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the cooling influences of the world

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Severide's always jumped in headfirst. Jumped, climbed, reached out his hands to the sky. Don't think, just do, that's his motto.

When he was three years old, his mom took him to the swimming pool, a new one that had just opened three blocks away. The moment he saw the pool, all that shining water, he had to be in it. He couldn't think of anything else, couldn't wait for his mom. He'd slipped his chubby little hand out of his mom's, run straight at the pool, dodged around a lady who looked like she might try to get in his way, and that was it. He was in the water. It was the deep end, and he didn't know how to swim, and he had to be rescued, but he still thought it was the best thing ever, even after his mom explained that he was supposed to put his swim trunks on first and use the kiddie pool at the other end until he was big enough for the grown up pool.

He's gotten smarter, over the years, learned to think first. Some of the time. He's had enough lessons. One night stands that turned into morning-afters memorable for all the wrong reasons, a too-close call with an exploding truck (he still has the scars — every firefighter worth his salt has some scars to remind him just how far he can push it), warning words from his Lieutenant when he was a stupidly eager candidate. But it's still there, bubbling under the surface, that desire to just do it, fuck the consequences.

It's itching at him now. Watching Casey.

*

"Should I? Say something? Do something? You know, to Casey," he asks, after the girl-de-jour has left, but before Shay's had her coffee. If he waits, he won't ask.

"Wow, that's a really clear question," she mocks, head in the fridge. "Should you 'do something' to Casey, hmm?" He can hear the quotation marks.

"You know what I mean." They got drunk one night (okay, truth, they've gotten drunk together more than one night, but this was the memorable one) and spilled all their dirty little secrets. He doesn't have to explain himself to her.

"Are you asking for my advice?" She opens a carton of milk, sniffs it, then pours so much into her bowl that her cornflakes nearly overflow. She blinks at the bowl as though she's not sure what happened. He once told her that it was adorable how useless she was in the morning — she pinched him, really hard. Now he just thinks it.

"No." He shrugs and pours her a coffee. "Okay, yes, I want your advice."

"Or," she drags the word out, relishing the moment. "Could it be that you just want me to guess what you want to do, and then tell you to do that?" She grins at him.

He scowls back. "I hate it when you're insightful. No one is supposed to be smart before breakfast."

"Yeah, well, I know you." She says it fondly, not like she's judging. They've shared too much to be judgmental; they've both been around for the other's fuck-ups.

"So, advice?"

"What's the worst case scenario? Right now, you're barely friends with Casey anyway, so it's not like that's going to get much worse. And he's not the kind of guy who's going to out you to the entire station, if that's the issue. So the worst, well, you still won't be friends but at least you'll know where you are. The best case scenario? You two end up fucking like bunnies and I never get any peace here. So, my advice, don't do it — it's not worth it!"

Severide finishes his coffee, leans over, and kisses her on the cheek. "I love you."

"I know," she says. "And you don't deserve me. So if the fucking like bunnies happens, you'll have to make it up to me."

Severide raises an eyebrow in question as he grabs his keys.

"Don't worry, I'll think of plenty of ways you can do that. Expensive ways."

"Guess I'd better start getting some overtime." He heads out the door to the sound of her laughter.

*

Casey kissed him once. Years ago, when they were at the Academy together. Pushed him up against his locker even though by then Severide was bigger and stronger than him. It had come totally out of the blue, no warning, no life or death experience that they could pretend was some sort of excuse. Casey didn't lead up to it, didn't give him any warning, just strode towards him with this look on his face that Severide will never forget. Utter determination. Severide had been about to ask him what was going on, mouth half open with the words right there on his tongue, when Casey pressed into him and kissed him like his life depended on it. Like the world was about to end but he had to do this one thing first.

Severide had frozen.

And then Casey pulled back, big-eyed like he didn't know what had come over him. Severide was going to say something — fuck yes, or maybe what the fuck, but yes too — grab him by the arms and pull him back in, kiss him back. But Casey shook his head, small shakes of his head like tremors, and nothing seemed like the right thing for Severide to say. And then Casey was gone.

Severide didn't see him for the rest of the day, though he'd looked, and the next day Casey pretended it didn't happen. Acted like normal, so normal that Severide found himself wondering if he'd hallucinated it, except that now he knew what Casey tasted like, knew the feel of Casey's teeth on his bottom lip, could still feel the phantom warmth of his hands on Severide's arms.

A week later, Casey started dating Hallie. Severide would rather have taken a punch to the face than have walked out the Academy front entrance to find Casey standing on the steps kissing some girl, arm around her shoulder the moment the rest of them started milling around. He was so fucking eager to show her off. His new girlfriend. That was Casey, resolutely heterosexual and in-your-face happy. All was peachy in Casey's world, and Severide got the message loud and clear.

But Severide. He was left questioning himself, not sure who the hell he was any more. He kept falling into relationships and trying to make them work — he even got engaged once, for fuck's sake — but he always failed because he couldn't forget that one fucking, random kiss that Casey brushed off as though it were nothing.

*

Sometimes, in the middle of the night or if he's lying in his quarters at the fire house, he hates himself so much he can almost see the hate like a thick fog hanging over him. He hates himself for laying there thinking he's a screw-up instead of laying there thinking that Andy's lost all the rest of his life and Heather's lost a husband and their kids have lost a father. He hates himself for hating Hallie. He hates himself even more for being glad when Casey and Hallie break up, permanently this time, not just rumor, torn apart by a crooked cop who's getting jail time for everything else but not that.

*

This is the way it goes. You're a kid, and screw-up's aren't that big a deal. A teenager and you have to start taking responsibility, but your parents are there to fall back on. Hit your twenties, and you're supposed to start getting your shit together. Severide's well past the time he should have his life all figured out. Funny thing is, he did once. He had the best friends a guy could have in Matt and Andy. He made lieutenant a year younger than he'd been aiming for. He had a girlfriend he thought he loved; he and Stacey had been living together for nearly a year when he proposed and she said yes. His life was on track.

And then Stacey left him, and his life hit reverse. Because leaving him wasn't enough for her. Oh no. She had to go and throw a bombshell as she was walking out of his life.

"I'll always be second-best," she said, and he thought he knew what she meant. He was a firefighter, on or off-duty, it's what defined him, who he was, and that was never going to change. But he could involve her in it more, make more time for her, make it work. He told her that, all of it, and she laughed. It was kind of a sad laugh, but it was real.

"Kel," she'd said, and she'd leaned in towards him, knees touching, holding his hands for the last time, "I don't mean firefighting." She put an odd emphasis on firefighting that didn't make sense to him.

"You don't?" he'd blurted out, confused. He can still remember his mind trying to catch up with what she was saying, make sense of it.

"No." She didn't elaborate. There was this streak in her, a little bit mean. He'd always liked it. Perhaps because it made him feel better when he acted like an asshole.

He'd waited as long as he could before asking her what she mean, even though he'd known he'd have to give in and ask sooner or later. She wasn't the kind of girl who'd cave.

"You going to explain?" he asked eventually, sharper than he meant.

"You're going to have to get over Casey, or, I dunno, fuck Casey or something, if you're going to make it work with anyone else."

Severide had let go of her hands. He remembers being angry. He's not sure, looking back, what else he'd felt. He didn't have any witty reply, just instinctive denial.

He got past the denial eventually. Watched Casey, and realized that being friends wasn't all he wanted. It was a strange revelation.

*

"I know you don't want to hear this," Casey starts.

Their shift officially finished two hours ago, though they were clearing up after the gas station fire an hour after that. They've been called in front of the Chief and reamed out about how such experienced team leaders could end up communicating about as effectively as two blind and deaf gorillas (the Chief's words — neither of them had ventured so much as a smile). Casey has finished his shower, is dressed already and lacing his boots. If he had any sense he'd be out of here already.

"Then don't say it," Severide says. He turns his back to Casey, drops his towel, and starts to get dressed. He's tired. He's cut and bruised and sore from the day — nothing that won't heal quickly enough, but more than a hot shower can fix. There's black oil and dust under his fingernails still, and grime ingrained in the scrapes on his hands. He takes his job home with him in more ways than one.

"I was just going to say—" Casey tries again. Severide's too tired to read his tone, to guess whether he's going to apologize for the fuck up earlier or give Severide shit about it, and he doesn't care either way. But he knows Casey's not going to give up, and he's timed it perfectly so Severide can't just walk out unless he wants to flash the night shift.

He takes a deep breath and tries not to sound as irritated as he feels. "Casey, just—drop it, for fucks sake. Maybe you fucked up today, maybe I did, maybe your guys did or mine did. But nobody died. Nobody was even seriously hurt. We've taken our pep talk from the Chief, we'll do better next time, we've learned our lesson. So drop it. Okay?"

Casey sighs, loudly, but at least he doesn't keep talking.

Severide counts that as a win. He's just not sure if holding back on everything he wants to say should go in the win or lose column. Just do it, fuck the consequences. He turns, but Casey's gone.

*

Two days later, Severide's searching the kitchen for something that doesn't need cooking. "Where's Mills?" he shouts out to anyone within hearing distance.

"He left five minutes ago," Mouch says.

"Tell him to stock the fridge better," Severide says. Severide knows he's being an ass. He's just on edge, has been for days, ever since Shay gave him the advice he wanted and didn't want in equal measure, and he knows exactly why he's on edge but that isn't helping any. He grabs an apple and heads out before he picks a fight, or worse, before someone asks him what's wrong.

His phone rings as he's reaching in his pocket for his keys. He's this close to ignoring it, fishing his keys out and just driving, anywhere he can put his foot down and just concentrate on the road. The habit's ingrained though, answering the phone in case it's an emergency, and when he sees the number he's glad.

"Hello, Georgie. Are you okay?" It isn't the first time she's phoned him. Twice she'd baked cakes for the fire house and wanted him to pick them up, once she just wanted to check that he was alright. It's snickerdoodles this time. When he gets to her house she hands him the Tupperware.

"I always imagined sending Peter and our son off in the morning, a bagged lunch with different homemade cookies each day as a treat." She smiles at him, fondly. "I hope you like them. They're chewy still, but if you prefer them crispy, leave them until tomorrow. Though if you're anything like Peter, he never could wait."

"I love snickerdoodles, chewy or crispy." He gives her a quick hug.

"These are just for you, mind. Not for the rest of your boys," she says, stern. He thinks she would have made a great mom.

"Thank you," he says, and he means for far more than the snickerdoodles. He asked her one visit why she wasn't angry with him for not saving her husband. "But you did save him," she'd said, not a hint of reproach in her voice. "You saved him from dying alone, and you gave him the chance to say goodbye, and I get to go to bed each night and remember that wonderful smile of his as he said goodbye to me."

*

When Severide finally kisses Casey, there's a part of him — the part of him that's selfish and stubborn and mean, the part he hates but can't seem to get rid of — that wants to kiss and run. Make Casey question himself. Take revenge. He almost wishes he could do that, distance himself enough from Casey that he could do this and then pretend it never happened.

He can't, though. He's lied to himself about some major shit over the years — he'll be fine without an operation, he can deal with the pain, he wants to marry Stacey — but he can't lie to himself about this. About wanting Casey. About ever being able to forget that kiss, all those years ago.

*

Everything is different this time. They're older, though probably not much wiser. Hallie's in the past not the future.

They're the last two left after their shift. It's been what Otis calls a two beer shift — one to wet the throat, the second to take the edge off. Severide doesn't like drinking alone, but he hasn't been drinking with Casey, not just the two of them, for months. Maybe it's time.

"Wanna grab a beer?" he asks, expecting an excuse, but Casey nods.

"Sure, why not?"

Severide can't blame the beer. They don't even get as far as the bar. They take Casey's truck, and something about sitting next to him in easy silence makes Severide crazy. Crazy enough that once Casey's parked and they get out round the corner from Harry's Bar, Severide pulls Casey down an alley and pushes him up against the wall. At least that much is familiar.

"What the—" Casey starts, but Severide doesn't let him finish. There's something satisfying about shutting Casey up like this, holding him in place, and kissing him silent.

Severide doesn't keep going long. He pulls back and holds his hands up in a truce. "You can run again," he says, and it's a dick thing to say, but it's the first time either of them have even hinted at that kiss years ago, so Severide thinks he deserves to be a dick about it.

Casey huffs out a laugh. "I can run?" he says disbelievingly. "Like you weren't the one freaking out last time."

"I didn't freak out."

"Yeah, you did. You froze like a deer in the headlights. There were waves of horror coming off of you."

"I was shocked, yeah, sure." Severide says, and he can remember that like it was yesterday. "I mean, man, it was totally out of the blue. What the hell was I supposed to think? But then I was ready to get with the program and you turned tail."

Casey's jaw drops. "Oh."

"Yeah." Maybe it's too late for this confession. Maybe it isn't.

"Wow. So—" Casey stumbles over the words, hand against the wall like he needs the support.

"Yeah. Here we are. Again. I'm not freaking out. Are you?"

Casey pushes up off the wall and stands up straight. They're eye to eye. "No."

"Want to leave?"

"No." A beat. "Well, actually—"

Severide braces himself for whatever Casey is going to say. "Yeah?" he asks, as casual as he can make it.

"I'd rather do this somewhere else. An alley, really? It stinks of piss and stale beer, and something else that I can't exactly place and probably don't want to." He grins at Severide. The fucker knew exactly what he was doing with his well, actually.

*

It ought to be awkward. Casey's never done this before — he admits as much — and Severide's hooked up with a few guys before, but it's always been quick and dirty. And meaningless. Which makes it almost as new to him.

It isn't awkward at all, though. Casey throws his jacket on the chair by the stairs, same place he always used to leave it when he came over regularly, and there's nothing strange about having him here, running up the stairs with Casey right behind him. Every time there's a weird moment, one of them laughs or says something dumb, and the weirdness is gone.

Severide has a million questions in his head and a million possible answers. He doesn't quite know why this is happening now, even though he started it, or why it never happened before. If he stops to ask or answer them, nothing's going to happen, so he puts it all out of his head and grabs hold of Casey by the waist, so tight they might as well be fucking already.

This time, neither of them pull back.

*

Severide's the first to wake the next morning. His shoulder hurts like hell, and he needs to piss, and he's cold because Casey's managed to wrap most of the quilt around himself. He doesn't want to move though. Not from some crazy idea that if he turns his back he'll find it wasn't real. He just wants to savor the sight of Casey face down in his pillows, touchable.

Either the staring or the smell of coffee from downstairs or the sunlight pouring in wake Casey up. There are a couple of seconds where Severide can see he's questioning where he is, what happened, and for a moment Severide can't help but wonder if Casey's going to give him the it was a mistake speech.

"I guess I get to do the walk of shame in front of Lesley," Casey says, rolling onto his back and taking the last of the quilt from Severide.

Interesting choice of words. Severide can't tell if it's deliberate or not. If it's Casey's way of working up to saying let's never talk about this again. "Ashamed?" Severide asks. It's a reasonable question. One that dictates where the hell this is going, or if it's going anywhere. If this is something or nothing.

Casey actually pauses to think, the process so obvious Severide's almost surprised he can't hear gears clanking. "Nah. I mean, I could do better, obviously. But—" he shrugs, and there's a comfortable lop-sided grin surfacing, the sort Severide used to see all the time from Casey back when they were friends.

Severide can't help matching his smile. He doesn't want to admit that he's relieved, but it's probably obvious, even to Casey. "Just put some clothes on first. Shay doesn't deserve to be scarred for life by the sight of your limp dick."

"Yeah—about that," Casey says, and his grin widens as he spreads his legs and pushes the quilt off him. "It isn't exactly limp."

He's telling the truth.

Severide could get used to this new honesty policy.