There was a thump against Buck's apartment door, and then a muffled, "Ow."
Buck, who had been standing in the kitchen, puzzling over what to order for dinner, went to answer it. He wasn't expecting company, and so he was especially surprised to find Eddie standing there - a six-pack of beers tucked under one arm, holding a giant bag full of stuff in one hand, and juggling a New York-style pizza in the other.
Buck leaned against the doorframe, raising his eyebrows at him. "What's going on?"
Eddie shoved the pizza at him and then pushed past into the apartment. "It's Christopher's birthday party on Sunday and you need to help me wrap these presents," he said, dumping the beers on the kitchen counter.
"I need to help you?"
"We're partners, Buck, and that extends to present-wrapping as well." Eddie dumped the bag on the floor, turning to Buck with raised eyebrows. "And I know you had no plans."
"I might've been up to something," he retorted, letting the door fall shut. "You don't know."
"I do know. You were going to come home, debate about what to have for dinner for a few hours until you finally decided on the same chicken noodle thing you always get from that Chinese restaurant down the street, and then you were going to watch something on Netflix, probably a comedy, and fall asleep on the couch. I know you," he said confidently, striding over to flick on the TV. "And we're watching baseball."
Buck didn't have it in him to protest. "Where's Christopher tonight?" he asked, carrying the pizza and beer over to the coffee table.
"At my aunt's, his cousins are in town for the party." Eddie flipped through the channels until he found ESPN, and then settled down on the couch, lowering the volume so they could talk. "You're coming, right? On Sunday?"
"Yeah, I wouldn't miss it; I've got his present all wrapped up," Buck replied, nodding to the carefully wrapped box on the table near his record player.
"What'd you get him?" Eddie asked curiously.
"A rock tumbling kit and some refills. We were watching videos on TikTok together." Buck took a slice of pizza, folded it in half and took a bite, realising a moment too late that Eddie was staring at him with high eyebrows. "What?" he asked through a mouthful of food.
"That's too expensive. I told you fifty bucks, max," Eddie replied. "You can't keep buying him expensive presents."
"Why not?' Buck asked as he swallowed. "He's turning ten – double digits, that's a big deal. Oh shit – did you not… did you not get him anything big?"
Eddie sighed. "I got him a telescope," he said, flopping back onto his seat, "but he's gonna like the rocks better."
"Are you kidding? He loves astronomy!"
"Yeah, I thought… we could take him camping, so we could at least see the stars, and…" he trailed off, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly. "But it's not like he can use it right away so it's dumb, I don't know…"
"Eddie," Buck said, turning to face him imploringly. "He is going to love it. You don't even have to go too far out of town to be in a dark area – we could do it one Friday night, or something? I could come with you. Seriously, he will love it. Is it in the bag? Can I see?"
"Yeah," Eddie said, but Buck was already on his feet, hurrying into the kitchen and pawing through the bag. "Jeez, do you want the telescope or something?"
"I always wanted one!" he called back, finally extracting it from the pile of gifts and laying the box on the kitchen island so he could admire it. "This is a nice one. God, he's going to love this."
"Really?" Eddie asked uncertainly.
"Yeah, definitely." Buck turned the box over, reading the back. "You know, if we could get a really clear night, and Jupiter is in the right position, we'd definitely be able to see it with this. Jupiter always looks like a really bright star but it's actually a planet. I showed you it, right? Remember?"
"Yes," Eddie said with a laugh. "Come and sit down. You never had a telescope? I thought your parents were loaded."
"They are, but they wanted me to be more into sports than academics," Buck replied, wandering back over to him. "Which is why I'm so into sport."
"Oh yeah, you're really into it," Eddie teased. "Tell me which two teams are playing again?"
Buck glanced at the TV. "That's the Yankees and the Cubs."
"Try the Red Sox and the Cardinals, but I like your confidence." Eddie took a slice of pizza from the box. "So the telescope is okay?"
"He will love it," Buck said emphatically. "And listen – if you want me to hold off giving him the rock tumbler, I can do that. I could get him something small?"
"No," Eddie said immediately, shaking his head. "Don't do that. I just think you're a better gift giver than I am. I wouldn't have even thought to get that for him."
"It's only because we saw it in a National Geographic magazine, and honestly, it wasn't that expensive. It was on special." It was a little white lie and Eddie would never have to know the truth.
"You spoil him," Eddie murmured, shaking his head. "You don't have to. He loves you so much."
"Look, he only turns ten once, I wanted him to have a good birthday," Buck replied, taking another slice of pizza from the box. "And I'm allowed to spoil my two favourite people once in a while."
Eddie shot him an affectionate look. "Am I up there too?" he asked. "One of your favourite people?"
"You know you are."
A blush crept into Eddie's cheeks. "Aw."
"I mean, obviously, I'm not one of yours," Buck teased, and Eddie immediately shook his head, turning to face him. "I am?"
Eddie nodded emphatically. "I was telling this to Christopher last week," he said, tucking his leg underneath himself and reaching for his beer. "He was talking about that friend of his from school, Michael, and how they're best friends. He asked me who my first best friend was, and I told him the truth, that it was you."
Buck shook his head. "There would've been someone else before me."
"No. I mean, I had a lot of friends in high school, and I've still got buddies back home," he replied, the bottle of beer to his lips, "but you're the only person I've ever felt comfortable just being myself with."
"Shannon," Buck suggested.
"It was different. We weren't friends first; it was romantic from the start - so it took time to get to know each other, you know? She knew me pretty well, but not the way you know me. And not the way I know you," Eddie replied, tipping his bottle at Buck. "I told Christopher that you were my very first best friend. When I think about the future, you're in it."
Buck was touched – truly touched – and ducked his head, a little embarrassed at such an unexpected outpouring of affection from Eddie, who was usually so tight-lipped. "Well," he replied, "I feel the same way."
"Good. Now, finish your dinner, and then help me wrap these presents," Eddie ordered, turning the volume up on the TV. "We should really go to a game. I could teach you a lot about baseball."
Buck shrugged. "Sure. Whatever."
Eddie grinned at him. "Are you going to make me go to some science museum or something in retaliation?"
He laughed. "Yeah, I am. One hundred percent."
"I knew it."
Eddie just liked being in Buck's loft, hanging out with him. He could've spent the night at home, wrapped the presents by himself and then had an early night, but it was more fun to show up at Buck's door unannounced. Deep down inside, he knew that Buck was always thrilled when he turned up out of the blue – maybe that was cockiness, but those bright blue eyes of his would light up, and Eddie loved being the one to make that happen.
There were no responsibilities when he was at Buck's loft; no one asking anything of him. It was always so easy to hang out together, the two of them just relaxing and shooting the breeze. He spent more time laughing with Buck than he did with anyone else, and he always felt a little sad when it was time to go home.
They sat at the kitchen island and wrapped the presents together, the conversation shifting from work to Christopher and then, out of the blue, Buck's parents.
"My Mom called," he said, cutting another length of wrapping paper. "She does that every few months – she talks to me for exactly half an hour, and then says that she doesn't want to keep me and that she has to go."
Eddie would actually kill for a world where his parents weren't in constant contact, but he kept that thought to himself. Buck so rarely spoke about his parents. "What did she want to talk to you about?" he asked curiously.
Buck shrugged. "She always asks me how work is, how Maddie is and what I've been up to. I talk about you and Christopher a lot, so she knows who you are. I feel like she gets a rundown from me and then tells Dad, but I'm not really sure."
"You don't talk to your Dad?"
"Not really; not as much as I talk to my mother." Buck's tongue poked out of the side of his mouth as he wrestled to straighten the wrapping paper. "God, I'm terrible at this. You know Maddie would've had this wrapped with a bow by now."
"I'm not good at it either," Eddie replied, holding up a badly wrapped action figure. "But he'll just rip the paper off anyway, so it doesn't matter."
"Guess not." Buck flashed him a grin.
Eddie reached for the next gift – a collection of books – and then said, "Do you like talking to your parents?"
Buck shrugged. "They don't really know anything about me. I keep it vague."
"So they don't ask questions. My mom always asks me if I'm dating and if I've met a nice girl yet. I think she wants grandkids," he said, rolling his eyes.
"Maddie," Eddie pointed out.
"Exactly." Buck grinned at him. "The heat is off."
"But you want kids, though."
"And the wife, the white picket fence, all that stuff?" Eddie asked curiously.
Buck shrugged. "Um… wife or husband, it doesn't matter to me, as long as we're in love."
"Oh, right." Eddie often forgot that Buck was bisexual – he'd only ever dated women in the time they'd known each other. "Yeah, well, speaking as someone who was unsuccessfully married—"
"Unsuccessful, you two only had the world's greatest kid – I wouldn't call that unsuccessful."
He laughed. "Yeah, okay. You're right, but… you know what I think is really important, and something that Shannon and I didn't have?"
Buck glanced up at him with interest. "What's that?"
"You need to have a solid foundation," he said, cutting another piece of wrapping paper off the roll. "Shannon and I… we weren't friends first, you know? We just kind of fell into a relationship, but… I think for a marriage to be successful, you need to be in love, but also friends, and always on the same team. Like, you can have arguments or whatever, but… constantly butting heads, and having wildly different ideas of what you want and expecting the other person to just bend to your will? It's never going to work. Trust me, I know."
Buck set the present he was wrapping down on the table, turning to Eddie thoughtfully. "But you and Shannon loved each other."
"Yeah, we did, but it just wasn't enough."
Buck considered him in silence for a few moments, and then said, "Well, neither of us is in any rush."
"Right," Eddie agreed.
"And I mean, I'm not desperate to get back onto Tinder or anything, so…" he trailed off. "I guess it'll happen when it happens."
"You'll be a great dad," Eddie said to him, and Buck went pink with pleasure. "Christopher loves you so much."
"Yeah, man. Obviously, I'm number one—"
"It goes without saying, sure."
Eddie grinned. "But yeah, you're like a superhero to him."
Buck laughed. "He's like a superhero to me. God, what a great kid."
Eddie would've liked Buck regardless, but he'd always thought that one of the reasons they'd bonded so quickly was because of Christopher. He'd lost some friends back in Texas when Christopher was diagnosed – people who, for whatever reason, stopped coming around. Eddie had struggled to bond with people until he met Buck, and even then he was on the fence until Buck passed the Christopher test with flying colours.
And now he was sitting in Buck's nice kitchen, wrapping presents for his son and listening to the game, and thinking there was nowhere he'd rather be.
They quickly ran out of beer, and because Eddie had decided he was spending the night, and that there was no reason for the party to stop after three beers apiece, Buck dipped into his emergency supply of liquor. They'd finished wrapping presents, so there was no reason they couldn't drink something a little stronger.
"You know what I want," Eddie said to him, practically lounging across the kitchen island. "A frozen margarita."
Buck frowned at him and knelt to inspect his selection. "Oh, you know what? I've got everything I need; I even have limes."
"Let's do it," Eddie said, slamming his hand on the bench. "I haven't had one in years."
"Somehow I can't see you with a cocktail in your hand," Buck teased him, setting the alcohol on the counter and searching for his blender. "You're lucky I have an ice-maker."
"If you've got margarita glasses, I swear—"
"I do have margarita glasses," Buck cut in. "And yeah, I'm going to make this for you properly, Edmundo, so sit your ass down and get ready for bartender Buck to make an appearance."
"This I'd like to see," Eddie said, sliding onto one of the stools. "Did you used to do it topless?"
Buck laughed at him, shaking his head. "No."
"Tell me about it. Aren't there pictures somewhere?"
He shook his head again. "No. Well, they're on a hard drive somewhere, but I'm not going to go looking for them right now." He began to prepare their drinks, swirling a segment of lime around the rim of the glass before dipping it in salt.
"Did you meet a lot of girls?" Eddie asked curiously.
"Yeah, girls and guys." Buck searched for his sharp knife in the top drawer. "But nothing serious."
Eddie nodded, resting his head on his hand. "So when did you come out, exactly?"
"Like to Maddie? My parents?"
Buck shrugged, wondering why Eddie was so interested. "Um… I've never told my parents that I was bi," he said, cutting the rinds off the limes. "I told Maddie when I was like… nineteen? Because I was hooking up with a guy at the time and you know what she's like; constantly asking questions about everything."
Eddie laughed. "Yeah, she loves knowing everything about you."
"I'm surprised she hasn't been trying to set me up." Buck dumped the limes into the blender and began to add the alcohol. "You like it a little sweet, Eds? I can put in some agave syrup."
"That sounds good. So what'd she say when you came out?"
"Well, that she loved me no matter what, and she was proud of me, that kind of thing, but… I didn't really need to hear her say it? I mean, I guess I did, because... Maddie's always been the person whose opinion I valued the most."
"Yeah, I get that." Eddie rested his head on his hand, gazing at Buck with interest. "So why haven't you come out to your parents?"
"Honestly, just trying to avoid giving them anymore ammunition when it comes to me. If I ever settle down with a guy, I'll tell them then." He tasted the alcohol mix and made a face, before adding a little more syrup.
"Would you tell them if you did meet someone, though? If you met a guy and saw yourself settling down with him?"
"I guess I'd have to, then." Buck eyed him, and then said, "What's with all the questions?"
Eddie shrugged. "I don't know; I'm just interested. We never talk about this kind of stuff. And you haven't dated anyone in ages."
"Neither have you." Buck dumped ice into the blender, raising his eyebrows at Eddie, and turned it on.
They maintained eye contact while the blender whirred, and when it finally stopped, Eddie said, "I don't really have a good reason not to date."
"You have a better reason than I do," Buck pointed out, pouring their icy drinks into the prepared glasses. "Christopher."
Eddie shrugged. "I've been thinking of putting myself back out there. My parents ask me all the time; there's this girl in El Paso they're desperate to set me up with. They think if we hit it off, I'll move back."
Buck almost dropped the jug. "You're thinking of moving back?" he demanded.
Eddie laughed. "No, not at all. That's what they want; not what I want."
"Oh, good. Because… you know… I know you guys have your differences, but… you have a lot of people here who really care about you," Buck said, adding a wedge of lime to Eddie's glass and sliding it over to him. "Try that."
Eddie was smiling at him as he took a sip, his eyebrows lifting. "Oh wow," he said, and nodded enthusiastically. "Are you sure you don't want to get back into bartending? Holy shit."
Buck smirked. "Nope, but I'll make you a drink any time you want."
"I'm gonna hold you to that, Buckley."
The problem with tequila was that it went straight to his head, so when Eddie suggested Buck make them two more margaritas, he was already on the way to drunk.
After his second, he arrived at drunk town, population Buck. Eddie was not drunk, at all, and so Buck was trying to control himself and not do anything to embarrass himself or get the giggles, which was what happened the last time Eddie let him drink too much, and he ended up in hysterics on the floor. It was Eddie's eyebrows that kept setting him off – truly the man had the most expressive eyebrows in the world, and when Hen made a crack once that Buck could read Eddie's mind, he nearly lost it again. It was the eyebrows he could read, not his mind. Eddie's eyebrows gave him away every single time.
They'd tried to play poker once and Buck had actually won just by watching the changing expressions on Eddie's face. He could do it with Monopoly or any kind of card game – Eddie was too damn expressive.
Buck loved watching him. Loved, loved, loved watching him so much. At work, or when they were at his house and he was playing with Christopher – there was something about Eddie's face that drove him wild. He was introverted, his humour was dry, but when his defences were down – especially when he was with Christopher – everything about him changed. He relaxed. He laughed. He was gentle and sweet with his son, always.
And now he was leaning forward on the couch, his eyes trained on the television – still playing baseball, the most boring of all the boring games – and Buck was mesmerised by his eyebrows. Brow furrowed with intense concentration, and then immediate relief when something good happened, followed by high eyebrows and wild gestures when something bad happened. Buck nursed his melting margarita and watched Eddie contentedly.
And then a commercial came on, and Eddie groaned, slumping back in his seat. It was for a new Brazilian restaurant, opening in the city, with a dancefloor and samba nights. The words were out of his mouth before he could stop himself.
"Did you know when I was in Brazil I learned how to samba? This girl taught me; she gave me lessons and I learned how to do it," he remarked, gesturing at the TV with his drink. "And we used to go to this nightclub and she'd like, take my shirt off and dance with me and all the Brazilian guys would call me names in their language because they didn't think I could speak it, right, but I always know when someone is calling me a bad name in another language, Eddie. Like, it's the tone. You know what I mean?"
"Yeah, like this one time when I was in the army, we were on base with these guys from Germany," Eddie replied, balancing his glass on his chest, "and my buddy Greg didn't really get along with them, you know, and they swore at him in German. You know how I knew they were swearing at him? Because it was slightly more aggressive than how they were normally speaking. Germans, right?"
"Right," Buck agreed, though he had no idea. "You want another drink, Eddie?"
"Yeah man, I don't have to pick Chris up until 11 tomorrow. Tequila though," he said, as Buck tripped over his feet on the way to the kitchen. "Something with tequila. Something fancy, Buck."
"You feelin' fancy, Eds?" Buck withdrew every single bottle from his liquor cabinet. "Do you know how to samba?"
"No, but I can salsa," Eddie said with a laugh.
"There's a difference?"
"That's not racist, that's a question!" Buck shot back, opening the fridge. "Ah. I know what to make." He mixed the alcohol in his cocktail shaker and poured their drinks into two tall glasses with ice, garnished with a wedge of lemon, and carried them over to the couch.
Eddie sat up, reaching for his glass, his eyebrows flying up. "Long Island iced tea? You trying to get me wasted?"
"You said you wanted tequila," Buck replied as he took his seat again, and had a sip. "Ooh. Potent."
Eddie eyed the glass and said, "You know I haven't drunk one of these since I was twenty-one? They used to have a cheap cocktails night at this bar in El Paso. These were going for like five bucks each, and my buddy and I got so drunk on these that I actually blacked out. I don't have any memories of that night, other than waking up in my bed the next day with the world's worst headache."
"So you're not going to drink it," Buck said with a pout.
"Now, I didn't say that." Eddie had a sip, and then smacked his lips. "God, that's nice. That's good. Damn, Buck. You're really good at making cocktails, you know that?"
"Well, almost a year in South America serving cocktails will do that to ya."
Eddie suddenly leaned over to turn off the television and shifted so he was facing Buck. "I never asked you why you went to South America."
Buck shrugged. "I was running away," he admitted. "As far and as fast as I could."
Eddie nodded, twisting his lips back and forth. "I get that."
"Yeah." Buck swallowed another mouthful and said, "But I liked being a bartender because I was around people all the time. Got to meet people from all over the world – it was a good time, and I don't regret it."
"You shouldn't, because you learned how to make drinks real good," Eddie said, and Buck suddenly realised that he wasn't the only one bordering on drunk.
"Maybe a Long Island iced tea wasn't the best idea," he said, but sipped his drink again.
"No, no. Don't say that, Buck, you've done a real good thing here," Eddie said, downing another mouthful. "Listen, I gotta talk to you about something, all right? And you're going to give me advice."
"I will," Buck agreed. "I'm good at it."
"Right. So I was talking to Hen about dating again, right? And she was talking about all the dating apps."
"Right," he said slowly, concerned with where this was going.
"So I downloaded Tinder but I don't know." Eddie pulled out his phone, opening the app. "They want me to set up a profile and she kept taking pictures of me to add to it but I don't know, man. I really don't know if this is the right idea."
Buck tried to think sober thoughts. First of all, he could not let Eddie know that he was desperately in love with him, which meant that he would have to play it totally and completely, one hundred percent, cool.
So he blurted out, "Tinder is shit. You shouldn't do it."
Eddie looked surprised. "Like… I wouldn’t get any matches, or…"
"Oh, you'll get matches but it'll be mostly girls wanting to hook up," he said, hoping he sounded wise. "Unless that's what you want, I mean…"
"No, no," Eddie said, dropping his phone onto the coffee table. "No. What should I do then?"
"Um… is this… you really want this?" he asked weakly. "You want to date again?"
Eddie sipped his drink and admitted, "I'm kinda lonely. I mean, I feel guilty because… Christopher should be enough for me, right? But… sometimes I just wish I had someone to talk to after he's asleep."
"You can call me," Buck suggested brightly.
"No, but listen," Eddie pleaded. "I really miss… like… being with someone, Buck. I really miss it. Don't you miss being with someone?"
Buck had no idea what to say – the answer was of course, of course he did – he wanted nothing more than to be with Eddie. Eddie, who believed that the best relationships were built on a foundation of friendship – well, didn't they have that? Had Eddie been dropping a hint? Was this conversation about Tinder and dating a roundabout way of feeling Buck out?
Was he drunk and not thinking clearly? Most definitely.
So he had another mouthful and said, "You want me to hug you?"
Eddie snorted with laughter. "If you want to."
That was enough of an invitation, so Buck set his glass down on the table and wrapped Eddie into a burly hug, ignoring his protests and muffled laughter. "There, there," Buck said, patting his back firmly. "Good boy."
Eddie shoved him away playfully, almost spilling his drink, and said, "That's not the kind of physical contact I'm after, Buckley."
Buck shrugged. "If you were bi, I'd offer to go upstairs, but…"
Eddie's face dropped, and he stared at Buck in shock.
"Um, it was a joke," he clarified, and swallowed the last mouthful of his drink. "Another? You want another? I'll make us some more."
He bustled into the kitchen, face flaming. Fuck, fuck, fuck – the point of harbouring secret feelings was to simply keep the feelings a secret, but a little tequila had loosened his lips right up.
Drinking more was a bad idea. It was a really bad idea, but he couldn't think of any better ideas, so drinking was what it was.
An hour later and he was well and truly drunk – lying on the rug on the floor beside Eddie, giggling helplessly.
"And then we had to do these agility tests," Eddie was saying, his speech a little slurred. "So you had to do a ropes course thing and like climb up a wall and stuff? And this guy in our unit, Douglas, was paired up with me. And he had that irritable bowel syndrome thing, you know?"
"And we're about to run the course and he says to me, Eddie, my stomach is churning. And I thought he meant nerves."
"Oh no," he said, and began to giggle again.
"So I'm like, nah man, it'll be good! It'll be fine, just do your best, you know? And he's like no, no, my stomach – and then they fired the starting gun and we had to go, right? So we go through the tyres and the tunnel, and did this thing where you hold onto a rope and pull yourself over muddy water, and then we get to the wall. And I say, give me a boost, right?"
Buck nodded, turning his head to the side to face Eddie with a grin. "Yeah."
"And he squats down, I put my boot in his hands and as he lifts me up, I heard the biggest fart – like, way worse than Chim's – but I'm already at the top of the wall, and I look over and he looks up at me with like, total horror, and he says, Eddie, I shit myself."
Buck hooted with laughter, rolling around on the floor, totally delighted. "What happened to the poor guy?" he finally managed to ask, wiping tears from his eyes.
"He didn't finish the course. He had to get permission to go change," Eddie said through snickers. "And that was the funniest thing that happened in my entire time in the army."
"That's a great thing. You never told me that before."
"I don't like talking about the army." Eddie sat up, reaching for the abandoned bottle of tequila, and dragging it over. He took a swig and lay back down again. "Tell me a funny Brazil story."
"Um…" Buck tried to think, but his brain was swimming in tequila. Suddenly he remembered a hazy night on the Copacabana beach, and said, "I met this guy once. This really hot guy, like… so hot."
"I didn't mean a sex story," Eddie complained.
"No, just listen. He kept hitting on me over the bar and the other bartender said to me that he does this to everyone, he just wants to sleep with you, add another notch to the bedpost but I was like, well, I don't really care, I'll sleep with whoever and he's hot," he explained. "So I went home with him."
Eddie grimaced, but said nothing.
"And we get back to my share-house and he's like, kissing me and stuff," he continued. "And I'm like, okay, yeah, this is going to be great – and then he says, hey, listen, this isn't a big deal, but I've been dealing with a slight issue lately, and I hope it's not a deal breaker. And I'm like, okay, what issue? And he says, well, I've got crabs and they won't go away."
Eddie groaned loudly, shaking his head.
Buck gestured to him. "Right?! So I was like, no dude, I don't want crabs, get your hands out of my pants, we're done here, and then he tried to shame me for not giving him a blow job and I was like, you've got crabs, like… gross. There's treatments and stuff for that. Then we find out a couple of days later that he's telling everyone that I gave him crabs."
"I thought I said a funny story."
"It's funny!" Buck protested. "So he comes up to me like, a week later and says, hey listen, no hard feelings, sorry about what I said, I was upset, I hope you forgive me – also I've had treatment and we could fuck now if you want."
"This guy sounds like a real prince," Eddie said bitterly.
"Yeah, but just listen," Buck pleaded. "So I said, yeah, sounds good, and he was like, okay, let's meet on the beach after your shift – because there was this spot where guys used to go to have sex—"
"I never did it!" he protested. "Listen. I said yeah, and then I ghosted him, and then it turned out that he hooked up with someone else that night, on the beach, and a crab pinched his dick with its claw."
Eddie groaned, flopping onto his back. "That's not funny."
"It's very funny! It's ironic. A crab pinched his crab infested dick! That would hurt, Eddie! I heard he lost the tip—"
"No!" Eddie shouted, throwing a hand over Buck's mouth. "God, no. Seriously? Ugh, gross."
Buck laughed up at him, totally amused. "It's a good story."
"No, it's not." Eddie sat up onto his knees, swaying, trying to steady himself. "You're too good for people like that."
Buck shrugged. "Back then, I would pretty much have sex with anyone who asked, so long as they were decent looking."
"Buck," Eddie complained, rubbing his face. "Don't say things like that."
"Because it's you," Eddie groaned, and slapped Buck's leg. "You're… you're my… favourite guy."
Buck started giggling again, reaching for the tequila bottle. "No."
"Yeah." Eddie snatched it away from him, and said, "I don't want anyone to hurt you."
"No one's hurting me, I'm not dating," Buck argued, reaching for the bottle. "Eddie. Give it to me."
"No." Eddie crossed his arms and said, "Buck, when was the last dude you dated?"
That was a weird question. He sighed, rubbing his head, trying to think clearly. "I don't know. Before you started, before I met Abby? Like… right before, I think. I was on Grindr for a while, for hook-ups. I never dated anyone for more than a couple of weeks until Abby."
"You like girls better than guys?"
"No, I like everyone," he replied honestly. "What kind of girl do you want?"
"I don't know, someone nice. Someone who likes Christopher." Perched on his knees, he thought for a moment, his brow furrowed. "Because Christopher is the most important, you know? Christopher deserves only good people in his life, and I'm his father, so I've gotta pick the right people."
"Right," Buck agreed.
"So I can't just go on Twitter and pick up random girls."
"Twitter? Tinder, Eds."
"Oh, right. I get them confused," he admitted, "because social media is stupid, but Buck, listen. Listen to me. The person has to be good enough for Christopher."
"And like…" he licked his lips, thinking again. "Like, I wish I could skip the dating part and just be in love, because I always liked that part. Being in a relationship, even though I was a bad husband."
"You weren't a bad husband," he said loyally.
"I was, and she left me." Eddie pinched the bridge of his nose between two fingers, shaking his head. "No, but listen. I know I'm not the easiest and I'm not good at feelings and whatever, but like… all I want is for someone to love us. Because me and Chris, we're like… we're really good. You know?"
He sat up as well, nodding. "Yeah, I know, you're the best. The absolute best."
"I just don't think I'm gonna find someone who thinks that," he murmured, twisting his hands in his lap. "And I don't want to parade a bunch of people through his life; I don't want to like… put him through that."
"That's because you're a good dad who puts his needs above your own," Buck said, reaching for the bottle of tequila again.
Eddie lit up with a blinding smile, and Buck basked in it, gazing at him with unabashed adoration. God, if he only knew how perfect and beautiful and wonderful he was, like… everything he wanted, they had.
Was Eddie dropping him a hint?
He swigged the tequila, trying to think. It was Eddie, and he wasn't great with feelings and emotions and talking, and so if Buck maybe talked to him about his feelings and emotions, maybe… that might open the door?
Eddie took the bottle from him and had a sip, letting out a snort. "Did the crab really pinch that guy's dick?"
"Yeah, took the tip off. Instant circumcision."
"Yeah." Buck grinned at the memory. "Yeah, he had it comin'."
Without warning, Eddie said, "You're too good for people like that, Buck, and you can't… I don't want you to be with people like that anymore because you're too good, so stop it." He grabbed Buck by the shoulders and shook him while Buck laughed, throwing one arm around Eddie's neck, and pulling him in for a hug.
Eddie smothered him in an embrace. Deciding to throw caution to the wind, Buck said, "I don't want to date anymore. I just want to be in love, you know? And like… be happy with someone."
"Yeah," Eddie murmured, sitting up on his knees again.
"Someone who knows me."
"Yeah, like I know you."
"Yeah, like that. If only I was a girl, right? Then you'd be into me," he said, because he was gonna say it, he was gonna put it all out there, everything that he was feeling and hope to god that maybe Eddie was feeling the same way, and was just too scared to admit it.
Eddie opened and closed his mouth, and then said, "What do you mean?"
"Then I could just tell you how I feel," Buck groaned, throwing his hands up. "Like… it's the one thing we can't talk about and I can talk to you about everything."
Eddie's heart was pounding a little faster – he was drunk, but maybe not as drunk as Buck. "How do you feel?" he asked, not sure he wanted to know the answer – not sure where this was going or what it meant.
Buck threw his head back, hitting his fists on the carpet, like he couldn't quite form the right words. "Like… okay, when I'm with you," he began, "I'm so happy. Like… when I'm with you and Christopher at your house, it just feels like home. And Eddie, this is so dumb but like, I think… I think I know you better than anyone and I think you know me better than anyone and I just love you so much. Like I can't even tell you how much because it's just so much, it's almost too much and I just know that if I was a girl, you would love me the way I love you."
It was like a light switched on in his brain.
Buck's in love with me.
"Me?" he squeaked, sobering almost instantly.
"Oh god, yes," Buck babbled. "Oh my god, I love you so much. I love your face, Eds, you have the best face. The nicest face."
The thing was that he'd never even considered it before – hadn't for one second entertained the possibility that Buck thought of him as anything other than just a friend, and now…
A door had opened into a world of possibility, and he felt like he should've been terrified, or confused, or uncertain or ready to let Buck down gently, but instead, his heart felt like it was waking up after a long slumber.
He couldn't help but shift closer. "What else?"
"Okay, sometimes," Buck said, his eyes widening and brows lifting, "Sometimes when you're really serious your mouth gets all frowny and I can't see your dimples, and I hardly ever see your dimples, except when you're with Christopher. And then you smile all the time. And sometimes I think you're not happy but I think you're just very guarded about who you show your happiness to, and I think I'm one of the people who gets to see the real you. Am I?"
Jesus fucking Christ, Buck knew him better than anyone. He nodded, breathless. "Yes."
"And I think your parents made you think you're not good enough or smart enough but Eddie, wow, you are… you are so good enough for me, you know? So, so good. God, I wish I was a girl, or I wish you were a girl – or I wish you liked guys, Eds, fuck."
"Yeah, because then… then I could kiss you like I always wanted to."
Buck wanted to kiss him.
"I bet you'd be a good kisser. I'm a good kisser, Eddie," he said, nodding with satisfaction. "A really good kisser."
"You are?" God, his questions were so stupid, but the alcohol was still fuzzing his brain and he just wanted to know the answers.
"Yeah, everyone always says what a great kisser I am," Buck boasted, and then burped. "Ugh."
Eddie had to admit that Buck had particularly kissable lips – full and pink. Everything about Buck was nice, he decided, but he'd never really thought about it before. Never considered it an option because they were both men, but… Buck was bi. And Buck was in love with him.
So why hadn't he ever considered it? Was this just his drunk brain twirling things around, confusing him, or was he actually into the idea of falling in love with his best friend?
He suddenly realised that Buck looked a little green, both hands pressed to his forehead. "Oh, I feel weird," he groaned.
"Are you sick?" he asked, suddenly realising just how much they'd drunk. "Buck?"
"No. Yes. No, I don't know." He grimaced, clutching his stomach. "Okay, I might be sick."
"Hey, come on," Eddie said, helping him up off the floor. "Come on; come into the bathroom with me."
Buck complied, groaning as they staggered into the downstairs bathroom together. Eddie sat him on the edge of the tub, both hands on his shoulders, swaying back and forth.
Buck gazed at him blearily. "God, I wish you loved me the way I love you."
He had no idea what to say, so he just nodded. "I know. It's okay."
"It's not. I just want someone to love me," he admitted, and began to weep. "Eddie, I just want someone to love me and take me on dates and be romantic and just want me to be a family with them…"
"I know, I know." Eddie grabbed a washcloth from the bath and soaked it, before, mopping Buck's face. "You're going to have to throw up," he said. "You'll feel better."
"I hate tequila," Buck admitted.
Eddie let out a chuckle. "You should've mentioned that before. Come on, buddy. You want to stick your fingers down your throat?"
"No," he groaned, shaking his head, swaying side-to-side. He suddenly went white, his eyes opening wide. "Oh god," he said, sliding off the edge of the bath onto his knees, leaning over the toilet bowl, and vomited.
Eddie closed his eyes, turning his head to the side, rubbing Buck's back vigorously. "You're okay, buddy. You're going to be okay."
And then it hit him again. Buck was in love with him.
His whole world had been flipped upside down, and he was filled with so many questions – could he feel the same way? Could he find another man attractive? Did he want to have sex with another man? Did they have a future together? Should he say anything about it to Buck at all, because… their friendship was on the line, wasn't it?
And after Christopher, it was the most important thing in his life.
Somehow, Buck ended up in bed, with a cool compress on his head, a bottle of water on the bedside table, and Eddie beside him. He'd vomited until there was nothing left, and it was as Eddie adjusted the compress on his head that he remembered something important.
"Tequila makes me hurl."
Eddie snorted with laughter. "Yep. Sure does. Here, drink some water, buddy."
Buck accepted the bottle from Eddie and drank half. "Thanks."
Like the total dad that he was, Eddie tucked Buck into bed. "You feel better now?"
Buck nodded, on the verge of sleep. "Yeah. Thanks."
"Good." Eddie flipped off the light and started to the stairs, pausing at the top. "Hey, Buck?"
"You're my best friend," he said. "I love you."
Oh, that was nice. "I love you," he replied sleepily. "You're the best, Eddie."
"Sleep tight." Eddie's footsteps disappeared down the stairs.
God, he was so sweet and nice when he wanted to be – he could be a real grouch but underneath he was just soft and nice and gentle, all the time. Buck turned onto his side, feeling good about his drunken love confession as he drifted off to sleep.
Buck remembered his drunken love confession the moment he opened his eyes the next morning, as the sobering realisation of what he'd said to Eddie sunk in. Fuck.
Fuck. Oh god, what had he done? Did Eddie remember? Was Eddie even still at the loft?
Buck risked a glance downstairs, and saw Eddie at the coffee machine, in a pair of Buck's sweats and no shirt. God, he looked good. Amazing. Taut and toned and perfect and—
No. Buck sat up and instantly regretted it, his stomach rolling. "Oh god."
"You awake?" Eddie called from below. "Get up, get showered and come down here. I've got McDonalds for you."
He nodded, holding his hand up in a wave, and staggered into the bathroom.
Ten minutes later he emerged, clean, albeit with a pounding headache. He went downstairs, and Eddie immediately handed him two Tylenol and a bottle of water, and then took a couple of wrapped burgers out of the bag and tossed them in the microwave to heat up.
"So," Eddie said to him idly, "you feeling okay?"
Buck groaned, rubbing his forehead.
"I didn't know you couldn't handle your tequila," Eddie teased, pouring him a cup of coffee - black, with one sugar – and then passed it across. As the caffeine hit his system, he started to feel a little better, and when a hot egg McMuffin was in front of him as well, that went down a treat.
He glanced at Eddie, wondering if maybe Eddie was drunk enough that he couldn't remember their conversation – he tried to pick up clues that maybe Eddie was pissed at him, or maybe he'd ruined their friendship, but Eddie seemed to be his usual self. He sat across from Buck, eating a sausage McMuffin, checking his phone.
"What time do you have to pick up Christopher?" Buck asked him hoarsely.
"Not until eleven. So the birthday party is on Sunday," Eddie said, glancing over at him, "and you're coming for that, and then I was thinking that on our next Saturday off, we could take him camping and to look at the stars? What do you think?"
"Sure." Buck rubbed his eyes, and then said, "Eddie, if you don't want me to give him the—"
"Of course I want you to give it to him; it's an awesome present and he'll love it," Eddie cut in. "Don't worry."
"I'm just saying I could hold off…"
"No, you won't. Stop it." Eddie sipped his coffee, regarding Buck seriously. "You and I both know he'll love that gift. You're so goddamn thoughtful, Buck. You really listen to him – not everyone does that."
Embarrassed, Buck said, "He's my favourite guy."
Eddie grinned, nodding as he sipped his coffee again. "Mine too."
They lapsed into silence. Buck ate his burger, his brain spinning, and finally said, "Man, never let me drink that much again. It's all a blur."
Eddie glanced at him, his eyebrows lifting. "Yeah, me either," he agreed. "I don't remember much after we just started drinking straight tequila."
Oh, thank god. Buck breathed a sigh of relief, relaxing. "Really dumb of us," he said with a chuckle. "It's been a long time since I let loose like that – thankfully it was just with you, so hopefully I didn't embarrass myself too much."
"No, but at some point I want to see you samba," Eddie teased. "You can't reveal a secret like that and then not do a demonstration."
"I'm pretty sure you were the one who said you could salsa," Buck retorted, as Eddie laughed loudly. "Fair's fair, Diaz."
"Fair's fair, in that we agree never to subject each other to that," Eddie said, holding his hand out.
Buck shook it. "Deal."
By the start of their shift that afternoon, he was well and truly over his hangover. McDonalds plus a gym session plus a swim had cured him of it completely, and he was feeling good, though he'd made the decision never to consume tequila again in his life.
Tequila was the devil's drink.
He was especially relieved that everything with Eddie seemed to be normal – he'd worried briefly that Eddie was pretending as though the drunken love confession hadn't happened to spare his feelings, but as the day wore on, he became more convinced that Eddie simply hadn't remembered it.
He could hardly remember what he'd said – some kind of rambling nonsense about how great Eddie's face was – so maybe it hadn't been too bad, but still. A love confession was a love confession, and they usually changed everything.
But Eddie was fine. Totally normal. Buck could always tell when something was bothering him, and Eddie was as relaxed as he ever was.
So Buck tried to relax as well. He'd dodged a bullet and their friendship was safe, and he could just continue pretending that he wasn't in love with his best friend. That was something he could definitely do.
Upon their return to the station, Buck ducked into the showers to clean off (he'd spent most of the rescue wading through murky, waist-deep water). He was feeling pretty good about himself and his life choices as he wandered back out to the locker room, pausing when he heard Eddie and Hen mid-conversation.
"So you're not going to try to date," she was saying to him, sounding unimpressed. "Eddie, I thought you were going to put yourself out there. It's been over a year."
"Yeah, I know, I know, I just…" he trailed off. "It's completely different now. How am I supposed to go on one of those dating apps?"
"By letting me take some more pictures of you with great lighting and finally posting your profile," she said bluntly.
He laughed, and then said, "No, I mean… I can't trawl through women's photos and say yes or no. I hate the idea of it."
"It's just how things are done—"
"But I'm making a snap decision on the face of a person and they're doing the same thing to me. And then I have to try to start a conversation with them? No."
"You're over-thinking it," she said affectionately, "but it's very sweet of you to be worried about this."
"I can't do it," he said. "I just can't. I'm not going to rate women based on their looks and nothing else."
"Well, there are other apps, Eddie – there's Hinge or Bumble? They're a little less vicious. On Bumble, the girl has to start the conversation with you first. Maybe that would be easier?"
"No, no. I don't… I don't want that," he said uncertainly.
She let out a sigh. "Okay, then what are you gonna do?"
Buck leaned in closer, listening intently.
"Nothing," he finally said. "I can't do anything, because I don't want to confuse Christopher."
"So you're just going to wait until he's 18 and in college before you start dating?"
"I'll only be forty—"
"Eddie," she groaned. "Come on. Your son is nearly ten. Kids are smarter and more perceptive than you think. If you're lonely, he probably senses it."
There was a pause. "Actually, I'm not that lonely," Eddie admitted.
"Oh? There is someone?"
"Um…" Eddie trailed off. "Yeah, there sort of is."
Buck's heart plummeted into his stomach. What the fuck.
"Who?" she asked eagerly.
"I can't… I don't…" Eddie was fumbling, clearly caught off guard. "Um… I haven't really figured that out for myself yet."
Figured what out? Buck strained to listen.
"What's going on?" Hen asked with concern. "Are you okay?"
"No, I just… I have no idea what I'm doing," he admitted. "I haven't done this in so long, and this person… they have no idea."
"Eddie, you do realise you're a catch, right? You see the women staring at you, don't you? I just need to double check that you actually do realise that there are plenty of women who would kill for a chance to be with you. Plenty of men, too, if that's what you're into."
Eddie let out a nervous laugh. "No, I just… I'm just taking it slow."
"Well, that's good," she replied. "There's no need to rush into anything – like you said, you have Christopher to think about. Take your time. I mean, tortoises don't go much slower than you, but that's okay."
"I just need to figure out how I feel," he replied.
"Well, it's not rocket science. Either you're attracted to them, or you're not," she remarked.
"Yeah, yeah," Eddie retorted. "Okay. Don't say anything to anyone."
"Your secret is safe with me. I guess you've spoken to Buck—"
"No, no, I can't talk to Buck about this yet." Eddie sounded embarrassed. "I'm going to; I just need some time."
Time. Time to tell him what, exactly?
Did Eddie remember the love confession? He thought back, wishing his memories were clearer. No, he had no idea, and if Eddie did remember, he'd done a great job of acting like he hadn't.
So why wouldn't he tell Buck about the mystery person he was interested in? And who the hell was she, anyway?
Internally berating himself for falling in love with his best friend, he lingered in the shower room until he heard them leave, before stealing into the locker room with a heavy heart.
He told himself that he'd known this day would come; the day that Eddie found someone else. He told himself that it was okay – that they would always be friends, and that one day, when Eddie was married to a really nice and pretty woman who would give him a bunch more kids, he would still be invited around for birthday parties and other get-togethers.
It was okay for him to move on. He'd been wrong to fall in love with his best friend in the first place, so maybe he needed to put himself out there, and start meeting other people.
As he changed into a clean uniform, he couldn't help but wonder what the mystery woman was like. Maybe she was Latina, like that teacher at Christopher's school, or maybe she was a single mother; maybe Eddie had met her at the school? He was always so involved with whatever Christopher was doing, and Buck could only imagine what the mothers thought of Eddie, who was so handsome, friendly and kind. Maybe the woman he'd met had a son or daughter Christopher's age, one of his friends… was that the reason he was being hesitant?
He wondered if Eddie would have a big wedding and if he'd be best man. He wondered how long it would take them to have more kids… he wondered if he'd meet someone as well, and the two women would become best friends and they would plan things as a group, like family holidays, and he and Eddie would drink beer and grill and talk about their jobs while the women bonded over the children.
Their overnight shift finished at 9am, and Eddie was changing in the locker rooms when he noticed Buck sitting in the corner, a dejected look on his face. "You okay?" he asked, fastening his jeans. "You've been quiet all night."
Quiet was an understatement. Buck usually consumed way too much sugar and coffee on their overnights and buzzed around annoying everyone, but he'd been uncharacteristically subdued. Eddie had no idea what was bothering him – the call-outs had been relatively uneventful; nothing too traumatic.
Buck stood abruptly, turning to face his locker. "Yeah, I'm fine."
Eddie frowned. "What are you doing now?"
"Going home to get some sleep," Buck replied shortly.
He was in a bad mood, and Eddie wracked his brain, trying to figure out why. Finally, he said, "I was going to take Christopher to breakfast – do you want to come?"
Buck hesitated, and then clarified, "Just the three of us?"
"Yeah, who else would I invite?" he asked, confused.
"I don't know. Um…" Buck checked his watch. "Yeah, okay. Breakfast would be good."
Eddie frowned at him. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine." Buck still had his back turned.
He wracked his brain, trying to come up with a reason why Buck would be giving him the cold shoulder. "Are you mad at me?"
"No, why would I be mad at you?" Buck slammed his locker door shut, which meant that yes, he was mad.
Irritated, and unwilling to play petty little games with him, Eddie said, "Well, look – if I've done something to piss you off—"
"You haven't; it's not you," Buck interrupted. "It's me. Look… I better not come to breakfast, but I'll be at the party tomorrow, okay? I just need to get some sleep."
"Okay," he replied, but almost as soon as the words left his lips, he heard his son's voice echo through the firehouse.
Eddie glanced at Buck again, whose head had lifted instantly. "Come on," he said. "You better say hello; he'll be calling for you next."
Buck relented, and nodded. "Okay, I'll be there in a sec."
Eddie let the locker room to find his aunt and Christopher greeting Chimney, but as soon as Christopher set eyes on him, he yelled, "Dad!"
"Hey buddy," Eddie called, hurrying over to him. "What are you doing here? I thought I was picking you up."
"I've been called into work," Pepa said apologetically. "I thought I'd save some time and drop him off."
Eddie dropped to his knees to give Christopher a hug and a kiss, nodding up at her with a smile. "Thanks for taking him for me."
"Not a problem, Eddie," she replied, but then called, "Hola, Buck!"
"Buck!" Christopher shouted, wriggling out of Eddie's grasp. "Buck, I drew you a picture!"
Chimney raised his eyebrows at Eddie, folding his arms across his chest. "It's pretty clear to see who the favourite is."
Eddie laughed. "Yeah, Buck's a big hit with the entire Diaz family."
Even Pepa lingered when Buck arrived, and after he greeted Christopher with a hug, she kissed him on the cheek. "You're coming to the party," she said sternly, wagging a finger at him. "Correct?"
"Yes ma'am," he replied, practically blushing. "I'll be there."
"Good." Pepa kissed Christopher on the cheek one last time and said her goodbyes, striding out of the firehouse.
Eddie lifted Christopher up into his arms for a hug, raising his eyebrows at Buck. "Breakfast?" he asked hopefully.
Buck's bad mood seemed to have lifted. He nodded. "Okay. Breakfast."
Eddie had known that Buck wouldn't be able to say no to Christopher, and as they sat at a booth together and ate their meals, he couldn't help but watch as Buck and Christopher chatted happily together. Christopher hadn't seen him in a few days, so he told Buck all about school, and what was happening with his friends, and the teacher he didn't like – Ms Barton. Buck listened avidly, his head resting on his hand, totally engaged with everything Christopher was saying.
He was never bored or short with Christopher; he never cut him off or tried to change the subject. He listened. Buck listened the way Eddie listened, as though Christopher was his son as well – as though he understood, like Eddie did, that everything Christopher had to say was important.
Who else was going to treat his son that wonderfully? Who else was ever going to fit in with them the way Buck did? He could search, date a thousand women, and he would still never find someone that Christopher loved as much as Buck.
And Buck was in love with him.
He tried to let down his defences, to open his eyes to what was right in front of him. The only reason he'd never considered Buck a possibility was because he was a man, but… did that even really matter? Did gender matter at all? What if the right person had been in front of him for years, and he'd just been wilfully blind to it?
Buck glanced over at him then, his eyebrows lifting questioningly – Eddie had been quiet most of the morning, listening to them talk. Eddie smiled at him reassuringly, as Christopher launched into another story about school, and when Buck's attention was again focused on his son, he began to mull it over.
Could he be attracted to Buck?
He gave him an appraising look and decided that yes, he could. He'd always noticed Buck – how could he not? The man was gorgeous – handsome, broad-shouldered, strong, with big blue eyes and a dazzling smile. Eddie had noticed him; had averted his eyes and told himself not to look, but everything about Buck was big. And that was hard to miss.
Buck suddenly laughed at something Christopher was saying, and as Eddie watched his face light up, something long dormant suddenly flared in his heart. For so long he'd told himself that he couldn't be attracted to anyone; that he had to be a dad first and forget about falling in love and romance.
But his heart was waking up, and everything in his soul was telling him that the perfect person had been right in front of him all along.
Buck glanced over at him again with another questioning smile, as though he was wondering why Eddie was so quiet. They locked eyes for a few long seconds, and Eddie thought, I'd like to kiss you.
After breakfast, Buck returned to the loft with a brand new picture for his fridge – a Christopher Diaz original, of the three of them at the beach. He hung it next to the two other masterpieces and admired it with a smile on his face, wondering how these two people had become the most important people in his life.
And how royally fucked he was that Eddie was interested in someone else.
And how he still had no idea whether Eddie remembered his drunken confession.
And how he would have to move on and find someone new, even though he really, really didn't want to.
Maybe he should just throw himself into the deep end, so with that in mind, he sat down on at the bench and downloaded Tinder again. Not Grindr – that was for sex only, and he was determined not to fall back into bad habits.
After he set up his profile, he grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge and went out to lie on the couch, scrolling through his options, swiping right on none of them. Jesus fucking Christ, there was not one single person he was attracted to – there were a lot of good-looking men and women, for sure, but none of them were Eddie.
And wasn't that the fundamental problem? There was only one Eddie Diaz, and he was unavailable.
He was about to give up when his phone began to ring, and Maddie's picture flashed up on the screen. "Hey, Maddie," he greeted her, stretching out on the couch, his feet hanging over the edge. "How are you feeling? Morning sickness still got you down?"
She groaned. "Yeah, it's been awful," she complained. "And I have no idea why they call it morning sickness when it lasts all day. I can't remember what it's like not to feel nauseous. Do you know I had to go and vomit at work yesterday because someone was eating a banana near me? I can't believe it's lasted this long."
"Chim said he's having to be careful about what he eats when you're nearby."
"I'm trying not to pick at him but Buck, like… he was cooking meat the other day, and I just can't handle it, at all. Anyway – that's not why I'm calling."
"What's going on?" he asked, hoping it wasn't something to do with their parents.
"Well… I know you haven't dated in a really long time," she began awkwardly, as though expecting him to shut her down, "but I met this girl at my prenatal yoga classes and she's wonderful. I was hoping I could set you up with her."
"She's pregnant?" he asked, confused.
Maddie laughed. "No, she's the instructor. I think you might really like her – she's super funny and outgoing. Her name is Cleo. Interested?"
She'd always had great timing. "That's funny," he said. "I actually just signed up to Tinder again."
"Oh no, don't do Tinder – I'll find someone great for you," she said eagerly. "Even if you don't like my yoga instructor, I know plenty of single people through work that you might like. Men or women – any preference, or just… whoever I think might be a good match?"
"Yeah, anyone, I'm not worried about gender," he replied, letting out a yawn. "Sorry. We worked the night shift last night and then I went out to breakfast with Eddie and Christopher this morning; I'm beat. And I've got to make some food for Christopher's birthday tomorrow."
"It's almost like you're Eddie's partner," she teased. "You're always making things for him and spending time with them."
"He's my best friend," he said again, through another yawn. "And I love Christopher."
"I know. Kids are a yes then?"
"Okay!" Maddie sounded excited. "I'm going to set you up with Cleo first of all – maybe for a drink during the week? You sound pretty wiped out."
"That sounds good. I'm not working on Wednesday night."
"Great, I'll set it up! Oh, Chim's just walked in. Get some rest, Buck. I'll text you the details."
Maddie ended the call, smiling up at Chimney as he greeted her with a kiss. "Busy night?"
"Not too bad," he replied, leaning over to press a kiss to her belly as well.
"Buck sounded exhausted."
"I don't think he got much sleep. He seemed kinda off last night." Chimney collapsed into the armchair, rubbing his face. "Kinda down in the dumps. Eddie kept following him around all worried."
"He sounded okay on the phone," she said quizzically. "I just set him up on a date for next week."
"A date," he repeated, eyebrows arching with surprise. "Wow, okay."
He shrugged. "I don't know… did you set him up or did he ask you to set him up?"
She paused, taken aback. "Why does it matter?"
"Because he wouldn't say no to you," Chimney replied. "Even if he didn't want to be set up."
"Well, the joke is on you – he told me that he'd just signed up for Tinder again," she replied smugly. "So I'm doing him a favour."
Chimney raised his eyebrows again. "Okay."
"What?" she demanded, throwing a cushion at him.
He caught it with a laugh and said, "I just – he spends all his time with Eddie. I didn't think he was dating because he and Eddie had something going on."
"They're just friends," she said, totally confused. "Aren't they?"
"I don't know; whenever Buck talks about what he does outside of work, it's either seeing you, or spending time with Eddie and Christopher. Eddie called in sick last week because Christopher wasn't well, and Buck was in constant contact with him all day. Every time I looked at his phone, he was texting with Eddie."
"Well, that's sweet."
"Yeah, but Bobby's one of my best friends and I don't text him constantly when we're not together," Chimney pointed out. "There's a difference."
Maddie grimaced. "He wouldn't have agreed to the date if there was something going on with them."
"Right," Chimney agreed, sounding entirely unconvinced.
"Okay, so is there something going on with them?" she asked pointedly.
He shrugged. "I mean, I don't know… the theory is that they're leading up to something. Maybe? I mean, I always thought Eddie was straight – he was married for like a decade, and he went straight back to his wife when she came back into his life – but lately, I don't know. There's something about the way he and Buck look at each other; I don't know how to describe it."
"Buck is his best friend," she pointed out. "And they clearly adore each other. Buck loves Christopher."
"Buck loves everyone," he replied with a grin.
"Does Eddie love everyone?"
He paused, and then said, "Honestly? He's a great guy, and I trust him with my life, but I don't really know much about him personally. I know Christopher is his whole world. I saw his photo roll once and it's all Christopher – and Buck, as well, with Christopher. I know he's not close with his parents, but they seem to be on good terms. I know he has two sisters, but he never really mentions them. I know he loves baseball and that he's been trying to get Buck to go to a game with him. I know he likes TV comedies, and he can eat anything spicy and just about blew Bobby's head off a couple of weeks ago with his Abuela's homemade salsa, but… that's about it. I don't really know anything else about him. I don't know if he has outside friends. I don't know what he does for fun – he's not really an adrenaline junkie? He's got a kid, so I guess they just hang out, but… with Eddie, I'm never really sure. He's the nicest guy in the world; would do anything for anyone, but… do I know his deepest hopes and desires? Nope."
"Well, that's because you're not his best friend," she pointed out. "Buck is. I bet he knows the answers to all those questions."
"Maybe. But listen – what I'm saying is that Buck is all in with Eddie," he said delicately.
She paused. "Do you think Buck is in love with Eddie?"
Chimney lifted his shoulders and said, "I mean… it's a working theory, but yeah, I do. They're always together. You know how Buck used to say that we were a couple before we were a couple? That's them. It's the running joke, that we're all coupled up – Bobby and Athena, Hen and Karen, you and me, and Buck and Eddie. They're a couple without actually being in a relationship."
She considered him, and then said, "Do you want them to get together?"
He laughed. "Um… they make each other happy, Maddie. I don't know what it will mean for the team if they do actually get together, but yeah… they're happy when they're with each other. And I think Buck definitely has feelings – maybe he's realised and isn't acting on them? I don't know, and as I said, I'm not going to ask."
"Well now I feel bad," she murmured. "But he didn't say no, and he did say that he'd signed up to Tinder."
"And he was acting weird all night, so maybe something happened," Chimney replied. "But if he was on board with it, then… yeah, let's see what happens, I guess."
On Sunday afternoon, Buck found himself in Eddie's Abuela's tidy yellow house, in her kitchen, acting as sous chef while Christopher opened presents in the living room with the rest of the family.
"Here, Buck," Abuela said, passing him a sharp knife. "Dice the tomatoes. Please."
"No problem," he replied, glancing up as Christopher let out a shriek of delight. One of his cousins had brought their new puppy over for the party, and it was licking Christopher's face enthusiastically.
"I keep telling Eddito to buy him a puppy and he never does," she said regretfully. "I think he would like it."
"Eddie's worried because he works so much; it's not fair to the dog," Buck replied, working the knife quickly and efficiently. "But I think he'd get one in a heartbeat otherwise."
"He always had a dog when he was growing up." Abuela leaned over and admired his work. "Very nice. Do two more for me and then you can start on the guacamole, Buck – just how I showed you."
"Okay, I'm on it."
"Abuela," Eddie said from the doorway to the kitchen. "Can Buck please come have fun at the party soon?"
"Edmundo, you go make sure the tables are set!" she ordered him. "Outside, now."
He rolled his eyes, flashing Buck a grin, and left them to it. They weren't alone for long – Pepa bustled into the kitchen to grab the salads from the fridge. "You're coming to our dinner at the end of the month, yes?" she ordered him.
He nodded. "I wouldn't miss it."
"You missed the last two," she pointed out.
"I know, I'm sorry," he apologised. "I won't do it again."
"You better not," she said, and patted him on the back. "You know we love having you over for dinner."
"Yes, Buck, don't be a stranger – you know our house is your house too," Abuela added warmly.
He smiled at them both. "Thank you."
"You're welcome. Honestly, I think Eddie would've been lost here without you," Pepa said as she opened the fridge. "He and Christopher depend on you so much."
"No, it's the other way around," he joked. "I won't leave them alone."
Pepa and Abuela shared a look, and Pepa said, "No, no, Buck. Our Eddie doesn't let just anyone into his life. I knew from the day he brought you to the hospital – he's never done that before."
"Buck!" Christopher shouted from the living room. "Can I open your present now?"
"Hold up!" Eddie called, hurrying back through the house. "We'll open it together. Come on," he said, gesturing to Buck, who had begun slicing avocadoes. "Quick."
"Go," Abuela laughed, ushering him out of the kitchen.
Buck wiped his hands on a towel and joined the group in the living room – Eddie's parents were in town, and his sister Sophia, with her husband and children. He'd met them all before at Eddie's graduation ceremony, but hadn't seen them since, and tried not to feel uncomfortable as Eddie handed his present to Christopher.
"Whatever this is," Christopher said, gazing up at Buck adoringly, "I know it's going to be awesome."
Buck laughed. "I hope you like it, bud."
Eddie stood beside him with his arms folded across his chest, watching with a smile as Christopher tore open the wrapping. He revealed the box containing the rock tumbler and his jaw dropped before he looked up at Buck in shock. "You remembered?"
Buck nodded. "Got you some refills and everything."
"Wow," Christopher said, awed, turning it over in his hands. "Wow. Can we set it up when we go home?"
Eddie nodded. "Buck will come with us and we'll start tumbling some rocks, what do you say?"
"Dad," Christopher complained. "Do you know what this does? It makes them shiny."
"Yeah, Buck told me," Eddie said with a grin. "They're gemstones, right?"
"Probably mostly quartz," Buck murmured to him, but grinned at Christopher. "You never know, we could find a big sapphire or something, sell it for a thousand bucks."
"Yeah!" Christopher exclaimed. "Thank you, Buck."
"You're welcome, buddy." He clapped Eddie on the shoulder and started back to the kitchen, where he worked on his own for a few minutes while Abuela and Pepa laid some of the food out on the picnic tables. Everyone filed out to the backyard, and he thought he was alone until he heard Eddie's parents wander out of the living room.
"I think it's a little strange, don't you? He was more excited by that thing than he was by our presents," Eddie's mother said – they were just outside the kitchen door, apparently unaware that Buck was in earshot.
"It's a hero worship thing," Eddie's father said dismissively. "Christopher doesn't have many decent male role models out here so he's latched onto Eddie's best friend."
Buck stopped what he was doing, listening silently.
"I just think it's strange. Who is this person and why does everyone fawn all over him? And why is Christopher so enamoured with him?"
"And my mother and sister as well," Eddie's father agreed. "They both think he's wonderful."
"Eddie always did have the worst taste in friends," his mother said as they passed by the kitchen, seemingly not noticing him inside.
Buck set down the knife, taking a deep breath. They could think what they wanted to think. He remembered clearly some of the stories Eddie had told him about how awful they'd been to him and Shannon when they were still living in El Paso.
But still, it hurt, and he was still feeling raw about Eddie being in love with someone else. Nobody was around, so he decided to take a little breather, and went to sit out on the front steps by himself.
That lasted for about two minutes until he heard footsteps behind him, and turned as Eddie stepped out of the front door. "What's wrong?" he asked with concern. "We've been waiting for you."
"I might go home," Buck said, and when Eddie immediately sat down beside him and hooked a hand around his elbow, he regretted it. "I mean… I get the feeling I'm not wanted here."
Eddie looked bewildered. "By who?"
"I just heard your parents talking about me, that's all."
"Ah, fuck," Eddie swore, shaking his head. He glanced around to make sure they were alone and said, "Buck, they're assholes."
He let out a mirthless laugh. "Don't say that just to make me feel better."
"No, I'm saying it because it's the truth. Ask my sister – or better yet, ask Pepa. She'll tell you." Eddie's hand was still gripping his arm, and Buck found it oddly comforting. "If you go home, you will have to deal with Abuela crying, and you don't want that."
"No," he said, and sighed. "Sorry. I just… I don't want to be in anyone's way, or upset anyone on Christopher's birthday—"
"You're not," Eddie said vehemently. "Don't listen to them, okay?"
Buck smiled at him. "Okay."
They gave each other a long look. Buck thought again how much he loved him; how he would do anything for him and Christopher, when his phone buzzed in his pocket and startled him. He let out a sigh, retrieving it, and found that Maddie had sent him a picture of the woman he was meeting. She was tall, with long, dark brown hair and a pretty smile – there was something a little Kardashian about her, but he tried not to let that worry him.
"Who's that?" Eddie asked curiously, leaning over his shoulder.
"Maddie set me up on a date," he said, locking his phone again and shoving it back in his pocket. "On Wednesday night. She's a yoga instructor."
Eddie was strangely quiet beside him, and when Buck glanced at him, he realised that he was doing that thing with his face, like he was trying to control his emotions but failing miserably.
Buck nudged him with his elbow. "You okay?"
"Yeah, did you say… a yoga instructor?" Eddie asked, his voice a little strangled.
"Yoga," Eddie repeated. "Yoga?"
He laughed. "Yeah? What's wrong with you? You got a thing against yoga instructors?"
Eddie shook his head, his lips twisting back and forth. "No. What's brought this on?"
He couldn't tell him the truth, so he simply said, "It's time to put myself out there again. You were talking about doing that, weren't you?"
"Yeah, but…" Eddie trailed off. "I didn't actually do it."
But there's someone you like, Buck thought, totally confused. "But you said you were thinking about it."
"And you didn't say anything about wanting to date again," Eddie pointed out, still holding onto Buck's elbow. "I thought you weren't interested."
"Does it matter if I am?"
Eddie paused, and then said, "I don't know."
More confused than ever, Buck said helplessly, "I don't know what you want me to say, Eds."
"I just—" Eddie cut off when someone said his name, and they both turned to find Pepa standing in the doorway, an eyebrow arched at them suspiciously. "Tia, we'll be there in a second."
"What are you doing out here?" she asked. "Everyone is waiting for you."
"We're coming," Eddie promised.
"Why are you huddled out here?"
"Mom and Dad were rude to Buck," he said, and Buck instantly turned to Pepa, shaking his head, not wanting any drama.
"No, no – they didn't think I could hear them."
She rested a hand on her hip, tilting her head to the side. "What did they say?"
"It's not important," he tried to say, but found Eddie staring at him as well. "I mean… they just said that Eddie has terrible taste in friends, that's all. It's okay."
Pepa scoffed, shaking her head. "They can't help themselves, can they? Every single time."
"It's really not that big of a deal," Buck replied desperately, not wanting to ruin Christopher's birthday. "Don't say anything to them."
Eddie and Pepa had a silent conversation, and Buck realised he was being outvoted by the both of them. Eddie finally said, "Okay. We'll be outside in a minute, Tia."
"You better," she replied, stalking back through the house.
Eddie turned to Buck again and said, "When's your date?"
"Wednesday," he replied.
"You'll tell me how it goes?"
He grinned. "Yeah, of course."
"Good." Eddie was still hanging onto his arm, which was nice.
Buck bumped his shoulder against Eddie's and said, "I really want some cake."
"Me too. Let's go."
The party thankfully went off without a hitch, though Buck noticed whispered conversations between Pepa, Abuela and Eddie every so often. He was seated with Eddie's little sister, Sophia, who'd had one too many glasses of wine, and while her kids were running around shrieking, was filling Buck's head with stories of Eddie as a kid.
So many wonderful stories that he could use to his advantage later, and he filed them all away gleefully.
Things were winding down when Christopher made his way over to him, holding his arms out, so Buck lifted him up onto his lap and gave him a hug. "Good birthday, kiddo?"
"It was awesome. What kind of rocks do you think we'll find? Gold?" Christopher asked hopefully.
He laughed, but then made a plan to somehow find a small gold nugget and sneak it into the collection. "Man, I hope so. A diamond would be better. You can sell it for a million bucks and then you and your dad can go travel the world together."
"And you," Eddie said as he cleared the table. "You'd be coming with us."
Buck smiled at him, resting his head on top of Christopher's. "Well, someone's got to entertain you."
"That's right." Eddie winked at him, carrying a pile of plates into the house.
Buck noticed Eddie's parents staring at him and instantly worried that he was doing something wrong – he had their grandchild on his lap, and Christopher had one arm around his shoulders, his head tucked under Buck's chin, worn out and sleepy.
He was wondering if he should move when Abuela stopped, cupped his face with both hands and said, "Look at you. You're going to be such a wonderful father."
Relieved, he smiled at her. "Thanks."
Eddie reappeared, glancing over at his parents sharply. "Chris, Buck's going to take you home," he said, as Christopher nodded sleepily. "I'll be right behind you with your presents."
"Eddie," Buck whispered, shaking his head. "Don't."
"I'm gonna," Eddie said, leaning over to smack a kiss to Christopher's cheek.
"I could stay and help with the clean-up—"
"No, Pepa's wrapping you up some food. I'll meet you at home in half an hour."
Home – Eddie's house. Buck nodded, lifting Christopher up into his arms as he stood, and grabbing his crutches from beside the table. Eddie's parents watched as he carried him into the house, but said nothing.
Eddie hated arguing with his parents. He went out of his way to avoid it – thankfully, since they'd finally accepted that he and Christopher were living in Los Angeles permanently, and that they couldn't blame Shannon for anything anymore, their fights had been few and far between.
But he was angry because they knew Buck. And they had to have known that Buck was working in the kitchen.
With that in mind, and with Buck and Christopher safely headed home, he stormed over to confront them and realised that he was third in line.
"How dare you," Pepa was saying, her arms folded across her chest. "You do not come here and say terrible things to our friend."
His parents had been caught off-guard, but they both looked defiant. Helena said unapologetically, "We didn't know he could hear us."
"That does not make it okay!"
"He is Eddie's best friend and a wonderful man," Abuela said, on the verge of tears. "He is always welcome in my house, and you made him feel unwelcome. It's Christopher's birthday – how could you be so rude?"
"Mama, please," his father pleaded. "We spoke out of turn; it was a mistake. We'll apologise."
"You know he's the one who saved Christopher's life in the tsunami," Pepa said pointedly. "You would do well to treat him with the respect he deserves."
"Christopher wouldn't have been in the tsunami if Eddie hadn't trusted that man," Helena retorted.
At that, he couldn't stand idly by. "That man is my best friend and the person I trust more than anyone on the planet," he said sharply, and everyone turned to face him. "And nobody expected a tsunami to happen, Mom. He took Christopher to the pier on the wrong day – it was bad luck. Buck saved Christopher's life, along with a dozen other people. He's a hero. Christopher adores him, and I do too."
Surprise flickered across Ramon's face, but Helena said, "Eddie, you need to be more selective about who influences Christopher—"
"Mom, there's nobody in this world I trust with Christopher more than Buck," he said bluntly. "Buck would never hurt him. Buck would go to the ends of the earth for him, just like I would. He's a part of my family and he'll be in our lives forever."
"He's just a friend," Ramon said dismissively.
"He's more than a friend," Abuela cut in. "He's family. Mind your manners the next time you're in my house."
"No, Ramon, I don't want to hear it. In fact, I think you can both leave; we've heard enough of this today. Go."
With stunned expressions on their faces, his parents went to the back door. His father paused and said, "Eddie, we'll be talking about this in private."
"Nobody is interested in your opinion, Ramon. Go home," Pepa snapped.
Ramon shot her a fierce look and disappeared into the house behind Helena.
"Is Buck all right?" Abuela asked worriedly.
"He's okay. He took Christopher home for me. I'll go apologise to him again."
"Good." Pepa glanced at Abuela, and said, "Eddie… if there's something you want to tell us about Buck, you know we would be okay with it."
He froze like a deer in headlights, caught off guard. "What?"
"We see how you two look at each other," his Abuela said gently. "How you are drawn to each other. It's okay, Eddie."
"I haven't…" he shook his head. "I don't know. I haven't figured it out yet."
"Well, when you do, you should tell him," Pepa said wisely. "Because you won't find much better than Buck."
"And he loves Christopher as much as we all do," Abuela added, taking Eddie's hand.
Stunned, he could only swivel his head back and forth between them.
"If you're worried that it's not okay – Eddie, it is," Pepa said. "We will always support you."
He nodded, right on the verge of tears. "Okay."
"You make us so proud, every day," Abuela said. "We just want you to be happy. Buck could be so good for you and Christopher."
"Be brave, Eddie," Pepa said gently. "Don't let him slip through your fingers."
Blinking rapidly, he swallowed the lump in his throat and said, "Okay. I won't."