Title: As True As the Sky
Genre: Angst, Friendship.
Characters/Pairings: Javier Esposito, Ike Thornton, (background Javier/Kevin).
Details: Slash, genre!crack, werewolves, friendship, introspection, loyalty, moral ambiguity, altered mental states, unbetad.
Word Count: 3,312
Summary: Javier answers some of the rumors that have been circulating among the NYPD. What results is an examination of ghosts and werewolves, pack and family, fear, control, loyalty, friendship and trust.
Notes: Some version of this scene seems to take place in nearly every universe I write... Though, so far, the only other one I've completed appears as an interlude in "Black Edelweiss".
Oh, and props to anyone who recognizes where the title comes from.
"You seem...different," Ike said.
Javier had been enjoying his visit with his former partner and Ike's family, but those words froze him immediately. Which felt more than a little stupid, because Javier had been expecting them for a while. Or, if not those words in particular, then something very much like them. Halting that line of thought in its tracks, Javier tried not to panic. Tried not to assume.
After all, different could mean a lot of things.
"Good different or bad different?" Javier asked very carefully, just managing to keep the worry out of his voice.
Though he was concerned the answer would be more along the lines of weird different—or, in an unpleasant scenario, possibly even inhuman.
Javier had known it would never be a question of whether or not the rumors would reach his former partner so much as a matter of when. Though Ike was now retired, busy making up for lost time with his wife and son, Javier knew he still heard things from his friends on the force—Javier normally included. Of course, if anyone else had seen fit to inform Ike about certain recent developments, Javier knew it wouldn't have escaped the man's notice that Javier hadn't spoken a single word about it. Given the particular rumors that most worried him, he knew Ike would have expected Javier to be the first one to bring them up. Under normal circumstances Javier thought he probably would have, but his circumstances had ceased to be anything even resembling normal months ago...
After all, the rumors might have sounded ridiculous, but it was hard to imagine laughing about them over a beer when they were actually true.
Still, though he knew Ike was probably miles away from believing what he had heard—whatever he actually had heard, if he had heard anything at all—Javier suddenly found himself afraid. Afraid of Ike's answer and of what it might mean for him. Afraid that he might lose his friend again—and this time Carol and Tim along with him. For a moment, Javier was caught off balance by the distress he felt at the thought. Ike and his wife and son were more than just friends to him, they were like a part of his family...
And an important part of something else entirely.
Javier pulled away from that train of thought, realizing where it was headed and that it wasn't going to help ground him one bit. Instead he watched Ike closely as the other man considered the question, and tried not to show the apprehension he felt underneath.
"Good," Ike answered slowly, allowing Javier a too-brief moment of relief before he continued. "Mostly. You seem good, Javi, just...quieter. Can't say it doesn't have me worried."
Worried. Ike's scent bore that out, absent the sourness of fear or nervousness. Ike was worried about him, and if he had heard the rumors, Javier was sure he didn't believe them. Still, Ike's pause as he answered spoke volumes. To Javier, it sounded like Ike wasn't sure if "quieter" was exactly the word he wanted.
Javier nodded faintly, not knowing at first exactly what to say. Worry was... Worry was good, actually. Javier thought he could work with worry. For a moment, Javier was tempted to deflect it, and come up with some reasonable excuse for the quietness Ike had mentioned. Almost anything would seem more reasonable than what Ike had probably heard—more reasonable than the truth—and much more easily believed. If he were going to hide the truth from Ike, this would probably be his only chance. Yet a part of him—exactly which part, Javier wasn't entirely sure he wanted to know—balked at the prospect of deceiving his former partner like that.
Sometimes loyalty could be a bitch.
"You've heard the rumors," Javier finally managed to say. He had the grace not to make it a question, and tension wound itself tight in his gut as he worked up to his confession. "They're true."
And Javier was surprised at how at ease he felt once he had finally said it out loud. He hadn't quite expected it to feel like a weight off his shoulders, but he definitely felt lighter now that the conversation was finally happening. Though, still, Ike responded with a soft laugh.
"I hear a lot of rumors," Ike said, "so you'll have to tell me which ones."
Javier surprised himself when he managed to meet Ike's laughter with an amused snort.
"There are only two things station gossips bother to say about me any more," Javier said, "and they're both true."
Ike tilted his head back, looking Javier over for a moment before he shook his head with a smile.
"I can buy what I've been hearing about you and your boy," Ike said. "Maybe. It sounds like more of a risk than I'd expect from you, but then three years can change things."
And Javier thought that much was fair. Javier had never exactly been the picture of "out and proud", and during the years he and Ike had worked together, even less so. He knew some of it could be laid at the feet of his time in the military. Over the years, though, his confidence had grown past that, and these days Javier simply felt that his love-life was no one's business but his and whomever shared it. Still, sleeping with your partner was risky, no matter who they were, and Javier had always been well aware of that. The feelings he had for Kevin had sat unshared and unrequited for a very long time for just that reason. In the end it had taken their very strange circumstances to force each of them to look those feelings in the eye.
Javier took a sip from his beer with a grimace, as much from the sharp bitterness that always undercut its flavor these days as the conversation itself.
"Three years can change a lot of things, Ike," Javier said, "but we both know it's more than that."
Ike looked at him thoughtfully, setting his own beer aside.
"See, now, that's the part I'm having a hard time with," he said, "because the other thing I've heard is—"
Ike stopped, shaking his head once again, and Javier offered him a weak smile.
"Like I said," Javier managed. "Only two rumors people bother with anymore."
"Honestly, Javi," Ike said, not even bothering to keep the confusion from his voice, "how does a story like that even get started?"
"Honestly, Ike? It was probably a couple of months ago when I turned into a freaking wolf right in the middle of the station."
And there, now he had said it.
When Javier turned to look at Ike his former partner was staring at him as if—well, to be honest, exactly as if he had just claimed to be a damned werewolf. Remembering his own skepticism when Kevin had told him the same thing, Javier could hardly blame him.
"Look, Ike," he said wearily, "I know it doesn't sound...sane. Believe me, I know that. Hell, I always used to make fun of Kevin and Castle for believing in shit that wasn't half as crazy. If Kate hadn't seen it happen herself, I would probably think I'd lost my damned mind."
After a few moments passed in which Ike failed to respond, Javier looked away.
"Look, I'll understand if you don't want me to come around anymore."
And that was true, so far as it went. He would understand, but he definitely didn't like it. Just the possibility was already tearing him up inside.
"Wait, what are you trying to say, Javi?"
"I'm basically a monster, Ike," Javier said softly, his attention focused desperately on the half-empty bottle sweating between his fingers. "At best, right now you probably think I'm delusional. Either way, I wouldn't blame you for having a problem welcoming that into your home...around your kid."
Javier closed his eyes for a moment, taking a deep breath. When he dared look at Ike again the man sat silent, clearly stunned. His former partner watched him closely for several seconds before finding the words to speak.
"Javier," Ike began cautiously, "I'm not going to say I believe in werewolves, but whatever the hell actually is going on... Do you think that you're a danger to my family?"
"No, of course not," Javier said quickly.
And he knew it wasn't an accusation, but even hypothetically the thought left his chest tight. Still, Ike's intent, patient gaze seemed to require more than that simple denial—elaboration that Javier was momentarily at a loss to provide. Taking a deep breath, Javier resolved to make the effort. It was always difficult to describe to others the changes that had been wrought by his condition. It always seemed as if the closer he came to understanding them within himself, the farther he fell from his ability to express his understanding to anyone else.
Farther from abstract thought and the ability to frame it in words.
It was a phenomenon with which he and Kevin had both become painfully familiar, and which Castle, to both of their regrets, found endlessly intriguing. Strange moments where their patterns of thought and their body-language—their entire presentation of themselves—would shift. Moments when they were just slightly less human and a little more something else, as if they had begun a descent into the mindset of the wolf without a physical transformation being necessary.
It had occurred to him several times that it should have frightened him—perhaps even more than their moonlight transformations, for while often quite subtle those episodes were by no means as easy to predict, falling upon them at the whim of thought and emotion. Yet those thoughts and those emotions were always their own, and the state usually left them just as quickly as it had come. And so, as with so many of the things about his condition that he had grown strangely comfortable with, Javier was left wondering whether he actually should be.
And that, Javier abruptly realized, was the crux of his problem.
"I do trust myself, Ike," Javier said slowly, haltingly trying to explain. "I wouldn't be here if I didn't, but... I know it doesn't look like it from the outside, but so much of who I am—of what I am—has changed. What happens on the full moon is only a very small part of it."
Though certainly a very important part, it actually was quite small in terms of the impact it had on the rest of his life.
"In every way that matters, I'm still me," Javier said, "but...I'm not really human anymore, not completely. So much of what has changed is in the way I think—my instincts and my reactions. I trust myself not to hurt anyone—and I could never harm Tim or Carol—but all of this is still so new that I don't know whether I can afford that trust."
Ike seemed to take a moment to digest that. And most wouldn't have recognized it, but Javier could tell from the distant way in which is friend watched his wife and son—Tim helping his mother in the garden off the back patio—that he was just a bit shaken.
"You trust yourself, but you don't trust that you can trust yourself," Ike said very slowly, his voice cautiously skeptical. "What does that even mean, Javi?"
It took Javier a moment to pick up the necessary thread of thought to begin to formulate his answer—it was something he had never been forced to put into words. Kate almost never pried into the inner workings of what they were—she trusted them to tell her what was important, and felt that anything that wasn't was hardly her business if they chose not to share. And Castle was full of questions, but in many things he wasn't asking the right ones...not yet. And Kevin...
These were things Kevin just knew, the same way he did.
"Almost from the moment I became what I am," Javier began, slowly, "I've had this strong sense of...belonging. A bond tying me very closely to certain people in my life. It's stronger than any friendship I've ever felt—maybe stronger than family. And there was no choice involved, I just knew, like it was written into my god damned bones..."
That word-thought connection drifted away from him again for a moment as he sought a way to describe it, leaving him still and quiet for a very long time. He could feel Ike growing tense and somewhat anxious beside him, so Javier turned to look the man in the eye. That was often difficult for him to do when his mind altered itself this way—it almost felt like an aggressive act—but at that moment, Javier thought Ike needed the contact more than anything.
Needed to feel a connection with the part of Javier that was still human.
"There's no room for doubt in the mind of an animal, Ike," Javier said, very softly, very slowly. "And to the animal that I am, there isn't any room for gods, or laws, or other allegiances...because the pack is all of those things."
And usually Javier hated to use that word—partially because Castle's eyes always lit up with a childlike glee when he did it, but also because, however deeply and, for lack of a better word, naturally he might feel it, it simply felt strange to say it out loud—yet it was the only word there was.
"It's the only thing," Javier added strongly after a moment, "and you, and Carol and Tim are all a part of it. I've known that—and Kevin's known it—since the very beginning. There was never any question. There isn't anything I wouldn't do for you guys, and I know, without any doubt, that I would never hurt any one of you. I don't think I could even try. But if anyone ever tried to..."
Javier had to pause and take a moment. With his other nature so close to the surface, simply imagining the possibility of harm coming to them raised hackles that he didn't actually have.
"If that did happen," Javier finished after a moment, not quite calm, but at the very least more in control, "I don't know how I'd react...what I might do to anyone else. And that really scares me, Ike. It scares the hell out of me, and I hope to God I never have to find out."
It was the only part of what he was that still sometimes kept him up at night.
Because there was a part of him that answered only to the pack. Unfettered by the rule of law he had served most of his life, he knew it would respond to any threat against those he perceived as his without hesitation and without mercy. And the most terrifying part of it was that he wouldn't be able to simply blame it on the wolf, as if that animal weren't a part of him. Anything that happened—any damages done, or lives lost—would be his to regret, and his alone.
Silence fell between them after that. He could tell that Ike was rather unsettled by the admission—which was the least of how Javier felt about it himself. That silence held for what felt like a very long time—and may well have been, for after a while Javier saw Carol watching them with concern. Ike acknowledged the unspoken question in his wife's expression with a subtle shake of his head.
Finally, Ike turned to look him over once again, and when their eyes met, Javier felt as if the man were only now truly seeing him for the first time.
"I think I get that," Ike said quietly.
And Javier realized that, with everything that his friend had suffered during his years spent as a ghost—the things he had done to ensure a return to his family—if anyone did understand him, if anyone could, it would be Ike. Ike knew how it felt to have the life he once knew turned violently on its head. He knew how terrifying it was to have his control over that life snatched out of his hands. He knew the bitter, quiet anguish of looking into the mirror every day and acknowledging that he would never be the same man that he used to be, and how it felt when you were forced to continue on with whatever was left, doubting yourself every step of the way. And he knew what it was like to be compelled into violating his own principles in order to protect what was his...
Ike got it, alright—the fall that Javier only feared was something that Ike himself had already lived.
Ike wasn't what Javier was, but in their hearts they were the same. Perhaps that was part of why Ike had pinged so loudly on the radar of Javier's instincts—that and the tremendous risks they had undertaken together. Even when he had still been fully human, Javier had trusted Ike completely. He had trusted him enough to give him the benefit of the doubt during the Racine case, letting him go when the man had been wanted for murder. He had trusted him enough to break a few laws and even more regulations in order to help Ike secure the evidence he needed to clear his name.
Only now Javier thought that if he were forced to confront those circumstances again he might have stood by Ike even if he had been guilty, and that was a startling realization for any man—let alone a cop—to make.
Beside him, Ike took in a slow, deep breath. He had turned to watch his family again. Javier didn't dare, not until he was more sure of what sort of ground he stood on. Several moments slid past, anticipation leaving Javier's mouth dry as he waited in silence for Ike to pass his verdict.
"Okay," Ike said finally, slowly.
He startled Javier just a little when he did. When, after several seconds more had passed, he said nothing else, Javier turned to look at him. And Ike was looking at him—curiously, with an expression that was half-smile and earnest half confusion, like someone had told him a joke that he didn't quite get, but that he had chosen to let go rather than analyze.
"Okay?" Javier asked, not bothering to hide his confusion or his surprise.
"That's what I said," Ike replied, patiently.
"Just like that?" Javier asked, a little disbelieving.
He hardly felt Ike could blame him.
"Unless there's anything else you're not telling me," Ike said, cautiously.
Still quietly stunned, at first Javier could only shake his head.
"No, I— No. No, man, that's pretty much it."
Ike nodded slowly, took another breath, and finally tipped his head toward the kitchen.
"Come on," he said, with feeling, "I could really use another beer."
Javier couldn't help but laugh at that.
"Yeah, God, me too..."
Maybe Ike didn't believe, not yet, but Javier didn't think he disbelieved it either. As far as it went, that part really didn't matter. The truth could be proven—Javier would have to arrange it with Kevin and with Castle, but the next full moon would see to that easily enough. What did matter—what finally had the tension and the worry bleeding out of him—was Ike's acceptance, a message clearly received though he had never said it in as many words. It was a warm feeling, easing the tension from his body as it bled in through his skin, confirming to the part of him that needed it that Ike and his family were still his.
And if Ike was willing to trust him like that—a monster or a madman or whatever he turned out to be—then maybe Javier could find it in his heart extend just that much more of his own trust to himself.