Title: Eight Weeks
Author: Keira Marcos
Genre: First Time, Kid!fic, Romance
Relationship(s): Evan “Buck” Buckley/Eddie Diaz
Content Rating: NC-17
Warnings: Violence-Graphic, Homophobia, Explicit Sex, Explicit Language, Discussion-Ableism, Minor Original Character Death, Canon-Typical Violence
Author Note: The canon divergence points happens during the tsunami as Buck and Christopher aren’t separated. Buck has awful parents.
Beta: Jilly James
Word Count: 85,202
Summary: After the tsunami, an event in Buck’s life forces him to make some changes. Everyone in his life reacts in ways that he couldn’t have possibly expected, and his friendship with Eddie takes the most amazing turn.
Eddie was a little lost in thought as he stopped to stand in front of the glass doors leading into the emergency room. There’d been nothing challenging about their last call, but the gaping hole left where Buck should be was starting to deeply grate on his last nerve. His job done, he turned to walk away and ran right into Buck.
Buck laughed a little and grabbed Eddie’s arms to steady them both. “Watch it there, Eds. I’m apparently fragile these days.” He shot Bobby a look that Eddie couldn’t help but want to replicate.
The thing was that Buck had more than proven his ability to work in the field during the tsunami and didn’t deserve to be in the position he was in. Eddie didn’t know what Bobby’s entire problem was, but he was getting pretty fed up with not having Buck at his side for no real damn reason. The longer the situation went on, the more hostile everyone was about it. The fallout had the potential to be devastating, and his main worry was Buck, who deserved the circumstances least of all.
“Are you sick?” Eddie asked as he reluctantly released Buck. “Problems breathing?” He barely refrained from touching Buck’s chest. He really didn’t know if he’d ever get over watching Buck almost die on Athena’s patio.
“Ah, no, this is just the closest entrance to where I parked. Habit, I guess,” Buck said and rubbed the back of his neck and motioned toward the hospital. “I’ve got a date…with the new most important person in my life.”
Eddie’s heart sank a little at the thought of Buck dating again, and could only hope his disappointment wasn’t written all over his face. “You’ve met someone? I thought you were still working your way free of that whole thing with Ali.”
Buck’s eyes widened a bit, and shook his head. “It’s not like that. I’ll see you guys later—I can’t be late for this.”
Eddie watched his friend trot into the ER, sent Bobby a dirty look he couldn’t keep to himself, and walked away. He pulled out his phone to text Buck even as he climbed back into the truck.
Eddie: What’s it like then? Do you need another surgery? Is it a new doctor?
The truck started moving, taking him away from Buck, and that was both annoying and sort of hurtful. He didn’t want to examine that too closely, but he didn’t see Buck as often as he wanted. And a brief interaction with him during a shift that he should’ve been on brought that home. The wait was agony, and five minutes felt like an hour. He started to wonder if Buck was going to ignore him.
Buck: I’m in the waiting room for the Women and Children’s wing. Come find me after shift.
It was the single most alarming text Eddie had ever gotten in his life. He checked his watch and was relieved to see he had just two hours left on his shift. Sitting back, he closed his eyes and tucked his phone away. Women and Children. If it were to do with Maddie, he figured that Chim would know and be a nervous wreck. Which really only meant one thing but speculating would only make things worse. He set it aside and tried not to think about it.
“What’s wrong with Buck?” Bobby demanded.
“Low self-esteem compiled with situational depression because his boss is projecting his own issues onto him,” Eddie blurted out, and his eyes flew open in shock as he really hadn’t meant to say that. He cleared his throat. “It’s personal. He said to come find him after my shift.”
“Situational depression,” Hen muttered. “True, but awful.” She shrugged when Bobby looked her way. “He’s not wrong.”
“He’s on blood thinners and could bleed out on a scene if he took even a minor injury,” Bobby snapped. “You think I don’t miss him? You think I don’t look for him on every single scene? You think I don’t have nightmares about him being pinned under that truck because of me?”
“He proved that the blood thinners aren’t a problem during the tsunami. He saved the lives of dozens of people, including Chris, that day. Buck didn’t stop moving until Chris was safe and sound, Bobby. He pulled people out of the water, out of cars, and did the job without any equipment or backup. Your fears shouldn’t carry more weight than Buck’s own belief in his documented abilities,” Eddie said and turned his head when Bobby started to speak. “I don’t want to hear it, Bobby. Please.”
“I’ll…I need to think,” Bobby muttered. “You can take off once we get back to the station and go see him. He looked like he needed someone.”
“Thanks, Cap,” Eddie said and rested back against the bench, then pulled out his phone again.
Who was the new most important person in Buck’s life? He frowned at his phone and considered going through their text messages to see if he’d missed some off-hand reference to a new woman. Eddie really didn’t think he would because he was stupidly sensitive to practically any situation involving Buck and a new romantic partner.
He knew Buck was hardly celibate, but he’d started keeping his sexual shenanigans to himself because the slut-shaming at the station often took on a stupid, Puritan edge that Eddie really didn’t get. With a huff, he put his phone away because reading through months of text messages would be ridiculous. The fact that he’d kept every single text Buck had ever sent him was also silly, so he just resolved not to think about it and never, ever admit it.
“You got it bad,” Hen said and got several grunts of agreement from everyone in the truck.
Eddie noted that Bobby was no exception to that. He just sent her a look, and she grinned. He checked his watch and did the math. He only had about ten hours before he was due to pick Chris up from school. Eddie wondered if that was enough time to deal with whatever Buck was up to. Somehow, he really doubted it.
* * * *
The waiting room wasn’t very busy, so it was easy to find Buck. Eddie had stopped to get coffee because hospitals were cold, and he figured Buck would need something warm. His best friend’s gaze zeroed in on him before he was halfway across the room. Buck smiled and held out a hand for one of the cups.
“You are a lifesaver,” Buck declared as he held the cup with both hands. “And also, a rock star.”
“Buck,” Eddie began and took a deep breath. “Why are you waiting outside of labor and delivery?”
Buck made a face and stood. “Let’s go over there.” He motioned toward a more secluded part of the waiting room where no one was seated.
Eddie nodded and followed. “You’ve been working on some stuff with a lawyer—I overheard a few things last week when you were over. Are you still thinking about suing the department to get reinstated?”
“No, but I have been offered some more training since I can’t do the work I want. I’m going to get certified for SAR—probably. It depends on a few things and the hours required.” He took a deep breath. “As for my current activity—Taylor Kelly contacted me to tell me she was pregnant, and she was pretty sure the kid was mine. We hooked up a few times, and the timing was right. We had a condom…thing.”
“A condom thing?” Eddie questioned and watched Buck flush. “Break?”
“Lost,” Buck said. “I mean, not completely lost, but it did slip off, and there was some spillage. Taylor said she’d get a morning-after pill, but she got an assignment and forgot. We both got tested and exchanged results, so no problems there. It was just an accident, really, and one we laughed off later. I didn’t know she got pregnant until…well, like I said a few weeks ago. She agreed to paternity testing, and yeah, she’s currently giving birth to my son.”
Eddie took a deep breath and sat down. “Buck.”
“Right?” Buck took a deep sip of coffee and shook his head. “She told me that I could either take complete custody or she would put him for adoption because she doesn’t want kids ever. I asked her why she didn’t terminate the pregnancy. She said she’d seen too much death and couldn’t abort. She’s also scheduled to get her tubes tied today.”
Eddie nodded and cleared his throat. Wrapping his head around the idea that Buck had fathered a child with Taylor Kelly was difficult. “So, you two aren’t going to be a thing?”
“She’s moving to New York as soon as she can,” Buck said. “New job and all of that rot.”
“Child support?” Eddie prodded.
Buck shook his head. “We signed some documents—a surrogacy contract. She said it would be better that way for the kid, and he wouldn’t think he was abandoned by her. It’ll be like I just wanted a kid so much I asked a friend to have a baby for me. But she did set up a trust fund for him that I can use to support him, as needed. She inherited a lot of money from her grandparents. I don’t really need the money, but I left it at that because it seemed important to her.”
Eddie took a deep breath as he tried to unpack everything Buck had said and what hadn’t been said at all. “And you’re okay with all of that?”
“I’d rather him think he’s the product of surrogacy than to know his mother didn’t want him,” Buck said quietly. “My parents didn’t want me and don’t love me, Eddie. I don’t want that for my son. I won’t have that for my son. So yes, I’m fine with what Taylor proposed, and honestly, it’s starting to feel true. I don’t see her as his mother really—just a beautiful woman who’s going to give me a baby and walk away to live her best life in New York.”
“Does she have any biological family that might be a problem?” Eddie questioned and tried to swallow back his own hurt feelings around not being told sooner.
He had to wonder when Buck would’ve told him about the baby if he hadn’t run into him. It wasn’t really fair to be hurt over Buck’s personal choices, and he’d been wrestling with that fact for a while. Eddie knew enough about himself to know that he hadn’t done a very good job of keeping his feelings for Buck a secret from Shannon and that had to have played a part in her asking for a divorce. He felt like shit for it, across the board. She’d abandoned him and Chris, but he was the one that had fallen in love with someone else while they were still married.
“No siblings, some distant cousins, and her father is living in a nursing home in New York. Another reason she’s going back home. She was a late-in-life child for her parents. So, no, it’ll just be the kid and me.” He paused. “And Maddie.”
“And me and Chris,” Eddie said, and Buck turned to look at him. “Why didn’t you tell me about this sooner? I would’ve helped you in any way I could. You know that, right?”
“You’ve been busy with work,” Buck shrugged. “And Bosko.”
“Bosko?” Eddie questioned and grimaced. “There’s nothing there—not at work or otherwise. She’s damned good at her job, but she doesn’t mesh well with the team. The extra support has been helpful with all the structural damage we’ve had to battle through because of the last earthquake and the tsunami, but it’s not the same, and no one is pretending otherwise.”
“Except Bobby.” It was hard to miss the sour tone or the hurt that drifted over Buck’s face.
“Especially not Bobby,” Eddie protested and sighed. “He’s a big ball of angst-ridden guilt, Buck. He blames himself for what happened to you, and he’s petrified you’ll die. When he started getting the reports about all the stuff you did during the tsunami, without a team or backup or even semi-useful equipment, he was honestly a hot mess. Hen sent him home.”
Buck laughed. “Shut up.”
“And threatened to call Athena if he didn’t leave, so he went home and sulked. Then started sending us texts because he took his laptop and kept reading incident reports from your rescues being interviewed and processed at the temporary hospital. You were lucky to have slept for most of that day.” He took a deep breath to settle himself, so he could concentrate on being what Buck needed at the moment. “So, what happens next?”
“Taylor’s been in labor most of the morning,” Buck said. “Her water broke late last night, and despite my offers—she took an Uber here. She called me to tell me I could come wait because they think she’s close. Once the baby is here, I’ll be allowed to go back and take care of him until he’s released from the hospital. I’ve already set up his insurance and stuff, so that’s one less thing to worry about.”
“And this is why you didn’t sue the department and Bobby,” Eddie said and swallowed back a sigh. He knew Buck had the grounds to sue, but he thought it would ruin the other man’s career.
“You know he deserves it,” Buck said. “He needs a big old fat wake-up call, and a lawsuit would serve that purpose, but it would probably ruin my reputation with the LAFD and city government. I’m kind of heartbroken about it, but I’ve got to concentrate on my son right now and making sure he gets everything he needs.”
“Your apartment isn’t ideal for this,” Eddie said. “So, what’s the plan?”
Buck grimaced. “I haven’t had time to search for something else. I considered another apartment, but I think I want a yard. Buying a house is stressful, and I’m not sure what I want. I was more focused on the legal aspect to make sure all of my parental rights were protected.”
“Are you set up at home?” Eddie questioned, and he started to mentally rearrange his house to make room for two Buckleys.
“Not much since I plan to move—supplies, clothes, and a Pack ‘n Play thing that Carla said would be perfect for now. I already have the car seat ready, but I figured I wouldn’t bring that in until tomorrow. I have picked out the crib I want—it’ll convert into a toddler bed.” Buck took a deep breath. “I haven’t told Maddie, either.”
“She’s…gone through a lot, and this felt like it should just be my deal until he’s here. Or maybe I’m being selfish and unreasonable—I don’t know. Anyways, I’m allowed to have a second person with me, and I can put you on the list as a visitor. You’ll get a little wristband and stuff. If you want.”
“I definitely want,” Eddie assured, and the little knot of worry in his chest started to loosen. “I’ll take some leave and help out.”
“Buck, come on—you’re my best friend,” Eddie said. “And if you think I’m just going to leave you to this, then you’re just crazy. Why don’t you come to my house with him? I’ll get everything set up, and you can bring your son home to Chris and me.”
“Home,” Buck said. “That sounds like an invitation to move in.”
“Look, I think you’re an amazing person,” Eddie said, and he watched Buck’s cheeks go pink. “And I know you’re going to be a fantastic dad. But infants are crazy, exhausting work, and doing it alone is going to be harder than it has to be because I’m right here, and I’ve got months of leave just sitting there unused. My guest room is set up, and there’s room for a Pack ‘n Play.”
Buck cleared his throat, and his eyes got wet, but he nodded. “I…Carla said she would help, but she has work. I don’t want to take advantage of her or interfere with her care of Chris.”
“Well, having us all in one place would make it easier for her to boss us around,” Eddie said and grinned when Buck laughed. “Have you thought of a name?”
“Yeah…” Buck nodded and cleared his throat. “Colin Edmund Buckley.”
Eddie blinked in surprise. “Buck.”
“He’s gonna be a super pasty kid considering how fair skinned me and Taylor both are, so Edmundo didn’t seem like the right choice, but Edmund…well. Is that cool?”
“It’s…amazing,” Eddie said and blinked back tears. “I can’t believe you. You said that you’ll be in a room here?”
“Yeah, our insurance is actually really good on this front. I’ll have twenty-four hours in the room to stay with the baby unless he has issues and is in the NICU, which no one expects. She had an utterly average pregnancy. Taylor will be moved out of maternity as soon as she’s stable, unless she has a c-section, then she’ll probably go into recovery for a bit. Either way, she doesn’t want to be around the baby.”
It sounded a little heartless to Eddie, but he tried to wrap his head around Taylor Kelly’s decision regarding her child and Buck. He was on board with it because he really didn’t want to have maneuver around her to have Buck and Colin in his life. Personally, he couldn’t stand Taylor Kelly and knew that she’d used Buck in the past for sex. He figured that was actually the same set of circumstances that had resulted in a baby. Buck didn’t seem all that broken up about the situation, and he clearly hadn’t seen her much after the conception, or he’d have known she was pregnant far sooner.
“Do you think she might change her mind?” He really hoped not, but a part of him couldn’t imagine not wanting to know his own child.
Buck laughed a little. “No, she’s vehemently opposed to motherhood, kind of furious about her figure being destroyed, and uninterested in even setting eyes on the baby. I don’t get it, but I respect her honesty. In the end, she’s giving me something amazing, and if she can’t see that, then that’s fine. I’ll see it for both of us, and I’ll love him enough for a hundred people.”
“Sometimes, I think that Shannon really didn’t want kids either,” Eddie murmured and felt guilty for the admission. Shannon’s death weighed heavy on him, and there was a lot of processing to do that he’d been avoiding. “We started young with the accidental pregnancy. I think if she weren’t Catholic, she would’ve aborted. She loved him, but I don’t think she loved motherhood. I wish she could’ve been honest with the both of us about that.”
“What if I fuck it up?”
“You won’t,” Eddie assured.
“Eds,” Buck began, then sighed. “I’m gonna be a mess.”
“You are one of the bravest men I’ve ever known,” Eddie said quietly. “You’re strong, loyal, and competent. You’re going to own this whole dad thing, and I’ll be there to help, like I said.” He took a deep breath as he considered how to say what he wanted. “I wanted to bring you back to my house after your surgeries, but you seemed so determined not to need anyone, and I respected that choice as much as I hated it. Then, you know, Bobby kidnapped you and took you home with him for weeks.”
Which Eddie had privately resented the hell out of. He’d never been all that jealous of Buck’s father-son relationship with Bobby Nash. There were plenty of people at the station who were, though. He had, however, been really irritated to be sidelined when it came to Buck’s care after the ladder truck bombing. Granted, he had no sort of claim on Buck beyond friendship. He just wished he did.
“All the baby stuff is set up in the living room area,” Buck said. “I thought I’d just sleep down there on the couch and take care of him until I figured something else out. I don’t want to risk having him in the loft. What if I trip and fall with him on the stairs?” He shuddered. “He’s going to be this tiny, helpless person, Eddie. My hands are too big. I’m too big. What if I drop him? What if I fall asleep and he suffocates or something? What if I hold him too tight or too loose and I drop him? Or break him?”
“You’re not going to do any of those things,” Eddie said with a laugh. “Will you stay with me for a while? Let me help?”
“A little while,” Buck agreed.
“Great, I’ll move all of his stuff tonight, pack you a bag until you can get over there yourself, and call the captain about some leave,” Eddie said. “Did you want to…he’s gonna ask about all of this.”
“I’m not keeping Colin a secret, Eddie. I just…I’m working my way through this one day at a time, ya know? Maybe I did it wrong, but it was a big decision.”
“A life-altering one,” Eddie agreed softly. “And I’m really proud of you. I don’t mean that to be condescending. I’m proud that you made a choice for yourself and that you’re clearly at ease with that decision. I would be just as proud if you’d arranged to have him adopted because I know you’d be making the best decision for him and you.” He paused. “I’d also, obviously, have lobbied hard to take your kid home with me.”
“Because you’re going to have an awesome kid.”
“It’s weirdly starting to feel real,” Buck admitted. “I don’t know what to do with myself here, Eddie, but I can’t let that get in my way.”
“You’ve never let that get in your way,” Eddie agreed and grinned when Buck sent him a dirty look.
Buck stood and walked over to the nurse. “Hi, Dana, is it time?”
“Ms. Kelly came through the birth with no complications and has been moved at her request to recover outside of the maternity ward. Your room is set up for you, and your admittance has been fully processed. We’re waiting for you for the first bath if you’re ready?”
“I…yes, this is my best friend, Eddie Diaz. I’d like to add him as my official support person in all of this. I was told I could have one.”
“Of course,” Dana smiled. “We’ll get him registered while you’re handling the bath. Congratulations, by the way, he’s a real heartbreaker already.”
Eddie followed them, stomach tight with nerves. He pulled his phone and texted his abuela because he’d meant to go grocery shopping in the hours between his shift and picking up Chris from school. Then he texted Carla because he was at a loss and figured she might want to know the baby had arrived. He was directed toward a large desk, and the nurse took Buck away with her.
* * * *
Buck hesitated, and that was so rare of a thing that he shocked himself. He thought he’d prepared himself as much he could for what was going to happen. As he stared down at his son for the first time, Buck realized nothing could’ve prepared him for it. He swallowed hard, and rubbed his fingers over his heart gently as he watched Colin wiggle in his little blanket. Love welled up In him like an ocean and he found himself blinking back unexpected tears. Out of all the reactions he’d worried about, crying hadn’t come close to making the list.
Since research had always soothed him, Buck had looked up a bunch of stuff online and had taken a crash course on diapering from Carla. She’d shown up at his loft with a weird baby doll and made him practice. So, he was ready for that, but he hadn’t had to bathe the weird baby doll.
“It’s okay,” Dana said in a tone that told Buck she was barely refraining from laughing at him.
“He’s really small.” He cleared his throat. “I’ve only held two newborns my whole life, and those were both emergency situations.”
“Tell me about them,” Dana encouraged as she guided his hands into place. “You know your own strength, Mr. Buckley. It’ll be fine.” She pressed a soft, damp cloth into his hand. “His temperature is stable, so we’re going with a gentle wipe down for now and, if you wish, a bath later.”
“The WHO says that babies shouldn’t be fully bathed for the first twenty-four hours,” Buck said. “But some research says that six hours is okay.” He looked up and flushed at the look he was being given. “I research when I’m nervous.”
“We normally wait about six hours,” she said in amusement. “He was placed under a warmer after birth and brought into the nursery. We’ll move you both to the room you’ve been given.” She paused. “Well, the room you’re paying a stupid amount of money for.”
Buck bit down on his bottom lip. “It’s not needed, right? I can stay in the waiting room and visit him in the nursery whenever it’s allowed until he’s discharged.”
“No, we’re having a slow night. I was told you’d be willing to give up the room if we need it. It’s nothing to worry about right now.” She cleared her throat. “I have to say, when we were told about the whole thing, we were a little concerned about some rich brat coming in here and tripling our workload.”
“Well, I’m not that kind of a brat,” Buck said wryly and grinned when she laughed.
“No brat at all, apparently. You were the firefighter from the ladder truck bombing, right?”
Buck nodded but focused on Colin, who was pursing his lips and wiggling gently on the thick cloth pad he was laid on. The warming light was doing its part to keep the baby warm, but he didn’t want to let Colin get cold. “You can ask.”
“Everyone has a question about it—something they want to know about the bombing,” Buck said and shrugged.
Dana shifted around him and helped him wash the baby’s back and head with a quiet, pensive look on her face. “I don’t have a question about it.”
“Not about the bombing itself,” she admitted. “I like to reframe my own traumas and difficult times into moments of learning. So, I suppose I would ask what you learned about yourself during your recovery.”
Buck considered that because no one had ever come close to asking him such a thing. “The only thing I really remember about that night is all of those people coming to help my team lift that truck off me, and it was humbling because they were just regular people rushing toward a bomb scene to rescue me. Life is precious. It’s a lesson I’ve been taught repeatedly, even before I became a firefighter, and I take it with me wherever I go.”
“Like during a tsunami.”
“Worst day of my life,” Buck admitted, not really surprised she’d connected all the damn dots, and focused on his son. “The universe tried to break me wide open that day. Every moment of it was exhausting, painful, and hard. That day, I learned that life is stupidly fragile.” He cleared his throat. “The first brand new baby I held…. The girl gave birth without her parents knowing and dropped her newborn down a plumbing pipe.”
“I…” Dana took a deep breath. “Jesus Christ.”
“Yeah,” Buck murmured. “She lived though and was put into foster care. She was adopted shortly after she got out of the hospital. They tell us to leave them at the doors and…I just couldn’t do it. I checked on her more than once. The second baby, I helped with the delivery. His mother should try out for one of those warrior competition shows. I barely had anything to do.” He cleared his throat. “I know I’m not allowed to know anything about the surrogate’s health information at this point…but is she okay?”
“She came through the birth perfectly okay,” Dana assured. “And told me to tell you that she forgives you for the new spread of her hips.”
“Nothing wrong with a little extra curve,” Buck said and grinned when Dana laughed. “I’m glad she’s okay. I figure she’ll text me later.” The baby opened his eyes as Buck carefully wiped his face. “We both have blue eyes…do you think his eyes will stay blue?”
“You didn’t research it?” Dana questioned with a laugh. “Two blue-eyed people make blue-eyed babies. He’ll be stealing hearts in preschool no matter which one of you he looks like, though.”
Buck nodded. “Taylor’s beautiful.” And cold-hearted, his brain unhelpfully supplied. He took a deep breath and focused on Colin. “Did she hold him?”
“Right.” Buck cleared his throat. “I want to do skin-to-skin like we discussed. Will that be something for the room?”
“Yes, so you can both be comfortable. Bonding with him will be your primary concern over the next several weeks.”
“Because he doesn’t have a mother.”
“Because,” Dana began, “a strong parental bond is paramount to development. Don’t let anyone pressure you into finding a woman to mother your child. A loving parent is all that a child truly needs—gender is irrelevant.”
Buck nodded. “I get that intellectually, but….”
“Look, I know she’s not really a surrogate, and that’s some legal arrangement the two of you to made,” Dana said. “She told me everything since I was her support during the labor. Ms. Kelly also told me that you are the best man she’s ever met in her life and that she knew you were going to be the best possible choice for the child she didn’t want.”
“Sometimes, I think she’s too honest for her own good,” Buck confided. “But I do appreciate everything she’s done for me.” He focused on his son and gently touched the baby’s cheek. “And Colin.”
“Colin. It’s lovely.”
“Colin Edmund Buckley. We can go ahead and start the paperwork with that name. Taylor said that you’d handle getting her signature on the birth certificate.”
“I will, yes.”
Buck nodded and focused on Colin, who was squirming and crying softly. “Shouldn’t he be louder and….”
Buck huffed. “My baby is not annoying.” He flushed when she laughed. “Seriously, though.”
“His cry is fine. He’s just kind of uncomfortable being naked. We’ll get him a diaper and a blanket soon.”
Soon turned out to be much faster than he anticipated, and he found himself walking beside the bassinet as they were taken to the room. Buck couldn’t bring himself to speak as Dana explained everything in the room and motioned him toward a chair.
“If you sit, I’ll bring Colin to you.”
“Oh.” Buck took a deep breath. “You’re just gonna let me hold him and stuff?”
“Well, from now on, Mr. Buckley, you decide who holds your son.” She motioned to him. “Take off your shirt and take a seat.”
Buck blinked and wet his lips before clearing his throat. “Okay.” He pulled the shirt over his head and cleared his throat when her mouth dropped open. “Sorry?”
Dana blushed. “No apologies necessary. Take a seat, please.” She picked Colin up as he sat and unwrapped the blanket they’d carefully swaddled him in before putting him in the bassinet. “We’re going to let him rest on your chest and drape the blanket over you both, so you’ll share your body heat with him. It’s going to make him feel safe on an instinctive level.”
Buck’s hands were steady as he accepted the baby, and that in itself was a surprise. He let Colin rest on his chest and took a deep breath at the soft skin against his own. Fatherhood was a mystery, and he’d never expected it to feel the way it did. He barely took note of the nurse leaving him alone.
“I told myself that I wasn’t going to make any promises to you that I can’t keep.” Buck took a deep breath against the soft hair on his son’s head. “So, I’m just going to try really damn hard to never let you down. Okay?” He blinked back tears and relaxed against the chair. “Okay.”
By the time Eddie finished filling out forms and showing his ID, his grandmother had promised to stock the house with food, and Carla had told him she’d take care of picking up Christopher. He appreciated the process since the bracelet gave him a lot of access to the ward, and that equaled a lot of very vulnerable babies.
He fingered the little plastic bracelet on his wrist as he headed for the room. Eddie stopped outside of the closed door, leaned on the wall, and made the call.
“Hey,” Bobby said. “Is he okay? Was it a doctor’s appointment?”
“It was…Buck’s fine,” Eddie said. “I need to take a couple of weeks of leave, and I know it’s not a great time.”
Bobby was silent for longer than Eddie thought was reasonable.
“We have plenty of people floating from one house to another because several stations were essentially destroyed during the tsunami,” Bobby said quietly. “Is there anything you can tell me about this? Because if he’s…in trouble, I want to help. I know he can’t stand me right now and blames me for all hoops I’m making him jump through to come back to work….”
“He’s not in trouble,” Eddie said. “Something happened that’s going to change his whole damn life, but it’s beautiful and amazing. I can’t tell you the whole of it, Bobby, because it’s not my news to share. I just need to be here for him for the next couple of weeks. He’ll be living with me for a bit.”
Bobby exhaled loudly. “Jesus, Eddie, I don’t want to beg here, but….”
“He’ll call you,” Eddie promised and winced. He had no real business making such a choice for Buck, and he knew it. “Probably in a couple of hours. I’ll make sure he does. I promise you, sir, there is nothing dangerous or life-ending going on over here. His world is just new.”
“Three weeks,” Bobby said. “I’ll clear it and take care of staffing. If you need more, ask. You’ve got two months of leave built up. Let Buck know that I want him to call and if he can’t call…ask him to at least text me. I’ll back off.”
“He doesn’t hate you, sir,” Eddie said quietly. “I know I’ve been an asshole about this whole situation, and that’s not fair. The fact is that not getting to come back to work broke Buck’s heart, and seeing him hurt like that was just about my limit.”
“I know, which is why I haven’t written you up for being an asshole,” Bobby said wryly. “Text me if either of you need anything.”
Eddie ended the call and tucked the phone into his jeans before opening the door. Buck was sitting near the back of the room, with his shirt off, holding a baby against his chest. He stared for a moment like he didn’t regularly see Buck bareassed at the station house. There was something so lovely about the two of them in that moment that if Eddie wasn’t already stupidly in love, he’d be done for.
Buck looked up. “Hey, Dana said skin-to-skin contact was important. I haven’t read about it much, so that’s something to do later.” He adjusted the blanket covering the baby’s back. “We’re doing this for a bit.”
“The captain wants a call—I told him to give us a couple of hours. He gave me three weeks off. I think he believes you’re dying, and I’m not telling him to be an asshole, so…ya know.”
Buck seemed to consider that and shrugged. “I probably wouldn’t want him to know because he’s already treating me like a child, and getting sick or whatever would just make it worse. Fortunately for him, I have my hands full, and filing a lawsuit against the department stopped being a thing for me as soon as Taylor contacted me.”
Eddie hadn’t considered the lawsuit a good idea and had said as much. Buck had worked too hard to blow his wad on that kind of thing. He did think Bobby was in the wrong but hadn’t been sure legal action would benefit Buck in the long run. Eddie used his phone to text Chimney and Hen—letting them know that he was taking a few weeks off, and it was their job to verbally berate their boss as politely as possible about Buck while he was gone. He got thumbs-up emojis from both of them then follow-up messages demanding to know what was going on with Buck.
“Chimney and Hen want to know what’s going on,” Eddie said. “You need to call Maddie and confess, Buck, so we can just send out a mass text welcoming a new Buckley into the world. Of course, they’re all going to lose their minds.”
The door opened, and Athena Grant crossed her arms and stared pointedly at them.
“Hmmm.” Buck blew out a surprised breath. “Hey.”
“Evan Buckley.” She glared at him. “You should have a private registration so you don’t have visitors without your permission. This is a delicate time, and bonding is important.”
“Did you tell Bobby?”
“Is he standing behind me giving you puppy eyes?” Athena questioned and raised an eyebrow.
Buck laughed. “Come in.”
She came in and shut the door. “I meant it about the private registration. Take care of that as soon as you can. I just walked in and asked for you and got a room number. They didn’t even ask for my ID.”
“You’re in uniform.”
“Uniforms can be purchased,” Athena told him and peeked at the baby. Her face softened. “I told you not to chase waterfalls, baby.”
“I still don’t know what that means,” Buck admitted and flushed when Eddie laughed. “Colin Edmund Buckley. Twenty-two inches long, nine pounds five ounces.”
“Big boy, but he probably got that honest,” Athena murmured. “He’s beautiful, Buck. Are you willing to tell me how you got here?”
“Condom accident, a woman who never wants children, and a really good lawyer,” Buck explained. “The mother came through the birth fine and is recovering in another part of the hospital.” He focused on the baby. “She didn’t even hold him.”
“Her loss is definitely our gain,” Athena said with a soft smile. “I can’t stay, but send me a text with your baby registry. I can’t believe you didn’t tell us sooner—we could’ve had a baby shower before he was born. Now, you’ll just have to endure whatever Bobby and I decide with an infant in tow.”
Buck took a deep breath. “I don’t have a registry. I bought some stuff—clothes and whatnot. A Pack ‘n Play. His car seat is in the car. Well, SUV. I traded in my old Jeep for an SUV. Something with more room and a better safety rating.”
“Good idea,” Eddie said.
Athena turned him. “Paternity leave with the department is eight weeks.” She quirked an eyebrow when his mouth dropped open.
“Hmmm, that’s….” Eddie trailed off. “Right. I’ll talk to Bobby about it after he knows the whole thing.”
“I can handle this on my own, you know,” Buck said, and Eddie turned to find him glaring at them both.
“Of course, you can,” Athena said. “But why should you have to? You’re family, Buckaroo, and that’s everything to me.” She checked her watch. “You have 24 hours to make a registry before I do it for you.” She smiled, took another peek at the baby, and sighed. “Welcome to the world, Colin Edmund Buckley. Next time I see him—I’m holding him.”
“I’m surprised you didn’t ask,” Buck said.
“He needs to be with his daddy right now,” Athena said. “No need to pass him around like a sack of potatoes just yet. Skin-to-skin time really is very important, so don’t slack on it.” She leaned forward and pressed a kiss to Buck’s forehead. “Good job.”
“No lecture about…responsibility?” Buck questioned in clear confusion.
“While you’re sitting here holding a child whose mother didn’t want him?” Athena questioned. “Accidents happen—it’s how we deal with them that speaks to character, and you’re one of the best young men I know.” She poked Eddie as she passed him. “Eight weeks. He’s gonna have one hell of an adjustment period.”
“I’ll take care of it,” Eddie called after her as she left but then focused on Buck. “She’s also right about the private registration. You’ve got fans, which is weird, but you keep going viral on the damn internet. There’s an entire Insta dedicated to pictures of you rescuing people during the tsunami from security cam coverage and cell phones. Christopher went through the whole thing and tagged himself with my Insta.”
Buck grinned. “I know. I helped him do it. You don’t post on it much anyways, and you’re the one that said he could play with it as long as I watched.”
“Did you want to hold him?”
“I’d love to,” Eddie admitted. “But Athena’s right—he’s where he belongs right now.”
Buck focused on the baby. “How do you love someone this much this fast? I…don’t understand it.”
“I’m sure there’s some rational response about instincts and the propagation of the species,” Eddie said. “But honestly? Babies are just magic.”
* * * *
Eddie set up a registry at Target and another on Amazon while Buck had a visit from Maddie, who had fallen in love with her nephew on sight and promptly burst into tears. He wandered toward the nursing station since he hadn’t had an infant in forever and honestly had been overseas for most of Christopher’s first year.
All four people behind the counter turned to stare. “My friend doesn’t have a registry for the baby, and I’ve been working on it. He’s got the basics at home already, and a crib picked out. I was hoping you might have a list of things a dumbass parent needs or, you know, a pamphlet or something. I’d rather not have to admit to my abuela that I’m utterly clueless about this stuff since I have a nine-year-old, and she already questions nearly all of my life choices.”
He got four delighted grins and a sheet of paper with a bunch of stuff written down categorized by need. The must-have list was actually very short, which surprised him. At the top of that list was love.
“Well, he’s got that first thing covered.”
“You’re not telling us anything,” Dana said in amusement. “He fell like a ton of bricks right there in front of me. It was charming.”
Eddie nodded. “Just a head’s up—we’ll probably have a steady flow of visitors because he kept this whole thing to himself. I’ll try to keep them in sets of two or something like that.” He waved the paper a little. “The post-arrival baby shower is already a threat.”
He checked the time as he walked and sent a message to Christopher promising to be home for dinner. There was a response by the time he reached the door. Apparently, Eddie’s presence for dinner was unnecessary unless he showed up with Buck. Eddie sent his kid an emoji sticking his tongue out and imagined the way it would make Chris laugh.
Buck and Colin had graduated to a bottle by Eddie returned to the room.
“Apparently, I’m undesired at home unless I’m bringing you back for dinner,” Eddie said. “Where’s Maddie?”
“She said I shouldn’t allow visits over thirty minutes because I deserve privacy,” Buck said. “She kissed me a bunch and told me I was amazing, then she left. She’s probably having a complete freak out to Chimney on the phone. I should call Bobby. I don’t want him to hear it second-hand. Would you?”
Eddie sanitized his hands quickly from the bottle on the wall when Buck offered him the baby. “Yeah, of course. Every chance I get.”
Buck laughed and took a deep breath as he pulled out his phone. “This shouldn’t be hard, right?”
“Life isn’t easy, but…” Eddie shrugged. “Would it mean as much if it were? Oh, I set up registries for you at Target and Amazon and got a list from the nurse’s station for new parents. We can fill them in tonight. Is Maddie coming back?”
“Maybe with Chim. I told her you were staying with me for a while and that I was going to move in with you. She wanted me to move in with her but seemed to be okay when I told her I’d already agreed to infiltrate your house and get squatter’s rights.”
Eddie grinned, then focused on Colin. “Your daddy is terrible, Colin. But don’t you worry, I’ll be here to keep him in line.”
Buck walked across the room and leaned on the wall by the bathroom. He rubbed his chest as he waited for the call to connect.
“Buck.” Bobby cleared his throat noisily. “Athena said you looked fine, and I shouldn’t worry. I’m sorry she came over there. I should’ve realized she would. Maddie just got here, and she’s in a group hug with Chim and Hen that’s been going on for five minutes. If you told Athena what’s wrong, she kept it to herself, so…if you could just get it out really quick, I’d appreciate it.”
Buck smiled and lowered his gaze to the floor. “Nothing’s wrong, Bobby. I got some news a few weeks ago, unexpected but, in the end, not unwanted. Taylor Kelly and I, well, there’s a baby. He was born today, and she surrendered custody.”
“Yeah. Colin Edmund Buckley. Twenty-two inches long, nine pounds five ounces.” Buck took a deep breath. “He’s perfect, Bobby. I’ve had my share of life-altering experiences, you know.”
“You have,” Bobby agreed. “Maybe more than your share.”
“But today—I feel new and stupidly calm when I should be a complete mess. I’ve never, ever fallen in love so hard and so fast in my life.”
“After seeing you today,” Bobby began quietly, “and because Eddie told me about myself, yet again, I came to realize that I was trying to see something of me in you. You didn’t speak to me, barely spoke to him, and I realized that my fear of losing you on the job was causing me to lose you every other way possible.”
“Just let me…” Bobby took a deep breath. “I can’t really explain myself except to say that you’re a son to me and when that little bastard was walking around you with that bomb strapped to his chest…I haven’t felt that way since I was dragged out of that apartment building in Minnesota. I was so stupidly reckless that night that Athena couldn’t even lecture me. She just stared at me for what seemed like hours, then put me to bed like a child. I never wanted another moment like that, ever, and Eddie is right—I’ve been putting my fears for you ahead of your acknowledged and clearly documented abilities. I don’t know how you can forgive me for that.”
“It’s what family does, right? Forgive each other?” Buck questioned. “I knew it wasn’t malicious or cruel. I can’t say it didn’t hurt because I worked hard to come back. I’d never want to risk anyone on the team, Bobby. I put so much effort into recertification so I could trust myself on the job, and then you slapped me in the face with your lack of trust.”
“That’s not what.… I trust you, Buck. With our team, with my life when it comes right down to it. I realized the night you were hurt that there really is no limit on how far I’d go to protect you. It’s probably, honestly, detrimental to my ability to function as your boss. But I don’t want you on the job under anyone else’s command, either. I know you’re precariously close to going that route.” He paused. “Or at least you were.”
“Colin changes things,” Buck agreed. “And yeah, I considered it. I’ve got an offer on the table from the 56 and another from the 133. You probably heard about them.”
“Captain Mehta told me I was out of line keeping you on light duty,” Bobby admitted. “But he also promised to look after you if you transferred to his house.” He cleared his throat. “Is that what you want, Buck?”
Buck huffed. “No, you asshole.” Because he wasn’t on duty of any sort and hadn’t been for a while, so he was going to use the opportunity.
Bobby laughed in startled surprise. “Right. Well, I submitted your paperwork to return to work when I came back here, so you’ll be getting a notification soon. Now, I have to put you and Eddie in for paternity leave. I’ll get the paperwork ready for the two of you to finally declare and get that out of the way so no one will question him getting a full eight weeks.”
Buck let those words tumble around in his head and couldn’t make sense of it. His mind darted back to what Athena had said, and he huffed a little. They thought he and Eddie were a couple. Immediately, he wanted to correct Bobby’s assumption, but the denial stuck in his throat when he looked over at Eddie and his son. The man looked utterly besotted, and it made Buck’s heart hurt a little.
Bobby ended the call with the promise to visit with Athena later in the evening if they were welcome, and Buck agreed that they were. He tucked his phone into his jeans and stared at Eddie and Colin.
“Carla is going to bring Chris and Abuela up to see him,” Eddie said as he looked up and focused on Buck. “They told Chris that you had a happy surprise for him, so he’s very excited.”
“Bobby thinks we’re partners,” Buck blurted out and tried to ignore the way his face was getting hot. “I mean like a couple.” He paused. “A romantic couple.”
“Ah,” Eddie said and nodded. “Eight weeks.”
“Eight weeks,” Buck repeated. “He’s going to gather all the forms so we can sign waivers and stuff to work together in the same station as a couple, Eddie.”
“And I’ll get full paternity leave, and it won’t impact my vacation time or sick leave,” Eddie said. “Sounds great.”
“Sounds great?” Buck questioned. “Dude, they think we’re having some epic romance here.” He waved between them.
“Well, we have an epic something,” Eddie said wryly, and Buck couldn’t help but laugh. “Don’t sweat it—now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure the entire 118 thinks we got together after the tsunami. What with your badass heroics—rescuing people and carrying my kid across the city back to me, and how I glomped onto you both like an octopus when we found each other. I don’t remember this, but apparently, they had to force me to let go of the two of you. I was teased for a week about it.” He looked down to the baby and pulled the bottle free then checked the contents. “Just a little under half an ounce.”
“Normal?” Buck questioned.
“Very from what I remember, which isn’t much,” Eddie said. “Put this in the mini-fridge, and we can warm the rest for him later.”
“If we were a couple, I sure as hell wouldn’t have kept this whole thing with Taylor to myself,” Buck pointed out.
“You’re a thoughtless boyfriend, as it turns out,” Eddie agreed. “I hoped for better but expected worse.”
“Man,” Buck muttered but pulled out his phone. “Hold him up so I can get a picture. Maddie’s probably told the whole world by now, might as well introduce him.”
“No, you hold him for the picture,” Eddie said. “His first Insta post should be the two of you.”
They changed places, and Buck brushed his fingers gently through Colin’s soft strawberry blond curls. “Maddie said I was born with a head full of hair, too. Apparently, she was bald for a whole year.”
“Chris is going to be over the moon,” Eddie said as he took several pictures.
“I hope so,” Buck said. “It would suck if he was upset about it.”
“He might get a little jealous,” Eddie warned. “He’s used to not having to share you much at all with other kids, and Colin will take up a lot of time. I’ll try to manage his expectations while you figure this out. He’s got a lot of heart and loves easily, so I think he’ll fall in love just like the rest of us.”
“He’s the best kid I know,” Buck agreed. “Thanks for being here, Eddie. I just…I was trying not to be a burden on everyone.”
“You aren’t a burden.”
“For a while there, that’s all I was,” Buck said evenly. “I couldn’t even drive myself, and none of you would let me get in an Uber.”
“Like we were going to trust some stranger to drive you around while you were vulnerable.” Eddie scoffed. “Come on.”
Buck shook his head but focused on his son, which was still something to get used to. “He’s asleep. I should put him in the thing, right?”
“Well, you can’t spoil a baby, but he’d probably sleep better in the crib,” Eddie said. “No one is going to fuss at you for holding your own baby, and if they do—tell them to fuck off.”
Buck stood and put Colin in the bassinet, then stared at him for a few moments before Eddie waved his phone in his face. He took the phone with a look in his partner’s direction then pursed his lips. “Are we really not going to correct Bobby about the whole relationship thing?”
“He’d think we were in denial,” Eddie said wryly. “Especially since you and Colin are coming home with me. Then we’d get a lecture about trusting him and the rest of the team. Hen would look at us like we were idiots until we apologize. There’s no need to go through all of that. Plus, we’d probably get lectures about being in touch with our feelings, and Bobby might threaten to send us to couple’s therapy like he did Chim and Hen when they fought last year over who was a bigger Lady Gaga fan.”
“Clearly, Chim is a bigger Lady Gaga fan,” Buck said, and Eddie nodded his agreement. “Anyone seeing him in a karaoke bar can attest to that.”
Eddie settled down on the couch, and Buck just sort of gravitated in that direction as he browsed through the pics that had been taken. He dropped down beside him, and Eddie threw an arm around Buck’s shoulders. Buck briefly considered the position, wondered when they’d stopped having personal space, and shoved it aside so he could concentrate on bragging about his son on Instagram. Though he did double check to make sure he was on his private one versus the one he kept for the public that the department PR team had all but insisted on.
“I should’ve told you,” Buck said.
“It would’ve been nice,” Eddie acknowledged. “I thought we were in a good place, Evan, but maybe we’re not.” He sighed when Buck stiffened up and pulled him a little closer. “Listen, I don’t know your whole story, but I’ve been waiting a while to hear it. I can wait a little longer, but please trust me when I say that I want you in my life. My son adores you and, over the years, I’ve grown to deeply tolerate you.”
Buck huffed. “Shut up.”
“If you can’t trust in any of that completely, then know this—I would do nothing to break my son’s heart, and losing you would do just that.”
Buck relaxed a little and nodded. “You’re a great dad.”
“Buck, did you think I would tell you to put him up for adoption?” Eddie questioned quietly. “That I would question your ability to be a father?”
“Maybe,” Buck whispered. “I mean…I’m a fuck up, right?”
“I’ve been hearing that since I started,” Eddie said. “But I’ve never seen any real evidence of it. You’re a great person—strong, loyal, and determined. You’re a hell of a firefighter, and I never worry about you not having my back in the field. The way you love my son—sometimes it leaves me breathless. When it comes to Christopher, you give me 110 percent, and I hope you’ll give me the chance to do the same.”
“I stole a fire truck to get laid. It was in maintenance, so it wasn’t like I took something that would be used…still….” He shrugged. “And people were really pissy about the fact that I barely got fired, and I didn’t apologize for the whole sex part.”
“I can’t say I didn’t do some dumb shit in the Army on that level,” Eddie said. “Not about getting laid since I was married, but yeah, I did some dumb shit. Never got caught.” He laughed when Buck huffed dramatically. “There was a lot of slut shaming on the job before Abby, right? Is that why you clung to that relationship even after she started to ghost you?”
“Maybe,” Buck admitted. “I didn’t want them to go back to doing that, but it might have been healthier just to say something. After Taylor and I confirmed paternity, I started seeing a therapist again. Well, mostly for the first time since the only other time I’ve been to therapy—I had sex with her in her office during the appointment.”
“You what?” Eddie demanded. “Your therapist…Jesus…Buck. What?”
Buck flushed and averted his gaze. “She was a fan, and I was sitting there telling her I thought I had a sex addiction, and the next thing I know, she was in my lap. I barely kept her off my dick while I put a condom on.”
“Did you say no?” Eddie questioned in a clipped tone.
“No, I know it was unethical behavior for her, but honestly, Eds, I like to fuck, and I’ve never been all that fussed how I get it as long as it’s safe and consensual. She worked for the city, so there was an investigation. As it turned out, she’d banged more than one patient—she has a uniform kink. There was a malpractice lawsuit, so I got a settlement along with some cops, paramedics, and a few other firefighters. I had a college loan, so I paid that off and put the rest in savings for a while. I used some for my apartment and put most of it went into a high-interest savings account, and I added to my IRA.
“I felt bad about taking the money.” He shrugged when Eddie huffed. “Dude, I realize that it was wrong, sort of. I should’ve said no and put her shapely ass back on the sofa so I could leave, but I don’t necessarily regret any of it. I felt guilty for a bit because she lost her license to practice, but she clearly had some problems with boundaries and was in the wrong line of work to have that kind of…fetish.”
“I should give you some kind of lecture about this,” Eddie muttered. “But I’m glad you took the money and did something positive with it. Here’s hoping she got help for her sex addiction.” He paused. “Do you still think you’re a sex addict?”
“No,” Buck murmured. “I was just lonely, and it was…sort of manifesting as skin-hunger. I don’t even jerk off daily, so it clearly wasn’t even about sex or getting off. I’ve had some time to think about it and, with Abby, sex wasn’t often due to her living situation and the fact that she couldn’t leave her mom alone when Carla wasn’t on shift. I didn’t consider it a problem at all in our relationship.”
“Is that how you ended up hooking up with Taylor after you were injured?” Eddie questioned. “Because Ali left?”
Buck shrugged. “She’s great in bed, and I wasn’t doing much of anything else, so doing her wasn’t a hardship. And I guess I was lonely. We had a lot of fun, and there was never any attachment for either of us, so it wasn’t a lot of emotional burden going on until….” He glanced at his son. “Well, that’s a different ball game, isn’t it?”
“Not even in the same league.”
“This is the best day ever,” Christopher declared as he stared at Colin. “Can I hold him?”
“Absolutely,” Buck said before Eddie could express his concern. “Let’s get you seated, buddy.”
Eddie took a blanket, rolled it up, and put it under Chris’ arm as his son got settled on the sofa. They used some wipes to clean Chris’ hands. Buck picked Colin up and, in just a few spare moments, Chris was holding and staring at the baby, awestruck. He realized, in that moment, he was watching his son fall in love for the first time, and it hurt in the best way possible. Clearing his throat, he turned to his grandmother and found her near tears as she stared intently at Chris and Colin.
“A baby is such a gift,” she said gently. “A blessing in such unusual circumstances. I’m so pleased for you both, Edmundo.”
Eddie shared a look with Buck as he realized his grandmother thought they were a couple, too. He hadn’t ever thought she would be homophobic, but he had worried she’d disapprove of him personally due to her religion. He watched her sit down beside Chris and let himself rest against the wall as Carla joined him.
“Thanks for bringing them both, Carla.”
“Well, there wasn’t room in your kitchen for all of us,” Carla said wryly. “When we left, Bobby was taking over the food projects Isabel had started, and Maddie Buckley was running around the whole house like a mad little thing making sure everything was ready. She did your laundry. I barely talked her out of ironing.” She paused. “Though, she could be ironing right now for all I know. She said everything had to be perfect when Buck came home with the baby.”
Eddie laughed. “I need to go to Buck’s and pick up the supplies he purchased. They’ll discharge Colin tomorrow afternoon.”
“Let me do it,” Carla said. “I’m officially off-duty. Maddie and Chim are staying at your house to watch Christopher this evening. Isabel will be switching out with Bobby once Athena is off-duty to finish off whatever cooking needs to be done.”
“How much food are they making?” Eddie questioned in alarm.
Carla shrugged. “Bobby was talking about buying a chest freezer when I left.”
“You’ll be grateful,” Carla assured. “Soups and casseroles freeze very well, and you’ll be feeding yourselves, taking care of Chris, and taking care of a poop-machine whose sole purpose on Earth is to eat, sleep, and steal your heart.”
Already taken, Eddie thought but turned to watch his abuela gently lift Colin from Christopher’s hands.
“Hola, Colin,” Isabel murmured. “I’m your abuelita, and I plan to spoil you rotten.”
“That sounded like a threat,” Buck protested, but Eddie noticed his cheeks were flushed and his eyes were wet with unshed tears. He wondered when Buck would stop being surprised by the love people had for him.
Eddie watched his best friend take a half dozen pictures and walk away, probably to post them on Instagram. “Hey Buck, do you mind if Carla goes and gets Colin’s things?”
Buck looked up with a smile. “That means you can stay with us tonight.”
“Yeah,” Eddie agreed and was relieved that Buck seemed outright pleased by that possibility.
Eddie left the wall and walked over to the sofa so he could squat down. “What’s up, mijo?”
“We don’t have any toys or stuff for Colin, so we should go to the store,” Christopher said. “And he needs a bed and a baby monitor and maybe one of those things to monitor his breathing. Stephanie at school said her mom got one for her new little brother because her first little brother stopped breathing in the middle of the night and died. We can’t let that happen to Colin.”
“It’s called an Owlet,” Carla supplied. “It’s a little sock you put on the baby to monitor his breathing, heart rate, oxygen levels—through your phone.”
“Owlet,” Eddie murmured as he stood and pulled out his phone. That was definitely going in his Amazon cart. “We’ll take care of him.” He pressed a kiss to Chris’ forehead and stood.
Too late, he realized that he wasn’t just going to have to manage his own expectations regarding Buck and Colin, but also his son’s. Chris was staring intently at the baby, clearly so pleased by everything that was happening. He hadn’t realized that Chris even wanted a sibling, but it was obvious that he did. He focused on Buck, who was staring at Chris with a fond, relieved expression.
* * * *
“Apparently, that Owlet thing will have some false alarms,” Buck said as he read from his phone. “This one guy says they’re just for paranoid parents.”
“Then we’ll be paranoid as fuck,” Eddie muttered as he read through the procedures for infant CPR for the fourth time.
He couldn’t really account for his anxiety regarding the baby. Maybe he hadn’t known enough about how fragile a baby was when Chris was born. But working, as he had, as a first responder had brought that fact home to him in some deeply painful ways, repeatedly.
Buck bumped his shoulder with a laugh. “Yeah, I’m glad Chris wasn’t upset.”
“More Buckleys to love is never a bad thing,” Eddie said and glanced Buck’s way. “Bobby and Athena will be here soon.”
“Yeah, Carla and Maddie are at my apartment,” Buck explained. “I guess I’ll sell it. It’s not going to work for a kid without some major construction, which would destroy the vibe.”
“No, it’s definitely a bachelor’s pad,” Eddie agreed. “Is it paid for?”
Buck flushed and shrugged. “Yeah.”
“Then maybe keep it as an investment property—rent it out. It’ll be a good source of income,” Eddie suggested. “How much money did you get from the settlement?”
Buck took a deep breath. “There were twelve of us, and we split a settlement of thirty million.”
“Holy shit,” Eddie muttered. “Are you…seriously?”
“Well, my case was included because there was proof, Eddie. She really fucked up some of those guys—two were married, and their wives divorced them because they cheated, which is on them but also, I wonder how much she manipulated them. Another wasn’t straight—not a single bit of bi-curious in his whole damn body, but she convinced him that sex with her would be therapeutic, and it would save the marriage he was pressured into by his parents.
“I tried to get out of participating because she hadn’t fucked me up like she did them, but she sent me several text messages after the fact. In one, she admitted to fucking me in her office and suggested we set up another appointment because she liked riding my big dick.” He flushed when Eddie gaped at him. “So yeah, my participation meant that she eventually confessed during mediation, and those guys got the compensation they deserved. I did suggest it get split between the eleven of them, but they refused because my evidence was the tipping point. So, I took the money, and most of it is sitting in the bank. I think I’ll start some college funds.”
“It’s expensive, so giving Colin a head start is a good idea,” Eddie said.
“Well, Chris will start that process first,” Buck murmured as he shifted his son on his chest and adjusted the blanket since he was unswaddled for skin-to-skin time. “What does this do anyway? The nurse explained but, honestly, it’s a blur because I was so excited to finally see him.”
“Hmmm, I don’t know. I wasn’t around for much of it when Christopher was born. Shannon mentioned it now and again because she was breastfeeding.” Eddie browsed through the various tabs he had open in his browser. “But I did do a search on it—one sec.”
“Is he going to miss out a lot by not getting to breastfeed?” Buck asked and frowned as he rubbed Colin’s back.
“Fed is best,” Eddie murmured. “And modern formula recipes are designed to nourish a baby. We’ll just get the very best one and go from there. Okay so, skin-to-skin benefits for the baby—better oxygen levels, improved brain development, parental attachment, deeper sleep states, stronger immune system, thermoregulation, and it can also stabilize the heartbeat and breathing. There’s some stuff about breastfeeding after that.” He flipped back to the registry. “Cloth or disposable?”
Buck made a face. “I mean…environment, but also convenience. I did get two packages of plant-based ones. They’re bamboo, and the maker has a recycling program. I figured I’d know if I liked them by the end of the first package and could sign up for a subscription.”
“Sounds good,” Eddie agreed. “I’ve got mostly gender-neutral stuff picked out. Cool?”
“Cool,” Buck agreed. “We can let Chris pick out some clothes, too. He’d like that.”
“He will,” Eddie said. “What did you mean about Chris and college?”
Buck raised an eyebrow when Eddie focused on him. “He’s brilliant, Eddie, and deserves the best. I have all of that money.… In the scheme of things, it isn’t a lot, but I’m good with my money and already had quite a bit in savings. I just don’t believe in being careless with my financial future. I guess my parents are to blame for that—I was stupid with their money for years, and it got old.” He shrugged. “I should set up college funds for all the kids. May will go soon—I’m sure Athena and Michael have something set up for her, but it wouldn’t hurt to add to it, right? And the little ones—if I set them up now, they’ll build interest, and their parents can add to them as they can.”
There was a knock at the door, which saved Eddie from figuring out what to say. He swallowed hard and stood. “I’ll get it.”
Athena was still in uniform, but Bobby was dressed casually and had a sack in hand that Eddie hoped meant food. He really didn’t want to try to tackle the hospital cafeteria for that. Though, he had figured he could talk someone into bringing them food.
“Hey, come in; we’re back on skin-to-skin, but the timer should be going off soon.” He motioned them in. “Thanks for helping organize my house, Bobby.”
“Communication would do you boys a world of good,” Athena muttered and sent him a dirty look. “Even if you didn’t have an exact date—you could’ve prepared more.”
Eddie just shrugged because, suddenly, eight weeks of paternity leave was really super important, and he didn’t want to miss a single bit of it. He closed the door behind them as he resolved to never tell anyone that he hadn’t known about the baby in advance.
“We requested the private registration,” Eddie said. “Better late than never, I suppose. None of his fans seemed to have noticed he was here.” He rolled his eyes when Athena laughed. “How does that even happen?”
“Gorgeous firefighter running around being a big damn hero in the media age?” Athena questioned. “He’s practically a walking billboard for the LAFD.”
“Oh, you mean the department’s PR team is…putting that stuff out there?”
“Some of it,” Bobby said. “With Buck’s permission—he doesn’t like it and liked it even less after the bombing. So far, they’ve respected his desire regarding interviews.” He offered the bag. “Sandwiches, chips—easy stuff. I didn’t know if your room would have a microwave.”
“Thanks.” He inclined his head. “Go on, Bobby. He’s probably about to combust with the need to show Colin off.”
Buck did his best not to stiffen up when Bobby hesitantly sat down with him. They’d been in a terrible place for a while, and it was painful. The night Taylor had told him about the pregnancy, he’d driven halfway to Bobby and Athena’s house before he’d even realized it. It had hurt, a lot, that he hadn’t felt like he could go to them for support during one of the most emotionally wrought moments of his life. It had been a big decision, and he’d made the choice alone because he was the one who’d have to live with the entire consequence.
Maddie had been too thrilled to meet the baby to really delve into the circumstances, but he figured she was going to interrogate him soon enough and figure out how long he’d known and how much he’d kept to himself about the whole situation. Buck loved his sister, but sometimes she treated him like a child, and he hadn’t wanted that attitude from her on top of the rest of his situation.
“Aren’t all babies?” Buck asked curiously.
“In their own way, I suppose,” Bobby said with a laugh. “I was breach myself—had a cone head for a full month afterward. The pictures are not kind.”
Buck laughed a little, and his phone went off. He reached out to end the timer but didn’t move the baby, who was sleeping soundly. “Sorry to spring this on everyone.”
“You owe no one an apology,” Bobby murmured. “Children change everything, and you had the right to adjust privately to those changes. I am sorry that you felt you couldn’t come to me, though.”
“I almost did the night she told me, but I didn’t want to be told I was a fuck up,” Buck admitted and glanced toward Bobby only to find him looking shattered. “Shit, sorry.”
“You are not a fuck up,” Bobby told him. “Reckless? Certainly, but also incredibly brave, self-sacrificing, and heroic as hell. None of us could have the jobs we do if we weren’t prepared to be reckless with ourselves. We often meet people on the most difficult day of their lives—in some cases, the worst day they’ll ever know. We can’t change that.”
Buck nodded and shifted Colin around so he could wrap him back up in the blanket. “Do you want to hold him?”
“Of course,” Bobby said.
He transferred Colin into Bobby’s hands and decided to ignore the slight tremble to the older man’s fingers as he brought the baby close to his chest. Buck grabbed his T-shirt and pulled it over his head.
Bobby exhaled slowly. “Look at you, kiddo.”
“Here, Athena, take my place.” Buck stood from the sofa and smiled when she hesitated. “I haven’t eaten since I got here.”
She frowned, pointed him toward the bag that Eddie still had in hand, and slid onto the couch beside Bobby. Buck forced himself to relax as he joined Eddie, where he’d put the bag down on the tray table.
“How did you manage to get a room and admission as the father?” Eddie questioned as he pulled out some water and opened one.
“My lawyer handled everything for me,” Buck admitted. “The hospital, insurance claims, etc. My only stipulation was that if they needed the room for an actual patient in labor, I would immediately give it up. They have some empty rooms right now, so it’s fine, but I double-checked with the nursing staff when I was admitted that the plan was still viable. I didn’t want anyone to think I was misusing resources just because I have the money to do so.”
Eddie nodded. “Eat.”
“Bossy,” Buck muttered but pulled out a sandwich and started to unwrap it. “Oh, roast beef. Did you check in with Chris to make sure he did his reading?”
Eddie sent him a look. “I got a few pictures proving he was working on it from your sister that were clearly posed.”
Buck laughed. “Well, it’s Friday night, and she’s always been an enabler. He’s probably too excited to sit still for long. We can get him back on schedule by Monday.”
Eddie nodded and dug out a sandwich of his own. “I’ll put the rest in the mini-fridge. Which I can’t believe you have.”
Buck flushed and shrugged. “This is one of the best labor/delivery units in the city. I wanted to make sure Taylor and Colin had the best care possible. Women can die during birth, and…that would’ve been traumatic as fuck, to be honest, considering she never planned to give birth at all.” He pulled out his phone and browsed through his messages.
“Has she contacted you?” Eddie asked curiously as he tucked the bag into the mini-fridge and returned to the tray table they were sharing.
“Earlier, she sent me a text telling me she was out of recovery and in a room.” Buck took a deep breath. “She wished me luck, told me to contact her only if absolutely necessary going forward. A clean break is best, right?”
“Right,” Eddie said lowly.
“That didn’t sound like agreement,” Buck said. He knew it sounded cold, and it had stunned him from the start. But he’d come to understand Taylor’s point of view after several discussions. He couldn’t agree with it on any level, but he understood her bone-deep desire to never, ever be a parent.
“I’m just…startled by her lack of interest in her own child. I don’t get it, and that’s fine, I guess.” Eddie shrugged and took a big bite of his sandwich. “Even halfway around the world, the highlight of every single day was getting a new picture of Christopher. Shannon was really good about keeping me in the loop—pictures, videos, emails.” He took a deep breath. “It wasn’t enough in the end, but it was more than I had a right to expect considering how things were.”
“You gotta stop being so hard on yourself,” Buck said firmly then focused on Bobby and Athena, who were just staring at his kid in silence. “You two okay over there?”
“Perfect,” Athena said and just smiled. “Happy to be here.”
* * * *
“You should be sleeping because he won’t sleep long.”
Buck turned toward Eddie, who was curled up under a blanket on the sofa and eased out off the hospital bed. His friend sat up, so he walked across the room to sit with him. “I can’t sleep.”
“Afraid he’ll stop breathing or something?”
“It’s a concern,” Buck admitted. “But also, I’m just so excited and happy and crazy with relief that everything went okay.” He snuggled in close when Eddie wrapped his blanket around them. “Thanks.”
“I was up for two days straight when Christopher was born,” Eddie admitted. “Then I passed out and was utterly useless for a bit, but Shannon just laughed at me. My parents were less than thrilled with me. I’ve often wondered if that was the start of them thinking I was a terrible father.”
“That’s not about you,” Buck said tiredly. “That’s about them and their belief that they know best. Also, they’ve probably never seen Christopher as a grandchild, but more like their own child. It’s why they resented Shannon so much and why they fight you constantly for control over Christopher whenever you’re in the same room together. He’s a do-over for them or at least for your mom.”
Eddie was silent for a moment but then sighed. “Their ableism drives me insane, and it makes him furious. The last time they were here—they came over for breakfast, and my mother tried to dress him like he as if he were a toddler. Of course, he had a complete meltdown over it, and they blamed me for his lack of emotional control as if she wasn’t responsible for his tantrum. I’ve told them repeatedly that he’ll ask for help when he needs or wants it.”
“You blame them for Shannon leaving,” Buck guessed.
“They share part of the blame,” Eddie said roughly. “The lion’s share is mine because I wasn’t around much and, when I was there, I never supported her against them the way I should’ve. They’ll run roughshod right over me if I allow it, and that’s the main reason I came to California. I needed mental space and physical distance to get my head around everything. More importantly, Christopher desperately hated El Paso. He hated his school; he couldn’t stand going to their house whenever I had to work, and I had to bribe him regularly to prevent tantrums. It was unhealthy for us both. I think he’d probably sue for divorce like some kid in a TV movie and move in with you if I tried to move back to El Paso.”
Buck laughed. “Well, no need to worry about that since going back to El Paso isn’t on your agenda, but if you went nuts and tried it—I’d pay for his lawyer.”
“No, not ever. I don’t even really want to visit,” Eddie admitted, and he checked his watch. “He’ll be up soon to eat.”
“We should call Chris to tell him goodnight,” Buck said. “So he doesn’t think we’ve forgotten about him.”
“It’s too late,” Eddie admitted. “He’s already getting ready for bed. Best to let him settle down so he can sleep properly.” He squeezed Buck’s shoulder a little when he made a huffy sound. “Relax, he’s pretty confident that we both love him. He’s not going to feel forgotten. He goes to bed without us all the time when we’re at work.”
“It’s not the same, though,” Buck muttered and frowned. “I didn’t think all of this through, you know. I sort of narrowed my focus to the legal issues and ignored the rest.”
“That’s fine,” Eddie assured. “A kid is life-changing, Buck, and you’re allowed to fumble around a bit as you figure out how things will work going forward.”
“No one’s been…” Buck trailed off because he didn’t know how to say what he was thinking without sounding deeply insecure. “Everyone’s been so nice about it.”
“Did you think they wouldn’t be?” Eddie asked.
“I mean…yeah.” He shrugged when Eddie huffed under his breath. “Sometimes the jokes at the station take on a mean edge, you know?”
“I’ve noticed,” Eddie admitted. “I’ve never said anything to anyone because I figured you would if it was getting to you.”
“Most of the time, it doesn’t, but I’ve been out for a while, and the last time I was in to use the gym—one of those assholes from C shift made a comment about me being a charity case for the city at this point.”
“Well, those assholes are on C shift for a reason,” Eddie pointed out, and Buck laughed. “No one likes them. A lot of it is jealousy, you know?”
“Jealousy?” Buck questioned with a frown.
“You’re the captain’s favorite,” Eddie said wryly. “And that’s no secret to anyone. The man risked his life for you while he was suspended, and we could say he would’ve done it for any one of us, but it was clear that his emotional investment in you made him reckless as hell.
“He took time off work regularly to help you with physical therapy—rearranged schedules as much as possible to make sure that one of us was always with you when you were still in the hospital. Then he basically kidnapped you to his house once you were discharged.”
Buck laughed. “Man, I thought I was never going to escape their house. I considered asking you to come break me out.”
“He’d have probably fired me,” Eddie muttered. “Also, I’m pretty sure this is why people think we’re a couple.”
Buck hummed under his breath. “Well, I’m not giving up cuddling time because of people’s assumptions.” He paused. “Unless it bothers you?”
“It doesn’t,” Eddie said. “If it did, I would’ve already told you.”
They stayed as they were for a few moments, then Colin stirred and Buck left the sofa in favor of picking up his son. Eddie retrieved a bottle of formula from the box they’d been given, attached a nipple, and started warming it under hot water.
“Will you feed him? I’d like to go downstairs and get the stuff I have—car seat, diaper bag, etc.”
“Sure,” Eddie said. “But I could go get the stuff if you want to feed him?”
“I’d like some air, and the opportunities for feeding him appear to be never-ending.” He grinned when Eddie laughed.
* * * *
Buck leaned against the new SUV. He kind of missed the Jeep, but not as much as he’d thought. The Subaru was dark gray, so that was something to get used to. The salesman had said the color name several times, but he really didn’t remember it. It looked cool, was new, and would have the room for Colin and Christopher, plus everything that came with going anywhere with two kids. Also, it had a very good safety rating, and he knew how important that was.
He looked up and found his sister and Chim standing a few feet away. “Hey.”
“Is something wrong?” Maddie asked urgently as she hurried to him.
“No.” He shook his head and cleared his throat. “Everything’s fine. I came down to get Colin’s stuff and to get some air. I thought you were spending the night with Christopher?”
“We are,” Chim said. “Bobby and Athena are there now finishing up the last of the cooking, at least for today, and overseeing the delivery of the chest freezer that we went in together to buy.”
Buck laughed a little. “I really don’t think Eddie was prepared for all of this when he offered.”
“This is the new car?” Maddie questioned and peeked in the window. “Nice.”
“I figured the Jeep wasn’t big enough for both kids.” Buck took another deep breath and looked up at the sky. “Plus, it didn’t have a particularly good safety rating. I didn’t realize that or I’d never transported Chris in it regularly.” He exhaled slowly and let his shoulders relax.
“Are you having a panic attack?” Chim questioned.
“No, I feel stupidly calm,” Buck admitted. “I think I every right have a bit of a freak-out, but everything feels fine now that he’s here. Experiences on the job gave me nightmares about the whole delivery thing, but Taylor came through well and is in a regular room.”
“Have you spoken to her?” Maddie questioned.
“No, we texted, but she doesn’t want to hear from me again unless Colin needs something only she can provide.” Buck shrugged when Maddie looked appalled. “At least she has the integrity to admit she has no business being someone’s parent, and he won’t ever have to wonder why she can’t love him because she’s legally a surrogate.”
Maddie nodded but looked at her feet. “Evan.”
“I’m just gonna…go check out the gift shop,” Chimney said and walked away quickly.
“Visiting hours end in about forty-five minutes,” Buck said. “So, we should go back up.”
“I don’t know how to say this without it being insulting,” Maddie said in a rush. “But I…if you can’t handle this, I’ll take him.”
“What?” Buck demanded and couldn’t help but glare at her.
“I love you,” Maddie said in a rush. “I want the best for you, Evan. I want you to be happy and for all of your dreams to come true. If you aren’t ready for this—no one would think less of you.”
“I’m not giving up my son,” he said flatly. “Not to you and not to some stranger.” He turned and pulled out his keys. “For fuck’s sake, Maddie.”
“I don’t mean it that way,” Maddie said quickly. “Please—I just want you to know you have options. You’re so young, Evan.”
“I’m twenty-eight!” Evan snapped. “Look, Maddie, I realize that you have a problem seeing me as an adult because you ran from our parents when I was a kid….” He trailed off when her breath hitched. “But I’m a grown man, and I don’t need to be rescued from this situation. I understand your intentions are good, but you can best support me by remembering that I’m an adult.”
“I’m sorry,” she said hoarsely as tears welled and fell. “I wasn’t trying to be…I wasn’t saying you couldn’t handle it. I just…you made this decision by yourself, and I don’t even know what you considered to be your choices at the time.”
“I haven’t made a decision with your input since you left for college,” Buck said as he opened the door and snagged the duffel bag. She took it from his hand with a watery smile. “I didn’t hear from you for years, and I understand your circumstances were so fucked up you could barely function, but you that doesn’t negate the fact that it’s been a long time since I’ve needed that from you.”
“What do you need from me?” Maddie asked quietly.
“Hell, Maddie,” Evan said as he removed the car seat from the base that he’d installed securely already. “Love? Support?”
“You’ll always have that,” Maddie promised.
“But also, I need you to believe in me.” He turned and faced her. “Is that too much to ask?”
“No,” she said firmly. “It’s not too much at all, and anyone that thinks that doesn’t deserve to be in your…in our lives.”
He closed the door, locked up, and pocketed the keys. “Adoption was on the table for Taylor, but only if it was non-family because she felt like I shouldn’t be forced to see a kid I didn’t want, either.”
“Wow.” Maddie blew out a surprised breath.
“She’s not wrong,” Buck said. “If I’d put him up for adoption—I would’ve wanted to place him in a situation where I wouldn’t have to see him and be reminded that I’d given him up practically every damn day. The moment she said she didn’t want to keep the baby, I knew I was going to keep him. I love kids, and I was starting to worry that maybe I wouldn’t have any of my own. It’s kind of stunning, really—it was the first time I’d ever had an accident with a condom.”
“Do you think she did it on purpose?”
Buck laughed. “No—she’s probably already planning out her workout routine to get back into shape. I’ve gotten nothing but complaints from her for the last two months regarding the loss of her figure. She told me that in no single way was my dick worth the price her body paid.”
Maddie made a disgusted face. “Information I did not need.”
“Yet another life choice I can add to my biggest regrets list,” Maddie admitted. “Let’s go inside so Chim can stop shopping. There’s no telling what he’s already purchased.”
* * * *
Buck wasn’t convinced, really, that he was ready to be discharged, but suddenly he found himself standing outside the hospital with Colin and Eddie.
“This can’t be right,” he said.
“What?” Eddie questioned as he shifted the messenger bag Buck was using for supplies and the ridiculous large stuffed bunny that Chim had purchased.
“They just let me leave with this tiny human,” Buck whispered. “They didn’t even give me detailed instructions.”
Eddie laughed and nudged him gently. “Show me where you’re parked. I’ll follow you home.”
“Right. You’re parked just a few spots over from me, actually. I noticed last night.”
“I figured you were in this area because of where you entered the hospital,” Eddie said. “Stop freaking out.”
“I’m not freaking out.”
“You are,” Eddie said and nudged him gently. “It’s going to be fine. He’s a baby, not a five-alarm fire.”
Buck sent him a baleful look. “You’re going to regret saying that.”
Colin cried the whole way home, and Buck felt like a complete asshole about it. Clearly, they should’ve arranged for Eddie’s truck to be taken back to the house so they could drive home together. He was going to give his kid abandonment issues on the first day. By the time they got to the house, he was near tears, and the only saving grace was that Maddie’s car was in the driveway.
He parked as quickly as he could and took a deep breath before turning the car off and getting out. Buck walked quickly around the new vehicle and opened the door. It was something to get used to, he’d already lost it two different times in parking lots.
“Totally a five-alarm fire,” Buck muttered as he unlatched the car seat. “Hey, kiddo, it’s okay. Everything’s fine.”
“Take him inside—I’ll get everything,” Eddie suggested and patted Buck’s back. “Relax, babies cry. Even when nothing’s wrong.”
Buck knew that, intellectually, but Colin sounded miserable and like his world was going to end. The door opened before he got to the porch, and Maddie appeared with Chris.
“Is he okay?” Chris asked.
“Colin’s fine, Superman; he just didn’t like the car ride.” Or the car seat, his father, or the world. Buck really didn’t know.
He tried really hard not to be betrayed when Maddie bailed within minutes of their arrival, but he knew she hadn’t been able to get any shifts off for the weekend. Buck took Colin from the car seat and sort of collapsed onto the couch with him and wrapped an arm around Chris when the kid joined him. After a few moments, Colin stopped crying outright in favor of soft little whines.
“Is he hungry?” Chris asked.
“Shouldn’t be—we fed him before we left the hospital,” Buck said. “Diaper is dry. I just don’t think he liked the car at all. I hoped he’d sleep.”
“He had to sit in the back, right?” Chris asked. “Maybe he just missed you because he couldn’t see you.”
“Ya think?” Buck questioned.
“I miss you when I don’t see you,” Chris admitted and shrugged. “But I understand you’ll come back. He doesn’t yet. And you’re his daddy.”
Buck decided to not tell Chris that Colin probably couldn’t see much of anything at the moment. Still, his son calmed down and dozed off to sleep as they sat on the couch. He was glad he hadn’t gone home to his apartment alone with the baby, as just sitting in Eddie’s house was relieving a lot of the anxiety that had built up on the way home.
“What happened to Colin’s mom? Did she die?”
Buck took a deep breath as he considered how to frame the situation for Christopher in a way that was fair to Taylor but also child-friendly. “No, she didn’t die. His mom and I are friends—she had a baby for me.”
“Wow, ladies will do that?” Chris asked in shock.
Buck grinned at him. “If you’re really lucky. It’s not the traditional arrangement, but yeah, there are some women who will act as a surrogate for people who can’t have children for one reason or another. My friend has a new job in New York, so she’ll be leaving California.”
“So, Colin’s like a gift,” Chris said thoughtfully.
“He certainly feels like a gift,” Buck murmured. “Best one I’ve ever received.”
“I’m glad you and Colin are going to live with us.” Chris leaned into him and focused on the baby. “It’s nice of you to share him with me and Daddy.”
He turned and found Eddie hesitating in the doorway of the living room.
“Well.” Eddie rubbed the back of his neck and shrugged. “Mijo, do you know where everyone put the bed from the guest room?”
“Abuelita took it to her house,” Christopher said. “So we’d have room for all of Colin’s stuff.”
Buck shared a wide-eyed look with Eddie, who flushed. Chris yawned.
“Need a nap, buddy?” Buck questioned.
“Maybe,” Chris admitted but snuggled closer.
“We’ll be here when you get up,” Buck said and nudged him when Chris huffed. “Just an hour—you’ll feel better afterward.”
“An hour,” Chris agreed.
Buck stayed where he was as Eddie went with Chris to get settled for a nap. After a few moments, he got up and carefully tucked Colin into the car seat for lack of a better option and carried him into the kitchen so he could check out what had been done. He set the car seat in the center of the table and, after a moment’s indecision, opened up the chest freezer. He was greeted with labeled containers.
He shut it with a shake of his head because, between Bobby and Abuela, he didn’t think they’d have to cook for months. The fridge proved to be full, and there were several containers in it labeled with Bobby’s neat handwriting, plus some from Eddie’s abuela. Those were in Spanish, but Buck knew enough to know what was in each container. He shut the fridge and took a deep breath.
Buck turned and focused on Eddie. “I’m sure it made all sorts of sense to every single one of them.”
Eddie laughed a little. “Yeah.” He ran a hand through his hair. “It’ll be fine. The Pack ‘n Play is set up in my bedroom. They’ve cleared out the guest room entirely, and someone’s taped some paint samples up—we’re clearly expected to make a choice on that front. There’s a dresser in there that I’ve never seen before, and the top drawer has supplies in it. Probably from your apartment? There’s also a changing table that I’m pretty sure I’ve seen in my abuela’s guest room in the past.”
“Wow.” Buck leaned on the counter. “I think we’re…in a bit of trouble.”
“Or maybe everyone around us is seeing something we’ve been blind to,” Eddie said and raised an eyebrow when Buck focused on him.
“We or just me?” Buck questioned and took a deep breath when Eddie just shrugged a little.
“This isn’t something we should talk about right now—you’ve had a lot of emotional upheaval over the last couple of days. Sharing a bed won’t be a problem for me if it’s not a problem for you.”
“Of course not,” Buck said a little huffily. “I’m bi, so I’m not going to get bent with you.” He paused and waited, then made a face at his friend. “Well?”
Eddie laughed. “I already knew you were bisexual, asshole. I proofed that stupid dating profile you put up, remember?”
“Oh, that,” Buck said and crossed his arms. “You never brought it up. I figured you didn’t notice or didn’t want to talk about it.”
“I’m…” Eddie flicked a hand. “I guess the best term is demisexual. I really had no clue, but I talked to Hen about it, and she gave me a book because I couldn’t make sense of myself.”
“Okay, that makes sense. Did you…have you been with anyone since…” Buck trailed off because he really didn’t want to bring Shannon up. No more than he wanted to interrogate Eddie about his sex life. He’d just like to know the lay of the land, so to speak.
“I had a girlfriend in high school, dated two different guys before I met Shannon,” Eddie supplied. “Not a blushing virgin in any single way. I have a…hook up and have since a few months after Shannon died, but it’s not anything especially intimate, so it’s largely unrewarding and more of stress relief. The talk with Hen helped because I was starting to feel weird.”
“I can’t judge on that front. I once made a hobby of fucking people in bar bathrooms because I didn’t understand myself or what I really wanted.” He focused on Colin. “I can’t believe this is my life. I’ve had a few months to adjust to this, but none of it felt real until I saw him.”
“I’ll let my friend know that I won’t be meeting them anymore,” Eddie said.
“You don’t have to do that,” Buck protested.
“So, I should run the risk of someone we love catching me cheating on you?” Eddie questioned and raised an eyebrow when Buck’s mouth dropped open. “Pretty sure no one would forgive me, and you’d end up in therapy if you tried to talk them down.”
Buck frowned and shook his head. “I can’t…I mean…you’re right. Congrats, we’ve just entered a fake relationship thanks to our coworkers and families making assumptions.”
He could admit, privately, that he’d wanted Eddie since he’d set eyes on him. Even in the midst of his job insecurity and Abby ghosting him, Eddie Diaz had been a compelling presence in his life. The friendship that had formed out of on-the-job compatibility was such a comfort to Buck that he’d never do anything to endanger it.
Still, he was standing in Eddie’s kitchen talking about sharing a bed and acknowledging that practically every single person in their lives believed them to be in a romantic relationship.
“Hey,” Eddie said gently and grabbed his hand. “Relax.”
Buck averted his gaze and took a shaky breath. “I…. You and Chris mean a lot to me. I’ve worked really hard to not fuck that up, you know?”
“I do know,” Eddie said. “You honestly stepped up in a way I’ve never had a friend do before, Buck, and it’s made me question just how shallow my relationships with other people have been. I feel like I can tell you anything, and that’s not something I can say about anyone else in my life.”
“Your abuela supports you,” Buck pointed out.
“Yeah, of course, she does,” Eddie said and squeezed his hand gently. “But I try to keep her stress and worry down as much as possible. My parents weaponize every single thing I tell them in their selfish campaign to take my son from me.”
“Do you think they would?”
“If they had a single legal leg to stand on, they’d have already sued,” Eddie assured. “My mother doesn’t think I should be allowed to parent my own child, and it’s been like that even before he was diagnosed. She’s no better with my sisters. She micromanages the hell out of them and their relationships.”
Buck huffed. “Well, obviously, we can’t take any parental advice from her or your father. They raised three children and didn’t get, in their own opinion, a single functional adult out of it.”
Eddie stared for a moment, then laughed. “I’d never really thought about it like that. My mother would be livid to be told such a thing.”
Buck yawned. “We should get some sleep. Chances are going to be slim around here for a while.”
Eddie sat up as Buck rolled out of bed in the direction of the Pack ‘n Play they were using for Colin. “I’ll get a bottle.”
“I can…thanks, Eds,” Buck said around a yawn as he picked up his son. “He needs a change.”
He went into the kitchen, snagged one of the bottles they’d already made and gave it a shake to make sure the formula was well mixed before he held it under the hot water. Not the eco-friendly choice, he realized and resolved to check into other options. Maybe a counter-top bottle warmer would be better. He had a few cousins with small babies; they might have some advice on the subject.
The gentle thud of Chris’ crutches in the quiet house caught him off guard.
Chris yawned. “Can I feed the baby?”
Eddie hesitated because he wasn’t sure what Buck would think, and he didn’t want to overstep. “I…let’s ask Buck? If he says no…”
“It’s fine—he’s a new daddy,” Chris said. “I won’t get upset.”
Buck entered that point, gently bouncing Colin as he walked. “Hey, sorry for waking you up, Chris.”
“It’s okay—babies eat a lot. I looked it up online. Can I feed him, Buck? I already washed my hands. I’ll be careful.”
Buck paused briefly, then nodded. “Okay, let’s go to the couch and set you up. We’ll see how he feels about it. Don’t be upset if he doesn’t like it, okay?”
“Cool.” Chris left in favor of the sofa.
Eddie checked the temperature on the bottle and raised an eyebrow. “Are you sure, Buck?”
“I don’t want Chris to think for a second that I don’t trust him,” Buck said simply, and Eddie couldn’t help but smile at him. “We’ll make sure it’s a good position and that it’s safe.”
Shortly, they had Chris set up on the sofa with a pillow under his arm. Buck sat on the side, and Eddie ended up sitting on the coffee table with his phone because he was absolutely going to record it. By the time Colin finished eating, the video was up on both of their Instas. They all went back to bed, having accomplished their first early AM feeding at home.
Fortunately, Chris slept through the rest of the ups and downs with the baby, and Eddie dozed as much as he could when it wasn’t his turn because he was on board the Buckley-Diaz train no matter how it got started. He turned over just as Buck slid back into the bed.
“Yeah,” Buck yawned. “Women are warriors—there’s no way I could handle this after a major medical procedure. Whoever said women were the weaker sex was a fucking moron.” He took a deep breath and relaxed on the mattress. “I checked on Chris—I’m super jealous of how deep he sleeps.”
“Yeah, totally,” Eddie agreed. “How do you feel?”
“Bizarrely okay,” Buck admitted. “I don’t know…I should’ve told you sooner. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t worry about that—ever.” Eddie shifted under the covers and took a deep breath because he couldn’t believe his current circumstances. “I understand how hard it is to deal with unexpected changes. You had a right to deal with it in whatever way worked best for you. Frankly, you’ve been under a lot of stress and dealing with the trauma of the bombing…and the tsunami.”
The last few weeks had been difficult, and he knew how much Buck was growing to resent the whole situation with Bobby and the job. He’d been worried that it would lead to Buck asking for a transfer or something worse that would take him out of Eddie’s life entirely.
“I am worried about working on blood thinners,” Buck murmured. “Maybe I wasn’t before because I did okay during the tsunami when I had no gear or turnouts to protect me. But now there’s Colin, and I worry that something stupid will happen and I won’t be here for him. How do you reconcile these feelings, Eddie?”
“Every single time we get a call out—we’re working to help someone’s child,” Eddie said. “I hope someone will be there to help Chris if that day ever comes. It won’t matter how old he is—he’ll always be my baby. So, when there’s some jackass putting his head in a cement block, I remind myself that he has family that probably love him.”
“That dude’s parents need to ground him from his friends permanently,” Buck muttered. “For fuck’s sake.” He cleared his throat. “My parents don’t love me.”
“Buck.” Eddie tried to sit up, but his friend just prodded him back down gently on the bed.
“No, it’s okay,” Buck insisted. “They just…don’t. I think I realized it pretty young, but it took me a long time to accept it. I really wanted their love, and it hurt a lot to realize that nothing I would ever do would be enough for them. I left home the day after I graduated high school, and I haven’t spoken to them since.”
“Seriously? You haven’t spoken to your parents in over ten years?” The idea was completely foreign to him since he dodged calls from his parents on a daily basis.
“Roughly,” Buck said. “They just don’t care. They didn’t even come to see Maddie after the thing with Doug. Though, apparently, they did attend his funeral back in our home state and berated Maddie for selling off everything through an attorney instead of coming home to them.”
“Right.” Eddie sighed. “I’m trying to decide if that is better or worse than my situation. Why can’t we have a happy medium? You know—distant, but thoughtful and supportive.”
“I think that’s a TV myth,” Buck said, and Eddie laughed. They both paused, and Eddie glanced toward the Pack ‘n Play.
“Sorry,” he murmured.
“He seems to be down for the count,” Buck said. “At least, until he gets hungry again.”
“We should get some sleep then.”
“Yeah,” Buck said around a yawn. “Chris will be up for breakfast in just a few hours.”
* * * *
It was a text from his sister, Sophia, asking about the baby the next morning that told Eddie he’d made a pretty dumb mistake. He wasn’t even sure how he’d tagged the video. A quick check of the Instagram account he shared with Chris left him flummoxed. He stared at the post and wondered just how deep in his head he’d been when he’d posted it. The video was tagged: first night home, buckley-diaz, family bonding.
Eddie rubbed his face and put his phone on the counter so he could focus on what was going on in his kitchen.
“I…huh…basically came out to my family on Insta last night?” Eddie said and shrugged when Buck’s mouth dropped open. “Yeah.”
Buck pulled his own phone out and flipped to it. “I just shared your post. I didn’t even…wow. Hmmm, do your parents follow you?”
“Yes.” Eddie huffed when Buck laughed. “I don’t know how they’re going to react. I have a gay cousin, and they’ve never said anything ugly in front of me, but they are Catholic.” He took the platter of pancakes to the table and brushed a kiss across Chris’ head. “Did you get enough sleep?”
“Yeah,” Chris said. “More than you guys, probably.”
“Certainly more,” Eddie agreed. “Bacon?”
“Yes, please,” Chris said and shifted the baby monitor they had on the table. “Did Colin sleep okay?”
“As much as a baby can,” Eddie said in amusement. “He’ll be up soon to eat, I’m sure. Did you want to pick out a new book to read from your summer list?”
“Yes,” Chris decided. “About dinosaurs, I think.”
“We have a few options,” Eddie said. “Fiction and non-fiction. We can go over them after breakfast. How do you want your schedule to go today?”
“Exercises after breakfast, reading, and educational games on my iPad,” Chris decided. “Sometimes Carla takes me to the park, but I took that off the options list because Colin is too young to go.”
“We can still do things Colin is too young for,” Buck said. “When he’s a bit older—we can get a babysitter.”
“I know,” Chris said. “But he won’t be very little long, right? We wouldn’t want to miss it.”
“You’re something else, kid,” Eddie said with a smile, and Colin started to cry. “I’ll get him.”
“You’ve not eaten,” Buck protested.
“Neither have you, and you just finished cooking—I’ll get him,” Eddie said and patted his shoulder. “The cook should always get a hot meal.” He prodded Buck into a chair and left the kitchen.
His phone went off just as he picked Colin up. The baby snuffled against his neck as he tucked him close and pulled his phone out of his pocket to answer.
“Edmundo, what have you done? Who is this baby?” His mother’s tone was terse, demanding, and edging toward anger which Eddie didn’t quite understand and certainly didn’t have the time or the desire to investigate.
“His name is Colin—he’s Buck’s son. They’re living with us.”
“Not yours? You needn’t lie to me if you’ve gotten some woman pregnant again! Why was Chris feeding him?”
Eddie laughed. “Mom, no, he’s not mine. I kind of wish he was because he’s adorable, but I’m just free labor in this situation.” He entered the kitchen to find that Buck had gotten a bottle ready instead of eating. “We all woke up when he did last night, and Chris asked to feed him. It was cute—so I recorded it.”
“You just moved this man and his infant into your home? You can barely take care of yourself and Chris—you had to hire help!”
Eddie groaned, more resigned than furious. “I have to go. We’re having breakfast, and I’d rather concentrate on my family than get a lecture from you. Have a good day, Mom.” He hung up before she could respond and set his phone to silent.
Chris gaped at him. “Did you just hang up on Grandma?”
“Yeah, I did.” Eddie settled into a chair and picked up the bottle. “I have better things to do.”
“Is it going to be a problem?” Buck questioned. “Because I can start house hunting sooner rather than later.”
Chris huffed. “Only if you buy a big enough house for all of us.”
Eddie grinned at his son when Buck laughed.
“I wouldn’t mind a pool so I can work on my therapy stuff at home,” Chris continued. “And a big yard so we could have a dog.”
“Quite a wish list,” Eddie said mildly. “Would you like a theater room, too?”
Chris grinned. “Sure.”
Buck finished up eating and took the baby so Eddie could eat. It already felt like a routine, but he knew they were nowhere near where they needed to be to have the relationship he wanted. His friend was going through a lot of changes, so Eddie wasn’t prepared to throw his own feelings all over their current situation. It wouldn’t be fair to any of them. He wasn’t sure how to approach the conversation and figured he’d wait for Buck to make that move.
After breakfast, Buck ended up helping Chris pick out a book about dinosaurs to read for the week and promised a documentary as well. Eddie had never watched Walking with Dinosaurs, so he was looking forward to it. They added a baby sling to the baby registry, and Eddie noted that practically everything had already been bought.
The crib arrived after lunch, and they all crowded into Colin’s room to watch Buck battle the instructions since he insisted on doing it by himself.
“Daddy, Grandma is trying to FaceTme me,” Chris announced and turned his iPad so Eddie could see it. “Should I answer it?”
“No,” Eddie said. “You aren’t scheduled to FaceTme them today.”
Chris shrugged and declined the call, which made Buck laugh.
“Dude, you can’t ignore your parents forever. They’ll come here.”
Eddie made a face. “Right. Well, I’m not going to tolerate being lectured like a child, and they know they are only allowed to call him on Sundays. If I let them—they’d call him for hours every single day, and he’d get nothing done, then they’d act like it was my fault that he got behind on his summer assignments.”
“Also, I’d be really bored,” Chris announced. “They only ever want to talk about how much more fun I would have in El Paso, except how can that be possible? They don’t even live near a beach or Disney or anything interesting.”
“I told them that El Paso could never be that much fun since Buck lives in LA.”
“Now we know why they hate me,” Buck said wryly.
Eddie shifted Colin as he stood. “I’m going to put him in the Pack ‘n Play—then have a long-overdue conversation with my parents.” He focused on Chris. “You stay in here, okay?”
Eddie shared a pointed look with Buck, who nodded before he left the room. He put Colin in the Pack ‘n Play and sat down on the bed before pulling out his phone and browsing through the dozen text messages he’d gotten from his mother. They were all a variant of furious that he’d hung up on her. There was one from his father demanding he call them back immediately, which was several hours old.
He set up the FaceTme call since he wanted them to see exactly how serious he was and sent off the request to his mother. It was answered almost immediately. The image blurred then he was face to face with both of his parents.
“You owe your mother an apology,” Ramon said tersely.
“Do I?” Eddie questioned with a raised eyebrow.
“You’ve been ignoring her calls all morning!”
“I’m thirty-two years old,” Eddie said plainly. “And I’m not going to be berated like a child on the phone I pay for. How I live my life is my concern. Who lives in my house is my business. My relationships are my business, and none of yours.”
“So, we just let you ruin Chris’ life?” Helena demanded.
“Chris goes to one of the best schools in LA, and he’s at the top of his class,” Eddie stated. “He’s reading several levels above his grade, he has friends, and he’s happy. Chris loves his life, and honestly, he lives next door to freaking Disneyland. Why on Earth do you think he’d be happier in El Paso?”
“He’d have family here!”
“He’d have you and your extended family, which is small in comparison to the number of relatives I have here in LA,” Eddie corrected. “You aren’t his mother.” He watched his mother’s face darken. “You’ll never be his mother no matter how much you apparently wish differently. I’m his parent, and I make the decisions for my son. You ran roughshod over Shannon, and I allowed it. I’m ashamed of how miserable I allowed you to make her in your efforts to parent Chris. You acted like we were a couple of irresponsible teenagers, and you’re still treating me like that.”
“You make terrible, immature decisions,” Ramon interjected. “It’s clear you don’t understand consequences.”
“What?” Eddie demanded and took a deep breath. “Jesus Christ, Dad, are you forgetting the fact that I served in the Army? I killed for the first time when I was nineteen.” He watched the color drain from his father’s face. “How exactly do you think I earned that Silver Star you are so proud of?” He rubbed his face in frustration. “It’s like you both think I’m still sixteen years old, and it’s getting really exhausting to have you in my life.”
“What does that mean?” Helena asked.
“It means that you violate my boundaries like it’s a hobby, and I’m tired of having to defend myself against your incessant complaints and nagging whenever I make a choice that you don’t agree with. And frankly, you’ve not agreed with a single thing I’ve done in more than a decade. You’d probably complain about what we ate for breakfast if you knew what it was.”
“If you’d just come back to El Paso….” Ramon trailed off when Eddie groaned.
“No, I’m never coming back to El Paso,” Eddie said. “Our life is here, and Chris is thriving here. He has a great school and a fantastic, world-class doctor who listens to me and takes our concerns seriously. I’m tired of explaining myself on this point. The move was the best choice I could make for both of us, and I’m not going to give up my job with one of the best fire departments in the country and take a significant pay cut to live in El Paso. I have a good team that I can trust with my back, and I haven’t had that since the Army.”
“None of that explains you moving a stranger into your home with an infant,” Helena said flatly.
“Buck is not a stranger—he’s the best friend I’ve ever had in my entire life,” Eddie said. “And I’m not giving him or his son up for anything, so get that out of your heads immediately.”
“You act like you want a relationship with him,” Ramon said quietly. “Is that the case? Are you in love with him?”
“Would it matter if I was?” Eddie demanded. “Would that make it less of an issue with you or more? I loved Shannon, and neither of you bothered to give her an ounce of respect. You couldn’t even lay off the complaining and nagging on the day I buried her.” He took a deep breath. “Look, I think you two need to get some therapy and learn to detach. Your children are entitled to have lives outside of you and your sphere of control. Does it even cross your mind that none of us have had marriages that lasted and that all of our former partners hate your guts?”
His mother frowned at him. “It’s not our problem that all of you make terrible choices when it comes to romantic partners.”
“Let me be clear,” Eddie said flatly. “My personal relationships are none of your business, and no matter who ends up in my life—you will treat any romantic partner I have with respect, or you won’t see my family at all. I mean it. I’m tired of your toxic and conditional love.” He watched both of his parent’s mouths drop open in shock. “Don’t you get it? You’re supposed to support and lift your children up, and all you’ve done for years is drag me like I’m the worst person on this entire fucking planet for daring to make my own choices.”
“We just want you to make better decisions,” Helena said quietly.
“You just want me to live my life exactly how you want,” Eddie returned. “And I’m not going to—ever.” He glanced toward the Pack ‘n Play when Colin started to make noise. “I have to go. Buck is putting together the crib, and Colin is going to need my attention.”
“We don’t agree with what you’re doing,” Ramon said. “It’s a mistake to let his man and his child live in your home.”
“Well, since you don’t pay a single bill for this house, it’s not really your concern,” Eddie said pointedly, and his father glared at him. “I mean it, Pop, you don’t get to make decisions for my household. Period. You don’t have to like it, but I don’t want to hear about it anymore. Also, you tried to call Chris earlier outside of the schedule, and that isn’t to happen again.”
“It’s summer—he’s not doing anything. We should get to talk to him every day,” Helena snapped.
“He has a schedule—one that keeps him entertained and stimulated that you are not going to interfere with. I want him fully prepared for the next school year, which means he has a reading list and activities to complete every single week. I know what works best for my son, so I don’t want your input on this. We’ll call you on Sunday evening, as planned. It would be great if you could figure out how to make an effort to engage him as a person rather than extol the virtues of El Paso and interrogate him to figure out things to complain about. Because talking about Texas bores him silly.”
“Your hostility is unnecessary,” his mother said stiffly.
“So is yours,” Eddie said mildly. “But that’s all I’ve gotten from you for years. How long did you expect that to go unaddressed? Did you hope to just…beat me down with criticism and hostility until I do what you want?”
“That’s not…” Helena trailed off and frowned. “I just think it would be better for Christopher if he were here—with us—and didn’t have all of these strangers in his life.”
Eddie sighed and glanced toward Colin, who was clearly getting ready to cry. “I have to go. The baby needs me.”
“What’s Christopher doing while you take care of someone else’s child?” Ramon questioned in clear irritation.
“Goodbye,” Eddie said firmly and ended the call before they could respond, then tossed his phone on the bed.
Colin needed a change, so he took him back to the room where Buck and Chris were and used the changing table just to be safe. Clearly, the kid wasn’t going to start rolling anywhere any time soon, but there was no need to develop bad habits on that front. It was the first diaper he’d changed in years, so he wasn’t great at it but managed to get the baby cleaned up and changed quickly enough despite Chris’ displeasure at the smell. The diaper service Buck had chosen had a closed disposal container for easy recycling, so that helped.
He buttoned the onesie, picked Colin up, and turned to see Chris. “You can have an hour of TV if you want.”
“Okay,” Chris agreed and quickly made for the living room.
Eddie slid down the wall in his son’s place and let Colin rest on his chest. The baby nuzzled until his cheek was pressed against Eddie’s bare collarbone. He was startled for a moment but then realized the baby was probably already used to sleeping on Buck’s bare chest and liked the feeling of skin against his own.
“It didn’t go well?”
“They’ll never really understand,” Eddie said roughly. “They treat us all like we never grew up. Not following their instructions to the letter will result in anger, disappointment, and criticism. My sister has been dating a man for three years that my parents don’t know exists because she’s afraid they’ll ruin it for her. And they will; they’ve made a habit of it. No one will ever meet their approval.”
“They don’t want Colin and me living here, right?”
“They don’t want me living here,” Eddie said in amusement. “They’d be happiest if Christopher lived with them, and I lived in El Paso so I could visit my own child occasionally under their direct supervision.”
Buck made a face. “They haven’t spent much time with him lately, have they?”
“Very little since we moved,” Eddie agreed. “They really have no idea what he’s like and probably still think of him as about four. They certainly treat him like he’s that old. Even then, when he was that age, he wasn’t really allowed to be an individual person.”
“Eddie, your mother probably isn’t physically capable of taking care of Christopher,” Buck pointed out. “Could she even lift and carry him, when required? He’s about sixty pounds, right?”
“Give or take,” Eddie agreed. “My dad could probably lift him, but I doubt he could carry him far at all. I think people underestimate how much stamina it would take to deadlift that kind of weight and carry it anywhere. And when he’s tired—he doesn’t even try to hold onto you,”
Buck said and sighed. “We should talk with Carla and make sure she’s not trying to lift him on a regular basis—that would be hell on her back.”
“I talked to him about pushing his limits with others,” Eddie said as he gently bounced Colin. “He knows better than to ask to go somewhere with a lot of walking with anyone but us.”
“What do you want to do about your parents?”
“Honestly? Forget they exist,” Eddie admitted and flushed when Buck sighed. “I know it’s not reasonable because they definitely won’t allow that without a restraining order and probably witness protection, but they stress me out, which makes everything else really hard.” He sighed and took a deep breath. “I know they love me, but their love has never been kind or any sort of comfort. And if love hurts, is it really worth it?”
Buck hesitated and took a deep breath. “I…don’t know. Sometimes love just hurts, and you push through it because it’s supposed to be worth it. But there are different kinds of hurt, right? It hurt a lot to know how much Maddie suffered in her marriage to Doug and, god, I thought someone was tearing my heart out when he took her and I couldn’t find her. The whole thing was really painful with her and with Chim. But things are great now, and they have an amazing relationship.” He frowned and returned his attention to his project.
“She offered to take Colin,” Buck said quietly. “She wasn’t cruel about it, but it made me feel like maybe I was making a mistake. She said I was young, and she acted like I hadn’t thought it through.”
“Can I be blunt?” Eddie questioned, and Buck focused on him then nodded. “Your sister doesn’t know you as an adult—not really. I’ve probably spent more time with you since the two of you reconnected than she has. You’re not making a mistake in keeping your own child, and don’t let anyone say that to you and get away with it. You already love this boy more than anyone else ever will, and that kind of love is priceless.”
Buck’s shoulders relaxed. “Yeah.” He took a deep breath. “I want to trust her.”
“But you don’t.”
“Not like I used to,” Buck admitted. “I’d never tell her because it would break her heart, but Maddie knew how much our parents couldn’t be bothered with me, and she just left. That’s not fair because she was barely an adult herself. But she really didn’t contact me much after she left. It was like she wanted to forget everything to do with our family. I left home the day after I graduated high school, and they didn’t notice for weeks, Eddie. Even then, they just called me and left a voice mail letting me know they’d upped the limit on my credit card.”
Eddie exhaled. “Are you serious?”
“Yeah, I spent the hell out of their money for years out of spite, but then I realized that it meant nothing to them. I emailed my mother for the last time about six years ago when I told her I was coming back to the states. They deposited twenty thousand dollars in my savings, I mailed the credit card back to them, and that was it….” Buck sighed. “I don’t want to be that kind of parent, Eddie. I really don’t.”
“You won’t,” Eddie said. “You had a shitty example growing up but, honestly, Buck, you’ve been co-parenting my kid for a while and owning it.” He flushed when Buck’s eyes went wide. “What? We might as well be honest about all of this. Everyone around us thinks we’re together because we’re…basically a couple without benefits. I’m surprised Ali tolerated it.”
“She worked a lot,” Buck said and took a deep breath. “Right.” He scrunched up his nose. “Normally, I’d have gotten laid by now. Is this your fault? Are you playing hard to get?”
Eddie snorted, then started laughing helplessly, which woke the baby.
Chim and Maddie painted the nursery a lovely shade of sage green that Buck picked. The changing table and crib turned out to match almost perfectly in light wood. People had been moving in and out of Eddie’s house for a week, never showing up empty-handed and leaving before they could overstay their welcome.
Chris’ first week home had been hectic, stressful and at times infuriating. His parents had often interfered with his care, and Shannon had struggled to breastfeed. Looking back on it, it was clear that the stress hadn’t helped, and he hadn’t done a damn thing to back her up. He felt like an asshole and wished he could apologize. The specter of his parents loomed in the background of his mind, and he knew the situation was going to make landfall sooner rather than later. He just hoped that it didn’t make Buck run for the hills.
Still, when Sunday came around, it wasn’t the FaceTme event with his parents that made everything go to hell. It was Maddie Buckley standing on his front porch with a photo album clutched to her chest. Chim looked like he’d been through a war as he stood with her. Eddie let them in reluctantly because it felt like something terrible was about to happen, and he didn’t want ground zero to be his family’s home.
“Colin’s already down for the night.”
Maddie smiled, but her eyes were dark with sadness and unshed tears. “Okay.”
“Hey, Buck! Maddie and Chim are here.”
Buck came to the kitchen doorway. “Hey, did we have something planned?”
“No,” Maddie said and took a deep breath. “I need…Buck.” She closed her eyes and rocked a little as if to self-soothe and Chim’s hand settled on her back. “Is Chris asleep, too?”
“Out like a light,” Eddie said and guided them both toward the kitchen. “Supervising us is clearly wearing him out.”
Maddie laughed, but even that sounded sad.
“Maddie, what’s wrong?” Buck questioned. “You look…honestly…I’ve never seen you look like this.”
Chim guided her to a chair, and they all sat down. Maddie put the album on the table with trembling hands.
“I want you to know that I’m so sorry,” Maddie began hoarsely. “I…I have no excuse for keeping this a secret as long as I have. I should’ve told you years ago, but it got easier and easier to forget. Our parents demanded that I do everything I could to forget. It wasn’t healthy or normal.”
“If you were much older, I’d be worried that you’re about to confess to being my birth mother,” Buck said wryly, and she laughed unexpectedly.
Tears fell down her cheeks, and she brushed them away hastily. “We had…a brother, Evan. His name was Daniel, and he died.”
“Daniel,” Buck repeated and cleared his throat. “Maddie…I don’t understand. What happened to him? SIDS? Is that why you’re telling me now? Does that run in families?” He started to stand, but Eddie put his hand on Buck’s arm.
“Hey, he’s wearing the little sock, remember?” Eddie pulled out his phone and checked the app. “His stats are fine.”
“It wasn’t SIDS,” Maddie murmured. “Everything was fine until he was six when he was diagnosed with leukemia.”
A heavy, ugly weight settled in Eddie’s stomach then, and he realized why Chim looked a mixture of horrified and furious. Buck still looked confused, and Eddie found himself taking his friend’s hand so he could lace their fingers together.
“The treatments weren’t working, and none of us were a match for a bone marrow transplant,” Maddie said. “He was on the national registry, but there were no matches, and he was getting sicker and sicker.” She cleared her throat. “So, they…made a perfect match.”
“With me,” Buck said. “I’m a spare parts baby?”
“Oh, God, no. Please don’t ever call yourself that,” Maddie pleaded.
“They made me,” Buck said. “So, I was what…IVF? They made sure to get a fetus that would match Daniel perfectly?”
“Yes,” Maddie said. “We could look up the science if you want, but I never bothered as an adult, and I didn’t understand everything they said as a kid. They had to wait a year after you were born before the doctors would do a bone marrow transplant. I remember—both of you going to the hospital, but I wasn’t allowed to go, and I was so worried.” She sucked in a ragged breath. “Only you came home. Daniel developed an infection and stayed in the hospital until he passed.”
“The transplant failed?” Buck questioned dully. “All that work for a designer baby, and I turned out defective.”
“Do not call yourself defective,” Eddie said evenly and held on tight to Buck’s hand. “Transplants can fail for a lot of reasons—none of which would’ve been your fault in any single way.”
Maddie pressed trembling fingers against the album. “After Daniel died, our parents erased him from our lives. We even moved because everyone knew what they’d done—having a savior baby—and they were embarrassed. A few months after we moved, I mentioned missing Daniel, and they sat me down. And….” She rubbed her face. “It must have lasted hours. They took turns telling me that I couldn’t talk about Daniel ever again. They wanted me to forget he existed, and they made me promise them that I would never tell you about him. They said if I mentioned him anymore that they would have to send me away, and I’d never see you again.”
“Maddie.” Buck stared at her in shock.
“But I should’ve told you, years ago. I should’ve never made that promise.”
“You were eight years old,” Chim interjected.
“And you were subjected to the kind of mental and emotional bombardment that the Hague considers torture,” Eddie said evenly. “Except you were a little kid and not a fucking prisoner of war.” He took a deep breath when she flinched. “Sorry.”
“No, you’re not wrong,” Maddie whispered. “They treated me like that often as a child—I would get berated for hours if I did anything they didn’t approve of. Less than perfect grades, messy hair, a single item out of place in my room. My mother has untreated OCD, and my father is a raging narcissist. My brother’s death ruined their perfect family. Looking back, it was clear they were more embarrassed than hurt by his illness and death. They used to tell me over and over again that they were good people and didn’t deserve for anything bad to happen to them.”
“They did the same to me until they realized I would just tune them out,” Buck admitted. “I don’t think I actually listened to a single lecture from them after…like the second grade? I just sort of retreated.” He glanced toward the album. “Why are you telling me this?”
“Because…” She closed her eyes. “You deserved to know ages ago, and I’m ashamed to have kept it from you for so long. But I did an incredibly stupid thing, and Mom called screaming at me.”
“She posted a picture of Colin on Insta,” Chim said when Maddie started to cry in earnest. “Her mother called her screaming and accusing her of posting a picture of Daniel.”
Buck released Eddie’s hand and reached out for the album, which Maddie let go of reluctantly. “Is this all him?”
“I saved the pictures—hid them because they tried to throw them all away.”
“Who the fuck does that?” Eddie demanded.
“Bastards,” Chim answered grimly.
Buck opened the album and exhaled sharply. “Jesus, he…is this…the resemblance is strong. I can see why she would’ve made the assumption at first glance. Maybe especially if she hasn’t seen a picture of her own son in decades.”
Eddie shifted so he could see. The first picture in the album was a newborn photo, and it looked a lot like Colin’s except for the clothes and the obvious age of it.
“The nose is different,” Buck murmured. “Colin’s hair is lighter—going toward strawberry blond. I think he’ll probably be a redhead like Taylor.” He turned the page. “I would’ve confused these pictures with ones of me if it weren’t for my birthmark.” He grimaced. “I always wondered why they didn’t have it removed—now I know.”
“What do you mean?” Maddie questioned.
“Well, it was an overt reminder that I wasn’t Daniel, right?” Buck winced when Maddie’s eyes went wide. “They probably needed that. It made it easier to justify their resentment. I’d ruined their perfect family just as much as Daniel did.”
“Neither one of you ruined anything!” Maddie shouted. “They’re horrible, disgusting, awful people!” She burst into gut-wrenching sobs, and Chimney caught her before she could leave her chair and held her tight.
Buck turned the pages of the album slowly, looking at the pictures with sad, dark eyes. Eddie hated the pain and loss blooming on his friend’s face and wished he’d never opened the door. His phone started to ring, and he groaned.
“Speaking of awful parents.” He picked up the phone and left the table. “I’ll check on the kids.” He cupped Buck’s shoulder briefly and got a small nod as he answered the phone. “Mom, it’s not a great time. Is something wrong?”
“No, I wanted to speak with Christopher before bedtime.”
“He’s been asleep for about thirty minutes,” Eddie said. “And you know phone calls just rile him up and prevent him from going to sleep on schedule. Why are you…why are you intentionally trying to make my life more difficult?”
“He never had a problem going to sleep with me,” Helena said stiffly.
“He was four the last time he spent the night at your house.” Eddie left the kitchen and walked through the house toward the bedrooms. “You realize he didn’t stop aging when we left El Paso, right? He’s nine years old, and I emailed you his basic schedule, so you know that even if he wasn’t asleep right now that we’re in a low stimulation period leading up to bedtime.”
He checked Chris first and found his son sprawled out, sleeping so deeply it was almost annoying. He hadn’t slept that soundly since before boot camp. Colin was also asleep, so he left them and went to stand in the living room near the large window. He checked the street as he listened to his mother breathe.
“Nothing to say?” Eddie questioned.
“I’m trying to figure out when you decided you were a better parent than me.”
“I don’t need parenting, Mom,” Eddie said. “And that’s not your job in Chris’ life. It never was. It never will be. You’re his grandmother, and if that’s not enough for you—you don’t have to be that either.”
“I won’t let you take Christopher from me.”
“Is that a threat?” Eddie questioned. “Because I thought we’d already settled this debate the last time you talked about getting a lawyer.” He got silence. “Because I meant it then, and I still mean it. If you seek any sort of legal rights to my son, I will never speak to either of you ever again.”
“It was made clear to us,” Helena said in a clipped tone. “And your sisters promised us the same thing.”
Eddie knew that, but he hadn’t felt the need to throw it in her face. The whole family had come down on his side when his father had threatened to sue for custody of Christopher after Shannon died. It had been six months, but the threat still loomed in Eddie’s mind. He knew they wouldn’t get custody, but they could probably get unsupervised visitation, and Eddie wasn’t sure he could tolerate that either. Not being able to trust his parents hurt a lot, but he wasn’t going to put his son’s very tender heart at risk.
“Look, I was serious earlier about therapy. I think you both need it, and if you don’t get it—you’re going to have three kids who barely speak to you, and you probably won’t get invited to any future weddings.” He almost laughed at his mother’s outraged squawk. “And I don’t know how Dad is dealing with the whole Buck thing, but I meant what I said about that, too. Neither of you get to make decisions about my personal life.”
“He’s shocked and worried. He always thought it was just a phase for you and that you got over it when you married Shannon. I told him…that you just can’t get over being bisexual, but he wasn’t raised to accept such a thing.”
“Neither were you,” Eddie pointed out. He didn’t bother to correct her regarding his sexuality as he figured the distinction would be lost on her.
“No, but I do realize we don’t get to choose who we want or who we fall in love with. My parents certainly didn’t want me to marry a man from Mexico. My father probably said ten words to yours the entire time they knew each other, and none of them were kind. I reminded him of that tonight—especially considering what you said about Shannon. You weren’t wrong. We didn’t like her and never tried…we just never tried. Your father believed she trapped you into marriage.”
Eddie laughed. “Mom, Shannon didn’t want to marry me at all. I had to beg her to do it. I don’t think she ever intended on getting married as long as she lived, but I was so freaked out because of dad that she took pity on me.”
He looked toward the kitchen. “Look, we have guests. Buck’s sister and her boyfriend are here. I’ve ignored them long enough to be considered a bad host at this point, and my mother raised me better.”
“I did,” Helena agreed. “I…I’m going to think about what you’ve said. This week has been very upsetting, knowing how angry you are with us. It’s clear you’ve been angry with us for a long time, and neither of us bothered to notice. I’ll work on your father as well. I suspect he’ll never understand your relationship with a man, but he won’t be…I’ll just work on it.”
“He needs to know,” Eddie said quietly. “Make him understand that I won’t choose him if there is a choice to be made.” His mother agreed, and he ended the call.
Back in the kitchen, Maddie, Chim, and Buck were drinking beer in silence. Eddie slid back in his chair and shook his head when Buck offered to get him one. “You drink; I’ll stay sober for the kids.”
“I’m a terrible father,” Buck said into his beer. “I didn’t even think about that when I got the beers.”
“You’ve had an upset,” Eddie consoled. “And you got me and my beer.”
Buck nodded and took another long drag from his bottle. “It’s our beer.”
Eddie scoffed. “I agreed to share my house and my kid, not my beer.”
“Beer is sacred,” Chim declared. “How’d the eco-friendly paint work out? Any lingering fumes?”
“No, it’s fine,” Eddie assured. “But we kept Chris and Colin out for twenty-four hours, just in case. Two coats turned out to be plenty as well. I meant to take pictures, but….” He waved a hand. “It gets busy around here.” He focused on Maddie. “So, you explained to your mother that the picture was of Buck’s son.”
“Yes, but it made things worse if you can imagine,” Maddie said quietly. “She stopped making sense—that’s how upset she got—and I hung up on her. My father called back an hour later and told me that they were coming here. I told them not to. I told him they weren’t welcome at all. He said he didn’t care what I wanted, that they were coming, and I should tell….” She took a deep breath.
“They think they’re going to come here and take my son,” Buck said quietly.
“What?” Eddie demanded.
“My father said I’m a fuck up and that I have no business having children at all—much less as a single father,” Buck explained when Maddie started crying again. “I’ll call my lawyer tomorrow, but they have no hope of getting custody of my kid.” He frowned at the table. “Hell, they barely bothered to raise me, haven’t seen me in over a decade, and they probably think I’ll just sign custody over without a fuss. Of course, they had a kid for spare parts, so they aren’t exactly….” He trailed off when they all three glared at him. “It’s true. I’ll process it, eventually.” Buck took a deep breath and glanced toward the album. “But Colin is more important right now, and it’s clear they’re looking at him like he’s a replacement for their dead child, and I’m not going to allow that kind of obscene narrative.”
* * * *
After he’d poured Chim and Maddie into an Uber, they crawled into a bed for all of an hour before Colin woke up to be fed. Eddie ended up handling the feeding without waking Buck. He’d only had five beers which wasn’t much of anything for a man Buck’s size, but a buzz plus emotional exhaustion had taken its toll.
Eddie checked the family calendar as he heated Colin’s bottle and noted that Athena was due on duty within the hour, which meant she and Bobby were awake. He briefly considered texting them but realized that Buck probably wouldn’t be in any condition to have a talk with them about his parents or his dead brother. Moreover, he didn’t want to make things worse between Buck and Bobby. They were skirting around each other and had been all week. Buck hadn’t hesitated to let Bobby back in, but things seemed fragile.
The click of crutches caught his attention, as it always did, and he turned to watch Chris enter the kitchen. “Did we wake you?”
Chris shook his head and yawned. “Got thirsty, and no one’s gonna come get me and give me a glass of water. Growing up is a scam.”
Eddie grinned. “Agreed.” He retrieved a glass of water for him and set it on the table as Chris settled into a chair.
“Does he like his pillow?”
Eddie glanced toward the infant lounge pillow that Carla had brought over and instructed them on use—supervised use only, no sleeping, and no feeding for now. He’d kept repeating the instructions in his head until they stuck to avoid making a mistake. He’d had put it in the very center of the table just to be safe.
“He’s not complaining, so we’ll see.” He checked the temperature of the formula and carefully picked the baby up. “Let’s have a bit of a chat in the living room.”
“Did I do something wrong?” Chris asked.
“No,” Eddie said, but then he raised an eyebrow. “Do you feel guilty? Do you need to confess to something?”
Chris laughed and finished his water quickly before grabbing his crutches. They quickly settled down on the couch, and Colin greedily latched onto the bottle, so Eddie relaxed a bit.
“Buck got some bad news about his family tonight,” Eddie said. “He might be sad or even angry tomorrow. His parents aren’t…good people. They’re coming to town, and things might get ugly for a while.”
“Well, if they aren’t good, then they shouldn’t come here,” Chris said. “They can’t come in the house.”
“They certainly aren’t welcome here,” Eddie agreed. “We won’t let them in the house, and I don’t want them to meet you. Buck isn’t going to let them see Colin, either.”
“I figured they weren’t good,” Chris admitted.
“They never came here,” Chris said. “Not when Maddie got hurt by her bad husband and not when Buck hurt his leg—they were just never here at all, Daddy. That’s not right.”
“You’re right,” Eddie said and wondered how much Chris has managed to overhear about Maddie’s bad husband. He’d tried hard to keep that situation away from his kid.
“Grandma and Abuelo came here when you barely spent a whole day in the hospital because you fell and hit your head,” Chris said and rolled his eyes. “And you wouldn’t let me go to the hospital without visiting me.”
“I wouldn’t,” Eddie agreed.
“So, they aren’t good parents at all,” Chris declared. “And that’s terrible because Buck and Maddie are great. I guess we’re lucky they turned out so well since their parents suck.”
Eddie snorted. He was certain he should lecture his son about some part of that whole thing, but it was getting harder and harder to not agree with the sarcastic shit that came out of his kid’s mouth. “Well, you’re not wrong.”
“I’m pretty smart,” Chris agreed and leaned on him with a yawn. “Daddy?”
“Can we keep Buck and Colin?”
“I don’t know,” Eddie admitted.
“You want to, right?”
“Yeah,” he murmured.
“Well, you work on that,” Chris ordered and yawned again. “I’m doing my part—being cute and awesome. Clearly, I’m a great big brother already.”
“Clearly.” Eddie nodded.
“You have good dad skills,” Chris continued. “But you gotta work on the other stuff.”
“What stuff?” Eddie asked with a quick laugh.
Chris shrugged. “Adult stuff.” He waved both hands. “All of it.”
Eddie wondered why adulthood hadn’t come with an instruction manual and not for the first time.
* * * *
Buck downed two aspirin with the glass of water that Eddie had silently presented him with. Part of him wanted to be mad at Maddie for keeping Daniel a secret for so long, but it was hard as he knew intimately how terrible his parents could be when they wanted something.
By the time he made it into the kitchen, Eddie had heated one of the breakfast casseroles that Abuela had made, and Buck was all about that. He loved her food and most especially her breakfast enchiladas.
“Did he eat well this morning?” Buck asked quietly as he watched Eddie tuck Colin into the bassinet that had showed up at the house.
He wasn’t sure who’d brought it or if there was going to be anything left to receive for the baby shower. He wasn’t mad, though, since it meant they didn’t have to move the Pack ‘n Play around the house. The pillow thing was at the end of the table and has clearly been in use at some point during the night.
“He did,” Eddie reported. “Everything seems to be…flowing as well. The diaper was super gross.”
“Very super gross,” Chris agreed. “He’s lucky he’s so cute because I think his butt’s a nuclear weapon.”
Buck laughed a little. “Right? How does that even happen? He only has formula.”
“So that means it’s just gonna get worse,” Chris said grimly and shook his head.
Buck figured that was true, so he just nodded and grinned when Eddie laughed. Chris finished up and left them in favor of his reading.
“Athena’s on duty, but Bobby is off,” Eddie said and raised an eyebrow when Buck focused on him. “I figured you might want to talk to him today. I don’t know what he’s already heard, but I have a feeling that Chimney probably called him.”
“Yeah, probably,” Buck said and took a deep breath. “I don’t know how I feel about the whole thing, to be honest. I’m glad she told me, but I hate how upset she is. I hate what they did to her. To us. I need to call my lawyer, and I want to set up a will to make sure they’re never a consideration for custody.”
Eddie swallowed down a series of questions about that because he was already attached to Colin and didn’t want to part with him. He wasn’t sure he could handle even Maddie getting custody if something happened to Buck. It also made him realize that he’d never formalized his own wishes regarding Christopher’s custody if something should happen to him. He knew Christopher would be happiest with Buck, but that wasn’t something his parents would tolerate unless they had no choice, legally.
“Let’s talk about all of that,” Eddie said. “Privately.”
Buck glanced into the living room. “Right.”
“I think we’re on the same page,” Eddie continued. “But we have some questions to ask each other, and I want you to be able to be completely honest with me.”
Buck met his gaze, and he nodded. “I think so, too. Also, I think…maybe we should take this fake relationship to the next level for legal purposes.”
Eddie grinned. “Well, then, we definitely need a private conversation since I might want marital privileges.”
Buck grinned. “Don’t flirt with me, Eds.”
“I think it’s gonna be required,” Eddie admitted. “Chris told me I need to work on my adult stuff.”
“He’s rarely wrong,” Buck said and shrugged. “And flirting is definitely adult stuff.”
* * * *
Buck found himself alone with Colin for nearly an hour before Bobby showed up. Eddie had decided to take Chris to the store, and he figured they were probably going to spend an hour in Target trying to find the best toy his son couldn’t play with. He was already charmed by the idea of it.
“How’s it going, kid?” Bobby questioned.
“Well, we had a bath, and we’re about finished with skin-to-skin time,” Buck murmured. “And my parents are monsters.”
“Chimney said,” Bobby said with a sigh. “Christ, Athena was ready to go camp out at the airport so she could put them back on the first plane to anywhere. Have you called your lawyer just to cover your bases?”
“Yeah, she’s on it,” Buck said. “I’m not worried about the legal part of it—they don’t have a leg to stand on. Hell, they don’t have any sort of meaningful relationship with me, much less my infant. They couldn’t even get court-ordered grandparent visitation at this point. Moreover, they aren’t going to want to take it to court. My father probably assumes he can bully me into giving into my mother’s insane demands.”
“We knew they weren’t great. The footage of you pinned under that firetruck made national news, and as far as I know, they didn’t even call you.”
“No, not once,” Buck said. “They don’t have my number, but they clearly have Maddie’s, so they could’ve easily gotten of ahold of me if they’d really wanted to. I don’t mean anything to them. My father is an emotional wasteland who never bothered to invest in me. He probably couldn’t tell you a single true thing about me. My mother, well, maybe Daniel’s death broke her.”
“Or maybe she was always broken,” Bobby said roughly. “Or at least broken before she ever had children. Maddie didn’t paint a pretty picture of them, and so their behavior was a problem before your brother died.” He cleared his throat. “I’ve been reading about the skin-to-skin thing. Athena said she did it with Harry but not with May. I don’t remember if…well, I don’t think it was encouraged back then. It’s good, Buck. The benefits sound amazing.”
“The nursing staff said it was important,” Buck said. “And I figure since he’s not getting breastfed that we need to give him as much of a connection as possible. Eddie and I have been trading off the last few days, so he’s getting at least sixty minutes twice a day. We went to the pediatrician yesterday, and he’s doing great. I like the one that Carla helped me find, so that was a relief. I was worried…”
“Worried about what?” Bobby asked curiously.
Buck’s phone dinged, and he carefully wrapped Colin up in the blanket he was using to cover him since he was just wearing a diaper.
“Well, I was concerned that the doctor might be put off about a single father having such a small baby.” He shrugged. “I just keep waiting for disapproval everywhere, I guess.”
Bobby eagerly took the baby the moment Buck offered. “You’ve done nothing to earn anyone’s disapproval, so don’t tolerate that. Stepping up and taking care of your own child is to be commended, Buck. Surely you know that.”
Buck shrugged and pulled on his t-shirt. He paused when Bobby raised an eyebrow and looked down and found US Army blazed across his chest. “It was on the top of the basket of clean clothes.”
“Laundry piling up? I can help,” Bobby offered.
“Nah, we’re actually doing pretty good on that front so far,” Buck said. “We’ve got a routine going, but I expect it to go to pot at any moment.”
Bobby nodded. “Parenthood is nothing but destroyed schedules and messes that you don’t want to clean up, but people will judge you for if you leave it.”
Buck laughed. “Sounds about right.” He sighed. “You know that Eddie and I aren’t really together, right?”
Bobby sent him a look but then focused on Colin. “I think that you’ve both been stumbling toward a relationship since the grenade, and he took the first opportunity he had to move you into his house. The day of the tsunami, when we were told that you and Chris were on the pier….” He cleared his throat. “He sat beside that bed with his son in his arms and stared at you for hours, Buck. Then when we pointed out that Chris needed sleep, he just put his boy in bed with you and asked for coffee.”
Buck flushed. “I don’t remember much after walking into the hospital.”
“You were exhausted,” Bobby said. “But you saved thirty-one people that day, and you certainly earned a very long nap.” He paused. “And a blood transfusion.” He sighed. “And a bag of fluids.”
“And a sandwich,” Buck supplied. “Honestly, the best sandwich I’ve had in years.” He cleared his throat. “I don’t question the emotional connection—neither of us are as blind as you all like to think. I’ve never had a friendship like the one I have with Eddie, and I make a hobby of ruining romantic relationships. If I fucked up things with Eddie…I’d lose them both, and that would destroy me.”
“Sometimes we have to take risks,” Bobby said. “I think you know that better than most and, personally, I don’t think there’s a damn thing you would do to ruin what you’ve built with Eddie. You’re a good man, Buck, and even at your wildest, you were honest with your partners. I know you still get a bit of flak now and again about the….”
“Manwhoring,” Buck supplied and grinned when Bobby huffed. “It’s fine. Chim’s just jealous. One day, I’m gonna tell him that someone had to pick up his slack.”
Bobby snorted. “Please make sure I’m around to see his face when you do.”
“Deal.” Buck stood. “I’ll get him an outfit; he spit up on the one he was wearing before skin-to-skin.”