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Hey people! I know, I know, it seems like forever since I've updated the other in-progress stories that I'm working on, but I PROMISE, they're getting gotten to. But in the meantime, I couldn't resist putting this up, or writing it, since I'm ADDICTED to Castle and have a bit of an obsession with Ryan and Esposito (not slashed, just the duo). ^^

I know I'm probably not the first to 'ship Esposito and Lanie, but I 'SHIP THEM SO HARD!! I LOVE them!! They are just subtext WAITING to happen. XDD So they're what this oneshot is about---mainly Esposito---though most of the others make appearances too. And I can pretty much guarantee that this won't be the end of my Castle!ficcing. WAY too much fun. ^^

Okay, enough of my blabbing---read, read, enjoy! ^___^

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It was about sixty seconds after waking up that Detective Javier Esposito realized he wasn't going anywhere today. Apparently, a swarm of bees had decided to invade his head overnight, and the cough that kept him reaching for the water glass came straight from the chest, somewhere deep, and was the kind of thing a doc would try to pump you full of antibiotics for. He wasn't going to do anyone any good like this: the last thing the rest of the squad needed was a hacking Latino version of Monk trailing them around all day, packing rubber gloves and pockets full of Kleenex.

It wasn't long after Javier hauled himself out of bed, padded to the kitchen in his Yankees sweats, t-shirt and socks, and grabbed the Ny-Quil from the cupboard that he put in a call to Kate. Picking up his cell---some competing brand to the iPhone; he hadn't really cared when he bought it---he punched in Beckett's speed dial and wedged the phone between his ear and shoulder. His hands were busy cracking off a child-proof cap and pouring out a dose of the meds into the plastic cup it came with.

There was a click after a ring and a half. "Beckett."

She was already either at a crime scene or the precinct, he could tell immediately by the background noise. His voice when he spoke was a little rougher than usual, and a lot more hoarse. "Hey Beckett; it's me."

He could hear her smile through the phone. "There's a slight possibility I might have known that, Esposito: you see, in modern days we have these fascinating things called Caller I.D. plans. Let me guess: you're calling in?"

Even with the whole 'bees' thing, Esposito felt a grin coming on too; not because of her sarcasm, but because, this girl really was a cop 24/7. "Nothin' gets by you, does it?"

"Doesn't take a long thought process to figure that one out, not when Castle beats you here and you call me up sounding like an ad for smoker's lung."

"Tell Cap'n I'm sorry---and hey, give Castle a pop upside the head for me."

"Will do," Beckett promised. Apparently she didn't waste time making good on it, either, because Javier heard a muffled "Ow! What was that for?" in the background. "Esposito sends his love," he heard her explain---smugly, he might add---and then she brought the phone back to her ear. "Rest up, Detective. See you tomorrow."

"Sure thing. Thanks." Thumbing the 'end' button, Javier dropped his phone back onto the counter, picked up the nasty-looking cup of blue crap, threw his head back and downed it like a shot.

Padding from his apartment's kitchenette into its spacious-for-its-price living room, he barked that low bark of a devil's cough into the crook of his elbow a couple times, and his thought process really didn't go a lot beyond crashing out. For anyone else, a sick day might have just been run-of-the-mill. But for NYPD, it was a rare, sanctioned excuse to catch up on the z's you missed the other three-hundred-some days of the year. Taking full advantage of that, Javier gratefully and exhaustedly dropped himself onto his couch, stretching out flat on his back and bringing an arm up behind his head as a makeshift pillow. The thought of going back to bed didn't even cross his mind; all he knew was that the couch was here, and here was a lot closer than way in there. Time for a little shut-eye.

Being a cop, though, he was pretty much used to things not going as planned. One eye popped open and peered at the shoddy front door as he heard someone coming on the other side. He would have gone for his gun, too, but his sharp hearing had told him the person was using a key, and he relaxed. Only a few people in this city had a key to Esposito's apartment, and they pretty much included his sisters, his partner, and his mother. So he figured he'd let it alone.

The door gave. "Hey, man, are we carpoolin' to work again or were you planning on taking the…." Detective Kevin Ryan stopped once he hit rug and took in the sickly sight in front of him. "…Metro." The trail-off seemed to say he already knew the answer to his own question, and he let out a low whistle. "Wow."

"Shut up," Javier groaned.

Kevin raised his palms in surrender, then stuffed his hands into the pockets of his knockoff Lord & Taylor suit slacks. "I take it you're down for the count today?"

"Pretty much."

"How bad?"

Esposito thought about it a sec, then just shrugged. "I've been worse. Haven't been shot yet."

Ryan nodded. "Fair enough." Not everyone in the room had the permission to skip work today, though, so he made for the door again. "Depending on the dead-guy quota, I can pick you up a refill or something on the way back tonight…" he offered.

Esposito raised a hand halfway and gave it a limp wave back and forth, a half-smile on his lips. "Naw, bro, I'm good. Appreciate it though."

"'Kay." Kevin straightened his tie. "Wish me luck."

"Whadda you need luck for?"

"Besides the daily grind of drug raids and psychos? Castle's bringing in the first few chapters of his latest Nikki Heat manuscript. And when he was telling me about it I could have sworn I heard the words 'hot tub.'"

"Ouch. You're gonna have to lemme know how that one turns out."

"Oh yeah, I'll be sure to call. Right after I have to cuff Beckett for strangling a novelist. Later."

"See ya."

He heard Ryan make sure the door clicked behind him and walk away down the hall. With his partner gone, no more calls to make, and a promisingly quiet apartment, Esposito allowed himself to try and drop off, shutting his eyes and absently listening to his lungs purr every time he breathed in and out. Turns out, it didn't take much effort, because before he knew it, he opened his eyes, squinting for the clock to see how long he'd been out. What once said seven-fifty a.m. now read a lot closer to half past eleven. He had to hand it to Ny-Quil: he did feel a little bit better, but it was nothing to put in the Guinness book.

He thought for a second about getting up to find a five-week-old copy of Sports Illustrated and put a Cup 'O Noodles in the microwave, but his body didn't seem to want to listen to the command to move, so, he decided it wasn't worth the trip and opted to lay there, staring at the ceiling. He was about to reach up for the end table behind his head and grab the TV remote, when somebody knocked on the other side of his front door. Before he could get up and get it, he heard them working a key in the lock.

In the three or four seconds between the knock and the door opening, Esposito laid out the possible suspects. There was always a chance one of his sisters or his mom had found out he'd taken a day, but it was more likely to be a chance thing, anyway. He wouldn't rule them out. No way it could be Ryan again; Beckett would have him running background checks and going over surveillance like crazy by now. That pretty much ruled out everyone he would have expected it to be…

So it was especially a surprise to see Lanie Parrish stepping through his door.

"Hey, Detective," was her greeting. Friendly, but not chipper, as always. "God, you look like a mess."

A grin couldn't help but slip over Javier's face. He sat up a little bit to look at her. He'd always vaguely wondered why she wore those custom-fit, feminine suits of hers, just to cut up dead people. Then again: in fields like theirs, you did what you could to make yourself feel more like a normal human again.

Lanie was special. There was just…somethin' about her. And he knew she knew he thought so. But he also knew that, just like a lot of cops, working the way she did and knowing the things she knew, that she had a guard up. A wall in there somewhere that nobody could get through, whether they had a good long history or not. Whether or not they were close friends with common jobs and common interests. A wall that served as an unflappable reminder that they worked in the same environment with the same people every day, and the wall's excuse was that it was never a good idea to mess with that.

Sometimes he wondered where they'd be, without that wall.

"Well well well, surprised to see you here," Javier said. He sat up the rest of the way, throwing his legs over the side and resting his elbows on his knees. "How'd you get the key?"

Having closed the door behind her but making no real move to come further inside, Lanie raised an eyebrow. "I have friends in the criminal locksmith industry. Don't worry; the original probably hasn't been slipped to Charlie Manson yet."

"Oh, ha ha." He rolled his eyes. "Seriously."

"I leaned on Ryan and he loaned me his. Beckett wanted me to bring you these toxicology reports and have you look 'em over for when you're on your feet." Only now did Javier notice the stapled half-inch of paper the med examiner was holding, and it took a good amount of his self-restraint not to sigh out loud. No rest for the justice league.

Lanie seemed to pick up on it. "Don't worry, the guy was poisoned, not a drug mule." She knew Esposito spoke Coroner almost as well as he spoke Cop, and that that meant he'd be reading it over for half an hour instead of two and a half. She handed the pages over to him.

Javier took them and nodded. And then…well, he couldn't really help himself. "Question."

"Shoot."

"Aren't there half a dozen interns down at the precinct whose job it is to run this kind of stuff around?"

Lanie saw what he was getting at, and she sent up a red flag. She held up a warning finger. "No way, uh-uh. You do not get to do that."

"Do what?" He knew perfectly well.

"Act like I'm doin' this as a personal favor to you. I'm just lightening the load for my girl, that's all. Do not go there again."

"Don't see how I could go there again when you never let me in the first place," he pointed out.

"You know what I mean, boy."

The grin started to slip back on again. Aggravating her was kind of fun. "Admit it. You volunteered."

"I did not volunteer."

"You wanted to see me."

Lanie crossed her arms over her chest and narrowed her eyes. That didn't mean she was angry; it just meant she reacted when goaded. "You know, you get more and more like Castle every day?" she jabbed. "Might wanna lay off on hanging out with Mr. Bestseller for a while. It's contagious."

Despite the venomous front she had goin' on, Javier let out a chuckle. "I'll let him know you said that. It'd probably make his week."

If Lanie had her way---and she usually got it, most of the time---he would never find out that she was beating down the urge to smile. Or that she knew that she was acting pretty much the same way she scolded Kate for acting around Castle…. Or that all her focus was going into not staring at him in that tight t-shirt, from what she knew had to be a six-pack all the way to those sculpted arms, the same ones she'd fleetingly wondered from time to time how they'd feel wrapped around her…

She shoved the thoughts out of her head. Reminded herself that the picture she held at the back of her mind of the all-around 'Real Man' wasn't supposed to materialize for her yet; especially not in the form of a friend and colleague. And that most of all, she was going to either save face or come out of here with a body bag.

If she had her way, he was only going to know what she wanted him to.

Of course, she was dealing with a detective here.

"All I know is, Kate asked me for a favor. Not for Ryan, not for Lassie, and not for you. For her. Now, I came, I done my job, so if you'll excuse me, Esposito---"

"Javier," he corrected. Offered, even.

"Esposito." She wouldn't bite; the point had to be made.

"Javier."

"Esposito."

"…Javier…"

"If you'll excuse me, Detective."

The grin tugged at the corners of his mouth again. Whether or not he'd made progress, he'd gotten her this time. "Ouch. That's cold."

"No. Dead bodies are cold. I'm just practical."

"You call it practical. What if I wanna call it closed-minded?"

"Oh, you think I'm closed-minded."

"Why else won't you let me in? You think we'd fail that bad?" He hadn't meant for that to come out as serious as it did. If it was possible to do an internal double-take and mentally glare at yourself for a sec, Esposito was doing it. Maybe the bug really was getting to him.

It caught Lanie off-guard for a moment, and in the part of her brain that she wanted to squash, his sudden sincerity kind of made the idea of him even more appealing…. But no. It wasn't time for that. It might not ever be. You were supposed to keep your fairytales out of the workplace. And if something ever was supposed to happen…with them…then she wasn't going to rush it. In the meantime, she was just fine with a casual denial, the kind that was only ever discussed behind closed doors. For a woman who worked with cadavers and corpses, one more skeleton in the closet was never going to cause her any harm.

And yet, she couldn't keep a mysterious smile from playing over her face as she delivered her reply. "I think that you're too jacked-up on cold meds to be thinking clearly."

There really wasn't a whole lot to say, after that. Esposito knew then that this round was over, but a smile slipped onto his face anyway. Whether she'd admit it or not, bit by bit, he was making progress in this war against the wall. Slow but steady. That was enough to satisfy him.

He held up the tox report, indicating the whole reason she'd made this little trip. "Thank you."

Lanie nodded once, tugging the lapels of her amethyst linen blazer straight. She decided that she could put another check in the 'victory' column…though there was a feeling there, nagging vaguely at her, that suggested maybe he'd let her win….

She shook it off. "You're welcome." Turning around, she headed for the exit…but she stopped with one hand on the doorknob, and turned to face him with a mischievous grin. "You best be gettin' better fast, Javier. If Beckett kills Castle and Ryan kills himself, I'm gonna have to kill everybody."

Through the whole visit, his grin was never wider than it was at that moment. He'd forgotten all about being sick. "I'll do that. Promise."

A wave, another step, and a shut door behind her, and Lanie Parrish was gone again; and this time more than any other, Javier Esposito could almost see that silver lining. Of course, the other thing he could see was his first dose wearing off, and it wasn't very long at all before he was out like a light once more.

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The following day, there was no doctor's note, no bees, just maybe a big fat 'thank you' to the good people at Ny-Quil. Esposito was back in his place in the bullpen, and sometime during his morning coffee, Ryan materialized beside his desk. Taking another sip and setting the mug back down, Javier barely looked up from his computer screen.

"So." His partner hopped up backward onto the desk and sat on the edge. "Better?"

A voice cut to him through the clack of keyboards and the ringing of phones and the questioning of witnesses, but it wasn't Ryan's. It was across the bullpen, out of the corner of his eye, with dark curled hair and one of those feminine suits, talking to Beckett about blood-alcohol level.

Esposito lifted his mug to conceal his budding smirk. "Yep. Very much."

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'Kay! You know what would be awesome NOW?? For allll the people who enjoyed this to click that pretty Review button and tell me why. ^^ And THANK YOU to all my many wonderful reviewers; I can't tell you how jazzed I get to read those. Much love, more soon! :D

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