The first time he heard Javier use the word "warm" in its new context, Kevin had found himself oddly startled by it.
He hadn't understood at first what it was that bothered him. It was such a simple word, small and deceptively familiar. Kevin wasn't unaware of its use. He'd heard it said before. And it wasn't an insult. Inflected sometimes jealously, sometimes nostalgically, it was used by IHN survivors to describe all the things they no longer were. Heated, literally, but also breathing, whole, vital. Subject to the normal set of natural rules that no longer seemed to apply to, define, or protect them. It was a loaded word, filled of an impressive degree of implied meaning, simply because it avoided the unwanted distinctions associated with other words...
Words like normal. Words like alive.
Thinking about it, Kevin realized it had been yet another reminder serving to drive home how different his partner's life had become—and how different that life had become from Kevin's. A subtle reminder, but a harsh one nonetheless.
He and Javier lived in the same apartment and went to the same job, almost always together. They worked in the same space at the station and outside of it often spent most of their day in the car with each other. Days could pass in which they were never more than five feet from one another. Nowadays, they even fell asleep in the same bed.
Despite all of this, in a very real way, the life they shared would never be the same life. Not really. Not anymore.
The eyes that fell on Kevin when they were out together weren't the same eyes that fell on Javier. When Kevin met people, they met him, but when they met Javier they met a post-vital first, and who he was came after. Words said to or of Kevin wouldn't always mean the same things as they did when applied to his partner.
On the opposite side of things, there were times when it was made disturbingly clear how sharply Javier's experiences of things and people sometimes veered from Kevin's, even when they experienced them side-by-side. Kevin never suffered the indignity of playing watchdog to his own reactions around their crime scenes. He didn't sit down with suspects—or witnesses—and have to remind himself they weren't prey. He didn't have to meet those new people, knowing he was being judged. Kevin wasn't confronted with the warmth of every handshake and touch by the reminder of how different he was from the people around him. He wasn't host to the thoughts Javier was, and didn't have to split his focus to keep them from showing in his eyes. It wasn't the same struggle for him to keep his attention on their face rather than their throat.
Such a small word, subtle, but a definite reminder of the invisible line that, no matter how close they were, would always remain between them. A hurtful reminder that, even when they were in each others' arms, they were still apart.
There were an unsurprisingly wide variety of derogatory terms for post-vitals.
Geek, freak, ghoul, creep, deader, zombie, half-life, cannibal… That number ballooned dramatically if one was religiously or mythologically inclined. The word "undead" was borderline, considered rude though not outright insulting. It had been familiar enough in usage prior to the first outbreaks to be picked up quickly as the common term, and it was even used in a handful of the earliest scientific studies of the condition. Nowadays, it was roughly on par with words like "negro", throwbacks to a time when they had been considered correct, now painfully outdated.
The words "defect", "reject" and similar often comprised coarse slang for post-vitals whose recovery was incomplete, and were frequently applied to post-vitals in general. The term "regressive" was appropriate clinically for post-vitals who had suffered reversal of progress, but was also commonly used as a slur against post-vitals as a whole, the malicious implication that those who were stable might still only be a whiff of fresh blood away from breaking.
Ironically, some of the worst were all relatively harmless prior to the outbreaks. While words like "reject" and "cannibal" were blatantly insulting, some of the sting was lessened simply by the fact that they had always been insults. An insult implied that its target was a person, or at the very least a thing capable of feeling insulted.
Some words didn't even leave that.
Words like "dead" and "passed" and "gone"; words said in sorrow as often than disgust. Words like "late" or "former" or "deceased" that tried to rob identity, rob life from those whose names they were attached to. Words that reduced their subjects to an object, reflecting the belief that the real person, the soul had departed from the thing it left behind.
"The only thing more disgusting than a corpse is a corpse with a badge."
"Keep flattering me, scumbag," Javier said as he pushed their perp's head down to stuff him in the back of the car. "Maybe I'll blush."
No one knew about their relationship. Not yet. Neither of them really wanted to keep it a secret, though, and while they still kept it quiet, they weren't really trying to hide. One day someone would know. One day they would be ready to tell, or else someone would figure it out.
Probably Castle or Beckett—he and Javier were taking bets on that.
Either way, Kevin knew to be ready for the day it inevitably became known. Ready for the looks and the jokes and the barbs that would inevitably come their way. Maybe not from Beckett or Castle, maybe not around the station—not openly—but he wasn't naïve enough to believe it wouldn't happen at all. He loved Javier. He had loved Javier when his partner was warm and he loved him now. Not more, or less, or even differently in any measurable way.
He knew a lot of people wouldn't understand that...
Apalmosophilia was the word for it. Kevin didn't feel that it applied—not to them, not to him. It was the proper term, though. Technically.
It just wasn't the one people would use.