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all the wrong answers (you're not supposed to work)

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Eddie’s new job is– fine. Mostly. 

It’s a little boring, yeah, and he still doesn’t really ‘get’ Twitter, but he gets to go home at a reasonable hour and spend time with Christopher and he’s safe. That’s what matters. 

He’s still helping people, sort of, and if his heart twinges a little every time he answers a call about an incident the 118 responded to, that’s nobody’s business but his own. 

It’s a job. Most people don’t like their jobs. He’s got a salary, and health insurance, and regular hours, and really, that’s all he needs. And if he misses his team, locked inside his dingy office, staring at a computer screen all day? Well, that’s a price he knew he was going to have to pay the day he walked out. 

A knock on his door frame startles him from his reverie. 

“May?”

“Hey!” she says brightly. “You had lunch yet?” She holds up a tupperware of salad and shakes it. 

Eddie frowns a little. “I, uh– usually eat at my desk,” he says, like he’s been here more than a day and a half.

May laughs, a soft musical sound. “Come on, you’ve got to be feeling cooped up in here. It’s kind of depressing.” She gestures at the tiny windows set into the cinder block wall with a grimace. 

Despite himself, Eddie snorts. “Yeah, alright, I need to stretch my legs anyway.”

“Are you liking the new job so far?” she asks when he stands, just a little too innocent to sound anything but practiced.

“Oh, I get it,” Eddie says with a soft roll of his eyes. “Bobby put you up to this, didn’t he?”

May presses a hand to her chest, in a display of mock outrage. “I am hurt and offended at your calumnious accusation,” she says. 

Eddie’s eyebrows shoot up. “Calumnious?”

May shrugs. “Word of the day, calumnious . False and defamatory; slanderous,” she recites. 

“Huh,” Eddie says. “Never heard that one before.”

“It’s definitely better than yesterday’s word,” May says, wrinkling her nose.

“What was yesterday?”

“Pulchritudinous,” she grimaces. “Somehow it means beautiful?”

Eddie surprises himself with a laugh. “Compliment someone with that word at your own risk,” he jokes. 

May throws back her head and laughs, then pats him on the shoulder. “Eddie,” she says, nearly choking on giggles, “I think this is the start of a pulchritudinous friendship.”

 

“Oh, honey, no,” a woman says, and it takes Eddie a second to realize she’s talking to him. 

His shoulders tense. “Can I help you?” He turns towards the woman, leaving the microwave open behind him. 

“No, but it looks like I’m going to be helping you. You’re Eddie, right?”

“Yeah, Eddie Diaz.”

“Nice to finally put a face to the name, Linda Bates. Maddie’s told me about you,” she says with a grin. 

Eddie nods, a little stiffly. “Maddie talks about me?”

“Well,” Linda says, lifting an eyebrow, “she talks about Buck, so. You know.”

“Right,” Eddie manages, feeling a little like he’s been stabbed in the stomach. “Anyway, nice to meet you, but–”

Linda shakes her head. “Oh no, don’t think you’re getting off that easy. We’ve got to talk about that .”

Eddie follows her gaze to– “My lunch?”

“I say this because I care. Eddie, that is the saddest lunch I’ve ever seen, and I watched my brother do paleo for a year.”

His ears burn. “It’s not that bad,” he mumbles, because it’s not! Like, okay, maybe microwave macaroni isn’t the most exciting dish, and maybe he could have put something other than lettuce in his salad, but he’s got a box of protein bars in his desk, so it’s not like he’s going to starve. 

“It absolutely is,” Linda says, thoroughly unimpressed. 

“Well we can’t all be Chef Boyardee,” Eddie snarks. 

Linda blinks twice. “Please tell me you’re joking.”

 

And just like that, Eddie has friends at the office. 

It’s kind of surreal, because he’s used to having a team, a group of people he’d lay down his life for without hesitation, a family, but he’s never really had this . Watercooler gossip, words of the day, people he calls his friends but can’t imagine asking to drive him to the airport. 

Everything is low stakes, and it’s kind of nice, actually. 

May tells him a new word every morning, Linda makes fun of his lunch and texts him easy recipes, and it all feels familiar in a way he isn’t willing to examine, but it’s good. It’s not fun facts or family dinners, but somehow it feels safer.

The elevator dings and he steps out, coffee in hand. He catches May’s eye from across the room, and she dissolves into giggles. 

“Ravi sent me,” she gasps as soon as Eddie makes it to her desk, “the stupidest TikTok.”

“I’m almost afraid to ask,” Eddie quips. “Wait– you talk to Ravi?”

“Yeah, duh,” she says, wiping at her eyes. “And I told him today’s word, and he sent me– he sent me–” she breaks off into another peal of laughter and holds out her phone. 

The video that plays is– completely incomprehensible

Eddie opens and closes his mouth, then blanches. “Oh god,” he says. 

May straightens. “What’s wrong?” she asks, suddenly the competent dispatcher Eddie knows her to be. 

“Buck was right,” he says mournfully. “I am old.”

May stares at him for a long second, then snorts, then laughs so hard she cries. Around the time she buries her face in her arms to muffle the sound, Eddie realizes the conversation is over. 

“See you at lunch,” he says with a chuckle. 

May raises a hand in a half-hearted wave, even as her shoulders continue to shake. 

Later, Eddie texts Ravi. 

Eddie, 2:27 PM: What was the word of the day??

Ravi, 2:28 PM: Carcinisation.

It explains absolutely nothing. 

 

“Do you know anything about TikTok?” Eddie asks Linda in the break room. “Because May showed me one this morning, and now Ravi’s sending them to me too, and none of them make sense. None of them, Linda.”

“Everybody knows about TikTok,” Linda says, patting him on the shoulder. 

“Everybody but me,” Eddie grumbles. 

“And you’re supposed to be the LAFD’s social media manager,” she quips. 

Eddie rolls his eyes. “I’m not–”

Linda flaps her hand at him. “Alright, show me Ravi’s TikTok, I’ll explain the joke.”

Eddie heaves a sigh and holds out his phone

Linda snorts as she watches it.

“So?” Eddie asks at the end. 

“What’s there not to get?” Linda shrugs. 

 

So Eddie gets sent TikToks now, apparently, and he tweets for a living, and he’s kind of never felt less like himself in his life. He’s on top of the laundry, and the dishes, and every other chore he can think of. The ceiling fans are dusted and the baseboards are clean. 

It’s worth it, for Christopher, of course it is. 

But he’s never sat this still before, and it’s kind of driving him crazy. He never remembers his dreams, but he’s sure they’re mostly nightmares, if the way he always seems to wake up with a scream on the back of his tongue is any indication. 

He wants to text Buck. But Buck can always tell when his skin is feeling too tight and he’s itching to claw his way out of it so he texts Linda instead. 

Eddie, 6:16 PM: Any idea how to make chicken taste… good?

Three dots appear, then disappear, and Eddie can imagine the exact expression on Linda’s face. A little disappointed, a lot amused, and fully prepared to teach him and make fun of him in the same breath. 

Linda, 6:18 PM: You’re going to need parchment paper, a mallet, fish sauce, and some mustard powder.

Right. Eddie has exactly none of those things. He re-reads the text and wrinkles his nose. 

Eddie, 6:19 PM: What’s the fish sauce for?

Linda, 6:19 PM: Trust me, Diaz

Eddie shakes his head and blinks twice. Alright, fish sauce on the chicken it is. He grabs his keys and heads out the door. 

 

The chicken is delicious. Like, Eddie likes it, Christopher likes it, and they don’t even trash the leftovers. It’s a miracle, according to his son. 

“Very funny,” Eddie says, ruffling his hair, even though he kind of agrees. 

He’s maybe a little bit proud of himself, though, so he texts the picture he took at the beginning of the meal to Buck and waits. 

Buck, 8:42 PM: Edmundo Diaz.

Buck, 8:42 PM: Did you COOK??

Eddie chuckles to himself and types out a reply. 

Eddie, 8:43 PM: I’m a man of many talents

He only has to wait a moment for his phone to vibrate with Buck’s response. 

Buck, 8:43 PM: I’ll believe it when I see it

Eddie snorts and shakes his head. 

Eddie, 8:44 PM: Come over for dinner then, I’ll prove it. You free tomorrow?

There’s a long pause, interrupted only by the appearance and disappearance of the three dots. 

Buck, 8:51 PM: I told taylor she could come to mine after work

Eddie grimaces a little, but after Hen made one too many comments about his disdain for Taylor, he’d decided to at least try to play nice. 

Eddie: 8:52 PM: Bring her too

This time, the response is immediate. 

Buck, 8:52 PM: U sure?

Eddie sends a quick yeah before he can change his mind. 

And then he panics, and practically sprints to the store. He calls Linda on the way. 

 

The cupcakes are an afterthought, and he regrets them almost as soon as he’s home. Store-bought dinner rolls? Sure. He’s not going to figure out bread in one afternoon. Dessert, though, surely he could do that on his own. His pantry is practically bereft of baking ingredients, though, and Christopher’s already in bed, so he can’t go back to the store. 

He texts Linda. Again. 

Eddie, 11:13 PM: SOS

It’s three nail-biting minutes before she responds. 

Linda, 11:16 PM: How could you possibly be having a cooking emergency right now?

Linda, 11:17 PM: Unless it’s a fire, in which case, you should know I’m not on shift. 

Eddie exhales sharply through his nose in an approximation of a laugh. 

Eddie, 11:17 PM: Haha. Very funny. 

This time, Linda’s response is quick. 

Linda, 11:17 PM: I try

Eddie bites his lip and quickly sends another text. 

Eddie, 11:18 PM: I want to make dessert

Eddie, 11:18 PM: For dinner tomorrow

His phone buzzes three times in quick succession. 

Linda, 11:19 PM: All that time talking about meatloaf, and now you just want to eat cake?

Linda, 11:19 PM: kidding

Linda, 11:19 PM: what do you want to make?

Eddie scrubs a hand through his hair and tries to tamp down the anxiety rising in his chest because it’s ridiculous. It’s just Buck, who’s pretended to like more than his fair share of rubbery eggs and dry chicken. 

Eddie, 11:20 PM: Don’t know. I only have like a cup of flour left so not sure what I can. 

Then again, maybe Buck’s the reason he wants everything to be perfect. He keeps looking at Eddie like there’s something wrong, but he’s fine. He just needs to prove it. 

Linda, 11:22 PM: You’ve got extra potatoes, right?

She doesn’t wait for him to answer. 

Linda, 11:22 PM: I know just the recipe. 

Linda, 11:23 PM: Watch this

It’s another freaking TikTok, but this time he’s being yelled at by a teenager who can’t pronounce cinnamon. 

This is what his life has come to. A TikTok potato cake . If this thing sucks, he’s never going to live it down. 

Linda sends him another text, a screenshot of the recipe. 

And– okay, look. Eddie doesn’t have a lot of baking experience, but he’s pretty sure nothing about this thing makes sense. Potatoes don’t go in cakes. Potato skins really don’t go in cakes. And he’s pretty sure nothing should ever have a 1:1 ratio with butter. 

But it’s nearly 11:30, and he doesn’t have the ingredients for anything else, and if he gives Buck the stupid store-bought cupcakes tomorrow he’s probably going to look at Eddie like he’s something fragile and he’s not

So he jots the recipe down on a notecard, then queues up the video again and does exactly what the guy says, because if this cake ends up disgusting, it’s sure as shit not going to be his fault. 

Eddie boils and mashes the potatoes. He creams together the butter and sugar and beaten eggs. He adds milk to the potatoes and sifts the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl, even if he has no idea why. He even grates the stupid bar of semi-sweet baker’s chocolate, which he only even has because he bought it by mistake once and it was too bitter for him or Christopher to enjoy. 

He slowly adds everything together, and takes care not to overmix the batter. Which– how is it even possible to overmix something? Eddie has no idea. But the TikTok guy says not to, so he leaves it lumpy.

He preheats the oven to 350°, slides the cake in, and prays. 

 

Work is fine and dinner is good and Eddie’s almost positive Buck believes it when he smiles. And– there’s no reason he shouldn’t, because, sure, Eddie thinks Twitter is stupid, and yeah, he hates it when people ask if he’s a real firefighter, but he’s fine. He’s fine, right up until he goes to get dessert and Buck follows him and– 

“You need to move on. I have.”

Buck’s face falls, and Eddie feels a stab of regret. But he can’t do this, not right now, so he brings the store-bought cupcakes and the potato cake to the table and he smiles like nothing’s wrong, and a moment later Buck follows and does the same thing. 

Everyone likes the cake, though, so at least there’s that. 

 

At two in the morning, May sends him a link to a TikTok with no caption. 

Eddie types out and sends what he believes to be the only possible response.

Eddie, 2:02 AM: what

May answers almost immediately. 

May, 2:03 AM: why are you awake??

Eddie raises an eyebrow and replies. 

Eddie, 2:03 AM: Could ask you the same question

His phone buzzes twice in quick succession. 

May, 2:03 AM: touché

May, 2:03 AM: anyway, you should get a djungelskog for christopher

Eddie blinks. And blinks again, but nope, his screen still says djungleskog

Eddie, 2:04 AM: And that is?

May, 2:04 AM: did you even watch the video??  

Eddie rubs his face tiredly but smiles despite himself. 

Eddie, 2:05 AM: Tell you what

Eddie, 2:05 AM: Go to sleep now and I’ll show this to Buck

Eddie, 2:05 AM: You and Christopher will both have one by next week

The reply is virtually instant, and it makes Eddie snort. 

May, 2:05 AM: deal

May, 2:05 AM: gn

A long moment passes, then one more message appears. 

May, 2:07 AM: you should go to sleep too

He should. He doesn’t. 

 

The high of a good save is like nothing else; Eddie’s practically buzzing with it. For the first time since he quit the 118, he thinks there might still be something in this world that he’s good at. He thinks that maybe, just maybe, he’s got something good going here. 

It’s not firefighting, but he’s got May and Linda, and he helped someone tonight. So when Buck invites him to the bar, he says yes without hesitating. He feels good. Hell, he even smiles when Josh walks in. 

The smile doesn’t last. 

And Eddie– Eddie’s pissed , actually, but there’s not a damn thing he can do about it, because at the end of the day Josh is right. He doesn’t belong here. He can pretend all he wants, but he doesn’t. 

But fuck it, Eddie felt good today, and Josh doesn’t get to ruin that because he’s going to the bar to see his friends, and maybe he doesn’t belong here but he’ll always belong with them. 

His phone buzzes as he gets into his truck. 

May, 6:18: you okay?

May, 6:18: you left kind of fast

Eddie doesn’t answer. 

 

The bar is crowded and loud and familiar and exactly where Eddie’s supposed to be. 

“Can I get you anything?” the hostess asks. 

Eddie’s eyes wander until they catch on Buck, head thrown back in laughter. He can’t help the smile that tugs at his lips. 

“Are you with the firefighters?” she continues, and it’s like being doused with cold water because–

“No.”

He’s not. He’s not with the firefighters. He’s not with the 118. It’s a badge and ladder joint, and Eddie might still have a badge but he hasn’t seen a ladder in weeks. He’s kidding himself. 

The people at that table – Buck, Hen, Bobby and the woman he doesn’t recognize but can make an educated guess about – they made the rescue today. They’ve got something to celebrate. And if Eddie goes over there…

He’ll just be dead weight. He’ll bring them all down.

Eddie offers the hostess a tight smile and leaves as fast as he can. He brushes past Ravi at the entrance, he thinks, but he’s halfway to another panic attack and he’s not doing that here . He gets into his truck and drives, drives with no destination in mind because Carla’s not expecting him for at least another couple of hours and he can’t explain any of this, doesn’t want to. 

Deep in his bones, though, he knows. He made a mistake. Now he has to live with it. 

 

Eddie finds himself parked in front of the grocery store, and it almost makes him laugh. Of all places to end up when he’s on the verge of a breakdown. He’s always hated grocery shopping. 

There’s a cart near the front of the parking lot and Eddie grabs it, wincing when the wheel squeaks. He pushes it up to the automatic doors, which slide open with a whoosh of cold air. Eddie shivers. 

Above him, the fluorescent lights buzz incessantly. Eddie’s always hated grocery shopping, but tonight, somehow, the store calms his nerves. There’s hardly anyone here, just a bored teenager at the cash register and a few scattered shoppers. 

Eddie picks an aisle at random. 

It was the contents of his cart that always got him, Eddie thinks. Processed junk and pre-bagged salads, proof that he was as inadequate as he felt. 

Now, though, he knows how to make decent chicken, and he’s planning on spiralizing a zucchini, and maybe that’s the difference. His entire life is falling apart, but he can finally feed his kid without anyone else’s help. 

He doesn’t need help. 

By the time Eddie makes it to the baking aisle, he’s already got a week’s worth of food in his cart. He doesn’t need flour, or baking powder, or sugar, but the longer he stares at it, the longer he itches to grab it.

Eddie can count on one hand the number of things he’s baked successfully. One finger, really, if you don’t count slice-and-bake cookies. But he kind of wants to do it again, because the ridiculous potato cake was good and his life’s a mess but maybe if he learns how to make scones everything will be fine. 

He buys one of nearly everything in the aisle. 

 

Christopher’s asleep when Eddie finally gets home, and he tries not to be upset about it. 

“You okay?” Carla asks, brow creased. 

He probably looks like a wreck. “Fine,” Eddie says, pasting on a smile. “Just realized we were out of, you know, everything. Decided to make a stop on the way home.”

Carla’s eyes narrow. “Well I hope you didn’t spend all night thinking about the groceries.”

“Course not,” Eddie replies, fighting his instinct to look away. “It was nice to see everyone.” It’s not even a lie. For a split second, it was nice. They looked happy. Eddie wants them to be happy. 

She looks at him doubtfully, but finally smiles and pats him on the arm. “Good,” she says. “You deserve to have a nice night here and there.”

Eddie musters a grin. “And you,” he says, forcing some levity into his tone, “Deserve to get some rest. Thanks for watching him late tonight.”

“Anything for the Diaz boys,” she says lightly. “You get some rest too, okay? You seem tired.”

“I am,” Eddie says. The grin turns rueful. That, at least, feels like the truth. But he doubts he’ll sleep. 

 

His first batch of cookies is in the oven when Christopher finds him and turns everything upside down. 

“You’re really brave,” he says and it doesn’t feel like Eddie deserves that. “I can be brave too.”

He definitely doesn’t deserve that. Eddie pulls Christopher to his chest and runs a hand through his hair. “I love you, kid,” he says roughly. “You don’t have to be brave about this if you don’t want to, though, okay?”

Christopher shakes his head and pulls away. “I want you to be happy,” he says simply. 

Eddie bites his lip, but the oven timer dings and saves them both from whatever his answer would have been. 

“Are you… baking?” Christopher asks. 

Eddie chuckles at the incredulity in his tone. “Yeah, yeah.” He ruffles Christopher’s hair. “Tell you what, you can have one if you promise to go back to bed right after.”

Christopher looks dubiously between him and the oven. 

Eddie snorts. “I followed the recipe,” he says, standing and grabbing the oven mits Buck bought him as a joke. “They’re going to be fine.”

“If you say so, Dad.”

 

He goes to Bobby the next morning, and he’s sure it’s the right decision. Being away from the job, it’s been killing him. Getting back to the 118 is what’s going to make him okay again. He knows it. 

His phone buzzes with a text just before he knocks. 

Buck, 8:15 AM: missed u last night

Eddie grins and shoves the phone back in his pocket. He’ll text Buck back after he talks to Bobby, when he has good news. He’s coming home. 

 

Except he’s not. 

He’s not because Bobby thinks there’s something wrong but he’s fine. He’s fine . He’s angry. He’s fine. 

Or. Or he would be fine, if Bobby would just let him come home

Eddie flexes his fingers on the leather of his steering wheel. He’s still in Bobby’s driveway but he doesn’t know where to go. The thought of having to tell Christopher he isn’t going to be a firefighter after all makes him want to pull his hair out. He thinks about going to Buck’s instead, but Taylor might be there and the thought of having to play nice with her is even worse . So. He pulls his phone out. 

The text from Buck is still there, mocking him. He swipes it away. Pulls up his conversation with Linda instead. 

Eddie, 8:31 AM: got any more baking tiktoks?

He stares at his phone for at least ten minutes, but she doesn’t respond. He texts May next. 

Eddie, 8:43 AM: what was that thing from ikea called again?

She doesn’t answer either. And– Eddie gets it. It’s early. He knows she has a tendency to stay up too late. She’s probably not even awake. 

But fuck, Eddie could use a friend who doesn’t know him well enough to know that something’s wrong. 

Something’s wrong. Nothing’s wrong. He’s fine. So… so maybe he just needs to prove that. Maybe he just needs a slip of paper and a decent night’s sleep and then Bobby will let him come back. Eddie texts Bobby a quick apology, then digs through his contacts for Frank’s office. 

He’s fine. He’ll prove it.