Title: Hidden Agenda
Chapter 22 – What Doesn't Kill You – Makes you Stronger

A/N: Well we've reached the end folks. I don't know if I'm 100% satisfied with this so apologize in advance. It's been a tough week; RL beat me up pretty good (grrr job & violent stomach flue), battled discouragement and disheartenment and to top the moldy sundae with the rotten cherry, my cable company did something behind the scenes to erase all my CF eppies on my PVR and could not get them back *sobs*. So I do hope you like this (its somewhat emotional) & enjoy!


"Casey!"

His eyes suddenly flutter open as his lungs offer a sharp gasp as he is roughly jerked back to reality. His mind flashes back to when he was in the midst of the fire. He saw the exit…went to vent…was hit in the back with a heavy fireball…sent to his chest…a beam on his back…locator starting to wail…Severide's comforting voice…darkness.

"Ahhh," Casey's lips lightly groan as he looks around to see where he is. His watery eyes take a few seconds to adjust but when he does he realizes he's in a hospital recovery room after the tumble he had taken.

"Is Lieutenant Casey awake?"

Casey hears the mock voice and looks over to see his green Oscar the Grouch stuffie being waved in the air; Severide's face appearing around the wall few seconds later with a small smile.

"Finally," Casey huffs as he looks at Severide as he approaches with a heavy frown. "Is Boden pissed?"

"He heard the whole thing. You didn't hesitate for a second so he knows it wasn't a panic attack. None of us saw that hidden trap door. When Hermann closed the main fire door it was trapped and it caught you. Otis got the window just in time."

"Damn," Casey groans as his hand rests on his throbbing forehead before he looks up at the green stuffie and smirks as he grabs it out of Severide's grasp; Severide pulling up a chair to sit down a few moments longer.

"Okay it's just us…did you see Ben in there?"

"Honestly no," Casey replies in truth. "I think it was the smoke and the fact that my boot caught that hidden beam. That's why I paused. But not this time. I was lucky. Hermann knows."

"Figured he'd guess. He's got that dad radar thing on like 24/7," Severide smirks before he looks up with a frown. "Was worried when you went down and didn't answer."

"Couldn't leave Oscar homeless," Casey holds up the green stuffie to which Severide chuckles and plucks it from Casey's grasp. "I'm okay…but…"

"But what?"

"I did see Ben…a few moments before I woke up just now. It was odd…I was back in the building…no one was there but me and him…and he was just standing there watching. He did nothing. It was….odd," Casey groans as he tries to slowly sit up; Severide quickly jumping up and helping him get upright. "I told him to leave and he just…stood there. He said nothing…did nothing, and then he was gone."

Severide waits a few minutes, his brain getting more and more used to listening to Casey confess what was on his mind in regards to Ben before venturing a reply.

"Is that good?" He asks somewhat lamely.

"Not sure," Casey shrugs. "Dr. Stevens and Dr. Travers both said I probably wouldn't be able to get rid of him for good because of what happened, so maybe it was a reminder he's still there…just there."

"But at least it didn't hinder you in the field."

"And for that I am grateful," Casey acknowledges as the doctor finally comes back in to give Casey his walking papers. "Dinner…is on me tonight," Casey offers as he takes back Oscar while his friend is distracted.

"Matt…"

"Are you really gonna argue with Oscar?" Casey holds up the stuffie and grins.

"Who can say no to that face?" Severide snickers as he finally nods and they both leave the small ER recovery room.

"Think I'll start on fixing the closet door tomorrow after work," Casey mentions as they head for the exit doors. "Figure in a few weeks' time or so it should be ready to be on the market. I don't want to wait."

"You know you can always stay with us right? One more person for Shay to mother," he lightly chuckles as they get into Severide's car and head for Casey's place.

"I know but I gotta do this. I really want to tell Marc I'm in control," Casey states with a firm nod. "I need this."

"You want help you let me know."

"Oh I already have your duties planned."

"You do?" Severide tosses him a sideways glance.

"Soon as you tell Boden you're all mine," Casey snickers to which Severide just shakes his head.

"That almost has me afraid. And what about Dr. Stevens?"

"I really want to do his deck for free after all he did for me. But he texted me again last night with a quote and I almost feel bad saying yes."

"So don't charge for labour but the materials are expensive right?"

"Yeah they are," Casey replies softly as they pull up to his house. Casey looks at the darkened establishment with a heavy frown before he feels his stomach tighten. "Sometimes I do feel guilty about leaving; like I'm openly acknowledging that Ben won. But then I go upstairs…see that room and…and I know I have to move. I know it's the right thing. I thought that maybe if I painted it or…rearranged the furniture…got a new bed…but unless I tear down the walls and…no, I have to move. It's the right thing for me."

"There is no shame in that. Ben's lost, he's dead, but I get that his memory is still there. Besides I need something to do while I'm on rehab right?"

"Right," Casey looks over and gives Severide a tight lipped smile before they both get out and head into the quiet home, Casey heading upstairs for a shower and Severide ordering their dinner. While he waits he heads for the small spare bedroom and can't help but understand why it looks more slept in than the bed upstairs. No matter how strong a person's will is, coming home every night and sleeping in the same bed you were forcibly assaulted in would play upon your mind, slowly eat away with bad memories and that wasn't fair to Casey; a move was the best possible solution.

"Thought I was paying for dinner?"

"You are, I just ordered what I wanted to eat," Severide tosses back as he pulls away from the door as Casey approaches. "I would move too."

"Thanks," Casey nods as they head into the kitchen; Casey opening the fridge and then handing a cold beer to his friend. "So any bets on who will win the game tonight?" He asks lightly as they head into the living room to wait for their meal to arrive.

Despite the somewhat trying events of the day, the banter is kept light and friendly and non confrontational. Dr. Stevens had reminded Severide that he doesn't need to push Casey to talk about his feelings all the time; he'd know when to push and when to back off based on Casey's mood and what he was offering verbally. If Casey offered an angsty Ben-centric snippet and then pulled back he could pursue; if Casey offered quite a bit then he could back off if he wanted or just talk to him casually. It would always be a learning process for both of them as some days might throw him for a real surprise. But the more progress Casey makes in taking back his life and the more positive steps he takes in regaining his mental control the easier it would be for both of them to get a handle on what Ben ultimately tried to destroy – their bond.

XXXXXXXX

"Hey Otis, where's Casey?" Severide asks the next morning.

"Workout room," Otis replies before he goes back to something him and Mouch were working on. "What is that?"

"You don't wanna know," Hermann groans as Severide snickers and walks past; determined to find Casey and confirm what he thinks he did.

Severide rounds the corner and stops when he watches Casey's fist land a hard punch into the bag and then pulls back with a flushed face and a small gasp for air. "Rough night?" He suddenly asks in concern; his brotherly protectiveness always coming to the fore if Casey seemed in distress and was seemingly isolating himself.

"Nope. Just needed to burn off some steam," Casey replies in truth; making Severide's anxiety lessen. "What's up?"

"You're responsible for this?" Severide pulls out a piece of paper from his wallet and holds it up; a small flicker of a smirk betraying him before he tries to offer a serious expression. "It was you right? Waldo said a friend paid for it."

"And you assumed me? Don't you have other friends?" Casey counters.

"You were the only one I told my car was in the shop. Matt I had this covered. It's too much."

"Over the past few weeks…I've been…"

"No don't blame yourself for anything that…"

"Let me finish," Casey interrupts with a soft expression; something that Severide can only nod and bow out to. "Over the past few weeks I've been in need of help and friendship and trust…and I didn't want to ask for them and sometimes pushed you away and nearly severed our friendship because I was so stubborn. But you never gave up. Offering a simple thank you…it didn't seem enough for all you've done. That's part of my thank you."

Severide looks at the sincere expression on Casey's face and knows that to reject his thank you or even offer to pay him back might be insulting so he shoves the receipt back into his wallet and looks up with a smile.

"Okay. Thank you," he receives warmly.

"You're welcome. So are you telling Boden today?" Casey automatically holds up his hands for Severide to take the gloves off.

"Talked to Dr. Stevens this morning and he can get me to see the specialist tomorrow after work. As soon as I know the time frame that I'll be off, I'll tell Boden and then…hope for the best."

"You know it'll work out right? Dr. Stevens is a good man, he won't steer you wrong."

"I know but everything has risks and he was candid about that. But I'll take being sidelined a month rather than a year to…life," he huffs as they both finally walk out of the small gym in the back and head for the locker room to get ready for the day.

"You want some company for the appointment?"

"Sure," Severide nods as he closes his locker and they head into the common area for breakfast. The rest of the day passes by with out incident and Casey finally feels he's back where he was before. But tomorrow would show him not to get too confident just yet.

XXXXXXXX

"Gettin' hot in here!"

"We need that vent!"

"Casey! Where's the vent?"

Hermann hears Boden's tone over the headset and looks up to see Casey pausing before the window; his mind racing to take the action that Severide can't as he was busy helping with a rescue and had already cleared the building. "Looks like Oscar needs a vent."

Oscar…right…where am I? Building…vent…RIGHT NOW!

"Chief, window vented!" Casey's firm voice is heard seconds after the window smashes and Boden gives Mouch and Cruz the okay for them to proceed further into the smoky darkness. "Thank you," Casey slaps Hermann on the back as he nears.

"Ah anytime," Hermann replies with a grin before they back to the fire and get to work putting it out.

"Casey," Boden approaches him by the front of the truck as the teams were wrapping up, Severide watching from a discreet distance.

"Sorry Chief…I saw Ben and I just…but it wasn't…"

"You were only out a few seconds and Hermann pulled you back. Teamwork," he pats Casey on the back. "I'm not worried I just wanted you to know and I wanted to make sure."

"Thanks Chief," Casey answers with an small smile before he looks up at Severide who nods and goes back to his task; Casey going in search of Hermann to give him a proper thank you.

"You okay?" Severide asks in a soft tone as he walks up to Casey in the quiet locker room at the end of the day. "I heard Hermann over the headset."

"I saw him. Again. Just…standing there. Damnest thing," Casey huffs as he shakes his head and reaches for his jacket. "But he was right in front of the window, almost daring me to try to take him on. But that word pulled me back and I got the job done. Oscar beats Ben," Casey smirks before his expression clouds.

"What? You can't blame yourself for that."

"I guess I just wanted to go and see Marc on Friday and tell him the week was without any real issues on the job."

"Was Boden mad?"

"No."

"Then you know Marc won't be either right?" Severide reminds him as they head for Matt's truck; the next stop was the specialist's office and news about Severide's upcoming surgery.

"I know," Casey agrees as he gets in behind the steering wheel. "I just look forward to that day when I call him the week was incident free."

"Yeah me too."

They talk a bit more about the job and a few neighborhoods that Casey had checked out; finally arriving at their destination about twenty minutes later.

"My turn to be nervous," Severide comments as they ride up in the elevator at the medical building.

"At least you know what to expect right?"

"For the most part, but even Dr. Stevens said he didn't have all the facts. I just want to get this over with now."

"Yeah me too," Casey tosses back the same reply at Severide that he had gotten earlier. They both enter the doctor's office; Severide telling the doctor that Casey was a friend and they worked together and to just get it over with. Severide listens to the doctor, a few things familiar as Dr. Stevens had told him a bit about what to expect and then of course the risks, possible complications, possible setbacks and of course the very fast rehabilitation time.

"One month is pretty good considering," Casey mentions later as they both sit at the bar sharing a beer and mulling over what Severide just learned about his surgery. "With home reno's and house hunting for me time will just fly by."

"Oh is that so?" Severide tosses Casey an amused glance.

"Or…you could come down to the station and I'll put you through truck drills, make a fire fighter out of you yet," Casey counters with a cheeky tone to which Severide just shakes his head and takes a swig of beer before his expression turns dark. "It's going to be okay."

"There are risks."

"Always are right?" Casey ponders seriously. "You've helped me and you know I'll be there with you as well right?"

"I know," Severide nods and offers a small, tight lipped smile. "Now suddenly I'm worried something could go wrong."

"It'll be okay," Casey replies in a soft whisper as he looks down into the dark amber color of the mug of beer in his grasp. A few weeks back he wouldn't have even had the inner courage to convince himself of anything much less anyone else that they'd be okay, especially a close friend he really cared about. But now he could look Severide in the eye and tell him that he would be okay and know inside that he actually had the strength to back up his promise. Tomorrow would start a brand new chapter for them both.

XXXXXXXX

"Boden suspend you?" Casey asks as he walks up to the doorway of Severide's office to see his friend packing up a few things.

"Yeah but I expected it. Operation is in a week's time; Dr. Stevens was able to pull some strings and get it moved up sooner so I'm grateful for that," Severide offers Casey a tight lipped smile before he looks away.

"What is it?" Casey's hand gingerly touches Severide shoulders; prompting Severide to turn around and offer a heavy sigh to Casey's soft inquiring expression.

"Now it's real," Severide frowns. "No turning back now. I'm not backing out, I'm just…I'm worried."

"Come on…let's go," Casey gently suggests as Severide nods and slowly stands up. "You tell Shay yet?"

"You're the first one after Boden. I'll tell her tonight."

"After…a few beers. This time it'll be my treat."

"Matt…"

"My place, beer, pizza and the Hawks."

"Okay," Severide reluctantly agrees, giving Casey a nod and thankful that he's not being pried with details that he'd rather not discuss until he knows the surgery is a success.

"So is this your excuse to get out of work on the weekend?" Casey asks with a small smirk as they get into his truck and head for his place and a quiet evening ahead.

"Is it working?"

"Hardly," Casey retorts with a serious expression. "You can still use the other arm to carry stuff right? Hold the hammer when I'm not using it?" He snickers as they stop in front of his place.

"How about I sit on the deck with a cold beer and watch," Severide chuckles as they head inside and Casey gently snorts. "You have a bit of a freak out after the shift? You lingered inside a bit longer than the others," Severide mentions in a quitter tone as they sit by the table with a cold beer in hand. "You see Ben again?"

"I did," Casey nods his acknowledgement as he takes a swig and leans back in his chair, looking up at Severide with a small frown. "This time he was yelling at me to come back and I just…I kept walking right past. I turned back…and he was gone."

"You okay?" Severide asks in concern when he notices Casey's grip tighten around the neck of the bottle with a bit more aggression.

"I will be," Casey whispers in torment as he looks up; Severide's heart instantly feeling a few pangs as he notices the bottoms gently glistening. "When I turned around this time, I saw Will. He was there Kelly…in that building today."

"Damn Matt, I'm sorry," Severide utters in sorrow. "What did he do?"

"He uh…he smiled. Ben was gone but Will was there. First time. I froze. It was…unnerving," Casey admits with a heavy sigh as he takes a swig of his beer and then looks at Severide with a heavy frown. "Guess I'll have lots to talk to Marc about tomorrow."

"You'll get through it."

"Thanks," Casey replies softly; the conversation lingering a bit longer on Casey's tormented memory before the conversation turns to where Casey's next home hunting excursion would take him and what Severide thought about the area. But it was the first night in a week where both were heading to bed with heavier than normal thoughts resting on their heart and mind.

XXXXXXXX

"Matt, come in," Marc greets Casey Friday after shift but before Marc's professional day was over. Casey slowly enters the office and slowly eases himself down into the chair beside his therapist as per their norm. "How was your week?"

"Uh…fine," Casey manages with a weak lie.

It's only a small gesture; a few fingers tightening around the ends of the chair handles but it tells Marc everything he needs to know in that second – the week didn't go as Casey might have wanted.

"Wanna tell me about it?" Marc asks gently as his hand rests on Casey's arm; the reassuring gesture instantly forcing Casey's grasp to loosen.

"I saw Ben…I saw Will…I froze but then I got back in the game with the help of Kelly and another on my team. Kelly's going for surgery and I have a few appointments for a new home and…"

"Whoa hold on a sec," Marc interjects with a kind smile as Casey leans forward and after exhaling heavily rests his elbows on his knees. "Just one moment at a time okay? Take a deep breath and let's start with Ben."

"Okay…okay," Casey nods as he leans back up and looks at Marc's friendly expression. "The first time I saw him he was angry and daring me to vent the window he was in front of and then last two times he was just standing there watching."

The two of them spend the hour talking about Ben and Casey's mental will power sending him away and Casey feeling confident about the future that in time it would fade. The memory of Will was a reminder that there were others who had silently backed his courage to stand up to Ben and would always be in his corner because he avenged them and gave them back their honor. The other items like Casey moving and Severide's operation were mostly small talk that Casey just wanted to get off his chest and weren't something that Casey was looking for resolve to.

"I didn't want to come today," Casey admits as they near the end of their session.

"I could tell today but I'm glad you did. How do you feel now?"

"A lot better. I guess I just needed to hear you say I wasn't crazy or something."

"Nope, not crazy," Marc replies with a warm smile. "You're right on track and now…now you can be there for Kelly as he goes through his tough time."

"I went to see Ian."

"I know. Dr. Stevens told me the other day. Haven't seen him that happy about something in a long time," Marc tells Casey in truth; prompting Casey to look up in surprise. "Roger's a great guy."

"Yeah he is," Casey agrees with a warm smile. They talk a bit more about Dr. Stevens; Marc not pressing Casey for details about his visit to Ian's gravestone as he, just as Dr. Stevens and Kelly knew, whatever was said and will yet be said in the future was between Casey and Dr. Stevens deceased son. If it helped Casey come to terms with his inner peace then it was worth assuring Casey that he didn't have to confess everything as long as he was doing something to benefit him and Dr. Stevens had told him via Kelly Severide that Matt had come back from Ian's gravesite, somewhat happy as odd as that had sounded at the time.

"See you in two weeks unless you need me sooner. My door is always open," Marc extends his hand for Casey to takes and warmly grasps it, his other arm giving Casey's right forearm a good grasp. "A few more sessions and then you call the shots okay? But no matter what I hope we remain friends."

"I'd like that," Casey replies in truth. "You know you remind me…"

"Yeah of the guy on that TV show about Lawyers right? The dark haired guy?" Marc smiles. "I get that a few times."

Casey takes his leave; his mood lighter then when he arrived and his anxiety all but spent. He still had four more sessions with Marc stretched out over a few the next few weeks; at first balking at the fact that he would even need follow up sessions but now almost looking forward to the next one, his confidence continuing to grow each time he left Marc and true to his promise the two of them would continue to build their friendship as they both got older.

XXXXXXXX

"You told him? That he looked like the guy on TV?" Severide chuckles as they head toward Dr. Stevens the next Saturday afternoon.

"Said he's heard it before," Casey replies with a smile. "So it wasn't just us."

"Us?"

"Me?" Casey softly arches his brows in reply as they near the Steven's residence in the upscale part of the suburbs just outside the downtown core.

"Okay you two what's the punch line?" Dr. Stevens asks with a friendly smile as he opens the door; Casey and Severide still sharing a chuckle as they head up to the front door.

"I told Matt you were making horse for dinner," Severide offers a small punch to Casey's shoulder as Casey merely nods and accepts being the brunt end of an ongoing joke in his name; one that Severide argues back was his fault for making the statement hungry enough to eat a horse in the first place.

"I know you keep insisting I don't pay, but Matt," Dr. Stevens takes Casey aside as Severide wanders toward the kitchen with a bottle of wine for Rose Stevens; something they'd use later for dinner. "But my deck materials are expensive."

"Kelly told me not to argue back," Casey retorts with a soft smirk.

"Ah big brother's always know best right?"

"So it would seem," Casey nods appreciatively. "Am worried about his surgery though."

"Course you are. But I know Dr. Kwan, he's the best and the leader in his field of alternative surgery. Kelly's in the best of hands. Come now, let's get started on that deck," Dr. Stevens mentions, prompting Casey to slightly cock his head and look at the older man in suspect. "These hands aren't delicate Matt and I'm not the kind to sit and watch. Besides I know Kelly won't be able to do any heavy lifting before his surgery so young man, you are stuck with me," he concludes with a warm pat on the back.

"I'd like the help thank you. Oh and I have a final appointment set up with Glenda for next weekend."

"She found you a good place then did she?"

"I think I'm going to take it."

"Good to hear it then it'll finally be my turn to bring some wine for the house warming. And before you protest you won't be able to buy a new house and not let Rose help you with the christening," Dr. Stevens warns with a playful smile. "Please let her help," his tone drops to a nearly begging request; something that Casey is unable to say no to. He'd later learn, the night of the house warming from Marc Travers, that it was because the Stevens had now come to accept Matt and Kelly into their lives as their adoptive sons, they just didn't want to say it openly in case it wasn't reciprocated. Casey would have assured him that same night that, at least in his case but also in Kelly's, it was reciprocated.

"Okay so where do we start?" Severide asks with a wide grin as Dr. Stevens and Casey enter the kitchen. The next few hours are spent working as a team, strengthening growing friendships; building new bonds, sharing laughs and good food.

"I said a level…that's a T-square," Casey groans as Severide chuckles and offers a mock expression of surprise. The evening finally finishes off with the four of them sharing some after dinner coffee's around the indoor fireplace; Rose telling Casey about the house warming and Dr. Stevens asking Severide where he could get parts for his vintage car.

XXXXXXXX

"Your pacing is making me nervous," Severide huffs as he gently blocks Casey's path, prompting Casey to look up and shake his head. "I'm the one going under remember?"

"I know," Casey nods as he looks away and then back at his best friend with a soft frown. "I know it's going to be okay."

"I know," Severide agrees with a small strained frown of his own. Casey leans in and gives him a brief but supportive hug; Shay walking in and giving them an arched brow glare.

"Did I break up the broment?" She smiles sweetly.

"I made him nervous," Casey admits somewhat sheepishly.

"You tell him that instead of fixing his arm they're going to attach a chain saw like that guy in the horror movie?" Shay retorts as Casey looks at Severide in shock.

"Okay so she's worse than you. Seriously I swear the two of you are going to drive me to drink even more," Severide groans as a small tap is heard at the door.

"Mr. Severide, it's time," the nurse's aide tells them briefly.

"Okay," Severide takes a deep breath; Shay instantly taking his hand and Casey flanking his other side as the three of them head for the surgical operation area; Casey and Shay forced to hold back as Severide is escorted to the waiting transfer bed and helped down. Casey wraps his arm around Shay's shoulders as her head leans on his shoulder; both of them watching with wide eyes and wildly beating hearts. Severide gives them a thin, nervous smile before he's whisked away from view and they head toward the waiting area to the one thing they hate doing – waiting.

"Ms. Shay? Mr. Casey?" Dr. Kwan heads toward them a few hours later with a somewhat placid expression; both of them standing up instantly.

"How is he?" Shay asks with some hesitation.

"The surgery was a complete success," he assures them with a small smile; both of them trading relieved expressions. He tells them a few more things about the procedure and the aftercare and how it would only take a month and then as he had told Severide, he'd be back at work. Finally Dr. Kwan takes his leave and the two of them slowly head up toward Severide's room; Casey texting Dr. Stevens and Chief Boden and telling them the surgery had been a complete success.

The fuzzy fog finally starts to lift and Severide opens his eyes, blinking a few times and focusing on the person closest to the bed; his lips slightly twisting upward.

"Welcome back," Casey greets with a tender expression.

"Hey you," Shay's warm voice is next heard as she plants a small kiss on his forehead. "Everything went great."

"Yeah?"

"It did," Casey nods in agreement as Shay quickly sits down beside Casey. The two of them talk a bit more about the surgery and the prognosis from Dr. Kwan; Casey's upcoming house warming over an ordered in pizza and how they'd be back to collect him the following day; each of them promising to keep him busy for his month-long rehab.

"Casey you don't have to fuss," Severide states in exasperation a few days later as he reaches for something at Casey's and has his hand swatted away.

"Now you know how it feels," Casey retorts triumphantly. "Besides I have am taking advantage of it right now."

"Oh is that a dare?" Severide snickers as Shay rolls her eyes.

"I swear why don't you two just drop the invisible gloves and go at it right now. First one to pin gets bragging rights."

"Give me a week and I'll win," Severide boasts as Casey chuckles.

"Okay can we please get back to this catering stuff. Janice said she'd help but we do have to tell her what we need," Shay implores about her catering friend for the house warming in a few weeks time.

XXXXXXXX

"Seriously I gotta break you of that pacing habit," Severide snickers as he stands before Casey in the entrance way to his new home.

"Never had one of these before and when I did…never mind," Casey turns back with a small frown. His mind quickly recalls the past few weeks. With the team's help he had gotten his place fixed and ready for sale, telling them all it just wasn't what he wanted and that he wanted a fresh start – no one questioning it as Dr. Stevens had told him. He fixed the interior closet on his own, telling Kelly it was one final act he had to do to show Ben that he had lost for good; and it worked. Glenda had found him a modest home within his price range and neighborhood; one needing a bit of work but something he was more than up to the task to do. The day he stood and looked at his former house with Severide at his side, he felt no remorse, only inner elation and that had signaled to him that this was the right move. He was free of Ben now and moving on with his life. It felt good. Freeing.

"Hey, it's going to be fine," Severide's hand rests on his shoulder and gives it a small squeeze, making Casey turn around and face him with a small smile. "Ready?"

"Let's do this."

Shay of course is the first to arrive, followed by Janice with the small finger foods for the night; Dawson and Mills, Hermann and his brood, Boden, Mouch, Otis, Capp, Hadley and the rest of the guys from Firehouse 51. Dr. Marc Travers and his wife Rebecca, Antonio and his family, and of course Dr. Stevens and his wife Rose; new and old friends that would now continue to be in his life course until they either they died or he did.

"Got a good turn out here young man," Dr. Stevens states in a proud fatherly tone, his hand giving Casey a warm pat on the back. "Very nice place."

"Thank you I…" Casey pauses as his eyes lift and focus on a face he never expected to see; Dr. Stevens turning to follow Casey's gaze as it rests on a very attractive dark haired woman, who was looking back at Casey beaming.

"I take it you know that beautiful young woman?"

"I do. Hallie?" Casey's voice manages as he politely excuses himself and heads towards his former fiancé with a beaming smile and racing heart; Severide watching with his own look of surprise but contentment. Casey's happiness after all he had been through meant so much and knowing that deep inside his heart Casey still loved Hallie; seeing her come back to him was a tender moment indeed, it made him almost too happy for words.

"Hey," Hallie greets as her body more than accepts the hug from the man she was still very much in love with. "I hope I'm not breaking up the party."

"No, never," Casey rushes in haste as he just stares in wonder. "Missed you."

"I've missed you to."

"Are you um…back for good?"

"I am," she tells him in truth. "I guess we have a lot to catch up on."

"We do," Casey nods as he hands her a drink. "A lot."

"We have time. How about a tour?" She asks warmly, looping her arm in his; Casey's hand quickly closing in and holding on.

"Absolutely."

XXXXXXXX

"Casey behind you!"

"I see it! Mouch take that door, Hermann the window. I'm going to help Severide."

"Copy."

"Severide I've got his legs."

"Shay we're bringing one out. He's got a nasty bit of rebar in his chest. Okay Casey on two. Let's move."

The two of them emerge with the fallen victim in their strong grasp; Boden watching them bring out the man together; both slightly coughing and a little battered from the huge blaze that had called three Firehouses together; each of them taking a section of the warehouse fire.

"Okay we got him," Dawson nods to Severide as the two medics quickly converge on the impaled man; frantic commands called out minutes before anxious sires are heard on the way to the hospital.

Casey pulls off his mask, takes a deep breath and then turns and looks at the structure with a heavy, soot stained frown. They were finally winning the battle and he could take a few moments before he decided to go back in or wait to see if he team was all accounted for when they came back out.

For a few seconds his vision clouds and he hears a familiar voice to his left, turning to see himself; dressed in gear, a candidate tag on his helmet.

'Chief Newsome,' he hears Ben's name Grant Newsome being called. 'How'd I do sir?'

'Candidate Casey you performed admirably,' Newsome's hand rests on his shoulder. 'Took a few risks though.'

'My father always told me what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.'

'Good words to live by Matthew. I hope you remember them always.'

"I will," Casey whispers at the same time the image of himself in the memory does and he blinks his eyes just as they threaten to water.

"Matt?" Severide's soft tone gently turns Casey's somewhat glazed over gaze toward him, his heart sinking as he watches Casey's soft blue eyes start to glisten. "What's wrong?"

"Wrong?" Casey's head slightly cocks as he frowns and looks away. "I remember it all, so clearly. The day I started…the first fire I attended to as a candidate. I remember what I said to him. To Grant…to Ben. Words then that were just….words. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger," he concludes with a small swallow as he looks back at Severide with a determined expression. "He told me to remember them and I did."

"He's lost his hold for good on you now right?"

"I can finally say I feel really free for the first time in months," Casey nods as he remembers his last session with Marc a few days earlier. It was positive and Marc had reminded him not to expect miracles from himself but to remind himself every day if necessary – Ben was dead and he had survived; stronger for it. Some days, however, would be better than others and when a bad day would hit, take it in stride and start fresh tomorrow after all that's what tomorrows were all about.

"I can finally lament Will and the others without feeling guilt or crushing anxiety. Ben's gone and I survived."

"Stronger for it," Severide offers a hearty pat on Casey's back.

"With your help," Casey acknowledges in truth. "Brothers right?"

"Always," Severide nods as, knowing they were hidden from most public view, gives Casey a brief but reassuring hug and then pulls back with a small smile. "You still owe me for last week though."

"What?" Casey scoffs as he shakes his head and rubs his face, his phone buzzing at the same time Boden finally signals the all clear.

"Bad news?"

"Date night," Casey replies with a broad grin as he puts his phone away. "Speaking of dates…" his voice trails off.

"Okay so she never said she was bringing a friend."

"You said at one time you didn't mind threesomes."

"It was a guy," Severide deadpans as Casey chuckles.

Casey pauses for a moment to reflect on all that had brought him to his point.

The time in Detroit and the horrors he faced and wondering if he'd ever able to put the past to rest. But it wasn't until he came back to Chicago and joined Boden's team that he finally felt a sense of peace and belonging. That was until fate decided to deal a cruel hand and send the devil back into his life with a hidden agenda for some unfinished business. But while he was momentarily and against his will sent back into his own personal abyss he had somehow been able to fight back; with Severide's help every step of the way. It wasn't easy but he did it and in the end? He had won…he had faced a personal evil that he wouldn't wish on his worst enemy and beat the devil back – sent him back to hell on his own terms; his mind and heart both keeping him there where he belonged – dead. He had faced the painful aftermath at first in torment and misery but then successfully with the help of some very good close friends and some very special new ones that refused to give in to Ben's demands to have him alone and broken. They fought back with him; at his side every step of the way. He had and would stick to his plan to visit Ian's gravesite once a month, taking Kelly with him one time and Hallie the next; Dr. Stevens sharing the first time – the two of them sitting in silence as tears were shed and hugs exchanged; a new familial bond being formed.

But most of all he had changed – for the better. He was stronger mentally but also more aware of those around him; Dr. Stevens even calling on him one night for help with a fellow fire fighter that had been accosted after a party and thought his life was now over – Casey at first somewhat hesitate about his own ability to help, but then stepping up to the plate and while not taking over Dr. Travers role, helped the young man to see that it wasn't over and he wasn't broken. He had been dealt a very raw deal but would fight back and better for it; Casey going home that night with a new found sense of wellbeing and contentment.

'What doesn't kill you makes you stronger…' he had heard those words over the years, some spoken, some written, some even celebrated in song; but it wasn't until he was finally able to call up Ben on his own and then send him right back into the dark oblivion did he truly believe those words. The future was once again in his hands – his to mold as he wanted; as he chose and as he saw fit. He was in control.

He looks at Severide and smiles; knowing inside his heart that what he said was true, Kelly was the brother he never had and it was because of his strength and loyalty he was still standing today – he had helped him every step of the way, never once had listened to or had given in to Ben and even when he pushed him away by his own hand, Kelly had been there fighting back; getting him back on track and making sure that Ben never won. He was alive, in part thanks to Kelly Severide, a debt he wonders if he can ever pay back. He had helped him with his physical rehab, the two of them growing even closer over the month than even they thought possible.

As he hears his name being called, Casey finally moves from place and heads toward his truck; his team always having his back; his fiancé back where she belongs and a future family of his own in the works. He pauses for another second, feeling a set of eyes watching and turns to see Boden giving him a proud smile and nod. Casey smiles back before he climbs into the big red truck, slaps the side and catches Severide's glance in the large rear view mirror; both of them exchanging knowing glances – there was nothing – ever that would come up against them that couldn't defeat together. The bond – while tested to the impossible degree would hold – it would never be broken.

Ever.

THE END!


A/N: Well we have reached the end of this epic adventure! Gosh I know there was so much I could have added but didn't want to drag things out on and on and hope these snippets did the ending to this story some justice! If I have let anyone down with this then I do apologize!

It was my very first multi-chapter story for CF with our boys and certainly won't be my last! I really want to say THANK YOU ALL who stuck with this dark/angsty story right to the end. Right from the start it was always going to be a survivors story, focusing not so much on the momentary but very difficult setback (the actual assault) but rather how Casey was able to deal with it and of course move past to where he was back in full control of his life; his tormentor dead and his best bud at his side. I know some parts were difficult but we got past those right? So I really want to say I LOVED all your amazing reviews (they kept this story going) and would love your final thought on this chapter (and story in total) before you go and thanks so much! (and those that faved/followed but never reviewed a thank you at the end of this for all the time and hard work that went into it would be most appreciated).