Esposito checked his watch and then crossed his arms. He was giving Ryan three more minutes to finish his interview, and then he was going to start slapping people, starting with his partner. It would serve him right for calling his girlfriend three times during a single canvas.
Call it jealousy, whatever. Esposito missed having his partner with him 100%.
"I just need to know what it's like from a woman's perspective. Specifically a woman in a man's world," Castle wheedled.
"You live with two women, Castle," Beckett said. "Ask them."
Castle gasped. "I can't ask my daughter about sex. One, she hasn't had any. Two, she will never have any. Three, I'm ordering a chastity belt from Amazon with my phone right now. Ew. Gross. No, I'm not."
Beckett dropped her head. "Your mother, then."
"No, see, I had therapy to get over everything my mother told me about sex," Castle said. "Hours and hours of very expensive therapy. Besides, acting is hardly a male-dominated field."
Looking a little wild-eyed, Beckett said, "You know Esposito is gay, right? Maybe you could ask him."
Esposito glared, because that was downright cold. "Are you throwing me under the bus, Beckett?"
"Look, I only got three hours of sleep last night, and I'm so hungry that I think I could take down an elk with my bare hands. If he keeps talking, I'm afraid I might actually kill him. And you owe me one."
Esposito liked to keep things neat, orderly. His clothes, his desk, his apartment, sure, but his desire for order applied to other things, too. Like his privacy, his personal life. He'd worked it so his various social circles were a Venn diagram with as little overlap as possible.
But maybe now that Ike was alive and clear of IA, he could be less vigilant. Esposito decided that it probably would be cool if Castle knew.
"Ka-thunk," Esposito said, watching Ryan close his notepad and head back to the car. "That's the bus, running me over."
"Oh, my god. Seriously?" Castle demanded. His eyes were dinner plates and his grin could be seen from space. "You're gay? No way! I should note that I didn't intend for that to rhyme."
Esposito sighed heavily. "Dude, you know I like you, but if you mess with me on this particular subject matter, I will fuck your shit up."
"Fuck my shit up?" Castle asked Beckett. "Can he do that?"
"Of course he can. Bro was Special Forces," Ryan said, joining them at the car. "It's why he gets the big gun during raids. Why is Espo fucking your shit up, Castle?"
"Dude!" Castle said. "Special Forces? Really? How are you so awesome? Can you kill me with your pinkie?"
"I was Special Forces, Castle. Not a ninja," Esposito said. He buffed his fingernails on his lapel.
"Two pinkies?" Castle asked, holding up his pinkies and pointing them at his own neck like little swords or nunchucks or something.
"Tell you what. You wanna know about free fall parachute jumping or surviving deep behind enemy lines –"
"What he's trying to say is that he can't kill you with his pinkies," Ryan interrupted.
"I'd give it a shot, though," Esposito said, nudging his elbow into Ryan's ribs.
"Time to go, Castle," Beckett said, hauling him away by the collar.
"You've been holding out on me!" Castle called, walking backward at a fast clip to prevent strangulation. "We're talking about this later! Ochoa needs back story!"
"What was that about?" Ryan asked.
Esposito shrugged. "Castle's traumatic birds and the bees talk with his mom, apparently. Don't ask me, bro."
"Ooh," Ryan said, wincing.
Esposito nodded. "I know, right?"
"Hey," Castle said, waylaying Esposito at the espresso machine. It was late, and the squad room was pretty empty. "Beckett told me that I can't tell anyone."
Esposito looked at Castle's eager puppy face, and rolled his eyes to the ceiling. "You can tell Alexis and Mrs. R, but that's it, you hear me?"
"Thank you," Castle said, letting out a loud breath and clapping his hands on Esposito's shoulders. "It would have killed me to keep this a secret from my family. We live for gossip."
"So," Esposito said, trying to get a feel for how this would play. "You don't have a problem with this?"
"No, this is great! You're my gay friend. I have so many questions to ask," Castle said. He steepled his fingers and laughed in a creepy way, indicating to Esposito that 99% of his questions were going to be about sex.
"I'm your gay friend, your black friend, and your Puerto Rican friend," Esposito said. "And none of them feel like answering your questions today, Rick."
Castle blinked. "You're a hat trick. A trifecta. If you were a lesbian, you'd be some kind of Human Resources holy grail. You get the long form census?"
"You know it," Esposito said. He put his hand up in warning when someone walked past the break room. "I'm not out at work, you know that, right?"
"But Beckett knows," Castle said.
Esposito shrugged. "Beckett's Beckett. Woman's good. I still don't know how she figured it out. Or how she knows about my underwear."
"Yeah, she is," Castle said admiringly. "Hey, does Ryan know?"
Esposito grimaced. When it came to friends these days, he was good at the superficial things. Hanging out, playing Madden, drinking beers, and shooting the shit. But after Ike, he couldn't trust his own judgment, and wouldn't let anyone get too close. As far as excuses went, it was pretty weak.
"I don't know, bro. Before he started, I made a bet with Beckett on when he'd figure it out, but since he keeps trying to tempt me with cute girls when Jenny's busy and he wants company on his free food quests, I'm pretty sure he hasn't put two and two together yet."
Castle smacked his arm. "Dude! You have to tell him!"
"I know, but how do I tell him now? It's been too long," Esposito said. "At first, I was just honoring the terms of the bet, but then it just kept going, and it got all weird."
"Well, to be fair to Ryan, you are kind of butch. You don't play the pronoun game. And you flirt with women a lot," Castle said.
"Whatever," Esposito said. "One, flirting is fun. Two, I got used to Don't Ask, Don't Tell. And three, maybe I enjoy cockblocking straight guys."
Castle made a claw with his hand. "Meow."
Esposito raised his eyebrow. "I may not be able to kill you with my pinkies, but trust me when I say that I can hurt you in ways even you haven't considered."
Castle put the claw away. "So what do we do?"
"What's this 'we'?" Esposito demanded.
Castle looked at him as if he'd said something deeply stupid. "Well, I'm your partner, too."
Before he could respond, someone cleared his throat, causing Esposito and Castle to startle and nearly spill their coffee.
"Hey," Ryan said. He stopped in the break room entrance and smiled nervously. "You guys stop having conversations whenever I show up today. Why do I suddenly feel like the kid who got picked last for kickball?"
"Aww," Castle said, falling for it like Esposito had fallen for the bad back excuse. Nobody ought to have puppy dog eyes that pretty.
"Because I am the Huey Freeman of kickball, and should never be picked last," Ryan continued.
"If you're Huey, I don't know who that makes me," Castle said, pointing at the door. "So I'm going to leave now before you two decide I'm Gangstalicious."
"You hungry?" Esposito asked after Castle had made his dramatic exit.
Ryan shrugged. "I could eat."
"C'mon, bro. I'll buy you a Belgian waffle from the angry Frenchman."
"Sweet!" Ryan said.
They didn't talk on the way to the waffle stand. They weren't always chatty motherfuckers, but they enjoyed yakking it up around Beckett because it made her cranky. It was nice. He missed hanging out with Ryan when they weren't actively working a case.
The angry Frenchman greeted Esposito warmly in Spanish. Ryan leaned close and hissed in Esposito's ear, "See? He hates me. You, he wants to adopt."
"What, to hug me and squeeze me, and call me Jorge?"
Ryan stared at him. "Why did you have to go to the creepy place?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Creeper," Ryan said.
Esposito grinned, and ordered for both of them. He waited until Ryan had finished shoveling waffle in his face to start talking.
"You told me I could talk to you. About everything, right?" Esposito asked.
"Anything and everything, partner," Ryan said. He was cute when he was earnest. And he was earnest a lot.
"You know I like to keep things private."
"You're not sick, are you?" Ryan asked. "If you were dying, you'd tell me, right? Only you look fine, so you're probably not dying. Do you have a secret wife? Dude, a secret kid? Were you kidnapped by aliens?"
"I'm gay," Esposito said dryly. "And apparently you're a conspiracy theorist."
Ryan blinked rapidly, and then said, "Wow, I so should have seen this coming."
"What's that mean?" Esposito asked.
"You're fussy about hygiene, you watch cooking shows, and now that I think about it, you party but you've never told me about going on actual dates with any women. And there was that time you made me go to Mass and your aunt Prudenciana called you a confirmed bachelor."
"Castle watches cooking shows," Esposito protested, ignoring the bit about Tia Prudenciana, because he seriously could not deal with that right now.
"Yeah, but he's Castle," Ryan said. "He's the most heterosexual metrosexual that I've ever met."
Ryan watched him carefully. "You are totally freaking out. I was just kidding about your aunt."
"Oh, thank fuck," Esposito said, giddy with relief.
"I wish you had told me about this a long time ago, but I guess I can understand why you didn't," Ryan said. "You can trust me with anything, you know that, right?"
"Yeah," Esposito said. He ducked his head for a moment so Ryan couldn't see his face. "Anyway. It started with a bet. Me and Beckett."
Ryan frowned. "Who won?"
"We officially declared a forfeit at the one-year mark."
"So why tell me now?"
"Castle found out today. Since she broke it off with Tom, Castle's been getting to her --"
"-- and you were a convenient distraction, right," Ryan said. He motioned with his hand. "Under the bus."
Esposito didn't mind too much. Beckett was a good boss, and he liked being able to come to the rescue every once in a while.
"It's all good. You know, something Castle said got me thinking. You and Jenny, you guys look happy. And maybe I'd like to have someone like that. But in order for that to happen, I figured that I probably needed to start the way I intend to proceed, and stop hiding the truth from my friends."
Ryan nodded. "Thanks. For telling me."
"No problem, bro." Esposito shrugged.
"Any other secrets I should know about?"
Esposito considered it. "I've checked you out."
Ryan beamed with delight. "Seriously?"
"Once or twice."
Ryan preened for a moment. "What about Castle?"
"Little bit. But he's not my type, bro," Esposito said.
Ryan looked intrigued. "What is your type?"
"Not straight, for starters," Esposito said.
"That's probably a good policy. I dated a lesbian once, and --"
Esposito's cell rang. He held up his hand. "Hold that thought." Answering his phone, he said, "Esposito."
"We found something. I need both of you back here ASAP," Beckett said.
"On our way," Esposito said.
"Beckett?" Ryan asked when he ended the call. "Back to work, then."
"You can tell me about your lesbian girlfriend on the way," Esposito said.
Ryan squinted at him. "I'll tell you if you promise that the next time we catch a case where one of your exes can give you information, you'll call him in."
Esposito shrugged. "Already have, but sure."
"What? Who?" Ryan demanded. "Was it Demming?"
Grinning, Esposito said, "Wouldn't you like to know."
"I would. I really, really would."
"If wishes were horses, beggars would ride."
"I've changed my mind. I don't like you anymore," Ryan said.
Esposito didn't even bother dignifying that statement with a response.