When Eddie enlisted, it was because he was more afraid of becoming a parent than he was of dying in a country where his body might not even be recovered.
He's been in conflict before. He knows conflict, knows it like the back of his hand or the sound his mother makes when she's trying to cross the creaky floorboard in the living room quietly, to avoid waking any of them. He knows conflict like an old friend. It's in his blood, in his veins - he's been in fights before. Bad ones. Knock-down, curb-stomp fights that end with him bloody and broken, but he gets to his feet all the same.
So it's not new to him, the 118. Not in the sense that every job they go to sends his adrenaline spiking, that every call is an unknown quantity. What is new to him is the team environment - it's different from the army, where his friends became family when they lost one of their own in the sand and ash and got brought back a few pounds heavier with metal in their bones, close to death but beautifully, painfully, miraculously alive.
He hadn't thought before that, seriously, that this job might be where he meets his end. That this thing he wanted so badly - to fight for his country - might be the final flash that takes him out. It wasn't, and now he's in the back of an ambulance with a live grenade in a guy's leg and he feels like he never really left.
"Okay, so take it out."
Buck's got more grit to him than Eddie would've expected from a twenty-something brat who was so irate at his presence in the firehouse Eddie half expected to be pushed down the stairs. Buck volunteered to get into the ambulance with him, knowing the risks. He's pinching the guy's skin and saying, "Take it out," and Eddie, for the first time since leaving the military, feels it - a connection. A kindred spirit. A purpose that tethers him to reality. A person relying on him to get the job done.
The grenade comes out, and outside the ambulance, he turns to Buck, who's still peeling off the armour. "You're a badass under pressure, brother," he says - when did he last call someone his brother and mean it?
Buck smiles guilelessly, widely, and Eddie thinks, that was it? All it took to get a smile out of the 118's youngest member was - a compliment?
"Who, me?" Buck asks, voice weirdly proud and shy at the same time.
"Hell yeah," he says, and smiles. "You can have my back any day."
"Yeah," Buck replies, and he's still smiling, this kind of goofy half-smile that disarms any reservations Eddie might have. "Or you know, you could - you could have mine."
Dios mío, the guy is like a puppy - Eddie can't help but snort out a laugh. "Deal," he says, and takes Buck's hand to shake it.
For the first time since he left the army, he's got what he was so desperately missing - a team. A purpose greater than himself. A unit.
Eddie learns, very quickly, that when one Evan Buckley has decided he's in your corner, he's really fucking in your corner.
From the moment they leave the ambulance - well, what's left of it after the grenade - Buck takes to him like a baby duck imprinting on its mother. Eddie's not sure what he's done to deserve it, but he's grateful all the same - he's seen the looks people give Buck in the station, heard what they say about him, and he knows one thing - Buck is one of the most respected and well-liked people in this firehouse, and he's apparently chosen Eddie to be his friend.
He can't help but laugh affectionately at Buck's total surprise when he doesn't win the calendar spot. It feels good to have him on-side, like some of the ride-or-die camaraderie he had in the military.
And it sticks.
He's reluctant to tell Buck he has a kid, but the moment he does, Buck lights up like a Christmas tree and says, "Super adorable! I uh, I love kids!" and that really just... cements it for Eddie. Buck is good. He can see it through and through. Can feel it when Buck tries to reassure him during the earthquake and when he drives Eddie to Christopher's school to get him.
Abuela breaks her hip, leaving Eddie without childcare. Buck tells Cap that Chris needs to come to the station, and gives him a rock-solid "I got your back" look when Eddie looks to him afterward. Buck finds out Eddie is struggling with childcare in general and enlists Carla to help. Buck finds out Shannon is back on the scene and offers sage advice while they watch Christopher talk to Santa. Eddie has a problem, and Buck fixes it.
And then Buck gets trapped under the ladder truck, and Eddie can't go to him until the bomber is taken down. When he does get over there, Buck's stopped shaking and his skin is cold and clammy to the touch, and his voice breaks when he tells them he feels "kind of numb" and all Eddie can do is lock down the panic and tell himself he's not done here yet, and neither is Buck.
He holds Buck's hand as they get a neck brace on him and lines running in. At some point, Buck starts shaking again, and he whimpers as he tries to drag himself forward.
"We've got you, Buck," he says, and Buck squeezes his hand weakly. "You're not done yet."
Buck screams when Eddie pulls him free of the truck, screams like Eddie hasn't heard since Afghanistan, and it takes everything in him to shelve the feeling for later so that he can boost Buck onto a backboard and rush to follow alongside him in the ambulance. It's everything, everything and then some, and he sits in the ambulance on the way to hospital and takes Buck's hand in his and just holds on. There will be time to break down later, but none now.
To his surprise, he feels a weak squeeze around his fingers. Hen and Chim are working on Buck furiously - saline and blood and packing the wound on his head, but Buck's eyes are open and he's got them fixed on Eddie.
"Hey," Eddie says. "You're safe."
Buck swallows. His eyes close, then open. "Where?"
"Ambulance. You're gonna be okay, Buck."
When he asks later, how Buck held on for so long, pinned and helpless and losing blood and feeling, Buck will look at him from where he's struggling through his rehab exercises and say, "You told me I wasn't done," and Eddie will go home and think about it.
He'll go home and think, I saved one person, and that has to be enough. I saved Buck. That has to be enough. He'll go home and think, but what about Greggs? I saved Buck, but what about Greggs? He'll go home and think, I saved Buck, and that should be enough. It should be but it isn't. He'll go home and think, I didn't save everyone.
Buck is so relieved Christopher is alright that he collapses.
For a while, it's a blur. Eddie, with Christopher, is immediately taken off duty to look after his little family, and with Chris checked over and okay and sleeping on Eddie's shoulder, he finds Buck.
Buck's been given a little cot in a relief tent, and there are IVs running into his hand, a bloody rag tied around one wrist, soaked through with blood. He looks like he fought his way through hell today, and Eddie's sure he did.
"Hey," Eddie whispers, settling down on the edge of Buck's cot.
Buck blinks his eyes open exhaustedly. He makes to sit, but collapses back against the thin pillow provided after a few seconds with a little grunt of pain.
"Don't get up," Eddie murmurs. "Stay still, okay?"
Buck sighs, opens his eyes properly. He watches Eddie and Chris for a moment, struggling to stay awake.
"That looks bad," Eddie says, nodding at Buck's wrist.
Buck licks his lips, and Eddie thinks he must be thirsty. He gently settles Chris in the cot nearby, pulling it close so he's within reach of both of them, and cracks open a bottle of water that's been left at Buck's side.
He doesn't wait for Buck to try and take it. He's an army medic, and he's nursed far sicker and more injured people than this, but something about touching Buck when he's injured has his pulse going up anxiously. The last thing he wants is to cause any more hurt.
He lifts Buck's head gently and brings the water bottle to his lips. Buck drinks thirstily, eyes closed, until Eddie takes it away, worried he'll get sick.
"Can I look at your wrist?"
Buck blinks tiredly. "They said they were gonna send someone..."
"They haven't yet. It's okay, Chris is here." Eddie gestures at his wrist. "That's hardly a bandage."
Buck holds his arm out, and Eddie reaches for the nearby first aid kit, cuts the cloth off with some scissors, and inspects it. The cut is fairly deep, but not wide. It might need stitches, but for now, he can clean it.
"This'll sting," he warns, and begins to rub it down with antiseptic. Buck winces, but he allows it. "How'd this happen?"
"I was looking for Chris," Buck croaks. "Ow."
"Sorry." He pours a little water on it to get a better look. "You lost a lot of blood," he notes.
"Blood thinners. Looks worse than it is."
"Hmm." He reaches for a bandage. Buck's hand twitches against his; his skin is clammy, cold. "Hey, you're shivering."
Eddie looks around, sees that someone has left a blanket in the corner - where Buck is in no state to reach it on his own - and feels his temper flare. He bandages Buck's cut with clinical precision, then grabs it and unfurls it.
"Give it to Chris," Buck rasps.
"Chris has a blanket," Eddie says, surprised at Buck's selflessness. He's visibly shivering, still in wet clothes, and clearly needs to be kept warm. "And a hoodie. You don't."
Eddie bundles Chris up in his arms, then deposits him with Buck, carefully, and puts the blanket over both of them. "There," he says. "Now you're both warm."
He can do this part. This is what he's always done. Hell, Buck is alive and in no immediate danger of losing his life. So why is Eddie's heart constricted like it's wrapped in fishing wire?
Buck tilts his head. A tear streaks down the side of his nose. "Thanks."
"Buck..." Eddie sidles up closer. "Jesus, you're a wreck. You should've gotten medical help="
"I wasn't done looking for him," Buck croaks weakly. "He needed me. I wasn't finished."
Eddie's floored for a moment. He'd jump in for Christopher any day, but Buck? He could never expect that of Buck. And Buck thought Eddie would be mad at him.
"You're finished now," he says quietly, and Buck blinks tiredly. "He's safe. He's right here. You're done for now, Evan. Go to sleep."
The lawsuit era is one of the worst for Eddie that comes to mind.
It's not just that he can't talk to Buck. It's not just that Christopher is having nightmares. It's that Eddie turns into the worst version of himself he knows - this angry human being he hasn't been since the few weeks before Shannon left. He lost everything then, too, pushed her away.
He's not expecting for Buck to push back. And this is the worst part - Buck is good and Buck feels things and Eddie abandoned him, Eddie said "you're exhausting!" like Buck should be anything other than worn down and out by a near-fatal truck explosion, months of rehab, a pulmonary embolism and a fucking tsunami.
Eddie shows Buck the worst of him, Eddie treats Buck like shit, and Buck just pushes back harder. He won't leave, even when he probably should. Eddie shows Buck the worst of him and Buck loves him anyway.
Bobby makes him see Frank. Bobby makes him see Frank, and Frank says, "Why do you think you were rocked so badly by Buck's disappearance from your life?" and Eddie says, "Because Christopher needed him," and Frank says, "The lawsuit never stopped Buck from talking to Christopher, Eddie," and Eddie thinks about it, rocked by the sudden realisation that Buck is a pillar of Eddie's life that he just can't afford to lose.
He gets shitfaced drunk that night like he hasn't in - well, years, and ends up at Buck's doorstep, swaying on the spot as he knocks and knocks, totally failing to realise it's two in the morning until Buck appears at the door, sleep-rumbled and looking angry until he takes Eddie in.
"What are you doing here?" he asks. "Eddie? Jesus, dude, you smell like a bar."
"I treated you like shit," Eddie says, and Buck's eyes widen as he lunges forward to stop Eddie's swaying.
"C'mon, Eddie. Come inside."
"No," Eddie mumbles unhappily, even as he moves forward to enter Buck's apartment. Buck's shirtless and wearing sweats that hang stupidly low on his hips. "I was bad to you."
"What? When?" Buck asks helplessly.
"The lawsuit," Eddie says. "I was bad to you. I yelled at you. I called you exhausting."
His words slur, but Buck flinches in a way that shows he understood every word of what Eddie just said. "Eddie, we... we agreed we were past that, right? I apologised, I said I was sorry-"
"Forgave you," Eddie says, tottering forward to put a hand on Buck's shoulder. "But I never said sorry."
Buck's quiet for a moment. "Eddie..."
"Not exhausting," Eddie says. "You're not. Not exhausting. Buck." He holds onto Buck with both hands, for comfort and for stability, and Buck lets him, even puts his hands on Eddie's arms. "Not exhausting," Eddie reiterates for the third time. "Beautiful."
Buck's silent. Eddie shakes him a little, and Buck says, "You're drunk, Eddie," in this horribly tender and sad tone and Eddie really wants to be done with hurting Buck. He wants this to be over.
"You don't like being yelled at," Eddie says, which feels important for him to get across. "I know you don't."
"Nobody likes being yelled at."
"But you. Especially you." Eddie wobbles, and Buck digs his hands in to steady him. "So scared of letting people down. I know you are. I am too. Made you feel like you did. But it was me. I let you down. I wasn't there. I'm sorry."
"It's okay, Eddie. I forgave you ages ago."
"Why did you forgive me? I don't deserve it."
Buck sighs. He looks tired in the half-light coming from the kitchen, and Eddie's eyes are drawn to his chest, where a tattoo rises and falls with his breathing. "I guess I'm not done with you," he murmurs. "C'mon, you can stay here. Your head is gonna hurt in the morning."
"Nope. Guess neither of us are."
He wakes up in Buck's bed, with his head on Buck's chest, pounding viciously with a hangover.
He tries to say, "Buck?" only it comes out as, "Ow," and Buck moves a little, sleepily. How'd he get here again?
"You're awake," Buck yawns.
"Bed?" Eddie asks.
"You refused to let me sleep on the couch," Buck says, voice sleep-rough. "Said you'd "done enough" or something like that. I was too tired to argue with you."
Eddie groans, tilting his head until his face is firmly shoved into Buck's armpit, which isn't exactly great but feels a lot better than having to make eye contact with him right now. Buck's voice is amused when he asks, "What are you doing?"
"God, I'm sorry," Eddie groans. "I showed up here at two in the morning, woke you up... pretty sure I puked somewhere..."
"The floor, but I'll only hold it over you for the rest of your life," Buck says charitably. "It's fine, Eddie. I'm glad you came here instead of going somewhere else."
He doesn't care that Eddie slept on his chest. Or that he's still there. Eddie is suddenly awake enough to realise that Buck is cradling his shoulders, holding him close.
He should feel weird. It should feel uncomfortable, he reasons, as a man who identifies as straight and was previously fairly confident in that identity.
But then he looks up, and Buck's eyes are bright blue in the morning light, his hair mussed up from sleep, and there are pillow creases on his face and he's looking at Eddie so gently that he revises his opinion. That straight thing could change, after all.
"Want breakfast?" Buck asks, still looking at him.
Eddie swallows. "Nah. Wouldn't mind staying in bed longer, actually."
"Hmm." Buck rolls his head back to the centre of the pillow, closing his eyes. His arm flexes underneath Eddie's shoulders and neck. "Me either."
He never wanted the Silver Star.
He accepted it, because he had to, the same way he had the accept a lot of things. And when he was congratulated on it, he was gracious about it. Swallowed what he really wanted to say - people died for me to get that medal. Greggs died and everyone was injured and my brain is broken and I can't sleep and I can't eat and I can't be a husband or a father and all for what? A medal? A fucking medal?
He never wanted the medal, or the commendations. He never wanted the service record. He wanted his people safe and alive. He wanted his mind and soul intact. He wanted to go home and forget.
So he swallows it down. Instead of yelling about the injustice of it, about how he doesn't want it, it means nothing, it means less than nothing - he smiles stiffly when people congratulate him and, when he moves to California, he hides it.
That is, until Chris finds it.
Chris thinks the medal makes him a hero. Eddie never really thought of it that way. It's a comfort, coming from his son, the only comfort to be found in it - his kid thinks he's a hero.
He's never liked that word. The hero word.
He never liked it because it came with the expectation of self-sacrifice. The word hero is filled with connotations he's not comfortable with - the branding on it suggests an element of expendability, of expectation. Of the willingness to give one's life up for the cause, even if he shouldn't have to.
He never cared when it was just him. But it's not just him now. It's Buck. It's Hen and Chimney, Bobby, Athena. The thought of any of them laying down their lives for the purpose of others, simply because people are obsessed with the inspiration porn of self-sacrifice, makes him nauseous.
Maybe that's why he volunteers to go into the pipes. Maybe it's because Hayden is the same size as Christopher. Maybe it's all that, and he just can't watch another person die.
He doesn't want to die. He wants to live. But if it comes to it - if death is the price he pays for saving someone else, if it's the ultimate price, he'll do it. This is his job. More and more he's realising that he can't look away from it. This is, intrinsically, who he is. He thought he was finished when he quit the army with his broken mind and soul and three little round scars punched into him.
It turns out he's not done yet.
The pipes collapse with Eddie in them.
He lies there for a while, trying to regather himself, thinking. Gripping his St. Christopher, pressing his thumb into it like it might brand him.
He's not a religious man, but he prays. He prays, and then he digs deep, searching desperately for that final two percent he knows he has in him somewhere, finds it in his memories of Christopher - in his love for Christopher.
"Get up, Diaz," he tells himself, and struggles until he can pitch forward, onto his hands and knees. "You're not finished yet."
There's a moment, when he's underwater and outside of the cave, where everything is pitch black and cold and wet, where his brain reels through his life. Christopher, less than a day old, placed in his arms. Christopher, the day he realised Shannon had left. Christopher, sitting on the porch in Texas, waiting for him. Christopher, saying "I missed you all the time."
Buck, in every single recent memory. Smiling. Carrying Eddie when he was too tired to keep doing it himself. Carrying Christopher. Pushing them ahead even as he fell behind.
"Wait, you got a kid?"
"Christopher... he's seven."
"And super adorable! I uh, I love kids!"
"I love this one."
His kid needs him.
The ride to the hospital is relatively uneventful, all things considered.
Buck goes in the ambulance with him. He's shellshocked white under his helmet, drenched through with rain, eyes red. He's still in his turnout gear and he's wrapped Eddie in his own thermal blanket. They were all issued one. Eddie, lying on a gurney for the uncomfortable trip to the hospital, has two.
Buck sits close enough that Eddie can feel his body heat. Eventually, apparently unable to cope with the sight of Eddie shivering pathetically, Buck crowds in close and puts his head and shoulders down, lets his body heat leech into the blankets and Eddie's skin.
Eddie, delirious with relief and cold and definitely feeling something other than brotherly love towards Buck, reaches out and puts a hand on the back of Buck's neck. Buck jolts, but he permits it. His hair is still wet.
"I'm alive?" Eddie asks.
Buck raises his head. "Yeah. You're alive." He sounds like he's trying to convince himself. "Eddie... how'd you get out of there, man?"
Eddie rests his head back against the pillow, for the first time realising that he feels safe and secure as long as Buck's around him. "Chris needs me," he says. "I can't leave him."
Buck nods slowly. He looks wrecked. He looks... heartbroken.
"Are you okay?" Eddie asks.
"I thought you dead down there," Buck says, voice breaking.
"I wasn't. I'm not." Eddie grits his teeth against a shiver. "Hayden?"
"He's okay. They took him to hospital." Buck wipes his eyes with his free hand, and Eddie realises he's clutching the other. "Worry about yourself, Eddie."
"Don't need to," Eddie says hazily. "You're here."
He turns. Bobby stands in the doorway, his brow arched a little.
"I'm all warm again, and there's nothing else wrong with me, except a few scrapes," Eddie says. "Gotta get up and move sometime."
"Right." Bobby's eyes travel the room curiously. "Where's Buck?"
"Home, showering, I hope," Eddie says. "He refused to leave for a while."
There's a long pause. He finishes pulling on his coat with a wince, then turns to see if Bobby's still there. He is, watching Eddie with the carefully blank look he usually reserves for giving people news they don't want to hear.
"Bobby?" Eddie asks slowly.
"Eddie," Bobby says slowly, "there's something you should know."
"Okay?" He blinks, takes in Bobby's stature. "What's wrong?"
"There's no easy way to say this," Bobby says. "I'm not even sure I should tell you. But when the pipes caved in, and everything came down outside..." Bobby shakes his head. "Eddie, Buck lost it. Tried digging through the mud with his bare hands to get you out. Crying your name the whole time. I couldn't even get him off the ground for a while."
Eddie stands there, silently, attempting to process the news. He can't imagine Buck being anything less than composed, the way he always has been. Hell, he took on a live grenade at Eddie's side and wasn't phased by it. Battled floodwaters for Christopher. Fought months of agonising physical therapy to get back to work.
"Eddie, when he thought you were dead, he went completely off the rails," Bobby says gently. "It was like he was catatonic. He only really came out of it when you found your way back to us."
Eddie nods slowly, mechanically. He thinks back. He thinks back to his brain's sidereel of memories, how the last two years were filled unavoidably with Buck's smile, with his eyes. With the fact that he was there the whole time, in one way or another.
"Do you know where Christopher is?" he asks.
Bobby nods. "He's with your aunt. She's keeping him until morning."
"Okay." Eddie picks up his things. "I need a ride to Buck's."
He's bone tired when he knocks on Buck's door, but he needs to do this.
Buck answers when he knocks, and Eddie's startled to see that his eyes are wet like he's been crying.
"Eddie?" Buck asks.
"Hey," Eddie says. "Can I come in?"
Buck stands back to let him, and Eddie enters, quiet for a moment, before saying, "Bobby said you tried to dig through forty feet of mud to try and get to me."
Buck looks down. He doesn't say anything.
"Why?" Eddie asks.
"Because it felt like the world was ending," Buck replies hollowly. "Because Chris needs you. Because I realised I care more about you than I do about myself. Because I wanted to go down there and get you myself, but they wouldn't let me because they knew I'd cut the line to stay with you if I had to."
"I don't want you to die for me," Eddie says helplessly, not knowing how to take the rest.
"And I don't want you to die for anyone else," Buck croaks. "You did your job. You did more than your job. And I get it, Eddie, I do. I would've done the same thing. But I couldn't - I couldn't deal with you being trapped down there, I couldn't deal with the idea that you were dead and-"
Buck's voice breaks, and he turns away from Eddie, his back quaking in what Eddie knows is a barely-repressed sob.
Eddie approaches, suddenly and painfully aware of how deep Buck's love for him runs. How did he not notice it before now?
"I'm here, Buck," he says quietly. "With you."
He touches Buck's back, and Buck turns to him, folds into his arms, clings to him like Eddie might be the only thing that's real. Eddie, for the first time all night, feels warmed through.
"Sorry," Buck mumbles. "I'm sorry."
Eddie pulls back to look at him. "Don't be sorry," he murmurs, watching as Buck's eyes blink slowly. They're so damn blue it's hard for Eddie to focus, for a moment, and then he remembers he doesn't have to. This is Buck.
He leans forward, kisses Buck softly and chastely with the knowledge that he won't be rejected, that Buck has been waiting for him to catch up this whole time. Buck kisses him back, and it's a little salty with tears, butt Eddie feels like he's come home.
"Thanks," Buck whispers.
"For what?" Eddie asks.
"Not giving up down there."
Eddie strokes the back of Buck's head, his neck. Buck closes his eyes and leans in close. "We're not done here, Buck," Eddie says gently. "Couldn't give up on that."