Kevin Ryan had been having some very strange dreams lately.
Not that it didn't make sense that he would have a few—he had died, after all. Well, a bit. Estimates were shaky, but based on the time between the call and their arrival the EMTs thought his heart might have stopped beating for as long as two and a half minutes before they had finally managed to resuscitate him. That was more than enough to count, in Kevin's book. Not that his near-death experience was something he was going to flaunt in front of Javier—it wasn't something he thought his partner would appreciate—though he was almost certain to get some mileage out of it with Castle.
Yet, oddly, the first dream hadn't occurred while Kevin was unconscious, but in the ambulance at the scene.
In fact, Kevin was sure he hadn't yet fallen asleep when it did—that happened sometimes, didn't it, people dreaming while they were still somewhat awake? It must, because the whole thing had been pretty vivid, and remarkably linear, and Kevin almost wouldn't have thought it was a dream at all, except...
Well, it had happened like this:
Kevin had been lying in the back of the ambulance waiting for the EMTs to drive him off to the hospital. One of them had been reassuring Kevin that the fact that he was already awake and talking was a very good sign, but that they were still concerned about the head injury that had knocked him unconscious in the first place, resulting in his tumble into a nearby river. They would likely have to take a few scans to make sure the damage wasn't serious. From the back of the ambulance, Kevin could see his partner where Javier had been arguing with the other EMT. If breathing had hurt just a bit less at that point, Kevin could have told Javier that it was pointless—they were not going to let him ride along, no matter how loudly he insisted. Not that Kevin thought that his saying so would have convinced Javier either.
And all of that had sucked supremely, but up until that point it had still been fairly normal.
The part that had made Kevin so sure it was a dream had happened right after that. The second EMT had shaken his head, clearly convinced that the discussion was over, and Javier had– He had sort of...changed. One moment it had been his partner standing there, and the next—well, it had still been his partner standing there. Sort of.
Only...his partner was suddenly a lion.
Kevin had realized pretty quickly that he was dreaming at that point, but he had still let out a shocked noise, almost inaudible behind the mask over his nose. Javier could be intimidating enough under normal circumstances, but adding fangs to the equation made the whole effect kind of intense. And Kevin had to admire the balls on that EMT, because the man hadn't even flinched. Still, as he studied Javier's new face—admittedly, a touch muzzily—Kevin had thought, oddly enough, that the look seemed to suit him.
At any rate, the strange impression had lasted for only a few seconds before it faded, leaving his partner just as he had been before.
As much as Kevin might have wanted some real sleep after that, it hadn't been in his cards. While very impressed with his being awake and coherent, the EMTs had very much wanted him to stay that way if at all possible. As tired as he had felt it hadn't been easy, but Kevin had done his best. At the hospital his continuing alertness had been encouraging, and Kevin had been fortunate—almost miraculously so—to come away from resuscitation without a single broken rib. But they had still wanted him to stay for testing and observation, just to be sure.
Once he had finally been allowed to sleep, however, the nightmares had begun. And, though formless and vague, they had carried just enough intensity that the memory of his earlier fantasy had quickly been driven from his mind.
Fortunately, the doctors had been happy enough with his condition to send him home forty-eight hours later.
And it wasn't until a few days after his release that Kevin even remembered that first dream. He had spent most of that time at home taking it easy, mindful of Kate's threats regarding what she would do to him if he didn't. Kevin had rolled his eyes, but hadn't bothered to argue. Javier hadn't said a word either, merely smirking at him to cover his own concern—as if he wouldn't have been just as stubborn. Fortunately, by the end of the first week most of the stubborn aches and dragging exhaustion of his ordeal had worn off. Bored and restless, that week had been the upper limit that Kevin was willing to wait.
At any rate, their suspect had escaped after Kevin's inconvenient dunk in the river, which had set them back on their case. And the last thing he wanted was to leave Beckett and Javier playing catch-up without him...
In the end, it had taken them most of the day to find a lead on their suspect's whereabouts. That lead took the form of a petty thief by the name of William Dane who had shared a cell with their murderer a few years back. It had taken the rest of the day to track him down as well. And if Kevin had been concerned—just a little—that he might not yet be up to par, those doubts were quickly laid to rest in the resulting chase. Having a lead take off on you was never ideal, but all things considered, Kevin was glad to be back on the job.
Really, it was only after they caught the guy that everything started going rapidly downhill.
As Javier wrestled the man up against the wall for a frisk, a low hiss drew Kevin's attention. And Kevin watched in horror as Dane's features twisted, forming into an impossible reptilian visage. Soon, his expression of frustrated anger was gone, replaced upon a scaled, flat-nosed face by a gaping, sharp-toothed grin. Kevin took a quick step back, reaching for his gun. Though, fortunately, he managed to stop himself before he pulled the trigger...
Because he knew that what he was seeing couldn't possibly be real.
He must have made a noise of some kind, because both the criminal and Javier turned to look at him. Following Kevin's horrified stare to the monster he held pinned in front of him, Javier's eyes widened very briefly. Still, Kevin was sure his partner wasn't seeing the same thing he was, because the expression of alarm was very short-lived. For just a moment Kevin thought he saw concern, but that too was soon gone from Javier's face entirely. Yet the creature's mouth hung open, and its bulging eyes stared back at Kevin with what might have been an almost equal terror to his own—an assessment that was apparently born out as the vision melted, leaving Dane appearing human once again.
"Oh, God, is he–"
The fearful words cut off abruptly as Javier shoved hard at the man, whatever he had been about to say lost as he was forced against the rough brick wall.
"He's fine," Javier ground out harshly, pulling Dane's arms behind his back as he brought out his cuffs. "Get in the car. Open your mouth again and I'll give you a problem."
And there was an audible warning in Javier's voice, an unmistakable threat of violence that struck Kevin as startlingly out of character. Something about it, even more than his earlier fear, left Kevin feeling off-balance and shaken.
Not a single word was spoken as they bundled Dane into the back of the car. As Kevin climbed into the passenger seat beside his partner, the air within the vehicle felt charged with a tension that was almost electric. Glancing in the rear-view mirror, Kevin caught a very brief look at the man they had just arrested. Dane's face was pale, and his body-language practically vibrated with nervous anxiety. And when he noticed Kevin's eyes upon him Dane ducked his head down, like he was trying to make himself small and stay out of sight. It wasn't just the caution or distrust that many people felt around cops, Kevin realized, but pure, naked terror, and seeing it directed at himself was almost painfully surreal.
Yet even more startling than the criminal's barely concealed fear was the strange, still tension that had stolen over his partner.
At first, Kevin almost read the tautness in Javier's posture as anger, but he was swift to realize his mistake. Not that it was a difficult one to make, because Kevin realized that what he was really seeing wasn't anger at all but restraint—similar to what he was used to seeing when Javier held his often volatile temper in check. Yet there was an odd, desperate energy to the control Javier was exerting upon himself. While on the surface his partner appeared calm, if distracted, there was an edge to everything—the set of his shoulders, the sharpness of his breathing, and the way that, save for a rare, cautious glance, Javier seemed reluctant to even look at him—that gave that lie away. To Kevin, at least. Though, despite his years of experience in reading his partner, Kevin almost wanted to believe himself mistaken...
Weighing Javier's behavior against that of their criminal, Kevin's instincts kept insisting that his partner was hiding something closely akin to panic.
That hurt him more than a little, but Kevin had to remind himself it probably made sense. After all, looking at it from the outside, what Javier and Dane had both seen—what, he forced himself to acknowledge, had actually, objectively happened—was that Kevin had drawn his weapon on a restrained man without provocation.
And, in a very real way, that on it's own was more terrifying than any monster could ever be.
The drive back to the station was deathly silent. Kevin found himself wrestling with the idea the entire way. Once they arrived, Kevin left his partner to deal with processing Dane while he stepped away to clear his head.
In his mind, Kevin thought back over what had happened—or at least what he thought he had seen. He was desperate to find some explanation for it that made any kind of sense. Unfortunately, the vision had been too vivid, too sharp and solid for him to easily dismiss as something harmless, like a trick of the light.
And, after eliminating the impossible as the old saying went, none of the options that remained to him were at all encouraging.
He was at a loss as to what he should do. After all, a single, odd occurrence didn't necessarily indicate the start of a pattern. As vivid and terrifying as it had been, a single hallucination did not—not necessarily—mean that he was losing his mind. In spite of what he had thought he was seeing, he had been fully aware that it wasn't possible. And he had, Kevin reminded himself, still been lucid enough to stop himself from doing anything...rash. On the other hand, casting doubts on his own sanity when it might, honestly, be nothing could easily put his career in jeopardy.
In the end he decided it might be best to pretend nothing had happened—at least for now—and hope that the incident would remain isolated. Bearing in mind his recent head trauma—and wasn't that just a comforting thought—Kevin could hope that any transient effects would quietly pass.
To be honest, Kevin thought, he was probably doing more damage to his own mental health just from over-thinking it.
More settled once he had determined to shove his—admittedly valid—concerns to the back of his mind, Kevin headed back toward the bullpen. As distracted as he was, he almost didn't notice the movement at the corner of his eye. If he hadn't, Kevin would have missed the sight of his partner and Richard Castle disappearing down the hallway together.
Perhaps it was his already troubled state of mind, but it struck him as suspect almost immediately. If it had been Kate, Kevin would have never given it a second thought—his partner choosing to share a discreet word with her about what had happened today was almost to be expected. But Castle...Kevin couldn't reason that one out. Though the affair surrounding Montgomery's death had proven that the writer was capable of keeping secrets, if his and Javier's roles had been reversed, Kevin couldn't imagine himself discussing the incident with Castle. Not until he knew something for sure.
It was never really a conscious decision for him to follow.
Kevin caught up with them a few turns down the hall, in an out of the way corridor that didn't see much traffic. Rounding the corner carefully—quietly, though it didn't quite register that he was sneaking—Kevin saw his partner first. Javier was pacing the way he sometimes did when he was feeling frustrated and overwhelmed. Castle watched him with an expression of curiosity mixed with concern. Yet there was also something oddly anxious about it, Kevin thought, as though Javier's behavior was making the writer unusually wary. Perhaps that was understandable, but Kevin had learned a long time ago to see through that aggressive front.
No. It was plain to Kevin that his partner was scared—and feeling just a little helpless.
"Okay, seriously, what the hell happened?" Castle asked, breaking the tense silence and bringing Javier's restless steps to a halt. "I haven't seen you two spooked like this since Kate was in the hospital, so spill."
Javier ran a hand over his mouth, seeming to take a moment to form his answer. Kevin's chest tightened in anticipation, dreading a little what Javier might have to say.
Though whatever Kevin might have expected to hear about the incident, what his partner said wasn't it.
"I think Kevin might be a Grimm," Javier said, tentatively, looking the writer in the eye with a note of challenge, almost as if expecting ridicule.
The words meant nothing to Kevin. Castle seemed confused by them as well.
"He– Wait, what?" Castle asked, eyes widening in surprise.
Though it was not, Kevin thought, the same kind of confusion or surprise. Shock and disbelief would each have been better words. Javier met each with a short, dazed sort of nod.
"Apparently Jenny found a few in his family tree," Javier said, his voice stunned and empty, like he just didn't know what to do.
"Wait, wait," Castle said, holding up his hands as he tried to process...whatever the hell they were talking about. "Is that why she–"
And pain struck him at this mention of his ex-wife, so utterly unexpected in this whole thing, but as much as Kevin might have wanted to hear how she was involved, Castle stopped himself almost immediately, shaking his head.
"No, see, what you're saying doesn't make any sense," Castle argued. "If he was we would have noticed—he would have noticed. Someone would have noticed...something."
"That's what I told her, Castle, but..." Javier trailed off, shaking his head. "I think he saw that skalengeck we arrested today–"
He stopped, hesitating with a slow breath.
"No," Javier insisted, slowly, shaking his head. "No...from the way both of them were acting, I know he did."
Both of them fell quiet for a moment, tension filling the space their words had abandoned, and during that moment Kevin stood frozen, hearing his heart pound frantically in his chest. It was like a whole new dimension of weird on top of the weirdness he was already dealing with. Only...if this conversation was actually taking place, then the possibility existed that Kevin wasn't crazy—that he wasn't just seeing things—and that was potentially far more terrifying.
"Look, even if he is a–" Castle didn't seem to want to repeat the word. "Even if he is, it....it doesn't change anything. Does it?"
Yet the tension that had crept into the writer's shoulders said something significantly otherwise.
At his words Javier turned suddenly, glaring at Castle, and a low noise issued from his throat. His partner's careful control released itself, his pent-up energy flowing out from where it was stored inside. It was a sight that Kevin had witnessed several times since the two of them had become partners and friends, but this time it was very different. As he watched, Kevin saw Javier's features ripple, shifting just like Dane's. Only rather than the lizard-like creature they had arrested earlier today, Javier's face had a more bestial aspect, and his close-cropped hair was replaced with a dark, shaggy mane that nearly reached his shoulders.
And Kevin's breath caught, because it was the same face—the lion—that Kevin had seen more than a week ago from the back of an ambulance.
"It changes everything, Castle," Javier bit out as he advanced on the writer, a rumble working its way into his voice that was nearly a growl.
Castle put his hands up defensively, clearly nervous at the display—though by no means as afraid as Kevin thought he would have been in the writer's place.
"Hey, hey, easy. Temper, Javi," Castle said, his voice trying—but failing—to be soothing. "It's going to be okay. I just mean– He's still Kevin, right? We just have to watch ourselves around him. It'll be–"
Only that was when the writer stiffened, his words cutting off as he lifted his nose, sniffing the air like a dog—and then Castle had turned, suddenly, staring right at Kevin.
"Oh...sugar," Castle swore softly.
Javier's eyes had followed his, and now they both were looking at Kevin. Javier's face melted back to normal, and Kevin found himself greeted by an expression of sheer horror. And Kevin's mouth was hanging open, but he couldn't seem to say anything. He couldn't think—he could barely even breathe.
And as his partner said his name, taking a hesitant step toward him, Kevin did the only thing that made any sense.