Evan Buckley stumbled into Fire Station 118 with a single-minded focus. His eyes never strayed from his target as he stumbled through the brightly lit garage and up the stairs. When at least he’d reached his destination, Buck all but collapsed onto the couch, his eyes closing the moment he hit the soft cushions. Finally, he could sleep…
“Oh my god…Buck! Hey, he’s here!” The sudden shout was loud enough to pull him back from the brink of unconsciousness, but not enough to convince him to open his eyes. He simply frowned and curled deeper into the sofa. And then there were hands on him.
“Buck? Buck, are you okay?” Someone asked frantically as they grabbed his face and began gently tapping his cheeks. Bobby, his brain supplied belatedly.
“Stop…” Buck croaked, squirming away.
“Well, at least he’s conscious…sort of.” A voice that sound suspiciously like Chimney commented. Distantly, Buck felt something squeezing tightly around his bicep.
“Not very comforting considering he looks like crap.” Eddie muttered from somewhere above. Frankly, Buck couldn’t be bothered to figure exactly where his friend was. “Hey, Buck? Can you open your eyes for me? I need to check you out, make sure you’re okay.” Eddie’s tone was soft and soothing, like the way he talked to scared children. None of this made sense. Buck groaned in annoyance, but gave no other indication that he’d heard the request.
“I got the med kits!” Announced Hen, sounding scared and breathless. “How’s he doing? Should I prep the bus?”
“I don’t know. He’s not really responding.” Bobby replied worriedly. A moment later, Buck felt two large hands on him, one cupping his cheek and the other squeezing his shoulder. “Buck, I need you to wake up. Open your eyes and look at me so I know you’re alright.” Damnit, Buck thought. He couldn’t ignore Bobby when he used that voice. The voice that was filled with fear and concern and so many other things that should never be associated with the man. Reluctantly, he peeled his gritty eyelids open and squinted up at him in the dim light. Bobby smiled faintly and stroked Buck’s cheek with a calloused thumb. “There you. You were starting to scare me, kid.”
“M’okay…don’ need to worry.” Buck mumbled, struggling to focus on the faces in front of him. Kneeling to his left, Eddie scoffed as he held a stethoscope to Buck’s chest.
“You wanna try that again, buddy? You’re pale, heart rate and respirations are way above normal, blood pressure’s on the floor, lungs sound like shit, and you’re barely conscious.” He listed, fixing Buck with an appraising look.
“Seriously, dude.” Chim chimed in. “You go missing for thirty-six hours, then stumble in here like the walking dead looking like you should be in the hospital. I’m really not buying the whole ‘okay’ shtick.” Buck frowned as he processed Chim’s words.
“Missing?” He asked, confusion clear on his face.
“Since yesterday morning.” Hen added gravely. “We’ve been going crazy looking for you.” Buck shook his head and rubbed a leaden hand over his eyes. This was all too much. Everything ached and he was so damn tired.
“Wasn’t missing. Was helpin’ at the 127 like you told me to.” He explained. Admittedly his brain wasn’t processing things that well right now, but Buck didn’t understand his team’s reaction in the slightest. When Bobby had temporarily loaned him out to another station yesterday, they’d all patted his back and wished him luck. The 127 had lost five men in a gas main explosion a week ago and they were in urgent need of personnel to fill the gaps while they rebuilt their roster. When the request was sent out, Bobby had offered up Buck.
“Yeah, and then you went off the grid and weren’t answering your phone or your radio.” Countered Bobby. “Then we hear from dispatch that the 127 got caught in that apartment explosion in West Hollywood that collapsed the entire building. No one we talked to from either the 127 or any of the responding units had seen or heard from you since then and no one could get in contact with you. We were checking hospitals, Buck…and morgues.” Bobby finished quietly and Buck finally saw the stress in the man’s body. The tousled hair, the rumpled clothes, the dark rings around his eyes…
It was true that Buck had been at that apartment building. He’d been in the thick of the action, battling the flames and searching for survivors. He’d spent countless hours sifting nonstop through the rubble with the other first responders. Somewhere in all the chaos, his phone had been broken and his radio had vanished, but it hardly seemed to matter since the guys next to him had working comms. When at last all of the known residents – or their bodies – had been found, he and the rest of the 127 had been ordered to return to their station by the incident commander. Apparently, they’d all lost track of time and worked well past the end of their shifts. One of the other firefighters had taken pity on him and offered to swing by the 118 to drop Buck off on their way back.
“Was helping with the recovery…phone broke…thought Cap’n Till told you.” Buck answered honestly.
“Captain Till is in the hospital. Out cold with a concussion. Docs say he’ll be fine, but he never got a chance to tell us anything about you.” Replied Chim. “When we heard that they’d lost a few firefighters in the collapse, we…” Chim’s voice was thick as he trailed off.
“Oh…” Buck reached out and gave Chim’s arm an uncoordinated pat. “Sorry…’m good, I promise.”
“Yeah, like I said, try again.” Eddie said seriously. “You’re beat to hell, your vitals suck, and you’re way too out it. Clearly you are not ‘good.’ Did you get caught in the explosion or the collapse?” Buck blinked slowly, trying to process the question.
“Ummm, yeah I-“
“Okay, Hen, bring those kits over. I want a full work-up on him right now.” Bobby ordered, cutting him off. Before Buck could even process what was happening, they were ripping off his tattered uniform and shining lights in his face. In a frantic blur, they poked and prodded and stuck with startling efficiency.
“Glucose is low.”
“He’s dehydrated, I’ll start a line.”
“Buck, does this hurt when I press here?”
“I’ve got extensive bruising along the torso and right hip.”
“O2 sats are a bit a low.”
“Laceration on the scalp is still bleeding.”
“Okay, Buck, follow my finger.”
Buck did his best to comply with their requests and answer their questions, but the whole thing was just loud, and disorienting, and too much…if he could just close his eyes…
“No no no no no, stay awake, buddy. Come on, open those eyes.” Eddie practically shouted.
“Almost done, man. Just hang on.” Chim promised.
“Tired.” Buck grumbled, wincing as someone pressed on his tender ribs.
“I know, kiddo.” Bobby said sympathetically. “Can you try to stay awake just a little longer? Just until we know you’re okay.” Too drained to respond, Buck simply nodded. For the next few minutes, he maintained bleary, unfocused eye contact with Bobby as his attention faded in an out.
“Alright,” Hen said finally, “I’m gonna call him stable for now.”
“Agreed. He’s not great, but he’s not dying.” Concurred Eddie.
“Buck here needs a shower, a good meal, a couple bags of fluids, and, like, twenty hours of sleep.” Chim concluded.
“I also wanna see him stay on this for a bit.” Eddie added, gesturing to the tank already feeding him oxygen. “He’s got a mild case of smoke inhalation.” Bobby nodded, looking relieved.
“Okay. Eddie, Chim, you get him cleaned up. Hen, you’re with me on food prep.”
“Juss wanna sleep.” Buck slurred irritably.
“Soon, Buck, I promise. Just let us get you cleaned and fed.” Assured Chim as he and Eddie hauled him to his feet. Immediately, Buck was assaulted by a wave of dizziness and he pitched to the side.
“Whoa, easy buddy. Just lean on us.” Eddie murmured.
With the two of them essentially carrying Buck, they managed to make it to the locker rooms. It was an effort to peel away the rest of his clothing and Buck was strangely limp and pliant as they worked them off. Before they started the shower, Chim had the foresight to bring in one of the folding metal chairs they kept for events. It had been painfully obvious that the kid wouldn’t be able to stand on his own and neither man felt like getting soaked.
“Okay, Buckaroo, you ready?” Chim asked, not really expecting an answer. Carefully, they steered him into the shower and began washing away the layers of soot and grime and blood that clung to his body. Ordinarily, Buck would’ve felt at least some embarrassment about being bathed by his two friends in the middle of the firehouse. Right now, though? He really couldn’t find the energy to care. He must have drifted off at some point because suddenly Eddie was kneeling in front of him, sliding a pair of sweats over his hips. Eddie noticed Buck watching and gave his calf a small squeeze.
“Almost done, Buck. You’re doing good.” Buck would’ve laughed if it wasn’t so much of an effort. He doubted that falling asleep naked at work was considered ‘doing good.’
When he was finally dressed and his cuts bandaged, Chim and Eddie carefully helped Buck back to the kitchen. Bobby and Hen were waiting, ushering him into a chair and placing a heaping plate of Bobby’s signature pasta primavera in front of him. It was one of Buck’s absolute favorites, so it was unnerving when he just sat and stared at the plate, his body listing to the side.
“Buck?” Bobby prompted.
“You have to actually eat the food.”
“Oh…right.” Buck mumbled distractedly before clumsily taking a forkful with a shaking hand. After a couple bites, Bobby and Eddie had ended up sitting on either side of him, propping him up his chair and lightly shaking him every time he started to nod off. Buck still had food on his plate when his eyes drooped shut with his fork was still in his mouth.
“Keep going, kiddo. You need to finish all of that.” Bobby instructed in that soft, comforting voice he usually reserved for Harry and May.
“Just a little more.” Eddie agreed. “I have no idea when the last time you even ate was.”
“Pizza…Top Gun.” Buck answered around a mouthful of noodles. Eddie’s eyes widened.
“What, our movie night? Buck, that was two days ago.” He said worriedly. “How long since you’ve slept?”
“Your couch.” Eddie pinched the bridge of his nose. Buck had fallen asleep for a couple hours on his couch after their movie while Eddie had picked Christopher up from his friend’s house.
“You seriously haven’t slept since then? You came off a twenty-four hour shift, slept for two hours, then didn’t sleep for another two days?”
“Ummm…yeah?” Buck said a little uncertainly as he finally managed to clean his plate. He wasn’t tracking very well, and Eddie’s reaction was confusing.
“Well, Bucko, it looks like you’ve given yourself a case of severe exhaustion.” Chim surmised. “That explains why he’s so out of it at least.” Bobby shook his head and ruffled Buck’s hair affectionately.
“Then I guess it’s time to get you to bed, huh kid?”
Buck remembered nothing of the drive over, or really anything after he’d finished eating, but suddenly he found himself sitting sideways in the front seat of Eddie’s truck, staring out the open door at the driveway below. Maybe he was supposed to get down? He started to slide out of the vehicle, but something held him in place. After a few seconds, Eddie appeared in front of him, a bag slung across his body.
“Buck? You good?”
“I…can’t get out.” Buck admitted, his face full of innocent confusion. Eddie gave him a sad smile.
“Your seat belt’s still on, buddy. Here, let me help.” There was a click and then whatever had been holding him up slid away. Buck promptly fell forward into Eddie’s chest. “Okay, let’s get you inside, pal. Come on, here we go.”
Eddie had a lot of experience maneuvering a half-asleep and wholly uncooperative human from the car and into bed. Granted, Christopher wasn’t even close to the size of a full-grown man, but the principle was the same. Taking care not to aggravate the many bruises that covered his friend’s body, Eddie gently lifted Buck over his shoulder in a firemen’s carry and headed inside. He’d called ahead and was happy to see Carla waiting for them, with Christopher peeking out from behind her.
“That’s not something you see every day.” Carla chuckled softly as she held open the door.
“Is Buck okay?” Asked Christopher, clearly a little nervous at the sight of his friend.
“Yeah, mijo. He’s just really tired. You know how I help you sometimes when you’ve had a long day? Well, that’s what I’m doing for Uncle Buck now. He’s had a lot of long days and he really needs to sleep.” Eddie explained quietly as they moved through the house. Christopher nodded in understanding, following closely behind his father. Once in the guest room, Carla pulled back the covers to expose the freshly laundered sheets. Eddie could’ve kissed her. They were even still warm from the dryer. Slowly, he leaned down and lowered Buck onto the mattress.
“You sure he’s alright?” Carla muttered so only Eddie could hear. “He hasn’t looked this rough since the tsunami.”
“It’s not as bad as it looks” Eddie assured her. “I’m gonna get him set up with an IV and some oxygen right now, but he should be okay once he gets some actual sleep.” Carla gave him a look like she didn’t quite believe him, but nonetheless moved off to lead Christopher out of the room. Eddie felt his heart swell as his son sweetly wished his Buck goodnight before following Carla.
Now that they were alone, Eddie began setting up the supplies from his bag. With practiced ease, he positioned the cannula beneath Buck’s nose and adjusted the flow. Then, he expertly inserted the IV. As gentle as he was, Buck still flinched.
“You still awake?” Eddie asked as he finished taping the needle in place.
“Mmmmmppphhh…” Buck hummed groggily. “Sleep now?” Eddie huffed out a small laugh and carded his fingers lightly through Buck’s hair.
“Yeah, Buck. You can sleep now.” Five seconds later, his soft snores filled the room. Eddie smiled fondly and pulled the blankets up over his shoulders.
“Sleep tight, buddy. You’ve earned it.”