Safe Harbor

Title: Safe Harbor
Author: Keira Marcos
Series: Requiem
Series Order: 2
Fandom: 9-1-1
Relationship: Evan Buckley/Eddie Diaz
Genre:  Paranormal Romance, Alternate Universe, Time Travel, Magical Realism
Warnings:  Canon-Level Violence, Discussion-Child Abuse, Discussion-Trauma, Parental Alienation, Homophobia, Dysfunctional Family Dynamics
Beta: Jilly James
Word Count: 35,230
Summary:  Buck continues to adjust to the invasion of his everyday life by his siblings and his romance with Eddie Diaz. Changing dynamics at work, an earthquake, and the arrival of Eddie’s parents in LA converge on them all at once.

Art by Jilly James

* * * *

Patricia Clark died nearly two months later than expected. Buck blamed himself because he thought perhaps she’d let go and found peace the first time around because she thought her daughter was in a good, solid relationship. He didn’t know how much the elderly woman truly understood by the time she died. Dementia was a terrible disease and the way it ravaged the mind terrified Buck.

He heard about the death because Abby had taken a leave of absence, and Maddie had overheard Sue and Josh talking about it. It was a change he hadn’t expected because the first time, she’d quit her job and fucked off to Europe with her mother’s life insurance money shortly after the funeral. It was a little harsh but true. Patricia’s death had freed Abby in more than one way the first time around. He was glad not to be deeply involved in the situation and was relieved that his ex-girlfriend hadn’t reached out to him in her grief. It would’ve made dismissing her difficult, but Buck knew a firm boundary was required.

The one part of his relationship with Abby that he missed was Carla Price, so he reached out with a text to see if the older woman was okay. He knew that she’d take the loss of a patient hard as she seemed the type to get attached despite the consequences. He’d gotten an invitation to coffee in response, and Buck had agreed immediately. Carla was a great person, and it had crossed his mind recently that maybe she could help Eddie solve some of the problems he was having with resources for Christopher. Also, she’d be a great childcare option if his benefits would cover an in-home nurse.

He’d chosen a coffee shop not far from Carla’s house and was already seated with Bea when the older woman arrived. Because of Abby’s behavior and immediate rejection of the baby, Carla had never met Bea, so it was basically love at first sight for them both.

“How is Abby coping with the loss of her mother?”

Carla sighed. “I honestly wouldn’t know, Buck. Abby fired me a week or so after you adopted Bea because I told her she was out of line. I also told her she had no room to judge someone taking on the burden of care considering the life she led. She fully expected you to make all the sacrifices to be with her and want nothing for yourself. I’m very disappointed in her. Also, I think if there was a guarantee that Bea would be normal, she would’ve had no issues with the adoption.”

Buck grimaced and considered getting a second coffee. He got no sort of buzz off caffeine and never had. He was pretty sure the magic ate it like candy, but he did like coffee a lot. “I’m sorry.”

“You have nothing to apologize for. I think we were both enamored with a part of Abby and not the whole of her. Her dedication to her mother from outward appearances seemed like a generous and thoughtful sacrifice to make. But we don’t know how their relationship worked before Patricia’s disease got the better of her.” Carla took Bea with a pleased smile. “And she’s a fool to give up a chance to be a part of the family you’re making, Buck. Truly. This little girl is so fortunate to have you in her life, and I hope you never forget that.”

“I won’t,” Buck promised. “How’s work going for you?”

“A little…horrible,” Carla admitted. “I have several different clients on opposite sides of town, and I’m not getting enough hours. I’ll have to pick up a part-time job or seek out a different service to work for with better options. It comes and goes, honestly. In-home health care is expensive and sometimes difficult to get approved.”

Buck hummed under his breath. “A new hire at 118 has a child with cerebral palsy. He’s having issues with childcare because he feels bad depending on family, considering our hours. Moreover, there are a lot of benefits questions that he’s having a hard time getting the answers to. I think introducing the two of you might solve problems for you both. I mean, if his benefits would cover a home health nurse for childcare…?”

“It certainly should,” Carla said thoughtfully and focused on Bea, who was staring at her intently. “Is this the young man you’ve been dating?”

Buck quirked an eyebrow at her. “How did you hear about that?”

“It came up in the last conversation I had with Abby. She called and asked me to come back to work for her, but I declined,” Carla admitted. “She’d seen you out somewhere with a man and the baby. She said it was clear that it was a date, and she couldn’t believe you’d already moved on from her and that you ignored her.”

“Yeah, that was definitely a date. He’s a good man and basically a single parent. There’s an ex-wife, but he can explain that situation if the two of you click. I haven’t really talked to him about this, honestly, because the giant-ass pile of paperwork sitting on his kitchen table is a huge source of stress. We have two months until school starts again, and he wants Christopher somewhere that can actually meet his needs. That’s not going to happen in a public school.”

“No, of course not. They do the best they can with the budget they’re given. There are too many variables, and the schools are crowded. I have an idea about that already, and there should be benefits in place to pay for it. So, introduce me to this man of yours, and we’ll figure some stuff out.”

“How about dinner at my house tonight? I’ll ask him to bring his adorable kid and the paperwork.”

“That’s a plan,” Carla said and bounced Bea gently, who laughed. “You’re such a sweetheart, baby girl. Your daddy is so lucky to have you.”

* * * *

Eddie didn’t know what to do about Evan Buckley. It must have shown regularly on his face because everyone he knew was always giving him looks like they kind of low-key pitied him. That was especially true of the people they worked with. It was a good team, and he had no regrets about joining the 118, but they clearly found his predicament amusing as hell.

Buck’s siblings were beautiful, entertaining, and they both absolutely adored their brother. Eddie had good relationships with both of his older sisters, but there was something special about the way the Buckley siblings supported and loved each other. When he’d shown up for dinner at Buck’s house with Chris and Mount Paperwork in tow, he hadn’t known what to expect. What he’d gotten was an introduction to a lovely and amazing woman named Carla Price.

Dinner was several hours out, so Buck had ushered him into the little-used dining room and left him there with Carla. He’d taken Chris back to the kitchen with him and Maddie Buckley, who had greeted Eddie with a warm, bright-eyed smile. She’d been dropping by the station periodically to offer up food and to continue her campaign against Chimney’s bachelorhood. It was going in her favor, just as Buck had predicted.

The doors to the dining room slid open, and Daniel Buckley stuck his head in. “Do the two of you need me to lawyer anything?”

Eddie started to say no, but Carla spoke first.

“Yes, his landlord refused him permission to update one of the bathrooms in the house for handicap use,” Carla said. “I can apply for a grant to get the work paid for in full, but we need permission to avoid legal issues later. I think a letter from a lawyer detailing how his refusal might result in a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act would make him see reason. Because surely an updated bathroom that he doesn’t have to pay for would be a reasonable accommodation.”

“Oh, sure,” Daniel said. “Let me get my laptop. Is the bathroom the only issue?”

Eddie was entirely certain he couldn’t afford to pay for a single hour of Daniel Buckley’s time. He’d only gotten three paychecks so far from the LAFD, and his savings was a bit low.

Daniel lifted an eyebrow. “The state of California strongly encourages lawyers to provide fifty hours of pro bono work a year. Any time I can do that and help someone that is important to my family—it’s a win.”

Eddie considered that and finally nodded because, in the end, it was for Chris, not for himself. “I’ve replaced all of the railings on the house—front and back porch—at my own expense because he refused to pay to have the work done. The driveway has some cracks that have tripped Chris up once, and I haven’t had time to fill them in. No house is going to be perfect for him unless I build, and he’s used to navigating big issues or problems. Sometimes, it’s the little ones that I haven’t prepared him for that make him miserable.”

“Like a cracked driveway,” Daniel said. “Right, well, we’ll get that handled.”

Eddie turned to Carla as Daniel disappeared. “I think I’m in over my head on the Buckley situation.”

“Oh, I noticed,” Carla said in amusement. “They’re lovely, though.”

Daniel returned at that point and put a MacBook Air down on the table. Buck followed.

“I found the pamphlets, you know.”

Daniel pursed his lips. “Which ones?”

“The pool,” Buck said. “Since you and Maddie both live in apartment buildings, which means you’re both planning to tear up my backyard.”

“Sharing is caring, Evan!” Maddie called from the kitchen.

“You have almost a full acre of backyard,” Daniel pointed out reasonably. “It’s ridiculous that you don’t already have a pool. I hate public pools, Evan. It’s awful, and my apartment building’s pool isn’t being cleaned to my standard. I’ve complained and will probably have to sue them to get out of that lease if they don’t start doing a better job. Besides, do you want Maddie going to a public pool where some strange guy will look at her stuff and objectify her?”

Maddie laughed from the kitchen, and Eddie noted that Buck looked appalled.

Buck frowned at him. “You’ll have to replace my privacy fence with a taller one, fence and gate the pool, and pay for upkeep. I mean it.”

“Yeah, of course, all of that,” Daniel said. “Promise.”

Buck huffed and focused on Eddie. “You cool?”

“Yeah, of course,” Eddie said. “Where’s Chris?”

“He and Maddie are laminating my sourdough croissants. We’re in the final stretch and just have three folds left. Tomorrow, they’ll be ready to cut, roll, and bake.”

Eddie dissected that in his head and resolved to Google what laminating had to do with pastry before he nodded, and Buck smiled before leaving.

Carla snorted. “Neither of you know what he was talking about, right?”

“Not a clue,” Daniel said. “But his sourdough croissants are amazing.”

“Pastry lamination involves butter and dough being folded together to create layers,” Carla said. “It’s a multi-day process for traditional croissants.”

“He normally only makes them for holidays,” Daniel said. “So, we’re getting lucky.”

Eddie decided not to admit that Buck had offered to make them for him, and he’d agreed without knowing how much work it would be. He resolved to ask more questions in the future when he was offered something that was probably more complicated than he assumed. In his defense, it had been a post-sex question, and Buck had rocked his whole entire planet twice before casually offering to make the croissants.

Within two hours, the pile was gone, and Carla Price had totally reorganized his life and created a list of schools to investigate that she was sure she could get a grant to pay for. Plus, there was an application for her to work as his childcare through a state program. He hardly knew what to do with himself, and that seemed to be clear to Daniel, who had ended up producing three different letters based on Carla’s input.

Carla left him and Daniel in favor of finding whoever had Bea and getting some baby cuddles. Eddie wasn’t sure how Daniel Buckley felt about him and his quickly developing relationship with Buck. Mentally, he prepared himself for whatever Buck’s older brother had to say and hoped it wasn’t going to be a negative experience. He really didn’t have good luck with such things. Shannon’s parents had hated him on sight.

“My brother….” Daniel trailed off. “Did you know he saved my life?”

Eddie didn’t know how to respond to that. “Like one of his feelings?”

“Oh, well, yes,” Daniel said and cleared his throat. “A few years ago, he called me in the middle of the night and told me to get my brakes checked before leaving for a trip. As it turned out, it was a very necessary repair, and my trip would’ve probably ended with my messy death on a steep mountain road. But I had leukemia as a child. My parents got frustrated with the lack of donor matches, and they…made a baby that would be my exact match.”

“Buck’s a savior sibling,” Eddie said flatly.

“Yeah,” Daniel admitted. “Of course, I was a little kid and didn’t understand what they were doing. Maddie and I were so thrilled to get a brother. He was a happy baby—full of laughter and sweet love. When he was a year old, our parents arranged for a bone marrow transplant. It took, and I lived. After that, they didn’t have much use for Evan. He’d served his purpose as far as they were concerned and didn’t fit in with their ideal family image. They were never outright cruel to him, as far as I know, but it was very clear that they just didn’t care about him. So, Maddie and I decided to give him every single bit of love our parents denied him.

“We ignored them, really. The three of us became a little family that tolerated our parents because they provided us a place to live. When Maddie went to college, Evan talked them into putting him in a military school close to Harvard, where I was in law school. After that, we didn’t even come home for the holidays at all. They were killed in a car crash his senior year of high school, and I became his legal guardian.

“If I’m honest, their deaths were more of a footnote for us than a major tragedy. I couldn’t stand my parents. I’m alive because of the choices they made, and I’ve accepted that, but the way they treated Evan afterward made it impossible to love them. In retrospect, I don’t think they cared. And when we stopped pretending to be a normal, happy family, they just…checked out of our lives outside of financial obligations that they maintained for appearance’s sake. Evan hadn’t seen them in four years when they died.”

“They didn’t know about his gift,” Eddie said.

“They wouldn’t have considered it a gift, Eddie,” Daniel said quietly. “It would’ve been just another thing to mark him different. My father once berated me for getting mad at them for forgetting Evan’s birthday. I made him go out and buy him a cake. I was in the backseat of his car, holding that cheap grocery store cake, and he was bitching about how much trouble Evan was and how he’d served his purpose. It was just too bad that they couldn’t get rid of him afterward. Then shortly before we got home, he turned to me and said—maybe it would’ve been better if we’d just let you die.”

“I’m not upset that he’s dead,” Eddie admitted roughly. “What a bastard.”

“Certainly,” Daniel said. “A lot of people thought my parents loved me so much they made a baby to save my life but, in reality, they were just embarrassed that I was sick. It was ruining their American dream, you see. How dare I get sick and make them waste time and money on me.” He closed the laptop in front of him. “I told you all that to say this—Maddie and I are stupidly overprotective of Evan. We basically raised him ourselves, and that’s created a bit of co-dependency that we’ve managed by living very far apart. But now we’re all three here in LA, and that’s bound to cause some issues. We try hard not to create toxic situations between the three of us, but no one’s perfect.”

“You can’t run me off,” Eddie said in amusement, and Daniel blinked in surprise. “I hardly know what to do with myself, but I’m all in.”

“Evan gives a lot,” Daniel said quietly. “He’s so generous that sometimes it’s heartbreaking. He’s always been that way, and I can’t say it isn’t a source of worry for me. It’s nice to see him with someone who wants him for who he is and not what he does. If that makes sense.”

“It does,” Eddie agreed and zipped the backpack. “He’s…overwhelming sometimes, actually, but I’m working with it.”

Daniel laughed.

Buck returned at that moment. “Wait!  There are more pamphlets?”

Eddie watched Daniel try and fail to look innocent.

Buck glared. “Daniel.”

“Your security system is out of date,” Daniel said finally. “The monitoring service has a lower rating overall than the one I set had set up for Maddie. Plus, you don’t have internal cameras for when Bea is being watched by the nanny service. I know you want that to be a rare occurrence, and I agree, but don’t you think it would be best if we could sort of tap in and check on things when she’s with someone who isn’t family or a friend?”

Buck made a face at him. “You could’ve just said instead of planning around me. I don’t need to be managed like a client or whatever you’ve got going on in your brain.”

“I know, of course,” Daniel said and shrugged. “I just see a problem, and I start working toward a solution. You know you can tell me to fuck off.”

“Well, fuck off, but also set up the new security because I do want cameras in the house that I can turn on and monitor shit when I’m not here.” He huffed a little and left, then came back. “But make sure we have as much control as possible over the cameras being turned off and on.”

“Yeah, absolutely,” Daniel assured.

* * * *

Chris was fast asleep, sprawled on the couch beside Buck, who had Bea resting on his chest. Eddie stared at the three of them for a moment, silently wondering what he could do to truly have what the image implied. His relationship with Buck was good and appeared solid despite the relatively short period of time they’d been together. He felt more comfortable with Buck after a couple of months than he had with Shannon after years together.

Buck and Shannon had met by accident earlier in the week, and it had gone about like Eddie had thought it would. Shannon had been irritated that Buck existed, and Buck had been only mildly interested in her, which he’d made abundantly clear. Shannon had always known Eddie was bisexual—he’d been dating a man when they’d met and had just been friends for six months before his relationship ended and he sort of fell into a friend-with-benefits arrangement with her. So that part hadn’t surprised her, but she was clearly not on board with him moving on from her.

Eddie slid onto the couch as he contemplated his marriage to Shannon and how it had fallen apart after he’d gotten shot in the line of duty. He eased Chris’ legs across his own so they’d all fit. The kid just grumbled in his sleep and cuddled the throw pillow he was clutching harder. Maybe they’d always been a better couple with thousands of miles between them, but the end result was the same. He could and had forgiven her for how their marriage ended, but he’d never forgive her for breaking their son’s heart.

“What’s on your mind?” Buck questioned softly.

“You,” Eddie admitted. “Well, more than that, but mostly you. It’s pretty frustrating, actually. I think about you a lot.”

Buck offered him a grin. “It’s because you like me so much, I know.”

“I do, and it doesn’t even scare me,” Eddie admitted. “Which is a new experience for me, honestly, because the last time I came close to a serious relationship…it didn’t go well.”

“What happened?”

“Honestly? My parents happened,” Eddie admitted. “This is going to sound weird, so be warned. My parents love me and my sisters to a detrimental degree. My mother is also demanding and controlling. I think she’d prefer that we never grew up. The end result is that she desperately tries to insert herself into our lives and every single decision we make. She’d prefer, honestly, to make our decisions for us. We’d probably all still be living in her house as well if she had a choice.

“Every single time I see my parents, they make demands regarding my return to El Paso, and they have repeatedly questioned my ability to be a parent. They tried to get Shannon and me to agree to an adoption shortly after Christopher’s diagnosis under the assumption that neither of us was qualified to be his parents. It caused a lot of problems, and I think it probably interfered with Shannon’s ability to bond with Chris as a baby.

“I was dating a woman before I moved to California—nice, sweet-natured, gentle, and Chris liked her.” Eddie made a face. “That last part was too much for my mother, who wants to be the center of my son’s entire freaking universe. Her name was Louisa, and my mother basically waged an outright war against her whenever my back was turned. She practically ran from me eventually, and it hurt Chris. Louisa sent me an email weeks later explaining why she basically ghosted me and apologized. She said she couldn’t be in my life as long as my mother lived because it was detrimental to her own mental health. She outlined all the shit my mother had said to her over the six months we dated.

“Honestly? It was appalling. I printed that email out and went to my parent’s house. I laid out how my mother emotionally and psychologically abused a very good person because she was an unreasonable and cruel bully. It didn’t go well, and my father defended her despite the disgusting behavior that she fully admitted to doing. Regardless, shortly after that terrible conversation, we moved to Los Angeles.”

Buck adjusted Bea, who snuffled in her sleep and curled her hand into his T-shirt. “I don’t get it, I guess. I want Bea to fly and be herself. Maybe I’ve not been a parent long enough to get it.”

“No, you’re doing it right,” Eddie said. “There’s nothing healthy about my mother’s parenting style. She doesn’t even try to learn from her mistakes, and Chris is at an age where he sees what’s going on. He actually told me that we should keep you and Bea to ourselves as long as possible so no one ruins it for us.”

Buck winced. “Wow.”

“Right?” Eddie huffed, and he looked at Chris, who snuffled in his sleep and started to snore. “No one is the perfect parent, but I like to think I learn from my mistakes and that Chris trusts that I’m doing my best. I’ve never felt like my mother valued my happiness over her own.”

“Let’s put these guys to bed,” Buck suggested. “I’ve set up the guest room for Chris not far from nursery. It has a walk-in shower, so I figured it would work best of all the bathroom options in the house.”

“Thanks for that,” Eddie murmured and wondered if there was any sort of cap on how fucking thoughtful Buck could be.

Chris slept through the transfer to the bed, so Eddie was grateful he’d suggested a change into PJs earlier. His son had been thrilled at the idea of a sleepover at Buck’s, so they’d packed for the weekend. Buck was still in the nursery when he left the guest room. Eddie stopped in the doorway and watched him get Bea settled for the night. She fussed a bit as he changed her but was already nodding off again by the time he put her in the crib.

“Does she sleep through the night?”

“Yeah, she was doing that by the time I adopted her. I don’t think her birth mother mistreated her, but it was clear she wasn’t going to get the support she needed. Bea’s medical records only had her hospital visit and the grandparents admitted to never having taken her to a doctor. So, her first visit was kind of traumatic. She’s doing much better now on that front. Still, I’m kind of unsure about her milestones due to her age when I adopted her.”

Buck plucked up the baby monitor from the charger and snagged his hand as he left the nursery. Eddie let himself be tugged down the hall toward the bedroom despite the fact that it was barely 8:00pm. As much as he loved the whole family vibe they were making together, there was something special about having Buck’s undivided attention. By the time they had their clothes off and were spreading out on the mattress together, Eddie had let himself get lost in exploring soft, warm skin.

So, of course, his phone went off, and it was the ring tone he’d assigned to his parents. He dropped back on the bed with a furious huff as Buck left the bed in favor of finding their phones in the mess of their discarded clothes. He handed Eddie his and put his own on the nightstand before he rejoined Eddie on the mattress.

Eddie answered the phone with a scowl already in place. “Hey.”

Are you and Christopher out to dinner?” his mother demanded. “It’s past his bedtime, Eddie.”

“Actually, it’s nearly an hour before his bedtime,” Eddie said and lifted his head as Buck offered a pillow.

She huffed. “He should be in bed by seven every single night.”

Eddie laughed. “Mom, he’s not four. And his bedtime is for me to decide. He’s asleep, regardless, since we had a full day.”

You’re not home. Where are you?”

That was alarming. “How do you know we’re not home?”

Because we’re on your front porch,” Helena snapped. “Now, where are you, and where is my grandson? Are you letting that bitch have him overnight?”

“Why are you at my house?” Eddie asked and shared a look with Buck, who frowned and pulled the covers over them.

We were trying to surprise you,” his mother said.

“Well, that was…ill-advised,” Eddie said. “Chris and I are on a weekend trip. So next time, I suggest you call in advance and ask if you’re welcome to visit.”

Where are you? We’ll join you.”

“You aren’t invited,” Eddie said roughly. “We have plans for the weekend, Mom, and they weren’t made with you and Pop in mind. I’m sure Abuela will love seeing you both.”

Eddie, you can’t be serious. We’re here to see Christopher, and you’re going to bring him home in the morning! Where is your spare key so we can stay in the house?”

“I don’t keep a spare key outside of my house because that would be a ridiculous security decision,” Eddie said and turned on his side to look at Buck. “And I’m not going to cancel my plans and disappoint Chris just to make you happy.”

He’ll want to see us,” his mother insisted.

Eddie didn’t know if that was true or not, but he knew he didn’t want to see his parents any time soon. “I’ll ask him in the morning, but don’t get overly invested in the answer you want because I’m not going to let you berate him into wanting to see you.”

I’d never do that.”

“Yeah, okay. I’ll be monitoring that conversation to make sure,” Eddie responded. “I told you, Mom, when I left El Paso, that you’d never again have unsupervised access to my son or any romantic partner I have if I can help it. I meant it. You’ve proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that you can’t be trusted.”

You’re being unreasonable and cruel.”

“Must be a new experience for you—getting back what you’ve given so freely to others your whole damn life,” Eddie muttered. “I’ve got to go; you interrupted a great time, and I’d rather get back to it.”

Buck laughed.

Who was that?” his mother demanded. “Are you on a trip with someone? A stranger? Where are you? I want to know right now, Edmundo!”

“None of your business,” Eddie said, and she huffed dramatically. “Don’t try to break into my house. I have an alarm. The cops will show up and arrest you. Goodnight.” He hung up and turned on the do not disturb feature on his phone before passing it to be Buck, who put it beside his own.

“Your parents just showed up?” Buck questioned.

Eddie huffed. “I can’t believe they came here without any sort of notice. Who does that?”

“Someone who assumes you don’t have a life that doesn’t revolve around them,” Buck pointed out and shrugged when Eddie frowned. “Did you want to meet them tomorrow?”

“No, we’ve already bought tickets for the museums, and Chris is looking forward to the natural history one a lot. I’m not going to break a promise to my kid to make things easier with my mother. She’s never satisfied anyway.”

“It’s been years since I’ve been cock blocked by someone’s parents,” Buck said wryly and laughed when Eddie huffed dramatically. “Come here—let’s figure out where we left off.”

Eddie moved closer and slid a hand down to wrap it around Buck’s cock. “I was right about here.”

“Yeah,” Buck agreed and cupped the back of his head. “I was thinking you could fuck me.”

“Yeah,” Eddie agreed after a moment’s hesitation.

“Unless you don’t want to. I mean…I’m down for both, but you were pretty clear the last time that you wanted me to top.”

“I’m good with both, too,” Eddie assured and reached out to the bedside table to get the lube. “I just….”

Buck hummed under his breath as Eddie dropped the lube on the mattress and went back for a condom. He really didn’t want to pressure Eddie into doing something that he didn’t want to do. “Just what?”

“I hadn’t been fucked in a very long time, so I was just really wanting it that way,” Eddie admitted and flushed when Buck offered him a grin. “What?”

“I’m just really pleased by your trust,” Buck murmured. “It’s clear that doesn’t come easy for you, and for good reason.”

Eddie put the condom down near the lube and shifted so they were close enough to share the pillow. “I…I could fall in love with you. You’re just…beautiful inside and out. I’ve never met anyone like you. It’s gonna sound crazy, but you make me feel safe and powerful and strong and weak all at the same time.”

“I could fall in love with you, too,” Buck murmured and brushed his thumb over Eddie’s bottom lip. “In a once-in-a-lifetime kind of way. I feel like I could take on the whole world with you at my side. But before this thing between us gets any more serious, I need to tell you more about my magic.”

Eddie stared for a moment and let his chin rest on Buck’s broad shoulder. “You time travel.”

Buck’s eyes flew wide open in shock, and his gut tightened with anxiety. “How do you…know that?”

“Sometimes, you clearly have knowledge that you shouldn’t have, which is separate from your feelings. I died, right? I went to the 56, and that asshole got me killed on purpose. You don’t seem to know much about me, so I assume we never met the first time around.”

Buck blinked back tears and swallowed hard. “Eddie.”

“It’s okay,” he murmured. “I’m glad to be with you here and now. How did that grenade situation work out the first time?”

“I don’t know,” Buck admitted. “Another house picked that job up because we were called an apartment building fire. Faulty wiring. I put that building and several others on the list for inspection so that fire didn’t happen, and we ended up with a grenade in a guy’s leg. I think that old guy probably didn’t make it the first time around because whoever took that call waited for the bomb squad. It never made the news, either way.”

Eddie nodded. “Why did you come back in time? How far back did you travel?”

“I turned time,” Buck murmured. “It was the biggest turn my magic has ever allowed me—just over six months. And I came back because of Bea. She was left in her birth mother’s care, and she was smothered in her sleep. I didn’t find out until months after the fact. I was so furious, Eddie, and hurt. All I could think about was that day we pulled her out of that pipe, and I ran down all of those stairs with that baby clutched against my chest. My magic was still clinging to her when I handed her over to Hen.

“And she was dead—murdered.” Buck cleared his throat because even saying the words brought back grief that he’d worked hard to set aside. “I want you to know that I did try to turn for you, but no matter how I shaped my intent, it just didn’t work. It was like fate was working against me. Everything kept piling on like an avalanche of wrong. Maybe my magic needed me to see more of what was to come. Maybe I needed to know that Bea wouldn’t make it without me before it would allow me to turn.” He trailed fingers down the side of Eddie’s face. “I’ve only ever told one person about time traveling, and she doesn’t remember it anymore.”

“Your brother and sister don’t know?”

“No, it would be a very difficult conversation for many reasons,” Buck said. “My biggest fear is being resented for the changes I can’t make. Magic and fate are deeply intertwined, Eddie, and there have been times when both have broken me wide open and left me raw with grief I can barely speak to.”

“You told me already that you can’t exert any sort of control over your magic,” Eddie said gently. “I’ll never hold its decisions against you, I promise.”

“You say that now,” Buck said and took a deep breath. “But what happens the first time you lose someone that you love, and I can’t turn to fix it?”

“You have a true and honest heart, Evan,” Eddie said quietly. “I know you always do everything you can to save people. So, if you tell me that you can’t, that the magic won’t allow it, I’ll believe you, and we’ll grieve whatever loss we suffer because of it together.”

Buck cupped his head and pressed their mouths together. He let himself get lost in the taste of Eddie’s mouth and the feel of his hands drifting over his body. Soon, slick fingers were sliding expertly into his asshole, and Buck made a mental note to ask for sexy stories later. That kind of skill came from experience, and he wanted to hear all about it. He rocked down on the penetration eagerly because he hadn’t had anything but toys in a while himself.

“You want a little burn, or do you want me to work you open so your hole is all slick and hot like a cunt?”

Buck shuddered. “You’re so filthy…fuck me. Right now.”

Eddie laughed a little but reached for the condom. Buck spread his legs wide as he watched Eddie roll the condom on. He sucked in a deep breath as Eddie positioned his cock and lifted his hips as they came together.

“Yeah,” Eddie murmured and cupped his hips with both hands, muscles flexing as he started to move.

Buck rocked into every thrust of Eddie’s body against his, taking the pleasure like it was his due and moaning softly. Eddie wrapped a hand around Buck’s leaking cock and stroked him gently despite the way his hips were smacking lewdly against Buck’s ass.

“You….” Buck arched up off the bed, hands scraping against his headboard for purchase. Finally, he fisted his hands around the top of the mattress. “That’s perfect.”

“Come for me,” Eddie urged.

He was close and couldn’t really hide it. Buck came all over Eddie’s hand with a shudder and low, harsh groan that made him bite his lip briefly. Eddie rolled his hips carefully and pressed in deep one final time before trembling through an orgasm.

“You’re a really great fuck,” Buck said breathlessly as Eddie pulled carefully from his ass. “I mean, seriously, wow.”

Eddie blushed and laughed. “Shut up.”

* * * *

Chris agreed to FaceTime with his grandparents after they finished breakfast, but Buck could tell the kid really wasn’t thrilled by the prospect. He focused on loading the dishwasher while Eddie reluctantly set up the call.

“Hey, Grandma.”

“Good morning, Christopher,” Helena said. “Did your father tell you that you were coming home this morning? We’re going to Disneyland.”

“Oh, we’re not coming home,” Chris said easily. “We have plans, and I went to Disneyland last month. It was too hot, and I got tired really quickly. Daddy said it’s best for me to go in the fall when the temperatures are cooler.”

Don’t you want to spend time with us?”

“No,” Chris said.

Eddie exchanged a wide-eyed glance with Buck.

“It probably wouldn’t be any fun,” Chris continued. “Maybe we can see you at Abuelita’s on Sunday and have lunch, but only if you’re nice to Daddy. And we can’t stay long since Daddy has work on Monday, and getting good rest is important for his job—it keeps him and other people safe.”

“We came here to see you, Christopher. It hurts my feelings that you don’t want to see us.”

“You should’ve called ahead, Grandma,” Chris said and shrugged. “We have plans already, and it would be rude to cancel them. It’s not fair for you to be upset like this, you know. I can’t be responsible for your feelings. Dr. Sam says that would be an unfair burden since I’m a little kid.”

Dr. Sam? Who is that?”

“My therapist,” Chris said with a bright smile. “He’s helping me figure out my emotions. Maybe you should see a therapist.”

Eddie snorted, and Buck bit down on his lip to keep from laughing.

Who are you and your father with Christopher?” Helena demanded. “Are you at your mother’s apartment?”­

Chris made a face. “I don’t think I should tell you where we are.” He shrugged when his grandmother huffed. “You might try to come here, then there would just be arguing and no fun. Then I’d need an extra appointment with Dr. Sam to deal with my inappropriate anger.”

“Ay Dios mio,” Eddie muttered under his breath.

“Besides, you’d probably try to ruin Daddy’s new relationship, and that would make me really sad because his boyfriend is great, and he has a cute baby,” Chris said. “And Buck makes awesome food—we had homemade croissants for breakfast this morning. He also makes his own sandwich bread and grows herbs in the window in the kitchen. He put spinach in my omelet, and I ate it because I figured it would be good, even though I didn’t think I liked spinach. It was really good. Just like his chicken salad is awesome. You should probably ask for his recipe, Grandma, when we let you meet him since yours is not good like his.”

“Mijo,” Eddie said with a laugh. “Let me have the phone.”

Chris shrugged. “I’m just being honest, Daddy. Dr. Sam says my feelings are valid, and I’m allowed to express them.” He handed the phone back to his father and turned to Buck. “Can I have some of that iced ginger green tea for when we go, Buck? I like it a lot.”

“Yeah, Superman, I’ll fill a flask for you,” Buck said in amusement as Eddie left the kitchen with a harried look on his face. “You just did your dad no favors.”

“Someone’s gotta get real with Grandma about her unwelcome input,” Chris said huffily. “She already ran Louisa off, and she was a really sweet lady, Buck.”

Buck grinned and ruffled Chris’ hair gently. “Relax, she’s not running me off.”

“You haven’t met her,” Chris said with a frown.

“It doesn’t matter, okay? Your grandparents aren’t equipped to make me cut and run. Bea should be ready to get up. So, we can pick out her clothes and give her a bottle while your dad finishes wrangling your grandparents.”

* * * *

Eddie leaned against this truck and looked out over Buck’s front yard. The neighborhood was older, the houses more spread out, and it was quiet. He also figured it was very much out of his price range. Despite the trust fund, Buck was actually not the sort to spend his money stupidly. So, he figured it had been purchased at a good price. He focused on his phone, where his mother was glaring at him furiously.

“I came outside, so Chris won’t hear what you have to say,” Eddie said. “But if you say one thing to me that I find offensive, I will hang up, and you won’t see us at all this trip. I mean it, Mom.”

Why is Chris seeing a therapist?” Helena demanded.

“Because he asked. The divorce took a lot out of him, and he really liked Louisa. It hurt him when she just disappeared from his life. It still hurts him, and he honestly told me I shouldn’t introduce you to my boyfriend because he’s afraid you’ll ruin it. He doesn’t trust you any more than I do.”

You never should’ve told him that Louisa left because of me. It’s not my fault she was weak!”

“Still making excuses, I see,” Eddie said roughly. “Look, you’re here uninvited, and I told you last night that I wasn’t going to cancel our plans to suit you. Trying to bribe him with Disneyland was transparent as glass and manipulative. He saw right through you. I didn’t have to tell him that Louisa left me because of you—he figured that shit out for himself. One day, he’s probably going to realize that you played a significant role in his mother’s abandonment. For the record, I don’t think he’ll forgive you for it, so be prepared for that to make landfall.”

“I had nothing to do with that bitch walking out on you, and if you tell Christopher that, you’ll regret it.”

“Don’t threaten me,” Eddie snapped. “And I won’t have to tell him. I’m honestly surprised she hasn’t, though. Because Shannon hates you as much as you hate her. Chris is smart and very observant. He knows you can’t stand his mother. It won’t take him long to connect the dots, considering how you treated Louisa. Look, I gotta go. We have two different places to go today, and I don’t want to rush Chris on either activity. He deserves to have a good time.”

He said you’d come to lunch on Sunday. We’re staying with your grandmother. I expect you to bring this man you’re dating, too.”

Eddie shrugged. “I’ll ask him, but I’m not going to try to force the issue. He never has to meet you as far as I’m concerned. I’m done trying to make you happy.”

* * * *

Eddie shifted Bea against his chest, and she huffed a little before tucking her face against his neck. Buck and Chris were in an interactive exhibit at the science museum, playing with rocks. He’d been relieved to have an excuse to sit it out. So, he’d sat down on a bench in front of the exhibit to feed Bea, who had woken up and demanded a bottle. Now she was full and still a little fussy. He figured she’d sleep through their lunch, which was just as well.

“Cute baby.”

Eddie shifted slightly away as a woman sat down beside him. “Thanks.”

“Must be hard being a single dad,” she said. “At least you’ve got a good friend to help you.” She glanced toward Buck before focusing on him.

“I’m not single,” Eddie said shortly and patted Bea’s back when she started to fuss.

“No wedding ring,” the woman said and smiled. “Relax, big guy, I’m not going to hump your leg or anything. We’re in public. Can I give you my phone number? Your little girl could use a woman’s influence, you know.”

“This is my boyfriend’s baby,” Eddie said, and the woman made a face. “Problem?”

“It’s just getting hard to find a straight man in LA,” the woman muttered. “For fuck’s sake.”

“Watch your mouth,” Eddie said with a frown. “She’s repeating sounds and stuff already.” Because, honestly, if Buck’s kid learned and said her first curse word because someone was hitting on him, he’d never live it down.

The woman stood and walked away with a glare. He watched her join a group of kids and two other women. The women laughed as soon as she spoke, and one of them waved at him cheerfully. Eddie waved back because he was an asshole and prepared to own it. He looked over at the exhibit and found Buck and Christopher headed his way.

Buck leaned down and brushed a kiss against his mouth before he took Bea. “It’s clear I can’t leave you alone.”

Chris sat down beside him. “Daddy gets flirted with all the time.”

“Stop tattling on me, mijo,” Eddie said with a laugh. “I think she actually got mad at me for not being available.”

“Well, in her defense, you’re gorgeous,” Buck said and sat down on the other side of him. “We took a bunch of pictures, but Chris said we shouldn’t upload them until we leave in case his grandparents are stalking his Insta.”

They were certainly stalking his kid’s Insta.

“His Insta is set to private, and only family and friends are allowed to see what he posts,” Eddie said. “I curate his followers to make sure, and technically it’s my second account since he’s not old enough to have one. And yeah, they’re on the list currently. We can upload the pictures while we’re eating lunch.”

* * * *

Admitting what he believed to be true about Buck and his magic had loosened something up in Eddie’s chest. Some would be horrified by the amount of power Evan Buckley had, but he knew the magic that Buck carried had made the best possible choice. He wondered what the magic had seen in such a small child. Had it seen his innate goodness? What sort of soul had it sought? Though, he supposed the argument could be made that the magic helped Buck become the man he was. Maybe over the years they’d shaped each other—grown into something amazing that the world needed.

Buck turned over and snuggled his pillow as he met Eddie’s gaze. “You should be sleeping instead of staring at me while I pretend to sleep.”

Eddie grinned. “I was just sort of pondering something.”

“Magic is neutral,” Buck said, and Eddie swallowed back his shock at how easily Buck could read him, even in a mostly dark room. “It exists on the edge of a knife—never-ending and in perfect balance with the universe. I’m not the first to carry this piece of magic, and I won’t be the last. For that reason alone, I am relieved by the neutrality.”

“Because if you could influence it—so could those that came before you,” Eddie murmured. “It favors you, though.”

“For now,” Buck agreed. “But it would leave me if I could no longer serve its purpose.”

“Do you know its purpose?”

“Not…exactly,” Buck said and cleared his throat. “But there is a theme, of sorts, around the events that I’m allowed shape or change outright. I think it didn’t allow me to turn for you because I had to know that Bea died first. I had to save her.”

“You think Bea is your replacement,” Eddie said.

Buck shook his head. “Not her, but perhaps her own child. If it were going to settle in Bea, it would’ve already done so, Eddie. It would’ve probably done it the day she was rescued so that it could keep her safe.”

“Would you survive if the magic left?” Eddie questioned. “Or is your body so used to it that the shock…would be too much for your heart or nervous system?”

“I don’t know,” Buck admitted. “I want to believe it would leave in such a way that I’d survive it. Still, I’ve done so many good things in my life because of the magic that if I die—I would consider it a price worth paying.”

Eddie didn’t agree, but he kept that to himself.

“Relax, I don’t plan to go anywhere,” Buck murmured. “And stop worrying about your parents. They don’t scare me, and they certainly don’t have the ability to hurt me. They stress Chris out, which is irritating, so I’ll go to your abuela’s house tomorrow to meet them just to put his worries to rest.”

“I’ve only been keeping in contact with them to avoid getting sued for grandparent’s rights,” Eddie admitted roughly. “They have grounds in both states, and it would get messy. I just…I wish they were better people. If they’re awful, we’re going to leave early,” Eddie muttered. “And it’ll definitely just be lunch because I need to get Chris ready for school on Monday. I’m not worried about you meeting them, Buck. I just don’t think they deserve to meet you or Bea.”

“I’m not all that special, you know,” Buck said in amusement.

“You are to me, and that’s what matters,” Eddie said. “And I don’t mean the whole magic thing. Because I wanted to crawl on top of you before I ever had any clue you had anything magical going on. That kind of instant attraction is rare for me because personality matters a lot in my book.”

“Mine, too,” Buck admitted. “Let’s get some sleep. I want to make a cake to take to your abuela tomorrow, so we’re getting up really early. Do you know her favorite?”

“She’d cheerfully murder someone for a German chocolate cake,” Eddie admitted and sighed when Buck grinned. “She’s gonna see right through you.”

“Good, because I plan to be transparent as hell,” Buck admitted.

* * * *

Eddie ended up carrying the cake and a diaper bag since Bea was awake and fussy when they arrived. Chris was halfway up the sidewalk when the door opened, revealing his abuela. She smiled widely at them, then rolled her eyes which told Eddie all he needed to know about the situation in the house.

“What is this?” Isabel asked. “Have you learned to bake, Edmundo?”

Eddie laughed. “You know better. Buck made this for you, and he said you don’t have to share.”

She took the cake carrier with a grin. “Now, this is a young man who understands how to treat a lady.”

“Evan Buckley, my abuela, Isabel Diaz. He prefers to be called Buck,” Eddie said and snagged Chris’ backpack when his son tried to enter the house without him. “Hold up, mijo.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Diaz. This is my daughter Beatrice.”

“Beatrice,” Isabel said in delight and promptly handed Eddie the cake back. “Call me Isabel.”

Bea laughed and made grabby hands immediately in his abuela’s direction. Which freed up Buck’s hands, so he passed him the cake.

“Ah, what a sweetheart,” Isabel said. “Come, lunch will be served soon. Bring my cake, Buck. Please, make yourself at home. Everyone is in the backyard; we’re grilling. Edmundo, your parents have complained non-stop since they got here.”

“Sorry, Abuela, but they didn’t even call in advance.”

“Oh, no, it’s not your fault. I’m just letting you know they’re both…butthurt.” She turned to Chris. “That’s the right word, sí?”

Chris grinned. “Sí.”

Eddie stared pointedly at his son, who shrugged his shoulders and laughed. Buck put the cake down on the counter and took a peek out the window. Then focused on his daughter.

“Are you going to make her wear a hat?” Chris asked warily. “Because I don’t want to wear one.”

“Nah, we’ll just put some sunblock on,” Buck said and accepted his daughter when his abuela offered her. “Come on, sweet Bea, we’ll sit in the shade and judge Eddie’s parents together.”

Chris followed Buck out onto the porch as Eddie lingered in the doorway.

“He’s much prettier in person,” Isabel whispered, and Eddie laughed.

His parents started across the yard as soon as they saw Chris, who’d scooted onto the swing next to Buck. Eddie put the diaper bag on a bench near them and rummaged through it to find the sunblock, which he handed to Buck. He noted that Chris held out a hand as soon as Buck flicked it open.

Buck gamely poured some in Chris’ hand, then let Bea rest against his chest with one arm hooked around her so he could hold her still for the lotion. She wiggled like a little tornado but gave up before Helena made it to the porch. He laughed as Bea slumped against her father’s chest and blew out a raspberry as he smeared sunblock all over her arms and legs.

“Mom, Pop—this is Buck and his daughter, Beatrice. My parents—Helena and Ramon.” Bea huffed dramatically as she endured sunblock being smeared on her face, neck, and head. “You’re going to keep that kid pale as a ghost.”

“Skin cancer is awful,” Buck muttered. “She’ll thank me when she’s older. Probably. And if not, she can complain to her therapist about my campaign against the sun and her lack of a tan at seven months old while she sits there with amazing, undamaged skin.” He focused on Eddie’s parents. “It’s…nice to meet you both.”

“My mother told us your daughter is adopted,” Ramon said roughly. “Aren’t you a little young for that?”

Buck raised an eyebrow, then grimaced. “What an intrusive and inappropriate question to ask a man you just met. I’m second-hand embarrassed on your behalf.” He focused on Bea, turned her around, and kissed her forehead. “I’m glad you’re not old enough to learn such terrible manners, sweet Bea.”

Eddie swallowed a laugh and leaned on the railing as his Aunt Josephina came outside. He introduced her to Buck before his mother or father could say anything else.

“Please call me Pepa, Buck. Christopher told us all about you and the fancy picnic on the beach.” She grinned when Eddie groaned. 

“It’s nice to meet you, ma’am. And it wasn’t that fancy. They’re just used to bringing junk to the beach.” Buck laughed, and Eddie shrugged because it was true. “I left my charcuterie board at home, and my sister talked me out of lobster rolls.”

“Rude,” Eddie muttered. “I love lobster rolls.”

“What goes on the board?” Chris asked. “Can we have it the next time we’re at your house?”

“Well, I tend to go with cured meats, cheese, homemade pita or naan, usually a sweet of some sort. It’s a party board, and, yeah, I’ll show you how to make one the next time you’re over. I have a new recipe for naan I want to try,” Buck said. “We can do a Caprese sandwich to go with it; you’ll like that.”

“Christopher doesn’t eat tomatoes,” Helena said stiffly from her place at the table.

Eddie hadn’t realized she’d sat down. He glanced toward his father and found him looking utterly furious. Not a surprise. Ramon Diaz wasn’t used to being put in his place by anyone, much less a much younger man.

“I eat tomatoes,” Chris corrected. “I ate my whole portion of tomato and cucumber salad, right, Daddy?”

“Apparently, Chris likes heirloom tomatoes in imported balsamic vinegar,” Eddie said dryly, and Buck blushed.

“My sister sent me a whole case from Italy. Then she acts like I’m the one importing expensive vinegar,” Buck muttered, and Chris laughed. “Is there any other food you think you hate, Chris?”

Chris seemed to consider his options before responding, which amused Eddie to no end. “Why? Are you going to avoid making it, or are you going to make it awesome?”

“Well, if we find something you really hate—we’ll need to have an alternative ready for you to eat, right?” Buck questioned, and Bea reached for Chris. His son held out his hands in return. Eddie watched as Buck adjusted his daughter and put her carefully in Chris’ lap.

“You shouldn’t let….” His mother trailed off when Buck frowned at her.

“Mrs. Diaz, with all due respect, please don’t offer me a single bit of parenting advice,” Buck said, then smiled as he adjusted Chris’ hands to make sure Bea was steady in his lap.

“I raised three children,” Helena said hotly.

“Yes, and by your own determination, didn’t manage to produce a single competent adult,” Buck said dryly. “Since I would like to succeed at raising a fully functional human being, I’ll stick with advice from successful parents, of which I have several to choose from in my life.”

“I’m in love,” Pepa said with a laugh, and Eddie sighed.

“I hope you aren’t including Edmundo in that group,” Helena muttered.

“Parental alienation is considered abuse in the state of California,” Buck said evenly, and Eddie watched his mother’s mouth drop open. He turned to Eddie. “Are you sure you want to stay here and listen to this…” He put his hands over Bea’s ears. “Bullshit?”

Eddie snorted. “You said the F word on the way over here.”

“That is a quality curse word,” Buck said in his own defense. “I don’t want her first foul word to be pedestrian, Eddie. I’ve got standards.”

“Your kid’s wearing tiny Air Jordans, Buck. It’s very clear you’ve got standards,” Eddie said with a laugh.

“I didn’t buy her these ridiculous shoes,” Buck said with a huff. “Daniel did, and he also tried to buy her a Dolce & Gabbana dress. Not only did it cost 500 bucks, it was ugly. It had lemons all over it.”

“We’ll stay. It would upset Abuela if we left without eating,” Eddie said with a frown in his parent’s direction.

He was too used to the way his parents discussed his parenting to pay attention to it and that was a mistake he’d have to work on. He focused on Chris, who was making a face at Bea. His son’s shoulders were a little tense; it could be because he was focused on keeping the baby stable as she babbled at him, but he couldn’t discount a different reason.

Buck had managed to verbally hip-check both of his parents in the space of ten minutes. He’d asked Eddie on the way over to let him deal with anything they threw his way personally, and Eddie agreed though he really didn’t like the idea. He’d much prefer to buffer all three of them from his parents’ toxic behavior. Eddie didn’t want to compare Buck to previous partners, but he certainly seemed completely unfazed by the bullshit, as he called it.

Thankfully, lunch was ready, so they all migrated to the table as the food was placed. Chris managed to get himself between him and Buck while Buck attached Bea’s travel high chair to the table between him and Pepa. Eddie could tell that his parents weren’t happy that Chris had ignored their efforts to have him sit with them on the other end of the table. Eddie wouldn’t have allowed it anyway. They weren’t going to get a chance to whisper to his kid like a pair of middle schoolers.

“So, Buck, Eddie told us that you have a degree in civil engineering? That must come in handy for your job now,” Aunt Pepa said.

“It…does help to know how things are built to some degree,” Buck agreed. “It certainly furthered my knowledge of fire science and made those classes easy at the academy. I like to know how things work, how they come together, and how they can be taken apart. All of that can be of help in situations where lives depend on the stability of a building as it verges on collapse or when it’s burning. I’ll explore any educational topic that will further my ability to act in the best interest of others on the job.”

“You worked as a civil engineer for the city, correct?” Isabel questioned.

“Yes, ma’am, when I first came to LA about six years ago. I spent about a year on the job before going to the academy and joining the LAFD. I’ve been a firefighter for four and a half years.” Buck focused briefly on Bea, who was patting his arm. “I don’t regret the career change at all.”

“We went to the science museum yesterday, and we built a bridge,” Chris said. “Well, me and Buck built a bridge.”

“Then Bea went full-Godzilla on it,” Buck agreed, and Eddie laughed. “With Eddie’s enablement.”

“We all had a lot of fun at the science museum,” Eddie defended. “You and Chris had fun your way, and Bea and I had fun our way. It’s not my fault she enjoys destruction as much as I do.”

It was totally his fault, but he just grinned when Buck sent him a look. He helped Chris fix his plate as his abuela asked his father a question about this construction business in El Paso. A business his father had expected to pass on to Eddie one day, but he had no intention of ever returning to El Paso. Fortunately, Adriana enjoyed the work and had been in management for the company for the better part of a decade.

“A science museum was more fun than Disneyland?”

Eddie glanced toward his mother, and his gaze narrowed. She frowned at him, and he exhaled slowly.

“Yes,” Chris said decisively. “It wasn’t hot, there were plenty of places to sit, I got to play with all the exhibits that everyone else got to play with, and I learned cool stuff. We’re going to the tar pits one day soon, right, Daddy? I want to see dinosaur bones.”

“Sure, mijo, if you keep your grades up,” Eddie said easily and sent his mother a hard look when she made a huffy sound.

“You spent your whole Saturday at a museum rather than see us, Edmundo,” his mother said. “I’m allowed to be upset about that.”

“I’m not going to live my life around you, Mom. You didn’t tell us you were coming. Do you think we just wait around in the house for you to visit from 700 miles away? The fact that you expected us to rearrange our entire schedule to accommodate you is, frankly, toxic. If you’re going to spend this whole meal complaining about this—then we’ll leave. I’d much rather be at a McDonald’s watching Buck have a meltdown about all the germs in the ball pit than sit here and listen to you make it clear that what you want is apparently supposed to matter more than anything or anyone else in my life.”

“Well, first of all, I’m not ever feeding my baby that crap,” Buck interjected, and Eddie laughed. “And second, I’d never let her get in a ball pit, to begin with, so there would be no meltdown about it.”

“McDonald’s is an institution, Buck,” Chris said. “It’s a part of our culture. How can Bea live her best life if she’s never had a Happy Meal?”

“Healthily without the fear of heart disease,” Buck said and laughed when Chris huffed.

“A few chicken nuggets never hurt anything,” Chris said firmly. “Right, Abuelita?”

Eddie shot his abuela a knowing look. Her addiction to chicken nuggets was well-known.

Abuela sniffed. “I’ve no idea what you’re talking about, Christopher.”

“Sure you don’t, Mamá,” Ramon said even as Chris started to giggle helplessly.

* * * *

Despite Eddie’s best efforts, Buck found himself cornered by Helena Diaz in the kitchen when he was rinsing out Bea’s bottle.

“I don’t think you’re good enough for my son.”

Buck hummed under his breath as he used the bottle washer Isabel had retrieved for him. “Am I supposed to get upset by this?” He glanced her way and found her staring at him in shock. “Because I don’t actually care what you think, Mrs. Diaz. If you wanted someone in Eddie’s life who desperately wanted your approval, you shouldn’t have scared sweet little Louisa off to parts unknown. I mean, hell, if you’d at least pretended to be a decent person, Eddie would’ve probably married that lovely physical therapist and stayed in El Paso with her.”

“You won’t last long—his relationships never do. Maybe he’s enamored with your face or your body, but that’ll get old. He’s no better a romantic partner than he is a father, in the end. If he knew what was good for his son, he’d come home to El Paso.”

Buck frowned, and his magic shifted in a way that reminded of him Eddie, so he figured that Eddie had managed to work himself free of whatever distraction that Ramon had used to separate them and was heading his way. The Diazes were quite transparent.

“My mother didn’t care if I lived or died,” Buck said and turned to face her. “By the time she died in a car accident, I felt the same. She practically poured her disdain for my very existence all over me every single day. I always knew she really didn’t care about me. I’d been made for a single purpose in her mind, and she believed it deeply unfortunate that it would be a scandal to merely give me away after I saved my older brother’s life.

“Also, she probably thought she might need me again—me being a spare parts baby and all. Maybe my brother would need more bone marrow or a kidney. My siblings and I didn’t even have a funeral for my parents. My brother had them cremated and put the ashes in the paternal family crypt in some creepy cemetery in Pennsylvania. We didn’t have any sort of memorial service for them, in fact, and I’ve never even seen the urns. That’s the road I see you on, by the way. Discarded and forgotten because you’ve alienated your children and destroyed any obligation or affection they might feel toward you.”

Helena paled. He couldn’t figure out if she was shocked or furious.

“I’m telling you this because I need you to understand that I do not have a single bit of investment in parental approval. Eddie is an amazing person—brave, smart, competent, selfless, and a dedicated father. Christopher is thriving in LA, and you know it. You also can’t stand it. Every single time you’re confronted with your grandson’s happiness, it makes you furious because you don’t want him to be happy unless he’s with you.”

“He’s not that happy—considering he’s in therapy,” Helena snapped.

“Actually, Christopher being in therapy simply proves that Eddie is a very good parent. His son trusts him so much that he went to him and told him that he needed help. Chris knew that Eddie would do everything he could to help him, and he has done so. It’d be rude to point out that I doubt any of your children trust you so much. I don’t see how they could, considering how emotionally and verbally abusive you are.”

“How dare you speak to me like this!”

“I had no intention of speaking to you at all,” Buck pointed out. “You’re the one that manufactured this little private meeting so you could attempt to get rid of me. But I run into burning buildings on the regular, Mrs. Diaz, so you’re not exactly intimidating. I’m not going anywhere, and there’s nothing you can do about it. You can try, but you’re just going to destroy your already damaged relationship with your son. Maybe that’s not a problem for you, and if that’s the case, I don’t know what’s wrong with you. Having my daughter’s love and trust is the number one priority in my life. I don’t understand how you got where you are, but I really, honestly pity you and your husband.”

“You think my son will pick you over his whole family?”

“I think that you came here without warning because you knew he’d say no if you asked. Eddie’s probably been saying no since he moved here because he doesn’t want to see you at all,” Buck said evenly. “And he already did pick my daughter and me over the two of you.” He paused. “Chris did, too.”

“You son of a bitch,” Helena hissed.

“Mom!” Eddie pushed into the kitchen. “That’s…”

“Oh, it’s fine, Eds,” Buck said easily. “My mother was a bitch. I already told you that your mom’s little mean-girl act wasn’t going to be a problem for me. But I am ready to go. Bea will be in need of a nap soon.”

Eddie glared at his mother. “I told you that this shit was completely out of line, Mom.”

“Everything would be better if you’d come back to El Paso!”’

“I’m never moving back to El Paso!” Eddie snapped. “Let’s go, Buck. I think Abuela snuck Bea some of the icing from the cake. Sorry.”

“She’s gonna be bouncing off the walls,” Buck muttered.

* * * *

Bea crashed in the car and slept the whole way home, which amused Eddie but disappointed Chris. Buck transferred Bea to her crib while Eddie meandered around his house, collecting Chris’ things so they could go home. It was kind of sad. He really liked having them both in his house. It was certainly too soon in his relationship with Eddie to be having those kinds of thoughts, but everything just felt right and amazing with the man.

When he entered the kitchen, Chris was on a stool at the bar playing on his dad’s phone.

“Hey Buck,” Chris said immediately and put down the phone. “Could I have some of that BLT pasta salad you made for my lunch tomorrow?”

“Sure, kiddo.” Buck snagged a bento box from a cabinet and pulled the pasta salad from the fridge, then grabbed the head of romaine lettuce. “Tell your grandma you like sun-dried tomatoes, too.”

“Grandma acts like I’m still four,” Chris said sourly. “I don’t like it at all. Dr. Sam said I don’t have to tolerate it. He said some adults confuse respect with obedience.”

“I’d agree with him,” Buck admitted. “Some people also think that trust and respect should be given freely, but I’ve always known they need to be earned. It’s good to treat people decently upon meeting them, but that doesn’t mean you need to give their opinions any weight. Nor should you sacrifice what you want to make them happy. There’s never any need, Chris, to set yourself on fire to keep someone else warm.”

Chris made a face, then seemed to stop and think about it as Buck quickly tore lettuce for one section of the bento box. “Daddy says in an emergency, you have to help yourself before you can help anyone else.”

“You gotta put yourself in the best possible position to be useful,” Buck agreed. “Okay, when you get ready to eat this—just mix the lettuce into it. Let’s put some of those pita crackers in as well.”

* * * *

Eddie wasn’t at all surprised when his parents showed up at his house nearly an hour after Chris’ bedtime. They clearly were expecting to have some kind of come-to-Jesus conversation with him, but somewhere between El Paso and Los Angeles, Eddie had completely shed the last bit of desire he had to ever make his parents happy. They were never going to be a priority for him again, and what they wanted no longer mattered at all. He’d already told his sisters that they couldn’t count on him to be part of their parents’ retirement plans.

He let them in and motioned them both toward the kitchen, which was the furthest from Chris’ bedroom in the house.

“If either of you raise your voice, you’ll be leaving my house,” Eddie said evenly. “I won’t be yelled at, and waking up Christopher is a non-starter. He doesn’t deserve the stress of your bad behavior.”

His mother glared at him. “You’re going to break up with that horrible man you’re dating.”

“Oh?” Eddie raised an eyebrow. “You’ve got a problem with Buck not being weak? I thought you’d appreciate his personal strength after how poorly you thought of Louisa.”

His mother glared at him. “I mean it. I want that bastard out of your life completely.”

“I’m going to do my damnedest to marry Evan Buckley,” Eddie returned, and her eyes widened in shock. “Based on your behavior today, I doubt you’ll be invited to the wedding.”

“You can’t be serious,” Ramon said roughly. “I know you like to sleep with men, Edmundo, but to marry one? Christopher needs a proper mother.”

“Christopher says one mother is stressful enough, and he doesn’t want another. I know exactly what he means,” Eddie returned evenly. “I don’t care how either of you feel about it.” He pulled a glass from the cabinet and got himself some water from the fridge. “Buck’s amazing, and I want him in my life. I’ll do everything I can to keep him.”

“You need to think with the head on your shoulders,” Ramon interjected. “You’re going to come back to El Paso, one way or another.”

“How do you intend to force it?” Eddie asked curiously.

“We’ll take Christopher,” Helena announced boldly. “We’re going to sue for custody. You’ll have to come to El Paso to even see him, and it won’t be often because you’re a terrible influence on him.”

“Then I’ll see you in court,” Eddie said evenly. “Now get the fuck out of my house. Any further contact between us will have to take place through our lawyers.”

“What?” Ramon questioned in shock.

“I’m serious. Get out of my house,” Eddie hissed and carefully set the glass down on the counter. “Right now. I’ll give my lawyer your contact information.”

“Wait,” Ramon snapped. “Helena, I’m not…we can’t sue our son for custody, for fuck’s sake! Eddie will come back when we turn the company over to him!”

“Of course, we can,” Helena said and frowned at him. “He’s a terrible parent, Ramon. Christopher is in therapy!”

“Yeah, well, all three of your fucking children are in therapy,” Eddie snapped, and his mother focused on him. “And we have been for years to deal with your terrible parenting. I’m willing to discuss all of it in court—all of it. The screaming, the micromanagement, the unreasonable demands, the emotional abuse, your recent bottle of wine a day habit, Dad’s frankly atrocious temper tantrums, the completely inappropriate physical discipline, the homophobia, and every single thing in between.”

“You can’t afford a lawyer,” Helena said, but her eyes were dark with tears and fury.

“Buck’s older brother is a lawyer—graduated from Harvard summa cum laude. He just moved to LA from New York to help his brother with the adoption. He’ll do anything for his family, so I won’t have a hard time finding a lawyer I can afford, Mom.” Eddie shrugged as she stared at him. “You both need to leave. I don’t want to hear from either of you for a while. I’ll contact you when I’m ready.”

“You don’t mean that. You need us, Edmundo,” Helena said.

“I don’t need anyone in my life who would try to steal my son, so you need to think long and hard before you sue me. Because you’d have to accuse me of abusing my own child to take custody, and if that’s the road you take, then we are fucking done,” Eddie said. “Leave, or I’ll call the cops.”

“Christopher would be better off with us in El Paso,” Ramon said roughly. “And you know it—it’s why you’re so angry.”

“I don’t want to live with you!” Chris shouted.

Eddie looked to his left and found his son standing in the doorway of the kitchen with no crutches. “Chris…”

Tears started streaming down his face, and he stumbled backward when Helena started to go to him. “Don’t touch me! Leave us alone! Stop being so mean to Daddy!”

Eddie brushed past his mother and picked up his son before he could fall. “Hey, it’s okay.” He cupped the back of his son’s head and took a deep breath. “You both need to leave right now.”

“Christopher.…” Helena trailed off when Chris started to cry in earnest. “Please…we just want what’s best for you. Everything would be better if you came home to El Paso with us.”

“I never want to see you again!” Chris shouted. “I hate you!”

Eddie winced. “Pop, please get her out of here before….” Before it couldn’t be fixed, he thought.

He took Chris back to his room and sat down on the bed with him. Chris was outright sobbing.

“I’m so sorry, mijo. I won’t let them take you.” Eddie took a deep breath against his son’s hair and thought about what Buck had said about parental alienation earlier in the day.

He’d really thought that was about parents and contested divorces. The lawyer in Texas had mentioned it briefly when they’d been preparing divorce papers, and Eddie had promised not to disparage Shannon in front of Christopher. He understood that fundamentally she’d never wanted to be a parent at all. His parents had talked an immense amount of shit about Shannon, and he had to think that maybe that had played into Chris’ resentment of his mother. It wasn’t the whole of it because she had ignored their calls for years and she was clearly more invested in her boyfriend than Chris’ happiness.

Chris cried himself to sleep, and Eddie felt powerless in the wake of it. He put his son back to bed and lingered there for nearly twenty minutes before he went in search of his phone. There were two missed calls from his father. He blocked both of his parents because he was done. He deleted them off Instagram and blocked them on Chris’ iPad, too. He only hesitated briefly before he texted Buck.

Eddie: You awake?

Buck: Yeah, Bea’s cutting another tooth and she’s miserable. I just got her glove out of the freezer. You cool? Cause I’m all antsy and shit. I almost called you.

Eddie: My parents showed up, threatened to sue for custody, and Christopher overheard it. I thought he was asleep. He had a complete meltdown and cried himself to sleep.

His phone started ringing shortly after he sent the text.

“Hey.”

Hey,” Buck said. “Babe, are you okay?”

“Not remotely,” Eddie confessed. “I never expected to get that kind of threat, and I feel like an idiot for it. I thought, at most, they might try for grandparent’s rights. It wouldn’t have worked like they wanted because the visits would have happened here, and I could’ve probably gotten them supervised. My mom has made it clear over the years that she doesn’t think I should be allowed to parent my own child, but I can’t…. Talk to me about parental alienation.”

Buck took a deep breath. “Well, it’s classified as child abuse in California, and there’s some case law in Texas well. The American Psychological Association hasn’t come down with a formal diagnosis, but there is this mental condition called Parental Alienation Syndrome. I’m sure his therapist could talk to you about it. Depending on the severity and the results of the behavior, there are circumstances where it could result in criminal charges. I don’t know the specifics, but Hen talked about it a lot when there were custody issues with Denny’s birth mother the first time around. I hope to smooth part of that situation out so it doesn’t get as bad as it did before. Regardless, it can cause behavioral problems, of course, and destroy relationships between parents and their children.

“It can get much worse if there are false accusations of abuse or something like molestation,” Buck said and sighed. “I mean, that shit can get ugly fast in the court system. Kids end up in foster care during investigations. Daniel’s probably asleep, but I can call him tomorrow.”

While he’d certainly used Daniel Buckley as a threat, Eddie knew he really couldn’t afford to pay the man for more than a few hours without selling his house and wiping out his IRA. He certainly would do all of that and more to keep his son safe.

“I really can’t afford your brother, Buck. And I wouldn’t want to take advantage of our relationship that way.”

Daniel really likes Chris,” Buck said. “And he’ll want to help, Eddie. He’ll probably just work around you if you say no, and the next thing you know, your parents will get sent a snotty letter telling them about themselves, and you won’t know how it happened. It’s honestly just easier to include yourself in his high-handed caregiving. It’s his love language. Then at least you’re prepared.”

“This sounds like experience talking,” Eddie said in amusement.

I dated this guy in college, and he sort of lost it when I dumped him. He kept following me around campus and shit. Showed up for my classes while ditching his own and was generally being a giant pain in my ass. I complained about it one night to Maddie. The next day I was called into the Dean of Student’s office, and there sat my brother outlining exactly how the school was going to deal with my ‘stalker’. He made it clear if my ex-boyfriend so much as hurt my feelings again that he would sue the university and probably the dean personally. I was mortified. I was annoyed by the behavior, but my magic had already told me that William was harmless.”

“You should always take stalkers seriously,” Eddie said with a huff. “Because harmless can change in a heartbeat, Buck.”

Yeah, yeah, Daniel said the same thing. Anyways, my ex nearly got expelled for stalking and ended up transferring to a different school the next semester, but not before he begged me to make my older brother leave him alone. Daniel had delivered the cease and desist letter personally!”

Eddie laughed. “I almost feel sorry for the guy.” He rubbed his chest. “This is going to sound weird, and don’t get a big head, but just talking to you makes me feel better.”

My ego can’t get any bigger than it already is,” Buck assured. “I’d be a danger to the universe.” He cleared his throat. “Did you want to bring Chris back over here? Your parents don’t know where I live.

It was just a twenty-minute drive, but he didn’t want to wake Chris up. “Let’s hold it in reserve? He’s sleeping right now. I don’t want him…to not feel safe in his own home, Buck.”

I get it,” Buck murmured. “Athena Grant’s on duty—she’s dating Bobby, but I’m not supposed to know that yet. We all know her pretty well. So, if your parents come back, we can reach out to her and prevent it from getting really ugly or violent.”

Eddie took a deep breath. “It sucks that I even have to think about calling the cops on my parents.” He walked through the house, checked the locks, and set the security. A quick peek outside confirmed the rental car was gone, so that was something. “Chris told them he hated them.”

Buck sighed. “Wow.

“Little kids say things they don’t mean,” Eddie said wearily. “But honestly, Buck, it felt like he meant it, and I’m not sure there’s any coming back from this. He was shaking—I don’t know if it was fear or anger. All jokes aside, he really doesn’t have any sort of anger issues, inappropriate or not. He’s generally a pretty easy-going kid; easy to make happy and laugh. I need to call his therapist first thing in the morning.”

Chris wants to protect you,” Buck said quietly. “You’re the only security he has, Eddie, and they’re threatening that. He’s going to end up resenting the hell out of them if they don’t back down and learn to stay in their lane.”

“Even after he yelled at them and got really upset, my mother still kept trying to tell him that he’d be better off in El Paso with them,” Eddie said roughly. “Carla starts next week, and she’s going to come into this hot mess.”

She’s a godsend in this case, Eddie. Seriously, nothing breaks that woman’s stride.”

* * * *

Buck slid into the passenger seat of Eddie’s truck. “Bobby wants to know if you’re coming in.”

Eddie huffed and checked his watch. “I’m not late.”

“True,” Buck said with a laugh. “But you’ve been sitting here for a half-hour, apparently.”

“I was going to work out, then I realized that I might lose my temper if I got on the bag like I intended,” Eddie admitted. “I started MMA in the Army; one of the men running the gym on the base told me I had an affinity for violence.” He took a deep breath. “It wasn’t a pleasant thing to be told.”

“No, I imagine not,” Buck said and relaxed in the seat. “Want a blow job?”

“Hell yes,” Eddie admitted and laughed when Buck flashed him a grin. “But not in the parking lot where we work, for fuck’s sake.”

He shrugged. “Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve gotten laid in this parking lot.”

Eddie huffed.

“Don’t act like you don’t want to hear all about it,” Buck said as he spread his legs and wet his lips.

Eddie swallowed hard. “It’s getting difficult to brood over here.”

“Mission accomplished then,” Buck said as he checked his watch. “Might as well come in and let Bobby fuss over you. He’s making quiche for breakfast.”

“I think we probably eat better than any other firehouse in the whole damn city,” Eddie said. “Next time he’s recruiting, he should just invite them to lunch.”

“His plan worked last time.”

“Well, he’s not allowed to toss you at the next guy he wants to hire,” Eddie muttered. “I don’t share.”

“Rogers transferred to the 120,” Buck said. “So, he’ll be looking to replace him on C shift. Plus, Ballard is retiring. He’s the engineer for C, and I’m kind of relieved because his work has gotten a bit sloppy over the last year or so. Word came down this morning, but that will be a different kind of process. He can’t put someone straight out of the academy as the engineer for C shift, and I don’t want to lose Cosmo to the position. We do the bulk of maintenance on A, so….” Buck shrugged. “Let’s go inside. You can brood on the sofa and eat quiche.”

“Is Rogers’ transfer of his own free will, or did Bobby make that choice for him?” Eddie questioned.

“Oh, apparently, working around me is difficult now that I’m dating someone new, and he has so many unresolved feelings for me,” Buck said.

Eddie turned to him with a frown. “Are you fucking serious?”

“Yeah, he saw me kiss you goodbye the other day when we were coming off shift, and he was coming on—said it hurt him deeply to see me rub my new relationship in his face after I so viciously rejected him.”

“Did he lodge a formal complaint?” Not that Eddie knew what sort of complaint could be filed regarding an unrequited crush.

“No, he’s just flailing about like a moron. Everyone knows I can’t stand his ass,” Buck muttered. “He’s here, by the way, cleaning out his locker. Bobby made me change for work in his office to avoid the whole thing.”

“Is he causing a fuss to get a faster transfer?” Eddie asked curiously.

“Well, Bobby started the transfer process immediately, so if that was his plan, it worked. Granted, he really didn’t need to go through all that trouble because asking would’ve been enough. Bobby can’t stand him and really wanted me to file a complaint for sexual harassment.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“I don’t need or want that kind of attention,” Buck said. “Nor am I all that interested in wasting my time on a loser like that. Maybe he’ll outgrow it; he’s only twenty-five.”

“A whole two years younger than you,” Eddie said dryly.

“Honestly, with all of my…turning, I’m probably close to 29,” Buck said with a shrug. “Once, I lived the same month six times, trying to fix…something that couldn’t be fixed. I don’t know why my magic let me try. Maybe it was trying to show me the limits of my situation or just demonstrate what a bitch fate is. You’re a little off. Is this all about your parents?”

“Today is the anniversary of me being shot,” Eddie said roughly. “Three years.”

“Jesus, Eddie, you should’ve said.” Buck reached out and took his hand.

“I didn’t even realize until I got a text this morning from one of the guys I was with that day. He always…reaches out to let me know what he’s doing. This morning he….” Eddie cleared his throat. “He sent me a picture of his little girl—she’s two years old. He said his daughter wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t saved his life, and it basically ruined me.” He ran his fingers through his hair. “In a good way, of course. It’s just….”

“Lovely,” Buck supplied, and Eddie nodded. “Come on. The food will be ready in about ten minutes.”

Eddie let himself be prodded out of his truck and into the station. He went to change, lost in thought, and musing about a toddler in Boston. He had relatively little contact with the men and women in his unit that had survived. Several of them were still serving, but they all shared a trauma that would link them for life. Eddie didn’t like to revisit his time in the Army much and was grateful that his fellow soldiers recognized and respected it.

“I really don’t get what he sees in you.”

Eddie glanced toward Rogers, who was seated on a bench a few feet away from him. He wasn’t really interested in having a conversation with a whiny asshole who used his grandma to get and probably keep his job.

“Seriously.”

“I fuck like it’s my job,” Eddie retorted.

Someone snorted loudly on his left, and he looked over to see Chim standing there. Ever the referee, Eddie thought as he buckled his belt. He wondered if Bobby had sent Chim into the locker room or if Buck had suggested it. Either way, he wasn’t all that concerned about Rogers and his childish behavior. But the lack of concern on his part didn’t mean he wasn’t paying attention.

He caught Rogers’ fist right before it connected.

“Holy shit!” Chim shouted.

Eddie jerked Rogers’ arm back and slammed him into the lockers. “You’re going to want to think really damn carefully about what you do next, boy.”

“Let me go,” Rogers demanded.

“I will,” Eddie said. “And when I do—you’re going to grab that bag you’ve been pretending to pack and leave immediately. You’ve got about thirty pounds on me, so you figured you could kick my ass. What you thought you’d actually accomplish with that bullshit is anyone’s guess. But let me ask you a question—where were you three years ago?”

“Three years?” Rogers struggled a bit, then stilled despite the fact that he was close to hyperventilating. “Cancún—I was in Cancún with some friends.”

“Three years ago, to the very goddamned day, I was killing insurgents in defense of my own life in Afghanistan. Do you understand what I’m telling you?”

“I get it,” Rogers said hoarsely.

Eddie let him go and backed up. “Get out of here, you dumb bastard.”

“I wasn’t waiting for you,” Rogers said huffily.

“The captain is keeping Buck away from you on purpose, Chad,” Chim said wearily. “For fuck’s sake, leave before you get yourself killed. It isn’t like it’s a secret that Eddie’s an Army vet. What the hell kind of death wish do you got?”

“He messed everything up,” Rogers snapped. “Coming in here and taking….”

“Seriously?” Chim said and exchanged a look with Eddie. “Look, kid, Buck wasn’t playing hard to get with you. He can’t actually stand you. He thinks you’re a glory hound and disrespectful asshole. You never stood a chance with him.”

“He’s….” Rogers trailed off and looked away.

“Amazing,” Eddie supplied. “Thoughtful, generous, beautiful—I get it. But you need to move on before you ruin your life.” He paused. “Or get your ass kicked.”

“Or both,” Chimney muttered and sent Eddie a wide-eyed look.

Rogers glared at them both, grabbed his bag, and stalked out of the locker room.

“Can we keep this to ourselves?” Eddie asked.

“Nope,” Chim admitted. “I can’t let it go unreported. He tried to hit you.” He waved a hand. “That was badass, by the way. What the hell?”

“His intent was obvious, Chim. I’d have seen that shit coming from a mile away.” He sat down to put on his boots.

He stayed where he was because he figured Bobby would want to speak with him, and he preferred a private conversation over something in the loft. He sighed when Bobby sat down on the bench with him.

“You want to file a complaint?”

“He’s a dumb boy with an even dumber crush,” Eddie said. “Hell, I kind of even sympathize with him. Granted, his attraction to Buck is entirely superficial. Rogers never bothered to get to know him—to really see him. He probably needs an attitude adjustment and a therapist more than he needs a discussion in HR about workplace violence that will go completely over his head and result in no real punishments because of his grandmother. And honestly, probably a boxing instructor because he has terrible form, no chill, and telegraphed like a drunk camel.”

“Well, Buck’s furious,” Bobby said. “He’d probably be out in the parking lot cursing out that drunk camel if Hen hadn’t corralled him and made him sit on the sofa. I’m too old for this kind of drama.”

“Well, it’s not my fault. I was happy brooding in my truck,” Eddie said.

Bobby laughed. “Go upstairs and pat Buck’s feelings until he calms down. For fuck’s sake. I’m gonna call Rogers new captain and tell him the little shit needs therapy and an anger management class.” He stood. “Also, did you really catch his fist? Really?”

Eddie flushed. “Drunk camel, seriously. I would know.”

* * * *

Buck was kind of furious with himself more than anything else. He’d never once taken Chad Rogers seriously, and the jerk had tried to hit Eddie. Granted, he’d apparently gotten a life lesson out of it, but that was neither here nor there. The only reason he wasn’t cursing him out over text is that he’d never put the asshole’s number in his phone. Also, his magic had been curiously still all morning which meant that maybe Chad had needed to get shoved into a locker and obliquely threatened with a messy death.

“Like it’s your job, really?” Hen questioned.

He looked up and found Eddie crossing the loft with a plate. Buck watched Eddie grin and shrug as he slid past Hen and dropped down on the couch beside him.

“Like what’s his job?” Buck asked.

“Rogers asked Eddie what you saw him,” Chim reported. “Eddie told him that he fucked like it was his job.”

Buck turned to stare at him in shock. “Eddie.”

“Are you saying I don’t?” Eddie questioned.

“No, I mean, you know you’re a total boss in bed….” Buck flushed when Hen burst out laughing. “This day is already ridiculous, and it’s barely started.”

He slouched down on the couch and watched Eddie eat quiche like he was fine. Maybe he was, considering that whole affinity for violence he’d mentioned earlier. If someone had tried to hit him—he’d probably be a nervous wreck.

“I’ve never been in a fight, ever,” Buck admitted and flushed when Eddie focused on him. “I mean, not even in middle school. I was a big kid—always taller than the other kids, so I didn’t get picked on or whatever. Then I was in military school, and the discipline was heavy if you misbehaved. No one wanted to risk getting sent to the commandant’s office. That was the road to a five-mile run every single damn morning for months.”

“It wasn’t a fight,” Eddie said mildly. “It was…a physical correction.”

“A physical correction,” Buck repeated, then laughed. “Did you really catch his fist? Seriously? That’s some Bruce Lee shit.”

“It would’ve been some Bruce Lee shit if Rogers wasn’t the human equivalent of a drunk camel. And if I was that heavy on my feet, I’d die of shame,” Eddie muttered. “Honestly, be embarrassed on his behalf. The asshole is ridiculous. Here’s hoping the next person he picks a fight with doesn’t maim his dumb ass for life.”

“Are you actually mad that he wasn’t a challenge?” Buck questioned, and several people turned to stare at them.

“All I’m saying is that if you’re going to roll up on a man spoiling for a fight, you should be able to throw down,” Eddie said. “Right, Cosmo?”

“Right,” Cosmo agreed.

“Do not encourage him,” Buck pleaded.

“Keep messing with me, Evan Buckley, and I’ll tell your brother about your new stalker,” Eddie threatened.

“Rude! And also, what happened to having my back?”

“What new stalker?”

Buck turned and found his brother standing beside Maddie at the top of the stairs. “Fuck my life.”

“Is someone stalking you, Evan?” Maddie asked, her eyes wide with worry.

“Full legal name, phone number, address, and birthday, if you have it,” Daniel demanded as he pulled out his phone.

“Oh my god,” Buck groaned. “Eddie already threatened to kill him. It’s fine. He went away. Jesus.” He poked Eddie. “If you were sleeping in my house—you’d be on the couch!” He frowned and sat up. “Where is my baby?”

“At daycare,” Daniel said. “Maddie got called into work, and I’ve got court in two hours. I’m just here to pick up the details on Eddie’s parents so I can send them an explicit and threatening letter detailing how unhappy we all are with their bullshit.” He smiled when Eddie groaned. “It’ll be easier on everyone if you just go with it. You wouldn’t want me to pay for a private investigator, right?”

“I told you,” Buck muttered and took a deep breath when Bobby handed Daniel a piece of paper. “Bobby!”

“A cease and desist or two wouldn’t be out of line since he’s already tried to get violent with Eddie,” Bobby pointed out reasonably as Daniel unfolded the note.

“How is this my life?” Buck asked.

“I have a theory,” Maddie said. “But it involves reincarnation, terrible life choices, and the impact of karma on the immortal soul. The last time I tried to tell you about it—you hung up on me.”

“With good reason!” Buck exclaimed. “If karma was really a thing, we’d all be living our lives as cockroaches!”

“I wouldn’t,” Hen said. “I’ve been a damn delight my entire existence.”

“So, this guy Chad Rogers tried to hit you, Eddie?” Daniel raised an eyebrow.

Eddie slouched further down on the couch when Chimney gleefully launched into full story mode. Daniel’s face remained neutral the entire time, but Maddie was gaping at Eddie.

Daniel exhaled sharply. “There are some things, Howard Han, that I’d rather not ever know about my siblings.” He turned to Buck and mouthed the word job like he was trying to be discreet.

“If I promise to text you all of my parents’ details, will you leave me to brood in peace?” Eddie questioned. “I’ve been trying to brood since I woke up, and no one will let me do it.”

“Sure,” Daniel agreed easily, then frowned at Chimney. “Come on, Maddie, if you want to be dropped off. Otherwise, you’re hitching a ride on a fire truck.”

“I wouldn’t mind riding a firefighter,” Maddie declared as she followed Daniel down the stairs. “Bye, Evan!”

“I said truck,” Daniel said, clearly exasperated. “Fire truck, Maddie!”

“Well, I know what I’m going to recommend be put on the back of the next LAFD T-shirt,” Hen said dryly.

“Stop acting put out, Daniel,” Maddie exclaimed. “You’ve got at least three snotty letters to write now. You know you love that!”

The last thing Buck heard was Daniel laughing. Because, yeah, the man adored writing snotty letters.

“Would he really hire a PI?” Eddie questioned.

“Yep,” Buck admitted. “You can make him stop, but you gotta get real serious in his face about it. He told me once that he felt like he was living a borrowed life. Maybe that’s why he just can’t stop trying to be helpful and useful. I kind of get that. Sometimes, I feel like I owe the universe a debt I can never repay.” He focused on Hen and found her staring at her phone, which reminded him of the ever-evolving Eva situation. “Hey, Hen, can we talk?”

“Sure, Buckaroo,” she said with a grin. “I’ve got some questions.”

“You know I don’t fuck and tell,” Buck said cheerfully but left the sofa after patting Eddie on the shoulder. “But his performance review is gonna be stellar.”

Eddie laughed.

There was a small office that Chimney was supposed to use but never did. It was normally always free unless someone had a private phone call to make that required a shut door, so Buck guided her into that room and shut the door.

“This serious then?” Hen questioned.

“Yeah, it is,” Buck murmured. “Let’s sit.” He took her hand as she sat with him, and she smiled. “Trust is fragile, Hen, and when it gets broken—it’s never the same again.”

“I know,” Hen said in confusion. “I learned that lesson a long time ago, Buck. My father made me all kinds of promises but never managed to honor a single one of them.”

Buck nodded. “Remember last year when I told you it would be a mistake to help Eva get out of jail?”

“Yeah, and I listened,” Hen promised. “I even contacted the prison to tell them I didn’t want to hear from her again. She didn’t get parole.”

“She’s going to,” Buck said and took a deep breath. “I know a part of you still loves her. Hell, a part of you still wants her.” He raised an eyebrow when Hen shook her head. “I love you, Hen. You’re like a sister to me, but we all have weaknesses, and I see yours.”

“And you see it as Eva,” Hen said and frowned. She took a deep breath. “I’d never go back to her, Buck. I know she’s bad for me, and I love Karen. I have a great life with her and Denny. I can’t see how I’d risk any of it.”

“Temptation is a real bastard,” Buck said and cleared his throat. “Did you ever find out who Denny’s biological father is?”

“No,” Hen admitted and frowned. “Buck…is something bad going to happen to my family?”

“If you aren’t careful, Eva is going to happen to your family, and I can’t say for certain that your marriage will survive it, Hen. Even if it does, it might not ever be the same,” Buck said plainly. “Eva is selfish, cruel, and an addict. That will never change. Don’t think for a moment it will change. Get your ducks in a row legally so you’ll be prepared when she gets out of jail. Her end goal is always going to be you, no matter what she says. Her son is hardly a factor at all in any single decision she makes, but she will use him as a bargaining chip to try to get you back.”

“You’ve never been this…explicit with me before,” Hen murmured. “It’s unnerving, Buck.”

“I’m sorry for it. I just don’t want you to make a mistake.”

“Like cheat on my wife,” Hen said grimly. “You see that, don’t you?”

Buck winced because she’d certainly done it the first time around, which he’d seen coming and had only been able to delay by interfering with Eva’s first parole attempt. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

“Your honest heart is the best part about you, Buck,” Hen said. “I think I’ll make a call and set up an extra appointment with my therapist. I promise I won’t give Eva the time of day no matter what she says or does.”

“Good.” Buck exhaled, and his magic stirred in his chest. He inclined his head and stood.

“Buck?”

A heavy weight settled on him, and he realized something big was coming. He pushed open the door and rushed out of the small office as he pulled out his phone and called his brother.

Hey! We’re going to get coffee. Did you want us to Uber some to you guys?” Maddie questioned. “Text us everyone’s order.”

“Where are you guys?”

On the freeway,” Daniel reported. “Why?”

“Get off now! Exit as soon as you can, Daniel!” Buck pressed a hand against his chest as his sister yelped. A low rumble gathered under his feet, even as he finally realized the date and made the connection. “Earthquake! Everyone brace for it!”

We’re off, Jesus, Buck, the overpass….” Daniel trailed off, and Buck heard the screeching of brakes. “It’s collapsing!”

The alarm started to sound, and all Buck could focus on was the fact that his sweet Bea was with strangers at daycare. Hen dragged him toward their lockers.

“Get somewhere safe, Daniel!”

Sydney’s at work. Maddie is texting him to get Bea. We aren’t far from her job. They’ll probably need her, right? Jesus, Buck, the roads are cracking. Ask Eddie if he wants me to pick up Chris.”

Thanks, Daniel. I’ll send you texts on the drive. I’m not sure where we’re going yet.” Buck ended the call. “Eddie, Daniel offered to pick up Chris.”

“He’s not on the list,” Eddie said as he climbed into the truck, but he pulled out his phone. “I’ll try to call the school and text his teacher.”

His phone was vibrating, so Buck pulled it out as the truck rolled out of the station. Daniel had sent a copy of his driver’s license. He forwarded that to Eddie and sent a text to Athena with Daniel’s information in case Michael couldn’t get to May and Harry. He really didn’t remember there being any problems with them when the earthquake hit the first time. Then he sent another text to Daniel with the details on Chris’ school along with Eddie’s approval to pick Chris up.

Buck was furious with himself. He’d known the earthquake was coming but had gotten a little mentally spread out since Bea’s adoption. He could’ve prepared the team well in advance, and he felt like the worse sort of asshole for letting it slide. Circumstances were different, and he noted, to his dismay, that they were being sent to a different part of town than they’d gone the first time around.

“Bobby, what’s our assignment?”

Bobby looked over his shoulder. “High-rise hotel—collapsing in on itself. Multiple people missing, dead, and injured. We’re the third house to be pulled to the scene. You didn’t see this coming.”

“I was distracted,” Buck said and flushed with shame. There would’ve been limits on what he could’ve done to prepare the city for an earthquake, but he’d been so focused on his personal life that he’d done nothing.

Eddie’s leg pressed against his. “It’s fine. How’s this going to go?”

How did it go last time? That was the real question, and Buck tried to settle himself. The first time around, they’d ended up fighting a large industrial fire due to a ruptured fuel line. He didn’t have a lot of details on the hotel collapse other than to say it’d resulted in many deaths, an onsite amputation of a teenage boy’s leg the day of, and multiple body recoveries in the days after the collapse. Why were they going to it? As soon as he thought about it, he realized why. With Eddie’s inclusion on the team, they’d been elevated up the list for heavy rescue when it came to disaster management.

“Buildings this size are designed to be earthquake resistant,” Buck said. “So, we’re looking at some baked-in structural problems. Cheap materials, mistakes in construction, or outright fraud.”

“Turn on your radio, Buck, brief us all,” Bobby ordered. “Listen up, 118. Firefighter Buckley is going to give us a run down on what to expect.”

Buck activated his mic. “The fact that the building is collapsing speaks to fundamental construction weaknesses that we’ll need to be on the lookout for. The foundation should be sitting on a series of flexible pads that would’ve worked as the earthquake happened to prevent it from shaking apart. Combine that base with the counter forces—vibration control or a pendulum system—this building should still be standing.

“We can expect to find crumbling support columns. Don’t trust the floors to hold your weight without verification; if you’re working on ropes—double up on your safety precautions and give yourself room to take a fall if one of your secure points gives way. Don’t trust the glass to hold any amount of weight. Between the earthquake and the apparent lack of care in the construction, that’s a non-starter. We have no way of knowing how many corners were cut when this got built.

“If the foundation held, that area is probably the safest as it was designed to be entirely separate from the rest of the building. Do we know what kind of counterforce the building is using?”

This is Chief Williams—plans report vibrational control devices. Damper pistons on seven of the fourteen floors. The underground parking garage has partially collapsed. No info on the independent foundation at this point.”

Buck made a face as he hadn’t realized what Bobby meant by all. “That’s good, actually. A pendulum system in a collapsing building would be worse because it would probably be falling right now. No one needs a 500-plus-ton ball coming down on their heads Indiana Jones style.”

I need you here, Buckley. I don’t have anyone from Public Works on site, and none are coming, so you’re my guy. We need an on-site assessment. I have the plans set up and crews working to shore up the exterior as much as we can.”

“We’re two minutes out, Chief,” Bobby reported, and Buck turned off the mic on his radio.

“You might have mentioned you had the battalion chief on our line,” Buck said sourly.

Bobby shot him a grin. “She’s patched into all three houses at this point. Relax, you did fine.”

“I only have a BS in civil engineering, Bobby,” Buck said in frustration.

“Which is minimum required, and you know that since you used to work for the city as a civil engineer,” Bobby said with a laugh. “And I know you’re still licensed. The chief considered it a bonus when you were hired.”

Buck shrugged when Chim looked his way. “When I first got here, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I took the civil engineering exam to be licensed and worked for Public Works for a while before deciding to go to the academy. If I’d stuck with it, I’d have definitely gone on to get my master’s degree because I think that should be the bare minimum to do the job properly in a city like LA. Or really, any city where even minor earthquakes are common. Anyway, I did it for about a year, but I never worked a disaster in that capacity.”

Eddie knocked his knee gently against him. “You’ll be fine.”

He didn’t know that for certain. The truth was that the earthquake hadn’t crossed his mind at all since he’d turned. Had his magic influenced him to ignore it? Had Fate stuck her nose in his business? The whole thought process was deeply annoying. There were a lot of new and different moving parts in his life now. There was little time to adjust to all of it. He checked his phone and found the last message he’d sent didn’t go through. The last message he had received was a confirmation from Daniel that he’d gotten the information on Chris.

“Cell system is overloaded,” Buck murmured.

“I can’t get any more messages through to Chris’ school,” Eddie admitted. “The last thing I got was a text alert reporting that the school had suffered no damage during the earthquake.”

“Did they get your information on Daniel?”

“Yeah, I think so. It sent on my end, at least,” Eddie said and took a deep breath. “He’ll take him to your house, right?”

“Yeah, he’ll want to take Bea home, so he’ll have the stuff to take care of her. I think he has a couple of emergency bottles at his place and two sets of clothes.” Buck closed his eyes and tried to focus.

“What’s wrong?”

“I forgot,” Buck murmured. “And that’s not something that happens normally.” He glanced up and found Chimney staring intently at him. “You okay?”

Chim shrugged and took a deep breath. “You look disturbed, and that’s never a good thing when we’re heading toward a call. And this isn’t an ordinary call.”

“We’ll be fine,” Buck said and took a deep breath to settle himself. He really didn’t want to look all fucked up when he had to work in front of the battalion chief.

When they got to the scene, Buck followed Bobby to the chief’s incident command center. Eddie came with them while the rest self-assigned as they moved through the crowd.

“Chief Williams, this is Firefighters Buckley and Diaz.” Bobby focused on the building. “Where do you need me?”

“I need someone to lead a team into the area where the hotel’s restaurant was,” Williams explained. “We have a missing child and at least two other guests that were reported to be in the restaurant that aren’t accounted for. We’re also missing fourteen members of staff. Fortunately, most of the hotel was empty, as the event happened shortly after the check-out time ended. We’ll still need to do a full sweep, and I’ve got more thermal scanners heading our way. In the meantime, we do it the old-fashioned way.”

Bobby nodded, turned, and started gathering their people as he walked away. He left Eddie behind, which made Williams raise an eyebrow.

“Firefighter Diaz is probationary,” Buck explained. “He’s my shadow today—it’s Captain Nash’s in-house training method.”

“It’s a good one,” Williams said with a nod. “Fewer injuries that way.” She motioned toward the plans. “Deputy Chief Evans tells me I can take your word as the goddamned gospel, Buckley.”

“No pressure,” Buck muttered but stepped up to stand with her. “Do you have people in the building now?”

“Two teams of four are working their way up to search for survivors. I’ve got a man laying on a large window in the part that’s tipped over,” she explained. “Not enough room for an airbag.”

“Can we put one down anyway?” Buck asked because he knew the glass was going to give way. “It won’t sit right, and it’ll probably get bunched due to lack of space…but if the glass gives, it’ll break most of the fall, and if he bounces or rolls off, he might still survive.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” she said and activated her radio as she walked away.

“What’s wrong?” Eddie questioned lowly.

“I think my magic made me ignore the earthquake,” Buck murmured. “And I’m wondering if this is the first time I’ve been made to ignore or forget things. Maybe little things I wouldn’t notice or just assumed were changed because of my turning.”

“You said that sometimes you can’t make changes, and it hurts,” Eddie murmured. “Maybe your magic is evolving to help lower your stress when it comes to events that are beyond your control. This is certainly beyond your control.”

“I could’ve made sure the kids were home and safe,” Buck said and swallowed hard. “I know they’re both safe on some other level, but a plan would’ve made me feel better.”

He focused on the building plans as Chief Williams returned. “Chief, can I get some reports from the teams working inside?”

“What do you need?”

“I need to know how the building materials look. Are the support columns solid, holding up, damaged, or even hollow? A guesstimate on quality. The dampening pistons failed as well, so I want to look at those personally, if possible.”

“You think this building came down due to fraud,” William said. “Is that a priority right now?”

“We need to know how stable the rest of it is,” Buck said. “We’ve got aftershocks heading our way, ma’am.”

“I prefer chief over ma’am, Buckley,” Williams said and reached for her radio. She stepped away to join a group of firefighters from her own station.

Buck nodded and refocused his attention on the plans. The building itself was just ten years old and had gone through a recent refurbishing. “Eds, get with dispatch and ask what channel the Department of Public Works is using for coordination. I need to tap in to ask some questions.”

“On it,” Eddie said and squeezed his shoulder briefly before he stepped back to work on that conversation.

Buck focused on the reports coming in from the teams. Crumbling support columns, broken and bent steel support beams, and shattered glass featured prominently.

Hey, Buck.”

Buck activated his radio. “Talk to me, Cosmo.”

I’m on the second floor, lots of broken walls and glass, and I found a maintenance panel to one of the dampening pistons. It’s bent practically in half, slick with oil. Is that oil flammable?”

“Negative on flammable—it’s silicone-based,” Buck responded. “The oil is used to redistribute the heat when the piston is working to counteract the impact of an earthquake. Take a few pictures with your phone for record-keeping.”

Eddie returned to his side. “Dispatch has routed the current ground coordinator, Rachel Smythe, to channel sixty-seven. She’s on standby waiting for your questions.”

Well, that was both good and kind of unfortunate. Buck nodded and activated his radio, changing the channel as Williams rejoined them. “Rachel, hey.”

Hello, there, Firefighter Buckley,” she replied, tone just shy of flirty. “I’m about six miles from your location working a freeway collapse. We’ve got five of those and ten buildings in shambles, plus an industrial fire. It’s a big day. I’m glad you’re on the scene down there.”

“This hotel is hell and gone out of code, Rachel,” Buck responded. “We’ve already found one piston that was bent in half, and it’s not even on the part of the building that fell.”

He heard her suck air through her teeth. “That whole area went through inspections just six months ago, Buck.”

“I don’t see how it passed inspection during construction,” Buck retorted. “The glass isn’t laminated, and I’ve got a person laying on a thin pane of it. If he survives, it’ll be a miracle. The underground parking garage has partially collapsed. When we check the foundation pads, I don’t expect to be impressed based on the wholesale destruction I’m looking at.”

I’ll put in a call,” Rachel said roughly. “And get down there as soon as I can. We put that building as a low priority based on the inspection data. I’m really glad you’re there. Keep your people safe.”

“I’ll do my best,” Buck said. “Stay safe yourself.”

You know me! I’m out!”

He did know her—in a deeply intimate fashion—and she was an adrenaline junkie. Buck switched his radio back to the channel Williams was using for coordination.

“The man fell,” Eddie reported as soon as Buck focused on him. “Hit the half-inflated airbag. The only thing it saved was a mess.”

Buck grimaced. “Right. Shit.”

“Not your fault, Buckley,” Williams said shortly. “I should’ve put that bag out regardless of the spacing issue, so it’s on me. I’ve got one team bringing a woman and a man with a broken back down. I’ve redirected Fuentes to them.”

“Elevator shafts are probably the obvious choice, but they need to be careful and watch the cars. There’s no telling how stable that system is—I doubt it’s up to code, and the pressure of the crumbling building on the foundation is going to get worse with the first aftershock,” Buck said as he stared at the plans. He let one finger trail down the elevator shaft of the central elevator. “Move now or stay put until after we get another hit.” He turned to her. “I need to go in before I can make any further recommendations.”

Williams nodded. “Keep in contact. Your captain is currently shifting debris off a teenager in the restaurant. The little girl is still missing. Her name is Kat. They found her shoe in the rubble, but no sign of a body.”

He remembered watching a news report when they found the little girl’s body three days after the earthquake. She died of dehydration before they could dig her out. They were halfway to the entry area when the first aftershock hit. The rumble under their feet felt almost gentle, like a little wave from mother nature. It was disconcerting as fuck.

Hen!”

Buck jerked at the sound of Bobby’s voice over the radio and caught Eddie’s elbow as they stumbled toward the entrance. They slid past a teenage boy being carried out on a stretcher and started to climb over debris even as Bobby repeatedly demanded that Hen respond. Shortly, he slid down a slab of stupidly thin slab of concrete with a scowl. He dropped to his feet and rubbed his fingers along the exposed edge.

“At least two inches thinner than the minimum,” Buck muttered. “Fucking shoddy ass construction. I’m gonna….” He trailed off when Bobby grabbed him.

“Hen’s missing. She fell through the floor. No response from her radio.”

Buck let himself be led to the spot even as his magic swirled around his chest. It was telling him to back off. He knew that sensation well enough. Either Hen was okay, or he wouldn’t be allowed to help her. He scrambled up on top of what was left of a fancy-looking bar and shimmied down as far as he could on his stomach. There was a small hole—not enough for rescue. The situation felt tenuous and ugly as he pressed against the rubble; it was a clear warning. Hen was exactly where the universe wanted her to be, Buck thought.

“This isn’t stable,” he said roughly, though he knew it was the last thing Bobby wanted to hear. “We can’t risk moving any of it.” He rolled over and scooted back so he was face to face with Bobby. “There’s no helping her from this direction. Is she moving? What’s her GPS location?”

Bobby snatched the tablet from Chim’s hand. “No movement. She’s just below us, Buck.”

“If we start shifting this rubble, it’s going to collapse on her and kill her,” Buck said bluntly. “We need an alternate way into the area where she is, which is going to be the half-collapsed parking garage. We also need a bag.”

“Why?” Chim questioned even as he snagged someone’s abandoned purse and dumped the contents. It was large enough to do.

“She’s not responding for one of two reasons—she’s injured, or her radio’s broken,” Buck said and just laughed a little when Chim groaned. “Let’s get her some supplies and radio to send down.”

Shortly, they lowered the bag through the hole with a few bottles of water, some first aid supplies, and a new radio. Bobby called for an evac but had to prod Chimney out physically. They separated after that—Buck and Eddie heading up a ladder and into the building while the rest of the crew headed for the parking garage.

He was at the third floor when Hen finally responded to Bobby’s prodding.

“Firefighter Wilson reporting in.”

Buck shared a relieved look with Eddie even as they climbed through a broken window and into the building. The rest of the conversation with Hen and Bobby faded into the background as they started to move. Cosmo was coming down the hall carrying a pretty young woman bridal style. Since there was glass everywhere and she wasn’t wearing shoes and a short skirt, it made sense. Cosmo always tended to lean toward being a gentleman and wouldn’t have wanted to throw her over his shoulder while she was conscious.

“Hey, did they get the guy with the broken back out?” Eddie questioned.

“Yeah, but the elevator came down before Ally and me here could go that route, so we did some climbing.” Cosmo shifted her weight a little, and she offered them a tight smile. “She’s been a trooper, though. We’re going to use the ladder to go down.”

Buck nodded. “We’ll be heading up to the part where the building basically broke in half.”

“Dangerous up there, Buck,” Cosmo warned. “Really unstable.”

“I need to know how unstable since it’s going to start stressing the building it’s falling into,” Buck said. “Get her out of here and stay on the ladder truck. That’s where I’m going to need you. Relay that to Chief Williams.”

“Who are they?” the woman asked as Cosmo walked away.

“Evan Buckley and Eddie Diaz from the 118 on my shift,” Cosmo answered.

“Well, they’re hot like fire. I never get to work with hot people,” she complained. “You’re hot, too. Don’t think I didn’t notice. You guys must be the prettiest firehouse in the LAFD.”

Cosmo laughed, and Buck just decided to ignore the whole conversation.

“Speaking of hot,” Eddie said. “Is Rachel Smythe an ex?”

“Eh. She’s hot like fire if that’s your question. I wouldn’t call her an ex.” Buck attached a line to his harness then jumped to catch the jagged opening to the floor above them. “There was no relationship. I was way too interested in casual sex during that time in my life to invest myself in a single person. She’s nice if a little crazy.”

“Crazy how?”

“Jump off the side of a cliff, crazy,” Buck supplied as he pulled himself up. “Climb Mount Everest, crazy.”

“Oh, one of those,” Eddie said and shook his head as he followed. “White people, man.”

Buck laughed. “Rude.”

“Name one Mexican that crazy,” Eddie challenged. “Just one, Buck.”

“I can name two off the top of my head. Ricardo Torres climbed Everest in 1989. David Liaño Gonzalez in 2016, and he holds a world record for climbing it from both sides—Tibet and Nepal,” Buck said and glanced over to find Eddie staring at him, flabbergasted. “What?”

“Why do you know these things?” Eddie asked. “But, also, that’s sort of cool. Crazy, but cool. We should tell Chris about them. He doesn’t learn a lot of positive stuff about Mexicans or our history in school.”

“We should work on that, then,” Buck agreed. “Maybe pick some historical museums that focus on the truth and inspiration versus oppression and propaganda. I’ll do some research.” He pulled himself up to the next floor and offered Eddie a hand up. “Feels weird.”

“Holding my hand at work or….” Eddie trailed off when Buck laughed a little

“No, a magical weird.” Buck squeezed his hand, then released him. “It’s never weird to hold your hand.”

In the background, Hen reported that she’d found the little girl—alive and well. Buck’s magic shifted in his chest, and he took a deep breath as a little piece of the universe adjusted to Kat’s survival. Sometimes, such change borderline hurt in a way he couldn’t give words to.

“Ah.” He braced himself against a wall that appeared mostly stable.

“What?”

“Didn’t go that way the first time,” he admitted roughly.

“That’s good, right?” Eddie questioned.

“It’s good, but sometimes unexpected changes can be a little disorienting. There will probably be a lot of them over the course of the day.” He swallowed hard. “It’s just a function of the circumstances. Let’s keep moving—we’ve got another aftershock coming.”

He ran a hand along the wall as they walked, letting his magic do the work for him. It was easier on the job now that he had someone who knew what he could do. The others gave him room, of course, and listened to him when he spoke. It hadn’t taken him long at all to prove himself to the 118. Bobby had ignored exactly him once, and that had resulted in Chimney getting a piece of rebar stuck in his head. An incident he’d been unable to fix with a turn. He’d certainly tried to keep Chim in the station that day, tried to prevent the argument, and had even chased after him when he stormed out.

After that, no matter how weird he acted when he said something was wrong—they listened. Chim was especially intent because he’d learned the hard way that ignoring Buck’s instincts just didn’t go well.

“We can’t make any mistakes,” Buck murmured.

“The building isn’t stable,” Eddie agreed.

“No, I mean….” He cleared his throat. “This event is static, Eddie. I can’t turn if something happens. I already tried once before—to save that little girl. The only time I turned between the birth of Bea and the day I stood over her grave was when Athena’s daughter overdosed. Even then, I was only given an hour, and I had to go forward all the way to that sweet girl’s funeral before I was allowed to turn at all. It wasn’t enough time because she’d already done it, but Athena made it to the house in time to save her.”

“Do you know what your magic was trying to show you with that?” Eddie questioned.

“I think it never intended on letting me turn, but the grief was suffocating,” Buck said. “I knew Athena before I ever joined the 118 since I worked for the city for a while. Sometimes we clashed, but she’s always been special to me. My magic adores her, which made it hard because I thought it would allow me to turn to help her and her daughter without any sort of question.”

“Fate?”

“Fucking fate,” Buck muttered. “I still don’t know what I was supposed to learn, but eventually, it did let me save May.”

His magic thrummed gently in his chest. Buck reached out for Eddie, pulled him close, and grabbed the edge of an exposed steel beam. The building rocked violently as Eddie wrapped an arm around his waist and held tight.

“Jesus,” Eddie muttered. “LA would be awesome if it weren’t for the earthquakes.”’

“I don’t make up for it?” Buck asked in amusement.

Eddie looked over his face and grinned. “You make up for a lot.”

The shaking stopped.

118 call out!

Buck activated his radio as they separated. “Buckley and Diaz reporting in.”

He listened intently as the rest reported in one by one.

Wilson, Kat, and Paisley reporting in,” Hen said a little breathlessly. “Our path is clear up ahead. Make my day, Buckaroo, and tell me I’m heading in the right direction.”

Buck touched his magic, prodded gently, and let his hand slide down the wall as he focused on Hen, then Bobby. “Feels good, Hen. Cosmo, we’re almost to the seventh floor. Chief, if you don’t already have them—we need the plans for the building next door. And we need to make sure it’s evac’d completely at this point. This building is going to come completely down, and we’ll be lucky if it doesn’t damage the one next door significantly. Tell Rachel she needs to do a new inspection, focusing on building materials and load-bearing columns.”

Evac is done, and Rachel Smythe is en route with those plans already. Good job on making that contact and getting Public Works’ attention. They gave me the run around all three times I tried,” Williams said. “Stay safe up there.”

Buck let go of his radio and took a deep breath.

“What are you looking for?”

“I don’t know,” Buck admitted. “A lot of people died here today, and it’s resonating in my magic. I don’t remember feeling this way the first time. Of course, we were on the other side of town fighting an industrial fire which was a different kind of nightmare, and dozens died from the initial explosion. It was a hard call.”

“Did they find anyone else in the search after the initial event?” Eddie questioned.

Buck considered that. He remembered the little girl, specifically, because her parents had blamed the LAFD for her death. There’d been several lawsuits—the department, the city, and the hotel itself had all been involved. In the end, only the hotel was found culpable because of the construction fraud. He was glad the family was getting a different ending today.

“We’re down to three missing employees,” Williams reported. “Buckley, Diaz—get ready to evac.”

“Understood, Chief.” Buck took a deep breath as he released his radio. “Okay, yeah, that’s…they’re up here. They’re trapped in some kind of staff office. Their bodies were all recovered in this section when it completely collapsed. I don’t know how injured they are right now.”

He let his magic lead him and was relieved when they came across a small staff room that was at the start of the fracture. The door was blocked by a lot of debris, but they made quick work of it. When they got the door opened, they found a porter and two housekeepers. Their injuries were minor, and leading them back out of the building to the ladder proved to be no problem at all. It felt almost too easy.

Of course, the third person was halfway down the ladder when the broken section of the hotel started to crumble.

“Go!” Buck said and pushed Eddie toward the window they were using to access the ladder as he activated his radio. “Everyone get out of the way—this thing is coming down! Go! Go!”

The building swayed, and the ladder jerked as Eddie made contact with it, but he managed to scramble onto it easily enough. Then Buck felt the floor start to give away under his feet. The ladder swung around as debris hit the truck. He really didn’t remember there being this many aftershocks the first time around. Buck felt like the universe had suddenly decided to make him work to live, and that had never been a thing before. Cosmo got the ladder back into place, but it was further from the building.

“Buck!” Eddie reached out for him, hanging half off the ladder. “Jump!” The ladder swung wildly, and Buck realized the control mechanism must’ve been damaged by debris.

The distance looked doable, so Buck took a deep breath and hitched a foot up on the window seal as the ladder swung back toward him and jumped. He felt his magic swell in his chest. Eddie caught his arm held tight, and magic flowed between them as the ladder jerked violently again. The top half of the building crashed to the ground. Dust exploded upwards, enveloping them. Buck pushed his magic hard, hoping to give Eddie enough to hold onto as they swung. Finally, Eddie hauled Buck onto the ladder, and they collapsed on it together even as their radios started to go off with a demand for status.

Buckley, Diaz, call out!” Bobby ordered. “Anyone got eyes on them?”

“Too much dust, Cap,” Chim reported.

Chest heaving, Eddie activated his radio with one hand, as Bobby demanded they call out for the second time, and cupped the back of Buck’s neck with the other. The ladder started to slowly retract. “Diaz and Buckley reporting in—I got him, Cap. We’re okay.” He coughed and just held on tight to Buck as the ladder worked.

“That was a lot,” Buck said. “I really hope it doesn’t make the news. I hate going viral.”

PR will be thrilled to know there are six news crews on-site,” Williams said cheerfully, and Buck groaned. “Buck up, Buckley. You two looked great up there being big damn heroes.”  Then she laughed.

Eddie winced and released his radio. “Sorry, I forgot I was still holding it.”

“I don’t care who knows how much I hate going viral,” Buck muttered. “For fuck’s sake.”

Shortly, the ladder was pulled completely down, and people started scrambling across the top of the truck to them. Buck shifted in his embrace, squeezed his hip, then moved to a kneeling position. Buck’s hand slid down on his leg, and fingers clenched on his ankle briefly before finally letting go.

“You good?” Buck questioned.

“Yeah,” Eddie said even as Chim knelt over him and started to prod his shoulder. “It’s fine.”

“If I’d caught 190 pounds the way you just did, I’d have dislocated my shoulder—maybe both considering the way you were holding onto the ladder,” he said grimly. “Let’s get you sat up.”

Eddie started to move, but then he was being lifted into a sitting position by multiple sets of hands. He focused on Buck, who was leaning against the railing near his feet. Hen was checking his shoulder.

“Can you lift your arms over your head?” Bobby questioned, hand still pressed against his back.

Eddie obliged. In the back of his mind, he was sure he should be feeling something. But he wasn’t worried because trusting Buck’s magic was a no-brainer. It had already saved his life once. He watched Buck lifted fully into a sitting position by Cosmo so Hen could continue her examination.

“How’s that feel?” Chim questioned with a frown as he cupped Eddie’s left shoulder and checked the movement.

“Fine,” he admitted and shrugged.

Chim sat back on his heels with a look in Bobby’s direction. “How big of a gap did Buck jump?”

“Ten feet, easy,” Bobby said and focused on Buck. “And Buck weighs more than 190 these days—he bulked up a bit more while he was on paternity leave. I had to order him new uniforms when he came back.”

Buck shrugged. “I got bored, and Bea slept a lot.” He leaned back on his hands and grinned when Chim huffed. “A very fit 205 over here, Chim.” He stood and stretched. “I need to stay in shape—my boyfriend has a side hustle he’s dedicated to that I gotta make myself available for.”

Eddie sighed as Hen started to laugh but also resolved to increase his own weight regimen to make sure he’d never have a problem catching and keeping Evan Buckley.

They were halfway back to the station when his phone started going crazy in his pocket. Eddie pulled it out and took a long drink of water from the bottle in his hand before he started to read through his text messages. There were several from the school—just alerts regarding the earthquake and early pick-ups. He dismissed all of those.

Daniel: The school didn’t get my information, but I was able to contact Carla, and she came to the school to pick up Chris for me. We’re at Evan’s house. We’re fine. He seems unfazed by the earthquake. I cannot say the same.

Daniel: omfg

Maddie: omfg!!!

Abuela: We saw you on the news! Let me know if you’re hurt or need any help, nieto.

He looked up and found Buck frowning unhappily at his phone. “Hey.”

Buck huffed. “The video is already on fucking YouTube.” He cleared his throat. “And my brother and sister are having a full-blown conniption in unison. I liked it much better when they lived many, many hours away from me.”

“No, you didn’t,” Eddie said with a laugh. “Also, my abuela has seen it. Which means my parents have seen it.”

“Well, you look like a badass,” Buck assured.

Eddie figured a ten-foot leap of faith out of a falling building probably looked pretty damned badass, too. He knew he’d wait to watch it because he was still a little rattled by the experience. Starting with his abuela seemed like the best choice, so he fired off a text telling her that they were both fine and heading back to the station house. Then he sent texts to Buck’s siblings confirming that Buck was okay and uninjured.

They were an hour and a half into overtime, so once they returned to the station, B shift took over, and their entire shift piled into the showers. To Buck’s delight, Hen had kept the dog she’d found in the rubble, so Paisley was currently meandering between the male and female sides of the locker rooms.

“You okay?” Buck questioned.

Eddie looked to his left as Buck was in the shower stall next to him. “Yeah, bruises are rising, but it doesn’t hurt.”

“Both of you should be in a world of pain,” Chim said from Eddie’s right as he worked shampoo into his hair.

The chest-high shower cubicles were a surprise to Eddie since he’d grown used to a very different environment in the Army. Even his high school had open showers. Times changed, he supposed, and neither circumstance bothered him.

“Let’s chalk it up as one of Buck’s weird things,” Bobby Nash said as he left the showers. “Let me know if things change when the adrenaline wears off, and you’ll get a referral to an orthopedic for an exam.”

He figured it was one of Buck’s weird things. Eddie glanced toward his boyfriend and found Buck still under the showerhead, hands braced on the wall in front of him. His mouth went a little dry.

“Why do you look like that?”

Buck turned and offered him a grin.

“It’s clearly genetic,” Chim muttered. “All three of them are ridiculous. His sister looks like some gorgeous girl you’d see in a music video.”

“Yeah, exactly that,” Eddie agreed. “I know which video you mean.”

Buck cleared his throat. “Hmmm.”

“What?”

“That is Maddie,” he admitted. “She got cast off the street when she and her friends took a trip to New Mexico.”

“Seriously?” Chim asked. “Because…I thought it was just an uncanny resemblance. Wow. Sorry. I mean….”

“I know what my sister looks like,” Buck said wryly. “She did some modeling after the video to pay for nursing school because my parents wanted her to do something different and refused to pay for it. She didn’t want to wait for her trust fund to open up for her use. Regardless, it’s Maddie, and you can ask her about it. She’ll tell you all about making out with an international pop star.”

“What did your parents want her to be?”

“Lawyer, banker, etcetera,” Buck waved a hand. “Anything but what they considered a service industry. My mother was of the opinion that none of her children should have to do for others. Does that make sense? I think even a doctor would’ve been an offensive choice for her. She insisted that Daniel focus on corporate law in school, too. If she had a grave, she’d be rolling over in it considering the choices all three of us have made.”

* * * *

Buck dropped his keys in the bowl he kept by the door leading in from the garage and shed the lightweight jacket he’d worn home. Eddie put their bags on the bench under the coat rack and took a deep breath as he pulled out his phone.

“Did Isabel respond?”

“Yeah,” Eddie muttered as he stared at his phone. “My parents had a meltdown, and apparently, my actions today prove I have no business being a parent at all.”

“Well, that’s going to earn them another letter,” Daniel announced as he carried a sleepy Chris into the room.

“Daddy.” Chris yawned but held out his hands. “I hitched a ride so I could get here faster.”

Eddie laughed and took his son. “Hey, kiddo.” He took a deep breath against Chris’ hair. “Thanks for today, Daniel. It was…easier to do the job knowing you had all of this handled.”

Maddie came in then, Bea hitched on one hip. “She’s ready for a bottle.” She stared pointedly at them. “I can’t believe you two.”

“We were doing our jobs,” Buck said firmly. “There were three people up there that would’ve died if we hadn’t found them when we did.”

“We saw that,” Daniel said. “The news was pretty detailed, considering. You guys were real big damn heroes today. It was hard to watch, but I’m really proud of you all. They said that Hen found a missing little girl and crawled out of the rubble with her.”

“Yeah,” Buck said and cleared his throat. “She went missing for a while, but we didn’t take any serious injuries.” He took Bea and kissed her cheek. “My sweet Bea, I’ve been thinking about you all day.” He focused on Chris, who had laid his head down on Eddie’s shoulder. “Hey, Superman, how are you?”

“Sleepy,” Chris said. “Happy you’re home.”

“You guys hungry?” Daniel questioned. “I can’t cook like Evan, but I’m decent.”

“He made shrimp fettuccine alfredo and garlic bread,” Chris reported. “It was okay.”

Daniel grinned. “High praise. We don’t have any of that left, but Evan’s not short on food options.” He focused on Eddie as he spoke.

“A sandwich would be great,” Eddie said. “Nothing complicated—honestly—not sure my stomach could handle it. The adrenaline has worn off, and we’ve not had anything to eat in about ten hours.”

Buck focused on Bea to avoid a lecture about eating and went to get her a bottle.

“I can handle feeding her….” Maddie trailed off when he shook his head.

“I just want to sit on the couch and feed my baby, Mads,” Buck said quietly. “A sandwich would be great, Daniel. I have some fresh bread in the box.” He motioned toward the bread box and pulled a bottle from the fridge. He shook it gently as he walked away.

“Did you want to go back to bed, mijo?” Eddie questioned as he followed Buck from the kitchen.

“No, let’s sit with Buck and Bea,” Chris decided.

Buck settled on the couch and just relaxed as Eddie and Chris joined him. Bea slouched happily against his arm and clutched her bottle with both hands. Her eyes focused on his face.

“Daddy, you were amazing today,” Chris said. “I saw it on TV.”

“Sorry!” Maddie called from the kitchen. “We were left unsupervised! And we had terrible parents!”

Eddie laughed a little and pressed a kiss against the top of Chris’ head. “Just doing my job.”

“Yeah?” Chris questioned and glanced toward Buck.

“He was amazing,” Buck agreed and grinned when Eddie flushed.

“Is it always like that?” Chris asked. “I don’t want you guys to be in danger.”

“Being a firefighter can be dangerous,” Buck murmured with a glance toward Eddie, who looked deeply conflicted. “But we were trained to handle dangerous situations, and events like today are rare. Most of the time, we work accidents, small home fires, and stuff like that. Your dad and I stay fit and strong, so we can bring every bit of our training into play when needed, okay?”

Chris nodded and leaned against his dad. “It’s good to help people.”

“It is,” Eddie murmured.

“Being a firefighter is less dangerous than being a soldier,” Chris said finally. “Right?”

“I don’t know how to answer that truthfully,” Eddie admitted as Daniel and Maddie came into the living room with the food. “There are jobs in the Army that are very dangerous, and there are jobs that are not. I worked as a medic in….”

“A war zone,” Chris said. “You got shot, Daddy. I understand. Grandma and Abuelo yelled at Mom about it all the time. They said it was her fault you were taking so many risks—because it paid better.”

Eddie sighed. “I joined the Army to escape your grandparents, mijo, but even they aren’t to blame for my choices. When you make a decision and have to do something based on that choice—you have to own the consequences. That’s what it means to be a good person. I was shot doing my job in the Army, and I don’t regret a single thing I did that day.” He pulled out his phone and thumbed through his text messages. “Look at this.”

Chris took the phone, and Buck leaned a little bit so he could see what the boy was looking at. It was a picture of a little African American girl. She looked about two, and her hair was put up in the hairstyle Maddie called space buns. Buck thought briefly about the conversation they’d had in Eddie’s truck.

“Who is this?”

“That is Aurora Casey. Her dad was with me the day I was shot, and I…dragged him out of the helicopter when we crashed. He sent me that picture this morning. She turned two a few weeks ago. She wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t been there to help her dad.”

“You saved his life,” Chris said pensively as he stared at the picture.

“Yeah, I did,” Eddie admitted. “He was hurt in the crash and couldn’t walk on his own, so I pulled him out.”

Chris stared at the picture. “She’s pretty. One day she’ll grow up and maybe have babies—they’ll live because of you, too, Daddy. That’s awesome.” He frowned then. “That’s about consequences, too, right? This is a good consequence.”

“It is a very good consequence,” Daniel murmured. “And the best kind of legacy a man can leave the world.” He put the plates down on the coffee table.

Maddie followed with water and beer for them both.

Buck reached out for the beer immediately. “You guys are the best.”

Eddie went for the sandwich when he clearly wanted the beer. Buck appreciated his restraint, but he was too tired to pretend he didn’t want a beer or three.

Daniel stared at Eddie for a moment. “By the way, that whole thing you did today—consider that my permanent retainer.”

Eddie opened his mouth to protest, but Daniel had already walked off. Maddie left the room laughing.

“You gotta do something about that,” Eddie muttered.

“My brother’s life is priceless!” Daniel called out from the kitchen.

Eddie huffed.

“No argument on that point?” Buck asked in amusement.

“You’re you,” Eddie muttered and took a big bite of the sandwich, and reached for his beer.

“Are we staying the night?” Chris asked.

“Yeah,” Eddie murmured. “I’m too damn tired to drive anymore.”

“Plus, Grandma and Abuelo are probably gonna camp out in our driveway,” Chris said sourly. “I’m really mad at them, Daddy.”

“I know you are,” Eddie said. “What does Dr. Sam say about anger?”

“He said that all emotions are valid, and I’m allowed to have them,” Chris said and put his dad’s phone on the table. “But that I have to learn to emotional control so I can make careful choices about which emotions I share with others. I was just so mad at them, Daddy, and I guess I don’t really hate them, but I do hate their behavior.” He shrugged. “I wasn’t being serious about Grandma going to therapy when I talked to her on FaceTime, but maybe she does need it. Because she’s not nice to you, and I don’t understand why.”

It was clear that Eddie didn’t have an age-appropriate response. Buck raised an eyebrow at him, and Eddie just nodded.

“Sometimes parents have expectations for their children that aren’t realistic or fair,” Buck said as Maddie and Daniel returned with food of their own. Daniel passed Chris a bowl of apple slices and put down a glass of milk on the table in front of them.

“Thank you,” Chris said and immediately started eating.

“Let me know if you want something else, kiddo,” Daniel murmured and slouched down in the recliner with his plate.

“This is good. I shouldn’t eat much close to bedtime. It makes my stomach hurt at night,” Chris said but then focused on Buck. “Did your parents have unfair expectations?”

“Not for me,” Buck admitted. “They really didn’t want anything for me. I was just….” He trailed off and glanced toward Daniel, who was frowning. “Ask me about my parents again when you’re older, okay? They weren’t nice people, and you’re too young to hear about it right now.”

“Okay,” Chris said. “Let’s just talk about Daddy’s parents, then.”

Eddie laughed a little. “Listen, your grandparents like things to go exactly as they want, and they don’t consider anyone else’s opinions or wants to be important. They don’t care what I want. They don’t honestly care what you want. I’m sorry I’ve allowed them so much access to you when it was clear, years ago, that they never intended to respect me as a parent.”

“I’m going to fix that,” Daniel muttered.

“Can you be my uncle?” Chris asked.

Daniel grinned. “Absolutely, kid, you’re stuck with me.”

“Me, too,” Maddie declared as she finally settled down at the coffee table to eat. “I’m gonna be the bad influence.”

“My Tia Sophia said she was the bad influence,” Chris said. “But I don’t know why I can’t have two.”

“I should definitely meet your Tia Sophia,” Maddie declared. “So, we can coordinate our efforts.”

Chris laughed, and Eddie groaned.

Eddie’s phone started to buzz in Chris’ hand, and the boy looked down.

“Abuelita is trying to FaceTime you.”

“No, she isn’t,” Eddie muttered and took the phone. “She only knows how to answer FaceTime by her own choice. She doesn’t want anyone expecting her to FaceTime them. This is probably your grandparents.” He stood. “I’m going to go somewhere else to handle this. You stay here, okay?”

Eddie frowned at his phone as he walked away, and Buck wondered if his parents were about to completely ruin their relationship with their only son. He wanted to follow and offer support, but he figured he was more useful keeping Chris distracted.

Eddie closed the door as he entered the small den that functioned as Buck’s game and movie room. The TV was on but currently muted. He picked up the remote and turned it off as his phone started to go off again. He’d known it would.

He sat down and answered. His mother’s face was immediately presented, as he’d suspected it would.

“Did you at least ask Abuela if you could use her phone to berate me?” Eddie asked his mother flushed.

Your grandmother is asleep,” Helena said stiffly. “You’ve blocked me, Eddie. How am I supposed to contact you?”

“You aren’t,” Eddie said simply. “I’m done with your selfish and destructive behavior. Chris cried himself to sleep because of you. He doesn’t want to see you or hear from you right now. I don’t know when or if that will change, to be honest. He thinks both of you are hateful.”

This is your fault,” Helena snapped. “He never talked to me like that before you came here!”

“Do you suppose he was just going to stay four years old forever?” Eddie questioned, and she blinked. “Do you think he was always going to be this little person you could direct and control? He’s growing up, Mom. He has opinions of his own. He has dreams and fears that he has formed on his own. Chris isn’t a doll. He’s a living, breathing human being who is going to change and grow.”

I don’t think he’s a doll!”

“But you do think he shouldn’t be allowed to have his own opinions. You told me once I was going drag him down and ruin him. But in reality, you’re the one that would ruin him. You’d have him be helpless and reliant on you until the day you die. On some level, I think you see his disability as an opportunity to keep him basically a child his whole life. You were against the last surgery because it’s part of his journey to independence, and that’s the last thing you want for him.”

You don’t know a damn thing about what I want for Christopher.”

Eddie shrugged. “I don’t honestly care what you say you want for him or what you think you should be entitled to do with him. You’re not going to see or speak with my son for at least three months. At that point, I’ll ask him what he wants, and if he doesn’t want to see you—then you won’t have any contact with him until he’s ready.”

You don’t have the right to keep him from me,” Helena said. “I’m his grandmother.”

“I already told you—try it and see how far it gets you.”

I think it would get me pretty far after today—you stupidly risked your life and could’ve died. You’re an awful parent.”

“If you think you can use on-the-job danger to declare me an unfit parent, you can try that, too. It won’t go your way. Plenty of parents have dangerous jobs, and there are far more dangerous jobs than mine. I do need you to understand that if you sue me for any single damn reason—custody, grandparent rights, or anything in between—that I will never speak to you again as long as I live. You’ll never meet any of my future children. You won’t be allowed to have any part in my life. There will be no coming back from it.” He paused and took a deep breath as she stared at him in shock. “And you can tell Pop that I will never be taking over his company. If I inherit it—I will give it to Adriana. If you disallow that in your will, I’ll sell it. If I can’t sell it—I’ll just close it and walk away. There is nothing I want in El Paso, and I will never live there again.”

We gave you too much freedom as a child, that’s clear,” Helena said. “I don’t support anything you’re doing, and you’re making a mistake. Chris will resent you for the choices you’re making. The construction company is his legacy, too. He could at least manage it in the future.”

Eddie made a face. “Chris currently wants to be a paleontologist. He’s a brilliant kid, and I want more for him than a job that would bore him to tears.”

Chris should learn and understand his limitations. He isn’t like normal people and….

“Shut up with that ableist shit,” Eddie snapped, and his mother reared back in shock. “Chris knows that nothing he earns for himself will be easy, but I’ve dedicated myself to teaching him how to make the world work for him. Sure, there are jobs he can’t do. But there are jobs I can’t do. He has every single right to live his dreams, and I’m not going to let you or anyone else make his CP a prison.” He paused. “I’m fine, by the way. Thanks for asking.”

Your grandmother already told us that you were uninjured,” Helena said stiffly. “Your father was surprised. He said based on the footage the news had that you should’ve certainly at least partially dislocated your shoulder because of how violently the ladder was moving around and the weight of your…friend.”

“Boyfriend,” Eddie corrected. “I already told you how that’s going to go, and I haven’t changed my mind.”

The news said that the two of you saved three people that were trapped up there.”

“Yeah,” Eddie said and took a deep breath. “Mom, I really don’t want to talk to you right now. I’m tired, hungry, and honestly, you make me furious. I had a long day. And I’m going to tell Abuela you used her phone and teach her how to put security on it.”

You blocked us on Instagram. We won’t get to see any new pictures of Christopher.”

“Well, that’s permanent,” Eddie said. “You’re not going to have a single method of communication with him until I say so. And you won’t have unsupervised contact until he’s an adult and can make that choice for himself.”

His mother ended the call with a furious glare.

Eddie stood and went to find the rest of his sandwich. Chris and Bea were gone. Buck was eating in an exhausted silence. He dropped back down onto the couch with a groan.

“Maddie put them both to bed,” Buck said. “He fell asleep sitting here.”

Eddie nodded. “Go ahead and send my parents that letter, please. They’re currently at my Abuela’s house. I included that address in the text I sent.”

Daniel nodded. “I wrote it today. I was explicit regarding their lack of grounds, rights, and ability.”

“Ability?”

“Having picked your son up, I doubt either of your parents are physically capable of being primary caregivers for him. Could they carry him down a flight of stairs? Their house is two stories, and all of the guest rooms are on the second floor. They don’t have a single walk-in shower in the whole place. Based on an estimate I received from a construction firm in El Paso, it would take about 45,000 dollars to update their house to meet the minimum requirements to ensure Chris’ mobility due to the second floor. The house is on a hill. The driveway has a forty-degree incline.” He waved a hand as Eddie stared at him, gobsmacked. “Plus, I would make them prove in court that both of them could deadlift and carry no less than 100 pounds for at least 500 feet because he’s only going to get bigger and heavier going forward.”

“I thought you weren’t going to hire a PI,” Buck said and rolled his eyes.

“I didn’t.” Daniel shrugged. “I FaceTimed Sophia, who was better than a private investigator and free. Chris gave me her number. We’ve been exchanging messages and stuff all day regarding Ramon and Helena. Plus, the earthquake. She was really informative. Regardless, your parents aren’t qualified to care for Chris physically, and considering their rabid parental alienation of both you and his mother—they are actually a psychological danger.” He paused. “The cease and desist is just a page, but the follow-up letter is three.”

Buck laughed. “Daniel.”

“I want them to understand how much money they’d be wasting on a legal endeavor they have no ability whatsoever to win,” Daniel said simply. “These kinds of cases tear families apart, and they need to understand that. I’ve seen it a lot since most of my pro bono work is in family law. Sophia is going to lead that arm of the campaign. She’s already enlisted Josephina, Isabel, and Adriana.”

Eddie stared. “How many members of my family have you been in contact with today?”

“We’ve set up a group conversation on Snapchat since the cell network overloaded, and that app works through Wi-Fi. You’ll both get invites today,” Daniel said and laughed when Eddie groaned. “I was just trying to manage the day so you two could focus on your jobs. Your abuela has a broken window, but your father has boarded it up. A repairman has been scheduled.” He paused. “Your house appears fine, some stuff on the floor but no structural damage that I could find from the outside. Your father showed up while I was there, and I introduced myself. He seemed alarmed to meet me.”

Eddie flushed. “I might have used you to intimidate them when they showed up at my house and threatened to sue me for custody.”

“Ah, well, good. He was abrupt but polite enough. I don’t think he found any damage either, but he did show up with some boards and stuff. I guess to fix any windows you might have lost if that was a problem. Maybe he was just surprised I actually exist.”

“True enough,” Eddie agreed. “I don’t suppose he really thought I could pull a Harvard-educated lawyer out of my pocket.”

Daniel grinned. “Evan would get really upset with me if I got in your pocket.”

“I sure would,” Buck muttered. “Get your own.”

“Well, there are a lot of Diazes running around the place, so I just might,” Daniel said with a laugh and stood. “I’m gonna crash. It’s been a hellish day, and I didn’t even jump off a building.”

“Thanks for…being you today,” Buck said. “Extra you. It was a big stress relief to know you’d take care of Bea and Chris.”

“Of course,” Daniel said and flicked his ear gently as he walked past. “That’s what big brothers are for.”’

Buck laughed. “I’ll save the world.”

“And I’ll sue anyone who gets in your way,” Daniel responded with a laugh as he walked down the hall.

* * * *

Eddie shifted on the mattress and reached for his phone as it vibrated for the third time. Buck murmured in his sleep but settled down as he eased out of bed. He meandered into the kitchen and tried to look neutral at the sight of Chimney at the breakfast bar beside Christopher. Maddie was cooking, and Daniel was trying to get Bea to take a bottle. She waved her arms madly as soon as she saw him and made grabby hands.

Daniel sighed. “She only likes you more because you’re pretty.”

Eddie laughed as he took her and the bottle. “Like you don’t look like you walked off the cover of GQ on the regular.” Bea nuzzled against Eddie’s neck. “It’s not about me.”

“It’s about Buck,” Chim said. “Eddie smells like him.”

Eddie shrugged a little at the looks that earned him. He sat down in a chair, and she eagerly took the bottle.

“They started using the same custom soap a week or so ago,” Chim said wryly.

“It’s a nice soap,” Eddie responded. “The line has different scents—our skin gets such a workout between showering and the job that a little moisturizer isn’t a bad thing.”

“I use the citrus blend of that same soap,” Daniel said. “Evan’s always preferred the sandalwood.”

“I use the lavender. Evan’s been sending it to me for years,” Maddie said from the stove as she deftly folded an omelet out of the pan and onto a plate. “Chris, did you want butter or jam on your toast?”

“Jam, if it’s apricot,” Chris said and picked up his fork as Maddie slid the plate into place in front of him. “Thanks, Aunt Maddie.”

“You’re welcome, sweetie,” she said and headed for the fridge. “I think Evan has some apricot left from that last batch he made. Eddie, did you want anything yet?”

“Buck promised me red velvet French toast,” Eddie said. “Well, he promised himself some, and I get the benefit.”

She laughed. “If we could’ve waited for him—I’d be all in. But I woke up starving.”

“Because you barely ate yesterday,” Daniel muttered. “How are you holding up, Chimney?”

“Exhausted,” Chim admitted. “But I was up and mobile when Bobby asked if one of us would come over and check on Eddie and Buck. Hen’s still asleep from the last report, but she did crawl out from underneath a collapsed building. We’re gonna give her a pass.”

“Good idea,” Chris said. “The puppy’s cute, though. Buck showed me pictures last night while Daddy was getting berated by Grandma on FaceTime.” He glanced toward Eddie, hopefully.

“I’m not going to dognap Paisley for you,” Eddie told him firmly.

“Any dog will do,” Chris said cheerfully. “Bea would like a dog, too. It’s good for our development.”

“You and Bea talk a lot, do you?” Eddie asked with a laugh.

“We came to a mutually satisfying agreement.” Chris gave him a grave nod, and Eddie shot Daniel Buckley a look.

Daniel just grinned. “I didn’t promise to be a good influence.”

His phone vibrated again where it was sitting on the counter in front of him.

“Your parents were served the cease and desist thirty minutes ago,” Daniel said and inclined his head toward the phone. “I can assume that’s the fallout. The off-duty cop I’ve contracted to serve papers for me reported that your father was extremely hostile.” He paused. “So hostile that he gave dispatch a head’s up and suggested that your house get a special pass or two during the day in case of…difficulties.”

“Abuelo is real butthurt,” Chris decided.

“Your grandfather had an inappropriate response to the consequences of his actions,” Daniel corrected with a little smile.

Inappropriate response to consequences,” Christopher repeated. “Okay.”

Eddie figured that was only slightly better than butthurt. He picked up his phone.

“How about you hold off on that until I’ve checked you over?” Chim questioned. “You’ll get all tensed and pissed off if you start reading whatever they’ve managed to send you.”

“I blocked them.”

“Well, that’s one pre-paid cell away from not being a problem,” Maddie said. “That’s how my ex-husband did it. He must have bought like twenty of those things throughout the course of our divorce.” She glanced toward Chris, who was eating happily enough. “Also, they could’ve just changed one of their phone numbers online. It’s not hard these days.”

“You can get free phone numbers from Google, too,” Chris said. “Mom tried to set up Google Voice on my iPad, but I deleted the app when I got home because I don’t want her just calling me whenever she feels like it.”

Eddie turned to Chim. “It’s too late—I’m pissed now.”

Chim sighed. “You’ve got a lot of a-holes in your life, Eddie.”

“Eds.”

Eddie looked down and found Bea staring at him. “Did she just…oh, no.”

“Eds,” Bea said again and smiled brightly at him.

Buck was going to be so disappointed. First to have missed her first word and second that it wasn’t any variation of daddy.

Eddie looked at Daniel and Maddie, who were staring at their niece in shock. “Hmmm, can we just not tell Buck?”

“Not tell me what?” Buck questioned as he shuffled into the kitchen, rubbing the back of his head.

“Bea said her first word,” Chris tattled.

Buck paused and turned to look at his daughter. “Hmmm, yeah, yesterday morning. But just once, and she refused to say anything else.” He plucked her from Eddie’s arms. “You talking, sweet Bea?”

“Eds!” Bea declared and giggled when Buck lifted her up high and wiggled her a bit.

“Well, that’s better than her actual first word,” Buck said wryly and let her rest on his chest.

“What was her first word?” Eddie asked, relieved not to have inadvertently taken a first from Buck.

“Bastard,” Buck confessed and flushed as Maddie huffed and Chim started to laugh.

“Basted!” Bea declared and shook a fist.

Eddie laughed. “Oh, no. Come on.”

“I just hadn’t really focused on teaching her any words yet,” Buck said in his own defense. “I was gonna get started. I even bought a book! I was driving down the highway, and this guy cut me off and almost ran me off the road. I responded negatively, as one does, in a foul verbal fashion. And she did the same.”

“Well, it is a quality curse word,” Eddie said with a grin but slid off the stool. “I can get checked out first, Chim.”

Chim nodded. “Come sit in one of these chairs.” He motioned toward the round kitchen table and the chairs that were tucked against it.

Eddie pulled out a chair, then took off his T-shirt. Chimney hissed under his breath at the bruising that spread across his shoulders. He straddled the chair and put the shirt down on the table.

“Stiffness?”

“Yeah, but not to the point of actual pain,” Eddie admitted. “I figured I’d ice today.”

“Definitely,” Chim murmured. “Arms up, slowly.”

Chim worked him through a series of exercises, checking his range of motion, pressing here and there on muscles and into the joint to check for sensitivity and strain. Then he made Eddie turn around, and he did the same for his chest. He could tell that the older man was baffled by the lack of true injury.

“I’m going to recommend you take at least five days down,” Chim said. “We already have four off, so Bobby will need a replacement for you on Monday.”

“I feel fine,” Eddie said.

“Yeah,” Chim agreed. “But what happens if you take another hit like this? Do you feel confident that you could rappel down the side of the building with no issues? Would you stake your life or anyone else’s on it?” He paused. “Would you want to?”

“No, I wouldn’t,” Eddie admitted. “Do you want me to see an orthopedic?”

“No,” Chim said as Eddie pulled his shirt on. “No need to document this officially if there are no symptoms of injury beyond bruising. There would be too many questions. There are questions already. Bobby fielded calls from PR and the chief’s office about you both last night and this morning.”

“What’s the concern?” Daniel questioned.

Chim hesitated and glanced toward Buck, who shrugged. “Come here, Buck.” He cleared his throat as Buck did as instructed, passing Bea off to Daniel and pulling off his shirt. “Buck has a history of unexplainable situations with the department. We avoid documentation as much as possible. SAR and FEMA have already tried to poach him, so the chief’s office is keen to make him look as ordinary as possible on paper.”

Buck’s right shoulder was bruised from the collar bone down to the mid-bicep. “I know they worry, but I’m not going anywhere. SAR had appeal when I first came out of the academy, but the guy leading it at the time was a real…piece of work. I heard he was replaced with someone who is just a genuine stand-up human being, so that’s something. I also took a meeting with CS.”

“CS?” Daniel questioned.

“California Smokejumpers,” Eddie said shortly and frowned at Buck. “Seriously?”

“It wouldn’t take much to qualify with our training,” Buck pointed out. “And working for the Forest Department is kind of charming.”

“Jumping out of planes and into fire is not charming,” Daniel interjected sharply and huffed. Bea shook her fist at Buck from her place in Daniel’s arms. “See. She agrees.”

“She just likes acting mad,” Buck said in amusement and focused on Chim. “And per the US government, Chim, I have no trainable or useable extrasensory gifts. Don’t sweat it. I was evaluated before I graduated college.”

“Bobby doesn’t know that,” Chim said. “You should tell him. It would relieve some of his stress.”

“I didn’t realize…that it was an issue, honestly.”

“We don’t talk about that thing you do,” Chim admitted. “Because it seems….”

“Precious,” Eddie supplied. “Something to be protected.”

“Yeah,” Chim agreed as he guided Buck’s arm into a stretch. “How is that part, by the way? Exhausted? It seems like it would be. I didn’t realize this thing you have extended into the physical realm.”

Buck hesitated and touched his chest with his free hand, which made Chim pause and release his arm. “It’s fine.”

“You know you can tell me…what it is, right?” Chim questioned. “I’d never betray you, Buck.”

“I know that.” Buck made a face and averted his gaze. “I mean, I know that, Chim. It’s personal and always been.” He focused on Chris, who was staring at him intently. “But it’s nothing to be afraid of.”

Chris smiled. “I’d never be afraid of your magic, Bucky. It’s nice to me.”

Eddie cleared his throat and put a hand on his son’s shoulder. “What do you mean by that, mijo?” Chris glanced around the room in confusion, and Eddie took a deep breath. “It’s fine. Okay? I promise.”

“Don’t you feel it?” Chris flushed. “It swishes around him—in the air. Abuelita says that magic moves in the world, and if you’re still, you can feel it. But I don’t have to be still to feel Buck’s magic.”

Oh. Eddie’s heart started to hurt. He took in a deep breath. Not once, since his son’s birth, had he ever once thought that Chris might be a sensitive. Governments all over the world sought people like Chris in a militant fashion because they could be used to find gifted people like Buck. He figured the man that had sought Buck out in college had been a sensitive—recruited and trained to find people who could be used for the extraness they carried around in the world with them.

“Daddy?”

“It’s fine, mijo,” Eddie murmured and cleared his throat. “Have you talked about feeling magic with anyone else? Your mom? Your grandparents?”

Chris shook his head. “Abuelita said I shouldn’t tell your parents. She said they would be…upset about it. She said Abuelo doesn’t like it when she talks about magic and got mad at her over it before. It wasn’t until she met Buck that she realized what I was talking about when I told her that he was special.” He blushed. “She said nothing more was wrong with me.”

More. “There is nothing wrong with you,” Eddie said firmly, and Chris offered him a small but sad smile. “What about your mom?”

“I don’t trust Mom,” Chris said. “I don’t tell her anything important.”

Chim cleared his throat. “So magic.” He nodded. “Right. Magic.”

Buck laughed. “It’s fine, Chim. I’ve carried it for as long as I remember.” He glanced toward Daniel, who had lowered his head and was staring at the counter. “Daniel?”

Daniel lifted his head and focused on Buck. “A little more than bone marrow then.”

“Yeah, probably,” Buck admitted. “Is that okay?”

Daniel’s face softened immediately. “Of course, Evan. Why would you ever think otherwise? Is that why you didn’t tell us? We’ve always known you had something extra going on. You used to glow as a baby, but then you stopped. I just never thought it was something so…advanced as actual magic. I probably should’ve, but all you ever did was glow a little bit sometimes. The ability to use magic is a stupidly rare gift. But you had to have known for years….”

“Since I was twelve,” Buck admitted. “That was the first I remember it moving inside me as something separate from myself. It’s why I went to military school. I knew I wasn’t going to be safe at home once Maddie went to college.” He cleared his throat with a glance toward Chris. “But that’s a conversation for another day.” He focused on Chim. “I’m bone-deep tired, and I’ll take the extra day off as well. I prefer to be at a hundred percent across the board when I’m at work, and that includes my magic.”

“You told me Doug was a mistake when I was dating him.”

Eddie watched Buck grimace as he focused on his sister. He didn’t know much about her marriage or the divorce, but he figured he should ask some questions of Buck in private.

“My magic told me he couldn’t be trusted,” Buck said. “I told you that I didn’t trust him, and it was a mistake to marry him. You ignored me. You did that a lot when I was young when I said something you didn’t want to hear. I figure that’s left over from how our parents tried to run your entire life.”

Maddie grimaced. “Mom hated him, too.”

“Jesus Christ,” Daniel muttered and bounced Bea, who started to whine. “Sorry, sweetheart.” He focused on Bea then. “Does she have…something extra going on?”

“Unsure, but it had no bearing on my decision to adopt her.”

“You were explicit about that decision,” Daniel said quietly. “Now I’m wondering if I should hire a PI to investigate her birth mother’s circumstances so we can try to fix it. Because if Bea wasn’t safe there—is her mother?”

“I can’t say for certain,” Buck admitted. “Things aren’t always black and white. And sometimes I don’t know what’s going to happen until it’s punching me in the face.”

“That’s gotta suck,” Chris declared and grinned when Buck laughed. “I won’t talk about you to anyone, Bucky. I promise.”

“I know you won’t, Superman.” Buck cleared his throat. “But for your own safety—you shouldn’t talk about what you see or feel with anyone without asking your dad first. In some ways, being able to see the magic in others is more dangerous than having magic of your own. It would make you a tool to be used by others.”

“I understand. Abuelita already told me to be careful because people are hateful.” He picked up a piece of toast. “How rare is Buck?”

“One in a million humans have some form of magical ability that they can actively use. Though there are theories that sensitives, like yourself, have a form of magic that hasn’t been quantified. Precognitives, retrocognitives, and visionaries are classified as non-magical, but I don’t know if that’s accurate. People with advanced senses are the result of biological evolution which is the most common gift. On that front, taste, and smell present the most. It’s rare for a person to have more than two advanced senses, but there are documented cases of people having as many as ten advanced senses.” Daniel patted Bea’s back. “There is a whole field of law dedicated to protecting people like you and Buck. I’ll learn everything I can about that.”

“There are five senses, though.”

“Humans have ten common ones,” Daniel corrected with a grin, and Chris scrunched up his nose. “The others aren’t taught in school until you’re older.”

“What are they?”

“Your senses are divided into external and internal categories,” Buck said as Chim started to work with his arm again. “Your external senses are touch, taste, smell, hearing, and sight. Your internal senses are vestibular, equilibrioception, proprioception, and nociception. Vestibular is the sense of balance, equilibrioception concerns spatial orientation, proprioception helps with body position in your physical space, and nociception is how we perceive pain. Finally, the tenth is extrasensory perception—which covers precognition, retrocognition, visions, the detection of magic, and the use of magic.”

“You said common,” Chris said. “Are there other rare senses?”

“Well, I knew a guy in the Army who had echolocation due to a magical malformation in his inner ear,” Eddie admitted. “He came in handy.”

“Like a dolphin?”

Exactly like a dolphin,” Eddie agreed. “But blind people have been known to develop a form of it as well to make up for the lack of sight.”

“I knew a woman in law school who had magnetoception,” Daniel said.

“What’s that for?” Chris questioned. “Is there a documentary on this stuff? Maybe I need a book.”

“It’s how birds navigate using the Earth’s magnetic field,” Maddie interjected. “I’m mad jealous of that. I get lost crossing town.”

“Well, LA is stupid,” Daniel declared. “Multiple streets have the same name. The lack of city planning is appalling. I’ve considered a class-action lawsuit over the traffic issues alone.”

Buck laughed. “We’ll get you a book and a documentary, Chris.”

* * * *

The unknown number had left a series of demanding and hostile text messages that left Eddie sort of breathless with rage. It was obviously his mother due to the word choices. She repeated the same arguments over and over again for years. He was torn between going over to his abuela’s house and cursing his parents out, and ignoring them. Daniel had advised him to ignore and block. Buck was on board with driving him over to his abuela’s house. In the end, he didn’t want to cause that kind of scene at his abuela’s house, and he needed to pick up some stuff at his house for the weekend. Buck had suggested a trip to San Diego so they could go to the zoo there, and Christopher was over the moon.

It had quickly turned into a big trip when Hen, Karen, and their son had agreed to go. Then Buck invited his siblings, and somehow Chim got invited, and now Daniel was renting an Airbnb that Eddie was resolved to not ask about because it was probably ridiculously expensive. Bobby was coming with Athena and her two kids, so the whole dating thing had come out in that conversation. Buck was kind of like the Pied Piper, but Eddie wasn’t going to actually say that aloud. First, because he didn’t know the original fairytale, and he figured Buck did. Second, Buck didn’t need any sort of encouragement.

When he’d told Buck he was going to meet his parents at his own house for a conversation, Buck had frowned at him but agreed to keep Chris with him. Eddie didn’t want Chris to see or hear any part of the conversation he was about to have. Daniel had planted his ass in the passenger seat of Eddie’s truck without a single word of discussion. Buckleys were the best and the worst all at the same time. Maddie had offered to come along for moral support, which had oddly sounded more like fire support when she’d said it. And he hadn’t had that kind of backup since he’d left the Army.

He hadn’t tried to kick Daniel out of his truck since Buck had clearly been relieved by his older brother’s shenanigans.

“I’ve been handling my parents for years.”

Daniel hummed under his breath as he texted on his phone. “Have you?”

“Yes.”

“Or have you merely been working around them?” Daniel questioned. “I’m sure Evan’s told you a bit about our parents.”

“Yeah,” Eddie agreed. “A bit.”

“He’s never been very open about them to Maddie or me. Just like the thing with his magic—I don’t know why he felt like he couldn’t talk about it with us. We’ve always supported the hell out of him.”

Eddie noted that Daniel’s tone had taken a sad turn. “Buck sees his gift as a burden for us. He uses it to help others—to save lives, to ease the burdens of those around him by guiding them toward gentler decisions and choices. But there are limits and a price to be paid. He doesn’t want anyone he loves to worry about those limits or the costs that come with carrying the magic.”

“I’m glad he’s talking to you about it, at least,” Daniel said. “I wanted to keep him close, you know. But I let him go—never said a word about how worried I was that he was out in the world with his big, soft heart and sweet soul. He loves so easily and takes such great care of everyone around him.”

“He’s easy to love, too,” Eddie said roughly. “And trust. The moment I set eyes on him, I felt like I could trust him. Of course, he was standing there in uniform, Bea strapped to his chest, teaching her how to do inventory and complaining about the shoddy job someone else had done. She was shaking her fist at the closet and huffing every time he found something wrong.”

Daniel laughed. “You got ambushed.”

“Stone cold ambush,” Eddie agreed. “But, Dios, Daniel.” He huffed as they got close enough to his house to see it. His parents’ rental car was in the driveway. “There he was—every gorgeous, earnest inch of him—talking about the firehouse, the job, and how if I went with the choice the chief’s office wanted me to make, it would literally be the death of me. Recently, I found out he was absolutely certain I would basically be murdered on the job if I went with the 56. The captain in question is a racist. Buck worked with the union in the background to get him off the job. But it lingers—the knowledge that Buck saved my life when I was a perfect stranger to him.”

“I speak from experience when I tell you that it will always be with you,” Daniel said as they parked in the driveway.

“I’m going to marry your brother,” Eddie blurted out.

Daniel turned and raised an eyebrow. “Are you asking for my permission or something?”

“No.” Eddie shrugged at the grin that earned him. “He’s his own man and doesn’t deserve to be treated like that. I just want you to know that I’m serious.”

“He is, too,” Daniel said. “I can see it. It was a little shocking at first, but when it comes down to it—Evan’s gift has never once led him astray. He clearly trusts you in a bone-deep sort of way that is priceless, and he’s practically bursting with his feelings. He’s worn his heart on his face his whole life.”

Eddie watched his parents get out of their car. “What sort of role do you see for yourself here?”

“Well, you’ve gotten used to a Buckley having your back,” Daniel said. “Right now, that Buckley is me.”

“The Buckley package isn’t a bad deal,” Eddie admitted and flushed when Daniel laughed. “Even if you are all preternaturally attractive, which is awful.”­ He pulled the keys from the ignition and took a deep breath. “I can’t remember a single conversation in over a decade with my parents that didn’t stress me out so much I could barely breathe afterward. Love shouldn’t be like this.”

“It’s a hard lesson to learn,” Daniel acknowledged. “I was ten when I realized my parents were hell beasts.”

“Yeah, Buck’s been pretty open about how horrible they were.” Eddie frowned. “But there’s something pretty traumatic he’s keeping to himself on that front. If you know, don’t tell me. I’d rather hear it from him.”

Daniel took a deep breath. “I think something happened after Evan and I convinced Maddie to go to college. Because he was barely in that house by himself twenty-four hours before he was basically making our mother put him in military school. Not that she took much convincing. She divorced herself from parental responsibility shortly after he was born. Maybe it was untreated postpartum depression, or maybe she was just a heartless bitch. Let’s get this over with, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Eddie said and focused on his parents, who were standing on his porch glaring at him. He wished he hadn’t invited them to have a discussion now, but the guilt of blocking them was choking him. “I need therapy.”

“Everyone needs therapy,” Daniel said. “Honestly. The world is a shit show, people are awful, and sometimes I think the opposite of love is corruption.”

“Well, clearly, I picked the best Buckley because that was depressing as fuck.”

Daniel grinned. “Maddie and I would both agree you picked the best of us. We raised an amazing man.”

Eddie smiled. “Yeah. I mean, you really did.”

Since putting it off further would just make him feel weak, Eddie exited the truck and flicked through his keys as he walked up the steps to the door. He opened the door and motioned them in first and exchanged a look with Daniel after the haughty look he received from his mother.

“Where is Christopher?” Helena glared at him, arms crossed.

“With someone I trust,” Eddie responded.

“You actually brought your lawyer to this conversation?” Ramon demanded.

“Stop staying lawyer like you mean stripper,” Eddie said dryly. “He’s not that pretty.”

“I am definitely that pretty. I could make bank on a pole,” Daniel protested as he fiddled with his phone and cleared his throat. “California is an all-party state, which means it’s illegal to record this conversation without your knowledge. If you don’t wish to be recorded, you have two options—say nothing or leave.” He dropped down in the recliner and put the iPhone on his thigh. “Present for this conversation is Helena Astrid Diaz, Ramon Edmundo Diaz, Edmundo Alexander Diaz, and Daniel Buckley of Buckley & Maxwell representing Edmundo Diaz. Mr. and Mrs. are aware that this conversation is being recorded, and they are not currently represented by a lawyer in the state of California. Their lawyer of record, in El Paso, Texas, is Miguel Rodríguez of Rodríguez, Morales and De León.”

Eddie watched his parents adjust to that. His mother pressed her lips together in a thin line and sat down on the couch.

“I want to have a private conversation with you, Edmundo,” Ramon said roughly.

“I’m not willing to do that,” Eddie said. “You can say what you have to say right here and right now, or you can leave. As I already told you, I’ll call you in three months, and we can discuss how things will work going forward. I’ll be discussing this process with Christopher’s therapist, and the timeline is subject to change based on how he responds to questions about you over the next few months. Right now, he’s disappointed, hurt, and angry. He doesn’t want to see you. He hates your behavior, and it makes him sad.”

“He’s a seven-year-old,” Helena snapped. “He shouldn’t be included in any of these decisions, Edmundo! A good father would do what was best for his child no matter what that child says.”

“That’s a disgusting thing to think and say,” Eddie admitted, and his mother blinked in surprise. “Chris is allowed to have boundaries, Mom. His emotions are valid, and I’m not going to let you do to him what you both did to me.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Ramon asked.

“There came a point in my life when the only emotion I felt comfortable expressing in front of either of you was anger,” Eddie said plainly. “My happiness meant exactly zero to you, and you regularly weaponized everything else against me, and you’ve been doing that since I was a teenager. Pop, you berated me and called me weak for crying at Abuelo’s funeral. I was fourteen, and you were in my face telling me to man up and stop embarrassing you at your own father’s funeral. As a result, I spent years being ashamed of my own emotions. You did that to me. Frankly, the psychological damage was so significant that it almost got me discharged from the Army several years before I was shot.”

“Crying is for children,” Ramon snapped. “And you were practically an adult. It was my job to make sure you were a strong man.”

“That shit is one of the many reasons I left El Paso,” Eddie said plainly. “Both of you are practically drowning in toxic masculinity, and it’s abusive.”

“I’m not….” His mother trailed off when he glared at her. “I never told you that you weren’t allowed to grieve your grandfather, Edmundo. And I had no idea that Ramon said that to you.”

“No, but you were quick to tell me exactly what my place was in the world, Mom. I didn’t learn to cook until I was an adult because you said that was a woman’s job. You think I’m a terrible parent because I haven’t remarried and provided my son with a proper mother. You disdain my relationship with another man because you think a woman is both required and central to the making of a family, which is terrible. You hated Shannon because she didn’t stay home. You verbally abused her every single time my back was turned because she stayed in nursing school after Chris was born. I didn’t find out about that for years.

“If I’d known how bad it was—I’d have never allowed you to be Christopher’s childcare while we were working. But she didn’t tell me about it until the divorce and cited it as a reason for her abrupt departure from my life. You actually celebrated my divorce and laughed with goddamned delight to my face even though Christopher was devastated. You disparage his mother and me in front of him all the damn time, which I’ve recently learned is considered child abuse.

“The first person I dated after I got divorced was frankly a beautiful person inside and out. She had a good job and embraced my son without a single hesitation. You essentially destroyed her with verbal abuse. She quit her job and left the state of Texas to escape you. I didn’t know why she had just disappeared from my life for weeks. When I confronted you, you didn’t deny your disgusting campaign against her but blamed her for being weak.

“You cornered Buck the first chance you got and told him you thought he wasn’t good enough for me.” He glanced toward Daniel when he sucked air through his teeth. The older man just inclined his head without speaking. “But that’s not about anything other than the fact that he’s a man. Because frankly, if you knew his circumstances—you’d have probably kept your mouth shut around him.”

“What’s that mean?” Ramon demanded.

“Because Buck has something both of you admire,” Eddie said snidely. “And that’s money. I don’t think either of you will ever respect him, but you’d have sure kept it to yourself if you’d known he has so much money in trust he never has to work a day in his life.”

His father gaped at him in silence.

“He thinks you’re both assholes, by the way,” Eddie said plainly. “And he’s not wrong.” He stood from his chair, and his father leaped to his feet like he didn’t want Eddie looming over him. “At this point, there is nothing you could say that would make this better. I blocked that pre-paid cell you bought. If you buy another or attempt to contact me, I’ll change my phone number and make sure no one gives you the new one.”

Eddie checked his watch. “I need to pack some stuff. Chris doesn’t want to come home until you go back to El Paso, which honestly should make you ashamed of yourselves. Do not try to contact my son in any single way. What you want isn’t and never will be more important than what Chris needs. Right now, he needs the two of you to leave, get some therapy, and figure out how to at least pretend to be decent human beings.” He waved a hand. “It’s probably the best I can hope for at this point.”

“I will not accept being given a time-out like a child,” his mother said stiffly. “I’m the parent here, Edmundo, not you.”

“The next step in the process will be a restraining order,” Daniel interjected smoothly. “I could, with very little effort, include most if not all of your extended family in Los Angeles in that order. Every single one I’ve had contact with is outraged by your behavior and would like a break from you that the LAPD would be happy to enforce.”

Eddie watched his father’s face darken with fury as he glared at him. He’d knew that look well enough to know that the older man was about to lose his temper.

“You should go,” Eddie said quietly, then focused on his mother. “I’m Christopher’s parent, not you. You don’t get a single say in his life, and access to my son is a privilege that you no longer enjoy. You may or may not succeed in getting court-ordered visitation, but I can make certain it’s supervised and that it takes place here in LA.”

“We could force you to move back to El Paso,” Helena snapped. “I already told you that.”

“We both know it’s a lie. No court is going to make me leave my job and move to El Paso so you can see your grandson for an hour once a month in a visitation center.”

“We’re going to sue for custody,” Helena said. “I’ve told our lawyer to draw up papers.”

“This conversation is over,” Daniel said quickly and stood. “It was inappropriate for either of you to attend this meeting without representation if that process has started, and you should’ve stated your intention to sue explicitly to me at the very start.” He pulled a card from his pocket and put it on the coffee table. “Give your lawyer that card and have him contact my office. I’ll make sure he’s qualified to practice law in the state of California and start the court process with his cooperation. At this point, I must insist you leave my client’s house.”

“But…” Ramon trailed off and took a deep breath. “Helena, I don’t agree with this. I already told you….”

“I’m not going to let Edmundo ruin Christopher!” Helena snapped. “And drag him down in the gutter with that man he’s dating!”

“Your homophobia is noted. The day you file those papers, you can consider yourself the parents of two. I will never speak to either of you again as long as I live,” Eddie said wearily and walked away from them. “Get the hell out of my house.”

He was almost to Christopher’s room when he heard his front door slam. Eddie dropped down on his son’s bed and took a deep, shuddery breath. He rubbed his hand over his eyes and cleared his throat.

“Did you want me to call Evan?”

Eddie shook his head. “I’m okay.”

“Don’t tell me lies,” Daniel said easily and sat down beside him. “Great room—I never had fun stuff in my room as a kid. My mother had this…well, she actually had untreated OCD that made her damn near psychotic. Our house looked like something out of a magazine. It was cold and awful. For years, I left messes on purposes around my own place just to prove I could and that I was nothing like her.”

Eddie looked at his hands. “My mother has never once put any of her children before herself, and my father has enabled that bullshit their entire marriage. We weren’t allowed to upset his wife, and there would be hell to pay if we did.”

“Did that include physical punishment?”

“Yeah,” Eddie said. “Mostly with a belt—sometimes with an open hand. Never a fist, so I didn’t think it was a problem until my own son was born. Even before the diagnosis, there was no circumstance I could see where I would put my hands on him in violence. My father backhanded me when I was fifteen because I asked a girl to a school dance without my mother’s permission. They allowed the date to save face but told me point blank that I had no right to even like a girl from a single-parent household. My mother called the girl’s mother a whore for weeks afterward, and they moved me to a private school for the rest of high school to separate me from her.”

“How’d that work out?”

“I married her,” Eddie said wryly, and Daniel laughed. “But not before I dated three or four people just like her—male and female alike. The first time I told them I had a crush on a boy, I thought my mother was going to have a stroke.”

Daniel grimaced. “Is their homophobia something we can document?”

“It wouldn’t take much to…get that kind of reaction out of them,” Eddie admitted. “Like if I were to change my status on Facebook to engaged—I’d probably get bombarded. I haven’t blocked them there since I rarely log in to it. Or if I let it be known I was going to be moving, they’d assume I was moving in with Buck and lose it. My father told me that it was perfectly okay to fuck a man but that I had no business thinking about marrying one.” Eddie huffed a little. “He’d probably have a genuine goddamned fit if he were to discover that I don’t always top.”

“I’d say that I was information I didn’t need, but….” Daniel huffed. “I’m just going to keep reminding myself that you saved my baby brother’s life yesterday.”

“All I’m saying is that my father would think getting fucked as very unmanly, and he’d probably lose it.”

“He’s clearly never had anything of size in his ass,” Daniel muttered, and Eddie started laughing. “I’m serious—that’s work. I had a girlfriend in college who loved to…well. Let’s just say I definitely was very familiar with her dildo collection.”

“I’m telling Buck.”

“This whole conversation falls under attorney-client privilege.”

“That’s not how that works,” Eddie retorted and laughed when Daniel scrunched up his nose in pretend ire.

* * * *

“Are you going to tell any of them about the time travel?” Eddie questioned as Buck slipped into bed and wrapped an arm around him.

“No.” Buck took a deep breath against his hair. “I know it’s a burden.”

“I don’t know that it is,” Eddie admitted. “But I don’t mind sharing it with you, Buck. It told you months ago that there is nothing about your deal that’s putting me off.” He turned in his arms. “This may be too soon, but I love you. Yesterday, there was a moment when I thought I might never get to say those words in a meaningful way. I’d have regretted talking around it the rest of my life.”

Buck leaned in and pressed a soft kiss against his mouth. “Well, I was gone on you from the start, so it doesn’t feel too soon for me. I love you.”

Eddie pressed closer, eased Buck onto his back, and brushed a kiss against his jaw as he slid astride his hips. “I’m in the mood to do a little work.”

Buck laughed a little. “I figured you might be since you came to bed naked.” He spread his legs and relaxed under Eddie. “I was thinking that since our test results came back clear that maybe we could stop using condoms.”

Eddie braced himself on Buck’s chest and rocked a little as he stared. “Is that your way of asking if you can come inside of me?”

“Yes.” Buck bit down on his bottom lip. “I’ve never done that with anyone. But, no pressure if you’re not ready for that.”

“I’m ready,” Eddie murmured as he shifted and rubbed his cock against Buck’s stomach. “Very ready, actually.”

Buck reached out to open the drawer of the bedside table and grabbed the lube.

“We won’t need that,” Eddie murmured. “I prepared in the bathroom.”

“You….” Buck trailed off and dropped the lube on the mattress. “It’s clear I missed out on a lot in the shower.”

Eddie grinned and wrapped a hand around Buck’s cock, which was already hard. He ran his thumb over the weeping head. “I did offer to wait on you.”

“You did,” Buck murmured. “Like a tease since you knew Chris had asked me to read to him.”

Eddie grinned, moved forward, and sank down on Buck’s cock with a slow roll of his hips.

“Jesus,” Buck hissed and lifted up against Eddie’s body with a harsh groan. “That’s…wow.”

“You gonna maintain through this?” Eddie asked in amusement. “Or should I be prepared to take care of myself?”

“I’d love to watch you do that,” Buck admitted. “Ride me first—then sit on my dick and jerk off so you can come on me.”

“That’s a perfectly filthy plan,” Eddie murmured as he moved and sucked his bottom lip as Buck stroked his thighs with trembling hands. “Feel good?”

“Yeah, god, so good.” Buck rolled his hips, hands clenching on Eddie’s thighs as they rocked together.

“I love this,” Eddie admitted, voice rough with emotion and pleasure. “Your thick cock is filling me up just the way I want.”

He left his pace slow and easy, working himself on Buck’s cock until his lover arched under him and came with a harsh, breathless groan. Buck’s hands tightened on his thighs as he relaxed on the bed, and he sucked his bottom lip into his mouth as he watched Eddie settle in his lap.

Eddie picked up the lube, slicked up his hand, and wrapped it around his own cock. He knew it wouldn’t take much as he clenched down on Buck’s still-hard dick. It took just a few strokes, and he was coming all over his hand and Buck’s stomach.

Buck’s hands settled on his hips, and he sat up. Their mouths met in a series of soft kisses that were so good that it almost hurt.

“Thank you for trusting me,” Buck murmured.

“You don’t mean the sex,” Eddie said.

“No, I don’t…I mean…don’t get me wrong, I really appreciate how good and effortless our sex life is,” Buck said and pressed a kiss against Eddie’s jaw. “Yesterday could’ve gone very different if I’d had to push and prod whoever got assigned to be my partner for the day. That’s especially true of someone like Chimney, who has seniority and more experience, and while he has faith in my instincts…he questions me sometimes in the field when his training contradicts whatever solution I present.”

“I can see it,” Eddie said. “Trusting you is the easiest thing I’ve ever done.”

Buck pressed his face against Eddie’s neck and exhaled slowly.

The End

Return to Series Page

Keira Marcos

In my spare time, I write fanfiction and lead a cult of cock worshippers on the Internet. It's not the usual kind of hobby for a 40ish "domestic engineer" but we live in a modern world and I like fucking with people's expectations.

64 Comments:

  1. ficloverbookreader

    I really enjoyed this. Thank you

  2. So much awesomeness in one story. I’m about to start it again. Thank you for sharing your gift with us.

  3. That was lovely. Thanks for sharing.

  4. I woke up this morning to the wonderful announcement that this was up dated and there is one word that can do scribe this Beautiful. I always love your world building and this no different. Congrats Ms. Marcos you’ve done it again.

  5. Fabulous!

  6. relatively_einstein

    This was amazing! And I’m so happy to have more of this story

    I love the way you write Daniel and Maddie as protective of Buck, but not in an invasive way.

    ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

  7. I love this universe. Thank you for the gift of this today. It totally made my day.

  8. Amazing Story. Thank you for sharing

  9. A beautiful story of love and acceptance.

  10. I have a lawyer crush on Daniel. Snooty letters and all, because writing a letter that lays out all the epic bullshit and how it’s not going to fly is an *art*.

    Family and magic. Damn good fun.

  11. Oh wow! I adore this series. I was so excited to see this! I am sick as a dog with Covid and this made my day better. Thank you for sharing it with us!

  12. This is absolutely fantastic. I adore baby Bea shaking her little fist and saying “Batard” – appropriate reaction to the terrible LA drivers. This series is so lovely and heartwarming. I’m going to turn right around and read part 1, then this again. Thank you!

  13. Wow … that was an awesome read.
    Eddie’s parents are nuts and honestly need all the therapy.
    Chris and Bea are adorable and I love the way you write Daniel.
    I even like Maddie and Chimney to a degree which is really rare.
    Thank you for sharing another amazing story. You made my Friday. <3

  14. *Flails wildly*. I was very tempted to call in sick to stay home and read this. I managed to sneak bits anyway. So good!!! Thank you for choosing to continue this verse. Tonight I shall have to reread the first segment and then read this one again without the interruptions. You have made my day.

  15. Wonderful story. Love Eddie protecting everyone from his parents even though it hurts him

    Thank you for sharing.

  16. Thank you for a great story, keep it up

  17. So awesome. I absolutely, positively loved this. Thank you for sharing your wonderful talent with us.

    PS: Daniel needs someone to rock his world.

  18. This is awesome! I went back and reread the first – fantastic – story, and this is even better.

    Thanks for sharing.

  19. I was so excited to see this, I naturally had to read it right away. Chris just blew my mind telling Helena all about herself. I love Daniel in this. Even Maddie and Chim are tolerable. 9-1-1 is becoming one of my favorite fandoms and it’s all down to you and your entice all of the feels out of your readers. Thanks for another great read.

  20. Loved it! You made my day. Thank you.

  21. Well that was just fabulous as usual 🙂 thanks for sharinf

  22. That was amazing. Loved it all. Thank you!

  23. Thank you for this. I cried some very happy tears in a few spots. This is an amazing world you’ve created. I really do adore you.
    Thank you

  24. Hilde Felicia Hvidsten

    <3<3<3<3<3<3<3<3<3

  25. I loved this so much, I’m already excited to go re-read it. You write with such humor and heart that it is a genuine pleasure to read, and re-read your stories.

  26. This was the kind of thing I needed today. Thank you very, very much.

  27. So satisfying to read. All the relationships are lovely. The ones that aren’t outright toxic. Lol. I just love the fact that people get called out on that s***.

  28. This was amazing. Thank you.

  29. While I adore the entirety of this episode to pieces, and have been eagerly waiting for it ever since you mentioned it was going to be a thing for Qtr 3 of the Big Moxie, I think out of all of the above awesomeness my favorite part is the fact that in this story you have Buck actually say to Helena’s face that he doesn’t want her parenting advice because she obviously failed at raising 3 kids into competent adults. Of course, Chris and Bea were their usual adorable and awesome selves! Thanks much and happy writing!

  30. Was so excited to see the next part, and was not disappointed. It was amazing as always. Thank-you

  31. This was an amazing way to end the week. I love your Buckley family in this series.

  32. I had such a list of things to do today… I did make it to yoga class… Then spent the rest of the day reading the first part of the story as well as this one… I regret nothing. This is such a wonderful story and I love all the characters in it. I love your Buckley clan and our sweet Bea….I absolutely adore the mental image of her shaking her fist at things. Thank you

  33. So happy to see this, was really looking forward to the next story in this series so thank you! Exceptional as always, love your characters and your humor…and Gawd, Chris! lol I love how extra he is! But Buck putting Helena in her place and the bond between the Buckley siblings was amazing. Thank you, about to start from the top again!

  34. I positively adore this universe! The Buckley siblings are so much fun. And I love the way Eddie just keeps announcing to everyone his intention to marry Buck. Thank you for giving us yet another incredible story!

  35. Very good story, I enjoyed reading it

  36. WOW! Loved this! Thank you so much for sharing!!!

  37. This made my day! I love this ‘verse and how the Buckley siblings work so well together without being oppressive or just too much. Daniel is amazing and so many things he said made me laugh SO loud. Buck is wonderful with the kids and I love seeing how happy Bea is. She had such a hard beginning that she deserves all the good things that Buck is giving her. Thanks for sharing!

  38. This is a delight!
    Thanks so much.

  39. This story had so much awesome. Daniel, Maddie, Chris and Bea are absolutely wonderful. I’m glad Eddie has the support to stand up against his horrible parents. The Buckleys are great backup.

  40. Amazing. So happy to see more of this. I love Bea’s first word! And I am glad Daniel is there to help manage Eddie’s parents. Thanks for the story!

  41. I loved this story! I seriously enjoy this series, it’s really great.

    I was listening to this while working on boring shit at work, and I was
    *this close* from laughing out loud when Buck is all “don’t tell this
    new stalker shit to Daniel” and Daniel shows up behind him like “what
    new stalker, give me his info”.

  42. Thank you. As always a real treat to read.

  43. I absolutely love this series. Bea is too cute and her first word made me laugh so hard 😀

    Thank you so much for this fic and your interpretation of these characters. They’re just so much fun.

  44. No lie, Daniel and Maddie did do a great job raising Buck. Amazing story, and loving this series. Also went back and watched “Hero” video, this time imagining her as Maddie. Never thought about the hotel collapsing during the earthquake or even the glass breaking being due to shoddy construction and skimping on safety protocols.

  45. I really enjoyed the story! Thanks for sharing.

  46. Thank you for a wonderful story!

  47. This series is so freaking fantastic! I love everything about it!

  48. I’m sick thanks to the raging plague monsters that are kindergarten students… and having this to read today just made the day so much better. I am so in love with how you’ve shaped the characters and the world of this, it’s so exciting, exhilarating, just so lovely. Thank you so much for sharing it! xxx

  49. As always, a treat and a delight! I’m loving this series and the idea of the Universe allowing us a do-over but only on its own terms,

  50. Draconia22 aka Vicki

    Loved it, thanks for another great story.

  51. Such an amazing story in a great universe! You made my day rereading part 1 and then getting to read this! I always love your characters! Thank you!

  52. Such an amazing seres!! thank you so much for sharing this with us! I love the dynamic and absolutely love Daniel! Thank you!!

  53. I adore your fixits, regardless of ‘verse or fandom. That’s probably why I’m addicted to your work in general.

    Dialog and characterization- you rock my world, even if you keep luring me into new fandoms.

  54. Absolutely fantastic! Really loved seeing more in this verse–so much to love in it between Bea and the Buckley siblings and as always Chris and the dad he comes with!

    Thanks so much for sharing with us!

  55. I absolutely adored this story❤️❤️❤️

  56. I love this series so much and this episode was fabulous. Daniel and Maddie are so awesome and I love their interactions with Buck and the rest of the 118. The trust between Eddie and Buck in this episode is palpable and so very beautiful. Thank you for sharing this with us. <3 <3 <3

  57. I was so excited to see more of this it was amazing!

  58. I loved this so much. Thanks for sharing!

  59. Although I don’t even like 9-1-1 enough to watch a single episode (If I want a real-world setting I’ll watch the news) and am not in the least invested in the characters, I thought you should know that I am currently reading every single fic you wrote in the fandom because you make everything very easy reading. When you have the sort of trauma that means you can be triggered by your own thoughts during the wrong *documentary*, I can’t even *express* how relieving it is to find a writer discussing traumatic events that merely watching would have sent me into a spiral in an entirely non-triggering manner. Thank you so much for making a show I can barely tolerate into an interesting set of character studies with actual plots. Do you work in the psychology field? Because I am not being flippant when I say (as a psych major freshman) that you are better than my psychologist of 15+ years, and she was actually excellent in many respects. Seriously, please switch jobs if you’re willing to do so (if not a psychologist already) or at least author something that costs an exorbitant amount of money. I would bankrupt myself to get therapy from someone who communicates as clearly as you do, and that is not an exaggeration. I have lived in that exact level of poverty due to a secondary party and this would perhaps be the only cause I could justify as worthy for returning to it. I mean, if you love your job feel free to ignore this, but if you didn’t have a calling already I think one has found you. Once I’m through with your 9-1-1 fiction I’m going straight to your original fiction, which due to potential triggers I *never* do without spoilers from other readers. Seriously, please go into either of those fields, or both. Also if you have published works already to your name can I have your pen name so that I can purchase everything you write ever? I’m not joking, I want to follow you through my Amazon account.

  60. I want to say something wonderful and detailed about how much I loved this, but honestly, I’m just stuck mumbling HOT DIGGITY DAMN!!!! over and over again!

    Hot… DAMN!!!!!!!!!!!!! <3 <3 <3 <3 <3

  61. I will never stop being amazing at how fantastic you are as a writer… I really loved reading this story. I’m a huge fan of stories where Daniel Buckley lives and is close with Buck and thus is one of the best I’ve ever read. Thank you for writing it

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