The night before Captain Montgomery's funeral, Castle closed down the Old Haunt to anyone but the "immediate family"- himself, Kate, Ryan and Esposito. He pulled out what was left of the 1875 St. Miriam Scotch and divided it up into equal fourths and passed it down the bar to his companions. Beckett barely touched hers, she just sat there and fiddled with her mother's ring, giving one-word responses to anything Castle said to her.
"To the Captain," said Ryan, holding up his glass. Esposito clinked his against Ryan's, more to appease his partner than anything else. He was still concerned that they were a bit shaky after their scuffle in the alley- he had, after all, punched Ryan in the face- but, awful as it was, Montgomery's death seemed to have repaired some of the damage. The tragedy was bigger than whatever disagreement they'd had about their Captain's checkered past. "Hell of a man."
He'd made mistakes, but he'd also made amends. Beckett had said earlier that to the world, Montgomery had died a hero. Between the two of them, at least, he had died a hero. He'd saved Beckett's life. His final sacrifice had been more than enough to make up for his participation in the events leading up to Johanna Beckett's murder.
"Yeah," agreed Esposito, downing his Scotch. "He'll be back." He set the glass back down on the bar, back into its same ring on the wood surface- he always sat here, and he never used a coaster. Ryan eyed him with concern over the rim of his own glass.
"What's that, Javi?" he said, hoping he'd misheard. At the other end of the bar, Castle seemed to be attempting to engage Beckett in a multisyllabic conversation and was paying no mind to what Esposito had said.
"Said he'll be back," answered Esposito. "The Captain." With a rather hollow-sounding laugh, he added, "You think a guy like that just off and dies? He's faking it for his own safety." Something caught in Ryan's throat, and he wondered bizarrely if he could just let his partner go on for as long as possible thinking that Montgomery was alive.
It would be that much worse, though, he knew, when Esposito did finally accept the truth. Ryan put a hand on his shoulder and said, "No, Esposito." Javier waved him off, pulling Ryan's hand off of him.
"No, see, that's how it goes," he said. "They leave, they can't tell anyone, but they're not gone gone. It's a lie, he's out there, he's fine." His voice was degenerating in power, cracking. He sounded much younger than he was, more vulnerable. "He's not really dead, it's a cover. He's faking it to get away."
Esposito was damaged, more than anyone had realized until now. He'd gone through this with Ike Thornton, losing his partner and then finding out years later that it had all been a ruse. Ryan had known that it had been difficult for his partner, but he'd had no idea that it would affect him so much that he'd wind up not trusting death. It was the most solid promise life had, and Esposito doubted it.
He'd been like this in the alley, too- unwilling to come to grips with the truth. He had refused to believe that Captain Montgomery was lying to them, and now he refused to believe that the Captain was dead.
The truth could heal, but it could also kill. Ryan was tempted to let him believe that Montgomery was alive, if only until the funeral tomorrow. It made Esposito happier, gave him just a bit of hope. Still, though, it was better to face the future sooner rather than later, especially if later meant Javi freaking out at the funeral.
He's going to hate me for this, thought Ryan, returning his hand to Esposito's shoulder. "He's not coming back," he said.
"You're wrong," said Esposito.
"He's dead!" Until now, Ryan hadn't noticed that his voice had been gaining in tone, that the hand that wasn't on his partner's shoulder had clenched into a fist. He hadn't realized that Esposito's insistence that their Captain was alive had been hammering on Ryan's own fresh wounds from losing his mentor. Castle and Beckett glanced up at the guys, but Ryan's glance was enough to put them back in their own conversation. Esposito looked visibly shaken, like he'd been in a bubble that his partner's anger had popped. "I'm sorry," said Ryan, quieter, "but it's the truth, you have to accept the truth. He didn't fake his death, it's for real, and I don't think you should be there at the funeral tomorrow if you can't comprehend that."
Esposito nodded slowly, a bit surprised by Ryan's outburst. "Yeah. Okay." Ryan took the last sip of his Scotch.
"Sorry," said Ryan again.
"No, I needed to know," said Esposito. He sounded like he was breaking down, so Ryan elected to keep his supporting hand on his shoulder. "He was like a dad, you know?" he said finally, staring at some point beyond Ryan. "Remember when he got mad at us for making Castle think he was cursed?"
"Yeah," said Ryan, smiling at the memory. "'There's no upside in screwing with things you can't explain.'" Esposito nodded, remembering the lecture they'd gotten. "Roy Montgomery," he said, toasting again even though both their glasses were empty.
"Roy Montgomery," said Esposito, tapping the side of his empty glass against his partner's. Maybe he hadn't quite accepted the truth, but at least he believed. Sometimes, that was as close as you could hope for.