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calm night of the soul

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The thing is, Eddie isn’t sure he ever really wanted kids.

When he was growing up, it was always this abstract concept floating around the back of his mind—the unspoken expectation that he would grow up, get married, and start a family at some indefinable future point. Thinking too much about it had a tendency to make his chest get tight and his breathing come too fast, so he didn’t think about it, preferring to assume that when the time came, he would be an adult with stability and all of his hang-ups would magically disappear.

Except, that didn’t happen. And sometimes Eddie still wonders if it would have been easier if he had been older, if he’d been anything other than a scared teenager scrambling to figure out what to do when Shannon showed up at his place in tears with a positive pregnancy test, if he’d been given the opportunity to really think about what he wanted. Because at the end of the day, he became a father whether he wanted to be or not, whether he was prepared or not, whether he was capable or not.

He loves Christopher. More than life, more than words. And as the years have gone by, he likes to think he’s gotten better at being someone’s dad, has stopped spiraling quite so frequently down a rabbit hole of assuming he’s doing everything wrong and will permanently mess up his kid. But he’s also never had any desire to start the process over and have more kids. To rehash the greatest hits of his old anxieties for at least another eighteen years.

Which is why he’s thrown when he gets a text from Chim when he’s in the middle of the grocery store on his day off that has a picture of Buck holding a newly-delivered baby and a message that reads—

So, when are you going to give that husband of yours a baby?

And there, in the middle of the cereal aisle, Eddie stops dead, trying to remember if he and Buck have ever actually had that conversation. He thinks they did—they must have, right?—somewhere between the two years they dated and the five they’ve been married, it must have come up. He knows he would have remembered Buck saying he wanted more kids at the very least.

But nothing specific comes to mind. They’ve talked about Christopher a lot, of course, and Buck’s relationship with him, both before they started dating and since. They’ve talked about Eddie’s parents and they’ve talked about Eddie, and Buck has always been amazing with kids, sure, but he’s never actually said—

“Sir? Can I help you find something?”

Eddie jumps as the question from the man behind him wearing a store apron knocks him back to reality. He clears his throat roughly and shakes his head.

“I’m fine, but thank you.”

The employee walks away and Eddie looks back at his phone, at the message. Slowly, he types out is that something he wants? and hits send before he can talk himself out of it. There’s a long pause. Bubbles appear on the screen to show Chim is typing only to disappear almost immediately. Finally, the message comes through. It’s brief.

…I think you should ask him.

Yeah, Eddie thinks as he slides his phone back into his pocket and pushes the cart in the direction of the checkout. Apparently so.

Fuck.

It weighs heavily on his mind during the drive home, and he spends the rest of the afternoon on autopilot with a pit of ice in his stomach. He puts away groceries, pays some bills, books hotels for the college visits that Chris asked to do during his fall break—at some point, the 17-year-old himself emerges from his bedroom, all messy hair and long limbs that still make Eddie do a double-take sometimes at the reminder that his kid is no longer a compact ten-year-old but almost an adult and almost as tall as he is at that.

“Can I go to the movies with Kevin and Anna later?” Chris calls from the kitchen as Eddie listens to the sounds of him rummaging through the refrigerator. “And maybe stay the night at Kevin’s?”

“Did you finish your calculus homework for Monday?” Eddie asks.

A suspicious pause, and then— “It’ll be done before he comes to pick me up.”

Eddie can’t help but laugh at that, leaning back on the couch and rubbing the back of his neck.

“Okay,” he agrees. “I trust you. Just keep your phone on—”

“—in case of emergencies,” Christopher finishes, closing the refrigerator and grinning at Eddie from the doorway. “I know, dad. You worry too much.”

“I’m your dad, it’s my prerogative to worry.” Eddie pushes himself up and crosses the room, ruffling Christopher’s hair and pressing a kiss to the side of his head as he passes him. “Go finish your homework. Let me know if you need anything before you go.”

“I will.”

Time stretches on. Christopher leaves a few hours later, a hurried “Bye, dad, love you,” tossed over his shoulder on his way out the door. Buck’s due home by dinner, but in the meantime Eddie’s left completely alone with his thoughts, and…he doesn’t like that feeling much.

The thing is…he’s already been thinking a lot about next year. About Christopher turning 18 and going off to college and not…needing him anymore. Or at least not needing him in the same way. He’s been thinking about being nearly forty and finally not having to put everything into being a dad, about finally having the space to maybe, just maybe, explore himself a little. Figure out what he wants, what he likes, who he is as a person instead of just a parent.

And god, he feels so guilty about that. About being worried about Chris leaving home, but also simultaneously looking forward to it. About wanting to be more than just a dad when he’s built his entire adult life around that, around Christopher, going from high school to the military to too many terrible jobs to count to LA and being a firefighter with very little in-between.

He doesn’t regret it. He could never regret it, not when Christopher has been the best thing in his life, has given him so much, but. He wonders. What it would have been like to be like Sophia, who spent her early 20s working her way through community college, bartending and learning how to hustle pool, working and dating and refusing to settle. Or Adriana, the only one of the three of them who actually got to go to a university right out of high school, who joined a sorority and studied abroad and told their mother years ago to stop asking when she was going to have kids because she would rather travel and have a career than be responsible for a screaming infant. Or even Buck himself. Chim. Hen. All of them, really.

He’s been looking forward to having the space to breathe and figure out what he might want to do for himself if given the opportunity to, indeed, do something for himself without having to think about his kid. And the idea that he might not get that after all, might never get it, the idea that Buck might want to start the cycle over, might want them to be responsible for a brand new life when Eddie has only just gotten used to the idea that he might finally be able to relax—

Eddie feels sick, the dread so thick he’s practically choking on it. His chest is tight like it hasn’t been in years, and the guilt that floods in at the thought that he might be denying Buck something he really needs, even if something he hasn’t asked for yet, is overwhelming.

He texts Sophia.

Can we talk?

His phone rings thirty seconds later.

“What’s wrong?” His big sister asks. “And don’t try to backtrack now, you only ever send things like that when you’re like…having a crisis but don’t want to feel like you’re bothering anyone by just calling.”

Well…she’s not wrong.

“I think Buck wants another kid,” Eddie replies, and he doesn’t even try to prevent the mess that is his current emotional state from spilling into his voice. “And I—fuck, Soph, I don’t—I don’t think I can—I—”

“Hey. It’s okay. It’s okay, Eddie—just talk to me.”

He takes a deep breath—it’s shaky on the exhale—and puts the phone on speaker so he can scrub his hands over his face.

“Chim made a comment earlier, joking about when was I going to give Buck a baby. And I realized that we’ve never actually talked about it—I mean, he’s been in Christopher’s life for a decade, been like another parent to him at least since we started dating, and I’ve always known Buck’s great with kids, loves them, he’s great with Denny and his niece and Athena’s kids and random kids on calls—I just always assumed that where our family was concerned, Chris was enough. Because he’s always been enough for me.”

“And now you’re worried that you were wrong about that?” Sophia clarifies.

“Yeah,” Eddie sighs. “And I don’t know how I’m supposed to ask or what I’m supposed to say because I—I really don’t think I can do that again. You know how hard I had to work to not be like dad, and sure, maybe it would be easier the second time around, but I don’t think so. It would be like starting from scratch with a million new ways to fuck up, and that’s terrifying. And not in an exciting new adventure in our marriage way, either, in a—”

He cuts off, his fingers drifting unconsciously to his sternum, rubbing against the spot that hurts when he breathes too deep, trying to loosen the tightness there. It’s easier to say this to Sophia, he thinks, than it would be to say it to Buck. He’s gotten better at talking over the years, at explaining what he needs and how he feels, but when things are particularly difficult or likely to cause conflict, he still has a tendency to shut down, to struggle with articulating himself. Sophia is easier because he already knows she gets it—they’ve talked more times than Eddie can count about parenting in the shadow of their own parents, about trying not to make the same mistakes that fucked them up as kids, about never feeling good enough, about being told they aren’t good enough.

He’s talked to Buck too, but he knows Sophia gets it the most.

“It’s terrifying,” he finishes. “And I feel terrible and selfish, but I don’t want it. I can’t spend another nearly twenty years being responsible for a kid and feeling like I’m wandering through a minefield waiting to set something off. I can’t do it.”

Sophia is quiet for a long moment. And then she says— “You know, two years ago I got pregnant again.”

Eddie blinks. “What? You never said.”

“Because it was unexpected. And because…because I didn’t know what I was going to do,” she admits. “I knew I didn’t want more kids—the age difference would have been significant between the rest of the kids so I was worried about what the household dynamics would be, I was at a really good place at work, and I’m not exactly young to be having kids as it is so it would have been a risky pregnancy. Needless to say, I wasn’t exactly thrilled.”

“And did Wyatt—what did he—?” Eddie’s not even really sure what he’s asking, but Sophia seems to get it.

“He was happy,” she replies. “Surprised, but really happy. I think at the end of the day, he would have supported whatever decision I made, but I know he wanted it. And when I miscarried—”

“Soph…”

“—when I miscarried,” Sophia continues, as if he never interrupted, “I felt guilty for being relieved that the choice was out of my hands. I didn’t have to choose and Wyatt was too busy worrying that I was okay to be disappointed, which I also felt guilty for being grateful for, and then we didn’t talk about it much afterwards except to decide on steps so it wouldn’t happen again.”

She sighs. “I guess my point is…there are no easy answers to how to deal with this issue. There are no half-measures or compromises really for having a baby—you either do or you don’t, and if both people involved aren’t of the same mind, someone is going to get hurt.”

Eddie swallows hard. “I don’t want to lose him, Sophia.”

Because that’s really what it comes down to. He doesn’t exactly have a great track record with asking for what he needs and having that go over well. Even all these years later, the specter of Shannon walking out when he wouldn’t move—when he couldn’t move, when he was being dragged down into the quicksand of bloody memories like he had cement blocks attached to his feet, when he needed to cling to the lifeline of Texas, familiar, home in order to pull himself out of the dark—still rears its head whenever he considers any situation that might involve competing needs in his relationships.

“I know you don’t,” Sophia says quietly. “For what it’s worth…I don’t think you will, I think the two of you are strong enough to work through this. But, Eddie—you deserve to be happy too. The things you need are also important. I know you love him, but something like this…this isn’t something to throw yourself on your sword over, even if for no other reason than that kids deserve to be raised by people who want them completely. Don’t forget that.”

Eddie blows out another breath and nods despite the fact that his sister can’t see him. It loosens the tightness in his chest a little bit, even if he still feels sick. If given the choice—he thinks she’s right, that it would only make things worse in the long run for him to agree to something like this to keep the peace or to make Buck happy. And he does want to make Buck happy, but…not with this.

“Thank you,” he says. “I…needed to hear that.”

“I know. I’m your big sister, it’s my job to be right.”

It pulls a laugh out of him. A moment later, he hears the sound of the garage door opening and Buck pulling into the driveway.

“Hey—I should go,” Eddie says. “But, uh—I love you. Thanks, sis.”

“You’re welcome,” Sophia replies. “Go talk to your husband, call me if you start spiraling again. I’ll be here.”

“I will—bye.”

The door opens as he hangs up, Buck walking through. His LAFD t-shirt stretches tight across broad shoulders in a way that never fails to make Eddie’s eyes flick over him appreciatively, even after years of marriage. Eddie’s able to push aside the dread he feels at the inevitable conversation they need to have for a moment as Buck walks over to the couch and leans down to kiss him hello.

“Good shift?” Eddie asks.

“Yeah,” Buck replies with a grin. “Great shift. Nothing too bad at all. How was your day?”

“Fine,” Eddie says noncommittally, because it’s not a discussion he wants to blindside Buck with five seconds after he’s walked through the door. “Uh—Chris is out seeing a movie and having a sleepover. He’ll be home tomorrow.”

Buck hums and drops down to the couch next to Eddie, fingers curling in the front of Eddie’s shirt to pull him in closer.

“Well, in that case,” he teases, and gives Eddie a much more thorough kiss, slow and teasing with a hint of tongue. Eddie shivers and presses into it, a shock of desperation running through him as he kisses back, as he slides into Buck’s lap, wanting to be closer, wanting to keep him there, wanting to sink into this as a just in case knowing what he still needs to say. Buck makes a questioning noise against Eddie’s mouth when things escalate too quickly just before he pulls back and passes his thumb over Eddie’s cheek.

“Is something wrong?” He asks, and Eddie swallows hard, closing his eyes as he presses his forehead to Buck’s.

“We don’t have to get into it right now,” Eddie hedges, but he knows even before Buck shakes his head that it’s not going to work.

“But there is something,” Buck fills in. “Clearly something that’s bothering you, because otherwise you wouldn’t be trying to distract both of us with sex—not that I’m complaining—so I’m thinking that means we should get into it and revisit the our kid is out of the house sex later.”

Eddie takes a breath and pulls back, looking away. Buck gently turns his face back to look at him.

“Hey…talk to me.”

“Do you want more kids?” Eddie asks, the words falling out of him in a rush, twisting up together as though if he says them fast enough they won’t matter, that Buck won’t hear them, that they can rush through the whole conversation that way, like ripping a bandaid off, so it’ll only sting for a second.

But Buck does hear. His eyes widen a little and he sits back. Eddie slips out of Buck’s lap, turning to sit next to him, and Buck doesn’t try to stop him, all of him very still except for where his throat works as he swallows.

“What—uh—what brought this on?”

“Chim sent me a picture from your shift today,” Eddie admits. “He, um, asked me when I was going to give you a baby.”

Buck looks away and mutters something under his breath that Eddie doesn’t quite catch, his face growing tight.

“He shouldn’t have said that.”

“Maybe not, but—do you? Want more kids?”

Buck puts his elbows on his knees and stares down at his hands. “I—maybe. Yeah. Maybe I’ve wanted that for awhile. Maybe—maybe always.”

Eddie makes an involuntary noise, his chest getting tight again. “You never said.”

“I know. I—” Buck clears his throat roughly. “Do you remember the first time you mentioned Christopher? During the earthquake?”

It seems like an abrupt subject change, but Eddie goes with it anyway.

“Yeah. I remember.”

“I said that I loved kids,” Buck replies. “And you said—”

The memory crashes into Eddie like a sack of bricks. “I love this one.”

Buck’s lips quirk up, sad and small. “I’m not an idiot,” he says. “I can read between the lines.”

“Buck—”

“You’re good with kids, but you tend to avoid spending any significant amount of time with them, especially really young ones. When Evelyn was born, you were really happy for Maddie and Chim, but always looked a little panicked at the idea of being left alone with her, and you’ve been great with Christopher’s friends, but always with the very clear boundary of being his dad.”

Buck glances over and swallows again. “You don’t want more kids.” It’s not a question. Eddie shakes his head anyway. Buck nods. “See, I knew that. Part of me always knew that. But part of me also wondered if you might change your mind as Chris got older, and so I thought—I could wait. To ask. And as long as I didn’t ask, it was sort of like…Schrodinger’s baby. Possible and impossible. I didn’t have to know.”

“I’m sorry,” Eddie says, feeling indescribably guilty. “I’m—”

“No—don’t do that,” Buck interrupts, meeting his eyes. “I’m saying I knew this was a possibility. And I married you anyway. Because I love you and I love Chris and I decided years ago that having the two of you mattered more than some hypothetical future with someone else who might be willing to give me a million kids but who wouldn’t be…you.”

Eddie’s overwhelmed, struggling to find his words, so instead, he lurches across the distance between them and kisses Buck again.

“I love you,” he replies when he pulls back. “So much. And Chris—Buck, you have to know you’re his dad too, he loves you and that’s how he sees you and I—I don’t know if I could have done anywhere close to as good a job with him these last several years without you.”

“Yes, you could have,” Buck says quietly. “Because you’ve always been a great dad and he’s always been a great kid. But, uh—yeah. I love being his dad too. And I think—I think maybe that could be enough, I don’t know. I want it to be enough because I don’t want you to feel like—”

Eddie drags his thumb along the edge of Buck’s jaw and Buck exhales heavily, his eyes falling closed as he leans into the touch for a moment.

“I…might need some time though,” he admits. “To accept it, now that it—now that it’s real.”

“You can take as much time as you need,” Eddie assures.

“I think—I think I’m gonna go to Hen’s for a few hours. Or Maddie’s.”

“Okay.” Eddie sits back and reluctantly drops his hand. “Do you—do you want dinner, or—?”

“I’ll get something when I’m out,” Buck replies. He rubs his hands on his thighs and pushes himself to his feet. Checks to make sure he still has his keys and wallet, and then stops before taking a step towards the door.

“I love you,” he repeats. “We’re okay.”

Eddie nods. Once upon a time, he wouldn’t have believed that. Once upon a time, he would have heard I need some time and associated it with an ending, with being left alone, cut off, abandoned. But they’ve had years together in which to feel out each other’s triggers and sore spots and scars.

He knows Buck’s going to come back. Or that if he wasn’t going to, he would at least say so up front.

They’re okay.

The tension in his chest loosens.

“I love you, too,” Eddie replies. “Drive safe.”

He gets a text from Hen several minutes later.

You want company? Karen says she can come over.

I’m okay, he writes back. Don’t get him drunk if he’s coming home tonight.

Of course not. But we’ll send him home, don’t worry.

Eddie’s in bed, the clock ticking over to midnight, when he hears the garage again. As he listens, he hears the sound of Buck shuffling around to the bathroom—the shower, the electric toothbrush—but finally, his husband slips into their bed behind him, wrapping an arm around his waist and pulling him tightly against his chest.

“I was wondering…” Buck says quietly.

Eddie hums in question.

“I was wondering if…maybe, in a few years, if I still want—I was wondering if you’d be open to discussing being foster parents.”

Eddie bites his tongue against the instinctive urge to say yes immediately just to seize on a point of compromise. Instead, he turns the idea over in his head, quiet and considering. He doesn’t hate it. It doesn’t fill him with the same kind of dread, steal his breath the same way.

Huh.

“In a few years?”

“Yeah. We can table it and come back. Just to discuss it—I’m not asking for an answer.”

Eddie turns over in Buck’s hold, tipping his face up to brush his lips on the underside of Buck’s jaw.

“Okay. Yeah. In a few years, let’s discuss it.”

Buck kisses him. And they’re okay.

And Eddie breathes.