Looking back, Buck should have expected that things would start to go downhill the moment Josh finally got a boyfriend.
Suddenly, the fact that Buck was single (and not ready to mingle) became socially unacceptable among his friends and colleagues. The teasing went from occasional to incessant, and every other day, Buck was being asked when he was going to ‘get back out there’ and told how ‘the perfect one won’t wait forever you know’. And it was annoying because it was around the same time that Eddie had decided to try and start doing the dating thing again, so it meant Buck was now the only one among his friends who was alone and not actively trying to address the fact.
What was worse, was that Buck had the feeling that he wasn’t getting invited to ‘couples’ events hosted by the others, not unless Eddie was available to keep him company. And Eddie had even less free time these days now that he was trying to squeeze in the occasional date between his two full-time jobs as firefighter and Dad. So Buck got to enjoy listening to references about events and games he’d missed out on, on top of the stories Eddie had to share about his evenings. And then, Buck found that maybe he was starting to feel a little bit lonely and pathetic and sad, but he was never going to admit it in front of his friends.
Because how did Buck even explain that the reason he wasn’t dating was because he was too busy being heads-over-heels for his best friend? And living his fantasy life of being a family with him? Despite said best friend having never shown any interest in wanting Buck as anything more? Getting injured, and then Ali leaving him, had both served as perfectly fine excuses until the months began to stack up. And now Buck was turning from a sensitive heartbroken soul who deserved people’s sympathy to a confused perennial ‘solo’ who needed their help.
So he really shouldn’t have been surprised, when Josh called him up out of the blue and asked if he was interested in going on a blind date.
“Ergh, not you too,” Buck groaned as soon as the offer was out of Josh’s mouth. “Did Maddie put you up to this?
“I mean, for what it’s worth, Buck, your sister has been very worried about you. She barely talks about anything else at work these days. But … no. The opportunity came up and I thought of you.”
“Why is everybody taking my relationship status so personally? Can’t I be fine with being single?”
It was a quiet Thursday night, and Buck was alone in his apartment cooking up pasta for dinner. He’d been happy with his plan to curl up with his controller and get through the next part of his game that evening. But apparently, having solo hobbies to pass time with was not acceptable anymore these days. On the stove, the pot began to boil, and he started looking for the salt to throw into the water.
“Hey, you don’t have to say yes, be sad and alone if that’s what you want,” Josh replied.
Buck rolled his eyes as he grabbed the salt from the jar and dumped a generous pinch into the water.
“But, I’m just saying.” Josh continued. “I’ve seen photos and this guy is volcanic levels of hot. Also, single dad, super cute kid. Saves lives for a living like you. I think you should give it a go.”
Buck paused as he reached for the box of pasta. “He’s got a kid?”
“Yeah. Is that a problem? Maddie said you love kids.”
Well, one kid in particular. “Yeah, I do, but that’s not-” He was just suddenly reminded of the other single father in his life, who was coincidentally his best friend. “Wait, you’re not even setting me up with someone you know personally?”
“Well, I know his aunt.” Josh said as Buck opened the box and poured in the pasta. “She’s in my pottery class and when I mentioned my boyfriend she started talking about her single nephew, so I told her I knew someone who was also single. I mean this guy’s aunt is really nice so he’s probably not a serial killer?”
“Oh that’s very reassuring.” Buck said as he set the timer and started setting up to cook the sauce. “I’m not going on a blind-date with some rando stranger, Josh. If I want a date I’ll go to a bar or use a dating app like a normal person.”
“Look, from personal experience, that doesn’t necessarily weed out the criminals.”
“What I’m saying is I am perfectly capable of getting dates myself. I mean have you seen me? I’m a sexy firefighter, they do like strip shows dressed up like me.” Buck said, waving an empty pan around.
He turned on the flames and set the pan to heat as Josh paused on the other end.
“You know, I’m not sure that’s quite the compliment you seem to think it is.” Josh said. “And also, exactly how many dates have you been on recently?”
“Which brings me back to my point, I’m happy with being single.” It wasn’t that he hadn’t tried, after Ali, it was just that every time, he’d gotten smacked in the face with the exact same problem. And the problem was that none of those people had been Eddie. When his lovesick brain was constantly throwing tantrums in the back of his mind, screaming that he’d rather be hanging out with Eddie instead no matter who Buck was with, there came a point that Buck had to acknowledge that he was just wasting other people’s time, as well as his own.
“Well, if you change your mind and get sick of your empty, lonely, loveless bachelor pad, you know who to call.”
“Being in a relationship is really turning you into a dick, Josh.”
“Look, I’ve just recently gained a very keen understanding of how miserable I truly was, and I think you deserve to have someone nice to come home to.”
Buck sighed. “Not interested. Take care, Josh.”
“Alright then. See you around, Buck.”
Buck hung up the call, looked down at his smoking, empty, overheated pan, and cursed, lifting it from the flame as he reached for the olive oil.
Buck felt vaguely justified about his commitment to staying single when it gradually became clear that dating wasn’t even quite working out for Eddie. Eddie, the most gorgeous and caring and amazing person that Buck had ever met. If even Eddie was continually having bust dates then clearly, it was a sign that Buck wouldn’t have any better luck, even if he put himself back out there.
“Seriously?” Buck said, as Eddie finished describing how his latest date had told him that she didn’t really think she was comfortable seeing a firefighter. “People were always all over me when I told them I’m a firefighter, people want, like, insane detail about how many fires you’ve been in.”
“Yeah, well. I mean the firefighter thing is interesting for ten minutes when you’re just impressing them with stories. But the moment they hear you have a son?” Eddie made a face. “Most people stop responding.”
“That’s super shitty, geez.” Buck said, brows furrowing. “Christopher is adorable, that’s definitely their loss.”
Eddie laughed softly at his words, and Buck mentally pumped his fists for successfully making Eddie smile.
They were hanging out together in the station, lounging on the sofas as they caught up after a few days of not seeing each other. Most of the time their schedules aligned, but once in a while they’d get rostered for different shifts or be moved around to fill in for someone else and then it’d be two or three days before they saw each other again. Hen was sitting nearby at the dining table, studying, and Chimney was somewhere downstairs, chatting with others, while Bobby sat in his office catching up on paperwork.
“I mean, most people are just looking for sex, anyway.” Eddie said with a shake of his head. “It’s hard to even find anyone serious.”
Buck shrugged, and nodded, feeling a spike of shame. It wasn’t untrue, Buck 1.0 had successfully cast his net far and wide back in the day, and ghosted his share of people. “Hey, you’ll find the right person one day.”
“I just, I have to be careful, you know? I’m not just looking for myself. I also have to think about Christopher. I mean if he doesn’t like them then, well, that’s that.”
“Yeah, man,” Buck said, his voice quiet. This was always the part his heart started wailing but what about me? He shoved down the feeling and looked over at Eddie, a little hesitant. “I mean, I guess you’re pretty much looking for a new parent.”
“Yeah.” Eddie agreed. “And I get it, it’s a lot. Chris isn’t just a cute eight year old, he’s a… kid with CP. It’s a lot for someone to take on.”
“Oh, come on. If even I can learn about Chris’s needs then anyone can.” Buck announced. It wasn’t that hard to spend a few hours reading up on the condition and to learn the ins and outs from Eddie and Chris himself. “Chris is an amazing kid, people just have to meet him to fall in love with him.”
“I mean, you think that.” Eddie said, his eyes soft as he regarded Buck with a smile. “But, the amazingness is… not always what other people see.”
Buck frowned, confused and a bit disturbed by Eddie’s words. It was hard to imagine that anyone wouldn’t instantly fall in love with Chistopher, who was a human ray of sunshine. But people could be shitty, and he knew Eddie’s words were right, even if they were depressing. “I suppose.”
“Yeah,” Eddie said with a soft sigh. “I mean, I was never expecting it to be easy. It’s just gonna take some time.”
“That’s true,” Buck said. “Dating to find a serious relationship sucks. I mean first you’d want someone you can get along with, who you find sexy, and then you’re hoping they’re not some secret psychopath, and that they’d accept and understand you. Then you have to both want the same things…”
“Yeah!” Eddie nodded in agreement, eyes wide as he leaned in. “And sometimes even when your personalities match and everything’s looking promising, they still just... don’t feel right. And then half way through a date you start wishing you were somewhere else.”
“I know right?” Buck agreed, throwing his hands wide as he leaned in as well. “It’s like half an hour in and you’re thinking - I don’t actually want to be here.”
“I can’t do this anymore.” Hen said all of a sudden from behind them, as she abruptly stood up and started gathering her materials.
“Hen?” Buck turned toward her. “Sorry, are we being too loud?”
“Did you want some help with the material?” Eddie said.
“No, you boys are fine,” Hen said, stacking her books and papers onto her arm. “I just need to go somewhere with a higher average IQ, and less oblivious people.”
“That’s way harsh, Hen,” Buck gaped.
“Did you want to explain that?” Eddie said with a frown.
Hen just waved at them and walked off. Buck and Eddie watched her leave with matching faces of confusion, and no idea why they’d just both been insulted.
When Josh had called him a week ago, Buck was okay with being single. And he continued being okay with the fact for an entire week, right up until Friday night rolled around and Buck, feeling bored and antsy after a quiet day of inane calls, tried to ask the team out for drinks again.
Hen wanted a quiet night in with Karen and her kids. Chimney and Maddie had gotten reservations to some super fancy restaurant they’d been looking forward to for months. Bobby had tickets to go see a new movie with his family. And even Eddie had only shrugged helplessly and said: “Sorry man, got a date lined up.”
Instead of going out drinking by himself and risking the interest of strangers, Buck had just gone home and ordered takeout. And sitting down to eat alone, the silence in his house somehow felt more oppressive, the empty spaces colder, the dark shadows more ominous. Even the noise of music couldn’t distract him from his imagination playing out scenes of his friends. Hen cuddled with her wife and kids in front of the television, looking warm and content. Chimney and Maddie clinking glasses, plates of mouthwatering food in front of them. Bobby at the candy bar, buying Harry a giant bucket of popcorn despite a disapproving Athena. And Eddie, dressed up and devastatingly handsome, his brown eyes crinkling with that heart-stopping smile as he sat across from some beautiful person in a restaurant.
Then there was Buck - in his grey hoodie and sweats, alone at his dining table, his phone silent next to him, stabbing dejectedly at his takeout.
He managed half of his meal before he lost all appetite.
For the entire evening Buck bounced from activity to activity, trying to find something that would hold his interest. Frustration and an unwelcome sadness wound its way deeper and deeper inside of him until Buck felt like a coiled spring, filled with a desperate energy he couldn’t let loose. He spent twenty minutes playing his video game and then ten minutes trying to read a book, and went through every method of stress relief he could think of before he drove himself to a 24-hour boxing gym and spent almost two hours punching things, until he was too exhausted to think about how fucking lonely he was.
But he didn’t want to go out and sleep with some random stranger he’d never see again. He wasn’t that person anymore, and Buck hated knowing how easy it’d be for him to fall back into the same habits. So he didn’t try to download a dating app again, and just focused on getting through the night, hoping he’d wake up feeling better the next day.
Buck remembered Josh’s offer sometime near midnight, while lying on his bed and staring dumbly at the ceiling, trying to make shapes out of the shadows.
So what if he said yes to a blind date? Really, what did he have to lose? It wasn’t like he was agreeing to an arranged marriage. It’d just be one date, with some gorgeous single dad who might not even like Buck anyway. He knew he wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and people sometimes found him too eager, too dumb, or just plain ugly, with the red birthmarks on his brow. The worst thing that could happen was that it wouldn’t go anywhere.
He had his phone out and was calling Josh before he could think about what he was doing.
The phone rang for ages before Josh finally picked up. “Hey Buck, everything okay?”
“Uh, hey,” Buck said, abruptly remembering how late it was. “Yeah, sorry for calling this late. I hope I didn’t wake you or… interrupt anything.”
“Well, it’s a bit late for that,” Josh said, though he didn’t sound angry. “Was there something you needed?”
Right. Yeah. This part he wasn’t looking forward to. “Okay, so. That single dad guy you mentioned.”
There was an extended pause on the other end. “Holy shit, are you in?”
“Yeah, you know what? I’ll give it a try.”
Josh laughed. Buck grit his teeth and sighed, waiting for Josh to get over his amusement.
“Okay, I’ll let them know,” Josh said. “So you know how this works then?”
“Just give me his number, I’ll text and set something up.”
“Uh… You sure you just want me to give out your number to some stranger?”
Buck frowned. “What do you mean? You’re the one introducing me to this guy.”
“A guy I’ve also never met, I’m just saying, it pays to be careful.”
Buck sighed. “I’m sure it’ll be fine, it’s not like I didn’t used to give it out to people all the time.”
“And how many creepy stalkers did you end up with?”
Buck frowned and didn’t reply, remembering the handful of dates who hadn’t taken rejection particularly well. There had been a few times he’d been forced to block people or change his number. Then there was that whole identity theft fiasco. God, Buck 1.0 was an idiot.
“Yeah... Still want me to give it out?”
“Well…” Buck said. “Wait, first you’re not sure whether the guy might be a serial killer, and now you’re telling me you think he could turn into a stalker?”
“Buck, look. It’s a… messy world out there. I don’t want to see my friends getting hurt. I mean, Maddie will kill me, you know that right?”
Abruptly, Buck remembered the disaster one of Josh’s internet dates had turned into, that had ended with him in the hospital, and then testifying in court. Maddie had mentioned to him, how hard Josh had been hit by it all. He silently cursed himself. It wasn’t like Josh didn’t have a point. “Yeah, okay, I get it. So what, we’re doing this old school? Rose in the pocket? Secret code words?”
“What? No. This isn’t a spy movie, Buck.”
“So I do get his name and number?”
“No. Uh… just message me what you plan to wear, and I’ll send you a description of the other guy along with the time and location.”
“That’s… that’s exactly like a spy movie.”
“Buck, I have to go.” Josh sounded extremely done with the conversation, and perhaps with Buck as a person. “I’ll text you the details, okay?”
“Alright,” Buck mumbled. “Bye Josh.”
“Oh, and make it something nice. No t-shirts or jeans.”
His phone beeped, telling him Josh had hung up. Buck dropped his phone next to him, and threw his arm over his eyes with a sigh, praying that he didn’t live to regret what he’d just signed up for.
Over the weekend, Buck picked out an outfit and messaged it to Josh alongside his availability. And by Monday, Josh had gotten back to him with a time for Thursday night, as well as a quick description of what his date looked like and the name of a restaurant. The other guy was a brunette who planned to wear a black suit with a dark red shirt. Buck frowned when he read the message, and hoped that there wouldn’t be a second solo diner in that same outfit. Volcanically hot, was it?
Then, Buck found himself forgetting about the date in between busy shifts at work and a movie night at Maddie’s. Thursday rolled around in the blink of an eye, and Buck started getting a little bit excited, and just a bit curious, about the guy he was about to meet, wondering what the stranger would be like. If there was a chance they’d get along.
At work, Buck was only half-paying attention to scrubbing the truck, musing about the date that night, when Eddie walked up to him with anxious eyes.
“Hey, Buck? I was wondering,” Eddie said, frowning, “would you be free tonight to look after Christopher for a few hours?”
On any other day Buck would be jumping at the chance. "Sorry man,” Buck shrugged with a sympathetic smile, “I have plans.”
A look of pure panic crossed Eddie’s face. “Damn, you were sort of my last hope.”
“What?” Buck dropped his rag and turned properly toward Eddie. “What about Carla?”
“No, it’s her husband’s birthday, they have this whole thing planned. And I’d ask my aunt but I’ve already asked her twice this week.”
Which left Eddie with no one since his abuela was down in El Paso visiting the family. Buck gaped at Eddie, his chest rapidly filling with outrage.
“I’m sorry, are you saying I was the last person you asked to look after Christopher? I haven’t seen him once this week!”
Eddie blinked, mouth falling open with surprise. It meant he hadn’t been expecting this reaction from Buck, and the fact only made Buck even more upset and determined. He hadn’t seen Christopher in ages and apparently he was Eddie’s last choice to look after him? What kind of betrayal was this?
“Did I do or say something bad last time?” Buck said, combing his memory for something he might have done to hurt Christopher’s feelings. “I thought he had a great time.”
“Y-yeah, he did,” Eddie replied, eyes wide. “He didn’t stop talking about you for days, complained my food wasn’t as good whenever I tried to cook.”
Buck threw open his arms, uncomprehending.
Eddie sighed. “Buck, we’re on shift together half the time, I know how exhausted you are at the end. I’m not going to make you babysit Christopher on top of that so I can run errands or go out.”
“That’s not fair,” Buck said, stabbing his finger at Eddie. “You didn’t even ask! And it’s not like watching Christopher is a chore, half the time we just sit and cuddle on the couch and watch cartoons. That’s like, the perfect way to relax.”
“Well… alright?” Eddie seemed at a loss for words. “I’ll remember to ask you next time.”
Buck nodded, only mildly appeased. “Okay, well, since this is apparently the only Christopher time I’m going to get, I can move my thing, I’ll look after him tonight.”
Eddie was gaping at him again. “Wait, are you sure? What about your plans?”
“It doesn’t matter, it’s not that important anyway. I can just reschedule.”
Eddie visibly sagged in relief. “Mil gracias, I could kiss you, you’re a lifesaver.”
“I better go up in your priority list, Diaz,” Buck said as he picked his rag up again and started turning back toward his task.
Eddie, already starting to rush off, turned back. “If Carla’s ever busy, you’ll be the first person I call,” he said, pressing his hands down in emphasis.
“You bet I’ll be.” Buck muttered, scrubbing at a stain with renewed fervor.
Buck texted Josh to tell him he couldn’t make the date and to pass on his apologies. It was slightly last minute and sort of shitty but he made up a ‘family emergency’ as an excuse and trusted Josh to cover for him.
Then, Buck was waiting impatiently for his shift to be over. On the dot of the hour, he was in the changing room getting back into street clothes. And then he was dashing by the others, waving and shouting goodbyes as he left the station. Eddie, who wouldn’t be done for another two hours, grinned at him from the loft as he waved, and shouted at him to stick to the speed limit.
Still stinging from the fact that he hadn’t been Eddie’s top choice to look after Christopher, Buck vowed to make it the best evening ever, one that Eddie would never hear the end of. Buck swung by the grocery store and grabbed some supplies before rushing to pick Christopher up from school the moment he finished.
Out at the front of the school, Buck stood among the other parents as he waited for Christopher to emerge from the building. Then, there was the faint clacking of crutches, and Buck was grinning widely as Christopher appeared at the doors.
Christopher lit up with a cry of “Buck!” the moment he saw him.
“Hey buddy!” Buck said with a huge smile, moving forward to meet Christopher and bending to pull the boy into a tight hug. Christopher wrapped his arms around Buck and squeezed, and Buck held on for a few seconds longer than he should before he let go. God, he’d missed Christopher.
“I thought Daddy was picking me up.”
“Your Dad has some stuff he has to do tonight, so he asked me to swing by instead. What do you think? Want to hang out with your Uncle Buck tonight?”
“Yeah!” Christopher cheered, beaming with excitement.
The moment they were through Eddie’s front door, Buck settled Christopher to start on homework and started chopping up some fruit for a snack. He got all of Christopher’s favorites and even a little tub of melted chocolate to dip it in. And then they were sitting together at the dining table, making their way through English and then Maths homework. Christopher barely needed any help, and Buck never stopped being amazed at just how smart and adorable Eddie’s son was.
When dinnertime approached, the two of them made mini pizzas out of English muffins, and drew all sorts of different faces with the ingredients. There were olive halves and pepperoni bits for eyes and capsicum strips for mouths, and Buck’s had a giant smiley face while Christopher’s had a wiggly mouth with a big cherry tomato nose. Then they made one with an angry face and another that was crying and sad. Christopher giggled his way through the entire session, and then insisted on watching as the pizzas baked, so the two of them stared into the oven together as the cheese melted and turned all bubbly and gooey.
A storm started outside just as the mini pizzas came out of the oven, smelling delicious. They crowded around the counter waiting for them to cool down, and Buck took a photo of the angry face and sent it off to Eddie with the caption ‘it’s you’.
Then he jumped as thunder boomed over their heads. Christopher laughed and told him not to be scared.
They ate dinner as Christopher told him all the dinosaur facts he’d been learning about at school, and Buck told Chris some stories from his day at work. Christopher’s birthday was coming up, and together they brainstormed ideas for what he wanted to do, from something as small as a movie night with his friends to as improbable as a weekend at Disneyland. Then, as the evening deepened, Buck washed the dishes and they moved onto the couch, and started watching the new kids movie Christopher had been desperate to see for ages. Buck turned up the sound of their movie to hide the sound of thunder, and smiled when Christopher nestled himself against him.
Neither of them heard the sound of Eddie’s car pulling up in the driveway, and only looked up when Eddie walked through the front door shaking his umbrella.
Chris shouted “Daddy!” and went straight for Eddie, who dropped his bag, bent down, and squeezed him in a tight hug. Chris tugged him deeper into the house, and Buck was also on his feet, greeting Eddie with a smile. Weirdly enough, Eddie was wearing his LAFD shirt with black dress pants and shoes. But Buck made no comment as Chris started telling Eddie about his evening, and Eddie grinned and nodded along.
Before long, Eddie was changed into comfortable house clothes. He settled with Buck and Christopher on the couch to watch the movie, and stared at his son with a gobsmacked face of betrayal when Christopher tucked himself against Buck instead of his father. Buck gave Eddie a cheeky grin in victory and squeezed Chris closer. Eddie’s eyes were soft even as he made an exaggerated face of disappointment, which quickly melted into a fond smile.
For a few minutes, the three of them stared at the screen as cartoon characters bounced about, shooting colorful lasers at each other. But it wasn’t long before Buck found himself stealing glances at Eddie, whose profile was lit by the shifting light of the TV. It was barely past eight o’clock, and Eddie was back way too early for the date to have gone smoothly. Curiosity nagged at Buck until he couldn’t resist any longer, and picked up his phone.
‘You went on a date dressed in your uniform?’
Eddie looked down as his phone vibrated. He pulled it out of his pocket, and then frowned and cast Buck a glance before starting to type. ‘Just got caught in the rain leaving the restaurant. It was what I had in the car.’
‘Treat your date to a strip show?’ Buck typed with a grin.
Eddie made a face when he read the message. ‘Maybe if I hadn’t been stood up.’
Buck’s brows shot up, and he frowned in sympathy. ‘Who in their right mind would stand you up?’
Eddie huffed in soft laughter. ‘Well, this guy, clearly. Wasn’t a total loss though, the waiter gave me his number?’
‘Are you gonna call him?’
“Are you texting each other?” Christopher said.
Buck and Eddie dropped their phones at the same time with matching faces of alarm, and found Christopher staring between them with a disappointed frown.
“Sorry Christopher,” Buck said with a look of apology.
“Lo siento, mijo.” Eddie said. “That was rude of us.”
Christopher's face fell, and then he pressed himself against Buck again with a sad pout.
Buck and Eddie exchanged looks of guilt, and went back to staring at the television.
By the next day, Josh had agreed to try reorganizing the missed date via text. And Buck was slumped at the dining table in the firehouse, waiting for lunch to be served, when his phone buzzed with Josh’s latest update.
‘You’re gonna have to grovel because the guy didn’t get the message in time and was apparently waiting for you.’
Buck cursed, and tapped out a reply. ‘Just give me his number? If something comes up I can just call the guy directly.’
“Everything alright, Buckaroo?” Chimney’s voice popped up, and Buck looked up to find Chimney studying him from across the table as he laid down plates of food.
“Oh just, trying to reorganize a date,” he told Chimney, waving his phone. “Schedule conflicts.”
“Wait,” Chimney’s eyes lit up. “A date? With who?”
“Just some… guy,” Buck said. “I don’t know, actually, it’s sort of a blind date?”
For a second, Chimney almost looked disappointed, and then he was staring at Buck like he had gone mad. “You are not the type of guy I’d have expected to agree to a thing like that.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Buck said, not sure if he should be offended.
“It’s just so… desperate,” Chimney slid into his seat just as Hen walked up, eyeing the offerings on the table.
“Who’s desperate?” Hen said, taking a seat beside Chimney.
“Chimney can’t get into the parenting class he wanted,” Buck said in a rush, before Chimney could out him. All around them, people were starting to arrive for food.
Chimney made a strange face at him, but didn’t immediately call Buck out on the lie.
“Oh damn, that reminds me,” Hen said, turning to look at someone approaching from behind Buck. “Hey Riley, you still haven’t paid up for the pregnancy pot.”
Chimney straightened, eyes widening into saucers. “Wait what?”
Hen shrugged as she took the bills offered to her. “I mean if it’s any comfort, not a lot of people bet on you and Maddie being first to get pregnant.”
“Why didn’t I know about this?”
Buck hid a grin as Chimney and Hen began to bicker across from him, and served himself a generous spoonful of pasta.
Buck had picked out the clothes ages in advance, though now that he was staring at himself in the mirror, he wasn’t feeling as sure. Blue suit, silver tie. Maybe his shirt was a little bit tight but it showed off his muscles nicely. Every time he wore this ensemble people told him how good he looked, so maybe it would impress his date tonight.
The restaurant was a fancy establishment downtown with floor-to-ceiling windows and modern decor that overflowed with plants in every corner. Arriving just on time, Buck explained he was there to meet someone and gave Josh’s name as the reservation. Then, as he followed the waitress’ directions to the exact table, Buck started scanning for a man fitting his date’s description, his heart beating just a little bit faster in anticipation.
Their table was right next to the giant windows, and framed by tendrils of green that descended from the hanging plants high in the ceiling. Buck’s date was sitting with his back to him, staring out the window into the street. The stranger’s silhouette struck a familiar chord inside Buck, and he frowned, trying to place where he’d seen the man before as he walked over.
And found himself staring at none other than Eddie Diaz.
The same Eddie Diaz he had said goodbye to the day before at the end of their shifts. The same Eddie Diaz who Buck had been messaging all day with stories and updates so he could stay in the loop on his day off. The exact Eddie Diaz who Buck had seen dressed for almost every occasion, but almost always in uniform, and never like this.
Eddie was gorgeous on a regular day, but dressed up? In a sharp, fitted black suit with a dark red shirt, his hair slicked back, with that faint, woody scent of cologne? Eddie looking like he’d stepped out of a photoshoot, like he’d walked straight off a runway into this moment? He looked so good that Buck’s mouth immediately went dry, and his mind began to wonder what it’d be like to strip Eddie out of his very fine clothes, almost like unwrapping a neatly decorated present.
“Buck?” Eddie looked up at him, surprised, and then confused. “What are you doing here?”
Buck swallowed, and then gestured at his entire outfit, lips pressed in a tight line and untrusting of his own voice in that very moment. Eddie’s gaze skipped over him, taking in Buck’s tell-tale outfit. His expression shifted into shock, then awe, and then something flickering and unreadable. Eddie’s eyes were travelling along Buck’s body in a way that made Buck feel just a little bit hotter under the collar. And that just wasn’t fair. Buck reeled himself back from the R-rated scenes his imagination was suddenly offering up in obscene detail.
“Oh you’ve got to be kidding.” Eddie breathed.
“Well.” Buck said. “This is...” What were the odds?
Eddie drank from his waterglass, eyes wide like he was ready to make a dash for the door. Buck took the opportunity to stiffly take his seat across, not entirely sure what the right thing to do was in this kind of situation.
Eddie’s glass was still pressed against his lips when realization crossed his face, and he began to frown as he lowered the glass. “Wait. Did you… did you stand me up last Thursday to go look after my son?”
Oh shit. Buck almost burst into laughter at the reminder.
“Well he is my favorite Diaz, so.” Buck said, unrepentant. “There was really no competition.” Not that he’d known he was choosing between the two Diazes at the time.
“I can’t believe this is happening.” Eddie looked around like he wished he was dreaming. “Do you know how long I waited for you? I was there for an hour. Babysitting my son was your family emergency?”
Buck just shrugged, not feeling nearly as guilty as he should. “I like kids, and my best friend needed help! I was being a good friend!”
“You li-” Eddie couldn’t even finish his sentence, and he stared at Buck with a look of outrage, mouth open. Then, his face twitched, and he started breaking down laughing.
Buck grinned dumbly as he watched, feeling a burst of warmth inside him at the sound of Eddie's ringing laughter.
“God, I can’t even be mad at you,” Eddie groaned as he started to calm down, though he was still fighting back laughter. “I’m going to have a talk with Pepa after this.”
“I still can’t believe you agreed to go on a blind date set up by your aunt.”
“Oh, you’re one to talk,” Eddie said. “What happened to being happily single?”
“Maybe you inspired me.” Buck returned. It was close enough to the truth.
Eddie blinked, like he hadn’t thought of that possibility. “Huh.”
“So,” Buck said, bouncing a little too eagerly in his chair as he leaned in. “What sold you on me, exactly?”
“I’m sorry?” Eddie raised one eyebrow, amused.
“Well, I was told you were volcanic levels of hot, and I had to see what that meant for myself so… what sold you on me?”
Eddie stared at him, and then looked away, clearly embarrassed. There was a torturously long silence before he said: “Apparently you like kids.”
Buck waited for the follow up, but Eddie just blinked innocently at him, and didn’t speak again.
“That’s it?” Buck said, offended. He just wanted Eddie to say something nice about him. Why was Eddie making it so hard?
“That’s all you’re gonna get,” Eddie said, lips pressed in a teasing smile.
Buck rolled his eyes, and huffed. “Well, I can imagine the amazing things that were probably said about me just fine.”
Eddie nodded at him with a wink, letting Buck know he was indulging him.
“Hi! Are you gentlemen ready to order?” A smiling waitress materialized beside them, and they both looked up at her in surprise before they exchanged a glance, realizing that they’d sat around too long to just walk off now. Buck wasn’t even sure what the protocol was in these fancy restaurants, did you get banned for life if you just walked out without ordering?
“Yeah, you know what?” Eddie said with a quick glance at Buck, flipping open the menu and speaking with the confidence of someone who already knew what they wanted. “We’ll get the tasting plate of appetizers, and I’ll have the duck main, and a bottle of your house red to share.”
Buck froze. He hadn’t even looked at the menu, he was so busy teasing Eddie. Wait, were they staying? They were having dinner?
“Of course.” The waitress turned to Buck with a smile. “And you, sir?”
Buck scrambled to pick up the menu and opened it.
Eddie watched Buck’s panicking face, and a look of fond amusement crossed his face before he turned toward the waitress. “He'll have the steak, medium-rare.”
Buck paused, and closed the menu, glancing between Eddie and the waitress as she smiled and nodded. When Buck didn’t protest, the young woman confirmed their orders, before leaving with the menus.
“Aw, babe, you remembered,” Buck teased as soon as the waitress was out of earshot.
Eddie made a face at him. “It’s like one of the only three things you ever order.”
“Still,” Buck said. “That’s pretty sweet.”
Eddie rolled his eyes like he thought that Buck was overexaggerating.
“Alright,” Eddie said. “Well, we haven’t hung out in a while so, why not do it in a fancy restaurant?”
“Well, beats going home to cook instant noodles, so.”
It was weird, walking into a restaurant expecting a date but getting his best friend instead, but Buck and Eddie both settled into it like this was just another evening of hanging out together. Except this time instead of hoodies and henleys they were in suits, and instead of their homes it was a nice restaurant, and instead of beers it was wine. Actually, if Buck thought about it, it wasn’t all that like a casual hangout at all. But he didn’t let himself think about it, and instead let the flow of easy banter and jokes carry him along as they dug into their food.
“Did you think she knew it was me?” Buck mused aloud in between bites of (divine, melt-in-your-mouth) steak.
“God, I sure hope not,” Eddie said with a grimace. “Not that she’d actually tell me anything about who she was setting me up with.”
“Yeah, me neither,” Buck said with a wave of his fork. “I was just hoping you wouldn’t turn out to be some like, stalker or something.”
Eddie made a face. “That’s… a low bar, Buck.”
“Oh, come on, were you expecting me to be the man of your dreams?” Buck laughed, and struck a semi-pose.
A weird, thoughtful look crossed Eddie’s face at Buck’s words, and he looked over Buck in a way that was almost shy, before he shook his head. “Honestly? Just someone who wouldn’t run for the hills the moment they learn about Christopher’s condition would be nice.”
“Well, you did get that so,” Buck said, and then frowned, not quite knowing where he was going with the thought. “I guess we both won?”
“Hey, I could still turn into a stalker. I know where you live, after all.”
“Nah,” Buck said with a shake of his head, “you wouldn’t have the time.”
Eddie looked offended for half a second before he was laughing again. “Dammit, you’re probably right. I still need to get groceries before tomorrow.”
They moved from dinner onto dessert, mostly because when Buck saw the dessert menu he just had to try the special sticky date pudding. Buck knew if it was even half as good as the steak he’d just had then it would be worth the hole he was about to burn in his pocket. Eddie just smiled his soft indulgent smile and ordered some cake, and then proceeded to rudely steal spoonfuls of Buck’s dessert whenever Buck wasn’t paying attention.
When it came time to grab the check, Buck felt a bit sad. He’d missed this, hanging out with Eddie, just the two of them. Ever since Eddie had started dating again it had been harder and harder to find time to relax together. And Buck was having such a nice time he almost didn’t want it to end. But Eddie had to go home to Christopher, and Buck wasn’t about to try and steal Christopher’s dad time away from him, no matter how much he wanted to continue the night at a bar or some other place.
Eddie took the check as the waitress brought it over, and Buck smiled and thanked her, letting her know they had a lovely meal.
“Wait, is this right?” Eddie said suddenly, looking up at the young woman. “Our desserts don’t have prices.”
“Oh, they’re complimentary tonight, sir,” the waitress replied. “It’s our monthly special for couples.”
Eddie’s mouth fell open, and his gaze darted toward Buck, who tried to keep his best poker face. The desserts they’d ordered had been easily twenty bucks each, and this place Josh presumably picked was already expensive enough. Buck could see the hesitation on Eddie’s face, and Buck just offered a small shrug, keeping his mouth closed.
“I didn’t even realize,” Eddie smiled brightly, directing the full force of his delight at the hapless waitress. “Thank you.”
Buck’s own heart skipped a few beats as the waitress blushed pink, before she took Eddie’s card and walked off.
“I didn’t know we were dating, Eddito,” Buck said with a wag of his eyebrows.
Eddie stared at him, thoroughly unamused. “You want to go flag them down and set them straight?”
“Nah,” Buck shook his head, and finished his wine.
Buck didn’t even properly process the fact that he pretty much just had a romantic dinner date with Eddie until he was lying in bed later that night, trying to get to sleep. It had been so relaxed and simple it felt like every other time they were hanging out, at the station or after work or at one of their friend’s places. It hardly even felt like a date, even though that was the context that had brought them both to that restaurant.
But then again, dates didn’t have to be awkward get-to-know-yous, or a semi-cautious dance that ended with two people in bed. Hadn’t he and Abby settled into something almost similar, months in, once they became familiar with each other?
Abby. Buck hadn’t even thought about her in months, not since she blew back into and then out of his life like a tropical storm, uprooting all of his poorly repressed hurt and anger. But even back then, it was still different. Abby hadn’t been Buck’s best friend the same way Eddie was. He didn’t know if it was the age gap, or just their personalities. But there had always been something too-patient, uncertain, in the way she treated him. Like Buck was a cute puppy she didn’t fully understand. She didn’t always get his jokes, his references, not as easily as Eddie did. And it was never… as easy , so desperate had Buck been to please her, to be a good boyfriend, to not fall back into Buck 1.0. He could never have teased or made fun of her the same way he could Eddie, all of it knowing that Eddie wouldn’t mind it and would still smile and laugh with him the next day.
Abby had said, in their last meeting, that she hadn’t wanted to fall back into being the person she used to be. And Buck thought that maybe, he was finally beginning to understand what she had meant.
Buck had known he was in love with Eddie, but it had always been something quiet, steady, unchanging. Usually, Buck’s feelings sat unobtrusively in the back of his mind until once in a while, it reared up and slapped him in the face with need. Though the two of them were friendly and often physically affectionate, Eddie had never so much as hinted at any genuine interest in Buck. And Buck wasn’t going to ruin the best friendship he’d ever had by going and messing that up with feelings, even if he had to deal with unwanted butterflies every time they so much as bumped shoulders.
It was a hilarious coincidence, and a great dinner between friends. Buck was going to just leave it at that.
Though he wasn’t going to forget the way Eddie looked that night anytime soon.
Josh called him the very next day, just as Buck was wandering the aisles of his local grocery store, looking for peanut butter. Buck, intent on scanning the shelves, didn’t even check the caller ID before he swiped to answer.
“So… how did it go?”
Josh. Buck sighed internally. “Hello to you too, Josh. How are you doing? I’m doing fine.”
“Oh please,” Josh said. “Should I take it as a good sign that I didn’t get any angry messages last night?”
“Look, it was...” Buck fumbled for the right words, trying to decide if it was worth the humiliation to explain to Josh what had happened. “It was nice. We had a nice time. Thanks for setting it up, by the way.”
“And… I don’t think it’s gonna happen,” Buck said. “Food was pretty good though.”
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that, Buck.”
“You know what, it was fine. It’s not like I was actually expecting anything to come out of it.” Buck said, reaching forward to pick up the peanut butter he wanted. “Though, Josh?”
“If there’s ever a next time, please just tell me their name in advance.”
“Oh, did you have trouble finding the guy?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.” Buck said, and hung up.
Buck spent the entirety of his day off dreading going back to work, mostly because he wasn’t sure how he was going to stop himself from doing something weird the moment he came face to face with Eddie again. He had put himself through all five stages of grief in a day, thinking about the fact that he and Eddie had technically gone on a date but had only managed to spend it chatting and joking like any other time they hung out together. If there was ever going to be any moment to convince Buck that nothing was ever going to happen between the two of them, this was it.
As nice as it would be to press Eddie against a wall and kiss him senseless, among other things, Buck had to accept that Eddie simply was not interested in him that way. And he was going to ignore the whisper of you’re just not good enough in his head in the hope that the little voice might eventually stop and leave him alone.
So it was with newfound conviction that Buck walked back into work during his next shift, certain of his place in the world, and in Eddie’s life in particular.
Buck walked up the stairs of the firehouse just in time to see Chimney handing a small stack of bills to Hen, as the two stood beside the dining table. Hen nodded and scribbled something down in a notebook before slipping the money into her pocket.
“Hey, whatcha doin’?” Buck said, approaching curiously.
“Hey Buck, just paying Hen back for some stuff,” Chimney said, as Hen waved a greeting and went past Buck to go downstairs. “So how did your date go the other night?
Buck immediately regretted ever telling Chimney he was going on a date. He glanced around, and found that Eddie was watching them curiously from the couch. Buck felt a devilish urge rise up inside him.
“Honestly?” Buck said with an exaggerated sigh as he slumped into a chair beside Chimney. “Pretty disappointing.”
Eddie pressed his lips together, and gave Buck a look that told him he knew exactly what Buck was doing.
“Yeah?” Chimney said, dropping onto a seat across from him. “Sorry to hear that man, they can’t all be winners, I guess.”
“I know, but this guy? I mean he’s pretty to look at, but aside from that, guy’s so boring. Zero interests aside from his work and his kid. I think I was about to fall asleep, don’t know how anyone stands him.”
Out of the corner of Buck’s eye, Eddie stood up, and started walking toward them with a glint in his eyes. Buck hid a grin, seeing he had taken the bait.
“Gee, that’s harsh coming from you, Buck,” Chimney said with an awkward laugh, staring at him in surprise.
“Yeah, I know what you mean about guys like that,” Eddie said as he slid into a seat next to Buck. “I had this date the other night and the guy was a total moron. I mean you know what they say about guys with brawn but, man.”
“You too, Eddie? Damn, glad I’m not in the dating pool right now,” Chimney said.
“Yeah well, I suppose people gotta balance out their good looks somehow, right?” Buck said, leaning back in his chair.
“I dunno man, I don’t think he was even that handsome,” Eddie mused.
Buck kicked him under the table. Eddie jerked, and made a face like he was struggling not to burst into laughter. Chimney looked between them, confused.
“Also,” Eddie added. “Terrible sense of humor.”
Buck chewed on his lip, not willing to let Eddie win. “My guy? Total cheapskate too.”
“Alright, geez guys, I get it, you both had super shitty dates,” Chimney said. “I mean, why not just date someone you know?”
Eddie raised his hands to gesture at the station. “I barely know anyone outside of this firehouse. What are even my options?”
“I dunno,” Chimney shrugged. “Buck?”
An unwelcome stab of want shot through Buck’s heart, did Chimney have to joke about this today, of all days?
“We’re already married at work, man,” Eddie shrugged.
Buck nodded, keeping his face carefully neutral. “Eddie’s got a point.”
“Holy mother of God,” Chimney, far more offended than he really should be, got up and walked off.
A week later, they got a call to attend an emergency at a paintball arena. When they pulled up, Hen and Chimney rushed in ahead while Buck and Eddie push-pulled the gurney behind them with the rest of their equipment. They walked past paint-smeared walls and fake plants, and Buck was rambling a mile a minute at Eddie as he remembered some trivia from his late night research.
“Hey, did you know that paintballs were invented in the 60s? They used it for like, marking livestock and trees and stuff. And it wasn’t until ‘81 when this stockbroker guy and a bunch of his buddies made it into a survival game.”
“Yeah?” Eddie glanced toward him with a soft, indulgent smile. “Game’s younger than I thought it’d be.”
“I know right? I always thought it was at least like, a hundred years old? I mean we’ve had guns and paint for longer than that-”
They arrived next to Chimney as he was trying to shine light into the eye of a teenage girl with neon orange paint smeared around her eye. The girl was crying and whimpering, explaining that she’d removed her helmet because it was too tight. For her trouble, she’d ended up getting shot in the eye. Buck winced in sympathy as he set the brakes on the gurney and watched the paramedics run through their assessment.
It was mostly Hen and Chimney’s scene, which left Buck standing in the back with Eddie. When it became clear there was no life-threatening situation at hand, Buck started looking around at the arena, the obstacles, and the armored onlookers, feeling an itch to gear up and play. They hadn’t done anything purely for fun as a team since the rage room, and Eddie had been missing from that whole session. Between his SEAL training and Eddie’s military experience, Buck had a feeling they could be unstoppable.
“Okay, let’s get her to the hospital,” Hen announced, reaching out to help the woman to her feet.
Buck and Eddie moved the gurney forward, and helped to strap the woman in as she sat down. Then, they were pushing her out of the building and sending her off to the hospital, before they all climbed back into the truck to go back to the station.
“Hey guys, we should totally do a team paintball game sometime, it looks like so much fun.” On the way back, Buck suggested his idea.
“Oh, no thanks,” Hen said with a grimace. “That stuff hurts, Buck. Not to mention the paint you’re going to get all over your clothes.”
Chimney made a face and shook his head. “Not into getting bruises for fun, buddy.”
“I’m much too old for that, Buck.” Bobby’s voice sounded over the headset.
Then it was him staring at Eddie, who just shrugged at him and said: “I mean if you can get the others on board, I’ll play?”
Buck spent half the ride back trying to do exactly that, but none of the others would budge. And it wasn’t until Buck saw the signs for a laser tag arena go past their truck that the lightbulb came on in his head.
“Laser tag!” he announced into his headset. Everyone glanced at him with a mixture of exhaustion and amusement, already worn down by his earlier efforts.
“No paint, no bruises, just flashing lights, and I know for a fact that no one on the team is epileptic. Come on guys, it’s perfect.”
Hen pursed her lips in thought, and then shrugged with a smile. “I guess?”
“Yeah, alright,” Chimney said.
“Count me in,” Eddie said with a smile and a tilt of his head.
“Bobby?” Buck said, waiting for their captain to say yes. If Bobby agreed there was no way everyone else wouldn’t be on board.
There was a moment of silence as Bobby considered the idea.
“You know, I don’t think I’ve played since the 80s,” Bobby said with a soft laugh. “You’re on, Buckley.”
Buck grinned, and would be bouncing in his seat if not for his seatbelt holding him in place. “I’ll research places! When are you guys free?”
Coordinating schedules was insane for people doing irregular shift work and with parenting responsibilities. Normally it was hard enough just waiting for Eddie to have a night free, but multiply that by twelve and suddenly it became Mission Impossible. Everyone had a birthday or a recital or a date night or a shift to account for. And it was a depressing moment of discovery for Buck when he realized that even when he sacrificed whichever part of the 118 that was on shift, most of the team wouldn’t be free on the same evening for at least a month.
The revelation didn’t stop him from researching places to make a booking, however, and that was how Buck found himself hunched in front of his laptop on a Sunday night, staring at a glaring red and black text box which said:
WEDNESDAY COUPLE’S NIGHT!!!
GET 2 TICKETS FOR THE PRICE OF 1!!!!
LIMITED TIME OFFER!!
The place had good reviews, even if the website looked like it hadn’t been updated since 2005. And as Buck scrolled through it, he felt curiosity grow into temptation and then into an overwhelming, all-consuming need.
He copied the link to the ad and sent it to Eddie along with five or six puppy-eyes emojis. ‘They’re doing a two for one couples night! ’
He watched his screen until his message was marked as ‘read’, and then stared at it some more until a typing bubble popped up.
‘Aren’t we doing this with the team?’
Buck immediately tapped out a response. ‘Yeah, but we’re not going to be all free on the same night for like a month. This one’s next Wednesday.’
There was no reply for a while, and Buck could almost picture Eddie staring at his phone, the gears turning in his head as he considered the offer. Then, there was another typing bubble.
‘Are you suggesting we commit fraud? Again?’
‘Come on, it’s been ages since we’ve done anything together.’ Their not-date was barely two weeks ago, but that didn’t really matter.
‘I don’t even know if I’m free that night.’
Buck sent another half dozen puppy-eyes emojis to make his point. He really really wanted Eddie to say yes.
‘Alright, alright, let me check.’
Buck laughed, victorious.
The next morning Eddie gave him the okay, and Buck excitedly made the booking. Then, he was counting down to Wednesday night, when he hopped into Eddie’s truck after his shift.
“Do you think we need to make up a backstory? Like how we met or how long we’ve been dating and stuff?” Buck said, glancing toward Eddie in the driver’s seat as they drove away from the station.
“It’s laser tag, not a couple’s retreat,” Eddie said with a laugh. “I doubt anyone is going to care.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right,” Buck said.
They grabbed a quick bite to eat and pulled up outside the arena with about ten minutes to spare. Inside, there were already other couples waiting, some holding hands, some whispering together. Only a few people even looked up when the two of them walked in, and Buck made his way to the counter to check in and pay as Eddie wandered away. When Buck turned around to look for Eddie again, he found him smiling and chatting to a pair of young women by the far wall.
“Hey,” Buck said as he approached, and all three people turned toward them with smiles.
“Oh hey, I’m Alice,” said the pretty brunette. “It’s nice to see another gay couple at one of these things.”
“Y-yeah!” Buck said, offering a friendly smile. That was what they were, just another regular gay couple and not shady best friends trying to scam a discount.
“Do you guys play laser tag often?” The redhead spoke up, and introduced herself as Rebecca.
There was still another five minutes until their session was due to start, and both Eddie and Buck, too polite for anything else, fell into conversation with the young lesbian couple.
“So how did you guys meet?” Rebecca asked, after explaining she and Alice met in a college class.
“Oh, uh,” Buck said, eyes going wide. “We actually… work together.”
“Oh, really?” said Rebecca.
“Yeah,” Buck nodded. “I mean, his first day at work? When he was in the locker room changing into his uniform, I swear, it was like it happened in slow motion.”
Both Alice and Rebecca laughed.
Beside Buck, Eddie frowned, giving him a weird look. “Babe, how come you’ve never mentioned that?”
Buck froze, and then shrugged at Eddie with an awkward smile. Play along, dammit.
“So what do you guys do?” Alice said. “Are you like firefighters or something?”
“Uh, yeah,” Eddie said. “We’re firefighters.”
Mercifully, the conversation ended not long after that, as a staff member emerged to usher everyone in to start gearing up.
“No one was going to care, huh?” Buck whispered, bumping against Eddie’s arm as they walked deeper into the building.
Eddie elbowed him in the ribs in response. “Shut up.”
Then, they were putting on glowing vests and grabbing their weapons, and Buck was grinning at Eddie and pretending to shoot him with his laser pistol while Eddie laughed at him.
Everyone stood in pairs as the gamemaster explained the rules and the mechanics of their gear. Each couple was their own team. The game was a free-for-all shooter, and the winner would be the pair at the end with the most combined points. Everything was straightforward and exactly the way Buck remembered it from childhood, from the corny neon sci-fi aesthetic to the shape of the plastic gun in his hand.
Then, they were let into the game area to roam and set up before the game officially started. The inside of the arena was dark, lit only by dim, pulsing lights that were barely enough for them to see by. The countdown started above their heads as dramatic electronic music started to play, and everyone scattered and spread out.
“You ready for this?” Buck said.
“You kidding?” Eddie smirked. “We’re gonna wipe the floor with these guys.”
Buck laughed, and they set themselves back to back behind cover as a voice above them counted down three, two, one.
The game started with the sound of an booming explosion, and then, almost immediately, there were flashes of light all around them as people began to shoot at each other. The guns all made different sounds, from lasers to assault rifles to what even sounded like a machine gun, and Buck led his way forward, ducking back as orange light flashed ahead and someone took a shot at them.
It was only when the lights on his chest piece flashed and went dark as someone landed a shot, that Buck realized Eddie wasn’t behind him anymore.
“Eddie?” Buck turned around, confused, but there was only the dim light around him. Cautious of other players, Buck slowly started making his way back the way he came, trying not to get shot a second time.
He turned a corner to find Eddie standing still in the middle of a corridor, his gun clutched tight in front of him. He was looking around himself with wild, glassy eyes, like he didn’t have any idea where he was. His face was pale, and his chest was heaving with fast, rapid breaths.
“Eddie?” Buck breathed, his heart beginning to race as he recognized what was happening, and shock, then fear, hit him in rapid succession. Oh shit. Oh fuck.
There was a loud bang as someone tripped or walked into a metal barrel. Eddie’s gun flew up toward the direction of the sound, but he froze, and didn’t move. Buck could swear he heard a whimper.
“Eddie? Eddie, hey.” Buck said gently. Around them, there was still the sound of the others’ firing. The assault rifle sound effect was going off again and again in the near distance.
Slowly, Buck moved closer, and it was at the same time that his gear flashed back to life with an electronic buzz. Eddie whirled, his gun pointed straight at Buck’s head. He stared at Buck, terror and confusion in his eyes, like he didn’t even see him, like he didn’t know who Buck was. His chest heaved as he took short, sharp, gasping breaths.
“Eddie? It’s me, it’s Buck.” Buck took half a step back, hands raised, his gun pointed at the sky.
For a long moment, Eddie stared at him, until his eyes suddenly found focus again, and he looked around the arena, like he was just remembering where he was. Then, he lowered his gun, eyelashes fluttering, and started walking straight for the exit sign behind Buck.
Buck turned, and anxiously trailed after Eddie. Outside, a confused attendant looked at Eddie as he pushed past, and then at Buck, who mouthed an apology and gestured for him to stay back. Then, he followed Eddie back out into the foyer.
Eddie had slumped onto one of the chairs, the glow from his gear casting him in a pale red. Eddie was staring at the ground, his elbows on his knees as he tried to even out his breathing.
For a moment, Buck just stood there and stared. Then, he removed his equipment, and placed it on the reception table beside him, before he slowly approached Eddie.
Eddie looked a bit calmer now, and Buck watched as Eddie clenched and unclenched his fists, and took long, measured breaths, the same way they would ask of people in the clutches of a panic attack.
“Hey, are you alright?” Buck said softly as he sat down next to Eddie. Eddie’s hands were shaking, and Buck reached out without thinking, taking one of Eddie’s hands into his. Eddie's grip tightened on Buck almost instantly.
“Yeah…” Eddie’s eyes closed, and his breaths were slowing down. “I… I think I will be.”
For a long moment, Buck just held onto Eddie’s hand, and waited, keeping Eddie company.
“Just… laser tag?” Eddie laughed suddenly beside him, a broken note in his voice. “Really?”
“Did it…” Buck didn’t know how to ask.
Eddie’s eyes slipped closed again, and his jaw tensed. He glanced over at Buck, and his eyes were red.
“Yeah.” Eddie whispered softly.
Buck nodded stiffly. He’d known Eddie was a veteran, that he’d seen combat in Afghanistan. God, he hadn’t even thought to check. He was a terrible friend. Of all the ways to fuck up what was supposed to be a fun night out, this was possibly one of the worst.
For a long time, Eddie was still and silent. Then, he took a deep breath, and sighed.
“You know our uh, our chopper got shot down, on the way back to base,” Eddie said.
Buck looked at him, saw the vacant look in Eddie’s eyes. “You don’t have to-”
“No I… I want to,” Eddie said. “Keeping all of this inside has… clearly been a fantastic idea.”
Buck nodded, and stayed quiet.
“It was a medical evacuation, we were ferrying wounded back to base, and then this rocket just… came out of nowhere and took us out of the sky. When I woke up it was already night-time and… these insurgents were right on top of us. I tried to get everyone out, to safety, and the whole time we were fighting for our lives. They never stopped shooting at us, rifles, machine guns, RPGs…” Eddie took a deep breath. “It was all we could do to hold our ground until support arrived, and even then we barely made it out of there, what with the... new injuries on top of old.”
Buck squeezed Eddie’s hand, and Eddie’s lips ticked up in what was almost a smile.
“And I guess the uh…. the darkness and the… flashing lights… those… shitty sound effects. I had the gun in my hand and it all just…” Eddie inhaled deeply, and then let out a shaking breath.
“Shit,” Buck murmured. “I’m sorry man, I had no idea-”
“Yeah, well, I didn’t either,” Eddie laughed weakly. “I haven’t been to one of these things since I was a teenager. You couldn’t possibly have known.”
Buck stayed quiet.
“God I… I honestly thought I was over it,” Eddie said softly.
“You went through a lot, Eddie.” Buck said. “Things like that leave a mark on people, sometimes it can’t be helped. It’s okay to still be healing.”
Eddie just looked toward him, something uncertain, almost shy, in the depths of his brown eyes.
“And thank you for telling me.” Buck continued. “You didn’t have to.”
“Mmhm, it’s quite an honor,” Eddie said with a weak smile. “Only you, the other survivors, the army… and the entirety of Christopher's fourth grade class know.”
Buck laughed. “Well if it’s only them.”
“Oh and, Carla and Ana and... all the other parents at show-and-tell.”
Buck huffed with laughter. “Well I am still… honored to be among their ranks,” he said with a nod, holding a hand to his chest.
Eddie laughed, and the shadow around him seemed to lift a little.
They shed their gear and made their exit. On the way out, Eddie asked Buck to drive, and Buck didn’t question it, making sure to take things slowly as they headed back to Eddie’s house. The car was quiet all the way, without even the radio to fill the silence, but Buck didn’t mind it. Eddie stared out the window the entire time, looking like he was a million miles away.
It wasn’t until they were almost on Eddie’s street that Eddie straightened in his seat, and looked around them in confusion.
“You’re not dropping yourself off?” Eddie said.
“It’s alright, I can just catch an Uber,” Buck said. “I think it’s better if you just go straight home, Christopher must be missing you.”
Eddie glanced at him, but didn’t call him out on the shoddy excuse. “You can… stay over if you want, you know.”
Buck looked toward Eddie, surprised. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah,” Eddie said, leaning back against the window. “Christopher would love to have you there.”
“Well, if it’d make Christopher happy…” Buck said. “Who am I to say no?”
Just as Eddie said, Christopher was ecstatic when he found out that Buck would be staying the night. Carla, thankfully, didn’t ask why both of them showed up together after what was clearly a too-early night. And they both wished her an early goodnight before Buck settled in with Christopher to help him finish his homework, and Eddie vanished into his room for a little while.
It was an easy, relaxed night, and the next morning Buck made omelettes for everyone before they dropped Christopher off at school and Eddie finally took him back to his apartment. And then, it was business as normal.
They didn't really talk about what happened, though Eddie mentioned, a few days later, that he was having some additional sessions with Frank. And Buck smiled and told him that he was glad, and if Eddie ever wanted anyone to talk to, he’d always be available. Eddie just smiled at him, eyes soft, and didn’t reply.
Then, two weeks later, Buck’s phone pinged with a message from Eddie right as he was in front of his bathroom sink, brushing his teeth for bed. He unlocked his phone to find that Eddie had sent him a link with a question mark.
Buck’s eyes narrowed as he opened and read the website. Then he hopped back to the messaging app. ‘Rock climbing?’
‘Used to do it all the time before I enlisted. Wanna come? Great core workout.’
‘This is a couples offer??’
‘I mean if you prefer to pay the full thirty bucks…’
Buck barked out a laugh, and he spit and rinsed the toothpaste from his mouth. He finished up his nightly routine before he settled on his bed, and replied to Eddie’s message. ‘I am so proud of you, man. I’ve brought you to the dark side.’
Barely a minute passed before his phone buzzed with a response. ‘Are you in or not?’
Buck had never actually done indoor rock climbing before, and the moment he was inside the gym, he was craning his neck to look up and around him at the panelled walls and the colorful handholds that littered them. The climbing walls stretched up on every side and even across the ceiling, and Buck gaped as he watched two people make their way across, hanging on purely by their fingertips and toes.
Beside him, Eddie was dressed in a loose tank and shorts, looking around with excitement in his eyes and a small smile on his lips. They’d gotten a weird look when they claimed the couple’s discount, but the receptionist didn’t question them and gave them the tickets to go in. Around them, there were people of every age. From young children with parents to older folk who looked impressively fit.
“You wanna go first?” Eddie said beside him. “I’ll belay.”
They found a medium difficulty wall not in use and got into harnesses. Eddie explained the basics of the ropes and harness to Buck, but climbing was climbing, and enough was similar to what they’d been trained in that Buck felt comfortable enough to jump straight into it.
Before he knew it, he was staring up at the wall, looking for handholds, and then he was hauling himself up higher and higher. Buck started enjoying himself almost immediately. Figuring out how to balance while pressed against a wall was not as difficult as he thought it might be, and almost similar to what he’d done before on calls. Though it was different when he was hanging on barely by his fingertips in some parts, and having to stretch his limbs awkwardly out to reach certain footholds. Still, he was at the top in minutes, and then Eddie was congratulating him, and slowly lowering him back down.
Then, it was Buck’s turn to be the anchor, and Eddie ran him through the basics of belaying before taking his own turn on the wall to warm up. Afterward, they moved from medium difficulty to high difficulty, and Buck barely made it a third of the way before he slipped, and was hanging from his rope. Then, Eddie took his turn, and though he went slowly, he seemed to have no difficulty making his way up. Buck frowned, his hands tight on the rope as he watched Eddie scale the wall bit by bit.
“Hey, don’t think I’ve seen you here before, first time?”
A peppy female voice sounded next to him, and Buck looked across to find a pretty young blonde standing beside him, staring at him with a cute smile.
“Uh, sorry, I’m trying to keep an eye on my friend.” Buck said, darting glances between the woman and Eddie, and hoping she’d leave him alone. He needed to pay attention in case Eddie slipped and fell.
“Oh, that’s okay,” the woman replied. “It’s really nice of you to help out your friend.”
Eddie was near the outcropping, and seemed to be considering whether he wanted to challenge climbing horizontally.
“Uh… yeah,” Buck said distractedly, mouth open as he stared up at Eddie.
“Are you doing the high difficulty wall? I can never grip onto the handholds properly, they’re so small and narrow, you know?”
Eddie started to cross, stretching his body to reach a distant handhold. Buck held his breath.
Then, Eddie slipped, and flailed as he began to fall. Buck pulled on the rope instantly as it went taut, and slowly helped lower Eddie back to the ground. Eddie’s rope twisted around as he descended, and a look of confusion crossed his face when he saw the blonde woman standing next to Buck.
The woman had jumped back at Buck’s sudden movement, and was curiously watching Eddie’s descent.
“Uh, hey, who’s this?” Eddie said once his feet were finally back on the ground.
“Oh, uh, this is…” Buck trailed off, realizing he didn’t actually know the woman’s name. He looked back at Eddie, who had a smear of climbing chalk on his cheek.
“Laura,” the woman said with a smile, looking between them with shining, almost hungry eyes.
“Right, it’s nice to meet you,” Eddie said with a tight smile.
“Eddie,” Buck said, gesturing at his own cheek.
“Yeah?” Eddie looked toward him.
“You-” Buck gestured again, but Eddie only stared back at him blankly. With a sigh, Buck reached out and rubbed at the bit of chalk on Eddie’s cheek.
Eddie blinked, and glanced down at Buck’s hand when he pulled it away to show him the chalk. “Oh, thanks.”
“Oh…” The woman was looking between the two of them, eyes wide. “Oh I’m sorry. I didn’t realize. You know what? You guys have a lovely night.” As she spoke, she started inching away, before turning and walking off entirely.
“Uh… Well that was weird,” Buck said as he watched the woman leave. Then, the meaning of her words clicked. “Wait, did she think we were-” Buck pointed between himself and Eddie, unsure.
“Flirting with strange women in front of your boyfriend,” Eddie said, shaking his head. “Unbelievable.”
Buck opened his mouth, his mind stuck on the ‘boyfriend’ part of Eddie’s words, at the implicit jealousy his tone suggested, and then closed it when he remembered their cover. “Well technically she was... flirting with me?”
Eddie raised an eyebrow at him, and Buck resisted a smile at the sight of leftover chalk on Eddie’s brow.
“You still have…” Buck gestured at his own face.
Eddie blinked, and tried to wipe at his brow, but only managed to smear even more chalk onto his face. He frowned when he glanced at his hand and couldn’t tell if he’d gotten it, and then tried to wipe at his face again and again.
Buck sighed, and reached forward. “Just... stop, let me get it.”
It was like opening a floodgate. Every few days, they sent each other any interesting couples offers that they saw, weighing up what was worth pursuing and what wasn’t. Living on a public servant salary in LA was hard, and doubly so for Eddie, who was a single father with a ton of additional expenses. It was rare enough for him to get out and have fun in between his two full-time jobs. So if they had to tell a few white lies so they got to spend some time together and have a good time, Buck certainly wasn’t going to mind it.
An unexpected bonus also came in the form of getting the others to lay off on the teasing, by telling them he was going out on dates with different people. Chimney and Hen went from asking after details to slowly losing interest as he made up different men and women to entertain them. And the thing was… they were more or less dates of a sort, even though it was just the pair of them hanging out. If nothing else, it was great research for good places around the city that they could take anyone they developed an interest in.
And so Buck justified his actions with endless reasons, so he didn’t have to think about the fact that he was just burying himself deeper and deeper within a false reality that was never going to be.
The themed mini golf place they went to was great fun, at least for Buck, who discovered to his enormous delight not two holes in that Eddie was hopeless at the game. He either hit the ball too hard or too gently or completely mistimed his shot so the ball bounced and rolled and skipped everywhere except where it was meant to go. And Eddie, stubborn to a fault, would purse his lips and furrow his brows and insist that this next one was going to be it. Really. Buck, stop laughing. And the night turned out fine even though one of the attendants hovered around and glared at them in suspicion until they started calling each other ‘babe’ and ‘honey’ to throw him off the scent.
“Honey, it’s okay if you can’t do it.”
“Say that one more time and you’re sleeping on the couch tonight.”
“Is that an invitation to come over or-?”
“Stop distracting me, okay? I’ve got this.”
And then, a discount couple’s night at the Getty. The headphones on Eddie’s audio guide stopped working a third of the way through the gallery. Buck, out of the kindness of his heart, offered him one earbud, and then they were wandering through the museum with their arms linked, tugging each other one way then the other toward the pieces they wanted to see. Buck accidentally pulled out Eddie’s earbud so many times that Eddie eventually just grabbed onto Buck’s hand and shoved it into his pocket so they were stuck shoulder to shoulder and Buck couldn’t move too far away.
“Can I… Can I have my hand back?”
“Shush, I’m trying to listen.”
“I just need to use the bathroom.”
“Wait. It’s almost done.”
For some reason, it didn’t occur to either of them to just give Eddie Buck’s audio guide.
At the ice rink, Buck discovered that ice skating was one hundred percent not something you could pick up without extensive practice. He blamed his high center of gravity as he tripped over again and again, and ended up doing some sort of waddle-walking trick to get across the ice as Eddie floated past him on ice skates. The liar had said he’d never gone skating before, and Buck couldn’t understand how the hell Eddie knew how to skate when he grew up so far south he was on the border of Mexico.
“How- How the hell are you so good at this already?”
“It’s actually a lot like rollerblading. You never played as a kid?”
“I had a skateboard, like a normal child.”
“Look, give me your hands. Okay. Stop trying to walk. Flex your ankle to push away from the ice and balance with your other leg.”
Buck tried to do as Eddie instructed, and then lost his balance and fell straight into Eddie, landing them both on the ice with a heavy thud. It wasn’t how he’d pictured it would go the first time he was on top of Eddie, but beggars couldn’t be choosers, and whatnot.
Buck grumbled for half the night, miserable as he tried to figure out how to skate properly, right up until Eddie got overconfident and fell over, sliding across the ice. Then, Buck felt just a little bit better.
Their not-dates stacked up, one after the other. By their fifth outing, they had their whole fake-dating history rehearsed to a tee. Because for some reason, strangers really liked either flirting with them or bonding with them over mutual queerness. And by the fifth or sixth time they got told they were a very cute couple, it was starting to feel less like a sucker punch and more like a loving slap to his face.
None of it did anything to help Buck get over Eddie, however, only the opposite. He was hanging onto every trailing touch and fake flirtation as though it was something more than just a taste of the real thing. But even though Buck knew what he was doing was unhealthy, he was too busy living his dream life to truly question the wisdom of his actions, afraid that if he interrogated it too hard, and thought about it too much, he’d recognize how stupid and pathetic he was really being and stop. And he didn’t want to lose these moments with Eddie, not when each of them was so delightful and precious. He felt like some sort of addict who always just needed one more hit before he could quit for good. And his drug of choice came packaged as his beautiful best friend with dark, smouldering eyes and a smile that could stop your heart.
Team laser-tag night came and went, and Eddie bowed out claiming that there was no one to look after Christopher. Then, three days after Buck’s team was thoroughly thrashed by Bobby’s team, Eddie sent him a discounted invite to the same paintball place they had attended an emergency at.
‘It’s brightly lit, and there’s no weird sound effects or flashing lights so I think we’re safe. Wanna do it?’
‘Are you kidding? Hell yes’
Buck felt a thousand times better when he and Eddie decimated all of the other couples and came out victorious in the paintball arena. Even if he was finding paint in his hair and on parts of his body for days afterward.
Buck got to see more and more of LA at Eddie’s side, and fell more and more hopelessly in love with every not-date they shared. The two of them worked side-by-side each day, running toward fires and diving into danger to save life after life. They hung out together with the rest of the team at parties and events. And once in a while Buck got to spend some time with Christopher, when Eddie had errands to run or a real date to attend.
And for a while, things were so good, so okay, that Buck forgot completely what it meant when Eddie was out there spending his time with different men and women.
Which was why shock hit him like a tidal wave, the moment Eddie got a girlfriend.
It wasn’t like he hadn’t known this might happen. Buck had always understood it wasn’t going to last. But for weeks, Eddie had been going out less and less on proper dates to spend his free nights with Buck instead. Nothing had ever come of the ‘real’ dates Eddie went on, and somewhere along the line, the possibility that Eddie might begin seriously seeing someone had faded into something faint and ambiguous, like how one of them could get hurt on a call, or how Maddie could just up and walk out of Buck's life all over again, not impossible but not worth thinking about.
But then, a date with someone became two, became three, and before Buck knew it Eddie was telling him how much he liked her and how he wanted to see where things went. And it wasn’t fair how thoroughly wrecked the fact of it made Buck feel. Seemingly overnight, they stopped making plans to go out together, and Eddie started making good on his promise that he’d call Buck first if Carla wasn’t available to look after Christopher. Chimney collected his pot of winnings (“Three months, I knew it.”) to the sound of the 118’s collective groans, and started loudly counting his money in front of everybody.
Knowing he was being passed over in favour of Eddie's girlfriend, his real date, shouldn't have felt like heartbreak. Because Buck had known, he had always known that their outings had just been messing around in a game of pretend. But the idea of Eddie being happy with someone else, being happy without Buck, still left him feeling like he was choking, drowning. And the most stupid thing of all was that Buck had no one but himself to blame, for letting everything go on for as long as it did, pretending that going on fake dates with the man he was in love with was ever going to not end badly.
Buck was fine with it. Buck didn’t sulk, except for the fact that he did. Buck was fine but he also wanted to crawl into bed with all of the blinds shut and just hug a pillow or cry until he felt human again. Buck was okay except he also wanted to buy cookies or ice cream or cake and camp in front of the TV wrapped up in blankets so he could maybe feel something that wasn’t misery.
Instead, Buck settled for cuddling Christopher on the couch and watching cartoons on Eddie’s nights away as they both stuffed their faces with cookies they’d baked themselves. Because Christopher had a way of making everything less terrible just by being Christopher, and Buck was never going to meet a more amazing and optimistic kid than him. So he might as well get all the Christopher time he could until Eddie found him an amazing new step-parent.
And then, Eddie brought his girlfriend home after a night out, and Buck met Lucy for the first time. She was a veterinarian, gorgeous and funny and smart and charming and a whole lot of things Buck was not. Buck talked to her for twenty minutes and liked her so much he left Eddie’s house hating himself instead. And on that same night, he decided that he’d spent enough time wallowing.
The weeks passed by, and Buck forced himself to go on dates with stranger after stranger, desparate to move on. And he discovered, to his frustration and resignation, that almost everything he could do with people he didn’t know brought with it memories of him and Eddie together. He couldn’t go to a bowling alley without remembering the time he and Eddie had rescued the lady with the trapped arm. And the moment he walked onto the green of a mini golf course he couldn’t stop thinking about how much Eddie would struggle against the spinning windmill. Then there were the times he’d see something hilarious or stupid and his immediate first instinct was that he had to show it to Eddie somehow. And his mind began to imagine the sound of Eddie's laughter, or his look of fond frustration, like it was the best reward he could ever receive.
Buck tried his hardest and always made an effort, but then he was vetoing paintball and skating rinks and it seemed like there was no place left in LA that Buck could survive without being reminded of Eddie Diaz one way or another.
And he wasn’t going to go back to meaningless sex with strangers, Buck was better than that, that wasn’t him anymore.
So Buck was dealing with it, he was going to get over his feelings.
He really was.
Or so he told himself.
Another month passed before Eddie invited him out again, this time to an Italian restaurant. Staring at Eddie, Buck almost instinctively said yes before he remembered that he’d promised himself he wasn’t going to do the thing anymore. So Buck made up some dumb excuse about his car needing repairs. Eddie didn’t buy any of it, if the suspicion on his face was any indication, but he also didn’t push.
Then, less than a week later he asked Buck again, this time to a Vietnamese place on an entirely different night. And Buck made up something else about having a date organized before Eddie unhappily let it go.
And then, another three days passed when Eddie asked if he wanted to go hit up a new Hungarian restaurant that had opened downtown. And Buck was so intrigued by the idea (he’d never had Hungarian food before) that he was already looking at the menu online before he remembered that he was supposed to say no to not-date nights with Eddie.
“Okay, Buck, have I done something? Because this is the third time you’re trying to bail on an evening and I’m starting to feel like I’m being punished for something.”
The two of them were trying to play a game of pool, and from across the table, Eddie’s grip on his cue was just a little too tight as he stared Buck down, brows furrowed.
Buck froze, and then hit one of Eddie’s striped balls into the pocket. He stared at where the ball vanished, and sighed, straightening. “No, that’s not it. It’s just…”
“Just what, Buck?” Eddie said with a tilt of his head, not moving to take his turn.
“I just, I don’t think it’s a good idea, to keep doing this pretend dating thing,” Buck said, before mumbling. “We shouldn't have even started in the first place.”
Confusion flashed across Eddie’s face, because both of them knew that the coincidence at their blind date aside, it had been Buck’s idea to start taking advantage of couples' offers to begin with.
“Buck, I was trying to ask you out for dinner,” Eddie sighed. “None of those restaurants were even doing any couples’ specials.”
Buck’s mouth fell open. He’d gotten so used to discount offers being the pretext for an invitation that he hadn’t even considered the alternative. “Wait, you mean it?”
“I mean if you want to call them up and check…?”
“No, I believe you, I just-” Buck’s words fizzled out as he remembered that he couldn’t explain the real reasons for his hesitance.
“So…” Eddie said, when Buck’s silence dragged on for too long. “Is that a yes to dinner?”
Buck stared across at Eddie, who looked so uncertain, and even hurt, that he felt guilt and shame rise up inside of him. God, he’d missed Eddie. Ever since Eddie and Lucy became a thing they had been seeing less of each other, and if he was being honest, Buck missed just spending time together, the jokes and teasing and just… Eddie. He missed everything about Eddie.
Sure, he was still trying to get over his feelings, but it didn’t mean he wanted to lose his closest friend in the process.
“Yeah, okay,” Buck said, thinking it was unfair how warm it made him feel when Eddie lit up at his words. “Let’s do dinner.”
Eddie looked so gorgeous, his hair neatly brushed back, dressed in a dark suit, that for a few seconds upon seeing him, Buck forgot how to breathe.
They were back in the restaurant Josh had chosen for them months back. The Hungarian place was booked out for several months, but here, coincidentally, a reservation had opened up last minute.
Across from Eddie, Buck took his seat, and stared confusedly at the flickering candle and single rose in the vase between them that hadn’t been there the last time, even on couple's night.
“I thought this wasn’t another fake-date,” Buck said.
“Uh, no, just dinner.”
“Well you… certainly went all out.” Buck said, a bit uncertain.
“Only the best for you, mi amor.” Eddie smiled, strangely distracted as he stared at Buck.
Eddie’s face twisted with a grimace, and his eyes squeezed closed as he shook his head like he couldn’t believe what he’d just said. “Sorry, habit? The restaurant updated the decor.”
Buck huffed in laughter. Alright, that he understood. He looked around, and indeed, there were candles on every table now, including their own.
They ordered food and drinks and settled into the evening. The restaurant was just as fantastic as Buck remembered, and before long they were laughing and chatting just like old times. Eddie was exceptionally handsome in the soft orange glow of candlelight, and Buck let himself be just a little bit mesmerized as they joked with one another.
All throughout the meal Eddie was casting strange looks at him, like there was something he wanted to say but he didn’t know how to say it. Buck, not knowing if it was something he wanted to hear, didn’t make any comment. They sailed through their mains and then through their dessert, and before long, they were making their way from the restaurant, and Eddie offered to drop Buck off at his apartment. Buck shrugged, and didn’t say no.
They continued to chat in the car, lighthearted topics like Chris’ upcoming birthday and Buck’s impending status as an uncle. Eddie bemoaned that he didn’t have the kind of cash for Disneyland in light of all of his recent overspending, without explaining why he’d then gone and picked an expensive restaurant for himself and Buck. And Buck admitted that he was terrified of messing up being an uncle somehow, without acknowledging how good he was with Christopher, Denny, and Harry, until Eddie forced him to.
In what felt like the blink of an eye, Eddie was pulling up outside Buck’s apartment, and the night was coming to an end.
Buck shoved down his disappointment and said goodbye before he hopped out of the car. Then, he forced back the urge to stare and wave at Eddie until he couldn’t see his car anymore, and started walking toward his building.
There was the sound of a car door opening, and then slamming closed behind him. Buck turned around to find Eddie standing beside his truck, his hands in his pockets as he studied Buck with an odd look in his eye.
Buck stared, confused. "Eddie?"
There was a moment of silence, before Eddie took a deep breath.
"Can I ask you something, Buck?” Eddie said, his voice loud in the quiet night.
“Yeah?” Buck replied. Something inside him tensed, not knowing what was about to come.
“Why… was it so important, that this wasn’t some sort of fake date, this time?” Eddie’s gaze was steady and unreadable in the dark. “It never seemed to bother you before.”
Eddie was right. And wasn’t it telling that Buck hadn’t minded the pretense, back when Eddie had been going on dates with other people, and when he had first started seeing Lucy, no matter how disrespectful their actions were when he thought about it? Buck had been the one who’d started this. And he’d lived to regret it.
He stared down at his feet as the memories came flooding back, and with them, all of his embarrassment and shame.
“It just… I-It was just so… silly? Looking back.” Buck said, trying to put words to the mess of feelings inside of him. “I mean, none of it was even real. What were we even doing? Playing around like we were a couple? Lying to people just so we could save a few bucks? Wasn’t any of that weird to you? What we were doing was... wrong.”
Something darkened in Eddie’s eyes. “So the problem was that… it wasn’t real?”
Buck blinked, not expecting Eddie to find the truth behind his words so easily. He fumbled for some sort of explanation that wouldn’t immediately ruin everything between them. “I…”
“What if… it was?” Eddie continued. “Would you say yes then?”
Buck’s thoughts screeched to a stop, and he stared at Eddie, mouth half-open, uncomprehending. “What?”
Eddie stared at him for a long moment, and then took a deep breath and walked forward. “There’s been something I’ve been wanting to try. If it’s too weird just stop me, okay?”’
Buck scrunched up his face in confusion, his mind still struggling to catch up, to try and make sense of what Eddie had just said. “Uh, alright?”
Eddie stepped forward, and then, Buck felt the graze of Eddie’s lips, soft against his. There was the gentle touch of Eddie’s fingers on his face, the heat of Eddie’s body pressed against his.
Buck froze. Then, the moment he realized what was happening, he opened his mouth and deepened the kiss with a moan. He slipped his hand around Eddie’s neck and held him there, instinctively pulling him closer, because now that this was happening Eddie wasn't allowed to leave, to stop. The texture of Eddie’s kiss was gentle, soft, curious. But Buck couldn’t do anything else but kiss him back like his life depended on it, as though Eddie was an oasis in a desert and Buck was a dying, desperate man.
Eddie forcibly pulled himself away, studying Buck with a flutter of his lashes, his face flushed, and a delighted smile on his lips. Buck stared at him helplessly, chest filled with needy longing, and then grabbed his tie and pulled him back in again.
They kissed, and kissed, and kissed, until Eddie was pulling away to catch his breath, his hand on Buck’s chin as he stole another handful of kisses from Buck’s lips.
“Okay, I think I have my answer.” Eddie said, his voice a hum against Buck’s lips.
Buck was struggling to breathe, enraptured by the taste of Eddie, the warm heat of him pressed so close, the possibilities for the night that were opening up in front of him with every inhale. His brain slowly kicked back into operation, and all of a sudden, he remembered the fact of Eddie’s girlfriend. “Wait, what about-”
“We broke up.”
“What? When?” Anger, confusion, excitement, delight, all flashed within Buck in rapid succession.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Well,” Eddie’s gaze dropped with embarrassment, “you would have asked why and then I… would have had to tell you the reason.”
“O-oh.” Buck blinked with a soft sigh. “Okay.”
Eddie tilted his head at Buck, a smile rising to his lips. “You’re not going to ask?”
“You just told me you didn’t want to tell me.” Buck said, face twisting with confusion. It sounded like a trick question.
Eddie stared at him for a second, and then burst into soft chuckles. He leaned in, and pecked Buck once on the lips. “How are you even real?”
“Nothing. Though you’re allowed to ask… if you want to know why.”
“Do you want me to ask?”
“You know what? It doesn’t matter.” Eddie was staring at his lips, then, he leaned in to kiss him again, and Buck had no complaints about that. Eddie’s body was pressed against his, warm and heavy and solid, and it was setting something in Buck alight. Then, Buck was reaching for Eddie’s hand and pulling him toward his apartment and the bed inside, desperate with everything he wanted to do to Eddie right that second.
Getting to strip Eddie out of his clothes was every bit as perfect as he had dreamed it would be.
Nothing much… actually changed.
They went to work, they went on dates, though now they took advantage of offers guilt-free because the couple thing was genuine. They kept things private from the rest of the team because Buck wasn’t ready for that round of teasing yet. They were both well-practiced at omitting each other from recounts of their dates and leaving out the specifics. And even though Buck felt like he was vibrating with joy every single second of every day, no one really seemed to notice or to question him, aside from some vague comments here and there about how ‘someone clearly got laid last night’.
Maybe it was just because Buck always so clearly wore everything close to the surface, and how Eddie was inscrutable even on the best of days. Or how they were already unusually in sync with each other even before they kissed for the first time. The only thing that was really different now was that he could press Eddie against the door of his apartment and kiss him whenever he needed to, and got to sleep over in Eddie’s bed instead of on the couch and sneak into the shower with him in the mornings. Everything else - work, days off, time with Christopher, stayed exactly the same.
So maybe, in retrospect, they had already, somehow, been in a relationship for a very long time, even if neither of them had realized it.
It was just that instead of dwelling on how stupid they had been and how much time they had missed with each other, Buck preferred to focus on other things. Like how Eddie looked in bed, with his hair mussed and eyes glazed, lips bruised with kisses. Or the pale expanse of Eddie’s skin, and how it felt beneath his fingertips as he explored every curve and scar on his body. Or the delicate structure of Eddie’s hands, the hard ridge of his nails, the length of his long fingers and the way it felt, when they were tangled with Buck’s own.
Nothing much changed. But everything, every day, every moment was more, so much more.
Then, mid-way through an evening shift, and two weeks after their first kiss, Buck overheard Hen and Chimney talking in the station.
The pair were perched in chairs near the edge of the loft, and though their voices were soft, it still drifted down to where Buck was beneath them, sorting through their latest delivery of supplies with Eddie.
“Christ, at this rate no one is going to win,” Chimney was moaning, “we’re going to have to donate the entire thing to charity.”
“I mean, you’d think that Buck and Eddie would have gotten their act together by now.”
Buck froze, and glanced over at Eddie, who had also stopped sorting, and was looking toward the ceiling with a look of amusement.
“I know, right?” said Chimney. “When Eddie got a girlfriend I thought for sure that would be it. God damn it, I have so much riding on this.”
“At this stage you sort of have to start to wonder if they actually… just aren’t into each other like that?”
“No, come on, Hen.”
Buck, confused, almost walked out to confront the pair before he felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned around, and Eddie was standing behind him, a finger held up to his lips in a shushing motion. He jerked his head behind them, and Buck followed him to a quiet corner in the empty locker room.
“You heard that, right?” Buck said.
“Yeah, that’s pretty damning stuff,” Eddie nodded.
“Why did that sound like they were betting on us?”
“Pretty sure it’s because they are. They have a pool about when we’re going to get together.” Eddie said.
“Buck, come on, they’ve been nosing about our lives from the second I said I was thinking about dating again.”
“But really? A betting pool about us?” Buck couldn’t believe how ridiculous their friends were, though this was also exactly like them. Had he and Eddie always been that obvious? “Wait, have you known about this the whole time?”
“Known? No.” Eddie shook his head with a soft laugh. “But this is Hen we’re talking about, I’ve always suspected. Today just confirms it. I can bet they’ve got a lot staked on it.”
“I can’t believe them. I should have known they’d do this. Why am I even surprised?”
Eddie didn’t immediately respond, and a thoughtful look crossed his face. “What do you think, should we put an end to this?”
Buck was still having trouble wrapping his head around what he’d just heard. “Yeah. We should just tell them.”
“Just tell them?” Eddie looked at him like he thought he was adorable, and his lips quirked with a smirk. “Please.”
“Okay, I know that look,” Buck said, a suspicious smile appearing on his face as he read the mischief in Eddie’s eyes. It was that same look Eddie wore whenever they'd made those morally dubious decisions in the past. "Wait, you’re not suggesting-”
“Would it really be so bad? They sort of deserve it.”
Buck thought about it. Was it right for Hen and Chimney to keep using their own friends for entertainment and money-making, dragging the entire firehouse into it every time? Was it right? Was it respectful? No, not really.
Eddie had a very good point.
“You got a minute, Cap?”
Buck stuck his head through the door of Bobby’s office and peeked inside. From behind his desk, Bobby looked over at him and Eddie, and waved for them both to come in.
“Of course, take a seat, how can I help you boys?”
Buck walked in first, and Eddie followed, closing the door behind him as he entered. They both settled into chairs in front of Bobby’s desk, and glanced at each other once before they turned toward their captain, who was watching them both with curious interest.
“There were just a few things we wanted to clarify, Bobby.” Eddie started, his face serious, voice even.
“Go for it.”
Eddie hesitated a moment, his gaze flickering before it settled back on Bobby. “We think that there is something that you, as our captain, should know.”
Bobby straightened, a weird expression settling across his face as he looked between the two of them. “I’m listening.”
Buck kept his face carefully expressionless as Eddie continued to speak.
“Is it correct that the Department is tolerant of relationships among firefighters in the same house as long as the matter is disclosed?”
Bobby’s face went blank, and his gaze drifted between Buck, who was trying and failing to keep a poker face, and Eddie, who looked perfectly calm and collected, like he was asking about the weather.
“Why do you ask, Eddie?”
“Just a... personal interest.” Eddie said.
“And… Buck here shares this interest?”
Buck looked over at Eddie, who glanced at him and jerked his head toward Bobby.
“Uh, yeah,” Buck said with a shrug. “I’m curious.”
There was a long silence as Bobby considered them, and Buck tried not to start squirming in his seat.
“Yes,” Bobby said at long last. “That is correct. I can arrange for the relevant paperwork if that is needed.”
Eddie nodded. “Does the disclosure have to happen immediately once a relationship begins? Or is the timeline more flexible?"
“The department allows a reasonable timeframe, up to about… a month or so.”
Eddie grimaced. “So if something happened two months ago… What happens? Would we get reprimanded?”
Bobby, weirdly enough, looked disappointed. “Not necessarily, paperwork can be backdated, depending on the circumstances.”
“Uh, I also have a question.” Buck said.
“Would it also be correct that the Department discourages its employees from engaging in any form of gambling or betting behaviour?”
Bobby’s eyes narrowed at him, and there was another long silence before he answered. “Alright, what is going on? Are you thinking of launching another lawsuit at the Department, Buck? Or-?”
“Oh no, nothing like that,” Buck grinned. “Just curious, that’s all.”
“As firefighters in the LAFD, I would expect both of you to already be familiar with the Department’s policy on this,” Bobby replied with a perfect non-answer.
Eddie studied Bobby for a moment. “What date did you bet on?”
“Excuse me? Firefighter Diaz?”
Buck jerked, trying not to laugh.
“The betting pool about me and Buck.” Eddie said. “Was it… more recent than two months?”
“You think I would do something as unprofessional as participate in a betting pool about two of my own men?” Bobby said evenly, an edge of anger in his voice.
Eddie tilted his head, and just looked at Bobby. Buck tried not to look too amused.
Bobby looked between Buck and Eddie, seemingly outraged. But the two of them only watched Bobby, and waited, silent with anticipation.
Then, the anger slipped from Bobby’s face, and was replaced by a look of sheepishness. “Well, my date passed two weeks ago, so it’s up to the others now.”
“I knew it!” Buck almost jumped up and whooped. He knew Bobby had to be involved. His reaction when Eddie had started hinting at their relationship had given him away completely.
“Was it before or after the 8th?” Eddie’s expression was thoughtful, and his eyes narrowed as he looked toward Bobby.
Bobby glanced between them, suspicious. “I had the 10th.”
The 10th. Oh, that could work. That could be perfect. Buck looked toward Eddie, who was nodding as he thought things over and reached the same conclusion.
Eddie glanced at Buck, and then turned the full weight of his gaze back toward Bobby. “Two-thirds of your winnings. Yes or no?”
Bobby straightened, as understanding dawned on his face. “What are you proposing here, Firefighter Diaz?”
“A deal, Captain Nash.” Eddie said.
Buck shrugged. “We hear there’s quite a lot of money at stake.”
They left Bobby’s office half an hour later, paperwork signed and relationship officially disclosed to the Department. Buck felt like he was buzzing, not just from the excitement of victory, but from the fact that this was now official. He and Eddie were a thing, they’d signed documents and everything, and though it wasn’t quite at the level of registering a marriage, it was a commitment, and it meant that both of them were in this for the long haul.
Eddie was his, well and truly his.
Buck and Eddie were just walking out of Bobby's office when Chimney walked past, and peered at them curiously.
“What were you guys both doing in there?” Chimney said.
“Just some paperwork,” Eddie said with a smile, walking on. Buck followed, face only slightly flushed.
“Wait, what paperwork needs both of you to do it at the same time?”
The bell, in that very moment, began to ring with the announcement of a medical emergency nearby. Eddie and Buck both looked up, and then one after the other, shrugged at Chimney with a smile before they ran off.
Chimney stared after them, frozen in spot, before he remembered his job, and began to chase after them.
Three days later, they were finishing up a shift and changing into their street clothes, when Eddie lent in and pressed a kiss against Buck's lips, in front of both Hen and Chimney.
Both of their friends immediately froze.
“See you at home,” Eddie said as he pulled away, one hand lingering on Buck’s chest.
“What was that?” Hen said, staring up at them from the bench, eyes wide as saucers.
“What?” Buck said with an expression of fake innocence.
“You just kissed him!” Chimney said. “When did this happen?”
“Uh…” Eddie said, exchanging a glance with Buck. “Three weeks ago, I guess?”
“Fuck!” Chimney said, somehow both mortified and outraged, and then he blinked, and his expression fell back into something normal. “I mean, congratulations! About damn time.”
“Uh, yeah,” Hen said, looking shell shocked. “Congratulations. Gosh, took you guys long enough.”
Buck and Eddie just shrugged, and Eddie turned back toward his locker to grab his things. Buck too, focused on getting his belongings before slamming his locker closed. When he turned back around, Chimney and Hen were still staring at them.
Buck and Chimney’s eyes met, and for a moment, they stood there, frozen and staring at each other in apparent confusion.
“Okay.” Chimney nodded. “I’m going to go tell everyone now.”
“You do that, Chim,” Eddie said with a sigh.
“Yeah, I also gotta… go,” Hen said, picking up her bag and slinging it over her shoulder.
“Bye Hen,” Buck waved.
And then, she was gone, and only Buck and Eddie were left in the locker room, staring at each other and trying not to laugh.
On Saturday night, inside Buck’s apartment, Eddie slipped him $380 in cash.
Buck had to pause his cooking to count the money, and then, he was gaping as he tried to do the mental maths. “Holy shit, how much did they bet? Like six hundred bucks?”
Eddie made a face at him as he swiped a beer from Buck’s fridge. “Are you kidding? That’s just your share.”
Buck’s mouth dropped open. “This is just a third?”
“Told you there was a lot at stake.” Eddie popped open the top, and took a swig of his drink.
“How many people were in this pool?”
“Not actually that many,” Eddie replied, rattling off a few names. “But... the pool’s been going on since a few months after I started, apparently, so you can use your imagination. ”
The pot had been growing for two years? The idea that the rest of the team had seen them as a likely item for that long. Buck wasn’t going to think about what that meant.
“Should we… really keep all this?” he said, thumbing at the notes. “It’s a lot of money. I sort of feel bad.”
“I think they deserve it for trying to use our relationship for their own amusement, don’t you?”
It made sense when Eddie put it that way. “It still feels weird just taking it though, I mean Bobby technically won the pot.”
“Well, you can give it back if you want.” Eddie said. Then, he glanced over at Chris, who was watching cartoons over on Buck’s couch, and leaned in with a whisper. “I, for one, am taking Chris to Disneyland.”
“Oh.” Buck remembered Chris’ birthday wish to go to Disneyland that year. That was an amazing idea. It was perfect. Eddie was an amazing Dad and no one could tell Buck otherwise. “Can I come?”
“Well, you can certainly afford it... If you keep the money.”
Buck laughed, and reached forward to pull Eddie in for a kiss.
Buck kept the money, in part because Eddie was right and also in part because he wanted to spoil Christopher as much as possible for his birthday. He’d had his present ready since two months ago, but the tickets were insanely expensive and he wanted to be able to buy Christopher a ton of souvenirs and also treat him to something nice for dinner. He and Eddie organized everything in secret, telling Christopher they were going to do something at abuela’s. And Buck got more and more excited with each day that passed, imagining the excitement that was going to be on Christopher’s face when he realized that he was going to be having a Disneyland weekend.
Then, two days before their planned Disneyland trip, Chimney called an urgent meeting in Bobby’s office. Buck and Eddie filed into the room together to find Hen also waiting inside, and weirdly enough, Athena too.
Chimney stood in the middle of the room, his face serious as he asked Eddie to close the door behind him. Eddie did as he was asked, and then, Chimney was regarding everyone present solemnly.
“So… what are we all doing here, exactly?” Buck said with a frown.
Athena was looking less than impressed, and Hen and Bobby just looked somewhere between amused and confused. Eddie, standing at Buck’s side, regarded Chimney expectantly.
“I have been alerted to a matter of fraud,” Chimney announced, “and I thought it would be appropriate to bring together all those involved.”
Athena frowned. “And why are we doing this in Bobby’s office instead of the police station, exactly?”
“Because I believe you, Athena, as a police sergeant, would be a good impartial judge in this matter.”
Athena looked among them like she couldn’t believe this was happening.
“And also because I don’t actually want anyone to get arrested.” Chimney added.
Somehow, Athena managed to look even less impressed than she did at the beginning.
Chimney turned toward the rest of them. “I have come into evidence that Buck and Eddie have lied to us about when they started dating.”
“What?” Buck said.
Beside him, Eddie sighed.
“You two,” Chimney said, stabbing his finger in their direction, “have been dating for at least four months longer than you’ve claimed.”
“Excuse me?” Eddie said.
“Why is this such a big deal to you guys?” Buck said.
“Because, Buck, this is important.” Chimney continued. “I have evidence, from one Josh Russo, that he set you and Eddie up on a blind date, four months ago.”
Buck crossed his arms, and exchanged a glance with Eddie, who raised an eyebrow at him. So Josh had tattled, probably finally found out through Maddie about who Eddie was.
“Alright?” Eddie said. “And?”
“You guys got together four months ago!” Chimney said, spreading his arms wide.
“Except we didn’t?” Buck said. Just because he went on a date with Eddie without meaning to didn’t mean that they were dating, in the present (past?) tense.
“Oh, don’t lie to me,” Chimney said. “I went through both of your social media accounts. Rock climbing? The art museum? They were all couples' nights. I mean you guys were clever for not posting about it at the same time, but you two have been dating for months.”
“Okay, Chimney, that’s deeply creepy,” Eddie said with a slow nod. “But we weren’t dating.”
Well, maybe they were, given a certain definition of dating, Buck thought. But he wasn't going to admit that in front of this crowd, in this very moment.
“Are you guys hearing this?” Chimney said, turning toward Hen and Bobby. Hen stared at both Buck and Eddie with a face of betrayal, while Bobby just looked deeply amused. There was even something like a smile on Athena’s lips.
Buck and Eddie exchanged a glance, and Buck nodded at Eddie. Eddie turned back toward Chimney, and opened his mouth to deliver the killing blow.
“You’re forgetting the part where I was dating Lucy for six weeks.”
Chimney opened his mouth, and then closed it again as he remembered. Hen’s face fell.
“You think if I was seeing Buck by that point I’d be cheating on him that publically?” Eddie continued, unimpressed, though a little amused.
“What?” Chimney said. “So you guys just went out on couples’ nights for… fun?”
Buck shrugged. “It’s cheaper, man. The other person gets in for free half the time.”
“Oh wow,” Hen said, her eyes widening. “You know what, I can actually believe that. They are that oblivious.”
“Hey!” Buck said.
“Doesn’t change the fact that Bobby clearly split the pot with those two. Pretty sure telling them about the pool is against the rules.” Chimney said in a rush.
“I never told them about the betting pool,” Bobby said with laughter in his eyes. “They came to me themselves. Buck here even had a whole spiel about how the Department discourages against gambling behaviour. Sounded like he was going to launch another lawsuit.”
Buck smiled his sweetest and most innocent smile. “I mean did you really think we wouldn’t know about it?” he said. “I lost like fifty bucks to Hen when we were betting on Bobby and Athena being an item. Also, maybe don’t talk about it in the station? Where anyone can hear you?”
“I have to say, you guys were pretty obvious,” Eddie added. “No one’s ever been that invested in my dating life. Especially not anyone already in a relationship.”
“Ah crap,” Chimney slumped, dejected. “You guys really knew about it? Why did we start doing this again?” He looked toward Hen.
“You mean aside from Eddie still being new, and how Buck started trailing after him like a puppy every day? Right after he was starting to move on from Abby?” Hen said, before turning toward Buck and Eddie. “Clearly everyone had the right idea about where all of it was going. It was just no one expected it would take the two of you this long.”
“Yeah, way to ruin it for us, guys,” Chimney said.
Eddie laughed. “Have you guys considered maybe not betting on people’s relationships? If you weren’t trying to make money off of us, you wouldn’t have lost so much.”
“Yeah, the Department discourages betting-”
“Really? Buck?” Hen said.
Buck shut up.
“Well,” Bobby said. “I think all of us have learned a lesson from this.”
“Yeah, I am capping the pools from now on.” Hen muttered. “This went way overboard.”
“And I,” Bobby said, “will be putting a stop to any betting activity that comes to my attention from now on. People are not dogs, they’re not horses, and at the end of the day it is not right to make bets about other people’s feelings.”
“Does that mean you’re paying us back the pot or-” Chimney said.
“What? No.” Buck said. “We’ve already bought tickets to Disneyland and you’re not taking that away from Christopher.”
Beside him, Eddie shook with soft laughter.
“Alright, fine,” Hen said, stepping between Buck and Chimney. “This whole thing got away from us anyway, it’s our own fault. And look, I’m genuinely happy for you boys. Everyone just… saw how happy you made each other. And it was killing us that neither of you were doing anything about it.”
“I mean it was either that or tease you guys incessantly, so...” Chimney added.
“It’s fine, guys,” Eddie said, laughing. “I mean Christopher is going to get an amazing birthday out of this, so I’ll let him know who to thank.”
“Okay,” Athena said, looking among everyone in the room like they’d all gone insane. “I see everyone’s reached an understanding. This is all very amusing and also deeply inappropriate. I had better not be called in for something as stupid as this again.”
“Yeah, uh, sorry Athena,” Chimney said. “You know what? I’m gonna-” He pointed a thumb at the door, and started to leave.
Then, everyone was muttering apologies and thank yous and filing out of Bobby’s office. Buck, the last to leave, heard Athena’s voice sound as he went to close the door.
“So what’s this about winning the betting pool?”
There was a moment of silence, before Bobby spoke with an edge of panic in his voice. “Yeah, sweetheart, I was planning to surprise you…”
Buck hadn’t expected an amusement park could be this exhausting, but it had been an incredible day. He, Eddie, and Christopher had gotten to the park almost right after it opened, and Christopher had almost screamed with joy when he found out where they were headed. The three of them went on every ride they could, and kept an eye on time so they could see the parade and the shows. They took Chris around so he could take photos with his favorite characters, and ate overpriced park food before spending far too much money in the souvenir shops. Then, they’d stayed late to watch the fireworks.
Finally, Chris had fallen asleep in Buck’s arms, and they were walking slowly among the exiting crowd toward the car parks. Eddie was beside him, bag slung over one shoulder, Christopher’s crutches under one arm and a giant Baymax toy under the other.
Buck really wanted to reach out and hold Eddie’s hand, but there’d be time for that later, so he settled for holding tightly onto Chris instead. He felt happy and exhausted in the best way, and was already looking forward to unwinding for the evening and crawling into bed with Eddie much later. They still had round two waiting for them tomorrow.
“Hey Eddie?” Buck said, hit by a stray thought as he watched the bustling crowd around them, full of families and couples and friends, and among them the odd lone visitor.
“Yeah?” Eddie said, bumping against Buck’s shoulder.
“Why did you break up with Lucy?”
Eddie stared at him for what felt like a full minute. “What, now you want to know?”
“Yeah, you said I could ask, right?” Buck grinned. It hadn't felt important, before, so giddy had Buck been on the fact that Eddie was there, was his, that Eddie wanted him back, that he had never really stopped to consider Eddie's point of view. And even now, he wasn't really sure that he even needed the answer. But he remembered, the pink on Eddie's cheeks, the hesitation behind but then I would have had to tell you, the disbelief (disappointment?) when Buck so easily refused to press the matter, and curiosity was tugging at him again.
Eddie watched Buck for a moment, and then smiled, his eyes crinkling. “Well… honestly? It was because every time I went out on date with her… I spent the whole time wishing I was with you. Eventually I just couldn't do it anymore. It didn't seem fair, to either of us.”
“Huh.” Buck said, remembering all of the dates he’d gone on while Eddie and Lucy were together. “Me too.”
Had Eddie been suffering the same way Buck had, all this time? Hanging on to every word and flirtation? There were moments that Buck thought he had imagined those lingering touches, those quickly-hidden glances, so desperate was he to see what he wanted in Eddie's every action. But Eddie's words cast everything in a brand new light. Buck felt a bubble of laughter, of pure unfiltered joy, rising inside of him.
Eddie paused, and looked toward Buck like he hadn’t expected the admission. “Hm.”
“I kept sending you those offers because I just wanted excuses to go out with you.” Buck added, remembering the way Eddie had matched his fervor.
Buck watched, something like amusement, like excitement, stirring inside of him, as Eddie stared ahead, blankly processing Buck’s words.
Then, Eddie lowered his gaze, a frown tugging at his lips.
“Me too,” Eddie admitted quietly. “I... sort of started seeing Lucy to try and get over you. I thought I was just... imagining..."
A smile rose on Buck's lips, and he hugged Christopher just a little bit tighter. "Well, I'm glad that plan didn't work."
"God I was..." Eddie paused, and squeezed his eyes shut with a shake of his head. "So stupid.”
Buck chuckled. “Is that really news though?"
Eddie rolled his eyes at him, a playful smile crossing his face before his expression fell back into thoughtful seriousness.
"You know," Eddie said softly. "I was ready for you to punch me, when I kissed you."
"Is that a request? Or..."
This time, Eddie laughed, his body shaking. The stuffed toy started to slip out from under his arm, and he scrambled to shift his grip and save it.
Buck buried his own laughter against Chris' shoulder, and pressed a kiss against the fabric of Chris' shirt, feeling lighter than he had ever felt before. He was never going to get tired of the sound of Eddie's laughter. God, he loved to make Eddie smile.
They walked together in silence as the crowd milled around them. The darkness cast everything and everyone in shadow, and there was a surreal quality to the park around them, like they were walking in a different plane of existence, somehow.
“We really were complete idiots.” Buck said into the night.
“Absolute morons,” Eddie agreed, a beat later, with a sigh on his lips.
“But hey,” Buck grinned. “If we hadn’t been idiots, we wouldn’t have gotten this chance to come to Disneyland. And Christopher wouldn’t have gotten his best birthday ever.”
Eddie turned toward them then, and there was that look again, all amazement and wonder, like he couldn't believe Buck was real. Then, his lips curved with that same soft, indulgent smile, the one that Buck had seen a thousand times before. And for a second, Buck couldn't breathe, remembering, wondering, if it had always meant the same thing as it did now.
“Yeah, you're right,” Eddie said. “Ready to do this all again tomorrow?”
Buck's smile was bright enough to light up the evening. “You bet.”
Josh had been right, Buck thought, as he stared back at Eddie, feeling like he was floating, or maybe flying. It was nice to have someone to come home to.
Buck felt like he could do anything, when those people were Eddie and Christopher.