Connor leans against Will, hands fisting in his t-shirt as Will’s arm wraps around his shoulders. Connor had spent most of the day in surgery, constantly aware of everything, and now, in the low lights and low noise of Molly’s he’s content to melt into Will’s side and not be expected to contribute to conversations for a little while. Will laughs about something and Connor feels the chuckle resonate through his lover’s chest.
A hand - probably Jay’s, who’s sat across from him - combs through his messy hair and he snorts, opening his eyes to see the grinning faces of Jay, Mouse and Will looking down at him. He sits up straighter, head now supporting its own weight as Herrmann arrives at the table with a fresh round of drinks; Will’s arm drops from his shoulders. Out of the corner of his eyes, Connor sees Mouse grab Jay’s hand under the table, and sees Jay’s arm tense as he squeezes Mouse’s hand in return. A soft smile lights up Mouse’s face while he attentively listens to Will explain an ED procedure he’d gone through earlier that day.
The door to Molly’s swings wide open, a gust of cold air blowing through and causing goosebumps to cover Connor’s exposed arms, and he turns to see who opened the door since most of the regulars know to only partially open the door.
In walks a woman far too dressed up for a bar as casual as Molly’s, who struts up to the bar where Herrmann is talking to Matt and Kelly, both of whom are sat at the bar shoulder-to-shoulder with barely a hair’s width between them. She glances around as her cocktail is being prepared, taking in the various tables full of first-responders; before settling on the Halstead table. Jay and Mouse like sitting in the corner where they can watch the whole room, and with them comes Will and Connor. As he locks eyes with the woman, he watches her eyes narrow, and his narrow in return. A feeling of recognition passes through him, but he can’t tell where it’s from. She tilts her head to the side, staring even more intently, if that’s at all possible, and Connor breaks eye contact, zoning back into Will and Mouse.
“So this guy was rolled in screaming with this massive gash across- can I help you?” Will straightens up in his seat, nearly eye-level with the woman who’s now stood next to their table, setting her pretentious cocktail on the table.
“You can’t, but Connie here can.” She nods towards Connor and he freezes with his entire body.
God, Connie. He hasn’t been called Connie in years; hell, he hasn’t been Connie in years. He’d come out over a decade ago, transitioned only a year later.
His brain suddenly lights up with a connection, even while he’s beginning to panic - Mouse and Jay don’t know that he’s transgender, they don’t know in advance what she’d meant. “Oh, Araya, from highschool, right?” He says in reply, ducking his hands under the table so she can’t see him shake. The silence at the Halstead’s table is deafening, and a few of the nearby patrons turn to see why a large chunk of background noise has stopped. Out of the corner of his eyes, Connor sees Matt tap Kelly on the shoulder then they both turn, as Herrmann’s eyes harden and his grip tightens around the bottle he’s halfway to handing to Kelly. “Well, it’s still Connor.”
Araya looks vaguely amused, and takes a sip of her cocktail. “Little Connie Rhodes, thinking she can play with the boys because she thinks she's a boy"
Connor’s breath hitches, head dropping, and his shoulders hunch in. He is a boy - a man - no matter what Araya says. But he’s with Jay and Mouse, and while he thinks they’ll support him, he doesn’t know , and that’s a very dangerous game to play.
Jay clears his throat and Connor freezes. “His name is Connor” He stresses the first and last words, tone harsher than Antarctic winters and sharper than a razor. At that moment, Connor knows he’s a soldier - a defender of those he cares about, a shield in their darkest times - not just his brother-in-law.
Araya dismisses this and lets out a humorless laugh, “Connor? Really Connie, Connor is the best you can come up with? Well, you know what they say about rich kids, no need to have brains, especially when they're a heiress to something like the name Rhodes.”
Three things happen at once. One: Jay's hand curls into a fist and in a fraction of a second, he’s out of his chair and it's already planted into Araya's nose. Two: Adam, Kevin, Matt and Kelly all jump up from their seats and leap into action, dragging Araya - stumbling though she may be - to her feet. Three: Herrmann grabs the bar phone and dials 911. The garbled sound of the operator pushes Connor off the metaphorical ledge.
He scrambles off his chair, dropping to the floor and pushing himself against the wall. He curls in, arms coming up to defend himself from whatever is coming to him. Through nearly-closed eyes he makes out Will’s bright red hair, and sees him wave off people who were coming too close. Connor’s hands thread through his hair, pulling at black hair in an attempt to ground himself, even as his breathing quickens and his chest jerks as he tries to breathe..
"Connor?" Will’s voice is calm, an encompassing peace that Connor wants to have - to be calm, to be not here , to be able to breathe. His breaths are getting faster as he panics about not being able to breathe, his chest moving in vicious movements that continue the spiral of panic as he can’t draw enough breath. "Connor, can I touch your hands?" A nod, barely perceivable past the shifting caused by his panicked movements.
Gently, gently, Will prys his hands out of his hair, allowing Connor to take his hands and squeeze , which probably hurts Will, even if he doesn’t show it. “Can Brett help me check on you?” Because he knows Brett, sees her every couple of days, be it at the hospital or at Molly’s, knows she cares with her heart, hopes she won’t care that he used to be a she. He manages to nod enough that Will can nod his head and then there’s another head next to Will, this one blonde.
There’s an outraged screech from somewhere within the bar, and Connor flinches so hard he nearly leaves the ground. He hears a booming voice yell “Halstead! Severide! Take this outside!” There’s the sound of multiple footsteps pounding to the door, another blast of cold air, and then the bar falls back into near silence. “It was Boden shouting, that woman’s being dealt with.” Brett assures him while taking his racing pulse.
The rush of cold air had grounded him, to some level, and now as his vision comes into more focus, he sees the concerned faces of his coworkers and friends looking down at him, and the calm that both Will and Brett are projecting. His gaze drops to the wooden floor while he pulls a hand out of Will’s grip - gently, because Will lets go of the hand the second it behind pulling away - and slings it across his chest, hiding what hadn’t been there for years.
But under the lights of Molly’s, with his friends looking down on him, he’s never felt more exposed, more unsure, more known .
Three breathes rattle through his chest before he raises his eyes to meet Will’s again, unshed tears shining. His lover smiles down at him - a smile that reaches his eyes, which means he’s actually happy, actually happy that Connor is looking at him.
Brett ventures to talk first "Connor-" he flinches at the name, his name, the name he picked for himself, his name. Brett swallows before speaking again, "Connor, nobody thinks less of you." Connor pauses, for a long long moment. A moment suspended in time, as the family that keeps Chicago running watches out for their own. One of their own. Connor looks away from Will and meets the steely gaze of Brett.
He looks at her for a while, looking for a lie, for unease, for her to tell him that he's actually a she. But it doesn't come, and as his gaze flickers between the other patrons, to Burgess' soft smile, to Herrmann's scowl pointed at the door, to Goodwin who's got a smile on her face, an actual honest-to-god smile, and in that beautiful, beautiful moment he realises that as long as any of them are still alive and kicking, he'd never be a she.
Kevin opens the door for the three-person wide brick to come through, as Severide and Adam both with an arm wrapped around Araya’s elbow, which would look like they were escorting her to a ballroom if they looked any less murderous.
Matt follows the trio out, scowling at the woman in the middle. Kevin turns to meet eyes with Herrmann, still explaining the situation to the operator on the other line. They exchange a nod and Kevin trails out after Matt.
The wooden door clicks closed behind them, and there’s only a few seconds of silence before Araya opens her mouth again. "What, you guys really think Connie is a guy? Surely not. She's just pretending, surely you see that."
Matt’s jaw locks and he is forced to take a moment before he loosens it enough to address Jay, still keeping his hate-filled gaze on Araya. "Someone arrest him right now, before I make him wish he hadn't opened his mouth."
“Oh, don’t worry, you’re not the only one who wishes that.” Adam replies as he helps Kelly shuffle their grip to hold her more securely.
Jay begins reading Araya her rights, as blue and red flashing lights fill the street and a siren pierces the air. Kevin steps away from the four very angry men surrounding Araya to explain to the patrol officers who had just got out of their cruiser what was going on.