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Aching Heart

Chapter Text

“Oi, Severide. Where’s Casey?”

Kelly glanced over to where Kidd was checking truck’s compartments, but she seemed to be much more concerned about Kelly’s answer than the location of the equipment in the rig. They all knew that Matt was extremely finicky about how everything was kept, liking it all to be streamlined so it was easily accessible and precious seconds weren’t wasted digging around. And while Casey’s company could see the merit in his perfection, the other shifts had yet to pay it any mind. So, the start of each shift was generally spent rearranging it back into order. At first, Matt had done this alone, but Kidd had then picked up the habit so her captain didn’t have to worry about it.

Because that was just how fifty-one looked after each other, did the little things that made a big difference, the things that made them feel at home and part of a family.

And she looked genuinely concerned, unable to think of a reason that Matt and Kelly hadn’t come in together. They’d been together for over three years, after all, and the whole firehouse knew. Even though their relationship had been a secret at first – and they certainly still remained discreet, neither having been in the habit to bring home to the firehouse – they were going strong as far as everyone knew, and rarely came into shift without each other.

So, Kelly did his best to give her a reassuring grin as he told her that Casey had to pick something up for a construction gig and had raced out that morning. But he was coming, he might just be a little late.

The smile remained on his face as he continued through the firehouse, banging into the locker room as he dumped his stuff. There, he was asked the same question by squad, and he couldn’t help but blush as he answered. Squad started jeering, offering much filthier alternatives than the truth.

Severide couldn’t help but be flattered by their care. When he and Matt had started dating, Casey had been terrified of what everyone would think. And it had been hard for Severide to get past, at first, his own insecurity telling him that Casey was anxious because he didn’t trust him.

And so, he’d pointed out that Shay had been gay, and everyone loved her. Ritter had recently come out, and Foster had never hidden being bi. But every time Severide mentioned coming out – something that he had never been overly worried about, because even though he knew how crass his father could be, he also knew that Benny was open-minded enough that it wouldn’t bother him – Casey would freeze up, would pale and would go extremely silent.

Thinking that it would help his boyfriend, Severide had stood in the common room and declared that he liked men. And while much of the house had made jokes about Severide humping anything that moved, everyone had accepted it… but Casey had just remained in the corner, shaking his head with true horror in his eyes when Severide had looked over to him. Kelly had relented, but only because he could see that Matt’s fear was very much real.

And that night, Matt had a nightmare that was so severe, so horrifying, that Kelly had started to understand that there was more too it. He ended up staying with the blonde the entire night, sitting with him on the couch when Casey had refused to go back to bed, crying and shaking as he’d worked through his memories. Severide had then spent the next day researching abuse-induced PTSD, reading pages and pages of information as he tried to work out how to best support his boy. And in that moment, he’d decided to drop the subject until Casey was ready.

Which was why he was so surprised when Casey had come out at Molly’s.

They hadn’t even been drunk and were sitting at the bar like they would any other night. Casey had been decidedly off, but he’d shook his head subtly when Severide had raised his eyebrow. Kelly accepted it, doing his best to not act overly concerned.

Matt had then got everyone’s attention, standing on shaky legs – Kelly having to do everything to not reach out and steady him – where he stated – no, blurted – that he and Kel were dating.

He’d been met with silence – and dammit he looked as though he was about to pass out – as everyone processed his words. He then got the loudest cheer that Severide had ever heard, and everyone had taken turns in hugging him after Kelly had held him close. Casey had then started sobbing, relieved beyond all else that no one had rejected him.

Severide had then started crying for a different reason – because he knew how much it had meant for Casey to say something.

Matt had then clung to him for the rest of the night, before they’d ended up in bed together. It didn’t surprise him that Casey wanted to talk before they had sex, and the blonde had whispered apologies, admitting that Severide had been right and that he should’ve sucked it up earlier.

But Severide had just smirked, telling him that he’d done nothing wrong and he understood why he’d been so anxious. He’d told him he loved him, and that it was never going to change… he’d be there for Casey no matter what.

At that point, Casey had finally relaxed and suggested he sucked something else.

And somehow, Boden had managed to get it all past headquarters, so aside from the occasional homophobic arsehole – who existed inside the CFD as well as out – the ramifications of their relationship had only been positive. And Casey was easing into it more and more every day, feeling better and slowly building evidence to discredit his father’s words.

And they seldom spent a moment apart from each other, going into shift together, going home together… sure, they still had their own lives, as was healthy with any couple, but they couldn’t help but want to spend every moment together, doing anything they could to indulge each other and make the other happy. From the bigger things, like when Severide had blown off the annual Squad night and had booked one of the fanciest restaurants in Chicago, giving Casey an hour to get dressed but not telling him where they were going. Or when the car expo had ended up on the same night as the concert Casey had been eager to go to, and Casey had surprised him with the tickets to the expo only an hour before. Or when Severide had driven Casey to the pound and allowed him to pick out a kitten rather than the dog they’d agreed on, because he knew that Matt had only agreed on the dog to make him happy in the first place… 

To the smaller, daily things. Kelly making breakfast while Matt was on his run, Casey taking the first shower so it was warmed up for Kelly, Severide buying Lucky Charms because Matt secretly liked them, Casey climbing into Severide’s car, even though his pick-up was far more fuel efficient…  

But that morning, Casey had ended up with a last-minute construction gig that he’d been unable to refuse, and he’d had to pick something up before shift. Severide had offered to go with him, of course, but Casey had been adamant about going alone. It was likely that he’d end up late to shift, and Severide knew that was something that really stressed him out. So, he’d agreed on heading in by himself to give Casey peace of mind. At least one officer would be on time. He also promised to clear it with Boden, even though he was confident that Casey would have already done so through text.

Little did Kelly know; Casey had already gone a step above texting Boden. Because it wasn’t a last-minute construction gig. The previous shift, he’d timidly arrived at the Chief’s office, mumbling his way through an apology as he explained that he wouldn’t usually do this, but he had to pick up a gift for Severide, and it might make him late.

Boden had raised an eyebrow, not judging his captain, but knowing that it must be an extremely important present for Casey to ask if he could be late.

Casey had taken Boden’s raised eyebrow as rejection and had shyly yet rapidly explained what it was, stumbling over his words. As soon as Boden had heard it, he’d brought Casey into a massive hug, unable to contain his excitement, telling Casey that he could be as late as he wanted, and to put no pressure on himself at all.

Casey had started babbling, insisting that he would do his best to be on time, but Boden had reassured him that he was more than capable of covering for him on truck eighty-one if there was a call. Then he’d told Casey that he was supportive and hugged the truck captain again. Casey had melted into it, doing his best not to cry in relief, every bit feeling as though a father had accepted him.

Boden had to wipe tears from his own eyes. He’d always felt very paternal to the truck captain, and knew he was the closest thing Casey had ever had to a father anyway. And right now, he was just happy to see Casey calm and confident in his choices, happy to see him in a stable home life and in a loving relationship. Because Casey had never had any of that early on in his life.

Then Casey had tried to act as normal as possible over the two days they’d had off. They’d gone up the Willis Tower and had both been in awe of the sights. They’d spent time pointing to places they’d been on calls, and Severide hadn’t been able to resist bringing his boy into a hug. Because unlike the first time he’d gone up the Willis Tower with Casey, where Casey had stared hollowly at the place he’d been injured, at Hallie’s clinic, the place Darden had died, his boy was only pointing out the successful rescues they’d had. It was such a minor difference, but it told him so much about his boyfriend’s state of mind. Casey was happy. He was so much happier than he had ever been. And Severide knew it was the exact same for himself.

And Casey had been in the same good mood as he’d left for shift that morning, waving at Severide as he’d pulled out. The roads were icy, but Severide knew that Casey was a safe driver, so he wasn’t too worried as he reassured everyone that the blonde would be here soon.

Or, at least, he was no more worried than usual when he didn’t have eyes on Casey.

Kelly rolled his eyes as Capp made yet another dirty suggestion – one that might have someone else blushing, but only had Severide’s eyes glinting in joy – before he slapped him on the shoulder, making his way to the common room for a cup of coffee before the bells rung. There, he was once again asked where Casey was, which only made him smile. Herrmann had given a good-natured stab about Captains being the last to shift, and Mouch had grinned and muttered something about Casey being a hard worker.

He had to resist the urge to giggle at that, because it told him how much the firehouse respected their relationship, and also how much they cared about Matt.

Casey was his boy. And Casey was loved.

He was midway through bantering back and forth with Herrmann – thankful for the distraction, because he was starting to get concerned – when the klaxon rung, and Kelly couldn’t stop himself watching as Boden suited up to take Casey’s place. It hadn’t occurred to him that Casey would be so late that he’d miss a call, and he couldn’t help it as his stomach turned into a gnawing pit of concern.

But he was professional as the rig pulled out, Cruz quickly driving to the site of the scene. A car accident at an intersection. Not uncommon, but often quite difficult to clear. It wasn’t until they could see the carnage of the accident that the gnawing pit of concern turned into full out nausea. Truck eighty-one had already parked, its men rushing around with more panic than usual, Boden with a serious expression as he shouted orders when Severide saw it.

And could barely will himself to draw another breath.

Pinned between two cars, resting at a slight angle, was Casey’s pick-up.

Chapter Text

Severide’s adrenaline kicked in before he could even process any of his men’s words, before he could process himself getting out of the rig. He barely heard Boden yelling at him to stand down, because he was already on autopilot.

He knew what he needed to do to fix this.

He knew what he needed to do to help Casey.

Surveying the scene with an expert eye, he yelled for his men to bring cribbing and a Sawzall. It was clear from the carnage what had happened, but Severide still needed a moment to believe it. It was a four-way intersection, two main roads crossing each other. Not an uncommon place for an accident, though safe if everyone followed the road rules.

But people don’t always follow road rules.

Matt’s pick-up had been stopped roughly in the middle of the intersection. He’d been heading towards the firehouse, driving along the inner lane. There were cars behind him, and alongside him. So, it was clear that he wasn’t at fault.

Obviously, he wasn’t at fault.

It was obvious who was.

A motorbike had then been heading along the intersecting road and had run the red light. Now, Severide knew that had the motor bike just hit Casey – had it sideswiped him – his boy would be fine. Shaken, probably, but fine.

But that’s not what had happened.

The bike had been heading along the road to Casey’s left – which meant it had run into the cars zipping along the opposite way. Understandably – because Severide knew that most people in an emergency situation would have done the same thing – the yellow car heading the opposite way to Casey had swerved to avoid the motorbike – which had resulted in a head-on-head collision with Casey.

And head-on-head collisions were the worst.

Severide felt almost lost as he saw that the driver’s sides on both Casey's truck and the yellow car were completely crumpled, the force that had pushed the two cars together obviously having been significant. It had also pushed Casey’s pick-up backwards and to the side, wedging it into another car and leaving it at an angle. Had it been anyone else, his mind would have already processed the very real possibility that neither driver had survived.

But this wasn’t anyone else, this was Casey.

Casey had to be fine.

Severide swallowed down his nausea as he moved closer to the accident, a brief glance to the road telling him that there was no chemical danger. He wanted nothing more than to get eyes on Casey, but given the angle his pick-up had been forced into, as well as the additional damage to the car – and his many years as a squad lieutenant – he knew that it wasn’t his first port of call. He had to assume that Casey was alive and go from there.

He was fully focused on his job as he directed squad to stabilise the pick-up, biting his tongue as though it would stop the tears from leaking down his face. It didn’t, but at least he wasn’t sobbing.

He wasn’t distracted by the sirens announcing the arrival of additional ambulances and CPD, nor the shouts as they continued to clear the scene. There was the groan of metal, the sounds of other victims being extracted. But Severide didn’t care about any of them. All he cared about was his boy, so he was largely unfazed about any of the other sounds…

Until he heard the most dreadful scream.

He glanced up, and immeaditely regretted it. In those precious seconds, he’d got eyes on the yellow car. A woman was sitting in the passenger seat, mouth opened in terror, eyes fixed on the crumpled form of the driver to her left.

And Brett, who was pressing her fingers into his jugular.

And shaking her head.  

No, no, no, no…

The other driver couldn’t be dead. If the other driver was dead… what did that mean for Casey?

The woman continued screaming, the sounds dissolving into anguished sobs. It was still likely to be a while before they could extract her, so she was forced to sit beside her dead husband.

Everything started to spin around him, the nausea returning ten-fold. He couldn’t imagine a world without Casey. It wasn’t possible… it wasn’t worth it.

“Lieutenant? Pick-up’s stabilised.”

Severide nodded weakly, appreciating that Cruz hadn’t mentioned Casey by name. He didn’t need to be distanced, the fear was very much there, he was well aware that his boy was hurt… but he thought that if he heard Matt’s name he might cry.

“Okay… climb up back… need to see in the rear window…”

Cruz nodded, ready to assist Severide in any way he could. They were all shaken with the realisation that it was Casey who was injured, the alternative being unthinkable. He knew exactly how Severide would be taking it, and as much as he wanted to offer to go up himself, so Severide didn’t have to see Casey in whatever state he was in, he knew that there was no way the squad lieutenant would accept it.

“Got it, Lieutenant.”

They moved around the back, Severide’s entire focus being taken as he looked through the back window and tried to get eyes on Casey. Cruz assisted in every sense of the word, hands supporting him as he swayed, Severide clearly being overwhelmed. As soon as Kelly was in the bed of the pick-up, he turned away, moving towards the back window and not spotting Cruz in the way that he should. But Cruz didn’t mind, instead hoisting himself up and scrambling to look through the back.

The sight frightened him, so he had no idea how on earth the squad lieutenant was taking it. Casey was slumped over the steering wheel, unmoving. It was clear that a large amount of the impact had gone to his chest and abdomen, and although the airbags had deployed, there was a significant amount of blood around the blonde’s form. His left arm was awkwardly jammed between the shattered door of his pick-up and the steering wheel, the sickening angle it was bent at announcing the severe break. But that wasn’t what was the most worrying.

Otis had been pounding on the side window, trying to get Casey’s attention. But the blonde hadn’t responded in any way, he hadn’t even shifted.

Casey wasn’t moving. At all.

He swallowed down another wave of emotion as Otis relayed the information to Brett, staring at Casey’s unmoving frame. It could have just been the angle, but it didn’t even look like he was breathing.

“Cruz, hurry up! Get this glass out of the way.”

Cruz nodded, hearing the fear in his lieutenant’s voice much more than the anger. Severide’s face was pale, and his eyes had a thin sheen of tears. He was doing everything he could to remain professional, and that was only because he knew that it might be the difference between Casey –

He shook his head, slipping his hand in the small gap Cruz had made with the window breaker. Given that Casey had no back seat in his car, the only way to access him was removing the back window and climbing through. But that meant it wasn’t possible to cover Casey with a blanket, so his exposed flesh would be at the mercy of any falling glass.

And sure, Casey was wearing a jacket, but there was still a good chance that they would cut Casey while removing the glass. So, they moved slowly but urgently as Severide braced the pane with his arm, and Cruz worked his way around the edges. In an ideal world, the entire section would come away as one and they’d be able to lift it out of its place.

By some miracle, every splinter that fell down narrowly missed Casey, aside from the few that hit his jacket. The relief didn’t last long, though, because Severide realised with horror that even if they’d protected Casey from further harm, a few tiny cuts made no difference.

Casey was still horribly injured.

No sooner had they disposed of the glass safely, Severide was calling into the pick-up, tears evident in his voice as he screamed for Casey to answer. But the blonde made no effort to move. He hadn’t managed to respond in any possible way. The blood marring his blonde mop was now obvious, and Severide could barely compose himself as his voice continued to betray his fear.

He felt Cruz’s arm on him, bring his attention back to the rescue. Not a lot of time had passed, but every second was critical, and these men were used to working at a rapid pace. Severide kicked himself as he surveyed the hole, heart sinking as he realised that he wouldn’t fit in.

Without missing a beat, he pulled his head out, glancing over to where Herrmann was coordinating engine to check the fluids leaking out from under the bike at fault. Even though Ritter was smaller, he wasn’t going to let the less-experienced candidate in if it could be detrimental to Casey.


The veteran firefighter was quick to look up, nodding and making his way over to Severide as soon as he saw he needed assistance. Brett was at the ready too, and quickly, Severide and Cruz made way as they climbed onto the pick-up, assisting Brett when she looked out of her depth.

Casey needed a paramedic, but a paramedic was not trained as a firefighter, and needed to be aided. If something went wrong and the paramedic was harmed – well, then no one would be able to help the victim anyway. So, Herrmann would be in there to make sure she was safe, and to make sure that if there was any danger, he could get them both out. They made quick work of lowering first Herrmann and then Brett into the pick-up, with Foster at the ready should Brett need anything else. Brett was focused entirely on Casey, and Severide knew that he wouldn’t get any answers any time soon.

But if she was working on him, he was at least alive.

Severide shook the thought from his head, knowing that standing here and waiting wasn’t helping anyone, and wasn’t getting Casey out of the scene any faster. Even if he had a paramedic, Casey needed a hospital. So, Severide needed to get him to one.

He glanced up, jumping down from the pick-up and trying to work out where to move next. He was distracted with the sight of the motorbike rider being led away from his vehicle by CPD. Other than a small amount of blood by his head, there was no evidence of trauma.

But he still walked with a stagger.

The stagger of a drunk man.

Anger surged, and Kelly found himself shouting. This man had been drunk, he had hurt Casey, and he was walking away with nothing more than a few cuts. It enraged him. It made him want to hurt someone. He clenched his fists and started taking a few steps over to where CPD was putting the man in the car, half a mind to –

A hand came to his shoulder, “Lieutenant.”

He glanced back over, mind reeling as he struggled to calm his anger. He couldn’t even begin to process it. This man had hurt Casey, had caused the accident, had caused a death – and he was uninjured. He’d been riding the motorbike, how was he okay? How had he escaped with minor injuries… it made him sick. He was going to flatten him in court. He was going too –

The hand squeezed, comforting, “We need to help Casey…”

At the mention of his name, Severide’s anger dissipated. Or rather, it was blanketed by his concern. He looked back at Joe’s concerned face, before glancing behind him to the pick-up. It was properly stabilised now, and he watched as Foster passed up supplies for Kidd to then deliver to Brett.

You’re not even doing anything.

He moved back over, aware that his own respirations were shallow. No one said anything as he climbed back up onto the cargo bed, barely even aware as Kidd grabbed his arm and pulled him up. Looking back down into the car, he could see that a c-collar had been secured around Casey’s neck, and he’d been propped up. An IV was snaking into one of his arms, and Brett was squeezing the ambu-bag over his mouth, controlling his breath.

But his eyes were still closed, and he was still deathly pale…

The sight of the supportive treatment snapped him back to reality, voice cracking as he demanded what was taking so long. He moved back to the side, watching Capp with eagle eyes as he started using the jaws to cut away the passenger side door, truck already ready with a backboard to take Casey.

His feet once again became rooted to the spot as he watched Herrmann instructing his men to extract Casey. He watched as his limp body was moved onto the backboard, bouncing listlessly against the yellow plastic. He watched as Casey’s good arm slipped down, swinging as though he was dead.

Casey was secured to the gurney; the mask once again being pressed into his face as Foster continued squeezing the ambu-bag. Brett gave him another shot of something, and he could vaguely hear her saying something about not going near his chest. He couldn’t even think about what injuries Casey might’ve sustained, though, too preoccupied with the thoughts banging around his head.

Casey should be pushing them off… telling them he’s fine… telling them it’s just a bruise… it doesn’t even hurt… why isn’t he doing that?

And Kelly was almost sick as Foster tore his shirt away to attach the ECG pads.

It didn’t matter that he wasn’t even close to Casey, because he didn’t need to be to see the damage. The bruising was beyond extensive, black and purple and red, and he could see from Foster’s reaction how bad it was. Sylvie was looking over the ECG, paling and shaking her head, “I’m struggling to keep him stable…”

Severide felt himself drop back, dizzy at the sight. He couldn’t do anything but watch as Casey was loaded into the ambulance, Otis heading to the front and taking over as both Brett and Foster jumped in the back. He felt sick. Casey needed two paramedics in the back. Casey wasn’t even stable. Casey was –

He was still rooted to the spot – world slightly tilting to the right, some strange fog setting over him – with his eyes still trained on the spot he had last seen Casey. The air became molasses, and he felt nauseous, almost unable to process that Herrmann and Cruz were now standing in front of him.

“Lieutenant. Lieutenant?”

He jumped slightly, only now noticing the poorly concealed worry on Cruz’s face. He blinked, watching in fascination as Herrmann’s lips moved in slow motion, but no actual sound came out.

He must have said something, because suddenly, Cruz and Herrmann’s expressions grew exponentially in concern. He frowned, blinking, “What?”

Cruz stepped in again, taking Kelly’s upper arm and squeezing it gently. He repeated himself, but Severide still couldn’t understand what was being said. Everything was ringing, and the world was still in a thin shade of white.

It tilted again, and he managed to avoid his wince as another hand strongly grabbed his shoulder. Looking down at it in mild amusement, he slowly processed that it was Boden’s hand.

Finally, the battalion chief’s gruff voice cut through his ears, “Kelly.”

Looking up at his battalion chief helped him ground himself a bit, even though there was nothing but softness in the older man’s features. He blinked again, now noticing that Cruz was still in front of him, a hand on his shoulder.


Cruz moved in again, “Lieutenant? We can take the chief’s car. Get you to med.”

He blinked again, before nodding marginally. Herrmann watched on concern as Cruz started guiding Kelly to the battalion car, frowning as he stumbled every few steps. He didn’t stop watching him until Cruz had got him settled – having to do up his belt for him – and had got in himself, before driving off.

Herrmann’s eyes went back to Casey’s pick-up, feeling sick and worried himself as he saw the state it was in. He’d just seen his Captain – a man whom he’d respected for a very long time, seen as a son, a friend – being carted away. And to say it hadn’t affected him would be a lie.

He couldn’t stop himself from going towards the pick-up, seeing the blood splattered across the wheel and soaked into the seat.

Feeling sick, he dropped his gaze, landing in the footwell.

Where his vision caught something.

Sitting at the bottom of Casey’s pick-up, innocently, as though nothing had happened, was a small black box.

Chapter Text

Brett was unable to hide her concern as the ambulance raced towards Med. Since being loaded into their rig, Casey had deteriorated even further, and she didn’t want to admit that he was barely gripping to life. Foster was still controlling his breath with the ambu-bag, but his sats were still falling. His entire body was cold, and his fingers were already blue. His blood pressure was still dropping, and he was moments away from hypovolemic shock if he wasn’t in it already.

And while there was plenty of blood flowing from his body, Brett knew that it meant there was extensive internal bleeding. And, given that the majority of the impact had gone to his chest, it didn’t bode well for his survival.

And that hadn’t even allowed her to consider his arm, nor his head.

Casey’s breathing hitched, wheezing even through the rhythmic compressions of the ambu-bag. It was only seconds later that the monitor started beeping, indicating that Casey’s sats were now down to a dangerous level.


Sylvie looked at her partner with wide eyes, stethoscope already in her ears. She leant over Casey, avoiding the deep contusions and being gentle as she pressed the bell into his chest. But his breath sounds were bilateral, and Casey was still heaving in oxygen.

And while the fact that Casey’s lung hadn’t collapsed should’ve been a relief, Brett knew what it meant. Quickly – and this time lacking the tenderness – she moved it to his chest, placing it carefully over the left side of his sternum.

Where his heart sounds were muffled.

Her eyes flittered to his jugular, paling when she noticed it was distended. Not by a lot, but enough to confirm her fears, “Foster, Beck’s triad.”

Emily didn’t need any further encouragement as her eyes widened, continuing to pump the ambu-bag as she turned, banging on the wall, “Otis! How far out are we?”

He quickly relayed that they were a minute out, and Med had a trauma team ready. A quick glance between the two paramedics was enough to convey their fear. Casey didn’t have a minute. Every second he was risking cardiac arrest, not to mention the insufficient oxygen getting to his brain.

“Step on it, Otis!”

Casey’s breathing worsened once again, and Foster shook her head. They didn’t have an option. They had to tube him.

Brett tore open the packaging, before handing the contents over to Foster and taking the ambu-bag. She gave her a moment to prepare, before nodding, “Ready?”

Foster nodded, and Brett pulled the mask away from his face. Foster made quick work of opening Casey’s mouth, starting to push the tube down the back of his throat.

There was no gag reflex. And while that allowed Foster to get the tube in quickly, it also spoke volumes as to how serious Casey’s condition was. But it was only moments before she was nodding, Brett quickly reattaching the ambu-bag and handing it back to Foster, who resumed compressions.

“You’re in.”

If Foster wanted to sigh in relief, she didn’t get the chance. Because the ambulance was stopping, and the doors were already being pulled open, trauma team ready to take Casey. Brett quickly relayed the new developments about his heart, and Rhodes nodded, already shouting instructions as he was pulled away.

Cruz couldn’t help the concerned glances he was throwing Severide’s way. Since getting into the vehicle, Severide hadn’t spoken a word. He was beyond pale, and his eyes stared forwards without seeing anything. Cruz had been impressed at Severide’s command – he wasn’t an officer himself, but he’d worked under the experienced Squad Lieutenant for long enough to know that there hadn’t been any error in his judgement, and that Severide had maintained himself despite the stakes. Cruz shook his head. It had been hard enough for him to see Casey in such a vulnerable position, to see Casey so injured. Everyone at fifty-one was close without being in a relationship with each other, so he couldn’t imagine what it had been like for Severide.

“Lieutenant, Casey is going to be fine.”

Severide didn’t respond, and Cruz couldn’t really blame him. So, he kept driving, keeping the lights and sirens on even though he knew it was technically the wrong thing to do. But he’d happily cop the reprimand if it meant it helped his Lieutenant. Because he knew that Severide would stick his neck out for any of his men any day of the week.

He pulled into the parking bay, taking a staff park near the entrance. Again, emergency vehicles got priority, and even though he knew it was the wrong thing to take the park, he wanted to see Severide through the worst. He could always move it once the rest of the house arrived.

Kelly didn’t react as he shut the engine off, still staring forwards, eyes seeing nothing. Carefully, and slowly, as to not spook him, Cruz reached out a hand, gently shaking Severide’s knee. Kelly glanced over, still unable to make sense of the world, but tears started pooling in his eyes as he searched Cruz’s face.

“C’mon, Lieutenant.”

Severide’s head turned slowly, finally realising that he was at Med. He was quick to move, after that, one hand shooting to undo his belt and the other the door. Almost immeaditely, Cruz was at the other side, wrapping an arm around his shoulders when he wavered.

He hauled him back upright, and together, they took a few steps towards the door. Kelly was suddenly doubled over, though, heaving violently as bile flooded from his mouth. Cruz continued to support him, lightly patting his back as he got the last of it up and not even flinching as it flecked his boots.

Kelly didn’t even seem to be aware when he was done, and Cruz tightened his arm around his back, guiding him firmly towards the ER.

The whole of firehouse fifty-one was crammed into the small waiting room, hoping for any news on Casey. A nurse had come by earlier to tell them that the blood had been drained from around Casey’s heart, but that the arrythmias were still present. His injuries were severe, but a team was working on him and they were hopeful that they could stabilise him.

Hopeful. They were hopeful.

Severide had zoned out after that, not paying attention as the nurse continued explaining that Casey was on his way up to have scans, and that further action would be taken from there. He already knew how serious Casey’s condition was, and he couldn’t bear to hear how close to death he was.

He’d secluded himself to a corner, Cruz seated by his side. Earlier, the others had come past and given him mumbled reassurances. But he hadn’t been in the mood for them. He wanted Casey to be okay, that’s all he cared about. And if he had to listen to one more person telling him that Casey was strong, that Casey was a fighter, he might just hit them. He didn’t need to be told that Casey was a fighter. He knew how strong he was. He saw it every single day the blonde woke up, ready to serve and save lives, despite the shitty hand that he’d been dealt early on.

He felt rather than heard Cruz talking to someone, before feeling him vacate the seat beside him. The part of him that had wanted everyone to leave was suddenly screaming at him, yelling out for contact.

But before he could give any indication of it, another weight had pressed into the space. He glanced up slightly, seeing that it was Herrmann looking over him with concern.

Now, when he’d come to fifty-one, Herrmann had already been there for years. He was young for a squad member, and the veteran firefighter had been quick to pick up on that, ribbing him lightly. Christopher had also recognised his last name, stating that he and Benny went way back. He’d told him that any son of Benny’s would be a brilliant firefighter. Severide had barely hid his annoyance.

Then he’d gone and impressed everyone on his first call, had even his lieutenant at the time admiring his capabilities. He’d been quietly proud, not wanting to say too much but basking in the glow of everyone’s amazement. He didn’t need Benny to get him anywhere.

Casey had had a harder time. He’d immeaditely been Herrmann’s lieutenant, and such a young face in command of a veteran firefighter? It hadn’t gone down well. And the blonde hadn’t had an opportunity to prove himself for a while, but once he had, Herrmann’s respect for him had grown.

He’d become something of a father to both of them, always willing to give advice in the sections that they – as less experienced young men with no parents – lacked. They were both grateful, and a very strong kinship had been formed. And, now that Herrmann was a lieutenant and not under either of their commands, he was more a friend than ever.

But right now, he was struggling to find the right words to say. He rarely bothered to think his words through, usually just opening his yap and hoping that the right ones would find their way out. But right now, he knew how much Severide needed carefully considered words.

Eventually deciding on telling Severide about exactly how Casey had earned their respect – because now he thought about it, it had only been truck on that call, Severide probably hadn’t seen – and he decided to start at the beginning.

“Hey, Severide? I don’t think I ever told you about the first call that I realised Casey knew what he was doing.”

Severide didn’t respond, but Herrmann could see he had got his attention, “It was when Casey was still new to fifty-one, fresh-shaven and barely old enough to be out of the academy. And there I was thinking, ‘Who is this candidate to be ordering me around?’. I actually thought – that headquarters had made some mistake and sent us the wrong Matt Casey, and that some middle-aged man was at another house, stuck cleaning showers.”

Severide still hadn’t responded, but Herrmann noticed something similar to recognition come to his features. He was replaying the past, remembering those times, “Anyway, so we get this call out to a house fire at two am. Casey’s sitting in the front, Mouch, Darden and I in the back. This was back when Vargas was driving.”

It briefly occurred to Herrmann that spouting Vargas and Darden’s names was a bad idea – they had, after all, both been close with Severide. But it was too late now, and Severide hadn’t reacted to their mention. But he was now listening, intently.

“We get there and there’s nothing to be seen. No smoke, no fire. Casey’s onto dispatch asking them where the fire is, making sure we even have the right address. Yup. We do. Just as he’s getting out, an older woman comes running out in her nickers, with just a shirt on, frantic, yelling out to us. Keep in mind that this is middle of a Chicago winter. Casey’s a bit confronted, but he’s all polite as he asks how he can help.”

Severide was smirking by now, imagining Casey seeing a half-naked woman running towards him and just trying to keep a straight face.

“And she admits there’s no fire. So, we all assumed – Casey too, I’m guessing – that it had something to do with sex – fire’s the easiest way to get attention in a situation like that, you don’t have to admit that you got something stuck in something to anyone but the ones who can help you. But she waves us around the back of her house instead. She points to a dog kennel, and I’m thinking this woman has had a wild night.”

Herrmann could see that Severide was fighting tears, now. But happy ones. He gently reached out and rested a hand on Severide’s back, “And she points to it, saying she can’t get her dog out. And that she’s worried he’s too cold. She thought this was the only way to get help.”

“Casey just stares at her for a minute, too shocked to say anything. Honestly, we were all too shocked, too. There’s not really a response for that. But instead of getting mad and racing off – as he could have – he just gives this serious nod and asks where the dog treats are. She runs in to get them, and Casey just kind of nods to us, like – this is part of the job, as though this is as serious as a fire.”

“She brings him these meaty treats, and Casey leans down – SCBA still on his back, mask dangling by his side, helmet on – and he leans down, calling to the pooch and offering the treat. Then this tiny, tiny little sausage dog pads out, sniffs the treat, and then takes it. Casey just pats this little thing, and then he picks it up. The dog starts licking his face. He goes back over to the woman and hands it over – and she takes it. She hugs this little dog, saying she’d been so worried and kisses Casey on the cheek.”

Severide was actually smiling at this stage, totally able to imagine Casey in the situation, Casey pulling out this tiny dog.

“And then we went back to the rig. Darden is ribbing Casey about something, and he’s just smiling. We get back in, and Mouch and I – we’re old school. We’re still slightly pissed that she wasted our time. We said something to that effect, and Casey just turned around. He was totally patient with us as he explained that she was scared, that for her, the reality of losing her dog was very real. Just because we hadn’t pulled a baby from a burning fire, we’d still helped someone that night. We’d still made a difference. Maybe – probably – that dog would have been fine, but she felt as though we had helped.”

Tears were now streaming down Severide’s face. And, if Herrmann were honest, his own as well. In fact, everyone listening was affected to some extent, all knowing Casey well enough to know he was just a stand-up guy.

“Neither of us – in all our years – had ever thought about that before. And it would have been so easy for Casey to have gained our respect through some huge apartment fire, through some immaculate command. But he did it just by being human.

Severide let out a little sob, wiping his tears away as Herrmann brought him into a hug. He knew he’d helped the younger firefighter, had brought him out of the sheer terror and back into some sense of practical thought.

“And that’s how I know Casey will be okay. He’s too good to be taken from us.”

Severide was sobbing again, leaning into Herrmann’s grasp. As Herrmann looked around over his shoulder, he saw Boden nodding to him, letting him know he’d done the right thing.

After a while, Severide cried himself out, still resting his head on Herrmann’s shoulder. Herrmann didn’t say anything, just kept rocking him gently as he had done with all of his children. Kelly seemed to be peaceful, at least, and for a while, they all thought he’d fallen asleep.

He hadn’t, though, and eventually pulled away, scrubbing his face.

Herrmann could still feel the ring in his pocket, digging into this thigh. Momentarily, he considered showing Severide. It was awful, the situation. They didn’t know what condition Casey was in, they didn’t know if Casey was going to wake up. Severide was distraught, and this would give him something to focus on.

Besides, thought the dark voice in Herrmann’s mind, this might be the last chance Severide gets to say yes.

Shaking his head, Herrmann tried banishing the thought as he continued weighing up the pros and cons.

Chapter Text

Herrmann was saved from making the decision, though, when the doors opened. Everyone was immeaditely on their feet, needing to hear the update on their Captain. Severide had stood and promptly fallen forwards, the anxiety, tears and worry being more than enough to drain him of every ounce of energy he had. Herrmann had managed to catch him, though, wrapping a firm arm around his shoulders and holding him upright.

Halstead was standing in the doorway, his expression chilling. Even though he’d tried to cover it, tried to wear his doctor’s face, the ER doc was having a hard time. He knew that this was Casey’s family, and the firehouse had a kinship that few others would ever know. Even the young intern by his side seemed to read that it wasn’t a normal situation and shuffled with the papers she was holding.

“Casey’s alive.”

There was a collective breath of relief, but the solace didn’t last long. If those had been Halstead’s opening words – if those words had been the silver lining of Casey’s condition, they knew that it was serious.   

And Will’s next words confirmed their morbid theory, “We’re still struggling to stabilise him. His injuries are severe… the most serious being focused on his chest.”

Severide wavered, and Herrmann drew him in closer. Will still looked as though he’d rather be anywhere else, and no one could blame him. It was hard enough to be giving bad news to a stranger’s family, but second shift was so much more than that. And that made their fear so much more heartbreaking. Casey might have never been the life of the party, but Halstead knew that along with Severide and Boden, he was the backbone of the house.

And the men sat in front of him had just pulled him from the wreckage, all aware that he was barely clinging to life.

Steeling himself, Will took another breath, “He’d lost a lot of blood before coming to the ED, so we’re giving him products to help counteract the blood loss. CT revealed what Brett and Foster had feared, that he has cardiac tamponade… that is, blood is pooling around his heart and compressing it, making it impossible for it to function at capacity. We drained it, but Beck’s triad indicates it’s building up again… we need to go in and stop the bleed.”

There was a moment of bone chilling silence as everyone tried to process his words. They might be firefighters, not doctors, but even without Will’s sombre tone they understood the ramifications of what he was saying. They understood exactly how serious Matt’s condition was, and they knew how much danger he was in.

But it still wasn’t a surprise when it was one of the paramedics who spoke up, speaking the words that they’d all been thinking. Brett looked as though she was about to be sick as she whispered in horror, “What does that mean? That he’s bleeding… from his heart?”

Hearing it proved to be too much for Kelly, and he wavered again, tears now making their way down his face. He would have collapsed if it weren’t for Herrmann’s strong arm, and he knew that he’d need to sit soon.

But first, he needed to know about his boy…

Will took a breath. In reality, the blood was most likely coming from his heart, but there was no reason to confirm that they already expected the worst-case scenario, “We won’t know where the blood is coming from until we get in there. Rhodes is already scrubbing in… it does qualify as emergency surgery, but Kelly… if you can sign consent, it will speed up the process.”

Kelly let out a shaky breath, unable to respond without sobbing out loud. But before he was going to sign anything, he needed to know that it was the best option for his boy, that making that decision would be the best for Casey. Halstead seemed to pick up on it, and cleared his throat as he admitted, “Casey will need to be put on a cardiopulmonary bypass machine for the duration of the surgery – that is, a pump that will act in place of his heart and lungs – and I’m not going to lie, there are real risks associated with the surgery… but we need to control the bleed. We have a large team on stand-by, and Casey has one of the best surgeons in Chicago…”

Realising that it wasn’t really an option, Severide nodded, taking the pen as the intern handed it to him and scribbling his signature on the line. No sooner had he signed them, the intern dashed away, and Severide knew that Casey would be in surgery within minutes.

Will continued talking, but his voice had faded into the background. This couldn’t be happening. Casey wasn’t injured. He was going to wake up, and it would all be a dream. He was going to wake up, and he was going to be wrapped in the sheets of their bed, together, nice and warm. He was going to wake up, and Casey would be holding him, sushing him as he stroked back his hair and told him that everything was okay…

In fact, he was so sure that he was about to wake up, Casey shaking him with a concerned look on his face, their cat sleeping at the end of their bed, that he was disorientated when it didn’t happen. Disorientated when he didn’t hear Casey’s voice calling him, didn’t feel his hands on him. Everything started spinning, and before he knew it, his vision was darkening around the edges.

Before he even staggered, he felt himself being lowered to the seat, a hand taking his wrist. Brett suddenly appeared in front of him, looking concerned, and then, in another blink, she was gone.

He felt himself slurring out a question, wondering about Casey, but he wasn’t aware if he got a response. In honesty, he wasn’t even aware if he’d got the words out right. That didn’t matter, though, because Casey was injured…

A blanket was draped over his shoulder and a hand came to his back, rubbing it harder each time he opened his mouth. But he wasn’t processing much. Just the hand on his back and the blanket around his shoulders… and the fact that Casey was still in surgery…

Herrmann groaned at the aching in his back but seeing Severide’s head on his lap he knew that he was right where he needed to be. After Halstead had left, Severide had slipped into shock. No one was surprised, nor were they overly concerned… Kelly was fine so long as they kept an eye on him.

But the squad man had still been unaware of what was happening, the only thing calming him seeming to be Herrmann’s hand on his back. Brett and Foster were both checking him over periodically, their movement only rousing him enough for him to slur out a question about Casey. But they’d still been satisfied with his progress, he just needed rest and comfort.

Despite Severide’s state, Halstead had been coming in with regular updates on Casey. None of them had sounded hopeful, and every positive was overshadowed by a negative, but one thing was clear – Casey was a tough bastard. He was fighting every single complication, rallying in ways that surprised even the doctors, but he still had a long road ahead of him, and he wasn’t even stable.

Herrmann was just thinking about all that Casey had been through when Severide stirred, groaning as his eyes opened. He’d given that response before and not woken fully, so Christopher just absently rubbed his back, wishing that they had positive news for him. But suddenly Kelly tensed, before he was rocketing upright, so fast that Herrmann almost didn’t manage to catch him when he fell forwards. As it was, Herrmann had almost been dragged to the ground, barely able to keep the squad man upright.

Boden had been watching with a wary eye, so was the first to arrive at the struggle. He gripped Kelly’s shoulders and helped him back into the chair, kneeling in front of him so he could get a read on his emotions.

Severide was still looking around with wide eyes, processing that much of the firehouse was asleep. It should have comforted him, but it didn’t. How had everyone had time to fall asleep?

Overwhelming fear took over, and Severide pulled himself up as he glanced around, “Matty… how’s Matty?”

Doing his best to calm him, Boden started rubbing circles on his arm, “He’s still in surgery, Kelly. He’s putting up one hell of a –”

But those words were enough to prompt another reaction, and Severide jumped up, once again relying on Boden’s strong hands to stabilise him, “He’s still in surgery… how long has he been in surgery?”

Boden lowered him down, rubbing his shoulder again as he looked to the man he in many ways considered his son, “Kelly… he’s been in surgery for ten hours.”

The heartbreaking cry that Severide let out woke anyone who was still asleep, and Boden brought him into a hug. Severide struggled against it for a moment, before relaxing and letting out a strained, “Why…?”

Deciding to neglect some of the more morbid details, Boden sighed, “They’ve managed to patch the bleed in his heart… it was small, but enough to be causing the complications. The patch is holding, and they also fixed the other bleeds… he’s no longer losing blood, and he’s reacting positively to the blood products…”

Kelly let out a breath, and Boden immediately felt bad. He’d just crammed ten hours of positive news into a couple of sentences, and he had yet to touch on the complications, “His left lung collapsed… twice, but they’ve managed to re-inflate it… he’s still on the vent, but with the support, his sats are holding.”

By now, Severide was looking so pale that Boden was considering if he should go into more detail. On one hand, Kelly deserved the truth. He was Matt’s boyfriend and he cared a great deal about him. On the other… Casey wasn’t even out of surgery yet. There was no reason to worry Kelly if he might not even –

No. That wasn’t going to happen.

Gripping Kelly’s shoulder tighter, Boden was as gentle as he could possibly be, “Kelly… they are still struggling to keep him stable. They’re worried about lack of oxygen… and his head. There’s no bleed on his brain, but… because of the other injuries, they’ve had to load him with blood clotters… that could be preventing sufficient oxygen getting to his brain, and they put him at risk of other complications… but they’re also stopping him from bleeding out.”

Kelly’s face first twisted into an expression of shock, then one of utter agony. He couldn’t even begin to fathom how bad Casey’s injuries were if his condition was still so severe, he couldn’t believe how long Casey had been in surgery. It just didn’t seem real; it didn’t seem possible. Casey was strong, but there was only so much that the human body could take.

Unable to look at his face any longer, Boden pulled Kelly against his shoulder, holding him tight and once again starting to rock him. Severide was sobbing, and Boden knew there was little he could do to make this better, “He’s putting up one hell of a fight, Kelly. He’s putting up one hell of a fight.”

Kelly was just shuddering and shaking in his grasp as he kept processing the reality of the situation. Casey had been suffering, fighting for life, barely surviving… and he hadn’t been able to do anything. Worse, he had been sleeping.

He must have said something to that effect – not that he was aware of what he was saying – because Boden shushed him again and squeezed him gently, “You weren’t really asleep, Kelly…. You were in shock. You weren’t aware of anything, but you were still asking about Casey every few hours…”

Severide couldn’t muster a response to that, and he just continued to lean into Boden’s grasp. The battalion chief was willing to crouch there, for a while, but eventually he rose, adjusting Kelly in his grasp so his arm was still wrapped around him.

One by one, the rest of the firehouse family was roused by Kelly’s sobbing, and a few were on their feet, immediately fearing the worst. But Herrmann had been quick to reassure them, telling them that there was no new news and they’d just caught Kelly up.

And they all sat in silence as Kelly continued to sob, no one wanting to speak and break the already fragile atmosphere in the room. There had never been any doubt as to how perfect they were for each other, but the day had confirmed something else – that they couldn’t live without each other.  

Kelly’s breathing had finally quieted down when the door opened again, revealing and exhausted looking Will Halstead. Every time he’d been coming back to the room, he looked progressively worse. In fact, he looked almost as terrible as each member of the firehouse family. Everyone from the ED had visited at least once, and it spoke volumes as to how much Casey was loved – but also to how serious his condition was.

“Casey’s still holding on. We’re satisfied that we’ve controlled the bleeding, and it all seems to be holding… his blood pressure has started to increase, and he’s still responding well to the blood products… we’ve been able to wean him off the cardiac bypass, and his heart rate is holding well.”

There was an obvious ‘but’ in his update, because Casey just didn’t get off that lightly, “But he’s still not triggering the vent, so he’s relying on the mechanical ventilation. With the vent, his sats are staying up… which we’re happy with, for the time being. The vent can, however, introduce more complications given the recent cardiac tamponade… but we’re monitoring him very closely. The arrythmias are still present, but none are life threatening, at this stage.”

Halstead paused for another second, clearly not wanting to say his next words, “We also made the decision to not close his chest. Given that the patch failed once, we want continued access to his heart… and Matt was starting to struggle with the anesthesia. We’ve given him some anti-biotics to counter any infection that might enter – or anything from the scene – and we’re hopeful that we’ll soon be able to take him back into surgery to close it.”

Halstead let that sit in the room for a moment, feeling sick himself and knowing that it would take a while for the family to digest the news, “I’m not going to sugarcoat it; Matt’s still in serious condition. But the surgeons have done all they can… now, it’s just now a waiting game. He’s coming out of the PACU, but we’re keeping him in a medically induced coma for the time being. It should give him the best opportunity to heal and will help with the worst of the pain.”

Kelly hadn’t been able to respond, the words once again moving slowly through his brain. Casey was in a coma… Casey was in a coma. And he couldn’t even do anything… he couldn’t do anything to help him, he could only wait.

He felt powerless, and Kelly liked control.

Slowly, as though he was a wounded animal, Halstead approached, kneeling down and glancing to Boden for permission. The Chief nodded, and Halstead was gentle as he rested his hand on Severide’s knee, “Kelly… it’s bending hospital protocol. But once Matt’s been moved up to the ICU… you can see him. It would only be for a few minutes, but I can get you up there.”

Nodding without a second thought, Kelly once again started tearing up.

Chapter Text

Earlier, Kelly had wanted nothing more than to see his boyfriend, wanted nothing more than to see that he was breathing, hear his heart beating, feel his warm skin under his hands. But now, walking down the too-bright halls of the ICU, he was terrified. Not long after they’d got Matt settled, Will had come back down and collected him to take him up. Boden had offered to come with him, but Severide had refused. He needed to do this on his own terms.

Casey was still unstable, under strict monitoring. Halstead had run him through what to expect, but Kelly knew he was still in denial. Surely Will was preparing him for the worst, lowering his expectations so he was relieved when he saw him. Because there was no way that Matt was so badly hurt.

Will was still walking by his side, matching his pace to give Severide some sense of control. The hallway had felt impossibly long, and even though Severide knew that there wasn’t that many rooms, he felt as though he’d been walking for hours.

It occurred to him that this was what it felt like to be voluntarily walking to your death. Was this what it felt like to be on death row?

Halstead had told him earlier that Casey had settled well, and that Rhodes had already been up and was satisfied with his heart sounds. The patches were still holding, and he was still tolerating the blood products.

But he was still lying in the ICU in a coma.

The buzzing had returned to his ears as Halstead stopped walking, just before the room that must belong to Casey. He might know what to expect, but Will knew from experience that Severide still needed to take it slowly, “Are you ready, Kelly?”

Kelly took a moment before he nodded, taking a breath and looking to Will for support. Immeaditely, the doctor put a hand on his shoulder, squeezing it once again as he started moving towards Matt’s ICU suite.

They paused at the door, Halstead carefully watching Severide’s reaction as the man took in the sight of his boy lying back in the bed. They couldn’t see much through the glass, being too far away from Matt, but Kelly wasn’t ready to move closer just yet. Casey was dwarfed by the vent, and the machines by his bed… and in all the fuss, he’d totally forgotten that the blonde had broken his arm, but he could now see the bright white cast around it.  

Severide nodded when he was ready, and Halstead opened the sliding door slowly. Kelly took a nervous step in, and almost immeaditely fell back.

He just wasn’t prepared.

Before, he hadn’t been able to make out any of Casey’s injuries, had only seen the bigger picture. And that had been frightening enough, but this was far worse.

Casey was lying on his back, vent secured firmly over his face. It looked all too invasive, cruelly shoved down his throat. There were so many wires going from his head, connected to a machine that Will explained monitored brain activity. Momentarily, Severide thought that this must be what alien abduction looked like… but he quickly banished the thought.

His eyes flittered from the machines and down to Casey’s pale face, seeing it was totally slack and impassive. He had been hoping that Casey would look peaceful, that no matter how bad his injuries were, the blonde would look like he was at peace and comfortable. But he didn’t. His expression looked alien.

And every part of his face that wasn’t covered in bandages or unbearably pale seemed to be marred with bruises and cuts. His left eye was totally swollen, he would have no hope of opening it if he tried too. The large cut above his eye had been stitched and cleaned, but yellow-green bruising marred his skin. There was another cut on his cheek, and a couple more littered across his face. The longer he looked, the worse it all appeared… so he quickly adverted his gaze further down Casey’s body.

And he almost wished that he hadn’t. Will hadn’t been lying when he’d said it was where the worst of Casey’s injuries were concentrated. Casey’s chest was exposed, the blanket only coming up to his hips. Huge patches were taped to his chest, and Severide assume that they covered the still open incision sites.

The open incision sites. Left open just in case… 

He shook his head. He couldn’t think about that, couldn’t think about Matt needing more surgery. And the longer he looked; the more he took in. The areas between the bandages were so discoloured – ranging from phenomenal purples to remarkable reds – that Severide felt physically sick.

He forced his eyes back up to his face.  

Holding his breath, he moved closer, walking slowly and carefully. He was just as careful as he settled by his bedside, starting to stifle his breaths. Because Casey looked as delicate as a house of cards, and he didn’t want to knock him down. He moved a hand to Casey’s wrist, gently touching him once he was sure he wouldn’t hurt him, “Hey, Matty…”

Casey gave absolutely no response, not that Kelly had been expecting one. His breathing remained the same – scarily even as it was being controlled by the vent – and not a single muscle on his face twitched. But Severide knew that people in comas could sometimes hear what was happening around them, and he couldn’t bear the thought that Casey thought he was alone.

And with horror, it occurred to him that Casey could hear everyone else as well as himself.

Suddenly overwhelmed with the need to reassure his boy, Severide leant over, still trying to breathe as softly as he could, “Matty… Matty. I know what they’re saying about everything being touch and go… but I’m not worried, Matty. I’m not worried. You’re the strongest person I know… you’re so strong. If anyone can make it, it’s you…”

He hoped that the desperation hadn’t come through, that it hadn’t sounded like he was trying to reassure himself, because he knew that was exactly what he was doing. He’d made every damn effort to sound confident, because he needed Matt to know that he believed in him… that he was there… that he thought he’d be okay.

 “Uh… I love you, Matty… I love you so much… everyone does. They’ve all been waiting… and you’re going to come back from this, Matty… you are…”

He broke off, tears starting to flood down his cheeks. Momentarily, it occurred to him that he should be telling Casey that it was okay, that if he needed to let go, if it was all too painful… then he could slip away. He should be telling Casey that he loved him, no matter what, that if he died, he would continue his legacy. That he would continue to stand for what he had represented, that he would continue to love him unconditionally. That he’d left this world loved and cared for.

But he just couldn’t, and he desperately hoped that he wouldn’t hate himself for not saying those words.

He stayed by his side for a while, unable to talk without sobbing. He did want to keep talking to Casey… but it wouldn’t be fair for him to hear him like that. He didn’t want the last thing the blonde heard to be his tears… because Casey didn’t deserve that.

Casey didn’t deserve to leave the world worried.

Halstead’s hand gently squeezed his shoulder, rousing Kelly from his morbid thoughts. He scrubbed his hand over his face, taking a breath, before gathering the little strength he had.

“I love you, Matty.”

He leant over, pecking him lightly on the forehead and cursing himself for the shitty goodbye, before tears once again started flowing down his face and he left before he could start sobbing.

Boden had ended up being the one to take Severide home, the Squad Lieutenant once again retreating into his own mind and being unable to look after himself. He’d looked so hollow when he’d returned to the waiting room that it had sent another wave of fear through everyone. He looked as though he’d seen a ghost. And in some ways, he had.

He’d had to be guided to the battalion car, not even processing the moment the freezing Chicago air hit him. Boden had held his arm, gently sitting him in the passenger seat and doing his belt up. He’d already taken the whole of second shift off rotation, which wouldn’t make him popular with headquarters. But frankly, he didn’t give a shit.

Bringing Kelly to his house had been a consideration, but in the end, he figured that it was better for the squad man to wake up someplace familiar, and not at six in the morning by a screaming Terrance. Donna had understood and had even offered to bring him a spare change of clothes. Boden had then been worried about how Kelly might react to seeing Casey’s things, but that would have to be dealt with later.

Fishing Kelly’s keys out of his pocket, Boden unlocked the door and gently manhandled him through. He’d been to their apartment before, of course, but only for dinner parties, after the place had received a through cleaning. And the place would always be neat – after all, Casey lived there – but right now, it looked lived in. There was a pair of shoes by the door, a beer bottle on the countertop… a pet bowl by the bench… nothing extraordinarily messy, but also not immaculately clean for guests.

Tenderly pushing Kelly to sit at the table, Boden quickly moved to the countertop to prepare him a quick meal. While he was focused on the stove, he heard the batter of tiny feet, and glanced down to see a kitten looking up at him. No sooner had he set eyes on it, it froze, staring at him before it scattered away, bulleting under the cabinet before a tiny white nose peeped out.

He forgot they’d adopted a cat.

Kelly hadn’t reacted, so he set the meal in front of him before sitting across from him. Severide was numbly staring at the plate, so Boden gently instructed him to take forkful after forkful – just like he might with his own son.

He’d then had to walk him into the bathroom, taking his toothbrush and handing it to him when he’d been distracted by the sight of Casey’s. He had to revert to his Chief’s voice as he directed Severide to first put toothpaste on his brush and to then put it in his mouth.

Stepping into their bedroom had made him nervous, worried about how Kelly might react. But Severide had gone in with the same detachment, eyes almost unseeing as Boden directed him to his dresser and to get changed into pyjamas. He then pushed Kelly into the bed, relieved when he rolled over, and brought Casey’s pillow to his face with one hand. Kelly still might be in a living hell, but as far as Boden was concerned, this was an improvement.

Knowing that he really needed to remain for the night, just so he could keep an eye on Severide, Boden set himself up on the couch. It wasn’t long before he heard the sounds of quiet, muffled sobbing coming from Kelly’s room, and he considered whether he should get up and comfort him. He’d known the man long enough to know how he acted when he was upset, but this was a whole other level. Kelly had broken down in his arms earlier, and Boden truly believed that the squad lieutenant had been pushed past his final bounds this time.

But before he made a decision, he heard the rapid patter of feet falling on the floor, madly dashing towards Casey and Severide’s bedroom. He glanced up just in time to see the kitten dashing through the open door, clearly still weary of Boden but wanting to get to Kelly.

After a few minutes, the sounds of the muffled sobbing faded, and Boden marvelled at the healing power of animals.

Chapter Text

Severide tiredly rubbed the sleep out of his eyes, groggily rolling to one side. Part of him had still expected that he’d wake up to find that it had all been a dream, and that Casey was sleeping peacefully beside him. But he wasn’t. And he wouldn’t be for some time.

If ever.

That thought brought another round of tears to his eyes, but he tried to swallow them down. His crying wasn’t helping anything, and he’d done enough of it over the past day.

But his emotions had disturbed Penny, and the kitten shifted as she woke up. As Severide stared at her, she sleepily blinked, licked her lips, and then realised why she’d been woken up. Quickly, she stood, moving over to Severide and rubbing her head against him.

The first time he’d seen the kitten reacting to tears, he’d been beyond shocked. Casey had been upset over a call, questioning his ability to lead. It was something that happened more often than Severide cared to admit, but he was always there to reassure him. Matt had started crying, the image of the dead child too much to shake, and Severide was reaching out to bring him into a hug – when Penny had jumped up on the couch and started rubbing her tiny ginger head against him.

They’d only had her for a few weeks, at that point, and she was still timid. She’d been a shelter cat, and the volunteer had explained that she’d been abused. Kelly knew that it was what had drawn Casey to her – most of the other kittens had been at the front of their cages, eager to meet new people, but of course Casey had gone for the undersized runt at the back of the cage. And Severide had loved him for it. And the moment he’d seen Penny in his blonde’s arms, had known that there was no other option.

She’d still spent a lot of time hiding under their furniture, though, weary of the environment she was now in. Casey had googled it and told Severide that she just needed time, and that they needed to be gentle and calm around her. Sure enough, she had begun trusting Casey and his calm and reserved voice before she’d allowed the more boisterous Severide to pat her, but she’d slowly acclimatized to them both.

But Severide still hadn’t expected her to be so affectionate, because he’d never realised that cats cared so much about their owners, nor that they’d try to comfort them when they were distressed. And the more important part, to him, was that it had worked. Casey had picked Penny up with one hand and bundled him to his chest, stroking between her ears as the cat rapidly purred at him. He’d then fallen into Severide’s arms as well, and between the two of them, his panic attack calmed.

And rather than being jealous, Kelly had just been happy that Casey had responded so well. He was quick to use Penny to comfort Matt from then on. Dropping her on their bed when Casey had been miserably ill with the flu, carrying her to Casey when they were snuggled on the couch… every single time, she seemed to make Matt feel better.

And Penny was happy to do it. It was clear she liked Casey more, and Matt had tried reassuring him that it was just because he fed her the most, but Severide had just laughed and shook his head. He didn’t mind, he knew Casey found more comfort in the kitten anyway, and he was just glad that Casey was happy.

Right now, though, Penny’s purring and soft headbutts were doing more than he cared to admit. Tears were still running down his face, but as his fingers combed through her soft, ginger fur, he felt his body relaxing and his tears ebbing. Penny continued to purr, evidently not minding that she was uncomfortably flopped onto her side.

That was the scene the Boden was met with when he poked his head in the door. He’d heard Kelly’s tears start up again, and then ebb. And while he’d had no idea how Kelly had been able to get a hold of his emotions; he didn’t find himself surprised when he saw the cat cradled to his side.

The battalion chief considered leaving him alone to rest, but Kelly shifted his eyes up, pleading. With silence he usually reserved for his son, Boden padded over, gently sitting on the edge of the mattress as Severide gathered his thoughts.

“She’s Matty’s… well… Matt wanted a cat. So, I got him one.”

Penny seemed to know that they were talking about her, and her head swiveled as she turned to Boden. Wallace didn’t know what to think, didn’t know how to respond to Severide’s admission.

Slowly, he started moving a hand towards her, intending to pat her on the head. But Penny propped herself up, quick as lightening, clearly still afraid of the stranger sitting near her owner.

Severide knew what to do, though, having heard the lecture from Casey a hundred times, “Put out your hand – palm up… so she can smell you. And low down. Put your middle finger lower as well… reduces the size of your hand… you need to be slow around cats… and pat their back first, head they find threatening…”

Boden did just that, watching as Penny quickly leant forwards and gave his hand a vigorous sniff. Her tail flickered, mind processing her judgment, before she seemed to glance back at Severide.

“It’s okay… he’s okay…”

As though she’d heard and understood her owner’s judgement, Penny turned back to Boden, settling down once again. Slowly, Boden moved back to her side, gently stroking her. She sniffed him again, before relenting and putting her head back down.

Boden cleared his throat as he spoke, “I didn’t realise cats were so affectionate.”

Sniffing, Kelly nodded, “Neither did I… Matty did, though… of course he did.”

His voice broke on the last syllable, and once again, he was unable to stop his tears. Boden’s heart went out to him, moving closer and gently taking Kelly’s shoulders, “Hey… hey…”

Unable to stop a strained cry, Kelly wrapped his arms around Boden, accepting every bit of his Chief’s comfort. Wallace just held him, soothing him and keeping his voice soft, “He’s tough, Kelly… Casey’s really tough…”

Kelly had at least been able to look after himself that morning and had got himself showered and dressed while Boden made him breakfast. They then ate in silence, before Kelly filled up Penny’s food bowl. By this time, both he and Casey should be returning from the firehouse, arm in arm, ready to enjoy their forty-eight hours off.

Instead, he was getting ready to go to the hospital.

By the time Kelly was ready to go – because he’d last minute decided that he needed to bring some of Matt’s things to make his room more comfortable – Boden was waiting by the door. The battalion chief knew that Kelly wouldn’t be allowed to leave anything in his room, but that fuss had seemed to calm the younger man and that was good enough for him – it was almost visiting hours, and with any luck they’d let Kelly right in.

The car ride had been spent in silence, Severide just staring out the window as he thought everything through. He’d only just started processing the severity of the situation. Last night, he’d been so out of it that all he’d been able to understand was that he might lose Matt, that there was no assurance that Casey would survive. He’d understood that Casey might pull through, or that he might not.

He hadn’t understood any of the medical stuff, nor realised what it could all mean.

And while he wished it had offered comfort, it had done the total opposite. He couldn’t remember the finer details, but all too abruptly it hit him that Matty had a fucking hole in his heart and couldn’t breathe by himself and they didn’t even know what was happening with his brain.

Severide felt himself getting worked up again. He had no idea what was going to happen… it was all still so fragile… yet everything just kept becoming more and more realistic.

“Hey, hey… Kelly…”

Boden had already had it confirmed that there were no updates on Casey’s condition. He still wasn’t stable, and he hadn’t triggered the vent. His blood pressure was still dangerously low, and they were still transfusing him. The arrythmias were still present, and he was still in a coma.  On the other hand, everything was holding, and no complications had presented themselves. It was the best they could hope for, at this point. Something that wasn’t very reassuring.

When Severide finally laid eyes on Casey, his heart skipped a beat. The blonde looked no different; the bruises still intense across his skin and the vent still in place. There was no difference in the number of monitors, the red flashing numbers doing nothing to make Kelly feel any better. He took a slow breath, steeling himself, before going to sit beside him.

And then he had no idea what to do.

He hadn’t planned this far ahead; every single task having seemed like a ten-alarm fire. Fortunately for him, a nurse bustled in, and Severide was able to distract himself by quizzing her on everything he could think of. She’d been kind, trying to pacify Severide and reassure him, but she had other patients to attend too, and eventually had to excuse herself to continue her rounds.

Severide then sat back down, wringing his hands together as he tried to pacify his anxiety. He thought about talking to Casey, but for the life of him, couldn’t figure out what to say. He thought about telling Casey a story… but what was the best thing to say to someone in a coma?

The same nurse scurried in, once again checking his monitors and making notes. Severide stood uncomfortably close to her, and she just smiled kindly as she went into as much detail as she could. Rhodes should be coming by soon, and he’d explain more then, but she was as patient as possible as Severide begged her for answers.

Once again, she excused herself with practiced politeness, leaving Severide sitting at Casey’s side. The anxiety quickly overwhelmed him, and Severide set about putting out the items he’d collected around his hospital room. He kept glancing back at Casey, expecting him to give some form of reaction. When he didn’t get it, he just tried to imagine a smile on the blonde’s face, that the poster he’d just hung up had offered him some comfort, had brought familiarity into the otherwise alien room.

Just as he was setting up the table in the corner of the room, he grinned to him, “Hey… Case. Do you think this should go here, or here?”

He continued to ask Casey questions, imagining that Casey had answered and picked the location he finally set it. Kelly felt foolish, but at the same time it managed to calm him, and he decided that he should take what he could get.

“Hm… Matty, do you remember when we took this? We were at Molly’s and Otis was trialling a new beer… you thought it was the best. I looked into it, you know… but they only supply bars and you can’t get bottles… maybe I should ask Otis to get it in again… or we could keep our own private keg at Molly’s…”

Severide smiled when he was done, looking at Casey with every ounce of love in the world. He tried not to mind when the blonde didn’t react, instead kissing the tips of his fingers and pressing it to Casey’s cheek.

“And this one, Matty… at the Polar Plunge… I love that we went in a couples outfit… cookies and milk was a great idea. Capp gave me shit about being the milk, though… but I mean I didn’t care. I was spending time with you, and that was the most important thing.”

He paused, looking at Casey’s pale and unmoving face, before he felt the lump grow in his throat. He leant over, resting a hand on Casey’s shoulder as gently as he could, “Matty… I love you so much, baby… and I can’t wait to see your beautiful blue eyes. Because I am gonna see them again, Matty… you’re just so perfect and beautiful and I am going to see them again…”

Chapter Text

Herrmann ran his hand over his face as he set himself down on the couch, listening to the sounds of his squabbling children. Something about Max being a ‘big boy’ and needing to watch a different show from Kenny. He watched without doing anything as they started wrestling for the remote, voices getting louder and louder and more aggressive in tone as the argument escalated.

Lee Henry walked past, going into the kitchen and taking an apple, before retreating to his room, not even blinking at his screaming brothers. Chris watched for another second, frustration building up. His kids were acting as though it was the end of the world, as though the most important thing was seeing a show. He couldn’t believe the venom in their voices, and Kenny was only six.

Before he could stop himself, he was on his feet, voice raised well past the volume it should be. Both the kids froze, eyes widening and remote forgotten. But Herrmann kept yelling, asking them how they could be so concerned with the TV when people were suffering. It wasn’t the first time the conversation had come up in the Herrmann household, but Kenny was young enough that it was still frightening.

His eyes glazed over with tears as Herrmann started talking about getting rid of the television, and that just set the engine lieutenant off again because he thought Kenny was upset about not watching TV.

Cindy’s soft hand came to his shoulder, halting him mid-sentence. He glanced back to her, before a wave of guilt hit. Flawlessly, she moved over to the bawling Kenny, picking him up and cradling him in her arms. Without making any more fuss, she jerked her head towards their bedroom, indicating that he was best off taking a break.

Herrmann went without any further protest.

Kenny’s sobs had faded by the time he got back to his room, but it did little to make him feel better. Wiping a hand over his face, Herrmann moved over to his drawer, opening it and staring down at the small black box.

The house knew as much as Kelly on Matt’s condition, understanding that it was still serious. The uncertainty was debilitating, and Herrmann knew it was the reason he’d blown up. Not that he was trying to excuse himself, but he knew that as much as Cindy did.

Slowly, he took the ring box and moved to sit on the edge of his bed. He continued to fiddle with it in his hands, rotating it around and around and realising that it had sustained surprisingly little damage. The edges were slightly scuffed, sure, but there was absolutely no blood on the box, and the realisation only made him feel sick.

He didn’t know why, but when the door softly opened, he shoved it under his leg. Cindy slipped in, gently moving closer to him and sitting beside him.

“Is Kenny okay?”

Cindy smiled. No matter how upset her husband was, she could always count on him to have his heart in the right place, “He’s okay now, Christopher. Lee Henry agreed to show him how to play a game…”

Unable to stop the stab of guilt – because dammit, his kids were perfect – Herrmann nodded, still staring at his hands. They continued to sit in silence, Cindy waiting patiently as her husband gathered his thoughts. She knew about Casey, of course, and she knew how hard it was for Chris to see one of his brothers – and hell, a surrogate son – in any kind of pain.

“I saw the kids arguing about something so pointless… and Casey’s lying in a coma and they don’t even know if he’ll survive.”

Cindy nodded slowly, knowing that Chris wasn’t yet done, “And I just got so… mad. That they could get so caught up… in something so unimportant… when there’s so much bad happening…”

He broke off, and Cindy raised a hand to his shoulder. Being married to a first responder certainly had its challenges, but she’d always be ready to valiantly fight them. For Chris.

“They’re children, Christopher…”

Herrmann nodded, “I know that… I know that… I just… got overwhelmed.”

Cindy got the impression that there was something her husband wasn’t saying, something else bothering him. Not that she was expecting him to deal with Casey’s injury better than he was, but she knew him and knew that there was more to it.

Herrmann shook his head, faraway look coming over his face as he considered where he was going, “And seeing Severide… so upset… Cindy, I’ve never seen him like that. They have no idea if Casey’s going to… can you imagine that?”

Tearing up a little herself, Cindy moved to wrap an arm around him. But Chris took that exact moment to shift, reaching down to where the ring was wedged to his side.

He clutched at the box for a moment before revealing it to Cindy, heart clenching at the gasp she gave, “This was in Casey’s pick-up… he was going to propose.”

Cindy put a hand to her mouth, staring at the box with wide eyes. She wasn’t able to stop the tears pooling in them, suddenly understanding why Chris had been so irritable.

As gently as she could, she brought him into a firm hug, glad that having her chin on his shoulder hid any additional tears.

Connor Rhodes smiled at the sight of Severide sitting at his boyfriend’s side, talking to him gently and stroking the back of his hand. It was a sad sight, but a touching one none the less. He knew that Severide would be absolutely terrified, and different people dealt with fear and different ways. It was good for Severide and good for Casey that the squad lieutenant was channeling his energy into caring for him. He also saw the pictures that Severide had set up around the room, and he promised himself that he would try to keep them there.

Regretting that he was likely to upend the serenity that had settled over the room, Rhodes gently knocked on the door. Severide spun around quickly, standing as soon as he realised who it was. Connor could only offer him a sad smile, casting an expert eye over Casey’s monitors. The Truck Captain’s vitals still hadn’t changed. And even though someone might think that it was a good thing – that Casey’s sats were holding – Rhodes knew how concerning it was. Casey’s vitals had already been too low for too long, and there was good reason to be worried about complications. Casey still had one hell of a battle ahead of him, and he hadn’t even started on the road to recovery.

Connor glanced up from the monitors, seeing Severide staring at him with scrutiny. He didn’t blame him. He knew that Severide likely still knew very little and was barely processing what he did know. He’d have to repeat almost everything that the squad lieutenant had already heard and may even have to do for quite a few days.

Doing his best to give Kelly a reassuring smile – while knowing full well that it was his ‘patient’ smile – Rhodes took a breath, “Hey, Kelly.”

Severide tried to croak a welcome back, but he could barely manage to make a sound. Rhodes’ expression had sent a pang of panic through him, and he had had to blink back tears as he looked back down at his boyfriend. He knew that the news wouldn’t be good.

“And his suspicions were confirmed by Rhodes’ next words, “Kelly… we should sit down. I’d like to go through Matt’s treatment with you. It’s going to be overwhelming, Kelly… but I’m going to be here. As are the nurses. We also have support staff, which includes Doctor Charles – any of them are available to you at any time.”

He knew that Kelly wouldn’t think that he needed the support – and that he might even take offence at the offer – but the reality was, as soon as Severide processed everything and reality truly hit, he would be needing all the support he could get.

Connor sat down across from him, seeking eye contact with the firefighter. He hated this part, hated that he had to be realistic, but there was no easy way to say his words. When he left, Kelly would be a little more broken, more afraid and scrambling to find some shred of hope in his dying world.

He started speaking softly, once again going over all the information about Casey’s heart and internal bleeding. He reminded Kelly that the patch was holding, and that it was really good news. If it continued to hold, they would be able to take him back into surgery and close his chest. Casey had also so far been reacting positively to the blood products and transfusion, and they were hopeful that they would be finished with them soon.

Casey was still experiencing arrythmias, but none had thus far proven to be dangerous, and it was increasingly unlikely that they would become a concern. But even without the arrythmias, Casey’s heart had been through a lot of trauma. While the main symptom of the swelling and bruising was pain, Rhodes knew that he had to keep an eye on it. A large part of Casey’s treatment was still focused on his chest and reducing the risk of internal bleeding – medications to slow his heart rate, Vitamin K to increase clotting, and even his position on the bed – and with any luck, he would continue to heal.

Knowing that Kelly needed a moment to process that information, Rhodes dropped his gaze, patiently waiting as Severide closed his eyes. The Squad Lieutenant was doing his best to keep himself calm, but he was starting to struggle – he knew just how serious Casey’s condition was.

Rhodes waited until Severide had opened his eyes again, focusing his attention on Casey’s pale hand. Saying his next words were going to be a challenge – because as essential as Casey’s treatment was, it posed a significant risk to other parts of Casey’s bodily functions. And while he strongly believed that the right medical decisions had been made, Kelly was entitled to all the information.

But it was unlikely that Kelly would know what to do with it. And that it would only make the man feel even more conflicted. He would feel torn as to whether he was doing the right thing, and it would only stress him out.

Yet legally, ethically – he had the right to know.

“Kelly… although the original impact to his head was only moderate – and we were cautious, given his history – and there was only some moderate swelling and no bleed, some of his treatment, as well as the blood loss, and the oxygen deprivation, has introduced… complications.”

Severide stiffened, eyes flicking up to Connor’s face. Every part of Rhodes was now wishing that he had better news, but he pushed forwards, “The Vitamin K can prevent sufficient blood flow to the brain, as well as raise the risk of blood clots… but there are a lot more benefits of him being on the treatment –”

But Severide had already stood, towering over Rhodes as he motioned back to Casey, “Then take him off them!”


“If they’re hurting him… take him off them! Why are you… I’ll… if this has hurt him… I’ll sue you!”

The shouts had brought the attention of the nurses, not to mention security.

But Rhodes kept his calm, motioning for security to stand down before turning back to Kelly, raising his hands in the universal sign of surrender, “Kelly, can I just talk you through it first? I’m happy to review his treatment… and I can get other doctors to review it if you like… but let me explain first, okay?”

It worked, because Kelly rolled his shoulders and huffed, before wrapping his arms around himself and setting his jaw. He was afraid, and Rhodes would sympathise with him. But he wasn’t going to review his treatment – at least not any more than he already had. And any other doctor worth their weight in salt would agree with him. He couldn’t risk Casey bleeding out to prioritise the chance that it would help with his likely already compromised head. But Severide didn’t know that, not yet.

Doing his best to remain succinct, Connor explained, “During the time he spent in the crash, his ride to hospital, and even his time here before he was hooked to the ventilator… Casey’s sats were dangerously low. There’s nothing more that could have been done in the field… Kelly it’s important you know that… and as it was, the time he was brought here was extraordinary… but his blood loss was still severe. And his body was oxygenating poorly to begin with… when he came in, his sats were already dangerously low. And when his lung collapsed on the table… it took them a while to build back up.”

Connor paused again, watching Severide as the man’s eyes fluttered shut, pained expression on his face, “The body needs a certain amount of oxygen to survive, but it needs even more to maintain brain function. The reason that Casey’s not breathing on his own… and the reason it took so long for his sats to climb in the first place… could well be due to complications caused by oxygen deprivation. The brain activity we’re monitoring is still typical of someone in a medically induced coma… but we won’t know what deficits… if any… Casey has until he wakes up…”

And even though the doctor had trailed off, Severide had heard his unsaid words – if he wakes up.

Suddenly, Severide found himself unable to stop the bile rising from his throat, and he doubled over. Thankfully, years of practice had allowed Rhodes to see it coming, and he’d shoved the emesis basin in front of him with perfect timing. He patted the squad man’s back, rubbing soothing circles, and letting the man catch his breath.

“What about… his wrist?”

Severide didn’t even know why the question had come out of his mouth – it hardly seemed important, not when the rest of Casey was still so critical – but it had been his first thought, the most logical question that his petrified mind had brought up.

And for a moment, Rhodes had wondered if he’d misheard him, because the squad lieutenant’s voice had been broken – from the tears filling his eyes, closing his throat, as well as the bile that had just burnt it – but he understood how Severide’s mind was working. He still couldn’t stop his own eyes from closing as he answered, “Matt’s wrist still needs to be seen by ortho… but it’s quite severely broken. We’ve reduced it, so there’s no danger, but we also need to fix it surgically. That will take a while to heal, but for now, it’s one of his least critical injuries.”

Severide felt his heart drop into his stomach, nodding slightly. Once again, he’d understood Connor’s unspoken words – that there was no point fixing Casey’s wrist if the rest of him was already so broken.

Unable to breathe, Severide rested his forehead against the edge of Casey’s bed, closing his eyes in agony.

Severide didn’t move from Casey’s side for the rest of the day, maintaining his vigil. Each time a nurse came in, Severide would take the time to gruel them, often unintentionally standing over them in a way that might be considered threatening. He’d already memorized Casey’s sats, and he knew that they weren’t improving, but the nurses might notice something that he didn’t, and he didn’t want to be uninformed.

He also knew that his boyfriend wasn’t about to move, that there was no hope of Casey miraculously waking up, but Severide still kept a close eye on his facial expression. Casey might be in a coma, but Severide didn’t entirely trust that he couldn’t feel pain. If the blonde showed any signs of the agony his body would surely be in… well, he wanted to get a medical professional as soon as possible.

And that went for complications as well.

In fact, he’d been so paranoid that he’d almost imagined things as he talked to his blonde baby, talking to him about times spent in the academy, time spent at the firehouse. At home. Some of their wildest calls. He wasn’t even sure if he was repeating himself, but as long as he talked to Casey, he felt as though he was doing something.

And he’d talked to him about Andy. And about Shay and Hallie. He’d casually speculated that he thought they were hanging out together, having a great time. Darden would be his usual stupid self, pulling pranks and joking around. Shay would be joining him, laughing at his antics and pulling pranks herself. And Hallie would be smiling at them, becoming firm friends as she learnt more about them.

He tried to pretend that he didn’t know why he was bringing up their two dead friends and the woman who had been so dear to Casey… but he did. He knew that he was reminding him of them, so that if he did pass… he would be looked after. That he might be a little less afraid, and that he could see those who had meant so much to him. So that he wouldn’t be alone, and that they would be there…

And he still wanted to tell Casey that it was okay. That if he was in too much pain, he could let go. And that if he did go to the place above… that he could be with Hallie. That he should do whatever it took to make himself happy, that he shouldn’t worry about him.

But he just couldn’t manage the words.

And he hoped he wouldn’t regret it.

Only after breaking down again had he managed to shake the thought away, clearing his throat and talking about a time that they’d just been hanging out at Molly’s. Casey had said something so funny, that Severide hadn’t been able to stop laughing, and soon enough he’d had the blonde virtually in tears as well. Herrmann had then refused to serve them, fearing that they’d already had something to drink before coming to Molly’s and were too intoxicated to make their own decisions. And both of them had found that so funny that it had just set them off again…

To Severide; it hadn’t felt like he’d spent an entire day with Casey when a hand tapped his shoulder. Visiting hours were over, and Boden was standing behind him. The chief was as compassionate as Severide had ever seen him, doing his best to fix Kelly with a loving and fatherly expression as he laid eyes on Casey for the first time. It was a shock, and it was hard for him to see but Boden knew that at that time, Severide’s emotions were more important than his own.

So, he’d ignored Severide’s snide remarks as he’d encouraged him to stand, knowing that the lieutenant was terrified of this being the last time he saw Casey alive, and could touch him and feel the heat from his skin. And he’d been fighting his own emotions as he watched Severide lean over him, kissing the blonde’s forehead and telling him that he’d be back in the morning…

This time, as they drove back to the loft, Boden was just as silent as Severide. And for a good reason. He’d been more than happy to support Kelly through the difficult day, and while he wanted to keep doing it, he knew that it wasn’t practical. He was the Battalion Chief, after all, and he was already an officer down. In fact, he was two officers down – he had already called in a replacement for Severide. Second shift wouldn’t be able to manage without him, and they shouldn’t have too. It would be dangerous.

He’d already spoken to Cruz, knowing that Severide wasn’t ready to be alone yet. Asking one of his firefighters to take a shift off to babysit another one of his firefighters wasn’t something Boden exactly enjoyed doing, but the squad man had agreed straight away. In fact, multiple members of the firehouse had already texted him, willing to do anything they could to support their officers.

Both Casey and Severide were well loved.

He would have to clear that with Kelly, of course, get him to accept the support. And that wasn’t to mention the other conversation that he needed to have with him. The one he didn’t want to have, but knew that he needed to…

He was running on fumes when they arrived back at the loft, but Boden forced his eyes open as he helped the man out of the car, before once again instructing him to eat, to change his clothes, and brush his teeth. Kelly was once again so spent and exhausted from his challenging day that he relied entirely on Boden’s assistance, not even feeling shame as his Chief tucked him up in bed.

And only when Kelly seemed to be at peace – curled on his side with Penny warmly tucked up in his arms – did the battalion chief allow himself a breath. He moved back to the couch, sitting down heavily and scrubbing his face as he pulled out his phone. He’d been neglecting himself over the past few days, neglecting his family. And even though he knew that he was in the place he needed to be, he still felt guilty that he’d barely thought of his wife and child.

Sighing, he took his phone out, seeing that it was just past two in the morning. Donna had left him a message only ten minutes prior, reassuring him that he could call her any time. Relieved, he raised the phone to his ear, relishing the moment that her cheery voice bubbled down the line. He knew that she was making a conscious effort to seem happy for his own benefit, and he appreciated it. He was unable to bring himself to update her on Casey’s condition, and instead listened to her stories about Terrance at day care, Terrance running naked down the hallway, Terrance almost (not even close) sleeping through the night.

Donna had refused to hang up until he was sounding a little less miserable, and by the time he did, a good two hours had passed. He felt guilty that he was feeling warm inside while Severide was still miserable, but Donna sensed it and reassured him that he needed to care for himself as well.

Chapter Text

A strange snuffling woke Severide, and something pressed into his side. He would’ve smiled, but whoever said that you woke up and forgot all the traumatic events that had just transpired was an idiot. He hadn’t thought for a second that the movement was Casey.

Cracking his eyes open, he tiredly watched as Penny padded forwards, sniffing Casey’s pillow before turning away with a swish of her tail. She let out a little miaow, alert eyes surveying the room, before lowering her head and sniffing Casey’s bedding. She glanced around again, before her gaze found Kelly.

At the sight of her sweet face, Kelly’s eyes half-filled with tears, and he reached out to pet her. But the kitten evidently wasn’t having any of it. She let out another miaow – which sounded suspiciously like a harrumph – and she moved towards Casey’s bedside table, placing her front paws on it and looking it over. Her head lowered for another sniff, before she leapt up and stuck her nose in the air. She let out another puzzled sound, before looking around.

Severide felt his heart clench, eyes widening as he realised what was happening.

Penny was looking for Casey.

There were no tears, this time, but the kitten was still able to sense his distress. She abandoned her mission of searching for her favourite owner, instead turning back to Severide. Kelly could almost swear that she was frowning as she made a concerned sound, jumping back to the bed as she padded over. She quickly set about her mission of comforting him, licking his hand with her tiny tongue before pushing her head into his palm. And even though he’d already seen Penny act like this before, he couldn’t help but be amazed at the kitten’s behaviour.  

Lightly, he picked her up – supporting her legs in the way that Casey had taught him – and he gently kissed the cat on the top of her head. She continued to rub against him, clearly eager to comfort her not-as-cuddly human. Severide let out a shuddering breath and closed his eyes. Holding Penny was nice, and while Severide rarely got to hold her – he often joked that Casey was a kitten hog – Kelly wished nothing more than to be able to hand her to his boy. Matt loved that cat, and he knew that the cat loved Matt… and he might never scratch behind her ears again.

Knowing that that thinking was going to get him nowhere, Severide slowly rose to his feet, adjusting Penny in his grip so she could see where they were going. Moving back into the open plan, he clocked Boden still passed out on the couch. He felt guilty, knowing that he hadn’t showed the older man any of the appreciation that he should have. After all, the man had entirely deprioritised his entire life for his sake.

Quickly feeding Penny, Severide checked the fridge to see what he could offer Boden. He’d never quite got the hang of cooking, and it showed in his abilities. But Casey was an amazing cook. Severide didn’t know where his talents came from, but every dish the blonde had served him had him salivating and woofing it down.

But as good at cooking as the blonde was – and as much as Casey would claim that he didn’t mind – Severide had quickly worked out that he didn’t enjoy it. His talents and abilities had been built out of necessity, not passion, and while he enjoyed watching Severide’s reactions to the food – he preferred to sit with his boy and enjoy his company.

Severide also had a habit of snacking on the food in the fridge… which often ruined Casey’s meal plans. So, they always ended up ordering take away a lot more than they should.

Which was why he was pleasantly surprised when he found enough for a decent fry up.

The smell roused Boden, and the battalion Chief was soon sitting up as he rubbed at his eyes. He glanced over to Severide and did his best to give him a smile, even though it was tinged with sadness, “Morning, Kelly.”

Kelly just nodded back, trying his best to smile as well. He made quick work of plating up the food, collecting utensils from the draw as he moved back to Boden. He didn’t think that he would be able to talk without getting emotional, so he was thankful when Boden was content to eat in silence.

They’d almost finished the meal before he was finally ready to talk, and even then, he’d had to clear tears from his throat as he looked to his superior officer, “Thanks, Chief.”

Boden just nodded kindly, assessing Kelly as he tried to decide what to say. But Severide was already taking another breath, blushing as shame washed over him, “I’m sorry –”

Shaking his head, Boden cut him off, “No need to apologise, Kelly. None at all.”

The squad man sighed, leaning forwards and cradling his head in his hand as his eyes clouded with tears. He wasn’t going to cry again. He refused. He wanted to be brave now. But he couldn’t stop his throat from closing over as he tightened his jaw, looking up in an attempt to calm his tears.

“I’m terrified of losing him.”

The blunt honesty of his words had surprised even him. After all, he’d been hoping to control his fears, hoping to imply that he was alright to Boden – but he just hadn’t been able to help it. He was so worried, so worried and sick and tired of the entire ordeal.

But Boden seemed to understand, only surveying Kelly with compassionate eyes. He could hardly blame the younger man and would never fault him for his tears. He knew how much the blonde Captain meant to his Lieutenant – he always had. He never planned on letting his officers know it, but when they’d come out, he’d fought tooth and nail to keep them together. It was against CFD protocol to allow partners to work in the same house, and even though Severide and Casey had a strong track record of working together, the brass had wanted to separate them. But Boden had decided in that moment that promotion be damned, he was going to keep his officers together.

And he didn’t regret it for a moment.

He’d never regret doing the right thing, because there was no doubt in his mind that he had. But that didn’t mean that doing the right thing was fun, and he hated the next conversation he had to have.

There was no certainty that Casey would survive, let along come out of this without any complications. And he knew that Kelly knew that. There was no point in offering platitudes and Severide wouldn’t believe them if he tried.

So, he’d have to be bluntly honest, because putting this conversation off would only be regretted.

He moved closely to Kelly, kneeling down beside him and putting a firm hand to his shoulder. Severide seemed to sense that he wasn’t going to enjoy this conversation – who would enjoy a conversation about their boyfriend’s severe injuries? – but Boden persisted; “Kelly… I know. But Matt’s strong, and he isn’t going to let go without one hell of a fight.”

He let that sit for a moment, already feeling every bit as though he’d slapped Kelly across the face, “But even though Casey’s tough… Kelly, I think that it would be a good idea for the rest of the firehouse to see him. It doesn’t have to be long… and of course, it would be done so it’s safe for Matt… but I’m sure that they’d all like to see him…”

Kelly bit down the tears that Boden’s words had prompted, wishing that he didn’t exist in a world where this conversation was necessary.

But he did.

“You mean to say… goodbye?”

His voice broke with those words, and he put a hand to his face. Lightly, Boden put a supportive arm around him, though he didn’t tell Kelly that it was partially because his own heart was breaking, “To support him, Kelly… and to say what they need to say…”

Severide let out a rough sob as Boden held him tighter.

The hospital reported no changes when they arrived, and Severide tried to feel relief in that he could go straight to Casey. He wasn’t stupid. He knew what no changes meant; he knew that it was bad. Casey should be stabilising by now; he shouldn’t still be on the vent; his sats still shouldn’t be this low.

But he wasn’t, and they were.

And Kelly knew that every day he didn’t fight the vent, every day he didn’t improve, everyday Casey’s body failed to recover, it became less likely that he ever would.

And that hurt.

Still, Severide set in beside him, trying to maintain some sense of normalcy as he spoke to his precious blonde. He continued to recall the times they’d spent together, only trailing off when his emotions got too much. They had so many memories together – so many positive ones – that his emotions and love for the blonde just overwhelmed him. He loved Casey, he loved every part of his boy, his selflessness, his care, his subtle sense of humour… and he couldn’t lose him.

He spoke until his voice was hoarse, and his eyes were drooping from exhaustion. He would have rested his head on Casey’s bed, had he not been worried that he might hurt his boy. He still had no idea if his baby could feel pain – dammit, he should really research it – and he didn’t want to take that risk.

Suddenly afraid that reminiscing was becoming too morbid, Severide did his best to focus his attention on something else. He’d been aware of next to nothing since Casey’s accident, having only being going through the motions of life on autopilot, and that meant that he had nothing to tell Casey.

Nothing except Boden’s idea of…

No, he couldn’t manage that quite yet. Not without easing his boy into it.

Clearing his throat, he hastily wiped his tears away, “Penny misses you… she was looking for you this morning. God, she loves you, Casey. She loves you so much… she’s been amazing, by the way. You were right, cats are amazing… she’s so friendly, and caring. Whenever I’m crying, she comes straight to me, she rubs against me and makes me feel that little bit better.”

A jolt went through him as he realised his words, and he mentally slapped himself, quickly backtracking, “Not that I’m crying all the time, baby… I don’t want you to worry. Yes, I’m worried about you, but I also know that you’re gonna be perfectly fine… because you’re my Matty, and you’re always okay.”

He let out a breath, biting his lip, “And even though I know you’re going to be okay… everyone knows you’re going to be okay… Boden thought… we thought… that it might be a good idea for everyone to visit. So, they can talk to you, you know? Uh… because they all love you, baby… and they want to see you…”

He trailed off, throat burning so bad that he almost couldn’t manage his next words, “Uh… and baby… I don’t know what they’re gonna say. I don’t know what they’ll say to you, but… I don’t want you to be scared. If someone says… someone says… goodbye. Uh… I want you to know… it’s only because they love you, it’s only because they don’t know if you’re… uh… it’s only because they want to make sure you know it. Because they… they love you.”

“And I love you. I love you a lot. So much… I will always love you, baby. Always. No matter what.”