K, so this happened: I was bored to death traveling with my family home from the Alps, trying to escape their chit-chat by blasting music from my iPod as loud as I could when this song comes up: Cadence Of Her Last Breath, by Nightwish. I was instantly drawn back to In The Belly Of The Beast and I started toying with the idea of writing something related to stuff like that and well… this prompt was posted. Kismet.

Cadence Of Her Last Breath

When they finally tracked them, it was too late. The bastard had already done his thing.

They had been taken twelve hours earlier and that psycho was good at covering his tracks, Tory had needed hours to delimit the area they needed to search, but the exact point was far beyond her abilities. She needed more time.

Time that nor Ryan nor Beckett had, if he planned to do to them exactly what he had done to those who had come before, and they were pretty sure they were right about his twisted modus operandi. The three victims lined in Lanie's autopsy room had been enough for them to learn about him.

And unfortunately, they were right.

That wackjob liked to torture people before he brutally cut their throat, using so much force he nearly decapitated his victims. The first they had found was indeed beheaded, her head resting yards from the rest of the body. The three victims lined in Lanie's autopsy room had been enough for them to learn about him.

Unfortunately, it hadn't been enough to learn his name and address. As messy as his homicides had been, he had meticulously hidden his traces, leaving no forensic evidences behind.

When Jenny learned it by hearing two uniforms discussing the case, she nearly burst crying in front of Sarah Grace. The two-year old girl was sitting on the couch in the breaking room trying her best to entertain baby Thomas as Castle was splitting himself between holding himself together to not freak out and helping Esposito going through the evidences they had gathered in order to find their partners, friends and his own wife.

Kate had returned from maternity leave only three weeks earlier and that case had dropped like a bomb just a week after her return, occupying their minds 24/7, with nothing but the three victims with evident signs of multiple torture on their body and the slashed throat, until they thought they had a break on a witness that thought he had some valuable information about the last victim, so Kate and Ryan went to check it out. But apparently their man had preceded them: all they found was an empty apartment with the door ajar, with evident signs of a forced entry, and the dead body of their supposed witness sitting on a chair, throat slashed. And their man, waiting for them.

And he had caught them both by surprise, knocking them out and moving them to his hideout.

He had been bold enough to make a video with Kate's phone and send it to Castle through Skype. He was at home with baby Thomas handling his mid-afternoon feeding when he had received the message. He knew something was wrong, Kate rarely used Skype to send messages, videos were extremely rare and they came usually through iMessage and only when she was at home with the baby and he was out for some reason to keep him posted on cute things their son did, so when the video came in, something deep inside of him rung like a bell. When he played the video and saw Kate and Ryan tied and gagged, soaked to the bone being electrocuted, he knew the murderer they had been looking for all that time had gotten them. He screamed so loud that Tom had cried for two hours straight and refused to stay with him for twice as much.

That was ten hours before. It was the middle of the night now, everyone in the precinct was actively working on finding them, with Gates barking orders here and there while she throwing herself into detective mode again after many, many years. She hadn't gather a little bit of rust on her skills.

And finally, with dawn breaking, something came up, a search party entered the right warehouse while scouring through the area that Tory had indicated when tracing the signal of the video and found them: the perp, named Alaister Monroe, literally a Mr. Nobody with nine to five desk job in the real estate agency that controlled the warehouse where he kept his lair and tortured his victims, was shot in the leg as he tried to run away and arrested while ambulances swiftly took both Ryan and Beckett to the closest hospital where Jenny, Rick and their children waited for them. Esposito and Gates were handling the procedures at the precinct.

Kate was unconscious when the paramedics rolled her gurney in the ER, while Kevin was awake, tired and beaten but awake. That was more than enough to make Jenny feel better, but Rick was left in the waiting room with Tom drooling and biting at his finger, as the doctors treated his wife, worried out of his mind.

What he had seen when they had brought her in the visiting room scared him: she had been beaten, worse than Ryan, the left side of her face was covered in dark bruises, her lips and the bridge of her nose, though covered by the oxygen mask, were cut and bruised too. Her wrists had been hastily wrapped in gauze that was already stained red and her still wet hair was matted with dirt and half dried blood. In comparison, Vulcan Simmons and his henchmen had taken it easy on her with the water torture, two years back.

Ryan wasn't exactly in better shape, but from what he had heard, it looked like Monroe had taken most of his wrath out on Kate. After all, his victims were all women, he probably had something against them in his fried brain, but Castle didn't want to know what made him trigger. All he cared about in that moment was his wife and how long it would take him to take her home.

Turned out she had to stay for a day at least. She had a concussion that made her dopey and she needed to be monitored for it and for the electrocution. Fortunately, there were no fractures or broken bones, just cuts and bruises that would heal in a couple of weeks, leaving no scars behind. She'd be good as new in no time, the doctors had assured them. What worried them the most was the hypothermia. She had been soaked with water for long hours, and the warehouse was cold, with no heating in the bitter cold winter of New York, and she had developed moderate hypotermia that required some more hours under a watchful eye, because it caused a strain in her breathing. He knew the feeling all too well.

That, and the repeated attempted strangulations that Monroe had used to torture her.

The same modus operandi he had used on the three victims they had found. Tied, gagged, electrocuted, repeated manual strangulation to the point they lost consciousness then started again when they woke up. Ryan had confirmed it, but hadn't said much more.

They kept her sedated for some hours, allowing her to rest and warm up while they did more tests and exams. When she woke up, Castle was sitting beside her bed with Tom sleeping in the crook of his arm, the deep blue and white onesie covered with drool and traces of his last bottle. He was typing on his phone, replying to a text Alexis had sent him a minute earlier. Wincing at the bright lights over her, she smiled at the picture of her men, the big and the tiny one, forgetting the pain coursing through her neck.

"You should change him, you know…" her voice was a raspy whisper, the nasal canula made her twitch uncomfortably but she didn't complain. It wasn't the first time, she knew it was there for a good reason.

"Hey, look who's awake!" his eyes lit up when he saw her awake, though still badly banged. "How do you feel?"

"Like someone tried to strangle me seventeen times." she answered. Gingerly, she reached out and touched Tom's chubby hand, happy to see no reaction from him. Her baby was a heavy sleeper, like his daddy, that made many things a lot easier.

Like this one.

"Seventeen? You could compete for the world record, you know?"

She smiled, in reaction at his joke. That was a good sign.

Or so he thought.

Twenty four hours later, she was back at home, a pack of gauze as big as their fridge, painkiller prescriptions to last for six months, in case she needed it and everyone in the house ready to serve her and answer to all her requests in record time. Alexis had willingly taken on the duty to take care of her brother for a while as Kate healed and rested. The doctors had ordered a week of rest at home and another week deskbound before she returned to active duty, so she had time to heal, to get back into the mind frame, she had booked an appointment with Burke in three days. She was doing everything she could to keep it together, at least she hoped she was. No one could blame her for not trying, at least that.

Kate basked in the attention her family gave her, kept tabs on Kevin and his own healing process, received flowers from Espo (she was probably the only woman except for Lanie that could brag about having received flowers from Javier Esposito) and a surprise visit from Captain Gates. They spent a couple of pleasant hours chatting of nothing regarding the kidnapping, concentrating on little Tom and how active and funny he was at barely four months of age. Gates loved Tom, she was great with kids and Tom seemed to like her so while Kate rested on the couch, Gates played with the baby on the armchair and the proud mother observed silently the interaction between the proud police captain and the innocent baby that had just learned how to keep his head up straight and enjoyed sitting up in people's lap and watch the world around him.

That afternoon, with Captain Gates almost completely absorbed by Tom, the loft was silent and Kate was happy to remain silent. The damage done to her throat, though it was healing, was still causing her some distress while talking, so she remained there, wrapped in a thick comforter Castle had pulled out of some closet and silent, staring at an indefinite spot beside Gate's head, just close enough so it seemed she was looking at her captain, while in reality she was just thinking at… nothing. Completely zone out, oblivious to what happened around her. When Gates touched her hand, she jolted on the couch, as if awakened by a deep state of sleep. Suddenly, she felt just like after her shooting.

It wasn't good.

It scared her.

It happened a couple times more that day: she zoned out, staring into nothing, completely ignoring what was going on around her. She didn't even hear the angry cry Tom let out when he got hungry and needed to be fed. Although Alexis was in charge of that, since Castle was out, the baby monitor was still turned on and the high-pitched yell echoed in the bedroom and she just didn't hear it. It was like she was sleeping, just with eyes open, and she found it harder and harder to resist the temptation to give into it, considering it was the only way she could escape the memories of those terrible hours with Monroe holding them prisoners. Every time the room was silent enough, her breath the only sound she coudl her, she was back in that ware house with his hands around her neck, slowly cutting off the air from her lungs, whispering weird stuff she could only half make out.

At the hospital, with the morphine and the other sedatives running through her veins, she could barely feel her thoughts, no way she could recall anything more than a sparse flash for the first two days. But after the third, when the hospital-grade sedative wore off, it was a completely different situation. The drugs she had been prescribed were not even half as powerful, they still made her feel less pain and discomfort, they made her drowsy and sleepy, but it wasn't the restful, dreamless sleep she had experienced while under observation. At home, every time she closed her eyes she saw that man and the glacial look on his face, all she could hear were her strangled, gasping breaths she forced through by sheer strength of will, waiting until the last one would come and she would lose consciousness.

She had to force herself to breathe, remind herself that she was out of that warehouse, back at home and safe, but to no avail.

Every time she was alone, even if for a moment, just long enough so Castle or Martha could go to the bathroom or wherever the needed to be, she was back in that warehouse. And that went on for days.

Oh, Burke would have his hands full the moment she would set foot in his office.

Resting was nearly impossible, her dreams plagued by Monroe and his icy stare and his hands around her neck, the only sound she could hear was the ragged attempts of breaths she could muster when his hands closed around her neck and squeezed.

Seventeen times.

She didn't know if she could have gone through an eighteenth time. Fortunately, the search party came in just before Monroe attempted one more time.

But he was doing it again, again and again, each time she closed her eyes, every time she was alone…

So she zoned out, turned off her mind, let it wander to unknown places, but she didn't follow it. Unlike when she had been shot, when her mind was stuck on a loop that made her relive those seconds on repeat, day and night, this time it just blacked out. As if a switch was turned on and off, when the memories became too much to bear, it just stopped working.

And it scared her.

She told Burke right away, as soon as Castle closed the door of his study behind him and her session started, she had asked him what she could do about it, about the zoning out, but his answer wasn't exactly what she wanted: according to her therapist, it was a normal reaction, a self-preservation act her memory put up to not get too scarred by it, to be functional and that it was completely normal to have flashbacks of what had happened and it was also normal to zone out like she was doing..

It was her PTSD would that resurfaced, possibly sooner than she had thought. It was possible that the zoning out was a symptom of it. Just a different one she'd learn to control with time. She had learned how to control panic and random flashbacks, she could learn how to control that too.

But as the week went by it only got worse, and others started to notice it too. Blackouts came more often and it wasn't just the zoning out, at least she could be woken up by a blackout: Kate was quickly getting into a state that Castle could only describe as catatonic. She had stopped eating, he had to coax her into drinking a glass of water with her pills. She was like inside a bubble, untouchable, non-responsive. She just remained in bed, curled up underneath the thick duvet just doing nothing. Even when a tensed silence filled the room, you could barely hear her breathing, as if she was scared of doing even that.

One night he remained awake and watched over her, and what he saw scared him to death: he had seen her having nightmares, after what had happened with Simmons and Bracken, before and after when the trial had forced her to appear as a witness and that had twisted her memories and feelings so bad she couldn't sleep for a week, and he knew she usually thrashed around, waking him up with her movements, but this time… nothing. She didn't even move from the spot she had fallen asleep in. As if she was bound. But it was clear that she was having a nightmare, the whimpering and the talking made it obvious. When had she woken up, she looked more tired than when she had gone to sleep.

Seeing Kate in that state, so weak and helpless and unresponsive made him hurt physically. Only Tom apparently got a reaction out of her, a smile and some words. She nearly looked normal when she interacted with her son, but as soon as someone took him away for a reason she plunged back into that dark, catatonic pit she had fallen into and she stopped reacting again.

How fast it had happened, that was what shocked him. He had never seen her like this. He had seen her at her worse, the sniper case had really taken a heavy toll on her and he had never seen her in such a bad psychological shape, but it had taken time, and she quickly managed to control it. This was new, weird and definitely worse.

He needed to do something about it. He couldn't see her like that, it hurt him, physically.

As soon as he knew he was available, he called doctor Burke and asked for some help. Apparently, what he needed to do was simple: get her to realize she was self-destructing and that she needed to see it for herself. She needed to realize that she was safe, that no one would try to hurt again and most of all, she needed to know that people wanted her to get better because they loved her. He told him it could resolve by itself, if given enough time and therapy, just like she had managed to get over her PTSD the last time, but considering they had a young child that needed his mother, they had to speed up the process somehow. Probably forcing her to return to her usual routine was the best thing that could happen to her.

First, he called Captain Gates to report the situation, which granted Kate one more week at home. He had eight days to get her out of there, with an appointment with Burke right in the middle.

Kate needed her routine? He'd give her the routine she needed.

From the moment Kate had returned home everyone, him included, had treated her like she was made of glass, fragile and breakable, leaving her alone all by herself most of the time. The loft hadn't been so quiet in years and all that silence and loneliness had probably given Kate too much time and opportunity to think about what had happened for too long in a too dark way. She hadn't said anything about it yet, he hadn't seen her crying about it yet, vent it out. Almost no reaction.

He should have known that something was wrong when her first reaction when she had woken up at the hospital was a joke about the doubtful state of Tom's onesie. She had been avoiding the fact she had been kidnapped and tortured for so long that, in the end, she had been swallowed by it. He hadn't helped, that was sure.

But she reacted to Tom. It was a small reaction, something he could barely notice, but it was something.

So, later that morning, although he hadn't slept much, torn between his vigil over her troubled sleep and Tom's overnight necessities, he prepared her a simple breakfast, picked Tom up from the crib upstairs and brought him to their bedroom, gently laying him, still sleeping, in the center of the bed beside her. He placed a pillow on his other side so he wouldn't roll over then put her favorite mug filled with steaming coffee, prepared just like she loved it, and a full bottle, already prepared, for Tom, then exited the room, leaving the door slightly open so he could hear them in case of need as he sat in his office. Just in case, he had moved the baby monitor to the room, taking the receiver with him.

It didn't take long before Thomas woke and started moving around, rustling the sheets around him and making that cute, gurgling noise he always made when he woke from a nap or a long sleep, as if he needed to get rid of the residual sleep still in his body. Castle listened for a couple of minutes more and he heard Kate moving. The movements their son was making must have roused her too. For the first time in days, he heard her voice. It was a soft whisper, he couldn't make out the words, but he was sure it was directed to Tom. He heard the baby giggle and then the soft smack of his small hand on skin, probably her face. There was more rustling, the mug being picked up and a sip of coffee being taken.

Silently, Castle thanked every deity he could think about.

He had been right. Tom was the key. She needed to return to normality, and everyone in that house had taken her away her routine made of midnight feedings and cuddles with her son. They had forgot that even if she was a recovering patient she was also a mother and a wife. They had taken everything she was away, almost dehumanized her.

He couldn't believe what a fool he had been. He had completely forgot how much Kate loved to be a mother, how much her son made her happy. And they had taken him away from her. She had started blacking out the same moment she had stopped taking care of him. At the hospital they had allowed her to hold him and interact with him, but at home, Tom had been taken care off pretty much only by Alexis and Castle.

Such a simple idea, and it had taken him more than a week and three days of seeing Kate in that catatonic state to realize what was going on.

He dared to enter the room and saw Kate holding Thomas propped against her bent legs, facing her, holding the bottle in one hand while the baby boy hungrily downed the formula, and the coffee mug in the other. She still looked like a wreck, but at least her eyes were focused, she was moving, she was concentrating on something.

After the nightmares of that night, it was a balm for sore eyes to see her like that.

"Hey…" she whispered when she saw him on the doorstep. Her voice was still raspy and sometimes it hitched on some syllables, but at least she could speak. Maybe three days of silence had done something good to her healing process.

"Hey… how is he?"

"Hungry." she replied. "But not for long."

"Mind if I join you? I've got the pancakes." he said, moving the plate in his hand into view.

"Pancakes can wait, this little man cannot."

Shaking his head, he walked in and sat on the bed beside her. "Here." he took a forkful of pancake dripping with chocolate syrup. "Eat."

By the time Tom had finished his bottle, Kate had finished her plate. "Good. Now that both of you are fed and Tom here looks really content with his mommy, can I ask you something?" she nodded. "How are you feeling?"

Kate looked down at Tom and sighed. "Physically… not bad. Mentally… it feels like you just put gas into a car and started the engine after a year. I know I'm not reacting they correct way to cope but it's the only one I found."

"You mean the blackouts?"

She nodded. "Yes. It was the only way I could stop the memories of that…" her voice trailed off and she didn't finish the sentence. She toyed with Tom's little chubby hand and just stopped talking.

Castle sighed. "Kate, I talked to Burke. He said that these blackouts are your PTSD coming back, this is just another method of coping your mind has come up with."

"He told me the same thing the other day. I've tried Rick, I swear I tried but…"

"We had our part in it too. We treated you like you were made of glass, we took Tom away and… I noticed, you only reacted when Tom was in the room. We took away your routine thinking we were doing the right thing, to let you heal and rest. We left you alone. I left you alone and I just can't think of a worse mistake to make."

"Actually it wasn't such a bad mistake. You let me heal. I blacked out. And I probably will black out again but I think Tom can help me a little."

Castle snorted. "A little? You've been catatonic for three days!"

"I know. My dad had it worse when I got shot. He literally had to shove the pills down my throat because I wouldn't take them otherwise."

Tom giggled and distracted them long enough so Kate could shove those dreadful memories away. She didn't need them too, in that moment.

"You want to talk about it?"

She shrugged her shoulders, rubbing her healing wrist. "About what? About the fact that not a week ago a psychopath kidnapped me and one of my best friends and held us hostage for twelve hours, meanwhile torturing us?"

"Exactly. You still haven't told me. Remember after that undercover job gone south? When you told me what had happened, you felt better."

"I know, but this time it's… it's worse. With Simmons, it was so impersonal… he just wanted to know what the police knew. This time it was… so personal… he was so… you should have seen the glee in his eyes when I stopped breathing… he was waiting for it. Each time he wrapped his hands around my neck, he was so cold… his eyes looked so cold and distant, but when I couldn't breathe anymore, when I couldn't take it anymore and I was just one step away from lose consciousness, he would smile… he was so happy to see that last breath… seriously, and the things he said to me…"

"Alright, it's enough. If it's too much, stop right away. No need to force it."

"Can it wait? I mean… I'll tell you, with time. I'm just not ready, OK?"

He nodded. "OK. We have time. Now why don't we just take the day for us, so you can spend it with little Tom and be his mommy while I take care of the rest and make your favorte lunch?"

"First things first: this little guy needs to be changed. Help me up?"

Hope the prompter like it. Sorry if it took me so long but… you know… real life...