"Bro," Ryan said as soon as the elevator doors had closed behind Beckett, "you owe me ten dollars."
Esposito frowned. As much as he wanted to cheer up Ryan and make him stop pining over the fact that his girlfriend was spending Christmas with her parents, he wasn't quite willing to do so at the expense of their bet.
"Not a chance," he replied. "You just lost that one."
"Excuse me?" Ryan smirked. "I have witnesses. The whole precinct saw Beckett leaving early for Castle's Christmas party. You're the one who said it would never happen."
"What I said was that Castle would never persuade her to go," Esposito corrected him. "And he didn't. He called his daughter, and Alexis is the one who talked Beckett into going, so it's my win."
He leaned back in his chair and gave his partner a smug grin.
It was Ryan's turn to frown. He stared at Esposito as if he was a suspect with a story that didn't quite add up, but it didn't seem as if he had anything to object apart from a general reluctance to concede defeat.
"I don't know, that doesn't sound right," Ryan said. "Let me think about it."
Esposito shrugged and turned back to his desk. Anything to get Jenny off Ryan's mind for a while.
The office was quieter than usual, not only because of Castle's absence. The unwritten rule was that single officers took the holiday shifts so that others might spend time with their family or significant others.
That left Esposito, a handful of the younger detectives and a certain someone whose girlfriend was currently in Michigan.
They didn't have any case open at the moment, just a lot of paperwork, but then again there was always paperwork, and Esposito hated typing reports. Without Beckett's constant nagging Esposito thought they could take it slow that afternoon.
He had just finished listing all of the evidence for their previous case (a fairly straightforward shooting that, despite Castle's claims, they hadn't needed any help to solve, thank you very much) when Ryan placed a cup of coffee in front of him and perched on his desk.
"If Castle persuaded Alexis to persuade Beckett, it's like Castle persuaded Beckett himself," Ryan said as if there hadn't been a pause of over half an hour in their conversation.
Esposito wasn't going to be swayed by an offer of coffee, not even if it was his favorite black coffee with just half a spoonful of sugar.
"He didn't persuade Beckett himself," he replied. "He persuaded her indirectly."
"So you admit he did persuade her," Ryan exclaimed triumphantly. He took a sip of his own coffee, something with foam and cinnamon sprinkles on top and probably enough sugar to give diabetes to a small country. Esposito gave the drink a look of deep distrust.
"Indirectly," he insisted, stressing the word. "Would you still say he persuaded Beckett to go if he killed one of his guests to make sure Beckett showed up at his place?"
Ryan gave this all the consideration that was due to a murder mystery writer who'd described more implausible scenarios in his books.
"It's a good thing that Beckett listened to Alexis," he said eventually, wiping some foam from his upper lip.
"We need a third person to decide who wins," Esposito admitted reluctantly. He could have argued about semantics with Ryan for hours, but they were starting to go in circles.
"Let's ask Castle," Ryan replied immediately.
Esposito snorted. "No way, he's not exactly impartial," he said. He was sure Beckett would have sided with him, just to spite Castle, but only after chewing out both him and Ryan for betting on her personal life.
"What about Lanie?" he suggested instead.
Ryan pulled a face but nodded. "As long as she doesn't tell Beckett," he began but was interrupted by a phone ringing.
"Detective Esposito," he said, picking up the call. He listened to the report for a moment and nodded grimly, moving the receiver to his left hand so he could jot down an address on the yellow pad in front of him. "We're on our way," he said to the agent on the other end before closing the call.
Ryan groaned. "A case?" he asked, picking up his coat. "I was hoping murderers would be kind enough to stay put on Christmas Eve, or at least hide the bodies until after the holidays."
"No such luck," Esposito said, pocketing the address. "We've got a man strangled in his apartment on the 77th. Forensics are already on their way."
He picked up his car keys and drained his coffee in three large gulps. It was still too hot and it scorched the roof of his mouth but it was a pity to let it go to waste.
"You're driving again?" Ryan asked.
"Bro, you're my partner and all," Esposito replied in his kindest tone. "But you're also a menace to everyone on the streets." And, before Ryan could protest, he added, "Remember the Chinese lady and the shopping cart?"
Ryan winced. "I thought we weren't talking about that," he complained, but he dropped the subject and instead proceeded to send Jenny yet another smiley face text. (Esposito was sure it was Jenny because he recognized the goofy expression on Ryan's face.)
"Do you think we should let Beckett know about this?" Ryan asked as they went down to the parking lot.
"Nah, Castle will kill us if Beckett leaves his party after he talked her into going," Esposito replied. "Especially if it's for a boring murder."
"True," Ryan said. "We can handle it."
Ryan was silent for most of the ride to the crime scene, clenching his fists in his lap and glaring at Esposito whenever he shifted gears. Esposito thought that Ryan was way too judgmental of his driving style for someone who'd taken his driving examination three times.
He realized what Ryan had been mulling over only when he parked the car in front of their vic's building.
"About what you said earlier," Ryan grinned. "Did you just admit that Castle talked Beckett into...?"
Esposito cursed his own large mouth. "I didn't mean that," he began to say but Ryan gave him his trademark puppy dog look (the one guaranteed to melt the heart of small children, elderly ladies and Esposito himself) and he didn't feel like arguing any more.
Still grumbling he reached for his wallet and handed Ryan a note. Ryan was positively gloating now.
"Hey," he said as they got out of the car. "Want to bet that Castle and Beckett will finally kiss next year?"