And what would a post-"Knockdown" bros fic be without a scene of the boys themselves? Enjoy. ;]
The white fluorescent lights embanked in the ceiling of the hallway seemed too sharp a contrast to where they'd been just a few hours ago. He imagined it must've been something like looking at the sun after a nap, except, nothing about that warehouse could be compared to a nap. On second thought, maybe it wasn't the lights that were out-of-place. Maybe it was just them.
For the other half of the duo, the conditions in the room weren't any more comforting. Or familiar. At least, not until there was a soft rap on the frame of the half-open door.
"Hey. You look like hell."
Kevin looked up - sitting in this room, the most amusing thing to look at was literally his watch; CSU had recovered it from the warehouse - but not to identify the voice. He already knew perfectly well who it was. Ryan pretended to scowl, but the smirk underneath wasn't hidden: really he just appreciated the familiarity behind his partner's usual lack of tact. And he understood why.
"Yeah, thanks," he replied dryly, playing along as always. "Nice to see you f-finally mastered walkin' upright."
Esposito sarcastically smirked back, taking a few steps further into the room. "I wouldn't rag on me if I was you. You're the one over here lookin' like The Real Slim Shaky." Still, he felt a frown lingering underneath. Most of the shivering had dissipated by now, but he still sharply caught the hitch in his partner's sentence, and wasn't unaware that they hadn't let him un-bundle yet. At least they'd let him sit up on his hospital cot; either that, or he'd just ignored them all and done it anyway. There was probably some metaphorical crap behind the stubborn need not to lie down, he was sure.
"Nice, bro. You should be g-getting paid royalties." Sarcasm at its finest. Close, at least. Ryan sat himself up a little further, making sure not to lose any of his blankets, and eyed his partner cautiously. "You stayin' or what? Look like you're glued to the d-door there."
True, when you thought about it. It registered with Esposito that Ryan was right, he hadn't sat down yet, which was usually what you did when you were coming to see somebody in an outpatient room. Javier part nodded, part shook his head - not quite sure how that worked - and stepped around front of the metal chair against the wall, lowering himself into it. Forgetting to sit was definitely one of the signs that tonight had not really been a high point.
Watching him - keen blue eyes that had been ice in the first place unfazed by the dunk session earlier - Kevin waited for his partner to talk again, but Javier didn't. He had only leaned back against the cold, wallpapered wall and exhaled into the space in front of him, staring right through it. And, since Ryan knew for a fact that there was nothing to look at over there besides another wall and a potted plant, he knew exactly what was on his partner's mind.
"…Don't. I s-seriously mean it; I don't care if you out-bench Hogan and I'm a h-human Klondike bar; I will literally cause you pain."
Somehow, he got the feeling that Esposito hadn't been exactly expecting that one - nope, he hadn't - because now Ryan had his attention. The Hispanic turned to look at him with his eyebrows drawn together in confusion. "Don't what?"
"Oh, come on, don't pull crap over on me. You kn-know what."
"No, I don't."
"You blame yourself."
Those three words silenced Javier. Mostly because he felt truth in every one of them. He was the one who couldn't save Ryan from what Lockwood and his lackeys had done to him. He was the one who'd mouthed off and almost cost Ryan his leg, or worse, his life. And he was the one walking away with a laceration and an ego check while Ryan was forced to sit under observation with a good chance at pneumonia setting in. Now, on top of everything, it seemed like he'd forgotten how well his partner knew him - because now he was the one sitting here while Ryan saw right through the bull and read him like a book.
He stared at Ryan for a beat, then settled on his answer. "…Wouldn't you?"
"Well, the d-difference is, I would've been less of a wiseass if it w-was you getting the ice bath," Kevin quipped back, not missing a beat.
Esposito gave him a flat scowl. "Oh, like the 'Catholic school' crack didn't piss 'im off just as bad."
"Hey, I said if it'd been you. Told him I was gonna jerk him around, didn't I? At th-that point, if he was already gonna torture me anyway, why not. Might as w-well." But, seeing that they wouldn't be getting anywhere if he didn't, Ryan brought himself back to Esposito's question, removing the snark from his voice again. "…No. I wouldn't."
Esposito couldn't help but scoff, looking down at his hands. "Phh. Liar."
"All right, fine. So maybe I w-would." Kevin's tone was serious. "Hell, maybe I do."
Espo instantly couldn't believe that one. "How could you possibly be blamin' yourself right now?"
Ryan rolled his head back with a light thunk against the wallpaper behind him, exhaling toward the ceiling. "I dunno; same way you are?" There was a long pause before he explained himself, quieter than before, almost as if there was no one else in the room; no one but himself to admit this to again. "…I saw the flash bomb drop first. I d-didn't r-react fast enough."
"Oh, for cryin' out loud; you know that's - "
"That's what? Insane?"
"Well, c'mon, nobody coulda reacted to that in time."
"Exactly. J-just like nobody could have kept Lockwood from - "
"You know what, stop it." Esposito held both his palms up, gesturing for peace on the home front before things could get any uglier tonight. Not that it was even going there. Kev was as annoyingly calm and rational as ever, and he was right; the man was right and Javier knew it way too well. He just didn't want the extra indignity of hearing it, even if he deserved to. "You can stop usin' your logic on me. Okay? Fine. You win."
Ryan shook his head from where he'd lain it. "Can't stand it, can you?"
"Hypothetically, no," Esposito threw back. Leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, hands wringing themselves together, he was content for the moment to leave the conversation at that, alternating between staring at the floor and the opposite wall.
Kevin had better ideas. He took the opportunity to study his partner, with the same, probing intent he used to evaluate the innocence of suspects. Only this time, he was more looking for something closer to motive. After a long beat of silence, he tried again, curiosity in his voice. "…So, if you're s-so guilty about all'a this…let's say, for the s-sake of argument, specifically, smartassing Lockwood…th-then why'd you do it?" Ryan didn't need to know; not for his own benefit. Rather, Esposito needed to admit it to himself.
Javier looked up, straight at his partner's eyes. His own asked why he was being made to answer this. But on a level, he already knew. When Ryan didn't back down in his inquiry, Esposito looked away, toward the floor, rubbing at the back of his neck out of habit. When he finally spoke, his voice was much lower than it'd been.
"…Because. I had to say something. …Had to say anything." He was aware of how he was sounding right now, as well as that Ryan was watching as he answered. "…I figured…if I could make Lockwood think that I'd give him what he wanted…it'd buy you a few seconds outta the water. …Thought he'd punish me for it. Not you." Wearily, he lifted his heavy head and weary eyes back to Ryan. "Happy?"
On hearing his best friend's confession, Kevin was sure that no one had ever done anything so stupidly brave for him in his life. But he knew that the best way to thank him for that was to let it remain unspoken. He paused, stare unwavering. "…And…you would've taken that punishment."
Shrugging lightly, Javier replied without having to think. "'Less those wheels fell off and you didn't tell me, then yeah. Better me than you." He paused. "But you knew that, didn't you." A statement, not a question.
"Yeah," Kevin confirmed readily. He let another beat go by before he started with his summation. "You kn-know what I'm thinkin' from all this? All the stuff you just said there?"
"That you're an ass."
Esposito did something close to a double-take right there. Obviously, he wouldnt've seen that one coming with a telescope. Luckily, Ryan knew that, and held up his hands in a silent 'I'm not finished, hang on a sec.' It didn't register to him that this was the first time in an hour that they hadn't shivered.
"First of all, for thinkin' that one of us getting beat on would b-be any crappier than the other. We're equal, here. And second, I c-can't believe I'm talkin' to a guy who'd actually blame himself just for carin' that much about how many times they dunked his best friend. Y-yeah, you're right, you really dropped the ball, Javi. Nice one."
Shockingly, it made sense. The 'sense' part dawned slowly on Javier; a lot slower than the sarcasm did. "…You are unbelievable, bro." He shook his head, losing the fight against the appearance of an exhausted smirk. "And…naw; I don't give a damn 'bout no 'best friend' nonsense…coulda sworn it was my brother I was lookin' out for." That oughta do it, if anything ever could.
Lucky for Ryan, he'd regained enough of the feeling in his face for a real grin. "So, then we're even."
Javier's smirk wasn't going anywhere either. "Guess so."
Other people, having been through what they'd been through - tonight and every other time on the books - might have needed more than that. Not these two. Whatever they'd established now, it was more than enough. And it was enough to move on.
Ryan did first, shifting the pillow between his back and the wall. "B-Beckett talk to you yet?"
"Yeah." Espo nodded, onboard with the subject-change. "You?"
"Yeah. Caught me earlier."
"She hug you too?" Javier wondered.
"Hug? Nah." Kevin's brows crinkled a bit, thinking back. "She did kinda…pet me, though."
"…Pet you?" Esposito blinked, mostly wondering if he'd heard that right. "Do I wanna know?"
"Nah. I don't even think I c-caught it until just now, actually." Ryan shrugged somewhat. "It's the maternal thing. Gotta be."
"Yeah, this'd be the night for it…" And how. "…Little weird, right?"
"Maybe a little. But, good-weird."
"Good-weird…yeah. Sounds about right. …You know she's crazy, though."
"Oh, f-for thinkin' we'd have done anything different? Yeah. Totally crazy."
"We won't hold it against 'er."
"Free pass. Considering, y'know." Nodding decisively in agreement, Kevin stopped for a moment, cocking his head a bit as an idea crossed his mind. His next question made him sound every bit the 'little brother' of the team; the real order never mattered. "…You think she's really okay? I m-mean…it's Beckett; she probably wouldn't tell us."
Javier slid down in his chair a bit, arching his slightly-bruised-up back against the midget-sized metal backrest - he would not be sorry to go home tonight - and thought it over. "She'll pull through. Bounced back before; more than once. And, she's got us."
Again, Ryan nodded, as insistently and instinctively as if he'd been confirming his genetic code. "Yeah she does." Then, the smirk came back. "Plus, hey; she's always got Castle."
"You are not winnin' that bet, bro," Espo immediately countered.
"Gee, Espo, you sound cocky enough to raise!"
"I'm not gonna raise."
"Is it because you know you'll lose?"
"Because it's pointless; I'm not gonna raise."
"Says the loser."
"Oh, look, so that's the control switch for the air-conditioning."
The bicker session was interrupted by a soft few taps on the half-open door. Sitting up straight enough to turn around in his seat, Esposito saw a familiar petite blonde in the doorway, wearing a green sweater, an engagement ring, and a sheepish smile. Ryan's eyes followed the sound too, and lit up just a little bit more when they did. You could tell if you knew him well enough.
"Hi, Javier…Kevin, I found that chicken soup you asked for…am I interrupting?" Both the boys, if asked, would've said she made a good cop-wife in training: Jenny already understood the bond between partners and had never questioned it; a make-or-break factor in the past.
"Hey, Jen. Nah, we're good. Thanks," Ryan replied to her. As she left the doorway and walked toward him, he added, "And, 'asked for' is kind of a stretch: I believe your exact words were, 'Name something I can go get you or I'll just do it myself, I'm going crazy.' But, hey, small detail," he grinned.
Smirking back at him, Jenny eased the Styrofoam cup into his hands and routinely started fluffing his pillow, as much as cheap paper could possibly fluff. "And here I thought you'd keep that to yourself so I don't look any crazier. My mistake," she easily retorted. "But you're not shivering as much; that's good! And the doctor said that you can go home now, if you feel up to it. I don't want you to feel like you have to. How do you feel?"
How did he feel. For a moment, Ryan weighed the facts, like he did on a daily basis a thousand times. He felt cold; but a lot less than he'd felt an hour ago. In fact, he was warmer now than he'd been all night. He felt exhausted, sure; but out of all of them, who didn't? He felt a little sore in a few places, his ribs and his wrists and his pride being a few of them; but he'd live. And he'd be back to doing his job at the first opportunity; nothing could hope to stop him, to keep him from that. So he made sure that Esposito didn't miss his glance to him before he answered.
"A lot better now," he replied. Then he smiled softly up at his fiancée. "Let's get outta here."
Javier caught it, all right. And, grinning a little grin back, he took that as his cue to leave. He stood up, but didn't make it through the doorway before Jenny's voice reeled him back. "Javier? You're okay too, aren't you? Do you need a ride?"
The fact that she'd come out of her bubble enough to check on him too was proof enough for Javier that his partner was in the hands of a good woman - not that it surprised Kevin in the least; if anything it made him prouder. Javier gave a little smile for her, with a nod. "Yeah. I'm all right. I'm covered, but thanks. I should get goin'."
"Sure." Jenny nodded back, and so did Ryan.
"We'll catch you, bro."
"Yeah, you will." It was funny…now that Javier knew there was someone at home waiting for him, the usual feelings he got toward seeing Ryan and his girl together - an outer front of almost-diabetic disdain, thinly veiling just a touch of jealousy that he'd never found that for himself - were nowhere to be found. He was just happy for them, happy it was all over, and happy he was finally going home. Now that it had been used as a bargaining chip, suddenly, the future didn't scare him anymore. "…You guys have a good night."
On that, Esposito left the room behind him. A cop's duty was never done; but his was for tonight, and it was time he made the most of it.
After all, he still had time: until the wheels fell off.
And, BAM, said the lady. *wipes brow* I'm thinking that this is chapter/oneshot probably the end of it, unless I get particularly stricken to do another one. (If I were to do that, it'd probably involve the Captain/Castle/maybe Alexis, some way or another, though the whole point of these oneshots were to focus on Roach, so, I'm not sure how I'd do that, and my muse for it at the moment is just…meh. Maybe next time; we'll see.)
Again, as I say on every chapter of all my new stories: if there's anyone [ages 14 and over] interested in joining a free, writing-based Castle roleplaying forum, check out the bolded paragraph in my profile, por favor. ;)
Anyhoo, THANK YOU ALL for reading and for those wonderful reviews! I would really appreciate if you would take a minute to let me know what you liked or your favorite parts; it's a big help to me. Reviews make my days better, so thanks and thanks in advance. ^^
More Castle stories to come. Peace and love, everybody. 3