Buck hears the soft click of a door shutting. Something in his brain is telling him that that’s his cue. It’s time for him to compose himself and stop staring at the wall. He needs to get it together because it’s over. There’s no more water sweeping him away.
Except he can still hear the roar of the rushing water echoing in the back of his mind and it’s hard not to focus on that. He’d spent all day focusing on it and being ready for more waves or surges.
He hears Eddie, but he can’t get himself to move.
Get it together , he tells himself.
The more inland he’d gotten and the later it became, the lower the water level had been, but until he’d reached the field hospital, it’d been at a steady ankle deep the entire time. Though somehow, even after the worst of the damage, he’d felt as if he were trekking through thigh-high water, each step weighed down and every movement forward being pushed back.
And now he can’t stop staring at the moonlight shining through the blinds in the dark room. Just a couple of hours ago he’d been mesmerized by the way it reflected off of the water around him. It was funny how the ocean always seemed so blue and open and beautiful until it was suddenly a threat to him and anyone else in Santa Monica. Logically, he knew that it could be a force of nature, but it was something he hadn’t fully appreciated before now.
“Hey,” Eddie’s voice calls to him again.
Buck’s eyes finally meet his. The man is in front of him now, looking up at him from where he’s crouched in front of the couch.
“You okay?” Eddie asks.
Buck opens his mouth but fails to muster up a response.
Okay was too large a term to describe anything right now. He was, and he wasn’t. He’d gotten away with minimal injury, but others hadn’t. They’d died. Dead bodies had floated through the water and he had to just let them keep going. He’d seen dead people on the job before— hell, he’d seen people die in front of him— but this was different.
Eddie seems to sense that there’s no use in trying to get a response out of Buck just yet, so he sighs and feels for the towel around his friend. He’d laid one out on the couch for Buck to sit on and put another one around his shoulders.
The towel is cold and slightly damp now, not having actually done much to soak up the water or keep Buck warm.
“I was going to give Christopher a bath, but he was out like a light,” Eddie says then. “I didn’t have the heart to wake him, so I think it’s time we take care of you, yeah?”
Buck’s mouth closes, and Eddie watches a flurry of emotions flash through his eyes as he sucks on his bottom lip. His friend’s eyes shine anew and there’s a slight tremble in his shoulders.
It scares Eddie. Never has he seen Buck look so shaken— not even after he’d been crushed by the ladder truck. His first week out of the hospital had the man on shaky ground, but never like this, at least not from what Buck ever let anyone see.
“Buck,” Eddie tries again. “Man, I need you to give me something.” He reaches forward and grabs at his friend’s cold hands. He runs his thumbs over the tops of them, and when Buck casts his gaze away, he leans down to catch it again.
“Hey,” Eddie whispers, bringing one hand up to his cheek. “Come back to me.”
Buck inhales sharply, and his whole body shifts in his seat.
“I should go,” Buck mutters, throat raspy— from overuse or disuse, Eddie can’t tell.
“Wait, wait, wait,” Eddie sputters. “What? And where do you plan on going?”
Buck moves to stand, but Eddie puts his hand on his shoulders to press him back down lightly. Eddie isn’t sure where Buck’s mind is at, but they’d already talked about this. Christopher hadn’t wanted to separate from Buck after the two were reunited, and it’d taken a tight-lipped argument with Maddie to convince her that Eddie could watch over him for the night.
To be fair, Buck hadn’t wanted to let go of Christopher once he had him again, either. Even as Buck’s worst gash was cleaned and stitched up, his son had remained at Buck’s side, one large arm slung around his shoulders. When Maddie had picked them up, Bobby was quick to let Eddie head home, and Buck and Christopher sat side by side in the back seat. Both Eddie and Maddie had cast countless glances at them through the rearview mirrors.
“The apartment,” Buck eventually mutters in response, gaze still averted from his own. “I should head back to my place.”
“Is that where you want to be?” Eddie questions.
Buck squeezes his eyes shut, and the little light in the room catches on tears rolling down his cheeks.
“I want to go home.”
Buck whispers it into the air like a wish, and Eddie feels a lump form in his throat. He swallows back his own tears.
“Christopher’s out now,” Eddie supplies. “I can call Maddie for you if you want and she can take you home.”
Buck shakes his head, a bitter smile playing on the edges of his lips. “Nah,” he says. “That’s not what I mean.”
“Then what do you mean?” Eddie asks.
Buck’s head tilts down and he uses his free hand to wipe at his eyes. The hand that Eddie still has a grip on twitches like Buck wants to hold it right back.
“Nothing,” Buck mutters.
It sounds like a story for another day.
Eddie takes a couple of deep breaths. “Are you okay staying here?” he asks. “I want you to sleep where you feel most comfortable. If that’s not here, I won’t be offended and I’ll get you there.”
Buck nods his head, though Eddie barely catches the movement.
“Alright. Then let’s get you cleaned up and ready for bed.”
One of Eddie’s knees cracks a little as he stands up straight again. With his hand still holding Buck’s, he gives a slight tug.
“I kind of want to just crash,” Buck says, looking to his side at the couch. Eddie can’t imagine how inviting it must look.
“You don’t want to get clean?” Eddie questions. “I’m not judging, but you should since you’re still awake or you’ll wake up feeling awful.”
“No, trust me, I do.” Buck huffs out a tiny breath of laughter. “I just don’t know if I have the energy to clean myself right now.”
“I’ll help you.” The offer spills from his lips before Eddie can even process it in his head. He goes to clarify, but stops himself short, not wanting to make it awkward. He’ll let Buck think of it what he wants.
“You offering to bathe me, Diaz?”
A joke. Eddie can work with jokes.
“If that’s what you need,” he answers earnestly.
Buck’s pretty sure that if the lights were on, Eddie would see the blush he feels heating up his face.
“Okay,” Buck replies.
So, with Eddie’s assistance, Buck walks into the master bedroom. The more he moves, the more going to sleep sounds appealing, but the thought of waking up in a sweat consisted of whatever gunk has gotten on him through the day is extremely unappealing.
Buck already feels for what Christopher might feel like when he wakes up in the morning. He has no doubt that Eddie will be at his son’s side before he even opens his eyes, though.
“Shit,” Eddie mutters to himself, closing another drawer.
“What?” Buck asks.
“I can’t find any new underwear,” he says while moving to another drawer. “I could’ve sworn I had a pack around here somewhere that I hadn’t opened yet. My abuela likes to give me new ones all the time whether I need them or not and I can’t find them.”
“Your grandma gives you underwear?” Buck can’t help but laugh.
“Man, she gives me anything and everything I don’t need since I moved down here,” Eddie laughs back. “Towels, bedsheets, toothpaste,” he lists. “If you see it in this house, there’s a ninety percent chance she either gave it to me or offered to buy it.”
Eddie moves over to his bed now and pulls a short plastic bin out from under it. He kneels on the floor to sift through it.
“I think she just missed having someone to take care of,” he admits softly from the floor. “Anyway, I definitely can’t find any.” Eddie throws his hands up in exasperation and lets his butt fall onto the floor. “I can offer mine, but I’m not sure how keen you are on wearing used underwear. They’re clean but—”
Buck laughs, louder this time than before. It’s the loudest he’s been all night.
“Eddie, I’ve got sand in places it doesn’t belong. I could care less if you lend me underwear that you’ve worn before. Anything is better than what I have on right now.”
Eddie purses his lips and points at him. “Fair point.” He stands again and goes to a drawer he’d just been at and pulls out a pair of blue plaid boxers. He tosses them on the bed then pulls open a different drawer.
“I got pajama t-shirts in there if you want to find something that might fit,” Eddie supplies. “Feel free to get some shorts if you want, but the heater makes the air stuffy and you might just regret wearing any to begin with.” Eddie points at the bathroom as he catches his breath from the small rambling. “I’m going to declutter my bathroom and get the water going.”
He doesn't bother waiting for a response before moving into the bathroom. Buck hears a couple of bottles getting moved around before he decides to move to the dresser.
There’s a wide variety of shirts in there, none of which are actually pajama shirts. Buck sees a few worn-down army ones, all varying in shades of green. He finds himself reaching for the lightest one.
It’s soft and seems like it might fit Buck, and he can’t help but press it to his face to feel the material.
He gets a whiff of his friend’s natural scent and Buck can’t help but smile.
He can’t imagine having gone to his apartment after the day he had. Buck hasn’t had a place to call home since moving out to Los Angeles, and maybe even before that too, but Eddie and Christopher come pretty damn close, and there’s nowhere else he would rather be.
By the time Eddie pops his head back out, there’s a soft, old army t-shirt resting in Buck’s hands alongside the boxers.
“Water’s warming,” Eddie calls from the bathroom door. “Funky system in this house, so it’ll take a minute to heat up. You coming?”
Buck nods and moves wordlessly to follow.
The light in the bathroom is brighter than Buck expects it to be, and the size itself is smaller than his own in his loft. He’s not surprised because older houses tended to cater to smaller and shorter people.
Buck glances into the shower before setting the clothing on the countertop. “My legs are already crying again,” he mutters.
Eddie laughs and pats his back. “You’ll be fine. I got you.”
Buck nods again, and without a second thought, he starts working at his jeans, but his fingers barely have the strength to pull at the clothing that sticks to him like a second layer of skin.
Eddie stifles some laughter as Buck’s fingers refuse to work.
“Just get the scissors,” Buck groans.
Eddie’s laughter cuts short. “For real?” he asks. “I can help you get those off.”
Buck huffs and flops onto the toilet seat lid. “I wasn’t kidding about my legs, man. I can’t do this.”
“You want me to cut your pants off?”
“It would be much easier than you undressing me, trust me.”
Undressing him. Buck tries not to blush at the thought.
Eddie tosses his hands up in mock surrender and turns toward the door. He stops before he exits.
“Do you uh… do you want Chris’s shower chair?” Eddie asks. “It’s in the other shower, I just have to grab it.”
Buck thinks it over for a moment.
“I wouldn’t break it?” he asks. “I’m not exactly Christopher-sized.”
Eddie huffs in laughter. “Nah. It’s an adult one. Christopher grew out of the one for kids a little over a year ago and he finds the bigger one more comfortable.”
Buck hesitates. “I don’t know,” he whispers. He looks down at his hands and squeezes one into his fist.
His hand trembles the whole time, and it’s clear that he still doesn’t have much strength.
Eddie sighs. “Buck, you can barely stand. I don’t even know why I’m asking. I’m grabbing it.”
Buck watches as Eddie leaves then looks back at the water. Buck can see steam coming off of it now, but he doesn’t want to waste it all, so he reaches over and shuts it off. At the rate he’s moving, it’s going to be a second before he actually gets in.
Then he attempts to remove his shirt.
Keyword being attempt.
Buck is bent over his legs with the shirt halfway up his arms and blocking his face when Eddie comes back.
He can hear laughter on the edge of Eddie’s voice and it makes Bunk feel even more pitiful than he did before.
Shameful tears come to his eyes, and he tries to hold them back. He knows Eddie isn’t laughing at him, but Buck should not be struggling this much. He’s not injured anymore, and it’s not like his arms were what carried him through those waters.
“Here,” Buck responds tonelessly.
Eddie nods and kneels in front of Buck.
“It’s snagging on my stitches,” Buck explains. “Can you just cut it off, too?”
Eddie moves to do so without questioning it this time. He’ll have to lend Buck some clothes tomorrow, but it’s something he’ll worry about when the time comes.
“We’ll have to wrap that cut,” Eddie mutters, more to himself than Buck. He moves to the pants next.
As the cool air hits Buck’s legs, he knows it was the best decision. His legs are red and irritated from the wet material rubbing on them all day. They’re also covered in sand, dirt, and other stuff that Buck doesn’t want to think about that could get trapped under his clothes.
Hair, seagrass, and trash, his mind lists anyway. And he’s sure there’s more that he can’t come up with right now.
The same shit is sticking to his chest, too.
With a final snip, Eddie finishes cutting through the material. Buck lifts himself a little to get the pants out from under him and then drops them unceremoniously into the trash can.
Buck shivers at the new chill he feels. He’s not sure any part of his body has been dry since the water first hit him and he so desperately wants to be warm now.
He glances at the chair behind his friend and then into the shower.
“Okay, I’m freezing,” Buck complains. “How are we doing this? I want to get moving before I actually turn into a popsicle.”
Eddie purses his lips. “Well, we need to wrap your stitches first. Then I figure first we rinse you, then you can sit while I wash what I can and your hair, and after that, you can finish up whatever else you need to do alone.”
The man has a plan. Buck considers it and blinks back his sleepiness.
“Okay,” Buck agrees. “Showtime.”
Buck swears he could fall asleep the second he’s under the warm water. As hesitant and awkward as he’d felt, the feelings stood no chance against his tired body and mind. By the time he’s sitting in the chair, both he and Eddie are silent as the other man works soap across his skin, and Buck can’t even bother to be worried about how close they are and how intimate this is.
There’s no doubt in Buck’s mind that Eddie is his best friend, perhaps the best friend he’s ever had, and that he is Eddie’s as well. Their time spent together in work and outside of it as well leaves no space for doubt. But they’ve never done this before.
There’d been a couple of close calls during Buck’s recovery, but he’d been pretty on top of taking care of himself. Showering had taken lots of trash bags and finesse, but he’d done it. Even when his leg was hurting, he hadn’t needed this kind of help.
Buck supposes that having a broken bone was a lot different than feeling as boneless as he did now.
Eddie uses a fluffy loofah and something citrusy that Buck can’t quite place the name of. The only sound that fills Buck’s ears is the water trickling out of the showerhead and cascading over his legs as Eddie’s hand glides the loofah across his shoulders.
With Buck’s eyes closed, mind drifting to anywhere but the present, he barely registers that Eddie’s already washed his chest until he’s moving to his arms.
His friend is gentle, caring for him in a way that Buck’s sure no one ever has— at least not since he was young. The pressure on his skin is light, Eddie being careful not to irritate the skin any further.
Eddie rinses him off before grabbing the shampoo.
“Tilt your head back,” Eddie mutters.
Buck follows the command and keeps his eyes shut.
Fingers card through his hair, rinsing and massaging out dirt and whatever debris was mixed up in it.
If Buck weren’t in the shower, he swears he could be lulled to sleep like this.
“You still with me?” Eddie asks.
Buck hums with a small smile on his face.
“Amazing,” Buck mumbles. “Don’t think I’ve ever had someone wash my hair like this before.”
Though Buck can’t see it, Eddie’s face twists into confusion. “You’ve never had your hair cut?” Eddie asks.
“I get trims so often they don’t need to do much more than spray it,” Buck shrugs.
Eddie frowns but doesn’t comment anymore on it.
Out of habit, he uses his hand to block the water from Buck’s eyes as he rinses out his hair.
Buck only smiles more.
It’s over much faster than Buck would have liked. Once he’s alone in the shower, he starts to clean the rest of himself— which turns out to be extremely taxing on in his dwindling energy. If it were up to Buck, he’d be moving a lot slower, but the hot water is turning warm and on its way to cool, so he doesn’t have much of a choice.
The first sign of things going downhill comes as he’s shutting the water off. He feels his calf muscles twitch. He knows he’s pushing himself beyond his limit by standing this long, so he sits on the shower chair to towel dry himself. It’s a half-assed job because his body aches and he wants nothing more than to flop onto the couch and sleep into next week.
His body seems to have different plans, though, because the second his shirt is on, his right calf muscle twitches again. It’s zero to one hundred in a split second and he stumbles into the wall and takes a controlled fall to the floor with a startled cry slipping out of his lips. He shoots forward, fingers grappling at his skin to try and ease the cramps away, but he can’t get a good angle.
“Buck?” Eddie calls through the door. “Are you okay?”
Buck can only manage a grunted out, “Fine!”
But his voice sounds too strained for Eddie’s liking, and he has to remind himself that there are still some boundaries between them, so no , he can’t just open the door and barge in.
“Can I come in?” Eddie asks.
Eddie gets a sound that’s close enough to an affirmative that he has the doorknob twisting in his hand before Buck’s even done making the noise.
His heart leaps into his stomach as he sees Buck on the floor. His hair is still damp, and the shirt clings to him like he’s just finished a workout. What’s startling is the twisted look of pain on his face as he sloppily massages his leg.
Eddie drops down next to him on a knee and tries to pull Buck’s hands away.
“What’s wrong?” he questions.
“Cramp,” Buck hisses out. The man flexes his foot, stretching it out. “Probably from dehydration and overexerting myself today,” he explains. “I know I need to—” he cuts himself off with a stifled shout as Eddie’s hands replace his own.
“Hey, hey, hey,” Eddie says softly. “I got you. Try and relax,” he directs. He grabs Buck’s foot to prop it on his leg and works his fingers along the muscle. “Is it just the calf?”
Buck nods with his eyes tightly shut.
Eddie adjusts the angle and Buck flinches, involuntarily attempting to jerk his leg away.
“Evan Buckely, you are a goddamn mess,” Eddie states.
The comment startles a laugh out of Buck and he tilts his head to the side. “You should have seen me before I thought I had my life together,” Buck huffs out.
Eddie doesn’t miss the implication behind his words, but it’s another thing to be addressed later. Right now, Eddie is only worried about Buck getting some rest before the night turns to morning.
“When’s the last time you drank something?” Eddie asks, Buck’s comment about dehydration finally registering in his head.
“Someone gave me a small cup at the VA,” Buck mumbles. “They tried to get me to drink more, but they were more focused on keeping me there at all.”
“Where were you trying to go? Why would you leave the safe zone?”
His eyes dart to Buck for a split second and then back to his hands moving along the leg. He does a double-take, and sure enough, Buck’s eyes are red again. Eddie’s movements freeze.
“Christopher was still out there,” Buck whispers. “I wasn’t leaving there without him.”
Eddie doesn’t have the words to respond, so he doesn’t try to. His hands resume their movement, and slowly but surely, he can feel Buck relaxing. The bathroom falls silent.
All Eddie can hear is their breathing, and it finally allows him to digest some of the past hour. They’ve been friends for over a year, but Eddie isn’t sure he’s ever seen Buck without a shirt outside of the locker rooms at the station. Now here he was, just having given him a shower after he saved his kid.
Despite the bullet point version of the story he got from Buck, Christopher had been quite clear about the man’s part in his survival. If not for Buck, even his son knows that he would’ve drowned, unable to hold on or swim for long against the strong currents.
He feels like after tonight, they won’t ever have the same friendship they did— you don’t do what they’ve done for each other and ever go back to a casual friendship.
Eddie doesn’t mind that, though.
All in all, it’s no more than a few minutes, maybe five tops, before Buck stops hissing in pain altogether.
“You doing good?” Eddie asks him.
Buck shakes his head. “I’m so damn tired,” he sighs. By the tone of his voice, Eddie figures he means it in a way that says he’s not just talking about the tsunami.
“Fighting,” he replies. He continues before Eddie can question that, too. “I know people have it tougher than me and that people are less fortunate than I’ve been and am, but it doesn’t make shit suck any less.”
“You’re right,” Eddie responds. It surprises Buck. “It gets hard when you’re fighting every day— when you feel like that’s all you’ll ever be doing for the rest of your life. I can’t imagine going through what you’ve been through, and especially in this year alone.” Eddie shakes his head and adjusts himself to lean against the wall. He rests both his hands on Buck’s legs.
“Sometimes,” Eddie continues, “it’s just about taking it day by day. Take on what you can and don't be mad about the things you can't change. Work hard at what you can.” Buck nods like he’s heard it before, and maybe he has, but it’s all Eddie can think to say. He hasn’t always been that great with words. “And if you ever need help, I’m right here.”
And that looks like something he hasn’t heard before.
If that’s something Eddie wants to pretend doesn’t break his heart, then that’s no one’s business but his own.
They get moving again after that because Buck is getting too comfortable on the floor and Eddie is determined to get some food and water in him. He leaves Buck sitting on the edge of his bed with a towel over his head and directions to actually dry it.
When he comes back with a ham sandwich and glass of water not even five minutes later, the man is slumped over with his head on the pillow and towel still on his head. It would make Eddie laugh if it didn’t show just how absolutely exhausted Buck is.
Eddie nudges Buck with his foot. He groans in response.
“C’mon, up,” he says. “Get something in your system before you starve.”
Buck reluctantly sits up, grumbling something about the unhealthy habits of eating before bed and what it can do to your body. Eddie is very aware of them but can’t find it in himself to care right now, so he ignores the words.
“You will thank me in the morning when you wake up without feeling so hungry that you’re nauseous. You do realize it’s been over twelve hours since you ate, right?”
Buck’s eyebrows raise in the slightest interest. “What time is it?”
Eddie passes him the small sandwich, wrapped in a paper towel, and sets the water on the nightstand. He glances at his watch and Buck bites into the sandwich.
“Going on two o’clock now,” he mutters.
Buck stops chewing. He didn’t realize how late it was. Part of him must have known, but to think that he’d been out there for ten hours was a little startling— and confusing if he is being honest. Ten hours wasn’t even half of a shift at the station. It was such a short amount of time, yet he’d also felt like that day had been never-ending.
He’d had pancakes with Christopher less than twenty hours ago.
He eats the sandwich in silence, each swallow feeling like more of a drag than the last. By the time he’s finished it, Eddie has collapsed on the other side of the bed, feet on his pillows and head resting near the foot of the bed.
Buck sets the glass of water down and crumples the paper towel into a small ball.
“The blankets out there?” Buck asks, staring into the dark hallway. “And a pillow?” he adds. He refuses to use Eddie’s scratchy couch pillows.
Eddie sits up in bed, leaning onto his elbow, and levels squinted eyes at him. “You’re kidding me, right?”
Eddie rolls his eyes and flops onto his back. “Lay down, Buck.”
Buck is pretty sure his brain just short-circuited because—
“Did you just say to lay down?” he asks.
“I’m sorry, is it ‘lie’ down?” Eddie quips. “Either way, get comfy.”
“Are you sure?” Buck asks.
Eddie decides not to answer and let Buck get with the program himself.
A moment later, Eddie sees the light shut off, plunging them into darkness. He feels the mattress dip as Buck settles, but he doesn’t realize that he’s taken to Eddie’s direction as well until he lets out a content sigh.
He turns his head in the direction he figures Buck’s is and smiles, even if he can’t see it.
“Thank you for saving him,” he whispers.
“I lost him,” he whispers back. “You shouldn’t be thanking me, not when I took him out there.”
“And who pushed you to leave your apartment?” Eddie challenges. Buck stays silent. “Yeah, two can play the blame game, Buck. So, thank you. Thank you for doing what you could to protect him in a crappy situation.”
Buck hums again, and at this point, Eddie can’t tell if it’s his guilt refusing to accept or the fact that he’s falling asleep.
A few minutes of silence go by. Eddie stays staring at what he can make out of Buck’s outline in the dark.
Then he sees Buck swallow.
“Thank you, too, Eds.”
Eddie is confused. “For?”
“Saving me from myself.”
Eddie feels Buck’s hand tap his side, and he latches on with his own. Buck's hand still trembles, but he squeezes tight with a strength he lacked earlier.
Come morning, there’s a lot Eddie will have to worry about, but right now, with his son safe and asleep and his best friend at his side, he can’t be bothered to care. Even if he doesn’t have this once they both wake, he has it now. And he’s going to do everything he’s got to make sure they all make it through whatever is to come.