Reading Time: 87 Minutes
Title: Take My Hand, Chapters 9-12
Series: So Far…
Series Order: 2
Author: Jilly James
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.
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!)
Buck chewed on the inside of his cheek, fighting nerves, as Eddie pulled into the parking lot for the fire station. Everything felt new and weird. He and Eddie had certainly carpooled before—they lived together during most of the pandemic—but this felt different. New, exciting, and nerve wracking. They were lovers now, partners, and they carpooled because they were a couple and would go home together, not because it was merely convenient.
“Why are you nervous?” Eddie reached for Buck’s hand and squeezed gently. “This is old hat.”
“I know. Everything just feels different. This thing with us feels so good, but it also feels surreal sometimes. In that I’m still weirded out that I get to be this happy. We’ve come to work together so many times, but today is different.” Buck shrugged, not able to easily articulate how he felt.
“Is the confrontation yesterday playing into why you’re buckling under the anxiety?”
“A little, but not as much as I would have expected. I feel kind of…raw, I guess is the word. But I’m more anxious that people are going to want to talk about it more.” He gave Eddie a look. “I’m really tired of talking, Eds.”
Eddie laughed. “I hear you. From what you’ve told me, you’ve had heart-to-hearts with everyone while you were in Texas. Add in your own personal therapy plus the group therapy Bobby asked for… It’s a lot.”
“It’s enough.” Buck blew out a breath. Hen had called Eddie last night and relayed how the conversation had gone between the rest of the team. From what she’d said, it sounded like they’d all made some level of peace with the situation, which Buck was relieved about. “I want Maddie to be the last difficult conversation. I just want to move on from all this.”
“Can you?” Eddie asked softly. “There’s a lot there, Buck.”
“Yeah, but I’m not sure talking it to death is the solution.”
“Fair. I’ll do my best to divert anyone.”
Buck shot him a sincere smile. “Thanks.”
“Listen… Have our conversations been too much?”
“No!” Buck countered quickly. “It’s different with you. If we need to talk about something, I’m there. I just don’t have any reason to keep talking about all of this stuff with everyone else.”
“Okay, I just wanted to check.” He squeezed Buck’s hand again. “Let’s get in there. We’ve only got seven minutes until the start of shift.”
Walking into the fire station was a lot like coming to a second home, which was new in and of itself. The fire station had always felt like his first home, but now home was Eddie and Chris. Feeling like his foundation wasn’t his job was both new and welcome. Buck had always sought a place to belong, and having it now gave him new perspective on his attachment to the 118.
No one from A-shift was downstairs when they walked in. C-shift was spread out between the locker room and a few people wrapping up some last-minute tasks. Buck changed into his uniform quickly, still two minutes to spare as they exited the locker room.
Eddie jogged straight for the loft. “Need coffee.”
Buck followed, eager for a little caffeine.
The entirety of A-shift was in the loft, and he was immediately greeted with everyone saying, “Welcome back, Buck!” Those very words were also spelled out in doughnuts on the big dining table.
Buck laughed and reached for a maple bar, eyeing a chocolate sprinkles doughnut for later. “Thanks, guys.” He went around and greeted everyone, answering a few questions. Some of C-shift joined them for coffee and doughnuts before they headed home.
Hen seemed okay, giving him a one-armed side hug.
Chim was about the way he’d been since this stuff started tense but trying to appear normal.
Bobby seemed fine on the surface, but Buck thought he saw flashes of something like sadness. There really wasn’t anymore Buck could do about it. They’d moved on from the events of last year, but Buck got the impression yesterday that Bobby thought Buck had had some profound realization about being wrong. He’d made it clear to Bobby that even though he regretted the lawsuit for a variety of reasons, he didn’t think he was wrong to sue. He wasn’t wrong to hold Bobby to account for using a double standard in how he treated Buck. He just should have gone about it a different way.
For the first time, Buck was certain he and Bobby were going to be okay, but he accepted that things might be a little tense for a while. He no longer felt an overwhelming need to fix everything.
When the gathering was dying down and most of the doughnuts were gone, Bobby began giving out assignments, and everyone headed for the stairs to do start-of-shift equipment checks before getting on with their assigned tasks.
“Buck, if you could hold back for a second.”
Buck waited patiently for everyone to file downstairs. “What’s up?”
“It’s good to have you back.” Bobby hesitated. “You okay?”
“I’m good, Bobby. I just need to move on from all of that stuff, you know?”
“Yeah, I do know. I just wish it was as simple as a wish.” He visibly pulled himself together. “There’s a PR rep from the department who is going to be dropping by at some point today. You haven’t called them.”
Buck huffed. “I’ve been busy. Maybe I’ll get lucky and we’ll be on a call when they stop by.”
“I’m sure they’ll check if we’re here before showing up. You’re going to have to give some kind of statement, so just consider it.”
“Why though? Why can’t we just wait for it to go away?”
“Because it’s not going away. I know you’ve been busy and probably not paying attention, but Taylor Kelly’s segment got national attention. People are asking about you on social media and wondering why you’re not saying anything. The department is going to force the issue. So, think about how you want to handle it. Don’t let them speak for you. I don’t plan on giving you and Eddie chores that allow you to be joined at the hip in the station all the time, but I did today so you two can talk it out if you need to.”
Buck nodded tightly. “Thanks, Bobby.”
“You’re welcome, Buck. Again, I’m glad you’re back.”
– – – –
Their first callout came shortly after the start of shift. A jumper on top of his neighbor’s house.
“Why isn’t he jumping off his own house?” Buck pondered as he leaned back against the fire truck, shoulder-to-shoulder with Eddie.
“Because that would make sense, and nothing about this makes sense.”
They’d been waiting for an hour already. The guy was agitated and not showing signs of responding to anyone who tried to talk to him.
Eddie suddenly stiffened next to him. “Oh, hell no.”
Buck followed Eddie’s line of sight to see Taylor Kelly had arrived. “Ah, fuck,” he muttered.
“I got this,” Eddie said stalking away.
Buck thought about calling him back, but he didn’t really want to talk to Taylor, so he decided to just give in gracefully and ignore the reporter.
Hen rounded the truck and leaned next to him. “Bets on how long we’ll be here?”
Buck just shook his head. “I have a feeling I’m going to underestimate no matter what I say, and that’s starting to feel like a jinx on its own.”
She made a face. “You sure got a boring call your first day back.”
Buck huffed. “I could have stayed on vacation.”
“You don’t want us to suffer alone, do you?”
“With this? Yes, absolutely.”
She laughed and bumped his shoulder before heading off to talk to Chim.
Buck glanced over to find Eddie and Taylor in intense conversation, separate from everyone else, but it looked less heated than he would have expected. Shaking his head, he turned his attention back to the guy raving on the rooftop.
A couple of minutes passed before Eddie returned, expression unreadable. “I think you should talk to her.” He held up a hand before Buck could protest. “It’s not what I expected to hear.”
Buck made a face but took Eddie’s word for it and pushed away from the truck to go meet with Taylor. He was aware that he’d caught Bobby’s attention as he moved over to where Taylor was waiting near the end of the news van. Her cameraman was getting shots of the would-be jumper and the house from various angles.
“Taylor,” he greeted cautiously, arms crossed over his chest.
“Hi, Buck.” She had her hands clenched together in front of her. “Eddie made it clear that you were less than happy at the special I put together.”
“That’s one way of putting it.”
She rolled her lips briefly between her teeth for a brief second, looking nervous. “I honestly thought you’d be neutral about it at worst. At best, I thought you’d appreciate it.”
“You’re saying you did that for me? Come on, Taylor. You forget that I know you pretty well.”
“No, not strictly for you. I thought it’d be good exposure for me too, but I thought—“ She swallowed heavily. “Your parents approached me after the thing in Austin. You were in the news already, and they had all this information, things I never knew about. I assumed since it was coming from your folks that you’d be fine with it.”
Buck sighed and dragged his hand over his face. “You obviously know what happened with the bombing.”
She looked surprised by that change in conversation. “Yeah, of course. And, uh, I’m sorry I never got in touch during that whole…thing. I’m honestly terrible with sick people and injuries. I never know what to say or do, and I tend to make everything worse. But I sent—”
“I got your flowers,” Buck interrupted. “We weren’t exactly tight, so I didn’t have any expectations. But I mention the bombing as a frame of reference. You sent flowers. My parents never showed up for it. They never called, never wrote, not even an ecard. I got more from you than them. They’re here now because my sister is expecting a baby in the next month or so. Prior to a disastrous dinner with them at my sister’s about a month ago, I hadn’t seen or heard from them in a decade.”
Her mouth formed a perfect “O” in her astonishment. When she’d regained her composure. “Oh my god. You mean I facilitated shitty parents getting their fifteen minutes of fame at the expense of the kid they neglected?”
“Something like that. They’ve always thought I was pretty useless. And, yes, they thought that when they already knew I was a firefighter, when they knew about the bombing and the tsunami. My sister spilled the beans about the train derailment.” He could admit her sincere shock at his parents conning her had taken the edge of the anger direct at her.
She seemed to be struggling with what to say. “I, uh, Eddie made it clear that the reporting about the tsunami was pretty traumatic for both of you.”
Buck sighed, letting that bit of his anger go. “That’s not strictly your fault. It’s probably mostly mine since I never talked to anyone about what happened that day.”
“Why would you keep all that a secret?”
“Because it was traumatic.” He hesitated. “Are we off the record here?”
“Yeah, Buck, of course we are. I don’t hate you, and I’m sure not trying to make your life miserable.”
“It’s been a year and a half, and I’m still not over it. I still dream about it. I was trying to keep from dragging everyone into the nightmare with me. It was a bad call. I should have at least talked to Eddie about it since it was his son in there with me.”
She winced. “Yeah. God, Buck, I am sorry. I don’t usually think I need to apologize for my ambition, but really wasn’t trying to hurt you. I just…saw an opportunity. All I’ve done for a year is report on the horrors of COVID. It’s soul sucking, you know? Then there your parents were with a human-interest story I could probably get past my producers considering the spectacle you made of yourself in Austin.”
He couldn’t help but chuckle.
“I bear you no ill will, Buck, I swear. I thought I probably owed it to you for how things went with us and the reporting I did on your station that made you all so uncomfortable. I’m really sorry.”
He pursed his lips, thinking through all the angles. “Just tell me that you’ll talk to me first if something like this happens again.”
“You planning on continuing to be in the news?” she asked with a small grin.
“Eh. I try never to be in the news, but that doesn’t seem to be working out for me.”
“Listen, in the wake of your reporting, the department is after me to make a statement. How about you make it up to me by interviewing me, but,” he said firmly, “I get final say on anything in the segment?”
She blinked in astonishment. “Seriously? You’d let me get even more out of this?”
“Well, I’m going to have to do something, and I do believe you that you didn’t intend for this to be so hurtful, so…yeah. I doubt anyone else would have reason to agree to let me have final say over the finished product.”
“True.” She grinned. “Okay, then. You tell the LAFD’s PR department that I’m going to do the interview, and I’ll get it set up on my end with my boss.”
“They won’t give you any hassle, right?”
“No,” she scoffed. “That segment about you was the highest rated on the station in months, and it’s viral on YouTube. They’d roll out the red carpet for an interview with you.”
Buck felt his face heat. “This is all so overblown.”
She cocked her head to the side. “You’re going to downplay everything, aren’t you?”
“I’m not entirely sure yet. I need to consult with an expert.”
“An expert? Like a PR rep?”
“I was thinking about a 9-1-1 dispatcher in Texas.”
She stared at him in obvious confusion.
“Don’t worry about it, Taylor. It’ll be fine. Let’s shoot for next weekend, okay? I’ve got this thing with my sister I’d like to be settled before the interview.”
“Whatever you want.” She hesitated. “Well, not much longer than that, okay? We need to strike while the iron’s hot. Meaning, while people are still interested.”
“I hear ya.” He left her to get on with her reporting and joined Eddie where he was now sitting on the back of the ambulance.
“That looked pretty civilized,” Eddie remarked with forced casualness.
“She’s going to interview me.”
Eddie’s mouth dropped open. Buck tried not to laugh as his boyfriend got himself together. “Are you freaking kidding me?”
“We talked it out. She wasn’t trying to be a malicious bitch. Seems like she was a little desperate to cover something that wasn’t about COVID, and after my shenanigans in Austin, she was able to get it by her bosses.”
Eddie dragged his hands through his hair, messing it up adorably. “How does that explain why she didn’t contact you directly?”
“Did she tell you my parents approached her?”
“Yeah.” Eddie winced. “That’s messed up. They wanted their moment in the spotlight, but at your expense. Christopher’s expense.”
“Yep, and that’s not Taylor’s fault. She was being a reporter, and my own parents made me an easy mark. She promised not to listen to them anymore. And I figure the department is going to insist I make a statement. I might as well make it to someone who thinks they owe me.”
“Why does that matter?”
“Because she’s going to let me have final review of the interview to make sure nothing awful gets aired.”
“Hmm.” Eddie nods, looking faintly impressed. “That’s not a bad plan.”
“What do you think about the plan of ordering pizza for lunch?”
“Dios, do you think we’ll be here that long?”
“I may not be willing to bet with Hen on how long we’ll be here, but I’d advise a betting man to go all in on sometime after lunch.”
– – – –
Buck followed Eddie into the house, Christopher laughing at them from his position on Buck’s back. As per usual, Chris had spent Saturday with his abuela while Buck had his first twenty-four-hour shift. They had fewer calls than usual for a Saturday night, and Eddie and Buck had been able to both stay behind for an MVA, so they’d gotten a solid six hours of sleep. They might take a nap in the afternoon but, otherwise, they were well positioned for a lazy family Sunday, which was exactly what Buck needed since his second shift back was tomorrow.
Austin’s strict one on, two off schedule was easier to deal with in terms of fatigue, but Buck preferred Los Angeles’ model that was a little more compressed at times but gave them four days off in a row every other week.
Buck dumped a laughing Christopher on the couch. “So, I know Abuela gave you breakfast already, and we had a bit before end of shift, so how about Sunday brunch in a couple of hours?”
“Yay! Can we have waffles again?”
“Absolutely waffles. What else would I make for my superman?”
Eddie was leaning against the door jamb, watching them with a fond expression on his face.
“What?” Buck asked when he moved close to his lover.
“Nothing much. Just thinking how much I love my family.”
Buck fisted his hand in Eddie’s shirt and pulled him closer. “I can never hear that too many times.”
“Is that right?” Eddie murmured, leaning in for a kiss, which Buck happily gave.
They were both startled out of the kiss by a knock at the door.
“Are we expecting someone?” Chris asked, head popping up over the back off the couch.
Eddie also shot Buck an inquisitive look, but Buck shook his head. “Nope. But sometimes people come by unexpectedly.”
Eddie squeezed Buck’s arm then looked to see who was outside. Eyes wide, he turned to Buck and whispered, “It’s your parents.”
Buck’s eyes nearly bugged out of his head. “How the hell did they know where to find me?”
“Did you give anyone a forwarding address?”
“No. I did an initial pass on change of address, but Albert is getting my mail still. I’m updating my address as stray things come in.”
“Who is it?” Chris asked, getting up off the couch.
“Someone we don’t want to have in the house,” Eddie said cautiously giving Buck a look. Buck nodded his agreement.
There was another firm knock at the door.
“Chris,” Eddie said, “I need you to play in your room for a bit while we get rid of these people.
Chris looked worried. “Is it dangerous?”
“Not at all,” Buck assured. “It’d be like if that kid you couldn’t stand from the last school year dropped by. Henry Bradley, was it?”
“Ew.” Chris made a face and headed for his room. “We’re still having waffles for brunch, right?”
“Yep! As soon as I finish with this, I’ll get started on food.” As soon as Chris’ door was shut, Buck said, “I’m going to go out. Call Chim and find out if he has any theories on how they got our address.” If Maddie had told them, he wondered if they’d be able to come back from this. Because that was pretty fucked up, and it would show that she was deeper into her delusions than he’d thought possible.
“Buck, you don’t have to see them at all. I can get rid of them.”
“No, I have some things I need to say, and they need to get the message before they do any more interviews.”
“Yeah, okay. I’ll be out as soon as I talk to Chim.”
Buck stepped out on the porch quickly, making his parents wrong-footed enough that they backed up before saying anything. He pulled the door firmly shut. “What the hell are you doing here?”
His mother’s gaze was filled with ire. “How dare you speak to us that way.”
“How dare you show up here unannounced?” Buck countered.
“You need to let us in so we can talk,” Margaret said briskly.
“How about no.” Buck crossed his arms and leaned back against the siding right next to the door. “How’d you know where I live?”
“Your sister told us you’d moved,” Margaret replied.
Buck was familiar with her evasions, how she could make it sound like she was answering the question without actually answering the specific question asked. “Maddie gave you my address?”
“Of course we got your address from your sister,” Margaret snapped.
Buck’s eyes narrowed at the wording, and he looked to his father, who looked uncomfortable. “I’ll ask again, what are you doing here?”
“We should take this inside,” Margaret evaded. “This is not business of your neighbors.”
“They’re too far away to hear anything we say here. And I’m not letting you in my house.”
“That’s rude, Evan,” she chastised him.
“I don’t give a shit,” he shot back.
Margaret reared back, hand pressed to her chest, obviously affronted.
“Don’t talk to your mother that way,” Philip bit out, sounding testy.
“Fuck you,” Buck said calmly, feeling free around his parents for the first time in his life.
Philip looked angry, but only a fraction of the anger Margaret was displaying.
“One more chance to tell me why you’re here,” Buck said lowly, “and then I’m going back inside, and I won’t care how long you beat on the door.”
“We wanted to talk to you,” Margaret replied. “We’ve been trying to reach you since you ran away from your family a month ago.”
“Yeah, well, I blocked your number when I went on vacation, and I’ve filtered your emails straight to the trash. Assuming you sent me any emails. I’m not sure what kind of technological phobias you two have. Though you wouldn’t even have my current email if Maddie hadn’t given it to you since I haven’t heard from you of your own volition in a decade.”
“How dare you.” Margaret looked like she was about to pop a blood vessel, but Philip just looked resigned—maybe a bit pissed off too.
“I didn’t hear from you two for my entire adulthood. What in the world could you possibly want now that I’m nearly thirty?”
“You’re our son,” Margaret said through clenched teeth. “You take off with no notice, avoid everyone’s calls and emails, and then come back and take up with this…man you work with, making this impulsive decision to live with him? We won’t stand for it, Evan.”
“Well, it really has nothing to do with you,” Buck said slowly. “My family and where I live are none of your business, and you’ve never paid attention to my relationships before now.”
Before anything else could be said, the door opened, and Eddie stepped out. “Chim said Maddie told them a couple of days ago that you’d moved, but he swears Maddie didn’t give them our address. However, he said that Maddie caught Mrs. Buckley with her phone yesterday afternoon. Mrs. Buckley claimed to be looking up the weather.” He shot the Buckleys an insincere smile. “Maddie would dearly love for you both to call her.”
Margaret’s mouth tightened. “All this time, you were just corrupting our son. Leading him down this sinful path.”
Buck’s brows shot up. “Really? That’s the tactic? You’re going to air your homophobia right out here on the front porch so blatantly? I have to admit, I didn’t see this going that way.”
Philip shot Margaret an odd look, like he was confused about the words coming out of her mouth.
“It’s wrong!” Market said venomously. “I warned you about this, Evan.”
“Uh-huh.” He stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Eddie. “Can we get back to what you’re actually here for? Because I’ve made it clear that I don’t want to talk to you, and I don’t want to see you. I’ve now made it perfectly clear that I have no fucks to give when it comes to your opinion about my life, and certainly not about my romantic partner. So, if you’re just here to disapprove of my lifestyle, you can go.”
“Evan,” Margaret snapped, actually stamping her foot. “You need to do a follow-up interview with us. The station has been calling, but you’re avoiding everyone.”
Buck’s eye twitched. “If you think I’m doing an interview with the two of you, you must have fallen and hit your head. But to be sure there’s nothing vague about my answer: I refuse to now or ever validate your absentee parenting or your desire for a little fame by doing an interview with you or talking about our wondrously happy family. Also, if you make any more overtures to the media to talk about me, I will book time to do an interview all about our family. Starting with Daniel.”
Margaret reared back, hands clutched to her chest. Even stoic Philip looked shocked. Eddie’s arm curled around Buck’s shoulders, pulling him in tight, grounding Buck in a way he didn’t even know he needed.
“I’m not kidding about this. I will go on record about every shitty thing you did leading up to Daniel’s death and how you checked out as parents after he died. I will not pander to your bullshit anymore. I will expose every neglectful moment of my entire life for everyone in Pennsylvania to see.” Buck made significant eye contact with both of them. “I have nothing more to say, and I’m not interested in anything you have to say, so get off our property.”
He reached back for the doorknob. “If you’re still here when I look out after washing my hands, I’ll call the cops.”
“And we know a fair number of those,” Eddie added dryly.
Buck turned the knob and went inside, Eddie following right on his heels.
As soon as the door was closed and locked, Buck felt like his chest was being squeezed. He started to breathe heavily.
Eddie pulled him close and whispered in his ear. “You did so great, babe. I am so, so proud of you.”
Buck’s hands fisted in Eddie’s shirt. “I hate that they still make me feel this way.”
“I know. It’ll take time, but you took a huge first step with them.” Eddie pressed a kiss to his temple. “We’ll get through this. I promise.”
Middle-of-the-night multi-vehicle accidents were both the best and worst case scenarios at the same time, in Eddie’s opinion. It was good because traffic was light so collateral damage and traffic snarls were minimized. But it also sucked because a 2:00 am callout with significant injuries meant no one got a good night’s sleep.
Though the one upside to the timing of this one was that it was a weekday shift, so Chris would already be in Zoom school at Karen’s by the time their shift ended in a few hours. No sleep really sucked on a Friday or Saturday when they had to try to stay on for time with Christopher the next day.
The collision was bigger than would be typical for the wee hours of the morning, so there were more injuries than usual, leaving Eddie working more with Hen and Chim than with Buck. He hated calls when he and Buck got separated. Bobby, Buck, and Anders were carrying out the heavy rescue work, leaving Chim, Hen, and Eddie to handle the injured. They’d had to call in two extra ambulances, which had already left with the first of those needing to be transported to the hospital. There was one serious injury left, and the rest of the team was still trying to get him out of the crumpled SUV while the paramedics handled wrapping up the less serious injuries.
Eddie finished applying some butterfly bandages to the last of the minor injuries he was treating. The young woman already had her mother hovering nearby to take her home. “I’d recommend you get checked by your regular doctor in the morning. Well, after the sun comes up since it’s already morning. But go to the emergency room immediately if you start experiencing any dizziness, blurry vision, nausea, or vomiting.”
“I’ll be keeping an eye on her,” the mother said firmly. “We’ll definitely follow-up.”
“Okay, then you’re set. You can go.” He helped her to her feet and watched with a critical eye to see if she had any balance issues, but she was rock steady, which she had been all along. Hen had assessed her about half an hour ago and determined that her injuries were all superficial, which put her in the short queue of people for Eddie to tend to.
He packed up the first-aid detritus and then joined Hen to watch the extraction of their last patient. Chim had gone into the vehicle through the sunroof and was handling any medical intervention until the team got the door opened. One side of the SUV was completely blocked, and the driver’s side was crumpled in.
“Where’s Buck?” Eddie asked, looking around.
“He’s getting the big Halligan. They need more leverage than they can get with the thirty-six inch. Or something like that.”
Eddie blinked. Bobby put the jumbo Halligan on his trucks if he had someone who could wield them effectively. There were only a few people at the station who could. Typically, the bigger the implement, the less precision.
Buck jogged around the side of the truck with the 54-inch Pro-Bar in hand, and Eddie felt his mouth go dry. It always did stupid things to his dick when Buck used the really big tools. Not everyone could use the big axes, sledgehammers, and other tools with ease and accuracy, but Buck made it look like child’s play.
“I’m only ten inches taller than that stupid thing,” Hen muttered.
Eddie chuckled then watched as Buck drove the pike of the Halligan hard into the door frame, then used brute strength to bow the door out a few inches so that Anders could slam the claw of the smaller Pro-Bar into the small gap created, wedging it open further so that Bobby could get the Jaws in and pop the door out of the frame.
He whistled lowly.
“Damn,” Hen whispered. “He’s such a big puppy, I forget sometimes how strong he is.” She got into motion, moving into the now-open door to help Chim treat the patient.
Eddie headed over with the backboard while Anders and Buck went to get the gurney.
It took a few minutes for Chim and Hen to have the patient ready to move from the vehicle. The guy was unconscious, and his injuries were numerous, though none individually seemed life threatening, beyond perhaps the head injury itself.
By the time Chim and Hen were on the way to the hospital, there was nothing left for them to do. The last patient had taken so long that tow trucks were already waiting to take the vehicles, and PD had handled cleaning debris out of the road.
“Let’s load up,” Bobby called.
Eddie contemplated Buck from directly across the seat. Buck’s legs were so long, their knees knocked into each other. He’d been keeping a close eye on Buck all shift because of his parents showing up unannounced yesterday, but despite Buck being subdued yesterday, telling the Buckleys to get bent had seemed to take some of the weight off Buck’s shoulders.
Buck had had an emergency session with his therapist at the beginning of the shift before they were called out for their first call of the day, but Buck had given him a reassuring smile and said everything was fine.
Still, Eddie watched. Not that that was anything new because Eddie always watched Buck. He just usually tried to be a little bit subtle about it.
But now he was watching Buck for another reason entirely. Eddie has always known Buck was big and strong, one of the biggest and strongest at the station. There were a couple of guys on other shifts who were a bit taller, but with the combination of height and strength, probably the only person who challenged Buck at all was Jones on B-shift.
Eddie was no slouch on the strength front, but he knew Buck was a lot stronger. It gave a titillating edge to the times when Buck let Eddie hold him down in bed. Or on the couch. Or wherever they happened to land. There was no doubt that Buck could toss Eddie across the room if he wanted to, but he completely gave himself up to Eddie, and that was a heady experience.
Buck was giving him an inquisitive look, but Eddie just smiled and shook his head. So Buck shrugged and tapped at his phone a bit. He made a face and passed the phone to Eddie.
It was a text from Taylor Kelly from around midnight that said she had a first cut of the segment for Buck to review and that she’d send a link for when he had time.
Eddie kept his face neutral and passed the phone back, mouthing tonight?
Everything about that interview had gotten accelerated after lunch in this last shift. Taylor had called Buck about a freezer catastrophe at one of the hospitals doing COVID vaccinations. They only had six hours to administer a bunch of thawed vaccine that no-one knew had been thawed because a freezer went offline. That call had sucked down most of the shift until dinner.
The 118 had jumped into gear and spent the afternoon helping get vaccine out to nearby nursing homes. Those with more medical training, like Chim, Hen, and Eddie, had helped administer vaccines at the hospital.
While they were still en route to the hospital, Buck had called Abuela to take over Zoom school so Karen and Michael could go down and get vaccinated. It could have been weeks or months longer before either of them would be due, but the hospital was taking anyone they could get that afternoon. Buck had also called down May and a couple of others from the 9-1-1 call center who hadn’t been vaccinated yet. The call center had fallen into this grey area that most first responders didn’t have to deal with. The city had made the decision that dispatchers who had underlying health conditions could be vaccinated at the same schedule as other first responders, but the rest would have to wait for their age group.
Eddie had thought it was bullshit since it was a relatively small group of people, and it made more sense to vaccinate them together. But now most of those who were unvaccinated had been summoned down to start the process. All of those called had jumped on it.
Then the weird part of the day had happened. Eddie, Chim, and Hen were committed for hours putting shots in arms, but the rest of the team were more at loose ends. They’d been chipping in with registering people, filling out vaccine cards, and helping with logistics, but the hospital had plenty of staff for that if that part of the 118 got called out to a rescue of some sort.
Eddie had seen Bobby, Buck, and Taylor talking as a group, and then he’d next seen Buck sitting in a chair, at an angle to Taylor, with her cameraman filming both of them. He’d found out later that Taylor had thought Buck’s involvement with the vaccine distribution would be a natural segue to the follow-up interview. Buck had hedged about it, but Bobby had been supportive.
Buck had already talked to both Grace and Judd about the interview, so he’d had some thoughts circling in his head about what he wanted to say, but Eddie hadn’t pushed for Buck to share. One thing he’d learned about Buck over the years they’d known each other was that trying to force Buck to talk about things before they’d settled in his own mind rarely went well.
So, despite his misgivings about the impromptu interview, he’d just been supportive and taken a few minutes to give Buck a shoulder to lean on after dinner without putting pressure to talk about the whole mess. He knew Buck wanted this whole thing to go away, just like he wanted his parents to go away. Hopefully, this would be the last thing required of Buck that was direct or indirect fallout from his parents coming to town.
Once Buck and Taylor came to agreement on the cut for the interview, the city’s PR rep wanted to view it to make sure the city didn’t come out looking bad, but other than that narrow lens, the city had agreed to not try to treat Buck like a walking meat puppet for their own publicity gains.
Eddie just hated how powerless the whole situation made him feel. How little he felt like he was helping Buck with a problem that weighed heavily.
Buck nudged his ankle, and Eddie met his gaze. Buck gave him a crooked grin and a short nod, letting Eddie know everything was fine.
Eddie knocked their knees together, preferring when they sat side-by-side, but this would do. It was much better than Buck not being in the truck at all.
When they pulled into the station, Bobby said, “Everyone catch what sleep you can and let’s hope we don’t get another call. Lights up at 7:00, breakfast at 7:30.”
That gave them about three more hours to sleep.
– – – –
They didn’t get another call, but three hours wasn’t sufficient even with the three hours they’d gotten before the 2:30 callout. Six hours was usually pretty good for Eddie, but the shift had been physically draining. And then Eddie had woken up from his recent round of sleep sporting major wood from dreaming about Buck wielding a sledgehammer.
Buck was tiredly poking at the remains of his breakfast with only ten minutes left in their shift. Until the next shift was officially on, they could get called out, so no one was hitting the showers yet.
When 8:00 rolled around, Buck tiredly pushed back from the table. “Thank fuck that’s over. I’m too tired to deal; I’ll shower at home.”
“I’m showering now,” Eddie said with faux casualness as they jogged downstairs.
Buck looked like he was reconsidering then shook his head. “I’ll just wait for you in the car.”
Eddie caught his elbow. “Shower now. I’ll explain later.”
Buck huffed and headed for the locker room. “This better be good, Diaz.”
Neither of them tended to linger in the showers unless they were showering together, which would never happen at the station. They were clean, dressed, and heading out in under twenty. It took them longer to clear out than usual because Buck hadn’t seen B-shift yet, so he stopped to say hello to a few people. C-shift had been on duty when they were leaving on Sunday morning after Buck’s first day back. The whole station knew they were together now, so Eddie dealt with a fair bit of razzing about finally getting off his ass and taking his “puppy” home.
He rolled his eyes at the latest tease from Jones and grabbed Buck by the elbow. “Come on, Mr. Popular. Let’s go home.”
Buck grinned at him. “It’s good to be back.”
As soon as they were in the truck, Buck asked, “So, are we stopping somewhere?”
“Nope.” Eddie pulled out of the station parking lot.
“What the hell, Eds? We needed to hang out for another half hour…why?”
“Because the minute we get in the door, I’m going to fuck you until you can’t walk straight.”
Buck sucked in a sharp breath.
“And that’s gonna be a better experience if neither of us smell like the last shift.” He lifted the big armrest with the center-console-thing and patted the middle of the seat. “Scoot over here.” He glanced over and found Buck giving him a confused look.
After a beat, Buck unbuckled his seatbelt and moved to the center of the seat.
Huffing, Buck dug around for the center restraint system that they kept tucked away since no one ever sat in the middle while the car was in motion. “Why am I sitting here?”
“Do you have any idea how hot it makes me when you use really big equipment that almost no one but you can use with any real precision?”
Buck stilled. “The Halligan?” he asked after a beat.
“Yeah, that stupid fifty-four-inch Pro-Bar that no one else ever pulls off the truck. And then you used it to muscle a door into shape to use the jaws. Damn.”
“That really works for you, huh?”
“I love how strong you are.” Eddie pulled up at a light. Traffic was heavy, but it was all smaller vehicles, and the truck rode higher than everything else. He let his hand drop to Buck’s lap and began to massage the cock that was already getting hard in the joggers Buck favored for after shift.
Buck gasped and clutched at Eddie’s arm.
“Hands by your sides, baby.”
Buck’s hand tightened for a second then fell away as both hands were pressed against the seat. Buck’s cock was rock solid under Eddie’s hand. “Eds.”
Eddie grinned and pulled his hand away when the light turned green. “Safety first.”
Eddie laughed. “Reach into the back and get my bag. The small end compartment. Get the lube out and a condom.”
Buck made a choking sound. “You don’t seriously expect me to…”
“Just get them, Buck.”
Buck made a frustrated noise but dragged the bag into the front seat and got the lube and condom out.
“Just keep hold of them. Your dick is staying in your pants until we get home, but I’m not wasting time going to the bedroom for supplies.” He’d love to keep lube and condoms hidden in every room in the house, because he and Buck had plenty of time home alone together, but there were no true hiding spaces outside of their bedroom when it came to life with a nearly ten-year-old.
Buck made a funny little noise in the back of his throat but didn’t say anything.
Every time they stopped at light, Eddie dropped his hand to Buck’s lap, massaging the rock-hard erection that Buck had no trouble maintaining. While he drove, he told Buck about what all the acts of strength did to him on the job over the years. How much he loved to see Buck wielding an axe, but the jumbo Halligan was by far his favorite.
As they got closer to home, the next time they stopped at a light, he slipped his hand into Buck’s pants, firmly grasping Buck’s cock.
Buck thrust up into fist.
“Be still,” Eddie ordered, loving how Buck’s breathing had become labored. He slid his thumb over the slit, smearing the precum and massaging more firmly than he himself would enjoy.
“Should I fuck you right up against the front door or spread you out over the table?”
The light turned green, and Eddie pulled his hand from Buck’s pants, licking the precum from his thumb as he started to drive, not at all surprised that he didn’t get a verbal response.
The rest of the drive was a blur of heightening arousal. Eddie kept his hands to himself when the car was in motion, using his words to rev Buck up instead.
The minute they were parked in the driveway, Buck was out of the car, ignoring their bags, and almost sprinting for the house. They kissed for the first time as Eddie was fumbling with the keys to get the door unlocked. He was clumsy and uncoordinated about getting the door open, but finally they were tumbling inside, still joined at the mouth.
Eddie kicked the door shut as he broke the kiss. He’d had a mental picture of spreading Buck out over the kitchen counter like a fucking meal, but he couldn’t wait that long. He pulled Buck around, his back to Eddie’s chest, and shoved him against the door. His yanked Buck’s pants down as Buck scrambled to get his shoes off. Eddie barely had the patience to strip the pants away entirely. He only did it to ensure he get get Buck’s legs as far apart as he wanted.
He didn’t want to take the time to get Buck out of his T-shirt, but he wanted to see the broad, defined muscles. Wanted the evidence of Buck’s power and strength in front of him.
The lube and condom were still in Buck’s hand, so he grabbed them. “Get your shirt off.”
He took his dick out only enough to get the condom on and slick himself with lube. Buck’s shirt had disappeared somewhere, and Eddie took in the sight of Buck’s strong, naked body pressed up against the door.
“You’re so fucking hot.” He kicked Buck’s legs farther apart and pulled his hips back. He slid his slippery fingers over Buck’s hole, rubbing firmly. The muscle instantly relaxed and practically tried to pull Eddie inside.
Eddie let his head rest between Buck’s shoulder blades, trying to catch his breath under the onslaught of overwhelming arousal. “I want to stretch you on my cock.”
Buck groaned and pressed his ass back at Eddie.
Eddie nipped at the back of Buck’s neck. “You want that?”
“Gods… Yes,” he rasped.
Pressing the head of his cock against Buck’s hole, Eddie whispered, “I’ll go slow; tell me if it’s too much.” He ran his hand in soothing strokes over Buck’s hips and abs as he pressed the head past the tight ring of muscle.
Buck gasped, his forehead thunking against the door as he sort of collapsed forward. Then his ass muscles flexed hard and just as quickly completely relaxed.
Eddie could barely breathe as his cock slid slowly, inexorably inside the man he loved. He was panting hard, like he’d been running, by the time he had bottomed out, his hips pressed tight against Buck’s muscular ass.
He sank his teeth into the meat of Buck’s shoulder, trying to regain his equilibrium. The angle wasn’t quite right for the kind of fuck he wanted. “Your legs are so damned long.” He nudged Buck’s ankle with his foot. “Farther apart, Evan.”
Buck adjusted his position, strong legs spread wider. Eddie yanked back on his hips until Buck was half bent over, hands braced against the door. The pressure of Buck’s ass clenching on Eddie’s cock was making it hard to think clearly.
“Don’t lock your knees, baby. Keep your head away from the door.”
Buck took a couple of heaving breaths and adjusted his position, firmly braced.
Eddie rolled his hips experimentally, knowing he’d got the angle right when a tremor went through Buck’s whole body. “Don’t even think about coming until I say.” Then Eddie pulled back and slammed back in without subtlety or finesse.
He rode Buck hard, fucking relentlessly, holding off his own orgasm with sheer will, until Buck was begging him, pleas of nothing but Eddie’s name falling from his lips, conveying sheer need. The stress of the position had sweat dripping off Buck’s body as he fought to maintain the stance, muscles standing out in stark relief.
Buck was so fucking beautiful that he took Eddie’s breath away. Finally, Eddie relented, let himself fall over the edge of orgasm, his brain whiting out with it for several long moments.
He continued to fuck languidly, chasing the last vestiges of pleasure as he reached around and took Buck’s soft cock in hand, squeezing the head. “Come for me, Evan.”
Buck’s muscles seized up, and he gave a strangled shout as he almost immediately spilled over Eddie’s hand.
And because Eddie was developing a real fixation on stimulating Buck into incoherency, he got them on the ground into a messy sprawl of limbs and continued stroking Buck’s cock.
Buck gave a whimper of protest but didn’t push him away or try to escape. His limbs were splayed out as Eddie straddled him and continued pumping his cock until he got erect and eventually came again, making a pitiful sound.
Eddie gave them a few minutes to recover then helped Buck to his feet, having to aid in keeping Buck balanced as he hustled them to the bedroom. He gave a cursory cleanup then got into the nightstand and pulled out the lube and the Trident.
Buck’s eyes opened wide as he saw what was in Eddie’s hand.
“You good to keep going?”
“Eds…” Buck rasped, expression a mix of hungry and trepidatious.
“I want to make you come until you’re coming dry.”
Buck moaned low in his throat, head tipped back, throat clicking as he swallowed. Then his legs fell open, and Eddie slid the trident inside Buck’s sore hole. Eddie got the tabs in place, and Buck immediately tightened up, pulling the Trident snug against his prostate.
Eddie leaned in and took Buck’s mouth in a deep kiss. “Gorgeous,” he whispered against Buck’s lips.
– – – –
Eddie reclined back on the couch, Buck resting back against his chest, half asleep. They were past the time they were supposed to pick up Christopher, but Eddie had rearranged their day a little by calling Karen and asking if they could pick up all the boys to take them out to dinner and then a sleepover at their place since he and Buck were responsible for Zoom school tomorrow anyway.
Hen and Karen were eager for a night to themselves, so they’d readily agreed, giving Eddie and Buck more time together during the day. They’d needed the recovery time after the marathon sex that morning followed by a long nap.
Eddie had been shocked that Buck hadn’t come dry until the fourth orgasm and, by that time, Eddie had been ready to fuck again. Buck had been wrecked in the best possible way and totally spaced out after that last time. The whole thing had taken hours and left them both exhausted.
Eddie had made the arrangements for their evening before following Buck into a three-hour nap. Then they’d showered again and moved to the living room and ordered take-out.
Buck turned on his side and rubbed his cheek against Eddie’s bare chest. Eddie carded his fingers through Buck’s wild curls, enjoying the feel of them sliding against his hand.
“You feeling okay?” Eddie asked, dropping a kiss on Buck’s head.
“Mm hm.” His arms tightened around Eddie’s waist.
“More specifically… How are you feeling?”
“Good. Still a little fuzzy headed but getting more alert.”
“How’s your ass?”
Buck stilled briefly then wiggled his hips a little. “Sore. Good sore, but still sore. That ride may be closed until tomorrow.”
Eddie laughed. “I guess I’ll just have to blow you, then.”
“That sounds like a hardship.”
“Mm.” Eddie stroked down Buck’s back. “Or I could climb on your dick tonight, hold you down, and ride you until you can’t see straight.”
Buck gave a startled laugh. “Figures you’d be bossy about getting fucked.”
Eddie laughed long and low then leaned close and whispered, “It’s cute how you think just because your dick is in my ass that I’m the one getting fucked.”
Buck glanced up at him, eyes going a little out of focus. “Wow.”
“I mean, yeah, but later. Seriously, Eds, I’m not sure I could get it up right now if my life depended on it.”
Eddie stroked his thumb over Buck’s cheekbone. “You were beautiful, you know?”
“I was a mess.”
“It was so perfect, Evan. You’re everything.”
Buck’s expression went soft. “Eddie.”
Eddie leaned in and kissed Buck gently. “We’ve got about an hour before we have to leave. What do you want to do?”
“Stay here just like this. Where everything feels good, and there’s nothing awful waiting just around the corner.”
Eddie wasn’t sure if Buck was thinking about having to review the interview footage, his parents’ ongoing bullshit, or the session with Maddie the day after tomorrow, but it didn’t really matter what he meant, because Eddie would give him anything he asked for.
Eddie reached over to the coffee table and grabbed the bottle of water. “Staying like this it is, but drink a little more.”
Buck’s phone chimed a few minutes later, and Buck laughed at whatever he read.
“Josh is going out with Darian.”
Eddie’s brow furrowed as he tried to make sense of that. “Darian Anders? Our new guy?”
“What other Darian do we know?”
“When did they even meet?”
“I introduced them at the vaccine thing yesterday. Josh was a little dumbstruck at Darian’s obnoxiously perfect looks, but then Josh cracked a joke, and Darian looked stupidly besotted. Whatever.”
Eddie tugged on Buck’s hair. “You think he’s attractive?”
“Everyone thinks Darian’s attractive, Eds. Don’t be dense.” He pinched Eddie’s side. “He’s not as hot as you though.”
Eddie snorted. “You think they’ll be…compatible?”
“Eh. Maybe. I think Josh psychs himself out because he’s had some shitty experiences, but I sense a budding top in there. I’ll give him a pep talk about it.”
Eddie shook his head. “I guess I don’t see it yet, but you’re the sex guru.”
“Sex guru?!” Buck laughed.
Eddie tugged at Buck’s curls, getting a soft moan and Buck going lax against him. “I’ll just trust your judgment.” He held Buck close and contentedly let the time tick by until they had to leave to go be parents again.
Buck hesitated in Frank’s reception area, feeling Eddie’s hand settle on his lower back. He knew Maddie and Chim were already here because Chim had notified them yesterday that they’d be having a session just prior to the scheduled group thing. Apparently, Maddie had needed to talk out how she felt about Margaret and Philip taking her phone to steal Buck’s new address.
Buck found it encouraging that the violation of both of their privacy was pissing Maddie off, rather than something she was inclined to just rationalize as acceptable behavior. They were Frank’s last appointment of the day, and Buck hoped it went well because they were supposed to pick up Chris right after this and go out to dinner. Buck didn’t want his time with Chris to have a dark cloud over it.
“You okay?” Eddie murmured.
“Yeah. I tried not to pre-plan what I was going to say, but I’ve been thinking about this a lot.”
“I know.” Eddie stepped in front of him, reaching up to frame Buck’s face with his strong, steady hands. “I could tell that you’d had some sort of realizations lately, but I know how you need time to let things settle in your own mind, so I haven’t wanted to push, but if you need to go back to the car and talk before we go in there, we can do that. Taking care of you is my only priority.”
Buck smiled, grateful to feel so well known by someone, and accepted for exactly who he was. It was something he’d started to wonder if he’d ever get to have. “I think I just need to get it all out there.” He leaned in and kissed his partner. “Thank you.”
“There’s nothing to thank me for, Buck. We have each other’s backs. Always.”
“Yeah.” He blew out a breath and tapped on the door, which is what they’d been instructed to do when they arrived.
Chim answered almost immediately, looking pretty put together, no obvious tells that anything was wrong.
“Sorry we’re a little late,” Buck said immediately. “Traffic was, well…typical LA.”
Chim waved them in. Maddie was sitting on a couch, hands clenched in her lap, looking utterly miserable. Her belly was huge, and Buck wasn’t sure how she wasn’t already full-term. He took in the seating arrangements and got what was going on. Couch for Maddie and Chim, comfortable chairs for Eddie and Buck. Frank completing the third point on the triangle.
But Buck took in his sister’s lost and sad expression and didn’t care anymore about how this was supposed to go. He held up his hand when Frank started to say something and moved to sit on the couch, turned sideways to face Maddie.
She took in a startled breath and blinked at Buck.
He held out his hand, offering for her to take it if she wanted to. She grabbed on almost immediately, giving a harsh sob. “Buck, I’m so sorry—”
Frank said, “I think we should—”
“We’ll get to your agenda in a second, Frank,” Buck interjected without looking over. “We’ve got a lot to talk about, and I’m sure Frank has a whole progression that I’m on board with in just a minute, but can I just ask you a couple of questions first? And then we can do whatever you guys have planned out.”
Her hands tightened almost to the point of pain. “Of course, Buck. I’ll try to answer anything.”
“How old was Daniel when he died?”
Her eyes widened in shock, and she stuttered out, “He was e-eight.”
“So two years younger than you?”
“Fourteen months. He was about to turn nine.”
“So your best friend?”
A couple of tears spilled over. “Yes.”
“Mom and Dad are so focused on their grief and their pain and their shame and their embarrassment. Tell me, Mads, when did you get to grieve? Were you allowed to be sad? How did you mourn when they erased him from existence and told you to never mention his name?”
Maddie gave a broken sound and collapsed against Buck, sobbing harshly into his shoulder as she held on tightly.
Buck pulled her closer until she was practically in his lap and just held on as she openly grieved for a brother Buck couldn’t even muster much feeling for. That had been the epiphany he’d had the other day; Buck grieved the idea of a brother he’d never know, one he’d been lied to about, but when had Maddie been able to grieve for her actual brother? Her friend.
“How did you,” she finally gasped out, “how, Buck?”
“It was so obvious, Maddie, once I thought about it.” He dropped a kiss on her hair. “I was so angry at what they did to me that I couldn’t see my way to what they’d done to you.” He pulled back and hunkered down to meet her red-rimmed, tear-filled eyes. “I started thinking about the timeline of our lives, and how desperate you were to get out of that house. And I couldn’t figure out why you wanted them back in your life so badly. I thought at first that you needed me in order to face them, that I helped you feel safe. And maybe that’s a bit of it, I don’t know. But then I wondered if the weight of everything—the secret, our childhood, feeling like you’d failed me for leaving me alone with them when you were just trying to get out—I wondered if that wasn’t the real problem. That you were trying to fix things—for me, not for you.
“I thought maybe you thought that you owed it to me to fix our family stuff, to show me how much they love me because you thought I needed it. But I don’t, Maddie. I just need you. You’re all I ever had anyway, so why wouldn’t you be enough now?”
Maddie was now crying too hard to speak, and she curled into him again.
Buck held his sister, and finally looked over to find Eddie sitting in the chair, watching closely, but not overtly concerned. Chim was just standing there, looking like someone had hit him with a stick. Frank had a half-smile on his face and was leaning back in his chair, apparently content to wait.
Maddie finally got herself together and pulled back a bit. “I’m so sorry, Buck. I just wanted you to know you were loved. You’ve seemed so lost. I thought if you had stronger roots, you wouldn’t drift away again like I felt like you were doing after Red.”
“I know I’m loved, Maddie. But I’ve never thought it was by them. And you may still disagree with me on that point, but that’s kind of irrelevant. I just don’t want them in my life. I want you in my life, I want my friends, and Eddie and Christopher. I don’t need Philip and Margaret Buckley in order to be happy. And even if you could persuade me that they loved me, and even if they were willing to finally put in the work for me, after nearly thirty years, I think the parental warranty is voided. I’m just not interested.”
She gave a watery-sounding laugh. “I love you so much, Buck, and I’m so sorry for my screwups. I never should have told them about the magazine and the tsunami.”
“You were trying to make them be proud of me.”
She winced. “God, that sounds terrible.”
“Because I shouldn’t have to tell them any of that for them to be proud of you.”
He shrugged one shoulder.
“I’m so sorry. I’ve been so turned around in my own head, and I felt so guilty for not telling you about Daniel. I just wanted to fix everything. To make up for keeping this from you for so long.”
“Yeah, but, Mads? I’m a grown-up. I don’t need you to fix things for me. And I’d honestly like you to promise not to try. We’ve got other stuff to talk about, but that’s going to be a big sticking point for me. I need you to respect me as an adult, and sometimes I wonder if you see me as still being nine years old.”
She frowned and shook her head.
“Please don’t dismiss it out of hand. We’ve had more time apart than time together, sis, and that means when you showed up in Los Angeles, we should have been trying to get to know one another, not just making assumptions. I did it too. I treated you like you were the same twenty-eight-year-old who was married to the guy I couldn’t stand. It took a while for the new data points about who you are to sink in.”
She frowned and stared down at their joined hands. “And I kept treating you like a kid?”
“Maybe. Not nine though. You were way sweeter when you were nine.” She smiled faintly then blew out a breath and met his gaze again. “Somewhere between nine and nineteen, I guess. Somewhere on the cusp of adulthood. That seems fair. I guess I owe you an apology for that too.”
“Let’s talk, okay? Let’s figure out how to move forward because I want you in my life, but I don’t want to feel like I’m being patronized or treated like a child. I don’t need you running over me and trying to make my decisions for me because you think I’m too immature.”
Maddie sniffled and nodded. “In my head, I know that’s right, but it’s weirdly, emotionally, difficult to agree to that. I guess I feel like I know what’s best for you, but even as I say it, I know that’s not fair. I was out of your life for way too long to be that presumptuous.”
“Honestly, Mads, even if we’d seen each other every freaking year, you wouldn’t be entitled to that. I’ll be thirty in less than three months. I’ve been adulting for a long time. No one gets to say what’s best for me.”
She gave him a sad smile. “Not even Eddie.”
“Nope. Not even him. Though, in the spirit of being honest and forthright, he gets more say than you do. I don’t say that to be cruel but, first off, he’s known me as an adult the same amount of time you have, and, second, he’s spent more actual time with me during that period. Most importantly, he’s my partner.”
Her lips pressed into a thin line, and she nodded. “That was a shock.”
“Me and Eddie?” At her nod, he continued, “Was it really? I’m not sure it was a shock to anyone else.”
“Not that you have feelings for each other. Maybe how fast it all went…?”
“You mean moving in?”
“Yeah. It’s so quick, Buck.”
He gave her a speaking look and her mouth clicked shut. “Mads, I might give your opinion about that more weight if this whole thing hadn’t happened with everyone telling me how to feel about my parents and Daniel, and then what to do about it. I think I’ve earned a little respect from the people around me and credit for being able to make adult decisions. Eddie, Chris, and I were a family before the overt admission of mutual feelings ever happened. We lived together during most of the pandemic. All of the objections, the arguments about it being too fast, felt academic in the face of our actual reality. So, let’s not go there, okay?”
“God, Buck, you are so grown up that I’m sort of being slapped in the face with my own bad assumptions.” Her laugh was happier this time. “I really am sorry.”
“I know. I never doubted you were sorry for how things went down, but I couldn’t talk about it until I got clear in my own head. And I couldn’t accept your apology until I knew what you were apologizing for.”
“For everything, Buck. You’re way ahead of me on figuring out what’s going on. And I really, really apologize for not respecting your request for time and space. You deserved that, and I should have respected it even if I, for whatever reason, didn’t think you needed it. The only defense I can offer is that I was terrified that I’d screwed our relationship up irrevocably, and I felt like if you stepped away, I’d never get you back.”
“You’ve got to learn to have a little faith in me, Maddie.”
“There’s no one I have more faith in than you.” She bit her lip. “Can I show you something?”
“Howie, can you bring me the box?” She smiled up at Chim, looking a little nervous.
“Sure.” Chim brought a large shopping bag from behind the side of the couch. He set it in Maddie’s lap then went and took the seat next to Eddie.
She peeled down the sides of the bag to reveal a wooden box about the size of two shoeboxes. The wood was dark and reddish, but it was also scorched in places, but there was a high gloss over even the scorch marks. “There’s a retired firefighter in Tucson who does woodworking using wood reclaimed from fires. He tells the history of each wood source. This was from a structural fire in San Francisco a few years ago. It was one of the homes in the city that was still made of actual redwood. He leaves some of the scorch marks as a reminder of where the wood has been and what it’s endured.”
She turned the box to face him, and the words etched into the top under the glossy lacquer became readable.
Evan Christopher Buckley
30 June 1991
Beloved brother of Maddie and Daniel
“Oh.” He felt his eyes get hot and wet.
“He loved you, Buck. He held you every chance he got in that year. Giving you this isn’t about making up for Philip and Margaret’s failings. I was always the only person who could fill this box.” She undid the small latch and flipped it open.
Buck’s eyes nearly popped out of their sockets at the box being full. He recognized the majority of the contents immediately. Bundles of ribbon-wrapped postcards. “My postcards to you.” He met her tear-filled gaze. “But how? You took almost nothing with you when you left Doug.”
“I took what mattered. I treasured every postcard and photo you sent me. But it’s not just about the postcards.” She pulled bundles off the top and set them aside. Beneath were a handful of photographs of him and Maddie when they were kids, pictures of Buck as a baby. And in a plexiglass cover on the inside of the lid was a picture of the three of them. Maddie sitting behind Daniel, and Daniel holding Buck. Daniel looked frail and sickly, but his smile was huge and so much like Buck’s it was a little unnerving. He wondered if the physical similarity between Daniel and Buck was part of why their parents couldn’t stand to be around him.
Buck swallowed heavily, fighting tears. “Mads… You kept all this?”
“I told you I kept what mattered, Evan.” She rifled to the bottom of the box and handed him a piece of paper. It was a mock-up of his birth certificate done on art paper with colored markers. The date of birth was wrong though.
He looked at her in confusion.
“Daniel and I named you. He picked your first name, and I picked your middle name. You were early though. Mom and Dad told us you were due July 12th, so that’s why it has the wrong day. We thought babies came when they were due.”
He laughed but it ended in a choked-off sob. He reached around the box and Maddie’s baby bump and pulled her into a hug. “Thank you for saving it.”
She nodded and shuffled everything back into the box. “Look at it all with your family sometime, okay?”
“You are my family.”
“Yeah, but I know what’s in there. And besides, you don’t want to deny Eddie the joy of seeing you during your Village People days.”
“Wait,” Eddie says making a timeout gesture. “You seriously dressed as the Village People?”
“No, not intentionally,” Maddie replied immediately, “but he did have jobs as a construction worker, a cowboy, and there are some shots of him when he was doing the physical trials for BUD/S that are pretty damn close to the Navy.”
“I am so looking forward to seeing this,” Eddie said with a grin.
Maddie smiled as she closed the box and lifted the sides of the bag, handing it off to Buck. “Go sit with your man, and let’s talk about whatever’s left. Because as much as I’d like to think that’s all there is, I know we both have more we need to say.”
Buck leaned in and kissed her cheek, feeling overcome with emotion for a few seconds, but he took the bag and switched seats with Chim.
Frank gave them both approving looks. “That wasn’t exactly to plan, but we got a lot further than I expected to get today. Let’s agree on what the major points are that need to be discussed before we go any further. And while I don’t know that all five of us need to do this again, I do think it likely that a few more sessions will be needed for Maddie and Buck to talk through everything. I recommend that for whatever period of time you two agree therapy is necessary that you confine discussion of your childhood to when you’re in a therapeutic setting.”
Buck nodded, grateful that there’d be boundaries around when the difficult topics might come up. Maddie agreed as well, then they set out to figure out what else they’d try to cover today.
Eddie reached out and took Buck’s hand, and Buck felt like the weight of the world was finally off his shoulders.
– – – –
They went a little over their time, but they were Frank’s last appointment of the day, and he seemed okay with taking ten extra minutes to get things to a good place. Some of the conversation had been difficult and even a little heated when Buck had been laying down his boundaries, but they’d sorted everything out. Nothing was as emotionally charged as the first fifteen minutes.
Eddie squeezed Buck’s hand one last time and then released it as they went to stand up. Chim helped Maddie to her feet. Maddie was smiling and teasing Buck about how obviously in love he and Eddie were. Buck wasn’t even trying to deny it.
Then Maddie’s face twisted, and she doubled over. Water flooded around her feet.
“Oh, hell no,” Buck breathed. “Did your water seriously just break, Mads?” He was over by her, not even sure how he’d crossed the space. He heard Eddie on the phone with 9-1-1. Chim was frozen for a few seconds before leaping forward to help lower Maddie back to the couch.
“I thought it was more Braxton-Hicks,” Maddie said plaintively.
“Wait,” Chim said, looking like he’d been hit with a brick. “You’ve been in labor?”
“Since after breakfast, I think. But I’ve had periods that hurt worse, and I really thought— Ow!” She doubled over again, grabbing at her belly.
“That was only about two minutes,” Frank said, looking at his watch. “Let me know when the contraction ends, Maddie.”
Buck held her hand as she had her eyes squeezed shut, panting through the pain. “Okay. It’s passing.”
“About seventy seconds.”
Eddie put the phone on speaker and set it on the arm of the sofa. “Okay, Maddie, we’re going to move you to the floor, and Chim is going to see how dilated you are, all right? It seems like you might be ahead of the ambulance getting here.”
“What? No. First babies don’t go this fast.”
“It isn’t fast if you’ve been in labor since breakfast. Let’s get you on the floor.” He looked over at Frank. “First aid kit?”
“In my desk. I’ll bring it right there.”
Eddie and Buck lifted Maddie and put her on the floor with a pillow behind her head. It was Eddie who reached out and grabbed Chim’s hand, yanking him down. “Pull it together. Get some gloves out of Frank’s first aid kit and check how dilated she is. The timing seems like second stage, but a quick check will let us know. Better you do it than Buck or I getting all up in Maddie’s business if it’s not necessary.”
Chim visibly switched into paramedic mode and began speaking soothingly to Maddie as he raided Frank’s first aid kit and hitched Maddie’s skirt up so he could check her out.
It wasn’t even a minute later when Chim announced that she was fully dilated, and Maddie was in the middle of another contraction.
“This baby is not waiting,” Eddie said, smiling down at Maddie. “I’m going to leave you in Buck’s hands here while I run out to my car to get my first aid kid and some towels. If the ambulance doesn’t get here in time, I’ll assist Chim with the delivery. We’ve got you, okay?”
Maddie nodded frantically, squeezing down on Buck’s hand.
“You got this, Maddie.” Buck held both her hands, keeping her focus on him and not on what was going on.
“Why now?” she said plaintively. “I was planning on kicking Mom and Dad back to Hershey. God, Buck, I opened the door on them being here for this, and now I just want them gone.”
“Then you can have that. You’re the one having the baby. If you don’t want to see them, you don’t have to. There are plenty of assertive personalities in our found family to make them go away.”
She sniffled and nodded. “I should let them meet their granddaughter. I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t, but then they have to go.”
“Whatever you want is what’s going to happen.”
She squeezed his hand through another contraction as Eddie ran back in with some clean workout towels from the truck and his big first aid kit.
Frank had taken over updating dispatch. “Traffic is heavy, and the ambulance is at least ten minutes out.”
“I really want to push though,” Maddie cried out.
“Yeah, our baby isn’t waiting for a convenient ambulance,” Chim said dryly. “I’m just glad they’re on the way.” He began efficiently directing Eddie with what he needed, and Eddie was practically ahead of Chim’s ask. Buck stayed focused on Maddie, trying to carefully not pay attention to what Chim and Eddie were doing.
“Time to start pushing, Maddie, on the next contraction,” Chim directed. “Buck, you and Eddie are going to help her sit up partially and support her legs when she starts to push.”
Buck just nodded, and Eddie moved to Maddie’s other side, flashing Maddie a reassuring smile.
“I can’t believe you’re having a baby today, sis. Your little girl’s birthday is April 8th, 2021.”
She gave him a tremulous smile then the next contraction hit. Buck and Eddie supported her through the first round of pushing, Eddie coaching her through pushing for no more than eight seconds at a time. Maddie screamed with the effort. Buck felt like his heart was lodged in his throat, but he forced himself to remain calm for Maddie’s sake.
When she collapsed back, she squeezed his hand and said, “What holiday is today? You always known the quirky holidays.”
“Uh.” Buck’s brain went sort of blank for a second. “It’s International Feng Shui Awareness Day. And, um, International Romani Day is today.” He knew there was more. “Oh, it’s Zoo Lovers Day and National Empanada Day.”
Maddie laughed. “Oh, Buck. Empanadas? Really?”
“They’re delicious.” He moved her hair off her forehead. “Oh! It’s National All Is Ours Day. It’s always on April 8th.”
“What in the world is that?”
“Time to push again, Maddie,” Chim directed steadily.
Buck and Eddie supported her through the next contraction.
“I see the head, sweetie. I know it doesn’t feel like it, but this is going so fast. Take a deep breath and push again.”
Maddie started swearing at Chim between pushes.
When the contraction was over, Eddie put his stethoscope on and listened to the baby’s heartbeat, nodding reassuringly at Chimney.
“What is All Is Ours Day?” Maddie asked breathlessly.
“I looked it up,” Frank offered. “It’s a day devoted to appreciating all the things of beauty around us. One way it is observed is by reflecting on the great things in life that are open for everyone to enjoy. Nature is perhaps the greatest of these things.”
“Oh, that’s nice.” She squeezed Buck’s hand again, which was starting to feel bruised. “You know the weirdest things.”
“Tell me about it,” Chim muttered.
“I love that about you,” she whispered. Then she looked at Eddie. “This is going to sound ungrateful, but I wish you and Chim could change places.”
“He’s the actual paramedic,” Eddie said with an understanding smile.
“I know. I just wish he could hold my hand.”
“I will hold your hand for the rest of our lives, Maddie Buckley, but it’s going to have to be after I deliver our daughter.” She took several breaths. “Here it comes. Let’s do this.”
It took a good twenty minutes, and the paramedics showed up in the last twenty seconds as baby girl Buckley-Han came into the world.
Chim got to set his daughter on Maddie’s chest, wrapped in a sheet the paramedics provided. Then he got out of the way so the people with actual equipment could take care of the rest of the delivery and clamping off the cord so Chim could cut it.
Buck sat back, fighting tears and watching the new family, and realized Eddie was right there with him.
“Congratulations, Uncle Buck,” Eddie whispered in his ear. “She’s beautiful.”
Buck just nodded, feeling overwhelmed.
“What name did you pick?” Eddie asked as the paramedics were finishing up with something Buck was studiously not paying attention to. He’d helped deliver babies, but it was a whole different thing when it was his sister.
“We hadn’t decided,” Chim admitted, looking both abashed and delighted by his daughter. “We had one idea for the middle name, but…”
“Jee-Yun Evan Danielle Han,” Maddie said softly as she held her daughter’s hand.
Buck was floored, and Chimney didn’t look much better.
“Are you sure?” Chim asked.
“Yeah. After your mom and my brothers.” She shot Buck a quick smile. “Turns out Evan is considered gender neutral, not that the gender of a name matters much these days. Which is a good thing.” She kissed her daughter’s forehead. “Besides, I hate the name Evangeline.”
Chim shot Buck a big grin. “Uncle Buck. Will you hold your niece while we get Maddie on the gurney? We’re ready to go.”
“Holy…hell,” Buck amended what he nearly said. But he eagerly held his niece for the whole minute it took them to get Maddie situated for transport, then Buck handed her back off to his sister.
The paramedics informed Eddie and Buck that only Chim would be allowed in the hospital.
“We know,” Eddie said, arm curled around Buck’s waist. To Chimney, he said, “We’ll let the rest of the 118 and Albert know. You guys just focus on Jee-Yun.”
Then Maddie, Chim, and Jee-Yun were being wheeled out, leaving Buck and Eddie with Frank.
Buck looked to the therapist. “Well, that was unexpected.”
“It’s not even the first time a baby’s been delivered in here.”
Buck laughed. “Thanks for everything, Frank.”
“Go pass on the good news. Call me when Maddie and Jee-Yun are ready for some more time in here with you.”
“I’m sure it’ll be a minute, but we’ll be back.”
Eddie had already gathered up their stuff, cleaning up Frank’s office to the best of his ability until Frank shooed them away, saying he had a cleaning service for a reason.
As they were walking to the truck, Buck said, “Do you think they noticed their daughter’s initials are JED? I don’t think I’m going to be able to keep from calling her L’il Jed.”
Eddie laughed and pulled Buck in for a thorough kiss.
Eddie stood at the front door, watching his son and partner dash around the house like they were leaving for days instead of a few hours. He’d learned to be patient with this weird frenetic ritual they had as long as it wasn’t going to make them late.
They’d come home with Christopher yesterday and promptly spent a good hour on the phone notifying everyone of Jee-Yun’s birth. The doctors were keeping Maddie in the hospital until Saturday, but that was a shift day for everyone except Chim, so Bobby had declared Friday night to be family dinner. They’d have a big celebratory barbecue when Maddie and Chim were up for it.
He and Buck had spent a couple of hours this morning while Chris was in school going through Buck’s box from Maddie. The postcards painted a heartbreaking picture for Eddie of Buck trying desperately to find where he belonged in the world while feeling so untethered to his own roots. It was hard for Eddie not to be angry with Maddie that so much of that desperate communication had gone unanswered.
He knew Maddie had been in a difficult situation, but it seemed like she’d checked out on Buck long before things went bad for her. But he kept that to himself because it wasn’t Buck’s reality regarding his sister. Not that Buck wasn’t realistic about Maddie effectively abandoning him—repeatedly—he just didn’t hold a grudge about it. Buck had more empathy and compassion than almost anyone Eddie had ever known.
At the same time, Eddie was incredibly grateful that Maddie had given Buck something he could hold on to from his childhood. God knew his parents were never going to be able to do that.
Buck had been pleased by everything Maddie had saved for him, but the mood was also bittersweet. It was good they’d had the time alone to go through it together. Buck had separated out a few of the postcards and the other contents of the box that were safe to show Chris someday.
Eddie finally huffed out his exasperation. “We’re gonna be late!”
“How can you be late to family dinner?” Buck shot back.
They were supposed to be there at five with dinner being a little before six. Taylor Kelly’s interview with Buck was supposed to air sometime around 6:45. Buck had done several rounds of review of the interview with Taylor, and the department had signed off on it a little before Jee-Yun was born, which meant the interview would air on Friday night.
Buck had gotten behind because he’d needed to call Grace to explain something about the birthday present he’d arranged for Stuart Ryder. Eddie had heard enough of the call to know that Judd had finally threatened to hang up on them because they were running late, and the weather sucked in Austin. Being late had became the theme of the day.
Christopher’s laughter echoed down the hall as Buck and Chris appeared together, with Chris in Buck’s arms. “You get the food. I’ve got precious cargo here.”
Eddie huffed but grabbed the bag of food Buck and Chris had worked on all day, holding the door open.
Buck practically sprinted out with Chris. “Come on, Eds, what’s the hold up!”
Eddie rolled his eyes but smiled at the sounds of giggling drifting up from the driveway.
– – – –
Dinner was good and actually started a little early, there was just less time for socializing ahead of time. Everyone wanted to hear about the birth, and even the kids listened rapt as Buck and Eddie explained about delivering Maddie and Chim’s baby at the “doctor’s” office—the location changed in deference to the younger kids who didn’t know about the joint therapy session.
It felt like family, which was exactly what Eddie had been seeking when he’d moved to Los Angeles. It could have only been better with Abuela and Pepa, but neither were in the 118’s bubble, so Eddie had arranged for a Diaz family day with Buck on Sunday. He was eager for the pandemic to be over with so the different parts of their lives could merge more easily.
It was warm enough that they were able to eat out on Bobby and Athena’s patio. Albert was in attendance, passing around his phone with pictures Chim had sent him of Jee-Yun. He and Buck were engaged in an ongoing friendly argument over who the best uncle was. Chris was adorably staunch in his defense of Buck as being the best at anything.
Chris patted Eddie’s hand. “Except being a dad,” he whispered. “You’re the best dad. But Buck’s really good at it too.”
Eddie laughed and kissed Chris’ head. “Thanks, buddy. And I agree… Buck is a great father.”
“Interview’s starting!” May announced. She’d been the one nominated to keep an eye on the muted TV to see when Taylor Kelly appeared. She adjusted the position of the TV, which had been moved outside, and turned the volume up.
Buck groaned. “We don’t actually have to watch this.”
“Oh, yes we do, Buckaroo,” Athena said firmly, pointing at him. “No more protests, young man.”
Buck smiled and shook his head.
Taylor had already given her intro spiel by the time Eddie was paying attention. Chris climbed in Eddie’s lap to watch as the scene cut to Buck and Taylor outdoors in the middle of the day in the parking lot of the hospital.
“So, Buck, tell us why we’re here today.”
“This one is completely on you,” Buck countered with a genuine smile. “I guess the hospital had a problem with one of the vaccine freezers and extra vaccine was thawed. You, Taylor, were here doing a report on surging COVID cases in this area when the problem was discovered. You called me and asked for help, and my station showed up to help get all that vaccine distributed with the assistance of the LAPD and the hardworking staff here.
“That was hours ago, and not a single dose was wasted, so, again, this one didn’t have much to do with me, but rather on your commitment to not see any vaccine go to waste.”
Taylor’s smile read genuine to Eddie. “But you’re someone I know I can rely on, which is why I called you. Because you are dependable, and you always do your best to help others. So, let’s talk about that a little bit. My station and our viewers have been eager to see a follow-up with you, but you’ve been a little reluctant. Do you mind sharing the reason why?”
Buck cocked his head to the side, looking thoughtful. “There’s more than one reason. After the segment, there was a lot of renewed interest in events around the tsunami. I’ve never particularly wanted to explore that topic. It’s different being on the side of being in a disaster versus responding to it. I certainly did the best I could that day, but it’s not an easy day for me to remember.”
“I can only imagine.” Taylor looked genuinely sympathetic.
“That said, your segment made me realize that I don’t want my reluctance to discuss it to take anything away from everyone who survived that day. I think for everyone involved that day is a mix of grateful to be alive and horrified by what we saw happen and what we endured. Thousands died, and it’s easy to be overwhelmed by that. Just like it’s easy to be overwhelmed by all those lost to COVID. But like those who beat COVID, those who survived being in the tsunami deserve to celebrate that they made it out of a terrible situation alive. It’s a war of emotion that’s not easy to reconcile, and it’s still not easy for me to talk about it.”
“That’s fair, and I don’t want to put you on the spot about that.” Taylor came across as more genuine than any segment Eddie could ever recall seeing.
“I know, but I was very touched by what Mrs. Cho said in your interview. That and the many messages I’ve received about that day have meant a lot to me.”
“But it’s complicated?”
“Complicated is the simplest word I can think of,” Buck said with a wry grin.
“What about what happened in Austin while you were on vacation? That footage of that car accident was incredibly tense and also compelling. How do you respond to people’s calls for you to give interviews, and even the assertions that you should receive a medal?”
“I guess I don’t get it.” Buck held up his hands in a stay gesture. “Not that people have a reaction to it because I get having a response to something. I certainly have reactions to rescues I’ve seen videos of, but I don’t get why the focus is on me. In that moment, I was every firefighter. Every paramedic, every doctor or nurse or 9-1-1 dispatcher. If that accident had happened in front of any first responder, you’d see almost the same video. The city and county and state put time and effort into our training. Our station houses, hospitals, clinics, whatever…help us keep that training current and sharp. The public instills a trust in that skill and training, that it will serve them when they need it.
“So people see that footage and see Evan Buckley, but it’s easy to miss, depending on how the footage is cut, that I wasn’t out there alone. There were two police officers at first and two more later. They maintained the scene and helped the injured. An off-duty medical assistant handled triage. Dispatchers at the 9-1-1 call center kept things coordinated with all the first responders waiting around corners for the shooting to stop. And some very calm civilians who aren’t even trained for that sort of thing all made a big difference. But what I and the police and the dispatchers and the medical staff have in common is we’re all first responders.
“In that moment, on that day, I was just every firefighter. Every man and woman trained to handle situations just like that. So, I’m touched by people’s outpouring of gratitude and all, but I’m also aware that I have the same training thousands of others do, who do this job every day, every shift, when the cameras aren’t on. It was a fluke of timing and circumstance that thrust me into the spotlight.”
Taylor smiled gently. “Or it could have been no one else. Every firefighter might have made the same play, but that accident could just have easily happened with no firefighter present. Perhaps the takeaway is that if the worst moment of your life happens right in front of a first responder, you’ve just had a brilliant stroke of luck. I think we take for granted the sheer amount of training, time, and dedication that first responders put into what they do, and what an act of love and commitment their chosen profession is.
“Thank you, Buck, for doing this follow-up with me. You’ve given me a lot to think about. And, really, thanks to your whole station for making this day a blessing instead of a catastrophe.” Taylor angled her arm to show a bandage. “I got vaccinated today because they needed arms to put that vaccine in. What’d Dr. Fauci say?”
“The best vaccine to get is the one you’re offered,” Buck intoned seriously
Taylor’s smile was huge as she looked directly at the camera. “So, if you’re offered the vaccine, take the opportunity and help us bring an end to this pandemic so we can get back to the lives we want to live. This is Taylor Kelly with Firefighter Evan Buckley for Skywitness News.”
As one, everyone turned to look at Buck who was sliding down in his chair.
“Well,” Athena said hoarsely, “I don’t know where all that eloquence came from, Buckaroo, but I’m really impressed. You did us proud.”
Eddie pulled Buck in closer to him and Christopher and pressed a kiss to Buck’s temple as everyone threw in their praise for Buck’s interview.
May suddenly laughed and held up her phone. “#EveryFirefighter is already trending!”
“Oh my god,” Buck mumbled into Christopher’s hair.
– – – –
Eddie stood in the doorway of Chris’ bedroom, and listened to the loves of his life giggle over story time. Chris was wound up from dinner and Buck’s interview, so the best person to get him settled down was definitely Buck, who had way more energy than Eddie did.
Eddie’s phone vibrated and he pulled up a text from Bobby.
Cap: Chief dropped on me that the replenishments of the official LAFD work T-shirts will have #EveryFirefighter on the back.
Eddie grinned, looking forward to getting that shirt and wearing it proudly.
Eddie: Let’s try to keep that from Buck for as long as possible. He really hates the attention.
Cap: We can try, but the department is all over the good publicity. If he wants out of the limelight, he needs to stop being so damn charming.
Eddie chuckled and stuck his phone back into his pocket.
When Christopher was finally blinking sleepily, Buck closed the book and set it on the nightstand. He pressed a kiss to Christopher’s forehead. “Goodnight, superman.”
“Night, Bucky. I liked your TV show.”
They both retreated to the kitchen and spent a half an hour in companiable silence as they tidied up the house from the chaos of the day. Then they settled on the couch with a beer and talked about a little bit of everything that had happened that day. It was still early for them to call it a night even with a shift starting in the morning. They’d be dropping Chris off with Abuela tomorrow, so the day would start extra early.
When the beers were nearly gone, Eddie decided he needed to come clean about some changes he’d made a long time ago. “I need to tell you something.”
Buck raised and eyebrow in inquiry and angled himself to face Eddie. “What’s up?”
“After the well and nearly dying, I had Christopher on my mind a lot. You, too, for that matter. But the subject of Chris’ future and what would become of him if I died was in the forefront of my mind.”
“I get it,” Buck said softly, reaching out and rubbing a soothing pattern on Eddie’s leg. “Brushes with death make you think about things like that.” Eddie figured Buck would know that better than anyone.
“I should have told you then, but I made arrangements to make you Christopher’s legal guardian if anything happened to me. My will gives you full custody of him.” Eddie watched Buck closely as he revealed what he’d done last year.
Buck blinked in astonishment, mouth opening a closing a few times before he managed to say, “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because, back then, I wasn’t sure I could have that conversation with you without revealing just how much I was in love with you. We don’t actually live in romance movie where revealing that kind of thing to your straight friend actually goes well. I was selfish because I needed you in my life every day, but I also needed you there for Christopher if I couldn’t be. I didn’t feel like I could afford to take chances with keeping you in my life.”
“And you knew I wouldn’t say no.”
“Of course you wouldn’t. I’ve never doubted how much you love him, and I know you understand how I feel about my parents raising him.”
“But you have to know that they’d challenge me for custody of him.”
“Yeah, probably.” Eddie shrugged. “But I knew you’d fight for him. As hard as you did after the tsunami. I know my parents have never fought that hard for anything. They’re not bad people, they just don’t get it. Christopher will have a real future with you as his parent. I’m not sure what kind of life he’d have with them other than fighting their ableism until he was old enough to move out.”
“Why tell me now?”
“I should have told you when we talked about the trust you’d created for Chris. That night I thought about what a perfect segue that was. But I guess part of me wondered if you were going to wake up and realize we were going too fast. I was a little scared. I want you more than anything, but taking this leap in our relationship felt like walking out on a ledge.”
Buck took both of Eddie’s hands. “Our relationship jump started and went at the speed of light, but my love for you and Christopher is long and enduring. Nothing could change that.”
Eddie smiled softly, leaning in for a long, gentle kiss. “I just wanted you to know. Someday, hopefully sooner rather than later, I’m going to ask that you formally adopt him. That we remove any obstacle to him being yours completely if anything should happen to me.”
Buck’s eyes were suddenly wet with tears, and he blinked them away. “I’d love to adopt Chris, not just to cover our bases legally but because I could never love any child more than I do him.”
Eddie pulled Buck into his arms, holding him tightly.
“Thank you for trusting me with him,” Buck murmured against Eddie’s ear.
“I trust you with everything.”
Eventually, they pulled apart and he tugged at Buck’s hand. “Come on. Let’s go to bed early.”
“I know what that means,” Buck said with a big grin.
“Yeah, that I want to be close to you in any way I possibly can be.”
Buck blushed. “Eds.”
“I love you. I’m overwhelmed on a damn near daily basis at how happy I am. How happy we all are.” He got to his feet and pulled Buck up with him. “Come on.”
They came together easily, naturally. Their lovemaking had less edge than usual, but it was still intense for all that. Eddie was on top, Buck clinging to him, legs and arms tight around Eddie’s body. Eddie moved in him slowly, deeply.
Their kisses were deep and drugging, filled with emotion and promise.
The promise and potential of their life together felt endless, and there were so many firsts Eddie was eager for. He was anticipating the day a few months down the road when they’d be able to do away with condoms; he already had plans for how that night would go.
He’d already thought about proposing. He’d have done it already if he didn’t think Buck had had one too many shocks lately. He promised himself he’d do it as soon as things settled down a little. But he vowed not to wait too long because he thought Buck needed the security of being legally bound to their little family.
Farther out, he hoped they’d adopt another child some day. He loved being a parent, and loved being a parent with Buck even more. He wanted to do it from the beginning with Buck by his side. He wanted Christopher to have the experience of being an older brother.
He knew with Buck’s support, Christopher would realize whatever his dreams might be. Buck only cared about Christopher’s happiness, which was all Eddie could ask for.
Buck framed Eddie’s face with both hands, breaking their kiss, though he gave a lingering suck to Eddie’s lower lip. “I love you so fucking much.”
Eddie couldn’t help but kiss Buck again, captivated by the man in his arms. “Love you too,” he whispered against Buck’s mouth.
He kept up the lazy rocking into Buck’s pliant body, chasing the slowest orgasm of his life. Buck came first, holding Eddie tighter and reveling in the sensations of Eddie continuing to move inside him.
When Eddie finally came, it was the sweetest release of his life. Minutes later, Buck was curled into Eddie’s side, his strong hands drifting lazily over Eddie’s chest, obviously not wanting to end their connection for anything as trivial as sleep.
Eddie rolled so they were both on their sides, facing each other, foreheads pressed together, breathing each other in. Family for him and Chris is what Eddie had sought with his move from El Paso, but he’d gotten so much more.