Two weeks later.
The CFD Charity Ball and Singles Auction was turning out to be a rousing success, both in terms of funds and for the crew at 51 personally. Their plan was working so far, with Eric, Stella, and Chloe all able to buy their men without too many contenders vying for a shot.
Severride watched from just off stage as Casey reluctantly walked the length of the stage to join the auctioneer, who was busy extolling all of his awards and commendations. The firefighter planted his feet and stood at parade rest, stoically handsome in his dark suit, as the bidding quickly climbed.
Emily was holding her own, increasing her bids by small enough amounts to stay within her budget, but she was quickly reaching her limit. Stella, Chloe, and Eric had some funds left over to help her out, but even that wasn’t looking to be enough.
“Fifteen hundred dollars! Fifteen hundred, going once, going twice – “
“Two thousand dollars,” a familiar female voice called calmly.
On stage, Casey froze.
“Fuck!” Severride cursed, as the other man barely waited for the auctioneer’s stunned shout of ‘Sold!’ before he was off the stage and heading for the payment table.
Severride and Cruz caught up to him before he got there, his pacing slowing as he got a clear view.
She slowly straightened from where she had been leaning over the payment table. Her gaze warmed as she saw Casey, her expression soft and welcoming. “Hey Matt,” she smiled, her husky voice low and intimate as she started towards him. Her gaze cooled slightly as she saw the others. “Severride. Cruz. Kidd.”
She had barely taken two steps when Stella darted in front of the men to wrap her in a hug. “What are you even doing here? How long are you in town?” she exclaimed, her voice just a touch too overly happy and bright.
Casey felt Severride and Cruz come up silently to stand at his shoulders, tension and anger radiating from their bodies.
“Flew in this morning, and I fly out early Friday. I stopped by 51, but you were all off.” Gabby replied lightly, her gaze still on Casey. “I’m here tonight to give some money, and also meet with Chief Hatcher and Chief Huffhinds.” She offered a slight shrug and a wry smile. “Seems that I have more of a knack for PR and fundraising than I realized, so they are reducing my field work and putting me more on this. Part of the proceeds for tonight will be allocated towards the relief effort, so really I was helping you guys by helping myself.”
Casey eyed her suspiciously, certain there was something that she was leaving out. She had loved field work, more than she had ever loved being a firefighter, yet she was willingly giving it up to play politics and rub elbows with the rich and elite?
“Speaking of the event tonight, I have no plans to follow through on the date thing, but Matt, I do need to speak with you – privately, if possible?” Her dark gaze flickered over Severride and Cruz.
He knew even before he looked at Severride that his friend wasn’t going anywhere, but he still tried. “Why don’t you three go swing by the table and see what Emily and Chloe and the guys want to drink, and I will meet you over at the bar in a few minutes?”
Severride snorted, shooting him a reproachful glare. “No, I’m good right here, thanks.”
Cruz widened his stance and planted his feet, silent backing his Lt. in squaring off with Casey, who returned Severride’s glare but didn’t force the issue.
She had removed her arms from Dawson, her brow furrowing as she glanced warily between him and Severride. Casey caught and held her gaze, a hint of pleading in his eyes. He could handle the two firefighters, but he needed her to go calm the others and get them to stand down, at least.
“Sure thing, Captain. You all good here?” Her question was for him but her gaze never left Severride and Cruz.
“We’re good. Just a quick conversation between old co-workers, because this is a highly publicized charity event, we are representing 51 and the CFD, and therefore are going to act accordingly.” His voice had an edge of rumbling steel to it that made them – Dawson included – automatically stiffen slightly at the warning and command.
Chief Tieburg and Chief Walker, who had drifted closer and paused to eye the group, both nodded approvingly at him and continued on their way. Stella nodded as well, moving to kiss Kelly on the cheek and lightly squeeze Cruz’s arm before walking away.
Dawson turned to face Cruz and Severride, lifting her chin defiantly as she prepared to go on the defensive. “Look – “
“Save it!” Cruz snapped, his voice low and dark with fury. “You couldn’t be bothered to come home for Otis, but the second your precious job orders you and pays your expenses, here you are.” He curled his lip in disdain, his eyes cold. “Don’t bother coming by 51 tomorrow. I won’t have you disrupting Herrmann’s life and hurting him with whatever paltry bullshit excuse you come up with, especially since everyone has just started to really heal again. You may be able to flit in here and back out again without looking back, but we’re the ones that have to deal with the aftermath.” He met Casey’s gaze pointedly. “Don’t do or say anything stupid that is going to upset your date. You’ve got maybe two more minutes before she comes over.”
“Copy that,” he replied quietly. “I’ll meet you and Severride over by the bar in a couple of minutes.”
Cruz nodded sharply, glancing over at Severride. “I could definitely go for a drink right now. Anything you want to add, Lieutenant?”
Severride snorted, his eyes glinting with sardonic amusement. “Pretty sure you covered it all for me, although I will reiterate the ‘don’t say or do anything stupid’ part,” he said wryly. His gaze travelled to Dawson and lingered for a moment, before he grimaced and shook his head, walking away as Cruz silently followed.
Casey and Dawson watched them go in silence, before she blew out a breath.
“Well. That was…intense.”
“What did you expect? I’m not the only one you left behind, Gabby.”
“I know! I know,” she snapped. “Just…I wasn’t expecting quite that level of hostility.” She planted her hands on her hips, bowing her head for a moment, before straightening to look at him. “Matt, we really do need to talk. Can we meet somewhere tomorrow? I have dinner commitments, but maybe – “
“I’m on shift tomorrow.”
She nodded, biting her lip. He watched her, suspicions crystalizing into certainty before the words were even out of her mouth. “I guess I’ll just tell you then.” She hesitated, reaching out to place a hand on his arm before dropping it back to her side. “I’m pregnant.”