Title: Story of My Life
Author: Jilly James
Genre: Family, Canon Divergence, Challenge Response, Fix-it
Pairing: Gen, pre-Evan Buckley/Eddie Diaz
Author Note: Yeah, the title is from a One Direction song. Fight me. (Thanks, Keira!)
Timeline: Occurs at the end of season 3, after Eddie Begins
Challenge: Big Moxie, Q1 2022 – Canon Divergence
Beta: BWB. Beta, what beta?
Word Count: 7,280
Summary: Eddie asks for Buck’s help with a painful task, and Buck finds a way to bring healing to Eddie and Chris.
Story of My Life
28 April 2020
Buck let himself into Eddie’s place at a little after nine in the morning. Eddie was given a shift off after the whole well fiasco had nearly killed him, resulting in hypothermia and exhaustion, and it had been the first shift Buck had worked without him in a while. It was weird being in the field without his partner, but they’d both be back on duty together tomorrow, so things would get back to normal.
“Yo, Eds, I’m here!”
“Be right out!” Eddie called from the direction of his bedroom.
The well incident was actually nearly six days ago because that shift had been right before a four-day off stretch, giving Eddie nearly a week at home to get his bearings and recuperate. Buck had spent most of the time with Eddie and Chris, making sure Eddie wasn’t overextending himself. Eddie had dealt with Buck’s hovering with more patience than Buck would have expected, as if he got how freaked out Buck was about nearly losing Eddie that way.
Eddie appeared from the back, fully dressed and looking normal. Of course, Eddie had seemed back to normal within forty-eight hours of the well collapse; it was Buck who was feeling off kilter.
“You get enough sleep?” Eddie asked, giving Buck a once over.
“You asked me to come over, but only if I got rest last night, so I followed your instructions.”
“Buck. Don’t hedge.”
Buck rolled his eyes. “I wasn’t. Four hours in a single stretch and another two after we got back from a minor car accident. Pretty good for us, actually.”
“Square deal.” Eddie blew out a breath. “Thanks for coming over.”
Buck frowned. “I come over all the time.”
“I know.” He rubbed his hands over the seams of his jeans. “I have a favor to ask.”
“Anything, you know that.”
“Well, wait until I tell you. Come on into the kitchen. Abuela set you up with that breakfast enchilada bake you like so much.” He shot Buck an accusatory look. “She never makes it for me.”
“I think you’ll find that it’s in your house and therefore it’s implicitly for you.”
“But I am her favorite,” Buck teased.
Eddie mock glared. “Christopher is her favorite.”
“Christopher is everyone’s favorite.”
“Yeah.” Eddie’s expression softened. “Let’s eat and I’ll explain what’s up.”
Once they’d served themselves and settled around the kitchen table, Buck said, “So, lay it on me.”
“I want to give you time to eat.”
“What if you’re about to ruin my appetite, Eds? I’d rather know so I can save this deliciousness for later.” He was actually starting to worry that Eddie was about to drop something terrible on him.
“Okay. So, listen, the probate on Shannon’s estate finally closed.”
Buck blinked a few times at how out of left field that was. “Okaaaay,” he drew out slowly. “Seems kind of slow.”
“It was kind of a mess because probate hadn’t closed yet on Janet’s estate when Shannon died. That had to conclude first, and there were some issues.” Eddie made a dismissive gesture. “Everything got complicated, and I’m so done with the whole thing. Chris and I were the direct beneficiaries of Shannon’s life insurance—she likely hadn’t gotten around to removing me yet—so that money settled almost immediately. I’d wanted that to stay in a trust for Christopher’s medical and educational needs, but I needed to keep up the payments on Janet’s condo.”
Buck’s eyebrows shot up. “Just you?”
“The executor advised it since it was pretty obvious that there would be some sort of assets in the end and that there were no other beneficiaries of Janet’s estate; she had a lot of equity in the condo, and he recommended against risking foreclosure. The issue with Janet’s probate was around some expenses that had been claimed against the estate that Shannon was contesting since she knew they were paid. Fortunately, Shan had good records, so I was able to fight the whole war but—” He blew out a breath. “Yeah, it was a lot.”
“I’ll bet.” Buck began to eat since he couldn’t conceive of what about Shannon’s estate could put him off of Isabel Diaz’s food.
“Anyway, Shan and I were still legally married when she died, so even though she didn’t have a Will, I’m the clear beneficiary of her assets.”
“Which means you’re the beneficiary of Janet’s estate.”
“Right. And I do not want to keep making payments on that condo, so I want it on the market as soon as possible. Now that probate is over, I can get in there and dispose of whatever possessions are left so the realtor can begin the process of listing it.”
“The condo is in Newport Beach, yeah?”
“Should sell quick. The market is good.”
“I hope so.” Eddie looked hesitant.
“You want me to go with you to clear out their personal belongings?”
Eddie’s shoulders dropped like the weight of the world had just fallen away. “Would you?”
“Yeah, man, of course. Why’d you think this was a big deal?”
“It’s just a little…weird, maybe? I might get moody or something.” He lifted one shoulder, and his expression conveyed insecurity to Buck’s well-trained in decipher Eddie eyes.
“It’s fine, Eds. I’m here for you and Chris, even if that’s helping you pack up your late wife’s possessions while you angst.”
Eddie nodded tightly. “Here’s hoping Shan dealt with most of Janet’s stuff.”
“Yeah. Eat up, Diaz. We’ll need the energy; sounds like we’ve got a busy day ahead of us, and we’re both back on shift tomorrow.”
Flashing Buck a grateful smile, Eddie picked up his fork and dug in.
Buck watched Eddie stand in the doorway of the walk-in closet, looking completely overwhelmed. They’d gone through the kitchen and living room with relative ease. Most of the furniture was tagged for donation unless the realtor wanted it for staging.
Eddie had wanted to donate everything in the kitchen, but Buck had identified a few kitchen items that were a significant upgrade on what Eddie currently had that he should swap out for what was at home. Those things were already down in Eddie’s truck.
Now, there remained the matter of Shannon’s personal items. Shannon had fully moved into her mother’s condo, taking over the master bedroom. The few possessions of Janet’s they’d found were in a box in the guest bedroom closet. Eddie had snagged a couple of things to give to Christopher when he got older in case he wanted to learn about Janet Whitt.
Eddie had seemed a little heartbroken at the obvious evidence of kid-themed things in the guest bedroom, as if Shannon had been hoping to have Christopher overnight at some point.
Buck put a hand on Eddie’s shoulder. “Why don’t we pack it all up and I can go through it later. I’ll send you an inventory list of whatever I find, and you can decide what to donate and what to keep.”
“You’d do that?” Eddie looked so shocked, but simultaneously grateful, that it almost surprised Buck. How could Eddie not know that Buck would do anything for him?
“Yeah, Eds, of course. Anything for you guys. Even though it’s a closet full of stuff, it’s not going to be that much work. We’re on shift tomorrow, but I can probably get through it in a day or two after that.”
“And then we can get out of here sooner and hand this place off to be sold, and it’s all out of your hair.”
“I’ll get the boxes.”
Buck: Got your note about donating all the clothes and knickknacks. Consider it done. Found a fuckton of photos. Mostly of Chris.
Eddie: Don’t get rid of any pictures!
Buck: Wasn’t gonna. Some of these are great but why actual photos? Didn’t she have a cellphone and Insta like everyone else on earth?
Eddie: Shan liked photography and preferred to have a real photograph in her hand rather than a digital image. It’s why we found camera equipment in the guest bedroom closet. Her dream when she was younger was to be a professional photographer someday.
Eddie had been cagey about the camera equipment at the time, but had decided to take it to see if it was salable rather than donate it. Buck had rightly assumed there was something very personal about it.
Eddie: She got me into it for a while. It’s why I haven’t made a decision about the camera. I might try again or let Chris decide when he’s older.
Buck: Sounds great. I’m sure she’d want you to put her camera to good use. Considering how many pics of Chris she has in this box there’s no doubt she’d want you to photograph that cupcake as much as possible.
Eddie: Cupcake?? You crack me up. I’m telling him you called him that.
Buck: Please do! He’ll want me to come over and make cupcakes!
Eddie: Gawd. You two are a PITA when you gang up on me.
Buck: That cannot possibly be happening in this situation.
Eddie: Clearly future you and future Chris are doing it right now.
Eddie: Thanks, Buck. For everything.
Buck: But… Uh. Can I maybe put some of these photos in an album for Chris? I can digitize them first so you have digital copies of everything and then organize the rest.
There was a long pause, and Buck bit his thumbnail, starting to get nervous.
Eddie: That’s so thoughtful. Yeah, of course you can do that. I’d be grateful.
Buck: It’ll take me a bit to do that part. Maybe I can give it to him for his birthday in August?
Eddie: He would love that. Take however long you need. You know I trust you.
They texted for a few more exchanges, then Buck set aside the phone with a smile on his face and turned his attention to the stuff he’d been sorting through for Eddie. He’d gotten completely derailed when he’d found the box of photos, many of them featuring wee Christopher in his teeny tiny glory.
Instead of continuing to go through the other boxes, Buck sat down with the photo box again and continued to look through the precious memories of Shannon Diaz.
A minute later, something specific caught his eye, and he looked closer, wondering if it was what he thought it might be. After a couple of seconds, he was pretty sure he’d guessed right about the photograph, and another idea began to bloom in his mind.
He bit his lip, wondering if this was the best idea he’d ever had or the worst. He only had a little over three months to execute the idea before Christopher’s birthday on the 8th of August. Not only would he have to dust off an old hobby, he’d have to rope some co-conspirators in on it. Probably Pepa and Isabel.
They’d likely help even if he didn’t explain fully because they liked to enable him in all his shenanigans when it came to Eddie and Christopher.
Nodding with determination, he set about planning.
2 August 2020
Buck followed Eddie out of the station house after an exhausting shift. “Hey, Eds, wait up.”
Eddie turned with a frown. “Aren’t you following me to get mine? Chris is fully expecting you to be waiting on the couch when I get home from picking him up from Abuela’s.”
“Of course I’m coming to yours, but I need to talk to you for a minute where there’s no chance of Christopher hearing.” Buck had dinner plans, so he wouldn’t be around to talk to Eddie after Chris went to bed.
Grinning, Eddie tossed his duffel in the front of the truck. “Must be about his birthday, then.” Christopher’s birthday was this coming Saturday, and technically A-shift was on duty. Bobby understood they both wanted to attend Christopher’s party, so they had the day off, but Buck had to arrange his own cover, so he was swapping with someone from B-shift for the next day.
Christopher would have understood Buck having to work, but Eddie’s parents were in town, and Buck knew Eddie needed more of a buffer between him and his parents than a huge party of Diazes at Isabel’s house could provide.
“Yeah, listen. I’m at the point with his gift where I need to run it by you to ensure it’s still okay to give to him. And if it is, if I should give it to him when he’s alone or what…?”
Eddie frowned in confusion.
“You forgot about the photo album.”
“Ah, no.” Eddie rubbed the back of his neck. “Maybe a little. Sorry. You hadn’t mentioned anything, and I just spaced on all that. We put away the few things of Shannon’s I was keeping for Christopher when he’s older in the garage, sold the condo, and then I just tried to let it all go.”
“So, this isn’t a good idea?” Buck had spent every spare moment of his life for the last three months on this, so he’d be the one heartbroken if Eddie said this was awful.
“Of course it’s a good idea. I didn’t mean it that way. If it’s an album of pictures his mother took, I think you should give it to him and explain what it is at the party. Honestly, my family—even Abuela and Tia Pepa—aren’t great about properly respecting Shannon’s memory. My parents are the absolute worst, though. I think someone showing them how to be considerate of her memory and Christopher’s love for her is a good thing.”
“He might get sad though, and it’s his birthday.”
“Well, maybe. Let me see what you’ve got ahead of time, and we may decide to have you give it to him late in the party. But even if he’s a little sad, I think it’d be a good kind of sad, you know?”
“I’m not so sure. It’s his birthday.”
“Yeah, and she gave birth to him. He always does something to remember her on his birthday. Something just between him and me. I’ve wondered at times if he keeps that to just us because he’s keeping his grief and his memories private because he wants to for himself or because he doesn’t trust the others with it.”
“Have you asked him?”
Eddie lifted one shoulder. “He hedges around an answer.”
Buck’s eyebrows shot up. “Which means the answer is he doesn’t trust the rest of the family with his mother’s memory.”
“How do you figure?”
“Since when doesn’t Chris give the easy answer if there is an easy answer? He only withholds when he worries about you.”
“Ay Dios,” Eddie muttered under his breath. “I’m an idiot.”
“Maybe I should give it to him that night after the party to be safe.”
“Just send me picture of it, so I have more info, okay?”
“I have it with me.”
“Yeah, I wanted to show you.” He hesitated. “Because there’s a lot more than a photo album.”
Eddie huffed. “Of course there is. When it comes to Christopher, when have you ever been able to rein yourself in?”
Buck gave a sheepish grin. “He’s my favorite person on the planet.”
“Yeah, I know.” Eddie’s expression got soft. “Show me what you got.”
The presents were wrapped in an old blanket for protection in the back of Buck’s Jeep. He opened the rear of the vehicle and peeled open the blanket, removing the album from the first layer, leaving the next layer still wrapped.
Eddie flipped through the album, immediately smiling. Every photo featured Christopher, with many of them having Shannon or Eddie in them as well. There were a few of random other family members but only if Chris was also in the image.
“Buck,” Eddies sounded a little choked up. “This is way beyond a simple photo album.” He met Buck’s gaze. “I don’t get it. How’d you learn to do this?”
“Remember I told you I worked on that ranch in Colorado?”
“The old lady who owned the place, everyone called her Ms. Casey, she was big into scrapbooking. She got me into doing it and her other hobbies with her. I’d sit on the porch with her or at the kitchen table and keep her company while she taught me. I didn’t go full-on with this since it’s a photo album primarily, but Isabel helped me sneak out some of Christopher’s milestone mementos like his birth announcement, baptism announcement, and so on.”
Buck flipped a couple pages past where Eddie was and tapped a couple of photos of a tiny Christopher screaming his head off in Ramon’s arms with a pair of tickets. “That’s apparently from when Chris was two, and your dad insisted he would like the rodeo. Shannon’s notes on the back of the photo said their deal was he’d hold Chris if Chris didn’t like it. You can see the result. I included it purely for the schadenfreude value, but I can remove it if—”
“Don’t you dare.” Eddie’s fingers were tracing over the photo. “I’d heard about this.” He looked up. “Shan had notes on the photos?”
“Most of them. Date, location, circumstances. Made it easier to do most of this. When I had all the photos digitized, I got them to scan the backs in as well so you’d have that reference. I actually have a thumb drive for you, and I’ve also uploaded everything on a cloud drive for backup purposes.”
“I can’t believe you did this.”
“He deserves the world, Eddie.” So did Eddie, but Buck didn’t voice that part.
Nodding, Eddie swallowed heavily. He closed the album and pulled it tight to his chest. “I’d like to go through it more thoroughly after Chris is in bed, but I can’t imagine wanting you to remove anything, Buck; this is such a gift. Thank you. And I really do think he should get it near the end of the party. If he’s really holding back his mother from my family for my sake, I’d like to break that pattern.”
“But if it makes him sad…”
“Buck, stop. Yes, sad. But there’s sad that you welcome because it comes with something remarkable. Let him have this piece of his mother on his birthday. Now, is that it? Because you’re about to make me cry, and you know I’m not gonna deal with that well.”
“Well… The photo album wasn’t the time consuming part in all this. And you can have the album for a few days, but I need it back before his birthday so I can finish one remaining thing. Assuming you say this next part is okay.” Buck flipped back the blanket to reveal the other thing.
Eddie stared, brow furrowed. “What the hell?”
8 August 2020
Christopher was laughing in Buck’s ear from his position dangling from Buck’s back as Buck ran around, playing keep the birthday boy away from the other party-going kids. Helena and Ramon had both frowned in disapproval at the roughhousing with Christopher, but Eddie had made Buck promise that he wouldn’t cave in to their demands about anything related to Chris.
So, Buck had let the rest of the Diaz clan run interference with Eddie’s parents while he kept the birthday boy laughing as much as possible. The day had been perfect other than some parental disapproval of practically everything. Isabel and Pepa made most of the food, and then they’d had Christopher opening his presents right before cake.
Chris had, of course, noticed that Buck hadn’t had a gift in the pile, but like the sweet kid he was, he hadn’t even asked. Still, Buck had volunteered that Chris would get the present from him later in the day.
Eddie gave Buck the indication that it was time for the present. They’d figured the optimal time was right before Chris was going to pick a movie for all the kids to watch. They thought it’d be good emotional recovery time, and Chris, as the birthday boy, could pick a movie that fit his mood.
Buck let them be “caught” by one of Christopher’s cousins, Mirabel, and slung Christopher around into a princess carry, tickling his ribs, and getting peals of laughter.
Christopher’s cheeks were flushed and his eyes bright with happiness. His glasses were a little askew, but Chris was already reaching up to straighten them.
“You ready for your gift from me, little man?”
Smiling with obvious delight, Chris nodded. “What’d you get me?”
“Is that the way presents work?” Buck held him up with one arm as he walked back toward the deck, while tickling Christopher’s ribs.
“Be careful!” Helena Diaz yelped. “You’ll drop him!”
“Mom!” Eddie snapped.
“Mrs. Diaz,” Buck said calmly as he set Christopher on his feet, holding a hand out for Chris to take if he needed it to steady himself before he began his trek to the deck table, “I recently carried a 180-pound man over my shoulder out of a burning building. He was fighting and screaming the whole way. If I didn’t drop him, I hardly think I’m going to drop that scrawny sack of bones over there,” he jerked his thumb at Christopher, “doing nothing but giggling.”
“Wow,” little Adam breathed, staring up at Buck. Adam was seven and easily impressed. “Why was he screaming and fighting?”
“Because he didn’t want to leave his books behind.” The guy was a book hoarder, and his hoarding had directly led to the fire when he’d blocked in a faulty electrical outlet, not knowing it was blackening the wall since he couldn’t see the outlet.
“That’s really dumb.” Adam wrinkled up his nose. “Books are really boring.”
“They are not!” Chris said indignantly from where he was now seated at the table. “But I think he should have just gotten a Kindle like anyone from this millennia.”
Several of the adults started laughing.
Eddie shot Buck a look. “He got that from you.”
Buck shrugged unrepentantly.
“The point, Grandma,” Chris said dryly, sounding a little annoyed, but obviously trying to hide it, “is that Bucky carried someone fighting so hard he got kicked multiple times, and he didn’t drop him. Bucky got bruises from that, so that wasn’t nice. Bucky and I just play. I can’t believe you’d think I’d hurt my Bucky.”
Helena’s eyes got wide. “No, Christopher. I meant that I worried he’d hurt you.”
“Well, that’s just silly. Buck’s a professional.” Christopher looked to his cousins. “Don’t try this at home, kids.”
Pepa suddenly had a coughing fit.
Eddie bit his lip and stared fixedly at his shoes. Finally, he cleared his throat. “Now that we’ve cleared up Buck’s competence to carry scrawny children around, let’s do that last present.”
“Why must there be another present time?” Ramon interjected.
“Because I felt this present needed to be given at a quieter part of the day,” Eddie said firmly. “Right before the movie seemed ideal. Everyone will wind down, and then the kids can go home all ready to sleep.”
“Seems reasonable to me,” Hector Diaz, Pepa’s oldest son from San Diego said. He was pretty much where he’d been all day, sprawled out in a deck lounger with a beer, trying to ignore Ramon and Helena and basically succeeding. “I don’t need my brood bouncing off the walls for the ride home. By all means, chill ‘em out, Edmundo.”
Eddie flipped Hector off behind his back where the kids wouldn’t see, getting a throaty chuckle in response.
Buck accepted the box and the large gift bag from Isabel. She’d been hiding the gifts in her bedroom. He took the seat next to Christopher and set the box in front of him. Eddie was seated on Chris’ other side.
“I’m going to have to explain some of this as we go. Open this one first, but before you open what’s inside, I’ll explain a little more about what it is.”
Grinning, Christopher ripped the unicorn paper off the box, revealing a white gift box beneath. When he pulled off the lid and peeled back the tissue paper, a black album with a single photo on the front was revealed. It was a picture of young Christopher Diaz at age two, smiling a big grin for the camera as if he were showing off his newly minted teeth.
On the cover was embossed:
Christopher Javier Diaz
8 August 2011
Photographs by Shannon Elizabeth Whitt
Eyes wide, Christopher stared at Buck. “Bucky?”
“Your dad and I went through all your mom’s possessions to find the things of hers your might want some day, and in those things were all the photographs she ever took. You were her favorite subject matter.”
Chris gave a tremulous smile. “I remember her camera.”
“I kept the camera, mijo,” Eddie said softly. “We can look at it together someday.”
Chris wiped his nose with the back of his hand and nodded.
“Maybe this isn’t the best time for this sort of thing,” Helena said primly, reaching between Buck and Chris for the album.
“No!” Chris yelled, grabbing the album, and yanking it to his chest with what had to be a painful thunk. “It’s mine!”
Helena looked shocked and reared back.
Eddie got right up from his seat and nudged his mother away. “Back off,” he said lowly. “This is not your decision to make.”
Helena drew herself up. “I hardly think—”
“You have no say in any of this,” Isabel said sternly. “Please do not interrupt Christopher’s birthday party or I’ll ask you to leave.” She patted Buck’s shoulder. “Please continue, Evan.”
Buck let Eddie cover their backs and nudged the book out of Christopher’s arms. “You can let go, little man.”
“No one can take it, right?”
“Nope. Your dad looked through every page and approved every single thing. Including the pictures of you screaming in your grandad’s face for taking you to a rodeo,” he said teasingly, bopping Chris lightly on the nose.
Christopher’s mouth fell open. “I did?”
“Yep. You’ll see when you have time to go through everything. I’m sure you’d like privacy to review all the pages, but I just want to show you how the album is organized before I show you the second part of the gift.”
“Okay.” Chris flipped the album open.
“This first bit is your birth announcement and your birth photo taken at the hospital. So this isn’t the best page to show you how everything works. Let’s turn the page.” On the next page, he tapped the first photo. “Next to each photo is some information written. Mostly, it’s whatever notes your mom had on the back of the pictures, but some information was provided by your abuela. Location, your age, the date if available, or at least the month and year. If your mom is in the photo like this one.” He tapped the second picture. “It says who took the photograph, though it seems they were all taken with her camera. Some were done with a time delay.”
Christopher’s tears spilled over as he traced the photo of his mother holding him as a baby. “A whole book of these?”
“You’re in all of them, but some have your mom, some your dad, some your bisabuela, abuelo, grandmother, or any of the extended gaggle of Diazes.”
Chris gave a watery giggle that turned into a choked off sob as he threw himself into Buck’s arms.
“What a terribly cruel gift,” Helena said sotto voce, but plenty loud enough for Chris to hear.
“It’s the best present,” Chris yelled at her. “I love it. And I love my mommy, and I love my Bucky. But I never tell you because you’re so mean.”
Helena clutched her hands to her chest. “Christopher, baby, no—”
“Shh, Helena,” Ramon chided, pulling her further away.
Eddie dropped down on one knee in front of Chris. “Mijo, you can talk about your mom whenever you want, okay? What your grandmother wants is irrelevant, and she has nothing further to say about this present because it’s your present, and it’s up to you if you keep it.”
“I’m keeping it! Forever and ever.”
“Yeah, I figured.” Eddie wiped Christopher’s face with a damp cloth that appeared from some place parents seemed to manage to conjure from. “Buck has more to show you. You want to keep going or do this at home?”
Christopher’s brow furrowed. “Grandma and Abuelo can’t take any of my presents away if I keep going?”
“I’m your father, mijo. What I say goes, and I’ve already approved your gifts.”
“Then I want to see the rest and then watch Coco.”
Sweet lord above, the kid wanted to watch freaking Coco. That had been Buck’s worst case scenario. But Buck didn’t let his inner turmoil show as he helped Chris get settled back in his seat.
He turned to the first page that had a specific example of what he needed to explain next. “See these silver stars next to some of the pictures?”
“Yeah. What do they mean.”
“Open the gift bag.”
Eddie held up the bag while Christopher dug around inside and pulled the tissue paper-wrapped bundle onto his lap.
“It’s squishy,” he said with delight as he began pushing the tissue paper off. “It’s a blanket!”
“It’s a quilt,” Buck corrected. He’d made sure one of his sample squares was facing up. “Your mom really kept hold of her clothes, and where I could match up a photo to one of her dresses or shirts in the donation boxes, I pulled the clothes out and used them to make your quilt.”
Chris’ eyes were practically bugging out of his head.
Before anything could be said, Buck flipped a page in the album, and tapped another photo. “Where you see a gold star it’s because it’s a picture of you and your mom. With your abuela’s help, I was able to get ahold of some of your baby and toddler clothes and include the fabric in the center of that square.”
Quilting was the other hobby Ms. Casey had taught him on the ranch those long nights in Colorado before she’d died, and he’d subsequently moved on to his next adventure. He found the work very meticulous and easy enough on the skill front, though the creative side of it was the harder part in his estimation and not really something he had an affinity for. He hadn’t had to work too hard for the creativity on this since Chris was the inspiration, and Isabel, who was a quilter herself, had helped with the layout.
“So, the whole quilt is me and Mommy?”
“Isabel supplied a shirt of Eddie’s that’s in a couple of the pictures. I put that at the four corners of the design, so you’ll always remember that your father anchors and supports your love and memories of your mom.”
Christopher’s chin wobbled and then he was back and in Buck’s arms, sobbing his heart out.
“Let’s take him inside for a few minutes,” Eddie said softly. “Chris, I’ve got your presents, okay?”
Worried they’d done the wrong thing, Buck followed Eddie into the house, with Chris in his arms, clinging like a limpet, tears soaking Buck’s shirt.
“Mijo,” Eddie said, kneeling in front of them on the couch after Chris had stopped openly crying, “Buck offered to give you the gifts at home, but I thought he should do it here, in front of the rest of the family. I wanted them to see that Buck and I support your memory of your mother. Did I do the wrong thing? Would this have been better at home?”
Chris shook his head against Buck’s shoulder, turning finally to face his father. “No. I’m glad. Not everyone says bad things, but they don’t stop it either. And I know she left, I remember just fine, but I love and miss her too.”
“And that’s okay. You’re allowed to feel that way,” Eddie said firmly. “How you feel matters most. She wasn’t related to anyone else in this family, and they don’t get a vote about how you feel or what you say about your own mom.”
Chris gave another sniffle, hands curling into fists in Buck’s shirt. “But, Daddy… If something happens to you too, will they make me try to forget her again?”
Eddie sucked in a sharp breath, eyes getting glassy with tears. “Oh, Chris. Are you worried about having to live with your grandparents if anything happens to me?”
Chris nodded, not looking up.
Nudging Chris’ chin until eye contact was achieved, Eddie asked, “What is it you want if something happens to me?”
“Buck,” Chris said firmly.
It was Buck’s turn to feel like the breath had been punched out of him.
“Okay. He and I will talk about that, but it’s fine with me. In fact, I think it’s perfect. Whenever these kinds of arrangements are made, a second or even third choice is given. Bearing in mind that Abuela is too old, who else would you choose?”
Chris gnawed on his lip. “Ms. Hen and Dr. Karen?”
Buck smiled into Christopher’s hair.
“I’ll talk to them too, then. Third choice?”
“But I don’t want anything to happen to you.”
“Me either,” Buck whispered in Christopher’s ear. “And I promise to do my very best to make sure he always comes home to you.”
Chris’s arms around Buck’s neck were suddenly stranglehold tight. “Your best is an awful lot, Bucky. I love you.”
“I love you, Christopher. More than anyone in the entire universe, and I’m sorry I made you sad on your birthday.”
“Good sad,” Chris whispered. “I miss her, and now I feel like she was here with me. Thank you.”
Buck squeezed his eyes shut. “You’re welcome. Happy birthday, superman.”
Chris pulled back and grinned brightly at him, then he turned and launched himself at Eddie. “Thank you, Daddy.”
“For listening to you about what you want?”
“For listening, and doing what I asked, and making everyone else hear.” Chris pulled back enough to placed both his hands on Eddie’s shoulders. “And you gave us Bucky.”
“Well, I guess I’ll take some credit for that, sure.” Eddie winked at Buck and pulled Chris into another hug, giving him a smacking kiss on the cheek. “He’s one of the better strays I’ve dragged home.”
Buck rolled his eyes.
Buck pressed one final kiss against Christopher’s forehead as Eddie shut the light off. Chris had fallen asleep easily once they’d gotten him back home. He’d insisted on having his new quilt on his bed and had elicited a promise from Eddie that they’d look through the photo album tomorrow. He’d wanted Buck there as well, but Buck had to remind both Diazes that he had a shift tomorrow.
When they were in the hallway with the door closed, Eddie rubbed his hands over his face, looking bone weary. “Beer?”
“I shouldn’t. I need to leave soon so I can get some sleep.”
“Just stay here tonight, Buck; it’s closer to the station anyway, and you’ll save the drive to your place. Besides, I need to tell you something.”
“I don’t think so. Come on to the kitchen.”
Buck grabbed his duffel bag as he followed Eddie.
“What’s that for?” Eddie asked as he pulled out a couple of beers, popped the tops, and set them on the table at their customary seat.
“There’s something in it I need to show you after you tell me whatever it is you need to say.”
Eddie blew out a breath. “That request of Christopher’s…that you be his guardian if anything happens to me…?”
“Yeah?” Buck fidgeted. “You don’t have to, Eds.”
“I don’t have to keep a promise to my kid? Of course I do, Buck. The question is, are you okay with it?”
“Wouldn’t your parents fight me if it came down to that?”
“Probably, but I know you’d go to the wall for Chris, so I’m not worried about that.”
“Of course I would.”
“Then, you’re okay with it?” Eddie pressed.
“Yeah, Eddie. I love that kid more than anything; I don’t say that lightly. But you better not let anything happen to yourself.”
“I know you love him, Buck.” Eddie rotated the beer bottle a few times. “The thing is, I already updated my Will. It was a couple of weeks after the well collapse, and I named you as his guardian in the event of my incapacitation or demise. I picked Bobby and Athena as second on the list, so I’ll need to update that to Hen and Karen to reflect Christopher’s wishes.”
Buck just stared for a long time. “You already did it?”
“Yep. Three months ago.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” He felt like his world was unsteady. Like Eddie had let Buck in emotionally in a profound way, and Buck had never known.
“I kept planning to do it, but…” Eddie shrugged. “I could make excuses about the timing not being right or whatever, but they’d all be an excuse. I just didn’t know how to have the conversation. How to tell you how vital you are to us.”
Buck stared at the table top for a long time, not sure how to react. “Nothing better happen to you, Eddie, but if it did, I’d do everything in my power to give Christopher the life you wanted for him.” He looked up and met Eddie’s gaze.
His expression was gentle. “I know you would; that’s why I picked you.”
Without saying anything else, Buck grabbed his duffel and pulled out a small box, handing it over to Eddie. “I figured you needed one of these yourself.”
Frowning, Eddie opened the white box, finding a smaller photo album than the one Chris had. On it was etched a St. Christopher medal. He looked up sharply. “What’s this?”
“I thought maybe you’d like Shannon’s photos that were just Chris or just Chris and you. You make it sound like you were never there, but I found a lot of photos of you with him when you were on leave, and it’s so clear how much you love him. Shannon captured it perfectly. I know you loved Shannon too, but I figured if you wanted to see pictures of her, you could look through Chris album or the digital library I set up for you.”
“Buck.” Eddie choked out as he began to slowly turn the pages. “I can’t believe this.”
Buck pulled out the other item and thrust it at Eddie.
Eddie reflexively took the bundle of fabric, blinking down at it.
“It’s smaller. Lap blanket, I guess. The squares are just Christopher’s baby clothes. Isabel did the layout, just like Chris’ quilt, but I did all the sewing and stuff.” Buck just shrugged at Eddie’s wide-eyed look. “The back of the quilt is four old Army t-shirts of yours that Isabel had. It seemed like you were wearing an Army T in about 90 percent of the pictures with you and Chris, and I—” He broke off, startled, when Eddie suddenly pushed back from the table and got to his feet.
A second later, Eddie had yanked Buck to his feet and pulled him into a crushing hug. “Thank you so much. I can’t—” He squeeze Buck tighter. “Dios, Buck, you’re so perfect for our family. If you were gay, I’d fucking propose to you right now.”
It was probably a joke, but like Pandora’s Box had been opened, hope flooded him, and he couldn’t help but clutch at Eddie as he whispered. “I’m bisexual. Why can’t that be enough?”
“Wait. What?” Eddie stilled. A beat passed then he pulled back, hands resting on Buck’s shoulders. “You never told me that.”
“I didn’t think it was a big deal.”
“It’s not, except when I want to ask my best friend out on a date and I think he doesn’t swing that way.”
“This isn’t a joke?” Buck whispered.
Eddie’s expression softened. “No, Buck. My feelings have been real for a long time; I just kept a lid on it because you were too important to me.”
“I guess…ditto. I didn’t want to risk you and Chris.”
Eddie began to smile, and it was beautiful. “What a tribute to bad communication we turned out to be.”
Buck let his hands settle firmly on Eddie’s waist. “I don’t think we’re doing so badly.”
“So…date?” Eddie asked hopefully.
“I thought you were going to propose,” Buck teased.
Eddie blinked a few times then took Buck’s hand and dropped to one knee.
Buck’s eyes widened in a way he knew must be nearly comical.
“Evan Nathaniel Buckley, you are it for me; you have been for a long time. I love you with all my heart. Your love and devotion make my life better, make my family better. You fit with us, and I want you here forever. Will you marry me?”
“Oh my god, is this real?” Buck breathed.
“Completely. We can have a long engagement and do the dating thing, but I have no doubt whatsoever about you and your place in our life. I may have said it jokingly earlier, but it was because it was what I really wanted but thought I couldn’t have.”
“You can have it,” Buck managed.
“Yeah, Eds. Of course. You and Christopher are my everything, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to wake up any moment and hate that my mind played this terrible trick on me because this wasn’t real.”
“It’s real.” Eddie got to his feet. “And it’s a good thing you’re staying the night so I can be there when you wake up to reassure you that it’s actually happened and that I’m not going anywhere.”
Buck smiled, cupped Eddie’s face with both hands, leaned in, and gently fused their mouths together. It was lingering yet chaste, and so full of promise. Their chemistry was already clear as Buck’s nerves lit up in anticipation, but he forced that down for now. That would come in its own time.
They let their foreheads rest together, breaths mingling, hands gently touching. “We’re really doing this?” Buck whispered.
“I love you. I never knew this kind of feeling was possible.” He touched Eddie’s cheek. “Thank you for letting me into your lives. You and Chris are my world, and knowing I’ll have this forever…I can’t even express how much it means—how much the two of you mean to me.”
Eddie pressed their lips together briefly. “Dios, Evan. Look at what you did for us…I see it in every page and every stitch. It says so much more than words. I wish I had your ability to convey the depth of my feelings so very…eloquently.”
“You gave me your son, Eddie,” Buck whispered. “Message received.”
Eddie huffed a small laugh and pulled Buck in another tight hug.