There's always that moment when he wonders. It isn't fear, not exactly, though he's too good a firefighter not to be afraid at times, or even self-doubt, though if he went to a shrink he doubts they'd see the difference. But it's there, the difference. He doesn't doubt that he can (save the victim, give the right command, get out safely); he just wonders what will happen if he doesn't. The scenario runs through his head each time, the results of a wrong decision, of being too slow or too late or not strong enough. It only lasts a second, a fraction of a second, and then he makes the decision, does his job.
This is different. And not just because it's all over, Severide's out of the basement, they both made it out safe, and Herrmann's gonna be out of surgery soon, gonna be okay. He knows how it went, so why the hell can't he stop replaying this scenario? His grip isn't tight enough, his boots can't get a hold on the floor and he's slipping too close to the edge, and—and Severide sees what's happening (he knows the drill, knows how hard it is to hold a man up when you're slipping, no matter how strong you are, how easy it is to lose two men instead of one) and just—lets go. Opens his fingers and pulls out of Matt's grasp. Falls and crashes right into the remains of the burning table. And it's too hot down there, the table their only chance of a safe exit, and that's gone, and Severide's given his SCBA to Herrmann, so Casey sees his face, sees the pain. Sees all of it, hears the moan Kel can't control, the crash of timbers falling on him, the screech of his PASS alarm.
He'll be dreaming of that tonight.
Fuck. He digs his nails into his thigh. Pulls himself out of the spiral of imagining Severide's death (and Matt has seen enough to picture it far too vividly) and forces himself to look up from the floor and across to Severide. Who's staring at him. They hold the look a beat too long for comfort, but Matt doesn't care, because there's something in Severide's expression that Matt hasn't seen in a long time. Not since Darden, no, that's not it, not since before then. Not since—not since he got engaged. Huh. That's—Matt doesn't know quite what to make of that.
And then it's gone, Severide's turning away to talk to Dawson, and Matt's left hanging.
Severide has his hands in his lap, left thumb massaging the palm of his other hand. Probably doesn't realize he's doing it.
Matt eases in his seat. He's beginning to feel his own aches and bruises, now the adrenaline's worn off. But they're nothing worse than he's dealt with before — it's Severide he's worried about.
And yet, when she says she can't come around, not tonight, he's almost relieved. It feels like an ending, and maybe that's what he needs. An ending and a fresh start.
Severide leaves with the rest. Or so Matt thinks, but then five, ten minutes or so later there's a cup of coffee being shoved into his face, the familiar whiff of smoke following it (he'll have showered and ditched his station garments for off-duty clothes, but the smell always lingers, especially after a day like today). Matt takes the coffee.
"Thanks," he says. He takes a sip even though it's sure to be too hot still. Two sugars, no milk. Severide hasn't forgotten.
Severide doesn't say anything, just sits down next to him with his own cup. There are fifteen chairs in the waiting area, most of them empty, but Severide sits down in the one that's been pushed up against Matt's chair, so close Matt's elbow jostles Severide every time he drinks. They never used to take any notice of each other's space, and it's only now, feeling that familiar too-close presence, that Matt realizes that Severide pulled away months ago. There was still the banter and the jokes, the hotly fought poker games, the insults that neither really meant until Darden died, when suddenly the insults because real and the banter vicious. But there wasn't the easy closeness that they'd had since the academy. Matt stares into the surface of his coffee. He's on the verge of working it out, he knows he is. It's like an itch he can almost reach — he just needs to relax that fraction more and he'll be there.
The coffee is still steaming. He closes his eyes, and he doesn't see Severide falling. He sees everything after, his own life, the station house without him. And that's what it takes to recognize that look from earlier, to understand what's going on between them. Why Severide backed away. And why Matt feels the lack of that closeness like he'd feel the loss of an arm.
"Take a walk?" he says, though he's no idea what he's going to say or even if he can say anything.
Severide swallows, then shrugs casually as though it's nothing to him if he does or doesn't. "Sure," he says, and it's casual too, but now Matt knows what he's looking for he sees behind the don't-care attitude.
There are signs by the exit promising a fine for smoking anywhere on the hospital grounds. Severide leans against the building, one foot bent behind him, and lights up. He left his coffee behind; Matt has his still, cradled in his hands as though he needs the heat. If he has something to hold, his hands won't shake.
"Today, back there. In the basement. Thanks for—" Matt stumbles through the words, almost glad when Severide interrupts.
"Fuck you, man," he spits out. "What did you think? I'd just leave you there?" He flicks ash on the ground like the cigarette has personally offended him.
Shit. This isn't going well. Matt shakes his head. "Of course not." He makes himself look up from his apparent rapt contemplation of his boots and look Severide in the eye. "I knew you'd come through for me."
Severide drops the cigarette on the ground, crunches it underfoot. There's a small pile of cigarette butts further nearby, a sign of someone else too tense to wait inside; by the look of it, they had a long wait. Matt hopes they had good news at the end of it.
"It's my job," Severide says, which might be technically true but is so far from what goes through their heads when they're in a building that it's laughable.
Matt needs to get things right between them. There's an ache in his gut far worse than the aches he feels from the fall, an ache he's felt ever since Severide started turning his back on him, became a terse, angry voice on the other end of the radio instead of a friend.
Durdan's death wasn't Matt's fault, but that's not the important thing right now. "I shouldn't have let him go in," Matt says. He doesn't need to say who he's talking about. "I should have held him back longer."
Severide tilts his head back. There's so much running across his face that Matt can't keep track, and when he speaks, there's a crack in his voice Matt's never heard before. "It was easier just to blame you," he says, so quietly Matt has to strain to hear. "And it served a two-fold purpose." He huffs out a bitter sort of laugh.
"To push me away," Matt says, because it's becoming so obvious now. He leans back against the wall, next to Severide, shoulder to shoulder. This would be easier if it were dark or there were so much smoke they couldn't see. But the sun hasn't set, and he can see Severide and Severide can see him. "I broke up with Hallie," he says, as though it's a whole new topic, irrelevant, even though it's all tied up in the reason they're standing here. "Moved out a while back. Just hadn't gotten around to telling anyone."
"And you're telling me."
"Yeah. I'm telling you."
Matt finishes his coffee and throws the cup into a nearby trash can. It doesn't matter any more if his hands aren't steady. "Want to come around tonight?" he asks. "There's cold pizza in the fridge." He turns and smiles at Severide, and is met by a smile in return.
"With an offer like that—" Severide says, which is his asshole way of saying yes.
The offer's more than pizza, but then Matt thinks Severide knows that. They'll work it out, anyway.
"I ate the pizza," he says by way of welcome. "You should have gotten here earlier." He stands to one side to let Severide in.
"Niiiice," Severide drawls, the corner of his mouth quirked in amusement as he takes in the bare front room and the stack of paper plates on top of the fridge.
"Yeah, well. Not had much time to do anything to the place." It's a lie. Not that he's had a lot of time, but he could have found some more furniture and actual plates, made it more inviting. Made it feel like a home instead of something temporary. But he's only just started to think of it as his new home, and Matt's the only person who's been here aside from Hallie.
"Next rest day, I'll come around. Get some shelves up. You need somewhere to put your paper plates and plastic cups."
"You gonna make me some curtains too?" Matt asks, and it's easy, comfortable, and by the time they've had a couple of beers it's easier still.
Too easy, maybe, because Matt wants to spill everything. All the things that are hanging heavy inside him, he wants to spill all of them. And he wants to know everything that's hurting Kelly. Make it right. Share the load.
He's only had two beers.
He offers Severide a third, but he doesn't take it. He doesn't get up to go, either, though they're slumped on the floor with their backs against the wall. Matt's not sure how they ended up here rather than on the sofa, but he's okay with the floor. He doesn't want to move. Unless it's to go to bed, but he doesn't want Severide to leave, and there's all sorts tangled up in those two thoughts and he's not sure he's ready to go there. Not just yet.
But he's not ready for Severide to go, either. Not when the ache inside has finally gone, and he feels good for the first time in a month. He turns to say something — he doesn't know what, but he'll wing it — and that's when Severide's face starts to crumple. Matt can't speak, can't find anything to say.
"It was my fault," Severide says. "It was fuck—fuck, it was my fault. If I'd just—" he peters out into silence, pinching the bridge of his nose, knuckles brushing the trace of wet from under his eyes.
It's what Matt's been waiting to hear. And now it's out there, it doesn't help. It doesn't make anything better. It doesn't ease his own guilt. And there's nothing he can say to ease Kel's. So he does the only thing left. Twists around and just grabs hold of Kel, holds him, pulls the weight of him flush against Matt. There's a moment when he thinks Kel is going to shove him away, punch him maybe, because he's tensed up like he doesn't want to be touched, but then he lets out a slow, shuddering breath and hides his head against Matt's shoulder.
Kel is almost silent, just a few sharp intakes of air as though he's trying to hold his breath. Keep pretending he's okay. And that's just not good enough. They both need this, need to let go of everything that's been weighing down on them for the last few weeks. So Matt takes a flying leap and hopes to hell he's not fucking everything up. He shifts, angling himself into Kel, presses his face against Kel's. His face is wet, and he's not sure if it's from him or Kel or both, but Kel's breathing louder now so this is working. This has to work. He opens his mouth, lets his lower lip rub against the stubble on Kel's cheek. It's barely a kiss, still deniable, but Matt's not a coward even when he's terrified. He still sees Kel falling to his death (he's here in his arms, it didn't happen), and everything's been wrong for too long so he isn't going to back down now. He turns it into a real kiss, edging towards Kel's mouth, and he's holding his own breath, chest tight.
This could be the end of everything between them if Matt has read Kel's looks wrong. This could be a fight that makes their previous silence look friendly. This could ruin everything.
One more kiss. He gives it one more, on the corner of Kel's mouth. He makes it last, because he has to make it count. He's not going to pretend this is nothing, a joke. This is a real kiss, and he means it.
And then Kel's pushing back. Not pushing him away, no, nothing like that. He's pushing up against him, kissing him back, hungry and angry. "Years," he mutters, or something of the sort. Maybe it's yeah. Matt can't be sure he heard him right, because they're fighting as to who can hold on tightest, even their kiss is a battle.
But that's them. Everything is a competition.
Matt's the one who stops the kiss eventually. Reluctantly, but shift starts in a few hours. "We need to talk," he says.
"You sound like a chick."
"Fuck you," Matt says, but it's just automatic. No heat behind it.
There's a smile in the corner of Kel's mouth. "I know," he says. "And yeah, sure, we will. But I guess—we've cleared the air. Yes?" he adds, almost hesitant, which isn't like him. But then they're both out of their depth.
Matt nods firmly. "Yeah. We're good." He gets up slowly, shaking off the stiffness from sitting still too long, and holds out his hand for Kel. Kel takes it and stands, pulling Matt into a quick one-armed hug before he heads for the door.