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It was dark. Having just woken up, that was about as much as Esposito could figure out. He waited a bit for his eyes to adjust to the darkness as he used his other senses to try and figure out his situation.

 

He started with his head. It hurt, which he assumed meant he’d been knocked out. He confirmed that after feeling the pull of dried blood on his forehead when he moved his eyebrows. His shoulders also hurt and he realized it was because they were pulled back and his wrists cuffed. They weren’t cuffed together. Each wrist was in its own pair of cuffs and each pair was attached to someone else’s wrists. Someone else who he now realized was sitting back to back with him.

 

“Ryan.” Esposito breathed.

 

He couldn’t look at him, but the feel of his body slumped against Esposito’s led him to believe his partner was unconscious.

 

The nice thing to do would be to let Ryan sleep. The longer he didn’t have to be in this nightmare, the better. But Esposito was not going to be able to calm himself until he knew Ryan was okay. He could feel him breathing, but that didn’t mean he was okay. It just meant he was alive.

 

“Ryan.” Esposito said, louder this time. He moved his shoulders, trying to jar the detective awake. Relief spread through him when Ryan groaned slightly and began to stir.

 

Esposito gave him time to come to terms with his surroundings, looking around the room as he was finally able to make out some shapes. The room was almost completely pitch black, but there was enough light coming from what Javi assumed was a door that he could make out some things.

 

There was a table and maybe a chair. Along one wall there were shelves and what looked like jars. There were piles of boxes all around and shoved in one of the corners was an exercise machine. Hidden behind one of the shelves of jars was a possible window, though any light was blocked.

 

“You okay?” Esposito asked, assuming Ryan had had enough time to come fully to consciousness.

 

“Javi?” Ryan said softly. He took in their surroundings. “Where the hell are we?”

 

“A basement, I think.” Esposito replied. “What can you see on your end?”

 

Ryan looked around. “The door and stairs leading to it, an ominous swinging lamp, I think that’s a broom, and a bunch of jars probably filled with the pickled remains of their other victims.”

 

“Okay, well let’s not go to extremes just yet.” Esposito said. “Do you remember what happened?”

 

“Vaguely.” Ryan said softly. “I remember chasing my guy and you were chasing the other guy, and then everything goes dark.”

 

It all came back to Esposito in a flash.

 

~.~.~

 

72 Hours Earlier

 

“Hey.” Ryan said, jogging to the scene and pulling on a pair of light blue gloves. “No Beckett today?”

 

“Captain Beckett has more important cases to worry about today and can’t be bothered with our trivial problems.” Esposito replied bitterly, squatting down by the body.

 

“Jesus, who pissed in your Cheerios this morning?” Ryan said, stepping over and squatting as well.

 

“First of all, I don’t eat Cheerios.” Esposito responded. “And I have had about three hours of sleep and I’m running on caffeine, so I’m not in the mood for jokes.”

 

“Okay, Breakfast Of Champions.” Ryan raised his hands in surrender. “What do we have so far?”

 

“Not much.” Esposito replied. “I only got here about five minutes before you pulled up. Lanie isn’t even here yet. All we have is a dead guy covered in cuts and I’m pretty sure those are burns. I’ve got a couple unis blocking off the scene.”

 

Ryan nodded. “Okay, well, let’s get to work.”

 

It was strange not working with Castle or Beckett. They supposed part of the reason neither of them was there was because this case wasn’t such an important one and Castle and Beckett had their own lives to deal with. But it was especially weird that Castle hadn’t shown up. Usually he’d be sticking his nose in the case by now, but they hadn’t even received a call. Esposito called it luck.

 

“Sorry I’m late, boys.” Lanie said about a minute later, walking over to them and slipping on her own gloves. She kneeled down next to the victim. “Just give me a minute, I’ll have something for you.”

 

Ryan stood straight. “I’ll go see if we can get any witness accounts.” He said. “You guys have a handle on the body, right?” He jogged away without waiting for a response.

 

After a minute, Lanie spoke up. “You’re staring, Javi.” She murmured as she worked.

 

Esposito snapped to attention. “What? I’m not staring at you.” He said.

 

She looked up and raised an eyebrow. “I didn’t mean me.” She said, glancing over at Ryan for a second before resuming her examination of the body.

 

Esposito was stunned into silence for a second before scoffing and standing up. “I wasn’t staring at him either.”

 

“Keep telling yourself that.” Lanie replied. “But I can tell you right now, when Castle and Beckett aren’t here to distract everyone, your ogling is a lot more obvious.”

 

“Lanie, you’re out of your mind.” Esposito said, folding his arms. “I’m not ogling him. I’m not ogling anyone.”

 

Lanie was quiet for a time. “You know, Javi, I’ve been going over our relationship.”

 

Esposito instantly tensed, not sure he was happy about wherever this was going.

 

Lanie, not noticing the change in demeanor, continued. “Every time we analyze why we broke up, it always comes back to your lack of commitment. You just didn’t want to settle down.” She looked up at him. “But in the weeks since Beckett became Captain and you and Ryan have been working with only each other, I think I figured it out. It’s not that you can’t commit. It’s that you can’t commit to me.”

 

“Lanie-”

 

“Because committing to me would mean closing the door on someone else.”

 

All Esposito could do was stare at her because… it was entirely possible she was right. She usually was.

 

“I’m not mad about it.” Lanie shrugged as she looked back down at the body. “You think I want to get in the way of you two? You and Kevin have way more chemistry than I think you and I ever will. Besides, I am not someone’s second choice. No man is going to just settle for me.”

 

Esposito crouched back down. “Lanie…” He said softly, suddenly feeling like an ass.

 

“Don’t you dare feel sorry for me, Javier Esposito.” Lanie said, pointing one of her tools at him. “I don’t need your pity.” She smiled slightly. “You are a great guy, Javi. And you were a phenomenal boyfriend. And you need to go be Kevin’s phenomenal boyfriend, because I think you’re only ever really happy when you’re with him.”

 

Esposito thought about it for a second. “But what if he doesn’t-”

 

“He does.” Lanie assured and then rolled her eyes. “Please, I have been watching Beckett and Castle dance around each other for years. I can practically smell love pheromones. That boy looks at you like you put the stars in the sky.”

 

Esposito hesitated. “What about work? There are strict rules about coworkers dating. And the rule is basically don’t do it or you’re fired.” It wasn’t as though he was exactly trying to find a reason not to act on his feelings, he just wasn’t sure he wanted to act on them yet. And Lanie catching onto him was definitely going to speed up the process which, again, he wanted to take slow.

 

“Well,” Lanie said. “I guess it’s a good thing Beckett’s your boss then, isn’t it?”

 

Esposito couldn’t think of a way to argue that logic. He looked over to where Ryan was interviewing someone before looking back down.

 

Of course he loved Ryan. Of course he did. Two years ago he sat himself down and took somewhat a journey of self discovery so to speak, finally coming to terms with the fact that he was in love with his partner… and he could do nothing about it. Which was precisely why he hadn’t done anything about it. There was no guarantee that Gates was going to let them continue to be partners if Esposito came clean.

 

But Beckett was a different story. For one thing, she’d gone through almost this same predicament. Castle wasn’t a detective, but they’d assumed the rules still applied to them and had kept their relationship a secret for that very reason. For another, Beckett was one of their best friends. Esposito didn’t want her to show favoritism, but in this case, he was willing to let the whole precinct hate him because he’d been given permission to date his partner. He was hardly friends with any of them anyway.

 

That was a terrible way of thinking, but people did crazy things when they were in love, right?

 

Okay, love was a strong word. But, Esposito reasoned, it was definitely the right word. It was the only way to explain what he was feeling. People always said that a crush only lasted so long, but if the feelings lingered for years, and they’d been partners for over ten, that’s when you knew.

 

“Well,” Lanie said, snapping Esposito out of his thought process. “This is a mean one to be sure.”

 

“What do you got?” He asked, putting his mind back on the case and letting his thoughts about Ryan take a backseat.

 

“The body is covered in burns and cuts, but not enough to kill him.” She said, pointing the many wounds out. “From what I can tell, he died of blood loss but I can’t find any wound big enough to drain all his blood. I have a hunch, but I’ll need to take him back to the morgue to see if I’m right. And he’s missing the ring finger on his left hand.”

 

Esposito made a note of all the injuries. “Did you find any ID on him?”

 

“It doesn’t look like he has a wallet with him. But fingers and teeth are intact, we can run prints and dental records.”

 

Esposito nodded and finally straightened out from his crouched position, his knees popping.

 

“Easy there, grandpa.” Lanie said, smirking.

 

Esposito gave her a look. “I’m gonna go see if Ryan came up with anything, you take care of getting the body moved once the whole scene’s been photographed.”

 

“Aye aye, Sargeant.” Lanie said softly, raising an eyebrow at his commanding tone. Esposito gave her another unamused look before stepping away to find Ryan.

 

He spotted his partner standing off to the side with a woman, his notebook out. He jogged over to them and Ryan smiled when he approached.

 

“Espo, this is Amelia Myers, she’s the one who made the call.” Ryan said. “I’m just about done getting her official statement. Amelia, this is my partner Detective Esposito.”

 

Amelia gave him a weak smile. She was dressed in a jogging suit and looking rather shaken.

 

“Okay, Amelia, so I have all your contact info here.” Ryan said, turning to her. “If we need anything more, we’ll give you a call.”

 

“So, I can go home now?” Amelia asked, hopeful.

 

“Yes, thank you for all your help.” Ryan gave her a smile which seemed to ease her anxiety a little before she left.

 

“So, what did little Amelia have to say?” Esposito asked, wincing slightly at how hostile he sounded. He hadn’t meant to. Ryan just seemed overly friendly and she did look good in those jogging pants…

 

Ryan gave his partner a strange look before going back to his notes. “Uh, well, Amelia said she got up at five to take her morning jog. She was about halfway through when she saw our John Doe, he is still John Doe right?”

 

“No ID yet.” Esposito confirmed.

 

Ryan nodded. “She saw him lying in the grass off to the side. She said it took her a minute to register that he was dead. I guess at first she asked if he was okay, and after no response she tried to shake him awake and that was when she realized he was dead. She called us and that’s about all she can tell us.”

 

“She didn’t know him or anything?”

 

Ryan shook his head. “Just a witness. It’ll be impossible to find anyone who knows what happened unless they come forward I think. There could have been plenty of people who saw something, what with the body being out here in the open, but no one ever does the right thing anymore.” He closed his notebook and placed it back in his pocket.

 

Esposito sighed. “Well, Lanie’s taking the body back to the morgue and she’s gonna run prints. It’s a long shot, but he might be in the system. She also thinks the cause of death is blood loss, so she’s gonna look into that further.”

 

“Okay, sounds good.” Ryan gave him a smile. “Who says we need Beckett’s help on this, huh?”

 

“I never said we needed Beckett’s help.” Esposito protested. “It’s just weird not working with her anymore, that’s all.”

 

Ryan paused. “Well, she has a lot of responsibility now. She can’t show favoritism.”

 

“Yeah, well, she could at least still want to be friends.” Esposito mumbled.

 

Ryan gave him a sad look and then put a hand on his shoulder. “She’s still our friend, Javi. She just had a lot to deal with, with Castle and everything. We’ll get our friend back, just let her take her time. In the meantime, we’ve got a case to solve.”

 

“Yeah…” Esposito said softly. “Right.”

 

They spent the next few hours collecting evidence from the scene, which ended up being hardly any, and making sure everything was labelled and photographed before heading back to the precinct and starting their murder board.

 

Esposito didn’t even bother to say hi to Beckett when they got back. Ryan had planned to, but when he looked in her office and saw her on the phone with a stack of papers on her desk, he thought better of the idea. Instead, he helped Esposito roll out the board and start adding the pictures and notes, making sure they got all their thoughts straight.

 

There wasn’t much to go on yet, not without some key information from Lanie, but it wasn’t a bad start.

 

Ryan finished the last bit of writing on the board and stepped back to look at it, making sure he got everything down.

 

“I’m gonna grab coffee, you want some?” Esposito muttered.

 

“Sure, thanks.” Ryan said softly.

 

As soon as Esposito left, the ding of the elevator caught Ryan’s attention and he looked over to find Castle coming into the precinct with two takeout bags.

 

“Morning, Castle.” Ryan said, giving him a smile.

 

“Ryan.” Castle said, nodding his head in his direction and then walking swiftly past him and into Beckett’s office.

 

Ryan watched him go and his smile faltered. That was the first time he’d seen Castle in a while.

 

And it wasn’t as though Ryan wanted to keep Castle from seeing his wife, not that he could even if he did want to. Castle had been following them all around, but everyone knew Beckett was the one he always wanted to see. But regardless of who Castle was coming to see that day, Ryan had assumed they were still friends and he’d still want to come see him and Espo. He missed Castle. He thought Castle missed them too.

 

Evidently he was mistaken.

 

“Hey.” Esposito said, snapping Ryan out of his thoughts. “Drink this fast because Lanie just called. She’s got something for us.”

 

Ryan grabbed the mug and took a sip, the hot liquid burning his lips slightly. He blew on the surface of the coffee and took another slightly cooler sip, smiling slightly. Esposito always got his coffee sweetened just right.

 

He looked up to find Esposito watching Castle and Beckett through the office door.

 

“I didn’t know Castle was here.” He said softly.

 

“He just got here.” Ryan said. “I guess they’ve got some other case to work on or something.”

 

Esposito said nothing.

 

Ryan, wanting to get out of the awkward tension, took another few gulps of coffee before setting his mug down, ignoring his now burnt tongue. “Let’s go.”

 

Esposito nodded. “Let’s grab sandwiches on the way, it’s past lunch.”

 

~.~.~

 

“No Beckett or Castle today?” Lanie asked once they’d entered the morgue, the body of their victim under a sheet.

 

“They weren’t at the scene, why would they come to the morgue?” Esposito asked, his tone still bitter.

 

“Okay, sorry.” Lanie said, not looking to be on the receiving end of Esposito’s wrath. “I was just wondering.”

 

“Three hours of sleep doesn’t agree with you, Espo.” Ryan said, stepping forward in an attempt to keep Esposito from biting yet another person’s head off for no reason. “What do you have for us, Lanie?”

 

“You boys are not going to like this.” Lanie said, stepping over to the body

 

“I don’t think I’ve ever particularly liked the method in which a person was killed, but there’s a first time for everything, I suppose.” Ryan said, trying to get even a small chuckle out of either of them, but all he got was glares. He cleared his throat. “Okay, what do you have, Lanie?”

 

“Well,” Lanie said, stepping over to the body. “You boys already know about the burns and cuts and the missing ring finger.” She said, pulling the sheet down. “The burns and cuts are all over the body. From what I can tell, each cut looks deliberate, as if the killer wanted him to suffer before he died. They were used as torture, and they look like they were made with a regular kitchen knife and maybe a fire poker. The finger was cut off with what is probably another knife found in the kitchen, but my guess would be a butcher knife.”

 

“So how did he actually die?” Esposito asked.

 

“Well, you’re not going to like it.” Lanie said again, a little more emphasis on the fact that, whatever it was, it was particularly gruesome.

 

“Try us.” Ryan said.

 

Lanie gave them a look before continuing. “Um, it looks like, in the process of torture, the victim was castrated... and then he bled to death.”

 

The blood drained from Ryan’s face and Esposito took a step back. Suddenly the idea of grabbing sandwiches on the way over was no longer a good one.

 

“I’d show you, but I don’t need anyone passing out in my morgue.” Lanie said, keeping an eye on Ryan. “They probably used the same knife that was used for the cuts and then just let him drain before dumping the body in the park.”

 

“Okay, we don’t need all the details.” Esposito held a hand up. “Do you have the time of death?”

 

“I’d say around midnight.” Lanie replied.

 

Ryan took a breath. “Okay.” He said, the color starting to come back in his cheeks. “Is there anything else?”

 

“Yes, actually,” Lanie stepped over and picked up a file. “I ran his prints and the results just came back a few minutes ago.”

 

“Already?” Esposito asked.

 

“Well, it’s fast when they’re already in the system.” She handed over the file. “Looks like our boy here was recently released from jail. Recently in that, he just got released three days ago.”

 

Esposito looked through the file of the victim who they now knew was Noah Wardell. “Petty theft.” He said, Ryan looking over his shoulder. Esposito swallowed at the sudden closeness. He cleared his throat. “Traffic tickets, some DWIs, and drugs.” He looked up. “We may have to talk to narcotics, see if he was a part of anything big enough to get him killed.” His phone went off just then and he handed Ryan the file to look over more closely while he took the call.

 

Ryan scanned the file. “I wonder what Noah here could’ve done to have been killed so…”

 

“Brutally?” Lanie asked, then shrugged. “We may never know until we find the killer. There doesn’t seem to be much by way of evidence just yet. I didn’t find any fingerprints on the body or anything that could link him to the killer. I’m hoping his identity will help.”

 

“It should.” Ryan reassured, still flipping through the file.

 

“Ryan.” Esposito said, stepping back over to him. “Um, they found another one.”

 

“What?” Ryan asked.

 

“There’s another body.” Esposito replied. “Cuts and burns and a missing finger. And I’m willing to bet he’s also missing something else.”

 

“Shit.” Ryan breathed.

 

“Let’s go.”

 

They thanked Lanie for all her help and then dashed out to their car in their haste to get to the scene.

 

“How could their be another one in the same day?” Ryan asked.

 

“Maybe the killer works quickly.” Esposito replied.

 

“Torturing and waiting for someone to bleed out cannot possibly go quickly.” Ryan said.

 

“Maybe he killed one last night and the other this morning.” Esposito reasoned. “Or we might be going to a crime scene that’s a week old, who knows?”

 

Ryan said nothing. This case was already extremely unsettling, he wasn’t sure he wanted to deal with another body, especially a body showing up the same day as the first. Who knew how many bodies were going to show up before they could solve this thing?

 

Esposito pulled up to an apartment complex, most likely the victim’s apartment. It was already being blocked off and there were cop cars and flashing lights everywhere. Ryan and Esposito exited the car and made their way up to the apartment, ducking under the crime scene tape.

 

The scene was about the same as the last. The victim was on the floor, fully clothed but with burns and cuts all over. His finger was missing as well. Neither of the detectives wanted to think about what else had happened to him.

 

Ryan pulled on a pair of gloves. “Jesus.” He said softly. The body looked just as fresh as the last one, almost as if they’d been killed at the exact same time. He squatted down. “Doesn’t look like he has a wallet on him.” He said after rifling through the pockets and coming up short.

 

Esposito looked around. “It’s right here.” He said, reaching a gloved hand over to the side table that held the victim’s wallet and keys. He opened it and pulled the license out. “Guy’s name is Patrick Warren.” He said, scanning the license. “32 years old. The license looks brand new.” He rifled through the rest of the wallet. “Looks like he still has all his money, which means that’s clearly not what this is about, but there’s not much else in here that’s of use. Well, not that I can tell yet. Maybe this frozen yogurt card holds all the answers.”

 

Ryan chuckled.

 

“Detective Esposito.”

 

Esposito turned around, surprised at the formality.

 

Beckett stood in the doorway, her face looking a little grim. Behind her stood a tall, burly guy with dark hair and an angry expression. Castle stood behind both of them, his expression somewhat of a cross between worried and excited.

 

“Captain Beckett.” Ryan said, straightening up, surprise also evident in his features. “What’s going on?”

 

“Who’s your friend?” Esposito asked, looking distrustfully at the guy standing behind her.

 

Beckett hesitated. “Um, this is Special Agent Lowry.” She said in introduction.

 

Agent Lowry took a step forward and nodded, giving them a smile that looked rather odd on his face and seemed forced.

 

“Agent?” Esposito asked.

 

“Agent Lowry is going to be taking over this case.” Beckett explained further. “It’s a case he’s been working on for years.”

 

“Years?” Ryan asked, his confused expression matching his partner’s.

 

Agent Lowry nodded again. “This is my case, gentlemen.” He said.

 

“I don’t think so.” Esposito replied indignantly.

 

“Detective.” Beckett said, giving him a warning look.

 

Esposito gave her a slight glare, annoyed at being treated like a troublesome subordinate. “Okay, Agent.” He said, looking back at Lowry. “What makes this your case?”


“Because I’ve looked this killer in the eye before, Detective.” Lowry said, looking to be intimidating, though Esposito was hardly affected. “What we have here is a case involving a notorious serial killer.” He elaborated. “A serial killer I know personally. A man by the name of Brendon Kranz.”

Chapter Text

Esposito stood in the back of the room, folding his arms and leaning against the wall, glaring at Agent Lowry as if doing so could cause the man to burst into flame.

 

After Beckett had dismissed them from the crime scene, she and Lowry had taken all the evidence they’d collected so far and then shut themselves in Beckett’s office for the rest of the day, Beckett telling the boys they could leave early and the debriefing of the case would start the next morning.

 

Which was how Ryan and Esposito found themselves shoved to the back of the room watching Lowry and Beckett take over their case. They’d been told they were allowed to help, but they were no longer on point. It wouldn’t have been so bad, except Castle was right up there with them, smiling his stupid smile and chiming in every once in awhile, as if he was the detective and they were traffic cops.

 

“Brendon Kranz is not a man to be underestimated.” Lowry was saying. “It’s how he escaped six years ago. So every bit of information we give you needs to be locked away tight and not forgotten until he is behind bars.”

 

“What if we sabotage their case?” Esposito said softly to Ryan who was standing next to him and trying very hard to keep his anger in check.

 

“That would be unethical.” Ryan replied, though he sounded like the thought had crossed his mind as well.

 

“We could lock Lowry in a closet.” Esposito suggested.

 

“You find a way to get a guy bigger than Castle shoved in a closet, and I’m on board.” Ryan said.

 

“Kranz always has the same MO.” Lowry said, pointing to the board the boys had started the day before. A surge of anger went through both of them. “Cuts, burns, castration, bleeding out, and then cutting off the ring finger of the left hand post mortem. He then returns the victims back where he found them where they then wait to be found by us. Kranz also always kills in pairs. Every time you find one body, you can be sure there’s another close by.”

 

“Way to point out the obvious.” Esposito scoffed.

 

“Well, obvious to those of us who were already on the case.” Ryan added.

 

“Kranz also only goes after escaped or recently released male convicts between the ages of twenty-five and thirty.” Beckett picked up where Lowry left off. “The victims are always married. We believe he thinks he’s not doing anything wrong and that killing these convicts is making the world safer.”

 

“Kranz’s whereabouts are as of now unknown, but since the murders were committed here, he’s definitely in New York somewhere.” Lowry said.

 

“Yeah, no shit.” Ryan and Esposito said together.

 

“These two new victims make victim numbers seven and eight.” Lowry said. “After victim number six, we were able to arrest him and take him to trial. It was in the middle of the trial that Kranz was able to escape and this is the first news we’ve heard of him in seven years. Ladies and gentlemen, I do not plan to let Kranz slip away this time, so we are going to work around the clock to bring him to justice.”

 

“Any teams already working a case, continue with what you’re working on. Any teams not currently working a case, this is your new case.” Beckett said. “You’ve all been given files on Brendon Kranz, including evidence that was not released to the press. Speaking of the press, no one talks to them until we get this thing solved.”

 

That marked the end of the debriefing and the crowd dispersed to read up on Brendon Kranz and hopefully find something that had been missed or discover a new clue on the murder board.

 

“Okay, well, what do you say we take our files out to lunch and go over them somewhere where Lowry isn’t?” Esposito said, looking over at Ryan.

 

“I don’t think we’re allowed to take them out of the precinct.” Ryan replied.

 

“And you think Beckett is going to notice if we’re missing?” Esposito said. “Look, they went back in her office. They’ll probably be there for hours.”

 

Ryan looked over at Beckett’s office. The door had been shut and the blinds drawn. Anger and disappointment made the decision for him. “Okay.” He said, following Esposito to the elevator.

 

The team had a few favorite places to eat, but the one the boys chose today was Beckett’s least favorite and one she always complained about going to. It was petty and passive aggressive and there was no way she was going to be bothered by them going to this specific place without her, but it gave them a small sense of satisfaction anyway.

 

They sat in a booth in the far corner and pulled out Esposito’s file. They figured one file would do and they left Ryan’s file at the precinct opting to share this one.

 

“He definitely looks like a serial killer.” Ryan muttered, looking at Kranz’s mug shot and wrinkling his nose.

 

“This is all stuff we pretty much know.” Esposito said, rifling through the different victims and reading the ME reports. “They’re all killed the same way.”

 

“This right here is about Kranz’s past.” Ryan said, pulling out a small stack of paper stapled together.

 

“Here, come sit on this side of the booth so we can look at this together.” Esposito said, scooting over a bit to give room.

 

Ryan did so without question and sat close so they could read the report together. Esposito very pointedly ignored that their thighs were touching.

 

“Kranz’s mom died when he was three.” Ryan muttered, scanning over the report. “He grew up with an abusive father, but apparently not enough to get him convicted of anything, and it says his uncle was over all the time.”

 

“Anything about the uncle?” Esposito asked.

 

“Woah, yeah. Uncle was accused of child molestation.”

 

“Shit.” Esposito breathed.

 

“So this is like a revenge thing.” Ryan said, flipping through the pages. “He’s getting revenge on men like his uncle.”

 

“But the convicts aren’t in jail for that.” Esposito said. “I mean, not that they’re innocent, but they’ve done little things like drugs or theft.”

 

“Yeah, right here it says he doesn’t seem to care about the crime, just that the victim committed a crime at all.”

 

The waitress arrived just then with their food and they immediately hid the papers and moved them to make room for the food.

 

“You boys working on something important?” The waitress asked as she set down the plates.

 

“Top secret.” Esposito replied with a forced smile.

 

“Uh huh.” She said, glancing at the folder before looking back at Esposito. “Well, enjoy your food and let me know if you need anything else.” She walked away.

 

“Drink your water slowly so she doesn’t have a reason to come back here twenty times.” Ryan muttered before reaching out and grabbing a couple fries.

 

“Hey, don’t get grease on the papers.” Esposito said as Ryan started pulling them out again.

 

“It’s a copy that we don’t need on file.” Ryan said. “Grease isn’t going to ruin the whole case, I promise.”

 

“We have to give the folder back, though.” Esposito said, pulling out the papers he’d been looking through before the waitress showed up.

 

“Half the copies are going to be covered in grease, Espo.” Ryan said. “They gave them to us an hour before lunch. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them are covered in peanut butter and jelly stains.”

 

Esposito said nothing further as he simultaneously ate his lunch while reading through the file, Ryan doing the same. The waitress only returned once to refill their drinks, though she didn’t seem interested in what they were working on anymore.

 

When they’d almost finished eating, Ryan spoke up again. “Hey, this is kinda weird.” He said.

 

Esposito finished reading something before turning to look at what Ryan had found.

 

“The victims are all convicts, right? Either escaped or recently released.”

 

Esposito nodded.

 

“And they’re always killed in pairs.”

 

“Where are you going with this?” Esposito asked.

 

“Well, check out the pairs.” Ryan said, lining the reports side by side. “Each pair consists of one recently released and one escaped.”

 

Esposito moved a little closer to have a better look.

 

“The ones who escaped ended up doing so within days of the first one being released. And both are killed within days of getting out.”

 

“So you’re saying his work is way more planned out than we originally guessed.” Esposito said.

 

Ryan nodded. “Clearly he always makes sure there’s a pair of convicts ready and waiting for him. It’s like he knows who’s set to be released and who’s going to escape before they do. I think if we can figure out how he does that, we might be able to figure out who he’ll go after next.”

 

“Weird how that wasn’t in the report.” Esposito murmured. “You think Lowry just sucks at his job?”

 

“Wouldn’t surprise me, honestly.” Ryan shrugged. “Guy let a dangerous serial killer escape, I wouldn’t trust him with anything.”

 

Esposito’s phone buzzed with a text message just then, making them both jump as the phone was in the pocket of Esposito’s right leg, which was the leg pressed right up against Ryan’s.

 

Esposito scooted slightly so he could reach it. “Shit.” He said when he’d unlocked his phone and read it.

 

“What?” Ryan asked, still looking at the file.

 

“Beckett just asked where we were. We gotta get going, I think we’re already in trouble.”

 

Ryan swore and began putting papers back in the file while Esposito flagged down the waitress for their bill.

 

“Of course now it would take her forever.” Esposito grumbled, helping Ryan with the papers.

 

“Oh come on, look at all the tables she has.” Ryan said. “And it’s not like she knows we’re about to get fired.”

 

“We’re not about to get fired.” Esposito said.

 

“Well, in huge trouble then.” Ryan said, finishing with the papers and then waiting for the check while bouncing his leg.

 

“You boys want anything else?” The waitress asked.

 

“Just the check.” Esposito replied.

 

“Okay.” She said cheerfully, placing the little black book on the table. “Thanks for dining with us today.”

 

As she spun around and walked away, Esposito reached in his wallet and threw down a few bills including the tip.

 

“Wait, don’t you want my half?” Ryan asked.

 

“Forget about it.” Esposito said. “You can get the next one. Let’s go.”

 

They got out of there about as fast as they could and took a cab back to the precinct, all the while dreading Beckett ripping into them. Technically no one said they couldn’t take the files out of the precinct, but by now everyone knew the rules and they knew Beckett was going to let them know that loud and clear. It was just a matter of if she was going to do it in front of everyone or at least give them the privacy in her office. Though, considering how easy it was to hear what was happening in her office, they probably weren’t going to get any privacy at all.

 

Ryan paid the cab driver, telling Esposito to stop paying for everything, and they rushed into the precinct, trying not to look like a couple of boys in trouble and hoping that feigning ignorance was going to help them.

 

“Breathe normally.” Esposito told Ryan in the elevator.

 

“Yeah, okay, I’ll just tell my body to stop panicking. That always works.” Ryan said, giving Esposito a look.

 

“Hey, don’t take this out on me. You agreed to taking the file to the restaurant.”

 

Ryan said nothing as the doors chose that moment to open.

 

As they exited the elevator, they saw Beckett standing by the door to her office, her arms folded and her expression angry. Castle stood next to her, not looking angry but maybe a little grim. Lowry stood behind the both of them looking murderous.

 

“Well, we had a good run.” Ryan said. “It was nice knowing you.”

 

“She’s not gonna kill us.” Esposito replied.

 

“No, but Gigantor might.”

 

As they approached their superior, she said nothing. Instead, she angrily pointed into her office and then followed them inside, Castle and Lowry taking up the rear and closing the door behind them.

 

Beckett slowly walked to the other side of her desk, her heels clacking against the tile. Esposito resisted the urge to roll his eyes at the drama.

 

She hesitated. “How long have you two worked here?”

 

“Oh, save the speech.” Esposito said. “Just get to the point so we can move on with the case.”

 

Beckett seemed taken aback, but recovered quickly. “Fine.” She said. “What the hell are you two thinking taking a top secret high profile case out of this precinct? You know the rules, you know how much of a risk that is, how the hell could you be so stupid?”

 

“No one saw what we were working on and we didn’t drop a single paper.” Esposito said.

 

“That’s not the point, Esposito.” Beckett said angrily. “Why the hell would you do that?”

 

“Well, we didn’t think you would notice, first of all.”

 

Ryan decided to stay out of it. It looked like Esposito had a handle on things. Or at least had more he wanted to say.

 

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Beckett said, glaring at him.

 

“Oh please, you don’t notice half the things that go on in your precinct, Captain.

 

“You are out of line, Detective.” Beckett said, her voice rising in volume.

 

“Oh, I’m the one out of line?” Esposito said, glaring right back at her. “You let The Hulk walk in here and take over our case and practically kick us off, and I’m the one out of line for trying to find a place to work that doesn’t have the princess and the gorilla breathing down our necks and telling us what to do? With their dancing monkey who’s stupider than a bag of rocks being allowed in on the case that we started?”

 

“Hey!” Castle said, pouting.

 

“You know what, Esposito?” Beckett said, her voice calm, so calm it sent warning bells to everyone in the room. “You two are off the case.”

 

Ryan and Esposito began to protest.

 

“I’m not going to take time away from this case, time that could turn out to be valuable, so I can argue with you about something this stupid!”

 

Esposito gritted his teeth, keeping himself from saying something he knew he’d regret.

 

“I want you two to go home and cool off. I’ll have some paperwork for you in the morning. Now get out of my precinct.”

 

Esposito hesitated, insults and protests on the tip of his tongue. But instead of saying any of it, he slammed his copy of the file down on her desk, hard, and stalked out of her office.

 

Ryan watched him go and then turned back to Beckett, his expression more worried than angry.

 

“Well?” Beckett said, looking at him and expecting some kind of equal act of rebellion.

 

Ryan scowled at her. “I guess it’s a good thing we’re not friends anymore, Captain.” He said. “It’s easier for you to just treat us like garbage. Bye, Castle.” He added just before stepping out of the office and slamming the door behind him.

 

He saw Esposito walking swiftly toward the stairs and jogged to catch up with him.

 

Neither of them said anything as they made their way down the stairs, deeming the elevator too slow for the swift exit they wanted to make. When they made it out of the building, Esposito began to pace furiously.

 

“Where the hell does she get off?” He fumed.

 

“We broke the rules, Javi, she has every reason to take us off the case. Honestly, I’m surprised she didn’t suspend us.”

 

“Yeah, well, she would have if I said what I wanted.”

 

“I think you said enough.”

 

Esposito glared at him. “I didn’t even say half of what I wanted.” He growled. “But everything I said was true. She talks about how she’s focusing on everyone’s cases, when it’s obvious she’s got her own thing.” He rubbed his eyes a bit. “And what really pisses me off is that when I called her and told her about this case when it started, she snapped at me and told me she couldn’t just focus on our one case and that she had loads of other cases to work on. Which, okay, I get that, but you don’t have to bite my head off. And now all of a sudden the case is important enough for her attention.”

 

“I don’t even care what it is she’s working on.” Ryan said softly. “If they have a thing they’re doing together that they don’t want us to know about, I don’t really care. What I hate is that we used to do things together, like go have lunch or get coffee. Or after a really hard case, we’d all go out and get drinks. But instead all we get is ignored by two of our best friends.”

 

They stayed quiet for a time, going over everything that had happened in the last twenty-four hours.

 

“You know, she didn’t do anything any other Captain wouldn’t do.” Ryan said. “I think Beckett had situations exactly like this with Gates and Montgomery.”

 

“Yeah, well, Gates and Montgomery never let their spouses in on an important case like this.”

 

“Point.” Ryan groaned. “I wish it wasn’t like this, I feel like I’m in some dumb High School drama.”

 

Esposito paused. “Well, there is one thing we can do that we couldn’t do in High School.”

 

“What’s that?”

 

“You wanna get drunk?” Esposito looked over at him expectantly.

 

“Oh my god, I would love to get drunk.” Ryan said eagerly. “Are we allowed, though?”

 

“At what point are we going to be called for a case tonight?”

 

“Another point.” Ryan said softly. “Let’s go.”

 

They took a cab, not wanting to leave their cars in the parking lot of a bar when they were inevitably too drunk to drive, to a bar just about a block away from Ryan’s apartment. It was still early, they’d only just eaten lunch, but they needed something to take the edge off. The plan was still to get smashed, but they decided to just take it slow and save the really heavy drinking for later.

 

They sat in a booth and started off with a couple of beers, knowing all they would do was give them a nice buzz and settle down the anger bubbling inside them. Esposito almost downed the whole thing in one go.

 

“Pace yourself, Espo.” Ryan said, taking a swig of beer.

 

“I want to be drunk now.” Esposito grumbled, glaring at the inferior beer.

 

“We will, I just don’t want too much of the day to be filled with stupid decisions. We already made one of those, I’d like to keep it at that.”

 

“It wasn’t a stupid decision.”

 

“We got taken off the case because of it.”

 

“Beckett had an entire wall dedicated to a case she wasn’t supposed to be working on.”

 

“That was her mom’s case, it was different.” Ryan sighed. “But I agree with you. It used to be that we’d all fuck up together and then we’d all go to Castle’s bar and shit talk Gates because of how unreasonable she was.”

 

Esposito hesitated. “Beckett was unreasonable.”

 

Ryan shrugged. “Maybe she’s nervous because this is her first big case as captain.”

 

“Then I’ll be over here eagerly awaiting her apology.”

 

They said little after that, stewing in their own anger and ordering a few more beers to keep themselves mellow but never too drunk. The last thing they needed was to drunkenly head back over to the precinct and make their situation worse.

 

They spent hours sitting in their booth, every once in awhile having a small conversation or else watching the game on tv. Neither of them had been following the season, so they didn’t exactly know which team they were supposed to root for, but it gave them a distraction for the ever growing anger inside them.

 

After quite a few hours had passed and they shifted from buzzed to tipsy, Ryan decided they should order some food and then continue with the plan to get smashed. The mood had started out angry and over the course of a few hours had gone dark with depression. It was time to forget their problems and drink the day away.

 

It was only after they’d eaten and had a few more hard drinks that the fun really began.

 

“You know what?” Esposito said, setting his glass down. “Fuck ‘em. We don’t need ‘em.”

 

Ryan nodded as he finished off his own drink.

 

“Clearly we can solve cases on our own. We’ve been doing it for months.” Esposito continued. “I have had enough people walk right on out of my life and I’ve been able to get through it. So let ‘em walk out. I lived without a dad, I can live without my best friends.”

 

“Who needs ‘em?” Ryan lifted his empty glass for a toast and then frowned at the empty contents. “I need a refill.” He said softly.

 

Esposito flagged down a waitress and ordered them two more drinks. She gave them a look as though they’d clearly had enough but left to get more.

 

“It’s a bunch of bullshit, Kevin.” Esposito said softly.

 

Ryan looked up at him sadly.

 

“It’s just you and me now.” Esposito continued. “You’re not gonna leave, right?”

 

“You’re stuck with me forever, partner.” Ryan said, clapping him on the shoulder.

 

The waitress returned with their drinks and they toasted.

 

After they’d each taken a drink, Esposito gasped making Ryan jump.

 

“It’s karaoke night!” Esposito said as one of the waitresses began setting up a microphone.

 

Ryan turned slightly to look.

 

“We need to sing something!” Esposito was looking more excited than he’d had in months.

 

Ryan smiled. “Okay.” He said. “What do you want to sing?”

 

They flagged down their waitress and asked her how the whole thing worked. She told them if they gave her the song they wanted to sing, she’d get them all set up but they’d have to wait a bit as other people had already started putting in their own requests. She handed them a little piece of paper and told them to put their information down and then to just find her and hand it back.

 

“Okay, this was your idea, what do you want to sing?” Ryan asked after they’d put their names down.

 

Esposito sat and thought about it, realizing now that he couldn’t think of any duets that weren’t love songs. He looked up at Ryan who was rather close to him and staring down at the paper before smiling and pulling the paper away.

 

“Hey!” Ryan said as Esposito began to write something down without letting him see. “What are you writing?”

 

Esposito said nothing as he finished and then folded the paper in half.

 

“What if you just wrote something down that I don’t know?” Ryan asked.

Esposito stood. “You know it.” He said before shuffling off to find the waitress.

 

Ryan folded his arms and slumped back in his seat. He downed the rest of his drink, somehow having the feeling he was going to need to be a little more drunk for this.

 

Esposito returned a short while later with two more drinks and a smirk plastered on his face.

 

“Have a drink and relax, Kev.” Esposito said, sitting down. “We’re number twelve on the list.”

 

Ryan took his drink and gave Esposito a half-hearted glare. “What did you write down?” He said.

 

Esposito smiled without looking at him. “You’ll see.” Was all he said.

 

One of the waitresses stepped up to the microphone and announced that it was time to begin. She went through the rules swiftly, about how to enter and how anyone caught booing or throwing anything would be removed immediately, before announcing the first person. A woman stepped up to the stage and the waitress handed her the microphone. A second later, the woman began to sing.

 

Most of the people sucked. Only a few had good voices and of those few only two weren’t too drunk to stay on key. But that was pretty much the point of drunk karaoke. Ryan and Esposito laughed and applauded everyone, though they were both feeling slightly nervous. But only slightly due to the copious amounts of alcohol in their systems.

 

After some guy in a cowboy hat finished singing a country song neither of them heard of, they were announced. Ryan had hoped the waitress was going to say the name of the song as she had with everyone else, but apparently Esposito had decided the song needed to be a secret until the last second.

 

They shuffled up to the stage and a second microphone was handed to Ryan right before the song began. A single note was played before Esposito immediately began singing, smirking at the look on Ryan’s face as The Time Of My Life blasted through the speakers. There were hoots and whistles from the crowd and someone in the back yelled “Gay!”

 

As Esposito finished the first couple of lines, Ryan couldn’t help but smile. Esposito was crazy, but Ryan decided he was just drunk enough to sing this song with him. He put the microphone to his lips and sang his part. They were drunk, but they figured they sounded decent. They both had excellent singing voices after all.

 

The song picked up the pace and Ryan was surprised he remembered some of the moves to the dance Esposito had choreographed to this song a couple of years ago. They’d changed the lyrics some at the time, Ryan figuring it was to keep it from being a love song, but this time they sang the original words and Ryan was either too drunk or too infatuated to care.

 

When there was a break in the lyrics leaving a few seconds of only music, Esposito reached out and grabbed Ryan’s hand, pulling him into a dance and making the crowd go a little nuts, though they were all intoxicated. It was about the same steps as their original dance, but Esposito had clearly decided to make it a little more intimate, pulling Ryan closer to him and leading him around the small stage.

 

Toward the end of the musical break, Ryan spun into Esposito’s arms, but when he spun away, Esposito held onto his hand and began to sing the bridge. The four lines were slow and he sang them softly, the whole time looking at his partner. Ryan, completely entranced, missed his next line completely.

 

The song picked up again and Esposito went back to being silly, but Ryan hadn’t completely recovered yet and was only vaguely aware that he was singing the last few lines.

 

When the song ended, the bar erupted into applause and whistles. The boys bowed slightly and hobbled off the stage, Ryan realizing he wasn’t as drunk as he thought he was. He then wondered if Esposito was the same, a little drunk but still completely aware of what he was doing.

 

They sat back down in the booth and Esposito ordered another couple of drinks. “We nailed that!” He said.

 

“Yeah.” Ryan smiled. He couldn’t take his eyes away from his partner with his flushed cheeks and excited energy radiating off him.

 

After finishing their drinks and listening to a few more people completely butcher their songs, Esposito suggested they head back to Ryan’s apartment as it was a bit late and they needed to work in the morning.

 

They left the bar with a light air about them.

 

“You know, my apartment is right there.” Ryan said, pointing. “We should just walk.”

 

“Let’s do it.” Esposito said, leading the way.

 

Ryan caught up to him and put his hands in his pockets, smiling over at Esposito as he began to sing again. “Why did you choose that song anyway?” He asked.

 

Esposito stopped singing and shrugged. “It’s kinda our song. I mean, we have a whole dance for it and everything. I thought it would be fun. Did you have fun?”

 

“Oh, I had fun.” Ryan said, still smiling. “That was more fun than I’ve had in a while.”

 

Esposito couldn’t help but smile at that.

 

“Got our minds off of…” Ryan cleared his throat. “Well, it was a nice distraction.”

 

“It was.” Esposito agreed.

 

They were silent for a time.

 

“What do you think is going to happen with that? I mean, we can’t just spend all our time dancing around them.” He paused. “Even looking at them makes me a little sick. Not that I’m mad, just sick because I miss them, you know?”

 

“You know what? Let’s not talk about them.” Esposito said, draping an arm over Ryan’s shoulders. “Tonight is about you and me and how we don’t need anyone else.”

 

Ryan smiled and shifted ever so slightly closer. “You’re right, Javi. It’s just us tonight.”

 

They broke into a loud chorus of The Time Of My Life, getting shouts from people in the apartments to shut up. Instead of doing so, Esposito began to sing louder and pulled Ryan into a sloppy version of the dance. Ryan laughed as he was spinned toward his building.

 

They stumbled into the building and tried to suppress their giggles so as not to wake any of Ryan’s neighbors. When they eventually made it to Ryan’s apartment, it took Ryan longer than was necessary to finally get the key in the lock. They’d just stepped inside when it became apparent that Esposito wasn’t done singing and dancing. Ryan barely got the door closed when he was suddenly being danced around the room.

 

“You’re so drunk.” Ryan said between giggles.

 

“So’re you.” Esposito retorted.

 

“I’m Irish, so I’m less drunk.”

 

“You saying I can’t hold my liquor?”

 

“I know you can’t-” Ryan was cut off as he’d been backed up so far against the arm of the couch that he fell backward over it, taking Esposito with him.

 

Esposito fell on top of him, the both of them landing with a grunt. He lifted his head and looked down at his partner.

 

“Graceful.” Esposito said, smirking.

 

Ryan couldn’t find his voice. He stared up at his partner who was actually squishing him slightly and constricting his air a bit, but he hardly cared. Alcohol was muddling his brain slightly and the look in Esposito’s eyes removed all rational thought.

 

His only problem was that Esposito was going to have to make the first move as Ryan was securely pinned and wasn’t going to be able to lift his head enough to reach.

 

Lucky for Ryan, the same thoughts were going through Esposito’s head and a second later he leaned down. He hovered mere centimeters from Ryan’s lips before closing the tiny gap and kissing him softly.

 

He pulled back, wondering if Ryan was going to yell at him and shove him away, but Ryan put his hand to the back of Esposito’s head and pulled him back down.

 

The kissing and the detective on his chest made it hard for Ryan to breathe, so about a minute later he pulled back and lightly shoved Esposito off him. Esposito scrambled off him quickly, mumbling apologies and clearly getting the wrong message, thinking Ryan didn’t want to kiss him anymore.

 

“No,” Ryan said, grabbing Esposito’s arm as he made to stand up. “No.” He breathed before pulling Esposito in for another heated kiss.

 

They continued making out on the couch for another few minutes before Ryan began unbuttoning Esposito’s shirt. Esposito immediately reached up and stopped Ryan from continuing. Ryan pulled back, worried he’d gone too far.

 

“I just…” Esposito hesitated and licked his kiss-swollen lips. “I just want to make sure you’re okay with this. I mean, we’re both drunk.”

 

Ryan actually took a second to really think about it. He was drunk, but he’d sobered up some since the bar. This also was not a spur of the moment situation. Hadn’t Ryan wanted to rip Esposito’s shirt off the second they were introduced?

 

Ryan leaned in and kissed Esposito deeply. “I’m sure.” He whispered against his lips.

 

Esposito let Ryan continue taking his shirt off and in turn began to rip Ryan’s off, a few buttons flying in different directions. Ryan hardly cared. He had plenty of shirts.

 

“Kevin?” Esposito moaned softly.

 

“Hm?” Ryan asked, still feeling every inch of Esposito’s bare torso.

 

“Can we not do this on your disgusting couch?”

 

Ryan snorted and pulled away, laughing at Esposito’s hatred for his couch. He stood. “Let’s go to the bedroom.” He said, taking Esposito’s hand and pulling him to his feet.

 

Esposito pulled Ryan into another kiss and then bent slightly, indicating Ryan should jump into his arms. He did so, wrapping his legs around Esposito’s waist and Esposito walked slowly to the bedroom, holding Ryan up and still kissing him as he made his way by memory.

 

When they made it to the bedroom, Esposito unceremoniously dropped Ryan on the bed who landed with a slight “oof”. He then put his hands to Ryan’s belt and opened it up, popping open the button of his pants and unzipping them. He then reached down and took off his shoes to make removing the pants easier. When Ryan was lying there only in his socks and underwear, Esposito stopped. He moved to hover over him and looked him in the eyes.

 

“Kevin. Are you really sure?”


Ryan gave a slight smile and ran his fingers through Esposito’s hair. “I’m really sure.” He murmured before kissing him again.

Chapter Text

Ryan was awoken by a small sliver of sun coming in through his window. He scrunched up his face and moved his head ever so slightly to get it out of his eyes and then reached down to grab the comforter and pull it up over his head so he could sleep longer. But as he reached over to grab it, he felt someone’s hip underneath.

 

His eyes snapped open. It had been a long time since he’d woken up to find a stranger in his bed. But as the night’s events came back to him, Ryan realized the person lying next to him wasn’t a stranger.

 

He slowly shifted to face the person who’d been spooning him and, though he already knew who it was, he was surprised to see his partner lying in his bed in a peaceful slumber.

 

He paused a bit to watch him sleep, the low light of the rising sun making him look even better than Ryan remembered. He gave a half smile as he watched him, something peaceful about the way he was slowly breathing and how calm his face looked. Esposito rarely looked calm.

 

But the smile on Ryan’s face slowly fell as he realized he had no idea where to go from here. Fear twisted inside him when he thought about what them being together might mean.

 

He slowly got out of bed, careful not to wake Esposito up, and reached into his drawer to grab a pair of sweatpants to at least be halfway decent when his partner woke up. He winced slightly at the soreness in his muscles and the memories came back more clearly. His head was a little sore from accidentally hitting the headboard, his shoulders and wrists ached from the handcuffs, and his ass… well, the night was a bit rough.

 

He padded into the bathroom and tried not to be too loud in case he woke his partner up. But the flushing of the toilet was loud and when Ryan came back out, he saw Esposito moving to a sitting position.

 

“Hey.” Esposito said when he spotted Ryan coming back into the room. “For a second I thought it was a dream and someone else was gonna come back in here. I’m glad it’s you.”

 

Ryan could feel how genuine that last statement was, which made his heart sink because he didn’t want to say what he needed to.

 

“Come here.” Esposito said, holding his hand out and smiling softly.

 

Ryan slowly moved toward him, taking his hand and sitting on the bed next to him. Esposito pulled him in for a kiss and Ryan selfishly let him, wanting to taste him at least once more before tearing his heart in two.

 

“You up for another round?” Esposito murmured against his lips.

 

For half a second, Ryan seriously considered holding his tongue just long enough to have another hour with his partner, but he knew it would only hurt worse if he waited and it wouldn’t be the same if Ryan spent the whole time knowing he was going to ruin everything later.

 

Ryan swallowed and looked down. “Listen, Javi…”

 

Esposito immediately pulled away. “That doesn’t sound good.” He said, his face falling.

 

Ryan ran a hand through his sex-mussed hair. “I just… I don’t think we should be doing this.”

 

“That’s not what you thought last night.” Esposito said, his tone slightly angry and maybe a little worried. “I distinctly remember asking if you were sure.”

 

“You did, and you’re right.” Ryan reassured, finally looking up at him. “I don’t want to say last night was a mistake, because I honestly think I’ll remember last night as being one of the best nights of my life. I just… I think it would be a mistake to keep having nights like that.”

 

“You’re right. You wouldn’t want to have too many good nights, might interrupt your constant brooding.” Esposito said angrily, throwing the covers off himself and standing up.

 

“Come on, don’t be like that.” Ryan said, standing as well. “You know I’m right.”

 

“I don’t know anything anymore.” Esposito said, glaring at him and folding his arms.

 

Ryan wanted to retort, but he was heavily distracted. He sighed. “Javi, I can’t talk to you when you’re not even wearing boxers.”

 

If it was possible, Esposito glared harder. “Yeah, well if I remember correctly, you’re the one who took them off me in the first place.” He reached down and picked said boxers off the floor, pulling them up and letting the elastic snap slightly.

 

“Look, I just think that we shouldn’t go against the rules here.”

 

“Right, I forgot how much you love the rules.” Esposito began picking up the rest of his discarded clothing in his haste to get out of there as fast as he could.

 

“I’m trying to keep us from getting in trouble. The way things are now, we don’t want to get in even more trouble than we are.”

 

“Kevin, this isn’t some dumb rule about not taking a file out of the precinct!” Esposito said, his voice rising in volume. “This about you and me and how much I-” He cut himself off and looked away. “Forget it.” He said softly, continuing to grab his things and heading for the front room to grab his shirt.

 

“Javi, come on.” Ryan said following him and watching him put on his pants. “I feel the same way, I just think we should slow down and think about this. I’ll get in trouble, you’ll get in trouble, and Beckett will get in serious trouble. The only person who won’t get in trouble is Castle, and that’s a new one. Think about what it would mean for our jobs, for Beckett’s job.”

 

“You know what?” Esposito said, putting his shirt on and leaving it unbuttoned. “I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about Beckett’s job right now. All I cared about was you and me, but it’s nice to know after we had sex that you don’t feel the same.”

 

“Of course I feel the same.” Ryan said, starting to get angry at Esposito for not letting him say much and clearly not listening when he did

 

“Could’ve fooled me.” Esposito picked up his shoes and made for the door.

 

“Hey!” Ryan said, stepping forward and grabbing Esposito’s upper arm.

 

“What?” Esposito practically yelled, making Ryan let go of his arm and back away a little.

 

“Don’t yell at me about this.” Ryan said, his voice level but on the verge of breaking. “You think I don’t want to be with you?”

 

Esposito paused, looking at the determination in his eyes. “It definitely feels that way.” He said before opening the door and slamming it shut behind him.

 

Ryan could feel the tears burning behind his eyes and tried to blink them away. He took a shaky breath and ran a hand through his hair, trying not to let his emotions get the better of him.

 

The alarm on his cellphone signaling that it was time to get ready for work went off and his heart sank as he realized he was going to have to see Esposito in less than two hours, which wasn’t going to leave much time for him to recover from the fight. He knew there was no way Beckett was going to let him call in. She’d think he was avoiding paperwork.

 

He took one last look at the door before slowly turning and heading back to his bedroom.

 

He wanted to throw things. He wanted to tear the whole place apart, but the state of things told him he and Esposito had already taken care of that.

 

Ryan didn’t want to think about Esposito. He didn’t want to see him or work with him, especially in a couple of hours. It would hurt too much. The only good thing about today was they could silently work on paperwork and not have to say a word to each other.

 

But that opened a whole new set of fury. The anger at Esposito dissipated into anger at Beckett, whose job he couldn’t believe he’d been worried about. It had been their case that they started and they weren’t going to be able to finish it.

 

Which was technically also Esposito’s fault.

 

Ryan groaned and sat on the bed, the jumble of emotions already making him too tired to think. He wanted to work the case. He knew the only way to keep from dwelling on his emotions was immerse himself in work, using a case to ignore his problems. If he spent the whole day sitting at a desk, he was bound to get lost in his head and end up worse off than he was.

 

He wanted to think about the case.

 

As he went about his morning routine, that’s exactly what he did. He ignored everything that had happened that morning and thought only about the file they’d read over less than twenty four hours ago, trying to remember everything. He wanted to come up with something, something that proved he belonged on the case so he wouldn’t have to sit around and do paperwork all day and sitting across from someone who not only loathed him, but had every right to.

 

Ryan finished putting on his suit and then stood in his room, not wanting to have to see his partner.

 

At that word, Ryan paused, pieces of the case he’d been thinking about all morning starting to swirl around in his head and then fit together like puzzle pieces. Without thinking, he instinctively reached for his phone to call Esposito.

 

~.~.~

 

Esposito was fuming. He had to be angry or he would give in to sadness, which was the last thing he wanted. When you were sad people tried to comfort you, when you were angry they left you alone out of fear. And he was not about to walk into the precinct looking like a kicked puppy when Beckett and her gorilla would assume it was because they’d gotten to him.

 

So he entered the elevator with a scowl and made sure to keep his face like that the whole way to his desk. He slumped down in his chair and took off his coat, booting up his computer and making himself look unapproachable.

 

But whatever mood Esposito was in, it couldn’t stop Beckett and she was at his desk within minutes.

 

“Where’s Ryan?” She asked.

 

“I don’t know.” Esposito responded curtly. It of course was not a lie; he had no way of knowing if Ryan was on his way or not.

 

“Well, tell him to hurry because I’ve got enough work for you two for the whole day and you should get started on it now.”

 

Esposito could feel the anger practically seeping from him, but he managed to keep it under control until she went back to her office. He took a couple of deep breaths in case his anger won out and he threw something.

 

When he felt himself calming down, he reached into his pocket to send Ryan a text, planning to make it sound as rude as possible, when he noticed three missed calls. He glared at the phone, as if it was the phone’s fault Ryan had tried to call him, and tossed it on the desk. If Ryan was late, it was his own job he was risking.

 

A few minutes later, Esposito heard the ding of the elevator and the sound of someone getting closer to his desk. For some reason, he knew it was Ryan before he’d said anything.

 

“Hey.” Ryan said softly.

 

Esposito grunted a response.

 

“I need to talk to you.” Ryan said, his tone a bit urgent.

 

“Yeah, well, I don’t want to talk to you.” Esposito replied, not looking at him.

 

“Javi, please?” Ryan said. “It’s not about what happened this morning.”

 

“Not interested.”

 

“Well, maybe you will be when I tell you it’s about the case.”

Esposito paused what he was doing and looked up at Ryan, cursing the gods at how good he looked in his stupid suit. “We’re not on the case anymore.”

 

“Well, maybe we could be if we solved it.”

 

Esposito paused again, taking it all in.

 

“Well?” Ryan asked.

 

“I’m trying to decide if I hate you or Beckett more.” Esposito replied.

 

“Why don’t you hear what I have to say before you decide?” Ryan said. “And please take into account that it would be sweet revenge if we solved the case and proved our skills go beyond paperwork.”

 

Esposito sighed. “Five minutes.” He said.

 

Ryan smiled slightly before setting his things down and leading the way into the deserted break room. He closed the door once Esposito had stepped inside.

 

“Don’t think this means I’ve forgiven you.” Esposito said, standing in the middle of the room with his arms folded.

 

“I don’t expect you to.” Ryan said, trying to act professional as the look of Esposito glaring at him was slowly breaking him apart. But he had to keep it together long enough to tell him what he thought he’d found out.

 

“So what discovery about the case did you make?” Esposito asked, speeding things along.

 

“Basically, I think Kranz has a partner.”

 

Esposito deadpanned. “He works alone.”

 

Ryan just shook his head. “I don’t think so.” He said softly. “I don’t think that one prisoner being released and another escaping within days, sometimes hours, of each other is a coincidence. I think Kranz has a partner, and I think it’s someone on the inside.”

 

“An inside job?” Esposito raised an eyebrow. “How much did you have last night?”

 

“Javi, think about it.” Ryan said, getting more excited as he went on. “A prisoner is set to be released, another is given the tools to escape, they both end up dead on the same day. Plus, Kranz was able to escape. With the amount of security they have on someone as dangerous as that, he had to have had someone on the inside helping him.”

 

Esposito took a second to think about it. “Okay, it makes sense. But we don’t really have a way of knowing who’s helping him.”

 

“It seems like an obvious thing to skip over.” Ryan shrugged. “What if it’s someone working the case?”

 

“You’re thinking Lowry, aren’t you?” Esposito said.

 

“We can’t just decide it’s him because he’s an asshole.” Ryan replied. “But it might be worth looking into I think. And I still have the case file, Beckett never took it from me.”

 

“You should make a copy of it in case Beckett realizes you still have it and makes you give it back. Better yet, make a copy and give her yours to keep her off the scent, make her think we’re being good little subordinates.”

 

“Good idea.” Ryan said. “We can do the paperwork she wants all day and maybe go over the case at lunch again.”

 

Esposito hesitated. “Why did you tell me all this?” He asked. “Why didn’t you just decide to solve this on your own? Take all the glory?”

 

“Well,” Ryan shrugged. “I can’t really solve a case on my own. And you’re the only one I trust. You’re my partner.”

 

“Hey.” Beckett had popped her head in the breakroom, making them jump a little. “I’ve set the paperwork on your desk. Can you guys get right on it?”

 

Resisting the urge to make a smart remark, the two of them nodded.

 

After Beckett left, Esposito turned back to Ryan. “This doesn’t make us okay.” He said softly. “I’m only doing this so I can see Beckett’s face when we solve it first. We both know they think we’re idiots, it would be nice to prove we’re not. But the case is the only thing we talk about today and probably for a long while.”

 

All Ryan could do was nod, not trusting himself to speak as there was now a pit in his stomach and his heart ached.

 

Esposito brushed past him and made his way back to his desk, glaring at the pile of papers on it. Ryan followed about a minute later.

 

They spent the morning doing exactly as Beckett had asked. They didn’t say a word to anyone, including each other, as they worked through the piles on their desks. They would catch snippets of conversation between those working the Kranz case, but no one talked to them about it and there seemed to be an awkward air about them whenever someone walked past. They felt like schoolboys having to sit by the teacher’s desk for misbehaving.

 

It also didn’t help that Esposito was practically radiating anger. No one came and talked to them because of it, but it also made Ryan worried. Not that he was afraid of getting a punch to the face, he just wasn’t sure they could remain partners if Esposito hated him.

 

And wasn’t that the reason Ryan didn’t want them to be together in the first place?

 

Ryan sighed and leaned back in his chair around noon. He’d only gotten up once to make the new copy of the Kranz case, but still hadn’t given Beckett his original copy. He’d planned to, and almost did once, but the desire to talk to her even a little bit dwindled every time she walked by with Castle talking about the case. He decided to just let her ask him for the file if she ever thought to.

 

Ryan chanced a look at Esposito and noticed him watching Beckett through her window, looking interested in whatever was going on. Ryan shifted his gaze to the window as well and saw her and Castle talking animatedly to each other. They couldn’t see Lowry from where they sat, but they could hear him make a comment every once in awhile.

 

About a minute later, they burst out of the office excitedly.

 

“We made a break in the case.” Castle said happily to them before following Beckett and Lowry to the elevator.

 

Once the elevator doors closed, Ryan immediately reached into his bag to pull out the copies of the file. He handed one to Esposito who hesitated.

 

“Who knows how long they’ll be gone?” Ryan said softly. “If we want to solve this before they do, we need to get going. They may have gotten the break we needed.”

 

Esposito took the file from Ryan maybe a little reluctantly and then looked down at it, shifting through the papers to try and corroborate Ryan’s theory. Or disprove it.

 

Ryan did the same with his own file, hoping to find any evidence of a partner. He felt very strongly that he was right about it, but he needed some kind of proof before shooting his mouth off and making everyone angrier with him. He wondered briefly if he was going to have any friends after all this was over, but decided to worry about that after they caught the guy.

 

“I got nothing over here.” Esposito said after about twenty minutes. “You come up with anything?”

 

Ryan’s face was screwed up in concentration, but he eventually sighed and set his papers down. “No.” He said.

 

Esposito shrugged, though his expression was angry. “I guess we just give it up.” He said. “They’re miles ahead of us and we can’t ask them what they found. We don’t have anywhere to go from here.”

 

Ryan chewed his lip a bit. “Unless we’re right about Lowry.” He said softly.

 

Esposito’s eyebrows shot up. “You think Lowry’s the partner?”

 

“I think Lowry knows more than he let on.” Ryan looked down at the file on his desk. “He wrote up this file, leaving out key information-”

 

“We don’t know if he left out key information. This is just your hunch that maybe he never looked into a partner, but what if he did and didn’t find anything?”

 

“Javi, how do you explain all the prisoners escaping?” Ryan said, getting angrier that he seemed to be alone in this. “How did Kranz get these people out without getting caught?”

 

Esposito didn’t have an answer. He knew Ryan had to be onto something, but without all the information, they were stuck. He sighed. “Okay, see what you can dig up on Lowry. If you find anything we can use, we’ll keep at it.”

 

Ryan gave a slight smile before turning back to his computer and immediately beginning to check up on Lowry.

 

“Looks like just basic information.” Ryan mumbled, scrolling down the page once it had finally loaded. “There’s not much here except some information on his family and past parking tickets, which he seemed to get a lot of in college. Uh, there’s cases he’s worked on, but other than that I don’t see anything.”

 

Esposito started to suggest they drop it, but Ryan suddenly looked surprised. “What?” He said instead.

 

“Lowry’s brother looks familiar.” Ryan said softly.

 

Esposito got out of his seat and half jogged over to Ryan’s side to see.

 

“Wait.” Ryan said, picking up the Kranz file and flipping through the pages.

 

Esposito squinted at the small image of Lowry’s brother.

 

“He’s right here.” Ryan said, holding up the newspaper clipping from six years ago with a picture of Kranz being led away by two police officers. “Joseph Roderick was the security guard in charge of transferring Kranz to the local prison. He was supposed to be transferred to a higher security prison a few days later, but he escaped the same day this picture was taken.”

 

“Roderick?” Esposito asked. “Not Lowry?”

 

“Looks like he changed his name.” Ryan said. “But it’s definitely the same person.”

 

Esposito looked at the picture of Joseph on the computer screen and then down at the newspaper clipping in Ryan’s hand, silently agreeing that he did in fact look like the same person. “The local prison?” He asked. “You mean the one all those convicts were released and escaped from?”

 

“Probably.” Ryan said, moving to look up Joseph Roderick’s file. He paused when all the information came up. There was barely anything. “This doesn’t even have his work history.” He said, scrolling through the minimal information.

 

“It looks like someone went in and erased everything.” Esposito said, leaning in to see.

 

Ryan had to hold his breath at how close Esposito was.

 

“It doesn’t even have a current address.” Esposito said, completely unaware that he was in Ryan’s personal space.

 

Ryan came back to his senses at that. “Lowry would know it.” He said softly.

 

“Yeah, but how are we supposed to get him to give us that information?”

 

Ryan paused, trying to think of a way they could maybe intimidate him, but he knew just trying would ruin everything and probably get them fired, considering how well Lowry was at erasing information.

 

He then remembered something from the morning before. “Lowry came in with a laptop case yesterday.”

 

Esposito gave him an incredulous look. “You wanna hack into his computer?”

 

“It might be the only way to get the information.”

 

“Even if you can get past what is bound to be loads of security, what are you going to do when he kills you?”

 

“Don’t be dramatic.” Ryan said, standing. “I can get in, get his brother’s address and then the two of us could be out of here interviewing Joseph in record time.”

 

“You’re an idiot.” Esposito said, following him to Beckett’s office door.

 

“I know.” Ryan said, unlocking the door. Beckett had made them keys to the office when she made captain, instructing them to only use them in case of emergency. This, Ryan reasoned, was an emergency. He looked around at all the empty desks. Everyone was either at lunch or on their own case and anyone still there wasn’t paying attention. “You stay out here and be a lookout. I’ll be in and out in twenty minutes.”

 

“Be careful.” Esposito whispered.

 

Ryan entered the office swiftly and almost silently and shut the door behind him. It took a couple of seconds to locate the laptop and he immediately removed it from its case and opened it. He tapped his finger on the side as he waited for it to boot up. He looked over at the door and saw Esposito still standing guard. It gave him a slight sense of comfort to know he wasn’t so mad as to abandon Ryan while he tried to hack into an agent’s laptop.

 

He looked back at the computer and scoffed slightly as the only thing preventing him from getting into the computer was a password. He worked quickly, having done this many times before on computers belonging to victims or suspects. He’d even helped his sister get into her computer when she forgot her password.

 

He was in in record time and started with Lowry’s emails, in case he’d been emailing his brother. No luck. Though he would be making fun of Lowry on the amount of spam he was getting from porn sites. He moved on to social media. Nothing. He could have tried to get into top secret files, but he knew it would take too long to hack that, and he wasn’t sure he could do it and not get caught. If he could do it at all. He’d never hacked into an official government site before.

 

He began to search the computer itself on the off chance Lowry had kept files on his brother. It would be smart to keep the files off the internet to ensure he was the only one who could view them.

 

Ryan scanned the files on the desktop but came up short. He then went to the search bar and searched for anything he could think it would be under. He found nothing. Frustrated, he sat back and thought of anything else it could be under.

 

He decided to try one more thing, suddenly feeling like he was on a wild goose chase, and typed “Joe” into the box.

 

A single file popped up labelled “Joe TS”. Heart hammering, Ryan clicked on the file. He made a frustrated noise as it was also password protected. It was nothing more than an annoyance, and he was able to get past it easily, but he’d been on a roll and he hated it slowing down his momentum.

 

When the file was finally open and he was able to read its contents, he could feel the surprise on his face. The file was huge, more than Ryan could read in one setting, so the most he could do was skim. But it seemed to be all the information they’d been missing.

 

There were three knocks on the door and Ryan jumped, his heart picking up speed. It was the warning knock.

 

Ryan quickly looked back at the computer and pulled out his phone, taking pictures of anything they could use. He scrolled as fast as he could to try and spot an address. Esposito gave another warning knock, a little more urgent this time, and Ryan’s scrolling skidded to a stop at a single address. He had no idea if it was the one he was looking for, but he took a picture anyway and immediately closed all the files and shut down the computer.

 

It took him three tries to close the laptop in its case, but once it was secure and back where he’d found it, he shoved his phone in his pocket and raced to the door, wrenching it open and almost running into Esposito in his haste to get out.

 

“Took you long enough.” Esposito whispered harshly as they relocked the door and rushed to the break room just as the ding signaling the elevator sounded. They could hear the clack of Beckett’s heals as they shut the door.

 

Ryan tried to slow his breathing as he smiled up at Esposito.

 

“What did you score?” Esposito asked, looking excited.

 

“Lowry’s a snake.” Ryan breathed out. “We gotta get out of here so I can tell you everything, but basically, Lowry covered for his brother. He erased his records, including anything that would help us find him, and took over the Kranz case to keep us off his scent. Lowry knew about Kranz’s partner the whole time. I don’t know if he kept it quiet because it was his brother and he had a sense of loyalty or what, but he’s been lying to us this whole time. He’s probably out there leading Castle and Beckett on wild goose chases, making sure any evidence that can be linked to his brother is erased.”

 

“I can’t believe he had all that on his computer.” Esposito said.

 

“I think he keeps a file to keep all the facts straight. He has things labelled as things the police know and things he’s been able to alter or erase. He’s changed the time of death on a couple of victims, probably to give his brother an alibi if he needed it, he’s switched DNA samples and fingerprints. He’s about the most thorough and organized person I’ve ever seen.” Ryan paused. “Probably mentally unstable too.”

 

“Shit.” Esposito breathed.

 

“That about sums it up.” Ryan nodded.

 

Esposito looked back at the door. “They’re going to wonder where we are.” He said before looking back at Ryan. “We can go back out there and tell them we’re going to lunch and we can go over everything you saw.”

 

Ryan nodded again and stood straight, his breathing finally evened out.

 

“And we can’t let on that we know about Lowry.” Esposito said. “Don’t even look at him. Your face gives everything away.”

 

“My face does not give everything away.” Ryan protested.

 

Esposito merely raised an eyebrow at him before stepping over to the door and walking back out to the precinct. Ryan followed a short while later.

 

They saw Castle and Beckett standing outside her office and looking at the murder board confused, Beckett looking a little annoyed. Without saying anything, the boys reached for their jackets and tentatively stepped over to their former partners.

 

“Uh, Ryan and I are going to lunch.” Esposito said, trying to sound normal.

 

Beckett looked over at them and nodded to indicate she’d heard.

 

“You guys find anything?” Ryan asked before he could stop himself.

 

“Just a dead end.” Castle sighed.

 

Ryan and Esposito exchanged a look.

 

“Well, good luck.” Esposito said before leading the way to the elevator.

 

When the doors closed, neither could suppress their grins. Esposito even snorted.

 

“I’m going to feel really bad if Lowry does something to them.” Ryan said once they’d reached the lobby and headed outside.

 

“He probably won’t do anything unless they figure it out, and with him giving them shitty tips, they never will.” Esposito said. “We’ll figure it out for them and tell them when Lowry finally leaves or something.”

 

“Still. Beckett and Castle aren’t stupid. They could end up figuring it out the way we did and end up in trouble.”

 

“We’re not in trouble.” Esposito reasoned. “They might be sneaky about it too and  be just fine. A few steps behind us, but fine all the same. Why are you so worried about them anyway?”

 

Ryan was quiet for a minute. “I still don’t want anything to happen to them.” He replied softly. “They’re being assholes, but they don’t deserve to die.”

 

Esposito silently agreed but was too mad to say so. “Let’s just get a move on with the case. The sooner we solve it the sooner we can be done.”

 

Ryan hesitated. “Javi, what… what’s the plan after the case? I mean with us?”

 

Esposito turned sharply to him. “I don’t want to talk about it.” He growled. “I just want to forget last night ever happened and move on.”


Ryan’s heart shattered at that, but he had to keep it together. “Okay.” He said softly.

Chapter Text

“So what all did you get off the computer?” Esposito asked as he drove toward the address Ryan found.

“I wasn’t able to get a lot.” Ryan said, looking at the few pictures on his phone. “But I got enough to know Lowry’s been keeping this quiet for years. I’m pretty sure he knew from the first murder.”

“He knew his brother was a serial killer and still decided to cover his tracks?”

“Maybe they were just that close.” Ryan shrugged. “I mean, a lot of people would do anything for their family, regardless of what they’d done.”

“Let me tell you, if I had a brother who was a serial killer, I’d track him down and lock him up myself.”

“Joseph may not help with the killings.” Ryan reasoned. “He might just be providing the bait. Not that that’s any better...”

“I was thinking about that too and I was wondering if maybe they’re both killing. I mean, there’s always two victims. What if they each kill one? They always have the same time of death, I think this is some kind of weird thing they do. Some friends hang out at bars, others kill people together.”

“Sounds more like some kind of killing couple to me.” Ryan said quietly.

“A serial killer couple?” Esposito asked. “A gay serial killer couple?”

Ryan raised an eyebrow. “As if that’s the most outrageous theory you’ve ever heard.”

Esposito paused. “Can’t argue that.” He conceded. “So what about the address, do you know where we’re going?”

“I honestly have no idea.” Ryan said, looking down at the address on his phone. “This could literally be anywhere. Best case scenario, this leads us to Kranz.”

“Worst case scenario, it’s one of the victim’s addresses or something.”

Ryan nodded.

“Is there anything else that’s useful in those pictures? I’d hate to see us get into trouble over nothing.”

Ryan continued looking through them. “Just some background mostly. Some of this we already knew, but there are a couple of new things. Like this one says Kranz and Joseph were childhood friends. Looks like they grew up on the same street until the Lowry’s moved when Joseph was in High School. Which is something else conveniently missing from the case file.”

“No addresses on that one?” Esposito asked.

“No, literally just a small paragraph about it.” Ryan said. He flipped to the next picture. “This one is about Joseph’s job at the prison. Looks like Lowry helped him get it.”

“You think that’s why Lowry keeps trying to help him out?” Esposito said. “Because he helped him get a job that he then used to kill people? I mean, he may have risked a lot. Could have staked his job on it.”

Ryan nodded. “That would make sense.” He said softly. “I mean, Lowry still isn’t what I would call a model citizen for letting his brother murder people, but at least we have somewhat of a motive.”

“I knew Lowry was no good.” Esposito grumbled.

“You just thought he was a dick for taking over our case.”

“Yeah, but now I don’t have to feel bad about hating him for that.”

Ryan chuckled.

“Anything else in those pictures?”

“Well, besides the address, I’ve got this one about him switching DNA samples. I didn’t get a picture of the part that said he’d changed the time of death on a couple of victims, but I’m guessing they can search his computer once we prove he’s guilty.” He looked through the pictures. “I really didn’t get a lot. I remember some of the things I saw on there, but I had to get out of there fast. I only got the address and these few little facts about their childhood.”

“Well, hopefully this address isn’t a dead end and we can get some answers.” Esposito said. “And if the address doesn’t pan out, I think we should head over to the prison and see if we can find anything there. Did you see anything about him still working there?”

“I didn’t.” Ryan shook his head.

Esposito nodded. “Well, then that’s the next step after this.”

Ryan was quiet for a time. “So, what if we solve this case and Beckett just gets even angrier at us? She could fire us over this, you know.”

Esposito kept his eyes on the road and hesitated. “Well, then we’re going out with a bang.” He said. “I think this is a pretty good case to end our careers on, don’t you think?”

Ryan didn’t reply, but he could feel a pit in his stomach at the thought of losing his career, his friends, and the most important person in his life all in one day.

~.~.~

Beckett sighed as she stared at the murder board. The longer this case went on, the less sense it made. They’d so far checked three different leads and every one was a dead end. There was something she was missing that she couldn’t quite put her finger on.

She looked up when Castle and Lowry came back from the break room with coffee and thanked Castle for bringing her a cup.

“It’s a difficult one, isn’t it?” Lowry said, taking a sip of coffee. “I’ve spent years on this case and I seem to just get further and further away from the end.” He gave the two of them an encouraging smile before stepping into Beckett’s office.

Beckett watched him go and chewed her lip a bit before turning to Castle who was looking at the murder board as if in deep concentration.

“Maybe Kranz was abducted by aliens.” He said, drinking some coffee.

“You always guess aliens.” Beckett said, giving him a look.

“It’s the only way to explain the depressing lack of evidence we have.” Castle reasoned. “And his disappearance for six years. At this point, Beckett, an alien is the only logical explanation.”

“Aliens will never be the logical explanation.” She replied.

“Hey,” Lowry stepped out of the office. “Did one of you open my computer?” He asked.

Beckett and Castle shook their heads in answer.

“Huh.” Lowry said. He smiled slightly. “I guess it takes longer to cool off when it’s in its case.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone. “I’ll be right back, I need to make a call.”

They watched him head over to the elevator.

“Why does he need to leave the entire precinct to make a call?” Beckett murmured.

“Maybe he has a mistress.” Castle said.

“I don’t think he’s married.” Beckett paused. “Castle, come here.” She said, leading the way into her office.

“Okay, but we only have a couple of minutes. Not that we can’t do it in that time, though.”

“Oh, just…” Beckett grabbed his arm and pulled him into the office.

“Hey, I’m holding hot coffee!” Castle whined, grabbing some of the tissues off Beckett’s desk to dab at the small spots now on his shirt.

“Castle, what do you think of Lowry?” Beckett asked slowly.

Castle looked up from cleaning his suit. “I like him.” He said. “He listens to my theories. He even takes them seriously.”

“And that’s not weird to you?”

“What do you mean?”

Beckett sighed. “I mean every other agent we’ve ever worked with has hated you.”

Castle pouted.

“Just because you always have crazy theories.” She said quickly. “I’ve never seen anyone outside the precinct actually believe your theories before now.”

“That doesn’t make him weird, it makes him smart.”

Beckett chewed on her lip again. “Do you get the feeling that… maybe he doesn’t want us to solve this case?”

Castle scoffed. “Beckett, why wouldn’t he want us to solve the case? He’s the one coming up with all the leads.”

“Leads that are dead ends.” Beckett pointed out.

“You and I both know sometimes leads don’t go anywhere.”

“But three leads in a row?” Beckett said. “So far we’ve checked out things Lowry said he’d never checked out but that always leads us back to things we already know. We’ve been working on this case for almost three days now and we haven’t made any progress. That isn’t odd to you?”

“Has it been three?” Castle asked.

“Well, counting the day Ryan and Espo found the bodies, the case has been going on for three days. Counting when this all started, it’s been going on for years. How can we have so little evidence after so much time?”

“I think Kranz is just that good at hiding his tracks.” Castle reasoned.

“No one is this good at hiding their tracks.” Beckett folded her arms and sighed, leaning against the desk.

“Beckett, think about what you’re saying.” Castle said taking a step forward. “Not only would Lowry not be sneaking around trying to keep us from solving this thing, but he also has no motive. Why would he want the case to go cold?”

Beckett was quiet for a time. “Why do you think there are always two victims?”

Castle shrugged. “Kranz always kills in pairs.”

“But why?” Beckett asked. “You saw his mug shot, if he had two victims who wanted to overpower him, it would be easy for them. Two against one little guy.”

“So you think he had help?” Castle asked.

Beckett paused. “Maybe…”

“Beckett, the way you’re talking makes it sound like you think Lowry and Kranz are serial killers together.” Castle scoffed.

Beckett just gave him a look.

“Oh, come on!” Castle said, taking a step away from her. “Agent Lowry can’t a be a serial killer. He’s too nice!”

“He seems a little weird to me.” Beckett said. She shrugged. “I don’t know, Castle, maybe your insane theories are rubbing off on me. I mean, an agent working with a serial killer he doesn’t even have a connection with does sound insane.”

Castle paused, apparently thinking about it. “Well, I guess we don’t know if he has a connection for sure. We’ve never had a reason to check.”

Beckett gave him a half smile.

Castle shrugged. “Who am I to turn down an insane theory?”

“You wouldn’t be you if you did.” Beckett agreed.

“I don’t want it to be him, though.” Castle whined. “He’s nice to me.”

“Castle, as much as I hate to admit it, he might just be hoping you sabotage the whole thing.”

Castle pouted and moved to stand next to her, leaning against the desk as well. “So where do we go from here?” He asked.

“I’m not sure.” Beckett looked out her window but didn’t see Lowry anywhere. “This is the first time he’s left us alone in a while. Have you noticed he literally goes everywhere we do?”

“As if he’s trying to make sure we don’t find anything.” Castle murmured. “How are we supposed to check up on him without him finding out?”

“I don’t know.” Beckett chewed on one of her nails for a minute. “We need something to keep him away long enough for me to look him up. It wouldn’t take me long, but I’d need a good enough distraction so he wouldn’t catch me. And it would be really embarrassing if he caught me when there was no reason to look him up in the first place.”

“Too bad Ryan and Espo are off the case, they could help.”

Beckett gave him a look. “Don’t start, Castle.”

“I’m not starting anything.” Castle said, raising his hands in surrender. “You know where I stand on the matter.”

“I had to do what I did.” Beckett said. “I can’t play favorites with Ryan and Esposito. How would that look to the precinct? I’m supposed to be the captain.”

“Kate, you know that’s a weak argument.” Castle said. “Gates and Montgomery always played favorites. You were the best detective and clearly their favorite because there is absolutely no reason I should’ve been allowed to be here for as long as I was. I screwed up so many cases, I’m surprised they didn’t literally throw me out of here.”

There was a knock at the door before Beckett could respond and Lowry poked his head in.

“You guys ready to keep going?” Lowry asked. “I think if we keep at it, we’ll have something in no time.”

Beckett gave him a small smile and led the way out of the office, Castle following close behind.

“Hey, Beckett.” Castle said softly, stopping her from walking any further. “Speaking of Esposito and Ryan, where are they?”

Beckett looked back at their desks and then over at the large clock on the wall. They’d been gone for almost two hours.

~.~.~

“This place looks like a dump.” Ryan said, stepping out of the car, Esposito following suit.

“It looks like an old lady house.” Esposito said. “Either Kranz is way more mentally unstable than we thought, or this is not where he lives.”

“Well, maybe whoever lives here can give us some answers.” Ryan said, just as Esposito’s phone went off.

Esposito fished into his pocket and pulled out his phone, frowning at the screen.

“Who is it?” Ryan asked.

“Beckett.” Esposito said, silencing the phone. “Probably wondering why we’re not chained to our desks drowning in paperwork right now.”

“Jesus, we haven’t been gone that long.” Ryan said, leading the way up to the doorstep.

“Ryan, it’s been almost two hours since we left.”

“Seriously?” Ryan looked down at the clock on his phone.

“This house is way the fuck out here and we stopped for sandwiches on the way. Time adds up.” Esposito reasoned.

“I mean, I knew it was a long car ride, but I thought it was because of…” Ryan trailed off, not wishing to relive how awkward the journey was. He cleared his throat. “Let’s just see who lives here.”

Esposito rang the doorbell and, after nothing happened for a while, knocked and rang again.

A few seconds later, they heard the deadbolt being unlocked and the door opened just a crack to reveal the eye of a very old woman.

“I’m old, but I hear the doorbell quite well.” She said. “Give a minute for a woman to find her cane and hobble to the door before deciding your time is worth more than my hips.”

“Our apologies, ma’am.” Esposito said, hating that his job consisted of being nice to rude people if they were to cooperate.

“Whatever it is you’re selling, I don’t need it.” She said, still not opening the door enough for them to even see her whole face.

“Ma’am, we’re not selling anything.” Esposito said, getting more annoyed. “My name is Detective Esposito, and this is Detective Ryan. We’d like to ask you a few questions, if that’s alright.”

The lady opened the door just a bit wider. “Detectives?” She asked slowly. “I assume you have badges?”

The boys immediately pulled their badges from where they rested, Esposito’s around his neck and Ryan’s attached to his belt.

She looked at them and then up at the boys, finally opening the door enough so they could see her fully. “What’s this about?” She asked.

“Ma’am, we’re working on an old case that went cold a few years ago.” Ryan said, trying not to give too much away in case this could all blow up in his face. “And we’re trying to tie up some loose ends, maybe see if we can bring the families of the victims some justice. We found your address in an old file and we were wondering if maybe you know someone by the name of Brendon Kranz?”

They saw the flash of recognition, but it vanished quickly. “I think the name might sound familiar. I probably read it in a newspaper or something.” She said.

Ryan let that slide for now with a nod. “Um, do you know anyone by the name of Joseph Roderick? Or Joseph Lowry as he used to be called?”

There was no denying the recognition in her face at the mention of Joseph, and clearly she thought so too because she deflated slightly. “That’s my son.” She said, her face stony.

“Your…” Ryan paused. “You’re Lowry’s mother?”

She seemed to not want to admit it. “Yes.” She said, her lips slightly pursed.

“Well then,” Esposito hesitated. “You would know Brendon. Your sons were friends with him.”

Mrs. Lowry shifted her gaze to Esposito and held it for a while. “You boys should probably come in.” She said softly before stepping back to let them into the house.

Ryan and Esposito exchanged a look before following her inside.

~.~.~

“Espo’s not answering his phone.” Beckett said, looking angrily down at her own phone. “Where the hell would they have gone?”

“Honestly, Beckett, if my day consisted of paperwork from nine to five, I’d take a long lunch too.” Castle reasoned.

“They’re already in trouble, why would they want to make things worse for themselves?”

“Maybe they think there’s nothing worse than paperwork. Whatever punishment you give them couldn’t top that.”

“I could fire them.”

“Yeah, but you won’t. Not over this.”

Beckett said nothing, but she knew he was right. Ryan and Esposito could get away with a lot before she would actually fire them.

“Okay, so I think I might have something.” Lowry said, stepping over to them as they stood by the murder board. “This is something we were going to check out back when we were first working this case, but after we caught him, it didn’t seem too important anymore.”

This seemed to be Lowry’s excuse for every bit of evidence they’d “almost checked out”, and it would always lead them to a dead end. But Castle and Beckett decided to hear him out anyway.

“We noticed that Kranz always seemed to know when the prisoners were going to be released and my partner at the time suggested maybe he knew how to hack into the prison’s system to get all the information on the inmates. We never checked it out, but I was thinking we could this time around. If that’s how he’s getting his victims, we might be able to track his signal to find him.”

It actually sounded like a plausible explanation, but so did everything else he’d suggested so far.

“Do we have any tech experts here?” Lowry asked. “Someone who would know what it takes to hack into a computer?”

“Uh, well there’s Ellis, but she called in sick today.” Beckett said.

“Bummer.” Lowry said, looking like he was forcing himself to smile. “Anyone else here who might know how to hack into a computer?”

Beckett paused, pretending to think about it, but there was something off about the way Lowry was asking. “Um… well, Ryan’s always been good with technology. He’s no expert, but he’s hacked into things before.”

“Great, where is he?” Lowry asked.

“Out to lunch.” Castle said, catching on to the weirdness Beckett had described earlier.

“At three in the afternoon?” Lowry asked, still forcing that smile.

“Well, he left late.” Beckett said.

“Ah, well once he gets here, we should get his expertise on this.” Lowry said. “I’m going to get more coffee. You let me know when Ryan gets back.”

As he walked away, Beckett turned to Castle. “Tell me you caught that.”

“Coffee is not the best option for him right now, I think he was shaking.” Castle replied.

“Why does he want to know who can hack computers?” Beckett asked. “It would be smart to bring Ellis on for this, but we’d have to go down to the prison and set things up there. He could even call for an agent who’s an expert with computers since Ellis isn’t here. But I mean… that was weird, right?”

“Why would he need to know who in the precinct can hack?” Castle murmured.

They came to the conclusion at the same time.

“His computer.” They said in unison.

“He asked us if we’d messed with it.” Beckett said.

“And that it was taking a long time to cool down.” Castle replied.

“He must think someone hacked into his computer and he wanted to know who was capable of that.”

“And I think we just told him.”

Beckett felt her stomach drop. “Wait.” She said. “Why would Ryan hack into Lowry’s computer? They don’t know about Lowry.”

“Unless they do.” Castle said slowly.

Beckett thought about it. “Ryan never gave me his copy of the case file.” She gritted her teeth. “Those sons of bitches are solving our case behind our backs.”

~.~.~

“Would you boys like a drink?” Mrs. Lowry asked once they were in the living room.

“We’re alright.” Ryan replied.

“Good answer.” Mrs. Lowry said, sitting down in her chair and sighing. “Sit.” She said, indicating the couch across from her.

Ryan and Esposito sat gingerly on the white couch. The place was so clean, they were afraid to touch anything.

“So,” Mrs. Lowry said, looking at them reluctantly. “Joseph and Brendon.”

Ryan and Esposito said nothing, eagerly anticipating the story.

“I haven’t seen Brendon in years, but from what I remember, he was a strange child.” Mrs. Lowry began. “He often seemed overly polite, as if he were trying to convince me he was a good kid, rather than the sometimes violent child he was when adults weren’t looking. I didn’t particularly like him hanging around my boys, but I supposed I had a little soft spot for him when I found out about his home life, which I assume you already know about?”

Ryan nodded.

Mrs. Lowry continued. “He’d been best friends with Joseph since they were children, but when the boys hit High School, my husband died and we had to move. I never saw Brendon after that, though I had the suspicion that Joseph was still in contact with him. The next I heard, it was many years later and Brendon was on the news and my eldest son was working the case. He often expressed to me how hard it was to convict someone he once knew.”

There was a pause.

“Mrs. Lowry, did Joseph ever show signs of violence as a kid? Maybe anything that rubbed off from Brendon?” Ryan asked.

Mrs. Lowry regarded him for a while. “Not particularly. At least, no more than any regular boy.”

“And, do you know why he changed his name to Roderick?”

At this, Mrs. Lowry looked away. “After my husband died, Joseph… wasn’t doing very well. He seemed angry at my husband, as if it were his fault for the accident. Once he was able to, he dropped the Lowry name and took my maiden name, Roderick.”

“How bad did he get?” Esposito asked.

“He disappeared for hours at a time.” Mrs. Lowry said. “He never told me where he went and he hardly said a word. The only person he would talk to was his brother. It was nice that they had each other. Nicolas even helped Joseph get a job. It was the first steady job he’d ever had.”

“Ma’am, when was the last time you saw Joseph?” Esposito asked.

“Oh, years ago now.” She replied. “I haven’t seen him since Brendon was going through his trial. From what I remember, Joseph quit his job right after and I haven’t heard from him since.”

The lie was so blatant, they could practically feel it.

“You know what, Mrs. Lowry. I think I could use a drink.” Esposito said, giving her a smile.

Mrs. Lowry glared at him slightly and sighed, but grabbed her cain. “Well, I shouldn’t sit too long anyway or everything will cramp up.” She grumbled before heaving herself out of her chair and hobbling to the kitchen.

“What do you think?” Ryan asked once she was out of earshot.

“I think she knows where the bastard is. And I think if we found him, he’d lead us to Kranz.” Esposito said softly.

“How are we going to get her to tell us?”

Esposito looked around. “We may not have to.” He said.

“What are you looking for?” Ryan asked.

“You remember the driveway? There was a little white car, I’m guessing it belongs to Mrs. Lowry, but there was also a big blue truck that looked like it had been to hell and back.”

“You think Joseph is here?”

Esposito gave a half smile when he saw one of the doors down the hall left ajar. “I’m pretty sure.” He said, nodding toward the door.

Ryan followed his gaze and he felt his heart start hammering.

“I only have water.” Mrs. Lowry said as she hobbled back with a tray holding three glasses of water.

Ryan immediately stood to take them from her and set them on the coffee table so she could sit again.

“Mrs. Lowry, could I use your facilities?” Esposito asked.

Mrs. Lowry sized him up. “Second door on the left.” She said.

Esposito smiled and stood, making his way down the hall. Mrs. Lowry watched him the whole way and, instead of going for the door that was slightly open, he stepped into the bathroom and away from her prying eyes.

Once in the bathroom, Esposito looked around. There was nothing to suggest Joseph had been here overnight, so it was possible he’d just showed up today. After several minutes, he pressed his ear to the door and heard Ryan keeping up a conversation with Mrs. Lowry.

He opened the door slowly, praying it didn’t creak and give him away. He stepped out of the bathroom and caught a glimpse of Mrs. Lowry saying something to Ryan. He quickly slipped into the room adjacent and looked around.

This was definitely not Mrs. Lowry’s bedroom. It looked more like it belonged to a kid, maybe a teenager. Hoping this was Joseph’s old room, Esposito began to walk slowly around, assuming that if Joseph was hiding in this room, the evidence would be easy to miss.

There were only three places Joseph could potentially be hiding, and the most plausible was the closet. Esposito stepped over to it and made sure he had a hand on his gun before pulling the door open.

The second he did, someone emerged from under the bed and ran out the door.

“Ryan!” Esposito called, running after the figure.

When he got to the living room, he saw Ryan chasing who they assumed was Joseph out the door. Mrs. Lowry yelled something, but Esposito didn’t hear as he ran after the both of them, his gun out and ready.

“Someone else just jumped out of the truck and ran that way!” Ryan said when Esposito reached him. “I’m betting that was Kranz.”

“Okay, I got him!” Esposito said, running in the direction Ryan indicated.

They were running in opposite directions, each keeping an eye on the man in front of him. Esposito looked over and saw Ryan disappear behind one of the neighbor’s houses in pursuit. He didn’t like not knowing where his partner was at all times, but he knew Ryan could take care of himself.

He shifted his gaze back to Kranz only to realize he’d lost him.

Esposito stopped, finding himself in someone’s backyard. He looked around, hoping to spot Kranz or find a clue. He walked slowly, keeping his ears peeled for any sounds of someone breathing hard. There was a toolshed, trees, and rose bushes in this backyard and Kranz could be behind any one of them.

He looked around, trying to keep his own breathing level so he could hear. But instead of hearing heavy breathing, he heard a loud thump and a grunt.

“Ryan?” He yelled, whipping around toward the sound. It had clearly come from a little ways away, but it felt louder than that. Forgetting all about why he was in a stranger’s backyard, Esposito decided to find out what that sound was in case his partner was hurt.

But he’d only taken one step when something hard rammed into the side of his head.

~.~.~

“Esposito’s still not picking up.” Beckett said.

“Neither is Ryan.” Castle replied.

“It’s almost five, where the hell would they have gone?” Beckett said angrily, looking at the clock.

“So, I’m guessing our Ryan friend went home for the day?” Lowry said, stepping into Beckett’s office. “He never showed up.”

“I guess.” Beckett said, trying not to sound worried or anything more than frustrated with her employees.

“Let me tell you, if I’d tried that with my boss, he’d have fired me by now.” Lowry said.

“I’m on the verge.” Beckett said, making it sound convincing by glaring at the phone.

“Well, it’s almost five.” Castle said, stretching and standing up from his chair. “I say we call it quits for now and start fresh in the morning.”

“I’m with Castle.” Lowry said, stepping over to his things in the corner of Beckett’s office and beginning to pack them up.

The silence felt awkward to Castle and Beckett as they hoped Lowry would just leave without any problem. But of course it wouldn’t be that easy.

“So,” Lowry said, straightening up from gathering his things. “Can I walk you guys out?”

“Uh, well, I have to go over these case files here from some of the other teams.” Beckett said. “They build up if I don’t do them right away.” She gave a little smile.

Lowry turned to Castle expectantly.

“But I don’t have to do that.” Castle said, possibly a little reluctantly. “And of course there’s no reason for me to want to stay because of course paperwork is boring. So… I’ll walk with you down to the parking lot.”

“See you tomorrow, Beckett.” Lowry said, leading the way out of her office.

Castle exchanged a look with Beckett before following Lowry out.

Beckett counted out the seconds before stepping over to her window to see if she could catch them leaving. Castle’s car left the lot first followed closely by Lowry’s.

The second Lowry’s car disappeared around the corner, Beckett rushed out of her office and to Ryan’s desk, cursing the slow computer as it took forever to boot up. She looked around at the people leaving and smiled and said goodbye to a few. None of them seemed to think it was weird that she was using Ryan’s computer, or if they did they didn’t say anything.

The precinct was practically dead by the time Beckett was in and searching Ryan’s history. He’d searched for two names that day. Lowry, Beckett was expecting, but a Joseph Lowry she wasn’t.

She clicked on the search for Lowry first, typing in the password to gain access to the information. She scanned over the page, hoping that if there was anything she could use, it would be easy to spot. She came up short. She scrolled back up and clicked on Joseph Lowry, who she now knew was Lowry’s brother.

This page was about the most disappointing lack of information she’d ever seen. She scanned what little there was on the page and then sat back with a confused look.

“Hey.” Castle said, stepping back into the precinct and slightly out of breath.

“What took so long?” Beckett asked.

“Lowry followed me practically halfway home. I think he wanted to make sure I was leaving.” Castle stepped over to look at Ryan’s computer with her. “Something must be up because he was never this suspicious of us before. Who’s Joseph Lowry? Is that Lowry’s name? I don’t think he ever told us.”

“No, Lowry’s name is Nicolas.” Beckett said. “This is Lowry’s brother. For some reason Ryan searched his name, but there’s hardly any information here. They definitely didn’t get their lead from this.”

“This is probably why they searched Lowry’s computer.” Castle said. “They assumed he would’ve had all the information on his brother. And since we haven’t seen them since lunch, they must have been right.”

Beckett nodded and then sighed. “I wish they’d answer their phones. Then they could just tell us.”

“They might be worried you’re mad.”

“Of course I’m mad. I’m furious.” Beckett said angrily. “I have a sinking feeling something happened because no lead should take this long to look into. And because they didn’t tell me where they were going, I have no idea where we would even look for them.”

Castle sighed and pulled Esposito’s chair over to sit next to her. “Well, then I think we need a way to hack into Lowry’s computer and find out what they did. If they’re really in trouble, that might be their only chance.”

“Well, we don’t know if they’re in trouble for sure.” Beckett chewed her lip. “But if they are, we can’t wait until tomorrow when Lowry comes in with his laptop. We need to hack it now.”

“You know, I’d really prefer you didn’t.”

Castle and Beckett snapped their heads up to find Lowry, a gun, and a deserted precinct.

Chapter Text

“Oh, your faces are priceless.” Lowry said, moving closer. His gun still trained on the both of them. “I’d always been told this precinct had the best detectives, but the look of surprise on your faces just proves to me that neither of you saw this coming. Honestly, I thought I was going to blow the whole thing multiple times, but you just stayed as ignorant as ever.”

Beckett glared at him. “I wouldn’t say that’s quite fair.”

“Murder is never fair, my dear.” Lowry said with a smirk. “If criminals played by the rules, you’d be out of a job. Now, why don’t we take a look at what the two of you have been researching? I mean, if it’s for my case, I should know, right?”

Beckett and Castle moved slowly away from the computer as Lowry came around the desk, only taking his eyes off them to take a look.

Lowry clicked his tongue. “Well, would you look at that. Captain, what possible motivation would you have to be looking up my brother?”

“Why don’t you tell us?” Castle said, looking at the gun and back up at Lowry.

“Oh, don’t play stupid.” Lowry said, reaching over and pulling one of the chords to make the computer screen go blank. “You know exactly what you’re doing and you sent your little golden retrievers out on a secret mission.” He gave them a smile that looked slightly insane. “Here’s how this is going to go. You are going to tell me how much your boys know and where they are, and I’ll kill you quickly.”

Beckett scoffed and folded her arms. “This is a great idea, Lowry. Just kill the captain of the precinct. That won’t look suspicious at all.” She raised an eyebrow. “The way I see it, we have information you need. You won’t kill us. You need us.”

Lowry gave her a wicked smile. “Oh, Captain. I don’t need both of you.”

Neither of them had time to react as Lowry took aim at Castle and fired.

“Castle!” Beckett screamed as he went down. She fell to her knees beside him and saw blood, her mind panicking before realizing that Castle was still conscious and holding his arm, blood seeping through his fingers.

“He...he shot me!” Castle said, his voice cracking. “In my writing arm!”

Beckett looked back at Lowry and glared at him again. “So that’s your plan then? Shoot Castle so I’ll talk?”

Lowry gave that creepy smile again as he stepped over to them and crouched down to be eye level. Close enough to whisper, but far enough that she couldn’t reach over and claw his eyes out. “No, no, Captain. I think what I’ll do is torture him until you both break. And then I’ll castrate him, let him bleed out, and blame it on Brendon Kranz.”

The look in his eye suggested he wasn’t joking in the least.

“Kranz always kills in pairs.” Beckett said in a last minute attempt to make him rethink that plan.
“So you’re catching on then.” Lowry replied.

“He’s never killed a woman before.” She said, thinking less about her own life and more about the fact that changing Kranz’s MO wouldn’t bode well for him.

But Lowry merely smiled. “Yes, a change in pattern is always a great way to throw the police off. That is, if they find your bodies.” He straightened up and aimed the gun at Castle again. “Now, Captain, are you going to cooperate this time, or should I go for the other arm?”

Beckett gave him another glare.

Lowry sighed dramatically. “You have till the count of ten. One, two, eight, nine-”

“Okay, okay!” Beckett said. “Listen. You were there when I took them off the case. I haven’t talked to them in two days, I don’t know what they know!”

“You’re lying!”

“I am not lying. I don’t know anything!” Beckett said, frustration evident in her voice. “But…” She paused, wondering if this was even going to work. “We do know where they are. We can take you there.”

The tension was palpable. The only thing that could be heard was Castle’s labored breathing.

“Tell me where they are, Captain.” Lowry said dangerously

Beckett chose her words carefully. “You don’t have time to murder us and dispose of our bodies in time. The boys are probably already there. If you want to get there fast, we have to leave now. And I don’t think I have to explain that Castle and I aren’t exactly ready to die just yet.

Lowry gave her a long look, contemplating her words. He gave her a half smile. “Okay, Captain.” He said, lowering his gun only slightly. “The two of you are going to take me to your friends and they can tell me what they know and then you can all die together.” He looked over at Castle’s bleeding arm that had started to form a small puddle. “And wrap something around your monkey’s arm. I don’t need him bleeding all over my car.”

Beckett immediately removed her jacket and took off her blouse, thanking the gods she decided to wear a tank top underneath today. She ripped the blouse, not caring how much it had cost, and helped Castle out of his own jacket so she could find the wound. She wrapped her ripped blouse securely around Castle’s arm and Castle yelped in pain as she tightened it.

“Sorry.” She murmured.

“You two are adorable.” Lowry said. “Now, Captain, you see the handcuffs carelessly thrown there on the desk? Would you do the honor of cuffing your husband? I’d rather not take my eye off either of you.”

Beckett gave him another scathing look before reaching up and grabbing Esposito’s spare pair of handcuffs. She helped Castle stand and then cuffed him, keeping his hands in front and leaving the cuffs as loose as possible, though his hands were still too big to slip out of them.

“I’ve always had my fantasies about this, but a man behind you with a gun was never a part of them.” Castle said softly.

Beckett gave him a slight smile, happy that he was at least still holding onto his sense of humor in all this.

“Excellent.” Lowry said. “Now, Captain, if you would continue facing that way.”

Beckett continued facing Castle as she heard Lowry step closer and a second later he was cuffing her hands behind her back. She winced slightly as he tightened them rather uncomfortably.

“Wouldn’t want them to slip off your tiny wrists, would we?” Lowry said, his voice low. “Now,” He stepped back, still aiming the gun at both of them. “Let’s go for a ride.”

“You think someone will miss the fact that you have a gun and we’re handcuffed?” Beckett said.

“The sun has already set and most people don’t notice anything anyway.” Lowry said. “Besides, we’re going out the back way. Snap to it.”

Castle led the way, Beckett only slightly behind him, and Lowry following the both of them, the gun still trained on their backs. They descended the stairs, Castle stumbling slightly and almost falling, and then out to the dark parking lot where Lowry’s car was waiting.

“Mr. Castle, I assume you can drive?”

Castle paused slightly. “Well, yes.” He said. “I don’t imagine driving with cuffs is too safe, though.”

“Yes, well, driving one handed pointing a gun at someone isn’t exactly any better.” Lowry said, keeping the gun on them and opening the door to the backseat. “In you go, Captain.”

Beckett stepped forward and glared at him as she lowered herself into the backseat, trying to find a comfortable way to sit with her hands behind her back.

“And Castle in the driver’s seat.” Lowry said, opening the door and giving Castle a smile.

Castle followed Beckett’s lead and settled himself behind the wheel, wondering if there was a way he could crash the car so only Lowry got hurt.

Lowry kept the gun trained on Castle as he shut the door and moved over to the passenger’s side. He slid in and pulled the keys out of his pocket, then reached over and started the car.

“Well, Castle, you know where we’re headed. Drive on.”

Castle looked in the rearview mirror at Beckett, trying to figure out her plan, if she had one at all.

Beckett looked back and merely nodded.

Castle took a deep breath and pulled the car out of the parking lot.

~.~.~

“Okay, well, we’ve been in worse situations.” Esposito said, trying to ignore the ache in his shoulders as they’d been pulled back for who knew how long.

“Oh yeah? Like what?” Ryan said, still trying to make out what was in the jars on the shelves.

“The fire, for one.”

“We weren’t cuffed together and we had a phone.” Ryan said, his tone bitter. “And we weren’t waiting helplessly for serial killers.”

“We were also being deprived of oxygen.” Esposito snapped. “Why are you so determined to lose all hope? We can get out of this.”

“Well, I’ll be happy to hear your plan. Let me know whenever you’re ready.” Ryan said angrily.

“You could come up with something too, you know.”

“You’re the one determined to get out of here.”

“What, and you’re not?”

Ryan paused. “Not like it would matter.” He muttered.

Esposito said nothing.

After a minute, Ryan huffed out a laugh.

“What?” Esposito asked, his tone still snappish.

“Just that I’ve been trying to get close to you all day and now all I want to do is get away from you.”

“You wanna get away from me? I’ve been trying to stay away from you since this morning. We wouldn’t even be in this mess if you had just left well enough alone. Beckett and Castle are on this case, they should be the ones cuffed to each other.” Esposito paused. “At least they’d be happy together.”

“My fault? You’re the one who blew up at Beckett and got us kicked off the case. We could’ve figured this out the normal way and instead of ending up cuffed together in the basement of a serial killer with no one out there looking for us, we could have Kranz, Lowry, and his stupid brother behind bars by now. But no, you have to hold on to your stupid pride and never let anyone say a word. You go off on people and raise your voice so no one can talk above you and you never hear the things you need to hear.”

“From what I remember, you didn’t have anything I needed to hear-”

Ryan angrily pulled his arms forward sharply, sending pain through Esposito’s wrists and shoulders as his arms were now pulled further back and the handcuffs were biting into his skin.

“Ow! What the hell?”

“Why don’t you shut the fuck up and listen for once in your life!” Ryan said, easing his arms back and letting Esposito’s arms also fall back to where they were. “I had plenty of things you needed to hear. Things I needed you to hear. You heard me say I didn’t think we should be together, and you just stopped listening altogether. I tried to explain, but you weren’t listening and instead you walked out my door and you decided you hated me.”

“Well, enlighten me, Ryan.” Esposito said, his voice condescending. “What exactly did you mean by that, then? Did you just think we could go back to work after that night? Did you think everything would just fall back where it was? That we could be partners after we had sex and you kicked me out?”

“You walked out.” Ryan growled. “And I don’t know what I wanted.” He sighed, trying to keep himself from crying. “I woke up that morning and I started thinking things through. It’s hard to do that when you’re drunk.”

“So you’re saying I took advantage of you.”

“Javi, for the love of god, that’s not what I said! Why do you always twist things to mean something else?” Ryan said angrily, resisting the urge to pull on the cuffs again.

“I’m not twisting anything! You got drunk, you didn’t know what you were doing, and you woke up regretting everything.”

Ryan paused. “I don’t regret it.” He said softly.

“Oh, if time rewound, you’d do it again?”

“Javi, the only thing I regret is hurting you.”

They were quiet for a minute.

“I didn’t want us to get in trouble.” Ryan said, breaking the silence. “We rushed into it without thinking and it could have cost us so much. All I wanted was to take a step back and think about it. Think about what us being together would mean.”

“You think too much, Kevin.” Esposito said softly.

“And you don’t think enough.”

“I guess that makes us a perfect match.”

Ryan smiled even though Esposito’s tone was slightly bitter.

“Kevin, what did you think was going to happen if we decided to stay together?”

Ryan took a deep breath. “Every thought just sort of got worse.” He replied. “If Beckett still hated us, we probably would’ve lost our jobs. If she was on our side, word would end up getting out and Beckett would get fired for letting her employees date each other. And then we would get fired.” He paused. “I imagined that conversation and saw the both of us telling everyone to fuck off and leaving the precinct forever. But… then I saw us having financial problems. I saw us fighting all the time and… resenting each other because we gave up our careers to be together, and you always hate movies where someone gives up their career for love so… I guess I just made the decision so you wouldn’t have to.”

There was a pause.

“Can I say something now?” Esposito asked softly.

Ryan shrugged.

“Kev, you went from one extreme to the next. You didn’t even stop to consider the fact that it’s possible none of that would’ve happened.”

“What do you think would’ve happened then?”

“Well,” Esposito said, considering it. “I think you and I could’ve kept it a secret for a while. A long while. Beckett doesn’t notice anything anyway and you and I are always spending the night at each other’s apartments and hanging out. We could probably actually go out on dates and no one would notice we were more than friends.”

“And if they did notice?”

“We’d deal with that when it came down to it.”

“You wouldn’t want to have a plan?”

“Not everything has to be planned out, Kev.”

Ryan paused. “I don’t think I’d like keeping it a secret for that long. I mean, it would be great at the start, but… at some point I know I would want people to know. I’d want people to see us as a couple.”

“And that’s another thing we could deal with when we came to it. I don’t see how a relationship couldn’t be played by ear. When something stops working, we find a way to fix it. Wouldn’t… wouldn’t even a short time together be worth it?”

Ryan leaned his head back against Esposito’s, the only intimacy their current position allowed. Their hands were already touching, but he wove their fingers together, feeling relief that Esposito not only let him, but gave his hands a squeeze.

“I’m stupid.” Ryan said.

“That makes two of us.”

“I just…” Ryan sighed. “It sounds great right now, but when we’re in the middle of it, it’s not going to feel so great. It’s not going to be happily ever after or whatever.”

“Happily ever after doesn’t exist, Kevin.” Esposito said. “A relationship doesn’t end with a kiss and end credits. No matter what kind of relationship you get into, there will always be risks. There will always be a chance that it will fail and there will always be difficult situations to get through.” He took a breath. “But I think avoiding a relationship out of fear just gets you nowhere. There will always be a million reasons not to get into a relationship. But there will also be a million reasons to go for it.”

“Bobby pin.”

Esposito paused at that. “I… what?” He asked, wondering if Ryan had been hit harder than they first thought.

“Javi, there’s a bobby pin over on that shelf right there.”

~.~.~

For about the millionth time since they left the precinct, Castle exchanged a look with Beckett through the rearview mirror. He’d been driving for a while, not even sure where the hell he was going. He tried to avoid turning as much as possible as that was hard to do so in handcuffs, but he knew they couldn’t drive forever and he knew Beckett had to have some kind of plan by now. They’d been driving for forty-five minutes.

Castle glanced at Lowry who hadn’t lowered his gun the whole drive. But he also didn’t seem to be suspicious at all. For whatever reason, he believed Castle knew exactly where he was going and was really taking him to their partners. The only thing Castle knew was they were probably going to end up at his place in the Hamptons if no one made a move soon.

He exchanged another look with Beckett who looked back and then looked at Lowry. She did it again, looking at Castle and then indicating Lowry and Castle assumed that meant he was supposed to get the gun from him somehow.

He stopped and thought about that for a second. Beckett didn’t like him doing dangerous things as he technically didn’t have police training. And he had to admit, he had no idea how he was supposed to get the gun.

He settled instead on the idea that maybe he was supposed to offer a distraction. Thinking more on it, he decided that was a much better idea. If Lowry was distracted, Beckett might be able to do something from the back seat. And if she really did want him to get the gun, a distraction would help him do it.

Castle looked back at Beckett again through the rearview mirror and winked.

He cleared his throat. “So, Agent Lowry. We’re a little bit in the dark here. How is your brother linked to this whole thing? We didn’t exactly get that far.”

Lowry looked over at him and raised an eyebrow. “If you really have no information, which I still don’t believe by the way, there’s no way I’m telling you anything.”

Castle looked in the mirror at Beckett who seemed to be fidgeting a bit. She caught his eye and looked back and Lowry a little more urgently.

“Oh, come on.” Castle said, trying to keep the conversation going. “You’re going to kill us anyway, right? Don’t we deserve to know all the details?”

“No.” Lowry said flatly.

“You’ve already shot me, which is very painful by the way, which proves you have the upper hand and aren’t afraid to kill us. I think we have a right to know why we’re being killed.” Castle continued, a little afraid he was poking a sleeping bear. “Doesn’t seem like killing us for innocently looking up your brother is a great motive.”

“Castle, I will make you pull the car over and shoot you right now if you don’t shut up.” Lowry said. “God, for the last three days you have done nothing but talk. It has been my dream the whole time to rip out your throat so you can’t talk anymore. And I still might, so why don’t you-”

Lowry was cut off by a perfectly aimed stiletto heel to the face which then resulted in Lowry firing a shot through the windshield and forcing Castle to swerve to the side as he could no longer see where he was going.

Castle could hardly tell what was going on as he was trying to find a safe way to pull over, but he got the gist as he felt his wife dive from the backseat, her hands now free from the cuffs, and a struggle over the gun began. Lowry was a big dude, but Beckett had claws and the upper hand as she had already dazed him with her kick.

They struggled as Castle began to pull the car to the side and another shot narrowly missed him and smashed through the side window instead, startling him enough that he forgot what he was doing and the front right wheel rolled over the curb, making the whole car jump and jostle everyone in it.

Castle put the car in park with the idea that he could help Beckett in the fight for the gun, but the second he was ready to help, Beckett had pried the gun away from Lowry’s hands, using her nails to dig into his skin.

Once the gun was free from his grip, Beckett aimed it at Lowry’s head.

“Castle, get out of the car.” She said, out of breath and glaring at Lowry as if daring him to make a move.

Castle didn’t need telling twice and fumbled for the door handle a bit before finally stumbling out of the car. He stepped back and away from traffic, watching as Beckett also stepped out of the car, the gun still pointing at Lowry’s head.

“Your turn, Lowry.” Beckett called to him. “Get out of the car.”

Lowry emerged from the passenger’s seat, a bruise forming around his eye and blood on his lip. His face looked murderous. “You have a plan, detective?” He asked, his voice condescending.

“I think we’re going to stand here and wait for backup.” Beckett said, never moving a muscle.

“Backup?” Lowry laughed. “You don’t have anyone coming for you, Captain. No one knows we’re here.”

“Huh.” Beckett said, feigning confusion. “So me reaching into my pocket and calling for backup didn’t work?”

As if on cue, lights could be seen and sirens were heard in the distance.

“I would suggest you check pockets before taking someone hostage.” Beckett gave him a smirk.

Lowry gritted his teeth, glaring at her as if she were his prey. “You bitch.” He snarled, taking a step around the car. “You people can’t ever just leave my family alone, can you? My brother did nothing wrong. None of this is his fault. He was brainwashed, they both were. And none of you can just leave them be!”

“Lowry, stay where you are!” Beckett said as he continued to advance. “Don’t make me do something I won’t regret.”

The sirens got louder and the flashing lights brighter, but Lowry continued to advance. His face no longer resembled a sane human being’s. He was losing it and it was only a matter of time before he attacked.

“I have spent my entire career looking out for that son of a bitch and I will not let it end like this.”

“Lowry, I’m serious.” Beckett said. “Stay where you are.”

“You are not going to take this away from me.”

“Lowry!”

“I am going to make you suffer for this.”

“Stop!”

“I am going to tear your heart out through your throat!”

Just as the police cars screeched to a halt where they were, Lowry let go. He ran at Beckett in a blind rage, an enraged growl ripping from his throat.

Without skipping a beat, Beckett pulled the trigger four times and Lowry fell to the pavement in a heap. He stopped moving completely.

~.~.~

“What the hell is a single bobby pin doing down here in the basement of a serial killer?” Esposito asked.

“You ever live with a girlfriend? All her bobby pins will go missing and then months later you start finding them in weird places. Who cares how it got there? We have a way out of these handcuffs.”

“Okay, we need to stand up.” He pushed against Ryan’s back just as Ryan pushed against his. “One, two, three.”

They moved themselves to a standing position, only stumbling slightly as neither had full use of their arms.

“Okay, you’ll have to lead the way, I can’t see it.” Esposito said, annoyed at their position.

“I’m gonna walk forward and you walk backward. My right first, your left. Ready?”

They began walking slowly toward the shelf, making sure they didn’t trip and make the whole situation worse.

“I bet we look fucking stupid.” Esposito muttered.

“Right, because that’s what I’m most worried about, the serial killers coming down and laughing at us as we try to escape.”

“Hey, no need for the attitude.”

“I’m just saying.”

When they reached the shelves, Ryan stopped and stared at the bobby pin on one of the lower ones.

“Okay, we’re gonna need to bend down so we can reach it.”

They bent their knees and Ryan began to reach for the bobby pin as they continued to get lower. When he’d almost reached it, he snorted.

“What?” Esposito asked, grunting slightly as they were now leaning against each other again to be low enough to reach it but still able to stand.

“It’s just, we probably really do look stupid.”

“See? And you were giving me attitude.”

They bent their knees just a touch more and Ryan gripped the pin. “Got it.” He said and they both stood straight.

“Here, let me take it.” Esposito said, trying to grab it from him.

“Why you?” Ryan asked, trying in vain to keep it.

“I’m better at picking locks than you.”

“Says who?”

“Says me.” Esposito replied, sticking the pin in Ryan’s cuff first and working to unlock it.

“Declaring yourself as the best lock picker doesn’t make you better.”

“Hey, you got the computer thing, I have this.”

“What, are you keeping score on who has done more for the case?”

“Just accept that I can pick a lock faster than you.” Esposito replied. “Well, I would if you’d stop moving.”

Ryan sighed but held his hand at an angle to make it easier for Esposito to work.

A few seconds and curses later, there was a click and one of Ryan’s wrists was free.

“Thank god.” Ryan said as they were finally able to turn and face each other.

Esposito brought his other hand up, Ryan’s hand going with it, so he could remove the first cuff from his wrist before getting to work on the second. Being able to sort of see it in the dark made it easier to unlock the cuff and it clattered to the floor.

“Let me unlock the other one.” Ryan said holding his hand out for the bobby pin.

“Why?”

“Because you unlocked the first one, it’s my turn.”

Esposito squinted at him. “You realize this isn’t a game of Monopoly, right? We don’t have to take turns in a life or death situation.”

“Just give me the bobby pin.” Ryan said, reaching over and taking it from him.

“You are such a baby.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Ryan murmured, bringing the other pair of cuffs up to his face so he could see what he was doing. “Damn, this bobby pin is old. I think it’s rusting.”

“I’m glad we’re taking precious time out of our day to comment on a bobby pin. I’ll let the serial killers know to wait until we’ve thoroughly discussed it.”

Ryan glared at him and then looked back down at what he was doing.

“Any day now.”

“Javi, shut the fu- shit!”

“What did you do?”

“The damn thing broke off and I dropped it.”

“Oh, bravo.”

“Just shut up and help me find-”

A ripple of fear ran through both of them as they heard voices and saw the shadows of people walking toward the door. They stared at the door, frozen as they had no idea what was about to to come through it.

A second later the footsteps stopped and they could hear the lock on the door being opened, but instead of two serial killers coming down into the basement, one of them made a frustrated noise.

The boys held their breath as they listened to what they were saying.

“What now?”

“I forgot my knife.”

“We have mine.”

“I’m not going to explain to you why I’m going to use the knife I’ve been using since we started.”

“Oh my god, fine. Let’s go find your fucking knife.”

In a miraculous turn of events, they turned and walked away from the door.

“Did you hear them relock it?” Ryan whispered.

“No.” Esposito replied.

“Do they think we’re still unconscious?”

“Probably.” Esposito looked back at Ryan.

“They…” Ryan hesitated. “They sounded like regular guys.”

“They are regular guys. What did you think they were going to sound like?”

Ryan looked back at the door. “I don’t know. I guess I just wasn’t expecting them to sound so much like… us.”

“They sounded nothing like us.” Esposito reassured. “Maybe a little like a bickering couple, but hey, we already decided they’re gay serial killers, right?”

That made Ryan laugh.

Esposito smiled. “Okay, forget the bobby pin. We have the element of surprise on our side, but only if we go fast. We can get up there and maybe sneak out.”

“And if we’re not sneaky enough?”

“Then we fight our way out.”

Ryan raised an eyebrow. “Cuffed together?” He asked, lifting their attached wrists to make his point stronger.

“I’m not seeing an alternative here.”

Ryan paused for only a second before giving a single nod. “Okay.” He said.

Esposito gave him a determined look and then turned and led the way up the few stairs to the door.

“Hey, Javi?” Ryan said, just as Esposito rested his hand on the doorknob.

Esposito turned to look down at him on the step just below his.

Ryan lifted his gaze to his partner and, instead of saying anything, reached up and gripped the front of Esposito’s shirt, pulling him in for a kiss, making it about as passionate as he could without turning it into an impromptu makeout session. He pulled back and smiled slightly at the dazed look on Esposito’s face.

“You know.” Ryan said. “Just in case we die tonight.”

Their wrists were already cuffed together, but Esposito took it a step further and slipped his hand into Ryan’s, giving it a slight squeeze. He turned back to the door and took a deep breath before slowly pushing it open

Chapter Text

“Hey, Ellis, sorry we had to call you down here from your day off.” Beckett said, entering the precinct with most of her detectives in tow, tired but ready to solve the case.

 

Ellis stood from her seat next to one of the desks. “I was practically over my cold anyway.” She coughed, making everyone feel guilty. “You have the laptop?”

 

“Right here.” Beckett handed Lowry’s laptop over.

 

“Give me a second to hack it.” Ellis sniffed as she made her way into one of the side rooms to get things set up.

 

Beckett turned around to Castle. “Okay, you need to go to the hospital and let them look at your arm.” She said, touching the fabric of her now bloodstained blouse still wrapped securely around his bullet wound.

 

“I’m not leaving.” Castle protested. “We’re about to solve this case and possibly find our best friends and you think I wouldn’t want to be a part of that?”

 

“Castle, you got shot in the arm.”

 

“Last I checked, it’s not fatal.”

 

“It could be if you don’t take care of it now.”

 

“I’m helping with this investigation. You’re not getting rid of me over a technicality like a bullet to the arm.”

 

“You leave that bullet in there and it’ll get infected.”

 

“I can survive an infection, the boys might not survive this.”

 

“You’re not going to survive the next thirty seconds if you don’t go to the hospital right now.” Beckett said through clenched teeth.

 

They stared each other down.

 

“Kate!”

 

Beckett blinked and turned to find Lanie rushing in from the elevator.

 

“Where are they? Have you found anything out?” Lanie asked, slightly out of breath.

 

Beckett deflated slightly. “Not yet. Ellis is hacking into Lowry’s computer now but we won’t know anything until she gets in.”

 

Lanie sighed. “You know, this kind of thing doesn’t happen to normal cops. You are all going to give me an ulcer one day and I will gladly send you the medical bill.”

 

“Well, we don’t know for sure if they’re really in trouble yet. The only thing we know is that we can’t find them.”

 

“Not to put a damper on your silver lining, but that is never a good sign when it comes to one of you four.” Lanie looked over at Castle to indicate she included him in her possible future ulcer.

 

“Hey, guys!” Ellis called from the room.

 

Beckett looked over where Ellis had called from and then back at Castle. “We’re not done talking about this.” She said before leading the way into the room.

 

Ellis had the computer connected to a TV screen so they could all see what was going on.

 

“You have something already?” Beckett asked.

 

“Lowry didn’t keep his computer well secured.” Ellis responded. “Which is probably why Ryan was able to hack in and get out of there fast.” She typed something on the keyboard. “I’m gonna try to do a quick search for anything on his computer related to Brendon Kranz. We know the boys found something, so unless Lowry had a chance to erase everything, we should find it too.”

 

They watched her work, knowing there wasn’t much else for them to do without the information on the computer. But if there was one thing Beckett hated, it was sitting and waiting. She was always the one out there doing something, and it was practically torture just standing there.

 

“Okay, here we go.” Ellis said, the TV screen revealing a file entitled “Joe TS”. “The file is password protected, but I should be able to get around it.” She typed some more and a second later, the file opened on the large screen. “Lowry apparently sucks at security.” She murmured.

 

“Woah.” Castle said softly as Ellis began to scroll through the very large file.

 

“It looks like he kept track of everything.” Beckett said, stepping forward. “This is… the entire case. It’s everything we need.”

 

“Anything about where Ryan and Espo could be?” Castle asked.

 

“Well, there’s no way to know what they decided to check out. There are probably a ton of leads in this file, and they clearly didn’t have time to go through the whole thing. I’m betting they found one thing and ran with that.”

 

“So we have no way of knowing where they are.” Castle said.

 

“Not necessarily.” Beckett said. “They went to check out their lead hours ago and they still haven’t come back and no one can find them. Assuming the worst, they’re about to be our next victims.”

 

“How is that a good thing?” Castle asked.

 

“This file has everything we need down to the last detail. It will probably also tell us where the victims are tortured and killed.” Beckett replied. “If we find that address, it’s the perfect place to start.”

 

“And if they’re not there?”

 

“We look at all the leads and send several groups to check them all out. Or at least the ones that make the most sense.” Beckett said. “If they aren’t where we think they are, another group should find them.”

 

“I don’t like those odds.” Castle said softly.

 

“It’s the only plan we’ve got.” Beckett replied. “We also need to find out what exactly Lowry’s role is in all this and what his brother has to do with it too. If luck is on our side, we just got rid of Brendon Kranz’s partner and Ryan and Esposito outnumber him two to one.”

 

“I don’t think luck is on our side, Beckett.” Castle said, looking at the screen.

 

Beckett turned to see what he meant.

 

“Lowry wasn’t the partner. His brother is.”

 

Beckett’s heart sank as she saw a page with a chart that had two names at the top: Brendon and Joseph. Each name had a column underneath with a list of all the victims’ names divided equally between each column. It was a list of who’d killed who.

 

“Great.” Beckett said.

 

~.~.~

 

Gripping Ryan’s hand tight, Esposito slowly opened the door, wincing at the slight creak of the hinges. But the small sound the door made clearly didn’t matter as the sound of two men arguing loudly drowned it out.

 

The sound of arguing came from the left, so the logical thing to do would be to head toward the right. But the right very clearly led deeper into the house where it looked like a few bedrooms were. Deciding they could probably escape through a window, Esposito led the way down the hall and into a bathroom just as the sound of fighting got closer.

 

“You know what? I don’t care about your fucking knife. It’s not my fault you lost it!”

 

“I always use it.”

 

“Then you should have thought to take better care of it.” There was a pause. “Look, we have two cops down there, we can’t take our sweet time like normal. We have to kill them fast in case they have cop buddies looking for them.”

 

“How did they even find us?”

 

“Nicolas must have slipped up or something. I’ve been trying to call him but he won’t pick up.” Another pause. “Here, you can use my knife this time. And I’ll even let you kill the pretty one.”

 

“You promise?”

 

“I lie to a lot of people, Joe. But you know I don’t lie to you.”

 

Esposito looked around the bathroom and cursed as the only way out was through a tiny window high up the wall.

 

“Now what?” Ryan whispered.

 

“We wait for them to go to the basement and then we run out the door before they find out we’re gone.” Esposito replied

 

“That’ll take them half a second.”

 

Esposito paused. “So we run like hell.”

 

Ryan sighed and gave Esposito’s hand a squeeze. “Well, maybe it’ll take them a while to find the lightswitch.”

 

The two of them fell silent as they listened for any indication that the coast was clear.

“Do you hear them?” Ryan whispered.

 

Esposito shook his head as he listened through the crack in the door. “I think they’re already in the basement, let’s go.” He stepped back and pulled the door open, ready to run as fast as he could for the exit, when a large knife came through the air and missed his face by inches.

 

“I found ‘em, Joe!” Kranz called, not taking his eyes off his targets trapped like rats in the bathroom. “Where you boys off to in such a hurry?”

 

Kranz brought the knife down once more, narrowly missing Esposito again as he backed up, keeping Ryan behind him.

 

“I can’t believe you’re going to make us work for it.” Kranz whined. “Normally we love the chase, but we just don’t have the time for this today.”

 

He came in for another attack with the knife, but this time Esposito was ready. He gripped Kranz’s wrist, and kicked him in the chest, making him fall backward out of the bathroom. Without waiting for him to get his wind back, the two of them dashed out of the bathroom and down the hall where Joseph stood waiting for them.

 

Lowry must have been the runt of the family, because Joseph looked to be quite a few inches taller and much broader. In his hands he held another knife, larger than Kranz’s knife and probably the only one he could properly wield given his size.

 

Kranz had gotten up from the floor and was rubbing his chest. “Not a bad move.” He said. “But now there’s two of us.”

 

“So I take Kranz and you take Joseph?” Ryan said softly.

 

“How come I have to battle the Hulk?”

 

“There is literally no time to argue about this. Duck!”

 

Kranz had come in for another attack, swinging the knife around and narrowly missing the tops of their heads as they crouched down. Ryan shifted his weight and put as much force as he could into a kick to Kranz’s shin making him howl in pain and stumble backward.

 

“Joe!” Kranz scolded, clearly not happy about having taken two blows with no help from his partner.

 

Joseph sprung into action, holding his knife close as he charged at them. Kranz took that opportunity to charge as well and the boys were caught in what was less of a fight and more a game of dodge.

 

Having no weapons of their own, the most they could do was stay away from the knives and make sure their partner didn’t get sliced in the back of the head.

 

“We can’t do this forever.” Ryan grunted as Kranz’s knife once more narrowly missed him. “We need a plan.”

 

Dodging another of Joseph’s attacks, Esposito’s eyes fell on an urn sitting on the mantel in the room they were technically being herded into.

 

“Okay, I think I have a plan.”

 

Another swing and a miss and they were both in the room, the battleground now much larger than just the hallway. Kranz and Joseph spread out a little more while Ryan and Esposito huddled slightly closer together, the handcuffs making it hard to spread out even if they wanted to. They slowly backed up toward the mantle while the other two advanced.

 

“When the time comes.” Esposito said, out of breath. “Run like hell.”

 

Ryan knew there was no way Esposito could tell him his plan without tipping off their pursuers, so he continued gripping his hand and put all faith in his partner.

 

“Nowhere to run.” Kranz said, switching the blade between hands. “Just come back down to the basement.”

 

“Compelling offer.” Esposito said, feeling his shoulder barely bump the corner of the mantel. “I have a counter.”

 

As fast as he could, he reached up and gripped the urn, chucking it as hard as he could at Joseph’s head. The thing smashed into a hundred pieces and the ashes inside fell into Joseph’s eyes, making him growl in rage at his temporary blindness. At the same time, Kranz struck, and this time he didn’t miss.

 

Ryan screamed in pain as he felt the knife make contact with his face. He barely registered that Esposito had gripped his hand firmly and they began to run. Holding a hand to his now bleeding cheek, he ran with his partner as fast as he could, trying to ignore the stinging pain and the blood dripping down his chin.

 

They heard Kranz growl and chase after them. Esposito desperately wanted to check on his partner’s injury, but he knew their only chance for survival was to run and the fact that Ryan was still conscious and running meant his injury could wait.

 

Esposito had no idea where he was going and the house felt unnaturally large with more hallways than were necessary, but he eventually spotted the kitchen and decided to take a shot. If there was no door to the outside, there had to at least be a kitchen knife.

 

The two of them slipped on the tile a bit when they entered the kitchen, but found their footing and immediately ran toward the door in the back.

 

Their hearts were pounding and the hope of escape dangled right in front of them. But before they could make it to the door, Esposito felt blinding pain in his right calf and he fell to the floor, pulling Ryan down with him. Ryan cried out in pain as the cuffs dug into his wrist and he felt something either pop or break before he landed on the floor next to his partner.

 

Esposito felt blood dripping down his leg and as soon as Ryan found his bearings, he saw what had happened. Sticking out of the back of Esposito’s leg was Kranz’s knife, blood already everywhere.

 

Ryan looked up, trying to ignore the pain in his face and wrist and saw Kranz pointing a gun at them, his expression livid.

 

When Kranz finally spoke, his voice was unnaturally level. “You broke my father’s urn.”

 

~.~.~

 

Beckett watched as Ellis scrolled through the file. Every time an address popped up, they would jot it down as well as the significance. They so far had Joseph’s current address as well as a couple of past addresses, Lowry’s mother’s address, Kranz’s childhood home, and the apartment Kranz was living in when he’d first been arrested.

 

But there was nothing to indicate where the killings were taking place, and they knew they had to be wasting time. If the boys really had been caught, there was a very real possibility they were already dead.

 

“How much of the file have we gone through?” Beckett asked after a while.

 

“We still have eighty-seven pages left.” Ellis said, sighing as she took a break from her slow scrolling.

 

Beckett sat back and pinched her nose, squeezing her eyes shut and trying to think of what she should do. She looked up at Castle who still stubbornly wouldn’t go get his arm checked.

 

“What do you want to do?” Castle asked softly.

 

“We might already have what we’re looking for.” She murmured, looking down at the list. “We can rule out apartments and past addresses. Neighbors would be able to hear what was going on in the apartments and the past addresses probably already have new tenants.”

 

“So where does that leave us?” Ellis asked.

 

Beckett chewed her lip a bit. “Lowry’s mother, Joseph’s current home, and Kranz’s childhood home.”

 

“So the question is which is more likely.” Castle said.

 

“Or even if what we’re looking for is on this list.” Beckett replied.

 

Castle paused. “Is there a way we can see what the houses look like?” He asked. “Torture implies screaming, so if one of these places is isolated or maybe big enough that the screams wouldn’t reach neighbors, it would be logical to look there.”

 

Ellis was already on it, typing in each address as fast as she could.

 

Castle and Beckett watched on the tv screen, hoping to eliminate at least one more address and maybe even find out for sure which one they needed.

 

“Looks like Lowry’s mom lives out in the middle of nowhere.” Castle said softly as the first page was pulled up. “You think they could be there?”

 

“Maybe.” Beckett said. “That still might not be the best place to torture people. The screams might carry.”

 

Ellis pulled up the second page.

 

“Joseph’s house is definitely too small.”

 

“Close neighbors too.” Ellis added.

 

“That leaves Kranz’s house.” Beckett said, stepping closer to get a better look once the image was on the screen. “It’s big.”

 

“Big enough to torture and kill?” Castle asked. “The neighbors on this one look pretty close too.”

 

Beckett squinted at the screen. “What’s that little square?” She asked, pointing to something on the ground floor of the fuzzy image of the house. “Is that a window?”

 

“A window to a basement, probably.” Ellis nodded.

 

Castle and Beckett exchanged a look.

 

“A basement is a perfect place to torture and kill.” Castle said.

 

“Okay, we’re checking there first.” Beckett said, swiftly moving to the doorway to call in the groups who were helping with the case.

 

They’d mostly been sitting around waiting for instruction as the room was too small for them all to crowd in, but once they heard their boss, the immediately assembled around the doorway.

 

“I’m going to take a group to check out Kranz’s address.” Beckett said. “I need two groups to check out the other two addresses and one group to stay here with Ellis and go through the rest of the file. If you find anything that is definitive proof of where the boys are, you call me immediately. We don’t have any time to waste, so divide into groups as fast as you can. You guys are with me.” She indicated one of the groups and they immediately sprung into action, finding their vests and making sure they had their guns ready to go.

 

Castle followed Beckett into her office where she grabbed her gun and vest and reached for his own vest.

 

“Castle, what are you doing?”

 

“I’m coming with you.” He said, beginning to put his vest on.

 

“No, you’re going to the hospital to get your arm looked at because you’re already bleeding through my shirt.” She brushed past him and out the door.

 

“Beckett, come on!” He said, following her.

 

“Castle, listen to me.” Beckett turned to him and looked him directly in the eye. “You are not continuing this case. You are going to the hospital where they’re going to dig the bullet out of your arm and then you are going to get strong pain medication and wait for me to come back with the boys.”

 

“You expect me to just sit here and wait while you go out and face two serial killers?” Castle said, incredulous.

 

“I’ll be fine, I’m taking backup.”

 

“I’m not going to just sit here and do nothing!” Castle said, throwing his arms up and then wincing as his right one protested.

 

“Castle-”

 

“Beckett,” Castle cut her off. “It’s Ryan and Esposito. They’re like family. They are family. You wouldn’t expect me to just sit here if it was you or Alexis or my mother. I need to go with you.”

 

Beckett gave him a long look. “I’m not going to risk your life.”

 

“I’m risking my own life.” Castle reasoned. “I’ve seen the address, I’ll drive myself.” He gave her a look. “You know I will.”

 

Beckett sighed. “What about your arm? It doesn’t hurt even a little?”

 

“I think I’m still running on adrenalin. This will probably hurt like a son of a bitch later, but I’m okay with that if it means I can help you save them.”

 

Beckett knew there was no arguing. The idiot would probably just hop in his car and follow them anyway. There was only one way she could be sure he wouldn’t drop dead.

 

“Okay, you’re going to find Lanie and have her give you a proper bandage for your arm. You’re going to wear your vest the whole time. You’re not going to leave my side or try to act the hero in any way. Break a single one of these rules and I’ll have someone bring you back here, handcuffed if it comes down to it.”

 

“So I can come?” Castle said, smiling.

 

Beckett sighed again. “Yes. Go find Lanie. And see if she can get the bullet out before we go.”

 

~.~.~

 

“Persistent little assholes, aren’t you?” Kranz said, moving closer to their crouched position close to the door. “I shouldn’t have expected less from cops. Most of the guys we bring here are desperate to get out, but I’ve never had anyone desecrate my father’s remains before.”

 

Ryan said nothing as he glared at Kranz, trying his best to comfort his partner who every once in a while would whimper in pain, the knife still stuck in his leg.

 

“Usually the knives themselves are enough to overpower our prey, but clearly we need to bring out the big guns.” Kranz smiled as Joseph walked up behind him, a shotgun in his hands. “No pun intended.”

 

Ryan assessed the situation, looking around at anything he could use to distract them enough that he could get Esposito and himself outside where it was dark and they could at least try hiding in a bush.

 

“Now, the two of you are going to come down to the basement with us.” Kranz said. “And if you’re nice about it, maybe we’ll break tradition and just shoot you. We want this over about as quickly as you do.”

 

Ryan looked down at the knife in Esposito’s calf, wondering if there was a way he could use it. It was never advisable to bring a knife to a gunfight, especially when it was one knife to two guns. But this did mean they had a weapon now, which was more than they’d had a few minutes ago.

 

“Stand up. We don’t want to mop up too much blood in the kitchen.” Kranz said, smiling sadistically.

 

“He can’t stand.” Ryan said, indicating the knife.

 

“That doesn’t sound like my problem.” Kranz replied, keeping his gun pointed right between Ryan’s eyes.

 

Ryan gave him another glare before turning his attention to his partner. “We have to get up, Javi.”

 

Esposito was breathing heavily. “I don’t know if I can.” He said with a grunt.

 

“Lean on me and don’t use that leg.” Ryan said. “We don’t have a choice.”

 

“We’re gonna die anyway.” Esposito reasoned.

 

Ryan looked up at Kranz who still hadn’t lowered his gun and then over at Joseph. He once again looked around the room and in a split second, he had half an idea. “Maybe not.” He whispered. “But you have to get up.”

 

Esposito whimpered as he shifted his weight, trying to use his left leg as much as he could. Ryan helped him stand, letting him lean on him when he needed but still favoring his possibly broken wrist. It took them a few seconds, but they were finally standing, Esposito leaning heavily on Ryan, sweat covering his brow.

 

“Excellent.” Kranz said. “I think you know enough of the layout of the house that you could find your way back.” He pointed his gun at the doorway to the maze of hallways that led back to the living room and then back at them. “Lead the way.”

 

With Esposito practically hopping, the journey was slow going. They’d barely made it to the opposite end of the kitchen when Esposito had to stop, the pain in his leg making everything more difficult and causing him to sweat and run out of breath.

 

“Take your time.” Kranz said sardonically.

 

Ryan gave him one last glare before turning back to his partner. “I’m really sorry.” He said into his ear, barely loud enough for Esposito to hear. “You’re going to have to duck as fast as you can in a second.”

 

Esposito’s poker face was magnificent and he gave nothing away, mostly focusing on trying to get breath back into his lungs.

 

Ryan leaned back against the row of three light switches he’d noticed earlier, hoping they not only controlled the light in the kitchen, but the hallway as well. Taking one last second to hope his plan was going to work, he leaned on all three at once and the entire area went almost completely black, the moonlight only barely peeking through the closed curtains. Ryan dove to the floor, Esposito going with him, as Kranz and Joseph began shooting directly where their heads had been a second ago.

 

“I’m sorry again.” Ryan whispered.

 

Esposito barely had time to ask before Ryan ripped the knife out of his leg and, with all the strength he could muster, lodged it deep into Joseph’s leg as he was the closest to them. Esposito’s cries of pain were only drowned out by Joseph’s, but that still gave away their position, so they had to act fast.

 

Ryan ripped the knife out of Joseph’s leg and threw it down the hall, hearing it hit a wall and clatter to the floor. It had the desired effect, however, as Kranz began to frantically shoot down the hall, leaving Joseph on the floor to howl over his injured leg.

 

The second Kranz was down the hall, Ryan did his best to ignore his wrist as he hauled Esposito to his feet and they dashed to the door, adrenaline clearly keeping Esposito standing. When they reached the locked door, Ryan flipped the deadbolt just as a shot went through one of the panes of glass on the door.

 

“Brendon! The kitchen door!” Joseph screamed from his position on the floor, his shotgun aimed in their direction but his situation making it harder to hit his targets.

 

They were extremely limited on time and Ryan wrenched the door open and they bolted through it, hearing another shot hit the wall where Esposito’s head had just been.

 

They heard Joseph continue to call to Kranz, but they never looked back, running as fast as they could away from the house. They were still able to sprint fast, even with the cuffs and Esposito’s leg, but they knew they couldn’t run forever and Kranz was eventually going to catch up with them.

 

Even as he thought it, Ryan heard the sound of a gunshot and a bullet whiz past his ear, lodging into the tree they’d just passed. Without skipping a beat, he shifted their position, zigzagging to make a harder target. But Kranz was good and it felt like each bullet was a narrower miss.

 

“We aren’t going to make it, Ryan.” Esposito said, out of breath. “Not without help.”

 

It was clearly the night for miracles, because no sooner had he said it, than they saw flashing lights and the sound of a siren getting closer.

 

“Just a little bit farther!” Ryan said, pulling Esposito forward.

 

But it was clear that running was no longer required as Kranz seemed to have stopped shooting, the sound of the siren possibly making him freeze in what they hoped was fear.

 

Regardless of why the shooting had stopped, the boys kept running, not looking to give Kranz any kind of upper hand.

 

They’d made it a good distance from the house when the cars finally rounded the corner, the front lights shining in their faces and giving the drivers a good look at the scene. The car in the front skidded to a halt, the others behind it doing the same, and as Ryan and Esposito stopped running, they heard about the most wonderful sound.

 

“Get down!” Beckett yelled as she exited her car and pulled her gun out from its holster, aiming behind the detectives’ heads.


Ryan and Esposito didn’t need telling twice as they dove to the floor and covered their faces, gunshots ringing through the air and the sound of car windows shattering being the only thing they could hear.

Chapter Text

It felt like it had been forever since the gunfire ended, but Ryan still kept his head down, partly in case it wasn’t over and partly because he was so exhausted he wasn’t sure he was going to be able to get up anyway. Esposito hadn’t let go of his hand the whole time, and even now they were both still gripping the other’s hand about as tight as they could, Ryan’s wrist protesting but currently being ignored by both of them.

 

Ryan felt a hand on his head and immediately tensed until he heard the voice to go with it.

 

“Kevin.” Beckett said softly.

 

Slowly, Ryan looked up, pieces of glass and dirt that had found their way into his hair tumbling onto his shoulders and to the floor. He squeezed Esposito’s hand and then winced at the pain it cost him. Esposito looked up as well, first looking at Beckett and then over at Ryan.

 

Together, the boys shifted to look back toward the house and saw the two bodies slumped on the ground mere feet behind them.

 

Ryan looked back at Beckett and then slumped back down, resting his head on his arm and taking a second to feel the relief of not being a victim anymore, trusting that the cops now running into Kranz’s house weren’t going to step on him.

 

“Espo, your leg.” Beckett said, suddenly all business again.

 

“Oh, right.” Esposito said, as if he’d forgotten about the gash in his currently bleeding leg.

 

“Okay, we already called the paramedics and they’re on their way, but we need to stop the bleeding.” She was already in the process of pulling out her keys and freeing them of the cuffs.

 

Ryan gasped in pain once his hand was free and moved to a sitting position, holding his hand to his chest and trying to forget about how much it hurt.

 

“Ryan, your tie.” Beckett said as she moved to Esposito’s leg, squatting down beside him.

 

It took a second for Ryan to register what she’d asked of him, but eventually he reached up with his good hand and loosened his tie, pulling it up over his head and handing it to her. She rolled up Esposito’s pant leg and unceremoniously tightened the tie around his leg, making him yell out in pain. She then helped him onto his back.

 

“Okay, just stay there until they get here.” She said, leaning back and looking up. “Castle?” She yelled, a slight note of panic in her voice.

 

Ryan looked up at the car that had a single window still intact and almost panicked when he didn’t see Castle, assuming he might have been hurt. But just as Beckett stood to check, Castle popped his head up, shards of glass all in his hair and his eyes wide in fear, but otherwise unscathed.

 

Beckett sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose, looking as if she was on the very edge and one more emergency would send her over it.

 

“How’s your wrist, Kev?” Esposito asked, his voice soft.

 

Ryan looked down at him and scooted closer. “Probably broken, but I’ll live.” He replied. “Your leg still hurt?”

 

“I’m trying not to think about it.” Esposito said, barely above a whisper. He reached up and touched the still bleeding  gash on Ryan’s face, making him wince slightly. “You need to put something on that to stop the bleeding.”

 

Looking down at his already bloodstained suit, Ryan pulled one of his sleeves down to his hand and then held it against his cheek, wincing again but eventually getting used to the feeling.

 

“Hey, Kate.” Esposito said suddenly, the anger in his voice clear. “You having a problem over there?”

 

Beckett was still standing, watching them with her arms folded and a scowl on her face. “What the hell were you two thinking?” She said, her voice clipped.

 

“We were thinking you were working with the brother of a serial killer and clearly not getting anywhere.” Esposito replied, acting cool but clearly ready to explode if he needed to.

 

Ryan hoped nothing too bad happened this time, especially because of Esposito’s injuries. He was still angry at both her and Castle, but the feelings particularly between Beckett and Esposito seemed to be bordering on mutual hatred and every argument had resulted in their friendship being even more strained. Though he didn’t particularly want them to fight at the moment, he was literally too tired to stop either of them.

 

“What, and you didn’t think to tell me that?” Beckett said.

 

Ryan looked over to find Castle had pulled himself together enough to get out of the car and join the group.

 

“You wouldn’t have believed me if I did.” Esposito replied.

 

“Yes I would have.” Beckett defended. “I knew there was something off about Lowry about a half hour into working with him.”

 

“And yet we’re the ones who thought to look into it. Face it, you’re just jealous that we’re the ones who saved your asses.”

 

“Take a good look, Espo.” Beckett said angrily. “The only reason you’re alive right now is because of us.”

 

“The only reason we’re alive right now is because Ryan and I took care of shit ourselves.” Esposito said, moving to a sitting position and gritting his teeth at the pain in his leg. “If we hadn’t fought the way we did in there, you guys would’ve been too late.”

 

“Esposito, you are completely missing the point!” Beckett threw her hands up in the air. “You think I’m jealous that you figured it out first? No. I’m pissed off because you tried to solve this in secret. You went behind my back and tried to solve this alone and almost got yourselves killed!”

 

“Tried?” Esposito scoffed. “We solved the whole thing. The two of us. Without any help from you or Agent Megatron. We solved the first serial killer case of your captaincy. And it’s eating you up inside.”

 

“Dammit, Esposito, I don’t care about the stupid case!” They could hear the sirens in the distance, but Beckett merely raised her voice so they didn’t drown her out. “I care about the fact that my two best detectives and friends almost died tonight. Do you even understand how worried I was?”

 

“Don’t try to tell me you care about us. Don’t act like you’ve been a perfect saint this whole time while we’ve just been disobedient children.”

 

“I never said-”

 

“You took us off a case that we started.” Esposito interrupted. “You waltzed in and just let Lowry take over, not even batting an eyelash. You put me and Ryan in the background, doing grunt work for you and Castle, the way you have always done. For years. The one time we thought maybe we could be the ones who solved the big case, you acted like taking a file out of the office was about the worst thing we could possibly do and then you dropped us. Dropped us like you do all the time. So don’t you dare pretend like this is about you caring about us. This has been and always will be about you and the fact that, for once, you weren’t in the limelight.”

 

“That isn’t even remotely true.” Beckett said, taking a step forward. “You think I don’t care about you?”

 

“I know you don’t care about us.”

 

“Espo, I always make sure you and Ryan get the good cases. You are my best detectives, and I know you can handle more than everyone else. I try not to be as hard on you, but I am the captain and I can’t show favoritism.”

 

Esposito sighed, the sirens getting louder and the lights brighter. “You’re clearly not understanding me at all. This is more than just treating Kevin and me like some kind of insubordinate children. You know, we haven’t been out, just the four of us, since you made captain? The only time I see you or Castle is in the morning before you shut yourselves in your office or when I’m summing up a case for you. You snap at me all the time, just for stupid shit. You claim that you have a ton of cases to worry about and can’t be bothered to worry about our case. Can’t be bothered until it’s important enough. And you know what? I don’t care. I don’t care that you and Castle are clearly working on something you don’t want anyone to know about. I don’t care that your work often keeps you from helping us with a case. What I care about is the fact that we’re clearly not friends anymore. I care about the fact that you guys don’t care.”

 

“That’s not true.” Castle said, finally speaking after watching Esposito and Beckett go back and forth.

 

“It is though.” Ryan said, looking at both of them. “It’s been months since I’ve seen either of you outside of work.”

 

“We have a lot going on.” Beckett said, still angry. “I’m sorry we can’t put our lives on hold for you.”

 

“You didn’t even invite us to your wedding, Kate.” Esposito said, his voice no longer hard with anger, but soft with a touch of hurt behind his words. “You claim that we’re family all the time, but then you have a family only wedding you don’t invite us to and expect us to be happy about it? Kevin and I spent time writing you a song, finding you a perfect gift, and then we find out you had the ceremony without us.”

 

“It was last minute!”

 

“Right, because sending a text would have taken too long.”

 

“I thought you said you were okay with it.”

 

The ambulance screeched to a halt and the paramedics rushed out.

 

“Of course I said that,” Esposito replied, getting his words out quickly before he was rushed to the hospital. “Back when we were friends. Back when I cared about your feelings and decided I was happy for you. But now that I know you don’t care, I don’t care either. And I have no problem saying I will never be over that. And I will never be over the fact that you’ve clearly dropped us as friends. So you and Castle go live happily ever after and quit pretending like you give a shit just to make yourself feel better.”

 

Beckett seemed stunned at his words, but she wouldn’t have been able to reply anyway as the boys were now being fussed over.

 

They brought out a stretcher to put Esposito on and helped Ryan to his feet. With one last look back at Beckett and Castle, Ryan turned and followed his partner into the ambulance, his hand still cradled close to his chest

 

~.~.~

 

“Okay, Detective Ryan.” The doctor said after Ryan’s wrist was fully secure in its cast and the gash from his eyebrow almost to his chin had been stitched up. “You’re all set. We’re gonna give you some painkillers and you’re going to have to come back for a follow up on both those injuries as well as the concussion, but for now all you have to do is wait for everything to heal.”

 

“Thanks.” Ryan said, giving him a slight smile.

 

“I swear, I see more people from your precinct than anywhere else. You guys need to take a break.”

 

Ryan huffed out a laugh and stepped gingerly off the table, opting not to put his bloodstained shirt back on and just stick with his sleeveless undershirt. “Once the criminals finally take a break, then maybe I’ll take a nap.”

 

The doctor laughed at that and then stepped over to the door. “You are free to go, Detective. I don’t wanna see you back in here sooner than you should.”

 

Ryan gave him a smile and stepped out of the room, the doctor following close behind and then stepping away presumably to take care of other patients. As Ryan moved toward the nurse behind the desk, he stopped at the sight of Beckett standing there waiting for him.

 

“Hey.” She said, taking a step forward.

 

“Hi.” Ryan responded, continuing to the desk.

 

Beckett reached into the pocket of her coat and pulled out two phones and two wallets along with a couple of badges and two sets of keys. “They found these in Kranz’s house. Figured you’d need them.”

 

“Thanks.” Ryan said, accepting his wallet, phone and keys, and making sure to stuff Esposito’s things in his pocket to give to him later. He smiled at the nurse and gave her his information so she could sign him out and retrieve his prescription.

 

When the nurse stepped away to grab his things, Beckett spoke up again. “So, do you agree with Esposito?” She asked softly.

 

“I guess that depends.” He replied. “Which part?”

 

Beckett sighed and folded her arms. “The whole thing.” She said.

 

Ryan smiled when the nurse returned with his report and medication as well as instructions on when to take it and how much and a list of side effects that he only half listened to. He turned to Beckett when the nurse moved on to someone else and gave her a long look.

 

She held his gaze, never one to be intimidated.

 

“Look,” Ryan said. “There could have been parts in there that maybe Esposito exaggerated. For instance, I personally don’t think you have a pathological need to constantly be in the spotlight. You do your job, you get praised for it. Anyone would enjoy that. But you can’t stand there and tell me there’s nothing different in our relationship. You can’t say we’re just as good of friends as we used to be, because it’s just not true and anyone can see that. You and Castle have different lives now and it’s clear Espo and I don’t fit anymore.”

 

“I can’t believe you both think that.” Beckett said, running a hand through her hair. “I’ve got Castle and you guys and my dad, and that’s pretty much it by way of family for me. And among that list, you two are really the only ones who understand what I’ve been through, what it means to be a cop.”

 

“Beckett, I don’t doubt that you care about us.” Ryan said softly. “I know you do. The look on your face when you saw we were alive was enough to prove that. But I think maybe sometimes you take us for granted. You assume we’re always going to be there to do grunt work for you and help prove that you’re a great captain with a great precinct. But at some point you have to realize that we’re more than just your employees. We kind of assumed you’d understand that, especially since you were in our position not that long ago.”

 

“Of course I do. But I’m under more stress and I have more work now.”

 

“We know.” Ryan assured. “We spent months not saying a word, especially since your first day was… well, let’s just go with chaotic. But, Kate, you had to know we weren’t going to just sit there like background props forever. We aren’t asking for much. Hardly anything, really. All we want is more than just a nod in the mornings and a wave at night. That’s what coworkers get. Friends are supposed to actually talk and go out to lunch or drinks after a hard day.” He sniffed and cleared his throat, trying not to let on how bad it felt. “We used to do that. We used to act like friends. And I miss that. I miss Castle’s theories and you shooting those theories down. I know it can’t go back to the way it was. You’re the captain and we’re honestly so happy for you because of that. We just also thought having you as captain would make things better, not make us feel worse.”

 

Beckett gave him a long look and then sighed and looked away. “Is it really that bad?”

 

Ryan shrugged. “Do you remember the last time we did something outside of work?” He knew she didn’t. He didn’t either.

 

They remained silent for a while, Beckett going over everything in her head and trying to keep from getting angry, because as mad as she was at the boys for going behind her back, she also knew they had a point.

 

“I need to sit down.” Ryan said after a minute.

 

“You’re not going home?” Beckett asked, following him to a couple chairs in one of the corners of the room.

 

“Nah, I’m gonna wait for Javi to get out. I’m not sure what all they have to do for his leg, but it’s clearly taking longer than my cast and numerous stitches.”

 

They sat in silence again, the air awkward as they weren’t sure how mad the other was and they both really were too tired to get into an argument.

 

After a while, Ryan finally spoke, hoping to alleviate the tension and bring the focus away from their wounded relationship. “So, where’s Castle?” He asked.

 

“Getting the bullet dug out of his arm.” Beckett said conversationally.

 

“Woah, wait. Castle got shot?” Ryan asked, incredulous.

 

Beckett looked over at him confused until she remembered he’d been in a basement at the time. “Oh, yeah. Lowry shot him.”

 

“That son of a bitch.” Ryan murmured. “I didn’t like that asshole the second he walked in and claimed it was his case.”

 

“Oh, it was his case alright.” Beckett said. “We just didn’t realize how involved he was.”

 

“I hope I get to punch him in the face.” Ryan said. “Well, if Esposito doesn’t beat me to it. Even then, I might get my shot in.”

 

Beckett paused and looked away. “Uh, well. You could do that, but… he won’t feel it.”

 

“What do you mean?” Ryan asked, cocking his head to the side.

 

Beckett cleared her throat and then looked back at him. “I shot him.”

 

Ryan stared at her. “You shot him?”

 

She nodded. “A few times.”

 

“Oh my god.”

 

“In the chest.”

 

“Oh my god!”

 

“Well, it was self defense.” Beckett defended at the look on Ryan’s face.

 

“I mean, I assumed that.” Ryan said, giving her a half smile. “Though, I wouldn’t blame you if you just outright shot him. The guy was a dick.”

 

“Not a very nice thing to say about the dead, Ryan.”

 

“Maybe I’ll feel bad about it when my head stops throbbing.” He replied, putting a hand to the stitches above his eyebrow.

 

Beckett watched him for a minute before looking at her hands folded in her lap. “You know, Esposito was wrong.” She said softly. “I was worried. I do care about you two.”

 

Ryan looked over at her a smiled slightly. “I know.”

 

“Ryan!”

 

They both looked up to find Castle jogging toward them, his arm in a sling.

 

Ryan stood when he approached and was startled as he was pulled into a hug. It took only a second to recover from the shock, though, and he found himself hugging Castle back, making sure to keep pressure off his injured wrist.

 

“Are you alright?” Castle asked, pulling away to look at him.

 

“I’m fine, Castle.” Ryan laughed. “You saw me right after we got out of the house.”

 

“Yeah, but I didn’t know the extent of your injuries. How’s Espo?”

 

“Haven’t seen him yet.” Ryan replied, looking down at Castle’s sling. “How’s your arm?”

 

“It’s fine, it’ll heal.” Castle waved it away. “But back to you. Is there anything serious we need to worry about?”

 

Ryan didn’t want to let on how touched he was that Castle cared so much about him, but it was getting harder every time Castle said anything because it was not only the most he’d said to Ryan in a while, it also felt like how a parent would react. “I’m seriously okay, Castle. Mild concussion, stitches for the gash on my cheek, and a broken wrist. Nothing vital was injured.”

 

“Except clearly your brain.” Castle said, taking a step back.

 

“Wha-”

 

“How could you think for a second that Beckett and I don’t care about you?” He looked half like he wanted to hug Ryan again but also angry enough to hit him. “When you didn’t come back to the precinct, we went out of our minds trying to find you. We were never going to stop until we did. Does that sound like people who don’t care?”

 

“Castle.” Ryan said softly, wanting to shout his rebuttal but still too exhausted. “We know you care, okay? Esposito said a lot of things, and I’m not saying everything he said was wrong, but we both know how much you really care.” He sighed and sat back in his chair. “Now, I’m going to sit here and wait for my partner. You’re welcome to stay, but I have no energy to talk about this anymore.”

 

Castle exchanged a look with Beckett before moving to sit down in the chair right next to Ryan’s. “We’ll all wait for him together.” He said softly.

 

Ryan gave him a half smile before leaning his head back and closing his eyes.

 

~.~.~

 

Beckett watched from her seat as Ryan fell asleep. Neither she nor Castle knew how it happened, but a minute later, his head was on Castle’s shoulder. Without waking him up, though it would probably take more than that to wake the overly exhausted detective, Castle moved his arm around Ryan’s shoulders and let Ryan’s head fall to his chest so he was in what was probably a more comfortable position, though the arms of the chairs between them weren’t helping.

 

After a minute of Ryan slowly breathing and his face getting more relaxed the deeper he fell into sleep, Beckett spoke up.

 

“They hate us, Castle.” She said.

 

“They don’t hate us.” Castle replied, though he tightened his hold on Ryan a little.

 

“Well, they think we hate them.” Beckett leaned forward and put her face in her hands. When she looked back up at Castle, he wasn’t looking at her but instead looking sadly down at Ryan. “Esposito was right.” She said suddenly, making Castle look up. “We’ve been ignoring them. We’ve been about the worst friends it’s possible to be.” She sat up straight and then leaned back in her chair. “We haven’t done anything with them in forever.”

 

“We’ve been dealing with a lot, Kate.”

 

“That’s not an excuse.” She replied. “We’re here with them now, right? We do things together. We go out to eat and see movies. I mean, our lives are caught up with our work, but we still seem to find time for each other. Why haven’t we been able to find time for them too?”

 

Castle paused. “Because we thought they’d always just be there waiting for us.” He said softly. “We took them for granted and we let the friendship fall apart.”

 

Beckett sighed. “I can’t believe we didn’t invite them to our wedding.”

 

“It was last minute and family only.” Castle replied.

 

Beckett gave him a long look. “Are you going to try to tell me these boys aren’t our family?”

 

Castle looked down at Ryan sleeping peacefully and it felt like he was being drenched in guilt. They hadn’t invited their two best friends to their wedding. Their brothers.

 

“We have to fix this, Castle.” Beckett said, reading his mind. “I can’t believe we let it get this bad. I mean, I couldn’t tell you anything that’s going on in their lives right now. I don’t know if they’re dating anyone, I don’t even know how work has been for them because we don’t talk to them there either. God, Castle, how have we been so oblivious?”

 

“There’s no use in beating ourselves up over this.” Castle said, stopping her before she convinced herself everything was her fault. “At this point I think we just need to make sure they’re okay and then hopefully it’s not too late to fix our relationship.”

 

“You think they’ll accept our apology?”

 

Before Castle could respond, someone answered the question for him.

 

“They might.”

 

Castle and Beckett both looked up to find Esposito sitting in a wheelchair. He wasn’t smiling, but he’d clearly heard enough of their conversation to comment.

 

“Javi.” Beckett said, standing. “How’s your leg?”

 

“It’ll heal.” Esposito replied. “It’s going to take a while, but I’ll still be able to walk.”

 

Castle nudged Ryan awake, knowing he’d like to hear the extend of his partner’s injuries as well. Ryan opened his eyes and looked around confused before spotting Esposito.

 

“Javi.” He said, wiping the blurriness away from his eyes. “How are you? What did the doctor say?

 

Esposito smiled at Ryan as the doctor behind the wheelchair that no one had noticed answered for him. “He just has a mild concussion from being knocked out and his leg is going to need to be cleaned and the bandages changed regularly and he should avoid walking on that leg. I’m sending him home with crutches for trips to the bathroom, but other than that he should stay off his feet. He has reassured me he has someone to stay with him?”

 

“I think that’s me.” Ryan said, standing.

 

“The man with the cast.” The doctor said, raising an eyebrow.

 

“He’s got legs, I’ve got my arms.” Esposito said. “We’ll be fine.”

 

“And they have us on speed dial.” Beckett said. “So they can call if they need anything.” She looked at Esposito as she said it and he tried to keep a hard exterior, but she knew her words had broken through, if only slightly.

 

“Well, then I think I’m leaving you in good hands, detective.” The doctor said. “Just stop by the nurse’s station and pick up your prescriptions and I’ll see you at your next appointment.”

 

“Thanks, doc.” Esposito said as he left.

 

It was almost impossible not to feel the tension as everyone knew the angriest of the group was Esposito.

 

When he couldn’t stand it anymore, Ryan finally broke the silence. “Well, we should get your pills and get going. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to sleep for at least three days.”

 

Esposito chuckled as he reached down to start wheeling himself to the desk.

 

“Here, Espo, let me.” Castle said, stepping behind him and his chair.

 

In any other circumstance, Esposito would have told him to fuck off. But it seemed like everyone was too tired to start an argument, so instead Esposito let Castle wheel him to the desk and Beckett carry his crutches.

 

Once he’d been signed out and given his prescription, the group made their way to the elevator and down to the lobby. Beckett gave Ryan the crutches and went ahead of them out the door to take care of calling a cab while Castle helped Esposito out of the chair and Ryan handed him his crutches.

 

“Cab’s waiting for you.” Beckett said, returning to the group.

 

“Thanks, Beckett.” Ryan said, giving her a genuine smile.

 

“Just, uh…” Beckett shrugged. “Take care of yourselves and… well, I meant what I said. You can call if you need anything. And I’ll be checking on you too.”

 

“Because you’re our boss.” Esposito said.

 

Beckett looked over at him. “Because I’m your friend.” She corrected.

 

Esposito didn’t reply, but it was clear he at least somewhat believed her. Which, she reasoned, was good enough for now.

 

“Let us know you guys made it home okay.” Castle said as they walked to the cab.

 

Ryan smiled and nodded before doing his best to help Esposito into the car and then getting in beside him. He waved at his partners before the cab took off, trying not to dwell too much on their sad faces as they left.

 

The boys decided on Esposito’s apartment, Ryan remembering the elevator in his building was out. The smart thing to do would be to stop at Ryan’s apartment so he could grab a few things, but the only thing either of them wanted to do was sleep. It had been the most exhausting seventy-two hours of their lives, and Ryan decided having to borrow Esposito’s pajamas for at least one night wasn’t going to hurt.

 

When they stopped at the building, Ryan reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet, surprised Kranz and Joseph had left his money alone. He paid the cab driver and stepped out of the car, then moved to the other side to help Esposito out and make sure he was secure on his crutches before leading the way into the building.

 

They said nothing on the ride up the elevator and down the hall to Esposito’s door, and once they made it into the apartment, they both sighed, a sense of relief and exhaustion coming over them.

 

“Okay.” Esposito said softly once Ryan shut the door. “Let’s go find a change of clothes and go the fuck to bed.”

 

“You don’t have to tell me twice.” Ryan said, following him to his bedroom.

 

Esposito moved over to the dresser and pulled out two pairs of boxers and two t shirts, each with a different logo on the front. “I don’t think I actually own pajamas.” He said.

 

Ryan laughed. “This is fine.” He said, stepping over to him and taking one of each.

 

Considering the two of them were too tired to care about anything, and the fact that they’d had sex, Ryan probably could have just changed there. But he still didn’t know where they stood and wasn’t about to overstep his boundaries. So he left Esposito to change in privacy and opted to change in the bathroom.

 

It wasn’t all that easy to change clothes one-handed, but he managed it. Once the rest of his bloody suit was off and he was in his fresh t shirt and boxers, he took his things from the pockets and wadded his ruined suit up before heading back to Esposito’s room.

 

“Hey, so I’m gonna grab some sheets and blankets to sleep on the couch… are you okay, Javi?”

 

Esposito was sitting on the bed. He’d been able to successfully change his shirt, but he was looking down at his lap as if he was in a severe dilemma. He looked up when Ryan spoke and then back down. “I don’t think I’ll be able to take these off without injuring myself.” He said, indicating his pants, the right leg still rolled up from when Beckett had tied Ryan’s tie around it.

 

“You want me to help?” Ryan asked, stepping into the room and setting his suit on the chair and his wallet, phone, and keys on the nightstand.

 

“I mean, there’s really no one else to ask, is there?” Esposito said, but he smiled.

 

Ryan stepped over to him. “You think you can stand for a second so I can get these undone?”

 

Esposito used his crutches to stand upright and Ryan reached over and popped open the button of his pants. It had been completely innocent at first, but Ryan suddenly realized what he was doing and he felt his cheeks redden.

 

He kept his eyes averted as he undid the zipper and pulled Esposito’s pants down, being very careful not to hurt his leg as he did so. He indicated that Esposito should sit, and once he did, Ryan pulled his pants off the rest of the way, noting the lack of shoes and wondering for a second how Esposito had been able to take them off himself.

 

Ryan reached over and grabbed the clean boxers, looking back at Esposito a little afraid he was going to get mad or something.

 

“Ryan, if you’re not comfortable with this…” Esposito said softly.

 

Ryan looked down at the boxers and then back at Esposito. He shrugged. “I’m okay if you are. It doesn’t have to mean anything if we don’t want it to.”

 

Esposito used the crutches to stand once again and Ryan stepped back over to him. He put his fingers in the elastic of Esposito’s boxers and pulled them down, waiting for Esposito to sit so he could pull them off. He threw them aside and grabbed the clean boxers he’d set on the bed, pulling them up Esposito’s legs as much as he could. Esposito once again stood and Ryan pulled the boxers up the rest of the way, letting the elastic slap against his waist only slightly.

 

“There.” Ryan whispered.

 

Esposito held Ryan’s gaze as he sat back down on the edge of the bed, letting the crutches fall to the floor. He held out one of his hands. “Come here.” He said softly.

 

Ryan put his good hand in Esposito’s and stepped forward, Esposito opening his legs so Ryan could fit between them. Esposito took his other hand and reached up to Ryan’s neck, pulling him down and kissing him softly.

 

“Thank you.” Esposito whispered against his lips.

 

“No problem.” Ryan replied.

 

Esposito began kissing him again, making it almost impossible to breathe. But after a minute of thoroughly enjoying it, Ryan pulled away.

 

“As much as I would love to do this with you right now,” Ryan said. “I’m so fucking exhausted.”

 

Esposito huffed out a laugh. “Yeah, we should probably wait until we don’t have concussions at least.”

 

Ryan stepped back, knowing there were a lot of reasons they needed to wait. “Well, I guess I should…” He indicated the doorway and the couch beyond it.

 

Esposito paused. “Or you could stay here.”

 

Ryan raised an eyebrow.

 

“No funny business.” Esposito promised. “Just sleep. I don’t think a couch would help either of our injuries.”

 

Ryan gave him a half smile before reaching down and grabbing Esposito’s crutches. “I get the right side.” He said.

 

Esposito laughed and stood, using his crutches to move to the left side of the bed. “Fine by me.” He replied.

 

Ryan pulled down the comforter while Esposito set his crutches aside and gingerly sat on the bed, pulling his legs underneath the blanket. Ryan sat on his side and settled in, using one hand to pull the comforter up over his shoulder as he lay on his side facing his partner, Esposito doing the same.

 

“Kevin?” Esposito breathed.

 

“Yeah?”

 

Esposito hesitated as he looked at him. “I… I want to hold you.”

 

Ryan’s face broke into a smile and he shifted so he was facing the other way. “I won’t stop you if you do.” He said.

 

A second later, he felt Esposito scoot right behind him and wrap an arm around his middle, pulling him close, his breath hot on his neck.

 

Ryan’s phone chose that moment to buzz on the nightstand and he reached up to check it. “It’s Castle.” He said. “Wanting to make sure we’re okay.”

 

“You gonna answer?”

 

“Of course.” Ryan said, already typing his answer out. “There may be hostility there, but it’s not like they’re the ones who kidnapped us.”

 

There was a pause as Ryan finished typing out his message and then returned the phone to its spot.

 

“I can’t believe we made it out.” Esposito whispered after a few seconds.

 

Ryan used his good hand to lace his fingers through Esposito’s. “I’m glad we did.”


Esposito placed a kiss on Ryan’s neck and, only seconds later, the two fell asleep.

Chapter Text

The sound of Ryan’s alarm on his phone jerked both him and his partner awake, and Ryan instantly regretted picking a ringtone he liked because it would forever be tainted.

 

“Turn it off.” Esposito groaned, his speech slurred from sleep.

 

Ryan reached up and blindly felt around for the phone, squinting against the light to turn it off. Once the room was again silent, Ryan let himself fall back against the pillows and Esposito threw his arm around his waist again.

 

“I have to get ready.” Ryan mumbled, making no move to do so.

 

“Mmm, you could tell them your concussion never really went away and you have to stay in bed,” Esposito kissed Ryan’s neck. “All day.”

 

Ryan smiled at that, but sighed. “I would love to stay here with you, but I already told Beckett I’d be there.”

 

“What’s she gonna have you do if you don’t have your partner there?”

 

Ryan shrugged. “Paperwork, probably. I have to finish up everything on the case.” He moved out of Esposito’s embrace and turned to look at him. “I wish you could come with me.”

 

Esposito smiled. “Me too. But I can barely hobble around here, much less the precinct.” He reached out and pulled Ryan slightly closer. “But I am supposed to go back in about a week, so it won’t be all bad.”

 

“Yeah, I just don’t want to have to talk to Castle and Beckett.” He looked away. “They’re going to want to try to resolve everything and I’ve been dreading having to talk about it.” He pouted and looked back up at Esposito. “It’s not fair that you get to stay here and brood.”

 

Esposito snorted. “I’m gonna have to deal with it eventually too.”

 

“I know.” Ryan shrugged. “I just wish we could talk to them together. And I mean, it’s not like I want to stay mad at them forever, and I don’t even think I’m all that mad anymore, I just kind of wish we didn’t have to talk about it at all. Just that we could all have an understanding that it’s all over and we can move on.”

 

“It’s not over though.” Esposito said softly.

 

“You have to forgive them sometime, Javi.”

 

Esposito pulled back so he could look firmly in Ryan’s eyes. “If we decide everything is okay, we’ve accomplished nothing. I don’t like holding a grudge against my best friends either, but I’m not going to just let it go. At the very least, they could recognize what they did to us and apologize for it. I’m not about to let people walk all over me. Or you. We are not inanimate objects that can be ignored until our friends want to hang out. If they don’t want to be our friends, that’s fine, but I’m not gonna be jerked around like this.”

 

“To be fair, they did apologize about the wedding thing at least.”

 

“They apologized because they were afraid we were gonna be mad. Not because they know they did something wrong and hurt us.” Esposito said. “And it’s the same thing with this. I don’t want an apology just so I won’t be mad anymore. I want them to actually be sorry. I want them to mean it. I want them to apologize even if it means I’ll still be mad.”

 

“I think they really are genuinely sorry.”

 

“Then I’ll wait for them to tell me.”

 

Ryan sighed and moved closer, resting his head on Esposito’s collar bone. “That still doesn’t solve the most pressing problem.” He murmured.

 

“Which is?”

 

“The bed is warm and out there is cold.”

 

Esposito smiled. “We could try heating things up more.” He said.

 

Ryan smiled but didn’t look at him. “And how would that help?”

 

“When I’m finished with you, you’re gonna need to get out of the bed and cool off.” He shifted, holding himself up with one arm so he could hover over Ryan. “Which,” He said, giving him a kiss on the nose. “Will force you to take a shower too.”

 

“Two birds with one stone.” Ryan whispered just before Esposito leaned down and kissed him. He tried to protest as he really did need to get ready for work, but Esposito had magic hands and Ryan was completely at his mercy within seconds.

 

His breath hitched when Esposito’s hand moved down his side and in between his legs, their activities the night before meaning he wasn’t wearing anything this morning, and Ryan knew once Esposito really got started he wasn’t going to want him to stop.

 

“Mm, I really have to get ready for work.” Ryan whispered once there’d been a break in kissing.

 

“I’ll go fast.” Esposito said in a husky whisper. He gave a gentle kiss to the still healing scar on Ryan’s face and then moved to his neck as his hand gripped Ryan’s morning erection.

 

And it was at about that point that Ryan decided being late for work wasn’t the worst thing in the world.

 

He moaned and leaned his head back as Esposito began kissing down his neck, lower and lower until he lingered at Ryan’s hip bone, kissing it softly all the while his hand making slow, smooth strokes.

 

“I thought you said you were going to go fast.” Ryan panted.

 

Esposito looked up at him, gave him a smile, and then closed his mouth over the tip of Ryan’s dick, going as far as he could, which was actually impressively far. Ryan moaned and threw his head back again, his hands gripping the sheets.

 

Esposito moved to an easier position and began to bob his head up and down, trying not to smile at the noises his partner was making under him. Ryan could be loud sometimes, and a lot of Esposito’s neighbors seemed to agree due to the amount of times music or tv shows suddenly got louder once they started going at it, but Esposito loved it when Ryan lost all control.

 

Without stopping, Esposito moved one of Ryan’s legs over his shoulder. He then pulled off with a slick pop and stuck two fingers in his mouth, lubing them up with saliva and pre-cum. He spread Ryan’s legs a little wider and held one finger at Ryan’s entrance, slowly pushing it in while Ryan panted and made soft moaning sounds. Esposito then resumed what was apparently an expert blow job, if Ryan’s moans were anything to go by.

 

As Esposito’s head moved up and down, he began to move his finger in and out, Ryan’s moaning getting louder every second. Esposito then added his second finger and Ryan felt like all the pleasure was going to make him literally explode. He made a sound that probably woke every neighbor Esposito had, and they both knew he was close.

 

Esposito began to move faster, time and angry neighbors against them. He curled his fingers as he thrust them inside and Ryan arched his back, feeling his orgasm build. Just a little more and he’d be pushed over the edge.

 

“Faster.” Ryan panted.

 

Esposito complied, moving his fingers faster and working Ryan’s swollen dick until he finally hit the right spot. Ryan felt the orgasm spread through him and he arched his back again, cum shooting into Esposito’s mouth and spilling out, making a mess on the sheets and all over his legs and Esposito’s hands.

 

Esposito lifted his head, and licked his lips, moving up to kiss Ryan again.

 

“You should get ready for work now.” Esposito whispered.

 

“Don’t you think we should take care of your situation first?” Ryan asked, his hands beginning to travel down Esposito’s stomach and to his own hard-on that was all but begging for release.

 

Esposito pulled away. “I’ll take care of it later.” He said. “You’ll be late.”

 

Ryan smiled and lay there for a minute as the after effects of a mind-blowing orgasm wore off. “This all may have been counter-productive.” He said. “I really don’t want to leave the bed now.”

 

Esposito laughed and began to push Ryan out of the bed. “Go make money.” He said. “And as a perk, I’ll be here waiting for you when you get back.”

 

“That’s supposed to be motivation to go to work?”

 

“Kevin Ryan, get your perky ass out of bed and go to work.”

 

Ryan sighed. “Fine.” He said before moving to stand up. He yelped as Esposito pinched his ass before he was out of reach. He looked back at him and gave him a cheeky smile before making his way to the bathroom.

 

Ryan wasn’t exactly sure where they stood by way of relationship. True, he had technically been living with Esposito for about a week and a half, and once the doctor confirmed neither had a concussion anymore, they’d had a ton of sex. They’d been given time off from work to heal, which meant they didn’t have much else to do, but it still didn’t confirm what they actually were to each other. Were they together? Were they just fuck buddies? Friends with benefits?

 

But every time Ryan tried to bring it up, Esposito distracted him with sex. The only thing Ryan knew for sure was he didn’t want to see Esposito with anyone else. He wanted to be exclusive.

 

Ryan knew for a fact Esposito wasn’t seeing anyone at the moment, but once he’d healed completely, would all that change? Would they go back to the way they were before? And what about all the reservations Ryan had had the last time? What if he again started doubting they would work?

 

He sighed and tried to get the thoughts out of his head. He wasn’t about to let the same thing happen twice. He knew they needed to at least talk about where they were, but he supposed it could wait a little longer. Their situation being what it was, Ryan staying at Esposito’s apartment wasn’t weird, and he assumed everyone thought he’d been crashing on the couch, but they needed to figure out where they were before Ryan went back to his own apartment and everything returned to normal. Well, as normal as it could get under the circumstances.

 

Ryan showered quickly, well about as quickly as he could with a bag around his cast, and tried to keep his thoughts as clean as possible. Though it was hard standing naked in the shower wanting nothing more than for Esposito to join him. He reasoned, however, that with their combined injuries, shower sex was just asking for disaster.

 

He switched the water to cold as his thoughts ran away from him and a minute later he stepped out of the shower, wrapped a towel around his waist, and stepped back into Esposito’s room, where he noticed Esposito was missing. The unmistakable smell of bacon confirmed Esposito’s whereabouts and Ryan smiled as he moved to the closet and pulled out one of his suits.

 

On the second day of living with Esposito, Ryan had jumped in a cab and stopped at his own apartment to grab some essentials, the jeans he’d been borrowing continuing to slide further down and making it almost impossible to go anywhere without mooning people. Esposito had said he liked Ryan wearing his clothes, especially because they didn’t fit, but Ryan had no desire to continue wearing them. He’d also made sure to pick up some suits for when he went back to work, and Esposito let him hang them in his closet.

 

Ryan looked down at his suit and listened to Esposito working in the kitchen and something stirred in his stomach at how domestic it felt. And he still had no idea where their relationship even was.

 

He sighed and began to put on his suit.

 

“One thing at a time.” He whispered to himself as he pulled up his pants and fumbled with the button and zipper. He’d gotten pretty good at dressing himself with the cast, but it was still not that easy.

 

He’d gotten himself completely dressed save for his tie and walked out of the bedroom and to the kitchen, hoping to ask Esposito to tie it for him. He smiled when he saw the eggs, bacon, and toast on two plates and the pot of coffee and mugs all ready to go. He slung his tie over his shoulder and leaned against the doorframe as he watched Esposito butter the toast. But when it looked like Esposito was about to pick up both plates and take them to the table, Ryan had to intervene.

 

“Look, I’m all about doing things for yourself, but I am not about to pick your ass up after you’ve dropped breakfast all over the floor.” Ryan said, reaching around and picking up the plates. “And don’t even think about grabbing the coffee either.” He said, his back turned to his partner as he set the plates on the table.

 

Esposito sighed. “Can I at least pour it?”

 

Ryan turned around. “Go ahead.”

 

Esposito gave him a half-assed glare before turning around and preparing the cups of coffee. Ryan stepped over to the counter to grab them, but Esposito grabbed one and took a step back. “I do have one hand, you know. Which is more than I can say for you.”

 

Ryan rolled his eyes but smiled.

 

Esposito had ditched the crutches a couple days previously as his doctor informed him he needed to try walking on his leg at least a little unless he wanted the muscles to get so weak he’d have to go to physical therapy and miss even more of work. So instead he used a cane, and Ryan teased him mercilessly about being an old man, which Esposito did not like at all.

 

They ate mostly in silence, as Ryan was now late for work and needed to hurry in case he got in trouble. He had a feeling Beckett was going to go easy on him for a lot of reasons, but he didn’t really like abusing that power and exploiting his boss because of her guilt. So he ate as fast as he could, which left little room for conversation. Mostly, Esposito watched him in fascination at how fast he was able to shovel food into his mouth and how the hot coffee didn’t seem to be burning him, or if it did, he wasn’t showing it.

 

“You going for a record?” Esposito asked, barely on his first piece of bacon.

 

“I’m already late.” Ryan said through a mouthful of food. “If you weren’t so sexy I would have time.” It came out as “If ‘oo wern’ so semfxy I woul’ haff time.”

 

Esposito tried not to laugh. “I only got half of that, but I think it was a compliment?”

 

Ryan swallowed and took a swig of coffee. “Don’t worry, it was.” He stood. “I’ve gotta go, I’m late.”

 

“Wait, come here.” Esposito beckoned him over and when Ryan leaned down, probably expecting a kiss, he took the tie off his shoulder. “Were you going for a look, or did you need me to do this for you?”

 

“Oh, right. Would you?”

 

Esposito buttoned his shirt the rest of the way, resisting the urge to unbutton instead, and wrapped the tie around his neck, tieing it and making sure it couldn’t be seen under the collar. “There.” He said, letting his hands fall.

 

Ryan smiled and gave him a kiss. “Thanks.” He said. “I’ll see you after work.” He said as he gathered all his essentials. “Uh, that is… if you want me to come back?”

 

Esposito gave him a very confused look. “Why wouldn’t I want you to come back?”

 

Ryan hesitated. “Well, I just didn’t know if you were sick of me as a guest and wanted me to go back to my own apartment. You know, now that we don’t have concussions and all…” He trailed off, hoping he hadn’t said something completely stupid.

 

Esposito shrugged, his demeanor completely changed. “I guess if you want to.” He said shortly.

 

Ryan looked at the door and then back at Esposito, who looked exactly the way he had the last time Ryan complicated things, and walked over to his partner. He was already late, what was a couple more seconds?

 

Esposito looked up just as Ryan pulled him in for a heated kiss, practically knocking the wind out of him.

 

When he pulled away, Ryan looked him in the eye. “We still need to talk about what us being together means. So I guess I’ll have to come back here, right?” He smiled and turned around, opening the door and looking at his still dazed partner at the table. “See you after work.”

 

He closed the door and took a deep breath, hoping he hadn’t pushed Esposito away with the threat of a discussion about their relationship. He did feel a little bit of fear in the pit of his stomach and didn’t like that it probably wouldn’t go away until that night, but he knew it needed to be done. They were nearing the end of this whole thing if they didn’t take care of it.

 

Putting those feelings not away, but just over to the side, he gritted his teeth and went to work.

 

~.~.~

 

The precinct erupted into applause when the elevator opened, and Ryan found himself smiling even though he didn’t really feel happy about the praise.

 

He’d joined in applauding countless coworkers when they’d also narrowly escaped death, but being on the receiving end felt awkward. And even more so because Esposito wasn’t with him. He assumed Esposito would receive his own applause the next week and would feel just as awkward, which he felt was going to be the only way he was getting through this.

 

The journey to his desk was full of pats on the back, handshakes, and a couple hugs, which he accepted graciously but wasn’t exactly in the mood for. He smiled when he saw Castle and Beckett standing there applauding (Castle’s sling making his applause awkward) with the rest of his coworkers, but he had a feeling he looked more constipated than happy because a second later Beckett told everyone it was nice having him back, but they all needed to get back to work.

 

“How’s the wrist?” Castle asked, stepping up to him.

 

“Healing.” Ryan said, looking down at his cast. “I think. What about you?”

 

“Pain’s nearly gone.”

 

“And Espo?” Beckett asked Ryan.

 

“He’s been told he needs to start walking on his injured leg.” Ryan replied. “Not a lot, but we want to avoid physical therapy, so he walks around the apartment a lot.”

 

“So you’re still staying with him?”

 

“Oh, yeah.” Ryan tried to think of a few quick lies. “I was gonna go home after we were cleared on the concussions, but Espo asked if I could stay in case he needed help getting around. I mean, he’s not supposed to walk around that much.” Okay, so it wasn’t a total lie. It was mostly true.

 

“Well, I’m glad you’re getting better.” Beckett said. “Those guys did a number on you. Speaking of which, we still need both your statements and to finish up the paperwork today, if you’re up for it.”

 

Ryan just nodded, trying to be as friendly as he could. He knew as a boss, it was her place to order him around, but he still wasn’t exactly happy about it.

 

“So, Ryan,” Castle said, following him into Beckett’s office. “Beckett and I were talking, and we want to take you to lunch today. Sort of a welcome back type thing.”

 

Ryan could sense the underlying motivation behind this lunch, but he figured it would be better to talk outside the precinct anyway and he knew they’d been as anxious to repair their damaged friendship as much as he and Esposito had.

 

“Sure.” He said, watching Castle visibly relax, as he’d probably been worried Ryan was going to tell him to fuck off.

 

“Okay,” Beckett said, sitting behind her desk and pulling a file out of the drawer. “I’m going to need your account of what happened, Esposito’s going to have to give a statement as well, and then if you want to ask me anything about the case you guys didn’t already find out, I’ll be happy to answer your questions.”

 

“Uh, alright.” Ryan said, sitting down and wondering why Beckett was being so professional about everything. He knew the friendship was strained right now, but she could at least act like they were friends at all.

 

Beckett nodded. “From the top. What happened?”

 

Ryan took a deep breath and started the story. He left out the parts where they did a lot of the sneaky stuff out of spite, making it seem like it was more passion for the case and a slight vendetta against Lowry instead of a way to prove they were better than Beckett gave them credit for. Even though he omitted some of the reasoning, he felt like Castle and Beckett at least sort of knew. He also left out any romantic interactions he and Esposito had along the way.

 

Beckett kept quiet the whole time, only speaking up to clarify or ask the occasional question, but otherwise kept her mouth shut. Castle would often make a remark about how brave they’d been, but Ryan couldn’t remember feeling brave. Most of the time he’d felt utterly terrified.

 

“...and then we ran out of the house, hoping we’d get enough distance before they started shooting, and you guys showed up. And you know what happened from there. Honestly, I can’t believe how lucky we were.”

 

“It wasn’t all luck, actually.” Beckett said as she wrote everything down.

 

“What do you mean?” Ryan asked.

 

“Well, we went through the house. It looks like they plan everything out a little more than it seems.” She replied. “They plant the bobby pin, or something you can use to unlock handcuffs or untie yourself, and let you escape. Then they chase you through the house, which we think was renovated to be more like a maze. Obviously we can’t talk to them about it, but we think being chased with knives are where all the cuts on the victims are from, and we think they also would sometimes use a fire poker to create the burns.  And then of course once they catch you, they take you back down to the basement and finish the job.”

 

“Jesus.” Ryan breathed, not realizing there was anything more to this case that could shock him.

 

Beckett nodded. “You and Esposito got out of there through a combination of incompetent killers and skill. The luck came when we found you.”

 

Ryan looked from her to Castle as the room fell silent, save for the sounds of Beckett writing. He cleared his throat. “So, uh, how did Lowry die exactly? I know Beckett shot him, but I didn’t get any details.”

 

Beckett looked at Castle, silently giving him permission to tell the story, and he excitedly told Ryan every detail.

 

Ryan smiled as Castle talked, happy to finally feel the way he had before everything fell to shit. He made comments on how awesome Beckett had acted, but when he looked at her her head was still down and making notes on the case. She never once looked up or joined in the conversation.

 

He looked back at Castle and continued to listen to his story, but he had a strange feeling that Beckett might be mad at him and, if he could venture a guess, probably at Esposito as well. The only other person she could be mad at was Castle, but if she was mad at him he wouldn’t be in the precinct right now. Ryan suddenly wondered if their planned lunch was going to repair their relationship or damage it further.

 

When Castle had finished recounting their heroic adventure, Beckett finally spoke. “Anything more you want to know about the case, Ryan?”

 

Ryan thought about it. “What was Lowry’s mom’s involvement in all this? I mean, did she know about everything?”

 

“Actually, yeah.” Beckett replied. “Well, I don’t think the extent of everything, but she clearly knew her son was in trouble and she willingly let Kranz hide out at her house, so she had to be in the loop at least a little. She’s not telling us everything and there isn’t a lot on Lowry’s computer about her, but we have her charged with harboring a fugitive among other things.”

 

Ryan nodded.

 

Beckett paused. “Well, if there’s nothing else, you can take this back to your desk and finish it. I’m a little swamped today.”

 

Ryan stood and took the file from her, still confused at her demeanor, and walked out of her office and to his desk. He sat and booted up his computer before pulling out his phone and smiling at the text Esposito had sent him.

 

Good luck! And come back the second you get off because the silence in this apartment is wigging me out.

 

Apparently his last words hadn’t completely scared Esposito off.

 

He shot a text back, with a brief recounting of Beckett’s current mood as well as the plan to eat lunch with them later. He then went back to the computer and began cursing internally at how difficult it was to fill out a report without his dominant hand.

 

His phone chimed again.

 

She better not be an ass to you at lunch. If she treats you like shit, text me and I’ll be there.

 

Ryan snorted and typed out a reply.

 

What’re you gonna do? Throw your cane at her?

 

There was a pause as Esposito typed a reply.

 

Uncalled for.

 

I’m sure everything will be fine. I’ll stand up for myself if I have to.

 

He went back to the report and the silent cursing of his cast for the rest of the morning. He hardly noticed when noon rolled around, and it was almost one o’clock when Castle pulled him out of concentration.

 

“You ready?” Castle asked, already shrugging on his coat, Beckett behind him.

 

“Yeah.” Ryan said, saving his progress and locking his computer. He stood, grabbed his coat, and followed them to the elevator.

 

They took a cab to their regular diner, and for a minute everything felt completely normal, but when they sat down at the booth and Ryan looked up at the both of them looking back at him, he suddenly felt like he was about to be interrogated.

 

“So,” Castle said once the waitress had left to get their drinks and put their order in. “How have you been?”

 

Ryan looked from Castle to Beckett and back before leaning back in his seat and heaving a sigh. “The concussion and broken wrist have been a blast.”

 

They both shifted in their seats at his tone.

 

“Why don’t we get to why you really wanted to take me out to lunch?”

 

Castle looked back at Beckett, who so far had said nothing, before looking back at Ryan. “Okay.” He said. He paused for a minute, trying to gather his thoughts. “Beckett and I know that we haven’t exactly been… the greatest friends recently. And we didn’t realize how much it was affecting you guys. So we asked you to lunch not only to welcome you back to work, but also to see what we can do to fix this.”

 

Ryan nodded once. “I… think that’s sort of the problem.” He paused as the waitress brought their drinks and informed them their food would be out soon. After thanking her, he continued. “You guys think this is going to be some quick fix. Like Esposito and I are on some kind of to do list. But you can’t just apologize one day and think that’s going to fix everything.”

 

“Well, who says we’re the only ones who need to apologize?” Beckett said, finally finding her voice.

 

Ryan looked over at her, confused. “I’m sorry, but I don’t remember us being the ones completely ignoring you.”

 

“No, you’re the ones who lied to me and solved a case behind my back, making this week hell for me while I tried to explain why my lead detectives hacked into an agent’s laptop and ended up kidnapped by serial killers.”

 

Suddenly her mood became clear. And it pissed Ryan off.

 

“Okay, so let me see if I’ve got this straight.” He said, glaring at her. “You’re mad at us because you kicked us off our case and we still solved it first?”

 

“Ryan, you lied to me. I’m glad we solved the case, but the fact remains that you two could have jeopardized it. If Lowry were alive, we wouldn’t be able to use the information on his laptop against him because of the way you two acquired the information.”

 

“I guess it’s a good thing you shot him then.”

 

“That’s not the point.”

 

“Well, enlighten me, Captain. How would you rather we’d done it? Try to talk to you about the case? Oh wait, we couldn’t do that because you kicked us off. You’re mad because we lied, but what you don’t seem to get is that was our only choice. You’d still be following Lowry around getting nowhere if we hadn’t done what we did.”

 

“You still should have come to me before going to Lowry’s childhood home.” Beckett said.

 

“Would you have listened to us? Would you have believed we were right about Lowry? You used to be all about breaking the rules. I’ve seen what you’ve done in interrogations and I saw how many times you went behind Montgomery’s and Gates’ backs. But now you’ve got authority and suddenly you have to follow every single rule down to the letter. You’re the Captain . What the hell is the use of that if you can’t bend a couple rules?”

 

“A lot more is at stake for me now.”

 

“So you’re going to put that above helping people? More people would have died if we didn’t take action.”

 

“Ryan-”

 

“No, you know what? Esposito was right.” Ryan stood. “He and I are not just here to do grunt work for you. We proved with this case that we’re capable of so much more than you give us credit for. Sometimes you have to break the rules, and I’m sorry we may have gotten you in trouble, but I’m not sorry about what we did.” He started to go, but then stopped. “And just for the record, we’re still pissed off about the wedding, we’re pissed off about you taking over our case, and we’re pissed off that we’re background characters to your rom com. Either be our friends or don’t, but stop jerking us around.” He reached for his wallet and threw down the money to pay for the food that still hadn’t come out. “I think I’m gonna go home, Captain. My arm hurts and I think my concussion’s back.”

 

And he left without another word.

 

~.~.~

 

Castle sat next to his wife, staring at the corner Ryan had disappeared behind with a stony expression.

 

Beckett sighed and sat back, not looking at Castle but honestly surprised he hadn’t blown up at her yet. After several minutes, she couldn’t take it anymore. “Oh my god, just say it.”

 

Castle looked over at her and gave her a slight glare. “What the hell was that?”

 

“Hey, I am not going to apologize for getting mad.” She said. “They almost got me fired. If they hadn’t actually solved the case-”

 

“But they did solve the case.” Castle interrupted. “You keep saying that. ‘If they hadn’t solved the case...’ or ‘If we hadn’t gotten there in time…’, but things happened the way they happened. You can’t get mad at them for something they didn’t actually do. Or something they almost did.”

 

“Castle, this week has been literally hell for me. I have been yelled at by five different people, I almost lost my best detectives, and I almost lost my job. And I get that they’re mad, and I even agree that they have a right, but they can’t possibly sit there and think they’re the only ones who deserve an apology, because they pretty much fucked me over too.”

 

They paused their conversation as the waitress came back with food, Castle asking if they could get to-go boxes as something had come up. They didn’t continue their conversation until the to go boxes had been delivered.

 

“I get that you have had a rough week.” Castle said softly. “You’ve been really stressed out and it sucks, but demanding an apology without explaining anything is about the worst way to get an apology I’ve ever seen.” With Beckett’s help, he boxed up their lunch as well as Ryan’s, and handed Beckett her box. “I’m going to go pay for this and then I’m gonna take Ryan his lunch and see if we can get the boys to come to dinner so we can discuss this like mature adults.” He leaned over and kissed her on the forehead. “A week ago you said you wanted to fix this. What happened to that?”

 

Beckett looked up at him and sighed. “I still want to fix it, I just... I don’t know. They’ve been out for a week and I had to deal with this by myself. I know you helped,” she smiled at him before he could protest. “But it just felt like they’d done all this damage, yelled at me, and then left me to clean everything up. I just… kept getting angrier and angrier.”

 

Castle paused. “Well, I think we should tell them that. We need to get this all out in the open, with as little yelling as possible. I’m thinking wine should probably be involved.”

 

Beckett smiled.

 

“You should eat your lunch and then go back to work and I’ll go see if the boys will come over tonight. Sound like a plan?”

 

She nodded. “Sorry you kinda have to be the referee.”

 

Castle waved it away with a smile before standing up and heading to the cashier to pay, Beckett following.

 

~.~.~

 

Esposito had never been more bored in his life. He’d flipped through every one of his channels several times, tried playing video games, even did some very inappropriate things due to thoughts of his partner that morning, but he still found himself bored out of his skull.

 

He checked the time on his phone and cursed. Ryan still wasn’t due back for hours and he hadn’t sent a single text about how the lunch went, which Esposito assumed had either already happened or was currently happening. Whatever the case, he was surprised he hadn’t heard a word.

 

But about a minute later, the reason became clear.

 

Ryan burst through the door, looking like he wanted to punch something, or possibly already had. “I am never talking to that woman again!” He said loudly, walking past Esposito and into the bedroom.

 

“Ryan? What…?” Esposito used his cane to stand, but before he could even think of following Ryan to the bedroom, he came out again, sans a tie and suit coat.

 

“I’m resigning. Or transferring. I don’t know, but I can’t have her as a boss. I won’t fucking do it.”

 

“Kevin, what happened?” Esposito said, taking a step forward.

 

“She thinks we should be the ones to apologize.” Ryan said.

 

Esposito was taken aback. “What?”

 

“Yeah.” Ryan nodded. “She thinks we should apologize for solving the case without her. Didn’t say a word about her own bullshit, just focused on us and how sneaky we were.”

 

“What the actual hell?” Esposito said. “She’s sitting over there waiting for an apology after ignoring us for months? No, that’s bullshit!” And he went on in fast Spanish that Ryan only caught a few words of, but he got the gist.

 

“I’m literally seething.” Ryan said, once Esposito stopped talking. “I can’t even think of anything to say, I’m so mad.” He paused and looked at his partner, his breathing slightly heavy. “We should have sex.”

 

Esposito paused. “What?”

 

“Yeah.” Ryan said. “I need a way to release this energy and besides that, it’s against the rules. It’s like a win win.”

 

“You wanna have angry, passive aggressive sex?”

 

“What, you don’t have the time?”

 

Esposito shrugged. “I just want to make sure we’re all on the same page. I mean, angry sex is really hot, but I don’t want you to regret this or something.”

 

“Regret having really hot sex with you?”

 

“Point made.”

 

Ryan crossed the room and kissed Esposito hard, sending jolts of electricity to his brain and pretty much everywhere else.

 

Esposito pulled back. “I just want to make sure you’re really sure.”

 

“Are you not?” Ryan asked, moving to kiss Esposito’s neck.

 

“Well, I do feel a little used.” Esposito said truthfully.

 

Ryan stopped and looked up at him. “Do you want me to stop?”

 

Esposito seriously thought about it, but in the end decided he was okay with being used. It was like Ryan was venting through sex, and Esposito was seriously turned on at the moment anyway. “No,” he said. “Just… just so you’re sure.”

 

Ryan leaned forward and nipped at Esposito’s ear before whispering, “I give you full consent to fuck me as hard as you can.”

 

They resumed kissing, Ryan backing Esposito up to the chair and letting him sit down. They’d been able to have plenty of sex with Esposito’s leg injury, but with how hard Ryan was planning on going, he wanted to make sure Esposito didn’t get hurt.

 

Once Esposito was situated and his cane thrown to the side and out of the way, Ryan straddled him on the chair and immediately kissed him hard, biting his lip and making Esposito gasp and then moan.

 

“Not that I’m happy you’re pissed off.” Esposito said while Ryan moved to kiss and bite his neck. “But god damn.

 

Ryan laughed and went back to kissing his lips, beginning to undo the buttons on his shirt. Esposito helped push it off his shoulders and Ryan broke the kiss long enough to pull Esposito’s shirt up and off.

 

He began moving his hips in an erratic pattern, creating friction and eliciting more moaning and little bit of cursing.

 

Esposito reached down to unbutton Ryan’s pants, and just as he did so, there was a quiet knock at the door.

 

Ryan instantly stopped moving and they both looked toward the door, panting.

 

“You’ve gotta be kidding me.” Ryan said, breathless.

 

“I swear to god, if it’s that neighbor kid…” Esposito said angrily.

 

Ryan pulled himself off his partner and sighed as he made his way to the door. He looked through the peephole and cursed. “It’s Castle.” He said, turning around and grabbing his shirt off the floor, throwing Esposito’s to him so they wouldn’t look like they’d just been doing exactly what they’d just been doing.

 

Castle knocked again and Ryan fumbled with the buttons and haphazardly tucked his shirt in. He still looked rumpled and Esposito was trying very hard to hide the obvious boner under his basketball shorts, but Castle would think something was up if they waited too long.

 

Ryan opened the door and tried to look as surprised as he could. “Castle?” He said.

 

“Hey.” Castle said, holding out the box of food from the restaurant as if it were a peace offering. “I brought your food.”

 

“Thanks.” Ryan said, taking it from him and then standing there awkwardly holding it.

 

Castle cleared his throat. “Beckett didn’t mean what she said.”

 

Ryan raised an eyebrow.

 

“Well… she did, but not in the way…” He sighed. “It’s complicated.”

 

“What’s complicated about it?” Ryan said stiffly. “Beckett’s mad at us for solving a case without telling her and she thinks she’s the victim in all this.”

 

“That’s not entirely true.” Castle replied. “Look, there’s a lot we need to talk about. The case, the wedding, pretty much everything. Beckett and I want you to come to the loft tonight for dinner so we can talk about this.”

 

Ryan opened the door a little so Esposito could see Castle and be in on the conversation from his spot on the chair. Esposito didn’t get up, and was planning to use the excuse that he couldn’t reach his cane, but the truth was he’d been staring at Ryan from behind the whole time and the situation in his pants had gotten worse.

 

“What do you think, Javi?” Ryan asked, looking over at him.

 

Esposito cleared his throat, having only caught a small part of the conversation. “Dinner?” He said.

 

“At our place.” Castle replied. “I want us to talk this through and get everything out in the open so we can fix this. I think a lot of it is miscommunication and I think talking about it would help.”

 

Ryan and Esposito exchanged looks before Ryan turned back to Castle. “Okay.” He said. “We’ll be there. But we get to leave if we feel like we’re being attacked.”

 

“Of course.” Castle said, looking relieved.

 

“Then we’ll see you around seven?”

 

“Sounds good.” Castle smiled.

 

They said their goodbyes and Ryan shut the door. He sighed before walking to the kitchen and setting the food down on the counter.

 

“You think we won’t get into a screaming match with her?” Esposito asked.

 

Ryan shrugged. “I’m sure Castle’s planning on getting us all drunk.” He paused. “Plus, if we don’t go there with all this pent up energy, we probably won’t yell so much.”

 

Esposito smiled. “I was hoping you’d say that.”

 

Ryan stepped back over to Esposito in the chair and undid the buttons on his shirt once again, taking it off and throwing it to the side. “Where were we?”

 

Esposito took off his shirt as well and Ryan straddled him again, kissing him fiercely and moving his hips again, building up the heat they’d lost.

 

In no time, they were back to where they’d been before Castle showed up. Esposito pulled Ryan close and sucked a spot on his neck, low enough that any shirt collar would cover it. Ryan breathed hard as he continued to move, the fabric between them causing frustration.

 

Esposito moved his hands down Ryan’s chest and found the button on his pants, popping it open and sliding the zipper down. He then put his hand inside Ryan’s pants and began to rub him through his boxers.

 

Ryan let out a small whine and threw his head back as Esposito moved his hand slowly. Esposito opening his pants had been small relief, but he needed them all the way off if he was going to get anywhere.

 

He backed up off the chair and kicked off his shoes before pulling his pants and boxers down and off. He then moved back to the chair and began pulling Esposito’s shorts off, smiling up at him when he saw he was going commando again.

 

“Do you actually own underwear?” Ryan asked as he finally got the shorts off.

 

Esposito shrugged. “I’ve probably got an unopened pack somewhere.” He replied.

 

Ryan moved forward on his knees and licked Esposito’s incredibly stiff erection from base to tip before standing up and hovering over him, kissing him hard. “I’ll be right back.” He said in a husky whisper before stepping away and down the hall to the bedroom.

 

Esposito tried to slow his breathing a little, but there was no point. Ryan did things to him.

 

A minute later, Ryan came back into the room with the large bottle of lube they’d bought as well as a condom. “How do you wanna do this?” He said, holding them both up and smiling.

 

Esposito held his hands out to take the items from his partner. “Turn around.” He said.

 

Ryan did so and felt Esposito’s hands on his hips pulling him backward. He then helped Ryan lift himself, a thigh draped over each arm of the chair, putting him in a position that was basically the splits.

 

“Damn.” Esposito commented. “You are way more flexible than I thought.”

 

Ryan laughed. “This is nothing.” He said, moving his hands to the arms of the chair as well to brace himself so he wouldn’t fall, leaning heavily on his uninjured arm.

 

Putting aside all the things he was now imagining they could do once he healed, Esposito picked up the bottle of lube and squeezed some of it on his fingers.

 

“If you throw your head back, try not to hit me in the face.” Esposito said.

 

Ryan laughed again. “I’ll try not to-” He gasped as Esposito slowly shoved one finger in and everything he was going to say was completely lost. He decided it wasn’t that important anyway as Esposito began to move his finger in and out, stretching him as much as he could.

 

Esposito slowly added a second finger and Ryan moaned loudly, letting himself fall back slightly as he began to move his hips. Only a little as his legs were already stretched pretty far, but Esposito made up for it by moving his fingers in and out in time to Ryan’s movements.

 

The third finger was added shortly after and Ryan was at that point gasping, gripping the arms of the chair.

 

Esposito grabbed the condom and ripped it open with his teeth. He pulled his fingers out of Ryan who gasped, then indicated he should lift himself up just enough so he could put the condom on. He picked up the lube and slicked on a generous amount as well, then threw the bottle to the side and put his hands on Ryan’s hips, pulling him down.

 

Ryan let one leg off the arm of the chair to steady himself as he was lowered and he gasped as Esposito was fully inside. He then moved his hips around a little to get used to the feel and then let himself fall forward just slightly so he could begin moving up and down. Esposito gasped and cursed as Ryan began to move and, after a minute, find the perfect rhythm.

 

Esposito was only able to move so much, so he let Ryan do most of the work, though he gripped his hips tightly to help.

 

Ryan’s movements got faster and soon they were both moaning, skin slapping against skin. They weren’t even trying to be quiet anymore, and Esposito hoped his neighbors weren’t home or had at least invested in headphones.

 

Esposito snaked an arm around Ryan’s middle and pulled him back against his chest, lifting the leg that had fallen and holding him up so he could start moving instead. Ryan let him take control, letting his head fall back and focusing on holding himself up as Esposito fucked him hard.

 

Esposito then moved his other hand up to Ryan’s chin and turned his face so he could kiss him. The kiss was about as dirty as a kiss could be with tongue everywhere. He moved that same hand down Ryan’s torso and between his legs, blindly finding his prize.

 

He gripped Ryan hard and began pumping, Ryan breaking the kiss to yell “Fuck!” about as loud as he could. Esposito smiled as he continued to move his hips and his hand in perfect sync, watching Ryan turn to goo on top of him.

 

It didn’t take long after that for Ryan to come completely undone. With another loud “F-fuck!” and short gasps, Ryan was coming hard all over Esposito’s hand. Esposito kept going, riding Ryan through his orgasm and approaching his own. He went back to gripping Ryan’s hips to hold his body up while he continued, in and out, over and over, until finally the orgasm hit him and his movements slowed to a stop as he rode it out.

 

They both stopped moving, breathing hard as Ryan fell back against Esposito’s chest. Esposito turned his head again and gave him another sloppy kiss.

 

“I don’t know why people don’t have angry sex all the time.” Esposito said, out of breath.

 

Ryan laughed and then lifted himself off Esposito’s lap. “Because that shit is a workout.” He said before stepping away to find a washcloth to clean themselves off.

 

They disposed of the condom and Ryan cleaned them both off as best as he could. When he’d set the cloth down, Esposito pulled him back into his lap where he sat sideways with his head on his shoulder.

 

After a minute, Ryan finally spoke.

 

“Javi?”

 

“Hmm?” Esposito sounded like he was about to fall asleep.

 

“Uh, about this morning…”

 

Esposito opened his eyes, more alert now, but said nothing.

 

“Javi?” Ryan asked.

 

“We probably shouldn’t get into this while we’re naked.”

 

“Oh. Right.” Ryan peeled himself off of Esposito and handed him his shorts and t shirt before picking up his own clothes and putting them on, opting to leave his shirt unbuttoned as it felt like too much of a hassle. And besides that, Esposito had already put his shorts and shirt back on and was waiting for him.

 

“So,” Esposito said when Ryan sat in the other chair. “What did you want to talk about?”

 

Ryan chewed his lip a little, trying to come up with words that couldn’t be misinterpreted. “Well, I guess first of all, I like being with you. A lot. More than anyone else I’ve ever dated. I just… I want to know what you think of the relationship. Where it’s going, where you want it to go. Not that I’m thinking marriage or something, I just want to know if we’re a thing or… what.”

 

Esposito watched him ramble on for a minute before holding his hand up to stop him. “Okay.” He said. “I’m gonna be honest with you. If I didn’t know you very well, I’d be running for the hills right now.” He cleared his throat. “You know I’m not big on commitment. I’ve never been with someone for longer than a few months.”

 

Ryan tried to hide the fear on his face, but he was pretty sure he wasn’t succeeding very well.

 

“But, I dunno, I guess it feels like we’ve been together all this time. We’re just now having sex.”

 

Ryan laughed at that. “Years later.”

 

Esposito smiled. “I guess what I’m saying is, I’m already committed to us.”

 

“So then,” Ryan paused. “We’re like… together? Exclusive? Monogamous?”

 

Esposito laughed. “Yes, Kevin. We’re together. We’re boyfriends. Well, if you want to be…”

 

“I want that. Oh my god, yes, I want that.” He stood and stepped over to Esposito’s chair to bend down and give him a kiss. “So,” He pulled away. “What do we do about Beckett and the precinct? Are we secret boyfriends or something?”

 

Esposito stopped to think about it. “I have an idea, but I’m kind of afraid you’re gonna think it’s not fair to us.”

 

“You want to hide it.” Ryan said, not posing it as a question.

 

“Well, the way things are with Beckett and Castle now, I don’t have a problem with keeping it a secret from them. God knows they’ve kept their fair share of secrets.”

 

“We already go everywhere together.” Ryan said. “And hang out together and sleep over at each other’s apartments, oh my god we’ve been a couple this whole time.

 

Esposito laughed. “I told you.”

 

“So then,” Ryan moved to sit on Esposito’s lap again. “How long do we keep the secret thing up? It’ll be exciting for a while, but I think at some point we’ll get tired of sneaking around.”

 

Esposito paused. “I guess we’ll have to take it one step at a time.” He said softly. “Like you said, we already do everything together. We could probably take a trip together somewhere and they wouldn’t be suspicious. And on a trip we wouldn’t have to hide anything.”

 

“Wow, Javi. Boyfriends for five minutes and you’re already planning trips with me?”

 

“Shut up.” Esposito said, playfully pinching his thigh.

 

They were quiet for a minute.

 

“You think we can do it? Keep this a secret?” Ryan asked softly.

 

“We’ll keep it secret for as long as we can.” Esposito said. “And when we get to a point where it’s not exciting anymore or fun, we can go from there. But I can promise you now, no matter what happens, I have no intention of ever ending this. I’m all in.”

 

Ryan smiled and kissed him. “Me too.”

 

~.~.~

 

The boys sighed in unison as they stared at the door to Castle’s loft, neither making a move to knock on it.

 

“You think we can do this without fighting?” Esposito asked.

 

“No.” Ryan answered immediately. “But we’ll also never get anywhere if we don’t go in and talk about it.”

 

They stood in silence for another few seconds before Esposito finally knocked on the door, half because he wanted to get this over with and half because standing was getting difficult.

 

It took hardly any time for Castle to open the door with a big smile on his face. “Guys! Come in!” He said excitedly, opening the door to let them in. “Have a seat, and I’ll get the wine!”

 

Ryan and Esposito exchanged glances before sitting together on the couch.

 

“Are we even supposed to drink while we’re on painkillers?” Ryan whispered.

 

“Hey, if the wine knocks us out, we won’t be conscious for the yelling.” Esposito replied.

 

They waited patiently for Castle to return and, when he did, Beckett was following him holding the wine glasses which she set on the coffee table before sitting in one of the chairs. Castle poured a generous amount of wine into each glass and then sat in the other chair.

 

No one said anything for a while, and after about five minutes of awkward silence, Castle spoke.

 

“So, dinner should be ready in about twenty minutes.”

 

It did little to help.

 

“Okay,” Esposito said, leaning forward and setting his glass down. “Let’s just get this over with. I’m sure you wanted to wait until after dinner, but Ryan’s been playing with a thread on his shirt this whole time and if we wait any longer, he’ll probably unravel the whole thing and end up shirtless. So come on. Let’s get into it.”

 

Ryan blushed and Beckett and Castle exchanged a look before Castle cleared his throat.

 

“Alright.” He said. “I’m as anxious to clear the air as much as you guys are.”

 

Esposito nodded. “Well, why don’t we start with what happened at lunch?”

 

“Javi…” Ryan said warningly.

 

“No, come on. We knew this was going to happen and we knew it was going to get uncomfortable, so let’s do it so we can look back on this as a terrible memory.”

 

“Well, what do you want, Espo?” Beckett said, leaning forward and also setting her glass down.

 

“I wanna know what makes you think we owe you an apology.” Esposito said without skipping a beat. “I wanna know why the hell you think you’re the victim.”

 

“I don’t think of myself as a victim.” Beckett said firmly.

 

Ryan sighed and sat back. This was what he was expecting, but he wasn’t expecting it to happen within the first five minutes.

 

“Then why do we need to apologize?” Esposito asked.

 

“Because your bullshit almost got me fired.” Beckett said loudly, stopping him from continuing. She sighed and ran a hand through her hair, trying to pull her thoughts together. “You guys keep telling me that I should bend the rules because I’m the captain now. That I should be lenient on you because I did a lot of the same things you did when I was in your position. And you’re not wrong. I did a lot of things that were stupid and reckless and sometimes illegal. But I didn’t realize how many of my messes Gates and Montgomery had to clean up. My job is to make sure you guys go through the right hoops to get everything done, and I do that to avoid lawsuits and to make sure all the evidence collected is admissible in court. My job is to be a hard ass, it’s what I was hired to do.” She took a deep breath. “When you two went behind my back, it made it look like I can’t do my job properly. It made it look like I didn’t have control over the precinct and that I let my detectives do whatever they want. I have to do things by the book. If I don’t, people die and criminals go free. Case in point, you two almost died and Kranz almost got away. We were lucky this time. We won’t always be.”

 

“I didn’t know you almost got fired.” Ryan said softly.

 

“Sometimes I wonder how many times Gates almost got fired for the same reasons.” Beckett said. “Look, it’s good that things turned out the way they did, but we can’t always take those risks. And honestly, at the very least, you could have told someone where you were going. Haven’t we learned by now that backup is important?”

 

“The only person we would have told was you.” Esposito said. “I don’t think anyone else would have helped us.”

 

There was a pause as they all took in the words.

 

“Look,” Beckett said. “We’re sorry. About everything. Honestly, we didn’t realize what we were doing affected you guys so strongly.”

 

“You two are pretty much the only friends we have and we took you for granted.” Castle continued for her. “I guess we just always thought you’d be there. We got caught up in our own problems and situations and we just…”

 

“Forgot about us.” Ryan said.

 

“We didn’t forget about you.” Beckett protested.

 

“No, I guess I just mean there were more important things. Things that took precedence and made it easy for you to forget or just not even think about your friends.” Ryan clarified.

 

“We get that you two have a lot going on.” Esposito said. “We even understand the whole wedding situation. Spontaneous, not a lot of time to plan, we get it. And honestly, we don’t need to know everything that goes on in your lives. God knows Ryan and I aren’t going to tell you everything.”

 

Ryan tried to hide his smile.

 

“We just want to go back to the way we were. We want to hang out, go get a beer, grab some lunch sometimes.” Esposito shrugged. “We don’t have to be the best of friends forever, and Ryan and I don’t want to make it impossible for you and Castle to be alone, we just want friendship. That’s it. Working in the same office with someone you used to be friends with is almost the same as working with someone you used to date. It sucks.”

 

Castle sighed. “I’m sorry.” He said. “We both are.” They all heard the timer ding in the kitchen. “And dinner’s ready!” He hopped up from his spot to pull whatever it was out of the oven.

 

Ryan stood and helped Esposito stand as well before turning to Beckett. “Did you really almost get fired?”

 

“Oh my god, you guys wouldn’t believe it.” Beckett said, standing and following them to the table. “I get a call from my boss and before I can even say a word, he just starts yelling.”

 

“What a dick.” Esposito said, sitting down while Ryan sat next to him.

 

“Right?” Beckett said. “So I finally get a chance to explain, but he’s not hearing any of it. He keeps yelling, so I put him on speaker phone so I can at least get some things done while he’s having his power trip over me and then he says I should fire the both of you.”

 

“What?” Ryan said.

 

“Exactly!” Beckett replied. “As if I’m going to fire the detectives who just solved a seven year serial killer case. So I told him that and he said either you guys are fired or I’m fired. So that started about another hour of yelling and reasoning until he finally let me off with a warning and said you two were going to have to be suspended.”

 

“We’re suspended?” Esposito asked.

 

“Sort of.” Beckett shrugged. “I told him I would suspend you both for a week and then just counted the week you were recovering as your suspension week. No one ever looks too closely at dates.”

 

Ryan paused. “I’m sorry we got you in so much trouble. I didn’t realize how bad it was.”

 

“I can’t believe that son of a bitch gave you an ultimatum.” Esposito said. “What an asshole.”

 

“I don’t think he really would have been able to fire me over this. If he could he would have. I think he just wanted to make sure I follow all the rules.” Beckett rolled her eyes.

 

“Yeah, but we still should have thought about what would happen if we broke the rules. We never really thought about it before.” Ryan said.

 

“How about this?” Castle said. “We start over. Clean slate. Leave the past behind us and just start from here as friends.”

 

“I’ll drink to that.” Ryan said, lifting his glass, everyone else doing the same.


Esposito reached under the table and squeezed Ryan’s hand, and Ryan was suddenly excited that some day he was going to be able to tell his best friends about it