Early morning call-outs usually sucked, but they were particularly brutal on cold Monday mornings after a quiet weekend spent with an Xbox and his Fantasy Baseball league. Esposito was the first one out, so he stopped to get as much coffee as he could carry, along with tea for Lanie. It was a habit he'd gotten into years ago when he'd realized that his coworkers were a lot more cooperative at 4 o'clock in the morning when you shoved caffeine in their faces. Got you remembered as a team player, too, and Esposito figured it couldn't hurt.
Ryan showed up a moment before Beckett and Castle, so he handed out the coffee and then pulled out his notebook in time to see Ryan make a face like there was a skunk in his mouth.
"What?" Esposito said.
"What is this monstrosity?" Ryan asked, holding the coffee cup away from his body and turning up his nose like Esposito's nephew Braulio did whenever his sister tried to feed him mashed peas.
Esposito shrugged. "Coffee shop ran out of the sweetener you like. Sorry, bro."
"Here, take this. And kill it with fire," Ryan said, handing off the coffee to a uniform.
No lie, Esposito was a little hurt.
"Victim's name is Ian Washington. We think," Esposito said, turning to Beckett. "He's got an apartment up on the third floor. He was found early this morning after one of his neighbors reported a smell."
"Decomp?" Beckett asked.
"Apparently the building's had problems with its broiler, and the heat's been cranked for days. Hope you didn't eat breakfast, Castle," Esposito said.
Castle winced. "Captain Crunch." When Beckett raised her eyebrow, he said, "I bought it for Alexis, but she says it's bad for her teeth."
"You should listen to your daughter more," Beckett told him.
"Not to mention," Esposito said, gesturing at his throat, "it's like a steel wire brush coming back up."
"How do you know that, Esposito?" Beckett asked playfully.
"Steel wire? Seriously?" Castle said, looking concerned.
Esposito turned to follow Beckett. "Seriously, bro. Buddy of mine? He puked up blood."
Castle slapped Esposito’s shoulder. "If you’re lying, I’m not basing my next book on you."
"Why does Espo get a book?" Ryan protested.
"He had the foresight to call dibs should Beckett forsake me." Walking backwards into the building, Castle said, "Hey, why do we think this is a murder, anyway?"
"Blood spatter all over the living room and a hammer stuck where Pudding Von Goopington's head used to be were a couple of clues."
"Nice! I saw on CSI that smiling suppresses the gag reflex. Is that really true?" Castle asked.
"Guess you'll find out in a minute," Esposito said.
Decomp followed you all day if you didn't do something about it, so Esposito was just sitting at his desk with some fresh clothes and a new cup of coffee when Ryan yelled, "Heads up!"
He looked up in time to see a bagel coming right for him. It bounced off Esposito's forehead, slid across his keyboard, and landed on the floor next to the trash can.
"Is that a blueberry bagel?"
"Yeah," Ryan said, taking a bite of his everything bagel. "I thought you liked blueberries."
"Yeah, in a muffin, maybe, but a blueberry bagel is an abomination," Esposito said.
"Guess I don't know you like I thought I did," Ryan said.
Esposito frowned. He'd thought Ryan hadn't caught him flirting with the guy who lived in the apartment down the hall from the vic, but now he wasn't so sure. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Ryan was nodding. "Maybe you'll think twice next time when you make a bet with Castle and forget to include me. Because then it'll be blueberry bagel abominations all the time. With a schmear."
"You disgust me," Esposito said. He picked up the bagel and flicked it into the trash. "See if I buy you another waffle from the angry Frenchman."
"Oh, come on, that guy hates me," Ryan said.
"He hates everybody."
"I think he hates me more than he hates everyone else."
"I'm beginning to understand why," Esposito said.
"That's cold. You are a mean little man," Ryan said. He pulled out his desk chair and deliberately slammed into Esposito's.
"Who you calling little?" Esposito asked, flexing a little. "That's like the pot calling the kettle black."
"What does that even mean, anyway?" Ryan said.
"It's an idiom," Castle called from his seat next to Beckett's desk.
"Thank you, I did go to college," Ryan said.
Ostentatiously, Esposito pulled a copy of Twilight from his desk, flipping to where he'd used bindle paper as a bookmark and reading aloud. "'He lay perfectly still in the grass, his shirt open over his sculpted, incandescent chest, his scintillating arms bare. His glistening, pale lavender lids --'"
"Don't make me call your mom," Ryan said.
"Bring it," Esposito said. "Whose copy of this do you think I borrowed?"
Something was definitely off, though. Esposito and Ryan bickered, sure, but they'd been working together long enough that they had a comfortable groove going. Usually. But today apparently was not that day.
Ryan stood up just as Esposito was leaning over his desk with a file, and Ryan accidentally clocked him on the jaw.
"Shit, sorry, bro," Ryan said. He looked a little woozy, and when he tried to stand up again, he rolled his chair over Esposito's foot.
Esposito gave him the hand and limped into the break room for some ice. There wasn't any, so Esposito tilted the vending machine until it gave him a free soda and held the cold can to his jaw. After a while, he went to the bathroom and examined his face for any swelling or bruising. Didn't look too bad, so he decided to let Ryan live.
Jameson in Forensics caught Esposito as he was coming out of the bathroom. He glanced at the folder as he crossed the bullpen and sat down at his desk.
"Yo, Beckett," Esposito said, wheeling his chair over to Beckett's desk.
Ryan scooted over, too. He always overshot, so Esposito stuck out his foot to reel him in, only Ryan's chair tipped over instead, his legs flying ass over teakettle like that time they pranked Castle because of the mummy's curse.
"Dude," Esposito said, crouching over Ryan and holding out a hand to help him to his feet. Ryan waved him off irritably and stood up.
"Ow. Okay. I, uh, I'm taking a walk," Ryan said, rubbing his head.
"What's wrong with the two of you?" Beckett demanded once he was out of the room.
Castle wheeled his chair over and peered at Esposito, steepling his fingers. "Did you break a mirror? Walk under a ladder? Did a black cat cross your path? Is Mercury in retrograde? Ooh, I should look that up."
"What are you talking about, Castle?" Esposito asked as Castle pulled out his iPhone and started typing.
"You and Ryan. Your mojo! Your vibe! It's gone! Have you considered couples counseling?"
"Whatever," Esposito said. He tossed Beckett the file from Forensics. "Read that. If you'll excuse me, I need to go talk to my partner."
Esposito caught up with Ryan in the north stairwell, which was where he usually went to hide, considering that most of the 12th never used the stairs if they could help it, except for that one health nut in Street Crimes who claimed it kept him in shape to run down gangbangers.
"So you wanna tell me what's really wrong?" Esposito asked. "I figure it's probably got something to do with you staying in a motel for the last week."
Ryan frowned. "How'd you know that?"
Esposito shrugged. "You're taking a different route to and from work. You've barely touched your phone for weeks. And you smell like cheap toiletries and despair."
Ryan craned his neck and tried to sniff himself, and then said, "Sometimes it sucks when your best friend is a detective, you know that, right?"
"C'mon," Esposito said. "Talk to me."
"Jenny and I broke up," Ryan said.
And Esposito felt like shit, because he knew what she meant to his partner. "I'm sorry, bro."
"She got this really great job offer in San Diego. I mean, this amazing job offer with relocation costs and everything, and I told her that she couldn't turn it down, not in this economy. So..." Ryan's voice shook a little, and in that moment, Esposito heard everything Ryan wasn't saying, that he was staying in a motel because it hurt too much to talk about it. That he didn't want anyone trying to cheer him up or trash talk his ex.
"Yeah," Esposito said.
"Anyway, our lease was coming up, but I didn't really want to stay there without her, and you know how hard it is to find an apartment on short notice."
"So, what's wrong with me? Do I stink?" Esposito said.
Puzzled, Ryan said, "No, you smell really good, actually."
"Then I'm at a loss to explain why you're staying at a hotel and not on my couch," Esposito said. "It's a nice couch, one that I purchased from a furniture store, not something I found on the curb. What do you say?"
"You sure? Maybe I snore," Ryan said.
"You don't snore," Esposito said with confidence, because it wasn't like Ryan hadn't fallen asleep during a stakeout or after having a few too many beers at the bar. He wheezed a little when he was drunk, but that was all.
"What about your crazy landlord?" Ryan said.
"The rest of the tenants like having a cop in the building. My crazy landlord can suck it."
"Okay. Thanks, bro."
"Anytime, you know that. Why do you think I gave you a spare key?"
Ryan checked out of his motel and brought his stuff over that night, but then they caught a break in the case and didn't do much but sleep, shower, and change clothes until Friday, when they booked Pudding Von Goopington's girlfriend for his murder. Castle had called it at the scene, and Esposito had to hand over fifty dollars because he'd bet on the vic's younger brother.
Ryan left wet towels on the bathroom floor. Esposito just picked them up and tried not to be a dick about it.
Beckett sent them home a little after nine, so they stopped for beer on the way to Esposito's place, and then ordered a couple pizzas.
Esposito was putting the beer in the refrigerator. "You're not gonna try the long distance thing?"
"Nah," Ryan said from the couch. "I said I would, but Jenny told me that California was a long way, and that I shouldn't put my life on hold."
"She's a good woman," Esposito said.
"Yeah," Ryan said. "Guess this means we can go cruising for ladies together. Eventually, I mean. Not right now. Maybe we could go on a double date. That'd be fun, right?"
"Seriously?" Esposito said, popping his head over the refrigerator door. "I thought you knew."
Ryan looked around like someone would explain what the hell Esposito was talking about. "You thought I knew what?"
"You know," Esposito said, closing the refrigerator door and crossing his arms. "When you started at the 12th, when you partnered with me, didn't somebody pull you aside, and say, hey, that Esposito, he's on the down-low?"
"Yeah?" Ryan said, drawing out the vowels.
Esposito couldn't believe that he had to spell this out, but apparently he did. "I'm gay, Kevin."
"That's what that meant?" Ryan blurted, his eyes wide.
"What'd you think it meant?"
"I don't know, that you were a down-to-earth kind of guy?"
Esposito stared at him. "I don't even know what to do with you right now."
The pizza came. Esposito paid the delivery guy, and they settled in to watch ESPN in an uncomfortable silence. At least there was beer.
"So," Ryan said, shooting Esposito a grin." Just how many times have you seen Mama Mia!, anyway?"
"Don't even front," Esposito said. "You know my nieces love that shit."
"Since you've been playing the pronoun game even though you thought I knew, my gut tells me that you're not exactly out," Ryan said.
"I'm an ex-military, NYPD cop with a Puerto Rican dad and a half-black, half-Italian mom. Perez Hilton and Ricky Martin aren't exactly blazing a path for me, bro."
"Well, you still have Wanda Sykes and that guy from Bloc Party," Ryan said.
"My point remains."
"You're just so macho," Ryan said with a laugh.
Esposito clenched his jaw for a moment. "You okay with this?"
"What? Yeah," Ryan said. He looked Esposito right in the eye. "And I guess it explains why you had so much trouble trying to unlace that dominatrix's boots. Clearly you lack experience with ladies' accoutrement."
"I hate you so much right now," Esposito said.
Ryan took a giant bite of pizza, chewed enthusiastically, and then said, "I love you, too."
At work next Monday, they seemed to be back on track. No paper cuts when handing each other folders, they were trading office supplies like they were jugglers, and they even started finishing each other's sentences again.
Ryan handed him a sesame bagel. "And dude, I just have to ask: you don't actually like the Jonas Brothers, right?"
"They make me want to put out my eyes," Esposito said as he flipped through Newsweek.
"Not your ears?"
"When my nieces watch their show, I use earplugs. Anyway, the girls seem to be into some other guy now, you know, with the hair?" Esposito motioned from the back of his head to the front. "Emo Flock of Seagulls."
"Justin Bieber?" Ryan asked. Esposito snapped his fingers.
"Hey, you fixed it!" Castle said from out of nowhere, startling them. "I see therapy worked a treat."
"Wait, what? What does he mean by therapy?" Ryan said.
"Listen up, Moe and Curly," Beckett said, slapping a folder on Esposito's desk. "Now that you're not trying to kill each other, I need you to run down a lead."
"Everybody's a comedian," Esposito said.
Then it was a month later, and Ryan was still sleeping on his couch. Esposito really didn't mind that Ryan wasn't burning through his vacation time looking for a new place like Beckett had, wet towels notwithstanding. It meant that his leftovers didn't last for three days when he cooked, and there was somebody else around who could take out the garbage or buy toilet paper.
Naked Heat had been selling like hotcakes, and Castle had bought a couple rounds for everybody to celebrate. They'd gotten a little tipsy, played some foosball, and then they'd had some beers when they got home after Castle stopped buying. Them being drunk would probably explain why Esposito had let Ryan talk him into watching Sharktopus. That, and the fact that Jenny had called Ryan right before they'd gone to the bar, and Ryan had glumly reported that she'd sounded really happy.
"Oh, Eric Roberts, no," Esposito said.
"In his defense," Ryan said, gesturing at the TV with his beer bottle, "Heroes really went off the rails. I don't think Sharktopus was much of a step down."
They ate some Doritos and cold pizza, and just when Esposito was about to fall asleep sitting up, Ryan nudged his thigh.
"So, what's it like to kiss a guy?" Ryan asked.
"It's like kissing," Esposito said. He rubbed his eyes.
"No, come on. I really want to know. Tell me."
"When did this turn into a slumber party? How drunk are you, anyway?"
Ryan scrunched up his face. "Drunk enough to ask, not so drunk that I won't remember asking."
"Allow me to rephrase: I'm too drunk to have this conversation," Esposito said. It wasn't like he didn't have sex. He had phone numbers in his little black book, okay? But it had been a while, and he got kinda loud and impulsive when he drank. The universe could only ask so much.
"I should probably tell you that my curiosity only continues to grow the longer you refuse to answer the question," Ryan said.
"How about I just show you?" Esposito said before could stop himself.
Ryan blinked slowly, and said, "Okay."
Without pausing to think, Esposito leaned in and kissed him. He cupped Ryan's face and licked into his mouth with long, luxurious sweeps of his tongue. Ryan made a noise in his throat, but didn't pull away, so Esposito just kissed him some more, slow and warm and sweet. Their mouths made a wet sound when Esposito stopped. He rubbed his thumb over Ryan's cheek and then let his hand drop into his lap.
Ryan licked his lips and then opened his eyes. "Wow. How are you still single?"
Esposito shrugged, and propped his feet on the coffee table. He gave Ryan a fond look and patted his head. "I don't know, bro. Guess I'm just waiting for the right guy."
Esposito woke up to see Ryan standing over his bed. It was just after five o'clock in the morning, and Esposito nearly knocked the alarm clock off his nightstand while turning on the lamp.
"Dude," Esposito said. His voice was scratchy.
Ryan's eyes were red-rimmed and bloodshot, and he was rocking the kind of bedhead that made Esposito wish he had the motor control to operate his cell phone camera.
"I am a detective," Ryan said.
"You want a lollipop, Captain Obvious?"
"I am a detective, and therefore I am observant," Ryan said.
"Observe me wishing you'd shut up and go back to sleep," Esposito said, rubbing his eyes.
"Am I the right guy?" Ryan asked. Esposito froze, and peered at Ryan between his fingers. "Actually, bro, don't even bother trying to come up with an answer that you think won't freak me out. I just wanted to establish that there's a thing, that we have a thing of some kind before I do this."
Ryan climbed into his bed.
"Uh," Esposito said.
"Don't get me wrong. I'm not that kind of girl, even though we apparently moved in together without even going on a first date," Ryan said, wriggling underneath the covers and stealing a pillow. "It's just that you have a Queen, and while your couch is nice, it's doing this thing to my neck."
Esposito looked at Ryan out of the corner of his eye, but couldn't figure out what to say.
"You're lucky. Normally I'd be singing Lionel Richie lyrics at you right now, but I'm hungover and temporarily lacking in the romance department," Ryan said.
"I can see it in your eyes?" Esposito said.
Ryan grinned. His eyes were closed. "I can see it in your smile."
"I'd be horrified by this line of conversation if my brain wasn't throbbing inside my skull."
Sleepily, Ryan said, "Mm, I have every intention of stealing your phone and setting it as your ringtone."
"Do that, and I will shred your copy of Eat, Pray, Love," Esposito said.
"Shut up and turn off the light," Ryan said.