Beckett came in early, but Esposito had beaten her to the punch. He was already at his desk, his head pillowed on his crossed arms. She narrowed her eyes and smiled; he must have been working too late on the Johansson case to go home, catching an hour or two of uncomfortable sleep in hold-up. They'd all done it; a cop's bad habit.
She set her cup of fresh coffee next to his head and leaned over his desk, close enough to see the wrinkles in the fabric of his shirt. She grinned and whispered into his ear. “Wake up, Sleeping Beauty. There's a prince at the door for you.” If it had been Castle, maybe she would have considered yelling, but there was a certain self-preservative courtesy among cops: no yelling at sleeping gunslingers. Sudden loud noises tended to end up in a bad place. The hospital, if they were lucky.
Esposito grumbled something, but raised his head anyway, looking from her to the cup of steamed delicious wakefulness. “That for me, Beckett?”
“It is now. You look beat.”
Esposito rolled his eyes, but accepted the coffee with a pleased little sigh. He sipped at the hot liquid and pointed at the board with his thumb. “I figured I'd look it over again and then I was hoping that the chem analysis'd be back from the lab.”
Yeah, she knew about those hopes. It was always just another twenty minutes; and sometimes being right there could save a life - had for them at least a dozen times or more - but in the normal run of things it was better, healthier, to go home at a reasonable hour, not five or even six, but before the streets emptied and the echoes of their footsteps were all they could hear in the dark.
“Did you get anything?”
He shrugged, rubbed the back of his neck. “Nah, the lab's been understaffed ever since the budget cuts; last I heard we'd get the results this afternoon. Probably.”
Beckett narrowed her eyes. There was something in the way he looked just past her, avoiding her gaze like a suspect on a- “Okay, spit it out, what's going on?” She was using her cop voice on him; it usually worked with Castle, but Esposito knew more about interrogation than any of them. Hadn't he done that whole SERE thing during his military training?
“Nothing's going on,” he said, his fingers twisting the cup of coffee around and around in a nervous circle.
“Oh, you are a crap liar, you know that?” She smiled, but there was a sense of tension in the air. Thin ice.
Esposito glared at her, annoyance trumping secrecy, and oh. Oh.
“Don't take this the wrong way, Beckett, but it's none of your business.” He was hiding something, not just something in his face, but physically. Her gaze shifted to the desk and she snorted.
“Tell me this isn't about the new book. Please.”
Esposito made a face like biting on a lemon. “It's not about the new book.”
She had her own copy of the manuscript sitting on her bedside table, of course, but she hadn't had much chance to read it yet. From what she could gather, it looked to be better than the others, a little more serious, a little less flippant about the nature of death. It was perhaps a more mature work than what she'd come to expect from Castle as a writer, more a representation of the man he'd become in they time they'd known each other than the writer she'd first met.
But maybe she'd been wrong about that. “What did he do?”
What he did was no more than what Esposito should have been used to – the jokes, the taunts, the catcalls. Castle had already made his and Ryan's fictional alter egos flirt and tease and finish each other's sentences and in some ways it was barely exaggerated at all. But this time around Castle had made a serious mistake.
“Nothing,” Esposito said into the rim of his coffee cup. He knew he was being evasive for no reason, she'd already seen right through him. “It's just that with regular rumors you can punch people in the face and be done with it, but this is black and white stuff. Can't get that off your back so easy.”
Sure, everyone knew that Nikki Heat was a pale imitation of Beckett and Ochoa and Raley were parodies at best, but it didn't change the nature of underlying truth. And that was just the problem, wasn't it? Castle and his writer's eyes had seen through something Esposito had buried so deep most of the time he himself didn't know it was there.
“Did you get a sex scene?” Biting her lip was all Beckett could do to keep from laughing. Esposito should probably feel annoyed, but mostly he was equal parts confused and embarrassed.
Because the drunken, hilarious sex between those two people, who clearly knew each other to the bone, who belonged together like two puzzle pieces, had made him burn with jealousy and unrealized potential. He'd known that sometimes he spent too much time looking at Ryan, too much time studying the curve of his lips and the tips of his ears. What he hadn't known, what Castle had unceremoniously dumped on his head, was that he was quite, quite in love.
“Yeah,” he said, dredging up a bit of bravery and resolve, “yeah.” And then he showed her the offending pages.
Kevin Ryan was having a pretty good day. It was the kind of day that promised greatness and rainbows and extraordinarily lucky breaks. His morning toast tasted divine and his orange juice was tart and pulpy and perfect. He'd gotten in some light exercise and the shower after had just the right temperature. He felt great. He felt like he could take on the world, or any number of cocky suspects.
That was, until he walked into the station and saw Beckett and Esposito send twin glares his way. He didn't know what he'd done, couldn't even remember the last time he'd played a prank with either of them as the target. Usually they were all partners in crime.
“Uh,” he said, “hi?”
Beckett got up abruptly and stalked past him, but not without grabbing his arm just above the elbow, digging her fingers in hard, and whispering into his ear. “You gave him the manuscript, you fix it.” He'd buy her threat more readily if she hadn't bitten her lip to keep from grinning.
And yeah, he'd given Esposito the unpolished book he'd won from Castle in a high stakes game of Go Fish, but there wasn't anything in it that should have put that look on his face. Maybe he'd thought they'd have a good laugh over it at the coffee machine, about Castle and his delusions of the dramatic.
“Hey partner,” he tried, because that was usually a safe way to start a conversation. Unfortunately, Esposito had gone back to studying his coffee with uncomfortable intensity. Then Ryan noticed the shirt. “Have you been here all night?”
Esposito glared again, and on the whole even that was better then his strange evasiveness. “Someone had to work around here. I was waiting for some lab results.” He sounded sulky, almost petulant.
Ryan caught sight of the well-thumbed copy of the manuscript under the coffee cup. “Right, and this was for the Johansson case?” A case that was moving slow as molasses and Ryan would personally put on the lowest rung of the urgency ladder, except that the victim was the daughter of a retired city councilman.
“I had something to read.”
Ryan glanced at the pages, caught the names and tilted his head. Huh. That was interesting. “You like it? I thought it was one of his best yet.”
Esposito shrugged. “It was okay. The mystery was a little obvious, I knew who the killer was halfway through the third chapter.”
Ryan rolled his eyes. Then he smiled, because Esposito was coming out of his shell and that was... yeah. “I don't believe you, I bet you skipped ahead to the end.” The question he rather desperately wanted to ask lay heavy on his tongue, but it didn't spill out despite the weight.
“One,” Esposito said, getting into the spirit, “I do not cheat when it comes to mysteries. That's just not right, bro. And two,” he raised two fingers, “it doesn't take a genius to figure out that it's the only guy that gets a point of view section. Castle has more tells than a junkie jonesing for a hit.”
Ryan nodded, sucked in a breath. He was gravitating toward Esposito, leaning close even though, for once, he wasn't sure of himself, too aware of the distance between them. Esposito – Javi – he wasn't like... like that; he valued the perception of his masculinity among the guys too much. Maybe it was a holdover from the military, or maybe he was just that kind of guy. Not mean about it, never that, but still uneasy. Like Ryan was going to take anything less than a serious declaration for a hint. He wasn't stupid.
“So,” he started, moving forward despite the crackling ice under his feet. If this blew up in his face there was more on the line than just a fist to the teeth. He took a deep breath. “What about this then?” He gestured at the open page, watching Javi as if he was a rabbit about to bolt.
“Nothing.” Javi worried a corner of the manuscript with his fingers, fraying the edge. “It's just Castle messing with us. A crappy prank, you know?”
Ryan swallowed, because what he wanted to say was ill-advised and as likely to destroy this partnership as not. “Yeah, that. Uh, we could always ask him to take it out. It won't go beyond this room. You and me, Beckett and Castle and that's it.” His hands were not shaking, not at all. “If that's what you want.”
There was only one problem. Ryan didn't want this swept under the rug; he didn't want them to be the kind of partners who kept an unspeakable secret between them. He'd done it before and it had almost killed him. Literally. His old partner read him all wrong and nearly got him shot by a drug dealer because he thought Ryan was cruising that scumbag but was too chickenshit to ask.
“What are you talking about? Of course I want it gone.” Esposito was worked up, true anger bubbling up from somewhere, and for once Ryan didn't get him at all.
“Right,” Ryan said, running a hand through his hair as he leaned back. “Right, of course.”
Esposito had never seen his partner putting up such a weak facade of bravery, at least not when talking to him. A petty little voice at the back of his mind asked what right Ryan had to look like a kicked puppy when he hadn't even warned Esposito about the manuscript. And honestly, he knew that wasn't fair.
“Don't tell me you... you don't mind?”
Ryan shrugged. It made him look somehow small. “It makes sense for them, doesn't it?”
Esposito stared at the words. If Ochoa and Raley weren't a thin disguise for him and Ryan, if they were just some characters in a novel he read to wind down, sure, it would make sense. They'd been on the edge of this for a while and the progression seemed entirely natural. But half the precinct would read the book thinking not of those hypothetical people, but of Esposito and Ryan doing... things.
“I don't want to be the laughingstock of half the New York police force for the next year.”
The moment he said it, Esposito knew it was the entirely wrong thing to say. Ryan flinched and tucked his hands into his pockets, closing himself off like he'd been slapped in the face. “No, I understand. Because that would be awful, people thinking that. About us. You and me.”
Esposito sighed. “This isn't about us.” Even though- even though he kind of wishes it were. It would make things more tangible. “It's about Castle being a shithead.”
“Takes one to know one,” Ryan said, eyes blazing. Esposito didn't know how, but he'd gone from being righteously angry at Castle and the world to being the guy who everyone wanted to punch in those shitty romantic comedies.
“Whoa there, down boy. I'm not the villain here. Castle wrote porn about us and it's going to be published for millions of readers. Everyone is going to think we're sleeping together. And maybe that bothers me, okay? Maybe I'm not 'secure' in my 'sexuality' or whatever they call it these days. I don't want to go to the chopping block for something that isn't even true.”
Ryan swallowed. His mouth felt like sandpaper and he grabbed for Javi's coffee. He'd let the tirade rush over him like so much noise, but he'd heard the last bit, heard it very well.
He tried for casual - it didn't work, but it made Javi's mouth curl up at the corner with the hint of a smile. “So, uh, do you want it to be?”
The truth was that after all the drama and all the waiting, saying yes was easy. Esposito let himself smile and the echoing grin on Kevin's face made his heart beat a little faster. They were always going to end up here - it made perfect sense. He glanced around the room, making sure that no one was looking their way, then he took Kevin's hand.
He stared at their fingers for a moment. “I've got beer in the fridge.” He wasn't asking Kevin on a date, not really. They'd been chastely – frustratingly - dating for a while now. Probably since the day after Kevin's girlfriend left him for a Mountie. “We could play Halo. Get a little drunk. Make out.”
Kevin's eyes were very wide and very blue. He was nodding almost absently, like he couldn't believe that he was awake. Esposito knew the feeling.
As declarations went, it could use some improvement, but Ryan was distracted by the tip of Javi's tongue darting out as he wet his lips. And then Ryan was distracted by Javi holding his face with both hands and kissing him.
The kiss was wet and a little uncoordinated and the hottest thing that's happened to him in ages. He didn't want it to end, ever, except maybe for a couple of breaks to gasp for breath and get to a convenient broom closet. Oh, what he wouldn't do for a convenient broom closet.
“We can't do this here,” he heard himself say, and wondered. What had possessed him to push Javi away when they were finally getting with the program? “If someone sees-” He made a vague gesture that could mean 'incriminating pictures' or 'IA investigation of conduct unbecoming a police officer'.
Javi nodded, breathing a little heavily, a strange and wonderful expression on his face. He looked as blissed out as Ryan felt. “Okay, yeah. Okay. Not here. But later, you're coming home with me.”
Ryan grinned. “Mine's closer.”
“Your couch is an affront to existence.”
“I'll have you know, that couch has style, it has personality. And besides, I wasn't planning on spending much time on it.”
Javi swallowed hard and kissed him harder, short and full of promise. “We'll flip for it.”
Heads or tails, Ryan was getting lucky tonight.