Today had been a long one, probably one of the worst since Crockett had moved back to New Orleans. There were too many deaths, too many people whose lives he couldn’t save despite everything he did. He’d done everything right - he was a good surgeon and he knew that - but that was no comfort to the families. It wouldn’t bring their loved ones back.
One woman, a mother, had screamed when he told her that her son had died in the OR, and even now, sitting in his car in the parking lot of the hospital, her screams were still ringing in Crockett’s ears. Not every day would be like this, but today was, and he got as far as typing out a text to his mom asking her to keep Olivia overnight before he stopped himself.
A couple of hours before the end of his shift, she’d sent him a picture of Olivia, staring open-mouthed at the framed photo of him at his med school graduation that she kept on the coffee table in the living room.
“Papa lui manque! <3”
He’d been pulled into a surgery moments after getting the texts so he’d only managed to glance at them, but now that he was looking at them properly, his heart ached. He had a family to go home to, and even if it was just him and Olivia in their little house, it was more than some of the people he’d talked to today had. He was lucky, and so, so happy with his life, and just that thought was enough to make the concept of leaving Olivia with his mom seem alien. She made everything better, and always cheered him up on his bad days, even though she was too young to understand what that meant yet.
All she knew was that daddy loved her, and she loved him.
It was a short drive to his mom’s house, and before he knew it Olivia was at his feet, tugging at his jeans to get him to pick her up.
“Was she okay today?” He held her on one hip, peppering kisses all over the soft skin of her face until she was giggling uncontrollably and smiling wide enough to show off her four perfect white teeth.
“Ah, elle était parfaite. Un ange, comme toujours,” she said with a smile, reaching over to squeeze one of Olivia’s chubby little hands.
“You were good for grandma?” More kisses, followed by more giggles, until Crockett’s heart was so full he was sure it would burst.
He stayed for a few more minutes, talking to his mom about her day and dodging questions about his, then eventually thanked her for looking after Olivia, and the two of them made their way to the car parked down the street. Most of the houses had Christmas lights up, and Olivia was transfixed, staring wide-eyed at each house they passed. Crockett hadn’t got around to putting any up at home yet, so he made a mental note to call his sister and get her to come round and help.
When they got home, he emptied Olivia’s bucket of wooden cars onto the rug, leaving her to line them up around the coffee table, then headed for the kitchen to make himself a hot chocolate. It didn’t take long, and by the time he came back, mug in hand, Olivia was still only halfway done with the cars.
He sat and watched her as she played, taking occasional sips of his drink and smiling to himself about how hard she was concentrating. Her eyes were fixed on the line in front of her, and she seemed to be deliberating over which car should go next. There was obviously some meaning there that Crockett didn’t understand, but it didn’t matter; he was content to just observe.
After a few minutes the line was finished, and she stood up and walked on unsteady legs over to the couch. She stopped directly in front of Crockett, staring intently at him with her arms raised above her head.
“You want up?”
He set his mug down on the coffee table then picked Olivia up, letting her get comfortable on his lap before retrieving the mug.
“You did a good job with the cars, darlin’.”
She didn’t say anything, and instead reached for his drink, wrapping both of her hands around it to try and take it from him.
“D’you want some?”
She kept her hands wrapped around the mug, getting frustrated when she realised Crockett was also still holding it, and he could see the tears already beginning to form. She always wanted some of whatever he was eating, even though most of the time she ended up hating it, and he could never say no to her.
“Here you go, angel.” He dipped one finger in the mug, making sure to get some of the melted marshmallows as well, then held it out for her. “That good?”
She was smiling now, but her attention was still focused on the drink; now that she’d had a taste of it she wanted more, and Crockett could tell he wouldn’t be able to distract her from it.
So he did the next best thing and picked her up with one arm, carrying her with him into the kitchen before setting her down in her highchair, in perfect view of the stove.
“I’m gonna make a fresh batch just for you, okay doll?”
It was a simple recipe, one his mom had taught him and that he’d been following for as long as he could remember, and there was something comforting about the familiarity of it all. Chopping the chocolate and heating the milk was almost meditative, something that was so deeply ingrained in his muscle memory. He could do it with his eyes shut, he was sure of it, and before long he was standing in front of a pot of the richest, creamiest hot chocolate he’d ever tasted - a piece of his childhood he’d brought with him into the new life he was starting with his daughter.
“Smells good, doesn’t it darlin’?”
There was enough there to last the next few days, and he carefully poured it from the saucepan into one of the glass bottles he saved for his homemade drinks, making sure to keep some back for Olivia. She’d been watching him closely during the entire process, and let out a squeal of delight when he started towards her with a sippy cup in one hand.
He set it down for a moment so he could pick her up out of the high chair, then quickly retrieved it once he was sure he wasn’t going to drop her.
“You gotta wait for it to cool down a bit, yeah? Just a couple of minutes, ma belle.”
She stayed in his arms even once they reached the living room, happy to curl up on his lap while he blew on her drink for her, making sure it wouldn’t burn her mouth when she finally took that first sip.