“You know, I don’t really have friends,” Eddie says abruptly one night when they’re on a stakeout that’s going nowhere, watching absolutely nothing happen in a nice neighborhood because there’s been a few too many robberies here lately and Singh’s decided it would be best to send some people to check things out just in case. Joe’s bored, but Eddie, at least, seems okay, even cheerful. He’s just gotten back on duty after getting shot, and it appears that everything work-related is making him dizzyingly happy.
So the not-exactly-sunshiney comment’s pretty random, and it brings Joe, who’s been fantasizing about the pizza he’s going to get after this, back to earth. “What?”
It’s a weird thing to say, and Joe can’t figure out why Eddie would say it to him of all people (or maybe he can, considering Eddie’s tendency to overshare) until he remembers: those are things I do with my friends.
It was mean and he knew that even as he was saying it, especially considering Eddie’s kicked-dog look after he was done, but he was annoyed about the situation with Iris and that Eddie was only his partner because Chyre, his friend, was dead.
Joe and Eddie are close by now, though, tied together in the way partners are, especially since Eddie’s living with Joe’s daughter and usually comes over for dinner when Iris does, and Joe’s comfortable with him. Hell, even Barry’s comfortable with him, and his relationship with Eddie is frustratingly complicated.
So the words I don’t really have friends hit Joe pretty hard, because even though Joe’s considered Eddie a friend for a while now, apparently Eddie either doesn’t consider him to be one or thinks Joe doesn't consider him to be one, and Joe would bet anything that it’s the second choice.
Look, he figured it was obvious by now.
Joe’s told Eddie about his college days, they’ve knocked back a few beers, and Joe sat vigil at Eddie’s side when he was shot and has refrained from making fun of the pretty hilarious things Eddie said while he was high as a kite.
(“Oh my God, oh my God, Joe!” Eddie practically squeals, slapping Joe’s arm weakly in excitement and grinning.
“Yeah, partner?” Joe asks, trying not to laugh because the poor kid just got shot.
Barry’s not doing as good a job at the not laughing thing, and is snickering in the corner of the room while Iris shoves him to make him stop or, more likely, to keep him from infecting her with the giggles.
“The beeping,” Eddie says, suddenly serious, hushed and wide-eyed, “it’s my heart. The machine made my heart beep! And it made it into lines. Joe,” he says, trying to point at the heart monitor with the hand attached to the arm that’s hooked up to the IV. Joe grabs Eddie’s hand and lays it flat on the bed so the IV won’t get torn out in Eddie’s drugged excitement. “My heart is lines.”
“Wo-ow,” Joe says shakily, trying to stay cool while his kids are both in almost-silent hysterics just out of Eddie’s line of sight. “That’s pretty cool.”
“I know,” Eddie says happily. He gasps, eyes somehow even wider, glassy and extremely blue and pretty delighted, the happiest Joe has ever seen him. “You guys are cool!” he collapses into giggles. “Yay!”
“Yay,” Joe responds indulgently, giving in and letting himself shake with laughter.)
What does Eddie need, verbal confirmation of Joe’s friendship?
Joe thinks back and figures that maybe he does. Eddie’s a pretty literal kind of guy. Still, I don’t really have friends continues to be a weird thing to say, especially since Eddie does, even without Joe in the picture.
“What do you mean?” Joe asks. “You got Iris and Barry, don’t you?”
“Iris is my girlfriend,” Eddie explains. “So we have a relationship that’s different from being just friends, and that’s great, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not the same. And Barry…I don’t know. Sometimes I think he doesn’t like me as much as I like him.”
Joe feels a pang of guilt at that, because he knows Eddie’s right. “Well, I’m your friend.”
Eddie looks over at him, eyes bright with hope. “Really?”
“Yeah, of course. Come on, you really think we could be partners for so long and not be friends?”
“Well, yeah. I mean, it’s a work relationship.”
“But you’re also a part of my personal life. I don’t think I have to remind you that Iris is my kid. And we watch football together, you come to a lot of family dinners, hell, you came to Christmas, and you’re a good guy. Yeah, you’re my friend.”
Eddie’s smile is dazzling and genuine, and Joe feels a surge of affection for him. Eddie really is a good kid. Joe’s not surprised that Iris fell for him, even if he knows that Eddie’s not going to be her man in the end.
Joe’s pretty sure that even after Iris leaves him, Eddie’ll still be a part of their lives. He’s the kind of guy who’ll genuinely want to stay friends with Iris and Barry and Joe and the people he’s met through them (hopefully—God, Joe hopes Iris doesn’t break his heart too bad), and the kind of guy they’ll genuinely want to stay friends with too.
But thinking about that makes Joe frown. “Wait, don’t you have friends outside of us?” He can’t think of a reason that Eddie wouldn’t (unless he thinks about it for more than five seconds).
Eddie’s smile flickers and then falls away, and he sighs, ducking his head. “You know how people can be.”
“That’s not an answer.”
“I’ve just never been the kind of person who can make close friends, you know? I have a bunch of friendly acquaintances now, I mean, kind of, but not many people I can spend time with one-on-one or even in a group. Not many people who actually know me and who actually like me.”
“Lots of people like you, Eddie,” Joe says, combing through his memories to try and find something that corroborates that statement and doesn’t involve Iris or Barry. “The other officers,” he tries, hoping Eddie hasn’t noticed how those other officers talk behind his back and roll their eyes at him and still call him Officer Pretty Boy, thinking his competitive grabs for attention are pure arrogance like Joe did when they first met.
Eddie looks at Joe disbelievingly, and Joe swears internally, because clearly Eddie has noticed despite his general social obliviousness, unless—“Wait, the others giving you a hard time?”
Eddie shakes his head. “No, they’re nice to me. I just hear them talk about me sometimes, and I know they think I’m sweet but also that I’m boring and stuck-up.”
Joe’s definitely not impressed by that. He figured the other officers would at least have the decency to talk about Eddie when he was out of earshot.
“You’re not boring and you’re not stuck-up,” Joe says, going for ‘reassuring’ and landing somewhere in ‘exasperated’. Sure, he thought Eddie was obnoxiously arrogant at the beginning, but he knows now that most of that’s just insecurity, and every young cop can be a jerk sometimes, especially when they’re a transfer and they want to prove themselves, which sure explains a lot of Eddie’s early behavior. It definitely explains why he would go from being a perfectly nice, even sweet, young man to being an absolute jackass if he was trying to act like a cop, unaware that he didn’t have to act like a cop because he was already a goddamn cop.
But Eddie doesn’t try so hard anymore, even if he still likes sharing his knowledge with other people and is still ridiculously proud of every achievement, even though he still keeps track of his arrests. He has a notebook for that, the tally meticulously written out in large letters and numbers. Joe pretends it doesn’t embarrass him because, hey, whatever floats Eddie’s boat.
At least he doesn’t brag as much anymore and he’s completely stopped making fun of people for not being as good as him at insert-literally-anything-work-related-here.
(Joe’s pretty sure it wasn’t Eddie himself who realized that that wasn’t doing him any favors, though, since Joe overheard Iris explaining how people don’t exactly get along with people who act like they’re better than them and brag about anything they do right, and after that Eddie started to quit acting like God’s gift to police work and more like himself and Joe realized that Eddie and Iris weren’t actually mortal enemies like they were playing at.)
And Eddie’s not boring, not really. He’ll enthusiastically listen to people talk about anything he finds interesting—which appears to be most things as long as the other person is engaging—and ask questions (though some of them might be sort of stupid, Eddie’s not exactly a quick learner if it’s not his thing), and he’s got a knowledge of some things that verges on encyclopedic. Sports and police work, mostly. He’s got every single police number code memorized.
The only other person Joe’s ever met who can directly quote every single code is Barry, and he doesn’t talk about them nearly as much as Eddie does, and Joe’s pretty sure that even he doesn’t have the knowledge of obsolete number codes that Eddie has.
Okay, yeah, Joe can (grudgingly) see why people would call Eddie boring if they didn’t know him or get him, mostly because Eddie likes sticking to a few topics. But Joe raised Barry Allen, so he’s pretty good with people who talk about the same thing for hours, and he honestly enjoys hearing people talk about things they’re passionate about. Besides, Eddie’s interests are closer to Joe’s than Barry’s or Cisco’s or Caitlin’s anyway, so Eddie’s monologues about the dress habits of football coaches in the 1960s as compared to today are actually a pretty nice reprieve from all that science talk.
“Don’t listen to them,” Joe says. “They’re just jealous.”
It sounds like a useless platitude, but he’s not lying. There’s a lot of reasons for their coworkers to be jealous of Eddie. He’s a really good cop with a stellar arrest record, it’s suspected that he’s entrusted with more information about the weird shit in Central City than most of them (which is true, but the damage would be done even if it was just a rumor), not to mention that he’s kind, bright, brave, and, on top of that, young and handsome.
Eddie snorts with laughter, and when Joe raises his eyebrows at him Eddie grins and says, “That’s exactly what my mom would say.”
Joe chuckles. “Well, it’s true.”
Eddie’s smile turns troubled and then disappears again, replaced with an expression that makes him look disturbingly like a sad Golden Retriever. “I don’t know. People like me sometimes but just generally don’t like me enough to spend time with me, and I don’t think people like getting to know me. Iris is the first…special friend I’ve ever had that stayed with me for over three months. All of the other ones said I was clingy. Even the friends I managed to make when I was a kid left because they said I was a fr…too weird or it wasn’t worth it to be my friend because I made them a target for bullies.”
Joe’s heard Eddie say, offhand, things about having a rough time at school, but that’s impressive, being one of those targets that made other people a target if they spent time with him. Even Barry had friends, though mostly because Iris did, and bullies followed Barry everywhere he went.
Joe doesn’t know much about Eddie’s earlier days. Sure, he did a background check, but, unsurprisingly, Eddie has no record. All Joe actually knows is that he’s the son of a hard-hitting, conservative politician back in Keystone and his mom was stay-at-home as far as Joe can tell.
Everything else he’s figured out is just from observing: Eddie and Iris only ever go to dinner with Eddie’s mom, not his dad, Eddie laps up attention in the way people who didn’t get any as kids do, Eddie transferred over from Keystone for no reason other than a quick “decided to move”, Eddie knows almost nothing about pop culture, even if it’s from his time, and so on. Little things.
The car falls into thoughtful silence for a while before Joe asks, “So what made you tell me that?”
Eddie tilts his head, confused. “Tell you what?”
Joe resists rolling his eyes and says, “That you don’t have friends.”
Eddie looks down and starts playing with the hem of his suit jacket, running his fingers along it. He shrugs awkwardly. “Well, after I got shot, I was thinking about who’d be sad if I was dead, and that's what got me thinking about how I don’t have friends. At least, not close friends. Or people who care that much…not people it’d really affect if I died, I mean, other than Iris. And then it’d affect you and Barry because Iris would be sad. But other than that, I think everyone would get over my death pretty quickly. Even Iris, honestly. And that kind of…I don’t know what it made me feel, but it definitely wasn’t anything good. I know that it’s selfish, wanting people to grieve over me someday. Maybe it’s better that there won’t be much of that, right? I don’t like upsetting people.”
Eddie lets out a nervous chuckle and shrugs again, like that’s the way it is, I guess, and Joe stares.
He really didn’t think Eddie felt like this. His impression that Eddie was overconfident had turned more into him figuring Eddie was insecure, sure, but he didn’t think he was that insecure.
“It’s not selfish to want people to care about you,” Joe says evenly, wondering where he went wrong, when he convinced Eddie that Joe didn’t like him or care about him. When was it that Eddie decided that people wouldn’t be sad if he died? Was it in childhood? Was it when whatever happened to make him leave Keystone happened? Was it when Joe told him they weren’t friends? When he kept playing the dad who didn’t approve of his daughter’s boyfriend card?
Or was it all of that put together?
Oh, fuck, how many jokes and half-serious warnings has Eddie taken the wrong way?
And Joe knows Eddie. That’s the worst part, actually. Joe’s tried to be more patient, working with Eddie, speaking more clearly and explaining things in more depth. He told him about metahumans. He told him it was okay to be scared. He puts his life in Eddie’s hands and has never regretted it.
“I don’t know,” Eddie says, “I just wish I could make a mark on the world that would let people remember me, but sometimes I feel like it wouldn’t matter if I’d never been born.”
“Hey!” Joe says, and Eddie flinches in surprise, still looking down. “Look at me.”
Joe’s not going to let someone he cares about talk that way.
“Look at me,” Joe says again, calmer this time, a game attempt at gentleness.
It’s nervous and there's zero eye contact, but Eddie does look at him.
“Don’t you ever say that. You’re just as important as anyone else. You’ve already made a mark on the world by helping people and by loving people and having people who love you back.”
“I don’t know,” Eddie says very quietly. “It’s…that’s the thing. The people I love or care about or…well, I’ve always cared a lot. But a lot of the time I’ve felt like they didn’t care about me as much as I cared about them. But obviously I don’t do anything about that because I just like having them around and I like thinking I can care enough for both of us.”
“Oh, Eddie,” Joe says, and then he tries to get onto a topic that’s slightly less depressing but that’s also important, because there’s a lot going on here. “Look. The first thing you told me, that you don’t really have friends? You were wrong. You understand that?”
Eddie shrugs halfheartedly.
“I’m your friend. Caitlin and Cisco, they’re your friends. They might not be close to you yet, but they like you. Barry really is your friend, I know. I raised him, I know he likes you just fine. And Iris, look, no matter what, you got her. And hey, friend is in girlfriend for a reason.”
Joe can’t help but feel something uncomfortable in the pit of his stomach when he says that, because it really doesn’t feel like much, and Eddie said I don’t really have friends, not I don’t have friends. It would be easier to soothe him if he’d said the second one, but who knows what he thinks real friends are? Someone who reciprocates his feelings, Joe guesses, and who’s willing to spend time with him and talk to him.
But a lot of the time I’ve felt like they didn’t care about me as much as I cared about them.
At this point, Eddie shouldn’t just know that Joe’s his friend, he should feel like he’s part of Joe’s family.
(Joe went wrong somewhere, and he’s got to make it right.)
“You got friends, Eddie,” Joe says. “Real friends. You do.”
Eddie’s smile is bright and relieved, and Joe smiles back, trying to be as sure and comforting as possible, and then something Eddie says that hit him hard just a little while ago hits him hard again:
I just wish I could make a mark on the world that would let people remember me, but sometimes I feel like it wouldn’t matter if I’d never been born.
If I’d never been born.
Joe wonders what Eddie would do to make his mark on the world. Do something stupid to save someone else that he shouldn’t have? Not wait for backup? Sacrifice himself for some reason, and eagerly?
Joe knows that being in this line of work is dangerous, but he doesn’t want Eddie to make it more dangerous than it has to be. If Eddie at some point dies because of work, that’s horrible, but it’s not the same as him doing something on purpose, something he doesn’t have to. It’s not the same as wanting to die.
Joe doesn’t want Eddie sacrificing himself to be his first choice or his only choice.
Eddie keeps promises. He’s the kind of person that doesn’t know how not to.
So Joe says, “Look, partner, promise me you won’t do anything stupid,” because if he feels uneasy about his partner’s continued existence, he’s probably got something to be uneasy about.
Eddie looks taken aback. “Huh?”
“Promise me you won’t put yourself in danger when you don’t have to. Promise me that you dying won’t be your first choice when something goes wrong and there aren’t many options. Promise me that you’ll do everything possible to stay alive. That you won’t do anything stupid because you think you have to go out with a bang. You don’t. There are people who care about you and would rather have an alive Eddie Thawne than a dead hero. You understand?”
Eddie goggles at Joe. “You think I’d…you think I’d…do…you think…on purpose?”
Thankfully, Joe knows a lot of people who get incoherent when surprised, so he knows what Eddie’s getting at. “Yeah, I do.”
“Joe, it’s not like that.”
“Maybe you don’t think it is, and that’s good, but I want you to promise anyway. I don’t want you hurt and I definitely don’t want you dead. You’re already in enough danger in this line of work, like hell I’m gonna let you put yourself in more just because you’re willing to die. And, you know what, out of work too, I don’t want you hurting yourself, I want you to talk to me. I’m a dad and I’m your partner and I’m your friend, Eddie. I’m sorry I gave you the wrong idea about that, but I’ll listen. Understand?”
“Um,” Eddie says, still looking confused, and hey, maybe Joe’s way off about this. He hopes he is. That’s why he’s not going to say anything to Singh, because he doesn’t want Eddie off the force or anything because he’s a danger to himself. Joe doesn’t really think Eddie’s a danger to himself or anyone else. (Or maybe he just doesn’t want to think that.)
But Joe’s instincts generally turn out to be right in at least some way, and it’s not like Eddie’s offended, just confused—either because he actually doesn’t have any dumbass self-destructive-disguised-as-heroic tendencies, or because he’s not the most self-aware tool in the shed. Knowing Eddie, it’s probably the second one.
Eddie looks hesitant for a moment before he sits up straighter and, nods resolutely, and says, “I promise.”
Joe chuckles, clapping Eddie on the shoulder. “Good. I don’t want to go to your funeral, partner. Though,” he says lightly, “if it comes to that, I promise I’ll be there.”
Eddie laughs, delighted, and Joe cracks up too. “Hey,” he says, “I’ll even cry.”
It’s a cool, windy day, and someone’s left a bouquet of colorful flowers on Eddie Thawne’s grave.
Joe stands in front of the gravestone.
It’s been five months since Eddie shot himself, and Joe still wonders how things could have gone differently. Eddie had other choices, he didn’t have to shoot himself. He could’ve at least tried to shoot at Eobard, even though he was moving fast. Maybe it would’ve distracted Eobard long enough for Barry to do something. Long enough for anyone to do something.
Suicide shouldn’t have been the first choice, but for Eddie, it was.
Joe thought the promise he made would’ve meant more than that, but he was wrong. Or maybe Eddie just forgot.
Even if it really was the only choice, and it probably wasn’t, Joe has the heavy feeling that Eddie didn’t mind dying. He wanted to.
Eddie wanted to die.
Eddie always liked to keep things routine, simple.
Dying is simple.
Joe should’ve been a better friend. He should’ve talked to Eddie more. His partner, the best one he ever had, the only one he ever really loved, the one he faced metahumans with, he’s gone now.
Joe should’ve helped him at least have a better life.
“People are gonna remember you,” he murmurs, placing a hand on Eddie’s headstone. “I’ll make sure of it.”
Eddie died a hero, but he didn’t understand that he would’ve died a hero no matter what. He would’ve died a hero if he’d died of old age, surrounded by his friends.
He’d already saved so many people. He’d already supported Iris through difficult times (Joe should’ve given him his blessing, Joe wishes Eddie hadn’t died without Joe’s blessing). He’d already supported The Flash, and he’d already supported Barry.
He was as kind as he was brave.
Turns out I was a hero after all.
“You made a mark on the world,” Joe says. “I promise. Just by being here, you made a mark. Just by being my partner. Just by being my friend.”
Eddie was so full of life and hope, and now the memory of his smile makes Joe’s heart clench, because Eddie lost that hope just long enough to lose that life too.
“You meant something,” Joe says evenly. “You still do. I’m sorry I couldn’t help you see it. I tried. I know that matters. I promise I’ll do my best to make it up to you, Eddie, I’ll take care of the people you cared about, who cared about you. I’ll make sure everyone remembers you, partner. And, you know, what you did? It really was brave.”
Joe smiles shakily as tears run down his cheeks, burning hot against the chilly wind. “My hero,” he says lightly to the memory of his partner, affection warm in his chest. “My hero.”