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We're not broken, just bent

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The death of Andrew ‘Andy’ Darden hit everyone he knew hard. But other than his wife and children it didn’t hit anyone harder than his two best friends, Kelly Severide and Matthew Casey. Torn apart by an Andy shaped hole, those two lost more than just a friend that day. They lost each other.


 For the longest time neither could remember much more of that day than brief snatches, a moment here, a word there.

Casey remembered the lightheartedness of the fire truck. The way he lounged in the front seat. Joking with Darden, twisting in his seat to call him a clown. The laughter of his company.

He never could remember what Darden had done to make him laugh so hard.

Severide remembered the lightness of his boyfriend’s voice over the radio. The giddy smile that had torn across his face that he hadn’t bothered to hide. He remembered the tinny replica of Darden’s laughter echoing over the radio at his chest.

He never could remember what Matt had said to make him chuckle like that.

Casey remembered vaulting from the truck. Taking charge easily, in a way that only a man not dragged down by the death of his best friend could.

He never quite got that feeling back.

Severide remembered offering a bet and a smirk to his boyfriend. A smirk that softened into a gentle smile that begged the blonde to be careful and was quickly reciprocated.

He never could remember what the bet had been.

Casey remembered joking with Darden as they climbed the aerial. The startle of panic as he realised there was no vent but Andy was still moving! He always had been the ‘jump first ask questions later’ kind of guy. It was supposed to be Casey’s job to make sure those questions were answered.

He never could remember what the joke with Darden had been about. Something about Severide he thought. But he couldn’t be sure.

Severide remembered busting through the back of the house, mind half on the job and half on the engagement band he and Darden had picked out last weekend. A ring that had ended up on the bottom of the Chicago River in an alcohol fuelled fit of rage.

He couldn’t quite remember which one he had ended up buying: the white gold ring set with a single diamond or the silver inlaid with a band of gunmetal grey. He supposed it didn’t really matter now.

Casey remembered the feeling of his boots slipping on the rungs on the ladder as he scrambled after Darden. The apology he cried as he flattened himself like a coward, against the ladder. The feeling of the flames licking at the back of his neck.

He never could remember if he had said that apology out loud or not.

Severide couldn’t remember the final cries of his best friend. That he couldn’t remember, even years later when the details of that day slowly became clearer and clearer. Those cries had been overshadowed by the pain that years later still made him clench his hands into fists. The jolt of his body slamming to the floorboards. The pain of his body breaking, a feeling so intense that he swore he could feel the bone splitting in half. The sensation of bone cracking had overpowered all else until two of his men had dragged him from the burning house and he could finally breathe again.

Severide may not remember the final words of Darden but Casey sure as hell did. And he wished above all else that he couldn’t. He remembered the agonising wail of a man being burned alive. He remembered the fear in Andy’s eyes, as they met his the second before he was overcome by the flames.

Casey often wished he couldn’t remember anything from that day at all.

Severide remembered the pain in Boden’s eyes. The sympathetic glances. The tears on tough-as-guts Shay’s face. Nobody needed to tell him that they were gone. The ‘they’ that hadn’t been identified at that point. For all Severide knew, he had lost both his boyfriend and his best friend in that fire.

He couldn’t quite remember whose hand had a grasped his shoulder and drew his attention to the aerial where a familiar slight form was crouching.

Casey remembered being frozen on the aerial for a long time. Long enough that by the time he finally began his descent, his legs and arms were stiff from being in the same position. He remembered the soft voice in his ear, gently coaxing him down from the ladder, a voice he recognised later as Herrmann’s, speaking to him in the exact same tone as when he’d been a fresh-faced 19 year old candidate seeing his first burn victim.

He couldn’t remember just how long he’d been on that aerial. It could have been minutes or days. Either would make just as much sense to Casey.

Severide remembered the anger that coursed through him as he caught sight of Casey staring blankly into space, Dawson behind him tending to his burns. He remembered everyone letting him pass, probably expecting him to embrace the other Lieutenant. He remembered perfectly the feeling of his fist slamming into Casey’s face. The harsh words like “killed him” and “it should have been you” that he’d spat at his then boyfriend. He remembered Casey, ever the reasonable, calm one, who would also never sit down and take anything returning the punch. Both angry enough to beat each other senseless rather than deal with the grief of losing Andy. All Severide remembered was anger. Anger so complete and blinding that it took him months to realise that it wasn’t directed at Casey at all.

He couldn’t remember who had finally ripped the pair apart. Knew that Casey didn’t know either. Both too ashamed by their actions that day to ever ask.

Casey and Severide remembered days spent withdrawing from each other so completely until it was like they had never been a couple, let alone friends. They remembered a funeral spent in tense silence, determined that Darden have the respectful send-off that he deserved. Both men remembered a wake spent on opposite sides of the room, purposefully keeping the day from getting any harder than it needed to be. They remembered going to visit Darden’s badge on the wall on their own, hours spent crying over a friend who had been stolen too young. They remembered pain so absolute that it felt like it would never heal. Not completely, anyway.

Chapter Text

Firehouse 51 was not the same place it had been a month ago.  That much was obvious.  Casey saw it in the subdued voices of the tenants.  He saw it in the clear division between the companies.  He saw it in the animosity that was barely contained most days.  But most of all he saw it in the absence of Andy.  Andy who could make anyone smile.  Andy who was a disaster in the kitchen but was always so keen to help anyway.  Andy who had saved him, even when he hadn’t known he needed saving.  

Casey sighed and ducked under the rising garage door.  He was purposefully early so he wouldn’t have to deal with a certain Squad Lieutenant earlier than need be.  He moved swiftly through the firehouse, intent on a goal born from a sight that had been making him sick to his stomach for the last three shifts.

He forwent changing in favour of snapping the lock off of Darden’s locker.  He methodically went through the belongings inside, knowing that allowing himself to feel would only inhibit him.  He heard the shuffling of someone joining him in the locker-room but didn’t pause.

“What the hell are you doing, Casey?”

He bristled at both the incredulous tone and the intrusive question.  “Can’t stand looking at this another day,” he told Vargas coolly, his tone leaving no room for discussion.

“Heather might want it.”

Casey’s hand twitched, but he didn’t slam it into the locker door as he so desperately wanted to.  Did his men think he was so cold-hearted that he wouldn’t think to offer the contents to Andy’s widow? He took several controlled breaths before nodding, “Yeah, I’ll call her.”  

Casey pulled the final photo from the door and tried to ignore the jolt in his stomach at the sight of his best friend.  Up until a month ago it had been one of his favourite shots; in it he, Andy and Severide were sitting around the Squad table playing cards.  It had been taken just after Severide had transferred to 51.  It had been a great day, with barely any calls and a lot of laughs shared between the friends.  Casey felt both a pang of nostalgia at the memory and a jolt of bitterness at the fact that he didn’t have anything resembling the friendship anymore.  He tucked the photo into the box he’d snagged from admin, repressing the urge to rip it up as he had done with his own copy.  Heather might want it.  

He was just dumping the last hoodie stuffed at the back of the locker into the box when Vargas told him that the chief was looking for him.  Casey sighed again and shut the door, ripping the tape bearing Andy’s handwriting from the door and sticking it onto the front of the box.

Casey was planning to go see the chief after he put the box in his quarter’s but Boden caught him on his way and gestured for him to step into his office.  He changed course and headed towards him.

“Rumour’s floating around you’re going to box in the drop-a-cop,” he said, voicing the question that had been on everyone’s tongue for days.  “Fight that guy who slept with your first wife?” he continued, when Boden made no move to speak.

“It was my second wife,” Boden corrected, his tone unimpressed, but Casey knew he wasn’t too mad.  “And she’s his problem now, not mine.  So, no, I’m not boxing him.”

Casey nodded and stepped into the office, hearing the click of the door behind him.  He faltered slightly at the sight of Severide perched on the arm of a chair.  He was surprised to see him here so early, but not surprised enough to say anything.  They pleasantly ignored each other as they took their place before the chief who sat at his desk.

“Mayor Emanuel’s coming by on Saturday to mark the month since Darden.”

Both men shifted at that, uncomfortable with the reminder of the friend they had both lost.  Casey fiddled with the box tucked under his arm, preferring to focus on that than either man in the room.

Boden sighed at the lack of reaction and gestured impatiently between them.  “This animosity has got to stop.  You’re both supposed to be leaders here.  Lead by example.”

The pair shifted again at that.  Both had thought that Boden hadn’t noticed the clear divide that had appeared between truck and squad, the company’s taking their cues from their Lieutenants.  But apparently the chief wasn't as oblivious as either had thought.

“We’ve all been through it.  Andy was a friend to all of us.”

Apparently the opportunity was too good for Severide to pass up because he looked at Casey and said pointedly, “Yeah, he was.”

Casey opened his mouth to retaliate before thinking better of it and taking the more political approach.  “Something you want to say?”

The men glared at each other while the chief huffed irritably.  “See this?  This right here.  This is exactly what I’m talking about.”

There was a long pause and the Lieutenants looked away.

Severide chose to speak, knowing a happy chief was a thousand times better than an angry one.  “You’re right,” he said placatingly.  “I’m sorry.  It’s all good.”

“We’re fine, chief,” Casey added, although it was clear to all present both were lying through their teeth.

Boden glanced between the pair and sighed dismissing them.  He knew that they both had said whatever they thought was necessary to get out of his office and that it was going to take more than a few stern words from him for them to put everything behind them.  But he didn’t have the time nor the energy to lock them in a closet until they got over themselves so the thin truce would have to do for now.

 

Severide almost didn’t want to watch, but the sight of the new candidate struggling through a tour was too good to pass up.  It might seem cruel, but he’d seen new candidates be forced to do a lot worse on their first days.  Besides, he was bored.  The squad men were either playing a card game that he’d already folded from or checking their equipment which he had already done, Shay had pulled out with Dawson on a call ten minutes ago so there was no chance of entertainment from her, and the satellite was busted in the kitchen.  Besides, that was too far into Casey’s territory for him to chance it on mediocre day-time television.

Moreover the candidate was actually doing well.  After stumbling through the first few minutes, Mills had come up with the idea to haul out a set of gear, put it on and point out each part to the children.  It wasn’t the most interesting idea but it had the children sitting quietly and watching so Severide figured that was the best he could expect of the little monsters.

Mills was just talking through the finer points of a PASS alarm and moving on to the function of a rescue squad when Severide caught Casey’s appearance out of the corner of his eye.  He watched the kids purposely, ignoring the other Lieutenant who was intent on surveying his new candidate.

“They’re, like, the best of the best,” Mills finished and Severide suppressed a proud smirk.

“Why aren’t you with them?”  The innocent question was like icing on the cake, just so Severide could see the look on Casey’s face.  It was no secret that Casey got irritated when he trained a new firefighter into being one of the best just to have him transfer straight to rescue squad as soon as he was able.  Back when they’d been together it was something that he’d joked about every once and awhile.  For some reason Severide didn’t think he’d be so blase about it now.

“Well, I mean, I plan to be.  My father was a member of this squad years ago.”

And there was the face.  The pale eyes went hard and the lips disappeared as he frowned but then it was like a wave washed over his face, the face went blank, no emotion at all.  Typical Casey.  But then Severide saw that old spark in his icy eyes and knew instantly that Casey had something to retaliate with.

“Mills right?” He said earning everyone’s attention including his new candidate’s.  “Last to show, first to go.  That’s the rescue squad.”  

Even with his hackles rising, as his job was insulted Severide noticed the recognition in Mills eyes as the kid realised just who Casey was.  Casey had this authoritative air that Severide mostly lacked.  It wasn’t that either was a better Lieutenant, it was just when people looked at Casey they knew straight away that he was in charge.  It had always irked Severide but since the split and he’d started to notice just as often people deferred to Casey over himself for judgment, he’d really started to hate it.

Unable to just let it go, Severide was quick with his comeback.  “You truck guys do such a good job getting everything ready for us; why would we want to take that away from you?” He feigned nonchalance and shot a smirk at the other Lieutenant hoping to annoy him.

No such luck.  Casey was, as always composed.  “Right,” he snorted back and turned to the group of kids on the ground.  “Kids, you should know they make the rescue helmets extra big to fit their heads inside them.”

“There are two types of firefighters.  Those we are on squad, and those who wish they were on squad,” Severide countered, knowing full well it wasn’t true.  

He saw Mills out of the corner of his eye stare wordlessly between them, picking up on the tension between them.  It wasn’t that Severide and Casey had never insulted each other before, they had; they’d been after all friends much longer than they’d been lovers after all but there had always been some sort of love or affection behind the words.  This however was just plain nasty, and both knew it.

To salvage the situation Mills gathered the kids up and lead them away to show them something else.

Severide waited until the last waddling kindergartener was out of earshot to swing around in his chair to smirk arrogantly up at Casey.  “Bet I get an application from him by the end of the month.”

Casey, calm as ever replied, “If he wants you ?  You can have him.”  And with that verbal punch to the gut, Casey made his way back inside.  Severide sat in stunned silence for a moment before swinging back around in his chair and tapped on the desk, signaling to deal him into the next card game, mind divided between Mills’ potential and Casey.

Only a week after their break-up and Andy’s death, rumours had started flying around the house that Casey had gotten back with his ex Hallie.  Severide had had to fight really hard not to flip the squad table at hearing that.  

It wasn’t that he didn’t like Hallie.  She was actually a nice girl.  It was just she’d been dating Casey around the same time he’d been first recognising his feelings for the younger man.  And that of course had made her the natural enemy.  At the time Andy had told him he was like a child with a toy.  

“Sev, you’re the child, Matt’s the toy and Hallie’s the other kid who's picked the toy up.  Before Hallie came you couldn’t care less what Matt did.  But now that Hallie’s picked Matt up, you realise you don’t want to lose him,” Andy had explained over a beer in Matt and Kelly’s apartment.

Matt and Hallie had gone out on some fancy date and Severide wanted nothing more than to get drunk and forget about the two of them together.

“Are you calling me a child,” Severide slurred, much more drunk than Andy.

Andy slapped him over the back of the head.  “Idiot, I’m telling you to tell Matt how you feel ‘cause you’re driving everyone crazy.”

One long month later, Severide finally got to the end of his rope and in the middle of a fight with Matt decided to kiss him full on the mouth and tell him how he felt.  Two weeks later, Matt and Hallie broke up.  Another two weeks had passed and he and Kelly were going out.

And that was that.

He and Hallie had consistently clashed during the three years she’d been with Matt.  He’d always thought she’d suspected that he’d had a thing for Casey which was why she always wanted to get between them.  Casey had chewed them both out numerous times for not being able to get along with each other.  Not that Severide had ever really tried.  But he’d acted civil with her for Casey's sake.  

He didn’t blame Casey for not wanting to be alone, he’d always had a thing about that.  God knew that Severide had been at bars every other night searching for one night stands.  But that didn’t mean he was happy at all that’d he’d decided to run back to her.

So when a week ago, it had come out that Casey had proposed, Severide actually had broken something.  He’d spent that night smashing the most expensive things he could find in his and Shay’s apartment, only stopping when his roommate managed to calm him down and they’d talked it out.  The next night he’d gone out drinking, spending the night with the first person he got his hands on.  And if the guy he’d gone home with happened to have blonde hair, blue eyes and the same slight build of a certain Lieutenant, well that was nobody’s damn business but his own.

The blare of alarms jerked Severide from his musings and he swung himself out of his chair, the apparatus floor suddenly alive with motion.  Shay and Dawson who had just gotten back from their last call swung themselves back into their rig.  Casey was striding along flipping the switches to open the garage doors.  Everywhere protective pants and jackets were being donned, helmets and oxygen tanks being pulled from the equipment room.

Both the ambulance and truck screeched away while the squad members were still gathering their gear.  Casey had been right in that as a Squad they generally had a little more leeway with their response time but they still couldn’t afford to waste time.

“Come on, let’s move it,” Severide ordered, climbing into the truck and banging on the side to get their attention, Casey’s words echoing dully in his ears.

 

The scene Truck 81 pulled up to was fairly typical as far as accidents went.  Casey spent the ride lecturing the new candidate, assigning Mouch to keep track of the kid and make sure he didn’t get into too much trouble.  The last thing Casey needed was a candidate getting under the feet of his men while they worked.  Before he could think better of it, Casey finished with, “Oh and Mills?  Don’t be a crow.”  He could see the confusion in the kid’s eyes but didn’t bother to explain.  He’d work it out.

As expected they arrived well before the rescue squad but Casey didn’t let that deter him.  He’d never needed Severide there to hold his hand.  After checking in with the victims pinned in the car and trying the car door handles, Casey yelled for a saw and halligans, having to make do with the weaker equipment until the Squad truck was there with the jaws.  Not for the first time, Casey internally cursed his limited equipment.

They were still working on the first door of the car, crumpled in on itself from the shock of the crash when ambulance 51 screeched to a stop, the squad truck right on their tail.  Casey quickly updated Dawson and allowed her to step closer to the car to check the condition of the victim, while he circled the car looking for the best angle to get at the victims.  He barely glanced up when he sensed Severide’s sudden presence behind him.

Half expecting an argument, it was shocking when Severide moved off immediately when he requested the jaws.  Casey instantly berated himself for being surprised.  Severide was one of the best firefighters he had ever worked with and he knew that the other man would never let his own personal problems get in the way of the job.

Most of the truck men had backed off, hovering near enough that they could be helpful if need be but far enough to allow the paramedics, the squad company and Casey to work.  The metal of the car groaned in protest as Severide worked with the powerful jaws on one side to pop off the front door.  The metal on Casey’s side too was screeching as he tore at it with a halligan.  

Neither realised anything was wrong until they heard the chief’s voice over the radio, “We think we’ve got one in the river.”

Severide caught Casey’s eye over the top of the car, a moment of silent communication passing between them.  Then Casey was rounding the car to take the jaws from him and nodding.

“Go.  I’ve got this one.”

Severide nodded shortly and hurried off leaving Casey to free the little girl from the backseat, the mother already being carried away by paramedics.  The scene was a mess of confusion, behind him Casey could hear Severide shouting orders at his men, Dawson from inside the car was talking calmly but incessantly and Casey just had to take a moment to breath and refocus.  

He didn’t get much of a chance however because the fuel that had been steadily leaking since their arrival suddenly caught fire, kicking everyone’s movements into overdrive.  The engine boys were quick to get a hose on the small flame and Casey finally wrenched the door from it’s hinges and set it aside.  Distantly he heard Mills yell something about the driver and run off but that was Severide’s problem now.  He had to focus on the little girl and guiding her fragile body out of the car and onto the waiting stretcher.

“Cancel the dive, there is no one in the water.”  Now that the little girl had been taken away in the ambulance, Casey could finally tune into the drama and had to fight not to swear when he saw the driver being lead away by uniformed police.  There was no way Severide would be happy about being sent into the water after nobody.  And he knew Severide well enough to know he wouldn’t just hold his tongue and simmer on it.  Sighing and resigning himself to the fight he knew would go down back at the house, Casey ordered his men to start packing up.

The ride back to the house was quiet and sombre.  Mouch, embarrassed by his mistake was completely silent and any attempts at conversation were shot down almost immediately.  They pulled into the driveway slowly and exited the truck lethargically.  Although it had not been the worst call they’d ever had it had been unusually draining.

Casey tried to head straight for his quarters after he’d hung up his gear, hoping to avoid both Severide and the inevitable argument but he was caught by Otis before he could make it more than a handful of steps.

“Say, Lieutenant, now that we have a new candidate, I don’t have to be Otis anymore.”

To be honest, Casey had been waiting for this ever since Mills had arrived this morning so he didn’t even have to think about his answer.  “You’re still Otis.”

“But I thought I could learn to drive the truck and we could put Peter Mills on the elevators.”

Hoping to end this discussion as quickly as possible, Casey grabbed the closest firefighter - which happened to be Herrmann - to prove his point.

“Herrmann, what’s this guy’s name?”

“Otis,” Herrmann replied instantly, sounding as though he thought Casey was insane for asking.

“No his real name.”

Herrmann frowned as he thought before taking a guess.  “Bart?”

Casey turned to Otis with a raised eyebrow, his point proven.

“Brian,” Otis corrected, calling after the retreating Herrmann.  “Brian Zvonecek.  He knew,” he implored to his Lieutenant.

“You’re staying on the elevators, which makes you Otis.  Sorry,” he offered when he say the other man’s downtrodden expression.  He clapped a consoling hand on his shoulder and made for the door, noting the still empty squad table.

“Hey.”

Casey knew it had to be too good to be true.  He wheeled around at the insistent call, ready for the ensuing argument.

“Guy in the water?  How about a guy with his head up his ass?”  Severide’s voice was loud and challenging and Casey saw Mouch pause where he was undoing his boots and slowly straighten.  Although Casey thought Severide had a point, there was no way he was going to let the Lieutenant talk about his men like that.  It was his job to manage the firefighter’s in his company as he saw fit.

“You handle your firefighters.  I’ll handle mine,” he said, a hint of tiredness creeping into his voice.  The last thing he wanted was to stand here and have another fight with Severide.  But apparently that was all Severide wanted.

“That’s a good theory, Casey.  How about giving it a try?”

The anger in Severide’s voice pushed him over the edge and Casey found himself answering before he could really think about it.  “Know what?  I’m getting real tired of your bull, Severide.”  Casey had moved forward as he spoke, less than a foot of distance now separating them.

“I don’t give a damn what you’re tired of.”  Severide took a threatening step closer, putting them chest to chest and Casey desperately tried not to notice how the other Lieutenant wasn’t wearing a shirt.  As much as he hated Severide in that moment he grudgingly had to admit that the Lieutenant looked as good as ever.  Regardless of his attractiveness, both men were wound up enough for the fight to soon come to blows so it was a relief to everyone in the station when Chief Boden stepped in.  The firefighter’s were uncomfortable with the sudden shift in house dynamics but would do what they had to to defend their Lieutenant’s.

“Hey!”

Both officers looked around to see the chief pounding away at a punching bag.

“I thought you all should know I am gonna fight that Dick Olmstead who slept with my wife in Saturday’s drop-a-cop.”

Although his words were casual enough his tone was anything but and both Lieutenant’s waited for the berating they were bound to get.

Sure enough Boden threw another set of punches at the bag before leaving it swinging to address his officers directly.  “Or we could all just throw the gloves on right now, beat the hell out of each other.  Maybe when the mayor comes on Saturday that’s what he sees.”  He gestured to their close proximity with a glove.  “Truck versus squad.  It’s as old as the CFD, so deal with it.”  The chief glanced around at the gathered firefighter’s to talk to them all.  “We all lost Darden.  A month ago, Friday.  And that ain’t changing.  So maybe we need to.”

The words hit everyone deep and with the dismissal clear the men slowly dispersed.  Casey and Severide stood side by side, refusing to so much as glance at each other.  Severide opened his mouth, maybe to apologise or maybe to continue their argument, neither was sure.  But before he could speak Casey had already stepped away, turning his back on the other Lieutenant.  Severide snapped his mouth shut again at the brush off and he too turned away, the moment lost to their own stubbornness.


 

The next morning, just before the shift change, Casey retrieved the box labeled ‘Darden’ and headed out into the cool morning air to wait for Heather.  It wasn’t more than five minutes when a familiar blue land rover was pulling into the station driveway.  He hitched the box under his arm and went to greet the occupants.

“Hey, Heather,” he smiled.

The woman, smiled warily and leaned in to kiss his cheek, murmuring her own, “Hey.”  Casey tried not to dwell on the tired circles under her eyes or the new lines on her face that seemed to have appeared since the last time he’d seen her.

“Hey guys,” he called into the back where Heather’s two sons, Ben and Griffin were sitting.

“Hi.”

“Hey.”

“Thanks for meeting me out here.  I just can’t go in there,” Heather started.

Casey nodded understandingly and didn’t press the issue.  “How are you?” He asked instead.

Heather touched a hand to her mouth and nodded absently before shrugging helplessly.  “What do you want me to say?” She said without malice.  Her eyes drifted to the box in his hands.  “So that’s it, huh?” She asked, voice growing cold.  “Twelve years at this station and it all fits into a box.”

Casey felt suddenly desperate to explain to her how much Andy was missed at firehouse 51.  “Heather, there’s not a single place I look and don’t see him.  Bells go off, and I think, ‘The truck can’t leave yet.  Andy’s not on it.’”

Neither spoke for a long moment and just stared at each other, mutual pain reflected in their eyes.  Then blessedly Heather changed the subject.

“Why don’t you and Hallie and I get together?  I could use a Margarita or four,” she joked weakly.

“Of course.  I’ll have Hallie call you.”

Neither seemed to feel the eyes on them.  

Inside the station Severide watched their conversation from the window.  He watched on as Casey talked to Heather for a few minutes before rounding her car to deposit a box into her boot.  Casey waved her goodbye until the car was out of sight.  

The change in demeanour was instantaneous; Casey’s arms came up to wrap around himself protectively and his head dropped to his chest and Severide knew he was hurting.  Part of him yearned to go to his ex-boyfriend and comfort him, wrap his arms around him and promise that everything would be ok.  But that part was small and easily overridden by the larger part of himself who relished the sight of Casey in pain and savagely thought it was good that it was him in pain for a change.

Severide pushed away from the window and stalked away scrubbing a hand tiredly over his eyes.  He was so sick of being at war with himself.

He’d almost made it to the locker room to collect his bag before leaving, ignoring the pangs of longing the entire way when it suddenly became too much and he doubled back the way he came, convinced that it was time to put his anger behind him.  But as he turned he caught sight of Andy’s graduation photo on the wall of fallen comrades and the anger he had pushed to the pit of his stomach came bursting right back up again.  He wheeled back around and continued on to the locker room thinking miserably, that it was agonising to hate the person you had once loved so much.

He was pulled from his depressing thoughts by the sudden appearance of his room-mate.

“Kelly,” she said as way of greeting.

“Yeah?” he asked, his exhaustion weighing on him.

“Come here?” she muttered and indicated the corner they were approaching with a tilt of her head.  She waited until the pair of firefighter’s passing through had moved on before withdrawing something from her pocket and pressing them into his hand.  “Here,” she said, accompanied with a long searching look.

He opened his fist to see a vial of strong painkillers and he quickly tucked it into his pocket.

“Thanks,” he muttered and walked away, trying not to think about how much it felt like a drug deal every time they did this.  Now that he had the painkillers burning a hole in his pocket, the steady ache of his shoulder increased and he headed towards the bathroom.  

He ducked into a stall, toiletry kit in hand.  He sat on the closed lid of the toilet and flexed and clenched his right hand trying to work away the numbness spreading from his shoulder to his fingertips.  

When it was clear that wasn’t going to work he gently kneaded the spasming muscle while he popped the lid of the vial Shay had given him.  He pulled a needle from his kit, drew the medicine from the vial and rolled up his sleeve, preparing to inject himself right into the source of his pain.  The pinch and slide of the needle was barely noticeable anymore after weeks of performing this ritual.  But it didn’t matter how many times he did this, how many times he felt the relief spread throughout his body, it always managed to feel wrong and dirty.

Kelly had always thought of himself as a pretty honest guy.  Often described as too honest, he could be relied on to be upfront with how he felt.  Which was why it was so hard to keep this from the most important people in his life.  Even Shay didn’t know how seriously he was affected by the pain.  How sometimes when he was out on a call, he could barely function through the pain.  Or even worse, how sometimes the feeling in his arm left him entirely.

He sat on the closed toilet for sometime, slowly tensing and relaxing the muscles in his arm, slowly working the final bursts of pain the limb.  It was only the bang of the door against the wall that had Severide jerking from his stupor.  He waited a few moments before flushing the unused toilet and leaving the stall, only to find Casey at the sinks.  Their eyes met for a fraction of a second before Casey looked down at his hands again.

Severide approached the sinks casually, trying not to seem bothered at all by the sight of Casey.  The tension between them was unbearable and practically tangible.  It was clear that both were thinking of their argument the afternoon before but neither seemed willing to address it, that being a small miracle itself.  Severide only allowed himself a flicker of a glance as he moved to leave; Casey was washing his hands with methodical precision, obviously ignoring him.  Severide was glad to be finished in there and left as quickly as he could while still seeming casual, hoping to put as much distance as he could between them.

 

Finally getting to leave the station was a strange relief.  Casey loved his job as much as the next man and considered the people there his second family.  But there was something about getting to go home and forgetting about the horrors he faced daily, if just for a few hours.

He forced himself to stop however at the sight of Dawson, who looked a little lost as she leaned against the door of her car, staring into space.

“You okay, Dawson?”

She jerked upright as though she hadn’t noticed him approaching until he’d spoken and offered a tired smile.  “Yeah, yeah.  It’s, just uh some days, you know?  Don’t worry about it,” she added when she saw his worried expression.  “Uh, listen, some of us are going over to Buzzard’s tomorrow night if you and Hallie wanted to come.”

Casey shifted uncomfortably.  “We would, but we go a date night thing.  Just us.  But maybe we’ll try,” he added when he saw her downcast expression.

“Yeah don’t worry about it.  That sounds nice.”

Casey smiled thinly and said goodbye, ready more than ever to get back to the comfort of his own home.  The ride back to his place was relatively short; barely over ten minutes long.  It’s closeness to the station was a big reason why he’d bought the quaint little town-house in need of a bit of fixing up.

He dumped his stuff just inside the door and mentally set a reminder to clean up around the place tomorrow.  He was just helping himself to some cold pizza from the fridge when someone knocked on his door.  He opened it, piece still in hand and his fiancee’s face smiled back at him.

“Hey.”

Her eyes found the pizza in his hand and her smile widened further.  “Pizza?  Again?  You can’t live like that,” she said and held up a bottle of juice and a brown paper bag, presumably filled with food.

He just smiled and stepped back, silently asking her to come in.

“I’ve only got a few minutes before my shift,” she told him as he took the food from her and turned away to deposit it in the kitchen.  Casey had noticed the scrubs she wore and the brightness of her eyes had told him that she was going not coming.

He turned back around to see her pulling the engagement ring from her finger.  Meeting his eyes, she dropped the ring apologetically onto the dining table.

“I- I can’t still wear this if I’m not still engaged to you.  Am I?”

Casey sighed and dropped into the nearest chair.  He’d been afraid that this had been coming but he still wasn’t ready to deal with it.  A night together a month ago the night of Darden’s funeral had turned into a weekend together, which turned into a week and pretty soon they’d dropped back into the relationship they’d been in so many years ago.  Which was why he’d proposed after just three weeks back together, something that he’d been planning to do before they’d broken up the first time.  But that whirlwind romance that had been so exciting as it’d happened had caught up with them painfully fast and Matt had moved back to his house to allow some distance between them and all the arguments.

“You tell anyone you moved out?” Hallie asked softly.

“No.  You?”

“No.”

“So what are we doing?” Casey asked.  “It’s clear we’re both miserable apart, so why are we doing it?”

“I’d marry you tomorrow, Matt.  If I thought that it was what you wanted.”

Casey kept his face perfectly blank.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Hallie smiled sadly, “I think you do.  I think you know exactly what I’m talking about but you don’t want to face it.  Call me when you’ve worked it out.”  With one last small smile, Hallie stood from her own chair and left, the door clicking shut behind her.

Casey buried his face in his hands.  Everything was such a mess.


Two days later had Casey back at the station on a slow Saturday shift.  Although it was usually the candidate’s job, Casey had offered to cook the Saturday lunch.  There was nothing he wanted more right now than to lose himself and his problems in the chaos of the kitchen.  He was listening, absently, to the conversation in the room as he put the finishing touches on the meal, the succulent smell of the corned beef in the oven spilling across the room.

“I can’t believe we’re gonna miss the fight tonight,” Cruz was saying.

“That’s just as well,” the chief said appearing out of nowhere.  “‘Cause I just found out that he fought golden gloves.”

Cruz was quick to reassure him, “That was 20 years ago, chief.  We gotta tape it or something.”  Cruz wandered over to the kitchen counter and Casey heard him ask Herrmann what the Lieutenant was doing.

“Said he wanted to cook the Saturday corned beef,” Herrmann answered, just as Casey was pulling the finished meat from the oven.  “Ah,” Herrmann groaned appreciatively.  “Look at that.”

From the couch, Mouch inhaled longingly.  “Casey made the best chicken parmigiana I ever put in my mouth,” he reminisced and Casey smiled at the memory.  It was when he’d still been the candidate and he whipped up a particularly good batch.  He’d thought Mouch was gonna die right there from the taste alone and had ended up delegated to the kitchen for quite some time after that.

Cruz leaned over the bench, watching him plate everything up.  “What’ve you got there, Casey?”

“Don’t you worry about it,” Casey answered with a smile.  “Call everyone to chow.”

Out on the apparatus floor, Capp emerged from the doors, a bemused smile on his face.  “Hey, Casey’s in there cooking.

“Casey?” Hadley asked, to make sure he hadn’t misheard.

“Yeah.”

Severide scratched the back of his head as he thought.  He was torn between the deliciousness of the food waiting for him in the kitchen and the pettiness that stemmed from the blame he still put on Casey for Darden’s death.  The desire for the first good home cooked meal in a month won out and Severide lead the way into the kitchen.

The men already sitting at the table all fell silent at the appearance of the rescue squad, who hadn’t eaten with them since Darden’s death.  Casey however didn’t even flinch.  He just moved the empty tray out of the way and slid a new one in front of Severide.

“Have at it.”

It wasn’t an offer for Severide to jump back into his bed.  Hell it wasn’t even an offer of friendship.  It was merely an offer to actually put the petty bitching behind them as the chief had asked and return to some semblance of a healthy working relationship.

And it made Severide angry.  Angrier than was rational.  Because Casey hadn’t even so much as glanced at him.  And then Severide was thinking about all the glances he’d received from Casey over the last month.  And how they’d all been the exact same, hard lips, empty eyes, like he felt nothing at all when he looked at Severide.  And he knew it was irrational and insane to be so bothered by it, because he sure as hell didn’t look at Casey the same way.  But he was suddenly so bothered by the realisation of this change that he knew if he didn’t get out of there soon he would say something he regretted.

So he did what he does best and played it off like something else.  He took a long look between the dish and Casey’s face - meeting his eyes - before grabbing an orange from the fruit bowl and leaving the kitchen, knowing exactly how it would look.

He should have known that Casey wouldn’t let a snub like that go.  Especially in front of the whole house.  And looking back on it, he was surprised that Casey had waited almost the entire lunch hour before coming to chew him out.  But at the same time he’d been trying to quell his raging emotions with a quiet smoke so when Casey came out, demanding to know what his problem was, he’d reacted the way he knew would get rid of Casey the quickest.

“What the hell’s going on?  You okay?  ‘Cause if you’re not, maybe you need to-”

Casey’s questions had been loud, demanding and had come right after one another, giving Severide no chance but to cut him off rudely.

“You think I need your help?”

Casey sighed, a full bodied movement that unintentionally showed Severide the exhaustion he felt.

“I’m trying here, Severide,” Casey said, his voice small.

And the problem was they both were.  They were both trying, but at different times so the actions were lost on the other man.  It was their usual bad timing taken to an extreme that would have been comical if not for the circumstances.

The conversation turned as it so often did between them these days to their lost friend.

“I cleaned out Darden’s locker.”

Severide didn’t need to be told that; it had been all over the station.  People saying they thought it was too soon.  People saying it was about time.  All Severide had been able to think was that if the circumstances were any different, that would have been something he and Casey would have done together, lending each other their support.  Severide exhaled irritably.

“You should have vented the back.”

The words were quiet and had Severide’s head snapping around to stare at Casey for a number of reasons.  Part of it was anger.  Anger that Casey dare insinuate that Andy’s death was his fault.  But it was also surprise.  The accusations from Casey had always come after Severide himself had thrown the first punch, spat the first hateful word.  It was the first time Casey had volunteered to talk about that day.

Severide decided to focus on the anger.  “We’re called the rescue squad, Casey.  We don’t vent.  You shouldn’t have put Andy through the window.”

He’d said this more times than he could count in the last month, including to the investigator assigned to Darden’s case.  He’d told them he thought it was Casey’s fault.  But Casey had testified that he’d told Darden to stop and too many firefighter’s had backed up Casey’s claim.  Besides, Severide had been around the back, what did he know anyway?  The thought that they blamed Andy for his own death made his blood boil and fuelled his next words.

“I don’t have to explain myself to you.  I sleep like a baby.  You?” His voice had unwittingly softened on the last word and he cursed himself for the weakness.

Casey didn’t answer the question, choosing instead to just walk away, as Severide had expected him to.  The question hadn't been purely asked out of malice though, despite what Casey thought.  Severide was genuinely curious to how the other man was sleeping, spurned by his own lie.

Severide had never slept well, solace only coming when he’d begun sharing a bed with Casey.  A solace that had left as quickly as Casey had.  It was a rare night these days that we woke up from a nightmare without Andy or Matt’s name on his lips.  His mind might hate Casey, but his traitorous body yearned for his calming presence.  It was only when he drank himself unconscious was it that he slept deep enough to not dream.


The rest of the day passed mostly without incident.  They were called out only once just before dinner to an out of control building fire but it was all the way across the city so they ended up being one of the last responders and the fire was mostly under control by the time they got there.  By eight o’clock the excitement had wound down and most were lounging around waiting for the ring of the bells or the mayor’s visit, whichever came first.

Otis and Herrmann were talking about the unfortunate incident of his house getting foreclosed over a card game while Casey refilled his coffee.

“What time’s the mayor coming?” he wanted to know.

“I heard 9:00,” Herrmann answered, slapping his cards down in a fold.

“I heard he stops to take a piss at every house in the city, as a sign of respect,” Otis put in smartly.

“Stopped here in June,” Mouch added.

“Hey,” Herrmann started, looking to Casey hopefully.  “Boden’s about to fight in ten minutes.”

Casey pulled back the sleeve of his jacket to check his watch.  Sure enough the chief’s fight was scheduled for ten minute’s time.  He took one glance around the dead station and made up his mind.

“Screw it.  Let’s take a ride.”  He deposited his mug while the men whooped and hurried to get their gear.  Casey figured that they could still watch the fight as long as they kept their radio’s on and were ready to go at a moment’s notice.

The ride to the fight was lighter than it had been in Truck 81 for a long time.  Bets were being placed on the winner, jokes were being made and overall the mood was fairly jovial.  At one point, laughing at something Otis said, Casey twisted in his seat to say to Andy-

And he slumped back into his seat, stomach twisting painfully.  

Once at the scene of the fight, they raised the aerial over the glass roof with Otis climbing it so he could commentate.  Even from outside they could hear the bellow of the announcer.

“Fighting in the red corner, for the Chicago fire department, Chief Boden.”

Hello, sports fans.  This is Brian Zvonecek, coming to you live from the annual battle of the badges, ” Otis started, using the radio in his hand to project his voice down to firefighters still on the truck.

Even back at the station the squad men had patched into their radio, clustered around the dispatch bay to listen.  Severide, on his way to refill his coffee, paused and leant against the wall to listen in.

“Firefighters versus the police.”

“What’s that?”

“I hope you all are ready for this.”

“That’s Otis,” Capp supplied.

Severide walked closer and sat on the counter, pulling the radio closer to turn the volume up.

Boden looks like a heat-seeking missile as he climbs in the ring to take on Captain Olmstead from the CPD.  Olmstead, of course, looks like the quivering cop clob that he is.”

The firefighter’s both at the house and at the fight laughed at Otis’ description.

“Chief Boden first won back in 1992, when he was part of the esteemed Truck 81, the greatest truck in all of Chicago.”

Casey walking along the edge of the truck, spied Mouch sitting on his own and decided to take advantage of the situation.

“Mouch,” he sighed, hating this part of his job.  Mouch met his gaze and the look in his eyes told Casey that the older firefighter knew what this was about.  “I can’t keep making excuses for you.”

Mouch nodded slowly and after a murmured promise to do better, Casey clapped him on the shoulder and they both leant back to listen to the fight.

“There goes the bell, and here we go.  Takes two quick jabs to the nose.  Oh, he falls back into the ropes.”

The men groaned appropriately at the hits.

“One, two, three to the chin.  Boden’s in trouble already, folks.”

Another collective groan went up from the firefighter’s, particularly those who had bet on Boden winning.

“Wait.  Here it comes.  Three straight lefts-”

Whatever else Otis was going to say was drowned out by the sudden ringing of alarms and the cool voice of the dispatch officer.

Accident.  Building fire.  2413 Franklin Street.

At the fight the truck firefighter's jumped to their feet, waiting for the Lieutenants confirmation.

“That’s just down the block.”

Casey snatched up the radio.  “81 responding.”

Otis and Herrmann hurried down from the aerial, it was quickly withdrawn and the truck took off, sirens, lights and horn all going wildly.

Over the blaring of the horns, Casey listened carefully to the responses coming over the radio.

“Engine 51 responding,” came from the Lieutenant in charge of 51’s engine.

Next came Shay’s collected voice, “Ambulance 61 en route to scene.”

Finally came Severide’s voice, “ Squad 3 responding to Franklin Street building fire.”   Casey ignored the clench of his stomach at Severide’s voice.

They screeched to a halt out the front of the building.

“Wow, this is bad, bad, bad.”

Herrmann’s words basically summed it up.  The air was choked with the smoke spilling from the building, fire was visible from nearly every window and had even spread to the road in one section, setting a nearby car alight.

The firefighter's leapt from the truck, Casey barking orders as they went.

“Otis, get to the elevator and tell us what we’re looking at.”

“Mills, help Cruz vent the roof.”

“Herrmann, you and me to the top floor and work our way down.  Alright let’s move.”

The firefighter’s dispersed.  Casey was just heading into the building when he caught sight of Mills’ stunned face.  He clapped a hand on his shoulder and dragged him closer, forcing the young candidate to focus on him rather than the roaring flames.

“Stick close to Cruz, take deep breaths and don’t freak out.  This is what you’ve trained for.”

He waited until Mills had nodded shakily before letting go and hurrying to catch up with Herrmann who was waiting by the front doors.  Inside was a mess of smoke and orange light but he caught sight of two figures stumbling forward almost immediately.  He caught a hold of them and guided them in the right direction.

Into his radio he said, “Two coming out.”  He and Herrmann moved on.  They headed up the stairs, moving along close to the ground to escape the all encompassing heat.  All along the hallway they busted down doors and called into their shadowy depths.  They moved on, Casey listening to the reports on the elevators from Otis and Vargas.

They reached the final apartment and kicked down the door.

“Fire department!  Anyone here?”

Unlike in the other apartments, the call this time was met instantly by a young cry.

“Help us!  We’re under here!”

Casey and Herrmann followed the hall down into a bedroom and followed the small voices until they found the two small children under the bed.  There was no time to check their injuries as Casey coaxed them out.  The little boy he handed off to Herrmann and lifted the girl himself.  He heard over the radio as they hurried down the stairs, the yell of Otis as they found the cause of the elevator obstruction, an unconscious woman.

Casey and Herrmann exited the building and handed the children off to Mouch to take care of until additional ambulances arrived.  They pulled off their helmets for the momentary relief the cold night air provided before pulling their masks back over their faces in preparation of going back in.

Inside it was sweltering and the higher they went the hotter it became until it was clear that searching was going to soon become impossible.  Casey finally called it and ordered them to start heading out.  They were on the stairs between the second and third floor however when the chief’s calm voice came over the radio.

Casey, you gotta go up .”  

The Lieutenant paused at the base of the stairs, throwing an arm out to stop Herrmann from going any further.

“Chief?”

Smoke’s gone black.  Head up to the roof and we’ll get you out that way .”

“Copy that,” he responded and turned on his heel, his men having heard the conversation already moving.  None noticed the creaking of the roof until it was too late.

The beams collapsed from the ceiling and smashed through the floor taking Casey and Herrmann with them.

 

Severide was suppressing the urge to swear at the traffic holding them up when Chief’s voice came through the radio.

Severide, ETA?”

“Two minutes,” he replied hoping it would be true.  They’d left minutes after the call had come in but had run almost directly into a traffic jam, cars behind them sealing them in.  Police assistance had arrived almost immediately but still the minutes ticked by, Severide and his men getting more and more impatient as they did.

“What’s happening,” he asked.  There was only one reason the chief would need to know their ETA and that was they were needed now .  Finally the cars in front of them cleared and Capp, behind the wheel, slammed his foot on the pedal causing the old truck to lurch into motion.

We’ve got four stuck in the building and heading up to the roof .”

The chief didn’t offer any names and Severide didn’t ask but he had a bad feeling he knew who at least one of them was.  He spared the briefest of glances at Capp and if possible the truck sped up further.  Their ‘controlled stops’ at each light became less and less controlled the closer they got.  But that didn’t matter much; between the wailing sirens and Capp’s hand almost constantly on the horn anyone in a mile’s radius would hear them coming.

Severide didn’t even wait until the truck had stopped before he and his men were jumping out, jacket’s already on and oxygen tanks being slipped onto their shoulders.  Boden caught up with his squad Lieutenant as he lead his company towards the entrance.

“We have two not moving in the basement,” he told him and after a long searching look of Severide’s face added, “Casey and Herrmann.”

Severide felt his stomach drop to his feet.  He nodded bravely and didn’t let a flicker of dread show on his face.  Although he’s not sure that he had the chief persuaded.

“We’ll get ‘em,” he said as convincingly as he could and took off for the entrance, his men keeping pace the entire way.

Once inside the building he could hear the PASS alarms and it got louder every step further he took.  He didn’t have to move very far in before he got to the hole in the floor, a replica directly above.  Severide was reassured by the fact that while falling from that height would hurt, it wouldn’t kill you.

Frantic shouting from above had him tearing his eyes away from the motionless bodies in the basement to see Otis and Vargas trapped above him.

He told them to go up and then patched in an order for a ladder to the west side window to get them out.  Once they were out of the way, he began working on getting into the basement.  Thinking on his feet, he rigged up a roping system and had his men lower him into the basement.  He unclipped himself and stepped over to Casey who was beginning to come around.  He was coughing and blinking dazedly and although he had lost his helmet and mask in the fall he didn’t seem to have sustained anything worse than a couple of scrapes.

Severide was so relieved he could have kissed him.

Instead, he reached down and hauled him onto his feet.  “Come on, on your feet man.  Don’t want to miss the mayor’s visit do you?”  When Casey failed to laugh or even smile he pulled him so close that they would have been nose to nose if it hadn’t been for the mask over his face.  “Hey!  Are you alright?”

Casey managed a shaky nod and the shrill of Herrmann’s PASS alarm seemed to pierce the bubble surround them at the same time because they jerked apart and hurried over to Herrmann’s form.

Together they rolled him over and noticed his laboured breathing immediately.  While Casey ripped the mask from Herrmann’s face, Severide tore his own off and held it over Herrmann’s face, providing him with some much needed clean air.

Casey hovered over Herrmann while Severide worked on getting them out of there, hooking Herrmann up to the rope he had come down on as well as a second rope the rescue squad dropped down.  Once they lifted him over the edge of the hole in the floor they wasted no time carrying him out knowing every second counted and leaving Severide and Casey in the burning basement.

“Alright, let’s get out of here.”

The pair surveyed the wreckage of the room, looking for anything that could help them get out.  Finally they settled on a sturdy looking dining table.  They quickly swept it free of the chairs stacked on top of it and dragged it over.  They clambered onto it and even though they still couldn’t reach the hole, they were much closer now.  Severide linked his gloved hands together and offered them to Casey wordlessly.  Casey stepped up without argument, even though he didn’t want to.  With Severide’s help he was able to scramble up easily enough and slide around on his stomach to grasp Severide’s hands, all too aware of the steadily growing flames.

He slowly began to heft Severide’s weight and not a moment too soon because the table collapsed beneath him, weakened by both the fire and the two men’s weight.  It was an awkward hold, Casey only having Severide’s right arm and any attempt to shift the weight to both hands only had Severide slipping.  The squad Lieutenant attempted to swing his body back and forth, trying to gain enough momentum to swing himself up over the ledge, but that only managed to shift Casey a few inches closer to the edge.

Casey grunted with exertion and tried to dig his boots into the floor to anchor himself but it was no use; there wasn’t even a nearby piece of debris he could hook his foot around.  With the men still gone from carrying Herrmann out there was no telling how long it would be until someone got back to help them and Casey didn’t know how much longer they could last.

Severide seemed to have come to the same conclusion Casey had because he stared straight up into his eyes and cleared his throat.  “Casey,” he said, voice surprisingly calm.  “Let me go.”

Casey stared at him aghast before shaking his head frantically.  “No.  No way.”

Severide grimaced, feeling like he should have expected this.  “Look, we’re both not going to get out of this.  There’s no point you dying if you don’t have to.”

“Severide, shut up.”

Severide swallowed audibly, having no idea what he wanted to say but knowing he needed to say something .  There was no way he was ending it like this with their last conversation being an argument.

“Casey, listen.  I don’t want you to think- that is if I don’t make it out of here, you need to know that-”

“I don’t want your goodbyes,” Casey hissed.  Severide would have been offended if he hadn’t known it was fear that hardened the other man’s voice not malice.  Severide grimaced as the roaring of the fire increased in volume, signalling that the fire was getting closer and he knew he didn’t have much longer to get this out.

“Matt” he insisted and Casey’s breathing hitched at the long discarded nickname.  “Everything that’s happened with Andy?  I don’t want you to think that I still don’t-”

He was cut off once again but this time by a yell from above.  

“I got you, Lieutenant.”  The voice belonged to Mouch who had leapt forward to grab at Casey’s sliding ankles.  Severide couldn’t see what was happening but soon other faces appeared over Casey’s shoulders and hands reached down to haul him up.  Throughout it all, Casey’s hands never left his.

The pair thudded down on the dusty ground, coughing out smoke and gasping for breath.  Somehow through all the dust and debris and firefighter’s Casey and Severide’s eyes found each other and in that moment something powerful and indecipherable shot between them.  The shouting and crackling faded to a murmur and the world became nothing more than a pair or blue and green eyes locked in an embrace.  But then they were being hauled to their feet and guided to the door and the moment was lost to the burning embers.

The second they were outside they heard the hoses power up and the sizzle of fire being doused and Casey collapsed over his knees, trying to hack up the smoke that was burning his lungs.  Finally after regaining his breath he straightened and made a beeline for the chief, intent on finding out about his man.

“How’s Herrmann?”

“On his way to Lakeshore.”  The lack of details spoke volumes and Casey’s stomach sunk.  He knew there wasn’t anything else he could do now other than hope and pray the doctors would take care of him but still it was hard.  Casey nodded and turned away, accepting the bottle of water a passing firefighter offered.  He dumped the majority of it over his head before using the rest to rinse out his dry mouth as he ambled back over to the truck where Mills was climbing down from the aerial.

“Nice work, Candidate.”

Mills smile showed his surprise but he thanked his Lieutenant anyway.  Casey allowed him that half a second before he, with a grin on his face, ordered him to start packing up the gear.  Mills just chuckled.

“Looks like we’re gonna meet the mayor after all,” Vargas said staring over Casey’s shoulder.  The Lieutenant turned just in time to see a face, familiar from posters around the city exiting a black SUV and approaching Boden for a handshake and a smile.

Casey looked away with and glanced up at the still burning building.  It would be hours at least before the fires were doused completely.

 

He was right and the sun was well up when the tired firefighter’s of House 51 finally pulled back into the station.  The next shift would be in within the next half hour and everyone was glad to see the end of a long day.  Casey was just getting ready to leave, intent on dropping by his house for a change of clothes before checking in with Herrmann at the hospital when he stumbled across Dawson hanging up on what looked to be a very serious phone call.

“Union?” he asked, recalling what he’d heard around the house.

“Yeah.  They’re starting a file on me.”  Her voice was flat with irritation.

Not knowing what else to say, Casey offered his company, “I’m going to the hospital to check in on Herrmann, if you want to come with.”

“What do you know?”

He paused where he was bent over his bag and glanced over at Andy’s old locker.  “I know we can’t lost another one,” he said and walked out without another word.

Throughout the ride to the hospital Casey thought of Andy.  And because he thought of Andy naturally he thought of Severide.  It was almost impossible to think about one without the other.  But thinking of Severide also meant thinking about those moments where the squad Lieutenant had dangled over the fire and what had been said in that time.  Casey couldn’t think of anything he wanted to think about less.

 

Severide didn’t know why he wanted to go to the hospital.  Sure they all were in the same house but being the Lieutenant of Squad meant that it wasn’t expected he be there.  He knew most of his men probably would go straight home, dropping in on Herrmann in the next couple of days.  But Severide couldn’t stomach the thought of just going home while the ambo girls and truck men waited around for hours.

On his way out of the house he stopped by the kitchen to grab one last cup of decent coffee.  He knew from experience that there was nothing worse than the battery acid that constituted as coffee in hospitals.  Drawn by some unnamed force Severide found himself in front of the open fridge reaching for a piece of Casey’s corned beef.  The deliciousness flooded his mouth and Severide tried to ignore the onslaught of memories it brought.  Of a summer when this had been a regular occurrence.  Of a year spent living with Casey and Darden.  Of a better time.  Severide ignored it all, tucked the foil back around the plate and headed for the hospital.

Severide tried to ignore all the eyes on him when he walked into the waiting room, taking the seat next to Dawson.  But there was one gaze, whose intensity was burning a hole into the side of his face.  Glancing around the group of firefighter’s it wasn’t hard to identify it.  

From his place beside Boden, Casey was unabashedly staring at him.  There was surprise in his gaze, no doubt wondering why Severide had decided to come but there was also a question there, asking if after everything that happened in that burning building, they were going to finally move on and resurrect some semblance of a working relationship.  Severide ducked his head in a nod, part thanking Casey for what he’d done, not that he needed to and part answering that silent question.

Casey nodded back an acknowledgment and that was where they should have looked away.  Where it would have been appropriate to do so.  But instead their gazes remained firmly locked and Severide felt a twitching of a smile at his lips.  The two were so engrossed in one another that it wasn’t until a group of nurses went clamouring by did they finally blink and look away.

Casey stood instantly and cleared his throat.  “Come get me if there’s an update,” was all he said before walking out the front.

Once outside, Casey leant against the front of the building, taking in slow, controlled breaths of the cool air.  He didn't want to admit it but whatever had just happened between Severide and himself scared the hell out of him.  A shift had occurred between them in that fire and Casey wasn't ready to find out what that meant.  He hadn't realised how quickly things between him and Severide would return to how they’d been before Andy.  And if he was being honest with himself, he wasn't sure he was ready to open himself up to that type of pain again.  Because if he opened himself up to Kelly all over again, he was just inviting that pain back in.

He pulled his phone from his pocket and dialed the familiar number.  It was a relief when Hallie answered after just a few rings.

“What are you doing?” She said as way of answering.

“Just wanted to hear your voice,” he responded, the lie tasting unfamiliar in his mouth.

“How was your shift?”

“It was fine.  Typical.”  The whole conversation felt off, like they were strangers instead of a couple.

“What is it, Matt?”

“Do you think maybe you could find a reason to come over tonight?”

There was a long pause as Hallie digested his words.  “Did you work it out?”

“Yeah.”

“And?”

“You’re my girl.”

It wasn't a lie.  Not exactly.  Not when Casey was determined to make sure Hallie stayed in his life.  It was better that way.

Chapter Text

Severide was just buying his much needed first coffee of the day when he caught sight of them.  He tried to ignore the pang in his stomach that the sight of Andy’s widow and children brought.  He hadn’t seen them since the funeral and Severide got the feeling that Heather was avoiding him for some reason.

That feeling was confirmed at the tight smile that crossed Heather’s lips when he caught her elbow in greeting.

“Hey.”

“Hi,” she said back, her overly bright voice clearly faked.

Severide glanced at her questioningly but missed her responding look as he tousled the boy's hair in greeting.  As soon as his hand left Ben’s hair, Heather was whisking them up the stairs and further into the cafe.

“Hey,” he said, touching her elbow again to get her attention.  He tried not to be hurt when she immediately pulled free of his grip.  “How are you doing?”

“I’m good, Kelly.  But I gotta go in.”

“Uh wait.  I’ve been meaning to come by and check on you-” he tried.

“Just save it,” she replied nastily, the fake smile already disappearing; replaced by a cold, blank stare.  “Really?”

And it all clicked into place for Severide, once he looked into her eyes.  The coldness there, when once upon a time there would have been warmth.  The betrayal.  The blame.  Heather blamed him for Andy’s death.

It took everything Severide had not to recoil from her.  “Come on,” he implored, needing to explain that it was no one’s fault.  That the circumstances had just been shitty.  “Andy and I were best-”

“Stop right there.  Andy never even would have been a firefighter if it weren’t for you.”  Severide’s mouth dropped open in shock and Heather took the chance to escape further into the confines of the shop.  Severide staggered back a few steps before finally gathering enough wits about him to make his way outside and slump into his car.  It wasn’t that Heather blamed him for Andy’s death that day.  That would have been manageable; painful, but manageable.  It wasn’t even that Heather blamed him and not Casey.  Severide had already come to terms with that possibility after seeing the two of them interact the other day.  No, it was Heather blamed him for Andy’s whole life.  A life as a firefighter that Severide knew he had loved.

By the time Severide gathered his scrambled emotions together enough to drive himself over to the house he was running late and the squad from the previous shift were hanging around unhappily, unable to leave until there was a Lieutenant on site ready to take over.  He screeched to a halt in front of the station and hurried in, not missing the slightly dangerous looks he received from the previous shift as they hurried to their own cars.

He glanced around the apparatus floor and noticed the absent 81 truck, his geared up men and Chief Boden watching him passively from the doors.  He fought the urge to swear and broke into a jog.

“Grease fire.  No emergency, but get changed quickly and head over.  Casey’s already there handling it.” Boden told him, standing aside to let him pass.

Severide knew he was getting off easily.  Had this happened a couple of months ago he would have gotten reamed over his lateness and might have even been written up over it.  But after the loss of Darden, Boden was taking it easy on everyone but Severide knew it wouldn’t last much longer and he would need to up his game.

He changed quickly and vaulted into the squad truck, Capp taking off before the door was even closed.  They sped through the streets of Chicago, alarm parting the traffic like Moses with the red sea and they pulled up at the scene to find they weren’t needed after all.  Already firefighters were making their way from the house and Mouch was climbing down from the roof where he had been sent evidently to vent.

Severide leapt from his seat and asked the nearest firefighter who happened to be Mouch who was just stepping down from the ladder, “What’s happening.”

Mouch bristled slightly - seemingly still smarting from Severide’s tough criticism from the other shift - before answering, “Just a grease fire, Lieutenant.  Put it out with the extinguisher and Casey’s just trying to get the tenant out.”

“What’s the problem?” Severide asked, ignoring Mouch’s cold tone.

“Think he’s going to get kicked out of his apartment or something.  Casey’s on it,” Mouch replied gruffly.

Severide repressed a vaguely amused snort at the thought, knowing it would do no good to further the animosity between the two companies.  It was just so Casey to try and coax the man from the danger.  Where he usually came across as gruff and victims were scared into obedience, Casey managed to always be gentle despite the dangerous circumstances, voice quiet and soothing but firm at the same time.

Severide shook his head of any thoughts concerning Casey as he had been doing since that afternoon in the hospital waiting room.  He had noticed the odd shift in their relationship when Casey had refused to leave him to burn in the flames but it was too confusing to even think about it, so he had chosen to just ignore it for the time being.  Not exactly healthy, he knew but with every other detrimental thing in his life, what was one more?

Severide’s thoughts weren’t able to stray far however because Casey suddenly appeared out of the smoke billowing from the door, pulling an older man along with him, a supportive arm slung around his waist.  He deposited the man on the sidewalk before turning to the woman who had been pacing a hole in the concrete and bad mouthing every firefighter that walked by.

“This your place, Ma’am?” Casey asked in his best Lieutenant’s voice, something that Severide used to tease the younger man about all the time.  Severide pushed the thought along with the twisting feeling in his stomach it brought, away quickly.

“You’re damn right it is,” the short, stacked woman answered testily.

“That your microwave down in the basement?” Casey continued, earning more attention from his strange line of questioning.

“Oh, what of it?”

“The frayed end of the electric cord started this fire.  Place would’ve burned to the ground if not for this man.  He’s a hero.”

Severide pursed his lips in attempt to hold back his smile.  It was a thin lie and any firefighter who had paid any sort of attention at the academy would have caught it but the woman would take his word as gold and Casey knew it.  The woman’s previously hard expression was already softening as she gazed at his tenant.

“Sir,” Otis said, offering his hand for the bewildered gentleman to shake.  “I just want to say, I’ve never seen a civilian act so bravely.”

There were quiet snorts from both companies as Otis laid it on thick, but apparently it worked because as soon as Casey and Otis turned away, the woman was drawing the man into her arms and professing how worried she’d been for him.

Severide caught Casey’s eyes, the blue orbs sparkling with mirth and he was just opening his mouth to speak, lips upturned in an easy smile when he saw in his periphery the sight of the candidate leaning against the ladder with just his thigh and hip, both hands clutched around his axe.

His head snapped fully around and for a moment all he could see was Andy climbing the ladder with Casey on his heels both laughing and joking, having no idea what was about to happen.  But then he blinked and it was only Mills, looking down from his perch on the ladder to laugh and joke with some of the other truck men.

“Hey!  Candidate!” Severide yelled, noting distantly that his tone and volume was perhaps too harsh for the slight but he couldn’t bring himself to care.  His yell had caught the young firefighter’s attention - as well as every other person in the vicinity - and he watched as the smile slid from the young man’s face.  “One hand on the beam at all times!  I don't care if you’re carrying a damn cow!”

“Ok Kelly.”  And suddenly there was Casey, strangely enough watching him rather than the candidate.  “He gets it,” he continued, voice calm but firm.

Severide whipped back around to pin Casey to the spot with a glare, anger that he hadn’t even realised he’d let go off, rushing back in a second.  “Yeah, he better,” Severide spat back before turning on his heel and stomping off back to his truck, swinging himself into the front seat while his men scrambled to follow.

He tried not to hear Casey’s words from the other day as the truck peeled away from the curb, but they seemed to be echoing in his head, “Last to show, first to go.  That’s the rescue squad.”  He glanced in the side mirror to see Casey admonishing the candidate who had his head ducked slightly in shame.  Severide let his eyes flicker away again but not before he saw Casey dismiss the man and turn to gaze after the retreating truck and Severide swore he could feel the burning gaze right up until they turned the corner.

On the ride back to the house, as though triggered by his earlier irritation with the candidate his shoulder started to buzz with aggravation, a searing pain soon spreading right from the joint of his shoulder all the way down to his fingertips.  He tried not to make it obvious as he slipped his left hand under his shirt to knead at the spasming muscles but he knew that the soft groans of pain weren’t going unnoticed by his squad.  Wisely they chose not to comment.

By the time they were pulling into the driveway, Severide knew he wouldn’t be able to work the rest of the shift without getting some kind of relief; so once he had shedded his turnout gear and left the men with the arduous daily duty of cleaning the squad truck from top to bottom, he walked over to the ambulance rig, trying to inject some nonchalance into his stroll.

Shay and Dawson were preoccupied with their own shiftly task of taking inventory so they didn’t notice him at first.  Then Dawson just stared at him uncomprehendingly as he hovered, all but daring him to voice what he wanted.  But Severide just bit his lip and stared back meaningfully, until she cleared her throat irritably, jumped from the rig and stalked off, muttering under her breath something about needing a drink.

Things between him and Dawson since his and Casey’s split had been chilly to say the least.  She had always been more Casey’s friend than his, and now that they weren’t exactly on speaking terms, she had made her side clearly known just as Shay had done.

Shay shot him an unimpressed look and focussed back on her task of counting medicine bottles.  If she knew what he wanted then she didn’t say anything.  But of course she wouldn’t; Severide knew that.  Shay had made her disapproval more than clear and on multiple occasions.

“I need something,” he finally said, pitching his voice low, wary of how easily rumours spread in the house.

Shay’s hands paused as she was returning a box of vials back to their place and she eyed the box as though it had committed some wrongdoing against her before heaving a sigh and reaching for a small vial of clear liquid.  She closed her fist around it, hesitated before finally pressing it into his palm.  In that moment of hesitation Severide felt his blood run cold, realising just how much he had come to depend on Shay for these vial’s of relief.

Which was why he stopped breathing completely when she turned to him and said, meeting his eyes for the first time.  “It’s the last one.”

There was a long pause where Severide grappled with what to say.  There had been no part of him that had been prepared for this.  When he had went through every outcome, positive and negative, this one had never come up because he had never expected in any realm of possibility that Shay would so suddenly cut him off like this.  This had been the one constant he had been depending on to get through this.

Finally he schooled his features and prayed that he hadn’t let too much show.  “Yeah,” he agreed, trying to sound as unconcerned as possible.

Of course Shay didn’t buy it for a second.  “I mean it.”

“Right.  It’s all good,” he assured her and shoved the vial deep into the pocket of his pants and walked off before another word on the subject could be uttered.  He tried not to let his fear show and hoped to god that his face was betraying none of his inner turmoil, because without these drugs Severide didn’t know long he would last.

Severide made his way into the locker room, intent on dealing with the mess he had made earlier in his haste to respond to the call.  He was straddling the bench, deciding to save the vial Shay had given him if this really was to be his last one when he caught sight of Casey wandering by.  The man was dressed only in his work pants, water droplets still clinging to his bare chest, telling Severide that Casey had indulged in one of his normal post-call showers.  Where most firefighters wouldn’t bother to shower, especially after a simple call like that, it wasn’t a surprise that Casey had.  Severide remembered the blonde’s hatred for the smell of smoke that clung to him for hours after a call.

“Morning,” he called out, remembering suddenly his interaction with Heather that morning.

He watched as Casey stopped dead in his tracks, saw the muscles in back clenching and unclenching before he finally pulled his work polo over his head and turned back to face Severide, his hair stuck up in ten different directions.

Severide had to fight not to grin at the sight.

“Morning,” Casey responded, the confusion in his voice making it come out more as a question.

“How are the Darden kids doing?”

Casey shot him a questioning look and rubbed a hand through his hair, only managing to change the directions of the unruly spikes.  Severide had always wondered how hair so short managed to stick up so crazily.  “You talked to Heather at all?” he added even though he knew Casey had.

“Uh yeah, I have actually.  They’re as good as can be expected, I suppose.  You seen, ‘em?”

“Yeah,” Severide said, choosing to forgo describing how terrible that had gone.  Things were only just getting back to semi-normal with Casey and he didn’t want to do anything to disrupt their tenuous accord.  As much as he liked being mad and having someone to blame, Severide had to concede that life was much easier when he and Casey weren’t at each other’s throats every ten seconds.

“I hear they’re coming to the barbecue,” Casey said trying to inject some happiness into his voice but both heard how it fell flat.

There was no point pretending the whole situation wasn't going to be uncomfortable for everyone involved.  Regardless Severide responded with his own fake upbeat, “Good.”

Silence settled between them, while Severide groped for a topic but Casey simply nodded at him before continuing around the corner to his own locker.  Severide sighed at the awkwardness but pushed it aside when pain flared in his shoulder as he pulled on his boots.  He stood, holding his right arm stiffly to his torso as it cried out in pain.

Inspired by his conversation with Casey, Severide made his way to his Chief’s office, noting absently the new secretary sitting at the desk in admin.  She was very pretty and he admired the predatory gleam in her dark eyes.  Nevertheless he didn’t bother to stop and say hello, intent on getting out of the barbecue and the uncomfortableness it was bound to bring.

“Hey Chief, you got a second?” he said, peering into the office and knocking gently on the doorframe.

“Sure, Kelly,” Boden replied, putting the down the report he had been intent on.

“Looking for a few extra shifts this month.  How’s Saturday sound?” he asked trying for nonchalance.

Boden wasn’t fooled.  “Saturday’s barbeue.”

Severide tried to pass it off in indifference.  “I’ve been there before.”

But Boden wasn’t having it.  “No way.  I need every man on deck on this one.”

“Chief,” Severide implored.  “I could really use the cash.”

“Ask me next month,” Boden said, his tone plus the way he refocused his attention on the report in front of him telling Severide that he was dismissed.

Severide froze however on his way out at the sound of the bells blaring through the house, Boden half rising from his chair as they waited for the announcement.  However instead of the familiar voice of the dispatch officer, they heard the voice of one of the engine boys saying, “Smoke-eater in the house.”

They joined the Truck men milling out onto the apparatus floor, knowing who it had to be.  Severide ignored the pang in his chest at the ‘welcome back’ calls to Herrmann, trying not to think about how Andy had never gotten that.  He tried to catch Casey’s eye, wondering if he too was thinking about Andy but the Truck Lieutenant’s eyes were firmly fixed on Herrmann, mouth twisted into a small smile at the man’s antics.  But Severide swore he saw something flash across his eyes before they cleared again.

The bubble of laughter and conversation dulled when Boden made his way to the front of the crowd of firefighters, taking in the sight of his old friend with a smile.  “Glad you’re back, Herrmann.  We’re a better house with you here.”

Herrmann bowed his head humbly.  “Thanks Chief.”

Severide felt his stomach lurch when the smile dropped from the Chief’s face and he shifted slightly to address the group at large, knowing it couldn’t be anything good.  “Everyone, later we’re going to have a whiteboard session about what happened in the Darden incident last month.  I expect you all to be there.”  There was a moment of strained silence where glances were swapped between the two Lieutenants of 51.  When Boden started talking again there was a quiet whisper of breath, as if everyone had been holding their breaths.  “On another note, this here is Nicki Rutkowski,” Boden continued, gesturing to the pretty secretary that Severide had noticed earlier.

Cruz let out a quiet, appreciative noise echoing the thoughts of most firefighters present.  Severide felt those dark eyes move onto him and met them for only half a second before glancing away, knowing - and dreading - what the Chief was going to say next, hand finding the bridge of his nose where he could feel a headache forming already.

“She’s going to be working with us next month, helping out with the payroll.  Her father is one of my oldest friends.  We were in the Navy together, so you all just treat her like she’s your very own…” Boden hesitated for a moment, catching sight of Cruz’s appreciative look before finishing meaningfully, “...sister.”

Cruz’s eyes jerked up from their assessment of Nicki’s body and he nodded his understanding, mixed with thinly veiled disappointment and glanced away pointedly.

“Thanks for having me,” she said, her voice sugar sweet.  But the smirk her thin, red lips had twisted into had too much meaning behind it for her to be innocent.

Ever the diplomatic one, it was Herrmann who welcomed her to the house.  But also being Herrmann he had to throw in a joke about not screwing up their paychecks.

But surprisingly enough Nicki responded with her own joke, making the men laugh.  Being such a close-knit House made it practically impossible for any outsider to work their way inside.  But maybe Nicki would last anyway.

Any further conversation was cut off by the scream of alarms and the men burst into action, donning their gear, collecting helmets and masks from the equipment room before swinging themselves up into the trucks and screeching out onto the roads, alarms loud in the otherwise quiet streets.

The trucks pulled to a stop in the industrial sector of Chicago, the Chief’s truck and the ambulance right on their heels.

“What’s going on?” Boden barked, taking in the disheveled construction sight.

“Foundation collapsed.  There’s three guys down in the basement hole.”

Making a snap decision, Boden ordered the Engine boys to prepare a 2½  hose before leading the way up onto the platform overlooking the collapsed area.  Severide hovered over one shoulder as Boden crouched down to get a good look and saw out of the corner of his eye, Casey move to his other shoulder.

Together they looked out, knowing in that uncanny way of their, born of years working together, what the other two would be looking at.  Severide could see Casey’s mouth moving wordlessly and knew he would be committing every abrasion he could see to memory, ready to tell the Ambo girls what to expect.  Severide, on the other hand, was looking at the structure of the cement and cataloguing the best ways to retrieve each person.  Boden would be putting it all together, thinking about how to best minimise loss of life without putting any of his men in danger.

The foreman of the sight was talking about how it happened, not realising that he wasn’t being listened to, the men already too focussed on their task to be worried about what he was saying.

“There’s no fire, but let’s drop the 2 ½ into the hole.  From the ladder,” Boden said calmly.

There was a clamour over the radio as the men still by the trucks hurried to do as instructed.

“Cruz let’s move fast on this.”

The ladder whirred into action, Cruz following Boden’s directions as he guided it out over the foundation collapse.  The engine boys jumped into action as soon as it was in position, dragging the hose up and over the end, dangling it out over the sight.

“Now charge it.”

On the Chief's command the firefighter’s still down by the truck, pumped it full of air, causing it to inflate into a cylinder, stable enough for the men to slide down it.   Casey was first, moving without hesitation, sliding down.  Otis followed right on his heels and together they approached the closest victim, a white male surrounded on all sides by solid blocks of concrete.  However other than a few scrapes on his face and neck, he didn’t look all that injured.

Otis confirmed as much as he knelt down to get a closer look.  “I don’t think we should move him though,” Otis said, glancing up at his Lieutenant, both thinking about how many injuries could be hidden beneath the surface of the man’s skin.

Casey agreed and used his radio to talk to the paramedics.  “Dawson, you down there?”

“Go for Dawson,” came her muffled reply through the radio.

“We need you up here.”

“Shay and Dawson are on their way down,” Boden informed them and just moments later Shay was landing lightly next to them.  

Dawson came next and only spared a second to get her bearings and mutter, “That was a first,” and joined them.  

Once he’d made sure they were right with the victim, Casey left the paramedics with Otis and moved to help shift the debris on top of another man who was lying on the precipice on a great hole in the foundation.  This man was in much worse shape, covered in dust and dirt with a large laceration spanning his forehead, but they had to get him away from the treacherous edge, so together Casey and Herrmann helped him to first sit up and then stand.

“Peter’s farther down,” the man groaned as he stumbled to his feet.  “I heard him talking but I couldn’t see him.”

Casey handed the arm he held over to Mouch and ordered him and Herrmann to get the man back onto the street where another ambulance would meet them.  He took a few steps and dropped to his knees to glance down into the pit.  Sure enough, with the aid of his flashlight, Casey spotted the aforementioned Peter, an older man with greying hair.  The blood staining his face caught the torch’s light making it look almost black.

“Peter?”

“I knew this was gonna be a bad day.”  The man’s voice was quiet and hoarse and he had to cough several times before he was able to continue.  “Told my wife this morning I had a premonition.”

“Are you hurt?”  Despite the alertness of the man, Casey was worried about a possible head injury due to the randomness of his speech.  Most victims in this situation would be in full panic mode, begging to get them out of there.  To Casey’s relief, Peter focussed on the question and answered in fair detail.

“I can’t breathe.  Can’t move.”  Casey tracked the torch up and down Peter’s body, noting the great slab of stone that was pinning Peter’s leg down.

“All right.  We’ll get you out,” he said, his voice steady before yelling over his shoulder, “I need three pike poles and a saw.”

The firefighter’s jumped into action, trying to get the equipment down around the other two victims who were being lifted out of the construction site.  Casey cursed the chaos and the lack of safe ways down.  Severide joined him at the edge of the hole and it only took him one glance to arrive at the same conclusion as Casey: Peter’s time was running out fast.

“How you doing down there, Peter?”

There was a long pause before Peter gasped back, “I’ve been better.”

“I’m going in,” Severide said immediately.

“It’s unstable,” Casey said without looking away from Peter, who had started to gasp shallowly below them.  But there was something about Severide’s silence that had Casey glancing over to find a small smile on Severide’s face, eyes glinting with adrenaline.

“Aren’t we all?”  He clapped a hand on Casey’s shoulder momentarily and before the younger man could protest was swinging himself into the pit, using the exposed beams as footholds.

Casey fought the urge to curse all over again before calling out to the nearest firefighter’s, preparing to widen the narrow entrance for when Severide got the victim out.

The air down in the hole was choked with dust and dirt and Severide had to take several deep breaths or he wouldn’t be useful to anyone.

Peter watched Severide’s long appraisal of the situation quietly, only speaking once the firefighter’s gaze had returned to his face.  “Not so bad, right?” he joked.

Severide didn’t answer and shifted closer, tugging off his helmet and crouching down beside the man.  “It’s Peter, right?” he said, just for something to say.  He received a shaky nod in return.  “Can you move your foot?”

“No.  I haven’t even felt it for half an hour,” the man said, stumbling over his words.  Severide grimaced and slid his hands under the concrete, trying to shift the unyielding stone.  He huffed out a breath of exertion before finally leaning back, failing to move it even an inch.

“How about the rest of you?”

“Can’t breathe too good.”  Peter’s breath rattled as he dragged air in and out and Severide’s hands were there in an instant, feeling and probing until Peter let out a pain filled gasp.

“Okay, okay.”  As far as he could tell there was no external injuries but at that point that’s what Severide would have been hoping for.  Bleeding where he can see it is much easier to deal with.

“Ju-just get my foot out, I’ll be fine,” Peter croaked.

“All right, we’re gonna get you out of here.”

“Do me one favour,” Peter said with a sudden intensity.

“Yeah?”

“No lies.”

Severide grimaced but relented.  “Fair enough.  I think you’re bleeding on the inside.  If that’s true, your foot is the least of your problems.”

Peter nodded shakily and as he processed that Severide glanced up to where Casey’s face had reappeared.

“Casey we need this hole opened up.”

“On it,” he responded, nodding shortly and glanced away to someone Severide couldn’t see.  “Go Cruz.”

There was the roar of a chainsaw starting up and Severide braced himself for the debris was bound to come raining down on them.  While Cruz worked away at the beams above him, Severide busied himself cleaning away the blood from Peter’s face and chest.

“We’ll get you back to your wife in no time.”

“Yeah sure.”

Severide couldn’t help the grin that spread across his lips at Peter’s disbelief.  “You saying I’ve got a bad poker face?”

“I’m saying I’d be all-in on that one.”  

Severide chuckled, having respect for anyone who could joke in a situation like this.  “Well you’re breathing and talking, so that’s good.”

Suddenly the whole foundation shook, dust and debris hailing from the roof and from the startled yells from above, Severide knew that the whole construction site must have shifted.  He lurched forward, trying to cover Peter as best he could.

“Severide.”  Casey’s voice was strained with worry and he had to force himself not to read too much into that.  Not here anyway.  Maybe later in the privacy of his own apartment.

So he just yelled back a “we’re fine” and concentrated on Peter’s pale face in front of him, the one he had to get out of there.  The one who was getting closer to slipping away every second.  He tipped his head back and called out to Casey, “Get Dawson over here!”

Dawson’s dark face, streaked white by dust appeared almost immediately after Casey’s yell for her and her keen, dark eyes assessing the situation instantly.

“His lower leg is trapped and there’s internal bleeding.”

“No way to release it?”

“No.”  Not without time and equipment anyway.

“Other than that, everything’s peachy,” Peter joked, before turning his head away overcome by a hacking cough.

“All right, I’ll call for a trauma surgeon.”

“How long?”

Dawson’s mouth turned down and her eyes softened, “I don’t know.”  And then she was slipping away, hurrying off to call the surgeon.

“What would a trauma surgeon do that you couldn’t?”

“Take off your foot.”  His tone was cold and clinical, Severide knew.  But he had learnt early on, that in this line of work sacrifices needed to be made if a person’s life was going to be saved.  He had only been a candidate for a month when he had had to assist in the amputation of a colleague; sacrificing the seasoned firefighter’s two legs for his life.  He’d had nightmares for months afterwards.

There was a loud crash from up above and out of sight and Severide glanced up to see Casey looking over his shoulder, biting his lips as he thought.  He looked back down and caught Severide’s eye.  It was clear that whatever was happening up there, required Casey’s leadership but Severide also understood his trepidation.  If he was in Casey’s position, no way would he feel comfortable leaving his man down an unstable hole.  But it was unlikely that Casey would be able to do anything for them anyway so he waved the man away.

“Go Casey, we’ll be fine here.”

Casey nodded and Severide turned back to Peter but he could feel Casey’s eyes on him for a few more seconds before he moved away.  He focussed on Peter to find the older man watching him curiously.

“What’s your name, kid?”

“Severide.  Kelly.  Everyone pretty much calls me Severide.”  He’d always hated his first name - having taken enough shit for it in high school - so much that it was only Casey he’d ever really let use it.

“You married, Kelly?”

“No,” Severide answered, resolutely not thinking of how close he’d come once upon a time.

Peter’s eyes flickered up quickly to where Casey’s face had been before settling back on Severide.  “That your guy?”

“How- no.  No he isn’t.”

“Come on, kid.  I’ve been around long enough to know how to spot love.”

And Severide had to fight down the irrational urge to ask from whom Peter is spotting this.  Instead he just shook his head, not quite able to meet Peter’s eye.  “No, me and Matt- that fell apart a while back.”

Peter hummed suspiciously and his eyes leapt about as he read Severide’s face.  “Well don’t wait too long, Kelly.  To make things better with him,” he added at Severide’s questioning glance.

Severide didn’t answer, instead regarded the older man curiously.  While Severide himself had never faced any really bad prejudice because of his sexuality, he knew from enough horror stories from Casey, that he’d been extremely lucky to have gone to a pretty progressive high school.  He’d never let the minimal hate bother him either way, he would love who he would and if people had a problem with it, well that wasn’t up to him.  The comments that had been hurled at him when walking hand in hand with Casey down the street had almost always come from older people.  Which was why he found Peter’s easy acceptance so strange.

Still, there was no need to go into the politics of same-sex relationships at the bottom of a crumbling pit, so Severide changed the subject.

“Tell me about your wife.”

“Name’s Georgie.  Her dad wanted a boy, but he kept getting girls.”

Severide chuckled, thinking back to his childhood and the barbershop that had stood on the corner.  “There was a barbershop on my street named Harris and Sons.  Mr Harris named it when his wife was pregnant with their first; ended up having five girls.”

The laugh that his story prompted quickly turned into a choking cough, stealing the breath from the old man’s lungs and Severide fought a grimace at the trail of blood that slid over Peter’s chapped lips and down his chin.  He reached out to steady the man against the rock as Shay appeared above him, instructing him to hook the saline bag up to his arm.

“How long on that surgeon?”

“Fifteen minutes.”

Severide bit back a growl of frustration and worked on getting the saline into Peter’s arm, trying not to think about how impossibly long fifteen minutes was going to be.

“Kelly.”  Severide didn’t glance up at his name, dreading the words that he knew were going to come.  Undeterred, Peter continued, “We don’t have time for a surgeon.  You’re going to have to do it.  Take off the foot.”

Severide finally slid the needle through the tanned skin of Peter’s forearm, pumping the saline through his body.  He could feel Peter’s gaze burning into his forehead and he finally looked up, schooling his expression into a personally blank mask.  It wouldn’t be the first time Severide had to perform a field amputation but it never got any easier; watching the blade chop into blood and bone, the sickening sound of the limb being detached.  There was a reason he’d chosen to be a firefighter and not a paramedic.

Peter’s gaze was pleading and when he spoke his voice was desperate.  “Get me out of here.  Get me home.”

Staving off the inevitable, Severide yelled, “Tell that surgeon to hurry the hell up.”

He could hear Dawson barking at the dispatch officer up on the surface but he blocked her out, focussing instead on Peter who was choking on more blood as it rushed up his throat and dribbled over his chin.

He could barely get out more than a few reassuring words when the pit gave an almighty shudder, reverberating from where the foundation was gradually cracking apart.  Severide glanced up, preparing for an update.  Casey face appeared over the edge of the hole, helmet askew from where he had apparently stumbled, the effects of the shudder evidently hitting them even harder.

One glance at Casey’s face and Severide knew what he was going to say.  Nevertheless it didn’t make hearing the words any easier.  “We have to pull back; it’s going to give.”

Peter stared between the two men wordlessly while the Lieutenant’s held each other’s gazes.  He knew it would be useless to ask Casey to go and leave him here.  Not only would Casey not do it but Boden would hand him his ass on a silver platter if he managed to survive it.  Swallowing thickly he glanced down again, thinking hard.  Distantly he could hear Peter telling him to go and that it was alright, but his focus was on the feet still trapped firmly under the slab of stone, coming to a decision.

“Casey, I need a sawzall,” he ordered.  Casey was gone between one blink of an eye and the next and Severide found himself thanking God or whoever else listening that out of all the shifts and houses in all the states, somehow he had ended up working with Casey.  Quick, efficient, Casey.  Who cared just as much as he did.  Who gave just as much as he did.  Who understood everything he was thinking with just a glance.

He shook away the thoughts, startled by how they were leaning towards intimate and focussed back on the coughing man in front of him.  The man who couldn’t have more than a few minutes left in his life.  Severide hissed out a breath, ashamed that he had let himself get distracted like that.

“Hey, Peter.”

Peter’s eyes fluttered opened again tiredly and he managed a weak smile with his red stained lips.  “Yeah, I’m still with you, Kelly.”

“Tell me about Georgie.”

The chuckle that that prompted was not much more than a whisper.  “I,” he paused as another body wracking cough overcame him.  “I married above my head.  Been playing catch-up ever since.”

“Do you have children?”

A bitter-sweet smile flitted across Peter’s lips.  “No, we tried.”

Severide tugged his eyes away from Peter’s half-lidded ones to grab the saw Casey had lowered down to him.  He tugged the rope holding it free and pressed the button a few times to make sure it was working properly.  He was just lining it up with Peter’s shin, the tourniquet he’d fastened earlier already restricting blood from reaching the uncooperative limb, when Peter’s hand fastened around his wrist.  His grip was troublingly weak but when Severide glanced up questioningly, his gaze was startling determined.

“Kelly, you got a phone?”

Severide had seen enough people die to know not to question their final demands so Severide just nodded and without saying a word tugged his phone from his leg pocket.

Casey felt the dread build in the pit of his stomach when he didn’t immediately hear the expected whirr of the saw and reaction from Peter.  His fears were confirmed when Severide’s hand dumped the saw over the side and the rest of his body followed quickly after, taking Casey’s offered hand for support.

Severide glanced between Casey and Dawson before saying shortly, “It’s a recovery now,” and walking away without another word.

Casey ducked his head briefly and dropped to his knee to peer over the side.  Sure enough, with his eyes closed and the barest trace of a peaceful smile on his lips was the worker, looking strangely small at the bottom of the pit.

Casey heaved a heavy breath before signalling for his men to begin the recovery of the body, trying not to add the death to the mental tally inside his head.  The tally of all the victims he couldn’t save.

 

After losing the factory worker, the ride back to the station was oddly subdued, each man quiet and contemplative, getting over the loss in their own individual way.

But back at 51 Herrmann had a surprise for them, or for Shay and Dawson at least.  The appearance of his four kids perked everyone up after the hard call.  The companies dismounted from the trucks and wandered closer, mostly out of curiosity, but Severide found himself hanging back; watching from afar as he slowly pulled off his turnout gear.

“Dawson, Shay,” Herrmann called.  “Get over here.  We’ve got something for you.”

Herrmann herded his kids into a line before gesturing impatiently for them to reveal the roll of large construction paper they held between them.  Severide could see the messy hand of a child spelling out the words, “Thank you for saving our Dad,” accompanied by a fairly accurate drawing of a burning house, a fire truck and two stick figures who evidently were supposed to be Shay and Dawson.

Severide heard Shay’s delighted gasp, slightly exaggerated for the kid’s benefit and felt his lips twitch in fondness, Shay always being so much better with kids then he had ever been.

“They obviously got their artistic talent from their mother,” Herrmann joked and Severide felt the smile on his face widen, if ever so slightly.  “Hey, you guys, these are the ladies that saved my life.  Come on, give ‘em a clap.”

The Herrmann kids burst into enthusiastic applause, quickly joined by the other members of the firehouse.  Severide felt his mood lighten and almost stepped closer to join the conversation when Cindy came forward to embrace the paramedics, kissing them each on the cheek in thanks.

And suddenly all Severide could think about was the worker lying in the bottom of the pit and his widow who was no doubt, right at this moment being told of her loss.  And of Heather who he had watched as she cried into Casey’s shoulder after being told by Boden of the loss of her husband.

Severide swallowed thickly and stepped backwards instead, slipping away unnoticed.  He wandered through the mostly empty hallways of the house, dodging the stray engine firefighter as he went until he found a mostly empty hallway.  He collapsed back against the cold stone wall, slipping his phone from his pocket and tossing it from hand to hand.

He had gotten the number from Peter’s phone before it had been taken away to give back his widow by the firefighter’s sent to deliver the news, but for some reason he had been stalling.  It wasn’t like he had never had to talk to grieving widows and families before.  Ten plus years on the job meant that he had way too much experience in the matter.  But it never got any easier.  Knowing that what you’re going to say is going to bring their lives falling down all around them.

Georgie had already had her world brought down and he didn’t know how to talk to her without making it worse.

For a moment, Severide was worried that he was about to be interrupted.  The sudden cacophony of voices echoing, bounded down the previously silent hallway, jerking him from his haze of hesitance.  He kept his head ducked down low, posture slouched, as to remain as unobtrusive as possible and played with the keys of his phone, trying to look busy.

At the other end of the corridor Otis was leading a group of truck boys, Casey in the midst, blathering about the crest of the truck, which everyone had been hearing about since Otis had noticed it that morning.  Each time he spoke, he barely got more than a sentence out of his argument before he was being shot down, first by Casey, then by other members of the group until finally Herrmann fed him a bullshit story about the crest being a talisman to reverse an old curse, after which they finally dispersed.

Severide waited a few moments, to make sure they were gone for good, before finally pulling the crumpled paper he had scrawled the number down on and copied it into his phone, pressing call before he could think better of it.

The call connected after just one ring and Severide pushed away from the wall in surprise, scrambling to find something to say before he realised he had been sent straight to voicemail.  Which apparently didn’t make this any easier because as soon as he signalled to speak by the beep he choked on whatever he was going to say.  

After a long moment of horrible silence he finally disconnected, shoving the phone deep into his pocket.  He scrubbed a hand over his face and resolved to try again later when Boden strode past, an older man in an officer’s uniform, who Severide easily identified as District Chief Walker, right beside him.

“Kelly,” Boden said and continued on, without another word.

Severide followed wordlessly, hand absently drifting up to knead at his aching shoulder, sore from the climb out of the hole earlier, dreading what he knew was to come.  He followed the Chief and Walker into one of the common rooms where he found his company and Casey’s already there and waiting for him.

His throat went dry and despite having expecting this, for a moment he can’t breathe.  He can’t stand the idea of sitting there and being lectured on how he could have prevented Andy’s death, on what he should have done better, on whose fault it was that his best friend was dead.  But then Severide did what he always did, he disassociated and survived because it was what he had been taught to do.  How else could he go running into burning buildings every day if he didn’t know how to remove himself from a situation and look at it as an objective third-party onlooker.

He moved further in, keeping his face perfectly blank as he took in the room; a schematic of the house had already been drawn up, initials to symbolise each of the firefighter’s who had been on scene, both companies were complete, no one daring to miss the mandatory whiteboard session, even the Candidate was in attendance, no doubt there to learn but something about it rubbed Severide the wrong way.  

Fighting back the urge to snap out a comment that he would later come to regret, Severide took his place at the back of the room a few feet away from Casey, who true to his nature had given up his seat for a fellow firefighter and was standing by the door.  Hand still absently kneading at the muscles of his shoulder, Severide tuned back into Walker who was describing the setup of the day as if any of them needed a reminder.

“Darden was entering the attic window here,” he was saying, slashing a red ‘x’ on the window of the diagram.  “While Squad 3 was conducting first floor search and rescue here.”

The more Walker talked, the sicker Severide felt and the worse his shoulder ached.  He pressed at the trembling muscles more and more insistently until he was digging his thumb in with enough force to bruise.

“Fire started in the basement and spread up to the kitchen.  Now, we all know fire is in a constant hunt for oxygen.”

The room was getting hotter, Severide was sure and the oxygen that Walker was talking about was slowly being sapped from the air.  Severide tugged at the collar of his shirt, fighting to control his rapid breathing and temper down the heat that he could feel rising in his cheeks.  Severide glanced over at Casey uncertainly, convinced that he couldn’t be the only being so affected but Casey looked as unruffled as ever, eyes clear and attentive on Walker, mouth pressed into a straight expressionless line.  Shaking his head to clear his rising panic, Severide dropped his hand from his shoulder, clenched both hands into fists and focussed back on the front.

“No vent and the fire’s coming after us.  What started in the basement, is now looking for a way out.  A larger vent cut in the back of the house and the fire never would have make it upstairs,” and to conclude his point he drew a line across the room, slicing right through the ‘D’ for Darden.  At long last, Casey seemed affected as he shifted minutely but Severide had hit the end of his rope.

With his shoulder now screaming in pain he moved away from the wall and walked out of the room without a word, barely hearing Boden’s call through the haze of pain.  As he brushed past on his way past, Casey leaned out of the way, cutting of contact before it could really begin and in some part of Severide’s addled mind he found himself wishing Casey hadn’t, craving contact with the icy demeanour to calm himself.

The flitting thought went as quickly as it had come and Severide hurried away.  He barely remembered the trip to the locker room, didn’t know how he managed his lock left-handed with his right useless as it was, but the next thing he remembered was sitting on the closed lid of a toilet, waiting with bated breath and a racing heart for the other firefighter to leave.

As soon as the door clanged shut behind the man, Severide was unzipping his kit with shaking fingers and rummaging through his belongings for the small vial of painkillers.  It took him several tries but he finally managed to get the thing loaded.  He spared the syringe half a glance, remembering distantly Shay promising that this would be the last one, before plunging it deep into his deltoid with practiced ease, head thunking back against the cement with a dull thud as relief slowly inched it’s way along his veins.

He chewed on the cap of the syringe lazily as the medication worked it’s way through his body and tried to work up the energy to be worried.  It was hard when the screaming of pain in his shoulder and neck had finally been reduced to quiet, occasional whimpers.  He had been living with Shay as long as he had known her and if it had taught him anything, it was that the girl was stubborn as hell.  If she had said that was the last one, then that was the last one.  And Severide knew he should be freaking out, wondering where he was going to get his next dose but it was just a bit too much for him right now, so he let his eyes slip closed, lips still absently working around the plastic of the cap, content for the moment to sit there peacefully before he got his ass chewed out by Boden for leaving the session early.


Severide’s abrupt departure from the whiteboard session bothered Casey all night, throughout the rest of the shift and the whole way home.  He had looked, outwardly, fine, maybe a little uncomfortable but that was to be expected.  His face had been fixed into it’s usual glower, hand cupped around his shoulder as was it’s automatic resting place lately and paying semi-attention to Walker without his usual surly comments, which Casey considered a minor miracle.  Which was what made his unexpected exit so surprising.

The white board session had been distressing for everyone involved; Casey doubted that anyone there had been anything close to relaxed but Walker’s clinical report hadn’t been enough to warrant a walk out.

Casey had been in half a mind to follow him after catching a glimpse of Severide’s wide, wild eyes as he left.  But it had been the expectant looks that thrown his way from too many people to identify that had ultimately held him back.  It wasn’t his responsibility to check up on Severide anymore.  The man had made it abundantly clear on multiple occasions that he didn’t appreciate Casey’s concern and if he was going to be stubborn, Casey had no interest in challenging him.

Knowing there was no better way to get over his weird mood, Casey hit all his old haunts right after shift picking up some supplies for the next stage of construction on his town house.  He splurged a little more than he normally would have, selecting double crown molding for the ceiling trim.

He had just made it back home and was preparing to move everything inside to put in a good hour’s work before catching up on some sleep when the familiar blue car of his girlfriend pulled up.

“Double crown molding?” Hallie asked, quickly identifying his purchase.  “No expenses spared, I see.”

“Yeah, well, it’s getting there,” Casey replied calmly, knowing full well that Hallie had never fully approved of his choice to buy the place.  In her eyes, their miniscule apartment was big enough for the two of them.  But not for the family Casey wanted.

“You’re never going to want to leave,” Hallie said, goading him into a fight in her own passive way.

“Depends on what the offer is,” he placated in return, knowing it was what she wanted to hear.  Sure enough Hallie’s demeanour relaxed and she turned the car off, settling back into the seat.  There was something unsure in her eyes however, that had Casey asking her what was up.

“I said I would bring a dessert to the barbecue.  I understand if you don’t want me to go.”

Despite their reconciliation over the phone the week before, Casey was still living at his place and Hallie at hers, only spending the occasional night with each other.  There was still problems between them as much as Casey didn’t want to admit it so he knew what he needed to do.

“No, you should come.  We should go together.”

It wouldn’t be a magical cure for everything that was between them but it would get them one step closer to how it used to be.

The smile was already reappearing on Hallie’s lips when she asked if he was sure and it came into full effect when he assured he was.  It turned into an absolute grin when he invited her in for a drink, both weary after their respective shifts.  The double crown molding and his problems with Severide could wait.


Shay was acting shifty which was never a good sign.  The very sight of her twitching in her seat was setting Severide edge so he thought he should be congratulated for waiting another five minutes before he finally barked at her to “out with it.”

Shay narrowed her eyes at his tone and Severide bit back a curse.  It didn’t seem to matter what he did these days, he was always hurting someone.  Thankfully, Shay let it go without comment and settled more comfortably on her perch on the counter bench, adopting an expression that told Severide that he was in for the long haul and he probably shouldn’t have asked.

He bit back another curse.

“Ok, before I begin, I need to know one thing.  You know that rule that we decided upon when I first moved in?”  At Severide’s dubious nod, Shay continued, “Well I need a brief, 5 minute reprieve from it.”  She fell silent, evidently happy to wait while Severide thought it out.  It was only when he inclined his head in a silent “proceed” did she start talking again.  

“So I have these three best friends.  And it’s kind of put me into an awkward position.  Now the first best friend was great.  He was living here when I met him and him and his boyfriend - best friend number two by the way - graciously let me live here with them.  And things were great.  But then best friend numbers one and two split up and now I can’t really talk to number one because I still live with number two.”

“If you want to talk to Casey-”

“Casey?  Who Casey?  I haven’t named anyone.  I could be talking about anyone right now.”

“It’s not like you’re a kid who ended up with one parent in the divorce-”

“Anyway,” Shay cut across loudly.  “It is what it is.  I mean, yes I miss him but whatever, but this is what brings me to the awkward part.  I’m pretty sure best friend number two is still interested in number one or at the very least curious-”

“I’m not-”

“And best friend number three is definitely interested in number one.  And I love all my friends equally so I’m at a loss for what to do when I come across certain information-”

“Just tell Dawson because I’m sure as hell not interested in what Casey does-” Severide started turning away to focus on the lunch he was preparing for himself and Shay.

“So!” Shay half-yelled cutting across her roommate again.  “I have decided to just tell both number two and three whatever I hear and they shall do with it what they will.”

Silence fell between the pair of them, the only sound being Severide chopping up the vegetables for the salad, him waiting for Shay to continue, her expecting his input.

When it became clear that Shay wasn’t going to continue, Severide sighed.  “Well you’re going to tell me anyway so you might as well get it over with.”

Shay grinned devilishly behind Severide’s turned back, pleased that she had managed to get him to ask for it.

“I heard Casey moved out of his and Hallie’s apartment.”

“Oh.”

The news really shouldn’t have made Severide as happy as it did.  And maybe it was comment on his character but there was a part of himself that was way too happy to hear that Hallie hadn’t managed to replace him completely.

“You know, she’s still coming to the barbecue with him so take what I’m saying with a grain of salt.”  Shay took in the sight of Severide’s shoulders suddenly tensing from where they’d been relaxed a moment ago without comment, quickly reverting back to their  agreement of staying out of each other business.  “And you don’t even care, so I don’t even know why I’m still talking.”

Severide turned back to her and avoided eye contact as he placed the bowl of salad in front of her wordlessly.  He stepped away and took a bite chewing on a slice of cucumber thoughtfully.

“So Dawson has the hots for Casey?”

Shay grinned but shook her head, blonde hair whipping from side to side.  “No trading information.”  She slid from the counter and walked away and into the lounge room, clicking the television onto a marathon of Hoarders, her latest obsession.

Dawson liking Casey hadn’t come as much of a surprise to Casey.  He’d suspected for a while now and the girl wasn’t exactly subtle about it.  It was one of those badly kept  House secrets that everyone knew about.  Except Casey of course, because the guy was could be completely oblivious.

Severide doubted anything would come of it.  It wasn’t that he cared either way but he knew Casey and he knew how the man acted when he was interested and when he wasn’t.  Either Casey was playing his cards close to the chest or Dawson was going to be disappointed.


The Friends of Firemen Barbecue came around as it always did on a sunny Sunday afternoon.  The long standing myth surrounding the perfect weather conditions was something that everyone knew about but never talked about.  No one wanted to be the one who jinxed the perfect weather and brought about the first rained out barbecue in decades.

Normally House 51 ended up in one big group by the end of the day, pushing several tables to make one communal one but apparently the residual effects of the Casey/Severide feud had kept them apart this year and the way they were going Severide couldn’t see them warming up any time soon.  If anyone was going to do it, it would be Casey, who hadn’t even turned up yet.

Severide knew he acting like a brooding teenager, but he wasn’t really in the right mood for the barbecue, mind weighed down by too many things to have fun; the widow of the construction worker and the message that was burning in his pocket, Hallie and Casey’s split, Dawson’s interest in Casey and the ache in his neck.  Always the ache in his neck.

So to say Severide was in a bad mood would be an understatement and by the time Casey turned up hand in hand with Hallie, Severide was ready to scrap the whole day.

“What’s up with you?” Hadley asked suddenly, jerking his Lieutenant from his dark thoughts.

Severide jerked to attention, realising a beat too late that Hadley had come to the conclusion of his story, sending the rest of the table into laughter.  Knowing that any attempt to act invested in the ending of the story would come across as transparent so he just shook his head and tipped his beer bottle back, taking a large swallow.

“Nothing.  I’m all good,” he lied, turning away slightly to survey the park and all the occupants, hoping his desire for solitude was being projected loudly enough.

 

Wading their way through the mess of children, firefighters, wives and girlfriends, Hallie and Casey made a beeline straight for the empty spot on Shay and Dawson’s table.

“Mind if we squeeze in?”

Casey’s question was met with hasty assurances and a smile from Shay.  He answered it with his own easily enough.  Things between them had been awkward since the split, her not sure how to act, him not wanting to make things awkward for Shay and Severide.  But both had missed the other and hated the space that had suddenly been introduced into their friendship.

“This is Corinne.” Shay gestured to the pretty redhead sitting across the table.  “She just moved here from…”

“Alabama,” Corinne supplied, a definitive accent colouring her words.

“Nice to meet you,” Casey said and turned to Shay when the conversation moved on, raising his eyebrows suggestively.  She nudged him subtly in the ribs, covering her smile with a hand.

They turned back to the conversation as Hallie was complimenting Dawson on her work making over the drunk patient.

“Yeah, well, Dawson got her ass squeezed by a drunken englishman,” Shay said, supplying the context.

“You have got to quit flirting with your patients,” Casey couldn’t help but tease.

“So we prettied him up a little,” Dawson’s smile was accompanied by an easy shrug and a carefree smile.

“So not something you learnt in med school, I take it?” Corinne asked.

The group chuckled, most closely acquainted with the inner workings of the paramedic department.

“We’re paramedics so we didn’t go to fancy med school,” Shay explained.  She turned to Dawson with raised eyebrows, “Although…”

Not missing the look, Hallie was quick to catch on.  “What?”

Dawson blushed slightly and smiled sheepishly.  “I’ve been taking some pre-med classes.”

The group broke into congratulations, this being news to most of them.

Dawson accepted the compliments graciously but shook her head ruefully.  “It’s still a long way off.”

“Anytime you want to walk a shift with me, say the word,” Hallie offered immediately, her smile genuine.

A smile fell into place on Casey’s face, feeling the most natural than it had in weeks.  Dawson was an important friend to him and to see her and Hallie getting on, knowing he wouldn’t lose her lifted a weight off his chest.  It was the exact opposite to when he’d last been with Hallie and he had to mediate fights between her and Severide every other day.

Casey fidgeted at the memory losing track of the conversation for the moment.  Since their split Casey, in an act of self-preservation had actively kept his mind away from memories of their time together and he couldn’t say it was a welcome feeling to finally let that pain back in.

He pushed all that away, however when he caught sight of Heather over Hallie’s shoulder, a hand on her youngest, Ben’s shoulder, the other clasped around a dish, Griffin at her elbow.

“Hey, Heather’s here,” he said.  He and Hallie excused themselves and headed over to greet them.  They got her dish situated on the communal tables and sent the two boys off to play while they caught up.

None of the party were aware of the scrutinous eyes of Kelly Severide on them as they talked.

“It’s just so hard on Ben and Griffin,” Heather was explaining while they watched as the boys stopped just short of where a group of kids were playing with their dads.  “They’re afraid the kids are going to treat them differently.”

Casey only hesitated a moment before handing his beer over to Hallie and walked off.  He approached the kids from behind and easily swept Ben up, swinging him up into the air as he moved them closer to the other kids.

“Come on Squirt.  Let’s go play some football.”

Small hands locked around his neck, Griffin’s quiet laughter beside him an accompaniment to Ben’s louder delighted shrieks and Casey had to wonder in that moment if this would be what having a family would be like.

 

Severide simmered with something akin to jealousy as he watched Heather smile and laugh with Casey and Hallie.  Where she could barely stand to be in his presence for more than five minutes and had whisked her sons away as quickly as she could, one of whom being his godson, she had allowed Casey to comfort her.  He couldn’t even be really mad at Casey because they had been trying to do the exact same thing: be there for the wife of their best friend.

The anger that was bubbling deep within his stomach was momentarily put on hold as he watched Casey scoop Ben up with a laugh and a smile.  He hadn’t seen that smile since the day Andy had died.  Granted he hadn’t had much reason to but deep inside he knew he had missed it.  Which immediately made him even more mad.

He blamed Casey for Andy’s death, had been blamed by Casey for Andy’s death.  He had no right to be feeling anything towards Casey other than contempt and if he could manage it professional civility.

Feeling particularly self-destructive Severide waited until Heather broke away from Hallie and then made a beeline for her where she was standing alone at one of the drink coolers.  If he couldn’t deal with one issue, then he could handle another.

“Andy loved being a firefighter.”  It may not have been the best opening but Severide did better when he was direct and didn’t allow himself to get mixed up trying to express himself.  “It was our dream since we were kids,” he went on when Heather’s soft smile disappeared into a thin line and her eyes hardened.

“He worshipped you.  You sure it wasn’t just your dream?”

Heather walked away without another word, leaving Severide staring after her in her wake.

It took Severide several long minutes to close his mouth after Heather’s harsh words but he got it together just in time for Heather’s place to be taken by the confident Nicki.

“Wow, he protects Chicago and serves the beer?” She laughed and it didn't take a genius to work out what she was angling for.

“For right now, sure,” Severide replied, dunking his hand into icy water to grab her a drink, the chill a welcome way to get him out of his head which was still turning Heather’s words over and over.

“I’m Nicki,” she said as way of thanks, taking the beer from him.  It took all of Severide’s self control not to say ‘I know’.  “So how long have you been a firefighter?” Nicki asked when it became clear Severide wasn't going to further the conversation.

“Since the day I was born,” Severide said, partly because it was the truth and partly because he knew it would throw her off.  True enough she let out a surprised giggle but didn’t speak, giving Severide time to say a quick, unapologetic goodbye and take off, clinking his beer against hers as he went.

It had been clear what she'd been interested in; Severide had picked that up in the sultry smile alone and maybe a few weeks ago he would have welcomed the distraction she’d provide with open arms.  Before all the drama in his life, when he'd been able to hate Casey without his pesky feelings getting in the way and Shay had been helpfully supplying his medication, Severide probably would have taken one look at her smile and asked her out to drinks in a heartbeat.  But now the fun of the one night they’d spend together wasn't worth it.  Despite what a good lay she might be, she wasn't worth getting pushed further into Boden’s bad books for, should he get caught.  She wasn't worth the drama she seemed to be immersed in.  He had enough of that in his life without her help.

Severide made his way to the edge of the park, catching Boden's eye as he went.  Boden nodded at him curtly, lips pressed together stoically.  Severide knew Boden wouldn't be happy that he was leaving early but his chief wouldn't complain.  Severide had put in an appearance as requested and had stayed the appropriate hours.  Severide didn't owe him anything more than that.


Hours later, when Severide was alone in his apartment, half watching the Cubs game and well on his way to being flat out drunk, he heard a knock at his door.  For a long moment he considered just acting asleep until they gave up and went away.  He had come to his apartment early to be alone, get drunk and try not to think about Heather’s earlier callous words.  And answering the door would directly interrupt that.  Still, he decided not to be an asshole and got to his feet to open the door.

And promptly wished he hadn't.

Just outside his door stood Nicki, leaning up against the wall, the jacket he'd left at the picnic in hand.  The pretty sundress she’d worn to the picnic was gone, replaced by denim shorts and a tight CFD shirt that did wonders for her figure.

“You left your jacket,” she said, holding it up but when Severide reached for it with a quiet “thanks” she held fast, using their joined grip to pull him closer.  She leaned against the doorjamb, a provocative smile dancing across her lips.  Without any further ado Nicki leaned up the rest of the way and pressed her lips firmly against his.  Severide made a low sound at the back of his throat and inched closer.  He might not have been looking for any more drama on his life but Severide was only human and the tiny shirt Nicki was wearing did nothing to help control his libido.

Maybe he had been wrong back at the picnic.  Maybe the perfect way to forget about all the drama for a night was to invite Nicki in.  She wasn’t hard on the eyes and seemed smart enough and maybe what Severide needed was something to get him out of his head.

But just as he was about to draw her closer, maybe pull back to invite her in for a drink, Heather’s cold words jumped to the front of his head, echoing nastily: You sure it wasn’t just you?

And Severide had to pull back and not to ask her for something more.  Because it didn’t matter how much she wanted this he knew it wouldn’t be fair to use her like this.  To use her as nothing more than a faceless body in order to get out of his head.  He’d been brought up better than that.

He took a step away, disgusted with himself that he might have even considered using her that way.

“Not a good time for this,” he told her when she pouted playfully at him.

“Do you always do what your chief tells you to do?”  Her tone was just playful and mocking enough that it would usually goad him into proving her wrong.  

“Trust me, this isn’t because of the chief.”  And it was true.  Boden telling them to back off and stay that way was just part of it.  

Sure, Severide didn’t want to get in his Chief’s bad books and life was much easier when he did what he was told.  But if this had been any other night where he didn’t feel so weighed down by the words still echoing in his head and the loss of his best friend and the ache in his shoulder and the fucked up mess that was his relationship - and Severide used that term extremely lightly - with Casey, then he might have invited her in for a drink and a fuck.   But it wasn’t and he wasn’t and he just really wished she would go.  Go so he could go back to his self-disgust and alcohol in peace.

“Is there somebody else in there?”

“Just the cubs.”

“If you change your mind, you know where to find me.”  She gave him one last smile and with a flutter of her eyelashes she turned and walked away, hips swaying enticingly like she was hoping Severide would see and be overcome with need for her.  But really Severide was more focussed on the six pack waiting in his fridge that was calling his name.  He waited until she was out of sight before he closed the door, ready to lose himself in the sweet bliss of alcohol.

 

Severide managed to stumble up to bed hours later, the apartment still dark and empty without Shay there.  Desire for contact burned deep inside Severide’s stomach, the need to call someone - someone who had really known Andy - and reassure himself that Andy had really wanted to be a firefighter.  He flopped into bed, fingers stumbling sloppily over the numbers and alcohol warming his veins.  He finally finished dialing and some alcohol soaked part of his mind wondered why it had taken so long and lifted the phone to his ear, waiting for it to connect.


The next morning found Severide seated at the kitchen island, uneaten bowl of cereal in front of him and staring determinedly away from his phone where it was lying face down next to his  glass of water.

So polishing off the last of the vodka on top of the six pack of beer might not have been his best idea ever.

He was just reaching for his phone for the thousandth time that morning when the sound of echoing footsteps coming down the stairs had him pausing him in his movement.  He looked around in time to catch Corinne, Shay’s latest, wander down the stairs absently tugging her top down over her stomach and reaching up to fidget with her sex-and-sleep-mussed hair.

She walked over and snagged her purse where it had evidently been dumped on the counter the night before.  “Have a good day,” she drawled in her southern twang.

Severide sincerely doubted it but wished her the same nevertheless.

He was back to contemplating his phone as he listened to the sound of Shay and Corinne saying goodbye to each other.

All Severide could remember of last night was stumbling up the stairs and bashing his knee when he slipped and the feeling of his fingers sliding over phone keys as he dialed.  The fact that he couldn’t remember who it was that he called and what the conversation had entailed was the reason he was freaking out.

He knew rationally that he had probably just called Shay or his mum to babble about God knows what, but there was that little doubt niggling at the back of his mind that was keeping him from checking his call log.

Ignorance is bliss as they say.

Shay appeared out of the corner of his eye, clad only in a yellow nightdress leaving her legs pale and bare.  Severide slumped over his arms as he grunted out a good morning, leaving Shay to inspect the insides of the fridge.

“Did you eat my yogurt?”  Her tone was accusing and Severide didn’t need to look up to know that she was glaring at him.  He grunted in the negative trying to shake off the feeling that his drunk self had indulged in a midnight snack.

“How drunk did you get last night anyway?”

The groan that Severide responded with was answer enough for Shay.  She hummed disapprovingly and took the seat next to him, preparing a bowl of cornflakes and milk, the sound of the spoon on ceramic like gunfire to his sensitive ears.


Casey knew that he had to talk to him.  Even if it was just to work out exactly how much he knew.  It just might end up to be the most awkward conversation he’s ever had.

Which was how Casey found himself bright and early Monday morning a few days after the barbecue shifting restlessly outside the open door to Severide’s office.  He was surprised that Severide hadn't noticed his hovering for the past ten minutes but the other Lieutenant seemed pretty intent on his paperwork.

Casey took a deep breath, convinced himself to man up and stepped forward to knock on the doorframe.

Severide glanced up briefly, nodded an acknowledgment before turning back to his paperwork.

For unknown reasons Casey bristled at the clear dismissal and bit his tongue to stop himself from from commenting, which he knew would just start a fight between them.

“So I uh, needed to talk to you about something- and I don’t know, I don’t know exactly how you’re going to feel about it, but I just thought you should know and yeah…” Casey trailed off when Severide finally set his pen down but turned to look at him like he thought he was crazy.

Truth to be told, Casey was acting weird.  He never babbled, preferring to be clear, concise and succinct.  Why fuck around when you can just get to the point?

But Casey thought he deserved this concession to act like a total idiot since they were probably going to get very uncomfortable soon.  Deciding to go with another strategy, Casey asked, “So you got pretty drunk after the picnic huh?”

It was clear straight away that this was the wrong thing to say because Severide’s eyes narrowed to slits and when he spoke it was little more than a hiss.  “Look, I don’t know what the fuck your problem is Casey or why you think this is any of your business-”

“You called me that night.”

“Oh,” Severide said, voice strangled.

“Yeah, so I just thought you’d want to know.  And now that you do I’ll just go…” Casey trailed off and took a step out of his quarters.

“Wait,” Severide called, his voice half demanding, half pleading.

Case paused in the doorway, eyes fixed determinedly away from Severide's.  “Yeah?”

“I didn’t uh, did I say anything, you know weird or oddly personal or-”

“No.”

“Oh good,” Severide’s voice was still off and he sounded too happy over such a small manner leading Casey to wonder if the Lieutenant remembered more of the phone call than he was letting on.

Still he shrugged and stepped out again, eyes remained fixed firmly over Severide’s head.  The man had always been able to read him too well.  “Well since you called me Shay half the time I don’t even think you knew you were talking to me at all.”  Casey forced a smile onto his face and left before Severide could speak again.

He made his way back to his own quarters, intent on busying himself with paperwork to avoid thinking about the conversation that had been on his mind since the night of the barbecue.  Of course it didn’t work.

Casey hadn’t meant to lie but it had slipped out quickly and entirely too easily for his own liking.  He hated lying, to Severide in particular but he had seen the tension building in the man’s shoulders and it didn’t matter if they weren’t together anymore; that didn’t mean he had to add to whatever was burdening Severide unnecessarily.  Besides it hadn’t been as bad as he knew Severide would make it out to be.

The clock was minutes away from turning over to the next day and Casey was just managing to drift off.  It should have been easy; he was pleasantly tired from the barbecue earlier that day, he was warm in his own bed and Hallie was curled up against his chest.  But still it had taken him hours until he was finally able to slip into a doze.

And of course because the universe hated him, his phone would choose that exact minute to go off.  Casey really wanted to just leave it.  But if there was an emergency and Casey actively ignored it, he would never forgive himself.  Besides the loud, insistent trill of his phone was starting to wake Hallie up.  He rolled her gently to the side, swiped the phone up and answered it groggily.

The drunken slur that answered him was enough to have him blink in confusion and sit up to listen better.  The realisation that it was Severide’s voice on the other end of the line had him on his feet and looking for shoes before he could even really think about it.  After everything, Severide wouldn’t call this late unless something really bad had happened.

“Matty,” Severide laughed and Casey relaxed fractionally.  Despite his worry over the man’s apparent drunkenness, if he was laughing and using nicknames Casey could breathe a little easier.

“Kelly,” he answered calmly.  

Regardless of his best efforts to keep his voice low, Hallie’s face emerged from the pillows, eyes squinting to catch sight of him in the darkness.  “Baby?  Who is it?”

Casey bit his lip.  He knew it would do no good to get her worked over a call from Severide, especially this late but he was reluctant to lie to her.  “No one, babe,” he finally answered.  “Go back to bed.”

Severide chuckled into his ear again.  “Ah, that would be Hallie right.  I never told you this but I felt like hitting something every time she called you baby in front of me.  She somehow made it less of an endearment and more like she was speaking to a child or something…”

Casey rolled his eyes and ducked out of the bedroom, moving towards the kitchen for more privacy.

“Kelly what’s wrong?”

“Wrong?  Why does there have to be something wrong to call my best- my- my- what are you Casey.”

“Co-worker,” he suggested quietly.  “Acquaintance.”

Severide made a noise in response, probably aiming for appropriately disatisfied but to Casey, he just sounded like a disgruntled kitten.  Wisely, he kept that to himself and waited instead for Severide to explain himself.

“You’re not, you’re not just a fucking acquaintance, Matt.  You, I don’t know what you are Matty but I do know that I miss you, and I know that you hate me but-”

“I don’t hate you.”

The abrupt response must have startled both of them because they’re quiet for a few minutes, listening to nothing but the sound of each other breathing.

“Oh,” Severide finally mumbled.

And it must be the most adequate response because all Casey could say back was a murmured, “Yeah.”

Severide swallowed audibly over the line.  “Well regardless I just thought you should know, you know that I miss you, I miss being around you, I miss talking to you at work, I miss you’re pretty blonde hair-”

Casey clenched a fist around his phone and bit back a curse and a sob because he knew deep down that Severide would never be saying any of this if he hadn’t polished off whatever alcohol was in his apartment.  He also knew that he definitely would never remember this in the morning and would hate himself if he did.

“What do you want Kelly,” Casey said, unable to stop his voice from turning cold and harsh.

Severide broke off whatever tangent he had been on but was hardly deterred by the cold tone as he so often wasn’t when he was drunk.

“It’s just something that Heather said,” Severide started.  “And I tried to get it out of my head, I really did but it just kept echoing and echoing and echoing-”

“Kelly,” Casey interrupted, voice gentler this time.  He was suddenly afraid of what a grief-stricken Heather could say that would send Severide into such a tail spin that he would come to himself of all people.

“And I didn’t know who to ask and I knew you would probably know best.  Plus this seemed like such a great idea around the fifth beer.”

“Kelly,” he murmured again.  “What did Heather say.”

“Just you know that Andy never wanted to be a firefighter and that basically he was because I was.  And so you know if that’s true, it’s also true that you were right all along and I really did kill my best friend.  I did, didn’t I?  I killed Andy.  I killed Andy and pushed you away and-”

By the end of it Severide’s breathing was fast and loud, echoing jaggedly between each shuddering word.

“Hey,” Casey said, stopping Severide’s tirade from going any further.  “She’s wrong.  I was wrong.  You didn’t kill Andy.  No one killed Andy.  Andy died in an accident, ok?  And it sucks, I know but you can’t go blaming yourself.  Because then you might have well have died in that fire with him.  You need to live Kel, live for everyday that Andy can’t.”  Casey wasn’t even sure what he was saying by the end of his own speech, just urged on by every second that Severide’s breath got just a little calmer.  “And you knew Andy longer than all of us.  Do you really think he would have done anything just because you were.  In fact he knew probably better than anyone not to do anything that you were.”

That earned him a shaky chuckle from Severide and Casey breathed a sigh of relief at the averted crisis.

“I’m sorry, really sorry about this,” Severide slurred, the copious amount of alcohol he consumed finally catching up with him.

“It’s alright,” Casey murmured back, sensing how close the other man was to dropping off to sleep.

“I just need to ask one more favour Matt and I need you to forget I asked in the morning.”

Casey hummed back an assent, thinking idly that if he did remember any of this in the morning he would probably just think it a hallucination his subconscious conjured up.  He tried to ignore the itch of tiredness that was burning behind his eyes and listen to Severide’s final request.  Just as Severide had slipped closer to sleep as had Casey and his body was fighting hard with his mind to just go to sleep there at the table.

“Will you- will you stay on the phone until I fall asleep?”  The voice was small and Casey agreed before he could think better of it, slumping over right there at the table to listen to Severide’s even breathing sounding much more appealing than dragging his weary body back to bed.

Casey had woken up the next morning with an imprint on his phone pressed into his cheek and a sore back but feeling more rested than he had in a month.  He’d quickly shoved that thought away and focussed on Hallie who was interrogating him about the mysterious phone call over breakfast.  The phone call had just been a product of Severide’s drunken state and there was no point upsetting Hallie over it.

 

Reassured after his conversation with Casey and convinced he hadn't said anything too stupid or revealing, Severide finally pulled the now crumpled card bearing Peter’s widow’s number and called it.  As before he was sent to the voicemail again by a pleasant woman's voice who still introduced the number as Georgie and Peter’s.  

“Hello Ma’am.  My name is Kelly Severide and I’m a lieutenant with the Chicago Fire Department.  I'm probably the last person you want to speak to right now but I was with your husband when…” Here, Severide stumbled over his words for the first time since picking up his phone and his fingers fumbled for the religious medal around his neck, finding comfort in the worn metal.  “...In his last moments and there was a message he wanted me to pass along.  So if you would, please give me a call back at this number if you wanted to arrange a time to talk. Thanks.”

He tucked the medal back into his work shirt, put the phone away and turned in time to find Capp and Hadley standing behind him expectantly.

“You want a smoke break?”

Jesus, it’s ten in the morning, Severide thought exasperatedly.  “You mean you want to bum a cigar off me?” he asked, because of course that’s what they were really asking.

“If you’re offering.”

Severide huffed a laugh and reached for the box of cigars stashed in the top locker of his shelf.  They weren’t the best he owned - they were safe at home - but they were nice enough that his squad often mooched one off him.  He flipped open the lid, took one for himself and wedged it between his teeth before offering the box to his two men.

“If you insist,” Hadley joked as he and Capp each took one for themselves.

Severide passed the smoke break in relative silence, stuck in his own thoughts while Hadley nattered on about one thing or another.  Just as he was reaching the end of the cigar clamped in his mouth when the blare of the alarms went off.  A simultaneous sigh traveled through the three of them as they leaned back towards the open garage doors, listening for the order.

“Accident.  501 North Wabash.  Truck 81, Ambulance 61, Squad 3.”

All over the driveway and apparatus floor firefighters scrambled to put back together the trucks they’d been performing daily checks on.  Pleased that his men had already finished theirs, Severide donned his protective pants, grabbed his gear from the equipment room and hopped in, the truck peeling away right on the tail of the ambo girls.

Despite their later start all three companies managed to arrive at the same time, taking in the scene with wide eyes.  It was pretty clear, even from a quick glance what had happened.  A window cleaning apparatus had come apart in mid air, causing part of it to slam down into the car stopped underneath it.  From the way the roof of the car was crushed in, Severide had to privately wonder if anyone could be left alive in there.  He and Casey moved in synchrony edging towards the unstable scene.

“Get everybody back and seal it off!  I don’t want anyone in there that doesn’t need to be,” he yelled at his men.  The truck company jumped into action, pushing at the crowd hovering at the edges until they backed up far enough for the firefighters to work.  Police assistance joined them, forming a barrier to prevent anyone from getting any closer.

Casey darted towards the car, eyes on the metal above him, carefully watching as it swayed gently in the wind.  Severide watched as he yanked fruitlessly at the door handle while the bleeding woman in the seat mumbled nonsensically under her breath.

“Capp!  Hadley!  Driver’s side.”  The two men nodded, grabbed the last of the equipment and started moving towards the car.  “Start there.”

Severide himself moved towards the other side to check on any passengers there.  He checked the front seat first, at hearing the girl’s call for her friend and his stomach twisted at the sight.  The girl’s head was no more than a mess of blood and hair now, with the metal beam impaled in the back of her skull.

Casey met his eyes over the top of the car, question evident in the blue.  Knowing it was useless, Severide checked her pulse.  He shook his head quickly and Casey grimaced as he ducked back down to calm the hysterical woman.  

The creaking of the cables above him was the only warning Severide got.  He looked up in time to see the platform shift dangerously and he rounded the car in three large strides grabbing the back of Casey’s jacket to haul him out of the way, shouting at his own men to move.  He dragged him back just quickly enough to avoid the debris as a hunk of metal smashed into the empty car behind them.  

Boden pulled to a stop beside them and Mouch explained the scene while he got closer.

“That driver’s door is jammed up tight,” Capp said.

Boden thought for only a moment before taking charge and barking orders.  “Capp and Hadley, on the k-12 and cut the top hinge.  Severide, you work the jaws from the bottom edge.  The moment that hinge pops and you wedge that door open, I want you out of there.  Casey and Mouch, you go into to collar the girl and get her on the board.”

Severide jerked the jaws from the truck shelf and ignored the scream of pain it sent through his shoulder the best he could.  He crouched down to work at the seam of the door from the bottom while sparks from the k-12 fly at him.  Finally he hears the tell tale pop of the hinges breaking and Capp steps in to jerk the door from the body of the car and toss it to the side.  The back off to allow Casey and Mouch to take their place, quickly strapping the girl into a neck brace and sliding her onto the backboard.  Out of the corner of his eye Severide sees Boden’s eyes fixed firmly above him and he tears his own gaze away from Casey manipulating the girl’s body onto the board to see the platform swaying dangerously, the increasing wind tossing it from side to side.  It’ll only a matter of time before something else falls.

“Go,” Boden yells, evidently also see the pane of glass that slipped from the apparatus.  The men moved at a run, Casey barely clearing the space when the pan shattered on the cement.  Glass slivers showered his back but he didn’t even flinch, too focussed on keeping the board steady.  Severide breathed a sigh of relief and wandered back to his own truck, fighting down the violent tremors that were rocking through his shoulder and down his arm.  

He was interrupted from his pain however by the shrill ring of his phone buried in the depths of his pant pocket.  He hovered by the open of the truck, torn between letting it ring out and answering it despite still being on scene.  A quick look around however told him that the men were still packing up the equipment and that his total concentration wasn’t strictly necessary.

“Hello?”

“Is this Lieutenant Severide?”

“Yeah.”

“This is Georgie Middleton.  I believe you left a message for me and if you wanted to meet up, tonight if possible?”

“Yeah, sure.  If that’s good for you, I’ll be there.”

He flipped the phone shut and leant back against the truck, heaving a deep sigh at the thought of meeting the widow of Peter at the conclusion of the shift.  

Casey wandered past and nodded at him.  “Thanks for the save, Severide.”

Severide allowed himself a nod back and hauled himself into the truck giving his men another minute before he started yelling for them to hurry up.

 

The memory of the late night call with Severide plagued Casey all day, the Squad Lieutenant’s slurred words echoing in his head over and over until it was all he could think of.  Finally he snapped and after checking his watch quickly, stood from the table in the rec room and barked at his men to get their gear.

“We’re going for a ride,” he commanded, already heading outside and not waiting for the inevitable discussion his decision was bound to prompt.  Wisely though, his company seemed to pick up on his desire to be left alone because they got ready in relative silence, even Mills who had taken to asking a million questions every time they did something was strangely quiet.  The Squad firefighter’s watched on passively as they vaulted up into their truck and took off without an explanation.

Casey instructed Cruz to drive to Lakeshore and then lapsed into silence, content to listen to the quiet chatter of his men.  He shouldn’t have been as hung up about the call with Severide as he was; really every thought should have been going toward his job or Hallie and how he was going to win her back.  Severide wasn’t his boyfriend, or even a friend.  He was a co worker and nothing more.  Which was why Casey was going to Lakeshore to catch Hallie at the end of ehr shift.

Once they pulled up outside the parking lot he left his men behind with the usual instructions to radio him if they got a call.  He approached the front doors just as he caught sight of Hallie’s familiar figure leaving.  She answered his smile with one of her own upon seeing him and leaned in for a quick kiss hello.

“I thought you were on shift today?” she asked, regarding his turnout pants and work polo with a confused smile.

“I am,” he assured her and indicated with his head the truck in the distance.

Hallie smiled and lifted a hand in greeting, receiving a chorus of waves and calls in response.

“Just thought I’d come see you.  How was your shift?”

“What do you always say to me?” she teased before adopting a monotone voice, no doubt an imitation of Casey.  “Fine.  Typical.”

Casey ducked his head with a quiet chuckle.  “I’ve been thinking.”

Hallie’s smile dimmed slightly and her eyes grew concerned.  “Uh-oh.”

“No.  Nothing like that.”  He paused wondering how best to phrase what he wanted to say.

“What is it, Matt?”

“I just, we’ve been back living together for the last few weeks and I was wondering if you wanted to just put all the fighting aside and just be together.”  Casey fished the shiny engagement ring out of his pocket and held it up for her to see.  He’d been carrying it around his wallet ever since Hallie had given it back, as a reminder of everything Hallie was and everything she wasn’t.  “I’m saying,” Casey continued, when Hallie didn’t say anything.  “I want to be with you.   Really be with you.”

She took the ring from him silently and toyed with it for a few seconds before slipping it onto her finger with a small smile and a light laugh, which Casey echoed.  He cupped a hand around her jaw and brought her closer for a sweet kiss, only to be interrupted a few seconds later by the long, drawn out blare of the fire truck horn, closely followed by the muffled voice of Herrmann.

Sorry to interrupt Lieutenant but we’ve got a call.  68 North Michigan Avenue?  Are we taking it?”

“Patch in our response.  I’m on my way.”

He pulled Hallie in for another quick kiss, mumbled a goodbye against her lips and jogged away, leaving Hallie to call a “please be careful” after him.  He crossed the parking lot in a matter of minutes and swung up into the truck.  “Let’s move,” he commanded, banging on the door.

 

While the rest of the house gathered at their regular bar for a few rounds of after shift drinks Severide headed for the factory worker, Peter’s house to talk to his widow.  Stomach turning over and over, Severide walked up the path and before he could think about it too much, knocked on the door.

A elderly women with graying blonde hair and a sad, lined smile answered the door and quickly invited him in once he introduced himself.  They settled on the lounge after Severide turned down the offer for a drink and without any more preamble handed over the phone for Georgie to watch the video.  He leant back against the lounge cushions with a weary sigh, preparing to listen to Peter’s final words all over again.

“Is the blood off?  I don’t want her to see the blood.”

Severide his own voice answer the shaky question and knew that Georgie would be watching his own hand appear in the frame to wipe away the last residue of blood from Peter’s chin and forehead.

“My hair.  I should have got it cut.”

“Your hair looks fine.  It looks fine.”

“Georgie, my love.”

“Oh my God,” Georgie whispered, the hand holding the phone shaking as the other found her mouth in shock.

“God I wish I were better at this.”

Severide shifted at the words, thinking how much they reminded him of himself.  He had never been good at talking about how he felt and it was only with the people who didn’t need him to say anything to understand did he have the best relationships.

“I made a lot of promises to you over the years.  Some were harder to keep.  I promised you a house in Provence.  I’m sorry we never made it there; you worked so hard on that French.  But any promise that I ever made about you, about how you were the final piece to my puzzle, those I kept until today.  Every day.  I know what you’re thinking about Kelly here, because I thought it too.  He’s exactly the son I pictured for us.”

Severide could feel her eyes burning into the side of his face, but he kept his gaze resolutely focussed ahead, knowing that if he dared look at her, his tightly controlled emotions would slip out of his grasp.

And if it weren’t for him,” Peter continued in the video.   “I wouldn’t have had this chance to say goodbye.  Oh, my love.  Do you remember how I made you promise me that you’d let me die before you?  Well, thank you, my love, because I couldn’t live a day in this world without you.”

Georgie finally broke into soft tears as her name was repeated one final time by her husband before the video ended, sparing her the grief of watching Peter’s final breaths.

“Mon amour,” she whispered back.

My love.

Because what else could she say when in this life it was the only thing that really mattered?

Chapter Text

Casey was going to kill whoever had jinxed the fireless shift, he decided at 6 in the morning as he rolled out of bed and struggled into a pair of his work pants.  He was going to find him and hang him by his toes from the flag post.  Apparently Severide felt the same way, if the look on his face was anything to go by.

“Who did it?” Severide grumbled, as he too stumbled from his office, bleary eyes and wrestling with the fly and zipper of his own trousers.

“I don’t know, but whoever it was, he’s-”

“Dead,” Severide agreed.

“Bet it was the damn candidate,” Casey muttered as they jogged out to the trucks.

Severide grunted an agreement before they split away from each other, grabbing their gear and climbing into the cab of the trucks.  It was only a few minutes later as the truck thundered down the streets of Chicago that Casey remembered the conversation between himself and Severide and realised how lighthearted it had been.  He found himself torn between regret, at having let himself open himself up like that again to Severide and relief that he and Severide were finally back to acting somewhat normal.  He shook the thoughts away and concentrated on the priority.

“Mills,” he barked, gaining the young candidate’s attention.  “Pitcher’s got a no-hitter going in the eighth inning.  Do you go up to him and say, ‘looks like you got a no-hitter going’?”

“No, but-,” Mills tried.

“You don’t do it at the damn firehouse either.”

Casey caught Otis shaking his head solemnly at Mills, in the rear-view mirror and repressed the urge to remark on the time Otis managed to turn a no call shift into the ultimate trifecta with a pile-up car accident, a fire and a prison visit all in the space of about eight hours.

They pulled up at the scene to find two cars, one surrounded by debris and one upside down and balanced precariously on a cement guard rail.  Jumping from the truck and deciding that the upside down SUV looked to be in no immediate danger, Casey sent the rest of the company to stabilise it while he approached the other car where a police officer was looking through the front window.

The policeman stepped back with a helpless gesture when he failed to get the door open.  As so often happened in accidents, the doors of the car had jammed up upon impact making it practically impossible to open them without help of a halligan or the jaws.  He crammed the metal inside the join and pried the door open, the police officer smart enough to jump in and help pull it further open.  The driver of the car stumbled out and into Casey, who only needed a single whiff of his breath to know the driver was way over the limit.

“I’m ok.  I’m alright,” the guy assured Casey, exhaling another toxic, alcoholic breath.

Casey shook him off disgustedly and shoved him towards the officer.  “Field test this idiot.”  Casey glanced inside the car and took note of the empty beer cans lying on the passenger.  He pointed them out to the officer as he took the driver’s shoulder and began leading him off, who nodded and assured Casey that he would take care of it.

That would have to do, Casey rationalised because even though he was hesitant to leave the officer to deal with both the driver and the evidence, the sudden yelling of his men pulled him away.  He sprinted across the road and threw his entire weight into pulling the tipping car back into balance.  Encouraged by the approaching wail of the Squad truck Casey held out for reinforcement.  Within minutes, Severide and his squad appeared, bringing with them raw strength, stabilisers and cribbing.

“Give us ten more seconds,” Severide promised, as he and his men got to work, lining up cribbing along the guardrail and setting the stabilisers into place.

“You got eight,” Herrmann wheezed back.

The firefighter’s shifted as one, trying to provide relief for their muscles which were burning with the exertion of keeping the car from tipping off the bridge and onto the road below.  Casey clenched his eyes shut and tried not to give in to the screaming of his aching muscles, choosing instead to listen to Severide, who was talking the passengers calmly through the situation.

“Just sit tight there, all right?  Don’t try to unbuckle yourself.”

The driver, who’d Casey thought was unconscious said, “My son?  Is he alright?  He’s not saying anything.”

The arrival of the ambulance was signalled by Dawson’s sudden input.  “Yeah, he’s alive, sir.”

“We’re going to need a second ambo,” Shay muttered into her radio.

“Two more,” Casey corrected with a gasp.  He indicated the driver of the other vehicle with a jerk of his head, his hands being otherwise occupied.  Those who could spare it, followed his gesture to see the other driver upright and being questioned by police.  Despite his apparent alertness it was policy that anyone involved in a call be checked out at a hospital.

“Where are those jaws,” Severide demanded and Capp handed them over.

Casey couldn’t know how many others noticed throughout the chaos, but being as finely tuned into Severide as a Lieutenant needed to be, it was impossible to miss the agonised groan that escaped his mouth as he hefted the jaws up to attack the car door.  Casey let his eyes flicker across to the other side of the car, where Shay was supposed to be attending the unconscious teenager.  Instead she was staring at her roommate, pure and palpable concern reflecting in her eyes.  But then she blinked and the worry vanished, and she turned her attention back to her charge again.  Following her lead and keeping his own questions to himself, Casey focussed his attention on the car as the last support was locked into place.

The jaws roared to life with a metallic whirr and Severide wrestled with the crumpled metal.  After a few curse filled minutes, Severide finally lowered the jaws in defeat with another groan, thought this time Casey couldn’t be sure if it was out of pain or frustration.

“We’re going to have to go through the windshield,” Severide decided.  “And get me a pick head.”

Now that the car wasn’t going anywhere, the firefighters could finally back away from the bumper, allowing enough room for Severide and the other squad members to get in close enough to remove the shattered glass.

The teenaged boy fought his way back into consciousness with a strangled groan.  “What happened?”

“You’re going to be okay,” Casey assured him, knowing that was what the kid really wanted to hear.  He shuffled in closer to the window so he could distract him from the chaos occurring outside of the vehicle.  “Hockey fan, huh?” he asked, spying the stick and gear in the back seat.

“We were headed to Evanston for his tournament,” the father supplied.  “Are you okay, Mikey?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

Severide and Capp stepped in and began working at the windshield, Capp wielding a power saw while Severide tapped gently at the cracked glass.  They worked their way around the perimeter of the sheet before carefully lowering it to the ground.  Casey glanced around and caught sight of the police officer from before now sans driver.

“I’ll be right back,” he said absently, now that the vehicle was stabilised and they were working on retrieving the passengers.

“Where’s the driver?”

The officer gaped at him for a few seconds.  “Uh, some officers took him to the hospital.”

Casey couldn’t believe what he was hearing.  “You’re kidding me.”

The young policeman mumbled something nonsensical under his breath about the driver complaining of leg pain and how they looked swamped what with the tipping car.

“He should have been c-collard and transported properly.”  Like in an actual ambulance.  With a proper police escort.

“My bad,” the officer said helplessly.  

Casey narrowed his eyes.  Something was wrong.  He ducked his head to check the passenger seat only to find it empty of the beer containers that were previously there.  “Did you bag the beer cans?”

The way the officer shifted awkwardly and avoided the question told Casey all he needed to know.  “Look,” he said finally.  “Detective Voight behind me?  The guy in the jacket?”

Casey peered surreptitiously over the young beat cop’s shoulder to see an older man in an expensive-looking leather jacket surrounded by uniformed officers.

“That was his son driving this car.”  

Between the officer’s tone and Casey’s own experience with police, it took him no more than a few seconds to grasp what he was saying.  The officer shot him an apologetic look and wandered off, leaving Casey to turn around to watch as his men worked to disentangle the father and son from the wreck.  He glanced back at Detective Voight, his blood boiling hot at the smug smile he was sporting.  Detective Voight caught his gaze and held it unwaveringly and Casey knew his outrage was probably showing in a rare occurrence but he also wasn’t stupid.  He knew he was the only firefighter who had encountered the drunk driver and the only person on scene, other than the beat cop who had seen the beer containers and cops always looked after their own.  If anyone was going to challenge this guy, it was going to be him.  And him alone.

Fuck.

The sight of the teenager and his father being wheeled away with c-collars strapped firmly around their necks stuck with Casey for the rest of the shift and well into the rest of the day.  He could usually compartmentalise better than that but there was something about the sight of the kid’s bloody face as he struggled for each breath that he couldn’t quite shake.

“Matt?” Hallie called for the third time, her boyfriend finally looking up from his hands.

“Yeah?”

“Ham or turkey?” she asked choosing to let the space out go.  For the moment.

“Turkey, thanks,” he said accepting the sandwich Hallie passed over.  “Sorry if I’m out of it,” he apologised as she joined him at the table.  “Tough shift.”

Hallie knew better than to ask if he wanted to talk about it.

Instead she asked about the firehouse.  “How are things over at 51?”

Casey shrugged, too exhausted from the early call that morning to muster much energy.  “Same as usual; Herrmann’s back from his time off, the new candidate’s going fine.”

“And you and Severide,” Hallie asked carefully.

Casey stilled in his seat and chewed slowly, thinking about the best way to answer.  “Things are going ok between us.  No more punch up’s if that’s what you’re asking.”  The ghost of a smile flickered across Hallie’s lips but she didn’t comment.  “We’ve just been staying out of each other’s way mostly, talking only when we really need to, you know…”

Casey still hadn’t told her about the minimal conversations that were becoming more of an everyday occurrence nor the drunken phone call he’d received a few weeks ago.  Plus he didn’t think his fiancee would appreciate his plan to investigate the pain that seemed to be plaguing his co worker.

Hallie hummed an acknowledgement then blessedly changed the topic to some bland story of the going-on’s of Lakeshore hospital, allowing Casey to half doze with his chin propped up in his hand while he listened.


By the time the next shift day rolled around, the pain in Severide's shoulder had finally dulled to a lazy roar, which, compared to sharp stabbing pains of before was much more comfortable.  Shay, thankfully hadn't bugged him about it - even though he knew she knew it was acting up - and Severide was taking that as a minor miracle.

But expecting Shay to keep to her own business for any extended length of time, as Severide found out early that morning, was next to impossible.  He rolled out of bed early, wanting to hit the gym early before he went on duty.

He wandered downstairs already dressed and ready to leave, greeted his roommate, declined her offer for coffee and grabbed a banana for the ride.  But it wasn’t so easy to escape Shay’s interrogation.

“How’s your arm?” she asked, her tone purposefully nonchalant.

He glanced down at the limb, flexed the muscles and nodded contently.  “It’s good,” he told her.  “It’s really fine,” he added when she didn’t look convinced.

“Alright,” she said.  “But you should really get it look at, you know.  It could act up at the wrong time.”

Fighting the urge to curse and tell her to mind her own business, something that he didn’t mean and knew he would regret instantly, Severide pursed his lips before nodding.  “Absolutely.  I’m planning on doing that,” he said, although he had no such intention.  “Alright, I’ll see you later,” he said, before she could start trapping him into something concrete.

“Bye.”

Severide ignored the flatness of her tone and escaped the apartment, intent on getting to the gym so he could lose himself in the bliss of exercise.

 

Casey glanced as his watch for the millionth time that morning and glanced around at his company gathered around him.

“Has anyone seen Mills this morning?” he asked.

There was a collective murmur in the negative and a head shake around the circle.  Casey fought the urge to swear and ducked his head to focus back in on the apparatus he was checking.  Beside them Truck 51 roared out of the driveway to refill their tank.

“Oh!  Good afternoon, candidate.”

Everyone’s heads shot up at Herrmann’s unimpressed comment, Casey’s included.  Standing before them, panting and sweaty was Mills, obviously having run all the way here.  Mills locked eyes with Casey and gasped out an apology.

“First he blows a no-hitter.  Now he’s coming in five minutes late.  So much for employee of the week.”

Casey ignored Otis’ comments and regarded the candidate passively.

“It won’t happen again.  I promise.”

The entire circle seemed to go quiet, as if waiting for their Lieutenant’s input.  Finally he nodded, jerked his head towards the locker room and told him to go get changed.  He caught sight of the ambo girls making their way across the floor, got to his feet and headed after them, leaving his men to interrogate Otis about his behaviour towards Mills.

“Morning,” he said to their backs, earning their attention from their own daily tasks.

Shay turned around with a small smile and raised eyebrows.  “Uh-oh.  We’re either in trouble or he wants something,” she said to Dawson.

He huffed half a laugh and turned to Dawson.  “You got a sec?”

Shay laughed.  “Feeling the love.  No it’s alright, I have so much to do elsewhere.  Later.”  She took off towards the door, leaving Dawson and Casey to watch her go.

“What’s up?”

“Is your brother still working in vice?” Casey asked.  He decided last night to at least check in with someone who knew a bit more about Voight before he decided what exactly he was going to put in his report.

“Yeah,” Dawson replied, confusion evident in her voice.

“Could you see if he can swing by here real quick?”

“Sure,” Dawson said easily.  “All your hookers get locked up last night?”

Casey grinned.  “Yeah.  My whole stable.  Nah, I’ve just got a question for him.”

Dawson nodded and promised to give him a call sometime over the day.  He stepped away to get back to work, only to be stopped by Dawson’s concerned voice.

“Everything alright?”

“Yeah, yeah,” he assured her and hurried off before she could ask any more questions.

 

Inside the locker room, Severide was slowly getting changed out for the shift, trying to change his workout tank for a work t-shirt while keeping the jostling of his arm to a minimum, which turned out to be harder than he thought.  He cupped a hand around the joint, thumb rubbing rhythmically over the spasming flesh.  The weights he’d lifted at the gym had only aggravated the muscle further.

He was pulled from his reverie by the slam of a locker door in the next row and the sudden appearance of Vargas.

“Hey, Lieutenant.”

He nodded his own hello and busied himself by digging through his bag, pretending to look for something.

“Wanted to let you know that I just completed the last of my tech course and I reached my squad certification.”

“That’s great,” Severide said, waiting for Vargas to elaborate.  “Good job.”

“Yeah, three years busting my hump, but I got it done.  So I’m putting in a transfer from truck and I wanted to get your blessing.”

And there it was.  Severide repressed a sigh.  The transfer of men between companies wasn’t exactly a common occurrence but it happened often enough that it caused an annoyance.  Technically, Severide didn’t have a say on who was in his squad, which he hated, but he could still express his views.  But ultimately the decision came from higher up and could leave Severide with someone he didn’t want.  Because the decision to allow someone to transfer from truck to squad wasn’t as black and white as the department wanted to think.  Despite getting their certification, some firefighter's just weren’t suited to squad work and it left the entire company vulnerable.  So before he went handing out his blessing he needed to know a few things.

“Why do you want to come over to squad?”

“With where I want to end up, squad's the best place in terms of a stepping stone to getting promoted-”

“Let me stop you right there, Vargas,” Severide said.  “If that’s your reason for coming over-”

“It ain’t!  That came out wrong.  The promotion stuff, that’s down the road.”

“Way down the road.”

“Absolutely,” Vargas agreed.

“Alright.”  Severide nodded and turned back to his locker, silently dismissing the firefighter.  Vargas must have picked up on it because he left without another word and Severide rolled his eyes at his locker.  That was the sort of thing he was worried about.  Firefighter’s who saw joining squad as nothing more than a barrier to pass on their way to something better.  In his opinion there was nothing better than rescue squad.

 

At lunch time, conversation turned inevitably to the broken television, sitting sadly in it’s place, having died the shift before.  Casey half listened to the complaining and half focussed on the paperwork he was trying to fill out instead of eating with the rest of the house.

“That ain’t gonna cut it,” Cruz said through a mouthful of salad, pointing his fork accusingly at the tv, mindless of the lettuce that fluttered from his utensil and stuck to the table.

“Sign out front,” Mouch commented, referring to the hand-painted sign he’d installed on the front grass that morning.  “Just a matter of time until a good samaritan steps up.”

“We can do that?” Mills wanted to know.

“Oh yeah.  It’s frowned upon, but it’s not illegal per standards and procedures.”

Casey repressed a snort at hearing that.  It was typical for Mouch to know every loophole known to man.

“Last year, we got the new, what was it?”

“Microwave,” Herrmann put in.

Mouch nodded.  “Right.  We got the new microwave by doing this.”

But apparently that plan wasn’t good enough for Cruz, who exhaled irritably.  “It took three months to get the new microwave.  The Bears game is this Sunday.”

“What have we got in the treasury box?”  Casey wanted to know, wondering if maybe they had managed to save up enough to just buy it themselves.

“Dick,” Herrmann replied.  “We spent it all on the elliptical machine so Shay could keep her ass toned.”

Shay scoffed and looked up from her book.  “Oh Herrmann, please.  Everyone benefits from me having a toned ass.”

The table snickered at the comment, half of them nodding reluctant agreements.

“Mills, you’re in charge of a fundraiser for a new tv,” Casey decided, figuring it was the least the candidate could do, considering he the no-hitter he blew, his lateness and the fact that he was the candidate after all.

“Instead of cooking?”

“In conjunction with cooking,” he corrected.

“I believe it’s called multitasking,” Otis piped up from halfway down the table.  “And get some ideas together asap, would you?”

Casey tilted his head to regard the ex-candidate carefully, eyes narrowing.  Otis had been the candidate for three years and Casey hadn’t expected him to reap the benefits so quickly.  Otis should understand better than anyone how it feels to be on the bottom rung of the House ladder.  Before he could pull Otis up on his behaviour however, Dawson appeared in the doorway calling his name and indicating that he follow her with a jerk of her head.

 

Severide decided to skip lunch with the rest of the house in favour of making a dent in the absolute mountainous pile of paperwork waiting for him in his quarters.  As much as he loved being Lieutenant, he did miss the paperless existence the rest of the house lived.  It took him a while but he finally finished and he collected a bundle that was destined for Boden’s office and made his way across the house.

“He in?” he asked Nicki as he approached her desk.

She looked up and sent him a dazzling smile, evidently unaffected by his rejection the night of the picnic.  “On the phone.  You can leave that with me, though,” she said, gesturing to the reports in his hands.

He muttered, “Thanks,” handed it over and turned to go, empty stomach suddenly demanding food.

“Hey,” she called.  “Um, tomorrow night, I don’t know if you have plans, but me and some girlfriends are going to see Kaskade at the Vic if you’re interested in coming.”

Severide blinked, nonplussed.  “What’s Kaskade?”

Nicki’s smile dropped in wattage.  “Oh.  He’s a dj.”

So not his type of music at all.

“A famous one,” she added when he didn’t speak.

“Yeah, um,” he glanced around surreptitiously and made sure that no one was around before leaning down closer to her.  “Look, I’m not really known for my self-restraint.”  Understatement of the year.  “So I’ll need you to meet me halfway here and respect Boden and your dad’s wishes.”

Nicki’s lips parted, as if she were planning to challenge his request or maybe to agree but either way no sound came out and after waiting a suitable amount of time, Severide nodded and headed off, still convinced that he was doing the right thing by not pulling the girl into the mess that was currently his life.

 

Out the front of the house, Dawson and Casey stood with her brother, Antonio who was a Detective with the Chicago PD, explaining the situation that Casey had found himself in.  Antonio was only a few years older than Casey himself and looked remarkably like his sister.

“Who wants to be know as the rat fireman who took down a cop’s kid?”

“What’s the cop’s name?”

‘Detective Voight.”

“Aye ya,” Antonio sighed and Casey’s heart sunk.

“That bad, huh?” he asked.

“What’s the problem,” Dawson wanted to know.

“Voight’s been hip-deep in the gang unit for 15 years.  He’s been investigated for taking bribes and-” Antonio looked as though he could list Voight’s past transgression all afternoon but forcibly restrained himself.  “Look, he’s a dirty cop.  The kind of guy that gives the rest of us a bad name.”

“Ok, well I saw what I saw.  The question is did anyone else see it?”

Antonio seemed to pick up on what Casey was trying hard not to say; if he were to put his ass on the line would there be anyone to back him up because he promised to ask around the precinct.  “Wait to hear from me,” he stressed.  “Because I’m tellin you as a friend of my sister’s, you do not want to mess with this dude.”

“Lieutenant Casey!”  The sudden call of Nicki’s voice had all three of them looking around.  She was walking down the driveway toward them.  “Chief wants to see you in his office.”

Casey nodded a confirmation at her and she turned to go back inside while he offered a hand for Antonio to shake.  “Whatever you can, I’d appreciate it.”

He made his way inside out of the wind and didn’t waste any time heading into the Chief’s office.  The chief started talking before Casey could even clear the doorway.

“Incident report from that t-bone last shift.  I got Severide’s.  Where’s yours?”

Casey hesitated and tried to stall.  “Right, I’ve been buried in paperwork and I-”

Boden tapped his desk pointedly.  “On my desk by the end of this shift.”  When Casey didn’t answer or leave Boden glanced up at him and continued, “That going to be a problem?”

“Not at all,” Casey said and left the office without another word.  He hadn’t been lying to his chief; he would get that report finished by the end of the shift.  What the report was going to say was another matter entirely.

One one hand he could go down the honourable path and report what he had seen despite the hell it would bring down on his own ass.  Or he could act out of self-preservation and save himself and probably his career.

To prolong the inevitable he changed course abruptly and headed for the kitchen to get a cup of coffee before getting to work on the report.  He fixed the cup how he liked it - black with one sugar - before leaning back against the counter to listen to Mills who was standing by the busted television set presenting possible fundraising ideas.

“A neighbourhood hotdog eating contest?”

“Ah, too tacky,” Mouch said, shooting it down.

Shay glanced up from her book.  “And putting a sign out front begging for a tv is what?”

“Got a point,” Otis conceded.

“Alright well how about a t-shirt booth in the driveway?” Mills suggested.

“We already sell t-shirts,” Cruz protested.

While Mills went on, listing all the ways the current method of selling t-shirts didn’t work and how they could improve it to raise money for the new television, Casey fished his buzzing phone out of his pocket.  Waiting on the screen was a new text from Hallie:

You out on a call atm?

No, why? He typed back.  Across the room the men were congratulating Mills on his plan while Shay threw in her own snappy comments.  He waited a few minutes but there was no reply and he finally gave up on getting one when Crux called for his attention.

“Hey, what do you think, Casey, t-shirt stand?”

“Or should we have Mills here run a few laps around the block, think about some alternatives?” Otis was quick to put in.

Irritated by his behaviour and making the decision that had been forming in the back of his head for the last couple of shifts, Casey pushed away from the counter and instructed his company to follow him.  “We’re going to do a drill,” he announced, forcing himself not to laugh at the smug smirk Otis was suddenly sporting.

He made a detour through the equipment room to grab the supplies they’d need before leading the men out onto the apparatus floor, gaining the attention of the other firefighters gathered outside, enjoying the unseasonably warm day.

“Mills, listen up.  This is a downed firefighter assessment.”  He dropped the heavy bag with an audible thump.  “Fellow firefighter’s going to be on the floor, full gear with his PASS alarm going off.  You crawl in from 10 feet away, deactivate his alarm, check for airflow, call in a mayday on your radio and drag the victim to the extraction point, which will be north gate,” he concluded, pointing to said gate.

“Ok,” Mills said, sounding far too confident in himself.

Casey leant down and pulled the requirement he hadn’t mentioned yet from the depths of the bag.  “All with a blacked-out face mask to simulate zero visibility,” he said, slapping the mask into Mills’ chest.

Otis laughed delightedly while Mills could only gape.

When the candidate could finally speak his, “Ok,” was with far less conviction that the first.

“No showing up late to this one, candidate,” Otis laughed.

Casey straightened from where he had been digging around in the bag again and tossed the second mask to the ex-candidate.  “We got two masks.”

The rest of the company laughed indulgently at Otis’ stupefied expression and Casey allowed himself a grin.  Across the circle of his company he caught sight of a familiar figure, approaching in doctor’s scrubs and lunch in hand.  His grin widened and he tossed the timer from his pocket to Vargas.  “Time ‘em.  Slowest one has to mop the apparatus floor.”

He left them to it, hearing Vargas call for them to gear up and get ready and crossed the last few steps to his fiancee, greeting her with a kiss to the cheek.  “Hey, Hal.  What’re you doing here?”

“Lunch break,” she said, holding up the paper bag in her hand as explanation.  “You eaten yet?”

Casey confirmed that he hadn’t and lead her into the house, bypassing Dawson as he did.

“Hey Gabriela,” Hallie said.

“Hey, Hallie.  Good seeing you.”

“Yeah, you too.”

 

Severide watched Casey stride off with his girlfriend - who he had heard was back to being his fiancee - and tried to convince himself that he didn't care in the slightest.

He was pulled from whatever he may or may not care about by the sudden appearance of Nicki over his shoulder, brandishing a large manila envelope.

"Here," she chirped, offering it to him.  "This came in for you earlier."

Severide took it with a frown and a thanks, wondering quietly what would have come to the station for him instead of his apartment.  He ignored the curious looks he was receiving from Hadley and Capp and opened it, growing even more confused when he realised the tab wasn't even stuck down, just folded over.

He glanced at the contents and almost choked on his own tongue; nestled in the bottom of the envelope was a pair of leopard print panties.  He only needed one guess a to whom they belonged to and if he knew her like he thought he did, Severide was willing to bet they were the pair Nicki had put on that morning.  Which meant, of course that she was running around the house naked under the dress.  A thought that parts of his body liked way too much.

Casey and Hallie settled themselves in one of the meeting rooms to eat, allowing themselves a little more privacy that the communal rec room.  They dug into the sandwiches Hallie had brought for them while she talked about her own shift and the weird calls she’d had to deal with throughout the day.  Conversation eventually turned to Casey’s last shift and the call that had left him out of sorts for the next few days.  Hallie knew enough to wait until Casey could deal with it before asking if he wanted to talk it out.  Feeling all too alone in the situation, Casey did just that, describing the crash and what he had seen and why he was hesitating on what to write in his report.

“What happened to the passengers in the other car?”

“I don’t know,” Casey confessed.  It wasn’t exactly procedure to check up on the victims in every call they made.  Not only did it take too much time but it also was frowned upon by the department, thinking that it allowed firefighters to become too invested in the victims.  “There were alert when we got ‘em backboarded and into the ambo’s but after that…” Casey shook his head.  “It was a dad and his son.”

Hallie stiffened imperceptibly and regarded her sandwich carefully.  “What was the last name?”

Casey glanced over at the odd note in her voice.  “Duffy.”

“The son’s 16?  On his way to a hockey tournament?”

“Yeah.  You heard something.”  It wasn’t a question.

Hallie sighed.  “Baby,” she said apologetically, warning him that he wasn’t going to like what she had to tell him.  Casey tried not to wrinkle his nose at the endearment, unable to keep from thinking about what Severide had had to say on that subject in their late night conversation the other night.

“Just tell me.”

“It’s a complete L2 fracture.  He’s paralysed, waist down.”

The air left Casey in one big rush as he slumped back into the chair, face upturned as he tried to control his emotions.  It had been one thing when all the crash had ruined was the family car and the kid’s chance at the hockey tournament with a healthy dose of fear thrown in instead of his entire future.  Now all Casey could see was that fresh face of the kid as he was wheeled away, knowing that he would never walk again, that the hockey stick and skates would never be used again, that his entire future would be impacted by some idiot who thought he could do whatever he wanted because his dad was a cop.  Hallie’s hand found his wrist and gripped it comfortingly, but he barely felt it.  He exhaled slowly on a muttered curse, fingers of his free hand coming up to rub at his tired eyes.

He barely got a chance to absorb the news before Mouch was bursting into the room excitedly.  “We just go a tv donated.  Flat screen, still in the box.  Cop over at the 35th precinct donated it.”

The blood in Casey’s body went cold as he watched Mouch leave uncomprehendingly.

“Matt,” Hallie said carefully, having caught the odd look on his face.  “Don’t do anything stupid.”

Casey nodded absently and stood, pulling away from her touch and promised, distantly, that he would be right back before following Mouch out to the apparatus floor.  He emerged out into the late afternoon sun to find the four companies assembled and all exclaiming over the television two cops were retrieving from the boot of their car.

“Who’s it from?” Casey demanded, uncaring of his harsh tone.

“Detective Voight.  He saw your sign.”

Casey seethed with anger.  If Voight thought and it was obviously that he had, that Casey’s silence could be bought with a new television, he was sorely mistaken.

“Is that a 40-inch?” One of the men called.

“A 43, actually,” the cop answered smugly, to which the house responded with whoops and cheers.

Casey shook his head and sighed out of anticipation of the house’s reaction.  “Take it back.”

The cop, misunderstanding him was quick reassure them.  “No, no, no.  Don’t worry.  Voight went through all the channels.  Donated it to the city, but specified it come here.  So the bureau bitches aren’t going to freak out.”

Curling his lip at the crude language, Casey pointed his finger at the car purposefully.  “Send it back,” he said.

The smiles on the cop’s face faded and they glanced at each other confusedly.  “Sure.  You got it,” one said finally and they turned without another word to deposit it back into their car.

Casey ignored the disappointed looks to see that Hallie had followed him out and that Boden was standing there looking at him expectantly.

“Is this something that you need to bring me in on?”

Casey sighed.  He hadn’t wanted to bring Boden in on this but it was clear now that he needed to.  “Yeah,” he said and followed Boden into the house, saying goodbye to Hallie as he went, who needed to get back to the hospital.

Severide watched them go from across the floor, tapping his knuckles on the truck he was leaning against as he thought.  He’d been planning on confronting Nicki about the contents of the envelope and judging by the coy smile she sent his way and the way she slipped inconspicuously into the equipment room, she was counting on that to.  But from what had just gone down it was clear that something was up with Casey and a happy house was more important than getting off with the hot secretary.  Nicki would just have to wait.

So he followed Casey and Boden into the chief’s office, neither challenging his presence there.  From there, with little prompting from the chief, Casey described what happened the night of the t-bone and afterwards, the drunk driver he’d encountered, the beer cans he’d seen, the heads-up he received from the beat cop on scene and then his conversation with Antonio earlier.  Finally he explained his surety that the television from Voight had been an effort to buy his silence on the matter.

“So as far as we know,” Boden said.  “You're the only one willing to say that the kid was drunk?”

“Yeah.  Antonio’s looking around but he didn’t sound all that sure.”

“Alright.  I’ll buy you all the time you need with your report, but eventually Casey…” Boden spread his hands helplessly.

“Yeah, I know.  I’ll have to make a decision.”

“Wait to talk to Antonio again before you go submitting any reports,” Boden advised.

Casey nodded an agreement and together he and Severide left the office, knowing there was nothing else to talk about until Antonio came back.

Severide whistled lowly as they headed back to their quarters.  “Quite the situation you’ve found yourself in.”

Casey grunted noncommittally in return.

“A drunk cop kid.”

Getting that Severide was trying to say something, Casey stopped abruptly and turned to him.  “Just spit it out Severide.”

“I’m just saying, remember the last time we went after a dirty cop?”

Of course, Casey remembered. It was part of the reason he was hesitant to go after Voight so quickly this time.

“And that was with half the house ready to come forward with evidence.  Without any back up on this one?  I just don’t know if you should be going after this one.”  Severide wasn’t proud to be saying it, but if it were him putting his career on the line, he’d want to be damn sure he knew what he was doing.

The churning feelings of hesitation and confusion burst inside Casey and he whirled on Severide, taking out the stress of the last few days on him.

“So, what are you saying?  I should forget about the kid who’s lying in that hospital bed and will probably never walk again?”

“That’s not what I-”

“Why do you even care, anyway?  Last time I checked Severide, we were barely speaking, not getting all worried about what the other was doing.”

Severide clenched his jaw.  “Fine,” he spat back.  “You want to work this out on your own?  Have it your way.”  He spun away and stalked off, slowing only when he heard the blare of the alarm and the dispassionate voice of the dispatch officer.

“Jumper, squad 3, truck 81, ambulance 61.”

He sighed and turned back the way he came, catching only the briefest glimpse of Casey’s back before the other Lieutenant turned the corner.

The jumper call featured a poor bastard who had tried jumping from the fourth floor of his apartment building only to impale himself on the tall black fence bordering the property, the arrow-like tips spearing into his skin.

Deciding that the victim was too unstable to risk pulling him off the fence, the Chief directed them to cut him down using the K-12 to cut through the steel bars.  Cutting through the two bottom sections with the heavy equipment didn’t impact his shoulder much but as soon as he had to lift it to the top, Severide could feel the muscles in his shoulder strain and protest the movement.  He tried not to let it show on his face as he moved quickly and efficiently without rushing.

“Talk to the saw, not me,” he snapped, when Dawson complained about the steel overheating.  Still he moved back and allowed some water to be pumped onto the bar, ignoring the twinging in his neck.  Finally he finished the cutting, breathing an audible sigh of relief when the others stepped in to carry him over to the stretcher.  

He was recovering by the truck when Casey called for him.  He didn’t pause to ask why they decided to pull the fence and instead moved quickly to bring a smaller saw around to take the tips of the fence.  Despite it’s smaller size there was still some weight behind the equipment and his fatigued right side protested loudly when he lifted it up.  Despite trying his best to keep his pain-filled noises to himself but he knew some slipped through, alerting those nearest to him of his discomfort.  For the rest of the time he worked, he could feel Shay’s intense gaze alternate from drilling into the side of his head and checking on her patient.  He had no doubt that when they got back to the station he would be getting an earful from her.

Finally he got all the tips off and stepped back so they could yank the fence out and shock his heart back into rhythm.  As soon as the man’s heart was beating regularly again on the monitor the girls clambered into the ambulance and took off without a backwards glance, leaving the rest of them to pack and head back.  Packing up proved difficult with his muscles trembling with exertion as they were but Severide hid it as best he could, choosing to lea instead against his truck while he delegated tasks to his men.

Once they were back at the station, he headed straight to the locker room hoping to find some sort of painkiller in his locker.  He dug through all the shelves but found nothing, not even aspirin.  His heart jumped for a second when his fingers closed around a familiar vial that Shay had given him a week earlier, but one shake proved it to be drained empty and crushed his hope.  He tossed it back in irritably and stood from the bench, resigning himself to asking Otis, who he could hear banging around in the next row.

“You got any ibuprofen?”

Otis glanced up and reached for a bottle on the shelf.  “Yes, indeedy.  How many you want?”

“Five,” Severide said without hesitation.  He cursed inwardly as soon as he spoke; he sounded as crazy as he thought he would.  But he had learnt the hard way when he had first injured himself that a regular dose of over-the-counter pain meds wouldn’t come close to covering the pain in his neck.

Obviously thinking he was joking Otis just laughed.  “Here’s two.”  When Severide didn’t move or drop his hand and instead looked at him pointedly Otis sighed.  “Seriously,” he said tipping a third one onto Severide’s palm.  “Too many can do serious damage to your kidneys.”  Again Severide didn’t move just side and looked to his fellow firefighter imploringly.  “Don't come running to me when you’re on dialysis in five years, ok?” He shook the final two pills out and capped the bottle quickly, as though if he didn’t Severide would start asking for more.

“Thanks,” Severide said and walked off, not bothering to stay and listen to the rest of Otis’ lecture on ibuprofen and kidneys.  If he was lucky he would be able to avoid the rest of the world and lie down for a few hours and try to forget about the absolute screaming pain in his arm.

 

Antonio turned back up at the station just before dinner bearing bad news again.  Severide intercepted him by the garage doors and sent him through to Boden’s office before anyone else could question his presence here twice in one day.  Severide didn’t know how much the rest of the house knew, but thought it best if it was best kept within the officers for the time being.  After the argument with Casey earlier Severide chose not to attend the meeting merely escorting Antonio to the door before leaving to attend his own business.

When Antonio sat down with Casey and Boden he didn’t waste anytime getting to what he knew.  “Buddy of mine who works out of Voight’s precinct said nothing’s come up in the witness statements.”

Boden was unimpressed.  “So you’re trying to tell me no one else saw his kid drunk?”

“Hell yes, other people saw his kid drunk.  But they were other cops who aren’t about to go up against Voight.”

“Well, I would rather my guy not be the only one with his head above the foxhole on this one.”

“I understand.”

“Passenger in the other car isn’t going to walk again,” Casey put in, needing Antonio to know why this was so important.

“I know.  I know.  Look, give me to the end of shift.  But if I come up empty…” Antonio trailed off helplessly.  “Voight’s been pulling his son out of things like this since the kid was 15.  Lot of people had to turn the other way.  And I’m just telling you, if it was Gabby who was in your shoes, and I’m not proud to admit this, but I’d tell her to stay out of it.”

To hear someone as principled as Antonio say that told Casey he was in even worse trouble than he had first thought.  He scrubbed a hand over his tired eyes, said goodbye to his chief and Antonio and left to lose himself and his problems for a few hours in the pile of paperwork perpetually waiting for him in his quarters.

 

As Mills was cooking dinner, Herrmann turned the conversation to side-jobs, most of the firefighter’s using their off days to make a bit off extra cash to add to their moderate salaries.

“I didn’t know your side job was in the restaurant business, Mills,” Herrmann said as he leant over the counter to watch the Candidate work.

“For now,” Mills grunted.  “Phasing it out, though.”

“I think you’re the only food-related side job we got in here,” Herrman said with a quick look around the room at the firefighter’s gathered.  “Let’s see, we got a security guard,” Mouch raised a hand in acknowledgment.  “Construction,” he continued with a nod at Casey.  “Severide works on boats, sometimes…”

“What about you?” Mills asked, looking up from the pot he was stirring.

“General entrepreneurship.  I was doing pretty good as a day trader, you know, until all the trolls jumped onboard.  And you know, capsized it for guys like me.  You know, it’s funny that you bring it up, Peter Mills because I’m actually circling an investment opportunity.”

Firefighters from all around the rec room repressed their groans.  They should have known that as soon as Herrmann brought it up that this was what he was leading towards.  Each of them had been burned at one point in time when Herrmann had convinced them to invest in one of his many harebrained schemes that more often than not went nowhere.

“It could be massive,” Herrmann continued, oblivious to the many eyes rolls and quiet murmurs.  “You know, and I might let you guys in on it.”

Rising to the bait but not looking away from his card game, Cruz was the one to ask the inevitable question.  “Well, what is it?”

Herrmann feigned playing hard to get for a moment and said, “Nah, you guys are going to have to wait, ‘cause you know..”  But quickly gave it up, “Okay, fine.  Two words: Energy.  Water.”

The laughter was instantaneous, the men snorting into their fists and shaking their heads incredulously.

“Are you kidding me?” Vargas murmured, never looking away from his cards.

The arrival of Nicki stopped any more conversation on the topic.  “Greg Duffy?”  The room looked around expectantly.  “I guess he was in a car accident the other day that you guys responded to.”

“Yeah, what about him?” Casey asked, fearing the worst.

“He’s outside.”

The company stood and made their way out to the apparatus floor quickly, where a waiting Greg Duffy stood.  The abrasions that still decorated the side of the man’s face were a stark reminder of what he had been through.

“Sir,” Casey said, offering his hand for Greg Duffy to shake.

“Sorry to barge in on you like this, but my wife made this for you guys,” he said, revealing a chocolate cake he had placed on the table beside him.  “We really appreciate what you did.  And we know damn well it could’ve been worse if the car had tipped over, so thank you.”

There was a chorus of “sure’s” and “of “no problem’s” from the house.

“How’s your son?” Casey asked.

“Yeah, well, you know,” Duffy sighed.  “Mikey’s got a tough road ahead of him.  But we’re gonna make it.  We’ll be alright.”  The man paused for a moment and sensing that he wasn’t finished the men remained quiet.  “The other reason I came here is… I don’t know if there’s anything you guys do in  terms of what you saw, or pieced together based on what the scene looked like.  But the police report came back saying I ran a led light and caused the accident.  And that’s, that’s not what happened.  And I’m kind of at a loss in terms of how to fight it.”

Boden and Casey met each other’s gaze.  After a meaningful look from Casey and Boden the men gathered slowly dispersed leaving the Chief and the two Lieutenants with Duffy.  Quietly they explained how the two Lieutenants would submit reports on what they saw and heard, explaining how they thought everything had occurred.

“If that doesn’t change the police report, it’ll be up to you to prove that it wasn’t your fault,” Boden finished apologetically.

Greg Duffy nodded, thanked them for their time and wished them well before leaving the three officers to their thoughts.  Casey avoided the other men’s gazes purposefully, all knowing that it was all up to Casey now and that only his word could have any impact on the police report.  The Lieutenant walked away without another word, heading straight past the kitchen, where Mills was calling everyone to dinner and into his quarters where the unfinished report was waiting impatiently on his desk.  As he wrote, marking down every detail of that night including the drunken driver and the empty beer cans, thinking of every reason he was doing this rather than all the ones that had been holding him back.  He thought of the kid from the passenger seat who would never walk again, of the father in the car who had thought only of his son, who now felt the shame of being blamed for the accident.  He thought of everyone in the house he respected and how he would expect them to do the right thing just as he now had to do the right thing.  Finally he scribbled his signature on the line at the bottom and took it to Boden directly before he could think too hard about what he was doing.

“Last paragraph,” he said as he handed the pages over.  He slumped into a seat as Boden read over it, brow furrowing as he concentrated.

“Visibly drunk,” Boden murmured under his breath as his eyes scanned the page.  “Smelled alcohol on his breath.  Saw open containers on the passenger seat.”

When Boden came to the end of the report, he surveyed his officer for a long moment before standing from behind his desk.  At Boden’s gesture Casey stood as well and turned to his Chief as Boden rounded the desk to stand before him.  Boden offered his hand and the two men shook firmly, a sense of pride burning strongly in Boden’s chest.

“Leaders lead from the front.”

 

As the warm afternoon melted into an equally hot night the inhabitants of House 51 lazed around the station waiting for a call or the appropriate hour for bed, whichever came first.  Outside at the Squad table, Severide was toying lazily with the manila envelope that Nicki had given him earlier still somewhat surprised by it's contents.  Just as he was contemplating forcing himself up to confront her about it - now that it was obvious that she wasn’t just going to let sleeping dogs lie - the devil herself appeared from the doors.  With a purposeful mischievous smile, Nicki slipped into the equipment room, the invitation evident in the sway of her hips and the final sly glance before the door closed behind her.  Looking around to ensure that no one else was paying attention, Severide stood from the table with a muttered excuse and casually followed her in, envelope firmly in hand.

He found her waiting at the other end of the narrow room, fire helmet in hand and watching him expectantly.  As he drew closer he reached in and pulled out the underwear, the lace and satin soft in his hand and held them up in a silent question.

“Evites are so impersonal,” she said, fiddling with the equipment in her grasp.

He still didn’t speak as he stopped barely a foot between them.  Severide didn’t know what he wanted coming in here, if his plan was to tell her to back off or if he was going to indulge in her offer just to get it out of both of their systems.  He doubted either of them wanted a long term relationship and he thought that maybe she would back off once she’d played with fire and got it on with one of the firefighter’s she’d been told to stay away from.  The reasons for not doing this were still there of course, the entire mess that was his life currently and the hint of trouble that Nicki’s devious smile promised but when she placed the helmet on his head with a challenge to leave it on, Severide knew he wasn’t going to be the one to back down.

He slipped a hand around her waist and used his hold to tug her closer until they were pressed flush from hips to chest.

“Girl, you are barking up the wrong tree,” he told her, hands slipping down to palm her ass through her dress.

“Yeah?” she asked, voice only slightly breathless and ran a heel up the back of his leg and hooked it around his hips, bringing them further into contact.  “Prove it.”

With the final challenge laid down their lips met in a furious clash, tongues instantly curling together in a hot fight for dominance.  Winning almost instantly, Severide slid a hand into her hair allowing himself to position her to his liking as he settled to explore her mouth with his own.

Seemingly eager to get on with it as quickly as possible, Nicki was quick to jump into Severide’s arms her long legs wrapping around his waist to keep her up.  Stumbling over to the wall, they shoved aside hangers of turnout gear, searching for the wall to balance Nicki against.  Their hips rolled sporadically against each other as they continued to kiss and suck at each other’s skin, moving their lips often enough that marks never got the chance to form.  Together they fought to pull Severide’s shirt off, taking the helmet off momentarily before Nicki was pushing it back on.

“Leave it on,” Nicki whispered into his ear, when he reached up to adjust the damn thing and kissed the skin beneath his ear in reward when his hands returned to her hips.

He reached up with a free hand and tugged at the ties of her dress until the top half was falling to pool around her waist.  Leaning back to check that she was ready to move on, pantieless as Nicki was, Severide needed only to shift the skirt of her dress fractionally and he was able to slide into her tight, wet heat in one practised move.  They both moaned at the feeling and clawed at each other’s skin in an effort to get closer.

Being in the firehouse as they were, Severide knew they were on a time limit and set a bruising pace.  Each quick, slamming thrust drew moans from the woman against him, growing higher and higher in pitch as she got closer to the edge, until it was effort for Severide not to grimace at the shrillness of the voice.  Since the breakup with Casey, it had only been men Severide had picked up from bars and as such it had been such a long time since he’d been with a woman that he’d forgotten how if felt, the high-pitched demands panted directly into his ear and the softness of their breasts against his own chest.

Knowing he needed to finish this up as quickly as possible before someone interrupted or worse, the bells went off, Severide shifted a hand so he could nudge her bra out of the way and roll a hardened nipple between his fingers.  The effect was instantaneous and it was only a matter of seconds before Nicki was stiffening between Severide and the wall and coming with a loud moan.  

Severide continued to move, drawing out Nicki’s orgasm as he chased his own release.  Unwillingly Severide’s thoughts turned to the last people he had been with as he searched for that thing that would push him over the edge; the hard planes of a man’s body under his fingertips, stubble that grazed his skin as lips mouthed helplessly at his throat, lips swollen obscenely and looking thoroughly debauched, blue irises that were almost completely overcome by the pupils blown wide in lust, short blonde hair that stuck up in all different directions because of his own fingers, a low voice that murmured into his ear, urged him to let go.  It was a fight for Severide to moan the right name as he came, spilling the evidence into the condom.  

A lazy hand traced along his back in an effort to be soothing, he supposed as they both came down from their highs but Severide was more concerned with not shrugging it off.  When he finally felt like he might not fall over, Severide unlocked his knees, pulled out and helped Nicki back to the ground.  While she tried to tame her hair - messy from his fingers, Severide noted distantly - and pulled her dress back up, Severide busied himself tying the condom off and burying it at the bottom of the bin.  When he was done and mostly presentable, Nicki pressed a final kiss to his cheek, shot him a devious grin and wandered out of the room.  Severide rolled his head with a groan, which only became more agonised when he realised Nicki had left her underwear behind, no doubt as a present for him.  Needing no more than a second to think about it, Severide scooped the panties up, shoved them back into the envelope and stuffed the whole thing into the bin; now that he’d had his quick fuck, he really didn’t want anything more to do with the girl.

Unfortunately, Severide didn’t seem to hear Nicki’s fake giggle or her surprised greeting to her Dad, busy as he was hiding the evidence of their time together.  If he had, he might have waited a little longer, like maybe an hour in order to be completely sure that Nicki and her father were gone before leaving the equipment room, rather than just moments after Nicki.

Severide emerged from the room, and his stomach dropped all the way to his toes as the sight of her Dad.  One look in his eyes told Severide that the man suspected but still Severide nodded to him respectfully and tried not to look like he’d just fucked the man’s daughter against a brick wall while still getting out of there as fast as possible.

As he hurried for the doors inside he caught sight of Casey standing with Herrmann by their rig, apparently checking something.  The Lieutenant however wasn’t focussing on the truck however, instead choosing to stare at Severide, judgement evident in his eyes.

Severide slowed and stopped, staring at Casey, wordlessly asking him what his problem was.

Casey raised his eyebrows, as if to say ‘ Really?’

Severide felt his expression grow cold and narrowed his eyes.  ‘ Back off,’ his expression said.

Casey seemed to get it because he held up his hands in surrender and gave a small unconcerned shrug before turning away, the universal sign for ‘ Whatever.  It’s your funeral.’

Severide rolled his eyes and continued on, too blissed out from the fuck to get worked up over what the hell Casey was on about.  Feeling thoroughly debauched, Severide tried to straighten out his shirt, crumpled from lying in a heap on the floor and turn his necklace the right way round, having been pushed by Nicki’s eager hands.  On his way to the locker room for a shower, he was cornered by Shay who had a dangerous, determined glint in her eyes.

“Hey,” she said grabbing his arm before he could make a break for it.  “I need to talk to you.”

Severide, feeling paranoid after his run in with Casey went immediately on the defensive, not putting it past him to go running straight to Shay.

“That girl’s in serious heat, and I’m not Gandhi,” he said gesturing back at the equipment room wildly.

“What?” Shay followed the line of his hands and tried to work out what he was on about, her nose scrunching up in confusion.

Oh.

Severide should have known better; Casey wasn’t one to get involved in anyone else’s business.

“No about your arm,” Shay continued, already moving past Severide’s odd admission.  “Here.”  She thrust a small scrap of paper at him, on which Severide could see, in Shay’s messy scrawl a time, date and name.

“What’s this?”

“Friend of mine.  I gave her a head’s up.”

Severide fought the urge to swear and forced himself to appear grateful.  “Cool.  Thanks.”

“Yeah, your appointment’s after shift,” Shay continued.

Sure enough when Severide took a second look at the paper, the date was for tomorrow morning, right after when they would get off work.  His stomach twisted uncomfortably at the proximity of the appointment and tried to come up with something he could say that wouldn’t reveal how scared he was.  Apparently his hesitation was enough.

“You said you were going to get your arm looked at,” Shay said accusingly.

“I know.  I am.  I will.  I’ll- well I am now.”  Severide knew he was babbling in his attempt to placate his friend and he wasn’t surprised when her face didn’t relax.

“Ok, so I basically feel like you’ve been lying to me in order to get painkillers, and that’s not really the qualities I look for in a friend and a roommate.”

Severide repressed the urge to remind her exactly who had moved into whose apartment, knowing that it wasn’t really the point and it would only prompt Shay to hit him and the girl packed quite a punch.  Instead he finally came clean about why he was hesitant to go see a doctor.

“Part of me doesn’t want to know.”  Screw part of him; all of him was quite content to remain in the dark, knowing from the pain and numbness that it couldn’t be anything good.

Shay’s eyes softened at the admission and she nodded empathetically.  “I get it, of course.  But the consultations off the books… just you and I’ll know, and we’ll figure it out.”

Knowing that Shay wouldn’t allow for any other alternative, Severide swallowed heavily and nodded, “All right.”  While he still wasn’t sure if this was the best course of action, Severide figured it was time to suck it up, stay on Shay’s good side and go to the appointment.

 

Outside, Casey was methodically packing up the t-shirt booth, having stepped in to do it since Nicki left early when he felt someone join him.  He glanced around to find Vargas hovering nearby looking nervous in a way that made Casey equally apprehensive.

“Hey Casey.”

Casey nodded his own greeting and preemptively asked Vargas what was going on.

“Just wanted to let you know that I reached my squad certification.”

Casey’s stomach twisted and he wanted to tell Vargas to stop because he didn't need To hear anymore to know what would come next.

Still, Vargas continued, “And I put in for a transfer.  So I just wanted to know beforehand.”  Vargas said when Casey didn't offer anything in return.

Casey gritted his teeth against any response knowing it would come out harsh and scathing.  It wasn't that Casey wasn't happy for them, God only knew that he was beyond proud whenever his men bettered themselves but the constant rotation his company was in grew more annoying with every man that was shifted out of his charge and into Severide’s.  Still, when Casey caught the dejected bob of Vargas’ head out of the corner of his eye, he was calling out the names name before he even knew what he was doing.

“Congratulations, man,” he said offering his hand for his subordinate to shake, any lingering cynicism melting away when he saw the barely restrained exhilaration burning in the man’s eyes.  “Seriously.  Severide will be lucky to have you.”

“I appreciate that,” Vargas returned warmly and with one final nod turned to head back inside, the box of money and t-shirts under one arm.

Casey was just untacking the sign from the table when he once again felt the prickling feeling of someone approaching him from behind.  He stood from his crouch and turned to find himself face to face with a man who was easily identifiable as Detective Voight.

“You Casey?” he asked.  At Casey’s quiet confirmation he nodded and introduced himself.  “Hank Voight.  You got time for a drink?”

Knowing this was bound to go down sometime Casey agreed easily and followed Voight down the street towards the nearest bar.  As they walked he pulled his radio from his hip and spoke into it, volume pitched just loud enough that Voight was sure to hear it.

“Chief?” Casey waited for Boden’s affirmation before continuing.  “I’m just going to step out for a second.  Give me a yell if the bells go?”

“Sure Casey,” Boden agreed easily enough.  “Just be back in half an hour.”

“Thank, Chief.”

Satisfied that Voight wouldn’t now try anything when Casey was sure to be missed, the Lieutenant relaxed fractionally, feeling more resigned than anything.

As soon as they sat, Voight ordering a cliched bourbon and Casey just taking a coffee, the detective launched into an immediate long-winded discussion of life as a police officer that while marginally interesting was just something both knew was an introduction to the inevitable conversation.

“Lots of cops have dinosaur arms when it comes to pulling their gun,” Voight said after taking a long pull of his drink.  “Not me.”

Casey didn’t offer anything in response and Voight was quick to continue.

“You know, I’ve always been aggressive.”

While his next words still didn’t prompt a word from Casey, the Lieutenant didn’t miss the hidden warning behind the words.  But rest assured he had no intention of challenging Voight any more than was strictly necessary.

“It’s the only way to get anything done in my line of work.  The reason I’m telling you this is, I put a lot of time into my job.  I mean, I cared a lot about protecting the city and the people in it.  Maybe too much, because I wasn’t a home a lot and I took my eye off my son.”

And here they were, the inevitable point of conversation.  The conversation they’d been having might have been bettered suited to an old friend but now they were up to the part that had brought the seasoned Detective to Casey in the first place.  Still Casey didn’t speak though, remaining silent to see how far Voight would go without his input.

“That’s on me.”

It was a challenge here not to roll his eyes.  Casey has heard the excuses over and over throughout his career.  The parents always took the blame for their kids, assuming that it had to be their fault that their child did anything wrong.  But Voight hadn’t made the kid drink anything, hadn’t forced the keys into his hand and being as dedicated to his job as Voight said he would, Casey would be surprised if the detective hadn’t drilled the most basic rule: don’t drink and drive into his kid’s head throughout his childhood.  As far as Casey could tell, if the kid was old enough to drive and buy alcohol, he was old enough to take ownership of his crimes.

“But I am telling you right now I am going to be up that kid’s ass until he gets his head on straight.  I’m going to get him in a program, the whole deal.  You have my word on it.”

“Good to hear,” Casey finally said, knowing it wasn’t only part of what Voight wanted to hear.  Casey had encountered cops like the Detective before and knew that they expected him to fall at their feet with assurances just because of their job.  Casey had no intention of letting the kid off because of some pretty words from his father.

“See, the thing is Justin, that’s my son.  He’s got some priors.  This thing that happened the other night, if there was alcohol involved, that’s a felony.  He does time.  Real time.  You been to Statesville?  You been to these places?  You don’t want your kid there, trust me.”

Because Casey had looked into the kid.  Had really gotten the facts before he made a decision about what to put in his report and knew what the kid was facing.  So when Voight had first approached him this was what he had been expecting, because no father wanted to see their child go to jail.  That, at least, Casey understood.

But he had been to Statesville.  Had seen guys spend days in lockup.  Seen the blank stares of inmates who wouldn’t taste free air for decades.  He’d seen all that and it still stuck with him.  But still he’d seen places a thousand times worse and nothing Voight said to him could convince him that Justin spending a few years in prison would be the worst thing that could ever happen to him.

“I’m sympathetic, but that’s got nothing to do with me,” Casey tried, knowing full well that it wouldn’t work.

“Sure it does.”  Voigt's voice was almost strangled in his effort to remain composed.  “You filed a report that said my so was drunk that night.”

“He was.”  And they both knew it.

“Well, I need you to retract it.”

Casey almost laughed for the first time since he’d encountered the cop.  He should have expected this; the old ‘I need this’ routine.  It was common amongst addicts.  Casey didn’t doubt that Voight really did care for his son and that was the basis of why the man was here talking to him, almost begging for Casey to let his son off but Casey also knew the eyes of addicts.  Had seen enough of them, wild eyes that screamed for the next hit while they were held down and taken to hospital, eyes clouded by adrenaline as the firefighter got off on the thrill of cheating death.  Casey knew addiction well and he was almost sure that Voight was addicted to the power he held over the common man, addicted to the feeling of using his position to make anyone do anything he wanted.  So yeah, Casey didn’t doubt that Voight thought he ‘needed’ Casey to let his son off.

“Let me tell you I will owe you.  Big time.  I’m a good guy to have a favour bank with,” Voight said.

“The kid in the other car.  Did you know he’s paralysed.”  Casey just needed to know if Voight came here knowing his son had caused the destruction of three other lives.

“Yeah.  And it breaks my heart.”  Casey didn’t have a chance to seethe at the faked sympathy because Voight was quick to turn it back to his son.  “But there is no sense having two tragedies coming from that night.  And putting ten years on my son would be a tragedy, ‘Cause he’s a great guy.”

“I’ve been to Statesville.  You ever been to a spinal injury center?  Family watches their kid drag his feet while gripping some parallel bars, clinging to the fantasy that he’ll walk again one day.  And the dad quits his job to help the mum take care of him, and takes out a second mortgage out on their house to pay for it.”

Casey wasn’t just speaking from hypothetical anymore but rather from experience.  It’d been several years ago when the current candidate of the house, a boy barely twenty had had his career destroyed when a beam had fallen on him, paralysing him from the waist down.  Casey had only gone to visit him once at the rehab centre, the sight of the fresh-faced kid struggle with the basic movement as tears of exertion poured down his face had been enough to change him forever.

“And on top of that,” Casey continued, the face on the kid changing to the young sixteen year old he’d pulled from the wreck.  “They have to live with the shame that the police and fire departments shoved a lie down their throat, that they caused the accident?  What you’re asking me to do-”

“I’m not asking!” Voight yelled, his voice filling the nearly empty bar as he stood suddenly and towered over Casey.

But Casey didn’t stand or even flinch.  He’d faced down fires ravaging 100 story buildings before, victims so mangled by blood and gore that Casey couldn’t even tell what gender they were, sights that left him immobilised for hours after, he’d faced all that and survived.  So it would take more than a little yelling from the cop to put him the slightest bit on edge.

Voight sat slowly, all pretence of friendliness dropped between the two men.  “If you’re not the kind of man to do a cop a favour, then I can take this to the next level real easy.  It was the end of your shift, you were tired, you got your paperwork mixed up, you got your calls mixed up; there’s a million excuses.  Pick one.  Because believe me you are going to retract that statement, because if you don’t, I swear to God-”

Voight trailed off suddenly enough that Casey looked over his shoulder to see what had put the detective off.  Strolling casually towards them was Chief Boden, looking every bit like he was just getting a quick drink in the middle of his shift.  Casey knew better.

“Casey,” Boden greeted quietly as he strolled past their booth and took a seat at the bar.  There was a question there, even if it wasn’t noticeable to anyone but him.

“Chief,” he replied, an assurance in his voice that everything was alright.  Still, even though Casey didn’t need the help, he was grateful for the backup.

“Hey Chief, can you maybe give us a minute?  This is kind of a private conversation.”

Anyone else might have been put off by the suggestion and the hint of authority lacing the words, but Boden didn’t so much as blink as he regarded Voight coolly.

“No, I’m good.”

Voight was silent for a moment but obviously got that he wouldn’t be getting any further with Casey, especially with Boden sitting right there and he stood without another word, tossed a wad of cash down and left the bar.  The two firefighters watched him go passively before Boden turned to his Lieutenant, eyebrows raised in question.

“I’m not changing a word.”


The rest of shift continued without further incident and the next morning Severide grudgingly kept to his word and attended the appointment Shay had made for him.  The scans of his shoulder and neck were fairly painless but Severide had a bad feeling churning his stomach that was only confirmed by the look on the doctor’s face - he’d already forgotten her name in his nervousness - when she sat down across from him, x-rays firmly in hand.

“Honestly, I don’t know how you’re walking around, let alone working right now.  What happened?”

Severide’s stomach dropped at both the tone and the words.  If a doctor, who had to have seen just about everything there was to be seen could be surprised by his injury it had to be bad.

Heart in his throat, Severide said, “Job related.  I figured it was just a pinched nerve.”

The doctor nodded slowly and strode over to the screen.  She pushed the x-ray into lace, flicked on the lights and used a pen to circle the affected section of the spine.  “ It is a pinched nerve.  Cause by a fracture in your c5 vertebra.”

“Okay,” Severide said, too stunned to come up with anything better or voice any of the million questions whizzing through his head.

The doctor pulled the x-ray down and rejoined him at the desk, looking grave.  “You’re lucky you can feel pain at all right now.  But there’s a surgery which can take pressure off the nerve.”

“How long would I be off work?”  The question came out quickly but to Severide his job was all he really had in this world and his ability to fight fires would always come first before all else.

“Full rehab: six months to a year.”  Her tone suggested that Severide should feel lucky to have a short rehabilitation period; but all Severide could think of was the minimum 180 days he would have to live through before he could come back, 180 long days of sitting around doing nothing while his brothers put themselves in danger.  There was no way.

“How about without the surgery?”

Before he could even finish the question the doctor was already shaking her head.  “We’re dealing with motor nerve damage, so there’s no definitive timetable; but you can expect weaknesses of the hands, you can expect muscle atrophy, and then if it deteriorates, fasciculation, twitching of the hands, of the knees.  After that you don’t want to know.”

Essentially complete loss over his body, the doctor was telling.  So basically, either way he was fucked.

 

Casey was mere minutes away from escaping the firehouse when he ran into Dawson in the locker room.  He just had to meet up with the truck boys about something than he could escape for 48 hours but the look on Dawson’s face told him, she was in the mood for a chat.

“My brother called.  Asked if you were sure about what’re doing.  I told him ‘You don’t know Casey very well’.”

Casey shot her an appreciative smile and zipped up his bag and preparing to swing it over his shoulder.

“You holding up alright?”

“Yeah, I’m good,” Casey said with a slight frown, surprisingly truthful.  Despite Voight’s threats he wasn’t worried about what was going to happen next.  Whatever Voight was going to do would pale in comparison to knowing that the person responsible for putting the sixteen year old kid in that chair was going to be held responsible.

“What would you have done?” Casey asked.

Dawson let out a small breath of air, head tilting as she thought about it.  “I- you know, I went back and forth on this, especially with Antonio in my ear, but you want to know the honest answer?  If I held that information out of the report, I thought about how I’d feel looking people I respect in the eye.  You know, and I guess specifically, I thought about how I’d feel looking you in the eye.  And that when I knew I would’ve done the right thing.”

The reasons she said weren’t so different from those that had ultimately pushed Casey into writing his report but it wasn’t that that stunned him.  Casey didn’t know if Dawson meant to reveal as much as she did as she spoke but he wasn’t stupid nor oblivious.  He knew that Dawson harboured some sort of interest in him and had for a long time and she was a beautiful, intelligent woman but Casey just didn’t return the feelings.  Hoping she’d just get over the attraction with time if he kept their relationship purely platonic, Casey wished her a happy two day break and said goodbye, heading for the rec room where he knew the truck boys would be waiting for him.

The halls of the house were basically deserted, most of the previous shift already having left and the new shift out the front checking over their equipment.  He entered the room to find the boys clustered around the money box as Mouch counted the takings of the t-shirt booth.

“300, 310, 325,” Mouch was muttering under his breath as he tallied up the last few dollars.  “344 dollars, he announced.

Catching sight of Casey, Herrmann turned to explain, “We found a 32-inch over in Roscoe Village; the guy says it’s barely been used.”

Casey hummed thoughtfully and his gaze dropped to the chocolate cake that had almost been completely devoured at lunch and the beginning’s of an idea formed in his head.  A few quick tallies and budgeting solidified the plan and a small smile graced his lips.

“I’ve got a better idea.”

He gestured them all closer and set about dictating instructions dividing the company in half; one side in charge of getting all the supplies, the other in charge of spreading the word.  They all assented and agreed to meet back up in two hours.

 

While it was still a little early for lunch, by the time Severide got back to his apartment he was so fraught by distress over the results that he needed to busy himself with something before he went crazy.  With the apartment being spotless thanks to Shay he settled for preparing a salad figuring the time and attention it would take would be enough to settle himself down.

The sudden pad of feet signaled Shay’s return and from her wet hair and swimsuit Severide figured she’d been making use of the apartment complex’s pool downstairs.

“Hey,” he said.

“Hey,” she returned easily, her voice unusually soft.  “So, how’d it go?” Shay asked.

Usually Severide wouldn’t dare lie, his own personal morals and experience telling him it was a bad idea.  But he’d thought about how’d he’d answer when Shay asked the inevitable answer and he knew what she would say if he told her the truth.  In her eye’s there’d be no choice other than taking the surgery but there was also no way Severide was about to let himself be bullied into doing something that could potentially end his career.

So instead he said, “Good.  Nice lady.  Said I’ve just gotta find a way to manage the pain.”

“Yeah,” Shay said slowly and Severide’s heart sank.  “Kendra said that you basically have a broken neck.”

Severide knew he probably should have expected Shay would find out but he also had thought that doctor/patient confidentiality would give him more than five minutes with the information before he had to deal with Shay’s input.

“Well, if the two of you already talked, then why are you asking me?”

But he knew why.  That had just been a test and he had without a doubt just failed it.

Severide tossed his knife down and tried to explain his reservations.  “I get that surgery, there’s follow-up exams.  There’s paperwork involved.  The department doesn’t like how it looks, I go on long-term disability.”

Forgetting the fact that he’d been sitting on the injury for months, Severide knew it looked bad.  He wasn’t stupid and he’d been around the fire department long enough to know how it worked and easily it was to be bounced to disability.  If it was one thing the department was efficient on, it was the health of it’s firefighter’s.

“That’s 75% pay,” Shay answered, as if Severide would be satisfied not working as long as he was getting good pay.

“And then do what, Shay?  I fish off Navy pier for the next 20 years?  Working squad is all I’ve ever wanted.  It’s all I have.  If I have to eat the pain, then I will.”

Shay opened her mouth, no doubt to tell him how stupid that was but before she could a knock on the door had them both turning around in surprise.  Basically anyone who knew them would know that it was a shift day for them yesterday and depending on the calls during the night would mean they could be sleeping or almost there.

“Who’s that?” Shay asked, more to herself than him, Severide though as he abandoned his lunch again in favour of escaping Shay’s interrogation and opening the door.

When Severide opened the door, he only had a second to identify the person there as Nicki’s father before the man was stepping right up into his space aggressively.  Severide, desperately tried not to think of the last time Nicki stood right where her father was now standing.

“Hey,” Al said shortly.  “Remember me?”

“I do,” Severide said slowly, hoping to stall as much as possible, not wanting to have this conversation at all, let alone with Shay standing nearby listening in.

Getting straight to the point, Al delivered a verbal sucker punch.  “Nicki is engaged.”

Severide’s stomach dropped for the hundredth time that day and he coughed uncomfortably.  

Taking his silence as an opportunity, Al glanced over Severide’s shoulder, catching sight of the scantily clad Shay standing in stoic silence watching them.  “Besides, it, uh, looks like you’re already having your fun there.”

Severide wanted to say something, explain.  Tell him that Shay was just his room-mate or that she was gay but words failed him as he glanced wordlessly between Shay and Al.  Besides he doubted that the man would believe him anyway.

“This conversation need to continue?” Al said brashly.

Severide’s throat unstuck long enough from him to rush out, “No, sir.  It doesn’t’”

“Right.”  Without another word, Al strode away, leaving Severide and Shay to stand in stunned silence.

Again, Severide was struck with the urge to call after him and explain that he never would have gone there if he had known.  Affairs weren’t his thing on any day but an engaged person, he had enough experience on the other side of that to never even consider that.  But that was a story Severide was barely comfortable enough with to discuss with his closest friends, let alone some random guy so Severide swung the door shut decisively and let it go.

He turned away, wanting to get over the conversation as quickly as possible, only to find Shay standing there in silent judgment.

“There you have it,” he said, hoping to stave off any more lectures from her.

He started to head back to the kitchen to finish his lunch but the trill of his phone reminding him he had an unread message had him stopping short.  The text had originally come through while he’d been at the appointment and not wanting to be rude, Severide had left it, hoping it wasn’t important and had promptly forgotten about it once the doctor had told him how bad his neck actually was.

But now he pulled his phone from his pocket as a welcome distraction and clicked it open to find a message from Herrmann waiting for him.  A smile grew on his face as he read the message, the plan iot detailed clearly orchestrated by Casey and he abruptly changed course.  He scooped up his keys and headed back to the door, mindless of Shay’s curious question.

“You can have that salad if you want,” Severide offered and left the apartment before she could answer.

The message Herrmann had sent was a few hours before but hopefully they still needed the help.  Using the directions in the text, it only took Severide a few minutes to get to Greg Duffy’s house and he pulled up to see a good number of the firefighter’s on his shift working together to construct a ramp from the doorway down to the sidewalk.

He clambered out of the car and approached Casey who was quibbling with Otis over a piece of equipment the man had gotten wrong.

“That’s a t-square,” Casey was correcting and when Otis looked at the thing in his hands quizzically Casey shook his head.  “Just go.”

“Okay,” Otis sighed and went to try again.

“Where do you want me,” Severide called, gaining Casey’s attention.  The Lieutenant looked up from his drill in surprise and a startled smile spread across his face.

Still Casey didn’t miss a beat and nodded at Otis’ retreating back.  “You can go help Otis and stay out of the way.”

“Hey,” Severide protested, leaning against the mostly constructed ramp carefully.  “I can do more than run around like a lap dog fetching stuff.”

Casey scoffed.  “Please I’ve seen you with a hammer.”

“Alright, alright,” Severide held up his hands in surrender.  “What do you need?”

“Know what a level looks like?”

Severide’s nose screwed up automatically, as he tried to conjure up any memories from the time Casey decided he needed to expand his knowledge on construction tools and had proceeded to empty his toolbox and truck naming each piece of equipment and what it did, the whole process taking hours.  So naturally now, Severide drew a complete blank.

“I may… have the slightest… vaguest idea, of what it might look like.”

“Hmmm,” Casey hummed wryly and indicated Otis with a jerk of his head.  “I’m sure between the two of you, you can figure it out.”

Severide grinned sheepishly and left Casey to… whatever he was doing with the drill, going to see if he could maybe rustle up a level.  Whatever that was.

 

After another few hour of work, just as the sun was beginning to dip below the horizon they finally put the finishing touches on the ramp.  It was steep, but not to steep so that Mikey would be able to push himself up without anyone else’s help, railings on both sides, grips all along it to prevent slipping from anyone when the inevitable rain came.  They packed up slowly, all tired from the day in the sun, amidst profuse thanking from the Duffy’s.

“Bears game starts in a half hour,” Herrmann commented, looking around at the group slyly.

Obviously picking up on Herrmann’s silent intent, Mouch was the one to speak next.  “It there a decent spot around here to watch it.  Not too crowded, not too loud, and we can get seats?”

Mills stilled in his crouch on the bed of Casey’s truck where he was winding up a power cord.  “Yeah,” he said slowly.  “I know a place.”

The group chorused their approval and agreed to head straight there, all quickly dispersing to their own cars.  Casey dumped the rest of his gear into the back of his truck, looking around in surprise when he saw that Severide was still standing there.

“You heading home or...?”  Casey asked.  

A few weeks ago Severide would have taken it as Casey’s passive way of asking him leave and probably would have gone off, but now that they were back on speaking terms and enough of the anger had ebbed away he could see that it was Casey asking him to come while still leaving him an out, should he choose to take it.

Severide glanced around.  The truck guys, who made up the group who had remained all day building were all hovering, half in and half out of there cars, evidently waiting for his response.

Why not, he thought.  Going home would probably only mean another conversation with Shay that he wasn’t ready to have.  Besides, the truck company were a good bunch: most of them smarter than the average firefighter and always willing to take a good joke.  Most of them, Severide considered as close as family and he hadn’t been able to be with them in a while.  Why not indulge in this?

“Nah,” he said finally.  “Thought I might tag along.  As long as that’s alright with you,” he added as an afterthought, thinking suddenly that Casey might have been asking him to go after all.

“Of course,” Casey said quickly.  “See you there then.”  With nothing more than a small smile, Casey swung himself into his truck and Severide turned to head to his own car, trying not to think about what the sight of that smile had done to his insides.

The ride to Mills’ dinner was short and the second the stepped out of the car Herrmann went into full Dad mode lecturing them on their behaviour.

“We’re going in someplace nice so go easy, guys.”

Mills entered first with Herrmann and the others right on his heels.

“Hey, Mum,” he said with an accompanying hug and kiss.

Herrmann was next.  “This looks like a Mum, am I right?” he crowed, wrapping her up in a tight hug.  “Herrmann,” he introduced.  “You got one sweet kid.”

Ingrid Mills smoothed a hand over her hair, shocked at the warmth displayed by the firefighters.  Neither her nor her son had been expecting it.  It had been a long time for Ingrid and Peter had been too young to remember the familial connection that developed within a house.

“Hello, Mrs Mills,” Mouch said next, hugging her as well.  “Mouch.”

“Mouch?”

“Mouch,” he confirmed with a knowing smile.

“Nice to meet you, Mo-Mouch,” she replied, stumbling over the odd name.

“You’ll get used to it,” Mouch assured her and stepped away.

“Otis,” Mills put in as the next firefighter stepped up for a greeting hug.

“Otis, nice to meet you.”

“Brian,” he corrected gently and pressed a kiss to her cheek before stepping away also.

As Vargas and Cruz greeted Mills’ mother, Severide nudged Casey gently and nodded at Mills, who was watching the ritual with dazed, slightly perplexed look on his face.  The two Lieutenant’s shared a smile.  For someone who hadn't grown up with it, as Casey hadn’t, it was always astonishing at first, the connection that developed between firefighter families.  If Mills made it around here, he would no doubt see first hand just what lengths they’d be willing to go for each other.

“Lieutenant Kelly Severide,” the man in questioned said as he shook Ingrid’s hand and drew her in for a hug.  “You have quite a son,” he murmured quietly before they withdrew.

Finally it was only Casey left.  

“Uh, this is my boss, Ma.  Lieutenant Casey.”

“Lieutenant, it’s so great to have you guys here,” she said, pulling him for a hug.

Casey stood floored for a moment.  It had been many years since he had last been hugged like this and for a second his body didn’t know what to do with itself.  But then he relaxed into her hold.

Still despite his shock, Casey didn’t forget, for a moment the manners his own mother had drilled into him as a child.  “Nice to meet you ma’am.”

“And hey, this is my sister Elise,” Mills said, addressing the room at large as his sister appeared bearing a tray of beers.  She was greeted with a chorus of cheers and she distributed the drinks, meeting each of the men in her brother’s unit.

Using their momentary distraction, Ingrid quickly pulled Casey aside, asking if he could spare a minute to talk to her.

“I don’t sleep at night, when he’s on shift.”  Ingrid didn’t know what else to say other than that but Casey seemed to know immediately what to say.

“I’ll look after him,” he said, features softening.  “I promise.”

Ingrid’s own features lightened into her own fond smile and she gripped his shoulder tightly in silent thanks.

“Alright, you guys make yourselves at home.  We’ll bring some food out.”

“Mother’s worry?” Severide asked quietly as he and Casey slid into the booth.

“Of course,” Casey responded, settling against the window, his own voice shielded by Herrmann’s declarations of love to his Honey Bears.

They turned their attention back to the screen where the commentators were hyping the viewers up with stats on all the major players, placing their own unofficial bets on who was going to win the game.

Casey could almost feel himself relaxing when a car deliberately slowing outside the dinner caught his attention.  He turned just in time to see a black car, bearing Detective Voight crawl past with a pointed look at Casey before speeding away.

“You alright, man?” Severide asked.

“Yeah,” Casey managed around the sudden lump in his throat.  And he wished he was telling the truth, because right as things were looking to get better, he now had the sudden and overwhelming bad feeling that things were about to get so much more complicated.

Chapter Text

Halloween came about slowly, with decorations gradually accumulating in the corners of the House, a garland of paper bats here and a skeleton there, everyone thrumming in anticipation for Boden’s favourite holiday.  

Casey, for once was not looking forward to the holidays.  Halloween had never been his favourite holiday - years of candy induced stomach aches having soured the occasion - but he, Darden and Severide had taken to meeting up on that night, eating way too much candy and watching bad horror flicks while Heather took the boys trick or treating.  Not only was it going to be the first holiday since losing Darden but what with his split with Severide and Hallie being on shift he was destined to spend the night alone.  So to say Casey wasn’t looking forward to Halloween, would be an understatement.

Rather than bring the rest of the House down however, Casey had taken to frequenting his own quarters of a shift, staying scarily on top of his paperwork and generally brooding in his own company rather than inflicting his moods on the other occupants.  He was deep in his pre-dinner solitary confinement when the call came through, sending all three 51 companies out into the cold night.

Engine 51, Truck 81, Squad 3, Ambulance 61, Warehouse fire, 6620 Oak Park.”

The house, as always moved quickly, pulling on their turnout gear and collecting their equipment.  Boden, hearing that everyone was going out, pulled himself away from his own paperwork to go with them, sensing they might need some guidance on this one.  The trucks pulled up with a screech of alarms and horns and the two Lieutenants were out in a second, joining their chief to stare up at the illuminated building.

“This is the old Triskin warehouse,” Casey called over the roar of flames.

The Triskan warehouse had been home to a big company and had been just one of many abandoned when they’d gone out of business.  Rumour was that they were used frequently now by squatters and other homeless people, particularly in the colder months.  The trio edged closer, trying to get a better look at the place.

“Looks like the door’s been pried open,” Severide said.  “Probably squatters; they could be still inside.”

Boden made a low sound in his throat as he took inventory of the whole place, calculating just how long they had, or didn’t have to go through the place.  “Smoke’s already coming out pretty quick.  We don’t have long on this one.”

Casey and Severide nodded their agreement, knowing their Chief was right.

Boden pulled his radio closer and clicked it on to talk to the three companies milling around near their trucks, waiting for orders.  “Engine 51, give me a 2 ½ in the front door, Truck 81 open up the back and vent the skylights, Severide give me that primary search.”

“You got it,” Severide responded and hurried away to gather up his men.

Casey approached his own company.  “Cruz and Otis raise the aerial and take out the skylights.  Herrmann and Mills, let’s open up the back and get in there.”

He took the halligan offered to him by Mills and moved off, leading the other two round to the back of the warehouse.

Severide meanwhile, went in from the front, directing his men with short orders.  “Smoke’s bad.  Get the doors down fast.”

The doors were pretty flimsy, primitive planks of wood hammered into place that only took a few hard to striked to pry away from the doorframe.  They moved in without hesitation, instantly fanning out to look for victims.

“Fire department!  Call out!”

In the distance, Severide could hear Casey, Herrmann and Mills yelling similarly.

“Fire department!  Anyone in here?” Hadley called from his left.

From the yells Severide had to guess that no one had found anyone yet other than Tony who had just left with an unconscious woman in tow.  He was just thinking they were about to run into the Truck group when he tripped over something.  A quick look down told him that it had been a person’s leg.  Severide, along with Capp who had been right on his ass quickly shoved the debris off the man and he helped the other firefighter hoist the man over his shoulder, ignoring the flare of pain in his shoulder as he did, allowing Capp to take the victim out to the ambulances.  Once he was sure Capp could handle it and he saw that Hadley was heading out with his own victim he moved on.

Severide had just caught sight of Mills through the haze of smoke when the call came through.

All companies, evacuate the building.”

When Mills didn’t immediately turn to leave, Severide stumbled forward grabbing a hold of whatever bit he could reach and started tugging him out.

“Wait,” the boy protested, struggling to remain where he was but Severide wasn’t taking no for an answer and he sure as hell wasn’t leaving Mills there either.  

Just when Severide was wondering whether he was going to have to drag the kid kicking and screaming from the building, Casey appeared out of nowhere and Severide didn’t bother pausing to figure out when he’d come back in; Casey grabbed the kid’s other arm and together they started to drag him out, holding onto him until he cooperated and stopped moving against them.  They waded through the smoke and debris of the building, emerging from the smoke spilling from the open doors to find half the shift watching them expectantly.

Mills ripped his mask off and headed straight for the Chief.  “There’s a guy still inside,” he panted.  “I saw him.”

Severide’s stomach twisted uncomfortably and he glanced at Casey who looked similarly distressed.  It made sense now, why Mills had been so reluctant to leave.  They’d all been there and knew what it was like, walking away when they knew someone was left inside.

“Chief, give me one more minute to go back in there,” Mills implored.

But Boden was firm.  “No, it’s over.  No more minutes.”

Severide sighed and pulled off his helmet to wipe at his sweaty forehead.  Nearly everyone as a young firefighter went through this particular dilemma; being so young they hadn’t seen enough to know that they weren't invincible yet.  That would come later.  But for now they hadn’t experienced the loss of one of their own and they were convinced that they could do it all and save everyone.  Severide knew from experience that they would remain that way until they actually saw the consequences of a fire.  It was sad but true.

Which was why Severide understood both why Boden refused him but also why Mills continued to fight.

“He could be alive.  Just give me one more minute.  I know I can get to him.  I know-”

“You’re not going anywhere.”

Severide saw Casey hovering just over Mills’ shoulder prepared to haul him back if the kid decided to do anything stupid.  It wouldn’t be the first time.

“This building’s about to flash.”

“Chief, I could-”

“Enough!  All officers, take count of your firefighters.  Nobody goes back in.”

Boden nodded in response to Casey’s questioning glance and seemingly placated that Boden would handle Mills, the blonde stepped away to obey orders and take a quick head count.  Severide followed suit.

“All members out of the collapse zone,” Boden continued when all three Lieutenants confirmed their numbers and together as a house the three companies backed away from the burning building, pressing themselves closer to the trucks.  They stood in silence, the only noise being the scream of the fire ravaging the building waiting for the inevitable.  It came out of nowhere but most of them didn’t so much as flinch when a whole block of windows suddenly exploded as fire rushed out looking for something else to burn.

“Fire up the water canons,” Boden ordered and the Engine men were quick to comply, the roar of the fire being quickly replaced by the sizzle of dying flames.  With their job done the rest of the men began to disperse leaving the overhaul work for the engine boys to do while they headed back to the House for some much needed rest.


Casey expected the talk with Mills, but it didn’t make it any easier to get his point across when Mills came asking questions the very next shift.

“Lieutenant, can I ask you something?”

Casey nodded his assent not slowly down as he headed towards the rec room.

“In general, when the chief says, ‘everybody out of a building now,’ how much time do we really have?  A minute?  30 seconds?”

Rather than answering him, Casey focussed on what he knew was really bothering the young candidate.  “Don't beat yourself up, Mills.”

“See the thing is, I was closest to the victim.  I-I could see him, you know?”

And the problem was he did know.  Casey had been there a hundred times before and left agonising over the what if’s and the could have been’s.  But because he had been there a hundred times before he also knew that something you just had to learn to accept if you were going to survive being a firefighter and this was just one of them.

“When chief says ‘now’ he means now.  Not 30 seconds, not any seconds,” Casey said firmly.  “Got it?”

Although Mills said he did, Casey doubted it.  It wasn’t something that just clicked.  As a candidate Casey had fought tooth and nail - still did as a matter of fact - every time someone tried to suggest they leave a victim behind to save themselves.  It was fine line, Mills would have to discover, between listening to the chief and saving everyone possible.  Casey nodded, clapped a quick hand on Mills shoulder before continuing on to the rec room.  True understanding would only come with time and experience.

 

Severide’s arm had been searing with pain all morning but it really came to a head in the locker room where as he was reaching to put his bag away his whole arm twisted painfully until not crying out a curse was no longer an option.  In a misguided, automatic attempt to distract him from the pain in his neck, he punched out at his locker door, only managing to extend the pain beyond his shoulder and into his hand.

“Morning, Lieutenant.”  The chipper, way-to-happy-for-the-early-hour voice reminded him promptly that he was in a public locker room and that if he wanted to keep his injury between just him and Shay he would need to work a bit harder.

For pretenses sake he grunted back his own “Morning,” keeping his eyes fixed on the locker in front of him in an attempt of warding any further conversation off.

But Vargas apparently didn’t get the message because he paused behind the Lieutenant’s back.  “You get hurt the other night?”

“Mind not turning the locker room into a chat room?” Severide snapped, pretenses be damned.

“Yeah,” Vargas mumbled dejectedly and hurried off before he could get yelled at about something else.

Severide stood from the bench with a barely restrained growl, kicked the locker door shut with an echoing bang and stalked from the room, figuring a cup of coffee or something would settle him.  He stormed through the house, one hand clenched around the muscle of his shoulder, the expression on his face dark enough to stop anyone from so much as saying good morning.

In the rec room, Mouch was twisted in his seat, eyes fixed determinedly on the cupboards in the kitchen, above which he knew the candy was hidden.  Severide strode past and set to fix himself a cup of something hot, mood darkening further when he noticed that the person before him hadn’t bothered to refill the coffee machine.

“Just take the damn piece of candy already.  She won’t notice,” Cruz said as he wandered past, looking bored with the lack of activity around the house.

“I'm not climbing onto the counter,” Mouch shot back reproachfully as though such act was beneath him although all there knew it wasn’t.

“Hey, did you guys hear that Casey’s going to testify against Detective Voight’s son?” Cruz said, voice lowering slightly and casting a furtive look around as if he expected Voight to jump out from behind the television.

Severide clenched a fist to stop from saying anything stupid and wondered why the coffee machine was taking so damn long.

Unable to help himself, Otis was the next to speak, putting in, “Apparently, Dawson’s brother says it’s a risky move, and Voight’s a dangerous son of a bitch.”

Severide rolled his head irritably.  He didn’t know why the talk was getting on his nerves today, God knew he should be used to firehouse gossip but every word that was spoken seemed to be grating on his already shot nerves.  He poured himself a cup of the freshly brewed coffee and tried to tune out the conversation.  But Mouch managed to snap his fragile control with just a few words anyway.

“I wouldn’t put my ass on the line like that.”

“What is with you damn truck guys turning this house into a Goddamn mother’s meeting.  Mind your own business,” he growled and stormed from the room, nearly taking out Herrmann who was on his way in.

“What the hell’s his problem,” Otis asked as the rest of the room sat in stunned silence at the abrupt departure.

“I don’t know but he just reamed Vargas in the locker room for asking him if he was alright,” Herrmann said with a solemn head shake.

“Maybe he’s worried about Casey?” Mouch asked.

“Why would he be worried about Casey.  Didn’t say two words to him for the month after Darden,” Cruz put in sharply.

“Well maybe they’re back together,” Mouch said, his tone implying it should have been obvious.

Herrmann shook his head doubtfully and opened his mouth to speak but shut it again real quick when Casey wandered into the kitchen.  He delivered his own well aimed kick to Otis’ shin when it looked like he was ready to put his two cents in and looked meaningfully as their Lieutenant.

“Uh, Lieutenant, you need any help with the Detective Voight situation, you let me know.  When I became union rep, they sent me a bunch of brochures.”  Mouch called out as their Lieutenant passed by.

Casey nodded distractedly.  “I’m good, thanks though.  I just need to testify at the arraignment, once it’s set.”

When it was clear the subject was dropped Herrmann took the newspaper tucked under his arm and slapped it down on the table.  “You see this crap?”

Mouch and Otis were quick to hold up their own copies, each emblazoned with the same headline: HOMELESS MAN DIES IN WAREHOUSE FIRE.

Mills, having just arrived shuffled over to have a look, frowning when he saw the story.  “Why is it crap?” he wanted to know.  “I just mean that’s what happened, isn’t it?” he continued quickly when he saw the insulted looks being thrown his way.

“Where’s the headline about how we busted out humps and saved three guys, huh?”

Casey watched the group carefully from the other side ready to interfere should the disagreement escalate but was saved by the sudden appearance of Boden and the rest of the house.

“Everybody listen up.  Today, our very own Jose Vargas transfers from truck to squad.  As of now, he’s officially a member of Rescue Squad 3.”

Severide met Casey’s eyes across the room, eyebrow quirking, half in apology, half a silent question asking if he was ok with this.  Casey wasn’t completely, there was some part of him that was still bitter over seeing one of his best firefighter’s transferring out of his company but he inclined his head in a slight nod anyway, too used to it to put up any sort of argument, as if that would make a difference anyway.

The house clapped and congratulated the proud man appropriately and Otis, as expected had to throw in his own lighthearted yet sarcastic comment.  Casey approached his former company member and offered a hand for him to shake.

“Best of luck.”

“Thanks Lieutenant.”

The lively atmosphere was broken quickly however by the appearance of Nicki who was wearing a concerned frown.  “Hey Lieutenant Casey, I just saw your car out front.  Something happened to it.”

Casey hurried out to investigate, Herrmann and Cruz right on his tail.  Severide hesitated for a second, unsure of himself before following them out.  When they got out there it was obvious straight away what had happened: all four tyres of Casey’s truck had been slashed and one window had been smashed in.

“What the hell?” he complained, kicking at his ruined tyres.

“This is why I can’t stand Halloween, man,” Cruz responded, circling the car looking for any more damages.  “The punks, they go wild.”

Seeing that the frown on his face hadn’t moved an inch, Severide reached out automatically and settled a comforting hand on Casey’s shoulder, squeezing slightly.  “Don’t worry about it Casey.  It’s bound to be a bunch of stupid kids trying to be funny.”

Struck dumb by the sudden feeling of Severide’s warm, calloused hand settling against the curve of his shoulder, Casey couldn’t manage much more than a noncommittal grunt and nod before stepping away from the touch.  It had been months since he and Severide had so much as brushed fingers and the sudden feeling along with the vandalism of his car was more than he could handle.

He started forward and leaned in through the broken window to dig through the front seat, taking a quick inventory of the possessions.

“My gym bag got lifted,” Casey groaned, immediately taking note of the missing bag that had been sitting on the floor of the passenger seat.

“Right in front of the station too,” Herrmann said.  “Calls the cops and file a report.”

But all Casey could think of was Detective Voight and the last thing he’d promised at the bar the other night: I can take this to the next level real easy.   Casey had been at 51 his entire career and he’d never encountered so much as a scratch on his car so he couldn’t help but feel like this had to be Voight’s doing somehow.

“Yeah,” he said slowly.  “I should.”

Before Herrmann or the others could press him any further on the matter the ring of the bells from the depths of the station interrupted them and they started to head inside, anticipating the call.

Truck 81, Squad 3.  House fire, 220 South Kilbourn.”

The four jogged back into the house, Severide finding his company ready and waiting for him.  He unhooked his jacket from the door handle and vaulted in, barking for Tony to drive even before he’d shut the door.  He pulled his jacket on, on the way over and hopped out to find a little old lady standing outside her smoking garage, fire extinguisher in one hand, cane in the other.

“Fire is out on arrival,” Severide said into his radio.  “Hold all incoming companies.  We’ll do a little overhaul.”

He heard the muffled responses of Casey and the Truck Lieutenant and headed over to the woman.

“You okay, ma’am?”

“I’m fine,” she said.  “I must have dropped a cigarette or something when I was cleaning the garage.  So stupid,” she continued with a mumble.

“Well, good job putting it out,” Severide said, relieving her of the extinguisher and setting it aside.

He stepped further inside the garage, taking a quick intake of the garage.  His eyes immediately found the scorched and dented end of the woman’s car and felt a frown tugging at his lips.  He hadn’t recognised the address straight away, what with the amount of calls they went on every day.  Mrs Grady, he remembered now looking at the car.

“We were here a few weeks ago.  Fire in your car, parked out front.”

She turned to him slowly, a trace of fear flickering in her dark eyes before disappearing.  “The car’s old.”

“Two fires in two weeks?” Severide said, trying for concern in his tone.

“Bad luck always comes in streaks,” Mrs Grady said in a calm tone that Severide didn’t believe for a second.  He didn’t miss the careful look over the shoulder at the two mean looking teenagers passing by the uniformed police who were hanging around.

Still he let it go and asked for her to take him inside so he could check the rest of the house.  It all looked good inside, the adjoining walls not feeling hot or even warm to touch and no sign of scorch marks.  He paused for a second by the wall to look at a well used table bearing stacks of framed photographs.  At the front of the bunch was an old black and white of a couple on their wedding day.

“Me and my late husband,” Mrs Grady said, a touch of love and longing colouring her words.

“How long were you married?”

“45 years,” she said proudly.  “Until he passed.”

Severide blew out a surprised breath.  Coming from his background where his parents had split up before he’d even made it to school and his dad was up to wife number four, making it to ten years of marriage seemed like a miracle let alone 45.

“Wow.  What’s the secret?”

Mrs Grady chuckled and shook her head and Severide felt himself smiling as well.  “I never asked.  Just counted my blessings everyday.”

He smiled one last time, declared the house to be fine and bid her a good day before heading back out to his men.

“She say what happened?” Capp asked, coming from round back where he’d been checking the back of the garage.

“Nuh-uh.”

Severide glanced around curiously, taking careful note of the figures prowling around on the opposite street corner, the entire groups eyes fixed firmly on the movements of the firefighters.  It was more than a little suspicious but without anything else to go on and Mrs Grady’s adamancy that the fire had been an accident, there wasn’t much else to do but go home.

 

Back at the house, the Truck company had taken advantage of being out to gas up the truck and were only just getting back, finding the very horrible situation of a broken television.  Dawson and Shay were wedged behind the cabinet trying to get it going again but it wasn’t looking good.

“What the hell happened?” Herrmann barked, eyeing the girls skeptically.

“It went out.”  Shay shrugged and wiggled the cord she was fiddling with.

“What?” Otis and Mouch whined together.

“It just needed a new cord,” Boden said calmly, playing around with the remote.  “Nobody panic.”

“Alright,” Dawson said, dusting her hands off on her pants.  “Try it now.”

Boden clicked the remote a few times and the tv flickered back to life, albeit a little reluctantly, but once the picture focussed it remained that way.

“Halloween horror marathon, channel 11 please,” Otis said, sprawling onto the lounge.

“We are back,” Mouch crowed and claiming the other end while Dawson vaulted over the coffee table to steal the final spot in the middle.  Casey hovered behind them, wondering if maybe he would stay for a movie or go back to his own quarters.

Complying to Otis’ request, Boden flicked through the channels pausing only when a news banner along the bottom of the screen caught his attention long enough to stop and listen to what the man on the screen was saying.

My brother died because he was homeless and poor.  If he had been a firefighter or a banker in a fancy apartment, they would have found a way to save him.”

Casey thought he had a pretty good idea where this guy was going with this and his heart sank as he noticed both Mills and Boden hanging onto every word the guy said.  If this was what he thought it was, neither was going to take it well.

It was recorded on a cell phone.”

And as Casey expected when the guy turned his phone around to face the camera the tinny but unmistakable voices of Boden and Mills drifted through, the latter pleading to go back into the warehouse.  All present remembered the scene all too well without the reminder.  When the video played itself out the man dropped his hand triumphantly and shook his head.

Even his own men wanted to go back in and save my brother’s life, but the chief on the scene, Wallace Boden, said no.”

Mills dropped his head in defeat and the room shifted out of exasperation and dismay as the man disappeared from the screen to be replaced by a woman with a serious expression and an obviously fake tan.  Boden clicked off the television, plunging the room into charged silence, none knowing what to say.

“Chief,” Casey tried but Boden merely raised a hand to ward off anymore words and swept from the room, leaving the rest of the house in an awkward silence.

The news report had put a dampen on the Halloween spirit and after that no one much felt like talking so Casey found himself excusing himself and retreating to his office where he had a report to finish and some paperwork regarding a construction job to complete.

He was still on edge over the whole news report thing, which was only adding to his troubles with Voight however so when Hallie made a sudden appearance and slipped into his quarters, tugging the door shut behind her, he was on the defensive in a second.

“Everything okay?”

“Of course,” Hallie said in surprise.  “Why do you look worried.”

“I-I’m not worried,” Casey replied.  “Just surprised.”

“Well, I was thinking about our new plan to start fresh, and I realised…”

“What?”

“That there is something we talked about doing and never did.”

Her movement to turn and close the blinds stretching along the wall had him raising an eyebrow, already picking up on the suggestiveness of her smile.  She sashayed forward and slipped onto Casey’s lap without another word, leaning forward to kiss him lightly, teasing him with what was about to come.

As the kiss deepened with passion, Casey reached between them to unzip her jacket, revealing only a black bra and no shirt, his eyes drinking in the miles of tanned skin that was exposed.  Hallie tugged off Casey’s own shirt and as soon as it was discarded to the side, he stood, firm hands under her thighs keeping Hallie from falling.  He deposited her on the bed and was quick to join her and indulge in a moment of passion amongst the crumbling world.

 

Still caught up on Mrs Grady and the call to her house from that morning Severide got in touch with an old friend he knew was working the streets with the police department and traded in a favour the man owed him, asking him to look into the two fires at her house.  Then he gathered up his company and instructed them to head out, not telling them much more than  that they were “going for a ride.”

The ride over was almost silent; Severide didn’t much feel like talking and apparently his men picked up on that because they didn’t try to engage in conversation, neither with him or each other.  They pulled up quietly and Severide sprung from his seat, calling over his shoulder for them to stay in the truck.

“Hey Bobby,” he said shaking hands with the man.  “Thanks for coming.”

“Hey man.  How are you doing?”

“Good.” Severide answered but Severide was distracted by the police file he spied in Bobby’s hand.

“So, what’s the deal here?”

“You tell me,” Severide replied, leading the way to Mrs Grady’s front door.  He knocked and only had to wait a few seconds before he head the shuffling sound of feet and the click of a lock before Mrs Grady’s kind face was appearing from behind the opening door.  “Mrs Grady, how are you, ma’am?”

“I’m fine.”

“We just had a few questions about those fires that you had.”

Mrs Grady smiled, a little resignedly.  “They were accidents.  I don’t know any more than I’ve already told you.”  Her tone begged for Severide to let it go but he wasn’t giving up that easily.

“Okay, well, we just want to make sure that there are no more… incidents.”

“Sorry,” she said apologetically and shuffled back inside, closing the door before either Severide or Bobby could get another word out, leaving them to stare at the festive orange wreath attached to her door.

“Someone set fire to her car two weeks ago.  This morning, her garage burns.  She says-”

“She said they were just accidents,” Bobby interrupted.

“They weren’t,” Severide said.  He’d been a firefighter long enough to know that when a car goes up that it’s the hood of the car that gets it the most, not the boot and that it was very unlikely that a cigarette started the garage fire this morning.

“Why do you think somebody would come after?”  Bobby’s tone wasn’t disbelieving, merely curious.  “I mean, she lives alone.  She keeps to herself.”

He made a fair point Severide knew and he was left speechless for a moment as he looked out across the street.  Then his eyes fell on the nature strip across the road where two young figures were watching them carefully.

“Pick a reason,” Severide finally said, not liking the look of them at all.  Bobby shrugged a response, told him he’d keep a look out but the apologetic look in his eye told Severide all he needed to know.  The Lieutenant on the other hand wasn’t so willing to give up.  He didn’t know exactly how yet, but he wasn’t about to let the sweet old women get hurt any further.


Severide knew the day wasn’t going to be good, what with all the drama with Nicki and her father and his shoulder acting up but the sudden appearance of two men - one of whom was holding a video camera - didn’t bode well for the afternoon.  Severide pushed away from the Squad table slowly, being the only one who had noticed their appearance in the driveway.  The truck boys played on with their game of basketball, oblivious.

Catching the movement of their lieutenant the rest of the Squad followed his lead and when the man suddenly spoke the rest of the firefighters on the floor looked around in surprise.

“My name is Marc Thorne,” he announced and something in the back of Severide’s head tripped at the name, knowing he’d heard it before.  One look at the man’s t-shirt bearing another man’s face and he remembered, this was the brother of the man they’d lost in the warehouse fire the shift before and had gone on tv personally naming their house responsible.  Severide’s entire body bristled at the sight of the man.  “I’m here to talk to Chief Wallace Boden,” Thorne continued when no one spoke.  “Is he here?”

Somehow knowing that something was up, the doors leading inside opened suddenly and Boden strode out, Casey right on his heels.  Maintaining his composure, Boden walked straight up to the man and offered a hand for him to shake.

Throne glanced quickly at his companion with the camera, as if to be sure that he was recording it all before taking the proffered hand.

“I’m very sorry for your loss, Mr Thorne.”

With nothing more than a respectful nod Boden turned away again, seemingly intent on going back inside and the entire group seemed to hold it's breath as they waited to see Thorne’s next move.

“Chief Boden!  You knew my brother was in that warehouse.”

One lone voice spoke out against the accusations.  “Did you?”  Herrmann stepped forward, staring Thorne down unflinchingly.  “The guy was homeless, keeping warm in a warehouse.  You’re his brother.  Where have you been?”

“Herrmann, come on,” Mills tried taking a step after him.

“No sorry,” Herrmann replied, sparing Mills half a glance.  “I’m not going to be quiet.  ‘Cause a few weeks ago, I almost bought the farm, trying to save a stranger,” Herrmann was addressing Thorne directly again.  “It’s what we do, every day.  It’s what we tried to do for your brother.  Chief Boden made the call he had to make.  Just be glad you never have to do that.”

Thorne was quiet, looking out at the line of grim firefighter’s staring back while Herrmann turned away dismissively.  Thorne gulped visibly, shifted for a few seconds uncertainly on his feet before turning and leaving, the camera wielding friend following in a seemingly state of shock at the turn of event.

Similarly, stunned at what had just gone down the firefighters slowly shuffled back inside, gathering in the rec room in near silence.  Which was how Mills found himself staring at the familiar newspaper someone had left lying around, the harsh headline a slap to the face.

When the ambo girls got back from their callout they came bearing a tray of cupcakes which they slid onto the table in front of Herrmann silently.  He looked up with a quiet noise of surprise.

“What’s this?” he asked tilting his head back to get a look at Shay who was hovering behind his chair.

Shay hummed and leaned down to rest her chin on his shoulder.  “We heard you represented, Herrmann.”  

While the company reached forward to claim a cupcake before all the good flavours were gone Dawson looked around smugly.  “So I’m going to throw out a name,” she declared loudly.  “Clarice Carthage,” Dawson continued, smiling at the ensuing shock, which was enough to have even Casey look over.  The firefighter’s present groaned appropriately while Shay ignored the lot of them and concentrated on pouring her coffee.

Mills feeling left in the dark asked, “Wait, what?”

“The bitchy ex-girlfriend,” Cruz put in darkly.

“She wasn’t a bitch, per se,” Shay replied tiredly.

“She was a little full of herself,” Casey said, looking uncomfortably as he acted out of character to add in his own input.

Dawson seemed unable to help herself but continue.  “Well she has a new status update:  She is now Clarice Schwartz, married to a dude, and seven months pregnant.”

Otis was on his feet in an instant, hands thrown in the air in triumph as he let out an elated whoop and the rest of the room laughed in both response to the news and his reaction.  

“Did I not call that?  Did I not say she had one foot in, one foot out?”  He accepted a high five from Cruz and threw himself back into his chair, beaming with victory.

“You did not say that,” Shay responded, not sounding at all amused.

“Well not to you maybe,” Otis said dismissively.  “But did I not call that?”

“He called that,” Herrmann conceded with a laugh and bit into his cupcake.  The rest of the company continued to laugh at the turn of events while Shay barely restrained her annoyance.

 

Dinner was the usual affair that night, food fairly simple and conversation loud but it was the desert that the whole house was looking forward to.  They’d broken open one of the jumbo bags of candy and with ice cream and all the chocolate sauce they could eat, there was a feast that guaranteed more than a few stomach aches.  They were of course pulled from resting from their food coma’s by the tell tale bellow of the bells, pulling the truck and ambulance companies from their comfortable spots.

So used to jumping at the name Truck 81 Vargas was on his feet before he could even really think about it.  Luckily for him Cruz was quick to correct is mistake.

“Vargas wants back on truck already, huh?”

The Truck boys laughed as they disappeared out onto the apparatus floor and Vargas sat back down, ignoring the gentle ribbing of Squad 3.

The scene they were called to was that of a street fair; the blocked off streets teaming with intoxicated people, the pavements lined with hastily constructed booths and rides.  Casey suppressed a groan as they pulled to a stop and jumped out to help the ambo girls search for their victim.  Courtesy was quickly left behind as the firefighter’s were tasked with the difficult job of finding a victim amongst a mass of inebriated, costumed people.

“Make way,” Casey ordered as he and his men fanned out to slowly check the crowds, the bloodied halloween costumes making it even harder to find their victim.

“Anyone see an injured person?  We’re looking for an injured person.”

A young woman, looking worried under her tanned complexion and makeup suddenly darted out from the crowd and seized Casey’s arm.  “Thank God.  He’s over here.”  Without anymore preamble the woman starting tugging him forward.

“Here,” she said, finally letting him go when they got to the victim, a young male who was convulsing on the floor.

Using a free hand Casey tugged his radio around and pulled up to his mouth so he could get the location to Shay and Dawson.  “Got a location on the victim.  Uh,” Casey looked around, searching for any identifying markers.  His eyes slid over the nearest ride with a garish green and purple painted sign and decided it would have to do.  “‘Witch's Brew’.” He tried hopefully.

It must have been enough despite his doubts however because after only a brief pause, Dawson's muffled voice was answering through the radio, “ Copy that.”

The girls were there within the minute and while they got to work on the victim, Casey and his men focussed on keeping the teeming crowds back enough so they could work uninterrupted.

“Did he take any drugs,” Shay asked, looking at the girl who had brought them to the victim.

“No,” she replied quickly, biting at her scarlet painted lips in her anxiousness.  “Only a couple of beers.  And then all of a sudden his eyes rolled back and he dropped and just started jerking around.”

“Does he have a history of seizures?”

The girl shrugged helplessly.  “I don’t think so.  This is only our second date,” she said apologetically.

What with the lack of information, Casey could tell Dawson and Shay were hesitant to do anything drastic and wasn’t surprised that they ordered him up onto the gurney, so they could get on their way to the hospital as soon as possible.  While a few of the men helped roll the man onto the backboard, the rest stood in a loose circle trying to keep back the interested crowd.

Casey gritted his teeth when another slipped forward and almost groaned when he recognised the costume the guy was wearing as a cheap, crude imitation of a firefighter.  The stupid smile the guy was sporting told Casey that the guy was way past rational thinking.

“Hey, let me help out, fellas.”

“Stay back, sir,” Casey said shortly, throwing out an arm to stop him get any nearer to the still seizing victim.

“Yeah, how about giving me a c4 tube and a Lidocaine drip?”  The man said, laughing idiotically at his own joke along with a few others in the crowd.

“Let ‘em do their job,” Herrmann snapped, obviously in no mood to put up with the man.

“All right, ready to move,” Mills said as soon as they had the patient strapped in and ready to go.  Without another word those closest to the gurney began pushing it back through the crowds to the ambulance.  Casey and Herrmann followed at a slower pace.  

Apparently unable to resist, the man in the firefighter costume took a step after them, calling out as he did, “Don’t tell them you’re homeless.  They won’t help you.”

Before Casey could even blink Herrmann had turned around and shoved the man hard enough to almost put him on his ass.  Casey was between them in a second.

“Hey!  Hey!  Go!  Get to the truck, now.”

Herrmann, breathing heavily tried to resist for only a few moments before apparently deciding it wasn’t worth it and promptly turned on his heel and stalked away.  Casey spared a glance over his shoulder, half worried that the man might complain.  But despite the disgruntled look on the man’s faced, judging by the smell of his breath he wouldn’t remember the altercation enough in the morning.

After seeing the ambulance off and sending his men to wait in the truck, he rounded the back to find Herrmann leaning there, staring moodily away from the street fair.

“You got your head screwed on straight?” Casey asked, removing his medical gloves with a snap.

Herrmann shook his head in disgust.  “These people, mouthing off at us.  Like we don’t give-”

“We rise above it.”  Casey interrupted Herrmann before the older man could work his way into a rant, reminding his former mentor of something that he’d told Casey more times than he could remember back when he was a candidate.

Herrmann nodded minutely and though his expression was still pinched he murmured an assent.  “Won’t happen again.”

Casey clapped the man on the shoulder and turned away, tugging off his radio as he went.  “Let’s get the hell out of here,” he said as he swung himself up into the passenger seat.  And although he received no response other than Cruz turning the key in the ignition he had a feeling that everyone was more than happy to get away from the drunken party goers.

 

Severide knew the moment the Truck guys walked in that it hadn’t been a particularly good callout.  Not that they ever were.  Herrmann stomping straight into the sleeping quarters was evidence enough.  But the angry faces of the other members and the weary set of Casey’s shoulder told him all he needed to know.

“Let me guess,” Severide said, as Casey made a beeline for the kitchen.  “Drunken idiots?”  The thunderous expression on Casey’s face was confirmation enough.  “Your favourites.”

He laughed when Casey kicked out at his chair on his way past, sending him spinning away from the table.  He watched as Casey poured his umpteenth cup of coffee for the day and shook his head in fond exasperation.

“You know you’re going to kill yourself one day.”

Casey grinned into his mug.  He didn’t even need to ask what Severide was talking about.

“Then I’ll die a happy man,” Casey said, lowering the cup.

“I would comment on how unhealthy your addiction is but-”

“-but you’re as bad as me?” Casey asked.

“Yeah,” Severide replied with a grin, spreading his hands unapologetically.

“Anyway, I have a tonne of paperwork so…” Casey trailed off and raised his coffee slightly in lieu of the rest of the goodbye.

“Figures,” Severide scoffed good-naturedly.  “Ever the responsible one, Casey.”

“Goodnight Severide,” Casey called without looking back as he walked away.

“Night, Casey,” Severide murmured watching him go.

Casey almost made it back to his quarters, mind already going through the details of the call for the report he’d have to write later when Nicki caught ahold of him.  He tried not to remember the last time he’d seen her: coming out of the equipment room after a quick screw with Severide and fought the urge to bristle.

“Lieutenant Casey, there’s someone out front for you,” Nicki said, waving a hand erratically in the general direction of the driveway.

Casey nodded his thanks with a tight smile and changed course abruptly heading outside.  He almost turned right back around however when he saw Voight leaning against his car, a small, smug smile playing on his lips.

“Detective,” Casey said in greeting.

But Voight skipped all pleasantries and got straight to the point.  “I’ve got some good news for you.”

“Oh yeah, what's that?”

“Well, I heard about what happened to your car.”

Casey had ended up filing a report documenting the crime and all that had been stolen but he honestly hadn’t expected anything to come of it.

“And I don’t normally handle this kind of thing,” Voight continued.  “But to be honest, I felt like I owed you an apology after my behaviour the other day.  I was out of line.”

Casey didn’t buy the story or the apologetic look on Voight’s face for a second, his gut telling him that the detective wasn’t the type of guy who so much as acknowledged it when he was wrong; but he let him talk, reluctant to get into again with the man.

“So I put my guys on it, and we caught the little scumbag.”  For the first time since they’d started talking Voight pushed away from the car, revealing a young kid slouched sullenly in the back seat.  

Casey squinted at the boy.  “And how’d you know it was him?” Casey asked not putting it past Voight to frame some random he found on the street.

Voight directed him closer with a jerk of his head and as Casey slowly obliged, Voight opened the front passenger seat and withdrew Casey’s gym bag.

“I’m assuming this is yours.  And he had it on him,” Voight said, handing the bag over.  “Hey make sure nothing’s missing, will you?” Voight put in just as Casey was about to thank him and escape back into the firehouse.

He frowned at the odd request but indulged him, unzipping the bag to root through the contents in a quick check.  Casey found the basis for the request almost instantly and didn’t even think before pulling out the unfamiliar roll of notes and holding it up.

“This isn’t mine.”

“Well, the kid must have stashed it in there.  You know there’s a simple, honest solution to all our problems.”

Case almost laughed at that; he had a feeling that anything Voight was involved in wasn’t honest.

“One that keeps my son out of jail and let’s you and I get on with our lives.  All you gotta do is change that report.”

“I’m not going to do that.”  And without another word, Casey placed the money on the hood and walked away, leaving Voight to stare after him, a hard expression darkening his features.

When he reached the apparatus floor, Severide looked up from his table with a perplexed look.  He looked past his fellow lieutenant just in time to see Voight push away from his car, get inside and pull away with a loud screech.

Severide blinked up at Casey.

“Everything ok?”

“Yeah,” he replied tiredly.  “Everything’s fine.  He was just returning my gym bag.”

“Just returning your gym bag?” Severide echoed uncertainly looking out at the now empty driveway.  His eyes slid back to Casey.  “And you’re sure you’re alright?”

“I’m fine, Severide.” Casey said tiredly, managing to muster up a weary smile.  “Don’t worry.”

Severide nodded wordlessly and didn’t protest when Casey moved past him but rather watched the rigid set of the man’s shoulders as he disappeared inside.


By the time the morning rolled around Casey was more than happy to get out of the station.  While he was usually happy to get home after a long shift, usually working gave him a sense of clarity, an escape from his problems.  Lately it just seemed to be the source of it all.

Dawson found him just as he had finished changing out of his work clothes, sighing over the bags of candy leftover from Halloween, now loaded into her arms.  “Last year we went through four of these.  This year, we barely finished one.”  She dumped the bags onto the bench with a mixture of a sigh and a groan and turned to her own locker.

“Not the best day,” Casey agreed and even he could hear the tiredness in his voice.

“What is it?”

And just to get it all out, Casey found himself telling her what had gone down last night, if only because she was Antonio’s sister.  “Detective Voight showed up here last night, tried to bribe me with a wad of cash.”

“What?  Wha- well we’ve got to call me brother and tell him,” she said straight away.

But Casey was already waving her away and turning back to his open locker before she’d finished.  He’d thought about it at length last night and had already come to a conclusion.  “I’m just going to testify and let the courts handle it.”

“Well, what does Hallie say?”

Casey pulled a face.  “I haven’t actually gotten around to telling her yet.  I didn’t want to worry her, I guess,” he added at her questioning look.

“You should tell her.”

Casey hummed thoughtfully but didn’t verbalise any such commitment to do so.  “I’ll see you later,” he said after a moment’s contemplation and stood, swinging his bag over his shoulder as he went.

“Yeah, later,” Dawson said quietly after him.

 

Hours later and a few miles from the house, Severide was being distracted from his thoughts which, up until then, had been consumed by Casey and the whole Voight drama by the sudden and amusing display of a drunk Shay.

“I mean, you should have seen Clarice’s apartment,” Shay said, a slight slur to her voice as she poured herself another generous glass of vodka.  “It was like… a museum,” she continued after a moment’s thought, the alcohol slowing her brain processes.  “All this fancy breakable crap everywhere.”

Severide fought down a smile.

“The place she and I used to live in, it was peeling paint and dripping faucets.  You wanted to hang out there all day long, well you remember.”

And Severide did, Shay’s apartment with Clarice had been  a constant after-shift hangout spot for the house.  It was only after their breakup did she move in with him and at the time, Casey.

“Will you pass me a lime?” she requested, finally focussing on the fish she’d been basting for close to twenty minutes now.

“Yeah, sure,” Severide said, tossing over said lime.

She accepted it with a grim smile and squeezed it into the pan.

“They had a floor-to-ceiling wine rack.  I mean, she used to hate wine.  She drank beer.”

Here Severide had to seriously hold himself back from making a crack about lesbians and beer, knowing that in her current state, Shay probably wouldn’t appreciate it

“I loved that about her,” Shay continued mindless of Severide’s inner musings.  “I guess she drinks wine now,” Shay added scathingly.

“Remind me, how long were you two-”

“Three years,” Shay answered promptly.  “Yeah, I mean, it wasn’t, like, you know a casual thing.  It was uh, we were serious; or at least I thought we were.  Turns out I may have overestimated her lesbianism.”

The sarcasm in her tone coupled with the look on her face had Severide chuckling quietly.  Before he could say anything however a knock at the door sounded in the apartment and he went to greet the person.

Nicki was standing as expected on the other side, covered from neck to mid calf by a brown coat despite the mild night.  He had an idea what she was hiding underneath.

“Hey,” she said coyly, leaning forward against the door frame and looking up at him through her eyelashes.

“Hey.  You wanna go upstairs?  I’ll be there in a few.”

She bit at her lip seductively, grinned and nodded slowly before moving inside, purposefully brushing against his front as she went.  He didn’t miss the smug smile she shot Shay’s way as she went up.  He didn’t know where that came from but he didn’t put it past Shay to have confronted the girl.

“Really?” she asked, judgement clear in her voice when he came back into the kitchen.

“No offence, but I’m not taking advice from you right now,” he said in reference to her tear stained face, old flanno and half empty bottle of vodka.

“This is a new low,” she called after him as he retreated upstairs chuckling, two beers firmly in hand.

Nicki was waiting for him on the edge of his bed when he got upstairs and when he shut the door behind him she grinned slyly.

“Want to help me with this?” she asked, toying with the tie of her coat.

He didn’t answer, but sat next to her instead, handing her a drink wordlessly.  The smile dropped off her face in her confusion and she looked between the cold drink and him.

“What?”

“I was engaged once too.  And she did what you’re doing and it almost destroyed me.  So I think you’d better go home and take a long think about what you’re doing and ask yourself if it’s worth all the pain he’s going to feel when he finds out.”

Nicki’s mouth dropped open and her eyes filled with tears.  Severide looked away and she gathered herself, lurched to her feet and hurried down the stairs, her heels clicking on the stairs and the bang of the door closing behind her echoing through the spacious apartment.

Severide cleared his throat, overcome for a moment by the emotion of dragging all those old memories back up.  He’d never spoken that much about Renee before with the exception of one person, who now was barely speaking to him.  He’d honestly expected it to hurt more, but she was hardly more than a memory to him now.  It didn’t hurt anymore than thinking about the time he’d broken his arm in tenth grade.  It was one of those rare occurrences where the break hurt like hell but the bone ended up growing back even stronger than before.

He slowly dragged himself to his feet, taking a languid sip of beer and wandered downstairs to find Shay watching the bottom of the stairs, obviously anticipating his arrival.  He leaned a hip against the railing and cocked an eyebrow waiting for the verdict.

Shay shook her head at him slowly in response, a small smile forming on her face before raising her almost empty glass in an obvious salute.  He raised his own bottle in return and together they drank.


With Nicki now firmly out of his personal life and word going around the house that Thorne had decided to drop his suit, Severide thought that finally things might be going his way by the next shift.  That is of course until the first call for the squad came through in the early evening.

House fire, 220 South Kilbourn, Engine 51, Squad 3, Ambulance 61, Truck 81.”

“220 South Kilbourn?” Vargas said, recognising the address the same as Severide.

“Dammit,” Severide cursed, already moving to the floor.

“Truck and Engine are near the scene.  They’ll meet you there.”

Severide lifted a hand to show he’d heard before bursting outside, the rest of his Squad right on his heels.  The ride to the house was short and familiar and by the time they’d gotten there the blaze was mostly under control.

“What happened?” Severide asked of the first firefighter he came across.

“Molotov cocktail through the front window.  Fire’s under control,” he added already moving on past Severide.

“The woman who lives here, Mrs Grady?”

“With Dawson.”

Severide rounded his truck to the Ambulance parked behind them, finding Mrs Grady on the stretcher, not yet loaded in the rig, Shay and Dawson hovering on either side of her.

“Just breathe in, nice and easy,” Dawson was saying as she fiddled with the oxygen mask over the woman’s face.  “We’re gonna get that smoke out of your lungs, ok?”

“Is she ok?”

“Yeah, just a little smoke inhalation,” Shay supplied.  “Oxygen will clear it up.”

Dawson nodded at the ambulance and she and Shay prepared to load her up but Severide’s hand shot out to stop them.

“Can you give me a second?”

After a brief, conferring glance with Dawson, Shay nodded and slipped away, Dawson following closely behind.

“We could have lost you,” Severide told her and the look in her eyes told him that she knew how close it had come.  “I won’t go to the police, ok?  I promise you that.  But you gotta talk to me.”

Mrs Grady reached up with one hand to tug the mask away from her mouth while the other patted at the hand supporting his weight on the stretcher and then, voice still croaky from the smoke, she began to talk.

 

Casey noticed Severide’s absence almost immediately when the squad company joined his for overhaul instructions rather than going to their own lieutenant.  He caught Capp’s eye and raised an eyebrow in clear question.  Capp sighed and jerked his head to where Severide was disappearing down the block.

“Herrmann?” Casey asked.

The man in question followed his line of sight and in that way of his didn’t even need to ask a single question.  “Got it, Lieutenant.”

Confident with leaving overhaul in Herrmann’s capable hands Casey was off in a second, hurrying after Severide and falling into step with him before he could turn the corner.  Severide barely spared him half a glance and kept his eyes fixed ahead determinedly.

“I don’t need your help,” he said not unkindly.

Casey scoffed.  “I doubt wherever you’re going is a place you should be alone.”

Severide looked like he wanted to argue more but when he finally looked over he must have seen something in Casey’s eyes because he closed his mouth abruptly and re focussed on the house numbers, looking for the address, Mrs Grady told him.

When he found it, he turned in without a word to Casey, hoping a little maybe that he would just give up and let him do this himself.  But no such luck and Casey insisted on thrusting himself into danger alongside him.  When they reached the right apartment, bad rap musica audible through the door, Severide didn’t allow himself so hesitate before pounding on the door.

A young guy opened the door, immediately looking Severide up and down, taking obvious note of the CFD patch on his jacket.  “Who the hell are you?”

Severide didn’t answer but pushed further into the room past the protesting man.  Casey followed face impassive and kicked the door shut behind him, leaning against it with his arms folded.

“Shut up,” Severide commanded, when the guy went to speak again.  “Sit down,” he continued, gesturing to the lounge where another guy was sprawled watching the confrontation with mild interest.

Severide was honestly surprised when the kid did as he was told, both of them looking past him to glance at Casey.  The Truck Lieutenant shouldn’t have been intimidating, he was a few inches shorter than Severide who barely scraped 6 feet himself, and he leant more towards lean rather than the bulky muscular form of Severide, but there was something about the firm set of his jaw, his hard eyes and the way he held himself that put people off.

“Mrs Grady,” he said, gaining their attention again.  “On Kilbourn.”

“Man, we don’t even know who that is,” said the guy who hadn’t answered the door, speaking for the first time.

“She’s the one who called the cops about the drug dealers on her block.  She’s also my aunt.  Listen to me.  I hear about one more ember going anywhere near Mrs Grady or her property again, I’ll come back here, break your kneecaps, and don’t drag you down to the police station.  If you don’t have drugs on you, I’ll plant them.”

Casey shifted by the door but the two dealers didn’t seem to notice transfixed by Severide as they were.

“You can’t do that,” one of them protested.

“The hell I can’t,” Severide retorted, leaning down to get right into the guy's face.  “It’s a firefighter’s word against a couple of bangers.  Who they going to believe?”

The two remained quiet with irritation knowing that Severide was not only right but also, judging on the look in his eyes wasn't lying about coming back here.

“We’re done here,” Casey said, pulling open the door and waiting for Severide to leave first before following him out closing the door firmly behind them.  They didn't say a word to each other as they slowly descended the stairs.

When they reached the final flight, Severide chanced a look over his shoulder.

“So what now?” Casey wanted to know.

Severide grinned, almost manically and said, “We get the hell out of here.”  He burst through the front doors of the apartment building and with a chuckle Casey followed both breaking into a jog, the pounding of their boots on the pavement and the paintings breaths like a symphony in the night air.  


In the hour before the shift change the next morning, the truck company congregated in the rec room to waste time as the minutes before eight ticked over.

“Extra, extra,” Herrmann announced as he flipped through the morning newspaper.

Uninterested in whatever he was babbling about, Otis tossed the football in his hand across the room to Casey who was leaning against the kitchen bench.

“Firefighters are off the front page,” he continued brandishing the fireless front page.  “Back into the black smoke we go until another tragedy.”

“Another day, another story,” Casey said and lobbed the football back across the room.

“I wonder how much that Thorne is getting from the city,” Herrmann grouched as he flipped the page.

“Why work for a living when you can sue someone instead?” Mouch quipped, digging around in the box of doughnuts that had mysteriously appeared that morning.

“Morning Chief,” Severide called to Boden who had wandered into the room, as he went for his first cup of coffee for the day.

Boden nodded a hello and turned to address the room at large.  “Our assistant Nicki has quit.”

Severide stiffened slightly but didn’t turn away from the coffee maker.

“According to her father, she has broken off her engagement and left for Europe for a while, so will you all just let me know if you hear of anybody available for the position.”

Boden nodded once more before turning to fix his own cup of coffee leaving Severide trying to not look too guilty.  Judging by the eyebrow raise he received from Casey he didn’t think he wasn’t overly successful however.

“Casey, you mind working back a few hours?” Boden asked.  “A bug going around and Lieutenant Peters is out for the shift.  I’ve tried calling for a replacement but it seems like the bug’s hit a few stations hard so it might not be until this afternoon that we get some relief.”

Casey didn’t need to think about it too hard.  Hallie was working a shift until about the same time so it wasn’t as if he would be doing anything other than doing some construction work on his place.  Besides the overtime pay couldn’t hurt.

“Sure, Chief.  You got it.”

 

Sensing Shay was still down about her run-in with Clarice, Severide waited until the night and got Shay to get dressed up, taking her out to roam the streets while he thought of something they could do to cheer her up.

“So where should we go?  Restaurant?  Bar?  Strip club?”  The last one was a joke, mostly.  He’d never been to a strip club with Shay but he wasn’t totally against the idea wither, they were after all interested in the same thing there.

But when Shay answered with a vacant, “Yeah, okay?” he knew things were worse than he thought.

He watched her walk along for a few minutes, eyes downcast, teeth absently tugging at her bottom lip before asking, “Hey, you alright?”

“Yeah,” she mumbled but shook her head.  “I just always thought she was the one, you know,” she finished, her voice a little choked as she came to a stop.

Severide slipped an arm around her shoulders and pull her into a tight hug, pressing a reassuring kiss to the top of her head.

“Strip club it is,” he decided, knowing it would make her laugh as they started to walk again, Shay still buried in his leather jacket.  And sure enough he was rewarded with a small, if slightly teary smile.

 

Across town, at the exact same time, Casey was just preparing to head out from the station, the replacement lieutenant, a man he knew from the academy having finally shown up when one of the second shift men called for him, holding out the station phone as explanation.

“Hey, baby what’s up.  I’m on my way home now.”

“Matt,” Hallie’s voice was tight with worry and something in Casey twisted immediately at the tone.  “ Something’s happened to my car.  Someone’s trashed it.

“I’ll be right there.  Ok.  Five minutes,” he promised.

When Hallie assured him that she would be fine on her own for the five minutes that it would take him to get there, he slammed the phone down and took off out of the station at a jog, nearly crashing into the relief lieutenant in the process.

“Hey thanks Matt for working back,” he heard the guy yell after him.  He raised a hand in acknowledgment before bursting through the doors and racing to his truck.  The tyres squealed in protest when he peeled away from the curb and he didn’t drop a mile under the speed the limit the entire way to the hospital.

Looking small and pale in her worry, bathed by the silver moon and the fluorescent lights of nearby street lamps, Hallie was exactly where she’d said she’d be; standing next to the smashed driver window of her car, playing with her keys in her nervousness.  He flew from the car much like he would at a fire, barely pulling the key from the ignition before getting out and hurried to her side, finding the car looking identical to his own had the other day: windows smashed and tyres slashed.

He turned away straight away to survey the almost empty parking lot, rationally knowing that the perpetrators would be long gone but unable to stop himself from looking.

“Matt,” Hallie said.  She was looking at him in surprise, as if his reaction wasn’t at all what she’d been expecting.  “What is going on?”

He sighed.  There was a lot of explaining he had to do but for now all he could do was tug her closer and press a kiss to the top of her head.  The rest they’d talk about later.

Chapter Text

“Hello?” Hallie’s voice was relaxed over the phone and Casey had to breathe a sigh of relief.  After he’d come clean about everything that had been going on with Voight, she’d barely looked at him for the rest of the night and she’d spent the entire next day shooting him wounded looks and spoke in tightly, controlled tones like she was trying really hard not to start yelling again.

But finally, two days later when he was back on shift she seemed to be finally getting over it, promising that they would check in multiple times over the course of the shift, as Casey was doing now, on their way back from refilling the tank and taking a slight detour on the way.

“Just checking in.”

“I’m fine,” Hallie reassured him, voice light with fond exasperation.   “Really, I should be the one checking up on you.”

“Not a care in the world,” Casey replied automatically and gestured wildly to Cruz who was behind the wheel, “Turn here.”

“Some gang cop breaks into our cars and you don’t have a care in the world?” Hallie asked as Cruz swung around the corner as directed.

“That’s right.  Just another day.”

“I want it noted just for the record that I don’t believe a word you’re saying,” Hallie was quick to retort dryly.

“Good thing you’re a doctor and not a lawyer, because I’m just gonna let this blow over,” Casey replied and pondered absently on how much of a liar this Detective Voight thing had made him.  “I’ll call you later,” he added quickly when he caught sight of their destination.

The police station stood tall and threatening on the Chicago street, with policed cops and detectives alike milling in and out of the doors.  The truck pulled to a stop right outside which had to be some sort of traffic violation, but Casey didn’t plan on staying long enough to get booked.

“Just be a minute,” he said, jumping down before any of his men could comment.

“Lieutenant,” he heard Mills try, but acted as if he hadn’t heard, banging the door closed and striding up the front steps.

Police stations hadn’t really been a favourite place of Casey’s ever since he was a teenager, the looming, impassioned places never quite providing the comfort and safety he knew others felt after one fateful night fifteen years ago.  He shook off the lingering feelings of discomfort however and went in, no one bothering to stop him as he walked through like he was meant to be there.  He climbed the stairs to the floor he knew held the detectives offices and past identical white doors until he found one with a familiar figure visible through the glass walls.  He ignored a nearby secretary telling him to stop and burst in on Voight who looked away from his phone call impassively.  The door banged against the wall but Casey couldn’t bring himself to care as he walked straight up to the man’s desk and planted his hands on it.

“Listen, I have a visitor.  I’ll get back to you,” Voight muttered into the phone and hung it up before the person on the other line had even a second to respond.

“Stay away from me,” Casey growled, ignoring the stares he could feel burning into his back.

“Excuse me?” Voight, naturally, tried for confusion but Casey was having none of it.

“I’m telling you to back off.  I’m telling you and whatever garbage you have working under you to stay the hell away from us.”

“Sir, I don’t know what this department did to-”

Casey snarled at the cordiality in both the man’s face and tone and cut across him, too worked up to listen to another lie that fell from his lips.

“I mean it.”

All traces of sincerity disappeared from the man’s face and his features grew hard like the bottomless pits that were his dark eyes.  He stood from his chair, sending it spinning away and rounded his desk to get right up into Casey’s face.

“Get your ass out of my office before I throw you through that window.”

All Casey could do was laugh darkly.  “Your threats don’t work, Voight.  I’m not some scared banger begging for a look the other way.  Know this, I’m not retracting my statement.  Ever”

Before Voight could get another word out Casey turned on his heel and strode from the office, conscious of how the entire floor had fallen silent at the display.  They were standing and staring with unabashed curiosity and seeing no one willing to step in just served to stoke the flames of Casey’s anger.

“What?” he found himself yelling before he could think about it.  “You’re all afraid of this guy?  Someone tell me why.”

But not a single soul made a noise and after a few moments Casey shook his head and strode from the maze of desks, thundering down the steps just as a call came through the radio strapped to his chest.

Word traveled fast around the station because Casey earned his fair share of looks on his way out but no one attempted to stop him so he considered that a win.  He could tell by the clear agitation on his men’s faces and in their shoulders that they were getting antsy and as soon as they saw him coming out they were jumping back into the truck and starting it up, no doubt ready to pull away and head to the scene.

“Drive,” he ordered as he climbed into the cab but the order wasn’t necessary; Cruz was already taking off, not even waiting for Casey to close the door behind him.

The call was at a factory in the industrial part of Chicago, warehouse after warehouse lined up in a row, all looking almost identical.  Truck 81 pulled up at almost the same time as Squad 3, the other cherry red engine screeching to a halt just seconds later.

The two companies went inside, the distant wail of another siren signalling the ambo’s oncoming arrival.  The owner met them at the door and lead them to the scene, barking orders at his employees to keep them out of the way.

The victim was man with his arm buried in some sort of machinery.  The sight of blood spattered on the otherwise spotless steel made Severide’s stomach clench.  He knew they had to get that arm out now.

“How we doing?”

“I just need some help getting it out,” the victim said.  

Severide’s eyes tracked his sweaty forehead and noted the trembling of his free hand; both things that didn’t necessarily mean danger but he would need to keep an eye on.

“Ok, well, stay with us.”

Herrmann’s voice suddenly behind him signalled the Truck companies arrival inside the building.  “The power’s off, it’s locked out… Holy cow.”

Severide gritted his teeth at the exclamation and Mouch’s returning remark focussing on the victim rather than reprimanding them.

“What have we got?” Dawson demanded on arrival and Severide again found himself gritting his teeth against the urge to swear.  It was a tight fit already with both him and Capp trying to get a good look at the steel trapping the man’s arm.  He backed off with a sigh letting Dawson take his place to get a look at the trapped appendage.  “How are you feeling?”

“Not so good, to tell you the truth,” the man said and Severide couldn’t tell if it was sarcasm or shock that coated his words.

“That’s a lot of blood,” Dawson murmured to herself as her eyes scanned the arm.  “What’s your name, hon?”

“Garrett.”

“Garrett, how long you been stuck?”

Severide caught sight of Casey out of the corner of his eye, watching passively until a gleam of realisation lightened his eyes and he dashed away.  Severide shifted on his feet, debating whether to follow before rounding the machine to stand across from Dawson.

“I don’t- I don’t know.”

“How long he’s been stuck!”  The calming note in her voice disappeared as Dawson whirled around to address the workers.

“Going on 15,” the owner stammered.

Dawson’s eyes lifted to meet Severide over the expanse of the man’s back.  “We gotta get him out now.”

“Alright, loosen it up a little bit,” Severide ordered and instantly hands shot down to grip the metal blades trying to loosen them from where they were stuck.  Now that he could focus on his job, Dawson and Shay’s medical jargon became background noise and he directed all his attention on disentangling the flesh from the steel.

“Garrett we’re gonna ease try and ease your arm out now, ok?” Dawson said once morphine had been administered.  “Here we go.  One, two, three.”

As directed all hands on the machinery tried to twist back the way it had come, guiding Garrett’s arm out.  But the metal was stubborn and they barely got it to move a few inches before Garrett was gasping in pain.

“Stop!  I can’t!  I can’t!”

The firefighters and paramedics alike relented with a sigh.  They would have to do this another way.  Severide wiped at his damp forehead with his arm, closing his eyes as he tried to think what else they could do.  A hand slapped at his back, the touch burning even through the layers of his shirt and moments later Casey appeared across from him, nudging his was through to get to the victim.

“The gears come right off,” he explained and Severide understood instantly.  That’s what Casey had gone to look at.  “If we get the gears off, we can separate the casing and travel with it,” said Casey, maintaining eye contact with Severide.  “We need power drills, quarter inch hacks, an allen key.  Mills, you do the gears.”

Capp dashed away at once to rifle through the tools they’d brought with them into the building, returning in just a few seconds with everything Casey had asked for.  Severide accepted the drill that was handed to him and he and Vargas got to work reaching around Garrett to remove the screws while Mills reached up from below to remove the gears.

And then after a few intense of work, orders and swearing from Garrett, the section finally pulled free.  With the added muscle from the firefighters Shay was able to guide Garrett back onto the waiting gurney, the steel plates his arm was still trapped in now lying across his legs.

“Alright, let’s get him out of here,” Shay said once he was settled onto the gurney and they began pushing him towards the exit.  “Casey, Severide, we’ll need you guys to come along and get this rig off,” Shay called as they jogged outside.

Casey and Severide followed at a walk while Shay and Dawson got Garrett settled, changing out his IV and making sure he was comfortable on the journey.

“You know,” Severide said as they walked.  “If you ever wanted to transfer to Squad, my offer still stands.”

Casey didn’t smile but amusement flickered in his eyes.  “And work under you?  Yeah no thanks.”

Severide chuckled good naturedly but his smile faded when he saw Casey swipe a hand over his eyes and the amusement in his eyes flicker out only to be replaced by a weary sort of tiredness.

“Hey, you alright?”

“Yeah.  I didn’t sleep well.”

Severide frowned but before he got the chance to ask the other Lieutenant what was bothering him, Dawson poked her head out of the rig, telling them that it was time to go.  The ride to the hospital was slower than usual and quiet; Shay hadn’t bothered with the siren and had only flipped on the lights due to the patients stable condition.  Still they moved faster than the average car and were at the hospital in no time.

“Possible crush syndrome, gave four of morphine, heart rate 130,” Shay reported as they wheeled the gurney insides.  Hallie met them on the way and lead them to an examination table.

“Call my boss, tell him that I’ll be there tomorrow, so don’t worry about covering my shift,” Garrett said, the sedatives now coursing through his veins slurring his words..

“Dude really loves his job,” Severide remarked.

“On three,” Dawson said, counting down to lift him onto the hospital bed.

“Like you aren’t exactly the same,” Casey panted as they hefted the man across.

“Oh God,” Garrett groaned and a nurse hurried in to administer something stronger.

“Or do I have to remind you of the time you got pneumonia,” Casey said, watching as Garrett’s eyes slid closed as the medicine dragged him under.

The doctors bustled around him for a few minutes.  Then Hallie glanced at the two waiting Lieutenants and beckoned them over with a jerk of her head.  “Tourniquet is on.  And we’re ready to get this thing off.”

Casey and Severide stepped in and unscrewed the final pieces that was holding the whole thing together.  The row of plates slid out as Casey had predicted with minimal fuss and they handed it to the waiting nurse before pulling away the other row and the bracket that had held it all together.  As soon as the metal was clear of his arm Hallie was sending him off to the operating room.

“What a way to start the day,” Hallie sighed and snapped the latex gloves from her hands.

The confrontation with Voight from earlier flashed before Casey’s eyes and before he could think better of it, he found himself saying, “Not exactly.”

Severide caught the little exchange and sensed the beginning of an argument and didn’t want to be anywhere near when those two went of, lest he find himself a casualty.  “Nice to see you, Hallie,” the sweet words tasting like venom in his mouth.

Hallie’s voice was flat when she answered, “You too.”

It seemed he wasn’t the only liar there.

Casey had moved to pack away his tools and prepare to head back to the station and Hallie was quick to approach him and find out what he had meant.

“Well?”

“Went to the CPD this morning.  Talked to Voight,” Casey said shortly.

“You two talked it out?” Hallie asked sounding hopeful.

“No.  I yelled.”

“Why?  Why would you-”

“Because there’s no reasoning with a guy like Voight,” Casey said, voice still clipped.  He reach for Hallie and brushed a kiss to her forehead before she could argue.  “Gotta get back to the house.  See you tonight?”  He walked off to meet Dawson, Shay and Severide before she could answer.

 

Severide watched their interaction through narrowed eyes, refusing to wonder why he was interested in their relationship.  He only looked away when he caught Shay’s smug look in his direction.

He shifted on the gurney he was leaning on, waiting for Shay to finish her paperwork and looked to see if Dawson was paying attention.  She wasn’t.  “Don’t suppose you could point me towards the toradol?” he asked, words punctuated with a nudge to her ribs to get her attention.  “I think I might have twisted my shoulder again.”

Shay scoffed.  “You’re dreaming.”

“Alright, don’t point.  Just look towards it; I’ll do the rest.”  Severide wasn’t too proud to admit the desperation in his voice.

But Shay just make an exasperated noise and shook off the arm he’d slung around her shoulders.  Severide frowned at her profile, snapped the elastic over her shoulder that held her radio and took off for the ambulance rig before she could retaliate.

 

Once they got back from the call both Severide and Casey hit the bathrooms for a quick freshen up and to scrub away the various dirt and grit that accumulated on their skin after the call.  They worked, mostly, in silence, methodically using brushes to wash away the dirt from the lines in their hands and under their nails, washing away stray smears of blood with a detachment that came only with experience.

Severide watched Casey for a long moment in the mirror before he spoke.  “You were good in there, with that machine.”

Casey’s eyes flickered to meet his in the mirror, reading the emotion in them before dropping back to the water running over his hands.  “Thanks.”

“I know we joked about it before and I always used to bring it up but seriously if you ever wanted to transfer to Squad, well frankly I’d be lucky to have you.”  Severide swallowed heavily after the confession, feeling as though he might have given away more than he intended.

Casey was silent for a long moment.  “I like being a Lieutenant, Severide.  I like having my own company.  And you’re not supposed to say it but I like being in charge.”

But Severide was nodding because he understood the feeling completely.

Casey’s eyes remained on his hands as he dried them and slowly began to pack up his toiletry kit.  “Besides I’m not sure how well we’d work you know after everything.”

A breath of air escaped Severide then because again he understood Casey exactly.

“I’m not sure we’d make it more than two calls before we killed each other.”

Severide slumped over his arms a little onto the counter.  “Fair enough.”  He felt a touch dejected but mostly relieved that he’d finally said something he’d needed to for years.

“But Severide,” Casey said, stopping by the door.  “If I ever was to, it’d only be your company I’d want to work with.”  

He was gone before Severide could muster up a reply and he was left wondering if it was really his company Casey wanted to work with or Severide himself and he immediately cursed himself for even going there.

 

The rest of the morning was dedicated to daily required tasks that hadn’t been done that morning which included any drills that the Lieutenants so fit, a complete check of all equipment and washing the trucks.  By the time lunch rolled around the entire house was starving and they filed inside, following the delicious smell of Mills’ cooking.

Casey was one of the last in and found most of the house already eating in the rec room.

“Lieutenant Casey, you eaten?”

“Not yet,” he replied, making his way to Mills who was heaping a fresh plate with an egg side dish.

Boden appeared from the side door to the kitchen and quickly found his Truck Lieutenant.  “Casey, come with me.”  There was no room for discussion in Boden’s tone so Casey handed back the plate reluctantly and, aware of everyone’s eyes on him followed Boden from the room and into his office.  Inside waiting for them was police chief Grogan and Antonio Dawson.

Grogan got right to a point.  “Casey’s visit to the CPD this morning was way out of the line and the allegations unfounded.”

“Unfounded?” Boden thundered in return.  “I’m sorry Chief Grogan, this has got Voight’s name written all over it.”

“There are no witnesses that detective Voight was anywhere but on the job Halloween night.  Do you know how many tyres got slashed that day?”

“Fifteen years he’s worked gang unit.  You don’t think he’s got a few locals who can do his dirty work?”

“And that is exactly why we have Internal Affairs and the A.S.A’s office investigating.”  Casey shook his head already knowing the outcome; much like the CFD, the police department would protect their own before him.  “But I gotta tell you,” Chief Grogan continued.  “Without a direct link, what do you suggest we do, Chief Boden?”

“I suggest you handle your precinct.”

“Wait just a damn minute,” Grogan growled.

“My Lieutenant and his fiancee are being harassed.  Don’t you tell me to wait.”

“Forget it, Chief,” Casey broke in before the argument could come to blows like it was looking to.  “CPD isn’t gonna help.  I’ll do it my own way.”

“Casey, no.”

“Give me a better alternative,” Casey said directly to Grogan.  “Something.”

Grogan, after a long minute looked to Antonio, who had been silent up until this point.

“I’ll be the primary,” he offered.  “I.A, A.S.A, they’ve got fish frying all over the city.  I’ll take the lead on this.”

“That’s fine by me,” Grogan said.  “We good here,” he asked Boden.

Boden shared a long look with Casey, who nodded reluctantly before nodding himself.  “Yeah, we’re good.”

 

The call that morning had been relatively easy and the rest of the day had been a breeze so there was no reason for the discomfort that burnt through Severide’s shoulder in the afternoon  He sat on the edge of his bed staring out the window at the other empty beds.  They hadn’t even had dinner yet  and despite the easy day Severide was exhausted and hoping for a quick nap before eating but his aching neck was keeping him up.

He dragged himself up the bed and sprawled out, unearthing his phone from his pocket.  He slid through his contacts list, hesitated on a name he hadn’t thought of since she’d left his life before clicking on it.  The phone went straight to voicemail, an automated voice telling him to leave a message after the beep.  Severide made a desperate wish that this was still her number before speaking.

“Anna, hey, it’s Kelly Severide.  Sorry I haven’t called you back sooner.  I changed cell numbers and it ended up being a big hassle.”  The excuse sounded false even to his own ears but Severide pressed on.  “Anyway, look forward to hearing from you.  Give me a call back when you have the chance.”

He and Anna had shared a weekend together a million years ago, long before he and Casey had ever become a thing and he honestly hadn’t given her a second thought since he’d crawled out of her bed Monday morning.

He tossed his phone onto the bedside table next to him and flopped back onto the pillows, arm reached across his chest to knead fruitlessly at his aching shoulder, hoping that the sweet relief of sleep would come quickly.

His eyes flew open only a few minutes later at the obnoxious blare of the bells.

Squad 3, Truck 94 construction accident, 248 south francisco street.”

Severide guessed that based on the truck from another house being called, Truck 81 was still preoccupied with their own call out.  He rolled out of bed with a low groan and hurried to the door, pulling on his boots as he went.

It was obvious even as they approached what had happened.  Two figures were visible on the roof of the church, one holding the other, a piece of wood strapped to them.  The two companies jumped from their trucks, trying to ignore the yells for help above them.

“I’ll need you aerial on the other side of the church,” Severide said, glancing at the other Lieutenant, one he’d never met before.  “Do the best you can and we’ll do the rest.”  The Lieutenant nodded and he and his company rushed back to their rig and pulled out.  “Let’s gear up,” Severide called to his own men.  “Vargas,” Severide called.  “When they lock it down, have the rope bag at the ladder ready to go.”

Vargas called a confirmation and jogged to get the equipment from the truck.  Truck 94 went speeding past and Severide grabbed the last of what he’d need before following them around, the rest of his company on his heels.  When the aerial was in place he began to climb, Capp and Hadley following him up.

“Talk to me,” Severide said to the pair on the roof while he began to rig up the rope system.

“He slipped,” one gasped, trying to tighten his hold on his friend who he was holding and as far as Severide could see wasn’t attached to a rope.

“I’m loose,” the second said, confirming Severide’s fear.

“Try to stay still,” Severide said as he put the final touches on the system and dropping the counter-weight to the ground, Capp doing the same on the other side of the aerial.  “Alright we’re coming to you.  Hold tight now.”  He turned and began to rappel down the steep side of the roof.

“I can’t hold him,” the first man gasped, struggling with the unrelenting weight of his friend.

Severide grimaced but didn’t speed up, knowing it would only bring mistakes on his part and injury for the others.  He reached them after just a few more steps.

“Hang on to me.”  Severide reached for the unharnessed man.  But he must have hurt it or something because he shook his head.  “Can you reach with your other arm?”  He was clutching his friend so tightly that Severide doubted he would move it even if he could.  The man confirmed as much.

Capp arrived on the other side with the spare rope that they’d use to take both of the men down.

“This blue one’s for you,” Capp said calmly, as he slowly hooked the unharnessed man up.

“Line secure!” Hadley confirmed from the aerial.

“Ok you can let go him now, we’ve got it,” Severide said and slowly the first man loosened his hold on his friend.

Capp pulled the man over, helping to get his feet under him so they could rappel down the side of the building together.

“No need to push off,” Capp instructed as they slowly shuffled down the roof.  “Small steps.  Keep it steady up there, Hadley.”

Capp and the man slowly descended down leaving Severide with the other, waiting for the spare rope so they too could get back onto the ground.

“It’s my fault,” the man groaned.  “He told me not to walk along the top and I didn’t listen.”

“What’s your name?” Severide asked, shifting around on the roof to get comfortable.

“It’s Ty.”

“Alright, well hold on, Ty.”

Severide reached down, trying to loosen the piece of wood strapped to Ty’s leg, not trusting his rope to hold him for any extended period of time.

“No, don’t, don’t, don’t.  My leg!  My leg!” he gasped

“Alright,” Severide panted, trying to think of another way to secure him.  He pulled a short length of rope from his pant pocket and grabbed Ty’s hand, threading both their hands through the loops of the rope.  Unbeknownst to him however, the bracket securing Ty’s harness was bending with the strain of his weight.  Hadley’s shout for him was the only warning he got before Ty was slipping further down the roof, the rope wound around both their wrists now the only thing keeping Ty from falling to the ground.  Severide grunted at the sudden pull at his bad shoulder.

“Hang on,” he groaned.  He glanced up at Hadley who was still feeding the rope down to Capp and the other man as they got closer and closer to the ground.  “Get that rope up here,” he yelled.  Hadley looked down at him helplessly, unable to do anything until Capp unhooked the other victim.

Severide’s feet scrambled against the slick tiles of the roof trying to find purchase as the rope was hauled back up to them.  Sweat from the sun beaded on his forehead and slid into his eyes making it even harder to concentrate on holding Ty.  He shifted an inch the wrong way and his feet slid out from underneath him sending him careening against the roof and yanking at his bad shoulder painfully.  He fought not to yell at the burning in his neck and tried to focus enough to instruct Ty.

“Ty,” he groaned.  “Reach up.  In my right leg pocket, there’s a knife.”

He watched over his trembling shoulder as Ty strained to reach his leg pocket before falling back against the roof.

“I can’t.”

“Ty.  Hey, listen to me,” Severide barked, the pain in his shoulder making it hard to keep his tone light.  “You have to.  We’ve gotta lose that extra weight.”

Resolve flickered in Ty’s eyes and he ground an elbow into the roof in order to push himself further up.  Severide gritted his teeth against a groan as Ty used their linked hands as leverage to reach up into his pocket.  Finally he got the knife free and he slid back down again, yanking at Severide’s shoulder as he did.  Severide cursed under his breath and blinked sweat out of his eyes as Ty cut the line tying the plank of wood to his leg.

“Look out below!” Severide managed to grunt as the wood slid free and flew over the gutter of the roof.

The rope clattered to a stop beside them and Severide twisted around back onto his feet and reached across to drag it closer.

“Ty, grab the line.  Clamp it to your harness.”

Ty did an instructed, and soon enough Hadley was pulled the rope taut easing off the pressure on Severide’s arm.  He breathed a sigh of relief and took a few deep breaths to compose himself before standing from his crouch, pull Ty along with him.

“Alright, Ty, just slow now the rest of the way.”

Ty nodded shakily and slowly Severide began to slide him down to the gutter, his hurt leg preventing him from propelling himself.  Once they got the edge, Severide was able to flip him over and they were slowly lowered to the ground, Tony and Capp rushing in to grab him and lift him onto the waiting ambulance gurney.

Severide left the rest of his squad to pack up the rope bags themselves while he took a few seconds to himself, seated on the back bumper of his truck.  The muscles in his right side were still twitching occasionally, a steady ache shooting from his neck into his shoulder joint.

Hadley wandered past, equipment in hand and clapped Severide’s sore shoulder with his free one.  Severide’s mouth twisted into a grimace, which he ducked his head to hide and no audible sign of discomfort escaped.  He waited until his men had rounded the truck out of sight before lifting a hand to massage the sore muscles, a low groan slipping past his lips at the pain it prompted.

The second he set foot back inside the house Severide made a beeline for the locker room, intent on having a hot shower to soothe his aching muscles, figuring that he still had an hour before dinner and that sleep would continue to evade him.

He didn’t make it very however before the familiar voice of Vargas was calling out to him.

“Hey, Lieutenant.”

He didn’t slow down in the slightest and although he knew it was rude didn’t even turn to see what the firefighter wanted.

“Just so you know,” Vargas continued, regardless of Severide’s disinterest.  “I’ve completed all the descent rescue training.”

“When I think you’re ready, you’ll be the first to know,” Severide bit out.

“Right.  I just didn’t want you to waste all your resources-” Vargas said as they reached the locker room.

“Hey!” Severide interrupted, finally turning to face him.  “Let it go.  I’ve got other things to worry about besides your career track.”

Vargas’ face remained impassive and Severide didn’t wait for an answer before he turned away and headed for his locker.  The quiet shuffle of rubber on tile a few moments later told him Vargas had left.  He slipped his lock free of the metal ring but didn’t open the door in favour of leaning up against it, hoping the cool bite of the metal might help soothe his muscles.

He shucked off his clothes, wrapped a towel around his waist and grabbed his phone before heading towards the shower block.  This time he didn’t hesitate before tapping on Anna’s number but cursed when he was sent straight to voicemail again.

“Hey, Anna, it’s Kelly again.  Listen, I really need you to call me back.  If I don’t answer, you can just leave me a message.  I’ll get back to you.  Thanks.”

He clicked his phone off and dumped it on a nearby chair and with his desperate words still ringing in his ears he grabbed the other plastic chair and dragged it into one of the shower stalls.  Severide made sure to set the shower to hot before collapsing into the chair, the absolute searing pain in his right side preventing him from doing much more than lean his forehead against the wall and let the scorching water pound against his back.


The men had come out of nowhere.  One second Casey had been walking down a deserted street, phone and lunch in hand and the next two hooded and masked men had approached him, one delivering a sound punch to his jaw before he could even blink.

The next several minutes were a quick onslaught of pain and punches.  Casey managed to land a few solid punches of his own but he was outnumbered by two very strong opponents.  They fought dirty, one holding his arms back while the other punched him in the stomach over and over, using the bins in the alleyway to take him down.  And once he was down they didn’t stop there, delivering kick after kick until they were sure he’d stay down.

Finally they walked away, moving further into the alley rather than go back the way they’d come, leaving Casey to spit blood out of his mouth and try to work up the energy to fumble for his phone.  The crunch of gravel signalled the approach of someone else and Casey had only a moment to close his eyes and pray that it wasn’t the two thugs coming back to have another go.

“Hey,” an unfamiliar voice said.  “Just breathe alright, I’m calling 911.”

Casey breathed a sigh of relief and closed his eyes to listen for the approaching wail of ambulance sirens.  The next hour passed in a blur of paramedics and doctors, Hallie’s surprised face flashing past as he was wheeled inside the hospital, x-rays and tests were done until finally he could lie down, Antonio turning up to ask questions.

“No cracked ribs,” Hallie announced as she walked back into his hospital room, wielding a set of x-rays.   “You’re next in line for the CT scan,” she added.  “Can you sit up for me?” she asked, unhooking her stethoscope from her neck and guiding him to sit up on the bed.  “I need you to take some deep breaths, ok?”  He complied and each breath felt like a knife to the ribs.  “And again.  It sounds clear.  That’s good.”  She guided him to lie back again.

He looked out the observation window to find Boden leading his company towards his room.  He couldn’t however even muster the energy for a half-hearted wave and settled for a nod of his head.

“Casey how are you?” Boden asked from where he’d appeared at the doorway.

Casey made a non-committal noise in response and Antonio took that as his cue to start asking questions.

“So no faces for these guys?  Markings?  Anything distinguishable?”

Casey tried to think through the haze of flashing limbs and twinge of his bruises.  “One of them had a tattoo,” he said eventually.  “Forearm.”  He shifted the ice pack from his ribs to the bruise colouring his eye.

“Left?  Right?”

“Left,” he said, but as soon as he spoke he could see it just as easily on the right arm.  “Maybe right.”

“Think.”

Casey flung the icepack down in irritation.  “I am thinking.”

Antonio sighed and pocketed the pad he’d been taking notes in.  “Alright.  Alright, rest for a few.”  He patted Casey on the leg as he passed and headed out of the room.

Boden took Antonio’s place as Casey screwed up his face in irritation, trying to remember anything else about the attack.

“Matt.  Matt, believe me, I know what you’re going through, and I know what you’re thinking.  But we are gonna figure out how to do this the right way.  Do you hear me?”

It was the same thing Boden had been saying earlier in his office and although Casey felt much less inclined to agree he still voiced a quiet agreement if only to appease his Chief.

“Okay.”  Boden gently clapped a hand to is shoulder, mindful of his bruises and made his way outside, presumably to talk to Antonio.

Hallie watched Boden go quietly before stepping up to Casey’s bedside and taking his hand in hers.

“Think the Chief’s right?” she asked quietly.

“I am not going to sit back and take it.”

“I’m not saying that you should,” Hallie soothed, rubbing a placating hand over his hair.  “But you make one wrong decision, and suddenly you’re the bad guy, and that’s exactly what he wants.  Just promise me you’ll be careful,” she said finally when Casey showed no sign of relenting.  “Promise me.”

“I promise,” Casey sighed.  Hallie echoed his sigh and leant in to press a gentle kiss to his forehead before leaning their heads together, both closing their eyes.

 

The call came in just as Severide was cooking dinner for himself, Shay having flitted out to have dinner with her latest.  He clicked accept on the call, wondering what Boden could want at this hour and wedged the phone between his shoulder and his ear so he could stir the sauce, simmering on the stove.

“Yeah, Chief, what’s up?”

There was a pause, long enough that Severide almost checked to see if Boden was actually there.

Kelly, I thought you should know…” If his stomach hadn’t dropped at the use of his first name, it was sure to with Boden’s next words.  “ Matt’s in the hospital.”

Severide moved without even really thinking about it, flipping off the burner, reaching for his jacket and snatching his keys.

“Where?” he gritted out.

“Lakeshore.”

“I’ll be there in ten.”  Severide flung the door closed behind him and forwent the stairs in favour of jogging down the stairs.

Kelly…” Boden tried but Severide had already hung up.

The ride to the hospital passed in a blur of streetlights against the darkening sky and fingers clenched so tightly around the wheel that Severide’s knuckles turned white.  For the first time that day, the searing pain in his shoulder dulled to an ignorable twinge.

Severide parked haphazardly in the parking lot, sparing half a thought to hoping he didn’t get booked and just about ran inside.  He spent only a few seconds looking around and was just about to grab the nearest nurse and shake Casey’s location from her when he spotted Boden’s tall form.  Severide dragged a deep breath in as he approach Boden’s back, trying to at least appear composed.

“What happened?”

“Two guys jumped him.  We’re thinking they were working for Voight.”

White hot rage flared through Severide’s chest and it was an effort to temper it down and not race back outside to find the two punks who had done this.

“81?” he asked, mainly for appearances sake.

“Here earlier.  I thought you might want some… privacy.”

Severide refused to make eye contact at that and kept his unseeing eyes on the glass in front of him.  That wasn’t something he was even going to dwell on know.  He focussed instead on the sleeping form of his… friend.

“So are you going to…”

“I’ve gotta head home.”  Boden paused and then clapped a hand on his Lieutenant’s shoulder.  Only then did Severide look at him.  There were many messages in the look Boden gave him but Severide was too strung out and fraught with emotion to begin to dissecting them so he simply nodded and smiled weakly.  Boden gave him his own nod and left.

Severide watched him go and waited until he had disappeared completely out the doors before breathing in a shaky breath and walking inside Casey’s hospital room.  The bruises looked even worse in the darkened room, the shadows making them seem even darker than they probably were.  Severide exhaled slowly and approached his friends side, dropping into the chair beside it.  Casey’s top half was bare - a shirt too painful to pull on, Severide guessed - showing off the bruises and contusions littering the pale skin and Severide could see a glimpse of an old pair of sweats before they disappeared below the sheet.

Severide leant an elbow on the edge of the mattress and propped his chin up in his hand, his free hand reaching hesitantly to trace the edge of a nasty bruise that decorated Casey’s ribs.

“Oh Matt.”

 

Severide didn’t remember falling asleep but he figured he must have been asleep for a few hours if the ache in his hunched shoulders and the darkened corridor was anything to go by.  For a moment he couldn’t work out why he’d woken but then he caught sight of the glittering pair of eyes watching him from the doorway.  His heartbeat jumped a notch but slowed just as quickly when he realised it was just Hallie.  All the same he scrambled to stand, feeling for some odd reason as though he’d just been caught doing something wrong.  Something about the expression on her face made him think she’d been there for a while watching them.

“The Chief called me,” Severide said yielding to the uncontrollable urge to explain his presence.

“I figured,” Hallie said faintly.  They stared at each other for a long moment.  Then Hallie seemed to jerk out of a trance and she crossed the room to fiddle with some of Casey’s bandages.

“So he’s staying here for the night then,” said Severide, more for something to say than anything else.

“Yes.  His last test was pretty late and they weren’t going to release him before that… besides it’s being covered by his insurance.”

“Right.”  He was spared trying to think up another thing to say because Hallie spoke again.

“I didn’t realise you two were friends again.”  Her tone was purposefully cool and distant but Severide had known Hallie long enough to know that she was fishing for information.

“We’re coexisting, I guess,” Severide said with a nervous laugh.  If coexisting meant jokes and conversations and long looks that leave me questioning the definition of our relationship, Severide thought wryly.  “Anyway I should probably go.  It’s late and I just wanted to see how he was.”  He stumbled towards the door but paused just before he left.  “Don’t, uh, could you not tell Casey I stopped by?”

Hallie froze where she stood, face downturned for a moment before she slowly looked up at him, simply blinking for a moment.  “Sure,” she said finally and smiled blandly at him.

“Thanks.”  Severide breathed a sigh of relief and hurried from the room.  He’d assumed she’d have no problem complying with that little request.


Severide woke on the second 24 of his 48 hours off to a message from Anna on his phone.  It was short, sweet and directly to the point just like Severide was hoping.   Meet me at 10.am it read, followed by an address of a nearby restaurant.  It was fancier than he usually frequented, preferring diner’s or bars but he knew it well enough.  He muffled his relieved exclamation into his pillow, checked the time and rolled out of bed to get ready.

Anna was exactly as gorgeous as he remembered, even at a distance; long dark hair that complimented her equally dark skin that Severide knew from experience shined under even the dimmest of lights.  Her rich brown eyes flickered with a knowing intelligence as he sauntered closer to her perch at the bar.  He spied a steaming coffee waiting for him on the countertop and hid his grin at the sight.

“Hey,” he said, leaning in for a perfunctory kiss on the cheek before taking a seat on the stool next to her.

“I almost died when your name came up on my phone,” she chuckled and leant back in her seat to regard him curiously.  Her voice was as husky as he remembered and he couldn’t help but recall how she’d sounded moaning his name in ecstasy.

“Yeah?  Well I’m glad you didn’t,” he said, turning up the charm and pushing away all thoughts of their weekend together.  Instead he focussed on what he’d come to get.

“Are you still fighting fires?”

“Yeah, most of the time.”

“We were good together,” Anna said and the coyness behind her smile told Severide in what sense she meant.

“Sure.  We had our moments.”

“The coat room at the Drake?” she asked with an eyebrow raise.

Severide swallowed thickly at the memory and forced a chuckle.  “Definitely a moment.”

The two lapsed into silence while Severide deliberated his next words.  He didn’t want this to feel like a drug deal between friends but he was fast running out of options.  He’d much rather offend Anna, someone he hadn’t seen in years and probably wouldn’t have seen ever again than risk losing a close friend like Shay.

“I have a favour to ask you, Anna.”  Severide didn't want to let it get to serious yet but the darkness of his voice betrayed him.  

Anna’s smile dimmed slightly but she nodded slowly as though she’d expected this, regarding him carefully before finally pursing her lips.  “I knew there was going to be a catch,” she said finally and sipped at her coffee.

Severide found himself again searching for the words, trying to explain in the best possible way what he needed but Anna beat him to it.

“I’m staying at the Peninsula.  Conference bullshit for the next three days.  Pick a night and ask me for your favour then.”

They both heard the implications in her words, both knew what she was asking him to do and both were sure that he would most likely do it.  After all Severide had never turned down sex with a beautiful woman no matter the motives behind it.  Anna grinned, looking precisely like a cat that ate the canary, downed the remainder of her coffee and kissed him once more before striding away, leaving only the smell of coffee beans and expensive perfume behind.


Casey had been expecting the worry when he returned and the occupants of house 51 didn’t disappoint from the moment he stepped foot inside the threshold.  He knew from looking at himself in the mirror that the bruises and cuts still stood out starkly against his fair complexion and he could feel the stiffness in his limbs as he walked, trying to not to limp or wince.

His truck company apprehended him quickly express their concern, each obviously having expected him to take the shift off.  He waved away their unease immediately though, ready to work to get his mind off it and ordered them to get started on their duties while he got changed out.

Severide blinked up in surprise at him as he walked by  and was on his feet and following him before Casey could speak.  The two walked in silence for a few paces, neither seeming willing to talk first or even so much as look at the other.

“You alright?” Severide asked at last.

“Fine,” Casey answered shortly, yet not unkindly.  He figured Boden had called Severide to let him know what had gone down since he hadn’t said anything to the other Lieutenant.

Severide remained quiet as Casey intercepted Dawson’s brother who was wielding a folder of mugshots for Casey to look at and directed him towards one of the conference rooms.  Even after he had Casey’s attention again he still didn’t know what to say.  He knew his mouth was opening and closing soundlessly and that he probably looked like an idiot but he still couldn’t figure out what he wanted to say.

Casey didn’t press Severide as the man tried to sort out his thoughts and merely stood there waiting and wondering idly if he too was going to tell him to take the shift off.  Knowing Casey well however, Severide simply said, “Let me know if you need anything.”  Casey didn’t think Severide looked completely satisfied with that but the man had clapped a hand to his shoulder and walked off again before Casey could question him on it.

Casey’s injuries hadn’t required many stitches but those that did pulled painfully as he got changed.  It wasn’t anywhere near the worst thing he’d ever felt - physically at least, that would probably be reserved for the ceaseless agony of blistering skin when he sustained burns - but still Casey found himself gritting his teeth against any potential noises he made.  He changed quickly, slammed his locker shut and limped back out, not wanting to keep Antonio waiting any longer.

Antonio waited until Casey was seated to start talking.  “The guys who assaulted you have a record, guaranteed,” he said and slid the folder across the table to him, gesturing for him to open it.  “Which mean they’ve been processed and we have those tats on file.  See if you can recall one of those.”

Casey opened the hard cover, uncovering pages upon pages of mugshots, with corresponding photographs of tattoos beside them.  He rubbed a hand across his eyes, tired from a sleepless night and began to flip through.

“Sorry to interrupt,” Dawson said as she poked her head around the doorway.  “Just got to grab my stuff.”

Casey nodded a hello before focussing back on the photos before him.  The fight was little more than a blur in his head now, the adrenaline coursing through him having wiped most of the defining characteristics.  Still Casey thought he had a general idea about the tattoo on the man’s arm after spending hours the day before straining his memory.

He was interrupted again barely ten pages in by the buzzing of his phone in his pocket.  Normally he would let it go straight to voicemail and ring the person back later but Hallie’s name flashed back at him and all he could think of for a moment was the sight of her worried face an ignored call was bound to conjure.

“I gotta take this,” Casey said to Antonio, a hint of an apology in his tone as he stood, stretching his stiff muscles and stepped away from the Dawson siblings.  “Hi,” he said into the phone.

I, um, I’m just holding to our agreement.  Just checking in with you.”   Hallie’s voice sounded tired and small over the phone and Casey closed his eyes against the rising feeling of angry, hopelessness that his fiancee was feeling like this and he couldn’t do anything about it.  “ You ok?” she continued oblivious to Casey’s inner turmoil.

“Just looking at photographs of tattoos,” Casey replied.  He knew that it wasn’t quite the answer she was looking for but it would have to do instead of explaining his mixed emotions.  

“You never know,” she said.

“That’s right.”

I love you,” Hallie said and Casey frowned at the tiredness in her tone.  He hadn’t noticed it at the time but looking back over the last few days he could see now the toll the situation with Voight had taken on her.

“I love you too,” he replied, unaware of the audience he suddenly had in the room.  “Hey tomorrow we’ll go out alright.  Forget about all the Voight drama for a little bit.”

He could almost hear smile over the phone line when she responded.  “ Sounds great, Matt.  I’ll talk to you in a bit?”   There was a pause, then, “ Do this the right way.  Or I might have to come down there.”

Casey heard the joke in her voice at the end and despite his tiredness tried to lift his voice similarly.  “So maybe the right way isn’t so right.”

Hallie chuckled softly.  “ Maybe not.”

The blare of the alarm sounded through the station and Hallie fell silent on the other end of the call as they both listened to the call.

Ambulance 61, head injury…”

Casey tuned out when he wasn’t needed for the call and said a quick goodbye to Hallie, all too aware of Antonio waiting for him.  Going through the mug shots and pictures of tattoo was time consuming and boring work and ate up much of Casey’s morning but by the time he’d finished going through the copious pages he’d picked out more than a few viable suspects and tattoos that Antonio promised to chase up.  He waved the detective off and settled in for the relatively slow shift that was to come.


Severide caught up with Anna the next night after their shift ended.  The sex was good as always but Severide couldn’t fully enjoy it with the searing pain in his shoulder and the knowledge of why he was there at the back of his mind.  He ended up on his back - not something that usually happened when he was with a woman - after the pain in his shoulder from holding himself over Anna had gotten too much.

He didn’t want to say he didn’t enjoy the sex with Anna, but it was hard to be totally involved when all he could think about were the pills he was desperate for.

Anna reached her climax with a soft moan, stilling above him as her fingers dug into the muscles of Severide’s chest.  As she leaned down to kiss him breathlessly, Severide too came, spilling into the condom with a muffled groan.  

They gasped into each other’s mouths for a few moments, both struggling to get their breaths back until Anna finally pulled off him and flopped onto the bed with a low laugh.  She curled into Severide’s side, pillowing her head on his chest while they came down from their highs and caught their breath.  Severide draped an arm around her reluctantly, wondering how long he had to wait before he could ask the inevitable and ignored the pain coursing through his right side.

“I’ve missed that,” Anna giggled, pressing an absent kiss to his chest.

Severide didn’t answer, just stared at the ceiling.  Eventually though he found his voice, “I need a favour, Anna.”

She rolled her eyes and pulled away a little, huffing a disbelieving breath.  “Can we just order a little room service first?”

“You asked me to meet you here,” Severide pointed out.  “And I did,” he added unnecessarily.

Anna huffed another exaggerated sigh and rolled over to prop herself up on an elbow, watching him expectantly.  “Fine, go ahead.  You want a favour, I’m listening.”

Severide copied her position, holding his sore arm close to his body.  “I need something ok?  Something strong.”

Anna’s face grew hard and she moved to sit up on the edge of the bed.  When that wasn’t enough she stood, sheet wrapped firmly around her and started to pace.

Severide didn’t speak just watched her warily and pulled himself up to lean against the headboard.

“Job related I’m assuming.”  It wasn’t a question so Severide didn’t answer and Anna didn’t so much as spare at glance at him.  She finally spun on her heel and stared directly at him.  “What is it?”

Severide entertained the thought of lying to her for a second, telling her that it was just a pinched nerve but he knew that if he wanted to get the type of painkillers the pain was demanding he’d need to be honest.

“Crack in my vertebrae,” he said and tried not to wince at the look on her face when she heard that.

Anna resumed her pacing and Severide fell silent again.

“I guess I don’t have to tell you that you should be seeing a doctor right?”  The look on Severide’ face seemed answer enough because Anna nodded and walked faster.  “Look, I’ll try ok.  I’ll see what I can get.”  She rubbed a hand over her face.  “Wait for me to call you, ok?  I’ll get back to you when I hear.”

Severide nodded, though he didn’t know if it was out of thanks or just simple acknowledgment and stood slowly, again lost for words.  He’d never been one for words but this whole interaction with Anna had left him even more speechless.

“I’m going to have a shower,” she said and Severide knew that was his cue to go not invitation to join her.

Severide nodded and mumbled a goodbye but caught her arm before she disappeared into the bathroom suite.

“Thank you for this, Anna, really.”

She managed a tired smile before pulling from his grip.  Severide dressed and left, trying not to let the awkwardness of the situation dampen his relief.


The drama with Voight, which Casey had been able to forget about for a few days all came rushing back during his next shift.  Boden found him on top of truck 81 conducting the mandatory check of the truck and equipment.

“I have someone.”

Casey stilled at the words then set his clipboard aside, shuffling closer to the edge of the truck to listen.

“I know a guy who lives in Voight’s neighbourhood who knows a kid who’s willing to wear a wire.  If you’re up for it, we’ll meet him at the end of the shift?”

Casey nodded his agreement quickly and reached a hand down to clasp with Boden’s.  Boden nodded to him and left, leaving him to finish his work.

But Casey couldn’t concentrate on the truck now.  For the first time in weeks it looked like there was light at the end of the tunnel.  It wasn’t just him that this ordeal had been hard on but Hallie as well not to mention their relationship which had already been rocky to begin with.  So now he could finally breathe a sigh of relief and hope that this would be the end of it.

 

Severide wandered aimlessly through the halls of the station, feeling a little adrift from the lack of calls they’d had that shift.  The squad had only been called out once the whole day and another squad had already been there so they’d barely had to lift a finger before they’d been sent home, leaving Severide with all this restless energy he wasn’t entirely sure how to get rid off.  It was late enough that he could go to bed but he doubted he’d have much luck getting any rest.

So he ambled throughout the station instead, trying not to think about Anna who still hadn’t called him back, or the mountain of paperwork that was quickly piling up on his desk, or the ever present ache in his right side and what he’d do if Anna couldn’t help him, or Casey with who despite everything Severide still wasn’t sure where he stood.  But when he took away all of that there wasn’t a lot for Severide to think about.  Instead he found himself thinking about the good old days, when Darden had still been alive and he and Casey had still been together and everything was just so much simpler.

He found himself drifting through the sleeping quarters.  A couple of the beds were occupied with the lumps of sleeping firefighters, but most were empty, the majority of the house, Severide presumed, like him too wired to sleep.

Casey was awake in his quarters however, thin strips of light visible underneath the drawn blinds and under the door and without really thinking it through he steered himself towards it and was knocking.  At the distracted “come in” he opened the door but didn’t step in yet, choosing instead to lean against the door jamb, giving Casey the space to renege his open welcome.

Casey glanced up at him when he didn’t speak.  “Hey?” he said, voice lifting at the end to make it a question.

“Hey,” Severide replied but still didn’t move from his spot.

Casey made a few more notes on the report he was writing before dropping the pen and turning to him expectantly.  “Are you just going to hover all night or are you going to come in.”

Severide smiled at the fond exasperation in his voice and stepped inside, closing the door behind him and taking a seat on the edge of the bed.  Casey retrieved the pen he’d discarded and went on with his report.  His silence, Severide knew though from knowing Casey wasn’t disinterest but rather an offer for Severide to collect his thoughts before they started whatever this was.

He smoothed his hands over the familiar bedspread almost automatically.  The room hadn’t changed at all since the last time he’d been in here months ago but there was an unfamiliarity around it that had developed since his relationship with Casey had ended.  The feeling didn’t sit well in his stomach and he felt an odd urge to associate himself with every inch of the place.  He circumvented the impulse however and settled for just sitting there.

“How are things with Voight?” Severide asked, eyeing the bruise he could see on Casey’s cheek.  They’d slowly been fading over the past couple of days but even without the visual reminder Severide didn’t think he’d forget the damage inflicted on Casey for a while yet.

He got an unintelligible grunt in response but Severide waited a minute and just when he thought that was all he was going to get, Casey abandoned his report altogether, spun around in his chair and propped his feet up on his desk.

“Boden’s got someone in Voight’s neighbourhood who’s going to wear a wire.”

“That’s great, man.  So this could all be over in a couple of days?”

“Yeah.”

The two fell quiet, but unlike with Anna the silence wasn’t uncomfortable, more reflective as they both contemplated their own thoughts.

“I should have vented the back.”

Severide didn’t remember making the decision to say the words; it was like his mouth opened of its own volition and the words came bursting out but even after they were out and hanging in the air he couldn’t find it within himself to regret saying them.  They hadn’t spoken about Andy since they’d come to their unsteady truce but Severide knew it was a conversation well overdue between them.

Casey moved like lightening.  One minute he was sitting in his chair, tipped back, hands behind his head like he couldn’t be more relaxed and the next he was standing in front of Severide, hands gripping his shoulders, expression fiercely determined.

“No,” he said firmly.  “I shouldn’t have asked you to.  It wasn’t your responsibility.”

Severide reached up and settled a hand on Casey’s neck, needing the contact.

“I should have vented the back,” he murmured.

“I shouldn’t have asked you to,” Casey whispered back.

“Andy should have waited.”

Both Lieutenants blinked in surprise at Severide’s words as if neither could believe he’d actually said it.  But before Severide could feel bad about it, Casey bit his lip and Severide realised that the blonde had been thinking the same thing but had been too afraid to say it.

“God,” he whispered.  

“Yeah,” Casey agreed, hands slipping free of Severide’s shoulders as he moved to sit beside him on the bed.

It was basically the exact thing that the investigator had said months ago at the white-board session but the pair had been too blinded by grief at the time to consider it being anyone’s fault but each other's.  They were both silent as they stared unseeingly at the windows.

“So if it wasn't your fault.  And it wasn't my fault.  Where does that leave us?” Severide asked almost afraid to hear the answer.

“I don't- I don't know, Kelly.”  Casey didn't know what they were when they didn't have the anger as an excuse to keep them apart.

“Maybe what we used to be?” He asked.

There was a long pause where Severide could feel Casey’s eyes digging into the side of his face, a gaze he resolutely ignored before he realised exactly what he'd said.

“Friends,” Severide said quickly, his voice rising in his hurry.  “I meant friends.”  Because shit, Casey had Hallie now.  Severide rubbed a hand over his chin, feeling day old stubble prick at his fingertips and tried to remember a time it had ever been this awkward between them.

“Right, yeah, of course,” Casey said.  A pause then, “Kelly, I’d like that… if we could…”

Severide nodded and the smile that spread across his face was pure relief.  He knew that his behaviour the fast few months hadn't shown it but even before they'd gotten together Casey had been the best friend he'd ever had beside Darden.

He stood from the bed after the moment and gripped Casey’s shoulder briefly.  “I missed you, Matt,” he said quietly.  The rest of the words are on the tip of his tongue, “I’m sorry,” for punching Casey that day, for the anger, for the blame, for pushing him away but then Casey smiled softly at him and Severide suddenly knew that he didn’t need to say them.  As always Casey knew.

“Me too, Kelly,” Casey said, equally quiet and Severide knew that he was agreeing to both sentiments.


Casey was feeling pretty good when he left the house the next day, Antonio and Boden in tow to meet with Boden’s friend and the kid.  As Antonio ran through the process, Casey felt lighter than he had since this whole thing began.  He and Severide were in a somewhat good place again and the end of this was finally in sight.

These hopes were of course quickly dashed when he accepted a call from Hallie.

“Hey baby,” he greeted and waved the other two ahead of him into Antonio’s waiting car.

Matt,” came Hallie’s wary reply and Casey knew instantly that something was wrong.

“Everything alright?”

N-no.  Voight pulled me over last night on my way home; some bullshit excuse about rolling through a stop sign.  He told me to tell you to back off.  And then he threatened us and said something about things getting uglier.  I thought all this would just blow over.”

Casey clenched his teeth down on the impending rage at Voight’s nerve and tried to focus on his distraught girlfriend.

“I get it.  Just why didn’t you call me last night when it happened?”

“I didn’t know what to do, Matt, or if I should even tell you.”

Casey sighed tiredly and rubbed a hand over his face.  “Alright.  I’m taking care of this now.  It’ll all be over soon,” he promised.

Ok.”   There was a beat of silence and then, “ I love you, Matt.”

“Yeah,” he said already climbing into the car and gesturing for Antonio to drive.  “I love you too.”

 

After meeting with Anna everything felt just a little better to Severide and with Vargas basically foaming at the mouth to become a real member of rescue squad he figured he could throw him a bone now that the shift had ended.  So he wandered through the halls of the house holding back any squad members he could find that hadn’t left yet.

“You seen Vargas?” he asked Hadley as they crossed paths going opposite directions in a hallway.

“Yeah, he’s heading in.”

“Ok.  Hey you hear-”

“Roof in ten?  I heard Lieutenant, meet you up there.  Oh hey, you got a call a few minutes ago, by the way,”

Hadley’s words had Severide slowing down and turning apprehensively.

“Some woman named Anna.”

His stomach jolted at hearing her name come out of one of his squad members lops but from Hadley’s tone of voice Severide could tell he didn’t remember her.  He forced a lazy nod and called back a thanks, darting off again before Hadley could question him any further.

He finally found Vargas heading in from the apparatus floor.

“Vargas, grab your rappelling gear and meet me outside.”

“What?  Shift’s ended.”

“You heard me,” was all Severide would say before heading outside himself.

 

They met the kid and Boden’s friend deep in the industrial section of the city, underneath the railway and far away from Voight’s far-reaching and prying eyes.

“This is Darell,” Boden’s friend introduced as they got closer.

“This is Detective Dawson,” Boden returned.

Antonio got right down to business.  “What have you got for us, kid?”

“Voight bad, man.  Whole West Side up and down know to step back.”

“You done favours for him?”

“Yeah.  Enough to get tight anyway.”

“Yeah?  What’s he told you?” Antonio asked, pulling a notebook from his jacket pocket.

“Mess with the lady, expect a payday.”

Casey gritted his teeth and clenched a fist to keep from doing or saying anything that might mess up this deal.  But it wasn’t easy.

“But go after you,” Darell continued, directly to Casey now.  “He said he’d take care of all of us.  ‘Anything you need,’ he said.  ‘Get out of jail free’ passes for me and some others.”

“So you’ll wear a wire?” Casey asked.

The response was immediate.  “Hell yeah.”

“When did Voight reach out last?”

For the first time since they’d started talking Darell hesitated before he gave his answer and even then it wasn’t too confident.

“Two weeks ago?”  The inflection in his voice made it more of a question than a statement and Casey’s stomach twisted.

Antonio pounced on the doubt like a tiger on it’s prey.  “Two weeks?” he asked, voice sharp.

“Maybe a week.”

Casey couldn’t believe his ears, Boden shook his head in disgust and Antonio’s stare pinned the kid in place.

“Well, which is it?”

“A week then.”  The kid said hastily trying to correct his mistake but the damage was already done.

“Aye ya,” Antonio sighed and stuffed his notebook back into his jacket pocket.

“Whatever you want it to be you tell me,” the kid tried but they were having none of it.

“This guy’s full of it,” Casey growled and stalked off to the car.

The kid’s words followed him.  “Look, I get paid, I get you what you want.  Everybody makes out.  It’s capitalism, man.”

But Casey was buying what he was selling and Boden saved him the trouble of answering.

“Get the hell out of here.”

Casey could hear the kid arguing and Boden’s friend apologising but honestly he just didn’t care.  He flung himself into one of the car seat and struck out at the window to vent his frustration.  It wasn’t supposed to have gone down like this; this was supposed to be the end of all this, not just another obstacle.  He took a couple of deep shuddering breaths and tried to ignore how tired he was.

By the time Boden and Antonio joined him in the car he’d collected himself and was gazing disinterestedly out the car window at the bland colours outside.

“No worries, bro,” Antonio said as he started the car.  “We’ll find someone and we’ll nail Voight.”

For his own peace of mind, Casey chose to believe him.

 

Severide knew he’d made the right choice on putting Vargas through his rappelling paces when he saw the grin on his face even as he struggled up onto the roof.

“And time,” he called the moment Vargas’ hand appeared over the ledge and clicked off the stopwatch.  “6:42, ladies,” he announced and stood from his camp chair to survey Hadley and Capp.  “He obliterated your old time,” he told Capp before bending over to help haul Vargas up with his free hand while Hadley laughed at his friend’s expense.

Between Hadley and Severide they got Vargas completely onto the roof while Capp watched from his own chair.

“I’m not helping his ass up here,” he groused.

Severide set up the last camp chair and pulled a beer from the cooler for the man.  “Now sit your ass down, Vargas.  You earned it.”

Vargas detached himself from all the clips and ropes holding him in place and sunk into the chair with a grateful groan.

“Welcome to squad,” Severide grinned, handing over the beer.

“Before breakfast?”

Severide shrugged and took a long pull from his own drink.  “After shift.”

The four man lapsed into an easy silence as they looked over the city, the quiet interrupted only by the sounds of traffic and Vargas’ panting breaths.

Then Hadley said something that had all Severide’s good feelings leaving him in one big rush.

“Did you ever call Anna back?”

“Nah,” Severide said casually.

“Oh now I remember,” Hadley said after a moment.  “Anna.  Yeah, she was a pharmaceutical rep or something like that.”

Severide stiffened slightly at those words and he knew he’d have to say something to put Hadley off whatever track he was following.

He forced a lecherous grin onto his face.  “Was she?  We never really talked.”  He let the implications hang in the air and saw the minute they started running wild in the other’s heads.  He leaned back and enjoyed the show as knowing grins spread across their faces and they laughed, any suspicious thoughts already vanishing from their heads.

Severide was pleasantly warm from the sun and just buzzed enough from the beers to be in that happy place when he climbed down from the room with the others.  But those feelings quickly dissipated and worry replaced them when he caught sight of Casey stalking back into the house, frown deep set on his face.  This meeting was supposed to be the end of all the drama but the frown didn’t suggest good results.  

He caught Boden’s eye where his chief was standing with Antonio but Boden merely offered a solemn headshake.  Severide bade his squad goodbye, headed inside and caught up with Casey in the locker room where the other Lieutenant was packing his bag with a ferocity that the task didn’t warrant.

“I’m guessing it didn’t go well,” Severide said cautiously, leaning against the locker beside Casey’s.

Casey’s response was merely a grunt but Severide waited because he had a feeling Casey wasn't quite done yet.

Sure enough there was only a moment of silence before Casey was continuing.  “The kid was full of shit.  Didn’t know anything.”

Severide winced sympathetically.  “But it’s not over, right?  You’ll find someone else and then you’ll take him down.”

Casey was quiet for so long that Severide actually leaned forward to make sure nothing was wrong.

“Casey?”

“Right yeah.  Of course.”

But Severide heard the lie for what it was because after everything and perhaps in spite of everything Severide knew Casey.  He knew him as well as he had known Andy and well as he knew himself which was why he didn’t believe Casey’s forced nonchalance for a second.

“Don’t,” he said before he could think about it too hard.  Casey shot him a look, part surprised, part daring.  “Whatever stupid thing you’re thinking about doing.  Don’t.  Voight’s not worth that.”

Severide’s voice had steadily risen until he was almost shouting and his voice was ringing around the empty locker room.

Casey felt a spark of anger and he was spinning around, slamming his locker door shut, and pinning Severide with a glare in an instant.

“Me doing something stupid, huh?” he snapped.  “What about you?”

In the chaos of the Voight situation, whatever was going on with Severide’s shoulder had slid to the back of Casey’s mind, yet never leaving it entirely.  Each call brought it back to the front of his mind, the way he acted when they were out on shifts, the methodical way he chewed at his bottom lip as though he was holding something inside, the small winces and groans of pain he thought no one noticed.

Severide narrowed his eyes.  “Don’t do anything stupid,” was all he would say.

“Don’t tell me something you refuse to hear yourself.”

Casey’s lips twisted into a flat line and he gave a half shrug before leaving without another word preventing Severide from asking Casey exactly what he had meant by that.  Although he was pretty sure he already knew what he meant and he’d rather find out how much Casey knew.

 

Severide met Anna in a secluded part of the city and to say he wasn’t impressed with her would be an understatement.  He tried not to think about much this felt like a drug deal as a train rattled past over head and she jogged over, dangerously high heels on her feet.   Don't tell me something you refused to hear yourself .  The words had been echoing in Severide's head the whole way over, reminding him again and again how stupid he was being doing this.  But what other choice did he have?

She must have anticipated his anger however because she started talking before she reached him.  “I know I shouldn’t have called the firehouse.”  She held her hands up placatingly but Severide didn’t comment.  “Here,” she said and offered him the nondescript white paper bag she held.

He felt his irritation ebb away as he opened it and saw the countless blister packets stuffed inside.  “Thank you.”

Anna’s expression was serious.  “Be careful with these.  Take them only when necessary.”

“I will,” Severide said quickly.   Don't tell me something you refused to hear yourself .

Anna nodded and slowly her expression lightened until she was smiling coyly up at him.  “I’m in town two more days,” she said pointedly and quirked an eyebrow.

Severide struggled for something to say but there was no good way to tell someone you’re not interested.  “Cool,” he said finally.  “I’ll let you know.”

He could see by her expression that it wasn’t the right thing to say but her face cleared quickly enough that he didn’t worry too much about it.  She scoffed at him, almost in disbelief and reached up and kissed him.  The way she kissed him it was almost like she was trying to prove what he was missing but he wasn’t falling for it.  He just wasn’t interested.

 

Casey had one more stop before he left the station, though after his conversation with Severide he was doubting himself and the plan that he’d been developing since the failed meeting with Darell.

Don’t do anything stupid.

He flattened his palm on the cool metal of the truck.  Behind the panel was a halligan waiting for him to take and use to make sure Voight never came near him or Hallie again.  He sighed and tipped forward until his forehead rested against the truck as well.

Voight’s not worth that.

And he wasn’t.  Severide had been right about that at least.  He wasn’t worth the consequences that this course of action was sure to bring, wasn’t worth compromising his morals on.  He wasn’t worth anything.  And it had taken Severide of all people for Casey to learn that.

His hand curled into a fist and he slammed it into the red metal just once.  Just to let out all the pain and hopeless before he walked away.

Chapter Text

The second Hallie’s name popped up on his phone, for the first time in years, Severide was on his guard.  They didn’t get along at the best of times but his slowly repairing friendship with Casey was too important to him to not take the call.  So with growing feelings of trepidation he pressed accept.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Kelly."

“What’s up, Hallie?” he said, carefully keeping his tone from getting too sharp or suspicious.

I know you have a shift starting soon.  But I was wondering if we could grab a quick coffee before?  It- it’s about Matt.”

Severide’s stomach dropped immediately to his toes and his mind jumped to the sight of Matt lying bruised and battered in that hospital bed.  If something worse had happened-

“What?” he croaked.

Hallie must had heard the fear in his voice because she was quick to reassure him.   “No,” she said.   “He’s fine.  I just wanted to talk to you about the whole Voight thing.”

Severide swallowed thickly and nodded automatically for a moment before remembering he was on the phone.  “Yeah,” was all he could manage.  He named a cafe near enough to the station and they agreed to meet in half an hour.

He didn’t really have to get moving straight away but after the call he was too worked up and curious about what Hallie could possibly have to say to him that there was no use lazing around the apartment.  Instead he got dressed quickly, throwing on the uniform he usually just took with him just in case their coffee made them late and left, calling a goodbye to a still waking up Shay over his shoulder.

He arrived at the little place, one of his favourites due to it’s proximity to both his apartment and the station, and intimate feeling and grabbed one of the many free tables, the place practically empty due to the early hour.  Anyone else up was lined up for a takeaway coffee on their way to work.

Apparently he wasn’t the only one nervous because he’d barely been sitting there a few minutes before Hallie, looking unhappy and ten minutes early herself was pushing open the door and stepping inside.  He stood at her arrival and they exchanged the polite and obligatory kiss on the cheek and light hug that defined their relationship before taking their seats.

Since she was the one who’d invited him, Severide remained quiet as she settled; she kept her bag on her lap and her jacket remained firmly on her shoulders so Severide supposed that this visit wouldn’t last long.

“Thank you for meeting me,” she said.  The way she said was as though she’d thought he might not have and Severide inwardly cursed himself.  He respected Hallie more than he often showed; she’d done a lot of work helping the sick and poor, he knew she wanted to spend time in developing countries and honestly if they both didn’t love Matt so much that it came between them he thought they might have been friends.  As it was their relationship, once workable had now deteriorated to such a point that she thought he might not come when she called, even if it was about Matt.

“Of course,” he said.

“I hope it wasn’t an inconvenience.  I know your shift is starting soon.”

“Not at all,” Severide said quickly.  “I know this whole Voight thing as been pretty bad so if you ever need anything, you can always call me.”

Hallie’s lips turned up in a surprised smile but her voice was genuine when she thanked him.  “I know you and Matt have been getting close again,” she said, fingers idly playing with her engagement ring.

Severide was saved having to think up a response to that by the sudden appearance of the waitress.  “Can I get you anything?”

“Coffee’s fine,” Hallie answered distractedly.

“Same,” Severide agreed.

“This isn’t something I wanted to go to the Chief about because…” Hallie trailed off and as Severide was waiting for her to continue he was shocked to find tears welling up in her eyes.  “God, I’m so sorry,” she said looking away and Severide reached out and gripped one of her hands, not knowing what else to do.  He wasn’t very good with crying women.

“It’s fine.  What’s wrong?”

Hallie shook her head and sniffed.  “It’s just- it’s the whole Detective Voight thing.”

“I don’t- isn’t Dawson’s brother helping?” Severide asked, thinking of the look on Casey’s face after the failed meeting the other day.

“He has been.  It’s just I have never seen Matt like this and I just have this feeling that something bad is going to happen.”

Severide didn’t confirm her suspicions and tell her about how Matt had seemed last shift, that wouldn’t have helped her, instead he asked her the one thing he could think of.

“What can I do?”

Hallie took a deep breath.  “Matt’s deposition is scheduled after his shift.  Once he testifies against Voight’s son, it’s- it’s all over.  And I don’t know if it’s worth it anymore, just to prove a point.”

Severide stiffened a little at that and tried not to look at her incredulously.  If she seriously thought was doing this, putting them both through it just to prove a point then maybe she didn’t know Matt as well as he’d thought.

He barely heard her as she continued.

“And I’m thinking more and more that maybe Matt shouldn’t go through with it.”

“You should tell Matt this yourself,” he said firmly, hoping to stay out of it.

“I did,” she replied and Severide’s stomach dropped for the second time that morning.  “Last night.  He wouldn’t listen.  But I think he would if it came from you.”

Severide sighed and bit at his lip.  Then he glanced at the clock and realised that he was about to be late for his shift.  Saved by the bell.

“I’ll try my best,” he said as he stood, a non-answer if there ever was one and he gestured to the clock.  

She nodded her understanding and he gave her a grim smile and moved to walk past her but she caught his hand.  “Thank you, Kelly.”  She squeezed his hand and let go allowing him to flee the shop quickly.

It would be one thing, he thought as he drove the short distance to the house, if he actually agreed with what she was saying.  The problem was that he didn’t.  It would be one thing if it was what he would have done.  But he was completely in agreement with Casey and that made it kind of hard to convince Casey not to testify.

He put the thought away to ponder over later as he pulled up outside 51, knowing that his mind had to be totally devoted to the job while he was here.  He was glad he’d worn his uniform in because the shift was just changing and it looked like his men were ready to go; 81 was already gone from their spot.  It was easy enough to toss his bag onto the squad table, grab the gear the others had ready for him and hop into the cab of the truck.

 

From the half-finished graffiti, to the scared teenager clinging to the wall on a ladder, to the lazy sprawl of the 81 company watching from the ground it was pretty clear what had happened.  Casey stood at the bottom, spinning a halligan leisurely in his hands and occasionally offered encouragement to the kid.

“Don’t let go, the Squad will be here soon.”

Severide shook his head head with a snort and made his way over to the Engine truck lined up beneath the ledge, cherry picker fired and up and ready to go.  None of the other trucks had the cherry picker attached, mostly because it was rarely used but Squad members were the only one authorised for this type of rescue.  The Truck members weren’t really needed at all at the scene but regulations were regulations.

Severide climbed up onto the truck, hopped into the basket and set the cherry picker to move.  From there it was just a matter of waiting for the right height, making the minimal adjustments to get himself in the right spot and dodge the falling cans of spray paint as the ladder the kid was on trembled.

“Hold still,” Severide ordered as another one narrowly missed his head.  “Just relax.  Zit?” Severide asked, reading the unfinished name, half-spray painted on the wall and nodded at it.

“I didn’t do that!” the kid protested looking between him and the wall wildly.

Severide shrugged.  “Of course not.

He tugged up on the controls again but the cherry picker had extended as far as it could and there was still a gap between the basket and the kid.

“This is as far as I can go,” he called.

The kid eyed the gap between them and asked incredibly, “You mean drop?”

Severide’s lips thinned into a flat line.  He'd figured between the drop to the basket and the drop to the ground the choice would be relatively easy.

“That's right,” he said pleasantly.

He had no sympathy for these kids.  They got themselves into trouble when every day Severide saw people's lives ravaged by fire they had no control over.  So he had no patience for kids who purposefully put themselves in danger for stupid things like this.

The kid’s eyes were firmly on the ground which Severide could admit looked pretty far away but for Severide who spent most of his days up high or in other dangerous situations he didn’t even blink when he followed the kid’s line of sight.  Casey was the only one he could see, ready to step in if anything went wrong while the rest of the men were leaning against their respective trucks.  He could almost hear Herrmann’s disapproval of the graffiti from up there.

“Just slide on down nice and easy,” Severide said soothingly, reaching up like a parent catching their child jumping into the pool.  “I got you.”

He might have done it then if he hadn’t spied the two cop cars pulling to a halt beneath them.

“You called the cops?!”

The kid inched down slightly, hovering a foot out like he was deliberating jumping and Severide would have hissed in irritation if he had time.  As it was the balance was thrown off and the ladder slid and tipped precariously.

Severide leaned further over the edge, dodging more falling cans and grunted as he tried to reach the flailing kid.  “Now!  Just drop!”

Finally the teenager did as he was told and half leapt, half fell into the basket with a painful sounding thump.

“Coming down,” Severide said into his radio after making sure the kid was alright and turned to direct the basket down after Casey’s radioed “all clear” back.

Down on the ground, Casey watched as Severide made his way back to solid ground.  Out of the corner of his eye he could see Boden approaching his company and Dawson and Shay packing up the stretcher they’d had ready in case an accident occurred.

He also noticed when another unmarked police car pulled up and Voight and a Detective got out.  He stiffened all over and the pair got more than a few head turns as they started to make their way over.  Casey rolled the halligan in his grip and went to meet them, Boden stepping in front of him before he could get close.

“Kelly,” the Chief barked and Severide glanced around the back of the truck he’d just gotten off to see the confrontation about to go down.

He was at Casey’s side in a instant, touching his shoulder gently, warningly.  The rest of the Truck company slowly migrated to their Lieutenant while Boden intercepted Voight.  Severide heard Voight spout some bullshit about needing to see the tag but he couldn’t care less about what came out of his mouth.  He was more focussed on his friend.

“Come on, you don’t want to do this.  Not here.”

Casey’s eyes finally left Voight and met Severide’s own green ones and he relaxed fractionally, stepping back a little.

Boden finished with Voight and turned away, jaw clenched.  “Pack it up,” he ordered.

Casey didn’t move right away but Mouch and Otis started ushering him backwards and the firm presence of Severide’s hand on his back was enough to get him moving.

Voight apparently couldn’t let it go however because the minute Casey turned his back the detective was calling his name.

“You got your deposition tomorrow,” he continued once Casey had glanced back.  Severide didn’t even bother turning, keeping a careful eye on Casey’s face.

“Come on.  Let’s go,” Severide said insistently, catching his shoulder and turning him back around again.  Casey’s muscles were tense under his fingers but he didn’t resist and kept walking.  Until Voight’s next words that is.

“Let me ask you, is that cute, little fiancee of yours gonna be there too?  ‘Cause I gotta tell you, the other night, when we were talking she seemed kinda, I don’t know, shut down.  But by the end of it, she really started to open up.”

Casey had whirled around and was striding towards Voight before Severide or the others could blink.  They caught up fairly quick however and were hauling him back before he could get too far, Severide’s arm going around his chest like an unrelenting steel bar.

Voight’s partner seemed unsettled, hand even going to his holster on impulse but Voight barely blinked.

“Your day’s coming,” Casey snarled but didn’t fight to get any closer.

He slowly stepped back but Severide didn’t let go straight away, hand staying on his back even after he’d turned and started striding back to his truck.  The others he shook off but he allowed Severide’s hand to remain, taking comfort in the steady weight.

 

Casey had just about expected it but that didn’t make it any easier when he was called into Boden’s office when they got back to the house.  Boden order to close the door behind him when he appeared in the doorway told him all he needed to know.

“You alright?” Boden asked, coming around to lean against the front of his desk.

Casey tried to play it off lightly with a scoff and an easy answer but truthfully he was still a little rattled by the encounter, both Voight’s words and the way he’d reacted.

“What do you want to do?” Boden continued.

“About?”

“You.  You want to go out on calls, stay here in the house, take some time off?”

“Go out on calls,” Casey answered immediately.  It wasn’t even really a question.  He thought he’d go crazy if he had to sit at home without work.

“Then you have to do it right.”

‘I have been,’ Casey almost said but he knew he hadn’t; not the last call at least.  He remained silent.

It was as though Boden had read his mind.  “You’ve heard me say this a million times,” he said gently but firmly.  “In this job, regardless of what’s going on in your life, you take your eye off it for one second, people can die.”

Casey nodded slowly.  “You’re right.  I have heard you say that and we’re in agreement.  It won’t happen again.”

“I wish I could do more to fix this, but right now, it is just a matter of trusting the system.”

Casey took that as his dismissal, nodded once more and turned for the doorway.

“But Matt,” Boden said before he left.  “There won’t be another warning.”

He left the office quietly torn between being annoyed with Boden and understanding where he was coming from.

He passed Severide in the hallway with a mumbled “hey” and the other man must have seen something on his face because he doubled back to walk with him.

“Look, man, you want to hit somebody, my buddy has a boxing gym over in Bucktown.  You get a trainer, glove up, hit mitts.  We could head over there after shift.”

The offer was nice enough but Casey was too torn up over his talk with Boden to make a decision right then.

“Yeah, um, maybe.  Let me get back to you.”

“No worries, man.  No pressure.  Just let me know.”

“Thanks,” Casey said and with a clap to Severide’s shoulder he retreated to his private quarters.

 

It was odd sometimes working in a fire station, Casey came to decide long ago.  Some days they never left the station and had to fill up the endless 24 hour shifts.  Others it seemed like they barely set foot back inside before the bells were going off again.  Every day regardless was filled with pain and injury and often, death; they couldn’t save everyone after all.

So it wasn’t that they welcomed the blast of the alarms exactly.  It was hard to welcome something that often involved a person in danger or one of his colleagues almost dying.  But the callouts did break up the monotony of the day if nothing else.  Although with all the risks they took daily sometimes monotony was what Casey craved.

It was one of those days that was already going badly enough that Casey’s stomach lurched when the bells went off again, not wanting to give the universe the chance to mess up his life even more.

Ambulance 61, Truck 81.  Gunshot victim.”

If they were being called out to a gunshot it meant they were probably needed from something as simple as traffic control.  Casey breathed a sigh of relief as he jogged from his office and out onto the apparatus floor.

Severide made a face at him as he ran past, looking bored playing cards with his company.  Casey flashed his own teasing grin back, knowing that if there was a call, Severide would prefer to be on it.  It wasn’t in his nature to sit idly by.

The scene was a mess when they pulled up and Casey could see straight away why they’d been called out.  It was pretty clear what had happened; someone on the bus had been shot and the driver had swerved blocking off all the traffic lined up behind it.  Impatient people were swearing out their open windows and had their hands planted firmly on their horns, the loud noises only adding to the confusion.

The ambo girls and his company began to weave their way through the crowd of cars trying to get to the bus.  Still on edge from the morning’s encounter with Voight Casey was even less in the mood to deal with the rude people than usual.  When a driver yelled some abuse at him he banged on her car’s hood calling a stern warning over his shoulder.

The driver of the bus was waiting for them outside her vehicle and quickly directed Dawson and Shay to the victim.  After confirming that the shooter was gone Casey started commanding his men.

“Cruz, Mills, in the bus.  Cones and flares,” he said to the rest.  “Let’s get these cars moving,” he continued shooting a dark glare at the waiting cars.

From there it was easy but slow work.  There wasn’t enough room to get more than one car through at a time and the driver’s weren’t very grateful about it.  They yelled and whined all wanting to be the first let through and even when they did go past they still hurled insults out open windows more often than not.  They’d all been there before though so they just took it on the chin and waved the next person through.

Then there were the ones who just didn’t listen and held them up even further.  Then at least the other drivers had two people to split their abuse between.  Herrmann, more than a couple of time whistled impatiently before guiding them through.

They’d gotten the bulk of the people through by the time Dawson and Shay came hurrying out with their victim in tow.  The chief had just arrived and Casey’s phone had just buzzed with an incoming text.

Leaving Herrmann in charge of the half dozen cars left Casey walked off to check it, not seeing the impatient car coming for him too quickly before it was too late.  The small nudge at his legs wasn’t enough to hurt so it was shock, annoyance and his pent up feelings from the morning that had him exploding at the angry woman behind the wheel.

“What was that?”

The woman yelled back a answer made unintelligible by the long, drawn out blast of her horn.  The woman waved him away dismissively and tried to edge around him, revving her car more than was strictly necessary.

“You’re going to have to wait,” Casey snapped, unaware of the attention he was receiving from his Chief.

The woman in the car didn’t pay attention to his words and kept going, prompting Casey to roll his eyes.

“Go on then,” he said and stepped out of the way.  She pulled away with nothing more than the screech of tyres and one final curse yelled out the window.  

He didn’t notice the chief approaching until he was right in front, staring him down grimly.

“Casey,” he barked.  “Your shift is over.”

Casey couldn’t believe what he was hearing.

“Oh, come on chief,” he protested.  He knew acting out at civilians was frowned upon to a certain extent and grounds for suspension beyond that but he didn’t think anything he’d said had been that bad.

“No, no, no,” Boden said with a firm shake of his head.  “Go home.  Head for the house.  Whatever you want.  But you are done for today.”

Boden pointed behind him insistently when all Casey could do was stand and gape.  He turned to Herrmann in astonishment but all he got was a sympathetic shrug in response.  Casey shook his head in bewilderment and stalked off without another word, kicking out at the side of the truck in irritation.

 

Severide was searching through the mess cluttering the dispatch bay when truck 81 rolled back onto the apparatus floor.  He’d been halfheartedly trying to look for some report while waiting for the truck company to get back, planning to ask Casey if he wanted to hit the gym with him to relieve his boredom.  When he couldn’t immediately see Casey in his usual spot in the front passenger seat, the same place he sat in his own truck he squinted in confusion.  Confusion which only grew when he saw Otis heading to the equipment room with Casey’s turnout gear.

“Where’s Casey,” he asked Herrmann the minute the man stepped foot inside.

Herrmann’s lips were pressed into a thin, unimpressed line.  “Boden sent him home.  Just left.”

He didn’t wait to get any more information out of Herrmann, turned on his heel and headed for the chief’s office.

“Chief,” he said, exasperation as evident in his voice as the question.

Boden seemed to read his mind because he didn’t need to say anything more than that to understand.

“I’m not taking any more chances.”

Severide didn’t want to know what had gone down at the scene; by the call it seemed like the truck wouldn’t have much to do but if Casey was still worked up about the morning all bets were off.

“He’s doing the right thing,” he reminded Boden.  “And he’s getting his ass kicked for it.”

“You don’t think I know that,” Boden shot back.

“Then he needs to be here,” Severide said.  “Where we can keep an eyes on him.”  He’d almost said ‘where I can keep an eye on him’ but checked himself in time and didn’t give the almost slip much thought.

He was too preoccupied by Boden who was already shaking his head tiredly.  “Kelly, I tried that already.”

“So he’s better off out there by himself, pissed off, not thinking straight-”

“This is a fire house,” Boden hissed, all fired up suddenly and leaning forward over his desk.  “Not just some of the time or for some of the calls.  Any man who walks through that door has gotta be ready.  And if he isn’t he’s gonna be walking in the other direction.”

Severide was quiet.  He knew Boden was right but that didn’t mean he had to be happy about it.

“I am a fire chief first and I am a friend second,” Boden continued in a softer voice.  “Casey’s just gonna have to find his own way from now on.”

“And where do you think that’s going to take him,” Severide said, voice rising as he thought of all the trouble a worked up Casey could get into.  Most of the time he could count on his friend to be calm, logical but when someone came after him or someone he loved, more often than not all that logic went flying out the window.

Boden didn’t flinch however and just calmly regarded his Lieutenant.  “Look Kelly, you can get him here, he’s welcome.  He’ll always be welcome.  I just can’t have him going out on shifts the way he is at the moment.”

“Alright,” Severide said and swallowed thickly.  “Alright, I’ll see what I can do.”

He had his phone out of his pocket and in his hand as soon as he stepped foot outside Boden’s office hitting number one on his speed dial which he hadn’t bothered to change even after he and Casey had split.  The call went straight to voicemail however and Severide had to wonder if it was because Casey had declined his call or because he’d turned his phone off.  If he was being honest, Severide didn’t really like either option.  He hung up without leaving a message and called back figuring that if Casey was ignoring his calls maybe he could annoy him into answering.

Six calls, three voicemails and an aimless wander of the house later and Severide still hadn’t managed to get through to him and Shay had caught up with him.

“Casey?” she guessed as he stuffed in phone into his pocket, leaving his hand there just in case it rang.

He hummed a response and hoped that she wouldn’t start reading too much into this.

“Dawson’s worried too,” she said and Severide gritted his teeth.  He’d prefer she questioned his motives to talking about Dawson’s.

“How bad was it?”

Shay shrugged.  “I’ve seen firefighter’s blow up worse.  Hell Herrmann at Halloween was worse,” she continued recalling the almost fight between Herrmann and the drunk kid.  “Chief’s doing the right thing.  Giving him some time to cool off  He’s going to be fine.”

Severide nodded but honestly, he wasn’t too sure.

 

It should have been nice to be home with Hallie during the day, a rare occurrence with both their shift work.  It felt like they’d hadn’t seen each other properly in weeks.  So it should have been nice to be with her but everything with Voight and Boden churning up inside him was making it kind of difficult.

He paced around the house with Hallie trailing after him the smile on her face when he’d walked through the door having long since disappeared.

“Why don’t we just leave?” she asked.  “We both have vacation time built up.  We could even go longer, I’m sure they would give you a leave of absence.”

The idea was so out of the realm of possibility that Casey made a frustrated noise under his breath and stalked into the kitchen.

“And when we get back?  Voight will have forgotten all about it?”

“So we go where he can’t find us and give the cops enough time to bust him.  Come on, baby,” she said approaching him slowly and slipping her hands up to cup his cheeks.  Exhaustion weighed on him and his eyes closed, his cheeks leaning into her palms.  “Let’s get out of here.  Let’s regroup.”

Her voice was syrupy sweet, caressing every exhausted cell of his body, tempting him into considering the idea and leave behind all the drama.  Then the moment was broken by the firm knock on their door and Casey’s eyes flew open.  Not a few months ago he wouldn’t have blinked twice but now he was overly aware of every place Voight could hit him or Hallie.

“Hold on,” he muttered to her and went to open the door.

He pulled it open to find two grim uniformed police waiting for him.

“Matthew Casey?” the male asked.

“Yeah.”

“We have a warrant to search your home,” he continued gesturing slightly to the piece of paper his partner held.

“What?”

“We got a tip saying that you’re in possession of cocaine.”  When Casey didn’t say anything the officer continued, “Either we can search your house, or you can produce the cocaine and your cooperation will be taken into consideration.”

“It’s Voight,” Casey said, partly to stall and partly because he knew it was true.  “Detective Voight, he put you up to this?”

The police officer’s lips pressed into a flat line.  “No,” he said after a noticeable pause.  “I don’t know any Voight.”

But Casey wasn’t stupid.  He’d been a firefighter long enough to know that police protected their own.  The whole Voight situation was proof enough of that.

“I just know we’re coming in,” he said when Casey didn’t move.

Casey sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose.  Theoretically he knew there was nothing to find in his place but it still felt like such an invasion to let them inside.  Besides he wouldn’t put it past Voight to have planted something.  He just had to hope now that there wasn’t anything to find or that Antonio would be able to explain anything they did find.

Casey stepped aside and let them through, accepting the warrant the female officer offered him as she passed.  He lead them through to the kitchen, reading over the warrant as he went.  Casey knew instantly something was up when he noticed that Hallie had taken off her jacket and put it onto the counter and if the way her fear-filled eyes kept flickering between it and him was any indication, it wasn’t hiding anything good.  He swallowed thickly but didn’t flinch and didn’t hesitate to join her, effectively blocking it from view.

The officer’s didn’t seem to notice anything was up.  “The warrant allows us to search the entire house, and you’re allowed, by law, to stay in the house if you remain cooperative.”

Casey heart was beating wildly in his chest and he knew he had to get them out of his house before they started their search.

“I’m a firefighter,” he said, attempting to reason with them.  “Station 51.  My fiancee is a doctor at Lakeshore.  Do we really look like cocaine users to you?”

The police officers didn’t even blink and Casey figured they’d heard it all before.  “If you could please both go wait in the front room,” the male said.  Neither Casey nor Hallie budged though latter looked between the two men through unshed tears.  “Now,” he growled when they didn’t move.

“Antonio Dawson.”  Casey changed tact.  “He’s a detective in vice.  He’ll tell you, we’re being harassed by this cop.  I have Antoni’s number on my cell.  Will you please just take a second and talk to him.”

The male didn’t budge and didn’t look like he was going to any time soon but the female glanced at Hallie who looked about ready to burst into tears and her stony eyes softened fractionally.

“Please,” Casey repeated.

The female officer glanced at her immoveable partner once before holding out her hand wordlessly.  Casey thumbed through his contacts and handed the phone over.  Thankfully Antonio answered almost immediately.

“Yeah, this is Officer Madden,” she said quietly and took a step away.  We have a search warrant for…” her voice trailed off as she walked further down the hall and Casey turned his attention to Hallie beside him.  The other officer stalked around the kitchen but didn’t say anything.

“It’s alright, baby,” he said slipping an arm around her waist and rubbing comforting circles into her back.  “It’s gonna be alright.”

The female officer returned after only a few minutes and Casey was thankful.  He almost didn’t care what happened as long as he could escape the oppressive air of the kitchen.

“He says they’re clean,” she told her partner with a shrug and handed back the phone.

“If I ever have to come back here again,” the man said obviously annoyed that they’d checked out.  “No favour is going to get you out of it.”

Casey felt himself tense but he bit back the retort building on his tongue, knowing it would only do more damage.  He acquiesced with a wordless nod of his head and was saved answering any further by the sudden burst of chatter on their radios.  They left without another word.

Casey and Hallie waited to hear the door close before they sprang apart, Hallie whipping her jacket out of the way to show Casey the brown package she’d stashed underneath it.

“It was under the table.”

Casey felt his stomach dropped as he grabbed it and felt it’s weight.  He grabbed a nearby knife and split the packaging open, careful not to let any of it spill onto the counter.

“Oh my god,” Hallie let out at the sight of the white powder.

“That’s fifteen years right there,” Casey noted, nodding at it.

“Call Antonio back,” Hallie said immediately.

“Flush it down the toilet.”

Hallie stared at him aghast, like she didn’t even really know him.  “Baby-”

“Flush it down the toilet,” he repeated, voice rising slightly.

She didn’t argue again and hurried from the room, opened package clutched tightly to her chest.  He didn’t wait to see her back, knowing she would only try and stop him and snatched up the keys he’d deposited nearby on the counter and jogged outside.  The tyres of his truck screeched on the road as he sped away but he didn’t slow.  If he thought about it too much he might not go through with it and he was through living his life in fear.  

The trip to Voight’s house was short and he knew the way because he’d called in a favour to find out just in case he ever needed it.

He debated kicking down the door when he got there but figured that would draw more attention than it was worth and instead tapped insistently at the glass pane set into his door.  His fist flew out the moment Voight answered the door, putting the man on the floor before he knew what was happening.  It almost didn’t feel like Casey was the one doing it, more like he was a third party observer, watching someone who looked an awful lot like himself do all these things.

He delivered another swift punch to Voight’s gut when he attempted to scramble upright, putting him back down and keeping him there, winded.  Casey huffed out an agitated breath and shook his now throbbing hand.

“You just committed a couple felonies,” Voight gasped and looked up at Casey unflinchingly.

Casey shrugged.  “I’m ready to commit a few more.”

He didn’t know if he really meant that.  With his heart pounding in his ears and his stomach up in his throat it was hard to think at all.

“I’m telling you,” he said, pointing at the detective.  “It ends now, or you’re the one that’s gonna disappear.

Voight’s hand which, unbeknownst to Casey had been inching towards his ankle suddenly withdrew a small gun from a holster there and pointed it at him.  Casey’s breath stuttered in his chest then stopped altogether when Voight clicked a bullet into place.

“I can respect that,” Voight allowed.  They were quiet for a few long moments where all either of them could do was stare at each other.  Then Voight was dropping the gun to the floor and sliding it across to him.  It bumped into his foot gently and Casey’s gaze dropped.  He blinked at it sluggishly and a small voice at the back of his brain piped up, You’re father was shot.   He’d never looked at guns the same way since.  Casey looked at Voight uncomprehendingly.

“Go ahead,” Voight said pulling himself up onto his elbows.  “Use it,” he dared and unwillingly Casey’s eyes dropped to the gun again.  “You retract that statement against my son.  Or you pull that trigger.  Because that's the only thing that’s gonna stop me.”

He stared down at the gun for another long moment then looked to the photographs around the room.  Voight with his son stared back at him from countless frames  and he remembered with a painful vividity how he’d felt when he’d heard his own father had been shot.  He might not be willing to retract his statement because somewhere out there was another young son stuck in a wheelchair but he also wasn’t going to shoot Voight just for doing what he thought was right for his son.  He kicked the gun back to Voight with a small sound of objection and stepped back.  

Voight didn’t retrieve the gun but merely watched as Casey turned on his heel and walked from the house, leaving the door wide open behind him.  He hurried to his car, dragging in deep gulps of breath into his unresponsive chest.  He clutched at the steering wheel and a small familiar voice whispered in his ear, Don’t do anything stupid.  Voight’s not worth that.

And indeed he wasn’t.  Casey took one more deep breath before turning the key in the ignition and drove off before he could anything else stupid.

 

The shift wound down with a small house fire in the afternoon with Severide praying for a quiet night because the relief lieutenant they’d lumped with Truck 81 was beyond useless.  Severide was truly beginning to wonder if a couple of favours hadn’t been called in to help the guy pass his lieutenant’s exam.

He was half-heartedly playing cards with his squad, not too bothered by his average hand and just considering going to bed when Tony stood, dumping his cards.

“I’m hitting the rack, boys,” he said and wandered off without listening to Hadley’s response.

“Yeah,” Hadley laughed.  “‘Cause you’re getting buried.”

Movement in the shadows outside the house caught Severide’s eye the same time as Hadley because they both watched as Casey exited his truck and took the side entrance into the house.

“Uh-oh,” Hadley muttered, watching him go.

But Severide grinned.  “No, all good.  That’s an ‘I’m with the program’ kind of walk,” he explained at Hadley’s confusion.  He waited a moment before flicking his own cards towards the centre and stood to stretch.  “I think I’m going to turn in too,” he said and ignored the knowing gleam in Hadley’s eyes.

He made his was back to his quarters, calling goodnight to Shay as he passed her and  sprawled out at his desk, reviewing the afternoon fire report a final time before he submitted it the next morning.  He was still there, contemplating his bed when Casey wandered in ten minutes later still dressed in casual clothing.

He flopped down on Severide’s bed and something inside him twinged at how, right , Casey looked spread across the end of the bed, legs overhanging it.

Severide cleared his throat.  “I’m guessing you got your act together then.”

“Yeah,” Casey said quietly.  Then, “Sorry for not calling you back, I just had to…-”

“I get it,” Severide said, saving him from coming up with the right words.  “All good, man.”  He waited for a beat but Casey didn’t speak.  “You wanna talk about it?”

“Yeah,” he said quietly but he didn’t elaborate.  Instead he looked pointedly at the open door and Severide got the memo.  He rolled forward far enough and kicked it shut, doing so with a small clatter.  Then he rolled back so he could see Casey’s face again and simply waited.

So Casey told him all about the cops coming to his place and the cocaine Hallie had found tapped under the table and how close it had all been.

“Shit, he was in your place.”

“I mean, I guess,” Casey said, watching the ceiling shrewdly.  “It wasn’t mine.”

“Well no shit,” Severide retorted and for a brief moment he amused himself entertaining the image of Casey as a cocaine user.  He snorted quietly.

“So what did you do?”

“Flushed it,” Casey said quietly.

“Shit.”

Casey’s head rolled to the side and his piercing blue eyes trapped Severide in their gaze.  “What would you have done?”  There was none of the defensiveness in his voice that any other person would have had but Severide knew Casey well enough to know he was questioning his actions.

“I don’t know,” he replied honestly.  On one hand Casey could have called Antonio but he also knew there was the risk that he wouldn’t have been able to get them out of it or there was flushing the drugs, definitely the more illegal option but with it’s own perks.  “I don’t know,” he repeated.

“Yeah,” Casey sighed and looked back to the ceiling.

“Do you need a place to stay?” Severide asked suddenly and Casey looked at him in surprise.  “Somewhere Voight doesn’t know about.  Because you can come back and stay at our- mine and Shay’s,” he offered, catching himself in time.  “You and Hallie, until this whole thing is sorted out.”  Noting Casey’s surprise he hurried on.  “I know there isn’t a whole lot of room but you’re welcome there and it’d probably be safer.  Besides we miss you there.”

Casey pulled himself up onto an elbow and looked at him with wide, unguarded eyes.  Severide realised his mistake a second too late.

“I mean Shay’s always complaining that she actually has to do housework now,” he said with a forced laugh.

Casey chuckled quietly and dropped back down to lie flat.  “Figures you two would miss my manual labour.”  His voice sounded as weird as Severide’s faked laughter but neither commented on it.

“Yeah.”

“I’ll get back to you about staying.  I’ll give Antonio a couple more days to figure something out but if he can’t… well if you’re still cool with it, I might take you up on that.”

“Whenever Casey.  You’re- you two are always welcome.”  A long silence followed his words, then to change the subject more than anything else, Severide asked, “So what did you do after you found the drugs?”

Casey’s lips thinned momentarily and Severide stiffened in anticipation.  “Went to Voight and punched him.”

“Fuck.  You didn’t.”  But Severide was grinning because finally the man had gotten what he’d deserved.

Casey felt his own grin pulling at his lips and before he knew it they were both grinning broadly.

“Fuck,” Severide said again and shook his head.  “He going to press charges?”

“No, I don’t think so.  I think he was more embarrassed that I got the drop on him.”

“Yeah, scrawny thing like you?  That’s gotta be embarrassing,” Severide teased and Casey kicked out at him but missed abysmally.

Casey suddenly sobered and Severide didn’t have the chance to question the abrupt change because he said, “He gave me a gun and told me to shoot him because that was the only way he’d stop.”

“And you walked away right?”

Casey blinked at the confidence.  “How can you be so sure.  After everything he’s done, how can you be so sure I wouldn’t do it.”

Severide shrugged.  “Because I know you.  And I know that you always do the right thing.”

The memory of the coffee shop that morning tugged at him and all of a sudden he knew what to say to Casey.

“Is Hallie going to the deposition with you tomorrow?”

Casey frowned at the abrupt subject changed but answer nonetheless, “No, she’s got a shift.  Why?”

Severide didn’t answer.  “She asked me to have coffee with her this morning.  Wanted to talk about it,” he added when Casey raised an eyebrow.

The blonde sat up so fast that it made Severide dizzy just watching him.  Casey kept his eyes firmly locked on the blind covered windows in front of him.

“She did, did she?” he asked hollowly.

“Yeah, wanted me to convince you not to do it.”

Casey sounded angry when he replied.  “So is that what you’re saying.  That I should forget about that kid in the wheelchair, forget about everything Voight’s done and just give in.”

Severide remained calm however and didn’t rise to the bait.  He also didn’t mention how Hallie thought he was doing it merely for pride, that wouldn’t help at this point.  “No,” he said calmly but firmly.  “I’m not saying that because it’s not what I would do.  And I know it’s not what you’re going to do.”

“So what are you saying,” Casey said and looked around at him.

“I’m saying… do you want some company?”


The Truck company welcomed back their lieutenant with a loud and very enthusiastic greeting, most whooping when they caught sight of him entering the rec room the next morning.  Herrmann true to his mother hen nature shooed them away before they smothered the poor man.

“Alright, alright.  Don’t turn it into a Greek wedding.  Come on, everybody, just a normal day, go about your business.”

Casey nodded gratefully to him and Herrmann shot back his own small smile in return.  He only managed a few steps closer to the coffee pot when the bells went off, stopping him in his tracks.

Truck 81, Engine 51, Squad 3, Ambulance 61.  Building fire.  Indiana and 28th.”

Casey yanked his jacket from his shoulders and tossed it onto the table as he passed, leading his company out onto the apparatus floor.  He caught Severide’s eyes across the floor where the other lieutenant was approaching his own truck and Severide raised an eyebrow at him: Ready to get back into things?

His lips quirked up in response and ducked his head in a half nod.  They dressed quickly, toeing off their shoes and stepping into the turnout gear and climbed into their respective rig, the ambulance pulling out first with the other three trucks and Boden’s smaller 4 wheel drive right on their heels.

Truck 81 did the initial search upon arrival, determining what exactly had happened and how it might have started.

Herrmann was the one to brief the Chief when he stepped out of his car.  “Hey, Chief.  Dumpster fire.  Nobody called it in and the flames went up the service elevator shaft, spread out on the fifth floor.”

Boden nodded.  “Find the super.  I need occupancy numbers.  What about the main elevator?” he asked, catching Herrmann before he could find the superintendent.

“Otis’ just cleared it.  He’s coming out now with a few more tenants.”

From there Boden took charge as he waited for more companies to arrive.  With the casualties already milling around the lone ambulance it was clear that backup was needed.  He left Dawson in charge there, hoping that it was the right decision and focussed on the burning building.

Surprisingly enough it was Shay who first notice that something was wrong.  “Where are all the people?” she asked, squinting at the building.  “No one’s coming out of the other side of the building.”

Boden’s head snapped around to find that Shay was right and there was a suspicious lack of people coming out of the burning building.  Out of the corner of his eye he could see Casey, who’d been awaiting orders, watching the building as well with calculating eyes.

He tugged his radio closer.  “Squad 3, check out the west side fire stairwell.”

Already on three.  Must be a blockage,” came Severide’s crackling response.   “Capp and Hadley have the east.”

Boden did a few quick calculations and realised that Severide had to be just about on his own and made a quick executive decision.  “I’m sending you Casey, Cruz and Mills.  We need to check out those upper floors.”

Casey was moving before he’d even finished talking.  “On it.”

They entered the smoky building, fighting to see through the murky air and quickly climbed the stairs to find Severide.

Up on the third floor Severide had found the cause for the blockage; junk outside an apartment had been stacked so high and widely that it made it impossible to get through the hallway without bringing the pile raining down.

“You’re kidding me,” he grunted and began shifting the stuff out of the way, hoping Casey and his team would get there soon.

“Severide!” Casey yelled as he, Cruz and Mills cleared the final set of steps separating them.

“Hey, we’ve got to clear a path,” he called back, kicking through the stuff that had fallen to the floor.  It wasn’t the most stable situation but with the fire burning above them they didn’t exactly have a lot of time to do anything else.

Casey left Mills and Cruz to deal with the toppling stack of furniture and stuff and followed Severide through to the apartments that lay beyond.

“Is there anybody back there?” Severide called out.  Almost immediately he collided with a body, grabbing a hold of her when she stumbled.

“They can’t breathe,” the woman said through her own hacking coughs.  “It’s pitch black in there.  There’s people in the hall.”

Severide passed the woman onto Casey who in turn guided her towards Mills and Cruz leaving one of them to take her downstairs and followed the vague shape of Severide further into the shadows.

More people followed her out and Severide and Casey flattened themselves against the wall to give them a way out.

“If you’re mobile, keep walking,” Severide told them.  Casey reached out to stop a young girl from stumbling to the ground and her father wrapped a supporting arm around her waist.  “Slow and steady,” Severide continued.  “There’s paramedics waiting.”

“Hey,” Severide yelled, finding Casey’s shoulder through the din and pulling him closer.  They had to basically lean forehead to forehead to see and hear each other and even then it was a struggle through the black smoke and the roar of flames above them.  “I’ll take this one.”  He indicated the apartment they were standing outside of and felt Casey nod.

“I’m going to go up further.”

Severide checked the apartment slowly and carefully, using his thermal imaging camera when he realised he wouldn’t be able to see through the smoke.  The camera showed four shapes he knew to be humans, heaped on the floor and unmoving.  His heart sunk for a moment, knowing from their conversation that Mills, Cruz and Casey were up on six and having a hell of a time fighting through the flames and smoke.  He had no idea where the rest of the house was and knew that he now had to deal with four unconscious people.  

He pulled his radio closer, updated Shay and Dawson on the victims coming down to them then got to work.  First he dragged them out to the stairwell, knowing that any firefighter’s coming up or down would stumble across them and take them down.  Then he did a quick, cursory check of their injuries; of the four only one looked to have sustained burns, the rest unconscious from smoke inhalation.  While the three couldn’t afford for him to dawdle, the man with burns up his arm and neck was priority so he hoisted him up in his arms and began to jog down the stairs.  There was a woman and a teenaged girl that Severide thought he could get on the next trip and hopefully by then he’d have backup to help with the other man.

Dawson met Severide as he approached and lead him to a free gurney where Shay was waiting.

“Another, red,” Dawson identified.  “This is yours Shay.”

“Got it,” the blonde said and took over while Severide wrestled with his helmet and oxygen mask that had become constricting the second he’d stepped outside.

“Three more up on three,” Severide said, looking up at the building where smoke was spilling out.

“Any burns?” Dawson wanted to know.

“Not on three.  Only him.  But Casey, Cruz and Mills went higher.”

He headed back to the building, Boden surprising him by following him, geared up in a way that Severide hadn’t seen from his Chief in a while.

“Capp, Hadley, meet us in the west stairwell,” Boden said into the radio and Severide didn’t pay attention to the muffled response that they got.

“You ready for this?” Severide asked Boden, who nodded solemnly and tugged his oxygen mask on.  

They ran into the building and up the stairs to the third floor where the three victims were waiting exactly where Severide had left them.  As Severide had predicted he was able to hoist the teenager over his shoulder while picking the oman up in his arms, while Boden was more than strong enough to carry the man.

They met Capp and Hadley on their way up and Capp took the teenager from Severide’s shoulder while Boden passed the man off to Hadley.

“I’m going up,” Boden yelled and didn’t wait for their response to turn on his heel and start climbing again.

It had been too long since they’d heard from the team on seven.  Severide’s stomach churned with fear but he pushed on, just as he’d been trained to do.

 

The air up on eight was burning but Casey didn’t let that deter him as he went from apartment to apartment, kicking down the doors and peering into the small one-room flats.

“Fire department,” he yelled into the black abyss.  “Call out.”  He waited but there was no response and he backed out, dodged around a small cluster of flames licking at the wall and went on to the next one.

Right in the centre of the next apartment was a huddling pair, kneeling on the carpet and looking seconds from passing out.

“Come on.  Come on!” he yelled to them, gesturing and they stumbled up and towards him.

The man slung the woman’s arm around his neck and hoisted her up while Casey took the other side and lead them out into the hallway that was slowly building into an inferno.

“Casey, retreat.  Go back!  You won’t make it.”   Boden’s voice was tight and concerned through the radio and through the haze of smoke and fire Casey could just see his form at the other end of the hallway.

He didn’t stop to question the Chief and shoved the pair back into the apartment, ignoring their protests and looked away from Boden and further down the burning hallway just to see a fireball build and coming hurling down the hallway right at him.  He skidded into the room and slammed the door behind him just in time and thanking God that it had remained intact when he’d kicked it open.

He only had a moment to hope that Boden had gotten out the way fast enough, images of Darden being consumed by flames in his mind when he got his answer.

Casey plus two on eight.  East corner unit.  Move that ladder now!”

 

Down on the ground Severide kicked the men into movement.  Cruz was in the truck in a second and pulling it into position the next.  Raising the ladder took longer and they all had to wait impatiently while Cruz directed it into the precise location.  If Severide hurried him and he got it wrong they’d waste precious seconds recalculating it, seconds that Casey didn’t have.

All the while he had to listen to Casey on the radio.  “ Mayday!  Mayday!”   Casey’s voice sounded tight with worry and Severide had to swallow thickly to stop from barking at Cruz.  “ Not sure how long I can hold it back.”

“Cruz,” he growled, approaching the truck where the firefighter in question was biting his lip in concentration.

“Eight is going to be a reach, Lieutenant,” Cruz answered maneuvering the ladder.

“Just get it as close as you can,” Severide responded already stripping off his oxygen tank and any other gear that would inhibit him when he climbed the ladder.

 

Casey wasn’t a big man; his form would be described more as lithe than muscular but he was a firefighter and between the muscles he did possess and all the gear he carried it was enough to keep the door in place even as the fire crowded against it on the other side.  He’d been around fires for almost half his life so he wasn’t too concerned about his proximity as flames began to gather at the edges of the door but he could see the man’s wide eyes as he took it in, even if the woman hadn’t noticed yet.

“What’s your name?” he asked partly to distract him as he tugged off his oxygen mask and tank and dropped it to the floor.  He struggled to reattach the chinstrap of his helmet as the door buffeted against this back.

“Curtis,” came the hoarse reply.

“Ok, Curtis.  You’re gonna put that on her,” he said, sliding the oxygen across to them.  “Make sure it’s tight around her face.”

The change without his mask on was obvious as suddenly every lungful of air he inhaled burned painfully and his eyes stung from the smoke.  He coughed lightly and hoped that they’d be quick with the ladder.

“Good,” he said, on the tail end of another cough when he noticed the mask was strapped securely to the woman’s face.  Another push from the door had him planting his feet more securely but he tried to ignore it and focus on the pair in front of him.  “Now I want you to open the window.”

Curtis looked from him to the window which lead to an insurmountable drop and Casey knew what Curtis was going to say before he even opened his mouth.

“We ain’t going to make that.”

“Open it!” he barked and Curtis didn’t argue again.

 

The second Cruz had the ladder in the right second Severide was climbing it, moving faster than was probably safe.

“We’re coming for you, Casey.”

Casey’s chuckle was hoarse when it came and his voice sounded even worse.  “ Better make it fast.  It’s getting hot in here.”   Severide knew instantly that Casey had given up his oxygen mask for one of the victims and clenched his teeth.   Idiot.

Severide clambered up the last few rungs, Capp just behind him, one hand firmly attached to the radio, his only way of communicating with Casey.  “All right, tell them to stand in three, two, one,” he finished as he reached the window where smoke billowing out and into his face.

“All right, Curtis get your mum up.”

Severide heard Casey’s voice just over the scream off fire and a pair emerged from the smoke from where he guessed they’d been crouching underneath the window.

The poor woman looked terrified as the man, who Severide assumed was her son, gestured for her to go first and Severide knew that for civilians it didn’t get much scarier than standing, unsecured on a ladder, stretched as far as it would go, eight floors up but there wasn’t time to guide her slowly through this.  Severide took her hand, then her hips as she turned as per his instructions and then pushed her gently down below him, shifting his feet precariously to one side so she could climb down to Capp’s waiting arms.

Once she was out of range Severide climbed back up and gestured to Casey who he could now see hovering by the door.

“Come on!”

But Casey shook his head firmly.  “Not until he’s out.”

Severide relented and didn’t waste time on the sigh, all but yanking the man from the burning building.  

“All right, your turn,” Severide yelled as soon as the man’s hand left the windowsill.

But again Casey shook his head.  “No way.  Not until you’re out of range.”

Severide could have killed him himself then but instead just shoved at the man’s shoulder until he slithered down by Severide’s legs.  After making sure he was secure there he reached a hand out for Casey again.

“Not moving, Matt.  Let go, now!”

“All right, here I come,” Casey yelled back and if there was time Severide might have smiled at the resignation in his tone, as if he was personally being inconvenienced by Severide’s persistence.

But there wasn’t time so instead he ducked his head to talk to the man below him on the ladder.  “All right, hang on and keep your head down.”

Severide flattened himself against the ladder.  He didn’t want to, he wanted to keep his head up and make sure Casey made it out all right.  But he knew that he would only be an obstacle in the way of a very small target and besides, he didn’t much feel like sustaining burns to his face.

Severide heard the moment that Casey made his move because the volume of the flames, which had been a dull roar up until that point suddenly increased until it was all he could hear.  Then he felt the thud of Casey’s weight on his back and for one glorious moment everything was all right.  Because even though the heat was unbearable and the noise terrifying and he could actually feel flames licking at his exposed skin, he could feel Casey’s weight on him and he knew he was safe.

Then that moment ended and he felt Casey slip away.

He flung an arm out without even really thinking about it - certainly not realising it was his bad arm - and seized ahold of stiff turn-out gear.  The handful wasn’t ripped from his grip as he assumed the momentum would do and he prayed that Casey had found something else to hold onto.  Finally the flames cleared and it was safe again for Severide to open his eyes and he didn’t really like what he saw.

Fortunately Casey had managed to grab ahold of one of the rungs on the ladder but that was the only good news.  Casey was dangling below the ladder, one hand on the rung the other on the rail and the grip Severide did have was on his elbow which didn’t give him much leverage.

He watched as Casey’s face contorted and he groaned as he tried to lift himself up.  He didn’t make it more than a few inches upwards before the energy left him and he fell back down and to make matters worse he lost his grip on the railing and in Severide’s surprise he lost his own grip on Casey.  Suddenly Casey was dangling with only one hand on a ladder rung between him and certain death.

“Can’t- can’t get up,” Casey panted and strained with the effort.

Severide just about rolled off the ladder himself trying to get closer to Casey but eventually he grabbed back ahold of his friend.

“Swing,” he ordered, gritting his teeth against the pain shooting up and down his arm.  Strangely enough though this time it wasn’t holding him back; instead it was more urging him on, giving him even more energy to save Casey.  Severide felt as though he could have lifted a truck with his bad arm if it meant saving Casey.

“Come on,” he grunted and slowly he began to swing Casey back and forth bringing him closer to the side of the ladder.  From there once he was in position Casey used his own momentum to swing back and forth until he could a hook a foot over the railing of the ladder and then it was a piece of cake to drag the rest of him up onto the ladder.

The three of them lay there panting for a few minutes.  Casey was tucked between Severide’s front and the railing and Severide was quite content to lie there for a bit, reassuring himself that his friend was all right.  Besides neither of them had the energy to go anywhere fast.  The poor man they’d rescued was squashed beneath of them and their gear and probably copped more than a couple of boots to various parts of his body.

Finally when they heard the hiss of the water cannons being fired up they gathered the energy to lift their heads and watch as the burning building was doused.  Capp or someone came up the ladder from below them and began to guide the man down and slowly Casey and Severide followed, basically sliding over the rungs of the ladder rather than climbing down properly.

When they got to the ground they both just about collapsed on the grass by 61’s ambulance and watched lazily as the truck companies gathered got to work on the flames.  A couple of water bottle were thrown their way by passing firefighter’s and they both guzzled one and tipped the other over their sweaty hair.  Through the glittering water droplets gathering in his eyes Severide found himself grinning at Casey and for a moment they were both inexplicably thinking that life was pretty good.

Then Dawson dropped to the ground beside them and the moment ended.  The woman looked absolutely ragged from the sheer amount of patients they’d been overwhelmed with.  Severide felt a twitch of sympathy for her inside him, especially considering she wasn’t finished yet with Casey’s last two rescues still sitting on the edge of her rig, oxygen masks over their faces.

“That was pretty close, huh?” she asked, speaking more to Casey than Severide.

“Plenty of time.”  Casey’s voice was dismissive, as was the wave of his hand.

Dawson looked and sounded unimpressed.  “Really?”  

She grabbed the helmet Casey had discarded on the ground and held it up, clearly indicating the fresh burn mark that stood out at the back of it.  Casey still didn’t look too concerned and Severide snickered to himself.

“Listen,” he said and changed the subject.  “If you see Hallie at the hospital, don’t tell her about any of this.  I’ve given her enough to worry about lately.”

Dawson nodded slowly and headed back over to her patients.  Casey and Severide watched her go then looked at each other, Severide raising his eyebrows with a smirk.

“What?” Casey muttered but didn’t wait for a response.  “There’s nothing going on.”

Severide shrugged and closed his eyes serenely.  “I just hope you know what you’re doing.”

Severide felt Casey’s kick even through the thick layers of his gear and opened an eye just in time to see Casey lean back on his hands nonchalantly.  They watched Mills come in to send Dawson on to her deposition before figuring they’d better get up and start herding their men back to the trucks.  They hauled each other to their feet and lumbered away, Casey calling a final goodbye to his rescues over his shoulder.

“Take care of your mum, ok?”

They didn’t make it more than a few steps however when the man was calling out to them

“Hey.  Are you Casey?”

Casey cut a look at Severide but he was just as confused.

“Yeah.”

The guy looked reluctant but he stood from the ambulance, stepped away from his mum and closer to them.

“You’re the one who’s got the problem with Detective Voight, right?”

Severide and Casey exchanged another look.

“Yeah, that’s right,” Casey said slowly.

The man shrugged.  “Man, I can help you out.”

 

The deposition was just as boring as Severide feared it would be.  It was full of expert witnesses going on long rambling speeches, the mother of the accused sobbing up on the stand about how good a boy her son was, character statements that were questionable to say the least.  The only good thing was that Casey’s statement went off without a hitch; he spoke clearly and concisely and from the way Voight was glaring at them it was every bit as effective as Severide thought.  If looks could kill, they’d probably both be dead by the end of the court case.  The real cincher was when the kid from the accident wheeled himself in, his parents flanking him.  There was no judge in the world who was going to let Voight’s son off after seeing that.

Severide half expected Voight to come at them the second they stepped out of the courtroom.  But it seemed he was preoccupied dealing with the sobbing wife in his arms.  They escaped from the court steps, both tugging irritably at the ties around their necks and climbed into Severide’s camaro.  Which was when the call from Antonio came in.

The two on the phone seemed to skip the pleasantries and get right to business while Severide tried to read between the lines in the driver’s seat.

“Where?  When?”

Severide hoped that that meant that the guy from the fire - Curtis - was going to help them take out Voight after all.

“I want to be there,” Casey said after a long minute of listening.  Another beat, then, “Ok I’ll see you later.”

“That sounded promising,” Severide noted once Casey had hung up.

“Curtis has agreed to wear a wire,” he said slowly, like he wanted to be excited about it but wasn’t sure if it was going to work out this time.  Severide understood the feeling.

“That’s good, man.  Antonio going to let you be there?”

“Yeah, he is; I don't think he’s too keen but he know how important it is for me to see it actually over.  So if you could just drop me off at the station, Antonio’s going to meet me there later.”

Severide snorted.  “And you’re what going to wait around for hours?  Nah, want me to drop you home?  Be with Hallie?”

“On shift,” Casey grunted back and looked unconvinced.

“Come on, man.  Nothing’s going to happen for a few hours yet.  Let’s do something, take your mind of it.”

Casey looked up at him from underneath his eyelashes, all uncertainty and shyness that Severide rarely saw from him.  “That offer for boxing still on the table?”

“Yeah,” Severide found himself murmuring, looking away from the road just long enough to catch Casey’s eye.  “Yeah it is.”

 

Having Casey back as his best friend again was probably the best thing in Severide’s life what with his messed up neck and all.  Which was why he was cursing his traitorous body to the ends of the earth for reacting to the sight of a flushed, and sweaty Casey.

It hadn’t been much of a problem at first; Casey had immediately ducked into a ring, needing to vent his frustration on another living being rather than the bags where Severide had been trying to loosen up his shoulder for a bit.  It was only when he parted with a trainer of his own where he’d been half-heartedly sparring and leant up against the ropes to watch the end of Casey’s fight, that the sight of his face, colour on his cheekbones and hair sticking everywhere with sweat brought back memories of more, pleasurable times when they’d gotten hot and sweaty together.

The realisation that he was still attracted to Casey hit him like a hammer to the back of the head and he physically jolted.  Internally though he was already rationalising it.  It made sense, he reasoned, that the physical attraction was still there.  They’d been together for a long time and objectively Casey hadn’t changed physically.  Severide figured that physical attraction might never fade but it didn’t have to reflect the way he felt emotionally.  Right.

“...Severide…”

The man in question blinked and snapped out of his inner monologue, looking around to find an expectant looking Casey, watching him with a dash of amusement in his bright, blue eyes.  Severide’s gaze skittered away again.

“Done yet?” he joked, voice sounding off to his own ears but Casey’s expression remained amused so Severide counted it as a win.  “I’ve been waiting for ages.”

Casey scoffed.  “It’s barely been ten minutes since you came over.  

“Shower then food?” Severide offered and tried not to be too happy about it when Casey agreed quickly.

 

The meet was taking place in some alleyway in one of the nastier parts of the city and Casey thought he was more nervous than when he ran into burning buildings.  His palms were damp with sweat and his knee was bouncing uncontrollably, annoying even him.  He was grateful however that Severide had taken him boxing to get his mind off it or he knew he would have been a complete wreck by the time they arrived.

The van they were waiting in was parked around the corner from the alley, lights and engine off, elusive in the growing shadows of the night.  Casey sat with Antonio in the back, monitors lining the walls, patched into the few working traffic cameras nearby with the audio feed from Curtis’ microphone playing like background noise through the van.

They weren’t waiting more than fifteen minutes before a car pulled up alongside Curtis and a familiar hardened detective stepped from within it’s depths.

“Here we go,” Antonio muttered and Casey shifted slightly, nerves wound tight.

“What’s happening, youngblood?” they heard Voight say as they watched him offer a hand to Curtis.  

“What’s up with you, V,” came Curtis’ cool reply.  They hugged briefly and clapped each other on the back before stepping back and getting down to business.  “Deshawn said there’s money to be made on the firefighter.  I want his deal.”

“He tell you who it is?”

Casey gritted his teeth knowing that Voight would have to be the one to say his name if they wanted to get him on this.  Curtis however remained composed and barely blinked.

“Yeah, but I wasn’t really paying attention ‘till he said something about the money.”  Curtis delivered the words with a half unconcerned half apologetic shrug, selling the act with all he had.

Voight must have bought it because he barely hesitated before he spoke again.  “His name is Casey.”

Antonio looked over and nodded slowly and Casey knew that they had him.  No one moved yet and Casey knew that they’d talked to Curtis about waiting to see what else they could get on Voight.

“How much?” Curtis wanted to know.

“Depends on services rendered.”

“Well, Deshawn said his boys got 5 for jumping him.”  Casey had already heard this before - Curtis had given up the names he had - but his stomach still twisted a little at being reminded that Voight had actually paid someone to beat him up.  

“I figure I could do a lot worse for a grand,” Curtis continued.

“Brother, you stop him for good, I’ll give you 2.”

Those were the words Antonio apparently needed to hear because his head whipped around to the officer manning the controls and confirmed that they’d gotten it all on tape before lifting the radio to his mouth sending the waiting units into surround Voight.

“Move in.”

He leapt from the van leaving Casey to listen to the blare of alarms, twice as loud as they echoed over Curtis’ microphone.  Casey heard Curtis’ final comment before the yells of Antonio and the other officers overpowered everything.

“They ain’t here for me, bro.”

Then officers were yelling for him to lift his hands and Casey got the satisfaction of watching as Voight was thrown bodily over the hood of the nearest car by Antonio and cuffs were snapped neatly on his wrists.

Casey stepped down from the van and slowly walked over, catching Voight’s eye.

“Enjoy it while you can,” he said, cool as you please even as he was being lead to the backseat of the police car.  “This is entrapment.”

“You’re cooked, youngblood,” Antonio spat back, mocking Voight’s earlier words before forcing him into the car and out of Casey’s sight.  Good riddance, he thought bitterly.

 

Severide was listlessly watching the start of a hockey game when he got the call.  He tapped the green accept button beneath Casey’s name, a flower of apprehension unfurling in his chest.

“Hey?” he said but the nerves made it more a question than anything else.

“We got him,” Casey said rather than a hello and Severide’s head dropped to the back of the lounge in relief.

“That’s great, Matt.  I’m happy for you,” he said, an insane grin stretching across his face.

“Thanks,” Casey said quietly.  “Hey are you coming to Dawson’s suspension party?”

Severide made a face even though Casey couldn’t see it and squinted at the television as a team he didn’t really care about scored a goal.

“Eh, Shay’s trying to bully me into going but I was thinking about blowing her off and just staying in tonight.  The hockey’s on.”

He heard Casey laugh over the line and prepared himself for the taunt he’d opened himself up for.

Casey didn’t disappoint.  “Alright Grandpa, tell me who’s on and I’ll leave you alone.”

“I’m only a year older than you,” Severide protested weakly as he tried to identify the colours of the jersey’s on screen.

“Mmmmm,” Casey hummed in response, clearly waiting for him to get to it.

“I don’t know,” Severide conceded, watching as one of the unnamed teams slammed the puck home again.

“That’s what I thought,” Casey said sounding way too smug, Severide thought.  “I’ll see you at Mills’ diner.  We’ve got to have a drink to celebrate.”

“All right, all right,” Severide conceded with a chuckle switching the television off and clambering to his feet just as Shay appeared at the top of the stairs.  “Hey and Casey, congratulations about Voight, I know this has been hard on you.”

Casey’s voice was light and happy when he answered.  “Rear view mirror, baby.  Rear view mirror,” he said and hung up, promising to see Severide in a few minutes.  The whole way there Casey’s endearment echoed in his head, like a painful reminder of what they used to have.

Chapter Text

If Casey was pressed to choose the thing he’d learnt most working as a firefighter, it would probably be appreciating the little things.  A small group of preschoolers cheering for them might not have meant a lot to any other person and it certainly wasn’t the home cooked turkey dinner with their families that each member of house 51 had been hoping for this year, but it was enough to bring smiles to each of their faces.

Though those were quickly wiped off when they had to go back in, in search of the janitor who they found in the basement in the middle of a meth lab.

Herrmann’s disappointed words summed up the feelings of just about the entire house.  “Really, Leonard, with the kids up there?”

Severide turned off all the burning flames while the truck guys lugged the unconscious man out of there before following them out.  

The pain in his neck hadn’t been too bad during the shift, not having acted up on any of the morning calls, and briefly, naively, Severide had thought that that had meant that despite what the doctor had said, his neck might be getting better.  He was brought back to harsh reality at the end of the call when he tried putting his gear away, intense pain shooting throughout his right side as soon as he tried to lift the halligan, something he’d never had trouble with before.

A strangled yell left him despite his attempts to stifle it and he had to hastily set the tool down again lest he drop it with undoubtedly loud consequences.  He dug the blister packets from the leg pocket of his turnout pants popping one of the strong pills without letting himself think about it.  The relief wasn’t instantaneous but Severide knew it would be coming soon and Severide pulled his helmet from his head and leant his sweaty forehead to the cool metal of the truck interior.

“Can I get everyone to gather up.”

Severide shifted the halligan to his other hand and hefted it onto the shelf with a grunt and shuffled outside, waiting impatiently for the pills to kick in.

“Ok I’ve talked to the higher ups and everyone on scene will be having a baseline drug test.  Today.”

Severide’s heart simultaneously dropped to his stomach and leapt to his throat the sensation and the words making him want to throw up.

“Happy Thanksgiving,” he heard Otis snark distantly but was too preoccupied trying to keep his composure, making sure his face showed only appropriate irritation at the inconvenience and not the absolute turmoil of fear and desperation that was writhing inside him.

“Hey, Chief, Dawson and I didn’t go down there,” Severide heard Shay protest and turned to listen, anything to distract him.

“I don’t care,” Boden said, not unkindly.  “Anybody on the premises.  We have to know how much any of you have in your system.”

Shay nodded reluctantly and joined Dawson at the gurney wheeling their patient away and toward the ambulance.  Severide waited for Boden to wander away and for Dawson to climb into the back of the rig and shut the doors behind her to catch up with Shay.

“Hey,” he said after a surreptitious glance around him.

“Hey,” Shay said slowly, already weary.

“I may have taken something this morning,” he confessed, feeling a hysterical smile tug at his lips.  Even as the pain in his shoulder receded, the churning feelings in his stomach intensified.

Shay narrowed her eyes.  “Toradol?”

Severide hummed faux thoughtfully, stalling.  “Stronger,” he said finally when Shay moved to push past him.

“What?”

Severide glanced around again and dug the blister packet of pills from his pocket already knowing what she was going to say.  As expected Shay took one look at the writing on the foil and scoffed.

“Michael Jackson couldn’t have handled those.  Where’d you get them?”

But Severide wasn’t selling Anna out that easily.

“Will it show up on the test?” he asked instead.

“Will these narcotics show up on a drug test?” she asked sarcastically.  Severide expected her to walk away at that but she surprised him by staring defiantly up at him not moving an inch.  He could only hold her gaze for a few moments before he had to step back and look away, the crushing sense of hopelessness rushing over him.  Even as he closed his eyes for a moment he could still see the hard edge in Shay’s eyes devoid of all warmth and now not only was he afraid of the drug test but also of the very real chance of losing his best friend.  He turned back to say something, anything but she was already gone, slamming the door of the ambulance behind her and peeling away from the sidewalk.

Severide ducked his head in momentarily shame before schooling his features, squaring his shoulders and heading back to his truck and waiting crew, unaware of the eyes drilling holes in his back.

 

Now that Voight had finally been put away and he and Hallie were safe, Casey could finally focus on something that had been bothering him since before the drama all started.  Something was wrong with Severide, he knew that, had known that for weeks now but every time he’d tried to focus on it, get Severide alone to talk, Voight had done something else to drive it from his mind.  That wouldn’t be happening this time.

Casey’s eyes were on Severide’s retreating back when he jumped from the truck and onto the apparatus floor back at 51, which was why he didn’t see Hallie until her hand was closing around his wrist and she was pressing a kiss to his cheek.

“Hey baby.  Thought we could hang out for an hour or so before the parade.”  The suggestiveness in her voice and smile told Casey all he needed to know about what they’d be doing for that hour and he felt instantly torn.  

He glanced back to Severide to find the man seated at the Squad table being dealt into a new hand of cards.  Hallie’s eyes were narrowed at him when he turned back and he smiled apologetically.

“Why don’t you go wait in my quarters.  I just need to talk to Severide about something real quick.  I’ll only be a few minutes,” he added when she didn’t say a word and her expression showed no signs of lightening.

“What’s so important that it can’t wait an hour,” she said.  Casey could tell that she was trying to keep her tone light but the tightness in her voice ruined any attempt.

“It’s uh- hard to explain.”

Hallie spun away without another word and Casey fought the urge to curse.  Things between them should have been better than ever, now that Voight was locked away and they could get on with the rest of their lives.  But things had been oddly strained over the last few weeks, odd fights that seemed to crop up over nothing, Hallie snapping at him out of the blue, muttered comments as she turned away.  Casey had put it all down to the lingering stress of the arrest but he knew that eventually they’d have to talk about it.  Especially after this.  But first: Severide.

Casey approached the table just in time to see that Severide had folded from the game, catching a glimpse of the rubbish hand before it was tossed down.

“Hey,” he said leaning on the back of Severide’s chair and sending it tilting back.

“Hey,” Severide responded twisting in his chair to meet his eye.

“Got a sec?  I need to talk to you about something.”  

Severide spun around completely in chair - forcing Casey to straighten - so he could face the other man completely.  His brow was furrowed in concern and when he spoke his tone was deliberately light.

“Sounds serious.”

Casey looked over his shoulder, relieved to see the squad crew was still thoroughly engrossed in their game.

“Uh, yeah, kind of is.”

He could feel Severide’s eyes scanning his face, trying to read the situation but didn’t betray anything.  This wasn’t something that needed to be discussed in front of everyone.

Severide stood with a nod.  “Sure, let’s do it.”

Casey jerked his head to indicate inside, planning on this going down in Severide’s own quarters but they only got a step towards the doors when the bells when off stopping both of them in their tracks.

“Squad 3, Assistance required at 134 Franklin street.”

Severide looked at him apologetically while his crew burst into action around them.

“Raincheck?” he asked and what could Casey say?  It wasn’t like he could say no.

“Go,” he said.  “This can wait.”

He got a brief smile in return and stepped back, out of the way of the rushing firefighter’s watching them pile into the truck and take off with little more than a burst of sirens and screech of rubber on tarmac, leaving him to deal with the undoubtedly angry fiancee waiting for him.

As he’d expected, Casey found Hallie pacing the tiny room with her arms folded irritably across her chest.  She shut the door after him and he noticed with a grimace that she’d let down the blinds to block out the rest of the house.  He was definitely in trouble.

“So is this how it's going to be?” she hissed, practically spitting in her rage.

Casey had been considering taking a seat at his desk but he quickly got the feeling this was a conversation he’d rather be standing for.

“How what’s going to be,” he ventured carefully.

“Oh don’t play dumb with me, Matt,” she snapped.  “Severide; now that you two are all buddy buddy again, I’m just going to be pushed out again.”

“What are you talking about-” he tried.

“Don’t give me that,” she said.  “Taking his opinion over mine?  Keeping secrets?”

“When I have taken Severide’s opinion over yours in this relationship?” Casey hissed back, mindful of the firefighters on the other side of the door.

“The Voight deposition.”

“Oh, you mean how you went behind my back to my best friend to manipulate me into doing what you wanted. And if I had done what you wanted Voight still would be out there and not locked up like he is.”

“Yeah and we could have ended up dead in the process.”

Casey rolled his eyes, mostly just because he knew it would annoy Hallie even more.  “You really don’t have much faith in me, do you.  I had a place lined up.  I would have kept us safe.”

“Where?” Hallie asked flatly.

“What?”

“What place did you have ‘lined up’?”

“Severide’s,” Casey admitted with a shrug.

Hallie scoffed and looked away, muttering under her breath an exasperated “Of course.”

“What was that?” Casey demanded, ducking slightly so he could catch her eye.

Hallie looked up at him slowly.  “You really don’t see it, do you?” she asked in disbelief.

Casey crossed his arms defensively, hackles rising at the implication that he was missing.  “Severide offered,” he said gruffly.  “He just wanted to see us safe.”

Hallie scoffed again, though less harshly this time and somehow that was worst because to Casey it felt like she pitied him now.  “Trust me the last thing Kelly Severide wants is to keep me safe.”

Before Casey can call her out on that and demand to know why on earth Severide would want her hurt - they may not get along but his best friend certainly didn’t want his fiancee dead - she changed the subject.

“Don’t think I’ve forgotten that you’re keeping secrets from me.”

Casey’s hang flung into the air angrily.  “There’s no secret,” he exploded, unable to care now who heard him.  “I just needed to talk to Severide about something.”

“Must have been pretty important to blow me off,” she noted coolly, the calm one now.

“What for five minutes?” Casey scoffed.

Hallie glared at him.  “Please we both know you two would have talk for an hour if he hadn’t been called away.  And it’s not the first time.”

Casey wanted to scoff again but he was growing tired of the circular argument and knew that it would only incite Hallie’s rage further.  Since their reconciliation he had been hanging out with Severide more and sometimes those times occurred when Hallie was off shift but he had never cancelled plans with her to hang out with Severide.  Still he didn’t point that out because if they started fighting about that they’d never get this resolved.

“Regardless, I’m not keeping secrets from you.  It was just something I’ve wanted to check with Severide for a while and that was the only chance I’d gotten.  I could be completely wrong and it could be nothing.”

“So tell me what it is,” Hallie said, without missing a beat.

“What?”

She shrugged.  “If it’s so small, you can tell me what it is.”

But Casey didn’t even have to consider that option.  There was no way he was going to give away one of Severide’s secrets.

He shook his head.  “If it is something, then it’s not my secret to tell.”

Hallie’s cool demeanour slipped away again and molten anger peeked out, sending Casey’s head spinning as he tried to keep up with her moods.

“We’re going to be married Matt.  That means no secrets.”

“I won’t do it, Hallie,” he said resolutely, turning to busy himself meaninglessly with the clutter on his desk.

But Hallie wouldn’t let up.  “So I guess you really don’t love me, if you can’t even tell me this.”

“He’s the most important person to me!” Casey yelled, losing control for the first time since they’d started fighting.

Everything grew silent after his outburst and Casey froze in horror as he realised what he’d said.  He dared a peek at Hallie, the last thing he wanted to do and found that all the anger and annoyance had slipped from her face, leaving only a hurt look that was physically painful for him to look at.  Then she blinked and her features smoothed over into a blank mask.

“That’s not what I meant-,” he backtracked.  “I mean other than you of course-  I love you, Hallie, I do.  It just- I mean- He’s my best friend.  And he’s always been there for me.”

“No, of course,” she said hollowly.  “I understand what you meant.  It’s alright.”

But it wasn’t because she couldn’t even look at him and he had no idea what to say to make this better.

Casey didn’t know if the knock at the door was a blessing or just another unfortunate part of this day.

“Uh, Lieutenant,” came Mills voice.  “You got some visitors.”

Casey’s eyes slipped closed in tired resignation.  It was clear from the kid’s voice that he’d probably heard a good part of what had just been said and while he might love his house unconditionally he could admit that it was full of gossips which meant his relationship trouble would be known by every person within it by the time they all sat down to a turkey dinner that night.

“Thanks, Mills,” he said finally and waited until he heard the kid walk away before he even looked at Hallie.  When he did he found she was already watching him, eyes and face still unreadable.

“They’re early,” she offered after a long moment, referring to her sister Vivian and her two kids Hallie was accompanying to the Thanksgiving parade.

Casey exhaled slowly what might have been an agreement.

“I should probably go.”

Casey nodded dazedly, his shouted words still ringing relentlessly in his ears.  He pressed a kiss to her cheek as she passed but he guessed she only allowed it because she was still in shock over the fight.

“I’ll see you later?” he asked, watching her leave.

But Hallie only nodded absently and left without a word, shutting the door quietly behind her.  Once she was gone he finally allowed himself to sink into his desk chair, buried his face in his hands, releasing a shaky breath.

“Fuck,” he said, utterly defeated.

 

He’d barely been sitting there, running over every word of the argument, for five minutes when his door opened again and he hurriedly sat upright again, looking every bit the perfect picture of composure.

Herrmann stood watching him from the open doorway, not looking nearly as fooled as Casey had hoped.

“Saw Hallie leave here in a rush, Lieutenant,” he commented lightly.  “Just wanted to make sure everything’s ok.”

It was only their long friendship that kept Casey from telling the man to mind his own business.  As it was Casey regarded his former mentor for a moment before sighing wearily.

“Everything's fine, Herrmann.”  When the man look unconvinced Casey continued, “Really, we just had an argument.  Hallie thinks…” but he found himself trailing off, not wanting to give voice to the issue because there really wasn't anything going on between him and Severide.  Right?  “Let's put it this way: Hallie has nothing to worry about.”

But Herrmann merely hummed, thoughtfully and unconvinced.  Thankfully he didn’t offer anything more on the subject; Casey didn’t know if he could survive another scrutiny of his friendship with Severide.

Instead Herrmann just said, “Buy you a cup of coffee, Lieutenant?”

Resisting the urge to point out that the coffee was free here, Casey nodded gratefully and followed him from the room.

 

Turns out Casey had been spot on about Mills because the minute he stepped inside the noisy rec room everyone grew quiet before Mouch started talking loudly about the Thanksgiving Parade, giving it shit like he did every year.  Out of the corner of his eye he caught Herrmann’s glare and the way Mills looked like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

Casey didn’t let it bother him while Herrmann went about making up a fresh pot of coffee leaving his lieutenant to listen to Cruz try to convince Mouch that parade detail wasn’t all that bad.

“Peter Mills,” Mouch called, just to prove Cruz wrong.  “Hold up your arm.”

After a moment’s hesitation Mills did so, abandoning the lunch he was preparing.

“Now keep it there for five hours,” Mouch continued.  “That’s what being in the parade is.”

The room snickered a little and Mills shook his head with a small smile and got back to the food in front of him.  But Cruz wasn’t convinced.

“Mills,” he said, twisting in his seat to look at the candidate.  “The shriners - they throw out candy - clean up, man,” he finished, envy colouring his words.

Herrmann handed Casey his coffee which he took with a murmured thanks and the pair took a seat at the table just as Otis wandered in, arms full of some kind of camera gear.

“Now listen,” Otis started earning the room’s attention.  “I know you guys are gonna give me crap for this.”

“Go on,” Herrmann said slowly, apprehensively.

Otis took a deep breath as though he was bracing himself for a hit and said, “I want to start a podcast.”

A beat of silence.  Then.

“What the hell is that?”

Casey chuckled at the confusion on Herrmann’s face while Otis heaved another weary sigh.

“Well, I record myself being equal parts charming and brilliant,” he explained patiently.  “Then I put it up on iTunes. And people subscribe, and they follow me.”

“A mute would be better at that than you,” Herrmann put in and the room erupted into laughter.

Otis took it good naturedly though and continued unperturbed.  “It’s going to be a “Day in the Life of a Chicago Firefighter” sort of thing.

“We have a slow day, and you're just gonna reinforce the stereotype that all we do is sit around and eat.”

Mouch didn’t seem to notice the irony of his statement especially as he crammed another morsel of cake into his mouth but Otis seemed to be struggling not to comment.  Eventually though he got himself under control and turned to Casey.

“You got a problem with it, Lieutenant?”

Casey considered it.  He doubted Otis could do any real damage with the podcast and it might just bring them a little good press for once.

“Go for it.”

The squad company came filtering through, having just returned from their call, lead by Severide and followed by Boden.  On his way past Severide made a swipe for Casey’s coffee but the blonde evaded his clutches and nudged the other man towards the still steaming pot with his foot.  The easy smile on Severide’s face slipped away at Boden’s announcement however.

“Drug tester’s on his way.  And again, this is mandatory.”

Casey noting the change in Severide’s demeanour rolled over, looking up at him carefully.

“Everything ok?”

“Yeah, fine.”  The smile Severide gave him was forced and the words a lie and Casey almost called him out on it.  But he was more interested in getting to that conversation they hadn’t gotten to have that morning than a white lie Severide had told him.  He opened his mouth to suggest they go to Severide’s office when the other man smiled at him apologetically.  “Gotta go make a call.  See you later?”

“Sure,” Casey murmured but Severide was already gone.

The ring of the bells and the call for them at a gunshot scene kept Casey from pondering on Severide too hard.  The Truck company jogged outside with the Ambo girls right on their heels, leaving Squad 3 in the warm comforts of the station.

The scene was deserted but for a lone kid sprawled out on the curb, or so it seemed.  The second they left the safety of their truck, shots rang out, amplified as they struck the side of the fire engine.  The firefighter’s dropped to the ground without a thought, some scrambling back inside, while others wriggled underneath, and the rest ducked around to the other side.

Hidden under the engine, Casey checked to make sure Otis beside him was alright before focussing in on the scene.  Over the radio he could hear Dawson shout desperately for backup.

“This is ambulance 61, I need a 10-1 at Elmwood Park.  They’re still shooting here!”

“Copy that,” came the cool reply from dispatch.

Another well aimed shot took out one of the truck windows showering Otis and Casey in broken glass as they desperately turned their unprotected faces away.

“Where the hell’s the CPD?” Otis yelled, fear motivating his anger.

The victim on the ground groaned painfully and called out for help.  “Help me, I’m bleeding.”

Casey heard Cruz yell something to the shooters in rapid fire Spanish but either they couldn’t hear him or didn’t care for what he’d said because they fired off another few rounds.  Casey glanced around, forming a quick plan in his head before whistling softly to get Dawson’s attention where she was crouched behind the ambulance with Shay.

“Truck,” he mouthed when she looked over.   “Ambulance, barrier, move.”

She squinted at him, obviously confused and he fought the urge to curse and groan knowing it wouldn’t be helpful and merely repeated his message, accompanied this time with hand motions.  Finally after what seemed like a decade Dawson’s eyes cleared and she nodded her understanding, leaving Casey to hope she’d understood correctly.

He and Otis shuffled out the other side where the rest of the company were waiting for instructions.

“Cruz,” he called.  “Can you drive the truck forward so we can use it as a barrier and stay out of the line of fire?”

Cruz glanced at the window the shooters were standing at and thought for a moment.  “I should be all right.”

“Ok.  Be careful.”

He jumped up into the cab of the truck, making sure to keep as far left as he could and slowly began to drive forward, slowly enough that the firefighter’s still on the ground could keep up.  Shay drove the ambulance closer to the victim and parked it in the safe shadow of the truck which was taking more and more gunshots as the shooters tried to take them out, to no avail.

While Dawson, Shay, Mouch and Mills tended to the bloodied victim another kid came slithering out of the nearby shrubbery, where he’d been apparently hiding from the gunfight.

“Yo,” he said cool as anything and watching them tend to the other victim.  “Yo, there’s another kid over there by that tree.”

While Dawson strained to see the supposed kid Shay and the firefighter’s lifted the first victim, loading him up onto the ambulance.

“You got this, Shay?”

“Yeah,” the blonde said, still focussed on her patient.

Herrmann moved away to meet the oncoming sirens of police and Casey nodded at Otis and Cruz to go with Dawson.  Casey helped Shay load the patient, watching as bandage after bandage was soaked through with crimson, blood, waiting for Dawson to return.

She did only a minute later, slightly breathless from running and clambered into the back while Shay took the wheel.

“The other victim?” he had to know.

“Arm wound.  He’ll be fine.  I’ve already called for another ambulance,” she panted.

Casey nodded and slammed the doors shut, Shay taking off immediately with a screech of rubber on tarmac, leaving him and his truck company to wait for the other ambulance.  But only a few moments later and Cruz appeared holding who Casey presumed was the other victim in his arms, with a confused Otis trailing behind.

“Help in him,” Cruz spat, ignoring the rest of the company’s questions and Mouch and Herrmann helped pull him into the back.

“Cruz,” Casey snapped, needing to know what was going on.

“He’s my brother,” the firefighter said short and simple and Casey nodded his understanding thinking of his own sister.  Cruz climbed into the back with his brother and Casey found himself in the driver’s seat, a place he hadn’t been for years.

The ride to Lakeshore was quick and tense, ending with Cruz leaping out of the truck to follow his brother while the rest of the company trailed behind a little slower.  But his brother, Leon, had ended up fine as they heard from the doctor.  Casey had offered Cruz the rest of the shift off but the man had declined after barely a moment’s thought and Casey didn’t push; he got the feeling that relationship was a complicated one.

 

The moment the call connected Severide got right to the point, “Is there anyway to mask the use of those pills you gave me.”

Anna on the other end of the line was appropriately.  “ Kelly?  Is that you?  What are you talking about?”

“There was an incident on scene this morning and there’s a mandatory drug test,” he explained impatiently.  “Is there some masking agent I could take?”

“To throw off a drug test?  Today?  Come on.”   Anna’s voice was pure exasperation but Severide could hear the hint of fear as well, because he was breaking the law taking the pills but she’d also broken the law giving them to him.

“Look, I’m looking for a way- any way out here.  What- what about poppy seed muffins or something like that?” he asked scrambling for anything he’d heard masked drug use.  “I heard that-”

Do you have 70 of them?  Because that’s what it would take,” she snapped.

Severide buried his face in his free hand, feeling his pulse thudding against his fingertips.

Look, I warned you ,” her voice was unapologetic now and Severide wanted to hate her for it, for being the one who would get out of this but he couldn’t.  This was all on him.   “Please leave my name out of this.”   The beep signalled the end of the call and resounded in his ear for a long moment before he finally pulled the phone away from his ear and tossed it down on the desk.

If Severide was a petty man he might have entertained the idea of giving them Anna’s name just because but as it was he didn’t even consider it.  Because at the end of the day this was on him and Anna had only given him those pills as a favour; he wasn’t about to throw her under the bus for that.  So he would just have to man up and take what was coming.

 

The drug tester, Jenkins found him not too much later and as it turned out, Severide was better at lying to himself than he’d thought because he thought he was ready for this.  But all it took was one look at that innocuous cup and all he could see was what his life would become if he went through with it.  No job.  No benefits.  He’d thought the life his father was leading - living off benefits, fishing all day, doing the odd job when money was tight - was hell, but looking at what his life might become, Severide found himself wishing for it.  He’d told himself he was ready but now that it was time to face it all he could think of was ways to get out of it.

 

By the time dinner was rolling around Casey still hadn’t heard from Hallie and he was starting to get worried.  She’d promised to stop by for a bite to eat before meeting her parents for dinner.

 

Casey: Hey, you still coming by for dinner?

The rec room was a flurry of activity around him; Herrmann and the kid Boden had invited around, Ernie were setting the table, Mills had a very eager audience watching him put the finishing touches on dinner, members of the Squad were messing around with the radio looking for thanksgiving music to play during dinner and Severide was explaining apologetically to Jenkins how he misplaced his tester cup.  Casey was too distracted by the ping of Hallie’s responding text to wonder what Severide could have possibly been doing to lose the cup.

 

Hallie : I’m going to go straight to the club with my parents.

The way she didn’t offer up an excuse or add in an apology for basically blowing him off told Casey all he needed to know about how things were going to go down next time they saw each other.

The appearance of the turkey at the head of the table stopped Casey from brooding too deeply about the state of his relationship.  Mills came to the table laden down with bowls and platters of delicious smelling food.

“Okay, we’ve got cranberries, gravy, that stuffing is the sh-” Mills broke off when he caught sight of Ernie halfway down the table.  “Uh that- that stuffing is really good,” he amended.

“This is the best looking bird we’ve had in years,” Boden said picking up the carving knives as the house took their seats all down the table.

Otis tapped his knife and fork together to get everyone’s attention.  “Ok, what are we going to name it?”

A mixture of weary groans and laughter echoed down the table and Elise, Mills’ sister who had stopped by to help get dinner ready frowned in confusion.

“Name it?” she asked, setting the last bowl down on the table.

“Yep.  Always name the bird before you eat it.  Usually after an old girlfriend or boyfriend or something,” Boden explained and Elise laughed.

“Interesting,” she giggled and the rest of the table laughed again.

Only Cruz didn’t seem amused by their strange tradition.  He was glaring at the table and only spoke when he suggested they name the bird, “Leon.”

The laughter died down and Otis looked to his friend in concern.  “You want to name the bird after your own brother?”

“After today?”

“Leon it is,” Otis announced with a shrug.

Boden had just settled the tip of the knife to the flesh of the bird, preparing to carve when the blare of alarms sounded and a simultaneous groan travelled around the room.

“Squad 3, Truck 81, Engine 51, Ambulance 61.”

Chairs were pushed back all up and down the table and Elise wielded a roll of cling wrap to save the feast while they were gone.  Severide dug the cup from his pocket and tossed it to Jenkins as he passed.

“I’ll hit it when I get back,” he promised and hurried off before the other man could reply.

 

The trucks of House 51 pulled up to the sight of a run of the mill garage fire, light smoke drifting out onto the road, enveloping the three arguing people out the front.

“Turkey fire, guaranteed,” Herrmann muttered as they left the truck.  No one bothered contradicting him because of course he was right.

“What happened?” Casey asked as they approached.

“Uncle Brad is what happened,” the woman drawled contemptuously, glaring at the older man out of the pair with her.

“I know how to deep-fry a goddamned turkey, Sharon,” he argued back.  “ You put in too much grease.”

“You can’t fry a beer can turkey,” she countered.

Casey growing tired of their arguing broke in, “Is everyone out of the house?”

“Duh,” the woman said with an eye roll.

“Why aren’t you putting out the fucking fire,” the second man wanted to know.

“Engine will be here any moment,” was all Casey said in response.  “Cruz tell Squad they can head back.”

“Allright, is anybody hurt?  Is anybody burned?” Shay asked.

The three shook their heads and Dawson clapped her hands together.  “Ok.  ‘Cause we’re going to go back and eat.”

Otis watched the pair go sadly.  The entire company was annoyed they were stuck here with the still arguing trio when they could have been enjoying their dinner by now.

The sudden outbreak of a fight between the two men drew their attention however and the firefighters were quick to jump between them while Casey kept the woman from joining the fray.  Mills had to wrestle the younger of the two to the ground before he would stop struggling and then what he said made Casey wish for the fight back.

“Oh God.  My snowmobile.”

The truck company snapped around to look in horror as the flames danced closer to the snowmobile in the corner as the newly arrived engine company approached to put it out.  A slight shift in the breeze was enough to force contact between the fire and the snowmobile and it immediately went up taking half the garage with it.

Casey and his company burst into action heading around back to make a vent while the engine company worked at it from the front.

“Window,” he said pointing and two firefighters, Otis and Herrmann immediately began tearing at the boards covering it while Casey went for the back door, breaking it down with a well aimed swing of his axe.  With the back opened and the hoses set up out the front the blaze was doused easily enough and leaving engine 51 to do the minimal overhaul, 81 hurried back into their truck and pulled away quickly.  

Unable to help himself Casey called a saccharine sweet “Happy Thanksgiving” out the open window to the still arguing trio.

 

They arrived back at the house to find an impatient Dawson and Shay waiting for them.

“What took you so long?” Shay wanted to know as Casey peeled off his jacket and stripped off his turnout pants.

“Turned into something a little bigger,” he explained.  Shay nodded distractedly and wiped at an errant line of soot across his cheek.

“And Severide?”

Casey frowned at her.  “Severide?  We sent them back before you.”

Shay blinked.  “Well he’s not back yet.”

Unease started to form in Casey’s stomach but still he tried to shrug it off like it was nothing.  “Probably just got held up in traffic.  I’m sure they’ll be here soon.”

Shay nodded but Casey still saw something hard in her eyes that he made a note to ask about another time when it wasn’t Thanksgiving Day.  He looped an arm around her shoulders and guided her inside along with the rest of the house where Otis and Cruz were trying to convince Mills to microwave the turkey.

 

Severide knew it was stupid, and fruitless but on the way back from the call he couldn’t but help but order Tony to fill up the tank adding a good half an hour to their trip.

“We’ve got three quarters of a tank,” Tony said carefully, the closest he would ever come to disobeying his lieutenant.

“Let’s do it anyway,” Severide said trying to keep his voice light despite battling the steadily increasing terror building inside him.  He toyed with the religious medallion around his neck, a nervous tick he’d never been able to shake and tried not to think about Jenkins waiting for him back at 51.

 

Severide didn’t even manage to make inside the house before Jenkins found him, holding out a cup wordlessly and he knew he was finally out of options.

“Coming right up,” he promised with a smile that felt forced and headed to the bathroom, heart sinking to his stomach.  He was so caught up in his own torment that he didn’t notice Shay following him from the room until she found him at the sinks, contemplating his reflection in the mirror.

She didn’t say a word as she dropped the full container on the sink beside his hand and he didn’t insult her by thanking her.  He met her eye in the mirror though and hoped that he conveyed how grateful he was.  Her eyes remained hard and she turned away without another word.

It was suddenly like he could breathe again when Severide left the bathroom, feeling lighter than he had all day.  And he knew that he shouldn’t feel this elated.  He knew, he knew, that something was going to have to give and that it was quickly becoming a choice between this secret and his friendship with Shay.  But that was tomorrow’s problem and he couldn’t help but be so fucking grateful that it wasn’t all going to end tonight.

The dinner was just getting laid out for the second time that night, the turkey being slid from the oven when the bells went off again.  

“Squad 3, Truck 81, Engine 51, Ambulance 61.”

Severide could hear the groans from his fellow firefighters and could practically hear Jenkins annoyance.  So he threw him a bone, almost literally.  The cup of urine went sailing through the air and Jenkins caught it against his generous stomach looking half terrified that it would open and half disgusted.

“Sorry it took so long,” Severide said with an almost savage grin.  He wouldn’t be sorry to see the back of the man.

 

Traffic was backed up for miles as they approached the scene which didn’t bode well for the nature of the accident.  Casey counted at least ten cars that were out of commission and that wasn’t even close to the heart of the accident.

They headed straight for a woman standing beside her car, frantically calling for help for her husband.  Dawson and Shay headed straight for her while Casey focussed on the cars crowded around it, knowing that getting a stretcher near would be difficult without moving them first.  He and his company fanned out, intent on getting all the bystanders out of their cars before they moved anything.

The last car they had to clear had a couple in the front seat pinned tightly and the doors refused to budge.  The husband looked unconscious but the woman was panting harshly, interspersed  with pained grunts.

“I’ve got a pin in over here,” Casey yelled and the rest of his company scrambled to get the gear.  “Ma’am, you ok?”

But the woman didn’t answer and after a long moment she managed a slight shake of her head.

“Ok, I need to cover your face.”  

Casey waited until she turned her head away and lifted an arm to cover her face and together he and Cruz began to saw at the cracked windshield.  Through the spidery cracks spanning the glass Casey saw the man start to come round.

“Carol,” he mumbled.  Slowly he looked around.  “Carol, are you ok?”

But the woman, Carol’s, only response was a long yell of pain and Casey doubled his pace, testing the balance of speed and keeping the windshield in one piece.

“Oh my God,” the man yelled.

Finally the windscreen came away and Casey passed it off to someone behind him so he could get closer to the couple.

“Sir, we’re going to get her out.  We’ll get a paramedic over here as soon as we can.”  Casey had heard Boden ask dispatch for reinforcements but so far their house was alone out there.

“She’s having a baby,” the husband broke in, looking wide eyed between his wife and Casey.  As it was Casey could only gape back for a few long moments before the man yelled “Do something!” jolting him back into action.

Casey stepped away from the car, taking a moment to breathe and reorientation himself before barking orders.  “Ok, we need to move this car and get this door open,” he called, pointing to the car wedged right up beside the couple’s car.

While Casey stayed with the couple, he kept an eye on his company as they surrounded the car that needed moving and then on Cruz’ count began to shift it sideways.  They wouldn’t be able to move it far like this, in such small increments but they got it far enough that Casey could get a halligan in and start tearing at the jammed doors.  A minute later Casey had the door off and was hauling it out of the way.  Cruz helped the man out while Casey helped the woman shift until she was sitting sideways in her seat, legs dangling out of the car.

He pulled his radio closer, “Dawson, Shay?”  

For a moment all he could hear was Dawson talking to another victim and Shay barking orders at a tow truck driver but then, “ Yeah, Casey.”

“I need you guys up next to 81.”

Shay’s voice wasn’t apologetic when she replied but Casey didn’t take it personally.  “ We’re stuck here, Casey.  Arterial bleed.  Mic’s open.”

“Uh, I got a woman about to give birth on the highway.”

From the way Carol was grunting, Casey didn't think they had time to get her to 61, let alone wait for another ambulance to show up.

“Is the baby crowning?”

Casey ducked between the woman’s legs shifting her skirt aside to look and squinted trying to see in the dark.  A moment later a torch appeared over his shoulder and sure enough he could see the top of the baby’s head for a few moments before it disappeared again.  He related the news to Dawson and Shay.

“Oh God, he’s coming!” the girl screamed.  “I can feel him coming.”

Distantly Casey felt a twinge of sympathy for the woman, out of the all the outcomes she’d imagined leading up to this day this was the one she’d probably never considered.

Dawson’s voice came over the radio, “ Ok, you’re going to have to do this, Casey.”

If there was time Casey might have been terrified at the prospect of helping a woman give birth.  He had basic medical training sure and had picked up a few things after being a firefighter for almost 12 years but this was a whole new world.

“Otis,” he barked and the man hurried forward to take the helmet Casey gave him, closely followed by his turnout jacket.  He unwound the radio from his chest and flipped it to open and chucked it onto the dash where he could hear it.

“Ok, tell me what to do, Dawson.”

Tell me what you see.”

He squinted between her legs and tried to describe what he was seeing best he could.  “Uh, I can see the head.  It keeps coming out and then going back in.”

Tell her to push.”

He sat up a bit so he could see her face.  “You gotta push, Carol.”

“I am,” she panted and screamed as another contraction tore through her.

“You can do it, Carol!” he encouraged grabbing her free hand, giving her another thing to squeeze as she pushed.  Casey hated to say it but he knew they were getting nowhere like this.  “Push harder.”

“I am,” she screeched again, digging her nail into his hand and beside him he heard her husband yelp as he received the same treatment but Casey barely felt the sting.

“Ok,” he said and waited until she met his eye.  “One big breath in and then a push.  Ok?  Let’s do this.”

She fought to catch her breath and then with a drawn out, wailing scream that tore across the night sky she pushed and Casey knew this was it.  He yanked his hand away so he could guide the baby out and cradle it’s impossibly small form against his chest.  But as quickly as he’d known that final push was the one he knew now just as quickly that something was wrong.

Shay must have known to.   “Casey ?” she asked when he didn’t speak for a moment.

“Shay, he’s not crying.  I don’t think he’s breathing.”

Above him Carol had started to sob and her husband just seemed to be in shock because he didn’t say a word.  The hand that held the torch trembled slightly.

“It’s an obstructed airway.  You have to put your mouth over the baby’s nose and mouth and breathe for it.  It’s just like CPR.”

The baby felt even smaller under his mouth as he forcibly pushed breath into it’s little body, begging it silently to just take a breath.  To just breathe.

Casey,” he heard Dawson say.

But he couldn’t focus on her.  He couldn’t even focus on Carol who was asking over and over if her baby was ok.  All he could focus on was making  sure he didn’t lose this baby in the middle of the highway.

Finally he leant back, gasping for breath and waited, ready to dive back in when he heard it - possibly the most beautiful sound he heard in his life up until that point - the little cry the baby gave when it first drew breath.  The sound built until the baby was full out wailing for it's mother, joined now by the quiet, relieved laughter of the firefighters around them and then the clapping, sounding like rain at first until it was thunderous as Casey handed the baby up to Carol.  

He fell to the side after that as the other firefighters whooped their feelings out into the night air, joyous for the sight of birth when they were so used to death.  Casey reached up, slightly startled to find his cheeks damp with tears.  It was a long moment before he could look away, give Carol and husband a moment of privacy with their new baby boy and his eyes fell on Severide, breath stolen away for the second time that night by the pure, unguarded smile on the man’s face, the smile Casey had always loved and he felt his heart burst all over again.

The men finally began to disperse, tending to the miscellaneous victims still wandering the scene and a new pair of paramedics arrived to take care of Carol but Casey only had eyes for Severide.  He didn’t know what this was between them; it didn’t feel just like friendship, maybe they weren’t capable of that anymore but if felt like something and that both scared the hell out of him and exhilarated him in equal parts.

 

The sun was just scraping the horizon when House 51 finally got their Thanksgiving dinner.  Thanks to the wonders of Mills’ talented hands the turkey was still amazing but the time they got to eat it and nothing had gone cold yet.

“Great shift men,” Boden said surveying his house with a rare grin.  “Proud of all of you.  Leon,” he said pointing to the bird now and gathered up the carving knives.  “Your time has come.”

The last shift must had had an effect on Cruz, Casey thought because he said, “Hey Chief.  Maybe another name?”

“Sure.”

“Call it ‘Jenkins the piss guy’,” Mouch piped up, still perturbed by the man.

“Jenkins, it is,” Boden chuckled amidst the laughter of the rest of the House and finally, finally began to carve, serving up the thick slabs of meat quickly before anything else could go wrong.  “You’ll be pleased to know that all your tests came through negative on meth or any other drug.”

Severide’s smile fell slightly at the reminder but it was hard to be melancholy when the noises of his family were all overlaid the top of each other, asking each other to pass dishes down, complementing Mills on the excellent cooking, joking, and laughing.  His shoulder could be tomorrow’s problem, today all he had to focus on what was he did have and all that he was thankful for.


And the problems did catch up with Severide the next day because the second they stepped out of the house and got to his car Shay was on him.

“What were you gonna do?” she asked, staring at him over the top of his car.

“I don’t know,” he admitted.  He knew it sounded stupid but in that moment he couldn’t come up with a better answer.

Shay was silent for several long, charged moments.  “I don’t who this is, Kelly, but it isn’t you,” she said finally.

“Do you want a ride or not?” he asked just to change the subject.  Just to get her off his back for a little while longer.  Until they could get back to the apartment.

But Shay wasn’t having it.  “You know what?” she said and stepped back.  “Happy Thanksgiving.”  She slammed the car door shut and stalked off down the street without a backwards glance.

He’d known this was coming but he’d still had no idea how to stop it and all he could think of was how he was losing another important person so he did the only thing he could think of: slam his fist into the side of his car, hard.

 

Casey arrived at Hallie’s apartment still high on the adrenaline of the last call and he hurried inside, ready to put their stupid fight behind them and talk about this amazing thing he’d felt when he’d given that baby his breath.  But all that drained away when he found Hallie at the dining room table, tears on her face and her engagement ring on the table in front of her.

“Hallie?”

Her head jerked up and it was clear she’d been waiting for him because she stood and faced him.

“I don’t…” he trailed off at a loss for words.  He’d known the fight that morning before hadn’t been the best but he hadn’t ever thought it would result in this.

“I really don’t know what we are anymore,” she said in this heartbroken voice that made Casey just want to hug her and apologise for doing this to her.

He dropped his bag onto an empty chair and took a step closer but jerked to a holt when she stepped away.

“If this is about-”

“It is,” she said and sniffed wiping at her face with the heels of her eyes.  “It is about him.”

“Nothing’s happened between me and Kelly,” he said weakly and the unspoken yet hung in the air between them.

“And I believe you,” she said with a watery smile.  “But I also think you’re lying to yourself if you think you don’t still love him.”

“I don’t,” he said, angry unexpectedly

“And that’s the saddest thing of all,” she said quietly and Casey hated the pity in her eyes.  “Lakeshore’s funding a trip to Africa to do some relief work.  They asked me to go and I wasn’t going to because of us.  But now… well I think it’ll be good for me.  I just need some time to move on from you, get some new perspectives.”

“If you need to move on then why are we doing this?” he asked, angrier still but Hallie ignored the question.

“I know it doesn’t seem like it but I do love you Matt.  And before you say it I know you love me too.  But that doesn’t mean we were meant to be.  He’ll always be that one person you can’t live without.”  Casey wanted to protest but found the words sticking in his throat.  Her smile was bittersweet as she approached him carefully to brush a final kiss across his cheek.  “Don’t wait too long,” she whispered, warm breath ghosting across his skin.  “You deserve to be happy with him, Matt.”  She stepped back and cleared her throat.  “I’ll give you some time to get your stuff.”

And that should have been harsh, should have been the final kick in the balls but Casey could see how hard this was for her, could the emotion warring in her eyes and let her walk away without a fight.

It took a depressingly short time to locate all the accumulated items that had made their way to Hallie’s apartment.  Casey was sure he’d missed a few things, a CD here, a t-shirt there but he trusted Hallie to get them to him.  He paused at the kitchen table on his way out, box of belongings in his hands and stared down at the engagement ring glinting against the wood, took the time to pick it up, deliberate whether to take it with him, wonder if that’s what she wanted.  But in the end he put it back down again because it didn’t mean anything to him anymore.

 

He was sitting downstairs in his truck when his phone started to buzz and he had to wonder if the universe loved irony because it was Severide’s name lighting up the screen.

“You want to buy me a drink,” Casey said instead of a proper greeting.

Severide’s voice was low and smooth over the phone.   “I was just about to suggest that myself.  Personally I wouldn’t mind forgetting the last few hours.  Why are you drinking Matt?”

Casey didn’t answer the question and didn’t ask Severide the same either.

I guess I can afford to buy your lightweight ass a round or two.  What’s that old adage anyway, a round of drinks for the deliverer of a baby?”

Casey snorted, lightweight his ass.  “Sounds right to me.”

Severide chuckled.  “ Meet you there in ten?”

“See you in ten,” Casey said quietly and dropped the phone to the passenger seat, feeling unexpectedly thoughtful.  Today might have brought the end of him and Hallie but maybe there was another new beginning on the horizon after all.

Chapter Text

 

Life without Hallie was odd, though not quite as painful as Casey had expected.  A week later and all he had really noticed was that he disliked the quiet of a night and that sometimes his days off were a bit too solitary for his liking; but Severide’s growing reentry to his life kept him from missing her too much.  So aside from a few sympathetic glances from his fellow firefighters as the news inevitably spread throughout the house, life went on as normal.  It was the same house, the same people, getting into the same ridiculous situations.  And maybe that shouldn’t have been as comforting for Casey as it was.  But it was so Casey wasn’t complaining.

“Why the hell are you studying Japanese?” Casey asked peering over Mouch’s shoulder to try and decipher the strange symbols scrawled across the page of his book.

“I read online,” he replied.  “That once you turn 50, your brain starts to atrophy unless you keep it in shape.”

Cruz, beside him on the lounge leaned over to take a look at the book before rolling his eyes with a disbelieving huff.

“I think that train’s already left the station, Mouch,” Shay quipped from the table without looking up from her own book.

“Say something in Japanese,” Cruz demanded, still looking skeptical.

“I just started,” Mouch protested.

The chatter was all still the same and it circled Casey, wrapping around him like an embrace as he retreated to get himself a cup of coffee.  As alright as he was after Hallie leaving, she’d still left a hole inside him.  But each day that passed with the people that reminded him of everything that he still had, it continued to shrink.

“Hey where’s Herrmann?”

“Seminar.”

“I got 20 bucks that says in two weeks, you won’t be able to string along a sentence in Japanese.”

“Easiest money I ever made.”

“What’s today?” Otis wanted to know just so Mouch got two weeks and two weeks only.

Casey felt utterly content there, leaning back against the kitchen counter, hot coffee steadily warming his hands and surrounded by some of his favourite people.  Which was why when Dawson answered Otis’ question the realisation hit him like a lightning bolt, changing his feeling so quickly he felt physically sick.

Catching his agitation, Dawson asked, “Everything alright?”

He smiled gently at the concern but didn’t want to get into it with her while half his company was in earshot so he just nodded and excused himself, leaving the rec room and heading for the living quarters, seeking a certain Squad Lieutenant.

The door to Severide’s quarters was closed but Casey didn’t let that deter him when he reached it.  The man in question jerked upright at the sudden intrusion and Casey spared half an apologetic thought wondering if maybe he should have knocked but brushed it off as he took a seat on the man’s bed.

Rather than looking annoyed however Severide turned away from his paperwork altogether and before Casey could start, started talking himself.

“So during the past week, during which we had drinks several times and went to a hockey game together you didn’t think to mention you’d broken off your engagement?”

Casey choked on his sip of coffee and blinked up at his friend who was looking at him intensely with an eyebrow raised.  “Oh,” he said dumbly.  “That.”

“Yeah, that.” Severide said.  “And to make matters worse when I didn’t finally hear about it, it wasn’t from you, my best friend.  No I had to hear it from Shay who heard it from Dawson.”

While the twitch of his lip betrayed Severide’s amusement, Casey could detect a hint of hurt hidden deep in his eyes.  He just didn’t know if it was the Dawson part of the story that bothered him or the rest of it.

He shrugged and finally looked away, staring down into the rich, brown depths of his coffee instead.  “The breakup was... boring, I guess.  Amicable.  I would have told you eventually.”

Severide remained silent and when Casey dared a glance up it was to find Severide looking at him, a hint of a smile playing around the edges of his mouth.  Casey returned the smile and kicked out at him gently before resettling himself against Severide’s pillows.

“Nice job distracting me, by the way.”

Severide’s grin broadened, though something in his eyes grew softer.  For once Casey didn’t bristle at the show of sympathy.  “Caught that did you.”

“You’re a lot of things Sev, subtle, isn’t one of them.”

Severide chuckled and the pair lapsed into a comfortable.  Casey considered his coffee for a long moment but didn’t drink - he’d lost his appetite - before he finally said what he’d come here to talk about.

“I forgot.”

Severide understood immediately, a relief to Casey who thought he’d have to elaborate and didn’t think he’d have the stomach for it.  But instead he nodded his head and was quiet for a moment.

“That’s understandable,” he finally said.  “It’s been what, fifteen years.”

“Fifteen years,” Casey confirmed.

Fifteen years to the date since he’d opened the front door to find two detectives waiting to utterly destroy his childhood.  Fifteen years since he’d virtually become an orphan.

“I did it once with my mum,” Severide grunted and Casey looked up sharply in surprise.  “Yeah,” he continued.  “And I felt like shit because of it.  But eventually, you know I just had to think what she’d say if she was here.  She’d be hurt yeah, probably a little mad too but eventually she’d forgive me for forgetting.”

“Yeah,” Casey murmured.

“You going to see him?”

“If Boden gives me the time.”

“Want me to go with you?”

Casey smiled at the offer.  “Nah, I think I need to go on my own.  Thanks though.  Besides I don’t think we can deprive 51 of both their lieutenants.”

Severide settled his hand on Casey’s ankle, the weight warm and comforting.  “All good, Matt.  Let me know if you need anything.”

A knock on the door frame caught their attention and they jolted apart, glancing around like they’d been caught doing something wrong.  Boden stared back at them from the doorway, a knowing twinkle in his eye that the pair resolutely ignored.

“Our guests are here, if you wanted to come meet them.”

He disappeared before they could answer and they both scrambled to follow.

House 51 was hosting two Canadian firefighters for a couple of shifts as part of a relations program between the CFD and the Toronto Fire Services.  Two would come to the US to observe training techniques while two of the CFD did the same in Canada.

The two Canadians, Gavin and Presley, were nice enough, shaking Severide and Casey’s hands warmly when they were introduced and even holding up under Mouch’s blatant dislike of all things Canadian.

“Ignore him,” Casey advised them, after Mouch fled swiftly from the room and the bells blared before they got a chance to reply.

Truck 81, Squad 3, Ambulance 61, injury on the blue line, Logan Square station.”

They were directed down onto the train line the minute the pulled up by one of the workers.  Boden remained on the platform to coordinate.

“Be aware, men, the third rail could still be hot.” Boden told them through the radio as they made their way to the scene.  All eyes went to the line they were walking parallel to and those closest took a precautionary step away.

“You heard him, guys,” Casey called.  “Everyone keep your eyes forward.  Let’s do this the right way.”

Main, do we have a hold on the blue line power in Logan square?”

“Stand by.  We’re waiting for confirmation,” an anonymous voice said.

Casey nodded at Cruz.  “Start setting up to the test the power.”

“Yes, Lieutenant.”

Casey and Mills made their way to the nose of the train where a window opened and a frazzled driver poked his head out.

“I think I hit someone.”

“Chief, we might have a victim on the tracks.  Conductor thinks he hit someone.”

“You and Mills walk back down toward the tunnel.  Mind that third rail.”

“Copy,” Casey replied and jerked his head to indicate Mills follow him.

They quickly walked along the length of the train, intermittently crouching to check underneath.  Casey kept an ear on his radio, to stay in the loop with the rest of his company.

“C.T.A confirms power has been shut down.”

Boden gave them the confirmation they were waiting for.   “Cruz, we got the all-clear.  Throw the chain.”

Casey and Mills were quickly running out of room with the tunnel fast approaching and they still hadn’t seen so much of a sign of an injured person.

“3, 2, 1,” came Cruz’s countdown just as Mills yelled out for him.

“Hey, I see somebody!”

Casey took a step towards him but the explosion of sparks that told them the power was still on had him freezing and momentarily torn.  Then Boden’s gruff voice came over the line and he decided to leave him to deal with it.

Main, we still have power on the southbound track.”

Casey ran the short way to Mills and sunk to his knees beside him, using his flashlight to get a look at the victim.  The kid couldn’t have been more than 18 years old and had a bloody face and hand that was reaching out to him.  His voice however was strong when he spoke.

“Please, help me.”

“His leg’s stuck in the axle,” Casey muttered to Mills, following the line of the kid’s body with his flashlight to wear his leg was wedged to the knee in the wheel axle.  “I need this rail turned off,” he said into his radio.

We’re working on it, Casey,” Boden promised.

Satisfied, Casey turned his attention on the victim.  “My name’s Matt.”

“Jacob.”

“Can you tell me what happened, Jacob?”

“My sister Kayla and me went into the subway through an access door, just to look around.”

Casey grimaced at the way the kid was starting to shake but didn’t interrupt.

“But it locked behind us.  We were trying to get out through the tunnel.”

As if on instinct Casey and Mills both turned to look down the dark tunnel.  Casey looked back at Mills and the candidate was already nodding and heading off to look for the other victim.

“Chief, there’s another kid in the tunnel.  Mills is going inside.”

“I have two victims on the track,” Boden growled at the officer responsible for turning the power off.  “ I need that damn power off now.”

He tuned out the sounds of Mills calling out for the girl, Boden growling orders and Cruz throwing the chain again just to confirm and focussed on the shivering kid in front of him.

“Hey it won’t be long now, alright?  They’re coming to get you out now.”

Sure enough Severide appeared beside him only a few minutes later.

“Name’s Jacob,” Casey supplied before Severide could ask and shuffled out of the way.

“Hey, Jacob.  My name’s Kelly.  We’re gonna get you out of there, alright?”

The squad appeared with cribbing and the jack to lift the train while Dawson and Shay hovered and prepared themselves to get the pressure bandages on him the second he was free.

“Alright, that’s good,” Severide decided and slid in underneath the train to get to work on the axle.  Casey could still hear Mills calling out for the girl in the tunnel but decided not to leave Jacob until either he was free or Mills found the girl.

The whir of the saw powered up and Jacob grunted weakly as Severide got to work taking the axle apart.

“This is going to hurt, buddy.”  The apologetic admission was the only warning they got before Severide guided Jacob’s leg free, ignoring the kid’s agonised groans as he did so.  They pulled him out and Dawson and Shay got to work getting a c-collar on him and dealing with the bloodied leg.

“My sister?” he gasped, eyes searching Casey out of the crowd of firefighters around him.

Casey leaned over him.  “We’re looking for her now.”

“Alright, pressure dressings in place,” Shay said.  “Let’s go.”

Squad 3 stepped in and helped lift him out of there leaving Casey behind to find the other victim.  He frowned down at the tunnel when he realised he hadn’t heard Mills call out for a few minutes now.

“Mills, update.”

When there was no immediate response he took off for the tunnel calling for his young candidate.  He slowed when his flashlight caught the back of the kid’s turn-out jacket where he was kneeling in the centre of the tunnel.

“Mills?”

His head was bowed over his knee and even with the distance Casey heard the shaky breath Mills drew in.  He slowly approached Mills side and flashed his torch around catching sight of the horrible sight Mills was determinedly not looking at and had to swallow down the sudden bile that filled his mouth.  Blood and flesh was smeared along the walls and floor of the tunnel, and Casey flashlight followed along, catching on small pieces that could have been shoes until it rested on a small, dark, bloodied body stretched out.

With trembling fingers Casey pulled his radio to his mouth.  “Yeah, we, uh found the other victim.  I need two body bags, more lights, latex gloves.”  He turned to greet his oncoming company.  “Two teams scour each side of the tracks.  Call out whatever body part you find.”

His company looking grim only nodded and moved past them and started to work.  Casey knelt beside Mills and ducked until he met the kid’s eyes.

“Hey, you okay?”

Mills nodded but the blank look on his face told Casey all he needed to know.  Still there was a victim that needed to be recovered before he could fully check in with his candidate so he just clapped a hand to his back and moved to help his company handle the small body.

 

The mood was sombre back at 51 once they finished the gruelling task of scraping the girl off the tunnel and putting her into an ambulance.  Mills was completely silent as he set to fixing lunch, Otis was sleeping at the table and the tv was only on low.  Despite having both the squad and truck companies crammed into the rec room it was oddly quiet.

Boden walked in slowly and tapped at a sheet on the bulletin board.  “Department counselor.  Wasn’t easy what we saw today.  There is no shame in reaching out to talk to somebody.”

Casey had never done it, preferring instead to talk to his friends and family about the horrors he faced on the job but he knew others who had talked to the department counsellors and were better for it.  Boden had been talking to everybody in the room but Casey noticed that his eyes seemed to linger a split-second longer on Mills than the rest of them.

“Hey,” he said, noticing Presley and Gavin for the first time.  “Take a seat guys.  Make yourselves at home.”

They smiled gratefully and took seats at the table opposite him.  Casey watched over the top of his newspaper as Boden talked to Mouch on his way out and he could hazard a guess at what the Chief was telling him.  Not that it seemed to make much of a difference because the moment the Chief disappeared, Mouch slipped into a free chair looking positively gleeful.

“How’s that socialised medicine working out for you guys?”

“Mouch,” Cruz barked from the other end of the table, sounding equal parts annoyed and exasperated.

Mouch ploughed on, regardless.  “To get your tonsils out, I heard you have to wait in a line around the block for the same doctor who just finished a colonoscopy.”

“You’re the only guy I know that could have a beef with Canada,” Otis put in.

“Let’s just say I got a snoot full of how things really work up there.  Nothing against these two, but pull back that curtain a little bit and you might be surprised at what you find.”  Mouch nodded and left the table.

Casey beyond embarrassed rubbed his forehead.  “Again, please ignore him.”

Gavin ad Presley nodded and smiled, shaking their heads a little and Casey was just glad they were going to be good sports about it.

“Mouch you are out of your damn mind,” Cruz laughed, watching the man go.

 

Inside the locker room, Severide was looking dolefully at the single pill left inside one of his blister packets, mentally counting the ones he had left.  It had only been a few weeks since he’d gotten them and he’d already made a sizeable dent in the supply.

He sighed and chucked the packet back into his locker, slamming the door shut to vent a bit of his frustration.  He stalked from the locker room and back into the rec room where he found Mills staring blankly into a pot of water on the stove.

He snatched an apple out of the bowl and wandered closer curiously.  He looked between the pot and Mills a couple times but the candidate didn’t seem to notice is presence.

“Works better if you turn on the heat.”

Mills blinked a couple of times like he was coming out of a daze and looked away, walking away and gathering up the trash to take out without another word.  Severide watched him go and then looked over to where Casey was talking to Boden.  He waited until he caught his eye then raised an eyebrow and cocked his head in the direction Mills went.  Casey nodded, understanding.

“Hour, hour and a half, tops.”  Casey was promising as he met Severide’s eye.  He’d deal with Mills when he got back.

Boden nodded.  “I’ll have Cruz cover truck until you’re back.”

Despite the agreement Casey hesitated.  “And I’m sorry about this.  You know this isn’t my style but…”

“Handle your business, Casey,” Boden said and clapped a hand on his shoulder before leaving to go back to his office.

“Hey,” Casey called to Severide.  “While I’m gone, keep an eye on things?”  The And Mills went unspoken between them.  Severide nodded his understanding.  Casey nodded back his own thanks and turned on his heel to leave.

Severide barely had the time to watch him disappear through the doors before the bells were going off and the cool voice of the dispatch officer was filtering through the halls.

Truck 81, Squad 3, Ambulance 61.  Heart attack victim, Dearborn and Elm.”

They arrived at the scene to find a shell-shocked man on the street looking up at his friend who was hanging from a tree, limp in his harness.

“Frank’s dead,” he babbled as they approached him.  “He must’ve had a heart attack or something.  One minute he was fine, dropping branches to me.  And the next thing I know, he’s just hanging there.”

They were all standing there and watching, wondering how they were going to get the victim down when the branch Frank was hanging from jolted, sending them all skittering back a few steps.  The branch cracked a little but didn’t dislodge completely, the wood creaking and groaning painfully.

“Cruz,” Boden barked.    “You get that aerial up in that tree now.”

Cruz frowned at the other branches surrounding the victim.  “I could get close but there are a lot of branches.  I don’t see a clean path.”

Severide also frowned, considering.  “Then we make one,” he finally decided.  “Vargas!”

“On it,” Vargas nodded, already heading for the truck.  Cruz got into the truck and pulled it around and started setting up the aerial while Vargas pulled the saw from the squad truck compartment.  The minute it was in place Vargas was up there and clearing the path.

Meanwhile, on the ground Severide started gathering the ropes to rig up a quick two-to-one pulley system.  A stokes basket would have been ideal but there wasn’t enough time, not with the tree limb creaking ominously.

“Path is clear,” Vargas announced and moved off the aerial.  Severide took his place and hurried up with the rope bag.  He moved quickly with the fingers of someone who’d practised this a million times before and hastily constructed the pulley, making sure all the ropes went in the right places.  He could hear Boden barking orders down on the ground.

“When Severide drops his line, you take up the slack.  When he cuts the old line, it’s on you.”

Finally he had it all set up and got the new line clipped to the guy’s harness, just as he blinked and looked around in confusion.

“Hey!  He’s alive,” Severide yelled.

“Get him down here fast,” Dawson called back.

As if on cue the tree branch finally gave way and Severide was left holding the weight of the man with his bad side.  Although he tried to control it, his surprised cry of pain was loud enough to alert the firefighters on the ground, if their sudden burst of activity was anything to go by.

“Hadley, move,” he heard Boden order.  “Get his back.”

Severide knew he couldn’t wait for Hadley to get his slow ass up on the aerial to take the load, so, grunting in pain he fumbled for the weight bag with the attached rope and pushed it over the side.  Mouch and Otis were there in an instant grabbing it and tying it to the truck bumper.

“Set!” came the blessed call and Severide finally felt the relief as the firefighter’s on the ground took the weight.  Feeling numb he felt around for the knife and cut the other man’s line, taking total pressure off the damaged branch.

From there it was on everyone else to get the man down and clear which was good because all Severide felt like doing was lying there.  But he could also hear Hadley coming so he forced himself up and to start moving, despite how much his body protested it.  Hadley met him halfway as he was slithering down the rungs.

“You okay?”

“Yeah fine,” Severide answered automatically but he didn’t miss Hadley’s eyes as they raked over the arm he had cradled to his chest.  “Let’s just get on the ground.”

He took another moment even after Hadley turned away to just sit and try to force down the pain before he moved on, climbing down from the truck painfully.  He got back down on the ground and leant against the side of the truck, forcing deep breaths to calm his racing pulse.  He was looking around absently, half watching Shay and Dawson tend to their patient when his eyes fell on Mills, standing by himself and looking into space.  He frowned.  That was something someone was going to need to deal with.

 

Casey hated cemeteries.  The pretty flowers, elaborate gardens and man-made lakes didn’t change the place’s purpose and Casey couldn’t make himself feel comfortable for any moment that he was there.  He pulled up at the right section, tried to make himself relax fractionally and grabbed the plastic bag from the passenger seat before getting out of the car begrudgingly.

He stopped after only a step however at the sight of a familiar blonde figure standing before his father’s grave with her family.  Casey stiffened at the sight of his sister, the action being instinct after not having seen her in months.

Not wanting to force a confrontation today of all days, he turned to head back to his truck but before he could make it Christie turned and caught sight of him, raising a hand in greeting.  He nodded and with a grim smile he started towards her.

“Hey, Matt,” she said softly.

“Christie.”

After a long, awkward pause she stepped forward and hugged him gingerly.  He returned it hating how forced and cold it felt.

“Jim,” he greeted, shaking the man’s hand once he and Christie released each other.

“Sweetheart, do you remember your Uncle Matt from Thanksgiving a couple of years ago?”

Casey’s breath caught in his throat at the sight of his niece, the exact spitting-image of his sister at that age and he was overcome, suddenly by the intense ache to go back to that age, when everything was simpler.

He crouched down and murmured a greeting, hugging her back when she wrapped her thin, little arms around his neck.  He stood again and they parted, allowing him the first glimpse of his father’s grave.  It was  a little more weathered from the elements since the last time he’d been there but there was a fresh bouquet sitting atop the headstone, from his sister he presumed.

“I can't believe it's been fifteen years,” he murmured half to himself, half to the others.

“I still miss him,” Christie croaked in response and Casey nodded as though he agreed.

It was easier for Christie to maintain that perfect image of their father; she'd been in college and safe in her dorm when the fighting had started, when insults had ricocheted around the house like bullets and Casey had to sneak around just to avoid getting hit.  She hadn't had to see that so it was so much easier for her to put their father up on a pedestal, leave him blameless in all of this.  Casey didn't have that luxury.

He stepped forward and knelt to dig the two hockey flags he’d gotten for the occasion into the ground; Blackhawks because his father had been a loyal fan right up until the end.  He stood again and looked down, trying to figure out as he always did standing there how he felt.

From behind him, Christie spoke, “Well, we’ll let you have some time alone.”

Casey felt a sudden pang of loss and not ready to let his sister go again was quick to assure her, “You don’t have to go.”

But Christie just smiled.  “No, it’s ok.  We were just leaving.  We’ve been here a while.”  She paused and laid a hand on her brother’s shoulder.  “I guess I’ll see you in a couple of weeks.”

Casey swallowed painfully.  “Yeah, I’ll see you there.”

Christie smiled and then left with her family, leaving Casey to watch her go.  Once she was out of sight he crouched down again, eyes tracing over the engraved words and numbers feeling conflicted.  It wasn’t as though he could blame his father, how can you blame someone for their own death but he can’t put his father on the same pedestal as his sister.  Because he’d been there and saw what he could be and what he could do and knew how all that lead up to his death.  So when he was crouching there he tried not to think about all that or else he’ll have gotten a headache and tried instead to remember all the good he’d seen his father do.  That was easier.

 

Severide staying true to his word  to Casey, caught up with Mills after the call.  Body aching and shoulder burning he lead the kid into his quarters and gestured for him to take a seat on the bed before taking the desk chair for himself.

“I know the call this morning was hard.”

Severide had half expected Mills to argue there, object and say that he was fine but the kid remained quietly, looking pensively at his folded hands.  Seveide ploughed on.

“And I know it was your first call like that.  But we’ve all been there, man.  It happens first few months after being on the job.  And right now you have nothing to compare it to, but you will.  I know this sounds horrible but the longer you work this job, the more good you’ll see, you’ll be able to take days like this and put them into context and move forward.”

“It’s just that afterwards, I’m looking at Mouch telling stories, Cruz playing video games and Otis making jokes.”  Mills shook his head softly.  “I don’t know how they do it.”  Mills looked right at Severide for the first time, catching his gaze.

“Everybody has their own way of dealing.  Some take some time for themselves, others surround themselves by people and act as normal as they can.  You will get on the other side of this, Mills,” Severide assured him.  “Why don’t you take the rest of the shift off.  I’ll talk to Boden and Casey.  Take it easy or maybe go see the Department counsellor.  They’re available, so am I, so’s Boden, so’s Casey.  Alright?”

Mills nodded slowly.  “Ok,” he murmured.

Severide clapped a hand to his shoulder.  “Alright.  You head home, I’ll go talk to Boden.”

The conversation with Boden was short and sweet, Boden signing off on Mills’ leave immediately, which Severide was thankful for as the pain in his shoulder was flaring up again and slowly spreading down into his fingertips.  He excused himself from Boden’s office and retreated to his own quarters, digging out his phone and dialling a now familiar number as he went.

“Anna, hey,” he said as he shut himself in his room.

Hey?”

“It’s me.”

“What’s up, Kelly?”

“I need a refill, somewhat urgently,” he said thinking off the almost empty packet in his locker.

Anna’s voice was outraged when she spoke again.   “Are you serious?  Do you know how many I gave you?  Do you know how dangerous it is, if you’ve taken them all already?”

“I know, I know, I know,” he said trying to placate her.  “I just- can you please help me out?”

“I don’t know.  I can maybe get some but it’ll take a few weeks and I’m out of Chicago now.  Unless you wanted to come here-”

“I really don’t have the time to wait that long.”  Severide thinking quick just said the first thing that came into his head, “I could pay you for them, if that’s easier.”

He knew immediately that that was the wrong thing to say and Anna was quiet on the other end of the phone, her breathing the only thing telling him she was still there..

Then finally, voice cold and tight with fury she spat, “ Fuck you, Kelly,” and hung up.  He pulled back to look at the screen of his phone and with great control, resisted the urge to throw it across the room.  His whole right side had gone numb now and it was like he was someone else as he watched his fingers flex, barely feeling the movement at all.

He tossed the phone down on the bed beside him before retreating to the locker room where he was hoping a hot shower would dull the pain in his arm.

Any work that the shower might have done for his arm however evaporated quickly when Boden found him in the bathroom.

“Hey.”  Boden nodded at him as he washed his hands and Severide tended to one of the small cuts he’d gotten on one call or another.  “Nice job up there in that tree.”

“Thanks Chief.”

“What’s up with your arm?”

Boden spoke so quickly Severide was half convinced that he’d heard him wrong.  Nevertheless, he played it dumb.

“What’s that?”

“I said, ‘what’s wrong with you arm?’”

Boden’s dark, knowing eyes bored into him insistently and Severide tried to play it cool.

“Tweaked it a couple days ago lifting weights,” he said with a shrug that sends stabs of pain running all down his right arm.

“Looked like more than a tweak.”

Severide attempted a casual smile but felt like he missed by a mile.  “Really, I’m fine.”

“Ok,” Boden said easily, and for a half a second Severide thought he’d gotten away with it.  “I see it again, you’re going in for an x-ray, for your own safety.”

Severide forced a smile.  “Oh, yeah.  Absolutely.”

“Oh and if you see Casey, tell him I need to talk to the both of you in my office about Mills.”

Boden nodded again and left.  Severide managed to wait until the door closed behind him to drop the facade and run a worried hand over his face.


 

“You get onto Mills?” Casey asked Severide the next day at breakfast after Mills yet another of his calls.  Severide looked up from his bowel looking worried and gave a solemn headshake.

“I tried to call him but nothing.  I tried his sister too but she didn’t know where he was.”

Casey rubbed at his tiredly and took a seat.  First breakfast, then he would track down his loose candidate.

The Canadian, Presley, hovered nearby for a moment before slipping into the seat beside him.

“Lieutenant?  Could I talk to you about something?”

“By all means,” Casey said wondering if this would have something to do with Otis and Mouch’s prank.  He didn’t know why Otis had felt the urge to bait Mouch into pranking the Canadians but here they were.

“I don’t want to get in anyone's business here, but I was recently in Peter’s situation.  I went on a call that involved an infant mortality.  And it really got to me.  But our Lieutenant at the time, he did something that really helped us out.”

Casey listened to Presley as the man described what their Lieutenant had done and an idea started to form in his head.

He stepped away and pulled out his phone.  After a moment’s deliberation he dialled Mills’ number and waited for the line to connect.

“Lieutenant?”  Mills’ voice was low and scratchy when he answered.

“Listen, I know lots of people have been talking to you today, uh, but before you go and make a decision, there’s something I want to show you.”

Mills was quiet for a long moment.  Then, “ Yeah, ok.”

“I can swing by the restaurant after shift.”

“Sounds good, Lieutenant.”

“Just trust me on this,” Casey said and then hung up when Mills didn’t say anything else.

 

Severide found the nondescript brown paper bag waiting for him when he got back to his apartment that afternoon.  Barely managing to restrain his hope, he scooped it up, thanked God that Shay hadn’t been the one to find it and let himself into the loft.

He made a beeline for the kitchen island and emptied the bag, dumping the contents onto the counter.  Out came four new blister packets and a handwritten note.

You owe me.

He flipped it over but the three words were the only thing written on it.  He tossed the card aside, popped two pills and downed them dry just to overcome the pain that had steadily been growing since he’d started trying to ration his supply.

 

Casey met Mills after shift at his diner and together they drove over in Casey’s truck.

Mills heaved a sigh after a few minutes of silence and glanced across the shadowy cab at his lieutenant.  “Where are we going, Lieutenant?”

Casey’s eyes never left the road.  “You’ll see.”

It wasn’t a long drive and soon enough they were weaving between the narrow residential streets at the edge of the city and pulling to a halt outside an unremarkable two-storey.

“Come on,” Casey said when Mills just sat there and stared up at the house.

A familiar face answered the door when Casey knocked and immediately offered his hand to shake.

“Lieutenant Casey,” the man grinned.

“Hey Gary.  Thanks for letting us stop by.”

“No problem,” Gary answered, stepping aside to let them in, out of the cold night air.

“This is Peter Mills,” Casey adding, nodding at the kid hovering over his shoulder.  “My newest candidate.”

“Nice to meet you,” Mills smiled as he shook Gary’s hand.

“Yeah, you to.  Make yourselves comfortable,” Gary added as they stepped into the living room right off the hallway.  “Sophie,” Gary called, turning to look up the stairs.  “Lieutenant Casey is here.”

While they listened to the pad of approaching feet Casey explained in an undertone to Mills.  “Their last house burned down a couple years back.  We responded to the call.”  He turned back to Gary, “How’s she been doing?”

Gary grinned.  “She gets her learner's permit next week.  Can you believe it?”  Gary looked like he could hardly believe it himself and Casey shook his head, feeling the sentiment.

“Sophie’s driving?”

“Well not till next week, she isn’t,” Gary joked.

Their conversation cut off at the sudden appearance of Sophie jogging down the stairs.  Her face brightened when she caught sight of Casey and she immediately hurried over to hug him, baring her burnt shoulder to Mills.

Casey knew what Mills would see when he looked at Sophie partly because she refused to cover up despite the scars but also because of the sheer number of times Casey had been to see her over the years.  The skin of her shoulder, despite the many operations and transplants she’d had was still rippled and pebbled from the fire, parts reddened by the severity of her burns.  Even for someone who had seen his fair share of burns it still turned Casey’s stomach to see it sometimes.

“Peter,” Casey said once they parted.  “This is Sophie.”

Mills smile was only small, shock still evident in his eyes but he managed to murmur a greeting that Sophie returned.

“I want to show you something,” she grinned, turning back to Casey.

They followed her to the next room where a trophy was proudly displayed.

“What have you got?”

She handed it over with a small smile and he read out the small plaque at the bottom.  “‘Second place, girls sectional finals.’  Congratulations,” he added as he smoothed a thumb over the writing, a blossom of pride unfurling within his chest.

She took back the trophy and placed it carefully back in its place and turned to find Mills eyes glued to her burns.  She followed his gaze and took in the burns marring her skin before glancing back at him.  He came back to himself after a moment and blinked and looked away.

“Sorry,” he mumbled, blushing slightly.

But that was why Casey had brought him to see Sophie, because he knew she wouldn’t have a problem with it.

“Don’t be,” she said.  “I don’t mind if you stare.  Lieutenant Casey pulled me out of that fire.”  

This was why Casey went back to visit the people he saved, because sometimes, after particularly bad calls he couldn’t just see the point in at all.  And he just needed the reminder of all the one’s he had saved because he chose to do this with his life and that’s why he continued to do it.

“I’m alive,” Sophie said.  Mills blinked and his eyes met Casey’s and that was when Casey knew that he understood.

Chapter Text

The change of shift, Severide found, crept by sometimes.  One lot of firefighters being swapped for another, televisions being turned on quietly, routine checks of the vehicles being conducted.  An average day for firefighters.  Other times it was like they triggered something in the universe the second they began readying to leave, the blast of the alarms announcing to the world that the new shift was about to begin.

Severide was just heading to the locker room to get changed out when the bells went off, ensuring that they were stuck working even after their shift ended.  They were called to the scene of a small machine shop fire.  By the time the squad truck pulled up and they jumped out, Casey and his truck company were already talking to the owner.

“Smoke started coming in and next thing I knew, fire was coming in through the window.  We tried to spray it, but it got too hot.  Then the propane tank blew.”

“Anything else combustible in there?” Casey asked, anticipating the question on the tip of Severide’s tongue.

The owner nodded.  “A bunch of cylinders, oxygen, acetylene.”

Boden practically growled.  “81, pull those tanks out before it turns into the damn Fourth of July.”

Casey nodded and was off before Severide could blink.  He fought the urge to watch Casey go and concentrated on his chief.

“Squad,” Boden said, nodding at Severide.  “You’re on search.”

“Hey, isn’t that that kid Ernie from the Thanksgiving dinner?” Otis said, pausing with oxygen mask in hand and watching the familiar kid hover at the outskirts of the crowd.

Severide followed his gaze and frowned himself.  He’d heard the whispers of the kid being a firebug around the House and had had a bad feeling even before when he kept turning up.  He turned and looked meaningfully at Boden just to be sure his chief knew about the kid.  He received the barest nod in return and satisfied Severide turned back to the task at hand.

Severide and his squad cleared the front office’s fairly quickly, mindful of the Truck firefighters wheeling the oxygen and acetylene past.  On their way in Casey passed with the last of the cylinders.

“Main room’s clear of hazardous material,” he yelled, leaning into Severide’s personal space to be heard over the screaming of the fire.  They would have been just about pressed nose to nose if it hadn’t been for their oxygen masks.  “No workers in here,” he added.  “Haven’t checked the supply room yet.”

“We got it,” Severide yelled back, clapping a gloved hand to Casey’s own protected shoulder and pressed on deeper into the hazy room.

The smoke was too thick for their sight however and soon enough thermal imaging cameras are brought out by the entire squad, scanning the nearly pitch black room.

“Lieutenant,” Vargas called after a minute.  “Somebody’s in the corner.”

Being the closest to him, Severide followed him over to help, instructing Hadley and Capp to continue searching.

“You grab his legs,” he ordered, and slipped an arm under the victim's shoulders.  They got him outside and onto the waiting gurney and barely had time to pull off their masks before Boden was appearing before them.

“Truck’s still inside.  I need you two to vent the roof.”

“On it,” Severide responded and hurried up the aerial that was already in place.

Supply room’s clear of victims and hazardous material.  Coming out now,” came Casey’s response as he and Vargas started knocking out the rooftop windows.

“How are we doing on that vent, Severide,” Boden asked next.

“Making progress,” Severide reported, stepping away from the windows to speak into the radio and leaving Vargas to smash the last few windows and finish the vent.

The only warning he got that something was wrong was the sudden increase of yelling down in the shop and the sizzle of two materials reacting together.  Then a cloud of smoke billowed out onto the roof, swallowing Vargas completely.  Severide heard his man gasp then start to cough and threw a hand a over his own mouth, dropping to the ground and covering his face with his jacket.  He squinted through the haze of the smoke to see Vargas gasping for breath on the ground, face steadily turning grey as he was deprived of oxygen.

“Mayday! Mayday!”  He yelled into the radio.  “Firefighter down!”

“We got a firefighter down on the roof,” came Boden’s responding call.   “Get a ladder and get him down from there now.”

Severide scrambled forward on his stomach, hooked a hand around the collar of Vargas’ turnout jacket and hauled him clear of the slowly dissipating smoke, trying to ignore the way he was still jerking and gasping.

By the time he got him to the other side of the rooftop, Casey, Otis and Mills were waiting with a stokes basket.  They got him loaded and sent him back down the aerial and into the waiting hand of Shay and Dawson.

“Take nice, slow breaths for us, Vargas,” Dawson instructed as soon as they got him onto the gurney.  Shay cut away his shirt while Dawson fitted him with an oxygen mask.  “We’re going to get you to the hospital in no time, ok?  You guys ready,” she added to Severide and Casey who were waiting to help load him into the ambulance.

The house firefighters watched the rig pull away in solemn silence, thoughts with their brother-in-arms.  That is until it moved away completely, revealing Ernie remaining and still watching the fire ravishing the shop.  Severide crossed the distance in only a few strides and was vaguely thankful for the gate separating him from the kid or else he couldn’t be sure what he would have done.

“Hey,” he barked and the kid jumped and stepped away with a mix of surprise and fear.  “You torch this place, you little tweaker.”

“I’m watching,” Ernie mumbled.

“You’re watching?  Did you do it?”

Boden appeared beside him and wrenched him away while the kid used the chance to run off.  “That’s enough,” Boden growled, shoving Severide away.

Severide went to walk away but thought better of it.  “That’s two fires, two dumpsters, same kid!” he yelled, gesturing between the fire and Ernie’s retreating back.

“I am handling this,” Boden shouted back.

“You’re handling this?” Severide scoffed.  “Why don’t you invite him back for apple pie?  Keep him close.  That’s the plan right?” He might have continued yelling all morning if it hadn’t been for the hand that settled on the nape of his neck, fingertips cold against his skin (cold, which is how he had known instantly it was Casey), tugging insistently.

Casey’s voice was low and spoken directly into his ear.  “Come on, walk away.  You don’t want to get into this here.”

“That was my man,” Severide protested, even as he stepped back and followed Casey’s voice.

“I know.   I know.   But you don’t want to do this here.”

He let himself get pulled away, not caring less if Boden was pissed at him and allowed Casey to guide him back to his truck, where his squad were waiting for his direction.

 

Later, that night Casey managed to coax him out of the hospital where the house had been waiting all day without news for a round of drinks at a bar down the street.  Casey didn’t say ‘it’ll all be fine’ like the rest of them had been saying.  They were both too experienced to be comforted by that naivety.

“Boden’s going to kick my ass,” Severide said instead, frowning into his scotch.

Casey waved him off.  “He’ll be fine.”

But all Severide could remember was the look on Boden’s face and growl in his voice.  “No, he won’t.”

“Then he’ll get over it, soon enough,” Casey laughed.  “And I thought I worried too much,” he added when Severide didn’t say anything.  He was a full round ahead of Severide and inching up to another and it showed.  His cheeks were flushed and eyes were bright, he was grinning widely and Severide was struck by the sudden, unexplainable urge to curl a hand around his neck, pull him closer, cover his mouth with his own, lick away the alcohol from his lips, and-

He blinked and looked away.  “Maybe,” he mumbled, having already forgotten what they’d been speaking about and downed the rest of his drink.

 

Severide turned out to be right.  First thing next shift the entire house was called together in one of the conference rooms to discuss the auto shop fire.

“Morning,” Boden started.  “I know you’re all concerned about what happened to Vargas after last shift and I know many of you stayed at the hospital for the rest of the day.  The hospital released him yesterday and he’s resting up.   But he is not out of the woods yet.  Hazmat had confirmed that it was magnesium shavings in the bin at the machine shop, which you all know are reactive with water.”

“Magnesium inhalation,” Herrmann supplied.

Boden nodded.  “He’s got burns in his lungs and an upper respiratory tract infection.”

“So when are we going to see him again?”

“Unknown.  At least until we get the test results.  But look,” Boden continued when the glum silences seemed to deepen.  “He’s going to be fine no matter what happens.  Okay?  Dismissed.”

The room cleared slowly, many expressing concern amongst themselves.  Boden caught Severide before he could escape.

“My office.  Now.”

He received sympathetic smiles from both Shay and Casey before he followed his chief back to his office.  It was only when Boden barked “door” before Severide was even fully in that Severide knew just the extent of the chewing out he was about to receive.  Figuring it would only help to abate Boden’s anger he complied with the order.

Boden waited for the click of the door shutting and for Severide to face him again to speak.  “You ever talk to me like that in front of the men again, you will see a side of me that you won’t forget.”

Severide could see where he was coming from, he could: a leader wouldn’t be able to lead effectively without the respect of his men.  But he still had a duty to protect his men.  “All due respect, I’ve got to protect my men.”

“And I am doing what?  Walking around with my thumb up my ass?”  Boden’s voice was cold and little more than a hiss.

“He’s a firebug,” Severide hissed right back.  “Plain as day.”

“I am taking care of this,” was all Boden would say.  “Do you understand me?  Step back.”

Severide left without saying another word because after all that, he still had a man in the hospital, a firebug running around the streets of Chicago, a pain in his shoulder that was just putting him even more on edge, and strange, inescapable urges around Casey and Casey alone that were messing with his head.  And between all that, if he was going to say anything it was going to be yelled and it was just going to get him into even more trouble with Boden.  So he didn’t say anything and fought the urge to slam the door like a petulant child on his way out.

He headed straight for the locker room, mind already on the pills stashed in his locker, imagining the weight of them on his tongue before he swallows, the manufactured bliss they’ll provide.  The pill is as good as he imagined, drawing away the pain almost instantly, dulling the sharpness when he moves too quickly.  All that’s left behind is that bitter taste in his mouth.

 

Casey had been trying to get onto Vargas all morning but had steadily been getting a pre-recorded message every time.

Hey, you’ve reached Jose Vargas.  Please leave a message.”

He ended the call without leaving a message this time, clicking his phone shut with a sigh.

“Hey,” Shay said as she passed.  “Anything?”  She nodded at the phone.

“He’s not picking up.”

“Alright.  Well, let me know if anyone’s planning on going over to see him.  Dawson and I want in.”

“You got it.”

Casey moved to walk past her and into the rec room but Shay grabbed his arm as though she’d just remembered something.  “Keep an eye out for Severide, would you?  Things have been a bit-” Shay merely pulled a face to describe their current relationship, but waved Casey off when he looked concerned.  “Anyway, this Vargas thing has him rattled, so…”

“Sure, I’ll make sure to check in with him.”

“Oh and hey.  Dawson’s landlord is being a dick about repairing her kitchen window; it leaks everytime it rains but he won’t do anything about it.”

Casey frowned.  They were friends but she hadn’t said anything about it to him.  He told Shay as much.

“Oh, she didn’t want to come off like a mooch,” she said, waving her hand.  “But anyhow, she tried to fix it herself, and now the window won’t go up or down.”

“Ok.  I’ll talk to her.”

“Thanks Casey,” Shay smiled and touched his elbow briefly before leaving.

He glanced out the window above the dispatch bay and caught sight of Dawson cleaning out the back of the ambo rig.  

Heading out to her he called, “You should have said something about your window.”

Dawson’s head jerked up and she scoffed.  “You want all of Chicago to know your business, make sure you tell Leslie Shay.”

Casey chuckled because she had a point.  You couldn’t find a better friend than Shay but it was true she liked to meddle in everyone’s personal lives.  “I can put in a new one for you.”

The mirth faded slightly from Dawson’s face.  “I don’t like asking for favours.”

Casey shrugged.  “Good thing you didn’t ask.”  He turned away with a final smile and walked away before she had a chance to argue.

Severide, sitting at the squad wiggled his eyebrows suggestively as he passed but Casey just barked a short laugh and mouthed ‘deluded’ on his way in.  Severide didn’t look like he’d get into too much trouble any time soon, so Casey felt comfortable pushing back his plan to check in.

 

The clock was just inching it’s way towards 12 and the occupants of 51 were just starting to think about lunch when truck 81 were called out again.  The bank they rolled up to was large and luxurious, all expensive marble and gold metalwork.

“What’s the word?”  Casey asked the bank manager as they joined him.

“An elevator stopped working.  One of them is stuck.  There was somebody in there calling for help, but now nobody’s answering the phone.”

“What floor?”

“It’s express,” the manager said almost apologetically.  “It could be anywhere between the lobby and the tenth floor.”

Casey gritted his teeth and thought for a moment before turning back to his men with a nod and a decision made.  “Let’s start on ten and get a bird’s eye view.”

Not looking forward to a climb, Casey steeled himself before leading his men over to the stairwell and entered, leading the group as well as Dawson and Shay up the many flights of stairs.  Being fit was a prerequisite of being a firefighter, one couldn’t after all expect to haul bodies out of burning victims if they weren’t fit.  But still, after ten flights of stairs in full gear even Casey’s thighs were starting to burn and his breaths were coming quicker.  Still he didn’t let him slow him down and pushed on.

“That one,” he said nodding at the doors to the elevator that had stopped working.

Otis got to work fiddling with the doors until they slid open to reveal the shadowed shaft within.  He moved out the way for Casey to slide to the edge and look over with his torch, trying to find the victim.

“This is the fire department!” he called, when he couldn’t see anyone.  “Can anybody hear me?”  There was still no response.

“Mills, Cruz, Herrmann, throw a rope.  I’ll get in the hoistway.  Otis, get up to the motor room and take over the power.”

Otis opened the door to the stairwell only to find Mouch on the other side, panting and red in the face.  Otis slid past while he stumbled in and leaned against the wall, struggling to get his breath back.

“Ah, Mouch,” Casey said pleasantly.

Mouch held up a finger as he bent over his knees, trying to get his breath back while simultaneously clutching a stitch in his side.

“You stay right here and take command of this floor?”

He clapped Mouch on the shoulder and got a thumbs up in response.  Grinning, Casey joined Cruz, Mills and Herrmann where they were rigging up the ropes.  A radio message from Otis several floors above confirmed that the power was shut down and all they were waiting for now were the ropes.  Mills and Casey stepped into their harnesses and rigged themselves up while Herrmann and Cruz secured the lines.

“Mills, your line’s secure,” Herrmann called and Mills tugged on it to be sure.

Cruz brought the other rope to Casey and clipped it to him, tugging on it to confirm its security.  Cruz headed back to man the ropes with Herrmann while Casey shuffled to the edge of the elevator shaft and met Mills’ eyes.

“All right?”

“Let’s do it.”

Casey leaned back on his heels and slowly reclined back into the open space of the shaft, keeping his feet firmly planted on the edge of the elevator shaft.  After a quick glance at Herrmann to get that final nod he started to walk down, moving quickly but surely, until his feet touched the top of the elevator.  He crouched down and jerked open the emergency hatch to the elevator, using his light to search its shadowy depths.  Unfortunately it was empty except for a heavy looking safe, which he reported back to his company through his radio.  A rustle of movement had him jerking his head up and a quick search with his torch revealed a man standing in the corner of the shaft, turned away.

“What the hell?” Casey muttered, when the man showed no sign he realised Casey was in the shaft with him.

“I didn’t do it,” Casey heard the guy mutter under his breath and he had to assume the guy was talking about the apparently stolen safe in the elevator.

“Hey buddy,” Casey called cautiously, quietly enough that he wouldn’t startle the man out of his precarious position on the ledge but firmly enough to get his attention.  The man’s head jerked up and around and while he wobbled slightly, he didn’t lose his footing, to Casey’s relief.  “I’m down here to help you.  Didn’t you hear me yelling?”

“Please, I don’t want any help,” the guy said, looking away again.

“Clearly,” Casey said.  “What’s your name?”

“I don’t want to say,” the man said petulantly.

“I’m not a cop,” Casey pointed out but that didn’t get any further response from the stranger.  “Fine, I’ll call you Ralph,” Cased decided.  “Look, Ralph-”

“It’s Mark,” the man - Mark - acquiesced.

“Alright, Mark.  First off don’t do anything stupid.”  Mark shot him a contemptuous look and Casey raised his hands in surrender with a sigh.  ‘I mean, don’t do anything else stupid.”

Mark went back to muttering under his breath and peering anxiously over the ledge he was perched on.  

Another spotlight from a torch shone down on Casey as Cruz appeared above him.  “Elevator’s dead until the safe’s out, Lieutenant.”

“Drop me a rescue harness,” Casey called back and Cruz disappeared from the ledge.  His men worked efficiently and soon enough another rope was being dropped to him.  While Casey fiddled with it, Mark started mumbling to himself again.

“I told her I needed 45 and she just said ‘take it or leave it’.”

“Looks like you took it,” Casey remarked drily as he finished prepping the harness.

“The money never left the building,” Mark said desperately, slowly sliding down the brick wall until he was crouching on the ledge.  “Maybe Betts and I can work something out.”

“There you go,” Casey said, trying to sound upbeat as he moved to the edge of the elevator he was standing on.  Mark was on the ledge in the other elevator shaft and when Casey looked down, he couldn’t even see the elevator so he knew he had to get this exactly right.  

“Alright,” Casey breathed.  “Now, when I say the word-” Casey started but Mark started moving before he could finish.  “Not yet!” he tried but it was too late and Mark lost his footing and almost slipped off completely.  He clutched desperately at a pipe to keep from toppling over completely but it was clear he wouldn’t last much longer.

“Just hold on,” Casey called and quickly unhooked himself from his own line and moved towards Mark, headless of Herrmann’s worried voice coming in over the radio.

Lieutenant, put your line back on!”

“Give me your hand,” Casey barked, as he shuffled onto the narrow ledge.  “Grab onto the beam,” Casey instructed, guiding Mark’s shaking form forward until he could clutch at the cool metal of the shaft.  “Now your other hand.  One step at a time.”

Mark started to shuffle closer and for one stupid moment Casey thought they’d make it alright.  Then Mark’s foot slipped over the edge and this time he couldn’t regain his footing.  He fell into the wide open space of the shaft, Casey’s hand on his the only thing from keeping him from falling into the bottomless pit.  Casey’s arm went around his torso on instinct, his other wrapped around the beam as they both struggled not to fall.

“Get your feet up,” Casey gasped, arm straining at the unexpected weight.  “I’m not going to drop you, but I need you to get your feet up.

Mark’s shoes scrabbled uselessly against the side of the shaft for a few moments before eventually he got first one, then two feet back on the ledge.  Not caring about going slow any more, Casey hurriedly, herded him back onto the top of the other elevator and took a step back from the edge, breathing a sigh of relief.

“I got him,” he said into the radio and set to strapping the unresponsive Mark into the harness.  “Up on line,” he called, when he was done and the line immediately pulled taut and began to lift Mark out of the shaft.  Once he disappeared over the edge and into Shay and Dawson’s waiting hands, Casey hooked himself back in and prepared to climb out himself.  

Casey got out and passed Mark just in time to see an angry woman stride over to him.  “What am I supposed to tell mum, huh?  You dropout.”

Casey left them to it and ordered his men to pack up and head back to the truck.  Mouch caught his breath back while he sat on the back bumper and the rest of the company packed up.  Casey listened in amusement as Cruz ribbed him mercilessly while he packed away the ropes.  

“Hey, Mouch, I think I left my kit upstairs.  Can you run up and grab it for me?”

“I’d give you the finger, but that would require too much energy.”

To Casey’s surprise, Cruz rounded the back of the truck a minute later looking stressed.  “Lieutenant?”

“What’s up, Cruz?”

“My little brother got pinched in a robbery.  Unarmed.  Petty theft,” he added quickly as the look on Casey’s face.  “Anyway, he’s at county and if I could get an hour?  I need to bail him out.”

Casey thought for a moment.  “Get us back to 51 and you got it.”

Cruz pushed it, though Casey didn’t know why.  “Are you sure?”

He closed the door to the cabinet and straightened, regarding his man carefully.  “Are you?”

Cruz looked pensive and shrugged.  “He’s family.”

“Then you’ve got your answer.”

Cruz nodded his thanks before heading back around the truck.  Casey went to follow him but another voice calling his name had him stopping in his tracks, Dawson smiling nervously as she approached.

“Hey, uh, hypothetical.  A friend comes over to your house to help out with something, do you repay with your phenomenal arroz con pollo picante, or a six pack of his favourite beer?”

Casey considered it.  “Hypothetically?  Your friend can bring his own beer.  However, he can barely say… a- arroz co- conn pollo… ?” Dawson cracked a grin and they both chuckled as Casey stumbled over the foreign words.  “Let alone cook it.”

Dawson smiled again.  “Got it.”  She headed back to her ambulance while Casey climbed into his own rig.

 

Casey climbed out of the truck after it pulled back onto 51’s apparatus floor, watched as Cruz disappeared back down the driveway to his car before heading inside, Severide catching up with him as he went.

“Unhooking yourself from the line?  Seriously, Casey?”

“Listening to the radio?  Seriously, Severide?”  Casey's joking but when Severide’s frown didn’t lighten, Casey's own smile faded.  “Hey I'm fine,” he said, ducking to try and meet Severide's eyes.

Severide scratched idly at the stubble spanning his chin.  “Yeah, I know,” he said quietly and shook his head to clear his thoughts.  “Just antsy, I guess,” he said with a slightly forced smile.  “Need a call.”

“Yeah.”  Casey grinned and punched him on the shoulder.  “Nice to know you care, though,” he chuckled and headed for the locker-room.

Before Severide could think up a response, Casey had disappeared and Shay had taken his place.

“Awww,” she crooned, poking at his cheeks.  “Look at you all worried.”

“I’m not worried,” Severide grumbled and slapped at her hand half-heartedly.

“Sure,” Shay scoffed and they started walking towards the rec room.  “I’m glad you guys are tight again.  It was awkward when you weren’t.”  She was quiet for a beat, then, “Dawson’s making her move on Casey.”

Severide ignored the way his stomach clenched painfully at that and kept his gaze straight ahead.  “That’s nice.”

That wasn’t what Shay wanted to hear if the derisive noise she made was anything to go by.

“Why are you telling me anyway?” Severide asked.  “Doesn’t that like violate the best friend code.  Or the girl code?”

Shay leveled him with a look.  “Only if you’d also been interested in him” she said and walked away with a flick of her hair, leaving Severide to ignore the second clench of his stomach.

 

Severide had barely made it to the rec room when the house’s intercom buzzed and a voice was speaking.

“Live and in person, Jose Vargas.”

He turned on his heel and joined the crowd of firefighters heading back for the apparatus floor.  They pushed open the doors and joined those already gathered, Casey hugging his former company member.  More firefighters pushed forward to embrace their comrade, Mills asking if he was planning to stay for lunch.

“He’s staying,” Severide said decisively, as he shook Vargas’ hand, before herding them all back inside.

The bells rang before they could all get inside and Severide only had a moment to pray ‘ Not now’ before the ambo girls were being called out and the rest of them were free to sit down for lunch.  Mills dished up and they all took their seats at the table as conversation turned, inevitably, to Vargas’ injury.

“Doctor’s got me huffing on a nebuliser four times a day,” he explained, patting a bag he’d brought with him, not quite affectionately.  “Plus this inhaler,” he added, withdrawing it from his jacket pocket and tossing it down on the table.  “Busy day so far?” he asked and Severide jumped on the topic change.

“Uh, no,” he said.  “Not too bad.”

The table lapsed into a silence that was bordering on uncomfortable as the firefighters each looked around each other, begging the others to come up with a topic of conversation that wouldn’t remind Vargas of his injury.  Severide wouldn’t say he welcomed Connie’s interruption exactly, but it came at the right time nevertheless.

“Casey, Severide.  Chief’s asking for you.”

The pair stood without a word and followed her back to Boden’s office, where he was waiting with another man.

“This is Dr. Tenney, he CFD medical director,” Boden introduced as Casey and Severide shook his hand.

“Gentlemen,” he said.

“We wanted to bring you both in since Vargas served in both your company's.”

“What’s the word?” Severide asked.

Tenney’s face was serious, a hint of an apology glimmering in his eyes, and with a gut-wrenching swoop, Severide knew what was coming.

“His labs suggest chronic obtrusive pulmonary disease.”

“What’s that?”

“He’ll develop emphysema, which means his lungs will gradually deteriorate.  He won’t be able to breathe a normal amount of air, which could lead to other issues: weight loss, skeletal muscle dysfunction, heart problems.  There’s no cure but we can treat it, however…” The doctor trailed off but they didn’t need him or Boden to continue.

“There’s just no way he can handle the demands of the job.”

Casey scrubbed a hand over his face.  “He’s out there right now, Chief.  He doesn’t look that bad.”

“We are placing him on long-term disability,” Boden said regretfully.  “I wanted you to know what was happening.  Either I, or the doctor can tell him, but it might be better coming from you…”

Severide and Casey glanced at each other, posing the silent question to each other.  Severide gave a slight nod and Casey nodded back his own agreement.

“We’ll do it, Chief,” Casey said and Boden nodded his thanks.

Each heaving their own heavy sighs, Casey and Severide headed out of the office and back to the rec room where lunch was just wrapping up.

“Vargas, a word?” Severide asked, indicating the locker room with a jerk of his head.

 

Telling a firefighter, especially one who’d been in the department as long as Vargas, that his career was over, was almost as hard as losing a firefighter altogether.  At least, that’s how it felt for Severide and Casey as they told Vargas that he was done.

“So that’s it,” he said incredulously.

“I’m sorry, Vargas,” Severide said automatically.  “It could have happened to any of us.”

“Well, be glad it didn’t happen to you,” Vargas shot back.

Severide tried not to take it to heart, because he knew Vargas was still in shock about it all, but still it hurt, knowing that he’d been on that roof with Vargas and by luck only, he’d been a few steps away.

“You’re getting paid,” Casey pointed out, saving Severide from thinking up a reply.  “¾ salary.  It’s not what anybody wants, but we’d take that deal.”

Vargas looked at Severide and somehow he knew what was coming.  “How about you, Kelly?  Would you take that deal?”

“They’re not offering a choice,” Severide said, sidestepping the question he knew Vargas was really asking.

Again, Casey stepped in for the rescue and diverted Vargas’ attention again.  “You still doing landscaping?”

Vargas shrugged, “Yeah, whenever my buddy needs another guy.”

“Take the 75%, start your own business.”

“Or go ride Harley’s with your brother, like you always talked about,” Severide added.

“He moved to Albuquerque,” Vargas said shortly and Severide wanted to punch himself.  Vargas scoffed quietly to himself.  “You and me should both be taking 75%, hey, Kelly?”

Severide didn’t say anything, could only try not to look like he knew what Vargas was talking about but he caught Casey’s look out of the corner of his eye.  Vargas left without another word, Casey clapping him on the shoulder as he went, but not following.

Vargas’ words kept running in a loop over and over in Casey’s head.   Be glad it didn’t happen to you.

Out loud he found himself saying, “It could have been you.”

Severide’s voice was quiet.  “I know.”

The shoulder thing with Severide had been at the back of his mind for weeks now, thing after thing happening or getting in the way before he could talk to him about him.  He wasn’t about to give up on this opportunity.  He turned to Severide with an intensity that he thought shocked them both.

“Did you see a doctor?  About your shoulder?” he added when Severide didn’t offer a response or even look his way.

Severide considered playing dumb for half a moment, but it hadn’t worked on Shay, there was no way it was working on Casey.

“It’s my neck,” he said shortly and instantly wanted to change his tone.  “I saw a doctor,” he continued, finally looking at his friend and trying to smile.  “She said there’s nothing to worry about, so I’m not worrying about it,” he said shrugging and smiling lightly.  But the smile felt all wrong on his face and the look on Casey’s told him enough.

“You know, I want to believe you, Kelly.”  Severide’s head reared back in instinctive indignation at that but Casey wasn’t done.  “But I can’t.  So when you’re ready to talk about it honestly, I’ll be here.”

He left to the sound of the bells going off before Severide could defend himself, or say anything at all.

Squad 3, Engine 51.  Single car accident, 5512 South Sangamon.”

 

The scene was that of a single car that had hit a telegraph pole.  There wouldn’t have been any need for them at all, if it hadn’t been for the broken power line that was draped across the hood of the car, twitching and bursting sporadically.  The woman inside the car look terrified as the power line sizzled.

“The car’s live,” Severide called, as he walked up to get a closer look.  “Keep your distance.  Tony, get on the horn with com-ed and get this line cut.”

He rounded the back to the car so he could talk to the woman through the driver’s open window.

“Uh, I knew not to get out of the car,” she said.

“That’s right,” Severide said, eyeing the cable.  “You hurt?”

The woman looked herself over.  “No, I don’t think so.”

“What happened?”

“Well, this animals just darted out, right in front of my car, so I swerved.”

“Looks like you missed him, so PETA will be happy.  Just give us a sec,” he added when she shifted nervously again.

“Severide,” Hadley called, with a pointed glance to the underside of the car.

He dropped to his stomach to peer underneath, and saw the oil leaking steadily from the undercarriage.  With a muffled curse, he stood again and started thinking.

“All right, we can’t wait for the power company.”

“Wait, what’s happening?”

“Just stay in the car.  Capp, throw me the rope bag.”

Capp had it out in one second and was tossing it clear across the top of the car the next.  Severide pulled a rope from it, managed to get it looped around the cord before tossing the bag with the other end of the rope back to the waiting Capp.  While he worked, Severide automatically assuaged the woman’s nervous rambling with his own quiet encouragement.  He glanced at Capp, got the confirming nod, then they began to drag the line off the car, around the telegraph pole before tying it off to a nearby pole, well away from the car and any other bystanders.

Severide headed back to the woman who was still sitting numbly in the front set of her car, breathing heavily and opened the door for her.  Gingerly, she stepped out.

“See,” Severide said.  “Safe and sound.”

“Yeah,” she chuckled, still sounding like she was in shock.

“You need a backboard and stretcher?” he asked, watching her carefully as he guided her away.

She rolled her neck a few times but looked alright.  “No, I think I’m good.  I’d kill for a massage though.”  When Severide didn’t answer, she chuckled again and said, “I’m fine.”

Severide smiled slightly, before gesturing to nearby waiting paramedics.  “Well, these guys will check you out to make sure.”

Leaving them to it, he headed off, not hearing the thanks she called after him.  He had a live power line to babysit after all.

 

The routine call with the woman and the fallen power line didn’t turn out to be nearly as routine as Severide had expected.  Especially when she turned up at the house minutes after his squad arrived back themselves, smile in place and chocolate in hand.

“Remember me?” she asked, leaving a cab waiting for her in the driveway as she walked up to where he hovered uncertainly near his truck.  “I tried to electrocute you before.”

Severide took a few hesitant steps towards her, smiling slightly, welcomingly.  “I remember.”

She offered the box for him.  “For you.  Chocolates,” she added, when he didn’t immediately take them from her.

“Uh, thanks,” he said, finally taking the proffered gifts and offering a small smile in return.  He tried not to groan when her own smile widened.  “But you didn’t have-”

“No, no, please,” she said.  “I mean, it doesn’t even begin to repay you for all your help.”

Severide bit his lip and wondered what the best way to handle this would be.  “Miss…”

“Uh Renee Royce,” she introduced herself, offering her hand for him to shake.  “Call me Renee.”  Severide would have had to be blind to not notice the coyness in both her voice and smile.  He shook her hand firmly and but didn’t linger.  This would be hard enough without sending her mixed signals.

“Right,” Severide said and frowned.  “Look my services are free.” There was a long moment where Severide waited - and hoped - for her to get the message.

She looked put off for a moment as her eyes roved over his face, drinking in his features and when she bit her lip and smiled softly down at her shoes, Severide’s heart sunk because he knew his message hadn’t been received and what was about to come.

“This is going to sound- okay, what the hell.”  Renee shook her head as if to clear her thoughts, and refixed her smile on him.  “Do you want to have lunch or coffee sometime?”

And there it was.  It wasn’t an uncommon occurrence - and actually happened more than anyone would think - that a victim would come back interested in the firefighter who’d pulled them to safety, for some guy to come sniffing around, eyes only for Shay or Dawson.  Only a few months ago, a woman who couldn’t have been older than her mid-twenties had come round to thank them, intent on finding Mouch and asking him out.  It was a harmless interaction, they’d been warned about in the academy, and really it was just part of the job.

Severide pressed his lips together and blinked out at the street, excuses about being on shift already forming in his mind.

Laughing like she could read the hesitance in his face, she was quick to assure him, “It doesn’t have to be today.”

“Look, it’s a really nice offer-” he tried.

“Come on, just say yes,” she implored, batting her eyelashes at him.

And it wasn’t that she wasn’t pretty, she was beautiful but he’d been here before, when he had been younger and naive and he knew how it would end.  Besides he doubted he’d be interested even if she wasn’t a victim.

“Miss Royce,” he said gently.

“Yes,” she grinned.

Severide waited a breath, framing the words in his mind before he said them.  “There’s a well-known phenomenon where people who have been rescued become attracted to the people that helped them.  Believe me, this will wear off in 30 minutes, tops.”

Her smile dimmed slightly at his words and when her eyes slid over his shoulder he knew what she’d seen.  Love his squad as he did, Severide knew they could be a pack of assholes 90% of the time and he had no doubt they’d caught on to what was happening.  Embarrassment coloured her cheeks as she stepped away.

“Thank you again.”

“Yeah, it was my pleasure,” Severide assured her as she backed away.  He waited until she had disappeared back into the safety of her cab and they’d pulled away to walk back inside table, shooting his company his most disapproving look as he passed and taking the chocolates with him.

 

Vargas left that afternoon, a box of his things under his arm and it was hard for everyone at the house to feel like it wasn’t a funeral.  It was the definitely the end of something however and they all felt it as they gathered on the floor to say goodbye.

Otis stepped forward holding the going away present the house had scrounged up for him.

“This is from all of us,” he said, offering the package to Vargas.

Vargas ripped the plain brown packaging away to find his helmet, on which each member of the house had scribbled their signature of a message in silver marker.  He turned it over slowly in his hands, fingers tracing the words of love scrawled on the scarred surface.

“Thanks guys,” he finally got out and if his voice sounded a little choked, no one was going to mention it.  “This, is-” he started but had to clear his throat.  “It sure ain’t pretty.  But I love it.  Thanks.”

Boden stepped forward.  “It was an honour to serve with you at this house, Vargas,” he said gravely.  Boden forwent a traditional shake of the hand and instead pulled the man into a hug.  He clapped Vargas on the shoulder once before stepping back to let the rest of the house say goodbye.  There were hugs and well wishes all around and then Vargas was leaving and the rest of the house were drifting off leaving Severide, Casey, and Boden to watch their former colleague walk away.

“Keep an eye on him, both of you.”

“Yes, Sir,” they both replied dutifully, waiting until Vargas was out of sight to follow the others back inside.

 

Severide was mildly surprised to find Renee Royce climbing out of yet another cab sitting in the driveway as the sky slowly but surely darkened with the oncoming night.  Ignoring the sly comments from his squadmates, Severide moved to meet her, feeling apprehensive.

“It has been over 30 minutes,” she said instead of a greeting, looking equal parts fond and irritated.  “And it hasn’t worn off.”  She arched one perfect eyebrow and waited.

Severide found himself smiling slightly.  “Is that so?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, how about that.”

“Because you made me wait for it, it is now going to be dinner,” she said firmly.

Severide hesitated for only a moment, an image of Casey rising unbidden in his mind, before figuring what the hell.  Royce seemed nice enough and even if it didn’t go anywhere, it could be fun, God only knew he needed some of that in life.

Still he had to make her work for it.  “Is it?”

“Have you ever been to Francesca’s?  ‘Cause we’re in for tomorrow night.”

Severide’s stomach clenched slightly, he knew Francesca’s alright, but he forced a smile.  “Alright,” he agreed softly, and Royce grinned in triumph.

He saw her back into her cab only to find Shay watching him unimpressed from the other side of the floor.  He approached her cautiously but she grabbed his arm before he could ask what was wrong and yanked him towards the doors.

“A word, Kelly?” she asked, but Severide figured she didn’t really need an answer.

Shay didn’t let up until she’d pulled him into a dark conference room, off a deserted corridor where there was no chance they’d been heard.

“What’s shaking, Sparkles?” he asked lightly, the combination of the pills he’d taken earlier and the interaction with Royce making him feel lighter than air.

Whatever had been bugging Shay seemed to drain out of her as she squinted up at him through the gloom.

“What’s up with you?”

“Nothing,” Severide said defensively.

Shay’s pressed into a thin, furious line.  “Are you on something again?”

“What?” Severide scoffed in disbelief, unable to believe that she’d automatically jump to thinking he was on something the second he looked happy.  “Maybe I’m finally feeling a little better,” Severide said even though he knew that wasn’t it.

Shay looked like she wanted to argue but she shook her head and glanced away for a second.  “Whatever Kelly, this isn’t what I wanted to talk to you about.”

“Then what was?” he asked, tone still sharper than usual.

Shay’s eyes slid back to his and he was a little surprised to see wariness there.  “So you’re going out with that Renee chick?” she asked after a moment.

Severide shrugged.  “Yeah.  She’s seems cool.  Why?”

“I just don’t think it’s a good idea.”

Severide had never seen Shay looking so unsure of herself.  She was usually so ready to push, push, push.  It was what made her such a good paramedic, and an even better friend.  But now it was like she was worried that she’d push him too far and for the first time Severide was worried that something irrevocable had changed between them.

“What do you mean?” he asked, making an effort to keep his voice gentle.

Shay shifted slightly and changed tact.  “Who is this really about?”

It hit him straight away.  “You think this is about Casey.”

She made a frustrated noise at the back of her throat.  “I just want you to be honest about why you’re doing this.”

“What do you want me to say?” Severide said, voice rising and even he could hear how defeated he sounded.  “I still love him; is that what you want to hear?” he yelled, and an absent part of his brain was glad there was no one around to hear his outburst.  Oddly enough he wasn’t all that surprised by his confession.  He loved Matt.  Had always loved Matt.  Would probably always love him.  He marveled over that in his head while Shay looked at him, heartbroken.

“So why don’t you tell him,” she whispered, reaching for his hands.

But he was already stepping away, shaking his head, choking back a lump in his throat.  “I can’t,” he croaked, eyes burning, unshed at the back of his eyes as he looked away.  “I just got him back and I can’t lose him again.  I can’t survive losing him again.  I’d rather have him like this than not at all.  It’s self preservation.”

Shay’s voice, when she answered, was a mixture of sadness and anger.  “It’s a cop out, is what it is.”

Severide swiped irritably at the tears that threatened to spill over his cheeks.  “I can’t lose him again.  He’s everything.”

“I know,” Shay murmured and stepped forward to wrap him up in a hug he hadn’t known he’d needed until he was getting it.


 

Dinner was surprisingly fun, especially after he’d wrangled Vargas into coming with them.  He couldn’t not; the poor man had turned back up at the station, been blown off by all of his colleagues, and hung around like - and Severide truly hated the analogy - like a lost puppy until shift had ended and Severide couldn’t not invite him to come.

Royce didn’t seem to mind his presence, she struck Severide as the type to just accept, adapt, and roll with it and he appreciated it.  Vargas needed them now more than anything.  He told her as much after Vargas had said goodnight and Severide was walking her back to her car.

“Thanks for making it three.  He’s struggling a bit.”

Royce smiled.  “Don’t mention it.  You’re a good man, caring about your men like that.”

Severide cleared his throat as the cold Chicago air nipped at their exposed skin and he considered his companion.  She was beautiful with the dark hair and equally dark eyes, the wide smile, and hanging out with her hadn’t been a chore either.  It would be so easy, so much easier for him if he could just imagine a future with her, where they dated, had some fun together, even if it didn’t last, he’d been moving on from the shallow one night stands that had frequented his life since he broke up with Casey.  

But he already knew it couldn’t happen; tonight his mind had been half at the dinner and half wondering what Casey was up to, what his nights were like now that he didn’t have himself or Darden there.  And even when he’d been concentrating on the dinner, he’d been thinking of what Casey would have to say, what dry but humorous comment he’d of contributed if he’d been there.  It wouldn’t be fair to either him or Royce to pretend this was something it wasn’t.

Severide sighed, and cleared his throat again, earning Royce’s attention.  She regarded him curiously, waiting patiently while he collected his thoughts.

“Look, Royce… this was really fun.  It was, and I actually really needed it but… it’s not fair to you if I don’t- if I can’t be honest with you.  And the truth is you’re amazing but there’s, there’s someone else.”

Royce had a small, knowing smile on her face as she nodded slowly and Severide barely had time to wonder how, before she was speaking.

“Let me guess,” she said slowly, as they strolled along.  “Lieutenant Casey.”

Severide’s mouth dropped open and he glanced over at the crowded street to collect himself.  He hadn’t thought he’d talked about him that much.  “I’m sorry- I didn’t- just, how?” he finally managed.

The small smile widened slightly.  “Your eyes,” she said softly.  “They just lit up whenever he was mentioned.  I always wanted someone to love me like that.”

Severide swallowed past the lump building his throat.

“I’m assuming that he’s not in the picture anymore?”  Royce asked carefully while Severide struggled to speak.

“He is,” Severide said.  “But we’re not- we can never go back to what we were.”

“I’m sorry,” Royce offered.  They had reached her car by now but neither of them made a move to reach for the door handle.  “Look, I don’t really know you but getting over someone, especially someone you love that much can be a bitch, so if you ever need anyone, even it’s just to talk I’m available.  It doesn’t have to be a serious thing,” she continued when Severide showed signs of interrupting, refusing.  “And I know exactly what I’m getting myself into, so don’t worry.  But maybe just what you need is something not so serious.”

She pressed a business card into his hand, reached up to kiss his cheek, murmured a goodbye, and slid into her car, peeling away before Severide could even decide what he thought.

 

While Severide thought and wondered about Casey, the Truck Lieutenant was busy installing a brand new window in Gabriela Dawson’s apartment, while the paramedic cooked something delicious smelling in the kitchen.

“It’s perfect,” she sighed, handing Casey a beer she’d brought over.  “Even the view is better,” she said, gesturing to the boring brick wall that lay just beyond the closed window.

Before Casey could respond he noticed the smoke that was starting to form in the kitchen and the spitting noises the pot she’d left simmering was making.  He nodded to it and she whirled around, hurrying over to save their dinner.  Casey followed her over, slowing when he noticed a chalk board mounted to the wall and decorated with pictures around the edge.

“Who do we have here?” he asked, eyes tracing over the young faces peering back at him.  He’d always known he wanted kids but over the last couple of years Casey had finally realised that he wanted them soon.  He tried to ignore the pang deep in his chest as he remembered that when he had always pictured having kids, it was always Severide by his side.

Dawson turned the burner down and joined Casey.  “That’s my cousin’s kid, Maria,” she said, pointing to an angelic girl at the top who was missing her two front teeth.  “She just started ballet class, and she’s so adorable.  The one next to her, that’s Antonio’s brainiac son, Diego, don’t know where he gets it, honestly.  Then the twins, Freddy and Carla.”

Casey’s eyes caught on a photo in the bottom corner, the only one that looked not to be Dawson’s family.  He smiled at the familiar sight of his candidate.  “You his aunt, too?” he joked.

Dawson smiled slightly but it didn’t fully reach her eyes.  “We just hang out sometimes.”

It surprised Casey sometimes that despite how they lived in close-quarters every third day, he could still learn new things about his colleagues.  “Oh yeah?”

Dawson shrugged, eyes on the photo.  “Well, he knows all the best dive restaurants in the city.”  She turned back to the pot before Casey could say anything more.  Dawson turned back after a moment with a spoonful of a red sauce.  “Here, try this.”

“Ok.”  Casey leaned forward to taste the food but Dawson hesitated.

“Careful though, it’s a little spicy,” she said, biting her lip.

Casey scoffed good-naturedly.  “I can take it.”  He took the proffered bite and nearly moaned at the taste flooding his mouth, the spices intense but not too much and flavour bursting on his tongue.  “So good,” he sighed, swallowing.

Dawson grinned.  “Yeah?  You like it?”

Casey could only nod as he closed his eyes and savoured the taste.  When he opened them again, Dawson’s own eyes were on his face.  She noticed him looking and jumped, eyes darting away and a blush darkening her cheeks.  Casey swallowed and didn’t comment.  Maybe he should have, made a joke of it or something but the moment had passed and then Dawson was grabbing her phone.

“Here,” she said, unlocking it.  “Let’s take a picture for my wall.”

“Sure,” Casey said easily.  He stepped a fraction closer to her and curled an arm loosely around her waist as she shuffled closer and held the camera up.  They both smiled, the camera flashed, and the picture was taken but Dawson didn’t step away.  Casey turned to her, question dying on his lips when he saw her dark eyes and how they flickered down to his lips.  

He stepped back and cleared his throat awkwardly, about to ask when dinner would be ready when his own phone buzzed in his pocket and he pulled it out to read the waiting text.

Severide: I need you at the house.  It’s Vargas.

The text was short but chilling and Casey was already heading for the door before he could think about it.  Dawson glanced up and frowned.

“What’s wrong?”

“I’m sorry, I’ve got to go.  Severide needs me.”  Casey could have stayed to explain, Dawson deserved that but he was already too preoccupied with Severide and all the bad things that could happen the longer he stayed.  He didn’t wait to hear her response, and later he would resolve to make it up to her later but for now Severide needed him.

The drive over was pure torture.  Dawson didn’t live too far from the house but every minute that ticked over and Casey wasn’t at the house yet, he’d found a new, terrible thing that could have happened.

He pulled up at the curb of the firehouse with a screech and was taking off inside almost before the car was fully turned off, ignoring the calls off first shift as he sped past.  He’d seen them on the roof and his stomach was churning.  If Vargas jumped, Casey couldn’t even stomach the thought.  And Severide, Casey’s stomach spasmed, if Severide tried to stop him and they both got pulled over.  Casey burst through the door at the bottom of the stairwell and took the stairs three at a time.

He slowed when he reached the top, knowing that scaring them - either Severide or Vargas - could only in disaster and quietly edged out the open door and onto the roof.  Vargas was standing on the edge of the roof, looking down at the ground while Severide hovered uncertainly behind, torn between wanting to yank him down and worried he might spook him into jumping.  

“Vargas, you got to stop playing, man,” Severide was saying.

Even though Casey hadn’t made a noise, Severide’s head turned and their eyes met, Casey noting the relief in Severide’s distantly.  Severide held up a hand silently, telling him to go slow and Casey nodded his agreement as Vargas turned on the ledge, catching sight of Casey for the first time.

“Hey, buddy,” he said carefully as he wandered closer, trying to look nonchalant.  His voice sounded tight and desperate even to his own ears.  “What’s going on?”

“This is so messed up,” Vargas murmured, glancing over his shoulder at the drop again.

Thinking as one Severide and Casey both stepped closer.

“Why don’t you move away from the edge there, Vargas?”

“I’ve been telling him,” Severide said, voice purposefully casual as he inched closer while Vargas’ attention was on Casey.  “He keeps living the rest of his life the way he fought fires, he’ll have a hell of a lot to be proud of.”  

Severide distracting him bought Casey a few more moments to also step closer.  It was a technique they sometimes used to distract suicidal victims from jumping while a pair got closer but it was difficult because it had to be done seamlessly or the victim could be spooked into moving.  It was a technique Casey and Severide had never had a problem mastering together.

“Remember the Homewood fire?  We lost the house, and Vargas saves the family photo album?  But here’s the thing I never told you.  The mum thanked me after it was all over.”  Casey knew he was babbling but he just had to fill the silence with something meaningful while he and Severide closed the small gap separating them from Vargas.  Severide’s nod was encouraging.  “You know what she said?  She said, ‘the house was made out of wood.  But the home was made out of the people in that book.’”  They were so close Casey could almost feel Vargas’ jacket.  “Firehouse 51 is made out of you and me and Severide and every firefighter that passes through those gates.  Nothing can take that away from you.”

Vargas’ face crumpled and he swayed on the spot, reaching for Severide who was there, Casey beside him to grab Vargas and lead him off the edge.  The tears were pouring down Vargas’ face as he was cradled between Casey and Severide, the former holding him upright so he could say one final thing.

“51 is always going to be your house.”

Vargas sobbed and the three of them slid to the ground, Vargas trembling and shaking between them.  Exhausted, emotionally and physically, Casey leaned over until his forehead was resting against Severide’s, both their eyes closing as they comforted Vargas.  He didn’t know what this was between them, that pull he felt towards Severide and no one else in the world, the pull that hadn’t dimmed over time and maybe never would.  He didn’t know what it was but he was glad if he had to go through this, he was doing it with Severide.  They’d have to come down eventually, call Boden, tell him what happened but for now they could just sit and comfort a mourning man with the only other person they felt completely safe with.

Chapter Text

A week passed and slowly, slowly the house recovered from the loss and the gap that had once been filled by Jose Vargas healed over.  Christmas was creeping closer, giving them all something else to think about and Vargas seemed to be doing better every time someone turned up for the new shift with news from him.

Severide found himself spending more and more time with Royce and Casey equally.  Royce because she was easy to be with, great company that sometimes ended in fun, casual sex, after which things never got awkward.  And Casey… well Severide was a masochist and couldn’t help himself.  Something he was painfully aware of as he watched Casey vault into the cab of is truck and go roaring off to a fire.

The woman who lived in the flashy house Truck 81 were called to was ready with the story by the time they got there.  Seeing them arriving she came rushing over, mindless of the hand covered by the burnt teatowel.

“I was deep-frying eggplant,” she explained, gasping.  “I turned my back for a minute and then there were flames everywhere.  I tried to beat it out with a towel,” she said, gesturing helplessly to the tea towel in her hands and Casey caught a glimpse of blistered skin.

“Let those two take care of that hand,” he said, nodding at first it, then at Dawson and Shay who had appeared beside him.  From what he’d seen, it didn’t look too bad but would need some basic medical attention.

Casey left the woman in Dawson, Shay, and Boden’s capable hands and joined his men as they strode into the house and directly into the kitchen where a smoke detector was beeping shrilly and a small flame was burning on the counter and stove top.

“Would someone turn off that smoke detector?” Herrmann grimaced, shooting a disdainful look at the offending object.

While Otis climbed on a chair to get to it the rest of the company converged on the small fire with their extinguishers and within a minute the fire was out and the smoke detector was off.

“Alright,” Casey said.  “Let’s do a quick walkthrough, open some windows, get this place vented.”

As they walked through the lavish house, opening doors and windows as they went it was clear just how rich the owners were, with the artworks and sculptures dotting the walls and decorating end tables.

“Holy moly,” Mouch gaped as he turned in a slow circle.  “These must be the 1% I keep hearing about.”

“Oh!” At Oti’s surprised exclamation they all came running, Casey included, faces appearing from over the staircase banister to peer down at him.  “You guys!  This priceless piece of artwork has been destroyed.”  Otis gestured to the large artwork on the wall in front of him forlornly before spying a nearby brochure and holding it up for them to see.  “Oh wait.  Never mind.  It’s supposed to look like that.”

The company chuckled and went about their work, levering open windows to let the smoke billow out and checking that the fire hadn’t done anything more than surface damage before finally they could back outside and into the fresh air.

While his men headed straight for their truck, Casey headed over to the woman who’d just finished getting her hand bandaged by the ambo girls.

“You’ll probably need a new countertop,” he said.  “But everything else is okay.”

The woman’s face crumpled in relief before she surged forward placing a soft kiss to Casey’s cheek.  “Oh my god, thank you.  Thank you so much.”

The woman was rushing off back inside before Casey could respond and then his radio was crackling at his chest.

“Truck 81,” came the voice of a dispatch officer.  “Are you available to assist at a pin-in accident?”

“Truck 81 responding,” Casey responded, after getting the confirming nod from Boden.  “Pack her up,” he called to his dawdling company.  “We got another call.”

As they pulled away, tires screeching and sirens screaming they had no way of knowing the mess they’d left behind.

 

There was no more ominous a sign, Casey decided, then coming back to the house to find Kelly Severide out of his beloved chair at the squad table and standing in the driveway waiting for you.  He didn’t so much as flinch back as the truck passed him by and rolled to a stop in it's usual spot.  Severide only pushed away from the garage door track he’d been leaning against when Casey jumped down and started pulling of his turnout gear.  Casey caught a glimpse of his apologetic face and felt his stomach dip.

“What?”

Severide didn’t offer up any verbal response but just nodded at the driveway where Casey hadn’t noticed a group of men standing a little way away, a familiar head of ginger hair among them.  White-hot anger flared inside him and almost instinctively Casey took a step forward, putting him chest to chest with Severide who had anticipated his reaction and had stepped between him and the group.  When Casey looked, he saw a familiar anger reflected there but he knew Severide wouldn’t budge, he had too much too lose this time.

“Matthew Casey.”  The voice was exactly the same and it could have been 12 years ago again for all Casey knew.  Severide’s eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly then he stepped to the side and turned to face the approaching man alongside his friend, backed up by the rest of the house Casey and Severide could feel congregating behind them.  “How about that.”  

Casey wanted to break the hand that was offered to him but he restrained himself at the gentle brush of Severide’s hand against his own.  He didn’t bother with courtesy though, either.  “What are you doing here, Griffin?”

“I’m with Internal Affairs Division now,” Griffin said, fingers fiddling briefly with the badge pinned to his chest and that explained the dress shirt and tie that he was sporting.  Casey couldn’t say he was surprised and judging by the quiet snort he heard from Severide neither was his friend.  Even in the academy Griffin had been all talk with nothing to back it up.

“What’s I.A.D doing here?” Casey heard Herrmann demand from behind him.

“C.P.D too,” Otis added, no doubt noticing the two detectives who’d come up to flank Griffin.

Boden joined the fray and Casey immediately deferred to him on the matter.  “What the hell’s going on?”  His tone was tired not angry and Casey felt Severide relax incrementally beside him.  A fleeting urge inside him wanted to grab Severide’s hand with his own to reassure them both but it was gone before he had time to analyse it and Casey focussed again.

“The woman on Green Street said somebody walked off with her diamond necklace.”

As expected his company weren’t pleased to hear that and neither was Casey.

“This is a joke, right?” he gritted out.

“No joke, Lieutenant,” Griffin said and Casey had to admit he felt a savage sort of pleasure at hearing the title come out of Griffin’s mouth.  Judging by the look on Griffin’s face the word tasted like poison in his mouth.

“My men aren’t thieves,” Casey said.

“All the same, we’re talking about a $50 000 piece of jewelry,” one of the detectives put in.

“That’s a class 2 felony.”

“Casey,” Boden cut in.  “The police just need to take statement from you and the men.”

“And,” Griffin continued, brandishing a stack of forms suddenly in his hand.  “I’m going to need you to fill out this form too.  Basic stuff, where you worked in the fire, who you worked with, if you saw the missing item, or anything else at all suspicious.”

Griffin moved about passing out the forms and Casey seethed, flipping the suspenders from his shoulders irritably and pushed down the turnout pants to pool at his feet.  He straightened just in time to avoid having a form thrust under his nose.  Casey took the form without a word and Griffin stalked off with his two detective minions close at his heels.

Boden didn’t look surprised when Casey turned immediately to him.  “Can I have a minute?”  And they were similarly unsurprised when Severide followed them to the nearest conference room.

“I know what you’re going to say-” Boden began.

“On my best day, I’d have to fight the urge to choke that guy out,” Casey practically spat, eyes scanning over the form that was beginning to crumple in his fist.  Apparently sensing that he was about to start ripping it to shreds, Severide rescued the form from his friend’s grasp and looked at it himself.  “Today’s not my best day.”

“The possible theft of a $50 000 necklace supersedes any concerns about your personal feelings toward Ted Griffin,” Boden recited, sounding like he was doing damage control at a press conference rather than talking to his two lieutenants.

Casey made a frustrated noise in the back of his throat and Severide’s hand twitched with the urge to cup the back of his friend’s neck and rub away the knots of stress he knew he carried.  The hand balled into a fist instead and he leaned away and against a nearby table as if distance would stop him from doing anything stupid.

“Chief, you know as well as I do, none of my men took that necklace.”

“I hope not,” was all Boden said.  “Because I don’t want to see any of them lose their job and face criminal charges.  And,” he continued, when it looked like both Casey and Severide were going to cut in.  “I don’t want to see their lieutenant get a black mark on his record, so let’s just play this one by the book.”

Casey sighed and looked inclined to argue further but after trading a look with Severide who shrugged, he nodded his defeat.  Boden nodded to them both, an odd knowing look in his eyes that worried Severide before leaving them to it.

“There’s nothing to find,” Severide said after a moment.  “So don’t worry about it.”

Casey merely nodded his head with pursed lips and Severide knew instantly that his friend wouldn’t relax; there was someone he didn’t like on his turf and investigating his company.  His phone buzzed insistently in his pocket before he could reassure Casey any further and he pulled it out on instinct to check it.  Royce.  He pushed it back into his pocket without reading the message and looked up to find Casey watching him carefully, an unreadable expression on his face.

“Hot date?” he finally asked and the words should have been a joke but the tone was all wrong.  Casey pushed away from the table and headed for the door without another word.

Severide watched him go, biting his lip.  “Something like that.”

 

The text was short, sweet and haunting Severide.  His phone was burning against his leg where it sat in his pocket and he resisted the urge to pull it out and re-read the now memorised words.

Royce: Wanna get dinner tomorrow night?  I was thinking italian?

It wasn’t the first time they’d gotten together since that first time but it felt different somehow now that Casey knew about it.  He rubbed a hand over tired eyes.  Royce was supposed to be a distraction not another complication to his already over-complicated life.  His shoulder twinged painfully and he rubbed at it absently as he leant back in his chair and tuned back into the conversation going on around him.

Mills was complaining about the woman with the $50 000 necklace and Mouch was defending her half-heartedly by regaling them with a story about Pat “the pinch” Osbourne that they’d all heard before, exempting Mills.

“The roof could be caving in on us, and Pat would take a moment to, ‘rescue’ the silverware.”

“So what’s the deal with the lieutenant and the guy from I.A.D?”

The group shifted uncomfortably and traded looks except for Mills who was waiting expectantly.  More than a few looks were sent Severide’s way which he resolutely ignored.

“Bad history,” Herrmann finally said.  “They all went through the academy together,” he continued with a glance at Severide.  “And there was an incident.”

“What kind of incident?”

“The kind that ends with Griffin getting his face punched in,” Severide growled, never taking his eyes of his phone.

Mills’ shock was practically palpable.  “Wait, why did the Lieutenant hit him?”

“He was talking trash about Casey’s family,” Mouch said.  At the venomous look Severide sent his way he snapped his mouth shut.  “But see, we don’t talk about that.”

“And the little weasel,” Herrmann started with a growl.  “Had a problem with certain other things…” he trailed off, shooting Severide a glance.

Mills looked totally lost by now and Severide, with a resigned sigh, took pity on him.

“Griffin had a problem with the fact that Casey is into guys as well as girls and wouldn’t hide it.”

Mills blinked.  “Oh.  I hadn’t realised-”

“Because it’s his business and no one else’s,” Severide snapped but sighed again when Mills sat there looking like a kicked puppy.  “Look, Casey’s not in the closet but he’s also not the type to go yelling it from the rooftops.”

“Right, got it.”

Otis who had been sitting involved in his ipad and ignoring the conversation going around him suddenly shot up straight.  “Whoa, whoa, guys, here we go.”  Then spying Casey who was coming in for a cup of coffee spun around in his chair.  “Hey Lieutenant, check this out.  The people with all the artwork, Sandra and Richard Vaughan?  They’re selling their entire art collection at auction.”

“I already finished my Christmas shopping,” Casey replied without missing a beat, earning him a few sniggers while he turned his focus back on the coffee machine.

“No, think about it,” Otis whined.  “ You don’t sell your art collection.   Your children sell your art collection after you die.   Or you sell it if you need the money.”

Apparently over the tutorial on art collections, Casey sighed.  “Otis, I have things to do.”

“The diamond necklace, it’s an insurance scam,” Otis, said finally getting to the point.  The sudden declaration earnt him most of the room’s attention, Herrmann, Mills, and Mouch sitting up to pay attention and even Severide put down his phone.

Casey however remained unconvinced.  “So this woman nearly burned down her home in some elaborate scheme to get firefighters in there so she could accuse them of stealing a necklace?”  And when he said it like that, it did sound pretty unlikely.

“No, she didn’t set the fire.  But when it happened, she saw an opportunity to cash in.”

“Yeah,” Casey said slowly and Severide grinned knowing that tone.  “You should write that down.”  He left without another word, steaming coffee in hand.

“Okay,” Otis said petulantly to his retreating back.  “I will.”

 

Another one of Herrmann’s countless business ventures made itself known in the form of a long limo parked in the driveway of the station, with Severide waist deep in the engine checking it out while Herrmann tried to talk down the price with the owner.  A small group gathered around to watch the most interesting thing going while Casey leaned against the front of the car, watching Severide work.  He knew as much about mechanics as Severide knew about construction but standing there watching the other lieutenant work brought back memories of summer days spent at the dock, burning red in the sun while Severide worked.

“Going to the prom, Herrmann,” Dawson teased, strolling up alongside Shay just as Herrmann was waving goodbye to the now former owner of the limo.

“This the the flagship for Caesar Limousines.  Your chariot awaits, ma’am.”  He gestured proudly to the shiny black paint of the car before attempting to tug open one of the doors.  It stuck and eventually he gave up, leaning against it instead with a proud grin.  “This guy,” Herrmann explained, gesturing to the retreating back of the owner.  “He’s liquidating his company.  Now I can only afford one vehicle to start, but I figure I roll the profits of this one into the next, and then the next, and before you know it, I’ll have a whole fleet.  Airport runs, weddings, prom season.”

None of them were entirely convinced by his confidence however, having seen on multiple occasions Herrmann’s bad luck is business ventures.

“Really, Herrmann,” Otis sighed, tugging at the stuck door before finally yanking it open with an ugly grinding sound.

But Herrmann wasn’t deterred and rounded the car to the hood to clap a hand to the shoulder of Severide.  “I was smart enough to bring my own mechanic to the negotiations.  Severide got the guy to knock $1,500 off the price.”

“You’re going to have to spend some of that money to fix this charing issue,” Severide reminded him, finally withdrawing from underneath the hood and took the rag Casey offered him for his grease coated fingers with a smile.  “And you’re definitely going to need a new timing belt.”

Herrmann’s smile dimmed a fraction but his eyes were still bright with excitement that made the whole house worry.  Severide and Casey left him to it and headed inside, Severide still wiping fruitlessly at his hands and Casey following with his jacket and laughing at his attempts.  Severide was just beginning to think he might need a shower instead when Casey swiped a finger across his cheekbone and held up the now grease blackened digit.

“You’re such a grease monkey,” he said, laughing fondly, catching Severide’s eye in a heavy look, jolting them both with memories.  It wasn’t so long ago that he had been calling Severide a ‘sexy grease monkey’ whenever he walked in the door after a long day of restoring boats or under the hood of the comaro, when he would have hauled Severide closer by the belt and gotten themselves so thoroughly covered in grease just to have an excuse to shower together.  Fire pooled in his stomach and he didn’t know if he was glad or not that Shay suddenly appeared and he was forced to look away.

She looked anxious about something and was not so subtly throwing out hints that she wanted to talk to Severide alone so he handed off his jacket and escaped back to his quarters where he could freak out in private.

It wasn’t the attraction that had him pacing around his quarters like a caged animal.  That he could deal with; it was logical that there would be lingering physical attraction, it made sense.  It was the rush of fond memories that freaked Casey out because he was over it, he was meant to be over it.  And he definitely shouldn’t be feeling a longing ache for the return of those times.  Casey flopped onto his bed with a groan and decided that if he didn’t know what it was meant, maybe it was just better not to think about it at all.

 

Severide could feel the ghost of Casey’s fingertips against his cheek and was torn between running his fingers over the spot again and concentrating on Shay who was freaking out beside him as they paced along a deserted corridor of the station.  She’d explained in a tense whisper how Boden had dragged her and Dawson into his office to talk about the vials of painkillers Shay had swiped from the ambo rig to give to him.  Apparently now, of all times, the paramedics from the other shift were coming forward.

“I thought I replaced every vial I gave you,” she was saying, voice low and worried.  “But I must have lost count.”

Voices from up ahead drifted towards them and as if on cue they both slowed to a halt.  This was bad, and Severide knew it; it wasn’t just him anymore that would get into trouble if it all came out, he’d gone and dragged Shay into it.  As if triggered by the conversation his shoulder twinged and he reached up instinctively to knead at the spasming muscle.

“How can they bust you for something that somebody said happened a month ago?  It’s their word against yours.”

“Yeah and if it were my ass on the line, I’d put up a fight.  But Dawson’s the P.I.C. and she’s the one who's going to cop it.”

Severide frowned, thinking hard.  Problem was, there wasn’t a lot he could do, bar coming right out and owning up to what had happened and that would still get Shay into trouble.  Finally he shrugged apologetically.  “I don’t know what to tell you.”

Shay’s face abruptly closed off, eyes narrowing and lips thinning and when she spoke her voice was dangerously blank.  “No, you’re right.  It’s not your problem.  You got what you needed.”  And she was walking away before he could say another word, leaving him with an aching shoulder and crushed with the knowledge he’d disappointed her all over again.

 

Casey would never say he was grateful for a call coming in but he would be lying if he said that they didn’t save him from his problems sometimes.  Which was why he was feeling a little calmer about the whole Severide thing by the time they pulled back into the driveway after a call out to Humboldt Park.  That was until Dawson abruptly dropped into the seat beside him with an endearingly hopeful smile on her face.

“Quick question,” she said, as he looked up from the newspaper he was reading with his soup.  “Saturday, what are you doing?”

“Depends,” he said carefully.  “What have you got?”

“My cousin, the poster child for Better Homes and Gardens, throws this super-fancy Christmas party every year: string quartet, plum pudding, nutmeg sprinkled on the eggnog.  It’s so perfect you want to vomit.”

Dawson fell silent and Casey wasn’t quite sure what he was meant to respond to that with.  “Sound awesome,” he aid finally, half sarcastic, half serious.  “And you need a friend to bring along?” he asked, although he got the feeling it was a bit more serious than that if the sight of Shay sitting nearby, eyes unmoving on an upside down magazine was anything to go by.

Dawson’s smile became fixed for a moment before she nodded.  “Yeah, and I was wondering, if you have the night free, that is, if you wanted to come.”

Things had been over with Hallie for a while and Casey hadn’t been out be it romantic or platonic with someone who wasn’t Severide since and he figured what the hell; it didn’t have to be a date for him to have a good night.  “Sure,” he said easily.  “What time should I pick you up?”

“Seven o’clock?”

“Sounds good.”

Dawson stood with another smile and hurried off, leaving Casey to get back to his food and news.

The peace around the house didn’t last long however and soon enough the entire company were being hauled to the locker room to watch their belongings get turned inside out.

“Chief, are you just going to let these pretend cops violate our civil rights?” Herrmann grumbled as they filed in.

Griffin’s two CPD escorts each bristled but the red-head’s nose never left the air.

“Yeah, don’t they need to show us a warrant or something,” Otis added.

Boden’s response was tired but patient.  “They are well within their authority to search firehouse property.”

“Even our personal lockers,” Mills protested.

“You mean the department’s lockers,” Griffin sniffed.  “Besides, it shouldn’t bother you if you’re not hiding anything.”

Casey sighed and decided to step in.  “Griffin, can I have a moment with you?”

Griffin sighed heavily as though Casey was asking for the world before acquiescing with a nod.  Boden met Casey’s eyes over his head, a confirmation that he was all right before herding the others into the locker room, leaving Griffin and Casey in the sleeping quarters alone.

“What?” Griffin asked when the last firefighter had disappeared through the doorway.  “You want to punch me again?”

Casey ignored the question.  “When’s the last time I.A.D. searched an entire house?”

Griffin scoffed and stalked closer.  “A firefighter stole a $50 000 necklace, and it’s my job to find out who.  But don’t blame me if you suddenly regret assaulting a fellow classmate.”

It was Casey’s turn to scoff.  “Regret it?  I’m glad I did it.  You weren’t the first idiot to make a crack about my family or my sexuality.  You were the last though.  No one’s brought it up again since I laid your ass out.”  He’d edged forward until he and Griffin were standing toe to toe and Casey flashed back to Academy days of going head to head with Griffin.  As he’d said, Griffin certainly hadn’t been the first to find out the truth of Casey’s personal life but he’d been the most insistent and vocal, a dog with a proverbial bone.

“Sucker-punched,” Griffin interjected, practically spitting the words.

“You saw it coming.”

“The only ones who saw it were your buddies.  None of whom had the integrity to say what really happened.”

As if summoned by Griffin’s voice, Severide appeared in the doorway to the locker room, leaning against it to listen to them.  Casey’s eyes flickered to Severide’s form before sliding back to Griffin, just in time to hear his next, cutting words.

“By the way how is your mum?”

Casey’s shock meant that Griffin got a couple of steps away before he came to his senses and the pure rage splitting open Severide’s face distracted him for another moment meaning that Griffin was almost in the locker room when Casey strode after him, entertaining the image of grabbing him by the back of his stupidly pristine shirt and shoving him against the unforgiving metal of the lockers.  But before he could so much as lay a finger on the smirking man, another body was between them, warm palms sliding against his chest to push him back gently and a low voice murmuring.

“Just walk away, Matt.  Step back and let it go.  Come on, that’s it.”

Griffin was laughing and saying, “Casey blood sure runs hot, don’t it?” and Boden was barking at him and the rest of the men were muttering unhappily under their breaths, all of it overwhelming Casey, which was the only reason he allowed Severide to push him back a few steps, then a few more until he was entering the familiar air of his personal quarters.  Severide spoke to him quietly the whole time - not that Casey heard him all that much - eyes dark with fury but voice reassuringly calm.  Casey stalked back and forth in the small space, panting breaths and fury like a roar in his ears, Severide’s voice still washing over him, words indistinguishable but calming nonetheless.

“Casey, babe, just breathe. Calm down and let it go.  He’s not worth it.”

He paced back and forth until he finally got over the urge to kick something, Severide watching him the entire time, and abruptly sat down on the edge of the bed, forearms braced on his knees and head hanging while his breathing slowed.  A warm hand settled over the back of his neck, familiar callouses rough against his skin and thumb stroking along his hairline in an even rhythm that Casey found himself breathing in time to.

He finally spoke after a long moment and his voice was ragged.  “I hate that I still feel so defensive over her.”

“She’s your mum,” Severide said.

“Yeah,” Casey choked out.  “But what she did-”

“She’s still your mum and you’re allowed to defend her against assholes,” Severide said firmly.  He slowly levered Casey’s form upright and pulled him into his chest.  And Casey went easily because while he didn’t know what was going on between them, he did know that he needed this.  

Casey didn’t get a chance to analyse it however because all too soon the bells were going off and Severide was sighing even as he let his arms fall away.  Casey left to the sound of Griffin complaining that they were supposed to have been taken out of service and a warmth lingering on his skin.

By the time Truck 81 rolled up to the scene Boden had been briefed by local police and was ready to take charge.

“We’ve got possible gang members inside,” he explained as Casey dropped from the truck.  “I count six mailboxes and the fire has reached the structure.”

Casey knew how to read between the lines and understood.  They would have to move fast to get everyone out, but also carefully because guns could be going off everywhere.  Casey turned to his men.

“Mouch, Otis on the aerial, get ready to vent the roof.  Herrmann, Mills, Cruz, with me inside.”

Though they hadn’t been part of the initial call, Boden must have called out Severide because Squad 3 pulled up just as 81 was about to go inside.  Casey caught Severide’s eye just as he approached the door and stumbled slightly at the panic in Severide’s eyes.  He knew it was a bad call but there was something about that look that reminded him of when they used to be together.  Casey shook his head to clear it, knowing that he couldn’t be unfocused on a call; he owed himself and his men better.

The sound of gunshots was enough to focus him again and he hauled Herrmann down from where he’d been working on the heavy front door.  He and his men crouched behind the iron fence while everyone else scrambled for cover behind the big fire trucks; theirs wasn’t the best cover but it was better than standing out in the open.

Then Boden’s voice came out loud and clear over one of the engine’s P.A system.  “ This is the Chicago Fire Department!  Lay down your weapons!  We are trying to help you!”

Cruz edged closer to the door while Casey bit out a curse and tried to free up a hand to haul him back.  Cruz continued, undeterred.

“We’re not the police!  You’re going to die if you stay in there!  Let us help you!”

When no noise or gunshots followed his words, he crept around the fence and approached the door, mindless of the yells of his company and lieutenant.

Casey gritted his teeth at the sight of his man disappearing into the smoke but he wasn’t going to disobey Boden’s orders and go after him no matter how much he wanted to.  Not even a minute crawled past when a young guy came flying out of the apartment block, gun in hand and went running around the corner.  Herrmann growled something uncomplimentary under his breath and ran after him, tackling the kid to the ground with the help of another officer.

While the officers hauled him away, Cruz appeared back out of the smoke, mask now in place, announcing that they were good to go in.  Casey fought the urge  to reprimand him then and there and sent him back in with Mills while Herrmann stalked back over.

“Herrmann, you okay?”

“I’m gonna crack one of those punks upside their heads,” he growled and took a step towards the house only to be pushed back by Casey’s hand to his chest.

“Nope,” he said simply, reading the agitation in his friend’s face.  “You’re going to sit this one out.”  He turned to find Severide geared up and standing nearby.  “Severide?”

There was too much going on between them but in that moment it all melted away as Severide nodded.  “Got your back.”

The first floor was clear and they were on their way to the second when Boden’s voice came crackling through the radio, “ We’ve got a woman and a kid on the second floor.  Front, center.”

“On it, Chief,” Casey reported back as he and Severide headed that way.  

Severide took the door down easily with a shove of his shoulder and they made their way into the dim room.  The apartment was small and they found the mother and her son in no time, huddled under a window.  Casey didn’t think they were too badly hurt but the woman clutched at his jacket when he tried to help her up.

“My little one,” she said, voice high with desperation.  “I don’t know where he is.”  Her face was shiny with sweat and streaked with black as he peered down at her.

“Severide’ll find him,” he promised her and the other lieutenant took off.  “But we need to go.”

He expected the resistance, while it was human nature to run to save themselves, it went completely against a mother’s instincts to leave one of her babies behind.  But Casey had experience in this department, something they trained for specifically in the academy and only felt a small pang of guilt dragging her out of the room, the woman screaming her son’s name all the while.

He wasn’t having much luck however, dealing with the deceptively strong mother while also keeping a hand on his halligan and the other son.  Luckily, Severide found the youngest, Marco on the other side of the apartment and once he was in sight, the mother let up and let them guide her and her children outside.  They stumbled down the stairs and passed the kids off to paramedics before pulling their masks off.

“What have we got?” Boden asked once they’d gotten their breath back.

“First and second floor are clear,” Severide relayed.

“Cruz and Mills are on third,” Casey added.

“All right,” Boden nodded.  “Hold back until they check in.”

They didn’t have to wait long because Mills appeared on the threshold in the next minute, toting a guy with a leg injury.

“Mills,” Casey barked.  “Where’s Cruz?”

“Still up there,” he replied as he passed.

Before Casey could make a decision about what to do, Cruz’s voice was coming through the radio.  “ This is Cruz on three.  All clear and headed up to four now.”

Casey cursed again and clicked on his radio.  “Cruz, wait for me, I’m on my way.”  He quickly pulled on his mask, snatched his halligan back up and dashed back into the smoky hallway.  His thighs burned and sweat trickled down his back as he took the steps two at a time.  

He was almost to the fourth floor when he heard Cruz’s voice.  “ This is Cruz up top.  All clear and heading down.”

Despite the footsteps Casey could hear signalling Cruz’s approach, he waited until his man was in sight to turn and make his own way back down.  They moved fast through the quickly weakening structure and got out so the engine boys could get the water cannons on the fire.  Overhaul was a long and arduous task, made even worse by the body they found on the fourth floor and the sky was beginning to darken by the time they got back to the house.

 

Otis cornered Casey after dinner as he was heading back to his office to get in some paperwork before he went to bed.

“You’re not going to believe this,” he said, falling into step with his lieutenant.  “So I ordered a background check on Sandra and Richard Vaughan-”

“Otis-” Casey sighed.

“And they are leveraged up to their eyeballs.  It’s one judgment after the next.  They’re staving off bankruptcy.  They’re in financial ruin.  And Mr. Vaughan was investigated twice for wire fraud.”

Casey took the papers Otis had been waving around wildly with a frown and looked over the bank records, and news articles Otis’ P.I. had compiled.

“236 subscribers are going to hear about this in my next podcast,” Otis said.

But Casey barely heard him because everything had just clicked into place.  He turned on his heel and doubled back the way he’d come, leaving Otis and heading back to the kitchen where Griffin was exactly where he’d been hoping he was.

“Lieutenant Casey,” Griffin sneered and as always Casey felt a stab of savage pleasure at hearing the title come from his mouth.  “Four hour call, huh?  That was pretty convenient.”

Casey resisted the urge to dump the coffee in Griffin’s hand over his head and shoved the papers he’d taken from Otis as his chest instead.

“It’s insurance fraud,” he said simply.  “The woman with the diamonds?  They’re broke.”

Griffin set the papers aside without looking at them.  “What do you do off-shift?  Drive around in a van solving mysteries?”

Casey rolled his eyes and strode from the room, heading back to his office.  If Griffin didn’t want to believe him, that was his problem but those diamonds weren’t going to turn up anywhere in his house.  He knew that much.

He barely had a minute to relax in his office however because Griffin was rapping smartly on the door.  Casey would have much rather let the blind downs to block Griffin’s face but knowing the action would be futile he got up to let him in instead.

“You’re up.”

“What is it you’re hoping for, Griffin?”

Griffin ignored him.  “Toss the room and search him.”

One of the cops immediately started looking under his mattress while the other patted him down in brisk, efficient brushes.

“Seriously?” he asked because how stupid would he have to be to keep the necklace on him, if he had stolen it in the first place.

Finally the officer stepped away with a gruff “he’s clean” and Casey held his hands up with a patronising smile.  He stepped towards the door.  “It’s all yours.”

The three of them turned to the room while Casey wavered at the door.  He wouldn’t put it past Griffin to plant something in there or mess with his things some other way but eventually he left, knowing that by staying he was only increasing the odds of punches being thrown.

With all the inappropriate thoughts he’d been having about Severide lately it probably wasn’t good that he went straight from his office to Severide’s.  But it was the only place he wanted to be - another thought he refused to analyse - so he pushed open the door and collapsed on the bed with a groan.

Severide’s chuckle was low and husky.  “Comfortable?”

Casey’s response was an unintelligible grunt.

The desk chair creaked as Severide shifted and Casey just knew that he was looking through the windows into his own quarters.  Wisely though he chose not to comment.  What he said however might of been infinitely worse.

“So, a date with Dawson, huh?”

Casey groaned again, rolling to smother his face into the pillow.  “It’s not a date,” he grunted, voice muffled by the fabric in his mouth and he heard Severide chuckle again.  “How did you know anyway?”

“House is buzzing with it.”

Casey muttered lowly, “Fuck.”  As much as the house was a home to Casey, he would willingly admit that when not on a call there was only three things to do: eat, watch television and gossip, sometimes done all at once.  Of course everyone knew.  “It’s not a date,” he mumbled again before burrowing into Severide’s familiar pillow.  He hadn’t changed it in the time since they’d broken up and it was as soft as ever.  He had fallen asleep many a times on this pillow.

“Still, family Christmas party, that’s usually reserved for serious contenders, isn’t it?”  Severide’s voice was only half-teasing.  Casey didn’t answer him.

Exhausted from the days events, several calls, emotional ups and downs over his mother, and multiple confrontations Casey wasn’t surprised to find himself slowly dropping off.  But he could still hear the thuds of Griffin messing around in his quarters.  Severide must of noticed as well because gentle hands tugged him upright and pulled off his boots and pants.  He mumbled something about stealing Severide’s bed as he flopped back onto the bed and was covered with a blanket but a hand ghosted over his forehead and a low voice murmured a reassurance.

“Sleep Matt.  I’ll wake you when they’re done.”

So with Severide’s permission there was nothing stopping Casey from snuggling into pillow and dropping off into the sweet bliss of unconsciousness.


Severide wouldn’t say it was guilt over spooning Casey exactly that drove him to say yes to Royce’s text but it certainly played a part.  He had fully intended to wake Casey up when Griffin finally stopped being an asshole and finished up in his friend’s quarters; but Griffin had been taking forever, and Severide had gotten tired.  Besides Casey had looked so peaceful he hadn’t wanted to wake him.  It was easier to draw the blinds and just slide in behind him, getting the best night sleep he’d had since their breakup.

So while Severide didn’t regret doing it completely, he couldn’t say it didn’t influence his decision a little bit.  Being with Royce was - and he really hated using this word - easy.  She was smart enough to make him to actually think - a change from the brainless bimbos that had been his type lately -, funny, and the sex wasn’t half bad either.  Plus it was always good to meet someone who didn’t run into burning buildings all day, or work with people who ran into burning buildings all day, or wanted to talk about burning buildings all day.

Which was how he found himself standing in Royce’s kitchen at 10pm, half dressed while she made them margaritas in just a jumper that barely covered her ass.  Not that Severide was complaining about the view.

“Skinny margaritas,” she half sang as she finished them and brought them over to the island bench Severide was leaning up against.

He arched a dark eyebrow.  “What?”

“Skinny on the calories, not the alcohol,” she promised, dark eyes dancing with mirth as she took a sip.

“You have a really nice place,” he said, glancing around at the high ceilings and lavish furniture.

She smiled again.  “Thank you.”

“Guess it pays to work in… foreign financial-” He tried to think back to dinner when she’d been telling him about her job.

After a moment of listening to him floundering, Royce giggled and took pity on him.  “International finance law.  And yes, it does.  But I want to hear about you,” she said leaning her chin on her palm and watching him with her dark eyes.  “And how you fight fires every day.”

“Well,” Severide began.  “It’s not everyday.  On 24, off 48.”

“Oh, yeah?” Royce tilted her head curiously.  “I didn’t know that.”

“Yep.”

“And then what do you like to do on your off days?”

“I repair boats up near Monroe Harbour.”

“Do you go out to the lake much?”

“Yeah, more in the summer.”

The conversation was easy between them and it felt good just to talk about small, inconsequential things for a moment.

“I haven’t been out for a while,” Royce said thoughtfully.  “A long time actually,” she traced the rim of her cup absently, deep in her own thoughts.

Neither had he, Severide thought suddenly.  Trips out to the lake had been something he, Darden, and Casey had used to do all the time; sometimes taking Heather and the kids along but sometimes just the three of them, drifting for hours, content in each other’s company.  He’d been out only once since Darden’s death but had returned not half an hour later, feeling hollow and sad.

“I’ll have to take you out sometime,” Severide, forcing lightness into his tone and he saw the same artificial happiness in Royce’s returning smile.

“Oh, will you now?” she continued after a moment and the melancholy was melting away from her expression.

“Anytime you want, Royce,” Severide promised.  “Just the say the word.”

Royce hummed thoughtfully and eyed him and Severide instantly knew he was in trouble.

“What?”

There was a long moment of silence where Royce played with the stem of her glass and watched him.  When she spoke her voice was gentle, “Who was she?”

“What do you mean?” he said, although he had a good guess.

“The Renee that ruined my name.”

She’d gotten it in one and Severide had to wonder if he really was that predictable.  His smile fell slightly and he ducked his head.

“She was my fiancee,” he told her truthfully.  Renee had been so long ago that she barely registered anymore but would probably always jab him in the heart when he thought about her.

Royce nodded slowly.  “Before Casey?”

This was the first time she’d mentioned him since that first dinner and Severide felt like he was uneven footing wondering where this conversation was going.  Still he had his wits about him enough to nod.

“How did you meet him.”

Severide sighed and ran a hand over his short hair.

“I didn’t mean to pry-” Royce said suddenly.  “If you don't want to talk about-”

“No it’s fine,” Severide said with a wan smile.  “Um, we met at the academy actually.  Me and my best friend Andy started together and it was him and me against the world, you know.  It always had been.  

“But there was this kid, Matt, a bit younger than us and he just had blinders on, you know.  Like everyone would be goofing off or whatever and he would just be focused on what he was doing.  And I actually didn’t like him at first, because he was the only one who could give me a run for my money.

“But then Andy, he saw something in him, I guess and just decided that ,I don’t know, he needed us, or we needed him and that was it.  It was suddenly me, and Andy, and Matt against the world.”

It had been one of those blinding, all-consuming friendships where they all just clicked and it felt like Matt had been around forever even from the first day.  Severide found himself smiling at the memories.

 

Casey didn’t know if it was waking up knowing that he had slept in the same bed with Severide again after so long that had him feeling restless or something else.  He’d woken up alone, the other side of the bed still warm and wondering what the hell he thought he was doing.  And after spending the entire day wondering and analysing why it mattered to him so much that they’d shared a bed, where they’d probably done nothing more than slept back to back, Casey found himself needing something to distract himself.  Which was how he ended up upside the Vaughan’s house with a thermal imaging camera in hand and a half-assed plan.

He knocked on the door and waited patiently for the woman to appear.  Casey jolted slghtly, remembering that this was the woman who had kissed him on the cheek and thanked him in one breath and accused him of theft in the next.

“Evening, Ma’am,” he said pleasantly when she opened the door.

“Can I help you?” she said coldly.

“I just wanted to apologise on behalf of Truck 81 for your missing item, and to let you know we’re going to get  to the bottom of it,” he prattled on, knowing it would annoy her.

“Well, I should hope so,” Mrs Vaughan sniffed.

Casey held up the camera for her to see.  “This is a thermal imaging camera,” he explained.  “It’s a really great piece of technology that helps us see through the thickest smoke.”

“Okay,” she said blankly.

Casey smiled thinly.  “We all carry them, and we leave them recording the whole time we're on a call.  I’m actually on my way to drop all our cameras off with the police so they can review the footage, and see exactly what happened the entire time my men and I were inside your home.  So don’t worry.”

“Okay,” the woman said again and although her tone had taken on a patronising air, Casey could see the sliver of fear in her eyes.  “Is that it?”

“Yeah.”

“Great, so maybe you should leave now.”  She closed the door before he could comment.  Snickering to himself, Casey bounded back down the steps and hopped into his truck.  He couldn’t be sure if his plan would work but he was fairly confident and it would be fun to watch her lies crumble around her.


Next shift started with Griffin turning up at the house again, C.P.D officers in tow to finish searching the house.  Starting with all their lockers.

“Son, you’re a slob,” he remarked nastily to Cruz as his locker was opened to reveal the chaos within.

“Got something,” the cop searching Mouch’s locker said suddenly and the entire company stiffened.  

The cop withdrew a jewelry case and handed it over to Griffin who was cackling and practically salivating.  He flipped the case open and his face dropped comically.

“False alarm,” he said sounding dejected.  “Just an adorable pair of kitty cat cufflinks.”

“It’s the maneki-neko, a Japanese good luck charm,” Mouch corrected him shortly.  “And those were a Christmas gift, if you don’t mind.”  He held out his hand expectantly.

“Hey, domo arigato, Mr Roboto,” Griffin said and handed the case over.

“That doesn’t even make sense,” Mouch muttered.

Griffin’s phone rang before he could retaliate and he pulled it out and flipped it open, answering with an important sounding, “Griffin here.  Is that a fact?” he asked after a moment.  “That’s very interesting.  No, thank you.”  And he ended the call and pushed the phone back into his pocket before turning to address the locker room.  “The diamonds apparently slipped down into a heat register.  Mrs Vaughan just found them.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Mouch said.

“What a surprise,” Herrmann bit out, glaring at the locker across from him.

“Less paperwork for me,” Griffin said with a shrug but Casey could see the glimmer of disappointment in his eyes and knew Griffin would have liked nothing more than to see his rank stripped over a stolen diamond scandal.  “Let’s go,” the redhead said to the two officers as they headed for the locker room door, passing Casey on his way.  “Do say hi to your mum for me.”

But Casey didn’t flinch and just jerked a thumb over his shoulder.  “Door’s that way.”

No one else in the locker room moved until they had disappeared.  Then they shuffled about, closing their lockers and moving to get on with their day.  Only Herrmann stayed where he was, watching his lieutenant carefully.

“All right, so what did you do?” he asked finally.

The rest of the company turned to look at him.

“Nothing.”  Then after a pause, he continued, “I just told her we recorded the whole thing on our thermal cameras, you know.”

While the majority of the room smiled and chuckled at the implication of Casey’s words, Mills looked confused, looking between the others, trying to get it.

“Wait, but thermal cameras don’t record...”

Herrmann and the others looked at him and rolled their eyes good-naturedly and Mouch punched the kid on the arm as realisation lit up his eyes.

“Oh,” he said.  “That’s good.”

Casey scoffed and laughed slightly before leaving them to it.  Capp caught him just as he was leaving the locker room however.

“Casey, you have a visitor in the briefing room.”

He nodded, in both acknowledgment and thanks and headed that way, surprised, when he got there to see his sister through the window.

“Chris?” he asked, still in disbelief.  He honestly couldn’t remember the last time she had visited the house.  “This is a nice surprise,” he added and pulled her in for a hug.  “Merry Christmas.”

“Yeah, Matt, Merry Christmas.  Almost done shopping.”  She held out a parcel wrapped in green paper with candy canes.  “I couldn’t remember if you’re a large or extra large, but there’s a gift receipt in there.”

“That’s really sweet,” he told her, taking the package with a smile.  “Thank you.”

They were both quiet for a moment, but Casey could see his sister struggling to find the words to say whatever it was that she had come to the house for so he simply waited.  It didn’t take her long.

“Since we saw you at the cemetery,” she started.  “Violet’s been pretty flipped out.  ‘Why doesn’t Uncle Matt ever come to see us?  Does he not like us?  Do you not like him?’  And she shouldn’t have to be asking those questions.  And that’s on you and me.”

“Absolutely it is, yeah.”  It had killed Matt to see his niece and how much she had grown up in the months since he’d seen her.

“I feel like she’s been without her uncle, and I’ve been without my brother for too long.”

Casey sighed.  This was all well and good but he hadn’t been the one to put up boundaries between himself and his sister.  Chris had.

“I want nothing more than for us to be in each other’s lives.  But the last time we talked about it-”

It had ended in an all out screaming fight with more nasty words than kind ones.  The look on Chris’ face told him she remembered well enough.

“I know.  I remember the conversation.”  Chris’ dark eyes traced his familiar features.  “So you’re still defending her.”

“I’m not going to turn my back on her.”

Chris choked on a sob.  “Don’t you miss dad?”  The question was like a punch to the stomach and they both knew it.  “I- I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that,” Chris said quickly.  “Look I’ll call you, okay?”  She kissed his cheek and fled from the room before he could work out what to say.


Casey was simultaneously grateful for and dreading Dawson’s Christmas party.  While the distraction from his own problems was welcome, the party as distractions went would require some effort considering Dawson and her brother were the only two people he knew.

But the night went smoothly enough.  There were so many people there that Casey didn’t have to worry about the spotlight being on him for too long and the Dawson’s were an easy going bunch.  Besides both Dawson and Antonio were there to save him from wandering hands and probing questions.

Although there was an aunt that kept cornering him.

As the night wore on it was Dawson who saved him this time, looping an arm through his and steering him away from her relative, murmuring an excuse.

“Drink,” she asked, relieving a passing waiter of two of her champagne flutes.

“Yeah, thanks,” he said, taking a sip of the one she handed him.

“Oh, here, I want to show you this room,” Dawson said, leading him through the maze of people and hallways until they came across an empty room.  The construction worker in him could appreciate the beautifully crafted spiral staircase in the middle of the room and the detailed wood paneling on the walls.

“Wow,” he said and ran a hand over the banister of the staircase.

“Nice, right,” Dawson said with a smile.  She stepped up onto the bottom step of the staircase and turned to face him the extra height of the step and her heels putting her just taller than him.  “Oh and hey, I promise I won’t let my aunt corner you like that again.  I’m sorry,” she added with a giggle.

“It's okay,” Casey assured her.  “She’s fun,” he said, thinking off the butt pinches he’d been subjected to over the course of the night.

“Better when you’re drunk,” Dawson muttered and downed her drink in one go.  Casey had tried to keep up with Dawson but he wasn’t a big drinker and didn’t have the snide comments of his cousins fuelling his need to get totally smashed like Dawson did.  Dawson eyed him with bright eyes, “You’ve got to learn to keep up.”

They shared a laugh and Casey didn’t know which one of them moved but suddenly they were a whole lot closer.

“I mean,” she said, after a long moment.  “Are we just here as friends, or is this a date?”

Casey’s mouth twisted as he tried to think off a way to brush her off without hurting her feelings.  But then her lips were barely an inch from him and he didn’t have time to think at all.  At the last minute he turned his head, catching the corner of her mouth in the barest brushing off skin.

“I can’t,” he told her when she pulled back, hurt darkening her eyes.

“No, yeah,” she said quickly, looking away.  “I get it.”

Casey didn’t know what he would’ve said, probably anything to get that wounded look off her face but they were interrupted by the door suddenly opening revealing one of Dawson’s cousins and his girlfriend stumbling in, laughing.

“Oh,” the woman said, laughter dying as she saw them standing there.  “Sorry.  Don’t mind us.”  

They backed out as quickly as they had come leaving Dawson and Casey in uncomfortable silence.  Again Casey was standing there wondering what to say but this time it was Dawson who interrupted.

“Uh, you ready for dessert?  I’m ready for dessert.”  She lurched off the step with a painfully tight smile and strode off and out the door before he could call her back, apologise, say anything.

He sighed and dropped onto the steps, fingers rubbing a tight spot in his forehead where he could feel a headache forming.  It would of been so easy just to let her kiss him, turn this into a first date.  Dawson was beautiful that night in her tight, purple dress that she wore like no one’s business and one of his closest friends.  So why had the idea of kissing her felt so wrong?  Casey knew the answer before he’d really finished thinking the question and stood quickly to go after Dawson.  He needed another drink.


It was early on their day off and Severide had just finished his workout and was considering the contents of the fridge when he heard Shay’s footsteps on the stairs.  He checked the time in surprise, wondering if it was somehow later than he’d thought, knowing that Shay usually didn’t get up before 10 on her days off.  When he confirmed that it was indeed 7 in the morning he turned, snappy comment on his lips.  His smile died however when he took in the cloudy expression on Shay’s face and the overnight bag looped over her arm.

“You know I love you, right?” she said, sounding unusually sombre and Severide’s stomach dropped.

“Okay, what’s going on?”  He rounded the bench to sit on one of the bar stools for what he was anticipating was going to be a serious and uncomfortable conversation.

“I love you because I know you’d stick your neck out for me the way I have for you.”

“Of course I would.”

Shay continued as though he hadn’t spoken.  “And I did that to get you over the hump.”

“Which you totally did,” Severide said, not thinking about the pills he’d taken before and during his workout this morning.

“And then I found these in the trash,” Shay said and for the first time Severide realised she was holding something else in her hands; two empty blister packets that he’d thrown out the night before.

“Those are old, they’re old.”  The lie came bubbling up before he could wonder if it was a good idea but it didn't matter because it was transparent, he was transparent, and they both knew it.

He glanced away and then back at his friend, horrified to find unshed tears making her eyes shine.  

“I perjured myself for you, Kelly.”

Severide’s stomach twisted and he almost stood but thought better of it, thinking his shaking legs wouldn’t be able to hold him.  “Shay,” he said weakly.

She shook her head.  “I’m out,” she said simply and turned to head for the door.

This time Severide did stand, scrambling off his stool to hurry after her.  “Whoa, whoa, whoa, what do you mean?”

“I mean I’m out!”  The tears were still there hovering on the precipice of her lids but now she was angry as well as upset.  “We had a deal when I first moved in that we wouldn’t get in each other’s business, but I can’t hold up my end.  So I’m out.”

“Shay, it’s okay,” he tried, even as she walked to the door.  “I’ve got it.”  

He reached for her but she jerked herself away.

“No!” she spat.  “You don’t got it!  And I’m not gonna sit here and watch you just fool yourself.  I’ll get the rest of my stuff later.”

He followed her to the door, eye burning with his own unshed tears.  “Shay, please.  Please don’t go.”  Because everyone else had already left him and he didn’t think he could survive Shay leaving him to.  “Please, please don’t do this.”

But she was gone and the only thing left was the sound of her slamming the door behind her.

“Fuck!”  The word burst from him and was immediately followed by a sob.  His fist connected with the wall and with a shuddering groan the plaster gave way.  

But the stinging pain in his hand wasn’t enough and the tears started thick and fast.  Unable to stay still he strode about the room, resisting the urge to destroy the apartment any further.  First his father, then his mother, then Darden and Casey, and now Shay.  Severide wanted to know what is was about him that made it so easy for the people he loved to leave.

Through the blur of his tears he spied his phone on the bench and snatched it up.  Flicking through the contacts he spared a half a thought to calling Royce but ultimately he scrolled past it.  There was only one voice he wanted to hear right now.

 

Standing in line for the metal detectors, Casey felt a stab of guilt as he ignored Cruz’s call and tossed the phone down into the tray along with his keys, wallet, and miscellaneous coins from his pocket.  But then there was also three calls from Severide he’d also ignored so maybe it was okay.  He didn’t really feel like talking to anyone.

He took his visitor I.D and headed into the guard lined room.  The Metropolitan Correctional Centre might just be Casey’s least favourite place in the world but it was one he knew well considering he had visited it at least once a month for the past fifteen years.  It was after all his mother’s home after she had murdered his father.

Nancy Casey was a small, plump woman whose warm smile hadn’t been stolen by her years in prison.  It was hard for Casey to reconcile the image of her pressing a soft kiss to his forehead as a child with the woman who’d taken a shotgun to his father.

Nancy approached him cautiously as always, as though she was waiting for him to reject her as his sister had and slid onto the bench across from him.

Casey smiled slightly.  “Hi, mum.”

Chapter Text

Talking to his mother was never easy and Casey had accepted that it probably never would be.  Too much separated them now, time, distance, his father.  But still he made an effort because this was the woman who had defended him even if he didn’t agree with her methods.

“You look good,”she said, eyes raking over her youngest.  “You look really good.  I’m so proud of you.”

Casey smiled a bit.  He was used to hearing it, she told him every time he came to visit her, how proud she was of her firefighter son.  She hadn’t been there to see him graduate the academy however, nor high school, she’d already been in prison by then.

“How’s Hallie?” she asked after a moment.

“We broke up,” he said, not really wanting to talk about it.

“Oh.  Well you weren’t with her very long were you?”  She said as though she’d forgotten about the three years they’d been together before.

“A couple of months this time,” he agreed.

Nancy blinked and nodded.  “Right.  Well I never liked her anyway.  I much preferred that other young man you were with, Kelly.”  Casey flinched at the mention of Severide thinking of what Hallie had accused him off before she’d broken up with him.

“Do you talk to your sister?” Nancy asked before Casey had to think up a response.

Casey shrugged, thinking of the past few weeks when he’d seen his sister twice, the closest sightings in a long time.  “Not really.”

“Well the reason I’m asking is my hearing’s coming up.”

Casey thought he knew where this was going and felt himself stiffen.  “I know,” he said hollowly.

“And I thought maybe this time, I’ve been thinking about this a lot, Matthew.  I thought maybe you could talk to her.”

Casey shifted and stalled.  “It’s still hard for her.”

Nancy’s voice was unrelenting.  “It’s hard for her?

And Casey wanted to yell yes, of course it’s still hard for her.  Her father was murdered by her mother.  But Nancy continued before he had to stop himself.

“Look, I need to turn the page on this too, you know?  When am I gonna be allowed to do that stuck in here?”

“Maybe you should’ve thought of that before you killed dad.”  The words were out before Casey could think better of them but he couldn’t bring himself to regret them even after seeing the look of hurt on his mother’s face.  She, after all hadn’t been the one who’d had to identify the body of his own father.  Still he felt a pang of guilt when his mother’s eyes grew hard and she stood from the table without another word, stalking away from him.  Still he didn’t call after her, refused to reduce himself to that, just stood himself and left the room.

The guilt he felt over ignoring Severide’s calls increased tenfold when he saw the increasingly panicked texts lined up on his phone and finally a clinical one from Boden.

Boden: Ambo got into an accident.  Shay and Dawson at Lakeshore.  Dawson okay, Shay unknown.

Casey’s heart lurched up to his throat and he ripped his I.D badge free, tossed it onto the desk and ran out to his truck.  He took the time to type out one message and sent it to both Boden and Severide.

Casey: I’m on my way.

 

It was the worst feeling in the world to get that call from Boden.  His words clashed like metal on metal with the words Shay had thrown at him before she’d left.

I’m out.

Shay’s been in an accident.

I’m out.

It's a head wound.

I’m out.

They don’t know how bad.

I’m.

Not sure if she’s going to make it.

OUT!

Severide managed to keep the ragged sobs at bay until he got to the hospital, although he wasn’t sure how he made it there in one piece or without being pulled over for the illegal speeds he was driving at.  As it was, he arrived just after the ambulance, walking in just in time to see her get wheeled away.

“Is that her?” he asked and even he can hear the rough demand in his voice and under that pure fear.  “Is that Shay?”

“Let them do their job,” Boden said, catching him as he tried to shove past.  “Kelly!”

“I want to see her.”

“Right now, there is nothing you can do.”

“What- what are they talking about- what are we looking at?  She’s got a head injury?”

Severide’s brain was all over the place and he could barely focus on Boden, eyes drifting back to Shay’s prone form every few seconds, let alone formulate a question.  But finally he got enough out for Boden to understand.

“How bad is it?” he croaked.

“I don’t know,” he said, voice sombre.  “I don’t know.”

There was nothing left to do but watch Shay disappear down a hallway and wait and everything left Severide.  His knees collapsed from under him and it was only Boden’s sudden hand on his jacket that kept him upright.  He fell into Boden’s solid shoulder, letting out on ragged sob as he waited to find out if he was losing another friend because of his damned job.

 

Fifteen agonising minutes crawled by as house members slowly turned up until finally the entire house was crowded into the waiting room, only Casey missing.  What was worse was they hadn’t even heard from him despite numerous calls and texts being sent out.  Severide, chewing on his bottom lip fired off another panicked text despite knowing that he probably was being ridiculous.  He’d only stopped calling incessantly five minutes ago when he’d remembered that Casey was visiting his mum and wouldn’t have his phone on him.

Severide had grown up being self-relying and independent and it surprised him how much he’d grown to depend on Casey in tough situations such as this.  It was a relief to finally get his return message, short but comforting.

Still it was another ten minutes before they got any sort of news and another twenty before Casey got to the hospital, by which time Severide had just about worn a hole in the waiting room floor.  He only stilled when he heard the slap of sneakers on the tiles.  A few heads glanced up when Casey appeared, flushed and out-of-breath but most were absorbed in their own thoughts.

Not Severide.

Something in his face must have crumpled at the welcome sight of his friend because Casey stepped up to meet him and folded him into his embrace.  Severide let himself get pulled into the familiar warmth of Casey and buried his face in the crook of his neck, inhaling the comforting scent of Casey: the earthy smell of a cabin in the woods, the subtle hint of his aftershave and underneath that a faint hint of smoke.  Severide couldn’t bring himself to care that the whole house was probably watching him and would have something to say about it in the coming days.  All he could care about right now was that Casey was here and although that didn’t change the fact that Shay was somewhere bleeding, it still made all the difference in the world.

“What have we heard?” Casey asked over his shoulder, presumably to Boden who answered.

“Moderate traumatic brain injury.”

Under his hands, Severide felt Casey’s shoulders relax at the word moderate before tensing all over again at traumatic.

“They’ve located the brain swelling, so they’re going to do an M.R.I., try to determine the extent of the damage.”

“If there’s anybody who can find a way to rally, it’s Shay,” Mouch said, sounding calm.  He’d been in that very position numerous times before and probably knew better than anyone that there was no point reacting until they got concrete news.

“And Dawson’s all right?”

“Laceration to her leg but other than that, she’s fine.”

“And the other driver, this tow truck, was he D.U.I?”

Casey felt Severide shake his head slightly but it was Otis who answered.

“No.  Breathalyser came up negative.”

“It was a stupid, freak thing,” Mills added.  “Truck blew a tire.”

Severide finally felt calm enough to step away from Casey.  He still didn’t turn to face the rest of the house, not with his mouth tight with worry and eyes glassy.

“Shay’s family?” Casey asked him.

“Mum’s in Tacoma.  Dad in Baton Rouge.  I’ve left messages for both.”

Boden stood before his house and addressed them calmly.  “Every thought, every prayer needs to be directed down that hallway.”

After that the waiting room lapsed into silence as they waited for further news.  Casey caught Severide’s eye again and indicated with a jerk of his head, the corridor just off the waiting room.  The pair left without a word, walking along until the found a pair of chairs a little way away.  Casey immediately took Severide’s between his own and began to rub them.  Usually that was Severide’s job since he ran a little warmer than the average person and Casey was perpetually cold but he realised with a jolt that he was shivering even with the hospital’s heaters.  He’d left in such a hurry after receiving Boden’s call that he’d only thrown on an old t-shirt under his leather jacket.  Casey didn’t say anything as he methodically rubbed the warmth back into the digits, just waiting until Severide was ready to speak.

“We fought just before she went on shift,” was all he got out before the dam broke and the tears he’d been holding back since hearing the news spilled down his cheeks.  There weren’t many people Severide would let himself cry in front of and they were both in the hospital; the one he was crying over and the other was slowly curling a hand around the back of his neck and drawing his face to his chest so he could finally let it all out.


The energy next shift was oddly subdued, no one was talking, the television was on mute and an hour in, no one had moved much.  Casey was worried about Severide who was sitting at the table in the rec room and staring into space while his fingers played idly with the corner of the newspaper.

Herrmann’s voice jolted them out of their reverie, “This house needs a run.  Big-time.”

That was the general consensus but no one voiced their agreement.  Then Dawson came through the doors and it was as though her presence sent an electric jolt through the place.  Everyone got to their feet to hug her in greeting, the first time they’d seen her since hearing off the accident; she’d been held up in the hospital long after they’d all gone home.

Severide hovered just outside the group surrounding her.  “Shay?” he asked.

Dawson’s slight smile slipped.  “She’s still in the I.C.U., but the brain swelling’s subsided, and she won’t need surgery or the I.C.P. catheter.  They’re hoping she’s out of the woods.”

“I just spoke with Chief Hatcher,” Boden said.  “In the absence of Shay, candidate Peter Mills will fill in the vacated post in an E.M.T. capacity.”

In the kitchen, Mills’ cooking slowed as he glanced up.

“For how long?” Dawson wanted to know.

“‘Till Shay’s back in this house.”

Dawson and Mills both nodded shortly and Dawson left to get changed out, Boden ambled back to his office and the others slowly returned to their activities but with a little more energy as though they had been physically invigorated by the news of Shay.

“Hey, hey,” Otis said suddenly, peering down at the paper in his hands intently.  “Finally some good news.  Listen to this.  That fire on North Hamlin guess who the body was. ‘The Chicago medical examiner identified it to be that of Manuel ‘Flaco’ Rodriguez, purported leader of the street gang, Insane Kings, wanted for a string of unsolved West Side murders, said a C.P.D spokesman’.”

All eyes turned on Cruz, whose brother they all knew had been having trouble getting out of that life.  A bad feeling started to grow in the pit of Casey’s stomach.

“So long, Flaco,” Mouch said.  “God has spoken.”

“I don’t throw the word ‘karma’ around a lot, but that’s exactly what that is, my friends, with a capital ‘K’,” Herrmann added.

When Cruz didn’t smile or so much as lift his eyes from the table in front of him, the bad feeling intensified and Casey found himself speaking.

“Your brother can breathe easy, Cruz.  So can you.”

Cruz finally looked up and met his eye and Casey saw a glimpse of the worry there.  Cruz’s following smile and bright response also seemed off.  Casey’s stomach churned and when he turned to glance at Severide, maybe to see if he had caught the same thing he was surprised to see that he’d slipped off.

Across the house, Severide caught up with Dawson.

“Hey, Dawson,” he said hurrying after her.

“Hey,” she said slowly, carefully and Severide wanted to curse.  Evidently Shay had told her about their fight, he just didn’t know how much she knew.

“What else did the doctors say?”

Dawson shrugged.  “It’a head injury.  But they’re hoping to get a better indication of where’s she at in the next 24 hours.”  Severide sighed slightly and nodded but Dawson must of seen something in his face because she added, “Hey, she was looking a little better.”

Severide went to nod again but his brain short-circuited as he processed her words.  “You saw her?” he asked her, remembering how he’d been turned away everytime he’d asked and wondering why Dawson had been let in to see her.  “They told me no visitors.”

Dawson’s lips twisted as she frowned.  “I wasn’t a visitor.  I was getting examined myself,” she said snidely before brushing past him.

Severide ducked his head, cursing himself for not thinking of that.  He hurried after her, touching her on the elbow gently.  “Sorry, I’m sorry, I don’t know where my head’s at.  How are you doing?”

“Great,” she said sarcastically, avoiding his eye.  “Thanks.”

Severide looked at her imploringly.  “The thing is, me and Shay had a disagreement right before she went on shift.”

“Yeah, I know.  She asked if she could stay at my place for a while.”

Severide balked at the thought of Shay going home to a strange apartment and shook his head.  “Yeah, but in light of things, maybe she should come back home after she’s discharged.  I’ll take care of her.”  After everything he’d put her through, he owed her that much.

Dawson’s lips thinned and the incredulous look was back.  “I mean, that’s her call to make.  But I’m not really worried about that right now.”

Severide’s head was pounding from the conversation and his shoulder was starting to ache for no other reason than to make his already bad day worse.

“Of course,” he agreed.  He tried to explain the clawing urge inside him to make sure his best friend was protected but all that came out was a weak, “I just want her to be okay.”

“Yeah me too,” Dawson said petulantly, making it sound like Severide was implying she didn’t.

He had to walk away then because it seemed like she was intent on picking a fight with him.  He’d never been as close with Dawson as Casey or Shay were but he’d never seen her to be quite so quarrelsome.

He slipped into the locker room, glad to see it was empty and quickly unlocked his locker, snatching the half-empty packet of pills from the shelf.  But instead of immediately downing two like he usually did he found himself sitting down to consider the packet.  This was the reason Shay wanted to move out, this was the thing standing in between him and Casey.  His neck throbbed insistently and hating himself he pushed out two of the pills and swallowed them.

 

“Truck 81, Squad 3, Ambulance 61, woman trapped from unknown cause.”

Firefighters all over the house scrambled upright and to their trucks, pulling on their gear and rolling out to the scene.  A civilian woman met Casey as he jumped from the cab of 81, explaining as she lead him over to the massive hole in the ground.

“The ground just collapsed.”

“Okay,” he told her, holding her back from moving any closer with a hand to her shoulder while Severide hustled away several other bystanders.

Together they approached the edge of the hole, peering in where gravel and dirt was still pouring down.

“We’ve got a sinkhole,” Severide reported.  He turned to his guys, “I need you to get these cars out of the way in case of a secondary collapse and then I need all the boards we’ve got.”

“I tried to get close,” the woman said as Casey and Severide returned to their trucks.  “But the ground started to pour in.”

“She your neighbour?”

“Our mail lady.”

While the Squad company worked on moving the nearby cars out of the immediate area, the truck firefighters brought over the first of the boards, covering the area around the sinkhole with them.  Severide threw himself down on one and peered over the edge to get a look at the victim.  Teary brown eyes looked back.

“Please help me.”

“I’m Lieutenant Kelly Severide, Chicago Fire Department,” Severide said calmly.  “We’re gonna work on getting you out.  What’s your name?”

“Sylvia,” the woman replied through a sob.  “I need to get out of here,” she said, glancing around at the dirt pouring in around her.  “It’s getting hard to breath.”  A deep cough punctuated her statement.

Severide rolled over to address the men.  “Hey!  Air struts and shoring, right now.”

“Call the Chief,” Casey added.

Mouch and Cruz were running over in no time with a board each and instantly both lieutenants knew it wouldn’t be enough.

“Is that all we got?”  Severide glanced back into the hole but it only confirmed his initial reaction.

“That won’t be enough,” Casey said.

A rumble from inside the hole had everyone scrambling to retain their footing on the quaking ground and Severide peered over the edge to see great, chunks of cement come away from the walls, nearly hitting Sylvia.

“Get me more boards,” he yelled.

“Grab anything you can get,” Casey instructed, leading the charge into any yards with wooden fencing.  

They took chainsaws to the fences, apologising shortly to complaining homeowners and soon enough they had a small stack of boards.  Then it was a matter of using them and anything else including ladders from the trucks to stabilise the hole while Cruz raised the aerial overhead.  While the finished touches were being put onto it, Severide tossed a pair of safety glasses down to Sylvia.

“Hey, put these on to protect your eyes.”

The last strut was levered into place and on Boden’s okay, Severide climbed down one ladder to check the shoring

“All right, Chief.  We’re good to go,” Severide called up and Casey was immediately on the ladder, paramedic jump bag on his back and climbing down.

“I can’t breathe,” Sylvia rasped.

“Got something for you,” Casey promised, opening the bag to withdraw the oxygen mask and pulled it over her face.  While he encouraged her to suck in the oxygen, he and Severide dug her out of the dirt that had sealed around her.  When they were done, a line was dropped in and secured her into place, all the while cement and dirt rained down on their heads.

“Get her out of here now,” Severide yelled, choking on a gasp as dirt clouded their noses and mouths.

“Come on, come on,” Casey was muttering under his breath as he took the hit as another hunk of cement broke away.  

Up on the ground Boden was yelling orders and they knew time was fast running out.  Finally, though Sylvia was lifted out and they watched her go, making sure she was safe before they even thought about getting out themselves.  Severide clapped a hand on Casey’s shoulder.

“Let’s get out of here.”

They scrambled up the ladder, choking on dirt and slipping on the rungs until they were finally out of the hole and lying gasping on the ground by the edge.  But they weren’t there for more than a moment before hands were on them grasping their jackets and hauling them further out of the danger zone while Boden took care of Sylvia.  Boden got her unhooked her from the line and passed her trembling form off to waiting paramedics before going to his lieutenants and offering them both a hand up.

“Good work,” he praised them, clapping a hand to each of their shoulders.

 

Severide’s neck ached as Squad 3 drove to the hospital.  They’d received word that Shay was awake and alert and although the whole house wanted to go, only the squad and ambulance were allowed to make a detour on their way home.  And Severide’s body ached the entire way there.  The drugs he’d taken before the call felt like they were doing dick all but more than that Severide was nervous.  He’d never, not for a second felt so unsure of himself but right now, on his way to see Shay we was terrified that she was being honest when she said she was done with him.  He didn’t know if he could survive losing her too.

Dawson’s ambulance was already there when they arrived, Mills visible in the front seat and Severide grabbed the flowers they’d stopped to get and headed up.  He caught up with Shay’s doctor out in the hallway and although he was itching to see her, he also wanting to know honestly how his girl was doing.  When he appeared at the doorway to knock he could see Dawson sitting on the edge of her bed and a sliver of Shay’s bruised face.

Her voice was raspy when she greeted him with a simple, “Hey.”

“You’re up,” he said with a smile, handing her the flowers before reaching down to kiss her non-bruised cheek.

“More or less,” she said, waving at the bed slightly.  “They’re so beautiful, thankyou.,” she said gazing at the flowers, even though other bouquets decorated the rest of the room.

“Well they’re from everyone at 51,” Severide said.  “We miss you there.”  

He shot a glance at Dawson, silently asking her to give them space.  The look he received in response was flat and unimpressed.  And he got it, he did.  It was the first time since the accident that anyone had seen Shay not covered in blood but there were some things he needed to say to her and he’d rather he didn’t have an audience when he said them.  Dawson seemed to get the hint and although she didn’t look happy about it she mumbled an excuse about needing to get back to the house and dropping by later and left.

“It’ll be good to get you home,” he said lightly, taking Dawson’s seat on the edge of her bed.  “The place feels really empty without hipster music blasting from your room,” he said with a laugh.

Shay smiled slightly.  Then she gripped his shoulder as if she was bracing him and her smile faded.  “I’m still gonna stay with Dawson, Kelly.  I think the way we left it is best.”

It felt as though there was a lump in his throat and no matter how much he swallowed nothing was getting rid of it.

“I know,” he croaked and coughed and cleared his throat.  “I know I’ve been a really shitty friend lately Shay but I need you-”

“I’m tired, Kelly,” Shay said suddenly, pressing her eyes shut tight.  “Maybe it would just be better if you went back to the house.”

Severide’s heart thundered in his chest and there was almost nothing he wanted less than to walk out of that room because he had the horrible feeling that he was losing chances to save this friendship.  But Shay’s eyes were still closed and her face was stubbornly turned away and the last thing he wanted was to upset her when she’d only just starting to get over her injuries.  

So he stood, bent to kiss her gently on the forehead and whispered, “I’ll come back and see you a little later, okay?”

Shay’s eyes flickered open, but her gaze was faraway and directed towards the window that overlooked the Chicago skyline.  “Maybe it’s better if you don’t.”

Severide wasn’t surprised to find Dawson waiting for him outside but after Shay’s last verbal punch to the gut he wasn’t in the mood to deal with her and whatever her problem was.

“Let me know if you hear any more updates,” he said as he passed, managing a somewhat pleasant tone.

But he didn’t make it more than half a dozen steps from her when she spoke, asking a question that stopped him dead in his tracks.

“Are you high?”

He turned around.  “What?”

Dawson stepped closer, perring up at his face carefully.  “You’ve got pinpoint pupils.”

“Are you out of your mind?”

“You didn’t answer the question.”

“I’m worried about Shay,” Severide spat, more offended than he knew he had any right to be considering the painkillers coursing through his system.  “Is that okay with you?”  He strode off before she could answer.

 

Back at the house Herrmann was pacing the length of the rec room while he fiddled obsessively with his phone, driving everyone, including Casey crazy.  He was close to signing with a investor who was willing to put the 30 grand he needed into his limousine company.  Success was close for once but rather than salivating over it as everyone had expected him to, he was practically vibrating with nerves.

“Herrmann relax,” Casey ordered as the man in question completed another lap of the room.

“I can’t, okay?  I got a lot riding on this.  Me and Cindy, we just need 5 grand more to make the down payment, so we can move the hell out.”

Casey was tempted to loan it to him himself if it meant that Herrmann would stop pacing.

“I thought you got along with your father-in-law,” Mouch asked, looking away from the television for a second.  His eyes slid right back.

“You want to drastically alter your relationship with your father-in-law?  Move in with him.  Used to be that I was a fireman hero.  Now he treats me like I’m Mr. Frickin’ Belvedere.”

“You’re putting too much pressure on yourself,” Casey told him.

Capp appeared in the doorway before Herrmann could answer telling him that the Mr Ebbott he’d been waiting for, was outside.

Without Herrmann there wearing a hole in the linoleum and distracting him with his nerves, Casey could finally concentrate on the paper in front of him.  But then Otis’ voice suddenly broke the quiet.

“Say Lieutenant, it’s been awhile since you and Hallie broke up right.  You thinking about getting back into the saddle any time soon?”

Casey looked up slowly to regard his company member.  He had no idea what to make of the question, nor how to answer it; sure their house was closer than most but he had never had someone be so blatant with him.  He looked slowly to Capp who was statue still at the coffee machine to Mouch who was frantically signalling for Otis to shut up.  Too late he realised that Casey was looking and he dropped his hand.  Understanding lit up inside Casey.

“What’s the pool up to?”

Otis’ mouth dropped open for a second then he was scrambling for something to say.  “Pool?  What pool?”

“The one on when I’ll start dating again,” Casey said, voice unimpressed as he folded up his newspaper and stood.

“Oh,” Otis said dumbly while Mouch rolled his eyes.  “That pool.”

“Yeah that pool,” he said, smacking the firefighter over the head as he passed on his way out.  “Nice try though.”  Chuckling to himself, Casey headed back to his office.

Changing his mind halfway there, Casey changed course to head for the locker room where there was a book waiting for him that he’d been meaning to read for a while.  He walked in and spied the familiar form of Dawson, head ducked as she hunched over her leg.

“Hey,” he said, passing her as she pressed the bandage back into place.

“Hey,” she said back.

Things had been awkward between them since the Christmas party and the almost kiss and Casey didn’t think they’d said more than a dozen words in the week since, most of them being pleasantries as they passed in the hall.

“So Shay’s good, huh?” Casey said as he spun the dials of his lock, trying to make an effort.  Shay was safe, neutral ground.

“Well, she still has some recovery left to go, but we definitely got lucky,” Dawson said as she rummaged around in her own locker.

“What about you?  Should probably have taken a couple days off.”

“Right,” Dawson said with a slight smile.  “Like you would have.”

Casey smiled tightly and closed his locker, tucking his book under his arm as he turned to her.  “Look, uh about the Christmas party.  I’m sorry if I gave you the wrong impression, or made you think… “ Casey stuttered out even Dawson blushed and became thoroughly engrossed in her locker contents.  “It’s just you’re one of my closest friends and I don’t want to risk what we have.”

“Got it,” Dawson said with her own tight smile.  “It’s fine, I get it and honestly I’ve already forgotten about it.”

The lie was transparent but Casey wasn’t about to call her on it.  Fortunately for them the bells went off calling Dawson out and saving them from any further awkward conversation.

“Glad we cleared this up,” Dawson said and turned on her heel, leaving Casey to watch her go.


The drama of Shay and Dawson’s accident had pushed Casey’s visit with his mum right to the back of his mind.  But once things calmed down again he bucked up the courage and called his sister asking if he could come over.  He’d been serious when he’d told his mother it was her own fault she was in jail and it was; but he was still her son and he loved her so if there was a chance he could get her out he was going to try.

It had been nearly a year since he had been anywhere near his sister’s house and even then he hadn’t gone inside, choosing to speak with her on the doorstep rather than intrude on a family he wasn’t sure he was even a part of.  So it was odd for him to walk in and sit in a kitchen that had changed surprisingly little since the last time he’d been there, watching as his sister went about making them coffee.

“This thing always catches,” she huffed as she struggled with a stubborn cupboard door.

“You should look into getting it fixed.”

“Yeah,” Christie said half-heartedly, pulling down two mugs.  “Unfortunately, Jim’s dangerous with tools.  If only I knew a contractor,” she teased and flicked on the coffee machine, sending it whirring to life.

“Thanks for having me,” Casey said.  “I wanted to talk to you about something.”

Christie’s expression was blank but not hard and Casey knew she wasn’t totally pissed at him yet.  “Let me guess.”

“Just wondering if maybe you’d be willing to dial it back this time.”

“This coming from you or her?”

“From me,” Casey said, hating the lie.  “She’d be on parole,” he continued when Christie didn’t look convinced.  “There would still be restrictions in place.”

“She could’ve asked for help,” she shot back.  “She could’ve moved far away from him.  But she didn’t.  She killed him.”  His sister’s voice wavered on the word ‘killed’ and Casey instantly wanted to change the subject to something less painful.  Something less likely to drive a wedge further between them.

“I realise that, Christie,” he said instead.  “ I was the one to identify the body,” and he was surprised to hear his own voice shake.

They both fall silent.  It’s not something they ever talked about much.  About what is was like for Casey, fifteen years old at the time to wake up in the middle of the night only to find his mother gone and police at the door telling him she’d turned herself in after murdering his father.  About what is was like to stand there and watch as they’d peeled back the sheet  and choke out that that was him.  That was his dad.

Sure she had lost her parents same as him.  But she’d been across the country at school while he sat in an investigation room, wondering what the hell was going to happen to him next.

“I was there,” he said finally.  “You were in a campus dorm on the other side of the country.  I heard all the things he said, about her, about me, about you .  I saw him belittle her.  Break her.  And she’s paid the price.  15 years ago?  I’m not having this conversation.”  Casey looked to his sister imploringly.

Tears had filled her eyes as Casey had spoken and with a great shuddering sigh she laid her palms flat on the countertop.  “Nothing excuses what she did.”

“I’m not asking you to forget.  Just to let us move on.”

Casey didn’t leave with the mum issue sorted out but he did leave with an invitation to dinner the next night and that was okay because it was a start.

 

Royce, who had been out of town on business the last few days, was back in town and to forget himself and Dawson’s accusatory glare, Severide found himself driving over there to surprise her with takeout and sex.  The former was quickly forgotten for the latter and after a fun tumble they ended up naked and wrapped up with a blanket on the lounge.

“Damn, I’m glad you’re back in town,” Severide murmured, kissing idly at her bare shoulder.

Royce hummed in pleasure and stretched like a cat enjoying the sun.  “Me too.  I was in Madrid,” she added, her voice growing serious.

“How often do you have to go there?” Severide asked.

Royce was quiet for a moment and Severide felt his heart start to sink.  When she finally spoke her voice was reluctant, “This was for an interview, actually, for a promotion.”

“You taking it?” Severide asked and smiled slightly.

“I am.”

“When?”

“They need me there next week.”

Severide’s hand shifted against her waist as though he wasn’t sure if he wanted to pull her closer or push her away.

“You know, it’s funny,” Royce continued shifting closer before he had to make a decision.  “‘Cause we’ve only dated a couple of times, but I don’t know, it just feels like longer, doesn’t it?”  

She was looking at him so damn hopefully and Severide hated himself because he couldn’t say he felt the same way.  This had always been something fun for him to take his mind off the fact that he loved someone he couldn’t have and Royce had known that.  He’d thought that Royce had known that.  Maybe if the circumstances had been different.then maybe what he felt for her could’ve grown into more.

“My stomach’s been in knots just thinking about telling you,” she confessed quietly, pressing her forehead to his chest.  Royce shifted, rolling Severide onto his back and sitting back on his thighs so she could peer down at him.

“Do you get any vacation time?” she asked playing idly with his fingers.

“A little,” he said.  “Here and there.”  He was overplaying it.  He only really got vacation time when he requested it and then it was only a week here and few days there.  But he didn’t want to crush her anymore so he kept it to himself.

“So, would you think about coming out to visit me?” she asked trying to sound coy but Severide could see the fear in her eyes.

“Hey,” he said instead of answering, pulling himself upright so he could kiss her quickly.  “Congrats, seriously.”

Royce’s mouth slowly tugged up into a smile and she didn’t seem to notice his unsubtle change of subject.  “So then, should I pop open a bottle of champagne to celebrate?”

“Absolutely,” he said trying to smile.  Royce didn’t seem to notice because she was slipping out of his lap and letting the blanket slither from around her waist to wander naked through to the kitchen to get them some champagne.  Severide watched her go, feeling oddly hollow and wishing he could feel more for her than casual affection.


 

Cruz had been acting oddly for the last few shifts and Casey wouldn’t be doing his job as lieutenant if he hadn’t noticed.  So he wasn’t surprised when Cruz found him at the start of their next shift wanting to talk.  Especially after that weird voicemail he’d left on Casey’s phone the day of Shay and Dawson’s accident.

“What’s up, Cruz,” Casey said, pushing away the report he’d been working on.

“Lieutenant, I have to talk to you about something,” Cruz said sounding unusually grave.

Casey nodded and gestured him further in and swung around in his chair while Cruz took a seat on the end of the bed.  Cruz rubbed his hands over his thighs as though he was trying to psyche himself up for something.

“My brother Leon,” he began finally.  “He might be a screw-up, but he’s got a really good heart, you know?”

“Yeah, of course.”  If anyone knew about screwed up relatives it was Casey.

“And these scumbags, the Insane Kings, you know, he’s nothing like them.  But they got their hooks in him, and there weren’t gonna let him go.  When I was in that building, I was checking floors.”

Casey’s heart sunk and the bad feeling from last shift was back but a million times worse.

“And there he was, you know, Flaco and-”

“Let me stop you right there,” Casey heard himself say and he was surprised to hear how calm he sounded even as his stomach twisted painfully and his heart pounded.  “If you’re about to say what I think you are, then you and me can walk right out this door, down to the police station.”  Cruz looked at him aghast and Casey felt a stab of guilt at his cool demeanour when it was obviously tearing Cruz up.  “Second option is, you sleep on this one more time.  Think about why you did it.  Or didn’t do it.  Because I have no idea at this point because you’ve told me nothing.  Sure as hell sounds like your brother got a new lease on life.  Next shift come to me and either we go to the cops, or you shake my hand, say good morning and we go about our business.  Understand?”

Cruz swallowed thickly and Casey could see the movement it made in his throat.  Then Cruz nodded and stood.  “I understand, Lieutenant.”  Cruz left without another word and Casey had to wonder if he’d handled that at all right.  But he didn’t get much of a chance to ponder it because the next second the bells were going off.

“Truck 81, Squad 3, Battalion 25, Ambulance 61.  Traffic accident, University Village Marketplace.”

Casey grimaced but pushed himself upright and jogged out the doors.  Sitting next to Cruz on the way over they were both quiet, unusual for them but fortunately the trip was short and then they had a mob of angry people to deal with.

Destruction reigned all over the marketplace and it was hard to know where to look; people were on the ground injured, there was a car halfway into a building and people running everywhere.  More and more ambulances were pulling up and running to the victims but they were the only firefighter company on scene.

A man ran up to Casey, Severide, and Boden as they were trying to work out where to start.

“He drove right through everything,” he told them waving at the car wedged into the wall.  “He hit that child and didn’t even stop,” he added, explaining the angry mob who were surrounding the car.  

Newly arriving police officers joined the fray where people had gotten the car door open and were trying to haul the driver out.  Boden was quick to send the Truck company in to defuse the situation.

“Severide, get your men on that storefront glass,” Boden ordered, pointing to one of the storefronts that looked to have had a victim thrown through it.  The man was lying, unconscious or not they couldn’t tell, in the mess of the glass and there were large shards that looked like they could break off and fall at any second.  Severide nodded and hurried off with Capp and Hadley.

Severide, working with his team, cleared the glass onto a sheet and carried it away, leaving the area free for the paramedics to come in and treat the victim.  Hearing the sudden uptick in noise from the crowd they quickly moved away to help the Truck company.

Meanwhile Casey and his company were shouldering there way through the crowd, the men trying to keep the crowd back while Casey knelt at the man’s side where he still sat behind the wheel.  He turned to Casey but underneath the blood coating his face there was a paleness and glassiness that Casey wasn’t quite sure what to make of.

Dawson and Mills swooped in and after checking to make sure there was no spinal injury helped him stand from the car and lead him over to a nearby bench to check him out.  But the crowd wasn’t giving up that easily and they followed pushing back against the police and firefighter barrier between them.

Casey grunted as he was buffeted by the crowd, torn between defending himself and not wanting to hurt the crowd.  Severide’s company had joined them but they were still vastly outnumbered and it seemed the longer they stayed there, the angrier the crowd got.  Behind him he could hear Dawson talking to the driver.

“How much did you have to drink today sir?”

“I think a bottle,” came the mumbled reply.

A man in the crowd suddenly pushed forward, furious.  “That man is drunk off his ass.”  

The man was a good head taller than Casey was and bulkier too but Casey put a hand to his chest and nudged him back anyway.  “Stand back and let the paramedics do their job.”

The man still looked furious, dark eyes flat with no sympathy but didn’t contest Casey’s order outright just shifted impatiently.  Then a cop nearby spoke.

“We’ll need a sobriety test from the drunk.”

“I cannot believe this, man,” he spat, shoving forward and then Severide was there pushing back with Casey because it was taking both of them to keep him away.  

They glanced to each other and shook their heads, just another day at the office.  Casey heard Dawson say something about a stroke and fought the urge to curse because the crowd wanted blood.  The victim was transferred onto the gurney and they started shuffling the crowd back so they could clear a narrow path to the ambulance.

“Back it up,” Casey shouted, pushing back against the unrelenting crowd.  Beside Severide was doing the same.

But the man from before wasn’t about to move anywhere.  “Why should we move?” he asked.  The crowd yelled their agreement.

Casey swallowed.  “Because he needs treatment.”  

Casey didn’t know if it was the way the guy was riled up or if it was the narrowing of the eyes but he knew something was going to escalate and he saw the punch coming before it did.  He ducked out of it’s path and delivered his own punch to the guy’s kidney incapacitating him just like they were taught to in the academy.  Then Severide was there in the guy’s face and although Casey could take care of himself he was glad it wasn’t going to end in a brawl.  That would result in even more paperwork for himself.

“Get back now,” Severide practically growled.  “Before I knock you on your ass.”

“We’re not going anywhere,” the guy said and he looked ready to stay for the duration.  And Casey knew Severide was going to follow through with his threat, especially after seeing him almost take a hit.  Thinking fast he turned to Dawson.

“Pass me an I.V.” he told her.  He could see the question in her eyes but he didn’t have the time.  Turning back to the Severide and the man who looked about ready to square off any second he said urgently, “Sir.”

“What?” he said irritably, glancing at Casey.

“I need your help.  We’re short on medics right now.”

“You’re crazy.”

Casey ignored him and took the I.V. Dawson had waiting for him.  “Hold this I.V. bag high in the air to start the flow of saline,” he said offering it to him.  He could feel Severide’s eyes on him like he was crazy and Casey fought the urge to grin.  “We use it to help the victims.”

The guy’s lips twisted as though he was trying to work out if Casey was messing with him or not.  “Really?” he asked quietly.  “Pass it here then,” he continued with a shrug and took the bag holding it up near his head.  “Like this?”

Everyone seemed to freeze as they waited for Casey’s answer.  Even the crowd had grown quieter.

“Perfect.  All right, back up.  Let’s get some room.”

And just like that the guy was on their side helping them push through the crowd and snapping at anyone who didn’t move fast enough.

“Nice,” Severide grinned as they moved through the quickly parting crowd.  Casey returned the smile.

 

“How’s the hand, slugger?”

At the sound of Severide’s voice, Casey’s gaze jerked away from his bruised hand and up to find a familiar smiling form leaning against a nearby locker.  Quick as he could Casey jerked his hand out of sight.

“Fine,” he lied.

Severide’s smile grew even as he sighed and he stepped closer, sinking onto the bench, straddling it in a mirror position to Casey’s own.  Their knees barely brushed and something warm shuddered inside Casey, which he promptly ignored.

“Come on, give us a look then.”

Sighing Casey withdrew his hand again and offered it to Severide who clucked softly at the sight of the swollen knuckles and already bruising skin.

“Guy had a stomach like a brick wall,” Casey grumbled.

“Of course, he did,” Severide murmured absently and Casey almost kicked him.  Instead he winced as Severide started prodding at his hand, feeling for fractures, despite the fact that Casey had been wearing his gloves at the time.

“You know you didn’t have to get in the middle of it like that.  I can take care of myself,” Casey told him, because Severide and Darden as well had always been overprotective of him, even in the academy.  “Even in the academy the only time you let me get into a fight was with Griffin.”

Severide smiled fondly.  “Still one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.”

Casey rolled his eyes, but he too was smiling fondly.  “I wonder sometimes if you ever made it out of puberty.”

Severide chuckled and they lapsed into silence as Severide finished his examination.  Rather than give Casey his hand back when he was finished however, he laid it down onto his own knee and leaned over to retrieve a small pot of ointment from his locker.  Even though Casey didn’t think he’d really done all that damage to his hand he let Severide do his mother hen routine.

“Hey Kelly,” he said after a while as his friend was rhythmically rubbing the faintly smelling ointment in.  “What would you do if you found out that someone you knew had done something really bad?  But they were a good person and you knew they had done it for all the right reasons?”

Severide frowned thoughtfully and glanced up at Casey.  “I guess I would have to decide whether the good reasons outweighed the bad action.”

“And if you decided it was?  How do you get over keeping a secret like that?”

Maybe it was his imagination but Casey thought he saw something flicker across Severide’s face.  But it was gone before he could analyse it and Severide was speaking again.

“Then I guess you have to cut yourself some slack.”

For the first time Casey realised Severide had finished with the ointment and their hands were simply linked but he didn’t pull away.  Severide’s palm was warm and familiar in his and that warmth inside him grew with every passing moment they were touching.

“What if it was you who had done the bad thing?” Severide asked, so quietly that Casey thought he’d misheard him for a moment.  “What if it was you and you’d hurt a lot of people and you didn’t know how to fix it?”

“You’ll find a way,” Casey murmured back, squeezing Severide’s hand slightly.

“How can you be sure,” Severide said.  He almost wanted to avoid Casey’s eyes, afraid that he’d see right through him and to all his secrets within.  But he was captivated by those eyes, so blue against the pale skin.  “How can you be sure I won’t just keep it to myself and keep hurting people.”

“Because I know you,” Casey said simple as that and squeezed his hand again.  He stood finally unlinking their hands and went to walk past Severide.  At the last moment he lifted his hand to touch Severide’s shoulder, fingers tracing the side of his face gently and just for a moment Severide let himself melt into the touch.  “Because I know you, Kelly Severide.”  And then he was gone.


The shift was over and Severide was heading back to the hospital.  He’d bought the goodies, Shay was getting discharged later that afternoon and he was about to put it all out the table for her.  And she was either going to accept him or turn him away again.  Severide didn’t want to lose her as a friend but either way something was going to change.

The bruises were still standing out starkly on her face when he got up to her room.  Her instinctive smile as he walked in immediately dropped when she realised who it was and her expression morphed into a careful, blank mask.  Severide tried not to let it discourage him.

“Severide, I really don’t want to have this fight again,” she said, sounding tired.

“And we won’t,” he promised, holding his hands up surrender style.  “I just need to say something and if you still want to kick me out I’ll go.  Okay?”

Shay’s lips pinched together but eventually she nodded.  Severide took a deep breath, steeling himself to finally say it.  The seconds stretched on but the words refused to come and he could Shay beginning to get fed up when he finally spoke.

“I need help, okay?  And I know I don’t deserve it after everything I’ve put you through and what a shitty friend I’ve been but I need help.  I can’t keep pretending that everything is fine when it’s not and I-” Severide was mildly horrified to hear his voice waver but he pushed on.  “I just really need you.”

A long beat of silence followed his confession and for a long horrible moment Shay just sat there not saying, with that horrible, blank expression on her face.  Then her face softened and she opened her arms.  “Come here, you idiot.”

The research had been done, the plans had been made, Dawson had been called and Shay had apologised for bailing but had promised that something had changed - not telling her exactly what - and she was ready to go back home.  There was only the problem of the wheelchair.

“I am not getting in that thing.”

There was a stubborn glint in Shay’s eyes that Severide all too well and he sat back down on the bed ready for an argument.

“I’m a paramedic.”

But there was a hard glint in the nurses eye as well as he took in his charge’s bruised and battered form.

“You’re a patient, which means wheelchair to the door.”

Shay got in the wheelchair.

“Hardass,” she mumbled as the shiny, glass doors to the hospital came into view; not that Severide could see them past all the presents and flowers he’d been left to carry while Shay had just her little potted plant and stack of cards in her lap.

“Take care of yourself,” the nurse said cheerfully and Shay stood and shot him one last look over her shoulder as they made their way out.

 

Casey wasn’t sure why he was nervous but maybe it was the fact that he was going to spend an extended period of time with his sister for the first time in a long time.  She greeted him with a hug at the door and stepped aside to let him in but there was something he’d been thinking about and wanted to talk to her about first.

“I just wanted to talk to you about the mum thing first.”

Christie’s eyes were wary but she agreed.

“I realise that one of our problems is we don’t talk.  And I wanted to tell you, whether or not you’re speaking up against mum at the hearing-”

“I will be,” Christie said, quietly cutting in.  

It shouldn’t have hurt as much as it did, Casey reasoned.  But he’d just thought that for once he’d been making some headway.  Still he’d made his decision.

“Well, so am I.  And I’m going to argue that she should be paroled.  And I respect you and where you’re coming from, and I hope you can do the same with me.”

There was shock in Christie’s face but Casey realised with a jolt that other than that he couldn’t read his sister’s face at all.

“Can you wait here for a second?” she asked after a moment.

“Yeah.”

She slipped back inside and came back with a picture which she pressed into his hands.  The face of his niece, Violet smiled back up at him.  He looked up at his sister questioningly.

“Violet’s school picture,” she said of way of explanation.  “I was going to give it to you after dinner.”

“Christie, please-”

But she’d already slipped back inside and shut the door and after a moment Casey had no choice but to walk away.

 

At Severide and Shay’s apartment things were going much better.  Severide was putting the final touches to their pillow and blanket nest on the lounge while Shay squirmed excitedly in her seat and read the back of the DVD Severide had bought for them to watch.

“‘An epic arctic hurricane, all-time low king crab supply, and two mutinies aboard ship.’  Awesome,” she giggled.  “See this is why we’re best friends,” she continued as Severide ducked into the kitchen to get the next part of the surprise.  “Kendra, sweet as she is, gets me Pride and Prejudice.”

“Nah, I know how to make my girl happy,” Severide said proudly.

“Yeah, I mean, get to know me already.  What?!” she continued when Severide dumped a carton of ice cream and two spoons in her lap, snagging the DVD to put it in the player.  “And mint chocolate chip ice cream?”

“Welcome home,” Severide said, flopping onto the lounge beside her as the DVD menu lit up the screen.

Shay drank in a long look of her best friend.  “You know I’m gonna be with you every step of the way, right, Kelly?”

Severide nodded and slipped his hand into hers.  “I’m meeting with the surgeon next week and they say they can get the whole procedure on the books soon after.  And I’ve got to get Boden involved.”

“And Casey?” Shay asked softly.

“Yeah, Matt,” Severide said softly.  That was going to be the hardest one.  To the change the subject he continued.  “And I’m going cold turkey with the painkillers.”

“But,” Shay reminded him.  “If you feel like you’re going to slip, the union has an employee assistance program for substance abuse.”

“Yep.”

“I am so damn proud of you, Kelly.  And if I were straight, I’d throw the biggest hump into you right now.”

They both snorted at the thought before sobering.

“I really don’t know what I would’ve done if anything happened to you,” Severide confessed, squeezing her hand in his.

“I feel exactly the same way.”

Severide lifted their conjoined hands to press a quick kiss to the back of her hands and not to be outdone Shay did the same to his.

“All right,” Shay sighed, as Severide slipped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her closer and she lifted the remote.  “Enough of this feelings stuff.  Let’s get on with the movie.”

Chapter Text

By the time next shift rolled around, Shay was back on duty, a relief to everyone, especially Severide who had had to live with her as she went stir-crazy at home.  She was met of course by an enthusiastic house who were ready for things to get back to normal.

“Hey!” came the great cheer from someone and then they all knew she was there, getting up to greet her with a round of applause.  The bruises were still there, fading but a reminder to be gentle.  Not that they would tell her that if they didn’t want an ass kicking.

“Just a little fender bender, that’s all,” she assured them.  “No big deal.”

Dawson moved forward to greet her with a hug, relieved to finally have her partner back in the ambulance with her.

“How’s the noodle?” Mouch asked after they had parted.

“Hard as ever,” she answered, giving it a solid rap with her knuckles.

“That’s-” Mouch started but Shay jumped in instantly.

“That’s what he said,” she crowed triumphantly and Mouch whacked his knee with his newspaper good-naturedly making the rest of them laugh.

Otis stepped forward holding a large box, wrapped in brightly coloured wrapping paper.  “Just a little something from us,” he told her, holding it while she ripped the paper free.

“Oh, you guys,” she said with a smile as she opened her present before laughing unexpectedly at the contents.  She withdrew the red football helmet they’d gotten her and immediately pulled it on, laughing in delight all the while.

“Added protection,” Otis joked.

“I love it,” she declared.

“Welcome back,” Boden said, before disappearing off into his office while the rest of the group slowly dispersed.

“Thanks Chief.  Thanks guys.”

Shay wandered over to Severide who was sitting against the edge of the table and looked meaningfully between the Chief’s retreating back and him.

“I’m going to tell him,” he assured her.  “Today,” he added when she didn’t speak just looked at him unimpressed.

“Good.”

She’d just pulled off the helmet when Casey appeared next to her and pulled her into a tight hug.  They’d been close back when it had been the three of them living together and it had freaked Casey out, getting the call that she was in hospital.

“Don’t do that to me again,” he murmured into her hair.

After a moment they parted and with a slightly wavering smile and a salute, she assured him, “Wouldn’t dream of it.”

The bells went off before any of them could say anything further and all companies bar engine were called away to assist the police.  They were called right to the edge of the city where skyscrapers gave way to open plains and standing out against the barren landscape was a truck.

“Abandoned truck,” the lone officer explained, nodding at the truck as they climbed down to join him.  “And there’s something funky inside.”  He was standing way back from the truck, leaning against his car even though the truck was padlocked shut.

“Capp, grab the k-12,” Severide instructed as he and Casey stepped forward to investigate and immediately discovered why the officer was standing so far back.  Wafting from the truck was a horrible smell so pungent that they didn’t even want to think about how bad it had to smell inside.  They slowed down and inched closer instead, taking in the truck.

“Texas?” Severide asked the officer, nodding at the plates.

“Yeah,” the officer said.  “Came back as stolen from a minivan in San Angelo.  Wherever the hell that is.”

Then Casey heard it.  “Everyone quiet,” he barked, straining to hear the noise - whatever it was - again.  Ignoring the odour he strode closer to the truck, walking up the sound to hear what he thought had been banging from inside again.  He knocked against the side of the truck.  “Someone in there?  Call out!”  There was a moment of quiet while Casey just waited and then, barely there but unmistakable, someone knocked back.

There was a murmur of surprise from the others and when Casey turned back the police officer had his hand on his gun.

“I didn’t hear that before,” he said and he sounded torn between defending himself and assuring them.

While everyone else seemed to be stuck in shock, Severide kicked into action, taking the Hadley’s halligan from his slack grip as Capp hadn’t returned yet with the k-12 and stepping up to the back of the truck.  A few well placed jerks with it and the lock was breaking free, weak from the rust damage and Severide hauled open the door.  And immediately stumbled back coughing and choking at the rancid stench that assaulted him.

“Holy hell,” he heard Herrmann mutter and when he looked up his heart sank because he could see numerous pairs of feet belonging to corpses.  People smuggled into the country who’d been left to die.  Severide bit back a curse.

Though looking paler than usual, Casey took action.  “Mask up,” he ordered to his men, own mask still in hand and pulled it over his face.  Severide relayed the command on to his own company and together he and Casey stepped up into the truck.

It was hard to pick through and check the corpses for signs of life.  The cold had slowed down decomposition and their faces were still terrifyingly human.  Unblinking eyes stared back at them as they stumbled past.

“We have multiple victims,” Severide relayed through his radio to the men waiting outside.  “Women, men, maybe 15 of them.”

“They all look D.O.A.,” Casey added.  “But we’ll need to check vitals.”

Dawson and Shay clambered up into the truck to do that, medical masks in place over the lower half of their faces.  Not speaking they got to work, checking each and every body while Severide and Casey continued up ahead.

Then Severide’s flashlight caught something small and curled up and his heart sunk the rest of the way to his toes even while his stomach twisted and threatened to revolt.

“Dammit,” he muttered, bending down to shift the coat bunched up around their face to find that’s it was a little girl, dark eyes open and unseeing, mouth flat with fear.  He stood quickly and looked away.  “There are children here,” he said into the radio only because he had to.

Silence greeted him, the only noise being the slight shift as they went on with their work.  Then a hand found his in the dark and he allowed himself only a moment to find comfort in Casey’s touch before they moved on.

They were nearing the end of the truck and Severide’s heart was a dull thud in chest, growing more and more painful at each dead body his eyes skipped over.  Then they found her, a pair of eyes that stared back, blinking in confusion.  Her breathing was a harsh thing in the stagnant air, as if each breath she drew in was a fight and when his flashlight skipped over her face her eyes were sunken in her skull, her lips were cracked and the bones of her face stood out.

“Hey Dawson!”

Dawson stumbled closer and Severide left them to it, reinvigorated by the discovery to check the rest of the bodies while the paramedics took care of her.  But there was no one left to find.  Calls were made and ambulances brought in to move the remains to the medical examiner’s and final count showed 18 to have been stashed in the back of the truck, the firefighter’s having missed a few small children on their first count.  The worst, absolute worst was the baby boy barely six months old they’d found curled up against his mother’s chest.

The ride back to the house was completely silent, each man to wrapped up in their own thoughts to bother making small talk and all Severide wanted was a pill for his shoulder - because apparently going cold turkey with his shoulder was just stupid so the doctors had him on something new, nothing near as good as the toradol he’d been using but at least it was something - and a nap.  But when he got their sleep refused to come and he found himself outside Casey’s quarters instead.

“Wanna catch a smoke?” he asked, tapping the cigars against the door frame.

Casey’s smiled tiredly but nodded and followed him out the front.

Way back when Severide had been young and stupid, he’d thought he was invincible and had been a smoker.  It hadn’t been long, his senior year of high school and all through the academy but then he’d graduated and his mother had gotten sick.  These things just happen sometimes they told him but he still couldn’t help but wonder if he’d somehow contributed to her cancer.  Now he just smoked socially, after a particularly bad call or, occasionally, after great sex.

They found a bumper of a truck to lean their asses against and smoked looking out over the street.  Everytime Severide blinked he saw the little girl’s face all over again, the baby so impossibly small, the little boy clutching his toy car.  So many lives ended before they’d really begun.  Severide wanted to grab Casey’s hand again, grab it and hold tight but this wasn’t the back of a dark truck where no one could see, where he could do that and not have to worry about anyone seeing or having to explain.  This wasn’t a place where Casey wouldn’t want an explanation.  So they sat and didn’t talk and that was enough.

 

The day passed and Severide still hadn’t spoken to Boden.  He almost had at lunchtime when they passed each other in the rec room and Severide had turned ready to ask, words on the tip of his tongue, so easy, ‘hey chief, can I have a moment?’.  But then Boden had turned to him, inexplicably knowing and had asked for him.

“You need something?”

And all Severide had managed was a shake of his head and a slight smile.

But it caught up to him in the slight form of Leslie Shay and her expectant look that afternoon.

“Hey,” she said, cornering him on the floor.  “How’d it go?”

“With?” he asked, playing for time.

“Boden,” she said in that matter-of-fact, ‘duh’ voice.

“Yeah, no,” Severide said and Shay’s face tightened so he hurried to explain.  “‘Cause here’s the deal.  On the last call, I ripped off that lock like it was bolted on with paper clips.  No pain, nothing.”

But Shay wasn’t having it.  “I moved back in because you said you wanted to get healthy.  Because you said you would talk to Boden.”

“Yeah,” Severide muttered and he knew he had to stop running from this.  But that didn’t change the fact he was scared out of his mind.  He swallowed roughly.  “I will.”

 

Casey was surprised when Christie called, confirming that he was on shift and asking if she could come see him, saying that she needed to talk to him about something.  After the way they’d left things last time, he’d been sure the next time they would speak would be at the parole hearing.  If they spoke at all.  Still he told her to come round and was apprehensive as he walked into the conference room where his sister was waiting for him.

“What’s going on?”

“Have you heard from that Rick character?”

Casey frowned, never having heard the name before.  “No.  Who is he?”

Christie’s mouth twisted and her shoulders raised in a half shrug.  “This lawyer,” she said, drawing it out dubiously.  “Who’s working with mum.  He asked me about mum’s trial and specifically about the house key.”

Casey’s stomach dropped even as his heart leapt to his throat and started pounding so hard he could feel it in his temple.  Fifteen years on and those words still had such an effect over him.

“Well, what about it?” he finally asked when it was clear Christie wasn’t going to go on.

“I don’t know where he was going with it because I told him that was your business and to talk to you about it.”

Casey pressed his lips together in an attempt not to curse.  It wasn’t his sister’s fault, the house key was his business.  But Christie must of read the annoyance in his eyes before a hint of an apology shone in her eyes.

“I’m just giving you the heads-up that this guy might be trying to contact you, and it might be about the key.”

“Okay,” Casey said on a sigh.  “I appreciate it.”

“I gotta get going.”  She headed for the door with no further  preamble.  Casey watched her go with a foreboding sense of dread, wondering if this was how it was always going to be between them.

“Hey, Christie,” he said, surprising himself just as she reached the door.  She turned with a weary sort of expectation.  Casey crossed the room and something in her eyes softened and she met him for a brief hug.

 

Telling the chief about his injury might just of been on the hardest things Severide had to do.  Because Boden had suspected for a while now that something was wrong with Severide and to see the disappointment in his eyes when he realised that his lieutenant had lied to him, Severide just wanted to run.

“The C-5 vertebra,” Severide told him.

“Fracture,” Boden repeated as though the words were poison in his mouth.  Severide knew the feeling.

“That’s what the doctor said.”

“How long ago was this exam?”

Severide gave him a look.  “You don’t want to know.”

If Severide expected Boden to chew him out over that he was wrong and Boden simply nodded and took it in stride.  “Okay.  This doctor may be a little eager to get you under the knife,” he continued after a moment.

“Yeah?” Severide asked and he hated the hopeful note in his voice.

“Yeah,” Boden responded immediately, taking charge in a way that instantly put Severide at ease.  “But they’re not gonna know anything until they do an M.R.I.  We are not gonna go worst-case right now.  Gonna let the CFD medical give you a fully informed diagnosis.”

Severide sighed in relief and nodded, leaning forward abruptly, elbows braced on his knees.  “Chief,” he said, mentally preparing himself for what he knew was a long shot.  “I don’t ask for a lot of favours.  But since I feel fine 90% of the time, I’d like to stay on squad while this whole thing runs its course.  In the meantime, I’ll set up an appointment for after shift.  I’ll get in there the next opening they got.”

Severide knew just from the look on Boden’s face that he wasn’t going to like the answer.

 

Casey’s head was spinning after his sister’s visit, his gut was churning after the mention of the damn house key and he just knew he had to talk it through with someone.  One person.  He checked Severide’s quarters first, then the rec room, the gym and the locker room before he finally caught up with him on the apparatus floor.

“Hey, you got a second?  ‘Cause I really need to-”  His eyes finally took in the leather jacket his friend wore, the bag he had slung over his shoulder, and the carefully blank look he had fixed in place.  But Casey caught the glimpse of a simmering cocktail of pain and anger underneath.  “What’s wrong?  What’s happened?”

For a second Severide’s mouth opened and they both thought he was going to spill.  But then he blinked and his mouth snapped shut.  He shook his head sharply and then with an apologetic glimmer in his eyes he said, “Sorry, Matt but I just can’t right now,” and hurried off to his Camaro.

 

Despite how weird he’d felt about the way they’d left things off, Severide found himself driving to Royce’s knowing she was working from home.  And despite this being a casual thing he found himself spilling the whole story when he got there, needing an opinion from someone who hadn’t been living this for the past months.  To her credit, Royce didn’t get pissed that he’d been keeping this from her; she just listened and nodded in the right places and let him get it all out.

By the time he was finished they were sitting on the lounge and drinking a glass of wine.

“When’s the appointment?” Was all she asked when he fell silent.

“Later today,” he sighed, dreading it.

“And how long did the first doctor say that you’d be out?”

“Six months,” Severide supplied dully, ignoring the ‘to a year’ she’d tacked on.

Royce must of heard the resignation in his voice, because her own voice lightened as she touched his elbow gently.

“You know I was a gymnast growing up,” she started.

“Knew you must have got your flexibility from somewhere,” he said lightly, because as much as he was in a bad mood, she was trying.

“And after I placed in Nationals,” she continued pointedly.  “I got invited to the Olympic trials.  The weekend before I took my bike down to the lake, and this cab door opens up right into my knee,” she told him, rolling up her yoga pants to show him the faded scar decorating her knee.

“Ow,” Severide murmured, tracing the skin idly.

But I was up and walking two months later.”

“Were you ever a gymnast again?”

Royce’s face froze and Severide almost laughed, knowing that wasn’t where she’d been going with her story.

“No,” she said slowly, before laughing helplessly as Severide cracked a smile.  “Probably not the best pep talk I could have given,” she conceded.  “Let me ask you this.  Does being on squad involve having to stick a full twisting double layout?”

“Yes,” he told her seriously.  “All the time.”  He grinned again, leaning over to press a quick kiss to her lips just to tell her, he appreciated her efforts.

“Oh, well you’re going to be fine,” she said, twining her arms around his neck and pressing warm kisses to his throat.

“When are you leaving for Madrid?” he asked, partly because he wanted to know and partly to distract himself.

Royce made a discontent noise against his throat before pulling back to look at him.  “Tuesday.  I can push it,” she offered.

But Severide found himself shaking his head.  “No, it’s cool.  Do your thing.”

Royce took him in with knowing eyes.  “Tell me you’re gonna come visit me.”

He’d avoided the question last time but now with his injury the idea was suddenly much more appealing to him and he found himself nodding and saying, “Yes.  Once I get my back squared away.”

Royce’s smile lit up her face and Severide felt a pang of guilt.  But she was gone and slithering off the couch to refill their glasses before he could analyse it too closely.

“I’m calling it right now,” she said, turning to smile at him.  “Two months, max,” she promised him before disappearing into the kitchen.

He watched her go with a smile on his face, only to have it drip away without her presence.  He didn’t know how he could feel so light with Royce but not feel anything deeper.  She was beautiful, smart, great to be around and he should be falling for her, dreading the idea of her going to Madrid without him.  But all he seemed to be able to care about was the blonde lieutenant he’d left clueless back at the house.

 

Casey was still wandering around in a daze over the whole Christie thing coupled with the Severide thing and wondering if he should interrogate Boden first or Shay when Cruz showed up.  He’d missed roll call that morning and Casey had assumed he wouldn’t see him for the next few days.

“Thought you were out for the shift,” he remarked, as Cruz fell into step with him.

Cruz glanced around and shrugged.  “Well, I resolved things a little bit early.  Okay if I jump in?”

“Suit up.”

Cruz sped up past him intent on the locker room and Casey noticed the bandage wrapped around his hand.

“What happened to your hand?” he called after Cruz.

He turned slightly and glanced at it as if seeing it for the first time before shaking his head dismissively.  “Nothing.”

There was something in his eyes that Casey didn’t quite believe but Cruz was already gone and the situation with Cruz was a fine line that Casey was treading along all with all the other problems in his life.  Besides he had a talk with Boden to get through.

He got distracted however on the way by a frazzled looking Dawson, hanging up on a call in one of the back hallways of the house.

“Rosa’s Uncle,” Dawson explained even though Casey hadn’t asked.  “He hasn’t been able to get to the hospital to see her.”

“She getting deported?”

“I don’t know yet.  I mean they wouldn’t, after everything she’s been through?” Dawson asked hopefully.

“Where are her parents?”

“They were in the back of that trailer.”

“Oh man,” Casey sighed, feeling a swooping sensation of sorrow for the young girl.  Out of the corner of his eye he saw Boden walk past, presumably on the way back to his office and Casey refocused on his goal.  “Well let me know if I can help in any way,” Casey said already moving past her.  “I’ve gotta run, see you, Dawson.”

“Oh,” he heard her say.  “Right, see you.”

Casey hurried after Boden, passing Mouch who was holding a large bouquet of flowers for whatever reason.  Casey had learnt long ago not to question the things he saw in a firehouse.

Casey tapped on the door frame of Boden’s office and waited for his chief to look up from his paperwork and nod before walking in and taking a seat.

“What’s going on with Severide?” he asked without any sort of preamble or Boden could ask what he wanted.

Boden’s face was as unreadable as stone, neither upset nor happy and giving away absolutely nothing at all.

“That’s his business until he chooses to share it with the house,” Boden said at last.

Casey waited but Boden didn’t yield anything further and he rubbed at his forehead.

“What does that even mean?  Is he injured?” Casey’s mind flashed to their confrontation in the locker room weeks prior and how he’d left it, convinced that Severide would come to him when he was ready.  Now he wished he’d pushed harder.  “Is he going on furlough, what?”

But Boden’s face remained stubbornly blank.  “Call him Casey.”

“But what even-”

“Just call him Matt.”

Boden didn’t use his first name often and it was a testament to just how serious this was.  Heart sinking, Casey left his office without another word, hand dipping into his pocket to retrieve his phone before he’d even cleared the doorway.  But then the bells were going off and he had to leave his personal problems behind and focus on the call ahead of him.

 

As it turned out, literally holding another person’s life in one’s hand was a great distraction from life’s problems, as Casey found out.  But that didn’t mean his problems weren’t waiting for him right where he left them at the house when he came back.  But hours had passed and he was no longer as eager to get Severide talking as he had been.  He had given the other lieutenant to talk to him before he’d left, had asked him what was wrong and he’d said nothing.  Confused and conflicted Casey, similarly, did nothing and didn’t call him.

Still life went on and he joked with Otis over the hood of the limo they were supposed to be rolling down the driveway.  They were having an unusual amount of trouble getting it started however.  Barking from the driver’s seat, Herrmann, taking some sick sort of pleasure in ordering around his lieutenant, demanded they put their back into it.

“For the love of Pete, my six-year old’s got more upper body strength than you two.”

“Herrmann,” Casey sighed, relaxing his stance.  “Is the parking brake on?”

Herrmann looked around slowly and then with eyes cast heavenward he reached down and they felt the release of the parking brake.  Casey couldn’t help but snort slightly and trade a grin with Otis even as Herrmann started barking orders again.

“Okay, now push.”

With the resistance gone it was piece of cake between the two of them and with Herrmann steering to push it down the driveway and onto the curb where Boden had requested it be moved.  Still Casey just had to mess with him a little.

“You got it?” he teased as it rolled backward.  “You sure?”

“Yeah, ha ha,” Herrmann fake-laughed.

“Sorry it didn’t work out, man,” Otis told Herrmann when they got it in place.  Herrmann had been forced to sell the limo after the business deal for his company had gone south.

“Yeah, thanks,” Herrmann called back halfheartedly and the pair left him to it, heading back inside.

Cruz was making his way down to meet Casey however and he slowed when he reached him, letting Otis get ahead of him.

“Lieutenant, I just wanted to thank you for helping me get my head straight over that Flaco thing.”

Casey jerked around, first glancing over his shoulder at Herrmann who luckily was still engrossed in his limousine and then over Cruz’s shoulder at Otis who thankfully was out of earshot.

“Are you back to work?”

“I am.”

“Good,” Casey bit out with a short nod.  “But you and me, we never talk about that again.  Not another word.  We clear?”

His voice sounded harsh even to his own ears but Casey clenched his jaw and waited for Cruz’s reply.

“Yeah.  Sorry, Lieutenant.”

Casey pressed his lips together tightly, nodded shortly and stepped around Cruz heading out of the cold and back into the house.

 

Severide couldn’t help but look around the examination room he was sitting in and wonder how many careers had been ended right in this room.  Wonder how many firefighters had sat where he sat and had had everything they had ever known be ripped away from them.  Objectively it was a nice room, dark walls, shiny equipments, artwork on the walls and flowers on the desk but Severide couldn’t help but hate it.

A knock at the door pulled him from his morbid thoughts and he was relieved, if not a little surprised to see Royce poke her head around the door.

“Boo,” she said with a grin and slipped inside.

“Royce?  What are you doing here?”  He was happy to see her but the reason she hadn’t come with him in the first place was because she’d had work stuff all day.

“Eh,” she said, reading his thoughts and waving an unconcerned hand.  “I cleared some stuff from my schedule,” she explained and leaned in to kiss him hello.  “Hi,” she murmured.

“Hi.”

The doctor arrived back, test results in hand and seemed momentarily surprised to see the sudden addition of Royce to the room but she took it in stride and approached her patient.

“Sorry, didn’t realise you had a guest.”

Severide hastened to explain.  “Dr. Kessman, this is my… girlfriend, Renee.”  Royce shot him a fondly exasperated look at his stumble and he offered her an apologetic shrug in return.  Their relationship had started off a purely physical and while it had developed to something almost like a normal relationship they’d never bothered to put a label on it.

“It’s good that you could make it,” Kessman said with a brief smile and maybe Severide was reading too much into it but he didn’t like the sound of that.  Dr. Kessman slid the scan she held into the board and flicked the switch to light it up before turning to address them.  “So today’s CT scan showed that the hairline fracture on your c-5 here extends further than we thought,” she said, tracing the crack with her finger.

“So, surgery?”

“Yeah, as soon as possible,” Dr Kessman said unapologetically and idly Severide wondered if doctors were taught to be unfeeling or if that came with years on the job.

He could barely get out the next words around the lump that had suddenly manifested in his throat.  “And the recovery time?  That’s the same?  Six months?”

“Unfortunately not,” she replied, finally looking away.  “Forget whatever you were told before.  It’s a year at best.”

Severide’s stomach dropped and he could feel Royce’s eyes on his face carefully gauging his reaction.  Her hand, felt unbearably hot on his skin as she slid it under the hem of his shirt to comfort him but he couldn’t find it in him to flinch away.

“Look, some guys who come in here on the job, they’re rolled out in the chair they’re going to live in the rest of their lives.”  

Severide knew she was trying to be comforting but more than anything he wanted her to stop talking as his heart started to pound in his chest and blood roared in his ears.  Especially when she said those next words.

“You’re lucky.”

He didn’t fucking feel lucky.

“Everything I see tells me you should make a full recovery,” she added, but her voice sounded eerie and far away like she was speaking through glass and all Severide could think about was the suffocating feeling of a year doing nothing.

“A year?” he finally managed, disbelief colouring his tone.

Kessman’s lips twisted and Severide instantly regretted asking the question because he just knew that whatever she had to say was going to destroy him.

He wasn’t wrong.

“A year if you hope to return to squad.  I’ll be honest, I’ve never seen anyone return to full duty after this surgery.”

And his world shattered around him.

 

The shift went on, day turning into night and there was no word on Severide.  Shay and Boden were both being tight-lipped about the situation and dodging Casey’s questions and no one else had a clue why the lieutenant had disappeared.  Inevitably, Casey was realising that he would have to call the man, whether he wanted to talk or not.  He had his phone out of his pocket and in his hand and was a second away from dialling when the bells went off and so with a sigh he shoved it back into his pocket and set about getting ready.

“Ambulance 61, Truck 81, pulmonary distress.”

It wasn’t a fire they were called to but rather crowd control at the nearby local high school where the basketball coach was in pulmonary distress, his team gathered nervously around him.  Shay and Dawson got him seated on the floor and where attaching electrodes to his chest while Casey’s truck company made a loose ring around them to make sure they had enough room.

“It usually doesn’t take this long to go back to normal,” he was telling the paramedics while the teenagers shifted uneasily behind the firefighters.

“Sir, when you’re in this kind of pain, you can’t just ignore it and hope it goes away,” Shay told him while she took his blood pressure.

“Yeah I know, but I hate going to see the doctor.  My health care plan’s a joke.”

“Yeah, we work for the city too, coach,” Dawson put in.  “You’re preaching to the choir.”

The coach took in a sharp breath of pain and an odd look crossed his face.

“Shay,” Casey called warningly and both paramedics heads shot up to look at the patient.

“Travis?”

“Heart rate is at 185,” Dawson said, checking the monitor.  “He’s in v-tach.”

“BP’s 70 over 50,” Shay added.  “We don’t have time for the drive,” she decided and ripped the cuff free.  “We gotta do this here.  All right, Travis, change of plans, we’re gonna need you to lie down, all right?” Shay said calmly as Dawson lead him to lie back on the floor.  “I’m just going to start an IV.  So I need you to stay as still as possible, all right?”

“Why?  What’s happening?”

“Well,” Dawson said, taking a pair of scissors to the coach’s shirt.  “We gotta get you back into rhythm.  We’re just gonna apply some electricity to your heart.”

“Woah, woah, woah,” Travis protested even as the paramedics continued to move around him.  “You’re gonna shock me?  I don’t know, what, is that gonna hurt?”

“A lot less than the full cardiac arrest you’re about to have,” Shay assured him.  “You just have to trust us, Travis.”

Dawson slapped the pads into place and Shay pushed the diazepam.

“Shocking at 100.  Stand back.  Clear.”  

The women leaned back on their heels as a jolt rocked through the coach’s body and he cried out.

“Oh God,” he groaned but took a breath of relief.  “It’s done, it’s done.”

But Casey knew it wasn’t; the monitor hadn’t yet settled back into a normal rhythm and he just knew they were going to have to go again.  The team behind him pressed closer to check on their coach.

“We gotta do it again, Travis,” Shay told him, placing a reassuring hand on his shoulder.  “You have a stubborn heart.”

“Come on,” he groaned.  “There’s gotta be something else you can do.”

“This is it, Travis, we have to.”

“You heard coach he said he didn’t want it!”

They all ignored the teenagers shout and Dawson and Shay kicked into action before Travis could anticipate it.

“Shocking at 200.  Stand back.  Clear.”

Travis’ whole body jerked with the shock this time and Casey grimaced because the monitor’s unsteady rhythm still hadn’t settled and he could see Shay and Dawson gearing up to go again.  Even as Travis pleaded with them between them Shay and Dawson conferred and then with a nod they set to go again.

“One more time,” Shay told Travis, apology slipping into her calm composure.

“Come on, I can hold on.  Just get me to the hospital.”

“Travis, I’m sorry,” Dawon broke in.  “You just gotta trust us, okay?”

They waited for him to nod before going again.

“Okay, shocking at 300.  Stand back.  Clear.”

Finally the rapid beeping of the monitor changed as the enormous shudder racked the coach’s body.  But it didn’t settle back into normal rhythm as they were hoping but into the erie steady and drawn-out sound of a flatline.  Fighting back curses the paramedics burst into actions, calling Otis in to do chest compressions while they handled everything else.  The restlessness in the teenagers behind them kicked up a notch as they picked up on the change.  The same kid from before pushed past and strode up to get a better look.

“Coach!  Is he all right?!”

“Woah,” Mills said, putting a hand to the kid’s chest and nudging him backwards.  Casey moved in to handle the situation.

“You’re killing him!” the kid yelled at Dawson and Shay, mindless of Mills.

“Hey, step back, man,” Mills said, stepping between the kid and his coach.  “Hey, you hear me?  Move back!”

“Mills!” Casey barked, fearing an escalation.  “Back off.”  Mills looked at him incredulously but Casey didn’t step down.  “The kid just wants to know what’s going on.”

Down on the ground Shay and Dawson shocked the man one more time and to everyone’s relief the man’s heart finally fell back into rhythm and the had him up and into the ambulance in no time.


Severide couldn’t remember how he got home, had the vaguest memory of the doctor talking about administration and four or five months and then being shuffled into his car.  After that everything was an indistinguishable blur until he had woken the next morning to a sleeping Royce beside him and an overwhelming urge to get away from all.  Which was how he found himself locking himself in the shower for the better part of an hour.  As the hot water slid over his skin, doing nothing to abate the ever present ache in his neck he found himself thinking about it all, his injury, Royce, Casey, always Casey.  With a sigh he slammed off the water and dragged himself out of the shower’s confines, relieved to see that Royce had disappeared downstairs while he’d been in there.

He padded across his room to the dresser and rifled through it looking for a t-shirt but a glimmer of red and silver on his dresser taunted him into giving up the search.  He picked up his CFD badge, not his lieutenants one but his first, the same one that had been pinned to his chest 12 year earlier and a ran a thumb over it’s gleaming surface.  It meant so many different things to him, courage, honour, loyalty, friendship, service and now a reminder of everything he stood to lose.

A year, he was facing a whole year without it, where Royce would be gone and Casey would be moving on with his life and Severide would be stuck in time, no job, pining after a man who would move on, probably with Dawson if she had anything to say anything about it.  And after that year he might never even get that rush of rescue squad back again.  The thought was suffocating and Severide found himself yanking open a draw, stuffing the badge in his hand inside and out of sight and slamming the door closed again.

 

A full month had not yet crawled by but Casey found himself going back to see his mother again at her request, figuring he owed her at least to show up.  All memories of their previous fight seemed to have left her because she greeted him with a smile and a hug, either that or she wanted something, Casey thought sardonically.

“My greatest achievement,” she said as she wrapped him up in a brief hug.  “I’m so proud of you.”  She always said something to this degree when he came to visit her and Casey never quite knew how to react or feel about it.  He busied himself with pulling away from her before the guards got antsy, instead of answering.

“It’s good seeing you, mum,” he said and took a seat at the table, focussing for the first time on the man who was sitting with her.

“Rick Savrinn,” he offered and held out a hand for Casey to shake.  “I’ve heard so many good things about you, Matt.”

Casey nodded a greeting.

“So what’s going on?” Nancy asked, feigning nonchalance.  “How are things?”

“You tell me,” Casey shot back instead of answering.  “Looks like there’s something you guys want to talk about.”

“I just want to tell you how grateful I am that you’re gonna speak up at the hearing,” Nancy said and Casey shifted but didn’t respond, still torn on the matter.  One on hand he could see the desperation in his mother’s eyes but he could almost remember with startling clarity the betrayal in his sister’s eyes when he’d told her.  “I’m sure you understand.”

“Yeah, I do.”

“So, I was talking to Rick, and he brought up a really good point.  I know it’s a difficult subject, but if we could just talk it out, and then we can decide whether or not to bring it up in the hearing.”

And that’s why he was here.

“The house key,” he supplied dully.

Nancy’s smile was both desperate and apologetic.  “That’s right.”  And maybe she wouldn’t force him to talk about it at the hearing but he could also see her desperation for validation, to shift the blame in any way off herself and onto someone, anyone else, even if it was her own son.

“See,” Rick said, suddenly speaking up.  “I’ve talk to an attorney and-”

“Wait, you’re not an attorney?” Casey broke in, confused.  He could see a scolding forming on his mother’s lips for being rude and felt suddenly 13 again.  But he wasn’t 13, he was 30 and his mother had lost all right to parent him a long time ago.

“No,” Rick said.  “I’m just a friend and advisor to your mum,” he continued smiling at Nancy in a way that gave Casey the creeps while Nancy stubbornly avoided either of their eyes.

“I met Rick through the pen pal program,” she supplied.  “But he has consulted an attorney.”

“All right,” Casey sighed.  “So what about it?”

“Imagine, I’m the parole board, just tell me what happened.”

Instantly Casey was transported back fifteen years to a cold, snowing night where he had, after coming back from his dad’s house carelessly throwing his keys onto the counter before heading up to bed.  He remembered noting absently as he passed that they were gone as he went to open the door in the middle of the night.  He remembered perfectly the horror instilled in him as the officers on the case had shown him the same keys that had been found in his mother’s possession when she’d turned herself in.

Remembering all this, Casey forced himself to go through it quickly.  “I left the key to my dad’s house out on the counter.  My mum took it and that’s how she got into his house at 3:00a.m.  And then she shot and killed him.”

“And how did that make you feel?” Rick asked and Casey fought the urge to hit him.

“Guilty; every time I replay that day, I wonder if my dad would still be alive if I hadn’t been s careless with my key.”

“I’ll ask you what you were asked 15 years ago.  Is there a part of you that left that key out intentionally because you were angry at your dad for the way he was treating you mum, and you wanted him to pay for it?”

Casey’s stomach twisted painfully and he couldn’t breathe for a second.  Then he turned to his mother, eyes hard.  “Is this really what you want to hear, mum?”

“No, this is not about blame,” Rick broke in, but Casey barely heard him and didn’t look away from Nancy, who hadn’t spoken and was waiting for him to answer the question.  “We’re not retrying the case.  This is about sympathy for you.  And for your mum.”

Nancy knew instantly that Rick had made a mistake because Casey was up and leaving.  “That’s enough,” she snapped and stood herself, catching Casey’s hand before he could leave.  “Sweetheart, just forget I said anything,” she begged, and there was the mother he remembered, the one who would never of asked this of him.  “You don’t have to say anything at that hearing.  It’s going to be enough for me to just look over and see you face, the one person in this world who’s never turned his back on me.”

But her words were suffocating him and Casey could feel fury, and anger, and guilt, and sadness surging up inside him and while he was happy to let Rick catch the brunt of it, he knew his mother didn’t really deserve it.  So he choked out a goodbye and left her to sink back to the table, tears brimming in her eyes.  How their positions had been reversed since the last time he had been here, him storming away while Nancy watched.

Thankfully he was outside in the deserted parking lot when te first sob tore from him and he was in his car before any tears fell.  He pressed a shaking hand to his eyes while he dragged in ragged breaths and let them out again.  He didn’t know really why he was crying.  Was it frustration at Rick’s insensitivity?  Was it anger at his mother for letting it go on for that long?  Was it guilt that deep down he had caused his father’s death?  Maybe it was everything at once all bearing down on him.

He dashed furiously at his wet eyes and fumbled for his phone, pulling up his contacts and tapping on the name of the one person he wanted to talk to.  But the phone rang out and he was choking out a hysterical laugh because of course after days of agonising over whether to call Severide or not, when he actually did, of course he only got his voicemail.

“Hey, obviously you’re not there and I know you’re dealing with your own shit or whatever but I just saw my mum again and she brought up the damn house key again, and I don’t know, I just need to talk to someone about it?  Call me back when you get a chance.”

Casey hung up the phone and flung it across the cabin of his truck, the 5 second snippet of Severide’s voice telling him to leave a message not enough to make him feel better.  He sunk against the cool window and wondered why out of everybody it was always Severide he wanted to talk to in moments like this.  It didn’t take him long to work it out, but when he did his eyes flew open and he jerked upright, a surprised gasp of breath leaving him.


 

The next shift started and Casey helped Dawson lie to immigration officers because that was apparently his life now.  But it was in the interest of helping a sixteen year old attain refugee status so Casey couldn’t bring himself to care much.

The day progressed with no word from Severide and Casey found himself growing more and more embarrassed by the frankly desperate voicemail he had left for his friend.  Thankfully he didn’t have that much time to brood on it because Boden hauled the truck and squad companies in full gear over to the academy to run a vehicle drill.

Boden had requested the use of Herrmann’s limousine which he’d been having trouble selling and in return had offered the entire $800 drill budget.  Which was how they found themselves standing in the courtyard of the academy, watching Mills hack away at the bonnet which they’d set fire to.

“Mills!” Boden barked.  “Unless you want to get kneecapped, I’d get away from that bumper.”

Mills immediately altered his position, so he was standing beside the car rather than in front of it.

“That thing goes up, it’s gonna blow like a cannon and take you right with it,” Otis put in.  Mills doubled his efforts.

“Otis, get a hose in that cab.  Keep that fire from making it to the back.”

The firefighter and two others hurried off to get the requested hose.  As they went Mills finally got the bonnet open.

“C02 on that block,” Boden ordered and two men ran in with the fire extinguishers and Cruz and Otis took care of the hose in the back.  “Come on, we’re losing time.”

“And fire’s out,” Otis announced, as the last of the flames were doused.

“Come on, let’s move,” Boden continued to bark because they weren’t done yet.

The firefighter's descended on the back of the limousine, pulling out the dummies, dressed in prom dresses and tuxes because they were a bunch of sadistic bastards and dragging them onto waiting stretchers and wheeling them away

“And time,” Boden announced and Casey hit the stopwatch.  He checked the time and showed it to Boden who nodded approvingly.  “Not bad, men.”

Slowly they all relaxed and most started to wander back to their trucks for a breather.  But not Herrmann who took his halligan and swung it at one of the limo’s front lights.

“Herrmann,” Boden barked and the man turned to him.  The obvious question hung in the air.

“First time I have sex in six months and Cindy’s pregnant again.”

There was a collective groan of sympathy from the house.

“What’s that like four kids now?” Otis asked Mouch in an undertone.  Mouch grimaced, shook his head and held up five fingers.

Boden considered it for a moment before shrugging.  “Carry on then.”

Herrmann immediately kicked the front door shut and took out the side mirror with a slam before walking along and methodically smashing in all the windows while the two companies watched the show.

Laughing silently, Casey had to step away when his phone rang.  He dug it out of his pocket and stomach swooping at Severide’s name on the screen he accepted the call.

Hey, Matt ,” Severide said before Casey could say anything.

“Kelly,” Casey said in surprise at the odd note to the man's voice.  “What’s up?”

“Can you just, can you meet me for a drink tomorrow night?  I’ve got to talk to you about something.”

“I- yeah sure.”

Thanks, Matt.”   Again Casey was surprised to hear the relief in Severide’s voice but didn’t question it as he named a time and a place and they hung up on each other.  Mind spinning with possibilities, Casey turned back to the poor limousine.


Worry and fear twisted Casey’s stomach and has his heart thudding in his chest as he walked into the bar.  He spotted Severide immediately on the stool and headed over to him, catching his eyes when he was halfway.  Surprising Casey, he stood when he reached the bar and pulled him into a tight hug.

“So what’s going on?” Casey asked when they pulled away and he took the barstool beside Severide and ordered a beer.  “Is this about…” he trailed away as his eyes flickered to Severide’s neck where he knew he had some sort of injury.  “Or are you taking some furlough?  What?  What’s with all the mystery?”

Severide’s smile was tight and it didn’t reach his eyes.  “I’m leaving the CFD.”  

The words were like a punch to the stomach and he felt winded, physically unable to breathe.  “You’re messing with me,” he finally managed.  And god was he hoping it was all a big joke and that any second Severide would grin that mischievous grin like he used to and they would laugh and share a drink and it would just be a joke they forgot about five minutes later.

But Severide didn’t smile, he didn’t laugh and he didn’t tell him it was a joke.  He smiled that odd smile, one that made him look older than he was where he usually looked younger than he was and said, “I’m not.  The girl I’m dating, Renee,” it was the first time he’d said Royce’s aloud and it felt odd on his tongue.  “She’s transferring to Madrid for her job and I’m going to go with her.”

If Severide’s last statement was a punch to the stomach that left Casey gasping for breath this was like someone had reached into his chest and had ripped out his heart.  Because he loved Kelly, was in love with Kelly and he was just mad that it had taken a visit to jail, crying in the parking lot, and a voicemail to realise it.

“And this is what you want?  This will make you happy?”

Because at the end of the day he loved Kelly and that’s all he wanted for him.

“Yeah, yeah it will.”

“Well then, cheers to that, I guess,” Casey said offering his glass to Severide even as his heart broke.

Chapter Text

Severide was excited to be going to Madrid.  Really he was.  Or he was trying his best to be.  He certainly was excited for the travelling portion of it; growing up it had mainly been just him and his mum, a nurse, who had worked her ass off just to keep them afloat and so any holidays they’d had had been around Chicago or out of state if they were really lucky.  So as it was Severide had only been out of the country a handful of times and never to Spain.  It was just when he thought about the rest of it that everything dimmed a little.  Royce was beautiful, and smart, and funny, and Severide liked being around her and it was all this that had convinced him that going to Madrid was best for him, rather than waiting around and pining over Casey.  But it still wrenched at his heart everytime he thought about not seeing Casey and Shay and the rest of the house or running into burning buildings every other day.

Still, since hearing that he was going with her, Royce had been beyond excited and it was hard to put a dampen on her spirits.  Her excitement, in fact, was how Severide found himself hitting up all the touristy things in Chicago that he’d always planned to do but never had because as Royce kept saying, when were they next going to get the chance?  

On one of her last days in the city, they went up the skydeck to look over the city.  Even though it had been her idea, Severide stepped out onto the clear glass ledge first, hands and nose pressed eagerly to the glass and eyes taking in the city that had been his home for the last 31 years hungrily.

It was only when he heard Royce’s little gasp that he realised she hadn’t followed him out onto the ledge an turned back to her.

“No, no, no, no, no,” she protested, even as he grabbed her hand with a wicked grin and tugged her gently out onto the glass.  She just about tiptoed out - as though she was worried her dainty frame would somehow break the glass ceiling - and stared about her in an endearing amazement.  

Severide’s gaze was glued back to the cityscape when Royce handed the camera she’d been assaulting him with all week to a nearby man asking him to take their picture.  He turned away from the beautiful sight reluctantly and painted a smile on his face for the camera, slipping an arm around Royce’s shoulders and pulling her close.

“Ok, ready?” he asked her, when they were finished and they turned back to the glass.  “Apartment fire,” he said finger tracing the building.  “Ten-car pile up.”  Royce turned to grin into his throat and he was momentarily distracted by her warm lips on his skin.  “Hand caught in a machine,” he continued absently, finger skating across the glass.  “There’s the station.  House fire, saved the mother and daughter, lost the father” he added, voice distant as his mind was occupied with memories.  “And there’s the academy.”

Royce must of sensed his melancholia because she broke in with a laugh, “Okay, all right.  In Madrid, it is going to be, tapas,” she said pointing randomly.  “Tapas, dance club and uh, Catholic Church,” she finished tugging at the collar of his jacket cheekily.

Severide knew she was referring to the religious medallion he wore around his neck.  His mother had been devout catholic and had given him a St. Florian’s medal when he’d entered the academy and even though Severide wasn’t very religious anymore he still wore it.

Rather than addressing it however he joked, “You think I can dance?”

“Well, I can dance and you can just watch,” Royce joked back.

“That I can do,” he smiled and slipped an arm around her waist and she melted back into his embrace, both their eyes on the skyline.

Royce grew unusually quiet and when Severide ducked his head to get a glance at her face her eyes had grown contemplative and she didn’t seem to notice his scrutiny.  Her muscles seemed to tense under his hands.

“What is it?” he asked her softly.

She jolted as though remembering where she was and tipped her head back against his shoulder to look up at him with a small, sad, smile.

“What?” he asked again, softer still.

“I met this doctor.”

“A doctor?”

“I just, well when I first heard that your recovery was going to be a year, I put out some feelers to my medical contacts just to make sure you were getting, you know the most accurate diagnosis and it turns out that the Chief of Orthopedics over at River Forest Hospital is involved in some kind of experimental spinal surgery and he’s really interested in meeting you.”

“Really?” Severide managed to get out, mind already spinning with the possibilities of it.

“Yeah.  You know maybe this will help you get to Madrid even sooner.”

He pressed her a kissed to her forehead and their eyes drifted back to the glass, Severide’s mind firmly on the possibilities of an experimental spinal surgery.

 

While Severide and Royce were taking in the sights, House 51 were being called out to their first call of the shift, a hardware store that had smoke absolutely pouring out of it by the time they got there.

“Hardware store, not good,” Herrmann said as they exited the truck and started heading towards it, and Casey knew they were all thinking off Vargas.

“Cruz, Mills, vent the roof and be careful,” Casey barked.  

Cruz nodded and hurried off, Mills trailing after him.  Cruz understood that a hardware store was full of propane tanks and other accelerants that were bound to blow soon.  But they hadn’t moved fast enough and the hardware was engulfed in fire for a moment when something exploded inside it.  They hit the road out of instinct and waited for it to clear somewhat before they got up again, kicking into overdrive.

“Go, go, go,” Casey yelled, knowing they would have to move fast if they wanted to get anyone still alive out of there.  He tugged his mask into place and ran into the building, the rest of his company right on his heels.

Dispatch, be advised, Battalion 25’s on scene,” Casey heard Boden say into the radio and then he was inside and he had to focus on the fire.

They stumbled on the first victim almost immediately and between Casey and Herrmann they got him out again in no time while the rest of the company went on ahead.  They lifted him onto the waiting gurney but didn’t go back in yet, waiting for Boden’s orders.

“Fire’s out, Chief,” he heard Capp say.  “Looks like another dumpster fire.”

The rest of the company made their way back outside, announcing to their lieutenant that the rest of the shop was empty of victims.  Casey ordered them to start overhaul and went to join Boden who was staring into the dumpster.

“What are you thinking?” he asked into an undertone, making sure none of the men were around to overhear.

“You remember that kid, Ernie?” Boden asked after a moment, voice equally quiet.

Casey clenched his jaw.  Even before the Vargas incident, rumours of the kid being a firebug had been flying around the house and after Severide’s scene with the kid it was kind of hard not to remember him.  He jerked his head in a nod.

“He called me right before we were called out, said he was in trouble, but he hung up before I could get anything out of him.”

Casey pressed his lips into a flatline and squinted into the charred remains of the dumpster.  “What are you going to do?” he finally asked.  Because he felt for the kid, he really did but they were down a man because of him and Casey had just seen an innocent worker get wheeled away, not breathing and with no pulse again because of him.  Who knew how many lives this kid had ruined and possibly ended with his actions.

But Boden, usually wise and all-knowing Boden shook his head at a loss.  “I don’t know,” he confessed.  “I don’t know what can be done.”

The ride back to the house was quiet broken up only when they went to pull inside and the door went up with a resistant screech before jamming halfway.  Lucking it was open enough that they could drive in but Casey rubbed at his eyes knowing it would be up to him to get up there and fix it.

Which was exactly what happened as soon as they had gotten changed out of their gear.  He got Cruz to reposition the truck directly under one of the brackets and climbed up to work on it while Herrmann, Otis, Mouch, and Mills watched on.

“What’s up?” Dawson asked, as she and Shay climbed down from their own rig and joined the crowd around Casey.

“Door’s jammed,” Otis sighed.

“I told Chief we needed to grease this puppy before the weather turned,” Herrmann explained while Casey fiddled with the stubborn fixture.

“And what, he ignored you?” Otis scoffed in disbelief.

“No, he told me to do it,” Herrmann admitted reluctantly.  “But I forgot.  I’ve been preoccupied,” he said pointedly.

“Weren’t you and Cindy using protection?” Mouch wanted to know.

Casey cursed as the door remained stubbornly in place, ice and crud blocking it's way and methodically continued to clean it away with a rag.

“We’ve got four kids, Mouch,” Herrmann bit out.  “I was counting on my sperm being too tired to make the swim.”

Casey and along with the rest of the group snickered, and replaced his rag with a spanner.

“Well,” Shay decided, shivering slightly even in her heavy jacket.  “I’m gonna head inside and check the levels on the hot chocolate.”

“And I’m gonna provide back-up,” Dawson added and the pair disappeared into the warm depths of the house.

“You know, my grandmother had this garage door,” Otis started, turning to Mills.  “And it was always stuck.  So one time I tell my brother Nick, ‘go inside and grab some butter-’”

As if by silent command Mouch, Herrmann, and even Casey still fiddling with the jammed door raised a hand in the air.  Seeing it Otis sighed and stopped mid-sentence.

“What?” Mills asked looking around at them.

“We’ve got a rule,” Herrmann explained flatly.  “You tell a story that we’ve all heard a million times, we raise our hands and you’ve gotta shut up, no questions asked.”

“Yeah, it’s actually impolite and insulting,” Otis said drily.

“Like that’s on us,” Herrmann scoffed.

“I haven’t heard the story,” Mills pointed out.

Otis’ eyes lit up but before he could jump back into his story, Cruz walked out of the gym and tapped Mills on the shoulder and nodded at the truck.

“Let’s go, Mills.”

Any thoughts on Otis’ story were abandoned as the candidate scrambled after the firefighter.  Otis’ face drooped again as he watched them go.

“Where are you guys going?”

“Oh, I asked Cruz to give me driving lessons,” Mills said and climbed into the cab of 81.

“Uh, I’m actually next in line to drive 81.  You know that.  Lieutenant?”

But Casey had a handful of door runner that he almost had running smoothly again and he didn’t need to throw in mediating their arguments into the mix.

“Not now, Otis,” he said distractedly and wrenched the runner through.  Smiling to himself, he tested it, sliding it back and forth and satisfied with it he climbed down again, dusting his hands off on his pants.  Turning he fixed a stern look on Herrmann.  “I don’t want to be doing that again next year, we clear?”

Herrmann grinned cheekily and chucked Casey a salute.  “Yes sir.”

Before anyone could speak any further a young kid walked up, holding a handful of squirming puppy.

“Hey, I got this dog here, if anyone wants it,” he said and looked around at them hopefully.

Mouch took one look at the dog, a little white and brown spotted thing that was gnawing at the poor’s kids hand and shook his head decisively.  “Don’t even think about it.  We had a dog over at 80 when I was there and I still have the teeth marks in my ankle to prove it.”

“My dad says he’s gonna throw her in the river if I don’t get rid of hr,” the kid told them, biting at his lip.

Mills poked his head through the window of the door and dropped back down onto the floor a second later.  “I’ll take her,” he offered, gathering the puppy up.  “I can at least find her a home or something.”

“She likes bacon,” the kid informed them and with a final pat to the puppy’s head he ran off.

“Does she have a name?” Mills called after him but he was already gone.  Mills turned to the rest of the group with big brown, doe eyes and Casey suppressed a sigh.

“Go get the chief,” he told Herrmann, because he sure as hell wasn’t risking annoying the chief with a sudden intruder.  No matter how cute she was.  “Come on,” he continued nodding at the dog.  “Let’s get her inside and see if we can clean her up a bit.”  The dog had obviously been doing it tough if her grimy coat was anything to go by.

The dog was an instant hit inside.  Dawson and Shay were immediately smitten and the puppy’s drooling smile was capable of warming even the toughest firefighter’s heart.  Only Mouch remained dissuaded.  And Boden.  Even with Dawson and Shay both pouting and pleading he ordered Mills to find it another home and Casey knew from his hard eyes and tight mouth that he was still thinking of the fire from before.

“I got a call at 67 over at Morningside.  They need relief for the next two shifts.”

“I’ll do it,” Otis offered immediately.

“That’s the slowest house in the city,” Cruz reminded him, looking up from his ipad.

“I’ll do it,” he repeated and Casey frowned at the zeal in his voice.  He had enough to worry about but he added keeping an eye on Otis to the list anyway.

Boden shrugged and accepted the offer and before conversation could continue, Severide came walking through the front doors.  Casey straightened in his seat, eyes glued to the familiar form.  He hadn’t seen or spoken to Severide since he’d had the Madrid bomb dropped on him and had realised the extent of his feelings for the man and had actually been doing his level best to avoid thinking altogether.  But he couldn’t help the hope that blossomed in his chest at the thought that maybe Severide had changed his mind.

“Finally gonna explain the mysterious disappearance,” Capp asked, half teasing, half serious and he echoed the sentiments of the entire room, who were all watching the Lieutenant carefully.

“Well, I thought I’d better tell you all in person, but I’m moving to Spain with Renee.”

The words, though expected were again like a punch to Casey’s chest and he wasn’t the only silent one as Severide waited for a response.  Severide’s company looked dumbfounded and betrayed while the Truck company merely looked confused.  The look on Boden’s face told Casey that maybe he’d been left in the dark about that bit.

“My office?” Boden offered after a long, tense minute and left the room without waiting for an answer.  With a final half-smile, Severide followed him.

Swallowing roughly, Casey looked back down at his paper, staring blankly as all the words had blurred together.

 

Boden wasn’t one to mince words and as always Severide was grateful.  “Between your history with us and your father’s distinguished career, I can get you arson investigation.  Or the academy.  It’s your choice.”

Despite the generous offer, the thought twisted Severide’s stomach as much as the thought of leaving the CFD altogether; he had no interest in working alongside firefighters when he should have had decades longer being one himself.

“I appreciate it, Chief, I do.  But I’m leaving.”

“Kelly,” Boden sighed gently.  Severide could count on one hand the number of times Boden had used his given name.  “Sleep on it.”

“I have,” Severide assured him and though Boden didn’t look convinced he nodded reluctantly.

“Then we’ll be losing a great man,” Boden sighed and offered his hand to shake.  Severide nodded his thanks.  Boden took the other seat in front of his desk and turned to face his soon-to-be-former Lieutenant.

“You haven’t told them yet.”  It wasn’t a question, he’d seen the confusion in their faces, knew that even Casey didn't fully understand.  And he didn’t need to clarify, Boden knew immediately that he was talking about his neck.

“You haven’t told Matt yet.”  

That wasn’t a question either but Severide found himself shaking his head to answer it anyway.

“Could you hold off?  Just for a few days until I work out how to tell him?”

There was something knowing in Boden’s eyes but the man merely nodded.  They were silent for a long moment as Boden’s gaze grew distracted and Severide frowned.

“You okay?”

Boden sighed wearily.  “You were right about Ernie.  He called, said he was in trouble, and then he hung up.  Right before we responded to another dumpster fire.  I don’t know where to find him.”

Severide leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees.  “You tried to help him, Chief,” Severide felt it necessary to point out.

“Did I?”

“You reached out to him.  You invited him in.”

“Severide, I saw him with this man and everything about it felt wrong.”

“And you handed it over to the police,” Severide shot back, but without malice.

“And what have they done?  Nothing.”

Sobered by the thought the pair of them lapsed back into silence, both too caught up in their own thoughts.

 

Shay caught up with him the second he left, an odd look on her face and a strangled note in her voice when she spoke.

“Hey, I must have misheard Capp, because he said something about you going to Spain…” she trailed off, eyes shining hopefully, just waiting for him to contradict her.  And for a moment Severide wanted nothing more than to be able to do that, to laugh and slip an arm around her shoulders, to reassure her, anything but disappoint her all over again.

“Yeah,” he finally said.  “I was gonna tell you this morning, but I missed you.”

Shay’s face remained carefully blank as she asked, “How long have you know this?”

“A day or two,” he said with a shrug.

She shook her head in disbelief but before either of them could speak the bells were going off and Shay was striding off before she was even called.  Moving out of instinct, Severide almost followed her before he realised with a jolt that he wasn’t needed anymore.

 

The last call of the shift was to deal with a shotgun-toting man named Baby, the guy Baby shot, and his mother in the early evening, which ended with Baby getting a taser to the leg courtesy of Shay.  They didn’t get called out for the rest of the night, much to Casey’s relief.  His thoughts were consumed by Severide and though he knew it wrong he felt unfocused and distracted and it would have destroyed him to see one of his men injured due to his whirlwind of emotions.

He tossed and turned the entire night, unable to quiet his mind from thinking about the lonely months that were to stretch ahead, where half a world would separate him and Severide.  It would have been one thing for Severide to stay even if never returned Casey’s feelings again but it was another to lose him completely.

 

The doctor's office at River Forest oozed wealth and privilege and Severide felt more than a little out of place sitting on the leather couch in the spacious office.  Royce didn’t seem to feel the same, sitting as she was entranced by the doctor and all he had to say even as Severide shifted uneasily on the leather.  Absently, Royce’s hand lifted to trace gently along the back of his neck, an attempt to comfort him and skin buzzing with unexpected nerves he settled back and tried to concentrate on what the doctor was saying.

“Essentially, we take parts of bone and cartilage from one vertebra and fuse it onto the next,” he explained, gesturing on the model spinal column he held in his hands.  “And then we inject your own platelets into the area, which increases healing.”

Severide found himself nodding even though the concept was still hazy in his mind.  It was the doctors next words however, that had him sitting up straight.

“Recovery time could be four weeks instead of one year.”

The buzzing under Severide’s skin ceased and for the first time it felt like a heavy weight had been lifted from his chest and he could suddenly breathe normally again.  But even as his body relaxed, his mind continued to whir and he heard himself ask, “How come I didn’t hear about this from my other surgeon?”

“This isn’t covered by a H.M.O, it’s experimental.  And I’m not going to lie to you, there are real risks here, including partial paralysis.”

Severide’s blood ran cold at that and the buzzing returned to his skin joined now by an absent, anxious tap of his hand against his thigh.  Royce must of noticed it before her own hand drifted from his neck to clasp it and squeeze it comfortingly.

The meeting wrapped up after that, the doctor telling him to take a couple of days to think it over, and offered him a business card in case he had any more questions, while Severide nodded mutely, those words , partial paralysis, ringing over and over in his ears.

“Partial paralysis?” he asked Royce in disbelief the second they stepped from the office, voice pitched low.  Even as he said the words though, at the back of his mind he was weighing up the odds, listing the pros and cons of the surgery.

“I am so sorry,” she murmured back, mouth twisting with sorrow.  “I guess I didn’t realise how risky it was.”

“Hey,” he said, turning to her.  “If I’m gonna risk anything, I’ll risk it on you and me in Madrid,” he told her, pulling her in for a hug even as the words left a bitter taste in his mouth.

 

The apartment was quiet as Severide let himself in.  Royce had had some last minute work things to wrap up before she left for Madrid in the next couple of days and so Severide had dropped her off at her office before heading home himself.  Shay, it seemed was also absent from the apartment and Severide frowned at the deserted apartment; she had been avoiding him since he’d told her he was moving to Madrid and the thought of her being mad at him again turned his stomach.

Making a note to make it up to her somehow later, Severide wandered into the kitchen, opening the fridge only to close it a second later when he decided he wasn’t hungry after all.  No he wasn’t hungry, he was conflicted.  In his head everything the doctor had told him churned about and warred with each other.

Recovery time could be four weeks…

Partial paralysis…

Sighing, Severide dug his phone from his pocket and clicked it on, swiping idly through it, looking for a distraction.  It was only then that he noticed the voicemail notification and frowning and wondering how long it had been there, Severide clicked on it.  The name and time stamp told him that it was from Casey a couple of days ago and suddenly Severide’s mouth was dry and thudding.  After a moment’s hesitation he tapped the play button and held the phone to his ear.

Casey’s voice was thick with emotion on the recording and immediately Severide felt his chest tightening at the sound.  He listened to the whole message through and mind spinning he remembered that it was Casey’s mum’s parole hearing that day and so he was faced with a decision.

It didn’t take him long to choose however.  He’d made himself promise when he’d decided to go to Madrid with Royce that he’d stay away from Casey until he left.  He was choosing Royce, he’d rationalised, was a choosing a future with her not Casey and sitting around pining for the man wasn’t the way to start that future.  But Casey needed him and fuck it if he wasn’t going to be there for his friend, feelings or not.

He was already in nice enough shirt from the meeting that he didn’t need to change and it was work of only a moment to find a suit jacket to slip on over the top.  Then he was getting back into his comaro and racing over to the courthouse.  He had no idea if Casey was even still there, knew that this was a whole day, vague time sort of deal but he wouldn’t forgive himself if he didn’t even try to be there for his friend.

As it turned out, Casey was still there, along with his sister and her husband, and Severide arrived just in time for them to get called in.  And he was glad he’d come because Casey looked pale and small sitting on the bench, head tipped back against the wall and Severide knew he had to be feeling conflicted about the hearing.  And when Casey spotted him, in that moment he wouldn’t have traded the relief that flooded into those pale eyes for anything in the world.

“But why-” Casey tried, but Severide shepherded him into the room, not wanting to risk pissing off the court officials.

“Just got your message,” he murmured as they stepped inside.  “Figured you’d need some backup.”

“Kelly.”  Casey paused, hand on his arm and smiled at him just so that for a second Severide’s breath caught in his throat.  “Thank you.”

Severide managed a return smile and they took their seats.  Of the nine available seats at the front only three were filled by members of the parole board and other than himself, Casey, Christie and her husband, and a court stenographer, the room was empty.  Nancy was lead into the room by two officers of the court and Severide felt Casey shift restlessly at the sight of his mother in custody like that, a sight he’d been forced to deal with for fifteen years.  Moving out of instinct, Severide wound his fingers around Casey’s and squeezed for a second before letting go.  And even though the touch was brief he couldn’t ignore the way it made his skin tingle; nor could he deny the zip of emotion at Casey’s grateful smile.

“Is there anyone present who would like to speak either on behalf of or in opposition to Nancy Annalyn Casey’s request for parole?” one of the board members asked.

Casey glanced over at his sister and met her eyes just for a moment before he cleared his throat and raised his hand slightly.  The board member nodded and Casey stood.

“My name is Matthew Casey.  I’m Nancy’s son.  I’d like to speak, please.”

He was waved forward to the lectern and the trip up felt like an eternity.  His stomach was churning and he knew that his actions could well mean that he never spoke to his sister again.  The only thing keeping him from turning back and heading to his seat was the knowledge that Severide was there and had his back on this no matter what.

“In four years, you’ve never spoken before, Mr. Casey.  Why now?  What’s changed?” the board member asked when he’d gotten there.

Casey sucked in a deep breath and let it out again slowly.  He hadn’t prepared what he was going to say, having remained conflicted about the situation until Severide had joined him and then the decision had seemed clear.

“Well, when I was seven, I stole a baseball mitt from a sporting goods store.  I got caught, and the owner wanted to call the cops, teach me a lesson.  But my mum went down there, and got him to agree to let me work off the cost of the mitt by sweeping his floor.

“And when my sister crashed the family car, my dad wanted to kick her out of the house.  But my mum talked to him, and worked it out where Christie could work off the repairs by cleaning dad’s office.

“What I’m saying to say is that my mum understands punishment, but she also understand forgiveness.  She did a horrible thing that she regrets terribly, and she’s paid the price with 15 years of her life.  But now it’s time for forgiveness, from all of us.”

Casey didn’t dare look to his sister as he said that, fearing he would lose his nerve if he saw any sign of refusal on her face.

“We lost both out father and our mother that day.  So, what’s changed?  Well, I have.  I forgive her now.”

“Okay,” the board member said after a moment.  “Thank you, Mr. Casey.”

Casey murmured his thanks and returned to his seat, just hoping that it would be enough to negate whatever Christie was sure to say against their mother.  But to his surprise when the board member asked if anyone else wanted to speak, he looked across to find tears in his sister's eyes as she shook her head and remained quiet.

With that out of the way, the parole board turned their attention on Nancy.  “Ms Casey,” the board member said expectantly, and Nancy stood.  “We’ll start with a simple question.  Do you feel remorse for your crime?”

Something crumpled in her face as she looked to first her daughter, then her son, murmuring a soft, “Yes.”  The louder, “Yes, I do.  Every day.”

 

They wouldn’t hear about her parole for another few days yet and Severide almost asked Casey if he wanted to get a bite to eat with him now that the hearing was over.  But then the thought of Royce and Madrid flashed in his mind and feeling like it was cheating on her, he bit back the words, murmured something about having stuff to do and bade Casey goodbye, ignoring the flash of hurt that streaked across his eyes as he escaped the court house.

Severide tried not to think about Casey on the way home but it was like telling himself not to poke at a loose tooth.  He couldn’t drive more than a few metres before he would catch sight of something, a cafe they’d once eaten at, and his face would rise unbidden in his mind.

When he got back to the apartment however all thoughts of Casey were driven from his mind at the sight of Shay standing in the kitchen.  She hadn’t reacted when he’d walked in and she didn’t react when he called out a greeting, other than a slight tightening of her shoulders.

“I said ‘hey’,” he said, as he walked towards her unresponsive back.  She continued to ignore him and focus on the apples she was chopping.  “I know what you’re doing,” he added.

“Oh yeah?  What am I doing?” she asked coldly, tossing down a slice of apple.

He stood at her shoulder and they both watched her hands, slice with methodical precision as he spoke.  “You’re not pissed at me because I didn’t tell you first.  You’re pissed off because you don’t want me to go.”

Shay was quiet for a long time.  “Clarice is moving in,” she finally said.  “She’s going to need your key.”  Then she gathered up her apple slices and escaped upstairs without another word.  Unexpectedly stung by the news, at the thought of Shay living with anyone beside himself he leant back against the counter with a sigh.


 

“It’s weird without Otis here,” Herrmann whined.

It was bright and early, the start of a new shift and 81 was down a firefighter.

“Who am I supposed to jag?” he continued when neither Casey nor Mouch responded to him.

Casey was reading the paper and Mouch was attempting to squeeze his fingers through the bars of the food cabinet.

“Don’t look at me,” Cruz said as he walked past.

At the crate, Mouch hissed when his fingers just missed the bag of marshmallows.

“And Severide’s gone too,” Herrmann sighed, ignoring Cruz.  

Casey’s attention slid from the news to Herrmann, and he found himself reading the same line five times without comprehending it.  Severide had been oddly distant with him ever since telling him he was going to Spain, despite coming to the parole hearing.  It was almost as if he’d figured out what Casey had, that he still had feelings for the man.  But he couldn’t, Casey kept rationalising and he was left wondering what was coming between them.

“I mean, he’s as cocky as they come, but if you were lying in the street, he’d give you the shirt off his back.”

Casey snapped the paper irritably and tried to immerse himself back in the news.

“If you’re lying in the street,” Mouch mused, as his fingers snagged the bag and he pulled out a handful of marshmallows.  “Why do you need his shirt?”

“You know what I mean,” Herrmann sighed.

Giving up on the paper, Casey looked up and his eyes fell on the handful of marshmallows, Mouch was holding to his chest like they were treasure.  Grateful, he seized the possible subject change.

“How many times do I have to tell you to stay out of the first watch crate, Mouch?”

“They tempt me with these little marshmallows, Lieutenant.  What am I supposed to do?”

Frowning, Casey said,” Give me one.”  He caught the one tossed to him and popped it in his mouth, chewing on the sticky sweetness.

“Chief,” Herrmann said suddenly, alerting them all to Boden’s presence.  “Maybe we should rethink the dog, eh?  Time that 51 got one?  Plus it would really piss off Mouch,” he added hopefully, like that alone would convince Boden to keep the dog.

“No way,” Mouch scoffed, and headed back to his usual spot on the couch.

“Peter Mills, where is that dog?” Herrmann asked the candidate, who had just arrived laden down with groceries for the house.

“Uh, I found a home for it,” he said, avoiding everyone’s eye.

Herrmann stared at him abashed.  “You did?” he asked accusingly, even though he’d done just as Boden had requested.

“Thank God,” Mouch sighed and dropped onto the lounge, just as the bells went off.  Mouch groaned and hauled himself back upright as they along with the Engine company and ambulance were called out to a house fire.

“That’s Ernie’s house,” Boden murmured worriedly.

Bad feeling churning in his stomach, Casey followed him house and they all, Boden included went roaring off, alarms and horn sounding.

Casey’s bad feeling turned out to be accurate, because despite getting there before the fire totally consumed the small one-story, Ernie’s heart wasn’t beating when they pulled him out and the fire had done too much damage.

“I’m going to be late getting back to the house,” Boden said quietly to Casey as they stood panting and watching the house get doused with water.

Casey swallowed roughly and nodded sharply.  “I’ll take care of things until you get back.”

Boden took a moment to clap a hand on Casey’s shoulder and then he was climbing into his battalion rig and was heading off, leaving Casey to round up his men and get them back into the rig to head home.

It was always hard with kids.  Casey knew this even as they drove back to the house and he had to shut his eyes against the burning behind them.  Unbidden an image of the kid’s burnt flesh rose up and Casey’s eyes flew open and he shook his head to clear the sight.  He wasn’t the only one affected; the entire company was stony faced and he had seen Mills, thinking he was alone, swiping furiously at his eyes.

They got to the house and slowly filed into the rec room, quietly taking a seat and moving mechanically.  Casey reached for his book and flipped it to a random page, not reading a word, Mouch stole another couple of marshmallows from the first shift’s crate and sat staring blindly at the blank television screen, and Herrmann rubbed tiredly at his face.

Then there was the sound of paws on metal and a quiet whine.  Everyone sat up and looked around at each other, not sure what to make of it.  At the table, Mills bit his lip and sat very still.  Then they heard a decisive bark and all eyes turned on Mills, who smiled apologetically.

“What is that?” Mouch asked, already shaking his head.

Cringing, Mills looked between the kitchen bench, the apparent source of the noise, and the rest of the room.  “I lied.”  The barking grew more louder and more frequent and Mills hurried over to it.  He slid aside the door to the cabinet to reveal the dog from the last shift.  “I couldn’t find anyone to take her,” he explained, sinking to his knees beside the puppy.  “And I couldn’t bring her to my place.  Sorry, guys.”

Cruz walked over and gathered the eager puppy up, who immediately started liking his face, not that he seemed to mind.  Kissing at her snout he took her over to the lounge and sat between Mouch and Shay, the former inching away while the latter fell upon the puppy with kisses and whispers.

Slowly Boden walked in and Casey caught his eye.  A short nod from Boden and Casey knew that it was done.  Boden had tracked down Ernie’s “uncle” and turned him over to the police.  Still Casey didn’t say anything, it wasn’t the time or the place.

Boden’s eyes fell on the puppy and with a passive face and unreadable eyes he walked over to the squirming ball of fur.

“Do you wanna say hi to Chief?” Cruz asked the puppy before handing her over to Boden.

The chief held the puppy to his chest and like Cruz, she immediately started licking at his chin.  Boden didn’t smile, Casey didn’t think he was able to so soon after Ernie, but something in his face did soften, even as he lowered the puppy back onto Cruz’s lap.  She immediately crawled over to Mouch and started sniffing at the hand that held his precious marshmallows.

“Ahh, jeez,” Mouch sighed, reluctantly patting at her neck, though he didn’t give up any of his marshmallows.  Casey felt the first vestiges of a smile started tugging at the corners of Casey’s mouth.  “Fine, she can stay.  What are we going to call this mutt?”

“Pouch,” Herrmann suddenly spoke up.  “Half pooch, half couch,” he explained, earning himself a few laughs.

Mouch didn’t deign to respond.  “Peter Mills,” he said instead.  “We’re gonna need some bacon.”

 

Casey honestly was expecting to get Severide’s voicemail when he called at 3 o’clock the next morning, which was why he was surprised to hear the call connect and Severide’s husky yet panicked voice ask, “ Matt, are you alright?  What’s happened?”   There was a rustle as thought Severide was getting up and it occurred to Casey what it looked like, him calling while on shift at 3 in the morning.

“No, I’m fine,” he reassured quickly.  “Everyone’s fine.”

“Oh,” Severide breathed.  “ Ok, good.”   Casey could hear the relief even in his whispered voice and cursed himself for worrying Severide.  Especially so soon after the worry with Shay.

There was the soft murmur of voices on the other end of the line and a distinctly feminine voice asking, “ Kelly?”, a quiet reply then the snick of a door closing.  Casey’s heart clenched, because that had to be her, that had to be the Renee that Severide was willing to move halfway across the world for.  Casey instantly hated her.

He didn’t offer a reason why he was up at 3am or why he was calling Severide even after he heard Severide’s footsteps stop and could hear him waiting patiently on the other end of the call.  In the dark of Casey’s private quarters images of Ernie’s burned flesh and unresponsive body haunted him.

“Rough call?” Severide finally asked.

Casey’s breath left him in a rush and he found himself nodding even though Severide couldn’t see him.

“You remember that kid, Ernie?” Casey asked, even though he knew there was no way Severide could have forgotten about him.  “We got called to his house, his ‘uncle’ had locked him in a cupboard and set the place alight.”  Casey squeezed his eyes shut and tried not to think about the burnt husk of a child, Boden had pulled from the house.  “He didn’t make it.”

Severide’s breath caught.  “ Shit, Matt…”   He didn’t say sorry, didn’t say anything more but Casey was all right with that.  He hadn’t called Severide for meaningless words that wouldn’t make him feel any better.  He’d called because Severide was the one person who knew what to say to take his mind of it, who knew the best way to get him to sleep when the memories of the job kept him up at night.  “ Hey,” Severide said.  “ Do you remember that time when you, me, and Andy…” And he launched into a familiar story and for the hour after that told story after story, Casey only speaking to add an occasional detail, until his voice grew hoarse and Casey’s eyes grew heavy.

“Hey, Kelly,” he finally said, voice coated with sleep, when Severide had finished regaling him with the story of their days in the academy when they’d stayed out all night the night before an important exam.

Yeah, Matty,” Severide murmured back.

“Thanks for this,” he said thickly, his blinks getting slower and slower.  And it could have been his imagination but he thought that maybe Severide had murmured back, “ Always.”

The words were on the tip of his tongue.  It would have been so easy for him to just tell Severide that he still loved him but sleep had him in its claws and was dragging him down into unconsciousness.


 

Severide had been flooded with relief when Shay had called asking if he wanted to meet up for a drink after her shift but as he drove to meet her, nerves seized him as he wondered if she’d finally decided to stop bothering with his troubles.  Shay was waiting for him outside their usual bar when he pulled up, her face impassive beneath her faux-fur-lined hood.

“I’m a stupid ass.  I know,” he said as way of greeting when he stepped out of the car.

“Yup,” Shay said, nodding slightly.  She watched him and waited, obviously expecting more.

“And I’m sorry.  I should’ve camped outside your room to tell you first.  You’re my best friend, Shay.”

Finally there was a hint of a smile on her lips as she nodded and glanced away.  When she glanced back there was a mischievous glint in her eyes that made Severide nervous.  “Next time..” she trailed off purposefully and pulled her taser out of her pocket and tapped it against his chest.

“Hey, no next time, I swear.”

They both laughed and after a moment, Shay’s smile faded slightly as she slipped the taser back into her pocket.  Her eyes took on a serious note.

“I’m glad you’re getting yourself healthy, even if it means I have to let you go.”

“Hey,” he said gently, catching her hand and squeezing it.  “No one’s letting go.”

Shay smiled lightly and nodded.  “Come on, let’s go in.  I’m cold.  Hey did you know that tasers are totally against the rules?” She asked, looping her arm through his.

“Yeah, I know that.  It’s page one.”

He was surprised when she opened the door and stepped aside for him to enter first.  Looking at her strangely he stepped through the threshold and got a facefull of the entire house yelling “surprise”.  His face broke into a grin and he turned to press a kiss to Shay’s cheek.

“Nice,” he murmured into her ear and she grinned back.

Royce embraced him as soon as he turned back and he pressed a quick kiss to her lips, feeling odd somehow to do it in front of the house, all people who knew his history with Casey.  Speaking of, his eyes immediately sought out the blonde, even as people greeted him and slapped him on the back.  Eventually his eyes found him, standing near the back of the bar and with Dawson by his side.  Something in Severide twisted at the striking pair they made and he wondered if Dawson had finally managed to wrangle him into a date.  He had been caught for days in an odd state of trying to keep his distance and the inescapable urge to be there for Casey and he wasn’t up to date on that situation.  His stomach continue to squirm as he saw Casey turned to say something to Dawson and then laugh at whatever she said in return and he was grateful when someone handed him a beer.

The night wore on and rather than enjoy himself, Severide found him growing more and more morose the longer he sat in the bar, surrounded by the people he considered family.  His company laughed and told stories of past calls, the truck boys were all lined up along the bar, Boden was there with his usual small smile and knowing eyes and Shay kept flitting past to check up on him.  And then there was Casey, always Casey, and it seemed no matter where he turned the blonde was there with that heartbreaking smile and startling eyes that kept capturing Severide and holding him entranced.  These were the people he was considering leaving behind and the longer her sat in the bar, the longer he was reminded of everything he was leaving behind and the more it felt impossible to go.

He was having a moment alone when it happened, just taking a breather and listening to the chatter of those around him and considering what it would be like not to see these people everyday, when his chest started to tighten and his breaths started coming shorter and shorter until he was slipping out of the bar and into the cool night air just so he could breathe again.  But before he knew it he was getting into his car and driving off, driving to escape everything in that bar and everything he was terrified to leave behind.

Severide and his father didn’t exactly have the best relationship; they weren’t the type to spend father’s day together or go fishing together and the most they ever saw each other was a few times a year and only a few phone calls in between that.  But still Severide found himself driving  all night, out to the woods he knew his father was frequenting for a job.  He found them easily enough the next morning, a few tents forming a campsite and a group of familiar men gathered around a fire and his father telling a story Severide knew off by heart.

“So it's 15 degrees, and there was this homeless guy that used to hang around in an alley behind the house.  And we find him, and he is frozen solid.  I mean, he’s a block of ice.  So I call the mogue and I say, ‘listen, we have a frozen dead guy, and you gotta come and pick him up’ and they say, ‘well, he can’t just be dead.  He’s gotta be warm and dead before we’ll come and get him.’  So we dragged the homeless guy across to the apparatus floor, and we wait for him to thaw out, for about ten hours.  Anyway, eventually, he got warm enough and dead enough to actually be dead, so they came and got him.”

Benny Severide hadn’t noticed his son approaching until he spoke.  “You still telling that one.”

He glanced around and his eyebrows shot up in surprise.  “Well, I’ll be damned.”

“Guys,” Severide said to the other two and nodded a greeting and received one in return while his father got to his feet out of his camp chair.

“You want something to eat?” he asked, nodding at the leftover breakfast still sitting in the pan.

Severide shook his head.  “Nah, I’m good, thanks.”  He indicated with a slight head tilt that they walk further into the woods and Benny followed him without a word.  “I’m leaving C.F.D,” he said when they’d gone far enough to not be overheard.

Benny just looked at him solemnly, jerked his head at the woods and they kept walking as the whole story came spilling out of Severide.  He told his father about losing Darden and the injury, meeting Renee and the experimental surgery that he couldn’t quite let go off.

The only thing he didn’t tell Benny about was Casey, and Benny didn’t ask.  Severide wondered spitefully if Benny even remembered the man he’d dated for four years, and had been friends with for years before that.

“What happens if you and this Renne get tired of each other?” he asked when Severide was finished.  “And you find yourself in some godforsaken country with nothing to show for it but a pension?”

Severide glanced back at the campsite, a mere dot in the distance now and thought half-heartedly about what it would be like to restore boats for the rest of his life.  Something inside him tightened at the thought.  “This doesn’t look so bad.”

Benny glanced back as well and his expression hardened.  “You’re worried about partial paralysis?  How about full paralysis?  Because that’s what this is.  There is no replacing firefighting.”  Severide shook his head against the sudden and irrational burn behind his eyes and glanced away.  “But you already knew that,” he added.  “That’s why you came out here,” he continued, watching his son carefully.  “So I could talk you out of going.”

Severide couldn’t speak past the lump in his throat and his jaw worked furiously, because he knew his father was right.

“Look, I know I wasn’t there for you like I could’ve been or should’ve been, and I’m three wives removed from your mother and I’m in no position to give you advice,” Benny conceded and sardonically Severide agreed.  Because the one thing Benny seemed best at was walking away and never looking back.

Oblivious to Severide’s thoughts, Benny continued, “But you’re scared, Kelly.  And you know why you’re scared?  Because you’re not ready for this.”

Severide felt the first hints of the tears spilling over and quickly swiped at his eyes.  “She’s counting on me,” he admitted.  “I promised her.”

“She’ll get over it.  Disappoint anyone, hell, disappoint everyone, but don’t ever disappoint yourself.”

It was pretty shitty advice, given their history and part of Severide wanted to ask if that was the reason Benny had walked away from his wife and his young son and hadn’t looked back.  But he also had a point and Severide knew in that moment that there was no way he could go to Madrid.

The decision must have shown on his face because Benny smiled slightly and said, “It’s good to see you.”

“You too, Pop.”

Benny made an aborted movement like he was almost going to hug his son but he must of changed his mind because instead he nodded a few times before starting to walk back to the campsite.  Severide sighed, not out of weariness but out of the relief at the weight that seemed to have been lifted from his shoulders, the cold air whitening the breath as it curled up in front of him and started walking back to his car.

With his mind made up about the surgery, Severide knew there was one last thing for him to do, something that he should’ve  done days ago.  It was still early and Severide was just hoping that Casey was still sleeping off whatever he drank the night before rather than answering this phone, because maybe it was cowardly but it was going to be easier to say this to Casey’s voicemail.  Fortunately, the phone rang out and Severide got Casey’s message.

Hey, this is Matt Casey.  If this is a construction inquiry please leave details about the nature of the job and contact information.  I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.”

Severide sucked in a quick breath as he waited for the beep and wondered how the hell he was going to say it.

“Hey, Matt, it’s Kelly, obviously.  Look there’s something I need to tell you, and I should have told you ages ago but I just couldn’t, I guess because I was worried about what you would think of me when you realised I kept this a secret for so long.  But I can’t keep this from you any longer.  So the truth is, the real reason I was going to Madrid was because I got hurt.  Months ago.  In the same fire that Andy… anyway yeah, it’s a fracture in my spine but I’m getting surgery on it, in a few days and yeah, that’s it.  I just thought you should know and I guess I understand if you’re pissed at me and never want to speak to me again or whatever.”  He knew his time had to be almost up and he almost said it then, almost told Casey that he loved him just to finally say it but the phone beeped again and Severide knew he’d lost his chance.

 

Despite the increasingly worried messages and texts from Royce piling up on his phone, Severide didn’t immediately seek her out when he got back into the city.  Instead he went back up to the skydeck and spent hours standing at the glass and staring at the city he called home.  He didn’t quite know why it was he couldn’t seem to look away or what he was waiting for.  Maybe he was waiting for Casey to get his message and call back with his judgement.  Maybe he was waiting for someone to tell him how to Royce the truth without breaking her heart.  Maybe he was hoping that he’d see some sign that his surgery would go ok.  Whatever it was had him rooted there and tracing the familiar streets of Chicago for a long time.

Eventually though as the afternoon approached he knew he had to leave and face the music with Royce.  He’d sent her a text a text hours before telling her that he was ok and apologising for running out on the party like that.  The others he knew would understand and not hold it against him but it had been shitty of him to worry her like that.

He drove over to her apartment and waited for her outside, knowing that she would be home from work soon.

“Hey,” she said slowly as she stepped out of her car, reading something in his face.  Despite this she continued hurriedly, with a fake smile twisting on her lips, “Let’s go up, it’s freezing out here.”

“Uh, no,” Severide said.  “I can’t stick around, sorry.”

“Oh,” she said, smile falling.  “What’s going on?”

Severide shook his head, a little in disbelief.  “I’m getting the surgery,” he said helplessly.

Royce blinked.  “Oh, Kelly, come on.  It’s just not worth the risk.  I mean, we’ll do it right, you’ll come with me and recuperate in Madrid…” she trailed off as the realisation struck her when he couldn’t meet her eyes.  “You wanna stay,” she said.

Severide swallowed thickly and managed to nod.

“I should’ve known,” she said, looking away and to Severide’s horror when she looked back at him her eyes were filling with tears.  “I was that close to not even telling you,” she said, smiling tightly and laughing in disbelief.  “And you would’ve come with me to Madrid and the sky would’ve been the limit for us.”  She peered closer at him.  “But it wouldn’t have been, would it?  Not when everything you love is here.”  And Severide knew she wasn’t just talking about firefighting.  Royce let out a shaky sob and Severide reached for her arm.

“Hey, hey.  What you did?  It might just be one of the most important things anyone has ever done for me.  Thank you,” he said, ducking his head so he could catch her eye.

“Yeah,” she gasped, wiping at her eyes.  “Well, uh, I guess we’re even now.”

“Yeah,” he said and smiled softly.  “We’re even.”

She went to walk past him and into her apartment for one final night before she left for Madrid the next day but at the last second backtracked and lurched forward for one final kiss.  When she pulled away she smiled a final time and went inside and Severide walked to his car.  Neither of them looked back.

 

It was getting late, the apartment was dark and Severide was watching old re-runs on the tv when someone banged on his door.  Shay was out with some friends, she’d almost stayed at home with him when he’d told her that he and Royce had broken up, but he knew Shay was interested in one of the woman in the group and besides he wanted to be alone anyway.  Which was why he was not happy to be grumbling to his feet and answering the door.

He was even more not happy when the second he opened the door a pair of hands reached out to shove him back.

“Idiot,” a voice hissed and Severide only had a second to comprehend the blonde hair and blue eyes and think, oh Casey, when a fist flew at his face and clipped him on the chin.  A supremely pissed Casey he decided as the hands returned a second later and fisted in his shirt to shove him against the wall.  Dully he felt an ache in his neck but the pills he’d taken with dinner - prescribed by a doctor this time - took the sharpness out of it, allowing him to focus on the pissed man who was pulling him away from the wall and shoving him back against it.

“I take it you got my message then,” Severide panted, not putting up a fight.

“Yes,” Casey hissed again, blue eyes narrowed threateningly though he didn’t move to hit Severide again.

“Look, I get that you’re pissed, you have every right to be, I put you and your men in danger so many times over the past couple of months-”

Casey made a disgusted noise at the back of his throat and shook him a little, causing Severide’s head to thud against the wall.  And damn, had he forgotten how much muscle Casey hid behind his lithe form; he wouldn’t forget it quickly, not with the way his body was already beginning to ache.

“Do you seriously think that’s why I’m so pissed,” Casey snapped.  “What about you, you goddamned idiot.  How much danger have you put yourself in these last couple of months?  How many times did I almost lose you , huh?  Did you ever think about?  About what I would do if I lost you because you were being a total moron?”

Oh.

It was only then that Severide realised how close they were.  He was sandwiched between the wall and Casey’s body from shoulder to hip, Casey’s hands were fisted in his t-shirt and they were both panting into each other’s mouths, Casey worked up in anger and Severide from the physical altercation.  It would be easy for anyone who walked in the still-open door to misunderstand what they were doing.

“Oh,” he said, mind still tripping over Casey’s words and the blonde laughed sardonically.

“Yeah.  Yeah, you put my men in danger and don’t worry we’ll be having a long conversation later about that but you also put yourself in danger which is just fucking rude especially considering I love you, you absolute fucking asshole.”

And then Casey’s hands were slipping around his neck to wrench him forward and their lips were colliding.  There was nothing gentle about the kiss, they were both too worked up for soft, it was all teeth and bruising force.  But then it was over before it had even started and between one second and the next Casey went from being pressed up against Severide to being five feet away, arms crossed and looking conflicted.

“Huh,” Severide managed, staring at him, with his mouth open.

“I shouldn't have done that,” Casey murmured, more to himself than Severide and rubbed self-consciously at his arms.

“Why?” Severide blurted out.

Casey shot him a glare.  “Because you’re with Renee,” he spat, saying her name like it was curse.  “Fucker,” he added with another spiteful look.

Casey never swore and Severide would be lying if he said the sight of buttoned down and perfect Lieutenant Casey cursing like that wasn’t doing it for him but then what he said registered in his brain.  A fucking miracle in his opinion considering all the blood that was heading south.

“I broke up with her,” he said, still leaning against the wall.

Casey looked up at him sharply, a hint of hope setting his eyes alight.  “You did?  I mean because you said you ‘were going to go to Madrid’,” he said, taking a step towards Severide.  “As in past tense.”

“Yeah, me and her, that’s over.  I’m staying in Chicago,” Severide explained, taking a step forward himself and kicking the door shut.

“Oh?” Casey asked, stepping forward again.  Less than a foot separated them.

“Yeah, and that’s a pretty good thing in my opinion,” Severide said, stalking forward another step, eyes zeroing in on Casey’s swollen lips.

“Yeah?” Casey asked hoarsely, inching forward and putting them only a few inches apart.

“Yeah, because I love you too.”

He only got a second to see the smile that lit up Casey’s face and think, beautiful, exceptional, gorgeous , before they were both surging forward and their lips were colliding yet again, Casey’s hand twinning in Severide’s hair while the other’s hand slid into the back pockets of the blonde’s jeans to haul him closer.  

There was still nothing soft about their kissing, it had been too long and emotions were still running to high for that but there was still something more tender underpinning their embrace this time even as Severide spun them around and pushed Casey against the wall this time.  

Severide’s grip on Casey’s ass encouraged him roll his hips against Severide causing him to moan into their kiss, lips sliding against each others and tongues tangling.  Eventually however they had to part for air and they panted into each other’s mouths, eyeing each other with equally dark eyes as they rocked their increasingly hardening erections against each other.

Severide’s mouth traced and licked along Casey’s jaw, nipping and then soothing away the sting as Casey gasped for air and his head thudded against the wall.

“Fuck,” he moaned as Severide sucked a bruise into the bolt of his jaw.

His fingers scrabbled for purchase on Severide’s back, bunching up his t-shirt before sliding beneath it to feel that smooth, hot skin.  One of Severide’s hand slid from his pocket and traced along his thigh until it curled behind his knee and hitched the leg up around his waist, opening his hips for more contact.

“Shay?” Casey asked and then groaned when Severide sunk his teeth into the join of his shoulder and his neck.

“Out,” Severide gasped back, kissing feverishly at Casey’s throat, mindless with the need to leave his mark on the pale skin.  “God baby, feel so good,” he moaned.  His hips shifted restlessly against Casey’s.  “Forgot how good you feel.”

Distracted by the feeling of Severide’s lips on him and their hips moving in sync Casey didn’t realise that Severide’s other hand had moved until he was being lifted and urged to lock his legs around Severide’s waist.

“Your neck,” Casey protested half-heartedly as Severide’s lips slid back to his own and their kisses took on a lazy and exploratory tone.

“M’fine,” Severide mumbled back and sucked Casey’s bottom lip into his mouth.  

His hips shifted and pinned Casey’s more firmly against the wall, taking the strain off his right side.  Hands free now they went automatically to the hem of Casey’s shirt and tugged at it until the blonde got the message and separated long enough from Severide’s lips for them to pull it off.

View uninhibited now, Severide was free to drink in the pale expanse of Casey’s chest while the man in question latched onto Severide’s throat with his lips.  Severide’s hands roamed over his shoulders and onto Casey’s pecs, thumbing at his nipples long enough to make him squirm and hiss in pleasure before finally coming to rest on his hips.

“Bed,” Casey panted into Severide’s ear and pulled the lobe between his teeth for a moment.  “Now.”

Severide pulled back and Casey saw the determined glint in his eyes and leant forward to kiss him already chuckling.  “Don’t even think about it,” he murmured against Severide’s lips, feeling the flex of his hands on his hips and knowing that the other man was considering carrying him up the stairs.  “Remember last time.”

Severide’s pupils dilated and glazed over as he remembered the last time he’d tried to carry Casey up the stairs.  They’d only made it halfway before he had dropped Casey and then they’d been too impatient to get to the bedroom and Casey had ended up riding him right there on the stairs.

“Sounds like a great idea,” Severide mused even as he let the blonde slip to the ground.

“Nuh uh.  When I fuck you I want you stretched out on a bed.”  

Casey went to slide past him and head for the stairs but Severide caught a hold of his hips and pulled him back, his front flush with Casey’s back.

“And what if I want to fuck you, huh?” Severide growled into his ear, punctuating his words by pressing his erection into Casey’s ass as he pinched one of his sensitive nipples between two fingers.

Casey practically mewled as he arched, simultaneously pressing his ass into the heat of Severide’s cock and his chest further into Severide’s hand.  He grinned and nipped at the underside of Severide’s jaw.

“We’ll see,” he said simply and slipped from Severide’s grip and headed for the stairs, toeing off his shoes and socks as he went.  Grinning Severide followed him.

They’d both managed to lose the rest of their clothes by the time they got to Severide’s room and fell into bed together.  After that there was a mad scramble to see who would end up on top and after they finished rolling about somehow Casey ended up underneath Severide.

“No fair,” he pouted when Severide grinned down at him pointedly.  Still he happy to oblige when Severide brushed his lips against his and opened his mouth eagerly to curl his tongue around Severide’s.

“Don’t you want me to make you feel good,” Severide asked, lowering his hips to Casey’s and letting their cocks brush unclothed for the first time.  The touch was all electric heat and they both groaned, grinding closer.  “Don’t you want to feel me stretching you open,” Severide continued after a moment, sounding a touch more breathless.  

Their hips continued rolling against each others and Severide reached down with a hand to brush against Casey’s entrance.  Blue eyes flew open and rolled back as he saw stars at the touch.  He hadn’t been with a man since Severide and he’d certainly missed the feeling of being fucked rather than doing the fucking.

But then Severide hissed above him and he blinked up at him to see his face contorted with pain his right arm now cradled to his chest.

Sighing, Casey nudged at his hip.  “Yeah, because that makes me feel so good,” he said.  “Come on,” he urged, brushing a kiss across Severide’s bad shoulder before pushing him onto his back.

Despite the pain, Severide’s face was light as he flopped onto his back.  “Like this Lieutenant,” he asked, winking suggestively and sliding a hand behind his head.

Casey rolled his eyes at the jibe but he couldn’t deny the flash of desire in his gut nor the throb of his erection any more than he could stop himself from eyeing Severide’s flexing biceps.  Judging by the knowing look and grin Severide didn’t miss it either.

“Lube,” he asked instead.

“Same place,” Severide answered, eyes drifting to the blonde’s chest.  And when Casey leaned over to retrieve the lube and condom from the bedside table he couldn’t help but lift his head and suck a pale nipple into his mouth, tonguing it into hardness before biting down gently.  Above him Casey swore and jerked, glaring down at him as Severide drew back, licking his lips.  “You always were sensitive there,” he teased.

“And you always were good at that,” Casey replied and then without warning ran the pad of a finger over Severide’s entrance.

“Shit,” he cursed, gasping at the touch.  He nodded at the question in Casey’s eyes and then felt the whole finger press in.  “ Matt,” he whined, hips jerking down to draw more of the finger in.

“Yeah?” Casey murmured, watching with awe as Severide’s eyes fluttered closed and his mouth dropped open at the exquisite feel.  Unable to stop himself he dropped his head to bite and lick at Severide’s swollen lips.

Slowly, so slowly that finger pumped in and out, dragging along Severide’s walls but missing his prostate purposefully on every pass.  Severide couldn’t find it in him to open his eyes but if he had been able he would have glared at Casey.

“More,” he begged.  “Please, God, more.”

“Matt is fine,” Casey murmured, grinning against Severide’s skin as he inched the finger out and inched it back in.

“Come on, Matt.  Not tonight.  Need you now.  Need you in me now.”

Because this was what Casey did best, wringing Severide out and fingering him so slowly it felt like torture.  But it had been awhile since they started and so long since they’d been together that Casey didn’t feel like dragging it out any longer.  So he slipped in a second finger along with the first and moved faster, pulling moans from him on every pass and stretching Severide quickly but carefully.  Still because he could, he was careful to avoid even brushing the man’s prostate.  Severide was just about sobbing by the time he got three fingers inside him and he only let Casey thrust a few times before he was seizing Casey’s forearm and stilling the movements of his hand.

“I’m good,” he gritted out before gasping as Casey scissored his fingers.

“You sure?” Casey asked, only half teasing and dipped his head to kiss him.

Severide’s lids open to reveal eyes dark with desire and burning with lust.  “If you don’t get in me right now, I’ll get myself off right here without you.”

Casey choked on a chuckle and instead groaned at the thought of Severide splayed out on the bed, fingers inside himself as he pulled himself off.

“Can’t have that,” he got out, voice hoarse and grabbed a nearby pillow to shove under Severide’s hips.

He settled between his legs, planted a hand by Severide’s head and grabbed a hip with the other and then glanced up.

“Ready?” he asked, unnecessarily if the glare he got was anything to go by.

“Matt,” Severide growled.

Casey grinned lavisciously and then slammed into Severide right up to the hilt with one thrust.  They both cried out at the feeling, Casey, at the tight, heat engulfing his aching cock and Severide because Casey had finally fucking found his prostate.

“Move,” Severide moaned and he didn’t have to ask twice.

Casey set a brutal pace, slamming their hips together in a way that tore moans from Severide’s throat.

“Fuck, babe,” Casey panted into Severide’s throat.  “Feel so good.”

One of Severide’s hands dug into the meat of Casey’s back while his heels drove into the blonde’s ass to urge him deeper, faster and they both knew it wasn’t going to last long.  They had been too long without each other, they had teased each other for too long, and it all felt too good for them to last.  Casey’s hand slid into Severide’s free one and they stared into each other’s eyes as their world shattered around them.

“I love you,” Casey breathed into Severide’s mouth and that was it for Severide who arched and came untouched in thick ropes across both their chests.

“God,” Severide groaned and Casey’s head dropped to his chest even as his hips continued to thrust.  “I love you,” he murmured into the blonde’s ear.  Casey whined.  “I love you so damn much, Matt.  Now come for me.”  The words were enough to push Casey over the edge as well and his thrust once more before stilling and coming with a low groan.  

When he was finished, they laid quietly for a long moment, sweaty and entangled, kissing each other clumsily, lovingly until finally Casey had to get up and dispose of the condom and wash the come from his chest.  Still too lazy and boneless Severide simply wiped his own chest off with the sheet figuring they would have to be washed the next day anyway.

Casey reappeared by the bed and slipped back into it, both men immediately rolling towards each other and entangling themselves again as sleep began to claim them.

Casey must have felt the tension in his shoulders because he murmured sleepily, “What’s wrong?”

And there should’ve been nothing wrong, because everything was perfect and Severide finally had the man he loved again.  But he was worried that Casey would wake up and decide that this was an anger-fuelled mistake, that he would wake up and regret it.  But sleep was coming and Severide had no idea if even admitted it aloud or not.

 

Severide awoke the next morning alone.  Casey was gone along with his clothes and any evidence that he had been there at all.  The only way Severide knew it wasn’t a dream was the rumpled bed, the pleasant ache between his legs, and the steaming coffee sitting on his nightstand.  The first vestiges of panic had just started to hit him that maybe his fears had been right when he saw the note left beside the coffee, on which a single sentence was written in Casey’s familiar handwriting: I could never regret you.


 

Casey wasn’t ignoring Severide.  He actually wasn’t.  Between the numerous calls for the shift that seemed to call them out the second they got back to the house again and the paperwork for said calls, Casey barely had a moment for himself to freshen up between fires, let alone shower properly, relax, and check his calls.  Which was how he managed to go the entire shift without realising Severide had left a message on his voicemail.  

But he found himself not listening to it straight away anyway.  Despite what he had written in his note he was in two minds about the night before.  He hadn’t lied in his note, when he wrote that he didn’t regret their night together, nor before that when he’d said he loved Severide.  But that didn’t mean that the light of day hadn’t brought reflection and new perspectives that had him thinking himself crazy for trying to go down this road with Severide again, especially when the man had a surgery and rehab to focus on.

He knew he was in trouble when Shay cornered him just before the shift change and pinned him place with narrowed eyes.  He’d slipped out of their apartment the night before without having to speak to either of them but there was something knowing in those eyes, that told Casey that maybe he hadn’t been as subtle as he thought.

“What?” he asked innocently, eyes itching with tiredness and hands held up in an exhausted sort of surrender.

“Nothing,” she finally said after a long moment and slipped past him without another word.  She stepped up to her locker and buried her head in its contents.

Casey sighed, muttered a quick goodbye, and hurried off before she could change her mind.

But rather than going home, Casey found himself driving around in aimless circles after he left the house, until finally he parked haphazardly and found himself walking across one of the bridges that spanned the Chicago River.  

It was only then as he was leaning against the railing and looking out on the gently moving water that he pulled his phone from his pocket and listened to the message.

Hey, Matt,” Severide’s voice said sounding small and hesitant and Casey hated that he was the cause of it.  “ I believe you when you said you don’t regret the other night but I also know you and I know that you’ll try to convince me to focus on my surgery and rehab just so we don't have to work out what happens now.  And I know you’re probably going to try to convince me that it’s better we didn’t get back together at all because it didn’t work last time, or you don’t want us to end up hating each other, or any number of a million reasons.”

A lump grew in Casey’s throat because dammit that was what he had been thinking.

“I know, trust me, I know.   I’ve thought this a million times over the past 24 hours.  But you know what I realised?  You’re it for me.  I love you and you’re it for me.  So yeah maybe it would be safer if we just didn’t go there again.  But I don’t want safe, I want you.”

Tears pricked at the corners of Casey’s eyes and he dashed at them quickly as he choked on half a sob.

I go in for my surgery in a few hours and I want- I need you there, Matt.  I’m not ready for us to be done and if you aren’t either than just come to the hospital.”   He named the hospital and the time.  And as the message finished Casey heard Severide’s voice get choked with emotion.  “ No matter what happens, just know that I love you, Matt.  I love you so damn much.”

Casey wiped at his eyes with the back of his hand as he lowered the phone slowly and with shaking hands before glancing at his watch.  The time registered slowly in his mind and with a strangled curse he shoved the phone back into his pocket and took off for his truck.

 

Severide tried not to be disappointed as the nurses slowly prepared him for surgery and there was still no sign of Casey.  He had known there was a real chance that he wouldn’t show up but even that thought hadn’t prepared him for the reality.  Shay reading the pain in his eyes, squeezed his hand gently and tried to smile.

“Die Hard marathon when you’re back home?” she asked softly.

Severide forced a smile and nodded.  “Sounds like a plan.”

“It’s time,” a nearby nurse said.

Severide settled back against the pillows, heaved a sigh and tried to relax.  Shay squeezed his hand one last time, before letting go reluctantly and getting to her feet.  She would come with him as far as she was allowed and would be right by his side again as soon as she was able.  And she told him as much.

“I’ll be there when you wake up,” she promised him.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he said but they both saw the lie for what it was.  If Severide had his way there would be one other person with them.

They were almost to the operating theatre and Shay was just about to leave him with a kiss of good luck when it happened.  There was the sudden sound of feet on the tiled floor, a clatter from the nurse’s station, a voice saying “Sir, you can’t go in there” and then the doors were bursting open to reveal a red-faced and panting Casey.

The nurse’s wheeling Severide stared at Casey in shock as even Shay and Severide gaped.

“You’re here?” Severide finally managed.

“Yeah,” Casey breathed and stepped forward to duck down and press a short, sweet, reassuring kiss to Severide’s uncomprehending lips.  When he pulled back he was smiling slightly.  “Wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”

Severide broke into a grin and he felt himself relax.  Over Casey’s shoulder he could see Shay trying to cover her own smile with her hand.

“Are you ready?”

Still grinning at the blonde, Severide said, “Yeah, yeah I am.”

He glanced over his shoulder as he was wheeled, eyes glued to the two people he loved most in this world.  Shay, his best friend and Casey, the love of his life, who it seemed wasn’t as done with Severide as either of them had thought.