Richard Castle was not a jealous man. He was the first to admit fame and fortune had a certain effect on people. Particularly the gorgeous young women who hung off his every perfectly-crafted sentence and were also more than happy to hang off him whenever he wanted. And since the last time he actually considered wanting more than a quick fling was when he was barely out of junior year and young enough not to know better, he never really had any reason to be jealous in the first place.
Which was why, as Beckett giggled like a schoolgirl and let her new boyfriend lead her out of the Precinct by the hand, he told himself the strange feeling eating away at his stomach was just a side effect of the liberal amount of coffee that had kept the team crime-fighting all night.
And even though he didn't believe it at all, it made him feel just a little bit better.
As the old elevator motor whirred under the strain of another jaunt down to the lobby, he stared at the numbers illuminating one by one. Before the capital L even lit up, Ryan and Esposito had interrupted him with knowing eyes.
"Hey bro," Ryan said cheerfully, dropping casually down into Beckett's abandoned chair. "Nice catch with this one."
Castle gave them a slightly sad smile. It was always a great feeling when one of his outrageous theories actually closed a case.
"Yeah, I don't know how you do it," Esposito grinned, leaning against the neat desk, his arms crossed over the NYPD badge hanging against his chest. "We figure a little celebration is in order, so we were gonna have a drink. You'll join us right?"
But it wasn't really a question. Ryan pulled him out of the chair while Esposito snatched his coat off the desk, and within seconds he was leaning against the metal rod at the back of the elevator, smirking slightly at the boys' banter, trying to ignore the fact that Kate's intoxicating perfume still lingered in the air.
Even though company was the last thing Castle had felt like, he was glad the detectives had convinced him to go to The Royal Oaks. It had always been one of his favourite bars. When he was 16, his best friend had proudly handed him a fake ID and dragged him clear across town to the establishment, which was run by his friend's cousin. Or something. The building facade was old and rundown, and when the bright lights of the New York nightlife that the IDs unlocked were calling from a few suburbs away, he had been less than impressed that they were hanging out at this dump.
Until he walked through the door.
Inside, it was a magnificently restored old pub, dating among the oldest in the city, with the stained wood, thick glass lights and corner booths that screamed ambiance.
Of course, at that time he'd been a lot more excited that it contained hot girls and cheap beer.
As time went on, it became more than a haven of hazy memories and loose women. He'd written his first book while he was folded into the worn wood of the small booth hidden at the back, scribbling in a leather notebook even though he had a perfectly good laptop sitting at home, just because he felt he owed more to the craft than the impersonal distance of technology. He had met his first wife at the bar, been intoxicated by the thrill of a chase that had eventually led them both over a deep ravine. And when the glorious freefall of their love had ended in a horrific trainwreck of a breakup, he had drowned his sorrows in the basement. Meredith had told him she was pregnant over the flickering candlelight during that stage a few years ago when they tried to expand and establish a restaurant upstairs.
It was only a short stroll from the 12th Precinct, and he had brought Ryan and Esposito here a few months ago, after they finally closed a tough case. They were the first to admit they were hooked too.
Since then it had become the boys' regular haunt. The comfortable routine that had ruled the past few months had been thrown into chaos by Beckett's new relationship. Dawson Clark, Castle thought, unable to censor the harsh sneer in his mind like he could when Beckett was around. He was two years older than her; a lawyer at a downtown firm, closing in on junior partner. He was rich, smooth and, even Castle had to admit, handsome.
But he was also a complete and total prick. Everybody agreed.
Really, his parents doomed him when they called him Dawson.
They had been together for two months, three weeks, four days and an hour. Well, according to his calculations, anyway. Not that he was counting. It had ripped the tight knit team apart. Not explosively, but torturously slowly. Kate drifted away from all three of them as the douche charmed her, and Castle could tell it left Ryan and Esposito a little hurt as well.
To him it felt like someone had ripped his heart out and stomped on it a couple times for good measure. Okay, so that might be the melodramatic writer in him, but it definitely hurt.
So instead of the four of them getting thai food, like they used to after every single case, the boys strolled into The Oaks, and settled into what was quickly becoming their booth.
"I'll grab us some drinks," Castle said with a distracted smile.
He wandered over to the bar, weaving through the crowd that was beginning to gather. The Oaks was one of those bars that was totally anonymous and way off the beaten track, but still managed to attract a mob of regulars every night.
As soon as Danny, the bartender, noticed Rick leaning against the restored oak bar top, he grinned and came over.
"Rick, my man!"
"Hey Danny," he said with a wide smile. "How's school? And... who is it this week? Lisa?"
Despite the teasing, the young man laughed. "School is fine. Exams next month, but it's not busy yet," then he cleared his throat and had the decency to look somewhat sheepish. "Lisa and I...are no more. But I can't wait for you to meet Stacey."
Castle just rolled his eyes. "Three beers, man."
As Danny spun around to get the glasses and expertly held them up to the tap, Castle settled back against the bar. He had known Danny for three years already, surprisingly well seeing as he really only had these snippets of conversation. The man was almost as bad as Castle with women, saving his focus for medical school instead. Castle didn't know how he had the time.
Collecting the beers and tipping his friend generously, he navigated back to the booth, to find Ryan and Esposito in a heated debate.
"Hell no. How could he possibly go for her? She's half his age. She's married. That ship sailed man...literally," Ryan insisted.
"Because she's exactly what he needs! And age doesn't matter. Get into the twenty first century," Esposito yelled.
Puzzled, Castle pushed their respective beers towards them, and dropped next to Esposito.
"What exactly are we debating?"
They both glanced away, slightly ashamed.
"House," Ryan said sheepishly.
"House, the tv show?"
"Right," Castle laughed. "There are so many things I could say right now."
Ryan frowned. "You've seen it right?"
"Yeah sure, but-"
Esposito cut him off. "And House should totally bang Cameron, right?"
The two looked at him intently, hoping to settle the argument.
He shook his head, and downed half the beer in one action.
"You guys are sad. Seriously. The way you're going, you're going to end up banging each other," he joked.
They both glared at him.
"How are you going all by yourself?" Esposito asked.
Castle winced. "That was a low blow, dude. And it has been noted that you changed the subject," he laughed, as their glares deepened, "but it is pretty lonely at home."
Alexis had moved to Florida for college. All a little too sunny and surfy for him, but she was having a blast, and he was at least happy she was happy and settled. He missed her terribly though. It was even quieter around the house with his mother magically pulling some part in a theatre cast only a few minutes from Alexis, when she discovered how much she missed the younger Castle. She was going to be gone for four months, at least.
The boys both laughed.
"I'm sure you'll cope," Ryan assured.
Esposito nodded, and then turned to grill his partner about his new girlfriend.
"So...Sarah." He drew her name out over three syllables, like he was examining it. "Turn into Beckett and I'll kick your ass from here to the Twelfth," he joked.
The cracks about Kate and Dawson were getting slightly more frequent as the relationship dragged on.
"Oh, no chance," Ryan defended. "She's great though. She's got this great sense of humour, and great job, and she's just..."
"Great?" Castle quipped, with a quirked eyebrow.
Ryan, with beer and love on his side, didn't really care.
Castle, with only the beer, suddenly felt a little empty.
The one beer had turned into two, and when Danny brought a round on the house, he'd unwittingly settled them in. Eventually, they ended up at Castle's apartment, gathered around the table in a very serious game of poker that they were all failing fairly terribly at.
Esposito peered over the top of his cards, eyeing off his partner and the fiercely competitive writer. He wasn't too sure of his hand, but with the liquid courage of his fifth beer, he pushed a few more chips into the centre of the table.
With the odd logic that only a drunk mind can conjure, he somehow went from thinking about aces and suits to Kate and Dawson. Maybe because Dawson always wore a suit. A black one. With really faint stripes. And stupid cufflinks.
"Did I tell you Beckett asked me if Dawson could come to our guys poker night?" He asked, his internal monologue reminding him of the awkward conversation he'd had yesterday.
Castle looked up from the cards sharply.
"No. What did you say?"
The poor guy was trying to act casually. It wasn't going so well for him.
Esposito shrugged. "I told her I'd have to check with you guys and the chief. 'Cause I couldn't think of an excuse right then."
Ryan snorted. "Yeah, well let's get brainstorming. There's no way I'm spending a whole night with Captain Fantastic."
The derisive nickname made Castle smirk slightly, but then it melted away and he knew the features he had tried to school into a neutral expression were a little too pained. "Come on guys. If Beckett's serious about him he's going to be around. Maybe we should make the effort."
The detectives spun round to stare at him, shocked.
"What? Bro, you of all people should hate the guy's guts."
"He can be a little grating," Castle admitted. "But me of all people?"
It was a challenge. Without the alcohol coursing through his veins he probably would have kept playing by their unspoken rules. No mentioning the happy couple unless highly sarcastic. No indulging any of Beckett's conversation or anecdotes or gossip about the stupid lawyer. Definitely no hanging out with him, or the both of them. But most importantly, no commenting on the way the light slid out of Castle's eyes every time any one of those rules was broken, and the way his shoulders slumped and the sad smile they had never seen before settled like a ghost on his lips. But for some reason, tonight Castle was sick of the rules, and sick of dancing around the issue.
Esposito cleared his throat. "Well... we know you and Beckett were...close. And now, I guess...Beckett and Dawson are...close."
It was awkward.
Castle sighed. "It's always been pretty obvious how I felt. But I want her to be happy. And if Dawson is her guy, the one who can make her happy, I can...accept that. And move on."
Esposito and Ryan shared a look.
For someone so smart, Beckett was being royally stupid.
Authors Note: So...not too much has happened, I know. Kate's drifting away from all of them, which means Castle and the boys are getting a lot closer. But nobody's particularly happy with the situation. But bear with me, it's all setup. You can look forward to a lot of Castle whump and angst and action in the future I've got an entire summer holidays lol.
Oh and by the way, in my head this is set as if the season 2 finale never bothered any of us. So possibly mid season 2, or in an AU version of a few months after. And because I saw the episode with the Haunt, or whatever Castle's bar was called, after this was written, we're also ignoring it exists