Eddie learned early on in his friendship with Buck that a quick way to his heart was through his stomach.
Not the quickest, no, that spot was reserved for kids of all kinds, especially Christopher. But Eddie didn’t know what kind of Buck he was going to find tonight, and while he trusted Buck implicitly around Chris, his sensitive eight-year-old didn’t need to see his best buddy barely two weeks after being blown up.
They’d discharged Buck two days ago. No one at the 118 had heard from him since.
Chimney assured them yesterday that Maddie had been over to see Buck a few times. But the grimace on his face made Hen pry, and Chim said ruefully, “Well, according to Maddie, he’s…not doing so hot.”
Eddie narrowed his eyes. “Like how? Like, physically?” Buck’s leg would be a bitch and a half to heal, but Cedars-Sinai sent him home with the good stuff. “Is he in pain?”
“No, physically he’s doing about as well as could be expected,” Chim said. “It’s more like he’s not talking. Not more than he absolutely has to.”
“What he’s been through was hugely traumatic,” Bobby said solemnly. “And right now, he’s grappling with the fact that he might not get to be a firefighter anymore. All we can do is be there for him as best we can, but we might need to give him some time and space.”
They all called at some point over the day, and through the shift Eddie had just finished. Voicemails across the board.
So Eddie decided by the end of shift, that fuck it, he’d give Buck time but he sure as shit wouldn’t be getting space in the near future.
He got a spare key from Maddie, dropped Christopher off at Abuela’s, and picked up some junk food and two large pizzas.
He knocked once, as a formality. “Hey, Buck? It’s me, man.”
He waited a few beats. He hadn’t expected an answer, but the unnatural silence of Buck’s apartment still but him on edge. Usually when Buck had company, the space was bright and fragrant and full of sound, even through the closed door. Now, the hallway echoed sadly.
Eddie balanced the drinks and snacks on top of the pizza boxes and finessed the door open.
The interior was dim. The only source of light was a lamp in the far corner and the cool glow of the TV under the loft. Eddie shut the door and stepped into the den.
“Go away, Maddie,” Buck groaned. “I don’t have the energy for a lecture right now.”
He was on the couch, his leg propped up on a few pillows piled onto the coffee table. A blanket was tucked loosely around his shoulders. His brow wrinkled in confusion. “Eddie? What are you doing here?”
For a second, Eddie couldn’t answer, because shit Buck looked like hell.
Even ignoring the monstrosity of the cast, Eddie’s bright-eyed, bushy-tailed partner looked like he’d been mauled. The cuts and bruises on his face stood out lividly against too-pale skin. Heavy bags hung below dull eyes.
Buck looked…defeated. Utterly defeated. Eddie’s heart broke a little.
It was so wrong to see that in Buck’s eyes. Buck was loud and brash and good. He of all people didn’t deserve what had happened.
But it happened anyway.
The God he’d been taught to trust in didn’t care about moral worth, Eddie guessed. Not in this life, at least.
Eddie couldn’t help that. But he could help this.
“I brought pizza,” he said, raising the precarious boxes for emphasis. “And comfort food.”
Buck sniffed and turned back to the TV. “I don’t really feel like company right now.”
The set to his jaw made Eddie’s head spin. He hadn’t seen that look since he last wore it himself, the day he returned stateside. It was the face of someone telling themselves they could deal with this alone, and trying to convince the world of the same thing.
Eddie knew better. Still, maybe he could do this the easy way. “Oh, okay. Well I guess I’ll just go enjoy pizza and M’n’Ms all by myself, then.”
Buck didn’t look away from the screen. “You do that,” he replied tonelessly.
Well, all right then.
Eddie plopped the boxes onto an open spot on the coffee table and retrieved a pair of plates from the kitchen. He started doling pizza and garlic knots onto each one.
Buck stared at him. “Eddie, what–“
“It’s not gonna work on me, man,” Eddie said smoothly.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“This, the whole–“ Eddie gestured broadly, “sitting in the dark staring at the TV, not answering our phone calls for two days? You’re self-isolating, Buck. And I’m not gonna let you.”
Buck’s eyes flashed, and for the first time since Eddie got here, he looked a little to the right of half-alive. “Maybe I just want to be left alone, did you think about that? Maybe I want–“ he mimicked Eddie’s gesture, edges of the blanket flapping, “this.”
“No, you don’t.” Eddie jabbed his thumb over his shoulder, out the window. “You want that.”
And by the way Buck’s face tightened, Eddie knew he’d caught his meaning. That: the 118. The way things were. Home.
“You want that,” Eddie continued, “but you can’t have it right now. And it’s not going to be entirely the same after this, Buck. You have a lot of healing to do.”
Buck’s eyes glittered in the shifting light of the TV. He lowered his head.
Eddie scooched up and settled on the couch, pressing his hip against Buck’s. “You don’t have that, but you do have us. Just because you’re on the bench doesn’t mean you’re off the team, Buck, or out of the game. We all still love you, and we’re gonna help you get back to where you want to be.” Eddie nudged him gently. “But you need to let us help. Let us be there for you. I wish I had, when I got back from Afghanistan.”
Buck looked up at him in surprise. Yeah, that got his attention. Eddie had never brought up his service record before. “Yeah. I got hurt pretty bad, dude. And the physical stuff was the easy part. Some of my family members– Abuela, Pepa, even Shannon at the beginning, they tried to reach out and help. And I pushed them away. It made it a lot harder than it had to be. I don’t want you to make my mistakes.”
Buck sniffled thickly. “Eddie, I…” he swallowed, and looked up at him. The clenched jaw was gone, replaced by the naked fear and choking despair Eddie knew was roaring up inside him. “I can’t…”
“I know, Buck,” Eddie murmured. “You don’t have to. But when you’re ready, we’re here to listen, and help you however we can. You’re gonna get through this. You don’t have a choice.”
Buck blinked. “Is that a…threat?”
“Yes, and a fact,” Eddie quipped. “Now c’mon, I got pepperoni.” He picked up one of the plates and was about to hand it to Buck when a cold hand settled around his wrist.
“Eddie,” Buck said, sounding a little less hopeless, “Thanks.”