“So, I’m gorgeous.”
“Modest too,” Chimney piped up from where he was sitting across from him.
Buck shot him a look before getting back to his point. “I’m gorgeous and I’m a great catch.”
“Once again with the modesty,” Chim pointed out, earning yet another look.
“As I was saying,” he said speaking over Hen and Bobby’s laughter, “I’ve got a great job, I’m gorgeous, I’m nice, not stupid, and I’m pretty fantastic in bed.”
“What’s your point?” Bobby asked, still chuckle, but with the same fond exasperation in his tone that Buck was used to hearing.
“The point is, I’m single, and I am sick and tired of being single. You’re all not single and it sucks,” he said, well aware he might be whining slightly.
“It sucks we’re not single?” Hen asked in disbelief and slight irritation.
Buck backtracked quickly. ”Not for you, for me.”
“Wanna try that again Buckaroo?” Chim asked around a mouthful of Bobby’s spaghetti.
Buck sighed and put his fork down, steepling his fingers and looking around at the rest of the 118. “None of you are single, hell even Eddie has that hot for teacher thing he’s got going on.”
“It’s been one date,” Eddie said speaking up for the first time from where he was communing with his meatballs. “Just one, and it’s not hot for teacher.”
“She’s hot, she a teacher, it’s hot for teacher,” Buck said, glad when Chim nodded in agreement with him. “But the point is, Bobby has Athena, Hen has Karen, Chim and Maddie have each other and the baby soon, and now with Eddie going out I’m left all alone. Who’s going to wingman me when all of my friends are at home with their partners. Who am I supposed to go to the bars with?”
“We’re dating, not dead Buck,” Hen said, exasperated.
“So you could come out tonight, then right? Shifts over in an hour barring emergencies and none of us work tomorrow. We could go to a club, have a few drinks, dance a little bit?” Buck asked.
“Can’t, Denny helped Karen make dinner tonight and I’m required to eat it,” Hen said sounding less than apologetic about it.
Buck shrugged, not surprised. “Chim? You and Maddie up for something?”
Chim grimaced and shook his head. “No can do Buck, we’ve got plans to go and see a movie, and you know she’s not a fan of the loud music right now.”
“Bobby, you and Athena?”
Bobby sighed. “Buck, when was the last time you think me and Athena were at a club?”
“I’m thinking Disco?” he asked with a grin. “John Travolta style? White suit? Cutting up the dance floor? Putting those ice skating skills to good use.”
Bobby shot him a look and shook his head. “Look kid, you’ll find someone when you find someone, trying to force it won’t make it happen any quicker.”
“I had someone, or I thought I had someone and it didn’t work out. And then I thought I had someone else, and that didn’t work as well, everyone I choose doesn’t work out for me, which is where you guys come in,” he said doggedly.
That got the attention of everyone and Buck found himself in at the center of attention. He grinned as he looked around at them, and it was Eddie who finally sighed and looked up from where he was rolling his last meatball around. “What is it, Buck?”
Buck snapped his fingers and pointed at his best friend before reaching for his phone and setting it on the table. “On this lovely phone, I have a dating app and I want you guys to choose my next date for me. I can hook up easily, but clearly, I’m missing a secret ingredient, and you’ve all managed to make it work so you know what to look for.”
“It’s been one date,” Eddie said, rolling his eyes, and Buck rolled his back.
“One date with someone who likes you and likes your kid, and is good with your kid, the wedding bells will be happening before you know it,” he said, forcing down the little spike of jealousy at that thought. He knew where he stood with Eddie, and leaking his feelings for the other man all over the place was the last thing he wanted to do.
He could see the looks of disbelief and he sighed, leaning forward and bracing his elbows on the table, his fingers tapping an unsteady rhythm on the table. “Look, you guys know me, you know what I like and what I’m like, but I keep getting people who stick around long enough to be something for me and then they go and find someone else.”
Abby, and then Ali and hadn’t that been a kick in the teeth. A year out from them, and she had found someone and had moved in together. And then Abby had come back with a fiancée and Buck knew he wasn’t the same person and there was no guarantee that it would have worked between them, but it had still hit him like a punch in the gut. He had been injured a lot in the line of duty, and nothing had hurt worse than that moment, it had felt like his chest was collapsing in on itself and he hated it. Hated that he had to soldier on and do his job when all he wanted to do was just go home and cry.
Not that he would admit it, but after, he had gone home and cried. But that was between him, a pint of ice-cream and his bed.
“One date, each of you chooses one date for me and if this doesn’t work it doesn’t work,” he continued, trying to let them see it his way.
Each of them had found something that worked, and sure this date with the girl was the first one for Eddie, but he had been married and had something good with Shannon so clearly, he knew something Buck was missing. Buck was good at being left behind, and it was happening again as each of his friends found someone and he wasn’t mad about it he was glad for each of them, but he didn’t want to be alone. He didn’t want to end up like Red, old, and alone with memories of people instead of actual people.
“C’mon, don’t tell me you’re not just a little bit interested,” he said, forcing a grin as he took in his team’s disbelieving looks.
“Fine!” Chimney said finally, throwing his arms up and reaching for the phone. “One date Buckaroo and I’m telling Maddie about all of this.”
Buck grinned and clapped his hands, handing over the phone after it opened. “Maddie already knows, she helped me with updating my profile. So just, go ahead, find someone and I’ll start talking to them.”
Buck watched as Chimney began to move through the screen, focusing. “Jeeze Buck, how many swipes do you get?”
Buck shrugged. “The normal amount?”
Chimney snorted and looked up at him. “Dude, this is way more than normal.”
Frowning, Buck leaned in and tried to look at the screen. “Really? I thought everyone got that many?”
“No Buck, most people don’t,” Chim said as he tilted his phone towards Hen who, with a face that spoke to how much she was judging herself for this, looked as well.
“Damn kid,” Hen muttered. “What’s your type? Abby and Ali don’t really match up that well.”
Buck shrugged as he settled back in his seat, rolling his water bottle between both hands. “Everyone?” he said, wishing he had sounded surer.
Sure, he thought people were attractive, and he loved sex and those two qualities had made it really easy to be Buck 1.0, but 2.0 had finally admitted to himself that he only wanted to have sex with people he was attracted to, and he needed that connection to be attracted in the first place. Abby had been an eye-opening in that regard.
“Brown hair, blonde hair, red hair, no hair?” Hen asked, trying to get something out of him.
“One fish, two fish, three fish, blue fish,” Eddie muttered as he finished up the last meatball, causing Buck to snort in amusement before he turned to Hen and shrugged.
“It’s just hair, it doesn’t matter.”
“Eye color?” Bobby asked.
“All are good? I went out with this girl who wore colored contacts and her eyes were this weird blue and silver color, it was sort of freaky, but also cool,” Buck said. “Made it really hard to maintain eye contact sometimes.”
He got identical eye rolls from everyone, which was uncalled for.
“Man or woman,” Chim asked, and Buck shrugged.
“Both are fine, neither is fine as well,” he said scratching at the side of their jaw. “Peoples bodies are their bodies you know, if they’re happy with it then I am as well. I wanna make a connection you know, and I can’t constrict myself if I want too. There are seven billion people in the world, a lot of fishes and a lot of species. I might not like tuna but I could love a swordfish you know?”
He got another round of eye-rolls for that, and Buck really thought that was unfair. He was being honest, although if he was honest with himself, the nonreaction from his teammates regarding his ‘coming out’ was nice. Although with Hen on the team, and then also Michael his sexuality was a drop in the ocean.
Chim and Hen were still bent over his phone and Buck leaned back and finished up the water, ready to answer any questions that any of them might have. Eddie stretched and yawned from across the table and Buck moved his eyes away on purpose, not wanting to get caught staring at Eddie’s biceps again. He had managed to play it off as jealousy last time and had made sure to check his out more and more to make sure they were bigger. The last thing he needed was the 118 realizing his stupid crush on Eddie was a thing and that he felt anything other than bromance towards his best friend.
“Alright Buckaroo,” Chim said and handed back his phone. “Out of the, frankly too many to be fair, number of people who find you attractive, I found one that might work. So I sent her a hello, have fun, and let me know how it goes.”
Buck smiled and took his phone, looking down at the screen at the profile of one Monica Galvan and smiled, glad when the hello came back quick enough. “Thanks, Chim,” he said scrolling through her profile, before replying as well.
Buck was glad that when he met Monica a week later that she looked like her profile. She had dark brown hair, brown eyes, and looked like he expected a marine biologist to look. A smattering of freckles across sunburnt cheeks and nose, hair a little frizzy, and shoulders that looked like they could swim for hours. She was a little shorter than he had expected but it wasn’t bad and he smiled at her, one hand raised in a hello. Introductions were made, and he handed over the bouquet of daisy’s Chris had helped him grab when he had babysat him for a while Eddie had run a couple of errands earlier.
“Oh these are pretty,” Monica said with a smile, placing the flowers in the crook of her elbow and looking down at them.
Buck’s smile relaxed. You never knew with flowers really, allergies were common but they were also classic. “I’m glad you like them,” he said walking to the door and holding it open, waiting for Monica to step inside before following her.
They were seated quickly, drinks and appetizers ordered and the conversation was easy. Monica was fun, outgoing, bubbly, quick with a laugh and was able to go tit-for-tat on shitty marine jokes, and began to leave Buck behind quickly, each one startling a laugh out of him.
“What did the ocean say to the shore?” Monica asked after they finished their appetizers.
“Oh I know this one, Chris told me it. The ocean doesn’t say anything, it waves,” Buck said with a laugh as he raised his hand to wave at her
Monica smiled and nodded her head, tipping her wine glass in his direction. “You got it in one. Chris a friend of yours?”
“Friends kid,” Buck explained as he leaned forward. “Best friends kid actually. He helped me pick out the daisies earlier actually, he’s a smart kid.”
“You like them?” Monica asked, leaning back a little bit.
“Love them, my sister’s pregnant and I’m excited to be an uncle for the first time, well sort of first time you know? Chris is like my nephew but I never got see him as a baby so I’m excited to see this little baby Han-Buckley. You?”
Monica shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t hate them, but I don’t like them that much. Also, my work takes me to a lot of places and I know a kid would slow me down you know?”
Buck did know, and he could remember a time when the thought of being around a kid would make him want to run the other way, but that was Buck 1.0, well realistically that was Buck 0.0, and he was in a better place now.
“I get that,” he said even though he did not get that, thinking of Eddie and Chris, and Maddie and the soon-to-be-baby. He leaned back in the chair and smiled at her. “So you’re going scuba diving this weekend, right?”
“And then she tells me she doesn’t really like kids and well that’s an automatic deal-breaker,” Buck said the next morning, around Eddie’s kitchen table, armed with pancakes, syrup, and a burning need to hang out with the most awesome kid he knew in the world, one of them. Denny, May, and Harry weren’t there so they didn’t count. Although not that he would ever admit it, Chris was his favorite, but he had read in that parenting book he had gotten right after the first time he watched Chris that he should never admit that about kids.
“Definitely a deal-breaker,” Eddie said with a grin, reaching over and ruffling Chris’s hair who smiled at them with a mouth full of pancake. “How can you resist beings with such amazing manners such as chewing with their mouths closed.”
Chris, in a move he fully learned from Buck, opened his mouth wide as he chewed, bits falling down his chin and making Eddie roll his eyes and chide Chris in Spanish for a second before Chris closed his mouth and swallowed. “Did she like the flowers, Buck?”
Buck nodded and reached for his coffee, leaning back in his chair and allowing himself to relax at the table, with two of his favorite people in the whole world. “She thought they were really pretty, you did good kid.”
“So no second date then?” Eddie asked, stealing a bite of Chris’s food with a grin.
“Not as such, we’re going to go rock climbing in a few weeks, she wanted me to go scuba diving after she found out that I had certs to do it, but after the whole,” he said with a wave of a hand to indicate the tsunami, “I’m not so big on it. I’m going to let it expire.”
Eddie snorted and Buck raised an eyebrow in question. “Only you would go on a date and end up with a friend.”
“It’s how I make a lot of friends, I’m great at dating,” Buck defended himself.
“It’s just everything else?” Eddie asked, taking Chris’s plate and stacking it with his own, filling up the glass of milk when Chris asked for it.
Buck was silent for a moment, watching the easy relationship between father and son and feeling something settle in him. The date last night hadn’t gone as well as hoped, but being here in the morning to debrief with Chris and Eddie made it a lot easier. Eddie and Chris had a home here and Buck was welcome to it and he hated it when he had to leave.
“Yeah,” he said after a moment when he realized he had been silent for too long and had the gaze of two Diaz’s on him. His weakness of matching brown eyes. “A couple dates, a short relationship, and I’m good. Its anything longer that seems to trip me up.” He sighed. “Anything longer than about nine months and I get dumped.”
“What about when you dump someone?”
“Never have,” Buck said with a shrug.
That got Eddie’s attention and he turned his head and raised an eyebrow. “Never?”
“Nope. Just never…well like I told everyone I’m pretty easy,” he said mock glaring at Eddie’s no shit face, “I like being around people, I like people, I’ve also been really lucky and for a long time wasn’t dating people so you know. I don’t like being alone and I think it means that I can handle a lot in a relationship. More than people want to give me it seems.”
Eddie gave him a look, telling him he exactly what ‘wasn’t dating people’ meant. He knew the 118 judged him for it, but there was nothing wrong with a very active healthy sex life between consenting adults.
“You’re not alone Buck,” Chris said. “You’ve got me and Dad.”
Buck smiled and leaned over ruffling Chris’s head. “You are right, I do, and right now I think me and you should leave your dad with all the boring stuff and go and play with the legos yeah?”
“Hey,” Eddie said halfheartedly.
Buck smiled guilelessly and stood up, grabbing his coffee and waiting for Chris to shuffle off. “Thanks,” he said, meaning the pancakes and for letting him crash their morning. There were times he was still a bit nervous about his welcome, but once he and Eddie had hashed out their differences it hadn’t ever come back up. But with Ana sort of in the picture, if the arrival of a future fourth date was any indication, he found that old seed of worry growing a bit stronger.
“No worries man,” Eddie said reading him easily, and Buck hoped it wasn’t too easy. “You’re always welcome here.”
Lou Martinez was the sort of lean that made Buck feel like a beast next to them. They were a little shorter than him but not by much, with bleached blonde hair, blue eyes, and dressed casually. He read their shirt which said ‘fueled by mitochondria and coffee’ and he smiled.
“Guess you’re a powerhouse then?” he said before holding out his hand to shake. Hen had told him flowers wouldn’t be appreciated this time and he wasn’t sure what else to go and figured he could pick up the tab completely.
Lou grinned back at him and nodded their head. “Only in brains, sadly I don’t think I can power lift as much as you,” they said, one finger pointing towards his biceps
Buck grinned, the button-down was one of his older ones and one of the few clean ones he had after a busy week. It fit a bit more snugly than it should have, and a small part of him was worried he was going to bust the buttons in the front. “It’s old, I wear it to tell myself all those bicep curls are doing good.”
“Well, they are good,” Lou said and nodded towards the restaurant. “You a fan of sushi?”
“I’m a fan of any food, the weirder the better,” he said as they walked towards the door.
“Really?” Lou asked. “What’s the weirdest you’ve tried?”
“I had some roasted guinea pig once, it was actually delicious,” he said with a shrug at their somewhat appalled look.
“Really?” Lou asked once they were seated.
Buck nodded his head and waited for the waiter to hand over menus before looking back at them. “I was in South America sort of just, moving from place to place, working as a bartender and when I was in Cusco they had it at a street food vendor and I tried it,” he explained.
Lou was looking at him with a mixture of horror and admiration. “We have guinea pigs in my classroom so I’m having a hard time separating Ms. Anna and Ms. Elsa from something to eat.”
“Kids name them?” he asked with a chuckle.
Lou gave a long-suffering look and nodded. “Look, I like a good sing along as the next person does, but enough is enough.”
“Well, kids have a hard time letting it go right?” Buck said, absolutely deserving of the glare they sent his way. “So, you’re a teacher then?” he asked to change the subject before they threw the napkin at him.
“Yep, fifth grade, they’re great,” Lou said before diving into a story about one of the kids in her class.
The date had gone fine, but Buck hadn’t felt sad or anything when Lou had — more gently than needed — suggested that this wasn’t going to work, they didn’t feel a spark and he didn’t disagree. It had been fun, he had enjoyed himself, but he wasn’t feeling like calling them again. Pulling out his phone after he had made sure they were at their car and texted Eddie, wondering how his date was going.
Me: howd the date go?
Eddie: not so good, hopefully urs went better?
Me: no spark you know? so not so good?
Eddie: A said we weren’t looking 4 the same thing u know? And not on the same page or something. It’s been four dates what did she expect?
Me: 🍦🍦 ?
Eddie: sure, lemme pick up c & we’ll meet u at the house
Me: isn’t It late?
Me: like past his bedtime?
Eddie: its midnight ice cream on a Friday it’ll be fine buck
Buck let himself into the house and began to turn on the lights and made his way to the kitchen, pulling out the ice cream fixings he had grabbed on his way over. A tub of vanilla and chocolate, bananas, whipped cream, sprinkles, and a bottle of fudge. And a bottle of maraschino cherries which he had no trouble opening and eating four of those before Eddie and Chris even got home.
He looked up as Eddie walked in and smiled at the sight of his friend carrying Chris. “Hey, he awake?”
Eddie nodded his head. “Barely,” he said before handing Chris over and clapping buck on the shoulder. “Beer?”
Buck took Chris’s weight easily, turning his head to see the still mostly sleeping kid. “Sure,’ he said before looking back to Chris. “I got all the makings for a sundae,” he said.
That seemed to be the magic words as Chris woke up a little bit more. “Sundae?”
“Mmhmm, even got the cherries on top.”
“You seem to have eaten the cherries on top,” Eddie said with a laugh coming back and handing Buck his beer before getting bowls.
Buck sat down, carefully holding Chris until the kid was settled. “Only a couple,” he said shamelessly.
Eddie snorted and began to build the sundaes as Buck held Chris, enjoying the way the kid slumped against him. Chris only seemed to wake up long enough to eat some of Buck’s sundae before seeming to pass back out.
“I guess midnight ice-cream doesn’t have the same lure as sleep does,” Buck said with a grin, letting Eddie take Chris and tuck him in for the night.
Buck took another mouthful of his beer and ate the toppings of his ice-cream, waiting to hear Eddie come back down the stairs before looking at his friend. “Do you think a beer float works as well as a root beer float?” he asked.
Eddie stopped in the doorway and looked thoughtful. “Can’t hurt.”
Buck agreed and slowly poured some of his beer over his already partially melted ice-cream. “I love the froth,” he said scooping it up with his spoon and taking a mouthful. “It’s good,” he said pouring more of the beer in, watching as Eddie grabbed a spoon and reached for his bowl.
Buck curled an arm protectively around the bowl and slapped the back of Eddies' hand with his spoon. “You’ve got your own,” he said jerking his chin towards the bowl Eddie had been eating.
“Yeah but I didn’t want to waste my beer if I don’t like it,” Eddie said trying for the bowl again, pouting when Buck rapped his knuckles a second time
“Should I get you a wooden spoon and I can call you Abuelita?”
“You’re trying to insult me but I love your Abuelita so I think it’s a point of pride to be compared to her,” Buck said but uncurled his arm from around his bowl. “Eating me outta house and home here Eds.”
“It’s my house,” Eddie pointed out, taking a bite and making a face. “Nope, not for me.”
“That’s because you like all that bitter beer.”
“if I wanted candy I’d eat candy, not drink it under the guise of a beer,” Eddie said reasonably as he began to eat his ice-cream. “What happened with your date? Hen’s choice, right?”
Buck nodded his head. “A friend of hers, they met through one of the groups that Hen and Karen go to, with other kids who have adoptive parents. Lou is one of the mentors for those kids,” he explained.
“Sounds like someone with patience with is good for you.”
Buck shrugged his shoulders. “The date was fine, perfect even. Or it would be perfect but there was no spark you know? We talked and we had fun, ate some good food. Bonded over wine, but it was the sort of conversation I could have with a stranger on a plane. Nothing really, jumped out you know?”
Eddie leaned forwards, rolling the bottle between his hands as he nodded his head. “No I get that,” he said. “Ana said that she liked me, but she didn’t know what my future plans were and when I told her I didn’t know she was a bit worried. She was looking for something more stable than what I could give her apparently.”
“Sorry man,” Buck said and meaning it. He might be halfway to being in love with Eddie but it didn’t mean he didn’t want him to be happy. “Are you guys done? Is Chris going to have an awkward time at school?”
Eddie snorted. “Yeah no, there was a reason we waited for the end of the school year. She reminded me a lot of Shannon you know, and Chris likes her a lot. I’d like to give it a little bit more time to work out, and I told her that. We’re meeting on Sunday to have lunch after my shift with Chris.”
“Sounds like it should be fun, make sure the food is good,” Buck said with a smile.
It was easy by now to ignore the little pang in his chest as he watched Eddie out of the corner of his eye, allowing himself that brief moment to just watch him. He had always been attracted to Eddie. From day one he could remember the jealousy over the calendar and how quickly they had become friends. Buck always made friends, it was easy for him, but Eddie was in a class of his own. It was the first time in his life he had a best friend, and he loved it, loved Eddie as a friend, and over time loved him a little bit more.
With a start, he realized he had been staring a little too long and Eddie was looking at him with a funny face. “Sorry man,” he said rubbing his face. “Thinking of the date you know. I want this whole idea to work out.”
Eddie reached over and clapped a hand on Buck’s shoulder and squeezed. “It’ll happen when it happens, you can’t rush this shit.”
Buck snorted. “Easier said than done my man. I mean, look at us, two sort of broken hearts eating ice-cream like old women.”
Eddie snorted. “And way past our bedtime, we’re both on shift tomorrow.”
Buck nodded his head. “I’m sure Hen’s gonna have a lot of questions.”
“Ready for your third degree?” Eddie asked and stood up, beginning to put the food away.
Buck shrugged and stood as well, washing and putting the plates away, the dance around each other in the kitchen one they had done a hundred times before. “I am, Maddie’s my sister, I’ve dealt with worse than Henrietta Wilson.”
Eddie gave him a look and Buck sighed. “I might stop and bring in some of those sandwiches she loves just in case.”
Snorting, Eddie wiped his hands clean on a towel. “You staying?”
Buck thought about it and then nodded his head. “Yeah, I think that beer pushed me over my limit.”
“Lightweight,” Eddie said fondly.
In reality, he hadn’t wanted to go back to his empty apartment, with his open cold windows and be by himself. Sure, his bed was more comfortable than the pull-out but Eddie’s house felt like a home and his was just a house. He wasn’t about to let Eddie know that.
“It’s the age thing,” he said glad his voice was stable. “Can’t handle the booze in my old age.
Honestly, Buck hadn’t expected Athena to get in on this but she had taken one look at him after the date with Hen’s choice and told him she had an idea. She had set it up, and Buck had been intrigued as to who Athena thought might be a good idea for him. He was less intrigued when Athena had told him to meet the man in question on the pier. It had been reopened recently and Buck had been really too busy to go and visit it, or so he told people. But, Athena had told him and he had gone, trusting her choices.
Billy Singh was the sort of tall that made Buck wonder how he fit on airplanes. He was lean but looked strong, dark skin and eyes and short black hair. He had an easy smile and looked nervous and Buck was charmed.
“Hey,” he said holding out a hand. “Evan Buckley, everyone calls me Buck.”
“Billy Singh, just Billy,” Billy said, smiling back at him, and it really was a nice smile, Buck found himself liking the smile already.
“How do you know Athena?” he asked, interested to see how they had met.
“I work with her,” Billy said, his hands sliding into his pockets.
“Well, nice to meet you, Officer,” he said with a grin. “I work as a firefighter.”
Billy blushed then and rubbed the back of his neck. “Oh, I uh...I know?” he said sounding nervous. “I’ve been on a few scenes you’ve been at and uh…noticed you? Athena figured it out, somehow.”
“Athena always knows, just remember that,” Buck said feeling a little bit charmed.
Billy laughed. “Yeah, I’ve been told that once or twice before.”
Buck smiled at the man, at the easy way he seemed to accept the world. “Wanna wander? Have you been here before?” he asked, beginning to walk with Billy after the man nodded.
“No actually, my parents live in Santa Clarita, so it was just a little bit far to come and visit. And then never got around to it when I moved here,” Billy said. “So I never got to see it before the tsunami, did you?”
Buck swallowed, memories of water rushing over him and the worry he felt whenever Chris had gone more than a foot away from him, and then the fear and failure when he had lost the kid. “Yeah,” he said softly, rubbing the back of his head. “It was something.”
Buck sort of hated himself as the date wore on, hated the fission of worry in his chest that something was wrong and he couldn’t quite shake the panicked feeling. He knew it was leftover trauma, he knew that it wouldn’t go away any time soon and he knew it something he needed to accept about himself, but he hated it. It made the date worse, Buck wouldn’t go near the railings, and he felt himself losing the thread of conversation as the worry and panic began to grow in his chest.
Billy was great and Buck hated himself at that moment. Billy was an officer who believed, who volunteered with kids because he wanted to help people on and off the clock. He was happy and outgoing, friendly and always said please and thank you to everyone, he even apologized to other people when they ran into him. He was sweet and kind and all Buck wanted to do was go and make sure Chris is fine.
He tamped down on that feeling for as long as he could, far longer than he should have as Billy’s words grew a bit more strained, as Buck fell more sand more silent. He knew he was fucking it up, but he couldn’t help himself, the panic was growing stronger and logic was taking a back seat. He couldn’t help but fuck it up, but he could let Billy know.
“Billy,” he says finally, looking up at the other man. “You’re great, but this place isn’t great for me. I was here when the tsunami hit.”
Billy looks struck dumb. “Oh my god, I’m so sorry,” the man said, one hand fluttering around like he wants to rest it on Buck’s shoulder. “You should have told me, we could have gone somewhere else. Do you like sushi?”
Buck swallowed and nodded his head. “Love it,” he said softly, his mind suddenly flashing back to the date two week s ago with Lou and an idea struck him.
“I should have, I’m sorry,” he said shifting from foot to foot. “I don’t think…I don’t think this is going to work out. But, I think I know someone you’ll like. They’re a teacher, and they volunteer and they love sushi. How about I set you two up?”
Billy looked…well he looked dismayed but not heartbroken. “Sure,” he said with a shrug.
“You sure?” Buck asked, shifting from foot to foot, trying to fight down the urge to run, get into his car, and speed over to Eddie’s.
Billy sighs and looked out over the ocean. “I mean, no, but I also really can’t blame you? It was a long shot, and you’re really hot.”
Buck manages a smile. “I think you’ll like Lou a lot better than me, they’re really hot.”
Billy snorts. “As hot as you?”
“Hotter,” Buck said, and it was true. Lou was fucking gorgeous and Buck had, for a brief moment a few days after the date that hadn’t worked out, had considered calling them up and asking if they wanted to just have a couple of drinks and a good night. If they hadn’t been friends with Hen, he might have considered it.
“Well, set us up, you have my number,” Billy said with a sigh. “Let me walk you to your car at least?”
Buck knew he should have called, but it was still earlier in the day and he knew Eddie and Chris were going to be at home for the evening. Even still, he hesitated for a moment before ringing the bell, but the need to just double check that Chris was safe against all reasoning was strong.
Eddie opened the door, the placid smile on his face replaced by concern the instant he saw Buck. “Hey man, you okay? Thought you had a date?”
Buck opened his mouth and then shrugged. “Date was at the pier,” he said, his voice softer and more strangled than he had expected. “Can I see Chris? If he’s here?”
Eddie’s face went through a myriad of emotions before settling in on worry. He nodded and gripped Bucks arm, pulling him inside quick. “Yeah, of course, of course.”
Buck knew that Eddie understood. There had been many late nights, a beer or three in them, with each of them haltingly talking about their past and what it meant to them. Buck, from a place where it was easy to leave him behind time and time again and never being able to understand why he wasn’t good enough to make people stay, and Eddie doing his best to make sure no one was ever left behind and failing.
Eddie had his demons, and Buck had his.
“Buck!” Chris’s voice was loud and Buck smiled, some of the worries instantly gone.
“Hey little man,” he said moving to accept the hug. “Don’t mind me crashing you and your Dad’s night?”
The hand on his arm moved to his back for a second before it dropped away but Buck still felt it like a brand and wished that Eddie’s hand had stayed there for a little bit longer, had stayed pressed against his shoulder, and helped ground him.
“Never!” Chris said with a smile and grabbed his hand and tugged him. “Dad was ordering pizza and we were going to play some video games!”
Chris was a shining light, always happy despite the harsh roll the world had given him between the tsunami and losing his Mom. Buck could remember being like that as a kid, always excited at something new, always wanting to know more and see more and talk to more people, and being beaten down each time. ‘Don’t be so loud. I’m busy right now. I’ve got to go, I’ll call you later.’ Buck wished fervently that Chris would never have people tell him what he himself was told. Buck had long since made a silent promise to himself, and to Chris, that he would never be that person.
He dropped down onto the couch, taking the controller Chris handed to him and looked back over to where Eddie was leaning against the wall to the living room and mouthed a ‘ thank you’ over the kid’s head.
Eddie smiled back, a warm look on his face that Buck didn’t read into for his own peace of mind and mouthed back ‘anytime’.
“So you met him at the airport?”
Buck nodded his head and dropped down onto the couch in his apartment, Eddie following a second later with the bowl of chips and the beer in his hand. Chris was over at a friends for a sleepover, and Buck had texted Eddie as soon as he got back, not surprised when his friend shown up less than thirty minutes later.
“Yep, turns out he’s ex-Air Force and now does helicopter tours and teaches people how to fly them, so he took me up in his helicopter to see the city,” Buck said leaning back against the couch.
“That’s pretty smooth,” Eddie admits and Buck nodded his head, dropping his head back against the couch.
“Gotta say it was pretty cool, he even let me take control for a little bit. We talked for a bit, he showed me LA from the air and then we landed, went to get drinks and dinner and it was fun,” Buck continued.
“But,” Eddie said cajolingly, grabbing the chips and beginning to eat them.
Buck shrugged his shoulders. “I told him about how I tried out for the Seals, he talked about his own training a bit, we talked about our jobs, and so on.”
“So what’s the problem?” Eddie asked, sinking into the chair next to buck, his socked feet up on the coffee table and beer resting on his thigh. Buck could see him out of the corner of his eye and Eddie looked good. In old jeans, an old LAFD shirt that they both had a hundred of, face and body relaxed and he looked happy and Buck wanted him so badly and that was the problem.
Buck was silent for a long moment before letting out a groan. “He was so hot dude.”
Eddie stopped moving next to him and Buck covered his eyes so he wouldn’t have to look at whatever was on his friend's face while he explained this.
“Like, so hot. Movie star hot. Listen,” Buck said sitting up and leaning forward setting his beer down so he had both hands free. “I like sex,” he said looking over at Eddie, not noticing how still the other man was, and how silent. “A lot, and it’s been a while with someone else and I miss that. And James right, James is so fucking hot it sort of hurts to look at him. Like Brad Pitt or George Clooney or something. Sexy older man. And I’m thinking to myself, well I don’t really feel a spark but I wouldn’t mind getting railed by this guy. So I kissed him and told him I wasn’t feeling like a second date but I would be down if he wanted to head back and have sex you know?”
Eddie let out a noise and Buck wasn’t sure what it was and he turned, looking at his friend who was now bright red and staring at Buck with wide eyes.
Buck frowned a little bit. “Something wrong?” he asked, reaching out. “You look like you have a fever or something.
He pressed the back of his hand against Eddie’s forehead and Eddie shivered. “Jesus, are you sick Eds?”
Eddie pulled his head back and shook his head. “Uh no..no, I’m uh. Why are you here then?” Eddie said, voice strangled, and hands picking at the beer bottle label.
“Oh well, he didn’t like the whole no spark thing and went on about how I took advantage of the situation and we could have sex but he expected more and that sort of bullshit.”
Eddie’s whole body tensed up. “What?” he asked voice suddenly low and a bit dangerous.
“Calm your horses,” Buck said making a settle-down motion. “Nothing happened, he was an asshole, I told him he was an asshole and told him to fuck off and then I left.”
Eddie was still and silent for a moment and didn’t settle down. “How does Bobby know this guy?”
“Met him through Michael or something, dunno, don’t care,” Buck said dropping his head back with a groan.
“So why do you sound like you care?”
“Because I wanted to get fucked!” he said throwing his hands up in the air before dropping them back down to scrub over his head. “Like shit Eds, it’s been a dry spell of my own making and that makes it even harder. My right hand is only so good for so long.”
Eddie made another strangled noise and when Buck looked over the man who was eating a chip with a lot of concentration. Buck frowned, wondering what was wrong with him. “You okay?” he asked frowning.
“Yeah yeah, fine, just, yeah,” Eddie said looking up at him and managing a smile. “So, dry spell?”
There was a brief moment when Buck allowed himself to believe that Eddie was acting like this because he wanted Buck, but he pushed that down and pushed it down hard. Eddie was his best friend, he wasn’t about to fuck with that, not for anything. Even if he was reasonably sure that Eddie would be fantastic.
“Yeah, dry spell,” he said with a sigh. “I liked getting fucked and this guy looked strong like he could just hold me down and go to town you know? Don’t get me wrong, all sex is fantastic but there’s something primal about being just held down and railed that really scratches an itch you didn’t know you had until it was gone.”
“Ah,” Eddie said and Buck looked over and he was still red and he frowned.
“You sure you’re not sick? If you need to go home and sleep it’s all good, I’m fine,” Buck said reaching out to press his hand against Eddie’s forehead again. “Seriously, you’re kinda warm dude. Second thought, you should sleep here. You can take my bed.”
Eddie made another strangled noise and shook his head. “No, you’re right. I’m feeling a bit warm and I don’t want to get you sick you know? I can make it home.”
Buck stood when Eddie stood. “Sure?” he asked, some part of him yelling at him about something but he didn’t know what. “How about I drive you home and then I can grab you before our shift tomorrow?”
Eddie shook his head quickly. “Nah Buck, it’s all good. I’m just a bit warm, probably from Chris or someone on the job. I’ll be over It by tomorrow.”
Buck frowned and nodded as he walked Eddie to the door. “If you’re sure?”
“Yeah Buck,” Eddie said with an exasperated grin than made Buck grin in return. “I’m sure.”
Nodding his head, he clapped Eddie on the shoulder. “Right well, feel better tomorrow dude.”
Buck realized two things about Tilly Morrow very quickly. That she was in better shape than pretty much anyone he had ever met in his life, and that she had the sort of natural exuberance and energy that told him she was always moving this much. They had decided to go on a hike, and Buck had been anticipating a casual stroll to the top, but when they reached the top in half the time he expected he was sweating a lot more than he anticipated and had pulled his shirt off way through because LA was gearing up for another heatwave.
“This view is amazing,” Tilly said, hands on her hips and barely out of breath as she looked over the view.
Buck took two quick deep gasps to calm himself down and walked up and stood next to hear. He had to admit, the view was pretty fantastic, LA spread out in front of them and a weird thunderstorm had dropped all the pollution to the ground and left the city looking clean, the ocean a hazy blue sparkling thing in the distance.
“Yeah,” he said with a grin. “Pretty spectacular. I can never figure out where my part is though,” he said.
Tilly laughed, bright and loud, and nodded her head. “I know what you mean, I know we’re supposed to be somewhere over there, but it all looks the same from here.”
“Exactly! And I can’t even figure out which tall buildings are our tall buildings,” he said with a chuckle.
“Buck!” a voice called out behind him suddenly, and he turned, spotting Eddie and Ana wandering closer.
“Oh hey, dude!” Buck said with a smile, moving to pull Eddie into a quick hug, slapping his back. He had known Eddie and Ana were on a date today, and from the smiles on both of their faces, it was going pretty well, which good for them even though he felt like he had been stabbed in the chest.
“This is Tilly Morrow,” he said, waving a hand to indicate Tilly who had come up and stood next to him. “This is my coworker and best friend, Eddie Diaz and this is Ana….” He winced and clapped his hands together before pointing at her. “I know Chris has told me your last name but Eds calls you Ana all the time and I don’t want to fuck it up by getting it wrong.”
Ana laughed, and Buck was grateful she didn’t seem offended. “Flores,” she said holding out her hand. “I don’t think we’ve officially met, but I feel like I know you. Chris doesn’t shut up.”
Buck grinned. “Chris is the best thing Eddie’s ever created so I’m glad to hear he thinks highly.”
“Hey,” Eddie said, a grin on his face as he punched Buck’s arm. “I can’t even pretend to be upset by that, Chris is pretty great.”
“Chris is Eddie’s kid, he’s fantastic,” Buck explained, looking at Tilly who smiled.
“Oh I love kids, how old is he?” Tilly said and that was definitely a point in her favor.
“He’s nine, almost ten and I’m not ready for it,” Eddie said. “Speaking of, Buck, Chris wants to know if you’re going to be at his birthday. I said you would be but he wants it confirmed.”
“Where else would I be?” Buck asked spreading his arms wide. “I’m pretty sure Bobby already made sure I wasn’t on the schedule, along with basically everyone else so we could make it. Harry and Denny are coming as well yeah?”
Eddie nodded his head. “Yeah, and I think May is as well? As well as the new baby. Maddie said she might come but—”
“—But she’s the size of a beach ball and hates all things walking, moving and anything but cheeze-its and pickles,” Buck finished. “Poor Chim.”
“Exactly,” Eddie said rubbing the back of his neck. “You’re in.”
“The fact that you ask me that hurts my very soul Eds,” Buck said pressing a hand over his heart and smiling at his friend, doing his best not to let how much he wanted his heart to be with Eddie. “I’ll be there with bells and whistles on.”
“Maybe a shirt?” Eddie said, flicking Buck in the chest.
Buck rolled his eyes. “Maddie told me, Tilly, here is a trail runner and I thought she meant like, light jogging up a mountain,” he said with a smile towards Tilly who smiled back at him a little bit slowly, “but I’m pretty sure I collapsed a lung.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time on a date,” Eddie said.
Buck shrugged. “Point,” he said looking between the two girls who look confused. “So listen to this, first date few years back, I end up choking on a piece of bread and the girl I’m with gives me an impromptu tracheotomy because she couldn’t get the bread out with the Heimlich,” he explained, tilting his head back a little bit and tapping at where the scar was mostly faded.
Ana winced. “Hopefully you bought her flowers?”
“A couple bunches, we dated for a while,” Buck admitted. “She was pretty awesome.”
“I bet,” Tilly said and her voice sounded a little different now and Buck looked at her with a little frown, but she looked the same.
“You guys heading down?” Eddie asked suddenly.
Buck glanced at his friend and then looked down at Tilly. “We heading down?” he asked, fine either which way.
Tilly grinned up at him. “Race ya?”
Buck let out a bit of a groan and looked over at Eddie who was smirking and Ana who was smiling. “Guess we’re racing down.”
“Don’t collapse a lung, you’re almost out of sick days,” Eddie said, clapping him on the shoulder again. “I’ll see you tomorrow at work yeah?”
Buck nodded. “Yeah, nice to meet you,” he said shaking Ana’s hand quickly before beginning to follow Tilly down the mountain.
He was breathing hard when he got down to the bottom and finally caught up to Tilly. “You’re good at that,” he said coming to a stop near her, his hands on his knees. “I thought I was good at running but you take the cake.”
“You know you have a stupid crush on your best friend, right?” Tilly asked, not even winded which frankly Buck did think was a little unfair.
He took a moment to finished catching his breath and stood up, hands on his hips, and nodded. “I know.”
Tilly opened her mouth and then shut it again, whatever she was about to say gone in an instant. “Really?”
Buck nodded and rubbed a hand over his face. “It’s a bit more than a stupid crush, but he doesn’t, and I’m not going to tell him to make it weird,” he said with a shrug. “I’m fine with him being my best friend.”
“Really?” she asked again, frowning. “You’re fine with him dating that hot girl?”
“She is pretty hot,” Buck admitted nodding his head and he shrugged. “What do you want me to say here?”
Tilly shook her head. “I don’t know,” hse admitted with a deepening frown. “Why the date?”
“I like being with people, I don’t stand a chance with Eds so why should I hold back?”
Tilly was silent for a long moment before she stepped forward and hugged him. Buck responded easily, wrapping his arms around her and knowing that this wasn’t going to go further than this moment.
“I get…not holding back, it’s good. But I’ve been with people who’ve done that to me before and every single time they ended up not being able to give what I needed emotionally,” she said into his chest. “You’re a good person and I hope you find someone, but I’ve been down this road before and I don’t want to walk it again.”
Sighing, Buck pulled back and nodded his head. “Yeah,” he said rubbing a hand over his face, five dates, five strikeouts so far. “No, I get it.”
Tilly smiled at him and kissed him on the cheek and was gone, leaving Buck standing there for a few moments before he pulled his shirt on. He made it to his car before he just stopped and sat inside, hand on the wheel as he figured out what to do. Every other time, he had gone and talked to Eddie, because it made him feel better, but Eddie was on the top of a mountain with his girl and honestly, they were doing a lot better than Buck was.
He dropped his head back with a groan and turned his car on and took off, not wanting to be in the parking lot when Eddie and Ana came down. And if he stopped on the way home for some ice-cream and beer, well that was between him, the cashier, and his couch.
Three weeks after the date with Tilly, Eddie had finally told him he had found someone and Buck had found himself more excited than he anticipated. Eddie knew him. Eddie knew him a lot better than the others knew him by now, so it only stood to reason that Eddie might be able to find someone to help get Buck over…well Eddie.
Eddie had told him he would be picked up at seven and at ten minutes till Buck was just finishing putting his shoes on when the doorbell rang. He frowned, and stood up, walking over to open the door revealing Eddie standing there in those jeans.
Buck loved those jeans, loved the way they clung to Eddie’s thighs and followed the curve of his ass like a lover’s caress. He loved the jeans, as long as Eddie was walking in front of him where he couldn’t see his best friend’s eyes drag down and watch his ass as it moved. It was a testament to denial whenever Eddie was facing him, to not let his eyes drag down and to keep them focused on Eddie’s face.
And paired with the black Henley? Well, Buck wasn’t even on his date and he could begin to feel any hope crashing away.
He swallowed and forced all of that down deep, where it wouldn’t even show on his face. “Hey dude, what’s up?” he asked, stepping to the side to let Eddie in. “Date hasn’t started yet, and you’re already checking up? Gotta have a bit more faith man.”
Eddie stepped inside and gave him a nervous smile, which in turn made Buck nervous. “About that,” Eddie started, clapping his hands and turning to look at Buck, a slightly strained smile on his face.
“About what?” Buck asked, frowning a little bit. “Aw man, don’t tell me I got stood up before it even started.”
“Ah, no,” Eddie said, clapping his hands together again.
“Something wrong?” Buck asked, frowning a little bit. “If somethings up I can cancel and we can go another night,” he said suddenly worried if something had happened. It wasn’t Chris, there was no way in hell Eddie would be here if something was wrong with Chris.
“No, no nothing’s wrong,” Eddie said, rubbing his hands over his jean-clad thighs before he took a step forward abruptly, only to stop and take a step back.
Buck frowned and stepped closer, one hand reaching out to grab Eddie’s shoulder. “Whatever it is man, just spit it out. It’s all good, I promise.”
Eddie looked at him for a long moment and Buck did his best to make sure his face was open and earnest, the sort that Eddie could trust in. It took a moment before Eddie nodded his head and took a deep breath before letting it out in a rush.
“Your date is with me,” Eddie said quickly, his words blurring together so fast that it took a second for Buck to parse out what he had said.
“Huh?” he asked, sure he had heard wrong. “With you?”
Eddie nodded his head, too quickly and too long making him look like a bobblehead. “Yep, with me.”
Buck opened his mouth and then closed it, frowning a little bit. “Hey man, if I did get stood up by someone you don’t need to go on a da—”
“—nope! No other person, just me, just Eddie,” Eddie said a little frantically.
“What,” Buck repeated. “Ana?”
Eddie looked at him for a second before he took a step back and rubbed over his face. “Okay look, it’s like this,” Eddie said about to start telling him something, and then he fell silent.
Buck waited him out for a long moment before he frowned and tilted his head. “Like…?” he pressed.
“Ana and I broke up, three weeks ago,” Eddie got out in another rush and Buck was about to say something but it was like a dam had broken. “I like her, she’s great you know, and she’s great with Chris which is great. I mean it is great! I love people who are good with my kid, but she wasn’t you, you know? And each time we went on a date or hung out with Chris all I could think of how much more fun it would be if you were there. Like the skateboarding thing yeah? That was such fun and Chris still talks about it.”
“Yeah it was fun,” Buck said inanely, not sure what Eddie was saying right now, and trying not to let the little flicking hope flame in his heart burn any brighter.
“And then!” Eddie said, one hand pointing at the sky as if making some great point. “And then! You start going on all of these dates which I was super excited for because you’re a good person Buck and you deserve someone to love you and to be with you and support you. But then you started talking to me about them and all I could think was how I could do it better. Like the first one! I love kids, you know I do, and I’m sure we could find someplace where Chris could rock climb or something. And then the second? Sushi is great, I’ll take you to sushi if you want. I’ve never really had it but I’m willing to try.”
“Really?” Buck interrupted, but it was like Eddie didn’t even hear him.
“And then you came over and we had the sundaes and Chris fell asleep in your arms so easily and I don’t think you realize how few people he does that with,” Eddie continued, beginning to pace. “He likes a lot of people, but he doesn’t let a lot of people hold him when he’s sleepy, it’s really only me, Carla, you and Mamá. Then you had that date on the pier and the first thing you wanted to know when you were in the middle of a panic attack was Chris, you didn’t care that you were having a panic attack you just needed to know that Chris was safe.”
“Because I lost him,” Buck said, his voice small and he still felt guilt-ridden over that whole incident. If he hadn’t tried to save others if he hadn’t taken Chris to the pier, if if if.
“It was a tsunami!” Eddie said, throwing his hands up. “And you kept on searching for him again and again, even though you were injured and you never gave up until you were too exhausted to continue, for my kid!”
“Well he’s your kid,” Buck snapped back as if it was obvious and Eddie just looked at him with a bit of wonder on his face.
“I know,” Eddie said his voice soft. “He’s my kid and I’ve never trusted anyone with him the way I trust you to take care of him.”
Buck blushed, feeling his face warm and he ducked his head, rubbing at the back of his neck. “You’re my best friend man, I’d never let anything happen to him if I could help it.”
“I know that, and we’re sitting there, playing video games and eating pizza and the whole thing just feels so right in a way I don’t think I’ve ever felt before. And then the Air Force guy!”
Eddie’s arms threw up in the air and both hands scrubbed over his head, making his hair stand up in every which way. “You’re just sitting there telling me about this awesome date and I’m thinking okay cool he’s found someone that’s fine it’s cool, he’s still my best friend and then you start talking about sex and getting fucked and I’ve never been with a guy before and never even thought about it. But, all I can start to think is what I would do if I had that chance. That James asshole doesn’t know about your fucked up leg, or how on cold days you need to stretch it a bit more so you can kneel easier, and so the muscles don’t pull. He doesn’t know that first thing in the morning you are fucking useless until you’ve had a cup of hot chocolate of all things. Not even caffeine, just hot chocolate. And not even good hot chocolate, no it’s got to be Swiss Mist because it reminds you of ski trips when you were a kid.”
Buck was silent by now, watching as Eddie walked and ranted and talked about things he couldn’t even have imagined happening. He remembered that conversation, remembered how red Eddie was and how quickly he left and Buck had assumed he was sick and had even brought him some of the Egg Drop Soup the next day because he knew it helped Eddie the most when his throat was sore. But apparently, he wasn’t sick he was just…imagining sex with Buck?
“And then! Then! Like I’m still trying to make things work with Ana even though they’re not working because now all can think about is you,” Eddie said, finally stopping and looking at Buck, his chest heaving a little bit, eyes wide and wild and Buck felt like he was standing at the edge of something and he was frozen. “And then we ran into you and that girl on the hike, and you were shirtless and sweaty and all I could think about was sex, and then we were talking about the party and all I could think was shit if you’re not there Chris is not going to have a good time because somehow you’re the second most important person in my kids’ life and you’re the second most important person in mine as—mmphf.”
Buck stepped forward and grabbed Eddie, pulling him in and pressing their lips together, stemming the flow of words and he was 99.999% sure that he had gotten this right and when he felt Eddie tilt his head back a bit and press into the kiss, he felt that 99.999 turn into 100%. He felt hands on his sides as he kissed Eddie, his eyes sliding shut and his mouth opening as the kiss went from something awkward and mushed together into something softer, more intimate.
Moving his hands, he cupped Eddie’s jaw and cradled his face as he deepened the kiss, excited when it was returned and he settled into the other man, feeling the arms wrap around him and it felt right, the way the two of them folded themselves together to fit like a puzzle piece. It was the easiest, and the best kiss Buck had ever had.
He pulled back eventually, panting a little bit, mouth tasting like the stupid wintergreen Altoids Eddie loved and Buck hated, but right then he didn’t hate the cool mint in his mouth because he knew exactly where it had come from.
“I read that right, right?” he asked, a bit breathlessly, opening his eyes to see Eddie watching him, his own eyes wide and cheeks red, the hope burning and changing into joy.
“Yeah Buck, you did,” Eddie said curling a hand around the back of his neck and tugging him down into another kiss.