Red was the color of passion, of seduction, of happiness and prosperity.
It was the color of danger, of fire, of violence, of blood.
But in this moment, red was the color of pure terror.
Buck thought he knew the taste of stark fear, the bitter taste it left in his mouth, the racking shivers it set up under his skin. He thought he knew the dreadful shakes and panic it brought forth, the surge of blind darkness that coursed through his system, demanding his full attention.
But nothing in this world could have prepared him from the horror of potentially losing his best friend.
It was a living thing, pulsing through him as soon as his muddled brain registered the collapse of the metal cranes and equipment, sending another 30 feet of dirt, metal and water down the hole Eddie was now trapped in.
“Eddie! EDDIE!” Buck scrambled to his feet, screaming his best friend’s name over and over, digging through the mud with his bare hands, unwilling to give up on getting him out. He hardly registered Bobby pulling him up and back, letting himself collapse for two single seconds before he was struggling to get to his feet again, his gear slippery with the same mud that had buried his best friend alive.
“NO! EDDIE!” Buck didn’t know he was still screaming until Bobby shook his shoulders, forcing him to look at his captain. His throat felt ravaged with tears, anguish shooting through every part of him with the pure fear. The faint taste of wet soil and bile coated his tongue, another unwelcome reminder.
“Buck! We’re going to do our best to get him out, but I need you to keep a clear head. Please.” Something about the way Bobby said those words didn’t sit right with Buck, but his head was spinning far too fast for him to pinpoint it.
“I can’t-I can’t lose him, Bobby.” He was aware that he was sobbing in a manner that wasn’t professional in the slightest, but the stark terror of Eddie stuck down there alone had him tied up in knots he wasn’t sure he’d be able to undo.
“I know, kid. But right now, let’s get you checked out. We’re going to do our best.” Bobby squeezed his shoulders before directing him over to Hen to get his hands ungloved and looked over.
Even through the thick gloves, his hands were shredded. Tiny pebbles had made their way into the waterlogged fabric to scratch at the delicate skin. Three of his fingernails were busted but mud was caked under every single one of them.
A reminder of his failure to get Eddie out.
He hadn’t realized he’d closed his fist until Hen put a hand on his wrist, urging him to look at her. “He’s a fighter, Buck.”
She didn’t need to say anything else and Buck found himself grateful that she hadn’t. There was virtually no one here who understood the rush of adrenaline and unadulterated terror that was keeping him barely afloat. No one who understood how much Buck was scared that he’d lose Eddie, that Christopher would lose his father, too. He hadn’t even taken the chance to tell him he loved him.
Water had almost taken the people he loved from him twice now, all in one year. If he ended up losing Eddie…
No. He couldn’t let himself think that.
As Hen washed and bandaged his hands up, she passed him a new pair of gloves that he haphazardly tugged on before retreating back to where they’d laid the maps of the well's piping. He felt the weight of her concerned gaze as he walked away, the entire presence of it making him squirm.
It wasn’t him that they needed to be concerned about. They needed to focus on the man trapped more than thirty feet underground, with no comms to above.
There had been something he’d noticed while they’d been pouring over the maps. There were multiple points that he thought would’ve gotten them to where the kid was, because he’d seen a pipe structure similar to it in his childhood home. He’d learned more about them as he’d pushed himself through SEAL training.
The problem with old pipe systems was that there wasn’t any consistency or order to the way they were built. He hadn’t been willing to risk the kid’s life over a mini hunch, where they could’ve easily collapsed the entire thing on top of him.
So he’d stayed silent.
Now, there was another instinct telling him where to look; there had to be a drainage reservoir. As he poured over the maps, he noted a few potential drilling spots that would let them reach down to where Eddie was without a topside access point.
Mind set with a plan, Buck rushed down the stairs to find Bobby.
“Cap, we-we gotta go dig.”
“We don’t have a drill Buck, and even if we could get another one up here, their access road is flooded.”
Situation already anticipated, Plan B initiated. “Okay then, we dig by hand.”
“Not with all this rain, we could trigger another collapse,” Chimney said. Buck looked at him steadily, seeing the worry and guilt behind his gaze for not being able to get down fast enough to grab Eddie. Still, he couldn’t stop himself from pushing.
“How long can he last down there?”
“We’re talking 30 feet of wet earth coming right down on top of him.” For an ugly moment, Buck wanted to pummel the guy for his resigned tone. He knew what that tone meant; he’d been part of multiple situations where they’d had to inform a family that their loved one wasn’t coming back.
It hit him then, what was so off about Bobby’s earlier words. Buck studied all four firefighters that were now watching him warily, three of which were part of this makeshift family that they’d built. “Wait, you all think he’s dead.”
“Nobody thinks that.” Bobby was quick to tell him, but something about the way he was looking at Buck, like one looks at a wild animal, told him that his captain was losing hope, fast.
All of them were looking to recover a body.
“Just don’t know how to get him out,” Chimney added, keeping his voice soft. The ringing in Buck’s ears wasn’t from the explosion anymore. Now it was blood roaring through his ears; he felt sick to his stomach at the resigned looks of pity that surrounded him, no matter what their words said.
“Nobody’s giving up, Buck. Nobody. We’re gonna find him.” They were the first insistent words Hen had said to him since the lightning strike. He looked away from them to look at the collapsed site, vividly seeing images that would haunt his nightmares for months to come. He didn’t know what state Eddie was in down there, and he was far too scared to find out.
He tried to remember that these people loved Eddie too, but seeing no one else even try to figure out a solution had a wash of red-hot anger and helplessness surging up in him. Buck was clinging desperately to the hope that Eddie had to be alright.
With that, the conversation was over. Bobby and Chimney left to scout the area while Hen went inside to check on Hayden, who was peering through the windows, looking for the man who had saved his life.
That left Buck standing there with Plan C.
Even as he prepared himself for it, he knew that Bobby would likely never forgive him, and there would be immense repercussions. He could potentially lose his job or even his life over this stunt.
But nothing mattered, not if he couldn’t get Eddie back.
The familiar cold intent sharpened his gaze and honed his mind into the formidable weapon it was, glancing around everywhere to make sure no one was paying attention to him.
The drainage system in his childhood home had been similar to this one. Buck didn’t think that all those nights researching exactly what happened to the sewer would pay off today, but he found himself grateful for it.
Combined with all that he’d trained for in the SEALS, he was set with how he wanted to go about this.
Silently, Buck stepped towards a relatively shaded spot and slipped off the turnout coat and bunker pants, leaving him in only a short-sleeved LAFD T-shirt, gloves and his regular uniform pants. It was stupid for him to let go of the only things protecting him from the battering rain and biting cold, but they would draw too much attention, especially with his name branded in fluroscent letters at the bottom of the coat. Plus, they’d only weigh him down.
So, they came off. Next, Buck rubbed the blackened mud into his skin, camouflaging the paleness against the dark of the night. The rain and dirt had dampened his hair to a muddled brown color that would attract less light than his normal shade.
At the rate of this rainfall, it wouldn’t be long until the makeshift camouflage washed off, but Buck prayed that he was out of sight before then.
There was one remaining oxygen tank nearby that Buck quietly snagged, along with a mini shovel. He dug those things into the pockets of his pants, securing them with a small clip and looked around, running through a mental list of any other supplies he might need. A glow stick and eye shields for visibility, his gloves still on.
It would have to do. He didn't have the luxury of time.
Even as he took stock of his resources, he didn’t dare hope. As much as he’d loved to have believed that this was just another mission, there was nothing ‘just another’ about this. This was Eddie, and that alone flipped Buck’s universe on its axis.
The map had alluded to a reservoir somewhere near down a hill, so that’s where he started, melting quickly into the shadows in a familiar move. In their search for Hayden, Buck had filed away all the details of the land in his mind, and thankfully it had been during the day. There had been a maximum of two hills where a reservoir could potentially open up.
It was a shot in the dark, but he’d go through every single possibility to reach Eddie as fast as possible.
He approached the first lake, a gut instinct telling him that this was the correct one. It was one of those things, the way Buck could always tell if Eddie was nearby. They tended to gravitate to each other like that, and Buck put it to his advantage as he geared up, briefly hoping that he wasn’t about to risk everything to come up with nothing.
Glasses on, oxygen tank strapped, glow stick sending off bright light and shovel tucked securely into his belt let him tunnel his vision. Suddenly he was that 24 year old who couldn’t take orders, who’d refused to become a machine of a person just to help people.
Standing here in the dark, tamping down on every emotion that reared up in him only proved that with enough incentive, Buck turned into that person anyway.
He quickly ran through the plan in his mind one last time. A few prayers to a God he hadn’t invoked since the tsunami and a million silent apologies to Bobby, and Buck was in the water.
The green light of the stick let him see pretty far in the murky water, and Buck used every bit of his SEAL training to push himself forward into the depth of the lake. Debris scratched against his bare arms as he struggled to breathe around the oxygen mask.
His muscles burned from the exhaustion of the day and from having thrown himself off the rafter to protect Bobby from the same explosion that ripped Eddie from him. Still, he pushed on, keeping an eye on the tank’s level. When he found Eddie, he wanted to make sure that the maximum amount was still left.
When he found him. Because there was no other option.
Buck hit a mass then, on an awkward, diagonal angle near the bottom of the lake. It was solid, like concrete. With his heart sinking, Buck desperately grappled along the edges before the texture of the surface changed.
It wasn’t any less solid, but the new surface was almost...slippery. Buck pulled his hand away and towards the glow stick to find what he thought were smudges of dirt stuck to the fabric.
It was something. It was exactly what Buck had thought it’d be.
He brought the light source nearby to study the new surface, finding an entire rectangle of the caked mud, just large enough to fit a person. Tiny cracks in the hardened mud let what looked like smaller trickles of water through, but not enough to break the entire thing.
His heart leapt as he grabbed the shovel and stuck it into one of the edges. The glow stick was now hanging off his wrist with a cord, letting him use both hands.
Slowly but surely, the mud began to give way. In the depth of the makeshift lake, his lungs were beginning to burn around the supply, and the gloves keeping his hands safe were now a hindrance, leading to an awkward grip around the handle.
So, in one easy decision, the gloves were gone. His bandages were waterlogged and he could see splotches of dark lifeblood from the cuts reopening but he was far too determined to feel the sting of the turbid water.
He chipped at the mud over and over again, getting through the thick block. The sudden stream of water that pulsed through the hole gave him the first bit of hope he allowed himself to feel.
This is a mission, Buckley. Focus.
It took him a precious minute and a half to carve enough of the mud that he could stick his own hands in and pull, much like he had when the mud and water had blocked his access to Eddie. There was no sense pushing at the blockage, not if he didn’t know what was waiting behind the wall. He kept tearing at it, fighting against the water pressure that was now threatening to push him straight back to the surface.
Until he caught a glimpse of red.
Buck’s tongue felt heavy in his mouth as he tried to scream for Eddie around the oxygen mask. That was the same uniform he’d gone down in, and he could see Eddie’s own light source gleaming at him faintly.
He banged the metal shovel against the concrete walls, and finally, managed to catch Eddie’s attention as he turned, a movement too controlled to be involuntary. Buck couldn’t see his expression at all, but he was alive.
The light on his oxygen indicator turned yellow, almost like a ticking time bomb in his head, waiting to see if Buck would get both of them out.
Buck worked with a fervour, frantically ripping through pieces of dirt and rock and mud and sludge to make an opening wide enough that he could fit himself inside. The insane water pressure of the drainage kept flowing through, making it virtually suicidal for Buck to try to shove his way in.
For a brief moment, panic clawed its way up his spine, his mind suddenly back on Saint Monica’s pier, where his entire world had shattered with a single wave. Suddenly it wasn’t Eddie’s red suit that he could see, it was Christopher’s yellow striped shirt, screams of his name ringing through his ears.
Buck pushed against the unwelcome memory and rising panic, forcing himself to stay centered with his mission.
Without a further thought, Buck hooked a foot into a dent well into the tunnel to keep his position, and stretched forward, trying to put his height to good use. Even with the force of the water crashing against his body, Eddie wasn’t able to move forward on his own, though he was now stretching towards Buck’s bloody hands.
They managed to clasp each other’s wrists, Buck’s grip slightly faltering because of the slippery uniform but he held on like his life depended on it.
Because it did. He wouldn’t survive if Eddie didn’t.
Quickly, he started pulling his best friend through, gritting his teeth at the absolute pain in his biceps. Eddie’s weight wasn’t helping matters, because the man was too weak to keep dragging himself forward. Still, Buck tugged, not sparing another thought as he let the current pull Eddie towards him.
With the water now draining, the space Eddie was stuck in was now half empty, leaving some room for them to surface if they kept their faces flat against the water. Buck took advantage of it and tore his mask off, fitting it on Eddie’s face. The rattled breath he took with the fresh air supply soothed his shot-to-hell nerves slightly.
One deep breath later and Buck was back underwater, hooking his hands under Eddie’s armpits to drag him out through the hand-dug drain, swimming towards the surface. His ears and lungs hurt with the water pressure, but nothing else mattered but the fact that Eddie was in his arms.
For the first few feet, Eddie seemed to be kicking his feet as well, but a few seconds after the dim red glow of the oxygen indicator shone among them, he went limp in Buck’s arms.
Pure panic settled into him as Buck kicked and kicked and kicked, pulling Eddie to the surface with him. Once he broke through the water, he wasted no time in dragging them both to shore, sucking air into his depraved lungs.
Two cold fingers sought Eddie’s pulse as Buck prepared to enter recovery mode. He unclasped Eddie’s helmet quickly and ripped off their glasses, trying to relieve any extra weight and constraints.
Nothing beat beneath his fingers. An iron fist closed around his throat as he tore off the red protective suit, the one that was weighing Eddie down and blocking Buck’s access to his chest.
Leaning down, he pinched Eddie’s nose, hooked a hand under his jaw and pulled his chin upwards to open his airway, desperately pushing his own breath into the man and ignoring the metallic taste of Eddie’s blood on his lips.
“Come on, Eddie, please.” Another five seconds ticked on, but Eddie’s chest wasn’t rising. A cold sweat broke out on his skin as the blind hysteria set in
“Wake up! You have to wake up!” Buck was aware that he was screaming at him, now having straddled Eddie’s torso to start CPR, keeping his weight balanced between the heel of his hand and his knees. He clenched his teeth as he pushed down on his sternum, over and over.
30 compressions, 2 breaths
30 compressions, 2 breaths
On the 73rd compression, Eddie’s eyes flew open just as a gurgle escaped his mouth. Buck quickly got off him and turned him over onto his side, in time for him to vomit all the dirty water he’d swallowed.
He brushed his hand through Eddie’s hair and smoothed a hand down his spine as his friend retched and moaned in pain, fully aware that he was sobbing uncontrollably with the sheer relief of bringing him back to life.
“Buck,” Eddie gasped, turning and using a weak grip twisted in Buck’s shirt to pull him down. He surged up the last inch to tuck his face into Buck’s neck, shaking and shivering all over. In turn, Buck pressed his forehead against Eddie’s shoulder, holding the back of his head to cradle him tightly against his body.
He’s alive, he’s alive, he’s alive.
“Eddie. Eddie,” Buck repeated, over and over, pressing small kisses against his skin, uncaring about the filth that covered the two of them.
“You found me.” His voice was whisper-thin but reverent against the wet skin of Buck’s neck. “Buck.” Now that the initial adrenaline was fading, Buck could feel every last ache, scratch, pain and bleed, and no doubt, Eddie could too.
“HEN! BOBBY! CHIMNEY!” Buck used the last bit of his energy to yell over and over again into the dark night, hopefully catching someone’s attention if his previous screaming hadn't already done it. “I FOUND HIM! I FOUND EDDIE!”
He could hear the faint sounds of their names in Chimney’s voice as he slumped back down in relief, keeping his arms tight around Eddie. He relaxed against Buck’s thighs as the sounds of people shouting and scrambling down the hill got closer.
Still, Buck kept his attention fixed on Eddie, mentally cataloguing any possible injuries. There was a nasty gash on his nose and his chin, and blood covered his teeth, leading him to believe that Eddie may have bit his tongue at some point. His lips were cracked and dirt covered every inch of him, even through the suit. “Have you broken anything? Dislocated anything? Are you bleeding anywhere else?”
“No. Just...exhausted.” Eddie stared up at him deliriously, fractured gaze alight with residual panic and lined with red, puffy skin. Buck tightened his hand in Eddie’s at the sight; he’d never seen his best friend look like that before, and it was disconcerting.
“You’re okay. You got out. We’re all okay,” he said calmly, even though his insides were rampaged with his own anxiety. He couldn’t stop trembling against his friend, and his skin stung under the cool night air.
“Hay-Hayden? Chim?” Buck smiled slightly, but told Eddie that Hayden and Chimney were absolutely okay, too.
“Eddie!” Hen reached them first, lowering Eddie back to the ground. Buck stumbled back as the paramedics swarmed the man, his fingers slipping through Eddie’s. He wasn’t ready to let him go yet, but knew that he had to.
“Buck.” A hand on his shoulder got him to look up at Chimney, who was guiding him a little away from the scene. “Let me get you checked out.”
He knew he looked pretty bad. The debris in the water had hit him over and over again, leaving cuts and bruises on his bare skin that had burned viciously as Buck swam through the murky water. His hands were bleeding badly, the skin absolutely covered in ruby ichor. Buck wasn’t quite sure where the skin had split, but he knew that they looked like he’d been mauled.
There was a gash somewhere on his forehead where he could feel the slow drip of blood from his eyebrow.
God knew what sort of infectious agents were now swimming through those cuts. His muscles burned like he’d just run fifty marathons at once, enough that he would be aching like hell tomorrow. Chimney passed Buck a blanket as he tried to get warm, mildly hypothermic with the cold air ghosting over his sodden body. He found himself grateful that Eddie at least had a wet suit underneath the uniform, though he wasn’t quite sure how useful it’d be after how long it’d been.
“How’d you know where to find him?” the paramedic asked as he started up a fluid line with the familiar press of an IV needle. Buck shrugged, tugging the edges of the blanket tighter to him with his free hand as he watched Eddie get checked over by Hen and Bobby.
“I didn’t. I had a hunch when we were looking through those maps while searching for Hayden of what those reservoirs could have been like. My childhood home had a pipe system that was similar.”
“Why didn’t you say anything before?” he asked, no judgment in his tone as he moved to clean what remained of the waterlogged bandages hanging on Buck’s hands before starting to redress them.
“It wasn’t enough to risk the kid’s life on.”
“But it was enough to risk yours?” Bobby lashed out sharply, disappointment ringing clear in his voice. The first words he’d spoken since he’d come over from checking on Eddie, all harsh lines and an angry expression Buck hadn’t seen in a long time. Buck forced himself to look at him, jaw slacking when he found his captain’s hands shaking.
It wasn’t only disappointment, after all. It was the worry that Bobby didn’t often let them see. Buck felt a twinge of regret that he’d made his captain worry that he could’ve lost both of them.
“It was Eddie.” It was the only explanation that he could muster, the only explanation that could even remotely encompass what he’d been thinking. And his captain knew exactly what he was talking about it, because he’d experienced it too.
Buck knew the exact moment he caved because his expression shuttered before his eyes slipped closed.
“Kid, you’re going to give me grey hairs.” Bobby’s voice cracked before he was pulling Buck in for a tight hug. Buck clung to him just as tightly, overwhelmingly relieved that he wasn’t that mad.
“You can make those work too,” he sniffled, letting himself lean on Bobby again for just this one moment. He closed his eyes as scarlet flashes took over his vision. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”
“For going after Eddie?”
“No,” Buck said immediately, pulling back to look his captain in the eye. “Never. I know there’s going to be consequences, and I fully accept all of them, right now.”
“You don’t even know what they are. I could fire you.” Bobby sounded like he was expecting the answer.
“I know. I knew that when I snuck off. I knew I could’ve lost this job, I knew I could’ve died. But it doesn’t matter, Bobby. I would’ve never forgiven myself if I’d given up on Eddie,” he said, keeping his eyes glued on the man in question now being rolled through the open door of an ambulance. “I’m only saying sorry for disobeying your orders and not letting you know where I was going.”
“We’re not talking about this right now.” Bobby’s jaw clicked. “I’m glad you two are okay.”
“Buck, Eddie’s calling for you.” Hen hadn’t even finished her sentence before he was already hauling himself upwards with minimal help. Palming his IV bag, Buck ignored Chimney and Bobby’s warnings as he staggered forward towards the ambulance with a small burst of energy, though he wasn’t quite sure from where.
“Hey.” The bubble of anxiety in his chest eased a little at being in the same physical proximity as him, even though Buck hadn’t torn his eyes away from his form.
Eddie’s head lolled lazily as he whispered a breathless “stay.” Without another word, Hen stepped aside and let Buck into the ambulance, right next to Eddie to entangle their fingers. He focused on the now-steady drumming of Eddie’s pulse beneath his fingertips.
Those bruised fingers reminded him of all the things he could’ve lost tonight, but he was beyond thankful that they were here.
“Got a big date Friday,” Eddie said, half-lucid. “Can’t miss it.”
The relief put a wide grin on his face as laughter rang out around them. He dropped his head to their clasped hands, holding on as tight as he could as a choked laugh escaped him.
Buck could hear the sounds of people getting ready to clean the site, the sounds of the police detail barring all the news reporters from following them. Faintly, he heard Bobby tell Hen and Chim to get them to the hospital, stat. Hen climbed into the ambulance with them to keep monitoring Eddie while Chim climbed into the driver’s seat.
And then they were off, leaving the physical reminder of the fragility of their lives behind.
It didn’t take long for the doctors to clear Eddie. They wanted to keep him for an hour or so on IV fluids to replenish his system, but that was all. They’d be back home soon.
Bobby had been right on the ambulance’s heels, having brought spare clothes from the firetruck. The nurses had pulled Buck aside to wrap more gauze around his arms and head as they’d wheeled Eddie in for testing. Eddie had been hesitant about having Buck too far from him, and he forced as much from a wrecked throat, but most of the tests were such that he couldn’t be in the room with him.
Buck didn’t leave his side otherwise, couldn’t stomach having Eddie out of his sight either. Completely stubborn to his cause, he refused a bed, dragged his own IV stand with the near-empty saline bag next to Eddie’s bed and sat down. The other man was still in a shocked daze, enough that he didn’t quite notice the matching IV on the back of Buck’s hand, nor when the nurse quietly slipped the catheter out at Buck’s request so Eddie didn’t worry.
But he didn’t leave, at all.
It was such a contrast to the last water-related disaster he’d been a part of, where he’d lost the boy he loved like his own, and hadn’t thought he deserved to see him ever again. Even then, he’d had the urge to keep Christopher in front of him at all times, drinking in the fact that he was okay.
His eyes prickled at the thought as he stared at the jug of water on Eddie’s bedside table, wondering how such a harmless-looking thing could wreck such havoc on their lives.
“You’re thinking too hard.” Eddie’s tired tone came from the bed. Buck jumped, startled at the sudden voice. He’d thought Eddie had fallen asleep.
“Maybe. Maybe not,” Buck answered, scooting towards him. “Do you want some water? Are you in pain? Should I get the doctor?”
The questions rolled off his tongue one after another. Buck thought to himself that perhaps he was being overbearing but couldn’t bring himself to stop.
“Just you.” Eddie lifted one hand towards him. Without any hesitation, Buck folded both his hands over Eddie’s, feeling another lump curl in his throat as the burn of tears got worse. “Christopher?”
“He’s okay, he’s at Abuela’s. He was asleep when Abuela called.”
“Must’ve seen the news. Hope Christopher didn’t.” Eddie leaned up a little, eyes fixed on their hands with a minute amount of clarity, the first Buck had seen since Eddie had been rolled into this room. “What’s that?”
“These bandages. When did you get hurt?” Buck was in no way ready to tell him about his breakdown. So he gave a vague answer.
“I’m not sure. I don’t remember.” It was the farthest thing from the truth.
Buck would never forget the anguish that had filled him with the mere thought of Eddie not coming back up. He would never forget the despair that had led to him clawing at the earth, ready to tear down what the machines couldn’t if it meant getting Eddie back.
And he had. He’d gotten him back.
The door opened just as he was thinking that, bringing Chimney, Hen and Bobby in. They came over with relieved expressions, happy to see Eddie moving about.
Suddenly, it was all too much.
He let go of Eddie’s hand for a second, telling the room that he’d be right back.
“Buck,” Eddie said quietly, a hint of panic weighing his voice down as he tightened his grip on Buck’s wrist. But the world was crashing over him, drowning him without a second thought and he just needed a second.
“Just a few minutes. I’ll be right back, I promise,” he said, forcing himself to give Eddie a wide smile. He didn’t look convinced but let Buck’s wrist go.
The second he stumbled outside of the room, it hit him all at once, bringing his knees out from under him. He was distantly aware of the shivers that wracked his body and the trembling that settled into every limb as the last of the adrenaline faded from his system. Buck dropped his head into his hands, doubling over right there in the corridor with the tears that forced themselves from his eyes.
He shook with the exertion of his sobs, leaning into the familiar touch that came around him.
“Shh...it’s okay. He’s okay, you’re okay.” Bobby’s voice came muffled through the snap of the emotional whips that were lashing at him persistently, each leaving its own brand of crossed tragedy into Buck’s skin. He almost thought if he looked hard enough, he could see the gruesome patterns of each welt, spilling more of his lifeblood forth onto the waxen tiles, staining it in vivid crimson.
They sat on the linoleum floor for a long while. Even as drained as he was, Buck was cognizant of how long he’d been out there, because he’d promised Eddie.
“When the apartment building went up in flames...” Bobby began lowly, hands linked in his lap from where he was seated next to Buck. “I was drunk, still on the roof. Only the chaos of the firetrucks managed to stir me. Not even the tell-tale stench of smoke, or the sudden spike in temperature, or the screaming of tenants beneath me.”
“Bobby, you don’t have to-”
“Let me say this, Buck. I want you to understand something,” he said, not unkindly. Buck fell silent, listening raptly. “Once it registered, I was stumbling to the eleventh floor, uncaring about anything and everything. The only thing that mattered was that my family was safe.
“I wasn’t unlike you today, Buck. Seeing you claw at that mud...it’s exactly the way I’d rampaged through that building six years ago. I was yelling for Marcy, I was yelling for Brook, I was yelling for Bobby Jr. The floor in front of our door collapsed, and just as I was pulling myself up to get to them, two firefighters forced me out of the building.
“The point is, we all have our moments where everything spins and nothing’s ever right anymore. I don’t blame you for your reaction to being blocked off from Eddie, and I should’ve known you would go back at any cost for him. And I will never fault you for it, you understand?”
“It was one of the worst realizations of my life. That I was topside and I didn’t even know if Eddie had drowned or hit his head, or was heavily injured, or-or anything.” His voice shook as he thought about it. “I promised to have his back, and then I didn’t.”
“You had him the entire way, Buck. You didn’t let go of him for a second. And we can’t help it when it’s someone we love,” he said gently, sending a knowing look. After tonight, there would be no denying it to anyone.
“He wasn’t breathing, his pulse wasn’t there when I pulled him out of the water. I had him, he was awake but at around 25 feet, he went limp and-and I didn’t know what to do,” Buck whispered. “I’ll never forget what it felt like to not find Eddie’s pulse.
“Bobby, you have to know, I apologized to you, so many times,” he pleaded, turning towards his captain. Bobby’s eyes softened further. “I knew what I was doing, why I was doing it, and if there’s anything I regret, it’s making you worry, but Bobby I promise, I was just trying to-”
“I know, Buck. You don’t have to explain it to me.”
“Am I going to lose this job?” he asked quietly. He still couldn’t bring himself to regret anything. Bobby mulled over the question, seemingly picking and choosing his words carefully.
“I should’ve trusted your skills. I keep trying to protect you, forgetting that I’m still the captain and I have to make decisions that benefit everyone. You and Eddie both have ways of looking at situations like these that the rest of us don’t, and I should’ve trusted that. We should’ve tried harder, shouldn’t have counted Eddie out for the fight.”
Buck didn’t know what to say to that. It was jarring to hear the normally steady man admit it out-loud, which made this entire situation all the bit more real.
“I can’t prove exactly what you did, but as your captain and friend, I can damn well infer. Hen and Chim also have their own ideas of what you did to get Eddie back, and we’re happy that you two are alright. At the same token, I have to make a fair decision. I know you saved a life, but the flipside could’ve also been very true. I could’ve lost two of my best firefighters today. There have to be consequences...but for this week, don’t let yourself think of them.”
Buck hadn’t quite thought of it like that. To anyone watching, it probably looked like he’d dove in to haul Eddie to shore, getting banged up on his way. Except the ones that knew him well.
“I’m proud of you. What you did was insane, stupid, reckless and I can think of a thousand other words, but I am so proud of you. I am so proud that you managed to pull yourself together in record time, so you could get him out,” Bobby said softly, the exact words Buck needed to hear. His shoulders lightened slightly at that. “And if that man is alive inside there, it’s because you didn’t give up. So don’t give up on yourself either, okay?”
The conversation was cut short by Chimney coming out to look Buck over, the Asian man’s eyes still weighed down with trepidation.
“Woah, Buckaroo, you might want to go splash some cold water on those eyes,” Chim said, kneeling down to untangle where Buck’s fingers were picking at the wrappings on his hands with nervous jitters. “And stop messing with those, they’re important.”
The bandage on his forehead was wrapped in a layer of plastic anyway, but the ones on his arms and hands weren’t. He still had full range of motion with his hands, the white gauze wrapping around his wrist to make it look like he was wearing fingerless gloves, but he had to make sure not to get these bandages wet. So Chim followed him, gently lowering his head to the sink to wash his face with cool water. Buck couldn’t even muster the decency to be embarrassed or humiliated about it.
“Can you lean your head back into the sink? So I can get the stuff out of your hair?” His hair was standing up in spikes, stiff with salt, residual mud and gunk that wouldn’t wash out until he managed to shampoo his hair. With these bandages, it wasn’t going to happen anytime soon.
Buck complied, silently letting his friend maneuver him this way and that as he used plain water to rub the filth from the strands. It was no shower, but the rain had washed most of the mud from his skin with the force of it. This was as much as could be done today.
“Let us be there for you too, Buck,” Chim pleaded softly, ripping open a hospital issued towel to dry his hair and passing him paper towels to wipe his face with. Buck was grateful for the small amount of autonomy, even though he knew there was no shame in needing help.
“I wasn’t the one buried under 30 feet of mud and water.” Buck stared at his rattled reflection in the mirror, the words breaking around the reminder. He saw why Chim wanted him to wash his face. His eyes were blood-shot, blue irises dull and pupils dilated, with puffy skin lining them. His hair was semi-dry from the quick wash, sticking up in wayward curls now that the gel was gone. The bandage on his forehead stood out starkly against his pale face.
“Well at one point, you were.” The tone was matter-of-fact, but seeking. Chim looked at him steadily, arms crossed over his chest.
Buck only looked back at him. “No, I was just in the water.”
He figured the less they knew, the better it’d be on all of them. Chim didn’t look convinced, but let it slide as Buck stepped towards the door, now looking a little more presentable to sit with Eddie.
Eddie’s eyes found him the second he stepped through the door. Buck avoided his gaze as he approached the bed, feeling a little too vulnerable with this moment.
Bobby told the two of them to rest up and gave them all the next two days off to recover, and Eddie the entire week, citing that he’d be waiting in the firetruck. Chim patted Eddie’s hand and wrapped an arm around Buck’s shoulders as he left too, making sure they knew to call if they needed anything.
“Where’s Hen?” Buck asked, looking at the screen that was monitoring Eddie’s steady heartbeat and focusing on the beeps. It was a reassuring rhythm.
“Karen called, Denny was worried about her so I told her to go home. She asked us to text her if we needed anything,” he replied. “Where were you?”
“Just went to wash a little of this gunk off,” Buck answered, not meeting Eddie’s eyes in favour of scanning his body.
Without all the grime and dirt on his friend’s body, Buck could see that there were more bruises than actual cut skin. There was a small cut on his chin and nose, and another on his forehead from where his helmet had slashed at the skin. Miraculously, he had come out of the entire ordeal without a concussion, all that protective gear doing its job well.
“Buck,” Eddie said quietly, lifting his hand up again. Buck stared at that hand again as he took it in his own, the one that had saved a child without a second thought to anything else.
“Ready to get out of here, Eds?” He injected a lightheartedness to his tone that he certainly didn’t feel. Eddie only disentangled his fingers to run one on the edge of Buck’s brow, where the line of the transparent bandage was.
“You shouldn’t have gotten hurt. When did you?”
“What do you remember?” Buck asked, holding his breath.
“It’s hazy,” Eddie admitted, eyes and fingers still tracing the edge of the plaster. Buck kept his gaze on his best friend, immediately noticing the emotions playing out on Eddie’s face. “I don’t remember much after radioing topside that I was still alive in...in the tunnel. It started filling with water, and after that, things are blurry.”
“Don’t force yourself to think about them then.” Before Buck could think about what he was doing, he had clasped Eddie’s hand, pressing a light kiss to the bruised fingertips. “We’re here.”
“Come home with me tonight?”
“You ask that as if you had a choice in the matter,” he snorted, bringing a smile to Eddie’s face. The older man shoved weakly at him. “You okay?” Buck asked softly, still rattled from not feeling Eddie’s chest move under his hand.
“Between us, I think I should ask you that.”
Before Buck could think of an appropriate response, the doctor knocked on the door jamb, followed by a nurse. “How are you feeling, Mr. Diaz?”
“I’m okay. Ready to go home.”
The doctor laughed, well-familiar with the urgency of patients. “It’s a miracle that I get the honor to be even clearing you right now, but you’re ready for discharge. We’ll get that IV taken care of and you can be on your way. Just make sure you have someone to watch you over and if at any point, your head starts to hurt, come straight back here. I don’t anticipate it, but I don’t want to take chances.”
“I’ll be okay, Doc, I have Buck.” His head swiveled to his best friend, who stated it like a simple fact, a given. The sky was blue. The firetruck was red. Eddie had Buck.
“Make sure you both take it easy for a few days,” The doctor said as a final precaution before directing the nurse to take the IV out.
Buck was the one to wince as the catheter was removed from Eddie’s hand, the older man not even flinching. He supposed that after the night they’d just lived through, a little tube of plastic meant nothing.
He left the room to give the man some privacy to get dressed, posting himself right outside Eddie’s room. The coldness of the night had settled into his very bones, but with Eddie up and about, it was easing a little.
Still, Buck didn’t think he’d ever be fully warm again.
Eddie managed to get to his own feet, walking on his own now. Buck stationed himself right at his side, ready to catch him if he swayed. They took it slow, in no hurry.
His heart was surging up and down as his mind raced, trying to fit together pieces of a puzzle that wasn’t there anymore. There was a huge chunk of information that was blurry, not missing, and Eddie didn’t think he’d truly know the details until the shock of the night cleared from his mind.
There were a few things about himself that he was absolutely aware of.
His torso still felt like he had the weight of the world bearing down on him. His chest hurt like hell. His legs were stiff and cramped for the space that had definitely not been meant for a 6-foot tall, 185-pound man. His head pounded and there were aches all over his body, as if he’d been steamrolled over multiple times. He could still feel the lines in his face from the protective gear, even though he knew they were gone after an hour. Only slightly reddened skin remained as evidence of it.
There was the weight of the frigid temperature on him, protected as he had been with the wet-suit. He could still see the flashes of his son’s face through his mind, of Christopher and Buck, of his family, urging him to fight to come back to them. There was the inevitable damage that left him feeling raw, flayed open for everyone to see.
He didn’t have it in him to pretend to hide anything right now; his vulnerability was out there in the open, for all to see.
Then there were a few things about Evan Buckley that he was now fully aware of.
The other man had bandages decorating his hands and forehead, injuries Eddie didn’t know about peeking through the long sleeves of his uniform shirt. There was a desperate plea in Buck’s actions in the way he handled Eddie like he was delicate, as if he needed to be there just as much as Eddie needed him.
The other thing was that Buck was hiding something big from him. The fragile way both him and Eddie were being treated by the rest of the team already told him that something wasn’t quite right.
Only Buck had been there when he woke up. He remembered vaguely hearing Buck’s hoarse voice calling out for the other paramedics. He’d known, even completely delirious with the relief of having made it out alive, that he wanted Buck near him at all times. And he’d known, even stuck how many ever feet underground, that Buck wouldn’t have given up on him.
Bobby held the door open, holding Eddie’s arm to hoist him into the truck. Buck slid in next to him, his fingers twitching against his thigh where it was pressed up against Eddie’s.
Eddie put them out of both their misery by reaching over to clasp his hand, holding on tightly.
He could sense Bobby watching the two of them from the rearview mirror, but he was too tired to meet the concerned gaze. As the firetruck lumbered on towards Eddie’s house, he closed his eyes, leaning back against the seat.
Flashes of Hayden calling out, the press of his St. Christopher’s medal against his skin, the sounds of Christopher and Buck’s voice being the only thing that had kept him grounded enough to fight for his way out. The images surged up behind his eyelids, and suddenly, he was back underground, water and mud covering him completely.
He opened his eyes on a gasp to see Buck looking worriedly at him. That’s when he realized he had a death grip on Buck’s already injured hand, which he forced himself to loosen. Still, he didn’t let go.
“You alright, Eddie?” Bobby’s calm voice pierced the anxiety that was washing over him. Eddie forced himself to swallow, nodding a few times, then once more for good measure.
“Yeah, yeah I’m good. Just need some sleep,” he said, rubbing a hand down his face.
“Make sure you get something to eat first. Do you want me to drop something off?”
“I’ve got it.” They were the first words Buck had spoken since they’d left the hospital. He looked up at Bobby with pleading eyes, urging him to understand something Eddie wasn’t privy to. The look on the captain’s face proved that he understood it perfectly.
“Okay, well you boys let me know, alright? We’re there for you,” Bobby said gently as the truck halted. Buck got down before turning to help Eddie.
This one night, Eddie didn’t have it in him to pretend that Buck didn’t mean anything to him beyond his best friend. And by the looks of it, the other man didn’t either.
So he willingly let himself lean on his partner, something he’d done very rarely in his life.
“Are you hungry? Or can you only stomach something light?” Buck asked as he unlocked the door, leading Eddie inside. For a long minute, all he really wanted to do was run to Abuela’s and pull his kid into his arms. He didn’t care that he hadn’t eaten for the past fifteen hours or that his body was dying for the comfort of a hot shower and a soft mattress.
The only thing that stopped him was that Christopher likely hadn’t seen the news, hadn’t known his father had been mere minutes away from losing his life if Buck hadn’t found him in time. If he showed up at Abuela’s right now, looking this frantic and desolate, he’d clue him in immediately. He didn’t know what he was going to tell him, but he didn’t want his kid to live in constant fear that his father might not come back from work one day - not more than he already did.
He stood in the doorway of his home, eyes roaming every bit of Christopher that clung to their home. The pictures of him, the stray toys lying around the living room, the spare set of crutches leaning against the corner. The drawn pictures of him, Eddie and Buck that Christopher rightfully denoted to be their family were stuck to the fridge, along with the magnets he loved so much.
“Abuela sent these pictures of Christopher, thought you might want to see them.” Buck passed him his phone, of course knowing what Eddie was thinking.
The sight of his child sleeping soundly with a content smile, curled up around a teddy bear Eddie had got him, broke him completely. A sob escaped his throat, a harsh sound in the stillness of the house. His vision blurred, so overwhelmed that his little boy was safe, blissfully unaware of how quickly things had gone wrong tonight.
Before he knew exactly what he was doing, he was crying hard enough to wrack his body with shudders, head and shoulders bowing instantly as the magnitude of the entire night crashed down on him all at once.
His friend gently took the phone from him, wrapping his arms around him. Eddie clutched Buck’s shirt in his fist like a lifeline as he cried for all the fear, desperation, horror and proximity to death that had plagued him. That would likely forever plague him.
Buck held him the entire time, smoothing a comforting hand down his back. As his cries eased down to whimpers and sniffles, he could make out the murmured words of reassurance Buck was whispering into his ear.
They stood there like that for a long while, Eddie breathing in the scent that clung to Buck. It smelled a little like mud and rain but underneath it all was the warm comfort of Buck. He burrowed his face further into Buck’s shoulder, needing this proximity.
“Come on, let’s get you into a hot shower while I make some food, okay?” Buck said kindly, leading Eddie down the hallway and switching the master shower on for him. He felt hollow as Buck let the door fall shut behind him, leaving it just a tiny bit open.
They were rhythmic motions, stripping his clothes off. He was clad in his spare uniform, and as Eddie let it fall to the floor, he imagined letting the day go with it. If Eddie didn’t respect it so much, he might’ve kicked it out of his sight, not wanting to see it for the rest of the week.
He was proud that the uniform had helped him save a child, but it could’ve just as well taken Eddie away from his own. Just for that alone, Eddie didn’t want to see it for the next few hours. Or days, if he could help it.
The hot water pelted at his skin, steam rising to enclose him in a bubble of warmth. The coldness that had seeped into every nerve began to warm a little, giving way to some semblance of normalcy. His fingers still held a mirage of numbness he wasn’t quite sure what to do with.
There weren’t any more splotches of mud or crusted blood on his body anymore, but as Eddie stood under the spray of the shower, he had never felt more unclean. So he lathered up, and scrubbed at his skin frantically until it was pink, until he thought that the first layer had been completely skinned off. He was crying again as he cleaned all the mud, sweat, tears, gunk, blood from his body.
The phantom metallic taste of blood coated his tongue, making Eddie desperately gargle with hot water to get it out. There was dirt caked under his normally neat nails that he picked out quickly, making sure to erase every physical reminder of the night. He couldn’t do anything about the splotches of broken blood vessels that decorated his body, but for now, this would be enough.
The cuts on his body burned but Eddie welcomed the sting, a reminder that he was still alive. That he’d fought for his family and won.
But he couldn’t have done it without Buck.
He stepped out of the shower feeling a lot better than he had thirty minutes ago, only to find a quickly scrawled note from the man in question on a square of toilet paper, telling him to call when he was finished so he could give him clothes.
Eddie complied, feeling a little stupid and a little amused at the quirk. Near instantly, Buck’s hand was coming through the door to pass him a warm towel and a warm pair of night clothes complete with a pair of socks, evidently having been thrown into the dryer.
He laughed softly at Buck twisting around to make sure he didn’t accidentally look at a naked Eddie, thoroughly amused at the way Buck was swinging his arm through the door to pass him the bundle.
“I made soup, and you have to eat it,” Buck informed, back still to him before walking off. The smile only grew, another piece of normalcy coming back to him.
He was still shattered into so many fragments that he didn’t know where to start putting himself together. It was these little things that gave him hope that he could be whole again. If not for anyone but the sake of his son.
As he thought it, he knew that Frank wouldn’t wholly approve. The therapist encouraged his love for his child to be a very strong motivator, but not the entire foundation on which his mental health was built. It had sounded stupid to Eddie at first, who had thought that Frank clearly didn’t have children, didn’t know how far a parent could go out of love for their children. But a framed photo of two of them clearly disproved that theory.
He had to do this for himself. It wasn’t that he couldn’t go to therapy for Christopher, so his son would see a healthy male role model, but somewhere along the line, Eddie had begun going for himself too, no matter how begrudgingly he’d started out.
And Frank would be a great help in trying to get through this, too. In that, Eddie had full faith.
He threw on the warm clothes and padded outside to the kitchen where Buck was waiting. The younger man was staring impassively at a piping hot mug, lips downturned.
Eddie took advantage of Buck having not noticed him to just observe.
The tense look hadn’t faded from his expression, his eyes still haunted by something Eddie hadn’t seen. Something he still didn’t know about. He may have been out of it for most of the night, but he’d been aware of everything since they’d gotten to the hospital. Eddie, even through his haze of exhaustion and pain, could read his best friend. Buck had looked seconds away from his own panic attack, and while Eddie knew that it had taken a toll on him to see the tunnel collapse, he couldn’t shake the feeling that there was a lot more that only Buck knew.
The past three hours had been nothing but Buck hovering over him, but as much as he used to hate it when people worried excessively about him, he found that everything was different when it was Buck. There was an innate trust between them that Eddie could always fall back on, could trust that Buck wouldn’t judge him for anything.
“Oh! There you are. Um, sit, I’ll bring you your soup,” Buck startled, seeing him hovering in the doorway. Near instantly, a mask fell over his face, a cursory smile slipping into place. He went over to a pan that smelled like heaven, leaving Eddie to absently wonder how the man had put everything together so fast. “I made your favourite, chicken with rice. You have to do better about stocking up, Eddie, who keeps their pantry like-”
“Hen says you were ready to dig through thirty feet of mud with your bare hands.”
As much as Eddie appreciated everything that had been done for him, right now, he was more concerned about Buck. So he interrupted the mindless tirade.
Eddie watched as Buck’s shoulders tensed. A heavy silence fell between them, choking the air tightly. His heart pounded as he waited for Buck to say anything.
“We’re not talking about it,” he said finally, his voice tight. Eddie stayed silent; even with Buck’s back to him, he knew what was going through the other man’s head: pure guilt. “At least, not right now.”
He dragged his battered body over to where Buck was now staring at the pot blankly and in a move outlandishly out of character for him, nestled his cheek right against Buck’s shoulder blade, wrapping his arms around the other man’s waist. Lifting them was a task but it was so worth it to feel the warmth of Buck seeping through a body that felt like it’d never get warm again.
To his credit, Buck didn’t move an inch, only relaxing back against Eddie. One hand came over to clutch Eddie’s desperately, another point of contact Eddie found himself yearning for. So he pulled that hand free and linked his fingers with Buck’s bandaged ones, trying to get them as close as possible.
“I’m right here,” he whispered, staring through the kitchen door towards a picture of him, Buck and Christopher. The words were meant to reassure Buck, but Eddie repeated them in his mind over and over, still not quite able to believe how quickly his world had flipped in the past eight hours. “I’m right here.”
“You almost weren’t, Eddie I-” Buck drew in a sharp breath. Eddie’s heart squeezed in his chest at the naked pain in Buck’s voice, almost hating himself for putting the other man through it. He didn’t have anything useful to say, so he just tightened his grip and held on.
The two men stood there quietly, letting each other’s physical presence ease them just like they'd done in the entry way. Slowly, the tension under Eddie’s cheek began to fade a little, enough that he felt courageous enough to turn Buck towards him, moving them a little away from the stove.
“I promise, I never stopped fighting to come back. I just...I couldn’t leave the kid. His hand was in mine when I was pulled up, but the sudden jerk jostled him from my grip, and I had to cut the cord. I would’ve never forgiven myself if I’d left him down there.”
“I know you didn’t stop fighting but…” Buck closed his eyes, as if he couldn’t look at Eddie and speak. “This shouldn’t even be about me right now, but when I lost your weight on the pulley, I thought...so many things. I told Bobby that you could have the kid, tried to buy a little more time but he didn’t want to take the risk. I know that I would’ve done the same as you but Eddie...I can’t even explain what went through my mind.”
“I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry, Buck,” Eddie whispered. His eyes flew open as he shook his head.
“No, don’t apologize. You saved that kid’s life today, and I’m damn proud of you for doing it. I just need to know that you’re here, and you’re being taken care of and that you’re okay.” It struck Eddie what that look was between him and Bobby. Buck needed to be the one to take care of him, so his mind would fully understand that he was okay.
The thought touched him; it was a need he hadn’t seen in Buck after the tsunami. Even today, Buck did everything he could to make up for the natural disaster, even though Christopher and Eddie repeatedly made sure that he knew that neither of them blamed him.
Eddie tentatively reached out, placing a firm hand on Buck’s bicep to ground him. His stifled gasp of pain made him furrow his eyebrows and snatch his hand back immediately.
He realized that he hadn’t taken stock of Buck completely. The other man still hadn’t told him about the bandages on his hands, the ones he could see, and now, there was the possibility of even more injuries.
The warning bells should have gone off when he noticed that Buck had picked a long-sleeved shirt to sleep in, when Eddie knew for a fact that he never did that. He got too warm. The second warning should’ve been the deliberate way Buck was holding himself, just as worn down with physical exhaustion as Eddie was.
“Take it off,” he said quietly, almost scared to see what lay underneath. Buck hesitated, taking a small step back into the counter.
“Eddie, I-” The reluctance only fed his suspicions, bringing forth another bout of fear.
“Please.” The broken whisper was what got Buck to crack. He dipped his head as he pulled the shirt over him.
Eddie gasped as he took in the state of Buck’s pale skin, mapping each bruise and cut that lay on the smooth expanse. “Buck.”
This was an image that was now branded into his memory, something he’d only seen in his worst nightmares. Buck’s arms were covered in bandages that were spotting in some places, more bruising on his shoulder. There were more bandages littered on his torso but the most gruesome parts of it all were the splotches of dusky purple, vivid red and swirling blue that decorated his body.
He reached a trembling hand out, tracing the outline of one with numb fingers. Buck wasn’t on blood thinners anymore but he’d always been somewhat prone to easy bruising, something that cemented itself after all the Warfarin. Of all the memories from the past three hours, he now realized that Buck hadn’t been wearing anything but a thin shirt and uniform pants when Eddie had been wheeled into the ambulance.
Eddie didn’t realize he’d teared up again until he felt Buck’s gentle hands on his face, tilting it upwards to meet his eyes. Despite everything, Buck was smiling at him, brushing a thumb to wipe a stray tear. The action was tender, only confusing Eddie’s mind more.
“I-I didn’t know you were s-so hurt. I don’t know why. It’s-it’s so blurry in my mind, I can’t make sense of it.”
“Will it help you if I tell you what happened?” Buck asked, so willing to give him everything he needed. If Eddie hadn’t already known how lost he was for his best friend, he definitely would’ve known it in this moment.
“Yes, God, yes.” He closed his eyes, leaning into his best friend’s strength. They had already crossed the line, already gone so far that Eddie couldn’t see any of the restrictions he’d put on himself when he realized that Buck wasn’t just his best friend. At this point, Buck was not going to leave this house without Eddie telling him how he felt.
“Let’s take a seat, okay?” Buck guided him to the living room, back to the couch. He went to put his shirt back on but Eddie stopped him.
“No, let me see as you speak.”
So he complied. They sat close, Buck not letting go of Eddie’s hands once.
“A lightning bolt struck one of the electrical fixtures, and it caused an explosion that tipped the crane over,” Buck began, not looking at him, but rather at his hands. Eddie looked closely at them too, now noticing the chipped fingernails and bruised skin, fades of purple and blue. “When the crane fell, it managed to collapse the entire tunnel, sending another thirty feet or more of mud down our only access to you.
“I-I lost it. I had thrown myself on Bobby to protect him from the explosion but the second I stood up, I realized that there was no reaching you from above anymore.” His words were so pained, tears pooling at the mere recounting. Eddie felt frozen in place, dread gathering into a tight knot at the base of his stomach. “I tried to dig you out by hand, lost any sense of mind that I could use these to do what any machine couldn’t.”
Buck held up his hands. Eddie’s heart stopped in his chest at the mental image of Buck tearing through the ground looking for him, just like it had when he’d first heard. Somehow, it was different hearing it in Buck’s anguished voice. He thought that perhaps this was what Hen had meant when she’d told Eddie to go easy on him.
“I went back into the house, looked for the maps, tried to find alternate ways. I’d seen a structure like this in my old house, and I knew a little bit about how they worked. I had a plan, but we couldn’t get a drill, and if we’d tried to dig by hand, whatever slim chance we thought of you being alive down there would’ve diminished.
“I saw Bobby’s hope dwindling, the way that he had no idea what else too. They never stopped trying to get to you, but if we’d gone through all the codes and rules and policies, you could’ve-” Buck cut himself off right there, not willing to speak the words into existence. Eddie scooted closer, needing to pull the other man into his arms. Buck went willingly, still speaking. “So that left Plan C.”
Another warning bell went off in Eddie’s mind.
“During my SEAL training, we’d learned a little about possible escape routes, and I remembered that every pipe structure like this one needed a reservoir somewhere. On that land, there were only two places where a reservoir could be, so I disguised myself best as I could, picked up a few supplies and made my way to the first site.
“I knew I didn’t have much time, so I dove into the first lake, pushing myself down those depths. I think most of these bruises on my torso came from the debris that was floating in there. I hit concrete first, but then managed to find the reason the water was backing up. Mud was completely caked around the drainage. I started to hack at it with a shovel, trying to do this as quickly as possible.”
Eddie didn’t think he could speak. Buck’s selflessness always shocked him into silence, but this was the first time that he’d had it directed towards him. He’d seen it during the tsunami, seen it multiple times on other calls, but never solely towards him.
“Then the shovel was slowing me down so I started using my hands. That’s really where these came from. I took the gloves off because they weren’t letting me hold the shovel properly.”
“You dug through caked mud with your bare hands? For me?” Buck straightened, his expression solemn.
“Eddie, there isn’t anything in this world I wouldn’t do for you. Those minutes of not knowing anything about you killed me, Eddie. I couldn’t-wouldn’t let myself give up on you. And I managed to find you. I saw the red of your suit and started digging faster.
“The water pressure kept pushing us back, but we got out. I’d given you the oxygen mask, but a few feet upwards, you fell unconscious.” The words were hoarse, spoken from a tight throat. “When I pulled you from that water, you didn’t have a pulse. You weren’t breathing.” Buck’s voice broke around the words and Eddie brought him back in for a tight hug as the younger man’s shoulders shook. “It took seventy-three compressions to bring you back to me. Nearly three cycles. That was the worst experience of my life: not finding your pulse, not knowing if it would come back.”
He hadn’t known that he’d practically died, though that explained the miracle the doctor was talking about. It also explained the large bruise on his chest that he’d assumed had been from rocks falling onto him.
And Buck had been the one to administer CPR, which explained the haggard wariness in his eyes, the way he kept reaching for Eddie’s pulse. Even now, two fingers rested over his radial artery, giving the other man solid proof that he was still alive.
“You and Christopher brought me back. Truly,” Eddie whispered into Buck’s hair. “When I was stuck...when I came to, the water was slowly rising, and I was trying to swim my way out, trying to follow the lull of the water, even though it wasn’t moving anywhere. I had just reached a dead end when it did, and my life had been flashing before my eyes. Then suddenly, the force of the water told me there was a large opening. I heard you.
“I knew that you wouldn’t have given up. Even in what I thought were my last moments, I knew that you had my back.” He said, urging Buck to understand that he hadn’t given up either. “I fought the entire way, Buck, I promise I didn’t give up either. I had to get home to you and Christopher.”
If anything, Buck only cried harder, also decompressing from the stress of the day. They clung to each other, the younger man’s face now tucked squarely into Eddie’s neck. Eddie twisted his fingers around the curls at the back of Buck’s head, holding him against him.
“I will always, always be grateful for you, Evan Buckley,” he whispered, a whirlwind of courage swirling through him. “You’re the best thing that has happened to Chris and I, and I don’t have the words to tell you what you mean to me, to us.”
Slowly but surely, both of their breathing ebbed back to normal as they lay together on the couch, somehow shifting so Buck’s ear was right against Eddie’s heart.
“Are-are you...that sounds like a confession, Eddie,” Buck whispered, almost as if daring himself to take the chance. Eddie smiled, pressing a kiss to the top of his head.
“Yeah. Yeah I am, because it is. I love you.” Buck jolted before turning his gaze upwards to where Eddie was looking down at him. He watched as a soft smile spread across the younger man’s face.
“Took you long enough.” The words came out strangled but Eddie laughed lightly, tracing the line of Buck’s dimple. Even through the virtually non-existent light, Eddie could see how brightly his stormy eyes burned, still damp. “I love you, too,” Buck said lowly. He drew the other man up for a soft kiss, a reverent press of their lips together.
And it was just that easy. With three words, the pensive lines that had held him up ever since he’d stepped out of the shower melted into a bone-deep awareness that he was safe here, with Buck. The man who’d thrown himself into the depths without a single thought, even though Eddie knew that the explosion and the water would have triggered him.
“Let’s get some food and go to sleep. I think we’ve had enough for one night,” Buck said, dislodging his half-naked body from Eddie to stand.
With the sight of Buck’s bruised and battered body, the warm afterglow of their content moment shattered. Through the slight moonlight filtering through the blinds, the bruised skin looked like the darkest ink, thrown over the bright sweep of Buck’s body.
“I’m okay, Eddie,” Buck reassured him as he threw the shirt back on, hiding all the evidence from the night. “We’re both okay, just need a little TLC. Come on.”
He held a hand out, which Eddie took with no hesitation. He chuckled lightly as he watched Buck grumble about the soup now having gone cold, and how he didn’t stock his fridge fast enough, and every other fault he could find as they waited for it to boil again.
Stomachs full of delicious soup and the alarm clock blinking an inordinately late hour, they arranged themselves carefully around one another. Eddie pressed his face into the warmth of Buck’s chest, still thanking whatever deity was out there that they were both alive and well.
Tonight, they would find that Eddie would wake up gasping for breath and life multiple times throughout the night.
Tonight, they would find that Buck would simply hold Eddie as the scattered rays of sunlight broke out on the horizon, just as his own nightmares flashed before his eyes.
Later, they would go over to Abuela’s to hug Christopher tight between them, sharing an intimate look over the top of the boy’s head.
Later, they would find that Eddie had developed a form of mild claustrophobia; he couldn’t stand being tied down by anything, be it tucked in sheets or unnecessarily heavy blankets. They would find that Buck had developed a slight aversion to rain, because of how it reminded him of this night.
But drifting into sleep as they were, stuck in a bubble of secure domestic bliss, Eddie didn’t think anything could touch them right at this moment.
So they slept.