This is complete fluff. An AU from that dinner in The Third Man. All discontinuities are deliberate.

1: Appetiser

"Drago's is really nice, isn't it," Beckett says to Brad Dekker.

Lanie was right. He's really, really cute. Sure, he's not exactly going to make the final of Are you smarter than a Fifth Grader, but brains weren't what she was looking for tonight. Brains, in fact, are a big disadvantage. Castle has brains, but all he uses them for is annoying her. Like now. Currently he's on the other side of the room employing those brains in chatting up some blonde bimbette called Amanda who's wearing a little black dress that cost a fortune and clearly intends to have a very intimate night. (How is he here anyway? He's got his choice of expensive eateries. She doesn't.)

"Yeah. I've never eaten anywhere like this before. Say, you think they do cheesesteaks?" Beckett doesn't, but she laughs at what seems like a pretty good joke. "No, really. I love a good cheesesteak."

Part way into their appetisers, Beckett's decided that Brad doesn't really seem to have much in the way of smarts. But he's very, very nice to look at, and those biceps are really quite ridiculously attractive, and how could anyone not like a man who rescues puppies? She tries a few current affairs topics, to no avail. She tries movies, but he's too busy saving puppies, he implies. She tries books, without much hope, and is not disappointed when he suggests he doesn't really read. A brief thought flits through her mind: that Castle reads. He reads everything, and can talk about it intelligently. And he has travelled, and watches movies, and pays attention to current affairs – Castle, that is. Brad – doesn't.

"I like crime stories," she says hopefully.

"Really? I think they're a bit difficult to follow." Another conversation bites the dust. Beckett is seriously beginning to wonder if she is capable of finding a single subject to talk about that will give her the smallest scintilla of hope of progressing this evening past dessert. She'd wanted a nice, muscular man who could make her feel attractive. She hadn't expected that there would be no brain at all.

"What do you do in your spare time?"

"Work out, meet the guys, have a couple of beers."

Beckett begins to understand why Brad needed a date arranged for him. Not like Castle, who merely had to call up Bachelorette Bimbette Number Three and probably had ten others available from his little black book. He looks as if he's having a really good time. Not that she's looking. Cop instincts. She's casing the joint.

"Do you do this often?" Okay, now she's being a little malicious. But based on the conversation – or lack thereof – so far, Brad won't notice, and she might as well have a little fun. If he's really as dumb as he seems, scorching body or not he isn't going to know how to use it. But she's not going to look like the date is a complete washout when Castle's just across the room having a wonderful time with the airhead from page six. Bachelorette Number Three? If he's managing to have a good time, though, she can't be as much of an airhead as Beckett was hoping.

"Do what?"

"Go out on dates."

Brad acquires an expression of masculine pride. "Sure. Every Friday night, regular." Beckett starts to get a sinking feeling. She definitely needs to rethink this evening. That many dates with no continuity is a flapping red flag.

"What do you like?"

He looks at her, slowly. Beckett takes a bite of her meal, and waits expectantly.

"Well," he says slowly, "y'know, I like most women" – Beckett reckons most women like him, but she's rapidly becoming not one of them – "but, y'know, you're really pretty, but you're not really my type. I'm not into reading, or movies, and all that brainiac stuff you said. And, well, y'know… I'm not really into brunettes."

What? Gentlemen prefer blondes? This bozo is no gentleman. And since when was going to the movies or reading the definition of a brainiac? It's just as well she hasn't mentioned Stanford. Or Stuyvesant.

"You don't like brunettes?" No-one likes brunettes this week. Bimbette's a bottle blonde, though.

He looks mildly embarrassed. Not nearly as embarrassed as he should. Beckett wonders if he'd be more embarrassed if she tipped her wine over him. It's tempting.

"You're pretty and all, but I don't really go for brunettes. I go for blondes."

What the actual fuck? She hasn't been judged on her hair colour since fourth grade. Even when she dip-dyed it scarlet at college no-one's ever found her wanting because of her hair. Is this guy for real? Well, that's just killed the evening. She takes another bite of dinner. At least that's worth the extortionate price, though not the embarrassment. And there isn't very much of it. She's seen more flesh on a catwalk supermodel strutting for the Anorexia-Is-Us finale.

"Girls who like to have a good time. Er – you're a bit serious." He's dead. This date is as dead as her murder victim. And so will Lanie be, because she'd implied that this guy had advantages. Well, he doesn't.

Her mind drifts to her case, not that Brad seems to notice. Suddenly she has a thought. "I'm sorry, would you mind if I made a telephone call?" He isn't bothered about that either. Just as well, because she's going to ensure that in less than fifteen minutes she gets an urgent call and is out of here.

She's happily on the phone to the boys when Castle wanders past, pretending he's looking for the restroom.

"Drago's is really nice, isn't it," Castle says to Amanda Livingstone. He's thinking that she's really quite stunning, and more importantly she actually wants to spend some time with him. This might just turn out to be a really good evening. If he plays his cards right and things go well, maybe more than just the evening. (A little niggle at the back of his brain mutters that he'd rather be dining with Beckett, and taking her home, but he ignores that. Anyway, she's sitting right over there with some over-muscled saviour of the world and cute puppies, and obviously having a wonderful time. How come he never gets to see her in a dress?)

"Yes," she says, high pitched girlish voice in full deployment mode. "I love it."

"Do you come here often?" Castle says, and winces at the appalling cliché.

"Oh, sure. But I prefer Jean-Georges." Castle wonders if she meant to make him feel mildly inadequate or a little rude for not establishing her preferences in fine dining establishments. She's achieved it, deliberate or not. He doesn't really like the formality involved in getting dressed up (Beckett cleans up nice, his errant brain thinks, looking at her scarlet dress) and the fussy, over-elaborate food in tiny portions with pretentious descriptions. He manages a few words on the excellence of both restaurants.

"So who was your friend?"

"Beckett? Oh, she's not my friend. I shadow her work at the NYPD. Well, more than shadow, really. I help her solve crimes."

"Oh." Amanda doesn't sound wholly impressed. Or interested. "Why would you want to do that?"

"So that my books are accurate."

"Oh," she says again. "Does that really matter? I mean, it's all made up anyway, so why do you need to waste time following a cop around." More irritatingly girlish voice. He suddenly realises that it sounds just like Meredith used to. This is not endearing Amanda to him. He looks across the room. Beckett is basking in the admiration of Muscle-man. Clearly he doesn't remind Beckett of her exes. Though he does bear a type-cast resemblance to Sorenson. Muscle bound.

Castle is flabbergasted and flummoxed by Amanda's statement – and by Beckett's absorption in Fireman Sam. Her views on accuracy are a very serious drawback to dinner. How can someone think that accuracy is unimportant?

"Yeah, it matters," he says, neutrally, and changes the subject. "What do you like to do?"

"I like shopping, and the movies. There's nothing as much fun as a good movie." Now this Castle can definitely get behind. The evening improves again. A little late-night movie watching is always an enjoyable pastime.

"What genre?" She looks a little confused. "What sort? Do you like art house movies? Foreign? Action or Sci-fi?"

"Oh, romantic. I just love a happy ending. It's so uplifting. I just can't deal with suffering. I'm far too sensitive." Castle deflates again. That's his John Woo collection out the window, then. So far the only thing he has in common with Amanda is that they were both on the Page Six lists.

"Do you like reading?" Surely she'll have some favourite books? Even if it's not his books, they must be able to bond over books.

"Yes, sure I do. I read all the time." Castle's mood, which had been tunnelling for China, takes a bounce back upward. "I've always got Hello! or another magazine so I can keep up with all the latest style and gossip." And his mood falls back through the floor. Over on the other side of the room Beckett seems to be having a great time. Typical. She gets an intelligent action hero and he gets a woman with whom he has nothing in common. Life's just not fair. He's bored. He's never bored with Beckett. Many things, frequently including life-threatening situations at the end of a gun – her gun – but never bored. Beckett watches movies and reads, and can talk about it intelligently.

"So..." she starts, "what do you do apart from writing?"

"Er...well... that's why I'm at the NYPD. So I see what they do and help."

"But you don't do anything else?"


"Oh." She sounds disappointed. "I thought you might be a bit more...involved in the action." Castle is now so disillusioned that he doesn't even try for a flirtation or salacious retort. "I like men who can do things. That guy over there with the cop, he's a fireman. He was Mr July, in last year's calendar." Second best to a fireman? Not only has the fireman got Beckett, he's got Castle's date too. This is really, really not fair.

He looks up again and spots Beckett's irritated face. The reason becomes obvious. She's moved away from the table to take a call. It's interrupting her lovely evening. Well, it gives him an excuse. She shouldn't be investigating without him. He excuses himself. Amanda doesn't seem at all bothered. She is, in fact, eyeing up Beckett's fireman.

"So you'll run it and call me as soon as it hits, or earlier if the other lead comes off," Beckett is saying as he wanders nonchalantly past.

Castle stops at her side. "Have you got something?" he asks, very hopefully. Doesn't Bimbo Three suit him? She casts him a surreptitious look, and notices that he's casting surreptitious looks at her cleavage. He cleans up nice. Very nice. There is a brief discussion with the boys. Unfortunately, that only lasts a few more moments and then she has to go back to her table and Brad the Brainless.

"Right. Well, I should get back to this date," Castle says. It's good that one of them is enjoying themselves. Really. Worryingly, she's had more of a zing in the last three minutes with the two of them on the phone to the boys than she has had all evening. Still, she's not going to let on that it's a washout. Not when Castle's clearly having so much fun.

"How's yours going?" she asks, concealing her annoyance that he's so keen to get back to Bimbette number three.

"Great. Yours?" He smiles, apparently perfectly sincere.

"Fantastic. Well, I'll see you." She returns to Brad.

In the interim he has not suddenly acquired intelligence, nor conversation. It appears that he has acquired – and eaten – the remains of her appetiser, whilst considering the manifold excellencies of Castle's date. She is not impressed by this. She has, in fact, rather given up trying to make any sort of a success of this so-called date, aided by the excellence – but not portion size – of her entrée and of the wine. She's drunk a reasonable amount of the wine, and if she weren't waiting for the boys to call she'd down the rest in one, possibly from the bottle.

Brad, it turns out when she gives it one last go, does not like baseball. Well, he doesn't like the Yankees. He's a Mets fan. This is really the final insulting straw. Pursuing that line of conversation would ensure that this becomes a very public crash and burn – and Castle would notice from his smug vantage of his successful date and she'd have to put up with his smirking triumphalism for the next month. Typical. Castle gets the fun, uncomplicated date, who probably reads his books and can talk about current affairs and travel and interesting stuff, and will no doubt be only too happy to entertain him all evening and then all night, and she gets a muscled up brainless bozo who wants brain-dead blondes and therefore she won't get any entertainment at all, of any sort. Life's just not fair. She's been bored all evening. She's never bored with Castle. Many things, frequently including infuriated and incensed – but never bored. Castle watches movies and reads, and certainly doesn't support the Mets.

She mentally counts down the minutes – seconds: although each second is clearly in a Castle-esque time-dilated redshifted quantum space-time loop, since each single second takes at least an hour – and finally the boys call. She makes perfunctory apologies, and notices that Brad is back to staring at the bimbette.

Castle returns to Amanda. In the interim she has not noticeably improved, though the level of the wine has diminished markedly. She's not even pretending that she's not staring at Beckett's date. He tries one last time to engage her attention, but before he's thought of a conversation opener that he hasn't already tried, he spots Beckett moving off her table with her phone, again. He makes another excuse. Amanda really doesn't seem to care, and as he locates Beckett with a little thrill of excitement that something interesting is finally happening, he notices that Beckett's date has started to move across the room towards Amanda. He can just hear him as they conclude the conversation with the boys. Beckett, at least, is going to have to leave, and if Beckett's leaving, then Castle's leaving too.

"Is this seat taken?" Amanda looks blissfully happy. That's demoralising. Brad – how odd – also looks blissfully happy. Beckett should be demoralised, but – hmmm. Well, well, well. Beckett doesn't look bothered by being ditched at all. Maybe it hadn't gone as well as it looked as if it had. Truth to tell, neither is Castle bothered.

"What should we tell them?" she wonders, without much enthusiasm or indeed sincerity. She's fairly inclined to standing Brad up, since he's already cuddling up to Castle's date. Strangely, Castle doesn't look bothered at all. Hmmm. How very interesting. Maybe his date hadn't gone so good either. Well, she's not bothered.

"This is going to be awkward," Castle mutters. Beckett doesn't think so, and anyway, there's a case to solve. She makes her decision.

"They'll be OK," she says firmly, and leads the way out.

Some considerable time later, including a rather creepily horrible encounter with a large and hairy spider (Beckett is only too glad it wasn't crawling over her. She would have run screaming. Not good for her bad-ass street cred. She is quietly impressed – not that she says so – with Castle's relative calm.) they have their villains. They also – she and Castle, the boys got takeout, humph - have hunger pangs. Going back to Drago's is not on Beckett's list of things to do. In fact, she could just go home and order takeout, and relax in the usual way. Unfortunately, her mouth opens without her permission.

"I can't wait to go home and just slip into a warm bath and…" she manages to shut her mouth before she says anything more. Low blood sugar clearly removes the filters from her brain.

"I…" Castle starts, with mischief blossoming in his expression.

"Don't. Please. Don't." The evening's been enough of a disaster already without Castle reminding her of her inability either to find her own dates or to find someone who might have at least had a single live brain cell.

"I was just going to say, I'm starving. We left the restaurant before I had a chance to finish my entrée." Beckett had eaten hers. Rapidly, before Brad had eaten it for her. All two bites of it. She wonders what had really happened to the puppies he had allegedly rescued…

"Well, it wouldn't have mattered if you did. Portions there were tiny."

"You know, Remy's is open all night. They've got those burgers…" That's just so unkind, Castle. Those burgers are fabulous, and she is hungry, and even though she wants a bath the thought of a lovely juicy burger is… oooohhhhhhh. Just… ooooohhhhhhhh. And Castle can converse. Intelligently. She has another sudden thought.

"Ohhhh, and those shakes. Oh, why not." She looks at Castle, hopefully. Unlike Brad, he doesn't disappoint. He holds her coat for her to slip into.

"Mmmm," he says. Beckett thinks he's referring to the shakes, but she's not one hundred percent sure. She's not one hundred percent sure that she was. Somewhere along the way she's noticed that in a slightly less obvious way Castle isn't actually much less muscular than Brad-the-Bozo. And he has a brain.

A little piece of fluff in three chapters. I appreciate all readers and reviewers. All comments which can be answered, will be answered.