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Prologue

3 years ago - 2 years after 'Always'

 

"But enough of that sordid business." Cal Morris made a face and waved away the laughter of the audience. "However, speaking of depraved and morally bankrupt, please welcome the one, the only, the fantastic Mr. Jesse Montague." Under the roar of the audience, Montague walked in, waving at the crowd and after a quick, heavy handshake, settled down on the blue seat, folding his legs and then leaning back.

"Sooo, tell me when I forget something - New movie out, your record label got three grammys, you got yourself an island and I hear you like cat videos. A lot!"

Laughing with the audience, Montague nodded. "And puppies! You should not forget puppies!"

Cal nodded. "So, back from Montague Con and uh - some disciples in the room I hear," he said to the cheering from the audience.

"Yes, it was as awesome as every year. Our people worked like crazy and we loved every second of it. And we did show the first scene of the finale of the The Badge.” Again yelling. "I can't say much yet, but it did blow my mind."

"Oh come on, one tiny thing. Drop us a bone!"

Montague seemed to think about it. "Hmm, how about O'Connell and Martinez in the warehouse? And a certain someone will be there as well!"

After some excited squealing from hardcore fans, Cal nodded at him. "Seriously though, what a great show and what a great cast!" A round of applause was heard, even Montague joined in.

"Well, it's not only the cast. The head writer and creator had been a NYPD homicide detective for some years and I've been told again and again by our brave women and men in blue that this is right even down to the crappy coffee."

"Cute detective?" Again laughter.

"Cute enough to marry!" There was a stunned silence.

"Did I just hear Jesse Montague use the M-word?"

With a chuckle the other man nodded. He lifted his left hand, wiggling his ringed finger at the now deafening roar from the people in the audience.

When it slowed down, Cal seemed stunned and took to the amusement of the audience several times until he managed to say something. "Man, you were my idol, my gay, very rich, single man idol!"

Montague chuckled. "Everything has to end. And you haven't seen his blue eyes. Actually, have you guys seen the documentary about the Swan murder? Yeah, the one with Rick Castle. He was one of the detectives on the case."

"The world's greatest detective?!"

"No, the other one with very blue eyes. See, those ladies remember." He pointed into the audience.

"We met at a book party of Rick Castle and well, I begged for weeks for him to go out with me and I thought playing the big producer may help with it as well."

"It did?"

"He didn't even dignify my first poor attempts with a reply."

"So, I take it you did not lock him out of your hotel room as a token of your affection?"

"He smashed in doors for a living," The billionaire answered with a horrified expression.

"So, what you are saying is that he would kick your ass."

"He would kick my ass and then chain me to the radiator just as a matter of principle and leave it up to the staff to free me again."

"Well, at least your sex-life sure sounds still exciting." Cal lifted his eyes, touching his left ear. "Uh, the man in my ear says they have "Swan Song". Anyone interested in Mr. Blue Eyes Montague?"

After loud yelling, they did show the film. Ryan was standing in the interrogation room, leaning against the wall, hands in his pocket, as usual he was wearing a stylish three piece suit with hair longer than last time he had seen him. He was watching his partner tear into the suspect with a slight frown. A frown that could have been interpreted as concentration to an outsider. Someone, who knew him, knew he disapproved, but was too loyal to his partner to interrupt.

A partner that wore a horrible red shirt to an even redder tie. Ryan would had never let him walk around like that. Through that scene alone it was clear to him that Kevin and this partner of his barely got along.

Until the suspect started to sob about his ‘little girl’, Ryan just watched. Then, as if on cue, Ryan sat down at the table. "Little girl?"

So, they stuck Ryan with someone way beneath his league. Someone, who would get him shot just weeks after the Swan case.

The Hispanic looked on his screen, where he saw all his shallow excuses finally written down. Excuses that came much too late. Another sin added to his list.

"Yes, my daughter. She left everything just to follow him around." The suspect started to babble about his plan in fear of losing his girl for good.

"Does she go by the name of ‘Butterfly," Ryan leaned forward, his voice calm, reassuring.

Ryan now openly glared at the snort of his bulky, big partner, who did at least look slightly ashamed, while the father seemed to be hopeful. "We might be able to help you find her," Ryan said softly, and added as an afterthought "If it's ok with my partner."

The scene changed to a clapping and laughing audience. "Considerate and cheeky, no wonder he quit his job at the NYPD," Cal commented. "Well, guys, a short break and then we'll discuss puppies and apparently very blue eyes..."

Javier switched the TV off. Ryan-Montague. It sat ill and heavy on his tongue. The Chicago weather was stormy again and rain knocked against the window.

Javier sighed. Emmy nomination, hit show and now billionaire by association-- his partner surely was living big since he had gone away. He downed his beer in one grimace and slammed the bottle on the table. Good for him. Javier took up his laptop and looked at the half finished mail. He should have known that the door was closing, when Ryan, no Kevin, had stopped writing over a year ago. That Kevin was moving on for good.

And didn't he want just that? He rubbed his burning eyes. Yeah, just that. So, why did it hurt so much? Hearing from a stranger that he got married, after knowing the guy for what - a few months? His fingers hung over the mouse, but finally he clicked the delete button. It didn't matter anymore. Time to get another beer.

Chapter Text

Now - 5 years after 'Always'


He looked as good as he remembered him from five years ago. Before Javier had told him to go to hell. His suit was more expensive though. His hair shorter. His shoes very shiny and this party only among New York truly finest. And the face that used to be so open, so full of expression, full of life - nothing was there anymore. Just a careful, polite smile on his face.

"I believe you know each other, dear?"

Kevin still just looked at him. "I-- Yeah! Yeah, we do, I mean we did!" He looked at the floor. His left hand brushed over his neck. The ring on it looking rather simple, but surely worth more than all of Javier's possessions thrown together. Then he looked up at the big blond man beside him and bit his lip. "Jesse, I promised Luisa a good night story."

Jesse frowned, very quickly, then his smile was back on. "Remember, you are supposed to enjoy yourself tonight, Daddy. I'm counting on that dance!"

Kevin huffed a laugh. "Yes, of course, just let me get on the balcony and call the kids, while you charm the crowds."

Jesse chuckled. "Ok, dearest, but if you are not back at my side in twenty minutes, I'll throw you over my shoulder and carry you inside."

Kevin snorted and turned around. "I'll get some champagne for you," he called after his husband.

Javier leaned towards Kevin, wanted to follow, when he felt a hand on his arm. "Detective Esposito?"

Jesse Montague was an impressive man, above average height, high cheekbones, full hair, pale blue eyes and a body that had to be trained often to stay in that shape. Javier could see how he would wave any crowd on his infamous Montague Cons. And how a much smaller, pale, Irish ex-cop would easily be swallowed by his side.

"He is my husband, Detective, and we have two kids."

"Excuse me?"

Jesse crossed his arms in front of his chest and leaned against the narrow cupboard. "I know of you, 'Javi'! He tried to reach you when you left. After almost a year of silence, he understood though. Kate told me, I mean Captain Beckett,..."

"Captain?"

Again that calculated smile. "Life didn't freeze when you left for war, Detective. Captain Beckett, her family and his family struggled some time to get him back on his feet again. Well, I'd like to think I did play some part in it as well." Javier felt a sharp sting in his heart.

Still seeing Kev in that hallway in front of Beckett's apartment begging him to listen. 'I did it to for you, for all of us. Because it was the right thing to do. Because I love you, because I couldn't lose you!' He didn't listen then and neither did he to the many messages on his inbox, phone, mail, there were even letters at some point. None of them ever got a reply. Of all of them, Javier Esposito never read or listened to at least one. And when he finally had the courage to, the heartbreak in every word had been rightfully devastating.

Javier crossed his arms over his chest. "And your point is, Mr. Montague?"

The other man offered a calculated, careful and toothless smile. "This here is not your life anymore. If you think you can Cha Cha Cha back into your former partner's life, you and I will have a problem."

Javier narrowed his eyes, and they glared at the other. "Oh yeah?" He took a step closer to Montague.

Montague stared down at him. "Yeah!"

Javier lifted his head, showing his best interrogation face. Montague straightened to his full impressive height.

"Jes'!"

Kevin stood in the hallway, his mobile still in his hand. On his face the frown Javier still remembered so well from difficult cases. 'Jes' kept his stance, by now their noses almost touched.

"Jesse Montague!"

Oh, and that calm, but fierce voice. Only used shortly before losing his patience with a suspect.

Jesse brushed by Javier, bumping his shoulder into him when he passed by. All the while Kevin eyed Javier with that frown his Kevin always wore shortly before he started to ask, yell, beg or just rant at him. But this Kevin just shook his head. His eyes only left him, when his husband slipped his arm around him. "Enjoy your evening, Detective!" Kevin let himself turn around by Montague.

"How are our little monsters?" Montague whispered into Kevin's hair after a demonstrative kiss on his head. Javier didn't really hear the reply, he was much too focused on the fact that Kevin Ryan, the guy that never had been able to keep quiet, had left without a word of goodbye or even hello.

***************************

Captain Katherine Beckett leaned back behind her desk, sighing deeply. "Espo, I don’t know..."

"Beckett, come on! I was out there, with you being Captain, Ryan gone, Castle not here and some really green guys behind those desks, you need every good detective you can get!"

Beckett looked at the file again, flipping the papers. "Chicago PD, huh?”

Javi nodded. Again that sigh. "Listen, I get it, I have been a jerk. But my Mamma needs me here, with the stroke and all. I'm still a good detective..."

Now, he saw a small, if grim smile. "Okay, tell you what: I will put your request to Commissioner Gates." At the sharp intake of breath, Beckett grinned.

She got up and took a picture frame from her desk and walked around with it to join Javier on his side, leaning against her desk. When she turned the frame, Espo couldn't help the smile.

It was the old crew, back before everything went to hell: Castle had his arm around Beckett's shoulders, the other hand on Kevin's, who had his head turned slightly towards Javier, while obviously laughing at something, while Javier had his hand around his hips. And then there was Captain Montgomery to his right side, his arms crossed over his chest, head thrown back in laughter.

It had been the first night at the Old Haunt. Javier and Kevin had been going the first steps towards a tender blossoming relationship. Kevin all smiley, happy, dorky and adorable about it and Javier - Damn, he had been so very much in love, so happy, so content.

Everything had been great, it didn't even matter at that time that they had to keep it a secret for so many reasons. Javier rubbed his face, then gently touched the face of happy, carefree Kevin Ryan in the picture. The Javier Esposito in that picture, however, he wanted to hit for just being so happy. And being so clueless and so so self-righteous. "Do you and Kevin..."

"Don't, Espo! Just don't go there. You didn't want to hear about it five years ago, so don't start now." Her stern frown got gentler. "Let's face it, I did screw up as well and all you did was backup my stupid idea at first, but-" she broke off, looking at the ceiling and then tilted her head to the side. "You are my friend, Espo. Despite it all, you were always my friend and you were there whenever I asked for it and for that I will always be grateful." She paused, the stern look back on her face. "However, so is Kevin, and seriously Espo, what you did to him back then, to us, to the team, was awful. It took him so long to accept that you just left him and your life. When I did reach you and you just had decided to cut him out of your life without giving him one chance to explain, he - I'd rather if we leave him out of it."

"So, you won't tell-"

"Espo, don't be dense! He might be Mr. Superdaddy nowadays, but he will always be a cop and a detective and most of all my friend, hell, Castle's friend and our twin’s godfather! So yes, I will tell him. But that's all I'm going to do. No speaking on your behalf and no discussing Kevin Ryan around here."

"But you would consider taking me back?" Beckett shoved his shoulder.

"Go, before I come to my senses and throw your sorry ass out!"

With a grin, he jumped up. "Yes, Sir!" Beckett rolled her eyes and with an amused smile nodded to her door.

********************************

"Absolutely not!"

Rick chopped the cucumber with a fierceness that made Kate cringe. Joanna crunched her tiny nose, so she held her daughter even tighter to her and nuzzled her neck, which made the toddler squeal in delight. "Daddy is being silly, isn't he?"

She walked up to where Joanna's brother happily smashed wooden blocks all over the place, growling like a monster. She sat the girl next to him and soon both of them happily went godzilla on their toys. After making sure that it was just on their toys and not each other, she got up again and joined her grumpy husband at the counter again.

He pointed with a potato peeler at her. "Don't come closer, or I'll peel you!" He threatened.

Kate crossed her arms and smiled. "Castle, just hear me out."

"He broke his heart!"

"I know!"

"Have you forgotten the days when we had to cover for him at work because he had overslept again after he had spend yet another night wallowing in misery. He even refused to put on his suits. Kevin Ryan showed up at the precinct in ratty clothing."

"I was there, I know.”

He furiously hacked a potato to pieces and even before he started to speak again, she knew what was about to come. "The day he got shot! We didn't know if he would pull through for several days, if he even wanted to pull through!" Rick stopped chopping for a minute, rubbing his eyes.

"Castle, I sat by his bedside as well." Kate whispered back, still having the smell of Kevin's blood in her nose, still seeing the disbelieving look on Kevin, staring at Manning. His so called partner, who just stood there, white as a sheet, cursing the moment he had decided to test Kevin and getting his much too trusting partner hurt.

And then Kate was yelling for an ambulance through her mic, Castle was pressing down on the heavy bleeding shoulder, talking to the detective, who was now lying on the floor, bleeding and bleeding and asking for his partner and only his partner. A partner who had not been there anymore for a year and could not see the sadness pouring out of his now delirious partner, not understanding why he had to die like that, when all he ever had tried to do was to keep everybody around him safe and happy.

Castle violently threw the potatoes into the pan. "Then why would you take him back there? What would Kev'-"

"He doesn't work there anymore," Kate interrupted.

"Nor does he anywhere else. I mean I could have lived with him being that award winning screenwriter, though I still think he would have been a great bartender, but no, instead he decides to quit all of his ambitions and become a trophy spouse."

Kate rubbed her temples. This discussion again. "And yes, it was his decision, and yes, I know Luisa, and yes it's awesome to have my buddy joining me on the playground and he is a terrific Dad and damn his Yankee seats are even better than mine, but he is also supposed to be out there, with us - you, me and Espo before he turned evil - crime fighting team extraordinaire. Solving mysteries with his amazing research skills and catching suspects on impressingly fast legs. But instead, he lets Mr. Super-CEO dictate his life like he doesn't trust himself to have his own opinions!"

"Jesse might not be picture perfect, but he stood by his side, openly, no matter what anyone said to him."

"Yes, and now he thinks he owns him!"

Joanna and Cosmo looked up at their parents, wondering what made Dad shout. But when they realized that nothing interesting happened, they went on their merry rampage through little brick town.

"He doesn't even let him go out anymore on his own. Like some damsel in distress. He fought murderers for years, smashed in doors of suspects and kicked some serious ass and now these two monkeys follow him everywhere, because 'Mr. Montague is concerned for Mr. Ryan's safety!'." Kate was pretty sure that no one in Kevin's environment spoke with such a high pitched voice, but then again, acting out his anger seemed to help Rick, so she just let him go on.

"It is ridiculous. Yes, he did wonders for LGTB rights and the press loves them, but when there is no event or no gala, he is working, and Kev is stuck with Luisa and Coilin in one of their mansions or has his bodyguards checking out his every move. He is not happy. He can't be, because I saw how a happy Kevin Ryan looks like and it sure as hell is not that!"

Beckett rubbed his arms and then hugged him from behind and started to kiss his back. Rick just continued chopping and Kate continued to cuddle. "I know what you are doing, wife."

She chuckled into his back. "Is it working?"

"I won't say I like it to Kev'."

"I would never expect you to."

"We are doing it for Mama Esposito," he clarified. She kissed him between his shoulder blades. He turned around and with a roll of his eyes, kissed her.

A wailing started, then a ringing of her phone. Both sighed. "You phone? Me kids?" Kate untangled herself from her husband and got her phone, while Rick hurried to a crying Cosmo, kneeling down beside the toddlers.

"Oh no, Cosmo, did your evil twin hit you again?"

Joanna watched him with her best innocent face. "Yes, you, young terminator. Hand over your weapon, carefully and slowly." With an open mouth she gave her Dad the green block, while Cosmo was yelling bloody murder. "Shh, shh, let me see, where did she hit you?"

Continuing with his crying, his chubby fingers went to his forehead. Rick was digging around his pocket, then started to sprinkle something invisible over his boy's head. "Fai'y dus," he sniffled.

And Rick nodded. "Of course, I always have some fairy dust around." Joanna crawled to them. "Ah ah, you brother smasher. That was bad, very bad! Say you are sorry!"

Joanna padded the boy's head. "Sowy, Co’mo!" Cosmo scowled, but let her.

"What am I doing with you, little Miss? Maybe laser tag would help?"

"Castle! What did we say?"

Kate stood right behind them. Her tone not quite strict.

"She can wield that block pretty well!"

Kate took the green block and glared at Castle, again not really with much heat behind it. "It was Jesse, they ran into Espo yesterday. We should visit Kevin."

"Unca Kevin," the twins squealed.

"We all should," she amended.

 

*************************************

 

"Hey, how is my favourite monkey?"

Joanna giggled and hold up her hands, demanding to be handed over to her Godfather, right then. The two year old hated to be carried in public, except by Kevin, who seemed to have the magic ability to transform the feisty girl into a cuddlemonster. She put her arms around Kevin's neck and laid her head on his chest. "Hey there, pretty girl. You okay?"

Joanna nodded and hugged herself even closer. She pulled her head up to Kevin's ear and whispered something. That prompted a loud laugh of the dark blond man and a giggle of the girl. "I might have that!"

Jo nodded and hugged herself around him again.

"Hey, young lady, am I allowed to give him a hug, too?" When she shook her head forcefully towards her Dad, Kevin laughed once again, but leaned over to hug him and then Kate anyway. "Come on in!"

"Jesse here?" Castle put Cosmo down, who ran towards a taller girl, whose curls were tamed into two pigtails on each side. They hugged squealing, and ran down the hallway.

"Nah, he had to leave for a conference in London." Kevin turned to see the two kids run away. "Hey, young lady, stop right there," Kevin hollered after them and the girl stopped with hunched over shoulders. "What did I tell you?"

"No running around with food," she mumbled and shuffled towards her Daddy, handing over a spoon and yogurt. "Sorry, Daddy!"

Kevin put the yogurt on the near sideboard and turned her face up gently by her chin. "Took your pills?" She nodded, but Kevin held out his little finger. "Pinky swear?"

She hooked her finger into his. "And beyond!"

Satisfied, he nodded. "Now remember, Cosmo can't fly, or jump from one floor to another. You are the bigger sister, so take care of him!" She nodded with a determined expression on her face and ran towards the boy again. "I got a slide," she yelled.

When Joanna heard slide, she let go of her big plush and looked after them. "I could save some mint chip ice-cream for you," Kevin said softly. She looked at him. "And your Mom and Dad can be with me!" Joanna seemed to ponder that then nodded and soon after ran after the other kids.

"Another slide?" Castle asked with a frown, as he followed Kate and Kevin down the hall to the dining area. "Ah, yeah. Jesse -" Kevin's voice drifted off and his hand waved it away.

“I'm sorry, did we miss a special day?"

Kevin went to the Espresso machine and snorted. "No, but Jesse did. So, he did buy that stupid slide and he was so pleased with himself when Luisa was hugging him. So, of course we put it there with all the other trophies of absent fatherhood."

He slammed shut the cupboard, where he had gotten three cups out, but then sighed, his back turned to them. "I'm sorry, guys, Coilin got a fever last night, so our one night out in weeks was over pretty soon. Well, the encounter of the fifth kind did ruin the mood anyway, my son just saved me with his very unique charm."

They settled down on the leather couch and sipped on the coffee in awkward silence. The view from the penthouse was still as breathtaking as it was the first time they had stood there watching New York's skyscrapers and the Central Park. Compared to the small apartment Detective Ryan used to live in, this huge residence - one of five properties of the Montagues and of course that island - was from another dimension.

"But he is doing better?" Rick asked. Kevin put down his cup and picked up his baby monitor, playing around with it. "Doctor Murphy gave me something, so at least the poor little guy sleeps for now." He put the little blue machine down again and listened to it carefully, but then started to speak again without looking up at them. "So, whom of you will tell me why you feel the need to check up on me?"

Castle gestured with his eyes, Kate nudged him with her knee. Castle settled for a, "I don't know what you mean."

"I guess Jesse called from the plane and requested to check up on his maybe unstable spouse after running into his ex," he mused out loud still looking at the monitor.

Kate held up her hand to interrupt Castle's possible answer. "Kevin, he was just worried about you. He said you refused to talk to him about it, but felt you should talk to someone. So, yeah, he called us and here we are." Kevin nodded and pulled a face, rubbing his hands together, then put his fidgeting hands on his cup.

"Five years, five damn years, nothing. Just those sporadic updates by Lanie or Catalina. And suddenly, in the Met of all places, a place I would never have gotten him to take one step into - but there he is." He laughed quietly into his cup, never looking up at his friends. "Looking as if he never left and then he says 'Hey!'. Just 'Hey'! I got so much shit at the 12th back in the day. He leaves and I am the 'Judas' and then of course this lovely souvenir right here." He tapped himself on the shoulder.

"I lost the trust of one partner and never got it from the next. I know you think, Castle, I shouldn't have given up, but that's where you are wrong. It was not me who gave up, it was everybody around me, I just went with it." He had that all too familiar sad smile on his face.

"First Javier, who not only gave up on me, but on us, on himself. I had to suffer the consequences and I was so willing to weather it, to show anyone that the plucky sidekick could take it, be someone without the big, badass partner at his side looking out for him. And then that bullet shattered my artery because that asshole had to make a point."

Kate wasn't sure if Kevin even realized that he touched his right shoulder, whenever he mentioned his injury.

“When I woke up I thought, 'now, he'll show up, now he will be impressed.' And plenty showed up, feeling awkward for their behaviour or something like that, but never him." He sniffed, biting his under lip quickly. "So, yeah, I might be a hopeless romantic, but I'm not completely demented. I know when I lost the war. And this thing was lost. So, I put up my white flag, handed in my badge, wrote that little show, charmed a big ass producer and gave that charming big ass producer the chance he had been begging for since we had met."

He finally looked up again. "I might not be the world's greatest catch, but I'm pretty sure I deserve more than a 'Hey'!" It was strangely silent in the room again.

Rick leaned forward, a slight smile on his face. "Damn it, give that man an Emmy and he hands out speeches like it's nothing."

"Two, my dear friend, I have two of them!" Rick waved his hand at him in dismissal. "And I hear you. I told Beckett what I think of that 'blast from the past' thing. What was he doing at the Met anyway?"

Kevin shrugged. "Don't know, don't care! He can go wherever he wants, while I am allowed to leave the room when he enters!"

"Kev', he has requested a transfer back to the 12th." Kevin stared at his ex-boss. Then he leaned back and closed his eyes. "What did you say?"

"Nothing so far, Gates will have to say yes, then I will have to say yes...Kevin, I'm tight with good people..."

"And Javier is a very good detective."

Kate looked at Kevin with surprise, then at Castle, who seemed as shocked as his wife. "You wouldn't mind, Jesse wouldn't mind? Buddy, just say the word and I'll punch him for you." He ignored the look of his wife and nodded determined to follow through.

"I always thought Jo has her temperament from you, Kate, but going against a highly trained ex-special forces, Castle..." He made a doubtful face and then nodded at his ex-boss. "I appreciate the thought, but no one needs to be punched. No, what I want to know is that I won't have to deal with him. I'm not telling you to not meet him yourself. Just, leave me out."

Kate gave him a sad smile. "I understand."

Kevin smiled back. "Thank you, guys."

 

********************************

 

His eyes started to slide close, his head slowly coming closer and closer to the wall.

"Commissioner Gates is expecting you." His body snapped up, barely catching his folder from falling to the floor and saw a young man standing in front of him. "Wha? I mean, yeah, sure - thank you!" The man gestured at the wooden door. Javier rubbed his eyes and tried to stretch his neck before he knocked on the door.

"Come in."

Javier straightened up. Forcing his shoulders to relax then went into the office. Commissioner Gates had shorter hair, the hard lines around the eyes seemed even harder, the glasses however seemed to be the same as before though. "Have a seat," she said, not looking up from her papers she was reading.

Behind her enormous desk, there were pictures of Gates with the Major, some Senators and well, Kevin Ryan with an Emmy in his hand, besides him Jesse Montague, a possessive hand around his waist and Gates standing next to the happy, smiley couple. Gates followed his line of sight over her glasses, her eyebrows raised. "Straight to the point as usual, Detective."

"Sir?"

She leaned forward on her arms and hold up her right hand, thumb and index finger nearly touching each other at the tips. "I was this close to declining your request. The last thing I need is Jesse Montague having a hissy fit, because I employed his husband's ex."

"But you will say yes?"

She crossed her arms over her chest. "Well, Mr. Montague called this morning and assured me he would not intervene in NYPD business."

"Then I guess I owe him my gratitude."

Gates snorted. "I highly doubt that. If you'd ask me, he didn't sound like a man who had a change of heart, but like a guy whom had been dragged by his ear to the phone."

"Are you implying that Ryan...?"

"I'm implying nothing, Detective. I can't help, but notice, however, the fine irony that your Judas is one of the only people around here who sticks up for his old partner, no matter if he wants Kevin's loyalty or not."

Kevin? With whom is Kevin not on first name basis nowadays? "Then I guess I owe him that one, too."

"So it seems. Dismissed."

Javier jumped up, when Gates called after him. "Oh, Detective Esposito, a word of advice. Stay away from the Montagues."

Chapter Text


Be it New York, Chicago or even Afghanistan - there was always the unpleasantness of being woken up way too early. Still dark outside and - he peeked outside his plastic blinds- yeap, rain, of course there had to be those days with rain.

Sighing, he wandered down the small hallway, switching on the light in the bathroom. In the mirror a tired middle of thirties guys stared back at him, but at least he was showered and shaven. He got his clothes out, while the cold pipes cracked. After a deep yawn, he splashed some warm water in his face. Special forces or not, if he could choose between warm and cold water - warm it was.

"¿M'hijo?"

He turned off his water, wiping of his mouth. "Ma?" He saw a light burning in the small bedroom opposite him. His mother tried to sit up, moaning. He rushed in, sitting down. "Ma, lie down, I have a call-in. Gotta go," he grumbled and received a swat to his hands for that.

"Javier, my good boy, it's your first case back at the NYPD," she sat up, closing her eyes for bit.

"Ma, you just came out of rehab two weeks ago. Could you please take it easy, so I can go to work without suffering a stroke myself," he growled, but she was up, walking slowly to their kitchen. Sensing defeat, he followed her, not holding her, but hovering behind her.

"I know what you are doing, my boy," she said without turning around. "You know, I managed on my own the last five years." Javier swallowed, feeling his throat close up. To think that call four weeks ago could have gone another way- "I'm sorry to inform you that your mother has passed away, Mister Esposito."

He watched his mother roam around the fridge. She had lost weight and aged. Her once full grey hair was now thinner. If it is was those last five years or the near fatal stroke, he didn't know, but either possibility would weigh heavily on his conscious forever. He had left a lot behind and there were many amendsto make.

"Ah, there you are," she heard her mumble in triumph, showing a paper bag. It was his favourite sandwich, bacon, avocado, chicken and honey. Ah, and of course a donut to top it off. Man, had he been stupid.

Catalina Esposito watched her son's stricken face. Now, she considered herself a most excellent sandwich maker, but in her son's eyes was the same sad look, when he had told her he had to go. She put the paper bag down on the table and put her hand on his cheek.

"¡Escucha, m'hijo! What's done is done. You can only change the here and later. And right now you are here," she said sternly, but with a small smile.

He nodded, then took a deep breath. "Lo siento, Mama," he then said and she chuckled.

"Ah, more terrible things have been committed in the name of love," she shrugged and patted his cheek with a wink, ignoring his baffled face. "Still, I should have been the one the hospital had called after they admitted you," he insisted.

Instead Kate had called him. "I'm just glad that Kate took care of you all those years." She frowned, but then reached around and pressed the bag into his hand. "Ah yes, Kate, nice girl," she muttered.

"Ma?"

"Go, don't want to be late on your first case, hmm?"

He looked at his watch. "Right!" He leaned over for a quick kiss to her cheek.

"If you need me, my phone-"

"Go, you stubborn mule!" Catalina Esposito pointed at the door.

 

*********************************

 

Lanie Parish kneeled next to the body, a middle aged white woman in a Chanel dress, lying on the floor. Very likely choked by her pearl necklace. Her eyes opened wide. Right up Castle's alley, Lanie thought to herself.

When she looked up, she saw Javier Esposito stroll in, still knowing how to make an entrance: Head up high, leather jacket still slightly wet from the trip from the car to the condo, badge hanging from its usual chain around the neck and yes those nice, just tight enough clothing to make a girl want to see more. Too bad he was not interested.

But first things first. She got up, her eyes narrowed and before he or that newbie girl trailing behind him could get a word out, slapped him soundly. She could hear the gasps and the barely hidden chuckles from all their colleagues.

Everybody knew that Lanie had been tight with their returned prodigal son. "Lanie, what the hell - "

"That's for vanishing on us," she snapped.

"We Skype regularly," Javi complained dumbfounded and Lanie snorted. "Yes, but I still owed you that for all the chaos you created and mostly for breaking my guy's heart," she waved her hand at him as if that should be a given.

"I thought I was your guy," Javi couldn't help but grumble, which just earned him another trademark Lanie glare. "And yes, I probably deserved that," he admitted.

"Uh-huh," she nodded along. "Now, give me a proper hug, so we can go back to work." Grinning, they both embraced each other. "Drinks later?" She whispered in his ear and with a laugh, he nodded. Yes, this could work, he could do that.

When they let go of each other, his partner, Jessica Carter looked at them with wide eyes. She was a young, bright eyed kid with her long, thick braid lying on her back, her Indian ancestry evident in her facial features. Adopted at half a year-old by a couple from Louisiana, she had less than an idea about her birth or her origin than Javi had of his mother's home country.

She had introduced herself the following way: "I'm Jessica Carter, your new partner. Yes, haha, an Indian girl named Jessica. No, I don't know how to wiggle my head like that, nor do my parents want to marry me off to some guy from Mumbai. My Mom taught me to play the Blues of her grandpa, my father insisted I play the violin. I like tea though."

So, yeah, not the quiet Tom Sawyer of Chicago, surely no Kevin Ryan - no he made peace with the fact that he always will compare his partners to a certain blue-eyed, trivia loving, dry humoured Irishman and they would never hold up - , but he could work with Jessica Carter from Louisiana. "So, what have we got?

"34-year old Rebecca Cornish, wife of Kyle Cornish," a uniform provided, handing Javier her wallet. "Her husband found her on the floor strangled after he had come home from a long business dinner."

Javier covered his eyes. Just his luck.

"What is it?" Carter looked at the pale woman on the floor.

Yes, the late night calls tended to be the worst. "I have to call the Captain."

 

***************************

 

"Are you sure? Right, okay, I'll be there as soon as possible. Tell the Unis to close that place down immediately, I don't want any details on the news tomorrow morning."

Kate was already up, seeing her sleepy husband blinking up at her. "Ok, Espo, thanks, I'll be there in 15. Till then." The clock said 5.54.

"Wha happe'n'," Rick asked, blinking against the bedlight, she switched on on her side of their bed.

"Cornish's wife was found strangled in their apartment," she explained, already changing.

"Kyle Cornish?" Now, he was awake.

"Yeah!"

"Oh, wow, that's gonna be a circus," he then added and Kate nodded. Circus would be putting it mildly. "Didn't their kid go to the same kindergarten as Luisa?"

Now, that he mentioned it, Kevin once had mentioned her to be a member of the "bitch club". Rick's naming, not Kevin's. She made a mental note to ask Kevin for some intel. After a quick run through the bathroom, one had to look presentable somewhat to the cameras, she finished getting into one of her formal, darker colored suits. Her shoulder length hair strictly done back.

Yes, it was ridiculous that female cops had to put that much thought into her looks, but the less her appearance drew attention, the better for the case. She made a point to forgo female protocol one by one over the years, but same things couldn't be helped just yet. Kate calmed herself with the notion that even her male counterparts had to be cautious of their get up in such high profile cases.

In the kitchen her husband waited with her full coffee mug, yawning and in a bathrobe. "Babe, I know I promised that I would have the kids this afternoon, so you could meet up with Gina for your latest draft..."

"Alexis or mother are always happy to take the two monsters," Rick interrupted.

"What if Alexis is busy with one of her bosses’ cases and Martha is at rehear-?"

"I'm sure Kevin will be happy to take his godchildren on short notice!" Her mouth snapped shut and then her husband of nearly four years pushed the warm mug in her hand.

"Did I tell you that you are awesome at all that?" With a smile, she placed a kiss on his lips.

"Occasionally," Rick smiled at her lips, receiving one in return. "Now go, save the world!"

At the crime scene Kate didn't blink at the influx of cameras, reporters and bystanders. The wife of an influential hedge fund manager had been found dead. He was famous for dismantling companies, she for her art collection and high end parties. You were either very wealthy or very influential, otherwise you would not get in.

And her last party had been all over the press. Some guests had to be removed, it was said there had been drugs found and yes, it all ended with a fire. A disaster for the appearance-conscious socialite.

“Captain,” Officer McLeary nodded at her, when she stepped into the apartment. She saw Lanie packing her tools and the body being lifted on a stretcher. Espo stood to the side with Carter, both of them interviewing Kyle Cornish.

She might have been out of the game for a bit and had come to terms with the fact that she could not run to every crime-scene herself, but had her people for it. And yes, she knew that her position gave her the influence she so often had missed back in the day as just a detective. That didn’t mean she didn’t feel the rush and almost felt like back in the day. Seeing Espo, looking as if he never had left, however, made it even harder. Of course, with no Castle bouncing around and a dark haired woman instead of a dark blond man beside Espo, her short trip down memory lane was quickly interrupted.

“Captain?”

Espo and Carter walked up to her, Carter still scribbling on her notepad. “Husband was at a late-night business dinner. We are checking on that. It appears though that she had a guest over.” He pointed towards the sofa and two almost empty glasses on the coffee table.

“Do we know who it was?”

Espo shrugged and lifted a bagged phone. “Tech will have to go over her calendar, callers list and what else they’ll find on it.”

Now, Kate couldn’t help her fond smile. Yes, back in the day she had one of the highest closing rates in the city, but that was to no small amount to her great team, most importantly her junior detectives. “Right, well, I get a statement out the press. And you, be careful,” she nodded.

“Because of the high-profile?” Carter seemed unsure.

“No, because you move in circles now where egos are high, but impulse control is not.”


************************


Espo and Carter leaned against the desk, both of them having mugs in their hands. He, black coffee, she, green tea with honey. "So, according to their housekeeper, Mrs. Cornish was not only very friendly with her fitness trainer - " to that both Detectives had to snort at just on principle. "- and of course the dear business partner of her dear husband," Carter finished Javier's sentence. He nodded and scratched his head. "All of them have solid alibis."

He could hear Carter's frustration after three interviews. First the husband then the two others. So far, nothing. What had looked like a shut and close case, turned out to be much more difficult. "It has the markers of a crime of passion. Choked in her own living room, wine set on the table, at night. We are missing something," Carter sighed and bit her lip. A nervous tick Javier soon had discovered during their first two days working their first case together.

Some nagging feeling told Javier that this party connected everything. Kate had strongly voiced that opinion, too. When he looked up his Captain stood in her office, talking to Gates. The case was delicate, lots of egos, but Kate being Kate Beckett, refused to tread lightly. So far that stupid event at a high end club in SoHo had been mentioned by every single witness. Well, the obvious suspects were out of the way, on to the female suspects, her "friends", or how Castle had dubbed them "the bitch club".

"So, we have Anabelle De la Fleur, and as a native Louisiana girl, I'd like to add just this once that her name is a disgrace to all of us normals," Carter said, rolling her eyes into her teacup. "Wife of George De la Fleur the 3rd, oil magnate and part time New Yorker. His wife came for the kids' education. You just can't start up them networks early enough," she continued with a much deeper southern drawl then she usual displayed.

Javier nodded. "Then we got Mrs. Carter-"

"No relation," Carter interrupted him, which earned her a glare.

"-whose husband is the partner of Clive, Carter and partners. They have mostly big companies as their clients, La Fleur oils between them. Caroline Carter heads several charities and her family of four kids." He pointed at the picture of the strict looking blonde on the murder board.

"Carmilla or ChiChi Moretti is the wife of stock market trader turned business consultant Tony Moretti. Both of them love skiing in Aspen and she visiting high end fashion shows, being the heiress of the fashion store chain "Steal and Co." And yes putting her twins into very cute, fashion magazines followed outfits for their trips to the daycare." The black haired woman looked like the most fashion forward of the four.

"And then we got Bahar al Nahawi," he finished the club members. She was the wife of Assim al Nahawi, business man originally from Egypt, and with very good connections to the Arab world. His business spanned from food to oil to everything that made money in the middle east. And Bahar was the only one with an actual day to day job. She was the founder of the "ABC daycare, kindergarden and grammar school". Whose kids were accepted into the halls at the 54th were usual set for a very good life.

"So, what connects all of them?" Javier asked out loud.

"ABC," both of them answered.

He looked at his watch. "And, look, it's nearly one o'clock. Think we should get some statements?"

 

***************************

 

Javier had worked enough high profile cases in the past to not give a damn to walk through a sea of high end politicians, known managers, A-listers from Hollywood and well known socialites. It was like a meeting from Forbes 100 - New York edition. Carter on the other hand couldn't help the occasional stare, but seemed to hold up ok besides that.

"NYPD, we would like a word with Bahar al Nahawi?" A young woman in a grey costume looked at the badge of Carter with wide eyes, but then nodded and pointed down the hallway, where her Boss was deep in conversation with no others then Carter - no-relation - and De la Fleur.

"Awful, awful business," they heard Mrs. Carter say, shaking her well styled head.

"Good thing he didn't show up to that event."

"Yes, but there is always the mystery night. I heard the significant other loves to read," replied De la Fleur and Carter nodded eagerly.

"Yes, we met at the Children in need foundation and I tell you, simply charming that one." She provided and then added with a stage whisper: "Not to mention Clive would love me forever if he was introduced to the husband." The giggles grated on Javier ears. And to think those were the circles Kevin moved in nowadays. Five years or not, he had a hard time picturing his ex-lover at any event with those women. "- about the death of Rebecca Cornish?"

He just heard the end of Carter's introduction. Great, Esposito, the man clearly had moved on, maybe you should, too? "Oh, that poor thing," Mrs. Carter stated, her head shaking, while the others nodded along with the statement.

"We understand you knew Rebecca Cornish?" Carter pressed on and oh, what have we got here? Rich Carter closed off and her counterparts looked at her for guidance.

"Well, knew might be a bit too much, we were acquaintances by our children, yes, organized a few events, but beyond that not much." al Nahawi looked intently at her customer. De la Fleur nodding to almost every word, playing with her pearl earrings.

"Yes, I mean that last event was a bit of a downer," the headmistress said, again nods all around.

"The last event?" Javier pressed on, when his phone started to buzz.

"Excuse me, Ladies."

 

****************************

 

"Where are we?" The elevator was as fashionable as the rest of the building.

"Kamazi Plaza, the building for the really rich, if not always famous," Carter provided. "Everything ok?"

Finally, Javier could put his phone away. "Yeah, just my mother looking for things she forgot she put away in the first place." Javier rolled his eyes.

"Are we going the whole way up?"

Now, Carter looked giddy. "Hell yeah, and I'm getting myself an autograph." She ignored the glare of her partner on purpose.

"Carter, that might have been okay in Vice, but in homicide you don't go and ask a person of interest for his initials unless they sign their statement."

"Yeah, yeah, are you always this much fun??" Carter waved him off, just earning an eyeroll. "And I heard he is pretty chill, so-."

Just his luck, he got stuck with a hyper teenager. "Let's just get this statement done." With a sigh, she let it drop. The rest of the way up, was in silence. The door slid open to a long corridor.

When he was about to get out, she hold her hand before him. "Listen, there is high profile and there is high profile," she began.

Taking her arm away, he walked by her. In the lobby, they already had to show their badges and someone had to open the elevator for them and unlock the floor and then spoke to someone that they were coming up. And this hallway had a carpet, a well maintained carpet. Yeah, this was high profile alright. The heavy wooden door opened and a small girl in a green pajama answered. Cute curls, darker complexion, clearly Hispanic.

"Hey there, Chiquita," he greeted with a smile, but the girl just stared at him with an open mouth. Then leaned forward and stared at his badge. "Are you a cop?" she asked.

"Yes, I am," he confirmed. "Is your Dad home?"

She shook her head.

"Your mother?" Again a shake of her head.

"Anyone?"

Now, she giggled. "You are funny!"

"Luisa Catalina Ryan, how often do we have to tell you, you don't open the door to strangers?" A big guy in a suit stepped behind her, ushering her in. "You should be in bed. Where is your father?"

She pointed somewhere. "Well, get him," big guy shoved her inside.

"But they are cops, Daddy said we can trust cops," Javier heard the complaint behind the door.

"Don't make me rat you out to him," he replied with a stern face. "And I saw that!" Finally, he turned again. "Detectives, may I see your badges, please?"

They were escorted by Mr. Big guy, ten bucks that was their bodyguard, into an open space living room with a breathtaking view of the Manhattan skyline and partly Central Park. A gallery above them implied at least a second floor.

"Mr. Montague will be here in a moment. Would you like something to drink?" Carter went for a latte , Javier declined. Rookie would learn soon enough not to drink on an interview heavy day. Never knew where it took you. He saw the expensive looking art on the wall (was that a real Warhol?), had past by a shelf full of awards, he only had recognized the two Emmys on first glance, in the hallway, and then this view? "Carter, who is our witness?"

"That would be me."

Kevin Ryan stood near the kitchen counter, the little girl from before hiding behind his legs. He wore slacks and a simple grey shirt.

"Daddy, they are cops. Are you in trouble?" Kevin looked down at the girl - his daughter - and chuckled.

He looked at ease, like he belonged and Javier felt his heart clench painfully at that. "No, sweetie, but I know a little girl that will be if she won't get her feverish butt back to bed like her Daddy told her to." Even Javier had to chuckle at the overly deep groan.

"Daaaddy, pleeeasse," she started to whine, but stopped suddenly, when Kevin looked down on her. "Luisa, do I look like your Dad?"

"No," she sighed, crossing arms over her chest.

"Then why are you trying the puppy look with me?"

"But, Daddy -"

"Don't you Daddy me, Luisa. Now, be the good girl we both know you can be and go to your bed. I'll have to talk grown-up stuff with these two detectives and if you should be still awake, we can continue our story." He gently nudged her towards the stairs.

He watched the girl climb up the stairs, then finally faced his visitors. "I'm sorry, she is a cranky sick person." He shook Carter's hand, who looked close to being giddy, then finally looked at Javier directly. "Javier, Kate told me you are back at the 12th." He hold up his hand, displaying a detached politeness that was off on so many levels, but worse was the name he used. Espo, Javi, bro, man, love, idiot, - never Javier.

Swallowing the unwelcome lump, he forced a smile on himself. "Ryan, it's good to see you," he said and received a funny face for that. Ryan-speak for "What the fuck, man?" At least some things he still understood. He felt the stare of his new partner, while Kevin settled on the seat opposite him, putting a light blue baby phone on the table.

"It's about Rebecca Cornish, I assume?" Kevin started without further ado. He gestured at the flatscreen at the wall underneath the Warhol. "It's all over the news. I take it you were at ABC's?"

Carter peaked a surprised glance at Javier, who barely suppressed a snort. "Yes, how did you know?"

Kevin smiled--no smirked, at Carter's astonished tone. "That's where I would have started after I alibied out the husband and the lovers," he shrugged then, fixing Javier with his deep blue eyes. That bastard knew what those eyes did to Javier. Shifting around on the couch, he wetted his lips and nodded. "I would have been at ABC around one, if Luisa didn't catch the cold from her brother two days ago. And yes, I saw Rebecca Cornish fight with one of the mothers - Kyla Smith. It had been about that party at the Bulldogs. Rebecca accused Kyla of ruining it by dragging 'her trash' into it. To which Kyla said that she hadn't minded her trash a few weeks ago. Then Rebecca told her she was done. Oh, and then they saw me and the bitching stopped and the smiles were turned back on."

"Because of you?" Javier let his disbelief drip from his voice.

Again those cold eyes fixed on him. "Why yes, Detective Esposito, because of little old me." He lifted his left hand, wiggled his ring finger. "Not even a Mrs. Cornish wants a Montague to see her in the wrong light." Both men glared at each other. Out if the corner of his eyes, he saw the slack faced sideline stare of his partner. She cleared her voice.

"Uhm, anything more?"

Kevin, no Ryan, no more Kevin, that much Detective Esposito had learned from the interview, leaned back and gave Carter a genuine, nice smile. "No, nothing I'm afraid," he then said.

"So, no regular bookclubs, no charity events, fundraising?" Javier knew it was stupid, but if someone was able to spike the infamous Esposito temper it would be Ryan.

"We bumped into each other at the ABC or some events, yes, but we barely spoke more than a few words. I'm not that fond of standing around in circles eating tinie tiny bits of snacks that will keep you hungry."

"So, none of her circle ever tried to approach you about her events?" Javier leaned forward, remembering the conversation of a two third of the bitch club and was almost sure Ryan was the center of their interest.

"Sure, as did Carter, De la Fleur, Nahawi, hell, that fourth wife of Colby. I married Jesse almost four years ago, and after the initial shock of the gay people taking over the world, they figured money was money and ever since then I have to sit down one hour per week to go through the invites. So, yes, she very likely tried to get me to join ‘the bitch club’, but that's not related to the case, just my normal, daily life."

Again, Carter cleared her voice. "Mr. Montague, please forgive my partner, long shift, unpleasant people."

"Of course, I understand."

"Big fan of your husband's technology and ’The Badge’. God, I loved that show. But why did you only work two seasons on it?" she said and Ryan raised her eyebrows at the onslaught of information.

"Well, Jesse will be pleased to hear. And about the show, the story I wanted to tell, was done and I had a more important commitment," he then said carefully, but Carter wasn't done fangirling over Ryan.

"But why did you have to kill off Detective Martinez? I wanted him and O'Connell to end up together." Javier shifted in his chair, feeling very hot all of the sudden. Martinez? O'Connell? Cop-show!

"You killed him?" he blurted out, cringing internally at his raised voice. He never watched the show, always figured it hit too close to home.

"Not all stories have a happy ending, Detective," Ryan mused, while Javier felt the Irishman's gaze on himself. Well, too close didn't even cut it.

"If that would be all, I have a sick kid upstairs."

 

*********************************

 

"Interesting interview technique back in there," Carter broke the uncomfortable silence in their elevator ride downwards. Javier just grunted. "I'm curious, how is it called? The 'piss off one of the most powerful spouses in New York' technique?"

He crossed his arms and stared at the ceiling. "I mean, he didn't pull any punches either, but only at you remarkable," the woman insisted on the conversation. "Look, Esposito, I've been told by my Mom I keep sticking my nose in others' businesses, but I was never that good at listening. Soo--" She took a deep breath. "I heard your last partnership ended badly, so I don't expect to be buddy buddy with rookie, but if you are planning to piss off some more influential people, just give me a heads--"

"Ryan was the partner," Javier interrupted.

Her mouth remained open. "Wha-"

"Kevin Ryan was my last partner with the NYPD," he clarified, which prompted a shocked "Oh!"

They were silent for a bit. "So, it really ended ba-"

"Yes." Thankfully, they remained silent up to the precinct.

Back at the station, they put the info Ryan gave him on the murder board. They had to look into that other mother. More pearl necklaces and fake smiles then. However, after the run-in with Stepford-Ryan, very good looking, adorable Daddy Stepford-Ryan, his ever unhelpful mind supplied, the worst had to be over. At least Carter now knew not to touch that snake pit. And yeah, she should have gotten him up to speed in their investigation before they stepped into that interview, but he was the veteran and should had asked her for that. Instead he had been distracted.

"Detective, a word in my office, please?" Beckett stood behind him, an unreadable look on her face. With Beckett, unreadable rarely meant good things. And when she asked him to close the door behind himself, he knew he was in trouble.

She sat down, leaned forward. Now, only pictures of the person he murdered was missing. "I didn't do it," he said, as that technique seemed to work on her, when Castle tried it. He, however, received a Captain's glare for that weak attempt of a joke.

"Joined the ranks of starving comedians back in Chicago?"

Okay, note for the future, you are no Castle. Javier remained wisely silent this time.

"So, you didn't, despite me and Commissioner Gates telling you explicitly to stay away, go to Ryan's place and conduct a '- how did Ryan put it?' - ah yes, an interview 'where at least no one got punched'?"

Javier bit his lips and scratched his head. "I didn't know Ryan would be our witness...?"

"You didn't know? So, what? Carter blindfolded you and then yelled surprise in Ryan's livingroom?"

She definitely had no qualms to imitate her husband. "No, my mother called and she..." He drifted off. "I'm sorry, it was unprofessional, it won't happen again," he then said. Beckett looked mildly surprised, then nodded again.

"Ah, Ryan told you that?" She leaned back in her seat, again that unreadable look on her face again.

"Yes, but if you think he called to complain, let me sooth your worries. I called, because I knew he had the connection, wanting to spare both of you that situation." She shrugged, a tired smile on her face. "And he didn't mention your name, but since I tend to keep up with my Detectives I knew who those ‘two detectives’ were."

"He didn't tell you?" At his confused smile, she rolled her eyes.

"Espo, that guy never once said a bad word against you in this precinct until he left. Kevin is nice to a default. So, no, he didn't rat you out to your superior, you were just unlucky that Ryan is terrible at lying at his friends. Could you please therefore stop implying that?"

Feeling heat raising up in his head, he nodded. "I know, Kate, I just didn't expect to run into him that quickly and now everywhere where I turn, it seems to be Kevin Ryan, Kevin Ryan, Kevin Ryan. I think the universe is trying to punish me." She gave him another hard stare. "And yeah, I might deserve it," he sighed and Kate rubbed her forehead.

"We agreed not to discuss Kevin here, but it's your first day out in the field and here we are, in my office, discussing Kevin Ryan."

There was some more awkward silence before Kate obviously decided to throw him a bone. "Okay, Espo, just one tiny thing for you to chew on." She leaned forward again. "Was Kevin heartbroken when you just left? Yes, very much so. Was that the sole reason he left? Absolutely not. The truth is, the next partner he got, was an asshole and incompetent and it got him shot. Long story short, Kevin is strong, much stronger than he might give himself credit for, and if he really wanted to, he could have pulled through, but he had lost his passion for it and was honest enough to not just shuffle through it. And even though there are many days I miss his input and output here, I can respect that. And if there is any of the old Roach-magic left-" she paused, smiling at him "-you should pay him that much respect as well."

Javier by now nodded. It wasn't much, but it was something. Despite what people might think, he knew already he messed up and yes, he somewhat kept up with Ryan's life, which was painfully easy nowadays through a quick google search. He had known it one year after he had left, during his tour in Iraq.

When news finally reached him that Ryan had been shot and Ryan never returned to duty, instead he had picked up writing. And while he had worked on that one email, trying to set right some wrongs, he had seen that Late Show with Jesse Montague, telling the world about his new husband, a certain Irish ex-cop. "But you already knew most if it, didn't you?", his Captain interrupted his thoughts and Javier smiled weakly. Kate Beckett, was and always will be a detective.

Chapter Text

“Rice?”

“Nah, I’m good.”

“Rice?”

Catalina Esposito was many things, mild mannered she was not. So, when she noticed that her grown-up son had decided to leap back to his 15-year-old self and go on a love-induced hunger strike, she made it her mission to get Javier to eat, big spoon full of rice hovering over his very empty plate threateningly.

“Aroza?”

Javier eyed her wearily, but then lifted his plate up to accept some more rice. Gloomily, he dug into his meal. After some meager bites, he sighed, put the fork down and took a deep breath.

“Harder than you thought, hmm?”

With a tired smile Javier looked at his mother, who sat down opposite him. “Yeah. I didn’t think it would be easy, just-- first case is not getting ahead, Beckett is now my Captain, married to Castle and a mom, hell Gates is Commisioner--”

“And Kevin?” And she wasn’t a patient woman either. Yes, Javier tried to dance around the big elephant in the room, but Catalina knew he would take weeks to mention the Irishman, blaming his mood on everything, up until the weather, just to avoid getting to the painful topic.

“Ma, I really don’t want to talk about.”

She put down the fork and glared at her son. “And we tried that for the last five years. Tell me, how did that work out for you?”

When he rolled his eyes, Catalina slapped his hand. “Don’t roll your eyes at your mother.” He barely restrained to pull a face. “Now, again, how did it work out for you?”

He was silent at first, glaring at the innocent table. “He barely acknowledged that we know each other those few days ago, Ma. It was like I was some old colleague, not-- not what we actually were.”

Her face softened and she nodded along.

“And I know I fucked up, I know, but how can I make it up to Ryan if he --,” he broke off and sighed again.

Catalina reached over and gently squeezed his hand. “Kevin was surely as shocked as you to meet you at the Met and then at his own place--.”

“More like palace.” Javier snorted and received disapproving pursed lips for interrupting. “Sorry.”

“He hasn’t changed that much, you know,” Catalina suddenly said, receiving a sharp calculated gaze for that, all his -- what did Castle call it? -- spidey senses were tingling.

“Yeah? Wanna tell me something, Ma?”

Catalina retracted her hand reached for her fork. “Eat your food, boy,” she said.

“Ma--.” His phone went off. When he pulled it out, he saw Carter’s number on it. “Esposito?”

“Hey, Espo, there was a break-in at the ABC,” Carter greeted him. “They tried to access the locker of Selina Cornish, but were surprised by the nightwatch. It was Chi Chi and a teacher from ABC.”

Espo got up. “Right, meet you in 20 at the precinct?”

“You got it,” Carter said and hang up.

“I’m sorry, there’s been a development. I have to go back in.” He walked around and kissed his mother on the cheek. “This conversation is not over.”

In the precinct, a full, still steaming cup of freshly brewed coffee waited for him at the desk and a suspect in interrogation room 2. The second suspect was already with her lawyer in room 1.

Carter leaned at his desk, a file under her arm. “Moretti’s lawyer is already there. Guess who?”

“Clive Carter?”

With a smirk she saw the surprised look on her face. “Don’t look so surprised, Rookie. The wives are friends and I can read. Now, bring me up to speed.”

She nodded, going through her notes. “Right, at eight an alarm was triggered and when the guys from the alarm-company checked, they found Chi Chi and a certain Lola Miller with their hands stuck in the locker of little Selina. So far, we don’t know what they wanted.”

“Okay, let’s get to it.”

They entered the first interrogation room, Lola cowering on her chair, looking around with big eyes. Her hands tried to get her hair back behind her ears again and again. A first timer then. Espo peeked into her very thin file Carter had prepared, and yes, so far, parking tickets withholding -- but which respectable New Yorker with a driving license didn’t have those -- she had a clean record.

Espo signed for Carter to give him the lead, still looking at the file, while sitting down. Let’s grill the newbie.

“Mrs. Miller, you’ve been informed of your rights?” He turned a sheet of the files.

“I, yes?”

Finally, Espo looked up, looking grim. “I’m Detective Javier Esposito, this is my partner Detective Jessica Carter. We are the leading detectives in the Cornish-homicide. I assume you know of the murder of Mrs. Rebecca Cornish?”

As assumed, at the word ‘homicide’ her eyes got even bigger. “I’ve read it in the papers,” was the hesitant reply.

Espo shared a quick, sardonic glance with Carter. “Yeah, in the papers? Both children of Mrs. Cornish were at ABC. And Selina is in your class--.”

“I didn’t think it was such a big deal,” Miller blurted out.

Espo leaned forward. “Breaking in a student’s locker whose mother was just murdered is not such a big deal?”

“I work there, I didn’t know an alarm would be activated, I used my keys. She only wanted to peek into a notebook, not steal anything.”

Frowning, Espo just glared at her. “What notebook,” his partner chimed in.

“I don’t know. Some notebook with a guest-list from some party. I’m just a preschool teacher, I’m not invited to those parties.” Her hands were trembling. “I only wanted that recommendation. My kids would not get into those schools, but with a signed letter of Mrs. Moretti--.”

“A recommendation? You risked your job for a recommendation?” Carter looked flabbergasted.

 

*********************************

 

"Sorry about that,” Carter mumbled, mixing some sugar into her green tea.

Espo still struggled to get a hang of the new espresso machine. Three weeks and he still took five minutes to get a damn cup done. Carter took the coffee powder from him and started to prepare in swift movements.

“Took me a while as well, but the Captain’s husband showed me once.”

Espo frowned.

“I could show you--.” Her voice drifted off at his remaining frown.

Slowly, he leaned against the counter, then folded his arms over his chest. “Alright, Carter. I tell you what, you make my coffee and I make sure you don’t just blurt out whatever goes through your head.”

To that the small woman smiled and turned to retrieve his coffee. “Sugar?”

With both drinks in hand, they went to their desks and picked up the files. When Carter wanted to put her cup on the table, Espo shook his head. “I have an idea, but you would have to trust me.”

Carter frowned, but then nodded. “Okay, partner, what’s the plan?”

Espo managed to not wince at ‘partner’ as after Ryan he never liked anyone to call him that. It just felt off. Maybe another thing to let go off. He nodded and gestured at her cup. “Take that with you.” After a quick blink, she just shrugged and followed her more experienced partner into interrogation 1. She kept following his lead and took a deep sip from her coffee.

“Mrs. Moretti, I assume your counselor has advised you on your rights?” Espo started, sorting through his files. “Now, where did I--,” He looked over at Carter, pulling a face. “Gee, Carter, what messed up system are you trying to establish here? This is not your homemade cupcakes folder.”

Carter’s eyes widened. Out of the corner of her eyes, she saw their witness watch their exchange with interest. So, she aimed her glare at her partner. Espo was gruff, tough and sarcastic, he was not mean or a sexist that much she had learned the last three weeks.

And then he quickly winked before his face transformed into a scowl. “Cupcake, get this file organized and then we can proceed,” he growled, reaching for the file and knocked the coffee over and spilt it all over the files plus himself. Cursing, he jumped up.

“Yeah, why don’t you get cleaned, while we ladies here talk about woman-stuff,” Carter quipped. Espo sneered and stormed out.

Mrs. Moretto had a tiny smile on her face. “Well played, detective,” she then said. “Let’s get it over with then.” She leaned forward, the jewelry on her arm clinking together. “From woman to woman, I was looking for some--”

“My client will not comment--,” Mr. Carter finally spoke up and got fixed with a cold stare.

“Woman to woman, Clive,” she then simply said.

“I strongly advise against talking about anything, Chi Chi,” he said in a strong, but soothing voice.

“It’s Mrs. Moretti,” his client snapped.

In the end, despite heavy protest, the lawyer stormed out headshaking, going straight for the restroom to seek out the coffee-soaked detective.

“Well done, detective,” he said as he washed his hands next to Espo.

Espo just raised his eyebrows at him, while continuing to get the worst coffee-stains out of his shirt. “The spilt coffee?”

Carter leaned against the sink, crossing his arms in front of his chest. “Okay, play it that way, but be rest assured that you can play this card only once,” he then added. “My client might be vain, but she is not stupid.”

Espo snorted and Carter was about to leave, but then turned again. “I’m just hoping that your behaviour is not part of your private grudge.” Espo looked up. “Excuse me?”

Carter smiled thinly. “Well, I heard you were Kevin Ryan-Montague’s last partner here and well, I met some of my wife’s loser ex-boyfriends and those guys never got over the fact that their ex-girlfriend could have only ended up with someone like me and therefore hated happily married spouses on principal.” He shrugged.

“So?” Espo knew he was baiting him, but his history with Kevin was none of that asshole’s business.

“So, it’s a clever way to make Chi Chi Moretti talk against her lawyer's council, but pull that stunt with Jessie's husband and you won’t get a foot on the ground again in this city,” he said with a sweet smile and left.

After Espo was sure that Carter was too far away to hear anything, he hit the mirror with his fist. He pulled his hand back to hit once more, but then let it sink down. Just at this moment Jessica Carter peaked in the room with a big grin: “Espo...” Her voice drifted off and she studied his bloody knuckles and the broken mirror.

“Yes?” Espo asked irritated.

The dark haired girl opened and closed her mouth several times, then just shrugged. “We need to go back to ABC,” she settled for instead with a guarded look.

For a few seconds Espo just wanted to smash the next mirror. It was the next opportunity to walk into Kevin, despite trying to do what Kevin wanted and avoid him.

Feeling very tired, He nodded, ignoring her looks on his bloody knuckles and the destroyed mirror. “Kay, but tomorrow- tomorrow, Carter. We need sleep, not run ourselves into the ground with every lead we find,” he then said, shaking his head at the over eager young detective. “Come on, I give you a lift.”

 

*********************************

 

The ride to ABC next morning was very quiet except Carter’s update. Apparently the list had not been there. And Moretti had told her that she only wanted to get a hold of that list before the press could. “You would not believe how terrified those people are of losing their face in their circles. She was on that list and by now even the press speculated, quite comically if you ask me, Italian mobsters and shit, but still speculated about that disastrous party. And apparently no one wants to be associated with it anymore.”

Javier listened and listened and listened and how 28-year-old Jessica Carter survived on the streets of New York during her first years as a police officer was beyond him. But yeah, they needed that list. So far, there was no solid evidence that linked that party to Cornish’ death, but everybody they kept on questioning came back to just that. And he had been a detective for too long to ignore that. Now, maybe al Nahawi could help them obtaining that list.

They navigated through the crowds of parents, preschoolers and toddlers. It was awfully noisy for eight in the morning. A squealing boy pushed by him, attempting to get to his equally excited friend. Al Nahawi navigated quietly through the masses, only speaking up to greet kids and parents. Espo was amazed that the tall woman seemed to remember every name.

They stopped at an opened locker, it had been taped by CSU yesterday night. He ripped it away and then rummaged around the messy locker of a five-year-old. Besides rotten apple slices, spiderman comics and smelly gym clothes there was nothing.

“Bernard, dear, we talked about it, that’s not your locker,” al Nahawi’s gentle voice interrupted the cops’ search. Bernard was a red-faced, over-weight pre-schooler, who scowled at the headmistress. “What did we say?” She continued, unfazed by the kids grimace, turning him to guide him a few meters downwards.

“The fourth locker to the left,” the kid mumbled.

“That’s right. And what else?”

“To lock it,” he mumbled again.

Espo sighed and looked down the row of grey lockers. He could understand the kid’s confusion, they all looked the same and the numbers were almost invisible. He reached for the next locker and it was open. Just on top of it lay a pink notebook. He grinned at Carter, who looked impressed. Just when he reached into the locker, the loud yell of Mrs. al Nahawi interrupted him.

“No, no, that’s not the locker that was broken into. Please, we need to check in with the parents before we search--.”

“Hey, that’s mine,” a young girl’s voice interrupted. When he looked down Luisa Ryan frowned and despite the rising panic he also was impressed how the young perfectly mimicked her adoptive father’s trademark scolding.

“Oh dear,” al Nahawi mumbled, her darker complexion paling by the minute. “Luisa, this is detective--.”

“- Javi,” she nodded and Espo heard the amused gasp of Carter beside him. “He is a cop and helps find the bad person that killed Selina’s mom,” she then continued.

“Is your father still here?”

“He waits for me at the classroom with my brother. I need my gym-clothing.”

Al Nawahi nodded, looking much too terrified of such a cheerful and tiny girl. Of course it was her father that put the unhealthy pallor, a sarcastic voice inside him reminded Espo. “Would you get your father?”

“Yes, Mrs. al Nahawi,” Luisa nodded and sprinted down the hall. Despite it all, Espo had to just admit from what he saw that Ryan so had done a great job with the girl so far. She was lively, but well behaved. And he didn’t doubt for a second it was Ryan and almost Ryan alone that raised the kids.

“Luisa, slow down, I’m not a carriage, and your brother does not appreciate running as well,” Ryan’s voice was heard before Luisa peaked around the corner again, dragging her dad by the hand. When Ryan appeared, Espo noticed the high baby stroller in front of him and then the still impeccable dress sense with dark grey sweater, underneath a tie and button up and well-fitted slacks. Even his woolen coat would give Beckett a run for her money.

“Mr. Ryan-Montague,” al Nawahi spoke up quickly, polite smile back on her face. “I’m terribly sorry, but these fine Detectives of the NYPD are looking for a guestlist--.”

“Notebook,” Espo interrupted, but the headmistress just smiled on. “Yes, notebook, of course. They have reason to believe that our late Mrs. Cornish in haste put it in your daughter's locker.”

Inside the baby-seat, a tiny whining was heard. “I see,” Ryan said, shooting Espo a quick look. “Well, let’s have a look, shall we, Luisa?” Luisa jumped forwards, but before she could grab inside, Ryan had her hand on her hands, gently, but firm. “Wait a second, angelito, we don’t want to put fingerprints on it, right?” Luisa nodded excitedly.

Behind them whining turned to a quiet whimper and when Espo looked closer, he couldn’t help the stare. Theoretical he had known after a pitiful night researching Ryan’s raise to the upper 10.000 that Coilin Sean - after Ryan’s father - Ryan was Kevin’s biological child and had been carried out by his sister-in-law, but this baby just looked like a tiny clone of his former partner, only the blond curls seemed to be a Montague trait. The whimper turned into a wail.

Kevin turned from the locker with a frown. “Coilin, Daddy is right there, just give me a moment,” he said loudly, which indeed made the baby look around for his father. When he could not see him, the crying turned up a notch. He had a pair of lungs on him and Espo looked as helpless as al Nahawi. Carter, however, reached for the handle and started to gentle shake it.

“Okay, Luisa, take your sports clothing,” Kevin continued, when he heard his baby boy quieting down. Luisa mumbled something. “No, there is no such thing as ‘the three times worn’ rule. That’s your dad making up stuff-- ah, what have we here - a pink notebook,” Kevin said.

By now, Coilin was not satisfied with the movement of his carriage and this time delved into full blown crying right away. Carter, without hesitating, reached into the seat, unbuckled the baby and just got him out. Walking around, she made noises to the red faced baby. He did not stop completely, but at least the noise died down a bit.

“Ok, looks like Mrs. Cornish’ notebook, Detective,” Ryan held up a pink leather book in his leather gloved hands.

“Have you looked into it?” Espo couldn’t help his cop-instinct and earned a ‘seriously?’-look for it.

“Not much more than you did into my daughter’s locker,” came the smooth reply. He handed him the book with a sour look and turned immediately to Carter and al Nahawi, who now cooed at the smiling baby.

“He is precious, Mr. Ryan-Montague,” al Nahawi said and Ryan grinned proudly at the woman. When the baby saw his father, he started to wiggle and squirm in Ryan’s arms.

Carter chuckled and looked at Ryan. “I see how it is, you are a daddy’s boy,” she cooed at him and handed him over.

Ryan chuckled. “More like personal available butler,” he said, when the boy grabbed onto his father with a happy gurgle, putting his head on his chest. Ryan gently kissed the head, then smiled at Carter. “You are good with kids. Captain Beckett told me you are from a big Louisianian family,” he said and Carter blushed.

“Uhm, yeah, no siblings, but ten cousins, two grand-cousins--”

“Sounds almost Irish,” Ryan grinned and Carter blushed some more. “Well, before this young man stops being adorable and starts to show his hunger-face, we should get her sister to class,” he then just said. “Luisa? Get your stuff and please please, lock that thing finally!” he called at his daughter, while he put the baby back into the stroller. “Mrs. al Nahawi, Detectives,” he nodded at them, barely looking at Espo, when he said his goodbye.

Espo couldn’t help the lump in his throat, feeling much worse after being almost completely ignored then after the heated meeting in Ryan’s flat.

 

***************************

 

“Do you have a moment, Captain?”

Beckett looked up from her desk and then gestured at her chair in front.

“I should have a longer break today,” he started, trying to sound casual.

Beckett leaned back. “Wanna tell me what's it about?” She had noted the closed door.

“Strictly between you and me?” Espo scratched his neck, avoiding her eyes and didn’t wait for her reply. “I started therapy three weeks ago and she called me today that she had to move my hour to one today.” He spoke quickly, still looking anywhere, but at her. When he heard a soft “Okay.” he looked up in surprise. Beckett nodded to affirm her permission. She got up, and gestured for him to follow.

Espo let out a sigh of relief. Their partnership had ended as well five years ago, but Beckett still understood him better then most people he had ever known.

He rolled his shoulders before he followed Beckett to his desk, where he fell down on his chair and typed a random key to get the screen running again.

“So, where are we?” Beckett leaned against Espo’s desk.

He twirled around and looked around for Carter, who was in the break room and chatted with a uni. He gestured at the murder-board. “The list is nothing and rather messy if you ask me.” He hold up some photocopies of the hand-written list. There were names written under each other, some crossed out again, others had crosses behind them. And some came with numbers. 3, 2 or even 5. “Moretti claims she just wanted to hide who was on it for publicity's sake, but if you ask me that’s a lot of bull.”

Beckett smiled. “Yeah, especially considering that there usually exists at least one printed or written form for the event-planner, the staff at the party, sometimes they are even handed out exclusively to very wanted guests to get them to R.V.S.P.,” she explained, while she looked over the photos.

“If we had such a list, we could compare them,” Espo mused.

Beckett nodded, obviously thinking into the same direction. “Yeah, nothing on Cornish’s computer, I assume?”

With a snort, Espo shook his head. “That woman was so messy, it’s a miracle that only the last party turned into chaos. Speaking of which, we invited the ‘bitch club’ to explain the events of that night.”

Again an approving nod by Beckett. “Meanwhile, I have an idea how to get a hold of that final guest-list,” she said.

“Yeah?”

Beckett nodded and then sighed. “I’m almost certain that Kevin got such a list.” Her face softened, when she saw how hard Espo tried not to show anything in his mimic. “Broken mirrors aside, it will get easier, Javi, just give it time.”

With a sigh, he shrugged. “I guess. It’s just the first case back here and I keep running into him. The notebook was in his daughter’s locker. I swear, Kate, I’m not doing it intentionally.”

Beckett put her hand on his shoulder. “I know, and maybe you should switch tactics and stop this ice-age between you.”

“It’s not just my choice--.”

“You know, it took us a while to get it out of Kevin that you had been so much closer then you officially ever let on. He still was loyal to you. And when he finally admitted, to Lanie of all people, how heart-broken he really was, it was terribly to watch.” Beckett looked at Carter’s desk that had been Detective Ryan’s too many years ago. Very likely remembering how well Espo and the Irishman had worked together and how devastated those last months had been on their youngest team-member. “So, if you want to make some amends, then give him some time. He is not unreasonable, hell, he forgave me much too quickly.”

When she saw Espo’s questioning face, Beckett showed a rueful smile. “Kevin was well aware that it was me you followed down the rabbit hole and the first few weeks after being back, he was barely talking to me. However, with Castle and Kevin being just Kevin, he let it go. And he might appear so different to you, but believe me there is still a lot of the man you knew back then.” Beckett squeezed his shoulder and got up to go back to her office, when something occurred to Espo. His Mom had said the same about Kevin.

“Kate?” He called after his Captain, who turned around with raised eyebrows. “I just wanted to thank you,” he said, seeing out of the corner of his eyes how Carter was about to return. “For taking care of my Mom,” he clarified.

To that Kate just frowned. “Espo, I’m sorry, but I barely had contact with her until her heart-attack.” Before he could ask more, Carter walked towards their desks again, and Beckett added. “Maybe you should talk to your mother?”

Chapter Text

Shortly before one he was leaving for his therapy with Carter shoving him towards the elevator after the third time asking if she would be okay. “Once more: the Captain promised to sit with the high-profile interviews. Now go!”

Dr. Anna Adamski’s office was a few blocks down from the precinct. Nothing as fancy as those therapists you saw at TV. Her office was seated on the second floor, Klimts ‘the Kiss’ hanging in her small waiting room.

So far he had done seven sessions. The first four were awkward and with many silent minutes. After he had run into Kevin at the Met he had just ranted for about twenty minutes to which Anna just had listened until she chuckled. When Javier had blinked at the strict looking woman, she chuckled some more. “There you are, Javier. Glad to finally meet you.” And since then Javier felt better and better to open up.

“I ran into Kevin again,” Espo started this time.

“So, it’s Kevin again,” Anna commented.

“Uhm, sorry?”

“He used to be your ex, ex-partner, ex-lover, ex-friend, then he became Ryan and now he is Kevin. This man must be something to get back to first name basis again after only three meetings,” Anna explained and Javier sighed.

“He is something, alright,” he mumbled. “He could be such a pain in the ass, wanting to talk about feelings all the time, no sense of personal boundaries, an atrocious taste in films sometimes and the best friend I ever had...” He trailed off, swallowing deeply, thinking back on that last night in front of Kate’s apartment. The things he had said, the terrible words he had hurled at his friend, his partner, his love, just to see him flinch. “He involved the Captain and back then I felt so betrayed and righteous about my anger. Only after I had left him and could not fill his space I realized--.”

He shook his head, trying to get his words in order. He never rambled, but now all he did was fumble for words. “Have you ever met this one person that just made you feel okay with yourself, no matter how much of a screw up you could be? That was Kevin to me. And only when I left I had realized what we had, and I wrote this stupid ass letter explaining my behaviour, trying to apologize much too late and there is that night show - the one with Cal Morris? - and he has Jesse Montague on, the Jesse Montague, CEO of Montague inc., and he talks about getting married and that in itself was weird, I remember that guy having threesomes and public blowjobs and here he is, forerunner of the LGTB movement with his husband, Kevin Ryan.”

Anna winced in sympathy. “That must have hurt.”

“Like a bitch,” he muttered, earning a smile for it. “I still should have sent that letter, but I was a coward again. He sent me messages for months, never giving up, and now he barely looks at me. How do you apologize to someone that clearly has no interest in it anymore.”

“Aren’t you a bit harsh on yourself? You avoided him for five years, it has to be awkward to see each other.”

“Yeah, but how do you make it right, if he barely acknowledges me?”

“We talked about how the tone sets the quality of the conversation. Why don’t you start there?”

 

********************************************

 

Back at to office Carter stood with Beckett at the murder board, discussing among each other excitedly.

“Espo, we have the toxicology back. They found cocaine on Cornish. And guess whom of her husband’s business’ partners has connections to organized crime. I put my feelers out to some guys I know from my days at organized crime and they suspected him in helping the Juarez cartel smuggling their cocaine into the US and setting up legal fronts for their drugs.”

Espo looked at the picture of Cornish and wrecked his brain for the many men in her life. “Bering? Nicolas Bering? The international law partner we had interviewed in the beginning?”

Both women nodded. “Well, after it became public knowledge that Mr. Bering was a bit too close to Mrs. Cornish, Mr. Cornish made sure the guy got thrown out of the company.” Beckett looked at her watch. “Anyway, Caroline Carter confirmed, quiet with disdain to be honest that Rebecca and Bering had met up even after their affair had ended and Rebecca had always been pretty uptight about it, but after that bulldog-disaster, where two guests ran around naked and another suddenly thought she was a chicken, had her strong suspicion that her dear old high-school friend was involved in something illegal as she was very nervous afterwards. Anyways, Bering has an alibi about the murder, but that does not mean he is not involved. He was outside state yesterday, but our unis picked him up at JFK. Let’s see what he knows.”

Finally, things fell into place and his hunch about that party had paid off. He nodded to himself. This was good news. “What about the list.”

Beckett smiled. “I was right, Kevin has indeed sent one over. He will bring the original over tonight as we meet with Montague’s for dinner anyway.”

This time, Espo just nodded. Maybe this time they could have a civilized conversation and he make some amends.

“Ma’am, detectives,” LT stood by with his young colleague, something French sounding, but Espo had not memorized it yet. In between stood a very pale Nicolas Bering. “Yeah, room 2,” Espo said and Carter straightened herself up. Beckett picked up some files and nodded at them. “Well, let’s see what you can get from him.” With a nod, she was on her way to the office and Carter nodded at the waiting interrogation. “Once more unto the breach?”

To that Espo chuckled and after a deep breath. “Yeah, let’s nail him.”

They both dived into their interrogation right away. “Forget to mention some parts, last time we spoke in your ex-offices, Mr. Bering,” Espo greeted him after slamming his files on the table.

Last time they had met a cocky lawyer, partner in a big company, now, just a few days later, he looked defeated and strangely small. His black hair was out of order and he had a visible stubble over his face.

“Yeah, our colleagues at organized crime had a few choice words about you. Even Caroline Carter thinks, you and the late Rebecca were involved in way more then some late night shifts between her sheets,” Carter continued.

He shrunk even more into himself.

“Not saying anything,” he mumbled at the table.

“Okay, sure. Be that way. But tell me something. We have probable cause to search your house, which we do right now. So, what if we find something that links you to south of the border? You think they will trust a Gringo like you not to speak up?”

His hands started to shake and then he mumbled something more, rubbing his face. Both detectives leaned forward. “Excuse us, we didn’t get that?” Espo stared at the other, who dropped his hands. “I said, I just established the contact. Rebecca messed up by selling too much too quickly. Which wasn’t like her at all. In the beginning she just sold to a very narrow and trusted circle, but all of the sudden she gets greedy and sells to those newly rich kids too much in one night. I told her, she should be happy there was just that crazy behaviour and not deaths.”

Espo leaned back and mulled that information over in his mind. So, ex-lover gets her into contact with the cartel, she sells here and there, but all of the sudden she gets greedy. Nah, something was missing there. “So, you are telling me Mrs. Cornish, whose husband is one of the best paid lawyers in the country had to be greedy?”

Now, Bering smiled. “I was wondering the exact same thing. So, I asked around and well, Rebecca had her own little addiction, a very expensive one and her husband was not willing anymore to fund that.”

Carter snorted. “Are you saying she bought her own product?”

Leaning forward, Bering shook his head, “No, I’m talking about race horses.”

“She had a betting addiction?”

“If only. No, she bought racehorses. Black, white, fast, slow, could not get enough of those beasts until Kyle cut her off and told her to either finance them herself or let it be. Guess what route she took?”

When they had processed and filed everything from the day, most colleagues already cleared out for the night, Beckett was on the phone, the door to her office closed.

Espo had waved Carter off, as he had to do some extra anyway and thankfully she had left with little protest. He headed out for the break room to get the last caffeine fix for the day with his eyes on the file Carter left him.

Upon return he had found some information he should put at the murder board. Come to think of it, he should put one picture of the list there. He roamed around and when he had found his prints walked to the murder board so Carter and him could dive right into it the next morning.

It took him a bit to realize that something was off and the man standing in front of the murder board did not belong there. If he just blinked, it could have been five years ago.

Kevin Ryan was standing in front of the murder board, complete with one of his three-piece-suits. A concentrated frown on his face. Hands in his pockets, and yes, head slightly leaning to the left.

For a moment, Javier wanted to turn around again, when Ryan spoke up. "Don't leave on my account, Javier."

Cursing under his breath, he stepped to the murder board. "I - uh - just needed to update the uhm board," he then tried to say as graceful as possible.

He fumbled with the printed picture. "Yeah, word on the street is you work here," Ryan said and Javier didn't have to turn around to know there was a playful smile on the other man's face.

"I guess," he grumbled, not sure what brought on that good mood, when the last times he met, Ryan only ever snapped at him or flat out ignored him.

"Ah, and there is the grumpy Javier we all dread and love," Ryan quipped.

Before he could snap, Espo let out a deep breath, remembering Anna’s advice: "Articulate what's on your mind, don't allow the other to guess the worst of you."

"Could you stop that?" Okay, he had to work on the tone, but an A for effort maybe?

"What exactly, Javier?" Well, for once he was glad that Ryan didn't know when to shut up.

"Calling me that?" He still faced the murder board, taking his time to align the latest adjustment to the rest.

"You are offended by me using your proper name?

'Specify, clarify, no one is a mind reader, they can only go on what you give them.'

"No, yes, maybe!"

"In case you are interested: You are making no sense whatsoever.” And now the eyeroll.

"Ryan!" He turned around, glaring at his former partner, who simply raised an eyebrow.

"So what should I call you, as we seem to run into each other at every turn? Esposito, I assume? You apparently like the formal, we barely knew each approach?"

"I thought that's what you wanted, Mr. Superwife." And that's where Ryan closed up again. Arms crossed over his chest, a deep frown on his face, a look in between hurt and anger. "I didn't know it was about what I wanted," he then snapped.

Great, and another conversion failed. Fix it, now! "Listen, Ryan, uhm Kevin?" A bit of the tension fell away from Ryan's shoulders.

"The truth is, I don't know what to do or say or how to act anymore, when it comes to you. I'm trying to maintain my distance, as I've been told repeatedly by everyone around me that's what you want. And if that's what you want, I get it, really, man, I get it, but help me out here, okay? ‘Cause as you said, we seem to keep running into each other, whether you want to or not. Maybe some God, Gods or the universe is trying to punish me for how I treated you." Yes, Ryan definitely raised his eyebrows at the last bit, as if it surprised him to hear it. "If you truly don't want any contact, I get that and I can even leave the room."

"Javi!" His heart skipped a beat, when Ryan used the old time affectionate nickname. "Don't use up your 200 words just for unimportant--."

"You are not unimportant!"

A flat look, then Ryan continued. "Don't throw around speeches is all I'm sayin. Just, it would be nice to know some of the contempt you harbour for me has melted away. That's all. And when we happen to see each other, let's be be nice to each other, okay?"

Javier nodded and nodded and nodded. He didn't contempt Ryan. He never did. But that might be a thing for another time. "So, back to your initial demand. What should I call you?"

Javier looked at Ryan in surprise. Then he bit his lips and then said. "Espo, Espo would be okay. If I'm very dickish, jerk would be ok, too!"

That finally got a tiny smile from Ryan as he tipped his head. "I'll keep that in mind."

"And for you?" he asked back, but Ryan just shrugged. "Ryan is actually nice. Yeah, I'd like that, I somehow miss it."

"Ryan it is then," Javier amended.

Both were silent for a few seconds until Ryan pointed towards the board. "That's a very nice murder board I have to say, very symmetrical." Earning a slight bump by the shoulder from Javier. "Shut up, not everybody has the messy slapping picture down to an artform." Again a smile.

"So, Mr. Bering?"

"Yeah, he was her 'business partner'," Espo said with a snort and air quotation.

"Ah, well, the coke had to come from somewhere."

Espo gave the other a sideway glance, who rose his hands in defense. "Like I said, man, never in my presence."

" 'Cause you are a Montague," Espo nodded, which got him a shove from Ryan. "No, jerk, because I was a Narc." Both chuckled at that.

"Hey, guys, I hope we're not interrupting anything?" Beckett and Castle stood only some meters away from them. Kate was smiling amused at their antics, Castle however looked far more sceptical.

"Hey, you are late," Ryan called at them.

"Cosmo did beat the run around the sofa, record," Castle quipped. "Yes, Rick, Cosmo was the one running around the sofa." Beckett rolled her eyes.

"Well, we should be going. Oh, I brought you the guest list of the Bulldog party." Ryan clapped his hand on Espo's shoulder and handed Kate a pink envelope.

"Wow, Kevin, that is great," She beamed at him. "Let me get the rattle you forgot at our place the last time."

"Great. Espo, until next time?" Espo nodded at him and he bounced off and followed Kate into the office.

Castle took his place, looking at the murder board. "Cease fire, hmm?"

"Sort of!"

"Good good, I'd hate to punch your nose in." With a pointed look Espo turned to study him from aside. "Granted, I first had to douse you with sleeping pills, getting you upright for the right ankle, but I would have punched you for my boy there."

At that silly image Espo just had to crack a laughter and Castle now turned to him. "I mean it," he insisted and Espo hold up his hands. "I believe you, Castle."

At that Castle nodded. "Good, then tread lightly, he deserves no less than that!”

He watched them head out together, laughing at something Castle had said, while finishing his day and he was feeling a bit lighter. The first step was made. He waited for the updates on his computer to finish, while putting on his jacket, when his mobile rang.

“Esposito?”

“Javier Esposito?” It was a neutral voice, there were noises in the background.

“Yeah, who is it?”

“This is Tory King from Cedars Hospital. I’m calling on behalf of your mother, who was admitted this afternoon due to slight chest pains--.”

“I’m on my way,” Espo interrupted, already heading for the elevator.

 

Chapter Text

After twenty minutes of silence, his mother threw her hands up. “Okay, Javier, get it out of your system.”

Javier however just stood there with arms crossed, glaring.

“Okay, I should have told you this morning. I did not want you to worry.”

Now, he shifted. “Yeah, being called at work by the hospital does not worry me.”

She tried to be stern, but a smile ran down her face. Her son certainly had a sense for the dramatic. “No need to be snarky, m’hijo.” There was no heat behind it.

“Alright, Mrs. Esposito, the results are back.” The doctor came into the room again, looking at some charts.

His mother shifted a bit on the kot, nodding along. “And?”

The young doc smiled at mother and son. “And I’m happy to say your heart is okay.”

Javier let out a visible sigh of relief.

“However, you just recovered from a severe heart-attack and a major surgery as a result of that. You are not going at the same strength you did before. You fainting is just your body telling you to take it slow.”

Emphatically nodding, Javier untangled his stiff arms. “So, no medications or further tests?”

The dark blond guy shook his head, while he sat down by his desk.

“Mrs. Esposito is good to go home.”

His mother, still dressed in her night gown, let out a relieved sigh. “Let me change.”

Even Javier had to smile at her eagerness to leave. “Sure, your son brought over some stuff I think. You can use the changing room.”

Of course, Javier had brought clothing, his appearance conscious mother would have freaked if he had shown up without the pre-packed bag.

“Mr. Esposito, am I right to assume you are her prime contact from now on?” Javier nodded and heard the doc click and type something into his computer. “Okay, I’ll put Mr. Ryan as a secondary contact then?”

It was the second time today his heart clenched with a jolt. Of course, he had had his suspicions about who had helped his mom after her heart attack, but now that he had the confirmation, he felt so much worse.

“Mr. Ryan?” His voice sounded oddly painful.

“Hmm, yeah, Kevin Ryan. He was a perfect care-taker the first time your mother was here, very considerate. You are lucky to have such a dedicated friend.”

Javier barely registered anything afterwards. The most important thing on his mind: Kevin had taken care of his mama. Kevin, who had become a contact person during their partnership and then he never changed it. He must have got a call from the hospital one night and he did show up to help the mother of a man who had no qualms to abandon him.

Once, they arrived home, Javier finally found his voice again. His mother was barely out of her coat, when he blurted out: “Why did you never tell me?”

To her credit, Catalina Esposito Restrepo calmly hung her coat and then said: “Let’s sit, Javi.”

In the kitchen, she poured them both some brandy, while she started to explain. “It was three years ago, when I had the first problem with my heart. I lost consciousness in the supermarket and when I woke up again, I was on my way to the hospital and they called the next best person from their emergency list they could reach. You were in Afghanistan, so Kevin was the next one.”

She sat down and pushed one glass towards Javier.

“He showed up right away, Javi. No buts or hesitation, he packed his little daughter and half an hour later he stood at my bedside, sleepy girl in his arms, looking very worried and apologetic. He actually felt guilty for never getting in contact with me after you left.”

She shook her head, scowling. “You know I will always love you as fiercely as I did, when I first hold you in my hands, but I will never quite understand how you could treat this sweet boy so horribly.”

“It was complicated--.”

“M’hijo, he loved you, I could always see how much and he was just afraid to lose you over a pig-headed decision. Did you know that he did not talk to Kate outside work for weeks after you had left?”

Pulling a face, he nodded.

“And did you also know that he stopped working because he wanted to take care of his little girl?”

Gripping his glas hard, he gave his mama a sharp look.”Yeah?”

“He had met Luisa in hospital, when he recovered from his gunshot wound. She was born with a kidney defect, due to her mom’s drug use - that poor little thing. Not even two years-old, no real family and with health problems no kid should ever face alone. Kevin was the first, she actually bonded with. But the agency would not name Kevin a guardian while still being a detective, so he quit. And then, with Jesse, he was allowed to adopt and Luisa Mercado became Luisa Ryan.” She chuckled. “She is a spit-fire this one. And a fighter, just like her daddy.”

Yes, now that he heard it, it all fell into place. Kate’s hesitation to confirm that she took care of his mother. How his mother neither confirmed, but just let him think it had been Kate. And Luisa became Luisa Catalina Ryan.

“Mama, when was the last time you saw Kevin?”

His mother smiled, knowing he had caught on. “Luisita and her adorable brother visited like always on Wednesday with their Dad.”

Javier pulled a face. “And why did you not tell me?”

Catalina Esposito raised her eyebrows. “There are some things only Kevin should tell you,” she then shrugged and added then: “And he asked me not to tell you.”

Okay, that must have been the fourth time he had heard that or a variation over that theme. It should get old, but it still stung as much as the first time. Time to change that.

“Ma, I need to ask you a favour.”

 

***************************************

 

“Hey, I heard about your Ma.” Carter welcomed him the next morning with a strong coffee and a concerned frown.

He took the cup with a grateful nod and shrugged. “False alarm. Just my mother being the stubborn self she always was.”

With a knowing smile Carter nodded. “Mothers, huh?” She then gestured towards her desk. “I found something.”

On the desk lay the two lists, the one they had found in Cornish’ notebook and the one Ryan had provided them. Carter had copied them, then compared them name by name. And now he saw it, any name that had numbers behind them on Cornish’s list was nowhere to be found on the official guest list. He looked up at Carter, who had a satisfied smile on her face.

“Oh, it gets better. I checked each of them, they don’t exist, at least no where near New York.”

“Meaning?”

Carter pointed at one name - Annalise Torring. “Sweet lady from Wyoming, never been to the Big Apple.” Next name. “Millicent Chester, 65, lives near Detroit with her husband, was in New York during the 80s.”

“Okay, Carter, what do you think it is?”

The woman shrugged, still looking at the list. “I had no idea, but Kate asked someone with more experience in Narc-cases and he thinks it’s her client list. Usually the names refer to the one above.”

“He? As in Kevin Ryan he?” Javier was not really angry, Ryan had been out of the game for some time, but he still had a vast knowledge about drug trafficking and knowing him, he probably stayed in touch with some old colleagues from his Narcotics days.

Carter blushed and scratched her head. “Is it bad if I say yes?”

Javier leaned back in his seat. “Not at all, Ryan knows his stuff.” He ignored the startled look to point at the client list. “Any merit to it?”

“Hell yeah, three of the ten names I checked had priors with possession. One name stuck out.” She switched to the second page and pointed at a name - Caroline Carter. Now, that was something you would never want to be associated with. “So, I was thinking, after the party, the bitch club did everything to disassociate themselves from their fifth member, I mean you saw Carter. And, it makes sense. That party got out of hand and the Cops showed up, Caroline must have been a bit panicked to loose her face. So, she invites herself to her dear old friend Becca, she demands the list, Becca refuses, they fight, and Caroline does what she feels had to be done.”

Espo nodded with a grim face. It sounded plausible enough. “Solid theory.”

“Yeah?” Her face lit up and Espo rolled his eyes. “So far it’s only a theory though. We need something to prove it. However, I’d say we invite dear Mrs. Caroline Carter again.”

 

***************************************

 

“Okay, sure, in highschool I hang with the wrong people, one of them had two grams cocaine. And yes, I was stupid enough to ‘hold it’ for him. I never touched that stuff again.”

Caroline Carter was annoyed to say the least. She rolled her eyes and glowered at both detectives as if they had to answer for their crimes.

“Your name was listed as a client,” Carter put the copy in front of the fuming woman.

“I know, I found out after that damn party. I don't know why it is there. Take a blood test, search my house, if you must, I’m not taking anything. Never did, never will.”

“You also said, you barely knew her, yet you went to boarding school with Mrs. Cornish,” Javier replied, while showing her another copy he had printed of the online website about the last alumni meeting.

Caroline Carter stared at the grainy picture of her and Cornish laughing next to each other, clearly familiar, then she huffed and rolled her eyes. “I don't know what went through her head, when she put me there, but I surely wanted that gone. She claimed it was accident. Can you believe it?”

Javier just met her stare with an unimpressed one of his own. “Still sticking to your story that you last saw the victim at the Party?”

With a sigh, Carter said: “Okay, yes, I met with Becca.”

“Got a bit out of hand, don’t you think?”

Carter starred at Esposito with obvious contempt in her eyes.

“We argued, yes. And then I left. She was alive though.”

Esposito and his partner exchanged some look and snorted. “If it was so harmless, why didn’t you tell us the first time you were here?”

Again there was that huff that suggested she considered them, that, just everything beneath her. “I had heard about the rumours, knew about her stupid affairs, but Becca and I know each other since boarding school. When I moved to New York, she was the first and only one to welcome me with open arms. She just had lost her way, I wanted to talk some sense into her. No need to drag her name through the mud.”

She shook her head and smiled sadly. “It was in vain and I left angry, telling her we were done. If I just had stayed that night…” Her voice drifted off. She looked honestly regretful, but beside Esposito, Detective Carter just snorted.

“That is a very touching story and all,” she drawled in her best southern voice. “We need something that proves you left before her time of death though.”

Now, Mrs. Carter exchanged a quick look with her lawyer, who opened his suit-case.

“My client was distraught over that argument and overran a traffic light at 56th and Lex. She was caught on a traffic camera at 10.24 and received a fine for that.”

Esposito made a quick calculation in his head. From Carter’s apartment to that corner she had needed at least 40 minutes. Time of death was from 10.00 to 11.00. Jessica seemed to think the same as her shoulders sunk in defeat. Another dry lead.

“Why on earth did you not tell us right from the start?” He had enough of this bullshit. “You do realize I could book you for obstruction of justice?”

“You might, yes, Detective, but my lawyers are well paid. And I’m in the committee of ‘drive responsible’. How would that have looked, huh?”

Javier made a mental note to ask Kevin once, in quiet, how on earth he survives those people.

After Mrs. Carter had left, Espo and Carter stood at their murderboard again, glaring at all the babes, connections, dates, but most of all all these dead leads.

“This sucks,” Carter spoke up and Espo is inclined to agree with her. The drug lead made so much sense, Caroline Carter made so much sense. Hell, even Moretti was looking good.

“Maybe had nothing to do with this party, but with Cornish’s messed up private life. I mean the way she was murdered, she knew her killer for sure.”

“Yes, and that’s why we checked it already.”

“And what about Carter’s name on the list?”

“Hell, if I know,” Espo sighed. He never thought he would think that, but they really could need Castle’s out of the box thinking right now as the case got colder and colder and the press was still out for blood for the murder of the known socialite. He pulled out his phone, starring at his newly added contacts there and then looked at the Captain’s office. “Let’s try a new angle.”

After a good ten minutes of discussion and a phone call with a lot eye-rolling on Beckett’s side, Richard Castle showed up, bright eyed and excited. As if nothing had changed, he had two large coffee cups in his hands, handing one to a softly smiling Beckett. The way she looked fondly at her Latte, she had to have a trip down memory lane as well. Only where Carter sat, should be a blue eyed Detective with an embarrassing taste for honeymilk. If he just squinted, he could see him move around behind his desk with that nervous energy through that supposed system of his. He caught Castle’s thoughtful stare as Espo glared holes into Carter’s desk. When he turned a little he also saw the wistful look of his Captain.

“Right, where were we?” Castle interrupted the awkward silence and blinking once, the imagine was gone. Instead there was the neatly organized staples of files and some girlish figurine.

Espo cleared his voice and dived into the state of their investigation. Up until their latest, unfruitful interrogation of Mrs. Caroline Carter.

“The party,” Castle mused and Espo couldn't help the grown. Yes, that stupid party, that much he had figured as well. Something had happened there. He could feel it, all his ‘Spidey’-senses were tingling. Great, just a bit over an hour, and he already had Castle’s lingo in his head again.

“So, Cornish distributes the High Society with the white powder. Only it goes wrong, when the stuff they sell at the last Party, makes some guest a bit too outgoing. Two days later, the host lies dead in her living room, two glasses of wine on the table, no fingerprints anywhere. Choked with her own pearl necklace - a classic murder of passion,” Castle begins his tale. “Except that neither the husband, nor the ex-lovers or the disapproving friend could have done it, all with watertight alibi,” Beckett was the voice of reason.

“True, but Carter was there that fateful night and she was on that list. She doesn't strike me as that concerned friend type at all and I doubt that this is a coincidence, there are no coincidences--.”

“Unless in a certain double homicide you liked to bet on?” Beckett added and earned a soft chuckle from Espo, who also felt another sting, when he remembered their celebration afterwards and Kevin waking up on his couch the next day, disgruntled, but ridiculously adorable. The really first time, he had noticed his partner beyond the ‘bro’-universe.

“Well, solved that one, didn't I?” Beckett shook her head once more, but her smile stayed on. “Okay, crimes of passion, a strange client list, with a fake name on it. Friends trying to disassociate themselves from every--.” Castle frowned at the murder board. “What if Carter’s name was put on that list for a reason like that? What if Cornish meant to smear Carter’s reputation?”

Espo blinked. Her reputation? Next to him Beckett glared at her husband. “Castle, if some guests hadn't gone crazy over their delivery, we would have never suspected drugs. Even less without the murder…” Her voice drifted off. “Unless she knew what her friend was into and understood that warning,” she suddenly continued thoughtfully, Castle nodding along excited.

No, that still didn't make sense. Why would Cornish threaten Carter with a hidden message?What did she have on her? Espo and Detective Carter had gone through Caroline Carter after their latest interrogation with a fine comb. Despite her being a snobbish bitch with a traffic fine nothing hinted at anything scandalous. Then why would Cornish put her name there? If it was a warning, against what? Maybe it was not even for her old friend, but--”

“The husband!” He suddenly blurted out, earning irritated looks from the rest. He got up and tapped his fingers against Cornish’s photo on the board.

“Espo, we have checked Cornish’s husband. He is clean,” Beckett said with a sigh.

“Not hers, Carter's,” Espo pointed at the picture of the other woman. Beckett and his young partner frowned at him, but Castle nodded eagerly. “When he was here with Moretti, he followed me to the bathroom, talking smack about scorned ex-lovers and I was just thinking how he meant me and Ryan, but what if he spoke from experience? What if he had an affair with Cornish and she was acting up,when they broke up and he was scared that his wife would find out? It was odd that he reacted so much to my little trick with Moretti.”

“That’s good,” Castle interrupted Espo and took up Espo’s trail of thoughts. “So, Mr. Carter here had an affair with the old friend of his wife and once it had ended, Cornish put it there to tell him ‘I can ruin you’?”

“Yes, being in bed late night with Rebecca, he knew what she was up to,” Espo picked it up again.

“And being a lawyer, after it ended, she feared that he would out her to his lawyer buddies.”

Beckett watched the two spinning a theory with a mix of bemusement and fondness. “Okay, so far so good, you two. But a heated argument in the bath-room is not nearly enough and the rest, while yes, Rick, it makes for a good story, that's all it is for the moment, a story.” He held up her hand, when both men opened their mouths to protest. “However, it’s the best we got, so let's find something that can prove our what if’s. We are still waiting on the DNA-samples from the crime-scene, maybe we find something there that helps.”

Their newest team-member had followed their back and forth with an open mouth and clear awe. Visibly shaking herself out of her stupor, Jessica Carter raised her hand. “So, what's next?”

Beckett nodded and stepped towards the murder board once more. “Castle, you and I will head downtown and visit Mr. Carter, let's see what he has to say. Espo, Ryan, check on him, his bank account, his friends. Where he was at the night of the murder, is there anything that can tie him to that crime?” She raised her brows at Castle’s not so subtle head shaking and Espo’s slack faced expression. “What?”

“Uhm, you said Espo and ‘Ryan’, uh, Sir,” Carter stammered and Beckett blushed. “Right. Erm..” she cleared her voice and bit her lips once. “I’m sorry, force of habit, I meant you, Detective Carter, of course.” Carter nodded eagerly and walked to her desk, desperately eager to leave that kind of awkward conversation.

“Javi, I’m sorry--”

“Nah, don't sweat it. I find myself turning around trying to address him as well now and then.” He looked at the floor and smiled sadly. “I guess what they say it's true: ‘You don't know what you’ve got till it’s gone’.” He turned around quickly, but still caught the surprised looks of his both friends, but he was done pretending.

As long as he had been away, he could shove the big red box labeled ‘Kevin Ryan’ deep into the archives of his brain, never to be opened, but since his return to New York, he felt the deep loose of something special. Not just some boyfriend, no a partner that has been right beside him for so many years. And he had thrown it away over some stupid case that was not even his. And of course Carter was solid and a nice woman, but she was not Ryan. And yeah, he had lost Ryan in all sense of the way, but maybe he at least could have his friend back.

First, let’s find some dirt on Mr. Bigshot Lawyer.”

 

***************************************

 

“Ma, I’m home,” Javier called out, while balancing their mail and some grocery in his arm. The door closed soundly behind him and he quickly walked into the kitchen before everything fell on the ground. With a relieved sigh he nearly dropped everything on the counter. When he looked up, six pair of eyes were trained on him.

Ryan leaned back, holding his infant son closer, a scowl forming on his face and the accusation in his look towards his Mama was unmistakable. Luisa grinned at him, waving her free hand at him, the other holding a cookie. “Hallo, Detective Javi,” she greeted him loudly. Mrs. Esposito got up, plucked the baby from Ryan’s arm and gestured at Luisa. “Luisa, let’s get some more cookies from the cellar.” Luisa jumped with a happy squeal, not seeing the even deeper scowl appearing on her dad’s face.

“You two, talk,” Mrs. Esposito said firmly and when she passed by her son, whispered. “You owe me something.”

The door closed behind her quietly, and Ryan leaned back on the bank, visibly miffed to meet him here.

“What you’re doing here, Espo?”

Okay, at least he still used the agreed upon name.

“I live here,” Espo replied smoothly, while getting a beer from the fridge, holding an additional one for Ryan, who declined with a wave. He sat down opposite Ryan, who still remained at his hostile position. He looked at the table, muttering something. A gesture he knew too well from back in the day. So, he was annoyed.

“You know exactly what I mean, Esposito,” Ryan snapped at him. So much for Espo. Withstanding to wince to himself, he forced himself to stop fiddling with his beer and look at Ryan. “I just wanted to thank you. In person and privately,” he started softly, receiving a funny face for that.

“I don't understand,” Ryan then said, crossing his arms in front of himself.

“You took care of my Ma, when I couldn't. I know you could have just declined it as you had no obligations towards her or me. Still, you were there for her and for that I’m grateful.”

A sigh interrupted Esposito and with an eye roll Ryan leaned forward. “I know I did not have to. And I don't owe anything towards you. I just-- explain to me what this is? Because for five years there was nothing, no Email, no call, no letter, nothing. And now you even insist to force a meeting? To thank me for something that has absolutely nothing to do with you.” Most of all there was just resignation on Ryan’s voice.

“You helped my mother, of course it has something to do with me,” Espo blinked at Ryan. He had expected anger or refusal, not this denial kind of stance.

Ryan pulled a face, looking at the sink just left of Espo. “You only forgot to take me off the contact list,” Ryan said. “Besides, she paid any dues a long time ago. I like her, she is a delightful woman, and my kids like abuela Lina and she likes them.”

“That’s why Luisa got her name?”

“It’s--” Ryan broke off and sighed. He looked at Espo. “It was not easy to be around her the first times, believe me, but she missed her son and I guess I filled a bit of that void. And Luisa is from Puerto Rican heritage as well, something I can't contribute anything to, so despite it all, I was happy to give my little girl a sense of that culture and well it's language. But most of all, when her kidneys gave up and I couldn't give mine, nor could Jesse, but Catalina--.” He broke off, a pained look on his face. “She saved her life and there will be nothing in this world I could do to make it up to her, so giving Luisa her name is a tiny ‘thank you’.”

His well prepared speech was gone when Ryan stopped speaking. He had just assumed that his visits were related to him. And to hear that his own mother had gone through such a major surgery and he had never heard of it. Ryan had not just looked out for his ma, no he had given her a sense of family, when all he surely wanted to do was every reminder of his old partner gone from his life.

“So, you asked Beckett to call me after her heart-attack?”

Now, Ryan looked at him intensely, but then seemed almost bashful, shifting on the bank and then scratched on the table. “I-yeah! She was a bit out of it, when she woke up and asked for you, so--.”

Javier nodded. That sounded like the Kevin Ryan he had known and loved. The guy that put the right thing before his own needs. And while he had felt so betrayed, sitting now opposite him at his mother's table, he had never admired the guy more.

“That must have been a hard call,” Javier nodded and Kevin looked up wide eyed. It said all, Javier needed to know. Kevin maybe was ready to accept him here and be civil about it, but he was not ready to talk. And right now, he was pushing it. So, no matter how much the Detective wanted to earn his former best friend’s forgiveness, he had to take one step at a time.

“Look, Ryan, I’m trying to be here for my mom and I understand it’s not easy for you, but she likes you and your kids around, so please don't stay away because of me. I won't be so, well, ‘me’, should we run into each other next time, okay?”

The nod was barely there, but Ryan nodded.

“So, as long as your kids are away and knowing my mother it will be a very long trip to the cellar, what about a beer, now?”

Ryan blinked.

“Or do you need to drive?”

“No, our two bodyguards will pick us up in two hours. Jesse is on a nightly conference call.”

Bodyguards? He remembered the one burly guy opening the door at Ryan’s apartments. Was he always accompanied by them? That had to be annoy-- No, Javier, none of your business. Remember? He forced a grin.

“Beer it is,” he declared instead and could not help the pleased smile, when he heard the chuckle from the other. Finally, on the right track.

 

***************************************

 

“Kev? Dearest?” Jesse saw the light still on in the kitchen and after getting rid of his coat, walked to the bright light in the hopes of spending a few quiet minutes with his spouse after all.

“Mr. Ryan-Montague's is doing his laps,” Callahan greeted him instead. The former Navy Seals was sitting at the bar of their open kitchen and read yet another big book about military history. In front of him was a bowl of cereal.

“Ah, I see. Murray went home already? Kids already in bed, I assume?”

“Yes and yes, Sir,” the muscled man nodded. The guy had been quite distant at first, just seeing it as a very well paid job, but had bonded with Kevin, when he he had found out he had been a cop. And Kevin being the good guy he was, got eventually over the grudge that his husband had hired him ‘babysitters’.

“Anything unusual today?”

“Your family visited Mrs. Esposito as usual.”

Jesse went to the their wine cabinet and roamed around a bit before he had found the wine Kevin liked as of lately. “Yeah?” He tried to sound casual, but watched their bodyguard closely out of the corner of his eyes.

“Yes, Sir. Mrs. Esposito’s son was there as well,” Callahan said and Jesse stopped his bottle opening, leaning on the counter heavily. He gripped the marble. “Is that so?”

“Yeah,” Callahan snorted. He pulled a face, but being the dutiful soldier refrained from any further comment.

Quickly, Jesse, filled two glasses of wine and then nodded at the other guy. “Well, thanks for holding down the fort,” he dismissed the man for the night.

“Good Night, Mr. Montague. Murray takes the first shift.”

“Kay, good night, Callahan,” Jesse said and then headed upstairs to their indoor pool. He remembered, when he had first taken Kevin up there after he had bought the unit for them both. The pool was the icing on the cake. And the surprised grin on Kevin’s face was all he needed. “Always wanted a pool, right?” And the skinny dipping was a great ending to a wonderful evening. He should organize a night just for the two of them. Especially with Esposito being around his husband, whenever Jesse seemed to look away.

He heard Kevin before he saw him. The splashing of the water in the slightly lid hall echoed of the walls. Outside, New York showed of its skyline and when he finally came to the pool itself, he saw Kevin turn and swim towards him. He couldn't help his grin, while he watched his lover crawl towards him. Just because the man was not on active duty anymore, didn't mean he neglected his work out.

When Kevin finally looked up, he smiled at his visitor, even more so, when Jesse crouched down with his two glasses in his hand. “Hey there, bigshot,” Kevin called up after he had wiped his hair out of his face.

“Hey there, handsome,” Jesse smiled back, using their old-time greetings from their first official date. So, Kevin was obviously in a much better mood than the last days. With a jolt, Jesse realized that very likely Esposito had attributed to it. And while he liked his husband happy the most, a not so tiny, jealous part hated the idea another guy could have a bigger influence on Kevin’s mood then himself. Time to step up your game, Montague.

“Had a good day, I assume?”

“Ah, both our monsters are back to 100 %, I even got Luisa to clean her room and Espo decided to be less of an asshole towards me,” Kevin replied.

“Espo, eh? Should I be worried?”

Kevin saw right through his nonchalant tone, shaking his head at him. “As if Cal didn't rat me out to the commander in chief already,” Kevin snorted.

“First of all, we both know whom the Captain regards as his CO and secondly, he just wants to protect his unit.”

Snorting to his reply, Kevin held out his hand to get a sip of his coveted wine, which Jesse handed over gladly. The water on this side was narrow enough that Kevin could stand easily and Jesse admire the well trained chest.

“So? Why did your ex decide to be human to you again?”

Kevin put down his glass and shrugged, while swallowing the red liquid with a pleased sigh. “Dunno? But it's nice not too be treated like the worst reviled person anymore. That make the trips to Lina much easier.”

“I still think he doesn't deserve your forgiveness, dearest,” Jesse argued and reached out to draw back a still stray strand of hair behind Kevin’s ear.

“And he hasn't. I just like my life drama free and not constant fights, when I see three of my closest friends. And it’s good to let go some of the resentment, that’s all,” Kevin soothed him, obviously knowing Jesse too damn well, to not correctly pinpoint his husband’s jealousy right away.

“Well, that's good. I just don't trust that guy with you.” His hand still lingered in Kevin’s wet hair and Kevin reached out to touch his legs.

“As any good husband wouldn't,” he replied smoothly, while trailing up the slacks to the inner thighs. “You should trust me, though, Jes’,” he continued, while those much too talented fingers left goosebumps wherever they touched. Oh, how much he wanted to continue that conversation, to hear what exactly had happened back at Catalina’s, but then Kevin lifted himself up on his arms between his legs and the muscles flexed while he hold his full body on them and the water dripped down this very lovely body and in this light the blue looked like the early night sky and he felt himself drawn to the parted lips until Kevin tiled his head up and to the side and kiss Jesse.

“I know what you are doing, Kevin,” Jesse whispered, while the breath of the other ghosted over his lips.

“Is it working?” The voice was low by now and that almost naked body much too close to let it ruined by some distant ex. With a growl, he grabbed Kevin by the back of his head and took up the challenge. Kevin’s right arm snaked around his neck and before he knew it, Kevin pulled back and Jesse fell with a muffled yell into the pool. He heard the laughter before he even surfaced again, very wet and still in most of his suit. “You!” He lounged at the other guy and pulled him towards himself. Of course, Kevin was very willing to let himself manhandled like that and moaned into the next kiss.

“When was the last time, we did that?” Jesse asked, all thoughts off Esposito vanishing, while he traced the wet and red lips of his love.

“I’d say tonight,” Kevin replied, while getting rid of the other’s clothing quickly.

Chapter Text

Through the window, it was hard to say what went on in Beckett’s office, but Espo knew that Gates showing up unannounced could not be good. The commissioner even had her glasses taken off at some point in the conversation and was pointing it now at their direction. Carter leaned backwards in her seat and whispered. “That can’t be good. You think it might be related to our case?”

Espo furrowed his brows. Beckett had only gone and talked to Clive Carter. She had Castle with her and those two had a knack to get in trouble. Then again, Beckett had only said that Mr. Carter did not budge one bit.

“No idea!”

So far his theory was still only that - a theory. If the lawyer and the victim had had an affair, they had been careful. No phone records or bills pointed towards him. And none of the witnesses ever had pointed to Carter. Was he turning into Castle? Or worse, was Carter right and he was just a sore loser?

The door opened and Gates stepped outside with a stern face, behind her a sour looking Beckett. Gates nodded towards the two detectives, while already on her way to the elevator. “She is terrifying, man. How did you survive with her as Captain?” Jessica Carter shivered and Espo couldn’t help the sentimental smile. “Ah, she has a soft side, too.” To this day, he believed firmly that his former Captain had known about him and Ryan.

“What’s going on, Cap?”

Jessica had turned to Beckett and Castle, who both looked unhappy. “Clive Carter pulled some strings.”

She had to say no more. Espo felt frustration rise in him. Dealer or not, a woman was dead, murdered in her own home, and all the people around her cared about was their goddamn reputation.

His phone interrupted his brooding and with a smile he recognized the number. “Hey, girl. Up for another round tonight?”

“Maybe, but that’s not why I called,” Lanie’s all business voice answered over the phone.

Espo straightened up. “You got something?”

“Yes and no,” Lanie answered, from the sound of it roaming around her workstation as she always did, when talking on the phone. “We finally got our DNA back. As suspected Caroline Carter, the Cornish’s, their maid and well one male one. We couldn’t place that one and it was found under Cornish’s fingernails.”

Male DNA? Could it be they were that lucky? “No match in our databases?”

“No, but what I can tell you is that he has very likely white skin color and light hair.”

Espo got excited by the second. “What means likely?”

“Lab says markers in the sample indicate 80% probability.”

Espo whistled. Finally something solid. Combined with Carter’s very thin skinned reaction Espo’s crazy theory became more and more solid. Who would have thought that a Castle-like theory would be his comeback at the NYPD? Espo filled in his partner and Beckett right after his quick talk with Lanie.

Beckett grimaced and nodded. “I agree,” she finally said behind her desk.

Espo and Carter changed looks. “But?” Espo leaned forward.

“But--.” Beckett’s phone interrupted her reply and with a sigh she picked up. “Castle, I don’t know where you put it,” she said with an eyeroll. “Well, I looked, it is not here… Sure, if you are around, come over and search yourself. Meanwhile, let me remind you of that little case we are working on at the moment and that I want to be home before the twins are put to sleep at least once this week.” With another eyeroll and a “See you soon,” she hang up again.

“What is he looking for?”

Beckett snorted. “His invitation for the Mystery Night. He suddenly decided that he should take a leave from his paternity leave and well, what better than the event to be for all crime writers?” She had a fond smile, but looking down on her full desk, continued. “Here is the thing, the Carters lawyered up and even if this lead is more solid, it is still not solid enough to order a DNA-sample. He would have to give it voluntary.”

Jessica and Espo exchanged frustrated looks. “Maybe we could fetch one from a cup?” Jessica suddenly spoke up, which earned an immediate head shake from her Captain. “He is a lawyer, he knows not to give us this chance right now.”

So, a lead, but no chance to follow it up for now. Seems like Espo was stuck on all fronts. “What about a short break?”

Jessica, ever the eager rookie, took their orders and soon they sat around take-out in the break room, when Castle knocked at the door and peeked his head in.

“Came to search for your invitation I heard?” Jessica snorted into her container.

“It’s not at home. It must be--.”

“At your wife’s well organized desk?” Espo pointed his chopsticks towards their Cap’s desk.

“Well--”

“Any luck?” he interrupted the writer again with a smirk and the sinking shoulders said everything.

“What’s so great about that party, anyway?”

Castle stared at Espo. “It is not just a party, it is the party. Everyone will be there. Connolly, King, Patterson…”

“Everyone?” Jessica suddenly leaned forward.

Castle shrugged and slumped down on a free seat. “Well, apparently not the best mystery writer,” he sighed, picking up some fried noodles.

“No, I mean, very likely High Society, too.”

“Sure, why?”

Jessica raised her brows at Espo, who started to pick up her trail of thoughts.

“Yes, like, let’s say the Carters,” he drawled and after swallowing his noodles, Castle shrugged. “I dunno about Beyoncé and Jay Z…”

“Dude, not those Carters. I’m talking about our suspect,” Espo snapped.

Castle cringed, but then seemed to think it over. “Actually, yes, yes, they will.”

“We need to get into that party,” Jessica exclaimed loudly.

“Yeah, well, it is invitation only and they sure as hell won’t invite the NYPD to it,” Espo grunted out. He turned to Castle. “And I heard you lost the invitation.”

Castle pulled a face, while. “I did not lose it, I just was a devoted father--.”

“Yeah, he lost it,” Beckett interrupted, standing in the door, earning an affronted glare from her husband and snorts from the two detectives.

“Which means, the best opportunity to catch the group in the act will just pass us by,” Carter sighed.

“Unless--.”

Everyone looked at Castle, who had that theory-face again. The one that could mean great insight or just plain stupid ideas. “Castle, we are not climbing into the building from outside, with or without Nicolai,” Espo interrupted him, not in the mood for one of Castle’s outlandish plans.

“That’s not what I meant, good thinking though,” Castle said. Suddenly his face lit up. “Actually, speaking of that case, I know someone, who could get us in.”

Espo and Carter changed quick looks, then Espo leaned forward. “Castle, we can’t bring a civilian into this. Despite the immediate danger we put them into, even worse, they don’t know the first thing about going undercover.”

The smug smile on Castle’s face promised something bad. “That won’t be a problem.” Then he looked directly at Espo. “You still might not like it though.”

 

****************************************

 

Ryan had a dubious look on his face, while Castle laid out his idea. Behind him stood Callahan and Murray, his constant shadows, as Javier knew by now.

“Wait wait, Rick, let me get this straight,” he interrupted suddenly, crossing his arms across his chest. “You want me to bring you to the Mystery Night, so we can chat up the Carters, which apparently threatened to sue the NYPD, because you want a DNA-sample of Clive Carter, to prove a theory you came up with because he was mean to Espo once?”

“I--yes?” Castle tried his charming grin, but Ryan just shook his head at his friend.

“So, let's say I’d say yes, how do you suppose we do that?”

“Sir, these are people that don't stop at murder, I highly advice against participating in such a dangerous operation,” Callahan said, his voice in his usual slightly annoyed voice. Javier seriously wondered if that guy ever had fun with his face in this constant frown.

“You mean, you two can't follow me around in there?” Ryan couldn't sound anymore sarcastic if he’d tried.

“Sir, Mr. Montague--.”

“Is a) not here and b) not the one asked to help them,” Kevin interrupted with an icy undertone. He looked at Beckett. “Kate, be straight with me. What's the level of danger?”

Beckett had followed their conversation with a neutral face, but when Ryan asked for her opinion, she had a soft smile on her face. “As low as an undercover operation can be. You are not allowed to bring weapons in there and this is not the meet up of the local mob. However, there is a murderer out there, so there is a minor chance of violence, yes. You know that as much as anyone here,” the brunette said and Ryan nodded to her elaborations. “With your status though, you will be high value for any security company in there. And we would be just outside, ready to rush in if needed.”

While Beckett was speaking, Ryan had to start twirling his wedding ring on his finger, looking at it with a slight frown. Javier had had his suspicion that Ryan was well aware of the golden cage he had stepped into, when he had married Jesse Montague. And Javier had this tiny, jealous monster inside that wanted his ex-partner to long for his old life and friends, and to see that not all was fine in paradise. So far, this had been the first instance he had witnessed this look of wistfulness and slight sadness on his former best friend’s face. And it made him regret his ugly wishes as Ryan looked so sad at being described as ‘high value’.

“Sir, again, speaking on your husband’s behalf--.”

Ryan’s head whipped around and there was such a look of anger on his face, his bodyguard actually leaned a bit back.

“If I want my husband’s input, I’ll ask him myself,” he spat. Yes, this was a definite soft spot in the Kevin-Ryan-armor and Javier liked it less by the minute. Not only because it clearly hurt him, but because neither had said Ryan ‘yes!” to their plan, as if he deep down he also believed in their perception of him.

“Ryan chased down perps twice his size, was first through the door during raids and endured torture to keep information. I'm sure he can hold off a few too self important jerks,” he suddenly said, before Callahan had his mouth open again.

The look of pleasant surprise on the other’s face told him all he needed to know. Still, that knucklehead insisted: “Then we should call him.” as if he hadn't heard any of Javier’s speech.

Kevin narrowed his eyes at the floor, biting his underlip quietly.

“Kevin, you can do this,” Castle jumped in, but Ryan kept staring at the ground, frowning.

“Sir?”

“Pick me up at seven. Don't be late.” Ryan suddenly surprised everyone. He had not looked up, but the look of determination said everything he needed to know.

 

****************************************

 

“I can’t believe you talked me into this.”

Kevin Ryan-Montague stood next to Castle in his best black suit, plus bow tie, sipping on his Champagne and a slightly sour look on his face.

“Come on, buddy. It’s fun.” Castle put an arm over his friend’s shoulder, steering him towards the buffet. “Good food, nice band, mystery to solve. Besides, doesn’t Jesse take you out to these events.”

Kevin let himself be dragged towards the dessert section. “Yes, as a date. To dance. Are you taking me out to dance? If yes, we should have told your wife before she listened in to every word.”

Inside the van outside the streets of the location, the cops couldn’t help the snorts.

“I’m sorry, Kate, that you had to find out this way, but we love each other.”

Beckett rolled her eyes with a smile, while Espo shook his head. “Shut up, Rick, and hand me the shrimps,” they heard the dry reply of Ryan.

“That’s the spirit, darling. Have I told you how ravishing you look tonight?”

“Don’t make me hurt you, Castle.”

It felt like five years ago. Well, five years ago Castle and Beckett would have done the banter in there and Espo by now would have had his hand on Ryan’s thigh, while still listening to the events inside.

And yes, to be fair, Kevin did look ravishing. When he had stepped out of the elevator into the bullpen, Espo had been glad that the screen had somehow covered his face, as he knew he must have had a slack faced expression. And he couldn’t help feeling jealous that it was Castle who would accompany Kevin. And yes, of course, Jesse would take him out to such events and show him off. Espo rubbed his face. Get a grip, man.

“Kevin, you were right. Those shrimps--,” Castle’s voice interrupted his downward spiral.

Castle was waving one of the little fried delicatessen in front of Kevin’s face, who leaned back a bit to avoid getting the food in his face.

Castle was doing his best to distract Kevin from the eternal raincloud that was hanging over his head ever since they had stepped through the big doors to the ballroom. Well, ever since one Javier Esposito had come back. To be fair, he had shared his friend’s pissy feelings about Espo's return, but then Castle saw something wonderful happening. The return of snazzy Ryan. The small smirks, the raised know-it-all eyebrows and occasionally the smartass remarks.

He stepped away a bit to get some more snacks for them, his eyes sweeping the buffet for something similar mouth-watering.

So far, he had only witnessed both men together at the precinct. And while he had meant every word of his impromptu shovel talk, he also saw that Kevin crawled out of his shell more and more. A shell, he had hid in five years ago. Kevin's behavior was surely a defensive reaction to a lot of unsolved tension, but Castle couldn’t help but cheer Ryan on in his quest to stand his ground just like Detective Ryan had done so easily on a daily basis. He even had defied his bodyguard and finally stood his ground against the all encompassing Christopher Jesse Montague to help Kate and Espo out. And if that took the return of the man that hurt him the worst, by now Castle was willing to take it.

“Kevin, how lovely to have you as our guest,” a cheerful voice cut through his thoughts. Mrs. Caroline Carter stood right next to Kevin, a champagne flute in her hand, her blond hair swapped up, expensive jewelry around her neck and in her ears, her silver dress classy. If Castle hadn’t heard about her snobbish behaviour and the murder her family very likely was involved in, he would have freely admitted that Caroline was an attractive woman. Castle stepped a bit further aside, so she would not be scared away by his presence right away. Her eyes were fixated on Kevin though as if he was the main prize of the nightly lottery.

Ryan shook her hand with an easy smile, by now as experienced to move around high-circles as Castle. “I’m glad that Clara squeezed me in.”

“How is Coilin? I heard your night at the MET was cut short because of the poor little guy getting sick.”

“Oh yeah, you know how it is. First night in weeks without the kids and your husband all to yourself, of course it had to happen.”

Caroline laughed. Not just fake laugh, no she really seemed to know exactly what Kevin meant. And just like that, the wife of their suspect was their greatest asset. Well done, Kevin.

“Ah, don’t we all?” Caroline sighed, while still smiling at Ryan. “I assume it was too short notice for him?” With an equal suffering sigh, Kevin nodded. “I was surprised Clive could clear his schedule. Let me introduce you.” She turned around to wave her husband over.

“Darling, look who made it here.”

“Mr. Ryan-Montague, pleasure to finally meet you. Your husband still owes me a drink for sealing that contract over my client by the way.”

“Clive, please, that record deal was two years ago. Besides, we are here to celebrate the thrill of Mystery, not discuss business deals.”

“Listen to your wife.” Again laughter.

“Who is your Plus One for tonight then?”

Castle swiftly moved to Kevin’s side and put his hand on his shoulder to cut into the conversation. He saw the pleasant demeanor of the Carters change in seconds.

“Mr. Castle. Can’t say I’m as pleased to see you here. I can only hope you were not using your friend here--.”

“Mr. Carter,” Kevin interrupted the on coming rant. “I’m aware of the investigation Kate’s department conducted on your involvement in Rebecca’s death. However, Rick here is here on my request only. He promised to only charm with his wit and not his interrogation skills tonight.”

Castle slowly let go of his held in breath when he saw the couple slowly relax. “Everything for my good friend.” They even shook his hands.

When Carter still stared at Castle mistrustful, Ryan stepped forward and smoothly took the glass out of Carter’s hands. “I’m not Jesse, but maybe I can ease your ire first, while Caroline and I here plot to get our two knuckleheads to bury the hatchet?” And they were back in. The prospect of direct access to Jesse overwrote any fears over a further investigation in an instant.

“Come on, Castle, before you ruin any attempt for a peaceful evening in a few moments.” He playfully rolled his eyes and handed over the glasses to Castle. “We will back shortly,” he smiled at the couple. He swiftly moved through the crowd, but instead of the bar, he walked towards the exit.

“Kevin Ryan, did you just lie to them?” Castle whispered gleefully. Kevin rolled his eyes, while making sure they got away far enough, so they could not see them taking the glass. Then Castle bagged their coveted item. “I sure did not. I only told them you would not investigate. Never included me there,” Kevin replied smoothly. Castle snorted and opened his mouth for a reply, when they were interrupted.

“Excuse me?” A young guard at the entrance to the ballroom addressed them. Kevin stopped, hoping the guy had not noticed the bagged glass. “Yes?”

“Are you Kevin Ryan?”

“Yes, I am. Is there a problem?” Kevin tried his politest smile. Please, don't cause any trouble.

“No, I mean-- Oh my god, I’m the biggest fan of The Badge, ” the guard babbled and Kevin as well as Castle both visibly relaxed. Just a fan.

“I'm pleased to hear,” Kevin replied, his eyes darted between the full ballroom and the hallway leading to the entrance.

“My friends will--.”

“Mr. Connelly!” An elderly man interrupted. By his outfit, also a guard. And by the strict tone, the younger guard’s boss. “You have a job to do."
Yes, definitely the boss.

The younger men opened and closed his mouth, but then just nodded. “Of course, Mr. Andrews.” With a hanging head, Ryan felt pity for, the young man stepped away.

“I'm so sorry, Mr. Ryan-Montague. It is his first big event.”

“Don't worry. No harm done,” Kevin replied easily, just keen to finally have that glass delivered.

When they finally left the big ballroom, Castle couldn't contain himself anymore and slapped the other on the shoulder.

“Kevin Ryan, you devilish trickster,” Castle chuckled. Kevin just chuckled. “Okay, guys, you heard us. We have his glass. Castle brings it out to you.”

“You could come outside as well,” Castle genuinely sounded concerned to send Kevin back to the vultures alone.

“Ah ah, Mr. Castle. I need much more courting tonight before I’ll step into dark corners with you,” Ryan grinned at him. When he saw the frown still, he added: “Relax, I’m a big boy. Besides, I need to powder my nose. See you inside?”

“Can’t blame me for trying,” he called after Ryan, but already moved towards the stairs outside. A couple of feet away, the van of their team was parked, but Kate had already stepped outside to meet him halfway. She suddenly drew him near and kissed him.

“Well, hello, my lady. Fancy meeting you here,” Castle smirked at her and Kate just shook her head. “Hello to you, too. And try to act casually for once, okay?”

Castle nodded, but still stole a kiss, which was ended quickly by his wife. “I called you, because you forgot Jo’s favourite nookie in your jacket!”

“I--what? Hey, I never forget--.”

Kate pointedly looked at the poster hanging outside the building announcing the “XI. Mystery Night”.

“Ah, well, yeah.”

“Don’t keep your date waiting.”

Castle turned around with one last smile, ready to collect Kevin by the restroom again and just enjoying the rest of the night. He looked up at the entrance and there at the bottom of the stairs stood Clive Carter. For a few odd moments Castle thought he was just there by accident and had not really seen Castle handing over the glass to Beckett, but then he realized there was no good explanation for Carter to be exactly there unless he had suspected Castle was up to something from the beginning. And when he saw that Carter was indeed looking at Beckett, he knew Carter had figured it out. And that’s when he turned around and ran.

“Fuck,” Castle let slip. Behind him he heard fast steps and before he could even locate the source, Esposito sprinted by, yelling loudly: “NYPD, Carter, stop right there!” Behind him sprinted his young partner.

Their suspect turned around quickly, while he kept running. Behind him a security guy had jogged towards the entrance, surely checking out the commotion. Before he could even assess the situation Carter crashed into the poor guy at full speed, both men crashing down with a loud “Uff!”

Relieved, Esposito caught up to the heap of limbs and arms quickly, reaching for his weapon, when Carter suddenly lifted his right arm, gun pointing at them. Underneath them the security had gone pale. “Don't come closer,” the lawyer yelled. Gone was the collected guy, and replaced with a trembling man, hand shaking.

Esposito stopped his sprint and lifted his hands slowly, stepping in front of Castle on instinct. “Calm down,” he said with a calm voice. When his hands passed his own gun, Carter pressed his gun at the head of the fallen guard. “I said, stay back.”

“Okay, okay. I won’t come closer,” Esposito replied, trying to convey all the confidence and calm, neither the suspect nor the hostage were displaying.

“Shut up, just shut up,” Carter roared, dragging the other man up with him, gun still pressed at the head. Behind Esposito, Beckett had stopped moving as well. Jessica Carter had taken position at the doors, successfully blocking anyone else from entering. Castle stood behind them, shielded by the two cops.

“You people have no fucking idea,” Carter shouted. Slowly, Esposito creeped closer, his arms still hovering near his own gun, while Carter was hectically moving himself and the pale hostage closer and closer to the edge of the stairs. Slowly, he moved up, dragging the other with him. Espo wearily glanced up, glad that for now no one else has decided to leave.

“Mr. Carter, don't make this worse. So far you are only a suspect, nothing is proven, things can still turn around.” Beckett’s firm, but yet soft voice made him shift his attention from Espo to her, the hostage wincing all the while, and quickly moving back to Espo, staring at him again. “No, No, it doesn't matter. It all--.”

Steps behind them distracted the little group. Sharp clicks on the shiny stone floor. Another guest turned the corner, high heels, red dress, hair up high, looking all like the princess of the ball. She seemed to fiddle with her clutch, not awarding her surrounding and surely only vaguely aware of the gun-wielding idiot she walked towards to.

So, Espo yelled the one thing every New Yorker responded to. “NYPD!” Her head whipped towards Espo in milliseconds, while still walking. “M’am, move back, now!” The girl stared at him wide-eyed, but then saw the badge around his neck, only gave a short look towards the other. She obviously had no idea what to do and decided the worst, but classic approach - Deer in headlights. Cursing silently, Espo pointed calmly behind her. “Ma’am, please go back inside, go to a security officer and make sure they close off the entrance. Everything will be okay.” Now, move the fuck away from the gun-wielding madman, he silently added. The girl nodded hectically, finally moving backwards. Her heels caught in the floor and with a shriek, she lost balance. On instinct, Espo moved one step towards the falling woman, when Carter saw his chance.

He gave the poor security guy one hard shove towards Beckett, while moving towards the now lying and crying woman. Beckett and Castle swiftly, stepped towards the tumbling guy, at step three stopping his painful fall. Espo gave his Captain one quick glance, she nodded up the stairs, he moved quickly towards Carter, drawing his gun. The woman picked herself up impressively quickly when she saw the threat moving towards her, but Carter pointed his gun at her, causing her to cry some more.

“Don’t, Carter,” Espo snapped, now his own gun in his hands. Carter stepped towards the woman, who raised her hands. “Please,” she sobbed. “Carter, drop the gun,” Espo growled, pointing at the guy. However, Carter grabbed the woman, who gave a wail of despair, when she was dragged between Carter and the gun pointed at him. “Carter, nobody needs to get hurt. Just put down that--.” with another shove, Carter, pushed the crying woman towards Espo.

Years of training had the cop move his gun to the side and catch the sobbing girl in his arms in time. Big, blue, watering eyes stared up at him. “M’am, are you alright?” He helped her up quickly, one arm around her. She just nodded, seeking his support some more. “Th-thank you,” she stammered, looking at her savior in wonder. Espo allowed himself a quick smile. Blue eyes she had, but so not his type.

Carter moved up and started to run towards to hallway.

Ryan was up there, unarmed, high value. He looked to the right, where Castle and Beckett picked up the first victim. Jessica moved towards him. He quickly handed the second victim to his partner and gave chase. “Carter, stop!”

Carter just took up speed and was around the corner.

 

*************************************

 

Kevin breathed in and out slowly. Hands under blissfully cold water and then around his neck. Wide open blue eyes stared back at him through the mirror. He massaged his stiff neck, wincing. He loved Luisa to pieces, but sometimes he would love one night without a little octopus attached to him at night. Especially, when said creature started to kick during her sleep.

With a smile, he shook his head. Well, whom are you kidding? Yes, Luisa messes with your sleep, but you have come to terms with it four years ago, when she first claimed the thunderstorm was scaring her. He pushed back his hair out of his face. Two weeks only and already Javier had managed to question his past five years and wondered the old time classic “what if?” That man still had that swagger and looked good, especially when riled up. Shaking his head firmly, he closed the tabs, moving towards the towels on the side. He left you five years ago, remember, Kevin? He never once tried to explain! He broke your heart. You have Jesse. Good looking, smart, talented Jesse. Don't let him back in. He looked good with the longer hair.

“Stop it, Ryan,” he snapped at himself. Yes, he could be considerate and was cute, when angry, but when it came down to it, Javier Esposito cared about one person and one person only, Javier Esposito. “Five years, Kevin, five goddamn years.” He looked up again into the mirror, throwing the towel in the bin. “You are helping out Kate. The mother of your god-children. Wife of your best friend. Period.” He breathed out and finally saw his shoulders sank a bit more. Good. Now, enjoy your night out with said best friend.

He was glad no one was here. He didn't need that gossip around himself on Monday at the ABC. ‘Saw Montague’s husband. I think he is losing it.’ With a chuckle, Ryan pushed himself against the swinging doors.

“Mr. Ryan,” A voice startled him. It was the security guard again. He looked equally excited and nervous, when he approached Kevin. “I--god, my boss is going to kill me, but I have a pen and some paper.”

With a chuckle, Kevin put out his hand. “Whom should I make it out for?”

“Mick,” the guy answered, practically whipping on his feet.

When he first had someone ask for his autograph, he had been flabbergasted. They had been at the Old Haunt, the rapid growing fan base had caught on to the fact that this bar was the inspiration for the “Auld Tavern” and apparently also started to recognize him as the creator of the most successful new show that fall. Castle had to shove him, so that he moved to sign the hold out magazine. Nowadays, he barely had this requests, but wasn't faced by it anymore either.

“Oh, my friends will be so envious.”

Kevin smiled, while he scribbled on the paper. “Yeah? Who was your favorite?”

“Captain Kirkpatrick for sure. Is it true you wrote him after your uncle?”

Kevin handed the paper back. “Yeah, he was quite the character. The bit about the cake in the third episode did really happen by the way.”

By now the kid was actually beaming. Kevin knew by now that fans loved those little little trivias. And he gladly made someone's day if it was that easy to do.

“Wow, thank you,” the guard breathed, staring at the tiny dedication. “I--.”

Something crashed into them. Or rather someone. With a loud huff they crashed to the ground, Mick first, Kevin on top of him. When he looked up, to snap at the idiot that had ran them over, he stared into the barrel of a gun, which a wide eyed Clive Carter pointed towards them. Very likely a Glock by the looks of it.

Underneath Kevin, the guard seemed to realize the situation as well as he lost all color from his already pale face. Kevin moved away from the guy, still staying on the ground though, never looking away from the gun. “You ok?” He whispered and he saw Mick nod from the corner of his eyes. “Clive, don't make this worse than it has to be,” he tried to placate the visibly agitated lawyer.

“You tricked me!”

Ryan was still crouching, no way, he could tackle the other like that.

“This won’t make it better. Think about Caroline and your kids,” Kevin tried once more, lifting his arms. Next to him, Mick started to rise carefully as well, until he was on his knees.

Clive huffed a laugh, he pointed his gun even closer to Kevin. “Tell me, Kevin, are you still putting out for your husband?”

Kevin gabed at the man. “Excuse me?”

“Working hard all day, he needs some appreciation, don't you think?”

“I--.” Kevin was at loss where Clive was going with it. Did he want Kevin to understand why he stepped out on his wife?

“Maybe as a guy you understand better.”

“Still no reason to sleep with Rebecca.” The reply was out before he could think further.

“I didn't--.”

Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw Mick reach for his gun. He tried to shake his head at that rookie move. No way, Mick would get his gun out, safety off and then aim before Clive noticed.

“Hey!” He had noticed already. Mick still fumbled for his gun and Clive moved his gun towards the young guard. Without thinking twice, Kevin got half up and tackled Mick to the ground. The bullet passed by them by centimeters. The sound of the fired gun echoing loudly in the hallway and ringing in his ears. Jesse will kill me, Kevin thought, when he moved himself between Mick and Clive.

 

*************************************

 

Espo was just close to the next corner, when he heard the gunshot. Cursing under his breath, he took up speed. He carefully turned the corner, gun first.

And there, just a few feet away from him, and just outside the restrooms, he saw Kevin crouching on the floor, hands half up, behind him a bewildered guard. And in front of them stood Clive, back towards Espo, gun pointed at the the kneeling men.

He stopped, not making any sound. He had not his rifle with him, but he was close enough. If he just could get Clive to point the gun away from Kevin. Carefully, he took aim. He tried to catch Kevin’s gaze and after some painful moments, Kevin did indeed see him. He gestured to the left. Kevin nodded slightly.

“Hey!” He barked. Clive turned towards him, Kevin tackled Mick to the ground and Espo took his shot. With a pained yelp, Clive Carter dropped the gun, his left hand, going to his shot right arm. Quickly, Espo moved forward, kicked the gun away, and then barked at Carter. “On your knees, now.”

With a defeated sigh, his suspect finally surrendered.

“You okay?”

Kevin looked a bit ruffled, but flashed him a grin. “Yeah!”

Both men shared a quick smile, silently congratulating each other on a job well down. Just as if nothing ever had changed. Carter, the lawyer grunted out in pain, when Espo cuffed him, and Carter, his partner, appeared with a raised gun. And the moment was gone.

Chapter Text

Mr. Carter, I’m not going to sugar-coat it, this looks bad. Very bad.”

Captain Kate Beckett started their interrogation, looking as grim as she possibly could, leaning on her arms and staring at the by now very pale Clive Carter. Next to her, Javier, as the lead detective on this case, looked equally grim.

“Not only did you run from us, you also threatened and held four people at gunpoint. One of them not just a civilian, but the husband of Jesse Montague.”

Carter looked at her wide eyed, but Beckett, with an impatient sigh, pushed on.

“Let me tell a little story about Jesse Montague. Once a magazine posted private pictures about his family. So he sued them for millions, won the lawsuit and the paper had to shut down, because of the 2.5 million-sum. All of it, because of two pictures of his husband with their newborn son. You shot at Kevin. Believe me, when I tell right here and now, that we are not even your biggest problem right now.”

Javier didn't blink once, even though that approach did surprise him. The Kate Beckett he had known would have never thrown around names like that. But then again, in the last days Javier learnt a thing or two about the so called high society. And if there was one thing these people seem to fear more than the law, it was losing their reputation and standing. And having one Jesse Montague on your bad side, was a very real threat to them.

And yes, Carter shrunk even more into himself, sighing.

“So, if you want any chance of getting out of it with your dignity somewhat intact, I'll suggest you start telling us the truth.”

“And you’ll put in a good word for me?”

A day ago, this question might have been sarcastic, but now the tone of the lawyer was almost pleading. “I mean Kevin--.”

“Is non of your concern anymore,” Beckett snapped.

 

**************************************

 

Kevin gave up getting the stains from his jacket with a sigh. He really liked this one, but it's not like he couldn't give it to the best cleaner in the city. Then again, it was not really about the stain. It was about what it represented. He could count on one hand when he ever got stains on his clothing that were not caused by his children in the last four years. And in some odd way it felt good. Like he had done something meaningful with his life today.

Okay, he could have done without the getting shot at. But helping Kate and well yes, Espo, catch a murderer had felt good and right. He studied the odd grey smudges on the cuffs and couldn't help the sigh. If only it could be that easy.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I was looking for the ladies room.” Caroline Carter had averted her eyes, but he still saw the smudged mascara.

“The signs fell off before I retired. It was a great hazing for the rookies at the beginning. Especially the guys were terrified of their armed female colleagues. And then there was no glue and then I think it became some kind of running joke,” he said softly and then cringed. Great, Kev, at least one thing won't ever change - you babbling nonsensical trivia, when nervous.

Caroline’s mouth curved slightly up in an almost smile. “I can only imagine.”

Kevin shut the still running water and nodded at her: “Just next door.” She nodded at that as well and turned, but then faced him again. “Kevin?”

“Yes?”

“Is it true?”

There were several answers, as there were several possible questions. As she appeared to be crying though, there were only two options. And even though he knew he could not give away too much, he owed her some honesty after tonight. It's something she apparently barely got from her husband. “The police suspect him to be at least involved, yes.”

Again, a barely there nod. “I had been so angry at Becca that night. Didn't believe her, when she told me about their affair.”

Kevin gaped at her. “What do you mean?”

“Clive and Bahar!”

 

**************************************

 

There was a knock on the door. A rather insisting one. With a sigh, Beckett turned from their suspect. “Yes?”

LT stuck his head in, looking regretful. “Ma’am, a moment of your time.”

She was about to snap at the poor officer, when she recalled that this was LT and he never just interrupted her. “Excuse us,” she said to Carter and followed LT out, behind her Espo, surely as curious as she was. The officer led them to the break room, where Mrs. Carter was seated next to Kevin.

“Captain, Caroline told me something you might need to know.”

They sat down quickly, and after an encouraging nod from Kevin, Carter straightened up and started. “Becca told me Clive and Bahar de Nahawi had an affair that night. I thought she and Clive had it, but she swore she just wanted to protect me and by putting my name on her god forsaken client list, she tried to scare him straight. And, and, and, he swore he had nothing to do with her and her death, but he has been so secretive since her death and then he ran from you and shot at Kevin and bystanders and that son of a bitch swore he would never do that again.”

It was truly a sight to see the so detached Caroline Carter stuttering and crying. Kevin discreetly handed her a fresh tissue and remained wisely quiet, but right at her side, silently helping her through. Beckett couldn't help her soft smile. Still and always a professional with witnesses.

“That ass knew,” she bit out.

“Knew what, Mrs. Carter?” Espo leaned forward.

She huffed, but answered anyway. “If I catch that lying no good son of a bitch once more, that was it. And he might be the big shot lawyer now a days, but my Harvard degree didn't go bad either and I will tear his non-prenup ass apart.”

Kevin lied his hand on hers. “I know this is hard, but tell them, what you told me.”

“I couldn't reach him the whole night, after I had left Becca. He claimed some BS about going out after a hard night. He does that. But normally to those stupid men’s clubs, where he smokes those disgusting cigars. He didn't smell like them that night. So I called the club." She huffed. “And I thought, he had became considerate.”

Beckett exchanged a quick glance with Espo. Carter had given them the same bullshit story at their first interview. And, yes, it was still circumstantial, but the rope around Clive Carter’s neck tightened. “Thank you, Mrs. Carter, I know this must be hard--.”

“Oh please, I know how much everybody waited for the mighty, snobbish Caroline Carter to fall.” And the old Carter was back.

“Then why--?”

Carter interrupted her. “I thought that's all I was. Wife and mother. No more, not anymore. But then Kevin went out and just got that glass from my idiot husband as if he still caught suspects on a daily basis and I knew, so could I.” Kevin and her shared a short, soft smile. “And most of all, he was always kind, but yet never tried to suck up to me.”

She wiped her eyes and sniffed. “So, after Kevin shows me the actual bathroom, I'd like to give you a statement.”

 

**************************************

 

Espo did his best to glare at Carter’s back, while some Unis led him to holding. “Well, now, we still have a lot of circumstances, but no confession.”

Next to him, Beckett sighed. “We confronted him, he admitted to at least being there. I'm sure the DNA will confirm it further that he has been there.”

“Yes, but he has still access to the best lawyers, he can create reasonable doubt in any jury. Hell, I could with a lot less. And that asshole knows and hides behind it.”

Beckett gave his detective an encouraging smile. “Come on, Javi. Yes, it is no smoking gun, but this is good. You trusted your instinct, and broke this case wide open. Welcome back, detective, you have been missed.”

The crooked smile was at least some answer. “Wasn't me who got Mrs. Carter to give us the last puzzle piece.”

She looked outside the now open door of the interrogation room and laughed softly. “He really stepped up tonight.” Espo nodded, having this wistful smile on his face, she knew too well.

“Come on, let's get you some last coffee for your trip home.”

They stepped out of the stuffy room, ready to get a last caffeine fix, when a loud voice interrupted their short walk to the breakroom.

"Where is my husband?" Jesse stood in the middle of the bullpen, looking like a thundercloud, behind him his assistant and Sullivan.

Kate squared her shoulders, bringing herself to her full height. "He offered his help in that case and we are grateful for any help, Jesse." She gestured into the break room, not keen on the audience of the full floor. With a nod to his entourage to wait outside, he stepped into it.

"He is fine, just getting cleaned up," Kate explained softly, when they both seated.

"Getting shot at is not being fine!"

"He has handled worse!"

He saw Espo standing at the door. "Well, maybe if that asshole over there wouldn't have dragged Kevin into it, he would not have to handle anything, but would be safe and with me and our kids," he yelled, waving his arm at Esposito.

"I was doing my job," Espo snapped back.

"You were dragging him into this case, just so you could have him all cozy around you. Just like old times, eh partner?"

Kate got up, but by then both men were up in their faces. "Well, maybe he wanted to be dragged into it and out of this piss boring life, if his excitement was any indicator!"

"Oh, don't worry, I'm getting him excited alright. Just not in front of you, no matter how much you wish to see him like that."

"Hey!" Kate pushed both men in opposite directions. "He is not your favourite toy to bicker about."

"Tell that to Mr. Perfect over there. At least I treat him as a partner!"

"He is not your partner!"

Here they go again. Growling in frustration over those knuckleheads, Kate threw her hands in the air.

"Jesse?!"

Kevin stood at the door, looking tired and confused. "What is going on?"

Jesse was at his side in an instant, trying to wrap his arms around him. "Dearest, when I..." Kevin sidestepped the hug and held up his hand then gestured with a finger between Jesse and Espo. "Did you two just fight about me, in the middle of the precinct of all places?"

"He is all over you!"

"He is not your possession!"

They were yelling at and over Kevin, who took another step back, stopping their yelling effectively, now holding up both hands. "You know what, why don't you two dimwits meet up at the park, pistols drawn, at noon, and whoever wins gets to throw me over his shoulder and carry into his cave."

"Baby, come on--"

"No no no, Jesse, you want to play caveman? Then go to your company and find someone to yell at there! And that excitement you were bragging about in front of everybody, I hope your hand is really good at that, too, because this entertainment center right here is closed until further notice."

Javi couldn't help but grin, until Kevin turned to him.

"And Javier, I don't know what this is you are doing and frankly I don't care if you think that my life is boring. It's my life, my family, my choices and whatever we might have had five years ago, it's not coming back."

Javier threw up his hands. "Come on, bro!"

"No, Javier, I'm not your bro and I'm sure as hell not your partner! Just leave me alone, okay?" He didn't wait to see the grief stricken look that appeared on the detective's face, but walked out.

"Where are you going?" Jesse yelled after him and got an evenly yelled "Out!" in reply.

When Sullivan took a step towards his boss, Kevin hold up his head. "For heaven's sake, Sullivan, leave me alone, will ya?!"

The bodyguard blinked, shifting on his feet. "But, Boss--"

"Leave me alone, all of you, just leave me the fuck alone!" Kevin slammed the door behind himself and of the people still here, most flinched.

Sullivan stalked into Kate's office, staring down his employer and Javier. "I hope you are happy, you made him yell and curse," he said. Castle couldn't help, but pad the poor ex-Seals shoulder in sympathy.

 

**************************************

 

He took a deep, calming breath, letting out the air slowly. Just like he had always done before taking a shot. He knocked. Once, twice, three times. "Ryan?" Again, nothing. "Kevin, I'm sorry, I was an ass, you were right, open up! Please?"

Finally, the old apartment door opened. Kevin had a beer in his hand, wore some sweats and an old, grey shirt. The Hair in a bit of an uproar, like the rest of the dark blond man, who glared at him. Munching on the slice of pizza might have destroyed his stance though. Javier barely managed to bit down his grin, instead he settled on raised eyebrows. "Gonna let me stand in the hallway, Ryan?" Kevin took another bite, chewing on his funghi. An old lady walked on by, watching both men with distrust.

"Good evening, Mrs. Stilinski," Ryan finally spoke up, his voice cheerful in the knowledge that he annoyed Javier by his odd behaviour. He turned his glare at Javier again, who crossed his arms in return. "Come on, Ryan!" His friend - ex-friend? ex-lover! - finally shrugged, took a sip from his beer and stepped inside, giving the silent signal to Javier to follow him.

Finally, with those blue eyes away from him, Javier allowed himself to smile fondly at the back of the other man. Javier always had had a weakness for an adorable Kevin. And this silent, eating-pizza-in-anger-thing just made his stomach all tingly, happy and all the rest of that stupid romantic bullshit. He wanted to sweep Ryan of his feet and carry him to his bed.

Good thing that Kevin barely had noticed the effect over him back in the day and if he did, he had never abused his power he held over Javier too badly. Well, maybe the fact that he now was married, might have put Javier out of the must-manipulate-him-to-do-favours-for-me as well. He wondered, if he ever tried to pull his blue-eyed-magic on said spouse. Somehow, he hoped that this was a Javier-thing, something that still only belonged to him.

When he saw the apartment, Javi couldn't help the lump forming in his throat. Most furniture had changed, but right were it always had been, was the red couch. Just like it was meant to be. On the wall there were none of the fancy portraits like in the penthouse. No, those pictures were more intimate, private snapshots. Just one showed Luisa with a baby Coilin in her arms, looking very serious and determined not to drop the little bundle that stared at his big sister with very big, baby blue eyes. But besides that the pictures were of the past. Recommendations, honours, him at the police academy and then a whole bunch from the 12th. One with him and Ryan, side by side, laughing.

"How did you know I would be here?" Ryan stood behind him, finally finished with his pizza. One pic showed Ryan cracking up over something, wearing one of Javi's favourites of back in the day, a grey jumper, arms folded, eyes closed in laughter. And in the background Javi, laughing as well, his eyes on his partner though. It had been at a christmas party and Lanie had snapped that picture right when Beckett had been talking about the first days of Castle with her team.

“The Ryan back then would never have gone to a public bar to drink away his sorrow. The Ryan of now could not go to a public bar. Daddy Ryan would never wallow in front of the little ones and well, you were quite clear that you didn't want Jesse around."

He turned around and saw a thoughtful Ryan, silently telling him to continue. “Everybody needs his safe haven and one constant, and you had to let go of so many. So I made the bet that this would be it. Would have been really awkward if I had been yelling at a stranger's door." Ryan snorted and sat down. He stared at the muted TV, so Javi just joined him. They sat like that for some time. Javi shifted around, tried to find a spot that made him more at ease, more grounded, but then he just blurted it out.

"I'm sorry."

There, after years of playing the scene in his head over and over again he finally had said it loud. Well, in his mind Ryan did not just glare at the TV in silence.

Ryan turned himself to fully face Javi. "So what exactly are you sorry for?"

"What?!"

But Ryan remained unfazed. "You heard me, tell me, what exactly are you sorry for. For abandoning me? For not once giving me the chance to explain? For leaving me there to pick up the pieces? Or not once replying to any my messages? Calling me a rat? Or a traitor? Or Judas?"

His voice got rougher, lower and louder. Javier saw the tears gathering up in Kevin's eyes. And saw him struggling to hold them back. "They bullied me for months, partner. Misplaced files, vanishing coffee cups, last one in line for every little thing."

"I never meant--"

"I would have followed you to hell and back without a second thought, but I question Beckett's judgment once, just once, and you just leave me!"

"Kev'--"

"I loved you," now he was yelling and Javier jumped back, scratching the back of his head, wanting to reach out to him, but knowing damn well any attempt to touch Ryan at the moment would end up in violence.

"I loved you so fucking much, you know that?! I would would have forgiven you almost everything, followed you anywhere to be by your side and keep you safe." His yelling stopped suddenly, taking a deep, shaky breath, covering his mouth, muffling the next words. "I did it to save your life, Kate's life and you did not once try to stand in my shoes. No, it was always you and your damn issues.” He dropped his hand, only to gesture somewhere at the room. “Or Kate's problems, Lanie's feelings or Montgomery's memory, hell even that stupid street kid was worthy of the great Esposito's consideration. But when I beg you to follow me, it's worth squat. Never me, never honeymilk, the whimp, dork, chucklehead--"

Okay, he might have seen that coming, but Kevin was spiralling out of control and needed that hug and damn Kevin had a mean right hook, when he was angry.

When he came to again someone pressed an ice pack to this face, frowning, but at least looking out for him by laying him back on the couch. "Okay, I might have deserved it," he groaned. Kevin dropped the ice pack to the side and stared. His eyes were red rimmed, but he didn't look like he had cried. "How long have I been out?" Kevin shrugged.

Javier touched his face. "This is gonna bruise!" Kevin shrugged again. As if his anger had slipped on the ground together with Javier. "Again, I really deserved it!"

When that still didn't ruse a reply, Javier pulled himself up a bit. "Ryan, listen, I get it. It's been a long time ago, and I left scars. Scars that won't go away by some words."

Ryan got up with a sigh. "Javier--"

But Espo pushed on. "I can't make undone what happened and I understand you can't accept some half assed apology, but from now on, if you let me, I will do whatever I can to prove to you that I'm not that guy anymore and will have your back no matter what." The blank stare became thoughtful and finally Ryan nodded for him to go on, that he was listening. "I understand that what we had is gone, but I want to make it up to you, prove to you I'm not that self-centered, if handsome..." And finally, finally a small smile. "... asshole anymore. And then when you are ready to hear it again, I will do it again, I will apologize and I will do it right."

Kevin had an unreadable look on his face, but then just nodded. When he finally opened his mouth, a knock interrupted any answer. Kevin snorted softly, when he saw Javier’s questioning glance. “I guess the Calvary arrived,” he sighed and got up. When he opened the door, it was Jesse and their two goons.

“Kev, I’m so sorry about--,” Montague started, but stopped, when Kevin stepped aside and revealed Javier sitting on the sofa. His face darkened, but then he just took a further step into the apartment. “Wait for us,” he instructed the bodyguards and then closed the door behind himself. “Am I interrupting?”

Kevin threw a quick glance towards Javier, then just smiled at Montague. “Just cleared the air.”

“What he means, I was a jerk, and I'm sorry for that, Mr. Montague,” Javier added, when he saw the still mistrustful look.

“Ah, well, tempers went high, no one was harmed, detective,” the tall man offered Javier a thin smile, then put an arm around Kevin’s shoulder. “If you would please excuse my husband and I.” With that he stirred Kevin towards the kitchen.

Javier remained awkwardly at the sofa, at first he saw Montague crowding in on Kevin, hand on one side of the face, the other on his shoulder. Both of them talking in hushed voices. At first, it looked like Montague did just apologize, and Kevin nodded with a forgiving smile that knew Javier all too well. Then, suddenly Kevin stepped back, scowling, and throwing his hands up in the air. He crossed his arms, got louder, but Javier still could not make out what had initiated the sudden outburst.

However, whatever it was, Montague seemed not to back down, and stepped towards Kevin again, who this time did not let the hand settle on his cheek again. Instead, he pointed at the living room, where Javier was still seated.

This time, he understood Montague’s answer, as he had raised his voice as well.

“Kevin, we talked about it. There is a reason we--.”

“You, you hired those monkeys. I never wanted them,” snapped Kevin. So, it was about tonight and Kevin going out on his own. What a controlling ass.

“We hired bodyguards for you and our kids.”

“I am, was a Cop. I was undercover.” argued Kevin, obviously pissed and Javier was happy that he did not let this guy talk over him. But then Montague interrupted again.

“I know that, I know, dear, but back then those people did not target you for your money. Yes, they shot at you, tried to punch you, might even tried to kill you, but it was only ever directed at the Badge, never at you personally. Now, all they do is target you. They know what you mean to me and they will put time, effort and vast resources at a plan to kidnap you, and as your husband I swore to protect you.”

“I don't need your Goddamn protection,” Kevin interrupted again and Javier wanted to get in there and nod along.

“Well, but you’ll still get it. I love you, I can't get through the same thing like at the Beau Manteau again. I just can't.”

“Oh, that again. I fought them off, remember?” Their fight quickly rose in volume and it was all too obvious by now that this was a very sore spot in their relationship.

“Yes, because they underestimated you. We were lucky, you heard Victoria, next time they might not be that sloppy. And I love you, and our kids and I won't have you run heads on into danger like that ever again. End of discussion.”

“Jesse--,” Kevin tried once more, but Montague just cut right in once more. “No, Kevin. You are my husband and that makes your safety my highest priority, right next to our kids. And if that means you’ll get mad at me, so be it. At least I know you are save.”

“Fine,” Kevin suddenly grunted out and stomped out of the kitchen, while hitting the light switch off. He stopped shortly before Espo, who got up to follow him out as Montague apparently had decided they would leave. Javier just wanted to punch Montague’s light out. “Erm, it was fun?! And thanks for trying to, you know--,” his voice drifted off and he bit his lips the way he always did when something upset him, but he tried not to show. He sounded so defeated and small, it was just not right. “Catch the killer, will ya?”

He looked up briefly, and there were tears so close to spilling, and he desperately wished it was five years ago and he could hug him tight and tell him he was right and everything would be well again.

And there it was, the deepest regret. Not that Kevin had moved on, though that still hurt like a bitch, but that he could not stand by his side anymore and have his back. Five years ago he would have stood right next to him, backing his partner’s choices, no matter what.

Kevin was right that not everything he did after Espo left had been related to him, but Espo seriously doubted that the Kevin of old, veteran Cop Ryan, would have entered any relationship, where his spouse was deciding for him before Espo had just shown him how easy it was to leave him. Javier felt a lump form in his throat, another useless apology forming on his tongue again, but how do you excuse that? He still wanted to tell Kevin that this was not okay. That Kevin deserved more. That he was fine the way he was. That he had been right to tell Gates about them following Maddox.

Javier forced a smile on his face and nodded at his former friend. “You got it,” he said softly, trying to put what used to be hugs, kisses, beer, Madden and waking up hungover and intertwined tightly to each other the next morning into that one tiny sentence.

Kevin should not feel like he had to pull himself back or else he would be left at the roadside like an unwanted puppy that had outgrown his cute phase.

Kevin looked up again, a short, but grateful glance, meaning that he still could read Espo painfully easily and Espo forced himself to smile back at him. And then there was Montague’s arm around Ryan’s shoulders, and Ryan let himself be guided outside.