Things were tense in the house after Hadley’s dramatic departure. Most people were oscillating between surprise and outrage over his cruel, racist prank on Mills and guilt and outrage over his homophobic rant as he’d declared he didn’t want to work in a faghouse anyway. The former had appeared out of the blue to most people but everyone had at least sensed his wariness and lack for respect for Casey. Severide felt especially bad over the incident as he’d been hoping that by ignoring Hadley’s mutters and acting as normal around Casey, Hadley would come around and change his view. His father had been right and that stung.
That was all soon forgotten though after Heather Darden crashed her car whilst drunk. Matt got permission from Boden to leave shift early once 81 had finished at the scene so arrived home with the boys in tow around midnight. Marco had prepared the spare room and had milk heating gently. The boys were too sleepy to do more than nod in acknowledgement and sip some hot chocolate before Matt tucked them in, promising to explain in the morning. Marco handed him a thumb of whiskey when he returned to the kitchen and Matt hesitated a moment before accepting it gratefully.
“What more do you know?” Marco asked lowly.
Glancing at the stairs, Matt sighed. “Not much. Her friend’s in critical condition, she was drunk. It doesn’t look good.”
“Think she’ll do jail time?”
“I have no idea.” Matt winced belatedly at the harshness in his voice but Marco didn’t take offense.
“You go to bed, I was going to have a late one anyway, do some writing. I’ll be up a little longer in case they wake up.”
“Yeah, you’ll need all your strength come morning.”
Matt nodded and downed the rest of his whiskey before standing. “If they ask about their mom, just say she got called away and will be home soon.”
Marco frowned. “You want me to lie to them?”
“I want Heather to choose how much they know. Hopefully she’ll be released on bail soon.”
Marco’s lips twisted, but he didn’t argue, instead kissing Matt on the forehead. “Go, sleep.”
Matt smiled tiredly and went.
Heather’s friend died, she didn’t make bail and was charged with manslaughter. The boys were distraught and Matt had never felt more thankful for Marco’s steady presence as he helped explain to them what was happening. Griffin tried to act tough, turning away from them, whilst Ben broke down crying. Matt instantly pulled him into a hug, heart splitting open at the tiny body shaking in his arms. He saw Marco sit next to Griffin but not touch him and held Ben a little closer.
As they closed the door, Marco took Matt’s hand and lead him to their bedroom where he wrapped him in a tight embrace. Matt hadn’t even realised how much he’d needed the touch until his eyes were dropping closed and he was hugging back fiercely. His throat almost blocked by the lump in it, he tried to push down the haunting memories bubbling up in his mind’s eye.
Marco didn’t have as deep a bond with the boys as Matt; the shared history and memory of their father irreplaceable, but he did like them and vice versa. He would pick them up from school and look after them when Matt was on shift – shamelessly inhabiting the role of fun-caregiver so Matt stoically took on the rule-enforcer. The boys settled and a routine was established, with Griffin gravitating towards Marco and Ben happier about spending time with Matt and in the fire house, which softened Griffin’s ever bitter refusals a little.
McLeod just added to everyone’s problems. Casey received a shift’s notice that Spellman would be transferred over to Engine 51. He hadn’t seen the other man since their confrontation. Casey hoped that Spellman would be chastened by the transfer as opposed to resentful. He really didn’t want to have to deal with attitude on every shared call. Although he didn’t look happy, Spellman kept it cordial, greeting Casey by his rank as he and Clark introduced themselves. There were some hostile looks from the others but Casey sent them all quailing looks of his own which subdued them for a while.
Things brightened a little when Matt managed to get to the bottom of Griffin’s grievances with the firehouse and coaxed him back in. Marco and Matt talked long into the night about the boys and Matt tentatively brought up plans for fostering once the situation was resolved either way.
Marco kissed him firmly on the lips. “Yes, Matt Casey. I would love to raise children with you.”
Matt blinked rapidly and snuggled closer.
Spellman being found out as a snitch and forced out of 51 seemed to be the sign of things looking up but then McLeod doubled down and Heather got out of jail early. Which was great news and Matt was very happy for all of them.
Only Marco saw his dejection and guilty disappointment, shared in it. “One day, mi amor.”
Life went on. Marco was outraged at McLeod’s antics on the firehouses’ behalf and did some digging, finding out the exact details of her contract, particularly the cushy bonus if she saved extra money. Whilst the revelation had given her pause, it had been Isabella’s bending of the Senator’s ear which had forced the witch out of their lives for good. Marco had been at the firehouse with the other protestors so had cheered when the news had broken. He and Matt had hugged, Marco’s hand automatically coming up to cup the back of Matt’s head before he remembered himself and they pulled apart quickly. The moment seemed to have been missed by everyone so they decided not to mention it.
Later that night, Marco had gone home and had been writing up a draft of the McLeod story when he’d received the call – Matt was in emergency surgery. He rushed to the hospital to sit in his worst nightmare, ash-covered friends waiting solemnly with him. Not everyone at the firehouse had accepted their relationship but those closest to Matt had; they mostly treated Marco the same as any other family member.
Desperately pulling himself out of increasingly terrifying scenarios playing out in his head, Marco observed everyone else. The majority of them looked worried but also weary; Boden stared at a potted plant with such intensity, Marco almost expected it to burst into flame. Mills was holding hands with Dawson, who was biting her lip. Shay’s head was hanging down, her leg jangling; Otis and Cruz were sitting together, shoulders touching but otherwise not looking at each other.
Blinking, Marco realised that Severide had disappeared. There’d been some business about Clarke and the police but Severide hadn’t gone with them…had he? Focusing on the mystery, Marco got up and wandered over to the nearest bathroom. His flare of satisfaction at finding the man was soon replaced with concern and curiosity. Severide didn’t see him at first, fists resting on the counter, head bowed. After a moment, his body jerked up and he sniffed, wiping his face hurriedly.
“Hey.” Marco murmured, going and washing his hands. Severide didn’t reply, just nodded and washed his own hands.
“He’s going to be fine.” The words bubbled up in Marco’s throat, spilling out. “He’s always fine.”
Severide coughed and agreed. “He always is.”
But his voice wavered a little. Marco glanced at him in the mirror, stomach hollowing out as he realised: Severide was shaken.
Meeting his own eyes, Severide confessed. “He wouldn’t stop seizing. I had to hold him down-”
He stopped, words fading into nothing like a faucet abruptly twisted shut. He closed his eyes, breathing in deeply. No words came into Marco’s mind; all he could do was gape, lips pulled apart slightly. When Severide opened his eyes again, his shoulders pulled down and back. The anguish was still visible but only if he knew exactly where to look.
Marco blinked back tears again and pushed down the irrational resentment of Severide’s emotional control. He admired it in Matt, as much as it frustrated him, but Severide’s cool gaze always unsettled him, put him on edge. He thought he knew what the man was thinking but he could never be sure. It didn’t help that Matt had a blind spot when it came to his best friend; he’d accept attitude from Severide that he wouldn’t tolerate from anyone else.
Severide nodded sharply and left. Marco took another minute to get himself together and then followed.
Matt made a full recovery, because of course he did. Kelly supposed that he should feel stupid for being so worried but all those weeks later he still couldn’t shake the almost crippling fear and pain that had gripped him so fiercely; couldn’t forget the earth-shattering realisation that had paralysed him in the hospital bathroom.
He was in love with Matt.
Part of him had been aware of this but he’d denied it for so long, so vehemently, that it shook him to his core.
He was in love with Matt.
Memories of Matt’s smile warred with the terrible afterimage of the bloody sheet on the stretcher, Matt’s eyes rolling back, whole body jerking against Kelly’s desperate grip. Being in the same room as him was difficult, his chest constricting, heart rate picking up. So far he’d managed to keep his reactions internal, acting as normally as he could. It helped that everyone was worried about Casey and Kelly wasn’t the only one watching him more closely than normal.
Shay had tried to get him to open up, clearly sensing the existence of a secret but Kelly blew her off. He felt bad and apologised later. Whilst she accepted it, she didn’t renew her offer. Kelly tried not to feel bad about that.
The blackout distracted everyone else but Kelly was still noticing Matt struggling to remember things and foreboding surged up inside him. What if Matt continued to deteriorate? What if he seized again? Kelly didn’t think he’d survive that. Hearing shouting and turning the corner to see Matt pinned down by the thug poised to strike him with a wrench, Kelly’s body flooded with ice.
Luckily Lindsay took charge and arrested the guy, leaving Kelly to unfreeze and to fall beside Matt; helping him up and out of the way. The joke about Casey being on his nth life was not entirely a joke and Matt’s glance told him that he must have let his worry show. As per usual, they didn’t talk seriously about it.
Things settled after that, giving Kelly an opportunity to pull himself together. Matt was with Marco; Marco who’d lovingly nursed Matt back to health, doting on him enough to show his love but not enough to make him uncomfortable. They were very happy together and Kelly would be a bastard beyond redemption if he came between them or threatened Matt’s happiness.
So he threw himself into his boat work and drilling his squad, aiming to get them even more in sync and faster in their times. Matt didn’t show any more signs of forgetfulness and slowly Kelly relaxed, forcing himself to pull away. If he noticed, Matt didn’t say anything. Whilst he wasn’t happy, Kelly was surviving. At least he thought so until one fateful call two months later.
The fire was rolling when they arrived. 81 was first on scene so Casey directed everyone as they came in. 66 rolled up last. Casey bit down the habitual bile at the sight of Welch’s face. Out of all the firefighters who’d given him shit to his face, Welch was perhaps the loudest and most vicious. Still, he wouldn’t risk an insubordination charge.
Casey ordered Welch to do a primary search in the basement and with a sneer and a curt ‘copy’, the lieutenant had obeyed. Nerves jangling as he listened intently to the radios and kept a close eye on the colour and consistency of the smoke, Casey waited. A mayday call from Cruz had sent Casey racing in. The smoke was thick as he ducked low, making for the stairs. Without warning he collided with a shape in the gloom.
Recognising Welch, Casey bit out an apology and pushed past him. “Get your guys out now, it’s gonna flashover!”
He just heard Welch’s acknowledgement, sprinting up the stairs and bursting into the hallway. He took the third victim from Cruz, Otis appearing to take the other victim as they rushed to evacuate.
Outside, they handed off the victims to the EMTs and Casey looked for all of his firefighters; breath slowing as he saw all of them safe and sound. The lieutenants all reported their firefighters clear so the Engine companies could resume knocking it down. The relief distracted him from his residual frustration, though Welch was kind enough to remind of it almost immediately.
“You just stay away from me.” Welch threatened. His company were gathering, expressions hard. So one of their radios had been on then.
“Gladly.” Casey spat back, almost bumping into Severide who had apparently snuck up behind him.
“You got a problem, Welch?” Severide snapped.
Casey tried to wave him off but Severide ignored him, staring intensely.
Welch exchanged a look with his second before replying. “Just telling Casey here to watch where he’s going. I’m not interested in whatever it is you guys do over there.”
“Right, because you’re so irresistible.” Severide snarked back angrily.
“Sev.” Casey tried but Severide ignored him again.
Welch flexed and joked to his company. “You hear that? Severide thinks I’m irresistible!”
Severide snarled and Casey snapped, stepping in front of him. “That’s enough! Pack up Welch, we can handle overhaul. You,” he ordered Severide, “can start on the alpha side.”
“Better do as he says Severide, don’t want him railing on your ass!”
“You shut your mouth!” Otis shouted, the others at 51 advancing.
Casey held up his hands and roared. “I said enough! I gave you an order”
“Hey Lieutenant!” One of Welch’s men piped up. “What do you bet they’re all fags? Think they share showers or just hose each other down on the apparatus floor?”
The group laughed.
Severide leaned past Casey to call. “And what if we were?”
Casey later realised that the glint in Severide’s eye had signalled his intention, but at the time, had no warning before his face was smashed into Severide’s lips. He froze in shock, the whole world narrowing to Severide’s clashing teeth, hot breath and tight grip on his turnout coat. Head roaring with the rush of blood, Casey became aware of shouting and…cheering?
He pulled back, having to shove Severide roughly in order to get some breathing room. “Alpha side. Now.”
Severide heard the steel in his voice and after shooting a quick and dirty look Welch’s way, finally followed the order. He collected the rest of squad 3 and Casey’s expression alone convinced 81 to follow suit. They grabbed their pike poles and went into the building.
Herrmann began to say something but Casey cut him off. “Save it for the report.”
The ride back to the station however many minutes later was tenser than Casey could ever remember, though he found it difficult to care. On the floor, he marched up to Severide. Just the sight of his stupid face made him angrier.
“My office. Now.”
The asshole had the nerve to hit back. “You’re not my boss.”
“No, but I was the incident commander and you were way out of line.”
“Me?” Severide raised his eyebrows. “You heard the things he was saying-”
“I’m not deaf.”
“-then why didn’t you defend yourself?” Severide demanded, as if he was the one being targeted. As if he had any right to have an opinion on this.
“Is that what you were doing?” Casey steamrolled on, voice getting louder, fists shaking. “I have a hard enough time being taken seriously without you undermining me-”
Severide shook his head, shouting. “He needed to be put in his place!”
Casey’s chest burst open. “Next time you want to make a point, don’t use me to do it!”
“Casey.” Boden said lowly from his elbow, making Casey realise that he’d screamed the end of his last sentence.
Severide’s eyes were wide and startled and the whole room was eerily silent. Trying to control his breathing, Casey ducked his head; humiliation climbing up over his face.
“I want all of your reports as soon as possible.” Boden ordered everyone. He put a hand on Casey’s shoulder and Casey had to bite back the urge to shake it off. “Come on.”
They went to his office and Boden closed the door.
“I’m sorry, chief.” Casey began hoarsely.
“What happened, Casey? Don’t leave anything out.”
Haltingly, Casey did, trying to stay as detached and professional as possible. He had to choke down the thorns in his throat as he related the kiss but Boden didn’t interrupt, looking grave.
“Do you wish to file a complaint?”
“I’m not sure that would do anything but cause more trouble. Welch’s never going to change his tune. He showed disrespect to me as the Incident Commander but it doesn’t matter, exactly what he said.”
Boden’s expression didn’t change as he explained. “I meant against Severide.”
Matt blinked. “Oh, no,” he coughed after a long moment. “An apology would do.”
“Some might consider,” Boden began carefully, “his actions as sexual assault.”
Matt fought the crazed laugh bubbling up inside him. “That’s not what happened. He was just trying to make a point.”
Boden eyed him another echoing moment. “Well, you have a little time to think about it. No doubt the brass will be knocking on our door shortly.”
Matt swallowed and confirmed. “I’d like to file a complaint against Welch and Davidson over how they spoke about 51, implying that all of my men were gay and that was a bad thing.”
Boden nodded. “And Severide?”
Casey sighed. “I’ll talk to him. Whatever it looks like, it’s between me and him. No need for anyone else to get involved.”
“That may be, but he changed that when he decided to,” Boden gestured vaguely, “in front of witnesses.”
Casey opened his mouth to confirm he didn’t mean a secret relationship but Boden tilted his head. It was both comforting and a little unsettling that his chief knew him so well.
“I’m sorry, chief. I never meant for this to be anyone’s fight by my own.”
Leaning forward, Boden threaded his hands together and began seriously. “Casey, believe me, I know about discrimination. I watched many less qualified men be promoted before me and I don’t like to point the finger at the colour of their skin, but it would be naive to ignore that factor.”
Casey swallowed, not sure what to say.
Boden continued. “If you saw someone openly making racist comments or assumptions about me due to my race, would you keep your mouth shut or report it?”
Getting the idea, Casey hung his head a moment. “Course I would. Doesn’t mean I expect anyone to leap to my defence.”
“No, but I would be very surprised if there weren’t more than a few complaints filed today.”
“I knew it would be hard.” Casey sighed again, running a frustrated hand through his hair. “I just want to do my job.”
“Well, we’ll see how the brass wants to handle it: either they’ll want to sweep it under the carpet or use 66 as an example, to show how progressive they are.” He stood and picked up the phone. “I’m going to call Chief Walker. He’ll vote for the latter. Go, write your report and don’t talk to Severide just yet. In fact, send him in.”
Casey nodded. “Thanks, Chief.”
Severide was in his office. Casey paused, ashamed to find himself trembling. Fighting the urge to hit himself, he knocked and stuck his head in. “Boden wants to see you.”
“I’m not done with my report.” Severide bit out, but after years of practice, Casey heard the defensiveness and fear. Damn Severide for pulling a stunt like that and then turning around and making Matt feel for him. Was he angry and hurt? Of course he was. But on the other hand, he knew there was something behind the foolhardy decision and despite their difficult history, Severide would never deliberately hurt him.
“When you’re ready to talk about it. I’ll be here.”
Severide didn’t reply and Matt didn’t wait for one.
Walking into Boden’s office was the hardest thing he’d had to do in a long time – on par with coming clean about his neck. The room was ice cold when Severide came in, Boden just hanging up the phone.
“Thanks, Tom. See you later.”
Severide closed the door and stood at parade rest, waiting for the axe to fall.
Boden just stared at him for a long moment. “Explain.” He ordered.
“Welch was making homophobic comments about Casey. I asked him what his problem was and he retaliated with more homophobia so I…kissed Casey to shut him up.”
Boden waited a beat. “So you assaulted Lieutenant Casey to defuse the situation with Welch?”
Severide baulked at the term ‘assault’ but then the sheer anguish in Casey’s voice as he’d shouted at him earlier echoed through his mind.
“I reacted badly and acted without thinking. I fully accept any and all repercussions.”
“Oh I’ll give you repercussions.” Boden snarled. “First, you are suspended for the next 3 shifts effective immediately. After I talk with the other chiefs that might be extended so don’t call me, I’ll call you. Second, you will apologise to Casey in full, none of this ‘sorry you’re offended’ crap. You’re damn lucky he isn’t filing a complaint. And third, if you ever so much as touch a hair on the head of anyone in my firehouse without their consent, I will have your badge like that. Do you understand me?”
“Dismissed.” Severide’s jaw clicked but he turned sharply ad left. He went straight to Casey’s office. Going in and closing the door, he held up a hand to forestall whatever Casey had opened his mouth to say.
“I owe you the mother of all apologies and an explanation but I can’t…I need time to get my head on straight.”
Casey nodded slowly. “Okay, how bad is it?”
“Suspended for 3 shifts, maybe more.” The question of why Casey wasn’t filing a complaint got stuck in his throat. Casey nodded but otherwise didn’t comment.
Severide turned to leave but Casey reached out, fingers light around his wrist. “It’s going to be okay.”
Severide’s eyes stung fiercely and he forced out a slow breath. He turned his hand to link his fingers with Casey’s squeezing them briefly before he tore himself away.
It ended up being a two-week suspension, though some were still not happy as Welch and Davidson were suspended for a month. This was mostly due to complaints from other houses and one from their own house, together with all of 51’s complaints painted a narrative of intolerance and abuse. Davidson was kicked to the floater pool and Welch was still under investigation by the time Severide came back.
The night before he was due to return to shift, he knocked on Casey’s door. Casey greeted him with a dish cloth over one shoulder and a warm, spicy smell wafting in from the kitchen. Casey eyed him a second before waving him in.
“I don’t want to disturb you.” Severide said, unconsciously looking around for Marco.
Matt noticed. “He’s travelling. In Toronto for the book launch there.”
Severide looked pointedly at the big pot of chili on the burner.
Casey shrugged. “So I’ll save some.”
He went back to stirring, apparently not in a hurry to hear what Severide had to say. Letting his eyes fall closed briefly, Severide breathed in deeply and opened them again.
“I’m bi.” He blurted. Casey’s spoon slowed for a moment but quickly went back to its previous pace. He looked up at Severide but didn’t say anything. Severide huffed and contined. “I guess you already know this…”
“It’s fine. Saying it out loud makes it more real.”
“Well,” Severide coughed, “I tried to tell myself that I was straight or mostly straight. That I was only experimenting, you know, having fun. I convinced myself that what we were doing with Andy was just an extension of our friendship, that it didn’t mean anything. Even though I felt calmer, more centred when we were together.”
Matt turned off the gas and put the spoon down, expression neutral.
Severide swallowed. “When you told me about Marco, that you were coming out, I tried to avoid thinking about it too much because I was scared. I didn’t realise until…more recently.” Casey frowned at the hesitation but Severide barrelled on. “I realised that I’m not completely straight and I thought, how could I hide that when you were being so brave and noble? The more shit you took the angrier, the more ashamed of myself I got.”
“Please, let me finish. I was a first class asshole that day and I should never have done that to you. I am so sorry and I can promise you that I will never embarrass you or undermine your authority like that again.”
Matt’s eyes were flitting over Kelly’s face, sharp and discerning; making him feel like his layers were being peeled back.
“I believe you.” He said finally, but there was something in his tone that stopped Kelly from relaxing. “I thought that all I needed to hear would be an apology but…I can’t forgive you.” Kelly’s heart spasmed, all the air forced out of his lungs. “Not yet.” Matt added quickly. “I need some more time.”
“Course.” Kelly rasped. “Of course, you take all the time you need.” Swallowing, he offered reluctantly. “I can transfer if-”
“No!” Matt insisted. “We can still work together. I just don’t think I can go back to the friends thing right now.”
Kelly nodded, chest hollowing out even as he forced a smile. “No, I understand. Its fine, more than.”
“Thank you for telling me.” Matt said quietly. “It’s not easy.” Kelly nodded. Matt looked down at the pot of chili. “I did make too much. Do you want to take some home?”
Kelly choked down a desperate laugh.