Title: Here for You
Author: Jilly James
Genre: Romance, Friendship, Family
Relationship: Evan “Buck” Buckley/Eddie Diaz
Content Rating: PG-13
Warnings: Canon-typical violence and subject matter
Challenge: Every Fandom Reverse Bang 2020
Timeline: Takes place in Season 2 of 9-1-1, minor spoilers for various events in Season 2.
Author Note: There are only a few canon events referenced in the story, but they’ve hopefully been handled in such a way that knowledge of canon isn’t necessary. Also, I’ve taken liberties with Buck, but his backstory is such a blank compared to everyone else, so what’s a girl to do? (In case that wasn’t clear, this story was written before Buck Begins aired. It’s obviously not going to be consistent with season 4 canon.)
Artist: Cover art and banner by RP Dots
Word Count: ~23,100
Summary: When Buck makes the hard decision to finally leave Abby, Eddie makes an overture of friendship that changes the course of their lives.
Eddie Diaz jogged up the stairs to the condo his coworker and teammate, Evan Buckley, was moving out of this evening, still questioning whether his presence would be welcome. Henrietta “Hen” Wilson, one of the paramedics on his squad, had mentioned that Buck was finally leaving his invisible girlfriend, and Eddie decided to lend some support.
Eddie had heard the bare-bones details of Buck’s relationship with Abby from more than one person at the fire station. The pair had gotten together slowly after being friends first, and then Abby’s mother had died, and Abby had left for Europe to find herself or some such shit. Buck and Abby were still in a relationship through Abby’s departure and the constant continuations of her trip. Months had passed, Abby hadn’t come home, and Buck was finally calling it quits.
Eddie had been to Abby’s condo before when Buck introduced him to Carla, the home health care miracle worker. Some days, it felt like Carla was saving Eddie’s life and his sanity as she helped him navigate the red tape around getting the care Christopher needed for his cerebral palsy.
Buck had been cool to Eddie when they’d first met, but they’d bonded over removing a live grenade from a man, and time and again, Buck extended help with no expectation of anything in return.
So, Eddie figured an evening of providing beer and conversation was the least he could do for someone who was rapidly becoming a good friend.
He made it to the top of the stairs just in time for Buck to exit the condo with a duffel bag slung over his shoulder.
“Eddie?” Buck blinked in confusion. “What are you doing here?”
“Heard it was moving day. Thought you might like to grab a beer.”
Buck just stared for the longest time, then he smiled. It was a less enthusiastic smile than he was used to from Buck, who was always larger than life about everything, but it was genuine. “Yeah, that’d be good. Thanks.”
It was early enough in the evening that the bar was mellow and uncrowded. They got a couple of beers and grabbed a corner booth.
Eddie rolled his beer bottle between his hands. “Tell me about her.”
“Yeah. It seems like you were really holding out for her.”
Buck shrugged one shoulder. “It was easy with Abby, you know? I always thought relationships were a lot of work, but it wasn’t like that with her. We just clicked.” He took a long pull on the beer. “At least, I thought we did. Now, I think maybe it was in my head.”
“Because she left and didn’t come back?”
“That was a big damn clue,” Buck said dryly.
“I guess.” Eddie considered his own relationship complications. “Though things often aren’t that straightforward.”
“You know she left after she lost her mom, yeah?”
Eddie dipped his head in acknowledgment.
“I get that she needed time. She was grieving and trying to get centered after losing her mom, but she made out like she didn’t know who she was if she wasn’t taking care of her mother. Except I didn’t get that because her life was the same before she began taking care of her mom. She was in the same condo, same job. She made those choices before her mom got sick. I thought we were building something but, in the end, I think I was just an emotional crutch to get her through a bad time. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have ghosted me in a very slow, painful way.” Buck frowned at the tabletop then downed about half the beer.
“No one’s fault but mine. I should have left months ago. She didn’t want to cut the tie overtly, and I kept hoping she actually cared enough to come back.”
“But you did it. You made the hard choice to end it even though it upended your living situation.”
“Should have thought that out better.” Buck shrugged. “But impulsive decisions are my jam, and once I’d decided it was time to go…”
“Speaking of, where are you going?”
“Gonna stay on Chimney’s couch while I figure things out.”
Eddie leaned forward. “Do you know why he’s called Chimney? How does Howard Han become ‘Chimney’?”
“No clue. Hen knows the story, but she’s not saying anything. I don’t think even Bobby knows.”
“Damn.” It drove Eddie a little nuts that he didn’t know how that nickname came about. He’d figured Bobby Nash, their captain, had to know for sure. “Really? Not even Bobby?”
“Nah. Chim was with the first of us with the 118, then Hen joined, and then Bobby took over for the outgoing captain about two and a half years ago. How Chim got that nickname occurred before Bobby transferred to LA.”
Eddie nodded, weighing the pros and cons of a decision. He’d been wrestling with an impulse since he’d heard about Buck moving out of Abby’s place, and he finally decided to go with his gut. “You know, I’ve got a spare room.”
Buck just blinked at him.
“You could stay with us,” he elaborated.
“Oh. Wow.” Buck sat back hard in the booth, looking happy, but then his expression closed off a bit. “Nah, I don’t want to put you out.”
“Seriously, Buck, you can stay with us for a while. Christopher would love it. He’s quite taken with you.”
Buck’s expression softened. “You’ve got a great kid.”
“Yeah, I really do. So, make his week and stay in our guest room. It’s got some boxes and stuff in it right now, but we can get it sorted out.”
“Nah, it’s okay.”
“You want to tell me why Chim’s couch is a better choice than my guest room?”
Buck picked at the label on the beer bottle. “Look, Eddie, I really appreciate it, but I don’t think it’s a good idea. People get tired of me real quick, you know? And I just don’t want you to get fed up with having me around.”
Eddie blinked a few times. “Buck.” He blew out a breath, not sure how to navigate that minefield. “Man, I’m a grownup. If you’re driving me nuts, I’ll tell you. But I live with an eight-year-old. I can’t imagine how you could possibly be any worse than a kid who wants your attention at six in the morning on your day off.”
“Well, I am I morning person,” Buck said with a faint smile.
“Gah. You and Christopher can have each other.” He waved the server down and gestured for a couple more beers. “Just think about it. The offer is on the table.”
They talked about less loaded topics for several minutes while the server brought them fresh beers and some bar food. Mostly deep-fried, but there were some good sliders in the mix.
“So, wait,” Buck said as Eddie was explaining his current predicament about his wife wanting visitation with Christopher and to climb back into Eddie’s bed. “You’re still married?”
“Yep. I could have filed for divorce, but I never did.”
“Even though she just took off? Wow.” He took a drink. “Good on you, I guess.” He shot Eddie a speculative look. “So, you’re thinking about getting back together?”
“I don’t know. The attraction is still there, which was evident when we kissed, but we haven’t resolved anything. I’m not really clear what she wants between her and me, but I know she wants to see Christopher.”
Buck said nothing, just drummed his fingers on the tabletop.
Eddie arched a brow.
“What? Are you expecting me to say something?”
“Do you have an opinion or…advice, I guess?” He and Buck were becoming friends, good friends, and Eddie wanted to know what Buck’s take on it was.
“Eddie, no one wants my advice. I’m objectively shit at relationships.”
Eddie shot him an unimpressed look. “Just tell me what you think.”
“I don’t think I know enough to give an opinion. All you told me is that she got pregnant while you were in Afghanistan, Christopher’s Cerebral Palsy put a lot of additional stress on her, and when you finally came home, she wanted to go stay with her mother. Then she just left in the middle of the night and never made contact again. It seems like there have to be some missing bits.”
“The missing bits are that I wasn’t a great husband. That she was alone too much and didn’t have enough help.” Eddie had to fight to keep the bitterness out of his voice. It wasn’t easy to air his failures as a husband and father.
Buck looked confused. “I don’t get it.”
“What’s there to get, Buck?!”
“You say it like that’s some sort of explanation for her ghosting her own son.” Buck scrubbed his hand over his face then blew out a breath. “Look, man, I already told you I’m no one’s go-to for relationship advice, but it seems to me that a reasonable response to her being overwhelmed by life in general, needing to see her mother, and you being an uncommunicative dick would be to pack a bag, get a ticket, and say, ‘Listen, you insensitive prick, I’m going to go see my mother for a month. I’ll call every night to talk to Christopher. Answer the damn phone.’ But to just vanish with no warning, leaving nothing but a note? And then no calls, no visits, no attempts at contact for years? That’s some kind of bullshit. Seems to me like she just wanted out.”
Eddie stared, feeling like he was seeing the last couple of years through a different lens. It was true that she should have called. No matter how angry with her he was, he would never have stopped her from having contact with Christopher. At least, not early on. Now was a different story.
Buck continued, “You’re not blameless in your relationship falling apart, man, but I’m not sure how it’s your fault that she abandoned her son.”
“She might argue that I abandoned them both when I re-upped.”
“So, you didn’t talk to her for the four years of your second tour?” Buck asked dryly.
Eddie shot him an unimpressed look.
“I’m not saying it wasn’t a dick move to re-up without talking to your wife about it, but you were already in the military when you two met, no?”
“I’d been in the Army for two years when we met.”
“And she knew you intended to be career military?”
“We talked about that when we first met, yeah. We were just having a fling when I was on leave, and then we found out she was pregnant. Got married on my next leave.” That’s the way his family did things. He’d learned to love Shannon, but their relationship had been more lust and fire at first, and then obligation later.
“You two never discussed that she expected you to leave the Army once you’d decided to get married?”
“No…?” Eddie drew out slowly.
“Then you both win the shitty communication award. Look, I’m just saying you’re both to blame for things being fucked up, but there’s a difference between her literally abandoning her son and you making some bad decisions and being shitty at communication. Maybe you even exemplify toxic masculinity on occasion—and that’s me reading between the lines, by the way—but that’s still not an excuse for her to bail on her kid for two years.”
Eddie frowned. “I never really got that toxic masculinity…thing.”
“What do you mean?”
“I guess I never put much thought into it, but why is being masculine toxic?”
“Ah.” Buck took a swig of his beer and chewed on a couple of cold fries. “This just took a turn.” He drummed his fingers on the table. “Be a real man.”
“What?” Eddie blinked stupidly at his friend.
“That’s the classic line. Be a real man. And what that means specifically depends on where you grew up and your specific family or socio-cultural dynamics…or whatever. But it usually involves not expressing emotions, because those are ‘girly’; always appearing hard, because real men are unmoved by anything; oh, and be a tough guy, because violence is an indicator of power, and real men are powerful therefore real men are violent.”
Eddie recoiled a little. “Dios, Buck, where’d that come from? That doesn’t even sound like you.”
“Hey! I went to college, and I have a sister who was married to a man whose very masculine head was buried up his excessively toxic behind.” Buck went after the cold fries as if they’d personally offended him. “I’m just saying that the way you describe your marriage is rife with gender norms that may not have been the healthiest. But what the fuck do I know? Just because I took, and enjoyed, women’s studies doesn’t mean I’m any kind of expert on other people’s relationships.”
“I’m not mad, Buck,” Eddie said gently, needing to defuse the situation. “I was just surprised. You’ve been hung up on Abby the whole time I’ve known you, which, granted, hasn’t been very long, so it’s like you’ve had this invisible girlfriend. And people talk about you like…”
“I’ve slept with a lot of people,” Buck replied sharply. “I did. Wasn’t interested in a relationship, or so I thought. But I like sex. I like it a lot. So, yeah, I’ve slept around. But I never lied to anyone about my intentions or availability, and I never cheated on Abby.”
Eddie held up his hands in a no-harm gesture. “No judgment. Just trying to understand. I can’t say I have a great handle on this toxic masculinity thing, though.”
“It’s like…” Buck blew out a breath and looked around the bar. “Do you know that scientists have speculated that as much as 90 percent of men are at least incidentally bisexual?”
Eddie choked on his beer.
“So, to answer the question about toxic masculinity, ask yourself why ostensibly straight men can’t admit to occasionally finding another dude attractive?”
He didn’t have to toy with that thought experiment for very long. “Okay. I think I see your point.”
Buck gestured toward the bar. “If people perceive me as straight, I’m not allowed to find that guy at the end of the bar attractive. And even if I’m not explicitly attracted to him sexually, if I comment that he’s attractive in some casual way, people immediately assume it has something to do with my sexuality. Women don’t labor under that toxicity. And that’s just one example.”
Eddie glanced over his shoulder. “Do you think he’s attractive?”
Buck shrugged. “Nah. I mean, he’s not unattractive, but he’s got a weak chin.”
“He’s facing the other way.”
“Clocked him earlier.”
“You trying to tell me you’re incidentally bisexual?”
Buck laughed. “There’s nothing incidental about my bisexuality, and I wasn’t trying to tell you that, but whatever.”
Eddie blinked. “Okay. Are you, um, out?”
“Yes and no. I’ve never tried to hide it, but I don’t talk about it at work.”
“You don’t trust them?”
“Some of them I do but definitely not everyone at the firehouse. Fire stations can be as toxic as police departments for homophobic bullshit. More so in some cases.”
Eddie nodded, adjusting the picture of Buck he’d been building in his head. “Even Hen doesn’t know?” It seemed logical to Eddie that Buck could confide in the lesbian on the team.
“Nah. Weirdly, gay people can be really judgmental about the whole bisexual thing, especially when you tack perceived promiscuity on top of it.”
“Really? And you think Hen…”
“Now that I know her, no. I know she’d be cool, but it hasn’t come up. Besides, I’ve taken my share of psychology classes, and I do not want to deal with the speculation that my sleeping around with women is overcompensation for being gay.” He chuckled and took a swig of his beer. “It’s not. I just really like sex and don’t see the point in limiting my options.”
Eddie chuckled. “Okay, fair.”
Buck gave him a speculative look. “That bother you?”
“I don’t care who you have sex with.” He shook his head. “I can’t say I wasn’t raised around more than my share of ‘be a real man’ rhetoric, but my mom was cool. She never put up with homophobia at home.”
Buck nodded. “Your mom sounds great.”
“She is. I had to get away from El Paso, but I miss my parents, especially Mom.” He didn’t want to ignore what Buck had revealed, even though he didn’t want to make a big deal about it. “Thanks for telling me about you. I appreciate the trust.” He wished he could extend the same trust and talk about those few stolen moments with a guy in his unit before he’d met Shannon, but Eddie had never known what to do with those moments or how he felt about them. He wasn’t up for a casual reveal about his own sexual uncertainty.
Buck dipped his head and smiled faintly.
“Anyway, I guess that ‘toxic masculinity’ thing that I still don’t have a great handle on could have been a factor in Shan’s decision—” He needed to stay focused on Shannon and Christopher and not think about his life before her.
“Don’t say that was a factor in her decision to completely abandon her son. Did you think you didn’t have to explain your decisions because you’re the man, or some other typical male bullshit? Even if you were that kind of guy, whatever fuckups you made doesn’t justify that. Quit trying to make it equal. Maybe you were a shitty husband. Which has what to do with her relationship with Christopher?”
Eddie’s lips twitched. “Yeah, okay.” He blew out a breath. “And I still don’t know what to do.”
“Do you want to get back together with her?”
“I don’t know.”
“Hmm.” Buck rolled the beer bottle between his hands, and it was sort of hypnotic. “What’s more important to you?”
“Her relationship with Christopher or her relationship with you?”
“Christopher is always the most important, but that doesn’t tell me if I should let her see him.”
“And how do you plan to be objective about answering that question if you’re sleeping with her?”
“Ah.” Eddie took a drink of his own beer, considering that for several moments. “Good point.”
“As I said, I’m not the right person to ask for relationship advice.”
“Maybe. But, who knows, you might be just the right person for parenting advice.” Eddie downed his last swallow of beer. “Come on. Let’s go home.”
“I’m not taking no for an answer.” When he got nothing but silence, Eddie sighed. “Just give it a try for a few days, okay? It’s gotta be better than Chim’s sofa. However, it’ll probably be my sofa tonight because the guest room is full of boxes. But I’m sure that what you really want to do on your day off is help me move those boxes and set up a bed in there.”
Buck rolled his eyes and slid out of the booth. “Are you always this bossy?”
Eddie just shrugged and smiled, unwilling to commit.
* * *
Buck woke, feeling like he was being stared at. He cracked one eye open and met the sleepy, blue gaze of Christopher, who immediately brightened and grinned at him.
“Hi, Buck!” The kid was sitting on the coffee table, crutches on either side of him.
“Hey, buddy.” Buck rolled to a seated position, yawning heavily. “What time is it?”
“Ugh. Your dad warned me about your affinity for mornings.”
“Are you really going to stay with us?”
“We’re going to try it out for a bit.” Buck didn’t really think it would last, but he appreciated the gesture. Though, Eddie’s couch was a nightmare he didn’t plan to endure for more than one night.
“Yay! Should we wake Daddy so we can fix your room?”
“Nah. Let him sleep. You want breakfast?”
“Is your father going to kick my…butt if I feed you pancakes?”
Big blue eyes blinked up at him guilelessly. “Only if we eat them all.”
“Right. Good safety tip.” He grabbed his T-shirt off the floor and tugged it on. “Let’s go terrorize the Diaz kitchen. We’ll call it revenge of the morning people.”
Christopher laughed as Buck got to his feet. Buck impulsively tucked the kid under one arm, crutches and all, getting a raft of giggles.
They were in the middle of cooking up the pancake batter when Eddie came out, looking half-awake and confused. He stared at them both for several beats before muttering about morning people and turning on his heel to go back to bed. After a second, he called back, “Save me some!”
Christopher laughed again. “Told you.”
Buck grinned at the kid and went back to cooking while Christopher regaled him with tales of elementary school. The situation was weird enough to be way outside of his comfort zone, but he thought maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.
“9-1-1, what’s your emergency?”
“I need an ambulance.”
“What’s the nature of your emergency, sir?”
“I… I just need help. I’m stuck.”
“Where are you stuck?”
“I’m just stuck, okay? I need an ambulance!”
“I need to know the specifics so I can dispatch the appropriate team with the necessary equipment.”
“I’m stuck in a…toaster.”
“You got your hand stuck in a toaster?”
“It’s not my hand, okay!”
“Sir, did you stick your penis in the toaster?”
* * *
Buck was practically vibrating in his seat but managed to hold it in until they were on the road before calling over the headset, “Cap, are we sure this is legit?” Hen was finishing up a drop-off at the hospital with the department probie and would meet them at the house if they determined it was an actual medical situation and not an utterly bizarre prank.
“One can only hope, Buck,” Captain Bobby Nash replied dryly.
“Who would lie about getting their junk stuck in a toaster?” Chim asked, sounding skeptical.
Eddie shot Buck a look. “It’s not like we haven’t had weirder calls.”
Buck scoffed. “Not really. Though I guess it depends on how you measure weird. But, in my mind, any call that results in us having to get a toaster off some guy’s dick tops out my weird-o-meter.”
“That’s all it takes?” Eddie asked with a grin.
Buck laughed. “Yeah, Diaz, that’s all it takes.” He turned to peer into the cab. “So, if this is real, who gets to perform the toasterectomy?”
“I doubt we’ll need the jaws,” Chim deadpanned.
“One call where I’m glad to be superfluous,” Buck readily agreed.
“Did you get a new word-a-day calendar?” Chim snarked.
Eddie shot Chim a mild glare for the vague insult to Buck’s intelligence. Or maybe it was just to his vocabulary. Whatever it was, Buck had noticed that Eddie had begun taking a bit of offense to Chim’s snarky remarks about Buck’s intelligence. The comments didn’t really bother Buck, he was used to it and knew Chim didn’t mean any harm by it, but Eddie bristling on his behalf was…nice.
They’d been living together for a couple of weeks, which was a week and a half longer than Buck thought it’d last, but there hadn’t been any issues so far. At all. The room Buck had was small, mostly dominated by the queen size bed, but Buck didn’t spend a lot of time hanging out in the room. He spent time with Christopher and Eddie, which Buck liked more than he thought he probably ought to and was hesitant to get used to it.
He shrugged off the thoughts and focused on the upcoming call. He wasn’t sure if he was hoping for or against an actual penis in a toaster.
* * *
The five of them stood in a semi-circle around the guy with a powder blue toaster in his lap. He was red-faced but glaring. Hen and the probie were still a couple of minutes behind them with the ambulance.
Buck rubbed the back of his neck. “So… This is happening.”
Chim grabbed the dangling cord and waved it around. “Well, at least you had the sense to unplug it.”
“I didn’t want to get burned,” the guy yelped.
“You actually pushed the—” Bobby broke off and rubbed his hands over his face. “Chim, assessment?”
Chim had to get closer to the guy’s crotch than Buck would have wanted to. “There are some lacerations, bleeding’s not too bad, but I can’t really see much.” Chim glanced up at their victim, whose name was Ken Johnson—and that name would never not be perfect for this call. “Were the lacerations intentional?”
“No! I was trying to get the toaster off! But the lever thing wouldn’t pop back up, and I’m stuck.”
Chim glanced at the rest of the team. “I think we’re going to have to take it apart. Or transport him with the toaster intact and let them remove it at the hospital.”
Hen walked in and stared. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
Her probie clapped a hand over his mouth and walked back out. It could be nausea or amusement. Hard to tell on some calls.
Bobby shot her a look. “I need you and Chim to make a medical evaluation if it’s better to remove the…toaster or transport him to the hospital as is.”
Her mouth pressed into a thin line, but then she began evaluating the situation with Chimney.
A couple of minutes later, it was decided that Buck and Eddie were taking apart the toaster.
“I never thought I’d be putting my screwdriver through this,” Buck muttered as he dropped the rest of his gear. “And it’s a Smeg toaster. How perfect is that?”
Eddie snorted but schooled his expression into something approaching neutral and got to work.
While they began taking the toaster apart, trying not to move it too much and hurt Johnson’s Johnson, Chim wandered around, looking bored. “Man, I gotta ask. Why?”
Johnson glared. “I was bored. You know, sometimes you just want to see if it’ll fit in things.” He made a vague gesture to the vacuum that Chim was standing near. Chim immediately took a step back. “Let me tell you, the suction on a Dyson is no joke.”
Eddie dropped his pliers.
* * *
Buck climbed into the truck, wondering about Johnson’s pitiable decision-making skills. He cringed at the memory of Johnson’s lacerated Johnson. There were some things a guy didn’t need to see. The victim had declined to be transported to the hospital, opting to take himself to his private doctor.
Buck snorted at his own mental pun.
“I need a hobby,” Buck said decisively.
Chim shot him an incredulous look. “What about toaster dick made you think about hobbies?”
“Obviously, that guy is bored.”
Eddie nodded. “So, so bored.”
“And I don’t want there to come a day where I’m sitting around the house bored and decide that I’m going to deal with it by sticking my dick into whatever I can find.”
“Do you really think that’s going to actually be an issue?” Bobby said, sounding like he was laughing.
“No, but I doubt that guy, five years ago, would have said that he’d have the fire department show up to remove a toaster from his penis.”
Chim threw up his hands. “For the sake of everyone’s sanity, we’ll get you a hobby.”
“I can get my own hobby, thank you very much.”
Eddie had a half-smile playing about his lips. “How do you feel about bowling?”
* * *
Buck walked out of the bowling alley, taking a deep breath of the warm Los Angeles evening air.
“Well?” Eddie prompted.
“Sounds like a hard no.”
“I’m pretty sure the only harder no is the dick toaster.” That was two hours he was never getting back. The only good part about it was hanging out with Eddie.
When Eddie had stopped laughing, he clapped Buck on the shoulder. “We’ll try something else.”
“9-1-1. What’s your emergency?”
“I think there’s been a car accident?”
“You’re not sure?”
“Well, these two cars hit each other. I know that for sure, but now I don’t know where they are.”
“You don’t know where they are?”
“No, they just disappeared.”
“Ma’am, what’s your location?”
* * *
When the truck pulled up to the scene, Eddie stared at the two cars in the car dealership that didn’t belong there, then way up the top of the embankment to the freeway. “How did they start up there and wind up in the middle of a BMW dealership?”
Buck stepped up next to him and looked up, tracking the kicked-up debris from the cars flying down the embankment. “Freeway merger pinball.”
“Buck!” Bobby called. “Jaws. We’ve got one trapped. Diaz, backboards.”
“On it, Cap!”
Eddie grinned as he began getting the gear off the truck. Buck did love having to break out the heavy rescue gear.
* * *
Eddie settled on the couch in the loft at the firehouse, feeling all the muscles in his back protest. There had been a lot more heavy rescue than they’d anticipated when they’d been surprised by an unknown victim trapped under one of the cars.
Buck passed him a couple of Advil and a bottle of water. “You okay?”
Eddie just gave a vague grunt as he downed the pills. After a few minutes, he mustered the energy to look over at Buck. “You busy tomorrow night?”
Buck blinked a few times. “No…?”
“Abuela has some suggestions for your hobby issue.”
Grinning, Buck asked, “Am I gonna regret this?”
“Then I’m definitely available.”
Eddie laughed and then regretted it as some muscles protested.
Buck tapped his leg. “Come on.”
“Where are we going?” he asked but dutifully followed Buck until they were in the bunk room. It was barely an hour before dinner, so the room was empty. “Are you gonna make me take a nap? What am I, four?”
Buck shot him a look then pointed at one of the beds. “T-shirt off, face down.”
“Wow, Buckley. Dinner first,” Eddie teased.
Buck rolled his eyes. “Haha. You gonna let me help with that pulled muscle you don’t want to confess to or not?”
“I’m fine,” Eddie insisted.
Buck contemplated his cuticles. “How very…manly of you.”
Eddie threw up his hands. “You are such a dick sometimes.”
In the month Buck had been living with Eddie, he’d taken to subtly pointing out behaviors that fed into “toxic masculinity.” He’d been very cautious about it first, as if he were afraid Eddie was going to throw him out, but Eddie’d made a point of telling Buck to just spit it out in the future. And this was the result.
Huffing, Eddie started to yank off his T-shirt, then hissed when his muscles screamed in complaint.
Buck just gave him a knowing look and disappeared into the bathroom, coming back with some oil. “Face down, Diaz. You really don’t want me trying to get to your back through your diaphragm.”
“Am I going to regret this?”
“Not a chance. It’s going to be like a choir of angels, my friend. Now lie down.”
Eddie rolled his eyes at his friend’s hyperbole and flopped down on the bed, feeling weirdly exposed even though he’d been around the house without his shirt a lot over the last month.
Then Buck’s hands were on his back, and Eddie’s entire brain whited out. “Dios mío,” he managed on a breath.
Buck’s voice came from very close to his ear, and it made Eddie shiver. “Angels?”
“I can neither confirm nor deny.”
Buck chuckled and went back to massaging the tension out of Eddie’s back. The next ten minutes were somewhat painful but also some of the most pleasurable Eddie had experienced in so long he couldn’t remember. Buck’s hands were big and strong and ridiculously competent. Something Eddie had noticed many times in the last couple of months, but this was a whole other dimension.
When he realized he was starting to get a hard-on, he knew he needed to get up. He wasn’t mentally ready for where his body was going. Because that was a thing that was happening lately that he wasn’t at all prepared to deal with.
Buck seemed to sense that Eddie was done and backed off. “Better?”
“Like you can’t imagine.” He stayed where he was but looked up at Buck. “Thanks.”
Buck was wiping the oil off on a towel. “Gonna wash my hands.” He pointed a finger at Eddie. “Stretch, but gently.”
As Buck walked away, Eddie pondered a few little details from the last month that were adding up to something new. He rolled to a seated position and pulled on his T-shirt, taking the rest of the time Buck was in the bathroom to do as ordered and stretch his muscles.
When Buck returned, he nodded toward the bottle of water he’d given Eddie earlier. “You should finish that.”
“Why do you keep oil in there?”
“In case I pull a muscle on a call.”
Eddie nodded but didn’t move from the bunk.
Buck raised a brow. “Something on your mind?”
“You’ve been helping Christopher.” It wasn’t a question. “He said something about your PT was better than Carla’s, and I thought he was just a kid with his favorite…” he made a vague gesture to Buck.
Looking pleased but oddly shy, Buck shrugged. “When we’re home in the evening, I work on anything that’s giving him pain.” He held up his hands. “I promise you, I asked Carla if any of it could hurt him, and she said it was fine.”
“Buck, you’re the last person I’m worried about hurting him.” The bond that had grown between Buck and Christopher was deep and profound, and it did something to Eddie to see another person care so much for his son. “I was just curious.”
“His arms get tired from the crutches, so when we’re home, I rub them down before bed. Sometimes his legs. Carla does it when we’re on duty.”
“Where’d you learn that? Because what I just felt isn’t a casual skill.”
Buck scoffed. “That was ten whole minutes, Eds.”
“Yeah, and are you really gonna try to tell me you don’t have any training?”
Buck crossed his arms over his chest, looking some weird mix of vulnerable and defensive. “You really want to know this? It’s not very interesting.”
“You’re my friend, Buck; of course I want to know whatever you’re willing to tell me.”
His mouth turned up into a pleased smile as he relaxed and shoved his hands in his pockets. “I, uh, didn’t have much of a college fund. It was enough for like one year and then I’d have loans out the ass, you know? I didn’t want to be in debt until I was fifty for something that felt like it was more my parents’ dream than my own. Anyway, I figured if I could use the money to get trained in something that paid well, I could pay my way through school.”
“So, you really are…”
“A certified and licensed massage therapist. Yep.”
“Wait, you’re licensed?”
“Yeah, I still see four or five clients a week.”
Eddie’s mouth fell open.
“What? I’m good at it.”
“So I noticed. Why didn’t you ever say anything?”
Buck shrugged and glanced away.
“Come on, Buck, what’s the story?”
“Remember I told you I bartended in South America?”
“It wasn’t bartending. I was working at a resort as a massage therapist.” He huffed a little. “One of the frequent visitors to the resort was from LA. She was at the resort my last week there and gave me her card and said if I ever found myself in Los Angeles, she’d happily hire me again. I wasn’t sure where I was going, but I knew I wanted to go to the Academy, so I figured why not give LA a shot considering I’d have some way of making some money on the side. Which is how I wound up here.”
“And she’s still your client?”
“Yeah, I see her every week. She referred me to a few of her friends who are still regulars.” He gave another one-shouldered shrug. “They pay really well, so it makes living here easier.”
“And the reason you don’t tell anyone?”
“Because I don’t sleep with my clients, and I never have. But it’s the first conclusion people draw. I just don’t want to deal with it.”
Eddie nodded. “I won’t say anything.”
“Thanks.” Buck’s irrepressible grin was back. “I smell dinner. I think Bobby was making lasagna!”
Eddie got to his feet and impulsively yanked Buck into a quick hug, breaking away before Buck had recovered from the shock.
“Thanks. For taking care of Christopher. And, you know,” he jerked his thumb over his shoulder, “my back too.”
Buck smiled softly. “Anytime.”
* * *
Eddie found it somewhat annoying how quickly Buck was picking up knitting. Abuela had demonstrated the same things a dozen times, but all he had to show for it was some bizarrely malformed clump of red yarn. Buck’s was lopsided, but it still looked like knitting.
At least Christopher was entertained by the whole thing, laughing at both of their efforts in turns while coloring at the coffee table.
Buck leaned closer. “You sure this is a hobby?” he whispered.
“Abuela thinks so.” He cocked a brow.
Buck shrugged. “Just seems like something to keep your hands busy, that’s all. Like while watching TV or whatever.”
“Do you usually have something to keep your hands busy while you watch TV?”
“I don’t watch much TV because it’s boring.”
Eddie wasn’t sure what to make of that, especially since Buck watched TV with Christopher all the time. Though, to be fair, he was always doing something else too. “I guess you could think of it as a TV-adjacent hobby.”
“Hm.” Buck put his needles together and stuffed them in between the arm of the couch and the cushion. “I’m going to get some more tea. You need anything, Superman?” he directed to Chris.
Chris shook his head.
When Buck got back with the water, Eddie looked up just as Buck sat, noticing the knitting needles had tipped away from the couch, and Buck was headed right for them.
* * *
“I can’t believe I sat on a knitting needle.”
Eddie left Buck leaning against the bathroom counter and closed the door. “At least it’s in the back of your leg and not in your ass. And you only got one of them.”
“Yeah, that makes me feel better.”
Eddie opened the first aid kit and pulled out the scissors.
“Whoa. What do you think you’re doing with those?”
“I’m going to cut the leg of your pants off so I can determine how far this is in your leg.”
“No, you’re not! Just pull it out.”
“I can’t just yank it out.”
“Use the other one to measure and tell how much of it is stuck in my leg…”
“What does it matter? There’s a hole in your pants!”
“It’s denim; a little blood isn’t going to ruin anything, and holes don’t matter at all.”
Eddie sighed but carefully checked the depth of penetration. “Less than a half-inch.” Before Buck could prompt him again, he yanked it out.
Buck swore but didn’t move.
“All right. Pants down.”
Huffing, Buck unbuttoned his jeans. “We never tell anyone about this, deal?”
“You forget that my son already knows.”
“Christopher will keep my secret.”
That was probably true. Christopher was very attached to Buck. “Come on, pants off; I haven’t got all day.”
Buck grumbled but wiggled his jeans over his hips.
Eddie forced himself to look away from Buck’s ass, which was getting way too much of Eddie’s interest these days, and paid attention to the small wound oozing blood from the back of his left thigh. “I don’t think you’ll need a stitch in that.”
“Thank god,” Buck mumbled.
Eddie cleaned it up and pressed a gauze pad to the wound. “So, what’s the verdict on knitting?”
Eddie blinked and glanced up, getting an eyeful of a truly delectable ass. “I’m sorry, what now?” He forced his gaze back to where he was putting the tape in place.
“I mean, it’s not a hobby, but it’s fun.”
“You are so weird.” Eddie had never met anyone quite like Buck, but he fit their family so well. Buck had been convinced for the first two weeks that Eddie was going to ask him to leave at any moment but having Buck in his home was right. He figured there was a chance Buck would get tired of the situation and seek his own place but, for now, he seemed happy and content.
And Christopher was thriving. Eddie had taken Buck’s comments to heart and decided that it would cloud his judgment about Shannon’s involvement in Christopher’s life if he resumed a sexual relationship with her, so he’d kept her at arm’s length for the first two weeks while he considered things before allowing supervised visits with Christopher. So far, it was only once a week, but Christopher was ecstatic to have his mother back in his life.
Shannon had immediately pressed the sex issue again, but he’d told her he wouldn’t consider it until he saw how things went with her visitation with Christopher.
Buck shimmied back into his pants, truly unconcerned about the bloodstain. “Let’s get back out there so Christopher can keep laughing at me.”
When they got back to the living room, Abuela confiscated the knitting needles and presented them with crochet hooks. Chris was, indeed, laughing at them.
“9-1-1, what’s your emergency?”
“I need help! There’s an alligator in my backyard!”
“Did you say an…alligator?”
“Yes! A fucking alligator is in my yard. It’s huge!”
“Are you certain it’s an alligator?”
“Yes, I’m sure it’s an alligator. They’re pretty unique, you know. Just send a damn ambulance.”
“Are you indoors?”
“Is the alligator trapped in the backyard?”
“Yeah. I mean, I closed the gate when I came in. There shouldn’t be any way for it to get out, I don’t think.”
“I’ll contact Animal Control and the Department of Fish and Wildlife. They’ll determine who will come out to remove the…gator. Please stay inside.”
“No duh, lady! But what about the bite?”
“Were you bitten, sir?”
“Yeah, that’s why I called 9-1-1. I’m bleeding like a stuck pig.”
“The fire department has been dispatched. Please stay on the line while I walk you through first aid protocols…”
* * *
Chim tossed $10 on the seat next to Buck. “I got ten on head injury and subsequent delusion.”
Grinning, Buck pulled the $10 bill he kept just for this sort of thing from his front pocket. “Ten on an actual gator.”
“There are no gators in LA, Buckley.”
“Your naivete is cute,” Buck teased. “It’s like you don’t know that people keep weird, exotic pets they’re not supposed to have all the time.”
“But a gator big enough to attack someone and no one noticed? I say no. I think he got bit by a dog and hit his head.”
Buck glanced at Eddie. “You in?”
“Hell no. I’m pretty sure it is a gator, and I’m not going to exploit Chim’s cynicism.”
“You’re way too nice. What about you, Cap?”
“I’ll leave the betting I don’t know about to you two boneheads,” Bobby called back.
“DeKay?” Buck called up to the driver.
“Uh. Cap’s giving me the eye, Buckley, so I think I’ll just keep driving.”
“Y’all are no fun.”
Hen’s voice came over the radio. “Leave your axe in the truck this time, Buck.”
“Hey!” Buck objected, laughing. “That woman was seconds from death, and no one was able to get that snake from around her throat.”
Cap chimed in. “As horrifying as the axe memory is for those of us who were there, I’m going to deny Hen’s request. Absolutely bring the axe. If there really is an alligator, we don’t know how big or aggressive it is, so Diaz and Buckley with the fire axes.”
“Yes, Cap,” Eddie replied, but Buck practically bounced in his seat. He had no intention of hacking away at a gator, but the excitement of the call was getting to him.
Bobby continued, “The homeowner indicated that the front of the house is under construction, so we have to go in through the rear. He reported locking the side gate from the inside, so DeKay will have the bolt cutters. Buck, you’re going to be on point, but I want you to be careful.”
When they pulled up, Buck quickly pulled on his turnout pants and coat.
“It’s an animal attack, Buckley,” Chim said dryly, “not a fire.”
“Gee, Chim, it’s like I wasn’t in the truck.” He stuck the waterproof tape in his pocket and then pulled on his gloves. “Gators are sharp. Every freaking inch of them, from tip to tail.” He grabbed his axe.
He fell into step with Eddie, who softly murmured, “You seem to know a lot about gators.”
“More than you’d think,” Buck replied with equal softness. “I’ll tell you later.”
DeKay cut the bracket off the lock, and Bobby gave Buck a cautionary look before slowly opening the gate. Buck peered in and looked around. Fortunately, the homeowner had a well-tended yard, so there weren’t any obvious hiding places in the side yard. “Clear on the side yard.”
He could hear the rest following him as he got to the corner and peered around the side of the house. The gator was pressed up against the back door as if it were trying to get inside. “Aw, it’s just a baby gator.”
The rest of the team came up level with him, and Chim sounded like he was choking. “A baby?! That thing has to be 8-feet!”
“Not more than 6,” Buck countered as he took a visual survey of the rest of the yard, noticing a full plank of fencing was missing on the far side of the yard. He pointed it out to Cap and Eddie.
Bobby sighed. “Let’s deal with this one, and then we’ll check it out. So, the gator is blocking our point of ingress. Thoughts?”
“Meh. I can get him away pretty easily,” Buck assured.
“And then what?” Chim asked. “You’re going to play hide and seek with an actual alligator?”
“Oh, ye of little faith.”
Eddie rolled his eyes. “I’ll keep an eye on Crocodile Dundee here, Cap, while you guys work on the victim.”
It only took Buck a minute with a skimming net from the owner’s pool to tease the gator away from the door and out onto the patio. As soon as he was in a good position, he didn’t hesitate to drop down on the gator, getting his knees right behind the front legs and his booted feet behind the rear ones, then he held the mouth shut.
“You’re a little lethargic, huh? Considering how warm it is, I’m assuming you’re underfed. A hungry gator is a dangerous gator.” He looked up at Eddie, who was slack-jawed. “Can you grab the tape out of my pocket?”
Eddie didn’t hesitate to get the small roll of tape from the front pocket of Buck’s bunker jacket. “You’ve done this before.”
“Do I even want to know?”
“It’s nothing nefarious. I volunteered at a wildlife sanctuary two summers during college. The sanctuary was in Florida. Gators are a whole thing.”
Eddie just grinned and shook his head while Buck secured the alligator’s mouth. When Buck was on his feet, Eddie asked, “So, he’s safe now?”
“Well, he can’t bite you. But I wasn’t kidding about the sharp part. If he whips his tail around, it could cut right through normal pants.” He turned to find Bobby watching from the doorway. “How’s the homeowner, Cap?”
“Lost a fair amount of blood. Hen and Chim are getting him ready for transport. Can you move him,” Bobby pointed to the gator, “completely away from the path of the gurney DeKay is bringing?”
“Yup! Then we’re going to check the rest of the yard.”
“Okay, I haven’t carried a gator in a long damn time. I can probably handle one this size by myself, but I’m out of practice, so I’m going to hold the body, and you take the tail.”
Eddie gave him a skeptical look.
“Just hold it. It’ll be harder than it seems because most of the strength is in the tail.”
Eddie pulled on his gloves, and they got the gator moved in no time.
Buck patted the gator on the head. “They’ll get you sorted soon.”
“Hey, Buck?” Eddie called from a few feet away. “There’s another one.” He pointed at some flowers.
Buck jogged over and frowned. “That’s quite young. Not even four feet.” It suddenly made a move toward them, and Eddie jumped. Buck was on it, quickly getting the mouth secured. They put it with the other gator.
Hen and Chim were leaving with the homeowner and Hen’s probie. DeKay and Bobby were waiting on the patio.
Buck cautiously went to peer into the back yard then jumped back. “Okay. We should block this.”
Eddie came up next to him. “More?”
“At least six more—there’s a broken basement window. Also, do you smell that?”
Eddie tipped his head back and took a deep breath. “Decomp?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
“Great. I’m going to find something to block that opening. You go talk to Bobby about the yard full of gators next door.”
Buck jogged over and explained the situation to Bobby.
“So,” Bobby summarized, “you’re saying it’s possible we have a DB in a house that may have, at a minimum, alligators in it, but considering how exotic breeders tend to be, it’s likely full of other things that have been allowed to go hungry for who knows how long?”
“Right. What do we do?”
“Punt it back to dispatch. We need at least the police and animal control to weigh in, and I know animal control is going to want to wait on someone from Fish and Wildlife because urban animal control doesn’t deal with a lot of gators.” Bobby rubbed his forehead. “Once you get that opening blocked, can you get a view over the fence to see if there are any other obvious ways the gators could have gotten out of that yard?”
Buck winced. “Yeah, that’d suck if we have to scour the whole neighborhood for alligators.”
“Searching for alligators is more the purview of Fish and Wildlife and animal control, so let’s not be volunteering for anything. You want to tell me how you knew how to do that?”
“I’ve done it before?”
“Buck.” Bobby crossed his arms and gave Buck the look.
“What? I volunteered at a wildlife sanctuary in college. I’ve literally done it before.”
“Okay, then. I’m going to talk to dispatch. Take DeKay. And don’t let anything eat him.”
“Hey!” DeKay protested
Buck laughed and dragged DeKay along with him to join Eddie, where he was using one of their backboards to block the opening in the fence. “Bobby wants us to get a look over the fence to see if there’s any sign the gators had another way to escape.”
Eddie made a face. “Right.”
By the time Bobby had coordinated what was going to happen next, they’d surveyed as much of the other yard as they could from the top of a deck box.
“Looks okay, Cap,” Eddie offered as he hopped down. “We can’t visualize the entire fence, but we were able to see all but the far side yard. We counted at least eight alligators in the yard of various sizes. None bigger than the one who took a bite out of the homeowner.”
Bobby hopped up on the deck box to peer over the fence. “Good work.” He got back to ground level. “Diaz, DeKay, go check the fencing from the outside of the other house. Be cautious. If you see any gaps in the fence, radio but do not approach.”
Buck was used to being paired with Eddie, so he shot Bobby a quizzical look.
“Animal control is about five minutes out, at least an hour for anyone from Wildlife. Animal control says this is way outside of their wheelhouse, so they’ve asked to borrow you until someone else can take over. I’ve okayed it for now. Police will be here any minute to coordinate entry to search the premises. As soon as that happens, I’ll be leaving with DeKay and Diaz to the scene of a car accident to help decompress the 136. Athena was picking which officers she was going to dispatch, so one of them will get you back to the station, okay?”
“Um, all right.”
Bobby put his hands on Buck’s shoulders. “You’re clearly the right person for the job, and I trust you to keep the people from animal control and the police department safe. Just be cautious, and stick with what you know. I have confidence in you, Buck.”
Buck felt a warmth spread through his chest. “Thanks, Bobby.”
* * *
Eddie stood in the kitchen at the firehouse and watched Buck gesture expansively as he regaled Chim with the further gator adventures. Chim had left with the victim fairly early on, so he’d missed even more than Eddie had. It had been weird to leave Buck behind to work with animal control—they were not only on the same team but usually paired up when that sort of thing was necessary. They were the two heavy rescue specialists on their squad, and it wasn’t uncommon for that to be a team effort.
He couldn’t really hear what was being said since Chim and Buck were on the other side of the loft, but Buck’s enthusiasm was obvious. He sensed someone coming up next to him and glanced over at Hen, who had a bag in her hand.
Grinning, Eddie asked, “She get it?”
“Better.” Hen passed over the bag. Karen, Hen’s wife, had been enlisted to try to find a Crocodile Dundee shirt, or something along those lines. Instead, there was a stuffed alligator in the bag.
Eddie laughed. “Perfecto.”
Hen propped her hip against the kitchen counter. “You tired of having him as a roommate yet?”
“No,” Eddie answered immediately. “Should I be?”
“It’s been, what? Three months?”
“A little more, yeah.” After the first week, Buck had insisted on paying rent if he was going to stay, which eased Eddie’s financial situation in a profound way, but it wouldn’t be enough for Eddie to keep the situation going if Buck were driving him crazy. Buck fit with them, so Eddie wasn’t in any hurry to change things.
“He’s not driving you nuts yet?”
“Is there a reason you think he would be?” He raised one eyebrow and waited.
“You know I love that boy like a brother, but he’s a lot.”
“I didn’t realize you’d lived with him before.”
“I haven’t. But—”
“But you think that what you see of him here gives you a good read on him?”
She held up both hands in a surrender gesture. “I wasn’t dissing him, Eddie.”
“It’s funny how often people say shitty things about him and then in the next breath deny they were saying something shitty.”
Looking shocked, Hen just blinked at him.
“Excuse me.” He strode across the loft, pasting a smile he didn’t really feel anymore on his face. “Yo, Buckley.”
Buck paused in whatever he was saying to give Eddie his attention.
Eddie pulled the stuffed gator out of the bag and pitched it as his friend. “Karen picked that up to commemorate your day of gator wrestling in Los Angeles. Something I’m pretty sure no one else in the LAFD will ever be able to say.”
Buck laughed and looked over the stuffed toy. “I think I’ll call him Herman.”
“That’s a terrible name for an alligator,” Chimney said immediately.
“You do not get a vote, Firefighter Han,” Buck said imperiously, tucking the gator under his arm and getting to his feet. “It’s my gator; I’ll name it. His name is Herman.” Buck stopped by Hen and dropped a kiss on her cheek. “Thank Karen for me.”
She smiled, though it was a little strained. “Will do, kiddo.”
Bobby came out of his office to start dinner and began mediating the argument between Buck and Chim about Herman’s name.
Eddie jogged downstairs to finish up the truck inventory he needed to do before dinner, unsurprised that Hen followed him.
He stopped at the rear of the truck and spun around. “Yeah?”
“Look, I’ve known Buck for a long time, and—”
“Which apparently hasn’t given you much insight into him, so I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make.”
She looked stricken.
Eddie blew out a breath and dragged his hands through his hair. “Look, everyone here sees Buck through a certain lens. I don’t know the Buck from before I joined, I don’t know pre-Abby Buck, but the man I know is not the man you guys refer to. It’s like you’ve all got him in this bubble, and you aren’t allowing him to grow. Maybe that’s partially on him because he only lets certain parts of himself show at work, but I don’t think any of us are different in that regard.”
Brow furrowed, she nodded slowly. “No, probably not.”
“I don’t think you guys realize how often there’s a borderline cruel edge to the jokes at his expense, and he doesn’t deserve it.”
After a few seconds, she nodded. “Maybe. I’ll try to pay more attention. I guess it’s hard to see these patterns when you’re in the middle of them, but I wasn’t trying to be cruel when I asked if you were tired of living with him. Having someone else disrupting your family space isn’t easy, especially not someone with that much…exuberance.”
Eddie really didn’t get why people thought Buck’s energy and enthusiasm made him hard to be around. The times when Eddie was tired, Buck either reined it in or used that energy to keep Christopher entertained, which was the greatest gift anyone could possibly give Eddie. But Eddie didn’t owe anyone an explanation of why he liked having Buck around.
“Buck is family,” was all he chose to say.
She blinked. “Okay, but he’s going to build his own life at some point, Eddie.”
Eddie rolled his eyes. “Come on, Hen, make up your mind. Are you concerned about me and Buck’s supposed intrusion into my life, or are you worried about Buck’s life stalling out? Because I’m getting mixed messages here.”
Looking taken aback, she held up her hand. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t trying to be intrusive. I’ve been vaguely worried about both of you for a while, and I guess I hadn’t put much thought into the source of my concern.”
“You’re worried about us because we’re roommates?”
“I guess. It just seems like a situation that everyone thought was temporary that doesn’t show any signs of ending.”
Eddie pursed his lips and bit back his impulse to tell everyone to fuck off and mind their own damn business. He knew the meddling came from a place of caring, but it wasn’t necessary and was over the line, in his opinion. The problem was it reminded him of his parents and their efforts to keep him in El Paso, and he was probably overreacting as a result. “We’re fine. And while it may shock everyone, we’re both actual grownups who talk things over.”
“Okay, Eddie. I feel like I’ve been thoroughly told to butt out, and so I will.”
“I don’t mind the caring, Hen; I mind the backhanded insult to my best friend. And, yeah, I know I haven’t known him all that long in the grand scheme of things, but I’ve never known anyone as loyal or caring, and it bugs me that you approached your questions like he was bad for me.”
She frowned and glanced down for a few seconds. “I need to think about that a bit, but I definitely will, okay?”
“That’s all I ask.”
Her smile was half-hearted at best. “He still trying to find a hobby?”
Eddie chuckled. “Yeah, though I’m starting to think Buck has some weird ideas of what hobbies are. It’s definitely on the agenda to get some clarification.”
* * *
Christopher was part of Eddie’s plan for figuring out Buck’s issue with hobbies. Eddie had blown off the joke reason for finding Buck a hobby a long time ago—the toaster thing clearly wasn’t serious. Buck really seemed to want to have a hobby of some sort, but he hadn’t really articulated why. Though Eddie was certain it had nothing to do with protecting his junk. So, Eddie had enlisted his son to figure out what was wrong with all the things they had tried.
After dinner, Christopher brought the printout of ideas to the table with some markers and stared at Buck.
Buck looked between Chris and Eddie. “Something going on?”
“We’re figuring out what to try next!” Christopher said with enthusiasm.
“Next? Oh, you mean the hobby thing.”
Chris nodded enthusiastically. “Pottery? Because that seems fun but maybe messy.”
“Very messy,” Buck agreed, “and it has the same issue as the crocheting. You eventually have a huge pile of stuff that you don’t need and no one wants.”
Eddie asked, “How do you know no one would want it? You could be a genius at pottery. You were picking up crocheting pretty well.”
“We live in LA, Eds, that rules out hats, gloves, scarves, leg warmers… You’re left with pretty much just blankets, right? I think I can count on one hand the number of people I know who’d want a crocheted blanket, so then what?”
“Does it matter?” Eddie pressed. “So you have a ton of stuff you donate or whatever… the point is that you enjoyed making it.”
“But it seems so pointless.”
“You know…” Buck made a vague gesture. “Doing stuff to have stuff to give it away. It just doesn’t mean anything. Some of it’s cool for keeping your hands busy sometimes, or whatever, but it’s not really a hobby, right?”
Eddie frowned and exchanged a glance with Christopher. “Let’s run through a list of things, and you tell us if you think they’re something you want to try, and whether or not it’s productive.” He didn’t want to use the word “pointless.” They should have done this two months ago. Eddie was never getting that evening spent line dancing back. He just had no idea that Buck’s notion of a hobby was so skewed.
Christopher looked at his list. “Pottery.”
“Probably not. Kind of pointless.”
Eddie didn’t want to turn it into an argument about terminology, so he kept silent and listened, hoping for more of a clue. Buck wasn’t always great about articulating what was going on in his head. But, then again, at other times, he was brilliant at it.
“For food?” Buck clarified.
“Or flowers,” Chris answered. “Abuela has both.”
“Food would be okay.”
“But are you actually interested?” Eddie asked.
Buck shrugged, so Eddie took that as a no.
“Writing?” was next on Chris’ list.
Buck wrinkled his nose.
“That’s just a no,” Eddie said. “Try the next one.”
Buck made the same face.
“I guess that’s productive, but it doesn’t seem fun. Shouldn’t hobbies be productive and fun?”
“Give me your benchmark,” Eddie said. “What have you seen someone doing that met that definition, even if it’s not something you’d enjoy.”
“I have a friend who does a lot of builds with Habitat for Humanity.”
“I mean, I’ve done it with her a couple of times, and it’s really cool to help people like that. There’s a lot of people, and it’s really high energy, but building things isn’t my area of interest. Still, it seems better than crocheting and dumping crooked hats on your friends when you live in Los Angeles.”
Dios. Buck was looking for a cause, not a hobby. And with a flash of insight, Eddie realized that Buck was too social, too extroverted to want a solo, isolated hobby like a garden in the backyard. Eddie suddenly got an idea, but he’d need time to see what could be done, or even if it could be done. It would take phone calls and planning, and who knows if it would pan out. In the meantime, they’d have to continue with traditional hobby material. Except no more line dancing.
“Why don’t we start with a playdate between you and Abuela to try some vegetable gardening.”
Buck rolled his eyes, but he laughed right along with Christopher. “Yeah, sure.”
If Buck actually liked digging in the dirt, they could always try a community garden where he could socialize more.
After Christopher was in bed, Buck joined Eddie in the living room, as was their evening norm. “You know we don’t have to keep doing this hobby thing, right? It was always kind of a joke. I’m not really in danger of sticking my dick in a toaster.”
“Believe me, I know. I never thought you were truly serious about that, but your enthusiasm for trying all these new things did make me think that you were serious about finding something you were passionate about. So, we’ll keep working on it, okay?”
“Yeah.” Buck fidgeted for a few seconds. “Do you want me to start looking for a place?”
Eddie blinked. “Not on my account, but you should do what you need to do.”
“I just don’t want to get in the way, Eds.”
“You’re not, Buck, and I wish you’d stop thinking that you are or that you might be. It’s good having you here. If it makes you feel better, we can sign an actual lease.”
“Nah.” Buck smiled in a way that was more genuine and less nervous. “If you want me to, I will, but I don’t need it. And I don’t know if officially subleasing will change your tax situation. So, do what works best for you.” That was fair, and Eddie had no idea if making their arrangement more formal would affect his taxes, so he’d have to look into it.
“I still think you offered too much rent.” Eddie had asked for way less, but Buck had been adamant.
“Dude, no.” Buck shook his head. “It’s less than I was paying when I was living with four other people, and certainly less than my part of the rent on Abby’s condo. Just accept it and move on.”
“You actually cover half my mortgage. It doesn’t seem right.”
“Yeah, but then there’s utilities and internet and insurance.” Buck made a dismissive gesture. “Stop trying to negotiate it down or I’ll just pay more.”
Eddie gaped at him. “You’re a pain in the ass sometimes.”
“It’s a gift.”
“9-1-1, what’s your emergency.”
“We need help. We’re stuck.”
“How are you stuck, sir.”
“Well, we’re— I mean, we were— That is—”
“Oh my god, give me the phone!”
“Ma’am, are you all right?”
“No. My boyfriend and I were having sex, and something happened to me, and now we’re stuck.”
“Stuck…? Can you clarify what you mean by stuck?”
“His dick is stuck in me. Like he can’t get it out. My vagina just clenched up.”
“Paramedics are en route. Please remain on the line.”
* * *
“Penis captivus,” Buck said as he got in the truck. “That’s practically an urban legend.”
Eddie was sitting across from Buck and just stared. Everyone else’s heads were like they were on a slow pivot as they turned to look at him. Even Cap and DeKay from the front seat, and DeKay was supposed to start driving.
“You’re making that up,” Chim said.
“I am not. Reports are pretty much anecdotal because it usually resolves itself before medical intervention is required.”
Eddie pulled out his phone and began tapping away. He sighed and flashed the phone at Chim. “It is called penis captivus.”
“Where does this head full of weird trivia come from?” Chim asked Buck.
“Even I want an answer to this one,” Cap’s voice came over the headset.
“I dated a girl who had primary vaginismus, which could certainly cause penis captivus. I was not interested in being that kind of statistic, thank you very much.”
“Of course you dated a girl.” Chim threw up his hands. “Did you ever actually get stuck?”
“I’m not an idiot, Chim. I wasn’t going to stick my dick into someone who could unexpectedly clamp down on me and not let go.”
“So, you guys didn’t have sex?”
Buck laughed so hard he had tears in his eyes. Even Eddie was amused at the absurdity of the question. Like there weren’t other ways to have sex besides sticking a dick in a pussy. Eddie’s mind had been going to all sorts of alternatives lately, so his brain immediately threw up several appealing ideas. He ruthlessly stomped on that line of thinking.
“What did I say?” Chim asked.
Buck couldn’t stop laughing, and even Cap was amused.
Eddie patted Chim on the shoulder. “I’ll tell you when you’re older.”
“I’m like the oldest person on this squad!”
Chim being literal sent Buck off into new peals of laughter.
* * *
“I’d say vaginismus,” Hen said from where she was assessing the situation from between two naked people’s legs. “I’m going to consult with the attending at Mercy General. Just relax.” She flipped the sheet back over the naked couple.
“We can’t exactly relax,” the guy snapped. He was braced in a half push-up position, arms shaking. He’d rest periodically, but his weight was too much for his girlfriend, who was a tiny thing and couldn’t handle the pressure on her lungs.
“Have you guys tried moving into other positions?” Buck asked, ignoring Cap’s warning look.
The girl, Megan, nodded. “We tried rolling on our sides, but every time we move even a little bit, he screams about the way it’s pulling on his dick.”
“It is!” Roger yelped.
“Well, it’s not great for me either,” Megan shot back.
“This is your fault!”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa.” Buck made a time-out gesture. “Give me a second and let’s see what we can do about getting you guys more comfortable.” He looked around then began moving her computer monitor for some reason. Eddie went to help, though he didn’t have any idea what Buck was going for.
Buck brought the monitor riser, which had four six-inch legs, over to the bed and nudged Roger’s shoulder. “Push up higher, dude.” Megan had pulled a towel over her breasts, so she wasn’t any more exposed when Roger pushed up on wobbly arms. “Good thing you’re so tiny, Megan, or this wouldn’t work.” Buck positioned the monitor riser to be on either side of her rib cage then pressed down on it. “Is that digging into you?”
“No. A little pressure, but not bad. Certainly not as bad as Mr. just-one-more-piece-of-pizza up there.
“Hey! My weight is just fine.”
Eddie got some pillows to put on top of the new platform so Roger could lie down and not crush Megan. “Lower yourself slowly. I know you’re tired, but we don’t want to hurt her.”
“I’m hurting,” Roger snapped, but he lowered his body carefully, groaning with the relief of not supporting his weight on his arms.
“Good call, Buck,” Bobby said. “Firefighter Han is going to listen to your breathing and take your blood pressure, okay, Megan?”
She nodded, looking worn out.
“How long before you decided to call us?” Bobby asked.
“At least fifteen minutes. Maybe longer.”
Bobby nodded then looked to Eddie. “Can you get Roger’s vitals?”
Eddie got to work, noticing that Megan’s legs were shaking pretty badly, and she looked pale. Chim reported that her BP was a little low, pulse too fast. Roger’s vital were fairly normal, other than respirations and pulse being minorly elevated.
“You okay, Megan?” Eddie asked.
“My legs are tired.” She had them clamped around Roger’s hips.
“Can you lower them?”
“He yells in pain every time I try to lower my legs.”
“It hurts,” Roger said in a tone that was pretty whiny in Eddie’s opinion.
“How about we support your legs for a little while?” Buck offered.
“Can you do that?” Megan looked at him hopefully.
“Sure. Bobby and I delivered a bunch of babies together on a full moon one night. Holding your leg for a little bit is a snap.”
Buck gently maneuvered one leg, and Eddie got the other. “Just relax, Megan,” Buck encouraged. “Let us take the weight. I know you’re in pain, but we’re going to help as much as we can until they decide what to do.”
“Okay.” When she was finally able to relax, she almost seemed to melt into the bed. “I’m so tired.” She finally blew out a breath and asked, “What’s vaginismus?”
Buck kept up a steady stream of soothing conversation with her about it, not getting too specific and encouraging her to get more information from her doctor when the time came. He also answered her questions about the full moon babies.
She got this tragic look on her face though when she asked, “So I might not be able to have a normal sex life?”
“What’s normal?” Buck countered. “You can have a good sex life, provided you aren’t with some Neanderthal that thinks vaginal penetration is the only way to have fun.”
“Oh.” Her brow furrowed like she was thinking about that. “I think I may have to find a new boyfriend.”
“Hey!” Roger said, lifting his head. “I’m right here.”
“Believe me, I know. And you’ve been blaming me since this started, but you seem to forget that I told you this wasn’t comfortable for me, but oh no, you were so sure we could push past it, Mr. Great Lover. Well, let me tell you something, this isn’t fun for me either.”
Hen came back into the room and checked on both of them, approving of the setup they’d come up with to get the pressure off both parties. “Megan, I’m going to give you a muscle relaxer the doctor at Mercy General has ordered. That may be sufficient for the muscles to release enough for you two to separate. If it’s not, it could ease the pressure enough that we can move you without pain. If we need to, we’ll transport you basically on your sides. Hopefully, the muscle relaxer will at least allow that much of a shift in position.
“If you can separate, Mr. Bradley, it’s likely there’s going to be extensive swelling of your…penis based on the duration of time things have been clamped off. Please do not be alarmed. We will take you to the hospital for evaluation, but the swelling will go down.”
“If the muscle relaxer doesn’t work, then what?” Megan asked nervously.
“They’ll have to administer a local injection at the hospital.”
Megan’s eyes widened.
“You won’t even feel it,” Buck assured. “The muscles are so locked up that the little pinpricks won’t even be felt.”
“Wow,” Megan said. “You really do know someone who has been through this.”
“Well, not this,” he said, gesturing to Roger. “But, yes, I know someone who has the same condition. It’ll be okay.”
Megan smiled, the most sincere smile since they’d arrived. Eddie saw a massive crush forming and predicted the end of Roger, followed by Megan asking Buck out in a few weeks. He found the idea disheartening.
The muscle relaxer worked. Eddie and Buck continued to support Megan while Bobby and Chim helped a shaky Roger slowly get to his knees. Everyone got more of a view of some really swollen genitals than they wanted.
Then Roger got a look at his swollen junk and started screaming.
Buck pulled a blanket over Megan and gave her a meaningful look. She rolled her eyes then grinned at him. Eddie felt depressed.
* * *
“Hey, Eddie, you done with the truck inventory?” Hen asked.
“Yep. You need something?”
“Would you help me restock the ambulance?”
It was a bit of an odd request, but not totally out there. She was working with a probie right now who usually helped with that. “Sure.” He had a hunch she wanted to talk to him because everyone else had finished their chores and migrated upstairs.
They’d been working in silence for a few minutes when she said, “I heard Buck got a call from the girl with the vaginismus. Megan, right?”
Eddie glanced up sharply. “Yeah, a couple weeks after that call out, she got in contact. They met up a couple of times.”
“They dating?” Hen asked cautiously.
Eddie had no idea where this conversation was going. “No. He got her in touch with the girl he used to date, which was apparently when he was a senior in high school. I thought they might go out, but he shrugged it off and said that wasn’t in the cards.”
Hen huffed and sat on the bumper of the ambulance. “I admit that I needed to have my viewpoint about Buck reset.”
“You said some things that made me think. I put Buck in a certain box when I met him—not in a bad way, but in a limiting one, perhaps. I saw him as a promiscuous party boy, and I ignored the things that contradicted that idea.”
“Okay. Why are you telling me this?”
“The things you said a while back have been going around in my head, and I talked to Karen about it. Then that call with Roger and Megan…” She blew out a breath. “It just opened my eyes a bit. He was better with her than any of the rest of us, and it’s not exactly a normal situation.”
“He does well when things are kind of…out there.”
Hen chuckled. “That he does. I really do care about him, but I think I’ve misjudged him.”
“Buck is forthright about liking sex, but he’s obviously been judged a lot for sleeping around.”
“Well, to be fair, it wasn’t just the sleeping around, it was the sleeping around while he was supposed to be working.”
“Fair, but someone breaking department policy, regardless of why, is up to Bobby to deal with, no?”
“That’s true.” She shrugged. “Anyway, I just wanted to thank you for the wake-up call. I love him like a brother, but I was kind of blind to some of his better traits. Anyway, that was only part of it. You okay? You’ve seemed a little off lately.”
He blew out a breath and decided to tell the truth, needing to get it off his chest. “I filed for divorce yesterday. I’m just feeling weird about it.”
Hen’s mouth dropped open, and then she snapped it shut. “What happened?”
“I wanted to formalize visitation for Christopher, rather than it always being on the fly. She, uh, didn’t want that.” He shook his head. “It’s a long story, but she clearly doesn’t want to be a parent now, not even part-time. She wants to see Christopher but doesn’t want to be obligated to see him.” He was paraphrasing, but that was how he was interpreting what she’d said. She’d made it sound better, but Eddie was getting pretty good at reading between the lines when Shannon was really just being selfish.
“Damn, that’s rough.”
“Not really. I think it’s messing me up more how much of a relief it is to finally know. To finally have it be over with.”
“But it’s unnerving too, right? No going back, no picking up the pieces?”
“I think I’m ready to move on, but it’s still messing with my head a little.”
“You tell Buck?” she asked gently.
“He’s your best friend.”
“Yeah. And he’s doing an incredible job of keeping my kid distracted while I’ve been going through the wars with Shannon. I’ll talk to him about it soon.” Eddie could be honest with himself and admit the reason he hadn’t talked to Buck about it was that he wondered if Buck wasn’t half of the reason why Eddie was ready to move on. That was an earth-shattering revelation he really wasn’t ready to deal with.
* * *
“Daddy,” Christopher’s voice intruded into his sleep-fogged brain. He’d had a lot on his mind last night and slept poorly, and now he felt sluggish and not all there. He managed to crack an eye open and found his son by the side of the bed, all dressed for school, a big grin on his face.
“Hey. What time is it?” He glanced at the clock and saw it was 7:30 and jolted upright.
“I got it, Eds,” Buck said from the doorway. “Go back to sleep.”
“Yeah, Buck said you didn’t sleep much, so I wasn’t going to wake you, but he said I had to or you’d feel abandoned and ber— ber—” Christopher glanced at Buck.
“Bereft,” Buck supplied.
“Bereft,” Christopher repeated. “I don’t want you to be bereft, Daddy, so I woke you up to let you know Buck is taking me to school.”
Since Eddie’s brain felt like mashed potatoes, he wasn’t even going to put up a fuss; he just pulled Christopher into a hug. “Thanks. I would be bereft if you left without waking me.” He mouthed, “Thank you,” to Buck over Christopher’s shoulder.
Buck smiled and nodded.
When they were gone, Eddie lay in bed, pondering going back to sleep, but the jolt of adrenaline thinking he’d overslept was enough to keep him awake. Instead, he went for the shower to let the hot water finish the job of waking him up.
By the time he made it out into the kitchen, Buck was already back and had brought pastries and coffee. “You’re the best roommate ever,” Eddie mumbled around a mouthful of pastry, chocolate, and sprinkles.
“You have clients today?”
“Two this afternoon,” Buck admitted. “You okay?”
Eddie sighed and sipped at his coffee, not sure if he was ready to get into it yet. “More or less.” He jerked his chin in Buck’s direction. “What about you?”
“Fine. Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Just curious. Guess I’ve been thinking about relationships lately. Got to thinking about you and Megan.”
“Me and Megan?” Buck repeated. “There is no me and Megan.”
“But why isn’t there? I figured you two…” he trailed off, not sure what he wanted to say.
Buck was watching Eddie with a great deal of intensity, but then his expression cleared. “I avoided relationships for a long time, thought they weren’t for me. Didn’t want to be like my parents. Or really, anyone’s parents. But then I discovered I liked it. I liked what I had with Abby. I loved her, but I also loved being it for someone and having them be it for me. I want that again, so when I meet someone new, I wonder if I could be in a relationship with them.”
“So you’re not having sex because you’re looking for a relationship?”
“Whoa, hold the conclusions,” Buck laughed. “Maybe it’s not right, but it’s either a one-time thing or not at all. Either relationship or…”
“One shot?” Eddie couldn’t help but laugh.
“Basically. Megan and I wouldn’t work out long-term, and I knew she wasn’t going to be happy with just one roll in the hay. I introduced her to a guy I know with an oral fixation.”
Eddie choked on his coffee.
“I guess you’re a truly benevolent soul.”
“Don’t worry about my love life, Eds.”
“Shannon and I agreed to get divorced,” Eddie blurted out.
“Oh.” Buck sat back heavily in the chair. “So that’s what’s been going on. Is this what you want?”
“It is. But it’s still not easy. I’m glad I never resumed our sexual relationship because it would have messed with my head. She’s not ready to be even a part-time mom, and she certainly doesn’t want to be a wife. I learned what she wants is sort of on-demand sex, companionship on her terms, but not an actual relationship. She wanted visits with Christopher when she’s in the mood, but nothing on a regular schedule. And she doesn’t want to be responsible for anything related to his healthcare.”
“Did she call it a selfish phase or say she needed to focus on herself?”
Eddie gave a startled laugh. “Focus on herself, yeah.”
“Well, mission accomplished. Back to the original question: You okay?”
“Yeah. I think I am.”
“9-1-1, what’s your emergency?”
“Oh my god, the park is on fire! Why isn’t anyone doing anything?”
“Which park is on fire, ma’am?”
“Griffith Park! You have to hurry.”
* * *
Eddie stared out the window. The sun was just up, and their shift would have been over in an hour and a half when they’d gotten the call out for a massive fire at Griffith Park. But Eddie didn’t even see smoke.
They were practically on top of the location dispatch had sent them to. He rolled the window down. “I don’t even smell smoke.”
“Maybe the caller was confused about which park?” Buck speculated.
The truck pulled to a stop just as dispatch radioed Bobby.
They went ahead and hopped out of the truck just as a woman in scrubs ran up to them, looking flustered. Her hair was in a messy bun that was more than a little crooked. “Oh my god, I am so sorry. I called back when I realized my mistake, but it took a minute to explain, and then you guys were already pulling up. And, wow, that was fast.”
“So, there’s no fire?” Eddie said, leaning against the truck.
She buried her face in her hands. “They switched my shift. I swear, I haven’t seen a sunrise in twenty years.” She flapped her hand toward the brightly colored sky. “It looks like fire.”
Buck burst into laughter, but he moved closer to the woman. “What’s your name?”
“Okay, Carmen. You’re working nights now?”
“And how long since you’ve slept?”
“A few days, I think.” She scrubbed her hands over her face. “I am so, so sorry. This is so embarrassing.”
“Meh. We see the sunrise every shift and still forget how pretty it is. I gather you live close by?”
“A couple blocks.” She gestured vaguely.
Eddie got where Buck was going with this and looked to Bobby. “We’ll walk her home.”
Bobby nodded, smiling faintly.
They dumped their turnout gear then walked Carmen back to her house. Eddie mostly kept quiet, listening to Buck’s chatter as he put Carmen at ease and advised her to prioritize getting good blackout curtains so she could sleep during the day.
It was a good half hour before they got back, loaded down with two thermoses and several Tupperware containers.
“What’s this?” Chim asked.
“Carmen stress bakes, and she hasn’t been sleeping,” Buck said with a big grin. “She felt bad for dragging us out here, so we got all the baked goods in her kitchen, and she gave us coffee. We’ll leave the thermoses on her porch on the way back.”
The impromptu breakfast picnic in the park was kind of nice, and they didn’t get another call before their shift was over.
* * *
Buck gazed out the window of Eddie’s truck and bounced his knee impatiently. “Come on, where are we going?”
“I told you it was a surprise.” Eddie laughed. “You have less patience than Christopher.”
“Christopher has the patience of a saint, so what kind of metric is that?”
“Fair. But you don’t see him when he’s waiting for something he wants. For instance, he’s not particularly patient when he’s waiting for you to show up with whatever movie you two decided to rent.”
Buck felt his entire being warm with pleasure and couldn’t stop the smile that lit up his face. “I love that kid.”
Eddie glanced away from the road and shot him a pleased smile. “Yeah, I know. He loves you too.”
Buck nudged Eddie’s arm. “So, where are we going?”
“I just had another thought about the whole hobby thing.”
Buck made a face. “I thought we were giving up on that. I promise not to stick my junk into any toasters, man. That was never serious.”
“After we talked, it occurred to me that you were looking for something you could feel inspired by… Feel passionate about.” Eddie glanced over again. “Did I read that wrong?”
Frowning, Buck considered for a second. “No, I guess that’s right. I hadn’t really put much thought into it.”
Eddie huffed. “Yeah, that’s been patently obvious.”
“Hey!” Buck laughed. “I’m developing some mad skills with a crochet hook.”
“Just stay away from the knitting needles.”
Eddie just shook his head, smile fond. “Anyway, I was talking to some Army buddies, and we’re going to meet a guy who was in the same unit as me. He was discharged the year before I joined, but it’s a small world out here.”
“What are we meeting him for?”
“You’ll see,” Eddie replied cryptically. Again.
They finally slowed down and pulled off into a bar parking lot right off the two-lane highway. The row of motorcycles gave away the nature of the establishment. Most of the bikes looked like Harleys, but a Buck thought a few might be BMWs or Triumphs.
The bar’s name was Rough Trade, which was ominous as far as Buck was concerned.
“A biker bar?” Buck asked incredulously. “Are we joining a gang? I really don’t think that’s a viable hobby choice for me. I mean, look at me.”
Eddie laughed and pulled into a parking space. “Come on.”
“No, wait. Seriously. What are we doing here?”
“We’re going to go in and talk to someone.”
“About what?” Buck’s voice rose sharply. “Their toxic masculinity?”
“Sure, go with that,” Eddie said with a grin.
“That doesn’t seem like a good choice for my continued longevity.”
Eddie snorted. “It’s a gay biker bar.”
“I don’t care if it’s an adult babies biker bar. Detoxifying the toxic masculinity of bikers is not a hobby, Edmundo!”
Eddie outright laughed at him. “That’s not the hobby we’re after, Evan.”
Buck felt himself blush at hearing Eddie call him by his given name. “Then what are we doing here?”
“You know how these kinds of…” Eddie gestured vaguely, obviously searching for the word.
“Gangs?” Buck supplied helpfully.
Eddie gave him the hairy eyeball. “Organizations,” he said emphatically, “are often a front for—”
“Yes, Buck, that. But instead of this being a front for a—”
Eddie sighed. “You are so…”
Someday, Buck was going to help Eddie to connect the dots between Buck having worked in South America and Buck speaking Spanish. But today was not that day.
“So, you’re trying to tell me that this place isn’t a front for organized crime? I’m so relieved I can barely stand it. Now, I’m certain the ‘curb your toxic masculinity’ speech I’ve been working on will go over like gangbusters.”
“They’re not a front of anything. Instead of a biker gang that’s a front for organized crime, they’re a motorcycle club, and an LGBT one at that, and its purpose is charity works.”
Buck blinked several times. “Oh? Like what?”
“They raise money for whatever causes their members are passionate about and also local shelters and children’s charities. I don’t know all the specifics, but I know they do several big events a year that are fundraisers. They also often work at food banks and food and toy drives.”
Scratching the back of his neck, feeling a little sheepish, Buck offered, “Well, that doesn’t sound too bad but, in case it escaped your notice, neither of us has a motorcycle.”
“Wow. How ever could I have missed such a vital detail.” Eddie hopped out of the truck, leaving Buck no choice but to follow if he wanted to find out what Eddie was up to. Which he very much did. He recalled that Eddie had asked a seemingly innocent question a couple of weeks ago, wondering if Buck had ever ridden a motorcycle. It all made so much sense.
The inside of the bar was brighter than Buck had been expecting, with no dingy, cliched interiors. The bar was clean and comfortable, though most of the furniture and fixtures were wood. There were a few pool tables scattered around. There were about thirty men and women in the room, clustered in small groups. The women were a minority, outnumbered about five-to-one. No one paid Eddie and Buck much attention as they crossed to the bar.
Eddie leaned over and caught the bartender’s attention. “Looking for Marco?”
The bartender pointed toward the back booth. “He drinks whatever’s on tap.”
“Okay, I’ll take three.” Eddie pulled his wallet and dropped a couple of bills on the counter.
Buck helped him with the beers, whispering, “What are we doing?”
“Have a little patience, cariño,” Eddie murmured absently.
Feeling his face heat again, Buck kept pace, wondering if Eddie had noticed how often endearments slipped into his speech in the last few weeks. He seemed unaware of it, but it was also new.
They slid into a booth across from a man on the other side of fifty. The guy had a prosthetic left arm and scars up the left side of his neck and face. Marco accepted the beer. “I take it you’re Diaz?”
“Yeah, but Eddie’s fine. And this is Evan Buckley.”
“Buck,” he offered, extending his hand.
Marco shook it readily, giving Buck an assessing look before glancing back to Eddie. “So, you want to start riding, get involved with the club?”
“Thinking about it, yeah. We’re both firefighters. Long shifts, but there are only two or three a week. We’ve been trying out some stuff in our free time, but I think something a little more civic-minded would be a better fit.”
Marco looked to Buck. “That right?”
Buck really had no idea what was going on, but the weight of Marco’s gaze felt like an evaluation. Like a test, and one he didn’t want to fail. “Yeah. My downtime’s been feeling a little…aimless. Figured I’d find something to do before I did something stupid. I’d like it to mean something though, you know?”
Marco kept staring at Buck for a long time, and then his gaze flicked to Eddie. “How long you two been together?”
“Oh. Uh, we’re not,” Eddie stammered out. “We’re best friends.”
“Uh-huh.” Marco glanced between them. “Well, you’ll both be popular around here.” With an abrupt subject shift, Marco asked Buck, “You already ride?”
“I mean, I know how. I used to have a motorcycle, but I don’t now.”
Marco’s lips twitched. “Yeah, that part I got. That’s why you’re here, right?”
Buck looked to his best friend. “Is it?”
* * *
The drive to Marco’s place was pretty short. Despite living ten minutes from a highway, the area got rural pretty quickly.
“This a working farm?” Buck asked Marco when they got out of the truck.
“Used to be,” Marco replied as he walked up to them. “Too hard for me to work, and my kids don’t have any interest.”
“Kids?” Buck parroted.
“Harder to admit you were gay in my day, junior. It was unfair to my wife, but she’s forgiven me and is a good friend now. Gave me three beautiful children though, who I love dearly despite their love of city living and their dislike of motorcycles.” He gestured to the property. “Most of the land was sold off. Always figured I’d pass it on to my children, but every man’s gotta find his own path.” He shrugged and began walking toward the barn. “Let me show you my other kids.”
When the door slid open, six bikes were lined up. “Wow,” Buck managed.
Marco leaned against the door. “Several people vouched for this one.” He pointed out Eddie. “I don’t ride as much these days—shoulder’s giving me fits—and I hate to see my babies not getting the attention they deserve. Told Eddie I’d loan you two a couple of bikes while you get your legs under you. See if riding is for you, see if you like the club. Down the road, if you treat ‘em good, I might be willing to sell a couple of ‘em.”
Buck wasn’t even sure he was going to like any of this, if it would work any better than line dancing or bowling or knitting had, but Eddie had tried so hard and looked so hopeful. He was determined to embrace the experience with as much enthusiasm as he had anything in his life.
His eyes were continually drawn to one bike. He slid his hand along the side. “That’s a whole lot of patriotism.” The tank was painted like an American flag.
Marco looked amused. “Yeah, you seem like the type to be drawn to a chopper. Complete custom job.”
Buck had no idea what that meant but decided to ignore it.
Eddie was mostly watching Buck but had gravitated toward a classic Harley. Motorcycles weren’t really Buck’s thing, but he knew a Harley from a Kawasaki. This bike was mostly black with spots of bright chrome.
Marco nodded toward Eddie’s bike. “2010 Harley-Davidson Fat Boy. Classic choice. You boys want to take ‘em for a spin?”
Eddie shot Buck a questioning look.
Buck grinned. “Hell yeah!”
* * *
They pulled into a scenic overlook, and Eddie just sat on the bike and watched as Buck bounded over to the railing to take in the scenery, all energy and vitality and life. Even if this didn’t wind up working out, today had been a good idea. Just riding for a couple of hours made Eddie feel more relaxed than he had in a long time.
Watching Buck’s delight at the simplicity of a ride and some scenery, Eddie had to admit it was getting harder to hold back his feelings for his best friend. Buck was so expressive and beautiful that it took his breath away sometimes, and Eddie wished he could be so open. Though Buck had been open about being bisexual, he hadn’t given any indications of being into Eddie. And Eddie, despite being willing to admit his burgeoning feelings to himself, wasn’t ready to admit them to anyone else.
Buck finally turned and gave Eddie a quizzical look. “You just going to lounge there all day?”
“it’s a nice view,” Eddie replied neutrally.
Buck blinked a few times then he looked briefly uncertain before smiling softly.
Eddie climbed off the bike and crossed the few steps to join Buck, tossing the saddlebags to Buck. “Drinks and sandwiches.”
“You thought of everything,” Buck said with obvious delight as he tore into the bag. “I’m not sure how this is a hobby, but it’s still great.”
“Not really looking for a hobby anymore, Buck.”
Leaning against the railing, saddlebag tossed over his shoulder, Buck handed a sandwich and bottle of water off to Eddie. “So, what are we doing?”
“Marco is willing to loan us the bikes for a while, long enough for us to see if we’d want to buy them. But it’s…” Eddie shook his head. Buck had described wanting something he was passionate about, even if he didn’t really use those words. “There’s a farmer’s market in the Valley this weekend. There’ll be an arts and wine thing at the same time. A portion of the proceeds is going to the children’s hospital.”
“Okay…” Buck drew out, looking confused.
“The Horsemen are helping out with the art and wine thing. Our next shift isn’t until Monday. Thought we could go at least one of the days and see what they’re up to.”
“They call their club The Horsemen? Like of the apocalypse?”
“It’s a joke. Their club logo looks like a rainbow unicorn and a My Little Pony had a weird baby.”
Buck laughed. “Yeah, okay. This weekend could be good. Think Christopher could go?”
Eddie smiled. “I don’t see why not.” He loved how Buck always wanted to include Christopher. “I’ll get Abuela to bring him down. I’m not prepared to put him on the back of a motorcycle.” He knew there were passenger harnesses that could make it possible for him to take Chris on the bike—not in town, maybe out in the country—but he still didn’t feel good about it.
Buck seemed to be reading his mind because he offered, “If this winds up being our thing, maybe a sidecar? But only away from idiot drivers.” Buck grinned. “He’d love it.”
“Yeah, he really would.”
“9-1-1, what’s your emergency?”
“My cat got stuck up a tree. I told my husband to get up there and bring Queen Katniss back inside. It’s his fault she got out, you know, but now neither one of them will come back down!”
“Is he refusing to come down, or is he not responding to you?”
“He stopped talking to me like five minutes ago.”
“Fire department has been dispatched. Please stay on the line.”
* * *
“Are we thinking heart attack or just dead?” Chim asked when they were about a mile from the location.
“Maybe he just hates his wife,” Buck deadpanned, enjoying the way Eddie laughed.
“If it’s a heart attack,” Hen said over the radio, “he’s lucky he didn’t fall out of the tree, but that leaves it up to you boys to figure out how to get him down.”
“Wife say if he has any serious medical conditions?” Bobby asked.
“I listened in on the call with dispatch, and she said nothing seriously wrong with him. He’s only thirty-five. Although, from what I heard of the call, Buck’s theory might not be wrong.”
Buck’s lips twitched.
“Well, we’re here, so let’s all forget about Buck’s theory.”
It was 10:00 PM, so the woman being in her nightgown wasn’t too surprising, but the way she was screaming up at her tree seemed a bit much.
Buck and Eddie went over to peer up and try to assess the situation. It was a big oak, with a lot of leaf cover, and the guy had gone way up. Buck could just spot one arm dangling. He pointed the flashlight. “Got him, Cap. Looks unresponsive. I only see an arm, but I also don’t see blood or any signs of injury. Oh, and there’s the cat. It’s fine.”
“Oh, Queen Katniss, come to Mommy.”
Buck rolled his eyes.
Hen tried to get the woman’s attention. “Ma’am, if you could get me a list of your husband’s medications.”
“I told that lady on the phone that he doesn’t have any serious problems.”
“Yes, but you also said he did take medications, but you couldn’t remember which ones. If you could get them for me, please.”
The woman seemed reluctant to leave her cat but went inside and came out with a small plastic bin filled with meds.
Hen quickly went through them, immediately frowning. “What is he taking Nuvigil for?”
“Oh, that’s for his narcolepsy.”
Hen’s mouth fell open. “Narcolepsy is a serious condition.”
She waved it off. “It’s not that big a deal.”
“You sent your husband, who has narcolepsy, up a tree?”
“Pfft.” Then she opened her mouth and began to yell at her husband again.
“Hey,” Hen hissed, getting in the wife’s face. “You’ve got to be quiet.”
“Why? My cat is still up there.”
“So is your husband. And if he is asleep and suddenly wakes up, he could fall out of the tree!”
“Buck, Eddie, get up the tree and get a harness on Mr. Davis. Chim, DeKay get the rescue cushion in case he wakes up before they get him secured.”
Buck shot Eddie a look. This lady definitely took the weekly award for asshole spouse.
* * *
Eddie watched Buck keep a group of kids entertained at the chili cookoff to raise money for the community garden. It was their third event with The Horsemen, and he thought they’d finally found Buck’s “hobby.” It wasn’t really a hobby at all, but he’d deal with Buck calling it that. The riding was also just about perfect and was doing a lot to help them both decompress from some major crap lately.
Marjorie, one of the leaders of the club, joined him and handed him a beer. “He’s good with kids,” she said on a laugh at Buck’s antics. She was tall, almost as tall as Eddie, and he thought she was pushing sixty.
“He’s about 60 percent kid himself.”
She gave him a speculative look. “You two are a good fit for the club, but you did one event with us and then vanished for weeks. When you came back, it was like a dark cloud was over both of you. You’ve both been great, but I just wanted to make sure everything was all right.”
Eddie sighed. “Yeah, Buck didn’t want to talk about it for a while, but he’s getting better. Right after we did the first ride with the club, his sister was in trouble. She moved to LA around the same time I did and works as a 9-1-1 dispatcher.”
“I remember. He’s mentioned her a time or two. Maddie, right?”
“Yes. Her ex-husband showed up and kidnapped her. One of our team members, who’s dating her, got stabbed by the guy. Everything was just really intense. Dark cloud is something of an understatement about how that time was.”
“Damn. Straight boys be crazy.”
He snorted. “Not all of them.”
She side-eyed him. “You gonna play it that way? I see the way you look at him, and I know that boy is not straight.”
Eddie liked Marjorie; she made him feel at ease. She was a city engineer by day and helped keep The Horsemen organized the rest of the time, earning hundreds of thousands a year for charity. He took a drink of his beer. “I was still figuring that kind of thing out when I got my future wife pregnant. That was that.”
“But you’re divorced now, no?”
“Yep. Finalized recently. No muss, no fuss, and she’s even paying child support.” He sighed, smiling again as Buck got Christopher up into a piggyback hold, running around while the other children chased them.
“So you can get back to figuring things out…?”
Eddie shrugged. “The timing is rough.”
“That excuse won’t hold, Eddie. People always wait for the perfect time, but as you damn well know, life is unpredictable. At least, you should know that after everything you’ve been through lately.”
He gave a non-committal shrug.
“So, he’s bi and you’re…?”
“Still repressed,” he joked.
She laughed. “Well, know thyself. But you both seem in much lighter spirits today.”
“That’s because neither of us are in jail right now.”
She shot him an incredulous look. “In jail?”
“Someone used a medical emergency at a bank as a cover for a clandestine bank robbery. It was a whole complicated thing where co-conspirators were double-crossing each other, but they inadvertently framed our whole firehouse for the theft of $300,000.”
“Are you serious?”
“Oh yeah. We’ve been through interrogation after interrogation lately and had our house and cars searched. No one in our firehouse was involved, but it was just so absurd that by the time it was over, it was like this huge release of tension. It all got wrapped last night. I suggested we not come today, but Buck said we needed to cut loose. In his words, Maddie had survived and was back at work; Chimney had recovered from being stabbed and was back at work; and we held on to our jobs because the frame job for our whole team fell apart. So…win.”
Marjorie laughed. “I guess going to jail for a crime you didn’t commit is a win. Now, go work your shift at the beer booth.”
Marco was working the beer booth for the same shift as Eddie. So far, the motorcycles were staying at Marco’s place, but he was amenable to them coming out to ride anytime they liked. Eddie thought it likely they’d be buying the bikes. Even if the club didn’t work out, which it seemed like it would, the riding was great. Marco seemed to enjoy how much they appreciated the bikes.
When their two hours in the booth was up, Marco said, “Join me in the parking lot?”
“Sure. What’s up.”
“Brought something for you to try out. Something Buck mentioned.”
Eddie was confused but followed the other man out to the gravel parking lot near the park. There was a trailer with a sidecar on it.
“Buck said you weren’t comfortable using a harness for your son. Thought you might want to give it a go today after we’re done here. Talked to the rest of the club about it. They’ll ride with you, block for you guys out on the road.”
Eddie smiled at both Buck’s thoughtfulness and the willingness of the club to go the extra mile to give Christopher the experience of riding with them but being as safe as possible. “That would be incredible. Thanks.”
Marco nodded then handed Eddie a sheaf of papers.
“Deeds to the motorcycles.”
Eddie stared. “But we haven’t even—”
“The chopper and the sidecar are for you guys. Pay me bluebook on the Harley, what you can when you can.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Buck’s been coming to the farm a couple of times a week to help me out with my shoulder. Boy’s got magic hands. Did it out of the kindness of his heart, and I know he didn’t expect anything in return. My kids aren’t interested in any of the things I am, and I’ve made peace with that. Buck, well… He’s a good kid.”
“He never expects anything in return.” Eddie shook his head. “He’s done so much for Christopher and me, and he still worries he’s imposing.”
“He’s got a good heart.” Marco glanced back at where people were milling around, eating and drinking. “He’s asked about volunteering with this organization I know that provides free medical services to vets. He downplays what he can do, but people underestimate how powerful it is when someone eases your pain.” He gave Eddie a speaking look, clapped him on the shoulder, then walked back to the park.
Eddie went back to the park and joined his son and Buck. He pried Christopher off Buck’s back, tickling him and getting giggles as his reward.
Buck slung his arm around Eddie’s shoulders. “I’m starving. Let’s have some chili.”
“So, I hear you arranged for a little add on to my bike…”
Buck shot him a look. “That okay?”
“Yeah, Buck. It’s good. Great even.”
* * *
“Where’s Buck?” Eddie asked Chimney, who was suddenly their interim captain in a series of events set off by that damn bank robbery.
“I think he’s up on the roof.” Chim was glancing around Bobby’s office, looking overwhelmed. “Go sort him out.”
Eddie jogged up the stairs. He was rattled by Bobby being suspended but not in the way Buck was. Buck shared a lot of information, but Eddie had noticed that it often lacked emotional context.
He found Buck looking out over the city, still in a way Buck rarely was. “Buck?” When he didn’t get a response, he decided to try his real name. “Evan? You okay?”
Buck turned around finally, expression blank. “How could they just suspend Bobby that way?” When the FBI and the LAPD had done their investigation into firehouse 118 over the $300,000 supposedly stolen from an armored car at a bank, they’d dug deep into everyone’s backgrounds and found that Bobby hadn’t been completely forthright about his departure from the East Coast.
“He didn’t disclose things they thought they should know.”
“Things that don’t matter! So what if he used to have a drinking problem.”
“It’s hard to tell a bureaucrat that they don’t have the right to know things, Buck. Also, we don’t know what all Bobby chose to withhold.” He stepped closer. “But we know, and everyone knows, that Bobby has done good work in LA, and that’s going to count for more than some withheld information.”
“You think so?”
“Yeah, I do. And the whole house would go to bat for him, right?”
“Of course.” Buck sighed and slumped down to sit on the ledge. “It just doesn’t feel right without him here.”
“Have you always been on Bobby’s shift?”
“Yeah. I’ve covered for people on other shifts, but they’d just lost someone on A shift when I started, so I started with Cap on the first day.”
“Not everyone wants to ride with the captain.”
“You want to tell me why you’re so torn up?”
Buck shook his head like he was going to remain quiet, but then he said, “I heard this quote once, and I don’t know who said it, but it went something like, ‘Friendship is not about who you’ve known the longest. It’s about who walked into your life, said “I’m here for you,” and proved it.’ Bobby was like that, you know? For all of us, from the moment he met us. Balls to the wall, I’m here for you. And I tested him hard, but he gave me chance after chance and helped me get my head screwed on straight. But who’s there for him?”
“You are, just like you are there for Christopher and me and your sister and whoever else needs you, Buck. Just because he’s not riding on the truck with us right now doesn’t mean we won’t be there for him.”
Buck nodded but looked like the weight of the world was on his shoulders.
Eddie sat next to him, putting his arm around Buck’s shoulders in a sideways hug. “And I’m here for you. You know that, right?”
Buck gave him a half-smile. “I know, Eds.”
* * *
“Did you look at any of the places I found for you?” Maddie asked as she poured wine and set it out with the dinner she’d prepared.
He loved dinner with his sister, loved having her back in his life, but he didn’t appreciate this. “No, and let it go. There’s nothing wrong with being Eddie’s roommate. In this economy, a lot of people have roommates.”
“Except you don’t need to.”
“Let. It. Go.” He took a bite of the pasta, aware that Maddie was watching him.
“I’m worried about you.”
“Why? I’m not on drugs, I’m not an alcoholic, and I’m not in a dysfunctional relationship. So, what’s the problem?”
She set her fork down sharply. “The problem is that you’ve fallen in love with someone you can’t have, Evan.”
It was his turn to slam his utensil down. “Maddie, I love you, but butt the fuck out and don’t ever say that again.”
He never swore at her, and the shock on her face was painful. “Evan.”
“No, you don’t get an opinion, not about this. I know your life has been difficult, but you’ve been gone. You don’t get to boss me around because you’ve been around for nine months after being gone for nearly two decades.”
She pursed her lips. “Okay, that’s fair. It hurts, but it’s true, and I know that I made a choice to cut myself off from you. So, you’re correct, I have no right to tell you what to do, but does that mean that I can’t talk to you about how you’re obviously in love with your roommate?”
“No, you can’t! Whatever I feel for my straight roommate is my business, and I’m a grown-ass man who can compartmentalize like a boss. But you don’t say that; you don’t speculate about it.” He hesitated. “Have you speculated about my feelings for him with anyone?”
She opened and then closed her mouth. “Athena and I talked about it a little.”
“You seriously talked about my feelings for Eddie with my captain’s fiancée?”
“He’s not your captain right now.”
“Which is temporary,” Buck snapped. “How could you, Maddie? You don’t actually know how I feel or how Eddie feels, and you’re potentially putting us at risk.”
“Athena isn’t going to say anything to anyone.”
“You don’t know that.” Buck rubbed his hands over his face. “Can you please just let it go?”
“It just feels like you’re in a weird limbo.”
“It hasn’t even been a year, Maddie. How about you give it a rest for now. If I’m stuck in this supposed ‘limbo’ in three years, we can revisit.”
“You’re really serious, aren’t you?”
“I’m not used to that from you.”
“Yeah, well, the most important thing is that Eddie and Christopher are my family, and I don’t want to keep having these conversations because it could backfire and hurt them. So please stop worrying about me, and please do not talk about what you think my feelings for Eddie are.” The truth was that Buck was completely, irrevocably in love with Eddie, but he’d shoved those feelings in a box months ago.
“Message received and acknowledged, little brother. I’ll back off.” She got up and walked around the table to give him a hug. “I’m sorry.” She framed his face with her hands. “For a lot of things.”
“I love you, Maddie, and I’m not resentful, okay? But I don’t have amnesia either.”
Maddie gave a laugh that sounded kind of watery. “You always did have a really good memory.” She pressed a kiss to his forehead. “Love you.”
“Love you too.”
* * *
“I’m going to strangle Chimney,” Buck said as he entered the house ahead of Eddie. As much as he loved Christopher, he was glad Christopher had to be at school a half hour before they got off shift.
“It’s growing pains,” Eddie murmured as he put on the coffee. “He’ll settle into being captain.”
Buck shot him an acidic look. “Line ups? Standing around like we’re in the military for inspection.” But that wasn’t what was really bothering Buck. “We gotta talk to Christopher and your tia and Abuela about touching any weird packages.”
Eddie nearly dropped the mug he’d just retrieved from the cabinet. “You think there are going to be more than one of those package bombs?”
“It just freaked me out, Eds.” They’d had to deal with a callout that was a woman blown up when she’d retrieved a package left on her porch.
“I guess I can understand that. I don’t want that poor woman to have been targeted specifically by a bomber, but that would be better than random, don’t you think?”
“Yeah.” Buck slouched down at the table, looking tired. “That last shift was BS.”
“Yeah. You gonna sleep?” Eddie often napped in the mornings after they got off shift, but Buck tried not to unless they got no sleep the night before.
“Nah.” Buck dragged his hands through his hair. “My head’s a mess. Maybe I’ll go for a run.”
“We’ve got over five hours before Christopher is out of school, and you don’t have any clients today. Want to go for a ride?”
Buck felt some of the tension leave his shoulders. “Yeah, that’d be good.” The bikes were theirs now and occupied a fair chunk of space in Eddie’s garage. Buck liked riding with Eddie more than he thought he would. It soothed him and let him get his mind to stop spinning for a little while.
“Want to head up the PCH? Hit the beach?”
“That sounds perfect.”
When Buck returned from changing, he found Eddie ready to go, but he seemed tense for some reason. He decided to let him be. If he was still tense later, he’d get pushy about it.
They rode for about an hour and a half before stopping to pick up tacos at a food truck at the beach then go sit on the sand and eat.
Eddie dug a piece of paper out of his pocket and passed it over. “You dropped this when you left to get changed.”
Buck realized what it was immediately. “Maddie’s been looking for condos for me.”
“So, you’re moving out?” Eddie’s tone was flat.
Buck turned a bit so he could see Eddie clearly. “That’s not my plan. But I can’t stop my friends and family from thinking they know what’s best for me.” He felt like they were on the precipice of something, but he wasn’t even sure what.
Eddie frowned and stared at the sand. “She’s pressuring you to get away from us?”
“Not you specifically; she just has it in her head that my life is in limbo and I’m not moving forward.” In point of fact, Maddie had said Buck was playing house with Eddie and Christopher rather than moving on with his own life. He didn’t know how to make her understand that Eddie and Christopher were his life. “It’s a little hypocritical considering how fucked up Maddie’s life has been for so long. The minute she gets her life straightened out, she feels like she needs to micromanage mine.”
“Did you say that to her?”
“No, because I try not to be a dick to my sister, though our words did get heated when I reminded her that she’s been pretty absent in my life since I was a kid, and I don’t need her telling me what to do now that I’m twenty-seven.” Buck sighed. “Do you want me to move out?”
Eddie finally met his gaze. “No.”
Buck crumpled the paper. “Then I won’t.”
“9-1-1, what’s your emergency?”
“There’s been a car accident.”
“Are you hurt?”
“No. I was on the sidewalk and saw it happen, but there are at least ten cars, and so many people are hurt.”
“Okay, what’s your name?”
“Okay, Tim. I see you’re at a payphone, so I’ve already dispatched the fire department to your location. Please stay on the line.”
“Tim? Tim, are you there?”
* * *
The alarm rang for a reported multi-car collision. Since multiple cars were reported, Chim decided to take both trucks and the ambulance.
Buck climbed into the ladder truck. Chim, Hen, and Eddie wound up in the other truck. Every day they worked without Bobby, Buck missed him. He knew Chim was trying, and sometimes overcompensating, but Buck wanted things back the way they were. It was probably one of his greatest flaws that once he got comfortable and happy, he resisted change, sometimes with everything in him. His team felt more like family than coworkers, but Bobby was the glue in that.
Then there was Eddie and Christopher, who felt like a real family, but Eddie had been quiet and withdrawn lately, and Buck wasn’t sure why. Everything suddenly felt off, and Buck didn’t like it.
They were barely a couple of miles down the road when dispatch came over their headsets with a call from Bobby. “What is Bobby trying to say?” Buck asked no one in particular, straining to hear his captain’s voice.
Suddenly, there was a jolt and an explosion of sound and light, and then Buck was flying. Then Buck’s world was consumed with pain.
Eddie was looking over at the ladder truck when it was launched partially in the air like it had been hit with an IED. He had a brief flash to convoys being hit in Afghanistan, but he pushed it away because Buck was in that truck.
Eddie scrambled out of the truck, taking in the situation. Most of the people from the other truck had been thrown clear but were unconscious or injured. But not Buck. His left leg was pinned under the truck.
“Wait!” Chim grabbed him and refused to let him go. Then Hen was helping too because a fucking asshole, who looked like he was still a damn teenager, strolled up to their injured teammates with a bomb strapped to his chest.
“I want the captain!”
“What the hell?” Eddie hissed.
Buck was moving, and that was the only thing that was keeping Eddie sane, but he was obviously in agony.
Chim was on the radio with dispatch, but Hen pulled Eddie a few feet away. “Keep it together.”
“No, you’re not. But you’ve got to push it down and work the problem. We can’t do anything now, but when we can, we’ll have to move fast. What are we facing?” Hen was a full paramedic, so she knew better than Eddie what Buck was facing, but he understood what she was doing.
“Crush injury,” he managed to get out. “If he’s bleeding, there’s the possibility of hypovolemic shock. Compartment syndrome, depending on how long he’s pinned. Um. Hypercalcemia is a possibility with a traumatic fracture.” He shook his head. “We could get him out from under that truck and he could still die.”
“I know. And all we can do right now is wait for our moment to go in and do our job. Right now, the guy with the bomb is an obstacle, so we wait, and we stay ready.”
He gave a jerky nod.
“And when we save his skinny ass, you need to man up and tell him how you feel.”
“I’m normally the sit back and let people sort themselves out type of woman, but you two are thick. The universe is sending you a message, Diaz. Pick it up.”
“I hear you.”
Chim had been briefed by dispatch that this was the same bomber that had been sending package bombs all around LA, including to Athena’s house. Eddie couldn’t make sense of what was happening. Chim explained the nuance to him several times, but Eddie kept shaking his head.
“No, it doesn’t make sense. All these people who have been hurt and killed and targeted—it was because they did their job and locked up an arsonist who tried to burn down his own restaurant to collect the insurance money.”
“Yeah, it was like three years ago. Then he died of cancer, and this guy is pissed at everyone because his dad is dead, but apparently, he’s mostly mad at Bobby,” Chim explained.
“And he’s willing to kill us all because his father died of cancer before he got out of jail? Buck, John, and Kyle are just lying out there in the street!”
They were being targeted by this adult toddler because a grown-ass man had to face the consequences for committing a crime. But all they could do was wait.
Standing half-hidden behind the truck and waiting for the bomber to do something was absolutely maddening. It wasn’t in Eddie’s nature to just sit safe and let people suffer. His teammates were hurt but all he could do was watch.
Every twitch Buck made was a relief because Buck was alive, but also painful because Buck was suffering and Eddie couldn’t help.
Police and ATF arrived. More fire trucks. The crowd was growing by the second. News helicopters were overhead, and reporters on the ground were straining to get closer to the action. Eddie was focused primarily on Buck and the guy with the bomb, but occasionally, his gaze would take in the changes in the crowd.
Suddenly, it was as if the entirety of The Horsemen were there behind the police lines at Eddie’s back. Tonight was one of the events for the group that Eddie and Buck couldn’t attend because of their shift. The club was supposed to be at a food bank, but here they were in their T-shirts and sweatshirts featuring a unicorn farting rainbows.
Eddie jogged the short distance to Marjorie. “You’re here.”
“Yeah. We weren’t that far away. Saw it on the news.” She squeezed his arm. “We’re here for the duration, kid, okay? Anything you need.”
“Yeah.” It didn’t fix anything, but it was comforting to know these people were at his back. “I gotta go.”
She just nodded and practically shoved him away.
The bomber started getting impatient, demanding to see the captain, so Chimney did the stupidest of stupid things and offered himself up.
“Not you!” The bomber yelled. “I want Captain Nash!” The guys started to sound like he was coming unglued, and Eddie worried about what that would mean for Buck, who was still conscious, still in agony, and way too close to the guy with a bomb strapped to his chest.
“Why doesn’t he just pass out?” Eddie muttered under his breath.
“It’s better if he doesn’t,” Hen replied.
“I know. I just—”
“I get it, Eddie. If Karen were under that truck, I’d be losing my mind.”
“Karen’s your wife.”
“Oh, Eddie.” Hen sighed and turned back to watch the scene.
“I’m not denying,” Eddie said softly. “Just… Let me talk to him about it first.” Please, let him have the chance to actually do that.
Hen nodded, but then her face went slack with surprise. “What the hell is Bobby doing?”
“What?” Eddie turned to see Bobby striding confidently up to the bomber. They began arguing about Bobby’s role in the father’s incarceration.
It was over so fast that Eddie couldn’t process it for a second. Bobby had gotten ahold of the kid and grabbed the deadman switch, and then SWAT was all over the guy, hauling him away.
Eddie was in motion without thinking about it, running for Buck. He dropped to his knees, taking Buck’s hand, which was reaching out, seemingly for Eddie. “Hey,” he said breathlessly. “We got you.” He reflexively began taking Buck’s pulse.
“Eddie,” Buck rasped
“Pulse is weak. We gotta get this truck off him. Now.”
“Eddie,” Buck tried again.
He got down lower so Buck could see him. “I’m right here. Be still, okay? We’re going to get the truck off you.”
Chim and Bobby positioned cops and firefighters to help lift the ladder truck while Hen and Eddie were ready to pull Buck free the minute they had enough clearance.
“I got you, Buck. They’re going to start to lift, and I’m going to pull as soon as I can.”
They tried to lift the truck, but it wasn’t enough. Buck screamed, and it was a raspy, tortured sound that tore Eddie’s guts out.
“We need more people,” Chim said, and Eddie thought they were going to actually delay until they got more cops on scene.
But then the crowd broke the police line, led by their club. Marjorie and Marco were headed right for them with the rest of the club at their back.
“Thanks, guys,” Eddie murmured, even though they couldn’t possibly hear him. He kept hold of Buck, grateful for Buck’s grip and the way Buck didn’t let go.
They began to lift the truck again and, this time, it was enough to lift the truck off of Buck’s leg. Eddie and Hen pulled, ignoring Buck’s tortured screams, dragging him clear of the fallen ladder truck.
There was a flurry of activity getting Buck on the gurney then they were loading him in the ambulance. Bobby practically threw Eddie inside. “Go with Buck.” His expression was knowing, and Eddie wasn’t going to fight it, especially since Chim was on board with Eddie going too.
He took a seat near Buck’s head, out of the paramedic’s way.
Buck was out of it, but he latched onto Eddie’s hand. “Eddie,” he whispered, eyes unfocused.
“I’m here, Buck. Everything’s going to be okay.”
* * *
One titanium rod and four screws.
It seemed remarkably little considering the nature of the injury and the duration of the surgery.
Eddie sat at Buck’s bedside, praying for Buck to wake up soon. It felt like they’d been at the hospital forever. People had come and gone. Carla had been here but was taking care of Christopher so Eddie could remain at the hospital. The team had been there for several hours and would be back later in the day. Christopher had sent along Herman, Buck’s stuffed alligator, certain that Buck would need it for comfort. Eddie had tucked Herman in next to Buck’s side.
Maddie was in it for the duration, though she’d been startled that Buck had signed a medical proxy giving Eddie responsibility for the medical decisions. Eddie had been surprised too. Maddie hadn’t been angry, which was a relief.
“You want some coffee? Real coffee that is. I was thinking about going to get some at the coffee shop down the street. Maybe something to eat.”
“Yeah. Anything is fine.”
“Okay.” She squeezed his shoulder. “I’ll be back soon.”
When he was alone with Buck, Eddie picked up his hand, holding it tight in both of his own. “You scared me, Evan.” He rested his forehead briefly on their joined hands. “Marjorie said not to wait because you never know what might happen, but I really thought we had time. For what, I don’t even know anymore. You’re vital to my happiness, Evan Buckley, and I don’t know what I’d do if anything happened to you.
“So, here we sit, like a bad movie cliché, with me confessing my feelings because of a near-death experience.” He huffed a laugh. “Every time you talk about moving out, asking if I want you to leave, I want to scream that I never want you to leave. That I want you always.
“I haven’t got it all figured out yet; it’s taken some time to sort out what fits me. It doesn’t feel so cut and dried as gay, straight, or bi. But maybe that part doesn’t matter because the thing I’m certain of is that I love you. Maybe the label doesn’t matter. And if it does, I’ve got time to figure that part out. But I can’t bear the idea of not telling you.”
Eddie knew he was rambling in ways he never did, but he couldn’t seem to stop. He’d never been a talker, but this had been building for months. “And it probably sounds like I’m assuming you’re just going to fall for me. I worried about that—a lot—but then I realized how much commitment you show to Christopher and me every day. You fit us, you belong with us, so please, please wake up and fight tooth and nail to get through this.”
Buck squeezed his hand. “The real movie cliché here is love confession to someone you only thought was unconscious,” Buck rasped, letting his eyes slit open against the brightly lit room. “Only thing that could make this better is if you’d done that in Spanish because you still, somehow, haven’t figured out that I speak Spanish.”
Eddie gave a bark of laughter, but it sounded like it was half sob. He pressed his face against Buck’s hip and tried to get his emotions under control.
Buck pulled his hand free and then trailed his fingers through Eddie’s hair. “For the record, I love you too.”
Eddie felt like he could breathe again. He sat up and leaned over Buck, not giving himself time to second guess his impulse. He pressed their mouths together, feeling how lush Buck’s lips were.
Buck made a funny little sound in his throat and clutched at Eddie’s shoulder.
Making himself pull back, Eddie took a breath and stared down at Buck’s stupefied expression. “HI.”
“That was a really good hello. I could get used to that.”
“I think that can be arranged.” He started to stand up, but Buck grabbed his arms, holding them tightly.
“Eds, tell me… Will I walk again?”
“You’re only a few hours out of major surgery on your leg. They think so, but it’s too soon to say anything definitively.”
Buck swallowed. “Will I work again?”
“I really don’t know, Buck. I want to say yes because I believe in you and your incredible determination, but there’s more to it than just desire.”
Buck stared at the ceiling. “I don’t know what I’ll be if I’m not helping people.”
“Evan…” Eddie shook his head. “God, I can’t believe you sometimes. I’ve never known anyone who is so committed to helping people, and that has nothing to do with being a firefighter. You are so generous to people that I can’t imagine my life without you, and that has nothing to do with you being a firefighter.”
He stroked back Buck’s hair. “I have every faith that you’ll be able to requalify someday, but, for right now, can we bask in your survival. Because I’m here for it.”
Buck gave a watery chuckle. “I’ve loved you for a long, long time, but I told myself you were straight.”
“I think I’m straight-in-recovery.”
He got a real laugh this time.
“Or maybe I’m just all in for you, Evan Buckley.”
“I can live with that.”
“Do you remember how you told me that thing you felt about Bobby? About friendship being about who walked into your life, said ‘I’m here for you,’ and proved it?”
“That’s you, Evan. You walked into my life and proved every damn day that you were there for me, for Christopher…for all of us. I know this,” he gestured to Buck’s leg, casted from toes to hip, “is scary, and I’m scared too, but I’m here for you. In any way you’ll take me.”
“Eddie.” Buck’s eyes looked wet, and he blinked them rapidly.
Eddie leaned in and pressed a kiss to Buck’s forehead. “You need to rest. Christopher sent you Herman. Said he’d make you feel better.”
Buck gave a watery laugh. “Well, now I know I’m going to be fine.”
“Of course you will.”
Uncertainty flashed over Buck’s face briefly. “You’ll stay?”
“For as long as you’ll have me.”
“Yeah, Buck. Forever.”
See below for endnote
- Shannon didn’t die in this story. Take it as creative license or a minor ripple from her and Eddie not being back together.
- Most of the 9-1-1 calls were inspired by a compilation of out-there emergency calls, except for the vaginismus, which was inspired by an episode of Code Black.
- While a lot of the fire truck scene was taken straight from canon, I did not consult or use the transcript because the change in relationships would mean the scene would go slightly different from canon.