Eddie couldn’t imagine what Buck had been forced to go through in just a few days, and he really tried not to. He and Shannon had never had to face possibly losing their son. There had been difficulties, procedures, and surgeries, but not once did a doctor tell them to prepare themselves for the possibility of their son dying beyond rare complications.
He watched as Athena, Hen, and Chimney cooed over the baby who looked both pleased at the attention and just a little overwhelmed. He had heard Buck’s voice hitch, and knew that his best friend was terrified that he was going to have to watch his son die. He didn’t say anything, just set his hand on Buck’s shoulder as a silent show of support.
“I think I still have some of Christopher’s old baby books somewhere,” he offered, earning a look from his best that wasn’t quite surprise, “If you’d want them.”
“That’d be great,” Buck said as his shoulders dropped a little, “I was getting close to singing to him, and the poor thing doesn’t deserve that.”
“No one deserves that,” Hen piped up from next to Buck, “and I have the video to prove it.” Buck groaned and dropped his head to look at the baby in his arms, pressing a kiss to the top of his head. The touch made the little one look up and Eddie saw Buck’s face split into a wide grin when their eyes met.
“Your Auntie Hen is being mean to me Monkey,” Eddie heard his best friend whisper, and he felt his heart melt a little more as the baby smiled up at the blond around his pacifier,“She’s not allowed to be your favorite, okay?” The former soldier bit his lip to keep from laughing at the offended look on Hen’s face.
“We all know I’m the favorite,” Eddie teased after a second of silence, “I-” He was cut off by the buzzing of his phone telling him someone had sent him a text, “I’ve got to go get Christopher.”
“Everything okay?” Hen asked, peering at his phone unashamedly, “Karen didn’t send me anything.”
“He’s fine,” Eddie assured her, “It wasn’t Karen. My abuela is getting ready to smack me with a spoon if I don’t get her ángel to her soon.” The rest of the crew laughed at that, knowing full well that Eddie was firmly wrapped around the finger of his son and grandmother.
“Better not make Abuela mad,” Buck told him with a teasing grin, “You can always visit later.”
“I’ll be back tomorrow with those books,” Eddie promised, “We’ve got to make sure Camden’s got quality material.” He winked at Buck, who just shook his head with a wry smile and headed back out to the elevators. On the way, he texted his abulea to assure her that he would be bringing Christopher over soon, and Karen to let her know he was on his way.
Even though it took nearly half an hour to get to Hen and Karen’s house, it seemed like it was just a few seconds. Eddie took a brief moment to be concerned that he had apparently driven completely on autopilot before he made his way to the door.
“Dad!” The familiar sound of his son calling him never failed to make him smile.
“Hey Superman,” Eddie groaned as he lifted the boy into his arms, “You ready to go see abuela?”
“Yeah!” The little boy’s excited shout made Eddie’s ear ring for a second, but he wouldn’t trade it for the world. He saw Karen watching them with a little bit of trepidation and, while he didn’t want to get into the whole story, he knew he needed to reassure her.
“Why don’t you get your stuff together?” Christopher took off towards the other kids as fast as his crutches allowed and Eddie moved to stand next to Karen, “everything’s fine, mostly.” He cringed a little at how weak his assurances were, clearly an opinion shared by Karen if the judgemental look she gave him was anything to go by.
“And what does mostly mean?” she asked, concern and amusement warring in her eyes. Eddie found himself blushing under her gaze and fought the urge to scuff his feet against the hardwood floor. Finally, he sighed and checked to make sure none of the kids were close enough to hear.
“Buck just found out he has a kid,” Eddie told her flatly, “they’re at the hospital because the baby’s not in great shape.” Karen gasped quietly and brought a hand to her mouth, glancing over at the kids. Eddie didn’t doubt that her mind went to her own son the way his had to Christopher.
“Oh my god,” Karen finally breathed, blinking back tears, “What-”
“Daddy!” Christopher called out, interrupting whatever Karen was about to say, “I’m ready.” Eddie turned to his son, forcing a smile on his face.
“Great buddy,” The former Texan turned his attention back to Karen as he herded his son to the door, “I’m sure Hen will fill you in when she gets home.” Karen nodded, surreptitiously wiping away the tears that had gathered in the corners of her eyes and dripped down her face.
“Drive safe,” she told him, following them to the door and closing it behind them.
“Alright buddy,” Eddie played up his groan as he lifted Christopher into their truck, “Time to go to abuela’s house. Did you have fun.” He asked the last question as he climbed into the driver’s seat and he was surprised to see Chris looking at him in concern.
“Is everyone okay Daddy?” His son asked in his soft voice, “Bobby left and everyone looked scared. Then we went to Aunt Karen’s house.” Eddie sighed, he had been hoping to not tell Chris about Camden until they knew for sure the toddler was going to be alright.
“Everyone’s okay buddy, I promise,” Eddie told him, “But Buck got some news that made him scared and he wanted Bobby.”
“Buck found out he has a baby,” Eddie told him, earning a delighted gasp from his son, “But the baby’s sick, so Buck is staying at the hospital with him.”
“Can we go see them?” Chris was bouncing excitedly in his seat as they drove and Eddie couldn’t help but smile at the unbridled enthusiasm, “Please? Please?”
“Okay Superman,” Eddie finally said, to the happy squeals of the nearly eight-year-old, “We’ll talk to abuela and maybe go to the hospital tonight.” Chris chattered away for the rest of the ride, clearly excited about his new “cousin” and didn’t stop until they were inside.
“Hola mi ángel, Edmundo,” Isabel greeted once they were firmly through the door.
“Abuela! I have a new cousin!” Eddie nearly groaned at the surprised look his grandmother sent Christopher’s way, then the raised eyebrow he got.
“Really?” Eddie had to fight not to roll his eyes at his grandmother’s dry tone, knowing it would only land him in more trouble. Instead, he sighed and opened his mouth to explain when Christopher beat him to it.
“My Buck has a baby!” He squealed excitedly, waving his arms around enough that the adults had to dodge the flailing limbs. Eddie nodded when Isabel looked at him in confused shock, “Daddy said we can go see them in the hospital!”
“Alright buddy,” Eddie told him, “Go put your stuff away first, and we’ll see if we can go.” Christopher toddled off towards the guestroom that had become his and Eddie yelped as the older woman slapped at his arm.
“What do you mean if?” She asked with a stern glare, “And who is in the hospital?”
“The baby, Camden, is. Physically, Buck’s fine,” Eddie assured her, knowing how much the woman had come to adore his best friend. He was pretty sure she already considered Buck her favorite grandson, “Camden’s mother neglected him and the doctors aren’t sure he’s going to make it. Buck hasn’t left the hospital since he found out.” Isabel looked at him for a minute, before crossing herself and muttering in Spanish as she made her way to the kitchen. Eddie knew better than to enter the kitchen when she was muttering under her breath, despite his curiosity. Based on the mouthwatering smell that had permeated the house, he guessed that she was packing up some of her famous tamales for Buck.
“That boy probably hasn’t eaten properly since getting to that hospital,” Isabel said as she emerged with a large Tupperware container, “Is there anything else he needs?”
“Do you have any of Christopher’s old baby books?” Eddie asked, taking the container when Isabel held it out to him and slipping it into one of her many reusable grocery bags, “I told Buck I’d bring him some to read to Camden.”
“I think they’re still in Christopher’s room,” Isabel told him before disappearing into said room. There was some quiet murmuring from the room, but Eddie couldn't make out what they were saying. Instead, he headed to the bathroom where he kept his spare toiletries for days when he was just too tired to make it home when Chris had spent the day with his bisabuela. There was an unopened stick of deodorant that he slipped into another bag, along with a spare shirt. He wasn’t sure what Maddie was going to get for him, or how quickly she was going to get back to the hospital, and he figured extra clothes could only be a good thing. By the time he was done, the other two were waiting for him with impatient looks.
“I’m coming, I’m coming,” he defended when he saw their matching looks, “Head for the truck.” They were mostly quiet during the drive, with Christopher filling Isabel in on the majority of his day until they pulled into the parking lot of UCLA medical center. They stopped at the reception area to actually get passes this time, before they were heading back up to the pediatric ICU.
“I brought some guests,” Eddie announced to Buck as he stuck his head through the door. Buck was alone for the first time since they’d all gotten the news, but he looked better than when they’d all first arrived. Having family with you could do that for a person. He turned his attention to Christopher when he saw that Caden was back on the bed, sleeping, “Remember buddy, indoor voices.” A bright smile spread across Buck’s face the second he saw Christopher rounding the corner with Isabel just behind.
“Buck! You’re a daddy!” Christopher whisper yelled as he made his way further into the room. Eddie saw Buck check on Camden quickly, before he scooped Christopher up into his arms for a big hug.
“I am buddy,” Buck told him with a smile, “You’re going to be his big cousin right?” Christopher nodded frantically, before his nose suddenly wrinkle.
“I love you Buck,” Chris said, “But you smell.” Eddie had to duck out into the hallway to keep his sudden laughter from waking Camden, especially when he heard the offended squawk from his best friend. Isabel had a smile on her face as well, but had better control over her laughter than Eddie did.
“I brought you a shirt,” Eddie told him when he finally got his laughter out of the way, “and some deodorant.”
“Thanks,” Buck said with a sheepish look on his face, “I’ll go do that now.” He set Chris down and took the bag Eddie held out to him. He paused at the doorway, his gaze stuck firmly on the bed taking up a decent chunk of the room.
“We’ll keep an eye on him,” Eddie promised him, “Go get cleaned up and when you come back, let Abuela feed you.” He glanced over at where Isabel had commandeered the bedside table and was setting up what looked like half of her normal tamale batch, at least fifteen, and he wasn’t sure how many she expected Buck to eat.
“Are you sure?” Buck asked making Eddie look at him in mock offense, “I know, I know. I’m just, new to this whole dad thing okay.”
“I get it,” Eddie assured him, clapping a hand on the younger man’s shoulder, “But you still have to take care of yourself too. Let us help where we can.” Buck threw his arms around Eddie before he could really react and he instinctively hugged back.
“Thanks Eddie,” Buck whispered into his friend’s shoulder and Eddie squeezed just a bit tighter for a moment, before leaning away.
“Of course man,” Eddie told him honestly, “But you really do stink.” Eddie laughed quietly as Buck rolled his eyes and pushed him away, but the real victory came when Buck subtly sniffed his shirt. The former soldier had to bite back another bite of laughter as the other man grimaced at the smell and wandered away down the hallway.
“He’s so small,” Christopher whispered, drawing his father’s attention back to where he was standing next to the bed. His eyes were glued to the toddler in the bed, but he glanced at Eddie for a moment as if to make sure he’d been heard.
“You were that small once,” Eddie told him, drawing closer to crouch next to his son. Christopher looked at him like he wasn’t sure whether to believe him or not, “Swear.” He put a hand over his heart and was only mildly offended when the child looked to Isabel for confirmation.
“It’s true mijo,” she assured him, “Someday this pequeño will grow up big and strong like you.” Christopher seemed satisfied with her answer and turned his attention back to the baby. Who opened his eyes sleepily, making Christopher bite back a squeal.
“He’s got my Buck’s eyes Daddy,” the little boy whispered with a voice full of excitement. Eddie could see the familiar blue eyes widen a little at the sight of new and newish people. Camden lifted his head weakly, clearly looking for something and Eddie would bet anything that he hadn’t woken up without Buck beside him since the man had arrived at the hospital. When he didn’t see what he was looking for, Camden let out a little whimper and set his head back down on the bed. There was a slight sheen to his eyes from the tears that built up, and Eddie’s heart broke even if he knew Buck would be back in a few minutes. He was about to reach out for the little boy when Christopher beat him to the punch, letting the toddler grab his hand, “It’s okay. Your daddy’s going to be back really soon. I promise.”
True to form, Buck appeared as if he’d been summoned by Christopher’s words and immediately noticed everyone’s location. He was swooping into Camden’s eyeline in a split second with a bright smile on his face. One that was answered with one from Camden, who automatically reached out for his father.
“Hey Monkey,” Buck said as he pulled his little boy into his arms, “How’re you feeling?” Once he was settled into Buck’s arms, the nasogastric tube that was used to feed Camden was clear, reminding them all of what the little boy had gone through in his short life. Obviously emboldened by being in his father’s arms, Camden turned his attention to the new people in the room.
“Why do you call him monkey?” Chris asked, looking as curiously at the younger boy as Camden was looking at the older.
“Because he holds on like one,” Buck told him with a small smile, “Baby monkeys hold onto their mommy when they move, but he doesn’t have a mommy, so he holds onto me.”
“Because you’re his daddy!” Chris said excitedly, before his face fell into a mask of sadness, “and he doesn’t have a mommy like me.” Buck looked at Eddie frantically for a moment while Eddie felt his heart crack once again at the reminder that Shannon had left their little boy again even if it wasn’t her fault. He felt Isabel put a hand on his shoulder in silent support and was grateful that she understood that he was in pain even if she had never been the biggest fan of Shannon. He moved forward to comfort his son, however, Buck beat him to it.
“No buddy,” Buck said using his free hand to tug the little boy closer, “Your mom loved you so much. She may have made some mistakes, but she always wanted what was best for you. Camden’s mother didn’t love him and she hurt him.” Eddie saw Christopher frown and tilt his head up to stare at his Buck.
“She hurt him?”
“Yeah Buddy,” Buck confirmed, “But we’re not going to let her hurt him anymore, because he’s part of our family now.” He waved the little boy closer and used his free hand to lift Christopher into his lap. The eight-year-old immediately snuggled into the tall man’s chest across from where Camden did the same. The toddler seemed interested in Christopher and reached out to pat the older boy’s cheek, pulling a laugh from him. In turn, Camden laughed brightly and Eddie saw Buck’s eyes go wide.
“Yeah,” Buck voice was a little choked up as he pressed a quick kiss to the forehead of both boys, “He did buddy.” Christopher smiled up at him briefly before he reached over to put his hand on Camden’s back.
“I love him,” Chris told the room, and Eddie felt his eyes well up at how truly amazing his son was. He was pretty sure he wasn’t alone in the feeling based on the way his abuela sniffled and openly wiped her eyes free of the moisture there.
“Me too,” Buck said without taking his eyes off either of the boys in his lap, “Me too.”