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Today had truly sucked. It was the most coherent thought Kevin Ryan could manage at the moment aside from the overwhelming need to find Javier. Not Esposito, who was his partner at work and fellow detective, though he’d settle for that, too, even if they were in front of about a dozen of New York City’s finest. Kevin's eyes darted over the immediate area, but there was no sign of him. He was probably in take-charge mode, overseeing the crime scene to feel like he was doing something. Kevin understood the feeling, but he just wanted to see him. The day had gone incredibly wrong, he felt like shit, and he wanted to go home, where he could find some comfort in one of the few places he trusted.

The sirens and talking were too loud. The noise was beating into his ears as the fall air left him out of breath and he couldn't stop his hand from shaking. He was a fucking mess.

Despite his mind's attempts to shut down, Kevin kept thinking about those critical few minutes when Castle realized who Jerry really was. It was Castle who figured it out first - not Kevin, the actual detective.

Rewind. Play again.

It all happened so fast. He had always heard that big moments happened in slow motion, but it was nothing like that. Kevin barely had time to process what Castle was saying before he was out cold. There still had to be something from that flash of time, a clue to help them locate where the slime ball had slithered away to. Why hadn't he figured things out sooner? He was supposed to be good at solving crimes. Instead, he had a let a damn serial killer get away. Practically helped the guy pack up his shit and go on his merry way. What was it Jenny had told him when they broke up last year? Smart guy, totally oblivious half the time.

Kevin really needed to find Javier and go home, but his legs had ceased working a few minutes ago. It was taking all his effort to keep standing.

“This day really sucks,” Kevin said, not sure that he was talking to anyone in particular. He tried to reach into his pocket for some of the Tylenol he kept on hand for occasions just like this, but that made everything start to spin, so he stopped moving. He wanted to close his eyes and wish this day away. He wanted a redo, to wake up back in bed with Javier, knowing everything he did now about the identity of the Triple Killer, and make sure it went the way it was supposed to. The Triple Killer would be in custody and he wouldn’t have almost gotten Castle killed.

“You need to go to the hospital,” Beckett stated.

Kevin shook his head. God, it hurt. “No. Thanks, but I’m okay.”

Beckett studied him with the appraising glare she normally saved for her suspects. She folded her arms and said, “You’re not the only one who didn’t see it, Ryan. I bought right into the whole story Jerry offered us. It felt too easy, but I ignored my gut.”

“I should’ve…”

“We can have this conversation after you've finished pulling this macho crap about suffering in silence and seen a doctor.”

“I’m fine, Beckett,” Kevin replied. He didn’t even buy it himself. It was like his mouth was full of cotton and his words came out muffled and weak. He tried to look around the area one more time for Javier - he needed to get the hell out of there - but it made his head hurt more.

“Do you think this is up for discussion, Ryan? You’re going to the hospital.”

“No,” Kevin replied, forcing himself to meet Beckett’s gaze. “I hate hospitals. It’s never like the soap operas with the hot doctors offering sponge baths.“

General Hospital is my personal favorite. One Life to Live used to have some decent actors, but they all left for better things. General Hospital has the best supercouples. My favorite has always been Sonny and Brenda. They truly do have the love of a lifetime,” Castle said, appearing out of nowhere. There was a good chance he had been there the whole time though, considering how loopy Kevin was feeling. Who knew it was actually possible to see stars? He always thought it was just a saying or something out of a cartoon.

“You watch soap operas. Why am I not surprised?” Beckett replied.

“I was a stay-at-home dad. It seemed like part of the job. I would put Alexis down for her nap and when my writer’s block hit, I turned to General Hospital for comfort,” Castle replied. He placed his hand on Kevin’s shoulder and said, “And in fairness to soap operas everywhere, no one – hot or not – is turned on by a guy with a green pallor to his skin.“

“You're right. And he's getting paler too," Beckett replied. She reached out for him and he stumbled back. Not exactly his finest moment. She said, "That's it. I’m driving you to the damn hospital myself, Ryan.”

Kevin was about to argue, but he felt an arm slip around him and heard Esposito talking. He smiled and said, “There you are.”

Everything started to slow down. He could feel Javier’s grip on him tighten and he was talking. Kevin wasn’t sure what was being said though, as everything sounded like it was being spoken by the adults from the Snoopy cartoons. Random words came in and out “stubborn idiot...mwah, mwah, mwah…concussion…mwah, mwah, mwah…kill him myself…mwah, mwah, mwah.” Those stars he had been seeing became more like really bright lights. He shut his eyes, but the light was still there, and the last thing he remembered thinking was how much the day truly, truly sucked.

**

Kevin groaned and clutched at his head as he opened his eyes. He knew immediately he was in the hospital and tried to lift himself out of the bed. He hated hospitals. Nothing good every happened there. At least not in his experience.

A pair of hands pushed against him, holding him down, and said, “Don’t even think about it, man.”

Kevin glanced up at Javier with a grimace. His face was a mixture of worry and determination, which meant that no matter what Kevin said or did, he was going to be stuck in the hospital bed. It was an act in futility and his head hurt too much for fighting. He shut his eyes and asked, “How did I get here?”

“You passed out. Scared the shit out of us,” Javier replied. He ran his hand over his face and hovered over Kevin, as though he wasn't sure if he could trust Kevin not to bolt. Javier said, “What the hell were you thinking? Why didn’t you tell me the second I got to the scene that you needed a doctor?”

"I told Castle and Beckett not to worry."

Javier stared at him and clenched his fists at his sides. "And when, exactly, did you get your medical degree?"

“I thought I was okay. Ya know, just a flesh wound,” Kevin replied. His attempt at a Monty Python joke was sad, even by his standards. He blamed the pounding sensation in his head for that.

“Uh-huh.”

“I did. At first, anyway, and then I just wanted to go home.”

“Idiot.”

“Is that anyway to talk to an invalid?” Kevin replied.

“When he nearly gets himself killed because he's too stubborn to admit he's hurt? Yeah, it is,” Javier replied. He shook his head and let out an annoyed grunt. Kevin watched as Javier's hard-ass stance crumbled away. Kevin was torn between wanting to kiss him, wanting to laugh at the pair of them, and just curling up in ball at the mess of things. Javier sat on the edge of the bed and said, "What am I going to do with you, Kev?"

“Get me out of here. I hate hospitals. They freak me out. And I’m pretty sure my head didn’t hurt this much earlier. Did you and Beckett use me as a punching bag or something?” Kevin replied. He wanted to try to release some of the tension in the air. He wanted to remove the frown lines from Javier’s face and make himself feel like less of an idiot for letting a murderer get away and then passing out in front of god knew how many people. Instead, his mind circled around the fact that he was in the hospital and panic squeezed him from the inside out. His eyes took in the barren room, with ugly beige curtains. He listened to the soft beeping and whirring noises coming from machines that were attached to him. He noticed that he was dressed in a ridiculous gown that barely covered him and there were wires attached to his body. And when he closed his eyes, he was inundated with the smell. The whole place wreaked of antiseptic, bleach, and death. It permeated everything and he was pretty sure he was going to pass out again. Or throw up.

“I’m going be sick. I need to get out of here.”

“Do you even hear yourself sometimes?”

“I mean it. This place…”

“Hey, calm down. It’s fine, Kev. You’re gonna be fine. Just look at me,” Javier said. He held Kevin’s hand – surefire sign that Javier was more scared than he was letting on – and continued, “Just breathe.”

“I’m trying.”

“Try harder, man. You have a concussion and you’re supposed to take it easy,” Javier said.

“How am I supposed to do that when I've got a goddamn tube in my arm?”

“It’s an IV bag, you big baby,” Javier said. He squeezed Kevin’s hand. Simple gesture, but it was like a life line of sorts for Kevin. “Whacked in the head by a psycho, no big deal, but a small needle and suddenly he whimpers in fear.”

“You’re so lucky I can’t move right now.”

“Keep telling yourself that.”

Kevin carefully maneuvered so that he was closer to Javier and felt some of the fear dissipate. “So concussion…that’s not so bad. Get a doctor in here and I can go home.”

“Nice try, but they want to keep you for observation overnight.”

“This day really sucks.”

“So you’ve said.”

“I did?”

“It was more like a bunch of random mutterings.”

“I don’t mutter.”

“Well, you did. Kept going on about General Hospital and bad days.”

“I vaguely remember Castle talking about some great love.”

“Your babbling was actually a bit of a relief. I knew you weren't dead."

"I was knocked unconscious. That's all."

"When you went down, man, I have never been so scared in my life,” Javier replied. His free hand reached out and caressed Kevin’s face. “I’ve seen a lot, but that was just…too hard. You’re not allowed to do that ever again.”

“Neither of us can make a promise like that in this line of work. You know that as well as I do.”

“Maybe, but you don’t get to play martyr either.”

Kevin groaned. He really couldn’t weather an argument and he doubted Javier could either. He knew he wouldn’t be handling things very well if the roles had been reversed. He said, “Fair enough, I guess.”

“You guess?”

“Cut me some slack. I’ve got a concussion,” Kevin replied. Once again, his pathetic attempts at lessening the tension failed miserably. It put Javier even more on edge. There wasn’t much Kevin could do and he hated it. He hated seeing Javier so upset and knowing it was because he was a complete idiot. He squeezed Javier’s hand and said, “I’m okay, Javi. Really.”

“This shouldn’t have happened.”

“At least he didn’t mess up my face. We both know that I’m the handsome one.”

“Stop with the jokes, Kevin. He could’ve killed you and Castle and then what would I have done?”

“He didn’t. Jerry wanted us to live with the knowledge that he was smarter than us.”

“Thank God.”

“Yeah, it’s great. There’s a serial killer on the loose because I couldn’t see what was right in front of me.”

“Beckett is already beating herself up about that enough for the whole department. I want you to focus on getting better,” Javier replied. Kevin was about to respond, but Javier placed his hand over Kevin’s mouth and said, “Don’t even try to tell me you’re fine or I'll strangle you.”

Kevin nodded. Arguments could wait for another day.

They sat in peaceful silence for what could have been seconds or minutes, Kevin starting to doze off, but stopping himself. Kevin said, "I'm sorry for scaring you."

Javier said, “I’m sorry I let you down.”

“What?"

“I’m supposed to have your back out there. We’re partners.”

“You do have my back. I know that.”

“But—“

“—now you need to shut up before you say something stupid.”

Javier laughed mirthlessly. He stared at Kevin for a moment with a look so full of promise and love that it was almost overwhelming. It made Kevin’s skin flush as warmth and need coursed through him and he was pretty sure the monitors were registering the quickening of his heartbeat. It was really unfair. He was about to say so before Javier leaned down and placed a chaste kiss on Kevin’s lips. He ran his hands down Kevin’s chest and stomach before resting them on the bed, one on each side of Kevin, and said, “This whole situation has put a lot into perspective.”

“That's never good."

"Kevin."

"I'm serious. Perspective is something that is usually followed with things like 'always be friends' and really bad country music."

"You're being an idiot again," Javier replied. “I have no plans to give you up, even if you've got no sense of self-preservation."

"I told you-"

"-yeah, yeah, you thought you were fine. Whatever. That's not what I'm talking about here. I get that what we do comes with a bit of risk. I've always known that, but it never really hit me until tonight that something could really go wrong.”

“Javier, Castle has a split lip and I’ve got a concussion. It’s nothing.”

“Would you let me talk?”

“I can’t really handle a heart-to-heart talk right now. My head is killing me and I’ll say the wrong thing and it will be epically bad.”

"It’s nothing you don’t already know. I just need to say this, okay?” Javier replied.

Kevin nodded. He hated the pain and worry that Javier was feeling because of him. He hated that each member of his team was blaming themselves for what had gone down. He hated that Jerry-the-idiot had gotten one over on him. He was usually so good at reading people and his head fucking hurt like hell because he wasn’t observant enough. Sometimes cases just left a bad taste in his mouth and this was one of them.

“I love you, Kev. I know we don’t say it, that it's just understood, but I need you to hear it. I love you and I really don't know what I would do if things had gone south tonight.”

Javier was right. Kevin knew how Javier felt about him. They might not say it, no real need to and words were Castle’s domain, but Kevin never doubted it. Even before they were together, Javier was his family. Kevin smiled and said, “If we’re being all mushy, I love you too.”

“It’s like Sonny and Brenda have come to life before my eyes.”

Kevin and Javier both turned to see Castle standing in the doorway with what looked to be about fifty balloons.

“Careful you don’t fly away there, Mary Poppins,” Javier commented.

“That was an umbrella. The old man from Up used balloons,” Castle replied. He deposited the balloons on a chair and pulled a bag out of his coat and handed it to Kevin.

Kevin stared from the bag to Castle suspiciously. He said, “What is this?”

“A gift.”

“But why?”

“What kind of childhood did you have, Ryan, that you’re not more excited about a gift?”

“I’m not dying.”

“I know. Balloons would’ve been inappropriate if you were.”

“So I don’t need a gift.”

“You had a bad day. A gift was in order.”

“But…”

Javier choked back a laugh and said, “I’ll let you two argue about this while I go let the doctor know that Sleeping Beauty is awake.”

Kevin watched Javier leave the room and said, “Oh man. Now that he knows I’m okay, I’m gonna hear about passing out for the rest of my life.”

“It was a little dainty,” Castle replied with a smile. "Don't worry. I'll show you when you're feeling better."

"Show me?"

"I managed to record it with my phone. As evidence of the crime."

"Tell me you didn't."

Castle rolled his eyes. "Of course I didn't. I'm a prankster, not a monster. There was also the whole issue of trying to keep you from face planting into the pavement and getting a medic." Kevin glared, but couldn't really muster any actual annoyance. His brain was still attempting to ooze out of his head. When Kevin remained silent, Castle said, “I’m glad you’re okay, Ryan.”

“Same to you.”

“You still haven’t opened your gift,” Castle replied.

Kevin peeked in the bag. He pulled out the bottle and said, “Balloons and whiskey. Good combination.”

“I’d pour us both a glass if I wasn’t afraid your partner would break my leg.”

“I can't even think about a drink right now considering I feel like I've got the worst hangover of all time."

"We’ll save it for later."

"Definitely. Thanks, Castle.”

“I really am glad you’re okay, Ryan. I wish I had figured things out sooner.”

“We all do. Sometimes the bad guy gets away.”

“I don’t really like that ending. It wouldn’t sell a lot of books.”

“Didn’t you sell a bazillion copies of a book where you killed your beloved main character?”

“That was different. There was lots of nuance and foreshadowing.”

“If you say so.”

Castle motioned to the hall and said, “I’m going to leave you in Esposito’s capable hands.”

“Don’t smirk or I’ll tell Beckett you’ve got a crush on her.”

“You and Esposito are even better than Sonny and Brenda. Not nearly as pretty, mind you, but a love to last throughout time.”

“I hate you.”

Javier appeared with a doctor in tow. Castle said, “The cavalry has arrived. I’ll see you later.”

“I’ll still hate you, but thanks for the gift and freaky number of balloons.”

“Terrible childhood. We need to remedy that,” Castle replied. He nodded to Javier as he exited the room. No matter what Castle’s faults were, Kevin had to admit that he was a good guy to have in your corner.

**

The next morning, despite protesting fiercely against it, a nurse wheeled him out of his hospital room to the exit. He would’ve been angrier about the whole thing – A wheelchair? Was it really necessary? – if not for the image of Javier struggling to control the balloons. Kevin laughed as the glass doors out of the hospital opened and a gust of wind hit, sending the balloons everywhere.

“Damn Castle,” Javier mumbled from behind a mess of pink balloons.

“Having trouble there? I’m more than willing to help.”

“Keep your ass in that wheelchair. I’ve got it.”

Kevin saw Beckett waiting in the pick-up area, leaning against her car with a perplexed-but-amused grin on her face. She said, “Need some help there, ladies."

Javier said, "Castle bought Ryan some balloons."

"I can see that," Beckett replied. She opened the back door of the car and said, "You're looking better."

Kevin stepped out of the wheelchair - sweet freedom - only to have Javier grab him by the arm and place him into the car. "Someone's tense."

"I just want to get you home in one piece," Javier replied. He pushed at the balloons and said, "I'm going to get Castle for this."

"Just leave them in the children's ward," Beckett said.

Javier glanced at Kevin, who shrugged and said, "I don't think Castle will mind and it might make some kid's day."

Javier focused on Kevin and said, "I'll be right back." He turned to Beckett, handed her a bunch of papers, and said, "This is the stuff the doctors said to watch for. Keep an eye on him."

As if to provide further proof of the trauma the team had faced in the past twenty-four hours, Beckett placed the paperwork in Kevin's hands without a comment or snicker. She even ruffled Kevin's hair like he was a lost puppy dog. He met her gaze and said, "I'm okay, Beckett."

"Yeah?"

"Physically anyway. Pissed off, mostly."

"He had us all fooled. That's the problem with psychotic serial killers. A lot of them don't get caught until they want to," Beckett said.

"Hey, no shop talk. He's supposed to rest for the next forty-eight hours," Javier called out as he ran around to the passenger's side of the car.

"For God's sake, Esposito. Get in the car and stop hovering."

"I'm just making sure that he's okay."

"And doing his best to annoy me," Kevin added.

"Someone has to watch out for you since you're incapable of doing it for yourself."

"My head hurts enough already."

"If the two of you don't stop bickering like an old married couple, I'm going to retract the offer to drive you home," Beckett said as she took her seat behind the steering wheel. She glanced at Javier and said, "In or out, Esposito. Either way this car is moving in ten seconds."

Kevin smirked as Javier took his seat in the car. He caught Kate's gaze in the rear-view mirror and she said, "And he's right. You're a real moron sometimes, Ryan."

Kevin decided, once again, that everything truly sucked. Except that wasn't quite right. He and Castle had walked away from a situation with a serial killer, still breathing. He had people in his life who cared enough about him to bring him insane amounts of balloons and to haul his sorry ass around town. And he had Javier, which made even the horrible moments bearable. Kevin didn't think the case and what had transpired would magically disappear from his memory. Until the Triple Killer was in custody, he doubted any of them would forget, but there were always more people to save.

In the meantime, despite whatever level of suckitude the day descended to, he had Javier and the mental image of him herding pink balloons to fall back on - everything he ever needed.