“Casey, Severride, Cruz, and Ritter. My office, please, before you head out.”
The four firefighters exchanged puzzled glances before obediently following the Chief to his office. Casey took his usual spot, leaning against the wall by the windows, with Ritter next to him, while Severride and Cruz took the chairs in front of the desk, feeling a bit like kids being called into the principal’s office. Boden was last in, closing the door before settling back in his chair with a sigh.
“Have any of you been following the…antics of House 72?”
Cruz grinned, his face lighting up with humor. “Chloe got her entire office to buy twenty calendars and make an official donation in Otis’s name to the 100 Club,” he said proudly. “Although, I had to convince her to leave her copy at work. That’s more than I ever needed to see of those goofballs over there.”
The others relaxed slightly, snickering. The exploits of House 72 had been the cause of much ridicule and ball busting when the guys had finally dared to show their faces at Molly’s, but the calendar had raised much needed funds.
“Well the Office of Public Relations, against all predictability, has been…inspired by the success of 73,” Boden said dryly. “As you all know, the CFD charity ball is coming up. As of now, per Chief Huffhind’s enthusiastic recommendation, it is now a Valentine themed event…and will include a charity singles auction.”
All four jaws dropped.
“Non married officers are required to participate,” the Chief continued grimly. “And a member of each unit is strongly encouraged to volunteer as well, with no more than four persons from each house.”
Boden waited out the storm of protests and commentary before raising his brows, meeting Casey’s and Severride’s gazes first before travelling to the other two. “I know that you four will represent 51 to the best of your ability for this good cause.”
That silenced them instantly. He nodded, satisfied. “Dismissed.”
Grumbling, they filed out. Ritter was already on his phone, reading through the website about the event. “This isn’t going to be a simple matter of pooling our resources and getting our partners – or friends – to buy us,” he frowned as they trudged outside to their cars. “We are going to need to be strategic about it.”
Casey, Cruz, and Severride exchanged a grim look. “We are not meeting at Molly’s,” Cruz said as Casey opened his mouth. “Let’s not encourage the ball busting from everyone all at once, yeah?”
The storm of muttered curses he got was more than enough of an agreement.
“Fine.” Severride said grimly. “My place, five o’clock. Cruz, bring Chloe. Ritter, bring Eric-“ he stopped as the younger man shook his head.
“He’s out of town for work. Lots of people trying to get out of Chicago right now and it’s only going to get worse for Valentine’s Day in a couple of weeks,” he explained. “But I’ll bring him up to speed so he can at least start crunching numbers and see what we’ve got as far as funds to play with.”
“We’ll figure it out,” Casey reassured him, clapping him on the shoulder. “See you guys tonight.”
When they finally got back together later that night, Cruz had brought both Chloe and Emily with him, the paramedic having moved into Brett’s old room to help with rent and share expenses. Chloe would be moving into the apartment as well after the wedding, but she and Emily were talking about just switching places since she had a one bedroom in a prime location and was grandfathered in to her rent price.
Stella passed out beers as they all trooped into the apartment, sharing a commiserating grimace with the other women. They all settled in, a bit grimly. Ritter was the first to speak.
“Eric’s not happy, but he’s resigned to it,” he said with a sigh, glancing at Emily, who offered him a commiserating smile. “There’s nothing on the website about bidders buying more than one participant, so Emily and Chloe have got him covered for the actual bidding portion.” He shook his head. “CFD has come a long way in recognizing and acknowledging gay and bi firefighters, but it’s still mainly run by the good ol’ boys club.” He blew out a breath, his shoulders slumping slightly. “Usually I would protest, but I don’t want to take away from the cause.”
Casey, Cruz, and Severride exchanged a look, hearing Shay’s scolding voice and seeing her reproachful blue eyes in the back of their minds.
“You tell Eric that we expect to see him there front and center, and if he doesn’t bid on us too then we will be highly insulted,” Severride said firmly, meeting and holding the younger man’s gaze. “CFD and Public Relations can deal with the repercussions, if there are any. Not your problem or responsibility.”
Ritter nodded slowly, relaxing. “Thanks. I’ll tell him.”
“Well, if you guys are absolutely required to do this, then there’s no reason why we can’t have some fun with it,” Chloe offered from Cruz’s lap. “We can mix it up a bit, pool our resources as far as bidding goes, and then plan some group outing for the actual date thing.” She winked at Kidd, who grinned. “Safety in numbers, especially with all of you strapping firefighters, but you can advertise it that way too, build up publicity. The Fab Four of 51.”
Matching smiles slowly dawned on the guys’ faces.
“Chloe, you are an absolute genius!” Casey crowed, pulling her up out of Cruz’s lap and twirling her around as she squealed with laughter and clutched his shoulders.
In the background, Severride was smirking as he watched his friend’s antics. He knew better than anyone exactly why Casey was so relieved. The ball was a high profile event, so there was no way that Beth Pritchens and her technically ex-husband wouldn’t be there.
The Chief had been reassigned to another district and a smaller, slower house, but that had only given him more time for politicking. He had worked his way back up the ladder, and Beth, of course, hadn’t been able to resist the social status change and advancement. The only difference now was that they had turned her wandering eye and his jealousy into a sexual game, according to rumor, and both men knew that Casey would be a prime revenge target for them.
No need to share that with the rest of the group though. Casey put a flushed Chloe down. She staggered dramatically, pretending to swoon, only to grab at his biceps and squeeze before going for the hem of his shirt as he laughed and fended her off. Emily’s laughter was the loudest, knowing exactly what her friend was doing.
“Joe, I love you dearly, but ladies can we just take a minute here?” Chloe teased, still trying to lift his shirt up to check out his abs. “We’re seriously going to have to pass the boot for supplementary funds for this auction, because damn.”
“Cruz, your fiancé is getting awfully handsy over here,” Casey complained, still fending her off.
“Yeah, she does that.” Cruz shrugged, unconcerned. “Chloe, sweetheart, stop trying to feel up Captain America over there. Look away from the baby blues and the abs. Look away.”
She giggled as Casey finally caught her hands and twirled her, crossing her arms in front of her before picking her up and depositing her on her fiancé’s lap and escaping to sit safely behind Emily, who snickered at him.
“Otis started it,” Stella explained fondly. “Became a running joke on Truck, you know, as a sign of respect.” She grinned as Casey grumbled. “Maybe when Casey doesn’t do something ridiculously heroic for say, three shifts in a row, then we might change or drop it, but until then…”
“And it also appeased Capp-with-a-p, since we were now differentiating between him and Capt-with-a-t,” Severride added, never one to miss an opportunity to poke at his friend.
“Can we please get back to talking about the auction?” Casey sighed, shaking his head. “Ritter, does it say anything in the rules about participants offering a group or double date package type thing?”
The other man obligingly scrolled through the website, only to grimace. “Yeah. Participants will be auctioned individually, to give bidders an equal chance.”
The group slumped in disappointment. Individual meant that they would have to ration their funds carefully to cover all four men.
“Well, we can still hit up our friends at Med and in CPD,” Emily offered after a minute. “I don’t think we can be so blatant as to pass the boot or put out a jar, but I’m sure we can come up with enough to cover all of you.”
Further research proved more problems. Participants would be hitting the stage in reverse order of rank – Ritter and Cruz first, then Severride as a Lieutenant, and Casey last among the Captains.
“Guys, I don’t mind being a date casualty for a good cause,” Casey finally said in exasperation. “Of course I would prefer a night out with a friend instead of a stranger, but it’s really not that serious.” He shot Severride a hard warning look. “Anything else, I’ll deal with if it comes up.” The others recognized his resolute tone; this was Captain Casey issuing an order for them to stand down. “It’s late,” he continued more gently. “And absence makes the heart grow fonder, so go away so I can miss you.”
“Aww, Capt,” Cruz teased. “You love us. You really love us.”
“Go away, Cruz.”
“Aye aye, Captain.” Foster and Ritter snapped off cheeky salutes with matching grins.
“Insubordinates, all of you. Seriously, get out.” Casey rolled his eyes, herding them towards the door.
Chloe ducked around him to give Stella and Emily a hug good bye. “Thanks for including me tonight,” she said, smiling a bit wistfully. “Joe tells me all the time that you guys are his family, so it’s nice to know that I will actually get along with the in laws.”
“Yeah well, you just gained a bunch of annoying, overbearing, bossy older brother types, so welcome to the family,” Emily rolled her eyes teasingly at Severride. “Watch out for this one. He’s the worst of the lot.”