the smallest things
Challenge: The Big Moxie – Q1 2022 – Canon Divergence
Warnings: Canon–Level Situations
Word Count: 7566
Author Note: This is my first dip in the 9-1-1 pool. While this story can stand on its own, I have roughly plotted four more in this universe. No promises on when those may be finished. Thanks to Jilly for some naming help. And to my beta, Pixiblades.
Summary: A one-night stand comes back to haunt Buck in the most life-changing way. Now he must decide if he will take a chance and embrace the change.
Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart. -Winnie the Pooh
Evan “Buck” Buckley tightened the chin strap on his helmet as his partner, Eddie Diaz, completed the safety check on the harness. Buck had already completed the same for Eddie. He pulled on the gloves and looked up as Captain Bobbie Nash approached the pair.
“Cap,” Eddie acknowledged, “We’re ready.”
Bobby looked back toward the broken edge of the overpass where smoke from the asphalt truck was drifting up in a noxious cloud. “The construction frames have been knocked loose. I’m not comfortable with the way they are moving in these winds.”
Buck exchanged looks with Eddie then barreled ahead, “We understand the danger, but I don’t see another way we’re getting to that tow truck driver.”
Bobby grimaced, then nodded once. “I give the order to abandon the rescue you better not hesitate to disengage. Do you understand me, Buck?”
Buck refrained from rolling his eyes, “I understand.”
Bobby held his gaze a moment longer before turning to shout orders.
“I notice he didn’t push his point down your throat,” Buck muttered to Eddie as they clipped onto their lines. They took a look over the side at the tow truck that was hanging over the edge of the overpass, swinging with the gusts of wind.
Eddie smirked at him, “I have a son to go home to, so I’m not the reckless one.” And with that, he gripped the line and stepped off into air.
Buck was irritated by this constant insinuation that he was reckless. Competence and the ability to think outside the box while not hesitating to make decisions in the field did not equal recklessness. And, no matter how many times he had proven that still there was this reputation that was unearned that he just couldn’t shake.
With a shake to clear his head and focus on the job, Buck followed. He made his way toward the passenger side of the truck. At the angle that could be seen from the ground, it was the better access since it wasn’t smashed like the driver’s door.
“Sir, can you hear me?” Eddie called through the closed door. “He’s unresponsive. Door locked. Breaking the glass now.”
Buck heard the passenger side window smash a moment later and watched as Eddie cleared the glass before reaching in to unlock and open the door. He held his breath as Eddie reached across the seat to get a pulse.
“Pulse is strong. The airbag didn’t deploy, and he has a head wound from the steering wheel bleeding profusely. We’re gonna need a basket to get him up.”
All in all, it was a quick operation to get the driver secured and shifted into the basket stretcher. That last shift in weight seemed to set the tow truck swinging a little more, and the driver started to wake up and struggle.
“Calm down. It’s OK, we’ve got you.” Buck was talking from his position just below Eddie and the stretcher.
The guy was out of it and mumbling. When he fought to free himself, Eddie was forced to ascend with him to keep him restrained. Buck kept watch as some of the framework supporting the repairs started swinging. He held his breath as Eddie neared it.
Suddenly Eddie dropped his head over the side to call out, “Buck!” as debris swung out and fell.
“Watch out!” Buck called from below as he prepared to kick out and swing out of the way himself.
Eddie dodged it by inches, then hung back over. “Buck! Check the back seat.”
It took a moment for Buck to acknowledge and make it back to the truck. The truck had suicide doors for the back, which were inconvenient from this position. He looked over the passenger seat and saw an empty toddler seat in the back.
“Buckley, Diaz…do you copy?” Bobby’s voice came through loud and clear. Buck realized he had been repeating it for almost a minute.
“Buckley, I copy.”
Silence answered, and Buck glanced back up to see Eddie ascending with the patient, who was still struggling.
“I think he may have lost the radio while trying to control the patient.” Buck went back to trying to unlock the back door, which didn’t want to move.
“Why are you still with the vehicle?”
“Child restraint in the back seat, Cap. I’m just double-checking the vehicle is clear.”
“Roger that. Make it quick. I don’t like the way this is moving.”
“Me too,” Buck muttered under his breath. The soft sound of crying shot Buck’s adrenaline through the roof. He quickly calculated the dangers of adding his weight to the interior against the truck’s motion and the time it would take to get that door open before making his way through the passenger side door.
“Are you OK? Where are you?” He called out as he pulled himself up over the seats. Huddled down in the floorboard behind the driver’s seat was a tiny bundle of blue jeans, red shirt, and dark curly hair. “There you are. Can you look at me?”
He tried to reach down and shifted, which set off a vibration and the sound of straining metal.
“Buckley, you need to exit that vehicle now. The situation is degrading rapidly.” Bobby’s voice was firm and professional, but Buck recognized Bobby’s fear tone underlying it. It’s the one that came out when something was about to go fubar fast.
“I’ve got a passenger in the back seat. Toddler. Moving and just out of my reach.” Buck checked to see if he could get the front seat to lay down any, but that way lay danger to his lines. “Come on, kiddo, help me out here. Can you hear me?”
The kid just kept crying in a ball of misery.
There was a moment of silence before Bobby came back. “It’s too dangerous to send someone down to help. Buck, you get a hand on him, and you get out. Do you hear me? This is all about to come down, and I need you clear before it does.”
Buck put his feet against the dashboard and tried to reach over the seat again, pleading with the kid to respond. If he could just get him to reach out.
“Buck!” Eddie’s voice was back online. “His name is Johnny. His Dad calls him Tigger.”
“Johnny!” No response. “Hey Tigger, can you look at me?”
The head came up, and Buck smiled down at him. “Hi, I’m Buck, and I need to take you to your Daddy. Can you come to Buck?”
The tears were still pouring out but in little sobs now. He looked around before looking back at Buck. “That’s it, Tigger. Daddy wants you. Can I pick you up?”
Little hands reached up, and Buck was able to grab him by the forearms and lift. The moment the kid was high enough, Buck adjusted his grip and pulled him up over the seat and into his arms.
“That’s it. Everything’s a little scary, but we are just going to go on a little ride to get to Daddy.” Buck triggered his radio. “I’ve got him. Can you send down…”
The truck jerked as a large piece of debris struck it. Voices were screaming through his radio as Buck felt the truck shift and continue to move. He scrambled to the open door then, with Johnny wrapped tight around his neck, Buck just repeated over and over, “Tight hug, tight hug, don’t let go.” At the door, Buck gave one look upward to see more pieces of the construction frame coming down and kicked hard away from the truck toward the support pylons, arms wrapped around the little body that was slowly strangling him.
He was spinning out of control on the line. He could only hope there was nothing under the bridge to crash into as his swing under the bridge reached its end. His relief was short-lived as they reversed direction back into the steady stream of falling objects.
Johnny jerked against him as the truck impacted with the ground and hot asphalt truck. Which was another worry. They couldn’t just lower them to the ground, and Buck wasn’t going to be able to help on a climb. As they cleared the underpass, Buck tried to hunch over and cover Johnny’s body with his own helmet-covered head as the line swung into the open and then headed back toward the bridge.
“Hang on there, kid. We’re coming for you.” Bobby’s voice was back in his ear.
Luckily it looked like most of the debris came down with the truck, so Eddie was able to slip down and provide some assistance getting Buck and his passenger up safely. As he was handing off the kid, he heard the high-pitched voice giggle at something Hen said before responding, “’wing!”
Eddie just laughed and clapped Buck on the back, “Swing, indeed. What are you, the kid whisperer?”
Bobby shook his head, “Good work down there, guys. Diaz, let’s start packing up our gear. Buck, have Chimney check you out.”
“I’m fine, Cap.”
“You were pelted with a lot of debris down there. Get checked out. That’s an order.” He reached out and squeezed Buck’s shoulder and gave him a grin which settled Buck immediately. It was the look that said, Good job, now I need to know you’re OK. That was a relief since he had been expecting the I don’t trust you to make the right decision look.
Buck turned back toward the vehicles and saw Chimney leaning against the back of the engine while pulling on a fresh pair of gloves. With a sigh, he walked over and had a seat.
“I’m surprised you and Hen didn’t handle that transport, Chim.”
“Not as many injuries requiring treatment in the ER. The asphalt truck was unoccupied, and the semi that hit it and the tow truck was the only fatality. Everyone else was just trying to avoid it, and for once, they did it without destroying every other car on the road. Now, I saw a few pieces of the frame gave you some glancing blows down there.”
“Nothing bad. Maybe a little bruising.”
“Did you hit anything when you swung under?”
“Nah, nothing but air.”
Buck put up with the penlight check with as much good grace as he could handle. A few cuts and abrasions were cleaned and bandaged while he gratefully accepted a cold pack for the worst bump of the collection. He just rolled his eyes at Eddie as Bobby and Chimney debated if his shoulder needed x-rays because it was honestly just a bruise, and he had full range of motion. Eventually, Hen stepped in and saved him.
“We can keep an eye on him tonight, but I don’t see anything worth a transport, Cap.”
“Thank you.” Gave her a smile before turning his back to the others. “Was the kid OK? I didn’t hurt him when I pulled him out, did I?”
“He was fine.”
“It’s just I didn’t have time to try to get him in any kind of harness and just had to hold onto him when I kicked off. I was worried I might have squeezed too hard or something.”
“Buck, he was fine. There were some bruises forming, but they were probably from the restraints on his seat.”
Bobby cut in, “You saved his life; that’s all that matters. Kids are resilient. Any minor bruising is forgivable given the situation. We’ve cleared all the injuries here, and the LAPD will be at it for a while to get these vehicles moved. It’s time we get out of here and give them space to work.”
– – –
“So, are you still OK with helping Chris with his art assignment this weekend?” Eddie was pulling on his shirt as he turned to meet Buck’s eyes.
Buck felt a moment of joy at the hopeful tone of Eddie’s question. “Oh, yeah. I found the perfect place for him to totally rock that assignment.”
Eddie shook his head, “I really don’t get why you two are so excited to walk around a boring art museum to take pictures of old paintings.”
With a grin, Buck finished putting on his socks and shoes before standing to grab his bag from the locker. “That’s because you have no imagination. We aren’t going to some boring art museum. We are going to an awesome art museum, and we are going to have fun taking those pictures.”
Eddie just gave him the look that said he was questioning his sanity.
“I should make you wait to find out since you are being a stick in the mud, but it’s called the Museum of Illusions, and the art is 3D, so Chris can be in the middle of it and part of the picture.” Buck thought it was a perfect way to get Chris excited about an assignment he had been dreading.
“I don’t think that’s what his teacher was thinking when she assigned this.” Eddie picked up his own bag and headed out.
The firehouse was quiet since C shift had no more taken over before heading out for their first call of the day.
“Well, then she should have been more exact. I read the assignment page, and this meets all the criteria.”
“Criteria for what?” Chim slipped into the conversation as he was coming down the stairs from the loft.
“Eddie’s son has an art project that I’m helping him with this weekend,” Buck refused to get defensive about wanting to spend time with Eddie and his son. Chris was an awesome kid. But sometimes, Chimney seemed to want to find fault with everything Buck did.
“I don’t think Chris is old enough to appreciate the kind of art that has centerfolds…owwww!”
“Don’t be disgusting. That’s Eddie’s kid you’re talking about.” Hen was shaking out her hand from where she had slapped Chim in the back of the head. “What’s the assignment?”
Buck ignored Chimney in favor of Hen, “He needs to get pictures of art that makes him feel happy. I’m taking them to the Museum of Illusions.”
Her eyes widened, and her whole face transformed from annoyance with Chim to excitement. “Oh, I’ve wanted to take Denny to that. Would you mind some company?”
Buck exchanged looks with Eddie, who just shrugged and said, “The more, the merrier, I guess.”
He turned around in the bay and looked up toward the loft. “Cap?”
Chimney looked up as well, then smirked, “Oh, yeah. I forgot. Cap wants to see you in his office. What did you do to get called to the Principal’s office again?” He leered at Buck, then hoisted his duffel across his back and headed to the door.
“Need me to wait?” Eddie glanced up before meeting Buck’s eyes.
“Nah, I’ll give you a call later, and we can work out the times for Saturday.” Buck waved them off and headed up the stairs to where Bobby was waiting on him.
“I have a lawyer in my office who asked to speak with you. Do you have something going on right now that I need to be aware of?” Bobby stood between Buck and the open office door.
Standing up straight in surprise, Buck quickly shook his head. “No, I can’t think of anything that’s happened to involve a lawyer. Why is there a lawyer asking for me?”
Bobby cocked his head to the side, considering. “Let’s find out. I’ve been assured it doesn’t involve the department, but I will stop this and drag you out if we find out otherwise. Or, if you want to get an attorney, then I will let them know they can wait to be contacted.”
Even though there was no one in the loft, Bobby closed the door behind them as they entered the office. The lawyer looked to be about fifty with just the slightest hint of grey starting to show. The suit was tailored and high-quality. Everything about this guy shouted that he wasn’t the man that would be sent into a firehouse to speak to a common firefighter.
“Mr. Evan Buckley? Hello, I am Jonas Merrick of Classen, Merrick, and Thomlin. Thank you for speaking with me.”
Buck froze. “Isn’t Classen, Merrick, and Thomlin that high-priced firm the stars use to get out of criminal charges? The only crimes I might have been associated with would have been in the course of my job, and I haven’t received any notice from the department.”
Mr. Merrick gave a tight grin. “Yes, we have made a name for ourselves in criminal defense with high-profile clients. I assure you that I am not here today regarding any case with our firm.”
“That’s good, I guess, but I’m at a loss why you are here?” Buck glanced over at Bobby, who seemed equally in the dark.
“I am here as a favor to a friend.” Merrick’s eyes shifted over to Bobby before he continued, “It might be better if we could speak in private.”
Buck shook his head. “No offense, but I think I would rather have my captain present.”
“Very well. Several months ago, my friend and his wife were experiencing some marital discord. They separated for a few weeks before they reconciled. During this separation, she had a series of one-night stands of which you were one.”
Buck shook his head and leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees. “Look, I have never knowingly slept with a married woman. I might have had a reputation in the past, but my partners were consenting adults who were open and available to our agreed-upon activities. I would never insert myself into an existing relationship.” Buck rubbed a hand through his hair and suppressed the urge to get up and pace. He allowed his leg to start jiggling in agitation.
Merrick’s hands came up in a placating gesture. “I assure you, no one is accusing you of anything. She freely admits that she was the aggressor and did not inform any of her partners of her marital status.”
“Then why approach me now? You said they were reconciled. Wait, did she contract an STD? I was tested a month ago, and I’m clean.” Buck looked at Bobby to make sure the man knew there were no worries there. “I’ve never participated in any kind of intimate activity without protection.”
“No STDs; however, there was an issue with protection.” Merrick took a breath in and out. “There is no easy way to say this, Mr. Buckley. The two of you conceived a child.”
Buck shot up, “What?”
Bobby came around his desk and leaned against Buck’s chair, putting a hand on his shoulder in support. “Mr. Merrick, you mentioned she had a series of one-night stands. How can you be sure that Buck is the father without a paternity test?”
“While a test is needed to be conclusive, frankly, Captain Nash, the fact that the child born last night is not bi-racial is the primary indicator.” Merrick shifted his attention back to Buck. “Mr. Buckley, you didn’t expect this, and there is no expectation that you involve yourself with the child in any way. We desire to keep this situation quiet and wanted to see if we could convince you to voluntarily submit to a paternity test and relinquish your paternal rights.”
“Wait, you just come drop a bomb on me that I’m a father and then expect me to sign away any rights to my own child?” Buck felt his breath coming faster at the thought of it. “What? Are they afraid that I will interfere with how they want to raise it? Maybe it’s because I’m just a firefighter, or is it they’re embarrassed that it’s not his kid.”
“You have every right to be upset. I would be as well in your shoes. At this point, we just want to resolve things quietly and with as little scandal as possible.”
“Scandal…” Bobby cocked his head to the side. “Mr. Merrick, just who is this friend of yours, and why are you the one approaching Buck?”
“Who is not really important.”
Bobby squeezed his shoulder. “I think the identity of the child’s other parents is very important to this conversation.”
Merrick grimaced, then nodded, “I warned him that we probably couldn’t suppress his identity. The names are William and Irena Classen. He’s the senior founding partner in our firm. I volunteered to come to you in this way to attempt to save reputations.”
“Save reputations,” Buck nodded, a flare of anger rising. “Save their reputations, you mean. I see you didn’t have one hesitation approaching me at my place of employment. You think that would keep me quiet just to avoid me making a scene in front of my boss?”
“I assure you, that wasn’t my intent.”
“I would prefer you not lie to my face.” Buck took a breath to get his temper under control. When he felt he could speak, he asked, “Is it a boy or a girl?”
“Answer the damn question. Do I have a daughter, or do I have a son?”
“It’s a boy.”
Buck wasn’t sure what to do with that. All of the people he slept with, fatherhood just wasn’t something he had stopped to consider. He was single and just started a search for his own apartment, so he could move out of Abby’s place. Everything was changing. He was finally ready to move on and figure out his life. But he was a mess. Did he even want to add this to his mess?
He needed information. In fact, there was one piece of info that he needed…today. “I want to see him.”
Merrick shook his head firmly once. “Mrs. Classen has no desire to speak to you.”
“Fine. I can understand that.” He got it. They were practically strangers. He wasn’t sure he wanted to speak to her either. Right now, this wasn’t about what she wanted. This is what he needs. “But if they think I’m going to just sign away any rights without even seeing my son, then they’re delusional.” Buck stood up. “I spent this morning risking my life to climb into the back of a truck hanging off an overpass to save a stranger’s son. I guarantee you I will do whatever it takes to see my own.”
Merrick raised his hands in surrender. “OK, let me make a couple of calls, then I will escort you there myself.” Merrick stood and left the office, phone already in his hand.
“Bobby.” His voice shook with emotion Buck couldn’t even quantify.
“It’s OK, kid. I’m here for you.”
He closed his eyes at the promise in those few words. “You’ll go with me?” Buck felt Bobby’s arms wrap around him.
“Of course. Come on. Let’s see where we are going; then I’m going to call a really good family law attorney I know. Met her in an elevator rescue. We’ve stayed in contact.”
“Do I need a lawyer?” Just the thought of bringing more people into the middle of this seemed intrusive as fuck.
“Yes, you do. Even if you decide to sign away your rights, you need someone to check the fine print to make sure they aren’t sticking you with anything.” Bobby motioned toward his office door. “Grab your bag and head for my car. I’ll drive you.”
“I don’t want to put you out like that.” Buck picked up the bag and was practically strangling the strap.
“There is no way I am letting you drive in this state of mind.” Bobby’s face just softened. “I said I would be there for you. Let me.”
Relief flooded him. Buck just nodded at Bobby before leaving the office. The attorney was standing on the stairs with the phone jammed against his ear, speaking lowly to whoever was on the other end. He pulled it away as Buck approached.
“My Captain is going to drive me. Just give him instructions, and we can follow you when you’re ready.”
Buck stowed his bag and climbed into the passenger seat to wait. It was maybe ten minutes later when they headed out.
When they hit their first light, Bobby finally spoke. “Lisa said she will meet us at the hospital. She doesn’t like how they tried to blindside you with this and get you to sign with no chance to consider.”
Buck just nodded, lost in his own head and not sure what he was supposed to be thinking right now. It took almost an hour and a half to make it across town to the hospital, with all the construction after that last quake still messing with traffic. To Buck, it felt like an eternity.
They were met in the lobby by a woman. Brown eyes and brown hair that couldn’t have been over five feet tall. She was dressed professionally and yet comfortably. Her satchel was slung over her shoulder on a crossbody strap, and her whole face lit up when she spotted Bobby.
“Captain Nash!” She moved forward and just wrapped Bobby in a hug. “Thank you so much for that casserole recipe. My daughter constantly asks for it.”
“Always glad to swap a great recipe. That pesto of yours was a hit at the firehouse.” He stepped back from her and motioned toward Buck. “Lisa Welch, I would like to introduce you to one of mine, Evan Buckley.”
“You grow them tall, don’t you?” She reached out a hand. “Mr. Buckley, it’s nice to meet you. Bobby has told me nothing but good things about you.”
“Um, thanks, I guess.”
“Why don’t we step over here and have a seat so we can talk for a moment.” She motioned to an empty waiting room.
Buck let out a long breath before giving a half shrug. “I really just want to see my son.”
“I understand. It’s my goal that you have the full benefit of your rights as a birth father in this situation. To do that, I need to get up to speed before we meet with them.”
“Will that be today?” Bobby asked her.
“We can push them off if we need to. I assure you, Mr. Buckley, I will not allow you to feel forced to make a decision before you are ready.”
“Buck. Please, call me Buck.”
“OK, Buck. Why don’t you tell me what you know of your original encounter and then the events of today.” She already had a notepad out on the end table and was taking notes. For a few minutes, Buck shared what little he knew with Bobby inserting details about the meeting that Buck had completely missed. Eventually, she closed the pad and slid it into the satchel.
“Let’s go speak to them. Then we can see about starting that paternity test. That can take a few days to complete.” She stood and turned, motioning toward a man who had been waiting outside the room.
They followed the man to the elevator, up several floors, and across a good section of the hospital before arriving in what looked like a small meeting room. There were five people waiting on them and three empty chairs. They had prepared well.
Buck was feeling a little in over his head. He was suddenly thankful that Bobby had stepped in to get him a lawyer so fast. There was a round of introductions. Buck’s head popped up when the older gentleman at the end of the table was introduced as William Classen.
The impromptu meeting got underway, with Mr. Merrick giving way to another who was the Classens’ personal attorney. They were trying to wring out agreements from Buck before allowing him to see the baby. Since the mother was married and Buck had no proof of paternity yet, he had to play by their rules, so he bit his tongue and kept his input to a minimum.
It went on and on until one of the silent duo to the side piped up about the Classen’s insistence for a closed adoption and that they would need Buck to agree to that before they could move forward with informing the adoptive parents of the birth.
“Adoptive parents?” Buck glared them to silence before turning back to address Classen, who had not uttered a sound to this point. “I thought you and your wife were trying to clear the way for you to raise the baby.”
Classen stared at him a moment, tapping his fingers on the table before he spoke in a deep, velvety voice. “I would like to speak to Mr. Buckley alone for a moment.”
There was a riot of sound and objections before Classen ended it with one word, “Enough!”
Slowly everyone got up to leave. Lisa leaned over to Buck to whisper, “Don’t agree to anything without discussing it with me first.” Buck nodded and then found himself alone with the man.
Classen nodded, “William.” He stood and walked around to take the seat across from Buck. “I feel I should apologize for the way this was approached today. I would like to talk to you honestly right now.”
“OK, Honest I can do.”
“The last several months have been hard on my wife and me. She is often subjected to criticism due to our age difference and bi-racial status. There came a point where the stress blew up, and we separated briefly. I do not desire any apologies on your part for sleeping with her. She was enjoying a moment of freedom and a desire to hurt me, so she slept with as many men as she was able. I know her well, and she is practically a predator in those situations, so you didn’t stand a chance.”
Buck shrugged, “If I had known she was married, nothing she could have done would have gotten me in bed.”
“Perhaps. Frankly, you are just the type we often invite to play, so I stand by what I said.” He tapped his fingers again and smirked at Buck when Buck felt his mouth fall open. “She has an implant, and you were using protection, so there is absolutely no blame. Frankly, until the birth yesterday evening, I honestly thought the child was mine.”
Buck winced, “For that, I am sorry.”
“Don’t be. I am relieved. I raised three good sons to adulthood with the assistance of my first wife. She lived to see all of them graduate, and for that, I am thankful. When Irena and I married, it was with a firm no children agreement in our prenup. I’ve raised mine, and frankly, Irena is the least maternal person I have ever met. She can barely stand to be in the same room with my grandchildren. In fact, she was the one who brought up adoption months ago.” He shook his head and looked away.
“As much as I didn’t want another child, when the ultrasound indicated it was a girl, I admit I was looking forward to one last child. When it was delivered as a boy, well…if you had been in that room, I probably would have taken a swing at you.”
Buck flushed a little. “I’m sorry you had that disappointment.”
“Shock was more like it. Suddenly I was staring at a blond-haired child that could not possibly be mine, and I reacted poorly. Irena has refused any contact with the child. She wants it to disappear because it’s just a reminder to her of the troubles we are overcoming. And, as much as a bastard as it makes me, I’m glad because I just don’t have it in me to raise another man’s son.”
“You’re certain the baby is mine?”
“It is damn near a miniature version of you. I have no doubts, but they will want the paternity test for the records.” He leaned back in his seat. “My business partners want this to disappear so that there is no scandal. Everything we do is based on reputation. My wife has been traveling as far as everyone is concerned since she started showing. We have her registered here under a pseudonym with a private doctor. She went behind my back with Jonas to find the adoption agency. If you weren’t in the picture, she might have talked me into it. But as much as I couldn’t raise another’s child, I couldn’t deny you the knowledge of it either.”
Buck just took it all in, trying to think. It was a lot, and he had a grudging respect for the man.
“So, we have gone on and on about our reputations and our plans, but no one has asked you a damn thing about what you want, Buck.”
Buck rubbed his face with his hands, trying to put his thoughts in order. “I honestly don’t know. I mean, everything you’ve done makes sense to me. But it’s a lot coming at me fast, and I haven’t been given a chance to think. I won’t say I understand her attitude, but your wife has the right to how she feels and her decision. If she doesn’t want anything to do with the baby, then no one should force her. I’m worried she might regret that later in life, but that’s not a problem for now.”
“You are right, and I will make sure she receives counseling. That we both will.” He said that last with a grimace.
“Right now, the only thing that I want is to see my son. I’ll go ahead with the paternity test since it’s required. I think your lawyer has unreasonable expectations for a turnaround. Those tests can take days to get a response.”
“I’ve got money to burn and contacts with a private lab. I assure you that we can have the results by tomorrow at the latest.”
Buck nodded and reached out a shaking hand. “William, thank you for your candor. I don’t want this to be hard for anyone. I just need time to come to terms with this and decide what the best path for me is. And, I need to know if he really is mine before I can do that.”
“Then let’s send the vultures packing for today. I will spend some time with my wife, and you go meet the child. Decisions can wait until the test results are back.”
A few samples and authorization to test later, Buck found himself waiting in a private room. Bobby and Lisa were giving him some time alone. A nurse rolled in one of the clear bassinets from the nursery, and there was a white wrapped bundle inside.
“Are you ready to meet your son, Mr. Buckley?”
“No. Yes, I mean, how is anyone ready? But yes, please.”
She giggled lightly and reached in to lift the baby out and lay him down on the bed in front of Buck. “I am one of only two nurses on this case that has any information on the situation, so I am aware there is a question of paternity. Until that is confirmed, my coworker or I must be present any time you desire access to the baby.”
“I understand,” Buck mumbled, taking in the perfect little face, sleeping peacefully. “Can I?” Buck motioned toward him, and she moved her hands back to give him access.
Buck reached out and ran the back of his index finger along that so soft cheek. The baby’s brow creased as he took in the sensation, and the expression was so familiar that Buck froze. He swallowed hard before moving down. His hands were shaking as he unwrapped the blanket to reveal the tiny baby within.
Thin blonde hair with just the hint of curl was so soft under Buck’s fingertips. He was perfect, from his nose down to the tips of his toes. As Buck ran a finger across that tiny hand, familiar fingers latched on. He felt a strong grip that was hanging on for all he was worth.
Buck let out a little sob and felt the tears coming on. “He has my hands.”
“Would you like to hold him?” the nurse, who he was sure told him her name, asked gently. Just the right tone to encourage without interrupting the moment.
She slipped her hands under the baby and blanket in a way that gave support without covering him up. The moment the weight settled in Buck’s arms, the baby woke up. Buck tensed, waiting for the screaming to start, but it didn’t. The baby wrinkled his face as if in thought. Trying to decide what was different about his situation.
“Hi, there. I know you don’t understand anything yet, but I’m…I’m your Dad.”
As if the words were a release, the baby just relaxed into Buck’s hold, staring up at him, fascinated with whatever it was he was experiencing. That little body radiated trust and contentment. Buck found himself lost in those eyes as a warmth spread through him from his chest out to every cell in his body.
“Wow, look at him,” Bobby whispered, having entered the room without Buck noticing.
“Yeah, look at him. He’s perfect. I honestly thought they had to be mistaken. Deep down, I didn’t believe them. But I can’t deny this. He’s mine, Bobby. I’m a father.” Buck whispered back, unable to tear his eyes away.
“I would say wait for the tests, but damn, Buck. He’s yours.”
“He doesn’t even know me from Adam, and he trusts me. How did that happen? I mean, look at him.” Buck was overwhelmed by the rightness of holding this tiny person. He felt connected and bursting with a bright joy. There was love where it hadn’t existed even minutes ago. “How can something so small fill up so much of my heart?”
Bobby sighed then reached out to touch one little foot. “That’s the way it works between fathers and sons. You will never find another love quite the same.”
“I don’t think I can let him go, Bobby. How can anyone have something so perfect and just walk away without ever being in their life? I’m not built that way. I know I’m single, and I don’t even have my own home yet. I’m just starting to figure my own life out. Is it fair to bring him into the middle of that?”
“It’s not an easy road, I’ll admit that, especially for a single parent. And you’re right. You’ve just started figuring yourself out. And I’m proud of the person you’re becoming. So now you need to decide if this is you. Is this who you will become.” Bobby ran a finger against the cheek, and the baby turned toward it.
“If it’s your choice to keep him, I have no doubt you can excel at anything you put your mind to. And if you let him go, I know you will be doing it from a place of love. Whichever choice you make, it has to be the one that is right for you and your son.” Bobby wrapped an arm around Buck’s shoulders and gave a half-hug while staring down.
The baby gave a little stretch and then started crying. “What’s wrong?” Buck looked to Bobby, then the nurse.
The nurse pointed toward the recliner at the side. “It’s feeding time. Would you like to feed him?”
“Yes, please, what do I do?”
Several minutes later, Buck was holding an empty bottle with a sleepy baby in his arms. A few uncomfortable twitches had Bobby walking him through encouraging solid belch, and the baby was out like a light, sprawled across his arms.
Bobby gave a laugh, “He even eats and sleeps like you.”
Buck squinted over at Bobby. “I don’t sprawl like this.”
“Oh yes, you do. And you can sleep anywhere.”
“I’m not as bad as Eddie.”
“That’s the military in him.” Bobby leaned back on the couch he was sitting on. “You haven’t really had a chance to do anything. Do you want me to call your sister?”
“No!” Buck sighed and leaned back his head to stare at the ceiling. “If I tell her, she will insist on coming down here to manage the situation for me. I love my sister, but I need to make up my mind on my own. I don’t ever want there to come a day that I resent someone else for the decisions I make.”
Bobby gave him a soft smile. “I can understand that. And it’s a very mature position to take.”
“I’m so scared I’m going to make the wrong choice and hurt him.” Buck looked at Bobby before looking down at the sleeping angel in his arms. “I never want him to know a day where he feels unwanted and unloved. He should never doubt it. I never want him to know that his birth mother wanted to throw him away. She carried him for nine months and never wanted him. I’ve known about him less than an hour, and I want him so bad I’m vibrating with it. I don’t even know how it happened. He filled all the dark empty spaces with sunshine, and he doesn’t even know it.”
Bobby leaned forward, “What are you saying, Buck?”
“I have no clue what I’m doing, but I think the only thing in my life I would ever regret is not taking a chance on him. I can’t let him go. I can’t do it, and I won’t, Bobby. He is my son. He is my family. And he belongs with me.” Buck took a shaky breath. “Don’t you, little man. It’s you and me against the world. I promise no matter what happens, I will always put you first.”
The movement of the bassinet caught his attention, and Buck looked up to see the nurse looking apologetic. “I’m sorry, but I need to take him back. The doctors are about to make their rounds. We can give you a couple hours with him this evening if you like. Why don’t you go home and get some rest.”
He wrapped his arms around the baby and pulled him close, drinking in the smell of him, the weight in his arms, the feeling of his skin against him. Buck shook his head.
Bobby stood up and moved closer. “Let me help you up so you can learn how to swaddle him for sleep.” Bobby gave a look at the nurse, who nodded back.
“Yes, let me show you how. This evening you can come back to the nursery, and Janet can give you all kinds of instruction on how to care for him properly.”
He allowed Bobby to guide him and then followed step by step until his son was properly swaddled in the blanket. Buck gave him a kiss on the head before he reluctantly put him down.
“Come on, baby boy, let’s get you back for your checkup.” She started pushing him away, and Buck felt as if the connection between them was being stretched impossibly thin.
He looked at the tag on the end that just had Baby Boy in black sharpie where a name belonged. A space he knew how to fill.
The nurse looked back at him with a question in her eyes and a slight shake of the head.
“His name. It’s Chance. Chance Rowan Buckley. He deserves to be called by his name.”
She smiled. “Chance Buckley, it’s a good name. I’ll make a note for the nurses.”
Buck watched until the doors closed and then turned. Bobby didn’t hesitate to step into the hug.
“Him and me, we’re taking a chance together.”
“My grandmother’s maiden name.”
“Let’s get out of here. We can get some food, pick up your jeep, and then you need to start making some plans. Lisa said she would contact you as soon as she was notified of the paternity results. You can let her know your decision about custody then.” Bobby nudged him toward the door.
“What if they fight me on it?” Unease settled in his belly at the thought.
“Do you think they will?”
Buck considered the question. “Classen won’t. He’s the one who insisted on the paternity test. Told me he couldn’t raise another man’s son. I think that had double meaning. I don’t think he could stand in the way of a man raising his own son.”
“Well, come on, Dad. Let’s get you some food, and we can start your lists.” Bobby walked with him through the lobby, typing on his phone.
“What list?” Buck looked at him and quirked an eyebrow at the look on Bobby’s face.
“Lists. The never-ending lists of baby essentials. Let me introduce you to the nightmare of decision-making. First up, cloth or disposable.”
“Diapers. First, I will introduce you to the world of diapers.”
Buck’s phone vibrated several times, and he glanced down at it as he climbed into the passenger seat. A series of photos were loading, and the last one froze on the screen. A picture of Buck with a soft smile on his face staring in awe at the tiny baby sprawled out in his arms. The caption Welcome to the family Chance Rowan Buckley along one side.