Take My Hand – 1/3 – Jilly James

Title: Take My Hand, Chapters 1-4
Series: So Far…
Series Order: 2
Author: Jilly James
Fandom: 9-1-1
Genre: Drama, Episode Related, Family, First Time, Romance, Slash
Relationship(s): Evan Buckley/Eddie Diaz, Athena Grant/Bobby Nash, Other Canon Pairings, Non-canon Pairings
Content Rating: NC-17
Warnings: COVID, Explicit Sex, Canon-level violence and situations, Discussion of homophobia, Kink, Under-negotiated kink (see tab on main story page)
Author Notes: Canon divergent at Buck Begins, so COVID is a thing. I’ve kept it in the background as much as possible. I changed the height requirements for astronauts a wee bit. For reasons. Though some Lone Star characters are in this story in the background, this isn’t a true crossover the way the first story was.
Beta: desertpoet
Word Count: 65,210
Summary: Buck has returned to California and fallen headlong into a relationship with Eddie. Everything around him is changing quickly, and he has to manage the fallout from Taylor Kelly’s reporting and fix his relationship with his sister.
Artist: Halestrom (who did amazing work!)



Chapter One

Buck woke to little fingers playing with his face, and he couldn’t help but smile. He cracked open one eye and peered at Christopher.

“Hi, Buck! You’re really here,” Christopher whispered.

The arm around Buck’s waist tightened fractionally, letting him know Eddie was awake too. He’d never slept with a man before in his life, but he loved the feel of Eddie pressed firmly against his back. It was safe and comforting in a way he’d never experienced before.

“Yeah, I’m really here.” The few times over the last couple of years that the three of them had fallen asleep in the same space together, Christopher had always been in the middle. But last night, the Diazes were firm that Buck had to be in the middle.

“Are you staying?”

“Well, I’m not leaving Los Angeles again anytime soon.”

“Never again,” Chris insisted.

“Well, I have been duly advised by Austin’s finest police officer that I might have to return at some point to testify in court, but that would be a long way off, and I wouldn’t be gone for very long.”

“Dad and I will go with you to make you sure you come home,” Christopher said firmly.

Buck chuckled, though he actually felt a little sad. “Okay, bud.” He leaned forward and pressed a kiss to Christopher’s forehead. “You want waffles? We could let your dad sleep a little longer.”

“Yeah!”

“Okay, let’s go brush our teeth.” He helped Chris wiggle out of bed and waited until Chris was steady on his crutches, then turned and met Eddie’s intense gaze. “Hey.”

“You want some time alone with him?”

“Not necessarily. I just wasn’t sure if you wanted to be up.”

Eddie’s hand settled on Buck’s hip and squeezed gently. “I kind of want to keep you in my sights.”

“I’m not going to vanish.”

“I know, but we have a lot to talk about, and I’m tired of waiting.”

Buck caught the inside of cheek between his teeth.

“Nothing bad, Buck.”

“Okay.” He smiled and leaned in to press a lingering kiss to Eddie’s cheek. “Morning.”

Eddie’s hand tightened on his hip. “Morning. Go let him exhaust himself with your presence for a few hours.”

Buck hesitated at the edge of the bed. “I had no idea this would be so hard on him. I feel—”

“You feel badly because he was upset, as anyone who loves him would, but don’t feel guilty; you did nothing wrong. Go. I’ll join you in a few minutes.”

Something told him that Eddie needed a few minutes alone, so Buck didn’t press. He got up and took care of his morning ablutions just in time to meet up with Christopher, who had a sunny smile in place.

“Waffles! Then can we play outside?”

Buck flailed about mentally for what day of the week it was and realized it was Saturday. “I think we should definitely play outside.” It was probably good that Chris didn’t have Zoom school today because he’d likely refuse to go. Not that Buck couldn’t sit with him through his lessons at Karen’s, but he was a little floored by Chris’ reaction to his three-week absence.

“I want to help with breakfast,” Chris said firmly.

“You can definitely help.” Buck could always find something for Chris to do, even if it was letting Chris hold the utensils while Buck directed his hands for the more complicated things. They worked together laying bacon out on a cookie sheet then got it in the oven.

After they’d washed up, Chris remarked, “People think I can’t do stuff.”

“People think all kinds of things that are wrong.” Buck began pulling out the ingredients for waffles. “Not everyone can do every single thing. Karen is a rocket scientist, and I certainly can’t do that.”

Chris giggled.

“Your hands take a little longer to learn things sometimes, but you get there.”

“Were there things that were harder for you to learn?”

“I didn’t like literature in school. There were other things, too, but that was really bad for me.”

“How come?”

“I think because I take things at face value and don’t tend to look under the surface. If my teacher asks me about a scene in a book where two people are having a picnic in the country and what it means, I’d get confused. Then the teacher would push and ask if it wasn’t an allegory about the struggle of the working class. And I’d be all, ‘no, it read to me like they were hungry and stopped for a snack.’”

Chris laughed outright.

Buck got the waffle iron heating up. “What I mean is that I’m not great at reading the subtext in books, so I never did well in those kinds of classes.” He failed in the same way with people sometimes.

“Do you think I’ll have a problem with literature?” Chris peered up at him, expression earnest.

Buck squatted down and tapped him on the nose. “Not even a little. You’re already better than me. You’re going to be great.”

“Does that bother you?”

“That people are better at things than me?”

Chris nodded.

“Nah. I’m good at some things, other people are good at others. I’m really good at opening stuck car doors,” he teased, ruffling Chris’ hair.

“Buck,” Chris said seriously, “you’re the best at saving people.”

“Aw, buddy.” He pressed a kiss to Chris’ head. “Thank you.”

Chris held on for a few seconds then let go so Buck could get back to breakfast. “What if you can’t be good at the things you want to be good at?”

Buck began mixing ingredients, setting aside the wet stuff for Christopher to blend with a whisk. “I guess you have some choices: accept that you can’t have the thing you want and find something else, because there’s no point in wasting your time on something impossible, or figure out how close you can get to the thing you want and decide if it’s enough. For instance, let’s say I really, really wanted to pilot a space shuttle. I’m actually too tall for that.”

“You are? You mean like that ride you couldn’t go on?” Christopher got a stricken expression on his face at bringing up the tsunami, but Buck just stroked his cheek fondly.

“Yep, just like that ride where you were tall enough, but I was too tall. See, I’m too tall to be a shuttle pilot, but I’m not too tall to be a mission specialist. I’m also too tall to serve on a submarine in the Navy. I just have to accept that. But if I could still be in the Navy, just not on a submarine.”

Chris nodded thoughtfully as he sat in front of the bowl Buck gave him and began to carefully whisk the wet ingredients together. “I know I can’t really be a firefighter,” Chris said softly.

Buck’s heart hurt. “Well, we don’t know that yet.”

Chris shot him a doubting look.

“Hear me out. There is a firefighter with cerebral palsy, but he doesn’t have certification for everything a firefighter might be required to do. He can do the engineer tasks like operate the ladder, but he can’t go into burning buildings.”

“Really?” Chris had stopped whisking to stare at Buck.

“Yep. Your dad and I are both certified for heavy rescue, and you wouldn’t be able to do that because of dexterity, bud, but there are lots of types of firefighters. Including investigators. That requires more brainpower than muscle power.” He pointed at the bowl. “Keep stirring.”

Chris went back to his slow whisking, obviously thinking.

“You know, in the guidelines for being a firefighter, there are literally pages of conditions that disqualify people from being a firefighter. Including anosmia.”

“What’s that?”

“That’s people who can’t smell.”

Christopher blinked up at him owlishly. “You can’t be a firefighter if you can’t smell?”

“Nope. There are several reasons why a firefighter needs to be able to smell.” He took the wet ingredients and mixed them with the dry, stirring minimally. “When you’re older, and have five degrees, if you really want to be a firefighter, we’ll figure out how to get you as close to that as possible, okay?”

Chris giggled. “Five? Buck, that’s silly.”

“Nuh-uh. You’re a genius.” He plucked Chris up and tucked him under his arm, getting more giggles. “You can handle five degrees.”

“No, Buck!”

He sat Chris at the kitchen table and hunkered down in front of him. “You have got so much potential, buddy. Don’t worry yet about ten or fifteen years down the road. Your body isn’t done growing yet. School first, to feed your big brain, and then we’ll help you figure out what you’re going to do, okay?”

“Okay.” He placed his hands on Buck’s shoulders, expression serious. “I missed you.”

“I missed you too.”

Chris nodded decisively, as if he believed Buck. “Can I have some juice?”

“Sure. I’m going to get the first waffle started then go find your dad. He can’t sleep forever!”

After handing off the juice and setting a four-minute timer for the first waffle, he headed out of the kitchen. He was immediately snagged by the arm and pulled around the corner.

“What—”

Eddie sealed their mouths together, clutching at Buck’s arms, pulling him in tightly. Buck surrendered to the kiss, his whole brain feeling like it had turned to mush at the feelings coursing through him.

When Eddie pulled back, he pressed their foreheads together. “Thank you.”

Buck cupped Eddie’s cheek, their breath mingling between them. “For what?”

“The way you are with him; the way you love him. Sometimes, I get so caught up in feeling like I’m not enough for him, or hating how I can’t make the world perfect, and I don’t know what to say. You always just talk to him. And then you do crazy stuff like make a skateboard frame and give him the world.”

“Eds…”

“I love you, Buck, and I know this is sudden…”

“Two-and-a-half years is not sudden,” Buck shot back. “It’s the longest flirtation known to man.”

Eddie chuckled and pressed another kiss to Buck’s mouth. “Let’s have breakfast.”

– – – –

Eddie shook his head and closed the door to Christopher’s bedroom, setting a timer to wake him up in ninety minutes. Most kids Christopher’s age didn’t nap, but with Chris’ CP, if he expended a lot of energy during the day, he needed an afternoon nap or he wouldn’t sleep well at night.

He joined Buck in the living room. “I can’t believe how much you wore him out.”

Buck shrugged. “He wanted to play outside.”

Eddie sat on the couch, closer than he usually allowed himself to sit to his best friend. “I didn’t think we’d get a chance to talk privately until tonight.” He reached for Buck’s hand. “I feel like there’s so much to talk about. Where do you want to start?”

Buck squeezed his hand. “Like what kind of things are you thinking we should talk about?”

“Your parents, Maddie, your trip, coming back to work, us.” He hesitated. “The tsunami.”

“Let’s, uh, not talk about that yet.”

“Okay.” Eddie still had some questions about it, but he wasn’t eager to revisit that subject today either. “What else is off the list?”

“I’m back early, no one knows I’m here.” Buck bit his lip. “Can we just talk about us and skip the rest while we have this little bubble of peace?”

“Yeah, Buck, that’d be fine.” Eddie was eager to get this nailed down, but he was also a little worried about how it might go. “Where do you want to start?”

“So, you’re bi too?” Buck asked cautiously.

“Yes. After a fashion. Men came first for me. My first memories of sexual attraction were to other guys. I’ve never made a romantic, emotional connection with a man, however. It was just sex. All my relationships have been with women.”

“Until now…?” His tone was uncertain.

Eddie smiled gently. “Yes, Buck. I’ve never said ‘I love you’ to man before. Well, not one I wasn’t blood related to, and that certainly wasn’t romantic in nature.”

“You want a relationship? With me?”

“I’m mad at myself that it wasn’t already obvious.” Eddie stroked his thumb over the back of Buck’s hand. “I would like you to be mine, yes.”

“Oh.” Buck swallowed heavily. “When I had my denial stripped away about my sexuality, I started thinking about men, and who might be attractive. I kept thinking of you. No matter how I framed my thoughts about sex and relationships, there you were. I kept forcing myself to put you out of my mind, because it felt disrespectful to you, to our friendship. But…I’ve loved you for so long. I didn’t let myself deal with the reality of it being romantic. I want to be yours,” he whispered, “so damn bad.”

Eddie yanked on Buck’s hand, pulling Buck closer and into his arms, holding him tightly. “We’re doing this so backward.”

“What do you mean?” Buck mumbled against his shoulder, holding on just as tight.

“We’re practically making a commitment here, but we’ve never even slept together.”

“I think we were already in a relationship; we just weren’t acknowledging it.” Buck shifted so his mouth was close to Eddie’s pulse point.

Eddie felt a shiver of arousal at Buck’s breath ghosting over his throat. “We should talk though about…preferences.”

Buck pulled back and gave Eddie a look. “Are you about to tell me that you usually take a very, um, dominant role in bed?”

Eddie blinked. “How did you know that?”

Cuddling back against Eddie’s chest, Buck replied, “I have a sex thing. Been able to do it for years.”

“A sex…thing?”

“Yeah. If I’ve been around someone for a while or been able to observe them, I get a vibe about what their sexual preferences are.” Buck proceeded to explain how he was able to pick up on what he called people’s sexual intent.

“And from me you got…that?”

“It took a while with you, but yeah. To be fair, I wasn’t even looking for a long time.” Buck sat back against the couch, shoulder-to-shoulder with Eddie, head cocked to the side. “I think it’s deeply ingrained in you, which makes it harder to pick up on sometimes, and you don’t let it bleed over into the rest of your life usually.”

Eddie stared at him for the longest time. “You could read my sexual intent well enough to know I’m dominant in the sack, but you couldn’t tell that I thought you were hot?”

“In my defense, you did a really good job of not looking.”

“It doesn’t even matter.” Eddie waved Buck’s cluelessness away. “So, you already know…?”

“Does that mean I’m right?”

“Yeah. Is it a problem?”

“I can’t say without knowing some specifics, Eds. Conceptually, no. In practice? It might be. Are you going to want to whip me or something?”

“No, that’s not my scene.” He tried to think of how to phrase it. “I like to contain my partner.”

“Contain?” Buck echoed curiously.

“To encompass them, block out everything but me. Sometimes that means fucking them until they can’t say their own name, and sometimes it means holding them down, stopping every twitch or movement. It’s not about bondage; it’s about, in that moment, they’re mine.”

Buck’s breath caught and he looked away, swallowing heavily.

“There are partners where I’ve shelved that urge though—”

“We can try,” Buck blurted out, then met Eddie’s gaze again, his cheeks now pink. “I mean, doing it the way you like it. It sounds okay. Good, even.”

“Does it?” Eddie felt that side of himself stir in the back of his mind. “What part of it sounds good to you, Buck?” He dropped his voice a bit and softened it.

Buck shivered. “I like the idea of experiencing nothing but you, of being yours.”

“Mm.” Eddie turned Buck’s hand over, tracing the lines on his palm. “Tell me about these men you met.”

Buck blinked. “You don’t really want to hear about that.”

“I do,” he said gently, trying to soften the demand as he continued to trail his fingers all over Buck’s palm.

“There was just one guy.”

“You’ve only been with one other man?” Eddie was both pleased and irrationally jealous.

Buck shrugged one shoulder. “I told you we didn’t fuck.”

Eddie scooted closer until his shin was pressed tight against Buck’s thigh. “Tell me what you did with him.”

“Just some blow jobs and rubbing off on each other.”

It was too easy to visualize. “How’d you rub off on each other?”

Buck blinked and took a shuddery breath. “I was straddling his lap.”

Eddie pictured Buck straddling his own thighs and liked the image. A lot. “Did you enjoy it?”

There was a hesitation that caught Eddie’s notice immediately.

“What is it, Buck?”

“There was just this…thing that made me think your preferences will be fine.”

A shiver raced up his spine. Eddie leaned closer. “I want that, Buck, but I want you more than some sexual preferences, okay?”

Buck nodded tightly.

“Can you explain a little?”

Buck suddenly got to his feet and stood in front of the couch. Eddie straightened out his position so that he was sitting facing forward. Then Buck was straddling his lap, looking down at him from his perch on Eddie’s legs.

Eddie had been feeling a faint throb in his cock several times already, but blood rushed south, and he got erect so fast he got dizzy. His hands automatically went to Buck’s hips.

“We were like this,” Buck whispered, leaning closer. Their bodies weren’t quite touching, but if they’d been naked, their cocks would have been. Buck was obviously hard in his cargos and Eddie forced himself to take a calming breath.

“You rubbed off on each other like this?” Eddie wanted that all for himself.

“We did, but what got to me right before I came was…” Buck’s cheeks got a little pinker.

“Tell me,” Eddie whispered, sliding his hand up to stroke over Buck’s throat.

“He spread his thighs.”

Eddie cocked his head and considered. Then he spread his legs open, automatically pushing Buck’s legs further apart. “You liked this?”

Buck leaned in and put his mouth near Eddie’s ear. “I was naked. It spread me open,” Buck murmured. “I’d never felt like that before. Open, vulnerable.”

Eddie clutched at Buck’s hip and shoulder, trying to keep his equilibrium. “Did you like it?” he managed to get out.

“I did. It was so good, Eds.” Buck’s lips teased his earlobe. “And then I find when I have something big in my mouth, my brain goes kind of fuzzy.”

Eddie grabbed Buck by the back of the neck and brought their mouths together. He immediately took control of the kiss and slipped his tongue into Buck’s mouth. Buck moaned and surrendered to the kiss, practically boneless against Eddie’s chest, supported only by Eddie’s body and hands.

Holding tight to Buck’s ass, Eddie ground their cocks together, ignoring the chafing of their clothes. He’d never experienced want like this. His need for Buck overwhelmed him and fueled his passion to have Buck now.

“Bedroom,” he murmured against Buck’s mouth. “We have to be fast. Chris could wake any time.”

Buck was up and moving, dashing for the bedroom, and Eddie was right behind.

He locked the bedroom door. “Clothes off.”

With no hesitation, Buck stripped out of his clothes, leaving himself naked and allowing Eddie to look his fill. He caught a brief glimpse of Buck’s back and winced at the remnants of the fading bruises. The mottled greens and yellows were a testament to how bad the initial bruising had been.

“Bed,” Eddie ordered as he stripped quickly then grabbed the lube. He didn’t want to dwell on Buck’s past injury because it would likely make Buck defensive.

Buck sprawled on the bed.

Eddie took everything in, from the muscular upper body and abs to the big, erect cock, to the toned legs with the scarring Eddie had seen many times. Several times he’d had his hands on that injured leg, rubbing the muscle spasms out. It was one of the few intimacies he’d allowed himself.

Buck was staring at Eddie’s cock. “God, you’re big.”

Eddie grinned, then put a generous portion of lube in his hand and slicked it over himself, more than enough to slick them both up. “I’m going to lie on you, line up our cocks, and then you’re going to let me drive, okay?”

Buck swallowed and nodded.

Eddie slipped on top of Buck, hand going between them to shift their dicks into the right position. Buck felt so fucking good. Eddie gave an experimental thrust and felt Buck shudder underneath him.

He leaned down and claimed Buck’s mouth, the newness of having a man, Buck, in his bed like this—kissing him and being intimate—it was almost more than Eddie could process. He stroked his hand down Buck’s hip then caressed his thigh.

Breaking the kiss, he nipped at Buck’s lower lip. “Wrap your legs around me, baby.”

Buck gasped and met Eddie’s gaze, pupils dilated. He wrapped his long legs around Eddie’s waist then a shudder wracked his whole body.

“You like that?” Eddie murmured against his mouth, hips moving slowly, their cocks sliding together. “You’re open for me. Just me.”

Buck shuddered again, arms clamping around Eddie’s shoulders. “Eddie,” he whimpered, trying to thrust up.

Eddie ground down hard, sliding his dick along Buck’s and against the strong abs. He brought his knees up, giving him more leverage. It also changed the tilt of Buck’s hip, opening him up a little wider.

Buck gasped, head arching back. Eddie licked the line of his throat then sucked a trail from collarbone to jaw. Buck panted his name in a never-ending litany.

Eddie shifted more of his weight to his knees and grabbed Buck’s hands. He kissed both palms then laced their fingers together. “When we’re like this, I want to take your hands—just this way—and press them into the bed, hold you down, fill your senses with nothing but me.”

“Yes,” Buck whispered.

Eddie pressed Buck’s hands against the bed, felt him go lax under his hold. He thrust harder and faster, chasing release. “Are you mine, Evan Buckley?”

Buck shuddered, eyes wide. “Call me that,” he gasped.

Eddie hesitated. He’d always wanted to call Buck by his given name, but Buck had always been adamant about wanting to be Buck.

“Are you mine, Evan?” he whispered against Buck’s lips.

“Yes,” Buck gasped out. “Fuck, Eds. I’ve always been yours.”

Eddie’s orgasm took him by surprise. His hips stuttered as he worked his way through the sensations flooding him. Buck came bare seconds later, legs clamped tight around Eddie’s hips, and hands squeezing Eddie’s until they ached.

Knowing Buck could take the weight, Eddie let himself relax, an occasional shiver racing down his spine. He continued to hold Buck down, thumbs stroking the inside of Buck’s wrists.

He wanted to say something, but all he could manage was to kiss his new lover. Languid kisses were exchanged, and Buck never attempted to escape Eddie’s hold, his legs staying locked around Eddie’s waist.

“You are so perfect,” Eddie said after stealing another lazy kiss. “How can you be this way?”

“I don’t even know what you mean.”

“You’re so open to experiencing things, Evan.” He released Buck’s hands, kissing the inside of both wrists, then he tapped Buck’s thigh to cue him to let go.

Buck seemed reluctant and stayed close when Eddie rolled off him. Eddie grappled for some tissues to make quick work of a perfunctory cleanup. They settled face-to-face, and Eddie trailed his fingertips over Buck’s jaw.

“Tell me why.”

“Why let you call me Evan?”

“You’ve always hated it.”

“I hate the way my parents say my name with such disappointment and disdain. Buck was me breaking away. You’ve never pushed me on that, and I just wanted it. From you.” He shrugged one shoulder. “It was like reclaiming myself. And it felt intimate and about us.”

Eddie moved closer and pressed a lingering kiss to Buck’s mouth. “It is about us. I won’t call you that at work or even much around Christopher.”

Buck smiled, his expression open and happy. Then he looked a bit abashed. “I didn’t think we’d wind up in bed today.”

“If Christopher wasn’t going to be waking up in the next half hour, we wouldn’t be getting out of bed at all.” He squeezed Buck’s hand. “I want you here. I want you in my bed. If I thought it wouldn’t freak you out, I’d say move in. In fact, know the offer is there when you’re ready. No pressure.”

Buck blinked a few times. “I’ll definitely think about that.”

“Good.” Eddie moved in again, sealing their mouths together. “I can’t get enough of kissing you.” Just that one little glimpse into what their sex life could be like made Eddie eager to keep Buck close and preferably in bed, to explore each other until they’d learned every desire. It was so damned good, and it was going to be hard to rein himself in.

“We should get cleaned up properly,” Buck murmured against his mouth.

Eddie pulled him closer. “In a minute. I’ve missed you, and I want to hold you for a while.”

Buck trailed his fingers in idle patterns over Eddie’s back while Eddie sucked a little string of marks along his collarbone.

Eddie pressed another kiss to Buck’s mouth. “You sure?”

Frowning, Buck asked, “About what?”

“Me?” Eddie wasn’t given to insecurity very often, so it always took him by surprise. “Wanting you feels like it’s my natural state of being, but this is new for you. If you need time—”

Buck’s hand settled over Eddie’s mouth. “Even if you won’t trust the words out of my mouth, trust what you know about me. You know how I am when I’m uncertain about something, when I’m forcing it. Am I acting that way, Edmundo?”

Eddie closed his eyes and took a steadying breath. “No, you’re not.” He met Buck’s gaze again. “But being interested in men is new, Buck, and if you needed more time, if you wanted to see other people, that’s okay. I’d hate it, God, would I hate it, but we’d be okay.”

Buck huffed. Dramatically. “At the risk of bringing another man into this situation, I was just recently blowing another guy and having to force myself not to think of you. If I go out with another man, just to spend all night trying not to think of you, I’m honestly not sure which one of us that’s the least fair to: you, me, or this mystery man I’m experimenting with.”

Eddie really didn’t want to talk about Buck’s recent lover, but it was his own fault for bringing it up. “I don’t want that, Buck, I just want you to know it’s not a deal breaker. I’ll give you whatever time you need.”

Buck braced himself up on one elbow so that he was looking down at Eddie, expression serious. “Edmundo Ramon Diaz, we’re only going to have this conversation once: I adore you. I don’t need time to bang other men to know that you’re it for me. Don’t decide that I don’t know my own mind because this is new or because life has been rough lately.”

“I can’t believe you just full-named me,” Eddie said with a grin, his spirits feeling infinitely lighter. “I feel at a disadvantage; I don’t even know what your full name is.”

“Umm.” Buck cleared his throat and rubbed the back of his neck, a tell-tale gesture of uncertainty. “It’s, uh, Evan Christopher Buckley.”

Eddie found himself staring. “Your middle name is Christopher?”

Buck shrugged. “I always thought it weird when people meet each other and try to make artificial connections through similar names or birthdays or whatever. And then it never came up.”

“Christopher is going to—”

“He knows.”

“He knows?” Eddie wasn’t sure why that was so shocking for him.

“Chris asked me my middle name and birthday more than a year ago. He thinks it’s awesome we have so much in common, and he likes that it’s his and my little secret. I told him that Bobby and Maddie know my middle name, but no one else does.”

Eddie found himself smiling again. “You two are so much alike. I can’t believe he managed to keep that to himself for so long.” He cocked his head and considered for a second. “There’s some other reason why you didn’t say anything, isn’t there?”

“I just…” Buck blew out a breath. “We’re so tight, you and me, and people would jump to the conclusion that you named your kid after me, Eds. I didn’t want to be correcting their bad assumptions all the time.”

Eddie could see how Buck would want to avoid having that conversation with virtual strangers, but it didn’t explain why Buck didn’t want to have the conversation with him. He suspected that Buck felt vulnerable about being so invested in the Diazes.

He rolled them so Buck was under him again then framed Buck’s face with his hands. “When I left for Afghanistan the first time, before Shannon was even a thing in my life, my Abuela gave me a St. Christopher medal to wear close to my heart.”

Buck’s gaze flicked to the medal that was dangling between them, now resting on Buck’s chest. Eddie wore it most of the time. Then their gazes met again.

“I asked her why because he’s the patron saint of travelers, and St. Michael is the traditional patron saint of the military. Abuela told me I needed protection from the things that had me unsettled, the things that were driving me from home. She felt like I was wandering, and that St. Christopher would help me find my way.

“The first time I held Chris, my beautiful son, I felt like I’d finally found my way, which is why I wanted to name him Christopher, my guiding light no matter how lost I might be. I never quite knew how to make anyone happy except for him. I was lost as a husband, and my family’s expectations were always more than I could bear.

“After Shannon left, I thought I was lost again, Buck. Then I met you, and every time I thought things were going to pull me under, there you were. You had my back, you had my kid’s back, and you just made everything work. It was like finding my way in the dark again.”

Buck’s eyes were filled with tears that weren’t falling yet. One slipped out and Eddie kissed it away.

“I don’t know if I believe in fate, but I can’t help but think you and I are meant to be. You’re my light in the darkness.” He pressed a lingering kiss to Buck’s lips, practically able to feel the emotion that was causing Buck to tremble under Eddie’s hands. “You could have no more perfect name, Evan Christopher Buckley.”

They stayed like that until Eddie couldn’t ignore the fact that his son would be waking any time. They reluctantly pulled apart and packed away some of the heavier emotions so they could be there for Christopher.

When they were redressed, they switched to the living room sofa to wait for Christopher to wake. Eddie immediately pulled Buck back into his arms because he wasn’t ready to let go.

They talked softly, agreeing to live in their private bubble tomorrow—no painful conversations, just the three of them with no outside interruptions. Eddie had a shift on Monday and Chris would be back in school at Karen’s. The world would catch up with them then, whether they wanted it to or not.

Chapter Two

Eddie woke when Buck slipped out of his arms and then the bed. It felt like it was still early, so he rolled over and peered at the clock as the bathroom door snicked shut. It was half past four in the morning.

He usually woke Christopher at six, dragging his own ass out of bed fifteen minutes before that. He figured he could get another seventy-five minutes of sleep or stay awake and do filthy things to his lover before they were parted for the next twenty-four hours for Eddie’s shift.

It was really no contest.

Saturday, Buck’s first day home, had been great, but full of emotional highs and lows that Eddie found difficult to deal with because he wasn’t used to that kind of thing—emotionalism wasn’t his forte, and he knew it. Sunday, however, had been the sort of domestic bliss Eddie had never encountered before. He and Shannon had never had an easy home routine. As much as they’d loved each other, it felt like they were always arguing about something when Eddie was home on leave. More often than not, it was all the things Eddie was doing wrong.

Buck was easy to be around in ways Eddie hadn’t experienced with anyone else. He’d insisted on helping Christopher knock out his homework right after breakfast, then they’d spent the rest of the day doing whatever struck their fancy. Mostly, just being together as a family. They’d disclosed to Christopher that he and Buck were a couple now, and Christopher had given them a barely patient look and informed them that he had eyes, thank you very much.

They’d taken the opportunity and gone to bed right after Christopher, having a very satisfying night of making out and mutual blowjobs. Buck had joked that Eddie had way more dick that Buck had mouth, which had Eddie laughing so hard that he’d gotten a cramp. Buck may have been new to giving head, but he was picking it up damn fast. Eddie certainly had no complaints.

When the door to the bathroom opened, Eddie switched places with Buck, dropping a kiss on his shoulder as he passed. “Lock the door, and don’t go back to sleep.”

Buck arched a brow but didn’t say a word. They’d agreed to keep the door locked during any sexual activity but would always try to remember to unlock it afterward in case Christopher needed them at night.

When Eddie returned to the bed, Buck was sprawled on his back, gloriously naked, half hard, and his head was propped on his bent arm. “Something on your mind?”

Eddie crawled onto the bed from the foot, kneeling by Buck’s hip. He slid his hands over Buck’s strong thighs then up to his hips. His cock twitched and filled out. “I want to explore you a little. Is there anywhere you don’t want me to touch?”

Buck’s breath hitched, and he moved into Eddie’s touch. He stared at Eddie for long moments. “No, but we should probably discuss something first.”

Abandoning the soft abdominal skin he’d been teasing, he slipped up to lie next to Buck, draping his arm and leg over his lover, pulling him close. “What’s on your mind?” Even though these types of intimacies with a man were so new to Eddie, they felt so right with Buck. He loved the closeness and the affection that had been missing in his life for so long.

“When I was in Texas, I figured I’d eventually want to try,” Buck cleared his throat, “anal penetration.”

Eddie just raised a brow. He knew Buck hadn’t gone there with the guy in Texas; he’d gotten the details of both encounters out of Buck and then set out to make better memories in Buck’s mind.

“I’d done my research…”

Eddie chuckled. “Yeah, I know you and your research.”

“So, I knew not all men are into it. I thought it’d be better if I tried some experiments on my own.” Buck fidgeted a little.

Eddie tightened his arm. “And…? Buck, you can tell me anything. If you don’t like it—”

“I did!” Buck blurted out. “That wasn’t the problem. I mean, the angle is a little weird for doing that to yourself or whatever, so I can see why people would prefer toys.”

Smiling, Eddie began leaving little kisses along Buck’s jawline. “If you enjoyed it, despite the weird angle, I think you’ll really enjoy it when you’re not having to work for it. In any case, I’m not proposing we fuck this morning. I’d want to take my time with you, and we have barely more than an hour now. I was thinking a couple of fingers if you were up for it.”

“Eddie—” Buck broke off and huffed, staring at the ceiling.

“What?” Eddie pulled back and leaned up on his elbow. “Is something wrong?”

“I enjoyed it, but I also lost my erection,” Buck stated baldly.

Those two things didn’t usually go together. Men who enjoyed prostate stimulation typically found it an enhancement to erectile function. “You know that doesn’t matter, right?”

“It doesn’t?”

“No. Orgasms and erections aren’t actually connected. If you enjoy it and eventually find that it enhances things for you, then it doesn’t really matter what’s going on with your dick.”

Buck looked uncertain.

“Cariño…” He leaned in and took Buck’s mouth in a quick, hard kiss, liking the novelty of Buck using a lemon toothpaste instead of mint or cinnamon. “We know your dick works. So, when you’re ready to fuck me, if you want to maintain your erection, I guess you’ll have to do it without a plug in your ass.”

Buck made a choking sound, which was a prelude to outright laughing. “Oh my god, I was not expecting that.” He pulled Eddie down for a more serious good-morning kiss. Their tongues tangled and slid against one another, lazy at first then with growing heat.

Eddie broke the kiss to work his way down Buck’s throat, loving how Buck arched up into it. The sensitivity of Buck’s neck had been a delight for Eddie during their make-out sessions yesterday. Buck was also particularly sensitive over his hipbones and along his inner thighs.

He stopped at Buck’s nipple, sucking at it firmly. Buck’s nipples were less sensitive than Eddie’s, so Eddie was able to use a little more force.

Buck arched against his mouth. “Harder, Eds,” he demanded breathlessly.

Eddie obliged, getting his teeth into play. He slid more fully onto Buck’s strong body and gave the same attention to the other nipple, feeling Buck’s hard cock twitch against his ribs. When he continued his journey south, he looked up and briefly met Buck’s gaze.

“I won’t penetrate you this morning, but I’m going to touch you. All right, Evan?”

Buck nodded tightly.

He was really becoming preoccupied with the idea of fucking Buck, so he was eager to move them forward in their sexual explorations. He worked his way down Buck’s body, nudging his legs apart and settling into the space. Buck’s hard cock was right in his face, and he licked a long stripe from root to tip, getting a wanton moan for his efforts.

Buck’s cock was thick and heavy, cut, and slightly darker than the rest of his skin. The head was a rosy pink that was utterly captivating. He took Buck’s cock in his mouth, working his way slowly down the length as he used one hand to hold Buck’s hips still.

Eddie had never been big on sucking cock, but mostly because of how intimate the act felt to him, not because he had an aversion to it. He didn’t mind intimacy with Buck. In fact, he craved it, so he had no issue blowing his lover.

He rolled the tight balls in his palm, kneading gently as he measured Buck’s reactions, then slid his fingers back. He rubbed along the perineum from where it was firm until it became softer and more giving, then he pressed and began to massage.

Buck gasped and arched up, jerking like he’d been electrocuted. Eddie was pleased by the response and hummed around the cock in his mouth. He registered that Buck was losing his erection the longer Eddie pressed externally on his prostate. He’d thought Buck’s past reaction to ass play must have been a combination of nerves, lack of experience, and awkward positioning, but this was specifically not that.

He slid his fingers further back to circle the tight hole, getting another ragged gasp and the distinct sensation of Buck’s cock getting a little stiffer against his tongue. Eddie decided to experiment by going between the two, hopefully not sticking with either for long enough for Buck to notice that it was an experiment. Consistently, Buck’s cock started to soften when Eddie applied external pressure to his prostate. And while Buck clearly liked to be touched around his hole, he reacted more strongly to prostate pressure.

Eddie got serious about sucking the cock filling him and focused solely on prostate stimulation. It didn’t take long, maybe a minute, before Buck was completely soft in his mouth.

“Eds,” Buck panted out.

He looked up and their gazes met. Buck was gasping for air, pupils dilated, muscles quivering. It was easy to see that Buck was confused by what was going on with his own body, maybe even a little dismayed by it. Eddie needed Buck to know this was not a problem as far as he was concerned.

Eddie sucked hard at the head of Buck’s cock, pressing firmly with his fingers and holding the pressure in the way that got the best reaction. Buck moaned as he trembled and came, filling Eddie’s mouth with his release. Eddie swallowed him down then continued sucking and rubbing at his prostate, wanting to see how his lover responded to a little overstimulation.

Buck gasped for breath, boneless on the bed, sweat glinting on his skin in the soft light from the lamp. Then he began to whimper. Tremors started up in his legs, then traveled to encompass his whole body. Buck was shaking like a leaf as he planted his feet on the bed for leverage and tried to grind against Eddie’s fingers.

Buck was trying to get more.

Unable to take it for even a second longer, Eddie pulled away, getting to his knees and taking his cock in hand. It only took two strokes before he was coming messily all over Buck’s belly. He took several gasping breaths then gathered some of the cum off of Buck’s body and slicked it over Buck’s cock, stroking firmly.

“Eddie!”

“Get hard. I want you to come again.”

Buck panted and whimpered but he didn’t say anything. It was only a minute or two before Eddie felt Buck’s cock twitching in his hand, his erection returning. Eddie continued to stroke mercilessly until Buck was fully hard and pushing up to meet his strokes, chasing his release. Eddie reached down and pressed three fingers against Buck’s prostate.

Buck’s back bowed off the bed, and he stopped breathing. The cock in Eddie’s hand was softening fractionally as Buck came for the second time.

Eddie should probably be horrified at himself, but he found this quirk of Buck’s to be as arousing as anything he’d ever experienced. To be fair, he had no fucks to give about the fact that he found everything about Evan Buckley to be a turn on.

He continued stroking Buck gently until Buck tried to twitch away from him. Then he pressed a lingering kiss to Buck’s mouth before hopping out of bed to get a cloth to clean them up.

A couple of minutes later, they were back under the covers, and he had Buck pulled tightly to his chest. “It really doesn’t matter, Evan,” he murmured against Buck’s ear. “Your body works how it works, and as long as you enjoyed it, that’s all I care about.”

Buck’s fingers tightened on his bicep. “I…” He hid his face in Eddie’s shoulder. “It was so hot. I’ve never come so hard before. But it seems weird.”

“It’s only weird if we make it weird. You can still come, you can still fuck. Does it matter whether or not your dick is hard every time when you get off?”

“I guess not.” Buck tilted his head back and finally met Eddie’s gaze. “No.”

“Good.” He dropped a kiss on that perfect, pink mouth. “Honestly, it turned me on. I don’t even know why. Maybe it’s that I’ve never had that experience before, or maybe it was that no one else will ever touch you like that or see you react that way.”

Buck stilled.

“What? Did I say something wrong?”

No one else?” Buck pressed a kiss right over Eddie’s heart. “You’re really thinking of us as forever, aren’t you?”

“Hell, yes.” He squeezed Buck to him tighter. “Aren’t you?”

“It’s what I want, but I’m honestly not used to getting what I want.”

“I’ll give you everything I am for as long as you’ll have me.”

“Wow.” Buck blinked at him several times. “You’re really all in.”

“Yeah, I am. I told you I wouldn’t rush you, but I want you living here. I want you in my bed every night. When you’re ready for that, you tell me.”

“Okay.” Buck settled his head back on Eddie’s chest. “Thanks,” he whispered.

Eddie pressed a kiss to the top of his head. “We’ve got about twenty minutes before we have to get Chris up. Can I ask you a question?”

“You can ask me whatever you want.”

“You mentioned your sex thing.”

“Uh-huh.”

“But on Saturday, when you were talking to Chris, you said you struggled with picking up subtext. It seems like if you’re picking up people’s sexual preferences pretty accurately by watching them move and interact with others that you’re picking up subtext just fine.”

“Literary subtext is not at all the same thing as body language.”

“True, but it still seems like this sex thing is a finely honed skill.”

Buck was quiet for a long time before he offered, “I think I was seven the first time I picked up on a vibe from someone.”

“What?” Eddie stiffened in shock. “Buck, I’m so sorry. You don’t—”

“No, it’s okay. It’s not wherever your head just went. Or maybe it is a little bit.”

“I’m almost afraid to know where you think my head went…?”

“My mom has one biological brother,” Buck said cautiously, “and he used to come around a lot. He always felt weird to me. Creepy as fuck, you know?”

“Towards you?”

“No, towards Maddie. He actually tried to do something with her once, but Maddie was fierce, and kicked him right in the balls.”

Eddie gave a startled laugh. “Good for her.”

“Right? Anyway, she was no shrinking violet about her own uncle creeping on her, so she went right to our parents. And while they were absent for most things, they weren’t putting up with that. My father wanted him arrested, but my mother talked it down to just running him out of town. And I do mean literally running him out of town. They threatened to ruin him professionally if he didn’t leave Pennsylvania. Last I heard, he was living in Michigan or something.

“At the time, Maddie tried to explain it to me, but I was so confused. I was too young to even really get the concept of sex, but once I did, I realized the wrong vibe I’d gotten from him was his sexual attraction to her. I think I was about twelve when I fully understood that sex could be weaponized to hurt.”

“God, Buck, what a fucked-up revelation at twelve.”

“It’s not like it’s something I’m aware of constantly. I have to actually pay attention to someone and want to know.” He made a face. “I just wanted to protect my sister if more creeps came around. And while I hated Doug and got possessive off him like whoa, he came across pretty vanilla and boring in the sex department. I knew she wasn’t happy, but I thought she was safe.”

“Sex radar and violence radar aren’t the same thing.”

“Tell me about it.” Buck ran his hand in idle patterns over Eddie’s chest. “And then when I was traveling on my own for so many years, it was really important to register people’s intent sometimes. Women were a problem on occasion, but the men were the bigger issue. I talked to a lot of people as I traveled, but sometimes someone would approach me and act like they just wanted to be friends, but I’d just know that they were after something else.”

“Like sex?”

“Sex I could blow off. Straight sex isn’t really threatening. Well, not to a guy my size. I get how it’s different for women.” Buck took a deep breath. “I called in an anonymous tip once on this guy I met in a roadside diner.”

“Why? What was it about him?”

“I was pretty sure I’d had lunch with a sexual sadist. Like, hard core. He was trying to get me to go to some rodeo with him.”

“Rodeo?” Eddie repeated dumbly.

“Long story. He made my skin crawl, and I was so certain that I was going to wind up dead if I went anywhere with him. He just radiated ‘I’m gonna get off on killing you.’ It was disgusting.”

Eddie’s brow furrowed and he began running his fingers through Buck’s hair. “That must have been disturbing.”

Buck nodded. “A few days later, he was in the news. The police had picked him up. He was ultimately convicted for killing six men, but they suspected him of killing an unknown number more.”

“What?” Eddie flipped them so Buck was on his back and Eddie was braced above him. “A serial killer was stalking you?”

Buck nodded. “I never questioned my gut reaction to someone again. Not that kind of gut reaction, anyway. I miss the mark sometimes about people’s interests, I think, but I trust my gut about people like that.”

“So, you have a finely honed sex radar because of danger.” Eddie felt a little nauseated. “Okay, well, I can see how that’s a different scenario than literary subtext.” He let their foreheads rest together. “I know that was a long time ago, but I’m terrified.”

“It really was a long time ago.”

“How old were you?”

“Twenty-one.”

“Fuck.” Eddie let his weight rest on Buck, burying his face against Buck’s throat. “Have you ever told anyone?”

“No. It’s crazy. Though the anonymous tip part was in all the reporting. The FBI attributed it to one of his potential victims probably getting a bad vibe from him.”

“Accurate,” Eddie mumbled against Buck’s skin and forced himself to get control again. He sprawled out over Buck, enjoying the reversal of Buck’s fingers gliding through his hair. “So you never turned your superpower on the people at work?”

“Not really.” Buck’s fingers stilled briefly. “Well, except for you. Man, that should have been a big old clue to myself.”

Eddie chuckled. “I guess so.” He looked up, resting his chin on Buck’s shoulder. “You coming by the station today?”

“I think so. I want to surprise everyone, so no telling I’m back until I get there. Thought I’d drop Chris’ off at Karen’s, say hi, swear her and the boys to secrecy for a couple of hours.”

“Sounds like a rock-solid plan.” He stole a kiss. “And it means I get a few more minutes with my favorite guys because I don’t have to go the wrong direction to take Chris to school before my shift.”

“I’ll text you before I head over to make sure you’re not on a call.”

– – – –

Buck hovered out of sight as Chris rang Karen’s doorbell.

“Hey, Christopher. Where’s your dad?”

“He went to work. I got a ride with a friend.”

“A friend?” Karen sounded perplexed.

Buck stepped into view. “Morning, Karen.”

“Buck!” Karen screeched, skirting around Chris to practically jump on Buck. “You’re home!”

He returned her hug, though he had a niggle of unease. Buck was vaccinated but Karen wasn’t, and certainly none of the kids were. He was careful who he was around, and wore his mask around anyone not family, but COVID felt like always walking the razor’s edge when it came to risk. Karen was in the same bubble with the kids though, so he forced himself not to fret about it.

“I’m going to surprise everyone at the station in a little bit.”

“Buck!” came a duo of voices as Harry and Denny ran outside. “You’re back!” He let both kids glomp onto him. Christopher watched, giggling at his friends’ antics.

“Come inside, you can help me get the kids started on their classes and then we can have some coffee.”

As soon as they were in the house, Nia threw up her hands. “Buck!” She toddled toward him, and he picked her up, getting squeezed tightly around the neck.

“Hey, Miss Nia.” He looked to Karen. “I half figured she’d have forgotten me in the last month.”

“The boys have pictures of you up all the time. She wasn’t going to forget your face.” She waved toward the living room. “The boys know what to do, but try to exhaust them for a few minutes while I make coffee.”

It was a good fifteen minutes before the three boys were done with a preliminary catch-up with Buck and had started their classes. Buck scooped Nia up and headed into the kitchen.

Karen gestured to his face. “You can lose the mask, baby. I’ll sit on my side of the table. Though I figure you haven’t been in town long enough to get any first responder germs.”

“Unless I got them from Eddie.”

One brow shot up. “Oh?”

He slipped his mask off and doctored his coffee. “I got here Friday night, actually. Spent the weekend with Chris and Eddie. Got tested on my way out of town though, just to be sure I’m not carrying it, and it was negative.”

She gave him a sad look. “I know the special segment from Taylor Kelly hit everyone hard.”

“Yeah.” Buck shook his head. “I was planning to be gone another ten days or so, but I just had to be here. I needed to see Eddie and give Chris the biggest hug known to man.”

Karen let Nia off her lap so the little girl could run around the kitchen. “I understand. Hen came home the next morning and cried all over me. I was honestly a little shocked at how little the rest of your squad knew about what happened that day.”

“I never wanted to talk about it. To me, the day was all about losing Christopher and the hours of terror spent trying to find him. I didn’t want to relive that.”

“You saved so many people, and even if I think what Taylor and your parents did was really terrible, those people have earned the right to say, ‘thank you, Evan Buckley.’”

“Karen,” Buck mumbled, feeling self-conscious.

“It’s true. They survived what was probably the worst day of their lives because of you. Let them be grateful.”

“God, you sound like Eddie.”

“He said the same thing about it?”

“Not exactly,” Buck hedged.

“Ah. He said the same thing about Christopher.”

Buck tapped his nose in acknowledgment and sipped his coffee.

“I’d feel the same way. There are degrees of good outcomes. The best, and probably the most selfish outcome, is that neither of you were there at all. And I say it’s selfish because of how much sheer good you did that day. But of the other good outcomes, any day that ends with you and Christopher alive is a good one. I know it hurts you, and I don’t mean to diminish that, but if you’re going to hold on to the pain, at least work on letting in some of the good too. People lived because you are well-trained and kept your head in a crisis. I know you’re upset at the news report, but you need to make peace with other people having a different perspective on what happened.”

“You’re right. I can’t control other people’s experiences.”

She gave him a sympathetic look. “You worried about running into your parents?”

“No. When I go back to work, I’m going to make sure Bobby knows I don’t want them allowed in the station. He’s already said something about them being banned, but I want to make sure. I selfishly wish they’d just gone back to Hershey, but I know they’re here for Maddie through the birth of the baby. I wouldn’t be surprised if they stayed for months.”

Karen shook her head. “It’s terrible.”

“All I need is for them to leave me alone, and they can do whatever they want with as they wait for Maddie’s kid.” He scowled. “Except talk to reporters.”

“At the risk of opening a wound here, I was surprised they knew about the train thing. Hen told me that was secret.”

“It was, and I surely didn’t tell them. Maddie had to have brought up the train and the tsunami stuff.”

“Oh, sweetie, I’m so sorry. Are you sure?”

Buck blew out a breath. “The day before I left, the morning after that big fire, they showed up at the station.”

“Hen mentioned it; she told me about them a little.”

“They’d never had one good thing to say about my work before that day, and all of a sudden, they were singing my praises about how I’d saved people and how I good I was at my job.” He dragged his hands through his hair. “I’m not stupid; I knew Maddie had been trying to talk me up to make them proud of me, but I had no idea that she’d told them about the train or the tsunami.”

“They knew before you left?”

“I’m pretty sure. Their reversal about me and my career choices was abrupt, and their claims of being proud didn’t ring true. It felt superficial.”

“So, you suspected Maddie had put them up to it?”

“I think Maddie is desperate to prove to me that they love me.”

“And she thinks she can achieve that by pushing them?” Karen shook her head. “Buck, I’m going to tell you something, and I want you to really listen. Your parents shouldn’t need to know about a single life you’ve saved to be proud of you. You are a good man, a selfless man who has dedicated his life to serving others. I think it’s proof that Maddie’s very emotionally compromised that their behavior with that interview wasn’t a death knell.”

He nodded, struggling with what to do with these feelings. He’d suspected since they’d come to the station that Maddie had primed the pump with his parents, trying to force them to recognize Buck’s accomplishments. It gave him more ammunition, in a way, because Karen was right; they shouldn’t have to be told how to be proud of him or the right way to love him. And, as far as he knew, Maddie still couldn’t see that it was a problem.

He knew he needed to start talking to Maddie soon; it was tearing him up to be estranged from her, but the proof of how destructive Maddie could be when she was trying to get her way had aired all over TV on Wednesday night. He knew Maddie didn’t mean for that to happen, but if she hadn’t been engaged in a propaganda campaign to get his parents to be decent, they’d have never known enough to inflict that on him. More importantly, on Eddie and Christopher.

Maddie was freaked by what she’d seen, as evidenced by the multiple emails and text messages she’d sent, all of which were sitting unread still. Why she was freaked out remained to be seen.

Karen gave him a sympathetic look. “At the risk of changing the subject…”

“Please do.”

She reached out and patted his hand. “Tell me about that hickey.”

Buck adjusted the collar of his Henley and blushed.

Karen laughed at him.

– – – –

Buck was in his Jeep and just about to text Eddie when his phone rang, Carlos’ name flashing across the screen. It startled him so badly, he dropped his phone and barely retrieved it from the wheel well before it went to voicemail.

“Hello? Carlos?” Buck had texted Judd when he’d arrived on Friday night and again on Saturday morning, promising to be in touch after the weekend. Judd was the person responsible for updating the group chat, so it was a surprise to hear from Carlos so soon. Buck had promised to join in the group chat again when he was settled a little more.

Hey, Buck.” Carlos sounded exhausted. “Some stuff happened, and I thought I should let you know directly.”

“What’s wrong?”

It’s all fine now, but TK is in the hospital. He’s being discharged later today.”

“What happened?” Buck enunciated slowly.

He was kidnapped yesterday.” Carlos sounded desolate.

“Kidnapped?” Buck repeated in a near-screech. “What the fuck?!”

It was some really incompetent bank robbers. One of them had gotten injured and needed medical attention. They decided to kidnap three paramedics rather than go to the hospital; they took TK, Tommy, and Nancy. Tommy and Nancy are fine, but TK was pistol-whipped. He spent the night in the hospital.” Carlos blew out a breath. “God, Buck, Owen and I got there barely in time.”

“Holy shit, Carlos. How are you holding up?”

I’m just glad TK is okay.”

“Not my question, man. If TK is going home after one night of observation, I know he’s fine. How are you.”

There was a long pause. “I almost lost him. I don’t know what I would have done.”

Buck thought through Eddie having Buck talk through the details of the tsunami. He wasn’t sure if that was helpful or not, but he knew it did help to not be carrying that alone anymore. “Do you want to talk me through everything that happened?”

Nah, it’s okay. I just wanted to let you know—

“Carlos,” Buck interrupted. “Tell me what happened.” He could almost feel how Carlos needed to talk this out.

Eventually Carlos broke and told Buck every detail of the day, starting with the supposed bank robber Carlos had let go at the risk of his own career. Carlos’ had turned out to be right and the guy was coerced into robbing the bank for the real perpetrators. But the whole affair had put Carlos at odds with his own father, a Texas Ranger in charge of the case, and made Carlos doubt his own competence. Then Carlos’ lover had wound up being in the line of fire and nearly murdered.

And you know what the sad thing in all that was?” Carlos said on bitter laugh.

“I think there’s more than one sad thing, but what specifically are you talking about?”

My dad has known since he met TK at the farmer’s market that he’s my boyfriend.”

“You mean when you introduced him as your coworker?”

Yeah, apparently we weren’t fooling anyone. I put TK through all that self-doubt when my parents knew the whole time. They’re expecting me to bring him to dinner.”

“Well, good. That’s not sad, Carlos, it’s great. It’s one less obstacle when you’re ready to propose because you know TK was never going to say yes before he’d met your parents as your boyfriend.”

Propose,” Carlos repeated on a squeak.

“Don’t play dumb. You’re gone on him, plus you’re a die-hard romantic with a major desire for commitment. If you’re not already thinking about forever with him, I’ll eat Judd’s cowboy hat.”

Silence reigned for several seconds then Carlos heaved a tragic sigh. “I want to marry him so badly.”

“Just ask him.”

Ugh. His parents are splitting up. The timing isn’t great.”

Buck pulled the phone away from his ear and stared at it for a second before putting it back up so he could hear. “Say what now? Didn’t they just get back together? Aren’t they having a baby?”

Yeah, well, turns out it’s not Owen’s baby. It’s Enzo’s. That’s the guy she married after Owen, and she divorced him before the pandemic.”

“Wow. Major plot twist.”

Right? Anyway, she’s moving back to New York, and while TK does think his parents are better not married to one another, he’s not happy to see his mother leaving. I’m not sure proposing anywhere near this clusterfuck is a good idea.”

“Maybe. You know him better than me, so…”

Carlos blew out a breath. “Thanks for letting me talk, Buck. I’ve been so keyed up, and I know I’m driving TK crazy.”

“Just go hold his hand, but don’t give him the tragic eyes. He’s okay. And tell him to call me when his headache subsides.”

Yeah, will do. Before you go… What happened when you got home? I don’t suppose you and Eddie talked?”

“We did, actually.”

And? Damn, Buck, don’t make me beg here. If you have good relationship news, TK could definitely use the pick-me-up.”

“Then you can tell TK that Eddie and I are now Buck&Eddie. If were a ship, we’d be Buddie,” he said on a laugh.

Yes! I knew it.”

“But if you could keep that between the two of you for a few days? Give us time to get the word out around here.”

I hear you. The social media addiction with this group is real.” There was a brief pause. “Congratulations, my friend. I can’t think of anyone who deserves it more.”

“Thanks, Carlos.”

Chapter Three

Buck: You guys at the station?

Eddie: Half shift at the airport. Other half at a car accident. I’m at the airport. Wrapping up though. You done?

Buck: Yep. Talked to Karen for a while.
Buck: Will probably run by the apartment and get my mail.
Buck: Let me know when you’re headed back to the station.

Eddie: Will do.
Eddie: Hey. You remember that guy we pulled from the plane engine?

Buck: The one who should have been dead but was saved by some high-quality golf clubs? The luckiest son of a bitch to ever grace the tarmac?
Buck: Of course I remember him. Some things you don’t forget.

Eddie: He’s why we’re at the airport.
Eddie: Well, half of why. Flight attendant lost it and… Never mind that part. Long story. He wound up with a champagne cork in his throat.

Buck: He swallowed it?

Eddie: No, it got launched into his throat.

Buck: Holy shit. You sure it’s the same guy?

Eddie: Yeah. Positive.

Buck: Man, tell him he needs to find a new job.

Eddie: LOL. I’ll see you soon.

Buck: Wait. You sure about telling everyone? About us?

Eddie: Positive. Now that I can touch you, I won’t be able to keep it under wraps. I’m not going to make out with you in public, I’m not saying that, but I know me. I’m gonna crowd you on the couch and probably climb in your bunk. I like touching you too much to be able to keep this from them.

Buck: Square deal. Luvu. BTW. Have I ever told you how cute I think it is that you use commas when you text??

Buck put his phone away, a warm feeling filling his chest. He’d never had anyone want him that way, and it felt good.

He drove over to his apartment, not really surprised to find Albert at home.

Albert’s excitement at Buck’s return was endearing. They chatted for a few minutes while Buck went through the mail, tossing all the junk mail immediately and finding most of the first-class mail not worth his time either. Mail was so antiquated; he wasn’t sure why they still had to deal with it.

“Give me a few minutes and I’ll change your sheets and clear my stuff out of the loft.” Albert gave a bright smile and headed for the stairs.

“No need.” Buck hadn’t seen any reason to leave Albert on the sofa while he was gone for a month, so he’d let Albert move upstairs. “I’m staying with Eddie for a bit. I’m going to grab a few more things today, but I’ll let you know when I’m coming home.” He was already addicted to sleeping in the same bed with Eddie, so he didn’t anticipate a permanent move back home at all, but it would be weird to sleep on his own sofa if he did decide to stay at the loft for a night or two. It was too complicated a discussion right now and not a problem he needed to solve today.

“You sure? Everything okay?”

Buck hesitated. “You saw the news?”

Albert nodded, looking like he didn’t know what to say.

“That was rough for Eddie. I’ve never talked to him about the tsunami, and it’s stirred up some stuff. We just need to work through it.” Buck didn’t want to leave Albert out of the news about his relationship, considering they were telling almost everyone else today. Also, Albert had become a friend. “And I’m going to tell you something a few hours ahead of the rest of the team. Well, assuming they don’t wind up on back-to-back calls all day. Think you can keep it between us until I give you the all clear? I want Chimney to hear it from me directly.”

“Of course, Buck. I wouldn’t want to keep a secret forever, but I can keep quiet for today. I’ve got plans today anyway.”

“Eddie and I got together, so we’re going to tell everyone about it.”

Albert threw up his hands. “Finally! What took you two so long?”

Buck’s mouth fell open. “Are you serious?”

“What? You two are like soulmates or something. It was weird that you two weren’t already involved. I figured sexuality was the issue, but I’m glad you’ve sorted yourselves out. You deserve to be happy.”

“Thanks, Albert.” Buck felt pleased by the wholehearted acceptance.

“Anytime. So, do you think you’re moving in?”

“Not sure yet, but I’m definitely staying there for a little while. I’ll keep you posted about my plans. Join me upstairs. You can fill me in on what’s been happening while I pack my work clothes.”

Albert told him about the girl down the hall he’d started seeing while Buck was away. Her name was Veronica. Buck refrained from asking if they’d been fucking in his bed. Ignorance was bliss.

– – – –

Buck knew from Eddie’s texts that the half of the squad who were sent to the airport were back, and the group from the car accident were still on scene. Bobby had started lunch, however, so it seemed like a good time to sneak in.

He parked in his usual spot and headed inside. Darian Anders, the guy covering for him from the 147, was the only one near the truck bay.

Anders was busy going through equipment in the truck. He spotted Buck almost immediately, eyes going wide.

Buck held a finger to his lips, making a shh motion.

Nodding, Anders smiled and tilted his head toward the loft.

Over the weekend, Eddie had been forthcoming about having a few stress-relief sessions with Anders. Buck didn’t have it in him to be jealous, but he’d be keeping an eye on Anders’ behavior to make sure there weren’t some secret feelings being harbored. As long as it had just been stress fucking, he wouldn’t have an issue.

Buck stepped closer and softly said, “How’s it going?”

“Good,” Anders replied, equally soft. “They’ll be glad you’re here. You coming back to work?”

He shrugged one shoulder. “Eventually. Gotta talk to Cap. Everyone else upstairs?”

“DeKay is in the supply closet, but everyone else is in the loft, yeah.”

“See you at lunch.” He clapped Anders on the shoulder and made for the stairs.

It was Hen who saw him first, flailing out from under a huge medical text from her seat on the sofa. She didn’t say anything, just launched herself at him. But it was enough commotion to get everyone’s attention. Eddie stayed seated, smiling softly at him.

Buck was held tight in Hen’s arms when Chimney made a kind of wounded noise as he stepped close. “Buck…”

Hen wasn’t letting go, so Buck just held out a hand. “Hey.”

Chim held onto his hand. “It’s good to see you.”

“You too, Chim.”

Hen sniffed and finally released Buck from her iron hold. She shoved him Chimney’s direction, and Buck was immediately enveloped in a tight hug, reminding him just how much strength Chim was hiding in his smaller frame.

Chim eventually held him at arms’ length. “You back for good?”

“Yep. I needed to be here more than I needed to be away.”

“Good. We need you, and I don’t just mean for the work.”

Buck nodded, not sure what to say.

Bobby was hovering near the kitchen, looking a little anxious. Buck pulled away from Chim and approached his captain. “Hey, Bobby. Need some help with lunch?”

He was yanked into another crushing hug. “It’s so damn good to see you,” Bobby whispered. After a couple of seconds, he released his hold on Buck. “Yes, I’d love some help.” His glaze flicked to Eddie. “I gather Eddie already knew…?”

“Well, I had to conspire with someone to surprise you guys.” He didn’t want to mislead anyone. “And the reason I cut my trip short was the Taylor Kelly thing.” He’d been texting with Bobby, Athena, and Hen off and on since the airing, but he hadn’t told any of them his plans. “After that, the people I needed to see the most were Eddie and Chris. I’ve been at Eddie’s place for a couple of days.”

Bobby nodded. “I’m just glad you’re home safe. Come mash the potatoes.”

Buck rolled up his sleeves and got to work, aware of everyone moving closer and keeping a close eye on him. DeKay showed up and gave him a cheerful greeting and a quick hug, but it wasn’t as emotional as his core team. DeKay had joined a few months after Eddie, but he was as likely to be split off with the other part of A-shift, working with Stover, Calley, Logan, Mary, and Edwards. As a result, he hadn’t formed as tight of a bond with Buck and the others.

Anders headed up when lunch was close to done, but he looked a little awkward. Hen’s concerned glances told Buck this wasn’t typical behavior, so Buck roped him into helping finish up lunch to give him something to do.

Eddie continued to stay in the background, and Buck had a suspicion it was because of Eddie’s stated inability to not out their relationship if they were in close proximity. He was letting Buck get settled with everyone before revealing it.

The rest of the shift showed up, and Buck greeted them from the kitchen, accepting a side hug from Stover, the guy he was closest with who rode on the other truck.

Once the food was ready, Buck sat next to Eddie. That wasn’t necessarily unusual, but he more often than not sat across from him. Eddie got the clue and slung his arm around Buck’s shoulders.

Hen stared, eyes narrowed. “You two look cozy.”

That got everyone’s attention.

Eddie just raised a brow, but Buck smiled, unable to help himself.

Hen dropped her fork. “Really? Dammit, Athena! How does she always know?!”

Bobby looked down the table at him. “You two finally got together?”

Buck nodded.

Bobby huffed and took an aggressive bite of his pot roast. “She’s going to be insufferable.” Then he pointed his knife at them. “You’ll have to sign waivers if you want to remain on the same shift, and we’ll need to have a conversation about what I expect from you. That said, my felicitations.”

Chim seemed flabbergasted. DeKay high-fived Hen.

Buck was confused about the Athena thing.

“Was there really a betting pool?” Eddie asked dryly.

“No way!” Buck looked around at everyone else, utterly stunned. “Since when?”

“Within a week of Eddie’s arrival, I think?” Hen said in a musing tone. “We renew it annually. Chim is so stunned because he always bets on never. It’s the lowest payout bet, so he gets his money back every year and rolls it over into the new year.”

Buck buried his face in his hands. “You guys are the worst.”

Eddie chuckled, warm and low, then leaned over and pressed a kiss to the side of Buck’s neck.

“Oh, I didn’t need to see that,” Chim groused.

“I did,” Anders said brightly.

“Keep it PG, boys,” Bobby said sternly, but he was smiling.

“That was G-rated, Cap,” Eddie shot back. “If you don’t know that, you need to get out more.”

Buck glared at his friends, including the laughing jackals at the other table. “All of you suck.”

“We love you, Buckaroo.” Hen grinned at him. “And we’re happy for you both.”

“Thanks, Hen. Now, what bet did Athena win?”

“Well, she had spring, for starters. She always picks what she calls the optimistic choice for the two of you. And we’re barely more than a week into spring, but here you are,” she waved both hands at them. “But then we had some refined betting when Buck went on vacation. She bet within a week of Buck’s return.”

“Whatever will you guys bet on now that we’re together?” Eddie asked dryly.

“Probably when you two will move in together,” Hen said with a grin.

Eddie rolled his eyes and kept eating his lunch.

“You okay there, Chim?” Buck asked.

“Yeah, of course,” Chim said with a sad smile. “I’m happy for you two. I saw the connection, of course I did, but I figured you two would be too thick to ever act on it.”

“Nice.” Eddie’s glare lacked any real heat.

“Something’s bugging you,” Buck prompted, concerned by Chim’s demeanor.

“It’s nothing, Buck. I really am happy for you.” He hesitated before adding, “Does Maddie know?”

Buck forced himself to not react. “No, I haven’t spoken to her since I left, but there’s no reason she can’t know. I’d prefer that she not discuss it with my parents, but I recognize that request is probably a lost cause.”

“You think she’d tell them—”

“Chim,” Buck said sharply. “Don’t. Not now. We’ll talk later.”

Chim’s jaw muscles flexed, but he nodded and resumed eating. Buck didn’t think Chim was angry; he was probably frustrated.

Conversation moved on to other topics. The guys from the other table asked Buck some questions about how things had gone in Austin, so Buck switched seats with Anders so he could talk to both tables more easily. Anders made a point to sit a good distance from Eddie, and Buck made mental note to pull Anders aside and tell him to relax.

When the meal was done, Bobby got to his feet. “I need Buck and Eddie in my office. Chim, you too for part of it.” He paused as if thinking. “We may need a voice of reason.”

Mary snorted from the other table. “That’s a sausage fest, Cap, you’re damn right you need a voice of reason.”

“Good point,” Bobby agreed blandly, as if he didn’t want someone to make exactly that point. Buck saw right through Bobby trying to include Hen without cutting out the rest of the squad. “Hen, if you could join as well.”

“Sure, Cap.”

Anders was helping clear the table, so Buck made a point to linger a second. “Darian,” he said softly, “relax, man.”

The guy looked at him wide-eyed. “About?”

“You’re tense like you’re afraid I’m going to shoot you. Eddie and I talked, and I’m not really the jealous or possessive type. I’m not going to act like a caveman because you two had some fun. So…relax.”

Anders’ shoulders slumped. “Man, I did not want to cause problems.”

“You didn’t. Not unless you fell for my guy, and then we might have some problems.”

Anders held up his hands in a warding-off gesture. “No. That was never a possibility. I’m happy for you and all, but Eddie’s personality is way too much for me.”

Buck chuckled. “It’s cool. I’m curious; what kind of personality are you looking for?”

Anders stepped a little closer. “Honestly? If Chim wasn’t straight and involved seriously with someone, I’d be all over that. He’s so funny.”

“You little freak,” Buck said with a grin.

He shrugged, smiling. “I like a man who can make me laugh. And fuck like a Viking, of course.”

Buck snorted. “Of course.” He stepped away.

“Hey, Buck?”

“Yeah?”

“Thanks. Cap’s been talking about keeping me at the 118, and I like it here, so I appreciate you clearing the air.”

“Not a problem. You’d be welcome.”

Buck was the last into Bobby’s office and sat on the small sofa with Eddie, which was against the wall. Chim and Hen turned Bobby’s guest chairs to face them, and Bobby dragged his chair around to create a small circle. The situation of them all being together like this on duty was a little uncomfortable because Bobby usually tried not to display so obviously to the rest of the shift that the four of them were closer to the captain. Though Buck supposed this was actually a case of the people closest to Buck, and no one was in doubt about who on the team he was closer to.

Chim immediately said, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do here.”

“Tell Maddie,” Buck said calmly, “but also tell her I asked that our parents not know. She’ll respect that request or she won’t. It won’t be on you if she decides to tell them.”

“Buck.” Chimney scrubbed his hands over his face. “You don’t know—”

“You mean I don’t know that she’s the one who told them about the train? And the tsunami survivor’s Facebook group?”

Chim’s mouth dropped open.

“I’m not an idiot, Chim. I’ve basically known since my last shift here. I didn’t know exactly what she’d told them, but I knew she’d don’t some sort of PR work.”

“You’re putting a negative spin on it,” Chim countered.

Buck kept calm as he leaned forward and braced his arms on his knees, fingers interlaced loosely. “Chim, why did she have to tell them anything at all to get them to be proud of me? Why did they need specifics? Why did they need a magazine cover and a Facebook tribute to be proud? Tell me one good reason why that was necessary.”

Chim closed his eyes. “God, you’re right. It’s not necessary. It’s actually insulting.”

“She doesn’t see it,” Buck said softly, “I get it, man, I do. But don’t expect me to pander to Maddie’s denial about them anymore. I’m done with them, and I’m done with the merry-go-round Maddie and I are on when it comes to them. You can tell her what you want, I don’t want you in a worse position than you’re already in, but don’t expect me to sit here and spout off about how I can trust Maddie when recent events have proven otherwise.”

“Buck, Maddie loves you.”

“I know, and I love her. But on this subject, I cannot trust her. I hope I can one day. I hope we can rebuild that bridge but, right now, I’m trying to be a realist. Also, my mother is a homophobe. Fair warning.” Buck got up and dropped to one knee in front of Chim. “Listen, you need to stop tearing yourself up over this. Maddie and I will eventually find a new equilibrium, but that’s not on you. I’m telling you my clear boundaries here, Chim; I don’t want you passing messages from my sister, and I don’t need you representing her around here. Maddie and I have work to do that needs to be mediated by a therapist. You can tell her what you want about me, I’m not going to try to police you, but I need you to respect me enough to not be constantly trying to manipulate me.”

“I’m not doing that!” Chim replied indignantly.

“It’s totally manipulation, man. Come on! Why do you push Maddie’s interests when you know I don’t want to talk about it?”

“Because you need to talk to her?”

“That’s not your decision to make, Chimney,” Hen said gently. “Buck’s right; it’s manipulative to do it this way. We all get where you’re coming from, and we want to help, but we’ve talked a lot about how it can’t be at Buck’s expense.”

“I know.” Chimney sat back hard in his chair. “I just hate how she’s unhappy.”

“She and I will have some mediated sessions with Frank, and we’ll get through this, but you can’t be in the middle. Be Maddie’s support, but leave it at home.”

“And when she begs me to pass a message on to you?” Chim countered, sounding pained.

“Then the two of you need to schedule a session with Frank about how Maddie won’t respect your boundaries either,” Buck shot back as he got to his feet. He returned to the sofa.

“That’s not fair.”

“Isn’t it?” Buck shook his head. “If you tell Maddie that you won’t be the go-between in the matter of Buckley v. Buckley, she should respect that. If she doesn’t, she’s ignoring your boundaries, end of fucking discussion, Chim.”

“Try it,” Bobby said gently to Chim. “Tell her exactly that. You won’t be a go-between. You’ll let her know how Buck’s doing based on your observations, but you won’t push her agenda. If she can’t respect your limits, Buck is right, that’s a whole different problem.”

Chim nodded, looking worn out. “I just wish you guys could go back to the way you used to be.”

“I actually don’t.”

Everyone looked at him, expressions varying degrees of surprised.

“Maddie raised me, Chim. It’s probably sad that all my early memories are of her, but I adore her. The hardest thing I went through as a kid was Maddie going off to college. Because I love her so much, I can’t wish for a second that we go back to her keeping secrets from me and lying to me. I don’t want that for us.”

“I know she kept things from you, Buck, but she didn’t lie to you.”

Buck shot Chim an unimpressed look.

“Damn, Buck, I didn’t know your face could even do that,” Hen whispered.

Eddie squeezed his leg reassuringly.

“Chim, man, I love you. I’m glad you’re in my sister’s life; you’re good for her, and I think she deserves someone who treats her as awesome as you do. But it’s some arrogant shit for you to think you know everything about our relationship because you’ve known her for a couple of years.”

“She tells me everything,” Chim countered.

“No, she tells you more than she tells me about certain things. About Doug, specifically, because she tried to protect me from the reality of her relationship with him, which she is still trying to do despite what happened. But don’t think Maddie hasn’t outright lied to me. You have no way or reason to make a factual assertion about that, so you really need to step off this subject. I’m not bashing my sister, so you don’t need to defend her!”

“But I do!” Chim yelled, getting to his feet. “Everyone thinks it’s okay that you’re avoiding her!” Then he looked stricken. “Oh god, Buck, I am so sorry. Of course it’s okay that you’re not talking to her right now.”

Buck stared, not sure what to say as Chim sat back in his seat, looking devastated.

“Chim,” Hen said softly, “have you been laboring under the assumption that we’re all on Buck’s side?”

“I actually am,” Eddie said firmly. “Sorry, Chim, but there’s no contest for me.”

“And that’s fair,” Hen said, waving Eddie off. “But in general, we’ve been on the side of ‘Buck deserves some space,’ and the Buckley siblings need to work out their stuff without our input—unless it’s invited. I’ve been on the side of you respecting boundaries and telling Maddie she’s wrong when she pushes you to do otherwise. I didn’t say those things because I was against Maddie, sweetie. I said it because I’m against people ignoring other people’s limits, pushing over them, bypassing their wishes like they don’t matter.”

“I know, Hen, I know it up here.” He tapped his head. “Her parents are making her miserable, and she sees the cure to it as Buck, which seems like proof to me that her parents are the problem.”

“Yeah, Chim, it does!” Bobby exploded.

“I don’t know what to do,” Chim said.

“Chim,” Buck said tiredly, “you’ve got to be super direct with her. You need to tell her how this situation is making you feel. How helpless and frustrated. You’re trying to be Maddie’s emotional support animal because I’m not there to do it, but it’s never going to work. So don’t make it about Maddie or me or fucking Philip and Margaret. You need to tell her about you.”

Chim scrubbed his hands over his face and met Buck’s gaze. “Which is what you’ve been trying to do.”

“Yeah.”

Chim nodded. “I know none of this has been fair to you, Buck. Your parents fucking suck. I mean, my father is just gone. He’s a cold asshole, but I always know where I stand with him. Your parents, however, have gaslighting down to a science.” He gave Buck a pained look. “Your mom’s a homophobe?”

“She could have changed, but I haven’t seen evidence that she’s ever changed about anything else.”

Chim blew out a breath and slumped in his seat. “They keep talking about wanting to do a follow-up interview with Taylor with you present. I told them I didn’t think you’d be down for it, but they wouldn’t listen.”

“Over my dead body,” Buck bit out. He held up a hand. “I don’t want to talk about any of their specific crazy. I care about you. I want you to be okay, and I want to be able to get through a shift without you telling me to call Maddie. That’s it.”

“That’s more than fair, Buck,” Bobby said severely. “I’ve made it clear to Chim to pass on that Mr. and Mrs. Buckley aren’t welcome at the station. And if Maddie wants to drop by to see him, she needs to call in advance so you have the option of being elsewhere.”

Chim nodded.

“Okay, good.” Bobby leaned forward, looking around at all of them. “I have some things to talk to Eddie and Buck about, but I do think it would be good for this group, the five of us, to talk about the tsunami. Maybe with Frank. I’ve already floated the idea to him, and he’s even willing to come to my house or Eddie’s for that matter. We’re all vaccinated, and so is he, so we don’t have to try to have that kind of discussion over Zoom.”

Buck sat back and crossed his arms.

Eddie leaned closer. “Buck.”

“I’m fine.”

“All evidence to the contrary.”

“I’m just so tired of it.”

“Are you tired of it because it’s come up a lot lately or because you never dealt with it and so it’s always there.”

Buck side-eyed his boyfriend, feeling more than a little annoyed at being so seen.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought.” Eddie turned so he was sitting sideways. “Buck, we’d all like to understand that day—from your perspective. I know more than everyone else, but I feel like we’re barely scratching the surface.”

“But why do we need group therapy because I had a bad day?” Buck knew he was coming off as petulant, but it was hard enough to do therapy on his own.

“For me,” Eddie said softly, “it’s because the two most important people in my life were hurt that day, and I understand a fraction of what they went through. I talked to the others about it after the video and, Buck, they care about you. It was hard to see you in such dire circumstances.”

“We feel like we need to know, Buck,” Hen said. “The rest of the station was affected to varying degrees. Everyone likes you, and you kept this so close to the vest. I get it, baby, I do, but we want to help you move on.”

“Okay,” Buck conceded. “If I agree to this session with Frank, can we not talk about it anymore until then?”

“It might take more than one session,” Bobby countered.

Buck shot him a poisonous look.

“But, yes, we can let it go outside of therapy.”

“I’m not agreeing to that,” Eddie added, “but I won’t bring it up unless there’s a good reason.”

Buck uncrossed his arms and took Eddie’s hand. “You’re in a different boat. Just not here, all right?”

Eddie nodded.

“Speaking of here,” Bobby interjected, “when did you want to come back to work? You’re not scheduled back for more than a week yet, and even that date was tentative.”

“Can I get back to you on that? I feel like I need to get my feet under me. I can let you know tomorrow.”

“That’s fine. Also, and we can talk about this privately if you’d prefer, the chief has been getting pressure for you to do an interview or at least make a statement.”

“Excuse me?” Buck stared at Bobby like he’d grown another head. “An interview about what?”

“You really don’t pay attention to the news, do you?” Hen said, shaking her head.

“I keep current, but I don’t watch it, and I don’t pay attention to that kind of news. Wait, what kind of news?”

Eddie curled his arm around Buck’s shoulders. “Calm down, cariño,” he whispered against Buck’s ear.

“Taylor Kelly’s segment has gotten a lot of airplay,” Bobby said carefully. “And while the segment hasn’t been picked up nationally, a couple national newspapers have written about it and the situation in Austin. Owen Strand apparently shielded you from a lot of interview requests in Austin, but our chief is going to be more insistent that you at least say something.”

Buck shook his head. “I gotta think about it. That’s crazy, Bobby. This whole thing is crazy.” He was stupidly furious with his parents for turning him into a media spectacle.

“I can buy you a few days because you’re not even supposed to be here, but I’m going to need an answer soon.”

All Buck could do was nod.

“Then, I’d like to discuss the relationship development privately with Buck and Eddie.”

Hen and Chim got to their feet and headed out. Hen flashed them both a smile as she left.

Bobby gave them an assessing look. “The conventional wisdom is that romantic partners shouldn’t be on the same shift. Or, if they need to be on the same shift, they should be in different houses.”

Eddie shook his head. “We’d prefer to stay together. Nothing’s going to change.”

“Your arm is around Buck; that’s a change,” Bobby said dryly.

Eddie sighed. “What are you worried about?”

“That if one of you was in danger, the other is going to go nuts and not follow orders.”

Buck shrugged. “How is that any different than before? When are any of us rational about the others in danger? But certainly Eddie and I never have been. Though I guess I can only speak for myself. I have never been particularly level-headed when Eddie is in trouble.”

“Me either,” Eddie agreed. “I’ve been in love with him for at least two years, even if no one knew. I don’t see how we act in the field changing because we admitted how we feel.”

Bobby pursed his lips and rocked back and forth for a few seconds. “That’s a fair point, except you two being hotheads about each other’s safety is actually a problem sometimes. I’ll have the waivers for you to sign on Buck’s first shift back but, before then, you two need to talk about how you’re going to handle it if one of you is in trouble.”

“That’s fair,” Buck agreed, nudging Eddie until he agreed too. “Thanks, Bobby.”

“I’m happy for you both.” Bobby looked at Eddie. “Could I have a minute with Buck?”

“Sure.” Eddie got to his feet and left.

Buck wanted to call him back because he was so done with difficult conversations today, but he pasted a smile on his face and turned back to his captain. “Something wrong?”

“No, I just wanted to tell you something that might be uncomfortable for you to hear. Well, hear at all but perhaps more so in front of someone else.” Bobby’s expression shifted to something relaxed and sort of fond. “I just wanted you to know how proud I am of you. And you’re probably jumping to the conclusion that I mean working in Austin or your performance during the tsunami. As your captain, of course I’m proud of your professional acumen. But I’m speaking at a personal level. You knew you were in over your head with the family situation, and you found a way to take care of yourself and get help. You did it with more grace than I think I would have managed. So, even if it sounds patronizing, because I don’t mean it that way, I wanted to tell you how impressed I’ve been and that I’m proud of you.”

Buck stared at his hands, feeling a little overwhelmed. He swallowed heavily and nodded. “Thanks, Bobby.”

“Okay, kid, I’ll lay off.”

There was a tap at the door then Hen stuck her head in. “Athena is here. Says she wants to kidnap Buck for a coffee break.”

Buck got to his feet. “Sorry, Cap, I know you’re my boss, but I’d never say no to your wife.”

“That’s smart. I wouldn’t either.” Bobby gave him a quick but firm hug. “Go tell Athena she won the bet.”

Buck groaned and left Bobby’s office.

Chapter Four

Eddie left the station right on time. They’d had no morning callout and only one overnight call. They were busy in the evening, but he’d managed three hours of sleep before the callout and two hours after, so he was as rested as he ever was after a shift.

“Eddie!” Bobby called from behind him. “Wait up a second.”

Eddie stopped and pasted a smile on his face even though he really wanted to get home, not hang around and talk to Bobby. He and Buck had the whole day together while Chris was in school, and Eddie wasn’t wasting it. “Something wrong, Cap?”

“No, I just wanted to run something by you.”

Eddie frowned. “Like what?”

“I’m just checking with everyone who’s worked with Anders. I’m planning to finalize the transfer paperwork to bring him on permanently to the 118. Any issue?”

Eddie shook his head. “None.” He’d personally prefer that he and his former fuck-whatever not be on the same shift. Buck was dealing with it fine, however, and if he had to deal with a little discomfort, it was his own damn fault for having a series of one-morning stands with someone he worked with.

“Good. I’m not sure where I’ll slot him yet, but I think he’s a good fit for our station, and he’s said he likes it here. With Buck back, we won’t need him on the ladder, but I’ll figure out where he’ll be best utilized. He’s an engineer too, so he may wind up on A-shift assigned to the triple engine but take over for DeKay on the truck when he’s taking time off. I don’t like having Buck tied to engineer duties for the ladder truck.”

Eddie nodded. It was a good idea to have another specialist on the squad, they’d been short since before Eddie joined.

Bobby gave him a knowing look then rolled his eyes. “Go on, get out of here. Have fun with Buck.”

Eddie grinned and darted to his truck. He’d been dealing with good-natured ribbing ever since Buck left yesterday to have coffee with Athena, but he didn’t even mind. He was too damn happy.

Buck had texted a few times yesterday, complaining that Athena was trying to mother-hen him to death. In the evening, his phone had lit up frequently with photos of Chris and Buck destroying the living room with a craft project.

His phone vibrated as he put his key in the ignition.

Buck: Just finished dropping off Chris. You want me to bring you breakfast?

Eddie: You’re breakfast. Get home.

Buck: Wow. I may get a speeding ticket.

Eddie laughed

Eddie: Get home safely.

Buck: Yes mom.

– – – –

They arrived home almost at the same time. Eddie chivvied Buck into the house then pulled him into a bruising kiss the minute the door was closed.

“Miss me?” Buck mumbled into their kiss.

“Yes.” Eddie claimed Buck’s mouth with his tongue, stopping any further discussion. He began pulling at Buck’s jacket, letting it drop on the floor, followed by his T-shirt. He slid his hands over Buck’s chest, backing off enough to follow the path with his eyes, craving the feel of Buck under his hands and against his body, but he wanted to see as well.

He had Buck pressed against the front door, and he knew he needed to get them to the bedroom, but he couldn’t seem to stop touching long enough to move. “I missed you yesterday,” he whispered as he nipped his way down Buck’s throat. “I hate working without you.”

“I’ll be back soon.” Buck grabbed Eddie’s ass and pulled him close, grinding their cocks together. “Come on, Diaz, let’s get this show on the road. You can’t keep me up against the door forever.”

“But you’re so pretty up against the door.” Eddie bit at Buck’s nipple, getting a sharp gasp for his efforts.

“I’m prettier pressed into the bed.”

Eddie’s dick throbbed at the words, so he grabbed Buck’s hand and dragged him toward the bedroom. He efficiently stripped Buck of his chinos, and then dealt with a minute of frustration while his boyfriend disappeared into the bathroom. He used the time to his advantage and stripped the blankets off the bed, got the lube out, and rid himself of his own clothes.

Buck exited the bathroom, still perfectly, wonderfully naked. Eddie shoved him down on the bed then tore himself away to step into the bathroom himself. Washing up the minute he got home was such an ingrained habit now, and he didn’t actually want to break it despite the delay he’d allowed for mauling Buck at the front door.

In the bedroom, he straddled Buck’s waist, leaning in for a deep, filthy kiss. Buck arched up, his cock rubbing against Eddie’s ass. Eddie’s erection slid over Buck’s abs, leaving a trail of precum behind.

Eddie tilted Buck’s head back so he could have unfettered access to Buck’s long, sensitive throat and began working the skin with his teeth, lips, and tongue. “I want to see you writhing on my fingers this morning.”

“Yes,” Buck gasped out. “God, Eds, just fuck me already.”

“Not yet, cariño, but soon.” He sucked at Buck’s Adam’s apple. “Let’s see how you feel after riding a few fingers for a while.”

God.” Buck took in a shuddery gasp. “You can talk dirty to me anytime.”

“Can I? You like that, baby?” Eddie ground down, rubbing his cock hard against Buck. “You looking forward what it feels like to have my cock split you open? Where you don’t know where I end and you begin? Where you can’t think or feel anything but me?”

“Fuck, Eds. Yes!”

“Not yet.” He nibbled along Buck’s collarbones. “Are you feeling impatient this morning?”

Buck nodded frantically. Eddie smiled and slithered down the bed, kneeing Buck’s legs apart so he could kneel between them. He slicked up his hand then stroked over Buck’s cock, enjoying the heavy, hard feel. In a short time, he’d become hooked on the feel of Buck’s erection sliding against his skin or thrusting into his hand. But after only one experience yesterday morning, he was equally entranced with the way Buck would lose his erection if Eddie gave his prostate more than a few seconds of attention. It was a heady turn-on he wasn’t sure he wanted to examine.

He got into a serious rhythm stroking the hard cock in his hand, taking Buck to the edge quickly, until Buck had his feet planted on the bed and was thrusting up into Eddie’s fist. Then Eddie stopped stroking, just rubbing his thumb in slow circles over the head. Buck made a wounded noise as a shudder wracked his whole body.

“You didn’t think we were going to be done so fast, did you?”

“God, Eds…”

“Put your hands above your head and leave them there unless I tell you to move.”

Buck didn’t hesitate to do as Eddie instructed, hands up by his head, fisted into the pillow.

Eddie released the hard cock and immediately slipped his hand down to stroke slippery fingers over Buck’s hole. Buck’s breath hitched audibly, but Eddie didn’t try for anything else, just massaging over the tight opening as he watched Buck’s shifting expressions. It was obvious Buck found the touch stimulating, but there was this thread of nervous anticipation that Eddie wanted to shift to simply excited anticipation. He didn’t want Buck dreading anything they did together.

He took Buck’s cock in hand again, rubbing his thumb over the slit as he massaged Buck’s asshole more firmly. Buck was getting more keyed up with every second that passed, and Eddie was starting to think he’d need to blow him first to get him to relax. He’d prefer to see how sensitive Buck’s prostate was from the inside, to see how close he could get to coming from that alone, but Buck relaxing was more important. He decided to try external prostate massage again to see if it helped, and brought his thumb into play to press firmly against the soft flesh.

The change was instant. Buck shivered and then nearly sagged into the bed, his legs splaying further open. The two fingers Eddie had been massaging over Buck’s hole just slipped inside.

“Fuck,” Eddie breathed, eyes going wide, his own breath becoming uneven.

Buck’s eyes were wide open, expression startled as he tightened around Eddie’s fingers. “Eddie…” he gasped, his cock already half soft again.

Eddie slid his fingers over Buck’s prostate, finding it easily. In some men it might be a little harder to palpate, but Buck’s was practically begging to be noticed. When Eddie got to the top of the swollen gland, Buck’s whole body jerked like he’d been hit with a live wire.

“That’s the spot,” Eddie murmured as he began to experiment with where and how to touch. Buck was incredibly receptive to internal stimulation, even more so than external, and Eddie wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that Buck could come from this alone.

“I don’t— Eds, please…” Buck whimpered, and Eddie took careful stock of his boyfriend’s expression and was horrified to see Buck’s eyes filling with tears.

“Buck, what’s wrong?”

“I don’t—” He bit back a sob. “I don’t know.”

Alarmed, Eddie pulled his fingers out, noting how Buck tightened around him as if trying to keep him inside. “No…” Buck complained.

Eddie lay next to Buck, reaching blindly for the wipes he kept by the bed to get rid of the excess lube. “Hey, cariño, what happened?”

Buck was staring at him with big, wet eyes, hands still fisted in his pillow.

“Evan? Hold on to me, okay?”

Buck attached himself to Eddie, both arms like steel bands around his shoulders, as Buck curled in close, his breaths came in shuddery gasps against Eddie’s throat.

Eddie held Buck close with one arm and used his other hand to stroke the back of Buck’s head, occasionally tugging lightly at the short strands, something he’d learned relaxed Buck almost to the point of sleep sometimes. “What’s wrong?” he asked again.

“Nothing,” Buck finally replied. “Everything’s right.”

“You were crying, baby, that’s not an indication that everything is right. Did it hurt?”

“No.”

“Did it feel good?”

“Yes. So much more intense than yesterday.”

“Getting to the prostate externally is less direct, so to speak. Did it feel too good?” He wondered if overstimulation was the issue, but Buck had done well with that yesterday morning.

There was a hesitation before Buck shook his head, the movement awkward with the way Buck was hiding in Eddie’s neck. “I felt…weird.”

“Weird?” Eddie prompted with a kiss to Buck’s temple.

“Vulnerable, open.”

“Was that bad?”

“No,” Buck replied immediately. “But it was… I’ve never…” Fingers dug into Eddie’s back. “I’ve never felt connected to someone like that, but you were so far away, and I felt lost.”

Eddie’s eyes burned and he squeezed them shut. He pressed a kiss to Buck’s birthmark, then the cheekbone, then down to his jaw, coaxing Buck out of hiding until they were trading lazy, open-mouthed kisses. They continued like that until Buck was putty under Eddie’s hands.

They lay side-by-side, foreheads pressed together, and Eddie wiped away the last of the tears.

“I’m sorry,” Buck whispered.

“Do not ever apologize for telling me something isn’t working.”

“It was working.”

“Not emotionally, and that matters as much as the physical. Do you want me to blow you?” He leaned down to press a lingering kiss to the side of Buck’s throat.

“No, I want us to go back to what we were doing,” Buck said firmly.

“Buck.”

Buck pulled back enough to fix him with a firm look. “Eddie.” He blew out a breath. “Just stay closer. Maybe when I’m used to it, it’ll be easier to do it that way. The feelings just took me by surprise.”

“I have an idea.” He pressed a firm kiss to Buck’s mouth then went into the closet, digging out the box of sex stuff he hadn’t touched in a long time. He kept a couple of basics in a box in the nightstand, but this box was for more specialty items he rarely used. “Got it!”

Eddie set the box on the bed with the ANEROS brand starkly labeled on the side.

Buck blinked at it. “What’s that?”

“Prostate massager. One of their many, many Trident models. I got it for myself, but only tried it once. It’s a little too much for me. While I could hold you and have my fingers inside you at the same time, I like the idea of having both my hands free to touch you. If you hate it, we’ll try something else.”

Buck’s brow furrowed. “Is it like a vibrator?”

“No, it’s a manual massager. You’ll squeeze around it. These funny little tab things sit outside and help with the action.” Eddie closed his fist around the device. “You tighten up, and the combination of your muscles and the way the external tabs are placed will lever this right against your prostate.”

Buck looked skeptical.

“You game to try? If you hate it, we can always try something else.”

Buck nodded, giving Eddie a weak smile. “It seems like this shouldn’t be so much work.”

“Don’t even. The physical side hasn’t been any work for us at all. And this is not that much work. If you think I’m bothered by what happened, yeet that right out of your head. It only matters because I hate that you were upset.”

Buck gave a startled laugh. “I can’t believe you said ‘yeet.’”

Eddie grinned and shrugged as he climbed back on the bed to lie face-to-face with Buck. He cupped Buck’s cheek. “Hey.”

“Hi,” Buck whispered back. Eddie leaned in and kissed Buck, starting slow, but the minute their tongues connected, the desire to moderate their pace went right out the window. Time passed in a haze as they kissed and licked, grinding against one another.

When they were both panting and fully hard again, Eddie slid his hand down to Buck’s ass squeezing tightly. “You up for this?”

“Do me, Diaz.”

“Charming.” Eddie couldn’t help but chuckle. “Put your leg over my hip, hitch it up as high as you can.”

“I’m pretty flexible, you know. I never dropped the yoga I started during my leg rehab.”

Eddie felt his brain glaze over for a second. “Okay…yeah. We’ll have to play with that. Hitch your leg up until your knee is against my ribs.” Buck did so with no apparent strain or effort, and Eddie’s fingers slid along the cleft, stroking over the still-slippery hole. “You okay?”

Buck pressed a kiss to Eddie’s shoulder as he nodded.

Eddie flailed a bit to get the Trident in hand and get lube on it. He made sure it was turned the right way then slid the head of it over Buck’s hole. He’d prefer to see what he was doing, but he wasn’t going to break contact with Buck right now.

He used the tip to provide a little external prostate pressure, getting an all-over body shudder from Buck and the expected relaxing of his muscles. He slipped the device inside, slotting the front tab against the perineum. The device was thinner than Eddie’s two fingers, so he wasn’t expecting there to be any discomfort.

Buck’s breath stuttered and he stared at Eddie wide-eyed.

“You all right, baby?”

Buck gave a slow nod, as if he wasn’t certain about what was going on.

Eddie patted his thigh then settled his hand on Buck’s ass. “Go ahead and tighten up.”

“In exactly what way?”

“You ever tighten your internal muscles to make your erection bounce?” Eddie felt Buck’s muscles shift.

“Oh god,” Buck breathed, clutching at Eddie’s shoulders.

“Good?”

Buck’s ass flexed under his hand again. “Eds…” The muscles contracted and released several times in succession as Buck began to practically wiggle in Eddie’s arms. Buck’s pupils were dilated, his breathing labored.

“I’m going to assume this is good.”

“Eddie,” Buck whimpered, as if he couldn’t manage any other words. He began writhing against Eddie. After a minute of labored breathing and muscle flexing, he stilled, eyes widening. “It moved.” Buck’s tone was aggrieved. He was impatient and borderline annoyed about whatever had just happened.

Eddie slipped his hand down to feel what was going on. “It just rotated to the side.” He turned the external tabs back into the right alignment and Buck immediately tightened up again, gasping at the sensation.

Yeah, this was going to work.

Eddie used the hand under Buck’s neck and shoulders to give soothing strokes to his hair and skin, sometimes touching his face. He couldn’t bear to pull the other hand away from Buck’s ass, too entranced with the flex of muscles and tendons, the arch of Buck’s body against him.

Eddie was rock hard, rubbing against Buck’s now fully soft cock. Eddie shuddered at the contrast, sealing their mouths together, needing some part of him to be inside Buck. He licked into Buck’s mouth, fucking with his tongue the way he wished he could fuck with his cock.

Buck’s orgasm took them both by surprise, because Buck was getting very little stimulation to his dick. He sucked on Eddie’s tongue sharply, almost to the point of pain. Buck’s muscles went tight as he arched into Eddie, fingers clawed into Eddie’s back.

The amount of cum was also a surprise. Buck came a little more than most men Eddie had been with anyway, but this was more than he’d experienced so far. Though, Eddie had read that these types of prostate massagers could result in a more complete release of seminal fluid during orgasm, and that seemed to be the damn truth. He thought it was pretty fucking hot and planned to get to see it some day.

Eddie was thrusting against Buck’s abdomen, slippery with cum, desperate to find his own release. Buck broke their frantic kiss and slithered down the bed, swallowing Eddie’s cock down before Eddie could really piece together his intent.

Giving a startled shout, Eddie jerked up into Buck’s mouth, gagging his lover. Buck backed off only briefly before getting back into it, bringing his hands into play as he sucked frantically at Eddie’s cock.

He looked down, loving the sight of Buck’s lips stretched tight around his dick, but then he realized Buck’s ass was flexing. He was still working himself on that prostate massager despite having come, despite how sensitive he must be.

Eddie came with a gasp, not even having a chance to warn Buck.

Buck swallowed him down, eagerly continuing to suck at Eddie’s cock, milking him for everything he had.

Eddie finally groaned and pulled Buck off his dick, yanking him back up into his arms. “You are so fucking amazing.” He took Buck’s mouth again, the kiss languid but possessive all the same. He settled his hand on Buck’s ass, feeling the minute flexing of the muscles, as if Buck couldn’t bear to stop playing with the toy.

Perfect.

– – – –

Eddie watched Buck from across the kitchen table as they ate lunch. Buck seemed a million miles away, though not unhappy. He’d been watching for any odd reactions since they’d woken up from a brief nap after the incredibly intense sex this morning. They’d had a shower together then Buck had seized the Trident, claiming it was his now and Eddie was never getting it back. He’d promptly sent Buck a link to the website so he could explore their other models.

They’d then taken care of a few household chores together while Buck regaled him with TK’s unfortunate adventures in kidnapping. Afterward, Buck had surprised him with Eddie’s favorite type of chicken pesto panini.

He nudged Buck’s ankle with his foot. “Where’d you go?”

Buck focused on him and set his sandwich down. “Does this seem kind of surreal?”

“What this?”

“You and me. It’s like everything I want, and it’s going so well; I think I must be dreaming.”

“Maybe we did a lot of the relationship work already?” He didn’t have any other explanation for how easy this relationship was with Buck. Although, other than the first few days, it’d always been easy with them. “I know couples who’ve been married for a decade who weren’t as close as you and I are.”

“Maybe that’s it.” Buck shoved some bites of melon in his mouth. It was a little underripe, but not bad for this time of year. Eddie loved cantaloupe, so he was happy with it. “I always felt like I was on the edge of screwing up with Abby, always wondering, always a little tense. But it’s so easy with you that it’s giving me pause.”

“We’ve known each other for a long time, Buck. We’ve practically lived in each other’s pockets since the pandemic began. There’s no one alive who knows me as well as you do. Maybe it doesn’t need to be awkward for us.”

“Maybe.” Buck stared at his hands.

“You know, when you left that morning after saying goodbye to Christopher, I was terrified that you weren’t coming back.”

Buck’s head jerked up and his expression was horrified. “No, Eds, I promised you that I would come home.”

“I know, and I believed you, but I was still afraid. Sometimes our fears are irrational. I just knew you were hurting and I couldn’t help. I was afraid I’d done the wrong thing, and I worried you’d find the help you needed elsewhere and decide to stay. So, no matter how it sounds, why don’t you tell me what’s really on your mind?”

“I want to move in. My heart says to be here, but my brain says that it’s way too fast.”

“Does it actually feel fast? We haven’t lived together as romantic partners, but we have lived together.” During the worst part of the lockdown, early in the pandemic, they lived together for a while. They’d only recently, prior to Buck’s trip, started getting any living distance from one another. “We already have all the data points about what it’s like to cohabitate and, honestly, under as stressful a conditions as there could possibly be. I’m not trying to pressure you one way or the other; I’m just pointing out that your brain knows all this but you’re countering it with typical relationship statistics to talk yourself out of it.”

Buck sat back hard in his chair. “I guess I am. But we haven’t really gone about this the usual way, have we?”

“If I’d known you were bisexual, I’d have definitely gone about this the usual way.”

Buck huffed. “The evidence was staring me in the face, I just…” He shook his head and stabbed his fork into some more melon with a fair bit of aggression.

Eddie shifted his position so he was sitting next to Buck instead of across. They always tended to sit across from each other, but it made it harder to reach out and touch. He squeezed Buck’s hand. “Your parents messed you up. Most people who struggle with their sexuality probably needn’t look further than their own family. Don’t beat yourself up about this.”

Buck met his gaze. “Did you?”

“I never questioned my sexuality, but that’s not quite the same thing as there not being an issue.” He blew out a breath. “Tía Pepa and Abuela know I’m bisexual, even though I’ve never brought any man but you home to meet them, but my parents don’t know. I don’t think my sisters know, but we’ve never discussed it, so I can’t be sure.”

“Will your parents accept it?”

“I doubt it. My father says the right things about other people’s right to do as they please in their own home, but I see how he is about things like gay marriage.”

Buck swallowed heavily and turned his hand over to grip Eddie’s tightly. “Will you tell them?”

“Yes. A long time ago I accepted that my relationship with them was never going to be what I wanted. You and Chris are what matter. Abuela and Pepa matter. My cousins through Pepa will be fine with us being together. They already like you more than me anyway.” Buck had been to a fair number of Diaz family get togethers. He’d been a big hit.

Buck laughed.

“I’ll be sad if my sisters can’t deal, but it’s not a deal breaker for me, Buck. The only thing we really need to talk about is that homework Bobby gave us.”

Buck blinked a few times. “You mean about not losing our heads if the other one is in danger? I figured we’d sort of already addressed that.”

“In a way. I’m a little more level-headed than you, though not by much. I’ve loved you for a long time, but in the back of my head there’s always Christopher.”

“Mine too, Eds. I never stop thinking about him.”

Eddie smiled sadly. “Yeah, but, Buck, I think you’re trying to figure out how to get me home to Chris.”

Buck looked confused. “Yeah…?”

“I need you to adjust your worldview a little. We’re doing the whole relationship thing, I want you to move in, Chris already sees you as another parent. One of us needs to come home to him, not necessarily me.”

Buck sucked in a breath through his teeth and sat back hard in his chair. “You can’t seriously expect—”

“I absolutely do, and Bobby expects it too. That’s the whole point. I’m not saying we don’t do everything we can to help each other come home, but you don’t get to throw your life away trying to save mine. When that well collapsed, you’d have gone down in that hole with me.”

Buck looked away, blinking rapidly. “Yeah.”

“It’s those moments when I need you to stop and think of Chris, think of this conversation. If the odds are stacked against me, don’t throw your life away trying to make a long shot happen. You listen to Bobby and Chimney and whoever else is chiming in, and you make sure one of us comes home to Christopher.”

Buck squeezed his eyes shut. “I can’t promise not to do everything in my power to make sure it’s you who comes home, Eds, I just can’t. But I will say that I’ve gotten some new perspective on things lately, and I think I recognize my limits a little more. I’ll do my best to listen to Bobby, or whoever the voice of reason is.”

Eddie pressed a kiss to Buck’s brow, right over his birthmark. “I love you so much, and I know how hard it is not to lose all perspective out there, but we have to try, okay?”

“Yeah.” Squeezing Eddie’s hand a little tighter, Buck smiled softly. “So… Can I move in?”

Eddie couldn’t hold in the smile if he tried. “Yeah. I’d love that. I’m on tomorrow but then I’ve got two days off. We could get any furniture you care about in the truck.” He knew it was fast, but he was selfishly grabbing what he’d wanted for so long. He knew Chris wanted it too, wanted Buck to be part of their home life permanently.

Buck’s face did something complicated. “Can we get my bed? Yours is kind of small and that military-grade mattress sucks.”

Eddie leaned in a kissed his boyfriend. “Yes, cariño, we can use your bed.”

“I suppose I should call Albert and tell him, see if he wants your bed…?”

Eddie nodded, agreeable to the furniture change. He’d slept in Buck’s bed a couple of times and agreed it was a better mattress. “Will you break your lease? Let Albert take it over?”

“I own my place. I’ll have to talk to him; maybe he’ll want to rent it. I’d like to have the mortgage payment covered so I can afford to contribute around here. Though I’ve heard now’s a good time to sell.” Buck shrugged as if he didn’t care one way or the other.

Eddie blinked, not sure why he was surprised that Buck owned his apartment, but it was a mental shift. “Finish lunch first. Then make your phone calls. I know you also want to check on TK. Tell him I said hi.”

– – – –

Eddie stood in the doorway of Christopher’s room and watched Buck and Chris chatter about their days while Buck rubbed down Christopher’s arms and legs. The care in his every touch, the way he did so much to make Christopher’s life better nearly overwhelmed with emotions.

After Chris’ meltdown about his arms hurting while Buck was in Texas, Eddie had talked to the therapy clinic Chris went to weekly. They’d been focusing more on exercises with him because they’d noted someone at home was handling Chris’ stretching and muscle tension issues. It had frustrated Eddie because it had all been a communication problem, so there wasn’t anyone to be mad at. Several people had fucked up a little bit, but no one was really to blame. Except maybe himself for not knowing the clinic had adjusted how they were handling Chris.

Chris was getting sleepy, his responses coming slower and slower. When Buck finished the second arm and tucked it under the covers, Chris was already nodding off. “Buck?” he asked softly, eyes closed.

“Yeah, buddy?”

“Will you stay with us forever?” Chris’ eyes opened halfway so he could watch Buck.

Buck smiled down at him and leaned down to kiss him on the forehead. “The three of us are family forever. Are you asking if I’ll live here now?”

“Yes…”

Buck glanced at Eddie, and he nodded that Buck should go ahead and tell Chris. “Then, yeah, buddy. I talked to your dad today and I’m going to move in.”

“Because you love us?”

“Definitely.”

“I told dad so long ago that he should be dating you.”

“Is that right?” Buck shot him a grin, and Eddie rolled his eyes. “Well, you clearly know what’s what, kid.”

“If I know what’s what, we should get a dog.”

Buck laughed and tousled Christopher’s hair. “I saw what you did there. Go to sleep. You can trap me tomorrow.”

“Okay. Love you.”

“Love you too.”

“’Night, Dad.”

“Goodnight, Mijo.”

Once Christopher’s door was shut, Eddie huffed at a smirking Buck. “Yes, he told me I should date you, but it wasn’t that long ago.”

Buck just laughed. “Your kid is smart.”

Eddie smiled and was looking forward to the day that he’d be able to get Buck to say their kid. “You taking Chris to see Abuela tomorrow?” Abuela knew Buck was back and temporarily helping out with Chris after school, but he’d be going back to work soon.

“Yeah. Do you want me to tell her about us or wait until you can be there?”

“Part of me wants to be there, but Christopher is not going to be able to keep that to himself, so you might as well tell her. She’ll be delighted.”

Buck smiled shyly. “Yeah?”

“Yeah. She loves you.”

The sound of Buck’s phone distracted him, and Eddie busied himself with tidying up the kitchen and living room while Buck was on the phone. It was obviously Albert. They’d talked for nearly an hour this afternoon but left things at Albert planning to talk to Chimney.

Eddie had worked with Buck on what the lease amount would need to be to cover all expenses from the apartment, as well as set aside some money every month in case there needed to be repairs. The amount was quite a bit lower than the current rental rates because Buck had more equity in the place than Eddie would have expected. He’d used a big down payment, and coupled with being a first-time homeowner, it meant he had very favorable interest rate.

The whole thing was just confusing.

It was about fifteen minutes before Buck joined him on the couch, sighing as he plopped down, half sprawling on top of Eddie. “Albert is going to lease the place, but they talked me up by $300. Chimney told him I was being too nice and that it was way below market rate.”

“It was.”

“But that wasn’t the point. I’m not trying to fleece my friend.”

“Yeah, but even with an additional $300, it’s below market, so you’re still being nice. Since we’re going to be moving some bigger furniture, we’ll rent a truck on Thursday and do it in one trip. While I’m on shift tomorrow, go over there and decide what you want to keep.”

“It’s just the bed and only because it’s bigger and more comfortable.”

Eddie sighed. “Buck, you have a bigger and newer TV. You sure you don’t want it?”

“Okay, maybe the TV.”

“Do I have to walk you through all your furniture?”

“Well, you don’t really have much bedroom furniture.”

“True, so feel free to bring whatever you like from your bedroom to make it our bedroom.”

Buck still seemed hesitant, so Eddie did take the time to discuss the bulk of Buck’s possessions and how they’d merge them together. They ultimately decided on Buck’s bedroom and electronics, but would keep most of Eddie’s living room furniture. The kitchen would be a hodgepodge of some of Eddie’s and some of Buck’s.

Eddie nudged Buck’s shoulder. “See? That wasn’t so hard.” He hesitated for a second then asked, “Can I ask a question about your condo?”

“Yeah, anything.”

“I mean, a financial question.”

“Of course. If we’re going to live together, don’t we need to be able to have financial discussions?” Buck looked uncertain.

“You’re right, but I guess finances is my moment of feeling like this is surreal.” They’d already had a conversation about how much Buck was going to contribute to the mortgage and household expenses, and the financial pressure that would ease on Eddie would be tremendous. But it hadn’t been the most comfortable conversation he’d ever had. For him anyway; Buck seemed fine with it.

Buck turned so he was facing Eddie on the couch. “What’s the question?”

“You put like forty percent down on your place. How’d you manage that?”

“I never really spent money for the longest time. Come here, I’ll tell you the tale of the wandering Buck.”

Eddie chuckled as Buck positioned them lying down on the sofa, barely able to fit.

Buck began by explaining how he’d left Pennsylvania and his nomadic lifestyle, wandering from job to job, place to place. Usually, he moved every three or four months, but he did stay in Colorado for a little over a year to finish up his degree.

“Other than school, I never really had any expenses. My sister gave me the Jeep, and I made sure to keep it in good repair. Some of the jobs I worked paid well. I figured that someday I’d have an epiphany about what I was mean to do or where I was meant to be, and I’d need money to start my life. Or maybe Maddie would finally leave the douchebag and she’d need some money to start over.

“So, I saved everything I could. I was actually in Colorado for almost two years, now that I think about it. Well, sort of.”

“What does that mean?”

“I had a really good paying job there and got to thinking about going back to school, but out of state tuition kind of sucked, so the foreman let me use his address to establish residency for that year while I got sent out on jobs wherever. On paper, it looks like I was in Colorado for two years, but I worked in every state around Colorado for a big chunk of that.

“Anyway, yeah, other than school, the drain on the money was minimal. I wasn’t even paying attention to how much it was for a long time, just convinced I’d need it some day. And I did. I lived on it when I went to the fire academy, but my rent was pretty low since I was living in a house with five other people. The apartment was the first thing I ever spent a significant amount of money on. I didn’t want my mortgage payment to stress my budget, so I put a big down payment.” He shrugged. “And that’s it. Kind of boring.”

“Not really. It’s kind of remarkable.” He pressed his lips to Buck’s jaw, the most convenient bit of skin available to him.

“I do have something else financial to discuss with you, though. Something I’ve been putting off for a while.”

Eddie’s brow furrowed. “What financial thing could you possibly have to discuss with me that’s been on the table for a while?”

“You remember that whole therapist who I slept with thing?”

Eddie stiffened. “You mean the therapist who violated the canon of professional ethics and broke the law? That one? The bitch who should be in jail?”

Buck cleared his throat. “Yeah, that one.”

“Sorry. It’s just infuriating what she did.”

“First, she’s probably going to go to jail. That case is still in process. Second, I wasn’t one of her victims.”

Eddie sat up, nearly falling on the floor, and wound up kneeling by the couch so he could make sure he had eye contact with his lover. “Yeah, you were. Maybe you don’t want to hear that, but it doesn’t make it untrue. She shouldn’t have touched you. Even if you were coming on to her, she should have said no and then kicked your ass out. But I know that’s not what happened because I don’t see you going to therapy just to hit on your therapist. If you don’t want to talk about it, that’s fine, I’ll respect that, but if you are going to talk about it, I can’t listen to you take blame.” Eddie had done a fair bit of reading about the ethics and laws around what had happened, and the reasons why those rules existed; the more he read, the more ill it made him feel.

“Okay, I’ll…try.” Buck swallowed noisily. “Anyway, the union sued for malpractice on behalf of all the firefighters and paramedics she did her whole thing with.”

“Good.”

“They included me in the lawsuit even though I wasn’t one of the people she coerced in exchange for return-to-work papers.” Buck stuck his finger over Eddie’s lips before he could say anything. “I didn’t really want the money. It felt yucky to me. I thought about it for a long time and decided to try to do something good with it. I split the money and put half in a trust for the children of fallen firefighters. Most of that went to the kids of the 126.”

“Buck…” Eddie’s throat felt tight, and he threaded his fingers through Buck’s hair, causing Buck to close his eyes briefly and lean into Eddie’s hand.

“There’s enough left for maybe two more kids, but I wanted it to help not just sit in trust, so it doesn’t even matter that it’s mostly gone.”

“Sounds like a good plan. What’d you do with the other half?”

“I created a medical and education trust for Christopher.”

Stunned, Eddie sat back on his heels and just stared at his lover.

Buck sat up, hands clasped together. “I didn’t know how to tell you, and that’s why I kept putting it off. My fallback was if anything ever happened, I’d bring it up then. But now we’re doing this whole thing, and I figured you should know.”

“How much, Buck?”

“Uh… It started at like a little over 300 grand, but it’s growing slowly. I don’t know the exact balance today.”

Eddie surged up and fused their mouths together, not able to put words behind what he was feeling. Buck’s hands grappled at his shoulders, pulling him closer. Eddie wound up sprawled on top of Buck on the couch, loving how strong and sturdy Buck was and how he could take Eddie’s weight.

“I love you so much,” Eddie whispered, framing Buck’s face with his hands.

“I love you too, Eddie. You and Christopher are my heart.”


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Jilly James

Admin for the Bang and participating author. Sleep-deprived lunatic half the time.

2 Comments:

  1. I figured it out. You just like to make cry. Just abusing my heart like a damn stress ball.
    Damn this is good.

  2. Okay, let me see if I can condense my desire to just incoherently squee at you into something semi-intelligible.

    Hot damn, this story (and series) is just a perfect fucking delight. I reread the first story before diving into this one and it was every bit as enjoyable on the second read. And to move right on to this was such a treat. The soft family feels, the absolutely intense and amazing intimacy between Buck and Eddies, Buck and Eddie communicating well and clearly, Buck maintaining good boundaries…it’s just all so damn good and it’s only the first part. I’m just going to be over hear sighing happily and diving into the next part as soon as work allows. You’ll probably make me cry again at some point, but it’s so worth it. <3 <3 <3

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