The universe had a hellava sense of humour, and never was that more obvious to Javier Esposito than when he showed up at their crime scene in a dingy hotel at 42 Chemsel St and recognised their stabbing victim.
It wasn’t like he knew the guy well. Hell, they’d only actually met once. It’d been at The Dog’s Breath; a seedy bar just out of Manhattan, and they’d spent a few hours with their hands down each other’s pants in some dirty pay-by-the-hour room. Now the dude was lying in a pool of his own blood in a different ‘charming establishment.’
“ID’s in the wallet.” said Ryan, riffling through the personal effects that had been left on the end of the bed. “Our man’s a Thomas Holdings. Looks like he’s some sort of a stockbroker from his business card.”
“No surprises there,” Castle injected jovially, handing Beckett a coffee, “I mean, that’s a nice suit! This guy has money and taste.”
“Huh. That’s odd.” Ryan frowned down at the wallet, “Both his work and home address are miles from here.”
“Plus I’d expect to see this guy at the Hilton or Plaza, not this dump.” Castle agreed.
“So then what was he doing here…” Beckett muttered, drumming her fingers on the side of her coffee.
Esposito folded his arms and scowled down at the body. He knew precisely what Thomas Holdings had been doing at the hotel. Trouble was, Esposito was so deep in the closet he’d practically found Narnia.
* * *
Back at the precinct the team milled around the murder board as Beckett drew up the timeline.
“So Thomas Holdings’ wife thought he was staying late at work, but his secretary saw him leave the office at around 4 30. We have time of death between 10 and 10 30 last night, which leaves us with 6 hours unaccounted for. And we still have no idea what he was doing at that hotel.”
“Yeah, but come on,” Castle interrupted, “it’s not exactly a great mystery what a guy with a wife would be doing at some crappy hotel in the evening.”
“Yeah, but look,” Ryan pointed to the crime scene photos “he’d left his wedding ring on.”
Beckett wrote that up on the board.
He’d left his wedding ring on when Esposito had spent the night with him too, and that hadn’t stopped them. He shrugged at his partner when Ryan turned a quizzical eye towards him.
“Yeah…” Castle mused, “and with a paycheck like that you’d think he’d take a mistress somewhere a bit nicer.”
Beckett frowned at the murder board.
“Hmm. I think an affair is still our best bet at the moment.”
It wasn’t as if Esposito didn’t know what he was. It had been pretty clear to him since high school. Maybe if he’d had some flicker of an interest in girls he’d’ve been able to keep it from himself for longer, but no luck there. His family, highschool, the army, then the force; not exactly great places to introduce a boyfriend to. His stint in the armed forces had been during don’t ask, don’t tell, and he’d never slipped on that policy in his personal life once. And if he occasionally visited dirty hotels with men with clever hands and their own secrets, and was far more careful with his search history than was strictly necessary for a guy who lived alone, well, it worked. No one knew. And the thought of anybody knowing scared Esposito shitless. He’d had a system for years, and now this one stupid fucking murder was messing with everything, and he had no idea what to do with himself.
Esposito had offered to go over Holdings’ finances, hoping to find something he could use to point the team in the right direction. Luck, it seemed, was not on his side.
“So it turns out that the murder weapon is the most common brand of knife in New York. Hell, I think I’ve got one at home.” Ryan griped, plopping himself down on his chair and spinning over to crowd into Esposito’s space.
With his careful structures already in stress, Esposito tried not to breath too deeply as Kevin’s fruity shampoo coloured the air. There wasn’t much he could do about the stripe of warmth that bled into his side as Ryan leant across him to stare at the screen.
“Anything interesting in his bank statements?”
“Nah. He took out a coupla hundred bucks in cash from just outside his work at 4 43, and bought a muffin from near the hotel with his card at 9 38. Nothing to fix the timeline. I couldn’t see anything weird with his finances either.”
“Damn. We’re so short on leads for this one.” Kevin ran his hands through his hair and squinted at the ceiling. His leg stayed pressed up againt Esposito’s. “A few hundred would more than cover that hotel though, and there was only a twenty in his wallet when we found him. Where’d the rest go?”
“He probably drank it.”
Kevin blinked at him and nodded slowly. Paranoid that he'd made too much of a deductive leap, Esposito bustled out of the room to get coffee. Ryan, apparently unconcerned by his thorny demeanour, followed along after him.
By the end of the day they had no major leads, and the question as to why Thomas Holdings was at 42 Chemsal St remained a mystery to everyone other than Esposito. By now his dark mood was disguised in the general feeling of the team.
Frustratingly, Beckett had spent the whole day directing their energies towards looking for a mistress in Thomas Holdings’ personal life. She’d become more and more waspish as every woman they spoke to assured them what a gentleman he’d been. It wasn’t improving Esposito’s mood any either.
Castle had gone out to get everyone coffee, which Esposito thought was probably more of a tactical retreat from Beckett than any real desire for caffeine. He couldn’t blame the man. Even Ryan was looking a little frayed around the edges, although his hair remained inexplicably perfect. Of course, Esposito knew he was a little biased there. He took a moment to indulge his little crush and watched Ryan fiddle around with the murder board, enjoying the way his face folded expressively as he was thinking.
“Urgh, I can’t remember the last case when we were this stonewalled on the first day. I mean, seriously! Not one lead!” Ryan complained, turning a tired grimace towards Esposito. “Even Lanie’s report got us pretty much nowhere. Pub food and beer in his stomach and woollen fibres on the knife. Half of New York is in gloves at this time of year!”
Esposito shrugged at him sympathetically.
“No idea bro.”
It was an effort not to squirm with guilt.
Esposito got half way home that evening before groaning at his steering wheel and swinging the car around with more force than he needed and heading towards Beckett’s. He watched with a horrified kind of detachment as his knuckles went white, and felt every muscle in his body bunching up for a fight. Adrenaline; great when it stopped him from getting shot. Less great when it just made him want to barf. He glanced at his grim expression in the rear view mirror and vowed to himself that there would be no turning back now.
He turned back twice before he got there. Once while he was looking for a park, and again when he got to the building. It was pathetic. He could actually feel how pale he was. His palms were clammy, and the less said about his breathing the better. It was with a surge of triumph that he forced himself to knock on the door the moment he reached it. Unfortunately the feeling didn’t even survive the five seconds it took Beckett to get to the door.
“Yo.” He said weakly.
Beckett gave him a once over as she leant in the doorway.
“Espo. You okay?”
She stood aside for him to enter, but he just folded his arms and glanced up the hallway. When it was clear he wasn’t planning on moving she stepped out to join him. She looked a little alarmed.
“Alright. What’s going on?”
He checked the hallway was deserted again before pressing himself up against the wall.
“I need to make an anonymous tip.” he replied tightly, wiping his hands on his pants.
“You need to make an anonymous tip?” she repeated back to him.
He shrugged and folded his arms again.
“Okay? Okay. Well…” she gestured at him to spit it out.
“I think he took a man to the hotel. Probably someone he met that night at a pub called The Dog’s Breath.”
He was surprised at how clear his voice was.
“Wait, how do you…” Beckett blinked at him suddenly. “Oh. Ohh. It wasn’t you who he met was it Javier?” she asked carefully.
“What!? Nah bro. Not… not last night.”
“But you’d met him before?”
He nodded unhappily.
He could see irritation sneaking into the concern on her face as she made the connection between the new information and how useless their day had been. After a moment’s tension, the concern clearly won and she stepped back towards her door.
“You okay Javi? You want to come in?”
Even if he hadn’t just fucked up the first crucial hours of her murder investigation, Beckett was the last person he wanted to be around right then. She knew. He clung tightly to his manners to prevent himself from bolting down the hall.
“Nah, it’s cool."
As soon as she closed the door, he was out of there.
Mercifully, the next morning Beckett insisted that she and Castle went together to check out The Dog’s Breath, leaving Esposito a comfortable distance from his connection to the case. However, it had stuck him and Ryan with the unenviable task of interviewing the wife about the newest developments.
“I don’t understand how he could do that to her.” Ryan said, shaking his head at the murder board.
“Do what?” Esposito asked, settling down on a desk.
“Marry her. Stay with her, if he was just going to be cheating on her with a bunch of random men.”
Esposito shrugged, burying himself in his coffee cup as the conversation headed into dangerous territory.
“I mean, I get it. Coming out is a bitch and all, but don’t marry someone if you’re sorting yourself out.”
“Should set you up with one of those magazine columns. Ask Aunt Ryan. You’d solve everyone’s problems!”
Esposito heard the caustic edge creeping into his voice, but he was too worked up to clamp down on it.
“Woah. I’m just saying.” Ryan lifted his hands in the universal sign of surrender.
“Javi?” he called out after Esposito as Esposito launched himself off the desk and made a stormy beeline for the break room, still clutching his half-empty coffee cup.
The tension between Ryan and Esposito was still running high when Castle and Beckett got back. Castle was noisily prattling on about incorporating just how watered down the beer had been in one of his books, but the racket he created pushed against the atmosphere of the room and some of the tightness bled out of Esposito’s shoulders.
They had good news; the owner of the bar had recently installed a security camera following a spate of thefts. Beckett chucked the tape to Esposito.
“Hopefully we’ll get a good look at our mystery man on there.” she called over to him.
“We’re going to want one,” Ryan told her grimly, “Mrs Holdings seemed genuinely shaken by the news, and she was home with her kids when it happened. No new leads there.”
Ryan then spun on his chair to look up at Esposito, chewing on his lip.
“I’ll go comb through the tape.” Esposito said to Beckett, turning his shoulders away from Ryan.
“Yo! So I got a good picture of the guy he picked up from the Dog’s Breath.” said Esposito as he strode over to pin it to the murder board.
Ryan glanced up from his desk, and softened by the boredom of flicking through bar footage for three hours, and the hopeful look in those eyes, Esposito smirked at him.
“What’ve we got?” Beckett asked.
“Ordinary lookin’ white dude.” Esposito grumbled back apologetically.
They all stared glumly at the picture.
“What, no instant recognition of the unusual brand of shoes he’s wearing Castle?” Beckett mocked.
Castle just shrugged.
“Looks more Walmart than Harrods to me.”
“Actually…” Ryan murmured from besides Esposito and took down the photo, tapping it with his fingers. “Look at his wrist. That’s a stamp for a nightclub.”
Beckett leaned over the photo.
“If we can find that club, someone there might know him. Good spotting Ryan.”
Ryan was still frowning down at the photo, worrying at his lip with his teeth.
“This could be a long shot, but just let me check something.” Ryan said as he headed over to his computer with the photo. “I just, I might actually know this stamp. Yeah. Look,” he turned around the computer screen to show them a
garishly bright website, “it’s for the Cock-a-doodle-do. Some gay nightclub. It’s not too far from here actually.”
Beckett’s eyes flicked to Esposito, her eyebrow creeping up her forehead, but she kept her thoughts to herself.
“Espo and I’ll go check this out.” Ryan told her cheerfully.
The drive was awkward. Ryan was behind the wheel, and he chewed lightly on his lip the whole way, glancing over at Esposito periodically.
Normally under these kind of circumstances, it was Ryan who cracked first, but today Esposito could feel the mess in his head threatening to escape. Because Kevin recognised the stamp for a gay club. Because he’d known it from a pixilated smudge on some guys arm. Kevin had been engaged to a woman, for fucks sake! And he hadn’t exactly seemed sympathetic to their closeted victim.
“So, uh, the Cock-a-doodle-do. Doesn’t sound like your scene bro.”
Esposito hoped his voice sounded more casual to Ryan than it did to him.
“Yeah.” His eyes crinkled up at the corners as he glanced over at Esposito, but he bit his lip even harder. “Actually, I dated a guy who went their all the time a few years back. I’m surprised I still recognised it.”
The entire world tilted on its axis for a moment. Esposito tried to speak, but found that there was no air in his lungs.
“Is that, um, is that gonna be a problem?” Ryan asked, voice deceptively light.
“Nah! Nah bro, course not!” Esposito choked out, “Why didn’t you tell me man?”
Kevin shrugged, but visibly relaxed his hold on the steering wheel.
“It never came up. I mean, I haven’t actually has a serious boyfriend since we partnered up.”
“Oh.” Esposito felt like he was floundering.
“Don’t look so stressed out Javi, it’s no big thing. Just – sometimes I like guys. It’s not really a secret or anything, I just… it’s not something to spread about at one of the most macho jobs around.”
“Did Jenny know?”
“Of course! I mean, I’m pretty open about it outside of work.”
Kevin shrugged and returned his attention to the road.
Esposito tried not to gawk at him, but it felt like a mammoth effort just to keep his mouth from falling open. He watched his partner reach casually for the radio and fiddle with the dials, throwing his shell shocked face an amused glance. Esposito couldn’t image being so calm and open about it like that. Hell, he’d set their investigation back a whole day to keep his secret. Ryan suddenly looked so strong and serene where he sat, shoulders firm, tapping his fingers in time with the radio. Esposito swallowed a wave of envy as his don’t ask, don’t tell policy shifted from a personal symbol of strength to a sign of his cowardice and weakness.
Seeing Ryan throw a tight, quizzical glance in his direction, Esposito realised that the man was still waiting for the other shoe to drop. He shoved his feelings down viciously and cocked a smug eyebrow at Ryan.
“I thought gay dudes were meant to have good taste in clothing.”
“I’m bi! And what’s wrong with my clothing anyway?”
At the scowl Kevin sent in his direction, Esposito felt the tension drain out of the car.
“Dunno man. Those vests seem pretty gay to me.”
“Right, and you’re the expert because…?”
“Hey, it’s straight eye for the queer guy.”
“Oh god. Really?”
It was too early for there to be a line out the front of the Cock-a-doodle-do, and so with a wave of their badges they quickly found themselves swallowed by a wave of throbbing music. There weren’t many patrons there yet, but there were couples here and there dancing lip to lip and hip to hip. Esposito fought the urge to fold his arms to hem himself in from the raw want in the air. It cut a little too close to the bone.
He scowled, knowing that the air wasn’t thick and humid enough to justify how hard it was to draw into his lungs, and followed closely in Ryan’s wake as his partner headed confidently towards the bar. Part of him wanted to stop every patron they passed to assure them that he didn’t belong there.
Ryan leant on the sticky surface and tilted his head towards the bar tender, eyes sparkling. After sizing Ryan up for a moment, he made a beeline towards them.
“What can I do for you gentlemen?”
Esposito bit down the impulse to tell him to put a shirt on, while Ryan flashed his badge.
“We’re actually wondering if you’d be able to identify a patron for us. It’s part of an ongoing investigation.”
The bar tender shifted nervously.
“We’re homicide detectives, not narcotics.” Ryan reassured him, and Esposito folded his arms and nodded along.
“Do you recognise this man?” Esposito stepped forward and held up the picture from the security tape.
“Uh,” the bar man licked his lips nervously, “sure. He’s a regular. I think his name is Jerimiah Heath. He’s a good guy. He’s not in any trouble is he?”
Ryan smiled lightly,
“We just need to speak to him.”
Esposito was too distracted taking in a few large gulps of air that didn’t smell of stale alcohol and naked men to spot the man until he was nearly upon them.
“Holy shit! Kevin Seamus Ryan? Is that you?”
A fine boned Indian man came to a sudden halt in front of them, staring unselfconsciously at Ryan.
“Vihaan?” Ryan exclaimed after blinking at him owlishly for a moment. “Oh my god. I haven’t seen you in years. How are you?”
Esposito tightened his arms around his chest as delight flashed across his partner’s face. He wanted to be away from this place. The sooner the better. And the pleasant awkwardness with which both Vihaan and Ryan reached out to shake hands filled his stomach with rocks.
“So what are you doing with yourself these days?” Vihaan asked, his eyes flickering over to Esposito curiously even as he directed the question at Ryan.
“Actually, I’m a homicide detective.” Ryan ran his hand through his hair and laughed self-consciously, before he recovered himself and laid a warm hand on Esposito’s back, directing him into the conversation. “This is my partner. Um. Detective partner that is. Javier Esposito.”
Vihaan suddenly beamed at Esposito.
“Wow. It’s lovely to meet you.” he then turned his attention back to Ryan. “Homicide detective, aye? I want to be surprised, but you always did have a morbid curiosity.”
Ryan laughed brightly, and Esposito pushed a small huff of amusement from his lungs.
“Espo, this is Vihaan. We uh, we were together for a few years. Back when we were fresh out of high school actually.
Vihaan laughed again. He seemed to do that a lot.
“We’re actually on a case at the moment.” Ryan pulled a face, “We should really be getting back to the station, but it was so good to bump into you.”
Esposito watched Vihaan watch Ryan beam at him earnestly, and shift foot to foot.
“Wow. Is that a murder case then?” Vihaan asked, eyes wide.
Esposito nodded briskly.
“Oh wow. I shouldn’t keep you then. We really ought to catch up sometime though. Here, I’ll give you my business card.” Vihaan blushed as he fumbled through his wallet. “It’s my work number, but you should normally be able to catch me on it in the mornings. I’ll probably be in surgery around lunch though.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I’ll do that!” Ryan beamed as he took the card, and after staring at each other awkwardly for a moment, Vihaan and Ryan pulled each other into a hug.
As he watched Ryan fondly finger the card for a moment before carefully tucking it into his pocket, Esposito felt his heart sink into the churning mess in his gut.
When Esposito got into work the next morning, Ryan was already there, smiling down at his desk with his phone tucked up into his face with his shoulder.
He waved cheerfully at Esposito and gestured at a steaming mug of coffee that sat next to his own.
Taking the mug in his hands with a nod of thanks, Esposito sunk into his chair, scowling when he heard Vihaan’s name. What a miserable fucking start to his day.
Jerimiah Heath hadn’t been too hard to track down once they had a name. Beckett and Castle disappeared to round the guy up as soon as they had an address, leaving Esposito to fend for himself against the onslaught of good cheer from his partner. The man was whistling to himself while doing paperwork. It was unnatural.
“Bro, that aint normal.” Esposito complained.
Ryan looked up, ballpoint twitching in his mouth.
“Wha?” the pen fell onto his desk.
Esposito rolled his eyes.
“Whistling. While doing paperwork.”
Ryan shrugged cheerfully and smiled into the documents he was filling out.
“Just ‘cause you’re a ray of fucking sunshine this morning…”
Esposito snorted and buried himself in the victim’s credit card statement. He didn’t expect to find anything of value in it, except a reprieve from Ryan’s bright smile, but something leapt out at him.
“Yo. Can you chuck me Lanie’s report?”
Ryan glanced up and flicked through the files on his desk.
“It’s right here. What’re ya looking for?”
Ryan flicked through, biting his tongue as he did.
“Uh, here we go. Chips, gravy and a burger. Pub food and beer. Actually, that’s probably kind of gross now if you think about it.”
Esposito curled up his nose a little.
“Whatever dude. Point is, it doesn’t match the bank statement.”
“He bought a muffin.”
Ryan squinted down at the report in his hands.
“That’s weird. Maybe Jerimiah ate it?”
“Nah, it doesn’t make sense. He pays for his whole evening in cash, still has enough for the hotel plus a fifty on him, but buys the muffin with his card.”
Ryan was in his space, leaning over his shoulder a moment later. He chewed on his lip and they stared down at the statement together.
“And look, that was on a different card to the one he used to withdraw the money near his work.”
Esposito found himself nose to nose with Ryan as his blue eyes went wide with comprehension.
“He had a joint account with his wife.”
“And that muffin shop is pretty damn close to that hotel.”
Esposito and Ryan mobilised quickly, stuffing their pockets as they rushed to the door.
“We need to go pick up the wife.”
They’d already picked up the wife and started tearing apart her alibi by the time Beckett and Castle got back to the station with Jerimiah Heath, whose witness statement drove the final nails into the coffin. He’d been in the hotel lobby with Thomas Holdings when a woman arrived and Jerimiah had high tailed it out of there.
“Her alibi’s bogus!” Esposito called out across the station as he got off the phone from her neighbour. “She dropped the kids off next door at around 5 o’clock.”
Beckett folded her arms and nodded from where she stood in the doorway.
“Well let’s go see what she has to say for herself.”
Melissa Holdings frowned down at her fingers whenever Beckett spoke.
“Melissa, you said you were at home looking after your kids on Tuesday night, but we’ve spoken to your neighbour, and we know that it’s not true.”
“I got a call from a friend. She’d just caught her idiot boyfriend cheating on her. I went over there to make sure she was alright.”
“Melissa, we both know that it wasn’t your friend who was being cheating on.”
Beckett flicked a surprised look at Castle as Melissa threw back and head and let out a few brittle huffs of laughter.
“No detective, that’s the funny thing. My friend really was being cheated on, and I really did go over there to make her feel better. You can even check with her. Yui Nakayama.”
Beckett made a humming sound, but wrote it down.
“So why were you on Chemsal St buying a muffin at 9 38?”
Melissa spread her hands wide open on the table.
“I was walking back to where I parked my car and stopped for a snack. I saw them then. It’s the weirdest thing, you know.” she leant forward and made eye contact with Beckett for the first time since the interview started, “I made all of these plans with Yui. Jokes about what we’d do to her cheating ex. But really, I thought it was all a bit melodramatic.”
“As melodramatic as stabbing your husband through the heart?”
Melissa’s eyes dropped back down to the table, and her fingers curled together.
“Yui had borrowed a set of knives off me, so I had them right there.”
“You saw your husband go into that hotel with another man, and you just snapped.”
Melissa looked back down at her fingers, and scowled at them as if she’d never seen them before.
“They say the wife always knows. It all makes so much sense now, but I didn’t. I didn’t know.”
That evening, Esposito ended up slouched down in the middle of Ryan’s couch with a beer and a remote control. They were getting somewhat competitive with each other, which was why Esposito had dug his elbow into Ryan’s side, trying to throw off his timing with strategically timed jostling.
“Fuck Espo, I can’t…” Ryan was laughing so hard as he tried to take his shot that his beer sloshed out of his nose.
The resulting kerfuffle saw an end to video games for the night. Ryan ran around looking for tissues and swearing like the good Irish Catholic boy he was, while Esposito curled up in the corner of the couch giggling hysterically. By the time they’d both calmed down, they sat, legs tangled together in the middle of the couch, with the madden menu screen looping quietly in the background.
“I think,” Kevin sniffed “I got bubbles in my brain.”
“That would explain so much about you bro.”
“Yeah yeah, fuck you too.” Kevin said, twisting around to grab another beer from the table next to him.
“You’d like that.” Esposito teased, shocked at his own daring.
Kevin threw his bottle top at him.
“I put my trust in you, and this is what I get. You insult my sense of style and taste in men?”
They sat in companionable silence for a while, and Esposito rested his head on the back of the couch and closed his eyes, enjoying the warmth of Kevin’s legs where they were tangled together.
“Actually, you’ve been great.” Kevin told him, picking at his beer bottle label.
Esposito pressed his hands into the cold of his own beer, and cracked open an eye to look over at Kevin. He was curled into himself on his end of the couch, holding the bottle between his knees and looking down at it gently as he worried at the corner of the paper. Vulnerable, but serene. It made Esposito’s heart hurt.
“You ever told your family?”
“Yeah. They’re alright. I mean, my parents call any boyfriend of mine, ‘my little friend’, and they were thrilled when it looked like I was going to get married. But that is what it is.”
Esposito nodded slowly. He could live with that.
Kevin smiled over at him and groped about for his remote on the floor.
“I call rematch. But without the whole human fountain thing this time.”
Warning - contains some homophobic language.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Esposito had a six pack of beer in his hand when he rounded the corner of Ryan’s apartment block, already running a game plan for Madden in his head. When he saw Ryan and Vihaan coming the other way together, he froze in his tracks.
They hadn’t seen him. They were laughing together easily, and Ryan had an affectionate hand curled around Vihaan’s forearm.
“Well, this is my stop.” Ryan told Vihaan, pulling himself back a little so he could look up at him through his eyelashes.
“Damn.” Vihaan sighed, and stepped a little into Ryan’s space, “You sure you wouldn’t want me to come in for a bit.”
“Nah, I got company.”
There was a moment’s easy silence between them.
“Tonight was a lot of fun.” Ryan said, biting his lip, “We should do this more often.”
“Bit like old times, but with some more wisdom and experience behind us?”
“And maybe a little less of your parents.”
Vihaan threw back his head as he laughed.
“God, we were so young.” he breathed, slipping into the shadow of an awning and drawing Ryan in with him.
They kissed, half visible in the darkness, Ryan seizing Vihaan by the shirt as Vihaan threaded his fingers through Ryan’s hair.
Esposito felt adrenaline flood his system, and his hands curled into fists.
“I’ll call you.” Vihaan whispered as he pulled away and strode off back the way he’d come.
Ryan stayed under the awning, squinting up at the sky and visibly pulling in his breathing. By the time he went to step away, Esposito was blocking his path.
“Oh. Hey Espo. Um. Are you – ”
“The fuck were you doing?” Esposito ground out. The flight part of his adrenal response had always been kind of shit.
“Huh?” Ryan said, swallowing hard as his eyes flickered down to where Esposito held his fists tightly to his sides.
“In the middle of New York! Fuck man, anyone could see you.”
“So?” Ryan’s voice had gone flat and dangerous.
“What if someone made you?”
Esposito swung away from Ryan’s building and marched heavily down the street. His legs bunched desperately with energy. Ryan took off after him, yelling.
“Made me? Made me? It’s been a long time since it’s been illegal Javier. Hope you’re not getting mixed up with the good old days.”
“What if you busted some perp, and he’d seen?”
“Then he calls me a faggot. A fudge packer. Whatever. Wouldn’t be the first time.”
Esposito rounded on him, the slurs digging into his skin in a way nothing else Ryan could have said would. He realised distantly they they’d ended up in a park, and he still had a six pack in his hands. He dropped it.
“And what? You’re cool with that?”
“It’s better than finding out that your best friend is a bigoted asshole!” Ryan threw back at him.
They stood facing each other, both breathing as if they’d ran a marathon, in a clump of trees next to a public brick barbeque.
“You were okay with it.” Ryan snapped accusingly, seizing his forehead in his hand and glaring up at Esposito through his fingers. His eyes glittered and he pulled his mouth into a grimace.
The unaffected set of Ryan’s shoulders that Esposito had admired in the car was gone. There was something painfully crooked about the way his partner was standing. It twisted in Esposito’s gut, joining the sickening clump of feelings that already tumbled about in there.
Without thinking, he reached out to straighten Ryan where he stood, following the desperate urge to fix it. Ryan flinched, and Esposito felt his temper flare back into his hands. He shoved the man, hard, into the barbeque, and twisted his fingers into the front of his jumper, dragging him down so that Esposito was towering over him.
Ryan struggled against him, but bent half backwards against the bricks, he had no leverage.
“How can you do it? How? I can’t. I fucking can’t.” Esposito bit out, tightening his grip.
Ryan made a little noise of pain, and Esposito dropped his hands like he was burnt. He stayed stock still. Ryan was panting, wedged between him and the barbeque, skin to skin, his eyes huge and bottomless.
“Javi?” he asked, still as a frightened bird.
Esposito leaned in, and was met with a bruising kiss. Kevin was kissing him.
When they broke apart, Esposito pulled away and turned to stare at the trees.
“I can’t… how you can, man. It’s not – it’s not the same for me.”
“Wait. Javi, are you bi?” Ryan gasped incredulously through his ragged breathing.
“I’d give up a limb to be fucking bi.” Esposito snapped.
Ryan shoved his hands in his pockets. His posture folded back out of his bones, and he was suddenly taller than Esposito again. His cheeks were pink, and he shuffled forward to where he knew Esposito could see him and tilted his head.
“If I was bi, I’d marry some chiquita and make my mama proud. And that’d be the end of it.”
“You’re gay?” Ryan sounded completely floored.
Esposito threw up his hands and marched off into the park, leaving Ryan staring open mouthed behind him.
Esposito had settled up against the cold stone of some ugly public art piece when Ryan found him. He felt the warmth of Kevin’s body sliding down beside him, close enough that their shoulders almost brushed. Kevin drew his knees up to his chest, folding himself in to match Esposito’s pose.
It was the first time Esposito had ever said it, and despite the circumstances, it didn’t exactly fall off his tongue.
“Yeah. I think I figured that out.” Kevin agreed tightly from beside him.
They both dropped their heads back and stared up at the sky.
“It’s not the end of the world, you know.” Kevin told him.
“Yeah. Been gay for a while bro.”
“Could’ve fooled me.”
Esposito watched how close together their hands were on the ground. Some of the wetness from the dew was seeping through his pants. His fingers were cold, and so was his ass.
“I’m gay.” he repeated, “Fuck. S’that meant to get easier?”
“You’ll be fine. Just… it takes practice.”
Esposito huffed, sceptical, and felt Kevin’s pinkie rubbing against his fingers. He let their hands slowly twist together.
“You scared the shit out of me Javi.”
“Sorry.” Esposito’s voice felt coarse.
“Eh,” Ryan shrugged, running his free hand through his hair, “at least I know you weren’t actually being a homophobic dick when you tried to punch my lights out.”
“I kinda was bro.”
“It’s different.” Ryan insisted quietly.
Kevin squeezed his fingers slightly, and Esposito clung on like a lifeline.
“We oughta stop.” Esposito said, angling his head towards their hands.
Ryan laughed easily.
“I don’t feel you letting go. Look Espo, you’re an attractive man, but believe it or not, I can actually control – ”
“Kev, you’re beautiful.” Esposito cut him off.
“Huh?” said Ryan dumbly, going very still beside him.
Esposito looked back up at the sky.
“I’m a bit in love with you bro.”
After the rest of the evening, that part was shockingly easy.
Ryan sounded dumbfounded. He hadn’t taken back his hand though, and Esposito took a moment to memorise the texture of his skin.
“Seriously though, that’s maybe not the best time to say bro, bro.”
“Whatever you say.”
He wasn’t entirely sure what part of the conversation he was directing that at.
Kevin’s hand tightened around his, and he could feel the blood trapped in his fingertips.
“God. When did this get so complicated?” Ryan complained, rubbing his hand on his forehead.
“It’s not that complicated.” Esposito pointed out. It had gotten cold enough that he could see the words curl in the air in front of him.
“No. It is.” Ryan told him, “I mean, I’ve got some pretty intense feelings about you too.”
Esposito felt himself snap to attention.
“But this,” Ryan gestured between them as he continued, “is an awful idea. Just awful. I can’t… that’s gonna bruise, that stuff before.” Ryan broke off for a moment and looked away, plucking at the front of his shirt where it was still wrinkled from Esposito’s grasp. “What I said about Thomas Holdings needing to sort himself out, well, you need to sort yourself out. I mean, who else even knows you’re gay?”
“Beckett. I was our anonymous tip.”
Esposito’s heart rate was trying to climb again, but he’d used all the panic he had for one day. Kevin was still holding his hand. Kevin had feelings for him. He didn’t even have enough emotion left to react.
Next to him, Ryan was apparently panicking enough for the two of them. His fingers squirmed around in Esposito’s hand, even as they squeezed tighter, and he had pressed his head hard back into the statue. His eyebrows were shifting around on his face like they weren’t sure where it was safe to land. Esposito took advantage of his stunned silence.
“Aren’t you and Vihaan a thing now?”
Ryan blinked, eyes fuzzy for a moment until he caught the thread of the discussion again. He shook his head slowly.
“God Espo, I haven’t seen him in fifteen years. If you think that it could hold a candle to…” he tapped their entwined fingers on the soggy grass. “To this. It’s kind of like… have you ever seen that video of a firework factory when it catches fire? Because that’s pretty much us right now. Or me, anyway.”
Ryan pulled himself even closer to the sculpture. His cheeks were already pink from the cold, and the colour deepened.
“Yeah, I get it. I haven’t seen your video, but I get it.” Esposito breathed deeply and took him all in. How one of the buttons on his shirt was bunching out of his waistcoat. How his cheekbones threw most of his face into shadow. How he was wearing paisley socks to match his tie. “What’re we gonna do?”
Ryan’s muscles bunched, and he squinted at his knees. His fingers went very still on Esposito’s, and he scowled. He was frozen like that for so long that Esposito was nearly ready to speak again, when he uncurled from his position, keeping his grip on Esposito’s hand, and folded himself gently between Esposito’s knees to bring them nose to nose.
His eyes were impossibly blue, and forget saucers; they were as wide as a whole goddamn salad plate. He held them like that, concentration fixed on Esposito’s face as he worried at his lip with his teeth.
“You ever scare me like that again, and that’s it.” Ryan told Esposito firmly.
Esposito nodded, mind syrupy from Ryan’s proximity.
“And we’ll take it slow.”
He nodded again.
“And you’ll tell me if you’re wigging out?”
Esposito’s third nod was slower, and he leant forward a little to bump their noses together.
“God.” Ryan breathed, shuddering as he leant in to capture Esposito’s lips.
Two sets of fingers curled as the kiss deepened, and the sounds of traffic faded into the pleasant haze that made up the outside world. Esposito had never seen a firework factory catch fire, but now he had an idea of what it might be like.
He smiled into Ryan’s lips, wondering how it was that he managed to find magic when he stepped out of Narnia.
Thanks for reading! I hope you had fun.