Title: He Knew No Haste
Relationships: Evan Buckley/Lou Ransone
Tags: Paranormal, Ghosts, Getting Together, Romance,
Warnings: Discussion Rape, Discussion Serial Killer, Graphic Violence, Discussion of Domestic Violence, Major Character Death (Maddie)
Summary: Evan Buckley knew he was different from the moment he remembered life. He always had a Guardian Angel looking over his shoulder and telling him not to do something stupid. Then when he was old enough, Daniel told him the truth. He wasn’t a Guardian Angel, he was a ghost, and only Evan could see him. Oh, and he was also Evan’s dead older brother.
Word Count: 23,672
Year: Summer 2018
Spoilers: Up Through Season 2
Notes: Written for the Quarter 3 2022 Big Moxie. The title comes from the poem Because I could not stop for Death by Emily Dickinson.
Evan Buckley stared at the man staring at him. He was holding a knife he shouldn’t have enough energy to hold and was threatening to kill the woman he was standing behind.
“Firefighter Buckley, please step back,” the detective who had come to work the case said.
“I can’t, sir. I…” Buck looked at the fear in the woman’s eyes. She knew what was going on. She might not be able to see the ghost holding the knife, but she felt the intent to kill her.
“I will order your captain to remove you; that will not look good.”
“And I respect you think that’s the right option, but you need to listen to me, Detective. The killer is dead, but his threat to this woman’s life is not over, and I am not talking about the fire that started when she tried to escape.
Buck turned to look to the side to see Athena standing there. He hadn’t realized she was on the scene as well.
“I would listen to him, Lou. Captain Nash hasn’t figured out what is going on with him yet, but he has never steered Bobby wrong.”
“Okay, what’s your name?” Lou asked.
“Okay, Buck, tell me what I am missing.”
“Well, you aren’t missing it so much as you can’t see him, but you can see the knife. Normally newly dead can’t touch things in the real world this soon.”
“Ghosts?” Lou asked.
Buck shrugged. He hadn’t ever really told anyone. Usually, he just used what he learned from the ghosts to help find someone in the house when the fire had killed someone else. This was the first time he had ever had a ghost trying to kill someone who wasn’t a very old ghost. It wasn’t like someone invisible was holding the knife to the woman’s throat. They could all see that, so he didn’t feel like he would get laughed at.
“He’s got a knife, doesn’t he?” the woman asked.
“Yes. He has it pressed to your throat, and he keeps telling us to leave or he will kill you. He can’t see the fire coming up behind you two. I don’t think he can see much about the world, honestly. I think he’s pushing everything he has into keeping a hold of the knife. He can’t really understand us or realize what is going on around him.”
“I can’t put a ghost in my report,” Lou said.
“No, you can’t. I can’t help you with that.” Buck felt like rolling his eyes, but he didn’t. Bobby said it was in bad manners, even if cops sometimes asked stupid questions.
“Ashley, do you feel like you can move?” Lou asked.
“No, Detective, I don’t think I can. I can feel the blade every time I breathe. He’s good with it. I saw the way he killed the other girl after he took me. I don’t want to die.”
“No, I didn’t think you would. Okay, Buck, what do we do?”
“Well, your gun isn’t going to do anything, so put it away. Athena, hand off yours.” Buck looked to the side to see if Daniel had come with him to work today. Sometimes his brother did, and sometimes he didn’t. It was so early; Buck hadn’t seen him messing with anyone yet. “Ashley, ask him to go with you outside, so you don’t burn. He might hear you better than us.”
“You don’t want me to burn, do you? The fire is getting closer.”
“What?” the ghost asked. He turned his head to look behind. As soon as he did, the knife moved from her neck, and Ashley ran away from him, all out at Buck. She let him jerk her behind him.
The killer turned back around, and he glared before taking off running at Buck. Buck ensured Ashley was safe, and he waited for the ghost to get close to him. The knife was sharp, but his turnout was made to stop things. He braced for the impact, but it never came, the knife dropping down to the ground, and the man ran right through Buck.
Athena rushed over and picked up the knife. She looked around. “Where is he?”
“He’s behind us,” Buck said. He turned, taking Ashley with him. “He’s burned himself out for now. He won’t be able to do anything. I’ll call someone to come and get him out of here as soon as possible. They will make sure he crosses over.”
Buck felt a tug on his sleeve and looked down to see Daniel there. Buck turned his hand a little and held onto Daniel’s hand. He was glad Daniel was here but also glad he hadn’t been here to see Buck being rushed at with a knife. It was never a good day when that kind of thing happened.
“You got a lot to talk about, Buckaroo,” Athena said.
“Not really. It doesn’t impact my job in any fashion, and I hope you won’t gossip about it.”
The look Athena gave him told Buck she didn’t like what he said.
“It won’t make it into my report at all, Buck. Athena, do you mind getting Ashley out of here? I’ll leave you to your job, Firefighter Buckley.”
Buck nodded and re-fixed the mask on his face before heading back to where the flames were. It was his job to look for victims, which the LAPD only thought there was Ashley. When Buck finished checking on the rooms, the flames were just getting to the horrible phase. He found the killer’s dead body and wanted to make sure they knew who it was, so he got the body up and hefted him out. He knew he was dead, but outside of seeing his ghost, there was no way otherwise.
“Coming out, one person, unknown life signs,” Buck said into his radio.
“Hen and Chim will meet you at the front door,” Bobby said.
“No other bodies inside.”
“Good. Then get out, and we will start to work on more than just the outside and the roof.”
Buck found his way out with ease. The flames weren’t horrible at all. It was one of the smaller fires they had ever fought since he joined the 118. It had only happened because they had been a block away before the call came in. A woman fell, and they were assisting with that. They had all been out at lunch when that call came in, so both trucks and ambulances had rolled. So the secondary had taken the lady who had fallen in, and they responded to this call. LAPD had gotten there at the same time they did. Then it was discovered that it was the suspected house of a serial rapist and killer.
“What took so long?” Hen demanded as soon as Buck got the body on the gurney. The man’s head flopped, giving Buck the cause of death without even needing to wait for the coroner.
“The victim was freaking out, and I told Firefighter Buckley to stand down to allow myself and Athena to calm her down before us freaking her out sent her into the flames.”
“This man might have been alive if he had been gotten too sooner, Buck,” Chim said.
“No, Chim, I don’t think so,” Athena said.
“The victim admitted to bashing him over the head with a vase, and when he went down, his head hit something, and she was pretty sure his neck snapped.” Athena’s tone brokered no argument.
“Oh,” Chim said. He didn’t look happy about it.
It would at least shut him up for now. He would probably hear about it for days, though, about Buck taking his sweet time on getting the body out and checking the house.
“Buck, have Hen check you out before they escort Ashley to the hospital. She’s good on waiting, but Athena said you had your mask off for a few minutes in there. They both have already been cleared.”
“Sure thing,” Buck said. He walked away from where Chim was still with the body and waited for Hen to get her stuff to check him over. Then he would join in the rest of the team in getting the fire under control. Buck got his turnouts open and loosened his T-shirt from his pants.
“This is a wild thing,” Hen said.
“No kidding.” Buck waited for her to get the scope on his chest to listen to him breathe for a few inhales and exhales. “She was freaking out and in the hallway to the back of the house.”
“Given what she had been put through, I would side on the caution of not freaking her out. I know we aren’t supposed to take sides, but I’m going to work on the person in front of me before I go after someone else who might or might not be alive. If she ran back, there is no telling where she would have gone or if she would have barricaded herself into a room. We needed more than you and two cops in there, even if Athena is a woman.”
“I’m pretty good on the victim handling training. It was part of the classes I took when I was out for six weeks with a shoulder injury before I could come back. Bobby enrolled me in all kinds of classes I could take and helped build my resume. He wanted me to do the victim things since I was already so empathetic.”
“It was a good call. I’m glad he did. You sound good. Your pulse ox is good. Go and fight the fire,” Hen said with a smile on her face.
Buck nodded his head and got up. He checked his tank and was good for now, so he got himself going again.
The fire was out in another hour, but the house wasn’t going to be able to be saved. Buck didn’t think it was a bad idea to be torn down. Not with what he knew happened there.
“Can you get into the basement?” Daniel asked.
Buck looked at him and then at Athena and Lou, who were looking at him.
“I don’t know. Why?”
“There are a lot of women in the basement. It’s not a happy place, Evan.”
“Okay, I’ll talk to Lou and then get waders on before going down. I’m sure Bobby will want it checked for integrity before anyone tries to do anything with the place.”
Daniel nodded, and he faded out of sight. It explained why Buck hadn’t seen him. He had been in the basement. Daniel looked to be a kid, but he wasn’t. Ghosts didn’t physically age, but his mind expanded. Buck had many books for him to learn from, and when Daniel couldn’t be with Buck or didn’t want to be, he read.
Buck was the first to make it down into the basement to check the rooms above. He saw them, all of the women who had been killed in the house. There were a dozen of them. They were scattered around the room, and it was when Buck noticed that he also noticed how they were standing. Never on top of each other but just a little ways apart, in perfect rows. Just like if they were lined up like graves.
“Oh God,” Buck said. He swallowed and looked at Lou behind him.
“Buck?” Lou asked.
“How many had he taken?”
“We figured out three we could attach to him based on methods of abduction. Why?”
“There are twelve bodies buried here in this dirt basement.”
Lou wiped his hand over his face. He wasn’t down in the water. “I’ll get a team out here to pump the water out, so the bodies are not destroyed. I…” Lou turned and rushed up the stairs.
“You’ll make sure we are identified?” one of the women asked.
“Yeah. I brought my phone down with me. Tell me your names and where you are from. I’ll make sure that every one is claimed.” Buck tugged off his gloves to type on his phone as he listened to them tell him everything they needed to know who they were. This was going to be horrible.
Lou had never been one for religion. He backed out of his parents’ church long before they were happy about him doing it, thinking that religion would help him through puberty. The only thing that had helped him through puberty was the friends he made.
Still, the thought of ghosts made Lou think back to what little he remembered of Sunday School. Yet none of it fit with what he knew of the church’s versions of ghosts.
There was little on Evan Buckley that Lou could find beyond a list of addresses he used to live at over the last six years, stretching from up and down the eastern seaboard to Peru. There were a few things on the Internet from his job with the 118. Lou looked wider from the little information he got from Athena about the man. Athena knew little. She didn’t seem to like him too much. There was something about a baby and a pipe and Buck freaking out. Which then lead to him looking up that case.
Lou had done a deep dive after that. He found the dead brother, a sister with a list of calls about her place, and she refused help from the cops several times. Lou felt for her with the notes about it being suspected the husband was abusing her.
“What are you doing?” Tiffany asked as she leaned against his desk. She had moved up to detective at the same time as Lou, and while they worked at the same unit, they were of equal pay grades. They used each other as a beard when they got too much heat from others. It was never enough to have anyone say they were in a relationship, but more than people thinking they were friends.
“Someone intrigued me, and I’m…probably looking too much into their life to even say that I could even try with them, but I just…I don’t know.”
“Evan Buckley, LAFD. Oh, hey, I know him. I’ve seen him on the news. He is pretty cute. You like him?”
“I am not sure. He intrigues me. He was one of the firefighters in the house where there are 12 bodies in the basement.”
“Yeah, I was reading about that. I’m glad I didn’t catch that one. I almost did, but then a tip came in on my one homicide. So I was gone running that down. It was empty. Still, if you need any help, let me know. I can research like the best of them.”
Lou nodded. He stood up as his printer whirred. He snagged the pages before going to update his boss. This case would bring the FBI in no matter what because the victims were all taken across state lines. The BAU will probably come in and try and shrink a dead guy’s brain. It was a little more than Lou wanted to get into, but it was enough to know that they might never get IDs on all of the bodies if it was just left to them.
“Hey, Ransone!” one of the beat cops called when Lou came off the elevator.
Lou looked up from the file in his hand he was taking home for the night. He slipped it into his backpack and saw it was Buck standing there with the uniform.
“Thanks, Dillon. I’ll take him from here. What can I do for you, Firefighter Buckley?”
“Hey, I wanted to talk about the case. I know we are supposed to let go of things as firefighters, but I sometimes can’t. I wanted to talk to you about the victims.” Buck’s eyes moved around the area.
“Well, I’m just about to head home for the evening. Why don’t we get a meal, and we can talk?”
“Sure.” Buck looked around the main area of the station, and he looked a little worried about something.
Lou wasn’t sure how to help that, but then he thought that maybe it was running into Athena he was so worried about. Lou waved for Buck to go ahead out. There was not much to be done at the moment as they were waiting for results from the bodies being dug up and the ME to get their hands on them. It was the game that he dealt with more than anything else. Hurry up and wait. Still, it was much better than it had been even a decade ago.
“You like burgers?” Lou asked.
“Sure. I don’t need that long, really.”
“Well, I need to eat, and you look like you need to just relax a little, so a meal is the best option for me. I know a place I think you’ll like. Did you drive?”
“Yes. I’ll follow you to the place?” Buck asked.
“Sure. Wait for me outside of the staff parking lot.”
Lou wasn’t sure that Buck wasn’t going to just flee when Lou left him alone, but he didn’t want to force Buck to do anything either. Lou understood being afraid after sharing something. Lou and Athena both had a bit of knowledge that if it got out, Buck could possibly lose his job for being nuts. Obviously, it wasn’t the best option, but Lou was glad Buck hadn’t just kept going and got the woman killed. It would have been hard as hell to figure out the cause of death, and Lou would have been stuck with more issues than he had.
The little restaurant was close enough to Lou’s place he usually visited there the nights he didn’t have leftovers and didn’t feel like cooking because it was so late.
“You are later than normal,” the waitress said.
“Yes, I have someone else joining me, so waters for both of us and one menu for him, please?” Lou asked. He took a seat where he normally sat and saw Buck making his way to the door. The man was about a decade younger than him, but Lou never really cared too much about the age of the people he dated outside of keeping it legal. He knew that there were some idiots who thought that anything over a few years was too much of an age gap, but there was so much that went into maturity that was more than just how old someone was.
There were people out there that were at least a decade older than him that he wouldn’t trust to take care of a pet goldfish without killing it.
“This place looks good,” Buck said as he sat down across from Lou. At the same time, the waitress came back with their waters and a menu for Buck.
“I want to let you know that I looked into you. I wanted to make sure you weren’t some weirdo or connected to the case somehow.”
“I figured you did. It’s okay. If I was in your place and had the access you did, I probably would have done the same thing. Find anything fun?”
“Not really. You are well traveled, but you’ve settled here in LA longer than you have since you left Hershey. I don’t think you are the one behind it all and doing something strange with your…” Lou cocked his head to the side. He wasn’t sure how to talk about it and make sure Buck knew what he was talking about, but no one else could figure it out.
“Okay, yeah, I doubt you are using your friends to do anything.”
“No. I can’t even make my brother do anything he doesn’t want. He’s stubborn, just like I am.”
“Your-” Lou picked up the water on the table and drank it. “I know what happened to him.”
“Yeah, it was a little weird. He was just my imaginary friend for the longest time. Then when I was nine, he told me the truth about who he was. I was upset with him for a few days, but as I got older, I understood it all. It’s why I fled from my parents as soon as I could.”
“Not a happy home?”
“Daniel didn’t exist. I never heard his name from the lips of my parents or my sister. There were no pictures. Daniel had stayed around from the moment he died, connected to me. Even at his age, he knew that our parents weren’t going to love me. They left where we lived before to get away from the stigma of having a savior sibling. My sister was made to never talk about him either. I asked her about him once in a vague way, after I turned eighteen. She said nothing. She brushed it all off.”
“Ready to order?” The waitress asked as she got close.
“Sorry, I haven’t even looked at the menu,” Buck said. He picked up the menu and started to look at it. “Five minutes, and I’ll know.”
Lou watched Buck as he looked at the menu. Lou had heard a few stories from Athena about the slightly troublesome young man who worked for the 118. What he saw was someone who had a huge heart and sometimes seemed to be impulsive.
The waitress came back in five minutes, and they ordered.
“Okay with the waters, or did you want something else?”
“Just the water is fine,” Buck said.
Lou waited for her to step away. “You are pretty forthcoming about your past with me.”
“I could say that I just have a feeling, but I also understand how you need to have a good understanding to be able to trust what I am about to give you.”
“The names. The women were still with their bodies. Trapped there. I have their names. So maybe you can make sure they are all identified, just in case.” Buck slipped a sheet of paper over the table to him.
“You have…origination of missing persons. How much research have you done?”
“Not a lot. They gave me names and where they lived, so it wasn’t hard to make sure that was where the missing person case was filed. Only one didn’t have one, and I figure you can get them narrowed down with something from the gravesite.”
“Okay, I will look into this.” Lou folded up the sheet of paper and stuffed it into his shirt pocket. “You look like you didn’t get much sleep last night and still need a good night’s sleep.”
“Something like that. I look forward to my bed.”
“You don’t have to stay here.”
“No, I need to eat. I was obsessed with research about the whole thing, and I didn’t sleep like I should have after getting off work this morning. Danny’s not talking to me because of that. He’s at home pouting.”
Lou wondered how many people knew about Buck and his ability. It had to be isolating. There needed to be something for him to offload onto someone else when it came to this.
“Well, he’s probably just a little upset.”
“He is. He doesn’t like that I told anyone about this, especially two cops. He didn’t like that I was going to give you the names. He loves me and knows that his protection of me is irrational. He looks like a boy, but he’s more mature and only like he is to protect me. It was his only want when he passed. I’ve tried to get him to move on like I help others, but he doesn’t want it, and I don’t have the heart to force him to move on.”
“It’s just where I ended up. I went into Texas and then just kept on going south. I have a personable nature, and it works well for getting to know people. I followed a group of guys back up here and started to get ready to go to the LAFD while working a construction job. I was pretty bulky already, but I needed to be able to do better.”
“I heard one of the other firefighters on the scene comment that you looked like you overcompensated on the job.”
“I like the rescue stuff, and I never want to have not been able to save someone because I wasn’t enough in some fashion.”
Lou understood that on a bone-deep level. He was always doing better.
“Since you’ve been so open about yourself, why don’t I tell you a little about me.”
“You don’t need to. It’s not like we are going to be working together a lot. Firefighters and detectives don’t work together much. I could easily get away with never seeing you again, probably.”
“But it’s still nice to be nice.”
Lou wasn’t sure what kind of person Buck was, but he wanted to get to know him. He hadn’t felt this way in a long time, but he also realized that Buck wasn’t in a place where he seemed to want anything more than a friend. Lou could be that as he got to know him.
“How do you feel?” Lou asked when the plates were cleared away.
“Tired. Exhausted. Why?”
“This isn’t far from my place. Why don’t we drop your vehicle there, and I’ll drive you home? Then you can come and get it some other time, or I can pick you up. I don’t trust you to drive home. I know how far we are from where you live.”
“Yeah, I don’t think I’m good to drive home either. That sounds good.”
Lou nodded. It would get him a little more time with Buck and ensure he wasn’t too worried about him.
A soft buzz woke him up. Buck opened his eyes and groaned before burying his head in his pillow. Getting up at three for a ten-car pile-up on the highway had made the night shitty. He had gotten home and passed out. Well, he had gotten to Abby’s place and passed out. He was still looking for a place to live that wasn’t here, but he hadn’t talked about that at work.
The thought of Abby hurt, and it was why Buck wanted out of here. He needed to figure himself out without her. He had thought they would be forever, which was stupid; he knew that. The biggest thing was she needed him and wanted him. Until she didn’t anymore.
He picked up his phone and found a message from Lou on there. Every family had been notified. Using what Buck told him and the DNA that the FBI had rushed back, they had been able to figure them all out in a legal manner with a trail, just in case.
There was something about Lou that made Buck trust him.
The bed dipped, and Buck looked at Danny kneeling there. “You ready to face the day?”
“No, not really, but I know I need to. Why?”
“The paper came. Your neighbor dropped it outside. I got it and looked over a few things. There is someone who is looking for a roommate for him and his son. There was nothing about the son other than he existed. Which is kind of strange that he was even listed.”
“Probably just like someone who has a dog. People who don’t like dogs shouldn’t live with one, and those who can’t stand kids don’t need to live with someone who has one.”
“But what about predators?”
“I’m sure he’ll have a check done, and if the person is unregistered, there is not much that can be done about it. He might even be a cop, for all we know. I’ll look at it and see. What else is there?”
“That was the only new rental listing in the paper. I can’t get the computer on since you didn’t put it to sleep but shut it down.”
“It installed an update.”
Danny stuck his tongue out at Buck before slipping off the bed.
Buck didn’t want to get up, but he did. He snagged the charger for his phone and took it into the kitchen. Most of his stuff was packed up, and he was just waiting to get out. Everything he didn’t need to live daily was put up in a box in the dining room area. He had more in storage, the same place he had rented when he had moved to town.
The paper was on the table in the dining room with a pen pointing at the ad. The number listed was a Texas area code; Buck knew it well from when he had been passing through Texas on his way to Peru and on his way back. It wasn’t strange if it was someone just moving to LA; there was no reason to change the number. Not in this day and age.
The ad was simple and gave more description on the inside of the house than anything else. There was the father’s age, but the kid just was that he was male and a kid. Which was the way to go about it. The best times to call were listed and today was one of the good times for in the morning. Buck dialed it.
“Hello?” the man on the other end answered.
“Hello, my name’s Evan Buckley; I’m inquiring about the house sharing ad in the paper.”
“My name is Eddie Diaz; what do you do for a living, Mister Buckley?”
“Um, Buck’s fine. I work full time as a firefighter for LAFD.”
“Oh, really? I’m in the academy right now to become one. I graduate soon.”
“Small world, huh?”
“It is. Is this number a good number to text?”
“I’ll text you the address. My son is in physical therapy and will be out of it in an hour. I’ll be heading to the academy after that, but you can come and look around, eat lunch with us before I drop him off at my Abuela’s house.”
“Just like that?”
“Just like that. I might be putting too much stock in what you do for a living, but I do better face to face, not over the phone. Mainly, I’m worried about my son liking whoever lives with us. I can just make it with the help I get for him, but my Abuela talked about how it’s crazy to live alone when I don’t need to. I would prefer it to be another man, not because of any reason other than I’m afraid a woman would be bad for my son. I’ll explain more of that if you two get along.”
“Sure. I can pick up lunch somewhere, so you don’t have to cook. I don’t mind.”
“Sure, I’ll figure out what Chris wants and text you what we both want from there.”
Eddie hung up after saying goodbye, and Buck stared at the phone. There was a lot to unpack from that conversation, but it felt right. He trusted his gut all of the time, or at least most of it. So, he went with it. He looked at when he called and decided he had time for a shower and to get into clothes before leaving to get food for them.
“Are you going to go and stay with them?” Danny asked.
“I don’t know. We are meeting to see if I get along with the son. He’s at physical therapy now, so I don’t even want to hazard that the kid would like me.”
“Everyone likes you, Evan; it’s why you are so good at your job.”
Buck reached out and touched Danny’s head, ruffling his hair. He wasn’t sure if it was their time together, but Danny was always there when Buck tried to touch him.
“Can I go?”
“Sure. Just make sure you don’t do anything to scare them. I don’t want to scare them before I really get to know them.”
“I won’t. I’m a good boy.”
Buck pushed off the counter and headed up to get ready to go. He didn’t want to be late.
By the time he was out of the shower and dressed, a message came through with the address and the food the Diaz men wanted and from where. It seemed like he had time to get it all and get to the Diaz residence by the time listed as the average time they got home.
The Diaz house was easy to find, and no vehicle was in the driveway. However, by the time Buck went down the block, turned around, and came back, a truck was pulling in. A man jumped out and went around. Buck slowed down and leaned over to catch who he hoped was Eddie’s eye.
“Buck?” the man called out.
“Just pull up beside me here. I’ll ensure Chris can get inside and then come and help with the food.”
“I can get that. You worry about Chris.”
Buck backed up and waited for Eddie to help Chris out of the truck before he pulled into the spot. The food was easy to grab, and Eddie met Buck at the door.
“I figure you can look around if you want after we eat. Chris is usually very hungry after therapy.”
“I bet he is. I would be too. Just lead the way.”
“The kitchen is down here past the dining room. There are two doors, one from the hall and the other from the dining room.” Eddie led Buck into the dining room through the living room. The house seemed to be laid out well. The living room and dining rooms were massive. He assumed the kitchen was as well to allow for the three bedrooms.
“Hi,” Chris said. “Dad says your name is Buck.”
“Well, it’s Evan Buckley, but I was nicknamed Buck at the academy because there were three other Evans in there. To shorten it into a nickname, I had the most accessible last name.”
“I like Buck. What academy did you go to?” Chris asked.
Buck looked at Eddie, who nodded. Buck set down the food and started to find what each container was. He had opted for chips, salsa, and dip since he didn’t want to get two meals for himself. He figured that the variety pack of salsa and dip wouldn’t hurt. He didn’t want to make assumptions, but he hoped they didn’t hate it.
“I eat a lot, so I got chips and stuff,” Buck said.
“Good. We really like that, but we didn’t want to have you get too much. I wasn’t sure how your diet is.”
“Oh, I’m in a bulking phase right now. I’m pretty much game for most things.”
“So, Buck, tell us all about you,” Chris said.
Eddie started to laugh.
“Well, I’m from Hershey, Pennsylvania. Yes, the same place that chocolate is made. I’m not a big fan of their stuff, though. There is this great candy place a few blocks down from here. It’s got great stuff. I’ll take you some time if we-” Buck stopped talking when Chris’ eyes widened, but he was not looking at Buck. His eyes were to the side of Buck.
Buck looked where he was and saw Daniel looking at Chris with wide eyes.
“Daddy,” Chris said.
“Mijo, not now, please.”
“But, Daddy, he’s-”
“It’s okay, Eddie. Danny, come here. You can meet him.” Buck held out his hand. Daniel stepped up to stand beside him. “Chris, this is my brother Daniel. Can you see him, Eddie?”
“I’ve never met anyone else who can see them who aren’t…well, part of a few people I know who help ghosts move on. Never just in the wild like this.”
Daniel leaned into Buck.
“Hi, I’m Daniel.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Daniel. My name is Eddie, and this is my son Chris. How long have you been with your brother?”
“Since I died. He was one. I had to protect him. If you are going to try and send me back, I’ll fight with everything inside of me.”
“I would never make anyone crossover. It’s…a family honor to help those who want to move on, but there are some like you that have a job to do. You’ll move on when it’s time; it could be generations before that happens. We have a family ghost, usually tied to the eldest person in the family. He’s tied to mi Abuela at the moment. He’s been around for two hundred years; he’s never left. He looks to be in his forties, but he refuses to tell us how old he was when he died. Records aren’t the best for that period in Mexico, where he lived. So, you can feel safe that we won’t make you move on.”
“Thank you,” Buck said.
Daniel stepped around the table, and he held out his hand to Chris. They shook with smiles on their faces.
“So your whole family?”
“No, it skips generations some or some people. My father can’t see ghosts any more, but mi tía can. It’s strange, but I think my father used to be able to but stopped when he got too old in his head. He tried to stop me from seeing them at a certain age, but it never took. Abuela made sure I never felt bad about it.”
“I didn’t realize it went down family lines.”
“It doesn’t always. I’ve known a few people who have no one else in their family who can see ghosts.”
Buck was shocked about everything. He wasn’t sure what was happening, but he didn’t want to think about what it meant. He knew that Maddie had never talked about being able to see anyone. She had never seen Daniel; Daniel said so. Their parents had never seen Daniel either. They might have been like Eddie’s father, though. It was all so strange. Buck knew very little other than he saw ghosts, and he could help people. There was not much else he had ever been able to find. The world didn’t really believe in ghosts on the whole. Some did, but they were few and far between.
“How much do you…” Buck trailed off.
“Look, the roommate thing is always precarious, but I just…we do better with someone else here. We got used to that with Abuela as we had been living with her after we moved up here while I got myself on my feet after being discharged from the Army. We will happily have you move in with us, won’t we, Chris?”
Chris nodded as he had just stuffed a chip into his mouth. He grinned when he was done chewing.
“Well, I guess I can get the stuff started on my ex’s place and get the heck out of there before I go to work. I get that you have to go to the academy, and I doubt you will trust me with your kid after like an hour, but I can handle dinner. I’ll stop and get stuff to make it. Give me a list of things you can’t eat or just don’t like.”
“That’s great. I’ll text you so you can keep the list somewhere on your phone. We are pretty easy to get along with when it comes to food. Let’s eat, and we can all talk. I’ll leave you with a key, and you can get going on moving things around. I would offer my truck to help you move, but I’m bringing home something from work that won’t fit into your Jeep.”
“That’s fine. I have a work friend I can pop over and leave him my Jeep and take his truck. He’s good for it. I’ve already talked to him about trying to find a place.”
The three of them talked about good things as Daniel wandered around the house. Since Buck bought the food, Eddie cleaned up the mess while Chris got ready to go to his grandmother’s.
“You didn’t stare like most do,” Eddie said.
“Because of his CP?” Buck knew people were assholes, but he hadn’t realized that they could be that big of ones.”
“Damn. People suck. I was off work for six weeks, but it was just a shoulder injury. I did a lot of continuing education that I could do without the use of my shoulder. I took victim handling training from counselors. I also took a few first aid classes centered around various disabilities. I had to wait until I was cleared to work again before doing the physical parts, but they have a good program to do that. Beefs up the firefighter’s resume, and they are working when they could be just drawing medical leave. Not everyone does it, but it’s a good system.”
“Yeah, I was talking to a few guys about that kind of thing. I have been debating starting to take paramedic courses when I can. Being a single father makes it hard, but I thought that once he’s in school for the year, I could do them while he’s in school. Not have to worry about not being with him.”
“Hey, if you get on the same shift as me once you find a firehouse, I can watch him in the afternoons after school if the classes run late.”
“I haven’t decided if doing it will be too close to what I did in the army.”
“What did you do?”
“Damn, yeah, I can see how that might not be a good thing right now. You had probably better get going.”
Eddie looked at the clock on the microwave and cursed. “Yeah. Okay. Um, I’ll get the key, and we’ve already exchanged numbers. We can discuss the finances and stuff when I get back. If you need anything, text. I’ll check my phone before I leave the academy.”
“How do you make up this time you are missing?”
“It’s mostly stuff I don’t need to do given my army history. I pass everything they want, so I move his PT around each week to fit into a spot my instructors feel I don’t need to have the deep shit on. Later, Pepa’s gonna take him, or I can do it on days you have off. I don’t want you to feel like you have to babysit my kid.”
“Oh, I don’t mind. I know Danny’s a good bit older mentally, but I think they’ll become fast friends. He’s not above playing with kids. He was my only friend growing up. I was isolated by my parents and then by my sister, then my parents again once my sister went to college. But enough of that. Go.”
Eddie laughed, and he headed out of the kitchen. The house was small but not the smallest. There was enough room for all of them with the size of the communal areas.
“BYE, BUCK!” Chris called before the shutting of the front door echoed around.
The vibration of his phone had Buck looking down. It was a simple message of where Eddie put the key.
This whole thing might be crazy as hell, but it was better than Buck thought it would be. He could be himself for once.
Lou wasn’t sure of anything at all as he parked his car in the parking lot of station 118. He took one of the spots that were for visiting officials. He was visiting as a cop but he also just kind of wanted to see Buck. He could have sent a uniform to do this. Athena would have been a choice with how she was trying to hide her relationship with Captain Nash.
After dallying as long as he could, he got out of the car and headed toward the main entrance.
“Can I help you?” a woman asked.
Lou looked to the side at the woman looking at him. He remembered her from the day of the fire. “Paramedic Wilson, correct?”
“Yes. Who are you?”
“Detective Lou Ransone.” Lou showed her his badge.
“Ah, yes. Okay. I knew I knew you from somewhere. Hen Wilson.” Hen held out her hand. “You need to talk to Buck?”
“Actually, this is about a different matter. Well, I do need to talk to Buck, but it’s personal. I think that we should have Captain Nash with us as well.”
“Bobby already sent Buck home. He’s got a few days off. I wasn’t sure what it was about. Bobby said he would explain when he could.”
“Okay. It’s probably about the same matter. I’ll reach out to him through official channels.”
“Are you Detective Ransone?” Captain Nash asked as he stepped closer to where Lou and Hen were talking.
“Buck asked me to tell you to stop by if you came over here today.” Nash handed over a sheet of paper with a different address than what Lou had on file for Buck from the LAFD. “He’s recently moved, and paperwork always moves the slowest.”
“Thanks. I’ll do that then.”
Lou nodded at Hen and Nash before heading back to the car. If Buck knew, then his sister’s ghost had come to him. It was the only way. Or Daniel had learned of it and told Buck. Lou was doing the official word as a courtesy to the Hershey Police Department. He would have left that to Athena, but she wasn’t working.
The drive to the new place where Buck was living wasn’t too far from the station. His other place hadn’t been either. Lou stayed in his car parked on the street for a few minutes. There was another vehicle there. Which, given it was a Saturday, meant someone was visiting him.
A flick from the curtain once and then again a few minutes later told Lou he had not much time before someone came out to figure out what he was doing there. He was wrong on how much time as just a second later, a man appeared on the porch, his arms crossed, and he looked at Lou like he was about to go to war with him. The man was in a shirt Lou knew well from the LAFD academy.
Lou got out, and he made sure his badge was on display. The man’s body language relaxed, and a sad smile crossed his face. He knew what Lou was there for.
“If there is anything graphic you want to talk about, let me know so that I can take my son into his room.”
“His…I think I’m confused here.”
“Eddie Diaz, Detective Ransone. Buck showed me a picture of you in case you showed up today. Buck moved into my guest room. He was looking for a place to live, I was looking for a roommate, and my son claimed Buck as his best friend after about ten minutes. I couldn’t let him live anywhere else.”
“I don’t need to go into anything graphic, but he might ask questions. I have the full report as the Hershey police know it.”
“Okay, I’ll have Chris go to his room. He’s been attached to Buck’s side since Buck got home.”
Lou followed Eddie into the house and found Buck sitting on the couch with his legs to his chest, his eyes aimed toward the TV but not really seeing it. A kid sat beside him with his head resting on Buck’s arm.
“Hey, Chris, we gotta talk about some adult things that I don’t want you hearing right now.”
“I’ll go and play with my Legos in the bedroom. Come get me when Bucky needs a hug.”
Chris carefully got up and grabbed a pair of crutches that were beside him. Lou wanted to ask, but he didn’t.
“Hey, Buck,” Lou said as he sat down at the other end of the couch.
“You doing the official notice?”
“Yes. How are you feeling?”
“Numb. She appeared last night. She was scared, but Daniel and I have already talked her into moving on. I couldn’t…”
Lou looked at Eddie, who didn’t seem shocked about what Buck said. Lou wondered for a few seconds if he had missed his chances with Buck.
“I couldn’t take her just hanging around. She was so messed up. Not all ghosts look like how they die, but she did. Traumatic deaths will do that. Doug beat her to death?”
“Sort of. She actually can’t have looked anything like she did at her time of death. The only solace I can give you is that she wasn’t in pain when she died.”
“How?” Buck asked. He finally looked at Lou.
“Two weeks ago, she called the ambulance before she passed out. He had gone to work. Just as he pleased. Like he hadn’t beat his wife so badly she couldn’t move. She was on the phone for a short time, so she told them where not to take her. She didn’t want to be under his care. She uttered he had been the one to do it. 9-1-1 dispatched both police and paramedics. She’s been in a coma since then. She was in it by the time she got to the ER and never came up. The detective’s fought to tell you with your parents. They demanded you didn’t know as you would just be a burden to them as they grieved their daughter. She passed naturally last night.”
“It’s not uncommon for comas,” Eddie said. He paused until Lou and Buck were looking at him. “Once in the coma, they don’t always know it. To her, she died seconds before she appeared here talking to Buck. I tried to get Buck not to go into work, but he had no way of proving his sister was dead. Then one of the nurses Maddie worked with called him after getting a cop to get him the number.”
“He was always nice to me. Used to hit on me too. Maddie hated when he did, so he only did it when she wasn’t around. I would have slept with him, but I didn’t want Maddie mad at me.”
“Is he in jail?” Eddie asked.
“Yes. He’s been in jail since the call. His clothes with her blood on them were in his locker. Blood was all over his car. He had planned to clean it up at the end of his shift and wear scrubs home after dropping his clothes into the biohazard bag in the ER where other bloody clothes go that aren’t needed for evidence. He did not make bail. His lawyer couldn’t get him to shut up while Maddie was in a coma about how she deserved it because he was teaching her a lesson. The lawyer also could not get him to shut up in the interrogation room. He has no remorse for what he did.”
“He was never a good man. He hated me because Maddie loved me. I was the only bump in his perfect scenario. I wasn’t shocked when Maddie started to cut me out of her life. Then she just stopped responding to me at all. Daniel refused to go and check on her.”
“Where is Daniel?” Eddie asked.
“I don’t know. So, she died last night in the hospital. I will be shocked if my parents call me. Me being there would ruin their perfect picture of grieving the only child they cared about anymore. She moved on, and she’s happy. I assume you went to the station since you came here?”
“Yes. Nash hadn’t really told anyone about what was going on.”
“No, I told him the call I got wasn’t legal or official. He’ll be happy to have you going there, which meant he could finally tell everyone else. He said he would contact me about my grievance leave once HR had weighed in. Of course, that also means I need an obituary.”
“I have the police record that also states your relationship to her. I’ll leave that with you, and you can drop it off to your captain, or I can swing by and do it as well. What do you need?”
“I am not sure. She was frantic last night, but she told me she loved me. I told her I forgave her, and it was mostly what she needed. She was a little freaked out that I still had Daniel with me, but she was also glad I had him. Maddie needed to move on and let go of the pain she had in her life. I don’t think I could handle it.”
“No, no one could. To be locked in that trauma,” Lou said. He snagged a tissue from the box as he stood up from the couch. He walked over to Buck and held it out. Buck’s hands were empty of tissues, but they littered the floor around him. “Look, if you need anything, Buck, let me know. Or have Eddie. I can be the ear that listens as you scream at the world or hold you so tight that you feel like you aren’t going to float away.”
“Thanks. I’ll keep that in mind. Right now, I’m still just numb. I told Bobby when I got to work that I felt off. It wasn’t like sick-off but something else. When I got the call, Bobby knew what I had been feeling. He’s Catholic, so he believes a little more in the weirder stuff. As it pertains to what the Catholic Church allows. Of course, he sent me home. Had someone else drive me, and then Eddie took them back to the station instead of the ambulance dropping by and getting them on the way to the next call-out. Chris kept me company.”
“I meant it, Buck. If you need anything, call me.” Lou grabbed his card with his personal cell on it and his work cell and desk number to hand to Eddie. “I mean it. Call. Even if it’s just something you think is stupid.”
“Thanks, Lou,” Buck said.
Lou let himself out as Buck turned to look at Eddie across the room. Eddie wasn’t holding himself back out of fear of what Buck would do. No, he was making sure Buck wasn’t pressured into accepting affection.
“What do you need right now?”
“I have no clue. Honestly, I don’t. He murdered her. He just left her in her bedroom. I…want to know every detail of his trial. I’ll talk to Lou about that later. I need…can you look up everything the paper has published about it?”
“Sure. I’ll gladly do that. I’ll tell you what I think you should know.” Eddie leaned back in the chair he was in. “So that’s the guy you like?”
“Yeah. I just…I wasn’t sure about myself, and this has really thrown me. I just wanna kind of chill and get used to this. Figure out what is going to happen with my parents. I hope they don’t try to crawl back into my life. I’ve done fine without them since I left home, and I’m happy about that.”
“Well, that man thinks we are dating.”
“What? Why would he…oh.” Buck laughed. He reached out for his cell phone. He saw nothing from his parents and rolled his eyes. He opened his texting app and decided what to say. He looked at the time and then took his sweet time dithering over his word choice.
Buck: Eddie and I are not together.
Lou: It’s okay.
Buck: No, I mean it. He is like me and can see ghosts, as well as his son. I needed out of my ex’s place, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to live alone.
Lou: How long has it been since you’ve lived alone?
Buck: Ever since I came to LA. I lived in a communal house until I moved in with Abby.
Lou: We have said nothing about wanting anything else. We flirted.
Buck: But I wanted something more at some point. I just also don’t have the head for it right now, and it feels wrong to ask you to wait for me.
Lou: You are worth waiting for.
Buck: But it’s not right.
Lou: What’s not right?
Buck: You just waiting on me like that.
Lou: I thought we could get to know each other as friends with the idea that one day when we were ready, we would move to the next step. If we only stay friends, I’ll be happy to count you as that, Buck.
Buck: I am not sure that you are real.
Lou: Oh, I’m real, and I’m sure it won’t take long for me to make you wonder why you even liked me.
Buck: I doubt it. Friends. I can do friends. I think I might need more of them.
Lou: Go let Eddie and Chris take care of you. Take care.
Buck wasn’t sure that Lou was real. He held out his phone and let Eddie look at it.
“He’s a good man. You should take him up on that. Become friends with him.”
Buck nodded. He wasn’t sure what he wanted. He had learned from what he had with Abby how to ensure he got what he needed.
“Hey, why don’t you go lay down? Chris will head in there and read to you. Try and get some sleep. I know you didn’t sleep last night. I’ll figure stuff out for the rest of the day.”
Buck nodded his head because he was tired. Nightmares were going to be horrible, but at least if he did get some sleep, he would be in a better place mentally. He knew that he would obsess over things for a while now. He just needed to know what was going on. He had tried to get Maddie away from Doug, and he had given up on that. There was only so much he could do. Maddie had known he would always be there for her if she wanted it.
“I think I will go stretch out. I may not fall asleep, but at least relaxing in bed would be better.” Buck got up, his body swaying a little. “I think I need to get something in me first.”
“I’ll bring a glass of that juice stuff you like. It’ll help and give you the sugar you need. I’ll make sure dinner is filling. I don’t want you to not eat enough.”
“Yeah, that will work. I can get the juice myself, though.”
“You need to get out of those jeans.”
Buck looked at his jeans and agreed he did not want to sleep in them. He decided that he would change while Eddie got him juice. He would probably get something for Chris as well since Chris had already tried to get Buck to lay down once and let Chris read to him.
His bedroom was laid out just like he wanted; there was enough of him to feel at home. There was a picture on his nightstand of him and Maddie when they were younger. He had gone out and found a frame to fit it that would allow him to add in a picture of Daniel. He had found his father’s stash of pictures and stolen one when he was thirteen.
After shutting the door, Buck changed into a pair of sweats and a looser T-shirt. He wasn’t sure what he was still feeling. Numb was the best way to describe it. He was pretty sure he would not have the best few days. He wanted to go back for the funeral, but he also didn’t really want to face his parents.
Chris entered the room just as Buck was sitting on the bed after opening the door. Behind him was Eddie with two cups of juice and a book in his hands. Buck reached out to take the juice while Chris climbed onto the bed. He smiled at the pair of them. He was pretty sure he would find happiness here with these two.
Buck stopped in his tracks as he came into the station, where he saw Hen sitting beside the ambulance with a dejected look to her. He had been gone a week with Maddie’s funeral and getting things settled with her estate. He knew he still looked like he was about to cry at any moment.
“Hey, what’s up?”
“Oh, hey, Chim’s had to take medical leave again. He’s been a little off the past week and went to see his doctor. He came in to talk to Bobby before the shift started. They are still in the office, but he told me about it. He is afraid he’s not going to be coming back.”
“Makepeace is just about done with the paramedic stuff, right?” Buck asked. He sat down beside Hen in the other chair and snagged the clipboard from Hen’s hands. She was fussy when she was upset.
“He is. I’d rather have him. Bobby’s sending him back to get the certifications done as soon as possible, so we will have two floaters. Bobby’s going tomorrow to the academy to see who he can entice to come and work for us.”
“Well, we need it. I hope that we get someone good.”
“Well, Bobby will make sure we do,” Hen said. She leaned over and laid her head on Buck’s shoulder.
Buck reached up and started to rub on her shoulder. The rest of the shift started to file in. Buck let Hen shove at him to get him into the locker room to get dressed.
There was something off about having the two floaters in there with Makepeace off to get the last of the hours he needed to be able to stop in for Chim. It wasn’t a secret that Chim had been having headaches, and there were moments when he forgot things. Buck figured it was that part that made it hard for him to stay as someone active. They needed someone who was going to be quick in the field.
“What’s he going to do?” Buck asked as he sat down beside Hen again.
“He’s thinking of moving onto the academy to teach a paramedic class or two while he’s figuring things out. After that, I have no clue. He’s just shocked. I’m glad you are back. I don’t think I could take three floaters at the same time, not in our little group.”
“Buck, in my office,” Bobby called out.
Buck hugged Hen from the side before he got up and trotted over to where the office was. Bobby was already sitting behind the desk and had a stack of files in front of him.
“Hen tell you?”
“Yeah, it’s sucky, but he’s been off. I would rather he get help than to just keep pushing things away. I don’t want to see him hurt by making a mistake. I hope nothing is too wrong.”
“Well, there is not a lot that can be done until we know more about what is wrong,” Bobby said.
“So, what did you want to talk to me about?”
“Well, I was looking at the files for the candidates at the academy, and I found a guy I think would be good for the team, but then I saw his address.”
“Eddie,” Buck said.
“Yes. I didn’t want to have anything go wrong with that by upsetting you.”
“No, we get along well. I would love to have him on the team.”
“You think he would be a good fit?”
“He’s a good guy, which is most of what we need here. I can’t tell you a thing about his fire academy results so far. We don’t talk about it much. I’m pretty happy with living with him.”
“Even with the last week?”
“Eddie’s son is a good distraction. He likes to help take care of me. I was barred from the funeral. I was notified of that by the Hershey cops once they got word from my parents they wanted me arrested if I showed up. They didn’t want to arrest me, so they called me before I even bought a flight. I was happy about that but upset that I couldn’t be there. Honestly, I think it was good it was taken out of my hands. I didn’t want to see my parents. So Eddie, Chris, and I had a wake of sorts for her.”
“That’s good. You said you wanted to stay behind for the morning.”
“Yeah, I want to make sure I’m where I need to be if it’s anything that would need to have my full brain. I don’t want to make a mistake.”
“I understand. I don’t want you to make a mistake either. I don’t want you here if you don’t think you should be.”
“No, I feel like I am ready. But I just can’t stay home and do nothing. Eddie’s at his wit’s end with the repairs I have already done on the place.”
“Well, head out and start on fixing the kitchen.”
“They let Rodney touch my shit again, didn’t they?” Buck asked.
“No, Hen spilled jelly in the cabinet, and in the cleaning up of things in there, we got interrupted, and by the time we got back, things were in a rush. Everyone likes how you have it, so I figured you could just stay up there and make yourself feel better by taking care of everything there.”
Buck nodded. He liked the control that gave him sometimes. It would help him get his world in order a little bit. He knew things would be strange for him for a while as he got used to the fact that he had no family he wanted to claim alive anymore.
Daniel appeared at the end of the desk and looked at Buck with a grim smile on his face. He held out his hand and waved Buck toward him.
“Let Chim know I’m thinking of him.”
“Will do. Hen’s heading there to go with him to the appointment tomorrow. So let her know as well.”
“I will. If he needs anything.”
“Of course.” The look on Bobby’s face told Buck everything he needed to know about where Bobby’s head was at. Bobby knew that Buck didn’t like Chim all of the time. There were times that he was downright pissed at things Chim said to him, and it was before he had gotten rebar through the head. There had been a little bit of a change after the rebar incident, but it wasn’t like he was any better. Things had only gotten worse.
Buck wasn’t sure how the day would go with Chim out due to medical. It had been strange the last time with Chim gone, but most of it had been about how he had become gone, not so much that he was actually gone. The accident had been horrible. This time though, it was going to be different. A huge part was that Buck was sure Chim wasn’t coming back. If he doubted himself, there was no coming back from that.
It felt off. It was like a piece was missing, and it wasn’t just Chim. Buck found it to be the worst shift in the world.
Going home felt like it was the best thing in the world. He parked in his spot in Eddie’s driveway and just sat there. He didn’t want to move at all. He just wanted to sit here forever. Moving meant pain from how stiff his body was. He had been shoved down a hill, and his body was sore from bruising while he had no injuries. He blamed no one but himself. He had been the one to try and keep the husband calm as they had searched for the wife where she had wandered away from the wreck. The husband had been pissed off when Buck tried to get him down to the gurney and shoved him down the hill.
He had come out of it fine, but he had been sore from the rocks on the way down. It had been a shitty welcome back. Though it was just like anything else. Buck grabbed his bag and decided he had waited long enough. Waking up had been shitty, even if he only got a few hours of sleep.
Eddie and Chris were already gone. Chris at his grandmother’s and Eddie at the academy. It wasn’t the worst thing in the world to be alone, but Buck found he wasn’t too sure about it. He felt like he needed to be around people. He checked the time and debated whether he could do much or needed sleep. He needed sleep.
He made plans to head out after a three-hour nap when he woke up; Buck got out of the Jeep and headed inside.
Eddie grabbed his water from the table, looking around the room. There were a lot of people in there.
“Bored?” a man asked.
“No, just taking it all in,” Eddie said.
The man sat down with a salad and what looked like a move note taped to the top. He opened it up and laughed.
“Someone thinks they are cute. I would love to know how the hell he got my wife to put that there.”
“A co-worker, it’s payback for not being at the station when he came back yesterday. He called my wife and had her write me a letter from him.”
The man waved toward the note, so Eddie picked it up, and he frowned until he saw the name at the bottom of the note.
“You are from the 118,” Eddie said.
“I am. How do you know that?”
“Well, Buck’s talked about you before, and I assume that you are one of the few people with the name of Makepeace in the city, much less in the LAFD, and while I know there are many Evans, I don’t think there is more than one that works with a man named Makepeace. He was looking forward to seeing you again, so yes, I am not shocked he had your wife write this.”
“So you are Eddie,” Makepeace said.
“Yes, Eddie Diaz.” Eddie held out his hand to him.
There was a commotion, and Eddie looked over to see one of the other guys in his class had dropped to the ground. There was a mass of people around him already but what Eddie was drawn to was that he was also standing to the side.
Makepeace was up and running over, so Eddie headed to where the new ghost was standing. Eddie reached out, snagged the man’s arm, and guided him away to where he didn’t have to look at his own body. The alarm started to go off, announcing there was a medical emergency inside there. Eddie knew what it sounded like because they had been given a tour on the first day, and it had gone off to show them what it sounded like.
“I’m dead?” Robbie asked.
“Yes, you are. You haven’t crossed over yet. Why?”
“I don’t know. I’m dead. How can you see me?”
“It’s a gift, and times like this, a curse.” Eddie didn’t stop moving until they were in a hall where no one else was at the moment. Before he was out of here, he didn’t need to be labeled a freak. “What do you need to tell your wife?”
“Nothing. We are happy. We are good. She knows I love her, and she’s the one in charge of the finances.”
“Okay, then you need to figure out what else is keeping you here then. It’s not good to stick around. It’s not good at all.”
Robbie nodded, and then he stopped and frowned. He disappeared away from Eddie. Eddie had no clue what was happening, but he was pretty sure he needed to head out to the rest of them. He went back to the mess and found that there was a sheet over Robbie’s body. He wondered how long someone worked on him until they realized he wasn’t coming back. He had no clue how long he had been in the hall with Robbie. He snagged his food and tossed what was left. He hadn’t thought about this part of being a firefighter. He would have to talk to Buck about how he managed that.
“Look, you need to go,” Buck said.
Eddie looked at where Buck was now standing with Robbie in the hall near where they were. Eddie headed toward them.
“How can you see me too?”
“Too?” Buck looked up at him and laughed a little. “Ah, yeah. Eddie. Okay, yeah, I can see you too. You need to crossover.”
“I can’t figure out how. I have nothing to stay for. I told my wife I loved her this morning.”
“Did she tell you anything?”
“Oh,” Robbie said. He had a strange look on his face. “She’s pregnant. I’m happy. I was…or I am. I have no fucking clue. I just…She’s going to be alone.”
“Someone else will step up and help her. You know that. You might have just been here at the academy, but we are family,” Buck said.
“The house is paid off. She used her parents’ life insurance to do that after they passed in their sleep together last year. I don’t want to leave her alone.”
“You aren’t going to be. She’s going to have you forever in that kid of yours.” Eddie reached out and clasped Robbie on the shoulder. He was getting thinner as he stood there, and so Eddie was pretty sure he was closer to letting go.
Then before his eyes, Robbie disappeared. It wasn’t like the last time; no, there was a brightness to it this time.
“What happened?” Buck asked when Robbie was gone.
“He just dropped. I haven’t stayed in there long enough to figure out.”
“Then let’s go and find out.” Buck threw his arm over Eddie’s shoulder and started leading him away.
Makepeace was standing at the body with a clipboard in his hand.
Eddie stopped when he saw the blood on Robbie’s face through the sheet over him. This was something serious. It wasn’t like that kind of thing just happened when there was blood like that. There would be an autopsy, and Eddie wasn’t sure what would happen today.
“You know I came here to get out of my head and not be alone at home,” Buck said.
“Looks like we might be going home together. I have no clue what the protocol for this was.”
“I have no idea either. So he just dropped?”
“That’s just shitty. You’ll have to give a statement. I heard the alarms going off when I got here. I rushed in and found Robbie in the hall. He had disappeared from someone else, he said. He didn’t name who, but he was shocked to see me, and I saw him.”
“Well, it’s a big shock to see someone who does see you like that. Still, it’s strange that at least two of us are in the LAFD.”
“Yeah. I can see that.”
“Can I get your attention?” one of the teachers called out.
Eddie looked over at where she was standing.
“We need everyone to talk to someone about what they saw. Buckley, I see you standing there with Diaz. You get him and Makepeace, yeah? The incident report is just like at your station. Got a stack of them here. Guide Diaz through it?”
“Come on, Eddie. Let’s round up Makepeace, and then we can head home. I need to have words with my work husband anyway.”
Eddie laughed at that but stopped when he saw the sheet. He sobered at that and followed Buck to where he grabbed the forms. He shoved one at Makepeace and then headed toward a table as far away from the others. Three more people from Eddie’s class came over after they sat down.
The form looked pretty simple, but there was a lot of openness to what was on there.
“And just for this table,” the teacher said as she walked over. “There are no other forms. Fit what you need to say on that sheet and nothing else. Don’t take after Buckley.”
“Ah, Maria, you are all heart. I would love to have ducklings taking after me one day.” Buck gave her the biggest earnest grin in the world. He looked like a giant child with the grin, but it was adorable.
“I should stick you somewhere else and leave you there. It’s not like Nash will miss you that much.”
“Ah, yes, he will. He doesn’t trust anyone else to cook in place of him.”
“He’s got that right,” Makepeace said.
Eddie was looking forward to finding a place to fit in just like Buck and Makepeace had at the 118. There was a hope Eddie would get picked to go there, but he didn’t want Buck to ask about it. He wanted to be put there because Captain Nash wanted him there.
Lou sighed as he dropped down into his car. He was done with work for the day but had files to take home with him. He wasn’t sure what kind of dinner he wanted, but he knew he needed to eat. He had been called in on a murder halfway through breakfast, and lunch had been only what he could stuff in his face in a few minutes. Which hadn’t been much at all before he had been gone long enough his burger and fries were cold and nasty.
Grabbing his bottle of water, Lou popped the cap and lifted it up to take a drink. He checked his phone as he did. There were a few notifications he needed to look at but nothing much. Just as he was about to put his phone to sleep, a message from Buck popped up.
Lou put his bottle down and twisted the cap on as he tapped with his thumb to be able to text back.
Lou: No. Just got off work and trying to figure out what to do for dinner.
The next message from Buck was a picture of food. It was not all done, but it looked like the meal was nearly done.
Buck: I might not have paid attention to the portion size. This is too much for the three of us. Come help us eat it and then take some home?
Lou: I can do that. I’m leaving the station now. Want me to pick up beer?
Buck: No, we have plenty. Eddie grabbed a twelve-pack of the stuff you like when he was on his way home from the academy.
Lou: Then I’ll be there soon.
The next message was a picture of Buck, smiling as he held up what looked like a piece of cake. Lou laughed a little and dropped the phone into the other cup holder in his car. He checked everywhere before starting the car and slowly backing out. He still stopped at the store and bought a few bottles of wine that the staffer told him should go well with dinner. He even bought a bottle of sparkling white grape juice and hoped Chris liked it.
Lou had realized early on that while Buck, Chris, and Eddie hadn’t known each other long, they had been firm and fast friends. Part of the way into Buck’s heart was going to be through Chris. So far, Chris seemed to like Lou, but Lou didn’t want to push it. Lou pulled in behind Buck in the driveway, and he snagged everything he needed to take in. The wines were cold, but he knew there was room for them. Buck liked wine and drank it a fair bit, but he mostly drank beer with Eddie. Lou drank either, depending on what he was eating.
Eddie was at the door when Lou closed the trunk after putting his gun into the safe in the trunk. He would take it out to take it inside when he got back to his place.
“I thought Buck said you would come straight here?”
“Well, this place was on the way, and I decided I didn’t want a beer with dinner. It’s all chilled, but they are ones Buck likes, so he can drink some when I am not here.”
“I’ll put these in the fridge. Which do you want with dinner?”
“Whichever Buck wants. There is also some sparkling juice in there for Chris. He can drink like us.”
“Ah, that’s cool. I’ll get a beer for me and pour some of this out for the two of you. Chris has a wine glass; Buck found him one he might like. We haven’t had a reason to use it yet, so I think this will be fun. Dinner is about ten minutes out. Buck’s just in the kitchen muttering about how the food had to have multiplied like Tribbles when his back was turned. I’m just laughing at him, honestly.”
“Was he bored?”
“No, he was upset a little bit. Something is happening at the 118, and many of them are worked up. I wasn’t much help as he didn’t feel like he should tell me much since I’m still in the academy. I was okay with that, but he’s just…he’s worked up, and I don’t know what to do to help him.”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
“Well, Chris wants to show you the new level he’s unlocked on Mario Kart, so you do that, and then after dinner, you can see about calming him down. Even Daniel hasn’t been able to do anything, and Daniel is always the best at helping to calm down Buck.”
Lou nodded, and he let Eddie tag the bag of drinks off his hands before following the man into the house. Chris was in the living room with controllers in hand. He was playing, and Lou loved it. He looked at the TV screen to see what level Chris was playing, but it was Rainbow Road, which seemed to be his favorite.
Sitting down, Lou waited for Chris to end the game before he spoke. “Good evening.”
“Hi, Lou. Are you ready to see the new level I unlocked?”
“Sure. Then I’m going to go and rescue Buck from dinner.”
“He’s been fussy all evening. Daddy said work made him upset. He’s been in the kitchen all afternoon.”
“Well, sometimes people need to move when they are upset. There is nothing wrong with that.”
“No, there isn’t.” Chris looked at the TV again and picked the level he wanted and who he wanted to play as.
There was not a lot for Lou to do but watch, but Chris at least made it a lot of fun by making noises and doing weird things sometimes. Lou knew that after dinner was mostly going to be no excitement, so Chris was going to get as much game time in as possible.
“Wow, that looked like fun; next afternoon, I am over; I’ll have to see if you can beat me at it or not.”
“I’m sure I can,” Chris said.
Lou stood up, itching to ruffle Chris’ hair, but he didn’t feel they were yet at that level. He turned to find Eddie standing there with a bottle of beer in one hand and a glass of wine in the other.
“Buck, let me try his, and it’s not too bad. I’m still more of a beer person. Buck brought home a dessert wine that was almost nearly as thick as syrup, and it was sweet as hell. It got me drunk on just a single bottle.”
“Dessert wines can mess you up. So, how do you feel about the amount of food Buck made?”
“Stress cooking. I have learned to keep his ass out of the kitchen when he’s stressed.” Eddie opened up the kitchen door and waved Lou inside.
Lou almost turned around to leave again. While there were a lot of items, there didn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason to most of them. He had no idea Buck knew how to cook most of it. He knew Buck had been learning even more than what his captain had been teaching him. He seemed to find solace in food he hadn’t found in his life.
“I think you’ve covered most of the Americas with this.”
“You don’t even know the half of it,” Buck said.
“So, what do you think is the best dish here?”
“No clue. I haven’t even tried to figure that out.”
“Dad says we are doing a buffet tonight,” Chris said.
“It sounds good to me.”
Dinner was just as much fun as their few lunches had been. Buck and Chris were entertaining, and Eddie seemed to think the same thing Lou did. They made it all worth the meal, even if the meals sucked, which this one did not.
“Well?” Buck asked as he laid down his fork.
“Kudos to the chef,” Lou said. He speared the last piece of potato and popped it into his mouth. He was stuffed and tired. He wasn’t sure he was going to be able to drive home. The wine had gone to his head more than he thought it would. He would have to consider leaving his car and getting an Uber home. He didn’t mind it, but he really didn’t want to put anyone out.
“Good enough to eat again,” Eddie said.
“That’s what you always say,” Buck said.
“I know, and I mean it. If I don’t want leftovers, then you know it sucked. If I go and make a PB&J, then you know it really sucked, and I can’t eat any of it.”
Lou laughed at Eddie’s answer.
“What do you like to make, Mister Lou?” Chris asked.
“I don’t actually like to cook a lot. I do it because I have to feed myself. I think, though, if I had to pick a dish I liked to make, it would be the chicken pasta salad my grandmother taught me to make. It’s made a lot like most pasta salads, but there are more veggies in it, and the chicken is diced up as well. It’s a simple meal, and I can make it, and it’ll last in the fridge until I have eaten it all.”
“You’ll have to give me the recipe sometime and then show me how to make it,” Buck said.
“I can do that.” Lou reached out and touched Buck’s hand, happy when Buck didn’t pull his hand away.
“Sounds good. We can easily pick up everything at the store before going and making it.”
“I’m stuffed,” Chris said.
“Agreed,” Eddie said. He started to pile up the plates on the table before standing up. He ruffled Buck’s hair, which had Buck glaring at him.
Lou looked at Buck’s hair to see the curls that were starting to break out there. He had only seen it tamed down and not free-flowing like it was starting to become. It was a good look on him.
“Mijo, head to get ready for bed. You can hang out in your pajamas until it’s time for bed,” Eddie said.
“Okay, Dad. Mister Lou, don’t leave yet, please.”
“I’m not going anywhere, I promise.”
Chris grinned at Lou before carefully making his way to the back of the house without his crutches. It was easy to see how much Eddie loved his son with how the house was set up.
“Normally, I’d say I’ll do the dishes alone, but you did most of them as you were cooking,” Eddie said as he returned to the dining room.
“Habit from the station. It makes things easier. Less mess if you end up running away in the middle.” Buck picked up his wine glass. “All that should be dirty is the pans everything is in, which will just go into the fridge, and then our plates and stuff, and those all go into the dishwasher.
“How are you feeling?” Eddie asked.
It took Lou a few seconds to realize that Eddie was talking to him.
“Tipsy and tired, which I think was a bad idea to drink as much wine as I did.”
“Well, given your size, the couch is a no-go, but you can have my bed, and I can bunk down with Eddie,” Buck said.
“No, I’ll just leave my car here and take an Uber home.”
“No need,” Eddie said. He picked up the plates in front of Buck.
Lou picked up his plates and started following Eddie into the kitchen. He laid the plates down, knowing he wouldn’t be allowed to rinse them off. “I don’t want to put Buck out.”
“Nonsense,” Buck said. He came to rest against the counter near where Lou was. He took a sip of his wine. “That couch is much too horrible for anyone to sleep on. I’ve slept in Eddie’s bed before, and I figure that you’ll not want to sleep in bed with him. If you want me in bed with you, we can also do that. I’ve done a lot of communal sleeping over the years with some of the places I’ve slept. It’s going to be no big deal.”
Lou debated it while Eddie got the dishwasher loaded up and looked like he was debating it all as well. Buck just drank his wine, looking as tired as Lou was.
“Fine. I’ll stay. I have not decided on what the sleeping arrangements will be, but I’ll stay.”
“Good. I’ll make pancakes for all of us in the morning. Get us all off on a good foot.”
“Can we have your special pancakes?” Chris asked as he came back into the kitchen.
Lou laughed at the shirt he was wearing. It looked like an official LAFD shirt that the staff wore, but it was too small for an adult to wear. .
“Brass tried a new company,” Buck said. He laughed a little before drying his hands off and picking up Chris. “They all shrunk horribly in the wash. So they were all given out to kids. I had that one as I had taken it home, thrown it in the wash with other stuff, and then just shoved it away. Chris claimed it when he found it in a box.”
“It’s a good-looking shirt. I’m glad that something came of it. It looks good on you,” Lou said.
“Yeah. I know.”
They all moved to the living room to watch a movie of Chris’ choosing, which he fell asleep during. Then Eddie took him back and read him a chapter of a book.
“Don’t feel pressured. Eddie and I either would be okay with anything. We shared a bed two weeks ago when his sister came into town without notice and didn’t want to be in a hotel. So, really, whatever you want to do.”
“I don’t want you to feel pressured to share with me.”
“I cuddle. If you can deal with that, you can sleep in bed with me. I’m okay with that. I promise. Any erections are yours to take care of, though, just like I’ll take care of my own.”
Lou couldn’t help it. He pulled Buck in close and wrapped him in a hug, pressing their cheeks together. “A real date. As soon as you have a day off that you don’t feel like shit. Whatever you want to do that night as well.”
“Okay. Sure. Whenever we can. I’d like that.”
Buck opened his eyes, and he was used to seeing Daniel and now sometimes Chris with their faces over his, but this face wasn’t either one of theirs. This was the face of a young man. He could even be a teenager.
“Don’t move,” the young man said.
Buck didn’t move. There was another sound of someone else moving around. He took stock of his body, though, as the last thing he remembered was working a fire. He had been working on getting through a fence to gain access to the backyard to work the house from that side.
“It’s safe now. You can move.”
Buck just about reached out to snag the hand of the young man to help himself up, but he stopped when he realized it was a ghost. Buck swallowed.
“Who are you?” Buck asked.
“My name is Jake. I heard someone yelling for you when I was outside. Buck, right?”
“Yes. Where am I?”
“Four houses down from the house on fire.”
“Can you do me a favor?”
“I can’t do much.”
“No, you really can. One of the other firefighters. He’ll be in gear with the name of Diaz; he can see ghosts too. Tell him where I am and tell him to have the cops come. I am guessing I wasn’t kidnapped for anything good.”
“No, he doesn’t like firefighters. He saw you and hit you over the head with a shovel. What is Diaz’s first name?”
Jake nodded his head, and he disappeared. Buck found he had been chained to the floor when he moved carefully as he took stock to ensure that the only thing hurting was his head. He was still in his turnouts, but at least the tanks and such had been taken off him. He wouldn’t want to be stuck here with that all over him. It would make for aches and pains if it took Jake a while to get to Eddie, and it took a while for Eddie to convince a cop he knew where Buck was.
Scooting up, Buck got himself pressed to the wall and got his turnout coat around him as much as possible. The floor was concrete, so he could feel the coolness of it, and it wasn’t good since he couldn’t move around much. He was pretty sure he had a concussion. He felt like throwing up, which he hated.
Buck kept his eyes trained on the stairs leading up to the house’s first floor. He didn’t want to be shocked by the guy coming at him. There wasn’t a lot he could do to defend himself with the concussion and being chained to the wall.
A few minutes later, a scraping sound was off to the left. Buck looked that way, but a shelving unit blocked most of his line of sight of what was going on there.
“Evan,” Lou said.
“Thank fuck, just get me out of here.”
“I will give me a moment.” Lou appeared around the shelving unit, and he was covered in cobwebs. “Jake told Eddie there was a hidden cellar door here. How are you doing?”
“Chained to the wall, and I have a concussion. Not sure about the grade of the concussion, but I’m not going to be able to walk easily.”
“Send down Diaz and Diaz only. I’ll give the okay to breach when we have Buckley secure. Buckley thinks he has a concussion.”
“He’s up in the living room watching TV, the news that is focused on the fire. I think he’s going to wait until everything is done and do whatever he’s going to do to you. So we can wait to get you out. When the breach happens, he’s either going to defend himself up there or come down here to kill you. Which is why me here right now is the best option for what is needed.”
“I think I understood all of that.”
“I’ve got you; that’s all you need to worry about.”
Buck nodded his head. He just wanted to get rid of the throbbing that was getting worse and worse. He was going to throw up, and he knew it.
“Hey, I’ve got you, Buck,” Eddie said a few seconds later. He tipped BUck’s head to the side and laid something over it. “Nausea patch. It’ll help for now. Hen told me to use it on you. She said you didn’t stop throwing up the last time you got a concussion, and the doctor approved you for this.”
“Yeah, it was horrible. I had to get a shot in my butt last time to get to where they could give me scans. I feel a lot like that, honestly. I wouldn’t be shocked if I had a bad one. Jake said he hit me over the head with a shovel.”
“Check him out,” Lou said as he moved away.
Buck tried to reach out and grab him, but Eddie stopped him. Buck opened his mouth to yell at Eddie but stopped when he realized he was listing to the side. Eddie was the only thing stopping him from falling and hurting himself. “Thanks.”
“Welcome. You can cuddle him in the back of the ambo. Let’s see about getting you checked out. Once you are good to move, the sign will go to breach.”
Buck closed his eyes as Eddie moved him how he wanted. Then there was a hand on his wrist, and he saw Lou picking the lock with a set of lock picks. “That’s a little kinky.”
“Got them from the uniform. One too many calls of idiots who had handcuffed themselves to things and lost the key. So they keep a set of good lockpicks, and as soon as Eddie told us you were chained up, they went and got them from the patrol car.”
“Well, that’s good. I would hate to have them have to bring the cutters down here. The sound.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought as well.”
The chain fell off Buck’s wrist, and he pulled his arm to his chest. Eddie was careful as he pulled it away to look at it. Buck had a little red there but not too much.
“He’s good to go. We can move him. There is some blood, but not too much. He’ll be fine.”
Buck closed his eyes again, and he tucked his head into Eddie and let Eddie help him cover his ears. Even with that, the sound of it all made Buck want to gag. He was happy when the noises were done. He breathed through his nose to hopefully not throw up. He didn’t like doing it and just wanted to get to where he didn’t need to worry about it.
“Ready?” Eddie asked.
“Yeah.” Buck kept his eyes closed as he knew keeping them open would just make him worse. He wasn’t sure what he would do when he got out there. The ambulance was going to be hell on him.
Buck focused on his breathing as he let Lou and Eddie guide him out of the house and into the hands of Hen and whoever else was out there. He felt hands on him and knew it was Makepeace. He was glad. He hoped Hen would be the one to drive them, and he only had to deal with the rig. Hen asked too many questions and didn’t always trust him to tell her what was wrong.
Makepeace trusted him to know what was wrong.
“Detective?” Makepeace asked.
“I’ll ride with him to the hospital to get his official statement.”
Buck was okay with Lou going with him. The newness between them was still kind of wonderful. Things had changed a little after Eddie joined him at the 118, but it had ended up pretty good.
Lou rubbed at Buck’s hand and resisted the urge to reach up and brush at the hair on his head. He was sleeping well, which was good as it would help him heal up faster. Eddie told him he had been warned that Buck had the worst luck in the world, but he hadn’t thought it would translate into being taken by a serial killer.
That had been horrible to figure out. Jake was one of the victims, but the man had snapped when he saw the fire department there, and instead of taking young men and killing them, he had snagged Buck to kill him in place of the man who had married his ex-wife. The how of it was stupid as hell. Buck had been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“Lou?” Buck asked.
“Hey, there you are. How are you feeling?”
“In pain, a little bit, but I’m not feeling like I’m gonna throw up as much.”
“That’s good. What do you want to eat?” Lou reached for the two bowls of breakfast Eddie had brought before going home to Chris since it’s what Buck told him to do last night. Eddie had been let go early just to drop it off for Buck since he normally woke up hungry. It would be long before the rounds where breakfast would be offered.
Lou was pretty sure that it was just Eddie being sent to check on him and report back to the rest of the shift. If the fire had happened closer to the end of the shift, Lou figured the whole team would have been left off, and the house kept off rotation for a while. But there was too much time with one of the houses off. So when it was time, one of them had been sacrificed.
“What did Eddie bring over?”
“Plain oats and then one with apples and cinnamon.”
“Hmm, that one. I like the sound of that.”
“And if you start to get queasy?”
“I’ll eat the other one. I’m just hungry.” Buck played with the controls on the bed until he sat up and could eat and drink without choking on it.
Lou handed over the bowl. The oatmeal had been cold when it had been brought there.
“How do you really feel?” Lou asked, remembering Hen saying that Buck liked to cover things up sometimes. He hadn’t been able to check that with Eddie or Makepeace, the people Buck was closest to. Lou hadn’t been around him at all when sick or injured.
“I feel exactly like I told you I felt. Do you need me to explain that sometimes people see something where it’s not?” Buck asked.
“No. She just seemed so worried.”
“Despite being close, Hen is just a paramedic, and I tell her what she needs to know. She doesn’t need to know about me seeing ghosts. You and Athena took to it well, but you also didn’t ask many questions. I don’t use it often, really. Most people just move on, but sometimes a ghost will lead me to someone else in a burning building. I can easily find the survivors, and the ghost moves on. All they are around for is that. To save their friends, family, or just some random stranger they don’t want to die like them.”
“And Hen is overprotective?”
“No, she takes me leaving some things to discuss with my doctor as me keeping things back she feels like she needs to know. If I’m injured, I tell her about the injury I have. I don’t give her a full medical run down if I have hurt my arm. I also just don’t talk about that kind of thing with them. I talk a lot about my life, so I think that some of it is that they think that since I share a lot of the rest of my life with them, I should share all of that stuff with them.” Buck reached out and grabbed the water sitting at his bedside.
Lou let him eat his breakfast as he thought about what Hen had said. It had been different than how Makepeace had been handling Buck, which had made Lou feel a little bad he had followed Hen instead of Makepeace.
“I’m not upset at you,” Buck said.
“No, you are worried. I mean, you had to come and rescue me. Unchain me and then all but carry me out when I couldn’t even walk on my own.”
“Speaking of ghosts. Where is Daniel?”
“With Chris right now. He’s popping in, checking on me, then going to where Chris is and reassuring him. Daniel told me about that last night. The news broke, and my name was dropped and reported on despite the LAFD trying to keep it quiet. He saw that and got really worried. So Daniel is helping to manage him. I think it’s also calming down Eddie some. I mean, it wasn’t like it would be easy to tell Chris a lie about why I didn’t come home with him this morning. Not that Eddie wants to lie about something like that, but still, it’s something to have to keep in mind.”
After only a few bites, Buck looked at the spoon and dropped it down into the bowl.
Lou could see he was tired. Now he understood the whole cold oatmeal thing. Buck handed the oatmeal over, and he looked like all of the wind was out of his sails.
“Go to sleep again. I’ll be right here.”
“Well, I already took care of paperwork overnight, and I was supposed to be off yesterday, and I got called in when an LAFD member got kidnapped working a fire since I work well with the LAPD, of course, the person who assigned that didn’t realize that the man who was taken was also the man who I am dating. It was only when I arrived on the scene. It’s part of why I was sent down inside. I let Athena make the calls on the breach. She’s good at what she does.”
“Athena is great. I need…I can’t just fall asleep right now. The whole thing plays in my mind.”
“Okay, then I’ll scoot around and get to where you can curl on your side like you do sometimes when you are asleep, and you can hold onto me. Will that help?”
“We can try it. Tell the nurse if they come in and wake me up before I get another hour; I’m going to demand to get released.”
Lou nodded his head and kept his laughter to himself. He didn’t want to upset Buck. He looked adorable and like he was a little kid with how open his face was. Lou was pretty sure Buck didn’t mean it, but he also understood wanting to get sleep.
“I heard him. Is he doing okay?” the night nurse asked.
“Yes. I got some of the oatmeal in him that was dropped off. He was too tired to eat more, so he went back to sleep again.”
“Well, depending on the scan in a little while, he might be able to go home later today. Does he live alone?”
“No, he lives with another firefighter who employs a home health nurse to help with his son during the day, so even once Eddie has to go back to work, he’ll have Carla with him. He won’t be alone. It’ll be okay.”
“I’ll make a note in his file for his doctor to look at to help him figure that out or not.”
“Thanks.” Lou reached over for his phone, glad he could do things one-handed on there. He found where he had been texting with Eddie last night. He asked the man to drop off some clothes for Buck. The clothes he had been wearing were dirty and disgusting from the sweat and then the whole thing in the basement. Lou figured it would be better for Buck to have new clothes to change into.
The message stayed unread, but Lou figured Eddie would be trying to get some sleep himself. He doubted many at the station had gotten much even after the news that it was just a concussion had made it to them.
Lou was tired as hell. He had gotten some sleep but not a lot. He would play catch up in Buck’s bed later after shoving Buck into Eddie’s because Eddie had the bigger bed, allowing Chris to easily slip into bed with him. They really needed to get the bigger bed in Buck’s room. It was just big enough for the two of them to sleep in there, but Buck didn’t like Chris laying with him as he was afraid he would fall off.
“How are you doing?” Buck asked a few minutes later his eyes moving around the hospital room. He looked upset at waking up and still being there..
“I’m good. I’m just glad that by the time anyone knew it was you who also knew about us, no one was in a place to get me out of there. I would have hated being stuck on the side of all that.”
“I liked having you come and rescue me.”
“Sleep, Evan. I’ll be here when you wake up.”
“Okay, but only because you asked nicely and only if you give me a kiss.”
“You drive a hard bargain there, Evan,” Lou said. He leaned in and brushed his fingers at the fringe of Buck’s hair before brushing a soft kiss across his lips. “Sleep.”
“Kay,” Buck said. He closed his eyes, and it was like a flip being switched to how quickly he sank into sleep.
Lou wasn’t sure what was coming for them, but he knew he wanted to keep going.
Eddie heard laughing before he opened the door to his house. Lou’s laughter stood out from Buck’s as he entered the living room. Chris dropped dice onto the table, and then he laughed again.
“If you turn the monkeys onto me again, I’m going to tickle you to death,” Buck said.
“Mister Lou will save me from your tickle fingers. You aren’t supposed to be doing anything strenuous.”
Eddie just took in the sight of them playing a game. He wasn’t sure what the game was. He had never seen it before, so it had to be one of Buck’s, or Lou had brought it along. Eddie had covered the start of a shift for someone else who had to be in court over the divorce she was going through. Eddie welcomed the extra hours and helped someone else going through that.
“They have been like this an hour. I think they are playing the game wrong, but Evan’s happy,” Daniel said.
“He is? How can you tell?” Eddie asked.
“He doesn’t seek me out as much, which I think is what I needed. I worried about Maddie’s death doing something to harm him, but he latched onto you, and it might not be healthy, but at least he’s letting people in.”
“Are you leaving?”
“No, I’m not ready to leave yet. He’s happy, but he’s still got some issues from our parents. I think I will stay with him until those are mostly gone. I don’t want him to feel like I left him either. But maybe for the next while, I’ll just stick with Chris. Would you be okay with that? I would go to school with him. Watch over him but not push him to just interact with me.”
“I wouldn’t say no.”
“Did Evan ever tell you about who he thought I was before I thought he was old enough to be told that I was the ghost of his dead brother he had never been told about?”
“Maddie had told him that Guardian Angels watched over everyone and that most people never saw them, but they were always around. I hated lying to him, but he wasn’t ready. I knew he was still too enthralled with making our parents happy. I didn’t like lying to him, but I thought it would hurt him more.”
“Why didn’t your parents ever tell him about you?”
“They erased me totally. They never wanted to think about me ever again.”
“I can’t even comprehend that. I’ve done some shit that is unhealthy, but I never want to think about trying to erase Chris from my life like that.”
“It’s scary. I never…there were issues, but I was a kid and didn’t understand them. I didn’t understand how they could hate Evan after I died. I mean, he has no control over that. If anything, he was made wrong, and that’s not on him.”
“None of it is. So what are they playing?”
“You’ve never seen Jumanji?” Daniel reached out and snagged Eddie’s hand before leading him away.
Eddie laughed as Buck looked up at him with a shocked look.
“When did you get home?”
“A few minutes ago,” Lou answered.
Eddie figured Lou would have been the only one to notice him.
“We can start over and add you into the game.” Buck offered.
“No, it’s fine. I don’t mind just watching you guys for a while. I kind of just want to veg out a little and not do a damned thing. I got a full six hours of sleep last night. I just ran like crazy before it and after it. Bobby had us off for two hours this morning after the call-out at four. We needed to restock the ambo after it since it was a huge pileup, and there was a bit of treat and streets.”
Eddie dropped onto the couch, and Daniel sat down beside him. Then a few seconds later, he slipped down to the floor to be with Chris. Buck leaned back into Eddie’s legs, and Lou just looked at Buck with a smitten look. Lou was at least most of the way in love with Buck, and Eddie knew it. It wouldn’t take much to get him over the rest of the hump. Despite what Buck thought, he was easy to love.
“So, how long will this game last?” Eddie asked.
“Don’t know; depends on how long we take narrating some of the stuff,” Chris said.
“It’s not fun unless you make up the stories to go along with what you are doing,” Lou said.
Eddie wasn’t sure what was going on with the game, but they were having a jolly time, and he liked listening to it.
“Hey, Dad, Lou’s headed to get lunch; we get to be on Buck watching duty.”
“Okay. What’s he doing right now?” Eddie opened his eyes to find Buck curled into the recliner in the corner of the room. He looked like he was asleep.
“Napping. He’ll stay there for at least half an hour. That’s how long he napped yesterday afternoon after I got off school. Mister Lou said he would wait to wake him up when he returned. His sleep has been really off lately.”
“Well, why don’t you watch him while I go in and make some of the tea he really likes that Abuela picked up for him that doesn’t have any caffeine?”
“I can do that.”
“Good.” Eddie waited for Chris to move a little before getting off the couch. He grabbed the blanket that was on the floor. He laid it over Buck, waiting for Buck to settle down into himself a little more under the covers.
There were days he really wanted to give Buck’s parents a piece of his mind. Buck was a beautiful soul who didn’t deserve half of the shit in the world done to him.
Buck heard the knocking on the door, and he rolled over. Lou wasn’t in bed. He groaned and pushed himself up and out of bed. He grabbed a shirt and slipped it on. He found a note on the bedside table and smiled at the jotted note of Lou going to get really good coffee since Buck was finally able to have it again.
He wasn’t sure who was knocking at the door so early in the morning, but he also figured it was someone Lou would want to talk to when he got back. Buck looked to make sure he was decent enough to answer the door.
“Oh, you are not Lou,” the woman said before Buck could say a thing when he opened the door.
“No, I am not. Who are you?”
“You are pretty hot. My brother likes to pick them pretty, and I hope you are just as sweet as he thinks you are, Buck. I’m his sister.”
“Ah, you are Veronica. It’s lovely to meet you.” Buck stepped back to wave her inside.
Veronica stepped inside, and she walked over to the couch. “Lou tells me you are still out with the concussion from work and going a little nuts from being stuck at home, so he brought you back here yesterday. I didn’t realize you were spending the night. I assumed he would be here alone today.”
“He went out to get coffee. I had my check-up yesterday afternoon, and my doctor released me to have it again. The concussion protocol was a little long, given the headaches I was still having after a week. I was gotten good.”
“Yes, I saw the news. I live in Spokane, but I watch the stuff here in LA to keep an eye on my brother. I’ve seen you in the news more than once. You happy with him?”
“So far.” Buck wasn’t sure what he felt about the shovel talk it seemed was headed his way. He just wanted to settle in and go back to sleep with Lou in bed with him. He missed waking up without him there, but he also understood Lou wanting to get him coffee.
“You thinking about him right now?”
“I thought so. That little smile. I’ve not seen that look on your face when you are on TV. It’s a new one. I’m glad you like him as much as he likes you.”
“He’s a wonderful man. I don’t think I’ve ever met someone like him.”
“Despite being a lot absent in our lives because of work, our parents still produced two minimally fucked up kids. When they were around, they were all in on us. They were good people and good parents for the work they had to put in to put food on the table. We knew we were wanted and loved.”
Buck nodded his head. He knew that parents existed like that. He saw it all the time. He also knew Lou never blinked when Buck had trouble sleeping some nights, and it was after a nightmare about his parents, or he just couldn’t get the thoughts out of his head to sleep. Which wasn’t nearly as often as it had been before. The damage from his parents was slowly healing since Buck had started to allow it to happen.
“So, how are you feeling?”
“Good. The headaches are mostly gone. The nightmares are gone. The department therapist is happy with how I am progressing on that front.”
“Hmm, looks like you aren’t that happy about that.”
“It’s not that I’m not happy about it. I have issues with therapists. Thankfully, Eddie helped me pick a good one.”
“My best friend and roommate. The two of us and his kid Chris live in the house. He’s a good man. I was looking to get out of my ex-girlfriend’s place since she had gone off to Europe and was ghosting me. I worried about her and what would happen if she came back and I wasn’t there. Then I realized that I hadn’t been a factor in her plans at all, so she shouldn’t be a factor in mine. It hurt a little bit to leave her, but it was the best thing for me.”
“Sounds like you really liked her if you moved in with her.”
“I lived with a group of people, and things went strange. It just made sense, and I think mostly she didn’t want to be alone. I loved her, or I thought I did. Still, I was hurt when she did what she did. Eddie treated me kind with that. I know he had his own issues. You don’t move away from the bulk of the family without reason. He was running for his life, I think. Not like they were going to kill him but kill who he was.”
“It sucks when family is like that. So you two are already at the sharing clothes stage?”
Buck looked at the shirt he grabbed and found it was one of Lou’s. It was evident as it had LAPD on the sleeve of it. It looked like it was from a sports game of some kind. Buck rubbed his fingers over it, and he smiled. He hadn’t even noticed.
“Your legs are long,” Veronica said.
“Yes. I’m all legs. It makes it hard when my turnouts need to be replaced since legs like mine aren’t standard. Since I’m one of the heavy rescue assets, my turnout pants can get ripped very easily when we do things that make me need them even when it’s not a fire.”
“And that happens often?”
“Not too often, but enough my boss can be found griping about it when it’s budget time. Last time, my boss asked them if they wanted to pay the bill for my hospital visit for burns that my pants protected me from.”
“How did that go?”
“Pretty well when the video was shown to them that a bystander took.” Buck looked to the side as Daniel appeared there, waving to the door. He took off running to the back of the apartment.
Daniel found it worth warning that Lou was coming back. Buck looked back at Veronica just as the door opened.
“Don’t get up, Buck,” Lou said as he came inside. He stopped as his eyes took in his sister. “Oh, I guess you are already up. You are early.”
“I am. I would have come at lunch if someone had told me they wanted a lazy morning inside.” Veronica grinned at Lou as she said it.
“No, you wouldn’t because you are nosy. I assume you introduced yourself?”
“Yes. I wasn’t mean. He’s adorable. He looked all soft and sweet as he opened the door. Did you get enough coffee to share?”
“No. You can make yourself some in the kitchen. I have peppermint in mine, and Buck likes hazelnut right now.”
“Likes it right now?” Veronica asked.
“I bounce through flavors mostly. I just really like trying a lot of things. I’ll get hang-ups on certain flavors for a little while, though. So that’s what he means. I’m really into hazelnut at the moment. So all of my lattes have a little of that in there.” Buck held out his hand for his coffee and took a sip. He smiled before tucking his feet up onto the couch and hovering in like the coffee would warm him up just by being around him.
“Yeah, it didn’t register until right now.”
Lou grabbed the blanket from the back of the couch and wrapped Buck up in it.
“I also grabbed some of that chorizo. So eggs?”
“Yes, please. That would be awesome. I’m really hungry.”
Lou kissed Buck’s forehead as he headed to the kitchen. Buck would follow along behind him when he was warmed up enough, or he ran out of good coffee.
“You can go with him. I’ll be in there in a few minutes.”
“Leave him alone to commune with his coffee,” Lou said with laughter in his voice.
Buck stuck his tongue out at Lou even though his boyfriend couldn’t see him. He hunkered under the blanket a little more, and while he was glad of the air conditioning, it was just a bit chilly inside at that moment. He liked that Lou’s place could get that cool, though. Over the years, he felt like places could never get the humidity out of the air. He smiled before taking another sip of his coffee. There was just a touch of the hazelnut, the steamed milk making the coffee just that hint of sweet he liked.
The sounds from the kitchen were soft and gentle, which Buck liked. It had never really been that way around him and Maddie. She had always tried to control him in some way. Most of it was usually making sure he didn’t upset their parents, but Buck had never really seen siblings in the wild for long periods. He was sure what was going on in there, but he found he didn’t care. Then the smell of the eggs started to overpower the chorizo a little bit; Buck forced himself up. Lou’s kitchen was a wonderful place to be.
Last night he had enjoyed watching Lou cook for them. He wasn’t sure what was going on in there, but he was happy to see that Veronica was just sitting there and watching Lou cook like he had done. He didn’t feel so bad about sitting down as well. A fresh cup of coffee was sitting in Buck’s spot at the table.
“He made it just as you like, saying you would probably want another just for a warm drink along with the juice.” Veronica tapped the table near where the juice was sitting.
“So, Firefighter Buckley, when do you go back to work?”
“I’ve been cleared for light duty in the station in three days when my shift is back. For full duty? Not sure. The headaches are an issue. I don’t want to be in the field if the headaches will cause an issue. Since I was attacked while working because of my job, there will be little issue with getting more medical leave if I need it. Though I also want to ensure not to have too many issues going back. So being the person behind at the station will help me as I’ll be able to work out and get myself built back up.”
“Don’t overdo that while alone.”
“I wouldn’t. I’ll stick to things I don’t need a spotter for. I don’t want to have them all come back to have to save me. That would be the worst thing in the world. I don’t want to be Makepeace.”
“He’s our newest paramedic, but he was a regular firefighter until his body couldn’t take that part anymore. He did the same kind of things I did. So he transitioned to firefighter-paramedic. He’s still around and has to do some of the bigger stuff, but he doesn’t have to do it all the time. Anyway, he was the man behind once because he was cooking dinner. Well, he literally tripped going up the stairs and broke his leg. He just waited for the others to get back to help him inside of having another set of paramedics coming and helping him.”
“I can see him doing that,” Lou said. He approached the table with the skillet full of eggs and chorizo. He scooted some out on each plate before going back for the tortillas.
Buck grinned as he saw it was some of Eddie’s. Buck hadn’t been able to eat store-bought ones since he started living with Eddie. He only did it at the station where it wasn’t possible to make tortillas for all of the meals they ate. Tacos for lunch and dinner were a regular thing. They were easy to make and simple to have each person customize them. It satisfied the picky eaters.
It was simple to just grab one and then layer on some of the mixtures before waiting for Lou to bring the jalapeños that were in the fridge. He put a few on there before rolling it up like he liked it and starting to dig in.
“These are some strange tortillas. Where did you find them?”
“Buck’s Eddie. He makes them and gladly made me some when I said I wanted to do huevos con chorizo. I guess it’s something Buck really likes for breakfast.”
“Any meal,” Buck said once he had swallowed his first bite.
“Yes, any meal. Just usually breakfast.”
“Eddie’s tortillas are great. He’ll make up batches when needed. I’ve been in love with them since he first made them. I wish we could make them for the station more often. I think that Eddie would be making them for days beforehand, given how many we go through when we do tacos for lunch and dinner on shift. I don’t want him to go through all that.”
“Well, I might have to move closer to get these more often. I love them.”
It was just idle chit-chat after that for the three of them, with Buck letting the siblings talk more than anything else. He was starved, which he was happy about. He hadn’t been that hungry for most of the worst of the concussion, and even now, it was iffy if he wanted to eat what he normally did. He knew his body was starting to slim down a little. He would have to bulk up a little but thankfully, not a lot. Under Eddie and Lou’s eyes, he had been able to do some working out at home. It hadn’t been the best, but it had been better than nothing. Especially when Buck’s own brain hated him and didn’t let him just settle in and do nothing.
“I’m good. I’m just enjoying listening to you two talk. I’ve never been around a lot of siblings, and I guess I just assumed most were like Maddie and me.”
“Maddie is your sister?”
“Yes. We had a strained relationship that was interesting, to say the least. It’s a lot to talk about, and I don’t want to burden you with it on the first day we meet. I’ve found that unloading on people right off the bat just tends to make them hesitant around me.” Buck dug into his food again and hoped that nothing else really came up he needed to speak about.
Lou eyed Buck as he came back into the apartment. He looked a little put-out but not too much as he read a book.
Veronica was staying at a hotel since she didn’t want to intrude on Buck and Lou’s time together. Buck had tried to talk her into staying, but she waved it off. Lou knew she also just wanted to give Lou and Buck some space.
“How was work?”
“Court sucked, but court always sucks.” Lou pulled his tie off and dropped it over the back of the couch. He walked around to sit down beside Buck on the couch.
“I’m glad I don’t have to do that as part of my job.” Buck slipped the bookmark back into his book and tossed it onto the coffee table.
“How are you feeling?”
“Yeah? How good?”
“I think I want to pick up where we left off two days ago.”
“Oh,” Buck said. He turned to where he was facing Lou better and smiled at him. “You do, huh?”
“Yes. I do. I think we should move into the bedroom, though. We don’t want to fall off the couch again.”
“No, we don’t. I think I…I think I want to stay here, at least for now. Get settled in and see if we get that far.”
Lou nodded and pressed a kiss to Buck’s cheek before he leaned in again and kissed Buck on the lips. There was something honest about the way Buck pulled Lou to him. It felt a little like coming home.
Buck scooted down to allow Lou to settle on top of him. Lou reached out to touch the side of Buck’s head. He felt around for the bruise that still ached him a little sometimes.
“How is that?”
“I didn’t feel it today when I pressed my head against the pillow.”
Lou twisted around to where he could press a kiss there. He followed a path down Buck’s face until he could kiss him like he had wanted to for days. There had been that fear of him hurting Buck before now. The blood rushing around had caused a few headaches, and so Lou had never wanted to cause that. Then they had fallen off the couch, and whatever rush of arousal they both had was gone.
It wasn’t long before Buck had his hands under Lou’s shirt and worked his pants open.
“Bedroom?” Lou asked.
Buck only nodded and didn’t stop kissing whatever skin he could reach. He whined a little when Lou put himself out of his hold to get up and off the couch. They made their way down the hall toward the bedroom. Lou was glad he had stripped part of the bed off that morning when he had gotten up. It was still a big mess from them sleeping there, but Buck’s side was still half in a cocoon.
Lou laid Buck down, enjoying the feel of how much Buck was clinging to him. He wanted to feel it more, but he also didn’t want to never not feel it in his life again.
“Hey,” Lou said, breaking the latest kiss. He pushed up to where he could look Buck in the eyes. He smiled down at him. “I love you.”
“Shush, you don’t need to say it yet. I just wanted to tell you.”
“No, it’s not that. I just…I’m used to being further in than others in this kind of thing. I love you too.”
Lou kissed him like he was drowning, and Buck was the only source of oxygen. Their other plans could wait; Lou just wanted to run with this for now.
Buck snagged an apple from the stack. He looked at where Eddie and Chris were picking out the avocados for the guacamole. Buck had already grabbed all of the things on his part of the list. Those two took forever to pick the best fruits and veggies, which was why Buck was done and waiting on them when he had the rest of the store.
“Hello,” a woman said.
Buck turned his head to look at her. She was smiling, and he knew she was trying to be cute with the way she tucked a strand of hair behind her head.
“Can I help you?” Buck asked.
“I wanted to see if you could help me get something from the top shelf.”
Buck looked at where the woman pointed, and he saw her cart. He saw a lot of things right around the cart, but none of them were on the top shelf. In this area, the top shelf was for overstock, not things any customer actually had to reach to get. He internally rolled his eyes. She wanted to flirt with him, but he needed to play nice since he was in his LAFD work shirt.
“Sure thing. Hey, Eds, I’ll be over here!” Buck called across the area, and he pointed over his shoulder. He made sure Eddie saw where the cart was before heading to where the woman needed help.
“Thank you,” the woman said as she moved her cart so Buck could grab what she pointed at on the top shelf. She braced her arms on the cart in a way that showed off her breasts, which didn’t actually do a thing for him at all. There had been a time when Buck thought he was the consummate breast man, but there was something about Lou’s laugh which had him thinking he was more attracted to that than he ever had been anything else in the world.
“You are welcome.”
“Did you want to finish shopping together?”
“You done, Evan? We are getting ready to check out,” Lou said as he stepped up with Chris in his arms. Eddie was just behind with the cart and a smirk on his lips.
“Papa, Pop said we could stop and pick up lunch to take home if we hurry,” Chris said.
Buck eyed Chris and the look of pure innocence he had on his face. “Yeah. I’m done. Have a wonderful day, ma’am.”
Chris reached for Buck as soon as he stepped close, so Buck took him and settled him into his arms for a few seconds before he moved him to where he could walk with him. Eddie was already heading to the checkout and was laughing. Chris wiggled to be settled down. Lou handed over his crutches before he followed after his father.
“Eddie told me months ago that you and he get hit on a lot when out working calls, but I guess I never expected that just being in your shirt would do it.”
“It’s the face, the body, and the shirt that just makes them go a little crazy. A guy at the meat counter was eyeing me, but then Robert asked how you were doing. The guy backed off then. He stepped away and didn’t come back toward me.”
“It’s a burden to have someone as pretty as you and your partner in my life,” Lou said.
Buck laughed. He bumped into Lou as they walked toward the register. “So who talked Chris into Papa and Pop?”
“Oh, that was all him. He told me to pick him up, and we would save you from a pretty face.”
“That kid is too much like his father. Though, his mother is like that as well.”
“How is that going?”
“It’s going pretty well. She’s in therapy, and she’s talked to Eddie about a few joint sessions to make sure they can be friends to make sure Chris has both of them in his life. Shannon said she wasn’t sure what she thought of you and me in Chris’ life, but she likes that he has a few other people in his life that she can rely on to support Chris if something happens to her or Eddie. She’s not fighting the thing where Eddie’s making sure that Chris goes to me in his will. Which still freaks me out a little bit. No one has ever wanted to leave a kid with me.”
“Well, you and Chris are like two peas in a pod, but you also are severe in handling him when you need to be. You are not just his best friend when you need to be a parent to him.”
“We have the most head-scratching family in the world,” Buck said. He stopped in place behind where Eddie was waiting in line. They were the next up, but it looked like there was a space just for them as the next person in line behind Eddie was pretty far back. Buck had seen her before, so he figured she knew who they were.
“Did you see it when Hen tried to explain it to that guy who came to visit and found you with your head in my lap?” Eddie asked.
“I think he was going to flip the fuck out when he realized that you and I were all but cuddling, and he knows I’m with Lou.” Buck smiled and picked up Chris to carry him around to help put the groceries into the correct bags. It was one of Chris’ favorite jobs, but they were in one of the inner lanes, so getting around was too far to walk for him, and it was a tight fit for him and his crutches.
“It’s not the worst. I think Shannon would flip out when I opened the door.”
Buck laughed and shook his head as Eddie turned around to glare at him before laying out the stuff to make a cake. It wasn’t box mixes; this was Buck’s from-scratch cake that Chris loved.
“Do you think he and Shannon will get back together?”
“I am not sure. Maybe, maybe not. They love Chris, and now that Shannon has her head on straight and she’s not trying to deal with his parents. Though the whole thing was crazy when they showed up and tried to take Chris back to El Paso last month after they found out Shannon was back in town and their lives.”
“I have never understood less Spanish in my life, and I’m fluent in it,” Lou said. He dropped a few things he had in his hands on the belt before pushing Eddie out of the way of paying.
The grocery bills were much contested. Everyone paid pretty evenly, even if Lou didn’t officially live with them yet. The man hadn’t slept anywhere but with Buck for over a month, but still, he hadn’t given in on moving in yet.
“I thought maybe we could stop and look at the one house as well,” Lou said.
Eddie made a few noises that said what he thought of that, but he walked down to help Chris pack up everything.
Buck just looked at his little family, smiling as he took them in. The future was fluid and always in motion.
Daniel shimmered into view just on the other side of Lou, looking at him like he looked at Buck from time to time. Daniel had been with Chris more and more. Buck tried not to act like it was hurting him. It had at first but talking with Eddie, and then Lou had allowed Buck to understand that Daniel had never meant to stay with him as long as he had.
Ghosts like Daniel were rare. Moving around from person to person and not being fixed in a specific location. Daniel was the kind of ghost that lived with a family, and Chris was family.
“Anything else, Sir?” the cashier asked.
“No, that’s it. Thank you.” Lou took the receipt.
Buck let the sounds pull him back to the present and looked at the cart to see everything was already packed up. He had gotten so lost in his head. Lou wrapped an arm around his shoulders and pulled him close.
“Let’s go home,” Lou said.
Buck nodded, and as they moved outside to the truck, he stopped as he took in Lou’s words. He always said to the house before this. This was the first time he had called it home.
It was home. Their family lived there, as strange as that family was.