aren’t they?” Mike asked.

Buck, for the first time in a week, let himself be still. Let himself think. The buzz under his skin was gone, and he didn’t feel like he was about to fly apart at the seams. It was quite in his head. Still.

Buck just nodded.

“Good,” Mike said with a sharp nod of his head and then turned away, making his way towards a woman with short hair and a pissed off expression on her face working over one of the bags.

“Mike!” Buck called out as the man turned away, unable to help himself.

Mike turned around, one severe eyebrow raised.

“Thanks,” Buck said, the word to small to convey what he was feeling. “Just…thanks.”

Mike’s eyes softened.

“Next time they get too loud, you know where to come.”


Old School Gym was Buck’s go-to haunt after a shift, even more so now that Abby was gone. Not right after. No, usually he had to collapse into bed as soon as he finished his 24-hour shift.

But once he'd managed to drag himself out of Abby's bed and make himself breakfast in Abby's kitchen, not just edible but actually decent thanks to Bobby he was out of there, a bag of gym clothes in his hands and a bunch of energy to burn.

Mike kept kicking the crap out of him, and most of the guys in the gym were more than able to give him a run for his money. It had bruised his ego at first. At the firehouse, he was used to being the best. The youngest, the fittest, the fastest. The most reckless. But here? He was good, but he wasn't the best.

The first time he'd had his ass handed to him in the ring, it had hurt. Buck knew he wasn't the smartest, okay? He wasn't the smartest, and comments about his birthmark had kept him from ever being too conceited when it came to his looks. His strength was really all he had going for him. So when Glen had put him down two minutes into the first round, it had bruised his pride more than anything else.

He'd left in a huff after spouting some bullshit that he didn't remember, fueled by anger and shame, but he knew enough about himself to know that it wasn't anything he should be proud of.

Humiliated, he'd planned on avoiding the gym for the foreseeable future. Mike had been calling him, but his phone was easy to ignore. The pounding on his door less so.

With a huff, Buck finally stormed over to the door that was rattling in its hinges. Mike was a stubborn bastard, and Buck knew that he wouldn't give it up. The last thing he needed was to get into trouble with his roommates. They never really saw him, after all.

"What?" Buck asked, putting himself in the doorway and glaring at Mike.

"Get your ass to the gym," Mike said, back straight, and for all that he was at least a foot shorter than Buck he somehow managed to stare down his nose at him.

"I'm good, thanks," Buck said.

Mike just stood there for a long minute before he raised his eyebrows.

"Never took you for a coward," Mike said with a careless shrug.

Buck balked at that, hackles raised.

"What did you just say?" Buck asked, hot all over.

"It takes a good man to know his limits and grow. Cowards run away instead of confronting them."  Mike said, arms folded.  "Like D'Amato said, a hero and a coward feel the same thing.  It's what you do with it that matters."

Buck stood there, dumbstruck.

"If you decide to stop being a coward, you know where to find me," Mike said.

And then, after all the trouble he'd been going to, the three days he'd been trying to get a hold of Buck, he just turned and walked away.


It took another shift and a concerned look from Bobby to send him back to Old School Gym, and he stood across the street for several minutes trying to psych himself up.

The shit he'd pulled last week had been Buck 1.0 bullshit. He wasn't that guy anymore. He didn't want to be that guy anymore. Which meant that he needed to take another long look at himself, and see what else needed changing.

Abby had been the catalyst for a lot of it, it was true. But Abby wasn't here now, and Buck didn't want to change for her. He wanted to change for himself. And Buck 2.0 meant that he needed to work on being a little less shallow.

He needed the firehouse. His team was his family, his team was everything. The idea of losing that was unthinkable. It was why he trained hard every day, to make sure that when his team needed him, when someone in trouble needed him, he was there.  To make sure he could have their back.

And if getting his ass kicked three or four times a week meant that there was even a slim chance he could be a little bit faster, a little bit stronger, a little bit better, then that was what he was going to do.

Taking a deep breath, Buck made his way inside. Mike glanced up and walked over, arms crossed and Buck had to fight to keep himself from wincing like a kid who'd been caught out after curfew. 

"Get on the bag," the man told him sternly.  "You've got a lot of lost time to make up for."

Still, the hand he clasped on Buck's shoulder said more than words ever could.


 

Buck practically slammed the door to Old School Gym open, the bell hitting the clacker too quickly to make much of a sound beyond a dull thunk.

Even after the shower at the firehouse, he could still feel the soot on his face, could still taste the hot air in his lungs.

Taking a deep breath, Buck wiped at the phantom grit as he took a deep breath to try and get past the smell of ash that had taken up residence in his lungs. Sweat and mold, smells associated with hard work and effort and stale air.

The gym was crowded. But it wasn't his normal time to come in, so that wasn't a surprise. Not exactly. But there was one bag still open in the back by the mirror wall. His favorite bag, thankfully.

He didn't need to stop by the lockers. He'd changed into his gym gear at work and he wanted to keep his phone and keys on him.

It didn't seem worth going to the locker just to put away his keys, and he'd locked his wallet in his glove compartment. He didn't need it here. They knew him.

As if on cue, his phone buzzed in his pocket and Buck bobbled in his haste, swearing under his breath when it almost crashed to the ground.

A text from Abby. Buck opened it as quickly as he could manage. The fire had been right before end of shift, and he'd sent her a message as they were in the truck to let her know that he probably wouldn't be able to make their call.

There hadn't been a response waiting for him when he'd finally gotten back to the station, and there was a part of him that worried that he'd fucked up one of the few good things in his life.

Abby wasn't like that. Buck knew that. If anybody knew what this job was, what it meant, it was Abby. She was the first line of defense, after all. But Buck could still hear the smile in her voice when she'd said "You always answer." Could picture the way it would have looked on her face. The last thing he ever wanted was to disappoint her.

When he first read the message, he felt himself relaxing. There was no need to worry. Abby had understood. Abby always understood. But then the rest of the words registered, and the relief vanished in a wave of frustration.

A week. They wouldn't be able to talk again for a week. Between Abby's travels, the time differences, and Buck's job, the chances to call were few and far between. And now he was going to have to go a week without Abby's voice in his ear.

Buck jammed his phone back into his pocket, taking a deep breath through clenched teeth before he turned and started towards the bag again. He needed to hit something. Badly.

He was halfway there when he spotted someone else headed towards it. They obviously hadn't seen him. Buck put on an extra burst of speed, but it wasn't enough. The other guy made it to the bag before him.

On another day, a better day, Buck liked to think that he would have handled the situation like a rational adult. That he would have taken a deep breath and then moved on, picking something else to work on while he waited for a bag to open up.

Today was not a good day.

And so Buck stepped forward, getting into the guy's face.

"Hey," Buck said, oozing as much aggression as he could manage. "That's my bag. I was on my way over. You stole my bag."

The guy gave Buck a look, and Buck took the chance to look the guy up and down.   They were about the same height, the other guy maybe a little bit shorter. He had a wiry build, but they weren't the kind of muscles that were just for show. These were the kind that had been gained through hard work and hard use. He moved like he'd been trained.

It would be close, but Buck thought he could take him if it came to that.

"I'm sorry, man," the other guy said. "I didn't see you. I'll be sure to let you know when I'm done though."

Buck started to get hot and he glared down at the other guy.

"Sorry isn't going to cut it," Buck said.

The guy rolled his eyes, but he took a step back.

"Here, I'll go work weights for awhile," the man said, taking a step back. "If it's that important to you, you take it."

It should have felt like a victory. Like vindication. But the way the guy rolled his eyes, the way he was so obviously humoring him had Buck's hackles up.

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Buck said, arms crossed over his chest.

The guy looked at him in a way that was all too familiar. The kind of look that Hen and Chimney and Bobby exchanged behind his back all the time. The "can you believe this guy?" look. The one where they were surprised at how stupid, how reckless, how irresponsible he was being.

And you know what? Hen and Chimney and Bobby could give him those looks. They were his family, and he knew that no matter what, when the chips were down, they had his back. He trusted him with his life and they trusted him with theirs. So yeah, they could look at him like that.

This asshole? This asshole didn't get to.

"Listen man," the guy said, and a spark in his dark eyes. "I don't want any trouble. If you want to be on the bag, it's yours. Just let it go."

"You listen, man," Buck said, all his frustrations from the day bubbling up, ash and fire in his lungs ready to finally, finally find a new home.

But before Buck could speak, could say something truly appalling, there was a crash from behind him.

Buck whirled around on automatic, the familiar mindset settling into place the way it always did as he saw the man on the ground. He ran without a thought, only vaguely aware of the man who had fallen into step beside him.

He fell to his knees beside the man who had collapsed, ignoring the way the impact jarred through his body as he reached out and tapped sharply on the man’s collarbone.

“Sir?” Buck said, his voice firm and loud. “Sir, are you alright?”

No response.

Buck tipped the man’s head back and listened for breathing as he put his hands up against the man’s neck and felt for a pulse. Nothing.

"No pulse," Buck announced automatically. "Starting chest compressions."

He looked up and made pointed eye contact with the nearest person as he began pressing down on the man's chest with an all-to-familiar rhythm.

"Call 9-1-1," Buck ordered.

The woman nodded, looking frightened and her face white, but she did what she was told.

The man at the bag, who had followed him had turned and run as soon as he had said there was no pulse. Buck took a minute to note that he was headed for the AED and felt something settle in him. He clearly wasn't the only one with training. Odds were good given the nature of the gym, but even people with training tended to freeze in these situations. And it was one less thing for him to worry about.

Keeping count in his head as he pressed down on the man's chest, Buck turned to another bystander nearby.

"Did you see what happened?" he asked.

He shook his head.

"No. He just...he just fell over."

The woman he'd told to call 9-1-1 was starting to speak and Buck looked her, being sure to keep his compressions steady and deep.

"Put them on speakerphone," he ordered.

The woman nodded and did, bending down and placing the phone by the man's head so that Buck could hear the call easily.

"This is firefighter Evan Buckley with the 118," Buck said, falling into his reporting voice. "I'm at Old School Gym," he said, rattling off the address and closest cross streets before describing the situation. "It looks like cardiac arrest. No pulse, and I've started chest compressions."

Buck looked up when the man he'd been arguing with slid into place beside him, opening up the AED kit and immediately reaching for what was needed. Clearly the guy was trained, and not just in a casual way. This was somebody who knew his way around a defibrillator.

Buck glanced down at the man and frowned.

“We’re going to need the fabric scissors,” he said after a moment of observation. He didn’t think he could get the shirt open without them.

“Got it,” the man said, and then he was there, cutting into the neck of the man’s shirt even as he spoke.

“Thirty,” Buck announced as he reached thirty compressions and tilted the man’s head back to give two rescue breaths, the other man having already put the one-way mask out. As Buck was administering the breaths, the man took the opportunity to cut the shirt open, the two of them working in concert without having to say a word.

By the time the time he was back on compressions, the shirt was clear and the other man was already halfway through attaching the leads.

Buck shifted automatically to give the man room without stopping compressions as he attached the leads to his chest.

“Analyzing,” the man announced, waving his hand over the body and Buck backed away immediately.

“I’m clear,” Buck said, waving his hand above the body, “you’re clear.”

The man across from him echoed his words and his motions, and Buck felt himself settle a little. He wasn’t on his own. The man had training. Not just the regular kind, but first responder training. He had someone who had his back.

“Analyzing rhythm” the automated voice from the AED said, “Everyone stand clear.”

Buck reached for the kit his partner had left above the man’s head and pulled on the spare gloves inside as the AED analyzed the rhythm.

“Shock advised,” the AED said. “Everyone stand clear.”

“Stand clear!” his partner said, waving his hands to clear the field again.

“I’m clear,” Buck said after taking a quick moment to ensure that it was true. “You clear?”

“I’m clear,” he answered. “Administering shock! Stand clear!”

The AED let out a high warning buzz and then there was a loud beep as the shock was administered.

Buck was back on chest compressions as soon as it was clear, his partner on rescue breaths.  They made it through a complete cycle. After a second shock had been administers they switched roles, and had made it through three cycles when the man's chest began to move.

"He's breathing!" Buck shouted, but his partner was already pulling back as the man's eyelids fluttered.

"Sir?" his partner said.  "Sir, are you back with us?"

There was no answer, but the man's chest rose and fell, and Buck could feel a pulse under his fingers.

"Still unresponsive," the man said.  "Let's get him into rescue position."

Buck nodded in agreement.

"Towards you?" he said, and the man nodded.

Working together, they rolled the man onto his side, making sure that he was in the proper position.  Buck kept an eye on the man's pulse and breathing while his partner checked the airway.

Buck was updating 9-1-1 when the man gasped and his eyelids flickered.

"Sir!" Buck's partner said again.  "Sir, are you alright?"

The man groaned and tried to sit up, and Buck put a hand on his shoulder, gently but firmly pushing him down.

"I need you to stay there until EMS arrives, sir," Buck said.

"Wha...What happened?"

"You're at Old School Gym and you collapsed.  You had a bit of a scare, but you're alright now," he said, giving the patient a reassuring smile.  "EMS is on their way, and they're going to take you to the hospital to get checked out."

"Can you tell me what happened?" Buck asked him.

"I don't remember," the man said, clearly confused and disoriented.

Before Buck could follow up, he heard the familiar sound of sirens outside the door and felt the tension in his shoulders start to ease.  It only took him a few minutes to walk Marcus Pittman, the Captain of the 141 through what had happened.

"It's a good thing you were here, Buck," the Captain said as they loaded the patient, now fully alert, onto the gurney and towards the hospital.  "I don't have to tell you the odds without immediate intervention."

“It wasn't just me," Buck said, and he turned and gave a grin to his partner.  "I had a good partner.  He had my back," Buck said, clapping the guy on the shoulder.  Buck got a surprised look in response, but it faded to be replaced with a real smile.

"Well," the captain said, extending his hand, "thank you, son. That man owes you his life.

When the truck and ambulance turned away, Buck turned to face the man he had his arm around, taking a step back and scratching at the back of his neck.

This sucked. It sucked hard. But he'd been a douche, and there was only one thing to do about it.

"Listen, man," Buck said.  "I'm sorry about before. I was a dick, and totally out of line.  And I meant what I said before. You're the kind of guy I'd be happy to have on my team.  So...Sorry."

The guy gave him a searching look, before he nodded, understanding in his eyes.

"I get it," he said.  "No hard feelings."

"Evan Buckley," Buck said, holding out his hand.  "But my friends call me Buck."

"Eddie Diaz," Eddie said, giving Buck a strong handshake.  Buck could feel callouses that had become familiar in his time at Old School Gym against the palm of his hand.  Buck was pretty sure that Eddie had been in the service, but that wasn't really the kind of thing that you just asked a guy.

"Where'd you learn to do CPR like that, Eddie?" Buck asked. "Cause even people with training tend to freeze."

"Army medic," he said with a wry grin.  "So, you know, I've got some experience.  Only usually with people shooting at me.  This was a nice change of pace."

Buck laughed.

"How about you?" Eddie asked.  "EMT?"

"Firefighter," Buck said, not bothering to hide his pride. His job was worth being proud of.

"No kidding?" Eddie asked.  "I start at the academy next week. It's why I moved out here."

"That's awesome," Buck said, beaming at Eddie, not even trying to hide how excited he was. There was a brotherhood of firefighters, and he was always eager to welcome someone who was one of them. There weren't a lot of people who got it. Not without being there on the front lines, dealing with it themselves.  And if he could put up with Buck channeling his worst self, he was a good guy.  

"Hey, anything you want to know, I got your back, okay? Seriously. LAFD could use a guy like you. You want to grab a beer? I can tell you what to expect.”

Eddie looked tempted of a minute, but he looked down at the phone in his hand and shook his head. Buck tried not to feel too hurt. He’d been a raging dick to the guy after all.

“I would, but I gotta get home to my kid,” Eddie said before he turned and showed off a picture.

"This is Christopher" Eddie said, and there was a wariness in his face even as he visibly softened as he looked at the pictures of his son.

Buck was confused about the contrast until he looked down at the phone. And suddenly he understood.

Christopher was a cute looking kid. All wide smiles and warm eyes and a gap-toothed smile that had Buck melting immediately. He had walking crutches and his glasses were strapped around his face.

“He’s a cute kid,” Buck said with a grin, meaning every word.  "Bet he's already a heartbreaker like his dad, huh?"

Eddie rolled his eyes, but the expression on his face was pure relief, the guarded expression fading from his eyes.

"He's something, alright," Eddie said, brown eyes filled with unmistakable love as they stared down at his son.  "He's just...he's the best thing in my life."

"He's your kid," Buck said.  "Of course he is."

Eddie gave Buck a warm smile at that, one that had his stomach doing all kinds of uncomfortable twists and turns.

"I'm just glad it's summer," Eddie said.  "I mean, he's being a trooper, but I know that the move has been rough on him.  But...we needed a fresh start.  Both of us."

Buck had been called "dense" on more than one occasion, but even he knew when not to push. And now?  Now was a time not to push.

“Tell you what,” Buck said, “let me give you my number. Maybe we can hook up at the gym and talk over the bag? Workout’s always better with a partner.”

Eddie smiled at him, warm and relieved.

“That’s sounds great.”

“Awesome,” Buck said.

He put his number in as “Buck (Gym Asshole).”  When Eddie saw it, he laughed, and Buck felt something twist in his stomach.

For the first time since Abby left, his time off duty wasn’t looking quite so empty.


Buck wasn't hiding Eddie or anything.  Not exactly.  Not on purpose.

But it had been three weeks that they'd been hanging out now, and Eddie was probably one of his best friends in the world, and Buck still hadn't told anybody at the firehouse about him. Not yet. Buck loved his team, he really did. They were his family, his everything, and he'd do anything to keep any of them safe. But they lived in each other's pockets all of the time. It was nice to have something that was just his, at least for a little while. And he wasn't sure Eddie was ready for the full-court press that was the 118. It was nice to keep this to himself for a little while.

That ended that night at family dinner, when they were shooting the shit about what they'd been up to on one of those rare days when their forty-eight off lined up with the weekend.  Which meant that conversation around the table at dinner was a little livelier than usual.

"Karen and I took Denny to the King Tut exhibit," Hen said as she served herself a helping of Bobby's delicious pasta that Buck's mouth had been watering over the entire time it had been cooking.  "I don't know what the hell they've been doing to museums since I was a kid, but damn.  That wasn't a museum. It was a freaking multimedia amusement park."

Three weeks ago, Buck wouldn't have cared beyond whether or not Denny had liked it.  Hen was family, and so was her family. So, you know, he wanted to know what was going on with them. But that would have been the extent of it.

But Christopher was really, really into Egypt.  Like, a lot.  Eddie had shown him photos just last week of Christopher dressed up as a Pharaoh, a smile on his face and Buck had felt himself falling even more in love with this kid he hadn't even met yet.

"There's a King Tut exhibit?" Buck asked.

"At the California Science Center," Hen answered. "It's been there since March, but this is the first time we've all been able to go as a family."

"I remember that exhibit," Bobby said. "There was a fieldtrip, I think."

Hen snorted.

"Not this one. There was one back in the 80's, but this is the first time since then the Egyptian Government is touring it. Apparently the last one, too."

"Showing your age there, Cap," Chimney said with a grin.

Bobby rolled his eyes, but he smiled at the gentle ribbing.

Buck wouldn't be distracted, though.

"What all was there?" he asked Hen.

"Umm..." Hen said, clearly somewhat taken aback by his interest, but giving the question some serious consideration. "The artifacts, of course, but they had like, 3D displays that you could rotate and zoom in. There was a whole forensic section on Tut's life and some theories about what had killed him. Facial reconstruction. Life in Egypt. All kinds of stuff. I don't know, I had to sit down about an hour in. Why? You develop a sudden interest in Egyptology?”

"Come on, Hen," Chim said.  "This is Buck we're talking about.  Clearly it's about a girl."

"You know, I knew something was different about you," Hen said.  "You've been far less mopey lately.  Come on, tell us about her.  Who is she?"

"What? No!" Buck said.  "I'm with Abby.  There's nobody else."

He did his best to ignore the pitying looks his team exchanged and kept talking, determined to keep them from thinking he was cheating.

"No, I have a friend who just moved to town, and his kid's really into this kind of stuff.   I thought maybe he'd like it."

An alarm soon put an end to that round of conversation, but Buck wasn't surprised when Bobby approached him at the end of shift.

"Hey kid," Bobby said, taking a seat on the bench beside him in the locker room.

"Pops," Buck said.

It had started out as a joke, kinda. Bobby just had that kind of fatherly aura around him, and Buck had done it a few times sarcastically when he felt like Cap was crossing a line. But Bobby's face in response had been enough to stop it cold. After Bobby had told them everything about Minnesota, about what had happened to his kids, he understood it a lot better. But the last time it had slipped out, this time without him really being aware of it, Bobby had seemed pleased instead of looking like someone had cold-cocked him. So Buck just...hadn't stopped. And there was a part of him that took pleasure in it. At least as much as Bobby did.

Bobby rolled his eyes, but there was a smile on his face, and his brown eyes were warm, that cold, reserved barrier totally gone. Buck sure as hell didn't miss it. This Bobby was a huge improvement, as far as he was concerned.

"You really have been in a better mood lately," Bobby said.  "For awhile, I thought Abby might be coming back."

"No," he said. "She's in Italy now. At least she was. I haven't talked to her this week."

He hadn't been able to make the call time she'd proposed. He'd been in the gym with Eddie.  So they'd both decided to give it a miss until next week.

"So, tell me about this friend."

Buck did.

"He's a great guy," Buck said. "A single dad, working hard to take care of his family, responsible as hell and humble on top of all of it. Moved out here for work. We met at the gym, and we work out together. Been helping him find his bearings a little since he's new in town."

He tried to make sure that he kept most of his admiration to himself.  There was no reason for Bobby to know about the rest of it.

Buck had gotten like this around guys before. A senior on the football team, a coworker at the bar down in Mexico. The marine he went through SEAL training with. So, his admiration for Eddie was nothing new.

He found himself seriously grateful for Abby. Not just for, you know, being her, for all the ways being with her had helped him get his shit together, but because him from messing up what was shaping up to be probably the best friendship he'd had...well, ever.  Knowing Abby was out there, waiting for him to come back to him, kept everything between them firmly in the "Bromance" place, which Buck was more than okay with.

"What?" Buck said defensively as he saw the thoughtful look on Bobby's face, wondering if maybe some of the rest of it had seeped out after all.

"Sounds like a good friend. I'm surprised he hasn't come up before now, is all."

"I love you guys, but the truth is that ever since Abby left, I haven't really had much of a life outside the station. I kinda wanted to keep it there, at least for a little while."

"I think even before Abby left, you didn't have much of a life outside the station," Bobby said simply.

And that was the truth wasn't it? This job...it was all he had. Back when he was Buck 1.0, it had been work and sex, and that was it. And then it had been work and Abby and occasionally the gym.

"This job's my life," Buck said with a shrug, not liking the uncomfortable feeling in his chest, burying it deep where it couldn't bother him.

"This job is a job," Bobby said, shaking his head. "It's a calling, yeah. But it's a job. It's not all of who you are. I'm glad that you're starting to build something outside of it. That's important. Keeps you grounded."

Coming from Bobby, who hadn't seemed to exist outside the station all of two months ago, the words hit a little harder than they might have coming from anyone else.

Bobby, seeming to know just like he always did, gave Buck a smile and clapped him on the shoulder, leaving Buck to chew over his words.


 

Buck spent some time looking up the California Science Center, making sure it was accessible, even calling to ask about the King Tut exhibit and some others he thought Christopher might like. He printed out some information and took his notes from the call and left them by the door so he wouldn't forget it the next day when he and Eddie met up at the gym.

Buck was too excited to share, and he barely waited before the two of them had exchanged hellos before he was pulling out the small stack of papers.

"Christopher is really into Egypt, right?"

Eddie looked almost surprised, but he nodded, a smile on his face.

"Yeah, he loves it."

"Well, there's this King Tut exhibit at the California Science Center right now," Buck said, passing Eddie the small stack of papers.  "I checked it out, and the lady I talked to assured me that the entire thing is totally accessible.  There are elevators everywhere, even if he maybe wanted to go to the IMAX.  And I know that you said he was into space too, and there's the whole challenger exhibit, but that's always there.  Anyway, Hen took her kid this weekend and she said it was really good. I though Christopher might like it."

Eddie's eyes had gotten wider with every word Buck spoke, and for a split second Buck wondered if maybe he had overstepped.  But then Eddie took one look at the papers Buck had put together and his eyes got all warm and soft the way they always did when he thought about his kid.  The smile on his face was small and gentle and Buck felt his heart kind of, lurch uncomfortably.

"That sounds amazing," Eddie said.  "Christopher's a trooper, but I know that he's been going crazy cooped up in the house.  This is just...this is great Buck."

"You want to come with us?" Eddie asked him.

"Really?" Buck said, unable to hide his excitement about the idea.  He loved hanging out with Eddie, and had been wanting to meet Christopher for a while, but wasn't really sure how to ask about it.  "I mean, yeah," he said trying to play it cool for all of a second before giving up.  "That would be great."


Saturday found Buck standing outside the California Science Center, hands in the pockets of his cargo shorts as he tried to keep himself from being too nervous.

He was good with kids, he had to keep reminding himself. Really good. He'd been a huge hit the summers he'd spent as a lifeguard and had loved summers as a camp councilor.

Maddie used to make jokes about him being able to best relate to people who were his intellectual equal. But he hadn't heard from Maddie in years, and so he did his best to shove that aside. It hurt a little too much to dwell on.

Buck was good with kids, and Christopher sounded like an amazing dude. So, it was going to be fine. And there was no reason for him to be as anxious as he was. He wanted to make a good impression, yeah. Christopher was incredibly important to Eddie, which meant he was important to Buck. But that didn't mean that he had to stand out here tying himself in knots.

It was going to be fine.

Buck had pulled out his phone and was googling Egypt to keep himself from sounding like too much of an idiot when a familiar voice called out.

"Buck! Eddie said.

"Eddie," Buck said, shoving his phone in his pocket, a smile on his face.

Seeing Eddie was always one of the best parts of his day, at least when they did see each other. Today was no exception. But none of that mattered right now. Because today Eddie wasn't alone. Today, walking next to him, a wide smile on his face, was Christopher.

Buck practically ran over to the two of them, not caring that Hen would no doubt have made some kind of joke about his tail wagging. "Puppyish" she'd called him more than once. Buck tried not to let it bother him. Dogs were awesome.

"Hey," Buck said, grinning at Eddie before he turned and looked down at Christopher, a wide smile on his face. He considered crouching so that they were on the same level, something that most kids liked. But Buck didn't think that was the way to go this time. Christopher probably had more than enough people condescending to him, thinking there was something "wrong" with him. Buck didn't want him to think even for a second that he might be one of those people.

"Christopher, this is Dad's friend Buck," Eddie said, putting a reassuring hand on Christopher's shoulder.

Christopher grinned up at him, his smile like a miniature little sun, and Buck took one look at this kid and knew that he was screwed.

"Hi," Christopher said, holding out his hand.

"Hey Christopher," Buck said, unable to help smiling in response. "Your Dad's told me a lot about you."

He shook his hand firmly. Christopher wasn't fragile. In fact, from what Buck had heard from Eddie, he was an incredibly strong guy. One who was determined to do everything himself.

"He's told me a lot about you too," Christopher said. "I was starting to think that you were like Forfax."

Eddie groaned and Christopher beamed, letting out a giggle that had Buck's chest in knots.

"Forfax?" Buck asked.

"His imaginary friend," Eddie said.

Buck snorted. He couldn't help it. Christ, this kid was incredible.

"I'm real," Buck said with a smile. "Promise."

Christopher gave him a smile.

"I'm glad. I thought I was going to have to call someone.”

Buck laughed again.

“Yeah, yeah,” Eddie said, ruffling Christopher’s hair, causing the boy to erupt in another round of giggles. “Laugh it up. Keep making fun of your dad. See if I let you see King Tut.”

Christopher clearly didn’t take the threat seriously, but he played along, letting out an exaggerated gasp.

“Too late!” Buck crowed triumphantly. “I already bought the tickets. If you don’t want to come, I’ll just take my partner in crime by myself.”

Buck held out a hand for Christopher to high five, and Christopher did, a wide smile on his face.

Eddie looked at the two of them, his face soft and eyes warm.

“I can see that I’m outnumbered,” he said. “I guess I don’t have a choice.”

“Let’s go!” Christopher said, sounding excited. “I want to see the sarcophagus!”

The exhibit was awesome. Buck had never been much of a history buff, but even he couldn’t deny that the exhibit was cool. It was the 100-year anniversary of the discovery or something, and there were a bunch of artifacts that apparently hadn’t been on display before.

The best part though, hands down, was Christopher. Buck liked kids.  But Christopher? He was something else. Buck felt like he was getting his own personalized tour of the museum.  Christopher knew a lot about Egypt, and he was eager to share it all with them. He reacted to each new artifact and thing that he learned with wonder that was impossible not to find contagious.  Buck knew that he'd learned some of this stuff in school, but the look on Christopher's face when he was gleefully sharing about how they pulled the brains out of the nose as part of the mummification process was adorable.

It was impossible not to smile when Christopher was around.  He was just so...bright.  There wasn't another word for it.  And funny as hell.

When they arrived at the gift shop, Buck bought them matching T-shirts and they both put them on right away. They posed together in front of a mural, wide smiles on both their faces as Eddie snapped a picture.

When Eddie sent it to him that night, Buck didn’t even hesitate before making it his wallpaper.


It hit him as he walked in the door to Abby's apartment three weeks later, her mail under his arm, that he hadn't talked to her in a month.  They've exchanged messages and emails, but their relationship started on the phone, and he hadn't heard her voice in weeks.

And Buck?  Buck hadn't missed her.  He'd been so busy spending time with Eddie and Christopher and everyone else that he hadn't even noticed.

And that, right there, told him everything he needed to know.

He knew that Abby told him that he shouldn't wait, but he'd told her he would.  As long as it took.  It was only fair to let her know that he wasn’t waiting anymore.  That he couldn't be.

So for the first time in nearly five weeks, he dialed her number, held the phone up to his ear and waited.

"Buck?" that familiar husky voice said, and he felt his breath catch, overwhelmed by his emotions.

But it was different now.  He could feel that. He was happy to hear from her, yeah. He still cared about her.  Always would. Probably even still loved her.

But he wasn't in love with her any more.  

It was like talking to an old friend he'd missed, instead of someone who held his entire heart.  And that, more than anything, told him that he was doing the right thing.

"Hey Abby," he said.  "Listen,  I...I have something important I need to talk to you about.  Is now a good time?"

"Yeah, sure," Abby said, and oh, this was familiar.  Comfortable, like those first days.  Abby, the voice in his ear, helping him sort stuff out, helping him work his way through the bravado to something more real.

Buck had never done this before.  He'd never broken up with anyone. He'd never had anyone to break up with.  Not really.  But this was Abby. And he owed it to her to be the man she'd helped make him.  Buck 2.0

"Abby," he said, "I know I told you I would wait..."

"Buck-" she said, starting to cut him off.

"No, just...just listen, okay? I need to say this.  Because you are an amazing girl, Abby. you're just...you're fucking incredible.  And you deserve the best.  Seriously, the best things in the world.  And that includes a guy who loves you.  And I...I don't think I can be that guy. Not anymore. I don't think I can wait."

"Buck," she tried again, her tone of voice different this time.

"I mean, I care about you.  A lot. A lot a lot.  You're incredible, and probably the best thing that's ever happened to me. And I'll always care about you.  But I don't... I haven't remembered to not miss you, Abby. Because it used to be every day I had to remind myself not to focus on the fact that you were gone.  But I...I forgot that I was trying to forget, if that makes sense."

"It does," Abby said.  "I know exactly what you mean."

"So...I'm sorry.  But it's not fair to let you think that I'm going to be waiting for you when I'm not."

"You're breaking up with me?" Abby said, cutting straight to the heart of the matter.

"Yeah," Buck said, and it felt like relief.  "Yeah, I am."

And then Abby, wonderful, amazing, Abby, did something Buck never expected.

She laughed.

"Buck, you remember the email I sent you six weeks ago? The one where I told you I didn't want you to wait?  That I wanted you to move on?"

"Yeah," Buck said.  "What about it?"

"That was me breaking up with you."

"Oh," Buck said.

He didn't really think there was anything else to say to that.


 

Eddie laughed hysterically when Buck told him, having to hang onto the bag for support.

"She sent you a Dear John and you didn't understand?" Eddie asked, and Buck found himself smiling even though his ears were bright red.

"I've never been broken up with before!" Buck said, trying to defend himself, but unable to keep from smiling in the wake of Eddie's obvious amusement.

"You usually the one doing the breaking up then?" Eddie asked.

Buck shook his head.

"Abby was my first relationship. My first real relationship, I mean," Buck said, trying to stop a misunderstanding before it had the chance to start. "I did a lot of hooking up, casual stuff. This was, you know, the first real one."

Eddie didn't poke fun, he just nodded. Then he held the bag and gestured for Buck to continue.

This? This right he was what he loved. Eddie got it. Got Buck in a way he didn't think anyone else ever had before. Like, he knew it was easier for Buck to move and talk, to keep his hands busy enough to let his brain work through things. That it was easier to talk when you could focus on something else. And here he was, giving Buck the space to work through his shit, even when it was clear that he wanted nothing more than to keep laughing.

"I get that," Eddie said. "Shannon...Christopher's' mom. She's been the only real thing for me. And even that..."

Buck focused on his punches, breathing carefully and trying not to show just how invested he was.

It wasn't any of his business. Eddie didn't push him on his shit except when Buck gave him the opening, and Buck returned the favor. And it had become pretty clear pretty early on that Christopher's mom wasn't in the picture. Though why, exactly, he never said.

Buck wanted to know anything and everything that Eddie could and would tell him. And if Eddie was ready to talk about it, Buck was more than ready to listen.

"We'd only been dating a few months when Christopher happened," Eddie said. "So I proposed, and she accepted. And then I wasn't home. Not really. So...yeah. I get it."

Buck took that and tucked it away, somewhere close, holding it where he held the rest of it. Every one of Christopher's smiles and Eddie's warm gazes that turned his stomach to goo.

Buck tried to consider if this was a moment where he could ask some of the questions that were practically bringing inside of him.

"So, wait. If you didn't know that she'd broken up with you, what, you know, made you do it?" Eddie asked.

"I didn't miss her," Buck said simply. "Not like I should have."

Eddie made a small humming noise, and Buck took a few moments to just keep beating the crap out of the bag.

"At least you two were on the same page," Eddie offered. "Even if you took awhile to catch up."

"Was that not the case with you and Shannon?" Buck asked. He'd back off if he needed to, but Eddie was still talking about it. He hadn't shut the door. So Buck was going to look inside until he did.

Eddie made a face, and Buck took position at the bag, holding it while Eddie started to work it over.

“I’m not sure Shannon and I should have gotten married,” Eddie said at last, each hit of the bag resonating in Buck’s chest as he held it steady. “I mean, we rushed into it. I think we’d only been together like four months when we found out about Christopher. And so I married her.”

That sounded like Eddie, alright. Honorable to the core.

“Not just because that’s what you did. But…family. Family’s important to me. And I wanted to start building my own the right way.”

“I get that,” Buck said. And he did. In spite of what his history might suggest. Because he'd, you know, actually learned some shit about himself in the last year. Shit that was, you know, actually kind of scary?

Because Buck wasn't afraid of intimacy. Not really. He wanted it too much.

As soon as Buck was in, he was all in. Everything, no holds barred.

And with Eddie? With Christopher? He was all in. Had been since basically the first day.

“The army was my family,” Eddie said. “For a long time, they were what I had. The sense of brotherhood, of doing something important, of knowing that the people he had at his back could be trusted with anything and everything. It was what kept me going.”

Buck said nothing, watching Eddie’s face, the shadow’s that lingered there.

“I was…I was lost, when I left. And then Shannon left to go take care of her parents and…she didn’t come back. It was just me and Christopher.”

Another hit on the bag, this one hard.

“The worst part is that I can’t even blame her. Because I did it too.”

Three hits in a row, each one hard enough that Buck felt his teeth rattle.

“I ran. I ran from the idea of Christopher. I signed up for a second tour because the prospect of getting shot scared me less than raising a kid with Cerebral Palsy.”

Buck winced at the next impact, though he kept it off his face.

“I’m not proud of it. I’m ashamed as hell. I was ashamed then. But now? I…I ran from the idea of Christopher, and I did it in a way no one could blame me for. And now that I know Christopher, that I know my kid, the person instead the concept, I hate myself even more. Because I wasted so much time. My fear cost me so much.”

Another hard hit, and Buck was glad he was on the bag. He wasn’t sure it would have survived otherwise.

“I mean, I can’t even be mad at Shannon for running. Because what I did was so much worse. But I’m pissed. I’m so, so angry.   Because knowing Christopher, loving him, how could she leave? How, after all of that, could she leave him behind?”

Another hit this one the hardest of all, until at last Eddie pulled back his forehead covered in sweat, face red, and panting hard.

Buck got what Eddie was saying. And you know, it wasn’t any of his business. If Eddie could understand Shannon, then great. But Buck sure as hell couldn’t make sense of it. How the hell anyone could look at a guy like Eddie, a kid like Christopher, and not walk over fire to try and keep them? How they could want anything other than to give them everything?

“So she just left?” Buck asked.

Eddie nodded.

“She left to take care of her parents, but then she said…she said she wasn’t coming back.”

Buck watched Eddie carefully as his friend pulled off his gloves with hands that were shaking.

“Have you talked to her since then?”

A head shake while he unscrewed his water bottle with trembling fingers.

“Do you want to?” Buck asked.

“She’s here,” Eddie said simply. “In LA. This is where her parents are.”

That was brand new information. And clearly this conversation was going to end up going deeper than either of them had planned on. Buck reached out and picked up his and Eddie’s gear from off the floor before making his way over to the locker room, where there might be a little bit of privacy. He threw an arm around Eddie’s shoulder and gently pulled him to follow, leading them both over to the benches, sitting down side by side. But he didn’t let go.

“Is that why you came here?” Buck asked. “So that you could reach out to her?”

“I don’t know,” Eddie said, and his voice sounded heartbroken. “I…I don’t know. This is the best program, and that’s important to me. But I don’t know if that made an impact in the decision.”

Buck let his head lean back against the lockers, staring up at the slightly flickering lights of the room.

“Christopher is most important, right?” Buck said.

“Always,” Eddie answered immediately.

“So, I know that you don’t want him to get hurt. Obviously. And I know that you don’t know what you’re feeling about her. But…if she can be in his life, if she’s ready for that…don’t you owe it to him to try?”

Eddie was quiet.

“I’m not saying welcome her back with open arms,” Buck said. “But, just, let her know you’re here. And at the very least, you guys need to figure out custody stuff, even if she doesn’t want a part of his life. You just…you need to know. You can’t stay in limbo.”

Buck had been living in limbo for the last six months. It wasn’t a good place to be.

“Better to know one way or another. So that you can either figure out how to move on, or figure out how to go forward, you know?”

Eddie’s only response was to let his head fall against Buck’s shoulder, but he could feel him nod, so Buck took it as a win.

Time to change the subject.

“Speaking of limbo, it’s weird to keep living in my ex’s place now, right?”

“Buck,” Eddie said, sitting up, his face completely serious, “It was weird before.”

The tension snapped as they both laughed at that, a little harder than they needed to. But it felt good to let the heaviness go in favor of something light. And Buck felt lighter now than he’d felt in a long time.

“Okay, so clearly I need a place,” Buck said. Then he groaned and let his head fall into his hands.

“What?” Eddie asked.

“I’ve never done this before,” Buck said. “I’ve never been in one place long enough to need to.”

“Where were you living before you moved in with Abby?” Eddie asked.

“A house with a bunch of college kids,” Buck answered. “I wasn’t home much, so I didn’t feel like I needed space of my own, you know? I just…I have no idea how to do this.”

“Tell you what,” Eddie said, nudging Buck’s shoulder with his own. “I’m still looking for a place for me and Christopher. Why don’t you come with me the next few times to get a feel for it.”

“Really?” Buck said, pathetically grateful.

“Really,” Eddie said. “Think of it as my contribution to Buck 3.0.”


 

Here was the thing nobody ever bothered to tell Buck about Apartment hunting while he was growing up.

It sucked.  It sucked hard.

It should have been fun.  Looking at a new place, hearing the realtor try and sell him on it.  Imagining what it would be like to live there. Kind of dream into whatever Buck he might be in the space.

And maybe it would have been, under different circumstances.  But right now? Right now it just sucked.

Buck and Eddie pulled up in front of the house and Buck already felt his heart sink.

"Seriously?" Buck asked him, looking at the front of the house.  "I mean, seriously?"

It was a nice house, Buck guessed.  At least as far as he could tell.  A one-story ranch in a decent neighborhood. Not much of a front yard, but from what Buck could see there was a fenced in area in the back.  No garage, but a driveway to pull into.

It had curb appeal, Buck guessed.  But what it also had was two steps leading up to the front door.

"This is not okay," Buck said.  "I mean, you told her. I know that you told her."

Eddie sighed heavily.

"It's not ideal," he agreed.  "But he's not in a wheelchair.  A few steps is doable.  Abuela's place has about the same number, and he does okay."

Buck took a deep breath, reigning himself in.  Eddie was the one who'd been doing this for years.  He knew what Christopher could handle and what he needed. Buck just didn't want them to have to settle.  Not for anything.

"So, we take a look?" Buck asked.

"We take a look," Eddie said.

It was...well, it was sad.  Two bedrooms, one bathroom.  The master was a decent size, but the other was a lot smaller.  The kitchen barely had enough room for one person.  No dishwasher, no counter space.  A stove and a sink, and that was about it.  No dining room, just a large living space.  Once you put in a table and some furniture, there wouldn't be much space at all.

Buck looked around him in horror. This was no place for Eddie and Christopher.  This was so, so much less than they deserved.  But Eddie?  Eddie had a different look on his face.  A contemplative one.

"The master has plenty of room for Christopher's stuff," Eddie said, as they stood in the middle of the living room while the realtor was outside taking a call.  "With his bed and his desk, there would still be room for his toys and for him to play."

"What about you?" Buck asked, arms crossed.

"Enough room for a queen and a dresser," Eddie said with a  shrug.  "That's all I need."

"One bathroom."

"Christopher and I can share," Eddie said.

"Kitchen?" Buck asked.  "I know you like to cook."

Not as much as Bobby.  But food was clearly still important to him. 

"It's fine."

"Eddie..." Buck said.  "Man, you can't be serious about this.  You cannot live here."

Eddie set his jaw and crossed his arms, giving Buck a hard look.  

Buck stood his ground.  This was one thing he wasn't going to compromise on.  The Diaz's deserved the best. And he was going to make sure that they got it.

"How much is LAFD paying you?" Buck asked.

"Buck..." Eddie said, warning in his voice.

"Listen," Buck said, crossing the space between them, putting a hand on Eddie's shoulder.  "You and Christopher...you guys deserve the world. You deserve everything.  So, you know, walk me through it.  Help me understand why this place."

Eddie sighed, the fight going out of him all at once as he leaned back against the wall, letting his head fall back against the wall.

"The school district," Eddie said at last.  "I mean, I might want to look into local private schools eventually, but I need to get child care for Christopher worked out first.  We're coming up on the start of the school year, and I need to get residency established fast so I can get him registered.  My Abuela is amazing, and her neighborhood is great, but the schools," he shrugged.  "And Christopher and I need our own space.  It's been months. This is the first place within my budget that's come close to checking the boxes it needs to."

"So, again, how much is the LAFD paying you?" Buck asked.  "It's gotta be at the high end, right?  I mean,  you're qualified as hell, and I know they're doing that bilingual bonus thing.  80k?"

Eddie sighed.

"90" he said.

Buck whistled.

"Damn.  I'm jealous.  I mean, you deserve it, but still.  Damn.  Okay, so I know that like, as a single Dad you're going to have different expenses.  Especially with Christopher.  So, what are you looking for?"

"Under 3k.  2.5k would be the best, but..." he sighed and brushed his hair back.  "That's a pipe dream. Even that's going to be hard.  It's like, half my monthly income after taxes.  And then figuring out childcare on top of that..."

"Right," Buck said, a heavy sigh.

It sucked.  It was the way it was, but it still sucked, hard.  He just wished there was something he could do.

Except, you know, there was.  And he was kind of an idiot for not having thought about it first.

"How much does a three bedroom go for around here?" Buck asked.  " I mean, it can't be that much more, right?"

"There was a nice one she showed me for 3500, but that's outside my price range," Eddie said.

"3500 might be," Buck said.  "But $1750 isn't."

It didn't take Eddie long to figure out exactly what Buck was thinking.

"Buck-"

"Listen," Buck said.  "If you don't want me living with you guys, that's one thing. And I totally get that. I respect it.  But don't say no for me, okay?  Christopher is an amazing kid, and anybody would be lucky to live with him.  With both you guys.  This way, I can help out and hang out with both of you.  And, you know, it works for me too. It would be way nicer than anything I could afford."

"Are you sure about this?" Eddie asked him.  "Really sure?"

"Hell yeah," Buck said, grinning.  "I've never been more sure about anything."

"Alright," Eddie said. "Okay let's do this.  I mean, yeah.  Having someone...sounds nice.  But honestly? I don't trust you to live by yourself."

"Hey!" Buck said.  Then he grinned, ignoring the way that his chest was expanding.  "You just know that if Christopher finds out about this, he'll never let you live it down."

Eddie grinned.  "That too. Come on, let's go grab Stacey and see if that three bedroom is still open."


Moving in together was both more and less of a production than it should have been.  Less, because honestly?  They didn't have very much.  Eddie had left most of his stuff behind when he'd decided to make the move to LA, and Buck didn't have anything.  Not really.  It was mostly just Christopher's toys and a bunch of clothes.  So the actual "moving" process was fairly painless.  The three of them had been going on trips to furniture stores and it hadn't taken them long to pick stuff out.  Most of it had already been delivered and was waiting for them, the only complicated part coordinating schedules to make sure that someone was home to let them in.  Buy the time they were ready to move in move in, all that was left was a few flat pack shelves and a desk to put together.

So, there wasn't really a whole lot of "moving" to do come moving day.

But Chim had overheard Buck coordinating a delivery, and he'd promptly blabbed to Hen.  And as soon as she had known, there was no escape for Buck until he'd agreed to have them all over to help him move and then an impromptu housewarming party.

"Only if Bobby cooks," Buck agreed eventually.

"Deal," Hen said.

"Is anyone going to ask for my input in this?"  Bobby said.  "Anyone?"

Buck and Hen gave each other a look before turning back to Bobby.

"Nah," Buck said.  Then he grinned.

Bobby rolled his eyes, but there was a smile on his face.

"What do you want?" Bobby asked him.

"Let me ask Christopher," Buck said, pulling out his phone.  "His is the only vote that counts."

"Christopher?" Hen asked, seeming confused.  "Is Eddie helping you move?"

Christopher and Eddie had become a central part of Buck's conversations around the firehouse.  He was pretty sure there were more pictures of Christopher on his phone than there were on Eddie's, which was a serious accomplishment.

“I mean it’s his place too,” Buck said, confused by the phrasing.

Now it was Bobby and Hen exchanging looks, and Buck found himself very glad that it was Chim’s day off.

"You and Eddie are moving in together?" Hen said.  "I thought that you were getting your own place."

"I mean...Eddie wouldn't say it, but I know that even with the LAFD salary, his finances aren't where he wants them to be. This way I can help out a little bit without hurting anyone's pride and make sure they can live in the kind of place they deserve.  And who wouldn't want to live with Christopher?"

"And what did Eddie have to say about this?"

Buck blushed, but he grudgingly repeated what he'd been told.

"He said that he was on board, because he didn't think I could be trusted to live by myself and this way he wouldn't have to worry about me sleeping on a couch in a studio and dying of scurvy."

Bobby sighed and Hen laughed.

"That boy has got you pegged," she said.  "I mean, at least he knows what he's getting into."

"Hey!" Buck said.

Then Hen's face suddenly fell.

"Damnit.  Chimney's going to win the pot, isn't he?"

Bobby burst into laughter, and no matter how much he'd pressed neither of them was willing to spill the beans.

Eddie had left his truck at the house with the last of the flatpack boxes the night before, so they'd agreed that Buck would come to pick them and what was left of their stuff up in the morning.  The rest of the 118 would be meeting them at the house, where Bobby was going to make what he promised would be the best grilled cheese and tomato soup anyone had ever eaten with that glint in his eye that meant Buck's stomach was going to die from happiness.

Buck...Buck didn't know what he was feeling. Like, he was excited.  For sure. He was finally going to be getting all of his family together in one place, and that was for sure something to celebrate.  But he was also a little nervous.  And he wasn't sure what that was about.

He bounded up the steps before knocking on the door, rocking back and forth on his heels while he waited.  A moment and several shouts later, it was Ana, Eddie's grandmother, who opened the door.

"Ana!" he said, a wide grin on his face.

"Evan!" she said, reaching up and wrapping her arms around him as he hugged her, smiling as she brushed a kiss against his cheek.  "Ah, it's so good to see you.  How are you, mijo?"

Buck grinned.  There were about three people in the world he was okay with calling him Evan.  Ana, Eddie's Abuela, was the only one he actually liked it from.

"Excited," Buck said.

"Of course you are!" she said.  "It's your first day in your new house.  How could you not be excited?"

At that Christopher appeared, and Buck demanded his hug hello before turning to watch as Christopher made his way over to the car with a small duffle that carried the last of his clothes.  He was an independent little guy, who liked to do things himself.  It had been hard for Buck to give him the space to do that at first.  But it was worth it, from the proud smile Christopher always wore.

Eddie was next, and between the two of them they managed to load up the last of the bags pretty quickly. Until there was nothing left to do but drive over to the new place.

"You take good care of each other, understand?" Ana said.

"We will," Buck promised without hesitating, and Eddie echoed the words a moment later, a little slower, somehow more serious than he had been moments before.

"And you," Ana said, kissing him on the cheek again.  "Don't be a stranger."

"Of course not," Buck said.  "You know the only reason I hang out with these two is so I have an excuse to see you."

Ana laughed at that.

"You charmer, you," she said, shaking her head.  "Now, be sure to send me all the pictures and tell me all about it."

Buck immediately felt like an idiot for not having thought of it sooner.

"Hey, why don't you come by at like 2? We're having an improvised housewarming thing. You can meet Bobby and Chimney and Hen.  See the place for yourself.  Pepa too, of course."

Ana looked delighted, a warm smile on her face.  "That would be lovely."

"You didn't have to do that, you know," Eddie said when they got in the car.

"Of course I did," Buck said, with a roll of his eyes.  "They're your family."

Eddie gave him another soft smile, the kind that made Buck's chest all tight in uncomfortable ways.

"Besides, I want you to see Bobby's face do the thing, so that you know what I mean the next time I tell a work story."

Eddie laughed.


Moving in was exactly as much of a non-event as it should have been, which meant that most of the time was spent with everyone getting to know everyone else.  It didn't take them long to finish what little unpacking there was left, and it quickly turned into more of a housewarming party than anything else.

An hour later they were outside, all Buck's family together, and Buck, watching Christopher and Eddie together, turned to Bobby who was standing beside him.

"See, Bobby? What you told me before, I don't think it was right."

"Oh?" Bobby asked, unreadable as always.

"When you told me to get in the trap with Abby," Buck said, choosing his words with care. "I mean, it was good advice. But I don't think it's right."

"What was wrong with it?" Bobby asked.

Buck stares down at his hands, because he can't look at Bobby while he has this conversation. He just can't.

"I think, I think when you love someone. When you really love them, you get in it with them, yeah. But when you love them? It's not a trap. It's just...a part of it."

Because Christopher? Christopher could never be a "trap". Never. Shannon might have thought so, but that just makes Buck feel sorry for her. For not seeing how awesome her kid is, for not seeing how amazing he is, how funny he is. How much fun it is to just spend time with him.

"It's hard," Buck admits, thinking to the hours of paperwork and the frustration about finding accessible places and the *anger* at the entitlement of some of these assholes who park in handicapped spots because they think their convenience is more important. "It's really hard. But it's the good kind of hard, you know? Like when your muscles ache after a workout, or the way you feel after you put out a bad fire and everyone made it home. When you really love them, it's hard, but it's good."

Bobby was silent for a long moment, and Buck finally found the courage to look at him. The smile on his face was soft, and his eyes were warm, for all that Buck could see the echo of old pain there.

"You know what?  I think you're exactly right."