Casey was in a rush, he was striding along the sidewalk to meet Shay and Severide for drinks. He was usually so organised and punctual, but today he was late meeting them for more than one reason. He had fallen asleep on his couch the minute he'd got in from the construction job he had on at the moment, then when he was woken by a text message from Severide confirming where they were meeting later, he had to spend at least ten minutes hunting for a smaller belt because the one lying at the bottom of the wardrobe was doing nothing to hold his pants up.
The bar was busy, Casey shouldered his way through the crowd over to the far end of the bar area where he spotted Shay and Severide waiting for him. He must have looked flustered as he walked towards them.
Severide grinned at him. "Hey, buddy, you all right? You didn't need to rush," he said, greeting him over the noise of the other patrons.
"Didn't want you waiting around for me…"
"The whole point of this was to drag you out your house for some fun!" Shay interrupted, threading an arm around Casey's waist.
"You need to get laid," Severide began wickedly.
"Hey!" he retorted.
"Seriously, man, the way you were having a go at your guys on shift yesterday, you need to let off some steam..." Severide took one last gulp of his beer and placed the empty glass down heavily on the table.
"There was a rat in the firehouse," he pointed out indignantly, still annoyed at the state the station must have been in to see a rat scurrying across the bunk room floor.
"Yes. And now there is not," Severide replied with a slight air of superiority. "You should lighten up..."
Before Casey could get a reply out, Shay broke in to shut them both up, seeing how it could turn into a argument about nothing if she left them to it. "So, where are we going first?" She looked expectantly from one to the other and back again, waiting for some sort of sensible suggestion.
Severide just shrugged, picking up one of the beer mats and folding it in half as Shay continued.
"Strip club, gay bar, lesbian bar…" she began listing, with a mischievous smile, wondering what sort of evening it would turn into. The three of them hadn't been out together for a long time, but she was glad Casey had joined her and Severide again. It had been too long.
"Sports bar?" Casey said hopefully. He wasn't interested in picking anyone up and going home with them tonight. He felt more exhausted than ever and would rather just spend some time with friends, having drinks and watching a game, instead of bar crawling around Chicago on the prowl.
Shay was shaking her head. "So boring…"
Severide and Casey just stared at each other, rolling their eyes.
"C'mon, I know exactly where we're going," Shay announced.
Casey groaned inwardly, immediately regretting his decision to go out with the two of them. But he knew that Severide was right, in a sense. He wasn't unhappy with his own personal life at the moment, but he couldn't say he was really happy either. But he also knew that a one-night stand wasn't the solution and wouldn't improve his mood, he knew that from experience. Nor would it make any difference to his exhaustion.
Over the last few years he'd had a few relationships but none of them had worked out. He wanted to find someone and settle down and have a family, but he hadn't met anyone who had wanted the same thing, at least not at the time. He was starting to feel it was all a lost cause but he accepted it stoically, knowing if the time wasn't right, then the time wasn't right. If he was truly honest with himself, he would admit that he hadn't ever felt true love for any of his previous partners and he wondered it maybe he was after something unattainable. At least unattainable for him. He could see that Herrmann and his family had that special relationship he craved for himself, and he'd seen the same thing with Andy and Heather before Andy had died a year ago too.
"Earth to Casey… you coming or what?" Shay was grinning up into Casey's face now, seeing that he had zoned out for a while.
"Yeah, yeah…" he said as she followed Severide back out of the bar and he trailed tiredly behind her.
Casey woke to the sun glaring into his eyes as he lay on the couch. His head was throbbing madly and his mouth was dry. He knew he should have stopped drinking alcohol once he had lost count of how many beers and shots he'd downed, but he hadn't. Severide and Shay were a bad influence but from what little he could recall of the night before, it had been good and he'd enjoyed himself although he couldn't remember any specifics.
"Never thought you were gonna wake up. Talk about the living dead..." Severide joked, as Casey's eyes tried to adjust to the bright light.
Casey pulled himself into a sitting position on the couch, pressing his palms against his eyes. "Where are my pants?" he croaked out. He looked around the apartment Shay and Severide shared, wishing his drunk brain had decided to go home instead. At least he knew where he was, he'd not woken up in someone else's bed and that actually felt like a positive right now.
Severide picked up his jeans off the floor and passed them to him. "Breakfast?"
Casey shook his head, his whole body felt a lot more worse for wear, he really should have stopped drinking but he'd enjoyed it all, he lost that control he usually had over everything but he didn't mind at all, it was euphoric. It also made him realise how easily drinking could turn into a problem for him, he knew he couldn't use it as a vice, not like his parents.
"Best cure for a hangover..." Severide told him, chuckling.
"Not sure that's true," Casey replied, his voice still rough. He stood up, faltering a little, feeling lightheaded, but he managed to pull on his jeans and buckle up the belt.
Severide was still grinning at him. "Why don't we check out that new coffee bar around the block? Only heard good things."
"Sure," Casey answered, devoid of any enthusiasm whatsoever, he'd rather just down some painkillers and sleep off his hangover. "Where's Shay?" he asked, peering around the open plan apartment.
"Showering, so we'll be waiting awhile…"
"She's quicker than you are," Casey retorted.
Almost an hour later the three of them were sitting in the new coffee bar at a table in the window, the only one that had been available when they'd arrived. The vibrations and noises coming from the street did little to help how Casey was feeling. Severide was almost swallowing down his eggs and bacon whole, Shay was munching her way through a bowl of yoghurt and muesli, with some toast on the side. Casey on the other hand, was sitting with his eyes closed, holding a large mug of black coffee.
The grinding of the coffee machine, clashing of mugs and cutlery, and sizzling of the grill grated inside his head. The ache just seemed to be growing worse. The smell of Severide's bacon filled the air and it made him feel queasy, he brought the coffee mug closer to his nose to disguise the smell but it did little to help his stomach. He was getting too old for partying like they had done, this hangover felt like it was going to be never-ending. He was sitting there in the same clothes he'd worn last night, probably still stinking of alcohol despite the quick shower he'd had once Shay had finished off in the bathroom. He was definitely getting too old for this.
"It's been nice to spend some time with you, Matt, it's been way too long," Shay commented between mouthfuls of food.
Casey blinked his eyes open, trying to focus. "Yeah," he and Severide replied simultaneously, staring directly at each other, each of them thinking about the cause of their estrangement during the past year. Even though things had improved, largely due to Shay's efforts, it was still a touchy subject. Recently not helped by the fact that Severide and Boden had started to push Mills onto Squad before even talking to him, but Casey had tried to accept a long time ago that Severide often did things without thinking them through.
"Here, Matt, finish this. I've had enough," Shay told him, sliding her plate of toast over the table to him, the ceramic gliding across the varnished table made him wince.
He smiled faintly and picked up the last slice of toast, taking a couple of bites before he put it back down. It was almost cold and the butter had been spread unevenly, and the noise of his own chewing sent shockwaves around his head.
"Feeling that bad?" Shay asked, worried for him.
"Shouldn't have drank so much," Casey responded quietly. He reached into his jeans' pocket and pulled out some cash, putting it on the table with a pale hand. "Here, I'm gonna head home..."
"Hang on…" Severide stopped him in his seat. "We can walk part way back together, or get back to ours and I can give you a ride? I'm heading to the boat yard so I can drop you off on the way," he offered. "Can't say no to that."
"No, I can't," Casey answered, giving him a small smile. A ride sounded like a much better idea than walking back to his own place.
"Let's get out of here then," Shay said She was already pushing her chair back and standing up to put on her jacket, leaving Severide's clean plate, and Casey's almost full mug of coffee behind with the half-eaten slice of toast.
Casey had fallen a little behind the two of them as they walked back to the apartment. The noise of the traffic whizzing past was dizzying. He was no longer listening to their conversation, he was simply trying to set one foot in front of the other. Hr couldn't grasp quite why walking had suddenly become such an impossible task. He felt his heart thumping in his ears, and all other sounds seemed to become muffled as his vision started to grey around the edges. He stood still, or at least he thought he had, but the world kept moving around him. Then there was nothing.
When Severide heard the thud behind him he wheeled around in a flash, he couldn't even remember what he'd been laughing about with Shay as he saw Casey lying on the sidewalk. "Casey!" he yelled out of instinct, worry overcoming him.
He wasn't unconscious for very long and was beginning to stir slightly as Shay and Severide dropped to their knees beside him. He was listless and the little colour he'd had was draining from his face. His breaths were shallow and a thin sheen of sweat covered his forehead. After a moment or two he began to blink as he tried to get his bearings.
"Whoa, Matt, don't move yet," Shay told him as he started to sit up. "Stay where you are." She held his arm to try and stop him moving any further.
"Yeah, hang tight, Case. You ok?" Severide asked hurriedly, feeling a lot less calm than Shay sounded as he scanned Casey's body for any possible injuries.
"Yeah, yeah, fine, sorry, must have tripped…" Casey responded quietly as soon as he could get his mouth to work. He felt embarrassed at the sudden attention over something so stupid.
Shay was peering down at his hands and her expertise told her he hadn't tripped. Human instinct would have caused him to throw out his hands to brace his fall, but he had no marks or grazes to indicate that had happened. She said nothing for now.
"Can I get up now?" The question came out far more scathingly than Casey had meant it to, but he was still struggling to orientate himself.
"Yeah, come and sit on the bench though," Shay told him, still holding on to his arm.
Severide reached out to help Casey up, and since he still felt lightheaded and unsteady he let Severide half lift him off the sidewalk and help him over to a nearby bench, where he sat down gratefully, head in his hands.
Casey's two companions cast a knowing look at each other over the top of his head as he sat trying to recover his senses, wishing he had been able to come up with a better lie. He knew it was obvious to them that he hadn't just tripped. He had passed out, he knew it, and he realised Shay and Severide must have also figured it out, it wasn't hard.
"Should have had some more breakfast," Severide said, keeping it light, not wanting to put his foot in it, not wanting to anger Casey. He knew him well enough to realise that he would hide any weakness, illness or defect at any cost, no matter what.
"Yeah, guess I should have," Casey replied slowly, his head still bowed, still looking down at the sidewalk.
"How are you doing now, Matt?" Shay asked him, still in paramedic mode, one hand on his shoulder.
"M'all right. Just need more food, and more sleep..." he told her, annoyed at all the attention.
"You sure?" Shay quizzed him. "Your heart rate was..."
Casey just laughed over her. "Seriously? I drank way too much last night and we all know it."
Shay nodded, but she wasn't convinced he was telling them everything. But he wasn't quite so pale now and his eyes were focused again.
"Next time you feel like fainting, warn somebody so you don't just go splat on the sidewalk, ok?" Severide joked.
"Didn't faint," Casey grunted.
"How about collapsed then?" he suggested.
"That sounds manlier than fainted." Shay grinned as Severide pulled Casey up to his feet and made sure he could walk properly.
They started slowly back towards the apartment. "Disagreement with gravity?" Casey said.
"Just face it, Case; you fainted," Severide responded firmly.
Back at the apartment Shay handed Casey a bottle of cold water from the refrigerator and told him to drink it, she grabbed her first aid kit and practically dragged him into the bathroom. Whilst Severide just sat down on the couch and turned the sports channel on. She made Casey sit down on the closed toilet seat in a manner that told Casey very clearly not to object or protest. He sat there like a school child who was about to get a telling off, his back straight and his legs closed together.
"Take off your hoody," she instructed, kneeling in front of him and opening up the large black bag.
"Oh, this is happening is it?" he said, grinning down at her with his dimpled cheeks.
"Yeah, you're the only guy I'll get down on my knees for…" she responded, rolling her eyes. "Hoody off. You've grazed yourself, there's blood on your sleeve."
Casey did as he was told and dumped the hoody onto the tiles
She took hold of his wrist and read his pulse before he could pull away. "Your heart's still racing," she pointed out.
"Shay…" he began exasperated. "I don't remember much of last night. I have a hangover."
Shay simply ignored him and pulled a blood pressure cuff out of the bag.
"Got a kitchen sink in there?" Casey asked her, peering at the large bag next to Shay as she wrapped the cuff around his arm. He was starting to feel tired and his mind was wandering. He took another gulp of water, dismissing the worried glances Shay was giving him, hoping to stop himself from hurling all over her. He felt far worse now than he did when he woke up, he could deal with a headache but his whole body felt like it was rebelling against him now. He felt the squeeze at the pressure increased around his arm. He closed his eyes and tried to stop his head swimming.
"BP is low," she said.
"I'm hungover," he responded, opening his eyes and offering her another smile.
"A hangover maybe, but you've lost quite a bit of weight and that doesn't happen overnight." Shay wasn't convinced that something else wasn't going on with Casey. She unwrapped the BP cuff then sat back on her heels and looked up into his face. "Are you all right? A lot has happened over the last year…"
He chuckled. "I'm fine. And I look good… you don't think I look good?"
"You've been working out more?" she questioned him.
"No time for more than I usually do," he responded. Unconsciously trying to cover himself. "I'm fine," he said, stressing each word.
"Drink some more, it'll help your BP," she told him. "And you should eat some more before you leave with Kelly."
A wan smile came to Casey's face. "You don't need to mother me," he retorted.
"Someone needs to," she said quietly before digging into the black bag again, pulling out some antiseptic wipes and a band-aid.
"I'm a big boy… I'm 30. You're younger than I am."
"Doesn't mean I can't tell you to eat," she responded, cleaning the graze on Casey's left elbow with one quick wipe.
He winced slightly at the sting. "Are you done?" he questioned sharply, "It's just a graze."
"It's already bruising," she told him.
"Yeah, 'cause you keep prodding it," he retorted. "I'll live..."
"No doubt." Shay placed a band-aid over the damage. "All right, you're done. Go. Eat," she instructed, standing up and watching rather worriedly as he slowly managed to get to his feet and slip his hoody back on. He headed for the kitchen, leaving her to tidy up in the bathroom.