Genre: Angst, Hurt/Comfort, Fluff, Friendship, Family.
Warnings: Reference to past medical recovery. OCs
Details: Slash, AU, genre!crack, zombies, hurt/comfort, platonic physical affection, emotional vulnerability, skin hunger, diabetes like woah.
Characters/Pairings: Javier Esposito/Kevin Ryan, Richard Castle. Reggie Simpson (OC).
Summary: Sometimes the strongest thing a person can do is allow themselves to lean on others.
Notes: Revisits a few scenes from part two of "Quality of Life" and finishes immediately after "Heart Attack".
Javier was aware that he had an abnormally active sex drive compared to the vast majority of post-vitals―which was really just having any at all to speak of, apparently. Yet, while his libido occasionally peaked when his control over other drives grew thin, in general Javier still didn't seem to want it anywhere near as often as he had when he was warm. Which wasn't to say that when Kevin wanted it Javier wasn't more than happy to oblige him in any way he still could—he just didn't need it as much as he used to.
But the warmth, the contact, the closeness of another's body... There was no time he didn't need that.
And Javier had never quite suffered the curiosity about his condition that Kevin did—had never felt the urge to search out facts and read articles so that he could try to pick it apart. The trivia behind what he was really didn't interest him, he was too busy living it. Still, one of these days he might just have to give in and do a little research of his own...
Because he would really like to know how common it was that undeath turned a person into a total sap.
Javier hadn't used to be a very tactile person. Not that he had ever been the opposite—he had never actually had a problem with people showing him physical affection, or with returning it—but one word he absolutely would never have used for himself was needy. Yet that seemed to have changed after his recovery, and changed drastically. It had simply taken him a while to realize just how much...
Back in the beginning, when he had made his choice, there had been several things on Javier's mind. Expectations about the numerous and terrifying ways in which the disease was going to change him, and the impact those changes would have on the rest of his life. Javier had been afraid of the insanity and rage and hunger that loomed in his near future. He had dreaded the stigma which would mark him once that madness was over, and the terrifying specter of regression—that narrow but inescapable possibility that he might lose himself and return to that mindlessly savage state—that would haunt him for the rest of his life. He had anticipated the uphill battle he would need to wage in order to keep his job, and the judgment, opposition and suspicion he would face if he succeeded. But with the larger issues weighing on his mind, there had been countless smaller things he hadn't even begun to consider.
And one thing he had absolutely failed to anticipate was how much he would miss being touched. Not the professional attention of doctors and nurses, but real human touch—contact without any purpose behind it but communication and connection.
It wasn't something that he was consciously aware of, in the beginning—before Kevin had begun visiting him again he had hardly even noticed. But once Kevin was there—with the easy embraces and casual touches Javier hadn't even known he craved—it was like he just couldn't get enough. It was like sitting down to a meal and realizing only after the first bite how hungry you really were...
Which was an unsettling comparison, under the circumstances, but Javier never had come up with a better one.
At first, Javier had blamed his intense response to Kevin's touch on the physical changes he had undergone. It wasn't unusual, after all, for post-vitals to have difficulty readjusting to the touch of others—to contact with flesh still heated by living blood, which at times felt almost scalding. Yet while the difference in temperature had been an alarming thing to get used to, Javier had eventually been forced abandon that theory. Because otherwise, the same wouldn't have been true of the brief, avuncular touches that Reggie had a tendency to bestow.
And it was that detail that had finally allowed Javier to understand.
Reggie was a weird guy—that easily went without saying—and Javier had never been a fan of his Mr. Rogers crap. It wasn't that Javier disliked the man—not exactly—and he certainly couldn't deny how essential his help had been. But Javier had never liked having his vulnerabilities on display, even to people he was close to. Reggie was still basically a stranger, but where his post-vital condition was concerned too often Reggie could see right through him. It was Reggie's job to force Javier into acknowledging all his ugliest emotions. Rage, hunger, and disgust. Resentment, grief and despair. Reggie was too well acquainted with the darkness that Javier was navigating—too comfortable in those shadows for Javier to successfully hide.
During his recovery from onset, sometimes it had felt like Reggie knew Javier better than he even knew himself.
That sense of emotional nakedness had always made it difficult for Javier to feel at ease around the man, though he knew it was not for lack of trying on Reggie's part. In the beginning Javier had assumed that was the reason behind those frequent touches—that Reggie's friendliness was an act, meant to maintain a connection with his patients even as they confronted every hideously changed part of themselves. Over the course of his recovery, however, Javier had been forced to alter his assessment. Reggie really was that type of guy who wanted to be everyone's friend if he could, and in spite of what must have been decades of experience with people at their worst, he seemed genuinely disappointed when those efforts failed...
Keeping in mind the awkward unpleasantness of his interactions with Reggie, Javier was sure the physical contact ought to have left him uncomfortable. Yet, contrary to what he might once have expected of himself, Javier found himself warming to the attention—for lack of a better word—even if the comfort and pleasure he took from the contact represented a mortifying assault on what remained of his dignity.
And it took Javier longer than he would have liked to finally figure it out. It also took the realization that, as friendly as Reggie was, he hadn't touched Kevin quite the same way. Sure, once he had taken a liking to Kevin he had been far from reserved—Javier couldn't for the life of him imagine Reggie being shy or conservative about anything—but the touches were lighter, and more brief, and upon noticing Javier had been forced to reevaluate the man's behavior yet again. And finally, he had come to the conclusion that Reggie's manner, though not insincere, was a conscious part of his approach, so subtly calculated that Javier might easily have never noticed...
Because once, years ago, Reggie had been exactly where Javier was. He had gone through exactly what Javier was going through. And worse. He knew what it was like to slowly lose every part of yourself, and he knew the fight to get every possible part of it back piece by piece. He understood the hopelessness that grew out of prolonged isolation, of others viewing him as a dangerous thing rather than a person, and the knowledge that, after surviving what he had, he was never, ever going to be the same.
Reggie knew exactly what it was like to feel stained, ruined, toxic...
For a while, that realization had only left Javier feeling all the more unsettled, more ashamed of the pleasure he took in Kevin's natural affection. Ultimately, it had left him feeling even more broken. It had taken something drastic for him to get past that, and past the stubborn pride and self-pity that had inspired it...
It had taken his mother's first visit during his recovery, though whole thing had caught him completely unprepared.
Her presence had cut cleanly through every layer of his defenses, something in her touch reaching deep inside him to a part of himself he hadn't even realized was damaged. The pain he felt was like resetting a broken limb—agonizing as things fell back into place, but necessary for true healing to begin. Much later, he would look back on his tears a little shocked and a lot embarrassed, but at the time he had been too invested in it to think of anything else—too focused on the warmth of her embrace, on the weight of her in his arms as she anchored him there, as if she was all that held the fractured pieces of him together...
And in that moment, Javier had felt more like himself—more human, more whole, more alive—than he had since the moment his diagnosis had been given.
If his disease had made it difficult for him to feel connected to the people in his life, it hadn't severed him from them completely. And though he didn't exactly advertise, Javier had since made his peace with the fact that sometimes—only sometimes—he needed to be reminded. And if all that really meant was letting himself take what those people—his mom, Kevin, his sister, and even Reggie—were more than willing to give freely, then there wasn't much Javier could do but humbly and gratefully accept.
Of course...now that Castle was starting to notice that Javier was maybe a bit slower to throw off his ridiculous bro-hugs like he used to, he was pretty much screwed. But as he and the writer sat in the waiting room—waiting for Kevin to finish the mandatory X-rays that came after taking a bullet to the vest—Javier allowed himself to lean in to the arm Castle slung over his shoulders with a minimum amount of grousing.
After all, he told himself, there were far worse things.
"Skin hunger" is a fairly recent concept, so I imagine that it's called something different in the Life 'verse. I don't know what, exactly, and Javier probably doesn't know either, so...I'm not going to bother figuring it out right now.
The scene in Quality of Life with Javier's mother was one of my unexpected favorite parts of the fic. I was kind of glad to get to revisit it a bit here.
And I don't know when my brain latched onto the idea of post-vital!Javi and Castle as platonic cuddle-buddies, but apparently this is now a thing.