But Not Forgotten

A/N: The basic plot for this story has been rolling around inside of my head for close to a year ever since the writers did the unthinkable and killed off Otis at the start of the 8th season. Originally it was going to be a much shorter story, but as I actually started writing it, it grew and became more and more about how the rest of 51 adapts to life after the mattress factory fire, after losing Otis. This is AU so the events of the show's timeline are completely different, it's still going to be a tearjerker in parts, but hopefully this story will have a better ending than the episode "Sacred Ground" did. Tissues may be necessary, even so, I hope everybody enjoys it. Thanks in advance to all who read and review!

The lights were on at Molly's, but it was closed to the public. The mood in the bar was most appropriate since earlier that day they had buried a fellow member of Firehouse 51 who everyone had come to know and love.

There really were no 'routine' calls as a firefighter, but after a while there were some that a seasoned smoke eater could fairly predict what would happen, this had not been one of those calls. After the explosion at the mattress factory, everybody had just started to feel relief that they were still alive, when they heard the two words ringing out that every fireman dreaded.

"Firefighter down!"

They'd done everything they could, acted as quickly as they could, to get out of the factory, to the ambulance, to Med. But on the way as they removed the turnout gear, they saw the burns, and they knew. You might hope against all hope, simply because you couldn't stand the thought of losing someone you worked with, who was practically a member of your own family, but it didn't change the fact that they all knew. Everybody knew what the doctor would tell them when they got to the hospital, assuming they even made it that far. Knowing what they did, it seemed more like going through the motions than actually trying to save a life, or even try to ease the suffering in the time before they died.

Firehouse 51 had lost good people before, and most times it was fast, so fast that there was no time for anyone to say their goodbyes, no final words, not even an acknowledgment of what was happening, it happened just that suddenly. Maybe it would've been better if this had been one of those times, but there'd been time to get to the hospital, time for the doctors to assess the situation, time for the people allowed in the room to say a few brief goodbyes, and then it was all over, and the world as they knew it stopped making sense.

After leaving the hospital, everybody had gone on to their own homes to deal with losing one of their own, all in their own private ways. They had little contact with one another for the first couple days. The funeral wasn't held until a week after the fire, it took that long for everybody to pull themselves together enough to actually attend and lay one of their brothers to rest.

By now, everybody had changed out of their dress uniforms and back into their regular clothes, but there was nothing regular about their small gathering at the bar. The lacking presence of the co-owner and fellow bartender was enough by itself to make the tension so thick, nobody hardly even dared move lest they walk right into it and get knocked down.

Nobody talked. Everybody hardly even looked at one another. They all either stared at their drinks or at the wall facing them, the fear that any actual contact with one another, physical, verbal, or even visual, would burst the collective dam that had been held in place all evening since they arrived. The only ones who weren't keeping their distance were Severide and Kidd, seated together at one of the booths, neither looking at the other though the space between them was practically non-existent, two spaces over Casey was seated by himself at another booth while Brett tensely stood a couple feet away, unsure what to do with herself.

Herrmann stood behind the bar and felt helpless as he looked around at the others, feeling like he should be doing something, but everybody had already gotten their first drink and nobody had finished it or if they had they weren't asking for another anytime soon. He didn't dare leave the room to go check the inventory in the back, the fact was being the oldest, and a father of five, he felt some sense of responsibility for the younger firefighters, like it was his job to stay there and make sure nothing happened, though what might happen, or what he could possibly do about it, were beyond him right now.

Despite everybody's best efforts, the dam finally cracked. Nobody was sure where the first sound came from, Casey turned his head and saw Brett drop her head towards her chest and clamp a hand over her mouth to stifle the sobs coming out. That was the first domino falling over. Stella didn't make a sound but the tears she'd futilely been trying to blink back for the last half hour finally broke loose and spilled down her cheeks as she pushed her weight against Kelly and felt his arm wrap around her. Casey scooted over in his booth for Sylvie to sit down by him and when she did, not knowing what else to do, he placed a hand on her shoulder and let her lean her head against his shoulder as she cried.

Ironically some of the tension in the air seemed to lift when this happened, people thought it was safe to move again, though not too much and not too many people at the same time. Cruz went over to the bar though he had no memory of getting up from his chair and walking across the room. Herrmann leaned over and said just loud enough for the two of them to hear, "I hate to say it...but I'm kinda glad Otis ain't here to see this...this isn't what he'd want."

Cruz just shook his head in agreement, not trusting himself to say anything. So Herrmann did, "How 'bout another?"

Joe only nodded in response. Herrmann poured him another drink, then helped himself to one as well, and tried to pretend it was the burn of the alcohol that made his eyes water and turn bloodshot. He was secretly relieved that nobody really wanted to talk, because he could tell as he breathed in and out that he was losing his voice around his own tears.