These Are the Days

Title: These Are the Days
Series: Every Moment
Series Order: 1
Fandom: 9-1-1
Genre: Contemporary, Drama, Soulmates
Pairing: pre-Evan Buckley/Eddie Diaz, canon pairings
Rating: R
Warnings: Discussion of: Hate Crimes, homophobia, and murder. Canon-level situations
Author Note: See series page
Timeline: Takes place late in season 2 of 9-1-1. There are references to canon events, but canon knowledge isn’t necessary.
Beta: Grammarly. Friend or foe?
Word Count: 15,840
Artist: That’s all me, baby.
Summary: A change in the political climate in a major country could have a major impact on the decline of soulmates. The news of the change brings up some old wounds that pre-date Eddie’s arrival at the 118, and he learns new things about his best friend.

Episode 1: These Are the Days

“9-1-1, what’s your emergency?”

“I’m stuck in a tree. My daughter dropped her doll, and I was getting it for her. It was higher than I expected; now I can’t figure how to get down.”

“Are you injured in any way, sir?”

“Does the blow to my pride count?”

“Not really, no. I’m dispatching a ladder truck to your location.”

– – – –

“How does dropping a doll equate to climbing a tree?” Chim asked as soon as the truck was moving.

Everyone looked to Buck, but he was intent on his phone and not even paying attention. Eddie pursed his lips and met Chim’s gaze, seeing the same concern he was feeling. Buck had been distracted and hyper-focused on something he wouldn’t discuss since the start of their shift sixteen hours ago.

Cap looked into the backseat, eyes landing right on Buck. “What do you think, Buck?”

Without looking up, Buck replied, “The neighborhood we’re going to has a lot of large, three-story houses. When he says ‘dropped,’ he probably means tantrum, and she threw it out the window.”

“Good theory,” Eddie said, nudging Buck but getting no response. “And here I thought you weren’t paying attention.”

“I’m always paying attention.” Buck still didn’t look up.

“Okay, what has got you so focused?” Hen demanded.

“Nothing.”

“It’s not nothing,” she retorted. “Every moment that you haven’t been working, you’ve been on your phone.”

Buck’s lips pressed into a thin line as he shoved his phone into his pocket. “It’s nothing.”

Eddie nudged Buck again, wishing they could talk privately. The shift had been busy; the one time Eddie had gotten him alone to ask what was going on, Buck had been about to say something when the alarm had gone off again.

Buck glanced at him, expression softening at whatever he saw from Eddie. “Everything’s fine.”

“Doesn’t seem fine.”

“I’m just reading the news, Eds.”

“You read the news?” Chim snarked and got a glare so heated from Buck that Chim actually jerked back. “Whoa, man, I was kidding. I know you read the news, okay? You’re just like Maddie in that way. You both prefer to read it over watching.”

Buck looked out the window rather than replying. The teasing between Buck and Chim usually worked, but Chimney wasn’t great about knowing when to back off. Almost anyone could have told him that the mood Buck was in this shift was not the right time for Chim to be making jabs.

“There’s nothing major going on, is there?” Hen asked.

“There’s always something going on,” Buck replied, sounding distracted.

“Your head in the game, kid?” Bobby asked.

Buck’s head whipped around. “It’s been a busy shift, Bobby. Have I fucked up?”

“No. I’m just—”

“Then my head is in the game, Captain.”

Eddie blinked in shock, not sure when he’d ever seen Buck get so pissed off so quickly. “Buck,” Eddie said as softly as he could with them relying on the headset.

Buck went back to staring out the window, the line of his shoulders rigid.

Bobby met Eddie’s gaze, his eyes conveying his concern, but Buck wasn’t wrong; his mood had been off the entire shift, but he hadn’t missed a trick on a single call. Eddie shook his head. This was a low-risk call anyway, and Bobby had used the wrong approach to try to get through to Buck.

The call was easy, and Buck had the situation pegged exactly. The little girl had thrown her doll off a third-story balcony, and the father was stuck up the tree. Bobby was obviously thinking about sending Eddie up to get the man, but the father was a large guy. Buck usually took ladder rescues anyway; he was without a doubt the strongest guy on the squad, and he was the right person to send up if anything went wrong when the victim was on the bigger side.

Buck said nothing, jaw clenched, when it seemed like Bobby would send Eddie, but then Bobby blew out a breath and ordered Buck up the ladder. After that blip, everything went like clockwork. Buck got the father down, then they loaded back up to hopefully get some sleep tonight.

As soon as they were back in the truck, Buck was once again on his phone. This time, he stared in shock at whatever he was reading.

“What’s wrong?” Eddie pressed into Buck’s side, trying to see his phone, something Buck wouldn’t normally mind but had been avoiding all day. This time, Buck didn’t flinch away. Eddie tried to make sense of the news article on the screen. “Shit. I knew there was civic unrest that had been escalating, but I had no idea.”

“What’s going on?” Hen asked as she leaned forward.

“The Russian government has been overthrown,” Eddie got out despite his throat suddenly feeling dry.

“Are you reading conspiracy sites again, Buck?” Chim asked.

Buck didn’t even look up.

Eddie shot Chim a mild glare. “If you consider CNN a conspiracy site.”

Everyone was going for their phones. From the driver’s seat, Marcus DeKay said, “What the hell?! Someone fill me in.”

“President Turgenev was executed by his own people,” Buck replied. “Several of his top generals as well.”

“Really?” Eddie leaned in closer, trying to read more. He could go for his own phone, but this was the first time today Buck hadn’t been in his own bubble.

Hen looked up from her phone and stared at Buck. “Is your interest in this more of your whole soulmate conspiracy theory thing?”

Eddie frowned, not sure what that even meant.

Buck looked up sharply and changed the screen to a different article from the Washington Post. He handed the phone to Eddie then stared back out the window.

Eddie got the gist of it pretty quickly then looked to the others. “This article is from a half an hour ago from the Washington Post. It says documents leaked from the Kremlin indicate that Turgenev has been executing certain soulmate couples in his country for the last nineteen years. Either just marked or fully bonded. Specifically, same-sex or same-gender pairs.” It was like a punch to the gut. Eddie wasn’t even in his teens when soulmate matches went on a sharp decline, and there hadn’t been one in the U.S. in years by the time he was eligible to vote. Officially, there had never been a known cause, but speculation and conspiracy theories ran rampant

Hen’s eyes went wide, and her gaze went to Buck. Eddie felt more than a little lost.

“Buck,” Chim began, “just because—”

“Don’t,” Buck snapped in a tone Eddie had never heard from his happy-go-lucky best friend. “You guys drew this line in the sand. Don’t think you get to cross it now.”

“Buck,” Cap said in an even, almost gentle tone, “there were no lines drawn.”

“Yeah, there were, Cap, and you know it. Let’s not rewrite history. And please remember that I’m not the one who brought it up.”

Eddie was utterly confused, but silence reigned for the two minutes it took them to get back to the station. Chim had only been back to work for a week, three shifts, after his recuperation from being nearly stabbed to death by Maddie’s ex-husband. Buck had been so excited to have Chim back, so to see the glares and hear the angry words was throwing Eddie for a loop.

Buck was first out of the truck, calling out, “I’m racking out before we get another call.”

Eddie barely had his headset off, but instead of getting out of the truck, he looked at the others. “What the hell is going on?”

“I’m curious too,” DeKay said. He’d joined after Eddie, so he was obviously just as in the dark.

Cap sighed. “Let’s go upstairs and relax a little before we try to get some sleep, then we’ll explain.”

They had to deal with a few post-call things first, but Bobby decided to put off the paperwork until later. It was a good fifteen minutes before they were all crowded around one of the smaller dining tables. Most of the rest of the shift were watching the news, which was speculative coverage about the situation in Russia.

DeKay and Eddie sat closer together, staring at the other three, waiting for some kind of explanation.

Hen had a cup of tea and curled both hands around it. “You know how Buck gets hyper-fixated on certain subjects sometimes?”

Eddie nodded. In his opinion, it was one of Buck’s more endearing traits. Partly because Christopher tended to do the same thing, and it was like the two of them shared a brain sometimes. They were both willing to jump into the other one’s fixation and egg each other on. The enablement was real.

“Buck knows everything there is to know about soulmates,” Hen began. “I mean from historical data to every conspiracy theory about the decline. It was his big thing. I’ve never met anyone who knows as much about it as he does.”

Eddie shook his head. “He’s never even mentioned soulmates to me.”

“He and I have talked about it after work, but I’m the one who brought it up,” DeKay said.

“There was a big thing here one day. Buck was being Buck and rambling on about one of his conspiracy theories. One of the other guys just sort of lost it on him. He was way over the line, of that there was no doubt, but no one stood up for Buck the way they should have. Chim, me, and a few others told him to back off, to leave Buck alone, but we should have just pulled him away and ended it.” Hen shook her head. “Afterward, Chim and I talked to Buck, told him to just cool it about the soulmate stuff. That for a lot of people, it was a bit of a sore spot.” She shrugged. “He was quiet for a few days and then seemed to get back to normal. He’s never brought up soulmates again.”

Chim sighed. “He started leaving the area whenever soulmates got mentioned.”

“I tried to talk to him about it once more,” Hen continued, “told him we didn’t mean for him to never talk about it again, but he shut me down hard. It’s been a closed subject since.” Her expression soured a little. “To be fair, he had a right to be annoyed at everyone. The guy who got in his face was way, way over the line. As I said, we should have done more to intervene. We told Roberts to knock it off, but otherwise waited for Cap to do something.”

Bobby was just sitting at the table with his arms crossed, expression blank. He finally turned his gaze to Eddie. “It was one of the less professional moments in this house in my time here. I walked in on some extreme verbal abuse and the rest of the shift doing virtually nothing about it.”

Hen and Chim both winced.

“I suspended Roberts for a week and gave the rest of the shift the dressing down of their lives.” Bobby sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. “And then I made the mistake of suggesting to Buck that he tone down the soulmate conversations on the job.”

Eddie shot Bobby a deeply unimpressed look.

“I get it, Eddie. We all regretted it, okay? But the damage was done. Buck seemed to bounce back fine, except for the fact that he’d never discuss it again. I even tried to start the conversation a few times, but he’d just turn around and walk away.”

“Well, clearly he’s not fine.” Eddie sighed and rubbed his hands over his face, feeling the fatigue of the long shift suddenly pulling at him.

“I wouldn’t have expected all of this victim-blaming from this team,” DeKay said in a neutral tone of voice, but his facial expression was like stone.

“Man, that’s not it,” Chim said.

“Oh, yeah, it is,” DeKay cut in. “I’ve only known Buck a short time, but he gets redirected pretty easily and understands people don’t always want to talk about something to the depth that he does. He lets people turn the conversation. Unless he’s changed in that regard, it sounds like you guys are the ones who didn’t want him bringing it up anymore. I’ve talked to Buck about soulmates a few times when we’ve shot hoops on the weekend. I find his views and knowledge on the subject…comforting.” DeKay got to his feet. “I’m gonna catch some sleep. Goodnight.”

“Marcus,” Hen tried, but DeKay strode away.

“That could have gone better,” Chim said dryly.

Eddie stared at his oblivious teammates. “DeKay’s parents are soulbonded.”

“I didn’t know that,” Hen said, looking a little upset.

“As I’m sure you know, whatever went wrong with soulmate energy a couple of decades ago affected soulbonds. They’re there, but they’re weaker. I know intimately because my parents were affected. I know how much it pains them.” He shook his head. “Do you have any idea why Buck is so fixated on soulmates?”

“No…?” Chim replied.

“I don’t either,” Eddie said, forcing himself to be calm. He wanted to go talk to Buck, but he was family with all of them, even those who were annoying him right now. “He’s never talked to me about soulmates, though I’ve mentioned it in passing. If he had brought it up and displayed an unusual knowledge of the subject, I’d surely ask him why he was so passionate about it.” He got to his feet.

“Eddie,” Hen said then snapped her mouth shut as if she didn’t know what to say.

He looked to Chim. “What were you going to say in the truck? When Buck cut you off.”

Chim blew out a breath. “His pet conspiracy theory was that soulmate energy wasn’t gone or dying off but that it had been redirected to healing what he called psionic wounds caused by the murder of soulbonded pairs.”

Eddie’s eyebrows shot up. “Wow.”

“That article in the Washington Post doesn’t mean he was right.” Chim pointed at him emphatically.

“Time will tell, Chim, but does it matter if he was right or wrong? You guys need to make this right with him. Because it doesn’t sound like Buck did anything. If you guys failed to communicate that you didn’t want to talk about soulmates and then your frustration got the best of you, that’s still on you. You shouldn’t need the proof to come in because it wasn’t ever about the facts.”

“You’re right,” Bobby said. “This has gone on too long, and I’d never considered that the whole thing wound up feeling like we were blaming Buck. And you’re also right that if any one of us had ever told Buck we were uncomfortable with the soulmate discussion, he would have stopped.”

Eddie nodded and turned to leave. As he passed the lounge area, he noticed the other members of the shift were glued to the TV, but now that he had more information, he could tell the people who had been here longer looked more uneasy. Some even seemed guilty. He found that thought process bizarre because the issue was never about whether Buck was right or wrong about the supposed conspiracy theories. They shouldn’t feel guilty because Buck was proven right in his beliefs. They should feel bad because they failed to intervene in an abusive situation.

Eddie entered the bunkroom and found Buck and DeKay sitting across from each other, whispering in the dim individual bunk lights. A couple of people were already trying to get some sleep. He caught both their attention, cocked his head at the door, and mouthed the word, “roof?”

Buck shrugged and got to his feet. He was already in drawstring pants and a t-shirt, so he held up his hand to give him two minutes to change. If they got a call out while they were on the roof, Buck wouldn’t have to delay getting back into uniform.

Eddie told DeKay he’d meet them up there after he grabbed them all some sodas. It was less than five minutes before he stepped out onto the roof. They had a few lounge chairs set up. It was too intense up here during the day, so these chairs got the most use after the sun went down.

He passed around the sodas and tossed a bag of chips on the table in case anyone was hungry. DeKay grabbed the bag immediately. The guy was a bigger snack pit than even Buck.

Eddie waited for a few seconds to see if Buck would say anything, but nothing was forthcoming. He nudged Buck with his foot. “Hen, Chim, and Cap told me what happened. That was shitty. On everyone’s part.”

Buck shrugged.

“You’ve never mentioned it to me.”

“Nowadays, I wait to see if it’s something people want to talk about.” Buck raised the bottle of Pibb Xtra to his lips and tipped his head back, taking a long drink. It was Buck’s favorite soda. Most stores didn’t stock it, but Bobby went out of his way to make sure there was always some around.

“Consider me wanting to talk about it. I know you, Buck. You get fixated on stuff for a reason. Why soulmates? You’re younger than me, so you were a little kid when it started dying off.”

Buck rolled the bottle in his hands for a few seconds, finally meeting Eddie’s gaze. “Because it matters. Don’t you feel like it’s important? Like a part of yourself is seeking, but our world is too broken for that part to ever be home.”

Eddie sucked in a sharp breath, feeling like he was suddenly in over his head.

Marcus nodded. “Damn, Buck. I mean, yeah, I do feel that way sometimes, but it’s like getting punched to hear it said like…that.”

Buck offered an apologetic smile. “It’s integral to who we are, and yet the world stuck its head in the sand when soulmarks stopped manifesting.”

“Not quite in the sand. Experts have been trying to figure this out since it started,” Eddie countered, still trying to get his bearings, unaccountably sad for reasons he couldn’t articulate at Buck feeling like he wasn’t home.

Buck scoffed. “They looked at everything except the things they should have been looking at. Soulmates are inherently mystical, so why wasn’t the cause of the problem mystical in nature?” Buck shook his head and looked over at DeKay. “Marcus and I have talked about this a few times. There are some countries where a faction came into power that had an issue with either soulmates in general or homosexual soulmates. Russia being the largest of them. There had been rumors for a long time that certain military leaders were killing same-sex soulbonded couples. Those rumors started more than twenty years ago when Turgenev was a general. Then he became president, and the rumors kind of dried up. But the deaths didn’t.”

“I’d heard some vague stuff about that,” Eddie admitted, “but it did sound like conspiracy theories, so I never invested much time in it.”

“It makes sense,” DeKay said around a mouthful of chips. “I never put much thought to it before Buck and I talked, but the whole system clearly balances very delicately. What was that thing you told me about the conduits in Japan?”

Buck replied, “A bad earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 1792 caused the deaths of more than two-thirds of the conduits in Japan. It was basically bad luck about where they were located during the tsunami. There have been other instances of mass death, but that was one of the worst in history for wiping out a large percentage of conduits in a given area.”

“If a conduit dies, another comes online, right?” Eddie asked. “The system isn’t designed for a single failure point.” Conduits were people specially chosen, by some mystical means, to channel the soulmate energy on Earth, allowing soulmarks to form when soulmates met. A conduit’s soulmate was called a “shield” for some reason Eddie had never paid attention to.

“Yeah, Eds, but this wasn’t a single point of failure. It wasn’t like one server went down but they had redundant servers. It was more like a whole server farm went down. Historical records indicate that it stalled the flow of anima energy for a long time—and not just in Japan. There was something like a hole in the net, and it messed everything up.

“Conduits come online when they meet their soulmate, but what if the soulmate of a potential conduit had just died in an earthquake? Well, that’s assuming you’re bought into the idea of just one possible soulmate. Anyway, they’re not sure to this day what all contributed to the stall, but it’s well documented, and it lasted for years.

“In this day and age, they’d just recruit conduits from other places to come into the area to keep the energy flow moving properly. Thin out the net in little bits here and there in order to shore up the weak spots, and then there’s no appreciable degradation in the flow of energy.”

Something Eddie learned in school suddenly popped into his mind. “Wait. That’s what they did in China in the 70s, right? After that big earthquake that killed over half a million people?”

“Yep. The United Nations assisted China in putting out a plea for conduits from all over the world to move to the area to help re-establish the… I don’t even know how to refer to it. The technical term is kind of goofy, and no one uses it. But it’s like a psionic or anima matrix, and there was a big hole in it after the quake. Conduits moved into the area, and the matrix was restored. With so many dead, things didn’t quite go right back to normal, but it was certainly better than what happened in Japan. Ultimately, with time, the system is self-correcting. But how many people lost out on the love of their life while the system was repairing itself?”

“So, what does that have to do with the situation in Russia?”

“Loss of life in a natural disaster is, well, natural,” Buck said, staring off at nothing. “We’ve found ways to help heal an area when too many conduits die and nature can’t self-correct quickly, but without our help, nature will fix itself. However, what if we are causing the wound? There’s nothing natural about the murder of soulbonded pairs. Dr. Ellen McAvoy, who used to consult with the U.S. government and the U.N.—but they didn’t like her ideas—posited that murders of soulbonded pairs cause damage to the,” Buck waved his hand in the air, “other plane.”

“Other plane?”

“Other plane of existence, where the soulmate energy comes from. Technically called anima energy, it’s considered to come from the psionic plane.”

“Psionic?”

“Meaning of the mind,” DeKay supplied. “I had to ask too. I’d never put much thought into how it all works under the hood.”

“Okay,” Eddie said, “so Dr. McAvoy believes that the psionic plane was damaged by these murders?”

“Which everyone was denying,” DeKay said, pointing a chip at Eddie.

“Which everyone was denying.” Eddie scratched the back of his head. “It seems logical.”

“Yeah, but no one wanted to hear it,” Buck said moodily, and Eddie wondered if he was talking about the team or something else. “The governments of the world did stick their heads in the sand. At least, in public they did. I think they’ve known the cause of the problem; they just didn’t know what to do about it.”

Eddie considered that for a second. “Nuclear weapons?”

“Bingo.” Buck tapped his nose. “I know it sounds ridiculous but, if Turgenev was the main cause of soulmates dying off, and the world governments knew it, but also couldn’t act on it, why would they admit it?”

“Actually, it doesn’t sound ridiculous,” Eddie said thoughtfully. “I’ve always assumed what I heard on the news was correct, that researchers didn’t know the reason. But I can see that they wouldn’t have wanted to put Turgenev in a bad position with his finger literally on the trigger.” He took a long pull on the soda. “It’s shitty though. Letting the whole world suffer because they don’t know how to deal with a tyrant. Making those who did know the truth out to be a bunch of conspiracy nuts.”

Buck shrugged one shoulder, slouching down in his chair. “It’s all speculation. No one will probably ever know what really happened.”

DeKay scoffed. “They’ll certainly be able to guess if McAvoy winds up being right that stopping the killings will cause things to go back to normal.”

“Really?” Eddie asked, eyebrows shooting up.

Buck nodded. “Her theory is that most of the anima and psionic energy are needed to heal and, when it’s not needed for that, the system will start to work again.” Buck took another pull on his Pibb.

Eddie blinked a few times, considering the ramifications. “You’re saying soulmates could start coming back online?”

“Conduits first, but, yeah. I mean, why wouldn’t it start to work again?”

Eddie felt like the world had suddenly gotten a lot more complicated. He tipped his head to Buck. “You’re right. It does matter; it always did. And you’re always welcome to talk to me about this.”

Buck’s smile was uncertain, but it was genuine. It was the first one he’d gotten from his friend all day, and he felt like he could breathe again. Buck being unhappy made the world feel wrong.

Eddie listened as DeKay and Buck speculated for a few minutes about what might be next. DeKay finally split off to go get some sleep, so Eddie moved to the chair closer to Buck. “Listen, I have no issue with you wanting to talk about soulmates. I get that you have your reasons for finding the subject interesting, which I don’t think you’ve actually shared with me.”

“Eds…”

“That wasn’t a criticism. You don’t need to tell me everything. Just… Whatever your reasons for wanting to talk about it, the rest of our idiot friends had reasons for not wanting to talk about it. They should have just said that and not made it about you. Marcus called it victim-blaming, and it kind of is.”

“I’m not a victim.”

“They basically blamed you for getting attacked. It’s the same behavior, so don’t get defensive.” He bumped their shoulders together. “Give them a chance to explain, okay?”

Buck gave him a curious look. “You think I wouldn’t?”

“You shut everyone down pretty hard today.”

“They weren’t trying to explain anything, Eddie. Chim was just going to go off on his tired refrain about conspiracy theories, and that’s not anything I need to hear.”

“Fair point. I’m just saying, if heads part ways with asses, give them a chance to make it up to you, okay?”

Buck’s lips were pressed into a thin line, but he nodded. “They shouldn’t have needed this to finally talk to me about it, though.”

“No, I agree. But maybe they let themselves forget about it because you do a damn good job of seeming like nothing bothers you.”

“A lot of things bother me,” Buck said softly.

Eddie’s brow furrowed. “You know you can talk to me, right?”

“I know.” Buck smiled, but Eddie thought it seemed kind of sad.

“Hey.” He knocked their knees together. “You okay?”

“Yeah.” He chewed his lip for a second. “You know I didn’t actually want to be correct about the situation in Russia, right? It actually hurts that it’s the truth, that it was allowed to go on for so long.”

Eddie blew out a breath. “Yeah. I can’t even wrap my head around it. It’s so soon in all of this coming to light that I figure what we know is just the tip of the iceberg.” Not wanting to go down that maudlin path, he nudged Buck’s shoulder again. “So you think soulmates could really start coming back?”

Buck shrugged, giving a more genuine smile. “I hope so. I have no idea how long it will take for the system to fix itself. Wouldn’t it be cool if it was in our lifetime?”

Eddie nodded, wondering if that kind of upheaval would be cool or a nightmare.

­– – – –

“So…” Maddie set the bottle down in front of him. “You want to talk about this thing in Russia?”

“What’s there to talk about, Mads? You can read the news.” Since he’d gotten off shift that morning, Buck had been helping Maddie with various tasks, though he still took frequent breaks to read about how the situation was evolving in Russia. It was too chaotic for anything to be resolved yet, but there were several surviving military leaders who were supporting the group which had staged the overthrow and execution of Turgenev and his generals.

“Yeah, but I know how you are about soulmate lore and all the theories around it.”

Buck took a drink of his beer, annoyed that Maddie insisted on stocking pale ale. It was something she’d started doing for Chimney, who had truly abysmal taste in beer. After an uncomfortable silence, he settled for answering with a shrug.

“I talked to Chimney,” she added. “He said you were pretty upset yesterday at work.”

Buck rolled his eyes. Not the most mature reaction, but he was tired of this.

“Buck, talk to me.”

“There’s nothing to talk about. What we should talk about is the fact that my apartment will be ready soon. That seems more important.”

“You got an apartment?” She blinked at him in astonishment. “I thought you were going to stay with me a little longer.”

“I’m driving you crazy. And I don’t want to live with anyone else because I’m tired of people telling me how to live.” He’d been thinking about it for a while now. He had the money saved to buy his own place, but he’d been putting it off, wanting to see how things worked out for his sister. He’d actually been looking at the place before Doug was in the picture. There’d been two places on his consideration list. One was a loft and the other a typical two-bedroom flat. He’d been favoring the loft for reasons of style, but his gut said to go for the flat, so he’d made an offer. The whole process was taking longer than he expected, and he was still a week away from being able to take possession.

Maddie still looked flummoxed, so he added, “If you need me to stay longer, I can. The apartment will wait.”

Her expression softened. “No, Buck; I don’t want that. I’m happy that you’re getting on with your life. I also don’t want to treat you like my security blanket. Doug is gone; I’m fine.”

He raised an eyebrow at the “fine” remark.

“I’m getting there,” she clarified.

“Mm-hm.” He took another drink of his beer. “You’d tell me if you weren’t all right, wouldn’t you?”

“Of course.”

“Because I’m pretty sure you’ve been shielding me from the truth about Doug since you got here.”

Cheeks flushing a deep red, she looked away. “I just didn’t want you to get involved.”

“Right. Lying to me for my own good.”

She blew out a breath. “I’m sorry, Evan.”

“You need to stop, Maddie. I’m twenty-seven, not seven. I don’t need you to protect me.”

She nodded and reached out to take his hand. “Can I tell you something?”

“You can tell me anything.”

“I worry Doug was my soulmate,” she whispered.

“He wasn’t.”

“You can’t know that.”

“Maddie, I know a lot about soulmates—probably more than ninety-nine percent of the population. Doug was not your soulmate.” He put his beer down and turned to face her on the couch, taking both of her hands. “Listen to me. Even if there was that potential for you, even if soulmate energy were flowing again, soulmarks have never bloomed where domestic violence was present. And certainly a soulbond hasn’t formed. He wasn’t your soulmate. Get it out of your head. Stop trying to convince yourself that you deserved him.”

Maddie’s eyes were wide and suddenly filled with tears. A sob caught in her throat, and then she was in his arms, crying brokenly.

“You didn’t deserve anything about that situation, Maddie,” he whispered into her hair.

She nodded into his shoulder, still crying.

“It’s going to be okay.”

Even when she’d calmed down a little, she stayed in his arms, letting him stroke her hair. “Do you think soulmates are coming back?”

“I do.”

She was still and quiet for a long time. “I’d be sad if Chimney wasn’t my soulmate. I know we’re waiting because of the mess with Doug screwing everything up, but he feels so perfect for me.”

“Then I don’t think you have anything to be sad about.”

“You think he’s mine?”

“Yeah, I really do.”

“Me too.”

­– – – –

Buck reported for his shift the next day and wasn’t really surprised when Bobby asked to speak to him privately right after he’d left the locker room. Eddie had commandeered Buck’s time after he’d spent the day with Maddie, saying he needed to keep Buck from getting stuck in his head.

The evening had been spent with Christopher, which really did help get Buck out of his funk. He hadn’t been looking forward to being back on shift today, but he had four days off to look forward to once the next twenty-four hours were over. Maybe they’d be busy today and he wouldn’t have to deal with everyone trying to talk to him.

He entered Bobby’s office, taking the seat Bobby indicated.

Bobby took the other guest chair rather than sitting at the desk. “I didn’t handle things well when the whole thing happened with Roberts.”

“I thought you handled it fine. I always felt like you had my back in that situation. We don’t really need to talk about it further.”

“Suspending Roberts was the bare minimum, Buck. It was brought to my attention that you’ve always been good about respecting a request for a change of subject. Yet I did make it seem like it was partly your fault for talking about soulmates.”

Buck huffed and crossed his arms. “I don’t really want to discuss this.”

“And I’m torn between wanting to respect that and needing to own up to the fact that I screwed up and make it right with you.” Bobby leaned forward, bracing his forearms on his knees. “Look, kid, it’s just a sore spot with me. I met my wife after soulmate energy had fizzled. We filed a domestic partnership within a year and then had our first kid. I was crazy in love. When you’d talk about soulmates, I didn’t know what it meant for someone like me if soulmate bonds came back. It’s hard to even think about.”

Buck stared at his hands for a bit, trying to wrap his head around Bobby’s grief. “Were you afraid she was your soulmate…or that she wasn’t?”

Bobby’s chuckle held no humor. “I’m not even sure. Now that I’m in love again, I’m even more confused about the subject. Regardless, I should have just told you that talking about soulmates made me uncomfortable rather than letting you think you’d done something wrong. And for that, I’m sorry.”

Buck nodded. “Okay.” Bobby was never the person he’d had a hard time with in all of that, but he’d left it all behind him. At least, he’d thought he had. “Look, I want to respect your wish not to talk about it, but I just want to be sure that you know that soulmates aren’t a one-and-done kind of thing.”

Bobby frowned. “I don’t follow.”

“I just mean that it’s not like it’s one person in all the world sort of thing. They proved Plato wrong a long time ago. There are statistics out there about it, but I find a weirdly high number of people don’t know, so I figured I should mention it.”

“Why—” Bobby broke off and cleared his throat. “I’m not certain what you mean, but why do you think people don’t know?”

“Well, it’s not common to walk away from a possible soulmate, so there aren’t a lot of data points, but there are enough. I think it makes people uncomfortable, or maybe people are romantics…? I couldn’t say for sure.”

“I know some people choose not to be with their soulmate, but what does that have to do with the ‘not one-and-done’ that you mentioned?”

“Oh, um, some people who walk away from their soulmate without completing the bond wind up with a different soulmate later in life.”

Bobby looked floored. “You sure that’s real?”

“Yeah, Bobby. The University of Bologna did the most comprehensive paper on it. You can find it in their archives on soulmates. Some of the speculations that arose from their research are that if, say, one half of a pair dies before they ever meet, the surviving half still has the potential to find a soulmate. But once you’re soulbonded to someone, that’s it. You only get one soulbond.”

“But my wife and I did know each other.”

“True, but there’s no way you could ever have created a soulbond. The speculation in the community is that your soul is untethered and therefore still seeking someone compatible.” Buck leaned forward. “I don’t know if you find it comforting or not because obviously you’ll never know for sure about your first domestic partner, but the possibility exists that you two could have been soulmates, and yet you still might be falling in love with your soulmate. They’re not mutually exclusive.” Buck cocked his head to the side. “Were you worried that a future where you might find a soulmate would diminish what you had with your first wife?”

Bobby’s eyes were glassy. “Yeah, kid. Something like that.”

“You’ll never know for sure, but it doesn’t really matter, Bobby. You loved Marcy. If soulmate marks surged again while you were partnered to her but you had no soulmark, and then you bumped into your soulmate in a coffee shop, would you have left Marcy for your soulmate?”

Smiling sadly, Bobby shook his head. “No. However, she’d have probably kicked me to the curb because she believed in soulmates the way you do. But she was convinced we were meant to be.”

“Maybe you were. Life is shitty and tragic, and you never got the opportunity to experience that bond with her. But fate may not be done with you, so you might have another opportunity to have a bond with someone else. What you do with it….” Buck shrugged.

“Sometimes, this really old soul shines out of you, Evan Buckley, and I don’t even know what to do with it. Go give everyone hell. They’re all moody because you weren’t your sunshiney self the last shift. Just know that I’m truly sorry about the way things went down two years ago. Also, and I mean this, thanks for the pep talk.”

Buck smiled. “Anytime, Cap.”

– – – –

“You got a minute, Buckaroo?” Hen asked from behind him.

“In about thirty seconds, I’ll have several minutes.” He finished writing up the report from their last call. Bobby made them take turns with the callout paperwork, and Buck wasn’t the type to let it linger. Chim tended to put paperwork off until the last minute. Eddie liked to do it while drinking decaf coffee in the dining area after dinner. Hen was more like Buck in getting it done immediately. DeKay tended to do it in the bunk room and often fell asleep in the middle of his paperwork.

He put the clipboard down in his lap and stared at Hen as she took a seat in the armchair.

“Everyone else is washing the trucks. I just finished restocking the ambulance.” She looked a little hesitant.

“You want to talk to me about that Roberts incident two years ago, right?”

“Yeah.”

“There’s no need, Hen.”

“I think there is, Buck, because you were pretty pissed the other day.”

“I was mad because you guys drew a line, and then Chim tried to step over it.”

“That really wasn’t our intention, though I can see how it looked that way.”

“You speak for Chimney now?” he asked dryly.

She looked startled and then laughed. “Fair. It wasn’t my intention. First, we should have done more about Roberts.”

“Hen, stop. Your voice was the loudest telling him to back off. I’m pretty sure you yelling at him was what got Bobby’s attention.” Roberts had been in Buck’s face, spewing every abusive thing he could about Buck. Up to and including how Buck was so pathetic he’d never get anyone to want him for more than a night who wasn’t obligated by a soulbond. It sure the hell wasn’t Buck’s best memory but not because of anything Hen did or didn’t do.

“Well, I always felt like I should have done more.”

“Like what? Step between us?”

“Maybe. He was inches from you, Buck, and the situation was escalating; most of the squad was doing nothing.” She shook her head. “I think a lot of people who were around back then regret not doing more. We should have created a wall between the two of you, or dragged him off and made him cool down. Certainly, there are always plenty of guys working on A-shift; we could have moved him away. There was no reason to let him keep yelling at you until Cap intervened. And Cap rightly chewed everyone out for it.”

Buck shrugged. “I still don’t think there’s any point in talking about Roberts.”

“Okay, then…” She blew out a breath. “The bigger issue is me advising you afterward not to talk about soulmate stuff at the station. That was bullshit. In my head, I was giving you good advice to help you avoid another Roberts situation, but it was really about me, and I didn’t want to admit it.”

Cocking his head to the side, Buck asked, “What about you?”

“I’ve just always worried about the soulmate thing. Worried about what it would mean for me if the problem ever got fixed. I love Karen so much, but what if we’re not soulmates? What if Eva is my soulmate?”

Buck blew out a breath. “Hen, have a little faith.”

“In fate?” she scoffed.

“In yourself and Karen. Your feelings aren’t going to change if you were to suddenly get a mark. You won’t love her more or less.”

“I know, but if we’re not soulmates, and she finds a soulmate….” Hen shook her head.

“But that kind of thing happens without soulmarks in the picture.”

Hen blinked at him and then laughed, the sound bitter and grating. “God, you’re right. And I’m the one who nearly torched our domestic partnership with infidelity.” She rested her head on her hand. “It’s exhausting worrying about these things.” She gave him a speaking look. “Do you think soulmates are coming back?”

“I don’t think they ever left, but the energy to create marks and bonds was needed for something else.”

“May I ask what you think might happen next? I mean, if you’re right about all this.”

“There are a few other small countries that practice the same kind of soulmate severing that Russia did. That’s the rumor, anyway. They try to keep those things quiet, but it gets out. I’m sure the speculation list is wrong, but the U.N. would have to know, right?”

“I would think so, yeah.”

“If the reason not to deal with Russia was a combination of willful ignorance and the nuclear threat, that’s gone. So, if they think soulmates might come back, the U.N. might send peacekeepers in to prevent any more deaths in these other, smaller, less volatile countries. There can’t be too many bonded pairs left in these places after so many years of bond severance. The papers released to the Associated Press said that gay bonded couples started hiding in Russia within the first year of Turgenev’s order to kill homosexual bonded or even just marked pairs. So, he’s been hunting for them. For more than fifteen years, he’s been at this. Some papers indicated that he got so frustrated when he was unable to find whoever he was looking for that he started killing heterosexual bonded pairs too. That’s when the uprising really started gaining traction. The news had only been reporting on the ‘civil unrest’ for a couple of days before they succeeded, but it’s been on the forums for at least a year.”

“I had no idea.”

“It’s all conspiracy theories, right?”

She winced. “I know that was dismissive.”

“It really was. Especially since I don’t actually subscribe to conspiracy theories.” He waved it away because he’d never get anyone to understand how much time and research he put into things. “Anyway, I’d think the next step would be peacekeepers in some of these other problematic countries. Then…” He considered for a few seconds. “Conduits have been dying off for two decades and not getting replaced, so the psionic matrix is not sufficient to support the return of anima energy.”

“So… More conduits?”

“That’d be my guess.”

“But soulmates could happen at the same time?”

Buck made a face. That seemed wrong. “No, I don’t think so. I don’t think the energy can move freely. It’s not really flowing in this plane of existence anymore, you know? I think the psionic matrix has to be fixed first. It needs to be anchored here, right? That’s what conduits are all about—providing a fixed anchor for the energy to flow out from.”

“So, a lot of new conduits will come first?”

Shrugging, Buck could only reply, “That’d be my guess, but I don’t know. Most of what’s considered ‘known’ about soulmates is still theory because there’s never any way of empirically proving anything. In the past, conduits were always chosen when they met their soulmate. If there’s not enough energy flowing for soulmarks to form, so how can a soulmark and a conduit mark form at the same time? I really have no idea what will happen.”

“Right.” She moved to sit next to him, shoulder-to-shoulder. “But, no matter what, change is coming.”

“Yeah, it is.”

“We’re all right, aren’t we?” She looked up at him.

He curled an arm around her shoulders. “Of course we are.”

– – – –

“Buck, wait up!” Chimney called out as Buck was almost to his Jeep. Leave it to Chim to wait until their shift was over to try to talk to him.

Buck turned, hand curled in the strap of his messenger bag. “It was a light shift, Chim; you could have talked to me anytime. Why wait until now?”

“I wasn’t even sure I wanted to. Look, one of the first things that happened to me on this job was I lost the guy I considered my brother. His name was Kevin, and he was everything to me. One of his more endearing traits was that he was stupidly fascinated by the idea of soulmates. Talked about them all the damn time. Every time you’d open your mouth to talk about them, it was like I was hearing his voice. You remind me of him anyway with your enthusiasm and good cheer and damn endless morning energy. But when you’d talk about soulmates, it was just too much.

“I should have told you that. I should have said, ‘Hey, Buck, you stupidly remind me of my dead brother, and when you talk about soulmates, it’s like my heart is being ripped out. Can you not do it in front of me.’ But, instead, I made dumb jokes, and I let you think it was something you’d done wrong.” Chim’s eyes got wet, and he puffed out a breath. “And it was never that. I didn’t know how to say that I was hurting. But now I hate it when you’re not you. I love you like a brother, too. So, I’m sorry for letting you shoulder this for two years. I still don’t want to talk about soulmates, but I’m glad you know so much in case I ever do.”

Chim cleared his throat. “And I don’t want you to say anything, and I don’t want to talk about it. That’s why I waited until you were leaving.” He spun on his heel and darted back into the station.

“Chim!” Buck was left standing there with his hand out.

“Well, that was a drive-by and a half,” Eddie said as he came around the other side of Buck’s Jeep. “Sorry, I was waiting for you to see if you wanted to grab breakfast.”

“Yeah.” Buck nodded slowly. “If I’m not out of my daze by the time I’m half finished with my waffle, please throw some water in my face.” His mind was spinning in circles, his compassion for Chimney nearly choking him.

“Deal. Since you’re dazed and trying to absorb, I’ll drive.” He grabbed Buck by the elbow and steered him in the opposite direction towards Eddie’s truck.

It didn’t take long to get to the diner and get seated. Buck was still a little preoccupied with Chimney’s emotional bomb, but most of him was paying attention to his conversation with Eddie.

They ordered, and Buck did go with the waffle accompanied by sausage, bacon, and ham. Eddie, who was ride or die about the blueberry wheat germ pancakes, gave his order then tilted his chin at Buck. “So, did everyone talk to you?”

“And then some. I swear, everyone who was here two years ago pulled me aside today. I’m not sure why people think they need to apologize because they didn’t believe me. That’s crazy, dude.”

“I think they’re apologizing for not doing more to intervene in the situation with an abusive teammate.”

Buck cocked his head to the side. “What would you have done?”

“Before or after I kicked his ass?”

“Come one, Eds, be serious.”

“I am serious.”

“That could get you suspended.”

“Then I get suspended. I’m not going to sit back and watch someone get all up in your space that way.”

Buck shook his head, smiling. “Your protectiveness is duly noted.” He saluted Eddie with his orange juice, feeling warm at Eddie’s reaction. He didn’t actually need anyone to get between him and a problem, but the sentiment was nice.

After their food came, when they’d taken some of the edge off their hunger, Buck asked, “Can I ask you something really personal? If it’s too much, I won’t be bothered if you don’t want to answer.”

“You can ask. I’ll probably answer.” Eddie shoved another bite of blueberry wheatgerm into his mouth, watching Buck closely.

“If everything gets fixed, do you think Shannon is your soulmate?”

Eddie’s eyebrows shot up, but he didn’t say anything while he finished chewing. He drank from his juice and then his water, looking thoughtful.

“Man, you don’t have to answer. Sorry I asked.” Buck forced a smile.

“It’s okay, Buck. I was just thinking. And, no, I don’t think so. She used to say I was—back when we met. She acted so certain; I always figured it was woman’s intuition or something.” His smile was a little sad. “She stopped saying that as our marriage progressed. And then she left.” He fiddled with his fork, moving the little bit of pancake still left around on the plate. “We broke up a couple of weeks ago.”

Buck had been leaning forward, listening intently, but at that, he sat back hard in the booth. He couldn’t help the little flare of hurt that Eddie hadn’t told him. He forced it down and made himself say, “I’m sorry to hear that. I know you were trying to make it work.”

“For Christopher, yeah.” Eddie sighed. “I tried to tell myself it was for me too, but I never really trusted her again, and I’m not sure I ever would. I was pushing us to define what we are, and she wanted none of that. I couldn’t even get her to finalize visitation days with Chris.” He shook his head and stared at the table. “I wanted to talk to you about it, but it’s been hard.”

“Hard to talk to me?”

“No, hard to admit I keep failing at this.”

“Or maybe you guys were just never good together, and the only reason you kept trying was for Christopher.”

Eddie gave a mirthless laugh. “Maybe. He deserves the world, though, so I can’t regret it.”

“Yeah, but maybe the world for him is four happy parents instead of two miserable ones…?”

Eddie looked startled, then he laughed with real amusement. “Way to give me perspective.”

Buck felt a little impulse inside, and he decided to go with it. He’d sometimes get a pull in a certain direction, and he’d never regretted giving in to that pull. However, he had sometimes regretted ignoring it. “I feel really strongly that you need to lock down your custody agreement with her.” He felt something unpleasant skitter across his nerves every time Eddie bought up their nebulous custody situation.

Eddie blinked a few times, obviously surprised. “Why?”

“I don’t know, Eds. I really do think she loves Chris, which is great, but she doesn’t love you, so you’re not going to be a factor in her future choices. She’s proved to be kind of selfish, right? Can you trust that love is going to triumph over selfishness if she has custody of Chris? Can you guarantee she’ll do right by him?”

Eddie’s brow furrowed as he took in what Buck was saying. “I hadn’t considered it really but, no, I can’t count on that. We never finalized custody in the two years we’ve been apart.”

“Do you want to trust that she might not try to take him from you one day? Imagine she does meet her soulmate and has some dream life somewhere with a big house. I’m just thinking that right now she’s happy being single and not having responsibility, but what about later? If you get sole custody now, give her visitation rights, then her abandonment is on the record long before it looks like you’re bringing it up out of spite.”

Eddie was nodding slowly. “That’s very…strategic. I’m not used to thinking about her that way. Our relationship feels like it’s finally over and, you’re right, I should make sure Chris is protected.”

“Are you sure the relationship is over?”

“Yeah.” Eddie blew out a breath. “Even though we’re filing for divorce, I think she expects to be allowed back in whenever she wants. I absolutely need to lock down the custody issues while she’s still in her happy-to-be-free stage.” He gave Buck a weak smile. “Thanks.”

Buck nodded and took a bite of his now-cold waffle. “You need a lawyer? I know someone good who practices family law.”

“Yeah. That’d be great.” Eddie nudged Buck with his foot under the table. “Seriously… Thanks.”

Buck smiled. “Anything for you and Chris. You know that.”

– – – –

Eddie pulled into the driveway and opened the door, able to hear loud giggles from inside the house. He had no idea what Buck and Christopher were up to, but they were clearly having a good time. They were on day three of their four days off, and Eddie had a late appointment with an attorney, so Buck was watching Christopher.

Smiling and feeling less burdened, Eddie headed inside and found the terrible twosome in the kitchen finishing up from baking something. “What are you two up to?” The house smelled amazing.

“Dad!” Chris held up his arms, and Eddie went in for a hug.

“Hey, Mijo, did you have fun with Buck?”

“I always have fun with Buck. It’s better when you’re here too.” Chris was clinging to him a little, then he let go and gave Eddie a toothy grin. “We made pie.”

“What kind of pie?”

“Apple pie. Seasonally, it’s good for apples right now,” Buck answered.

“That sounds great. Where is this pie?”

“Oven. We’re just cleaning up. Christopher is clinging to you like a little monkey because he’s trying to get out of his share of the cleaning.”

Christopher huffed and went over to wipe down the kitchen table, but there was laughter in his eyes.

Eddie moved over next to Buck, who was facing the sink. Eddie put his back against the counter, arms crossed, leaning back enough to meet Buck’s gaze. “You want to tell me why your friend drew up my custody papers pro bono?”

The agreement was straightforward, and Shannon had said she would sign, but he wondered how she’d react when she read them. When the reason for the sole custody petition was her abandonment of Chris spelled out in black and white.

Buck glanced at him and smiled then went back to washing mixing bowls. “I figured he’d give you a good rate, but I didn’t think he’d do it for free, so I don’t have an answer for you.”

“He said he owed you.”

Grinning, Buck just shrugged.

Eddie bumped their arms together. “Come on.”

“I introduced him to his husband.”

“You’re a matchmaker on the side? Setting up domestic partnerships wherever you may go?”

Buck set the bowl on the drainer then dried his hands. He turned and mirrored Eddie’s position. “He and I went on one really terrible date. It was so bad that I called someone to take him off my hands. They signed domestic partnership papers six months later.”

“Wow. I feel like you skipped a lot in that story.”

“Nothing important.”

Eddie impulsively said, “I didn’t know you were bisexual.”

Buck blinked a couple of times then shrugged. “In theory, most people have the potential. They have found that a very strong sexual preference towards one gender or another does seem to carry over to soulmarks. So, it could be that the extreme ends of the spectrum are hetero or homosexual because of their future soulmate. Or you could argue the reverse. In any case, That’s about ten percent on either end. The other eighty….” He splayed his hands wide. “Eh. I figured early on, why not embrace that I don’t have a strong preference?”

“Damn. You really do know all the stats. I’ll throw out there that declared heterosexuality is on the rise in the last twenty years; so, it was reasonable to assume you might be hetero since the only relationship I knew about was with a woman.”

Christopher came over, having finished his part of the cleanup. He leaned into Eddie’s side and smiled up at both of them.

“I’m not.” Buck hesitated. “That’s okay, right?” He ruffled his fingers through Chris’ hair.

“Yeah, of course. That’d be hypocritical of me to have a problem with.” Eddie wasn’t oblivious to Buck’s attractiveness, nor to the fact that they’d basically just declared their sexual compatibility. But Eddie had just ended his domestic partnership. He was emotionally a mess more often than he wanted to admit. He wanted Buck, of that he had no doubt, but he needed Buck as his friend more than he needed sex right now. Maybe the future would hold something different for them but, right now, what they had is exactly what he needed.

– – – –

Buck was off-duty and preparing to move into his new place when the press conference was announced. Maddie had a shift, so Buck sat in her living room and watched the Secretary-General of the United Nations admit that the documents leaked from the Kremlin were correct. That Turgenev had been holding the world hostage in regards to soulmates for nearly two decades.

He gave a list of a dozen other countries, most of them small, who were engaged in inhumane practices against homosexual bonded pairs or even any bonded pair in the case of Cameroon and Zimbabwe. Peacekeepers were being sent in to prevent any more loss of life.

When that press conference was over, the President of the United States gave a press conference. The U.S. was providing significant military support and, in conjunction with Canada, Australia, Japan, China, and the United Kingdom, they would subdue any dictatorships that refused to cooperate with the U.N.

Buck rubbed his forehead and turned the TV off.

He wasn’t exactly surprised when he started getting text messages. He ignored them all except Maddie’s. Uncertain exactly why she was worried about him, he sent a message of reassurance and went back to working on move checklists.

When the phone rang with Eddie’s ringtone, Buck put it on speaker. “Hey, Eds.”

Did you watch the press conferences?”

“Yep. Even though I hate watching the news.”

There’s been a lot of activity in the group chat. Hen was pretty shocked at how you accurately called the U.N. peacekeepers as the next step.”

Buck blew a raspberry.

Eddie laughed. After a pause, he asked, “You okay?”

Buck huffed. “Why does everyone think I’m wounded? I’m happy this is being fixed. Excited even.”

I don’t know. Maybe because no one had been very understanding, or they called you a conspiracy nut.”

“I never really cared about that. The problem was always the way they shut me down. We’ve talked about it, so if you could talk them into knocking off the tiptoeing, that’d be great.”

I’ll try. Hen’s talking about creating a betting pool about your predictions for what’s next in this whole thing.”

“That’s it. I’m telling her nothing.” Buck laughed at Hen’s betting pool addiction.

What are you up to?”

“Online shopping for furniture. I’ll be able to move into the apartment soon.”

You excited?”

“I guess. Mostly excited to get out from under everyone’s judgment.”

There was a long pause. “What do you mean?”

“Everyone talks about me getting my own place like it’s some sort of right of passage or something, but I lived alone for six years. It wasn’t that great. I’m sure it’ll be better in a stable place with family and friends nearby, but I just think it’s overrated.”

Six years, Buck? You’re only twenty-seven.”

“Yeah, well, I traveled by myself from nineteen to twenty-five. I did occasionally stay with someone else but, most of the time, I was on my own. The first time I had a true group living situation was when I moved to L.A. to go to the fire academy. I just don’t think living alone is all that.”

I think…

When Eddie didn’t continue, Buck prompted, “Yes?”

I think that people don’t know as much about you as they think they do. You seem like an open book. I know more about you than most, but I’m still surprised by a lot.”

Buck found that confusing. “Wouldn’t that be the same for anyone? I mean, can’t you be surprised by the things you don’t know about literally any person you’re acquainted with?”

Yes, but you just take people by surprise. You seem so open that they assume they know more than they actually do.”

“If it matters, you probably know me better than anyone, Eds.”

Except Maddie.”

“No, including Maddie.” Buck stopped browsing for couches and sat back. “Maddie knows a lot about me before the age of ten but, after that, you’ve definitely got the edge.”

I don’t understand.”

Buck had never discussed Maddie much with Eddie. It wasn’t a deliberate thing, but people made assumptions, and Buck rarely corrected them. Just like Eddie assuming Maddie knew everything about Buck. “I hadn’t seen Maddie in seven years before she showed up in my apartment around the same time that I met you. I hadn’t even spoken to her the last three of those years. I rarely saw her in the decade prior to that. We had a tight bond when I was young, but we needed to get to know each other again after she reentered my life. Frankly, you and I spend a lot more time together.”

That’s…honestly, really surprising. I had no idea you and Maddie had been out of touch for so long.”

“Doug,” Buck offered succinctly.

Man, that asshole just keeps giving.”

Buck gave a mirthless laugh. “Right?”

Buck…” Eddie began cautiously. “I think the reason we all are reacting funny is that it seems like there’s something more to this. You say you’re okay, but I’m not sure anyone believes it. It can’t just be about the situation two years ago because I wasn’t here for that, and I see the same things Hen and Chim are seeing.”

Buck blew out a breath and dragged his hands through his hair. “I don’t know, Eddie. Since I was a kid, the whole slow death of soulmates has felt really painful to me. I took it really personally, even when I was little. That’s why I learned so much about it.”

Are your parents soulbonded? They’re certainly old enough to be.”

“No.” He hesitated. “My mom has a faded mark on her upper arm.”

Eddie sucked in a breath. “She walked away from her soulmate?”

“Yep. Dad thinks the sun rises and sets on her. So, clearly, she didn’t suffer too much for her choice. I’ve just always wondered about it.”

Your dad?”

“He has no mark that I know of, though it could be somewhere I’ve never seen. I don’t recall ever seeing him with his shirt off.”

That’s actually kind of weird.”

“Eh. Our family was kind of cold.”

That’s hard to wrap my head around, considering how warm you and Maddie both are.”

“I think that was our influence on each other. Nothing to do with our parents.”

Mm.” Eddie was quiet for a few seconds. “You want to come over? Chris and I can help you pick furniture.”

“You know if I come over that we won’t get any furniture picked.”

That wasn’t a no.”

“You’re right; it wasn’t a no.” Buck closed the laptop and started to get his things together.

– – – –

“9-1-1. What’s your emergency?”

“One of my neighbors is hanging off his balcony. I think he means to jump.”

– – – –

They pulled up to the high-rise apartment building, and Buck felt a strong pull. “Hey, Bobby, I think I need to take his one.” It had been back-to-back calls all morning, and Buck hadn’t felt anything odd. This one, however, was pulling at him.

Bobby gave him a sharp look. “Buck, this is a possible jumper. I need you on the roof to rappel down if we need to do the maneuver.”

“I know, but I think I need to take this one. Chim and Eddie can both handle rappelling.”

Bobby looked conflicted, but Buck rarely asked to take a different task, and the few times he had asked, it had made a difference. He hoped Bobby would remember that now. “Okay. You take point, but if I pull you, you step off. Got it?”

“Got it.”

Eddie was shooting him inquisitive looks, but Buck ignored them as he followed Bobby to the apartment while Chim and Eddie continued up to the roof.

They got some basic information from the neighbor then went into the apartment. Buck was in a harness that he would need to clip onto the balcony railing at the earliest opportunity.

“You sure about this?” Bobby asked.

“Yep. I need to do this one.”

“Okay, kid. I’ll be listening.

Buck nodded and edged out onto the balcony. The man who was seated precariously on the railing was pretty average in every way. Middle-aged, average height, brown hair that was slightly receding. His weight was normal though he was a little paunchy around the middle like many men who worked in an office and, judging by how nice the apartment was, the guy worked in a very nice office.

“Mr. Adamson?” Buck said softly, not wanting to startle the man too badly. “My name is Evan Buckley. I’m with the Los Angeles Fire Department.”

“Go away.”

“Yeah, well, we’re not really allowed to do that. Can I keep you company? I’ll stay on this side of the balcony.”

“Do what you want.” The guy’s voice was listless.

Buck cautiously made his way to the railing and clipped his safety line. “You want to tell me what’s on your mind today?”

“I didn’t ask you to be out here.”

“Fair, but since I have to stay out here, my boss demands it, I figure I ought to know what’s going on.”

There was a long silence, and Buck was eyeing how precarious Adamson’s perch was. “My wife left me.”

“Man, that sucks. I’ve been there. Though I didn’t have kids.” Buck had seen the signs of children all over the apartment.”

“She took them too.” Adamson looked at Buck. “Really? Someone left you?”

“Went to Europe, said she’d be back in a couple of weeks, and she never came home.”

Adamson snorted. “That’s a terrible way to break up. Were you domestic partners?”

“No, we hadn’t gotten that far yet. I was thinking about it.”

“Don’t. DP is a cruel joke.”

“Why’s that?”

“You know soulmates are coming back, right? The instances of domestic partnership have been off the charts in the last fifteen years because of the lack of soulmates. Now, everyone is going to wait again. Hope that they meet that perfect person.” He shook his head. “Or preemptively leave because they know they’re not with their soulmate, and they want to have a clean slate for when their soulmate comes along.”

“That’s harsh, Mr. Adamson. Actually, do you mind if I call you Tom?”

“I don’t care what you call me.”

“Okay, Tom. You can call me Buck if you want. When did your wife leave?”

“Today. Barely an hour ago. She saw that news article about the conduits coming online in Japan, China, and Tibet, and she just started packing her bags.”

Buck froze, trying to absorb the information. They’d been so busy, and he hadn’t had time to check the news. It had barely been three weeks since Turgenev was executed by his own people, and now conduits were coming back.

He made himself stay on task. “So, she heard the soul matrix might be healing itself, and she made tracks?”

“That’s about it. Took my kids after she told me that no one would ever want me.” He shot Buck a curious look. “Soul matrix?”

“What would you call it?” Before the near extinction of soulmates, they’d taken the whole system for granted and, beyond conduits and shields, people didn’t learn much terminology around soulmates.

Tom’s lips twitched, the first sign of anything other than depression. Then his expression fell again. “There’s nothing left for me.”

Buck blew out a breath. “Man, that’s not true.”

“How do you know?”

“Well, your kids are out there. Why aren’t you calling an attorney?”

“I am an attorney.”

“And yet you still need an attorney to sue for custody. Which you should absolutely do because we both know the courts take a dim view of people pre-emptively breaking a domestic partnership in the hope of a soulbond. It’s considered an act of bad faith.”

Tom looked at him funny. “How do you know that?”

“I read a lot.” Buck edged a little closer, pleased when Tom didn’t react. “Listen, your wife was leaving anyway. She just found an excuse and took it; it has nothing to do with soulmates, and I think you know that.” He moved a few more inches. “You want to tell me what she said that was such a kick in the teeth that you climbed up here rather than suing her ass for custody of your kids plus child support?”

Tom stared out at the city, sprawling out in front of them, and Buck wondered if he’d misstepped. Then the man said, “She said no one would ever love me. That people like me don’t get soulmates, that I was pathetic and useless.”

“So…I know someone with your degree of education knows what gaslighting is.”

Tom looked over sharply. “You think she was gaslighting me?”

“Well, yeah. I don’t know you or the particulars of your relationship, but you’re attractive, you obviously have a good career and a nice home. So, at the surface level, you’re set. As for the rest…the only thing that’s ever gotten in the way of a soulbond, that I know of, is violence.”

“I’m not a violent man.” Tom sounded genuinely aggrieved.

“I didn’t think you were. I’ve been around violent people, and you don’t come across that way.” Buck hesitated and moved a bit closer. “Did she say cruel things to you a lot, Tom?”

Tom looked back out at the skyline. “Yeah. Nothing I did was ever good enough.”

“Mm.” Buck moved a bit closer. “You know what I’m gonna say, don’t you?”

“That it’s her, not me?”

“Yeah. And I’m not even saying that to get you off that ledge. She sounds like a bona fide heifer.”

“She’s beautiful. Perfect even. Everything my parents wanted for me.”

“Ugh.”

Tom chuckled. “Nice.”

“Sorry, man, but it sounds like you’re judging that book by its cover. But, you know, I’ve never met her. Maybe she’s a saint. I just know that the person in my life who said stuff like that to me is an asshole.”

“Someone told you you’d never have a soulmate?”

“Oh, more than one person. But the most recent time was about two years ago. The thing is, even if that were true, you could find love elsewhere. Do you think you ever really found love?”

“Yeah. With Mark and Lorrie.”

“Your kids?”

“Yes.”

“If you love your kids, why are you up there? Why aren’t you fighting for them?”

“She’s their mother.”

“You’re their father. One is not better than the other. Come on, Tom. You gotta come down and get your kids back. It could be years before soulmates really start coming back. What happens to your kids in the meantime? Do they just do without you while she primps until she finds a replacement?”

Tom threw his head back, honest laughter pouring out. Then it turned into a sob. “I’m so angry!”

“I can understand why. But, Tom, you’re not acting angry. Come on down and be angry, man. Go on the warpath, get your kids, cut off her makeup fund.”

Tears were streaming down Tom’s face.

“I’m not unlovable?”

“Do Mark and Lorrie love you?”

“Yes.”

“Do you feel that in every part of you?”

“I do.”

“Then come down from there. Don’t put this on them. Don’t make them have to live with your death. You will find someone else one day, but that’s not nearly as important as your children.”

“What happens if I come down?”

“Honestly, you’re doing something a little desperate here. You’re going to have to spend a few days in the hospital talking about all your feelings. But, if you come down, I will either send an attorney I know who practices family law to you or call whoever you know that you’d like to take on the custody case.”

Tom gave him an appraising look. “What family law attorney do you know?”

“Elias Stern.”

“He’s good. Huh.” Tom blew out a breath, shoulders sagging, face still wet. “I tried so hard to make this work.”

“I can tell that you did, Tom, but what you’re doing, taking yourself out of Mark and Lorrie’s life, is not the answer. Your kids need you, and you need them. Don’t let the heifer win.”

Tom sighed and moved like he was going to swing his leg back over, but his balance was precarious, and Buck was barely able to spring forward in time to grab him. Tom was holding on tight, eyes wide as Buck helped him off the balcony rail.

Then Bobby and Athena were both on the balcony, ready to take over.

To Buck’s surprise, Tom pulled Buck into a hug. “Thanks.” He stepped back. “You serious about sending Stern my way?”

“Yeah, I’ll do it.”

He nodded. “So you’ll know where they’re taking me?”

Athena stepped forward and gently took Tom by the arm. “I’ll be sure to let him know.”

“Thanks, Buck. You’re a good man.”

“You are too, Tom. Don’t lose sight of that.”

As soon as Tom was out of the room, Athena escorting him to see Hen for a trip to the hospital, Buck pulled out his phone and pulled up his news app.

“I checked already,” Bobby said. “He’s right. Those countries are starting to report conduits coming online.”

Buck met Bobby’s gaze. “Do they have soulmarks?”

“No. There are several theories about why. I didn’t have time to read about it.”

Buck shook his head. “There was speculation that conduits might happen before the soulmarks even though they’ve historically happened at the same time. I’m already up on all the theories.”

Bobby curled an arm around Buck’s shoulders. “Of course you are. Maybe you can fill the rest of us in once we get back to the truck.”

– – – –

At the station, Buck was aware that Eddie was watching him again. Eddie had been getting these thoughtful looks while watching Buck lately. Buck was letting it go until Eddie was ready to talk about whatever was on his mind.

Buck was on cleanup duty after lunch and wasn’t surprised when Eddie stayed behind when everyone else filed back downstairs.

“Why’d you want to take that call?” His head was cocked to the side, arms loosely crossed as he leaned against the counter. “I’ve seen you and Bobby negotiate on occasion about what you’ll do, and I always wonder why, but I’ve never seen you want to do anything but be on the roof ready to rappel when it comes to a jumper.”

Buck focused on loading the leftovers into storage containers, not making eye contact with Eddie. “Sometimes, I just get a pull to do something.”

“A pull?”

“Yeah. Like a gut instinct that I should do a certain thing.” He let his gaze flick up to Eddie briefly, seeing only confusion. “It happened the first time with Bobby about two months in. It looked like a straightforward medical situation, but I felt like I should go in with Hen or Chim and not them together. Bobby said no. There was a victim no one knew about. Only brute strength would have saved him from falling. Chim is strong, and so is Hen, but….”

“They’re not you. It’s a tossup in the entire station whether you or Jones have more brute strength, but I’ve never been on shift with him, so I’d put my money on you.”

Buck smiled and began rinsing the dishes before loading the dishwasher.

“So, what happened?”

“Chim is pretty strong, but he wasn’t prepared for a guy hanging off the edge of a guardrail. He nearly got pulled over himself and seriously damaged several ligaments in his shoulder by the time I got there. We saved the guy, but it was closer than it would have been if I’d been in there to begin with. And Chim wouldn’t have been hurt and off work for three weeks.”

“Did Bobby start paying attention when you had these feelings?”

“Not at first, but eventually.”

“Is it always about strength?”

Buck shook his head. “You know what my two specialties are, right?”

“Yeah, heavy rescue and fire science.” Eddie got an enlightened look on his face. “You and Bobby are the best with fire science, but I remember he said once you’re better at remembering all the auto-ignition temperatures. You do have a freaky memory.”

Buck nodded. “If I get a particular pull around anything that might have chemicals involved, Bobby started paying closer attention. I try not to argue with him unless I’m feeling a pull because I want him to pay attention when I ask.”

Eddie nodded. “You ever get those feelings around me?”

“A couple times.” Buck braced his hands on the counter and fully met Eddie’s gaze. “The grenade. Also…after the earthquake—when you were trying to get to Chris and your truck was blocked in by all those tree branches.”

“You only offered to take me because of this pull?”

“No, I only insisted because of it. I offered, you told me no, that you had it handled, so I started to walk away, and then I felt like that was the wrong choice, so I got pushy about it.”

Eddie smiled faintly. “I guess fate wanted you to meet my kid.”

“I guess so.” Buck started wiping down the counters, feeling a little off-kilter. “Someday, I’ll be sure to thank fate for that.”

Eddie grinned at him in the way he always did when Christopher’s awesomeness came up.

“You don’t seem skeptical at all…?”

“Abuela always said there were people more sensitive to the hand of fate than others. I guess I’m not surprised that you’re one of them.”

Buck felt something settle in him at the implicit acceptance. He tossed another cloth to Eddie. “Here. If you’re gonna hang around, make yourself useful and wipe off the tables.”

– – – –

Eddie finished loading his dishwasher, enjoying the sounds of laughter and giggles coming from the living room. Lately, Buck was spending more evenings than not with them, despite having moved into his own apartment. After shifts, while Chris was at school, Eddie had been helping Buck get settled in. The apartment was nice but still a bit spartan.

He stood in the doorway and watched Buck and Chris in the living room; they were cuddled up on the couch, reading some big book Buck had brought over.

“Bucky?”

“Yeah, buddy?”

“The kids at school talk about soulmates all the time.”

“Do they? I guess that’s because it’s pretty important that soulmate energy is starting to flow again.”

“Do you think Mommy and Daddy are soulmates?”

Eddie froze inside, wondering how anyone could address that question.

“I…” Buck cleared his throat. “I don’t think there’s any way for people to know that sort of thing ahead of time.”

“Can I tell you a secret?”

“Of course.”

“I don’t think they are, but I’m afraid that’d hurt Dad’s feelings.”

Eddie squeezed his eyes shut, amazed at his kid’s perceptiveness.

“Well… I don’t think you need to worry about your dad, kiddo. How does that thought make you feel? That your parents might not be soulmates?”

“It’s okay.” Chris’ tone conveyed a practical acceptance that floored Eddie from a kid that was barely eight years old. “I love them both, but not so much together. They don’t make each other happy.”

“You know that’s okay, right? Sometimes people try a relationship and it doesn’t work out the way they expect. But they both love you very, very much.”

“I know. But I feel it more when they’re not together. They’re less angry. And I know it’s okay for them not to be together. I missed Mom, but I get to see her now, so it’s okay.”

“You’re pretty amazing, buddy, you know that?”

He was amazing.

Eddie’s heart felt like it was being squeezed, and he wanted to rush over and pull his kid into his arms. If he’d ever doubted that splitting with Shannon was the right thing to do, Chris had just set those doubts to rest. And now that the custody issues were ironed out, Eddie felt more comfortable than he had in a long time. He hadn’t been aware of how much the uncertainty of what Shannon might do in the future bothered him. She’d expressed some reluctance at first to sign the custody documents but, in the end, had done so.

Their divorce was nearly final already. There weren’t a lot of joint partnership assets, and what few existed were staying with Eddie because Shannon hadn’t paid child support in two years. He’d been a little worried that she’d ask for alimony, but she hadn’t. He felt like that was a gesture toward Christopher, knowing that he had needs that would be affected by a cash outlay to her. It was a gesture of love for Chris, but for every one of those, there was a mirror gesture of selfishness because she was adamant about not paying child support. His attorney had advised him not to push the issue if he could financially handle things because it would help them later if she ever tried to contest custody.

In another week or two, the whole thing would be behind him. He and Chris could go forward, and hopefully, Shannon’s presence in Chris’ life would be a source of happiness and not pain. He already had plans worked up with the attorney if she started flaking out on visitation.

“You know something?” Chris continued.

“What’s that?”

“I think Dad’s soulmate should be you.”

Eddie’s eyes went wide at his son’s matchmaking.

Buck was very still, the line of his shoulders tense. “Do you?”

“Yeah. You’re family, and we love you.”

“I love you too, kid; never doubt it.”

“Plus, you fit us.”

“Yeah. You guys fit me too.”

Eddie’s heart felt like it was being squeezed again. He wanted to run over there and hug them both.

“I think you should be with us forever,” Chris said firmly.

Buck finally huffed a laugh. “You’re a cute little matchmaker.”

“Do you believe in fate, Buck?”

“I do. Not in the way that people have no choice—that might be called predeterminism—but in the way that there’s a path for everyone, and you can choose to follow it or not.”

“A soulmate is your fate, right?”

“They can be part of it, sure. But I think it’s more than that. It’s about the road you’re meant to walk in life. And, I’ll tell you what, I’m pretty sure if I have a fate, it has a lot to do with you.”

“Me?” Chris sounded delighted.

“Yeah. From the minute I met you, I was sure I was meant to know you. And that’s pretty great because anyone who is meant to know you has a pretty special life.”

Chris sniffled and climbed into Buck’s lap, arms curling around Buck’s neck. “I love you, Buck.”

“I love you too, Christopher.”

Eddie went into the living room and sat next to Buck, curling an arm around his shoulders. He got a startled but pleased look. “Thanks,” he whispered as he reached out to run his fingers through Christopher’s hair.

Buck’s smile was soft. “Nothing but the truth, Eds.”

– – – –

Eddie climbed into the truck, feeling emotionally weary from the callout. It wasn’t physically difficult, but there was something about trying to save someone who’d been sent a bomb that just sucked the energy right out of him.

Buck was next climbing into the truck and sat a little closer than usual as he gave Eddie a concerned look. “You okay?”

“Not even. Who would put a bomb on someone’s porch?” He hated the thread of anxiety this gave him. He expected bombs in Afghanistan, not in a residential neighborhood in Los Angeles.

“I don’t know.” Buck stared off at nothing. “I hope it’s the only one.”

Ay Dios.” Eddie blew out a breath. “Me too.”

Bobby and DeKay got into the front, and DeKay started the truck. They slipped on their headsets, and Buck said, “You okay up there, Marcus?”

Eddie could just see DeKay’s shake of the head. “Nah, man, that was fucked up. Look at the app for me, will you? Tell me how it’s going?”

“Sure.” Buck pulled out his cellphone and began tapping away on it. “There’s about another eighty since yesterday.”

“That’s awesome. Any unusual marks?”

“What are you looking at?” Bobby asked. Chim and Hen were in the ambulance with the victim, so it was just the four of them today with only Eddie and Buck in the back. He figured that made how close they were sitting together a little weird, but he didn’t care. That call had messed with his head.

“It’s an app someone put together showing new conduits coming online. They’re overlaying it on a map of known existing conduits.”

“What?” Eddie asked, suddenly interested. He leaned forward, trying to see better. “How come I haven’t heard about this?”

“I figured you knew…? What am I saying? You’re a technology dinosaur. Seriously, Eds, if the news mentions statistics, someone has an app doing something with it.”

“Funny. Just show me.”

Buck tilted the phone in his direction. It was a map of the world, and Buck was zooming in on parts of it. “That’s India?”

“Yeah. The pale blue dots represent existing conduits while the white dots represent new ones.”

“How do they know where they actually are?”

“Oh. No. They’re just spacing them out randomly so the effect can be seen.”

“The effect?”

“Yeah, look.” Buck pressed a few things. The map reset with just blue lights, and then the white lights started to ripple out from certain spots. He’d heard that the conduits were coming back in concentrated locations, but he hadn’t seen it like this before.

“Wow.”

Buck shot him a big grin. “I know, right?”

“Not much in the U.S. yet,” he noted. There was a small cluster just forming in Maine.

“Yeah. The spots where the conduits are coming online first are the places mystics have said are the places where the barriers between world were thinnest.”

“Oh, come on,” Eddie scoffed.

“He’s dead serious,” DeKay said. “It’s been pretty dead on to places long identified as such. It’s giving a lot of credence to some long-dismissed theories about how the planes of existence interact.”

“Huh. Show it again.”

Buck reset the effect and let it go. They’d talked about soulmate stuff more than once, and Eddie knew Buck was often preoccupied with what was going on, but he brought it up less than Eddie would have expected. And it was clear he talked to DeKay about it more often.

Eddie noted the cluster forming in Maine was one of the most recent. “So, it’s finally happening at home, huh?”

“Yeah. Still no soulmarks on any of the conduits.” Buck shrugged.

“Answer the question about the conduit marks, Buck!” DeKay called out.

Buck fiddled with the app, bringing up a list he sorted by most recent. “Standard stuff. Roses, vines, ivy, dogwood, cherry blossoms. Oh wow. Someone in the U.K.’s conduit marks is corpse lilies.”

DeKay laughed. “Holy crap, what does that say about someone?”

“I have no idea. The symbolism of soulmarks and conduit marks has always been a little weird anyway, but I’m not even sure if there is a specific symbolism for corpse lilies, especially since lilies generally symbolize life and purity.”

Eddie watched the names of various plants scroll past. He’d seen a few people with conduit marks in his life, but it was pretty uncommon. They were covered on their arms, and sometimes shoulders too, with photorealistic markings of some sort of plant. The common wisdom was that the plant was reflective of the bearer of the mark.

“I’m surprised this information is even available,” he said, poking at Buck’s app without remorse.

“Just location and marking type. The soulmate registry doesn’t release anything else. Not even gender. They don’t even give the town, just a geographic area. Our geographic area in the registry is Greater Los Angeles, which is five counties covering over eighteen million people. L.A. conduits are all blue dots in the app right now, but the app will show those dots spread out pretty evenly over the five counties, even if half of them actually lived in, say, Orange County. They don’t use more specific information than the three pieces of info the registry gives them: geographic region, marking, date they came online. More information is usually available through local news or on social media. One of the reasons I like this app is because it doesn’t use sources that invade people’s privacy by going around the registry.”

Bobby had a few questions about the app; he was apparently downloading it on his phone as they were speaking, and Eddie let the conversation flow over him. It helped settle his nerves from the bomb call in a way he wouldn’t have expected. In fact, Buck’s chatter and weird knowledge about so many things were often how they got settled after a bad call.

When they got back to the station, he pulled Buck aside. “You know you can talk to me about this stuff, right?”

“Yeah, of course. I don’t need to talk about it 24/7, Eddie.”

“You just seem to talk to DeKay about it more than me.”

“Actually, he talks to me about it, not the other way around. I don’t mind that he needs to talk sometimes, but I don’t have any particular desire these days to discuss it to death.”

That put it in a different perspective. He nodded, grateful that it wasn’t a case of Buck feeling like he couldn’t share what was on his mind. Eddie figured DeKay was hopeful that the healing of the soul matrix, as Buck called it, would help his parents out. From what Eddie had learned, Marcus’ parents struggled more with the languishing soulbond than Eddie’s parents did. At least, it seemed that way. Eddie had talked to his mother about the subject exactly once. She’d only been willing to say they were afraid to get their hopes up and didn’t want to talk about it yet.

“You should download the app,” Buck suggested.

“Why?”

“I don’t know.” He shrugged. “It’s a little weird, but I like it. It makes me feel…” He trailed off and cocked his head to the side. “Hopeful. Like some part of this fucked up world is capable of being healed.”

“I don’t need an app to give me hope, Buck.” He squeezed Buck’s arm. “I’ve got my family.”

Buck’s smile was so bright and happy that it actually made Eddie ache in the best possible way, like he was exactly where he was supposed to be in the world.

The End

46 Comments:

  1. Oh, that was lovely. And wow. So much worldbuilding built into that piece. It felt a lot longer than I know it was. Well done!

  2. Love it!! Please write more, that bucky comes online and gets Eddie!

  3. Holy shit, this is amazing. I am SO EXCITED for a new series from you. and a Buck/Eddie 9-1-1 at that! You’re the one who got me into the series to begin with, and of course introduced me to Buddie in the first place… I’m re-reading Pull Me From the Dark right now too.
    Thank you for this amazing, fresh and creative new story. I don’t know how you come up with these fascinating ideas, but I love all of them. xxx

  4. Thank you so much for posting this on your site. I absolutely love this story and think about it often.
    Thank you

  5. I’m sitting here with heart eyes and am once again in love with your writing. Thank you for sharing this beautiful start of a new series.

  6. I think I read your first draft of this story somewhere. I hope you add more to it because it seems like it was missing an ending. Anyway, love the story!!!

    • It’s a 4-story series, which I posted during Rough Trade/Camp NaNo in April. This part of the story has ended in the same place as when I was doing the rough draft challenge. The other 3 parts also all end in the same spot, but, yes, overall, the series is longer. Anyway, thanks.

  7. I was going to read this after I had some sleep. Then I made the mistake of reading the first few paragraphs and the next thing I know it is 4:00 a.m. and I have read the whole thing. Lovely world building!

  8. I am so excited to see this story come to life as an episodic series. The world building in this is so rich and the storyline has so many facets that just make for a wonderful read. Thank you for sharing it and any future episodes! You got me hooked on Buck/Eddie and of course Christopher, who is the best kid.

    • Thanks, Nadine. Christopher is the absolute best. Unicorn Prime!

      There are 4 parts in the series in total. All 4 are written, I’m just editing and tweaking each part at this point.

      • I probably read them on RT and totally forgot that point (a 4 part series). So sorry, I recently got a new job and they had me get started right away on a big project so my head’s all over the place.
        Was this the one that was also a x-over with Teen Wolf?

        • I can see how it’d blur together on RT. 🙂 The second episode of Every Moment should post before NaNo begins. Congrats on the new job, I hope it goes well for you.

          the x-over with Teen Wolf was believer. That was my July project, which I’m still working on as well.

          • Ah! Oh wow, I really did blur some things together >_< I hate when I do that. I’m remembering now this was the story that got me hooked on 9-1-1 (I read it several times while it was up on RT). And then I got caught up in re-reading your other work. I like to re-visit when my life’s a little outta my control.

            And thank you so much! I’ve been out of work since the beginning of the pandemic and it made me realize a work/life balance had to do a major shift. So it’s a welcome change, but still overwhelming at times.

            Thanks for your graciousness in dealing with your fans <3

  9. Awesome

  10. So happy to see this up! I’m still as in love with it as I was when it was first posted on RT.

  11. Such an intricately crafted world. The time and effort this took must’ve been emmence Thanks for sharing it was such a great read.

  12. Oh, wow…that was lovely!

  13. An absolute treat! Thank You! It’s always very exciting checking my inbox and finding out you’ve written a new story:)

  14. This was such a present to wake up to! I’ve been thinking about it since it was on rough trade and all the podcast talk about magical realism. I’ve always loved things with soul mates you your story just hits it all for me! Thanks for sharing this!!

  15. I completely adored this during RT but I forgot just how much, you write the three of them (because Chris is just as important as Buck and Eddie) so well.

  16. relatively_einstein

    I loved this story during rough trade, and I’m so happy it’s here now so I can read it again! ♥️

  17. That was amazing, thanks for sharing! I remember reading this on RT and it’s still just as engaging and lovely as it was then! The worldbuilding you’ve done is really interesting and the whole concept you’ve introduced is fascinating! I loved every minute of it!

  18. Ah, such a beautiful story. Your worldbuilding is always so vivid and real that I tend to forget until the end that I can’t just go out and buy a book in this universe, and then I am sad… until you post again, at which point I am extremely happy. Thanks for the treat!

  19. Gorgeous, Jilly!!

  20. Blue-Eyed Dreamer

    I adore this idea, and I love how you write Buck, Eddie and Chris. Researcher!Buck is such a treat, and protective Eddie will never get old. Matchmaker Chris is precious and I love him your honour. Your OC, Marcus Dekay, is wonderful, and I love Buck having other friends at the 118 that he can talk to. I’m really intrigued by the idea of conduits, and the brief mention Eddie made of shields. I’m also now on the edge of my seat now that we’ve gotten to the bombing arc. I’m really happy you got into 9-1-1 and thank you for posting your wonderful stories!

  21. I squealed when I saw this! I must have reread it half a dozen times on RT so seeing the finished product start to go up is very exciting. I really love the world building you’ve done, and the way you write Buck is so good. It’s such an awesome story, thanks for sharing!

  22. So excited to see this! I am in love with your Buck, Eddie, and Christopher. I’m also so happy to have something to look forward to with how much I’m not liking the show so far this season. It will be like its own mini show with the separate episodes!

  23. Thank you for investing even more work in this story and posting it so soon after RT!

    I really enjoyd this story when it was up on RT and must have read it at least three times. The scene that sticks out to me the most and touches me deeply every time is the one with Buck and Tom Adamson. It feels so heartfelt, healing and hopeful and Buck is a rock star just by being himself. Though I can’t know of course, I fully believe Buck turns Tom’s life around in this conversation by giving him the knowledge and tools that he desperately needs, and I am so rooting for Tom to get shit done and be happy. Thanks again for sharing!

    • No one’s ever mentioned Tom! In my notes about Tom, he did meet with Buck’s attorney friend, he spent a few days in the hospital, and then did successfully get full custody of his kids. His wife tried to use his suicidal ideation and depression against him in court, but her behavior and actual verbal abuse went against her. Buck talked to the judge about the nature of his conversation up on the balcony. Plus the kids wanted to be with their father. Tom met his soulmate four months after anima energy started to flow again. The kids adored their new mother, and Tom lived happily ever after. The ex-wife didn’t meet her soulmate for nearly a decade, but he thought she was a raging bitch and chose to walk away from the bond rather than deal with her for life. He met another possible soulmate a year later.

      and that’s the saga of Tom!

      Thanks 🙂

  24. I got the notification for this, but it was really late, so I left it for today, and I’m glad, because it meant I was awake enough to take in the details. I’d forgotten just how much I enjoyed the story on Rough Trade, and it was a real pleasure to read again. I enjoyed it a LOT, and I know I’ll be rereading it soon.

    Thanks for sharing, and good luck with writing/ editing the rest of the series.

    Aibrean

  25. This is so awesome! I always love your Buddie stories and any time you write Christopher… *chef’s kiss*

    I think this is the first 9-1-1 fic I ever read, and I hadn’t watched the show until a couple of months later, so I went around looking to reread this when I knew the characters better. I had forgotten that I read it on Rough Trade though, and was scrolling through all sorts of sites to find it. So happy to see it here! Thanks for sharing!

  26. This was amazing world-building. I’ve always loved the soulmates/marks trope and this was a really interesting take on that and I love it! I’m looking forward to reading the other three parts, but what a fantastic start with my three favorite boys! Thanks so much for sharing!

  27. This story brings me such joy. I loved it when I read it on RT and love revisiting it now. Christopher is such a precious unicorn. And I really enjoy Buck’s interactions with the entire 118. I also really like DeKay. Such a wonderful lazy Sunday read for me. Thank you. <3 <3 <3

  28. This is so beautiful!!! I love the world building you are doing here, it sets up what comes afterwards so beautifully! This world is so amazing, I love Buck and Eddie’s relationship building, how Eddie defends Buck to the death, how much Chris loves Buck, and this family they are building is wonderful. Buck’s pulls as so interesting, and I can’t wait to read more. Thank you for sharing this wonderful story!

  29. When you posted this the first time under one of the challenges (if my memory serves), it was the first 9-1-1 fic I had ever read. I was instantly hooked. Your character portrayal and world building is amazing! Thank you for sharing.

  30. I love this story and the universe. Thanks for posting it here.

  31. Yay! I enjoyed this so much during RT and it’s great to reread now! So much interesting and unique world building. And on reread it’s so clear how Buck is acting as a conduit before he even comes online bringing people together. The corpse flower conduit in the UK wouldn’t happen to be Sherlock Holmes? John Watson would make an excellent shield imho. Thanks for writing!

    • LOL. Yes, it was Sherlock! That’s probably the most subtle Easter egg I’ve ever put in a story. it was mostly to amuse myself, but it’s fun that someone caught it.

  32. Great Story. Thank you for sharing

  33. Oh, yes! I remember reading this on RT. So glad to see it going up here. I love how you write Buck as someone who’s smart and well-read. It always burns me when people underestimate him, so the bits of the story where he gets to show his intelligence always make me smile. Thanks for sharing!

no matter where you go, there you are...