There are perks to having a spur-of-the-moment wedding at city hall and having zero people on the guest list, Buck reasons. Honestly it sounds completely like the sort of impulsive thing he’d do and love and get tons of shit for later. (He keeps the thought in the back of his mind.)
Which is why it is surprising when it’s a thing Bobby and Athena do. He loves it. Thinks it’s one of the coolest things they’ve ever done, and the list of awesome stuff they do on a daily basis is already miles long, in Buck’s book.
And he loves absolutely every chance he gets to relive that, to see unbridled joy on Athena’s face, the awestruck look Bobby gives her like he still can’t believe it.
Everyone can tease them all they want. Buck thinks there’s something to be said for a love like that.
But tease them they do, and, as a result and promised years of making it up to everyone for being excluded on the big day, Bobby and Athena host an anniversary party at the Nash-Grant household almost every year. It’s usually small, low-key and relaxed, but Buck’s pretty sure that only makes the whole thing more wonderful, makes the city hall elopement even more enticing.
(Maddie would kill him, he reminds himself, Maddie would absolutely not speak to him for weeks.)
Tonight’s one of those nights. Buck isn’t sure how many years have passed since, maybe two or three, but every time he looks at them, it still feels like they’ve all just caught them in the act, like they’re floating around in newlywed bliss. And how lucky, Buck thinks, that they still all get to be a part of it.
There’re some people here Buck doesn’t really know, but the ones he does—Buck is mesmerized by the effortless joy that emits from them all around the house and yard. Michael is trying (read: failing) to teach Harry how to grill, still not tall enough to really see anything on the grill top and Athena’s belly-laughing at a story Bobby is telling her. Maddie is deep in conversation with May, bouncing her daughter in her lap and giggling at something on May’s phone, trying to get Hen to crack and laugh with hem too, but she’s holding her resolve as best she can. Chim is trying very hard to figure out the mechanics behind a card trick Denny is showing him, Christopher just as amused and proud that he’s got it all figured out before Chim. Karen is holding Nia on her hip, biting back her own laughter as Eddie leans over and makes faces at the toddler that have her in a fit of giggles.
It’s so perfect. Buck doesn’t even know what to do with himself.
He swirls the beer around in his bottle and doesn’t quell the smile that breaks out, his eyes squinting together like they’re making room on his face for a smile that big and bright.
“Buck! Buck get over here, you have to see this,” May waves him over amidst her laughter, Hen still holding her resolve, turned away from Maddie, though he can see it’s cracking.
Buck makes a note to figure out just how many people you can fit inside a courthouse ceremony.
He’d like to bring a few one day. Or a dozen.
The afternoon is a steady stream of this, of pockets of joy sandwiched in between Buck trying to remind himself how lucky he is to have it all. Buck proudly tries the one burger Harry managed to flip onto the grill and not on the floor and he’s so lucky. He impresses Chim (and Denny and Chris) with a card trick of his own and he’s so lucky. He squeezes onto the couch between Maddie and Eddie and they try to swat him away with protests and he’s so lucky. So lucky.
By the time the sun is setting, Athena’s insisted they make room to dance, which won’t bode well for Buck and his two left feet but he’ll enjoy it from the sidelines plenty, he knows. He helps Bobby push the table to the side and Harry’s got someone’s phone on a Bluetooth speaker within minutes and before long everyone’s jumping in, even those more reluctant at the outset. Including himself.
Honestly, it’s never a fair tactic when you bring your kids into it with Buck, everyone knows that, but it doesn’t stop them from milking it for all that it’s worth.
Chim had been the first culprit, pulling the uncle card right out of the gate.
And well, by then, he didn’t really have any choice but to stay through every song.
He’s a huge hit with the boys, Denny, Harry and Chris delighted by his awful dance moves that he hasn’t resurrected since his sixth-grade best friend Sam’s bar mitzvah. They even wrangle their dads into it with them and Buck feels infinitely cooler, because at least he’s better than Bobby, Eddie and Michael. Combined. He slips away from the parent-son circle before Karen and Hen join because he won’t walk out of that without severely embarrassing himself.
Athena is an excellent dancer and Buck knows he’ll step on her feet and no matter how much Athena likes him now, he’s not risking it, so he swiftly grabs May’s hand before she can get to him and he twirls her under an arm, laughter dancing through the air with them.
He’s not sure how much time has passed before Hen’s tossed Nia into his arms, and Buck delights in the giggles she leaves on his cheeks every time he dips her, her curls bouncing with the motion.
She claps for him to do it one more time at least eight more times. And he does it all eight times.
“Okay, last one, I mean it this time, ready?” Buck breathes out through a wide smile, Nia’s face already alight with another giggle as she squeezes one arm around his neck, holds onto his hand tightly with the other, “One… two… three!” He bends at the waist, holding her back and tipping her little body upside down from where she sits on his hip, lets her giggle upside down for a second, then swiftly scoops her back up, and she tucks her infectious laughter into the crook of his neck.
“Oh my goodness,” he laughs, gently swaying back and forth to the music, “That was a better workout than I’ve had in years.”
“You’re silly, Buck.”
“Oh, am I?” He says as she looks up at him, and he wiggles his eyebrows like he knows she likes so much.
She pats a small hand at his cheek, “Stop that!”
“Stop what?” He feigns innocence, but as long as she keeps laughing like that, he doesn’t think he’ll ever stop, “What’s so funny? Are you laughing at me?”
“Yeah,” she giggles, tapping a finger above his eyes, “You have a silly face.”
“Can you make a silly face?”
She scrunches her forehead in thought, like she really has to think about how to make the most silliest face to impress Buck with, then promptly sticks her tongue out and opens her eyes wide.
Much to her amusement, he mirrors her immediately, just as Hen steps back into their bubble.
“What is going on here?” She raises a brow skeptically, but her tone is fond.
“Mama, Buck makes the best silly faces,” Nia giggles, before sticking her tongue out at her mother.
“Yeah mom,” Buck teases with an elbow to Hen’s side, “Bet you can’t make a sillier face than me.”
“You’re right,” Hen sighs, “So hard to do when your face is already so funny looking on its own!”
“Ouch, Hen, ouch.”
“Mama, can Buck come home with us?”
Buck huffs a loud laugh at that, his mouth hanging open in a smile as Hen covers up her smirk with a hand.
“Nia, I am sure there is nothing your mother would love more than to spend a whole twelve-hour shift with me,” he starts through laughter, “and then spend another twelve hours with me at home.”
“I don’t know how Eddie does it,” she jokes, but there’s some strange insightful truth to it that makes Buck’s heart leap, and then melt, and then triple in size. All at once.
“I gotta go home to my own house, Nia,” Buck says to the girl, seriously, “But maybe one day you and your brother could have a sleepover at my place?” He starts, then tacks on an urgent, “If that’s okay with your moms, obviously.”
Hen smiles, running and hand through her daughter’s hair then pulling her arm around Buck’s shoulder for a half hug, “I really do love you, Buckaroo.”
“Yeah, yeah,” he flushes under her affection, but warms at her side anyway, “As certified fun babysitter of the 118, I am available most nights, and weekends. No extra charge.”
“You know you’re more than just a fun babysitter,” she glances down at him earnestly, putting just a little bit of space between them on the makeshift dance floor to see him better.
He just shrugs in response, looks over to where Eddie’s dancing with Christopher, his feet on top of Eddie’s, very poorly step-swaying in a circle off beat, but loving every second of it anyway.
Hen laughs like the beat Buck spends staring at them is subtle at all.
“You know, I’m not supposed to say anything, but you did just spend an hour spoiling my daughter, so, I think you earned it,” Hen starts, “Eddie asked me something the other day.”
“What— I mean— it’s not any of my business—”
“He asked me if I thought it was weird that he wanted you to move in with him.”
And there’s like, a million thoughts running through his head at that, but all he can manage is a lame, “Oh.”
“I don’t really know what’s going on with you two, and I don’t think you two do either,” she hums, like maybe she knows more than she’s letting on, “But I think it’d be good for you.”
“After the kind of days we have, it’s nice to come home to someone,” Hen says simply, like at the end of the day, that’s all that matters, and maybe, Buck thinks, it does, “Even if it’s just as friends, or whatever you wanna call it, cool babysitter Buckley.”
Buck laughs a little at that, bounces a now quiet Nia in his arms and lets his gaze wander over to Eddie and Christopher again.
“I feel like I’m being very obvious.”
“Oh, you are,” she chuckles a little, “But he thinks he’s being obvious too. And I know it’s weird, trust me I’ve been there.” Hen follows his gaze, before holding her arms out to take Nia back from Buck, “I’m married with two kids, doesn’t get more obvious than that. And I still don’t see it sometimes. Love is weird, Buck.”
He wants to protest, because no one ever said anything about love, maybe it’s been implied but not in that exact four-letter word, out loud. But all he settles on is a whispered, “Yeah.”
“He’s not gonna ask you. Not yet. Went back and forth with me like six times and ended up there, but,” Hen tilts her head towards Buck, “Do with this information what you will. I know you’re a lot smarter than any of us let you believe we know.”
“I’m not really that smart.”
“You could use a little nudge every once in a while,” Hen smiles, “I am happy to help. To nudge.”
She all but actually nudges him towards Eddie then, eyes imploring that he moves, and not make up some lame excuse to stay with her and Nia, and before Buck knows what he’s doing his feet are taking him across the small room to where Christopher has just decided he’s had enough of dancing on his dad’s feet.
Buck is overwhelmed with the surge of love (because we’re using that word now, apparently) that washes over him when Eddie notices him approaching.
He nervously shoves his hands into his pockets and smiles, “Christopher, let me just say, I am so glad you didn’t get your dancing ability from your dad.”
“Like you’re one to talk,” Eddie scoffs, swinging the one hand that’s still holding Christopher’s between them.
“I think you’re a good dancer, Buck,” Christopher smiles sweetly and Buck revels in the small praise.
“Good to know at least one Diaz has my back,” Buck ruffles Chris’s hair as he settles in next to them, doesn’t miss Eddie’s heavy gaze at the use of the phrase. Chris taps his dad’s arm then and rather unceremoniously bursts the moment they were having to ask if he can go play with Denny outside, because dancing with your dad is extremely lame and uncool, obviously.
Eddie accepts the defeat and waves him on, watches him run off excitedly.
“Eddie, I love your kid,” Buck’s not sure what prompts the admonition, but it’s true, and the day has made him sappy and warm and he feels like why not.
Eddie’s not looking at him when he answers, but Buck can feel the energy shift between them, in and out of something, “Pretty sure the feeling’s mutual.”
“Kind of unfair that I had to sit here and watch you be all adorable dancing with him,” Buck remarks lightly, bumping his shoulder into Eddie’s, “And I got stuck dancing with Chim.”
Eddie’s expression is unreadable when he finally looks up at Buck, though it quickly breaks into a small smile, and Eddie tucks his chin trying to hide it.
“Nothing, nothing,” Eddie fails in his attempt to brush it off, looks back at Buck with such a soft expression of fondness that Buck feels could swallow him whole, “Just, you’re kinda a hypocrite.”
“Yeah,” Eddie nods, “I have Chris, sure, but every kid in this room has you wrapped around their finger.”
“You know I love kids,” Buck gets uncharacteristically shy at Eddie’s statement, “I love these kids.”
“And they love you. Chris loves you, I—” Buck doesn’t even register his gasp when Eddie cuts off his own sentence, clears his throat, “I think one day you’re gonna give every guy in here a run for their money for coolest dad.”
“Well that won’t shock anyone, they already know I’m the coolest guy in here,” Buck plays it off with a laugh, even though his heart is ping-ponging around his chest. When his laugh peters out he blinks back at Eddie, “I never really thought about it.”
“Being a dad?”
Buck nods, “My dad never made it look like a lot of fun.” He shrugs, because it’s the truth. His dad was so distant, so uninvolved, that it always made it seem like anything was more exciting than parenting, and there weren’t many other role models to go around when he was growing up. Buck just assumed the parenting gene skipped over his family. And there’s also the fact that: “Besides, I can count the number of serious relationships I’ve had on one hand, so…”
“Well, for what it’s worth, I have seen you with a kid at just about every stage of childhood,” Eddie starts, looking around the room and Buck follows, finding Maddie and Chim’s newborn, little Nia, the middle-school boys and way too grown up for Buck’s liking May, even Albert, who Chim refuses to let anyone group with the adults even though Buck’s pointed out several times he’s only a handful of years younger than him. “And you are pretty incredible with every single one of them.”
“Worth a lot, actually,” Buck sighs, “I mean, when you get the second coolest dad’s seal of approval…”
“Oh my god.”
“I’m never letting this compliment go.”
“I pray for the unlucky soul who gets to have kids with you.”
“Look, it’s a pretty stiff competition, but they could probably settle for third place,” Buck squares his shoulder towards Eddie, ignoring the stubborn thought that he really doesn’t want to have kids with anyone, just Eddie.
“I get to keep second place?”
Buck shrugs, and is about to spit back a witty one liner, when suddenly, the mood in the room shifts.
Someone put on a slow dance song.
It doesn’t take long for Buck to put the pieces together, chancing a glance behind him briefly to see Hen smiling smugly, waving and nudging him along, eyes promising that he’ll thank her for this later, and maybe he will, but that’s beside the point right now. He’s blushing.
“Alright Diaz,” Buck turns back around and bravely holds out a hand, trying to mask his bubbling nerves under his usual confidence and charm, “You wanna dance?”
“Do I?” He smiles, stepping an inch closer to Buck, “No seriously, do I? Or are you gonna step on my toes the entire time?”
“Very funny, I can go find someone else—”
“No, no,” Eddie takes Buck’s outstretched hand softly, and Buck’s heart free-falls. Eddie loops his other arm around Buck’s neck, and it’s so affectionate Buck doesn’t know what to do. It’s so non-platonic. And he’s gonna have to stand here and sway and pretend it’s very platonic.
Maybe the day’s got him in a sappy mood, maybe two beers made him bold, maybe he’s just gotten to the point where there’s no sense in hiding it anymore, hoping Eddie will grab on and run with it. But he smiles, settles a hand on Eddie’s waist and hums, “You look so good in this light. Is it warm lighting? Or is it bluer?”
“Watch it, before I step on your toes.”
Buck laughs, thinking about how much life had changed since Eddie Diaz, new recruit showed up, told him about his lighting. How if you had asked Buck where he’d stand on the guy in a few years, he’d never guess he’d be standing this close, chest to chest, holding hands and slow dancing in their captain’s living room.
Love is weird, indeed.
“Do you know what song this is?”
“It’s nice,” Buck hums, swaying along to the tune, “You know, I’ve always been a fan of eloping, but another plus side: no one has to watch me fail miserably at a first dance.”
“You don’t have to dance at your wedding,” Eddie argues, shifting closer, tightening his hold on Buck’s hand, “I’d think the person marrying you would know you well enough to skip the first dance part. If it were me, I wouldn’t mind.”
And okay, like he can just throw that last part in there and get away with it.
Two can play at this game, Diaz.
“That’s sweet, but there’s something nice about tradition,” Buck shrugs, narrowly avoids Eddie’s left foot with his own, “I don’t have any family to appease besides Maddie, and she’d get over it… eventually… hopefully,” Eddie laughs at his reasoning, “But you know the last thing I’d wanna do is disappoint your family.”
“They’re always disappointed,” Eddie shrugs off, “But as far as my abuela and my tia are concerned, there’s not a single thing you could do wrong.”
“Well that’s good to know,” Buck chuckles lightly, sidestepping Eddie as they turn, “And think— we’d have plenty of flower girls and ring bearers to choose from.”
“Chris would probably ask to be your best man, not mine.”
“Oh my god, he’d look so cute in a little jacket. And a tie!” Buck practically squeals, like the thought of it alone is too much for his heart to handle, and Eddie looks so ridiculously smitten that Buck hopes he’s not imagining it, “Oh my god, my niece in a fluffy dress? I’ll cry right now.”
“Please don’t cry.”
“But Eddie!” He beams, “Okay, courthouse definitely out, I want too many people there.”
“I have a decent sized backyard.”
“You think Hen and Karen would let Nia be a flower girl too?” And it feels so strangely right, to be mapping out the logistics of his hypothetical wedding to Eddie Diaz, when he hasn’t even worked up the courage to kiss the guy yet. That he’s had a real, actual conversation with Hen about moving in with him when they’ve never been on a date. He lets himself lean into the fantasy, just for the song, “Yeah, yeah, they would, probably,” he answers for himself, much to Eddie’s amusement.
It’s then that Eddie leans forward just a smidge, pulls their interlocked hands in closer, and rests his head right above Buck’s chest, his cheek on his shoulder.
Buck, to put it lightly, short-circuits at the contact.
“You were really cute with her before.”
“You saw that?” is all Buck can manage, his brain still trying to catch up.
“Hard to look away,” and oh my god, Buck can feel Eddie’s voice vibrate against his skin, “So adorable.”
“I meant you.”
“Maybe I’d allow dancing,” Buck reasons, “I’d dance with her, and Chris, maybe Maddie, though she’d probably wanna sing with Chim.”
“Whatever you want.”
“Although, I gotta admit,” Buck says, barely above a whisper, when he realizes Eddie’s eyes have fluttered shut, “We’re kinda crushing this dancing thing right now.”
“I’d do it again.”
Eddie must be pleased with that answer, his close hum rippling across Buck’s shoulder with the contact, the song sounding like it’s almost going to end. Buck’s already mourning the loss.
He daydreams a little more about his nonexistent future with Eddie in the quiet, relishing in his weight on his shoulder, how much nicer it is to count his sleepy breaths this close. He doesn’t think he can go back to doing it any other way now.
But the song will end, Eddie will step away, they won’t get married in his backyard with Chris at Eddie’s side and Nia helping his niece waddle down the aisle with flower petals, with abuela cooing while they slow dance, with everyone he loves within reach, Eddie the closest.
It won’t happen. He’ll have to love him from a bit of a distance.
(Later, when the sun has set and everyone’s collapsed around the backyard under the stars, Hen and Karen will sit down next to him, Karen will give him that look, Nia will squirm into his lap already giggling, Hen will smile and lean in close and ask, “So, how’d it go?” and Buck will suck in a breathy laugh and say, “I think I want to marry him.”)
The pros of having days where Eddie’s shifts don’t quite line up perfectly with Buck’s don’t often outweigh the cons, in Eddie’s opinion, as he mills about the loft listless and bored without an energizer bunny of an accomplice to keep him occupied. But some days they do, and Eddie pinches himself every time he gets them, gets to have and to hold something this good.
Their twelve-hour shifts were about six hours off, and the overlap in the middle was great, but then Buck had left and Eddie had moped, much to Chim’s utter amusement.
“You know, the term work husband only works when you’re both at work,” Chim flops onto the couch cushion next to Eddie after washing up from their last call, and nods down to the phone in Eddie’s hands he hasn’t let go of the entire time since then.
Eddie’s not a moron, he swears, but it’s probably the wrong reaction in this case to shove the phone away with inhuman speed.
It makes Chim grin, “I am no Buckley, but I’ve been dating one long enough to be a good enough stand-in in a pinch. You wanna tell me what’s up?”
No, he definitely would not. But, “Buck took Chris to the park and I’ve been informed he’s getting too big for the slide,” Eddie hums, crinkling his nose at the memory of the video Buck had sent him and Eddie had just so unceremoniously shoved away, “Forget it, it sounds ridiculous.”
“I cry every time I change my daughter’s diaper,” Chim says, sinking into his seat comfortably, “It is not ridiculous at all.”
“I just— I remember the first time I took him to that park. It was one of the first things I did with him in LA, bribed him with it after a day of unpacking,” Eddie recalls the memory so easily, cannot believe it feels so close and so far, all at once, “I was worried Chris was too old to settle in to a whole new place, but— but he still got to grow up here. I don’t know, makes me feel better about my decision.”
“For what it’s worth we’re all really glad you made it,” Chim lets a hand rest comfortingly on Eddie’s knee, and Eddie reels at the affection. He’s home. He has a family. His kid is growing up here. “He really doesn’t fit on the slide anymore?”
“Not according to Buck,” Eddie laughs at Chim’s dumbfounded expression, “And I have gotten plenty of updates on it.”
“I cannot believe he’s that big, I—” Chim starts, looks like he’s going to actually scratch his head in thought, “I still put out the hose by the pinball machine every time he visits.”
Eddie’s whole body shifts in delighted laughter, at the image of Chim still trying to coddle and boost his almost ten-year-old kid (holy shit Eddie feels like an old man just at the thought) up so he was tall enough to see the pinball game. And then snorts another round of laughter at said son playing along with it.
“He’s probably never gonna correct you,” Eddie gets out through his laughter, “He lets Buck think he still doesn’t know how to tuck the sheets into his bed, gets the guy to make his bed every morning he’s over. With ease.”
Chim finally breaks, a peel of laughter escaping his lips at the small story, “Remind me of this when my kid starts doing this, otherwise I have no doubt she’ll rope me into more chores than making the bed.”
“You know, you probably were better for this conversation than Buckley anyway,” Eddie smiles, his fingers drumming absently on the arm of the couch beside him.
“If only because Buck would have gushed about the kids growing up for the entire last two hours of our shift,” Chim teases, and Eddie isn’t sure he’s wrong, “Uncle Buck is already a lot, I don’t know how you deal with him and Chris.”
And well, that probably should puzzle Eddie more than it initially does, that kind of distinction.
“I doubt he’s any better, not if my camera roll from today alone is anything to go by,” Eddie starts, tries to shove the meaning behind Chim’s words away with good-natured joking.
“I meant he’d be worse,” and god, Eddie misses when his friends had a little more tact around the subject matter, “At least, he is for the shifts you’re not here with him.”
Eddie raises an eyebrow.
“You quietly mope when he’s gone, but Buck bounces around like a puppy, never shuts up about you,” Chim smiles, “And I like you, Diaz, but there’s only so many conversations I can have about what color your eyes are gonna look like today.”
“That bad,” Chim confirms, his solemn nod not completely hiding his amusement, “They’re hazel today, in case you were wondering,” and Chim’s laughter can’t be drowned out by the groan Eddie emits when he sinks into the couch in his embarrassment.
“You gonna give me a speech?” Because that’s how this goes, someone corners him, teases out his feelings for his best friend, makes him squirm a little about it, then properly lectures him about timing and trust and putting himself out there and how Buck would never hurt him, like that’s ever been the issue here.
“No, I’m saving all the good stuff for the wedding, my best man speech,” and maybe, Eddie thinks, this alternative is worse, “Gotta beat out Maddie.”
“You know, if you’re all so sure I’m gonna marry the guy, you can take it up with him,” Eddie deflects, arms crossed over his chest.
“We have— or, Hen has. We flipped a coin,” Chim nods, “She got Buck, I got you.”
And for an awfully insane moment, Eddie laughs.
Chim’s very matter-of-fact tactics are indeed very well thought out for Eddie, he’s got to give the guy credit. He’s never appreciated the flowery love declaration nonsense people have tried to spur on him in the past. He’s done the love declaration. He’s done flowers and proposals and a kid all in the right order, and yet, none of it felt right, not when it mattered. No one had been straight with him, when he’d been in love the first time. And maybe if they had just talked to him like a person, like their son or their brother or their friend, and not like a bible passage, like a quota, like an image to be replicated and duty to be fulfilled, he could have saved himself a lot of heartbreak in the middle.
Because, Eddie realizes, he’s grown up here too, not just Chris, and things look different for him, feel different. And well, he’s thankful that now he has a friend who does just that. His friend knows him well enough by now to know that if he’s gonna go anywhere with this awfully ridiculous train of thought (he’s in love with his best friend, four letter l-word and all), he’s not gonna jump through hoops to get there. He just talks to him.
“This is going a lot better than I thought it would.”
“Yeah?” Chim chuckles at the admission, “I didn’t even do my big scary brother in law threat portion of the spiel yet.”
“Well, thank god for that,” Eddie hums, “I’ll keep one eye open at night.”
“I’m probably the only person who is ever going to say this and mean it, but I understand. The whole, not wanting to mess up a good thing, thing,” Chim stumbles over his words a bit awkwardly, looking down at his feet in apparent sincerity, his teasing taken off the edge of his tone, “Everyone will tell you they get it, that they know what it’s like, but I have literally also friend zoned a Buckley. And wished every day I hadn’t.”
“And now you have a kid with her.”
“At least you’re one step ahead of me there,” the corner of Chim’s mouth quirks up in a small smile, and Eddie feels his stomach drop to his toes. A kid. With Buck. He thinks about Buck immediately leaving the station to pick up Chris from school, milking the fact that it was Friday and he had a whole weekend to make up homework and spoiling him with a late lunch (I see what you put in that kid’s lunch box, Eddie, I gotta FEED him now, the text had read) and then letting him run all his energy out at the park. His kid. With Buck.
Chim must read his thoughtful silence as a win.
“I’m also going to be the only one to tell you that I think what you have is good. If it works for you, it works for you,” Chim nudges at Eddie’s foot with his own, “But if you decided to get married tomorrow I would also think that is a very, very good thing.”
“I’d tend to agree with you on that.”
“Well, this is definitely going better than I thought.”
“I’ve messed up a marriage before. And I’ve got a lot of baggage that comes with that, that I’d bring into a second marriage,” Eddie admits, likes the feeling he gets, the tension that uncurls from his chest when he talks to his friend like this, “I can’t bring Buck into that.”
“It’s not the same, and I’m not going to sit here and say it is but, Maddie had baggage too. I knew it from the beginning and, the worry that things will be difficult felt so small in comparison to how much I love her,” Chim nods, waits for Eddie’s shy gaze to find his, “For the people we love, it’s worth it.”
“I can’t ask—”
“You’re not asking him. He’s telling you that he’ll love you the same way he always has, no matter what.”
And it’s not much, a handful of words, but it might just be enough.
“I’m making no promises on a wedding tomorrow.”
“Good because, I’d have nothing to wear,” Chim’s easy tone returns to lights up the room, and Eddie is struck again by how well Chim has done, how he knows exactly what he needs to get out of an awfully uncomfortable conversation like this, how difficult it will always be for Eddie to put his emotions out into the open. He’d felt bad when he’d heard Chim had flipped for him. Hell, he’d be upset if he was the one tasked with pulling emotion out of him.
But Eddie is so at home here, in this place his son has grown too big for the slide, and his best friends tease him and talk to him in all the right ways. And maybe, Eddie thinks, what Chim had said applies here too, that when you love someone, romantic or otherwise, no amount of baggage could stop you from trying to love them.
“You wanna see the pictures Buck sent me?”
“Uh, do you even need to ask? Hand it over!” Chim scoots forward in his seat, holds a hand out for Eddie’s phone that he digs out from where he’d sheepishly hid it earlier.
Eddie is so lucky.
He’s reminded again, three hours later, changed out of his uniform, work bag slung over one shoulder and a hand on Chim’s shoulder that he hopes presses enough of a thank you that he means to say but can’t seem to work out around words, when he leaves for the park.
Buck had texted him that they were still there, that he should meet them for ice cream and the sunset, like that wasn’t the most romantic thing he could suggest in the wake of Eddie’s epiphany on the loft couch, and well. Far be it from Eddie say no to his boys. Correction, boy. Chris, his boy, his son. And Buck. A boy who is with him. Of course.
He parks with a giddy excitement he’s never felt post 12-hour shift, especially not one he split with his partner. He immediately scans the small park for them, peeks over monkey bars and around trees, and it’s not a big park so there’s not many places they can really go at all, which is why he worries for a minute when he doesn’t immediately spot them. But he finds them, eventually, after he’s jumped out of his truck and taken a few steps onto the grass, his hands unusually nervous in his pockets.
They’re both sprawled out across a sheet, one Eddie’s never seen before, which, shouldn’t surprise him, because it’s Buck. He’d buy Chris the moon if he wanted it. So they’re stretched across this new blanket, powder blue and already sporting grass stains, tucked under a tree on the edge of the park, where it’s empty and quiet, save for the giggles Eddie can make out from all the way over here.
Chris’s arms are tucked under his chin, right on top of Buck’s chest, and he clings to Buck’s shirt with his small fingers almost as ferociously as it appears he’s hanging on to his every word, Buck half-asleep and still trying to please Chris in everything he does, undoubtedly weaving some wildly wonderful story.
It’s so picture perfect, but Eddie’s had a whole six hours of pictures.
He picks up all his baggage and goes, lets himself in, leans into the happy.
And Buck has an incredible way of letting him in. He smiles as Eddie so brightly you wouldn’t know the sun was setting.
He’s a couple of steps away, and he can see now that Chris has a library book propped up on the other side of Buck, peering over him to read the words. It’s a knock-knock joke book, if Buck’s “Banana who?” was anything to go by, and Eddie winces before he’s even had to sit through one joke.
Buck lets his eye contact slip from where he’d been watching Eddie approach for the briefest of moments, to look down at Chris.
“Hey, Christopher, is it my turn for a joke?”
“Can I pick it for you?” Chris hums innocently, already starting to turn the pages of his book.
“Bud, if you pick, you’re already gonna know the joke!” Buck’s eyes crinkle with joy, and Eddie finds it hard not to reciprocate.
“Well, duh, they’re my jokes, Buck.”
“Course they are, my bad,” Buck nods, turning his head just a little to look at the book, “Okay, which one?”
“This one,” Chris dutifully points, and Buck obliges.
“That’s not what it says—”
“Your dad is gonna make you return this terrible book,” Eddie leans over, just in time for Chris’s almost comical head snap back at him, eyes wide behind the rim of his glasses, promptly scoops his son up with a delighted squeal.
“Hey Christopher,” he hugs him tight, has his face buried so deep into Chris’s curls he almost misses the sleepy contented way Buck beams at him. Keyword: almost, because the image is permanently etched into his memory. “You have a good day?”
“The best!” And without so much as a breath, Christopher has launched into a wild retelling of his day, his arms flailing with enthusiasm as he recounts with incredible detail every moment since Buck put his seatbelt on in his car after school. He has no idea how he’s managed to make car safety exciting, but it only makes Eddie more certain he has to keep this man in his life forever. He’s got Chris excited over seatbelts.
It’s like magic sputters out of him as he keeps talking, as Eddie lowers them down onto the blanket and Chris settles himself in his lap, Buck curled on his side now to watch them, yawns escaping every other breath.
“Buck said we could have a sleepover at his house.”
“Emphasis on the sleep, bud,” Buck grins through closed eyes, his hands tucked under his cheek, the early shift and day with Christopher finally catching up with him, and Eddie is smitten. It’s so embarrassing and so not, all at once.
“He said I could read him a story,” Chris boasts, “I got three new books from the library today. We went to the library in school today, I forgot to tell you that.”
His excitement is so palpable Eddie thinks he could hold it in his hands, settles for running a hand through his curls instead, “Three new books?”
“Want me to read you one now?”
“I don’t think—”
“Go for it, Chris,” Buck sighs, “I need a nap anyway.”
“He’s so weird, dad,” Chris whispers up to Eddie, his eyebrows jumping as he shares his secret, just like Eddie’s seen Buck do so many times before. It clenches his heart and threatens to never let go.
“You know, all the money for ice cream is in my pocket, kid.”
Chris sticks his tongue out at Buck, and he responds similarly, his eyes still shut. But Chris pulls out a book and centers himself, his back against Eddie’s chest with a new book between his hands anyway, and opens the pages to read Buck a story.
Eddie’s heart is sitting outside his body, he’s sure, right here, in the park.
Chris is too big for the slide, and he can read, a whole chapter book now, and he’s so big. His shoes a few sizes bigger on the blue blanket in front of them, his shirt tighter around his shoulders and his glasses sitting on his face not as big and clumsy as they used to.
What has also grown, Eddie realizes before he can stop the though from spilling out, is their family. Him and Chris came here that first day and now, he doesn’t think he could sit here without Buck too.
Chris still fits here, right under Eddie’s chin, and now Buck fits right next to them too.
Eddie is so, so lucky.
“No! Buck!” Eddie is snapped out of his thoughts suddenly by Chris’s yell, and he’s not sure if it’s minutes later or more. Judging by where Chris has dropped his book, propped open to save the page, it’s been a while of reading.
“Chris,” Eddie urges, when he sees his son trying to wriggle out of his grasp towards Buck, who is mercifully sleeping, his soft breaths rippling across the blanket, “You can read to me, let Buck sleep.”
“No dad, he can’t go to sleep yet,” Chris is insistent, already nudging Buck awake, “We never go to sleep without saying goodnight.”
“Chris, he’s not sleeping—he’s napping,” Eddie says, frustration not nearly apparent enough in his voice, “You can say goodnight later, when he actually goes to sleep—”
“S’okay, I’m up,” Buck’s voice is raspy on the edges of sleep, twisting and stretching where he’s laid out under Chris’s urgent touch, “I miss the story?”
“You didn’t say goodnight,” Chris implores, like that explains everything.
Eddie’s about to explain it away for his friend, but Buck just smiles, half-awake and so pretty with his lashes fluttering Eddie thinks he’ll take back what he said to Chim earlier and marry him right here.
“I am so sorry,” Buck rolls onto his back and yawns himself awake, hands on his stomach, “Won’t let it happen again, little man.”
Eddie mouths a rueful apology when Buck finally rolls his cheek to the side to look at him and Chris, eyes lidded and bright blue in the darkening sky. Buck just smiles at him again.
“It’s okay, dad just says we always have to say goodnight ‘fore we go to sleep,” Chris explains, patting a hand on top of Buck’s gently.
“Your dad has some good rules.”
“Goodnight Buck,” Chris launches himself suddenly back into his position from before, head on Buck’s chest, squeezes him tightly with a purpose, “Love you.”
It shouldn’t shock Eddie, not in the slightest. That’s how he says goodnight to Chris every night. Goodnight Christopher, big hug, I love you.
It shouldn’t be so different when it’s goodnight Buck, big hug, I love you. And yet. Here we are. (Eddie thinks he might be crying. He can’t be too sure. He’s so mesmerized.)
Buck seems to be too, for what it’s worth, stuck in this bubble of awe, chin resting on Chris’s shoulder where he hugs him.
“You have’ta say it back, Buck,” Christopher nods in only a way a nine-year-old could, and it’s like the floodgates open.
“Night Chris,” he murmurs, his voice heavy with emotion Eddie can’t place, “I love you.”
“Love you, dad,” Chris starts, because this already fabulous display of emotion was not enough for Eddie’s over-taxed heart today, right?
“Love you, Chris,” he hums, gently running his knuckles over Chris’s shoulder, still slumped against a now very-awake Buck.
Chris looks between his father and his Buck very expectantly. And Eddie reminds himself to ask Chim if he got his kid in on this too. He knew Chim’s conversation was too good to be true earlier.
Before Chris can beg him to say it back and give Eddie the chance to turn an even more incriminating shade of red absolutely everywhere on his skin, Eddie smiles softly down at Buck, who’s already looking at him, like always, kicks his foot to lightly tap his leg.
“Love you, Buck.”
Easily one of the top three things Eddie has ever said out loud. Ever.
There’s a moment that goes still between them, in the mostly empty park and quiet of a long day, of the sunset behind them and forgotten jokes and books and promised ice cream. A long moment where Eddie sees Buck and all the possibilities, all the futures, all the things he can allow himself to have and give and love and be loved in return for.
“Love you too, Eddie.”
Apparently, that very wonderful moment where Eddie’s whole life flashes before his eyes is wildly misinterpreted by his nine-year old son.
Buck’s bubble of laughter is music to his ears.
Eddie has gone that incriminating shade of red, impossibly so, as he tries to wrestle his kid into punishing tickles for that sudden outburst. Buck is beside himself on the blanket next to them.
“No, no, Eddie he’s right,” he spurts between boyish giggles and Eddie has never wanted to kiss someone so bad in his entire life, he’s so sure of it, “I shoulda been quicker.”
Chris keeps squirming away from Eddie as he laughs in protest, until Eddie all but falls on top of him, both Diazes in a fit of laughter, chins on their Buck’s chest. Eddie, out of habit, counts his sleepy breaths. In and out.
“Count me in, Chris.”
“Okay,” he giggles again, hand still clutching Eddie’s shirt collar, his eyes darting excitedly between Eddie and Buck, “One… two… three!”
“I love you, Eddie,” it comes out in a rush, quick and breathy and laced in giggles and god, Eddie didn’t think it could sound better than the first one, but it does. “I love you.”
“I love you,” Eddie doesn’t even think before he says it, but it feels so good.
“I love you,” Buck echoes, like maybe his mind is doing the same thing as Eddie’s stuck on the euphoria of these words and the smile that goes with them, “I love you, so much.”
“And I love ice cream,” Chris hums, “We should get ice cream.”
“Eddie, you kid is a menace,” Buck grumbles, but it sounds like I love you. Funny how everything sounds like that now. His smile, his laugh, his breaths, his name.
“Doesn’t get that from me.”
He tells Buck he loves him at least 8 more times that night explicitly, just because he can, and at least a million other times in a million other ways. (He’ll have to buy Chim a fruit basket, at the very least.)