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you are the reason i can survive

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The beam comes out of nowhere, although the house is so full of smoke it's not like there's any other option. Either something is right in your face or it comes out of nowhere.

But it comes out of nowhere and it clips Eddie in his side, and it's pure dumb luck that the momentum throws him into the wall instead of pinning him under the beam.

His helmet cracks against the wall, loud and violent in the empty hallway, and for a moment he is dazed and numb and unable to move. Faintly, he thinks the sound should echo, but he can't hear it over the ringing in his ears and the roaring of flames that are licking closer and closer between every frantic beat of his heart.

For a moment he is dazed and numb and unable to move, and he thinks about how stupid it is that this is how he dies. He's been buried alive, been shot at home and overseas, and now he's going to die just doing his job at an utterly unremarkable apartment fire because he hit his head so hard his stupid legs decided to stop working? 

It's outrageous, is what it is. It's the universe laughing at him. Is it payback for not listening to what the universe has been screaming at him? It just doesn't seem like a proportionate response.

Eddie's still seething at the universe's misplaced sense of retribution when feeling floods back into him, like unclamping a vessel and watching all the blood rush back. And with the return of his limbs comes pain, blooming from the spot the beam hit and radiating across his ribs, his back, his abdomen. 

He grits his teeth and pulls himself to his feet, slowly, using the very beam that attacked him as leverage. Once he's mostly upright and mostly supporting his own weight—he's only leaning against the wall as a precaution, thank you very much—Eddie brings up a hand to probe at his ribs, and hisses as soon as he makes contact. 

Cracked, then, at the very least. Which means he needs to get it checked out. Which means telling the team, which means that look they get. The one that looks like they want to wrap him in cotton wool and tuck him away somewhere. The one that makes him feel fragile. Breakable. Like a liability.

It's barely been two months since he came back from getting shot. He can't take people looking at him like that again. 

He's not fool enough to just take his possibly broken rib home and attempt to sleep it off, but—they'd barely had an hour left on their shift when they'd been called out. If he can just make it back to the station, he can drive himself to the emergency room and no one will have to know. Not until he calls out of work tomorrow, anyway, and at that point he won't have to see anyone's face. 

It's not a perfect plan, but it's what he's got. So he takes a deep breath—or tries to, at least, but he must have inhaled more smoke than he'd thought because it's like his lungs don't want to fully expand—braces his arm around his injured ribs, and starts making his slow way down the hall.

The fire, at least, seems to be mostly under control by now. There's another station on the scene—Eddie doesn't catch the number, but he walks past a couple of unfamiliar guys with a hose on his way outside. He offers to stay and lend a hand, but one of them catches the way his hand is curled around his side and waves him off. 

His breathing is ragged by the time he makes it out of the building, heaving and unsteady and far too shallow. Over by the 118's ambulance, Buck looks up the second he steps foot out the door, like he has some kind of radar attuned to Eddie's every movement. 

Buck starts heading towards him, concern etched clear on his face. He's yelling Eddie's name as soon as he's in earshot, and Eddie picks Buck's voice out of the chaos without even needing to listen for it.

"'m fine," he mumbles, and it turns into a coughing fit mid-sentence when he runs out of oxygen. Each cough sends spikes of pain through his ribs, and he throws out the hand that isn't cradling his ribs, blindly searching for something to hold onto so he doesn't fall to his knees. 

He doesn't know if he could get up again.

Then someone grabs his arm and holds him steady.

"Eddie." Tt's Buck. Of course it is. Sometimes Eddie feels like Buck is the only thing holding him together. Of course Buck is here, now, holding him up.

"I'm fine," Eddie says, with more conviction this time.

It would probably be more convincing, he thinks, if not for the fact that his knees are buckling and his vision is going dark.

 

Eddie wakes up in the hospital again. His ribs ache, but not as much as the feeling of failure does. Of weakness, Of being a burden on everyone he loves. Because broken ribs are fairly easy to heal, but there's a tube coming out of his chest and when he shifts a little he feels his skin tugging in the way surgical incisions do.

God, what does it say about him that he can identify it from feeling alone?

But surgery means recovery, and recovery means someone taking care of him. Again. Means someone taking time out of their busy lives just to attend to him, just to do things he should be perfectly capable of doing. 

It's going to be Buck, probably, no matter how much Eddie will try to argue that he'll be fine on his own. It's just the way Buck is. He'll come in and take over everything, and it'll be just like it was in the summer after Eddie got shot. Only this time instead of guiltily reminding himself that he has a girlfriend and he should probably call her one of these days, his only defence mechanism will be the pitiful shreds of his self-control. 

Buck chooses that moment to burst through the door, as though thinking of him is enough to summon him. His gaze meets Eddie's and for a second he looks relieved, elated and hopeful, and then his features drop into an impassive mask.

"Were you going to tell me?" he asks, and Eddie looks at his lap, inspects the IV in his hand, looks anywhere except at Buck.

"Eddie," Buck continues. "If you hadn't literally passed out in my arms, were you even going to tell me you'd gotten hurt?"

"Eventually," Eddie mutters. "Just—I was going to take care of it."

"Take—take care of it?" Buck repeats, incredulous. "Eddie, your broken rib punctured your lung. It collapsed. What were you planning to do, drive yourself to the emergency room with a shard of bone digging into your vital organs?"

"Well... yeah," Eddie says, because that had pretty much been his entire plan. Not that he'd known about the part where something was digging into a vital organ, but Buck doesn't seem like he'd appreciate that distinction right now.

"Jesus, Eddie," Buck says. "Why didn't you just say something? Why didn't you radio for help?"

"Because I was fine," Eddie says, with a stubborn set to his jaw that he knows he's passed directly to Christopher. 

"You're a medic. I don't for a second believe you thought you were fine."

"I just—" Eddie starts, and cuts himself off. He sighs. "I'm just—so tired of needing people to take care of me. so I was just going to take care of it myself."

"But you didn't! Eddie, you didn't take care of yourself. You collapsed right in front of me. Again."

And it's only then that Eddie understands that the anger and frustration in Buck's tone is just worry, stacked three deep in a trenchcoat trying to pass itself off as sharper, more aggressive emotions. He should have put it together sooner, but maybe he's still a little fuzzy from the meds they have him on. 

"Buck," he says, soft, all belligerence leaking out of him. "I'm sorry. I should have—I know what it's like to watch that. I get it."

"You don't, though," Buck says. "It's not—you can't get it, not until you've had to wash my blood off your face."

My blood, Buck says. Like these are equivalent scenarios, his blood on Buck's face and Buck's blood on his. Like the impact is the same. 

Like the feelings are the same, his for Buck and Buck's for him.

Eddie doesn't say any of that. "You did practically vomit blood on my shoes that one time," he says instead. 

Buck gives a hollow little laugh. "Yeah, but that was—before," he says. He doesn't specify before what, but Eddie thinks he knows. 

Because he was worried, sure, that one time at Bobby and Athena's when Buck had appeared suddenly determined to expel as much of his blood volume as he possibly could, but he knows deep in his bones that it was nothing compared to how he would feel if the same thing happened now. 

Out of his mind, probably. Inconsolable. Frantic. Willing to move heaven and earth and bargain with whatever deity would have him just to make sure Buck came out of it alive. 

"Yeah, okay," he says. "Maybe I don't get it. I'm still sorry, though."

"Just don't do it again, okay?" Buck says, a smile slipping through the cracks in his worried facade. 

"I can't promise never to get hit by debris on the job again," Eddie says, and it makes Buck laugh, like he'd known it would.

"Just tell me next time," Buck says.

"I can do that." 

"Okay," Buck says, but he still looks a little shaken, unsettled in his skin, and Eddie knows the feeling of being so full of nervous energy you can't sit still. Knows the feeling of sitting by a bedside and just waiting, unable to do anything for so long that when the person in the bed eventually does wake up it still doesn't feel real.

So he doesn't think, just says "Come here."

Buck looks up, frowning like he didn't hear correctly. 

"Come on."

Buck approaches the bed warily, and Eddie stops him before he gets too close. "Wait, Buck, other side. This is my broken side."

"Right, okay," Buck says, and crosses to the other side of the bed. He stands there for a moment, confused, until Eddie grabs his forearm and tugs him closer.

"Just get on the bed, will you?"

Buck is careful as he climbs onto the hospital bed, navigating his way through the wires and tubes coming out of Eddie. Eventually, though, he gets himself positioned, and tentatively puts an arm around Eddie. Eddie doesn't protest, and slowly, inch by inch, they curl closer into each other. 

There's still so much Eddie needs to say. They're still avoiding more things than they're actually talking about, still skirting around topics that demand more attention with each passing day. There's things they need to talk about, things to confess and things to work through. Things upon things upon things, piled higher than the ladder truck and twice as precarious. 

But for the first time in a while now, Eddie's pretty sure they're going to get to them. All in good time.