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just to love you

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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."

"Why?"

"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."

"Yeah, definitely."

"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."

"He does?"

"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?"

"Yeah."

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 racist."

"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.

Shit.

"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?"

"Yep, yep."

"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—"

"Buck!"

"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."

"Why?"

"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."

"Right, right."

"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?

Maybe?

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."

"Nooo."

"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.

Oh.

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."

"You do?"

"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?"

"Mmm."

"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.

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.

Fuck.

 


 

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.

"Hey, Chim!"

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?"

"Yeah, sure."

"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."

"What?"

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.

"Yes?"

"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."

"Mama—"

"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."

 


 

Chapter Text

Buck was just as wiped out as Christopher, and as soon as they were both inside the house, he suggested they chill out on the couch together and watch some TV while they waited for Eddie to arrive. Christopher dropped off to sleep within the first ten minutes of Shrek, and Buck soon followed, waking only when he felt a hand touch his shoulder.

"Oh," he said, his eyes popping open. "Eds. Sorry."

Eddie held a finger to his lips – Christopher was sprawled out, practically on top of Buck, sound asleep. Eddie reached over and ran his fingers through Christopher's curly locks, and then whispered to Buck, "You missed Abuela and Pepa ripping my parents to shreds for what they said."

"I did?"

"Yeah, they're upset. I don't think you'll get an apology but—"

Buck shook his head. "It's okay."

"It's not okay," Eddie whispered. "It's not."

"I just want to forget it."

Eddie nodded; his brow furrowed. "I'm sorry. I'm really sorry. My mother is really hard on me, and… I don't even think she knows she's doing it? And so… you got caught in the crossfire. Honestly, they were probably jealous that Abuela likes you so much. And Pepa – she never likes anyone."

"It's really okay."

"It's really not." Eddie gave Buck a long look. "Don't be okay about this. You're allowed to be hurt."

"Yeah, but it's not your fault," Buck whispered to him. "So I'm okay with you. Your parents – I mean, when am I going to see them next? A year? It really doesn't matter."

"It matters to me." Eddie gazed at him imploringly. "You're my best friend – Christopher's best friend."

Buck smiled at him – sometimes, it was just nice to hear him say it. "Well, you know I love you guys," he replied, as Christopher began to stir.

Eddie brushed his fingers through Christopher's hair and whispered, "Hey, kiddo. Come on, it's bedtime."

"Okay," Christopher agreed sleepily, holding out his arms so Eddie could lift him up. "Goodnight, Buck."

"Night, buddy. You had a good birthday, right?"

Christopher flashed him a sleepy, contented smile. "The most awesome."

"That's good. I'll see you in a few days, kiddo."

"Love you, Buck," Christopher said through a yawn, and Buck's heart lifted when he saw Eddie's face light up with a smile.

"Love you too, Chris," he replied softly. "Good night."

"Come on," Eddie said to Christopher, carrying him to the hallway. "Buck, don't leave just yet."

He nodded, yawning, and then sat up, rubbing his face with both hands. He straightened the couch while he waited, and then wandered into the kitchen. Dirty dishes were piled on the sink, and because he had nothing better to do, he decided to do Eddie a favour and wash them all. He was in the process of drying and putting them away when Eddie returned.

"You don't have to do that," he said quietly.

"You wanted me to wait. I'm just keeping myself busy." Buck finished putting coffee mugs away and began to wipe down the sink. "I'm sorry I ruined—"

"You didn't ruin anything. That's just what they're like," Eddie replied, leaning against the bench. "They tried to guilt me into giving them my son, Buck… like… you've only seen the tip of the iceberg."

"I never understood why they did that," he replied, rinsing out the sponge. "They really don't think you're the greatest father in the whole world? Because you are."

Eddie chuckled. "You're biased," he replied. "And no, I think they probably think they could do it better." He watched as Buck began to wipe down the stove and sighed. "Stop cleaning my kitchen."

"What? I'm just making it nice for you," Buck protested, laughing as Eddie physically snatched the sponge from his hand. "Maybe if you kept it clean—"

"Hey, my house is clean," Eddie shot back, nudging Buck away from the sink playfully. "Go sit down."

Buck bumped him with his hip pointedly, and Eddie gave him a light shove, his eyes flashing – and suddenly they were struggling in the kitchen, snorting with laughter, pushing and pulling each other in a battle of strength.

"Give up," Buck said through gritted teeth. "I'm stronger than you."

"You only think you are," Eddie retorted, shoving Buck up against the wall. "Tap out."

"You tap out," he retorted, pushing Eddie back with all his strength.

With a gleam in his eye, Eddie suddenly hooked his leg around Buck's, throwing him off-balance, and the two tumbled to the floor with a noticeable thump. Immediately they began shushing each other, fingers to their lips, trying not to laugh.

"Shh," Eddie whispered, half on top of Buck, their legs tangled together. "Stop it."

"You stop it," Buck hissed back. "You started it. I was just trying to clean your kitchen."

"You're going to wake Christopher."

"You're the one who tackled me!"

Suddenly they were wrestling again on the floor, snorting with laughter, but this time Buck easily gained the upper hand and flipped Eddie onto his back, pinning his hands over his head. "Concede," he demanded. "I'm bigger and stronger."

He waited for some cocky remark, but Eddie's face was flushed, and he bit down hard on his lower lip, gazing up at Buck with hooded eyes.

Surprised, Buck lifted his head, trying to figure out what Eddie was thinking. They stared at each other, a heavy silence in the room, and Buck suddenly thought, I should kiss him.

Eddie licked his lips, tilting his chin up, almost in an invitation – god, he was so beautiful. How the hell was Buck supposed to go on a date with anyone else when the perfect person was right in front of him – well, pinned to the floor beneath him?

He should pull away. He had to pull away, but Eddie shifted beneath him, lifting his hips slightly, and Buck thought, oh my god, this could be happening.

"Buck," Eddie whispered, his voice husky. "I um—"

"Dad! DAD!" Christopher suddenly shouted, startling them both.

Buck quickly released him, moving away, and Eddie scrambled to his feet and hurried out of the kitchen. "What's wrong, kiddo?"

He took a breath, raking his hand through his hair, and stood. From the reassuring noises he heard from Christopher's room, he guessed Eddie had it under control, and was tidying up the living room when Eddie reappeared about five minutes later.

"He had a cramp," he said, hugging himself as he wandered into the room. "He gets them in his calves sometimes. I had to massage it out."

"He's okay?"

"Yeah, he's back to sleep now." Eddie leaned on the back of the couch. "Stay the night?"

Buck shook his head. "Nah, I'm going to go home and get some rest," he replied. "I'll see you at work tomorrow."

"Right." Eddie lingered, eyeing Buck awkwardly. "Hey, um… we need to talk about something before you go."

"What's up?" he asked, and when Eddie gestured for him to sit on the couch, he complied. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong." Eddie sat beside him, twisting his hands together. "Um… the night we got drunk…"

Buck suddenly realised he knew exactly what Eddie was going to say, and as his heart started to pound, he began to sweat nervously. He remembered. Of course he remembered. He'd hardly been hungover – how could he not remember?

"You told me that you loved me," Eddie said carefully, "and I… pretended like I didn't remember because I wanted to figure out how I felt about it."

Fuck.

Fuck.

Fuck.

Buck internally panicked, wondering if he should simply make a dash for the exit. A trickle of sweat dripped down his cheek, and he wiped it away, hoping Eddie wouldn't realise how on edge he was. I've ruined our friendship, he thought, utterly terrified. He's been nice to me all day but now he's telling me the truth. I completely misconstrued everything.

Eddie met his eyes, his brow furrowing. "Are you okay? You're as white as a ghost."

Suddenly he couldn't stand it anymore, and he burst out with, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean it, I was drunk," and then stood, backing away from him. "I'm sorry, Eddie, I know you're straight – you don't have to let me down gently. You don't have to tell me that it'll never happen, because I already know."

Eddie blinked. "What? I wasn't going to—"

"I'll never get drunk around you again, okay? I'm sorry. You're my best friend and you and Christopher mean everything to me, and I love you guys, but I'm not in love with you, Eddie, so we can just forget this ever happened and move on," he said firmly. "I'm going; I'll see you tomorrow."

"Buck," Eddie said again, shocked. "Hey! That's not what I wanted to say, at all – Buck!"

But Buck was already at the door, shrugging into his jacket with his back to Eddie, desperate to make an escape. He had his hand on the door handle when firm hands grabbed his shoulders, turned him around and pushed him up against the wall.

"Fight or flight, huh," Eddie said knowingly, his eyebrows lifting. "Buck, you didn't mess up. I'm not rejecting you, okay?"

His heart began to beat again. "You're not?" he asked weakly.

"No." Eddie slid his hands along Buck's shoulders and then up, until he was cupping his face. "I'm not rejecting you," he said again, a little nervously. "But this is the first time this has ever happened to me."

"This," Buck repeated uncertainly.

"Yeah, um… the possibility of not being straight," he said awkwardly. "And being attracted to another man."

His heart began to pound a little faster. "Me," he clarified.

Eddie nodded, a blush creeping into his cheeks. "Yep."

Wow, okay. Stunned, Buck could only stare at him. "Me."

"Yeah," Eddie said again, and laughed nervously. "But I don't know what to do." He took a step back, wrapping his arms around his mid-section, uncharacteristically shy.

"I heard you talking to Hen," he said softly. "About liking someone."

"You," Eddie clarified. "I was talking about you."

And at that, he finally smiled, the weight he'd been carrying around since their night of drinking finally leaving his shoulders. "Me."

"Yes." Eddie smiled at him, still blushing, and then ducked his head. "But uh… I don't know what I'm doing, okay? So… I just need a little time."

"I can give you time."

"I just don't know what… this means for me," Eddie said quietly. "I thought I was straight… maybe I'm not."

"Labels don't matter," Buck said simply.

"They don't?" Eddie looked up, searching his face.

Buck shrugged. "Sometimes you just meet the right person, you know?"

"Yeah," Eddie murmured. "Did you really mean what you said, when you were drunk? About me? About… my face?"

Oh god. He cringed, rubbing the bridge of his nose. "Yeah… I mean, you've got a great face, Eds, I don't know what to tell you."

"But you were talking a lot about my eyebrows."

He shrugged. "They're really, really good eyebrows."

Eddie laughed – and when he did, his whole face lit up. Buck grinned back, pleased to see the dimples out in full force. "Wow," Eddie said in amusement. "I mean, until you said that I had no idea."

"I've been playing it pretty cool."

"Yeah, really cool." Eddie took a tentative step towards him. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you that I remembered; I just… needed to figure out how I felt."

"And you're… open to it?" Buck asked hopefully.

Eddie nodded. "But… I need to go really slow. Like, snails place," he said, looking embarrassed. "I'm sorry. I just… I haven't done this before, and it's you. I don't want to screw things up between us."

"No," Buck agreed. "Okay. I'll cancel my date on Wednesday night."

"Actually, um… if you cancel, Maddie will ask you why," Eddie said hesitantly. "And… you're going to have to come up with an explanation. So I'm thinking… you should go, and then call me after, or come over, or… like… text me during, maybe, but… don't have sex with her?"

Buck laughed, amused and delighted. "Okay," he agreed. "I won't have sex with her."

"Good." Eddie leaned against the wall, smiling at him. "And… you could kiss me. I'd really like you to kiss me."

Buck needed no further invitation. He closed the gap between them, cupped the back of Eddie's head and pulled him in for a kiss.

 


 

Oh, holy shit.

There was stubble – that was new – but wow, Buck was kissing him. Buck was kissing him so softly and sweetly, but there was so much behind it that Eddie sort of went weak and clutched at him, returning the kiss just as eagerly.

A tiny part of him had been terrified that some kind of panic would set in and he wouldn't be able to go through with it, but it was like his whole body came alive, responding instantly, and all he could think was 'yes, yes – yes, I want this, I want you, please.'

Buck ended the kiss too soon, and Eddie grabbed at his bicep and leaned in again, their noses bumping together briefly before he found Buck's lips again.

God, this was something else. He'd never… in his whole life, nothing had ever felt so right as having Buck in his arms, like he was always meant to be there.

"Oh god, wow," Buck whispered when the parted, pressing his forehead against Eddie's. "Wow, okay."

Eddie wanted more. He gripped Buck's arms, staring up at him, desperate to be touched. "Stay," he whispered. "With me."

"Oh, Eddie," Buck murmured. "You want to go slow – we should go slow."

"Just stay? Sleep in my bed with me?" He was aware that he sounded pathetic, but he needed Buck. Needed him.

Buck's defences crumbled, and he kissed him again. "Okay."

And then, a few minutes later, they were standing in Eddie's tidy bedroom together, holding hands.

Buck raised his eyebrows and said, "My feet are going to hang over the edge of your bed, you know."

"I'll get a bigger bed," Eddie promised.

"I'm going to hold you to that." Buck released his hand and wandered over to the bureau, examining the photographs arranged on top. Eddie watched him pick one up and examine it close – the three of them together, taken at the beach at sunset, with big smiles as Buck snapped the picture. "I have this near my bed," Buck said, turning to face him, holding it up. "Same picture."

Eddie tapped the side of his head. "Great minds."

"Favourite people," Buck replied meaningfully, setting it down again, and turning to face him. "Um… I need to have a shower."

Eddie grinned, nodding. "Me too. I'll get you a towel and some clothes."

"Okay."

He retrieved a towel from the linen cupboard, and returned to the bedroom to grab out a clean pair of sweats. Buck accepted the clothes and said, "I won't be long."

"Take your time," Eddie replied, perching on the end of the bed.

Buck was sleeping over, in his bed. They would wake up together in the morning and then… go to work? Like normal? Like nothing had changed?

Everything had changed. It was huge and exciting and kind of terrifying, and his gut was twisted in knots as he considered what this meant for him. He was opening his heart to the possibility of falling in love with his best friend. If things went well – and he had no reason to think that they wouldn't, not with Buck – they would have to tell Christopher (who would undoubtedly be fine with it), and Carla (who would also be fine and probably tease him endlessly), and their friends, and his family, and his parents.

He was still mulling that over when Buck returned to the room. Eddie's sweats were almost too short on him, and he was shirtless, still a little damp. He looked incredible.

His worries forgotten, he allowed himself to finally admire Buck, openly and unashamedly – so many times he'd looked away when they were changing; hadn't dared a glimpse, but now… his best friend was tall, and strong, and manly and… really fucking sexy.

"You okay?" Buck asked him quietly. "Is this okay?"

His mouth was so dry he could only nod in response. It had been so fucking long since he'd been touched; since he'd slept beside someone… since he'd had sex.

That could wait – they were going slow – but the thought of sharing his bed and waking up beside Buck was more than enough. Buck lingered near the door, as though he thought Eddie was going to ask him to leave, his eyes trained on him worriedly.

"When you said you loved me…" Eddie began, "you meant that you're in love with me. Currently. Right?"

Buck nodded. "Yes."

"So… are you okay if I… take some time to—"

"Eddie, you can take as much time as you need," Buck cut in. "I'm not going to rush you."

"Because I… can't say it yet," he admitted, "but… what we have is more than friendship to me."

Buck grinned. "Honestly? This is the greatest night of my life and you don't need to say it yet, okay? Just… go have a shower, and come back to bed, and I'll spoon you real good."

"I'm the big spoon," Eddie replied, rising to his feet.

"Not tonight," Buck promised.

And sure enough, when they slid under the covers together, and after Buck had kissed him again sweetly until they were both on the verge of sleep, he settled into Buck's arms as though he was always meant to be there, closed his eyes, and slept better than he had in years.

 


 

Slow and steady, Buck kept repeating to himself over the next few days. Slow and steady.

After their first night together, and waking up in bed with a sleepy but smiling Eddie Diaz, and then trading kisses until the alarm went off – he was done for, totally and completely.

But he knew that already. He'd been in love with Eddie for so long… maybe the first seeds had been planted around the ladder truck bombing, and Shannon dying, with Eddie and Christopher turning up at the loft to keep him company after his break-up. Maybe it was when he began rehab, and Eddie joined him a few days a week, just to keep him motivated.

Maybe it was after the tsunami, when Christopher was safely back in Eddie's arms, and Eddie gazed at him and said, There's nobody in this world I trust with my son more than you.

Maybe it was a combination of everything, but now the world was bright and Eddie was smiling at him, all the time, and finding excuses to brush up against him. But they'd always been somewhat tactile with each other – always sitting too close, knocking their shoulders together as they walked, leaning over each other unnecessarily.

Thankfully, work was busy, and nobody seemed to notice that anything had changed between them. Chimney told Bobby and Hen about Buck's looming date – the one he desperately wanted to cancel – and so they were all interested in the outcome of that, and whether this yoga instructor would be a good match for their Buckaroo.

And Eddie was strangely silent throughout the discussions, a small smile playing on his lips, dark eyes trained on Buck. Buck couldn't escape his eyes, and he didn't want to. He wanted Eddie watching him all the time.

The agreement was that they were moving slowly, and trying not to confuse Christopher, so Monday and Tuesday nights were spent apart, though they talked on the phone until late. Buck awoke with his alarm to find an early morning shirtless Snapchat from Eddie, complete with sleepy smile and rumpled bedhead.

And still, Eddie encouraged him to go on the date, but as they walked out of the station on Wednesday night, he said again, "Don't sleep with her."

Buck shook his head and said, "There is only one person on this planet that I want to sleep with, and it's not her."

Eddie, standing by his truck, blushed furiously.

Afterwards, Buck headed home to shower and dress for his date. Maddie was sending him to a trendy bar downtown, and because he wanted to fit in, he dressed up a little more than usual. Eddie sent him a text asking for a picture, so he posed in the kitchen, and sent him the photo. Eddie sent through a string of distressed emojis in response, and Buck hesitated, and then replied with a couple of hearts.

Eddie had nothing to be worried about.

He arrived at the bar five minutes early and grabbed a beer and a high table near the bar. A television on the wall was playing baseball, and Buck watched that for a while, before checking his watch and realising she was more than ten minutes late.

Ten minutes turned into twenty, and then half an hour, and then forty-five, at which point he downed the last of his second beer, flagged the bartender down to pass him over a tip, and left the bar. The hilarity of the situation was almost too much – he'd been stood up, for a date he wasn't really interested in, and all of Eddie's worries had been for nothing.

Amused, he sent Maddie a text to tell her what had happened on the walk back to his car and was about to pull out of his parking space when she called him.

"What do you mean, she stood you up?" she demanded. "You're at the right bar?"

"Yep. She didn't turn up," he replied, settling back into his seat. "It doesn't matter – don't worry about it."

"No, it's rude!" Maddie complained. "I'm so sorry, Buck. I can't believe this."

"It's okay," he tried to reassure her. "Honestly, I'm fine."

The phone line suddenly went muffled, and he listened to her complain to Chimney before her voice came back on the line. "Why don't you come over?" she asked. "I'll cheer you up."

"No, it's really okay," he replied. "I'm going to go home."

"Please," she begged. "Please come over, at least for a little while?"

He laughed. "Maddie, I'm fine. Honestly. Don't worry about me – this is not the end of the world."

"No, but… this could've been really good," she groaned. "I thought you would've liked her."

"These things happen," he replied.

"Yeah, but I'm annoyed it happened to you." She paused for a few moments. "If you won't come over now, how about I drop by the station and see you this week?"

"I can come over if you really want me to – saves you going out of your way," he offered. "Chim said you've been craving ice cream – want me to pick some up?"

"We have a stash of Ben & Jerry's in the freezer," she replied, "but if you wanted to get me… two cheeseburgers from McDonalds, and some fries, and maybe a vanilla shake, that would be good too."

"Can do," he said. "I'll see you in half an hour."

 


 

Chimney sat down beside Maddie and said, "Would it be rude if I sent him a message and asked him to pick me up some food as well?"

"I'll do it," she replied, grabbing her phone again. "What do you want?"

"A Big Mac, fries and a Coke."

She sent Buck a message and held the phone out to show the thumbs up emoji in reply. "God, I feel so bad. I wonder why she stood him up. I'm going to text her."

"Yeah, you should," he said encouragingly, leaning over her shoulder to watch as she rapidly typed out a message.

Hi Cleo – kinda disappointed you stood up Buck? If you weren't interested, you could've just let me know. Thanks.

"Cold," he remarked, and she rolled her eyes.

"I bet she doesn't reply." Maddie rested her hand on her stomach, shaking her head unhappily. "I can't believe that. What a bitch."

"Maybe she's got a really good reason. I'm sure she didn't take one look at Buck and then leave without him seeing her."

Maddie turned to him sharply. "I showed her a picture; she could've said no."

He grinned. "Or maybe she didn't want to say no to you specifically, so… she agreed to the date, and she'll text you back with a big excuse."

"Hmm." Maddie checked her phone. "We'll see. God, I feel so bad. I'm worried about him, you know? He's been on his own so long."

"He's not alone. I keep telling you. He has Eddie and Christopher."

She sighed. "It's not the same."

"I keep telling you that there's something going on with them," he said, sighing when she shook her head stubbornly. "Maddie, I work with them. Something's different – Hen and I have both noticed it. They can't stop looking at each other. The other day, I swear to god, Eddie was checking out Buck's butt."

"You've said that before," she replied, swatting him. "I don't buy it. Not Eddie."

"All I'm saying is that I bet if you try to set Buck up again, he'll say no."

"I do have someone else I could introduce him to. The new guy from dispatch? He's very cute." Maddie's phone buzzed, and she read the message and then scoffed. "Oh. Okay. Had to take her dog to the vet, right. Nice try."

"Maybe she really has a dog—"

"She doesn't."

 


 

Buck called Eddie after he'd been through the McDonald's drive through, laughing when Eddie answered frantically. "Buck? Is it still happening?"

"No, she stood me up," he replied as he drove down the busy city streets.

There was a pause, and then, "She stood you up?"

"Yeah, she did."

"Is she insane?" Eddie sounded equal parts bewildered and affronted, as though he couldn't believe anyone would have the audacity.

Buck was flattered. "I guess I wasn't what she was looking for," he said simply.

"Well, she's an idiot. What are you doing now?"

"I'm delivering fast food to Maddie and Chim, and then I'm going home. What are you doing?"

"Um… I was kinda hoping you'd come over."

He grinned. "Okay. I might be a little late—"

"I'll wait for you; I'm just about to put Christopher to bed. You want to say good night to him?"

"Of course I do." Buck waited, and when Christopher's sleepy voice came over the phone, he said, "Hey kiddo. I'll cook you breakfast in the morning, okay?"

"You're coming over? Can I stay up?"

"No, no," Buck heard Eddie say quickly.

"I'll be there when you wake up," Buck promised.

"Okay, Buck. Good night."

"Night, buddy."

When Eddie came back on the line, he said, "Text me when you're on the way. And just so you know… that woman is crazy. I'd never stand you up."

"I know," Buck replied. "That's why I love you."

He heard a hiccup of laughter and could picture Eddie blushing clearly in his mind. "Well," Eddie finally said, a little gruffly. "Yep."

"Yep. See you soon, Eds."

"Bye."

He couldn't stop smiling, tapping his hands along to the music on the radio as he drove through the city. The fact that he'd been stood up didn't bother him – in fact, it was probably for the best, as he wasn't sure if he would've been able to successfully feign interest. He had Eddie waiting for him, which meant that he needed to not let Maddie hold him hostage for too long.

When he arrived at Maddie and Chimney's, brandishing a bag of fast food, he was instantly set upon by his ravenous sister and future brother-in-law, who practically snatched the bag from his hands before tearing into it on the kitchen counter.

"Nice to see you both," he said sarcastically, taking a seat at the counter.

"Sorry," Maddie said, already crunching on some fries. "I'm so hungry."

"Me too," Chimney replied, and then took a huge bite out of his burger. "Mmm."

Buck could only laugh at them as they stuffed themselves, and when Maddie had finally finished eating, she wrapped him up in a big hug.

"I'm so sorry I set you up with a dud," she apologised. "It won't happen again."

"It's okay," he replied. "You don't need to set me up with anyone else. I'm good."

He noticed Chimney react with surprise, but before he could question it, Maddie gasped and said, "No! Don't let this setback knock you down! There is someone perfect out there for you, Buck."

"Maybe," he said, thinking of Eddie, and trying not to smile. "Maybe not. It's okay."

Looking confused and upset, Maddie took his hand. "What's going on? Tell me the truth. This reluctance doesn’t have something to do with Abby, does it? Are you still in touch with her?"

Amused, he shook his head. "No, I'm not. She's married now. Carla went to the wedding, showed us the pictures. She's happy with Sam."

"You're not still pining or anything?" she asked gently. "The one that got away?"

"No. Honestly, we weren't ever really compatible," he replied. "The thing about Abby is that she made me see myself differently – she made me see that I could be in a relationship and have it mean something. And not just be about sex."

"You realised that sometimes monogamy is cool," Chimney said knowingly.

Buck nodded at him. "Yeah, I'd been pretty lost. And she was different – not the kind of person I would ever have pursued. But I'm not in love with her anymore. I haven't been in love with her for a long time. I got closure, and that chapter is closed."

"Is there someone?" she asked hesitantly. "Someone you might like, and that's why you don't want to date?"

He noticed Chimney leaning forward with interest, but said, "No. Not really."

 


 

Eddie had every intention of staying awake until Buck arrived, but he passed out on the couch in the middle of an old episode of Friends. He awoke when he felt a soft kiss brush his lips, and murmured, opening his eyes.

"Hey," Buck whispered, on his knees beside the couch, one hand splayed on Eddie's chest. "Hi."

"Hey." Eddie sat up, yawning, and then smiled sleepily at Buck. "You look nice."

"Date clothes," Buck said, resting his hands atop Eddie's knees. "You look good too."

That wasn't true – he was in a ratty t-shirt and shorts – but he figured Buck thought he looked good in anything. "Did you find out why she stood you up?"

"Apparently her dog was sick. Maddie wants to set me up again, but I told her no." Buck smiled up at him. "I didn't tell her about you; just that… I'm good. I don't need to be set up."

"Okay," Eddie replied, leaning in to kiss him impulsively – relieved? He'd been the one to push Buck into still going on the date, but this was the absolute best possible outcome.

Buck's eyes were sparkling when they parted. "I'm really glad you asked me to come over."

He nodded, biting his lower lip. The truth was that he wanted to ask him both Monday and Tuesday, but he'd had to keep reminding himself that they were moving slowly.

Buck was still smiling up at him, so he leaned in and kissed him again – hating the fact that he looked so nice, that he'd obviously put effort into dressing up for this date and she hadn't even turned up.

Buck made a little noise, kissing him back tentatively, their lips sliding together. Eddie clutched at his collar, pulling him in closer – the stubble still felt a little strange, but everything else about it felt great.

When they parted, Buck rubbed his nose against Eddie's and then sat back, gazing up at him with bright blue eyes. "What do you want?" he asked, licking his lips. "Can I… do something for you?"

Eddie suddenly felt hot, all over. "Like what?"

"Maybe… we could go into the bedroom, and I could make you feel good?" Buck suggested, arching his eyebrows. "Or is it too soon? Too much?"

No, it wasn't too much, at all. In fact, his shorts weren't doing a great job of hiding how excited he was by Buck's mere presence – he didn't have to fight it anymore, the attraction. He could just feel it.

"Bedroom," he said, rising to his feet. "Okay."

"Okay." Buck stood as well, but his gaze fell upon the rock tumbler, still in its box, waiting to be unpacked. "Did Christopher change his mind?" he asked worriedly.

"No," Eddie replied, slipping an arm around his waist. "We sat down and looked through the instructions, but when I went to put it together, he had a fit because you weren't with us. Apparently, I don't know enough about rocks."

Buck laughed. "That kid, god, he cracks me up."

"I'm not sure why I couldn't do it. They're just rocks."

"They're gemstones; it's a little different. You need someone with a science brain there to assist," Buck teased.

Eddie grinned at him. "Sure. Whatever makes Christopher happy."

"This is why you're the best dad," Buck said, his arms hooked around Eddie's waist, gazing at him with unabashed adoration. "You listen to what he wants, and you don't make fun of him for having interests. He's going to be a much more interesting adult because you've fostered all these things for him, you know? He loves to read, he loves history, he loves learning… man, he's going to be so cool. I can't wait to see it."

Eddie felt a little breathless. "You think?"

"Yeah, definitely. You're the best dad." Buck leaned in and pressed a kiss to his forehead. "You never make him feel like his interests aren't worthwhile. That's really important, Eds."

"Is that why you don't get along with your parents?"

Buck smiled sadly at him. "There are a lot of reasons why we don't get along, but yeah, that's one of them. Why do you think I go crazy over stuff now? I don't have anyone telling me how stupid it is to be interested in things. Even if you think rocks are dumb—"

"I don't," Eddie cut in.

"No, I know, but even if you did, he would never know. That's why you're a good parent." Buck kissed him again. "Bed?"

"Bed," Eddie agreed, still in awe of the way Buck could reassure and encourage him about his parenting so easily. He worried, of course, that he was doing the right thing by Christopher; that he was a good father. He wanted to be the best father he possibly could – he didn't want there to ever be a time where Christopher felt like he couldn't come to him with a problem.

After they'd done the rounds, and turned off the lights, they retired to the bedroom together. Eddie pulled his shirt over his head, watching as Buck rid himself of his clothes – stripping down to his boxer briefs confidently, and glancing over at him with raised eyebrows.

Well, Buck was definitely attracted to him – that was for sure. Eddie drank him in and realised how much he wanted this; how desperate he was to be with him, and crawled onto the bed.

"Slow," Buck said as he joined him, on his knees, eyes locked on Eddie. "I'll go slow, but I want to do something for you."

"I'm okay," Eddie replied, sliding in close to him. "I want you – I'm not scared."

Buck smiled, colour flooding his cheeks. "Good," he replied, and leaned in to kiss him again.

Eddie had always been in the position of power in bed – he'd only ever been with women – but without even really thinking about it, he submitted to Buck, putting up no protest when Buck lay him down against the pillows and covered him with his body.

It felt right in a way that nothing ever had before. Having Buck grinding against him, kissing messily, their arms around each other, the hard length of his cock press up against him - it felt amazing.

And when Buck's lips dropped down to his throat, his collar-bone and then latched onto a nipple, he arched up into his touch, twisting his hands in Buck's hair. Buck's hands were on his waist, and then his hips, and then his shorts were being dragged down his legs. His cock stood to attention, stiff and hard, and then a large, strong hand wrapped around it and began to stroke.

And Eddie, who hadn't had sex in over a year, who only masturbated infrequently in the shower if he really needed it, nearly lost his mind.

 


 

All Buck had wanted was to make Eddie feel good, and he guessed he'd succeeded – he had a blissed-out, naked man in his arms, on the verge of sleep but still trading lazy kisses with him. It turned out that Eddie really, really liked to be touched, and so Buck made sure his hands were on him at all times – long fingers splayed against tanned skin.

Eddie hadn't spoken for a while – not since the second orgasm, after Buck gave him an enthusiastic blow job, followed by desperate frotting, their cocks sliding together as they'd traded open, hungry kisses. Buck guessed Eddie would want to take back the reigns eventually, but he liked having him soft and pliant beneath him. He'd never seen this side of Eddie before, and he loved it. Loved him, wholly and completely.

"When you come to the loft," Buck whispered in his ear, "I want you to fuck me."

Eddie made a hungry noise, deep in his throat. "Okay."

"Too fast?"

"No." Eddie shook his head, his hair falling across his forehead. "No, this is good. I want more."

"You do? Tell me what you want," Buck encouraged him, but Eddie just laughed, turning red. "Come on."

"I don't know, I want… everything," he said, swallowing hard. "All of you."

"You can have whatever you want." Buck licked his lips, and whispered, "And I want all of you, okay? I want you in me, Eddie – I want you to hold me down and fuck me until I can't remember my own name."

Eddie's eyes were dark and glittery. "Yes," he said breathlessly. "I want that too."

"When?"

"Um…" he closed his eyes briefly, thinking, and then said, "I don't know. Christopher wants to use his telescope – do you want to come camping with us on Saturday night?"

"You have to ask?"

"I don't know; you might be busy with a date," Eddie teased him, snorting with laughter when Buck kissed him in response.

They pushed and pulled at each other, rolling over on the bed, and when Eddie was on top and smiling down at him, Buck said, "No dates."

"Until she wants to set you up again."

He shook his head. "I'll just say no."

"Then she'll wonder why." Eddie cupped his face, running his finger over Buck's lips. "God… I wish I'd figured this out sooner. I wish I hadn't been so afraid. I should've gotten you drunk sooner."

Buck raised his eyebrows. "It's the tequila, I'm telling you. It loosens my lips."

"I bet that's not the only thing it loosens," Eddie replied, and brazenly reached down to wrap his hand around Buck's cock. "Right?"

His confidence was back. Buck nodded eagerly, and Eddie began to stroke him with one hand, leaning in to kiss him again.

God, he was a lucky, lucky man. Blessed, even.

~

By morning, it was confirmed.

He was the luckiest man on the planet.

Eddie awakened him with soft kisses, well before the alarm – and usually Buck liked to sleep in, but not when Eddie was naked beside him in bed, and he was being groped all over. Fuck, he loved it, and flipped Eddie over so he was on his back, returning kisses before wasting no time in dropping between his legs to wrap his lips around that gorgeous cock of his again.

"God, I could get used to this," Eddie gasped.

Buck lifted his head and said, "So could I."

~

"Hey Buck!" Christopher exclaimed as he made his way into the kitchen, freshly showered, with Eddie at his heels.

"Morning, kiddo," Buck said, kneeling down to embrace him. "Ready for some breakfast?"

"Yes, please," Christopher said enthusiastically, taking his seat at the table.

As Buck scrambled some eggs, Eddie organised the plates and cutlery, bumping past him every so often – on purpose. Christopher was telling him about school as he dished the eggs out, and when he was finished and settling into his seat, Eddie said, "How about we go camping on Saturday night? The three of us?"

"Yes!" Christopher exclaimed.

"We can set up your telescope and look at the stars," Buck suggested, pouring a glass of juice. "It'll be fun."

"It'll be awesome," Christopher said happily. "Where will we go?"

Eddie glanced at Buck. "I'm not sure," he said thoughtfully. "We'll need to go somewhere without any city lights, so we can actually see the stars."

"Into the mountains," Buck suggested.

"Big Bear?"

He had his reasons for never wanting to go back there, but it was just a place. Maddie was safe and sound, Doug was dead, and nothing bad would happen. "Yeah, I think there are some decent campgrounds," he replied. "I'll do some research."

"Great." Eddie smiled warmly at him, and Buck felt his foot brush up against his leg under the table.

~

Eddie had clearly relaxed into the idea of being a couple with Buck – at work he was his usual self, and Buck was sure nobody had any idea that things had changed between them, but when they were alone, Eddie was delightfully flirtatious – and handsy. Buck quickly adapted to the fact that Eddie wanted to touch him all the time, and even when they were sitting on the couch together watching TV, with the others around, there was usually some part of them touching.

Whether Eddie was struggling or coming to terms with his sexuality he wasn't quite sure, but there was a gleam in his eye that hadn't been there before, and he seemed happier.

It eased some of Buck's concerns – especially when Eddie made a point of saying that he wanted Buck to sleep over Thursday and Friday nights as well –but he was still worried that they were moving too fast, or that there was some inner turmoil going on that he wasn't aware of. Eddie's parents were obviously a huge factor, but they hadn't talked about it – or really anything – since they'd first begun… hooking up? Sleeping together?

He had no idea what they were even doing, and by the time Saturday rolled around, a seed of doubt had planted in his mind. What exactly did Eddie think this was? Did he feel the same way as Buck, or was he so starved for affection that he'd turned to the easiest option for relief?

He tried to put it out of his mind. Eddie and Christopher were both thrilled to be leaving Los Angeles for a night, and they sang along with the radio, stopped whenever they saw something interesting, and ate greasy burgers and fries at a roadside café before heading into the mountains.

Buck had booked them into a campground near the lake, and there was a meadow nearby where they'd be able to set up Christopher's telescope and look at the stars.

Thankfully, the skies were clear, and after they set up their campsite and had an early dinner, they carried the telescope to the meadow and assembled it. Eddie was a bit hapless when it came to putting it together, so Buck showed him what to do, and finally they had it erected, and pointed at the sky. Eddie sat cross-legged, and Christopher used him as a chair, while Buck sprawled out on his side on the grass beside them with his star-gazing app open on his phone, helping Christopher to zero in on the different stars and constellations.

When the moon rose over the mountains, Buck adjusted the telescope, peering through the viewfinder to make sure it was lined up, and then moving aside so Christopher could take a peek.

"Wow," he heard Christopher gasp. "Dad, look. Look!"

Eddie leaned in and had a look for himself, letting out a laugh. "Wow, that's amazing."

"Pretty cool, huh?" Buck asked, as Eddie sat up straight again, and Christopher returned to his viewing position.

"Yeah, really cool," Eddie murmured, gazing at him affectionately. "You're very cool."

Buck smirked. "You are."

"Not really." Eddie reached out to touch his cheek, nodding at him. "Good thing we've got you here. I wouldn't have had any idea how to set this up."

"You would've figured it out," Buck replied confidently. "You're a pretty smart guy."

"Pretty smart," Eddie complained.

"Really, really smart," Christopher said loyally, still peering up at the moon.

"Thanks, buddy." Eddie hugged him, smiling over the top of his head at Buck.

~

It was late when they returned to the campsite, and Christopher promptly fell asleep, wrapped up in his sleeping bag in the tent. Eddie emerged and sat on the stump, leaning over to poke at the fire with a stick.

Buck was seated on the ground with his back to the tree stump, a blanket over his legs, nursing a cup of hot chocolate. They were both quiet, until Eddie slipped down beside him, and Buck lifted the blanket so they could share it. Buck slid his arm around Eddie's shoulders and pulled him close.

"Can we talk?" he asked quietly.

Eddie nodded. "What's up?"

"Um… I know we're going slowly – or that we were trying to go slowly," he corrected, "but…"

"We're kind of sleeping together."

"Yeah."

Eddie rested his head on Buck's shoulder and said, "I have no idea what I'm doing, but I know that it feels right – being with you feels… great. And I have no reservations or worries, or anything like that."

Relieved, Buck said, "Well, that's good to know."

"And I was thinking that we'd tell Christopher, because… you're going to be staying over more," Eddie said delicately, "in my bed, with me."

"Am I?" Buck asked, rubbing the side of his neck with his thumb.

"Yeah, if you want."

"I really want that." Buck paused, and then said, "But if you're thinking about telling Christopher, that makes this… serious, right?"

Eddie glanced up at him with concern. "Did I give you the impression it wasn't?" he asked worriedly.

"No, just… I don't know. It's been a long time since you've done this… I guess I thought we'd be keeping it from him for a while."

"I can't keep anything from him," Eddie confessed. "He already knows something has changed. He keeps asking me why I'm so happy."

Buck chuckled. "That kid – he's the best."

"Yeah, I know. And I know he'll be thrilled… and I guess I'm not really worried about whether or not this will work out between us," Eddie admitted, "because… it's you and me. I wasn't expecting this to feel as right as it does, you know? I thought I'd be more freaked out."

"Your parents," he guessed.

"Yeah, them… but honestly, Abuela and Pepa made me feel good about telling you how I feel," he admitted. "And there's a part of me that knows I'll never make my parents happy… but I can make myself and Christopher happy, right? And that's more important."

"I think so," Buck agreed.

Eddie was quiet for a moment, and then said, "I like you. Like, more than I've ever liked anyone. Since you told me you loved me, all I can think about is you… how you make me feel. I had a good feeling about you from the start and now… there's this part of me that is starting to believe that soul mates are a thing, and that you might be mine."

Almost instantly on the verge of tears, Buck nodded, resting his chin atop Eddie's head. "Me too."

"And I guess my biggest fear is fucking this up, because… I was kind of a lousy husband, and I don't want to make the same mistakes over again."

"You just have to talk to me," Buck murmured. "We can't bottle stuff up."

"No," Eddie agreed. "Communication, right?"

"Right." Buck played with his earlobe. "So you're okay with sex, then. Obviously."

"Yeah – I even surprised myself, you know? I just never thought about being with a guy before - until I started thinking about you and me, and then… that made me feel a kind of way."

"I'd be interested to hear about that."

Eddie chuckled, and then shook his head. "No. How did you know you liked guys?"

Buck shrugged. "I don't know; it kinda hit me in high school that I liked looking at guys and girls equally, but I never did anything about it until college."

"But what is it about guys, specifically?"

Buck glanced at him, and then clarified, "Physically?"

"Yeah."

"Oh. Um… the strength thing, first and foremost… being with someone equally as strong is a big turn-on," he said, keeping his voice low. "And… I like the way men look, you know… broad shoulders, flat chests, narrow hips… I like that v-shapedmuscle, you know? Above the groin? And… strong legs… yeah, I don’t know," he said, and chuckled. "I don’t know. I think guys are hot."

Eddie nodded slowly. "And the sex… actual sex. That's… different, right?"

"Yeah, it takes more prep, but… in some ways, I like it more than being with a woman."

"You do?"

"Um, yeah. When you’re with someone you really trust, and you… let them take control, it’s the best feeling. I mean, orgasm-wise, like… the best."

Eddie nodded thoughtfully. "Okay."

"Yeah, it’s… not easy at first, to let go, but… when I did, I never regretted it. I haven’t been with a guy for a long time but in some ways it’s easier than being with a woman - you almost know exactly what to do to make the other person come, you don’t have to guess or question or even spend a lot of time doing foreplay, you know? Guys are different to girls."

"Right." Eddie nodded, shifting closer to him under the blanket. "Okay. When we get back… we'll pick a night."

Buck shook his head. "We can go really slow, Eds. Super slow."

"But Maddie's going to keep setting you up."

"I'll just tell her no."

"You think your sister is going to accept that as an answer?"

"I don't know, but… if I go on a date with anyone else, it'll feel like I'm cheating on you," he admitted. "And I'm all in with you, Eddie. You're the only person I want to be with."

Eddie smiled up at him. "Me too," he said, and leaned in for a kiss.

~

On their return to Los Angeles the following afternoon, and before Buck could head home for the night, Christopher declared it was time to set up the rock tumbler. Unable to resist the younger Diaz – or, truthfully, the older one as well – Buck carried the machine out to Eddie's garage, knelt on the floor with Christopher at his side, and put it together.

Eddie watched while they loaded a bag of gemstones into the container and added the grit, before setting the timer for seven days.

"Why does it take so long?" Christopher asked.

"This gritty stuff wears down all the minerals around the gemstones," Buck explained, "and it takes a few days for it to really work. When we open this up in a week, it'll be full of sludge."

"Ew."

"Yeah, but we'll wash off the gemstones and you'll see how shiny they are. And then we put them back in for another cycle, and they'll come out shinier again."

"One week," Christopher said. "Next Sunday."

"Next Sunday."

"And you'll come over and help."

"Buck will be here," Eddie said, resting his hand on Buck's shoulder, "because Buck's going to spend more time here with us. Is that okay with you, kiddo?"

Christopher nodded. "Yes! That's awesome."

Buck laughed. "You really are my biggest fan, aren't you?"

"Yes," he said again, and gave Buck an awkward hug. "I love you."

Buck hugged him back, glancing up at Eddie, unable to believe how lucky he was that he'd found these two perfect people. "I love you too," he said hoarsely.

Eddie knelt beside them and said, "Chris, Buck's going to be my boyfriend. Are you okay with that?"

It was the first time he'd used the word boyfriend, and Buck glanced at him with surprise.

Christopher was beaming. "That's cool."

"So cool," Buck agreed, extending an arm so Eddie could join in their huddle. "The coolest."

"The best," Christopher declared. "Can we have pizza for dinner?"

Eddie snorted with laughter. "Sure," he said, ruffling Christopher's hair, "but Buck's got to go home."

"Yeah, we have an early start in the morning, and I have no clean clothes," Buck said to Christopher, who wrinkled his nose. "But I'll be over during the week."

"Good." Christopher grinned at them, and then turned to the rock tumbler. "Can we start it?"

"Sure," Buck said, brushing his lips against Eddie's in a kiss before releasing him. "Let's do some tumbling."

 


 

Buck was his boyfriend.

In his whole life, he never would've guessed that he'd ever have a boyfriend, but things had changed. Eddie's whole life had changed since they'd moved to California, and god, he was thankful for it every day.

Buck spent Tuesday and Wednesday nights with them at their place, and once Christopher was in bed they'd retire to Eddie's bedroom and get to know each other in an entirely new way. Eddie, who had initially worried that he wouldn't be able to adjust to not being with a woman, soon forgot entirely why he'd even been worried about that, because there was so much to enjoy about being with Buck.

Buck loved having his nipples played with, and he had a particularly sensitive spot right on the curve of his neck – when Eddie put his lips there, Buck would practically shake beneath him. He had a particular fondness for Eddie's ass, and when his tongue had slid lower and lower, Eddie had almost rocketed off the bed.

He liked it when Eddie was on top, and they'd set aside Friday as the night in the loft, where they were finally going to have actual, penetrative sex. He'd never had anal sex with a woman before – Shannon had been completely against it, and he would never, ever push, but Buck… Buck kept whispering about how amazing it was going to be for the both of them, and he couldn't wait.

~

It was on an uneventful Friday morning at work when there was a sudden commotion – Maddie had arrived, so pregnant she was almost waddling as she made her way between the fire trucks, and as soon as Chimney spotted her, he dashed down the stairs two at a time to greet her.

Buck trailed after him, and Eddie was about to follow Hen and Bobby down the stairs to say hello when he heard Maddie snap at them, "Honestly, you two, I can climb some damn stairs! Get out of my way!"

"Uh oh," Hen murmured to him, and Bobby winced at them both, quickly ducking back into the kitchen.

"Let me help you," they heard Chimney plead.

"I'm fine," she retorted. "Buck, hold my bag."

"Yes, ma'am," he replied meekly.

"Don't call me that! Oh my god, if I don't get a cold glass of water and somewhere to sit down, I'm going to die. Seriously."

Bobby hurried to the fridge to pour a glass of ice water, and when Maddie finally made it to the top of the stairs, he presented it to her gallantly. "Here you are."

"Oh, thank you," she said gratefully, pausing long enough to take a sip before heading over to the couch. "My feet are killing me."

Chimney and Buck hovered around her anxiously. "What can I do?" Chimney fretted, grabbing extra pillows to tuck behind her back.

Maddie settled onto the couch, and let out a sigh. "Nothing; I'm good now. This is nice." She smiled at them all in turn, and when her eyes settled on Eddie she said, "I haven't seen you in so long, Eddie. How's Christopher?"

"He's great," he replied, lighting up with a genuine smile. "He aced his science test on Monday."

"Oh, nice! Hopefully I'll get to see him soon." Maddie had another sip of water, and then turned to Buck. "Now, little brother – do I have news for you."

"Oh god," he said, instantly cringing. "What do they want?"

"They? Who? Mom and Dad? No – this is much better. I have a date for you," she said, waggling her eyebrows at him, and then instantly deflating when Chimney groaned, Hen laughed and Buck cringed even more. "What? What's wrong?"

"Maddie, after being stood up, I think I'm good," he said, holding his hands up. "I give up."

"You can't admit defeat this easily!" she protested. "Buck, come on. I have a great guy for you."

Eddie's heart sank. He took a step back, away from the group – Buck would give the entire game away if he so much as looked in Eddie's direction, so he decided to make himself scarce.

However, he didn't notice Hen, who was watching him intently.

Maddie took Buck's indecision as an invitation, and said, "His name is Pete – he just started at dispatch, and he's gorgeous. Tall, blonde, green eyes – super handsome, like – so good looking."

Chimney cleared his throat.

"Not as good looking as you," Maddie said to him diplomatically. "But still, hot. Super hot."

"So set Josh up with him," Buck replied, folding his arms across his chest.

"Josh has a boyfriend," she replied patiently, "and he thinks you and Pete would be a great match. We've shown him your picture—"

"Um, excuse me," Buck said, affronted – and this time he did turn to search for Eddie, who, satisfied that he couldn't be seen, shrugged at him helplessly.

 


 

Hen, standing off to the side with Bobby blocking her, had a clear view of Eddie, who was trying and failing to stay emotionless.

There was something going on – she knew it. The two boys had been suspiciously happy all week, and she just knew that something had finally happened between them.

Chimney was doing his best to dissuade Maddie. "I mean, if he doesn't want to date, he doesn't want to date," he said diplomatically. "You did set him up with a real dud the first time."

"Yeah, about that," Maddie said to Buck. "Her dog really did have to go to the vet, and it… died. So she was very apologetic but…"

"It's okay; no hard feelings, it's fine," he replied, "but… I'm good. I'll just go on Tinder."

"But Pete is so nice, Buck."

"Nah, I'm – I don't want to date guys right now," he said, folding his arms across his chest. "I'm good."

Maddie screwed her face up, clearly unwilling to take no for an answer. Hen flicked her eyes towards Eddie, who was staring at the ground unhappily.

"Come on," Maddie pleaded with Buck. "I'm sorry the first date didn't work out, but I promise you this will be different."

Clearly torn, Buck glanced at Eddie again, who almost imperceptibly nodded. "Fine," Buck relented, letting out a sigh. "Okay. Fine."

"Tonight," she said triumphantly. "I've arranged it. You just have to meet him at 7.30, and I'll send you the details."

At that, Eddie looked totally stricken. He slipped away and went down the stairs.

A look of panic crossed Buck's face before he said, "Yep, okay. Okay, but if this doesn't work out – no more, all right? Promise me."

Maddie held up her hands, beaming. "I promise."

"Okay. I just gotta… I gotta check something," he said, backing towards the stairs. "I'll be back; don't go anywhere."

"I really can't right now," she said with a laugh, totally and completely unaware of what she'd done.

Hen was about to join her and Chimney when she heard Bobby murmur, "They'll be okay."

She glanced at him sharply. "What?"

"The boys." A small smile was playing on his lips. "They're together."

"How do you know?" she murmured, keeping her voice as low as possible.

"Buck is on cloud nine, and Eddie's a lot happier as well – plus they were holding hands on the couch the other day and thought I couldn't see," he replied, just as quietly. "I guess they want some time, so I haven't said anything, and you shouldn't either."

"I won't," she promised, mimed zipping her lips, and went to join Maddie on the couch.

 


 

Buck found Eddie in the back parking lot, pacing back and forth.

"I will be the worst date," he said desperately. "I'll make him wish he never wanted to meet me."

"You won't; you're too damn nice." Eddie wouldn't meet his eyes. "It's okay. I'm fine."

"You're clearly not."

"No, because I don't want you dating anyone but me, but I have to be okay with this, and so I am." Eddie was spiralling into self-pity, and Buck couldn't have him doubting the depth of his feelings for him.

"Listen," he said firmly – and at the tone of his voice, Eddie turned to him with surprise. "You are the only person I want to be with, okay? So I will go to this stupid date and I'll make him hate me, and then I'll meet you at the loft. I'll be done in less than an hour."

"Where is it?" Eddie asked quietly.

"I don't know, she hasn't told me yet." Buck took a step towards him. "I'm yours, Eddie. All yours. One hundred percent, totally and completely in love with you, okay?

Eddie blinked rapidly, and then said, "Don't sleep with him, or kiss him, or do anything."

"I won't. I wouldn't," he promised him, taking another step forward. "It's you, Eds. You are it for me."

A glimmer of a smile appeared on Eddie's face. "You love me too much," he said quietly.

"If I do, it's only because you deserve it." Buck shrugged at him, and Eddie finally relented enough to smile. "Okay?"

"Okay," Eddie agreed softly. "All right."

~

He agreed to meet Pete at their usual hook and ladder bar, and didn't bother going home to change. Eddie left work before him, presumably to see Christopher before heading to the loft.

To say that Buck was a little annoyed about the development was an understatement, but how could he say no to his heavily pregnant sister? He figured he'd just end the date quickly, tell her that it hadn't worked out, and make a beeline for the loft so that he and Eddie could spend the night in bed together.

He arrived at the bar early, and nursed a beer at the bar while he waited. Right on time, the man himself slipped in beside him, and introduced himself with a smile and a handshake.

Pete was thirty, and had worked at a few 911 call centres in California before his move to Los Angeles. He'd been a paramedic for a couple of years before being injured on the job and deciding to take some time off. That time off led to him training to become a 911 dispatcher, and he'd decided he liked that more than being on the frontlines. Buck learned all of this information in the first three minutes of conversation – Pete also loved to talk about himself.

They moved to a table in the back. Buck was still on his first beer, but Pete ordered a Long Island iced tea, and offered to buy one for Buck until he shook his head.

"Sorry, I'm driving," he apologised.

"Too bad." Pete gave him an appraising look. "God, you're handsome."

He flashed a smile. "Not really. So… I get the feeling you've moved around a lot."

"Oh yeah," Pete replied, nodding ruefully. "From the East Coast to the West, back again and then up to Alaska for a year."

"Alaska?"

"Yeah, funny story – I was going to go to Hawaii, and ended up in Alaska," he said with a laugh. "I met a guy who was heading up there for work and tagged along with him. We spent a year together and then we broke up, so I came back. Spent a couple of months in Seattle before heading back down to LA."

"Wow."

"Yeah, it's been a crazy few years. What about you?"

Buck reminded himself not to be open and friendly, but it was his goddamn default setting and he didn't think he had it in him to be a dick. So he said, "I did some travelling when I was younger; spent some time in South America before moving out west. I'm pretty settled now."

"You're looking for something serious? You're not on Grindr?"

He shook his head. "No, I want to settle down. I'm not interested in sleeping around."

"That's fair. You're what, thirty? But I mean, you could get any guy you want, for sure. You're stunning. If you wanted to head back to my place right now, I'd be up for it."

Shocked by his boldness, Buck could only say, "Uh, no. Sorry, dude."

Pete shrugged, his eyes twinkling. "Just thought I'd throw it out there."

Buck decided to change the conversation. "So my sister had only nice things to say about you," he said, and then furrowed his brow when he realised Pete was staring over his shoulder. "What's wrong?"

"Don't look," Pete murmured, "but the hottest guy I've ever seen in my life just walked in. Holy shit."

Well, that was a little rude – and if it'd been a real date he might've been offended. He sipped his beer, raising his eyebrows, and said, "Cool."

Pete's eyes were still trained on the mystery man. "Wow, okay… he's looking over here. Um… he's walking over here. Uh, do you – be cool."

Buck grimaced, glancing over his shoulder, and found that his very beautiful, very handsome and extremely jealous boyfriend was striding towards him. He'd even dressed up for the occasion, in a black button-up and slacks, and a sudden surge of lust flowed through him.

"Hey," Eddie said as he reached them, grasping Buck's shoulder.

"What are you doing here?" Buck blurted out.

"Ending this," Eddie said, casting a sharp look Pete's way. "Sorry dude, he's taken."

Pete's eyebrows flew up. "Uh… okay?"

Buck could only gape at him. "Are you for real?"

Eddie nodded, and cupped his face with both hands. "I'm in love with you too," he said, swallowing hard. "I love you. Please come home with me."

All Buck could think of to say was, "Yeah, okay," before Eddie leaned in to kiss him firmly.

He heard Pete let out a low whistle, but all he could focus on was Eddie, who pulled away with a grin.

"You fucking dramatic bastard," Buck whispered, and Eddie laughed, tugging him up and out of his seat. "I was coming home to you."

"Yeah, you are," he replied, throwing some cash down on the table before regarding Pete apologetically. "Sorry dude. I'm not out, and he's… trying to cover for me. Sorry."

Shocked, but trying to play it cool, Pete shrugged. "Okay."

"Don't tell Maddie," Buck pleaded. "Just tell her I was a dick or something."

"Well, you kinda are," he said bluntly. "But… okay."

"Good luck," Eddie said to him, one hand locked around Buck's arm.

"Hey wait," Pete said before they could leave. "Threesome?"

Eddie's eyes narrowed. "No," he said bluntly, and dragged Buck out of the bar.

 


 

Maybe it was ridiculously uncool to drag Buck out of the bar like he was some kind of caveman, but he really didn't give a fuck, and as soon as they were in Eddie's truck they were all over each other.

Eddie could've easily thrown him down in the backseat and had his way with him, but instead he pulled away, jammed the car into reverse and backed out of the parking space, ignoring the tightness in his pants, and the way Buck was grinning at him from the passenger seat.

Once they were inside the loft, all bets were off. Eddie's nice shirt was torn in his haste to take it off, and Buck would need to ask Maddie nicely to sew the buttons back onto his shirt after Eddie ripped it open. He had a one track mind – mine, mine, mine – totally focused on one thing.

Thankfully Buck was clearly thinking the same thing, and when they were upstairs in bed together, he tossed condoms and lube at Eddie, arched an eyebrow at him and said, "I hope you read those articles I sent you."

Eddie leaned over him, nipping at his lower lip, and said, "You really think I didn't study for this test?"

"I fucking hope you did."

Buck was in for a treat, because if there was one thing Eddie was good at – it was sex. He'd never brag, but he'd never had any complaints, and the articles had been incredibly informative about what he needed to do to make sure Buck had a night he'd never forget.

~

A few hours later, Eddie had a blissful Evan Buckley sprawled across the bed beside him, head on his chest, chuckling every so often. Eddie ran his fingers through his curls and closed his eyes, exhausted, but in the best way possible.

"Well," Buck finally said. "I'd give you an A for that."

"A-plus," he corrected.

"Nah, your technique needs some work, but we'll get there. We've got time."

Eddie huffed, and then muttered, "You're lucky I love you so much."

"Yeah, really lucky," Buck marvelled, looking up at him with a smile. "So lucky, Eddie. When you walked in there tonight, all jealous… I got rock hard."

"You made that pretty clear."

Buck laughed. "I've never been so turned on in my life."

"Good." Eddie let out a sigh, trailing his fingers across Buck's shoulder blades. "We better get some rest. I'd like to get some practice in, you know – really bump up that grade, get a perfect score."

"Well, you know – practice makes perfect, Eddie. If we've got to work at it every single day, we'll just have to put the time in," Buck said ruefully.

"I'm willing if you are."

"Oh yeah," he agreed, glancing up at him again with a wicked grin. "Anything to get you on the honour roll."

Eddie leaned in to kiss him, and then said, "I know we're joking, but like – it was good, right?"

Buck's eyes twinkled. "Yeah," he whispered. "You rocked my fucking world."

Pleased, Eddie kissed him again.

 


 

Chapter Text

Working a Saturday night shift was never Buck's idea of a good time, but at least Eddie was there with him – and they would have most of Sunday off, which was a good thing.

Chimney was off for the night, so the last people he was expecting to see at dinner were Chimney and Maddie, but after they returned from a call-out, there they were, dishing food out for them. Buck spotted his sister, instantly realised she knew what he'd done, and tried to disappear into the locker room.

"No," Bobby said, catching his elbow and dragging him towards the stairs. "Come on."

Buck glanced over at Eddie helplessly, who simply shrugged and followed them to the stairs. Once they reached the top, Maddie planted her hands on her hips and gave him a fierce look.

"Is there something you want to tell me?"

Hen, who'd been chatting away happily with the rest of the team, immediately made a beeline for them.

He had no idea what she knew, and so he said innocently, "What?"

"A very handsome man came in, told you that he was in love with you, and dragged you out of the bar," she said accusingly – and while she didn't notice the look that passed between Bobby, Hen and Chimney, Buck did, and Eddie most certainly did as well.

So Buck told her exactly what he and Eddie had agreed upon – "Eddie bailed me out of the date because I didn't want to go. He made a big scene, and then we went and got burgers and saw a movie."

Her brow furrowed, and she glanced over at Eddie, who smiled sweetly at her. "But you… you… why didn't you just tell me you didn't want to go?"

"I did," he replied gently. "But you wouldn't take no for an answer, and I know you really wanted me to meet someone… and I just don't want to. I'm sorry."

Maddie stared at him, totally confused, and then whispered, "Are you in love with Eddie?"

"No," he lied. "He was supposed to send me a text and bail me out, and he decided to mess with me instead."

"Yup," Eddie said proudly. "Sorry, Maddie. I couldn’t resist."

Buck noticed another confused look pass between Chimney, Hen and Bobby, but ignored it.

Suddenly, Maddie whacked his arm, and then hissed, "You were very convincing!"

"I'm sorry," he said again. "I'm really sorry. He was a nice guy, but I knew right away we weren't going to click."

"God, you two are so annoying," she complained, collapsing into a seat at the table. "Eddie, I thought you were better than this."

"I would never miss an opportunity to mess with Buck," Eddie said as he went to the fridge. "Ever. It was great."

"You're setting a bad example for Christopher, you know."

"In Eddie's defence, he didn't bring Christopher to the bar," Buck said, and ducked when she lobbed a bread roll at him.

"That's so unlike you," Hen said to Buck, a twinkle in her eyes. "This guy might've been perfect for you."

Buck shook his head. "After Eddie turned up, he suggested we have a threesome," he replied dryly. "That's when I knew for sure we weren't going to hit it off."

"Oh god," Maddie groaned, rubbing her forehead. "I really suck at this."

"But your heart is in the right place," Chimney said loyally. "Maybe we just leave Buck alone for now."

"Yeah, maybe," she said, sinking into a seat at the table. "Okay. No more dates – I'll let you handle that yourself."

"Thanks," Buck replied with a smile. "Someone will come along."

Eddie, who was pouring a glass of water, looked over at him with a smile.

"Anyway, that's not why we stopped by," Chimney said, but then acquiesced, "Well, it's not the only reason. Maddie has decided that she wants to have one last big birthday bash before the baby arrives, and so we're doing it next weekend, at our usual spot – bring your best singing voices, because it's a karaoke night."

"Count us in," Hen said enthusiastically. "Karen and I haven't had a night out in months."

"We'll be there as well," Bobby replied. "You know Athena will never miss a chance to perform."

"Good. Buck? Eddie?" Maddie asked, turning to look at Eddie, who nodded at her with a smile.

"I'll make sure Buck doesn't sing Eye of the Tiger," he promised.

"Thank god for that," she replied with relief.

Offended, Buck said, "I don't just sing Eye of the Tiger, Eddie. I perform it. It's an experience."

"And not one any of us want to sit through again," Bobby said dryly.

"I can't believe you guys."

 


 

"So… they're together, right?" Chimney murmured to Hen, who nodded emphatically.

"Yep, Bobby said he saw them holding hands. Are you going to tell Maddie?"

Chimney turned his eyes to where Maddie was sitting with Buck – he had an arm around her shoulders, and she was leaning against him with an affectionate smile on her face. "I mean, I really want to, but… they're obviously keeping it a secret for a reason. And they must think we have no idea."

"Eddie," she said quietly. "Buck will be protecting Eddie."

Chimney cast his eyes towards Eddie, who was chatting with Bobby and a few other members of the team. "He might still be coming to terms with it, you think?"

"Maybe, but Eddie is pretty adaptable, and he's definitely been a lot happier this week," she replied. "I can't blame them for wanting to ease into things and not draw too much attention."

"I tried to tell her that Buck had feelings for Eddie," he murmured, watching as Eddie wandered across the room to sit beside Buck, who cast him an affectionate smile. "But she didn't believe me."

"She's not around them all the time like we are," Hen pointed out.

"That's true. I thought Buck would've told her if he had feelings for him; they talk about everything else."

"Maybe our Buckaroo is growing up."

Maddie was distracted, on her phone, still leaning against Buck, but Buck and Eddie only had eyes for each other. Chimney watched them and then murmured, "I mean I'm happy for them, but god they're annoying."

She laughed. "You're the one who's marrying into the family. I still maintain a level of distance."

"Yeah, yeah."

 


 

On Sunday morning, once their shift was finished, Buck followed Eddie home. They were both only operating on limited sleep, and so Eddie arranged for his Abuela to keep Christopher until the early afternoon so they could get some rest.

By the time Christopher arrived home, they'd napped, made out, showered and eaten lunch. Christopher was a whirlwind of activity, and as soon as he'd set foot inside the house, he was begging Buck to see if the rock tumbler had finished its first cycle.

They trooped out to the garage, where the machine had been running for a week. Eddie grabbed a bucket and strainer while Buck dismantled it, and Christopher leaned over Buck's shoulder, brimming with excitement as Buck poured the rocks and sludge into the strainer. He rinsed the rocks off with water, revealing bright and colourful gemstones.

"Wow!" Christopher gasped. "Look, Dad!"

"I know, that's really cool," Eddie said appreciatively, grabbing a flashlight from the bench and kneeling down, shining the light so they could better see the gemstones. "Do you have the identification book?"

Christopher fumbled for it on the bench, and passed it to Eddie. Buck lay the stones out on a towel and picked through them. "That's black agate," he said, holding it up for Christopher to examine. "And this one is rose quartz."

"Amethyst," Eddie said, nudging a small purple rock to Buck. "And this one is a tiger's eye."

Christopher reached for a sparkly black rock in the shape of a heart. "What's this one?"

Buck consulted the guide. "Uh… goldstone, I think."

Christopher turned it over in his hands, nodding, before handing it to Eddie and leaning in to whisper in his ear, "You should give it to Buck."

Buck heard him clearly, his eyes flicking to Eddie, who was grinning. "Okay," Eddie whispered back. "I will."

~

Christopher decided which rocks he wanted to put through another cycle, and they set the machine up again and left it. Christopher had only kept a rose quartz, and set it on the table to admire while they ate dinner. They'd decided to put the heart-shaped rock through again, hoping it would be even prettier after another cycle.

Once they'd eaten and watched a National Geographic documentary about African wildlife, Eddie put Christopher to bed. Buck tidied up the house, switching off the lights, and was brushing his teeth in the bathroom when strong arms wrapped around his stomach and lips pressed against the back of his neck.

"Hey," he said, leaning back against Eddie. "He's asleep?"

"Tucked up with the quartz on the bedside table." Eddie kissed him again, and then slotted in beside him at the mirror. "I'll just brush my teeth."

Buck nodded, rinsing his mouth out with water before stepping aside. While Eddie brushed his teeth, he couldn't help but slide his hands up and down his back, just to feel the muscles rippling beneath his fingers. Eddie watched him in the mirror with raised eyebrows, and Buck leaned in to drop a kiss to the exposed skin at the neck of his t-shirt.

Eddie leaned against him, grinning around his toothbrush, and when Buck's fingers tickled the skin near his waist, he shivered, arching into his touch. Buck nuzzled against the back of his neck with his nose, sliding his hand under his shirt and around to his stomach, splaying his hand across his firm abdominal muscles.

Eddie spat out a mouthful of toothpaste, rinsed his mouth out and then turned around in Buck's arms, leaning in for a minty kiss. Buck obliged him, one hand still under his shirt, the other working its way into the waistband of his sweats and down to the smooth curve of his ass. He grabbed a handful, and Eddie snorted with laughter against his lips.

"Bed," Buck murmured.

"Mmmhmm," Eddie agreed enthusiastically.

They managed to part long enough to retreat to the bedroom, but it was there that Buck finally managed to divest Eddie of his shirt and push him down onto the bed. They kissed languidly, unhurried – the best kisses. In addition to having the best face of anyone on the planet, Eddie was the giver of the best kisses. Buck just wanted to kiss him all over, and so he did, trailing his lips all over Eddie's body, finding new places to explore, new things to discover. Eddie shivered beneath him every so often, and Buck wondered if anyone had ever spent as much time as he had mapping out every single inch of perfectly smooth skin.

Eddie finally dragged him up so they could kiss again and moved them so that Buck was on his back on the bed, and Eddie was leaning over him. He propped himself up on his elbow, gazing down at him with dark, serious eyes, and said, "I really do love you."

Buck couldn't help but beam, and then joked, "Are you sure you're not just saying that because you're in a sex haze?"

"No. I would never say it if I didn't mean it," Eddie said seriously.

"Oh," he replied, suddenly nervous. "And I just said it when I was drunk."

"That's how I knew you meant it." Eddie rested his chin on Buck's shoulder. "This isn't just sex; it's not… me using you for anything. When I told you that I was in love with you, I meant every word of it. You and I want the same things, you know… and I just want you to be with Christopher and me. If that's what you want," he clarified.

Buck nodded, practically on the verge of tears. "That's all I've ever wanted."

"Really?" Eddie asked uncertainly. "Are you sure that… you want us? I mean… you could meet someone else, a girl or another guy, and have a family, and…"

"You are the only person I want," he replied simply.

"But… I have baggage, and…"

"And I don't?"

"You don't have kids."

Buck let out a laugh. "Eddie, in case you haven't noticed, you have the greatest kind in the world, who I love. With all my heart."

Eddie swallowed hard, his eyes shining. "You do?"

"Yes."

"I might disappoint you."

"I might disappoint you."

They gave each other a long look. Eddie finally cleared his throat, wiped his eyes and said, "You're the only person who's ever really been there for me… in every single way. You've never judged me for anything, even though I've fucked up… it's like you're the only person who sees me for who I am."

Buck cupped his face. "Eds, you're the only person who sees me."

"That's because I love you," he practically mumbled. "And I want to be with you."

"I love you too," Buck whispered, and leaned in to kiss him. "I love you, Eddie. I love you so much."

Eddie was smiling, relieved, returning his kisses eagerly. "I'm so lucky," he said, a little hoarsely. "Sometimes I think I don't deserve it."

"Typical Eddie," Buck teased, and he laughed. "You're allowed to be happy."

"I know," he replied, and kissed him again.

~

Their work week passed by mostly uneventfully. Buck noticed Hen and Chimney watching them a little more closely than usual but ignored it, pretending as though nothing had changed – even though everything was different, and so much better.

He and Eddie had the Thursday off, so after dropping Christopher at school, and then spending a lazy morning in bed together, they decided to venture out for some lunch. They headed to Buck's favourite burger place, and as they walked down the street, Eddie slipped his hand into Buck's, a contented smile on his face.

"We should go camping again soon," Buck suggested. "We could head north, maybe."

"Or out into the desert."

"I hate the desert."

Eddie glanced at him with surprise. "You do? I love it. I'll have to take you to Texas with me one day."

"No, I prefer the ocean," Buck replied as they stepped through the front door of the busy restaurant. "I like to watch the sea."

"Says the man who went through a tsunami," Eddie teased.

"Well, as your son says, they're really not that big of a deal," Buck shot back, leading him to a table in the back.

They placed their orders with the waitress – a couple of beers, burgers, fries and onion rings – and while they waited for their food, their feet tangled together under the table.

"So we need to think about telling people, I guess," Eddie said reluctantly. "But I'm kinda liking the fact that nobody knows."

"Yeah, me too, but I should tell Maddie soon." Buck rested his head on his hand. "I'm worried she'll try to set me up again."

"She just wants you to be happy." Eddie paused, and then said, "Will she be happy if you're with me? Does Maddie like me? Do I need to wow her or something?"

He laughed. "Yeah, she likes you – of course she likes you. Why wouldn't she?"

"I don't know; I just… we haven't spent much time together."

"Well, that's because you're all over me," Buck pointed out. "You picked the Buckley you liked the most, and it was me."

Eddie grinned. "Yeah, I guess so. Still, she's your most important family member and I feel like I need to step up if I want to date you."

"Okay, well, I don't need to get Maddie's permission to date anyone," Buck pointed out, as their beers were placed in front of them. "She's not the boss of me."

Eddie made a face. "She kinda is, Buck. You value her opinion more than anyone. If she didn't like me… would that be a deal-breaker for you?"

Buck shook his head. "When it comes to you, there are no deal-breakers."

Looking reassured, Eddie ducked his head. "Okay."

Buck had a sip of beer, and then said, "What about you? You've got your parents to think about. They're going to hate this."

"Yep, but I don't care."

"Are you sure about that?"

Eddie nodded. "I know I was to blame for a lot of what happened with Shannon, but they have to shoulder some of it as well. She left because they were so goddamn overbearing and exhausting. They're the reason I had to leave El Paso – they're the reason we're here, because we just had to get away from them. So they don't get a say in my life, and who I'm in love with. I'm on your team," he said firmly. "And I have your back, and you have mine. That's what a successful partnership is, right? Supporting each other. They're not coming between me and someone I love ever again."

Buck reached across the table to take his hand. "As long as you're sure."

"Yeah, I'm sure." Eddie paused, and then added, "Meeting you was one of the best things that ever happened to me. And I think Abuela and Pepa have been… subtly nudging me in your direction pretty much since I introduced you to them. Christopher thinks the sun rises and sets with you, and… I just needed to get over my own hang-ups and realise that you are the person who makes me happy, so… I'm going with my gut."

Buck grinned. "Me too. It's always been you. And apparently Abuela and Pepa knew about this long before we did."

"Well, Pepa's been making cracks about how you're my unofficial life partner for months now," Eddie said, "but… this has been building for a while, Buck. I just didn't realise you were feeling the same way until you got completely hammered on tequila and told me."

"What do you mean, it's been building for a while?" Buck asked curiously.

Eddie lifted his shoulders, and said, "I mean… when I realised what you'd gone through to save Christopher, I started thinking about you differently. It hit me that you went through all that because you love him, not just out of duty to me, or… anything like that. And then… when the lawsuit happened—"

"We don't—"

"No, just, let me finish. We said communication was important," he teased, and Buck let out a chuckle. "When that happened, Pepa said to me that I was acting like you'd broken my heart, and that really pissed me off. Because… she was right. I was so angry, and… part of it was because I was angry at myself for… trusting someone again, completely, and having them leave."

Buck winced, pulling his hand away from Eddie, and covering his face. "Jesus, I didn't know, I just—"

"No, I'm not asking you to say sorry or anything like that – we're so past this," Eddie reassured him. "I'm just saying that… I should've talked to you instead of bottling shit up. I shouldn't have let the lawsuit keep me away – I should've come to your place and talked to you. There's a lot of stuff I should've done that I didn't, because of everything else… and I regret that, now. But my point is that when we made up, I decided that I'm not letting anything like that happen with you again. I won't let us get our wires crossed anymore. You're too fucking important to Christopher and me, Buck."

There was a lump in his throat. "I am sorry."

"I'm sorry too, but it really doesn't matter anymore – it was stupid, and we both fucked up, but… we're here now. And I love you," he said emphatically. "A year ago, I never would've thought we'd be here, but… I'm so happy we are. I'm really glad we got drunk together and you told me how much you loved me, because… I never would've made the first move. Fuck, I'd probably still be in denial."

"I think you would've figured it out," Buck replied, taking his hand again, and threading their fingers together. "And I think you're a lot braver than you give yourself credit for."

"Well, we never have to find out," Eddie said, as the waitress arrived with their food. "Because tequila is your Achilles' heel."

"Somehow, I feel like you're going to use that information against me," Buck said suspiciously.

Eddie smirked, and crunched on a fry. "Maybe."

 


 

"Why are we here?" Josh asked Maddie disdainfully, following her into the dingy burger joint.

"Because I have a craving, and Buck told me about this place and that their cheesy fries are amazing," she replied, leading him over to a booth.

He was a little concerned she wouldn't fit into it, but there was still an inch between her swollen belly and the table. Maddie reached for the menus eagerly, rubbing a hand over her stomach absentmindedly as she examined the options.

Josh was indulging her. This kind of eatery was not his favourite, but Maddie was his favourite and if she wanted greasy burgers, that was fine by him.

They ordered, and gossiped, and drank cokes with too much ice, and then dug into their food as soon as it arrived. Maddie immediately dipped a pickle in the cheesy sauce and polished it off with a look of bliss, before picking up her burger with both hands and taking a huge bite out of it.

"You know the thing I like the most about you is how classy you are," Josh remarked, gesturing to her with a French fry.

"Thank you," she said through a mouthful of food.

He was just about to take a bite of his own burger when he spotted a familiar figure crossing the bar, and was about to call out to Buck when he realised that he wasn't alone. Buck slid into a seat across from an incredibly handsome guy, sitting for only a second before immediately leaning across the table to kiss him tenderly. The gorgeous man gave Buck an affectionate look and took his hand, playing with his fingers.

His jaw dropped, and Maddie paused mid-bite, her brows knitting together in confusion. "What's wrong?"

Josh leaned in and said conspiratorially, "Your brother is here, and he's not alone."

"Oh?" Maddie set her burger down and turned to look. "Oh, that's just Eddie," she said, making a move as if to stand, but Josh grabbed her hand and held her in place. "What?"

"Look," he whispered.

Buck was leaning across the table again, a huge smile on his face. Eddie reached out to touch his cheek affectionately, and trailed his fingers over Buck's birthmark.

They watched in awe as the two leaned in to kiss each other, before Buck leapt to his feet and pulled Eddie up as well, sliding an arm around his shoulders. He left a tip on the table and led Eddie to the exit on the other side of the bar, holding the door open for him as they departed.

Maddie turned to Josh with her jaw hanging open. "Well," she said, stunned. "Okay."

"That's why he ditched Pete."

"Yeah." A look of misery suddenly crossed her face. "Oh god, he only said yes because he didn't want to hurt my feelings. And probably because Eddie wants to keep things quiet."

"It's okay," Josh reassured her. "Don't worry – you didn't do anything wrong."

"I pushed him, and pushed him—"

"He told you he'd signed up for Tinder, and you were trying to help," he said patiently.

Maddie gave him a tearful look. "Why wouldn't he tell me about Eddie?"

He shrugged. "You know what it's like, when you're with someone new and it's exciting, and you're all loved up… they're in that happy bubble. I'm guessing they want to keep it that way for a little longer. I'm sure he'll tell you soon, okay? At least now you know, and you can stop worrying."

Some of her tension seemed to ease. "Yeah," she agreed. "You're right. Oh my god, Buck and Eddie. Buck and Eddie! This is so amazing. I wonder if Chim knows?"

 


 

By the time Saturday night rolled around, they'd hardly spent a night apart. Eddie and Christopher had grown very accustomed to having Buck at their house, and any murmuring by Buck about how he should probably head home was met with protests until he agreed to stay – pretending as though he was struggling with the decision. Eddie could see right through him.

They walked into Maddie's party together, but Buck made a beeline for Athena and the karaoke book, and Eddie went to the bar to order them a couple of beers. The plan was that they were going to stay until around eleven, at which time they'd make their escape and head back to the loft for some quality time together.

Eddie sat at a table with Hen and Karen, watching as Buck argued with Athena and Bobby about song choices. Athena finally affixed him with one of her most stern glares, but Buck simply flashed her an impish grin and jogged over to take a seat beside Eddie, bumping him with his shoulder.

"What are you singing?" he asked, sliding a beer across.

"Well, apparently I'm not allowed to do Eye of the Tiger," Buck said disdainfully, "which I think is a joke, so I'll be performing More Than a Feeling instead. And everyone can enjoy my air guitar."

"Buck, you need to expand your taste in music a little," Karen said from across the table. "Try some R&B, and relax."

Buck shook his head. "Nope. I know what I like." His hand dropped under the table and slid along Eddie's inner thigh.

Eddie smirked and sipped his beer.

~

Two hours and one god-awful rendition of Boston's More Than a Feeling later, almost everyone was up and dancing – except for Eddie, secure in his seat, watching Buck with a smile. He was the life of the party, and he was reminded again just how much everyone loved him. Buck was fun. When he was happy, it simply poured out of him and seemingly affected everyone around him.

Buck was like the sun; he shone so bright. Eddie loved him.

Maybe he'd had one too many beers, he realised, suddenly feeling a little sloppy. He'd have to reign it in so he wouldn't ruin their night together.

Deciding to switch to water, he was about to stand when a very pregnant Maddie slipped into the spare seat beside him, one hand on her belly. She set down a glass of water, let out a breath and said, "Eddie, do not tell Chimney this – I mean it – but I shouldn't have worn these shoes."

He laughed, glancing down at the tight sandals on her swollen feet. "I'm guessing he told you not to."

"He did, and I ignored him because these go with my outfit." Maddie pushed her hair off her face and fanned herself. "It's hot in here, right?"

"Yeah, it's a bit stuffy," he agreed. "Buck's going to be drenched with sweat when he finally gets off the dancefloor."

"Whenever that may be," she laughed. "He really likes eighties music."

"He likes pretty much everything, I've discovered."

"Yeah, he is pretty easy-going." Maddie had a sip of water, and then said, "I'm guessing you know that… probably better than anyone, right?"

A little confused, he said, "Yeah, well… I spend most of my time with him."

"I know." Maddie smiled at him. "Listen, I'm just going to come right out and say that I saw you guys making out at Buck's favourite burger place."

He closed his eyes briefly. "Oh."

"Yeah. I guess that story about you… stealing him away from Pete was actually kinda true?"

He nodded, embarrassed. "Yeah… sorry."

"It's okay. Listen, I'm sorry I kept trying to set him up while he was with you. And I haven't said anything to anyone – and I won't; it's not my place. I just wanted to let you know that I won't try to set him up anymore."

Eddie let out a laugh. "Okay. That'd be great."

She leaned in and said confidentially, "I'm pretty sure he's had a crush on you since you first met, because he hasn't stopped talking about you since."

He glanced over at Buck, who was dancing with Hen and Karen, and then said with a chuckle, "My aunt would probably tell you the same thing about me."

Maddie nudged him with her shoulder. "It's okay, you know. Take your time. I promise I'll stay right out of it."

"I know you were only trying to help," he reassured her. "We haven't been together that long."

She smiled warmly at him. "I'm really happy he's found someone. I was worried – I mean, I know it doesn't matter, and at the end of the day if he wanted to stay single, that's fine, but… he's got so much to give. He would be such a good husband and father, like… I know how much he loves Christopher. I can't even imagine him as an uncle, or with his own kids… he'd be so good at it."

Eddie nodded slowly. "Yeah, he would," he said, as visions of Buck with babies flashed through his head. "I'd like to see that."

"No pressure," she said, holding up her hands. "You take your time."

"Thanks. Hey, there is something… you could do for me? It would be messing with him a bit, but ultimately I think he'd like it."

"What's that?"

 


 

They'd planned that Eddie would leave first, so as not to arouse suspicion, and so he said his goodbyes around eleven and made a hasty exit. Almost as soon as he was gone, Maddie was at Buck's side, her arm around his waist.

"So," she said brightly. "I have someone new for you."

Alarmed, he replied, "No, we talked about this. I don't want to be set up."

"You'll really like him. He's such a nice guy. Super cute, super handsome, funny, sweet – a total catch, Buck."

He sighed, trying to figure out how to extract himself from another bad date. "Listen, I really can't," he said bluntly, feeling guilty when Maddie's eyebrows flew up. "It's not – Maddie, I love you, but I just don't want to date anyone right now. I just want to keep doing what I'm doing and if someone good comes along, then so be it. But I'm just not interested in another blind date."

She eyed him; her lips pressed together tightly, and then said, "Okay. Fine. If that's what you want."

"That's what I want."

"Fine." She patted his back and then pulled away from him, pointedly turning her head to the side – pouting in only the way that she could, that was guaranteed to make him crumble.

Buck had to leave to meet Eddie, but she'd played him like a fiddle. "Maddie, please," he said desperately. "I'm sure he's a nice guy."

"He is."

"But I just… I can't, I just—"

"Meet him for a drink," she said, raising her eyebrows at him. "One drink."

Groaning, he threw his head back. "Do I have to?"

"Please. For me – if this one doesn't work out, then I'll leave you alone. I'll never set you up with anyone again, I promise."

She'd said similar things before, but this time, he'd hold her to it. "You promise?"

She crossed her heart. "Yep. I swear on Chim's life."

"Hey, what?" Chimney said from the other side of the table, confused.

~

Buck made his escape, and took an Uber to the loft. When he entered, soft music was playing on his record player, the lights were dimmed, and Eddie was waiting for him – shirt unbuttoned, holding a glass of wine.

A trapped breath escaped Buck's lips, and he closed and locked the door, dumping his phone, keys and wallet on the table near the door and crossing the floor to greet him with a kiss.

"Hey," Eddie murmured against his lips, swaying back and forth. "Hey, handsome."

"Hi," Buck whispered, slipping his hands under his gaping shirt and sliding them across his smooth chest. "God, you look good."

"So do you." Eddie downed a mouthful of wine and undid the first two buttons of Buck's shirt, leaning in to press a kiss to the first patch of exposed skin he bared. "So nice."

Buck's chest rose and fell as Eddie undid the next button, his lips trailing downwards. Buck rested his hands on Eddie's shoulders, closing his eyes as each button was undone, his shirt was pulled open and off, and Eddie manoeuvred him so his back was to the counter, leaning in to kiss his nipples before tilting his head up and finding his lips.

"Eddie," Buck murmured against his lips. "God, you're so fucking hot."

Eddie let out a low, rumbling chuckle. "Am I?"

"Yep." Buck smoothed his hands against Eddie's face, pressing soft kisses to his eyelids, cheeks, nose and forehead, before finding his lips again.

"Bed," Eddie whispered, setting the wine glass down on the kitchen island. "Let's go to bed."

Buck nodded, kissing him again, and then took him by the hand and led him to the stairs. Eddie smacked his butt playfully, grinning at him, and Buck pushed him up against the wall and kissed him hungrily.

Somehow they made it up the stairs, shedding their clothing as they went. Buck ended up on his knees on the edge of the bed, kissing his way across Eddie's chest, and stomach, before dropping his head and taking him into his mouth. Eddie hissed, tipping his head back as he slid his hands across Buck's back and into his hair.

"Jesus, Buck," he groaned.

Buck pulled away with a pop and looked up at him with hooded eyes, licking his lips. "You taste good."

Eddie leaned in to kiss him, pushing him down onto the bed and sliding on top of him eagerly. Gone was any previous hesitation about sex – Eddie was all in, and Buck couldn't get enough of him. Kissing and sucking was a great appetiser, but Buck wanted the main course, and when Eddie finally pushed inside him slowly and exquisitely, he was begging for it.

"God, you feel great," Eddie groaned, lifting Buck's leg so it was on his shoulder. "And you look fucking amazing."

He nodded, gripping the sheets, letting out a breath. "We should've been doing this from day one."

Eddie laughed, leaning in to kiss him. "I never would've gotten any work done," he teased, and twisted his hips to make Buck gasp. "You good?"

He nodded, reaching up to wrap a hand around Eddie's bicep. "Yeah, man, what are you waiting for?"

Eddie's eyes lit up, and he began to move his hips in earnest, and Buck lost the ability to maintain rational thoughts.

~

In the morning, Buck opened his eyes to find Eddie already awake and smiling at him. "Morning," Buck said groggily, leaning in for a kiss.

"Morning." Eddie smiled at him, pulling the blankets up a little higher. "So… I think you broke me."

"Oh no. Again?"

"Yeah, it's becoming a habit of yours."

"Oh darn," Buck said ruefully. "Well, I guess we'll just have to stop sleeping together."

"It's probably the safest bet," Eddie agreed ruefully, slipping an arm over Buck's chest, resting his head on his shoulder. "You're not working Wednesday, right? I could get a sitter for Christopher and we could go out for dinner."

Buck nodded, and then remembered his deal with Maddie. "Oh shit."

"What?"

"Maddie… is setting me up again," he admitted reluctantly. "And I told her I'd go this one last time."

Eddie let out an unhappy huff of breath. "Really?"

"Yeah, I know, I know. I promise – this time, I'll act like a total dick, and he'll end it so fast."

He laughed. "You were going to do that last time."

"This time, definitely. I promise. You could wait for me here?"

"No, you'll just come to my place after." Eddie nuzzled his nose. "I'll wait up for you."

Buck kissed him apologetically. "I'm sorry, Eds."

"It's okay; it's really okay. She just cares about you." Eddie's hand was slipping lower under the blanket. "You better not fall in love with this guy."

"No chance of that," Buck murmured, and flipped Eddie so he was on his back, sliding on top. "Absolutely no chance of that, at all."

 


 

They collected Christopher, and decided to take him out for lunch. Eddie listened with a smile on his face as Buck and Christopher chatted to each other eagerly in the car, as though it'd been longer than twenty-four hours since they'd last seen each other. The hot topic of conversation over lunch was how the rocks were going to look – and if Eddie was really honest, as much as he loved Buck, and he loved that Christopher and Buck had these little projects they could geek out over together, the rock puns were getting old, fast.

By the time they arrived home, the enthusiasm for rocks was at an all-time high. Eddie pulled into the driveway, and no sooner was the car door open than Buck exclaimed, "Let's rock and roll!"

"Oh god," Eddie groaned.

Christopher was practically vibrating with excitement, and they simply left Eddie to collect everything out of the car and went into the garage without him. Shaking his head, he dumped Christopher's bag inside the house before wandering out to join them. They'd already emptied the tumbler and rinsed off the rocks, and were examining them individually.

"Look!" Christopher exclaimed – the rocks were practically gleaming, and looked so much better than after the first cycle.

"Wow," Buck murmured, picking through them one by one. "Eddie, look at this. They look great."

"That's really cool," he said appreciatively, kneeling down beside them. "Are you going to do another cycle?"

Buck and Christopher exchanged a look. "One more," Buck suggested. "But I think some of these are probably good as they are right now."

"Okay," Christopher agreed, taking the amethyst out of the collection and passing it to Eddie. "This one. And this one," he said, adding the heart-shaped rock to his collection. "That's yours, Dad."

"Thank you, buddy," Eddie replied, glancing at Buck, who was scrutinising the remaining rocks and consulting the guide.

Christopher looked up at him and mouthed, 'For Buck.'

Eddie nodded, patting his back. 'Okay.'

 


 

On Wednesday, Buck changed into his date clothes at work, ignoring Hen and Chimney's raised eyebrows. Eddie had already left, calling goodbye to everyone as he jogged out to his car.

"Buck, if you didn't want to go on another date," Chimney said as he closed his locker door, "you could just say no."

"Maddie will understand, you know," Hen said gently. "Has your sister got something over your head?"

He laughed. "No, but Chim can attest to the fact that she can pout like a champion when she wants to."

Chimney winced. "Yeah, it's a talent, that's for sure. But listen – I can tell her that you decided not to go, if you don't want to face the trembling lower lip of doom."

He shook his head, buttoning his shirt. "This is the last one. I told her if it doesn't work out, she has to stop setting me up and she agreed."

"Wasn't that what she said last time?" Hen asked skeptically.

"Yeah, but… this time, she's actually going to do it," Buck said confidently. "It's okay. Whoever this guy is, I'll let him down gently."

They exchanged a look, but he had his back to them, holding a tie against his shirt thoughtfully.

Chimney finally said, "She just wants you to be happy, but… you are happy, right?"

Surprised, Buck met his eyes in the mirror and replied, "Yeah, I am – but I'll do this for her, one last time."

Chimney nodded, glancing at Hen, who sighed and said, "Okay, Buckaroo – but a tie is way too formal, all right? Ditch it."

He laughed, balling it up and tossing it in his locker. "Okay. Done."

~

Buck entered the bar right on time, and with some semblance of a plan – act like a total dick. It would go against his very nature, but he was determined to leave as quickly as possible. He was supposed to be looking for someone tall, dark and handsome, which eliminated about half of the men in the bar. He guessed Maddie had shown his prospective date a picture of him, and so he went to the bar and ordered a drink.

He was looking at his phone, wondering why Eddie hadn't responded to his texts, when someone settled into the empty stool beside him. "Come here often?" a husky voice asked.

Ugh, a pick-up line. Buck sighed, rolling his eyes, and turned to them sharply – only to immediately begin to stutter. "Eddie!"

Eddie laughed at him, totally amused. "Gotcha."

"What are you doing here? Don't you think she'll realise something is up if you chase off someone else?" he hissed, and protested with a muffled grunt when Eddie leaned in to kiss him.

Eddie pulled away, cupped his face with both hands and said, "I'm your date, Buck. I'm not chasing anyone off – it's you and me."

Bewildered, Buck said, "You're my date."

"Yeah." He shrugged, embarrassed. "I asked Maddie to set it up. She saw us making out at your burger place."

"What? She did?" Buck's brain was struggling to catch up. "How? When? How did you do this?"

Eddie laughed, pressing another light kiss to his lips. "She talked to me at her party, and I asked her to set this up. Just so she'd at least be successful at it, once."

"Wow," Buck murmured, totally delighted. "Wow. Okay. Are we really going on a date?"

"Yep." Eddie slotted in beside him, and the bartender placed a beer in front of him. "I've got it," he said, passing over some cash, and then sliding his hand across Buck's shoulders. "Gotta treat you right."

"Are you about to romance me, Diaz?"

Eddie nodded, and when the bartender handed him his change, he dropped it into the tip jar. "Drink up, gorgeous. We've got a reservation."

Buck had sip, and then murmured, "Just so we're clear, I don't have sex on the first date."

Eddie laughed, and leaned in to whisper in his ear, "No, you don't even wait for the first date."

"Hey now," Buck protested, but relented when Eddie kissed him again.

~

They were booked into a cosy little Italian restaurant, and ordered a bottle of red wine and some pasta. Eddie reached over, tugged on Buck's open collar and said, "No tie?"

"Hen made me take it off; she didn't want me to impress the guy I was meeting," he replied, threading his fingers with Eddie's. "I wasn't gonna argue."

"No, better not."

"Hen and Chim tried to talk me out of coming. It would've been pretty funny if I'd ditched the date, gone to your house, and accidentally stood you up."

"Yeah, really funny. Glad you didn't." Eddie smiled at him, his eyes twinkling. Illuminated by candlelight he was somehow even more impossibly beautiful, and Buck thought to himself, I'm going to marry you one day.

They gazed at each other for a few moments in silence, holding hands across the table. Eddie's thumb stroked across his knuckles, and Buck said quietly, "I'm pretty sure Hen and Chim know about us."

"Bobby too," Eddie said, stroking his thumb. "But that's okay. I think we should tell Pepa and Abuela first, though. Maybe tomorrow, when you come for dinner?"

"If that's what you want, Eds. Are you sure you're okay with people knowing?"

Eddie nodded slowly. "Yeah, because it's you," he said, and cleared his throat. "This thing between us is… real, you know? Like… rest of our lives kind of a thing."

Buck grinned, ducking his head. "You think?"

"Yeah, I do… I wish I'd realised it sooner, but that's okay."

"We just had to be a little delicate," Buck murmured. "Take our time."

"Yeah, I think so too. You know… after Christopher, you're the most important person in my life. The second most important person in his life as well," Eddie said. "He was so happy when I told him that I was in love with you... I know my kid, and I know that he's been worried about me ever since Shannon died. And maybe in his own way, gently nudging me towards you."

Buck chuckled. "Christopher? Gently nudging? More like commanding, Eds. Let's face it."

"Yeah, maybe." Eddie reached into his pocket and retrieved a familiar black, sparkly, heart-shaped stone. "Maybe," he said, turning Buck's hand over and placing the stone in it, closing his fingers around it, "he might be onto something."

Buck nodded at him, filled with emotion. "Yeah. I keep telling you that he's a great kid. I don't know why you don't listen."

Eddie laughed, his face lighting up. "It's weird, until you came along, I never realised how awesome my kid is."

"That is weird. You should pay more attention." Buck leaned across the table and kissed him impulsively, before sitting back down and examining the rock in his hand. "Well, Eds. It's official. You've rocked my world."

Eddie snorted, shaking his head. "Okay, okay. Listen – here's what we're going to do, all right? We're going to tell everyone, but first, we're going to torture Hen and Chim just a little while longer."

"You're evil."

"Must've learned it from you." Eddie had a sip of wine, a cocky little grin on his face. "I think it'll be funny."

"You'll just have to work out how to keep your hands off me at work."

"I'm not the one with that problem, and we both know it." Eddie arched his eyebrows at him pointedly.

"Right." Buck turned the rock over in his hands, and then murmured, "So this is our first date, and you've already given me your heart."

"Oh god," Eddie groaned, rubbing the bridge of his nose.

Buck snickered, tucking the rock into his jacket pocket. "If this is our first date, Edmundo, we should get to know each other a little better. Tell me about yourself."

Eddie grinned. "Hobbies, interests, that sort of thing?"

"Sure." Buck reached across to play with his fingers again, gazing at him affectionately.

"Well, I like baseball. Do you want to come to a game with me sometime?"

"Baseball, huh? I think the uniforms are hot."

"Might have to try one on for you sometime," Eddie murmured, arching his eyebrows at Buck suggestively.

"Don't make promises you won't keep," Buck teased.

Eddie leaned forward and said seriously, "Buck, with you… if it's a promise, I'm gonna keep it."

Buck was filled with so much love for him he thought he might actually burst. He couldn't keep the stupid grin off his face, and downed the rest of his wine as their food arrived.

They ate in silence for a few moments, before Eddie finally said, "What about you? Hobbies, interests?"

"I'm really into rock tumbling," Buck said instantly, ignoring the snort of laughter from across the table. "And hanging out in meadows looking at the stars through a telescope. Also – and I'd appreciate you not spreading this around – I really like having sex with hot guys named Eddie."

Eddie guffawed, recovered and said, "What a coincidence! That's my name."

"Well, it's your lucky night, stud."

 


 

It was Eddie's lucky night indeed – as soon as they arrived at the loft, their clothes were off and they were racing up the stairs to the bed. He threw Buck down across it and slid on top of him, capturing his lips in an urgent kiss. The fact that he'd once been worried about having sex with another man now seemed so laughable – he barely remembered that version of himself.

The only person he wanted for the rest of his life was Buck.

Afterwards, he curled around him, nuzzling the back of his neck, only lifting his head when he heard a clink on the bedside table. The heart-shaped rock was sitting there, and Eddie reached for it, turning it over in his hand.

Buck murmured, "I just wanted to put it where I can see it. Your heart."

Eddie placed it back down, kissing his cheek, settling in behind him again. "You have my heart. That's just a rock," he whispered in his ear.

"It's more than that." Buck shifted so he was lying on his back, running his fingers across Eddie's forehead. "I've spent the last few years studying your face, you know. Memorising it. Every smile, every frown, every grimace, every affectionate look you give me – every expression. I thought I'd memorised them all, but I've never seen you look like this before. I can even see your dimples." He touched his cheek with a finger, and Eddie found himself blushing. "This is how you look when you're in love," Buck said softly. "I bet only Shannon has seen you look like this before."

He shook his head. "Not like this," he murmured. "This is different."

"Yeah, it is." Buck licked his lips, and let out a chuckle. "You chose me, huh? Right from the start."

"Yeah, I did – but you chose me as well."

"Glad I threw in with you when I did, Diaz." Buck stroked his thumb across Eddie's eyebrows. "Never thought it would lead us here, but god, I'm glad it did."

"Me too," he whispered, and leaned in to kiss him again. "I'm so glad I picked LA instead of Chicago."

Buck murmured in agreement, and when they parted said, "It never would've lasted. You'd hate the winters. You're a warm weather kinda guy."

Eddie had to agree about that – the warm weather had been the deciding factor, and he thanked god for that. The warmth had brought him to Buck, who was the warmest, most vibrant person he'd ever met; who had brightened his life from their first awkward meeting, to the first time Christopher laid eyes on him and decided in an instant, This one, we'll have this one. Thanks.

His kid was never wrong. It'd just taken Eddie a little longer to arrive at the same conclusion, but now that he was here – yes. He would have this one, hopefully forever.

With that thought in mind, he kissed Buck again, lingering a little longer, and then pulled away to whisper in his ear, "I love you so much."

And Buck turned to him, beaming, and said, "I love you too, Eddie."

 


 

Buck had no sooner walked through Abuela's front door the next evening when he was accosted by the lady herself, who gestured for him to stoop to her level, and then cupped his face with her hands.

"How's my beautiful boy doing today?"

"Oh my god, Abuela," Eddie groaned from behind him. "Hello, your actual grandson and great-grandson are also here."

"Come in, come in," she said, wrapping one hand around Buck's arm and dragging him into the kitchen. "Tell me how you are. It's been weeks."

"Nice to know who the favourite is," Eddie grumbled from the living room, as Christopher let out a delighted giggle.

"I'm fine, I'm fine," he said with a laugh, casting a quick glance out at his playfully disgruntled boyfriend. "Christopher has brought his shiniest rocks to show you."

"Oh, have you?!" she exclaimed, abandoning him in an instant and hurrying back out to where Christopher was laying the rocks out on the coffee table. "Aren't they beautiful? Just lovely."

Eddie bustled into the kitchen, unloading the salads and guacamole they'd prepared at home, and while his Abuela was distracted, stole a kiss from Buck up against the refrigerator.

"Ah," Pepa said, startling them both. "Finally! Mama, come look. The boys are kissing."

"They are?!"

"Tia, my god," Eddie groaned, stepping away from Buck.

Pepa smirked, folding her arms across her chest. "We had hoped. We are happy, aren't we, mama?"

Abuela appeared in the doorway, clutching her hands to her heart. "Yes? Eddito, Buck?"

"Yes, Abuela," Eddie replied, reaching out to take Buck's hand. "Yes, he's my boyfriend now, you can stop worrying about me."

"Daddy's in love!" Christopher called from the living room.

"Your parents are not going to be happy," Pepa warned, and he nodded, exchanging a nervous look with Buck. "But we are on your side, always."

"Thank you, Tia," Eddie murmured, a little bashfully. "That means a lot to me."

"We're just so proud of you," Abuela added, reaching out to pull him in for a hug. "My beautiful grandson."

Buck smiled at them, leaning against the counter, but straightened up when Pepa sidled over to him and murmured, "I knew it, from the moment I saw you, I knew it."

"Pepa," Eddie groaned.

"No, I knew it. I knew it before anyone else." She tapped her forehead. "My Abuela always said I had a little bit of a gift."

"Oh, she did not," Abuela objected. "She was a born gossip, and she recognised that same talent in you."

"Then how did I know before the phone call that you'd broken your hip? I knew."

"It didn't do me much good at the time, Josephina," Abuela retorted.

Eddie dragged Buck out of the kitchen and away from the two bickering women. They joined Christopher in the living room, and Buck sank to his knees on the floor, examining the gemstones again. "I'm going to get some more refills," he said to Christopher, whose eyes lit up. "Maybe some fluorite or something like that – it's a bit softer, but we can polish it up nicely. And we should get a case or something for you to display them in."

"Yeah, like in a museum!"

"No," Eddie objected good-naturedly. "No, we'll figure something out, but not a museum display case, guys. They're just rocks."

"They're very pretty rocks," Buck said, holding the amethyst up to the light. "And I think you got lucky with this amethyst, kiddo. They're pretty rare – an actual, proper gemstone that's worth something. We'll hold onto this one."

"I want to take it show and tell," Christopher said to Eddie, who nodded.

"Here we go," Pepa called, carrying out chips and dip to the living room. "Everyone, dig in. We're eating with our hands tonight. Buck, we're making it extra spicy for you. You're one of the family now."

Buck cringed, and Eddie said loyally, "Maybe wait until we make it official, Pepa. Until he has a ring on his finger."

"I know you're joking," she warned him, "but don't you toy with my emotions with statements like that if you're not going to make them come true."

Eddie shrugged, slipping his arm around Buck's waist. "I wasn't actually joking," he said, sharing a smile with Buck. "Just so you know."

"Oh, Eddie," Abuela murmured. "I couldn't be more thrilled for you both."

 


 

Maddie walked into the station on Friday morning, loaded up with two boxes of doughnuts. Chimney immediately spotted her from the balcony and shouted, "You were supposed to call me from the car!"

"I can carry doughnuts, Chimney!"

"Here, let me help you," Bobby said, sweeping in from the side and taking the boxes out of her hands. "Maddie—"

"I know, I know," she chided him. "I know."

Bobby gallantly guided her up the stairs, passing the boxes of doughnuts to Chimney, and at the top she leaned against the railing breathlessly and said, "God, I'm about a thousand percent done with being pregnant."

"Not long to go," Chimney said, helping her to a chair. "Sit, sit."

"Where's Buck?" she asked as she took a seat, casting a look around the station.

"Not sure," Chimney replied, as Hen jogged up the stairs to greet her. "Have you seen Buck?"

"He and Eddie were in the locker room a while ago," she said, winking at Chimney before leaning over to kiss Maddie on the cheek. "Maybe they're still there. How are you feeling, Maddie?"

"Pretty tired," she admitted. "I'm only scheduled to do day shifts at the moment. I just can't keep my eyes open."

"Maybe you should think about going on maternity leave early," Hen suggested. "You really need to take care of yourself."

She nodded. "Maybe," she acquiesced, ignoring the way Chimney threw his hands up. He'd been suggesting the same thing for a few weeks, but it just hit differently coming from Hen.

"Here they are," Bobby said suddenly, as Buck and Eddie emerged from the locker rooms. "Buck! Your sister is here!"

Buck looked up at the balcony, tapping Eddie on the chest, and led him over to the stairs. Maddie couldn't help but beam when Buck arrived at the top, Eddie at his heels. "Did you have a nice date on Wednesday?" she asked him, raising her eyebrows.

"Oh yeah," Buck replied, his eyes sparkling. "Yeah, we really hit it off. We're seeing each other again tonight."

"What?" Hen hissed to Chimney, who looked confused.

"He's pretty cute, right?" Maddie asked him, ignoring the others. Eddie was leaning against the balcony railing, his head lowered – clearly trying to hide a smile, but from where Hen and Chimney were standing, they couldn't see his expression.

"Really cute," Buck said, kneeling beside her and putting a hand on her belly. "Actually… exactly my type. How did you know?"

"You're my brother; I know what you like," she said confidently. "I'm so happy you hit it off."

"Who is this guy?" Chimney suddenly demanded. "Buck?"

"I'll introduce you at some point," he promised, rising to his feet again. "Eds, let's make coffee for everyone."

"Great to see you, Maddie," Eddie said, touching her shoulder briefly before following Buck into the kitchen.

Hen and Chimney were both speechless, but Bobby merely looked confused, his arms folded across his chest. "Have I missed something here?"

 


 

They decided to let them sweat it out a few more days, just to torture them a bit. Hen and Chimney had clearly made some sort of agreement that they wouldn't directly confront them about anything, but Buck overheard them whispering furiously a few times, trying to figure out who the mystery man in Buck's life was.

"I thought it was Eddie," he heard Chimney hiss. "But Maddie says she set him up with someone else, and they really hit it off."

"Maybe they were never together?" Hen wondered aloud. "I mean… we never did get confirmation. Maybe we just wanted it so much that we… thought it was happening, and it really wasn't?"

"I have no idea," Chimney replied. "They both seem happy? Man, I really thought they'd finally gotten together. I guess we were wrong."

Buck snuck away, equal parts amused and touched that they cared so much about their relationship. He filled Eddie in on the conversation when they had a moment alone together, and Eddie said, "Well, maybe we've tortured them long enough."

"I had no idea they were so invested in us as a couple."

Eddie gazed at him fondly. "I think they want you to be happy, and they know that I make you happy, so…"

"Not just me," Buck corrected. "We make each other happy, Eds."

"Right." Eddie cupped his cheek. "Okay. Let's go talk to Bobby."

Bobby gave them a knowing look when they stepped into his office, and when Buck said, "Cap, Eddie and I are dating," he'd simply chuckled, shaking his head with amusement.

"But I feel like you already knew that," Eddie added awkwardly.

"I had a fair idea." Bobby leaned back in his seat. "Do you really think I haven't seen what's been going on around here since you two first met? Guys, come on."

Buck glanced at Eddie, who said, "Well, neither of us planned it."

"No, but sometimes these things are meant to be. Imagine if I'd let you go to Station 6," he said to Eddie, who grimaced. "It could've been a whole different story."

Eddie glanced at Buck, his expression softening, and then said, "Somehow, I think I would've found him anyway."

~

After their meeting, Bobby followed them upstairs to where Hen and Chimney were lounging on the couches together. Buck had no sooner set foot on the landing when Hen said, "Come here, Buckaroo. Right now."

He exchanged a look with Eddie, and strolled over to her. "Yes, Henrietta?"

She held up a finger. "Don't. Do not. Who is this new man you've been seeing?"

"Well, he's gorgeous," Buck said, sitting down on the armrest of the chair closest to her. "Super handsome, funny – smart. Really smart. Really toned too – not super muscly, but like, strong. You know?"

Hen was grimacing, and Chimney was rolling his eyes. "What does he do?" she asked pointedly.

"He's a firefighter, just like me."

"A firefighter," Chimney repeated, confused. "How the hell did Maddie find a firefighter for you?"

"I'm not sure; she never said," he replied, as Eddie leaned on the balcony railing and listened with a grin on his face. "I can't wait to introduce you guys to him. I think you'll really hit it off."

"Wait, wait," Hen cut in, and for a second, he thought she'd figured it out, until she said, "You can't possibly be serious about this. Who is this guy? What station does he work for? Do we know him? I think we need to meet him."

"Yeah, if we're going to be brothers-in-law, don't I need to vet your boyfriends or something?" Chimney asked. "Make sure they're suitable? I can't have Maddie spending all her time worrying about who you're hooking up with."

"First of all, you don't need to vet this guy," Buck said, glancing at Eddie, who was grinning like a Cheshire cat. "He's one of the finest the LAFD has to offer."

Hen pursed her lips. "Is it that guy, Justin? From Lena's station?" she asked him. "He's like, the only person I can think of who fits the bill."

"No, he's got a girlfriend," Chimney replied. "Oh – is it Brad? Brad Davies, works with Tommy now? Big, tall guy?"

Buck shook his head. "Nope. A little closer to home. Need some more hints? Well, he's a decorated serviceman, has a couple of sexy arm tattoos, a truck he paid way too much money for…"

They both still looked stumped, and Buck was about to drop the final hint when Eddie groaned from behind them, "Holy shit, you guys, it's me! It's me! How much more does he need to say?"

Hen deflated instantly, slapping Chimney's arm. "I told you they were together!"

"Yeah, well, Maddie's the one who said Buck had this hot new guy; I don't know," Chimney protested. "And these two have been sneaking around this whole week pretending not to be together."

"It's been torture," Buck remarked, as Eddie wandered over to perch on his knee. He hooked his arms around his waist and said, "Actual torture."

Hen rolled her eyes, shaking her head good-naturedly. "You're both the worst."

"We know," Eddie replied. "But we couldn't resist."

"And Maddie knows," Chimney clarified.

"Yeah, she tricked me into going on a date with Eddie," Buck replied.

"Well, I asked her to trick Buck into it," Eddie added. "Just to mess with him a bit."

"Well, looks like it's a match made in heaven," Hen said dryly, and Chimney laughed. "Also, just so you know, Karen threatened to divorce me because I wouldn't stop complaining about this? You two, honestly, are the worst. And I say that with love, but you're the worst."

"The worst," Chimney agreed, and then admitted, "but I'm happy for you anyway. I can't believe Maddie kept this from me."

"I bet there's a lot you don't know. She's good at keeping a secret, my sister," he said, mostly to torture Chimney.

It worked. "What kind of secrets?" he asked suspiciously.

Buck mimed zipping his lips, and shrugged. "That's for you to find out." He hugged Eddie close, looking up at him with a smile.

Hen heaved a sigh, rising to her feet. "Karen is going to laugh her head off when I tell her about this," she muttered, wandering over to the kitchen, where Bobby was cutting up vegetables and chuckling to himself.

Chimney leaned in close to Buck and said, "When I marry your sister, I'm going to make you the flower girl."

Buck's eyes lit up. "Really?"

"He'd actually love that," Eddie said dryly. "I feel like you've walked into a trap."

"I'd be really good at it, Chim," Buck said eagerly, as Chimney stood and stomped over to the kitchen. "Super good at it. What kind of flowers?"

Scowling, Chimney gave him the finger in response.

Buck snickered, glancing up at Eddie, who smiled at him and said, "Hey, do you want to go on a date with me tomorrow night?"

"My schedule is wide open," Buck replied, and leaned in to kiss him firmly.

 

~the end~