|The noise outside his door didn’t sound any alarms at first. Detective Javier Esposito was used to the late night comings and goings of the other tenants. It was rare for his apartment building to ever be completely silent. As he rolled over to go back to sleep, however, he paused.
It had taken his sleep-hazed mind a moment to catch up, but when it did, he shook the cobwebs from his brain and sat up in bed. This was the one night the entire building should have been quiet, yet he could hear a rattling noise that sounded suspiciously like a doorknob.
The evening before, the police department had received a threat that there was a bomb planted in the basement of an apartment building. When a second warning had come in a few minutes later, the order had been given to evacuate the entire building, as well as those immediately nearby.
A search by the bomb squad had turned up an explosive device, but it had turned out to be nothing more than plastic and duct tape. After searching the rest of the basement, the team was satisfied that there was no further danger. The building was cleared for the tenants to return, but it was late enough that only one or two occupants had returned for the night.
Esposito was one of them. While he had appreciated his partner’s offer, Ryan’s couch didn’t seem quite as inviting as sleeping in his own bed.
He glanced over at his alarm clock, which displayed a time of 3:09 am. Definitely not the time of night any sane person would choose to return to their apartment. And, while he was willing to admit that everyone in his building wasn’t quite ‘sane’, they certainly weren’t the types to wait until three on a weekday morning to come home.
Suspicious now of the noise, which sounded like it was coming from his door, Esposito reached over and quietly slid open the drawer of his nightstand. He wrapped his hand around the grip of his gun and stood, padding to the doorway in his bare feet. Pausing to listen, he heard the familiar squeak of the floorboards outside of his door, the same floorboards Ryan always reminded him needed fixing every time he came over.
The squeaking died away, and the detective stepped into the hall between his room and the living area. He had just passed the bathroom door when the silence was again broken, this time by a creaking that could only have come from his front door. His muscles tensed as his cop instincts kicked in, and he edged towards the front door.
A figure in black was just crossing the room towards the television set, and Esposito looked around for any other intruders. He didn’t see anyone and smiled grimly to himself. This thief picked the wrong apartment to rob. Raising his weapon, he stepped into view.
“Stop right there,” he ordered. The intruder froze, and Esposito continued. “Put your hands in the air and turn around.”
Doing as instructed, the man turned slowly. No identifiable facial features were visible under the ski mask, and the short, slim figure was clothed completely in black. The perfect apparel for burglarizing, Esposito thought.
Suddenly, he heard a footfall behind him. Before he could turn to face the newcomer, the muffled pftt of a silenced gunshot reached his ears. At the same time, he felt a bolt of white-hot pain tear through his shoulder as he was jerked backwards.
He gasped in pain, reaching up with his left hand, grasping his right shoulder as he dropped to his knees. The room was starting to spin, and Esposito blinked, trying to regain his sight from the black spots that were dancing in front of him.
“Now why did you go and do that?” the man in front of Esposito snapped at the as-yet-unseen newcomer. “No one was supposed to get hurt.”
“Well, no one was even supposed to be here,” came the retort. “You told me the place would be empty.”
“It should be!” the first man protested. “The police just cleared the whole bomb thing a few hours ago.”
“And this guy’s here why?” The harsh voice sounded beyond annoyed.
“I don’t know! Quit looking at me like that; it’s not like I meant for him to be here.”
Esposito had somehow managed to keep his grip on his gun, though exactly how he had done so, he had no idea. As the two men continued to argue, Esposito took a deep breath and grit his teeth against the pain. He dropped his left hand from his shoulder, transferred the gun to the hand of his uninjured arm, and brought the weapon quickly around to bear on the man who had shot him.
Before either intruder had time to react, Esposito squeezed off a shot. The report of the gunshot echoed around the apartment, and the cry of pain told him that he had hit his target.
The room was spinning around him, and Esposito’s shot was a little off. The gunman was clutching his left side, but he was still standing. Esposito barely had time to correct his aim before the man brought his own gun back up.
Another bullet exited the silencer, this one catching the detective in the left hip. The last thing he saw was the ground rushing up to meet him.
* * *
He wasn’t sure how much time had passed before he slowly came to, but when he did, he found himself lying on the ground where he had fallen. There was a throbbing in the back of his skull that seemed to explode when he attempted to move even slightly. He had to pause until the room quit spinning and it took a few concentrated swallows to keep the contents of his stomach from coming back up.
As he became more aware of his surroundings, the wounds in his shoulder and hip made their presence known. Esposito couldn’t help the small cry of pain that forced its way past his lips as fire shot through what felt like every inch of his body. He lay where he was for several minutes, gathering his strength before attempting to sit up.
The detective could feel the damp carpet beneath him, and his clothes were wet as well. Judging from the fact that the shoulder of his tshirt and the left side of his boxers were the wettest, the carpet was probably going to need a heavy cleaning.
He used his left hand to push himself to a sitting position, gasping in pain as he did so. The room began spinning, and he had to close his eyes against the nausea for a moment.
Once he had sufficient control of his gut, he opened his eyes and looked around. The door to his apartment was ajar, but he couldn’t make out any sounds that would indicate that the thieves were still in any of the rooms.
From what he could see, the living room itself had been ransacked. The television and DVD player were gone, and his speakers for his media player were not in their usual spot on the coffee table.
He sat where he was for a moment, weighing going for help against attempting to find his phone. When he had turned in for the night, he had left his phone on his nightstand, but there was no guarantee that it had not been taken. In the end, it was the liquid soaking into his shirt that won the argument.
His hip was no longer bleeding; that bullet seemed to have just nicked him. His shoulder, however, was a different story. It felt like the actual bullet had exited through his back, and he could feel the wetness of the fabric near the wound growing. Based on the dizziness he was feeling, he had lost a good amount of blood.
Somehow, with the help of the chair beside him, he managed to pick himself up from the floor. He clenched his left hand over the wound, nearly blacking out at the pain it caused. Keeping what pressure he could manage on his shoulder, he stumbled towards his bedroom, leaving a smear on the wall as he used it for support.
It took much longer than he would have liked, and he nearly fell several times, but he finally made it.
His foot caught on the carpet and he tripped, catching himself against the doorjamb only because he fell into it. The air in his lungs left in a pained gasp, and he sagged against the wall.
Finally recovering enough to continue, he steadied himself against the wall and reached for the light switch. The room was entirely too dark to make anything out, and he didn’t trust himself enough to make it all the way across to his bed without losing his balance again. There was no telling how ransacked the place was, and he wasn’t about to injure himself further because he tried to cross the room in the dark.
He flipped the switch then immediately wished he’d thought to close his eyes first. His sight, which had been adjusted to the previous darkness of his apartment, was nearly obscured as his eyes watered at the sudden illumination.
It took several moments of blinking before he was able to actually see in the light. His room was fairly untouched, only the absence of the clock and several bare spots on the dresser and shelves indicating that there was anything wrong.
Unfortunately, one of those bare spots was where his phone had been.
One of the top drawers on his dresser, the one in which he had dropped his badge the night before, was open slightly, and Esposito managed a small grin at the thought of the thieves having come across his police credentials in their search for anything worth stealing.
That ought to teach them to break into apartments and shoot people.
He was brought back to his present situation as his knees began to grow weak. Esposito knew he’d lost enough blood to pose a serious threat to his health, and he was now without anyway to call for help.
The way he saw it, there were only two options. He could either stay where he was and hope someone came around before he bled out, or he could make his slow, painful way to find help on his own. And considering the fact that the building was practically emptied of all inhabitants until the morning, he would definitely be better off choosing the latter.
With a sigh of resignation, Esposito stumbled his way back towards the hall. He had to use various pieces of furniture and the wall for support along the way, leaving a bloody trail that his mind vaguely registered that he’d have to clean eventually.
It was slow going. By the time he reached his front door, Esposito was soaking with sweat, and his hands and knees were shaking with the exhaustion of his body shutting down due to the lack of blood flow.
He swiped a hand across his face, streaking it with blood even more than it had been but clearing some of the sweat that was dripping down his face.
There was no one in sight in the hallway. Everything was dark and ominous; no sounds could be heard, other than the low hum of someone’s air conditioner running. Ever so slowly, step by stumbling step, the detective progressed towards the elevator. Thankfully everything hadn’t gone entirely digital and his building’s elevator still had a good old-fashioned emergency phone. All he had to do was get to it, and help would be there shortly.
He had never paid attention to the length of his hallway, always just taken the trip to and from his apartment without a thought to how far it really was. Although on any normal day, it took him less than a minute or two to cross the entire way. Now, however, the distance stretched before him, and each step hardly seemed to decrease the distance to his goal.
It wasn’t helping that his vision was fading in and out and that his steps were short and shaky. Though it was only five minutes at the most, to Esposito, it seemed a lifetime before he was reaching an unsteady hand towards the button.
It took him several tries to actually depress the button; the device seemed to move every time he put his hand where it appeared to be situated on the wall. Finally he succeeded and the metal doors slid open.
Staggering inside, he fumbled for the telephone, finally managing to pull it out and put it to his ear.
When asked later about what had happened, his memories faded out at the point where he made it into the elevator, but there was definitely more that happened afterwards, because the next afternoon, when he fully regained his senses, he was lying in a hospital bed, wearing a ridiculous hospital gown, and hooked up to several annoying machines that would not stop beeping.
The room was dark and quiet, other than for the machines and the soft snoring coming from beside him. Esposito looked over and grinned, then grimaced at the fire that was shooting through his arm and chest.
“Kevin,” he spoke up, though his voice caught and grated against the sides of his throat. “Kev,” he tried again.
The man beside him sat up with a jerk, inhaling in surprise as he looked around confusedly. Then the cobwebs cleared and he gave his partner a grin. “Welcome back to the land of the living, man.” He caught Esposito’s expression and reached for the cup of water on the nearby table. Holding it so the injured man could reach the straw, Ryan continued, “You really had us worried there for a while.”
“Why’s that?” That was much better. His throat still hurt, but at least his voice was making it all the way out now.
“We almost lost you, that’s why.” Ryan’s gaze clouded for a moment. “When we got there … It was bad, man.” He cleared his throat. “Oh!” he changed the subject, reaching for his phone. “I sent the others to get something to eat on the condition that I call if you woke up. Lanie’s going to kill me if I don’t follow through.”
“Kev,” Esposito’s voice stopped his partner. “Who …”
“We caught the two guys who were responsible early this morning,” Ryan supplied, understanding the unasked question. “You clipped one of them badly enough that he had to get professional help, and we’d already found you, so when the clinic doctor reported the gunshot wound, we looked into it. They were pretty freaked out about shooting a cop; they thought they’d killed you.” He paused for a moment, then shrugged. “Just a couple of low-lifes trying to make an easy buck. They’d thought that planting the fake explosive and calling it in so late in the day would have cleared the entire building for the night.”
Within a few minutes of Ryan’s call, the hospital room was crowded with the rest of the team. They stayed until Castle nudged Beckett’s arm, interrupting the story Montgomery was in the middle of sharing. The writer nodded towards the bed, raising a finger to his lips. The others exchanged smiles at the patient, who had drifted off to sleep at some point.
With whispered well-wishes to Lanie, who remained in her seat beside the bed, the others filed quietly out the door to attend to their various duties, though all made sure to verify visiting hours with the staff before leaving. It was going to be several days at the least before the doctor released Esposito, and until then, his teammates fully intended on putting those uncomfortable plastic chairs to good use.
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