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Howie wanted to ride in the ambulance with me, but the paramedics would only let one person ride with me and Lon insisted that it had to be one of the guards. I thought that was probably a little overboard since the guards would be able to stick with us the entire time we were out in the open here at the hotel, and at the hospital the public wasn't allowed near the ambulance bay. But again, Lon's paid to cover all the security angles, so there wasn't any arguing with him. It was irritating, but he was doing what he does best, and he was doing it to protect me, so I couldn't really complain. Out loud anyway.

So, Lon came with me and Howie went with Geo. Ed and the agents had gone somewhere to talk about the blackout and the attack on Kevin. I hadn't gotten a chance to talk to the agents about the threat, but I swore I was going to do it as soon as they made their next appearance. No, seriously this time.

Getting to the ambulance turned out to be a bit harder than expected due to the number of reporters that had stayed in the lobby. (Well, that and due to my little panic attack as the paramedics strapped me down to the cot, but we're not talking about that, 'k?) Fortunately, Howie decided to play the martyr and he and Geo along with a couple extra hotel security guys agreed to stay and talk to them and answer some questions about Kevin and I. It didn't keep everyone from trying to swarm me as the paramedics whisked me through the lobby, but it did keep a few of them back. I heard several cameras going off, and had it not been for Lon moving along beside me and making me keep eye contact with him, I very well may have freaked out on them all again, but he managed to keep me grounded. And a few well-placed growls from my bodyguard kept the photographers and reporters from slowing us down too much.

"You okay?" Lon asked after we got settled into the ambulance. I nodded, but that made Lon frown. What, did he want me to be upset? "You're being awful quiet, kid. Tell me what's on your mind."

What did he think was on my mind? I rolled my eyes and started to turn my head away, but he didn't let me out of it that easily. He reached forward and cupped my chin lightly and turned my head back toward him. For the first few moments when I felt the hand on my chin I forgot where I was and nearly freaked thinking about another hand, gripping my jaw tight and forcing my head back. But with Lon if I had resisted he would have stopped and let me go. I didn't try to turn away again, though. I'm not sure if it was the guilt of making him worry or the fear that he would get angry if I turned away that kept me there. Probably a little of both, even though I knew that Lon wouldn't ever hurt me. At least I usually knew that, but my shot nerves were making me forget that sort of thing.

"Nickolas," Lon spoke quietly, in an uncharacteristically soothing voice. "I know you're hurting, Kid. You shouldn't try to hold stuff in; that'll just make things worse. You don't have to deal with everything alone, you know."

No, I didn't know that. I didn't say that aloud, but I could tell that Lon knew what I was thinking anyway by the slight frown that appeared on his face as he studied me.

He let out a little sigh. "Nobody expects you to handle this by yourself."

Now that I did know. They all thought I was some helpless kid, incapable of handling anything. I scowled at my bodyguard and tried to turn away again, but he stopped me, his hand gripping my chin a little bit tighter to keep me from turning away. I shivered involuntarily, my body again overreacting at the reminder of the attack. Lon noticed my heightened fear reflex and released me at once, instantly looking apologetic.

"Nick, nobody would be expected to handle this sort of thing alone," Lon informed me. "Nobody thinks any less of you for needing help right now."

Right. Of course they don't think less me. This is just par for the course. 'Nick's the baby of the group. He can't take care of himself. Never has been able to, never will be able to.' Not wanting Lon to see how frustrated I was by that whole thing, I turned away again, and this time he let me. He reached out and stroked my hair in a fatherly sort of way. "It's gonna be okay, Kid."

I clenched my jaw for a moment and tried not to let myself get angry. He still didn't understand why I was so upset. Not that I was making it any easier for them to understand, I supposed. It's not like they had any idea how I was feeling. I didn't want to tell them, but I just kind of assumed that they should somehow innately know anyway.

I know I don't make any sense, but that's the fun of being me.

I rolled my head back to face him, feeling guilty for running so hot and cold on him. "I hate feeling helpless," I finally admitted out loud, offering an explanation for my weird behavior. I felt my face starting to burn with the embarrassment that goes with such a confession. "He got to me again and I couldn't do anything to stop it from happening."

Lon's hand froze and he gazed down at me with a serious expression on his face. He considered for a moment before speaking. "It's okay, Nick. You got away."

"Only because the lights came back on and he panicked," I owned up, my voice wavering a little bit from the fear that was gripping me again. "He had me, Lon. And I couldn't do a damn thing." I felt my eyes starting to water and quickly started blinking to stop the tears before they could start. Seemed I was doing that a lot the past few days, and it was annoying. Then again all of my emotions were really out of whack. I swear one moment I'd be fine and the next I'd be scared out of my mind or ready to start bawling or something equally as humiliating. "I was so stupid. I almost got away but then I cornered myself in one of the conference rooms."

I spilled out the story again, even though he'd heard me tell the agents earlier. I silently berated myself as I recounted each and every mistake I made. Lon kept stroking my hair and watched me, concerned. "He's still out there. I feel like he's watching me. Just waiting to get at me again. And now I won't be able to even run from him...I don't know what I'm supposed to do," I concluded. "I can't fight him."

Lon smiled a tired smile down at me. "No one expects you to fight him."

"That's the problem," I muttered, closing my eyes and turning away from him again.

He still didn't understand, and I was tired of trying to make him get it. Nobody expected me to fight the guy. Including the guy himself. And that made me a liability, a disaster waiting to happen. It also meant that they all would have to watch out for me because I obviously couldn't take care of myself. That was probably why the guy had chosen me as the target in the first place. He hadn't chosen AJ. AJ probably would have eaten him alive. And Brian was way too quick on his feet. And Howie's too smart to have gotten himself into such a situation in the first place. And Kevin...well, there was an attack on Kevin, but that was probably only because Kevin had been sick and asleep and totally unprotected at the time. That was all my fault, too. I just screwed everything up.

We rode the rest of the way to the hospital in silence. The orthopedic doctor guy was waiting for us in the ER so as soon as we got there, I was whisked into a curtained area and to my profound joy (note the sarcasm) the whole exam process started over again. The specialist guy pretty much had nothing new to add to the original diagnosis, which I guess I should be glad about, but really it was just irritating to have to go through the whole thing all over again for nothing.

When the doctor back at the hotel had informed me that I'd have to wear an immobilizer, I didn't think it sounded like such a horrible thing. From what I'd understood, it wasn't a cast, and I'd be able to walk wearing it. That's what he'd told me, and gullible me actually believed him. What he failed to mention was that the immobilizer was actually this horrible metal, nylon and Velcro brace-type thing that went clear from my ankle to my thigh. Really not a nice contraption. I think it's supposed to be kind of like the leg equivalent of one of those Chinese finger trap things, but that's probably just me.

I was supposed to be able to walk in it, and to be fair, I guess I could; it was just really awkward and uncomfortable. I was now led to believe by the specialist guy that I'd get used to it after a few days, but really how used to something like that could you get? Like you can really say, "Ooooh yeah, I've got several metal rods strapped to my leg! But isn't the shiny nylon looking spiffy today?" Not.

I was actually glad when they finally got me strapped into the thing, though, because it made my exam officially over and I was free to go find the others. I was given some instructions about finding an orthopedic specialist to follow up with in a couple weeks to start discussing physical therapy and rehabilitation. I was also told to stay off my feet and keep my leg elevated as much as possible for the next 24 hours, and was given instructions for dealing with my concussion. And also given the number of a crisis center...in case I needed to talk to someone. Great. On top of everything else, they thought I was nuts. Okay, so that was probably a valid assessment.

Then, at last, I was set loose to find out what happened to Kevin.

I got up and headed out to the hall, but I only got a few steps before Lon stepped in front of me and gave me an exasperated look.


"Chair, Nick," he nodded toward a waiting wheelchair.

Oh hell, no. "But he said I could walk," I protested motioning in the direction that the doctor had taken off in.

Lon's eyes narrowed and he nodded again at the chair. "He also said to stay off it as much as possible for the next 24 hours." Damn. He would have to remember that part.

I glowered at him, but sat anyway. No way was I going to stay in the chair any longer than necessary, but I'd humor him for now. It wasn't worth fighting over. Lon smiled victoriously, which only made me want to just get right back up, but I stayed down reminding myself that Lon was only looking out for me. To prove that, he helped me get the leg rest situated so that my leg would be propped up, then got behind the chair and started steering me out of the exam room. I thought about asking if I could at least wheel myself, but in all honesty I was pretty exhausted. I didn't like that I was basically handing control over my body to someone else again, but I decided that I trusted Lon with my life on a regular basis and I knew he'd take care of me.

Besides, if I were going to go through with the plan I'd been considering, I'd need to save my strength and energy. Not that it was much of a plan at all yet, but still, it was something. And the sooner I managed to sneak away from the others, the sooner they'd all be out of danger. Stalker Guy wouldn't bother going after them if I weren't around them anymore...right? Or would he go after them because he couldn't come after me? I frowned. Maybe it wasn't such a good plan. But would he really go after them if I weren't around to at least witness the harm he was inflicting? He had gone after Kevin even when I'd held up my end of the deal by going to the press conference, though. The guy I was dealing with didn't exactly seem like he was the type to play fair. But it did still seem that I was the main target. So, what good would it do him to go after my friends if I weren't around to taunt with it?

"I assume you want to go find out about Kevin?" Lon asked, as if he really needed to. But I was glad he asked anyway. It gave me at least a small feeling of control back. I nodded and he obliged by taking me to the information desk to find out where we could locate the others.

"I'm sorry, that information is not available at this time," the woman at the desk said in a harried voice, glancing up from her phone call long enough to give us a little nod. "No, I'm sorry, I cannot help you," she repeated to whoever was questioning her on the other end of the line. "Thank you for calling. Goodbye now," she quickly said as she hung up the phone only to have it start ringing immediately. She gave us an apologetic look and answered it. The conversation was pretty much an exact repeat of the first call, but she'd sounded even more annoyed. When she hung up the phone that time, she quickly pressed a button to hold all calls so she could speak to us. "May I help you?"

"We're looking for our friend that was brought in a little while ago," Lon informed her.

Her expression immediately became suspicious. "And what is your friend's name?"

"Richardson, Kevin."

She glared at us like we were pond scum. "I'm sorry, but I cannot release any information about that patient," she informed us. "Under no circumstances," she added pointedly. One of her eyebrows arched as she got a good look at me for the first time. She blinked a couple times then started blushing as recognition set in. Seemed there was one circumstance that would get her to divulge the information. Heh. Take that unhelpful infodesk lady. She was just doing her job, though, so I didn't give her a hard time about it...much. It was actually a little reassuring knowing that the hospital was taking security precautions about the whole thing. They'd seemed to manage to keep the reporters and fans outside. So far, at any rate. She jotted down a room number and handed it to me.

He'd been admitted. I handed the slip of paper up to Lon and gave the infodesk lady a quick smile before we headed off to find out what exactly had happened.

When we got upstairs we found that a special waiting room had been set up for us and we were only allowed to go in to see Kevin one at a time. There were hospital guards posted at each end of the hallway, and Jack was stationed outside the room to make sure that no unauthorized people managed to slip past. He motioned to the hospital staff that we were okay to let through.

We weren't even all the way into the waiting room when AJ bounded over to me. Howie and Brian weren't there, so he'd been stuck waiting alone and was obviously glad to have someone to blow his nervous energy with. Lon parked my chair then headed back out of the room again. Probably to talk to Jack. I figured that Brian was probably in with his cousin, but since Geo was also conspicuously missing that Howie had gotten stuck at the hotel or was battling the crowd that had likely gathered outside the hospital.

"Hey, Kaos." AJ's face scrunched up distastefully as he looked questioningly down at the brace thing on my leg. "That's pretty..." he left that hanging, obviously not sure what to say about the contraption.

"Ooooh yeah. I've got several metal rods strapped to my leg. But isn't the shiny nylon looking spiffy today?" Okay maybe that line did work after all. It got a small grin out of AJ anyway.

"Quite snazzy," he agreed, stroking his goatee and nodding slightly, humoring me. "Gonna have to get me one of those."

"You can have mine," I offered. "It'd be a little weird if we were both wearing one anyway."

He looked at it doubtfully. "Nah, that one's a bit too tall and just not my color. Think they make those in leopard print? That'd be cool. Get a photo of that in the teen mags and it'll be the hottest accessory in no time." Somehow I didn't think so, but who was I to argue? I've been told by several sources that I have no fashion sense and that it's a damn good thing that I have someone else choosing what I wear for photo shoots and stuff. I'm fairly sure he was kidding anyway, but with AJ sometimes it's hard to tell. "Think it'd score me some sympathy points with the ladies?" he asked as if he were seriously considering. In fact I'm fairly sure that he really was. But I wasn't about to encourage him, so I smirked and shook my head. "Ah well. Suppose you're gonna use it to get out of Fatima's rehearsals, too, aren't you," he accused mockingly.

Not that AJ wasn't a welcome and amusing distraction from everything else that was going on, but I still hadn't found out what was going on with Kevin. "Have you heard anything yet?"

AJ's smile immediately disappeared and he nodded seriously. "Yeah. He's gonna be okay," he assured me quickly. Almost too quickly. And then he didn't offer up any more information.

I rolled my eyes, exasperated. Why did they all make me have to drag the information out of them? "So...what'd they find out?" I prodded.

"It was um...an overdose of Ketamine."

Overdose. Never a good thing. I wasn't sure what Ketamine was, but the word overdose alone was enough to make me feel sick. AJ explained that from what he he'd picked up, Ketamine was another of those wonderful sedatives, this one with the property of causing temporary paralysis when used in large doses. Talk about creepy stuff. It was supposed to have a euphoric feeling so was pretty popular in the club scene. There was nothing euphoric about it to me. I figured from that description of it, that more than likely, that was what I'd been given, both when I'd gotten abducted and then a partial dose during the blackout. What's euphoric about being paralyzed?

"But he's okay?" I asked, worried.

"Yeah. Should be. There wasn't really anything they could do other than hook him up to monitors to make sure he doesn't stop breathing or anything. But they say it's already wearing off and that he should be okay in a few hours. They said he could probably go home either later tonight or first thing in the morning if he wants to. Good news is that it shouldn't have any permanent side effects or anything."

I hesitated to ask the next question because I hated thinking about what it'd been like when I'd been paralyzed, and didn't want to know that Kevin was still in that state. "So is he awake...and like...moving?"

AJ nodded. "Yeah, Brian's in with him now. He's really out of it, but he's responding now, at least."

"Does he...um...remember what happened?" I held my breath waiting for that answer.

AJ shrugged, though. "I didn't ask. I was only in there for a couple minutes. Figured Brian would want to stay in there, you know."

I nodded and glanced out toward the hall. I wanted to talk to Kevin. For one, I really wanted to know for sure that he really was going to be okay. But for another, entirely selfish reason, I wanted to talk to him because he was the only one who might possibly understand what it was like for me. If anyone would understand how scary it was to feel so helpless, it would be him. He wouldn't just tell me that everything was okay and that everyone would take care of me. He'd understand.

I let out my breath in a big sigh and leaned back in my chair.

"What'd you do with Howie?" AJ asked suddenly, realizing he wasn't with me.

"Fed him to the reporters," I replied, hiding a small smile as I closed my eyes.

A few moments later I felt him poking me in the side. "Hey, Kaos, you want anything?"

I opened one eye to glance over at him questioningly. He held up a can of Mountain Dew and waved it at me. "Want something?" He gestured over to a cart containing all kinds of soda and some sandwiches.

I closed my eyes, shaking my head to answer AJ's question. I wasn't hungry. Just sleepy. AJ poked me again, and I clenched my teeth to keep from wincing as he hit a rather sore spot.

"When's the last time you ate anything?" I opened my eye again and glared. Couldn't he just let me take a little nap? At least until Brian came back and I could go in and talk to Kevin. But AJ had other ideas. He raised his eyebrow and looked at me pointedly. "You didn't eat this afternoon, I know that. And Brian said you yarped after breakfast. You gotta eat something, dude." If you knew when I ate last, AJ, why did you ask? I closed my eye again and heard him grumble something unintelligible under his breath. He got up and moved away.

Mission accomplished.

Then again maybe not: I felt something cold pressed against my cheek. Just leave me alone! I tried to turn my head away from it.

I shivered as I felt the thing sliding across my cheek until it was shoved against my lips. I couldn't move to push it away! No! I heard an angered voice whispering harshly in my ear as fingers roughly tried to force my jaw open. Come on, Nicky. Drink it! I gasped as my eyes flew open.

AJ pulled a soda bottle back away from my cheek and looked at me with wide eyes. "Damn, Nick, I'm sorry. Didn't mean to spook you. Are you okay?"

I blinked a couple times and tried to decide what the right answer to that was. My heart was suddenly racing again and all my muscles were tensed. But as I glanced around I realized that there was nobody that had actually whispered. It was only AJ near me and he was standing in front of me, not close enough to have been the whisperer. Besides, that wasn't AJ's voice. And he wouldn't have tried to force my mouth open like that, either. I must have imagined it. What the hell was that about?

I blinked a couple more times then realized that AJ was looking even more worried. "I'm okay I just..." I trailed off not knowing how to explain what had just happened without sounding crazy. Then again why did I care if I sounded it, since I really was crazy? I was hearing things, after all. And it had seemed so real. Just like that thing at the press conference...damn I hated this.

Since I didn't know what to say I reached out and took the Mountain Dew that AJ was offering me instead. Maybe that would appease him and he'd stop worrying. He held out a sandwich, too, but I didn't take that. I really wasn't hungry. Just the thought of food at the moment was making my stomach churn. I shook my head and leaned back again.

AJ plopped down in the chair beside me again. "So...what was that about just then?"

I should be so lucky that he would push that. "I'm not hungry," I responded innocently, pretending I thought he meant about not taking the sandwich.

AJ raised his eyebrow and gave me a look to let me know that he knew that I knew what he meant. Didn't he realize that I was having enough trouble getting my heart to calm back down without telling him about it? I just needed to forget about it again. Because nothing happened. It was all in my head.

I leaned forward in the chair and opened the soda. Maybe the caffeine would at least help keep me awake. I could feel AJ's eyes boring into the back of my head, but he didn't pry for an answer, so I didn't provide one.

I was still tired but I didn't want to close my eyes again. Seemed that every time I closed my eyes lately something bad happened. Or at least I'd feel like something bad happened. Then again bad things kept happening while my eyes were wide open, too.

Not that anything happened.

That just doesn't even sound convincing, does it?

It wasn't that big a deal. It wasn't even that scary. 'Come on, Nicky. Drink it.' It's not like there's anything particularly scary about that phrase. It's just that it was in that same damned whisper. And of course the question of just what it was that he made me drink was kind of nerve-wracking. I somehow doubted that it was Mountain Dew.

I shivered, suddenly feeling very cold. Dr. Lincoln mentioned how alcohol greatly intensifies the effects of that Rohypnol stuff. That's probably what he was making me drink. So that I would be even more at his mercy. Easier to control. Easier to ra--

Stop thinking about it. That didn't happen. I'd know, remember? I'd know. And it didn't happen.

I quickly drank some of the soda to get rid of the bitter taste that suddenly filled my mouth. But the soda tasted just as bitter and as a bonus, it burned the back of my throat. Bitter. Like the alcohol had probably tasted.

I really didn't want to think about that stuff. I wanted to get out of there. I wanted to go home. I felt my body starting to tremble. This was so dumb! There was no reason for me to be getting so upset. So I had a weird little...flashback or whatever. It wasn't that scary. It wasn't. It was just some creepy guy making me drink...something. That's not that scary. Nothing even remotely as scary ad the other flashback I'd had, or the nightmare for that matter. And obviously whatever it was he made me drink didn't kill me. It could even have just been water or something. So...it's not that scary. I was just making myself worse by imagining the worst case scenario. It was probably water. I'd just refused it to be stubborn. Sure.

Damn it, it was probably alcohol and laced with drugs.

I needed to stop thinking. I was just restless. I needed to get up and move. That was the problem. I'd be fine if I could get up and walk off this nervous energy. I pushed myself up out of the chair and started pacing. I didn't even make it halfway across the room before AJ was on his feet and headed after me. He was going to make me get back in the damn chair. I knew it. Why couldn't everyone just back off?

My heartrate was getting faster again and for some reason I couldn't seem to breathe quite right. I was breathing too fast and I couldn't seem to get a good breath in. I just needed to calm a little and slow my breathing down. But I couldn't seem to. Damn it! I don't need this!

"Nick. Sit down. You're supposed to stay off your leg," AJ started telling me. How'd he know that? He wasn't even in the room! Okay the wheelchair was probably a tip off, but still, like he was one to follow rules? Where did he get off telling me to? I felt his hand fall lightly on my shoulder and jerked away quickly, nearly tripping when my knee didn't bend like I expected it to. Expected it to bend despite the fact that there were metal rods strapped to it. Okay I wasn't thinking too swiftly, I admit it. But I didn't care. I needed to get out of there. I regained my balance and turned back toward the door. I had to get out.

"Nick? Are you okay?" I heard Jack's voice from across the room. Somewhere near the door. My vision was blurry and I couldn't see him clearly, but I knew he was over there. I could see his large form blocking the door.

His large form. Blocking. The. Door.

He'd never let me out of here. I was trapped! I couldn't get out! My heart was going even faster. It was probably going to explode and then I was going to die.

I backed away, knowing he was going to come after me. I didn't want him touching me. Not again. Never again. I was backed into the corner. There was nowhere left to go. I was trapped!

"Kaos!" AJ called again, drawing my attention back to him and reminding me that I wasn't in any immediate danger. This was so stupid! There was no reason for me to be so freaked out. I just wasn't thinking straight; I needed to calm down, just needed to calm down. Needed to keep remembering that I was here because I wanted to see Kevin. Not because they were keeping me here against my will. I could leave whenever I wanted. This was so dumb! I had absolutely no reason to panic. No reason whatsoever.

Because there wasn't still some psycho lunatic out there who wanted to get me again.

Oh, that really helped, dumbass.

I felt a sharp pain in my chest. Great. Now I was probably having a heart attack. I'm only 21, I'm not supposed to have heart attacks. Then again the heart had been getting quite a workout lately with the panicking and all. Great. I was going to die of a heart attack. I'm way too young to be having a heart attack. This just keeps getting less and less fair. I pressed myself farther back into the corner.

"It's okay, Nick, just sit down, okay?" I heard AJ's worried voice.

"Calm down, Nicky, you're having a panic attack," I heard Jack's voice and looked up.

And saw a large blurry figure coming straight at me.