“He’s fine, Espo. Stop your worrying,” Castle said as they walked down the hall.
“When he calls you at three o’clock in the morning because he’s throwing up and has a fever and can’t deal with the pain, you tell me you wouldn’t be worried,” Esposito snapped. He wasn’t upset at Castle, but he was just tired and anxious.
3:34 am, on the dot, earlier this morning, Javier was woken up to the sound of his phone blaring his partner’s ringtone. Esposito grumbled under his breath, hoping for Ryan’s sake that he wasn’t waking him up before the sun was up to get milk for his cereal again. Though he’d grumble all he wanted to, he knew he’d do it every time Ryan asked.
“What?” He slurred into the phone with his eyes still closed.
“Javi, something’s,” Ryan’s paused to inhale sharply before continuing, “wrong.”
Esposito’s eyes shot open and even though he could barely see yet, he was shoving himself out of bed and stumbling towards his closet. “Kevin, what’s wrong?”
Esposito paused. “You’re--?”
“I think someone stabbed me. My stomach is on fire.” His voice was strained and sounded close to breaking. “Just threw up all of my dinner. It’s January and I’m sweating.”
“Woah, calm down, Kevin. Maybe it’s a stomach bug or food poisoning.” Esposito was being a hypocrite because he was worrying just as Kevin was. He shoved his shoes on, not bothering to change out of his sweatpants and t-shirt. He didn’t know what was wrong with Ryan, but he was trying to keep his partner calm until he could be by his side.
“I don’t know what to do, Javi.” He moaned. “It just hurts. So much.”
“Do you need an ambulance?” Esposito rushed out of his apartment in record time. Ryan didn’t answer, so he repeated again more urgently this time, “Ryan! Do you need an ambulance?”
“I just need it to be over. Just make it stop.” Ryan coughed out a dry sob and a moment later Esposito could hear him throwing up. Or at least trying, but it sounded like Ryan had emptied his stomach already and was left to his dry heaving.
Esposito hurried his pace and said, “I’ll be right there, Ryan. Okay? Just hang in there.” He grabbed a cab so he could stay on the phone the entire way over and give Ryan his full attention. When he got there, he shoved his key into Ryan’s door and ran around the apartment searching for his partner.
He found him slumped in the corner of his bathroom by the toilet. He looked paler than usual with a layer of sheen sweat coating his forehead. He looked like he was going through hell. “Hey, hey, buddy, c’mo.” He fell to his knees next to Ryan, thankful that when he had thrown up, he had done it in the bowl and not the floor.
Ryan turned to stare up at Esposito and with eyes he begged, “Make it stop.” He was pressing hard on his stomach with his hands.
Esposito grabbed his hands and pulled them away. “Let me see.” He unbuttoned Ryan’s dress shirt and pulled it away from his abdomen. His fingers barely brushed over his stomach and he could feel how swollen it was. “Jesus, Ryan, why didn’t you tell me it was swollen.”
Ryan’s face just twisted in more pain.
“Dammit, Ryan it’s your appendix. Why did wait until now to tell me your stomach was bothering you?” Esposito put his arm around Ryan and started to pull him to his feet with no help from him.
“Didn’t wanna worry you.” Ryan’s sweaty hand grabbed onto Esposito to keep himself up.
“I’m worrying now.” Esposito didn’t want to risk any more time and chances of Ryan’s appendix actually bursting, so he worked hard to get Ryan out of the apartment and into the first cab he could hail. That was hard to do with his partner clinging to his side.
The entire trip to the hospital, Ryan was breathing heavy and had his eyes squeezed shut. After they hit a hard bump in the road, Esposito could hear Ryan moan, “Ow,” brokenly.
Esposito pulled Ryan closer to his side, hoping to absorb most of the bumps. “We’re almost there, Kevin.”
After that, they had reached the hospital in no time and Ryan was immediately being rushed away by doctors. Esposito was left alone in the waiting room as Ryan was whisked away into surgery. He called Castle and Beckett a few minutes later and they were there as fast as they could be. And they sat with Esposito, attempting to keep him calm, until the doctor came to tell them the surgery went perfect and they could see Ryan again.
“Put your tongue back in your mouth, Ryan,” Esposito said for the sixth time in the last two minutes. He grabbed Ryan’s wrist and pulled his fingers away from his face. Ryan did as he was told, but the second that Esposito’s hand was off of him, he stuck his tongue out and grabbed at it with fingers.
“C’mon, that’s disgusting. Do you know how many germs get on your fingers throughout the day?” Esposito grabbed Ryan’s fingers and held them so he could grab at his tongue again.
“Is my tongue still there?” Ryan asked, voice slurred because of how the anesthesia affected him.
Esposito sighed. “Yes, Ryan, it’s still there. You’re touching it.”
“I can’t feel it.” He licked at his lips. “Are you sure it’s there?”
“And you were worried that he was still hurt.” Castle laughed loudly.
The laughter brought Ryan’s attention to Castle. His eyes widened. “Are you Richard Castle?”
Castle’s laughter only increased. “Yes, that’s me.”
Ryan looked to Esposito and meant to whisper, but was loud, “That’s Richard Castle .”
“Yeah, I noticed that, Ry.”
Ryan looked to Castle again. “I love your books, Mr. Castle. Just, wow, Richard Castle.” He fell back on his bed, only to shoot back up a second later. “I have all your books in my shelf. Big shelf.”
“Watch it, Ry, your crush is showing.” Esposito rolled his eyes, knowing full well that his partner never intended to share the fact that he had practically a shrine to the writer in his bedroom. Before he met him and became one of his best friends of course.
“Can you sign my cast?” Ryan asked, ignoring Esposito. He twisted around looking at the doctor’s desk. “There has to be a pen somewhere.”
“Ryan, you don’t have a cast-- Would you quit it before you hurt yourself?” Esposito huffed as Ryan pulled at the IV in his arm.
“Then why am I here?” Ryan’s fascination with Castle turned to the hospital room.
“You got your appendix taken out. Which is why you’re supposed to be staying still; you don’t want to rip your stitches, do you?” Beckett asked, unable to hide her grin as she watched her younger partner let the anesthesia get the better of him.
“You want to know what bothers me?” He asked, looking in Beckett’s eyes.
“What bothers you, Ryan?” Beckett leaned forward, looking interested.
“Good and Food don’t rhyme.” Ryan shook his head. “They have the same ending, but they sound different. It’s not fair.”
Beckett laughed and turned to her husband. “Why aren’t you recording this?”
Ryan fell back onto his bed, seeming to have exerted himself after just starting to recover from surgery. The three watched him play with his tongue and blow spit bubbles for a few minutes before Ryan asked, “Is it still--?”
“Yes, your tongue is still there.”
Ryan turned to face Esposito. “Hey, you wanna know a secret?”
Castle leaned closer and for Ryan’s sake, Esposito hoped he didn’t say anything too bad. “Sure, Kevin.”
“I have a hole in my stomach!”
Esposito nodded with a smile. “Yup, usually that happens after getting surgery.”
Ryan furrowed his eyebrows. “No, the other one.”
“Where’s the other hole, Ryan?” Castle butted into the conversation, looking eager to hear the answer. Esposito couldn’t really blame him. His partner was... interesting... when on anesthesia.
Ryan looked down at his stomach and started pulling at his gown, but it wouldn’t move because it was tied in the back. He kept tugging until Esposito grabbed his hand. “Don’t rip your gown.”
Ryan’s face turned mortified as he looked up at Esposito and even Beckett couldn’t help the laugh that escaped her at his expression. “Why am I wearing a dress? I thought I was a boy.”
Castle threw his head back laughing at that one.
Ryan still looked just as horrified. He quickly patted down his chest and then placed his hand on his crotch. His shoulders relaxed. “Don’t worry, guys, just a false alarm.”
“Bro, do you realize how much you’re embarrassing yourself right now?” Esposito was blushing on behalf of his partner.
“Leave him alone, Espo, it’s cute.” Beckett grinned.
There was a sudden pressure on Esposito’s hand and he turned to see Ryan grabbing it. Ryan must have see how confused he looked because he explained, “I’m showing you the hole.”
Esposito ignored Castle’s, “that’s what she said,” and let Ryan bend his fingers so only his pointer finger wasn’t curled to his palm. Slowly, Ryan pulled Esposito’s hand to his stomach until he pressed it against himself. Esposito stayed quiet as his finger hit the soft of Ryan’s stomach for a moment or two without finding any “hole”.
“Maybe it’s go-- there it is!” He stopped Esposito’s finger just as it dipped into his belly button. He stared intently at Esposito. “Why is that there?”
Even though Esposito had tried not to laugh at his partner, this time he couldn’t help the loud laugh that he gave. “Kev, that is your belly button.”
“What does it do?”
“All buttons do something when you press them. Why does my belly need a button?” He still was holding Esposito’s finger so he used it to dig into his belly button.
“Hey, stop it.” Esposito tried to pull his finger back. “Pressing it doesn’t do anything, it’s just there.”
When Esposito finally got his hand back, Ryan immediately started to grab at his tongue and pull. “I don’t like this.”
“Too bad. You need your tongue so keep your fingers out of your mouth.” It was like talking to a toddler and of course Ryan didn’t listen. “Do I need to dip your fingers in hot sauce?” Ryan moved on from playing from his tongue to pulling at his bottom lip.
“Kevin, stop.” Esposito grabbed Ryan’s fingers and he looked over at him with a gummy smile.
“You’re so beautiful. Did you know that?”
And now the laughing was gone and the blushing was back. “Ryan, please shut up.”
“You’re like artwork that I would frame on my wall.” Ryan reached his arm up and Esposito grabbed it back down so he stopped pulling at the IV. “So so so so so beautiful.” Ryan mumbled with his eyes closed once he was laying back down.
Esposito ignored Castle and Beckett’s stifled laughter. “Ryan, please just go to sleep until you’re coherent again.”
Unfortunately, Ryan’s eyes snapped open again. “You look like just like my partner! How cool is that?” He smiled and pushed himself up in the bed. “His name is Javier. And I know it sounds like his name should start with an H. Ja vier, Ja vier, Ja vier,” Kevin kept saying his name, emphasizing the H sound until it didn’t even sound like a word. “But, it’s spelt J- A-V-I-E-R.” Ryan shook his head with a sigh. “It’s very confusing.”
“I apologize.” Esposito hoped the conversation about him would end now.
“He makes me confused too.” Ryan sighed and his carefree grin was replaced by a deep frown. The anesthesia really enhanced all of his emotions. “He makes me happy a lot, but sometimes he makes me sad.”
Esposito felt his heart twinge hearing that he made his best friend sad. He knew this should be a private conversation, but he asked anyway, “Why does he make you sad?”
“I love him,” Ryan admitted. The entire room went silent and the smiles vanished off of Castle and Beckett’s faces. Esposito was speechless so Ryan continued to ramble on, “He’s just so perfect and he makes me so happy. So happy. But I know he doesn’t feel the same.”
“Kevin,” Esposito started softly.
“He acts like he’s all sharp edges and acts grumpy, but he’s nice and is the best man I know. Too good for me.” Ryan shook his head.
“Hey,” Esposito said, taking Ryan’s hand this time to hold for comfort and not to keep his fingers out of his mouth. “Nobody is too good for you.”
“Then you haven’t met Ja--.”
Esposito smiled and squeezed Ryan’s hand. “I have met him. And you know, the next time you see him,” Esposito paused to take a deep breath. “You should tell him how you feel because I have a feeling he feels the same.”
Ryan’s watery eyes, thanks to the anesthesia making him more emotional than usual, widened. “Really?”
“Yes, really.” Esposito pulled his hand back when he remembered that Castle and Beckett were still sitting behind him. They would have figured out that he loved his partner, but he didn’t need to be so touchy-feely in front of them. That side of him was only for Kevin.
“Wow. That’s the best news I’ve heard all day.” Ryan’s loopy smile was back again. “That and the fact that my tongue is still here.”
Castle laughed, the awkward tension gone. “What about the fact that your surgery went great and your appendix didn’t burst?”
Ryan had to think about it. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. But I think I’d rather have Javier love me back than come out of surgery okay. Because I can’t even think about living without Javier.”
“Well, now you can have both.”
“Yeah, I guess I can,” Ryan mumbled, closing his eyes and relaxing on his bed.
Beckett asked, “Taking a nap, Ryan?”
“Yeah, ‘M tired. So tired.”
Esposito huffed, but he was smiling. “ You’re tired? Who had to drag your ass to the hospital this morning? And then you slept during surgery and have been doing nothing but pulling at your tongue since you woke up. What could possibly have you so exhausted?”
“Life,” Ryan deadpanned, still keeping his eyes shut.
“Ah, yes, that can be quite exhausting,” Castle said, nodding his head.
Esposito rolled his eyes. “You know, Kev, maybe if…” Esposito trailed off when he realized that Ryan wasn’t listening to him because he fell asleep. He had heard those quiet snores enough time during Madden nights to know he wasn’t faking. “Or you could fall asleep while I’m talking to you.”
He felt a hand on his shoulder and he turned around to see Beckett and Castle standing. “We’re gonna get going and give you two some privacy for when he wakes up.”
“And we need to catch up on our own sleep. We have enough blackmail for the next ten years.” Castle laughed. “Everyday for the rest of his life I’m going to ask him if he still has his tongue.”
“He’s gonna hate you.”
“Ryan could never hate me . He loves me too much.” Castle winked at Esposito. “Remind me to give him an autographed Nikki Heat later. Since I couldn’t sign his cast.”
Beckett groaned and grabbed his hand to pull him out of the room leaving the boys alone. Esposito sighed and shook his head. “Ryan, you brought this on yourself. You’re just lucky you’re so cute or else I would be right there with him.”
When Ryan woke up again, he was much more coherent. He blinked his eyes open and looked at Esposito. “Hey, Javi.”
“Rise and shine, sleeping beauty.” Esposito grinned. “Wait...am I talking to loopy Kev or normal Kev?”
Ryan rolled his eyes. “Ha ha, very funny.”
“If you want funny, you should have been in here a few hours ago listening to yourself on the anesthesia. Priceless.” Esposito lifted up his t-shirt to reveal belly button. “Kev, I think I have a hole in my stomach too.”
Ryan blushed. “Wait, did I--?”
“Convince yourself that your tongue was missing and tell Castle about your mini-obsession with him? Yes. Also, at one point you thought you were a girl.”
“No, I, oh my, God, Javi.” He used his hand to cover his face. “I’m sorry. I can’t believe I told you that I have feelings for you.”
“Why are you apologizing?”
“I shouldn’t have said anything in front of Castle and Beckett. You wouldn’t want to tell me the truth in front of them, then you’d look like an ass. I don’t know why I’d ever expect you to--.”
“What?” Ryan asked, the hope growing in his eyes.
“I love you. I would have told you before, but I wanted to wait until you knew who I am.” Esposito smiled, taking Ryan’s hand.
Ryan smiled and leaned closer. “I love you too.”
“I know.” Esposito closed his eyes and leaned in closer. “Show me how grateful you are that you didn’t lose that tongue of yours.”
Ryan laughed and Esposito could feel the air brush against his lips. “Shut up and kiss me.”
Not needing to be told twice, Esposito closed the distance between their lips to share a soft kiss. The first of many more.