He knows that tone. It's the tone that means Esposito thinks he's being an idiot but doesn't want to come out and just say it. The one he hears when he sides with Dad and his crazy theories versus Mom's cool logic, when his partner starts referring to him as "Castle Junior."

It's a bit patronizing, that tone. Ryan's not a fan.

"What?" he snaps and when he turns and sees the way Espo is looking at him with furrowed eyebrows, he realizes his retort maybe came out a little harsher than he intended.

But his partner shakes his head, waves off the apology on the tip of Kevin's tongue, and points at the screen, his finger indicating a spot a few lines above the blinking cursor.

Esposito nods toward the computer. "No offense, but I think your characterization's a little off there."


Ignoring his sarcastic reply, the Latino detective continues. "Yeah, I mean, she would never say that to him. It's too—"

"Too what?" Ryan asks.

He's been working on this chapter every free moment he's had over the past few days, and it hasn't been easy. They were slammed by a double homicide — a nasty one — on Monday morning, and it's been a grueling week. He's barely seen his wife, has seen far more of the couch in the break room than he'd like, and he really thought he was almost finished with this chapter.

He'd promised in the author's note at the end of the last chapter that he'd update within a week. And he's running out of time.

Now Esposito thinks his characterization is off?

"It's too...lovey-dovey," his partner finally says. "She would never say that."

"Dude," Ryan scoffs. "Did you just say 'lovey-dovey' out loud?"

He's a little surprised when Esposito's tan skin turns slightly pink.

"Shut up, man," the other detective growls. "Not so loud."

Ryan realizes his comment *was* of a slightly higher volume than he intended, and he glances around the bullpen quickly, hoping no one noticed their conversation.

Thankfully, all the other detectives around are absorbed in their work, perusing phone records or staring at whiteboards. A few uniforms stride purposefully through the space, escorting suspects and delivering evidence. Gates is ensconced in her office, gnawing on the cap of her pen, glasses perched on the end of her nose as she reads a file.

Beckett and Castle are nowhere to be seen. Despite the rule about checking in, instituted after that run-in with a tiger last year, he's not sure where they are. They might be out running down a lead. They might've gone to grab lunch (he's sure Esposito will give them a piece of his mind if they don't come back with enough for the boys). They might be holed up in a supply closet, going at it like teenagers.

He shudders a little at that last image.

"Sorry, bro," he tells Esposito. "I guess I'm just a little on edge."

His partner nods. "Hell, man, we all are. This case..."

Ryan shrugs. "Sure, but we've had tough cases before. It's actually...actually it's the story. I didn't realize it would be so much pressure to get it done."

Espo cocks his head. "Pressure? Really?"

Sighing, Ryan leans back in his desk chair, scrubs a hand over his face, then runs his fingers through his hair. It's getting long again, growing out after he had to get it cut short for his masquerade as Fenton O'Connell a few months back.

"Yeah, some," he says. "I didn't tell you, but I've gotten a few messages wondering when we're going to update."

Esposito grins. "Messages? Really?"

Ryan feels the corner of his mouth turning up at the look on his partner's face. "Yeah. Y'know, I've got the reviews set to forward to you automatically, but a few people have sent me private messages, and I forgot to show them to you."

The Irish detective surreptitiously checks the perimeter to make sure no one is watching, that no one can see his screen. Then he clicks to open a new tab, quickly types in the address for his webmail service, puts in his name and password, and finds one of the messages.

"Here," he says, clicking on it. "You can read it for yourself."

He glances at Esposito, sees the other man's eyes tracking the words, and then looks back to the screen himself.

"Your story is great," the message says. "I feel like you really know the characters well. They seem so real, especially the dialogue and the banter. Just like Castle himself would've written. But is there any chance we could get faster updates? It seems like we have to wait so looooooong between chapters."

Esposito chuckles. "At least they like it. It's a compliment, bro."

Ryan leans forward, bracing his elbows on his knees. "I know. I know. I just...this is a bigger commitment than I thought it would be."

His partner shrugs. "Your idea, man. You know I was against it."

Snorting, Ryan shoves Esposito's shoulder. "Yeah, like you haven't been eating up every positive review."

Espo's grin widens. "I mean, c'mon man, how could I not? That one where the person quoted all of their favorite lines? That was awesome."

Some of the tension seeps from Ryan's shoulders as he reaches for the half-empty coffee mug on the corner of his desk. His partner is right. It *is* awesome.

"And I mean, yeah," Esposito continues. "There was that one crazy person who insisted we skip over the plot and get straight to the whipped cream in bed, but..."

Lifting his hand quickly to his mouth to keep himself from spewing coffee all over his computer, Ryan sets down the mug, turns a glare on his partner. His laughing partner.

"See, bro?" Esposito says, thumping him heartily on the back. "Totally worth the work. Now come on, the rest of the chapter is great, it's just this line that doesn't feel right. We'll figure it out together."

"Partners?" Ryan asks hopefully.

Esposito nods. "Partners."

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