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keep my brittle heart warm (give me peace)

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They find the baby on a Friday night in the middle of a shift. Or rather, Buck finds the baby.

It’s January, one of the handful of days a year when Los Angeles is actually rainy and cold, and the clouds block out whatever stars can be seen through the light pollution from the city. It’s a quiet shift—although Buck has more than learned his lesson about saying so out loud—and he could sleep, but he can’t quite manage to, full of a restless energy that he can’t shake. So, while everyone else has decided to catch a few hours in the bunks, he’s spent his night…cleaning. The kitchen, the showers, the rec room—he’s just tied off the trash bags and taken them out to the dumpster when he hears it.

The cry.

Buck freezes, thinking at first that he’s imagining things. But after a moment, he hears it again, and follows it around the side of the building until he almost trips over the basket on the ground. And then he freezes once more, blinking once, twice, to make sure he’s actually seeing what he thinks he’s seeing.

The basket. The baby. The note pinned to the soft pink blanket that just reads I’m so sorry, I can’t, please love her.

For a minute, Buck can’t breathe. His mind goes blank. He just…stares. And then the wind picks up and he shivers and it finally fully registers that shit, there’s a baby sitting outside in the middle of the night—the cold, rainy night—and without even thinking he snaps into gear, picking it—her—up and cradling her close to his chest before he dashes inside.

He means to wake everyone else up, really, he does. But his first goal is to get her warmed up again, to clear the faintly bluish tinge from her skin, and the only thing coming to mind is random facts about how skin-to-skin contact is supposed to help, so he strips off his shirt and lies down on the couch murmuring quiet nonsense until she stops fussing.

He means to wake everyone else up, but somewhere between the baby sighing and falling asleep against him and stroking a finger gently down her back, his own eyes slip closed.

“What on earth?”

“How the hell—”

“Shut up, don’t wake them. Do you have a camera?”

“What’s going on?”

Buck wakes up slowly as the whispers filter in his ears. There’s a squirming weight on his chest and his arms tighten briefly before his eyes blink open and he remembers he’s holding a baby. He sits up abruptly and steadies her as his free hand scrubs over his face. When he looks up, he sees Bobby, Chim, and Hen in various stages of surprise.

“Buck,” Hen says, cocking her head and dragging her eyes over him. “Where did you get a baby?”

He clears his throat roughly. “Found her. Outside the garage. Someone left her, I couldn’t just—couldn’t leave her out there, it was cold.”

He shakes his head and looks down at the baby. Her big blue eyes blink as she stares up at him, then squirms and makes some unintelligible noise. His heart squeezes as he adjusts his hold, bringing up his free hand to toy with hers. She grabs onto his finger and holds it.

Her grip is stronger than he expected.

His heart squeezes again.

“Who leaves a baby out in the cold?” He asks quietly without looking away from her face.

“It happens more often than you might think,” Bobby says with a sigh. “We can’t know why. Been awhile though…anyway, I’ll go call social services. I think that’s still the protocol.”

“No.” Buck doesn’t even realize it’s tripped off his tongue until everyone’s focus is suddenly back on him. Bobby’s eyebrows are nearly at his hairline and Hen looks like she’s pressing her lips together to keep from laughing. “I—I mean—”

He’s saved by the alarm.

Bobby swears under his breath. “Okay, just—Buck, you stay here with the baby, the rest of us will handle this. We’ll deal with the protocols when we get back.”

“There should be some spare diapers and stuff in my bag,” Chim offers. “You know my locker combination if you need anything. Or Maddie’s off today—she could probably bring some things—”

Eddie stumbles out of the bunks, running his hands through his hair. He stops dead when he sees Buck, eyes going wide.

“What—”

“Don’t worry about it,” Hen assures him, grabbing his arm and dragging him down the stairs. Eddie looks back over his shoulder, opening his mouth before snapping it shut.

And then, everyone is gone, sirens blaring as the truck pulls out of the garage, and Buck is left sitting there shirtless on the couch, cradling a baby.

He looks down at her again and gently pulls his finger from her grip.

“Guess it’s just you and me, sweetheart.”

She gurgles. His lips curve up despite himself.

Over the next hour or so, Buck puts his shirt back on and retrieves the diapers, a bottle, and some formula from Chim’s locker—thank god the man uses the same bag for work as he does when he takes Jee-Yun out and doesn’t clean it out regularly—and goes through the motions of getting the baby changed and fed. He also checks her over a little—he may not be a medic, but he’s not totally useless either—and as far as he can tell she seems healthy enough.

Not a newborn though, although how much older she is, he can’t quite tell.

The basket is still outside where he left it, although the blanket and note are on the floor by the couch. Buck keeps her cradled close as he picks up the blanket. It’s soft and clearly homemade, a touch misshapen with tight rows of knits and purls and the occasional hole from a dropped stitch or a snag.

But someone made it. Someone cared enough to make it.

Buck looks at the note again.

Please love her.

Not exactly the words of someone who doesn’t care. Maybe those of someone who cares too much. The quiet, icy indignation in his veins washes away on a tide of empathy as he sighs and sets the note aside. As he shifts the baby up against his shoulder, she blows a spit bubble and reaches out to grab a fistful of his hair where it’s gotten a little too long. He laughs when she tugs at it and gently untangles her grip.

She huffs, but shifts her focus to patting at his face instead. And Buck just—

He’s always loved kids. He’s always loved babies. Hell, he cried the first time he got to hold Jee-Yun because she was so small and perfect and she was his niece, a testament to the fact that Maddie had truly come out the other side of everything she had been through, even though Buck knows that motherhood brought its own challenges to his sister.

But this is—he can’t quite—

Her tiny fingers tap against his jaw and his throat gets tight as he stares at blue eyes and a head full of downy blonde curls. She gurgles again and he feels like the world tips on its axis, his heart cracking open and reforming around that image, this helpless little thing who doesn’t have anyone else, and suddenly, fiercely, all he wants is to keep her safe.

Please love her.

God, but he can’t imagine how anyone could do anything else.

The truck pulls into the garage, pulling Buck’s focus, and he clears his throat roughly and tries to tamp down on the flood of emotion. Because the thing is, he knows Bobby is right and there are protocols and that they’ll need to call social services and someone will come get her and he—

Well, he’ll probably never see her again. Just thinking it makes him feel like he’s been stabbed, but he knows it’s true. They don’t give babies to single male firefighters; they give them to married couples, families, people with jobs that don’t require them to literally run into fire and risk their lives.

The baby coos and pats his face again and Buck presses a swift kiss to her forehead.

“Everything’s going to be okay, princess,” he murmurs. “We’ll get you somewhere safe. And in the meantime, you’ve got me.”

He doesn’t put her down until the social worker arrives. And then, it’s like ripping a piece of himself away to pass her off, but he does it.

At least until the baby starts screaming nearly the instant she’s out of his arms and the sound hooks into him like knives.

“Wait—” Buck is reaching for her before he can stop himself, and the social worker’s eyebrows shoot up as she relinquishes the tearful infant.

He shushes her gently as he takes her in his arms again. “None of that, princess, there’s no reason for it. This nice lady is going to take you somewhere safe, and warm, and probably give you some great toys, and you’re going to be just fine, okay? I know it’s scary, but you’re such a brave girl—just keep being brave a little longer so she can get you settled.”

The sobs slowly die down and Buck wipes the baby’s face and nose with the edge of his sleeve. When he looks up, the social worker—Ms. Ruiz, he thinks he remembers her saying—is watching him thoughtfully.

“What—um—what happens next?” He asks quietly.

“I’ll take her to the doctor to get a full check-up. Check in with the police to see if anyone’s reported a baby missing recently—but I doubt it. These things just happen sometimes. And then, I’ll start trying to find her a placement.”

Buck nods and swallows hard. “I don’t suppose—look, I know you’re probably not supposed to, but is there any way you could let me know what happens? It’s just—”

He looks back down at the sniffling baby in his arms and strokes her cheek. “I’m the one who found her, is all. And if she can’t stay with me then I’d at least like to know she’s okay. Because I found her.”

“Seems like maybe she found you,” Ms. Ruiz replies. She looks at them for a long moment and sighs.

“If she could. Stay with you. Would you want that?” She asks. Buck’s head snaps up, his heart in his throat, but she holds up a hand before he can say anything.

“I normally wouldn’t do this, but I already know it might be a challenge finding a placement. We never have enough foster parents to go around and even infant adoptions have been difficult since the pandemic—people who might have wanted a baby either had their own or lost jobs, homes, resources—a lot of people just can’t afford it right now. So if you’re serious, Mr. Buckley, and it’s something you want, I have paperwork in my car that you could fill out to authorize a background check and a home study. It would at least get the ball rolling.”

Buck feels like he can’t breathe. “Are you serious?”

She shrugs. “The two of you clearly seem to understand each other. And it would make my job easier.”

He should take some time. Think about it. A life-changing decision like this isn’t something to be made lightly or spontaneously. And yet—

The first time he saw Eddie with Christopher right after the earthquake, he was sitting in the car watching them through the window. And in that moment he had wanted that so badly—to be a parent, to have a family, to have something or someone that he could pour all his extra love into, because god knows he has so much that sometimes he feels like he could choke on it since there’s nowhere else for it to go—

He’s come a long way since then. Found his footing. Found a place where he belongs. With the 118. With Eddie and Christopher. With Maddie. But he’s still—

He looks back down again. The baby squirms and blinks and curls her finger in his shirt.

His heart skips.

She’s all alone in the world. But she doesn’t have to be. He could give that to her.

He wants to.

“Yes,” Buck chokes out. “Yes, I’m serious, yes. I’ll fill out whatever you need, just—yes.”

Ms. Ruiz smiles. “I’ll be right back then.”

In the end, Buck does still have to give the baby back until everything can be processed. They wait until she’s asleep and he carries her out to the parking lot and straps her into the car seat Ms. Ruiz brought himself. He kisses the top of her head and she doesn’t stir.

“Bye, princess,” he whispers. “I’ll see you again soon.”

His feet feel rooted to the asphalt as he watches the car drive off. And when he finally manages to get his limbs to work again and walks back inside, everyone else is ready to go, B-shift coming on.

Buck runs a hand through his hair and lets out a long, slow breath. He turns toward the locker room—Hen and Chim pass him as he walks in and he hears Chim take a breath like he’s about to say something only for Hen to elbow him in the ribs.

“Have a good afternoon, boys,” she calls over her shoulder as she drags Chim out with her.

And then Buck’s alone with Eddie, who stays blessedly quiet while Buck changes out of his uniform and grabs his keys. As they walk out together though, he finally clears his throat.

“You know, if you need to go home and skip movie night, you can just drop me off,” Eddie says. “Christopher will understand.”

“I don’t need to skip anything,” Buck replies. It was the whole reason they had driven to the station together, so they could pick up supplies after the shift ended. And besides, he wasn’t going to stop seeing Eddie and Christopher just because he—

He freezes in the middle of putting his key in the ignition, his whole body going cold.

“There it is,” Eddie says, but his tone is soft, not judgmental. “So, do you want to talk about it?”

“What did I do?” Buck whispers. All of his unshakeable certainty from earlier has vanished into a sea of fear and worst-case scenarios. What was he thinking? He’s a single firefighter who lives in a loft apartment—how is he supposed to baby proof exposed brick? And it’s not like his own parents were stellar examples, he’s going to mess this up completely—

“I think you became a dad.”

Eddie reaches across the console and squeezes Buck’s shoulder.

“Hey, look at me.” He waits until Buck does to continue.

“That fear? The thing that takes you by surprise when you think you’re riding high on unconditional love, the voice that’s telling you that you can’t do this and you’ll mess it up and so you shouldn’t even try? That’s normal. Or at least it was for me. I held Christopher for the first time and it was the most amazing moment of my life, followed by the absolute worst because I thought I could never be what he needed.”

Eddie shrugs. “Now, I was a punk-ass kid who was barely old enough to legally drink, so maybe at that point, that voice was right and it really was better for me to be deployed. But I’ll never know whether it was or not because I didn’t give myself a chance to prove it wrong. You though—you’re a stable guy in your thirties with a whole support network. If you want to adopt that little girl, you should.”

Buck swallows hard. His chest hurts when he breathes in, but the vise around his lungs loosens with a few more slow breaths.

“What the hell do I know about being a parent?” He asks.

At that, Eddie laughs quietly.

“Buck, the second Maddie told us she was pregnant you started reading every book on pregnancy and babies and parenting that you could get your hands on. You read more than Chim did, and I didn’t even think that was possible. You’re more prepared than most parents.”

Buck waves that off. “That’s just reading, anyone can—”

“Which isn’t even counting how good you are with Christopher,” Eddie interrupts.

Buck’s throat clicks, words stopping dead.

“I’m—I’m not his dad though,” he manages finally. “That’s—that’s different.”

“Is it?” Eddie asks. “I mean, sure. Technically. You can go home at the end of the day and can afford to be the good cop best friend instead of bad cop dad all the time, but the most important parts? Loving him, listening to him, supporting him, being there when he needs you, fighting for him—you’ve got those down. Everything else is mostly trial and error anyway. You learn by doing it. And by failing and not giving up.”

Buck’s hands fall to his lap and he looks down at them.

“You really think I can do this?”

“I think any kid would be lucky to have you as their dad,” Eddie replies. “And—I don’t know—you found her. Isn’t that some kind of sign from the universe or something?”

Buck’s lips twitch as he looks up again.

“You don’t believe in signs.”

“But you do.”

“I’m terrified.”

“I know. But do you want this?”

Another slow exhale. “More than anything.”

“Then do it anyway.” Eddie smiles. “You’ve got a million people around you, Buck. No one’s gonna let you fall without a net.”

“So when I call you at two in the morning asking for advice, you’ll answer?” Buck teases, the tension in his shoulders gradually bleeding away.

“Oh no, definitely not me—what do I know about babies—”

Eddie bursts out laughing when Buck shoves at his shoulder.

“Of course I’ll answer, dumbass, what kind of friend do you take me for?”

“I’m holding you to that.”

Buck turns the key in the ignition and starts the car.

“You should really name her though,” Eddie says as they pull out of the parking lot. “It’s not really real until you do.”

“Got any ideas?” Buck asks.

“I’m sure you’ll figure something out.”


Buck names her Clara.

In the end, it was Christopher who sealed it because he looked at the shortlist and said he thought Clara sounded like the name a princess could have and since Buck wouldn’t stop calling her princess, it fit. Buck couldn’t fault his logic, so it stuck.

It turns out she’s about five months old, if a little on the small side, and Maddie shows up at the loft the day the placement is approved with bins of baby clothes that Jee-Yun no longer fits.

“You don’t need to get her a million new things that she’ll outgrow in a month, Buck, trust me,” she says with a small smile as she trades him the bins for the baby.

“What if I want to get her a million new things that she’ll outgrow in a month?” He shoots back.

“Start with five and then you’ll learn.”

And then there are other things, too. Like the way Buck makes plans to go pick out a crib, only for Bobby to pull up with one already in the truck bed. The older man is cagey about where he got it, so Buck lets it go because it’s clearly a work of art and he’s not going to say no.

(Athena tells him a few months later that Bobby made the thing himself in their garage, and if Buck gets choked up, that’s no one’s business but his own.)

Hen and Karen give him the name of the adoption attorney they used when they adopted Denny and are able to share a wealth of knowledge while he’s trying to navigate endless paperwork.

And then there’s Eddie.

Eddie who is just—

The thing is, Buck knows Eddie’s great with kids. He’s always known that. But he’s never been sure whether Eddie trusts that he’s great with kids outside of Christopher. Or even necessarily whether he really likes kids that much outside of Christopher.

But apparently when he promised that Buck wouldn’t be without a net, he really did mean it because he’s there all the time, both with and without Christopher. Helping him, playing with Clara, agreeing to watch her so Buck can get more than five minutes of sleep—

(She’s an angel most of the time, but when she starts teething a month and a half in and is cranky and miserable and can’t sleep, Buck reaches the end of his rope pretty quickly.)

—and it’s not a bad thing. It’s not. It’s just a complicated thing.

Clara’s about eight months when Christopher has a sleepover and Eddie comes over to the loft and Buck falls asleep on the couch.

He doesn’t know how long he sleeps, but he’s used to waking at the sound of crying now, for better or worse. So he groans quietly and starts to try and sit up without opening his eyes, only for a familiar hand to stroke down his arm and push him gently back.

“I’ve got her, don’t worry. Go back to sleep.”

And without even thinking, Buck listens. Or at least, if he doesn’t fall fully asleep again, he dozes a little until he hears the creak of the stairs.

“See, I told you,” Eddie’s voice comes a moment later, soft amidst Clara’s fussing. “Your dad is right there, he just needed some sleep. You don’t have to worry, he’s not going anywhere—he loves you too much for that.”

Buck listens to the footsteps move away from the living room into the kitchen.

“So, here’s the deal,” Eddie continues. “We need to let your dad sleep so he can go to work tomorrow. It’s important that he’s well rested because your dad, well, he has a pretty dangerous job sometimes and it’s not good for him to be distracted. Even though I’m always gonna do my best to make sure he comes home to you, okay? I promise to do that.”

A cabinet opens. Shuts.

“But we’re negotiating, so on top of that promise, I’m going to make you a bottle, and in exchange you’re going to calm down and go back to sleep.”

He waits and after a moment, the fussing dies down. After a moment of silence, there’s a quiet peal of baby giggles, followed by a quiet chuckle from Eddie.

“Okay, that one was on me,” he says. “That was my bad. But now we’re playing the quiet game.”

Buck cracks his eyes open. From his position on the couch, he can still see Eddie leaning against the kitchen island holding Clara up and watching her with the softest, fondest look on his face. And it makes Buck’s breath catch and his heart skip in a funny, dangerous way.

No, it’s not a bad thing that Eddie is always around and is great with Clara. It’s not a bad thing at all. Just a complicated thing.

Complicated because Buck’s been at least half in love with his best friend for years, but has dedicated a lot of time and effort to shoving that down, locking it away somewhere in a box of impossible dreams. Complicated because watching Eddie with Clara, watching him be so good with her, watching him love her, makes Buck want things he has no business wanting. But he can’t seem to convince his useless, foolish heart of the futility of wanting.

He has Clara. And she is perfect and wonderful and everything he ever wanted.

And Eddie has Christopher. And maybe Buck fits with them and maybe Clara does too, but they’re still, at the end of the day, Eddie and Christopher and Buck and Clara. Not the four of them, together, as one happy family.

Right?

Buck has to remind himself of that. Because he can’t afford to unlock that box.

Of course, he can’t control other people’s attempts to unlock it.


“When was the last time you went on a date?”

It’s a Friday night and for once, they’re almost all out at a bar because Mrs. Lee had graciously agreed to watch children and infants alike to give them a much needed evening out. Almost all because Eddie is in Texas with Christopher visiting his parents and sisters and, therefore, only with them in spirit.

Spirit and the increasingly snarky text messages he keeps sending with running commentary about his own night, which Buck is responding to under the table.

“What?” Buck glances up to find everyone’s eyes on him.

“When was the last time you went on a date?” Hen repeats, hiding her smirk behind her glass.

Buck clears his throat roughly under the scrutiny.

“I have a baby at home,” he points out.

“And a robust network of babysitters,” Maddie shoots back. “Not that you’re fooling anyone with that answer anyway—you haven’t dated since you and Taylor broke up, have you?”

He takes a long swallow from his beer to delay responding.

Because, yes, that’s true. He and Taylor dated for six months before flaming out in part because she had a job opportunity in New York and he didn’t want to leave LA. It was mutual and perfectly civil and they’re still friends, but—

So maybe that was over a year ago. Who cares?

“I have a baby at home,” Buck repeats. “Maybe I don’t feel like I need to date because my life is complete enough right now.”

Chim hums. “That’s a good answer actually. I could almost believe it.”

“You should believe it! It’s true!”

“So it has nothing to do with the fact that you’re in love with Eddie?” Hen asks, and Buck chokes on spit and has to be slapped on the back several times.

“I’m—I’m not—” Buck tries to wheeze out a denial, only to look around and see from all the assembled faces that no one believes it. He sighs and switches tracks.

“That doesn’t matter. We’re not—it’s never going to happen. I know that.”

For the first time since the conversation took this turn, Karen interjects.

“Are you sure about that? Because I overheard Christopher asking Denny for advice the other day because he wanted to use his allowance to get a birthday gift for his sister. If it’s never going to happen, someone should probably tell him that.”

Buck feels like he’s been clubbed over the head.

“Christopher—Christopher called Clara his sister?”

Under the table, his phone buzzes, but for the first time all night he doesn’t rush to check it.

“He did,” Karen confirms. “And Denny didn’t even question it either. Buck…when was the last time Eddie dated?”

A bit of condensation beads up on the side of his glass and drips down. He tracks the line of it down to the table.

“Not since Ana.”

And Eddie ended things with her months before Buck and Taylor were through.

“Kids can be pretty perceptive, you know,” Karen says.

His phone buzzes again. His hand twitches.

“You can answer that,” Maddie adds. “We don’t mind.”

Buck’s face goes hot. Giving up any semblance of subtlety, he sets his phone on the table while he checks the latest messages.

Kids are asleep, parents are in bed. Sophia grabbed the bottle of tequila that she put in her suitcase and I’m being summoned to the porch swing.

If you don’t hear from me again, you know who is responsible.

And then, as his finger is poised over the keyboard—

Kiss Clara goodnight for me.

His heart squeezes.

“Have you ever considered,” Hen says quietly, “that his reasons for not dating are the same as yours? And that he might be just as afraid to say something?”

I will, Buck taps out. Don’t let Sophia drink you under the table.

He sighs when he looks up. Rubs a hand over his face.

“I think…that I need another drink.”

And thankfully, they drop the subject.

Which doesn’t mean Buck doesn’t spend the next several weeks with sister and kids can be pretty perceptive and have you ever considered that his reasons for not dating are the same as yours floating through his head on a very inconvenient loop.


The thing about impossible dreams is…impossibility is not a constant. And many things appear impossible until circumstances change.

In the end, it happens by accident.

And ironically, because Buck goes on a date.

Clara is fourteen months and Buck asks Eddie to babysit for the night.

He doesn’t tell him where he’s going. He doesn’t tell him it’s a date.

And he spends the whole night feeling…wrong. Like he’s cheating. Except, that’s ridiculous because he and Eddie are not in a relationship.

But, that’s how he feels. All through dinner, he’s only half-present, the rest of him back at home, or better still, at Eddie’s, with Clara and Eddie and Christopher. With his daughter and his family. At the end, the woman shakes his hand and says it was nice meeting him.

It doesn’t even sting.

Buck spends the drive back to Eddie’s in a daze, not even bothering to turn on the radio to break the silence. He’s equally quiet when his key turns in the lock of Eddie’s front door—he’s about to announce himself when—

“Come on, sweetheart, work with me,” Eddie murmurs from the kitchen. “Buck is not going to be happy with me if he gets home and you’re not asleep.”

Clara coos in response.

Buck bites back a smile and crosses over to the kitchen door. Eddie’s back is to him, Clara sitting on the counter, when Eddie says—

“God, you’re gonna be a heartbreaker, aren’t you? Just like your dad.”

His tone is soft and a little wistful, and maybe Buck is reading into things too much but—

He inhales sharply and Eddie’s head turns, panic flitting across his face before it clears into a neutral mask.

“You’re back.”

“Yeah, I—didn’t want to drag things out unnecessarily.”

“Da!” Clara shouts, and Eddie catches her before she pitches off the edge and gently sets her down on the floor, making sure she has her legs under her to stand. The walking is a new development and touch-and-go at best, but she’s stubborn and tends to get annoyed with them for not letting her try.

Sure enough, she doesn’t make it more than halfway across the kitchen before she goes down like Bambi on ice, and Buck’s grinning when he steps in to scoop her up.

“Look at you, getting so good at that,” he praises before kissing her forehead. He listens to her babble for a bit, nodding along at what seem like appropriate moments. When he looks back up, Eddie’s watching them with a look that Buck would almost call longing.

Have you ever considered that his reasons for not dating are the same as yours?

Buck sets Clara in the high chair that’s become a near-permanent fixture in the Diaz kitchen, and tries to ignore the nerves that have always stopped him before. He wets his lips, casts his mind around for something to say, and ends up with—

“You know, uh, historically speaking, I’m way more likely to be the one getting his heart broken than to be the one breaking hearts.”

Eddie’s lips twist wryly as he rakes a hand through his hair, but he avoids Buck’s eyes.

“It’s just an expression.”

“No, I know, I just—”

It would be easier to drop it. He probably should. Drop it and take his daughter and go back to his own apartment and let the air clear so that when he sees Eddie again everything can return to the status quo.

But.

Buck doesn’t want the status quo.

“I went on a date tonight,” he says, and it’s only because he’s watching Eddie so closely that he catches the moment his shoulders tense.

Eddie clears his throat and reaches for the dish soap, turning his attention on the plates stacked in the sink.

“I know.”

Buck blinks. “You know?”

“Chim mentioned it. He assumed—I don’t know.”

“You never said.”

Eddie sets two plates in the drying rack and starts scrubbing at a pan.

“I didn’t think it was my business.”

“Of course it’s—!” Buck blows out a breath in frustration and passes a gentle hand over Clara’s head before he walks over to the sink and leans back against it, trying to catch Eddie’s gaze.

“The thing is,” he says quietly, the words clumsy on his tongue as his pulse races, “I know it’s just an expression, that thing you said, but—but if it was true, if it was something I’ve been doing without knowing—we could—we could talk about that.”

The stream from the faucet is the only noise in the kitchen then, as Eddie’s hands still along with the rest of him. Buck reaches across to shut off the water.

His stomach flips.

“Because—” he continues. “Because the other side of it is—I think I’ve been breaking my own heart a little bit for a long time. By assuming that I couldn’t have the things I wanted instead of asking for them. By telling myself it was better not knowing then asking and risking rejection. But—but I’m not sure that’s true anymore.”

Eddie finally looks at him then, his expression naked and vulnerable.

“Buck…”

“I’m early because I spent the whole night on a date wondering what the hell I was doing and thinking the only place I wanted to be was here. Was…home. With Clara. And Christopher. And you. Because I—”

Buck doesn’t finish the sentence because the next moment he’s being kissed, one of Eddie’s hands curling around the back of his neck as Eddie presses him against the counter. It doesn’t register at first, his mind shorting out from the surprise of it, but when it does he snaps into gear, hands dropping to Eddie’s hips to pull him flush against him.

“I’m so in love with you,” he breathes out when the kiss breaks.

Eddie pulls back enough to meet his eyes. His thumb drags over Buck’s jaw.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Anything you want to say to that?”

Eddie’s laugh is a puff of air as he leans in to press a kiss to the spot he last touched.

“Tell Chim that he and Maddie are watching the kids on Friday,” he says.

Buck grins. The kids. “Oh? And why is that?”

Eddie steps back. “Because we’re going on a date.”

“Da,” Clara whines from across the room, squirming in the high chair.

Eddie laughs again and turns. “Okay, princess, I know—I’ll stop monopolizing your dad.” He bites his lip as he gives Buck a deliberate once-over, meeting his eyes again to quietly add, “For now.”

Buck’s face floods with heat and his stomach flips. But for once, it’s anticipation and not nerves.

“I love you,” he says again, just because he can. And then he raises his voice and crosses the room to collect his daughter from the chair. “And I love you most of all, little miss, even if you are up way past your bedtime. Come on, let’s go fix that.”

“Buck.”

Buck stops in the doorway and looks back over his shoulder.

“I love you, too.”

“Yeah?”

Eddie shrugs, but the nonchalant way he shoves his hands in his pockets doesn’t cover the fact that his lips are twitching. “Well, not as much as Christopher…and the beauty queen you’ve got there definitely takes second place…but you’re a respectable third.”

Buck’s cheeks hurt from how wide his smile stretches.

“Very respectable. Do I get a prize?”

“I guess you’ll find out on Friday,” Eddie replies.

Clara falls asleep in the car on the way back to the loft. As Buck puts her to bed, he looks around, the space feeling…empty. And yet also too small.

He knows without needing to think too hard about it that they’re not going to be there much longer. Because home is somewhere else.

Because impossible dreams aren’t so impossible after all.

And maybe he really can have it all.