DISCLAIMER: All television shows, movies, books, and other copyrighted material referred to in this work, and the characters, settings, and events thereof, are the properties of their respective owners. As this work is an interpretation of the original material and not for-profit, it constitutes fair use. References to real persons, places, or events are made in a fictional context, and are not intended to be libelous, defamatory, or in any way factual.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I don't give my beta Jade nearly the recognition she deserves for all the work she puts in looking over the stuff I send her (my WIP Faberry fic is over 300,000 words and she's read them all – that's dedication), but she outdid herself with this one. I dumped over 10,000 words of fic in her inbox yesterday and she went over it all within hours. Not only did she tell me where stuff needed to be fixed, but she also propped up my faltering ego and suggested a title for this thing. Safe to say, I think I have the bestest, most awesome beta ever. :)
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To mjduncan18[at]gmail.com
Life is like a series of dominoes set up in an intricate design of twists and turns that, when looked upon from a distance, are undeniably beautiful. Each domino is a singular instrument of simultaneous action and reaction. It stands tall, rigid and unmoving until, with a tumbling nudge, the forces of physics take hold and it falls into action, initiating yet another reaction from the domino set alongside it. This chain reaction is unstoppable once it's begun and though the inevitable end is a mess, it's how the dominoes fall that determines whether or not it was a success. Sometimes the result of that chain reaction is positive. Everything falls the way it's supposed to and the cascade is absolutely breathtaking. Sometimes the result is more ambiguous in that even though everything fell, it didn't happen quite as expected. And then there are the times where, from the moment that first domino tips over, nothing goes right at all.
It all started innocently enough, with a patrolman moving his cruiser that had been parked across lanes, blocking traffic, out of the way. That was the first domino to fall. Traffic began to move and an impatient driver jumped lanes to try and cut around the car in front of him that wasn't going fast enough. That was the second. The tow truck that was forced to swerve to avoid the reckless driver was the third. And it ended in a spectacular collision with the rear quarter panel of Ambulance 61 that was still parked in the middle of the intersection. That was the fourth and final domino to fall, and the one where the full destructive impact of this particular chain reaction was felt.
Chaos reigned for an infinite instant as the sounds of screeching brakes, squealing tires, and metal screaming in protest as it bent into new, unintended shapes filled the air. Glass exploded as the ambulance was thrown into a spin, sending the two fragile bodies inside the bay crashing into the walls with sickening thuds as flesh and bone gave way, unable to withstand the force of impact. The ambulance teetered precariously on two wheels for the space of a single heartbeat before it crashed heavily back to the ground, all of the chaotic inertia from a moment before completely spent as order prevailed.
And then there was nothing but silence as the universe seemed to pause in surprise, taking a moment to absorb what had just happened before beginning again in a rush of noise and activity that was evidence of life re-setting itself.
The first thing Dawson saw once she finally managed to struggle to her feet was Shay laid out across the floor of the ambulance, glass glittering in her hair and blood seeping out of a vicious scalp wound to coat the entire left side of her face. Her breath caught in her throat as she scrambled over to the blonde and her heart skipped a beat as she gently reached out to make sure she had a pulse.
She did. Her heart started beating again as she gently turned the blonde's face toward her. "Shay! Shay!"
"Oh god. No no no no no," she muttered helplessly as she looked out the back door of the ambulance. There was a crowd gathered outside, worried civilians awestruck by the awesome destruction they just witnessed. "SOMEBODY HELP! CALL 9-1-1!"
The tears she'd been holding back began to fall as she screamed, "NOW!"
Finally, action. Movement. Somebody pulling out their cell phone. Dialing. Calling. Urging the dispatcher to send help only to be told that the officer who had inadvertently started this disastrous chain of events had already called it in.
Dawson bit her lip as she directed the entirety of her focus on her injured partner, her tears falling faster as she tried and failed to not think about all the things that could be wrong. "You are not going to die on me, Shay. You hear me?" she said, her voice one of pure defiance as she began searching for a C-Collar, knowing that she needed to stabilize the blonde's neck.
Sirens split the air as she carefully Velcroed the brace shut and she swallowed thickly as she assessed her partner. Shay was still unconscious and there wasn't much else she could do for her beside try and stop her bleeding. But she hadn't a clue where her supplies had ended up and she wasn't entirely sure where she had even found the neck brace.
The sirens grew louder and louder until they were almost deafening as help rushed to the scene, and then they stopped. Silence descended upon the interior of the shattered ambulance again but Dawson was so focused on Shay that she barely noticed any of it.
"Come on, sweetie," she cooed as she used her hands to apply pressure to the cut on Shay's scalp. "Wake up."
The sound of frantic yelling and pounding feet drew Dawson's attention to the back doors of the bay and she bit her lip as she looked at the paramedics who'd just arrived on scene.
"How is she?" they asked as they climbed carefully into the back of the ambulance, the glass littering the floor crunching loudly beneath the rubber soles of their boots.
"Unresponsive," Dawson muttered, her own consciousness beginning to swim as the adrenaline that had flooded through her system at seeing Shay hurt began to fade.
"You collared her?" the shorter of the paramedics asked, not even bothering to watch Dawson nod as he turned and yelled, "GET ME A BACKBOARD AND A STRETCHER, STAT!" to the other paramedics on scene. "Pulse is there. Thready, but there. We need to get her in ASAP," he told Dawson. "What happened?"
Dawson shook her head. "I don't know," she muttered as her head filled with the numbing buzz of impending unconsciousness. "I don't "
The paramedic attending to Shay looked up at the sound of a body hitting the floor. "SHIT!"
The moment Dawson had been cleared by an ER doctor; she grabbed her coat and bolted out of the curtained emergency triage area. Her doctor's protesting cries that she should at least take a moment to clean herself up fell on deaf ears as she all but sprinted to where she knew they would have taken Shay. She didn't care that her head was still bloodied or that there were still tiny shards of glass stuck in her hair and the collar of her coat where they dug into the soft skin at the back of her neck. Her personal discomfort was an unimportant, something that didn't even register to her conscious mind.
Nothing mattered to her except Shay.
She slowed to a fast walk as she rounded the corner to the waiting room. Her eyes stung with tears as she was confronted by Chief Boden who looked so strong and fatherly and concerned that she wanted to break down, but she didn't allow herself that weakness. She couldn't. She knew that if she started to cry now, that she wouldn't be able to stop. And Shay needed her to be strong.
She didn't notice the shaken, worried looks the guys shot her as she walked past them to stand sentinel just outside the arc of the swinging doors that separated her from Shay. She didn't notice when Severide moved to stand just behind her and she certainly didn't realize it was because she looked like she was two seconds from collapsing. Her entire being was focused on the broken body of her partner that was through those doors.
Her heart stopped beating as a doctor in blood-spattered blue scrubs pushed through the swinging doors to the waiting room. She bit her lip as she stared at him, forcing herself to ignore the blood on his clothes. The blood that she knew belonged to Shay. Her Shay. That was a slippery slope of emotion she knew she couldn't allow herself to traverse just yet, so she instead focused on the doctor's face and his kind blue eyes as she tried to read his expression for the news he had that she so desperately needed.
"She's out of surgery and doing as well as can be expected at this point," he announced without preamble, answering the question he knew was on the tip of all of the firefighter's tongues as he tore the cloth cap from his head. "She's in post-op now. My name is Mark Shepherd; I am the one who operated on Ms. Shay. Chief Boden?"
"Right here," the chief said as he stepped forward.
"Sir," Shepherd tipped his head at the chief. "And, Gabriela Dawson? Ms. Shay's medical power of attorney?"
Dawson cleared her throat. "That's me."
"Right, well, if you two could please come with me, I can fill you in on the rest of her status."
"You can do it here," Dawson said, shaking her head. "We're all family."
"I thought that might be your response," the doctor replied knowingly, having been practicing long enough to know exactly how protective firemen and police officers were of their own. "Ms. Shay suffered extensive internal injuries from the collision as well as a concussion. There isn't any significant swelling of her brain at this point and no intracranial bleeds, so I'm optimistic on that front. As far as her internal injuries go, we had to remove her spleen and repair a tear in her liver. You should also know that she did code for approximately twenty seconds when she was on the table."
Dawson's knees gave way and if it wasn't for a strong hand landing under her arm, she might have dropped all the way to the floor. "What else?"
"Steady," Severide muttered as he braced a hand under Dawson's elbow. He might have had a falling out with Shay over the drugs, but he loved her and he needed to hear first-hand that the blonde would be okay.
The surgeon eyed Dawson's bloodied head as he answered, "Broken ribs. Broken wrist. We'll need to keep an eye on her lungs to make sure that the broken ribs don't puncture them. All in all, considering the force of the impact and the fact that she was standing in the back of the ambulance when it happened, she is extremely lucky. Were you with her?"
Dawson nodded. "Yeah. When " She cleared her throat. "When can I see her?"
"She's still under anesthesia at the moment but I can let two of you-" he looked at the group assembled, "-back to see her now. We will be moving her to a bed in ICU soon until she regains consciousness, so she won't be allowed to have more than two visitors at a time and no one beside Ms. Dawson will be able to stay for longer than fifteen minutes. Ms. Shay is not out of the woods yet, gentlemen, and she needs all the rest she can get."
"Understood," Chief Boden assured him. "Dawson, Severide, go. We'll wait out here."
"Thank you, sir," Severide said, glancing gratefully over at the Chief.
Dawson just wordlessly followed the surgeon through the doors that would take her to Shay. The surgical corridor was quiet except for the soft sounds of voices filtering out of the different ORs as they passed. The doctor waved them into a large rectangular room at the end of the hall, and cleared his throat as they neared the foot of his most recent patient's bed. "I'll leave you two here. Talk to her. Let her know that she has something to wake up for. I'll check back in with you all later."
"Oh, Shay," Dawson murmured as she approached the blonde's bedside. Her face was clean of the blood that had coated it at the scene and the glass that had been in her hair had been removed, but her beautiful face was swollen and bruised. There was a long line of stitches across the upper left side of her brow and her right forearm was casted, her inner arm placed against her side to facilitate elevating the wounded wrist to prohibit swelling. She swallowed thickly as she reached out to tenderly trace the uninjured side of the blonde's face with her fingertips, needing that tactile reminder that Shay really was still here with her.
"She'll be okay," Severide said softly. "She's strong. She'll be okay."
"I know," Dawson said, licking her lips as she refused to look away from her partner. "But "
Severide nodded but didn't say anything in response because, really, there was nothing to say. No words that could make the hurt they were feeling any less. Nothing would make either of them, any of them, feel better until Shay opened her eyes and spoke. So they didn't talk. They just stood in silence beside Shay's bed, their eyes tracking slowly over the face of the woman they both loved as they silently willed her to wake up.
"I'm sorry, but we're moving her up to the ICU now," a nurse said as she approached Shay's bed. "Her anesthesia should be wearing off soon and we need to have her somewhere where we can monitor her more closely than here."
"Right," Severide said, nodding as he discreetly wiped at his eyes. "I'll go tell the guys."
"I'm going with her," Dawson said. "I'm not leaving her," she added, almost defiantly.
"Doctor Shepherd said that would be fine," the nurse said, smiling gently at Dawson. She looked at Severide and added, "She'll be in bed seven, but she won't be allowed to have any more visitors for the next few hours as we monitor the way she comes off her anesthesia."
"I'll make sure they know," Severide said. "Will we be able to call up and check in on her?"
"Yes, but try not to overdo it," the nurse said, smiling warmly at him. "My brother is a firefighter in Tucson, so I know how tight you guys are. Just make sure you let us do our jobs too, okay?"
"Yes ma'am," Severide said, nodding. "I'll see you in a bit, Dawson. Take care of her."
"I'll do my best," Dawson whispered as she looked back at Shay.
The ICU was just a series of beds separated by thin hanging curtains arranged around the nursing staff's large central desk. There was essentially no privacy. Each curtained off area was open to the nurses' station so that they could keep a constant watch on their patients. Machines beeped and whirred and whooshed quietly from all sides, and voices never rose above a whisper.
Dawson noticed none of this, however, as she walked into Shay's unit.
The blonde had made little noises and kicked her feet a bit in the elevator on the way up, and she was desperate for more of a sign that the blonde was going to regain consciousness. She needed to see Shay's bright green eyes laughing at her for being so worried. She needed to hear that sweet voice of hers telling her that everything would be okay.
The bay for bed seven was smack in the middle of the eastern wall of the unit and though it killed her to do it, Dawson hung back as Shay's bed was rolled into place and the wheels locked, giving the nurse the room she needed to set up the monitoring equipment Doctor Shepherd had ordered. She chewed her lip nervously as she watched the nurse's every move, memorizing everything the older woman did so that she could repeat the measures if needed.
"Come on, you," the nurse said, smiling at Dawson as she moved out of the way. "She needs you more than she needs us right now."
Dawson nodded. "Thank you."
"Thank you. Don't worry, hon. We'll get your girl home to you soon," the nurse said, patting Dawson's shoulder affectionately as she passed. "Just talk to her. Remind her that there are people who love her that are waiting for her to wake up."
"My " Dawson's voice trailed off. "Oh, we're not I mean "
The nurse smiled, looking both embarrassed and not entirely convinced by the brunette's protestations. "My mistake. I apologize."
"No, no. It's okay," Dawson murmured. Her eyes swept over the myriad of machines surrounding Shay and she felt woefully inadequate. She knew a little about head injuries, mostly how to treat them on scene, but this, looking at her friend who was just not waking up, was completely outside her level of knowledge and she desperately wanted to hear somebody who looked at these monitors day after day and understood what the numbers they were showing might suggest to give her just a little bit of hope. "Do you think she'll wake up soon?"
"It's hard to say," the nurse answered gently. "But she was showing good signs of it on the way up, so I'm hopeful. My name is Jane if you need anything."
"Thank you," Dawson whispered, her heart feeling a little lighter at the thought of Shay waking up soon. That momentary reprieve from the nearly crippling fear was brief, however, because when she took her place at Shay's bedside and gathered the blonde's hand in her own, she was slapped with the reminder that though the nurse was hopeful, Shay was still not with her.
She licked her lips as she glanced over her shoulder to make sure that they were as alone as the ICU would allow, and swallowed thickly as she pulled the lone chair in the room over to her so she could sit. Shay's hand was limp in her own, cool to the touch, and Dawson found herself absently smoothing her thumb over the back of the blonde's knuckles as she stared imploringly up at her.
"Please wake up, Shay," she whispered fervently. "Please wake up."
No response. The hand in her own remained limp and unmoving, and she swallowed thickly to try and fight back the tears that she could feel building. She repeated the soft-spoken plea over and over again inside her head, silently willing the blonde to wake up, trying to force her into consciousness by sheer will alone. But for as much as she needed Shay to wake up, the blonde remained trapped in unconsciousness.
Please wake up, sweetie. I need you to wake up, she thought, her eyes growing heavy as the events of the day bore down on her. Please, Leslie. I need you. She yawned and her head leaned forward to rest on the edge of the blonde's bed. I love you.
"How is Shay doing?" Boden whispered.
Jane, the nurse who had brought the blonde up to the ICU, answered softly, "Vitals are continuing to improve. She's on heavy doses of pain medication to help her body deal with the trauma it sustained so those are probably making it a little harder for her to wake up, but if we don't have that pain clamped down when she comes to she's going to wish she were unconscious again."
"I understand," Boden said, nodding. He looked at Dawson, who was slumped over the side of Shay's bed, her head resting on the blankets beside the blonde's hip. "How's Dawson doing?"
"She wants her friend to wake up," Jane answered simply. "I think once that happens she'll be doing a lot better."
"They're tight, those two," Boden murmured.
"I noticed," Jane chuckled. "Very protective, that one."
He smiled. "That she is. That she is. I'm going to go back down and tell the guys what's going on, maybe see if I can get some of them to head home for the night to sleep."
"Will you be going too? Would you like to leave me a number that I can reach you at if her condition changes?"
Boden shook his head. "Nah. I got nowhere else I need to be right now."
"Would you like me to bring in another chair for you so you can sit with Ms. Dawson?"
"Thank you, but no," Boden said, smiling gratefully at Jane before he turned his attention to his paramedics. They had always been close, but the intimacy he saw in front of him now was enough to make his heart swell with hope that Dawson might finally begin to understand why Shay was so devoted to her, and vice versa. "The only person Shay needs right now is Dawson, and Dawson doesn't need me underfoot making her feel uncomfortable about how much she cares about Shay."
A gentle hand squeezing her own urged Dawson awake, and she blinked blearily as she tried to focus on where she was. Her back and neck were killing her and both her feet were asleep, and she was disoriented until her eyes traced over the myriad of medical equipment that surrounded her. The hospital. ICU. Shay. Her mind worked faster and faster as the nightmarish events of the last day rushed back to her.
And then she felt it again. A weak squeeze on her hand.
"Shay?" she murmured hopefully, her eyes darting up toward the blonde's face. Cloudy green eyes stared back at her and she felt her heart skip a beat. "Oh sweetie," she murmured as she jumped to her feet. Ignoring the pins and needles that shot through them at the action, she leaned over the bed and smiled at her partner. "Hey."
"Hey," Shay murmured, her voice low and rough from being intubated during surgery and her prolonged unconsciousness. "What happened?"
"I'm sorry," Nurse Jane said as she interrupted the women. She smiled apologetically at Dawson and added, "I need to check on her now that she's awake."
"Yeah. Yeah, of course," Dawson murmured.
"Just stay where you are, I'll work around you for now," Jane said, and she didn't miss the look of pure relief that flashed across Dawson's eyes before the brunette turned back to toward her friend.
"Do you remember your name?" Jane asked.
"Leslie Elisabeth Shay, but everybody just calls me Shay."
"Okay then. Shay, do you remember what happened?"
"We were finishing up a call, stowing our gear to head back to the station, and . a truck hit us?" she said, looking questioningly at Dawson for confirmation.
"Okay. Good. On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate your pain right now?" Jane asked as she made note of the blonde's pulse and O2 levels on her chart.
"Excellent, that means the meds are doing their job."
"A six means they're working?" Shay asked.
"Sweetie," Dawson murmured, shaking her head as she gave the blonde's hand a gentle squeeze. "You had a tear in your liver that they had to repair and they had to take out your spleen. You have broken ribs, a broken wrist, and a concussion. You you actually coded on the table, Shay," she said, her voice cracking with emotion. "So, yeah. A six is really, really good."
"Ms. Dawson summed all that up quite nicely," Doctor Shepherd said, nodding as he entered the room. "Hello, Ms. Shay. My name is Doctor Shepherd. I'm the one who operated on you earlier today."
Shay nodded. "Hello."
"Lovely to meet you," he replied genially. "Your body suffered quite a bit of trauma from the accident, but now that you're awake I'm optimistic that you are slowly but surely working your way out of the woods. I'm going to need to examine you, and if you continue to show signs of improvement, we can move you to a regular room tomorrow. Sound good?"
Shay nodded. "When can I go home?"
Doctor Shepherd chuckled. "How about we see how you do over the next couple days, and then we'll talk about it." He looked from Shay to Dawson and bit his lip thoughtfully. "Ms. Dawson, I'm going to need you to step outside so I can examine your friend now."
The idea of leaving Shay's side felt like an actual blow that knocked the wind from her lungs, and Dawson nodded slowly as she tried to force herself to let go of the blonde's hand.
"Just a couple of minutes," Doctor Shepherd assured her. "Why don't you take this time to maybe head down to the restroom and clean up a bit. Now that Shay's awake, you can at least get some of the glass and stuff off of you."
Dawson looked at Shay. "You'll be okay?"
"I'll be fine, sweetie," Shay assured her.
"I'll be right back," Dawson said, nodding.
"I'm not going anywhere," Shay said, smiling.
Dawson nodded as her eyes filled with tears, happy tears of relief that her friend was awake and talking to her and tears of frustration because she didn't want to leave her side, and she regretfully let go of the blonde's hand that she'd been holding the entire time. "Okay."
It didn't escape either Doctor Shepherd or Jane's attention that the two women held eye contact with each other for as long as possible.
Once Dawson was gone, the doctor turned back to his patient. "Right. Well, let's get this over with quickly because I have no doubt that she'll be returning shortly." He pulled the blanket down and shifted Shay's gown up so that he could check the incision that cut across her abdomen. "This looks good, minimal seepage," he reported to Jane who was taking notes. He worked through the rest of Shay's injuries in a similarly efficient manner, and smiled as he looped his stethoscope back around his neck. "You're doing as well as can be expected. I'm going to leave the catheter in until we move you to a regular room; but, even then, you're not to go to the bathroom alone. You'll either need to ask Ms. Dawson to assist you or page a nurse. You are going to be very sore for the next week or so, and I recommend trying to not cough or laugh because both will hurt like you wouldn't believe."
"Got it," Shay replied.
"Mmm, I remember that from my c-sections," Jane muttered, nodding. "He's right."
"Can I come back in?" Dawson asked as she hovered just outside Shay's room.
"Of course," Doctor Shepherd said, smiling as he stepped out of the way to allow the brunette to retake her position at Shay's side. "I was just going over some of what will happen."
"Okay. Everything good?" Dawson asked as she gratefully took Shay's outstretched hand.
"Yes," Doctor Shepherd said. "I'll have Jane get you guys a menu from the cafeteria so you can pick something for dinner, Shay think soft foods and small portions for the next few days, and I'll check back in before my shift ends. Sound good?"
"Thank you, doctor," Shay and Dawson answered.
"Thank you, ladies," Shepherd answered with a grin. "I'll see you two in a bit."
"You're looking better," Shay said as she looked up at Dawson. "The blood was a nice touch, though. Very macabre. Didn't somebody try and make you take a shower or something?"
Dawson chuckled and nodded. "Yeah. They did."
"But you ignored them."
"I " Dawson's voice trailed off and she just nodded. She couldn't explain why she had been so absolutely frantic about seeing Shay to the point that nothing else even registered with her. She just knew that when she came to in the ambulance that was following Shay's to the hospital, she'd been panicked. The last thing she'd seen of the blonde before she passed out was her slack face covered in blood and glass, and the last thing she'd remembered was the paramedic on scene saying that Shay's pulse was weak and that they needed to get her to a hospital ASAP. And it didn't get any better when Shay was wheeled right back to surgery and she'd been shuttered off to a general ER intake bed.
The pained expression on Dawson's face was easy enough for Shay to read and she smiled reassuringly at the brunette as she gave her hand another gentle squeeze, reassuring her with a touch that she was still there. "Hey. I'm okay."
Dawson nodded. "Yeah. I was just so scared, Leslie," she whispered.
"Shh, c'mere," Shay murmured, beckoning the brunette closer with her casted hand. She pulled Dawson into a light embrace, her injuries wouldn't allow her to hold the brunette any other way, and sighed as she felt a soft kiss brushed across her cheek. "I'm okay, Gabs. I'm okay."
"I know," Dawson murmured, closing her eyes and soaking in the feeling of Leslie's warm skin against her own.
"I love you, you know," Shay whispered, her eyes fluttering shut as Dawson brushed another soft kiss across her cheek.
Dawson smiled. "I know. I love you too."
In the hall, Severide smiled to himself as he watched Dawson and Shay tenderly embrace each other, and he waited until Dawson pulled back, smiling shyly as she tucked her hair behind her ears, to make his presence known.
"Word is that Sleeping Beauty is awake," he said as he made his way slowly to the foot of Shay's bed.
Shay nodded and smiled. "Not sure who you're referring to, but I'm awake."
"You had us all scared," Severide told her plainly. "I was fucking terrified, Shay."
"I'm okay," Shay said, surprised that Dawson didn't let go of her hand as Severide joined them. Not that it was a bad thing; the brunette had just always been a little self-conscious about showing this level of intimacy around other people before. "How are you, Kel?"
"Good." He bit his lip and looked around the room. "When are they letting you go?"
"Few days," Shay said, rolling her eyes. "Pretty standard for something like this."
"Are you coming home?" he asked softly, letting his eyes fill the emotion he generally kept under wraps.
Shay shook her head. "I'm going to stay with Gabby for a while."
"Yeah, I get it," he mumbled. He sighed and nodded. "Okay."
"Kelly," Shay sighed. "Please."
"No. It's cool. I get it," he assured her, flashing his trademark devil may care grin. "It's cool. Look, I gotta go see a guy about something so I'll catch you later, okay?"
Shay nodded. "Yeah. Okay."
"I really am glad that you're okay," he added, holding her gaze captive for a moment so she could see that he meant it before he turned on his heel and sauntered out of the ICU.
"So are you ever going to tell me what's going on with you two?" Dawson asked once they were alone again.
"Nope," Shay replied, popping the 'P' definitively. She yawned and added, "I'm sorry."
"Don't be sorry," Dawson murmured. "Close your eyes and rest up a bit. When Jane comes by with the dinner menu I'll just get you something you like."
Dawson smiled and gave the blonde's hand a squeeze. "No problem."
A heart rate monitor began beeping furiously at a little after three a.m. and Dawson snapped awake, her eyes immediately going to the bevy of machines tracking each and every one of Shay's vitals. Her heart raced as she checked and rechecked the blonde's machines until she was satisfied that Shay really was okay and that the alarm that had woken her belonged to somebody.
"Fucking hell," she muttered as she dropped heavily back to her chair with her pulse pounding in her ears, and rubbed a hand over her eyes as the alarm was silenced. She took a deep breath and held it, trying to calm herself. It didn't work and she groaned as she listened to nurses and doctors hurry to the bed where the alarm had sounded.
Her mind, startled into an acute level of alertness, continued to churn as she stared at Shay, who had slept through the excitement. She swallowed thickly as she stared unabashedly at her friend, her eyes tracking slowly over the bruises on her face.
"I don't know what I'd do if I lost you," she whispered, the confession falling from her lips on a breath.
Her breath hitched as the weight of what she'd just said settled squarely on her chest and she licked her lips as she tried to figure out why. Shay was her best friend, so it was a given that she would be affected whenever the blonde was injured, but the crushing despondency she'd felt earlier was more than that. The euphoric high that had rushed through her when Shay had woken up was similarly extreme. She hadn't been reacting as a friend; she'd been reacting like the spouses of people she would work on at scenes. Like the people who were terrified that the loves of their lives were going to die, leaving them alone and adrift in the world with no one to anchor them.
Yes, losing Shay would shatter her, there was no point even trying to deny that fact because she'd been faced with the hard reality of that possibility earlier and she'd behaved exactly like those terrified spouses.
But what does it all mean? She thought, taking another deep breath as her eyes tracked the way Shay's chest moved up and down as the blonde breathed, drawing immeasurable comfort from the visible proof that she was okay.
The idea of losing her leaves me utterly broken. But why?
She sighed and licked her lips.
She's the one I call when I need to talk. She's the one I call when I need help picking out a dress. She's the one I know will always be there for me. She's the one who has never let me down. She's the one who has my back no matter what.
Her thoughts continued to tumble from one to the next like a line of dominoes falling, the momentum building as each revelation brought forth another.
She's the one who will step in and perform a procedure she's not comfortable with but that needs to be done so that I won't get in trouble for it. She would do anything she could to make me happy and safe. She trusts me. She loves me.
Her breath hitched and she nodded. It wasn't a startling revelation, the blonde had admitted as such earlier and had, on a countless number of occasions before. But she began to see that it wasn't just a platonic love.
She smiles at me like I'm everything she wants in the world.
There it was. And now that she was thinking about it, she couldn't help but mentally flip through snapshots of memories of the times Shay would look at her with a soft, contented smile tweaking the corner of her lips. It would always make her feel special and her stomach flutter nervously, but she'd never allowed herself to opportunity to sit down and wonder why it was that Shay could affect her so profoundly.
I love her.
Not a new thought. She knew that she loved Shay. But, in light of the way the blonde's injury affected her and her subsequent reactions to it, she was forced to face the fact that her love for Shay might not be the platonic, sisterly love she always thought it was.
I need her. I can't go a day without talking to her. I am happiest when I'm working and I know it's because she's there. She makes me feel happy. Loved. Safe. Protected.
"Oh wow," she murmured as her cascading thoughts led her to only one possible conclusion. "I love her."
Shay whimpered softly in her sleep and Dawson licked her lips as she looked at the blonde and finally understood why she had always been so enamored with her.
I'm in love with her.
The question now was, what did she do about it? Because she tried the whole "go after what she wanted" thing with Casey and look how that turned out. And he was, on paper, perfect. Smart. Compassionate. He had a respectable job, a steady income. He was honest. Loyal. Her parents would have loved him and they would have finally realized that she was doing something right with her life. And Shay well, a woman was certainly not whom her parents were hoping she'd bring home for Sunday dinner with the family. But, the more she thought about it, Casey and Shay had a lot of the same character traits that she valued. Honesty. Compassion. Loyalty. And her parents do love Shay, but she knows that the minute she tells them that she is in love with the blonde, the shit would be sure to hit the fan.
When Shay woke up the next morning, she smiled as she saw Dawson bent in what had to be an incredibly uncomfortable position over the side of the bed. Her head felt clearer than it had the night before, and she welcomed the lucidity. She swallowed thickly as her eyes fell to her hand that was tucked into Dawson's. Even the most innocent touch that she shared with the brunette had always felt so right and even though she knew that Dawson meant nothing more than friendship from the simple touch, she couldn't help but wish for more.
She knew that she'd broken the first law of lesbianism by falling for the brunette, but it had been impossible not to. She had tried, oh how she had tried, but it had been a lost cause from the get go. And it didn't help that she would catch Dawson staring at her, a speculative look in her eyes that would disappear the moment she'd realized she'd been caught. Compounded with the way Dawson just got her knew what to say and when to say it, when to hug her and when to back off and give her space falling for the brunette had been as easy as breathing. And just as impossible to stop doing. But it didn't matter because Dawson didn't love her like that; no matter how badly she wished otherwise.
The sound of footsteps coming closer drew her out of her introspective reverie and she smiled at the nurse who stood at the foot of her bed. The woman appeared to be not much older than she was, looked to be barely an inch over five feet tall, and had curly red hair and a fair, freckled Irish complexion. "Hello."
"Hi," the nurse whispered, glancing at Dawson who let out a little snore.
Shay chuckled and then winced as pain shot through her body. Right, Doctor Shepherd warned her about that yesterday, laughing was bad. "Oh damn."
"Try not to laugh," the nurse said, smiling knowingly. "My name is Heather. I'll be your nurse for this shift. I just wanted to check and see if you or your girlfriend wanted breakfast. You hadn't filled out your menu cards and the trays will be coming up shortly."
"My " Shay's voice trailed off and she smiled. "She's not my girlfriend," she said, her voice tinged with the faint traces of regret.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Heather apologized. "I just assumed from the way she'd been holding your hand since I got on shift a couple hours ago "
"No, it's okay," Shay assured her. "Really." I wish you were right, but unfortunately that's not the case. "The doctor said I need to stick to soft foods for a while and she'll eat anything, so just get us whatever looks the most appetizing."
"Will do. It'll be up in about half an hour," Heather said before she turned and made her way back to the nurses' desk to call down to the cafeteria.
"You know, she's the second person who thought we were together," Dawson muttered as she slowly opened her eyes.
"How long have you been awake?" Shay asked, frowning. She could have sworn that the little snore Dawson let loose had been genuine.
"You squeezed my hand really hard and said 'damn'," Dawson reported.
So not very long then, Shay thought. "And you faked asleep, why?"
"I dunno," Dawson murmured. "You okay?"
"I'm fine. I just laughed and it hurt."
Dawson sat up in her chair and stretched, letting go of Shay's hand to lift her arms above her head as she arched her back forward and twisted from side to side, trying to pop everything back into place. "Oh, that feels good," she groaned as she let her arms drop. "How are you feeling?" she asked as her eyes landed on the bruising on the side of Shay's face that was more pronounced than it had been the day before.
"I'll live. How are you feeling? You know you could have gone home last night to sleep and I would have been fine. You didn't need to stay with me all night."
Dawson smiled and shook her head. "I couldn't have left you here. And I'm fine. Stiff, sore, and my head is pounding, but I'll live."
"Go ask the nurses for some ibuprofen. I'm sure they'll be able to get you some."
"Yeah, I'll do that in a minute," Dawson said, nodding. "I'm going to have to go use the bathroom anyways. Are you going to be okay for a few?"
"I'll be fine," Shay said. "Really, Gabs, you don't have to stay here the whole time."
"Yeah, I do," Dawson said, her lips quirking up in a shy lopsided smile as she pushed herself to her feet. "You're my partner." She sighed and reached out to give the blonde's hand an affectionate squeeze. There was more she wanted to say, she just didn't know how to do it. "I'll be back in a few."
"Take your time. I'm not going anywhere."
Gabby smiled shyly at the nurses as she passed by their desk to the bathroom that was near the entrance to the ICU. It was a single bathroom with a shower in the corner, and she groaned as she looked at her reflection in the mirror. She may have managed to get the blood and glass off of herself the day before, but she still looked like death warmed over. A shower would do wonders to make her look and feel human again and she sighed as she opened the door to the bathroom and went back over to the nurses' station.
"Anything we can help you with, dear?" an older woman in pale pink scrubs asked.
"Yeah. Do you, by any chance, have a towel I could borrow to maybe shower real quick?"
The nurse nodded. "We even have some shampoo and soap you can use."
"That would be heavenly," she sighed. "Thank you."
"No problem at all," the nurse assured her as she dug around in a cabinet behind the desk and pulled out a white towel, a small travel-sized bottle of shampoo that they used to wash their patients' hair because they couldn't get up to bathe properly, and a similarly small bar of soap. "Here you go."
"Thank you," Dawson said, smiling as she took the supplies. She took it all with her and ducked her head into Shay's little room. "I'm going to take a shower real fast. You going to be okay?"
"Yes. And you suck. I would kill for a shower," Shay grumbled, pulling a face. "I feel gross."
Dawson grinned and, not even knowing why she was doing it as she did it, walked over to the blonde and dropped a quick kiss to the uninjured side of her forehead. "You're beautiful. And we'll get you up and moving soon," she whispered.
Surprised by the brunette's unexpected show of affection, Shay just nodded. "Okay."
"Okay," Dawson replied, grinning as she backed away. It had been a spontaneous, innocent enough kiss, but her heart was fluttering wildly in her chest because of it. "I'll be right back."
"Okay," Shay whispered, her brow furrowed in confusion as she watched Dawson walk away. "What the hell was that?" she muttered under her breath.
When Dawson returned from showering, feeling like a whole new person despite the fact that she was still wearing her clothes from the day before, she found Shay talking to Chief Boden and taking tiny bites of the oatmeal the nurse had ordered for her.
"Hey, guys," Dawson said as she entered the space. She jammed her hands in her pockets and said, "Chief."
"Dawson," Boden replied, smiling. "I was just checking in to see how Shay was feeling. I hadn't been up here since last night."
Dawson's brow furrowed in confusion. "You came up here last night? Why didn't I see you?"
"You were sleeping," Boden told her. "Anyways, I need to get back to the station to check on everything but I just wanted to come up and say goodbye before I left."
"Thank you, sir," Shay murmured.
Boden nodded and looked at Dawson. "Take care of her."
"Always," Dawson agreed.
"Good. I've pulled you from rotation for the next week, with pay, so you can help Shay with whatever she needs. If it needs to be longer, we'll figure it out at that time, okay?"
Boden grinned. "I have my ways. Just take care of each other and call me if you need me. I'll be back later tonight to check in again and I know a lot of the guys are wanting to come say hi too, so let somebody know when you get moved to a regular room so they can come visit."
"Will do," Dawson assured him. "Thank you, sir."
He smiled warmly at them both and tipped his head. "I'll see you later."
Once he was gone, Dawson smiled and shook her head as she dropped into her chair beside Shay's bed. A pink-lidded plastic plate sat on a tray on a small rolling table beside it, and she was famished. "You doing okay?" she asked as she lifted the lid to reveal a stack of pancakes, an apple, and a couple sausage links. "Not bad," she observed.
"Wanna trade?" Shay asked, tilting her glue-colored oatmeal at the brunette.
"Nah, that's alright," Dawson replied, smiling. "Seriously, you need me to get you anything?"
"Just off of this stupid ward so I can at least fry my brain on some boring daytime television," Shay murmured.
"Well, let's see what we can do about that," Doctor Shepherd said, smiling as he stepped into Shay's curtained off room. "How are you feeling today?"
"Five, six. It's manageable."
"Good," he said, making a note in her chart. "You're due for another dose of meds in about an hour and that'll take the edge you're feeling off too. How did you sleep?"
"Fine," Shay said.
Shepherd looked at Dawson. "And how about you?"
"As well as could be expected," Dawson answered honestly.
"Well, you'll be glad to know that standard rooms each have a chair that folds out to a little cot kind of like a hide-a-bed, so that will make things much more comfortable for you. I'm sorry we couldn't get one up here for you last night, but with all the beds being full we just didn't have the room."
"I'll live," Dawson assured him, pleased that he wasn't going to try and make her leave.
"So when do I get out of here?" Shay asked.
"Lemme have a look and I'll let you know," Doctor Shepherd replied. He glanced at Dawson. "You wanna step outside for this or "
"She can stay if she wants," Shay said. "I don't care."
Dawson looked at the blonde and arched a brow questioningly. "You're sure?" Granted, she had hated leaving her side the day before, but now that she was convinced that the blonde was on the road to recovery, she didn't mind so much stepping away from her for a moment.
"I don't care, Gabs," Shay murmured.
"Okay then, I'll stay."
"Okay then," Shepherd echoed. "If you ladies could just move those wonderful trays of gourmet food aside, I'll get through this as fast as possible and then we'll see about getting you to a regular floor."
Dawson obediently got to her feet and moved her tray to the far side of the area to allow the doctor as much room as possible to move around the bed. She watched as he pulled the blanket covering Shay's lap down to her hips and then lifted the bottom of her gown to peek at the incision on her stomach. Her stomach twisted painfully at the sight of the angry red incision that cut across Shay's abdomen that was further proof of how close she'd come to losing the blonde.
"The incision is looking very good," he said, palpitating the area. "I had the plastic surgeon on call yesterday come in and close this up, so there won't be much of a scar, if any, from the surgery."
"Thank you," Shay said. Scarring honestly hadn't been a concern of hers before he mentioned it, but she was very appreciative for his foresight in the matter. "Really."
"My pleasure," Shepherd replied easily. He moved his hand up to the blonde's ribs and gave them a gentle feel. "How do they feel?"
"Sore," Shay muttered, gritting her teeth.
"Yeah, those'll take about a month to really heal up for you," he said.
"Yeah, I know."
"Breathing's okay?" He asked as he put the earpieces of his stethoscope in his ears and placed the metal disk above Shay's left breast.
Shay nodded. "Fine."
"As deep of a breath as you can, please?" She did it. "Excellent. And again," he instructed as he moved the stethoscope to a new location. He hummed at what he heard and moved it again. "One more time, please." He smiled and looped the stethoscope around his neck. "Everything sounds good. You're moving air well and there's no fluid." He nodded. "Right then. I think you're good to get out of here. Let me go sign some papers releasing you to a regular floor, then I'll be back in to remove your catheter, and then we can see about getting you moved. Sound good?"
"Perfect. Thank you," Shay replied softly.
"My pleasure. I'll be back soon," he said as he ducked out of the room.
Shay smiled and looked at Dawson who was chewing her lower lip thoughtfully as she looked at her. "What's up?"
"I'm just " Her voice trailed off. She hadn't forgotten about Shay's injuries, per se, but watching the doctor check the blonde out reminded her exactly how close she'd been to losing her. "Really glad you're okay."
"Me too," Shay retorted with a smirk.
Dawson rolled her eyes at the blonde's playful response, but before she could say anything else, Doctor Shepherd was back with a nurse to remove Shay's catheter and this time Dawson wasn't given the option of staying.
"Whoa, nice digs," Mouch said as he walked into Shay's new private room. He presented the bouquet he was carrying to the blonde with a bow and a flourish, and grinned. "For you, my lady."
"Oh, thank you kind sir," Shay murmured, smiling as she tried to not laugh at his antics.
"Don't make her laugh, Mouch," Dawson warned. "It hurts."
He straightened up immediately, easily recognizing the mama bear tone in the brunette's voice. "Yes, ma'am. So, how you feeling?" he asked Shay.
"Good," Shay said as she held the vase out to Dawson to put onto the bedside table. "Thank you for those, really."
"My pleasure," he replied gently.
A knock at the door had all of them looking up and Dawson smiled as she saw Mills hovering nervously at the threshold.
"Can I come in?" he asked.
"Of course," Shay said, smiling as she waved a hand to beckon him closer.
"Got room for a few more?" Severide asked as he sauntered into the room with Casey, Hermann, and Otis.
"Always," Shay told him.
Dawson tipped her head in hello at the guys, feeling mildly uncomfortable under Casey's questioning gaze, and squeezed in closer to Shay's bed as they all piled around.
"Got you these to make you feel better," Severide said, waggling his brows as he handed over a red plastic bag.
"What?" Shay murmured as she peeked in the bag, and then she laughed, cursed as a sharp pain ripped through her stomach, slapped the bed, and glowered at her friend. "Goddamn it, Kelly."
"What is it?" Dawson asked, reaching for the bag.
"Girly magazines," Severide answered. "I'm sorry I made you laugh though, I just wanted to see you smile."
His tone was genuine and Dawson felt her protective hackles relax as Shay nodded. "No problem man. I'll just keep these here-" she made a production of slipping the bag under her covers, "-for later."
"Yeah, Shay!" Hermann, Mouch, and Otis catcalled.
"I swear, it's like working with a bunch of teenage boys," Dawson muttered, smiling.
"I'm sure Shay will share with you if you want," Hermann told Dawson with a grin.
Dawson blushed. "Shut up."
"Oh, leave her alone," Shay said, reaching for Dawson's hand and giving it a squeeze. "Are you guys here to just try and embarrass the hell out of us, or you here to do something else?"
"We just wanted to make sure you were okay, Shay," Casey said, smiling. "You had us all very, very worried."
"Especially Dawson," Mouch piped up.
Shay looked at Dawson who shrugged.
"Yeah. Well. I mean " Dawson murmured.
Sensing the brunette's discomfort, Severide cleared his throat and asked, "So, anything on TV?"
The guys all left once Shay fell asleep and Dawson made quick work of cleaning up the room after them. Once everything was back to normal, she went back to the bed to check on Shay. The blonde was smiling softly in her sleep, and Dawson found herself mirroring the expression as she ran a tender hand over her brow. Her smile faded as she tried to make sense of her newly recognized feelings for the blonde, and she sighed as she leaned in and pressed a sweet, chaste kiss to Shay's forehead.
"I love you," she whispered, swallowing thickly at the emotion she could hear in her own voice.
"It's about damn time you realized that," a friendly, familiar voice said.
Dawson startled and turned to find Severide standing in the doorway, smirk firmly in place as he looked at her. "What are you doing here?"
"I brought you your bag from the station but forgot to bring it up earlier. Figured you might like a change of clothes," he answered as he took a few steps into the room and held the navy blue duffle up as evidence.
"I thank you," Dawson muttered as she took the bag.
"You going to tell her when she's awake?" Severide asked.
Dawson shrugged and shook her head. "I don't know how."
"You just do," Severide answered simply.
"It's not that easy."
"Sure it is. You say, 'Look, Leslie, you're bangin' hot and I'd like to bang you. Whattaya think?'"
Dawson laughed. "Hardly."
"Yeah, maybe not," Severide admitted, grinning. "Seriously though, just tell her."
"Just tell me what?" Shay murmured sleepily. She frowned as she opened her eyes to look at Severide. "What are you doing here, Kel? I thought you left with the rest of the guys."
He pursed his lips and shrugged. "Just bringing Dawson her bag." He winked at the blonde and added, "Rest up, beautiful. I'll be back tomorrow."
Shay frowned and looked at Dawson. "'Kay. I know I'm like, totally high on morphine right now, but tell me what?"
"Tell her!" Severide called from the doorway before a nurse hollered at him to be quiet and he took off laughing down the hall.
"They're not going to let him back in here," Dawson muttered, shaking her head.
Convinced that there was something going on that she didn't know about and needed to, Shay looked at Dawson and arched a brow questioningly. "Gabs?"
"This really isn't a conversation I want to have when you're admittedly high on morphine," Dawson murmured.
"Is it bad?"
"No. Nothing like that. Or, at least, I hope not." Dawson smiled nervously.
Shay yawned and cast a pleading look at the brunette. "What is it?" She wanted to stay awake, but the drugs in her system were making it difficult. "Please."
Dawson sighed and sat on the edge of the bed. She licked her lips as she took Shay's uninjured hand into her own and she swallowed thickly as she stroked the back of the blonde's hand with her thumb. "The guys weren't exaggerating earlier, when they were saying how worried I was yesterday."
Sensing that Dawson needed to build up to whatever it was the brunette needed to tell her, Shay just smiled and said, "I'm sorry."
"No." Dawson shook her head. "You don't have any reason to apologize. I just seeing you so hurt, knowing that there was nothing I could do to help it felt like my heart was ripped right out of my chest. The thought of losing you had me absolutely frantic and I only calmed down once I saw you after they wheeled you out of surgery. You were unconscious, but seeing you and feeling the warmth of your skin soothed me. I'm sure you were wondering why I have been so insistent on holding your hand."
"Not really," Shay admitted softly, looking down at their joined hands. "I like it."
"Me too," Dawson murmured. She smiled. "Last night, somebody's heart rate monitor went off and it was like I was back in the back of the ambo again. It took me five minutes to reassure myself that your alarms weren't going off and that you were okay." She rolled her eyes. "Anyways, since I couldn't fall asleep, I started thinking about you and me and why I am so afraid of losing you."
Shay swallowed thickly. "And?"
Dawson took a deep breath for courage and then said, "Because I love you. I'm in love with you and that's why the sight of you so injured and the very thought of losing you shattered me."
While the confession was one she'd secretly dreamt of for a while now, Shay wasn't sure if she could believe it or not. "You love me?"
Dawson nodded and reached out with her left hand to gently cradle the uninjured side of Shay's face in her palm. She licked her lips as she smoothed her thumb over the blonde's cheek and sighed as she nodded again. "Yeah."
"You're sure?" Shay asked softly, her voice wavering ever so slightly.
"Positive," Dawson murmured. She licked her lips and asked, "Is that okay?"
Shay nodded. "Yes. I'm just surprised."
"And high," Dawson said, smiling.
"Please tell me I'm not hallucinating," Shay whispered.
"You're not hallucinating," Dawson assured her.
"KISS HER ALREADY!" Severide yelled from the corridor and he grinned when he was leveled by two identical, annoyed scowls. "DO IT!"
"SIR, I REALLY AM GOING TO HAVE TO INSIST THAT YOU LEAVE!" the stern looking nurse from earlier said as she marched down the hall toward the fireman.
Dawson chuckled under her breath and turned back to Shay. "May I?"
"Yes," Shay breathed, smiling as her eyes danced over Dawson's face.
Life is like a series of dominoes set up in an intricate design of twists and turns that, when looked upon from a distance, are undeniably beautiful. When the first falls, an unstoppable chain reaction begins and the universe is helpless but to watch as each tile falls. A hand on a mattress for balance. Eyes darkening in breathless anticipation. A sigh. That blissful moment of expectation as breaths mix together in the finite space between the parted lips of new lovers hovering on the precipice of more. And then heaven. Contact. Warmth. Softness. A soft whimper. A hand threading through even softer hair. A smile. A stolen breath. And then more. Always more. Because no matter the chain reaction, no matter how those dominoes fall, life always goes on.
In the hall, Severide grinned and bumped shoulders with Chief Boden who had just arrived to check in on Shay. "Not bad, eh?"
"It's about damn time," Boden replied, grinning. "Come on, Kelly. I'll buy you a really bad cup of coffee. I think we need to give those two a little time to themselves.
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