404: Kick the Ballistics addition (actually more of an imagined future extrapolation). This one's a little dark. Rated a strong T (for the end of section II).

Seven months later. 3XK reappears.

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X.

("Mr. Castle, it's a shame Alexis wasn't at school today. That's okay – I'm sure Detective Beckett will be happy to take her place.")

"Where is she? Where is she?" Castle yelled into the bullpen. Eyes wild, he addressed nobody in particular and everyone in general.

He got a lot of responses as the team started reporting back to Esposito.

"She's not at her apartment."

"Not with Dr. Parish."

"Not at the gym…"

"…or the shooting range…"

"…and nobody's found her car."

"Stop telling me where she's not!" Castle said.

Everybody ignored Castle's outburst except for Ryan. "We need to rule out where she isn't Castle," he replied, in what could only be described as controlled panic, "So that we can start figuring out where she could be."

IX.

("Oh, I've done my research on you, Mr. Castle. And Katherine Beckett is so much more than a dear friend and colleague, isn't she? How much would it hurt you to know that she's suffering right now… all because you weren't clever enough to catch me?")

It had been 48 hours since that first phone call and Castle had been running around the city following up on leads – sometimes with Ryan and Esposito, but mostly by himself. He kept having these flights of fancy where he found Kate all by himself, where he beat up Tyson and then pulled her out into the safe afternoon sunlight.

Now, he was back at the precinct, flipping through reports and papers on Kate's desk with jittery feet and shaky hands. In fact, his whole body felt a little buzzed. He glanced at the extra-large cup of coffee to his right and thought it was troublesome that he couldn't remember how many he'd had in the last twelve hours.

"Castle!" Gates' voice startled him and he added 'jumpy' to his current list of sensations.

"What?" he answered, getting up and turning around to face her.

"Get out."

He gaped at her. "You're joking, right?"

"You're distracting the team and you're being disruptive to this entire process. You are no longer helping; you are now in the way. So, you can either get out or I'll make you get out."

"You can't—"

"—No, Mr. Castle, you can't. I'm not one to make empty threats. Trust me – I've got a lot of cops at my disposal."

She walked away before he could come up with a defence for himself.

VIII.

("I won't be calling you about a ransom, Mr. Castle. That's not what I want.")

They found a body the next morning: female, strangled, peacefully placed on the floor of her apartment.

He nearly cried when they told him it wasn't Kate, then felt horrible for thanking God that somebody had to die in her place.

They set up a murder board at the precinct even though it was obvious who their killer was. This new board sat side-by-side with the board detailing Kate's kidnapping.

"Maybe we shouldn't be looking at them together," Ryan pondered slowly.

Esposito turned to face him. "What're you talking about?"

"Finding Tyson doesn't guarantee that we'll find Beckett."

"You don't think we could make him tell us where she is?" Esposito said with clenched fists.

"I'm sure we could eventually," Ryan answered, though his voice held a hint of uncertainty, "But in that time, a million things could have happened…" He broke off, letting Esposito and Castle fill in the rest of the sentence.

Castle shook his head to clear away the disturbing images that had just flooded his mind. "Are you saying that Tyson would leave Kate? Unguarded?"

"It's possible…" Esposito said, "He's too paranoid to have an accomplice, too methodical and particular to let somebody else do the killing for him…"

"…so, he had to have left Kate at least during that time in order to commit his latest murder," Ryan finished.

"It's a distraction."

"Excuse me?" Esposito turned around to face the Captain, who had since walked up to stare at the dual whiteboards.

"He's using Detective Beckett as a distraction – to keep our concentrations divided so that he can continue to stalk and kill these women," Gates explained.

"And it's working," said Velàzquez. She handed Esposito a photo of a young blonde girl – no older than 25 – and a police report. "Parents heard about the Triple Killer on the news. Fits the profile."

Gates yanked the documents out of her hand. "You and Casey go canvas her neighbourhood," she said, "Maybe somebody saw something this time."

"He won't kill her," Castle murmured, still thinking over what Gates had said earlier.

"What did you say, Castle?" Ryan asked.

"Tyson won't kill her," he repeated, "Not yet and not in the same way that he killed these women… it's not his style. She's not his type."

Esposito nodded slowly. "She's safe until he gets what he came here for…"

Castle's lips were a thin line. "…three more victims."

VII.

("I see you've figured out my strategy. Unfortunately, you're too late. Just like last time. So let me ask you this, Mr. Castle: is this enough death for you? Or would you like one more? …Oh… oh, no wait… Let's make that two more.")

"Why is he doing this?" Eyes red and curled up into the corner of his couch, Castle looked raw.

Martha occupied her own seat beside him, the lack of colour in her current wardrobe reflecting her own state of distress. "This is not a sane man, Richard. There may be no other reason aside from that."

"It could have been Alexis," he whispered. "I know I shouldn't be thankful for that bu—"

"—Richard, of course you can be thankful for that." She tilted her head to look at him, "Even so, I don't think this is any easier for you than if this madman hadtaken me or, god forbid, Alexis."

"No," he shook his head, "it isn't. How could it be?" He blinked back as much emotion as he could, "I love her just the same."

VI.

("Here's the deal, Mr. Castle. I can give you the location of the missing girl or I can give you the location of your girl. It's a tricky one, I know, so I won't waste your time. You have an hour to decide. Tick tock.")

"We have to choose the girl."

"Are you kidding?" Castle said, rounding on Esposito. "We have to choose Kate."

"Castle, Esposito's right," Ryan said, scrubbing at his face, "Beckett would never forgive us if we chose her."

"Tyson is going to kill her, guys. He's going to kill her."

Esposito shook his head. "Not yet."

"And that's good enough for you?" Castle practically screamed.

"It has to be," Esposito answered, unfazed, "He's playing with us, Castle. More importantly, he's playing with you."

"You know if he gives us the name and address of this girl, he's just going to go out and find another one to kidnap and kill, right?" Castle asked, "He's the Triple Killer for a reason – he won't stop until he's got his third victim."

"Yes, but we'll be able to save this girl," Esposito said, "We have a chance to save her so she doesn't have to be a victim."

"What makes you think she'll be alive when we find her? Tyson already has her – how do we know she isn't already dead?"

Ryan shook his head. "That isn't how he works."

"He's a psychopath!" Castle yelled. "We don't know how he works!"

Lanie's voice came up behind them. "Castle," she said, "Are you seriously considering the other option? I know you how much you love Kate, but I also know you." Lanie's voice was quiet and dejected. "I want to be selfish, too, Castle; you won't believe how much I want to pick my best friend over some stranger, but we can't do it. You know we can't do it. Besides the fact that it wouldn't be what Kate would want us to do, it would also be unfair. Logic tells us that Kate will be safe for now. You said so yourself. He won't make Kate his 'third victim', so to speak."

"Beckett's his leverage," Esposito broke in, "We still have time to find her, but this third girl…"

"… she's out of time," Castle finished, disheartened.

V.

("You and New York's finest did a bang-up job with that rescue. I saw you from my window. Quite a view I have up here, if I do say so myself. Well, it was nice chatting with you, Rick – can I call you Rick? – but I have some errands I need to run.")

"We have a picture," Ryan said, clipping it onto the board with more force than necessary. "That bastard went a little crazy with the plastic surgery."

"Good job, gentlemen," Gates said.

"We've circulated it to all the major news stations," Esposito said.

"Now, we just have to wait until somebody calls with a tip." Castle's voice sounded less than enthusiastic. He knew Tyson had ways of making himself scarce. He wouldn't have evaded them so many times if it were as easy as a pedestrian pointing him out on the street.

"Castle, I think your phone is ringing." Ryan pointed to the vibrating iPhone hidden underneath some papers.

Castle's breath fell short. "It's a new voicemail."

Esposito and Ryan both tensed. Voicemails were Tyson's mode of communication.

This time, though, the voice on the other end of the line made him almost drop his phone.

IV.

("Castle! He wants you to find me. The son-of-a-bitch wants you to find me. Track the phone of Maude Paulson – I'm in her apartment – I think he's going to kill her or he already has. I don't know but he's given me something, Castle, and I can't save her. I can't save her. Please come. Castle, I love you too. Okay? Please hurry. I love you.")

Castle had fallen mute since the message had started and he didn't move after it ended. Gates had already wrenched the phone out of his hand and Ryan – having heard the message since Castle had put it on speakerphone – was busy searching up Maude Paulson's whereabouts.

It was Esposito who finally shook him out of it. "She's okay," he said, "Beckett is alive and she's okay."

"No," Castle replied, "She's won't be okay until I can see her and touch her and hold her."

"Castle!" Gates shouted from across the bullpen. "What's your voicemail password?"

Castle rushed over to the Captain. "Why? What happened?"

She didn't have to say anything. It was there, blinking on his phone: 1 new voicemail.

III.

("So, this is it. Will you be too late once again? You're on the clock, Rick, and this time it's not just mine. I've rigged Ms. Paulson's building to blow and according to my watch, you have exactly twenty-two minutes and thirty-four seconds to make it across town. You won't be able to save the hapless Ms. Paulson, but your girlfriend is still alive and she's eagerly awaiting your arrival. The countdown's already started. Better run.")

Esposito grimaced. "I jinxed it."

"What's the address Ryan?" Castle shouted, frantic, "We need that address! We need to notify the people in that building!"

"He knows, Castle," Esposito said, putting a hand on his shoulder to stop Castle's forward motion.

Less than three minutes later, they were in the police cruiser. With sirens blaring and Esposito navigating the roads like a stunt driver, Castle mapped the distance between the precinct and Maude Paulson's apartment on his phone.

They would either just make it or be witness to a spectacular explosion.

II.

("Now wasn't that fun, Rick? I really didn't know how this was all going to end so it was doubly exciting for me. Don't worry; I'll let you have your moment. Trust you'll hear from me soon.")

"Kate?" he whispered, peering into the darkened bedroom.

"The door creaks, Castle," Kate replied, voice raspy with sleep.

"Sorry." He removed his jacket and socks and shoes. He had left the house in his sleepwear – plaid pyjama bottoms and a faded t-shirt of some rock band.

"It's okay. I was awake. Mostly." She watched him pad over to her bed. "You should have called."

"Then that all but guarantees I would wake you up."

"So, this is you being thoughtful?"

"Aren't I always?" He saw her smile even in the darkness.

"Are you cold?" she asked just as he was about to lift up the covers.

"Quite possibly," he replied, "Colder than you, definitely."

"I should get you a separate comforter so that you'd only be allowed to get under mine when you're the same temperature as me."

"There are ways to make us the same temperature, you know."

"Not fast enough."

"Wanna bet?"

Stretching her right arm out of its warm confines, she grasped one of Castle's. "Come on," she said, pulling him down, "Get in."

She hissed when his feet met hers. "Sorry," he murmured, then nudged the tip of his nose against the tip of hers. "At least our noses are both cold."

She kissed him chastely. "At least there's that."

He brought her close, close, close, like he always did on these late nights. He kissed her forehead and breathed her in. When he first did it, she had told him it was weird but now, she only relaxed against him – let him use her scent as a way to reassure himself that she was still with him. "I love you, you know," he said softly.

She lightly grasped at the front of his t-shirt. "I know."

"So much, Kate," he continued, "So much it hurts sometimes."

"Don't make me cry," she whispered, "I'll wake up with puffy eyes."

"Don't go to work tomorrow," he said, "Postpone it for one more day." His lips drifted down to her neck; he kissed across 'til he reached the tip of her shoulder. "Stay here and let me love you. Please, Kate… please."

She brushed her fingers through his hair. "I can't and you know that." She readjusted her body so that he was now hovering above her, his forearms on either side of her torso where his fingers could caress her skin. "Anyway, you're going in with me so we'll still be together."

She helped him pull her tank top off, the sudden chill quickly allayed by his mouth. "It's not the same," he said, his palm massaging her breasts, "Too many people."

She laughed breathlessly. "Since when has Richard Castle not loved the attention of an adoring crowd?"

"Since I met you."

"Oh, you've got your serious face on and everything." She succeeded in pushing his pyjama bottoms down with her legs before he stopped her abruptly.

"I just need you, Kate. Just you."

She lifted her hands up to cup his face, "We've had a really intense couple of weeks, Castle. This all-consuming fear and infatuation and desperation and yearning – you won't feel like this forever."

"Kate, I—"

She silenced him with a finger against his lips. "But I'll love you forever and that'll be better."

The crease in his forehead disappeared and he finally let her discard his boxers and the rest of her clothes. She traced the lines of his body while his eyes took her in. She looked better than she did a week ago and much, much better than two weeks ago.

"Your mind is going to the bad place again," she said, trailing a hand down his front.

He twisted his body slightly out of her grasp. "I'll remember to concentrate this time," he murmured back.

She whimpered when his finger dipped into her warmth and hummed when he added another. He soaked them in her wetness, careful in his progression: in and out, harder and deeper, faster and faster until she was gasping.

He kissed his way up her flushed body, tangling their fingers together when he reached her lips.

"Let's keep doing this forever, too," he breathed out, feeling Kate grip his hands when he slid into her.

"Yes," she moaned, arching her body.

She bit his shoulder when she came, soothing it with a kiss after. "As nice as this feels," she said, spooning up against him, "you have to stop checking up on me in the middle of the night."

"I wouldn't have to keep doing it if you'd agree to move in with me," he said.

He said he would ask her every week but her answer this week remained the same. "It's too soon."

"When will it not be 'too soon'?"

"I don't know, Castle." She tilted her head to kiss him. "Ask me again next week."

He wrapped his arm around her just a little bit tighter. "Okay."

I.

("I'll see you soon, Rick… and tell Katie 3XK says 'hi'.")