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if i was dying on my knees (you would be the one to rescue me)

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Maddie takes a deep breath as she stands outside the door of her brother’s apartment, glancing down at Jee-Yun who had insisted on walking from the car, her tiny hand holding onto Maddie’s tightly the entire time. She’s grateful for it because what should have been a two minute walk from the street to her brother, had taken her fifteen minutes with her extremely stubborn fourteen month old daughter who has only just discovered she can walk and is taking full advantage of her new skill. Maddie had missed a lot of things, too many things but her daughter’s first steps would never be one of them and watching the concentration on her face as she takes each step brings her so much joy. 

All she has to do is knock but now she’s standing here, knowing her brother is only on the other side and she’s completely frozen. She’s scared; she had been excited the entire drive from her and Chimney’s apartment but now suddenly, she’s terrified. She doesn’t know if Buck hates her or if he hates Chimney and she’s not sure if she could blame him because everything had just gotten so out of control. Maddie closes her eyes tightly, taking a deep breath as she does, trying to scramble through the chaotic thoughts in her head to try and find something she had taken from treatment. Anything that could lift her hand up to knock on the door and see her brother for the first time in too long. She counts to five in her head, trying so hard to tell herself that Buck could never hate her or the man she loves, that he won’t blame her. Those thoughts and feelings and the guilt and fear had been the exact thing to stop her from contacting Chimney for such a long time and yet, despite it all, he had taken her in his arms and told her that he loved her. Buck is good, kind, loving and he’s always been so patient with her, even when she’s struggled to be open and honest with him. She’s his big sister, she’s always wanted him to see her that way, she’s always needed for him to know that he can lean on her and she can take it. But months of intensive therapy and talking and listening has taught her so much about herself and the way she tries to be seen by others. 

She just needs another minute, just enough time to feel as though she can face whatever Buck wants to throw at her - sadness, anger, relief, happiness, whatever it is he’s feeling, she wants to be able to deal with it. She wants to be able to be honest with him and to tell him that she’s home because no one knows they are back yet, she had asked Chimney to keep it between the two of them until she could see her brother in person. When she had walked out of their apartment, it hadn’t just been Chimney and Jee-Yun she was leaving behind, but Buck, too. The same person who had given her a second chance at life, who had given her a safe place to land when she had needed it the most. 

As it turns out, her daughter is not only stubborn and determined but impatient, too, as she slips her hand out of Maddie’s clammy one and squeals to herself, banging both of her hands against the door. Her eyes snap open, opening her mouth to say something to the toddler but every single time she looks at her, it feels as though the breath has been knocked out of her, in complete awe that this little girl is hers and she had almost given it all up. She would have, she thinks, if she hadn’t been pushed into treatment by a friend. Maddie had thought that being away from LA and away from her daughter and Chimney would give her a chance to think clearly again but it all got worse, much worse with every passing day and the road she was going down… she doesn’t want to think about where it would have led her eventually. But it means that she is incredibly grateful for every giggle and every step that Jee-Yun takes, every milestone she reaches, every smile, every mama , every single time the little girl looks at her as though she was never gone in the first place. She’ll never remember but Maddie and Chimney always will. 

The slamming of tiny hands only stops when the door swings open and Maddie is met with the extremely confused face of her little brother. Jee-Yun, ever the most confident toddler Maddie has ever met, is quick to wrap both of her arms around one of his legs, pressing slobbery kisses against his jeans as the confusion wears off, replaced with shock instead. He knew that Chimney found her, a few weeks have gone since that moment but she still hadn’t been ready to come back. His bright blue eyes fill with tears and she can see how much he’s trying to hold back the tears as he slowly lowers himself down enough to lift Jee-Yun up and Maddie smiles at just how much tinier her little girl looks in his arms, “You’re back?” He has an arm wrapped around Jee, ducking his head slightly to make eye contact with Maddie, an uncertain, nervous smile on his face as though he needs to hear her say it before he can believe it. 

“I’m home,” She finally whispers, shifting awkwardly until he wraps his other arm around her and pulls her so quickly and so suddenly into his body that it takes her a second to respond, slipping both of her arms around his waist as she hides her face in his chest. She has so much she wants to tell him, so much she needs to get off her chest, there are so many things she wants to hear and to check if he’s okay, if he’s happy. But right now, all she can feel is his warmth and the feeling of his heart beating against her forehead as she tightens her grip on the back of his top. She had thought about running to him when her world felt like it was crashing around her but she knew what he would say. She didn’t deserve his love or his comfort, she didn’t deserve to feel safe, not after what happened. It still hurts to think about, feeling that horrific pain pulsating through her when she does. She still hasn’t walked into the apartment, telling Chimney she needed to see her brother first but both of them know that she’s terrified of what memories are going to overtake her the second she steps foot in that place. 

“I missed you so much,” She can feel Buck’s lips against the top of her head, holding onto him just a little tighter as she takes a deep breath. He feels the same, he smells the same, his voice sounds the same and it reminds her that it’s been months and not years. Seeing him for the first time after six years when she had first come to LA had been a shock, when she had seen him before, he was just a kid essentially, still trying to find his place in the world. But he feels like a piece of home right now and the most perfect reminder that an unfathomable amount of time had not passed. He’s okay, he doesn’t hate her, she’s home. 

“I missed you, too,” Maddie doesn’t know how much time has passed, though she imagines it’s no more than a minute before Jee-Yun starts to squirm, never one to stay still for any period of time as her face scrunches up in a stubborn pout until Buck settles her down on the ground. It’s with a tear filled laugh that they pull away from each other and he steps aside to let her into the apartment, both of them keeping an eye on the little girl as she takes over-exaggerated steps, taking in her new surroundings. “I’m sorry to just pop by without calling first, I uh, we just got back home and I wanted to see you. I needed to see you.” 

Buck is quick to shake his head, holding up his finger to indicate that he needs a minute as she watches him move quickly towards the living room, pushing the coffee table against the nearest wall, so Jee-Yun has a safe place. Maddie watches him running up the stairs, taking two at a time whilst she picks up her daughter and rests her on the rug, much to the toddlers anger until she’s distracted by the sight of her uncle coming back down with several wrapped gifts, “For Christmas and her birthday,” He explains and it hits her that he missed things, too, things that they were looking forward to celebrating together because they wanted Jee to have the kind of childhood she would look back on with a smile. Her first Christmas, her first birthday. Maddie hadn’t been there for either of those things either and she prays that she can make up for that, somehow, someday. Buck isn’t trying to make her feel guilty, she can see that but no amount of treatment will ever take that from her, no matter how hard she tries. Forcing herself to smile as she watches her brother place the pile of gifts in front of his niece, pressing a kiss to the top of her head before she moves to sit across from him, placing her hand on Jee’s back as she focuses on tearing off the Christmas paper. “How are you? And please don’t lie to me.” 

Her first instinct is to tell him that she’s fine, it’s her default but she can see the way he’s looking at her, really looking at her and she knows that if she lies, he’ll know and she doesn’t want to destroy what trust he has left, if he has any at all, “Better,” She finally settles on, knowing it’s not enough as he bites down on his lip, waiting for her to continue, “it still hurts to be reminded of everything I missed and everything you missed. And I know that… she’ll have more birthdays and more Christmases and she’ll never know that I wasn’t here but I think about how we had all these plans and it was always when the pandemic ends and I never thought that this was how my life with her was supposed to go, you know? I wanted to be a good mom, I wanted her to know she was safe and loved unconditionally and she’s only fourteen months old and I’ve failed her.” 

“You haven’t failed, Maddie, you’re here and you fought so hard, I’m so proud of you,” Maddie gulps as she looks at him, searching his face for any sign that he’s not being honest with her but seeing nothing but genuine belief in her. He’s not looking at her any differently as she had feared and she quickly wipes at her own tears, nodding her head, “I’m really glad you’re home, it hasn’t been the same without you… without any of you.” 

“Chimney owes you an apology,” She murmurs, biting down on her trembling lip as she thinks about everything her heartbroken boyfriend had confessed to her. She had seen the pain in his eyes, she had felt that overwhelming guilt that was crushing him from the inside out. Buck is her little brother but he’s Chimney’s, too. They are family, everyone in the 118 is but her, Buck, Jee-Yun, Albert and Chimney, they are a family so completely bonded by blood and fear of being anything like their own living parents. “I think it’s going to take a long time for us to heal from this completely and we are trying but I know that I hurt him and I scared him. I scared myself, to be honest with you because I didn’t think I was ever gonna come back from that, I couldn’t see a way out or a way for Jee to be safe with me. And I love her so much, I love all of you so much and I wish things had been different and I know there are things we could have done to change the way it spiralled but we can’t change the past. I wish we could because there is much I would do differently but… I’m so sorry that I put you in the middle without telling you everything. You’re my brother and I love you and I trust you but you’re my little brother, I was scared you’d hate me as much I hated myself. I didn’t wanna let you down.” 

Jee is quick to move onto the next gift without so much as glancing at the box, more interested in causing mess and destruction at the moment than she is with toys and Buck is quick to crawl over to Maddie’s side, wrapping an arm tightly around her as he pulls her into his side. Her daughter is in a world of her own and Maddie is thankful for that because she can’t imagine how many tears that little girl has seen her parents shed over the last few months of her life. Somehow it feels good to cry though because at some point, she had been too numb to even do that, “I feel like I’m the one who let you and Chimney down, I should have told him the truth, I should have known you weren’t okay,” 

“I didn’t want you to know,” She’s quick to remind him, resting her head on his shoulder as she sighs, “I didn’t want anyone to know, I just felt… embarrassed I guess, because I was so excited to be a mom and it felt like I had failed. I know it’s not my fault, I know that now but at the time… I just kinda felt like there’s always something wrong with me, you know? Daniel, Doug and then… I-I just thought if I didn’t say anything, I would just get better and no one would ever have to know but it just kept getting worse. Leaving her felt like it was the only thing I could do to show her just how much I love her because she’s always been safe with Chimney. And I never wanted to hurt her, it never even crossed my mind, but I wanted to hurt myself… all the time and I fought so hard to be here, Evan, I wanted to live so badly and I could feel that disappearing. I wanted to die, I wanted the pain to stop and I almost… I think I would have if I hadn’t gone to Boston and found someone who got through to me in a way I wouldn’t have ever let you or Chimney.” 

There’s silence for a moment, she can feel his tears on the top of her head, as he nudges his nose into her hair and she closes her eyes, just breathing him in and reminding herself that it’s over. At times, that felt impossible, she never thought she would come back home and she would be able to look at her daughter and know that the little girl is so completely safe with her but she’s home. And that’s the biggest and first step to truly recovering. Being honest about her own feelings with her brother is harder than she ever thought it could be but it feels good, too because he’s still holding onto her, he hasn’t pulled away, he isn’t disgusted and he doesn’t hate her. There were so many times when the little voice in the back of her head would tell her otherwise; that even if she went back home, the people she loves the most wouldn’t want her there anyway. It took a long time to push those intrusive thoughts away but eventually, it stopped. “I love you,” He finally whispers, pulling back, though he doesn’t let go of the tight, yet gentle grip he has on her arm, as though he has to remind himself that this is real, “it hurt when you left but if it’s what you needed and if it’s how and why you’re here right now, I’m glad you did it. But stop feeling as though you have to protect me, okay? We already lost three years, Mads, I don’t want to lose any more. I can’t help you if I don’t know the truth,” He finally lets go of her arm when she nods her head, watching as he lifts his little finger up with a watery smile, “I want you to pinky promise and I promise you that I’ll always be here, no matter what.” 

It’s easy to wrap her own finger around his, the familiarity is comforting as she looks at their intertwined pinkies, “I promise,” She whispers, remembering every single promise that had ever come before. Some of them were pointless, little promises made to each other when they were kids and others were important and heartfelt. Just like this one as she looks up at him and meets his blue eyes, a serious look on his face. 

“I promise, too,” It takes her a moment to drop her hand, her attention pulled back to her daughter as she throws up the wrapping paper with an excited squeal. She’s grown up so much in such a short amount of time but Maddie makes a promise to her, too, a silent one that she will never miss a single second of her life going forward. “Does Chimney hate me?” 

That question causes an ache to rush through her, tilting her head towards her brother, seeing the uncertainty in his eyes, “He could never hate you, he loves you so much. That’s probably why it was so easy for him to be angry at you because he needed someone else to be mad at who wasn’t me. He told me what happened, I don’t think he’ll ever forgive himself for it but I know that he doesn’t blame you, he knows that it was complicated, that you were trying to protect me and he was trying to protect me, too. Neither of you were wrong or right,” Maddie lifts her hand up to brush her thumb underneath his eye, as though she can still see a bruise there, though she knows that has long since passed, “do you think you can forgive us?” 

“There’s nothing to forgive, I think we all did things we regret, things we’d do differently if we could get a do-over,” Maddie smiles a little, nodding her head, “I’ve never seen him like that… he was terrified and I didn’t understand why until later… maybe not even until now because I just thought everything would be okay, that you just needed a minute to breathe and to get better. I think I didn’t want to accept how bad it must have been for you to just… leave.” 

Maddie sighs, dropping her hand from his face as she nods,  knowing that leaving was the biggest form of self-punishment she could possibly suffer, “You know, Chimney and Jee went a lot of places both to look for me and to rest and he,” She smiles affectionately, running her fingers through Jee’s hair as she watches her, “he collected postcards, for all three of us. He’d write to Jee, to me and to you, he could never hate you…” She can see the relief in her brother’s eyes at those words and then the genuine curiosity at what has been written to him, knowing that Chimney is going to take care of that when he sees him, he just knew that Maddie needed to see her brother on her own for just this once. “Although, he might change his mind on that one, what did Uncle Buck give you?!” Jee is beaming at her, as though she knows that there’s a drumset in the very last gift she has unwrapped, tapping her hands against the box with a giggle, “Hmm, I think this might have to be one gift that stays here for when your uncle is on babysitting duty.” 

“Hey now! I think Chimney is going to love this, what do you think Jee? Shall we get it out of the box and test it out?” He keeps that excitement in his voice that causes Jee to clap her hands as though she knows what’s being said to her, the biggest smile on her face as Maddie watches her brother grab the box and move towards the kitchen to open it, “Are you staying for a while? We can order food?” His voice sounds so hopeful and Maddie nods her head with a grin, knowing she doesn’t plan on going anywhere anytime soon. 

“That sounds good, I wanna hear everything you’ve been up to whilst we’ve been away.”