So, it goes like this:
They’re on a call at a fourteen-story office building where a small electrical fire had broken out, and before anyone was able to get it contained, it turned into a massive inferno. Bobby and the rest of the 118 are, for once, ridiculously grateful for the drill Buck made them run through when he was the fire marshall and everyone is working in perfect tandem. They’re getting people down the emergency stairs and out of the building as quickly as possible, they’re shutting down the power, they’re using the ladder to reach people on floors trapped by the fire, and they’ve got the hose gushing at full blast. It’s running as smoothly as any emergency fire can run, until Buck finds himself in the thick of the smoke trying to save an office administrator on the third floor when the ground falls out from under him.
The fire burned through the structure so hot and so fast that it left the ground unstable before Buck had noticed a thing, and suddenly he’s two stories down flat on his back with a piece of metal rebar practically puncturing an organ. The blood is hot and thick and disappears into the dark fabric of his turnout coat before he can notice it, and the heat of the fire makes it all a thousand times worse. Through the flames above his face he can see the assistant staring down at him from the hole in the ceiling, screaming, and though he tries to call out to her his voice is hoarse and his lungs thick with smoke. If any sound comes out of his throat at all, Buck doesn’t hear it.
Instead, before he can even grasp the horror of what’s happening to him, everything goes dark.
He’s blinking awake. Everything feels dull and a little sluggish, but there’s bright fluorescent lighting and it’s so much better than the orange glow of the flames. There’s a rhythmic beeping filling the emptiness of the room, and Buck knows he’s in a hospital before he lifts his hand in front of his face and sees the IV line inserted into his vein. He lets his head roll to the side and stares, adoringly, at his big sister awkwardly pretzeled into the uncomfortable chair beside his bed. Next to her is a jacket that he knows belongs to Eddie, because he’s seen his best friend wear it a thousand times before, and realizes that the other man must be somewhere in the hospital. Waiting. There are no windows looking outside, but Maddie is sleeping and the drowsy effect of the drugs are a welcome side effect and Buck lets himself be pulled back under into a dreamless sleep.
It takes six weeks before Buck is allowed back at the firehouse. An open splenectomy turns out to be one of those surgeries that takes a little more time to heal from than he would’ve liked. Chim ribs him good-naturedly, teasing that they should both frame the rebar that had punctured their flesh. Hen pulls him into a hug the moment he steps into the locker room and doesn’t let him go for a good thirty seconds longer than normal—her hands running down his back as she exalts his return. All the while, Bobby watches on from the sideline, a relieved smile on his face, probably glad to finally have his whole team back together again.
Eddie doesn’t have to greet him: while the others had slipped in and out of his weekly routine like clockwork, Eddie and Christopher had been his constant. When Eddie was on shift, Buck was laid out on the pull out couch in the Diaz home, grateful for the distraction when Carla brought Christopher back to the house after school until Eddie would finally arrive and regale them both with stories about the calls he went on. It was comfortable and soothing, and while Buck wishes he’d been with the team, he can’t say he’d ever trade that time with his favorite boys for anything else.
None of that is really important though. What is, is this:
A week after Buck has been back on the job, and they’re both packing up at the end of a shift, he turns to Eddie and asks, “Hey man. You got a minute to talk?”
“Sure,” Eddie replies breezily, his head hidden in his locker. “What’s up?”
Maybe it’s not fair of Buck to do this—he knows Eddie has to run out immediately after and pick up Christopher from his surf lessons and then hussle over to Pepa’s for a family dinner. He knows Eddie doesn’t have the time to dive deep into what he’s about to reveal, and that works for him, because Buck doesn’t want to talk about this. He doesn’t want to go into detail or rationale or anything of the sort. He just wants to put it out there and have it done so that everything can settled for once.
“Nothing really, just—I’m updating some paperwork, and I wanted to talk to you about it?” Buck has the papers in hand, his knee bouncing up and down. He can’t tell if it’s because of nerves (he doesn’t think he feels nervous, but who knows how the human body works), or just out of habit: it’s not a thing he ever notices until suddenly he does. “Real quick, promise.”
“Papers?” asks Eddie, stepping back from his locker and turning to look at Buck.
He shrugs. Holds them out for Eddie to take and explains, “Yeah, I’m just updating my will, after that whole spleen debacle. And I wanted to list you and Chris as my beneficiaries, and I figured I should probably give you a heads up and—”
Eddie is ripping the papers out of his hands before he can say another word, his eyebrows raised and his jaw clenched. “Fucking what?”
“Yeah, you know, Maddie’s got Chim so if anything happens to me, she’ll be fine. And I’m not especially close to my parents, so I figured, if I’m gonna die on the job or whatever, it would probably be better if it went to you guys.” His knee is bouncing less the more he talks; the more he reminds himself as to why he’s making this decision in the first place. He goes back to packing up his duffel bag and shrugs again. “It’s not a big deal.”
Then there’s silence.
That happens sometimes with Eddie—he’s not always a man of words, and Buck, who’s been gently described as a bit of a motormouth, had to teach himself to get used to it. There was a time when he might have physically bit down on his inner cheek to stop from talking, but he’s an old hand at this these days. Has some practice. So he keeps packing up his duffel and doesn’t think to look up until he’s finished.
Eddie does not look happy.
If anything, he looks fucking thunderous. His eyebrows are pinched together and the vein in his neck is practically bulging. He’s not looking at Buck but instead glaring down at the papers that are clenched in his hands. The document is crumpling where his fingers are holding on too tight, and maybe Buck should be bothered by it but he’s not. The lawyer he hired can probably reprint if needed—and probably charge Buck through the nose for the nominal fee when doing so—and besides, it’s not like Buck was taking pristine care of the documents himself. The will had been buried at the bottom of his duffel since the beginning of their 24 hour shift, and this was the first chance Buck had finally found to bring it up.
“What the fuck?” Eddie finally asks. His voice sounds stripped of all nuance—there’s only barely buried confusion.
But Buck was prepared for this. So he came armed with the facts.
“Look, you can’t deny that I have the unfortunate luck to have the highest number of hospital visits out of the 118—with Chim as a close second,” he says, standing up and stepping over to stand beside his best friend. “I’m fine, but we both know that fall could have turned out way worse. And apparently it’s the ‘adult thing’ to plan ahead and make sure things are in order if needed, so I figured it was time to update my will. I haven’t changed it since I first was going for the SEALs, and back then I just said I’d leave everything to Maddie in the hopes that maybe it would help her to leave Doug. But now, I dunno, things are different.”
He claps Eddie on the shoulder twice before tugging the papers out of his best friends’ hands. Given the grip on them, Buck was expecting more of a fight but they slid easily out of Eddie’s grasp. He shoves them into his bag and grins at the other man.
“I just, you know, I was laid up at home recovering and got to thinking and just. Hired a lawyer to get the ball rolling—different lawyer, I swear!” He feels like there’s still more to say, so he keeps rambling in the hopes it’ll make Eddie understand. “It took a while to get everything sorted out, but I’m supposed to sign these and get them back to the dude ASAP. I just wanted to let you know now in case...you know, it’s ever relevant. So you’re not blindsided.”
If Eddie’s listened to anything Buck’s said, he can’t tell. Eddie is staring at him now, and the confusion is mostly gone, and in its place there’s an expression that Buck can’t quite put his finger on. Something wide and open and endless in Eddie’s eyes. Tender. His jaw works loose once, twice, three times before he finally croaks, his words a whisper in the room, “Why us?”
There’s probably a better rationale out there—and he’d had to put it all into more formal words when he was hiring the lawyer to help with the process. All the logic of leaving his life insurance pay out to a single dad and his kid that Buck’s not related to, the careful consideration of his sister and parents’ well-being, and more. But here and now, in the 118 locker room, the answer is simple.
(And maybe the answer is a little more complicated—more than convenient, and helpful, and logical, and obvious. Maybe it’s that there’s something deep within Buck that had been itching at him for weeks, months even, and it had finally settled when he saw the paperwork linking his name with Eddie and Christopher’s inextricably, officially, legally, and maybe Buck doesn’t want to examine it too closely, but that’s his business and he’ll keep it to himself).
Eddie doesn’t counter the point, and Buck feels his whole body loosen. He hadn’t realized how tense he must have been until suddenly his shoulders are dropping and his breathing comes easier, and he feels nothing but good. So good, that the smile that pulls at his lips must be blinding because Eddie has to turn away from him.
He pats him on the shoulder again, and does a little hop skip away. “Glad we could talk. Have fun with the fam’! See you for movie night tomorrow?”
And he’s out the door before Eddie can really answer, which is fine with Buck because he knows it’s yes. The answer’s always yes.
“Okay, but can you change it back?” Eddie is asking, because Eddie is always asking questions these days. It’s been a week since Buck shared his will with him, and though the papers are already signed and filed away, Eddie cannot let it go.
And he doesn’t want to let it go, and honestly, fuck anyone who thinks he should because his best friend just up and decided to suddenly make Eddie and his kid his fucking beneficiaries with no notice. Which was so typical of Buck, who liked to dive head first into everything, but it had given Eddie a minor panic attack in the middle of the station house locker room and it hadn’t really gone away despite the days in between.
Having to go to Pepa’s that night and sit through a family meal with a smile plastered on his face pretending like his thoughts weren’t miles away from her house—at a specific person’s apartment, actually—had been emotionally draining, to say the least.
Buck, the asshole, is sitting on Eddie’s couch with his arm around Christopher as the two of them are looking at a drawing his kid had made earlier in the day. It’s of Buck and Christopher in space, the circles around their heads clearly the simple glass helmets that all kids imagine astronauts wear, and stick-figure Eddie is waving to them from the window of their spaceship. It’s a great drawing, and he knows Buck is going to take it home and tape it up on his fridge along with all the other’s, but right now he doesn’t give a shit about the drawing, he gives a shit about his questions. All of them, even if Buck is refusing to answer any of them with any amount of seriousness.
“Superman, this is awesome,” Buck croons, stroking his finger down the side of the construction paper, glancing up at Eddie to flash him a grin and Eddie wants nothing more than to wipe that gorgeous smile off his dumb best friend’s face. “Can I take this home with me?”
Christopher’s expression breaks into an open smile as he throws his arms around Buck in excitement, eagerly agreeing to Buck’s request, and Eddie is forced to watch the adorable scene unfold before him even as he’s still waiting for his answer.
He groans. “Buck.”
“Dude, it’s finished,” Buck says, his fingers combing through Christopher’s curls until the small boy is pulling away from him. “Forget about it. If life works out, you should never even have to think about it again.”
Eddie can’t believe his fucking ears. “If life works out? You mean if you d—”
He doesn’t even really get a chance to acknowledge his own horror at the statement before Buck’s hands are shooting out and clapping around Christopher’s ears protectively. The glare that is suddenly etched into his best friend's features is so immediate and intense that Eddie almost feels ashamed of himself for putting it there.
“Ixnay on the eathday,” Buck is hissing, his lips barely moving as Christopher shoves Buck’s hands away.
“Buuuck!” cries his son, laughing and leaning into the other man.
Just as suddenly, the glare is gone and it’s been replaced with a familiar soft smile as Buck stands. “All right, all right, sorry, little man. Let me help your dad grab some drinks and then we can watch the movie, okay?”
It’s exactly the right thing to say, because of course it is. Chris shouts his excitement, snatching the Treasure Planet DVD off the table and holding it up in the air above his head. Eddie can’t help the laugh that bursts from his lips, as his little boy unknowingly eases the tension in the room.
He follows Buck into the kitchen and crowds his back, guiding him to the counters until he’s fully trapped. He pokes at Buck’s side and says, “I just don’t get why you did this.”
He’d asked Buck the same question—albeit with fewer words—a week ago at the station. And every day since. And though they’ve had a movie night and multiple shifts together, no matter how many times he asks the question, Buck just keeps coming back with the same answer that he had before. It’s driving Eddie crazy in all the worst possible ways.
“Don’t say family,” he hisses before Buck can get a word out.
And then Buck lets out this sigh—this long suffering, drawn out sigh, as though he’s the one who’s been struggling this past week. And Eddie watches as the other man pinches the bridge of his nose and forces out a breath as though to calm himself before lifting his gaze.
He’s staring at Eddie, his blue eyes impossibly wide, and says, “Look, I promised you—I promised Christopher—that I wouldn’t leave you guys again. And God forbid something happens to me and I can’t control that? Then this money is the only way I can be there for you guys, and that’s all that matters.”
“Buck, what the fuck?”
For a moment, it’s like Eddie is back in that stupid fight club and he’s getting sucker punched in the ribs. The air just seems to evaporate from his lungs and all he’s aware of is this ache in his chest that seems to spread out across his nerves.
A flush has risen up Buck’s neck and across his cheeks, and the other man is turning away as he shrugs haphazardly. “You’re my best friend, Eddie. Hell, Christopher is practically my k—my favorite person in the world. Let me do this.”
“But you don’t have to do this,” Eddie argues, taking a step closer to his best friend and pressing his hand to Buck’s side, his fingers curling loosely around the fabric of his shirt. Buck’s skin feels warm beneath the thin layer of cotton. “If this is some—some misguided attempt to make up for the lawsuit again or some bullshit, I told you that it was over and I’m sorry if I ever made you feel like you had to do something crazy like this—”
Buck waves his hand in front of Eddie’s face and he has to stop talking from the sheer surprise of it. Before he can pick up where he left off, Buck is shrugging out of his touch and away from him—always away from him, like he can’t stand still for even a moment, can’t stand to have Eddie’s touch on him for too long and Eddie is so confused because when did that happen and why—skipping back to a different part of the kitchen. “Dude, it’s not an apology. It just—I dunno, I had to do this. I had to.”
He shakes his head. “We don’t need your money.”
“Not right now!” Buck counters, his eyebrows lifting dramatically as they’re wont to do whenever Buck raises his voice or gets excited. “And you know, hopefully you never get it, but if the worst happens and suddenly Christopher’s tuition is hiked or he needs a new type of therapy or you just want to give Carla a raise or whatever, you’ll have some rainy day funds especially from me.”
“So you die and I get a new truck? You think that’s what I want?”
Buck waggles his eyebrows in response, amusement gleaming in his gaze. “Whoa now, I’m a 28-year-old firefighter with, like, two grand to my name, some credit card debt, and a Jeep that, while dearly loved, is very, very old. My life insurance policy is very mediocre. And you can’t sue the city for anything that happens to me because I basically waived all those rights ages ago.”
Eddie could say anything really at this point; he could make Buck laugh or he could tell him off for taking this all too lightly. Instead the ache in his chest continues to throb and all he can work himself up to say is the fucking truth. “I don’t like thinking about you dying.”
There’s a moment and then everything about Buck’s expression goes soft. Gentle. His blue eyes soften and his jaw goes slack, and then he’s reaching out to brush his fingers against Eddie’s, saying, “Me either, but I figure this makes me feel a little bit better about it, so leave it be, will you?”
He drops Eddie’s hand and reaches around him to tug open the fridge, his hand disappearing and reappearing with two beers and a juice box. Before Eddie can say anything else, Buck is stepping out of the kitchen and calling out to Christopher, “Okay buddy! Let’s get the movie started!”
Eddie rolls his eyes and quickly follows the other man, muttering to himself just loud enough for Buck to hear. “A juice box? You are 100% on bedtime duty tonight.”
Buck tosses a smile over his shoulder and Eddie tries to ignore the stab of pain at the thought of his best friend planning for his death. At this imagined future where Eddie has lost Buck and is left with nothing but a consolation prize that doesn’t hug his kid or laugh at his jokes or brighten his day. The thought is unbearable.
Here’s how Maddie’s day starts out:
It’s one of the few Saturdays where she and Chim both have the day off, and they’ve already planned everything out. Albert had been given a fair warning and was advised to find a different couch to crash on for the weekend, so now it’s just the two of them lounging around in their pajamas, sneaking kisses and cuddles around the apartment. There was breakfast in bed—poached eggs on avocado toast with a mug of fresh coffee each—and they shared the newspaper, swapping sections whenever they finished one. It’s a quarter past noon and Maddie has only just now put on real pants for the first time all day and before she can ask Chim about their afternoon plans, there’s a knock at the door.
“Were you expecting anyone?” she calls out across the apartment to Chimney, crossing the distance between the kitchen and the front door in a few short strides. They’re really going to have to get a bigger place before the baby is born, especially if Albert is still going to be hanging around; the apartment was barely big enough for three adults without adding an infant to the mix.
She’s realizing that Chim is in the shower, probably unable to hear her question over the roar of the water, when she pulls open the door and finds a familiar figure standing there.
“Oh,” she starts. Grateful for the fact that she’s wearing real clothes, she smiles. “Eddie, hi! What are you doing here? Were you looking for Chimney?”
Eddie actually appears uneasy standing in front of her, which isn’t a look she’s used to seeing on him. He’s a gorgeous man—obviously, and he clearly knows it (and so does Buck, she thinks, remembering how her little brother had once mistaken her initial interest in Chim for Eddie)—and he carries all the confidence that comes with it. They’re lucky he has such a good heart to go along with all that swagger or Maddie isn’t sure she’d be able to tolerate being in the same room as him, no matter how big her brother’s crush on him may be.
She watches, intrigued, as Eddie’s gaze drops to the floor where he’s scruffing his boot against the welcome mat. He shakes his head slightly and says instead, “Actually I was looking for you. Chim mentioned you guys were going to be hanging out this weekend.”
“Me?” It’s not at all what she expected him to say, and she’s sure her expression is giving it all away. “What would you need me for?”
The question is like a match to his unlit fuse because suddenly his eyes are on her again and his shoulders are squared. There’s less unease and more determination in the set of his brow. “Buck. What else?”
What else, indeed. She should have known.
Maddie gives a sigh and steps aside, gesturing for Eddie to enter. He doesn’t hesitate to accept her invitation and she watches as he darts into the apartment and makes a beeline towards the couch where he collapses into the corner seat.
“So what did my darling little brother do to warrant this visit?”
If Chimney asked her later what she was thinking in that exact moment—what she assumed Eddie was there to talk about—she’s not sure if she would tell him the truth. Some things are private. And the fact that she genuinely is waiting for Eddie to confide about some grand love confession from Buck is probably not for her boyfriend’s ears.
Instead, Eddie says, “He went and made me and Christopher his next of kin. Legally.”
“Wait,” she says. That is—no, not at all what she expected. Still, her mind can’t seem to make sense of the words. “Wait, what?”
“Exactly,” mutters Eddie, his head dropping back against the couch cushions so he’s staring at the ceiling. “That’s exactly what I said.”
It takes a second but then Maddie is crossing the space between them and perching on the edge of the couch beside him. “Start again.”
The whole story doesn’t take long—maybe ten minutes tops—but it’s long enough that Chimney wraps up his shower and is stepping into the living room as Eddie is finishing his tale.
“—he said it made him feel better and to leave it alone. And like, okay whatever, I want Buck to feel good always but what am I supposed to do? Just ignore it?”
Maddie’s gaze flickers between Chim and Eddie, her boyfriend looking adorably confused with his wet hair sticking up and his white shirt damp across his abdomen. He’s looking between the two of them, probably trying to make sense of everything. “Ah, what’s going on here then?”
“My brother updated his will,” says Maddie simply, the whole story making so much more sense now that she has all the details. She’s completely at ease in a way neither Eddie nor Chimney are at the moment, leaning back against the couch with her ankles tucked up beneath her and her arms wrapped around a decorative pillow. It’s like all the best sleepovers she went to as a kid, listening to her friends gossip about the boys they were crushing on or who asked who to the dance. “He put down Eddie and Christopher as the beneficiaries of—”
“Everything! Of everything, Chim, can you believe that?” Eddie, for his part, looks like this whole situation has been keeping him up at night. Now that she’s been staring at him close up she can see the tired circles under his eyes and has noticed the way he keeps clenching and unclenching his fist.
Chim, adorable, insufferable Chim, raises his eyebrows and asks, “Buckaroo has a will? That’s so adult of him!”
The phrasing seems to trigger something in Eddie, and Maddie watches as the other man’s back goes rigid. There’s an edge to his voice as he asks, “Did you put him up to this? Did you ask him about his death plans after his surgery or something? Mention how adults have wills?”
“No!” Chim reacts quickly, raising his hands up in front of him as if Athena were standing there with her badge and gun. “What the hell, of course not.”
It’s not enough to really ease Eddie’s nerves, but Maddie swears she sees his hackles fall. His gaze is still narrowed in suspicion but at least he’s not biting anyone’s head off.
Chimney asks, “When did you find this out?”
“Like, two weeks ago.” Eddie still looks furious as he spouts off the answer.
Maddie, at least, wants to maintain the previous calm and reaches out to touch her hand to Eddie’s forearm. When his attention is redirected to her, she pulls her lips into what she hopes is a gentle smile. She asks, her fingers stroking his arm gently, “What’s going on, Eddie? This sounds like a good thing.”
Eddie looks scandalized by the suggestion.
“How is it a good thing that your brother is out there planning for his death?” He’s earnest, she’ll give him that, as he turns in his seat to face her full on. “And putting me and Christopher down as the beneficiaries? That’s nuts! Don’t you think it should be you?”
She shakes her head sweetly. “I know everyone likes to tease Evan about rushing into things head first, but I’m sure he considered what he wanted when making these plans. He had to go out and get a lawyer, didn’t he? Doesn’t really sound like a spur of the moment decision.”
Forget scandalized, Eddie looks downright betrayed by what she’s saying. As though he’d come here specifically to find a sympathetic shoulder to lean on and was discovering she was anything but. Except she was sympathetic—not to his plight over how Buck’s decision was affecting him, but for the obvious fact that Eddie and her brother had to be the dumbest boys she’d ever had the good fortune to know.
“You’re his sister!”
“And you’re his best friend, Eddie. If something were to happen to Evan, I’d have Chimney.” She glances over at her boyfriend who’s taken to standing behind the kitchen island quietly noshing on the bowl of grapes they’d bought together the day before. Her gaze drifts back to Eddie who’s staring at her, and asks, “What do you want me to do about it?”
It shouldn’t (because why did he come here at all if he didn’t have some sort of action plan for her, some set checklist of tasks for her to complete to his liking), but the question clearly throws Eddie for a loop.
His gaze darts between her and Chim, his mouth opening and closing a few times before an indignant expression across his features. “I don’t—I mean, whatever, it’s not a big deal or anything but I just thought—you’re his sister. You should know when Buck’s being an idiot and tell him to get his head on straight.”
It’s adorable, really, that Eddie has gone this long and somehow still can’t see what’s right in front of him. But Maddie isn’t even sure if Buck is aware of what he’s doing or why, just that she can recognize the impulse behind his actions. Can see how her little brother might have laid on that pull out couch for weeks on end—she’d offered her own but he and Eddie had been adamant that he would be better entertained with Christopher—watching the coming and goings of the Diaz boys, constantly reminded by the pull of his stitches of what might have happened, until finally something had burst within him and he’d made a choice.
One that, she’s sure if he thought about it with any amount of depth, had to finally make him aware of the truth.
“Sorry, Eddie, but I’m with my brother on this one. I think his head is on straight.” She shrugs, her shoulders loose and at ease. This isn’t how she or Chimney planned to spend their Saturday afternoon, but so far it hasn’t disrupted their plans in any meaningful way. If anything, Eddie’s story had only buoyed her heart. It was nice to know that Buck wasn’t alone, not truly.
Maddie takes pity on him and says, “I don’t think it’s my place to say anything but...I’d encourage you to think long and hard about what Buck means to you and what you and Christopher might mean to him. Think about...what role you fill in each other’s lives. And then maybe ask yourself why Buck would be worried about you if anything were to happen to him.”
Her voice is gentle, her fingers still stroking his forearm, and she wonders if Eddie has allowed himself to consider the situation. Obviously he’s been concerned about it—probably a little obsessed, if the fact that he tracked her down to Chimney’s apartment on a Saturday afternoon was anything to go by—but she’s curious if he’s actually considered its meaning. What it all looks like from the outside.
Eddie looks...lost. His eyes are wide and there’s a flush to his cheeks that wasn’t there a few moments ago. He’s staring at her and she’s smiling sweetly, trying to soothe him, watching as his shoulders hunch up around his ears and he ducks his gaze down to where she’s touching him. She glances over at Chimney from across the room, sees how her boyfriend's eyebrows are raised so high they might as well be getting ready to climb off his face. She’s sure he’ll have a million and one things to say once Eddie finally gets the wherewithal to stand up off the couch and leave, but for the moment she’s content to sit here with this man who is, without a doubt, in love with her little brother.
She doesn’t rush him, or push him out the door, but it doesn’t take long. Eddie coughs and changes the topic for a little while, engaging Chim in a conversation about Bobby’s plans for deep cleaning the firehouse that week. He doesn’t mention Buck or his will again and within half an hour he’s out the door, hugging Maddie goodbye and whispering his thanks in her ear before tapping his fist to Chimney’s shoulder. As the door closes behind him, silence fills the apartment for a moment until her boyfriend breaks it, just as she knew he would.
“So...those two are definitely…” he lets his words trail off, the silence surrounding them suggesting all possible answers they both know they’re thinking of.
Maddie’s lips tug up into a small smile, her hand dropping to curve around her small pregnancy bump. She turns towards him and nods, the only way she knows how to answer.
She watches as Chim’s eyes brighten with glee, how his expression splits into a grin, and then he’s wrapping her in his arms and laughing. “All right! Oh man, I can’t wait until Hen finds out!”
And then they’re both laughing, and he’s kissing her, and they slowly inch their way back into the bedroom to carry on with their free Saturday. Buck and Eddie will just have to figure it out on their own.
Here’s the thing.
Buck probably wouldn’t have told Eddie anything if he’d realized at the time it was going to be such a big deal. But now it’s three and a half weeks later and he hasn’t seen Eddie outside of a shift for the last ten days at least. Whenever he tries to make plans, Eddie has some excuse for why he can’t make it—Christopher has therapy, Frank had to reschedule, Bobby asked him to pick up an extra shift, his Abuela invited them to dinner—all perfectly plausible excuses. Ones he’s even used in the past and Buck hasn’t batted an eye.
But day in and day out, it’s gotten a little far-fetched.
It’s not like the lawsuit or the fight club, though. He knows that, at least. Eddie has made a point of letting Christopher FaceTime with Buck almost every other day, allowing the little boy to recount his days to Buck at almost a mile a minute. He’s gotten familiar with the unsteady camera movements of a nine-year-old with too much energy and too many things he wants to show off. Drawings, books, homework assignments, Christopher has a never ending list of topics to talk about. And Buck loves it all. He’s already asked Christopher to put a star on at least half a dozen drawings so that he can claim them the next time they hang out.
Eddie swears there will be a next time—at the end of every call, when Eddie has reminded Christopher a time or ten that it’s bedtime and sent him off to brush his teeth, he gets on the camera and looks at Buck so earnestly as he promises that they’ll hang out soon.
Soon is relative. And Buck has genuinely no idea if Eddie’s soon is in anyway comparable to Buck’s soon. It probably isn’t, due to the fact that the first time Eddie said it was ten days ago and Buck had assumed that meant they were going to make plans for the very next day.
That did not happen.
So now it’s a week and a half later, on a Wednesday night, and Buck is sitting alone in his apartment, drinking a beer, and cursing the fact that he decided to be up front with Eddie about his will.
It was stupid. That’s what Buck’s decided. It doesn’t actually change anything in the grand scheme of things, and chances are he’ll probably make it to retirement alive. Across the country, about 6 firefighters die for every 100,000, and while not great—it’s still one of top twenty deadliest careers in America—it’s better than Buck had assumed it’d be when he went searching for that statistic. And if, God forbid, Buck was one of the statistics? If he did die?
He could have kept his mouth shut and Eddie wouldn’t have had to know until the executor of his will came calling with a handy check and a short explanation.
And maybe that would’ve been shitty, but at this moment Buck feels extremely shitty on his own and he’s willing to forgive his own petty musings about an imagined future that will literally never come to pass because he’s already opened that box.
For once though, Buck has resisted his impulses. Privately he’s wanted nothing more than to show up at the Diaz household unannounced, maybe give Carla a call ahead, and plot out just the right time to arrive so that Eddie has to let him in the door without appearing rude in front of their mutual friend. Considered showing up with a box of freshly made pizza and a new movie from Redbox so that Eddie is enticed into saying yes. But he hasn’t done it: has instead done the adult thing—which is apparently so very like him these days—of giving Eddie the space he clearly needs and trying to be patient.
It’s not easy.
But he’s doing it. He’s just contemplating maybe going to bed early and getting the day over with, when the door opens and Eddie walks right through the threshold. With a box of pizza in hand.
Great minds, and all that.
Buck watches Eddie’s eyes sweep across the length of the apartment before they settle on him. For a flicker of a second, he smiles, and Buck can feel his heart beat faster just at the sight. He’s missed it—not that Eddie hasn’t smiled at him at work, but somehow this feels different. The two of them in the comfort of his home. Like this smile is real and just for him and exactly what he’s been craving.
Eddie walks straight over to him and drops the pizza onto the kitchen island. Without saying anything Buck is immediately putting down his beer to lift up the lid, unveiling the cheesy goodness inside, and Eddie is swiping his beer off the counter and taking a long swallow, draining the bottle of its contents. In the meantime, Buck’s pulling out a slice for himself instantaneously, his fingers folding the crust in half and shoving the bite into his mouth. Eddie laughs at the sight and Buck gives him a wide, goofy smile.
He couldn’t be happier.
It’s easy for the two of them to fall into a comfortable conversation, perched on the stools in front of his kitchen island. Eddie explains that Christopher is at Pepa’s for the night, and regales him with the story of the woman who’d been impaled with a runaway beach umbrella that he’d helped save during his extra shift without Buck.
He’s not really a fan of Eddie going out on shifts without him. He knows, obviously, that it’s none of his business. That Eddie is a grown man who can handle himself and is always extra careful, but it’s the thought of him out there without Buck that bothers him. The idea that maybe one day Eddie will find himself buried underneath 30 feet of wet mud again, and Buck won’t be there to dig him out by hand if needed.
They polish off two thirds of the pie, and Buck is sure that if Eddie stays much longer they’ll probably finish the rest. Knowing that Christopher isn’t at home waiting for Eddie to get back makes the likelihood all the more plausible. Neither of them have a shift the next day, and Buck is ready to embrace the night that seems about to begin. With a little poking and prodding, he can probably convince Eddie to play video games until they both crash on the couch, shoulder to shoulder, and don’t wake up until the morning sun is pouring through the windows.
“So, what’d I do to deserve pizza?” he asks, an hour after Eddie walked through the door, grinning at his best friend as he steps up and away to get them both new beers.
Eddie also steps around the island to follow and leans against the counter by the sink to stare at Buck. His gaze is heavy and intense and Buck squirms under the attention. There’s a beat, until finally Eddie explains, “I figured if I was going to make you have an uncomfortable conversation, I might as well buy you dinner first.”
“Uncomfortable?” he repeats, reaching out to hand Eddie the new bottle before opening his own on the edge of his counter. His chest has immediately grown tight and Buck tries to laugh it off. “What do you mean?”
Eddie’s quiet for a second, turning the bottle in his hand, his fingers leaving a trail in the condensation. Buck watches as he leans over to open the bottle and then takes a slow, thoughtful swig of beer. Then he’s staring at Buck, their gazes locked, and he asks, “You changed your will, man. Why’d you do that?”
He knew it was coming and it still throws him off balance.
His mouth parts and his tongue drags over the length of his bottom lip. His throat feels dry, and Buck shrugs and says, “Near death experience and all that. You know how it is.”
“I understand what made you think about death—but you went out and hired a lawyer and drafted up new paperwork and changed your beneficiaries. To me and Chris. I just—we gotta talk about this, man,” Eddie says. And it’s so earnest, that’s what gets Buck, Eddie sounds so concerned and careful, like he’s thought over his words time and again before he’d shown up at Buck’s apartment. It’s probably exactly what he did, seeing as he’d been avoiding Buck for the past week.
He shrugs again, his shoulder rising and falling easily, as he keeps his gaze locked on the red brick behind Eddie’s head. “It’s not a big deal—”
“You say that,” Eddie interrupts. He likes that Eddie interrupts him. He doesn’t do it to everybody, he’s usually more measured than that. More careful. But with Buck he gets up in his space and in his words and gets comfortable sharing everything with him, freely, without a second thought. “And maybe this isn’t a big deal for you, but I already lost Shannon and I don’t want to lose you too.”
It’s not what he was expecting.
For one thing, Eddie is always quick to name drop Christopher when he wants Buck to do something or take a situation seriously. Not as a threat or anything, but just as a gentle reminder that there’s a little boy out there who loves Buck fiercely and needs him to be okay. It’s what he assumed Eddie was going to do here, but instead he’s talking about himself and Buck’s heart is in his throat and he’s trying not to choke on all of the implications of Eddie caring so much.
The second thing is that it’s not often that a man compares his best friend to his late wife.
He shakes his head. “We’re not talking about anyone losing me—it’s just a precaution. It’s Plan Z. A last resort, last ditch effort in case everything else goes to shit. I wouldn’t have told you if I thought you’d worry.”
“It’s not that I’m worried,” Eddie says. Buck’s gaze drifts away from the red brick and catches Eddie’s. “It’s not like updating your will is bad luck or anything, I’m not dumb. But I don’t like you making plans for some future that I’m gonna have without you in it.”
It’s hard to breathe.
“I’m not making plans for your future. I’m making plans for mine.” Eddie scoffs, and Buck’s eyebrows furrow. He stares at his best friend—the man he feels so much for—and says, “I know sometimes we joke about me making things about myself, but I’m pretty sure my inevitable death is, like, the one thing I’m allowed to make all about me, right?”
Eddie blinks. Buck watches as Eddie blinks, because there’s not much else he really can do and because he’s genuinely a little surprised to see how thrown Eddie looks.
“I—” Eddie starts and stops.
He says, “You don’t get it, and I get that. But updating my will...it was about me. About knowing that if I get stabbed by a piece of rebar again or somebody else blows up the ladder truck or there’s another freak natural disaster, I won’t be leaving behind nothing but pain. There’ll be some good mixed in.”
This time, Eddie’s response is swift.
He slams his beer bottle onto the counter and crosses the length of the kitchen with a few big steps until he’s crowding in front of Buck. His hands have sprung up from his side and are curled around Buck’s cheeks, warm and steady, Eddie’s thumbs sweeping the curve of his cheekbone. His touch is tender as he says, voice low and aching, “Don’t talk about it like that. There’s nothing good about you dying. Nothing.”
Buck, for his part, can feel Eddie’s (warm) breath on his lips and is trying, desperately, not to think about it. “But that’s the point of the will—this way, I’ll know you’re taken care of if something happens—you and Chris.”
“That kid has already lost his mother,” Eddie hisses, his voice raw. His fingers card through the hair on the back of Buck’s neck. “Don’t talk about him losing another parent like that.”
He’s bewildered, as his eyes widen and he stammers, trying to meet Eddie’s gaze, “I—I’m not, I’m talking about if anything happens to—”
“To you, yeah,” he says without a hint of ambivalence. Eddie tightens his grip before Buck can pull away from the shock of what he’s saying. “You’re practically his other dad, Buck. And he doesn’t have many of those lying around, so you can’t die. And you can’t talk about it like it wouldn’t destroy him. Me.”
It sounds like—
Buck is the one to rush head first into danger. Always. And before Abby he pursued his partners at a breakneck pace. From across the bar to a bed (or an alleyway or a car or a bathroom…) in an hour or less. But post-Abby Buck—Buck 2.0—is more cautious. Because he doesn’t want to get his heart broken again, and because this time it fucking matters. Too much.
Because if Buck gets this wrong—if Eddie isn’t saying what it sounds like he is—it’s ruined. They’re ruined.
Besides Maddie (and his future little niece or nephew), Eddie and Chris are the most important people to Buck these days. They matter. They make his days better. And he’s fine with what they have; he’s perfectly happy being the best friend and pseudo uncle to a great kid, and sharing movie nights and video game battles during their free time. He can keep going that way. It’s what he’s been planning to do up until Eddie looks at him the way he’s looking at him right now. Like Buck is the only person in the world.
He’s not stupid. He knows that there have been moments between them; tender, cherished moments where Buck questioned whether or not his seemingly-straight best friend was really so straight. He knows they’re closer than most work partners or best friends. He’s heard Maddie tease them, listened as Hen made comments about their too-close relationship, seen Bobby’s face as he’d looked at Buck when everyone thought Eddie was a goner, heard from Chimney about Eddie’s reaction to Buck being pulled out of that fire with a puncture wound in his body.
But he’d never acted on those suspicions, because that’s all they were. Suspicions weren’t shit compared to the reality of their friendship.
Only now, as Eddie’s thumbs sweep across his cheeks again and his eyes darken as they stare into his, Buck isn’t so sure that it’s just a suspicion anymore.
Eddie shakes him. His breath is hot across his lips. “You matter, Buck.”
He thinks maybe he wouldn’t be ruining anything now.
Buck lifts his hands until they’re curling around Eddie’s waist, his fingers gripping the cotton of his shirt loosely. His gaze flickers down to Eddie’s lips for a split second before he’s staring at his best friend again. Imploring him to listen as he says, stumbling over his own words, “You matter too. Which is why I did this—so if anything happened to me, you’d know. You and Chris. You’d know how much you mean to me. How important you both are.”
“You have to know,” Buck says, his voice getting higher and more strained. His fingers tighten where he’s holding onto Eddie and he doesn’t ever want to let go. “You’re not just—what I’m saying is—I lo—”
The words aren’t coming to him and it’s fucking infuriating.
Eddie—glorious, courageous Eddie—takes matters into his own hands and pulls Buck’s face towards his, crossing the final few inches of space, until their mouths come together, hard and fast and biting. Eddie presses up against the length of Buck’s body, his right thigh slotting between Buck’s legs, and they fit together perfectly. His hands let go of Eddie’s waist to wrap around him, Eddie’s shoulders straining beneath his hands, his muscles rippling beneath his touch. Eddie’s hands are still tenderly cupping Buck’s face and he can feel the way that Eddie’s fingers are stroking his jaw and coaxing him closer. Can feel how it makes him dizzy with want. His lips are strong, the kiss bruising, and Buck wants to drown in Eddie’s touch.
Buck’s kissed a lot of people in his time. Men and women, young and old; he remembers what it was like to kiss Abby, slow and tender in the middle of the night trying to be quiet so as not to wake her mother. And Ali, up in that bed his first night in the apartment, when the AC wasn’t set up yet and it was hot and they were fervent. It was all good, memorable even, but this—Buck feels this kiss everywhere and he doesn’t ever want it to end.
Maybe telling Eddie about the will wasn’t the worst idea.
The kiss is...overwhelming.
When Eddie left Chimney’s apartment over a week ago, he’d been struck dumb by Maddie questions. What did Buck mean to him? What role did they play in each other's lives? The questions had echoed in his thoughts for days after. He made excuses not to hang out with Buck, ran out of work as quickly as possible, spent most of their shifts trying to engage everybody in group discussions instead of letting them naturally break off into pairs.
And her last question: why would Buck be worried about what would happen to them if he died?
Once Eddie began to consider the questions, the answers were awe-inspiring in all the most terrifying ways. Eddie wasn’t used to people being worried about how he’d survive alone—Shannon had left without a single look back, and his parents were more concerned with how he might screw up Christopher. Time and again, if Eddie wanted someone to care about what was going to happen to him in the future, he had to be the one to do it. Yet there was Buck—his best friend, his partner—constructing a plan for what would happen if Eddie found himself alone again.
He hadn’t even realized he wasn’t doing it all alone until Buck had presented a potential future where he might be. And it had terrified him.
But that wasn’t entirely true. Because there had been a moment when Eddie was buried under thirty feet of muck when he thought for sure he was going to die down there. And his thoughts had turned inwards. He had thought of his struggles, and of his pain, until his mind had drifted towards thoughts of Christopher...and Buck. The two of them together, his boys. And how he would be leaving them behind if he let himself succumb to the depths that night.
He hadn’t. He’d fought his way back to them. And then...he’d brushed it off. Pretended it was just the lack of oxygen, or the adrenaline. As though his heart hadn’t been fit to burst when Buck helped pull him off his knees and wrapped his arms around him, supporting his weight and letting Eddie lean against him. Eddie had moved on as though nothing had changed in that hole.
As though he hadn’t realized he was in love with his best friend.
Kissing Buck now, it was unbelievable to think that he’d tried to deny this truth for so long. Months had passed since that night in the dark. So much had happened since then—he’d almost lost Buck again, and somehow he’d convinced himself that he wanted Buck to stay with him and Chris out of purely platonic reasons. As though he hadn’t wandered out into the living room every night for weeks, just to watch the gentle rise and fall of Buck’s chest: the evidence that Buck was alive and well right in front of him.
What does Buck mean to him? Maddie had asked, and Eddie hadn’t been able to answer. But he knows the answer now.
He pulls away from Buck, gasping for breath. His hands slip down from Buck’s face and come to rest against his chest and he’s startled for a moment to find that the pounding rhythm inside his own chest is echoed inside of Buck’s. He huffs a laugh and shakes his head minutely, leaning forward to press his forehead against the younger man’s collarbone.
He feels fingers carding through his hair and he hums because it feels so good and because it’s Buck and he makes everything better always.
“This isn’t what I expected when you showed up with pizza,” Buck whispers, amusement laced through his words.
Gentle fingers slide along the length of his jawline before pressing lightly against his chin, guiding his face away from Buck’s collarbone. His hand drops down to wrap protectively around Eddie’s waist. Buck ducks down so that he can catch Eddie’s gaze and smiles. It’s blindingly beautiful, because of course it is.
Buck says, “I’m not complaining.”
It pulls a laugh out from his chest, and Eddie is shaking his head fondly. He says, voice low and a little embarrassed, “Guess we could’ve been doing this for a while, huh?”
“Well,” Buck says, his hand coming down to rest on Eddie’s waist, his thumb stroking the exposed skin above his waistband. “I think all that matters is that it’s happening now, right?”
“But you’ve known for a while, right? About your—uh, feelings?”
Why else would Buck have gone to the trouble of updating his will? Eddie is the one who has been the idiot, hiding from the truth because it was more convenient to pretend to be the straight guy he thought he was. He wasn’t even sure how he would label himself if someone asked—it didn’t really seem to matter, not in the face of his feelings for Buck. Not anymore, at least.
Buck hums. “A bit, yeah, I guess.”
“How long is a bit?”
Buck shrugs, gazing adoringly at Eddie, and says, “Probably around the time you told me there was nobody in this world you trusted with Chris more than me.”
It’s like the words short circuit inside Eddie’s brain. He remembers saying them. He remembers watching Buck’s beautiful, scratched up face when he said them. But hearing them now, putting them in context with Buck’s feelings for him, he’s stunned.
Breathless and in awe, he asks, “That long?”
For a moment Buck appears almost shy—but shy in Buck’s type of way, meaning he’s meeting direct eye contact and not trying to hide from Eddie’s gaze at all—as a flush spreads across his cheeks and he nods.
Eddie has so many questions. He wants to know everything. What did Buck feel when he realized? How had he managed? Why hadn’t he told him sooner? What were they going to do now? And there are so many things he wants to say too, that he wants Buck to know: that he loves him, that he doesn’t know what to do with him, that he’s absolutely terrified of fucking this all up.
Instead, he drags his hands from Buck’s chest down to his waist and tugs the other man flush against him. They’re pressed together, thigh to chest, and it feels so right to have him there in his grasp. Buck lets out a little whimper—a moan—and Eddie can’t help but imagine the other moans he might pull from Buck and what they might sound like. He wants to tell him he loves him.
It’s all too soon. Eddie hasn’t been with anyone since Shannon, let alone ever been with a man, and there’s still so much they have to talk about and figure out. And he wants to.
That’s the thing about Buck that sets him apart for Eddie. He wants to talk to Buck about everything; about work and Christopher and his parents and his insecurities. He wants to listen to Buck tell him everything too, about his past and his dreams and his family. He wants to know it all.
When Eddie had first decided he wanted to be a firefighter, his family had joked that it was an odd match. They pointed out that he was an introvert, and that 24 hour shifts meant he wouldn’t really get the chance to be by himself. Training, at times, had been a bitch, and Eddie was willing to admit that he’d been nervous before his first shift at the 118. Other firefighters he knew told him not to worry about it—he’d get used to being surrounded by other people all the time. Eventually he’d grow to find comfort in his days off, and his team would become his family, annoying and lovable all at once.
It’s been years now and those other firefighters were right that the team had become his family, but wrong about everything else. Eddie never wants time away from Buck. Not really. He wants to be by his side all day and night, whether it’s on a shift or not, whether they’re at the firehouse or not.
So this? Right here? This moment where he literally has Buck wrapped up in his arms and they’re pressed flush against each other? It’s perfection.
It’s so good, he doesn’t even need to think twice about it. Just ducks his head forward and catches Buck’s mouth with his for the first of many more times to come.
Later, much later, they will talk about all of this. They will talk about the implications of the kiss and of the will and of what it all means. Eddie will be worried about Christopher, and so will Buck, and they’ll both laugh because it won’t be clear right away who is more concerned about the boy’s reaction. They don’t have any real cause for concern though—Christopher will be so excited when he learns they’re together that he’ll draw a dozen new pictures to celebrate. Buck will happily pin up every single one on his wall once the fridge gets full.
They’ll talk about their experience, and Eddie will confess, shyly, how Shannon was his high school girlfriend and he hasn’t done much dating as an adult, let alone dated any men. Buck will comb his fingers through Eddie’s short hair, and tug him forward into another kiss and promise they’ll hold hands whenever either of them get scared. Eddie will scoff and Buck will swear that it’s true—that he’ll get scared just as easily, and that he’ll need Eddie’s hand to guide him. And Eddie’s gaze will grow soft as his thumb traces the shape of Buck’s birthmark, and his lips will part in shock a little at the realization that Buck could ever get scared of anything.
They’ll have to tell the team, and Maddie, and bear the brunt of their teasing. They’ll talk about what paperwork Cap will make them sign, whether or not this might mean the end of their partnership—God, they hope not—and Bobby will smooth things over to keep them in the same firehouse.
They’ll have a future together, and one day Eddie and Buck will sit together in front of a court official signing new paperwork legally tying their names together forever. And there will be drafts of new wills, and mortgages, and adoption documents.
But none of that matters for now.
For now, Eddie slightly turns their kiss to take Buck more fully, drawing their lips together and tasting him, Buck’s breath on his cheek, their lips pressed against each other. They will part eventually, but not just yet.
Not just yet.