Buck is honestly surprised the place hadn’t burned down sooner.
It has to be the oldest bar in Los Angeles, a shoddy little brick building shoved between a nail salon and another nail salon, depressingly dim with the broken light-up signs hanging in the window, perpetually in need of fixing. Nothing about it is up to code: the floors are always sticky, any piece of furniture that can wobble does, and more than once a patron had to dodge a picture frame that jumped off it’s rusty nail on the wall.
Still, leaning tiredly against a lamp post with sirens blaring in the distance, Buck can’t say he isn’t a little sad to see it go. For all its flaws, it wasn’t a bad place to work.
Most of the night’s patrons still linger around the empty building, hysterically talking over each other as the building goes up in front of them like the world’s biggest bonfire. Buck tries to focus on the voices, force himself to pick apart the individual voices in order to keep himself cognizant, but every part of him aches. His throat burns, his eyes have been tearing up ever since he first ran back into the building, and he’s convinced he twisted something in his leg while dragging out the last of the patrons.
No matter how blissful just collapsing into an unconscious pile in the middle of the street sounds, he forces himself to stay alert, pressing his temple to the cool metal of the streetlamp he’s draped over, letting the sting of it keep him awake.
The fire truck rolls up just as the flames abruptly jump, licking against the windows with an obscene cracking noise that has the crowd screaming.
“Everyone, clear out to the other side of the street!”
Already stumbling away from his lamppost, following orders on autopilot, Buck watches as an older man jumped out of the front seat and immediately take action. He must be the captain - his presence fills the entire street.
As the tipsy and scared crowd slowly begins to process the commanding man’s orders, a smaller firefighter tipping his helmet down grumbles to his partner, “what is it with people hanging around fires? It’s like they want to blow up.”
His partner, looking no less annoyed as they fight through the stream of people, responds dryly, “probably shock. And the fact they’re all drunk off their asses.”
Their voices float away in the night air, swallowed up by the billow of the flames.
“Diaz, check to see if the building’s clear. Martinez, Lewis, work on venting those flames - ”
“No one’s in there.” Buck doesn’t realize he’s the one speaking until two heads whip towards him. “Everybody’s out.”
The captain looks him over skeptically. Buck, despite how much the action offends his ego, doesn’t blame him. Stooped over as he is, he doesn’t look like a man of much authority, especially not against a fire captain. “How would you know that?”
Buck swallows, trying to unstick his tongue from the roof of his mouth. The more he tries to talk, the dizzier he begins to feel, the ache in his throat transforming into an unpleasant burn. “If anyone was still in there, I would be going back to get them.”
This takes the older man by surprise. He shares a look with the firefighter next to him, the only one who hadn’t immediately run to building when the truck arrived on the scene.
“Trust me,” Buck continues, resisting the urge to fidget underneath their scrutinizing gazes. “If the flames reach the other buildings, this entire block is going to turn into a bomb. Everyone’s out - focus on the fire.” Then, feeling like he is being a little too assertive about something that was nowhere near his profession, he tacks on a mild “please.”
“It’s true!” hollers a curvy blonde woman clinging to her friend’s arm. “He even dragged us out of the bathroom!”
Buck turns in the direction of her voice - maybe to thank her for the support, he doesn’t really know what he had in mind - but the movement is too fast for his body’s liking and he ends up sprawling on the ground, gravel scraping against his cheek and palms in his failure to catch himself.
The captain’s voice slithers around him, incoherent as Buck uses the dregs of his tapped strength to roll onto his back. His view of the night sky is abruptly blocked by a pair of warm brown eyes.
“Sir, can you hear me?”
Buck struggles to nod. Large hands cup his shoulders and slowly bring him up to a sitting position. He squints against the brightness of a small flashlight being waved in his eyes.
“Can you tell me what happened?”
Buck swallows, wincing as the burn in his throat evaporates all the moisture in his mouth. “I think the sound system connected to the karaoke machine sparked, caught fire.”
“Seems like the whole place caught pretty quick.”
Buck struggles to recall the scene; it can’t have been more than ten minutes ago but the event is already beginning to slip from his mind like water. “A drink fell off a nearby table, made the fire grow. Sticky floors,” he also adds, because it seems important, but he can’t tell if it actually is an important detail by the way the firefighter’s mouth quirks up briefly on one side.
“Did you work there?” Buck’s arms are lifted, his singed sleeves rolled farther up his arms for the burn marks to examined. He hadn’t registered them until this point, when they are clinically poked and prodded for inspection.
Buck hisses out an affirmative, wanting to give in to the childish temptation to yank his hand away. “Bartender.”
After another minute of looking over both arms, Buck is allowed to drop them in favor of the other man checking his head.
“Well, it looks like you’ll live to mix drinks for another day. Don’t know how many drink orders you still have in your head, though. Feel dizzy? Nauseous?”
“Throat hurts.” At the urging of a hand on his jaw, Buck opens his mouth so the flashlight can be waved around.
“Smoke inhalation, but nothing that should cause permanent damage, I think. But your head’s okay?”
Buck blinks. “I think so?”
An exasperated huff stirs the hair against his forehead. “That’s not too reassuring. Can you tell me your name?”
“Evan,” he replies immediately, then shakes his head and corrects himself. “Buck.”
The firefighter pulls back and searches his eyes, but Buck firmly repeats. “Buck. I go by Buck.”
“Okay,” is the response he gets, not sounding completely satisfied.
“What’s your name?” Buck thinks to ask. Seeing as how he’s been feeling the other’s man breath on his face for the past handful of minutes, it seems only fair he gets that much information.
“Alright, Eddie Diaz. Can I go home now? I kinda feel like this ash is molding into my skin.”
Diaz frowns at him. “You’re going to the hospital so they can look you over.”
Buck stares up at him in confusion. “Isn’t that what you’re doing?”
“I don’t have the proper equipment to check you over completely. And your burns need to be treated, and so does your smoke damage.”
“You said there wouldn’t be any permanent damage.”
“Yeah, as long as a doctor checks you out, there won’t be.”
Buck grumbles even as Diaz gets him standing to lead him over to the ambulance. He’s prompted to sit on the edge as the other man prepares an oxygen mask. Buck accepts the mask and presses to his face, finally tuning back into his surroundings. The crowds seems to have finally gotten the message to go home, only half a dozen people still peppering the sidewalk, waiting to be checked over for injuries. The fire has shrunk massively, reduced to an orange glow that burns vaguely in the doorway and massive plumes of smoke, dark enough to be visible even in the night air, their rolling figures illuminated by street lamps.
Buck fights tooth and nail as the fire is stomped out to be allowed to go home, but Diaz doesn’t budge. He feels fine, really, after sitting for so long with the oxygen tank, but Diaz insists that his burns and cuts need to be looked over in a sterilized environment.
“And,” the brunet adds, one hand sliding behind Buck’s head to gently explore his scalp, “I think you might have a concussion.”
Buck serves him a flat look, but the scorn of it is diminished by the oxygen mask still pressed greedily against his face. “I’ve fallen down before, you know. I think I can handle a concussion on my own.”
Diaz stares back, equally unimpressed with Buck’s attitude. “You’re going to the hospital. Just be lucky I’m letting you ride on the bench and not strapping you to the gurney.”
Feeling himself losing the battle, Buck lets himself be carted away. Thankfully, he was the only one the firefighters deemed injured enough for the ambulance, so it is just him and Diaz, accompanied by the two paramedics who looked over the rest of the crowd. The shorter man tells Buck to call him Chimney and his partner introduces herself as Hen.
Buck furrows his brow, half-sure he misheard. “How do you get a nickname like Chimney?”
Eddie and Hen immediately begin to laugh as Chimney splutters indignantly.
“Not even all of my coworkers know that story,” he huffs. “No way am I telling you, Mysterious Bartender Hero.”
Still intrigued, but mostly exhausted as the night catches up with him, Buck let it go and continues sucking down oxygen, feeling his eyelids grow heavier with each mile.
A persistent tapping on his knee has him struggling to bring his eyes up. It’s Hen, leaning back in her seat from where she stretched over the gurney to get his attention.
“That was quite the stunt you pulled back there,” she says in an awed tone mingled with a healthy amount of admonishment. It remains him of his sister; he blames it on the potential concussion. “You have a history in the field?”
Buck shakes his head. “I did basic training for the Seals, but I never actually served.”
“That had to be, what, forty people you dragged out of that place? Fifty?” Chimney lets out a low whistle. “That isn’t easy. And none of them had anything more severe than mild smoke inhalation.”
Buck just shrugs, fidgeting awkwardly underneath the trio’s focused attention.
“That was pretty crazy,” Diaz adds from beside him. “Running in there and snatching people up like that. No regard for your personal safety.”
Buck tenses up, defensive. “I wasn’t going to let them die in there. It’s not like my life is worth any more than any of theirs.”
He meets Eddie’s gaze head on, even though he feels like shying away underneath the intensity of it.
The other man tilts his head, analyzing him with an expression Buck can’t grasp, then shifts away and lets Buck settle into the wall of the ambulance for the rest of the ride.
Like Buck expected, he has no severe injuries - not even a concussion, even though he is the unwilling owner of a dull headache pounding behind his eyes. He wants to gloat to Diaz about being so worried for nothing, but as soon as Buck was handed off to the nurses waiting at the loading doors, ambulance 118 had driven off into the night.
After nodding his way through a doctor’s instructions on how to treat his burn wounds - change the gauze every six hours, let them breathe between dressings, apply aloe to the irritated ones - Buck signs the discharge papers and walks to the next street over to catch the bus.
As he waits alone, the only one trying to board a bus at two in the morning, he texts Maddie about his night, sure the demise of one of LA’s oldest bars would circulate quickly. He leaves out his heroics, telling her he got some mild injuries, but not to worry because he was already checked over at the hospital and now on his way home.
He doesn’t mention that he was practically kidnapped by the firefighters to be taken to the hospital, however. His sister doesn’t need any more ammunition about how he needs to start taking better care of himself.
Maddie responds at lightning speed with several worried emojis and a lot of questions punctuated with dozens of question marks and exclamation points. Eventually he just sticks his phone in his jeans pocket and lets it buzz as Maddie lectures him through a string of texts. As impressed as he was with his sister’s texting abilities, Buck almost wishes she would just call to yell at him so she could get it out all in one breath.
When the bus finally arrives, he drags himself on and flops into the nearest seat, leaning in his head against the window and loving the feel of cold glass against his temple.
The ride passes in a blur. He notes that the buzzing in his pocket has finally stopped, but doesn’t pull his phone out to read the texts. In the morning, he’ll read them and call Maddie so she can hear how properly chagrined he is, but for now all he wants to do in sleep.
He stumbles into his building, up the steps instead of waiting for the notoriously slow elevator. He strips at the door, barely shutting and locking it before he’s kicking off his shoes and fumbling with his belt. A trail of clothes is left behind him as he makes the hellishly long walk to his bed: shoes and jeans by the door, shirt on the stairs, socks at the foot of his bed.
With a big sigh that whooshes from his chest as soon as he flops underneath the covers, Buck yanks the covers over his head and blocks out the world.
His last thought before he fully drifts off is how pissed the director is going to be when he shows up to set in a few days covered in bandages and cuts.