Something was wrong. Buck knew it the moment he woke up with his mouth tasting sour and his face pressed again the toilet seat. The ceramic, which had been cool originally, was now uncomfortably wet and warm from his skin pressed on it too long and for one blissful moment that was all that was bothering him.
But then an explosion of pain and color slammed into him like a freight train on his chest.
He’d been feeling a little queasy all day yesterday and just a little warm during his shift but nothing too bad. He’d all but forgotten the tightness as the day progressed and other than Hen noticing his paleness it’d been nothing. He was bloated was all.
But then he’d gotten home and curled up on his bed to try and sleep off whatever it was that lingered around in his stomach and left him going from queasy to the twisty turns of nauseous all in a span of the twenty minutes it took him to drive home. And the sleep had worked for a little while. He slept through dinner and all the way into the early morning hours where the sky was just a shade bluer than purple as the morning sun inched it’s way up. But when he’d woken up, caught in the moment of wakefulness and sleepiness, all hell seemed to break loose. He’d barely had a chance to blink the sleep away from his eyes before he was tripping off his mattress and racing to the bathroom to eject what felt like all of his organs in one go.
That’d lasted close to an hour, his legs too weak and his stomach to tight with nausea, to allow him to move back to his bed. He could tell that the fever was a little worse but nothing too terrible. So, he’d accepted the fact that he was probably not leaving the bathroom any time soon and had curled a towel in his lap because he needed to feel something soft in a sea of hard tile and unyielding plastic.
But, when he woke up with his face against the toilet seat and the fever raging across his skin, he knew that time had been different. Something was wrong. Because he knew he hadn’t fallen asleep that time and there was a big difference between falling asleep and passing out.
It was a miracle that he hadn’t drowned in the toilet or fallen back and hit his head against the cabinet, he realized as the confusion that always seemed to cloud his mind after passing out started to clear under the gravity of the situation.
And the pain was breathtaking. He shivered because that’s all his body could think to do as the sweat flushed across his skin trying to cool him off. His back ached from his hunched position and his legs were long asleep. But the pain in his stomach had gone from an uncomfortable tightness to twisted knife in his gut and that couldn’t be good. He was surrounded by too many nurses and EMTs every day to ignore what felt like the final warning signs his body was giving him.
Go to the hospital or else.
So, he curled his legs under him and lifted himself until he could use the top of the sink to pull himself up all the way. His joints felt like sand against his skin. Like his elbow was one tap away from crumbling and then what would he do. He flicked on the sink and cupped his hand under the cool, cool water and just left it there. At least one part of him had some kind of reprieve. But when he finally pulled a handful of water to his lips to try and wash out the gross from his mouth, his stomach turned again and he spat it back out into the sink.
He wasn’t even sure if he turned the sink off. He knew he definitely didn’t turn the light off. He’d barely made it to his bed before his legs gave out under him and his arms were the only thing that could control his fall. The bounce of the mattress was like torture and he couldn’t help the pitiful whine from passing his lips. If Chim ever heard that sound he’d be blackmailed for the rest of his life.
The effort to change his sweat and sick laden t-shirt was almost enough to have him falling back into his bed and admitting defeat right there. But then the worry of trying to distinguish having passed out and having fallen asleep crept up like a spider on his awareness. If he passed out again there was a real possibility of him not waking up on his own and he wasn’t about to be lectured for ignoring the very clear signs that he was a little sicker than he thought. He grabbed the first thing that his hand could reach without looking and thanked whoever he needed to that it was a hoodie with a zipper in front. He was pretty sure it was Eddie’s but it fit across his shoulders without having to raise his arms above his head and that was good enough. His pants… his sweats were just going to have to do because he knew he would definitely pass out if he tried to change those. He snatched his phone from his bedside table and fought with the charging cable to free it before it felt like all his energy was spent.
He laid there on his side, his arm outstretched and his legs half on the mattress, and just tried to breathe for a second. Maybe it wasn’t too bad. The pain was ebbing like waves and there was finally some relief from that even if the nausea was still present as ever. Maybe he could sleep it off. Now that he made it to his bed, he didn’t really want to get up from it. He could just sleep for a little while and if it got worse then he could go.
He could just breathe through it.
He couldn’t breathe through it.
He hadn’t even gotten through one shaky inhalation before it felt like a knife had been punched into his stomach and torn down his side until even his toes were numb. He bit off a groan as he curled his fingers around his phone and found the strength somewhere to push himself upright again. The pain clung to him with a heavy pulse and his stomach rolled again with the movement. Honestly, the only thing that probably kept him from being sick was the fact that he had nothing else to give. He was most definitely dehydrated and any food he’d consumed in the last twenty-four hours had been flushed away in shame.
Even if all of this turned out to be nothing, he’d been hanging around Hen long enough to know that he was going to need some fluids forced into his system.
The problem with Buck though, was that half the time he dove into trouble headfirst and dealt with the consequences afterwards. The other half of the time, trouble seemed to find him for a rematch and he was being punched in the face before he could even lift his hands in defense. It’s just that in this case, the punch was his side that throbbed with each press of his heel against the floor. He was trapped in the middle of his stairs when the nausea took a turn and he slammed a hand over his mouth as he doubled over and tried quickly to decide on whether he could make it back up the stairs to his bathroom or risk trying to reach the trashcan in the kitchen.
The decision was made for him though when his foot slipped and he was stumbling down the stairs with only the hand rail to keep him from keeling over.
"I just don't understand why you waited so long!"
Buck groaned as the whispers took a turn towards raised exasperation but he would recognize that voice anywhere.
"Maddie?" His throat felt like it was on fire at her name and it closed with his tears.
Soft, cool fingers brushed back his hair. "I'm here, Buck."
It'd been almost a year since he'd last seen her. Her cheekbones were a little more defined with the elegance of Maddie turning into a young woman and she'd gotten a haircut. She used to have bangs. It was always a little funny seeing her in her pink scrubs but at that moment Buck could've started crying at just how the sight of her made him feel an ounce better.
"I promise, I wasn't lying." He whispered to her, needing her to believe he'd hadn't been making it up.
He hadn't been trying to get out of school. He hadn't been trying to stay home all day. He'd felt the rottenness curling around his stomach for days and it never felt like it was going to get better.
Maddie's smile tightened but her fingers combing through his hair were still gentle. "I know. I know."
He pushed forward, trying to latch onto the relief that was Maddie and only Maddie, and smushed his face into her stomach. He was thirteen and way past the stage of every wanting to cuddle anyone ever again but he didn't care because he felt like he was dying and he was too young to know if he was or wasn't but if Maddie was there, at least he could grasp onto her and know she'd make it better. Maddie always made it better.
Buck didn’t remember if he made it down the stairs all the way or if he just tripped over his own feet and somehow managed to not break anything. But he did know that he didn’t make it to the trash can because he was inches away from the mess like he’d rolled away before passing out. Waking up the second time was infinitely harder than it had been when he first passed out and progressively more terrifying. His vision remained grey around the edges and the pain was so intense that it was like the ladder truck had crushed all of him. And… he didn’t… he couldn’t think… what he could do. What did he do? What was he supposed to do? He was freezing and the shaking was making his stomach feel like it was filled with Pop Snappers the size of fists. Everything hurt so much and… and he couldn’t think straight anymore. His thoughts were flying around his head like a disarray of streamers and he couldn’t grab onto one long enough to figure out what to do.
Hospital. He was going to the hospital.
But the idea of getting off the floor almost had him in tears.
Pain flared like it was angry that Buck was ignoring it and he bit out a curse as he curled into a ball on his side.
He didn’t know what to do. Something was wrong and everything hurt and he didn’t know what to do.
His fingers moved on muscle memory alone like his body’s only response to his slipping grip of cognizance was to call the one person he felt like he could trust to keep him from falling over. But the more that the phone rang and longer he went without hearing Maddie’s voice had Buck gasping out a panicked sob.
Understandable because his phone read five in the morning but the pain was taking away what little rationale he had left.
He needed to get it together or else he was only going to make himself sick again and to be honest, Buck wasn’t sure he would survive that.
“9-1-1, what’s your emergency?”
“Something’s wrong,” Buck rasped out and talking was a big mistake because his throat was on fire and the vibrations of his speaking almost knocked the wind out of him as the pain shifted towards agony.
“Okay, sir, what’s your location?”
If Buck rattled off his address he didn’t remember doing it because the grey clouded over his vision as the nausea threatened to consume him again.
“Sir… Sir… Can you tell me what’s wrong?”
“Hurts…” And Buck knew better than to be vague. He knew that the dispatch was going to need more information. But the idea of forming anymore words on his tongue was like asking him to willingly set his hand on a burning stove top.
“What’s your name?”
“Buck,” He gasped out more than actually saying it.
“Okay, Buck, help is on the way. I’m going to stay on the line until they do. My name’s Janine,” they said gently and he wasn’t even mad that they were treating him with kid gloves because he wasn’t even able to hide his crying anymore. “Can you tell me a little more about what hurts?”
“Can you tell them there’s a hide a key on the doorframe?” Buck asked instead because suddenly he wasn’t sure he could handle his door splintering open while he was already flayed alive on the floor. “I-I don’t… want them to kick in the d-door. Can't get up... t-to unlock---”
Because despite kicking in the door several times himself, the idea of being on the other side was suddenly too real and too close and he couldn’t handle that.
“I’ve alerted them. It’s going to be okay, Buck. Help is coming.”
And maybe he passed out again after that but by then his awareness of anything other than pain and the strangle hold it had on his throat as it constricted around his muscles was almost nonexistent. But at some point, his door creaked open and the letters LAFD were ringing like sharp, clanging music to his ears. But his relief was nothing in comparison to the tension spasms that were wrecking his body with shivers of torment. Unfamiliar hands were on him, trying to uncurl him, but it was too much. There was too much noise and too much sensation on his raw skin.
“Sir?” Someone asked. “Can you tell me what hurts? Did you fall down the stairs?”
“I-I-I d-don’t know,” he choked out from between his teeth because he didn’t exactly remember making it to the bottom of the steps but he was curled in front of them like he had.
Something rolled over his forehead and beeped.
“All right, Buck,” whoever said with a gloved hand on his face.
His name sounded wrong on the stranger’s lips and it almost sent him bursting into tears again over the absurdity of that realization. For all he knew, he could have.
“I don’t want to move you until I know how hurt you are. You need to tell me what all is hurting. Is it your back? Your head?”
Buck couldn’t remember how to say all of the above. He didn’t even know if his tongue could still work without him throwing up everything again and if he did that he most definitely was going to lose something important like a kidney or something.
“Stomach.” He gritted out and then immediately regretted it because suddenly hands were pressing into his stomach and the sound he made couldn’t have been human and he was in too much pain to even be embarrassed and stop stop stop stop stop!
“All right. You’re all right. We’re going to take you the hospital.”
He didn’t even realize he’d been saying anything out loud until his begging cut off with a whine deep in the back of his throat as he tried to curl on his side again with his face pressed against the floor like he could try to hide from everyone.
Strong arms curled around him and lifted him before he could crawl away further and the deep plummet into vertigo almost had him throwing up all over the paramedic shining a light in his eyes. Hen would’ve had him write an apology letter and offer to pay for the dry cleaning if he did so he swallowed down the urge as best as he could.
A random moment of clarity shot through his veins like a flash of cold water and he was grasping around clumsily for his phone.
“C-c-can someone t-text my captain? I’m supposed to be on shift tomorrow,” he said with all the strength left in him for form sentences. “Under Bobby.”
“You a firefighter, Buck?” A voice said from behind him, probably the voice attached to the arm keeping him up. “Wait… Buckley? From the 118?”
Buck wasn’t sure he nodded because he was too focused on the IV being prepped on his hand. He was going to bruise like crazy later. IVs always made him bruise.
“It’s good to meet you finally,” The faceless voice from behind said. “Tommy Kinard. I transferred right before you came in.”
The name sounded familiar in the way that some details were blurry in your memory after several nights of laughter and beer.
“Weren’t you kind of a dick to Chim?” Buck heard himself asking because whatever they were pumping in his IV was making him feel like his face and his body were separated.
Tommy laughed though and kept Buck grounded with the warmth of the sound and the press of his arm. “He still won’t let me live that down.”
“All right, Buck,” the EMT interrupted the two of them. “We’re going to stand nice and slow and get you on the gurney.”
“Just lean on me, Buck,” Tommy said quietly in his ear when the thought of standing had Buck’s breath hitching high up in his chest.
At least this time when he passed out, he felt his legs give out from under him in warning.
There were several ways that Bobby had been woken up from sleep--- alarm, siren, smoke--- and none of them had ever been Tommy Kinard calling him to tell him they’d been dispatched to Buck’s apartment. At least, not until that night.
He didn’t run to the check in desk like he’d wanted to but his stride was long and with purpose.
The 217 had done wonders for Tommy. What was once an awkward, quiet, almost shy unless he knew you man, stood a proud firefighter with two sturdy feet on the ground. To be honest, he didn’t know everything about the way Gerrard ran the house when he’d been captain but he’d seen enough of his share of timidness from Hen, Chim, and Tommy to know that they’d felt safer to keep their heads low and their mouths shut. The turnover rate had been… impressive for lack of a better word. Impressive in how quickly he’d seemed to burn out otherwise good firefighters. Bobby couldn’t even imagine how Buck would’ve taken to that kind of leadership. He would’ve crushed Buck’s spirits faster than a flash of light. Tommy had already put in a transfer before Bobby had come on board but what little time he had with the kid, he couldn’t help but feel a swell of pride pull in his chest as he saw him. He looked great.
Unfortunately, his expression was clouded with concern.
“How is he?” Bobby asked, slapping a hand into Tommy’s to shake when he got close enough.
Tommy shuddered and shook his head. “He’ll live but it’s pretty rough. The medic on our crew thinks it might be a ruptured appendix. We found him at the bottom of his stairs though. Sounded like he’d lost consciousness a couple of times before we got there.”
“I don’t understand. He was fine yesterday.” Bobby frowned trying to replay any signs of Buck being off the day before. He’d been a little pale but nothing alarming.
Tommy shrugged. “He asked us to call you. Talking about how he had a shift tomorrow… today. These overnights are messing with my sense of time.”
A small petite woman that Bobby recognized from the few times they had to cross the threshold of the emergency room doors approached him.
“Captain Nash,” she said. “We’re prepping Mr. Buckley for surgery. You can have a minute with him but it’ll need to be fast.”
Bobby nodded and jerked his body to follow but stopped, feeling a little torn in two. Tommy hooked a thumb over his shoulder with an apologetic smile. “Look, I got to get back to my crew. Tell Chim and Hen I said hi.”
“Will do. Thanks again, Tommy. Stop by the 118 for family dinner sometime.” Bobby called out, his feet dragging him towards the door that the doctor had passed through.
Waking up feeling like he was floating and staring at the face of Bobby should’ve been a dream. A really weird, almost a nightmare, kind of dream. But the stiffness in his stomach sent a whirlwind of memories of pain and anxiety flaring up until his mouth was dry.
“Bobby,” Buck mumbled because his mouth felt like it was weighed down with lead.
Bobby’s lips quirked into a smile and he pulled the blanket up a little higher when Buck shivered.
“Hey Buck,” he said. “Maddie’s parking and will be here in a few minutes. Are you okay? Anything hurt?”
Everything hurt but not as much as it had before and the relief was almost enough for him to start crying.
“I’m sorry,” he heard himself blurting out. “I swear, I didn’t ignore this. I just thought I ate something. I didn’t even feel---"
Bobby’s eyes widened and he shook his head. “Buck. Buck, calm down.”
He leaned over and grabbed Buck’s hand, his palm feeling warm against the cold chill set in his fingers from whatever drugs were pumping into the IV in his wrist.
“No one thinks you were hiding anything. The doctors think your appendix probably ruptured when you were sleeping.” Bobby’s voice was like a low balm against the echoes of Buck’s aches. “We think you probably woke up, realized something was wrong, and called 911. You did everything you were supposed to do. Tommy called me from your phone and told me what happened. You’re going to be on antibiotics for about two weeks and about three weeks of rest but then you’ll be good as new.”
“You’re not mad?” If Buck wasn’t on so many drugs he’d probably be embarrassed by how small his voice sounded but he needed to hear it.
“No, Buck, I’m not mad.” Bobby smiled which meant he meant it so Buck let himself relax into the mattress that was way more comfortable than he remembered a hospital mattress ever being. “Now, how are you feeling?”
“Like Hen ran me over with the ambulance a couple of times.” Which seemed pretty accurate by the tightness that had settled across his muscles in exhaustion.
Bobby choked out a laugh.
“That’s probably from your tumble down the stairs.”
Buck winced. “That happened? I was trying to drive myself to the hospital.”
“Yeah, kiddo, it did. You were pretty dehydrated when they brought you in.”
The sound of Maddie's voice, like all those other times he'd been sick as a kid, made him feel like any of his self control on his emotions snapped like a rubber band. He quickly lifted a hand to shove away the burn behind his eyes.
“I’m sorry, Maddie.” He groaned like a reflex because he'd woken her up probably and he ruined her plans with Chim and---
Maddie's hands cupped his face, her long fingers brushing through his hair and banishing all the tension that'd clung to his skin.
“Hey, you have nothing to be sorry for. Are you okay? How are you feeling?”
“Like crap.” He smiled when she let out a small laugh.
"Crap is definitely an understatement." Bobby added because Buck was too busy being boneless to elaborate. "His doctor should be back in about an hour."
And Buck would be annoyed that they were talking over him rather than to him but he felt his eyes drift shut as Maddie's hand made its way to the crown of his scalp as her fingers started at his temple and brushed across his forehead.
"Do you need anything?" Maddie asked before he could fall asleep.
He moved without thinking and then froze when he remembered Bobby was still there. Buck opened a bleary eye and tried to think of the quickest way he could hide his oncoming breakdown that he was going to blame later on the drugs definitely but Bobby just smiled and stood.
"I'm going to head back to the station. Hen and Chim are going to stop by at around lunch and then Eddie will be over after his shift." He patted Buck's hand once and then twice before giving it a squeeze that threatened to break any last dredges of self control he had. "Get some sleep, Buck. Call me if you need anything."
And then he was gone without any fuss or ceremony and Buck didn't waste anytime before he was pushing himself the rest of the way to Maddie's stomach so that her arms could wrap around his head.
Because he was way past the stage of needing to be cuddled by anyone ever again but Maddie was the safe exception. Maddie always made it better.