"Shoot out one of his kneecaps," ordered Lockwood. Ryan felt himself being yanked back, thrown against the cold floor. His spine slammed against the cement, and he was no longer looking down into the black water but up at the barrel of a gun. Then everything got jumbled up. He heard a gunshot, close-range, right above him. Three more. Esposito yelling, "No!" He knew what he heard, but the order in which he heard it all was unclear, because somewhere in the middle of the yelling and gunshots, his left knee exploded. He swore that was what had happened.
"NYPD!" someone yelled. "Drop your weapons!" Somewhere in the back of his mind, Ryan felt like he should know that voice, but all he could focus on was the raging pain shooting through his knee and up his leg. It was so painful it made him nauseous. He spat out a mouthful of regurgitated ice water onto the floor. The movement shifted his bleeding leg, sending waves of pain radiating through his body.
"Bastards!" He should have recognized that voice, too, but, impossibly, the pain was getting worse. It scorched until finally, blissfully, everything blurred to black.
Javier Esposito leaned against a wall deep within the corridors of the hospital, his eyes fixated on one of the fluorescent light panels above his head. He had made a sort of game out of staring at it until he had to blink and then observing the purple and red patterns the light created when he shut his eyes. He was exhausted, and yet the last thing he wanted to do was sleep. If he slept, he'd have nightmares, and his nightmares were always just difficult memories yanked from the depths of his mind. He tended to dream about finding out Ike Thornton was dead, and arriving at Beckett's apartment to find it blown to bits. This night's events were definitely going on the list of things not to think about right before falling asleep.
He wanted to sit down, and yet he couldn't bear to move. He wanted to call someone, talk to someone, anyone- his parents, Lanie- and yet he seemed incapable of speech even without trying. He wanted to see Ryan, and yet he was terrified of what had happened and of what it might lead to.
Beckett walked up then, a Styrofoam cup of hospital coffee clutched in her gloved hand. She extended it to him, an offering, but he just stared down at it as if he had never seen coffee before and wasn't quite sure what her gesture meant. She set it on the floor between their feet without a word and leaned against the wall beside him. They stood there for a while in what he supposed could be called companionable silence. He stopped playing his fluorescent light patterns game and decided to watch her, to see how she was doing. He could tell that she'd been crying- a slight puffiness in her eyes, tearstains streaked across her cheek, nose raw and red- but that didn't surprise him as it might have on another day. He'd only seen her cry once before, and today had been as emotional and as heartbreaking as that occasion had been.
"It's not your fault, you know," she said quietly after what must have been several long minutes without speaking. She sounded as if she were reading a script to him, but maybe it was just the words. They were meaningless, false, and he knew that he had heard them before. They were lies.
"Yeah, it is," he said without looking at her. He didn't sound defensive or argumentative, just acceptant. He was to blame, and he was willing to take full responsibility. He was about to say something else, but it caught in his throat as he relived the screams of his partner, the utter vulnerability and agony with which his best friend had writhed on the floor after Lockwood's man had shot him. Esposito coughed, clearing his throat. "You know what I said?" he asked, turning to face Beckett. "You know what I said that made him so angry?" She shook her head, unwilling to say anything. "I pretended like I was going to tell him everything- what the cops knew. And instead I… I made a crack about his mom." He kicked the Styrofoam cup of coffee across the floor and watched as the dark coffee seeped across the tile.
"It's not your fault," she repeated. She sounded a little more bitter this time, a little more insistent.
"The hell it is," he said. "I could've said something else, I could've kept quiet and let them keep shoving him in that fucking water. Yeah, he would've passed out, but then he'd wake up and he'd be fine. He'd probably come away with a cold for a few weeks, but he'd get over it. You know what this is gonna do to him? You know how this is going to affect him? And it wouldn't have even happened if I'd just-"
"You know what, if anyone's to blame it's me!" she snapped, anger bubbling up through her quiet sadness. "Are you completely forgetting why you two were dragged out there, why you had to go through that? It would've- should have- been me. It was my case. If I hadn't have gone crazy and kept my head with Simmons-"
"No, I'm the one who should've kept my head, in the warehouse," he interrupted. "I mouthed off and now he has to pay for-"
"What are you doing?" Beckett and Esposito turned when they heard the soft voice breaking into their argument. There was Jenny, tears running down the sides of her face as if she wasn't aware of them, staring at them as if they had gone insane. "Why are you trying to blame yourselves, why are you trying to blame anybody but the monsters who did this to Kevin?"
"I'm sorry," said Esposito quickly, avoiding looking at her. Beckett said nothing, just stood there with a slightly embarrassed expression. Jenny sniffed involuntarily, swiping her hands across her face, and then walked into the hospital room in front of her.
Jenny had only seen Kevin in the hospital once before, a few months ago after he'd been attacked by a serial killer. That night, he had been standing in the corner of the room, looking annoyed and fighting off a headache. Tonight, he was stretched out precariously on the cot, as if he were a fragile doll. His eyes were shut, and his eyelids were flickering slightly, begging to be lifted up as she entered the room. She took a seat in the pale red rolling chair beside the bed and reached for his hand from where it hung over the side of the bed.
Ryan's head jerked up when he felt her fingers, as though he had been half-asleep, and the sight of his blue eyes was enough to break Jenny down. The tears returned from their brief hiatus, rolling down in fat drops and staining her skirt with dark circles. "Don't cry," he whispered hoarsely, stretching his free hand across the bed clumsily to smear the area beneath her eyes. "Please don't cry. Jenny, I'm okay." She tried to stifle her sobs, shaking herself and scattering clinging teardrops to the floor.
"You're not okay," she said thickly. "Don't lie to me, Kevin. I talked to the doctor. He told you…" Ryan nodded slowly, as if he'd wanted to postpone this moment.
"I can't walk," he confirmed. She could hear the solemn finality in those words. It wasn't a temporary thing, like he was tired from jogging and sat on the couch, asked her to bring him a glass of juice from the refrigerator because he couldn't walk anymore. It was a sentence- he couldn't walk today, or tomorrow, or for the rest of his life. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she knew that it was wrong to be crying, to be grieving. His kneecap had been shot out. It's happened, time to deal with the consequences. Time to carry on, to move along, to keep breathing. It just wasn't that easy.
"Kevin," she whispered. The tears kept flowing, and she buried her face in the pillow beside his head. His breath hitched, and he wrapped an arm around her, held her close to him, and wished for some kind of escape, some way to go back and reverse what had happened. He wasn't even thinking about what came next- how his whole life would change, how he would never run down a sidewalk again. He was primarily concerned with the wrenching cries spilling out of his fiancée, and what he wanted more than anything in the world was for her to feel better.
"Could've been worse," he murmured into her hair. "Could've been worse." He carried her hand to his chest, placing it over his heart. Jenny shuddered, then calmed, letting the tears slow and stop. They laid there for a long time, not speaking, just breathing in synchronization and thinking about anything but the future.
Esposito was still leaning against the wall beside his partner's hospital room when Jenny came back out. She looked peaceful, but in a depressing sort of way, he thought. Like she wasn't stressed, but also wasn't light-hearted, just empty and peaceful. "He wants to talk to you," she said, leaving the door open. He waited until she had started walking towards the waiting room before going in.
"Hey," said Esposito, walking further into the room. He tried not to look at the twisted form of Ryan's useless leg as he sunk into the chair Jenny had just vacated. "How you holding up?" Ryan blinked wearily, glancing up at Esposito as if he had only just realized that his partner had entered the room.
"I thought she was going to leave me," he murmured, a little breathless.
"Jenny," said Ryan. "I thought she was going to come in here and say goodbye." Esposito stared at him, caught between sickly awed at how much Ryan's injury was already affecting him and wondering whether the anesthetic the doctors had used on him had left him brain-damaged. He'd seen Jenny and Ryan together, and he knew it would take much more than a handicap to split them up. "I mean, who would want to marry a guy that can't even stand up?"
"Bro," he laughed, though it was more relief than humor, "do you know anything about women?"
"No," he admitted truthfully.
"Neither do I," Esposito sighed. He thought about Lanie, about how he was still keeping that one secret from Ryan. He felt immensely guilty, realizing that Ryan might have died tonight in the midst of a lie. Esposito wanted to tell him everything, to push aside petty worries about relationships in a workplace because they weren't even close to important anymore. And yet, it wasn't at all the right time to be discussing his own endeavors. Ryan was contemplating enormous changes in every aspect of his life. How could he even imagine bringing up his new girlfriend?
"What are you thinking?" Esposito asked after a long silence. "Really." He didn't want to hear Ryan brush him off and say he was fine, he wanted to know the truth. He wanted to sympathize, not that he expected to be good at it.
"You don't want to know," Ryan promised him, staring down at the lump of his leg and wondering whether he might be able to shift it.
"I do," Esposito assured him.
"It's not optimistic," said Ryan.
"I didn't expect it to be."
"It's not funny, either." He said it as if Esposito had been hoping for some amusing commentary, or a hilarious spin on the terrible night. Granted, they usually had something to laugh about even when they were standing over a dead body. But this wasn't just a case or a corpse, it was an ending. Of what, neither of them was quite sure yet, but it was an ending nevertheless.
"We were just tortured," Esposito reminded him. "I'm not looking for humor." Ryan sighed.
"I'm thinking… this is it." The words were blunt, short yet full of meaning. "The end of my life as I know it, and I'm never going to be as happy as I was before tonight." That, coming from the man who walked into work at six on a Monday morning to fill out a stack of paperwork with a huge grin on his face, shook Esposito.
"Wow," he said. "That's… bleak."
"I know," said Ryan. He sounded so acceptant of his fate, and that bugged Esposito. He should be furious, tormented, yelling about the unjust universe. It would have made much more sense than the calm expression he wore and the even tone of voice he spoke in. It was the serenity, the quiet state of tranquil acceptance in both Ryan and Jenny that really messed with Esposito's head.
"I want you to know that… that I'm here for you." God, he was beginning to sound like the Friends theme song. "If you ever need someone to talk to, or you just want someone to scream at, I can be that guy." He was prepared to be Ryan's punching bag, if the peaceful attitude ever fell through and he gave in to rage. Better him than Jenny, Esposito thought.
"Thanks," said Ryan, "but I don't need someone to scream at. You know that's not how I deal with anger." Okay, so maybe the peacefulness was going to continue indefinitely.
"You gonna write about it in your diary?" asked Esposito, trying to lighten the mood. That was what they did, they lightened the mood. When they had a dead woman lying on the floor, bleeding out from three stab wounds in the chest and Ryan and Esposito could see that everyone was looking a little somber, they cracked a joke. They played the comic relief guys, and they were happy with that role. They both knew that was what they really needed right now- something to take their minds of Ryan's injury, something to distract them, something to make them smile.
"It's not a diary, it's a blog," he argued, falling right into Esposito's carefully laid trap to bring the lightness back. The banter. They could both feel the edges softening on the traumatic night.
"That's just an electronic diary," Esposito scoffed. "I'm serious, though, you took a bullet for something I said. I'm prepared to wait on you hand and foot, if that's what you need."
"You don't have to do that," said Ryan. It looked like he tried to shrug, but at the angle he was lying it looked more like he was just twitching his shoulders. "I mean, I guess you could push my wheelchair when I-"
"Wheelchair?" He hadn't known it, but Esposito had been subconsciously waiting for the final nail to be driven in that would make it all real to him, that would really define his ultimate reaction, and that was it.
"Yeah," said Ryan. "I… yeah. A wheelchair."
Esposito knew that Ryan needed him, that it would be better to just stay in the room and talk, to provide the comic relief that they both needed. Ryan needed him to be there, to talk through everything and provide the simple comfort that only a partner could.
But Esposito couldn't stay there, not at the moment, because although he might have acted fine, he was affected too. "I need to go talk to… Beckett," he muttered, avoiding looking at Ryan. "I'll, um… I'll see you later." He left the room, avoiding looking at Ryan's slightly disappointed, slightly pitied expression.
As soon as Esposito shut the door, he realized that Lanie was standing there, waiting for him. Gratefully, exhausted, and ready for the day to end, he sunk into her arms and let everything wash over the both of them.