Buck was one of Bobby’s best firefighters and almost everyone but Buck knew it.
It was like Buck was a two-way mirror of confidence and insecurity that still managed to boggle Bobby’s mind every time he looked at him. There was no in-between. Either Buck was doing something so reckless with almost no regard for himself that made Bobby want to rip his hair out or he was so effortless in his quiet doubt that it was dizzying. The depths of both were deeper than the Great Lakes combined.
The eagerness and the recklessness went hand in hand when Buck first started working for the department and it had taken Buck stealing a firetruck to help Athena save a little girl for Bobby to realize that the thing that Buck latched onto, the thing that he drank in like it gave him life, wasn’t the adrenaline rush that most rookies got hooked on. It wasn’t the glory that put stars in recruits’ eyes and slathered their ego.
No, the thing that Buck sunk his teeth into and refused to let go, was the validating praise of acceptance. Bobby had no idea who made the kid so positive reinforcement starved but he could make a couple guesses. But that’s what let Bobby know that Buck was one of the good ones. Even when he was pulling the dumbest, stupidly impulsive, most recklessstunts that set Bobby’s teeth on edge, he knew Buck’s heart was in the right place. Buck wanted to help people. He wanted to protect people and keep them safe. He wanted to shield them from fear and rescue them from pain even if it meant putting himself in harm’s way.
He was a hotheaded daredevil but he was a good kid.
Bobby was also fairly confident he was going to have to take Buck off the roster for the next couple of shifts. Bobby was trying to do better about dictating Buck’s limits and trusting Buck to speak up when something was too much. But Bobby was also fully aware that as long as someone looked at Buck and said, “I need you,” he would be there.
It’s what made him a good man and a great firefighter.
It also made him an easy target to take advantage of for people like Lieutenant Jason DeSena.
DeSena was one of the remnants left over from Captain Vincent Gerrard’s days. He was a smug, arrogant bastard who also happened to be a good firefighter. He did his job and he did his job well. He was level headed in even the worst emergencies and he’d pretty much seen it all. But DeSena decided sometime around Sal Deluca’s transfer that he hatedBobby and he made no effort to hide it. DeSena had taken Sal under his wing after Gerrard left and never truly forgave Bobby for transferring him.
But since Bobby outranked him and had proven that he wasn’t afraid to pull it when necessary, DeSena had set his sights on Buck instead. It was usually harmless and Bobby had full faith in Buck being able to handle DeSena’s bark but that didn’t make it any easier to watch. DeSena pulled this crap every couple of months before he got bored and went back to leading his own shift.
Except DeSena was a man down ever since Keegan put in leave to be home with his wife and newborn after a hard birth. DeSena was supposed to put in for a floater but something always seemed to slip through and somehow, Buck was always the one available to fill in.
Which was fine until it wasn’t.
It started off small, with Buck coming in a couple hours before his scheduled shift, but then it turned into full shifts when Buck was supposed to have off which bled into enough overtime hours for admin to send Bobby a notice. When Bobby had told DeSena he’d assigned a temporary floater to B shift, stepping in to be the bad guy so Buck didn’t have to put himself in the middle of anything, that should’ve been the end of it. But then DeSena called Buck in after benching the floater on his first shift and from there DeSena started working Buck hard.
Not that Buck would say anything. Buck was all smiles and endless energy when Bobby was around.
It was when he didn’t think Bobby was around that Bobby saw how the smiles would wane and his shoulders would droop and his eyes would dim with a tired stutter.
Now, Buck’s hours with DeSena were bleeding into his actual shift and DeSena was pushing all of Bobby’s buttons just short of pushing the major one.
“Appreciate you being a team player, Buckley,” DeSena would say after Buck would stumble from one shift to another and would send Bobby a knowing smirk whenever Buck preened under the praise a little.
But then Buck came back soaking wet and shivering. Bobby nearly ground his teeth down to the root with how hard he was clenching his jaw.
“Sorry, Bobby,” Buck said with a pitiful puddle pooling at his feet. “Call ran over. Let me just cha---”
“Go ahead and shower then get in a nap, Buck.”
The look of relief Buck shot him was enough to clue Bobby in on just what kind of shift DeSena had put him through.
DeSena dropped down from the truck and watched Buck leave.
“Good job today, Buckley!”
Buck stiffened for one faltered step before he kept walking and disappeared to shower.
The weight of whatever had gone unspoken fell flat on the ground with a shuddering impact that Bobby felt beneath his boots.
“If there was one worth you knowing,” DeSena said, swinging his gaze back at Bobby. “I would’ve told you.”
Bobby watched as DeSena’s crew pointedly steered clear of their conversation, with eyes planted on the ground as they hurried off to the locker room themselves.
Something had happened.
Bobby knew it deep in his bones and he fixed DeSena with a look. If Buck was going to be off his game for the rest of his shift then Bobby needed to know and he knew DeSena knew that.
DeSena shrugged, his eyes like flint.
“Buckley just needed a little reminder that he’s a team player, is all.”
And that didn’t sound like Buck at all or, at least, not any more. Bobby worked his jaw open to speak but DeSena shook his head.
“Save it, Bobby,” DeSena said. “You’re too soft with the kid and we all know it. He’s wasted with you holding his leash. Have a good shift.”
DeSena slapped his hand against Bobby’s shoulder with a smirk and then walked away.
Buck dropped his chin to his chest as the water from the shower cascaded down over his head and tried to ease some warmth back into his shoulders.
It wasn’t working.
Buck was so tired that it wasn’t even funny. His muscles ached down to the very center of his being and the ringing in his ears only increased the crescendo the longer he stayed under the water. He still shivered even when the water turned so hot that the steam was thick and his skin a little red. The headache he’d woken up with had started at the base of his skull and crept into his temples as the day went on only to crank up from manageable to almost unbearable the moment he’d smacked into the frigid ice water.
He didn’t want to admit that his shift with DeSena had been close to the shift from Hell but... it was close. DeSena had ridden them hard and ridden Buck even harder before putting him up wet.
Buck wasn’t one to complain when it came to a challenge, but there’d been something a little cruel and rubbing in DeSena’s idea of a challenge that day. The telling off he gave Buck that morning hadn’t helped either.
The embarrassment flooded him with a warm blush that disappeared beneath the pink color of his skin from the heat of his shower and left him woozy from his headache.
Buck bit out a curse and dropped his forehead against the cool tile in front of him.
Bobby looked mad. Was he mad? DeSena made it no secret that he didn’t like Bobby but Buck didn’t understand what he did. He’d shown up to work when called. He’d been a part of the team. He’d done is job.
But that morning conversation on the phone had hung around Buck for the rest of the day like a bad smell and the fumes of it had made him tired and cranky and just...
Buck bit his lip and stopped himself from going down that path. All that served to do was make him more miserable and more tired and his team didn’t deserve that. He owed them his best and brightest and Buck wasn’t about to let DeSena ruin that.
Buck rolled his shoulders beneath the spray and got to work on cleaning himself up.
The humidity of the showers made the tightness of Eddie’s skin feel clammy underneath the polyester of his uniform but no one else was there so he pushed through the uncomfortable dampness anyway. Buck’s skin, which he was becoming intimately familiar with every passing second, was rubbed pink from the heat of the water.
“Hey,” Eddie said as Buck swung a towel across his hips.
Buck looked up at him and Eddie knew in an instant that he’d made the right decision to check on him.
Buck’s lip pouted out just a little before Eddie was pulling him close. Buck tucked his head into Eddie’s neck, his nose still cold despite only just getting out of the shower, and curled into Eddie’s embrace like he wanted to burrow under Eddie’s skin. The rest of his skin was still warm to the touch but Buck shivered anyway.
Buck had sounded resigned when he’d called to cancel their breakfast date they’d planned for after Eddie dropped Chris off at school and before their shift together. He’d been working nonstop and it’d been fine for a while. Give Buck the choice and he would’ve moved into the station permanently. But everyone had their limits and Eddie had been watching Buck creep up more and more to his. The bounce in his step started to drag behind him and their last date night had ended with Buck falling asleep against him in the middle of their midnight dinner. Their breakfast was supposed to make up for Buck snoring on his shoulder even though Eddie had told him not to worry.
He could hear over the phone how exhausted Buck was but seeing it in person was even worse.
A pitiful whine slipped out before Buck could catch it which would tell anyone just how worn out he truly was.
“I’m so tired.” Buck mumbled. “I don’t know what I did to piss DeSena off but---”
“It’s not you. He’s mad at Bobby again.” Eddie frowned as Buck continued to shudder against him. “Do you want me to see if Bobby will let you go?”
Predictably, Buck shook his head and then pulled himself away from Eddie’s embrace.
“I just need a nap.”
Buck sniffed and snatched his t-shirt up from the pile of things on the counter.
Eddie frowned. Buck wouldn’t meet his eyes which he only did when he was trying to hide something. Buck was an open book but one that blurred the words when he didn’t want to be completely honest. You could see there were words on the page but you couldn’t quite read what they said unless you knew how to look.
It was a self-protective instinct Eddie had picked up on when they started dating. Buck’s deflection and ability to withdraw without seeming like he was had been jarring to witness when Eddie realized how often it would happen. How he would avoid conflict even when it was something as simple as who picked the restaurant last.
“It was just easier that way when growing up,” Buck had said when Eddie asked him about it. “It was that or listen to everyone fighting for hours.”
Eddie stepped back into Buck’s space and Buck shifted, his eyes firmly on the counter.
“Buck,” he said and cupped the back of Buck’s neck when he dipped his head. “Buck, hey.”
His skin was warm under Eddie’s hand, flushed from the heat or what Eddie was starting to guess was embarrassment.
“Buck, did something else happen?”
Buck cleared his throat. “It’s fine, Eddie.”
It was not fine and Eddie didn’t need x-ray vision to see that. Buck was withdrawing into himself and shook his head like he was trying to clear it from whatever sticky nasty thing that was clinging onto his shoulders and darkening his mood.
“Talk to me,” Eddie pressed. “What happened?”
Buck let out a low chuckle as he rolled his eyes but the laughter that normally lit his face was gone. In its place was something resigned and just a little bitter and bitterness had no business souring Buck’s sweetness.
Buck looked at him, his eyes glassy but guarded. Eddie knew Buck had trouble controlling his emotions on a good day and Eddie also knew that Buck had just gone through a series of bad days but this was something different. There was hurt there bleeding into the edges of his resolve and the sight of it flooded Eddie with worry.
“Later,” Buck said with a shake of his head and a quick glance over his shoulder.
Later meaning it had something to do with work. Later meant ‘not at the firehouse’ where the chances of them being overheard increased tenfold.
He knew Buck was working on being more honest with his feelings; was learning that it was okay to speak up for himself when something bothered him. But it was still a murky place to navigate when they were at work. Their friends meant well but they were problem solvers at heart and sometimes Buck just wanted to express something without having to dissect and fix every dark speck on his otherwise positive spirits.
Eddie knew he should push because the rawness of the hurt was palpable in Buck’s gaze but he’d respect Buck needing some space to air out his grievances.
Buck shot him a grateful smile and leaned until Eddie took most of his weight. Eddie could practically feel the exhaustion leaking off of Buck as he shivered again despite the heat.
But then Buck was sneaking a quick kiss with that shy, bashful smile of his as if he still couldn’t believe that he got to do that--- a feeling that was mutual--- before he was pulling away and slipping on a LAFD hoodie.
A hoodie… that Eddie knew very well.
“Is that mine?”
Buck froze before his lips curled upward in an innocent grin. A grin that made Eddie a little weak in the knees and Buck knew it.
“You’re going to stretch out the shoulders.” Eddie grumbled as he pushed himself up off the counter.
Buck bit his lip and shrugged. He sniffed and pulled the hood up to cover his still wet curls, peering beneath the fabric as it slipped over his eyes and onto his nose. Eddie eyed him for a moment, still trying to pinpoint what was pinging his radar, but unable to detect anything worrisome. Buck was a little pale but he’d barely had a minute to himself, let alone a minute to actually sleep a full night’s worth of rest judging by the deep, dark circles under his eyes. His cheeks were flushed but Eddie could still feel the heat of the shower on the back of his own neck. Buck liked scolding hot showers--- something Eddie didn’t understand because it seemed like his feet were always freezing--- so he would be a little pink for a while.
Eddie pushed the hood back up so he could see Buck’s face and cupped the back of his neck to kiss that pink spot on his brow. Buck blinked owlishly at him, losing a battle against the promise of a nap, and Eddie shook his head.
“Go take a nap. I’ll come get you for dinner.”
Buck hummed as Eddie pulled him in for another kiss and then one more because felt like Buck needed it.
Thankfully, it was looking like it was going to be a quiet evening though, nobody dared to say that out loud. And with the end of the work day approaching that could very well change. Businesses were closing and people were shredding their work personas for something a little looser and easier to breathe in. Not only that but the clouds in the sky were threatening rain. Rain that the weather channel promised would pass over the city without a drop.
Bobby would believe that when he saw it.
All it took was one impatient driver hurrying to get home for a pile up to happen on the freeway.
They hadn’t received any calls so they took the time to restock the ambulance and run inventory on their equipment. Buck had been asleep for a few hours and Eddie had taken a quick break to go check on him while Bobby started to get ready to make dinner.
But, first, he needed to finish compiling everything he would need to get DeSena off Buck’s case.
He wished sometimes that Buck wouldn’t be so damn agreeable. He knew it came from a good place and perhaps, a misguided push to appear valuable as if he was afraid of being forgotten, but Buck could only run on empty for so long before he burnt out and that was the exact opposite of what Bobby wanted. Despite whatever insecurities and doubts floated in the kid’s head, Buck was the heart at the very center of their team. He was integral to the way they moved and operated in the eye of any storm. And he loved that Buck was ready to hammer the drum for them to keep on going. Bobby knew what it was like to feel useless and he didn’t want that for Buck. But even though Buck was there, present in the moment during his shift, he was drained and that essentially put Bobby a man down.
He was going to have to go to the chief. He’d talk to Buck when he woke up but DeSena was leaving him with no choice. Buck wasn’t some Halligan shared by the house for DeSena to take and slam against a brick wall only to return to Bobby banged up and bruised.
Eddie’s brows disappeared into his hairline as he stepped out of the bunk room and caught Bobby waiting.
“How’s he doing?” Bobby asked after Eddie closed the door quietly behind him.
Eddie rolled his head side to side as he shrugged. “Still out like a light.”
Bobby pressed his lips together and nodded. Buck had been nothing more than a lump of blankets and blond hair when he’d gone in to check on him earlier.
“You know how much of the shift he picked up?”
Eddie bit his lip which, Eddie only did when he was trying to think of how much to say without snitching on Buck completely, and while Bobby could appreciate the commitment, he needed to know. He didn’t like putting Eddie in the middle but there was no way he was going to let Buck finish out the shift if he was essentially on his fourth twenty four hour shift.
“Nearly the whole shift, Cap.” Eddie relented. “I think he came in at about seven?”
Bobby swore as he did the math. Buck hadn’t had a full night’s worth of sleep in days which was not only wrong, but it was dangerous too.
“All right,” Bobby said. “Let him sleep but when he wakes up, I’m cutting him loose if---”
Hearing the words ‘walking wounded’ is similar to the sound of a starter pistol misfiring. Most firehouses had a reputation as a safe haven in communities where emergency services were given to the best of their abilities, no questions asked. That usually only applied to abandoned infants, which thankfully Bobby hadn’t had to deal with his tenure in Los Angeles, but sometimes people figured it would be faster to walk to help than it was to call for it. It wasn’t exactly a common occurrence for the 118 but it happened. Everyone stopped and watched as four men hurried into the station, calling for help as two of them carried in one covered in blood. Hen and Chimney meet them at the threshold with their kits.
“Oh geez,” Chimney said when he got close enough to see the damage. “We got a gunshot wound. Eddie! I’m going to need some help over here.”
Eddie rushed over at the call and helped Hen ease their victim down as Chim slipped on some gloves.
“No exit wound.”
“Pulse is weak but steady. Can you tell me your name?” Hen asked with a soothing smile as the young man, who couldn’t have been older than somewhere in his mid-twenties, groaned.
“Noah,” The oldest of the quartet said. “His name is Noah.”
“Dallas… hurts…” Noah gasped out as his body tensed through another wave of pain.
“What do you need, Chim?” Bobby asked as he settled to the side.
“We’re going to have to transport sooner rather than later, Cap.”
One of the men standing turned to Bobby. “You’re the captain?”
Bobby gave him a tight nod and assessed the remaining standing party. No one else seemed injured and other than the paleness of his face--- a stark against the speckled blood across his cheek--- the one who spoke seemed fine.
“Yes. Mind telling me what happened?”
Something shifted in the mood and before Bobby could recognize the drop of his stomach, a gun was leveled at his head.
“Oh, well that was easy,” the man said with a shrug. “And yes, I do mind.”
Chim’s boots squeaked out from under him as his friend grabbed Chim by the collar and shoved a gun against his temple with a vicious grin. The oldest man lifted his own gun calmly and aimed straight at Eddie and Hen.
A firehouse was rarely without a murmuring of activity that thrummed like a pulse even as they slept but, in that moment, everyone stilled as if the pulse stuttered out of rhythm.
Bobby took in the steadiness of the gun aimed at his head and the unsteadiness of the gun aimed at Chimney’s. Nobody moved as they waited for Bobby’s cue on what to do.
Bobby raised his hands and met the gunman’s gaze.
“We’ll help your friend,” Bobby said with a familiar calmness he settled under like the weight of his turnout coat. “There’s no need---”
“Get all your people for a line up, Captain.”
Eddie gritted his teeth as he watched everyone move into a slow, hesitant line up at Bobby’s command. Bobby and Chim had been dragged into the center of the station for everyone to see as the gunmen ordered everyone to put their hands up.
“That means you too,” the older man, Dallas, said with a nudge of his gun in Eddie’s direction.
“Eddie was a combat medic in the army,” Hen snapped. “If you’re expecting us to do some kind of kitchen table operation, I’m going to need him.”
Dallas’s eyes darted between Hen and Eddie like two solid black lasers of steel before softening as he looked down at Noah. Noah’s skin was nearly translucent with how pale from blood loss he was. His face crumbled with another wave of agony that had him arching on the ground in a soundless cry. Not that Eddie could blame him. If the bullet was still lodged somewhere in his muscle then Eddie knew exactly what he was feeling.
Dallas grabbed the bag at his side and pulled out a roll of duct tape before tossing it to Hen.
“Tie his hands behind his back,” he said with a nod to Eddie.
“He can talk you through it,” Dallas said before he aimed his gun at Eddie’s forehead. “Keep your hands flat and cross them at the wrists behind you. “
Eddie clenched his jaw and turned, crossing his wrists behind him. The sound of the duct tape ripping startled almost everyone and Bobby’s worried gaze swung around to them as Hen wrapped Eddie’s hands together.
“Is this everyone, Captain Nash?”
Eddie could hear the chorus of Buck’s name like he could read everyone’s thoughts.
Eddie prayed. He prayed that for once, Buck would just sleep through the whole ordeal, oblivious to the danger. The bunk room entrance was tucked away in the back for privacy and would look just like another storage closet for anyone who didn’t know where to look.
Bobby made a show of checking everyone, casting a quick glance at Eddie and Hen, before he nodded.
“Everyone’s accounted for.”
“Excellent,” the leader said. “Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Braden. My friend here with a gun to your associate’s head is Trevor and over there is Dallas and Noah. If you all behave, we’ll be out of your hair in less than an hour with nobody getting hurt and this little pit stop will be the last time you have to see our faces.”
Braden got to work on closing the bay doors as Trevor had Chimney collecting everyone’s phones, smartwatches, and pocketknives. Hen murmured an apology as she took Eddie’s watch and phone and slid it across the floor with the others, probably adding a few more scratch marks across the screen in the process. Once everyone had been frisked and had their hands tied similar to Eddie’s, the crew was split up and shoved into a supply closet, the locker rooms, and even the showers until all that was left were Chim, Hen, Bobby, and Eddie. Everything was done in a matter of minutes and shackled them to their knees with near perfect precision.
“All right, Captain Nash,” Braden said as he gave Bobby a little shove. “You and I are going to go take your station offline for maintenance.”
Bobby’s face was grim but he lifted his hands in the air and walked into his office to comply while Trevor shoved Chimney to the floor beside them.
“Get to work.”
“He needs a hospital,” Hen said, sharp and brave for someone who had two guns pointed at her head.
“Did I ask?” Trevor sneered. “No.”
Hen opened her mouth to argue and Eddie understood the impulse. Criminals or not, Noah was in bad shape and young enough for them all to hate to see it. Hen never met an obstacle that stood in her way that she would allow to stop her from doing her job.
But Eddie wasn’t about to let his friends get shot in front of him.
People used to ask how Eddie stayed so calm under pressure and he always responded, “At least, no one is shooting at us.”
Well, now that was a real possibility.
“We need to lie him on his back,” Eddie said, ignoring the way Hen’s eyes cut to him in surprise and the low, growing ringing in his ears.
“You know you don’t have to do this, right?” Bobby pointed out as he eased down into his rarely used office chair at the direction of Braden’s nudge. “You can leave your friend with us and get out of here. We’ll take him to the hospital, no questions asked.”
“Sorry Captain Nash but that’s not part of our contingency plan,” Braden said. “Pick up the radio.”
“No one will stop you. I give you my word, the three of you can leave right now, and no one has to get hurt—“
Braden moved like a panther, smooth and steady as he pointed the gun against Bobby’s temple.
“No one will get hurt if you do as I say and tell dispatch you’re going offline for the next hour and nothing more.”
Bobby held up his hand and nodded, casting a quick look out his office door. Eddie was talking Hen and Chim through some patch work job with his hands tied behind him but with a calmness that he was known for settled over him. Still, even from far away Bobby could see the rigid tenseness of his shoulders and the sharp jut of his jaw as he worked with a gun to his head. They didn’t get many gunshot victims in their district but Chim and Hen had still seen their fair. The three of them moved in the effortless tandem.
“Now, Captain Nash,” Braden said.
Bobby nodded and lifted the radio into his hands. He took a deep, calming breath and pressed down on the com.
“Dispatch this is Captain Nash, 118.”
“Go ahead 118.”
“We’re going to be taken offline for the next hour for maintenance with our rig.”
“Copy that 118. Do you need us to send someone out?”
A civilian to add to the collection of hostages was the last thing they needed.
Bobby shook his head. “Negative dispatch. We should be able to handle it on our own. We’ll radio a request when we’re back up and running.”
The silence that followed was damning and Bobby’s pulse stuttered into a rumble against his throat as he waited. Braden pushed the barrel of his gun against Bobby’s temple, searing the mouth of it into his skin, and making him grit his teeth together in anticipation.
Being captain meant his team depended on him for a multitude of things. They relied on him to prop them up when things got too heavy and to guide them when everything felt like it was crashing around them. He was honored every day by their trust in him.
But none of that mattered if he got them all killed simply because he couldn’t sell a lie over the radio. Braden and his crew weren’t frantic and rash. They were calm, calculated, and the mention of a contingency plan suggested that they were more thorough than most bank robbers or thieves. They’d planned this. Planned it down to every nitty gritty detail including singling Bobby out.
Bobby wouldn’t make the mistake of underestimating them.
He couldn’t afford to.
He had one job and that was to keep those people under his care alive.
“Copy that 118.”
Bobby released a shaky breath as Braden snatched his radio from him.
“Good job,” Braden said with a hint of a laugh in his voice.
A hand fisted the fabric of Bobby’s uniform and pulled him from his chair.
“Hands in the air, Captain Nash.”
Bobby complied and allowed Braden to steer him back into the center of the bay before he was shoved onto his knees and instructed to put his hands on his head.
Hen, Chim, and Eddie shot Bobby a quick look before they returned to trying to stabilize Noah as the towels beneath him grew more and more saturated with his blood. Bobby scanned the extent of his injuries and bit down a curse. He couldn’t have been much older than when Buck first started working at the 118. His dark, tuft hair was still soft against a face that had some baby fat that filled his cheeks.
He needed a hospital. Badly.
“Trevor,” Braden said. “Search these trucks and get what we need. Dallas, you go disable the GPS in that ambulance.”
Trevor, out of the four of their guests, was the one Bobby was worried about the most. He was tall and packed with muscles but had the wild glint in his expression that was like a fuse that would ignite at the smallest of sparks. Dallas, Bobby suspected, had to be former military. The premature grey of his hair was cropped sharp and close to his scalp and his eyes were tight with wrinkles as if he’d spent years beating against the sun. Braden, the most unassuming of the quartet, appeared to be the leader and settled into the routine of everything.
Bobby glanced at Noah again.
“Your friend needs a hospital.”
Dallas’s mouth pressed into a tight line as he cut a glance at Braden. Bobby quickly filed that bit of information away.
“He’ll be fine,” Braden said. “Let’s get to work, Dallas.”
Dallas turned without further prompting and opened the hood of the ambulance before disappearing into the depths to disable the GPS.
Trevor was taking a great deal of enjoyment over getting to ransack their rigs as he dropped an armful of turnout coats, LAFD t-shirts, a couple of radios, and even an axe into a small pile. Sweat was blooming across Eddie’s brow as he leaned onto his knees to get a better look at Chim’s work.
“Pack the wound there,” Eddie instructed when he caught a glimpse at the further damage the bullet had done.
Noah must have been running when he was shot. It was the only way to explain the path of destruction inside his body.
“How much longer?” Braden asked when they reached the one hour mark.
“How much longer until we’re finished from keeping your friend from bleeding out on the floor or how much longer he has for you to get him to a hospital?” Hen glared up at Dallas. “It’d probably go a lot quicker if you got those guns out of our faces.”
“Okay! Okay!” Chim appeased as Trevor, the one with a twitch in his every step, moved towards Hen. “Everyone relax!”
Everyone was on edge but Hen was downright furious as she worked effortlessly to save Noah’s life. It was easy to forget that she’d been in the same position as him once upon a time.
Getting shot was an experience Eddie wouldn’t wish on his worst enemy because it was a haunted kind of memory you could never forget. The feeling of the impact, the way hot metal tore through you, it was scorched into your muscle memory for the rest of your life.
It’d been a conversation Eddie and Hen had had one of those late nights where adrenaline kept you up but the weariness of the day left you lazy on the couch.
“It’s the feeling of that scar tissue pulling even though you somehow manage to forget it’s there,” Hen had said. “Sometimes, I can go months not thinking about it and then one wrong twitch and it’s there again.”
The ringing in Eddie’s ears pitched up a frequency as he watched Chimney work on sealing the wound.
His own scars stretched across his skin and burned like a flare in his memory.
“Dallas,” Braden said, tossing the older man a shirt. “Get changed and grab a coat.”
Dallas nodded and shredded his own shirt. Chimney risked a quick look up at Eddie and frowned as Braden, Trevor, and Dallas changed into LAFD t-shirts and each grabbed a turnout coat.
“He’s stable,” Chimney said when Eddie agreed that there wasn’t much else they could do.
“For how long?” Braden asked, checking his watch.
“He’ll make it through the night if you get him medical attention,” Eddie said.
“Can one of you help us get him onto a backboard?” Hen asked.
Dallas moved without prompting and murmured something to Noah that no one else could hear. Eddie scooted back out of the way and winced in sympathy at the pained whines that slipped out of Noah as Hen, Dallas, and Chimney got him onto a backboard and up onto the gurney.
“Time to suit up, Captain Nash!”
Braden tossed Bobby his turnout coat and leveled his gun at Eddie as Bobby did as he was instructed. Dallas returned with Hen and Chimney and soon their hands were tied too, leaving Bobby as the only one standing.
“All right, Cap,” Braden said with a pop of his lips. “Who we going to take with us for our ride?”
Braden’s eyes scanned the group quickly before his eyes landed on Eddie with a decisive nod. A knot of panic slid up into Eddie’s throat as Dallas stormed over and grabbed Eddie by the bicep to the sounds of protest from his teammates.
Eddie couldn’t. Eddie couldn’t get in that ambulance. He knew the moment he stepped foot in that ambulance he was dead and then Christopher---
Eddie dropped all the weight of his body into his knees and pulled down, slipping out of Dallas’s grip. Bobby was yelling and the others were pleading his case as his heart rate skyrocketed into a thundering ringing in his ears. Eddie’s fight or flight instincts were screaming at him to fight and he did.
“Me! I’ll go! Just---” Eddie was pretty sure that was Chimney shouting but he couldn’t be sure as Dallas’s hand snagged into his collar and yanked him back onto his feet.
Except Eddie was wiggling to get free and his weight fell forward and the only thing that kept him from face planting was Dallas’s steadiness. But he couldn’t. He couldn’t go with them and he didn’t want Bobby to go either but he had Christopher to think about and---
“How about this one?”
Eddie felt the ground drop out from under him as his stomach plummeted into a freefall.
“Found this one sleeping like a baby.”
Buck was hunched over as Trevor dragged him out of the bunk room by his hair. His socked feet slipped against the cool concrete floor and Buck’s long legs flailed to keep up as the pull on his hair didn’t stop.
Braden smiled into his laughter as Trevor lifted Buck by the fistful of his hair, exposing his throat so that he could press the barrel of his gun against it.
“How come you all were so tight lipped about Baby Boy over here?” Braden asked with an amused but glinted with an edge that had the ringing in Eddie’s ears whine into a shrill treble. “What do you say, Baby Boy? Want to go for a ride?”
Buck didn’t say anything but grimaced at the twist of his hair as his wide, panicked but still exhausted eyes searched for clues of what he’d missed. Eddie lunged forward but Dallas’s hand on his shoulder slammed him back onto the ground so hard his teeth rattled in his skull. Laughter teetered between Trevor and Braden and stoked a hot white anger that was growing in Eddie’s chest.
“Oh, look at that boys.” Trevor cooed as he eyed Eddie. “Baby Boy’s got himself a boyfriend.”
“That’s enough,” Bobby said, flicking his gaze from Buck to Eddie and then back to Buck. “You have me. I’ll drive you where you need to go. Just let my man go.”
Braden swiveled on his heel and grabbed a handful of Bobby’s turnout coat, pressing the gun under his chin with a furious snarl.
“You are not in charge anymore, Captain Nash!”
Gone was the easy going laughter in his tone. Something harsh and sharp cut into Braden’s voice that sent the temperature in the room diving into freezing. Eddie struggled to catch his breath as he watched the standoff between Bobby and Braden before turning to Buck again. Buck was staring back at him, confused and sleep rumpled from his rude awakening, and it was like a punch against his ribcage as he realized what was about to happen a minute too late.
“Put him in the back,” Braden ordered and Trevor goddamn smiled as he dragged Buck to the back of the ambulance.
“No! Buck---” Eddie lurched onto his feet only for his vision to black out as an explosion erupted across his skull.
Eddie dropped like a stone, his face slamming into the ground with a sickening smack of skin against concrete.
His vision pulsed in time with his head as the hot slick of blood slid down his face.
“Eddie!” Buck called out again, his voice sounding hoarse as he tried to fight off Trevor before being shoved into the ambulance.
Eddie groaned and the sound sank into the floor like it was covered in glue. He tried to lift his head, anything that would stop what was about to happen, but all he managed to do was send a spike through his skull.
People were screaming and the engine of the ambulance was like a kick to his temple as Eddie’s vision dimmed into a speckle pattern of black spots. Bobby was shoved into the driver seat and Dallas’s boots stomped past his head to get into the back with Buck and the others.
“Buck…” He tried to call out but the name was lost in a puff of air as everything went dark and silent.
Buck had no idea what was going on. One minute he was lost in the oblivion of a deep sleep and the next he knew he was being dragged into an ambulance with Eddie bleeding out on the floor. No one was saying anything! One guy looked like he was trying to sleep through the worst of the pain of his apparent gunshot wound on the stretcher. Another guy was up front and pointing a gun at Bobby. The other guy with crazy eyes wouldn’t stop staring at him and the other had grabbed Buck around the middle and pulled him down to sit on the bench.
And Eddie was still bleeding out back at the station!
“Relax,” The older man instructed in his ear.
He must have felt Buck’s heart racing against his chest. It was a wonder he wasn’t making the entire ambulance vibrate with how fast it was going.
Crazy Eyes grinned at him.
“Yeah, Baby Boy,” he said with a ruthless chuckle that stuck somewhere in his nose. “Relax.”
Bobby’s hand creaked against the plastic of the steering wheel and his calm, alert gaze locked onto Buck’s in the rearview mirror.
“Eyes on the road, Captain Nash,” the man up front said. “Dallas won’t hurt your boy if you behave.”
Dallas’s arms flexed around him in silent agreement and rocked Buck with the swaying movement of the ambulance. He hadn’t done anything to hurt Buck so far but that didn’t mean the constricting iron like strength of his arm across Buck’s chest made him feel any better. Not when he’d been the one who hit Eddie so hard that he dropped like his knees had been cut out.
The blood! There’d already been so much blood.
They had to get back to him. Eddie---
Buck surged against the arm, panic squeezing in his chest, but Dallas tightened his hold and pushed the weight of his gun against Buck’s ribcage.
“Listen to me,” Bobby said evenly. “You have me. I’ll take you anywhere you want. Let me just drop Buck off---”
Crazy Eyes turned and pushed his gun into Bobby’s spleen until he winced.
Buck lurched forward again but Dallas’s arm was heavier than an iron beam and he squeezed until Buck ached down deep into his bones as he pulled Buck back and pinned him against his chest.
Buck may not fully understand what was happening, but he wasn’t about to let Bobby sacrifice himself for him. Not if Buck could do anything about it.
“Bobby don’t---” The gun Dallas had been holding against Buck turned purposeful as he shifted the barrel to point against Buck’s thigh.
Buck sucked in a breath and held it until it hammered in his chest.
It wouldn’t kill him right away but it would make a point.
“Sorry Captain Nash but this reservation is for a party of two until Noah’s in the clear,” Braden said. “Besides, it sounds like Buck doesn’t want to leave.”
He turned in his seat and peered in the back.
Braden would’ve been handsome if the smirk on his face didn’t cut across his expression like a rift into the fury Buck had seen back at the station.
“You don’t want to leave Bobby now do you, Baby Boy?”
Buck pinched his lips and shook his head.
If it meant leaving Bobby with the guys with guns then no.
“Good,” Braden said before he turned around and gave Bobby more directions.
Buck didn’t know how long they drove for or where they were going. Every turn in the back of the ambulance felt like a complete 180 when you weren’t strapped in and it made his already pulsing headache thunder against his temples. Buck didn’t often get carsick but the waves of motion were rolling in his chest and made his skin feel paper thin and stretched beyond recognition. Dallas’s arms around him felt suffocating against his too hot skin and Buck wished he could curl up and be left alone as he rode through another lurching roll of his stomach.
Dallas’s fingers curled under Buck’s chin and pressed against the skin beneath his jaw before he hummed. Buck felt the reverberating vibration as it rattled against him. Dallas’s fingers uncurled and pressed against Buck’s cheek before his hand dropped again and he leaned back enough to pull Buck out of his half hunched position.
It helped a little but he wasn’t about to thank him either.
Buck was woozy and still so tired when Bobby slowed to a stop at a red light.
The atmosphere sparked up onto an edge as Braden sat up straight.
“Trevor,” Braden said and Trevor turned at the unspoken command.
He pushed his gun back into Bobby’s side and Bobby shot Buck an alarmed glance in the mirror. Given the circumstances, fear was an understandable emotion to carry around like a shield to cope but for Bobby it was rare. Bobby didn’t get scared. Well, he did, but Buck had never seen him show it before. He kept ahold of his fear with a tight fist and locked it where no one could see it.
The short blurted blip of the siren made everyone jump.
“It’ll be more suspicious if I ignore her,” Bobby said, his words clipped and tight as if he was dragging each syllable out.
Silently, Dallas’s hand slid over Buck’s mouth and the gun was pressed behind his ear. Buck startled with a yelp but Dallas shushed him and clamped his hand down even harder. The pressure on his face was almost excruciating as Dallas pulled Buck’s head back against him and used the weight of his hand and the steadiness of his collarbone to pin Buck. But the muzzling only made the panic in Buck flare in his chest as he arched up and grabbed onto the Dallas’s wrist. Except he didn’t have any real leverage with his feet and the hand was close enough to his nose that the threat of suffocation was nearer than he ever wanted it to be and---
Bobby caught his gaze in the mirror and Buck felt a calming certainty settle over him that he latched onto. The stress was making Bobby’s eyes wrinkled between his brow but there’s an assuredness in his gaze that eased the fluttering of Buck’s heart rate a little. Bobby gave him a short nod and then rolled down the window.
“They got you driving the ambulance now? LAFD must really be pinching pennies.”
That was Athena.
Of course, it was Athena.
Athena would know what to do. Athena would figure it out.
“Who you got in the cab with you?”
Everyone tensed at that and Bobby acted like there wasn’t a gun jammed against his liver from behind. It was like waiting for falling glass to break. Buck sucked in a breath just to alleviate the weight of the anxiety that made his muscles want to twitch into action but Dallas’s clamped fingers over his mouth was like a weight sinking him to the bottom of the ocean. Dallas’s lips against his ear as he shushed Buck again, quieter the second time, was like a hiss of the hottest steam against his skin.
“Few new recruits.” Bobby’s voice was tight but the lightness was coated over the words like sterling silver over nickel.
“You didn’t tell—"
“Just in for today. The academy is shipping them off to Texas soon. Captain Strand got a hold of them before I could. Isn’t that right, Marty?”
Braden leaned over the center console and smiled.
“What can I say? Captain Strand had some compelling leverage.”
And from his angle Buck didn’t know if Athena is buying any of it.
He didn’t know why he was even in the back of ambulance with a gun to his head.
What Buck did know is that his placement is purposeful. That he was practically sitting on Dallas’s lap so that Bobby can see him. That he was merely the leverage and nothing more. An unspoken threat if Bobby misbehaved. Buck stayed as still as he could.
“You coming by for dinner?” Bobby asked.
“Depends. You cooking?” Athena’s voice was still light. Still unassuming.
Buck wished Bobby would just call to her for help and save himself. But he didn’t and he never would and Buck took what little comfort he could from that.
“You know it!”
“Then I’ll be there.” Buck could hear Athena’s smile as if he saw it in front of him and he knew in that moment that she’d bought Bobby’s lie.
Bobby drove away when the light changed before she could question them any further and it wasn’t until they were on the freeway before Braden relaxed and threw a glance in the rearview mirror himself. Dallas dropped his hand and Buck sucked in a breath of air that made his throat hurt and his chest tight.
“Good job, Captain Nash,” Braden said. “You and Baby Boy back there might just make it through this yet.”
The blood caking Eddie’s face was hot and sticky as he awoke to the shrill ringing in his ears. Hot sand and dirt burned in his nose and clouded his lungs like a sandstorm in his chest despite the cool floor beneath him. Well, cool except for the blood.
Where was he again?
Buck had sounded sick. He shouldn’t be out of bed if he was sick.
When had the shooting stopped? Did help come?
“I’m still alive down here!”
The light that was shined in his eyes seared through his pupil like a laser to the center of his brain and Eddie hissed as the ringing turned up a pitch.
“Don’t move, Eddie,” Hen said as she pierced his skull a second time with the light. “I know. But don’t move, okay? Help is coming.”
Something hard slipped under Eddie’s chin and the cut of Velcro being pulled was like a razor against his head.
“Just relax,” Chim said. “Do you know what day it is?”
Buck’s crying out Eddie’s name was like a crashing cymbal in his memory.
“Buck!” Eddie gasped and even the sound of his own voice was like a knife to his skull.
“He’ll be okay, Eddie.” There was Hen again. Was she floating?
“Buckaroo’s with Bobby. I’m more worried about you.”
That was a lie. Eddie could hear the tremble beneath Chim’s professional mask.
“Can you tell me what year it is?”
Eddie didn’t have time to answer stupid questions even though there was a voice in his head telling him that they were important. He had to get to Buck. He had to---
Hen and Chim were pushing him back onto the ground before he even realized he’d been moving. But even their steady hands couldn’t keep the world from spinning out of control as the ringing ricocheted throughout his head with a screaming echo filling the air until the shrillness made him see stars and his stomach turned.
No… Why was he on the ground? He had to get up. He had to…everyone… He had to get Buck. The sand was too hot underneath him. Buck’s skin was too hot.
Buck… They took Buck…They took him!
“I know, Eddie,” Hen said again, her voice floating still around Eddie’s head like the clouds he used to stare up at and wish to drift away with. “I know.”
The sky was grey as night rumbled in with the storm clouds when Bobby finally pulled into a series of warehouse beside an abandoned looking marina. The smell of saltwater, mildew, and rust blew through the vents of the AC and slapped against Bobby’s face as he tried to discreetly search for any place, anybody, that could help their situation.
It was a ghost left behind by the wreckage of the ocean. There were a handful of places like this that’d been too badly damaged after the tsunami. The Santa Monica pier had been the epicenter of the worst of the damage but smaller docks and marinas hadn’t been unscathed by the rush of water either. Eventually, the city had decided to abandon the unsavable and build anew.
Droplets of rain fell onto the window shield as Bobby pulled up to one of the mostly undamaged warehouses in the center of the maze. Braden got out and walked to the garage door with the gleaming letters DIAZ on his back from his stolen turnout coat reflecting against the beam of the headlights. Trevor’s gun leveled against his temple and Bobby pulled forward into the warehouse without further prompting.
“Put the ambulance in park and then take out of the keys.”
Bobby did as he was instructed and held the keys up with his finger as he raised his hands again. Braden swung open the driver side door and snatched them from his hands. The ambulance rocked as Trevor got up and Bobby heard Buck’s pained sharp intake of air. He glanced into the rearview mirror and watched as Trevor dragged Buck up by his hair before pushing him out the back and onto the ground. Buck fell with a yelp and Bobby started but stopped as Braden’s gun pressed against his head again.
“Easy, Captain Nash,” Braden said when Bobby moved to get out. “Trevor’s just going to get make sure our friend, Buck, is comfortable. Now, you can get out slowly and keep your hands raised so we can get Noah settled.”
Bobby clenched his jaw and nodded as he slipped out of the of ambulance. The warehouse was a skeleton of its former self with sheets of steel doing nothing to keep out the damp chill in the air and large wooden beams braced throughout the open space. A table sat off to the side with piles of building plans and notes strewn across the top. Tucked in the corner looked like a couple of cots that had been slept in and then forgotten with a space heater and another table covered in days’ worth of take out boxes spread across it. Pushed into the center was a pile of abandoned crates, crab cages, rope, and some sheets of fabric. A few lanterns gave off what little light that wasn’t swallowed by the darkness of their prison and it was enough for Bobby to spot Trevor and Buck. Buck was on his knees with his face pressed to the floor as Trevor harshly tied his hands with rounds and rounds of duct tape until his elbows were almost touching.
“Hey,” Braden said with a snap of his fingers in Bobby’s face. “Don’t worry about him. He’s fine. So long as you behave.”
But that was the thing about being exposed to strangers. They saw but they didn’t know. Bobby was worried about Buck but he was always worried about Buck. Every call, every bad day, every good day. Buck was on the forefront of his mind right next to the kids and Athena.
He should’ve sent Buck home that morning. If he had, Buck wouldn’t be grimacing at the position of his arms.
Braden prodded Bobby with his gun and directed Bobby’s attention back towards the ambulance. Dallas was brushing back Noah’s hair and murmuring something low enough that Bobby couldn’t pick up on it but when they came around to the back, Dallas shot Braden an annoyed cutting glare.
“I thought the whole point of the contingency plan was to drop them off in the woods,” Dallas said with a jerk of his chin to Bobby.
“Does Noah look stable to you?” Braden asked.
“No,” Dallas said, dragging the word out and then cutting it off with a click of his teeth.
Noah looked like he was in too much pain to speak let alone know where he was. His IV bag of fluids was almost out and after the drive in the back of an ambulance for however long they’d been gone, he had to be in excruciating pain. The care and worry Dallas had towards their youngest was obvious.
“He needs a hospital.” Bobby tried, appealing to that familiar pulse point.
Dallas’s dark eyes glanced at him before he pressed his lips into a thin line.
“You,” Braden said with a light whack of his gun against Bobby’s head. “Keep your mouth shut and help Dallas get Noah comfortable for the night.”
But Bobby didn’t break eye contact with Dallas. If he could get the older man onto his side then he would have a better chance of getting control of the situation so that hopefully there was an ending where everyone would live.
“He’s stable for now but he won’t stay that way.” Bobby tried again.
“Captain Nash,” Braden said with a mocking put upon sigh. “Why don’t I enlighten you on the extremity of your current situation.”
Braden dragged Bobby around until he could face Trevor and Buck. Buck was on his knees still and watching Bobby with a pair of glassy eyes that were sharp and bright despite the heavy, dark circles under them.
The sound of fabric ripping was like concrete cracking and the heaviness of it slammed against Bobby’s heart as he watched Trevor tear off a long piece of Muslin from an abandoned sheet. Then, before either of them could realize what was happening, Trevor came up behind Buck and wrapped the strip of fabric around his throat and tied it with a tight knot.
“What are—" Bobby started, panic tripling the beat of his heart in ears as Braden grabbed him and held him back.
Trevor fisted the makeshift collar until Buck choked and then yanked him up like a locked puppet without strings. Buck’s knees buckled beneath him but Trevor hoisted him back up and dragged Buck around until he was centered to face Bobby. Then Trevor threw his fist down against Buck’s face. Buck’s head snapped back but his body jolted to a stop with Trevor’s hand still curled around the collar.
“You misbehave or give me any kind of trouble then your Buck here gets punished.” Braden nodded and Trevor hit Buck a second time.
The bleated hiccup that slipped past Buck’s lips was like a knife into Bobby’s chest.
“That’s for trying to be clever with the Texas comment with the cop.”
He nodded again and Trevor hit Buck again and Bobby winced as if he felt the blow himself.
“That’s for talking back. Now, do you need any further persuasion?”
Trevor twisted the fabric of the collar in his fist and hauled Buck by his throat until his face started to turn an alarming shade of red. Unfeeling, Trevor lifted his gun and pointed it into the center of Buck’s temple.
He wouldn’t kill him. Not yet at least. Not when they needed Bobby to cooperate.
But the threat was there, with a choker around Buck’s throat and Trevor’s arms as a leash, and it soured at the back of Bobby’s throat until his eyes nearly watered.
“Stop it,” Bobby said, his voice hissed and thin as he watched blood trickle down from a cut on Buck’s brow.
Braden circled in front of him and met Bobby’s glare with his own.
Trevor gave Buck a painful jerk that ripped out a choked whimper from his lips like it was plucked out of him.
Bobby should’ve sent Buck home. Guilt flooded Bobby until his lungs felt tight in his chest. He should’ve sent Buck home. Why didn’t he send Buck home?
But Bobby couldn’t afford to get lost in his own guilt. Buck couldn’t afford it either. He’d been fully prepared to go wherever Braden and his men wanted if it meant sparing his team a bullet in the head. But now he had Buck to look out for. And Bobby didn’t like their odds.
Hearing the numbers 10-70 in correspondence to the 118 had Athena racing her cruiser through the streets of Los Angeles as all available turns turned on their sirens for an immediate response.
She knew in her head what had happened almost immediately but hearing the call from Chimney over the radio sent her heart straight into her throat and lodged it there until she could hardly breathe.
Even though she’d prepared herself, finding out that her husband had been taken along with Buck was devastating.
Then it had been downright blood boiling. Infuriating didn’t even begin to describe the wave of emotions she felt bubbling up in her chest. She was infuriated at herself for not having pressed the issue when she’d noticed Bobby’s weird behavior. Infuriated that somehow Buck had been dragged into the middle of everything. Infuriated that they’d left Eddie bleeding out on the floor while Chim and Hen had struggled to break free to get to him. Infuriated that the 118, her friends and family, couldn’t seem to catch a break for once in their lives.
She’d raged against cosmos if she could.
But that wouldn’t do anything to help Bobby or Buck and both of them needed her at her best.
Walking into the emergency room was like stepping into the middle of oncoming traffic and barely avoiding speeding cars as they passed by. Firefighters were some of the calmest adrenaline junkies you will ever meet. But throw them into a waiting room while one of their own is behind those foreboding swinging doors and you better believe that you’ll be slapped in the face with the kinetic, frantic energy of worry. Usually, Bobby was there to help guide them through it and his absence was noticeable like a gaping hole in the universe.
A gaping hole in Athena’s heart too.
Hen saw her first and launched herself out of her chair. Athena threw her arms around her friend despite the bulk of her uniform and hugged her tight.
“How’s Eddie?” She asked.
“He’s stable. It’s definitely a concussion but they want to make sure there isn’t a bleed with how out of it he was.”
“Any sign of Bobby or Buck?” Chim asked, his face pale and tight.
Chim had seniority with Bobby gone and while he may have gone overboard in his brief stint in the captain’s chair, the rest of the house still looked to him for guidance. The pressure could be unbearable but if anyone could handle it, it was Chimney.
Athena pressed her lips together and shook her head.
Buck and Bobby had been missing for over five hours now and the further the space between their disappearance grew, the harder it would be to ever find them again.
What she wouldn’t give to go back in time to that intersection where she did a double take after seeing Bobby in the driver seat of the ambulance.
Athena swallowed her guilt and stuffed it away to be dealt with later.
“No, they knew what they were doing. They kept to the blind spots or streets that had cameras that were conveniently out of order.”
Hen’s eyebrows drifted high onto her forehead. In Los Angeles, there weren’t a lot of places where there wasn’t a camera pointed somewhere.
“How is that possible?”
“I don’t know but we’re looking into it.”
Chimney blew out a sharp sigh and pushed the heel of his hand against his eye.
“I don’t know what I’m going to tell Maddie.” He pushed his hand up into his hair and dragged his fingers through the inky strands. “She’s on her way here. I didn’t know what to tell her over the phone and---”
“Do you want me to do it?”
LAPD was going to have to notify Maddie anyway and with Eddie incapacitated they were going to have to reach out his family as well. Chimney shook his head.
“No, it’ll be better if she hears it from me. I just…”
Athena nodded. She got it. Being in the midst of chaos without Bobby’s serenity and Buck’s earnest good humor felt a lot like being unmoored in a typhoon. Braden and his crew had stirred up a storm and swept up Bobby and Buck in the turbulence of their own hurricane. Maddie was unabashedly protective of her brother and hearing how he’d been dragged out of bed only to be taken was going to be hard for her. The only saving grace they had going for them was that Bobby and Buck were together.
Chimney settled his weight into his feet and wrapped his arms around himself.
“Do we have any idea who these guys are?”
At least that was something Athena could answer.
“Oh yeah,” she said, remembering the smug grin on Braden Anderson’s face as he leaned across the console of the ambulance to talk to her.
And it was a face she planned on seeing again.
Bobby could feel the heat starting to radiate off of Buck. A fever if he had to guess. Probably from the scene where he’d taken a nosedive into the frigid water and then was forced to ride back in the open cab of the truck with his wet clothes on.
If that hadn’t been a dead giveaway then the full bodied shuddering and listless drooping of Buck against him would have been. Bobby turned to press his cheek against Buck’s forehead. It wasn’t much but it was enough for him to confirm his theory.
“You doing okay, kid?”
A pathetic deep rooted mewl of misery accompanied the unconvincing, “Fine.”
They’d stripped Bobby of his turnout coat after he’d managed to get Noah comfortable on the gurney with a new bag of fluids and a new dressing on his wound but any further pleas from him to try and convince Braden that Noah needed a hospital had been paid with a hit against Buck’s face. His cheek was already bruised against his flushed skin with the red mountains imprinted on his face from the impact of Trevor’s knuckles. A deep maroon welt around Buck’s throat promised more bruises beneath the edge of his crude collar and the mere sight of the fabric made Bobby seethe in anger.
Buck shuddered again and the wet sound in his chest was steadily moving up on the list of things Bobby was concerned about. The damp chill in the air was plummeting in temperature and settling on their skin. If Bobby was cold then Buck with a fever had to be downright freezing. At least Bobby had his boots. Buck had curled his socked feet beneath him and had steadily been teetering on the brink of exhaustive unconsciousness since. The only space heater in the whole place was pointed at their four captors and was no use to Bobby and Buck off to the side.
Braden hadn’t moved from his computer since they’d tied Bobby’s hands behind his back and dropped him into the corner with Buck. Dallas had stayed dutifully besides Noah and Trevor was watching some kind of movie on his phone with his feet kicked up. By all accounts, they seemed like they were in no rush and were simply biding time. For what? Bobby didn’t know and he really didn’t care.
“Excuse me,” Bobby said, his voice thick in his throat as he tried to keep his tone level and unassuming.
Trevor, Dallas, and Braden’s eyes snapped up at him in unison.
“Can he please have my coat?” Bobby dipped his head to where Buck was curled beside him. “You can check the pockets. I’m just…”
Dallas stood up as Trevor dropped his feet to the floor.
“Why should we?” Trevor sneered. “A couple of tough guys like you can’t take a little cold?”
“You dragged him out of his bunk without even his boots on.” Bobby snapped before he forced himself to calm down again. “I’m just trying to keep him warm. Please.”
Buck cleared his throat as a shiver wrecked his whole frame.
“It’s okay, Bobby.”
“Awww!” Trevor cooed, taunting and cruel, as he threw a glance over at Braden. “Baby Boy is trying put on a brave face.”
“Trevor,” Braden said, his voice flat. “Shut up.”
Dallas shook out one of the turnout coats and walked over to them.
“Here.” He murmured as he draped the coat over Buck.
Silent as always, Dallas lifted a hand to Buck’s face. Bobby tensed as Buck flinched back but Dallas merely pressed his fingers to the underside of Buck’s jaw and then pressed his palm into Buck’s forehead.
He hummed and said nothing.
Dallas was like a brown bear Bobby had seen once while camping with friends one summer in Wyoming. Massive to the point that he made Buck almost look petite but quiet and gentle in every pawing gesture. His eyes tracked everything and he said almost very little but his presence was always there out of the corner of your peripheral.
Buck remained still beneath his hand, barely breathing, as he blinked through the slow pawing.
“His fever’s up,” Dallas said, sliding his hand away. “He had it when we left.”
Bobby had a feeling Buck had had one before he’d shown up to DeSena’s shift but he’d deal with that later.
“Your friend needs a hospital.” Bobby tried again, pleading for someone to listen.
He didn’t know much about Noah other than he’d somehow found himself wrapped up in something much bigger than himself. But Bobby didn’t want him to die either.
Dallas stared at him, blinking once, as he pressed his mouth into a thin line. His gaze drifted from Bobby to Buck and Buck shuddered again beneath the shelter of the turnout coat.
Dallas’s knees popped as he stood up and walked away.
Maddie found Eddie in the stairwell looking far too pale to be up out of bed and covered in the stink of a familiar self-loathing. The doctors had confirmed that it was just a concussion but a nasty one that required six stitches, an exhaustive round of cognitive tests, and a lecture a mile long about not being left alone for at least 24 hours.
The circles under his eyes from the blood loss were heavy and dark but she knew the weight wasn’t just from the concussion.
Eddie didn’t look at her but she knew he heard her.
“Eddie,” Maddie said, quiet and cautious.
Eddie squeezed his eyes shut and tightened his arms around himself.
“It should’ve been me,” Eddie whispered like a confession he wished would be lost.
“Don’t Eddie,” Maddie said. “Don’t do that. Buck wouldn’t—"
“They were going to take me, Maddie,” Eddie said, swinging his brown eyes to plead with her to understand. “And I panicked.”
The self-loathing was thick in the back of his throat as he spoke and he shook away the tears he didn’t think he was allowed to shed.
Buck had been good for Eddie in that way. He held a hand out and eased him through the worst of the pain and uncertainty, reminding him what it was like to live outside of a protective shell.
Maddie wanted to reach out to him, the instinct to hold out a hand genetic between siblings, she guessed. But she didn’t know how well Eddie would receive it. Not when it wasn’t from who he needed it from the most. Not when it wasn’t Buck holding out the hand.
“And then they dragged him out of his bunk and he... I didn’t do anything!”
Hearing what had happened had brought back a flood of memories that Maddie would’ve rather kept forgotten. Josh on the floor bleeding stains into his blue shirt. Doug dragging her by her hair past Chimney’s body. To think of Buck in something similar... to think of him feeling the same kind of fear she’d felt... it had almost been too much to handle. Too much and not enough because the flare of protective fury sizzled in her chest until she almost couldn’t breathe. All she had ever wanted ever since she’d held her baby brother in her arms and rocked him to sleep as her mother cried in the other room was for him to feel safe. And for the longest time, Maddie was that safe place for him. He came to her when he was hurt and scared and mad and in need of comfort. He came to her when he realized he was reaching the lip of the drain in their parents’ house and grabbed onto her before they could suck the life out of him too.
But then he’d found the 118 and Maddie wasn’t the only place he felt safe with anymore. It was in the confines of suspenders and turnout pants. It was in Eddie’s arms. It was with Bobby at his side and under Hen’s straight forward gaze and with Chimney’s ribbing teasing. It was with his family. Their family.
So, to have someone take that from him? It made Maddie want to scream until her lungs gave out.
But that wouldn’t help and it wouldn’t help Eddie. And if Buck was there, Eddie would come first.
Maddie slid into the space where Buck should have been and pressed against his arm with her own. He tensed but didn’t pull away and while it should’ve been awkward--- Eddie and Maddie had circled each other with the same gravitational pull of family but never to the point of being close--- it wasn’t. Eddie blew out a breath he’d been holding close to his chest as the tension bled away and Maddie reached out to curl her hand in the hollow of his elbow.
“It shouldn’t have been you, Eddie,” Maddie said with a shake of her head. “It shouldn’t have been any of you and I hate that it was Buck but that doesn’t mean it should’ve been you.”
Eddie pulled into himself and ducked his head down.
“Buck would be right where you are sitting now if it had been you,” Maddie insisted. “Okay? He would be the first one to tell you that the way you’re feeling now is the same way he would be feeling if not more.”
“He needs to stop doing that.”
The grumbled response surprised a laugh out of Maddie before she could stop it and she saw the up twitch in Eddie’s lips before he could hide it. The day Buck stopped riding the rollercoaster of his emotions on an intensity level of eleven was the day her brother would cease to exist. It was one of the best things about Buck. He didn’t hesitate to get onto the ride with you if he thought for a moment it would make you feel better; if it would make it easier to breathe. As much as everyone tried to shield him from that hurt, Buck managed to slip in front of them anyway every time. And for Eddie, Buck would always volunteer to throw himself into a pit of vipers first.
If it meant the load was a little easier for Eddie, Buck would do it in a heartbeat.
“You can’t blame yourself, Eddie,” Maddie said. “That doesn’t help him and it doesn’t help you.”
“I know.” Eddie admitted even though it sounded like the admission tasted like vinegar on his tongue. “I know. I just wish---”
Maddie did. She’d spent a lifetime trying to blanket Buck from all the harsh things from the world. It’d taken a firetruck falling on top of him though, for her to see that even she couldn’t protect him from some things. It hurt to see someone who loved so openly, so broadly being forced onto a bushel of thorns.
But Buck was with Bobby and if there was anyone who would be tangled in those thorns with him and help him get out, it was Bobby.
Bobby was only just starting to doze himself when Trevor and Dallas marched up to them and pulled them apart. Trevor kicked the turnout coat away and fisted a hand around the fabric collar again as he dragged Buck up to his feet. Buck choked as he struggled to get his legs under him without his knees giving out but Trevor simply hoisted him back up and lead him into the center of the room. Bobby lurched after them but Dallas dropped a hand onto his shoulder and kept him in place until Trevor yanked Buck back down onto his knees and pointed a gun to his head.
“Noah’s having trouble breathing and he seems like he’s in pain again,” Dallas simply said as he freed Bobby’s hands from behind him.
“You don’t have to hurt him!” Bobby reasoned. “We aren’t fighting you.”
Trevor said nothing as he smirked up at Bobby and lifted his fist a little higher. A whimper slipped out of Buck’s lips before he bit down with his teeth to grimace through the pull on his throat that made his head arch to the side.
Dallas prodded Bobby towards where Noah was withering on the gurney but Bobby stopped and whirled around until he could face Braden.
“I’m not going to help anymore if you can’t get your guys in line.”
Braden pushed his finger into his brow and gave Bobby a bored look up from the computer.
“I don’t really think you have much room to make such ultimatums, Captain Nash.”
Dallas grabbed a handful of Bobby’s uniform and forced him over to the gurney.
“Did you forget what happens to Buck here if you misbehave?” Braden asked.
The sound Buck made when Trevor pistol whipped Buck shredded at Bobby’s heart. Trevor twisted the collar until a strangled bleat gurgled out of Buck and fell at Bobby’s feet like the sacrificial lamb that it was. Bobby looked at Buck, fuming and struggling to control that rage, and met the pained, blue eyes that were watching him through it all.
Buck winced as the gun was pushed against his head again.
Buck was his pressure point and Braden was pushing down on it until Bobby was numb and compliant.
Bobby turned on his heel and got to work with administering another dose of pain medicine and fitting Noah with an oxygen mask. He tried to keep his work gentle, for Buck’s sake but also because it was clear Noah was in a lot of pain, but even Bobby couldn’t suppress the wince as he took in the warm, red skin around his gunshot wound.
“This is all I can do for him without taking him to a hospital,” Bobby said once he finished redressing the wound with fresh bandages. “He’s in pain and it looks like an infection is setting in.”
“Then fix him!” Braden bit out.
“I can’t.” The frustration boiled over into his words and simmered onto the hot plate of their situation.
Bobby’s hands were quite literally tied.
“He needs a hospital where there are doctors who can help your friend or he will die, do you get that?”
Braden slammed his hands down on the table as he stood up and marched over to Bobby. Bobby met his glare with his own unflinching one.
“You better hope for his sake,” Braden said, his voice low with promise as he pointed at Buck. “That doesn’t happen.”
Buck’s brow was swelling even worse around the open cut and blossoming into a bruise down the side of his face. The flush of fever was bright on his pale cheeks and the panic was creeping back into his eyes. The same kind of panic that had blazed in his expression as Dallas held a hand over his mouth in the back of the ambulance. Buck was taking shallow, gasping breaths, pinned beneath the weight of the gun to his head and the twist of fabric around his throat.
He was sick, beaten, and scared. Buck was doing a pretty good job keeping that back but Bobby had seen Buck in some of the worst situations where the adrenaline turned bitter and the panic crept in like salt water into your lungs. The fear was crawling over his expression in ripples with his shudders and he was looking to Bobby to tell him what to do.
Braden and his crew may not have inflicted Bobby with pain from their fists and claws in his hair but they’d pinned him nevertheless the moment they threatened to hurt Buck and he’d let them.
“If anything happens to him,” Bobby said, leveling a glare at Braden. “We are done. You’ll have to kill me too. Then you’ll have two dead firefighters on your hands and not just the entirety of the LAPD but the LAFD on your backs too.”
It was a vow that settled across Braden, Dallas, and Trevor’s expressions like thunder and shook their confidence enough like the building itself quaked.
Dallas made quick work of tying Bobby’s hands behind him before Trevor was throwing Buck into a heap beside him. Buck doubled over as he coughed, the tension around his throat finally released, but the sound turned into another wet wheeze that sounded tight in Buck’s chest. Buck shuddered through the worst of it as he curled into himself, seeking Bobby for warmth again.
Buck caught Bobby watching and ducked his head.
“Buck,” Bobby asked. “Were you sick when you came in for the shift with DeSena?”
“Bobby, please, I can’t handle you yelling at me right now.”
“Buck…” Bobby bit off with a sigh.
He didn’t want to yell at Buck either and he wasn’t going to. That time during the lawsuit--- where they either weren’t speaking or their tones were sharp enough to be considered yelling--- had been a void of muted emptiness without Buck’s joy to brighten the place. But Bobby had been down the same road Buck was heading before and when he burnt out, it spun him right into a world he could never get out of. Addiction would be a battle he would face for the rest of his life. He didn’t want that for Buck.
“You can’t keep doing this to yourself. You know better. You know how dangerous this job is and if you’re not at a hundred percent you shouldn’t have---”
“I tried. Okay? I tried.” Buck shook his head. “When DeSena called, I told him I didn’t think I was feeling up to being able to come in for both shifts and… he asked me if I was planning on coming in for my shift with you and I was going to try but he said…”
Buck shifted his feet under him again and shuddered through another thick cough that he was trying to keep down. His throat must’ve felt like he was swallowing past jagged cement. Buck grimaced and rolled his shoulders until the worst of the irritation went away before he shook his head again.
“He said that if I was well enough to come in for my shift with you then I was well enough to come in and finish a shift with him. Said…”
The silence was deliberate and Buck rocked a little like he was trying to work up the courage to fight against the instinct to swallow the words back and pretend like everything was okay. But it wasn’t and it so clearly wasn’t and Bobby wished Buck would see him as someone he could open up to when that inclination to pretend crept in.
“What did he say, Buck?”
Buck rolled his lip between his teeth and sniffed before he dropped his gaze to the floor.
“He said… just because you didn’t want to share didn’t mean… I couldn’t.” Buck stopped and risked a glance up at Bobby before he looked back down. “He said I should be used to being shared… around anyway.”
He said it so quietly that Bobby almost didn’t hear it. But the words ricocheted off the floor with the bounce of shame and slammed into Bobby’s chest so hard that it was a miracle it didn’t knock him flat on his back.
Buckley just needed a little reminder that he’s a team player, is all.
It wasn’t often that Buck let comments about his previous sexual history get to him. More times than not he would laugh or roll his eyes whenever a comment popped up here or there. But Bobby also knew that he was working on trying to set boundaries and everyone had been respectful of that.
But to be slut shamed by a superior? Bobby knew things with DeSena were bad but he hadn’t taken into consideration that it had increased to that level of harassment.
“Buck---” And it hurt to say his name with that stunning realization. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Buck shrugged and kept himself tucked into that smallness like it was his last line of defense.
“I didn’t want to make things worse.”
“But by working---”
The sharp clarity in Buck’s eyes was stunning. Even beneath the haze of fever, pain, and exhaustion they were so bright and blue. Bobby could remember the first time he’d been walloped with the sheer magnitude of trust Buck gave him those first few months of his probationary year. It’d been a long time since anyone had ever looked at Bobby that way. Like he wasn’t scorched beyond recognition or a ghost in the rafters of an abandoned house, left adrift by directionless captains.
“My parents ignored me, Bobby.” Buck’s voice cracked at the admission and he was getting better at verbalizing the shortcomings of people who disappointed him but Bobby knew it was still hard for him. “Okay? They didn’t talk to me. They didn’t look at me. It was like I wasn’t even there for them and you… You see me and I’m… I know...I know that it’s not the same and you aren’t my parent but you’re so much more, Bobby.”
Bobby sucked in a breath and held it. Buck blinked through a wave of emotion he couldn’t suppress fast enough as his lip trembled and what Bobby wouldn’t give to have his hands free to try and keep him from shaking apart at the seams.
“You’re my captain and you see me for me. Who I am... even when I can’t see myself sometimes a…and I’m so… I’m scared that one day you’re going to stop.”
“Shut up and stop whispering to each other before I separate you two!” Braden near seething bark made them both jump and Bobby bit down on his tongue.
Buck hadn’t been talking loud enough for them to hear over the humming of the space heater but even still, if Bobby could keep the attention off of Buck then he would. Buck shivered again and this time it didn’t seem to stop as it rattled down the length of his spine and quivered into his limbs. Bobby spotted his turnout coat and hooked his foot into the sturdy material to slide it over.
“All right, Buck,” Bobby said, nudging Buck until he was supporting most of Buck’s drooping weight.
Buck stiffened beside him, confused, until Bobby somehow managed to create a space for Buck to slide under the turnout coat.
“Try and get some rest,” Bobby said, bullying him until Buck wiggled down onto his side.
It was an awkward shifting of weight and limbs but they managed to get Buck mostly under the shelter of the turnout coat with his head pillowed on Bobby’s thigh.
Buck blinked up at him, those blue eyes vulnerable and spent, but Bobby shook his head.
“We’ll talk later, okay? Just get some rest.”
And with the same level of trust that Bobby didn’t think he deserved sometimes, Buck nodded and closed his eyes.
Athena knew it was coming but it still felt like a knife to the back.
“I’m pulling you from the case, Sergeant Grant,” Captain Maynard said in lieu of greeting. “I’m sorry Athena but you know I have to. You’re too close.”
Bobby and Buck had been missing for almost nine hours.
“They took Bobby, Elaine,” Athena said, trying all the same. “They took him.”
They took Bobby from the one place that he felt truly at home. They stormed in, stomped all over the sanctity of it, and then dragged her husband out by his heart by throwing Buck into the back of an ambulance and ordering him to drive.
Then they had the audacity to flaunt that in her face.
Bobby and Athena tried to save their ‘I love you’s for when they were in private and out of uniform. Neither of them had every truly felt comfortable going above and beyond with PDA except for those first few honeymoon months when their love was new and their hands were hot. But she’d seen it in his eyes. The openness in his face as he pretended everything was okay.
She’d known something was wrong and had done nothing.
Right under her nose and staring at her in the face as Bobby probably had a gun pointed at him with Buck in a similar position in the back.
The thought that Buck had been hidden away… She pinched her lips to keep the scream that wanted to rip out of her in rage. Buck, who was a bone headed kid with a heart of gold and wouldn’t hurt a fly if he could help it, didn’t deserve to be dragged out of his bed either.
She didn’t know what she was going to do with those two.
“I know Athena,” Elaine said, not unkind but firm all the same. “We’ll find him. But that’s why I’m taking you off the case. And if I have to suspend you to keep you clear of this then I will.”
And maybe spending so much time with Buck had finally started to rub off on her because Athena Grant had been a rule follower for most of her career.
But when she nodded and agreed to go home, Athena lied through her teeth and changed out of her uniform before stepping back onto the case.
Buck was jerked awake with an unbearable pressure on his throat, rear ending air into his chest until his lungs screamed at him for release, and Bobby shouting as he was dragged away.
The rain outside had picked up into a steady rhythm against the metal roof that sounded like the rattle of glass being shaken against Buck’s head as his heart lurched up into his windpipe and banged against the tautness of the collar. He struggled to ease the strain but his leg couldn’t get under him fast enough. He fell onto his butt, hard, and the twist of the fabric around his neck was sharp enough to choke him again until he retched. Trevor didn’t stop though, even as Buck withered onto his side to try and relieve some of the pressure around his throat. All that seemed to do was twist the collar around him even more until Buck let a strangled sputter.
Tears slipped out past his eyelashes as he struggled to fight back, stand up, do anything except allowing himself to be hauled by the makeshift choker but his muscles ached deep down into the core of his soul as his head thundered in time with his pulse.
“He’s not breathing!”
Neither was Buck but he knew that they weren’t talking about him.
Trevor heaved Buck up onto his knees and it wasn’t a lot but it was enough for Buck to suck in the sliver of oxygen he could.
“Ease up on him!” Bobby barked at Trevor as he hurried over to where Noah was too still on the gurney.
Trevor simply twisted his fist tighter until the fabric around Buck’s throat was uncomfortably clinched against his windpipe. Bobby hurried moved his stethoscope across Noah’s chest with a steady stroke of his arm before his face settled into a grim frown.
“Tension pneumothorax.” Bobby turned until he could spot the medical kit that had been spilled over and pointed. “I need a large bore needle. The orange one!”
Dallas snatched the needle without further prompting but Braden was the one who stepped forward.
“What are you doing?”
Bobby ignored him in favor of wiping down Noah’s chest.
“His lung is collapsing from the air trapped inside his chest. This is going to relieve the pressure around his organs.”
The unmistakable hiss settled them into a vacuum of thick, heavy silence and the only person who could move through it was Bobby as he checked Noah’s pulse.
“Listen to me,” Bobby said, slow and even as the muscle of his jaw twitched alongside his face. “Your friend will die if you do not get him to a hospital.”
“So then fix him,” Braden argued.
“I can’t.” Bobby bit out, sounding frustrated and desperate.
“You keep saying that and yet you still manage to think of something!”
“I’m not a doctor. I’m not God. I’m not even a paramedic. There is nothing else I can do for him at this stage. If you keep him here, he will die!”
From what little Buck could see of Noah from his place on the ground, he was afraid that Noah was going to die regardless. After dozens of times walking up to the worst calls imaginable, you always try to hope for the best, but it was pretty clear when the trauma was just too significant.
“Your people were the ones who said Noah had a chance of making it through the night!”
“That’s with the proper medical care!”
“So, you’re admitting to holding back on Noah?”
“I’m telling you that we have reached the extent of what I can do for him. He needs a hospital--”
“I heard you the first time!” Braden shouted and the pierce of his voice throbbed in Buck’s ears and bolted into the thundering of his head.
“Be quiet, Dallas!”
Buck could feel the knife edge of aggressive exasperation like it was pressed against his own throat. It was clear that Braden was quickly losing control as his carefully crafted plan frayed apart piece by piece and Bobby was trying to get him to see that if he continued to do nothing, Noah would die.
He could die anyway with how long care had been delayed but there was nothing that could be done about that.
And Bobby was right. No amount of beating, bullying, or shoving guns in their faces was going to change that.
Bobby shot Buck a stressed glance, his face tight and mouth pinched.
“Let Buck drive Noah in the ambulance for help. You can keep me but---”
Braden crossed the space between them in a flash and grabbed the front of Bobby’s uniform. The sound Bobby’s body made as he was slammed against the ambulance had Buck jerking forward before Trevor yanked him back at his side. Trevor’s hand drifted to the underside of Buck’s jaw as he bent down beside him to watch.
“How many times do we have to go over the fact that you aren’t in charge, Captain Nash. I am,” Braden said but even he didn’t seem to believe it anymore.
“So, then act like it!” Bobby snapped. “One of your men is dying and if he doesn’t make it, that’s on you.”
“No, it’s on you because then Buck here will---”
“I already told you that if you kill him then you’ll have to kill me too.”
“Who said anything about killing him?”
Trevor’s voice settled over Buck’s spine like frost over a window pane despite the heat of his breath against Buck’s face. The hand on his jaw tightened into a bruising grip that made Buck’s head feel like it was about to explode and pressed into the bruised memory of Dallas’s hand over his mouth.
“What was that about someone saying you were used to being shared?”
Buck stopped breathing as Trevor’s thumb pushed into the corner of Buck’s lips before he pulled Buck flush against him in a mocking embrace. Bile soured the back of Buck’s throat but he didn’t dare move. He couldn’t. His muscles were locked in a petrified state of stunning clarity as the new gravity of the situation settled over them.
He didn’t think anyone had heard him. He didn’t think Trevor, who had been acting like he was on vacation the moment they arrived, had heard him.
“Knock it off, Trevor,” Braden said but Trevor just stared down at Buck with a sickly sweet grin as he freed Buck’s jaw and drifted his hand down the front of Eddie’s hoodie until he could bunch the fabric into a fist. The touch of the cold air on his hip made Buck jolt but the catch of the collar yanked him back with a tut of Trevor’s tongue against his teeth. Trevor’s nailed scratched at him through the layers of fabric and blemished his skin with lines he could feel all the way down into the pit of his stomach.
Bobby was watching, pale, horrified, and furious as Trevor hooked his chin over Buck’s shoulder.
“What do you say, Cap?” Trevor’s lips popped beside Buck’s cheek and made his skin crawl. “Think hearing Baby Boy scream will help you come up with some ideas?”
Buck shuddered as Trevor started to sway them a little and bit his lip but the whimper slipped out anyway. Hot, embarrassment burned into his face and he snapped his eyes shut. He tried to think of anything. Anything that would distract him from the drag of Trevor’s fingers on his stomach.
Maddie. Hen and Chim. Eddie. They appeared on the forefront of his mind only to vanish with every hot, smothering exhalation he felt on his face.
“What’s it going to be?”
No one was saying anything. It was like they’d been dropped into a vat tree resin and slowly fossilizing into amber where Buck was trapped in the center of a target as he waited for impact. He was stuck in the middle of desperation and hopelessness and being pulled from both sides. Insistence for the saving of a team mate and resolution that there was nothing Bobby could do. It felt like an eternity since he’d dropped from the firetruck into the station, soaked through to the bone, and promising Eddie he would be fine after a nap.
It felt like a forever before anyone did anything as Buck oscillated like a dangling carrot between them.
“I need a new bag of saline and one of the vials in that right cabinet.”
Bobby’s voice was like a beam of light in the darkness behind Buck’s eyes but he didn’t let himself relax. He barely let himself breathe. Trevor was too close and the space between them was nonexistent. Everything hurt. His head, his muscles, his arms, his throat but also his heart as it catapulted into a never ending streaming of pounding summersaults against his ribcage.
“What’s that going to do?” Braden asked but Buck refused to open his eyes to see what Bobby was doing.
Trevor turned his face and dragged the tip of his nose up the side of Buck’s cheek and chuckled into his hairline. Buck jerked away from the nuzzle but the collar around his throat twisted again and yanked him back.
“It’ll put him to sleep so he won’t feel any pain and it’ll give his heart a rest.”
He just wanted to get away. He wanted to get far away. Far away where hands he didn’t know weren’t holding him with a constricting vice grip and everyone would stop touching him. He wanted to go to sleep and stay that way until time made everything a dream. A terrible, awful dream.
“Sounds like a coma.”
God, he was embarrassed of all things. He never should’ve said anything.
“It’s not. But now that his lung has collapsed his heart is working overtime to compensate. It should buy you a few more hours but not many.”
And Buck was only tracking half of the conversation but he was pretty sure that wasn’t how any of the drugs they carried on the ambulance worked. Bobby was lying and he was lying for Buck.
A tear slipped out from the corner of his eye before he could help it and Trevor pushed a harsh finger against his face to catch it. Trevor cooed at him as he rubbed his knuckles in circles against Buck’s chest.
“Fine. We’re moving up the plan. Dallas go get us another car so we can get Noah to the hospital. Trevor stop being a creep. Dawn’s in about an hour, we’ll drop Noah during the morning rush, split up, and then meet at the rendezvous.”
With one last shake that rattled Buck’s raw nerves, Trevor let Buck go and Buck crumbled to the ground as the trembling in his muscles took over. He didn’t even realize he still had his eyes closed until the hands on his face startled him so badly that he recoiled with croaked protest.
“Buck!” That was Bobby. “It’s okay, Buck.”
Buck opened his eyes and blinked past the unfocused film of tears. Bobby was crouched in front of him with his hands held out. The worry and sorrow were practically dripping off of him but Buck didn’t care. Bobby had always been the anchor in the storm when he needed him and Buck needed that balance more than ever. He squirmed into Bobby’s direction, seeking him out in desperation to feel something unshakeable through the never ending quivering that wrecked his frame, but it was difficult when none of his coordination wanted to work. Bobby filled the distance between them easily.
His arms wrapped around Buck and his shoulder muffled the one sob Buck couldn’t hold back. He wanted to go home. He wanted to be anywhere else but there. He wanted to be back in bed trying to get a few more minutes of sleep before he was supposed to meet Eddie.
“Wrists,” Dallas said behind them and Buck flinched further into Bobby’s steadiness, expecting to be dragged away.
He couldn’t… Not yet… Not after….
Bobby’s arms tightened around Buck as he crossed his wrists in the center of Buck’s back.
“You need to hurry,” Bobby said to Dallas. “Or Noah won’t make it.”
Dallas said nothing as he tied Bobby’s wrists in front of him and left Bobby to try and keep Buck from trembling apart.
Athena waited until she buckled her seat belt.
“Eddie Diaz, do you really think I wouldn’t notice you hiding in the backseat?”
Tufts of brown hair peered up from the backseat as Eddie’s face appeared in her rearview mirror.
The small impish grin was shameless and a hundred percent one she’d seen Buck wear many, many times.
“What would you have done if I just drove home? Slept in the trunk?”
“But you’re not, are you?”
Athena didn’t dignify that with a response and simply waited for Eddie to make his way to the front seat.
He looked better than the last time she saw him which was when she’d pulled up to the 118 with frenzied firefighters bursting out of supply closets and locker rooms armed with whatever they could get their hands on while Chim and Hen, looking like extras out of a horror show, practically held Eddie’s head together. The bruising that disappeared in his hairline was black and blue against his skin and swollen into a knot that hurt just to look at.
“I thought you were told to go home,” Athena said with an arched brow.
Eddie kept a straight face as he met her stare down with one of his own. It was like looking into a mirror and Athena pinched her lips wondering why it always seemed like she was finding herself trapped in a car with a bunch of self-sacrificing firefighters during situations like the one they were in now.
“I could say the same thing about you, you know?” Eddie tilted his head to side. “Because you weren’t going home either.”
For once, Athena found herself evenly matched but she wasn’t about to let Eddie know that.
She should drive his ass home and drop him off with that abuela of his. But then she would have to worry about him sneaking off on his own again and she couldn’t afford to be splitting her attention. Not when Bobby and Buck were on the line.
“Put your seatbelt on,” she said instead. “And do not make me handcuff you to this vehicle because I will if I have to.”
Eddie gave her one short nod and slipped his seatbelt on.
“Yes, ma’am.” He promised even if it was promise she didn’t believe.
Bobby watched as it happened.
Dallas had been gone for a total of forty-two minutes and in that time Braden and Trevor packed up their things and burned evidence at the other end of the warehouse in a barrel. Bobby didn’t kid himself into thinking that they planned on just leaving him and Buck behind. The frantic, stressed expression that pinched at Braden’s face further and further inward was clear that their plan had fallen to pieces around them and now they were just trying to clean up.
Buck had calmed down enough to sit on his own but he kept himself pressed against Bobby’s side all the same. His fever was raging against his skin and the wet sound that Bobby had been worried about was laced across his every inhalation.
But Bobby’s objective was clear. Keep Buck alive. Keep Buck whole. Whatever he had to do to keep Buck from being swallowed up by the mess Braden and his team had dragged them into, he would do. That was Bobby’s only focus now.
“Bobby,” Buck whispered, cutting a quick look at Noah. “He’s…”
“I know.” Bobby nodded.
He’d watched as it happened and prayed that for a little while longer, Braden and Trevor didn’t notice.
“9-1-1, what’s your emergency?”
“You need to send an ambulance to Lincoln Marina right away. Tell them to keep the sirens off.”
“Sir? Can you tell me what’s happened?”
“Victim is Noah Lahey. Gunshot wound with a collapsed lung.”
“Sir, can you give me your name? Is Noah breathing?”
“Tell the cops I’ll do my best and try and get the sick one out too but I can’t make any promises.”
“Sir?... Sir? What do you mean the sick one?”
“The firefighter. His captain calls him Buck. Hurry!”
Something crashed to the ground with a fluttering clatter behind them that made Bobby and Buck jump. Braden ran over to the gurney with another curse and pressed his fingers against Noah’s neck. When he felt nothing, he ripped off the oxygen mask and pressed his face against Noah’s mouth.
But it didn’t matter. Noah had been dead for at least thirty minutes.
“He’s not breathing!” Braden whirled around and stormed over to them.
Bobby pushed Buck behind him but Trevor ripped him away with a snatch of the collar. Braden’s fist latched onto Bobby’s uniform and shook him until his teeth rattled.
“What the hell did you give him?”
“I told you,” Bobby said, grimacing as a gun was shoved against his cheek. “If you didn’t get him to a hospital---”
Bobby’s head snapped to the side as Braden’s fist punched his face. His mouth filled with blood in time with the rushing roar against his ears.
“I can’t!” Bobby shouted back, whirling a glare up at their captors. “He’s gone!”
The sound of the safety clicking back was louder than any explosion Bobby had ever heard in his entire career. His heart skipped against his chest as the barrel appeared in front of his eyes.
Bobby met his fate unflinchingly and ignored the remorse that threatened to suffocate him that Athena and his family would have to go on without him.
Buck launched himself out of Trevor’s hold as he threw himself in front of Bobby.
“Stop! I’ll do it!” Buck pleaded, panic making his voice even more hoarse and thin. “I’ll do it! Please don’t! I’ll do it! I’ll do it!”
Braden’s furious snarl was seething as he pushed Buck out of the way and grabbed a hand onto Bobby’s hair. The gun slammed against Bobby’s temple, shooting sparks across Bobby’s vision.
“Just do it or I will kill him!”
Buck blinked up at him from the ground and nodded.
“Buck---” Braden cut Bobby off as he wrenched his head back.
Buck flinched as Trevor stomped over to him and flipped him onto his stomach to cut him free. But as soon as the last of the tape was cut away, Buck was racing over to the gurney. He climbed up and over to straddle Noah’s body and laced his fingers together. Buck locked his arms and began compressions.
But there was nothing Buck could do. Noah was gone. Buck’s efforts were futile. Even if there was something Buck could do, Buck was running on fumes, sick, and terrified. Buck’s compressions were steady and even from muscle memory alone and Bobby had no doubt that if Buck was operating at full capacity, he could’ve done CPR for ages.
But he wasn’t.
It was fifteen minutes when Buck started to cry, his compressions still consistent but his voice cracking as he repeated a mantra of numbers.
“Come on,” Buck gasped, his voice cracking. “Come on!”
It was another ten minutes before the inevitable happened.
And Bobby knew that the only way Buck would ever give up would be if his body forced him to do so.
Buck’s compressions stuttered and then his arms gave out.
“What are you---Keep going!”
Braden jammed the gun against Bobby’s skull but he didn’t feel it. He kept his focus on Buck as those big, blue eyes looked up at him glistening with tears of exhaustion, panic, and defeat.
“B-Bobby… I-I-I c-can’t-t-t,” Buck stuttered out. “I-I… Please! I-I can’t!”
“It’s okay, Buck.” Bobby nodded.
He wanted Buck to know it was okay to stop.
Eddie strayed from the present into the humming beneath his skin as the car rocked side to side over the pothole ridden road. His pulse had punched at his throat over and over again until the nausea and static became like a second skin. His clothes felt tight and his hands were clammy but when he rubbed his palms against his thighs, his jeans felt like hot sand and blood beneath his fingertips all over again.
Every time he closed his eyes flashes of broken pieces of helicopter glittered his mind mixed with that horrible, stomach plummet feeling of watching Buck being dragged by his hair.
The bullet in his shoulder was the worst of the three.
“Diaz, he’s dead.”
His skin still felt tacky from the adhesive of the duct tape.
“How about this one?”
Another bump made Eddie’s head scream as the tires beneath the car lurched across the unpaved road.
“I’m still alive down here!”
Eddie clenched down the flinch that threatened to take over his muscles and sucked in a sharp breath.
Athena glanced over at him with a quick critical gaze before she returned her attention back on the road.
He couldn’t muster up the energy to be embarrassed that he was pretty sure she’d said his name a couple of times before he responded.
“What’s going on in that head of yours, Eddie?”
The snort Eddie let out was humorless and got trapped in his sinuses as he rubbed the ache of his headache with his fingers.
Because the truth of the matter was that from the moment that gun had been held to his head, Eddie felt like he was a million miles away but chained to the present at the same time. Like he’d been split in two and forced to watch as he did nothing to help his friends, his captain, and his boyfriend. He might as well have been trapped in that well again.
“Don't do that, Eddie,” Athena said, her voice soft and thoughtful.
Eddie didn’t feel like he was doing anything and wasn’t the problem? He didn’t do anything.
“Don’t blame yourself.”
Eddie propped his head back against the headrest and looked at her.
“How did you know?”
“Because I’ve been doing the same thing since I realized I could’ve stopped that ambulance and saved our boys in the first place.”
The guilt was heavy in her tone, washing all her words with a weight Eddie knew all too well. The need to protect, to shelter, to scoop up all the hurt and bottle it away so that their loved ones could feel a little lighter.
“You couldn’t have known,” Eddie said with a shake of his head.
“But I did,” Athena argued. “I did know something was wrong. I just couldn’t put my finger on it.”
It was a curse to care about someone so much who cared about everyone else over themselves in return. But he supposed that was their price to bear for loving people who loved the world. Because there were the blessings too.
The smiles on Buck’s face when he got to hold a newborn baby that was too impatient to make it to the trip to the hospital. The relieved laughs that were contagious in the truck. The overexcitable bouncing over the littlest things.
It shouldn’t have been you, Eddie.
“Bobby wouldn’t want you to blame yourself,” Eddie said and Athena shot him a grateful smile.
“No,” she agreed. “Neither would Buck. That’s what makes it so hard. But for them? We have to try, right?”
For Buck, Eddie would do anything if it meant for one extra moment, he could be unabashedly happy with zero strings attached. He’d walk through a valley of bullets or claw through a mountain of mud all over again for Buck to have another second to smile.
Eddie tipped his head again.
A police cruiser without its lights on sped by them followed closely by another. Two cruisers alone weren’t suspicious and neither were the lack of lights. Sometimes, calls required police getting onto the scene as quickly as possible while drawing as little attention as they could.
What was noticeable was the three more cruisers that sped past them without their lights on. Athena switched on her scanner, the one she swore Eddie to secrecy from every mentioning that she had, and listened to a series of rushed codes and correspondence.
Eddie perked up at the few he recognized. Things like:
Keep communication off the radio
Lights and sirens off
Urgent response needed
It was that last one that had Eddie turning to Athena.
“It’s them,” he said for certain even though he knew better than to get his hopes up.
Athena pressed down on the accelerator and gave him a sharp, pointed look in warning.
“Remember what I said Eddie. I will handcuff you to this vehicle.”
He didn’t bother making any promises that time.
“It’s okay, Buck.”
But it wasn’t. It wasn’t okay because his arms wouldn’t work anymore and Bobby was looking at him like he was saying goodbye and Buck couldn’t… He couldn’t… None of his joints felt like they were connected anymore and his head throbbed and---
The shot that rang out felt like it had split Buck’s head in half and made his heart plummet through the slips of his fingertips. Braden fell to the ground with a guttural shriek, knocking Bobby over in the process.
“Jesus Christ!” Trevor spat out as he ducked behind Buck and the gurney.
Dallas marched into the warehouse with calm, even steps but a murderous ripple beneath his otherwise blank expression. He aimed his gun at Braden, who was withering on the ground crying out in agony as blood gushed down from shoulder. Dallas fired and the bullet that pierced Braden’s leg and shattered his femur had whizzed past Bobby’s head.
“Bobby!” Buck cried as he collapsed forward half off the gurney to get him.
The collar around his throat went taut and Buck gagged as the fabric cut against his windpipe.
Buck’s vision speckled with dark spots as he grabbed at the tight fabric but Trevor flung Buck in front of him like a shield.
Dallas swung the gun towards Trevor and Buck but didn’t shoot, his silent fury directed at Braden, and showing no mercy.
“He’s dead because of you,” Dallas said plainly.
“Dallas!” Braden pleaded and screamed when Dallas shot his other arm that was reaching for his gun again.
“Let’s go, Baby Boy. Come on!” Trevor whispered in Buck’s ear before he pointed the gun against his throat and dragged him away.
Bobby fell back and threw his hands over his head as the report of the gunfire clattered like a trapped bird against the rusted steel around them.
Silent and quickly, Trevor dragged Buck back and out of the warehouse as Dallas stalked up to Braden like a furious brown bear on his prey seeking retribution.
Bobby lifted his hands and bit into the tape around his wrists with his teeth.
“He’s dead because of you,” Dallas said again, his voice flat and murderous.
“Dallas please! I---” Braden screamed as Dallas shot him in his thigh. “Stop!”
“You kept him in agony for hours!”
Another shot and every ricochet had Bobby flinching back further and further as he worked to free himself.
“And then you sent me on an errand.” Dallas bit out. “So, he died alone.”
Bobby ripped the tape with a drag of his teeth and pulled his wrists wide until they were finally free.
“Dallas plea---" Braden fell silent as Dallas’s bullet found its mark.
Bobby didn’t look but he knew.
Dallas jerked towards Bobby and leveled the gun at him.
Bobby froze and lifted his hands.
“Dallas,” Bobby said, cautious as that feral glint in Dallas’s eyes zeroed in on him. “Dallas, please. I can’t let Trevor take Buck. You saw---”
The word was clipped and to the point and Bobby didn’t hesitate. He didn’t know what made that decision for Dallas or what made him decide to spare Bobby. He didn’t know if Dallas took into consideration that they’d tried to save Noah or if he saw something in Buck but he didn’t care. He didn’t have time.
Bobby launched himself to his feet and ran after where Buck and Trevor disappeared to and didn’t look back.
The sky was a grey pink blue as Trevor marched him out of the warehouse and over to a small open faced garage where a car was waiting.
“Braden may have had contingency plans up his ass but I had a little one of my own,” Trevor said, nervous despite the bravado rolling in his voice.
Which was fine if it worked for him but Buck felt like he was ready to drop at any moment. His knees gave a little but Trevor yanked him up by the throat and propelled him forward until they reached the car. Buck didn’t even have the energy to catch himself as Trevor slammed him up against the hood and pinned him there. The fabric around his throat grew taut again and he gasped as the space to draw air grew thin in his airway.
Trevor put the gun up on the roof of the car with his bag before he rifled through a pocket and pulled out a couple of zip ties.
“Hands behind you back,” Trevor instructed.
Another bullet blasted behind them and Buck jerked at the finality of the echo.
Bobby was still there. They’d left Bobby behind and he was still there.
Buck moved his hands slowly, lifting them high. But just as Trevor made a grab for his arm, Buck twisted and slammed his elbow his face. The sickening crunch beneath his elbow tingled all the way up to Buck’s fingers as Trevor dropped with a curse.
Buck ran. Stumbling was more like it because what last reserve of adrenaline coursing through his veins was begging him to stop but he couldn’t because Bobby was still in there!
Buck didn’t get far before Trevor was on him in a flash and slamming him into the dirt.
Buck yelped and then the fabric around his neck twisted to the point of complete and utter suffocation.
He couldn’t make a sound. He couldn’t gasp. He couldn’t scream. His body flushed with a clammy hot that coated his skin with sweat but chilled with shock as the exhaustion, air deprivation, and trauma of it all pebbled his skin with goosebumps. Trevor was heavy on his back and Buck couldn’t get enough leverage to push him off. Buck clawed at the ground, digging his nails into the dirt and gravel for some kind of purchase but it wasn’t enough. None of it was enough.
Buck closed his eyes and begged for this to all be some nightmare from when he’d fallen asleep in the bunks. Begged to be woken up by Eddie’s hand running through his hair as he kissed his brow.
“Oh, so now you want to put up a fight? Big, tough fireman all of the sudden, huh? You really shouldn’t have don---”
The ability to breathe came in two waves of relief.
One was the pin thin release of pressure on his throat that gave Buck enough slack around the fabric to rip the collar off with a desperate pant.
The second was Trevor’s body being tackled to the ground and off Buck’s back in a mess of legs. Buck tried to seize his opportunity to crawl away but his limbs were like lead as he sucked in gasping breath after gasping breath.
A choke gurgle filled his ears and Buck lifted his head enough to turn and see as Bobby locked his legs around Trevor and held a scrap of what looked like left over fishing rope around Trevor’s throat so tightly that his knuckles were white.
Tires squealed to a stop as boots pounded into wet mud.
“They’re over here!”
“Let him go, Captain Nash!”
“We got him, Bobby! We got him!”
Buck would be able to single in on the sound of Eddie’s voice in a crowded room of a million people.
Buck looked up just as Eddie slid down to his knees beside him with wide open arms as Buck collapsed against him.
“Buck!” Eddie gulped like he’d ran all the way from Los Angeles to find him and knowing Eddie, he probably had. “Oh my God! Buck!”
Eddie pushed a hand through Buck’s hair and kissed him over and over again until every inch of his face had been covered as he cupped the back of his skull.
The smell of Eddie was like taking his first breath all over again and Buck sucked in inhale after inhale as he shook apart at the seams and pressed against his warmth. Eddie fell onto his butt into a puddle that splashed against Buck’s skin but he didn’t care. Eddie was there. Eddie was holding him. Eddie was alive and breathing and Buck could hear his heartbeat beneath his ear.
A wounded bleated thing of a sound slipped out of Buck’s lips as he cried and Eddie was running his hands over his shoulders, through his hair, onto his back like he couldn’t believe he was real beneath his touch.
“You’re okay! Are you hurt? Let me see. Let me see.”
He tried to guide Buck’s head so he could look at the damage but all Buck wanted to do was to press close to him and never let go.
It was over. It was over. It was over.
Eddie was there and Trevor was off him and Buck could breathe and Bobby---
Buck bolted upright and turned over in the direction he remembered last seeing him.
Bobby was being held tight by Athena as Trevor was being handcuffed beside them. He was okay. Bobby was okay!
Buck’s world shifted into grey and then black as he crumbled backwards into unconsciousness.
Watching the whites of Buck’s eyes as they rolled into the back of his head was enough to take off nearly half of Bobby’s life in a matter of seconds. The image of him collapsing into Eddie’s arms, limp and still, took Bobby out at the knees as Athena bellowed for an RA unit.
“Buck?” Eddie rubbed his knuckles along Buck’s sternum and then tapped on his face a few times. “Buck!”
Bobby felt like he was swimming upstream in a sea of slow motion as he stumbled over to where Eddie was cradling Buck in his arms.
Eddie swore and shook his head as he cupped Buck’s cheek. “He’s burning up!”
Bobby pressed his fingers against Buck’s wrist in search of a pulse.
For one earth shattering moment, Bobby couldn’t find it.
For one brief moment, the entire world screeched to a halt and Bobby almost shattered too.
But then, his fingertip caught the short beat and he moved his fingers and felt the strong pulsing strike in return.
The ride into the ambulance was a blur of too many questions, too bright lights, and the emptiness of Buck’s absences after so long beside him. Buck had been whisked away with Eddie in his own ambulance before the next one had been available. Bobby thought it was all unnecessary for him to ride in one but it was the fastest way to the hospital so he didn’t complain.
Athena’s hands were warm around his too cold fingers and it was only when she rubbed them that he realized they were shaking.
The burn of the rope was seared into the callouses of his hands.
His palms felt raw and blistered and maybe they were but the ache from pulling the rope taut around Trevor’s throat quivered along his nerves and up to his shoulders.
“It’s okay, Bobby,” Athena said, quiet like they were in their own moment.
“He was…” Bobby blinked and searched for that light in his mind that reminded him that even though the world was a cruel place there were still people in it worth saving. “He was… Athena…”
The sounds. The thin, wispy sounds Buck made as Trevor choked the life out of him.
Bobby wanted to get out of the dark place he’d swore he’d never visit again. The dark place where anger and resentment clouded his eyes. He wanted to get out.
“You got him, Bobby,” Athena whispered, pressing her forehead against his temple as she took him into her arms.
And maybe he was going a little into shock himself because he didn’t remember her moving closer to him. But there she was. His rock when he needed a place to fall. His beautiful knight who reminded him that there were stars in the sky.
Bobby broke and Athena caught him.
It was the pneumonia that kept Buck in the hospital for four days. It was the bruising around his throat from nearly being strangled several times over the course of twelve hours that made the stay in the hospital even more horrible than usual. Apparently, when he’d swallowed some water at the beginning of his shift, it had ticked off his already declining immune system into overdrive and pitched him into a fever of 103. The antibiotics the doctors gave him hit Buck hard and fast and left him rolling with nausea. He could barely speak the first two days without his throat feeling like it was ready to collapse in on itself and the coughing up of phlegm and being sick from the drugs left Buck weak and weepy as Eddie or Maddie held him through the worst of his crying while he sucked in humidified oxygen in desperate gasps.
He felt like a total wimp but he was also downright miserable.
His friends came to visit him but left him some dignity by not staying too long and the cops kept their questioning short and to the point.
Braden Anderson, Trevor Hughes, Noah Lahey, and Dallas (the police didn’t know his last name and suspected Dallas wasn’t even his first name) had broken into McClure Security and stolen an encryption key that would’ve given them digital access to nearly all the shares and savings of an international investment firm. Problem was, McClure Security had split the encryption key in two and Braden had only taken the first half. Noah had been shot by a security guard when he ran to save Dallas from the bullet.
Noah also would have most likely survived if Braden had allowed the 118 to transport him to the hospital when they sieged the fire house. The delayed access to medical help was ultimately what killed him. Bobby had given Noah something for the pain and he passed away in his sleep.
Trevor was facing a slew of charges for assault, robbery, kidnapping, attempted murder, and assault against a first responder.
When Eddie heard what happened, he’d pulled Buck close and held him as he fell apart.
Then he built him back up piece by piece with a kiss to his forehead and a blanket of reassurances that Buck held cupped in his hands like a nightlight when the memories stormed back in.
Braden was dead, Noah was dead, and Trevor was in custody with a promise from Athena that he would never see the light of day again.
When the police arrived at the marina, Dallas had been long gone and left without a trace.
Buck didn’t want to admit that the shadow of the man still haunted him--- he was fairly certain that he wouldn’t come back to bother Buck or Bobby--- but the phantom feeling of his fingers pressing over his mouth still left Buck breathless.
When Buck was released from the hospital, all he wanted was his bed but the idea of being alone in his loft with the barest of chances that Dallas could come back had left him trembling.
He should’ve known better than to worry.
His team and Maddie took over in shifts. Sometimes two at a time with the guise that they were double teaming his illness when Buck knew it was because they could read him like a book. Being sick had left him defenseless and his walls were torn down like he was an exposed nerve. They saw everything. He wanted to be embarrassed but none of them would let him.
Eddie stayed with him most nights and would tap out with Hen or Chimney when he was with Christopher. It was fine because Buck was still struggling to stay awake for more than four hours at a time anyway.
That night, Buck had gone to sleep with his nose tucked against the hollow of Eddie’s throat and his arms shielding Buck from the worst of the ghosts.
Buck blearily remembered the way Eddie roused him with a kiss on his brow and his medicine in his hand before he fell back asleep for a few more hours.
Buck woke up completely to an empty bed and the most heavenly smell wafting up from his kitchen. Buck swallowed past the thickness in his throat that twinged at the still dark bruises on his skin. He’d be a gross, coughing mess in a few minutes once his lungs started working again but until then he was able to shuffle his way out of bed and down the steps.
Bobby’s back was to him as he stirred something on the stovetop. He glanced over his shoulder when he heard the shuffling of Buck’s socked feet as he dragged his way to the kitchen island.
“Morning,” Bobby drawled with a small smile.
Buck responded with a yawn and tried to clear the thick coating of crud he could feel on his vocal chords.
“Think you can keep some broth down?” Bobby asked and Buck groaned as he rubbed a hand through his hair.
He probably had the worst case of bed head in his life.
The liquid diet thing was becoming annoying but Hen had threatened to give him another IV if he didn’t cooperate the last time she’d been over so he nodded.
Bobby pulled out a mug and a spoon and dished out some of the best broth Buck had ever tasted. The hearty depths of the flavor lit up Buck’s tongue and gave him something to taste that wasn’t applesauce, medicine, or his own body’s way of rejecting his organs.
Bobby pressed his hand against Buck’s forehead.
“Feeling a little better today?” He asked, checking for the fever Buck still couldn’t shake but wasn’t nearly as bad as it had been.
“Yeah,” Buck croaked and then promptly coughed up what felt like his entire lung.
Being sick sucked but it was also embarrassing. Bobby’s hand rubbed his back as spat out that morning’s “gift” into a wad of tissues before holding up a trash can for Buck to dump it in.
Thankfully, the broth helped keep Buck’s stomach at bay.
They settled into a comfortable silence as Buck ate and Bobby worked on making foods that were easy on Buck’s throat and stomach.
It was funny. Silence had never been comfortable for Buck but it was his oldest companion. It crept in when his parents spent more time looking at anything else than at Buck. It’d held him through the worst nights after Maddie had left. It had settled on his shoulders when it was just him in the Jeep driving to who knew where with no one cared plans.
But with Bobby, silence was a way of being. It was like a meditation that held the same reverence as a prayer.
Bobby had lingered on the outskirts of Buck’s orbit since their rescue; always there but never quite close enough. That serene acceptance on Bobby’s face flashed in his nightmares when Buck couldn’t move and he woke up screaming as the sound of the gun went off.
Buck was pretty sure this was the first time they’d been alone together since Buck had left the hospital.
It should’ve been awkward. With anyone else, it would’ve been. But not with Bobby.
“I’ll never not see you, Buck,” Bobby said eventually. “You make me proud every day by just simply getting up and being you. I’ll never not see you.”
It was a promise to a plea Buck had almost forgotten about.
Bobby pushed a bowl of the tiresome applesauce in front of Buck and settled beside him with a bowl of his own.
The fire house pulsed like a heartbeat as if the beating it took never happened. Buck still had another few weeks to recuperate but shifts moved in and out like clockwork. Or at least, almost clock work.
Bobby was dressed in his uniform and ready to work a shift early as he waited for the truck and engines to take their place on the bay floors.
DeSena dropped down from the captain’s seat with a flash of irritation that he barely clawed back into a thin veil of professionalism.
“Welcome back, Nash,” he said with the enthusiasm of someone facing a rotting toad. “Little early for your shift, aren’t you?”
“Actually no,” Bobby said with an easy command. “I’m here to relieve you.”
DeSena’s brow furrowed as he scowled.
Bobby hooked a thumb his shoulder and pointed over to his office.
“Chief is here to see you. Has a few things he needs to talk to you about. Mismanagement of time, union rules, and what is and isn’t appropriate ways to speak to subordinates to name a few.”
Good. So, he remembered what he said.
Bobby stepped forward, fully aware that several of the B shift crew were watching their exchange, and pitched his voice low.
“You should’ve kept your problems with me.”
The bell rang sharp and loud across the fire house as the crew ran back into the rigs.
“I don’t know what Buckley told you…” DeSena started but Bobby shook his head.
“It doesn’t matter. You should’ve kept your problems with me.”
Because Bobby was Buck’s captain and Buck was one of Bobby’s best firefighters. Almost everyone knew it and Bobby would make sure that Buck knew it too.