"Oh, man," Detective Kevin Ryan groaned as his partner kneeled beside him. The handcuff-bound and injured investigator pulled his head off of the floor and tried to maneuver himself up. His colleague and friend pushed him back down, his left hand on Kevin's chest, no purpose to it other than comfort, his other easing the hurt man's head back to the floor.
"Take it easy," Detective Javier Esposito said as he leaned over Ryan's back to get a better look at his face. "Let the EMTs take a look at you first." Esposito knew that his partner's face would tell the truth of the matter when the man's first instinct was to claim that he was fine.
"I said I'm okay," Ryan insisted, still trying to raise himself from the not-so-pleasant floor of the motel room.
"Ryan, stay put until you're checked out," Detective Kate Beckett demanded from her position next to her 'partner'. She continued to help Rick Castle from his restraints. Her rebuke had stilled Ryan.
"So, you'll listen to Beckett but you won't listen to me?" Esposito asked. He frowned when he felt the sticky wetness from his partner's head. He held his hand in place on his friend's chest as he felt again for the wound he now knew for sure was worse than Ryan was letting on.
"Well, yeah. I mean. . .yeah," Kevin replied, not a little woozily. "Ouch. Hey!" he yelled, though it, like everything else Ryan had said since Esposito and Beckett had entered, had been faint and filled with pain. The hurt agent frowned at his partner.
"You're bleeding," Javier explained.
"Ugh. They're gonna make me go to the hospital."
"They might," Esposito replied. "Just relax and maybe you'll get lucky," he added as he unlocked the second cuff and then carefully pulled Ryan's arms to the side and helped get his friend's body straightened. Javier had been on the wrong side of handcuffed behind his back. . .he knew how your arms had that uncomfortable pins and needles feeling for a while after being released. It felt nearly as bad as having your arms bound behind your back. . .physically. Psychologically, the effect of being cuffed could be far more traumatic. Javier knew he'd need to watch his partner for a while for any signs that he wasn't handling that part well.
Kevin sighed and settled down. They were both quiet as they waited for the ambulance that Beckett had called for when they suddenly spoke, in unison. It wasn't the first time, and it was, luckily as today's events played out, not to be the last.
"What happened?" Esposito asked. "You got here fast," Ryan said.
"We figured it out."
"Yeah," Kevin said, lifting his head and sending a strange look over to Castle and Beckett. "So did Castle," he added. Javier could tell there was more to the story.
"And?" he asked.
Kevin rested his head back on the floor and closed his eyes. "Apparently I was the only one who didn't get it."
"Whaddya mean? You didn't have the info Beckett and I had."
"Castle figured it out," Ryan noted morosely.
"How?" Esposito demanded. He was starting to get mad, and it wasn't anger at his partner as he continued to read his best friend, quickly coming to the realization that something had gone very wrong.
"Can I tell you later?" Kevin asked as his eyes remained closed, pain from the head wound – and something else – written across his expressive face.
"Sure, bro," Javier replied, recognizing Kevin's desire to for some reason be out of earshot of Castle and Beckett when he told his story. Esposito finished rubbing Ryan's arms, trying to get the circulation moving, and then patted his shoulder. "Shouldn't be much longer."
"'Kay. My head really hurts, Javi."
Javier frowned. It had to hurt bad for Kevin to admit it. "Do you know how long you were unconscious?" Esposito asked.
"About ten minutes," Rick Castle said as he kneeled next to the detective partners. He set his hand down on the floor but pulled it up quickly with a grimace as he felt the filthy goo that remained on his fingers. He wiped his hand on his pants. He saw Ryan roll his eyes and then moan for his troubles. He closed his eyes at the pair of Castles before him. Esposito eyed the writer suspiciously.
"That long?" Ryan asked, opening his eyes again and frowning. The frown was followed by a wince. He closed his eyes.
"Yeah," the novelist responded. He put his hand on Kevin's leg. Ryan opened his eyes. He wanted to keep them open but try as he might, he seemed on the losing end of that effort. Castle looked into the pain-filled blue eyes and said, chagrined, "Sorry." The injured detective closed his eyes once more. Castle stood and then he and Beckett headed out of the motel room.
"I'll send the EMTs up as soon as they get here," Beckett said as she crossed the threshold. Esposito saw the worried look in her face, but heard something more in her voice. What had Castle told her? He'd been so wrapped up with worry for his partner that he hadn't heard what else was going on around him. And what was Castle sorry for?
"What did he mean by that?" Javier asked.
Ryan opened his eyes and blinked rapidly. His eyes started tearing, a sometime side-effect of concussion. He shook his head back and forth on the carpet, which only served to aggravate his injury. He groaned and stopped that action.
"I guess I was a little slow on the uptake," Kevin muttered.
"What's that mean?"
"Well, you know how Castle figures things out, and how he's able to describe a scene how only Richard Castle can," Kevin noted with his best effort at a grin, and only barely hiding the slight case of hero worship, "like he's writing a paragraph right in front of you. . .like he's writing us into the scene?"
"Hey, you're more impressed by that than I am, bro." Ryan closed his eyes and stopped talking for a moment. Esposito realized that he'd interrupted, and a little rudely. "Sorry. Go on."
"He started explaining how it seemed odd for someone just out of prison to have a big carry-all full of stuff. And then he went on about the girlfriend, how Jerry hadn't asked about her yet." Kevin paused and then looked Javier right in the eye. "And then he announced that Jerry was the triple killer."
"What?" Esposito practically shrieked. "He blindsided you?"
"I don't think he meant to, Javi."
"That doesn't matter. You could have been killed. You both could be dead right now."
"Javi. . ."
"Kev, don't Javi me. Look, Castle's good, I'll give him that. And as my mom likes to say, he wasn't born yesterday. You were his partner today. Partner," Esposito emphasized. "That's important, and he needs to treat you with the same respect and concern that he affords Beckett. And besides, all that crap he does in describing a scene? There's a time and a place for that: in the squad room with us; at a crime scene – with lots of back-up; in a secured interrogation room with a suspect – and one of us." Esposito looked around the room, waved his arm about and emphasized, "Not here."
Ryan started struggling to get up, recognizing that he'd lit a fuse in his partner; the explosion to come would not be pretty.
"Stay put, Kevin. I'm not kidding."
"Javi. . ."
"Don't excuse him, Kevin. He needs to think before he speaks. How many times have we heard Beckett tell him that?" Kevin wiped the wetness from his face as he lay back down. The room was spinning, but things seemed to settle once Javier looked into his best friend's eyes. "We have to tell Beckett."
Esposito looked closely at his colleague. "You didn't do anything wrong."
"Really?" Ryan challenged. "Where's my gun? My badge? My wallet?"
"Kev. . ."
"I should've been able to. . ."
"Cut it out!" Javier ordered. "He's a killer. And you were blindsided by your partner. Come on!"
Ryan quieted down once more. Esposito was going to speak again. . .he was by no means finished with what he wanted to say about today's events. He was angry. So angry. He wanted to stress to his partner that you don't do what Castle did – ever – in front of a suspect. Not without letting your partner in on it. As soon as you think of someone as a suspect you have to temper what you say in front of them. Castle wasn't a trained detective but he had to know that, and Esposito would be the one to remind him of it. But right now, looking at his hurting friend, watching him suffer physical pain - and unwarranted emotional embarrassment at the loss of his weapon, his badge – Javier Esposito knew that he would try his damnedest to control himself and just do the most important thing right now: take care of his partner.
The EMTs entered and forced Esposito away from Ryan. They placed a collar on the injured detective and checked him over. They cleaned the cut on his head and asked the requisite questions of a basic neurological exam. The medics – and Esposito – insisted that Ryan be carried downstairs. But once he was down and only showing – at worst – signs of a mild concussion, primarily a miserably painful headache, but also dizziness and exhaustion, the EMTs agreed to allow Kevin up, so long as he agreed to lean up against the back of the truck. They removed the collar. Slight unsteadiness was set right by his partner, who agreed that Kevin could waive the trip to the ER so long as Beckett was okay with it. Esposito looked over as his boss and Castle stood and headed their way.
"Javier?" Kevin asked softly.
"Yeah?" Esposito replied, his jaw. . .his entire demeanor tense. He stared Castle down as the pair approached.
"Can we do this at the station?"
Kevin rubbed his eyes and then his forehead. He knew his intensely protective partner was ready to make a scene as he made his point, but Ryan was in no shape, either physically or emotionally, to deal with that kind of confrontation between his two friends.
"Because I asked?" Intensely blue puppy dog eyes worked their magic, but the EMT seemed to be working overtime to make Ryan's night just a little worse than it already was.
"He's not going back to work tonight," she said as she looked up from filling out the waiver form. "You only get one of these," she continued, waving the waiver between the two detectives, "if he goes home," she added, nodding towards Ryan as she spoke to Esposito, "and someone stays with him until morning – at minimum – and follows these instructions," she finished, waving the standard pre-printed form for what to check for with patients suffering minor concussions.
Ryan hardly acknowledged the conversation, still intent on getting a concession from his friend. "Bro," Kevin pleaded with his partner.
"I gotta talk to her, Kev," Javier insisted, meaning Beckett. To the EMT, Esposito said, "I'm taking him home."
"Be nice," Kevin persisted, conceding that he wouldn't get what he wanted, knowing that Esposito and Beckett needed to talk.
"I'll be nice," Esposito agreed as he went to intercept Beckett. Kevin watched dejectedly as his partner left to play nice with their boss. Ryan dropped his chin wearily to his chest.
In what seemed like seconds but what had obviously been many minutes, Kevin was shaken out of a light doze by his best friend.
Ryan blinked as he realized he'd been asleep leaning on the back of the ambulance, propped up on either side as he napped by the two EMTs.
"Sorry," he said to the pair. To Esposito he asked, "Didya tell 'er?" He yawned.
"Didn't have to," Javier said as he took Ryan by the elbow and walked him to their car. "Castle told her everything. She said we'll deal with it tomorrow."
"Good," Kevin said as he kept a steady albeit slightly wobbly pace to the car. The dark night and the street and police lights were playing with his already dizzy state to make him feel like he was failing a sobriety test.
"Yeah, well, none of this is good, bro."
"Except I'm still alive. So's Castle."
"Only 'til I kill 'im," Esposito growled, not sounding at all like he was speaking in jest. Ryan sighed.
Javier heard the sigh. He stopped, keeping a hold of Ryan, which made his partner stop as well. Esposito turned to face his friend, without doubt the most important person in his life. You didn't spend the kind of time together that partners did and not develop something special. Their different backgrounds had soon been made up for in similar likes and interests and a warm and abiding friendship had developed, lightning-fast. "Look, it's been a rough day, I got that, bud. But what he did. . . You could. . .I mighta lost. . ." Esposito didn't finish the thought. He knew that he didn't have to. He looked away, shook his head and then found intense fascination with his shoes. His best friend reached out to him and grasped him affectionately on the back of the neck. It might have helped steady Kevin Ryan as they continued their walk to the car, but the touch provided so very much more than that to his partner. They were in for a long night ahead, one of concussion checks and likely repeated trips to the bathroom, restless, pain-filled sleep on the part of one partner, very little if any sleep for the other. They'd been down that road before. But together, as always.