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Rememberance

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It was going to be a strange day – a strange week - at the 118, Bobby muses as he starts roll call at the start of the morning shift. The first thing he notices is the quiet – the complete absence of joy and light brought by one Evan “Buck” Buckley.

The second thing he notices is Hen’s expression; a little lost without her youngest sibling to tease and mother hen over.

Bobby smiles at his team despite the heavy atmosphere. “Hen, Chim, let’s check the ambo stock before we get a call. Robinson, Marshall, the ladder truck. Collins, Jones, the pump truck.”

Yes, he himself was missing Buck, but it was only a week. The boy would be back from his leave soon enough, and they still had a station to run.

As if on cue, his phone starts ringing, and he grins when he sees the familiar name flash up.

“Hey, Buckaroo.”

“Hey Cap.” The boy’s voice is like music to his ears. “I know it’s the start of shift, but I just wanted to check in.”

Bobby can’t help but smile as he heads up to his office. “You know I’ve always got time for you, kid.”

He can almost hear the grin in Buck’s voice. “You miss me already?”

“What gave it away?” He laughs.

“I’ll be back in a week, pops.”

“Yeah, I know.” Bobby puts the phone on speaker so he can start with his paperwork for the day. “You find the 126 okay?”

“Yeah, they showed me around yesterday and I gotta say Bobby… Their coffee machine is better than ours.”

“Is that all?”

“A firehouse is a firehouse, right?” Buck replies with a chuckle. “Except when it’s home.”

“And we’ll be right here waiting for you when you get back.” Bobby replies, warmth in his chest. “Your mom said we have too many leftovers at dinner now.”

“I miss your cooking.” Buck replies and Bobby can actually hear his stomach grumbling. “Tell mom if she freezes them, I’ll happily eat them at the weekend.”

“Is that all you miss?” He grins.

“Nah. No little siblings to throw pillows at here.” Buck laughs. “And of course, I miss you and mom.”

“We miss you too, Buck.” Bobby turns off the speakerphone, putting the handset back to his ear. “Stay safe, and thank Owen for me for taking you in for the week.”

“Will do. You too, Dad.”

The call ends, and Bobby huffs softly, looking to the picture frame on his desk; himself, Athena, Buck, May and Harry. His family.

It’s going to be a long week.

 

Everything hurts.

He’s not sure how he manages to climb from the wreckage of his car, but he does, even as his body screams in protest.

He supposes it was survival instinct, being that the engine was already alight, the flames way too close for comfort – licking his face – as soon as he awoke. He’s a firefighter. He knows what those flames are capable of.

So he’d dragged himself out of the car, legs buckling beneath his battered body, crawling on the tarmac away from the heat and melting leather.

He can’t breathe.

Everything hurts.

He can feel blood dripping down his face from a gash above his eye, but he knows head wounds bleed a lot. His eyes aren’t fuzzy, his vision clear; he thinks he might have escaped without a concussion. But his neck hurts, and his chest, and pretty much everything else.

He fumbles for his phone, but it’s not there, and he knows he can’t go back to the car to search for it; too much of it now alight.

So he stumbles over to the truck that t-boned him, checking the driver. Dead. No cellphone. Nothing.

Buck groans.

They’re on a deserted road just outside of Austin, because of course Buck had to pluck for a cheap hotel, being that this whole trip was his own doing. Of course he couldn’t have just enjoyed a week off in L.A. Of course Mr ants-in-his-pants couldn’t bear the thought of a week without anything to do, so volunteered to go see the brand new station 126, and make friends down in Austin, Texas.

Of course he had to be the victim of an accident he would normally be responding to.

Of course there would be no-one around.

Buck knows he should wait for help – knows moving could aggravate his injuries more – but who knows how long help could be? He’s torn, unsure, and then the car he’d been driving starts to smoke heavily, spitting and crackling, and Buck knows what it means.

He’s moving, dragging himself away as quickly as he can, but it’s not enough. The car explodes, and the force of it knocks him down hard.

He sees stars.

Then nothing.

Everything hurts.

 

Owen Strand worries as soon as the clock passes 6pm and Buck isn’t there.

He may have only known Evan Buckley for a day, but he got the feeling – and knew from the reports his fellow captain had sent over – that Buckley was nothing if not punctual.

So when he didn’t show up for his 5.30 start, Owen got a bad feeling in his gut. 30 minutes later, with roll call done and his normal crew going about technical checks, Owen starts to worry.

“Anyone heard from Buckley?” He calls out, only to receive a chorus of no’s.

Owen liked the kid. He’d been surprised when Captain Nash had called him, explaining that Buck was due a week off, had been forced to take it, but refused to just relax like most others would. He’d said Buck wanted to take the time to see how some of the other stations worked, meet their crews, and basically still do his job. He’d been surprised, but impressed; that certainly was devotion to the job.

So Owen had agreed to take Buck for a week, and show him the brand new 126 and what they could do.

He’d arrived only a day and a half ago, and they’d met the previous afternoon for a tour of the station, and then the whole team went out for drinks. Buck had gotten on quite well with his son, T.K., and his son’s boyfriend, Carlos. All in all, it had been a good night.

But now Buck wasn’t here, and Owen was worried.

The call of the siren distracts him momentarily, racing to the printer to get the details of the call, and then jumping into the truck with his team, but as soon as they’re on their way to the call, Owen’s gut just tightens.

He feels sick, and he isn’t sure why.

He gets his answer when they pull up to the scene of the accident; a truck having T-boned a small mini.

The mini is Buck’s rental car.

He knows because he’d had to register the car registration on the parking log site for the station.

He knows because Buck was the one who gave himself and T.K. a lift home the night before.

He knows because he’d watched it leave his house, Buck waving with a grin.

He feels sick.

“Buck!” T.K. seems to realise too, because then he’s racing to the mini – the rest of the team immediately hosing down what’s left of it – but the majority is nothing more than a charred skeleton. Only the back end seems to have escaped total destruction, license plate still gleaming in the dark. “Buck!”

Owen knows there won’t be a reply.

 

There had been little for them to do beyond recovery and clearing the road, and then the drive back to the station is sombre and heavy.

T.K. has tears in his eyes, grief for his new friend threatening to swallow him, so Owen puts a hand on his son’s knee, and tells him to go call Carlos.

He tells the rest of the team to go home, and calls in for a relief shift.

He knows they can’t go out again tonight.

One day, but Evan Buckley had quickly wormed his way into their hearts.

One day, and now all of them were in pieces.

Owen’s hand is shaking as he picks up the phone.

He feels sick.

“Nash.” The response is too chipper, too light, and Owen’s hand unconsciously tightens on the phone, tears springing back to his eyes.

“Bobby, it’s uh… it’s Owen Strand.”

“Owen.” Bobby sounds confused by his call, though still jovial. “How are things at the 126? Buck doing okay?”

Owen swallows, running a hand over his face. He can’t do this. “Um… That’s… That’s why I’m calling. Bobby… there’s been an accident.”

“What?” He can hear the moment his fellow captain shatters.

A shaky breath escapes him. “About an hour ago, we were called to a collision between a truck and a mini, just outside of Austin. The mini was Buck’s rental car.”

“Are you… Are you sure?”

“I’m afraid so.” He swears then, because the next part… the next part he just doesn’t know how to articulate. “The… The mini… It wasn’t salvageable Bobby… Gas tank exploded and…” He can’t go on.

There’s a choked sob on the other end of the phone, and it breaks Owen’s heart.

 

Edmundo Diaz was enjoying a relaxing weekend with his son on the army base at Austin. He and Christopher were curled up on the couch with a film playing on the TV, bowl of popcorn in his lap.

His son’s laughter echoed through the house, and every second just warmed Eddie’s heart more and more.

Things had been rough since Shannon left them, but they were slowly getting back to normal.

Eddie was now working as a Sergeant trainer for the new recruits, and would not be redeploying. The base had been really accommodating based on Christopher’s needs, and it made him glad that he didn’t have to worry about Chris losing his other parent.

Eddie could be everything his boy needed, and more.

His haze of joy is broken by a noise from outside; the clang of chain linked fencing he’s now associated with drunk teenagers or thieves.

Pausing the movie, he gives Christopher his phone and tells him to be ready to call base security. Then he puts his shoes on, and slides into the back yard on full alert.

Their house is one of the ones to back up against the perimeter of the base, so their back fence is chain linked with barbed wire at its top, to deter people from entering the restricted area. It doesn’t stop thieves from trying though – as if they think soldiers make millions – or deter drunk kids from trying to break in as a dare.

So as he approaches the fence, flashlight in hand, that’s what he expects.

He doesn’t expect the slumped form of a man, a single hand grasping at the fence. Eddie can quickly see that he’s bloody and battered, bone protruding from his arm, face red and burned beneath crusted blood.

Eddie swears, racing back into the house to grab his bolt cutters, telling Chris to call for medics.

Then he’s racing back to the fence, cutting it open and pulling the man into the garden, laying him on his back. Protocol be damned when someone was clearly in need of emergency medical help.

The side of the base Eddie’s fence backs onto is a small back road that no-one uses unless they’re coming to the base, but it leads from a commonly used route into Austin; usually used by those staying just outside of town. Eddie wonders what could have happened for the man to have clearly walked towards the base in this condition.

There’s leaves and sticks in his hair, mud under his fingernails, so Eddie can only assume he was walking the edge of the road when he slipped down the embankment between the road and the base perimeter, landing at Eddie’s fence.

In a way, Eddie’s grateful for that. The entrance to the base was at least another fifty clicks from their position, and the man looked too exhausted and weak to have made it that far.

In a way, the Diaz house might be his saving grace.

Eddie whispers that help is on its way and the man just groans, pained eyes flickering open for a few brief seconds.

They’re the most beautiful blue eyes Eddie has ever seen.

“What’s your name?” He asks softly, a thumb gently caressing the side of the man’s face that isn’t burned, hoping to provide some measure of comfort. “I’m Eddie.”

The man coughs, eyes sliding shut, but Eddie just hears his whisper.

“Evan.”