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The thing is… she’s kind of perfect.

As much as Eddie knows he should like her, he just… can’t.

Of course, he wants his best friend to be happy, but this… her… it’s too much.

And he can’t find a way around it.

He’d thought maybe… maybe after Ana and after Taylor… maybe. They were both single. A little unmoored and just trying to figure everything out. Maybe they could get their shit together. Maybe they could get together. He’d been waiting for a chance. He’d been willing to try. Made a plan. Stood in the mirror while he did his hair and practiced the words he’d say. Laid in bed and sifted through all the times he’d been so sure that they were there, on the same page, just too afraid to do something about it. He could be the one to confess his feelings. Tell his best friend that there was so much more for them. For him.

But then, she showed up.

And everything just… fell apart. Every idea he’d had, every potential plan of action got tucked away, pushed back into the darkest parts of his heart to stay in the shadows. Her shadow.

Because he sees it. The way Buck lights up when she genuinely laughs at his stupid jokes. How she skims her fingertips over his shoulders and he instantly relaxes into her touch. Buck’s smile every time he talks about her. That he’ll take any excuse to tell everyone how they met at the library where she works and she actually agreed to a date even with his terrible pick up line about “checking her out”.

There’s a softness about her that he can’t help but acknowledge, physically and emotionally, because it’s the opposite of everything he has to offer. She’s all plush curves and sweet smiles where he’s hard lines and eye rolls.

He’s spent a lot of nights thinking about the way he and Buck would fit together, one muscular body against another. But now, how can he imagine himself in Buck’s arms as he watches them standing there, Buck holding her in his too-tight tee shirt, his hands gripping her hips as she gazes at him adoringly?

And the thing is… Buck deserves it.

All of it.

He should absolutely have someone who looks at him like he’s everything.

Because he is.

Even if Eddie can’t be the one that gives him what he needs, he wants Buck to have the love and affection he so desperately desires. That he should have had all along but somehow has never quite gotten. At least, not in a way he’s fully aware of.

He’s adjusted, has become accustomed to loving Buck at a distance. Quietly protective and indulgent in the ways he can be, without being too obvious. Sometimes he’s better at being stealthy than others. Sometimes he reminds himself that he’s not the only one who gives off a vibe of something more.

So he deals with it. Tries to look anywhere but at Buck’s hand splayed on her thigh. Focuses on any sound other than her giggle when Buck leans in and whispers something in her ear. Walks away when she rocks up on her tiptoes and wraps herself around Buck to kiss him and he scoops her up to carry her away from everyone for a moment just the two of them.

But somehow, he’s walking in his front door and there she is. Sprawled out on the living room floor, tangled up between Buck’s long legs, talking animatedly with Christopher about some character in a movie he’s never had time to watch. Buck’s chin is resting on her shoulder, his grin bright and wide as he takes in their conversation without joining it.

Buck looks up as Eddie, giving him a nod. “Hey, Eds.”

“Hey,” he replies, trying to keep his voice neutral. He wishes Buck wouldn’t do that. Wouldn’t use the name that only he can get away with while he’s got someone else in his space, pressed against him. He keeps walking into the kitchen, single-mindedly toward the beer. He’s going to need a few of them to be able to deal with all of this.

With them. With her.

He knows it’s not fair. He should feel bad about the animosity he has toward her. Should feel guilty for being resentful when she’s been nothing but lovely. Better than that even. She’s continually made space for him. And for Christopher. He’d heard her on the phone earlier, when he’d called Buck in a panic because he needed someone to watch Christopher when Pepa had reached out about Abuela and he had to leave in a rush. He’d listened to her suggest they go, before Buck even had the chance to respond. She’d given up date night to hang out with his kid. Buck had walked in with the pizza and she’d been right behind him with a stack of graphic novels to read with Christopher.

“She’s awesome, isn’t she?” Buck had asked when she’d dropped down onto the couch with Chris and immediately started chatting like they’d been friends his whole life.

He’d only managed a tense “Yep.” as he handed Buck plates for dinner and dashed out the door.

He doesn’t know what he expected when he got home, but it wasn’t to feel like a stranger in his own house. Like he was the one that had intruded on this delightful little domestic scene. As if she weren’t the outsider.

“How’s Abuela?” Buck asks, joining him in the kitchen.

“Fine.” He drains his beer, looking away from his best friend. He hates the way Buck is silhouetted against the warm light from the living room, his perfect girlfriend framed between the solid shape of Buck’s body and the lines of the window behind her. He knows he’s being so fucking rude, but he just can’t seem to stop it. But god, she’s ruining everything.

Buck steps closer, reaching out to grasp Eddie’s bicep. “Are you okay?”

Why does he have to be so goddamn perceptive?

He gives a sharp nod. “Sorry I ruined date night.”

“Are you kidding? We had a great time. They’ve been talking all night… I gave up trying to follow their conversation like 45 minutes ago,” Buck tells him, glancing back at her. He smiles instantly when she looks up and catches him already peering in her direction. Turning back to Eddie, he says, “Pretty sure Chris likes her more than me now.”

“Great. Just what I need, to be further down his list,” Eddie chuckles humorlessly.

Buck scowls. “Seriously, what’s going on with you?”

“It’s been a rough night. And I’m sure you want to get out of here,” he says, reaching for another beer.

It’s not like he can say, please leave, you’re breaking my heart.

He sighs with relief when Buck takes the hint and heads back into the living room and turns his head when Buck pulls her up off the floor, crashing against him with a laugh.

* * * * * * * * * *

Buck is right. Christopher is crazy about her. He constantly wants to text her and FaceTime her to talk about comic books and episodes of some YouTube show they both watch. Eddie only makes half-assed attempts to hide his annoyance every time Buck delightedly hands over his phone and Christopher practically squeals with excitement when she greets him.

And suddenly she’s everywhere.

Stopping by the station with treats for Buck and the rest of the crew, somehow remembering everyone’s personal snack preferences.

Laughing with Athena and Karen and May around the table on the back patio while Bobby grills, like she just … belongs.

Somehow at a coffee shop across the street from a dry cleaner’s where they take a call and Buck manages to not only pull the last person out of the building, but also steal a kiss from her like some goddamn Disney prince.

There’s an irony to her ever-presence and familiarity with everyone that’s not lost on Eddie, Buck’s words to him in his first days at the 118 echoing in his mind. You’re my problem. Your comfort level. You’re not supposed to walk in here like you’ve been here for years. As she invades every space and charms all the people that Eddie considers “his”, he struggles more to keep his feelings locked up. To keep them off his face.

He thinks he’s doing pretty well, until their boys' night trio morphs into a quartet. He finds himself wondering how, in an even number of people, he’s become the odd man out.

Christopher is wedged between them on the couch, leaning into her with his legs haphazardly draped across Buck’s lap. He hates that they look like they belong together, a happy little family, chilling out all cozy.

He feels it again, that same cracking, skittering sensation in his chest, like he just knows his heart is going to pieces and there’s nothing he can do to stop it.

Except get away.

Eddie jumps up, out of the chair, escaping into the kitchen. Hell, he’d run out the back door if he didn’t think that would set off all of Buck’s finely tuned Eddie-centric sensors. But… maybe they’re not as sensitive as they used to be. He’s managed to miss all the indicators of Eddie’s displeasure recently. Or… maybe he’s just so far gone on her he doesn’t care?

It hits him suddenly, like a sucker punch. Buck might love her. He could be in love with her.

It seems obvious now. He’s not sure why he hadn’t considered it before.

Self-preservation, perhaps.

Or maybe because he willfully tunes out of every conversation as soon as Buck mentions her. After the last story about how good the sex was, he just couldn’t take any more.

Eddie steps out the backdoor for some desperately needed air. Takes a deep breath that’s still mildly smoggy for so late in the day and thinks the burn in his throat is fairly appropriate for the way he feels.

Like he’s choking. Fighting to breathe while he suffocates from all the fucking fondness and domestic bliss swirling around his house, but doesn’t include him.

And he knows, he knows, that Buck craves this. The stability of a partner and the validation of physical touch. It’s obvious that Buck thrives on the easy affection and gentle nurturing she provides.

He realizes he’s going to have to let go of this hostility toward her. He’s not sure he knows how to do that. Or even if he even can.

But what’s the alternative… letting go of Buck completely?

That’s not a viable option. Even if he could manage to detach himself, untangle their lives and repress all the increasingly complicated feelings he’s got, Christopher would never forgive him.

He drops to the concrete step, sitting down with his head in his hands. This wasn’t how he pictured his 30s - single father, lovesick over someone he shouldn’t want. Can’t have. He inhales slowly, counting it out like all those mindfulness apps he keeps abandoning tell him to do.

The door creaks open, startling him. He’s been gone too long if Buck has come looking for him.

“Hey, Eddie… everything okay?”

That’s… that’s not Buck.

He turns to look up at her, of course she’s managed to stand in exactly the right spot to be illuminated with the setting sun, her hair glowing around her like a goddamn halo. Yeah, okay. He gets the message. “Hey. Yeah, just.. Uh.. had to make a call.”

It’s a weak excuse and they both know it.

She carefully arranges herself on the step just above the one he’s sitting on. “I swear, Christopher could not be any sweeter. Being around him always reminds me how much I can’t wait to be a mom.”

No. Nope.

He’s done.

He can’t do it anymore. The sudden, vivid image of Buck with his own children - blue-eyed carbon copies of their father - makes whatever fragments of his heart were left shatter and disintegrate in his chest.

Buck should have that. Can have that. With her.

He clears his throat. Tries to find his voice. “Yeah, he’s… he’s a great kid.”

She looks at him, the silence hanging heavier between them with each passing second. “I’m sorry.”

“For what?” he asks. He’d be happy to supply an endless list of things he’d love to hear any apology for.

“Crashing boys’ night. I didn’t realize what a well-established tradition I was walking into. I promise it won’t happen again. I know it’s important to all of you,” she says, giving his bicep a squeeze.

That’s not what he expected. But he appreciates it. Enough that he nods, gives her what he hopes passes as a smile. “Yeah, it’s the highlight of our week here at the Diaz house,” he tells her honestly.

* * * * * * * * * *

“You’re gonna be looking at rings before you know it, Buckaroo,” Hen says as Eddie joins them at the table.

He tries to ease himself in the chair without looking as stiff as he feels, tense from what he just heard.

“Uh, I don’t know about that,” Buck replies and takes a massive bite of some sort of biscuit breakfast sandwich.

As much as he doesn’t want to know what they’re talking about, Eddie looks at Hen and asks, “What’d I miss?”

“Oh, you know, Buck’s in love, no big deal.” Her tone is teasing, but her look is full of fondness, like she’s proud of him.

“Ah,” Eddie grunts, unable to come up with a better response with the way his lungs feel like they’re collapsing.

Buck makes a face, “She told me, is what I said.”

Chim comes around the counter and pulls up a chair with the rest of them. “You didn’t say ‘thank you’, did you?”

“I didn’t really say anything…”

Hen raises an eyebrow. “She says she loves you and you just.. don’t respond?”

“Look, nothing good has ever come from me telling someone that I love them,” Buck sighs.

“So, what happened then?” Chim pries, clutching his mug of coffee as he waits for the details.

Buck takes another bite and rolls his eyes in a way that should make it obvious for everyone to fill in the blanks, but Hen and Chim are still staring at him, expectantly.

Eddie looks around the table. “Seriously? They had sex!”

“Oh! Dick-straction. A classic.” Chimney nods.

It’s too early for this. He can’t start a 24 hour shift thinking about Buck’s dick and what - or who - he’s doing with it. He stands up abruptly, sending the chair screeching backward.

Three pairs of eyes snap toward him, each with varying levels of concern and curiosity. He knows he’s made it awkward now, but … who the hell cares? He can’t.

He snatches what’s left of Buck’s sandwich and shoves it in his mouth as he walks away.

* * * * * * * * * *

He doesn’t want to think about it: why Buck literally fucked his way out of saying he loved her. He doesn’t want to dwell on all the reasons he knows Buck thinks love is complicated and has to end badly. Even if he has no real evidence to the contrary, he believes - from the depths of his soul - that’s not how it would be for them. Loving Buck is easy.

Eddie knows that. And now he knows that she does, too.

Not that he couldn’t see it, like it wasn’t obvious every time she looked at Buck. But she’s said it now. Put it out there in the universe. Made it a statement. Made it real.

The interior of the rig seems stifling even as the air blows through, like everything that’s on his mind is taking up all of the space around him. He’s only vaguely aware of Buck and Chim chattering away about something and he has no desire to try to figure out what they’re talking about to join the conversation.

He’s thankful for the call, though, the chance to get out of the firehouse and do something physical to try to use up all the frustrated energy raging in his veins. Sometimes he wishes he could go back to the fight club, to have someone to throw punches at and give him an outlet to burn off the anger.

He’s got to back off. Focus on himself. On Christopher. Ease himself away from Buck. Give him the space he needs to be the perfect boyfriend for Little Miss Sunshine.

He can do it. He has to.

He still steps in front of Buck as they run into the house, dodging debris that falls from the ceiling, shielding him from as much of the heat and flame as he can, making a path for Buck to follow as safely as possible.

* * * * * * * * * *

“You want to grab a beer or something?” Buck asks, as they walk out of the engine bay toward their cars.

Eddie looks surprised. “It’s Friday night. Don’t you have plans with your girlfriend?”

“Nah, she’s got a sorority sister in town and they’re doing… something,” Buck tells him, tossing his stuff in the passenger seat of his Jeep.

He should say no. Go pick Christopher up and put a frozen pizza in the oven while they watch Doctor Strange for the seventeenth time. But he selfishly wants any time he can steal before he totally loses him to date nights and couples yoga or whatever. “Yeah, let’s go.”

- - -

Eddie stares across the high top table as Buck takes a drink of his beer, trying to keep his eyes from straying to the long line of Buck’s throat and the bob of his adam’s apple. To not think about all the times he’s wanted to press his lips there, especially after a tough call, both of them sweaty and high on adrenaline.

Buck certainly isn’t the first man he’s ever been attracted to, but he’s definitely the first that has been an all-consuming desire. He wants Buck in every way he could have him - yes, his incredible body, of course, but he wants the whole of him. His spirit, his soul, his heart.

All the parts that belong to someone else.

“Why has it been so long since we’ve done this?” Buck questions, pulling Eddie out of the spiral he was starting to slide into.

He barks out a laugh. “We work a lot? I have a kid? You have a girlfriend? Take your pick.”

“We’ve had all those things before and it’s never been like this,” he comments.

Eddie hates the sadness he can see clouding Buck’s blue eyes. “No, because it’s never been like this.”

Buck looks at him for a moment, like he’s trying to figure out exactly what Eddie means by that and doesn’t want to make him clarify. Then he says, “I know. It’s different. With her.”

He nods, a quick jerk of his head as he brings the bottle to his lips and drains most of it. “She makes you happy. Let yourself enjoy it.”

“Yeah, she’s… she’s pretty perfect.”

“Good. You deserve that.” Eddie tells him, as he lets his eyes wander to the dark haired girl walking by. Maybe that’s what he needs, to literally start setting his sights on someone else. But he finds any potential interest fades as soon as she’s past their table.

Buck chuckles. “You do, too. You gonna start with her?”

“Unlikely. I think… I think those days are probably over.”

“What days? The days of you getting some? How long has it been?” Buck cocks his head, waiting.

Eddie rolls his eyes. “You’ve made it very clear that all of your needs are being met very regularly. Just focus on that, okay? I’m doing just fine.”

Buck opens his mouth, like he’s about to say something, but stops as a server approaches with two more beers.

“The girls at the end of the bar say ‘hi’,” she says, setting the bottles on the table and disappearing into the crowd of people milling around.

He turns to look at the group of girls, who burst into giggles as Buck raises his drink to say ‘thank you’ and he can’t help but smile. It’s not a night out with Buck if no one’s trying to get in his pants. Not that he blames them. He understands the urge better than most.

“How did you know you wanted to marry Shannon?” Buck blurts out.

Eddie nearly drops his beer. He grips it tighter, telling himself it would be unsafe to let it spill, like he’s not squeezing like it’s the only thing holding him together.

Buck is thinking about marrying her.

“Um… I don’t know? There wasn’t really like, one moment? We were young. We’d been together for a while. I knew she wanted to. I was going to leave, and we needed to make it legal for her to have the benefits of being a military spouse. And then she was pregnant. So we got married. I’m not sure that’s really a path I’d recommend, especially considering she asked for a divorce just before…” He trails off, not wanting to finish the sentence. He still has trouble with saying “died”. Still kind of hates talking about any of this, in general, but particularly when it’s with Buck.

Who is apparently thinking about getting married.

Is the room spinning? Get a grip, dude.

Eddie’s phone vibrates against the table and he could not be more thankful for the distraction. He takes the call, with Buck trying to look nonchalant as he eavesdrops. “I gotta go, Carla needs me to get home.”

“Yeah, of course. Thanks for coming out with me tonight. I miss you, Eds.”

He tries not to crumble when Buck throws his arm around his shoulder on the way out the door. “Me, too, man,” he murmurs, barely audible even to himself over all the noise around them.

* * * * * * * * * *

It seems like they’ve been in this building for hours, he’s so fucking tired and nothing they’ve done has helped their situation at all. The flames are everywhere - the walls, the ceiling, what’s left of the hardwood beneath their feet.

Eddie turns again, looking for any space that’s not completely engulfed. Just a few steps to give them enough room to let them escape. There aren’t any.

He had heard the incident commander call it a while ago, giving the mandatory evacuation order for all the teams involved. But Buck wouldn’t leave, convinced he could find the last person. If Buck stays, so does he.

And now, here he stands trapped in the middle of an actual hellscape. His eyes lock on his best friend’s for only a second before he feels the fire-weakened floor boards shift and crack. He screams as Buck disappears through the gaping hole.

- - -

Eddie is determined to not blink.

Every time he closes his eyes, he sees it and feels it, over and over and over. Buck’s expression right as he realized he was falling. The flash of flame surging toward him as he peered into the void and decided to jump anyway. Summoning energy he didn’t know he had left to drag Buck out of the building as it collapsed around them. The asphalt getting closer when he fell to his knees as the ambulance containing an unconscious Buck sped off toward the hospital.

Bobby’s hand settles on his arm, making him suddenly aware of just how badly he’s shaking.

“You know he’s basically indestructible,” Bobby says, softly.

He wants to nod, like he believes that’s true. But his own knees ache from crashing onto the floor below, his shoulder twinges from carrying Buck’s dead weight. They’re not getting any younger. The job isn’t getting any easier. “One day he won’t be.” He’s surprised at the sound of his voice, the admission of his fears.

Bobby gives him a gentle squeeze. “That’s true. None of us are. But we are here for now. We’ll be here when he needs us, and we’ll be here for you, too.”

He catches the look on Bobby’s face, the hint that the captain knows there’s more to … them. That his relationship with Buck isn’t necessarily just what it seems on the surface. There’s something kind of comforting about it, he supposes. He wants to think that whatever he and Buck might’ve become, they’d have had support. He’s sure, actually. He’s not oblivious to the way Hen and Chim tease, like they might give them trouble, but would wholeheartedly get behind Buck-and-Eddie as partners, on the job and off.

- - -

“Eddie? He’s asking for you.”

He has no idea when - or how - he fell asleep, but he startles awake to the sound of her voice. When did she even get here?

He jumps up to follow her down the corridor to Buck’s room in silence, hating with every step that she was the one who was there when he woke up. He knows he has to get used to this. He needs to learn his place in Buck’s life now. Now that she’s here. Taking the spot he’d claimed for himself.

Buck looks terrible, but god he’s glad to see him alive. There’d been a moment - a few of them - where he really wasn’t sure this time. Even banged up and bruised, Buck’s blue eyes are as bright as ever. Eddie would swear Buck perked up as he walked in the room, but is also willing to admit that’s probably more wishful thinking on his part than anything he actually has evidence to support.

“If I have to haul your ass out of one more burning building, I’m revoking your Christopher privileges,” he jokes, even though he means it with every cell in his body. He can’t keep watching this man almost die.

“Oh, now that’s a serious threat!” she says, stepping closer to the bed and reaching for Buck.

He watches as she slips her fingers through Buck’s messy curls and he clutches the bed rail as a wave of jealousy crashes over him.

“Are you okay?” Buck rasps.

“Yeah, I’m fine. I’m lucky I didn’t pull a muscle lugging you around,” Eddie snarks, even though he absolutely knows that’s not what Buck was asking.

Buck wheezes, “You’re getting old, man.”

He’s trying to think of a witty response when a doctor breezes into the room, telling them they need to clear out for a few moments. He flips Buck off, smiling at the same time as he walks out the door. As he turns to walk back to the waiting room and join Bobby and the rest of the crew, he feels a hand grip his wrist. Slowly spinning back around, he looks at her, attempting not to tense under her touch.

“I just wanted to say thank you.”

He hates that her eyes are watery with unshed tears. “For what?”

“For everything.” She sniffles. “For always being there for him. For keeping him safe. For rescuing him.”

Eddie doesn’t know what to say. After a moment of awkward silence, he tells her the truth. “It’s just what we do.”

“I know. I’m just … I’m grateful he has you.” She throws her arms around him, nearly knocking him off balance.

He wishes he could reciprocate either the hug or the sentiment, but neither would be genuine, so he lets her hug him and hurries back to his team when she lets go.

* * * * * * * * * *

“I can’t believe she got me a babysitter,” Buck groans from the couch.

Eddie couldn’t believe it either, when the call came in earlier from a number he didn’t recognize. He’s not proud of the way he cringed as soon as he heard her voice, but… that was between him and the bathroom mirror he’d been standing in front of. He was relieved to have an excuse to see his best friend, though. They’d only texted occasionally in the two weeks he’d been home from hospital - Buck’s every waking moment spent under the watchful and caring eye of his girlfriend. “Me neither. I’m kind of surprised she didn’t leave me a twenty for pizza and remind me not to invite anyone over after you went to bed.”

“Yeah, she takes the whole nurse thing very seriously,” Buck comments as he struggles to sit up without jostling his broken ribs.

Eddie scowls. “So help me god, if I find one of those vinyl sexy nurse costumes somewhere around here…”

Buck laughs and immediately winces, “Don’t! I can’t… it hurts.”

“That’s not a no…” Eddie drops down onto the couch beside him, gently pushing him into an upright position.

“No, there’s no sexy nurse outfit anywhere,” Buck tells him. “Unfortunately.”

“I’ll see what I can do next time I come over.” Eddie hopes the joke lands, but can’t really tell from the possibly-startled-but-also-something-else expression on Buck’s face. He jumps back up to turn on the PlayStation and hands Buck a controller. “C’mon. I’m fully taking advantage of your limited range of motion as an opportunity for me to possibly, finally kick your ass.”

- - -

Unbelievable,” Eddie mutters. Even on pain medication, Buck had somehow managed to annihilate him in the game.

“Can’t help it. Just better at this.”

He watches as Buck sways, fighting to stay awake, even though he can barely keep his eyes open. He’s reminded of Christopher at four-years-old, determined to refuse sleep under any circumstances. “Sure, Buck. C’mon… I’ll help you up to your bed.”

“Nah, I’m good,” he mumbles, seeming to become boneless before Eddie’s eyes, slumping over onto him. He snuffles softly against Eddie’s shoulder and he’s out like a light.

Eddie bites his lip, overwhelmed by how intensely adorable this sleepy, doped up version of Buck is, as well as the spark that jolts through his body at having Buck draped so easily across him. It’s the kind of moment he’s dreamt of for so long now that it just feels like he expected it. Knew it would happen.

The sound of the key in the door reminds him that he waited too long. He’s the temporary fix. The stand in. She’s the one that gets to stay the night.

He extracts himself from Buck and guides him down onto the cushion and stands to grab his keys and phone as she walks into the kitchen.

She looks surprised he’s ready to head out. “You don’t have to rush off…”

What’s he going to do? Stay and talk to her? “Gotta get home to Christopher.”

“Oh! Of course. I’m so sorry. I should have been quicker… I didn’t mean to keep you,” she apologizes.

“You’re good. Uh… let me know if you need anything else,” Eddie offers, wondering why he keeps doing this to himself.

“Thank you. Truly.” She smiles, wide and sincere. “Buck and I really appreciate it.”

He grumbles to himself as he climbs in the truck, offended that she’s thanking him for spending time with his best friend. The only person besides his kid he knows he could…. would willingly spend every waking hour with.

He throws the truck in reverse unnecessarily aggressively, as it occurs to him this is probably a preview. How it’s going to be. With her doling out the time he gets to have with Buck. If … fuck, maybe when they get married the visits will become fewer and farther between. They’ll have kids and aside from birthday parties, he’ll only see Buck at work.

His heart skips and stutters, registering the pain of just how terrible that sounds. How possible it really is.

* * * * * * * * * *

“Hey, are you okay?” Eddie asks, before he’s even fully punched the phone to accept the call. He hasn’t seen Buck’s name light up his screen in far too long.

“Yeah, I just… can you come over? If you’re not busy?” There’s hesitation in his voice, like he hasn’t heard since those awkward talks as they tried to find their way back from the wreckage of the lawsuit.

He jogs to his truck and climbs in, starting the engine. “I’m just leaving the station now. Give me time to call Carla and I’ll be on my way. You want anything?”

“Nah. Just let yourself in when you get here,” Buck tells him and hangs up.

There’s something about Buck’s tone or … something that makes him kind of nervous.

No, not nervous. Anxious.

He instantly expects something terrible, like Buck’s going to propose and wants his help somehow. Shit, what if he’s asking if Christopher can be part of his plan?

He takes a deep breath and reminds himself that no matter what happens, he’s been through worse. He’s survived war and life-threatening injuries and the deaths of friends and loved ones. He knows how to let go. To move on.

Except he’s been trying to do that for months now. Maybe half-assed attempts, because he just doesn’t want to, but he’s made … some effort. Kind of.

Stuck in the unavoidable late afternoon traffic, he coaches himself through various situations, guessing at how he might need to respond. By the time he reaches Buck’s place, he’s almost convinced he can react believably and appropriately to whatever is about to happen.

Eddie walks through the door, emboldened by being able to just come in like he used to, like he belongs in Buck’s space again.

He sees Buck sitting at the table, a half-full glass of red wine in front of him. Pulling out a chair, he sits across from Buck. “You look… better.”

Buck laughs. “Thanks? I guess?”

He glances around, wondering why the vibe just feels different. “So, where’s your girl?”

“Don’t know. Probably out with her friends or something.” Buck takes a sip of his wine. “We broke up.”

Eddie’s eyes go wide. “You what?”

“We … well, okay, I broke up with her,” Buck amends.

He can barely contain his surprise, but he hopes he’s doing a decent job of disguising his relief. “Wow. I, uh, it kind of seemed like she was your happily ever after or whatever.”

Buck shrugs. “Yeah, there was definitely a white picket fence, 2.5 kids, and a goldendoodle at the end of that story.”

Eddie’s brow furrows as he contemplates what all this might mean. “That sounds like everything you want, Buck.”

“Everything I thought I wanted,” Buck says, suddenly serious. “Turns out… it’s not, though.”

“I don’t understand.” He’s tempted to grab Buck’s glass of wine and help himself to a few sips. “All I kept hearing was how perfect she was. You seemed so content with her.”

Buck smiles, wryly. “She was perfect. Too perfect. It’s easy to be with someone like that - all loving and attentive and sweet. But I realized it would have been like you and Shannon. There would never have been that big moment where I just knew I had to marry her. I could have kept going along with her, though, and we would have been fine. We’d have probably had a good life.”

He doesn’t know what to do with any of this. No matter what he thought on the drive over, this is nothing he could have gotten ready for. He certainly wasn’t prepared for his own romantic misadventures to somehow serve as an example. “Okay. So now… now what? Another software update? What are we on, like, Buck 5.0 now?”

“Maybe more like a … an operating system overhaul?” Buck laughs as he picks up his glass and gives the liquid a swirl.

“You know I don’t have any fucking idea what you’re talking about.” He plucks the wine from Buck’s hand and finishes it. “What are you saying, Buck?”

“I kept waiting. I guess I thought it would just happen eventually. But it never did,” Buck says, cryptically. He’s got that mischievous glint in his eye that always makes Eddie a little nervous.

“Waiting for what? That big moment where you just knew? Butterflies and fireworks and all that fairy tale stuff?” he asks.

“Nah,” Buck shakes his head. “I already had that.”

“The more you talk, the less sense this makes,” Eddie mutters. “You literally just said you knew that wasn’t going to happen with her.”

“Not with her, Eds.” Buck slips his hand across the table, taking Eddie’s hand in his own. “With you.”

He’s sure he stops breathing.

But his heart… his heart is racing.

It’s not possible that he heard what he thinks he did… is it?

What?” he gasps.

Buck lets go of him and pulls back. His uncertainty is obvious all over his beautiful features. “Did I get it wrong? I thought… I thought it was… the same. For you.”

There are so many things Eddie wants to say to reassure him, tell him yes, it’s exactly the same, but he can’t get a single one of them to come out. Finally, he manages, “Evan.”

Buck’s lips twitch into a grin. He knows Eddie only says that when something is important. “The timing was always wrong. So I kept waiting. And then I thought it might never be right, so I tried again. With her. But I don’t want that life. And I don’t want to keep waiting. I want what we have. But… more.”

Without giving it a second thought, Eddie leans over the table, taking Buck’s face in his hands and kisses him. What he intended to be soft and affirmative, all the things he can’t seem to put into words, quickly becomes the more Buck had asked for.

Buck moans as the kiss turns deep and desperate, trying to tug Eddie closer.

Eddie breaks away, unable to get his hands on Buck like he wants to from where he’s standing. He deftly slides across the table top, sitting on the edge and tugging Buck between his knees. Grasping at Buck’s shirt, he pulls him back into a heated kiss. He can taste the wine Buck was drinking and suddenly all he can think about is the possibility of being able to put his mouth all over him, to know the salt of his skin as he traces his body with his tongue.

Breathless, he nips at Buck’s lower lip, bringing their foreheads together as they pant against each other. No matter what he imagined being with Buck would be like, this is better. He already knows whatever they have, whatever they will be, was worth the wait.

“Eds? We’re…. This is… us, right?” Buck asks, his eyes impossibly blue and full of hope.

Eddie kisses him again. Because he wants to. Because he can. “Yeah, Buck. This is us.”

* * * * * * * * * *

“You’re the one who signed us up for the gluten-free vegan cupcakes, so you don’t get to complain about making them.”

Buck sighs, “I felt ambitious that day. That group of moms got me all riled up.”

“I think you got them all riled up,” Eddie chuckles as they round the corner into the next aisle.

“A little competition is healthy.”

Eddie can’t help the way his eyes stray to the sliver of exposed skin between Buck’s tee shirt and his jeans as he moves to grab a package of baker’s chocolate bars. He’s more than a little smug that there’s still a faint mark visible from where he’d sunk his teeth in earlier. He wants to bite it again. He tries to shake it off, they’re in public. He can behave. Probably. “It’s an elementary school bake sale, Buck. Not the Great British Bake Off.

Buck waves off his commentary, looking intensely at the list of ingredients he made. He glances around at the shelving signs and groans. “We passed the tofu… I’ll be back.”

He shakes his head as he watches Buck trot off in search of the tofu, then goes back to his own list of things that he and Christopher will actually want to eat. He turns another corner, thankful to be among something he’s comfortable with - rows and rows of cereal. He’s debating between surprising Christopher with a box of sugary flakes or puffs and his parental desire to keep his kid sort of healthy when he hears someone saying his name.

“Eddie?”

Oh. Okay. “Um, hi.”

“I thought that was you. How have you been?” she asks.

“Good… really … good,” he stammers.

“That’s great. And Christopher?”

Are they really doing this?

“He’s awesome. Thanks for asking.” He realizes he should probably ask the same of her. “And, uh, you? You’re … well?”

She nods, opening her mouth to speak, but pauses, her eyes caught on something else.

“Eds! I didn’t write down what kind of tofu… should we get silken? Soft? Firm?” Buck calls from the end of the aisle. When Eddie doesn’t reply he looks up from the various packages in his hands. “Hey. Hi…”

“Hi, Buck.”

Eddie looks back and forth between them, wondering if this feels as awkward to them as it does for him.

Buck makes his way to where they are and drops the tofu into their cart. He hesitates for only a second and then pulls her into a hug. “It’s nice to see you.”

She pats him on the back as he lets her go. “You, too.” There’s a moment of silence as she regards him, then glances toward Eddie again. “So, are you…” She gestures to the two of them. “Together?”

Eddie’s eyes go wide in surprise, wondering how she’d put it together so quickly, but he doesn’t miss the way Buck lights up.

“Yeah. We are,” he tells her, slipping his hand into Eddie’s back pocket and drawing him a little closer.

“I was hoping,” she says, smiling.

Buck grins back at her. “Yeah?”

She nods. “I’m happy for you. Both of you.”

“Thanks, we appreciate that. Right, Eds?” Buck turns to press a kiss to his temple.

Eddie can feel the blush heat up his cheeks, so deeply pleased at this easy display of affection. “Very much so.”

She giggles, clearly amused at Eddie’s reaction. “Well… good luck with your tofu. And everything else. Tell Christopher ‘hi’ for me, please?”

“Of course. Take care.” Buck gives her another quick hug and turns back to the packages he’d dropped. “So what do you think?”

“She’s still pretty perfect,” Eddie answers.

Buck furrows his brows. “I meant about the tofu.”

“Why are you asking me? I told you not to tell me when you use it,” he says, raising his hands like, I don’t know. About tofu or what just happened.

“I think silken, right? That’ll make ‘em light and fluffy.”

“Sure, Buck.” He pushes the cart, following close behind him, incredulous that Buck is apparently not going to address that run-in or what was said at all.

- - -

“Perfect!” Buck declares as he pulls the tin of twelve identical cupcakes out of the oven. “Look at these!”

“Gorgeous,” Eddie tells him, waiting until he’s set them down and then crowding into his space, boxing him in against the counter with his hands on either side of Buck’s hips.

“Thanks, I’m happy with…” Buck abruptly stops speaking as Eddie’s lips brush along his jawline.

“I’m not talking about the cupcakes, Buck,” Eddie mumbles against his collarbone.

Buck groans in response, a sound that Eddie has come to associate with some of his very favorite moments. He likes that he can do this, pull these whimpers and moans from him, that’s it’s been … natural. Instinctive. There was no learning curve as he became more intimately familiar with his best friend. Everything about their relationship was easy, just like he had known it would be.

He wants to keep kissing Buck, slide his hands up under his shirt and slowly drag it up and off, get on his knees and undo his jeans with his teeth, but there’s something he has to know first. Has to ask. He’s kind of surprised he hasn’t asked before now.

He steps away to take a breath, give himself some space to think. “What did you say to her?”

“Huh?” Buck blinks, trying to catch up with the sudden switch.

“When you broke up with her, what did you tell her?” he clarifies.

“The truth.”

Eddie rolls his eyes in frustration. “And what was that?”

“That she was amazing and I wanted her to have everything she deserved, but I wouldn’t be able to give it to her,” Buck says quietly, as he plays with the hem of Eddie’s shirt.

He knows this part, but he wants to hear it anyway. “Why not?”

Buck looks him in the eyes, his gaze serious and intense. “Because I was in love with someone else. I told her that, too.”

“What did she say?”

“That she knew. But she had been willing to try as long as I was. She said she wanted me to be happy.” He leans in and kisses Eddie, soft and slow.

Eddie sighs contentedly in the kiss, and tries to chase him when he breaks away. “You are, right? Happy.”

“You know I am, Eds. I meant it when I said I wanted more of you. This is… You’re what I need. I’m happy with you. With Chris. With us.” Buck kisses him again, a little deeper, a little dirtier.

His heart skips a beat, the way it always does with Buck.

Every moment with him is more than he thought was possible.

Eddie knows he’d have waited longer if that’s what it would take. He knows Buck is worth it.

Or that he would have stood by silently, loving him from a distance, if that’s how it had to be, for Buck to have what he wants.

But somehow, he’s what Buck wants.

And right now, right here, in their kitchen, everything is pretty perfect.

 

 

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