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wondering (where did my baby go)

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Before

 

He’s not looking when it happens. For months afterward, Eddie will run himself ragged with guilt over this small fact.

It’s a recovery of all things; how painfully fitting. One second Buck is lowering himself into a mess of rubble after a construction demo gone wrong- and the next, the airbag holding everything up whistles as it catches on a piece of rebar, giving Buck no time to run for cover before the rubble shifts and caves in. Effectively trapping him underneath it.

Eddie’s heart drops into his stomach and never comes back up.

Nearly half an hour goes by before it’s stable enough to get him out of the wreckage; Buck is swept into an ambulance and rushed away from the scene less than a minute later. Eddie doesn’t care that his hands are shaking. Right now, he just needs to keep Buck alive.

He’s bloody to the point of being unrecognizable as Eddie holds the oxygen mask over his face. Eddie can only touch so much of him; even if he could, there isn’t an inch of Buck that isn’t covered in bruises or dirt, leaving him looking nothing like himself. Eddie doesn’t look away from Buck’s face, too afraid to see what the rest of his injuries look like.

The whole rig rocks dangerously as Chimney speeds to the nearest hospital. Every alarm in the ambo is going off- they can’t get a sinus rhythm and they already used all the epinephrine they can and nothing is working. The shrill noise of the flatline is going to haunt Eddie for years. He looks up, desperate, ready to ask what’s next but Hen is looking at him shamefully.

Eddie’s voice fails him. “Don’t- don’t say it.” 

“He hasn’t had a pulse for-.”

“No! No, you can, we can work on him. There’s not- he’s not.” Eddie feels like he’s dying. This can’t be happening.

Hen takes the mask away from him carefully- far gentler than she usually is with him- and cuts all of the noise in the same movement. Eddie’s hands fall beside Buck’s face while his ears ring. His whole body slumps and he hides his head in Buck’s shoulder, wishing he could still feel his warmth.

It can’t be true, Eddie tells himself. I haven’t told him I love him yet.

 

 

 

He’s not sure what happens between then and Bobby’s arrival. Eddie doesn’t remember leaving the ambulance or going back to the station. It’s all a fog. But Bobby is sitting across from him in the locker room and Buck is-.

“Eddie,” Bobby says like he’s speaking to a spooked animal. “Son, why don’t I drive you home?”

Because I don’t have my truck. Because Buck drove us both to work and now-.

Eddie picks up his head, finding it heavier than usual. Bobby’s talking to him like it’s just another day. Like everything didn’t just fall to pieces right in front of them. Why isn’t Bobby screaming? Why isn’t he as destroyed as Eddie feels right down to his toes-.

“Aren’t you upset about this?” His voice is hoarse like he’s been screaming; for all he knows, he has.

Bobby makes a face that Eddie can’t figure out, then still says, “Let me take you home.”

He must agree because the next thing he knows he’s walking up to his dark house, wishing more than anything that he could hold his son. But he’s not here. And neither is Buck. Buck won’t be here again.

Eddie only makes it as far as the couch before his knees give out. The coffee table rattles as his foot clips the corner of it. He’s never wished more than now that he was smaller, that he could curl into himself and never face the world again. Eddie’s hand brushes something in the dark. One of Buck’s sweatshirts is slung over the back of the couch where he left it this morning- this morning.

He’s been in love with Buck for years and now he gets nothing- there will not be another chance with him.

Eddie pulls the sweatshirt over his face and breathes in as hard as he can, wishing that Buck was here. A miserable whine leaves his lips as he exhales, cursing the world for taking someone from him.

 

 

 

When the sun comes up, Eddie starts counting down the minutes waiting for his phone to ring. It’s a quarter past seven when it finally goes off the first time and it does not stop until Eddie finally turns it off, barely resisting the urge to throw the damn thing against the wall. He already has a good guess as to who’s on the other end and that’s not who he wants.

Christopher will be awake by now. Abuela is taking him to school this morning; he has his presentation in science class today. The one that Buck was so excited to help him with-.

He can’t tell Christopher what happened. He’s not going to break his son’s heart again. It’s too soon.

Eddie’s head swims as he forces himself to his feet. He didn’t sleep a wink. Every time he closed his eyes all he could see was Buck's face staring back- taunting him from the great beyond.

He picks up his phone again begrudgingly, making sure that Abuela got Christopher to school okay. There are no messages from her. There are, however, nearly a dozen messages and missed calls from Maddie, all saying the same thing: come over to Buck’s.  

Isn’t it a little soon to clear out his stuff, Eddie thinks to himself sourly. It hasn’t even been a full twenty-four hours. At least wait until we’ve-.

Eddie doesn’t let himself finish that sentence. That’ll only make this more real and he can’t deal with that right now. He stands in the middle of his kitchen looking around at the leftover cereal bowls and half-empty coffee pot from yesterday morning; his clothes are a wrinkled mess. Eddie knows how long it’s been since the last time he felt like this; he was hoping it would be a while before this happened again.

Despite feeling so emotionally wrung out, Eddie finds himself moving towards his truck on auto-pilot. He’s still in the same clothes from yesterday and definitely not awake enough for it to be safe to drive, but he goes anyway. He can only imagine how much this is hurting Maddie right now; Eddie owes it to Buck to make sure she’s okay.

The drive there is a blur. He leaves the radio off; all of the songs are too happy and bright- everything that Buck made an effort to put into the world. If he thinks about it all for even a second, he’ll lose it and Eddie doesn’t need to add getting into an accident on top of all of this.

His feet drag as he walks up to Buck apartment and lets himself in. The lights are off, but the midmorning sun is flooding the space. Maddie must’ve opened the blinds; Eddie doesn’t see her anywhere, though.

Eddie croaks, “Maddie?”

“We’re up here,” she calls from the landing and Eddie finds her phrasing strange. Maddie didn’t say that anyone else was going to be here.

As Eddie reaches the top step, he feels all of the air in his lungs leave his body. Everyone’s here. Bobby, Chimney, and Hen are all sitting around the edge of the bed. Maddie’s found a place near the headboard, holding Jee-Yun in her lap and-

Buck’s lifeless form is in his own bed tucked under the covers, his skin grey and entirely too still. The bruising on his face from the fall has magically disappeared, all of the blood cleared away. Hen is stroking back his hair like it’s normal. Like he’s just asleep of all things.

“Wh-what,” Eddie starts. “What the hell is this?”

Hen doesn’t even flinch. “He’s not dead if you don’t call it.”

When he staggers on his feet, Bobby and Chimney leap off the bed to keep Eddie from toppling headfirst down the stairs. His stomach churns painfully and his chest goes tight. This must be some sort of morbid joke. Or he’s been drugged. Maybe both.

“I know this is strange,” Maddie says, moving towards him with her free hand up. “But I promise I can explain.”

“Why did you-.” Eddie can’t find the words. “How could you have… Buck’s d-.”

“He’s not dead. I mean, he is, but. Buck’s coming back, Eddie, I promise.”

Eddie looks around at his team, looking for some clue as to what’s going here, but they’re all wearing the same expression as Maddie. Like they know something that he doesn’t.

He’s going to be sick. “What are you talking about?”

“When Buck was five, he got hit by a car on his bike. By the time the ambulance came and got him to the hospital, he had already flatlined in front of all of us twice. The doctor said it was best to let him go, that his injuries were too severe to survive. Then, half an hour later, he opened his eyes and sat up like it was nothing. He didn’t even remember the accident happening. I think that’s part of why our parents were so distant with him; they resented him for living when Daniel didn’t.”

“That doesn’t make any sense. You can’t- nobody comes back from the dead.”

Maddie shakes her head. “But he’s not dead, he’s just in limbo. Buck was younger then, so it didn’t take as much time to come back to himself. Since he’s older now, it’s going to be a little while. But he is coming back, Eddie. Buck always comes back.”

Eddie stumbles on his feet again and this time, Bobby and Chimney let go when he pushes away from them and rushes down the stairs. It’s too much to handle. This isn’t real. It’s not how the world works.

He makes it to the hallway before his legs go out from under him. Eddie’s chest heaves as his emotions overwhelm him, slumped against the wall. It doesn’t take long for Chimney to find him. He meets Eddie on the floor and slips an arm around his shoulder, letting him howl and cry as much as he needs to. Eddie’s bone-tired by the time he’s done; his voice is barely audible as he asks:

“Do you believe all of this?”

Chimney gets real quiet like he’s sharing a secret he doesn’t want the rest of the world to know. “Yeah, I do.”

Whether it’s the exhaustion or the grief, Eddie doesn’t have a response. He continues to cry, but it’s less of a full-body experience. His eyes are gritty and dry when Chimney helps pull him to his feet. No amount of rubbing at them will make it go away.

“You don’t have to stay; Maddie will understand. She mentioned a sort of watch schedule so Buck’s not alone when he comes to, but we can fill you in on that later. Go get some sleep, Eddie. We still have a shift tomorrow after all.”

“Right,” he says numbly. The idea of going back to work after the last day and a half sounds like an absolute nightmare, but he knows there’s no getting around it. He can’t quit his job just because Buck-.

Not dead. Maddie said he’s not dead.

He’s not sure he believes it himself, but there’s a room full of people he trusts that seem to think so, so it’s gotta be worth something.

It’s not even noon when he leaves. He should go home, he should sleep- but Eddie finds himself driving to Christopher’s school anyway. Christopher’s class isn’t outside when he gets there, but something about just knowing that he’s close by makes Eddie feel a little less gutted. He spends hours trying to think of what he’s going to tell Christopher and nothing he comes up with seems to suffice.

Eddie barely even understands it himself, let alone believes it. How is he supposed to tell Christopher that someone he cares about got hurt again?

What is Eddie supposed to tell him if Buck doesn’t come back?

When the bell rings for the end of the day, Eddie tries to cover up the way he startles. He didn’t notice the parking lot filling up around him. It’s not long before Christopher is walking out of the building, already looking up to find Eddie’s truck. Christopher spots him as soon as Eddie steps out, showing off his toothy smile as he gets closer. He leans into Eddie’s legs and chest, softly saying, “Hi, Dad.”

“Hey, buddy.” Eddie needs to get them back to the truck; he can’t tell Christopher out here in front of all his classmates. This is Christopher’s safe place; he doesn’t want to ruin it for him. Eddie hopes Christopher doesn’t notice how his hands have begun to shake as he leads them both to the truck. “How did your presentation go?”

“Good. Everyone liked the model volcano I brought; can we call Buck so I can tell him?”

Eddie’s breath catches in his chest and he stumbles. They’re almost there; he just needs to get to the truck and then they can go home and get this horrible conversation over with-.

“Dad,” Christopher says, voice alarmed. “Why are you crying?”

Eddie pats his face and sure enough, his fingers come away wet. Shit. He didn’t want this to happen here but he’s running out of options, and the ability to keep his emotions in check. Eddie leads him over to the curb, as far away from the school as he can get, and drops to one knee. The words sound ridiculous to his own ears as he lies, saying:

“Chris, Buck got hurt at work last night…”

 

 

 

After that first day at Buck’s loft, Eddie can’t go up there. They’ve all told him touch is supposed to help, but he can’t make himself do it. He can’t look at Buck’s dead not dead face. But he agreed to be on watch rotation, so he’ll have to face it sometime.

On Wednesdays, he comes to relieve Hen in the mornings and stays until nightfall when Chimney comes to sit with Buck. He putters around and watches everything imaginable on Netflix. When that gets old, Eddie sits and waits. To hear a sound, the call of his name- hell, even a message from God would do at this point- anything to tell him whether or not he’s setting himself up to get his heartbroken again.

He can’t tell Christopher where he’s going when he’s not at work. He’s begged to go see Buck nearly every day since Eddie told him Buck’s in a coma; it’s the same thing that Bobby tells everyone else at the station when they ask about him. That there’s no change and he’s in a private ward, that only Maddie is allowed to go visit him. Eddie doesn’t know how much longer he can go on lying to his kid- or how much longer he’ll believe it for that matter.

“I won’t be loud or anything. I can just sit next to him; what if he’s having a bad dream? I don’t want h-him to be by himself. Please, Dad, I really want to go see Buck.”

Eddie tries to hold back his sigh as he finishes doing the dishes. Between a long shift last night and being at Buck’s most of the day, he doesn’t have the emotional willpower to have this conversation again. “Chris, we already talked about this.”

“But why,” he whines, slowly getting louder and red in the face. It’s the closest thing to a tantrum Eddie’s seen in years. “He’s my friend, too! It’s not fair that you won’t let me go. I don’t care if he’s sleeping, I want to see him!”

“Christopher-.”

“You can’t keep Buck away just because you love him!”

This alone nearly takes Eddie out for good. The insinuation of his son knowing more than Eddie has ever outwardly let on is more than he knows how to deal with. He lets the plate in his hand slip back into the sink with a dull thud, looking up at Christopher across the counter.

Christopher’s eyes are watering and Eddie hates that he can’t just hold him to make all this better. That trick doesn’t work anymore. 

“That’s not… I’m not keeping you away from Buck on purpose. I know it’s not fair and you miss him, but these are the rules for right now. I can’t change them.”

“Stupid rules,” Christopher mutters under his breath as he walks out of the room and Eddie lets him get away with it.

Eddie drops his head into his still damp hands. He’s so goddamn tired of this waiting game; if the outcome is going to hurt more than all of this already does, he wants to get on with it already.

 

 

 

He remembers the weeks after Shannon died- how everyone looked at him like he had the word widower tattooed on his forehead. The way they all pitied him for something they didn’t understand. But this? Buck being dead not dead, he may as well be walking among a sea of ghosts. Everyone else is hurting over this in different ways and Eddie can’t even tell them what he knows.

Heavy is the head that holds the truth. 

“Still weird not having Buckley around,” Martinez says one day. “I swear he took all of the noise with him. You haven’t seen him have you, Diaz?”

Eddie looks up suddenly from the couch, caught like a deer in headlights. It’s not the first time he’s heard the question asked, but Bobby is usually around to field the answer. “No,” he replies, only halfway lying. “Hospital still says family only.”

“Weren’t you two conjoined at the hip or something? Might as well make you family.”

They don’t know. They can’t know; Buck didn’t even know how Eddie felt. He was too much of a chicken shit to tell him, but God, did he feel it. A constant thrum through his body, like a choir living in the back of his mind growing louder every time that Buck so much as smiled in his direction.

He swallows around a painful knot, muttering, “Or something.”

Later, after everyone else has retreated to the bunks, Eddie is still hiding out in the loft when Chimney and Hen come back from a medical call. He hears Hen before he sees her, the familiar sound of her steps on the stairs behind his head; she walks over to him as soon as she sees him.

“I’ve seen newborns that look more alive than you,” she says. “It’s after two in the morning, why aren’t you sleeping?”

Eddie shrugs. He almost tells her it’s not worth it but that would only make her ask more questions. “I’m fine, Hen.”

“That’s not what I asked.”

He ticks his jaw, feeling caught under her concerned gaze. Hen sits on the coffee table across from him, reaching out to squeeze his knee. “Stop hiding from us, Eddie. That won’t make this hurt any less. It’s okay to miss Buck, we all do.”

“Now who’s making assumptions,” he retorts sourly.

Hen raises her brow. “Isn’t that his sweatshirt you’re wearing?”

Eddie looks away from her, tugging the sleeves over his hands. It’s Buck’s favorite; he should’ve known someone would recognize it. It stopped smelling like him weeks ago and that hurt more than anything. Eddie whispers, “It’s not the same without him here.”

“I know; it’s not forever. He’s just taking his sweet time, that’s all. And until then, you might as well do yourself a favor and get some actual sleep. You and I both know that Buck would say the same thing.”

Hen pats his leg once before walking away towards the bunks but Eddie makes no moves to follow her. He thinks of what Buck would say about all of this- how Eddie is slowly running himself into the ground with no signs of stopping. Eddie wonders if things between him and Buck would be different by now. He always told himself that someday was around the corner; that some magical moment would come along and catch them both by surprise.

The longer Eddie waits, the further away it starts to feel.

 

 

 

At night, Eddie dreams of his slack face. Of Buck’s body just barely out of reach, getting further and further away from Eddie the more he tries. He can’t stay in bed after that. It’s the same thing every night. He falls asleep only to wake up an hour or two later horrified by what he saw. Sometimes Eddie does a lap around the house. He sees how much cleaning he can get done without making extra noise. He’ll work out until his limbs feel like they could fall off. But he does not go back to sleep, not once.

It’s not worth waking up again and being mad that Buck is still out of reach.

He loses track of how many nights this has gone on before something changes.

A small cry from down the hall stops Eddie as he moves towards the bathroom. Another one comes a second later and Eddie forgets about his need for water altogether, rushing towards his son’s room.

Christopher has the covers pulled up to his face, his hands covering his eyes as if to stop the flow of tears.

“Hey,” Eddie says gently, moving towards him. “What’s the matter? What’s wrong?”

Christopher reaches to loop his arms around Eddie’s neck. “I had- had a bad dream. About Buck.”

Eddie’s own eyes start to sting as he rubs Christopher’s back. He doesn’t have to ask what the dream is; he’d bet anything they’ve been having the same one. “How can I make you feel better, huh? …you wanna come lay in bed with me for a bit?”

Christopher nods against Eddie’s neck, his breath still shaky. Eddie peels back the blanket, picking Christopher up carefully. It doesn’t matter that he’s almost eleven; Eddie will take any chance he can get to hold his son.

He lays Christopher down on the bed, letting him get comfortable before sliding in next to him. Eddie reaches out and brushes his fingers through Christopher’s thick mop of hair, listening as his breathing goes steady and his eyes fall shut. For the first time in too long, Eddie dozes off next to Christopher, feeling at ease with him there.

It’s weeks before they sleep in separate rooms again. 

 

 

 

Bobby calls Eddie into his office first thing at the start of next shift and honestly, Eddie’s surprised this conversation didn’t happen earlier. He knows that he’s exhausted- that it’s starting to affect his ability to focus on calls and function to a certain degree, but he really wasn’t expecting Bobby to shut the door behind him and say:

“I’m making you the man behind indefinitely.” Before Eddie can even refute it Bobby continues. “It’s that or mandatory two weeks of time off and a referral to a therapist of my choice. Take your pick, Eddie.”

Eddie’s surprised more than anything; most people wouldn’t give out ultimatums in an effort to help. Being the man behind sucks more often than not- means only doing chores and a bored streak a mile long- but two weeks of doing nothing at home while he continues to wait and see if Buck will come back sounds even worse.

“Man behind sounds good,” he says quietly.

“Thought you might say that. This starts today, and until you can honestly tell me you’re consistently getting more than four hours of sleep at night, it’ll stay that way.”

Eddie just nods. “Understood, cap.”  

“I understand that you’re struggling right now with everything going on with Buck, and that’s okay. But I need you here, too, Eddie. We all do.”

Bobby doesn’t ask what’s keeping him up at night; he’s all too familiar with it. He’s breaking rules to let Eddie keep his job; he can be grateful when everything doesn’t hurt so much. When he isn’t so pissed at the world for holding this over his head for so long.

Eddie turns back at the last moment before leaving, asking, “Hey, cap, could I, uh… could I get that referral anyways?”

Bobby looks up from his desk, pleasantly surprised. “Of course. I’ll send you a list by the end of shift.”

“Thanks.”

True to his own word, a list of at least a dozen therapists from Bobby is waiting in Eddie’s inbox when he gets off the next morning. Half of them say grief counseling in their descriptions, and Eddie decides to start there first. 

 

 

 

“Are you angry with him, Eddie?”

He was surprised to find a therapist so quickly. Even more so after the first session when he felt as though Mark understood him without having to force it or overthink his words. They talk about Buck often with it being the current source of his troubles. Now, a few sessions in, the question catches him off guard. “Why would I be angry at him? Buck wasn’t trying to get hurt.”

“But he has left you alone in a way. From what you’ve said you two are very close, and Buck is close with your son. That has to be a hard thing to take on so suddenly, especially if it’s coming home with you.”

“I guess, but. I don’t understand what anger has to do with this.”

“It’s easy to be angry at others when the root of it is something else, even if they aren’t necessarily at fault.”

“You mean like,” Eddie pauses, licking his lips. “Like worry he won’t wake up, or something?” Or over the fact that he’s been hiding something from me the entire time I’ve known him. That we’ve talked a thousand times and somehow never about this.  

Mark nods. “Do you feel that’s what it is?”

Eddie shrugs. “I don’t know what I feel half the time. It tends to blend together.”

“I can give you some suggestions on identifying your emotions. To help make them not feel as heavy, if you would like.”

Eddie considers it for a long moment before saying. “Yeah, actually. I think I would.”

 

 

 

Maddie comes over sometimes while Eddie’s on watch. They don’t talk much, or Eddie doesn’t anyway, but the company is nice. Maddie tells him about all of the crazy calls at dispatch and how Jee-Yun is starting to crawl. She’s been doing better, after seeing someone about her postpartum. Eddie hates to think that if this doesn’t turn out how everyone says it will that Maddie may go careening towards the edge again.

“You really believe this will work. That Buck’s just gonna…come back,” he says after the third time she comes by. It’s been eating at him all day, the sureness that Maddie carries herself with in this whole situation. He doesn’t understand how she does it.

She looks at him, oddly fond. “I was sitting next to Evan the first time it happened, begging that the world wouldn’t take another little brother away from me. And it worked, he opened his eyes and reached for me. I’d be crazy not to believe it.”

She doesn’t say anything else about it after that and Eddie doesn’t ask her anymore questions. It’s a nice picture; the idea of a Buck and Maddie much smaller than they are now embracing each other, equal parts relieved and confused. Eddie lets her hug him on the way out the door and tell him again to get some sleep, same as she always does.

He lays on the couch, staring at the ceiling, wishing he could hear the sound of Buck’s breathing if nothing else. 

 

 

 

 

 

After

 

 

 

 

 

Three months. Three months of showing up at Buck’s- three months of endless waiting and somehow, he’s unprepared when something finally happens.

Eddie’s making a sandwich- it’s still strange to have a dead not dead man’s kitchen fully stocked- when a smash comes from upstairs. Eddie goes still, wondering what could’ve possibly made that noise before he remembers why he’s even here and everything around him comes to a standstill.

Eddie only hears his heartbeat in his ears as he makes his way upstairs; his hands tremble as he white knuckles the railing. As he rounds the corner, all Eddie sees is a picture frame that’s been knocked off the side table and Buck on the floor, his fingers twitching against the ground from where he rolled out of bed.

Buck’s out of bed. His fingers are moving and he’s out of bed.

Eddie feels like he’s been punched in the stomach. He drops to his knees a few feet short of Buck, just watching his chest move up and down; it all feels like some fever dream. Then Buck makes a low, breathy noise and Eddie scrambles towards him, realizing that he needs to help

Buck is bleary-eyed and incoherent when Eddie tugs him into his lap as much as he can manage, his head rolling loosely against Eddie’s thigh. He doesn’t know what to do; he doesn’t want to hurt Buck but he has to do something. Eddie’s hands continue to tremble as he calls Hen, feeling borderline hysterical.  

He’s so caught up in everything that he doesn’t notice that Hen’s picked up.

“Eddie? Eddie, babe, I need you to answer me. Is everything okay?”

“H-Hen, he’s-.” What the hell is supposed to say? “Buck he- he rolled out of bed.”

“That’s good, Eddie. He’s coming to,” she assures him. “I’ll grab Cap and Chim then call Maddie. We’ll be there soon.”

His phone slips out of his clammy hand as she hangs up and Eddie looks back at Buck’s face when he whines. His eyes flutter and roll under his lashes. Eddie hesitates before touching the side of Buck’s face- like he did that terrible day in the back of the ambulance- praying to God that he’s doing the right thing. 

“It’s okay,” he forces out. “It’s okay, they’re coming. Th-They’re all coming, Buck.”

Everyone comes bursting through the front door ten minutes later but Buck is already out again. Bobby and Chimney make quick work of getting Buck off the floor and onto his bed again while Hen gets a head start on his vitals. Eddie doesn’t reach for Buck again once they’re no longer touching. He struggles to his feet, barely making it ten steps feeling like his heart is about to beat out of his chest.

Eddie doesn’t stop moving until he’s outside of the building, heaving until he gets sick in one of the potted plants in front of the building. He can’t tell if he feels like crying or screaming; Eddie braces himself against the brick wall, not trusting himself to stay upright otherwise.

He wants to believe it- he wants so badly for all of this to be real. But he can’t. Eddie’s seen the world; it doesn’t work like this. Things don’t turn out in his favor.

It’s a good while before Eddie can talk himself into going back inside. He keeps his hands clenched at his sides but it only highlights how the rest of him is shaking. He holds his breath until he’s reached the apartment, too afraid to see what’s on the other side. There are murmurs from upstairs when he opens the door, all sounding like gentle assurances. 

“Good to have you back, bud,” he hears Bobby say, and Eddie’s eyes well up with tears.

When he reaches the top step, he’s not surprised by what he sees. Buck’s been tucked into bed again and attached to every portable system the ambo has. An oxygen mask has been strapped to his face and an IV stuck in his hand. He’s gaunt and pale and Eddie still can’t make himself look away.

Maddie sits right by his head, her thumb stroking over his cheek. “I know you guys have to get back to work,” she says before looking at Eddie. “But do you mind if I stay a while? I wanna be here when he wakes up again.”

“No, no, that’s okay,” he says, already moving towards the door. He can’t handle being here any longer. “I should- I should get out of here. I told my Abuela I’d help her with something.”

“Oh, okay.”

“We’ll call if anything changes with him,” Bobby tells him.

Eddie nods, sparing one last glance at Buck’s colorless face. His throat goes tight as he turns away. Somewhere between the stairs and his truck, Eddie’s heart starts to jackrabbit against the lining of his chest and refuses to stop even after he’s driven away. He turns up the music in his truck, letting the sound drown out the sound of the stilted gasps that come out of his mouth.

He moves on autopilot until he reaches his Abuela’s street. It’s too early to get Christopher from school; he needs to be with someone he trusts right now- someone he knows is real.

Abuela opens the door before Eddie reaches the porch, reaching out to him with both hands. She kisses his cheek sweetly before pulling him inside. Before he knows it there’s a steaming bowl of soup right under his nose. Abuela stops him before Eddie can refute.

“I was already making some lunch for myself,” she says. “You look like you’d fall over with a strong gust of wind.”

I probably would, Eddie thinks to himself. What he says instead is: “Buck’s awake, Abuela. Or he was. For a few minutes.”

She looks over at him from the stove, equal parts pleased and confused. She’s asked about Buck just as much as Christopher if not more. “And you’re upset by that?”

“It’s been months, I thought…”

Abuela finishes for him, “That he wasn’t going to come back to you?”

“Yeah,” he admits softly. “Feels like I can’t trust it.”

Abuela kills the heat on the stovetop, walking over and touching the side of Eddie’s face; he leans into it subconsciously, letting his eyes close.

“You carry so much worry in your heart, Edmundo. It does not all belong to you. Let someone else carry it. Even for just a short time.”

Eddie nods against her hand, feeling much more tired than he did a minute ago. All of the excitement from the day is catching up to him. Abuela takes the bowl of soup away from him, patting his chest lightly. 

“I will put away enough for dinner for you and Christopher; go get some rest before you go get him.”

Anyone else might think her words are just a suggestion, but Eddie knows better. Abuela won’t let him leave until he’s at least tried to sleep. Eddie shuffles away from the table, unlacing his shoes and leaving them by the door before moving towards the couch. He settles on his back and throws an arm over his eyes, telling himself he only needs an hour. He’ll be fine after that.

When he wakes up, there’s a familiar tightness in his chest and Abuela is nowhere to be seen; a blanket has been thrown over his legs. He doesn’t have a chance to call for her before the front door opens and Christopher comes walking in with Abuela only a few steps behind him. Eddie sits up suddenly, trying to figure out what time it is. His phone shows three-thirty; it was barely noon when he got here.

Lamely, he says, “You picked him up.”

Abuela looks at Eddie like he’s grown a second head. “Well I wasn’t going to wake you.”

He sighs but doesn’t push it further. Eddie holds his arms out to Christopher, holding the boy tight. He doesn’t tell him about Buck yet; Eddie would never forgive himself for getting Christopher’s hopes up only for the world to disappoint him again.

 

 

 

The next week drags by in a strange haze of irritation and still not enough sleep. He almost calls Buck more than once, and yet every time that he picks up the phone Eddie finds that he doesn’t know what to say. Then, just as he’s finished getting dressed after the end of a shift, his phone buzzes and the text on his screen makes his blood run cold.

Maddie: 911. Need you at Buck’s asap.

Eddie can’t get out of there fast enough. He barely remembers to close his locker door and pack the rest of his duffle in his haste to leave. His heart is sitting in his throat, threatening to burst in two every second that he drives. Eddie’s hands fumble with the gear shift and keys as he pulls into the parking lot, wishing that he was already inside.

His knees protest as he rushes up to Buck’s apartment, letting himself inside. The kitchen is empty, not even a cup left out of place. “Maddie?”

“She’s not here.”

Eddie holds his breath at the sound of Buck’s voice, looking up just in time to see him round the corner from the living room. He looks exhausted; his t-shirt and sweats hang limply on his frame where he hovers near the dinner table. Seeing him on his own two feet makes something in Eddie ache.

Buck must pick up on this. He shrugs, pulling a guilty face when he admits, “I didn’t think you’d come if I called.”

Eddie wants to be mad at him- on some level he’s sure he is- but Buck is standing in front of him very much not a dead man. And he doesn’t have a way to explain it. “So. What? You’re like, immortal, or something?”

“Actually, I’m hoping it’s more of a nine lives situation; living forever sounds pretty hellish, if you ask me. I would’ve called you over sooner but coming back from the dead is pretty tiring.”

Buck’s aiming for humor and Eddie can’t take it. He doesn’t have it in him. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Buck shrugs again, “I was hoping I wouldn’t have a reason to. Most people don’t believe me anyway.”

“But the rest of the team knew?”

Buck averts his eyes, “There was one other time, before you got here. That’s why they knew. I thought you might freak out.”

Eddie’s eyes drop to the small, mostly healed over scar on Buck’s throat, wondering if that could have something to do with it.

“Are you mad at me?” It’s such a simple question, and not even the first time he’s ever heard Buck ask it, and even still, he can’t help the reaction it pulls out of him.

Emotional and hard, Eddie spits out, “You died in front of me.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I hated you for leaving.”

“I’m not going away again.”

“I’ve been so angry for weeks. I thought we were going to bury you and now you’re-.” Eddie’s voice falls away from him; he can’t push back the tears. They’re coming quicker than he can try and get a handle on them. 

Buck shakes his head, closing the distance between the two of them. Eddie wants to push him away. Just let the dream end already. He’s tired of waiting for himself to wake up and hurt all over again. But then Buck’s hands find the back of his head as well as the small of his back and all he can do is melt into the sensation.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Eddie. Please, believe me, I’m here.”

Eddie bunches Buck’s shirt between his fists, tucking his face against his shoulder until he can feel Buck’s warmth against his cheek. This only makes him cry harder and before he knows it, Buck is crying along with him- a strangely tragic sight for such a long-winded reunion.

Once they get their hands on each other, neither one of them so much as thinks about pulling away. They make their way to Buck’s bed eventually, facing each other, hands connected at every point. Having Buck alive and breathing in front of him is the most at ease Eddie’s felt in months.

He can’t help but ask. “Do you remember it later? When you come to?”

Buck shakes his head, “It’s probably better that I didn’t.”

“…how many times have you-.”

“Don’t, you- you don’t wanna know the answer to that.”

He tries to take the words with a grain of salt; there’s at least three times that he knows about and God only knows how many more. Eddie can’t separate what he’s been seeing in his head for weeks from what’s in front of him now. The next words out of his mouth are, “I should’ve gone down there with you. I wish I’d-.”

Buck, sharp and the closest to furious Eddie’s ever seen him, “Don’t say that. Don’t you dare. You getting hurt too wouldn’t have changed any of this.”

“Sorry,” Eddie whispers between their pillows. His eyes are growing heavy; Buck shuffles closer to him until they’re pressed chest to ankle. Eddie lets his head fall to Buck’s shoulder, letting go of his hands in favor of holding Buck around the waist.

Buck uses his free hand to pull the covers over both of them, tucking them as tight as he can manage around Eddie’s shoulders. Eddie tips his head back to look Buck in the eye when a hand grazes his cheek; Buck’s eyes are soft and blue as ever. One of the pieces of Buck’s he’s missed the most these last three months.

“Sleep, Eddie. I got you.”

He nods with a heavy head. Eddie lets his eyes finally fall shut and sleeps a straight eighteen hours, comforted by having Buck next to him.  

 

 

 

Things change after that- or at least, Buck and Eddie stop skirting around their feelings for each other and just give in.

Their first kiss happens in bed. Bathed in quiet and years in the making, it feels like coming home in the best way. Eddie’s eyes go misty for just a minute and when he pulls away, he finds that Buck’s eyes are the same. Neither one of them says anything about it; they don’t have to. The words are already there.

Eddie gives it another few days before bringing Christopher by so that Buck is feeling a little more like himself before being smothered with affection. It’s been the only thing anyone has been able to talk about at work since Bobby told everyone Buck is awake, all of them bickering about who gets to hug him first. Eddie bites his tongue every time, unable to explain how he was there when Buck came to- how his hands were the first ones Buck felt as he made his way back into the world. A strange, sad kind of prize.   

Christopher is oddly quiet on the drive to Buck’s that afternoon; Eddie expected him to be a bit more enthusiastic. When Eddie opens the door to the apartment, Buck is standing at the counter like he’s been waiting for them. His eyes fall to Christopher immediately, dropping to his knees as he puts his arms around the boy. Christopher lets go of his crutches, and the sound of them smacking against the floor just barely covers up the cry that comes out of his mouth when his arms go around Buck’s shoulders.

Buck hands cover the expanse of Christopher’s back. “Chris, what’s the matter?”

“I thought- thought you were gone forever.”

Buck looks wounded over this and Eddie has to look away to keep his own emotions in check. “Oh, kiddo, no. I could never leave you behind. You and your Dad mean too much to me.”

Buck looks up at Eddie with shining eyes and it only takes Eddie a second to drop right next to them, getting his arms around them both. Christopher cries quietly between them a little while longer, and Eddie and Buck only look at each other, wishing that they didn't have to break this to him someday.

 

 

 

It’s strange, lying to his therapist, but he’s pretty sure Mark would have him admitted if he told him the truth. He keeps calling it a coma- same as he has been for months, the same thing he told everyone else when they asked questions- he hasn’t found a better way to explain it. Buck comes with him sometimes, but Eddie finds it harder to talk in those sessions. Like Buck being there makes the grief real again, even if it was only temporary.

They’re cleaning up the kitchen one night after a rough session and Eddie, deep in thought, laughs to himself. “I was wrong,” he says.

Buck looks at him strangely. “What?”

“I was wrong. You really are expendable.” He’s been thinking about his close calls more than he would like to admit lately, and in return Buck’s, too. That conversation in the hospital room used to haunt him in the first few weeks after Buck’s accident, listening to Maddie and the team swear up and down that all of this is just a temporary thing. Now it feels like the world is poking fun at him for thinking things could be that simple.

Buck, on the other hand, doesn’t seem amused in the slightest.  

“You’re not laughing.”

“It’s not funny,” Buck insists, his brows furrowing.

Eddie tucks his hands in his pocket, feeling put off; he opens his mouth, trying to come up with something to say but Buck beats him to the punch. 

“You think I’m happy about being like this, don’t you?” Buck asks incredulously, his eyes wide, “You’re all going to leave me someday. The team, Maddie, you and Christopher, any children I have. I don’t have a choice in outliving you. If living forever and missing everyone I’ve ever met is the cost of being expendable, then I don’t want it. Being without you isn’t worth anything the world could offer me.”

Eddie takes a step back. “I’m sorry, I didn’t-.”

Buck shakes his head, coming close to Eddie so that he can’t retreat from the conversation. “I know you didn’t mean anything by it, I shouldn’t have blown up at you like that. Sometimes I just… I think about things for too long and it makes me miss you already.”

Eddie nods, taking Buck’s hand into his own and holding it close to his chest. The conversation drops after that and they clean up the kitchen in relative silence. Eddie thinks about apologizing again but he knows Buck would just tell him not to. This whole thing is so much more than they ever expected to deal with.  

That night while they’re lying in bed, Eddie finds Buck’s hand in the dark and presses his lips against Buck’s knuckles, whispering mostly for himself, “I’m sorry that I can’t always be here.”

 

 

 

The accident comes back to Buck much later, catching both of them by surprise. Eddie still has nightmares about it, even after Buck came back- but watching Buck struggle awake in the middle of the night, feeling an invisible weight on across his body makes Eddie feel useless in a way that he hasn’t since the accident itself. All he can do is hold him and hope that Buck doesn’t fall apart entirely. 

Eddie doesn’t talk about the months he spent waiting while Buck was in limbo and Buck doesn’t ask. There’s nothing either of them can say to make it better.

It’s a part of their lives best left alone.

Buck unofficially moves into the Diaz house six months later; he never gets his hoodie back from Eddie and he can’t say that he minds. Having him and Christopher close by at the end of every day is good enough.

On the anniversary of the accident, both of them call out of work, not getting much further than their bed. Eddie has never wished more that he could sink into Buck’s bones and make himself at home there- the safest place of them all. Since he can’t, Eddie picks up the end of Buck’s shirt and stretches himself inside of it until there is only the smell that Buck carries and the beat of his heart surrounding him.