Actions

Work Header

On Tuesday

Work Text:

On Tuesday, Castle saw something he shouldn't have.

He'd gotten to the precinct early because he wanted to surprise Kate with coffee and a doughnut – if a stereotype works, play it, right? – and he was trying to avoid running into her before he had a chance to add creamer to her coffee. So he was slipping through the bullpen, stealthily, like a ninja (Solid Snake, he thought to himself. Ninja Assassin. Ninja Turtle) when he (stealthily) slipped through the door to the break room and came to an abrupt stop.

Kage warrior, he thought inanely as he froze in place.

Ryan and Esposito were there. Only they didn't seem to be terribly interested in the coffee. Esposito had his partner backed against the wall and they were standing so close together that Castle was already making up a dirty joke about them being joined at the hip (he's made that joke before, seven times in fact, and it's a point of personal pride that he always managed to come up with a slightly different version of it). He stopped himself because there was enough tension in the air to choke a rhinoceros, and also because the look on Ryan's face was. Well.

Intense. Aching. Combustible.

Ryan's eyes were wide and his face was flushed and if he'd been any less immersed in his partner, he'd have seen Castle standing there like a gobsmacked teenager.

Both of Ryan's hands were pressed flat against the wall, like he was trying to hold himself up. Both of Esposito's hands were on Ryan. And that wasn't even anything new for those two, but Esposito was cupping his partner's face and leaning in, so close they must have been breathing each other. Castle figured he'd let them get it out of their system for a few seconds before he threw the proverbial bucket of ice water in their laps, but then something wrong happened.

"We can't do this," Esposito said. He didn't back off, or move his hands, but his voice was hard and implacable. "We are not going to do this."

Ryan made a sound like dying.

Castle ran.

Stealthily.

****

Castle was seated firmly in his chair at Beckett's desk when Ryan came out of the break room a few minutes later, looking a little pale and clutching a mug of coffee like it was the only thing he had left to hold onto.

And that was maybe a little too true, Castle thought with a twinge as Esposito slipped in from a different direction. He had a paper cup of coffee from the Starbucks down the street. And while he tossed Castle a grin and a wave, he didn't even look at Ryan.

Not that he would have seen much if he had. Ryan didn't look up once after Esposito entered the room. Just hunched his shoulders a little and looked everywhere but.

When Beckett got there, Castle handed her the coffee and Danish. "Out of bearclaws," he explains apologetically.

"How's your morning going?" Beckett asked.

He resisted the urge to look at Ryan before he answered. "I was a ninja turtle," he told her.

"You know," Beckett said, "that's not even the weirdest thing you've ever said to me."

****

They catch a body – a junkie, knifed in an alley in the wrong part of town.

"Well, the wrong part of town for junkies," Ryan said as the four of them stood over the body. "The right part of town for everyone else."

By the end of the day they were looking for motive and opportunity, trying to get an ID on the victim and listing all the reasons why someone might stab a junkie to death. Castle held up his end, throwing out theories and hypotheses – the one about it being self-defense, that someone stabbed their junkie during a robbery gone wrong, actually made Kate look thoughtful – but he was off his game.

Ryan and Esposito were talking. But not to each other.

****

On Wednesday Lanie had come up with an identity for them and Castle sat with Beckett while Ryan and Esposito gave the rundown on their victim's background.

In three years he'd never seen one of them care about personal space, at least not where the other was involved. Half the time they stood close enough that he could (and frequently did) accuse them of feeling each other up. Or getting each other off under the table. That one had made Beckett throw her stapler at him while her detectives made kissy noises at each other.

Now there was a solid six inches of empty air between them. Minimum. All the time. Castle wanted to say something, but how do you bring that up? Hey, Esposito, how come you're not dry-humping your partner during the briefing? Although, that might be worth it, even after Beckett murdered him.

"Is something up with those two?" he asked Beckett after they had left.

"Something's always up with those two," she answered him without a great deal of interest. "And it's usually none of your business."

"They just seem kind of off," he said.

"Castle," Beckett said, and it was the voice that said he needed to get focused.

He was focused. Just not on murder.

****

On Thursday he noticed that they weren't touching each other.

In fact, they had touched each other three times in the last three days. On Tuesday – discounting the rather intense way Esposito had leaned into his partner's body – they had brushed against each other in the alley where they found the vic. Almost certainly accidental (Castle had brushed against Esposito, too, there was a lot of trash and they'd had to be careful not to step on anything that might be connected to the murder) and hardly intimate. If anything, he thought they'd both looked a little pained about the whole thing. Wednesday they had high-fived each other after Ryan reeled off a rather impressive put-down. (Castle had a comeback, he was just waiting for the right moment to unleash his devastating wit.) And Thursday, when they should have been all over each other, they weren't.

Their victim had a list of known associates, one of which had a record for dealing. Small time stuff, but their junkie had been small time too, so it seemed like a good lead. They'd gone to the suspect's apartment, and the suspect had made a run for it.

They usually did. Castle figured that was about the dumbest thing he'd heard of. You'd think even a soulless murderer or a brain-fried junkie could figure out that making a cop like Beckett chase you in four-inch heals would just guarantee that she'd beat the shit out of you before she got the cuffs on.

Maybe the criminals liked having a cop like Becket – Castle did not check out her ass here, he honestly, probably didn't – rough them up a little. Come to think of it, Castle could suddenly understand their point of view much better.

But regardless of motive, this suspect bolted. Right into Ryan, standing at the top of the stairs.

And Ryan was fine, not even much of a bruise, but that didn't stop Esposito from bringing the guy down hard.

Castle thought Esposito would have broken the no touching rule then and there if Ryan had just been a little slower getting back on his feet. As it was, Ryan sprang back up like one of those rubber clown punching balloons, complained about the God-only-knows-what he now had all over his suit, and gave their suspect the bitchface.

Esposito switched gears so fast it made Castle's joints hurt just to watch. Instead of rushing to his partner's side as he'd been about to (Castle was there after the thing with Vulcan Simmons, he knows the look in Esposito's eyes when he's worried), he shoved the suspect down the stairs ahead of him.

Keeping the suspect between himself and Ryan.

He paused briefly on the landing and clapped Ryan on the shoulder. "All right, bro?" he asked.

Ryan nodded and slipped away from the reassuring hand.

Castle wanted to smack the crap out of them both.

****

Honest to god, he didn't know what the hell Esposito's problem was.

Well, okay. Cops could be a pretty homophobic bunch. Even if half of the shit Castle heard in the bullpen was just shit, that still meant half of it was real. And getting killed because your backup decided they had fewer moral qualms with murderers and drug dealers than your queer ass would definitely suck. But Esposito's backup was Ryan – who'd back him against Darth FuckingVader – and Beckett, who didn't give a shit about anything except how good a cop you were. And it wasn't like they had to tell anyone. People had been making cracks about Ryan and Esposito as long as Castle had known them. Hell, they could send out engraved invitations to the wedding and probably half the precinct would think it was another joke.

Maybe it was a religion thing. Or a culture thing. Macho, Castle thinks. Esposito was kinda macho, right? And ex-military. Maybe too much of that Don't Ask Don't Tell had rubbed off on him.

He could still see them in the break room, so close together that their breath was mingling. Castle wasn't blind. That wasn't the way two men who weren't all that into each other stood. And it wasn't like it was all Ryan. He'd been the one backed into the wall. Esposito had been the one leaning into him, their foreheads almost touching, mouths just a few centimeters apart. Esposito had been the one cupping Ryan's face, fingers stroking his partner's skin gently, almost idly, like he couldn't stop himself.

It was intense, Castle had to admit. And frankly kind of a turn on, even though that was so incredibly not the way his cookie crumbled. But if someone was looking at him the way Ryan had been looking at Esposito…

And he had to shake his head a little because really, the look on Ryan's face had been pretty hot. And it would be nice to have someone look at him that way. It had been… a long time. And Ryan's eyes were really, really blue.

"Daddy?"

"I am not going to seduce Ryan!"

Alexis blinked at him from across the breakfast table. "Was that a possibility?"

His mother didn't even bother to look up from her entertainment magazine. "For heaven's sake, Richard, leave that poor boy alone. He's far too sweet for someone like you."

"What am I? Jack the Ripper?" he demanded.

"You're a playboy, darling."

"Kind of a commitment-phobe," Alexis added, almost apologetically.

"I am an amazing catch," he declared, stabbing a blueberry with his fork. "And I wasn't going to do it anyway."

"Good," his mother said. "Because Esposito would have murdered you."

"Oh yeah," Alexis agreed. "Big time."

They exchanged one of those looks, the we are women and way smarter than this poor bastard and his y-chromosome look that they'd been sharing with greater and greater regularity. Castle grumbled into his coffee and reflected, not for the first time, that if he had it to do all over again, he'd go back seventeen years and stop his younger self from ever telling Martha that Alexis had even been born. It would be great, he thought. Martha would be living in LA, playing the trampy grandmother on some long-running soap opera and even if Alexis didn't think he was a font of undying wisdom, at least he wouldn't be outnumbered all the time.

"I could handle Esposito," he said, because he felt like he had to stand up for himself at least a little.

"No you couldn't," his mother and daughter chorused in unison.

No he couldn't.

****

He cornered Esposito as soon as he got to the precinct. "We need to talk," he said in a low voice, looking over his shoulder to make sure Ryan hadn't noticed.

"What's up?" Esposito asked. "We don't have a case again already, do we?"

"No, no case." Castle waved that away. "No this is serious."

"Unlike murder," Esposito said. "Sure, Castle. But I warn you in advance, if this is about getting into Beckett's pants…"

They both glanced at Beckett's desk, where she was busy on the phone and not, as far as they could see, reading their minds and plotting their painful deaths.

"Not today," Castle said regretfully. "No. I wanted to ask about Ryan."

"What about Ryan?" Esposito asked.

Castle hadn't really thought this part through very well, and was realizing a few minutes too late that this had all the earmarks of an extremely uncomfortable conversation. "He, uh. Does he seem… He's been acting kinda weird, don't you think? Kinda sad?"

Esposito shot a glance over his shoulder at his partner. Who really didn't look all that sad at the moment, damnit.

"Since about Tuesday?" Castle said meaningfully, but Esposito didn't even blink. "I don't know, he's your partner. But I couldn't shake the feeling that something was off there."

Concern flashed through Esposito's eyes. "Man, you know, he and Jenny would've been getting married next month. I wonder if that's been on his mind."

Castle had all but forgotten Ryan's ex-fiancee (Ryan's ridiculously amicable ex-fiancee, who occasionally sent them all care packages from Hawaii and apparently called once a week just to make sure Ryan hadn't gotten shot or anything) and he cursed under his breath. "He seemed pretty okay with that. I think it's something else. Something recent," he said. "Something closer to home."

"I'll keep an eye on him," Esposito said. "Thanks, man."

Castle waited until he was out of sight of the bullpen before he started banging his head against the wall.

****

That afternoon Castle stood on Beckett's desk and called for attention. "I'm having a little gathering at my place tomorrow night," he said to the room at large. "Everyone's invited. Bring a friend. I'll supply everything else."

There's a round of heartfelt applause that's as much for his well-stocked liquor cabinet as anything else. He gets down eventually because Beckett has her stapler pressed against his calf and is threatening to use it, but not before he gets a thumbs up from Ryan and Esposito.

****

Which is how he wound up with most of the twelfth precinct crowded into his place Saturday night. His mother was entertaining Captain and Mrs. Montgomery with a scandalous (and probably entirely true) story of her wild young actress days and Kate and Lanie were mixing something deadly-looking at the bar. There was music and talking and you had to shout a little to really be heard. It would have been a great party if Ryan and Esposito weren't avoiding each other.

Castle caved around midnight, grabbed Ryan by the front of the shirt, and hauled him upstairs into his bedroom.

They passed Alexis in the hall. She gave Castle a disappointed look. "Daddy," she said. "You're going to get murdered."

"I am not," he informed her primly. "Anyway, I told you, I could totally take Esposito."

"No you couldn't," Ryan said with the cheerful patience of the slightly tipsy. "Castle, what's so important we couldn't talk about it downstairs?"

Castle shoved Ryan into his room, stuck his tongue out at a laughing Alexis, and closed the door behind him. "This is about Esposito."

"Why is Esposito murdering you?" Ryan asked.

"He's not," Castle said. "Forget that part. Alexis just thinks I'm trying to seduce you."

Ryan's eyebrows are climbing slowly up his forehead.

"She's not right," Castle said. "And shut up. This is about Tuesday."

"What happened Tuesday?" Ryan asked.

Castle considered beating his head against something. He settled for poking Ryan in the chest. "I was there."

"Yeah," Ryan said. "You were. I distinctly remember. You spent all day talking about how you were a Ninja Turtle."

Castle boggled. "You saw me?"

"Yes?" Ryan said, sounding a little mystified. "You were sitting right there in the bullpen."

"Not – before that!"

"Before that?"

"In the break room," Castle said. "You were in there. With Esposito. And you weren't making coffee."

Ryan went ghost white and then fire engine red in about two seconds flat, which couldn't be healthy. Then he rolled his eyes, which was not at all how Castle saw him reacting to this revelation. "Oh for pity's sake. Is that what's been up with you all week?"

"Up with me?" Castle demanded. "Up with – up with me? I'm not the one who's been all weird and heart-broken!"

"Heart-broken?" Ryan repeated. "What are you on about?"

"I was there," Castle said. He stepped forward, invading Ryan's personal space, tilting his head until he was mimicking Esposito's pose from that day. "I know what I saw. I know what I heard." He cupped Ryan's face in both hands. "You're going to seriously tell me that this wasn't what it looked like?"

"I am really confused right now," Ryan said.

"So am I," Esposito said.

Castle counted to three to make sure he wasn't going to jump like a little girl before he looked over his shoulder. Esposito looked back at him from the doorway, arms crossed. "Where did you come from?"

"Alexis sent me up. Said you were in here putting the moves on my partner and she'd appreciate it if I didn't kill you too badly." Esposito raised one eyebrow. "You putting the moves on my partner, Castle?"

"I kinda think he is," Ryan said. "He's getting a little touchy-feely."

"I am not seducing Ryan!" Castle announced.

Beckett, who was standing in the doorway with one hand raised to knock, did an about face and walked away.

"Crap," Castle said.

"Dude," Ryan said. "Your hands are kinda sweaty, so either propose or let go. This is getting awkward."

"Tuesday morning," Castle said through gritted teeth. "In the break room."

"He saw that?" Esposito asked.

"He saw that," Ryan confirmed. "But I don't think he understood it."

"What was there to misunderstand, exactly?" Esposito asked.

"I have a headache," Castle said. "What the hell did I see if I didn't see Esposito rejecting you?"

Ryan went very still beside him. "Okay, you know what? Javi, close the door."

Esposito did as his partner asked, closing the door and then crossing the room to stand with them. "Kevin."

"He saw it anyway," Ryan said. "And if we don't let him in on what's going on he's just going to do whatever this was again." There was a brief, silent conversation, then Ryan turned to Castle and said, "No one got rejected. I think I can see why you thought that – though who in their right mind would reject me–"

"I thought Esposito might be a cowardly macho ex-military religious cop who was more worried about his reputation than you." Castle took a hasty step sideways when Esposito's eyes narrowed dangerously. "But I obviously was operating with faulty data. So what did you mean when you said "We can't do this. We are not going to do this." And then your partner stood there and made sounds like a guy getting his heart broken."

"Allow me to translate," Esposito said. "What I meant to say was: 'We can't make out in the break room. We are not going to make out in the break room.' But yeah, Ryan that sound you made was intense. I almost threw you on the floor anyway after that."

Castle paused with his mouth open. He had the uncomfortable feeling that he'd missed something important. "So you're together?"

"You didn't know that?" Ryan demanded. "Three years of making bad gay jokes and asking if Jenny minded having to share me and you were just being a dumbass?"

"Holy crap," Castle said. "So you really have been feeling each other up in briefings?"

"He's a rocket scientist, he is," Esposito said dryly.

"So the reason Ryan wouldn't even look at you after you came back with your coffee…"

"Because I was five seconds away from coming in my pants," Ryan said bluntly.

"And that's why you haven't been standing next to each other at crime scenes. Or touching each other. And why the banter kind of died off."

Ryan's eyes flickered past Castle to rest on his partner. "Listen. This isn't something we really want getting out around the station. Or anywhere else. But we really thought you must have figured it out or we would have told you. This week was… we didn't want to drag too much of our personal lives into work, so we were trying to be discreet. We were trying," he said with a sudden air of aggravation, "to be like every other pair of cops on the force."

"You suck at that," Castle said.

"Yeah, we do," Esposito agreed. "But I can live with that."

"I can, too," Ryan said.

"Castle," Esposito said. "You can live with it too if you get your hands off my boyfriend."

Castle looked down at his hands and realized they were still cupping Ryan's face. He dropped them hurriedly and stepped back. "Right. Okay. Now I just feel stupid."

"You're a good guy, Castle." Ryan clapped him on the shoulder, offered him a heartfelt grin. "You were checking up on your friends. The rest of it is just details." His grin turned to a smirk as he added, "Also you realized I'm an amazing catch and Esposito would be a dumbass to turn me down. I hadn't realized you were that observant."

"Get out of my room," Castle told them both.

****

Much later that night, late enough that it was basically Sunday morning, Esposito paused at Castle's elbow while they were both relatively alone and said, "Ryan was right. You're a good friend. Kinda melodramatic, but a good friend."

Castle leaned over and asked, "So how did the thing with Jenny work? Threesome? Or more of a time-share thing?"

****

Alexis, Ryan and Beckett paused in their clean up efforts to watch Esposito effortlessly get Castle into a headlock.

"I told him he couldn't take Esposito," Alexis said.