Take My Hand – 2/3 – Jilly James

Title: Take My Hand, Chapters 5-8
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 Five

Good morning, Buck.” Dr. Copeland smiled at him as soon as the Zoom call connected. He’d dropped Christopher off at Karen’s and then come back to the house for his appointment. “Your surroundings are different; where are you?”

“I’m at Eddie’s.”

You came home early, then. Was this in relation to the news segment?” She’d texted him the morning after it aired to make sure he was all right, and he’d assured her he was talking to Eddie and that Stuart had been mother henning him. He hadn’t been sitting around brooding.

“Yeah. The team down there were pretty adamant about kicking me out of the state.” He was smiling as he said it. “I needed to be with Eddie and Chris.”

She nodded. “I can imagine. You’ve mentioned that you never discussed the tsunami with your coworkers, and we were working on the idea of you opening up about that. How does it feel now that the decision was taken away from you?”

“That part feels pretty shitty, to be honest, but I think it’s been good to talk about it. I didn’t think so immediately though. The first conversation with Eddie was…” Buck squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head. “It was painful. And people still keep wanting to talk about it. Cap wants us all to have a session with Frank, one of the department psychologists. To discuss the day in detail, I guess. Eddie wants me to attend Christopher’s sessions with his therapist. It’s a lot.”

So…I think it logically follows that you and I should put some time in on the subject, don’t you think?”

“Yeah, but not today. I really want to talk about what else came up.”

Oh? Did something happen?”

“You could say that.” Buck rubbed his palms over his thighs, rubbing the nerves out. “Eddie and I are together now.”

Dr. Copeland’s eyebrows shot up. “That’s sudden. Are you happy with this change?”

“Yeah. Very. It was a shock, but it was everything I wanted. I showed up to surprise him on Friday night, he meant to hug me, but kissed me instead. That was that.”

Well.” Dr. Copeland laughed. “Congratulations. Why don’t you fill me in on how things have been since Friday.”

He filled her in on where they were so far and that he’d be moving in.

Does that seem fast to you, Buck?”

“Yes, but also no.”

Can you explain the no part to me? Because you’ve been a couple for a matter of days.”

“Aside from the addition of sex and sleeping together, it weirdly doesn’t feel like anything is different. We lived together during a big chunk of the pandemic, and I’ve spent the bulk of my off time with Eddie and Chris for years.” He shrugged. “It feels like where I’m supposed to be.”

Even if it doesn’t seem like a big change, it is significant. I’m concerned you might come to view your haste as foolish.”

Buck worried the inside of his cheek between his teeth, trying to figure out how to respond. “Maybe it is foolish, but this is where I feel like I need to be. Maybe I’m due some foolishness. Besides.” He fiddled with the pen he kept close in case he needed to make notes. “I know Eddie is all in. He’s so careful with Christopher, and if he’s telling me he loves me and wants me to live here, if he’s putting that in Chris’ awareness, then he’s playing for keeps. And I want that. None of the relationships I tried worked because Chris and Eddie were already my family.”

Dr. Copeland nodded, though he could tell she didn’t really approve. “Walk me through how you came to the decision.”

He spent most of the hour going through everything and answering her questions. He could tell she thought they were moving too quickly, but she also accepted his explanations and conceded that if it was a mistake that it was Buck’s right to make it. Dr. Copeland often gave him reality checks, but she never tried to gainsay his decisions, which he appreciated. It’s one of the things that had made him realize how often Maddie tried to override him.

When they had a bare ten minutes left, she cocked her head to the side. “I can tell there’s something on your mind.”

“Yeah, but I’m not sure it’s an appropriate topic.”

Ah.” She nodded. “Meaning it’s about sex. Buck, a lot of my patients discuss sex issues. You haven’t wanted to, for reasons you’ve shared, so I have never pushed it. That you were even willing to broach the matter of your sexuality recently was a real stride forward.

He made a face, feeling uncomfortable.

Are you two having problems?”

“No!” he assured immediately. “Not really. It’s just…” He blew out a breath and decided to just suck it up and get it out there. “The first time we tired, um, anal penetration, I got really emotional and sort of had a meltdown.”

Did you not like it?”

“I did.” God, he loved it so much. “It just felt so intimate and almost too personal. I felt exposed and confused, and I just kind of lost it.”

And how did Eddie handle that?”

“He stopped and held me for a while then we figured out how to proceed. Anyway,” he waved his hand. “I’m just confused and in my head about it.”

Why is that? Because you had an emotional reaction? It sounds like you both handled it well. You communicated that you were having a problem, and he dealt with it just about perfectly from what you’ve described.”

“I don’t know.” Buck fidgeted. “What if it’s always like that?”

It may or may not be. You might one day acclimate to the emotions that come with that type of sexual act. Though I’d challenge you not to think of your emotional reaction as a good or bad one. Sexual intimacy can bring deep emotions for many people, and for some, it’s always that way. Certainly allowing someone to penetrate your body in any fashion is deeply intimate. Try to give yourself room to accept your experience, whatever it might be.”

He nodded, still feeling a little uncomfortable about how he’d reacted, but talking about it helped. He’d been hesitant to talk about it more with Eddie, but he also knew Eddie was willing to not only discuss it but do whatever it took to ensure Buck was comfortable.

Buck, one other thing on this subject. After the situation with Dr. Wells, you’ve been very hesitant to bring up specific matters related to sex.”

Buck tensed.

Believe me, I understand why, and I’m not making a statement of fault. We agreed early on that one of your boundaries would be discussing any specifics of sex, and that you would need to be the one to bring it up if we ever did discuss it. I think it’s a real sign of growth and healing that you’re willing to be more forthright about sexual issues.”

“Thanks.”

Try to accept that it’s all right to feel however you feel. As we’ve discussed, feelings aren’t facts, but that doesn’t mean your feelings aren’t valid.”

Buck nodded, easily able to see how that was true in the situation yesterday morning with Eddie. He’d felt lost and alone even though it was proveably false.

After he finished with Dr. Copeland, he had a long phone call with Grace, which was partly just to catch up but also because she was the person who came to mind when the issue of needing to give an interview had come up.

Talking to Grace always made him feel calmer and more clear. She had a very direct but also nuanced way of looking at things. It was as if she missed nothing. She had a lot of good advice for him and promised to give him a pep talk if he had to actually give an interview. He’d talked to reporters a few times over the years, but he always felt like an idiot.

The other person he really liked talking to was Stuart. The old guy was even more straightforward and weirdly made Buck the most relaxed because Buck never questioned that Stuart was hiding something from him. Judd was the person he wanted to be around and not talk. Judd was a soothing presence for Buck. He was steady and you knew you’d be okay when Judd was there.

Buck could keep in touch with everyone else via text and social media for the most part, but Stuart was not prepared to get on board that bandwagon. So, he also spent a half an hour on the phone with Stuart, laughing as the old guy bitched about his idiot sons. Stuart confessed he didn’t mind getting texts but found sending replies difficult with his hands. Buck promised to send Stuart lots of texts, and he wouldn’t be bothered if Stuart couldn’t reply. He warned Stuart he had a fondness for humor memes and to be sitting down when he looked at his phone. The last thing he wanted was to be responsible for Stuart falling while reading a text.

He made note to have Grace teach Stuart the art of the emoji reply.

He exchanged a few texts with Bobby, arranging to start back to work on Saturday. Bobby then asked if he could call.

Hi, Buck,” Bobby greeted as soon as Buck answered.

“Hey. Everything okay?”

Yeah. I just though it’d be better to talk about this next part in person. I was thinking it’d be a good idea for us all to talk through the tsunami before Saturday. Keep it from spilling over into work.”

Buck rubbed the back of his head. “Bobby.”

Buck. You said you’d be willing.”

Except he really didn’t want to. “I really hate talking about it.”

That seems like a red flag, kid. We need to talk about it. Frank is available at four on Friday. My place.”

Buck groaned. “Yeah, okay.”

Also, I’m going to text you the name of a PR person with the department. I need you to reach out to her sooner rather than later. Before your shift on Saturday. Because the chief will show up with her and corner you if you haven’t taken care of it by then. Better to do it on your own terms.”

“Understood.”

In the spirit of getting all the bad news out of the way, I figure I’ll warn you that I overheard Chim mention to Hen that he was going to just schedule some time for you and Maddie with Frank and hope that it was okay. I guess the waiting is driving him crazy.”

Buck groaned, but he knew that was coming. “Thanks for the heads’ up.”

They chatted for a couple of more minutes then Buck hung up.

With too much time on his hands, and hating the uncertainty of everything, Buck decided to read his emails from Maddie. She’d mostly respected his requests to not email him while he was gone, having only sent a couple that he ignored, but after the broadcast, it’d been a constant stream of emails and texts. Buck hadn’t been reading any of it.

That had been one of the firm boundaries in his own mind about going to Texas: he had to cut off the communication with Maddie for a time so he could get clear in his head how he felt about things without her emotions and her situation influencing him.

Evan,

Please call me. I know you must be upset about what you saw on Taylor Kelly’s report. I promise you, I swear, Evan, I didn’t know they were going to do that. You must have already guessed that I told them about the train and you being on the cover of TIME. I also told them you asked to be anonymous and that TIME had respected your wishes. I don’t even know how Kelly found them to interview. Please, we need to talk. This has gone on too long.

I love you, little brother. Please call. I know I promised not to email, but aren’t we past that now?

–Maddie

He blew out a breath and opened the next one.

Evan,

I spoke to Mom and Dad again about the interview. Dad was quiet, I don’t think he even wanted to do it, but Mom got mad. She said I’d betrayed her trust by telling you about Daniel, so I couldn’t expect her to keep the promise about your anonymity with the train. God, Evan, I’m so, so sorry. Please stop avoiding me. We have to talk about this. Mom and Dad really are proud of you and they really do love you; I think Mom was getting back at me for talking about Daniel, and I’m sorry you were caught in the crossfire. I love you.

–Maddie

He drummed his fingers on the table, wondering why she was focused on the TIME cover. Maybe she hadn’t brought up the tsunami to them. Maybe they’d figured that out on their own.

He opened another email that was in a similar vein to the first two. It was the fourth email that the tsunami was finally mentioned.

Evan,

Chimney asked me how they knew about the tsunami stuff. Specifically about the Facebook group and all the details. Yes, I’m the one who told them about that, but, Evan, it’s not that hard to find. I figured even you knew. You’ve never wanted to talk to anyone about that day, and you always shut down when I bring it up, but that didn’t mean you were ignorant about it. There are even videos on YouTube. Chim was surprised that I’d never mentioned any of that to him. I guess I figured if you didn’t want to talk about that day, I probably shouldn’t talk to your coworkers about it. But Mom and Dad really wanted to know what your job is like. Please call me.

I love you.

–Maddie.

Buck sighed and pushed the laptop away. She couldn’t even see it. Couldn’t see all the contradiction in her own behavior as she tried to justify it. Their parents had known about the tsunami since it happened, but they’d never cared before Buck was on the news. He figured their mother only became interested when she realized Buck had a following.

He sent a text to Chim.

Buck: I think I should meet with Frank ahead of the session with Maddie. Do you think that’s okay?

The reply came back pretty quick so either they weren’t on a call or they were in the truck.

Chim: Yeah. I’ll send you his number. Everything okay? I was going to write you anyway that I’d set up a session for next Thursday, the 8th, end of day, because I’m hoping you’re ready to do this. It’s taking over my session with him if that works. I don’t mind giving it up to get you guys talking again. Are you game to do it in person? Everyone is vaccinated; Maddie had her second dose while you were in Austin.

Buck: In person is fine. Thursday is good.
Buck: I’ll call Frank today and see if he has time to talk to me ahead of time. Everything is okay. Just reading Maddie’s emails. She’s never had rose colored glasses about our parents before. I’m not sure why she has them now.
Buck: It’s really confusing to be honest.

Chim: I don’t know, man. It’s confusing on a good day to me too. She’ll go from yelling at them to defending them in the space of an hour. Pregnancy hormones?

Buck: Too easy to write everything off as that but maybe. We’ll figure it out. Thanks Chim.

Feeling antsy, Buck wanted to get out of the house. He decided to leave a message for Frank before he left and hoped the man had a time slot available before the session with Maddie, or maybe just a few minutes at the end of the day. Buck made a face. He really hated all this.

He wasn’t at all prepared for the man to answer his own phone.

This is Frank.”

“Oh. Uh.”

Is there something I can help you with?”

“Sorry, I wasn’t expecting you to answer your own phone.”

Frank laughed. “I get that a lot. I do my own scheduling, so if I’m not with a patient, I do answer my phone to save me a return call. May I ask who’s calling?”

“This is Evan Buckley.”

Mr. Buckley, I’ve heard a lot about you. Thank you for calling me.”

“Buck is fine. Preferred.” He blew out a breath. “Sorry. This is awkward. Chim mentioned that he’d set up a session for us to all talk next week, and it occurred to me it might be good if I talked to you ahead of that.”

I have time now, if you don’t mind me eating lunch while we talk.”

“Oh.” Buck was a little taken aback. “That’s fine. You don’t want me to schedule a session?”

If I think that’s necessary, I’ll let you know, but I assume you want to give me some background on the situation from your perspective? I’ll be acting as an ostensibly neutral party in this, but you’re the one person I don’t really know. Are you all right talking now, or would you prefer to schedule some time? I could get you in tomorrow late in the day or I have a few openings on Monday.

“Now is good; I’d rather not come in tomorrow, and I work on Monday. Also, I have a therapist already, and I don’t want a new one. Sorry, I’m not trying to be a dick, but I don’t want a clinical situation here.”

No, it’s good to understand and express your boundaries. I should mention up front that I mentioned to Maddie and Chimney both the possibility that I’d need to talk to you privately, and they’ve both given permission for me to discuss certain issues, particularly as they pertain to you and your shared history with Maddie and your parents. However, there may be some things that I can’t comment on.”

“Okay. I can understand that.”

Good. I understand from Chimney that you’re back in California?”

“Yeah, I arrived on Friday night after the Taylor Kelly interview aired.”

I saw that, and I’ve discussed it with Chimney and Maddie separately. They have very different views on it. What’s your perspective?”

“The interview felt like a big invasion of my privacy that was hurtful to me, my partner, and his son, but I don’t think that’s what you mean.”

Actually, I wasn’t aware you and Eddie were a couple.”

“That’s new as of Friday.”

Congratulations. I hope you’re both very happy.”

“Thanks, we are.”

Setting aside that aspect of it, how do you feel about your parents’ involvement in the interview?”

“My parents’ involvement is the issue, isn’t it? They shouldn’t have even known that stuff, but them talking to a reporter was some next level bullshit. Sorry, should I not swear?”

It’s fine. I’ve heard much more colorful language than that. Why do you say they shouldn’t have even known? Maddie did tell me that the TIME Magazine cover was supposed to be a secret but that she’d told them.”

“I think the issue is why she told them. Look, the interview is just a symptom. This isn’t about my parents. I wouldn’t choose to go to therapy with them. This is about me and Maddie. And I’m honestly confused. Maddie’s relationship with them was no better than mine growing up. Did she tell you about when I left Pennsylvania and how she’d promised to leave with me but then didn’t?”

Yes, she and I discussed that time in her life and how the real reason she didn’t leave with you was because of Doug, though apparently you didn’t learn that until recently.”

“Right, but did she tell you that when I was trying to persuade her to leave Doug that the first reason she gave for not doing so was that she didn’t want to prove Mom right about Doug? Did she explain that she stuck it out in an abusive relationship, for some amount of time, because she couldn’t bear for our mother to be right? Obviously, there was more to it, but that’s not okay.”

Hmm.” Frank said nothing further, so Buck inferred that Maddie hadn’t told him that, and they’d crossed into an area where Frank couldn’t comment.

“My point is that her relationship with them historically hasn’t been any better than mine. In the last ten years, I’ve spoken to my parents less than five times, and always at my instigation. I went three years without hearing from Maddie herself before she showed up unannounced in my apartment and conned her way in when I wasn’t at home. On the one hand, I get why she showed up that way, but on the other, she has an expectation that her circumstances mean that I can’t be hurt about her ghosting me.”

Certainly both things can be true at the same time. She can have been in bad circumstances, and you’re still allowed to be hurt. Can you explain a little more about Maddie’s arrival back in your life?”

Buck went through how Maddie had arrived without telling him, and either bribed her way in or conned the manager to let her in. “I get that she was desperate, though she didn’t tell me that until way later. But she also told me that Doug had only been abusing her for a year, something she’s continued to tell me. It was the revelation about why she didn’t really leave with me that exposed that lie. I have a hunch she’s trying to protect me, but I don’t need that kind of protection.”

I see.”

“Do you, Frank? Because I don’t. I’m sure you’ve got insights that are eluding me, but I really don’t get why after a decade of almost no contact with my parents that my sister is shoving them down my throat.” Buck took a deep breath. “And now I’m getting off topic and getting pissed off.”

What would be on topic as far as you’re concerned?”

“I need you to understand where I’m coming from, what my limits are, before we meet together.”

All right.”

“I’m not looking for reconciliation with my parents. In fact, I don’t want it. I want them out of my life. Maddie is deeply invested in persuading me that they love me, but I kind of don’t think that’s the point. I. Don’t. Want. Them. Around. I will put up with them for my niece’s birthdays, but that’s it. What I need from Maddie is for her to respect me and my limits when it comes to our parents.”

Why do you think Maddie is deeply invested, as you say, in persuading you that they love you?”

“I honestly don’t know. She was adamant that I do not talk to them about her when she arrived in California, which was laugh worthy because I don’t talk to them. She already knows I didn’t talk to them after the bombing or the tsunami or any of it. She chose to get in touch with them after the bombing, but I don’t think she did after the embolisms because of their lack of reaction to my leg being crushed. So, she knows they’re not invested in me. She knows that. It’s like she’s rewriting history, and I don’t get why.

“Anyway, I’d like to read you the emails she sent me after the interview aired.”

I’m listening.”

Buck read through the first four emails he’d already read and then read a couple more than were in a similar vein. The emails weren’t awful, but they weren’t great either.

What are your thoughts on that? What do you think she’s trying to do?”

“I don’t know,” Buck said, frustration coloring his every word. “Chim wants to write this off as pregnancy hormones, but I think that’s dismissing everything and hoping that giving birth will solve our problems. Maybe the pregnancy is driving her to want to have her parents closer, but she fundamentally doesn’t feel safe with them without me. And if that’s the case, I’d don’t know what to do.”

We’ll certainly need to discuss that.”

“Or maybe…”

Buck?”

Buck rubbed his forehead. “Maybe Maddie feels guilty about not telling me about Daniel, and she thinks if she can convince me that they love me, I won’t feel like they just had me for spare parts. Maybe she’s doing this, forcing herself to be around them, because she thinks it’s going to help me.”

It could be a combination of any number of things, though I think it is likely more than one thing.”

“So, it could be her own need for family, guilt, and her need to fix things for me? I mean, Maddie was always trying to fix things for me when we were kids.”

It’s certainly possible, and more likely than a single, specific motivation. Human beings are often complex in why they act in certain ways.”

Buck made a sound like raspberry.

Frank laughed. “So, your limit is you don’t want your parents in your life?”

“Not just that. Maddie needs to stop trying to persuade me—whether it’s that they love me or that I should have a relationship with them. I don’t begrudge her having whatever relationship she wants with them, but I need her to leave me out of it and stop trying to convince me that I’m wrong.

That’s fair, Buck. You aren’t required to have a relationship with anyone. Not even your sister. And in that vein, do you want to have a relationship with her?”

“Of course I do. I love Maddie. She was my everything when I was a kid, but I think our relationship is too much about when I was a kid. I didn’t see Maddie and barely talked to her for seven and a half years; I heard nothing for the last three years of her marriage. The seven and a half years is all the time I was becoming an adult. I saw her infrequently once she left for college when I was nine. So while we talked on the phone several times a week, she didn’t spend a lot of in-person time with me as a teen either.”

What’s your conclusion about that, Buck?”

“I wonder if I’m stuck in Maddie’s head at the age of nine.”

That’s a fair question, and I’m glad you brought it up ahead of time because it’s something I can bring into the conversation with the three of you. Are you comfortable having that part of the discussion, if it comes up, in front of Chimney?”

Buck blew out a breath. “Yeah. I figure nothing about my past is off Chimney’s radar anymore. I just need to know that what we discuss he’s going to try to keep out of the station.” Chim really was shit about secrets. “I don’t need to be teased on the job about childhood stuff he learned from my sister.”

Also a fair request. Anything else you think I need to know?”

“I don’t feel like I’m asking for a lot, Frank, but I’m not flexible about this stuff, you know? Maybe that makes me a dick, but I can’t give on it.”

I don’t think you need to, Buck. Your boundaries are simple and to ask you to bend on them would be to ask you not to have boundaries, and that’s not a reasonable request. You mentioned you’re in therapy currently…?”

“Yes. Dr. Maria Copeland.”

I actually know Maria. Would you be comfortable with her and I discussing this ahead of time? If you are, you’ll need to talk to her first because you’ll need to sign a release in order for her to have a conversation with me.”

“Yeah, I can do that.”

That would be very helpful, Buck, and please don’t hesitate to mark any topic off-limits. I’m sure she’ll be thorough in ascertaining what the bounds are, but know that you won’t offend or hinder me by taking any topic off the table, all right?”

“Okay.”

If you think of anything else you want to discuss with me before our session next Thursday, please call. I know our timeline is short, as that’s just over a week away, but I’ll make time to talk to either you or Maria before then, even if we have to schedule a few minutes after hours.”

They finalized a few other details and Buck hung up. “Damn, shrinks,” he muttered as he texted Dr. Copeland. “Always getting you to say things you didn’t intend to.” He actually hadn’t consciously thought before about Maddie being stuck on Buck at nine-years-old, but it made a lot of sense. At least, in some ways.

Dr. Copeland called him rather than texting back because she was also eating lunch. He made mental note to never, ever again make contact with a therapist on their lunch break.

They agreed on the bounds of what she could discuss with Frank, and she sent him a link to some system he could go into to fill out the authorization for her to discuss his care with another therapist.

“Am I covered by any of that doctor-patient stuff with Frank since I’m not his patient?”

She went through the ins and outs with him about how therapists interacted with one another, what the professional ethics were, and that Buck would have some measure of privacy as Frank’s patient once he was part of a group session. The short answer was yes, but Buck felt dizzy from information overload.

He hung up feeling a little out of sorts and a lot cranky. He could go to his place and work on packing up his stuff, but he decided to see if May wanted to get coffee before she went on shift and Buck had to pick up Christopher from Karen. Buck was inherently social, and he really wanted to catch up with everyone before he went back to work. She’d already reached out asking him to make time to see her, and this was an ideal time.

He’d already discussed it with Bobby and his first shift back would be this Saturday. He’d work Saturday and then Monday, and then have four days off before another Saturday and Monday. He sent a text to Eddie.

Buck: Chimney set up the group session with Maddie for next Thursday. And Bobby set one up for this Friday. I said yes that was fine but all of a sudden it seems like I’m being hit in the face with how fast this all is.

It was nearly five minutes before he heard back from Eddie and in that time May had enthusiastically agreed to meet. She wasn’t scheduled on shift until four and wanted to monopolize Buck until he had to pick up Christopher.

Eddie: That does seem fast. You can still say no even though you’ve already said yes. Regardless of what anyone else wants, you don’t have to talk until you’re ready.

Buck: I know. Part of me wants to get this over with though. More Maddie than the team thing. I read some of Maddie’s emails. It’s exhausting. I can’t keep this up.

Eddie: Do you want me to go next week?

Buck: Ugh. Yes? But that feels like doubles couples counseling. Is that the worst double date in history or what?

Eddie: Possibly, yes, but it’s not really a date. Speaking of, we should go out on a date.

Buck: Really?

Eddie: Yes, really. Chris is probably going to be territorial of your evenings for a while, but the minute he’s ready for a sleepover: you, me, dinner, making out in the truck afterward like teenagers.

Buck: You assume a lot Diaz.

Eddie: Nah. You love me.

Buck grinned, feeling like his insides were made of taffy.

He sent back and eyeroll gif.

Buck: Of course I’ll date you.

Eddie: Good. Of course I’ll be there Friday, and I’ll come with you next week if you want me to. You can let me know right up until the time you have to leave. I won’t be upset if you change your mind.

Buck: Thanks. I’m off to have coffee with May. After the double therapist tap I’m not up to packing this afternoon. I may take Chris over there before dinner though.

Eddie: Wait. Double therapist??

Buck: I talked to Frank on the phone.

Eddie: I think I needed to be informed about your masochistic streak in advance. This is a worrying trend.

Buck: Ha fucking ha.

Eddie: Enjoy your coffee.

Buck did enjoy his afternoon with May. He knew she was working with Maddie, but she tactfully didn’t bring up anything about Buck’s family. Someone recognized him by his birthmark while he was in line at Starbuck’s, so that was made of annoying. Having to wear masks should be good for anonymity, but not in his case.

They decided to go to the park to sit and chat, far away from others. May wasn’t vaccinated yet, so they sat at opposite ends of the bench to drink their coffee and talk.

“Wearing masks probably helps you stay anonymous most of the time, huh?” May asked as she sipped her mocha, which she made sticky sweet with extra chocolate and vanilla.

“Probably. The birthmark is distinctive, but most people from the tsunami wouldn’t recognize me from that because I had cuts all over my face. They only recognize me now because of Taylor’s reporting.” Buck huffed and took a long drink.

“Are you going to do an interview?”

“I may not have a choice since my department is pushing it.” He made a face. “But I got some good advice from a friend about how to handle it.”

“Which friend?” Her tone was just inquisitive.

“Grace Ryder. She’s a 9-1-1 dispatcher from Austin. She takes level-headed to a whole new level, really. You’d love her.”

“Really?” May perked up. “Do you think she’d friend me?”

“I’ll send her your social media accounts if you want me to.”

“Definitely. Was that who you were staying with in Austin?”

“Yep. Her and her husband, Judd. I’ve met Judd a few other times.” He figured the details weren’t really that important, not even the fact that one of those times they hadn’t really met, they’d just attended the same funeral.

They talked a little bit about his trip, then how things had gone for her the last month.

“Do you think I’m wrong for taking a gap year?”

“May, I’m the last person to ask about that.”

She nudged him with her foot. “Why the last person?”

“Because I dropped out of college and wandered around the country for years.”

“Did you ever go back to school?”

“I did.”

“Did you regret dropping out?”

“Not for a second,” he said firmly.

“What’s your degree in?”

“Civil engineering.”

Her mouth fell open.

“What? I know people think I’m kind of a braindead idiot, but I’m—”

“No, Buck!” she interrupted, actually kicking him. “I never thought that. It’s just you’re so peopley.”

Peopley?” he repeated with a laugh.

“Yeah. I don’t know, I just figured you were studying sociology or something. Engineering doesn’t sound like you.”

“Ugh. No. I might be extroverted, but people confuse the hell out of me.”

The stared at her coffee, picking at the insulator sleeve. “Yeah, me too.”

“Some rough calls?” he guessed.

She nodded. “It sucks some days.”

“That it does. I wish I could tell you that it gets easier, but I kind of hope it doesn’t.”

She looked up, expression confused. “Huh?”

“If it gets easier, you’ve maybe become a bit callous. Once you learn how to compartmentalize, it’s as easy it’s going to get unless you become jaded, numb, or callous. I don’t wish any of those for you.”

“So what do you do?”

“Figure out how to let it out, I suppose. Figure out who you can talk to who will listen to your terrible day and not tell you to get a new job. Sometimes, that’s a therapist. The department provides them for a reason.”

She bit her lips. “Could you be my person sometimes?”

“Yeah, May. I can listen.”

“Maddie is super helpful—” She winced. “Sorry, I’m not supposed to bring up Maddie.”

“Of course you can bring up Maddie. She’s my sister and I love her, I just don’t want to talk about our family issues right now, but you can mention that she exists. She’s your friend, your coworker, of course you can talk about her.”

“Okay.” May leaned forward a bit. “She is really helpful, but she always tries to problem solve, you know? And sometimes I just need to get it off my chest. Dad listens, but I can see he really takes it hard. Mom tries to help, but she just wants me to quit even if she’s trying to keep that to herself.”

“And Bobby?”

“Bobby’s good, but I don’t want to share things with him I won’t share with Mom, you know?”

“I suppose. Though you’re going to have different relationships with all four of them. It’s not your job to manage that.”

“Four? Oh, David! Yes. I do like him a lot, though I don’t get to spend as much time with him as the others. I hope he’s going to be a permanent fixture in Dad’s life.”

“They seem good together. But, yes, May Grant, you can talk to me. I’ll listen and only offer advice if you ask.”

“Can I extend the same offer to you? That I’ll listen if you ever need to talk?”

He was surprised, but also touched. He couldn’t foresee a circumstance where he would call to unload on May, but he appreciated her thoughtfulness. “Thanks, May. I’ll keep it in mind.”

She nodded. “Should we take coffee to the station?”

“Hmm. Let’s see if they’re there.”

He fired off a text to Eddie and got a confirmation that they were on their way back from a call and the other half of the squad were already there.

“Let’s go use some of my Starbuck’s rewards.”

“Cool! Gives us more time together and I get to grill you about Eddie!”

“What if I don’t want to gossip?”

“Does anything in what I said sound optional?”

He laughed, and they headed back to their cars.

Chapter Six

Eddie’s watch vibrated at 6:00 AM, and he woke easily, ready for the day. His shift ended in two hours, and then he was meeting Buck to get his lover moved in. Their last full callout had been a little before 10:00 PM, but there’d been a paramedic callout about two hours ago. Chim and Hen weren’t in their bunks, so he wasn’t sure if they were still on the call or back at the station somewhere.

He got changed and ready for the day. One of the things he sometimes found hard to adjust to at first was how often during a day a firefighter could change clothes. Getting dressed at 6:00 just to change again back into his street clothes at 8:00 was just one example.

When he got out to the loft, Chim and Hen were both sitting at the small dining table, drinking coffee. “Just get back?”

Hen smiled and gestured to the counter. “About ten minutes ago. We picked up donuts.”

He grabbed a couple of donuts, and his coffee then joined the pair at the table. “How’d the call go?”

“Heart attack. Routine as these things go.” Hen shrugged. “We delivered our patient still alive to the hospital.” She exchanged a look with Chim, and Eddie knew something was up. “Eddie, can we talk?”

He raised a brow. “What’s up?”

“We’re just a little concerned about you and Buck.”

“Why? Everything’s fine.” Everything was great. He took a bite of the chocolate donut with rainbow sprinkles. Buck and Chris both loved sprinkles; he’d picked the doughnut because it made him think of them.

“You’re just moving so fast,” she said cautiously.

Chim huffed. “He hasn’t even been back a week and he’s moving in. That’s the speed of light.”

Eddie was instantly irritated, but he pushed it aside. Getting angry and defensive wasn’t going to help. “It is fast, and we know that. We’ve talked about it. But this has been two-and-a-half years in the making. Plus, we’ve lived together before.”

“Not as lovers, as partners,” Hen countered.

“No, but how do you judge the difference between living together platonically and living together romantically other than to do it?” He held up a hand to stop the obvious responses. “When he abruptly left, I was afraid he wasn’t going to come back. I had to watch him walk away, wondering if I’d lost him.”

Hen looked startled, but Chim didn’t.

“I thought the same,” Chim admitted.

“Buck and I might be moving too fast by some people’s standards, but we’re happy, and this is what we want.” He didn’t need to justify their decision, not even to their family.

“All right,” Hen said. “We love you both, and we’re concerned. I just wanted to put it out there.”

Eddie wanted to warn them both off of taking their concerns to Buck, but he knew that the warning in and of itself gave their argument weight. If he and Buck really were ready for this, they both had to be able to stand up to well-meaning friends and family.

– – – –

Buck shoved the mattress onto the frame. They’d had to rearrange the room a little because Buck’s bed was wider than Eddie’s and the wall the bed had been on wasn’t a good fit. Eddie opened the duffel Buck had packed with linens and began tossing the mattress pad and sheets on the bed.

Eyebrow shooting up, Buck asked, “Are we rushing?”

“Yep. You make the bed, I’ll get everything else situated, then we can get in the shower.”

“What’s the rush? We don’t even need to go get Chris for like two hours.” Buck and Chris had worked at Buck’s place for a little while after school yesterday before they’d gone to see Abuela. So Buck had most things ready for when Eddie got off shift this morning. All they’d had to do was move the bed and a few things from Eddie’s and then pick up Buck’s stuff.

“Six hours,” Eddie corrected.

“Pardon me?”

“Karen and Hen are going to keep him until dinner. I persuaded him to give up a few hours of his Buck time if we all went to dinner and then to a drive-in movie.”

Buck crossed his arms and gave his lover a teasing grin. “While that sounds fun, why would you do that?”

Eddie moved in and grabbed at Buck’s belt buckle, pulling him close. “Because our most promising alone time is when we’re not on shift and while Chris is at school. No locking the door, no worries about little ears, no little bodies needing water. Just you and me and an empty house.” He pressed a lingering kiss right by Buck’s mouth. “See, I figured there was a solid chance tomorrow was going to suck with this group session with the team. Saturday we’re both working,” a kiss was pressed to his throat, “and today we had to move your stuff.” Eddie’s tongue flicked over his pulse point, and Buck shivered. “That only left us with time after Christopher goes to bed. I’m not going to be done with you that quickly.”

Buck grabbed at Eddie’s waist, feeling a little breathless. “Is that right?”

“Yeah, that’s right.” Eddie nipped along the long line of Buck’s throat. “I’m addicted to you, cariño.”

“Well, I’m not complaining.” Buck had been obsessed with the thoughts of their last sex-filled morning together. They’d both been tired when they’d gone to bed that night, kissing a little but then falling asleep. Eddie barely made it out the door on time for his shift the next morning, so any morning fun had been out.

Eddie abruptly pulled away. “Make the bed. Let me finish up out there and then shower off all this dust.” There had been mutant dust bunnies under both of their beds, and moving stuff around left them both more than a little dirty. They’d swapped TVs, beds, and some of the bedroom furniture; most of the bedroom furniture was an addition, however.

“What about the kitchen?” Buck asked as Eddie was heading out of the room.

“Who cares about unpacking the kitchen? The TV is setup, which is what Chris will care about, and the bed is about to be made, which is what I care about. Get on with it, Buckley, and then get your ass in the shower!”

Buck grinned and got to work. It didn’t take him long to make the bed and even unpack the rest of his clothes. Eddie only minimally occupied the space he had available, and since they’d brought in Buck’s dresser, he wasn’t even displacing any of Eddie’s clothes.

He was naked and about to step into the shower when Eddie entered the bathroom. “Well, that’s a beautiful sight.”

Buck stepped into the shower and leaned against the wall. He slid one hand down his chest. “You see something you want, Diaz?”

Eddie shed his clothes, leaving them in a pile on the floor. He crowded Buck under the water and back against the far wall. Buck had never had anyone manhandle him the way Eddie did, and he loved it.

From scant inches away, Eddie’s gaze flicked over Buck’s face. “I don’t see something I want; I see everything I want.”

Feeling his face get warm and his insides turn to liquid, Buck curled his arms around Eddie’s shoulders. “Eds…” In the next instant, their mouths were pressed together, tongues tangling. Buck had never experienced sex like this; the way his mind would get all foggy and all he could think about was Eddie.

“What do you want, Evan?” Eddie whispered against Buck’s mouth. “Should we try the toy again? Want to try something new? Do you want to fuck me?” He left kisses all the way to Buck’s ear and then caught the earlobe in his teeth.

Buck shivered. “I do, I want that so bad, but I can’t stop thinking about the other morning.”

“You want me to spread you out the bed, slip the Trident up your sweet little ass, and then hold you in my arms while you fall apart.”

“No. I loved that, Eddie, I did. It was so good, and that’s why I want you to fuck me. I want your cock in me.”

Eddie groaned and stopped teasing Buck’s ear. He let their foreheads rest together. “I want that, baby, but I’m so much bigger. You’re going to be sore and—”

Buck put a finger over Eddie’s lips. “Unless you’re telling me we’re never going to fuck, we have to cross this hurdle sometime. I don’t work tomorrow, so my ass will have plenty of time to recover.”

Eddie’s hands clenched on Buck’s hips. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

“I know that; I’ve never had any doubt.” He pushed Eddie back enough that he could really assess his lover’s expression. “Is this about the other day? When I freaked out.”

Eddie’s jaw muscles flexed. “Maybe a little. I don’t want you to feel that way with me.”

“I don’t think I will. We’ll figure it out, Eds. But I think, maybe, it might always make me feel a little vulnerable. I don’t know. I might be a little clingy or something. Or maybe I’ll just get really used to it and turn into the bossiest power bottom in California and expect you to throw me over every available flat surface and nail me until I can’t see straight.”

Eddie laughed but his dick twitched against Buck’s hip.

“Yeah, you like that idea.” Buck grinned.

Instead of answering, Eddie came in for another kiss. He didn’t let it go on too long. Instead, he began hustling them both through finishing up their showers.

Fifteen minutes later, they were mostly dry and lying on clean sheets, blankets kicked aside. Eddie was sprawled out on top of him, their legs intertwined. Buck was addicted to the feel of Eddie’s weight pushing him into the mattress.

“You sure?” Eddie asked.

“Yes, Eddie. I’m not fragile.”

“You’re the strongest person I know, Evan, but that doesn’t mean I ever want to be the one responsible for hurting you.”

Buck pulled him down into another kiss.

“Do you have a preference for position?”

“I’d like it face to face the first time, if that’s all right.” Buck had always liked sex to be more intimate, to look his partners in the eye.

“It’s not the easiest position the first time, but it’s not the worst either. But I’d like to be able to stay in closer contact while I work you open, so how about rolling on your side?”

They shifted position until Buck was on his side, Eddie pressed up tight to his back. A stubbled chin scraped over the back of his neck, and Eddie’s big, strong hands slid over Buck’s ass cheeks. “How’s this?” He also felt Eddie’s erection poking him.

“Good. I like having you close. I like you touching me.”

“You’re such a hedonist.”

Buck looked over his shoulder. “Complaining?”

Eddie dropped a kiss on his mouth. “Not even a little. Bring your top leg up.”

Buck moved his leg, opening himself, though not as much as in some other positions they’d tried.

“Stroke your cock,” Eddie ordered.

“While I still can?” Buck joked. He still wasn’t sure how he felt about his dick’s weird performance during prostate stimulation, but it didn’t seem to faze Eddie a bit, so Buck was trying not to let it bother him. Still, stroking a hard dick was a lot easier than a soft one.

Eddie shuddered at his back, and Buck curled his fingers around his own erection as he considered what Eddie was reacting to.

Buck had an inkling and decided to test his theory. “It feels good and hard in my hand now, but soon you’ll have your cock in me and I’ll be soft again…”

Another tremor wracked Eddie’s frame and he bit at Buck’s shoulder.

“It turns you on,” Buck blurted out.

“What?” Eddie asked, licking at the place he’d bitten.

“The dick malfunction.”

“It’s not a malfunction,” Eddie snapped. “You work differently, but you still work just fine.”

“But it turns you on,” Buck pressed, looking back over his shoulder.

Eddie dropped his head to Buck’s shoulder, and Buck more felt the nod. “I can’t explain it.”

“It’d be great if you’d try.” Buck was more curious than anything, and he wasn’t sure he’d be able to let this go.

Hot breath drifted over Buck’s neck as Eddie seemed to consider his answer. Slippery fingers slid along Buck’s cleft and then stroked over his hole.

Buck’s eyes fluttered shut and he couldn’t stop the moan.

Eddie did nothing for several seconds but massage over Buck’s entrance. “Your leg is blocking my view. Let me see your cock, Evan.”

Buck moved his leg down enough that the view of his cock in his hand should be clear.

“Look at you, baby. You’ve got a perfect dick. Long, thick, utterly flawless. Keep stroking.” Eddie’s massaging fingers slid inside, and Buck’s breath hitched. “That’s right. See, the thing is, the reasons it turns me on are illogical. For starters, it’s like I’m controlling your body. I like to be in control.” Eddie began stroking his fingers in and out, going too slowly for Buck’s tastes. He was also avoiding where Buck wanted him to touch.

“I’ve noticed how you like to be in charge, yes.”

“Not in charge, Evan, in control. In charge is bossy. I want to hold you down, move you how I will, fuck you until you cry from it being too much.”

Buck shuddered.

“The urges are there, but it’s just in here, just in bed.”

“I know, Eds.” Buck tried to push back against the fingers sliding in and out of him. Such a new sensation, but one he was already loving.

“Don’t stop stroking your cock, Evan.” Eddie nipped reprovingly at his shoulder.

“Seems like you do want to be in charge.”

“You drive me crazy.” Eddie left hot, open-mouthed kisses over his skin. “The other thing is… Well, it’s like this weird caveman thing where you don’t even need an erection to get off when I’m touching you. It’s absurd and illogical, and I know that.” The strong, dexterous fingers pressed against that spot inside.

Buck shuddered as Eddie kept up the pressure, hitting his prostate on every stroke in. He couldn’t even speak. And with Eddie pressed up tight and close to his back, he felt grounded and safe. His dick began to soften but he kept stroking.

“Take your hand away. Reach back and hold yourself open.”

“Eds,” Buck choked out, but he reached back and grabbed his ass cheek, pulling it open to expose himself more.

“You’re so fucking hot.” Eddie’s breath ghosted down Buck’s spine, and Buck realized he was looking down at Buck’s ass. “Does it bother you? That you turn me on so much?”

“No,” Buck gasped. “I want to turn you on.”

“You do. Fuck, Evan, I’ve never felt anything like this.” A third finger slipped in, and Buck groaned.

“I just wanted to know,” Buck managed, trying to hold on to some sort of higher brain processing. “I didn’t want to feel self-conscious.”

“Don’t,” Eddie bit out. “Dios, don’t feel self-conscious about this. It’s such a fucking turn on to me.”

Buck let himself sink into the steady presence of Eddie at his back and the sensation of his fingers moving in his ass.

“You sure you want me to do this face-to-face?”

Buck grunted a reply.

“Evan, baby, I need a verbal reply.” The fingers slowed their assault.

“Yes,” he got out finally.

“I want to finish opening you up with you on your back. If you start feeling weird, let me know, okay?”

Buck nodded.

Eddie shifted their positions, and Buck nearly snarled at him when he slid his fingers out, making Eddie chuckle. He patted Buck’s thighs. “Bring your legs up. And here… For now, hold my free hand.”

Buck did as instructed, feeling a little breathless with how open the position was. His mind skittered around the sense of being too exposed, but then the was holding Eddie’s hand and staring into Eddie’s eyes, and it was okay again.

Two fingers slipped into him again, hitting Buck perfectly and making his eyes roll back in his head. “Tighten up around me and hold it as long as you can.”

He was confused, but Buck followed Eddie’s instructions, surprised to find he couldn’t stay tight around Eddie’s fingers all that long. A minute or so, maybe less. And he felt more relaxed when the muscles finally let go. They went through a couple of rounds of that before Eddie slipped the third finger back in then a fourth. He didn’t thrust, just inched them inside and held them there.

Buck hissed at the stretch.

“Hurt?”

He shook his head. “Intense.”

“I need you to tell me if it hurts.”

Buck nodded frantically. “Come on, Eds.”

“I want to get your dick in my mouth.”

Buck sucked in a breath.

Then Eddie was leaning down and taking Buck’s cock into wet and heat. With Buck only a little hard, Eddie was easily able to take the whole thing and sucked hard, making Buck arch up even as he pulled his knees closer to his chest. He let his legs splay farther apart as he stared down and met Eddie’s gaze.

Eddie was watching him closely as his tongue worked over Buck’s cock, fingers still deep in Buck’s ass. Buck’s breath came out in shuddery little gasps, feeling close to orgasm but both over and under stimulated at the same time.

“Eddie…” It came out sounding like a sob, and Eddie backed off with one last sharp little suck to the head of Buck’s cock. Eddie also pulled his fingers out of Buck’s hole and then broke their hold and reached for the towel.

Buck whimpered a protest.

“Condom.” He held up the packet briefly to demonstrate then ripped it open and rolled it on. They’d agreed they’d need three months before they could get rid of barriers for anal sex, but had agreed to immediately get rid of them with oral sex.

Eddie slicked up his cock then moved closer, stroking his hands soothingly over Buck’s calves. “You ready?”

Buck nodded.

Eddie gave a flirty smile. “Shall we test your flexibility?”

“Is that a challenge?” Buck’s brain felt a little more there now that Eddie had backed off a little bit.

Grinning, Eddie positioned the thick head of his cock at Buck’s hole. The pressure was intense, and Buck got a fleeting case of nerves. “Relax, Evan,” Eddie murmured, stroking gently over his skin. “Tighten up like we did earlier. Hold it as long as you can. In about thirty seconds, you’re going to relax, and it’s going to feel like it pulls me right inside. Then I want you to push against me like you’re trying to force me out.”

Buck did as directed, keeping eye contact with his lover the entire time, feeling his soothing strokes along his calves and thighs. When his anus relaxed, Eddie’s cock did start to slide right in. Buck’s breath caught and barely remembered to do as directed and bear down. The sense of being stretched wide open was all consuming. All his focus was on that intense point of connection.

Eddie slid in smoothly until he pressed right up against Buck’s prostate. He gripped Buck’s thighs in an iron hold. “Ay Dios, you’re tight.

Buck just reached out, not even sure what he was asking for.

Eddie took several deep breaths, then adjusted Buck’s legs so they were over his shoulders, leaning in slowly, letting Buck feel the stretch in the backs of his thighs as Eddie carefully bent him in half.

Then Eddie was there, pressed close, breath hot on Buck’s face, cock buried deep in Buck’s body.

“God, Eddie…”

Eddie sealed their mouths together, licking inside, and Buck clutched at his shoulders. He couldn’t move, couldn’t get any leverage. He was splayed open and pinned down; Eddie’s tongue owned him every bit as much as his cock did, and Buck loved it, wanted more of it. Eddie took Buck’s hands, laced their fingers together, and held them against the bed.

It was like a circuit was complete, and Buck gripped hard, letting himself be grounded in Eddie.

Eddie broke the kiss and stared at Buck, watching closely as he moved.

Buck cried out, arching his head back. It felt so good. His legs were over Eddie’s shoulders, his cock pressed between their bellies. And all Eddie had done was roll his hips. Still watching, he did it again. It caused his cock to move, a few inches out and then right back against Buck’s prostate.

“Eds,” Buck choked out.

“Good?”

Buck whimpered and tried to get to Eddie’s mouth again, but Eddie evaded him.

“Is that good, cariño?” he whispered, breath ghosting over Buck’s lips as he rolled his hips again. “Do you like the feel of my cock moving in you?”

“Please.”

Another leisurely hip roll.

“Eddie!”

“Use your words, baby.” Eddie pressed against Buck’s hands, holding him firmly. “I’ve got you.” He continued that maddening rhythm.

“Yes,” Buck gasped out. “Love it.”

Buck felt like he was drowning in sensation. Electric pulses were racing up and down his spine as Eddie did it over. And over. And over again. Buck strained to lick and suck at Eddie’s neck until Eddie broke the grip on one hand, the hand Buck had been holding almost the whole time.

“Keep it there.”

Buck kept his hand by his head, the other still firm in Eddie’s grasp.

Eddie’s hip roll was a little sharper as he slid two fingers into Buck’s mouth. “Suck.”

With a moan, Buck sucked on Eddie’s fingers, feeling like his brain had completely gone offline.

Eddie watched avidly as Buck worked the fingers like he was sucking cock. He sped up his hips, thrusting sharply, getting a wanton moan that vibrated up into his palm. He slid another finger past Buck’s lips, taking in the way Buck’s mouth was stretched wide around the slick digits.

Buck was so hot and sexy that Eddie didn’t know how much longer he could last. It was the single hottest encounter of his life, and he was holding on to his control by a very thin thread.

He thrust his hips and his fingers sharply. “You gonna come on my cock, baby?” he murmured. “You gonna give it up just from my dick in your ass?” Eddie mercilessly pounded Buck’s prostate. “I’m going to keep fucking you after you come. I’m going to keep nailing you like this until you’re a whimpering mess.” He wouldn’t be able to go that long, really. He was already teetering on the brink. “Come on, Evan, let me have it. Let me feel you come for me.”

Buck’s whole body went rigid under him, ass tightening sharply on Eddie’s cock even as he sucked harder at Eddie’s fingers. Warm fluid spilled between their bellies, making the slide of skin on skin slippery and filthy in the best way.

Eddie held on to his control by a thread, continuing to thrust into Buck’s tight, hot ass, reveling in the clench of the muscles as Buck quivered through his orgasm.

“That’s it,” Eddie murmured. “Just let go. You’re so beautiful, Evan.”

Buck pulled off his fingers, lips swollen and spit shiny, muscles beginning to tremble in the way Eddie knew meant too much stimulation. Eddie groaned as Buck leaned up to kiss him, unfocused and desperate. When Eddie nailed his prostate particularly hard, Buck whimpered into Eddie’s mouth, and Eddie lost it.

The orgasm started low in his spine and exploded out, making his body heat and his nipples ache. His cock spilled into the condom and Eddie kept going, kept fucking even though the sensations were becoming too much.

Buck kept their mouths together, sucking Eddie’s tongue, hands still exactly where Eddie had placed them. Eddie squeezed around the one hand and made contact with the other, feeling their connection to the marrow of his bones.

Mine reverberated in his soul. This beautiful, extraordinary man was his.

Body now still, physically and emotionally spent, Eddie broke the kiss, staring into Buck’s blue eyes. “Perfect,” he breathed.

“I love you,” Buck whispered.

Eddie pressed a kiss to Buck’s mouth, nearly chaste this time. “And I love you.”

When he couldn’t delay any longer, when he felt himself softening, he forced himself to break away to tend to cleaning up both of them. There was no way they were going to have sex for six hours, but he knew they needed more than a couple of stolen moments together today.

– – – –

Eddie woke, disoriented for a second, but then he remembered their afternoon. He glanced at the clock and figured they’d been asleep for about ninety minutes. He hadn’t meant for them to fall asleep. After the intense lovemaking, they’d been trading lazy kisses and light touches, both a little in awe of the experience, and that’s all he remembered.

Buck was curled around Eddie’s back, which was becoming their common sleep position. Regardless of how they went to bed, they woke up with Buck enveloping him. Eddie was coming to love it. Since he wasn’t in the habit of having men in his bed overnight, he had never experienced having someone bigger than he was spooning him. At first, it was just novel, but now he was coming to appreciate how comforting it could be to feel surrounded by another person.

He carefully rolled over and stroked Buck’s hair and face lightly until Buck’s beautiful blue eyes fluttered open. “Hey,” Buck rasped. “I think we fell asleep.”

“Yep. About ninety minutes.”

“So we still have a couple of hours before we need to go get Chris…?”

“Whatever shall we do with ourselves?” Eddie murmured as he slid his hands up and down Buck’s back. He loved how strong Buck was, how broad and solid.

“I’m tempted to try making out for the whole time.” Buck leaned in for a lazy kiss. “But the beard burn might do us both in.”

“You’re gonna hate this, but I’ve got to ask. How do you feel?”

Buck sighed, but closed his eyes, obviously considering, and then he wiggled a little. He wrinkled up his nose, and Eddie figured he’d better never admit how cute he found that. “A little sore, but it doesn’t hurt. I’ve certainly felt worse after a long workout.”

“Good.” He slid a hand down to Buck’s ass. “Still probably best to leave your ass alone until tomorrow.”

Buck full-on pouted.

“As if I can’t entertain you other ways.”

“Well, get busy, Diaz.”

“Oh, is that how it is?” Eddie rolled to his back. “Straddle me so our cocks will rub together.”

Buck flicked the covers aside and got into the right position, with his beautifully long legs pressed into Eddie’s sides. Buck sat back, adjusting their cocks so they’d rub together. Both of them were already getting hard.

Eddie grabbed the lube from the nightstand and poured some into Buck’s hand. “Slick us up.”

Buck’s strong, competent hand slid over their flesh, paying more attention to Eddie’s cock than his own.

“You know this game… Lean down and rest on me—keep our cocks together.”

Buck obediently leaned forward, eyes widening as his face moved in closer to Eddie’s. By the time their breath was mingling, Buck’s cock was hard and his breath was coming in sharp little pants.

Eddie slid his hands down Buck’s back to the taut cheeks, stretched so tight in the bent over position. “You’re spread wide open for me.” He pulled the cheeks a little further apart.

Buck gasped and completely collapsed, panting heavily against Eddie’s throat.

Eddie planted his feet for leverage and began to move his hips, letting his cock slip against Buck’s. “You just stay like that. Don’t move.” He pressed a kiss to Buck’s ear. “I’ll do the work. Just stay nice and open for me, baby.”

Buck moaned, the vibrations zinging along Eddie’s nerve endings.

He rocked his hips faster, their cocks sliding easily, the friction already causing warmth to pool low in his belly. “Does that feel good?” he tightened his hands, gripping Buck’s ass hard.

Buck seemed non-verbal and bit at Eddie’s neck, sucking sharply.

Eddie thrust harder, grateful Buck wouldn’t easily be unseated. He let his fingers drift to Buck’s hole, feeling the tender tissues with the pads of his fingers, stroking and teasing the sensitive skin.

Buck gasped and came, heat flooding between them.

Eddie reached up and fisted his hand in Buck’s short hair, forcing his head up so he could claim Buck’s lips. He drove his tongue into the pliant mouth, groaning as the orgasm swept through him.

It felt like it took an eternity for him to regain his breath. He coaxed Buck into the bathroom so they could get properly cleaned up.

Buck was fuzzy-headed and compliant through most of the cleanup and teeth brushing, but as they were dressing so they could move to the living room, he seemed pensive.

“Something on your mind?” Eddie asked as he tossed a dark purple Henley Buck’s direction.

“Just thinking.”

“Are you bothered by anything we did?” Eddie needed to know that Buck would speak up if something was bothering him.

Buck shook his head. The negative was immediate and sharp. “No, Eds, I love it. I just feel like… I don’t know. Out of my element, I guess. I’ve never been uncertain about sex before, and yet I even forgot the basics of anal sex. I’ve certainly done that with women, so I know how it’s done.”

Eddie sat on the edge of the bed and watched his lover anxiously straighten clothes that didn’t need straightening. He didn’t see a problem, but he didn’t want Buck to stress. “Why do you think you forgot the basics? Assuming you actually did.”

“I don’t know.” Buck picked up and discarded three pairs of socks. “My brain just turns to into pudding, and I can’t focus.”

“Well, I think I’ll take that as a compliment.” He took Buck’s hand and pulled him back to sit on the bed. “Just because you’ve never had that experience during sex before—I mean the getting sort of fuzzy-headed part—doesn’t mean it’s a problem. Maybe you’ve always been too focused on your partner’s pleasure. Or maybe to get there you needed someone else to be in control so you can let go. The only thing that matters is do you like it?”

Buck blew out a breath. “I do. So much. Sex has never been like that, Eds. But sometimes it’s disconcerting. I’m wondering how I could not already know what pushes my buttons sexually.”

Eddie reached out and cupped Buck’s cheek. “You’re amazing to me—everything about you. So, don’t worry about this. I love what we have; it’s like you were made for me. I like being in control and you really get off on it. Could that have worked out any better?”

Laughing, Buck let Eddie pull him close.

“Besides,” Eddie murmured, kissing Buck’s temple. “If anyone needs to worry about how they’re reacting to our sex life, it’s me. I’m fetishizing the way you react more than a little. I should probably schedule a session with Frank to discuss my inappropriate arousal, but since I don’t have any intention of doing anything about it, it seems like a waste of both of our time.”

Buck snorted and then it morphed into a full-on belly laugh until he was collapsed back on the bed. “It’s not that funny, but I’ve just been stewing on that in my head. I’m so glad it doesn’t bother you.”

Laying next to Buck, Eddie nipped at his jaw. “I have so many plans for the things I want to do to you.”

Buck raised one eyebrow. “More things?”

“So, so many more.” Some things Eddie had wondered about but never tried because they required a degree of trust and intimacy he’d never achieved with a man before Buck. “Stop worrying. We’re going to be great.”

Mouths pressed together, Buck smiled into the kiss. “Whatever shall we do with ourselves until we have to leave?”

“Well, it’s not going to be sex. My dick is starting to feel chafed.”

“Oh no.” Buck said, mock concerned. “You need me to kiss and make it better?”

Eddie raised a brow when Buck wiggled down his body and began opening his jeans. “I’m not going to be able to get it up for a third time so soon.”

But Buck was undeterred and already had Eddie’s cock out. “That’s okay, I’ll just suck on this for a while.” Then Eddie’s cock was enveloped in Buck’s hot mouth, and Eddie groaned. It felt so fucking good.

“Buck, it’s going to take me a while—” He broke off with a gasp as Buck’s tongue licked over the head of his cock, the tip wiggling into the slit. “Dios, you menace.” Eddie gripped Buck’s hair and arched his hips up, seeking more of that glorious mouth. Maybe he could get it up a third time.

Chapter Seven

The bear’s claws flashed, and Eddie instinctively reached out and clapped a hand over Christopher’s eyes.

Christopher giggled and pried Eddie’s hands away. “Dad!”

Buck was laughing at him too. “I told you he’s seen Brave before, Eds.”

“Lots of times, Dad.”

Eddie shook his head and slumped down in the truck seat. “This is way too intense for a kid.”

“I think you mean for an adult.” Buck was definitely laughing at him.

“Are you sure this is a Disney movie?”

Buck just laughed in response.

Chris was seated between them, but he got to his knees and crawled onto Eddie’s lap. “I’ll protect you, Dad.”

Buck’s laughter got louder.

Chris reached out. “You have to move closer and help, Bucky.”

Still snickering, Buck scooted across the seat and snuggled into Eddie’s side. “We’ll definitely protect you from the cartoon, Eds.”

Eddie huffed, but he couldn’t object to having the two people he loved most so close.

When the action on the scene got intense again, Chris placed his hand over Eddie’s eyes. “Don’t look, Dad.”

Buck laughed so hard that he fell over on the seat. Eddie was tempted to kick him out of the truck.

– – – –

Eddie stood outside Christopher’s bedroom door, listening to Buck and Christopher. He’d left to get Christopher some water while Buck worked with him on his bedtime stretches. They’d been laughing when he got back, and the sound was so carefree and joyful that he just wanted to take it in.

“Bucky?”

“Yeah, buddy?”

“What do you think Mommy is doing today?”

Eddie closed his eyes and leaned against the wall, taking a deep breath.

“Well, I was thinking that your mom might have been ready to try a new job. What do you think?”

“Yeah! What kind of job?”

“What do you think of wish fulfillment?”

“You mean like making wishes come true?”

“Yep. Sometimes we don’t get to do the things that matter in this life, so I think there are very special people in the next life helping fulfill those wishes.”

“Mommy would be good at that.”

“You bet she would.”

There as a brief pause before Chris asked, “Do you think it’s better there?”

“I think it’s different.” Buck paused. “What are you asking me, kiddo?”

“I dunno. It seems like heaven is pretty cool.”

“Yeah, but it’s pretty cool here too. I think the best we can do is make the most of the time we have wherever we are.”

“Heaven isn’t forever?”

“I think we don’t know. Some people think heaven is forever, but some people think you eventually start over and come back to this life to try again. I think only the people who are there know for sure. You don’t know the next step until you’re ready for it.”

“That’s scary.”

“Maybe. Or it’s just the next adventure.”

“What do you think?”

“You mean about staying or coming back?”

“Yeah. Do you think Mommy will be born again some day?”

Buck blew out a breath. “You know, buddy, I don’t know for sure, but what I do know is that if I were your mom, I’d wait until I’d finished watching over you because my job as your mom wouldn’t be done yet.”

“You think she’ll wait for me?”

“If she can, yes. Why wouldn’t she? Your mom loved you very, very much. And she’d want you to have as happy and as fulfilling a life as you can with your dad.”

There was a long silence. “Buck?”

“Yeah, Chris?”

“I think Mommy’s happy you’re here. You help take care of me and Daddy so she can have the best kind of heaven.”

Eddie took a shuddery breath, trying to control his emotions.

“That’s…” Buck broke off. “I hope so, Chris. I hope every day, in every way, that your mom is pleased with me being part of your life.”

Eddie stepped into the room just in time to see Chris practically falling into Buck’s arms. Buck met his gaze over Chris’ shoulder, eyes wet. He joined them on the bed, taking them both into his arms. Chris fell asleep in Eddie’s arms without a bedtime story, but it was a long time before Eddie was ready to let go.

When they finally closed the door to Christopher’s room, Chris sound asleep, Eddie pulled Buck into his arms. “Thank you.”

“For what?”

“I don’t know how you do it. I never know how to talk about Shannon, and he obviously needs it.”

They wind up on the couch, Eddie taking comfort from Buck’s steady presence.

“What’s bothering you?” Buck murmured into his ear, arms tight around Eddie’s shoulders.

“I feel like I’ve failed him when it comes to Shannon.”

“How so? You didn’t kill her, Eddie.”

“No, but I never could talk about it.”

“Why is that?” Buck huffed a mirthless laugh. “I guess it’s dumb to ask you to talk about something you say you can’t talk about.”

“It’s not dumb. It just always bottled everything up about her. It’s so complicated.”

“Why?”

“I was so mixed up about her death, Buck, and I put all my energy into being there for Christopher, but I think I failed to really be there for him because I was so closed off to how I felt.”

“You were grieving, Eds. You’re allowed.”

“That’s just it.” Eddie pulled away enough to meet Buck’s gaze. “I wasn’t grieving as much as I should have been, and I felt guilty.” It was painful to admit, but it also felt like a relief to finally get it out.

Buck just tilted his head to the side, expression free of any judgment. “You think you didn’t mourn her enough?”

“I think I didn’t love her enough.” He shook his head, looking down. “I tried so hard to make it work with her mostly for Christopher. I think I even managed to delude myself into believing we were still in love.” He blew out a breath. “There was this pregnancy scare right before she died, and I went into problem-solver mode. Asked her to be with me again, full-time family, the whole deal. When she told me she wasn’t pregnant and she didn’t want to be with me, I was upset, but I was also relieved. I mean, why was I relieved?”

“Did you want another baby and a full-time family for yourself or for Chris?”

That was easy to answer. “For Chris. I cared about Shannon, though, I did.”

Buck cupped Eddie’s cheek. “You don’t have to convince me, Eddie. I was there; I saw how much her death tore you up. But just because you loved her doesn’t mean you wanted to have a life with her again. It does’t even mean you were still in love with her.”

Eddie felt like he was choking on suppressed emotion, and he pressed his face into Buck’s shoulder. “I felt like I failed over and over with my family. When she died, the guilt was more oppressive than the grief, and I didn’t feel like I could breathe sometimes.”

Buck squeezed the back of his neck, holding tightly. “You’ve given Christopher room to mourn, Eds, room to feel however he feels about his mother being gone; you deserve the same space. You don’t have to swallow your feelings down in order to be there for Christopher.”

Eddie fisted his hands in Buck’s shirt. “Isn’t that what being a parent is?”

“Pretending you’re okay when you’re not? No, I don’t think that’s it. I’m not a parent, but—”

“Don’t, Buck.” Eddie pulled back. “You are Chris’ other parent. Don’t denigrate that.”

Buck’s expression went even softer. “You don’t lie to Chris about things, Eddie. Why is it suddenly okay to lie to him about how you feel?”

That brought Eddie up short, and he just blinked stupidly.

“I’m not saying tell him the particulars, but it’s okay to tell him you’re hurting too. He’s known that you’re sad, and he hasn’t wanted to contribute to it.”

“Some of the reason I was sad was about you, Buck. It’s a special kind of hell being in love with your best friend. I didn’t know how to talk about it.”

Buck huffed a laugh. “Yeah, well, I’m not saying you should have told him that, but you’ve always been good about figuring what part of the truth you can tell him. All he could see was that you were sad and he couldn’t help.”

“So he tried to keep his sadness from me.” Eddie sighed. “You remember when you brought up the fighting the last time when we were at your place, and you were convinced you contributed to it?”

“Didn’t I?”

“No, and I really wish you’d believe me about that. I missed you like a missing limb when you were suddenly gone, but the fighting was always about this crap. It was about my own conflicted feelings about my failures as a husband and father. How my marriage went down in flames. How I felt guilty about being relieved that Shannon hadn’t been pregnant. How I always felt like my emotions weren’t ever quite right. It wasn’t about the lawsuit, Buck.”

Buck’s expression had shifted from compassionate to conflicted. “Eddie, if I’d been there—”

“No, Buck. When have we ever, before this very moment, talked about my fucked-up feelings about my marriage? That anger and frustration, which is also deeply tied into crap with my parents that I’m still not ready to talk about, had nothing to do with you, and it wasn’t anything you and I were going to talk about. Not then.”

“You can’t say for certain that you’d have still started fighting if I’d never filed the lawsuit.”

“True. I’m not psychic. But my grief and anger were there before the lawsuit, Buck. It had nothing to do with you.” He sighed. “Though I will admit that I wasn’t thrilled to have Shannon’s death thrown in my face during a deposition.”

“He told me he wasn’t going to even bring up Shannon, Eds,” Buck said softly. “I would never have put you through that on purpose.”

“So you’ve said.” Eddie flopped back against the couch and rubbed his hand over his face. “I guess I never understood why you told him about her at all.”

Buck stared at him, brow furrowed. “Wait. You really believe I told him about Shannon?”

Eddie’s frowned in confusion.

“Eddie, Jesus.” Buck got to his feet and dragged his hands through his hair, causing the curls to separate from the hold of the gel Buck used. “That’s discovery.”

“What?”

“My lawyer got the records of all leaves-of-absence and return-to-duty paperwork during Bobby’s tenure as captain at the 118 as part of his discovery. His investigators did the rest. The only person I told him about was Chimney because the rebar thing seemed the most germane to my situation, but his investigators would have needed to do independent verification.”

Eddie stared. “Why didn’t you say anything?”

“Say what? I had no idea you guys really thought that I was the source of that information rather than your personnel records with the LAFD.” Buck was pacing, now obviously agitated. “Do you know that I wasn’t going to get paid, Eddie?”

“What?” That took Eddie by surprise, and he wasn’t even sure what it meant.

“I’d been cleared for duty medically, and the department said I could return to work, which meant there was no more disability payments, but Bobby decided to personally block me from returning to my job. My only choices were to accept working as a fire marshal or sue.” Buck huffed. “Well, in retrospect, I should have filed a grievance with the union, but I was a little put out with them. But the union would hav been all up in your business too! They’d have reviewed the same records.”

Buck’s movements got more agitated. “I fucked up, and I know that, okay? But I figured you guys were mad that all that crap was aired so publicly; I had no idea it was because you all felt it was some sort of weird personal betrayal. I mean, all this time, I thought you were angry because I couldn’t shut up and take one for team, but you guys all actually thought I had any control over the fucking discovery process.”

“Whoa, Buck, no.” Eddie got in Buck’s path and put his hands on Buck’s arms, not truly surprised when Buck twitched away from him. It still stung, though. “Buck, no one expected you to take one for the team.”

“I get that now, Eddie. But that’s what I’ve been thinking. Why else would you guys have been mad about the depositions? But you really thought I betrayed you?” Buck looked so wounded that Eddie didn’t even know how to process it.

“Buck, I don’t know anything about legal proceedings. Look at the shit job I did of not getting divorced and never working out a proper custody agreement.”

Buck’s shoulders sagged as he looked away.

“You really think I expected you to just take it?” Eddie asked gently.

“What else was I supposed to think? Bobby kept me out of the field for personal reasons, and none of you cared. Everyone expected me to just accept Bobby’s verdict over my own doctor’s and department policy.”

Eddie jerked like he’d been slapped. “I didn’t know, Buck.”

“Didn’t know what?”

“I didn’t know that it was Bobby’s choice, not until long after the lawsuit was filed.” Eddie dragged his hands over his face, feeling like this misunderstanding had gone on way too long. “By the time I found out, I was drowning in my own crap and more than a little mad at you that you did something that cut contact with us. But,” he pointed at Buck firmly, “that did not cause the fighting.”

Buck looked away, arms crossed over his chest. “It was like a runaway train, and I didn’t know how to get off the track. Once I’d filed the suit, I had to go through with it.”

“Why?”

“Because retracting the suit or losing it would torch my career either way.” Buck shrugged. “Turns out I should have talked to my union rep sooner. Once I rang that bell, winning was the only way out. The department was pissed, and the only reason I have a job is because employing me was way preferable than paying out five million.”

Dios.” Eddie sat hard on the couch. “I’m sorry, Buck. At this point, mostly because we should have talked this out sooner, and you tried, but I really didn’t want to at the time. I just didn’t realize that the conversation was as much for you as anything. I thought you were trying to push the conversation for my benefit.”

“For both of us, Eds. I knew something wasn’t right…” Buck shrugged. “Why did you forgive me if you thought I betrayed you?”

“Because by then, I didn’t see it as a betrayal. Not in the way you mean. I did during the deposition, and I was furious, but later, I only saw it as an act of desperation. It just made me feel sad that you’d been pushed to such lengths, and I wasn’t there for you before you’d gotten so desperate.”

“I’ve never been so desperate that I’d deliberately hurt you, Eddie. I can’t believe you’d think that of me.”

“I couldn’t believe it either, Buck. That’s why it hit so hard. I would have sworn you’d never do that.”

Buck frowned but nodded, staring at his shoes.

“Is it helping you to keep your distance right now? Because it’s not what I want.”

“I think I’d like to go to bed,” Buck finally said after a long silence. “I’m going to hop in the shower first.”

Eddie just nodded and watched Buck walk away. He felt like he’d just massively fucked up, but the actual screw up was so long ago. There was no way Buck needed a shower; they’d both showered together before going to get Christopher for dinner and the drive-in movie. Buck was really asking for space. From Eddie.

The faint sound of water rushing through pipes told him Buck was actually in the shower. Impulsively, Eddie dialed Hen.

Hey. How was the movie?” she asked without preamble.

“Hard to believe Brave is a kid’s movie.”

Hen snorted. “We won’t let Nia watch it yet. Even Denny agrees that it’s too old for her. But I assume you didn’t call to talk about the movie. Is everything all right?”

“Something really old came up, Hen. Did you know that all that stuff that came up in the deposition was either form the lawyer’s investigators or from discovery?”

Wow. That’s not what I expected.” She blew out a breath. “Not at first. I was really mad, but Karen pointed out that nothing that came up in the deposition would have had to come from Buck. In fact, for some of it, she asked me how Buck would even know.”

“But you were still mad at Buck?”

Well, yeah. He kicked off the lawsuit that got an investigator digging into my life, Eddie. I got over it, obviously. So, you didn’t realize all that information about leaves-of-absence and return-to-work was part of the discovery process?”

“No, not until tonight.”

Ouch.”

“Yeah.” Eddie rubbed his forehead. “Can I ask why you think Buck was the source of the problem and not Bobby? An independent party found Bobby in the wrong in how he handled Buck’s return to work.”

I guess I felt like Buck owed Bobby some loyalty.”

“But not the reverse?”

Fair question. At the time, no. I felt Buck should have trusted Bobby’s judgment. But over time I realize Bobby didn’t really have a right to make that situation personal, no matter how personal it felt. Karen kicked my ass about it, to be honest, though we both think he should have handled it through the union.”

“Yeah.” He hesitated. “Wouldn’t the union have dug into the same information, though?”

Hen was quiet for a few seconds. “Yeah, probably.” She gave a heavy sigh. “Why’d this come up after all this time?”

“It just came out that I thought Buck had revealed all that information about Shannon’s death to his lawyer.”

Oh, Eddie.”

“I know. Buck said he’d been operating under the impression that our anger was because we expected him to shut up and take it, and he wouldn’t just go along with it.”

She sucked in a sharp breath. “Oh, I guess I did. But phrased that way, it hit right in the gut.”

“I know. I don’t even know what to do with this.”

Where is he?”

“In the shower. He needed some space.”

Maybe you two jumped into living together a little too quickly.”

Eddie nearly hung up on her for the remark. “I have no doubts about our relationship. I don’t like that there’s an old hurt festering, but not a single thing said or not said has given me a moment’s doubt about Buck or us living together.”

Okay.” She sighed. “I suppose we can count on this coming up tomorrow…?”

“Probably. The tsunami and the lawsuit weren’t that far apart. It’s logical that there’s some undercurrents, no pun intended, that we’re not aware of.”

Should I give the others a heads up?”

“No. We don’t need to be over-prepared for this. I just called because I wondered if you were as clueless as me.”

For a hot minute, I was. If I’d known you were laboring under the same misapprehension, I’d have said something.”

“Thanks, Hen.”

Goodnight, Eddie.”

“Night.” Eddie hung up and let his hands and head drop.

“Will you come to bed?” Buck said softly from the hallway.

Eddie’s head shot up. “Buck.”

His lover’s bare chest was damp and some loose cotton pants were clinging to his legs. “I don’t really want to sleep alone, but if you—”

“No.” Eddie shot to his feet. “Dios, Buck, I wasn’t avoiding you; I was just trying to give you some space.”

Buck nodded tightly and turned to go back to the bedroom.

Eddie got ready for bed quickly, mirroring Buck’s choice of sleep attire. When he got into bed, he clicked off the bedside light then lay close but not touching, letting Buck set the pace, not quite certain where they were at.

Buck rolled over, wrapping himself around Eddie. “I don’t like feeling this way.”

“Me either, baby.” He carded his fingers through Buck’s hair. “I hate that this hurt has been there for so long.”

“For both of us.”

Eddie considered that. “I suppose so.” Eddie scooched down the bed so he and Buck were face-to-face. He framed Buck’s face with his hands, barely able to make out Buck’s wet eyes in the dim light. “I don’t want to rehash everything and point fingers. I really did let it go, to my own mind, a long time ago because I love you so much, and having anything negative in there wasn’t worth it.”

Buck curled his fingers around Eddie’s wrists, holding on tightly. “I thought I let it all go, but considering how much this is bothering me now, maybe I was deluded. But I’m not sure that’s even about you or me. More about the whole situation, and it’s hard to have it all brought up again. All I really care about is that it’s not between us.”

“It’s not, Buck, I swear. Not from me.”

“Me either.” He swallowed audibly. “I heard what you said to Hen…about not regretting me.”

“I don’t. Not for a second.”

“I don’t regret you either. I don’t care if it’s too fast or impossibly, stupidly slow. We feel right.” Buck pressed their mouths together in a lingering but chaste kiss. “I love you, Eddie.”

“I love you too, Evan.”

– – – –

Eddie sat next to Buck on the patio at Bobby and Athena’s house. Everyone else sat in a loose circle but farther apart. Hen was next to Eddie then Frank, who Buck had just met in person, then Bobby, and finally Chim sitting on Buck’s other side.

Buck had been quiet all day, though he wasn’t distant the way he’d been for a little bit last night. He’d said he was just mulling things over. Eddie figured he was also dreading talking about the tsunami again. Eddie wasn’t thrilled to be doing this either, but he felt he really needed to know everything that happened that day. And afterward. The part he was the least certain about was what effect the presence of the rest of the team would have.

“Buck,” Frank began, “unless you object, I thought we’d start with you walking us through the day from your perspective. As much as possible, I’d like everyone to hold questions until the end. The one major exception will be if I feel you’re skipping some details that are important. In which case, I might ask you to expound. Is that okay with you?”

Buck nodded shortly, expression tense.

“Start early in the day, when things were going well.”

Buck’s narrative was halting at first, stumbling over the stuff he and Chris did on the pier.

“What made you decide to go to the pier?” Frank asked, obviously steering Buck to an easier segue.

Buck scratched the back of his neck. “Originally, we were going to go to a movie and then figure out the rest of the day depending on how we felt.”

Eddie reached out and took Buck’s hand, squeezing gently.

Buck gazed into the distance, not seeing anything. “We got outside, and it felt so good; I’d been keeping myself cooped up indoors for way too long. Chris hugged me and said we should do something fun outdoors while it was sunny.” A soft smile formed. “He pointed out that we could always do a movie in the evening. I asked him what he’d most want to do outside; should we maybe go to the zoo or something.

“He said he wanted to go to the pier. That he’d been bugging his abuela to take him, but she didn’t feel comfortable taking him somewhere without close parking where a lot of walking would be required. She wanted a wheelchair for him if he got tired, and he hated that idea. Taking him seemed like a good idea, and Eddie had never objected to me taking Chris anywhere, as long it was safe.” Buck chuckled mirthlessly. “Safe.”

Eddie squeezed his hand again. “It was a good idea. And I never worry about him with you because unlike when he’s out with others, he’ll let you know when he’s had enough, and you can actually carry him. Abuela and Pepa can’t really pick him up anymore. You did nothing wrong.”

Buck shrugged. “Anyway. We had a blast at first. Games, rides, junk food. He was delighted that he was tall enough for one particular ride that I was too tall for.”

Hen and Chim laughed but didn’t say anything.

“Then we won this bear at one of those carnival game things. Shooting water at a target, I think. Maybe. Or was it a ball toss?” He shook his head. “I’m not sure why I can’t remember.”

“It’s okay that you can’t remember,” Frank said. “The nature of the game was consumed by more significant and difficult memories. Even without what happened next, it’s not an unusual type of detail to fade from immediate recall.”

“I guess. Though I don’t usually forget that kind of thing. Anyway, the bear was huge. Bigger than Chris, I think. He wanted to go look out over the water. I worried about him toppling over the railing, so he stood on the bench, and I sat and held on to his shirt to keep him there. He watched the ocean tides and said I still seemed sad and asked what was wrong.

“I told him him some vague stuff about feeling like I didn’t know where I fit in my own life. I remember feeling surprised at how the sadness kept backing up on me. Even though being with him had done a lot to lift my spirits.”

“Do you remember why you were so sad?”

Buck blew out a breath. “I felt abandoned by everyone; even my own sister. Not in a physical way because I don’t think I went to even a single rehab appointment alone but, all of a sudden, literally everyone was telling me to accept the loss of my career and move on. Everyone blamed me for the embolism. I mean, not actually those words, but that was the gist of it. It was like, one day, everyone was supportive and helping me get to where I needed to be to come back to work. Then the embolisms happened, and it was all ‘you need to accept this and move on.’”

Bobby opened his mouth, but Frank held up a hand, saying, “It’s impossible to know what others thought or felt unless we ask them, but that was clearly your reality when you went to the pier that day.”

“Maddie was relentless. Get out of bed, move on with your life. It’d been a whole week since my world fell apart.” Buck shook his head. “I was more than a little bitter at the utter hypocrisy of that considering how long she’d wallowed on occasion. Eddie’s approach of throwing Christopher at me was way better than haranguing me and insinuating that I’d created the problem.” He flashed a small smile at Eddie. “Christopher does cheer me up. But my state of mind about the embolisms and loss of my career aren’t why we’re here.”

“True, though your state of mind that day is probably relevant. So, you and Christopher were talking about how you felt?”

“Not directly. More obliquely, I guess. Sort of talking about finding your purpose in life. Anyway.” Buck shook his head. “I remember he patted me on the cheek, and I turned to look up at him, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw the water had abruptly retreated. I got to my feet and just stared for too many precious seconds, trying to figure out what the hell was going on.

“I know… I know what a sudden water retreat means, but I just couldn’t seem to make my brain work. And then I saw the wave on the horizon.” Buck rubbed his eyes with his free hand. “It was already close enough to be recognizable as a tsunami. But it just didn’t make sense. There was no tsunami warning alarm, but it was so close that I knew we were fucked. I knew I couldn’t outrun it.

“I did the only thing I could do; I grabbed Chris and ran. Threw him over my shoulder like a sack of potatoes and went as fast as I could. I was still on the pier running when I heard the wave hit. God, so much screaming.” Buck took a shuddery breath. “We weren’t far enough down the pier for significant shelter. There was a booth in front of us. Ball toss, I think. I practically threw him in.” Buck went very still, gaze vacant. “I took a second to look back and saw the wave consuming…everything in its path. I thought we were going to die. That Eddie was about to lose his son.”

Eddie felt chilled. He glanced at the others and found Bobby looked heartbroken, Hen was tearing up, and Chim looked gutted.

“I jumped in after Chris and held on to him for as long as I could. I don’t even know when he got ripped away from me. I was hit so hard by so many things, and it was complete chaos. Then we were blocks away from where we started by the time I finally surfaced, oriented to my situation, screaming for him.”

Buck tonelessly recounted the rest of the stuff Eddie already knew—getting Christopher off the lamppost, getting separated again, tossing Chris on top of the fire truck. He’d thought it would be easier to hear the second time, but it wasn’t. It still felt like it was ripping his guts out.

Buck shuddered when he described throwing Chris on top of the fire truck and having to dive down to avoid a huge debris field.

“Why does that particular moment affect you so strongly?” Frank asked gently.

“Because it was one of the worst of the day,” Buck replied immediately. “The worst was when he fell from the truck when the water was going out. The next worst was probably when I saw the wave and realized what our situation was, that we were about to have a head-on collision with the most relentless force on the planet.” Buck shook his head. “Actually, I take it back. Having to face Eddie having lost Chris was worse than realizing a tsunami was about to drop on our heads.”

“Buck,” Eddie whispered, feeling flayed open.

Buck just squeezed his hand but didn’t say anything directly to him. “That first moment on the fire truck was so bad because I didn’t know if we were about to separated. That debris field was coming right at me. Do you know how many people were killed that day, people who survived the wave, but died because of collisions with debris?” Buck gestured to the rest of his team. “They know; they had to help tag the dead bodies, but do you know?”

“Not specifically, but I’ve counseled a lot of survivors of that day. The dangers of debris comes up quite a lot. There was a chance you might not be able to dive low enough to avoid it, or you could have been knocked away from the truck and swept further away to encounter new dangers.”

“Right. And he’d have been there. Alone.” Buck shook his head. “I dream about that moment a lot. My mind supplying terrible scenarios; the kindest is me getting swept further up the street. The worst is me dying right in front of him. I’m not sure why I dream more about that moment than the wave, but I do.”

Eddie felt like he’d been living in this denial bubble where Buck was mostly okay, but he felt that denial brutally stripped away.

“Do you dream about the tsunami still?”

“It used to be every day, but maybe weekly now. If there’s a kid on a call that reminds me of Chris, I can pretty much guarantee a tsunami nightmare. Or a call where we have to deal with water or drowning. There are other things that seem to set them off, but it’s better than it was for a long time.”

Eddie noted that Buck stayed determinedly focused on Frank, ignoring everyone else’s reactions. And the reactions were rough. Hen and Chim were both openly struggling not to cry, but Bobby just looked like he’d been ripped wide open by the reality of what Buck had been dealing with that they’d never asked about.

“Have you done trauma counseling for the tsunami specifically?”

“It took a while, but yes. It’s an ongoing process.”

Frank nodded. “Talk to me about what happened after you got on the truck with Christopher?”

Buck began to describe how he went about rescuing dozens of people from the surging water. He tried to downplay it, but Frank pressed for more details. Considering what Eddie had seen in the videos and pictures online, it rounded out the picture of hours of almost absurd levels of heroism.

“That’s a lot,” Frank finally said.

Buck shrugged. “I’m a firefighter. I’ve had longer days.” He gave a mirthless laugh. “Well, I wasn’t a firefighter that day. It’s always felt like my calling, but every voice in my ear was telling me to gracefully give it up.”

“No one wanted you to give it up,” Bobby interjected.

“We should table that discussion,” Frank began.

“No, we need clear the air,” Hen said strongly. “I’ve been biting my tongue, but what’s the point in this if we just skip on to the next thing?” She looked to Buck. “No one wanted you gone, baby, but everyone was worried about you.”

“Everyone’s worry felt a lot like disbelief. Also, through my rehab from the ladder truck, I felt like I had everyone in my corner, but everyone fucking vanished after the embolisms.”

“You were so angry, Buck,” Hen said cautiously.

“Yeah, I was angry!” Buck exploded. “Angry that the time and work and pain might be for nothing. Angry that I felt blamed for something I didn’t have any control over.”

“You ignored the signs—” Bobby began.

“Oh, fuck you, Bobby,” Buck snarled, yanking his hand away from Eddie and getting shocked looks from everyone. “I’d never had a damn blood clot before. All those warning signs they harped about? I experienced them every damn day. Heat, pain, tenderness. All. The. Time. From the minute that truck landed on my leg, there was never a moment without pain. Never. And yet everyone expected me to magically know the difference between blood clot pain and all the other pain? And when they told me where the clots were, it wasn’t even the area that hurt me the most. So you tell me how I was supposed to know?”

Bobby just stared, looking shocked mute.

Buck gestured around at everyone. “The real truth is that Maddie was never happy with the aggressive course of rehab I chose. That I chose. Take that on board. It was a choice that I was entitled to make. I’m a competent fucking adult who chose aggressive treatment and therapy. Maddie never agreed. She’s allowed to disagree, but you all—every single fucking one of you—took her opinions about my recovery as gospel and then decided I was at fault for the blood clots. If only Buck had moderated himself. If only he’d listened to his sister. If only he were less reckless. If only he were less Buck. I could practically see the blame in everyone’s eyes.

“And Maddie is allowed to have her opinion, but it’s just a fucking opinion. I had one of the best orthopedic surgeons in the state working on me, and he approved of my course of treatment because I was young enough and strong enough to get through the extra surgery and handle the needed rehab. But the blood clots, which were caused by the damn screws, were somehow my fault. Because I’m reckless, right, Bobby? Buck is reckless and foolhardy and doesn’t know how to make good decisions.

“But I know that if any of you had made the same choices, everyone would have backed you a hundred percent. But I got blamed and abandoned by my family because you believed Maddie’s rhetoric about my medical choices.”

Looking frustrated, Chim leaned forward. “Maddie’s not responsible—”

“Oh give it a rest!” Buck snapped. “You more than anyone know how much Maddie disagreed with my choices. And she’s allowed, Chim. But she’s not my goddamn mother! Or my partner. I gracefully put up with her being overbearing my entire damn recovery, and then I swallowed it down when everyone acted like the clots were my fault. But give me a little fucking credit because I’m not stupid. Every single person took Maddie’s opinion as fucking fact and decided I was to blame. That’s not on Maddie, that’s on you.” Buck got to his feet. “I need a break.” He went into the house, radiating waves of pain and anger.

After a few seconds, Frank cleared his throat. “I’m going to go talk to Buck. I think everyone should consider what was just said. Try to find some emotional equilibrium to discuss this because we’re not going to be able to move forward with this session until we clear this up.”

Chapter Eight

The silence on the patio was thick and heavy while they waited, but no one said a thing. Eddie felt struck silent, unable to form a coherent thought.

“I’ll say it,” Hen finally said. “I did take Maddie’s opinions on board. Maddie has a right to her opinions, of course she does, but I did internalize that narrative, and I do think I felt Buck was at fault for the embolisms.” She gave Eddie a pained look. “And he’s right. With all the pain and discomfort he’d been enduring, he wouldn’t know what a clot felt like. It was tragic and traumatic for everyone there, but Buck wasn’t to blame for getting a blood clot.”

“Maddie’s not to blame either,” Chim said, arms crossed.

“No one said she is. But you know we do tend to take her opinions about Buck as pretty much gospel truth, and that’s not right.”

Chim just looked down. “She’s his sister.”

Eddie cleared his throat. “A sister who was absent from his life since he was nine, Chim. They saw each other occasionally until Buck went to college, but you know their history. She basically didn’t know him as an adult until the year she moved here. That’s not blame, that’s a fact. But we did all act like she was an authority on adult Buck, when she couldn’t possibly be since she barely knew him. At the point she entered his life, you and Hen knew him better than she did. Yet we all acted like Maddie knew best. And that’s not on Maddie, that is on us.”

“To be fair,” Hen said, “we didn’t know how long they’d been out of touch.”

“No, but you knew Buck. Yet her opinions held more weight than your own personal experience, and it shouldn’t have,” Eddie countered.

“She’s his sister,” Chim stressed.

“Would you stop,” Eddie said tiredly, staring up at the sky for a few seconds. “Their family dynamics are weird and fucked up. You know it better than anyone. Her being his sister means what, exactly? That she’s automatically right? That she knows him better than his friends? What does it mean?”

“She loves him!”

“So what?” Eddie snapped. “My parents love me, yet they think I’m a failure of a father and would do anything in their power to take Christopher away from me. Are they right just because they’re my parents?”

Chim jerked back like he’d been slapped.

Bobby finally leaned forward, bracing his forearms on his knees. “I’m not even sure what all was going through my head back then, who I was listening to and who I wasn’t, but I do know I was terrified that we were going to lose Buck. The embolisms on top of the bombing threw out true rational thought, and all I could focus on was protecting him, and I went about it the wrong way. And that’s not on Maddie or on Buck.”

“It really isn’t about Maddie,” Buck said softly as he stepped out onto the patio again, waiting while Frank descended the short ramp in his wheelchair. Buck shoved his hands in his pockets. “Chim’s defensive about anything I say about Maddie as a criticism of her, and he can’t hear that I was criticizing all of you.” Buck flopped into his chair next to Eddie and blew out a breath. “But, whatever, I can’t fight the Maddie battle with Chim today. He’s going to hear what he wants to hear.”

“Buck,” Chim says, voice wobbly like he was near tears.

“Chim, don’t. I don’t blame you. You’ve been in a tough situation between the two of us, and hopefully we’ll make some headway on that next week. But it’d be denying the pink elephant in the room to not point out that you all blamed me after the embolisms, and there was only one person pushing that narrative at the time. Take that how you will.”

Buck was obviously calmer than when he went inside, but he was also a lot more tense. Eddie felt like he was on uncertain ground until Buck reached out and took his hand again, offering him a soft smile. “Sorry,” he whispered.

“Don’t be. We need to get this out. Finally.”

Buck nodded then looked to Bobby. “Sorry I blew up at you like that.”

“I think there’s a lot for us to talk about, kid. I think it’s fair to say that whether we intended it or not, there was a lot of blaming you for the embolisms. You were in the worst of it by far, and I don’t expect you to necessarily empathize with what the rest of us went through, Buck, but if you can, even a little, think about how we all felt watching you nearly die for the second time in less than six months. Powerless and hopeless doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface when you were coughing up blood on this very patio.”

“I do get it, Bobby. Obviously, I don’t know you all went through exactly, but I remember Eddie getting buried alive. I remember how furious I was with him for cutting that line. But I also made a very conscious choice to not blame Eddie because I knew I’d have made the same choice he did.” He looked around at everyone, seeming resigned. “But it’s different for me, right? Because my team doesn’t respect me the way they do Eddie.”

“Buck, that’s not fair,” Hen bit out. “We love you.”

“Which isn’t the same damn thing at all, Hen.” Buck sighed. “Look, if you guys want to talk about the tsunami, let’s talk about it. Get that part over with. We can revisit this other crap some other time, but I can’t imagine what anyone could say that’s going to convince me that your reactions after the embolism had anything to do with respect for me as a damn adult, capable of making his own choices. I don’t doubt that you guys love me, but your love back then was hurtful.”

“Now I need a break,” Hen said as she got to her feet and went inside.

Eddie wanted to go after her, but he felt like he needed to be with Buck.

Buck nudged him. “Go.”

Eddie squeezed his hand and then headed into the house, finding Hen in the kitchen, hands braced on the counters.

When she saw him, she gave a watery laugh. “He’s not wrong, I just want him to be wrong.” She took a deep breath. “He’s lumping you in with the rest of us, but I don’t think he means you.”

“You don’t need to pat me on the head, Hen. I know where my mistakes with Buck have been, and I’m pretty sure when he’s not referring to me. I respected Buck’s choices back then, but I did make some other mistakes. Things he and I will talk about some other time.”

She swiped at her eyes. “I couldn’t even see it.”

“It’s hard to see when you’re too close to something.”

“Yeah. But we also follow Bobby’s lead in some of this, and I’m just realizing that’s pretty unfair too. Because you cutting that line was one of the most reckless things I’ve ever seen anyone do, and Bobby never said boo about it. I’m not mad at you—”

“I know, Hen. Buck made the comparison, and it was a fair one.” Eddie blew out a breath. “So, what do we do?”

“I think Bobby, Chim, and I need to talk some more after you and your boy leave. I’d say you should be there, too, but I think you need to be with him more.”

He nodded. “But you’ll fill me in?”

“Yeah, I’ve got your back.”

They went back to join the others, the tension in the air making it clear that the conversation between Buck, Chim, and Bobby had not made much progress.

Hen took Eddie’s chair for a second, taking Buck’s hand. “You’re right, and I apologize. You can be a reckless dumbass sometimes, but you don’t do it much more than anyone else, yet you get all the grief for it. I think you feel like everyone’s little brother, and we get protective of you. I’m sorry that it’s coming out in ways that feel toxic.”

“Hen.” Buck squeezed her hand. “I’m not trying to make everyone feel bad, but—”

“How do we move on if we’re all living in denial, right? I get it. Change isn’t easy, Buck, but we’ll get there.”

He nods, looking upset. “Yeah, we will.”

Hen got up and returned to her seat, and Eddie sat next to Buck. Buck immediately reached out and took Eddie’s hand again, giving him a concerned look.

“I’m fine,” Eddie murmured softly. “We’ll talk later after Chris is in bed, okay?”

“Yeah.” Buck squeezed his hand tightly, and Eddie returned the pressure.

“Let’s return to the day of the tsunami,” Frank interjected. “We’ll get all the information and then we can discuss the issues that stem from it.

It took a good thirty minutes for Buck to describe the day. Recounting the moment Chris fell from the truck nearly had Buck in tears, but then Eddie got to hear the rest of the day, things he’d never known before. Buck wandering for hours, looking for Christopher, never giving up, and saving dozens of people along the way. Stopping to rescue people, give rudimentary first aid, including splinting broken bones with whatever was available. Eddie was pretty sure he’d triaged some people at the field hospital with Buck’s MacGyvered first aid.

“And that was it,” Buck finally said on a slow exhale. “Somehow, Chris was just there. He and I showed up at the field hospital, separately, at almost the same time. At the end of the day, that was all that mattered.”

“And, yet, you’ve never talked about the events of that day,” Frank said. “To such a degree that the news reporting was a surprise to everyone.”

“I didn’t seek out any information after the tsunami because I didn’t want the reminder. I don’t know why everyone else was so blindsided.” Buck scratched the back of his neck. “Also, I think I would have talked about it at first, but I pretty much saw no one but Eddie—and Chris—afterward. Which I understood—after a disaster is a rough time for first responders. People pull extra half shifts helping with the disaster area. Most of the tsunami disaster area was outside of LAFD territory, but whole stations from Santa Monica FD were wiped out, so LAFD was covering, plus SMFD lost people, and LAFD was picking up the slack.”

“So, you’re saying you don’t fault your coworkers for not being present in your life after the tsunami?”

“We’re more than coworkers,” Bobby bit out.

Rather than respond to what Bobby said, Buck replied, “I didn’t fault them for being busy, no. One of the things I’ve been working on in therapy is recognizing that my emotional reactions aren’t necessarily reflective of the facts of the situation. At the time, I felt abandoned. Reality is that they were busy.”

“But how you felt is how you felt,” Frank countered.

“Yeah, but I got past it.”

“Except,” Hen said slowly, “you filed a lawsuit. Was that part of getting past it?” There was no accusation, just curiosity in her tone, but Buck stiffened anyway.

“I was drowning, Hen, and my entire support structure was gone. I get intellectually that you guys were swamped, but it doesn’t change what I was going through. Finding out that Bobby was personally responsible for keeping me from work because I’m not mature enough for him was a body blow I couldn’t shake off. Not then. I could now, I think, but at the time, it felt like a deep personal betrayal. So, yeah, I filed a lawsuit because whether anyone here wants to accept it or not, I was being treated differently than any other person at the station.

“And while I get that the depositions were tough on everyone, the rest of the people who had to go through them dealt with it without the level of anger this group displayed. I know it’s not easy to have your personal stuff brought up like that, but it isn’t all that personal if the department knows about it.” Buck shook his head. “I thought the attorney was going to focus on medical issues only as a direct comparison, so I was surprised with the stuff he brought up about you and Eddie but, in retrospect, it was more of a direct comparison than I gave it credit for. My attorney saw it, but I didn’t. Not then.”

“What do you mean?” Eddie asked, looking straight at Buck and ignoring everyone else.

Buck shrugged one shoulder. “Bobby wasn’t keeping me away for medical reasons, he was keeping me away because he didn’t trust me to be responsible and thought I was dangerous and reckless. He evaluates you and Hen about your emotional readiness for the job differently than he does me. I knew that was part of the problem, but I didn’t consciously realize at the time. That’s why the attorney went after the situations with you and Hen.”

Buck looked around at everyone. “I want it clear though because it came up recently that Eddie didn’t know—I never told the attorney much about anyone. He got his information through investigation and discovery. And even if I had told him something, he’d have independently verified it before bringing it up in mediation lest he risk looking like an idiot for taking his client’s word about something. I deeply regret that you guys were all hurt in the process, but it wasn’t malicious, and I didn’t personally betray anyone.

“Except by filing the suit in the first place,” Chim said dryly.

“That’s what you think, Chim?” Buck said softly. “That fighting for my job against an irregular standard was a personal betrayal?”

“You could have been patient, Buck.”

“Ah. Patient with Bobby’s weird standard that was just for me. Because you and Hen would have been fine with accepting Bobby’s verdict on your health and career over the opinions of your doctors and the department policies. Yeah, I can see that about you guys—that you’d just accept someone else dictating your life and career.”

“I wouldn’t have,” Hen said strongly. “It took me a while to see that I’d have reacted badly too, but I do see it. I wouldn’t have sued the city, however. I’d have taken the proper course of action and gone to my union rep.”

Buck smiled slowly. “You’re right. That would have been the proper course of action. I didn’t have good feelings about my union rep because of how things went down with the whole Dr. Wells fiasco, but yeah. Union. The respectable course of action.”

Bobby shook his head. “It wound up being better for me that Buck didn’t go through the union,” he admitted softly. “It was made clear to me that the union would have sought my job for what happened, and they wouldn’t have let it go. Buck had the power with a private attorney to make the whole thing go away if he got his job back. The union wouldn’t have been constrained by Buck’s wishes once he made a complaint.”

Hen looked like she’d been slapped with a cold fish. “Bobby…”

He shook his head. “We’ve never all sat down and talked about everything, but I think there’s been a lot of poor assumptions.” He looked right at Buck. “On everyone’s part. But as painful as the lawsuit was, it was certainly better for me than Buck going through official channels. The chief made it clear to me that the only reason I kept my job is because Buck declined the city’s settlement. We need to talk, Buck.”

“Now?”

Bobby tilted his head toward the house. “Yeah.”

Buck got to his feet and strode into the house without a backward look.

“Okaaay,” Hen drew out, looking around at everyone. “Is anyone else blindsided by that information?”

Eddie held up a hand in acknowledgment, still trying to sort his chaotic thoughts. “But I shouldn’t be. We’ve all seen in other circumstances how aggressive the union can be when they get the bit between their teeth. If they thought Bobby was wrong…”

Hen chuckled mirthlessly. “Even though I ultimately understood why Buck did what he did, I’ve been critical in my head of him for not doing it the ‘right way.’ Turns out we’d have probably lost Bobby if Buck had followed normal protocol.”

“I hadn’t expected us to go here today,” Frank admitted, “but since we have, I’m curious why the deposition process is such a painful topic?”

“All our personal pain was dragged out for the court records,” Hen said sharply. “Why wouldn’t we have a problem with it?”

“Hmm.” Frank gave them thoughtful looks. “If a woman in your station from another shift had been sexually harassed and filed a grievance with the union, and all the women in the station had to give depositions about any misogyny or unfair treatment they’d received, would you resent participating?”

Hen looked like she knew it was a trap. “No, of course not.”

“Even if your personal life wound up under a microscope?”

“No.”

“I don’t mean that question critically, I’m simply pointing out that perhaps everyone should look at why they were so hurt by Buck’s actions. As Buck referenced in relation to himself, sometimes the emotions we feel aren’t reflective of the realities of the situation. The anger I’ve seen expressed over investigation, discovery, and a deposition seems disproportional to the offense.”

“It felt like he didn’t trust Bobby,” Chim said, sounding tired. “It felt like a betrayal of our family.”

“Ah.” Frank gave them knowing looks.

Eddie rubbed his hands over his face. “By those metrics, Chim, Buck was betrayed first, and clearly Bobby didn’t trust him either. Everyone came down on Bobby’s side because we were angry about the lawsuit, but that was siding with Bobby because of emotions not because I ever thought Bobby was right to keep Buck from his job.”

“And we hadn’t acted much like his family after the tsunami,” Hen said softly. “And, yes, there were extenuating circumstances because I worked harder the week after the tsunami than I ever have in my life, but me being busy doesn’t change Buck’s reality.”

“I know,” Chim conceded. “Even Maddie as working a ton of extra shifts. We never compared notes and realized that no one was seeing Buck. And I guess we all just assumed he was fine.”

“Which was a bad assumption,” Eddie said softly. “I’ve always known Buck and Chris struggled afterward with whatever they went through, but getting either of them to talk about it was like pulling teeth.”

“At least you tried, Eddie,” Hen said tiredly.

“We were all trying to keep our head above water. Seriously, no pun intended,” Eddie said dryly. “I don’t think Buck blames anyone for what happened, not in any specific way, but I do think he’s frustrated and tired over why the tsunami matters to the rest of the team now.”

“Why does it matter now?” Frank asked.

“Because no one knew,” Hen answered. “We didn’t realize the burdens he carried from that day. Although, this group convo thing was Bobby’s idea because he thought it’d be better to get it all out than to have it come up in bits and pieces on the job.”

“And do you think this was a better solution?”

“I don’t know. Maybe.” She sighed. “As much as this sucks, and it does suck, it is probably better that we clear the air about everything now rather than keep having it come up in a thousand different ways for years.”

They continued talking through the issues around the lawsuit, clearing the air and comparing notes for the first time while Bobby and Buck talked inside. It was a good twenty minutes before they returned. Buck’s eyes were red-rimmed, and Bobby looked emotionally exhausted, but both seemed a little lighter than they had when they went in the house.

Buck took his seat and braced both his elbows in his legs, fingers steepled. “I’d like to say something about the lawsuit, and hopefully it’s the last time we have to talk about it. I do regret making the decision to sue when I was angry. If I’d taken the time to act with a clearer head, I’d have chosen to go through the union just because it would have been the course of action my colleagues would have respected and would give me less problems down the road.

“It wound up fortuitous that I didn’t go that route, but it was always the right way to handle it. The thing I regret the most in all of that was that the lawsuit cut me off from Eddie and Chris. But I don’t regret fighting for my job. My apologies to each of you after the lawsuit were about the pain you personally went through, but not because I thought I was wrong to say no to an unfair situation. Bobby and I have cleared the air, I think, and unless someone has something to say, I’d rather we not revisit this again. Because, honestly, it’s going to start affecting our friendships if I have to hear again that I should have just taken it.”

Chim reacted the most negatively to that. “So I’m not allowed the opinion that you should have trusted Bobby’s judgment?”

“You’re allowed it, Chim,” Buck snapped, “but you need to learn to keep some shit to yourself. Seriously, man, I get it. You endured a lot of crap when you joined the 118 before you became a paramedics and Bobby took over as captain. And that you somehow think that means that I should have just taken Bobby’s ruling as gospel and been grateful, but I’m not you, I don’t have to make your choices.”

“You’ve had it easy, Buck. You’ve never had to deal with—” Chim cut himself off and winced, and Eddie really wanted to know where he was going with that, but it was probably for the best that he didn’t hear.

“Never had to deal with what?” Buck asked, leaning back in his chair. “Difficult circumstances? Being hazed? What haven’t I had to deal with?”

“It was a rough time, Buck,” Chim said carefully.

“Yeah, it was. I got my leg crushed by a ladder truck, nearly died from pulmonary embolisms, and then had the ocean try to eat me. It was a really shitty year, and yet I keep hearing about how hard all of that was for everyone else.”

Eddie winced.

“And I have been hazed, I just don’t talk about it. You think the rest of the station was gracious about my return after the lawsuit. I promise you, not everyone was.”

“What exactly happened?” Bobby asked, expression serious.

“It’s a little late for that.” Buck’s tone was glacial, and Eddie knew his lover was at his limit because Buck never sounded that cold otherwise. “Despite my efforts to get back to you guys, you don’t know how many times I thought about taking the chief’s offer of a transfer to 51. But I weathered it, and everything was eventually fine, but we need to put this lawsuit shit to bed. I love you guys, but I’m done.”

“Chief offered you a transfer?” Eddie asked, feeling absurdly shocked.

Buck met his gaze, and his expression softened. “Yeah. He met with me before my first shift back with the 118. He wanted to be sure returning to the 118 was what I really wanted because he warned me I’d be facing a difficult path to get things back to normal. That there were other stations that did bear me so much ill will.”

“I’m just surprised he’d…” Eddie wasn’t even sure what to say.

“Surprised he’d care after I sued the city? Well, I endeared myself to him by turning down the five-million-dollar settlement. Even though they had to pay attorney’s fees, it wound up less costly and damaging to the city than if I’d gone through the union. He was pretty pissed up until I turned the money down, then he got that I just wanted my job back. He offered me other paths to stay with the LAFD that might be less tense. Other captains had asked for me, and the Chief was inclined to allow that if it was what I wanted.” Buck shrugged.

“You never said,” Hen remarked gently.

Buck shot her a sharp look. “Why would I? It’s not like anyone asked me how the lawsuit had gone.” His tone was dry as the desert.

Hen gave a startled laugh. “Okay, fair. You just keep surprising me with how much you don’t share everything that’s on your mind.”

Buck shook his head and didn’t reply to that part. “Look, if we’re going to talk more about the tsunami, let’s do it. I’m hitting my limit here, and I don’t want my first shift back to start with me being emotionally exhausted.”

“I think that’s a good idea,” Frank said firmly. “Ostensibly, the purpose of this was to fill your colleagues in on what that day was like for you from start to finish. Let’s at least get all the questions about that day answered. If we need to have another session in a few weeks to talk about other issues, we can schedule that.”

Buck made a face but nodded.

Eddie reached for Buck’s hand again, and was grateful that Buck accepted the touch and squeezed his hand in return.

– – – –

Buck climbed into the passenger seat of Eddie’s truck and sank into the seat with a tired sigh. He was bone weary and just wanted to forget this day ever happened. “Well, that sucked.”

Eddie closed the door and turned sideways, watching Buck closely. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, Eds. That’s just not what I wanted to do today.”

“I really expected this to just be about the tsunami,” Eddie said hesitantly.

Buck knew Eddie hadn’t intended or wanted the day to go like it had. “I know. But considering the two events the tsunami was sandwiched by, I’m not surprised the embolisms and the lawsuit came up.” Buck turned to the side as well, so he could directly face his lover. “You know I’m not mad at you right?”

“I’m not sure why you’re not. I didn’t exactly try very hard back then to see your side of things. I said some things…”

“So what? No one was trying very hard to be empathetic back then, but I always understood why you were angry. You were still struggling with Shannon’s death, and you had an eight-year-old kid with PTSD breaking your heart every day. If I could go back in time and not file the suit just so I could be there for you, I would.” Buck reached out and took Eddie’s hands. “I would give up anything for you and Chris, Eddie. My biggest regret is I was so angry and hurt back then that I forgot what was important to me. I just felt like I was losing you both anyway because…”

“Because the more Chris started having problems, the less I was seeing you.”

Buck shrugged. “I get it. I always did, and I’ve never been angry with you, okay? I’m still not. I just don’t want to do this again.” He waved vaguely in the direction of Bobby’s house. Chim and Hen were still inside talking to Bobby and Frank. “It’s all out there now. If you want to talk about the tsunami, I’ll do that with you, but I’m done talking about it with anyone else.”

“That’s fair, but I need to say that my regret is that I was so in my own head back then that I wasn’t there for you more.”

“I’m not holding a grudge, Eds, I promise.”

“I know you’re not, Buck. You’re the most forgiving person I’ve ever met, but that doesn’t mean people don’t need to apologize to you when they’re wrong. Being assured of your forgiveness doesn’t negate the need to make things right.”

Buck shrugged again, not sure how to respond.

Eddie squeezed his hand tighter. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you more, okay? And I’m sorry about the things I said when I was angry.”

Buck felt himself soften even more. “I forgave you everything the minute it happened. Can we move on now?”

“Yeah, we can.” Eddie pulled him by the hand until they were hugging in the middle. “What do you want to do now?”

“Let’s go get our kid from Abuela and just chill out for the rest of the evening. No more difficult conversations today, okay?”

Eddie smiled and cupped Buck’s cheek. “I think we can manage that.”

– – – –

Buck stared at the TV in horrified fascination. The movie was so weird, and the CG warthog was freaking him the fuck out.

“No,” Chris said decisively, half crawling into Buck’s lap to take the remote. “No. I don’t like it.” He shut the TV off completely and shuddered.

Buck glanced at Eddie and found him staring blankly at the TV. “So…” Buck said slowly. “That was kind of awful.”

Eddie twitched. “Who thought live action Lion King was a good idea?”

“I don’t know, but that horror show is in my video library now. Ugh.” He hugged Chris, who seemed kind of freaked out and deflated at the same time. “Well, superman, I think we need a recovery activity. We all need a distraction to forget that…thing. What do you suggest?”

“Mario Kart?” Chris said hopefully.

Eddie made a face. “Playing video games before bed gets you revved up.”

“Maybe just for a little bit, Dad? And then we can play a real game until bedtime?”

“What kind of game?” Eddie asked cautiously.

“Let’s play Pandemic!” Chris said excitedly.

Buck laughed and ruffled his hair. “You little weirdo.” Since COVID started, Pandemic had become Chris’ favorite board game.

“We have to work together to defeat the plague!” Chris scrambled off Buck’s lap. “I’ll get the board set up, and you do Mario Kart, Bucky. I don’t want to be here when you turn the TV back on.”

Buck made a face at the notion that the wretched movie was still playing.

“Fun jobs for you,” Eddie said with a laugh.

– – – –

Buck finished his shower and dried off quickly, returning to the bedroom with a towel around his waist. They’d taken separate showers—Eddie showered while Buck was putting the games away with Christopher. Then they’d both been with Chris for bedtime stories.

Eddie was in bed reading, dressed in nothing but cut-off sweats. And that was more clothes than Buck wanted his lover in. He was aware of Eddie watching his movements as he crossed to the door and fiddled with the lock.

Buck met Eddie’s gaze as he turned the lock. “This okay?”

Eddie smiled, everything about him becoming more relaxed. “More than. Get over here.”

Dropping the towel on top of the hamper, Buck climbed into bed, straddling his lover. He leaned down, bracing his hands by Eddie’s head. “Hey,” he whispered.

“Hey there.” Eddie’s strong hands settled on Buck’s hips then slid up the planes of his back. “I didn’t want to make assumptions about tonight after the day we had.”

“Assume, Eddie. I promise to communicate if I need some space, but if I’m here, if I’m climbing into our bed with you, I want your hands on me. I want to be close, all right?”

“Got it.” Eddie didn’t waste another word, he just pulled Buck’s head down, their mouths meeting in a languid, deep kiss. It went on and on, and the kiss was so good that Buck’s brain went offline. He let Eddie take more of his weight.

Eddie nipped along Buck’s jaw. “I want to push a little.”

“Yes,” Buck agreed readily, wanting the intensity and to get him out of his head.

He found himself flipped onto his back, Eddie’s body pressing him into the mattress. The kiss finally ended as Eddie began exploring Buck’s neck.

Buck shuddered and arched up, his hard cock pushing against Eddie’s through the thick fabric of the makeshift sleep shorts. “Clothes, Eds. Clothes.”

Eddie made a noise of discontent and wriggled out of his shorts while biting at Buck’s nipples, causing Buck to gasp and press into the pleasure-pain.

After long minutes of heated kisses and grasping touches, Buck found himself on his side with Eddie curled up behind him. Eddie repositioned his top leg then slippery fingers were circling Buck’s hole. Buck groaned and pushed back, trying to get those fingers inside him.

A few seconds later, two fingers sank smoothly in, and Buck trembled at the sensations coursing through him. Eddie easily found the perfect angle to press on Buck’s prostate, and Buck had to press his face into the pillow to keep from making too much noise.

“That’s it,” Eddie murmured in his ear. “You’re so perfect, Evan.” Eddie’s fingers pressed firmly, and Buck felt his erection flag even as sharp pleasure from his ass set him on fire. He moved his hips, fucking back on Eddie’s fingers, wanting more.

“Come on, Eddie.”

“You want my cock now, baby?”

“You know I do.”

The fingers were suddenly gone, and Buck felt intense pressure at his opening. Then the head slid in, causing Buck to gasp. Eddie didn’t stop, continuing the slow, relentless glide into Buck’s body.

“You’re going to come on my cock, aren’t you?”

Buck pressed his face into the pillow for a second then took a gasping breath. “Yes, Eddie.”

“You’re so good. Don’t come until I say.”

Buck whimpered. “Eddie…”

“Just relax and accept it.” Eddie began to move, thrusting slowly, the angle perfect for hitting Buck just right. Buck pushed back, trying to get more, faster.

Eddie’s hand settled on his hip, holding him still, then he completely withdrew.

Buck made an inarticulate noise of complaint, but then Eddie’s cock was pushing past his rim and gliding in again, and Buck’s whole body spasmed. Eddie thrust twice more then pulled out.

“Eds…” Before he could articulate another thought, Eddie was pressing in again.

“Give in, baby,” Eddie murmured, lips pressed to Buck’s ear. Four thrusts came and then Eddie pulled out again.

Buck was tense, eager for the next penetration, wanting to keep Eddie inside him.

The next time Eddie slid his cock home in Buck’s ass, it was faster, sharper. Buck’s hand fisted in the bedding.

“Quit trying to drive. We’ll get there when I’m ready.” Eddie bit Buck’s earlobe sharply. “Surrender, Evan.” Eddie’s breath ghosted over Buck’s cheek.

Buck felt himself go boneless.

Eddie pulled out again, and Buck barely twitched. Then Eddie’s cock was driving into him hard and fast, slamming right into Buck’s prostate, causing his soft cock to steadily leak. The fucking became hard and…slow, and Buck stayed loose and pliant and gave himself up to whatever Eddie demanded.

Then Eddie pulled out again, and he pushed Buck onto his stomach, kneeing his legs far apart. Eddie reached under Buck and positioned his cock down between his legs. He played with the head for long seconds, causing tremors to race through Buck’s muscles. Buck whimpered into the pillow, fighting the urge to come.

Dios, you’re so beautiful, cariño,” Eddie whispered just before slamming his cock back into Buck’s ass. The pace was measured and the thrusts hard. Eddie braced his hands by Buck’s head, leaning down, breath ghosting over Buck’s face. “I want you to come, but I’m going to keep fucking you. I’m going to wreck you, baby. So come for me.”

Eddie’s cock was relentless against Buck’s prostate, and he came easily, muffling his shout into the pillow, hands fisting in the bedding.

As he promised, Eddie kept driving his cock into Buck’s body, the pace almost harsh. The overstimulation caused uncontrollable tremors in his legs and arms, and Buck moaned as his brain felt like it went completely offline.

Eddie felt Buck’s body go even looser under him, an endless stream of gasps and whimpers falling from his mouth. Buck was completely pliant, body given over entirely to what Eddie wanted. And Eddie wanted so much. The way Buck gave in to him was breathtaking and addictive.

He desperately wanted to come, but he wanted to push this as long as he could, wanted to keep fucking Buck’s ass and feel the tremors wracking his body. Eddie kept thrusting, holding off his climax; sometimes he’d pause and pull out, watch as Buck’s hole would seem to grasp at nothing, then slam back in, unerringly hitting Buck’s prostate and causing another round of shivers and whimpers.

When he couldn’t hold off any longer, he surrendered to the feeling building in the base of his spine and low in his belly. The orgasm robbed him of any rational thought while he rode Buck’s body hard.

Then he was still, braced on his arms, sweat dripping on Buck’s back. His cock was still hard, still pressed firmly against Buck’s prostate. He stayed like that for as long as he could bear it, pulling out when he felt himself start to soften.

He got rid of the condom then took in his lover, who was still trembling, splayed out on the bed, but otherwise unmoving.

Eddie rolled Buck onto his back and pushed his legs apart. He slid three fingers into the loosened hole, pressing right on Buck’s prostate. Buck’s eyes opened wide, and he gasped, but he didn’t twitch away or change the way Eddie had positioned him.

Buck’s soft cock rested on his belly, cum smeared all over. Eddie began to stroke him, his thumb circling the head. He was riveted by the way Buck shook and trembled, small whines escaping his throat.

“I’m going to keep fucking you with my fingers while I suck your cock. We’re going to do this until you come again.”

Buck made a choking sound as his head moved restlessly.

“Do you hear me, Evan?”

“Yes,” Buck gasped.

“You going to come for me again?”

“Yes, Eddie.”

Eddie took Buck’s cock in his mouth, loving how much he could take because Buck’s cock remained soft as Eddie slammed his fingers into Buck’s prostate. He sucked hard, paying close attention to the head.

The muscle tremors were so severe as to be almost violent as Eddie sucked mercilessly at Buck’s sensitive cock head. It took less time than Eddie expected to bring Buck to orgasm again. There wasn’t much cum, but it was still there. One day, Eddie wanted to edge Buck to a dry orgasm.

He didn’t stop completely with Buck’s climax; he sucked gently as he slowed the movement of his fingers in Buck’s ass. Then he backed off slowly, finally letting Buck’s cock slip from his mouth.

He pulled Buck into his arms, noting tears on his face, but Buck clung to him, still absently grinding his sensitive cock against Eddie’s hip. “You were so good,” Eddie murmured against Buck’s mouth. “So hot, so beautiful.”

Buck whimpered and pressed into the lazy kiss.

“I love you so much, Buck.”

“Love you too,” Buck gasped, fingers digging into Eddie’s back. “Don’t ever leave me.”

“Never.”


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Jilly James

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

3 Comments:

  1. Breathtaking

  2. Brilliant!
    All the emotional bloodletting was so difficult to read, but wonderfully written. I feel the whole team has still a lot of healing to do, but it’s good to see them all willing to invest the work in it.

  3. Damn. Just damn. The intensity of things in this chapter is breathtaking–from the sexual intimacy between Buck and Eddie to the emotional bloodletting happening all over the place. Just wow. I’m glad they had a therapist on hand for the team’s session, because that could have gotten so much uglier. Instead it was a necessary lancing of some old and painful wounds. I also really love how much Eddie and Buck are talking things out. It may seem fast to their friends, but it’s so clear as a reader that they are fully away of how deep their feelings run and determined that their already pretty solid foundation as friends and platonic partners could be expanded and built upon as a solid foundation for romantic partners. In other words, the other may not see it yet, but these two are putting in the work and it’s fucking beautiful. <3 <3 <3

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