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i'll fall behind

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It started as a normal call.

It was the third time in as many weeks that Ms. O’Leary - a very kind and very stubborn 82 year old lady - fell and needed help getting up.

“If I didn’t know better I’d think you were falling on purpose just to see me again,” Buck joked as he and Eddie helped lift Ms. O'Leary back to her feet. 

“Well you boys are awfully strong,” she said with a smile.

“Now Ms. O'Leary I know you don’t like it, but it isn’t safe for you to live alone,” Bobby said, once again trying to get her to listen to reason. It was a miracle she hadn’t broken anything yet, having only ended up with bumps and bruises.

“Oh, nonsense. I am perfectly capable of living by myself,” she replied as Buck and Eddie helped her to a seat.

“This is the third time you’ve fallen,” Hen said gently, “what would happen if you couldn’t call 911?”

“I’ll be fine,” Ms. O'Leary insisted. They all looked at Bobby, but he just shrugged. They couldn’t make her do something she didn’t want to.

“Well they still need to check you out,” Bobby said, ushering Hen and Chim forward.

“I already told you I’m fine,” Ms. O'Leary tried to wave off their help. “Besides, the only reason I fell is because I heard a noise upstairs.” They all froze at that.

“A noise?” Buck asked. “What kind of noise?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know, it was just a noise. I haven’t been upstairs in a few years now, it could’ve been anything.” She finally let Hen and Chimney check her over while Buck, Bobby, and Eddie retreated a few steps.

“Want me to check it out Cap?” Buck asked. 

Bobby hesitated for a moment. “Technically we should tell dispatch to get a police officer over here to investigate.”

“C’mon, it was probably like, a squirrel or something that got in through the attic. It would be a waste of time to call in an officer for that,” Buck said.

“Alright, fine,” Bobby sighed.

“I’ll come with,” Eddie offered, but Buck waved him off.

“Nah, you should stay down here to make sure she doesn’t fall again. I’ll be fine,” Buck said with a smile. 

“You sure?” Eddie raised an eyebrow, “I don’t know if you can handle a squirrel all by yourself,” he joked. Buck rolled his eyes.

“If I need help, I’ll yell.” With that Buck turned and went up stairs, taking the steps two at a time.

As soon as he reached the second floor, Buck could tell Ms. O'Leary hadn’t been up there in a while. The hallway was dark and dusty, and when Buck flipped the light switch only one of the hall lights came on. There was an old pink shag carpet that covered the floor, paths worn into it from years of use. Picture frames lined the walls, and Buck took a second to peer at the photos. In one he recognized a much younger Ms. O'Leary - she looked to be about 20 - standing next to two other women and a man who all looked to be a similar age, and all of whom bore a family resemblance. There was another picture frame that showed Ms. O'Leary - maybe 40 years old - standing with a different man, five children seated in front of them. She obviously used to have a big family, and Buck wondered where everyone in the photos went, and how she ended up living alone.

There were three doors in the hall, all closed. The first door Buck pushed open led to a small room stacked full of boxes. He was a little taken aback by how much stuff there was. The ground floor was kept ridiculously organized and Buck kind of assumed the rest of the house would be the same. But this room was absolutely a mess. Buck couldn’t even pick out a clear path through the room; boxes stacked on top of each other, creating tall piles on a table, precariously balanced on chairs. None of them looked out of place, there weren’t any fallen over on the floor with the contents spilling out that might’ve caused the noise Ms. O'Leary heard. 

Buck closed the door and moved onto the next room. He knew immediately when he opened the door that it used to be Ms. O'Leary’ room. There was a large bed in the middle of the room, covered in a gaudy bedspread that was clearly a relic from the 70’s. There was a dresser pushed up against the wall that was covered in knick-knacks and books and even more picture frames. A small vanity was set off to the side, decorated in jewelry that didn’t look like it had been moved in years. 

He was about to leave and move onto the next room when he noticed that the curtains on one of the windows were blowing slightly. The wind must’ve blown the windows open and knocked something to the ground - though Buck once again didn’t see anything out of place. He stepped into the room, intent on closing the window to keep the weather and any animals out, but he only got a few steps in before something large and heavy smashed across the back of his head.

Buck went down hard, hitting the ground in a daze.

He barely even had time to register the musty smell of the carpet pressed against his cheek before he was grabbed by the back of his shirt and yanked to his feet.

Buck stumbled, the blood rushing to his head, and there was a brief second where he was face to face with his attacker. The man standing in front of him was a white guy, who looked to be several inches taller and at least a hundred pounds heavier than Buck. He was bald, and Buck could see the veins in his head bulging. He looked like he ate steroids for breakfast, his biceps roughly the size of Buck’s entire head and his neck as thick as a tree trunk.

Buck didn’t have time to react before the man shoved him up against the wall, knocking the wind out of him. His head hit the wall hard enough to make him see stars.

The next thing he knew, there were hands wrapped around his throat.

The panic hit first. The moment of realization when he tried to take a breath only to discover he couldn’t. His hands automatically went up to his throat, trying to pry the grip off, but the man’s fingers were as thick as sausages and nothing Buck did had any effect.

Buck lashed out, bringing his knee up into the guy’s crotch, but the other man didn’t even flinch. He just bared his teeth and squeezed harder, pushing Buck up the wall until his toes were just barely brushing the ground.

The edges of Buck’s vision were starting to darken, hands desperately scrabbling at the vice around his throat. He kicked and punched and scratched, his attempts getting weaker, and nothing he did loosened the hold. The man just smiled at him, wide and ugly, a glint of amusement in his eyes as he watched Buck struggle.

His head was pounding, he could feel his heart beating under the man’s grip. The blood was roaring in his ears, louder than everything else around him. He couldn’t think, couldn’t focus on anything other than the desperate need to breathe .

The spots in his vision grew until he couldn’t even keep his eyes open, and just when Buck felt himself start to drift the vice around his neck disappeared.

Buck collapsed, hitting the ground on his hands and knees and just barely managing to keep himself from face planting. He sucked in a greedy breath that stung his lungs - like walking into a blizzard after being in a warm building, the shock of cold air. His exhale turned into a hacking cough and he doubled over, his body fighting against itself just to take a breath.

His surroundings came back bits and pieces at a time, but his head was spinning too much for him to make sense of anything. He was kneeling on a soft carpet, and he dug his fingers into the fibers, attempting to ground himself. There was some sort of commotion happening in front of him, but his brain was still too occupied with breathing to try and look at anything else.

Buck was still coughing, but in between coughs he could hear a vague hissing sound. It took him a while to realize he was the one making the noise. Every inhale a wheeze, every exhale making him cough.

He was somewhat aware when the commotion in front of him stopped, and he tried to lift his head to look but as soon as he moved his stomach flipped and he was hit with a wave of nausea. A groan escaped his lips before he could stop it and he closed his eyes against the spinning world around him.

Something touched his shoulder and Buck reared back, plastering himself to the wall and raising his arms in front of him. The movement made his head pound and his vision blur, and it took a while for him to focus on what was in front of him.

It was a person. Crouched in front of him with hands open and palms facing up. Buck stared at the hands for a long moment but they didn’t move, didn’t reach towards him. Buck dragged his gaze along the figure, following the arms up to a chest, then to a face. It still took him several seconds for his brain to connect enough to identify who was in front of him.

“Eddie?” It was more of a whisper than a word, but as soon as he made a noise he devolved into another coughing fit, doubling over on himself.

“Hey, hey it’s ok Buck, it’s ok, you’re ok.” This time when a hand landed on his shoulder Buck didn’t pull away. He took several deep shuddering breaths, trying to get himself back under control.

“The- the guy-” it hurt to speak, every word he said felt like a cheese grater was being scraped down his throat. 

“You shouldn’t try to talk,” Eddie said gently. Buck finally managed to lift his head to meet Eddie’s worried gaze. “It’s alright, we got him,” Eddie assured him. Buck’s eyes slid past Eddie and he registered Bobby a few feet away, standing over a lump on the ground. His breath hitched and he froze in place, eyes wide, unable to look away. Eddie shifted, blocking Buck’s view and forcing him to focus on Eddie.

“Hey,” it was only when Eddie reached out and grabbed Buck’s hands that he even realized he was shaking. “He’s out, it’s ok.” Out? How the hell had they managed to knock that guy out? He’d been built like a brick shithouse.

Eddie must’ve noticed the confusion on Buck’s face because he let out a small laugh. “Did you know Bobby carries a taser?” Eddie asked lightly. “It’s not technically allowed but I think they’ll let it slide this time.” A laugh bubbled up in Buck’s chest, but it got lodged in his throat.

“Come on, we should get you to Hen.” Eddie moved to stand up but Buck latched onto his arm and kept him on the ground. Buck couldn’t- he couldn’t move, didn’t want to get up, he was frozen on the ground. He wanted to explain it to Eddie, but his head was still a jumble of words and it hurt too much to talk. Eddie’s expression softened and he gently grabbed Buck’s hand. “It’s ok, you’re safe now.” Buck nodded jerkily, and this time when Eddie stood Buck let himself get pulled to his feet as well. 

A wave of dizziness hit him and Buck stumbled. Eddie’s tight grip on his arm was the only thing that kept him from falling. Buck forced himself to take a few deep breaths, closing his eyes while he waited for the dizziness and nausea to pass. When he opened his eyes he caught sight of Eddie staring at him, brow furrowed.

“You good?” Eddie asked gently. Buck paused, then nodded - he was as good as could be expected given the situation. Eddie slowly led Buck out into the hall and down the stairs, and if Buck held onto Eddie tighter than was strictly necessary, well, no one could really fault him.

There weren’t a lot of stairs, but by the time they got to the bottom Buck’s legs felt like jelly, the adrenaline finally wearing off. Eddie must’ve been able to tell Buck wouldn’t be able to stay standing much longer, and he let Buck sit at the bottom of the stairs.

“I’m gonna get Hen,” Eddie turned to walk away but Buck’s hand shot out, grabbing onto Eddie with more strength than he thought he had. Eddie paused, gaze flickering down to where Buck was white knuckled clenching Eddie’s shirt.

“Ok, ok I’ll stay,” Eddie said softly, and instead sat down on the stairs next to Buck, turning his head to talk into the radio. Buck felt an immense wave of relief that Eddie wasn’t leaving. He knew, logically, that he was safe, but his brain refused to accept it. He didn’t want to be alone.

Buck leaned forward, rubbing one hand over his face while he held tight to Eddie with the other. He tugged absentmindedly on his collar - it never felt tight before, but if he turned his head a certain way the hem pressed against his collarbone, and every time it happened his breath caught in his throat.

“Damn Buck,” Buck looked up to see Hen approaching him, med bag in hand. “What happened?”

“There was some guy upstairs, probably thought Ms. O'Leary living by herself was a good target to rob.” Eddie shrugged. Hen looked down at Buck as she pulled on a clean pair of gloves. Her eyes caught on his neck, and Buck fought the urge to duck his head - he really wasn’t looking forward to the bruises that were gonna show up.

“You hit your head?” She asked, eyeing him critically. Buck nodded once. “Anywhere else?” He shook his head.

“Ms. O'Leary-” Buck croaked.

“Rule one: don’t talk,” Hen fixed him with a glare. “And Chim’s with Ms. O'Leary, she’s a little spooked but other than that she’s fine.”

Buck let Hen check over him without complaining. She ran the usual tests - blood pressure, oxygen levels, concussion screening. When she went to poke around his neck he had to force himself not to pull back, focusing on taking steady breaths. Eddie stayed nearby, giving Hen room to work but not going far. It didn’t take long, and soon Hen was stepping back.

“Alright, well there doesn’t seem to be any serious damage, not even a concussion. But you should still take a trip to the hospital to get checked out,” Hen said.

“But-” Buck started.

“No buts,” Hen said firmly. “And don’t talk,” she added, jabbing her finger at him for emphasis. Just then the front door opened, and several police officers - including Athena - walked in.

“What did you get yourself into this time Buckaroo?” Athena’s tone was light, but her eyes were hard, and he saw how she stiffened when she caught sight of his neck. Buck ducked his head, trying to make himself smaller as the other officers headed upstairs.

“He was attacked,” Eddie supplied. “The guy was probably hopped up on steroids but Bobby - uh, knocked him out.” Athena’s gaze narrowed but she didn’t push it.

“You alright?” She asked.

“Should be fine, but we’re going to the hospital anyway,” Hen replied. Buck opened his mouth to protest but Eddie and Hen both fixed him with a glare.

“Coming through.” Buck shot to his feet when he heard movement up the stairs behind him. His head swum at the sudden action, and he knew the others were looking at him in concern but he ignored them. He couldn’t look away as the police officers escorted the man outside. His arms were cuffed behind his back and he still looked a little dazed, but his gaze hardened when it landed on Buck. He couldn’t help the small rush of fear that flooded through him, but within seconds the guy was out of sight.

“That man was in my house?” Buck almost jumped when Ms. O'Leary spoke. She was standing next to Chimney in the entrance to the living room, one hand over her heart as she watched the procession with wide eyes.

“You sure you wanna keep living alone?” Hen asked dryly. For the first time, Ms. O'Leary actually seemed to consider the question.

“Sergeant? We’ll need to get statements from everyone,” one of the police officers said cautiously. Buck felt himself hunch over slightly, ducking his head and crossing his arms in front of him. He just wanted to get out of there.

Athena shot a quick glance at Buck. “We can wait till they get to the hospital,” she said.

“But-” the other officer started. Athena fixed him with a glare and he quickly trailed off. “Of course Sergeant,” he muttered, and quickly made his escape.

“Hospital time Buckaroo!” Chim said way too cheerfully, clapping him on the shoulder. Buck stifled a groan.

Eddie couldn't get the image out of his head. Every time he closed his eyes all he could see was Buck pinned up against the wall, hands around his throat, eyes rolling back into his head. It was why, 24 hours later, Eddie was standing outside Buck’s apartment. He knocked once, then used his key to open the door.

“I hope you’re hungry because I’ve got a lot of food,” Eddie announced as he entered, hefting the grocery bag filled with tupperware. He heard the TV click off, and could just make out the slow shuffle of movement from the couch. “And before you ask, no, I did not make it myself. Abuela heard what happened and insisted I bring you some of her famous chicken noodle soup.” Eddie set the bag down on the counter and immediately turned to the fridge, trying to make space for the multitude of containers.

“There’s enough to last you at least a week, and I barely managed to convince her not to send more.” Eddie heard Buck approach the counter as he unloaded the tupperware into the fridge. He set one aside and turned around, intent on saying something else, but when  he caught sight of Buck all of the words were knocked out of his head.

There were deep purple bruises wrapped around Buck’s neck, the edges already tinged slightly green. Seeing them made Eddie’s stomach twist, and his mind helpfully supplied the image of Buck pinned against the wall. Buck was wearing a loose shirt that Eddie had never seen before - the collar large and stretched out. His eyes were slightly red, and there were clear bags under them.

Buck noticed him staring and ducked his head, shoving his hands into his pockets and hunching his shoulders.

“You can also freeze it to make it last longer, but it doesn’t taste as good after,” Eddie continued like he hadn’t stopped. He turned to grab a bowl that he could microwave the soup in. “Abuela would kill me if she knew I was reheating her soup in the microwave so don’t tell her.” Eddie scooped half the tupperware into the bowl and stuck it in the microwave before Buck spoke.

“You didn’t have to come,” Buck rasped. Eddie winced at the sound of Buck’s voice, it sounded like someone was dragging sandpaper over gravel.

“Pretty sure you’re not supposed to talk,” Eddie said, not bothering to give that ridiculous comment the privilege of turning around to answer it. “Besides, how else was I gonna bring you Abuela’s soup?” He joked. He heard a shuffling noise and glanced over his shoulder to see Buck twisting his hands together, worrying at his lower lip and staring resolutely at the ground.

“Hey,” Eddie said softly, waiting for Buck to meet his gaze before continuing. “I wanted to come.” He actually hadn’t wanted to leave in the first place, tried to convince Buck to stay with him after the hospital, but Buck outright refused. Claimed he didn’t want to worry Christopher - which was a flimsy excuse, but there was a certain amount of truth to it. Buck being injured was bad enough, but Buck being injured and quiet ? That was never good.

In the end, Eddie agreed to drop Buck back at his own apartment - he didn’t like it, but he knew Buck wanted to be alone. He gave Buck 24 hours before he came back, intent on keeping him from wallowing for too long.

“Where-” Buck started.

“What did I just say about talking?” Eddie asked mildly. Buck let out a huff and glared at him, but Eddie held his gaze. He reached blindly into the junk drawer in the kitchen and pulled out a pad of paper and a pen that he slid across the counter to Buck. Buck rolled his eyes but grabbed them.

‘Chris?’ He wrote.

“He’s with Abuela. I dropped him off while picking up your gift bag.” The microwave beeped and Eddie turned back around to pull out the bowl. He set it carefully on the counter and pulled out a spoon that he held out towards Buck. Buck looked down at the soup for a long moment, brow furrowed, not looking very enthused.

“You’re lucky you get to have her soup, she doesn't make it for just anyone.” Buck took the spoon, still looking dubious, and hesitantly took a bite. He froze, and looked down at the soup with wide eyes. Eddie couldn’t help the smirk that grew on his face.

“What did I tell you?” Eddie teased. Buck glared at him, but the effect was lessened by the fact that he started shoveling the soup into his mouth. “Slow down, it’s not going anywhere, and it’s good enough to savor.” Buck rolled his eyes but did as Eddie said.

“She used to make it when my sisters or I got sick,” Eddie commented as he filled up a glass of water and placed it in front of Buck. “I’m telling you, it cures everything. If you don’t feel better after eating it then you're doing something wrong.” For the first time since Eddie arrived Buck smiled, and Eddie felt a tightness in his chest that he hadn’t even noticed was there evaporate.

Eddie’s phone buzzed in his pocket and he pulled it out to find a message from Abuela. When he opened it he was greeted with a picture of Chris sprawled out on the floor of her living room, Legos strewn around him. He couldn’t help the soft smile that grew on his face when he saw his son. Eddie flipped his phone around and slid it towards Buck, relishing in the way Buck lit up when he saw the picture.

Eddie kept up an idle stream of conversation as Buck ate. A few times Buck paused to scribble something on the paper in response, but for the most part he just listened. It was opposite from how they usually worked - most of the time Buck was the one who would talk nonstop and Eddie would only chime in occasionally - but he found that he enjoyed the change of pace.

When Buck finished the soup Eddie easily took the bowl to rinse out and put in the dishwasher. He heard something move behind him, and when he turned back around he found the pad of paper pushed in his direction. Buck was determinedly not looking at Eddie, so he grabbed the paper to read.

‘you don’t have to stay’

The words were scrawled in small letters across the top of the page; reading them made something in his stomach twist uncomfortably. When he looked up Buck still wasn’t looking at him, sitting with his head bowed and shoulders hunched. He was sitting mostly still but Eddie could tell he was bouncing his leg.

“It’s funny that you think you can get rid of me that easily.” Eddie said cooly, pushing the paper back towards Buck with more force than was strictly necessary. Buck looked up at him with wide eyes, and Eddie forced himself to blow out a long breath before he spoke again.

“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t want to be,” Eddie said shortly. “So unless you can look me in the eyes and say that you want me to leave, I’m not going anywhere,” he finished. Buck furrowed his brow and opened his mouth to respond when Eddie cut him off again. “And I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to talk.” Buck stared at him for a long moment, blinking owlishly, before he broke into a wide grin and huffed out a laugh. Eddie couldn’t help the smile that crossed his own face.

“Now I don’t know about you but I intend to enjoy my day off. So you can continue sitting here and moping, or we can watch a movie.” Eddie walked off towards the couch without bothering to check if Buck was following him. Sure enough, he heard the scrape of a stool being pushed back from the counter, and by the time he reached the couch Buck was right beside him.

They sat, settling easily into each other’s space - Eddie kicked his feet up on the coffee table and stretched his arm out along the back of the couch while Buck brought his legs up, tucking one under himself and folding the other against his chest, leaning ever so slightly into Eddie’s side.

Eddie grabbed the remote and flipped the TV back on to whatever channel had been playing earlier. He raised an eyebrow and shot a sideways glance at Buck when a Harry Potter marathon came on, partway through the fourth movie.

“Really? This is what you’ve been watching all day?” Eddie asked dryly. Buck just looked at him, lips quirked in a half smile, before he settled deeper into the couch. Eddie shook his head fondly but let the movie play.

The movie hadn’t even been playing an hour when Buck fell asleep. Passed out against Eddie’s shoulder, mouth open as he snored softly. Eddie smiled softly and turned down the volume slightly, settling back into the couch to keep watch as Buck slept.