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.
The best thing about Hen and Karen visiting was the calm they brought with them. Chris loved hanging out with Denny, so that was a bonus, and the other boy never minded being folded into Chris’ schedule.
“Did you want another drink…” Buck glanced toward Hen, who was sitting at the kitchen table. “What’s up?”
Hen took a deep breath and slowly released it. “I’ve been working hard to not make this about me, Buck, but I just can’t figure out when I stopped being someone you can confide in.”
Buck’s mouth dropped open. “Hen.” He walked to the table and sat down with her. “I had a few hard months.” He grinned when she sent him a look. “And I know you know that. When I first found out, I sort of spiraled emotionally, and it was just a couple of days after Bobby told me he was the reason I wasn’t back on the job. It was like getting punched in the face after all the work I’d done to get back where I was.”
“Buck, you broke records in recertification,” Hen said quietly. “I understand your frustration and hurt considering Bobby’s actions and his lack of transparency from the very start. He should’ve been honest with you from day one about his own emotional issues regarding the bombing and your injury. I feel like I dropped the ball with you as well.”
“You didn’t,” Buck assured. “I just needed space to figure out for myself what I was capable of and what it would mean for me to make such a big change in my life. I don’t want you to think I didn’t consider all the consequences of the choices I made when it comes to Colin and being a father.”
She put a hand on his arm. “I don’t think for a minute you’d do otherwise. I’m just worried that maybe you’ve lost trust in me. I wouldn’t have said anything to anyone without your permission.”
“I know,” Buck said and smiled. He put his hand on top of hers. “It’s not about that at all, I promise. You’re family, and one of the worst parts about Bobby’s…issues with me coming back to work was that I felt like I was being discarded or replaced.”
“I don’t even like Bosko,” Hen muttered. “And that’s irritating because I figured it would be cool to have another woman on the ladder. She doesn’t fit in well, and I also don’t like her influence on Eddie, so you should nip that in the bud.”
“What kind of influence?”
“I don’t know…exactly,” Hen admitted and glanced toward the living room where Eddie was with Karen and the kids. “I’m glad he’s taking some time off, actually. I think he could use a little one-on-one time with you. He hasn’t had a lot of time to process everything that’s happened over the last year.”
Buck nodded. “I’ll work on it. Promise.”
Hen smiled and nodded. “I can’t believe you had a baby with Taylor Kelly.”
“Well, you’ve seen her,” Buck said and shrugged when Hen laughed. “She was totally game to make me feel better about Ali dumping me. I’m just really glad she didn’t terminate the pregnancy and gave me a choice in what happened. She could’ve easily declined to name a father and put him for up adoption. I’d have never known.”
“Yeah,” Hen agreed. “I can’t say I expected such a generous act from her. Has she asked for pictures or anything?”
“No, she even unfollowed me on Insta,” Buck admitted. “She wants a completely clean break, and I respect that. It’s for the best, and I’d like to focus on the surrogate angle going forward because I don’t want him to ever think he was unwanted. I know what that’s like.”
“Chim sort of…” Hen sighed. “Well, he couldn’t say everything he wanted to Maddie, could he? She’s a mess, and rightly so. But he’s furious for you both, but mostly you. He doesn’t know how to help, and he hates your parents. I don’t know what kind of reception they’re expecting when they get here, but it’s not going to be pretty.”
“They have money and are used to people kissing their asses,” Buck said. “Not like super-rich, but certainly well off. They have standards that I’ve never had any interest in meeting.”
Hen grimaced. “Right.”
“Neither of my parents ever bothered to find out what kind of person I am,” Buck said. “They probably think I’ll be relieved for them to sweep in and take my kid. They’ll be really surprised that I care enough to protest. That’s just the kind of people they are. I’ll never allow either of them near my son, Hen, so don’t worry about it.”
“Good. I’ve got your back, you know, for whatever you need.” She smiled when he nodded. “Now, I’m gonna go steal Colin from Eddie because he’s a baby hog.”
* * * *
Eddie settled on the bed and checked his alarm before putting his phone on the nightstand. Buck came in and carefully shut the door with a look toward the baby as he did so. Things had been hectic, and they hadn’t had a chance to talk, so they’d set aside a time, and it had also given him some time to think about what he wanted to say and how he wanted to say it.
“Anything from Maddie?”
“My parents haven’t contacted her again, but she expects to hear from them soon since I ignored their follow request on Insta and blocked them.” Buck set his own phone down next to Eddie’s and sat down with him. “So.”
“Yeah.” Eddie laughed a little. “Being honest with each other has never been the wrong choice.”
“No, agreed,” Buck murmured and shifted around so they could sit face to face. “I’m attracted to you—emotionally and physically. You make me feel safe, and I think you did from the start, which was really frustrating and annoying. I didn’t want that from anyone, much less a virtual stranger. Plus, I was still raw from Abby’s…incredibly callous exit from my life. It was so easy, really, to fall in love with what you’ve got going on—the whole package. And I wanted…god…I wanted to be a part of it so badly.”
Eddie swallowed hard because he hadn’t expected Buck to be so frank regarding his feelings. He should’ve—really—because his friend was very blunt in situations like the one they were in. “Buck, why didn’t you ever say anything?”
“I was going to,” Buck admitted. “But then I found out you were still married, and Shannon came back into your life. It was pretty obvious you were sleeping with her before you told me.” He flushed and shrugged. “And how could I inject myself into that situation? You were talking about making it work with her, and Chris was so happy that she came back.”
“I’m sorry I hurt you with that,” Eddie murmured and reached out to take Buck’s hand. “I was just…doing what I thought was best for Chris, but it would’ve been a mistake. Shannon asked for a divorce shortly before she died, and I agreed.” He watched emotion play across Buck’s face and relaxed just a little when Buck just offered him a small, sad smile. “I’ve got a lot of unresolved grief around her death, my parent’s reaction to it, and the hurt that Chris went through because of it all. Part of me deeply regrets allowing her back into his life…”
“No, don’t,” Buck urged. “It would’ve hurt him so much to know later in life that she tried to be a part of his life again, and you denied her. Losing her hurt, but that would’ve been a betrayal. I think Chris knows very well that love is both a gift and a burden. Pain is the price we pay for it.”
“There are times when I don’t think it’s worth it,” Eddie confessed and took a deep breath to settle himself. “It’s hard to watch him miss her and to know that I can’t fix it.” He looked down at their hands. “It was easy to fall in love with you, too, you know? You’re so fucking generous and brave and good. Part of me thinks I don’t deserve that kind of good in my life, but I recognize that’s a button my parents installed. It’s like they wanted to make sure that none of their children could truly function without them.”
“It’s probably exactly that,” Buck said. “Maybe not on purpose, but on some level, they didn’t want any of you to ever grow up. I’m not sure which is worse—parents who don’t give a fuck or parents who give too much of a fuck.”
“Neither is working out for us,” Eddie muttered. “This is going to be the most deeply unromantic moment of our entire relationship, and I’m sorry for that.” He paused when Buck laughed. “I think we really should get married—make a legal family to protect our kids from situations neither one of us could tolerate happening if one of us doesn’t come home. I want to live a long life with you, Buck. But if that doesn’t happen, I need to know that no one, not even Maddie, can take Colin from me. It’s crazy how much I already love him.”
“I feel…exactly the same,” Buck said. “I’d probably have to take Chris and disappear to keep him in our current circumstances, and that’s gutting. I’d certainly do it because I don’t think he’d ever thrive in your parent’s care.”
“No, they’d ruin his life,” Eddie said. “They don’t understand him or his needs. They see his disability first and have since the diagnosis. They do love him, but it’s not a healthy love. It’s not a love that could go unsupervised, and I’ve already taken that lesson to heart.”
“So, I should talk to my lawyer about adoption papers for both kids,” Buck said.
“Yes,” Eddie agreed. “I have life insurance money from Shannon’s death that I put in trust for Chris, and we need to work on our beneficiaries for insurance and pensions at work. We need a lawyer that deals with estate management considering how much money you’ve got lying around from the settlement.”
Buck made a face. “There’s probably someone in Natalie’s firm that can handle that. I’ll ask her. But our first step should be…the whole marriage thing. Courthouse?”
“It’s what I did the first time, mostly to piss my parents off,” Eddie shrugged. “Of course, they were being real dicks about the pregnancy, and Shannon didn’t want to get married at all but was tired of being harassed about it. So, we just went to a JP, got married, and told my parents to leave us alone.”
“I don’t have any expectations about a wedding, but I’m open to anything. We could elope and tell everyone after the fact.” He paused. “And deal with the snide comments for the next decade, or we could check the schedule and try to figure out a date where everyone could join us in a little ceremony. Then we could have a party at Bobby and Athena’s house.”
“I’d prefer to have friends and family there,” Eddie admitted. “Our lives wouldn’t be worth living if we got married without Abuela.”
“You’re right about that,” Buck said and winced. “We’d definitely need to investigate that whole witness protection thing. Did you want to invite your parents?”
“We’ll see how they behave,” Eddie said. “They aren’t going to react well to it or the adoption once they find out.”
“My adoption of Chris or your adoption of Colin?”
“Both, certainly. They don’t think I’m a good father.”
“You’re a great father,” Buck said. “Honestly, it’s part of the reason I…it’s stupidly attractive.” He flushed and shook his head when Eddie gaped at him. “Kids and puppies, man—not just magnets for the ladies.”
Eddie laughed. “Right.” He cleared his throat. “The pickup line at school can be a real meat market. I’m glad that Carla handles that most of the time.” He rubbed his thumb across the top of Buck’s hand. “It’s probably weird to get married when we’ve never even had a date.”
“We’ve spent more time together since we met than some people do with a year of dating,” Buck pointed out. “And maybe it’s weird, but I don’t care how we got here. I’m just so relieved to be in this moment with you. I didn’t think we’d ever have a conversation like this.”
“I’m glad to be here, too,” Eddie murmured and took a deep breath. “I’ve never trusted anyone the way I trust you, and it’s such a relief to have you in my life. Making a family with you…it’s a privilege.”
Buck huffed a little, then leaned forward and pressed his mouth against Eddie’s. It was the softest, sweetest kiss he’d ever gotten, and Eddie hardly knew what to do with himself. He cupped the back of Buck’s head and deepened the kiss just a little because he’d wanted to taste Buck forever. Colin started to cry, and they parted. He rested his forehead briefly against Buck’s, then released him.
“We probably won’t get laid for a year,” Eddie muttered as they both left the bed.
Buck shot him a look. “We’ll figure something out really quick on that front. Teamwork, Eds.”
“Then I’ll get the bottle while you change him because it’s about that time, and I expect the worst has happened in that diaper.”
“Gah, how can be so cute and smell so awful?” Buck questioned as he picked the baby up. “We might need to call in reinforcements for this. Do you think Athena would curse us out?”
“Absolutely,” Eddie said with a laugh as they both left the bedroom in different directions.
* * * *
Buck didn’t allow himself to want for much because he’d learned early that was the road to disappointment. If Abby Clark had taught him anything, it was that pain and rejection could come in the softest and sweetest of packages. Quite a few people believed her to be his first love, and he’d never bothered to correct them. She’d certainly been the first serious relationship he’d had since coming to LA, but the soft emotions he’d felt for her weren’t life-changing.
Her exit from his life had left him floundering because he’d trusted her, and she’d fucked off to find herself like he didn’t matter at all. It hurt in an unexpected way because he’d done his best for her, and she couldn’t even give him a proper end to their relationship. So, he was surprised when his phone lit up, and her picture flashed across the screen.
Buck considered not answering, but he wasn’t rude and didn’t like to ignore anyone, much less an ex-lover. So, he picked up the phone and patted Chris’ shoulder as he left the table where they’d been going through book listings on Amazon.
“Buck, hi, how are you?”
“Good,” Buck said as he stepped out onto the back porch. He leaned on the railing and cleared his throat. “How are you?”
“I’m great. I’m coming back to LA. I was hoping we could get together and talk.”
Buck made a face because there was a time when he would’ve been thrilled to have her back in his life. “About what?”
“I’ve missed you, Buck, and…I saw the pictures of your son on Insta. I asked Carla about his mother. She didn’t say much—just that there wasn’t a mother in the picture.” Abby cleared her throat. “I’d be happy to help in any way I can. You must be overwhelmed.”
“Not at all,” Buck said. “I’m engaged to be married to a great guy, and he’s all the help I need.”
“Don’t you think…wouldn’t it be better to give your son a mother?”
“I think giving my son a parent I can depend on and trust is what matters most—gender is irrelevant,” Buck said and glanced over his shoulder, and the door opened. “I haven’t heard from you in a very long time, Abby, so there’s really nothing left between us to discuss.”
“I realize I didn’t handle everything the best way,” Abby said. “I was just trying to make sense of my life and who I wanted to be without my mother to care for. I really do love you, Buck. We could try again—make a family together.”
Eddie pressed his shoulder against his, and Buck just glanced briefly at his partner.
“I’m just not interested,” Buck admitted. “I deserved a clean break, Abby, but you didn’t give me that. I waited for you—an embarrassingly long time—because I thought that you deserved my loyalty. But over the last year, I’ve come to terms with the fact that you didn’t even think I deserved a proper goodbye from you.”
“I made mistakes, yes, but I was grieving. I’m in a much better headspace now. I know you’ve been through a lot—the bombing and the injury you suffered must have taken a lot out of you. I don’t know who this woman was, but she took advantage of you and left you with a baby you can’t possibly take care of on your own.”
“I already told you I’m not alone,” Buck said and leaned into Eddie, who wrapped an arm around him. “But, honestly, even if I were alone…I wouldn’t welcome you back into my life as a partner. You proved to me that I can’t trust you, and it was a mistake to do so.”
“I’ve never done anything to deserve you saying that!” Abby exclaimed.
“Except you fucked off to Europe and ghosted me like an emotionally overwrought teenager,” Buck said. “Do you know what I learned about myself when I was pinned under that ladder truck?”
“What?” she questioned quietly.
“That I don’t have time to waste on people who can’t be trusted,” Buck said. “I know that I didn’t deserve to be ignored and discarded by you during your Eat, Pray, Love midlife crisis.” He paused when she huffed. “But that’s neither here nor there. I already explained I’m engaged to be married, and I’m really happy.”
“You won’t meet with me to discuss it?” Abby questioned. “I’ll be there in three days.”
“No, I’m not interested in meeting with you to discuss anything,” Buck said tiredly. “Especially since you clearly aren’t listening to me.”
“You aren’t really engaged to be married,” Abby said huffily. “Carla would’ve told me. You aren’t even dating anyone and haven’t since that silly girl from the earthquake dumped you.”
“I’m going to go,” Buck said with a frown. “I don’t think I want you to call again.”
“I’d hoped you’d learned not to be so reckless,” she said sadly.
“Goodbye.” He hung up and shoved the phone in his pocket with a deep frown. “Abby saw a picture of Colin on Insta.”
“Oh.” Eddie’s fingers tightened briefly on his shoulder then he released him. “Did she want to come…back?”
“Yeah,” Buck admitted. “I don’t get it. Abby fucking ghosted me, Eddie. I waited for her for months, and that’s on me because she told me that I didn’t have to. But she also called and texted me a lot when she first left. Like she was clinging to the relationship just as much as I was then…she sort of faded from my life. And now she’s acting like she can just come back and insert herself into my life so she can mother my child.”
“Ah, well, babies.” Eddie laughed a little when Buck huffed. “The pictures of you and Colin on your private Insta are…amazing, Buck. You look so in love and happy. I can see why she might be attracted to what you’ve got going on and want to be a part of it.”
“We need to take some family pictures then,” Buck said and pulled Eddie close. “The four of us, so everyone knows what we really have going on.”
“You told her that you were engaged.”
“Aren’t we?” Buck said and smiled when Eddie flushed. “I was thinking about rings.”
“Rings,” Eddie murmured, and he caught Buck’s hand in his own. He laced their fingers together. “I didn’t have one with Shannon—I got her something simple from the mall because it was expected, but we needed all the money we could get to take care of Chris.”
“Well, we can’t wear rings on the job—too dangerous.” Buck turned to lean on the rail so he could look at Eddie’s face. “Maybe we could get ink.”
“You mean get our rings inked on,” Eddie said. “Safer option. I like…that a lot, actually.” He looked down at their hands. “You weren’t tempted by her? Everyone says that Abby was your first love and that you were devastated when she left you.”
“My first love—real, grown-up love—was Malcolm. We met in Brazil. He was on vacation, and I was working in the hotel where he stayed. His friends went home, and he stayed. I was crazy about him, to be honest. He was just…everything I thought I wanted. We were together for a year.”
“His parents cut off his funds and demanded he come back to the States. I told him we could live on what I made, but….” Buck shrugged. “The thought of his parents cutting him off permanently horrified him, so he ran back to them without a backward glance in my direction. He married a woman a year after he left me. He called me on their wedding night, crying because he couldn’t….” He waved a hand. “Malcolm is completely gay, Eddie, and his parents thought they could fix him by making him marry the girl he dated in high school but could barely stand to kiss.”
“That’s horrible,” Eddie said. “You’ve never mentioned him before. I’m sorry he hurt you.”
“He hurt himself more,” Buck said. “He’s still married to her. There’s a kid now, so I guess he figured out how to…pretend.”
“You did love Abby, right?”
“I cared for her,” Buck said. “I certainly loved the idea of falling in love with her. I thought she was sweet and lovely. But, to be honest, I don’t know that our relationship would’ve lasted due to the age difference. She’s in her forties, and I feel like the differences would’ve started to matter a lot the further along we got into a relationship. But in the end, whatever she felt for me wasn’t enough, and that’s really why we ended.” He grimaced. “I don’t know what that phone call was about.”
“It was about a woman in her forties with no children seeing an opportunity to be a mother,” Eddie said roughly. “Without having to give birth herself.”
“Oh. Well.” Buck made a face. “That’s not going to happen. I can’t trust her with my son’s heart, so that’s a non-starter. I meant it; I don’t even want her in my life as a friend.”
“We should go back inside. Chris has probably put thirty books in your cart.”
“Nah, he’s really picky about his resources. We have to check out the author’s educational background first. Then we Google them to make sure they don’t say stupid, ugly stuff on the Internet because we’re not giving buttholes any money.”
“Is that why he tried to donate his Harry Potter books?” Eddie asked.
“Man, don’t get me started,” Buck muttered. “That trifling heifer broke our hearts. I had to work really hard to help him separate the love of Hogwarts from the bad behavior of the author. But that’s probably going to be a singular exception for him. He’s got opinions.”
“Always,” Eddie said. “You should’ve seen his face the first time we presented him with a set of crutches. That’s how we found out he hated the color green.”
* * * *
Carla had called and asked to come over, so they said yes immediately because Colin had been crying for an hour, and Eddie was convinced the baby hated them all. Buck met her at the door and practically dragged her into the house.
“Colin hates us,” Christopher declared. “He’s gonna run away from home as soon as he can walk!”
“He doesn’t hate us,” Buck protested. “Right? Eddie?”
Eddie opened his mouth then shrugged when Colin started screaming again. He bounced the baby gently, which did not help, then thrust the baby into Carla’s hands. “Your turn.”
“Ah, now, he’s just having a frustrating day,” Carla declared. “Is it gas, you think?”
“I don’t think so,” Eddie said. “We’re kind of off schedule—he’s been up and down all night and most of the morning.”
“Hmmm.” Carla patted the baby’s back for a moment, then focused on Buck, who was near tears. “Stressed out, Buckaroo?”
“A little,” Buck admitted. “Do you think I’m stressing him out? Because we haven’t even raised our voices around him.”
“Oh, no, you just look like your world is on fire,” Carla said wryly. “This one’s just a cranky baby. It happens. I’ll walk with him for a bit, give you boys a break.”
Eddie threw himself onto the sofa with Chris while Buck chose to hover and fret.
“Colin probably doesn’t really hate us,” Chris said. “He barely knows us.”
Eddie nodded. “It’ll take a while for him to figure out how terrible we are.”
Chris laughed. “I feel bad for him. He can’t tell us what’s wrong so we can fix it.”
“True, that does suck,” Eddie murmured and yawned.
“We should nap while Carla’s here to distract Buck and Colin,” Chris whispered.
Eddie grinned at him because that seemed like a fantastic idea. He snatched his son up, and they pretended to sneak out of the living room under Buck’s watchful eye.
Buck followed Carla into the kitchen as Colin’s cries quieted. “Your baby magic is strong. Move in with us.”
“Don’t tempt me,” Carla warned. “This baby is a heart bandit, just like his daddy.” She sat down at the table and settled Colin against her easily. “Abby called me last night.”
Buck frowned. “She called me, too.”
“I want you to know that I don’t tell her your business. She asks about you sometimes, and I give her the bare minimum because she doesn’t really deserve to know how you’re doing, if I’m honest about it. She’s my friend, and I love her, but she didn’t do right by you.”
Buck flushed and shrugged. “I…I’m over that. I didn’t think you were gossiping about me, but I don’t care what she knows. She said she was coming back to LA. She offered…she wants me to try again with her, and I think that’s mostly about Colin. I don’t really understand.”
“Well, you know she can’t have children,” Carla said.
“I…she said once that children weren’t in the cards for her, but I thought it was because of her mother. She didn’t have a lot of time to even breathe while taking care of Patricia,” Buck said.
“That’s true enough,” Carla murmured. “But no, she just can’t have children. I’m surprised she wasn’t more explicit with you because I asked her, and she said she told you that children weren’t going to happen. You’re a young man, so I wanted to make sure she fully informed you of what you could and couldn’t expect from her relationship-wise.”
“I didn’t ask any questions. I just told her that it was fine.” Buck looked at his hands. “It wasn’t fine, of course, because I’ve always wanted to have kids. I really didn’t expect the relationship to last long, and I wasn’t in a good place to set any sort of healthy standard for what I should expect from a long-term relationship. It’s clear, looking back, that she and I didn’t communicate well at all despite how much we talked to each other.”
“Agreed,” Carla said with a sigh. “She’ll be here on Wednesday afternoon. I told her I couldn’t pick her up, so I don’t know what she’ll do on that front. But I don’t advise you to pick her up from the airport, Buck. She doesn’t need to get it in her head that she has a single chance of inserting herself in your life again.”
“I thought I made that clear last night,” Buck said. “I don’t want to hurt her, Carla, but I’ve already made plans with Eddie, and we’re going to make a family.”
“She told me you claimed to be engaged to a man,” Carla said. “I think she thought I would admit you were lying. I didn’t. It’s none of her business, at any rate. When’s the wedding? If I’m not invited, I’ll ruin your lives.”
“Of course, you’re invited,” Buck said quickly. “We’re just going to have a courthouse ceremony and a party afterward. We’re going to announce it soon.”
“Is this about creating a legal family to protect your son from your awful parents?” Carla asked.
“You’ve been talking to Maddie,” Buck said with a sigh.
“Well, you probably don’t want to hear this, and don’t get mad because we all just want the best for you and Eddie,” Carla said. “But we had a meeting about your parents at Bobby and Athena’s last night.”
“We? Who’s we?” Buck asked.
“Me, Bobby, Athena, Hen, Karen, Chimney, Maddie, and Michael…” Carla trailed off when Buck’s mouth dropped open. “You’re dealing with a lot. So, we were trying to figure out how to make this all less stressful for you. I hope that doesn’t upset you.”
“Well, I love all of you guys, and I appreciate the thought,” Buck said and huffed. “But I’m grown, Carla, and I can handle my parents.”
“I know you can,” Carla said. “And the others know that, too, but you’re our family, baby, and we don’t want them to hurt you any more than they already have. But back to my question.”
“Well, yes, that is part of it, but we had a real honest discussion with each other about our feelings, so we’re not just entering some sham marriage of convenience, I promise. We love the hell out of each other, and we’re going to make a family.”
“You’ve already made a family,” Carla said and looked down at Colin. “A beautiful one, and I’m proud of you both for finally talking about it. I wanted to talk to you about childcare.”
“I’m worried as fuck about leaving him with a stranger, and we haven’t even talked about how it will work,” Buck admitted. “But I promise we aren’t going to try to take advantage of you. I wouldn’t want anything to take away from the care you give Christopher in any single way.”
“Chris doesn’t need a lot of hands-on care,” Carla said. “And he’s getting older, so I was going to suggest you just pay me extra.” She grinned when Buck laughed. “How long do you plan on taking leave?”
“I’m considering taking some classes and getting a few more certifications before I go back,” Buck admitted. “So, probably not until he’s at least six months old since I’m going to be on light duty until we can get the screws out of my leg. I think Eddie was hoping you’d resume at least the day part of your schedule for Chris next week. He needs outside stimulation, and we don’t want him to get behind on his goals for the summer. Plus, he misses going to the park.”
“Sounds good,” Carla said. “I can take on a few temp jobs here and there to make up the rest of the hours.”
“What? No, we’ll pay you like normal,” Buck protested. “Seriously.”
“The state pays for forty hours a week,” Carla explained. “It’s part of Christopher’s benefits. The rest Eddie pays out of pocket.”
“Well, we’ll make up the difference between your reported hours,” Buck said. “Please don’t take temp assignments all over town and run yourself ragged.”
“No arguing. You’ve more than earned it and will do so again in the future. I didn’t know what kind of literal godsend you were until recently, Carla. I can’t imagine what a relief it was for Eddie to find someone he could trust with his son while he’s on the job.”
“Saved my life, honestly,” Eddie said as he came into the kitchen. “Chris is down for a much-needed nap. I’m trying not to resent my own child.” He yawned. “But I couldn’t sleep. But, back to childcare, I thought I was going to lose my mind until you introduced me to Carla. Everything was stupidly complicated after I graduated from the academy and, suddenly, I had to find someone that could watch my kid for 26 straight hours on some days and handle his school.” He started a pot of coffee. “Now, what baby magic have you done?”
Carla looked down at Colin, who was dozing on her chest. “I think it’s the boobs.”
Eddie snorted. “Like father like son.”
Buck huffed. “I’m an ass man, actually.” Then blushed when they both looked at him. “Well, I am.”
“I’m mad at Shannon,” Eddie confessed as he stared at the ceiling. Beside him, Buck shifted on the bed, and a hand settled on his chest. He took a deep breath. “And it’s not fair because she didn’t die on purpose. She didn’t want to die. Sometimes, I feel like I ruined her life the day we met. When I first met her, she was getting ready to go to nursing school. She had to drop out her second semester because she was pregnant. She never went back.”
“Life happens, you know,” Buck said. “She had several years after she left you to figure out what she wanted and could’ve certainly gone back to school during that time. You said her mother passed just eight months after she left Texas.”
“Yeah.” Eddie took a deep breath. “Since we were still married and she didn’t have a will, I inherited everything she had, including her mother’s condo in San Bernardino. Plus, there was life insurance through her job that went to Chris.”
“What…” Buck tried to sit up, but Eddie just pulled him back down. “What are you going to do with it?”
“I have no clue. The whole thing is still in probate—bills are being paid and all of that. There’s not much on that front, but there’s a process for the whole thing, and I haven’t been dedicating a lot of time to it. I guess I can now. I’m just so mad at Shannon that dealing with it stressed me out.”
“You had plenty of reasons to be mad at her while she was alive,” Buck said. “But, dude, how dare you be mad at her for dying.”
Eddie huffed. “Right? I’m an asshole.”
“Well, on her behalf, knock it the fuck off,” Buck told him sternly. “It wasn’t what she wanted, and we both know that. She loved Chris and was so grateful to be allowed back into your lives. Even asking for a divorce doesn’t change that. If anything, she was trying to make the best decision for all three of you.”
“I know that part,” Eddie said roughly. “And I was disappointed at the time, but I’ve realized that she was right. It’s just I went to that restaurant that night thinking I was getting my wife back and…another child. We thought she might be pregnant.”
“Oh. Eds, fuck. Do you know…”
“She wasn’t, and she was relieved,” Eddie said roughly. “Which was reason enough, right then, to realize that we weren’t going to work because I wanted more kids.”
“Right,” Buck sighed. “That certainly explains why you kidnapped Colin and me out of the hospital.”
Eddie laughed. “Shut up.”
“It’s okay. We’re both pretty happy with the results. It could be Stockholm Syndrome, though.”
“If anyone is a hostage in this relationship, it’s me,” Eddie muttered.
“Hahaha,” Buck responded and poked Eddie in the chest. “I’ve been meaning to ask you about Bosko.”
“What about her? She’s good at the job—great actually—but she’s a little abrasive, and I can tell she’s chafing under Bobby’s command style,” Eddie said. “Hen doesn’t like her, so that’s put Chim off a bit. You know he follows her lead.”
“Hen’s got great instincts,” Buck said. “I tend to follow her lead on people, too. She didn’t like Abby all that much. I should’ve paid attention to that.” He rolled onto his side. “Have you seen her outside of work?”
“Not recently,” Eddie denied and shifted so they were face to face in the near darkness of his room. “What’s this? I told you there was nothing going on there.”
“Oh, I don’t mean that. It was clear to me that your hook-up was a man.” Buck cleared his throat. “It’s just Hen said she didn’t like how Bosko was influencing you, but she didn’t explain why. Clearly, she’s put off by something, so I’m curious about it.”
“I went out for drinks with her once,” Eddie said. “Her suggestion and it was fine, but I left early. We met with some people from her station. It’s clear they miss each other and hate being spread out across the city while their house is being rebuilt. I think…Hen probably means the sparring. Bosko does MMA, and you know that’s a hobby for me as well. We sparred in the gym, and it got a little rough. Bosko left some bruises, and Hen was furious.”
“Bruises? You’ve got bruises?” Buck tried to leave the bed.
“Weeks ago,” Eddie said and pulled him back into place. “You’d have seen them if I still had them. Don’t fuss.”
“You won’t do that again, right? If she can’t pull her punches during exercise, then she has no business sparring on the job,” Buck said with a huff. “What if she’d cracked a rib or something? Or bruised one of your organs?”
“I don’t think she does much casual sparring,” Eddie said. “She apologized, and we haven’t sparred since. I think Bobby talked to her, too. At any rate, things have been a little tense since then between her and Hen. I expect she’ll be gone by the time I return to work at any rate.”
“Right.” Buck took a deep breath. “About Shannon—do you think maybe you need to see a therapist?”
Eddie huffed and rolled over onto his back. “No.”
“Is that your father saying no or you saying no?” Buck asked.
“I…I don’t know for sure,” Eddie confessed. “I’ll think about it…I’m trying to work through it, and it’s helped that you’re here. Chris hasn’t had a nightmare since you and Colin moved in. I think he’s just so preoccupied with all the changes that he doesn’t have a lot of room for anything else.”
“Then we can expect those to come back once everything settles down,” Buck said. “And that means he probably needs to see a therapist, too. We’ll start researching—see what insurance will cover and all that.” He yawned. “I went after the bombing and again after the tsunami. It helped. It was hard, at first, because you know….”
“Your first therapist fucked you,” Eddie said bluntly and huffed.
“That. At any rate, I had to work on myself because I developed some issues with water after the tsunami.”
“You know what Chris said about the tsunami?” Eddie questioned. “The first night, I started to run a bath for him, and I was worried that he’d have a problem, and he said the tsunami wasn’t a big deal. He said he just had to keep swimming, and you saved him, so he wasn’t worried about it.”
Buck shifted closer and took a deep breath. “That day…it was the worst day of my whole life, Eds. When the wave hit and it…it just ripped him away from me…I’ve never known fear like that. I didn’t think I’d be able to find him. I didn’t know how either of us was going to survive it. All I could think was that you’d never forgive me.”
“I’d have never blamed you,” Eddie murmured. “I can’t say I’d have…. I’d have lost my mind if either of you had died. I can’t imagine it, really, because what I was left with at the end of that day was…. I was just so damn grateful to get you both back.” He took a deep breath. “Are you still having issues with water?”
“As it turned out, it was more an issue of trusting myself in water,” Buck said. “And I’m good. I just had to take it apart and figure out what it meant. I’ve even done some swimming in the ocean for PT.”
“You haven’t gone since you moved in.”
“No, but I’ve been getting plenty of exercise. Though we should both hit the gym soon.
“Agreed.” Eddie shifted a bit closer. “Has Abby contacted you again?”
“No, but I think she will. Carla reminded me that Abby can’t have children. We didn’t really discuss the reason behind it, but she told me when we were dating that children weren’t in the cards for her. I just accepted it and moved on since it seemed to make her uncomfortable. At any rate, I think she sees our previous relationship and my current circumstances as a chance to have a baby.”
“That’s…” Eddie sighed. He wasn’t sure he could even judge her because he’d certainly laid claim to both Buck and Colin the moment he could. “Not your problem, you know?”
“I do know,” Buck agreed. “I told her that I’m happy where I am, and I meant it. We’ve approached this whole thing in a very calculated manner, and maybe we wouldn’t be here now if everyone hadn’t assumed we were a couple before we were ready to acknowledge it, but that’s not really any of her business.” He paused. “I really do love you, and it’s so weird to be able to say it. I didn’t know if we’d ever get here. I wasn’t sure…well.”
“Go ahead,” Eddie encouraged. “We sort of promised to be really honest with each other, and I think that’s going to be important going forward.”
“I don’t think I deserve any of this,” Buck confessed. “Colin, Christopher, or you. I feel like the worst kind of fuck-up, and I keep expecting to wake up and find myself alone with nothing. Sometimes I want to send Taylor a stupidly long thank you letter describing the beautiful and life-changing gift she’s given, but I’m afraid if I do, she’ll realize she shouldn’t have walked away and come back and take him.”
“She can’t, right?”
“No, she surrendered all of her parental rights. Legally, like I said, she’s just a surrogate. It’s a very explicit agreement. There’s no wiggle room, for either of us, regarding custody or financial responsibility.” Buck moved around and threw an arm completely over Eddie’s chest, and they settled together in a tangle of limbs. “I think Chris is right about needing a bigger house.”
“When I sell Shannon’s condo, I’ll have that money to put into a new house. I’m just renting this one—it was a spur-of-the-moment choice since I was running from my parents,” Eddie murmured. “It’s weird having the potential to have so much money after I struggled for years. It’s not worth it—I’d much rather be going through a messy divorce right now.”
“Have you gone through her things?” Buck questioned.
“No, the contents of the condo are part of the estate,” Eddie said.
“How about we throw that whole mess in my lawyer’s lap?” Buck questioned. “We need to meet with her soon anyway so we can get the process for adoption started. Also, did you know that everyone but us met at Bobby’s house to discuss my parents?”
Eddie hesitated only briefly because he hadn’t known how to bring the topic up and wasn’t sure if Buck was aware. “I didn’t know until after the fact. Chim sent me a text and told me they had a plan to deal with them if they show up at Maddie’s and that we had nothing to worry about. I don’t know what that means, exactly, and I figured that maybe we should have plausible deniability in case their plan includes body disposal.”
Buck laughed a little and curled his fingers into Eddie’s T-shirt. “I should probably be pissed not to be included in that conversation.”
“They’re just trying to lower your stress,” Eddie murmured and took a deep breath against Buck’s head and ran a hand down his back. “That’s what love is, you know?”
“I’m not all that familiar with it,” Buck admitted and lifted his head. “But I’m trying to wrap my head around it, I promise.”
Eddie lifted slightly and pressed a brief kiss against Buck’s mouth. “Yeah, I know you are.”
* * * *
Eddie had driven Buck’s new SUV to the station since the second base for the car seat hadn’t arrived, and they hadn’t felt like moving it. He liked it more than he thought he would but did kind of miss the Jeep. Buck and Christopher had gone to the library, so he’d taken himself to work to pick up the paperwork they needed to change for HR regarding beneficiaries, change of address, and all that other crap Bobby had gathered for them.
“Heard you were playing house with Buckley and his…accident.”
Eddie normally ignored Chad Rogers. He’d joined a few months before the bombing and was a jealous little shit. He shifted the car seat in his hand so the asshole couldn’t see the baby and sighed. “Shut up, Rogers.”
“I’m just messing with you,” the younger man said with a laugh. “Can’t blame you for getting a househusband. Buckley’s gotta be good for something these days.”
Eddie put the car seat on the table and focused on Rogers. “Buck broke records requalifying for the job. He’s been invited to train and certify for SAR. He’s also been accepted for course work from FEMA while he’s finishing up on the blood thinners. And do not call his son an accident. You’ve got no business talking shit about an infant.”
Rogers held up both hands as if he could placate Eddie. “Relax, Diaz, no need to get bent. It’s just Buckley.”
“Just Buckley?” Hen questioned as she came up the stairs. “Wow.” She made a beeline for the sink to wash her hands. “Give me that baby, Eddie, or else.”
“Rogers seems to think Buck’s going to be my househusband and stay home with his accident.”
“What a rude and cruel thing to say about a genuinely heroic and good man,” Hen said evenly as she stared at Rogers. She turned to rescue Colin from his car seat. “So, you should fuck off, Chad.”
Rogers’ mouth dropped open, which wasn’t unwarranted because Eddie had never heard Hen speak to anyone like that. She stared pointedly at him until Rogers left, eyes still wide with shock.
“I can’t stand his dumbass behavior,” Hen muttered as she walked to the sofa. “Why are you here?”
“Chris and Buck went to the library—we all agreed that wouldn’t be a good outing for the baby, so I came here to pick up paperwork from Bobby,” Eddie explained. “Who’s picking up my shifts?”
“Brandon from Bosko’s team. She’s happy to have him on board,” Hen said. “It’s calmed her down a bit, actually, so that’s working for the moment. Bobby said that Buck will be doing the extra training and stuff. How long will that last?”
“He’d like to wait for full-time hours until Colin is at least six months old,” Eddie explained. “We’ve got a lot of things on our plate—we’re going to get married.”
Hen glanced up briefly but then focused on Colin with a nod. “We were going to suggest it to you guys—to make it easy for you to adopt the baby, but Bobby told us to stay out of your relationship. Partner adoption is a well-honed process, so it won’t be anything traumatic. Just complicated and labor intensive, which is what lawyers are for. If you can afford to get a private home study done, do it because waiting for the county to provide a social worker was the worst.”
“Buck’s lawyer is setting everything up. He’s going to adopt Christopher, too. We haven’t told him yet.”
“He’ll be over the moon,” Hen said. “Seriously. You’ll make that kid’s life to know that Buck will be his second dad, for real.”
“I think so, too,” Eddie admitted. “They love each other a lot, and after the tsunami, it was like they had this bond…that I was a little jealous of, at first. Then I was just relieved because there’s something amazing about having someone in your life that loves your child as much as you do.”
“Must have made keeping your own feelings to yourself really difficult,” Hen said wryly. “Buck’s so generous and sweet. I’ve rarely met a person like him. I worry about people taking advantage of him all the damn time.”
“Yeah, agreed. I expected worse from Taylor Kelly, and maybe that makes me the asshole in this situation, but I am glad she took herself off to New York. I hope she never comes back.”
“Me, too,” Hen admitted. “It’s for the best, if she doesn’t want to see either of them. I respect her for the choices she made. Some people shouldn’t be parents, and they let society pressure them into doing it, and the regret gets real. And the kids are fucked up.”
“My parents wanted children, and all of their kids are fucked up,” Eddie muttered. “Three kids, three failed marriages and counting. I’m worried that they’ll run Buck off.”
“They’d have to eject Buck from this planet to get him out of your life,” Hen said in amusement. “Do you think your mom could build a trebuchet?”
Eddie grinned. “Maybe? She’s crafty. The thing is that I’m not sure I want them in my life due to their past behavior. I don’t think I can really forgive them for the things they’ve said about me as a parent or as a person. They act like I’m an irresponsible idiot. I told them to get therapy.”
“They clearly need it,” Hen said. “You’re a great father, you know. Don’t let them say otherwise—especially not in front of Christopher. Parental alienation is a form of child abuse.”
Eddie took in a ragged breath. “I…wow. I never really considered that…isn’t that between parents?”
“The principle is the same, Eddie,” Hen said quietly. “Don’t let them disparage you in front of your sons. It’s ugly and emotionally abusive.”
“Sons.” He loved the sound of that. Eddie focused on Colin, who was blinking and pursing his lips. “Speaking of—it’s time for a bottle.”
“Can I feed him?” Hen questioned.
A few minutes later, Bobby appeared with a thick file of paperwork, and Eddie joined him at the table to go over what the older man had gathered. It was a lot since they were combining their insurance plan to save money. Buck was paying almost as much as an individual as Eddie was paying for a family plan, so it only made sense. He didn’t know what Buck had told Bobby, exactly, about their plans regarding the marriage as that conversation had happened while he was in the shower.
“It would be hypocritical of me to tell you that I’ll be pissed if you two sneak off and do this alone, right?” Bobby questioned as he passed the folder Eddie’s way.
Eddie laughed. “We won’t. We just don’t want anything complicated—it doesn’t suit us. But we’re open to a party afterward if that’s something you guys want.”
“We definitely want,” Bobby assured. “I’m already planning a menu.”
Eddie felt his face flush, and he focused on the folder. He opened it and started to sort through the various forms. “It’s not as weird as I thought it would be, if I’m honest. It just feels like the most natural progression possible for us.”
“You have a good partnership with Buck—it’s always shined out from you both,” Bobby said. “Will you be changing last names?”
“Haven’t talked about it,” Eddie admitted. “We’ll get back to you on that. I don’t know how he feels about his last name…because of his parents.”
“Right,” Bobby said with a sigh. “Well, we’re going to help manage that as much as we can.”
Hen appeared. She tucked the bottle into the messenger bag Eddie was using for a diaper bag and transferred Colin into Bobby’s hands. “Thanks for the baby time; I have to work on some stocking. Chim’s due back shortly from his supply run, so be prepared for another baby snatch.”
Eddie laughed and watched Bobby’s face soften as he focused on the baby. He noted out of the corner of the eye that Rogers had returned. The younger man grimaced at the sight of their captain looking at the baby in a besotted fashion, which Eddie expected. Plenty of people in the station were outright jealous of the attention and time Bobby gave Buck, and now that same affection was being lavished on Buck’s son.
“Chad, you had something to say to Eddie?” Bobby questioned mildly.
Rogers flushed a dull red, and Eddie watched a hand curl tightly over the chair. “My apologies for making inappropriate comments about your personal life. It won’t happen again.”
“Thank you,” Eddie said. “Apology accepted.”
Rogers nodded and left.
“He didn’t mean that at all,” Eddie murmured, and Bobby sighed. “That guy has had a problem with Buck from the start. He has expectations about his transfer, I guess, that aren’t being met. I don’t know what his deal is exactly, but he acts like Buck is pissing on his territory and when Buck has seniority here.”
“He wants him,” Chim said quietly as he joined them at the table with a bottle of water in hand. “And Buck won’t give him the time of day.”
Eddie ignored the little sweep of irrational anger. Buck was attractive, so of course other people might want to get close to him. “I’ve never noticed that.”
Chimney snorted. “Like he’s gonna try to flirt with Buck in front of you?”
That made him feel weird. “I’m not some territorial caveman,” he protested. “I don’t even get in the way of people hitting on Buck in the field.”
“You did early on,” Bobby interjected and grinned when Eddie huffed. “Until you realized he was turning down those offers left and right. That being said, I don’t know if I agree about the attraction. I think he wants to be Buck. I heard him complaining about the number of followers Buck has on…Instagram or TikTik?”
Eddie grinned. “It’s TikTok, Bobby, and Buck’s account with that app is just him and Christopher sharing random facts about whatever subject they’re digging into at the moment. It was probably Instagram. He has over a million followers—due to the tsunami.” He waved his hand when Chim’s mouth dropped open. “Buck doesn’t care about the numbers. He tries to use his own high profile to promote other first responders whenever he can.”
“I’ll figure out what Rogers’ problem is, and if it can’t be managed, he’ll be gone before Buck returns to work,” Bobby said and focused on Colin.
“You might get accused of playing favorites,” Chim warned.
Bobby shrugged. “Buck deserves all of my consideration after what he’s gone through. He was here first, and if Rogers can’t adjust his expectations, then I’ll move him to B or C. If that doesn’t solve the problem, then he’s going to another house.” He shifted the baby and grimaced. “This one needs a change.”
Eddie made a face. “It’s Buck’s turn.” He grabbed the messenger bag. “So, he owes me one.”
* * * *
Eddie leaned on the counter as Buck pulled a lasagna out of the oven. They’d found it in the chest freezer that they’d been trying to pay for since they’d brought Colin home. Eddie was ready to give that up, but Buck felt it was too expensive as a gift even if they had gone in together. Colin was dozing in the bassinet, and Christopher was sprawled on the sofa with a new book from the library.
“How do you decide what to buy and what to borrow?” Eddie asked curiously as he moved to get plates to set the table.
“If he borrows it three times in a six-month period, it goes on the buy list,” Buck said. “Some are auto-buys, like if we’re reading a series. The reference material is case by case. Sometimes the language and tone is off-putting for rereading. If the subject is fascinating, but the narrative puts us both to sleep, then we don’t buy it. If we’ve already purchased, it goes in the donation box for the public library.”
Eddie nodded. He knew about the donation box, but mostly he’d let them have it on the book front from the beginning. He preferred suspense and action thrillers over fantasy and YA, so he was happy to leave the likes of Percy Jackson behind when Buck sort of dove into their lives and made himself at home.
Chris came in and grabbed silverware to help set the table. “Dad, did Buck tell you about the lady at the library?”
“He didn’t,” Eddie said and eyed his son as he used one crutch to walk around the table. “Did some lady give Buck her phone number?”
Chris rolled his eyes. “She tried, and she said I was adorable. Then told him that single fathers are so sexy.”
Buck blushed furiously as Eddie started to laugh. “Shut up, it was awful. She had no shame about hitting on me in front of him. It was really inappropriate. I told her I wasn’t a single father and suggested she keep a better eye on her own kid since he was climbing a shelf.”
“Who knew the library was a meat market?” Eddie questioned as they got seated.
“Anyone that’s ever been during storytime,” Buck said. “I should’ve paid attention to the time. How’d things go at the station?”
“Rogers is a…” Eddie trailed off. ‘Well, you know what he is. He called you my house husband.”
“That’s just wishful thinking on his part,” Buck muttered. “But we can talk about him later if you want. Anything else?”
“Bobby sent half a ream of paperwork, and Hen fed Colin, but she gave him back just in time for a diaper change. Her timing remains impeccable. There was a letter with the rest of the forms, the chief’s office has approved your paid leave to train for a SAR certification separate from medical leave, and if you need a travel allowance for the FEMA-related classwork, you can have that as well.”
“That’s all online, fortunately, since their main education center is in Maryland.” Buck glanced toward Christopher meaningfully, and Eddie nodded.
“Hey, mijo, Buck and I wanted to talk to you about…some changes we’d like to make.”
Christopher’s gaze darted between them as he chewed and swallowed. “Okay.”
“Buck and I have been making plans for the future,” Eddie started. “Sometimes terrible things happen, and while we’re not looking for anything to go wrong, we want to be prepared in case something does go wrong. We want to make sure that you and Colin are provided for.”
Chris frowned. “Like when mom died.”
“Yes, like your mom’s accident,” Eddie murmured and cupped his shoulder briefly. “But we don’t plan to go anywhere, okay?”
“Yeah, okay.” Chris stared at his plate for a moment. “I’ll take care of Colin if something happens. I promise.”
“Oh, mijo, we have no doubts about that.” Eddie leaned over and kissed Chris’ head. “Buck and I are going to get married.”
Chris stared at them individually then made a face. “So, you guys have stopped thinking that you’re just pretending to be boyfriends?”
Eddie took that apart in his head. “Right, we’re…right. We figured ourselves out. After we get married, Buck would like to adopt you. If that’s okay with you.”
Chris nodded quickly and smiled brightly. “Yeah, that would be great. I’d love that!”
Eddie relaxed as Chris started asking all the questions they’d known would come when adoption hit the table as a topic.
* * * *
“Are we rushing things?” Buck questioned. “We haven’t even had sex.”
“Who has time for sex?” Eddie asked around a yawn. “And sure, but the legal stuff is just about protecting the kids and to give each other some legal standing. We can still take our time on the relationship front, Buck. I want to get this right with you. It’s important.”
“It is important,” Buck agreed and rolled onto his side. “I just don’t want to take any of it for granted. I’ve wanted this for a while—longer than I care to admit.”
“That’s an interesting point,” Eddie said and turned to face him. “You usually go all-in when you want someone. I would’ve expected an aggressive pursuit.”
“You mean too much.” Buck leaned in and pressed a soft kiss against Eddie’s mouth. “I didn’t want to take any risks with what we already had. Chris means the world to me, and the thought of getting cut out of his life because I fucked up things with you was…difficult.”
“I’d never let it get that far,” Eddie promised. “Chris loves you, and he’s lost enough for a lifetime.”
“I think…I understand that perspective better because I’d totally tolerate you to make Colin happy.” He grinned when Eddie huffed. “Come here.”
Eddie was more than happy to get into Buck’s space, but he didn’t think they’d get more than a few kisses in before one of them fell asleep or Colin woke up. The kisses got heated quickly, and Buck started to work Eddie’s pajama pants down. He wondered if they could at least exchange blow jobs, and that thought brought him up short.
“Wait,” Eddie murmured and pressed a quick kiss against Buck’s mouth to take the sting out of putting things to a stop. “I…don’t have any condoms. They were on my grocery list, but I was supposed to go shopping the day Colin was born, and someone filled our fridge for us.” He rested his forehead against Buck’s. “And I need to get tested. It didn’t even cross my mind until…well now.”
Buck nodded. “Yeah, good thought.” He took a ragged breath. “Of course, I’ve always used condoms and only ever had one failure, which was with Taylor. I was tested then, but it’s been months and several partners since.”
“I keep it safe, too, except for with Shannon….” He sighed. “And I honestly have no idea what she did between leaving me and us getting back together briefly. It’s not something I want to risk at any rate.” Eddie rubbed his face and rolled onto his back. “Sorry to ruin the mood.”
“I appreciate you looking out for me,” Buck said and nudged him gently. “Because I was totally interested in sucking you off.”
Eddie groaned. “Me, too.” They shared a look in the dimly lit room and laughed.
Colin stirred and made a soft whining noise, so Buck rolled out of bed.
“I’ve got him—get some sleep, babe.”
They’d picked a date, a Friday afternoon when their shift wasn’t scheduled, that Athena and Maddie would be able to get off, and they made all the phone calls. As predicted, Eddie’s parents were shocked and not on board at all with what was happening. He’d given his parents five minutes to complain before hanging up on them to call his sisters. Sophia and Adriana were pleased and excited—both were already booking flights, and Sophia had decided to bring her secret man along.
The ceremony was three weeks out, and they were on their way to Bobby and Athena’s for a combination engagement party and baby shower celebration thing. Buck’s parents hadn’t shown up as far as Maddie knew, and they didn’t know what to do with that. Abby Clark had returned to LA, but Buck hadn’t answered her calls or texts since she’d landed. Carla had talked to her, and the calls stopped for a bit then started back up once they posted an engagement photo on Instagram. The calls had irritated Buck so much that he’d blocked her on all social media and his phone.
Athena answered the door and claimed the baby, much to the displeasure of everyone else. No one was going to argue with her, though, so all she got was sullen looks, which she ignored like a boss. Eddie wondered if he could ask Athena to manage his parents. It was underhanded and probably overkill. He wasn’t entirely sure that his parents deserved it, but he knew Athena would probably enjoy it, and that was reason enough.
Eddie set down the empty car seat, the messenger bag, and the cooler full of prepared bottles before following Buck out onto the patio. He hadn’t been in the house since Buck’s party, which had ended with a pulmonary embolism. He glanced briefly at the cleaned concrete and pushed the memories of that completely out of his mind. There was a pile of presents all for the baby because they’d been firm about no presents for them.
Eddie grabbed a bottle of water and watched Christopher until he was settled in next to Denny at a picnic table. He sat down with Chim just as Maddie hopped up from the table and made a beeline for Athena.
“She’s a little jealous,” Chim said quietly, and Eddie focused on him. “Buck doesn’t need her as much as she expected him to. She’s not angry. She just thought Buck would basically be living with her within a week of coming home with Colin, then you guys announced he’d be living with you and Chris. She still expected to get…you know…a lot of calls.”
“Buck’s actually very competent,” Eddie said quietly as he watched Maddie giving Athena puppy eyes. “And a great dad.”
“Well, we took note of that a while ago,” Chim said. “He’s great with Christopher, and he’s been co-parenting your kid for a while.”
Eddie just shrugged.
“Plus, there’s the thing with the tsunami,” Chim continued and glanced at Buck, who was chatting with May Grant. “Did you ever hear those stories about mothers picking cars up off their children? Just the fact that he was able to find and rescue Chris after they were separated in that first rush of water—that’s superhuman level shit, Eddie.”
Hysterical strength. Eddie didn’t know if that had actually been the case the day of the tsunami as Buck was incredibly fit. “Buck’s always had the ability to do what he needed in situations that would leave the rest of us…struck dumb.”
“We had a winch failure a couple of weeks before you started. Buck slid three stories down the side of a building, caught a window ledge, and climbed up onto it like it was nothing,” Chim huffed. “I had to haul his heavy ass back up manually while the guy who was supposed to be on the winch had a meltdown because of the failure. Buck refused to go back on the line with Jones after that. Then Bobby recruited you, and Jones was moved to C.”
“I didn’t know that Jones was on A,” Eddie admitted. “I never got any shit about taking someone’s place.”
“Not everyone wants to ride with the captain,” Chimney pointed out. “Bobby can be a hardass when it’s warranted, and he tore Jones a new one for freaking out when the winch broke. If Buck hadn’t caught himself…well, you’d have never met him because the moment his weight snapped the rope tight, that whole rig would’ve gone over the side of the building with him.”
“That kind of equipment failure is rare,” Eddie said.
“Stress fracture,” Chim said. “From a previous incident that was missed in equipment checks—Bobby changed the procedure for the winch check after that and reported the failure to all the other stations. They found four more with stress damage. We changed the manufacturer after that.”
Eddie nodded and let his gaze drift—focusing first on Chris then on Colin, who was now in Maddie’s arms. “I realized I was in trouble when I stopped trusting others with his life.”
Chimney made a little noise. “So, like the first week?” He grinned when Eddie looked his way. “It was clear, from the start, how that was going to go.”
Buck sat down across from them with a frown on his face.
“What’s up?” Eddie questioned.
“Abby called Carla this morning. She heard about the party and wanted to know if she could come. Carla told her absolutely not, but….” He sighed. “Athena said she’d handle it if she shows up. I was explicit as I could be with her already, but she doesn’t seem to want to hear anything that disagrees with the narrative if she’s built up in her head of my motherless child and me.”
“Well, you already know you can’t manage her emotions for her,” Eddie said. “And you don’t owe her a damn thing no matter what her narrative is.”
Buck quirked an eyebrow at him because they’d gone over the same points a dozen times in the past week. “Yeah, babe, I know.” His head jerked up when Colin started to cry. He checked his watch. “Time for a bottle. I’ll get him.”
“I’ll heat a bottle,” Eddie said. “Chim, keep an eye on Chris for us?”
“Sure,” Chimney agreed.
Eddie went into the house and retrieved a bottle from the cooler to warm up, and shortly Maddie joined him at the sink sans Colin.
“Buck says I can feed him.” She bit down on her lip. “If you don’t mind?”
“No, of course, not,” Eddie said quietly as he moved the bottle under the hot water. “How are you?”
“One of the great things about you Buckleys is that you’re terrible liars,” Eddie said and grinned when she huffed dramatically. “Is this about Buck or about…” He trailed off as he tried to ask her if she was having nightmares about killing her husband. He knew what it was to take a life in self-defense, and that wasn’t something most of their extended family could say.
“No nightmares for a while,” she said. “But thanks for asking. It helped—to talk to you about it. I can’t talk about it with Chimney, and I don’t want Buck to even think about Doug….” Maddie shook her head. “Buck said something to me at the hospital that’s been bothering me, and I’m trying to process it.”
“He told me that you offered to take Colin.”
“I thought it was the right thing to do…to offer him a way out, and now I feel like that was the worst thing I could’ve done for our relationship. I think I was just the first in a long line of people to abandon him and that he’s never going to really forgive me for it.” She paused. “Or trust me the way he did when he was small.”
“Hell, Maddie,” Eddie said as he checked the temperature of the formula. “None of us trust the way we did as children, and it would be dangerous to do so. Life teaches us that trusting so innocently and without reserve isn’t survivable.”
She pressed her lips together, and her eyes dampened. “Right. I…you’re right.”
“Please don’t cry—I’ll get cursed out,” Eddie said roughly and offered her the bottle.
She laughed and took it. “I have to go steal my nephew from whoever has taken him from Buck.”
“Probably no one,” Eddie said. “He gets furious when he’s hungry.”
Colin was pitching a low-volume fit at the table when they returned to the backyard. Maddie got settled immediately, and Buck surrendered Colin to her silent demand. Her face softened as soon as he latched on and started to suckle greedily.
“We can’t let our parents ruin him the way they did us,” Maddie said quietly, and Chimney flinched like he’d been struck.
It was disheartening that Buck just nodded his agreement.
* * * *
Buck sat down beside Bobby, who had Colin. The baby was asleep on the older man’s chest. As the party had progressed, most of A shift had shown up to celebrate, including Chad Rogers. Buck didn’t know what to do about the Rogers situation and hadn’t really discussed it with Eddie as the subject had gotten dropped after a brief mention. He drank deeply from his water bottle and, beside him, Bobby hummed under his breath.
“I don’t like to ask for favors,” Buck said quietly.
“I know you don’t,” Bobby said. “I practically held you hostage after you got out of the hospital because you’re allergic to help.” He grinned when Buck laughed a little. “If this is about Rogers—I’ve taken note of the situation. He’ll be off A shift by the time you return to work. It’s not just about you; he pissed Hen off, and he’s causing problems with others as well because of his…ambitions. I agreed to take him from the 86 because he was having conflict with the captain. Clearly, my command style isn’t working either.”
“He needs a taskmaster,” Buck said thoughtfully. “I don’t know what he wants from me; maybe he doesn’t know for certain either. Chim thinks it’s just a crush, but that doesn’t ring true for me.”
“No, agreed,” Bobby said with a sigh. “Besides, if that was the case, he’d have already given that up. No one is going to compete with Eddie for your attention, and that’s been clear for a while.”
Buck felt his face heat, and he took a deep breath. “Right, well.” He shrugged. “I mean—who could? Chad did ask me out within the first week of his reassignment, but I said no. I was careful about it since we had to work together. I just wasn’t interested. He’s really not my type. I compete with myself enough; I don’t want my romantic partner competing against me, too.”
“Rogers does see it as a competition,” Bobby agreed. “He resents your high profile online as well, which is weird to me.”
“The PR department is pretty invested in my public Insta,” Buck muttered. “They tried to take it over. I said no because it wouldn’t be genuine, and people would notice. At any rate, I post at least once a week to keep them off my back. My recovery posts were really popular because the video of my rescue went viral—all those civilians helping lift that truck off me was apparently inspiring.”
“It was,” Bobby said quietly. “We didn’t even ask them. They just…rushed to help, and it was amazing. I’m not sure you would’ve survived if we had to wait for a crane or other crews to show up. You coded on the way to the hospital.” He cleared his throat. “I hate that boy, and I feel guilty for it because he’s mentally ill and….”
“He murdered several people and blamed you for his father’s fraud,” Buck said. “It’s a terrible situation, but he’s the last one I feel pity for. Maybe he is mentally ill, but I think he knew what he was doing was wrong and did it anyway. There’s nothing we can do about him but move on from it.”
“How’s your leg?”
“Good,” Buck murmured. “I can get the screws out in about three months, and the doctors think I can stop the blood thinners at that point. It’ll be an outpatient procedure, so nothing to worry about on that front.”
Athena came out of the house and put a hand on Buck’s shoulder. “Can you come inside for a moment?”
“Sure.” Buck stood and let her prod him gently into the house. “What’s going on?”
“Abby Clark,” Athena said with a sigh. “She’s here. I put her in the office. I know Carla told her not to show up, and I’ll send her packing if that’s your preference. But I didn’t want to make the decision for you.”
“Thanks for that,” Buck said. “I don’t know if I want to see her, but the conversations over the phone didn’t seem to stick. I’m not sure I want to be alone with her, either. I don’t think she’s crazy or anything, but I wouldn’t want to be…I just don’t want to be alone with her, and I don’t think Eddie’s the right choice for a witness.”
“No, probably not,” Athena agreed. “Do you want Carla or me?”
“You. She’s not taken Carla seriously,” Buck said with a grimace. “And that’s bullshit because Carla deserves more respect than that. She was very kind and helpful to Abby. She took excellent care of Patricia and went above and beyond the call of duty more than once for her.”
“Let’s do this, then,” Athena said and motioned him ahead of her. “Michael’s old office is at the front of the house, so there are no windows that look out onto the patio.”
Buck nodded. “Good, I’d rather she not see the kids at all.”
Abby was seated on the sofa when they entered but stood immediately. She stepped forward with the clear intent of an embrace.
“No,” Buck said gently and held out a hand. “Your lack of respect for my boundaries has made me really uncomfortable, Abby.”
She clasped her hands together as tears gathered. “I just wanted to see you in person and talk to you about…the decisions you’re making. I thought you’d matured, Buck, and grown past being so reckless.” Her cheeks flushed when Athena huffed under her breath. “Can we speak privately?”
“No, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Buck said quietly. “Listen, my decisions are mine to make, and I don’t owe anyone an explanation. I’m certainly not going to defend my relationship with Eddie to you. I told you, plainly, that I love him and that we’re getting married. You’ve just crashed my engagement party, for fuck’s sake.”
“Don’t you think your son deserves a mother?”
“I ignored that sexist and toxic heteronormative bullshit the first time you said it. That was clearly a mistake. My son deserves to be loved and cared for,” Buck said. “And he is. Eddie is my partner in every single sense of the word, and I can depend on him to have my back. I’ve never trusted anyone the way I trust him. I wouldn’t give up what I have with him for anything, much less for a woman who ghosted me for no damn reason.”
Abby’s eyes darkened. “I just…I needed to figure myself out, and I did. I came back, Buck. Doesn’t that mean anything?”
“I’m glad that you’ve worked on yourself and that you know what you want from life,” Buck said sincerely. “But whatever that is, it won’t involve me. I have exactly what I want, and that doesn’t include any sort of relationship with you.”
“I hope so because we’ve had this conversation more than once, and it didn’t appear to make any sort of impression on you. I know you’re a good person, and that’s the only reason I’m not kind of freaking out about your behavior. If any other ex-girlfriend had pursued this situation as you have, I’d probably be seeking a restraining order.”
“I’d never…” Abby trailed off and took a deep breath. “I’ve not been very rational, I know. I just think…I think we’d make a good family together.”
Buck couldn’t have disagreed more if he’d tried, so he just said nothing about that. He cleared his throat. “Listen, I don’t want to hear from you again.”
She blinked in surprise. “I…seriously? I’d like us to remain friends.”
“You don’t respect my relationship, and I won’t disrespect Eddie by being your friend, Abby,” Buck explained. “That’s not a healthy dynamic for any of us.” He took a deep breath. “So, you should go and do yourself a favor—don’t ask Carla about my family or me anymore.”
Buck slipped past Athena and left the two women alone. He couldn’t take the open hurt and disappointment on Abby’s face. Eddie was leaning against the wall not far from the office. He took the hand he was offered and said nothing as he was pulled into the den. Eddie shut the door, and Buck’s shoulders slumped.
“Does Bobby still have Colin?”
“Yeah, no one wants to disturb them. Chris, Denny, and Harry are playing some board game that Michael pulled out. Maddie is organizing the gifts and packing everything into a few boxes for transport.” Eddie squeezed his hand gently. “I listened to the whole conversation. I’m sorry you had to do that. I know you care about her.”
“I did,” Buck said and frowned. “I mean, I do, but it’s distant and not the same as it was. She was…a transitional relationship for me, and I think I’d have been the same for her if she hadn’t seen that picture of Colin on Insta. She’s looking for a ready-made family, and I get it. I don’t think she’s a bad person.”
“Everyone says she’s nice,” Eddie muttered. “But I don’t like the stress she’s caused you. I understand the desire to be in your life, to be a part of the love you have for your son, because it shines out of every single picture you post. I even get the want for a child. I wanted more after Chris, but it just didn’t work out that way with Shannon and me. You and Colin both are a gift to me, and I don’t take it for granted.”
Buck swallowed hard. “Shut up before you make me cry in Athena’s house.”
Eddie laughed and pulled him close. “Sorry. I just love you a lot, and I’m so relieved to be where we are. I didn’t know if we’d ever get here.” He pressed a soft and brief kiss against Buck’s mouth. “I was surprised Chad showed up.”
“Me, too. He did congratulate me on the baby but didn’t mention the engagement,” Buck said. “I don’t think he knows what he wants from me and resents me for it. He did ask me out when he first started, but I declined without explanation, which he didn’t like. In the end, I think it’s professional jealousy, or it’s about the viral shit which is lame as fuck.”
“Do you think Abby is going to be a problem?”
“I think Athena is currently letting her know exactly how bad things will go for her if she continues to…be an issue,” Buck said wryly. “I feel bad for her, really.”
“I just don’t want her showing up at our house,” Eddie muttered. “And that started to feel like a possibility. I don’t think I’d respond well to her being around the kids.”
“She’s not a threat—just a lonely woman who gave up too much to take care of her mother, and she’s just now realizing it,” Buck said. “I’m not worried about her.”
“Okay,” Eddie said and nodded his agreement. “I trust your judgment on it, but I also reserve the right to worry about her a little because everyone has a breaking point, and grief can make people do bizarre shit. We see it all the time on the job.”
“Yeah, certainly,” Buck said wearily. “Right, well, let’s go finish this party so we can go home and pass out until Colin demands to be fed.”
* * * *
Eddie settled on the sofa and let Colin rest on his chest as he answered his phone. His mother’s face filled the screen.
“Are you busy?” she asked.
“Colin just ate, and Chris is down for the night,” Eddie said. “Buck’s gone to the store to pick up some additional storage from Target. We had a party today…we got everything we were missing, I think. I don’t know what some of that stuff is. Also, the nose cleaner looks like a torture device. I’m sure Chris had one, but I don’t remember it. Maybe I blocked it out due to trauma.”
“I’ve sent a package,” Helena said. “I focused on 3-6 months since I figured you’d get a lot of infant clothes.”
“Thanks, Mom,” Eddie said quietly. “I didn’t…expect that.”
“You’re adopting him, and that means he’s family,” Helena said. “And I hope I’ll be allowed to be his grandmother.” She took a deep breath. “Your father is still struggling with the idea of you marrying a man and allowing Christopher to be adopted.”
“It’s important to us both,” Eddie said. “And Christopher is over the moon. He’d be really hurt if either of you disparaged the idea to him.”
“We wouldn’t,” Helena promised. “I had an appointment with a psychologist.” She flushed.
“She told me I needed to detach—just like you said. It was a deeply uncomfortable experience, and I’ve been coming to terms with how much damage I’ve done to my relationships with you and your sisters because I tried to control everything.” She waved a hand. “Your father remains a problem, but I’m working on him. He does want you to know that he’s not homophobic. He’s repeated it several times.”
“Trying to convince himself?” Eddie asked wryly and laughed when his mother made a face. “I know it’s a lot for him to take in.”
“His parents were devout, so he was raised in a very strict household,” Helena said. “He grew up being told that it was a grave sin. We haven’t been to church recently, but he visited Father Gomez and had a conversation with him about it. I don’t know what was said between them, but you know the church’s stance on your relationship.”
“I do, and I don’t care,” Eddie admitted. “I realized I couldn’t be a practicing Catholic when I was very young, Mom. I accept his religious choices. He just needs to accept that I don’t believe the same thing and that I require his respect if he wants to be a part of my life. I’ve done nothing to deserve his disappointment or disapproval.”
“I know,” Helena said. “I see the top of the baby’s head. Can I see the rest?”
Eddie shifted his phone around so she could see Colin’s face. “He just had a bottle. He likes to rest like this on his belly before he sleeps, so we do skin-to-skin twice a day. That’s why I’m not wearing a shirt.” He shifted the blanket a little. “The research says it’s important.”
“Yes, I read about it,” Helena said with a flush. “I wish I’d known how important it was when you and your sisters were born. It wasn’t even a consideration. Do you take turns with the skin-to-skin?”
“Yeah, that was Buck’s idea,” Eddie explained. “Bonding. We got a baby sling thing today, but neither of us are confident about using it, so we’re waiting for Carla to come over on Monday to show us how to use it properly.”
Helena nodded. “Good plan. I have no idea about them, either. Did you get a stroller?”
“Two different ones,” Eddie said. “A regular one and one for running since Buck likes to run in the morning. The regular one came from the shower and the running version we ordered ourselves since it was more expensive.” He shifted Colin’s blanket and put his feet up on the coffee table. “Are you and Pop coming for the ceremony?”
“Of course,” Helena said. “We’ve already bought tickets and made hotel reservations. Your sister, Sophia, is bringing a guest. I only found out because she’s not sharing a hotel room with Adriana.”
Eddie hummed under his breath, and his mother huffed dramatically. “You only have yourself to blame for the secrets we keep, Mom. Sophia’s first husband moved across the country after he filed for divorce. That’s how much he can’t stand you and Pop. He specifically blamed you for their marriage failing in the court filing.” His mother’s cheeks brightened red. “And the less we talk about Adriana’s ex-husband, the better, but it should be said he wanted to get a restraining order against you.”
Helena huffed. “I never did anything to deserve that.”
“Except show up at their house uninvited every single week, no matter how much they both told you that they hated it.”
“She always let me in.”
“Because she’s enmeshed,” Eddie retorted. “And that’s why she’s in therapy.”
“I feel like I’ve been living a different life than the rest of you,” Helena said. “And that’s…not great.”
“Yeah, I can see that.” Eddie looked up as the door opened, and Buck entered with large a box. “Great, more stuff to put together.”
“It’s cube storage. The baskets are out in the truck. I think it’ll match the rest of us stuff and transition beyond the baby phase,” Buck reported. “Who’s getting baby FaceTme?”
“Hello, Mrs. Diaz,” Buck said with a raised eyebrow in Eddie’s direction, and he shrugged.
“Good evening, Buck, please call me Helena,” she called cheerfully from Eddie’s phone. “I’ll let you boys go so you can relax as much as you can. It must have been an exhausting day.”
“More so because Buck’s ex-girlfriend showed up,” Eddie muttered, and Buck huffed.
“Don’t tell your mom about that,” Buck protested with a laugh.
“Well, Eddie, crazy ex-girlfriends are the price you pay for marrying such a beautiful younger man,” Helena announced, and Eddie laughed as Buck blushed furiously.
“She’s not crazy, but she was pretty intent on getting his attention,” Eddie reported. “And her hands on Colin.”
“Ah, babies. They bring out the best and worst in people.”
Buck sat down beside him and leaned on Eddie’s shoulder to stare at Colin. “Did he eat okay?”
“Yeah, he’s fine. Burped with no issues. Destroyed a diaper and ruined my sense of smell for life,” Eddie said.
“You laugh, but our baby’s butt is a weapon of mass destruction,” Buck said and yawned. “Target was very crowded. I couldn’t even get Starbucks because the line was awful.” He stood. “I have more stuff to get out of the car.”
“Did you need help?”
“Nah, Colin’s clearly comfortable and almost asleep. Good night, Helena,” Buck called as he trotted outside again.
“I’ll let you go, darling; you look exhausted. And I imagine you’ll both be up and down all night with Colin.”
“Thanks, tell Pop I said hi,” Eddie murmured. “Goodnight.”
* * * *
They transferred everything from Target and the shower into the nursery then went to bed without trying to organize anything. He was still tumbling around the words our baby in his head. Eddie didn’t know when that shift had happened in Buck’s head, but it had put a warm, full feeling in his chest that had been kind of overwhelming.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” Eddie said. “Mom wasn’t bad at all, and she says my father is working on himself, but I don’t expect much on that front. He’s very entrenched in his religious tenets, and those beliefs tell him that I’m going to hell. Honestly, I’m not sure I can expect much from her, either. She’s very set in her ways and determined to be right. There are probably some compulsions at play on her part, but I’m not going to indulge her need for control.”
“That sucks,” Buck murmured and shifted onto his back when his phone vibrated on the nightstand. He picked it up, frowned, and groaned loudly.
“My parents flew in,” Buck said as he started to type. “They called Maddie and demanded my address. She declined to give it, and they threatened to report me as a missing person with the police.”
“They won’t get far with that—you’re an adult, they haven’t contacted you in a decade and couldn’t demonstrate that you’re actually missing,” Eddie said. “They’ll probably contact the department which will lead them directly to Bobby. They won’t get the reception they expect.” He paused. “If they have expectations.”
“Oh, they’ll have expectations about all of that. They’ll expect to be told that I’m an irresponsible fuck up and that everyone is glad that they’re here to take care of the mess I’ve made.”
“I really hate them,” Eddie admitted. “And I’ve never hated anyone I didn’t personally know before. It’s bizarre.” He cleared his throat. “Do you want to talk about Daniel? Because you haven’t mentioned him once since the night Maddie told you about him.”
“I don’t know…how to talk about him,” Buck admitted and set aside his phone. “He was around Chris’ age when he died, Eddie, and that’s heartbreaking. I don’t…I can barely stand to think about him and his illness. I don’t blame myself for the fact that he died, but I’m pretty sure my parents do. I’m not sure they ever grieved him, and maybe I should feel bad for them, but I don’t. I don’t have room to feel anything for them.”
“You certainly don’t owe them anything,” Eddie said and pulled Buck into his arms when he arranged the blanket up around them. They curled up together, and he relaxed as he briefly buried his face in Buck’s hair. “Don’t worry about them.”
“I don’t have room for that either,” Buck admitted with a yawn. “I already have a cease and desist letter ready from the lawyer. Once I know where they’re staying, I’m going to have it delivered.”
“Good,” Eddie said. “I have to swing by my doctor’s this week to get my results.”
“Oh, I just have to log into the health portal and check to see if they’re back,” Buck yawned again. “You should call and ask them if they have a portal—save a trip and a co-pay unless you have an issue that needs a discussion with the doctor.”
“True, I’ll call and ask. I’ve just never bothered with that stuff.”
“Your technophobia is a borderline deal-breaker,” Buck said around a yawn. “It’s a good thing you’ve got a great ass.”
Eddie laughed and sighed. “Stop objectifying me.”
“This is also a burden you must bear for marrying a beautiful younger man,” Buck told him.
“Is it all burden?” Eddie questioned. “Or are there perks?”
“I have a big dick, a tight ass, stamina for days, and I love to fuck,” Buck said. “Honestly, you’re making out like a bandit. I did get some condoms, they’re in the nightstand, but I’m just too tired for sex. This is awful.” He wiggled closer.
“It was a long day,” Eddie admitted and sort of melted against Buck.
“Let’s sleep while the baby does, or we’ll regret it.”
Since that sounded great, Eddie just relaxed and did as instructed.
Natalie Rutledge, the lawyer that had handled all the details of Colin’s custody, was sharp-eyed, efficient, strong, and hadn’t agreed to take him on as a client until after a background check. He didn’t know if all of her clients went through that process, but he hadn’t been put off by it in the least. She’d hired an off-duty cop to deliver the cease and desist letter. He wondered how they’d reacted, but there was no report on it.
“We’ll schedule a home study after the marriage ceremony. The firm has a private company that we use for that,” Natalie explained. “While it’s tragic, the fact that neither child has a non-custodial parent in play will make the process easier.” She glanced toward Eddie, whose leg was bouncing gently.
Buck reached out and touched his arm. “You okay?”
“Fine,” Eddie said. “I just…don’t like being away from the kids while your parents are in town being dicks. I know Athena wouldn’t let them even look at Colin, but it’s disconcerting.” He focused on Natalie. “They don’t have any grounds for grandparent rights, do they? It’s something I’ve been sort of worried about regarding my own parents. Fortunately, they currently value my relationship with them too much to risk it.”
“Are your parents in a position to sue you for visitation?” Natalie questioned as she pulled a legal pad closer and started to take notes.
“They live in Texas and did help with childcare when I lived there before I moved here when my son was six,” Eddie explained. “They didn’t like that and, last year, when my wife died, my father threatened to sue me for custody. I told my parents if they sought any sort of legal right to my son that I would never speak to either of them again as long as they lived. Both of my sisters did the same, and they returned to El Paso without further argument. My parents are Catholic, and my father is what I would consider devout. They have religious beliefs that don’t align with the way I live my life, obviously, and it’s a point of contention.”
Natalie nodded. “I see. Your son has a disability—do you believe they are equipped to handle his physical needs?”
“No, neither of them could lift and carry him any significant distance. They’ve demonstrated some ableism, both in the past and most recently when they visited.” Eddie paused and frowned. “They’re not truly terrible people; they just assume they’re right about everything and never listen to anyone. They don’t listen to him.”
“That’s pretty awful,” Natalie said. “Especially when it comes to a child who navigates the world differently than they do. If they never bother to understand his perspective, how can they possibly interact with him in a healthy way?”
“Yeah,” Eddie sighed. “Exactly. It’s hard, you know?”
She nodded. “I do know.” She focused on Buck. “You told me in our phone call that your parents neglected you as a child. Can you give me specific examples?”
“They only paid attention to me when I was injured or in trouble,” Buck said. “So, there was a time when I went out of my way to get into trouble as much as possible, but it didn’t take me long to realize that attention was negative and not what I wanted. My sister helped me with my homework, took me to after-school activities, and made sure I took baths. Honestly, she was my caretaker until she went to college.
“After she was gone, my parents didn’t bother to prepare meals. The biggest incident that stands out in my childhood is the year that my sister didn’t come home for Thanksgiving. My parents took a vacation to Aspen that year.” He cleared his throat. “I was twelve. They left me at home by myself for an entire week.”
“Are you serious?” Eddie demanded.
“Yeah,” Buck said and shrugged. “That’s when I got my own credit card. They never took it back, and I was expected to use it to take care of myself going forward. Since I survived that whole week, they took that to mean that their only obligation toward me was financial going forward. There were times, in high school, where I was gone from the house for weeks at the time, but they didn’t care.”
“Does Maddie know about this?” Eddie asked lowly.
“Of course not,” Buck said. “It would’ve just stressed her out, and she couldn’t have done anything about it.”
* * * *
Maddie and Chimney were at Athena’s house when they arrived. Buck really didn’t want to have a conversation about their parents with Maddie, but he didn’t see how he had much of a choice.
Bobby was wearing Colin in the baby sling, but he looked a little bit harried.
“He gets upset and cries every single time we put him down,” Bobby said and looked sad for the admission.
Buck checked his watch. “Normally, he’s had at least an hour of skin-to-skin time at this point, and I think it just comforts him a lot.”
“I can take him,” Eddie said and inclined his head toward Maddie, who was seated at the table with Athena.
“Yeah, good idea,” Buck said and joined his sister at the table as Eddie followed Bobby to the sofa.
“Hey.” Maddie focused on her coffee. Her phone was face down on the table in front of her. “Dad’s furious about the letter from your lawyer.” Her hands were trembling as she clenched them together. “He said that he would disinherit us both if we don’t stop making their lives difficult.” Her eyes watered. “It’s just terrible. I’m so sorry.”
“It’s not your fault they’re awful,” Buck said. “They’ve never been great, and getting older hasn’t mellowed them at all. Both of them are used to getting what they want, and they’ve never allowed their children to get in the way of the life they wanted to lead. It must have made them so mad when Daniel didn’t do what they expected after they went through so much effort for him.”
Maddie’s cheeks darkened. “Looking back on it, that’s exactly what it was like. We’ve never been able to depend on them. I have to wonder if I’d tolerated Doug as long as I did if we’d had loving parents.” She looked out to the patio where Chimney was pacing. “He’s furious because mom and dad came to my apartment. We watched them on the security camera. He doesn’t want me to go back for a while.”
“Neither of them ever got violent with us,” Buck said.
“No, but Dad’s bizarrely furious, and Mom seems so desperate. I don’t know what to do with it. You should’ve seen her banging on my door and screaming to be let in.”
“Do you think she’s had some kind of mental break? Does she really think that my son is Daniel reborn or something crazy like that?”
Maddie blew out a breath. “Jesus, Evan, I really hope not because that would be so freaking insane. Surely he wouldn’t have brought her here if she was that far gone.”
“Well, they’re both pretty damn crazy if they think I’m going to hand my child over to people I haven’t spoken to in a decade,” Buck muttered.
“How’d the meeting go with your lawyer?” Maddie questioned.
“We set up wills and power of attorney. She’s drafting the adoption papers for both boys, and we’ll set up a home study with a private organization after the ceremony. Because we don’t have to worry about external parental rights, it should be a very smooth process. Partner adoption doesn’t get denied in most normal circumstances.”
“Good,” Maddie said and closed her eyes briefly. “I didn’t sleep at all last night. Well, I tried, but I had a nightmare about Doug, and it woke Chim up. So, we’re both a hot mess and not remotely helpful right now. Sorry.”
“Don’t be,” Buck said and patted her arm. “It’s fine. There’s nothing really happening, and I’m not worried about a physical altercation. They don’t know where we are, and I certainly don’t plan to allow them to find out. I changed all of my contact details when I moved to LA. I don’t even use the same bank anymore. There’s an old email account they used to use, but I haven’t logged in to it in years.”
He turned as Chris entered the kitchen. “Hey, Superman.”
“How’d things go with the lawyer?” Chris questioned as he came over and leaned heavily on Buck’s side.
“Very well—everything is being written up,” Buck reported and tugged his son close for a side hug. “Did you have fun with Harry?”
“We played some games,” Chris said. “And ate some really good food. Colin’s been unhappy all morning, though. I don’t think he understood that you guys were gonna come back.”
“He’s a baby; he’ll figure stuff out eventually,” Buck said and shared a smile with Maddie. “If you get your bag, we can go. Colin will probably rest better at home.”
* * * *
Eddie didn’t relax until he locked the door of their home. Buck let him have it because there were parts of his partner that he really didn’t understand. At the heart of him, Eddie Diaz was a fighter, and he preferred to take a task head-on instead of waiting for shit to happen. Thankfully, Colin had slept through the drive, though Buck noticed that Chris had kept his hand on the baby’s leg the whole way home. He wondered if it helped or if Colin had just worn himself out being mean to Bobby and Athena.
Chris crawled into bed for a late afternoon nap without being prodded, so they shut his door to give him as much of a buffer as possible from the baby, then they tucked Colin into the bassinet in the living room. Buck grabbed his laptop and logged into the health portal for his doctor to check his results, downloaded the lab report, and sent a copy to Eddie’s email. Everything was good, but he hadn’t really expected anything different. He tried to be as careful as possible with his hookups.
Eddie slid onto the couch beside him, phone in hand, and nudged him gently. “Thanks. The receptionist at my doctor’s office sent me a link to their portal. She said the site would walk me through creating an account.”
“It’s pretty easy to accomplish,” Buck said. “At least it was with my doctor. Do you think I should meet with my parents?”
“If you do, it should be at your lawyer’s office and maybe ask Athena to attend as well,” Eddie said. “I’m worried I might lose my temper, but I’m working on it, and I’ll go if you want me to.” He paused. “Bobby’s a no because he’s furious. Athena is, too, but she’s been trained to rein that in.”
“I forgot how,” Eddie muttered. “Or whatever.” He glanced toward the bassinet. “Mostly, I keep thinking about the life he would lead if they actually got their hands on him.”
“Don’t go there because it’ll never happen,” Buck said. “We’ll leave the country first. We have the kind of skill set that would be useful in any major city on the planet.”
“True,” Eddie agreed. “But it won’t come to that.”
“No, it won’t,” Buck said. “They just need to understand that I’m never going to give them what they want. They really don’t know me at all.” He cleared his throat. “So, let’s start looking for a new house. I’d like to be moved before we do the home study.”
“Do you have something in mind already?”
“No, but I’d like to invest in a house that we can grow in as a family. Chris will want more independence as he gets older and should have a bathroom that fits his needs. He likes the walk-in shower at my apartment. Also, a bigger yard would be nice for them both.”
Eddie didn’t disagree. “Yeah, okay. Then we need to contact a realtor.”
“Not going to argue about money?”
Eddie made a face. “No, I’m not. It was a big problem for Shannon and me. I don’t want us to fight over dumb shit like that. We’re partners, and let’s focus on doing what’s best for our family going forward.”
“Well, if you don’t want to argue over money, then what do you want to argue about?” Buck questioned and grinned when Eddie huffed. “How can we have make-up sex if we never argue?”
“You have some really dumb opinions about Batman and the entire MCU, so let’s just argue about stupid fictional shit.”
“You’re the one that still likes Captain America,” Buck muttered. “It’s awful.”
“Well, I prefer the one from the comic books,” Eddie admitted. “But Chris Evans is hot.”
“Chris Evans’ hotness does not in any single way make his character less of a dick,” Buck protested. “Also, Batman is ridiculous. How is the hero that runs around the city using technology to do ridiculous shit like jump off skyscrapers get called Batman, and the one that literally uses echolocation to fight crime is called Daredevil?”
Eddie laughed. “Shut up about that dumb meme.”
“It is a thoughtful and accurate meme.”
“They aren’t even part of the same comic universe.”
“That doesn’t make it any less silly,” Buck muttered. “Give me your phone. I’ll figure out your health portal thing. Also, we should ask Chris’ doctor for theirs, so we have access to his medical records as needed.”
“Oh, good idea. Do you have that for Colin already?”
“Of course,” Buck said. “I made sure to pick a pediatrician that had a very modern practice. We should also put each other on their medical records for care decisions. I hadn’t even thought about that. I’ll call Dr. Murray tomorrow for Colin.”
“I’ll do the same with Dr. Coleman,” Eddie said and gave Buck his phone. “I’ll go figure out what we can warm up for dinner. I think the pozole rojo should be thawed out at this point. I’m not sure if Bobby or Abuela made it.”
“I think she started it and shared the recipe with him so she could come to the hospital that first night,” Buck said. “He mentioned exchanging texts with her earlier and getting some recipes. I think she might text him more than me now, and that makes me sad.”
“Well, if it means he starts cooking some of her dishes at work, I’m not complaining.”
“Oh, right.” Buck smiled. “That would be great. We’ve been talking about branching out a bit—he has Indian and Japanese on the list already.” His phone started to ring, and hummed under his breath as he picked it up. “It’s Natalie.”
“Maybe your parents called her.”
“Pretty sure they had no choice after Maddie stopped answering her phone,” Buck said. “Hello.”
“Mr. Buckley, your parents have called my office and demanded your contact information. I explained to them that I couldn’t divulge your phone number or address without permission and that you had no wish to have any contact with them. I also explained that the next step in this process would be for us to file for a restraining order. Your father has requested an in-person meeting, and they’ve retained their own lawyer.”
Buck sighed. “Surely their lawyer has told them they’ll get nowhere in court. They have no relationship with me, much less my infant.”
“I’m sure he has, but they might believe that they can intimidate you or, alternatively, ruin you financially through one lawsuit after another. It is a technique I’ve seen happen in family law when it comes to custody and visitation rights in highly contested divorces. It won’t get that far because we aren’t going to give them an inch. Your father has also demanded information regarding the birth mother. The birth certificate is a public record, so we can’t prevent them from getting a copy of it.”
Buck took a deep breath. “Then I guess one of us needs to contact Taylor and let her know?”
“I’ll do it,” Natalie said. “Ms. Kelly needs to be aware that your parents are a problem but that you’re dealing with them. She updated her contact information with my office on Monday afternoon—she’s settled in her father’s house in New York. Should I also inform her of Mr. Diaz’s intention to adopt Colin?”
“No, she said she didn’t care to know about any of that stuff going forward,” Buck said. “Try to keep the conversation as impersonal as possible, and…don’t call her the birth mother if you can avoid it. She doesn’t like being called that. Going forward, she should just be called the surrogate. It’s her preference, and I want to honor that.”
“Of course, Mr. Buckley, I understand perfectly. Are you willing to meet with your parents, or should I tell them no?”
“If we tell them no, they’re going to sue me, right?”
“That would be the next step,” Natalie agreed. “It would be an expensive and long process for them.”
“My father came here expecting to bully me into compliance,” Buck said. “It probably never crossed their minds at all that Maddie wouldn’t do what they wanted, either. They’re very used to getting their way.”
“I took note of that. Well, this will be a brand new experience for them.”
“I’ll meet with them,” Buck said. “I suspect that Maddie will want to come to that meeting as well. I won’t be bringing Colin to the meeting, and that’s not negotiable.”
“I’ll set it up,” Natalie said.
Buck just exhaled slowly and ended the call as politely as he could after a few questions regarding his availability.
“I put the pozole on low heat to warm up,” Eddie said and joined him on the sofa. “You’re going to meet them, then?”
“Natalie is setting it up,” Buck said and picked up his laptop. “Let’s do your portal account.”
He worked through the process quickly, and soon he’d added the portal page to the bookmark folder he kept for medical stuff. Then he passed the laptop to Eddie.
“You could’ve looked.”
“That’s your stuff,” Buck said with a shrug. “I wouldn’t look without an explicit invitation, babe.”
“Consider permission granted,” Eddie said as he checked through the content of his inbox in the portal. “I just click on it?”
“That’s how mine works,” Buck said. “You probably have copies of all of your lab work since you started using that doctor. And you can access your full records there.” He pointed at the screen. “You can also manage appointments through it.”
“This will be easier than calling in,” Eddie admitted and blushed when Buck grinned at him. “Shut up.”
Buck just relaxed and let his head drop so he could stare at the ceiling. “I hate them.”
“You’ve got plenty of reasons for it,” Eddie admitted and hummed under his breath.
“What?” Buck sat up. “Is something wrong?”
“Vitamin D is a little low,” Eddie said. “But everything else is fine.” He offered Buck the laptop. “I’ll put some supplements on the grocery list.”
“Might be easier and cheaper to order it from Amazon,” Buck admitted. “I’ll check. Your good cholesterol is a little low—we’ll work on that, too. Probably some fish oil supplements as well since you don’t like fish all that much.” He closed the laptop and set it aside. “I wanted to set up the bottle warmer, and he needs a bath.”
The baby bathtub was a molded plastic thing with lots of variations that Buck had been told would take Colin through the first year or so. It sat perfectly on the kitchen sink, but he was nervous about using it, so he was glad when Eddie crowded close. They’d just been giving him sponge baths since they’d brought him home.
“What if he hates it?” Buck questioned as Eddie helped him remove the blanket they had wrapped around their currently naked son in. “And cries.”
“Well, he has to get used to it,” Eddie said pragmatically. “It’s always awful to make your kid do something for their own good that they hate. Chris is terrible about taking medicine.”
“I took my medicine just fine the last time I had a cold,” Chris protested from the table.
Eddie shot his son a look. “You told me you’d rather just die and blew your nose on your T-shirt.”
Chris blushed. “Gah, Daddy, you can’t just tattle on me like that. I was sick.”
Buck laughed as he put Colin gently down in the tub. The sling only allowed him to be in the water a little. The baby shivered and made a little huffy sound as Buck started to wet his skin. Chris joined them and watched for a few moments.
“I’m glad you didn’t cut him,” Chris said with a frown. “Most of the boys at school are cut, and it’s weird.”
“Cut?” Buck questioned and then realized what Chris was talking about. “Oh, you mean circumcised.” He shared a look with Eddie, who was staring at his son in shock. “You…how do you know the boys in your class are cut?”
“Jeffrey Carson had a little brother last year, and he was talking about how his new stepdad argued with his mom about the baby getting circumcised,” Chris explained, drawing the new word out a little. “He was against it, and Jeffrey was upset because he’s circumcised and asked the teacher if he’d been….” He paused. “Mutilated as a baby. And his parents had to come to the school. So, after that, we started talking and looked it up on the Internet on Casey Fuller’s phone. I was really happy to realize Daddy hadn’t let me get mutilated, but most of the boys had been, and Jeffrey felt a little bit better about the whole thing.”
“I need…. I didn’t get any sort of notification about this,” Eddie muttered and pulled out his phone to message Carla. “Did your teacher tell Carla?”
“I don’t think so,” Chris said and shrugged. “Are you cut, Buck? ‘Cause Daddy isn’t. Your parents were mean to you so….”
Buck shot Eddie a look and laughed. “No, Chris, I’m not circumcised. Honestly, my parents barely bothered with me at all, so…maybe they were opposed, but I don’t know. Either way, my foreskin is intact. But, please, the next time something like this happens, make sure to tell us, okay? You shouldn’t have had to navigate that by yourself on some other kid’s phone. Did you have any questions about it?”
“No, Daddy taught me how to take care of myself and wash and stuff,” Chris said.
“Buddy, you and your friends didn’t do any…physical comparisons, right?” Buck questioned.
“Oh my god,” Eddie muttered under his breath.
Chris laughed. “No, that’s private.”
“Great,” Buck said and focused on working baby soap into Colin’s thin hair carefully. “Curiosity is fine, though, and we want you to be comfortable asking us any questions you have, okay?”
Eddie sent him a dirty look, but Buck just shrugged. It was important, and he also had just realized that he didn’t know if Chris had gotten the talk yet. They’d have to discuss that in private first because he was of the opinion that information was power. He didn’t want Chris to be in the dark and get weird information from other kids at school about sex and reproduction.
“How did you make Colin with your friend?” Chris asked.
And Buck regretted his life choices immediately. He glanced toward Eddie, who was grinning at him. “Well, when you have a surrogate, a doctor helps make the baby.”
“Oh, okay,” Chris said. “Can I start a movie?”
“Sure,” Eddie agreed. “We’ll have dinner in about 45 minutes.”
* * * *
“Carla didn’t hear anything about the circumcision discussion from the teacher,” Eddie said. “I didn’t think she would’ve kept that from me.”
“No, agreed.” Buck put Colin in the Pack ‘n Play. “Should we complain? I feel like the school should’ve notified you what was going on.”
“We’re definitely complaining,” Eddie muttered. “I’ll sit him down and get some names tomorrow. Also, I want to have another discussion about the topic and make sure he knows what it is and that it really isn’t mutilation.”
“Well.” Buck grimaced. “It kind of is, Eds. One of the older nurses tried to tell me it was the best thing to do for cleanliness and kept it up until I told her that I wasn’t circumcised and wasn’t going to do it to my son. On the form she gave me, localized pain relief was optional.” He winced when Eddie’s mouth dropped open. “There’s no real reason to do it. I get that some religions require it, but…well.”
Buck focused on Colin and checked the position of the monitoring sock. So far, they hadn’t had any false readings, and the device made him feel better, so they were going to use it as long as they could. He sat down on the bed where Eddie was focused on his phone.
“Carla’s irritated about the whole thing, too,” Eddie said. “She said we should definitely complain to the school about the lack of notification regarding the situation since it became a class-wide issue. It probably spread throughout his whole grade.” He huffed and put aside his phone. “Chris fell asleep while I was reading six of his current book, so I don’t know how much he missed.”
“You didn’t notice?”
“It was an interesting part,” Eddie admitted and flushed when Buck grinned at him. “Shut up.”
“We’ll figure it out tomorrow,” Buck said and crawled up the bed to drop down beside Eddie on the mattress. “He had a long day.”
“Denny’s jealous he didn’t get to come over to Athena’s today for the playdate,” Eddie said. “So, Hen asked about an overnight visit next week.”
“Denny here or Chris there?”
“Chris there,” Eddie said. “We’re in this weird place relationship-wise, and I’d like to talk about it a bit. Is that okay?”
“Sure.” Buck left the bed, shut the bedroom door, and locked it. “Is this about the sex because I’m game, but time has been…” He trailed off when Eddie shook his head.
“It’s not exactly about the sex,” Eddie said. “Sleep is in short supply, and we’re stressed as hell. So, expectations are low on that front. I’ve never had a relationship with a man, and I’m kind of at a loss…I don’t want you to…Shannon told me I neglected her and her needs on the regular.”
“Oh.” Buck came back to the bed. “I don’t…that’s…well.” He huffed when Eddie laughed. “I’m a needy bastard, and you’ve always given me all the attention I could ever want. Emotional intimacy is important to me—more important than physical intimacy. I thought that might be a stumbling block for you, but you’ve been communicating really well about your feelings and what you want.”
Eddie shifted around and folded his legs together so they were face to face on the bed. He reached out and grabbed Buck’s hand, then laced their fingers together. “That day in the hospital, when I saw you and Colin together for the first time, I realized exactly what I wanted, but I wasn’t sure how to get there. Everyone’s assumptions about us being together just gave me an excuse to dig into your life as much as I could.”
Buck laughed. “Yeah, okay. I see that.” He looked down at their hands. “It’s easy to be with you, easy to see a future with you. I think as long as we communicate that we’ll be fine.”
“Loving someone is easy,” Eddie said. “Talking is hard.” He cleared his throat. “I feel like I never got the closure with Shannon, and it’s been driving me a little crazy lately. Especially after the tsunami and the close call you and Chris had.”
“Maybe you could write her a letter.”
“What?” Eddie made a face. “And do what with it? She can’t read it.”
“It’s not about her reading it. It’s about getting your thoughts out of your head and acknowledging what you felt for her. You can burn it afterward. I’ve written several letters to my parents over the years and destroyed them when I was done.” He took a deep breath. “And a few to Maddie as well because I felt alone and like I couldn’t count on her. Some of them were so vicious that I would never want anyone to read them.”
“My father made a habit of telling me what it meant to be a man,” Eddie said. “I was to be strong and provide. He’s not an affectionate man. I don’t think I’ve been hugged by my father since I was younger than Chris is now. Physical affection grew more and more sparse as I got older. He’s a hard man to know and to love. I don’t want to be like that. I never want our children to hesitate with us, with me.” He frowned. “Especially with me because I know they won’t with you. You’re so open and generous. I’m counting on you to let me know when I’m not giving our family what I need to.”
“You know I got your back,” Buck said gently. “And honestly, Eddie, you aren’t emotionally unavailable in private. If you’re a little reserved in public, that’s fine. I don’t expect you to change your personality just to keep me happy.”
“Okay.” Eddie’s shoulders slowly relaxed. “That sounds good.”
“Great—let’s talk about sex.” Buck’s fingers clenched briefly against his. “With a hookup, I normally just negotiate what’s going to happen and we get to it. I mean with men because with a woman it’s more of a point-and-shoot situation.”
Eddie snorted. “I wouldn’t put it that way but, yeah, that sounds about right for me as well. But I haven’t hooked up with a woman since Shannon. Men are easier…but, like I said, it wasn’t all that emotionally fulfilling.”
“Do you have any sexual preferences?” Buck asked. “Kinks? Fantasies?”
Eddie blushed. “Come on.” He shrugged. “I’m just normal, I suppose.”
“Oh, babe, I’m going to corrupt the fuck out of you,” Buck said with delight he could barely contain. He shifted to his knees and crawled into Eddie’s lap.
Eddie’s hands settled on his hips, and he laughed a little as Buck brushed a soft kiss against his mouth. “What about your sexual preferences?”
“Hmmm, I love to fuck and be fucked,” Buck murmured against Eddie’s cheek. “I’m down for blow jobs.” He paused. “And rimming.”
“I…uh…Jesus.” Eddie took a deep breath. “I’ve never done…that, but I’ll try anything you want.”
“We can keep it simple for now.” Buck let his lips drift along Eddie’s jaw. “Tell me what you like.”
“I’ve mostly topped,” Eddie said. “There was a guy in college that I let fuck me. I enjoyed it, but I’ve not trusted anyone with that since. It seemed unspeakably intimate to me. Now I realize it’s just something that I need an emotional connection for.”
“Sounds about right,” Buck admitted. “I’ve had a hard time connecting sex and love.”
“How can I help you bridge that gap?” Eddie questioned and spilled Buck out onto the mattress. He eased over him and settled between his legs.
“You already have,” Buck confessed softly. “I love you so much that it feels selfish. You can have me any way you want.”
“You really should’ve told me,” Eddie said quietly.
“We’re here now.” He glanced toward the Pack ‘n Play. “He’s awake. Maybe it will be a year.”
“It won’t be that long until he can sleep in the nursery for at least short periods.” Eddie rolled off and dropped on the mattress. “Maybe like three months? Or we can get Maddie to babysit so we can go to your apartment and have some serious adult time.”
“Yeah, that’s a fantastic plan,” Buck said and groaned a little as Colin started to fuss. “I’ve got the diaper check if you get the bottle.”
“Deal.” Eddie scooted off the bed shortly after Buck did.
His lawyer had put him and Maddie in a conference room with a large glossy oak table. She joined them after a half-hour, and shortly their parents were escorted in by an assistant with another man who Buck assumed to be their lawyer. He wondered if they’d gotten a recommendation from the firm they used at home but then dismissed the thought because he really didn’t care.
“Ms. Rutledge,” Natalie’s assistant began. “Mr. Phillip Buckley, Mrs. Margaret Buckley, and their lawyer, Mr. James Crane of Crane, Franklin, & Moore.”
Natalie’s gaze flicked over all three of their visitors and placed a digital recorder in the center of the table in front of her. “I’ll be recording this meeting. I would caution you, Mr. Crane, I will not tolerate any verbal or emotional abuse during the course of the meeting. Should one of your clients lose their temper, security will be called, and they’ll be escorted from the room.”
“My clients won’t be a problem. Neither would ever abuse their children.”
Natalie opened the folder in front of her, pulled out a stapled stack of paper, and pushed it across the table. “Their communications to their daughter over the past seven days paints a very different picture, Mr. Crane. Your clients have harassed, threatened, and verbally abused their daughter incessantly because she would not meet their insane demands regarding her nephew. In the last email she received from Margaret Buckley, she was ordered to kidnap Colin Buckley and bring him to her parents. That particular email had to be forwarded to the LAPD as I considered it a credible threat. Your client can expect to be interviewed by law enforcement at some point in the next twenty-four hours.”
Buck watched his mother’s cheeks darken, and she averted her gaze as she pressed her lips together tightly.
Crane pulled out a folder of his own. “This is a custody agreement between Evan Buckley and his parents—it grants sole custody of his minor child to Margaret and Phillip Buckley on the grounds that he is incapable of providing for the infant. I’ve confirmed the birth mother has no legal rights and cannot object to this arrangement.”
“My client has no intention of surrendering his parental rights to anyone, much less his parents with whom he has had no contact with in a decade,” Natalie said and gently tapped her pen on the table as she stared.
“Then we’ll have no choice but to seek custody through the courts,” Crane said smoothly. “My clients are prepared to dedicate a substantial amount of money to seeking custody of their grandson. Their son is irresponsible and certainly doesn’t have the financial means to fight them. This meeting is merely an attempt on their behalf to lessen the monetary burden on their son.”
Natalie’s gaze hardened. “My partners and I have agreed that should you pursue that avenue of harassment in your attempts to terminate Mr. Buckley’s parental rights, for no reason, that we will work his case pro bono and will do so until your clients are living on the streets.”
“Enough,” Phillip snapped and slapped his hand on the table. “Boy, you will do what your mother wants or so help me….”
“So help you what?” Buck questioned. “There is no single thing you could threaten me with that would make me give you my son. I don’t owe either of you a single damn thing, and Colin is not a replacement for Daniel.”
“Don’t…” Margaret gasped. “Don’t you dare say his name!”
“Daniel,” Buck repeated and glared at her. “Are you prepared for it to be revealed in a court proceeding that you made a spare parts baby to save your oldest child and failed to accomplish it? Will it embarrass you when it’s revealed in court that you emotionally and verbally abused your own daughter to force her to never speak of her dead brother? How will you explain leaving your twelve-year-old at home alone while you went skiing in Aspen for a week? How will you explain the fact that several of my teachers in school thought I was in foster care because my parents never showed up at the school for any single reason? Maddie attended my parent-teacher conferences, for fuck’s sake!”
“You always make things so hard,” Margaret said hoarsely. “You were so selfish and needy—I couldn’t even grieve Daniel because you were there just demanding so much from me all the time.”
“He was a year old!” Maddie snapped. “You heartless…” She trailed off when Buck put his hand on her arm.
“They aren’t worth it, and they don’t care,” Buck said. “They never did care about me. I was just the…medical experiment they had to save the son they wanted.” He focused on his father. “I wonder what the judge will think of that. You were so embarrassed about making a spare parts baby you sold your house and moved. Or were you ashamed of the fact that Daniel died and ruined your perfect family?”
“Stop saying his name!” Margaret shouted.
Buck just stared at her. “What did he ever do to deserve to be hidden away and forgotten? Doesn’t he deserve to be remembered? It’s not his fault he died.”
“It’s yours!” Margaret hissed. “You can’t do anything right, Evan. I can’t believe you think you can actually parent a child. You’re worthless.”
“And we’re done,” Natalie said firmly. “Diana, contact security. Mr. Crane and his clients are no longer welcome here.”
“My client is clearly upset by her son’s disrespectful behavior,” Crane said and flicked a gaze toward the digital recorder. “She asked him not to speak of her deceased child.”
“Your client’s singular disdain for her only living son speaks volumes, Mr. Crane. What judge would trust her to raise her son’s child when she clearly can’t stand him? How would she treat Colin? How long before he starts to look more like his father than her deceased son? What happens when she can no longer pretend that her grandchild is her son reborn?”
Crane’s gaze widened in shock.
“Oh, they didn’t tell you? When your client first saw a picture of Colin Buckley on Instagram, she called her daughter screaming and accusing her of posting a picture of Daniel Buckley. I won’t pretend to understand Mrs. Buckley’s grief, but no one is going to think for a minute that she’s capable of providing a better home environment for her grandson than his own father. Your clients don’t know their own son—they have no idea of his ability to be a parent.” Natalie stood. “I’ve contacted the Department of Children and Family Services regarding this matter to warn them in advance of the potential for a malicious and baseless complaint against my client if that is your next step. I’ve also arranged for a home study to prove that there is nothing amiss about his living circumstances or his care of his own son.
“In the event that you go forward with a lawsuit against my client, my very first act will be to notify the court of your client’s mental state, and we would, of course, seek a psychological examination of Mrs. Margaret Buckley. We both know that won’t go well. Going forward, your clients can only contact Maddie and Evan Buckley through this office. Any other contact will be met with complaints being filed with the LAPD.” She motioned a security guard forward when the door opened. “Humphrey, thank you. Show Mr. Crane and his clients out. This meeting is over.”
Maddie slumped as their parents left, both looking furious. “I…thought seeing us would make them realize….”
“They’re never going to be what you want them to be,” Buck said tiredly. “You were gone by the time they just sort of…collapsed in on themselves. I’m surprised they were both sober. I can’t be certain our birth giver wasn’t on something. She favored pills when I was at home while he drank himself into a stupor on most nights. Maybe just seeing me every day was a reminder they didn’t need.”
“Don’t blame yourself for their terrible behavior,” Maddie said quietly and rubbed her face with trembling fingers. “I can’t handle how much I hate them.”
“My therapist told me it was okay to mourn the parents I wish I had,” Buck said, and she met his gaze. Tears welled and slipped down her cheeks. “We have each other, Mads, and we’ve made a great family for ourselves.”
“You made us a family,” Maddie said gently. “And I’m so glad they accepted me. Our parents don’t deserve to be a part of our lives. I’m going to change my phone number and email.” She focused on Natalie. “Unless we need more evidence of their poor behavior?”
“We have more than enough, Ms. Buckley,” Natalie said firmly. “Let me know what your new number is when you have it.” She gathered up all of her things and snatched the contract that Crane had left behind. “I’ll review this and add it to the file for future reference. I don’t expect them to file for custody because Crane knows they have zero standing to even gain visitation at this point. They have no existing relationship with their son or grandson.”
“And that matters, right?” Buck questioned.
“It matters a lot,” Natalie confirmed. “A relationship of any sort with either you or your son gives them grounds for future legal action.” She paused briefly and looked at them each in turn. “Neither of you deserves to be emotionally and verbally abused by your parents, and you never have to tolerate it.” She flicked a hand. “I didn’t mean that pro bono thing, by the way. They don’t need to know your financial situation, plus I’m prepared to sue them for emotional damages if they keep up the harassment. We’ll take as much of their money as we can if they pursue this.”
Buck nodded. “I know what I agreed to.” And smiled. “But thanks for the threat; his face was priceless.”
* * * *
Maddie’s phone was vibrating on the table in between the two Buckley siblings. Chim had taken the report regarding the meeting with a lawyer in silence then had gotten up to go play a game with Christopher. Eddie had chosen to lean on the counter and watch them stare at her phone. Their parents had been calling nonstop for hours. They had a plan to change her number, but Maddie wanted to go into the store to handle that.
“The mailbox is full,” Buck said as he checked the phone. “We should forward all the voice mails to Natalie—we don’t need to listen to them.”
“Maybe we do,” Maddie said pensively. “Maybe they’ve…”
“Maddie.” Buck took a deep breath. “They’re not going to suddenly turn into good people. And you know it. We’ve never been able to count on them, and nothing has changed. The only thing that is going to change is their will.”
“I don’t think our mother has ever hugged me,” Maddie said quietly. “Everything was the bare minimum with them growing up. Dad never wanted us around after dinner—we had to play in our rooms. Any noise was punished with the removal of things. I never asked for anything, really. Stuff just appeared in my room—which had to be perfect every minute. Our entire house was photograph ready at all times.”
“I made a mess every chance I got,” Buck confessed, and Eddie laughed a little. “I did. I couldn’t stand that house—neatness shouldn’t feel obscene, and it did. The only saving grace is that they didn’t hit us.”
“Well, that wouldn’t have fit with their image,” Maddie said sourly. “Their all-American family had to look perfect and, when it didn’t, neither of them could fully maintain the façade, so it cracked we were to blame.”
“They probably don’t have a single picture of me in the house,” Buck said. “I was likely erased just like Daniel the day they realized I was gone, which was weeks after I left. Now, they’ll do the same to you. Maybe they’ll move again, begin a new life and tell everyone they never had children at all.”
Maddie made a choked sound and lowered her head to the table.
“God, sorry.” Buck rushed back to her and sat back down so he could pat her back.
“It’s not your fault.” Maddie lifted her head and took a deep breath. “It never was your fault, and that’s the worst part. It’s always been the worst part, and Daniel would’ve never wanted it. He was good, sweet, and kind. Daniel loved you so much. Even when he got sicker, he wanted to hold and feed you all the time.”
“Mom probably hated that,” Buck said. “She didn’t like me to get any attention—not even from you.”
“No, but she also didn’t want to take care of you,” Maddie said and took a deep breath.
“We’re lucky they aren’t serial killers,” Chimney said as he entered the kitchen. “Because parents like that raise people who keep other people in basements.”
Eddie looked over at the Buckleys, who were both looking at them with sweet open expressions.
“It’s a good thing neither of them has a basement,” Eddie said wryly, and Chim snorted.
“Chris nodded off in the middle of Mario Kart,” Chim said as he leaned against the counter. “I put a blanket over him. Colin is awake but just making little noises. He’s a pretty chill baby. Is that normal?”
“Chris wasn’t,” Eddie admitted. “He had stomach issues from the very start but wasn’t diagnosed until later. Regardless, he was a fussy baby.” He glanced into the living room and checked on his son, who was curled up on the sofa. “I should put him to bed. He’ll be sore if he sleeps on the couch.” He set aside the half-empty beer he’d been nursing.
Chris stirred just a little as Eddie picked him up and threw an arm over his shoulder but didn’t fully awake. Thankfully, his son was already dressed for bed, so Eddie just tucked him in carefully. He gently took Chris’ glasses off and set them on the nightstand. There was movement behind him, and he looked up to see Buck lingering in the doorway, Colin tucked against his chest.
“Maddie and Chim left,” Buck murmured. “Did he sleep through the transfer?”
“Yeah,” Eddie agreed and shifted Chris’ blankets around.
Buck eased out of the way as Eddie left the room and pulled the door shut. “He awake?”
“Off and on,” Buck said as he entered the nursery. “He needs a change.”
Eddie leaned on the doorway and watched as Buck changed Colin. “How are you?”
“Sad,” Buck admitted. “Angry. Disappointed.” He shrugged as he fastened Coin’s onesie.
They moved to the bedroom and settled on the bed with Colin between them. The baby was kicking his feet a bit and blinking but didn’t appear to be sleepy.
“I don’t understand—why don’t they love us?” Buck questioned. “They looked at us like we were badly behaved accessories. I don’t think I’ve ever believed for a moment that they loved me. I just get these flashes of memories full of disappointed looks, unmet expectations, and screaming lectures.”
“I hate how much they’ve hurt you. I just don’t understand how anyone can be that way with their own children. But also, Buck, you’re just really easy to love. My father always seemed to be disappointed in me and my mother was just this huge controlling force that felt like an obstacle,” Eddie said quietly and offered Colin his fingers. The baby clamped onto one with a hand and made a soft sweet sound. “I remember when Chris was this small. The love I have for him—sometimes it’s overwhelming, and it’s difficult not to be stupidly overprotective. I want him to have everything he can possibly have, so I stamp it down and try to give him room to grow.”
“It must have been hard to be told about his disability,” Buck said.
“Shannon blamed herself,” Eddie said. “My parents blamed her, too, but it is just…what it is. I didn’t handle it well, to be honest. I threw myself at duty and tried to see it as a sacrifice I was making to support my family. The money helped, and the benefits helped more. It was easier to keep my distance and act like it was just what I should do to provide for my family.”
“But then you were shot and discharged from the Army,” Buck said.
“Yeah,” Eddie said and relaxed on the bed as he gently swished his finger, which Colin was clutching at. “I’m still trying to forgive myself for it.”
“You didn’t deal with the situation well, but you learned from your mistakes.” Buck focused on Colin. “And Chris doesn’t hold those years against you because you didn’t just…disappear. You contacted him as often as you could, right?”
“Yeah, but even then, Shannon was starting to pull away, and it’s only now that I see it. I don’t blame her for running, but it’s hard to forgive her for cutting Chris off so completely. There were plenty of ways she could’ve chosen to keep in contact with him even if she couldn’t stand the sight of me.” Eddie sighed. “Every single picture and video I got of Chris were like gifts to me. I’d have done the same for her, but she didn’t allow it. She wouldn’t even accept my phone calls for a long while. Maybe she expected me to beg her to come back.”
“Wouldn’t you have?”
“Hell, I don’t know. If I had, it would’ve been a really terrible decision for us both to make,” Eddie admitted. “We were awful for each other. And, honestly, the really good memories I have of her are….” He huffed and focused on the baby. “Reuniting after deployment and making up after arguing.”
“Emotion-driven sex,” Buck said. “Those are your best memories of your wife?”
Eddie sighed. “Right, well, not the only good memories, but certainly the best. The more time we spent together, the more we would argue. Eventually, it got hard to forgive each other. Maybe we hadn’t even accomplished it by the time she asked for a divorce.”
“We’ve got to stop spending so much time in this bed talking about depressing things,” Buck told him gravely and focused on Colin, who was blinking sleepily. “Look, you’re putting our baby to sleep.”
“Our baby,” Eddie murmured. “I…I love you both so much, Buck, and it’s so amazing to hear those words coming out of your mouth.”
“We’re making a family together, and that’s the most that I could’ve ever hoped for,” Buck said. “It’s about time for a bottle. I’ll get one ready while you keep him occupied.”
Eddie stayed as Buck rolled out of bed, and he focused on Colin, who was staring at him with bright blue eyes. “You are a very lucky little boy.” Colin pursed his lips and kicked his feet. “Your daddy is getting a bottle, and you can fill that precious little belly of yours.” He wiggled his finger a little as his phone vibrated in the pocket.
He pulled his phone out and stared at the screen for a second before he answered it. His father hadn’t called him personally in ages, so it was kind of disconcerting.
“Edmundo, I hope this is a good time.”
“Chris is asleep, but the rest of us are awake,” Eddie said as Buck came back into the room. “Colin’s about to take a bottle.” He left the bed as Buck picked up the baby to start the feeding.
He wandered into the hall as his father breathed heavily into his ear. Normally, he would fill the silence as his father expected it, but Eddie wasn’t going to play that game anymore.
“When will you go back to work?”
“I’ve eight weeks total of paternity leave,” Eddie said. “So, I have about five and half weeks left.”
“Paid leave?” Ramon questioned.
“Yes, of course. It’s a pretty modern policy—giving both parents equal time with a new child.” Eddie finished checking the windows, then both doors. If they intended to stay in the house, he’d be considering a security system. “It’s good, though. It’s allowing us to get comfortable with the new situation.”
“Chris mentioned that you were looking at getting a new house.”
“Something bigger—with a yard. We contacted a realtor but haven’t made any appointments as yet. I didn’t intend on staying in this house permanently, but we got comfortable,” Eddie admitted. “I’m still dealing with the details of Shannon’s estate. It’s a bit of a mess, actually, so having a few weeks off to get settled with Colin has also given us time to deal with the rest of that stuff as well.”
“Are you sure this is what you want to do? Take on this man’s burden as your own?”
“Would you be asking me that question if Buck were a woman?” Eddie asked. “A woman with an infant and an absent father?” His father huffed a little. “I think we both know you’d be proud to tell anyone that I’d married a vulnerable woman and took her child as my own. That would be manly in your mind, correct?”
“You’re putting words in my mouth,” Ramon accused. “But I would not be opposed to such a situation, you’re right. Christopher deserves a proper mother.”
Eddie sighed and dropped down on the couch. “You hated the mother he had. Please don’t try to tell me there is some woman out there that would meet with your approval because we know such a creature doesn’t exist. You don’t think your own children are capable of being good parents. I can’t imagine you liking any woman I date, since Shannon was my type from the top of her head to the bottom of her contrary, carefree toes. I loved her, and you treated her like shit. I really regret that I let you get away with it.
“What I want is a dedicated, honorable, and hard-working co-parent. I’ve found that, and I found it in a person who loves Chris as much as I do.” He cleared his throat when his father huffed a little under his breath. “If you can’t support it, you’ll need to stay in Texas because you won’t be welcome at our marriage ceremony.”
“Your mother made your terms clear,” Ramon said roughly. “And so have your sisters. The amount of disrespect we’ve had to endure….”
Eddie burst out laughing. “Please don’t be surprised by the children that you raised, Pop.” He looked up and found Buck standing in the entry of the living room from the hall. “Hey.”
“He’s down. We should get some sleep while he does, or there will be much regret to be had.”
Eddie nodded, and Buck left.
“I should go to sleep. Colin is down for the moment.”
“It won’t last long,” Ramon said. “You barely managed to sleep two hours at a time for the first three months. I’ll let you go.”
“Goodnight,” Eddie said and ended the call.
Buck was already dressed in a t-shirt and sweatpants by the time Eddie came to the bedroom, so he quickly changed as well, put his phone on to charge, and settled down on the bed after a brief peek at the baby who was snoozing contentedly in the Pack ‘n Play. He dimmed the lights and slid into the bed.
“It’s oddly infuriating that I would’ve seen more of you naked in the last week if we’d been at work than I have living in this house and sharing this bed,” Buck said in the darkness, and Eddie laughed a little. “Of course, I’m not blaming you. Well, maybe I am because you take off of your clothes in the most shameless fashion at work all the damn time.”
“I know what I look like,” Eddie said wryly, then laughed as Buck huffed dramatically and crawled on top of him. His hands settled on Buck’s hips as his partner sat up and fully settled stride him. “You’re gorgeous, you know.”
“I’ve been told a few times,” Buck murmured. “Unless they’re put off my birthmark, then all I get are comments about cosmetic options to get it removed.” He shrugged a little.
“Does it bother you? You mentioned your parents not removing it when you were younger.”
“It’s just there—it’s always been there, and I’ve never been bothered by it. Kids were a little mean about it in elementary school, but by the time high school happened, it wasn’t a big deal at all.” He paused. “Do you…want me to get it removed?”
Eddie sat up and pulled Buck a little closer, then brushed their mouths together. “No, of course not. I’m unreasonably in love with you, so everything about you is attractive, which is bizarre and probably against the law.”
Buck laughed against his mouth and kissed him—soft and sweet. The next few moments heated in a warm, pleasant way that left Eddie wanting more. He slid his hands down the back of Buck’s shorts and got a hitched breath as a reward. Buck’s fingers clenched against the back of his head.
“If we’re quiet…” Eddie suggested against Buck’s cheek, and Buck laughed softly. “And quick.”
“We’ve probably got an hour,” Buck murmured but then scrambled off his lap. “One moment.” He left the bed, and Eddie watched in the dimly lit room as Buck moved the Pack ‘n Play then opened the closet door just so that it provided a bit of a buffer between them and the baby.
“Maybe we should get a room divider,” Eddie suggested as Buck returned to the bed, removing his shirt. He pulled off his own shirt.
“Really good idea,” Buck murmured and shed the rest of his clothes at the edge of the bed. “Of course, spending a day at my loft fucking ourselves stupid would certainly be appealing…it’s not exactly a good long-term solution.”
Eddie lifted his hips, shoved his sweatpants down then tossed them on the floor. “I’ll go to Ikea tomorrow. Come here, for fuck’s sake.”
Buck grabbed the lube from the nightstand and slid onto the bed. “Let’s not get too complicated.”
“Okay,” Eddie murmured and spread his legs with a little exhale as Buck knelt on the bed.
He’d spent way too much time thinking about getting naked with Evan Buckley, and he knew it, but his fantasies paled in comparison as Buck crawled up between his thighs and settled on top of him—giving him a delicious amount of weight. Eddie sucked in a deep breath as Buck purposely pressed their cocks together as they kissed. He rolled his hips and shuddered when Buck responded with a slow thrust. Their mouths met in one kiss after another until he could barely breathe.
Buck lifted off of him, grabbed the lube, and slicked up one hand, which he slid between them. He wrapped the hand around both of their cocks and started to move—sliding against Eddie’s cock and into his own hand. It was delicious, and he couldn’t help but move. The pleasure ebbed and flowed between them so easily that Eddie was coming with a harsh groan far quicker than he expected to. Buck followed with a soft gasp, spilling into his hand and all over Eddie.
“Fuck,” Buck muttered as he released their cocks. “How was that so hot?”
Eddie pulled him down, ignoring the mess on his stomach, and kissed him. Buck relaxed into the kiss, sprawling on top of Eddie like a blanket. It was perfect. He ran a hand along the strong length of Buck’s back and sighed into his mouth.
“What?” Buck questioned as he lifted his head.
“I just…love you so much,” Eddie confessed. “Everything seems to be too good to be true right now.”
“Yeah, same,” Buck admitted and laughed when Eddie smacked his ass. “I love you.” He slid off and sprawled on the mattress on his back. “And I while I know how we got here—I don’t know how we got here. If you know what I mean.”
“I do.” He turned over his side so he could stare at Buck in the dim light. “It’s surreal sometimes, all the changes that came to us because of Colin. I’m so grateful that we’ve come together as we have and made a family. I was floundering after Shannon’s death and your accident. It was difficult to cope, and my temper was getting the best of me a lot.”
“You’re definitely seeing a therapist,” Buck muttered. “I mean it.”
“It’s what is best for our family,” Buck said, and Eddie realized the truth of it as much as he hated it.
He wanted to be a good parent and husband as he’d already faltered on that front more than once. Eddie knew that there were many factors that led to the destruction of his first marriage, but it would be impossible to ignore the fact that his emotional issues contributed.
“When I was fifteen, my girlfriend dumped me,” Eddie said. “I had a full-blown panic attack because I cried and couldn’t stop. My father had been telling me for years that real men didn’t cry, didn’t allow themselves to be vulnerable, and to do so was weak.”
“I know,” Eddie admitted. “At any rate, I ended up crying in the shower to hide it. So, in some respects, that became my refuge. I’ve cried a lot in the damn shower.”
“Telling me stuff like this makes it really hard for me to like your father,” Buck admitted. “I’m not saying I’ll be rude to him or anything, unless he deserves it, but that kind of toxic masculinity puts me off like mad.” He slipped off the bed, pulled on his sweatpants, and took a deep breath. “I’ll get a washcloth. Check on Colin?”
“Sure,” Eddie murmured.
The baby was still sleeping when Eddie moved the Pack ‘n Play back into place near the bed. Buck returned, and they ended up changing the fitted sheet. The casualness of it felt oddly comforting. Normally, first-time sex came with some awkwardness that Eddie had never figured out how to manage. Buck was just easy to be around in nearly all situations, so he should’ve figured that sex wouldn’t be any different.
Finally, he cleaned himself up and hung the cloth over the side of the trash can to deal with later, and pulled on a pair of shorts to sleep in. They’d no more settled on the bed for sleep when Colin woke up and started fussing.
“Worth it,” Buck muttered as he left the bed in favor of picking up the baby. “You sleep now so you can get the next one.”
Eddie pulled up the duvet and yawned. “Sure.”