"Well, I think it's safe to say our friendship is effectively ruined."
"Eh, we weren't that close anyway."
-Chandler and Monica, from Friends
The Old Haunt was a cozy sort of bar, the kind of place that you could imagine hanging out at with friends every night. There was the rolling piano music, the background to every conversation, and the rows upon rows of pictures on the wall that gave it a homey feel. Esposito looked around at his coworkers, his friends. Castle was behind the bar, refilling Beckett's glass, and she was laughing, either at him or with him (he guessed at). Ryan was sitting beside Esposito, listening intently to some story that Captain Montgomery was telling.
Looking down the wooden bar, he couldn't help but notice that someone was missing. Her absence made that whole group look unbalanced. Esposito whipped out his cell phone and dialed Lanie's cell number. She picked up on the first ring.
"Hey," he said warmly. "It's me." He pictured her smiling.
"Hey," she replied. "What's going on?" When they had walked, singing, out of the precinct almost an hour ago, she had been down in the morgue, working over a dead body. He felt a little guilty.
"Castle bought the Old Haunt," he said. "We're all hanging out here. You should come." He felt like he could hear her deliberating, and for a moment his heart rate picked up and he worried that she would say no, she needed to work. Or worse, she had a date.
"Might as well," she said. "Everyone I'm working with will still be dead tomorrow." He smiled. "See you soon, Detective." He heard the phone click and realized that she'd hung up.
"See you, Lanie."
For the next fifteen minutes, he agonized over what he had just done. That was stupid, he thought. He should've just waited for Beckett to invite Lanie, he shouldn't have made himself so obvious. It was sickening. He was supposed to be a detective, a master of secrecy and stoicism, and there he was, heart on his sleeve, calling her up and practically begging for her to come.
She did. Out of pity, he figured. Lanie popped her head through the door and then walked in when she saw everyone gathered around the bar. "Hey, it's Lanie!" said Ryan, spinning around on his barstool, and she was forcibly reminded of his behavior at the precinct's last Christmas party. Judging by the loudness of his voice and the fact that he had to hang onto the bar with both hands to keep the stool from going around again, Ryan was only a few drinks away from belting out "Dancing Queen."
"Hey, guys," she said, taking a seat at the end of the bar, next to Esposito.
"What'll it be, Dr. Parrish?" asked Castle loftily, sliding towards her. She told him what she wanted, and Esposito asked for another ginger ale.
"Why aren't you drinking?" she asked a few minutes later, watching him sip his soda through a straw. "What, are you pregnant?" He laughed, but it was the kind of joke that indicated she was already a tiny bit drunk from her Bloody Mary. He didn't answer her question, though.
They talked while they sat there- about work, family, music, the economy (that conversation ended up being too boring, and Lanie dared Esposito to chug the rest of his soda just to change the topic). As they spoke, he began to realize why exactly he enjoyed her company so much, and why his crush (if that's what it was- for the first time in his life, he was hopelessly uncertain) didn't bother him so much when he was with her. She was fun to be with, whether their relationship ever became something other than friendship or not.
Just then, the Captain stood up and walked towards the door. "Alright, time for me to head home," he said, turning to wave to them all. "And I expect you all at work tomorrow, on time," he added, eyeing Castle sternly, who was occupied with pouring Beckett's fourth chocolate martini. He left, and Ryan followed soon after.
Lanie and Esposito were at one end of the bar, conversing quietly, and Castle and Beckett sat at the other end. After a while, Lanie leaned towards Esposito and whispered, "Maybe we should leave those two alone." He smiled slyly, watching as Beckett leaned closer to Castle and adjusted his collar.
"I'll walk you home," he offered, helping her off the barstool. She shoved him playfully, annoyed that he was acting all chivalrous, as if she couldn't hop off the stool by herself. She followed him out the door and onto the street. It was bright outside, lit by the glittering lights of the city.
"I live… uh…" She glanced up and down the street, her index finger moving uncertainly. She was unfamiliar with the Old Haunt and its location.
"That way," he laughed, putting a tentative hand on her shoulder and turning her in the right direction. They began to walk- slowly, comfortably. It wasn't too late, and the night was unusually warm. They picked up the conversation they had been having in the bar, Esposito regaling the tale of the time he was in college when he ended up stranded in Poughkeepsie and managed to get home with no money.
They reached her apartment too soon, in his opinion. "Thanks for calling me out tonight," she said. "I needed a break from work."
"Hey, any time," he replied, meaning it.
"Really," she continued. "It's such a relief to just spend time with a friend, and not be constantly thinking about 'where is this going?' or 'what did that mean?'" He knew what she meant, and he wasn't about to play the lovesick heartbroken boy left standing in the rain. It wasn't really his thing. The shocker was, Esposito actually agreed with her. It was a relief to not be stressing about dating etiquette and how to act. She wasn't some girl, she was Lanie. His good friend and coworker. "It was nice to just have a buddy, and not a date. And no possibility of sex, so no worries about it."
Five minutes later, Lanie and Esposito were upstairs in her bedroom, ripping their clothing off like they'd been doused in radiation poisoning. They weren't quite sure how it had happened, but nothing was stopping them so they assumed it must be a good idea.
Maybe someday- not tonight, not tomorrow, not even six months from now- but someday, he would tell her the truth about why he hadn't had any alcohol that night. It was because he didn't want to lose awareness while he was with her- he didn't want to forget any part of the time he spent with her. It was probably silly, and not at all what he might have expected of himself, but it had happened.
She kissed him roughly on the mouth, and he could taste the tomato juice. "We can't tell anyone," she said.
"That's easy for you, you work with dead people," he said. "I've got to keep the secret from trained detectives."
"Well, I wish you luck." She shook his hand, and then without letting go pulled him onto her bed.