Disclaimer: I do not own Castle.
A/N: This is set roughly after the birth of Ryan’s child, but not too specific since I’m not fully up to date with episodes. Unbeta’ed.
A/N 2: This is my first birthday offering for sendintheklowns. I hope your birthday is restful and full of chocolate :) And fic!
Summary: The odds, really, were in their favor. Most cops lived pretty uneventful careers, even in New York City. But that was just true enough to make it more dangerous, to make the reminder all the more relevant.
There was always a chance, that was the thing.
The odds, really, were in their favor. Most cops lived pretty uneventful careers, even in New York City. But that was just true enough to make it more dangerous, to make the reminder all the more relevant.
There was always a chance.
A chance that something would go wrong.
That a suspect would escape.
That someone would open fire.
That a bullet would go wide.
That they’d have the wrong apartment.
That someone would take a bullet.
That everything would go very, very wrong.
It happened too fast.
Esposito was checking behind the bedroom door, sweeping the window and the small closet in the corner. All he found were empty tequila bottles and a crumpled up bag of chips.
“All clear!” he called, starting to put his gun away as he eyed the disheveled room in distaste. “Told you. And I told Beckett before she made us come all the way out here. Looks like the guy cleared out--”
That was when he heard a thud.
Followed by a gunshot.
By the time he made it back to the living area, the front door was swinging open and Ryan was on the floor.
And blood was everywhere.
“No,” Esposito said, moving on numb legs. He hit his knees, gun limp in his fingers. “No, no, no.”
Ryan’s chest was heaving and he held up his hand, fingers above his face. The streaks of blood look dark and shiny in the dim light streaking in through the dust-covered windows.
“Ryan,” he said, his own breath catching. In the back of his throat, he could still feel the words all clear, stuck there, big enough to choke him.
Still sprawled on his back, Ryan looked from his fingers up at him. His eyes were wide; terrified. Ryan was never that terrified. “I’m hit,” he said, and he sounded surprised. His fingers went to the bullet hole, which was torn through the side of his suit and shirt. He exhaled heavily, starting to shake. “I’m hit.”
“Ryan,” he said again, finally slipping his gun back into his holster with shaking fingers. He reached toward the shredded suit coat, blinking so rapidly that he could hardly see. “I need to--”
Ryan shook his head, stuttering but vehement. “Javier,” he gasped, body arching. “Javier--”
Esposito fumbled, trying to pin Ryan back to the floor. “You got to--” he started, but he couldn’t bring himself to finish. Ryan twisted under him, and Esposito thought he might be sick. “Ryan--”
Ryan wasn’t listening, though.
For the first time in their partnership, Ryan wasn’t.
Esposito called it in -- 10-13, 10-13 -- and tried not to think about how long it would take for backup to arrive. They shouldn’t have needed backup, not on this one. They hadn’t been prepared for a firefight. He’d told Beckett this was a pointless warrant; he’d bitched about it the whole way out with Ryan at the wheel. He hadn’t come expecting to find anything but an empty apartment.
He looked at the open door, blanching. He’d never seen the gunman. He’d cleared the apartment and never seen a damn thing. He’d missed it. When it mattered, he missed it.
Damn it all, he hadn’t been ready for this.
It was an excuse that didn’t seem right, not after torture, not after a burning building. They’d been doing this too many years; they’d been here too many times.
There was always a chance, that was the thing.
It was just easier to believe the odds were in their favor.
Esposito pressed his hand to the hole in Ryan’s side and tried to tell himself they weren’t out of luck just yet.
The blood was pooling beneath his knees, slipping between his fingers faster than he could squeeze it off. The color drained from Ryan’s face, until his skin was ghostly white and fine tremors racked his body.
Shock, Esposito remembered distantly.
Before the blood loss shut down his organs. Respiratory distress. Cardiac arrest. Brain death.
On the ground, Ryan looked up at him, blood flecking his lips as his breathing faltered. Through the pain, there were a thousand questions in Ryan’s eyes. A thousand more he wanted to say.
The jokes they never told; the compliments they never gave. The moments they didn’t quite share; the truths they never let themselves speak.
The cases they still needed to solve.
The partnership that was meant to span a career.
Esposito took Ryan’s hand in his own, squeezing it to his chest while the other was pressed firmly to his side.
“I know,” he said, smiling for Ryan’s sake as his heart thudded his own guilt in his chest. “I know.”
Ryan wasn’t breathing by the time the ambulance got there, and he was already in the ambulance with a tube down his throat by the time Beckett arrived with Castle in tow.
“Esposito,” she said. “What--”
She didn’t finish the question, but it still cut with unintentional depth. A sharp, twisted laugh escaped Esposito’s throat and he shook his head. “I don’t know,” he admitted as his eyes stung. He lifted a bloody hand and shrugged it helplessly. “I don’t even know.”
They let him ride in the ambulance, for all the good that did. He watched as the medics tried to save Ryan’s life.
He watched as they failed.
He watched as almost ten years of teamwork and friendship became nothing more than an open door, blood-slicked fingers, and a flat line.
Ryan’s heart started beating again.
Esposito wasn’t sure his ever would.
It took nearly 30 minutes before Ryan was stabilized. His heart stopped two more times, and they had to transfuse over half his blood volume just to keep him alive long enough to go up to surgery. Even then, the middle aged doctor who introduced herself to him told him that he needed to be prepared for the worst.
That was the thing, wasn’t it.
Esposito was supposed to be prepared from day one.
He was a cop, that was what he did.
But then he met Kevin Ryan and the whole thing got shot to hell.
Beckett showed up with Jenny and Sarah, but Esposito couldn’t do it. He couldn’t stand there and tell Ryan’s wife that he didn’t know what happened, that he never saw it coming. That it happened too quick. That he cleared a room and turned a corner and his best friend got shot.
He couldn’t explain to her that one oversight could have made her a widow.
That one mistake might have taken Sarah’s father.
He couldn’t do it.
Beckett found him in the chapel, of all places. Hunched in a pew, Esposito couldn’t remember a prayer to save his life.
To save Ryan’s life.
Gently, Beckett sat next to him. For a moment, she didn’t say anything.
“Castle’s with Jenny,” she said finally. “The surgery is almost over.”
Esposito closed his eyes.
“They won’t tell us anything else,” Beckett continued. “But no news--”
“It was my fault,” Esposito blurted, eyes open as he looked at Beckett. “The door was unlocked. I started the sweep with Ryan behind. I cleared it and started in on the bedroom. That was when I heard the shot. By the time I turned back, the shooter was gone and Ryan was on the floor.”
Beckett was good enough that no emotion registered on her face. Perfectly school, she inclined her head. “That’s not a mistake.”
“I cleared it,” Esposito said, more forceful now. “I did. Me.”
“You have no idea where the gunman came from,” she said. “A closet or the bathroom--”
“I should have been more careful--”
She shook her head. “We’re cops,” she said. “Every time we go out, we know there’s a chance.”
“Which is why I should have checked.”
“You can’t prepare for everything,” she said, gently now. “I think we’ve all learned that the hard way.”
Things Esposito needed, but didn’t want right now. He wanted someone to blame; he wanted someone to fight. He wanted to throw punches, to fire bullets, to do something. There had to be someone to arrest; someone to question. There had to be a suspect, a perpetrator; someone to blame.
Something to help distract him from the simple, painful truth that Esposito cleared a room.
And lost everything before he had the chance to turn back around.
Castle met them on their way back. He herded them down the hallway with a surreptitious glance back. “Ryan’s out of surgery,” he said, hushed and hurried.
“And?” Beckett asked.
Coming to a stop, Castle sighed.
A man of words, and for once he didn’t have any.
Esposito’s stomach dropped.
Massive blood loss. Probable organ damage. Possible brain damage.
There were more specifics, but none of them mattered.
The only thing that mattered was that Ryan wasn’t expected to survive the night.
At Ryan’s room, Jenny was already there. He hesitated in the doorway and she turned toward him, her face crumpling when she saw him.
It was instinct that had him by her side, collecting her in his arms and pressing a kiss into her hair.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “Jenny, I--”
Burying her head into his shoulder, she latched onto him with another sob.
He tightened his own grip, squeezing his eyes shut. “I’m so sorry.”
When Jenny left, he tried to stop her. “I need to get Sarah here,” she said, faltering. “Just -- in case.”
“But -- I--” Esposito said, gesturing in futility.
“He’d want you here,” she said, because she understood. She sniffled, wiping her cheeks dry. “You’re family, Javier. He’d want you here.”
It was hard to see Ryan like that, stretched out in the bed. The tubes and monitors, they were too much. His pale skin and the sheet drawn hastily over his chest.
Only a few hours ago, they’d been joking around in the car, complaining about the scut work Beckett had them on.
“Another pointless arrest warrant for one of Castle’s hunches,” Ryan had complained.
“All part of the job, my man,” Esposito had told him.
Esposito watched as the machines kept Ryan alive.
All part of the job.
He couldn’t stay when Jenny brought Sarah back.
He couldn’t stay to watch a little girl say goodbye to her father.
He couldn’t stay.
He found Beckett and Castle in the waiting room. They looked at him, hopeful.
Esposito shook his head. “No change,” he reported grimly.
Their shoulders slumped. Beckett tried to offer an encouraging smile. “There’s always a chance,” she said. “Right?”
Too many chances.
And never enough.
Ryan didn’t die that night.
He didn’t die the next one either.
Jenny went home to get freshened up. Ryan’s parents came to watch Sarah. Beckett checked in with work, and Castle went home.
The doctor started talking about tomorrow and the next day. He started talking about recovery.
“Wait,” Esposito finally said after this continued for several days. “You mean, you think he’s going to make it?”
The doctor smiled. “I think the odds are finally in his favor.”
Esposito almost laughed so hard he cried.
There was always a chance.
Still, in true Ryan fashion, he took his time about it. It was nearly two weeks later before Ryan was coherent enough to maintain a conversation and remember it. Esposito had used up almost all his vacation time and was about to start blowing through his unpaid leave when Ryan finally asked what happened.
Esposito shifted guiltily. It wasn’t a question he wanted to answer; one he’d been avoiding the whole time.
“What do you remember” he asked.
Ryan’s brows knitted together. “We were serving the warrant,” he said. “You went in first.”
Esposito’s gut churned painfully.
Ryan’s eyes widened.
“Ryan, look, I’m--”
“Sorry,” Ryan blurted before Esposito had a chance to finish.
“What?” Esposito asked.
Ryan looked stricken. “I’m sorry.”
“Wait,” Esposito said, still braced for an accusation that didn’t seem to be coming. “Why are you sorry?”
“I didn’t check the closet first,” he said, expression wrought with guilt. “You went right, and I took left, but I didn’t clear the closet. Son of a bitch popped me before I had a chance to warn you.”
“But I cleared the room,” Esposito said. “I said clear.”
“And I didn’t,” Ryan implored. “I could have gotten you killed.”
“And I did get you shot,” Esposito countered.
“Wait,” Ryan said, and it was his turn to sound confused. “Do you blame yourself?”
“And you blame yourself?” Esposito asked. “It’s part of the job, man.”
“I know,” Ryan said. “We’re supposed to be prepared.”
“But we can’t be prepared for everything,” Esposito argued.
“But I should have--”
Esposito shook his head. “It happened too fast,” he said. “There’s always a chance.”
Ryan stewed regretfully. “You believe that?”
Sighing, Esposito finally nodded. “I think I have to,” he said. “I think we both do.”
There was more to say, naturally.
They probably wouldn’t say it, though.
The good part was, they didn’t have to.
Not when they already knew.
There was always a chance, was the thing.
A chance that something could go wrong.
A chance that something could go right.
With Ryan as his partner, though, Esposito thought that he liked his odds.