When Chimney is first released from the hospital, he’s not sure what to do. He’s already got a post-op appointment set two weeks from now, but until then, what he can do is limited. He can’t do anything strenuous— which means he can’t rearrange his entire apartment like he suddenly wants to— and he can’t be on his feet for too long either, so he’s not allowed to try half of the recipes that these cooking shows are actually tempting him to try. Though he’s far from a good cook, so it’s probably for the best.
Fortunately, Hen had delivered a home-cooked meal for him from Bobby with the heads up that everyone helped make it. It made him feel warm inside, knowing that his team cared about him. It’d been like this when he was out last year because of the rebar, but how much they care never ceases to surprise him.
Unfortunately, the food only lasts so many meals, and Chim’s not trying to ask his captain to be his personal chef.
He texts Maddie for ideas on what to do— the woman is the only thing keeping him sane. He knows that they both had a traumatizing experience, and maybe they should talk about that, but right now they text like love-struck teenagers and it fills Chimney with hope and utter giddiness. It keeps him going.
Have you tried buying some prepared meals?
Maddie • 12:13 PM
I’m not a huge fan of tv dinners and I’m not really looking to use the oven right now
Chimney • 12:15 PM
I meant food that’s already made. No prep work. Go to the deli and get some sandwich meats or chicken
Maddie • 12:16 PM
Chimney thinks about it. It’s not a bad idea. The closest big chain market is a fifteen-minute drive at this time, but he knows of a good place he can go to that’s just around the block.
He shoots Maddie a quick text to let her know he’s taking her up on her suggestion, but he doesn’t wait for a response before grabbing his wallet and keys and heading out the door.
The ride there is nice, the air warm with a breeze cool enough to make the drive comfortable. The fresh air coming through his window is welcome— something he didn’t realize he needed this much.
His sense of calm is interrupted by the blare of honking from the grocery store parking lot, and his heart skips a beat in his chest. Chimney grumbles as he passes the two drivers causing the ruckus but doesn’t pay them any more attention.
He goes over his list in his head to calm himself down and parks.
Shopping is as uneventful as it gets. He picks up fried chicken from the deli, and then after some careful consideration, he grabs some prepared grilled chicken, too. He tops that off with a couple of pasta dishes and some premade salads.
It’s all so ordinary that Chim finds himself waiting for something to happen and disrupt the peace. He works his way through the produce section and finds himself checking over his shoulder every time someone starts walking too close behind him.
He tries to shake the nerves because he knows that Doug is dead and can’t hurt him, but the reality is that he lives in a big city with plenty of bad people to go around.
But he can’t be scared forever, he reminds himself. If he lets his fears get to him then he’ll never live normally again.
With one last look over his shoulder, he thinks fuck it, I’ll live normally tomorrow, and dashes for the check-out lines.
He spends the drive home tense and coming up with a plan. He didn’t buy much food, but because he’s not supposed to carry much weight at once, he’ll have to make two trips up to his apartment. He’ll be quick, though. And he’ll lock his car in between the two trips— he usually didn’t because he’d felt safe enough not to.
The first trip to his apartment is easy peasy lemon squeezy, but his residing anxiety from the store didn’t come to play games. Nothing happens and no one is around, but he moves a bit faster than he should be while he’s recovering.
It’s all smooth sailing.
Right up until he’s in the hallway outside his door.
It’s all he hears before he’s spinning and lashing out with his free hand. All that he registers in his head is that there’s a tall man behind him, so he aims up and lets his fist connect with the man’s face.
It takes him all of one second to realize that the tall man is Buck.
Whatever was in Buck’s hands drops to the floor as he tumbles back a step, hand coming up to his bowing head.
“Shit,” Chim curses under his breath, lurching forward to make sure the kid doesn’t actually fall over or something.
“You sure can pack a punch,” Buck jokes. His voice is nasally and Chim doesn’t even bother to hold back a grimace.
“I didn’t break it did I?” Chimney asks.
“No, no,” Buck responds. “I think you just—” He lifts his head up, and when he pulls his hand away from his face, blood is dripping down his nose and past his lips.
Chimney physically flinches now.
“Jesus, Buck, I’m so sorry,” he apologizes. “Here, let’s get inside.”
They sit in silence, but the unasked question is hanging in the air.
From his spot on the toilet seat cover, Buck looks up at Chimney. Toilet paper is still pressed to his nose as they wait for the bleeding to stop.
“So,” Buck begins slowly. “Any reason you punched me?”
Chimney hums and crosses his arms.
“That’s not an answer,” Buck says.
With the way Buck is looking up at him, he looks like a kid who isn’t getting his way and Chimney struggles to take him seriously. He owes him an answer for the assault, though, so he sighs and mutters his response under his breath.
“Sorry,” Buck says, leaning forward, “I didn’t quite catch that.”
“I thought you were someone else,” he admits, louder this time.
Buck sighs. “Doug?”
Chimney lets his arms drop. “How’d you know?”
Buck shrugs his shoulders. “Maddie’s still jumping at shadows. That’s why I came by— wanted to see how you were holding up.”
Chimney smiles, feeling the same love he’d felt just last year when he’d been in the hospital and he woke up to his team at his side. He vaguely remembers Buck pressing him about “the maneuver” at the time and himself insisting that he could do it.
This time around, Buck hadn’t been at his side much, but he hadn’t questioned it because Maddie was hurt, too. His focus had been elsewhere and he couldn’t fault him for that. Buck never spoke about his parents, and Chim didn’t even know Maddie existed until she reentered Buck’s life, but ever since she had, he spoke about her with nothing but love. Chimney had a sinking feeling that Maddie was the only blood he had left to really call family.
“Here,” Chimney finally speaks up. “Let’s check that nose.”
Buck gingerly pulls the towel away from his face, and fortunately, the bleeding has stopped. Unfortunately, his face looks like a crime scene of its own.
“Am I still pretty?” Buck asks with a bashful smile, though the fact that he’s joking is evident.
“You look the same as before, Buckaroo. If you consider that pretty then, sure, you’re still pretty.”
Buck laughs and takes a tentative poke at his nose. He winces a little and looks to Chimney.
“It’s definitely not broken,” he assures Buck, “but it might be a little swollen.” He waits a moment before adding on. “I really am sorry, man.”
“Nah, you’re fine. I probably had that coming,” Buck mutters.
Before Chimney can even process the words, Buck’s standing and brushing past him out of the bathroom.
The second his mind catches up with what he said, Chim is quick to follow after Buck and into the kitchen. Buck is already running a paper towel under the water in his kitchen sink.
“Let me just wipe my face and I’ll be out of yo—”
“What do you mean by I probably had that coming?” Chimney questions.
Buck frowns. “Like, I dunno—”
“No, no,” Chimney shakes his head. “What’s with this self-hate crap? You don’t deserve to get punched for any reason, man.”
Buck’s eyebrows furrow. “I kinda came here to apologize, too,” he admits.
“For what, exactly?”
Buck shifts uncomfortably under Chim’s gaze.
“No one told you?” he asks, resignation evident in his tone.
And it strikes Chim just how small Buck is making himself. It’s as if he’s bracing himself for something.
“No one told me what?”
Buck sighs and wrings the paper towel of excess water. It’s nothing but a small ball now that it’s been scrunched in his fist.
“Did anyone tell you how we tracked down Maddie?”
Chim shakes his head with pinched eyebrows. “Nothing clear. I remember something about a rental car and I know you guys ended up in Big Bear at some cabins.”
“I kind of… hacked your phone?”
It’s phrased more like a question like Buck isn’t sure what to call whatever he’d done.
“What do you mean?”
“I stole your phone from the crime scene—”
That alone catches Chimney by surprise.
“Woah, wait,” he says, raising his hand. “You were at the crime scene? I thought you went chasing after Maddie.”
Buck’s jaw falls open a bit in his own shock.
“I— I was at the—? Chim, I was the one who found you,” he breathes out, eyes watering and flashing with a phantom pain.
“You saved me?” Chim balks. “H-how—?” He brings a hand up to his head and unconsciously rubs at the faded scar. “No one told me that.”
Buck shrugs then looks down to the wimpy paper towel still clutched in his hand, as if he isn’t sure why he thought that would be the best solution for ridding his face of blood.
“Do you have—”
“You saved my life,” Chimney blurts, cutting Buck off. “Jesus, Buck. You saved my life,” he repeats. “Why didn’t anyone tell me?”
“Honestly, they probably thought you remembered. You were talking to me while I was on with 9-1-1.”
It startles a nervous laugh out of Chim.
“No,” he says. “I don’t remember. Hell, I remember more about the rebar through my head than I do about getting stabbed.”
His hand drifts toward his healing wound and flinches at a phantom memory. It’s there, poking at him through a black screen that he can’t see past. It’s like every time he tries to step forward and take a closer look, he realizes it’s behind him, and when he turns, there’s nothing but darkness.
“Anyway,” Buck continues, not having seen the spiral that Chim’s mind took. “I took your phone. I knew that Doug had to be the mystery friend you’d been mentioning.” Buck pauses to swipe the towel across his chin, and he grimaces at the blood that comes off. “You never mentioned him by name, but you said it was the guy you met when we were Christmas Tree shopping. Every time you tried to invite him to hang with us for drinks he declined. It was all adding up but we couldn’t get his number without a subpoena for your phone records.”
“And what? You knew my password?” Chim guesses. He knows it’s not actually all that complex; he still uses the same four digit-pin he’s used since the early models of iPhones.
Buck hisses as he dabs the towel around his nose.
“No,” he finally says. “I uh… I went to the hospital and pretended to cry over your body while I unlocked it with your fingerprint.”
The laugh that bursts out of Chimney’s mouth is so loud, short, and sudden that Buck honest to God jumps, and Chim clamps a hand over his mouth a millisecond later.
“You—? You did what now?” he nearly shouts.
Buck frowns and goes to repeat. “I—”
“No, no, I heard you, Buck,” he assures him while letting some giggles slip past his lips. “That’s actually kind of funny.”
Buck’s frown deepens.
“You were dying,” he says, voice hard as if to say no, Chim, it was awful.
But Chim can’t get the image that his brain has conjured of big ole Buck leaning over his body and pretending to cry— the kid is terrible at pretending to cry, he’d seen it before— all while trying to unlock his phone with his hand.
“It’s not funny,” Buck insists while Chim continues to stare at him and giggle. “You weren’t even in the safe zone yet when I snuck in to do that. And then I ended up in hospital jail—”
“Hospital jail?!” Chimney laughs harder.
“—and I nearly ruined the whole investigation,” Buck finishes. At that, Chim sobers up a little and stops laughing, but the smile won’t leave his face.
“Buckaroo, look. I understand you feel bad, but don’t, okay? Maybe it wasn’t the smartest decision, but how can I blame you if it led you to Maddie faster?” Chim challenges him. “How can I possibly hold that against you when it was your sister’s life at stake? You had to have been worried senseless.”
“Yeah,” Buck scoffs. “Fucking nearly lost my mind.”
The younger man throws the paper towel into the sink and reaches for another one.
“Stop,” Chim sighs, and Buck stops himself before his wet hand can taint another paper towel. “Let me get you a real towel.”
Chimney walks toward his hall cabinets in search of a dark towel that he doesn’t mind getting blood-stained.
He comes back a minute later and tosses it to Buck.
Buck catches it easily, but he stares down at the black material with unease. Chim expects him to run it under the water, but instead, he sets it aside and pumps some of the hand wash into his palm and scrubs at his hands.
Chim finds it odd because blood has never bothered Buck before. He wasn’t always the one that dealt with patients, but there had been plenty of times that multiple patients had the paramedics spread thin and calling on Buck or Eddie for assistance.
“Buck?” Chimney asks cautiously. “What’s going on?”
“You know Bobby wanted me to see a therapist before going back to work?”
Chimney shook his head.
“It wasn’t even a mandatory thing,” Buck explains, making sure the soap in his hands became thick suds. “He just thought it’d be good for me to talk to someone.”
“Never a bad idea,” Chim agrees wearily.
“Agreed,” Buck nods. “I just found it kind of funny that he thought it’d be because of Maddie. I mean, I get it. I was scared out of my mind. I was physically chasing down every possible lead with Athena and I drove myself to the point of exhaustion.”
Buck pauses and snorts.
“I fell asleep the second Maddie was admitted to the hospital. Athena insisted it was more like passing out. A nurse said something about an adrenaline crash. So, you know, I get it. I understand why they were worried.”
Buck pauses, and Chim has no idea how to fill the silence. His friend rinses the soap off of his hands and hesitates before grabbing the black towel.
“But Maddie isn’t who I see when I close my eyes. I— I’ve had stress dreams before, you know? I’ve had my brain feed me some weird shit in my sleep when I’m anxious, but nothing beats memories, Chim. And all I see when I close my eyes…” Buck pauses and lets out a shaky breath. “All I see is you.”
“I see you lying there in the walkway. But in my dreams, there’s too much blood for my jacket to stop. My fingers don’t stop trembling enough to press three fucking numbers into my phone… In my dreams, I can’t hear you speaking to me.”
Chimney thinks that this kind of stabbing pain might actually compare to what Doug did. His heart feels heavy and like it’s being squeezed in his chest.
His mouth hangs open, at a complete loss for what to say, and Buck runs the towel under the faucet.
“I didn’t mean to say all that,” Buck whispers, barely loud enough to be heard over the stream of water. “I just need you to know that you matter to me, too. Yeah, I was kind of blinded by my worry for Maddie when I went to you in the hospital, but you matter to me, too.”
Chim inhales sharply, but Buck just brings the towel up to his face and starts wiping again, finally getting the largest bits of blood off of his face.
This is probably the heaviest conversation that he and Buck have ever had, and it definitely hasn’t gone a direction that he thought it would.
Thinking through all that Buck said, he has no choice but to believe his friend’s words.
That much was evident by all he said, and Chim could feel the truth in his words as well. From the fact that Buck saved his life, to the smaller things like Buck remembering the small, vague details he had offered about the man he thought was his friend.
Chim could have been making up Jaso— Doug, he reminds himself.
He could have been making up the new friend based on how often the man oh so conveniently couldn’t hang out when Buck was around, or when Chim hadn’t even offered up a name or a photo of the man.
But Buck had heard it all and remembered it.
Because the things that Chimney shares with Buck are always remembered.
Chimney eyes the bag that Buck had been carrying when he arrived, now set on the island countertop. Some of his favorite snacks are spilling out of it, and Chim all too suddenly feels guilty because he can’t even remember Buck’s favorite color.
Of course he matters to Buck.
“Did I get it all?” Buck asks, facing him. His eyes are still bright and glassy, and Chim knows it’s not from the pain of a sore nose.
No, Buck hadn’t gotten all the blood off of his face, but instead, Chimney says, “Thank you.”
“What?” Buck asks, dumbfound.
“Thank you for saving my life,” he clarifies. “Thank you for listening, and caring, and for letting me be someone that matters to you.”
Buck gulps. “Don’t act like it’s some great honor,” he mutters.
“It is,” Chimney presses, stepping forward. “To have a friend like you in my corner is the best thing I could ever ask for. I’m— Fuck. I’m sorry you’re having those dreams, man. I feel like you walked out of this more traumatized than me.”
Buck shakes his head. “Like you’re not over there jumping at the breeze hitting your neck.”
“That?” Chimney scoffs. “That’s nothing. It’ll pass in time.”
Buck shrugs. “So will the dreams.”
Chimney nods. “Thank you for being here for me, Buck. If you need me, I’ll be there for you, too. Whatever I can do to help.”
Buck smiles and reaches across the space between them. His hand lands on Chimney’s shoulder, pretending to brush something off of it.
“Just seeing you alive and healthy helps,” he says. Then adds, “I’m glad Maddie has you. You’re a good guy, Han.”
He pulls his hand away and faces the sink again.
“Now, help me get this blood off my face so I don’t leave here looking like death.”
“Alrighty, Buck. Bring that pretty face over here and we’ll see what we can do to salvage it.”