“911, what’s your emergency?”
“Hi…” The voice on the phone sounds uncertain, a teenager if Maddie had to guess. “I’m just wondering if you guys know about the firetruck?”
Maddie frowns, head tilting in confusion. “Excuse me?”
“The firetruck,” the girl repeats. “By the pier. It’s got a bunch of people stuck on top of it.”
“How do you- are you on the firetruck?” She can’t hear the sound of water or anyone else in the background but you can never be too sure. A year on this job has taught her that.
“No, I’m at home. I uh, I saw it with my drone when I was looking for my friend.”
Okay, a drone she can work with. She begins typing what information she does have into the system and asks the caller, “Can you tell me your name?”
“Charlie,” the girls says. “I was looking for my friend, Reggie. He was on the pier when the tsunami happened and- and I found these people first. I can send you a link to the live feed if you want?”
Maddie’s not sure what she’s expecting when she clicks on the link Charlie sends through. She hasn’t seen much footage of the actual disaster zone, just some fleeting overhead shots on the news for the few minutes she was in the break room. When the feed finally loads she sees the large 136 logo emblazoned across the top of the truck first. It’s difficult to make out with the way they’re crowded together but there seems to be at least a dozen people up there.
“Charlie, the GPS isn’t showing up on the screen, can you tell me where that is?” Signalling to Josh, she waves him over and asks him to check what the last call the 136 was called to was.
“It’s not- one sec.” Charlie makes a noise under her breath and the drone swoops lower for a beat.
Low enough to land on an image that almost completely stops Maddie’s heart in her chest. “Wait, stop!”
The footage shakes before going steady and her eyes lock on the sight her brother’s torn up face. He’s got gashes across his cheeks and nose, his hair is soaked and flat on his head, and he’s holding- oh god, Christopher.
“Evan,” she gasps. Chimney had told her this morning that Eddie had dropped Chris off with Buck in the hopes of cheering him up and getting him out of his apartment. They must’ve gone to the pier.
“Do you know him?” Charlie asks quietly on the other end of the line and Maddie feels tears well in the corners of her eyes.
“That’s my brother,” she says, voice hardly above a whisper. That’s her brother, once again on the other side of a screen, hurt and alone without her there to protect him. How many more times are they going to be put through something like this?
“I have the 136’s last location, it was-“ Josh’s voice cuts off as he comes to a stop behind her chair. “Is that-“
“Buck,” she confirms, allowing herself one last panicked moment to stare at the screen before she steels herself. “I- I have to tell Bobby. I was talking to Chimney earlier; the 118 are out there. They can help, they can find him-“
Josh’s hand falls to her shoulder, squeezing hard, and Maddie connects to the 118’s radio.
They’re just about split up after rescuing the two victims from the boat accident when Bobby’s radio goes off.
“Dispatch to 118. Come in, Captain Nash.”
Eddie looks up from where he’d been fixing the straps on his life jacket. The voice is unmistakably Maddie’s and Eddie gets that they’re in the middle of a tsunami aftermath but it takes a hell of a lot to shake her like that. The urgent way she calls Bobby’s name, the panic laced in the way her words shake – something’s wrong.
Looking over his shoulder, he sees Chim hesitating in the other boat.
Bobby ignores them all, tilting his radio up to his mouth. “This is Captain Nash.”
“Bobby,” Maddie exclaims. “It’s Buck.”
Eddie’s head shoots up, hand immediately going to his own radio. Did something happen? Is it another clot? Did Christopher call 911? Is Buck on the floor bleeding out while his son watches-
“He and Christopher were on the pier.”
There’s one dizzying moment where Eddie’s vision completely whites out and he loses all control of his limbs but then a strong hand is gripping his arm and he manages to pull himself together enough to focus on Bobby’s face.
“Maddie, how do you know that?” Bobby asks and he sounds calm but Eddie can hear the tension hidden in his voice. This can’t be happening. This can’t be happening.
“A girl with a drone called 911- she sent me the footage and-“ Maddie lets out a hitching breath. “They’re stranded on top of the 136’s ladder truck.”
Eddie has the vague thought that if he were standing up right now his legs would give out. As it is, he has to latch onto Bobby to keep himself steady. Blindly, he reaches for his own radio on his shoulder. “They’re okay?” he asks, voice trembling and weak, and it would fill him with shame if he could think about anything other than the two most important people in his life lost and in danger.
“They’re okay,” Maddie says but she sounds as wrecked as Eddie feels. “I can send you the footage. Charlie- the girl- she hung up but I have the few minutes we got from the feed.”
“Do we know the 136’s truck location?” Bobby asks, while Eddie fumbles to get his phone out of the waterproof bag he’d stored it in in his pocket.
“They’d been responding to a call on the pier when the tsunami hit. The CAD says they parked somewhere on Colorado Avenue but I don’t know if the truck moved with the wave or if-“
“We’ll find them,” Bobby says, voice full of a conviction that Eddie clings to.
“Thank you,” she breathes. “Keep me updated.”
There’s a beat after the radio disconnects where none of them move. Eddie can feel Bobby, Hen and Chimney’s eyes on him – as if they’re all waiting on him to react but he can’t do much beyond listen to the blood rushing in his ears. His stomach swoops and his chest constricts and he can’t breathe and he has a brief moment to think, this must be what a panic attack feels like before Chim’s voice knocks him out of it.
“What are we waiting for? Let’s go get them.”
Eddie shakes himself, forcing himself to focus, to put the emotions away. He has a job to do. He has to save his son, has to save Buck. They’re relying on him to be okay.
“Let’s go,” he says and then it’s a flurry of movement with them all rearranging themselves in the boats, sending the other paramedics off with the victims to get to the field hospital while Hen and Chim join him and Bobby to head off in the direction of the pier.
His phone buzzes as they start to move and Eddie clicks on the video Maddie sent through. There are other people on the truck but he barely registers them. Buck looks worse for wear – cuts all across his face and the beginnings of a bruise forming on his cheekbone; he’s soaked to the bone – but Christopher looks miraculously okay. He even still has his glasses on. Eddie watches, vision blurring with tears, as Buck cradles Chris against his chest, murmuring something that makes Chris smile.
And Eddie- Eddie can’t do this. He closes his eyes, pressing his phone to his chest over his heart.
I’m coming to get you, he thinks. I promise, I’m coming.
Buck looks out at the water surrounding them and has to forcibly shove down the sense of hopelessness that washes over him. They just have to wait a little longer – until the water recedes or someone comes to get them. Whichever comes first.
Chris is leaning against his side. He’s started to become a little listless in the last few minutes. Buck can’t say he blames him.
Nudging Chris’ arm gently, he catches his attention. “You hangin’ in there, buddy? How are your legs?”
“They’re tired,” Chris admits before looking down at his hands. “My arms are too from all the swimming.”
“I’d bet,” Buck murmurs, swallowing back the quiver in his voice. “This firetruck isn’t all the comfy either. How about you use me as a chair instead?”
He lifts Christopher into his lap, rearranging them until Chris’ back is leaning against his chest and his legs are stretched out on top of Buck’s. “That better?” he asks, rubbing Christopher’s arms to try and get the feeling back into them. He must be cold – Buck doesn’t know how long they’ve been on top of the truck but his clothes are still wet and even with the sun high in the sky the chill must’ve started to settle in his bones by now.
“Thanks, Buck,” Chris mumbles, nodding against his chest. He turns slightly, curling into him more and Buck wraps him up as best he can to try to keep him warm and comfortable. Resting his cheek against the top of Chris’ head, he closes his eyes and gives himself a second to breathe.
God, what’s he going to tell Eddie?
He’ll never forgive him, never trust him with Chris ever again.
It’s a thought that hurts more than anything else Buck has been through today. He holds Chris closer, grimacing when the movement pulls at one of the gashes on his arm. Now that he’s finally stopped, now that there’s relative calm on top of the truck, he can actually take stock of his body and it’s…not good.
He’s pretty sure all of his cuts are still bleeding and he can only imagine the kinds of bruises he’ll have once they form properly. He doesn’t think anything’s broken though which is a plus.
“He’s being so brave,” the first woman he’d pulled onto the truck says.
Buck blinks at the sound of her voice, glancing down at Christopher. His eyes are closed but his breathing is steady so Buck decides not to disturb him. He’d checked him over already anyway and he doesn’t seem to have anything wrong with him beside a few scrapes and bruises, thank god.
“Bravest kid I know,” he mumbles, running a soothing hand over his back.
“He’s got a pretty brave dad too,” she says with a half-smile and Buck’s about to ask how she knows Eddie when he realises she’s talking about him.
“Oh I’m not-“ He cuts off, something wistful twisting in his chest, before he shakes his head. “I’m not his dad. I’m his- he’s my best friend’s kid.” It’s nowhere near enough to describe what Chris means to him but it’s the best he can offer a stranger.
Christopher’s hand tugs on his t-shirt and Buck looks down.
“You’re my Buck,” he says quietly, finishing Buck’s half-formed answer for him.
“Yeah,” he smiles, pressing a kiss to Christopher’s forehead.
“What do you think Dad’s doing right now?” Chris asks then and Buck swallows hard. Much as he’d like to believe the 118 are tucked up safe at the firehouse he knows they’re not. They’re probably right in the thick of it all. It’s strange to think how different the day could’ve been if he was with them – how he’d still be out here but for completely different reasons.
“I bet he’s saving lives,” Buck says. “Just like always.”
They have to stop along the way to help people.
Eddie gets it, he does. He’s still a firefighter, he still has a job to do, and he’s not so devoid of compassion that he’d ever think of bypassing someone who’s just had their day ruined by a natural disaster.
It doesn’t mean he’s not feeling antsy though.
Bobby can tell, he knows. It’s hard to conceal the clench of his jaw as their boat fills up with more survivors, as they stop for the fifth, sixth time to carry out a rescue.
And it’s not- obviously, he wants to help these people. But his son is out there. Buck is out there. And they’re hurt and scared and he knows Buck would never give up, ever. Even on blood thinners and out of work after a pulmonary embolism. Even after going ten rounds with a tsunami. But Buck isn’t invincible and Eddie doesn’t expect him to hold out forever.
“They’re sending another boat,” Bobby tells him when they’ve pulled another victim from the water. “It’ll take all of our survivors back to the field hospital so we can keep going.”
Eddie nods and tries to focus on cleaning the wound on the arm of the woman sat beside him.
It takes too long for the other boat to come. Long enough that Eddie’s fingers start trembling with something he’s pretty sure isn’t the cold but eventually, all of the victims are safely moved to the other boat and they’re moving forward again, closer to the right area.
“Can I see the video Maddie sent over?” Hen asks when no one has spoken for too long.
It takes him a second to even register the question, too caught up on methodically scanning the area around him, but then he reaches for his phone. Once he’s unlocked it and pulled up the video he passes it to her.
Chimney leans in close with her to watch it and the two of them share a grave look.
“That looks like a pretty nasty cut on his arm,” Chim comments and Eddie watches the way Hen’s mouth pulls down in a frown.
“It’s hard to tell from the video if it’s still bleeding or it’s clotted over,” she says before the two of them go silent to consult the video once again.
If anything, their expressions only look worse after the second watch.
“What?” he asks, voice flat and teeth gritted. He’s a medic too; he’s not blind. He knows Buck doesn’t look great in the video but he’s fine. He’s safe – he just needs to hang on until Eddie gets to him.
“Nothing, it’s just-“ Hen looks to Bobby before offering him an apologetic shrug. “That’s only an injury we can see and who knows what Buck went through before climbing onto the truck. I’m- I just worry that if his wounds aren’t clotting-“
“He’s not going to bleed out,” Eddie snaps, surprising himself with the ferocity behind his words.
Hen and Chimney clearly aren’t expecting it either. Bobby, on the other hand, gives him a measured look that says he can see through every crack in Eddie’s frayed mind.
“He’s fine. As long as we get to him soon, he’ll be fine.” He takes his phone back from Hen, giving into the clawing need tugging at his chest and pressing play on the video one more time.
It’s torture but there’s something cathartic in watching the way Buck and Christopher hold each other.
If he can’t be there to protect them right now then at least they have each other.
He’s always known Buck cares about Chris and he never stops being surprised at how far that care seems to extend but this is something else.
It’s a thread Eddie can’t pull on too much until they’re both back in his arms because he’s not sure he’ll hold himself together otherwise.
For now, he just has to keep praying and wait.
Christopher is getting tired.
They’d given up on “I Spy” long ago and he’s spent at least the past twenty minutes using Buck’s chest as a pillow while he struggles to keep his eyes open.
Buck, for his part, has just been trying to keep him as comfortable as possible.
“I’m hungry,” Chris mumbles and Buck’s own stomach cramps in sympathy.
The last thing they ate was the cotton candy at the pier and he’s pretty sure neither that nor the stack of pancakes they had for breakfast are enough to keep Chris’ energy up after the day they’ve had.
“Me too, bud,” he says, running a hand over Christopher’s curls. They’re starting to dry now but they’re still damp. “If you could have any food right now, what would it be?”
Christopher hums as he thinks and Buck catches sight of the sly grin on his face before he announces, “A whole pizza.”
“A whole one?” Buck asks in mock disbelief. “You mean you could finish it even without me and your dad’s help?”
Chris nods against him, the same mischievous twist to his mouth that Buck is so used to seeing and he’s once again completely bowled over by how resilient this kid is.
“Well, I think you probably deserve a whole pizza after today,” he tells him. “I’ll help you negotiate with your dad when you get home.” If he ever talks to me again, he thinks miserably.
“And ice-cream too,” Chris adds, craning his neck to give Buck a look.
“A whole tub,” he promises with a laugh. “Whatever you want, kid.”
“Do you think Dad will find us soon?” Chris asks then.
Buck hates lying to him – has avoided ever lying to Chris if he can since he knows Eddie doesn’t like to either – but what’s he supposed to say? Mustering up a tremulous smile, he catches Christopher’s hand in his own and squeezes it lightly. “I don’t know. Someone else might find us first or if the water goes down we might be able to get off the truck and walk somewhere to get help. But I know that if he knew we were out here he’d be doing everything he could to come find us.”
He wonders idly what the 118 are even doing right now. If they’re close by or have gotten held up somewhere else carrying out another rescue. Anything goes in a natural disaster and there’s no telling how long it’ll take for any kind of search and rescue to reach them. He wonders if Eddie’s tried to call him yet – the same way he’d tried calling Christopher’s school over and over the day of the earthquake.
In a way, he thinks Eddie wouldn’t call, that he’d trust Buck enough to take care of Chris until he could get off work, and that only makes him feel worse.
The only reason Eddie even brought Chris over this morning was to make Buck get out of bed and actually stay out of it.
He almost doesn’t want to think about what comes after this, what happens once they climb down from the ladder truck, because the thought of facing Eddie and telling him he put his kid in danger – the most precious thing in the world to him –is more terrifying than anything the tsunami could throw at him.
If he’s lucky maybe he can get him to forgive him eventually.
The moment Eddie finally spots the 136’s truck his heart starts pounding so hard he’s sure he’s about to have a heart attack.
“That’s it!” he says sharply, pointing as if everyone else on the boat can’t also see the big red firetruck with the groups of people stranded on top of it.
The victims to the rear of the truck notice them first, calling out and waving them over, and Bobby shouts out that they’re on the way, that help is coming.
Eddie clings tight to the side of the boat to stop himself from diving straight into the water and swimming for the truck himself. He can’t see Buck or Christopher from here. There are too many people in the way, standing up now, blocking his view. He feels Hen’s hand on his shoulder, a reassuring pressure, and he manages to spare her a weak smile before the boat is finally pulling close enough for him to catch a glimpse of the yellow of Christopher’s shirt.
“Christopher!” The name slips out of his mouth before he’s even consciously realised he’s said anything. There are still too many people between them but as soon as the boat is somewhat stationary Eddie’s hauling himself up onto the truck and they must know, somehow. Buck must have explained that they were both firefighters and that Eddie was at work because no one tries to stop him or ask for his help. The crowd on top of the truck parts and there, leaning against the head of the truck just like they were in the video, are Buck and Christopher.
He and Buck lock eyes and it very nearly steals the breath from Eddie’s lungs. He stands there, paralysed, for half a breath but then he hears Chris’ exclaimed, “Dad!” and all but falls to his knees in front of them.
Buck lifts Chris up just enough for Eddie to catch him and bundle him into his arms. He kisses the side of his face, the top of his head, buries his face in his still-damp curls and clings to him. And Chris has to be tired but Eddie still feels his grip tight on his shirt as he hugs back.
“I knew you’d save us,” Chris mumbles and it’s enough to remind him to look up over Christopher’s shoulder. Buck is still sitting in the same spot, watching them with a sort of slack-jawed awe and something that almost looks like yearning hidden in his eyes. And Eddie is feeling too much right now to think about the full weight of the fact he could’ve lost his son and Buck all at once so he shifts Christopher’s weight to his left arm and reaches for Buck with his right. Buck stares at him in surprise, blinking rapidly when Eddie’s hand makes contact with his t-shirt but he seems to finally get the message when Eddie pulls.
He pushes up onto his knees and falls forward until his arms are around Eddie – Chris nestled securely between them – and his forehead is bumping against Eddie’s temple and he lets out a desperately wounded noise.
“It’s okay,” Eddie breathes, gripping tightly to the back of Buck’s neck to hold him close. “It’s okay, you’re okay. You’re okay.”
“Eddie,” Buck starts, voice wrecked and raw and Eddie doesn’t want to think about what he must’ve gone through today to make him sound like that. Steeling himself, he pulls back just enough to meet Buck’s eyes.
“Look at me,” he says seriously. “Whatever you’re about to say, it’s okay. Alright? It’s okay.”
Buck stares at him like he can hardly dare to believe him so Eddie pulls him in again, pressing their foreheads together hard enough for Buck to feel it.
“I mean it,” he promises, quiet and fierce, and Buck finally nods against him before folding back into their hug.
And it’s like the rest of the day melts away, like everything around them is gone. Eddie isn’t aware of the rest of the team moving to help the other victims off the truck and into the boat. He doesn’t see anyone getting treated or the tearful smiles sent in their direction as people watch their reunion, he doesn’t register any of it until a different hand is touching his back lightly and Bobby’s voice is calling him to attention.
“Eddie,” he says. “Let’s get them on the boat and get them checked out.”
Buck is the one who rouses first, dislodging himself from Eddie and Christopher’s embrace to allow Bobby to pull him to his feet and into a crushing hug. The sight makes Eddie’s throat tighten and he leaves them to have their moment in private while he gathers Christopher in his arms and lets Chimney help them both back onto the boat.
Bobby and Buck are right behind them and Eddie pulls Buck down next to him as they get moving again, pressing their shoulders together once Christopher is situated in his lap.
There are too many people in the boat for anyone to really get treated properly right now but a quick scan of the people around them suggests that nobody seems to be in life-threatening danger. Buck has a shock blanket around him and Eddie gratefully takes another one from Hen to secure around Christopher.
Chris is curled up against his chest while Eddie runs a hand through his hair, both to soothe himself and to check for any bumps. Inexplicably, he seems fine from what Eddie can tell.
“You got really lucky with the truck,” Chimney says at one point, not really to anyone in particular, but most of the victims turn to him.
“We wouldn’t have survived at all if it wasn’t for Buck,” one woman says, voice thick with emotion, but she smiles when she looks in Buck’s direction. “He used the hose to stop us from getting swept away with the current and helped us up.”
The rest of the team turn to Buck at that and it’s the only reason Eddie doesn’t look at him, even though he’s dying to. He’s always known the measures Buck would go to to save others, how hard he fights to save everyone, but to be faced with that now after how much grief they all gave him for refusing to get out of bed after the blood clot is almost too much for him to take in.
He bumps his shoulder against Buck’s – a reminder, a silent, I’ve got your back – and Buck takes it for what it is, shrinking in on himself and slouching more into Eddie’s side. Eddie wraps one arm around Christopher’s middle and finds Buck’s hand with the other, slotting their fingers together.
Buck squeezes back and neither of them let go until they reach the VA hospital.
Buck gets separated from Eddie and Christopher once they arrive at the VA hospital. He tries not to flinch at the loss, forcing himself to focus on the steadiness of Hen’s presence as she guides him to a free bed to get checked out.
He goes through the motions as one of the nurses takes over. She cleans his wounds, stitches the worst one on his arm and bandages the rest. She checks his vitals, hooks him up to a saline drip to help with the dehydration and runs through the protocols to check for a concussion and Buck understands the importance of it all, he does, but there’s something itching beneath his skin at the feeling of being alone after all those hours of uncertainty he just went through.
He doesn’t realise how jittery he feels until he hears a familiar, “Evan!”
Jerking his head up, he sees Maddie rushing towards him and hardly has a moment to react before she’s crashing into him, half-collapsing on top of him on the cot and squeezing him tightly.
“Thank god you’re okay,” she breathes.
Buck sighs, closing his eyes and breathing in the combination of shampoo and perfume that’s so distinctly Maddie. He knows logically there’s no way she’s still using the same perfume or shampoo that she was when she was fifteen but she still smells the same to him and it calms him like nothing else.
“How did you know I was here?” he asks when he manages to find his voice.
“I was the one who told the team where you were,” she says, sitting back on his bed to look at him properly. “A girl with a drone called 911 when she saw you all on the firetruck.”
He’d forgotten to ask how they’d found them, hadn’t been thinking much about logistics or anything else really other than Eddie’s arms around him when the 118 had finally shown up.
“Chimney called once they found you and Sue let me go when she heard what happened. I have to go back in a couple of hours but I’m here now.” She says it the same way she used to when he was a kid falling off his bike and she was the one bandaging up his cuts. It’s okay, I’m here now.
She touches his face the same way too, gentle and tilting his chin to turn it to the light.
“What did the nurse say?”
“I’m okay, I think,” he says, averting his eyes from her assessing gaze. “Most of the cuts were shallow and they don’t think I lost too much blood. Even with the blood thinners. I’ll probably have to go back to my doctor tomorrow to run some tests just to make sure but nothing’s broken and they don’t think I have a concussion so…” He shrugs, the corners of his mouth lifting in some approximation of a smile.
Maddie sighs, moving her hand to card her fingers through his hair. “You got really lucky.”
He hums, not sure she’d appreciate hearing the truth about how he really feels right now.
Just the thought of him makes Buck’s stomach clench but he tries to keep his voice level as he answers. “Eddie’s taken him to get checked out. I um, I tried to check him over when we were on the truck but I could’ve missed something or-“
“Hey,” Maddie’s voice interrupts him, soothing but firm, and she leans closer to make him look at her. “Evan, you saved that little boy’s life. Who knows what would’ve happened if you hadn’t been there to protect him?”
“I was the reason he was there in the first place,” he says miserably, guilt gnawing at his insides.
“You took him to the amusement park,” Maddie says, sounding far too rational for him to handle right now. “A completely normal and reasonable way to spend the day with a little kid. You couldn’t have predicted this.”
“Still my fault,” he mutters.
“It’s not,” Maddie insists. “And Eddie knows that too.”
Buck is about to reply but, as if summoned by the sound of his name, Eddie suddenly appears in the doorway of the ward with Christopher in tow. He looks weary but not at all like he’s just been told Chris is hiding some life-threatening injury so Buck tries to relax.
“Hey,” Maddie says when they’re close enough. “Everything go okay?”
“Looks like somebody’s got superhuman strength,” Eddie jokes, tickling Christopher’s sides. His smile widens when Christopher giggles and then he nods to Maddie and Buck. “All good; a few scrapes and bruises but it’s all superficial.”
Buck lets go of the breath he hadn’t realised he’d been holding. He’d known, logically, that Chris was fine – that he probably would’ve realised before now if something was seriously wrong – but it’s still a relief to have it confirmed.
“What about you?” Eddie asks then and Buck doesn’t miss the quick onceover he gives him.
“Oh. I’m- I’m okay,” he stutters, swallowing around the nervousness in this throat. “Once the nurse swings by and gives me the all clear I can probably go home.”
“Great, we’ll wait,” Eddie says, pulling over a chair and planting himself next to Buck’s cot with Christopher on his lap.
“Bobby’s orders. I’m done for the day so I’m taking you two home.” Eddie gives him a look, as if daring him to argue back.
“That’s perfect,” Maddie interrupts before he can say anymore. “I’ve gotta get back to work soon anyway so at least I know you won’t be alone. I can drop you guys back to the station to pick up your truck when you’re ready,” she adds to Eddie.
“Maddie,” Buck starts, not sure how he’s even planning on finishing his sentence. A hand touching his own catches his attention and he turns his head to the left to find Christopher carefully taking his hand in his.
“Buck, we’re gonna get pizza, remember?” Christopher says quietly and Buck just about melts at the pleading look on his face.
“Pizza?” Eddie asks with a raise of his eyebrow.
“Yup. I’m getting a whole one all to myself and you and Buck aren’t gonna steal any of it!” Christopher informs with a triumphant grin.
Eddie looks between them, biting back a smile. “Is that so? Well, we’re just gonna get peppers and olives and anchovies on our one so you won’t like it.”
Chris pulls a face but can’t quite manage to quell his smile and god, it’d almost feel like any other day if not for the setting.
“I’m pretty sure I promised him ice-cream too,” Buck mutters, Christopher’s delighted, “Right!” dragging a smile out of him.
Eddie scoffs. “I hope for both of your sakes the fridge is stocked because I am absolutely not stopping in a grocery store today.”
“Buck has ice-cream in his freezer!” Christopher announces and Eddie meets his gaze then over Christopher’s head, offering him a smile that’s small but knowing. It’s enough for Buck to think maybe not everything is completely ruined.
Later that day, Eddie is in Christopher’s room drying his hair after the shower.
Buck is currently in the bathroom, washing the blood and grime off his skin, and Eddie is honestly impressed that either of them are able to step foot under the spray of water today. Chris hadn’t complained but Eddie could tell by the twist of his mouth and the way he’d constantly ducked his head that he’d felt uncomfortable.
“Hey,” he says, setting the hairdryer aside and crouching down in front of Chris where he sits on the edge of the bed. “All dry and clean now.”
Chris smiles at him – small but still real – and Eddie runs a hand through his hair to push the curls back off his face. He resists the urge to pull Chris back into his arms again, if only to prevent Chris from realising how genuinely terrified Eddie had felt at the thought of losing him. Instead he folds his hands over Christopher’s lap and ducks his head to catch his eye.
“How’re you feeling, buddy? I know today must’ve been scary.”
Christopher looks off to the side but his hands settle across Eddie’s forearms. “It was scary,” he agrees, fingers running absentmindedly over the divots of Eddie’s watch. “When the wave came and I was in the water. But then Buck caught me and put me on the firetruck and it was okay.”
“Yeah?” Eddie asks, at a loss for what else to say. He can’t even begin to imagine what Chris went through at the pier – the snatches of information he’d gleaned from different survivors had sounded like something out of a horror movie. He doubts his son has even started processing most of it.
“Yeah,” he confirms. “I knew I’d be okay as long as Buck was there.”
Eddie’s heart aches something fierce as he tries for a smile. It’s one thing to know Buck cares about Christopher, it’s a whole other thing to see that Christopher is aware of that and has just as much faith and trust in Buck as he does.
“Well, I bet Buck felt the same way having you there by his side,” he says softly. “Come on, how about we go out to the living room and wait for Buck to finish up in the shower and then we can have some food.”
Chris nods and it’s a testament to how tired he must be that he lets Eddie help him down off the bed before they make their way back out to the hallway.
Eddie disappears for his own shower as soon as Buck emerges from the bathroom. He leaves them on the couch together, bundled up under a blanket, even though Buck’s eyes follow him with something like panic as he leaves the room.
He knows he and Buck need to talk properly on their own, if only because Buck is probably spiralling from guilt right now, but he’s hoping for now that Buck is too tired to convince himself he needs to push them away for their own good.
Eddie keeps his shower quick and methodical, rinsing the day off as quickly as possible before changing into something warm. He peeks into the living room on his way back to the kitchen but doesn’t disturb Buck and Chris where they’re still buried beneath the blanket.
He has to settle for frozen pizza – there’s no way any kind of pizza place they try to order from will show up in the next hour, not with the traffic the way it is right now – so he puts two in the oven and hopes it’ll be enough to satisfy Chris tonight.
Twenty minutes later he carries the food out to the living room, settles between Buck and Christopher on the couch and does his level best to pretend it’s a normal movie night. It would be if not for the way Chris is glued to his side or how quiet Buck is as he eats his food, only offering a weak smile when Eddie tries to catch his gaze.
Chris climbs into Eddie’s lap as soon as he’s finished his food, burrowing into his chest and stretching his legs out across Buck’s lap. Eddie jokes with him, asks when he became a piece of the furniture, but he’s secretly relieved it means Buck won’t try to move away. Sure enough, he only looks at Chris with an affectionate curve to his mouth and wraps a gentle hand around Chris’ ankle to hold him in place.
Chris nods off not long after and Eddie nudges Buck to get his attention. “I’m gonna put him to bed. I’ll be back in a sec, alright?”
“Yeah,” Buck mumbles, voice rumbling in a way that suggests he’d probably also been on the verge of falling asleep. He stretches when Eddie stands with Chris in his arms but he makes no attempt to move from his spot on the couch so Eddie counts it as a win.
He’s careful tucking Chris in, fitting the blanket comfortably around him and leaving the dinosaur plushie he favours within reach by his pillow. He’s hoping he’ll sleep through the night but he’s not sure they’ll get that lucky.
Turning on his nightlight, he kisses Christopher’s forehead and leaves the door open a crack before making his way back to the living room.
Buck watches him warily as he takes up his earlier seat on the couch and only manages to withstand the silence between them for a few seconds before he breaks it. “Eddie, I’m sorry.”
Eddie looks at him – taking in his wide, worried eyes, the bruise colouring his cheek and scratches across his face – and is hit once again with the reminder of just how fragile Buck is right now. How easily the blood thinners or his leg could’ve completely debilitated him. And yet, he didn’t let it stop him, didn’t hesitate to protect Christopher with everything he had.
He sighs. “Buck, I asked him if he was scared earlier and he said he was until you were together again. Because he had you so he knew he’d be okay.”
Buck’s lip quivers and he sniffs once, like that statement alone is enough to reduce him to tears.
“He…he trusts you so much. He loves you so much and I don’t- I don’t know if he’d be as calm as he is right now if it’d been someone else looking after him today.”
“Yeah but, I’m trained to handle-“
“None of us are trained for something like that, Buck,” he cuts in because he needs Buck to understand. “I know you know how to stay calm under pressure. I know you’re able to think on your feet and you’ll break your own back if it means keeping other people alive but it’s not that. He didn’t feel safe because he was with Buck, the firefighter. He felt safe because he was with you.”
Buck inhales a hitching breath and stares at Eddie with some combination of disbelief and barely concealed hope.
“And that’s why you don’t need to be sorry or why I could never be mad,” he continues. “Because no one will ever fight for my son as hard as you, alright?”
It’s a lot to say, too much to reveal probably, given everything, but it’s true.
He wishes he didn’t need something like this to prove it but it doesn’t change the fact that every instinct he’s had about Buck has been right. He’s known since the beginning Buck is someone he could trust – with his life, with his son, with his heart.
He hasn’t been wrong yet.
Buck doesn’t seem to know how to reply, mouth parted and eyes swimming with unshed tears. After a moment’s hesitation he shifts, hunching his shoulders and folding himself into Eddie’s side. Eddie brings his arms around him, ducking to press his forehead against the crown of Buck’s head and releasing a steady breath.
Buck’s fingers curl in his hoodie and Eddie can feel his racing heart where it’s pressed against him even through all their layers of clothes.
“I’ll fight for you too,” Buck murmurs, voice barely audible. “Every time.”
I know, Eddie thinks but doesn’t say. It terrifies me.
Buck lingers at the couch when Eddie says they should try to get some sleep.
“What are you doing?” Eddie asks from doorway and Buck blinks, pausing from where he’d been about to rearrange the cushions into some approximation of a pillow.
“Uh getting ready for bed?”
Eddie makes a noise in the back of his throat, shaking his head. “Buck, you’re covered in bruises and I know your leg is hurting you. I can see you limping. You’re not sleeping on my couch.”
Buck stares at him. He knows what Eddie is implying but he can’t quite make it compute in his head. The truth is he wants nothing more than to crawl into bed with Eddie right now, to be surrounded by a blanket and sheets that smells like him and cling to him until every terrible memory of today has been wiped from his mind.
“I don’t wanna put you out,” is the only response he can think to come up with and it sound weak even to his own ears.
Eddie rolls his eyes but it’s in a way that feels so fond it almost makes Buck cave in on himself.
“You’re not. Come on.”
It takes a second for him to remember to make his legs work and then he’s moving to follow Eddie out to the hallway, turning off the light as he goes.
They’re quiet when they get to Eddie’s room. Buck automatically moves to the left side of the bed since he knows Eddie prefers the right. He only knows from seeing him asleep in the bunk room at work but something about being aware of that detail here, now, in Eddie’s room feels far more intimate.
Eddie drops his phone on the nightstand, slipping out of the room. He’s back again in thirty seconds and Buck knows he’s gone to check on Christopher one last time.
“You think you’ll be able to sleep tonight?” Eddie asks as he pushes his bedroom door out, not quite closing it all the way.
“I hope so,” he says. He wishes he had his phone, if only to have something to distract himself from the way he can feel Eddie’s eyes following him as he climbs into bed and rearranges the covers over his lap.
“Well, I know my mattress isn’t as fancy as yours but it’s not that bad,” Eddie says lightly, flicking off the light and slipping under the covers.
They’re quiet as darkness blankets the room and they both shift to find a more comfortable position. They’re not touching but Buck can feel the heat coming from Eddie’s body a few inches from his own. Everything in him wants to roll closer and draw Eddie’s arms around him like he did on the couch.
He settles for letting his hand rest in the centre of the mattress in the space between them.
“Thanks for coming to find us,” he whispers.
Eddie doesn’t reply right away but he moves his hand so his fingers catch around the tips of Buck’s. “Thanks for not giving up.”
Buck closes his eyes, burying his face in the pillow to hide whatever emotions his expression can’t conceal.
Buck wakes with a gasp, Christopher’s name on his lips.
It takes a second to get his bearings when he opens his eyes, takes even longer to realise the comforting weight over his forearm is Eddie’s hand.
“It’s okay,” he whispers from beside him. “It was just a dream.”
Buck heaves a shaky sigh, pressing the heels of his palms to his eyes to try and erase the visions of waves clouding his mind. Fuck, he can still feel it all. The scrape of water his lungs, the grime under his fingernails, the uncomfortable, damp chafing of his clothes against his skin, the dull throb of pain still aching through his leg.
Christopher’s hand just missing his as he tries to catch him.
“I dreamt I lost him,” he rasps. His hands are still covering his eyes but Eddie reaches out to him again, fingers bumping against his wrist until he gently pulls his arm away.
Buck lets him move it, reluctantly turning his head to the side and opening his eyes. The room is dark but he can still make out Eddie watching him where he lies on his side next to him. His hand tangles with Buck’s, squeezing once before falling to rest on the mattress between them.
“But you’re here,” Eddie replies lowly. “And he’s here. And you’re both safe.”
He nods, letting Eddie’s presence ground him.
He’s here. Christopher’s here. They’re both safe.
He repeats it in his head a few times until it feels as real as Eddie’s touch on him.
He’s on the verge of falling back to sleep, floating in that dream-like state of sleep and awake when he hears Chris shouting out from his room. It makes him jolt in the bed and he almost thinks it’s an echo of his dream until he hears it again and realises Chris must be having a nightmare of his own. He frowns, heart twisting in sympathy and guilt.
“I’ll check on him,” Eddie says, thumb running over the back of Buck’s hand before letting go. “Try to go back to sleep.”
He nods as Eddie gets out of bed, listening to the patter of his footsteps as he hurries to Christopher’s room and the low hum of their voices from two walls over.
When Eddie returns to the room a few minutes later he’s carrying Chris with him.
“Just for tonight, okay, buddy?” he says as he gently deposits Christopher in the centre of the bed. He crawls in next to him, drawing the covers back up, while Chris mutters his agreement and Buck can’t help inching closer to them both.
“You okay, Chris?” he asks quietly, running a hand over his back. He’s not sure if it’s to soothe himself or Christopher but either way it settles something inside of him.
“Mm,” Chris mumbles, clearly already well on his way to falling back to sleep. “I’ll sleep better if you’re both here.” The words come out half-slurred, muffled where he’s turned his face into Eddie’s chest and Buck looks over his head at Eddie who gives him an indecipherable smile.
“I think we’ll sleep better too,” Eddie tells him, kissing Christopher’s hair. When his head returns to the pillow he meets Buck’s gaze and slowly, deliberately, moves his arm so it’s draped across both him and Chris.
Buck closes his eyes, letting the feeling of comfort and security wash over him.
And it’s ridiculous because today was one of the worst days of his life. He’s not sure he’s ever come as close to giving up as he had sitting stranded on that ladder truck but lying here with Christopher and Eddie he thinks maybe there’s a new kind of hope blooming inside him.
It feels something like finally coming home.