To Mellsteele: Thank you for your review! I'm very glad you've liked this story so much so far!
Amjp: Thank you so very much! I am so pleased you think this story is well-described (something I feel I'm always terrible at) as well as coming across as mature. That means a lot. I try to write as far away from teen romances as I can. (PS: The description about Casey's heart was probably my favorite line in the chapter. I'm so flattered you pointed it out.)
I apologize for the wait. I've been having some pretty bad writer's block recently, and I've found it really tough to focus on any of my stories. I hope this chapter hasn't suffered as a result of that, but definitely let me know if it has. (I know the beginning sucks.)
Author's Note: Thank you to the few who reviewed. I would love to hear from more of you.
The loud BANG of the entrance doors slamming against the walls of Lakeshore Memorial Hospital made Chief Wallace Boden jump in place, but none of the doctors seemed to even notice the intrusion. They were all too focused on the patient they were rushing to the operating room—a young woman in her early thirties who had been involved in a car accident just a few minutes ago. She had what looked like multiple broken ribs, and was probably sporting a rather serious brain injury. They didn't have any time to waste.
"Is that her? Is that Dawson?" The sharp shout cut through the hustle and bustle of the hospital, and Boden recognized it at once.
He quickly moved away from the doctors surrounding Dawson's gurney to stop Casey before he got too close. The doctors would take care of Dawson, but he had to take care of his men, and he knew from the look on Casey's face that stopping even one of his firefighters from intervening wouldn't be as easy as he'd hoped.
"Let them do their job," the Chief said at once, not keen on letting anyone bother the doctors while they were trying to do their best. He caught the lieutenant around the middle, holding him back when he tried to rush around the Chief. "Casey!" He grunted, struggling to tighten his grip on the younger man. He hadn't expected the lieutenant to put up this spirited of a fight. "Casey!" Boden was shouting right into the man's ear, but Matt Casey didn't even seem to hear him.
"Let go; I need to see her! I need to tell her—"
"Casey." Boden put his hands on Matt's chest, forcefully pushing the younger man back. He stumbled back, and for a moment before Casey righted himself, Boden thought he was actually going to fall. Boden put a warning finger between himself and his lieutenant, telling him without even having to use words that Casey couldn't go any farther. "Right now there is nothing you can do," Boden told him hurriedly. His voice was low and hard, but he didn't care if he sounded insensitive. Sensitivity wouldn't make his lieutenant see sense, he'd known that from the moment the man had stormed into the ER. "There's nothing you can tell her. It isn't your job to fix her, Casey, so settle down." He bit out the last two words like they were separate sentences, staring his lieutenant dead in the eyes the entire time.
Casey seemed to sway on the spot at Boden's words. His gaze was fixed on Dawson even as the doctors wheeled her down a corridor on the left, towards the nearest operating room and out of sight. Boden eyed the other man warily, his body braced for another one of Casey's run-around attempts. As he watched, though, the younger man seemed to give up altogether on outwitting his superior.
"What… What are they saying?" Casey managed finally, his eyes still fixed on the point where Dawson disappeared from his line of sight. His face was clearly drained of blood; his skin looked more drawn and paler than usual. "How—How bad is she?" He swallowed, his Adam's apple sticking in his throat, and finally looked back to the Chief. His eyes had an unfocused quality to them, and even though the Chief knew Casey was looking at him, Boden couldn't be sure that Casey actually saw him. "Is she going to—make it?"
Chief Wallace Boden looked at his lieutenant sadly. He wished he had better news, but there was no use in prolonging the inevitable or sugar-coating reality. "I don't know yet," he answered quietly.
Casey blinked at the news, but gave no response.
Wallace Boden stared at his right-hand man with a mixture of concern and confusion swirling through his mind. Promoting Casey to be the lieutenant of truck 81 had been a no-brainer all those years ago. He was always—always, always, always—calm and cool and collected. Responsible. He knew what his job was, he knew what his crew's job was, and he made sure everyone, including himself, got that job done. That was why Boden had picked him to be lieutenant—because no matter the situation, Matthew Casey always had things under control.
But right now it looked like one of Chief Boden's most trusted firefighters was about to completely fall apart.
Boden had never seen him like this. He peered closer, looking into what he'd previously thought was lack of focus in his lieutenant's gaze. Were those actually tears clouding his eyes?
Boden allowed himself a short moment to be taken aback before letting out a tired sigh. He knew now that there had been probably many things been going on behind the scenes or after hours between the truck lieutenant and a certain paramedic… Why he hadn't been notified, Wallace Boden could not even begin to guess.
He wished he could demand an explanation, but Boden knew Casey was in no state to sit down and have a chat about his personal life right now—no matter how much it conflicted with his work life. The Chief sighed again, quieter now, wondering what to say. He wished he could feed Casey a white lie and say it would all be okay like he'd done with Shay. But Leslie had known the facts, the risks. She'd been there, and she was a paramedic, for god's sake. She had known full well that Boden had been lying to her to make her feel better when he'd said Dawson would be all right. Boden knew he couldn't lie to his distraught lieutenant like this. He wouldn't give the man false hope, not when he seemed so desperate.
"Go sit down in the waiting room," Boden advised quietly, not having anything else to say. He pointed towards a small hallway to his right. It led in the opposite direction of the operating rooms.
Casey shook his head obstinately, adamantly standing his ground. "No," he bit out, his chin jutting forward like a shield. "I'm not going anywhere."
Boden stepped closer, softening his voice as he put a hand on his lieutenant's shoulder. "Matt, look. I've been here, all right? I know how tough it is to wait for news like this." He paused to let that sink in before continuing as he knew he had to. "Casey, your men will be here in five minutes, and they're going to need your support, all right? Your leadership. You are not allowed to be a grieving family member," he added, his voice lowering to a growl as if to remind his lieutenant that Casey wasn't anything close to family where Gabriela Dawson was concerned.
Boden watched as anger and denial flitted across Casey's features. For a few seconds, he was certain Casey was going to make a run for it, try to get to Dawson again, but then—before Boden's very own eyes—the man seemed to deflate. The Chief could see resignation pull the lieutenant's face down even as his eyes flickered up, searching up and down the empty OR hallway for Dawson with what Boden could only describe as longing.
Wallace Boden bit his tongue. Half of him—the Chief half—wanted to sit Casey down and demand to know what the hell had been going on behind the scenes at the firehouse between him and Dawson. Boden did not appreciate being kept in the dark or out of the loop—especially not on things like this. Personal relationships were never a good thing to pursue within firehouses. Firefighters faced death daily—multiple times a day, usually—and romantic entanglements only made things worse when someone inevitably got hurt. With great difficulty, Boden held back the instinct to interrogate Casey. He knew the questioning would not be well received by his lieutenant, and besides, what was there to learn? He already knew they were involved; did the details really matter at this stage, with Dawson's health on the line? All it took was for the Chief to take one look at Matthew Casey to see how distressed the man was, and Boden knew far better than to question a man in this sort of state over a woman. He'd be useless—worse than useless—until she was out of the woods.
Boden sighed, not having anything else to say. "Fine," he muttered, giving in. He dropped his hands from holding Casey back, stepped aside, and let the man pass. Casey stared at him for a moment, curious, and before he had time to regret his decision, Boden tipped his head towards the hallway on the left. "Go on," he muttered, ushering Casey away.
Matt stared at his boss for approximately two seconds, in which he appeared to be grappling with whether or not he should thank the man who had barred his access to Gabriela in the first place for letting him go. In the end, he simply nodded quickly—in thanks or acknowledgement, Boden didn't know—before hurrying towards the ORs.
Boden watched him go, but soon enough Casey had completely disappeared down the hallway, and there was nothing left to watch. Not being able to retire to the waiting room himself, he situated himself in a relatively empty section of the ER and paced. It didn't take more than a couple of minutes for the stomping of ten-plus pairs of boots and jangling equipment to fill the ER. Boden met them at the door, and quietly and quickly explained the situation. He told them what he knew (which was very little) and then proceeded to direct them towards the waiting room. They all followed his orders without complaint or even the smallest protest.
No one spoke for a while until Peter Mills suddenly wondered, his head jerking up from where it had been hanging, studying the linoleum flooring, "Where's Lieutenant Casey?"
All the men of truck 81 looked up at the question. They all glanced around, each obviously thinking they'd be the one to spot their lieutenant, but after a moment it became clear that he really was missing. Then they all looked to their Chief, certain he'd have an explanation.
Boden took a moment to survey his firefighters in turn. To his quiet surprise, they all looked genuinely confused as to where Casey was and why he happened to be missing while everyone else was present. There wasn't one guilty or ashamed face. Not one of them looked to be in on whatever secret relationship had been going on between Casey and Dawson and Boden sighed, admitting that it wasn't his place to out the two, especially not with one still in the operating room.
"He's dealing with a personal matter," Boden answered, which was partly true, he supposed. "I've left him a message and I'm sure he'll be here as quick as he can manage."
That seemed to be enough for the group, for after listening, they all lapsed into silence once again. They sat, waiting and worrying, and no one said another word for a long time.
Kelly Severide hated hospitals.
Maybe it was because whenever he walked into one, he felt his shoulder tighten just a little bit more than usual. Or maybe it was because he'd seen too many people die in fires, he'd heard of too many bodies that never made it out of the ER alive. Whatever it was, he knew that walking through all those sterile, whitewashed rooms made his skin crawl, and that was enough to make him avoid them at all costs. He'd much rather walk into a crumbling, burning building than set foot in a state-of-the-art a hospital.
Nonetheless, Kelly bit the bullet and made his way through the ER entrance. He found Casey's men quick enough—they were all camped out together in the waiting room, conspicuous in both their number and look. They were all still decked out in their gear; the reflective tape on their jackets caught the light and shines when the fluorescent overheads hit it at just the right angle.
Kelly nodded to a few members of the truck squad when they looked up as he passed by, but he didn't stop to chat. He made a beeline for Boden.
"What have you heard?" he demanded. He'd spoken with Shay on the phone earlier, to check that she was in fact alive—he hadn't believed initial reports—but she'd had very little information to offer him on what was actually happening, stuck in an exam room as she was at the time. She'd somehow managed to sound both completely detached and at the verge of tears at the very same time. He needed to find her, talk to her… but first he had to find out what was going on. He'd heard Dawson was the one in worse shape, though he had no idea how much worse.
"Not much," the Chief replied grimly. "From the looks of it, it appears that she's got a pretty bad head injury and probably some broken ribs. We haven't gotten any official word yet from the surgeons, though." He sighed. "I know none of that's good, but she… she could be a lot worse," he finished in a mutter. Though no one said it, they could all hear it: At least she's alive for the time being.
Severide digested this slowly, and when he managed to make sense of it, he finally took a look around to get his bearings. Rescue Squad had pulled in a minute or two before him, and it looked like all of the truck squad was already here. He felt a pang of guilt for apparently being the last one to arrive. He looked around at the men, but none of them lifted their eyes to look up at him. They were all either looking down at the floor or staring off into space. He hadn't seen them look so despondent in a very long time.
Kelly quickly cleared his throat, hoping to rouse some of them out of their stupors. "So, uh, the other driver," he began, struggling to remember the few details he'd been told on the phone earlier, "this—this tow truck, was he DUI or—?"
"No," Otis replied at once, sounding just as exasperated about the news as Severide felt. For some reason, he couldn't help but feel like maybe the accident would've actually meant something if the other driver had been drunk. Then, at least, they would have someone to blame and punish. "Breathalyzer came up negative."
"It was a stupid freak thing," Mills added, his hands clasped together as he looked up at Severide. "The police said his truck blew a tire."
"What about Dawson's family?" Severide called, looking around and hoping to find someone who had some answers. The second he asked, he suddenly realized he had no idea who Dawson's family was. He knew she had a brother, but that was about it. He wished Casey were here, or Shay. Did anyone else really even know Dawson besides those two? Where the hell were they when he needed them both so much? And why hadn't the rest of them been better coworkers, better friends? "Her mother? Father?" He wondered, practically shooting the breeze now; he didn't even know if Dawson's parents were still alive. He searched the familiar crowd for answers, but no one seemed to have any. It made him feel both worse and better that he wasn't the only one who had no idea who Dawson's family was. "Does she have any sisters? Does anyone have her brother's—"
"I called her cousin."
Severide whirled around at the voice, coming face-to-face with a tired but rather healthy-looking Leslie Shay. He couldn't help but stare at her, frozen in place mid-sentence, before stepping forward and crushing her in a close hug. Kelly knew he was probably hurting her a bit by holding her so tightly, but he couldn't let up. Seeing her standing before him, he'd suddenly became very aware of how close he'd come to losing the most important person in his life and now that she was here—now that she was okay—he couldn't let her go.
The group sent smiles and called out happily a few times upon seeing their sassiest EMT back on her feet, but overall the mood in the waiting room remained rather subdued. Dawson was still in care, still nursing a brain injury and broken bones and god knew what else. She was still under the knife and no one would dare be happy while one of their own was still so severely injured.
Shay patted his back as they pulled apart. "I wanted to call Antonio," she added, answering his last question, "but I didn't have his number. I thought Casey might have it, after everything that happened with Voigt. I was just coming out here to talk with him…"
Kelly frowned at the mention of the truck squad's lieutenant. He looked around, searching for that familiar face and blonde hair, but said face didn't appear. Kelly didn't see him anywhere.
"Where's Casey?" He wondered aloud. He hadn't realized this until just now, but heading into the ER, it had been Casey he'd expected to receive him, not the Chief. Where was he? Severide looked out across the men, but no one looked ready to offer up an answer. He turned back to the Chief, feeling both shocked and offended. Dawson and Casey had been close for years; Severide couldn't believe he wasn't here for her now. She was hurt, in surgery, and maybe her life was in danger. Where was her goddamn best friend at a time like this? How could he have anything better to do than be right by her side?
"Where is he?" Severide asked again, more impatient this time. He knew his voice was rising, but he didn't give a damn. If it had been Shay in that operating room instead of Dawson, he would've been sure to be the first one at the ER. He would've stood in on the surgery and held her hand and promised her she'd be okay—who cared if the doctors told him he couldn't be there? He would never have left her to fend for herself at a time like this, and he couldn't believe Casey wouldn't do the same to protect Dawson.
"Severide." The Chief called Kelly over quietly, beckoning him a few feet away so as to keep their conversation private and inaudible from the rest of the group. Severide squeezed Shay's hand quickly before walking over to meet him.
The two came to a standstill about twelve feet from the rest of the group. For a few long seconds, Boden simply stared at his fearless squad lieutenant. Finally, in that serious, gravelly voice he usually retained for disciplinary meetings, the Chief asked, "Are you telling me you didn't know about this?"
"Know about what?" Severide shot back.
Boden's sharp eyes narrowed. "About Casey and Dawson."
The Chief watched, stupefied, as Severide didn't even bat an eyelash at the mention. He'd expected some sort of shock to cross the squad lieutenant's face, but there was nothing. "Yeah, what about them?" Kelly demanded immediately. "They're friends. And he should have been the first one here," he added heatedly, "Bottom line. If it had been Shay, I—"
"Casey's been here for nearly an hour," Boden interrupted quietly, watching shock he'd expected earlier replace the indignation on Kelly's face. Most of the group had only arrived twenty minutes ago; Severide himself had just walked in. But Casey had been here for almost an hour? Severide looked back over at the men, but still Casey hadn't materialized. Where was he hiding?
"So?" Severide wondered as he turned back around, his shock having dissipated. "If he's been here for an hour, then where is he? I haven't seen him." Kelly watched as Boden's eyes flickered to the hallway that led to the ORs, but he didn't bother looking over his shoulder towards the rooms. Dawson and her doctors were behind a wall; there was nothing to see.
But even so, Boden lifted a hand, pointing towards that OR hallway. Severide exhaled shortly, turning his head over his shoulder to look. At first he didn't see anything—just those pale white walls, the thick wooden doors, and a few nurses bustling about. He was about to turn back to the Chief and ask, "So what?" but then he did a double take. He didn't know exactly what he thought he'd seen before, but he definitely hadn't spotted Matthew Casey sitting on the floor, his body hunched forward as he leaned against the wall of the OR, the first time he'd looked. Severide blinked, but the man didn't disappear. He just pressed his forehead more firmly against his arms, which were crossed over his bent knees.
Severide's head snapped back to Boden's in the blink of an eye. "What the hell is he doing th—"
"He's been like that since he arrived," Boden explained, his voice turning grim again. "I had to stop him from running into the OR when he first stormed in." He stared his other lieutenant dead in the eye. "Are you really going to look me in the eye right now and tell me you didn't expect something like this when you heard Dawson was hurt, Kelly?"
Severide shook his head slowly, glancing back at Casey again. The man still hadn't moved. If his body hadn't been curled up into what looked like an extremely uncomfortable position, Severide might've thought Casey was meditating. As things stood now, though, it looked more like he was praying. Or grieving. He blinked, the thought washing over him. He'd never seen Casey cry. And until one minutes ago, he never expected that he would.
"I didn't…" The squad lieutenant cleared his throat, looking back to the Chief. "Chief, I have as little idea of what's going on with him as you seem to."
Boden eyed Severide for a long moment before waving him away. "Great," he sighed heavily. "So we've all been kept in the dark as to whatever's been going on with those two, and now one of them's in the hospital. Spectacular," he growled, in a dark tone that suggested this development was anything but spectacular. Kelly couldn't agree more. He watched as the Chief's eyes looked down the OR hallway, seeking out Casey again. Severide knew he was wondering how they'd all missed this, and Kelly wished he had an answer, an explanation to allay the Chief's concerns… but he truly did have no idea what was going on.
It wasn't like he and Casey ever really spoke outside of work, but still… He couldn't help but frown, looking over to his fellow lieutenant. How long had this thing between Casey and Dawson been going on right under all of their noses? How was it that none of them knew? None of them had even noticed? How had he, Severide, been ignorant so long? He was those two nearly every single day.
And then it hit him. He was stationed in a firehouse filled with men. Men who had a taxing job to do for twenty-four hours straight every few days, and another job on the side, on their days off, that they had to show up for. These men had families and wives and lives outside of the firehouse. These men had numerous other things to pay attention to besides a workplace romance unfolding a room or two away. And he was one of those men. He, and the rest of them, simply had better things to do than observe the nuances of Casey and Dawson's friendship-turned-romance as it progressed. In all honesty, he simply didn't care, and he knew that would hold true for the rest of the firehouse.
He and the rest all had other things to worry about—jobs and finances, children and wives… The only person that would've alerted any of them to the relationship was Casey himself, and being the extremely private person he was, it made sense that he wouldn't tell anyone. And the only person Dawson would've told…
It hit him like a ton of bricks, and the squad lieutenant smiled as he called for the Chief. Boden's eyes snapped back to him immediately. "I think I have an idea of who knows."
"You do?" Boden's gaze, while still a bit skeptical, narrowed with interest. "Who?"
"Don't worry about Casey and Dawson," Severide grinned, clapping his boss on the shoulder. "Shay will clear up everything."
"What do you mean you don't know anything?" Kelly demanded, dumbstruck. Shay had to know. Shay always knew everything. How could Shay not know? "Didn't—Didn't Dawson tell you about Casey?"
Shay snorted, shaking her head. "She told me he was still in love with Hallie this afternoon, but she didn't say much more than that."
Severide frowned, staring incredulously at his best friend. "In love with Hallie? What are you talking about?"
Shay shrugged. "What do you mean? He was engaged to the woman. He's supposed to be in love with her."
"Yeah, but, Shay—"
"Look, Kelly, I'm just repeating what Gaby told me this afternoon: they went to her cousin's Christmas party together, and nothing good happened."
"Define nothing good."
"Oh, I don't know, Kelly!" Shay exclaimed angrily. "I have no idea! She didn't tell me. She wouldn't talk about it; that's how bad it was! She just said that Casey was still into Hallie and then called herself an idiot. That was it."
"But he isn't in love with Hallie."
Shay sighed, putting her hands on her hips. "Okay, Mr. Love Doctor, tell me how you know that."
Severide stared at her as if she were crazy. "Are you kidding me? Have you seen him recently?"
A nervous laugh escaped Shay's mouth before she could hold it in. "You're not—You're not saying—" She broke off, grinning. "Kelly, come on. You're not saying that he's—in love with her, are you? Because Kelly, Gaby told me to my face that she knew he wanted Hallie instead." The smile fell of Leslie's face as she looked at the floor. "I know she was trying to act like it didn't matter," she muttered, "but I could see she was really broken up about it."
Shay fell silent then, and didn't elaborate. There was no point in telling Kelly that he had it all backwards—that it was Gaby that was in love with Casey, not the other way around. It had been that way for years now, and Shay knew better than to break the trust Gabriela had inadvertently put in Shay just by their close proximity. If Kelly couldn't figure out what was happening here on his own, then he didn't deserve to know in the first place.
"Yeah, well…" Severide scratched his head. "You know, he's pretty broken up, too."
Shay shook her head, scowling as she met Kelly's eyes again. "He's just feeling guilty about last night."
Severide shook his head. "It's more than that, Shay."
"Oh?" Shay questioned condescendingly. "Really, Kelly? And how do you know that? Are you two suddenly BFFs?"
"I know it because I have eyes," Severide shot back. "I've looked at him—haven't you? Didn't you see him sitting there? He looks like she's already been declared dea—"
"Wait," Shay cut in, holding up her hands. "See him sitting where? Casey's here? Where?"
Without a word, Severide left the entryway they'd been conversing in and headed down towards the ORs. He walked so purposefully that he nearly looked like he belonged (minus the white coat, scrubs, and stethoscope) and thankfully no one stopped them. Kelly guessed it was a busy day for surgeries, for when they made it to the OR hallway, it was nearly deserted. Just as they were approaching it, Kelly tugged on Shay's arm to hold her back. He pointed down the hallway. "There."
"What?" Shay asked immediately, scanning the upper part of the hallway. "Where—?" Her eyes fell to the floor. "Oh, god…" The words escaped in the softest whisper; the sight of Casey hunched over the floor had completely stolen her breath.
"Are you still going to keep trying to tell me this is all about him feeling guilty for some stupid spat at a Christmas party?" Kelly murmured quietly to her.
Slowly, Shay shook her head. She wanted to look Kelly in the eye and tell him he was right—that Casey was into Gaby, and that he… he probably cared for her very much, too—but she couldn't tear her eyes off of the man sitting on the floor. She had never—not once—seen Lieutenant Casey look like this. His body seemed to have caved in on itself; his knees were pressed up against his chest and his back was bent as he held his head in his hands.
Shay could feel her heart rate increase just staring at him. She'd been to hundreds of crime and accident scenes, but she'd never seen something like this. She'd never seen someone look so devastated, so hopeless, even when the end was coming…
She stared at him with wide eyes as his hands parted around his face. His fingers rubbed at his eyes, which Shay could spot as being red and irritated even from this distance. She resisted the urge to run forward and hug him—an urge she'd never felt in her entire life towards the truck lieutenant. She and Matthew Casey had never been friends—rarely were they anything more than polite coworkers (and sometimes not even that)—but right now, she knew exactly what he was going through and she wanted to help him however she could.
Without saying a word to Severide, Leslie made up her mind. She could hear him hissing at her to come back as she stepped away, but she ignored him. Kelly liked Dawson well enough, sure, but Shay knew he didn't understand what her being in mortal danger meant the same way she did. The same way Casey, it seemed, did. Severide was still calling after her as she made her way down the hallway, but as she neared Casey, his voice seemed to disappear. She didn't know if Kelly's voice had faded to the background or he had simply stopped talking, but it didn't really matter. She looked down at Casey sitting on the floor, and she knew all that mattered was that she helped him through this. That they helped each other through this.
"Do you mind if I sit?" She kept her voice quiet and soft, but still, he jumped when he heard her. He craned his neck, looking up at her, and she saw the fear enter his eyes for a moment. She gave him the biggest smile she could manage, which turned out to be incredibly small, and tried to tell him with her eyes that she was a friend in this instance. She supposed the grimace that appeared on his face was supposed to be a returning smile, and she welcomed it.
"Go ahead," he muttered, and even in those few words, she could hear how hoarse his voice had gotten. She suddenly wondered how long he'd been crying. His eyes looked even redder up close. When she snuck a look at his face, though, she found it conspicuously dry. She wondered how many times he'd rubbed his eyes raw today, clearing them of tears before they had had a chance to fall. Leslie Shay knew from experience that it was much more difficult to hold back tears than to just let them go.
She wracked her brain, but she couldn't find the words to tell Casey that it was okay to cry. It would be understandable, she wanted to say. They all cared about Dawson. Crying was natural. No one would think any less of him. She wouldn't care. No one would care. It was okay.
All those phrases floated through her mind, swirled in her mouth, but Shay couldn't manage to make her mouth move. Instead of consoling him as she knew she should, she ended up simply keeping him company for the next few hours. She sat by his side, both their backs aching as they leaned against the hard, pale white wall. Neither Casey nor Shay said a word, and no one ever said a word to them, either. Shay knew Kelly and Boden were probably spying on them from the ends of the hallway, but she didn't care enough to look over. All she could think about was the fact that Dawson was on the other side of the wall they were leaning against, very possibly fighting for her life. No one had been sent out with an update, and Shay knew that that was a bad sign. It meant the surgeons couldn't spare even the most inexperienced hands just for a few short minutes.
She tried not to think about Dawson's surgery too often, because it made her chest tight and her breathing shallow. She wished she had the ability to shut off her mind, but it was impossible. And even though she would rather think about anything else, all her mind was able to think about was Gabriela. She relieved their workdays, their days off; her mind ran through their friendship over and over and over again.
After a while, when her mind had grown so tired that she couldn't think much anymore, she found herself idyll wondering what Casey was thinking about. She knew he had to be thinking about Dawson, too, but what? Was he thinking about when they'd met? Or the first call they'd gone on together? Was he still worrying about whatever he'd done to upset Gabriela last night? Shay wished she was capable of reaching over and telling him it was okay. Dawson would forgive him. She had to, after how clearly he was showing that he cared about her now. One mistake wouldn't matter to her once she saw how staunchly he stood by her side now.
Shay shut her eyes, mystified. How could Gabriela have ever thought Casey wasn't interested in her? What could he have done that made her think that he didn't want her, didn't care for her, didn't…
Shay opened her eyes, and in a moment of silent bravery, she reached over and took Casey's hand. She could sense him stiffen at her side; she could feel the muscles in his palm go rigid in surprise and most likely disapproval at her touch, but she didn't let go. She swallowed, doing away with her fear for a moment, and looked over at him. He was staring down at their hands; she shifted her fingers so that they fell in line in between Casey's. He didn't protest.
Shay continued staring at him, but after a few seconds, it was clear he wasn't going to look up and meet her eyes. He was still staring down at their hands with an intensity she had rarely seen him exude.
Quietly, her voice shaky and still raw from all the tears she'd cried earlier, she whispered, "She'll be okay, Casey."
He nodded once. Twice. Three times. He didn't stop nodding; he kept going and going, and somewhere between the tenth and twentieth jerk of his head, he finally let go.
Shay had had all those words prepared to help him along. She was going to tell him it was okay to cry, that it was natural, that no one would judge him and no one would care… But now that there were real, actual tears on his face, she had no idea what to say. For a long minute, she just watched him as he stared straight ahead and cried. He didn't make a single sound, but still the tears kept coming. They cascaded down his face in a nearly endless stream, but not a single sound accompanied the breaking of the damn. Shay wondered privately when and where he had learned to cry so intensely without making even the smallest noise, but then she remembered what little she'd heard of his parents, and she realized maybe perfect Lieutenant Matthew Casey was just as fucked up as the rest of them…
And so she held his hand and let him cry and she didn't say a word. When he finally stopped—or tired himself out—she whispered again, just as softly as before: "She'll be okay, Casey."
Again, he didn't reply.
But a minute or so later, Shay felt a light squeeze on her right hand. Her eyes flew to Casey's, but he wasn't looking at her. His head was tilted back against the wall and he was using his free hand to wipe his bloodshot eyes and pinch the bridge of his nose. It was just as Shay was about to look back down again when he caught her eye.
He held her gaze for a short moment—just a few seconds—but in those few seconds, he managed to whisper, in a raspy but grateful voice, "Thank you, Shay."
"There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They are messengers of overwhelming grief and unspeakable love."
Author's Note: Detailed, informative reviews (whether positive or negative) would be INCREDIBLY appreciated. I would LOVE to hear from more of you. Thank you for reading.
(If any of you have watched Criminal Minds, that's where I got the Washington Irving quote from.)