Bobby wasn’t too proud to admit it – he was curious. For the reasons Hen mentioned yesterday and more. Sure, they teased Buck, but the truth was both Buckley siblings were two of the most headstrong people Bobby had ever met. He was allowing himself to be at least a little interested in what kind of environment had produced such unique people.
Plus – well. Bobby considered himself a polite man. He didn’t like to speak ill of anyone, let alone people he had never even met. But he remembered being with Buck through months of painful physical therapy after the bombing, and months of turmoil after that as he’d zig-zagged from crisis to crisis in his desperate fight to get back to being a firefighter. He remembered weeks of sleepless nights for Buck as he tried to help Maddie adjust after being abducted and attacked. And he remembered the phone not ringing. Not even once. A mention from Maddie here, Buck agreeing to send a text there – but that was it.
Bobby was constantly, painfully aware that for much of his life, he had not been a man who would’ve won any parenting awards. But he liked to think that no matter how much he’d screwed up as a father, if his children had been in pain or in danger halfway across the country, nothing would’ve stopped him from getting to their sides.
All of that was on his mind as he watched Buck storm in that morning with a face like thunder, head down, avoiding eye contact, heading straight for the locker room. He watched Eddie sigh and follow at a distance. He watched Chimney jog in after Buck, looking furtive, glancing in the direction of Buck’s retreating back with a mix of concern and apprehension.
Chimney hesitated and then visibly decided against heading to the locker room for now – a move Bobby silently supported – choosing instead to head up into the kitchen.
“Morning, Cap,” he said cheerfully, piling a plate with the breakfast food Bobby was preparing, with no trace of the nerves that had been visible a few seconds ago.
“Morning,” Bobby replied, then, “Hey – Chim?”
Chimney had been slinking off towards the couches with his food but stopped and turned back to face him.
“How – how was it?” Bobby asked, a little uncomfortably. Deep down, he knew he should be asking Buck, but he figured that wouldn’t be a good idea for a while.
Chimney didn’t stop chewing, an innocent expression of blank curiosity on his face that was almost entirely convincing.
“How was what?”
Bobby just about restrained himself from rolling his eyes.
“The dinner, Chimney, the one that had the potential to mentally derail two of my best firefighters.”
Chimney pulled a face.
“Really, Cap?” he whined, “You too?”
Bobby gave him a look.
“Come on, Chimney. Buck mentions his parents – what, four or five times? – in the 6 years we’ve known him? And then they’re coming to town, and he’s downstairs scheduling emergency therapy appointments. Give me some credit here, I’m -”
Bobby stopped himself. ‘Concerned’ sounded a little patronising. Or maybe it felt like giving a little too much away.
Judging by how his face was softening, Chimney could read between the lines.
“It was… enlightening,” he said carefully.
“What are they like? The Buckleys?”
Chimney widened his eyes and blew out a breath, and that was all Bobby needed to know. With the possible exception of Buck, Chimney was the friendliest person he had ever met.
Bobby lowered his voice, glancing towards the stairs. “That bad?”
“You can find out for yourself. They’re coming to visit the firehouse today. Buck’ll be up to clear it with you in a couple of minutes, once he’s finished going through the five stages of grief in the locker room. Consider this your heads up.”
This time, Bobby did roll his eyes. “Duly noted,” he said dryly, then frowned. “They’re coming here? But – if -”
Chimney shrugged, seeing what Bobby was hinting at but was too polite to say.
“Beats me. A peace offering of some kind, I think. Plus, Maddie’s entertaining them today, and I think he wanted to try and give her a break. They’ve got some kind of pact going on.”
Before Bobby could ask any questions about that, a pair of heavy footsteps began clanging their way up the stairs. Chimney glanced nervously in that direction again, before snagging another piece of bacon and retreating to the sofas, throwing Bobby a ‘good luck!’ face over his shoulder as Buck became visible.
Bobby’s heart clenched as he took in Buck’s expression. He didn’t look angry or aggrieved, as he’d expected. He just looked worn down.
“Hey Bobby,” he said, in a voice that sounded like shards of glass, “I was just wondering – you know my parents are in town? I was wondering if they could come by the station today, maybe I can show them round some if we’re not on a call?”
Bobby had never heard a person try so hard to sound casual, and fail so spectacularly.
He hummed and flipped a pancake nonchalantly, watching Buck out of the corner of his eye. He wondered briefly if he should play the big bad fire captain. Hell no, Buck, you think we’re running a summer camp here? I forbid it. This is a no parent zone.
He figured Buck would be relieved as hell for all of ten minutes, before he started feeling guilty for abandoning Maddie. And he couldn’t protect Buck forever. That wasn’t his job. Plus - he didn’t know exactly what the issues between them were, but maybe it would be good for his parents to see him here. In his element. Doing what he loved, what he was so good at.
“Don’t see why not,” Bobby said, and tried not to feel guilty at the way Buck nodded rigidly, like Bobby had sentenced him to twelve years hard labour.
“Thanks, Cap,” he said. Bobby opened his mouth to say something else - he had no idea what – but of course, the bell went off, and Buck’s expression crumpled in relief at having something else to think about. Bobby could practically hear him praying for a twelve-car pileup – anything that would take all day, and preferably all night too.
He spun on his heel, running for the pole. Bobby sighed heavily, throwing down his spatula and turning off the gas before heading to the stairs.
Believe it or not, Bobby’s life didn’t revolve around the various dramas of his team members, and by the time they’d been on three calls and had lunch, he’d pretty much forgotten about the impending visit in favour of the hundred other things he was supposed to be thinking about.
Things that flew out of his head the second he heard Buck’s voice speaking quietly downstairs.
The quiet part was what caught his attention. Obviously, he was used to hearing Buck around the firehouse – and around his own house, and anywhere else Buck was in a 2 mile radius of – but not like this. This Buck sounded completely different – hesitant and unsure of himself. He realised, cringing a little, that it sounded a lot like when Buck had returned after his lawsuit.
Bobby abandoned his paperwork at the table and made his way downstairs, making sure a sincere and welcoming smile was on his face before he came into view.
He rounded the firetruck to see Buck giving the most unenthusiastic tour of the firehouse he’d ever seen him do to an older couple, who looked just as uncomfortable. Maddie stood a little way behind, speaking to Chimney in a low voice.
“Mr. and Mrs. Buckley!” Bobby called out cheerfully, drawing everyone’s eyes in his direction. He didn’t miss the way Buck sagged in relief the second the spotlight was off him.
“Captain Nash, or Bobby to everyone round here,” he introduced himself, reaching out to shake both of their hands. “It’s good to finally meet you. Buck told us you were coming to town.”
Mr. Buckley let out a short, forced laugh, throwing a look at Buck, who looked studiously at the floor.
“Good Lord,” he said, with a fake joviality that set Bobby’s teeth on edge. “Evan, surely you don’t have your boss call you by that name as well?”
Bobby involuntarily raised his eyebrows as Buck muttered something irritable, and he found himself meeting Chimney’s gaze over Mr. Buckley’s shoulder. Words were exchanged inside of a quick glance in the way only close friends who have worked together for years can do.
By the time Mr. Buckley turned back round, Bobby had his most professional smile on.
“We keep telling him,” Mr. Buckley continued, “We gave him a first name for a reason, but will he use it?”
He laughed again, inviting him to join in, but Bobby just hummed thoughtfully.
“I’m afraid to say nicknames are something of a tradition around most firehouses,” he explained, noticing the way Mrs. Buckley pursed her lips disapprovingly, “but more importantly, I need to know the names people are most likely to respond to on a call. If no one usually calls him Evan, there wouldn’t be much use in me yelling that name in an emergency. Every second of hesitation counts, you see?”
Mr. Buckley looked a little uncomfortable but smiled back, conceding the point. Or at least pretending to.
“So you do go out on the calls with them, Captain Nash?” Mrs. Buckley asked, sounding a little accusatory for reasons Bobby can’t quite fathom. “You put yourself in danger too?”
“Mom,” Buck started, sounding aggrieved, but Bobby held up a hand placatingly, giving him a reassuring smile.
“It’s a fair question,” he said, “I know of several fire captains who don’t. But I myself am of the belief that an employer should never ask their employees to do something they’re not willing to do themselves. And they’re my responsibility, each and every one of them. I hold myself personally accountable for everything that happens on a call.”
Mrs. Buckley gave a short nod, seemingly approving of that answer, and Bobby hid a smile. Another point to him.
“I respect responsibility in a person,” Mr. Buckley said, nodding as well. “Hopefully Evan will learn a thing or two about it from you while he’s here.”
Bobby felt himself exhale sharply as he watched Buck turn away, a scowl of anger and embarrassment on his face. Okay then. Let’s do this.
“Actually,” he started in as measured a tone as he can manage, “if anyone was learning responsibility from anyone, it’d be me from him.”
He saw Buck stop, still facing away from them but the tension in his body clearly saying that he was listening. Good.
“In fact, I would say he has taught me a lot about personal responsibility for your teammates, for the people who rely on you to be there for them. On the job and off it. It’s actually been a challenge to try and reign in Buck’s sense of responsibility for everyone he meets. As I’m sure you know, Buck was off work for a little while,” he said, a little pointedly, “and I don’t know of any other firefighter who would end up spending so much of their sick leave saving lives.”
There was a short, shocked silence. Buck still hadn’t turned round, but his frame was singing with tension. Maddie was staring at the backs of her parents' heads, Chimney’s hand clutched in hers, a small, triumphant smile on her face. Chimney, as was common for him these days, was looking like he wanted to be anywhere other than here.
Mrs. Buckley forced a brittle laugh like her husband’s, shaking her head.
“Surely that’s not our Evan you’re talking about?”
Bobby’s smile didn’t falter.
“The very same.”
“I’m afraid the credit should probably go to you, then, Captain,” said Mr. Buckley. “We never knew what to do with him! We’d given him up as a lost cause by the time he left home!”
Bobby had worked with the public for twenty-five years. His smile didn’t falter.
He locked eyes with Mr. Buckley.
“I find that hard to believe. The Evan Buckley I know is a hero, and that’s not something you learn, that’s something you are. Sir.”
There was another tense silence, Bobby maintaining both his eye contact and his mild demeanour.
Eventually, Mrs. Buckley smiled thinly.
“That’s…kind of you to say, Captain Nash. We’re very proud, of course.”
“You should be,” Bobby replied, looking up to meet Buck’s eyes. He’d turned round again now, and was staring at him, looking a little shellshocked. “I know I am.”
Buck’s gaze broke away, back down to the floor, and Bobby sighed inwardly. If he was going to teach Buck anything, it would be how to accept a sincere compliment.
“Mom, Dad,” Maddie spoke up finally, pulling the attention away from Bobby, “we should finish looking round the firehouse, if we’re gonna be home in time to cook dinner.”
“Of course,” Mrs. Buckley nodded, and turned back to smile at Bobby again, a little more genuinely this time, if slightly nervous. “Thank you for talking with us, Captain. You know how parents worry.”
Behind them, Buck rolled his eyes.
“It was my pleasure,” Bobby said, and shook their hands again. “Have a good evening.”
Maddie led them towards the gym, and Buck deflated against the firetruck for a moment, before straightening up to follow them.
“Buck,” Bobby called, and gestured him over when Buck looked round.
Buck came over, looking mildly terrified. Like Bobby was going to fire him on the spot for having impolite parents.
Bobby smiled a little at the thought and placed his hand on Buck’s shoulder, squeezing firmly.
“It’s not you,” he said in a low voice, looking him directly in the eye, willing him to understand. “You hear me? It’s not you.”
Buck stared back, wide-eyed. He swallowed thickly, and then nodded.
“Thanks, Bobby,” he said, almost in a whisper, and Bobby squeezed his shoulder again before pulling him into a quick hug.
“You should go rescue Chimney,” Bobby added, and Buck huffed a laugh, looking over to where Chimney was making conversation with the Buckleys and looking vaguely panicked.
“Don’t worry. I think they like him better than they like me, to be honest.”
“Then no offence, Buck, but your parents have terrible taste.”
Buck glanced back at him sharply, before giving a small, shy smile. The first real one Bobby had seen on him all day.
He smiled back, but it faded into worry as he watched Buck jog over to the gym.
Just one more dinner, and then he could try to fix whatever damage this visit had already done.
He just hoped it wouldn’t get much worse.