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Buck: Long Time

"Well, this is it."

Emily was the first in, wrinkling her nose at the linoleum on the floor. "Haven't they ever heard of carpet?"

"This was probably easier to clean." Mom didn't sound particularly thrilled about that fact, but at least she wasn't lifting any of the area rugs he'd put down to look under them as she prowled around the place.

"Are you certain that this building is structurally sound?" Dad asked, poking at one of the cracks in the wall that he hadn't quite had enough posters or artwork to cover.

"It's from settling. The landlord said the whole building is scheduled to be renovated, but this apartment isn't one of the first ones on the list. The one next door is, though…if I want to move into that when it's done, I have the option."

"Hm." His mother did lift one of the decorative plates he'd put down on the counter, frowning at the burn spots underneath. "That doesn't seem very safe."

"Whoever lived here before probably set a pan down without putting a potholder down first. Eric demoed all of the appliances when I was looking at the place, and they were all working fine."

"You're hardly a mechanic," his father pointed out.

Buck forced himself not to roll his eyes. He wasn't a mechanic, true enough, but he could see flames and smell smoke as easily as anyone else. "The super lives right next door. I'm sure if I have any problems he'll—she'll—" he amended, remembering what Cliff had said—"be happy to help."

"Considering the job that's been done keeping up the rest of this place, I wouldn't be so sure."

He glared at Emily. She was the only one in the family who didn't seem to be overreacting to his impending move, and he needed a little backup on this. Not that she was entirely happy that he was moving out, but at least it wasn't a total freak out like his parents and Vessna were having either. Of course, Vessna was only six, and to be fair across the city probably did feel like across the world to her, but he'd thought his parents would have come to terms with things a little better by now.

He shook his head. At first it had seemed like Dad had been okay with it, but now every time Buck turned around he was coming up with one more little thing that could go wrong, and 'shouldn't you think about this a little more?' He'd given up pointing out that he had thought about it and was just ignoring the whole mess. Of course, then Mom looked at him and sighed, which was harder to ignore.

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Buck looked around the apartment and shook his head. It had the official parental stamp of approval now—albeit not without considerable reservations, and he had a mental list of things he wanted to do before the next time they saw this place—but he couldn't help but feel a little guilty about it. Mom and Dad just looked so miserable…he knew he was doing the right thing, but he still hated upsetting them. With a sigh, he grabbed the screwdriver off the countertop and headed for the door. He'd forgotten to return it before he caught the bus yesterday, and it would probably be a bad idea to irritate the super when he already knew he was going to have to ask for things to be done.

If he concentrated, he could hear some sort of power tool running next door, so she must be around…. He knocked on the door, and then knocked again, harder, when there was no immediate response. Cliff had said that she was human. The sound of the power tool ceased, and a moment later the door opened to reveal a human woman about his age.

"Hello, can I h—" She broke off, frowning. "Buck?"

Buck stared at the woman in front of him. For a moment he didn't recognize her—he didn't spend a lot of time around human females, and none of the ones he did spend time with had scars down the sides of their faces—but when he looked past the scar to the sharp features…. "Sal?" It was hard to tell under the layer of dust, and most of her hair was tied back under a bandana, but the too-pale blue eyes matched what he remembered.

"Hey," she said with a laugh he would have recognized even without the visual clues. "Seriously long time no see."

He shook his head, trying to process. They'd been friends, of a sort, back in high school, but it had been more a case of outcasts sticking together than anything in particular they had in common. They'd eaten lunch together fairly often, since she never seemed to mind the things he'd brought, but he'd talked about literature and politics and current events while she'd talked about engines and cars and construction projects. When he'd finally started making friends among the other students in his advanced classes, they'd stopped spending as much time together.

He'd never been sure what had happened to her…her disappearance had coincided with Mom and Emily ending up in the hospital, and he hadn't even noticed at first. That had been partly because they had stopped eating lunch together all the time—and she'd always been an indifferent student so there was never a guarantee that she'd show up on any given day, anyway—but it was also partly because he hadn't really wanted anything to do with any Terts just then. It hadn't been until a few weeks later, after Mom and Em had recovered, that he realized that he hadn't seen her for quite awhile. And since he hadn't even known where she lived, he hadn't had any idea where to start looking. "Hey," he finally managed. "I—you're the super here?"

"For my sins." She nodded at the screwdriver he held. "So are you my new neighbor, or are you just helping this phantom person move in?"

"Neighbor," he said, offering it. "Thanks."

She took it and tucked it into her tool belt. "No problem; I know how the moving thing goes. I'd have offered to help, but I was already running late."

"Yeah, that's what Cliff said."

She crossed her arms over her chest and leaned against the doorframe. "So you're a cop, huh? That would not have been my first thought."

"Wasn't really mine, either." His mind ran through the collection of the classes at the community college, lessons at the temple, and a dozen other things he'd tried before it finally occurred to him to try the academy before he shrugged. "It just sort of worked."

"As long as you're happy, I guess."

"What happened to you? Back in high school, I mean. If you don't mind. You just sort of disappeared."

Her face darkened slightly. "Yeah. Dad and I really got into it one night and…I don't know. I just couldn't take it any more. Packed my backpack, grabbed my bike, and left."

"Where'd you go?"

"Anywhere. Everywhere. Name a major city in the US—and a couple in Canada and Mexico—and I've probably been there. Was never any good at the school shit, but there's damn near nothing mechanical I can't figure out, so I'd get somewhere, find work for a month or two, and then move on again. Ended up back here a few months ago and heard about Eric buying this place and looking for someone to fix it up, so…here I am." She shrugged. "Aside from the sheer amount of stuff to do, it's working out pretty well."

"Hey, Sal?" a human boy, probably ten or twelve, stuck his head over the railing. "Mama said to tell you the bathroom sink is leaking again!"

"Speaking of," she muttered, and then lifted her head. "I'll be there in a minute, Danny." She turned back to Buck. "I better go deal with that before it does any more damage to the cabinet, but if you need anything—or if anything blows up—let me know. I've got everything critical taken care of at this point, so I can probably get to it in a reasonable amount of time."


He shook his head, turning back for his own apartment as she pulled her door shut and locked it behind her. Of all the people to run into.