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I Still Wake Up

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              They never would have split up, except that the person who had called 9-1-1 about the smoke tinged with what they called “suspicious smells” had completely underestimated just how large their neighbor’s property actually was. By the time the various cop cars, ambulances and fire trucks had found space on the grass and dirt, smoke and the numerous small fires had started to spread from the trees and fields in the corners towards the sheds scattered on the dirt and gravel.

                So Eddie was pointed to the far left, Buck to the back of the middle, and just as they had done on every call since they finally shared their first kiss, they interlaced their fingers for a quick squeeze and a whisper of “Be safe” before taking off running. Buck swerved for a larger shed up against the woods, shadows in the windows clearly indicating there were still people in the building.

                Bursting through the door, Buck stopped short at the sight before him. A man was speedily packing piles of cold pills and rubber tubing, eyes wide, red, and full of panic as they met Buck’s questioning stare. Before Buck could make a move, he heard footsteps behind him, but could only turn slightly before the shovel was swung at his head, smashing into his helmet, taking Buck down to the ground.

                “Fuck, I think I killed him!” the second man shouted, staring down at Buck’s still body, face down, eyes closed, blood streaming out and seeping into the dirt floor.

                “Think or know?” the first man asked, still focused on packing as much as he could as quickly as he could. “Cause if he’s still breathing…”

                “Doesn’t look like he is.”

                “Then drag him out back, fast, throw him in the hole we’d dug for the empty propane tanks, toss the dirt back on top. I know it’s shallow, but should work fine. Just need to get him where no one’s going to find him until we’re long gone.”

***

                Whoever had set the fires had not done a very professional job-it was pretty obvious immediately that they were dealing with amateur arsonists-and Eddie couldn’t shake the heavy feeling settling in his stomach. Clearly he knew arson was never a positive, but something about this case in particular didn’t sit right with him. They hadn’t come across any people, and despite there being a full forest surrounding the acreage, there was an entire section near the woods that hadn’t had any fires at all.

                They hadn’t seen any other people…Eddie watched a light flicker off in one large shed, and immediately took off running. Skidding through the door, he almost ran straight into two men, arms full of bags crammed to the brim. “Are you okay?” Eddie asked, attempting to peer around them into the space they were hurrying to leave.

                “We’re fine, absolutely, thanks,” one of the men answered, throwing an elbow into the other man’s side when it looked like he might open his mouth. “Had some important stuff here we couldn’t leave to the fire, glad we’re making it out okay, thanks to all of you.” As he talked, both men continued to inch their way around Eddie, only to be met with Hen and Chimney coming up from behind him.

                And then Eddie saw it, the gold circle shining on one of the men’s fingers. “Where did you get that?” Eddie asked, voice starting to shake as he grabbed the man’s hand and pulled at the band.

                “It’s mine,” the man said as he tried to wiggle out of Eddie’s grasp, but Eddie’s whole body was shaking now, his grip tight enough to hurt.

                “It’s my husband’s!” Eddie yelled, refusing to let go until the ring was in his hand. “I picked out the stones on it to match his eyes, and there’s three stones for the two of us and our son.” He raised his free hand, clearly showing the matching band, the only difference the coloring of the gems. “Where the hell is my husband?”

                The looks of sheer shock and terror on the strangers’ faces told Eddie everything he didn’t want to know. Pushing past them, he ran into the shed. He could hear Hen and Chimney behind him, talking about a possible dismantled meth lab and needing to call in Athena, but nothing else registered but the blood on the floor and no Buck in sight.

                “Buck…” Eddie choked out, body sagging, Chimney catching him from behind.

                “I didn’t mean to hit him so hard,” one of the men called out, voice shaking. “And I wasn’t the one who said to just bury him in the dirt!”

                “Bury?” Eddie’s voice cracked, then broke, tears streaming down his face as even Chimney’s grasp wasn’t enough to keep Eddie from falling to the floor. “He can’t…I can’t, I can’t leave him, need to see…he can’t leave me, please no,” and Eddie scrambled desperately to his feet, stumbling out the door and towards the woods.

                And there was Buck, drawing in deep gasping breaths, face dripping blood, hands clawing at the dirt as he continued to uproot his body out of the shallow grave.  Eddie was instantly at his side, hooking his hands under Buck’s armpits and tugging hard, hard enough that Eddie was suddenly flat on his back, a trembling Buck plastered flat against him as they clung to each other.

                “I’ve got you, Buck, god, I’ve got you baby,” Eddie choked out, clutching at Buck as he slid them upright, rocking Buck in his arms, pressing their foreheads together. “You’re safe, I’ve got you now.” A water bottle was thrust into his hand, and Eddie leaned back just enough to help Buck take small swigs, rinsing and spitting out any remaining dirt before taking some slow sips.

                “I love you so much,” Buck cried, his face in the crook of Eddie’s shoulder as Eddie pressed shaking kisses to the side of his jaw. Chimney knelt next to them, squeezing Buck’s arm as he placed an oxygen mask over his mouth, Hen’s hands gently probing the wound on the back of Buck’s head.

                “I love you so much too.” Eddie lifted Buck’s hand, kissing the knuckles before sliding the wedding band back onto Buck’s finger. Buck let out a sob, tugging the oxygen mask to the side and meeting Eddie for a deep kiss, before Hen tapped the mask back on.

                “C’mon Buckaroo, plenty of time for smooches later,” Hen teased, wiping the tears from her eyes.

                “All the time in the world, Buck, I swear,” Eddie promised, as he scooped Buck into his arms, earning a startled laugh from his husband as he bridal carried him to the nearest ambulance.

                Later that night, Eddie lay next to Buck in a hospital bed, gently running a damp cloth around each of Buck’s fingernails, washing the last remaining specks of dirt away. Though Buck hadn’t needed to stay on oxygen, the head wound had been deep enough the doctor had wanted to keep him for observation, saying it was crucial the stitches and bandaging stayed dry. Eddie could instantly see Buck’s body tense at the thought of that dirt on his skin one second longer, and so as soon as the doctor had stepped out, Eddie had let go of Buck’s hand just long enough to wet some towels and reclaim his spot at Buck’s side.

               Both men had smiled and laughed while on a video call with Chris, thanking Carla for staying with him, sending love to their son and assuring him they would be home as soon as they could. Now, Eddie heard a loud sniff, and pushing himself up on his forearm, saw tears streaming down Buck’s face. “Eddie, I thought-“ Buck stammered out, “I woke up and opened my eyes and I couldn’t see anything, I could just feel dirt everywhere, and I didn’t know what was going on, but I heard you screaming my name and I just pushed my hands up and I could feel the air and you were there, god Eddie, you were there.”

               “I’m always going to be there, baby, I promise.” Eddie rested his tear-stained face against Buck’s, rubbing small smoothing circles into Buck’s skin. Gently he eased Buck onto his side, so they were lying facing each other. “And I also promise that when you wake up next, it’s going to be me you see, with my arms around you, and that’s how it’s always going to be Buck, I swear. I love you.”

                “That’s a promise I’m more than glad to see you keep,” Buck said, his smile spreading to his eyes, and Eddie didn’t even try to fight the smile that shone right back. “I love you too.”