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The Burden of Decisions

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Taylor gasped and her phone nearly slipped out of her hand when Chimney raised his arm and punched Buck. She didn’t know why she had started to record the ranting that had begun as soon as Chimney had stormed into the apartment, but she was suddenly very glad she had. She’d had a bad feeling, and she had long ago learned to trust those feelings. Chimney had been so focused on his rant and Buck that he hadn’t even noticed her standing at the top of the stairs.

The past week had been exhausting for Buck and worrying for Taylor. She didn’t know what to think about Maddie leaving, but she knew what she thought about the things Buck had told her about Chimney’s reaction. Taylor had thought he was spiraling before this, while Buck had grown more and more worried about him and desperate because he didn’t know how to help his friend. She hadn’t expected this kind of reaction from Chimney though, and surely neither had Buck.

Taylor was halfway down the stairs, shoving her phone into her pocket, before the door had even fully shut behind Chimney. Buck still stood at the table, one hand braced on it, the other raised to his face. He was tracing the bone under his eye carefully with his thumb, his jaw slowly moving from one side to the other when Taylor reached him.

“Buck.” Taylor pulled his hand away carefully, eying his face. The punch had to have been incredibly powerful with the way Buck had whirled around. “Did he hit your jaw or farther up?”

“Right under the eye,” Buck muttered. He didn’t protest when Taylor directed him to sit down on the chair. “Sorry you had to see that.”

Taylor frowned. “Yeah, I’m not sorry at all. How much does it hurt?”

Buck closed his eyes but let her tilt his head back carefully and turn it to the light. “I wasn’t expecting something like that from Chimney. This isn’t like him at all.”

“Is there a reason you aren’t answering my question?” Taylor asked. She had a hard time keeping her voice calm, but she also didn’t want to show her anger. Buck wasn’t reacting to this situation as she had expected him to, and Taylor thought she didn’t want to find out how he would react to her anger against Chimney at the moment.

Buck sighed. “I’ll ice the eye and it will be okay.”

“I’d feel better if you let me bring you to the ER.”

Buck opened his eyes blinking and frowned. “What? Why?”

“To make sure that there isn’t more damage than we can see. The facial bones are more fragile than you might think.” Taylor sighed and bit her lip. “I had a friend who ran into a pole and cracked her skull without noticing until she was hit by a ball during gym class and collapsed. Was the talk of the whole school for the rest of the year. We never let her live it down.”

Buck huffed out a laugh. “How old were you?”

“We were both seventeen, senior year. Gym class wasn’t fun for the teacher for the rest of the year,” Taylor explained smiling. It had been a long time before she had stopped being horrified about that situation. She had felt guilty for laughing about her friend when she had turned around after walking backward for a couple of yards and smashed right into the pole. Neither of them had expected any kind of damage from it, until that horrible gym class. “No one was ready to throw a single ball again, or do anything else that could inadvertently hurt someone.” She cupped his cheeks with her hands and inspected his eyes. “Do you have a headache?”

Buck grinned lopsidedly. “Would be more worried if that weren’t the case. I’m okay. I’ve had worse.” He grabbed her waist and pulled her against him between his legs.

Taylor shook her head. She wouldn’t let him distract her. “Your left pupil is dilated more than your right, just a little but enough that I really want you to see a doctor, just to be sure.”

Buck bit his lip and frowned up at her. “Chimney is not the first guy to punch me in the face. I was once a pretty dumb kid who loved to party and to flirt with practically anyone who looked at me for more than two seconds. That’s not always a good idea.”

Taylor took a deep breath. “Just because this is something that’s commonplace in certain circles doesn’t mean it’s okay. Or less dangerous. I know you are aware of the signs of a concussion, checking for those is part of your job after all.”

Buck sighed. “I really think this is an overreaction, but if it will make you feel better, I’ll let you drive me to the ER, okay?”

Taylor leaned down to press a kiss against his lips. “Thank you. I’ll get my purse, don’t move.”

Buck didn’t follow her advice, of course, and when he saw Taylor come back down the stairs he stood, only to brace his hands on the table with a groan. “Okay, maybe a doctor isn’t as bad an idea as I thought.”

“Or maybe I call an ambulance,” Taylor frowned.

“No,” Buck groaned, shaking his head slowly, carefully. “No ambulance. God, that would be so embarrassing. Although I’ll take the elevator for once instead of the stairs. Who’d have thought Chim packed such a punch?”

“Just dizzy, or are you nauseous as well?”

Buck sighed and grinned lopsidedly. “Just the world turning around me in a way I know it shouldn’t.”

Taylor grabbed his arm and led him out of the apartment and to the elevator. Buck was silent the whole way out of the building until they sat in Taylor’s car. He was clearly in pain but not prepared to admit to it, and Taylor was glad he was so easily letting her drive him to the ER. She could imagine how he would have just iced his eye and ignored everything else for the rest of the night if she hadn’t been there.

“When did Maddie call you?”

Buck groaned, leaning his head back with closed eyes. “The day after she left. Chim said she got money from a bank in Oxnard. I assume she called me after, or maybe shortly before.”

“And what did you talk about?” Taylor asked. “Chimney made a lot of assumptions about what you knew, but you didn’t really say anything about it.”

“What was there to say? You think he would have listened to anything? I mean, he has been barely listening before, and that was when he was just going crazy in his worry about Maddie, not pissed at me as well.”

“No,” Taylor agreed. He hadn’t cared much for what Buck had tried to stammer out right before the punch as far as Taylor could say. “So, what did Maddie tell you?”

Buck took a deep breath. “Nothing, really. I asked her to come home, but she didn’t want to hear any of that. Kept insisting she wasn’t good for Jee to be around. But I didn’t know she was at the ER with Jee. She just said ‘doctor’, that she had been to a doctor with Jee, not that there had been this kind of accident.”

“You just weren’t surprised enough for Chimney,” Taylor muttered.

Buck huffed. “Was more worried about him, and Jee is clearly fine. Maddie would have said if something had been amiss. If there had been something we needed to look out for, she would have left that in the message for Chimney, or told me on the phone.”

“You sure about that?” Taylor asked. “I mean … Chimney seems to think she isn’t really herself right now.”

“If there’s one thing that will penetrate whatever is going on with her, it’s making sure there is nothing wrong with Jee,” Buck said, slurring some of his words. “Didn’t matter what was going on with her when I was a kid, she always made sure to take care of me. Now that it’s actually her own kid that won’t be any different. She’ll even be more worried and careful with Jee than she was ever with me. Leaving has been part of that worry, she made that very clear.”

Taylor sighed. “That’s not how PPD or any kind of depression works, you know that right?”

There hadn’t been any confirmation about that, but it was a suspicion Buck had had for nearly two months now. He had tried to reach out to Maddie, but she hadn’t been up to see him most of the time or even speak with him on the phone. As far as Taylor knew, Chimney had repeatedly told Buck off for pushing himself on Maddie, but even now after Maddie was gone Chimney hadn’t confirmed Buck’s suspicion. Though Taylor thought Maddie leaving was confirmation enough for it.

Buck shook his head. “You don’t know Maddie. But it doesn’t matter anyway. If Jee wasn’t okay Chimney would have been back at the doctor with her instead of storming my apartment, don’t you think?”

Taylor swallowed. “I’m not so sure about that.” 

She had never liked what she had learned about Chimney when she had investigated the whole crew of the 118 a few years ago after they had come to her and her pilot’s rescue after their helicopter crashed. But she didn’t know Chimney personally, and had tried to put those reservations away since rekindling her relationship with Buck because Chimney was Buck’s family. That was something she wouldn’t be able to do any longer, now.

“He has to have talked with the doctor Maddie and Jee saw at the ER,” Buck said. “How else would he have gotten all these details? There wasn’t much information in the letter from the insurance other than that Jee had been in the ER. There wasn’t anything about a bath tub accident, or why she had been in the ER at all.”

“So, he went to the hospital, found out what had happened, and decided to chase after Maddie without even knowing where to start looking? That sounds even more insane than this theory that Doug somehow survived after you and Sergeant Grant saw his body. And what will he do with Jee? He can’t very well take her with him on a wild goose chase across the country. She can’t spend the whole day in a car seat.”

“I have no idea.” Buck shrugged. “Probably leave her with the Lees, or with Hen and Karen. He sure as hell won’t ask me to take her right now, will he? Not with how angry he is at me. I would take her in a heartbeat, though, you need to know that. But I don’t think he should go after Maddie. It’s insane. And not what she wants. He won’t listen to me though. Hasn’t done that the whole week.”

“That anger is completely misplaced,” Taylor muttered.

“No, I probably should have just told him that Maddie had called. Wouldn’t have changed anything anyway, would it? We still don’t know where she is, or what she is planning to do.”

Taylor tightened her grip on the steering wheel, hating the excuses Buck was offering. It wasn’t worth arguing about it now—that would be better discussed when Buck wasn’t possibly suffering from a concussion and definitely a headache. And maybe with a little bit of time the shock would run off and he would start to see the atrocity of what Chimney had done.

***

Eddie stopped in the doorway of the hospital room he had been directed to. He had just been leaving Chimney’s apartment—where Albert had called him to in a panic earlier when he hadn’t been able to calm down Jee-Yun, who he had been babysitting for his brother—when the hospital had called him. He still didn’t know why Buck was here, only that the hospital suspected he had a concussion and may not be able to make decisions for himself, and therefore they had called Eddie as Buck’s emergency contact.

Buck was lying in a hospital bed, Taylor sitting on the edge with her hand placed on Buck’s leg. “I still think this is an overreaction,” Buck said. He had his eyes closed, and around his left eye Eddie could see the first shadows of a black eye rising.

Eddie cleared his throat, which made Taylor turn and Buck barely open his eyes. “What happened?”

“Eddie?” Buck asked quietly. “What are you doing here?”

“The hospital called me as your medical proxy,” Eddie explained. “They don’t trust you to make your own decisions.” He dragged the chair that stood beside the door to the bed and sat down. “So, what happened?”

Buck shrugged and stared at his hands. “Had a little argument with Chimney.”

Eddie frowned in confusion. “Okay. How does that explain you being here?”

“Chimney punched him,” Taylor said. “And it was less an argument than Chimney ranting and drawing some conclusions based on Buck not reacting to some news like Chimney expected him to.”

“I didn’t tell him that Maddie had called me,” Buck said hurriedly. “He guessed it when he told me about Jee being at the ER. He was just angry.”

Eddie growled, “That’s no excuse to hit you!” 

He fisted his hands in his lap for a moment and took a deep breath to calm himself down. Chimney hadn’t given any sign that he had even come from a confrontation, and Eddie didn’t know if he was more rattled by that, by the fact that Chimney had lashed out in that way at all, or by Buck clearly trying to excuse it.

Buck sighed. “It’s not as bad as you think. And you know how he has been this last week. He hasn’t been able to deal with Maddie just leaving.” He paused, bit his lip, and rubbed a hand over his forehead. “I just hope he’ll be able to forgive me eventually. She is my sister, of course I’d keep my promises to her if at all possible. And I don’t see how it would have changed anything if I had told him.”

Eddie sucked in a breath, his heart breaking a little bit for his friend. So often Buck blamed himself for everything, not able or willing to see that others had wronged him. “He is not the one who needs to forgive you anything. You’ll need to think about if you are able to forgive him, or if you even want to!”

Buck frowned. “I don’t…”

He was interrupted by a knock on the open door and a doctor stepping into the room. “It’s good to see you talking a little clearer than earlier, Mr. Buckley. How is the headache?”

Buck shrugged. “Unchanged.”

The doctor nodded and turned to Eddie. “I assume you are Mr. Diaz? I’m Dr. Elise Klein.”

Eddie nodded. “Nice to meet you.”

She sent him a curt smile. “I’d like for Mr. Diaz to stay as your medical proxy while we talk about your x-rays because I’m not so sure about your abilities to take in everything I say, Mr. Buckley.”

“Yeah, sure.” Buck shrugged again. “I’d like Taylor to stay as well.”

Dr. Klein smiled and closed the door. “Alright. I have your x-rays here, and it’s a good thing that we did them.” She turned the tablet in her hands around to face them, displaying two x-rays of a head. “You have a hairline fracture in your zygomatic bone, but thankfully there is no displacement.” She traced her finger over the screen where the fracture was visible. “We’ll monitor the healing process over the next couple of weeks, but it should heal on its own without any intervention necessary. It’s possible that the movement of your jaw will be limited for a while, and headaches could be a problem. I’d like to keep you here overnight to monitor your concussion, but I expect you to be able to go home tomorrow.”

“How long will that take to heal?” Buck asked.

“Three to six weeks,” Klein said. “After looking at your medical file and previous healing times, I’d say we are looking at the lower end there, though I won’t promise anything. I’d like to put you on medical leave for the next two weeks, and then reevaluate the situation. You should be careful not to risk another injury to the face, and you have a high-risk job for that.”

Buck frowned and threw a look at Eddie. “We’re already a man short with Chimney being on leave. I don’t think…”

“That’s really not what you should worry about,” Eddie interrupted him softly. “So, we’ll get a second floater if you are out for the next two weeks, or even longer. It’s not worth it to risk making this injury worse just so the rest of us don’t need to get used to one more stranger on shift.”

“You are entitled to take care of your own health,” Taylor said, her face pinched in a frown.

Buck sighed. “I don’t want to sit home the whole day, worrying about Maddie and Chimney, without having anything to do.”

Eddie grinned. “When I tell Chris that you are off work for two weeks, he’ll insist that you get him from school every afternoon. You’ll be so happy about the quiet morning hours when he is at school.”

“That’s not fair,” Buck complained, but he grinned as he said it. “And there is no way I’d ever get tired of Chris.”

“Then I’ll tell Chris he’ll have two weeks of Buck-time and you won’t complain once about his enthusiasm.” Eddie knew Buck wouldn’t complain about time with Christopher anyway, and it would serve to take his thoughts off of his worries and probably even his pain. “We’ll start tomorrow. I’ll call Bobby and warn him that I’ll be a little late and that you aren’t coming in at all, and then I’ll bring you home to Chris before I go to work.” He turned to Dr. Klein. “Or would you like to keep Buck here for longer than the early morning?”

She shook her head. “Early morning sounds good. I’ll see Mr. Buckley first for my morning round, and then you should be able to get him shortly after seven.”

“And if I don’t want to stay?” Buck asked.

Eddie sent him a silent look and Buck visibly deflated. 

“Yeah, okay. Forget I even asked.”

Taylor patted his leg. “I’m glad you let me bring you here. Do you think Chris will mind if I join you for a while tomorrow?” She turned half to Eddie with that question.

Eddie shook his head. “For some reason I’m not quite sure I understand my son seems to like you.”

Taylor laughed. “Hey, you have learned to like me, too, you just don’t want to admit it!”

“Do any of you have any more questions?” Dr. Klein asked.

Eddie shook his head. “Thank you for taking care of Buck.”

After Buck had also shaken his head, Klein said, “Then I’ll need to ask the two of you to leave.”

Taylor nodded and leaned forward to press a short kiss against Buck’s lips. “Behave and try to get some rest. I’ll call you in the morning.”

Buck rolled his eyes. “I don’t even know what you mean.”

Eddie chuckled and patted his shoulder as he stood. “I’ll bring a change of clothes in the morning. Should I get anything else from your apartment for a day with Chris?”

Buck shook his head. “We’ll be good with the things you have at home. Will be a very lazy Sunday anyway.”

Eddie nodded and followed Taylor out of the room, clenching his hands tightly as soon as he was sure Buck couldn’t see him anymore. It had been hard work to hold his anger back, but he knew Buck wouldn’t have been able to deal with it at the moment.

“I had just left Chimney’s apartment when the hospital called me,” Eddie growled, which made Taylor stop in the middle of the hall and turn to him. “Looking at him, there was no sign at all that he had been in any kind of confrontation. I can’t believe that he broke Buck’s face and just shrugged it off as if nothing had happened.”

“I saw it happen!” Taylor bit out.

Eddie frowned. “What?” He blinked and then he shook his head. “That’s not what I meant. I believe you. I actually meant Chimney’s behavior. He came home and asked me about my wife and my own regrets about not following her when she left me, and I couldn’t see a single sign of regret or even just worry in him. The one time he mentioned Buck, he seemed to be angry at him, but not … I really don’t know what I would have expected from his behavior.”

“Let’s talk outside,” Taylor suggested and grabbed his arm as if he wouldn’t follow her anyway. She led him out of the hospital and to a small space halfway down the building with several benches gathered around. “I’m sorry for snapping at you. I’m just … I’ve never been a big fan of Chimney, and it wouldn’t be the first time he acted out in anger and it was swept under the rug. Although at least he was the only one hurt last time.”

Eddie crossed his arms and shook his head. “I have no idea what you are talking about.”

Taylor stared at him with a frown before she huffed in realization. “Right, his car accident was before you joined the 118, wasn’t it?”

“He was already back at work for a while before I joined, yes,” Eddie said slowly. “I’ve only ever heard stories about it, and it was always about the rebar.”

“Chimney caused the accident himself because he was driving aggressively and recklessly, and way over the speed limit. There was an investigation, but according to the information I found nothing ever came of it because of Chimney’s injury, and because no one else was injured. I couldn’t find any information about how the property damage was dealt with.” Taylor shrugged.

“And what does that have to do with him punching Buck?” Eddie asked.

Taylor sighed. “I’ve listened to Buck’s attempts to try to excuse Chimney’s behavior three different times. You heard the last one yourself.”

“Yeah, and I didn’t agree with it at all, if you missed that,” Eddie bit out.

“I’m sorry,” Taylor repeated. “This whole evening has been a clusterfuck.”

“I’m surprised you could convince Buck to come here,” Eddie said after a moment of silence.

Taylor sighed. “It was surprisingly easy, though I don’t think he would have come here if I had told him that my worry for his health is only half the reason I wanted him in the ER. How much convincing do you think it will take to have Buck report this?”

Eddie stared at her surprised. “You wanted him here for the evidence.”

“Yes.” Taylor shrugged. “Don’t expect me to let this go. I have the whole damn confrontation on video, but I really hadn’t expected more than a concussion, which would have been bad enough on its own.”

“You have it on video?” Eddie asked flabbergasted.

“I had a bad feeling when Chimney showed up,” Taylor explained. “So I just started recording. I stood at the top of the stairs, not hidden at all, but he was so focused on Buck and his anger that he never saw me. I watched the video while Buck was getting his x-ray. When it happened, I thought the punch came completely out of the blue, but … after watching it again, I wonder if it was calculated.”

Eddie gritted his teeth. His mind kept wandering back over his conversation with Chimney, kept replaying the moment when Chimney had come home, rubbing his fist absentmindedly before he had noticed that Eddie was there. Eddie couldn’t believe that Chimney had calmly talked with him about Shannon and his thoughts on following Maddie while Buck had been in the ER because of Chimney’s actions.

“Can I watch it?” Eddie asked finally.

“Sure.” Taylor pulled her phone out and gave it to him, the video already pulled up.

The video started with Chimney telling Buck that Jee-Yun had slipped under the water when Maddie had bathed her, with him standing between the kitchen island and table, his back to the kitchen. Eddie wondered how Chimney could have failed to notice that he and Buck weren’t alone in the apartment, and then he wondered if that would have changed anything. Especially as he saw how Chimney’s posture tensed with every word Buck said as he tried to explain how little he knew about Maddie.

Eddie’s grip on the phone tightened when he noticed the slight pause in Chimney, a tiny moment in which Chimney seemed to make a decision just before his fist flew up and Buck whirled around, his rambling cut off by shocked silence. For a moment, when Chimney stepped behind Buck and told him “I am not okay!”, Eddie was afraid it would be followed by another punch, and he blew out his breath in relief when Chimney turned and left.

“I can see what you mean,” Eddie murmured, giving the phone back to Taylor.

“You didn’t answer my question,” Taylor said. “Do you think we’ll be able to convince Buck to report this assault?”

Eddie inhaled slowly. “Would be a long and hard fight to convince him of that. I’m more concerned right now to make him understand that he isn’t the one who needs forgiveness. That’s such a fucked-up thought after being attacked in this way.”

Taylor nodded slowly, turning her phone in her hands. “Then I’ll go and report it myself.”

“That could possibly ruin your relationship with Buck,” Eddie cautioned, although he wasn’t opposed to her idea. He wouldn’t do it in Taylor’s place, but only because he didn’t know if Buck would ever be able to forgive it, and that would lead to a kind of break in their relationship Eddie never wanted to think about.

“I’m willing to risk that,” Taylor shrugged. “I’m not letting anyone get away with hurting someone if I can help it, especially someone I care about. It’s important that people face the consequences of their actions, and that the truth isn’t muddled up by time or losing evidence.”

“At least talk to Buck first,” Eddie cautioned. He was thrown by her words and her tone. He had never heard her talk with this kind of conviction before. “Don’t just take this decision completely out of his hands. If he says no, you can still go to the police yourself.”

“Do you think … There won’t be much time for me to talk with Buck tomorrow morning if you leave him to look after Chris. I mean, I can hardly talk with Buck about this while Chris is in the next room.”

“Or you could wait until Monday,” Eddie suggested. “We are back on our regular schedule starting Monday, which means I’ll have three days off. And Chris will be in school half the day.”

Taylor shook her head. “I would rather not wait another day.”

Eddie sighed. “My aunt is staying the night at my place anyway, and I assume she’ll want to stay and take care of Buck when she learns why I had to ask her to stay longer than planned. You can come by my house after I’ve dropped Buck off and Pepa can take Chris for a walk or something while you talk with Buck about going to the police.”

Taylor bit her lip and eyed him for a long moment. “Thank you.”

Eddie huffed and raised his brows. “You thought I would try to talk you out of this?”

“Chimney and Buck are both your friends,” Taylor shrugged. “And I know you are closer to Buck, but as you mentioned earlier, you know the kind of situation Chimney is in right now. I wasn’t sure you wouldn’t try to excuse his behavior.”

Eddie clenched his teeth. He wondered how much she knew about his own past of searching for a violent outlet for his anger, and if that had colored her expectations of him. That he had been briefly arrested wasn’t a secret, but his participation in the fight clubs should only be known to a very few, selected people. He hated that she doubted him in this, especially if his own mistakes from the past were the reason for that.

“I’m glad you are here for Buck,” Taylor said. “Especially if you are right and he won’t let me be there for him after I go to the police.”

Eddie blew out a breath. “Same. And for what it’s worth, I think going to the police is the right choice. I just think it’s not the right thing to do this behind Buck’s back or without his support.”

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