Hen likes to think she’s a good mom. She’s a solid medical student. She’s an excellent paramedic. All things which take an immense amount of commitment and energy.
So she doesn’t fault herself for her guilty pleasure: Instagram.
She loves Instagram — scrolling through her feed, trawling her explore page for memes and infographics, watching every single story that comes up on her page. She doesn’t post very often, mostly just Denny and Karen and sometimes Chim if they’re bored and he’s insisting that “best friends show each other off.” Just mindlessly scrolling through is enough to give her head a break from the weight of all the hats she wears.
It’s a Monday mid-morning, not historically a busy time for the station (that’s the closest she’ll ever get to saying the Q word), and she should be working on homework…but she’s tired. She got another set of foster kids a few nights ago and they’ve had a bit of a hard time adjusting to a regular sleep schedule. So beyond the everyday sleeplessness of her life, she’s added an additional wrench. She never thought she would say it, but thank god her mom is living with them. Once she had recovered from her triple A she really stepped up into the Grammy role, for not just for Denny and Nia but for all the kids that have come through their home. Even with her mom on Grammy duty, though, it’s been a rough couple of nights. She’s too exhausted to even think of studying, so endless scrolling it is.
Which is how she makes the greatest discovery of all time.
Underneath #LAFD, which she started following after the original Taylor fiasco to make sure nothing untoward got out (and kept following because she once saw a picture of her and Chim at a scene), is possibly the most important post she’s ever come across. Not to be dramatic.
She’ll never admit it, but Hen nearly squawks with excitement. She immediately taps the account and sees dozens of similar posts, going back only a few months. The page doesn’t have a very large following, only about 9 thousand, with a bio that simply reads, “The voices of LA’s hottest (literally) men and women. DMs Open, check pinned story for rules.” In the next 10 minutes, she reads every post. Not that Hen is in the business of gambling when money is so tight, but she would bet a not-insignificant amount on at least three of the quotes being Buck, since they either start with “did you know” or otherwise contain some wildly specific fact. There’s also a terrible pun or two that she clearly remembers from the beginning of Chim’s dad-joke phase.
In cosmic timing, she hears her colleagues tromping up the stairs after completing their various chores on the rig floor. Like Newton when the apple fell on his head, she realizes this is a revelation that has to be shared.
She spreads her arms wide, greeting her audience with a flourish.
Chim, first up the stairs, eyes her warily.
“You look uncharacteristically delighted,” he says.
Hen balks. “Hey! Things delight me! I was delighted by that video of Jee blowing bubbles in the bathtub just last week.”
Chim smiles serenely. “Only a heartless monster wouldn’t be delighted by that. But I’ll amend my statement to ‘you look uncharacteristically delighted given there are no pictures of my perfect daughter in this room.’”
Hen rolls her eyes. “Yes, yes, Jee-Yun is perfect, I have something to rival that.”
Before Chimney can protest the outrageous statement, Hen shoves her phone in his hands. She watches triumphantly as his eyes widen.
“No way…” he breathes.
Buck sidles up behind him, half a croissant in his hand and the other shoved into his mouth. “No way what?” he asks, although it comes out sounding more like woh wah wah given there’s a pastry blocking half his airway. At least if he chokes on carbs this time he’ll have several medics at the ready to save his life. Dumbass.
Chim angles the phone so Buck can see. “It’s like Overheard LA, but just for us!”
Buck lights up. “I love that page! People always say the dumbest things.”
“Speaking of…” Chimney taps the phone. Hen cranes her neck and sees that he’s landed on one of the quotes she was sure belonged to Buck.
Rather than being hurt by Chimney’s implication, Buck just looks thrilled. “Someone remembered what I said?”
Chimney scoffs. “We were saving a woman who jumped into a dolphin exhibit and you said, according to this quote, ‘did you know dolphins murder just for fun?’ Of course someone remembered that, it was terrible timing.”
Buck ignores him. “Read the comments.”
“Uh, okay let’s see. Um, there’s a couple just tagging other people, this one says ‘what a fucking weird thing to say,’ this one says ‘that’s wack,’ a couple of dolphin emojis, uh. Not great, sorry dude.”
Buck has deflated a little bit. Hen can’t help but feel bad for the guy — everyone in the station has long gotten used to his need to share whichever fact pops into his head from his near constant wikipedia research deep-dives. She actually finds it quite endearing at this point, and has genuinely appreciated the couple of times she’s complained about finding a good car seat or pediatric dentist and Buck shows up to the next shift armed to the teeth with information. But she can see how, divorced from context, sharing that fact in front of a victim and audience would come off as...well, “wack.”
“They think I’m weird?” Buck asks.
Eddie, previously ignoring the trio to sit at the kitchen island and tap at his own phone, abruptly lifts his head. “Who said you’re weird?”
Hen snorts softly, unsurprised. The two friends have some sort of mind link, one that rivals her and Chimney’s. If Buck is feeling even slightly unsure of himself, Eddie is there to reassure him.
Chimney pipes up. “Technically, no one said he was weird. Just that he says weird things.”
Eddie pushes up from the table and walks over to Chimney, who shows him Hen’s phone.
“It’s a page that takes things we’ve said on scenes and puts them on Instagram,” Chim explains.
Eddie reads it silently, then looks at Buck. “I remember that incident. When you said that the vic cried.”
Buck pouts, much like Hen’s children. “She was already crying,” he complains, “and it was a good fact everyone else needed to hear so they didn’t try to jump in after her.”
Eddie wraps his arm around Buck. “I’m sure you saved lots of lives that day,” he jokes. Despite the teasing, Buck has visibly relaxed into Eddie. Hen fights not to roll her eyes over how co-dependent the two are, despite both having girlfriends of their own.
Bobby, who has been silently observing this interaction from his spot chopping vegetables in the kitchen, speaks for the first time that morning.
“Let me see if I’m understanding this correctly. There is a page on the Internet, where people have listened to us while we work potentially dangerous or medically precarious scenes, recorded what we said, and then shared it with strangers?”
And, okay, Hen never really thought of it like that. When Cap says it, it sounds…like some sort of violation of several ethical codes and maybe even a law or two.
“There are rules here somewhere,” Chim says, “one second. Ah, okay, listen to this.”
He reads aloud the submission requirements.
It seems reasonable to Hen, but she looks over at Bobby to gauge his reaction. He continues to chop carrots, a thoughtful expression on his face.
Chim pops his gum. “Sounds like better PR than what Taylor was going to do to us.”
Buck winces and Chimney’s eyes go wide.
“Oh, sorry Buckaroo. She’s, uh, she’s better now. We like her now, right guys?”
Hen nods, not wanting Buck to think she doesn’t like his girlfriend. She doesn’t trust Taylor as far as she could throw her (which actually may be a bad metaphor because that girl is tiny, and were there a necessity to, Hen could probably chuck her further than most), but as far as girlfriends go she seems fine. Buck doesn’t talk about her too often, probably assuming they don’t want to hear about the woman who almost ruined Cap’s career.
Interestingly, Eddie doesn’t nod. He stares at a fixed point somewhere beyond his feet. He does pull Buck a little tighter against him, though, so Hen figures they’re doing their creepy no-talking communication thing.
“Yeah…” Buck trails off.
Eddie removes his hand from Buck’s shoulder and grabs for the phone. “Come on, let’s see how many times one of us is on here,” he says, and the awkward moment is forgotten as the four firefighters scroll through their new favorite Instagram account.
Chimney’s life has been stressful, to say the least. The stress goes beyond being a new dad, which is equal parts terrifying and exhilarating. One of his most heartbreaking days in recent memory came when Maddie looked at him, tears streaking down her face, and told him she needed help. He would move heaven and earth for that woman, and he had. He and Buck had researched incessantly until they had gotten her an appointment with the most experienced postpartum depression psychologist in Los Angeles, which led them to group therapies and various medications and a very slow slog toward recovery. In the midst of this, Albert announced his desire to join the LAFD himself. Suddenly Chimney not only had to contend with shouldering Maddie’s pain, but dealing with his own long buried trauma around Kevin’s death. It was…a lot, to say the least.
Which is why the LAFD_Overheard account has become his favorite escape.
Hen taught him how to turn on post notifications, so now his phone buzzes every time there’s a new quote. He and Hen have turned it into their own mini treasure hunt, with the prize being knowledge. They love figuring out the owner of each quote. They’ve been in the force a long time — they know people, who know people, so sometimes just a simple “this you?” DM will suffice. Still though, there are over 1000 firefighters in LA, so some quotes have taken weeks of digging. It’s his favorite extracurricular activity, which otherwise are sorely lacking in his life.
Speaking of soreness, every muscle in his body is screaming at him. Last shift, a five-alarm fire at a recycling plant had absolutely destroyed his body. No one had been seriously injured, thank god, but it had taken nearly 12 hours to get all of the cardboard, paper and plastic to stop burning and he’s still feeling it two days later.
Chim barely makes it up the stairs to the firehouse loft before he faceplants onto the couch. Nothing will move him from this spot, save a call, which he’s begging won’t come in. But other than that, nothing.
His phone buzzes, and he half opens one eyelid to peek at the screen.
LAFD_Overheard just posted a photo
Ok, one thing will move him from this spot.
He rolls over so he can properly reach his phone and taps eagerly at the notification, opening his app.
This has to be from the recycling plant fire - it’s the only thing that’s gone up in flames in Glendale for at least a month. There were at least 10 crews there to fight the flames, and as many paramedic teams to treat smoke inhalation in the workers, but Chim likes to think he has his finger on the pulse of LAFD gossip. He’s drawing a blank on which of his fellow first responders have a kid together.
With a groan he shoves himself off the couch, ignoring the protest of his muscles, and goes to find Hen. She’s on the rig floor, feet dangling off the bus as she silently runs flashcards.
As Chimney approaches her, she lifts a finger. He pauses.
“I have a test tomorrow I desperately need to study for, so this better be good.”
He holds up his phone, screen facing her. “It’s an LAFD_Overheard mystery.”
With a soft thwack, her ring of flashcards drops to the floor of the ambulance. She reaches out her hands and takes the phone, reading silently. Her brows raise, then furrow. She looks up at Chim as she hands him his phone back.
“But who has a kid together?”
He nods vigorously. “Exactly! A true mystery!”
From in between the rig and the ambulance, Chim sees Eddie approach them, Buck and his clipboard a few paces behind.
“Hey Eddie!” He calls, “You know any couple in the LAFD trying to get their kid a lizard?”
Eddie stops dead in his tracks, Buck slamming into his back with a splutter.
“What?” Eddie chokes.
Chimney waves his phone around. “A lizard, man. LAFD_Overheard from the recycling fire. Hen and I can’t figure it out.”
Eddie just stands there and stares at Chim, mouth slightly ajar. Buck pushes past, giving Eddie a concerned glance before reaching for Chim’s phone. He lets Buck take it, still staring at Eddie. What is up with that guy?
Buck takes a moment to read the post, then hands back the phone dismissively. “Huh, no idea. There were so many personnel at that fire, though, and a couple houses swapped out halfway through. Might be one of those quotes we never figure out.”
“Chimney and I always figure it out in the end,” Hen says proudly. Chim feels her look toward him for validation, but his eyes haven’t left Eddie, whose own eyes can only be described as panicked.
“Hey man,” Chim starts warily, “you okay?”
Buck walks back over to Eddie and pats his arm firmly. “He’s fine. Just has a massive lizard phobia, right Eddie?”
Eddie finally breaks himself out of his trance, belatedly looking at Buck. “Yeah, huge. Terrified of uh, lizards. And y’know, newts and stuff.”
That’s strange, Chim thinks, he’s never mentioned that.
Hen hums. “I guess that call where we saw all the reptiles was before your time. Still, I’m surprised it hasn’t come up already. There are a lot of lizards in Los Angeles.”
Buck laughs, a little too forcefully. “Yep, guess we’re lucky we haven’t seen one yet. Hopefully we never will, right Eddie?”
“Right…” Eddie says slowly.
Buck puts his hands on Eddie’s shoulders and manhandles the other man into turning 180 degrees, prodding his back softly to get him moving in the way they came. “Anyway, we need to finish taking inventory but you all have fun trying to figure out who said that.”
With that they’re gone.
Chim looks at Hen, who seems at a loss for words.
“Is it just me, or was that really weird even for them?” Chim asks.
Hen shakes her head. “I don’t even know with those two anymore. Someday I’m going to have a girls night with Taylor and Ana just to see what they think of the Buck-and-Eddie dynamic. I’m sure those women have a lot of insight.”
Chim chuckles. “I’m going to sit Christopher down. He sees it more than any of us.”
“He’s a saint.”
Chimney nods in agreement, then holds up his phone once again.
“Let me help you with those flashcards,” he says, “because the sooner we get those done the sooner we can figure out our latest mystery.”
Hen smiles and pats the spot next to her. “Get ready to learn a whole lot more than you ever needed to know about the pancreas.”
Bobby is unloading the dishwasher with Chim, trying to think of a polite but firm way to get him to stop talking. He’s usually happy to hear about his team’s lives; he cares about every person he works with and by extension all the people they care about. But Chim isn’t talking about his daughter, or girlfriend, or brother. He’s talking about LAFD_Overheard.
Bobby normally reserves his strong feelings for things that are important, but he does have strong feelings about this Internet thing. He’s fiercely protective over his privacy and he hates the idea of the LAFD’s private conversations being nonconsensually blasted all over the web. He’s not super sure how it works, but he knows thousands of people see this website, and he also knows his team is unhealthily obsessed with it.
Case in point with Chimney, currently telling him how difficult it’s been to figure out some person or other at some call a while back. Bobby simply doesn’t care to know who in the LAFD is not buying a lizard.
He’s just about to say something along those lines when Hen speeds up toward them, phone in hand and glint in her eye. He knows this is the LAFD_Overheard glint, and he heaves an all-suffering sigh.
Hen slides the phone over the counter, commanding “read it.”
Despite himself, Bobby peeks at the screen.
Huh. It has to be…
“It has to be Buck, right?” Hen asks, finishing his thought. “He’s the only person who was at that high rise evac last week who would say something like that.”
Chimney looks utterly perplexed. “I guess? But then who would be…?”
They sit in silence for a moment.
“Well,” Hen ventures, “there was media there, I’m pretty sure. Taylor must have been there. Are they at the ‘I love you’ stage yet? He doesn’t talk about her much, I thought it was casual.”
Bobby feels a pang of guilt. He thinks that might be for his sake. He’s not in the habit of harboring anger toward others for their past actions - Lord knows he’d be a hypocrite if he did. So he’s forgiven Taylor for the incident a few years back. She was young and trying to establish herself in a field where men dominate.
Athena is less forgiving. He loves his wife with all his heart, but she can hold a grudge. When Buck showed up to their post-treasure-hunting breakfast with Taylor in tow, Athena had silently stewed until the pair had left, before saying in no uncertain terms that even if Buck were married to that woman she would not be allowed in their home again. Bobby was the one who told Buck the news (he was afraid the poor kid would turn to sludge under Athena’s cold glare) and ever since then Buck had been nearly silent about the woman he was seeing. For Buck, being silent is a feat of epic proportions, so he must really be feeling guilty about the whole thing.
Chim shakes his head at Hen, and Bobby makes sure to tune back into the conversation. “It says two firefighters, though? She wouldn’t have looked anything like one of us.”
“I guess not,” Hen hums. “But also, the whole reason we were evacuating was because of all the dust that got into their HVAC system. Practically every person in the building was temporarily blinded, there’s no way they would know who was talking even if Obama himself was standing right in front of them.”
“Hen, literally everyone knows what Obama sounds like. They would know.”
Bobby chuckles despite himself, and Hen and Chimney look over at him, clearly surprised he’s still there and listening in. He decides to speak up.
“These are anonymous words on a screen, you two. Someone could have misheard whatever these firefighters were saying. Or, they could easily be lying. There’s no proof anything on this website you all enjoy so much is real.”
“Of course it’s real, Cap!” Hen says. “We’ve picked out at least 7 quotes at this point that come from the 118 and more that other houses recognize.”
“Okay,” he concedes, “there’s no proof that every quote is real. Or that things aren’t misheard or exaggerated. I just think you’re giving a lot of weight to some words on the Internet that may not even be accurate.”
Chim shakes his head solemnly. “LAFD_Overheard is sacred, and getting to the bottom of this post is of the utmost importance.”
Carrying his solemnity into his actions, Chimney takes the last clean plate and carefully stacks it with the others in the cupboard.
“With that,” he says, “I’d like to be excused in order to grill Buck on his relationship with Taylor.”
Bobby is captaining a bunch of large children, apparently. He waves his hand dismissively and the two paramedics practically run down the stairs to the gym, where Buck will no doubt be working out with Eddie.
Not for the first time, Bobby feels grateful that he was able to convince Eddie to join the 118 several years ago now. He knew Eddie’s military background and precision would be the perfect foil to Buck’s pure-hearted recklessness, but he could have never imagined how close the pair would grow. It’s obvious to anyone with eyes how much they need each other. The bond they share can really only be described with the word love.
Alone in the lofted kitchen, Bobby smiles to himself. Maybe LAFD_Overheard will have a positive impact after all.
Albert is slumped on Buck’s couch, exhausted from his second 24 hour shift in one week. It is only his third week as a probationary firefighter and he is feeling drained from the grueling schedule. The academy was equally grueling but it did not extend overnight. That will take some getting used to.
Albert scrolls through his Instagram feed, feeling glum. All his friends back in Korea are posting their Chuseok spreads, and his stomach rumbles in response. With his crazy new schedule, he had honestly forgotten about the harvest festival until his friends and former classmates began posting. Of course, his father has not reached out, but that is to be expected. If he were not so tired, he would see if Howard would like to celebrate with him, but he does not want to cook anything. Maybe he will see if his brother will let him come over and they can order food from Doordash and pretend it is the same.
He does not really want to get up off Buck’s couch and drive all the way to Howie and Maddie’s house, though. Buck’s house is comfortable and he is too tired to even consider sitting in LA evening traffic. As much as he loves his niece, he also does not really want to spend his precious free time with a tiny wailing baby. He had enough of that during his recovery. He is very grateful that Buck allows him to stay here and take up so much space in the small loft. Not that Buck is ever here with him.
When Eddie was in the hospital, Buck decided to go stay with Christopher. He has not left that house since. Well, that is not entirely true, but Albert has not seen much of Buck in the loft since he moved back in after recovering from his car accident. Sometimes Buck stays the night, but not often. Buck says that it is because Christopher needs him to be there, and Albert had only met Chris once or twice before the pandemic disallowed the 118 family hangs, so he does not know enough about the boy to know if that is true. Howard told him that Buck probably spends nights with Taylor as well, but Buck never talks about Taylor.
As if he knows, a banner pops up on Albert’s phone.
hey ill b home in 10, gotta grab some stuff, cya soon
Albert puzzles over the word “cya.” Buck uses a lot of English slang in his texts, and it often confuses Albert. He began studying English in grade school, but it was not until he moved to America that he realized there were many words he did not know.
I do not know what cya is but I will be here.
Buck replies immediately,
*see you soon sry lol
Albert doesn’t see how “see you” in any way translates to “cya” but he dutifully adds it to a note in his phone called “Buck’s Texts” so he will remember it for next time. He drops his phone to his stomach and groans, cracking his back as he settles into the cushions.
The door slams and Albert’s heart jumps. Did he fall asleep? He must have, because he assumes “cya soon” did not mean “see you immediately.”
Buck sweeps into the loft, depositing his keys on the kitchen island before coming up to Albert on the couch.
“Hey! What’s - oh, shit, were you sleeping? I’m sorry man.”
Albert pulls himself up into a seated position. “I guess I was sleeping, but I did not realize it until I was awake.”
“Yep, that’s being a probie.” Buck laughs. “Always exhausted. You get used to it. Sort of.”
Albert tries and fails to smile, and Buck’s own smile slips off his face.
“Woah, are you okay?”
“Oh, I am fine, thank you Buck. I do not want to burden you with my feelings.”
Buck raises an eyebrow. “I am the king of hiding my true feelings from others. Or at least I was the king until therapy. So if you need to talk about something, you can talk about it with me.”
“It is silly,” Albert sighs.
Buck says nothing.
“Back home,” says Albert, “there is a holiday happening. And because I am so tired, I forgot. So all of my friends are celebrating and I am not.”
Buck rounds the couch and sits next to Albert, looking at him earnestly.
“Hey, that’s not silly. That’s something you care about that you’re feeling left out of. What do you do for the holiday?”
“Well, it is a three day festival, and there are lots of parts. Some of the things we cannot do, like visit and clean the graves of our ancestors. But there is also a traditional feast and a table set up.” Albert grabs his phone and opens Instagram, showing Buck some of the pictures. “Mostly I miss the food.”
“This looks awesome!” Buck exclaims. His eyes light up. “Maybe we can do this with the 118! I bet Bobby would be excited to try some new recipes. Would that be okay? It wouldn’t be at the exact right time, but you and Chimney could show us how to make it and set it up? Only if you want to, of course.”
It is probably because he is so tired, but Albert feels as if he is going to cry. Rather than that, he simply says, “thank you, Buck. I would like that very much.”
Buck grins widely. “This is gonna be great! We’ll need to sit down and plan it, and we can get stuff at one of those cool markets in Koreatown.” He reaches for his own phone before abruptly aborting the effort, frowning. “Oh wait. Tomorrow I have to go to Ikea with Eddie.”
Albert tilts his head, puzzled. “What is Ikea?”
“Oh, it’s this massive furniture and home goods store.”
Albert is still puzzled. “Why do you have to shop for furniture with Eddie?”
“His bed broke,” snorts Buck. “Chris thinks it’s the funniest thing ever and Eddie’s getting sick of being teased about it. So he needs someone to go with him to get a new one. ‘Cause, you know, it’s hard to carry and stuff.”
“Does Ikea not employ people to help carry the bed for you?” Albert asks.
Buck shifts in his seat. “It’s just…easier with us already there. We can put it in his truck and then set it up at home. At his home, I mean. It will go faster if I help.”
Albert shrugs. “Ok, if you say so. I will make a list of the items we need for Chuseok and we will find a time to go. You also have not asked Bobby’s permission.”
Buck stands up from the couch, waving his hand. “Cap will say yes, he loves to cook. But I’ll text him. Look, I gotta grab some clothes but then I’ll be out of here. I’m going to stay at Eddie’s so we can drop Chris off at school tomorrow and go straight to Ikea before it gets busy. But you should totally sleep in my bed tonight, the couch kind of sucks after a while and you look like you could use the rest.”
Albert would have never guessed that when he left his family to find his brother, he would get an entirely new family to call his own. For the second time in the past few minutes, he feels like he could cry. He just nods and thanks his friend.
He grabs his phone so he can take screenshots of his Korean friends’ posts to send them to Buck for inspiration. When he opens Instagram, the app automatically reloads. LAFD_Overheard pops up as the first thing on his timeline.
Albert does not understand this account very often. There are a lot of American pop culture references, or jokes that have a double meaning that he needs someone to explain to him. Still, his brother says he will not be a real firefighter until his words are “memorialized” on LAFD_Overheard, so he follows along and tries to understand.
The location does not really interest him - he has become very familiar with Venice and its drunken boardwalk accidents (he has only been on the force three weeks and he already hates the electric scooters) so that could be anyone. It is the words that give him pause.
He reads the post once. And then again.
“Uh, Buck?” he ventures.
Buck leans over the railing above Albert’s head. “What’s up?” he asks.
“I would like to show you something on my phone.”
“Can it wait?”
“I think it would be best if you look at it now,” Albert says slowly.
“Uh, okay…” Buck comes down from his bedroom, looking concerned. “Is everything okay?”
Albert holds out his phone and Buck takes it. He watches as Buck’s eyes go wide.
Buck spends his life saving the lives of others — it’s kinda his whole shtick. Right now, though, he’s really considering homicide as a public service to all firefighters across the county. The admin of LAFD_Overheard better sleep with their lights on tonight.
Buck rereads the post Albert has confronted him with just to make sure it’s as damning as he thinks, and, yeah. It’s pretty bad, but not impossible to work with. Time to lie like crazy.
“Th-this, uh, this is a funny coincidence, but obviously isn’t about Eddie. Just cause someone is a firefighter who has a kid and a broken bed…that could be, uh. Anyone.”
Albert appraises Buck, and Buck attempts to relax into a posture that conveys 90% nonchalance and 10% mild amusement. Going off Albert’s expression, he’s failing.
“It is not anyone, I do not think. To me it seems as if you and Eddie broke this bed together.”
“What?” Buck forces a laugh, scratching his arm in a way even a novice interrogator would see as a tell. “I mean now that I think about it, maybe he did say that, but only because I was trying to help Eddie fix it and it just broke worse. So Chris said we broke it but like…yeah.”
This is going about as well as the plane crash they were called to Buck’s first year on the force. Which is to say his lie is crashing, burning, and sinking.
Albert is quiet for a moment, and Buck can tell he’s choosing his words carefully.
“When I lived with Howie, he taught me the word decorum when I was asking him about sex with Maddie.” Buck winces. He does not want to know about his sister’s sex life. Albert continues. “Decorum is when you do not talk about sex. Also, you spend almost every night at Eddie’s house and I think the reason you do not talk about Taylor is because you have broken up with her in secret. So, I would like to ask if you are sleeping with Eddie?”
“Please, please don’t tell anyone, Albert.” He scrubs a hand over his face. “It’s just, we’re just trying to figure things out and it really hasn’t been that long, just about two months, and we didn’t want the team to know until we were ready and this fucking Instagram account is going to ruin my life, holy shit.”
Albert scoots to the right side of the couch and pats the left encouragingly. Buck sighs and makes his way over, sitting heavily and putting his head in his hands and his hands on his knees. He can’t look Albert in the eyes right now, too afraid of what he’ll see. He feels a hand on his shoulder.
“Are you happy?”
Of all responses, Buck wasn’t expecting this one. He lifts his head. “W-What?”
“Are you happy?” Albert repeats.
“Yeah, uh. Yeah, I am happy. I’m really happy.”
Albert smiles easily. “Okay, that is good. Then I am happy for you. I will keep your secret until you are ready to share it.”
Upon hearing the word ‘secret,’ Buck pales. “Oh my god I can’t believe I just told a Han about my secret relationship.”
“I am not my brother,” Albert frowns. “Maybe he got that trait from his mother because our father is a very good secret keeper. I promise I will not tell.”
Buck nods softly, believing him. It’s sort of his only choice at this point.
“Thank you, Albert.”
Albert pulls him in for an awkward sideways bro-hug. “It is not a problem, Buck.” He smirks. “But now I am the only one besides Christopher who can tease you about breaking a bed. You both must be very athletic.”
Buck pulls away and sticks his fingers in his ears, chanting, “no no no no no no we are not doing that, thank you very much. I am going to get my stuff and leave now, goodbye.”
Albert honest-to-god cackles and Buck can’t believe this is happening. He shoots up from the couch, enduring Albert's relentless teasing as he grabs a couple changes of clothes and some of the hygiene products he’s run out of at Eddie’s. He throws them all haphazardly into a bag and makes a beeline for the door.
“Okay, bye Albert! Great chat, don’t say a word to anyone, take the bed and get some rest.”
“I will not try to break it!” Albert shouts gleefully. The last thing Buck hears as he swings the door shut is, “use protection!”
The door clicks and he immediately rests his forehead against the cool wood. This is an unmitigated disaster. He trusts that Albert wont say anything, but it’s pretty much the opposite way he wanted anyone to find out.
“You and your roommate have a lover's spat?”
Buck whirls around to see Veronica grabbing some delivery groceries from outside her door, a perfectly manicured eyebrow raised. Nope, no way, Buck is not doing this.
“None of your business have a lovely night Veronica goodbye.” He speeds through the sentence without taking a breath and practically runs down the hallway, hearing her snort behind him.
This night could literally not get worse, he thinks as he pushes the door of his building open. Then he pauses and knocks three times on the little acacia tree to the left of the apartment block’s front door. He’s not going to jinx himself, thank you very much, and live wood is probably the most protective type of wood to knock on. It’s not what Albert meant when he told Buck to use protection, but cosmic protection is the kind Buck needs right now.
He throws his stuff into the back of the Jeep and climbs into the passenger seat. He turns the car on, throws it in reverse, and peels out of the parking lot headed towards Eddie. Speaking of…
“Hey Siri, call Eddie on speakerphone.”
After two rings, Eddie picks up.
“Hey, what’s up? Everything okay at the loft?”
“Albert knows,” Buck blurts.
There is a moment of silence before Eddie says, “Albert knows what, Buck?”
“Albert knows about us. That we’re together.”
This time, the moment of silence stretches on so long that Buck hazards a glance down at his phone to make sure it hasn’t disconnected.
Eddie’s voice eventually comes through the line, gruff. “How?”
“LAFD_Overheard.” Buck bites out the account handle like it’s a swear.
Eddie growls. In another context, Buck would find it really hot, but he’s too keyed up in the bad way to appreciate it.
“What the fuck do they know? How would Albert know? Did they post ‘Eddie and Buck are sleeping together’!? I thought it was supposed to be anonymous, fuck!”
Buck winces, steeling himself for the admission that this is pretty much his fault. “Someone overheard us at the Lime Scooter crash last week talking about how Chris told his class we broke the bed. They may have posted it at nearly the exact same time I was explaining why I had to go with you to Ikea tomorrow. I just said your bed broke randomly but…the timing was pretty damning.”
“Shit, Buck. What are we going to do?”
Buck hastens to assure his partner. “Don’t worry, I swore him to secrecy, he’s not going to tell anyone.”
“Buck. He’s a Han.”
He laughs despite his panic. “That’s what I said! But apparently that’s not a Han thing, just a Chimney thing. He was really serious.” Buck speaks a little softly, a little more fondly. “He said he was happy for us.”
Eddie sighs on the other end. “How long until you’re home?”
“Maybe three minutes.” Buck checks his speedometer and taps the brakes. “I might have been speeding.”
“Los Angeles speeding or regular speeding?”
“Uh,” Buck checks again, “Los Angeles speeding. Whoops. But don’t worry, I’ve slowed down and I’m almost to your exit. I’ll be back soon.”
“I swear Buckley, if you flip your car on the way here I’m never speaking to you again.”
“But then who would help you set up your new bed after you broke the last one?” Buck replies cheekily, exiting the freeway and turning down the road that leads onto Eddie’s street.
“It wouldn’t have broken if you hadn’t insisted we try to tie you to it,” Eddie grumbles.
“Hey,” Buck protests, “It’s not my fault that your headboard was made of flimsy plywood. We just need to get something a little sturdier. Your bed sucked anyway.” He takes a right and rolls up to the duplex, parking in front of Eddie’s home.
“I’m outside, I’m hanging up now.” He taps the end call button just as Eddie’s front door swings open. Backlit by the soft glow of his living room lamp, Eddie stands tense in the doorway.
Buck jumps out of the Jeep and grabs his bag, swinging it on his shoulder as he makes his way to Eddie. He pauses a step or two away, suddenly wary.
“Are you mad at me?” Buck asks. He trusts Eddie with his life, but he’s been scorned by love just enough to hold tight to that flickering fear that someone is about to leave him behind.
Eddie softens and closes the gap, pulling Buck in for a hug. “Of course not, it wasn’t your fault. I just was hoping we’d be able to talk through a plan for telling everyone first. I guess I should have known that nothing is ever that easy.”
Buck smiles at his partner and winks. “I’m easy,” he sings.
Eddie snorts and turns toward his door, dragging Buck inside. “Shut up.”
“Make me,” Buck retorts.
Eddie rolls his eyes, “I didn’t realize I had two preteens living in this house, great.”
Buck drops his duffel bag unceremoniously on the floor next to the hallway and heads into Eddie’s kitchen, rooting around for snacks. He finds the cinnamon rice cakes and hums happily, ripping open the packet and munching away.
“Christopher is already asleep and we’re about to go to bed, Buck. Are you really eating right now?”
“Gotta fuel up,” Buck says through a mouthful of puffed rice. “We have a big day tomorrow. Once we set up the bed we have to see if it works.”
“Of course it’s going to work, Buck. It’s a bed,” Eddie says.
“Okay,” Buck amends, “We have to see if it’s going to handle the weight of two athletic adult men interested in trying some new things.”
Buck doesn’t totally want to talk about this right now, but he figures it’s better to treat the wound while it’s fresh rather then let it fester, so he says, “on the subject of new things, we should probably come up with a game plan for informing the rest of the crew about our relationship.”
“I’m sure whatever game plan we come up with will be thoroughly dashed in the most embarrassing way possible,” Eddie says.
Eddie was right. He’s always right. He doesn’t know why he ever listens to anyone else when he’s always right.
He should have guessed their downfall would be LAFD_Overheard.
They’ve just gotten off a call where Eddie had drawn the short straw to get a kid down from a tree. Of course, secretly, he loves calls where he can save an uninjured kid. He wouldn’t have minded except the tree was covered in sap and it took him ages in the shower to feel even slightly less sticky.
He’s toweling off his hair when his phone starts to buzz. The caller ID says “Chris Dentist.” Ugh.
He answers the call, “Hello?”
“Hi, is this Edmundo Diaz?”
“Yes, ma’am, this is he.” His Texan manners come out whenever he answers an important phone call.
“Hi, this is Cheryl from Dr. Liaga’s office, is now a good time to talk?”
“Uh, I’m on shift, so I may have to leave quickly, but now is fine.”
“Great!” Cheryl exclaims. “This will be pretty quick, I just wanted to give you an update on Christopher Diaz’s orthodontic appointment on Thursday afternoon.”
Yes, the dreaded appointment. Christopher detests braces. He’s completely inconsolable and throws a tantrum any toddler would be proud of whenever he has to go. Eddie and Buck had planned a date for that afternoon which he felt terrible about needing to cancel. Of course, Buck is the most forgiving man on earth and easily decided he would just go with them to the appointment in the hopes of helping Christopher calm himself. Still, Eddie hates being the one to let Buck down, even if their date was just going to be at their favorite burrito spot.
“What about it?” Eddie asks.
“Well, Dr. Liaga was taking a look at Christopher’s latest scans, and it seems as if his back teeth on the top are crowding a little more than we expected. He thinks it would be the best course of action to put an expander in. It takes longer than braces, so you should plan on being here an extra hour.”
Eddie’s stomach drops. Christopher is going to absolutely lose his mind and he would literally rather save 100 kids from the most sap filled trees on earth than crank an expander on a wiggly, angry 6th grader for the next few months. He’ll probably get hit in the process of his kid trying to squirm away with limbs that don’t always do what he asks. The other hit will be to his wallet.
“How much is that going to cost?” He asks, dreading the answer.
“Well, your insurance covers half, so it would come out to be about $1700.”
If his stomach could drop any lower, it would. Fuck me, he thinks.
Eddie pinches the bridge of his nose and silently counts to three. “Does he really need it?”
Cheryl makes a sympathetic noise. “Without it he runs the risk of losing his back teeth, although that’s not guaranteed. Would you like me to have Dr. Liaga call you to talk through it more?”
“Yes, please,” Eddie sighs. “I’m off at three today so any time after that.”
“Okay, he’ll call you this afternoon. You have a great day, bye bye”
Eddie hangs up and groans. Back in the olden days people just let their teeth rot, he thinks. We should do that again.
He finishes drying himself and pulls on a sap-free uniform, heading up to the kitchen to drown his sorrows in snacks.
The rest of the team are all glued to their phones, minus Bobby preparing a casserole and Buck looking at him with wide, concerned eyes. He’s so grateful that even with a glance, Buck knows how he’s feeling.
“You all right, Eddie?” Bobby asks, surprising him. He assumed Buck would ask him first.
“No,” Eddie grumbles, “I have to take Chris to the stupid orthodontist and he’s going to freak out. Plus it’s going to cost basically a full paycheck.”
All heads swivel in his direction, phones abandoned. Since when is the orthodontist such riveting news?
“The orthodontist?” Hen asks with practiced neutrality. What is going on?
“Yes?” Eddie draws out the word, confused.
“Would you say,” Chim says, “that you would rather be somewhere else?”
Eddie looks at Buck helplessly. He’s shocked to find Buck shaking his head ever so slightly with wide, panicked eyes.
Now Eddie is concerned.
“Did I miss something?” he asks. He looks toward Bobby, who is all of a sudden very interested in his casserole.
“Just answer the question, Edmundo.”
Eddie balks at Hen using his full name. He feels like he was dropped in the twilight zone or something.
“I mean, I would literally rather be anywhere else than taking Christopher to the orthodontist. Is someone going to tell me what’s going on?”
“Would you rather be anywhere else in particular?” Chim presses.
Eddie loses his patience. “Okay, I’m not going to answer another question until someone tells me what’s going on.”
He looks at Buck pleadingly. Buck’s shoulders are slumped. He looks resigned. He holds up his phone and Eddie takes it.
Oh shit. Oh shit.
“Uhhhh,” Eddie is drawing a blank on how to fix this. He looks to Buck, who shrugs his shoulders as if to say gig’s up.
“Surprise?” Buck says.
There is a moment of deafening silence.
Then the room explodes.
“How long has this been going on!?”
“When were you going to tell us!?”
“Don’t you both have girlfriends!?”
“Are you the lizard couple!?”
Hen and Chim are yelling over each other to be heard. Bobby is watching them, amusement playing at the corner of his mouth, but also keeping a close eye on Buck who looks a little shell-shocked. Eddie feels the same, but he recovers first and holds his hand up to silence his friends.
“To answer your questions: A few months, we were going to say something soon, we both broke up with our girlfriends before this happened, I’m not afraid of lizards but I still don’t want one in my home.”
“Wow,” Hen breathes, “I can’t believe you kept this from us for so long. None of us had any idea.”
Eddie is glad Albert works a different shift, because he knows when it comes out that Albert knew before Chimney and Hen he and Buck will have hell to pay.
Chim swivels to Bobby, who still hasn’t said a word. “Wait, did you know?” he asks accusingly.
Bobby smiles. “No, I didn’t. But I suspected.” He turns to the men of the hour. “I’ll need to have a talk with you both about how this will affect your work performance, but seeing as this has been happening for months with no issues, I’m not too concerned.”
“Thank you, Bobby,” Buck says softly. He looks legitimately upset, and Eddie instinctively reaches for his elbow.
“You okay?” he asks his partner.
Hen and Chim belatedly seem to realize Buck’s dampened mood and quiet down.
“What’s up, Buckaroo?” Hen asks.
“Are you guys mad at us?” Buck blurts.
Chim looks shocked, Hen chastened.
“Why would we be mad at you? We just-”
Hen interrupts Chimney. “Of course we’re not mad. We’re really happy for you both, just a little surprised. This is great. You both work so well together, it makes total sense.”
Chimney nods. “Not mad at all. Speaking of mad, though, you better tell your sister before I do.”
Buck groans. “Yeah, I’ll call her now.” He jumps off the stool he’s been sitting on and passes by Eddie as he heads down, brushing his hand along Eddie’s torso. Eddie will never get tired of the goosebumps that travel across his skin when Buck touches him.
Buck leaves to call Maddie and Hen turns toward Eddie, whistling slowly. “Damn, boy, how’d you bag that?” she asks.
Eddie rolls his eyes and playfully shoves past her to open the snack cupboard and complete his original mission.
“So, where were you going to go on your date?” Chimney asks, popping his gum.
“See, this is why we didn’t tell you right away. You’re going to be insufferable.”
“Hey,” Chimney holds up his arms, pacifying. “No one ever said I was sufferable. I’m just holding up my end of the bargain as your friendly neighborhood Sherlock.”
“Wait, who appointed you that? I am not Watson,” Hen complains, and with that they start bickering about who is the better mystery solver and Eddie uses the distraction to escape down the stairs before their incessant questioning can start up again.
Eddie finds Buck in the locker room, staring down at his phone. He sits next to him, pressed flush against the other man’s body. He toes Buck’s foot with his own.
Buck sighs. “Yeah. Maddie was mad I didn’t tell her sooner, but she’s happy for me. For us.”
“So why do you seem so not okay?”
Buck looks at Eddie, eyes ever so slightly watery. Eddie is surprised to see him so upset.
“I’m sorry,” Buck says.
“What?” Eddie asks. “What on earth do you have to be sorry for?”
“I shouldn’t have said anything about our date on the call where other people could hear, and I should have stepped in and warned you sooner that LAFD_Overheard had posted it, and I shouldn’t have just gone still and quiet when they were grilling you. I’m sorry I keep messing up.”
Eddie lightly grabs Buck’s chin and guides the man so they’re looking in each other’s eyes.
“Hey. You’re not messing up. It was a weird situation that was out of our control and we handled it the best that we could. Everyone is happy for us, they said it themselves. I’m happier than I’ve been in a long time. Besides, if anything I should be apologizing for what I’m about to subject you to on our date to the orthodontist.”
Buck laughs softly, extricating himself from Eddie's grasp and leaning his head against Eddie’s shoulder. “I can’t imagine he’s that bad. It’s Chris”
Eddie shudders. “Oh, he’s worse. A nightmare. You’ll be begging to break up with me after you see the two of us in our darkest hours.”
Buck just nuzzles closer. “Never.”
Eddie turns his head and kisses Buck’s temple. “I love you, you know that?”
“I know you do,” Buck whispers, “I love you too.”
Buck lifts his head and looks at Eddie with wide, trusting eyes. It will never cease to amaze him how much Buck has been hurt in life, and yet he still trusts and loves so openly. It’s a gift Eddie won’t ever take for granted.
Eddie closes the distance between them and softly kisses his partner - at work, in parenting, in life. Buck responds, just as soft. They’re both mindful of the fact they’re still at work and that someone could walk in at any moment. Eddie is also assured by the fact that they have all the time in the world. He has no plans to be anywhere else but in Buck’s arms.
They break apart and Buck stands, holding his hand out to Eddie. With a smile, Eddie takes it.
“I don’t know if I’m ready for their onslaught of questions,” Buck confesses.
Eddie squeezes Buck’s hand. “I’ve got your back.”
Buck’s smile crinkles his eyes. “I have yours.”
Together, they head up the stairs to join their overbearing, loud, and loving chosen family. They wouldn’t have it any other way.