Buck felt weird as he sat in the firetruck. They were heading back to the station after what was a mostly routine call. A couple of kids had called 9-1-1 when their elderly neighbor collapsed on his porch. And everything had been fine, Chimney and Hen helping the patient while Buck, Eddie, and Bobby kept the kids who had called 9-1-1 calm.
They were a brother and sister, their resemblance obvious in their hair and eye colors, as well as their facial features. The girl was older by a few years and very protective of her brother. She didn’t seem comfortable with any of the first responders there, but had warmed up to Buck when he complimented her for watching out for her brother, telling her that his older sister would do the same for him.
The girl was much calmer then, opening up a little to Buck. But then, she had freaked out when Bobby had patted her brother’s arm.
“Get away from my brother!” Her words were echoing in Buck’s head, even now. Something about them didn’t sit right with Buck. He had said so to Bobby, who already told Buck he had called Athena. But besides being a little worried about those kids, he couldn’t help but wonder why those words in particular were still rumbling around in his head. Maybe it was just concern for those kids and whatever was really going on.
And then, it hit him.
Suddenly, it wasn’t the girl saying those words, it was someone else. He squeezed his eyes shut, images flashing before him, some that he didn’t remember and others that he thought he had buried a long time ago.
“Buck?” His eyes snapped open as he felt Eddie shake his arm. They were back at the station, the truck no longer moving. His boyfriend had a concerned look on his face. “Are you…”
“I’m fine,” Buck managed to get out, even though he could feel a tightening growing in his chest. He quickly exited the trucks and made a beeline for the locker room. Once he was in the locker room and firmly hidden from view, he collapsed down to the ground. His breath was coming in gasps as haunting images rushed towards him.
“No, no, no.” He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to push them away, trying not to remember. But he was helpless against his own mind.
“Buck?” His eyes shot open and he let out a gasp, trying to control his breathing. “Buck!” Eddie was in front of him suddenly. “Buck, you have to breathe.”
“Can’t,” Buck wheezed out, shaking his head. That only made his vision blurry and he squeezed his eyes shut. “Can’t...stop.”
“I need some help in here!” Buck let out a sob as he felt Eddie wrap his arms around him, trying to calm him down. “Buck, please. Just breathe with me.”
“Stop!” His chest burned as he tried to breathe, panic taking up the space where oxygen belonged. He vaguely heard footsteps but couldn’t open his eyes. He couldn’t escape those memories that his brain was dragging forward, even if wanted. “Let go!”
“Buck, kid.” He could hear Bobby but still couldn’t force his eyes open. “Kid, listen to me. You gotta breathe.”
“Let me go!” He felt someone’s hold tighten on him and Buck let out a sob. “Stop! Let me go, please! Maddie!” He heard someone suck in a breath and someone else murmur something about Maddie. “Maddie...Maddie, help.”
“Buck.” It was Bobby talking to him now, he could tell by the strained calm in his voice. “Buck, kid, it’s us. You’re at the 118. You’re safe.” Buck sucked in a long breath, finally able to open his eyes. Bobby was kneeling in front of him, a patient, but concerned look on his face. Eddie was next to him, his arms still firmly wrapped around him. Hen was standing off to the side, a sad look on her face. Chimney was outside of the locker room, his phone pressed to his ear as he spoke in hushed tones.
Buck felt his lip quiver, tears pricking at the corner of his eyes.
“It’s alright kid,” Bobby assured him. “We’ve got you.” And that was enough to unleash the floodgates. The first sob bubbled out of Buck’s mouth as Eddie just tightened his arms around him.
The locker room grew silent, only the sounds of Buck’s sobs echoing against the walls.
Sometime later, Buck found himself sitting on one of the couches in the loft. Eddie hadn’t left his side, alternating between hugging him and keeping a hand on his arm or his knee. Someone, maybe Bobby, he didn’t remember, had wrapped a blanket around his shoulders. Nobody had asked him about his panic attack, focusing more on keeping him calm and comforting him.
“Where is he?” He looked up, seeing Maddie appear at the top of the stairs. Her question was geared at Chimney, who just nodded to the couch. Buck’s lip quivered at the sight of his older sister. Even across the room, Maddie could see that and quickly crossed to him. Buck threw his arms around her as soon as she was sitting down next to him, trying to hide the fact that he was crying again.
“What happened?” Maddie asked as Buck heard footsteps approaching them.
“We took a routine medical call,” Chimney said. “Elderly guy collapsed on his porch. His neighbors, a couple of kids, called it in.”
“They were siblings,” Eddie said. “The girl was older and pretty protective of her brother.”
“And everything was fine,” Chimney said. “Hen and I helped the patient and Bobby, Eddie, and Buck stayed with the kids.”
“But then the girl yelled at Bobby,” Eddie said. “And Buck was acting off on the ride back. By the time I found him in the locker room…” Buck sniffed and he felt Maddie squeeze his arm, a reassuring gesture she always used with him. “Something...upset him. Maybe the kids, but we don’t really know.”
"The girl, who yelled at Bobby,” Maddie started. “Did she say anything specific?”
“She said, ‘get away from my brother’.” Buck stiffened at the words, the images rushing back towards him. But he felt Maddie’s grip tighten, pulling him back from those awful memories. He looked up at her and he knew she knew exactly what had set him off.
“Maddie, please tell us what’s going on,” Chimney said, concern in his voice. Maddie looked at him and Buck could only nod. He didn’t think he could go through recounting it, but he was okay with Maddie telling them.
And as she started talking, everything came rushing back.
He was no older than four. Maddie had taken him to the park because he had been stuck at home all day because their parents were working all day, as they often did. Maddie only had her learner’s permit at the time, but luckily the park was close enough to their house that they could walk there. And at first, everything had been fine. Maddie had pushed him on the swings and gone down the slide with him a few times. But after awhile, she just wanted to sit, so Buck ran around the playground by himself.
The park, as he remembered, had been mostly empty, a few other kids here and there. But Buck remembered a man, sitting near a tree the whole time they were there. And at first, he had thought nothing of it. But as Buck continued playing by himself, he started to notice that the man was watching him. And as much as he tried to ignore it, it scared him.
He had been preparing to go to Maddie, to tell her about the man and ask to go home, when they guy had grabbed him.
“Stop! Let go!” His yelling had alerted Maddie, who had come running over. “Stop! Let me go, please! Maddie!” And just as the man started to pull him away, Maddie was there.
“He tried to take Buck.” Buck just sniffed, finally pulling away from the memory.
“How’d you…” Chimney asked, not sure how to properly phrase it.
“I threw a rock at him,” Maddie said. “And then Buck bit his hand. The guy took off and I took Buck home. I tried to tell our parents about it...but they just brushed me off.” Buck pulled himself away from Maddie, trying to wipe the tears away. He remembered, sitting in his room later that day, still terrified that someone was going to take him. He remembered Maddie trying to tell their parents, trying to tell them to call the police, and their parents ignoring her as they often did. But mostly, he remembered how terrified he was for weeks after. He remembered how he’d wake up sobbing, feeling that man’s tight grip on his arm.
And he remembered Maddie hugging him as he cried, assuring him that he’d be okay. That she’d always be there.
“I’m sorry,” Buck said, finally being able to speak.
“Buck, you have nothing to be sorry for,” Maddie said, a gentle hand on his arm.
“I can’t just…” He avoided the gaze of his friends and co-workers. “I can’t break down like this.”
“We all have our triggers,” Bobby said. “We’re just glad you’re okay, kid. Now and then.” Buck just nodded. “But I’m giving you the rest of the day off.”
“Buck, just let us help you.” Buck looked at all of them. They weren’t looking at him with pity. They were looking at him with kindness and concern. They were listening to him in a way that his parents hadn’t. These people cared about him. He didn’t have to hide what he was feeling from them.
“Okay.” Bobby nodded, as he stood up. Buck stood up as well and Bobby patted his shoulder. “Thanks Bobby.”
“Anytime kid.” He then went over to the kitchen. As soon as he walked away, Hen moved forward, pulling Buck into a tight hug. Buck smiled a little, hugging her back. When she pulled away, she offered him a smile before walking away.
“I’ll drive you home, okay?” Maddie said and Buck nodded.
“I can bring your car by later if you want,” Chimney said, patting Buck’s arm.
“I carpooled with Eddie.” Chimney nodded. “But thank you.”
“Anything for my second favorite Buckley.” Buck rolled his eyes, but there was a small smirk on his face.
“Yeah, yeah,” Buck said as Chimney chuckled. “Keep talking rebar head.” Chimney chuckled before walking away. Maddie gave him a small smile before stepping away, giving Eddie a moment with Buck.
“I’ll come by after work,” Eddie said, his fingers interlacing with Buck’s. “I’ll bring Christopher too. We can have a quiet night in.”
“I’d really like that,” Buck said quietly. Eddie smiled and leaned forward, pressing a gentle kiss to Buck’s lips. Buck let his hand come up to cradle Eddie’s face, pulling him closer. Eddie pulled away just slightly and pressed another chaste kiss to Buck’s lips.
“Later,” He promised, earning a small, shy smile from Buck. “I love you.”
“I love you too,” Eddie squeezed his hand and then nodded to Maddie. Buck squeezed his hand back, before letting go and walking over to his sister. Maddie just offered him a smile before they headed down the stairs. They were both silent as they made their way through the station.
Once they were outside, Buck stopped.
“Are you okay?” Maddie asked, when she noticed he had stopped walking. Buck sighed as Maddie moved so she was standing in front of him. “Buck?”
“I never said thank you.” Maddie tilted her head and Buck kept talking. “For that day, for saving me. But also, for everything. We didn’t have the best parents and maybe that would’ve messed me up more. But I had you Maddie. Even when you weren’t there, even when we weren’t talking, I had you Maddie. So, thank you Maddie. For everything.”
Maddie sniffed, a few tears slipping down her cheeks. She pulled him into a hug and Buck let his arms wrap around her. Even though she was almost a foot shorter, he always felt safe when she hugged him. In fact, he always felt safe when Maddie was around. And before, when he hadn’t unearthed such a traumatic memory, he thought it was just because she was his sister. But now he knew better. He knew that Maddie would protect him from everything and everyone. He knew he’d always have Maddie on his side.
And that made him feel safe. That made him feel like things would be okay.
“I love you so much Maddie,” Buck said when he finally pulled away.
“You too little brother,” Maddie said, a watery smile crossing her face. “Now, come on. I think we both deserve some ice cream right now and knowing you, you don’t have any in your fridge.”
“You know me so well,” Buck said with a small smile. Maddie nodded and then they got into her car. And while Buck knew this memory wasn’t something that was going away and that he probably needed to schedule a few sessions with Frank, knowing he had his family, his real family on his side, made him know that everything would be okay.
He would be okay.