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I pressed myself farther back in the corner as he came at me again. Why couldn't he just leave me alone? What had I done to deserve this? I didn't understand! I clutched the blanket tighter around myself as if it were somehow holding me together. I blinked up at my tormenter, wishing he'd tell me why he was doing this to me. If he'd just tell me what it was that I did so wrong, I'd do whatever the hell it took to fix it so that he'd let me go. This had gone on for far too long. Whatever this was. As far as I could figure out, it was supposed to be a lesson in humility. Well, if that's what it was, lesson was learned. Days ago. Or what seemed like days. I really wasn't sure anymore how much time had passed. I could swear that I vaguely remember it getting gradually darker in the room a number of times, but it just didn't seem like I had enough memories in my head to fill days worth of time. Maybe it only got dark once and I'm just remembering the same time over and over again.

Whether it'd been one day or several, I'd given up hope of being rescued. I'd been held captive far too long for me to have any faith left in that. He'd left me alone a number of times and that would have been the prime time for someone to come in and get me, but still no one had come. If I were going to get out of this, it was going to be up to me to save myself. Problem was, I was too weak to fight him, and during the times he'd left me alone, I'd been unable to free myself from the bindings that secured my wrists tightly together and then to a pipe that ran along the wall. I hadn't even been able to pull the gag from my mouth. It was tied too tightly to loosen by tugging on it, and my hands couldn't reach where it was knotted. I'd tried numerous times to free myself only to wind up even more frustrated and deepening my sense of hopelessness. I was never going to get free.

For the most part, I'd been left alone. My captor would come back every so often. I wasn't sure how many times he had, because my mind was far from focused. It seemed like he'd been there at least nine or ten times, but my mind was foggy enough that some of those times may actually have just been my imagination. Sometimes I'd be half asleep and I'd swear that I felt his hands fumbling against my skin only to wake in a panic and find myself quite alone. Every time he left, I was plagued with the fear that my captor would just leave me there bound, gagged, and helpless so that I'd eventually die from starvation. More than that, though, I was terrified that he would come back and do what he'd threatened. While dying wasn't high on my list of favorite things to do, at least I could deal with that idea. If the alternative was to stay his captive and have my body used in the ways he was threatening to use it...I would far rather die.

I hated the way he'd touch me. My skin still crawled just thinking about it. I guess I should just be thankful that that's all he did...touch.

And threaten to do more.

And prove to me that he had the power to do anything he wanted to me and I couldn't stop him. We'd gone through the same routine a number of times already. Either that or it's just happened the once and I'm imagining that it happened again. At this point, I wasn't sure what to believe. But it always happened the same way, whether it was real or imagined. He'd unchain me from the pipe and let me go long enough for me to start thinking that just maybe I could get away from him. He'd step back and watch me, practically daring me to make a break for it. And of course, I would. He'd let me get out into this really long hallway. I didn't know where I was or which way to go, but I'd run for it anyway. I'd get maybe halfway down the dark corridor and then he'd make his move. He'd grab me and force me to the ground, pinning me and beating me until I submitted and allowed myself to be dragged back into the room where he'd string me up by my wrists again. He'd pull the wire taught so that I was forced to stand only on the balls of my feet. If I tried to lower my heels, it would put too much pressure on my wrists. And then he'd begin his assault. Systematically ripping me apart from the inside, violating the outside as I was powerless to stop his repulsive hands from roaming my unprotected skin.

I didn't want to think about the things he'd hissed into my ear as he'd continued his disgusting attack on my body, but it was impossible to block it out. The things he said would probably stay with me for the rest of my life. Assuming I had much of one left anyway. He attacked just about everything about me, and aimed to cut deep.

At first it was just bullshit, and I knew it. He started with the easiest thing to target. My career. He said nothing I hadn't already had thrown in my face since even before the Backstreet Boys even existed. Schoolyard bullies had come up with the same things. Singer. Dancer. Let's just see how many cliches we can come up with to fit that, shall we? Like they had when I was bullied about it back then, he told me what my choice of career supposedly meant about my masculinity (or lack thereof), sexual orientation, and other stupid "boy band" cliches. I let all that roll off me. I'd heard it all before and it was just plain absurd.

So then he'd started in on my appearance. Some of the stuff he said kind of hurt, I admit that. But after the rather humiliating experience of having my fluctuating weight attacked in the media and by so-called fans, I'd learned to accept that I wasn't ever going to live up to everyone's physical ideal. It had taken a while, but eventually I'd decided that I wasn't going to beat myself up over it anymore. I could only be myself and people could take it or leave it. And I was okay with that. My real fans would accept me as is.

Seeing that that wasn't getting to me, he started in on stuff like that I thought I was so much better than everyone else. Or that I thought I was so perfect and everything. Obviously he didn't spend much time listening to my thoughts. I'm not like that. Really, I'm not. So I still didn't really take it personally. Or at least I tried really hard not to. I couldn't help but start to wonder though. I'd heard those things said about me before, too. What if I really did give off the impression that I thought like that? Did people really think that I thought I was too good for them?

The longer he'd talked, the closer to home he'd started getting. Worse, he started actually making sense.

"Stupid little brat," he'd called me. Breaking that down; Stupid. Not the first time I'd heard that. And even I had to admit that I tend to make an awful lot of dumb mistakes. I was always messing up words and stuff during interviews. And I didn't seem to know a lot of the stuff that other people seemed to consider "common knowledge" things. I don't know why I never learned that sort of stuff, but it never was that important to me to know the price of tacos in Switzerland or whatever. Okay maybe that wasn't common knowledge, but stuff like geography and math didn't interest me that much. Little. Well, there was one I could argue with I guess. I'm hardly little. Then again I somehow suspect that wasn't the key word in the insult. Brat. Guilty. Kevin called me that all the time. So did a lot of other people for that matter. But when they'd said it, they hadn't made it sound so...ugly. I wasn't malicious about it or anything, I just liked to goof around and have fun. But I did take it too far sometimes, I admit that. I'm sorry.

"Spoiled, selfish, brat," he'd added. "Think everyone should cater to you?" Spoiled ? I'd never really considered myself to be, but...I did tend to get my way a lot of the time. And I kind of get pissed off and sulk when I don't. So...I hated to admit it, but he was quite possibly right. Damn. I didn't want to be spoiled. How did I let that happen? I didn't mean to be that bad. Selfish. If I was spoiled, it fell right into place that selfishness was probably right there with it. God, he was right. Brat. Already covered this one, moving right along to the next insult. I didn't think everyone should cater to me...it just sort of seemed to happen that way. Damn it he was right again. I was horrible. It was a wonder I had any friends at all. I never really had many back home. And the guys probably only were because they had to be. Like default or something because of the band.

"Pathetic coward," he'd called me as I sobbed at his verbal attack. Couldn't really deny that I was pathetic. After all, I was standing there crying like a baby because I was letting him get to me. For that matter, the fact that I was even there in the first place was testament of that accusation. Add to that the fact that I'd been rendered so helpless that I'd actually pissed myself--and not just once--during my captivity. Given that was because I was bound and there really wasn't any alternative, but it sure added to the whole pathetic vibe I had going on. As for the cowardliness? Do I even need to qualify that? Just thinking about him being in the room with me was enough to make me feel all petrified. Sure couldn't prove him wrong on that one.

Worthless. He was right about everything else he called me, so it only followed that he was probably right about that as well...

You'd think that it was enough to tear me down and reduce me to tears that once. I hadn't ever recovered from that first assault. But he didn't stop there. He just kept drilling it into me just how horrible and pathetic I really was. And every time I'd start feeling like just maybe I wasn't that bad, he'd start in again.

And now he was back to play another round of that game. I cringed as he towered over me. Even though he'd started wearing a mask, he still didn't like me looking at his face, so I turned my head away as he knelt down to release my bindings. I closed my eyes and held my breath as he pulled the blanket away from me enough so that he could untie my wrists. When he moved away again I quickly pulled the blanket back into place.

At first, I tried not to get tempted to fall into his little game. If I didn't try to make a run for it, he'd have no reason to torture me. Not that he really needed a reason, I guess. He was insane and that was probably reason enough for him. But maybe if I just stayed still he wouldn't anyway.

Except if I didn't at least try to get away, I probably wouldn't ever get away. Kind of like the lottery--you can't win if you don't play. I had the suspicion that the odds were greatly stacked against me and I wasn't going to win anyway. But, if no one was going to come rescue me, and the only chance I had at escaping was when he released me...I had to take every opportunity to try that I could take. Right?

I looked up at him nervously and found that he was watching me intently, waiting for me to make my move. For a split second I saw his pale gray eyes through the holes of his mask and shivered at the cruelty that was reflected in them. I looked away quickly before he could get angry with me for looking at him again. As long as he was watching me that closely, I didn't stand a chance of escaping. So maybe if I waited for just a couple minutes he'd think that maybe I had given up and would let his guard down a little.

I shifted a little bit, stretching my legs out. I wasn't really able to move a whole lot while I was chained up, so it was likely that the muscles were getting lazy from lack of use. That was another reason he was able to catch me so easily. So maybe if I stretched a little bit it would help. The other thing that I couldn't really do anything to compensate for was that I hadn't been allowed anything to eat during my captivity. I could feel my body getting weaker the longer I was kept, and that surely slowed me down, too. But there was no point in dwelling on that. I just had to bide my time and do the best that I could.

After a few minutes, my captor started getting a little restless. I hid a tiny smile from him, knowing that if he saw my satisfaction at his expense he'd probably use that as his excuse to torture me. I watched as he began pacing a little seeming not to know what to do now that I'd seemingly learned my lesson about trying not to escape. I could feel his eyes boring into me and it made my stomach churn just a little bit. I pulled the blanket tighter around me again, pretending that it was a shield that would protect me from his evil gaze.

A few minutes later, he turned his back on me and dug into the bag he always brought with him. Probably to retrieve the dreaded thermos. While he didn't feed me, he did make me drink from that thing each time he visited. I thought I had it identified as being tequila mixed with 7-Up. At least it kinda reminded me of a slammer, except that...well, he didn't slam it down on the counter first or anything. I figured there was probably something else in the drink too since tequila alone didn't usually have that much of an affect on me. At least not in the amount that I was being given. My tolerance for alcohol was fairly decent, probably due more to my size than for built up tolerance. I drank socially, yes, but I usually didn't have that much. I'd been drunk before, but generally I didn't like to drink that much. I usually could tell when it was time to stop before I started making an idiot out of myself. But with the stuff he was making me drink...all it took was a little bit and all my senses went completely out of whack. It made time speed up and me slow down. Everything would become like a big muddled mess of sounds and shadows stumbling around in a thick haze.

I hated that feeling, and I really didn't want to experience it again.

Wait. He was distracted, getting the thermos from his bag. Wouldn't that make a good time to make the great escape?

I sprang into action. Or at least I tried to. My springing wasn't really up to par. I knew I was fairly sluggish, but it was the best I could do. I made a break for the door while his back was to me.

As usual, I made it to the hallway and turned right. I'd gone left the first time and had made it the short distance to the elevator, which was the only thing in that direction other than a couple locked doors. But of course the elevator hadn't been there waiting and the rooms had been locked, so that had been the end of that escape. I figured my best bet would be something in the other direction. Besides, I could hear activity in the large room near the end of the corridor, so maybe there were people there. And maybe they could help me. That was the room I always tried to get to, but I had yet to make it there.

There was a slight breeze in the hallway that got stronger the closer I got to that noisy room. Maybe it wasn't a room at all but an exit? I dashed for it, hoping against hope that this time I would make it somehow. I could hear him moving behind me, though.

I did make it a little farther than I had previous attempts, but I still didn't get far enough. He tackled me from behind and sent me crashing to the floor. A moment later, he was on top of me, turning me onto my back and pinning me down. I didn't even attempt to struggle. When I did that, it only made the beating that much worse. He backhanded me across the face once, but then just held me down for a few moments, letting me know exactly who had the power in our situation. And it wasn't me. I did my best to relax myself into a guise of submission. He won another round. Time for my punishment.

Satisfied that I wasn't going to give him any more trouble for the time being, my captor got to his feet, keeping hold of my wrists. He began dragging me back down the hallway by my arms, not giving me the chance to get up and walk.

Once back to the room, he strung me back up much like he had when he'd first brought me to my prison. He looped the wire around my wrists then forced me to stand with my arms raised over my head while the wire was secured to the overhead pipe.

The blanket fell away as my arms were otherwise restrained and I was unable to keep holding it up. I lowered my head in humiliation and waited for him to start his latest assault. I steeled myself against it, determined not to give him the satisfaction of responding this time.

He moved up behind me and I clenched my teeth around the gag that was still in my mouth. I didn't want to cry this time, but damn it, my eyes were already starting to water just thinking about what was coming. I hated it when he touched me. It made me feel so dirty and degraded.

He chuckled as he saw the tears that were forming. "Crying already?" he mocked me. "I haven't even touched you...yet." My body began to quake as I felt his breath against the back of my neck. "You're terrified aren't you?" he asked in that horrible throaty whisper he always used. I felt his hands run slowly down my sides, resting momentarily on my hips. I squeezed my eyes shut but otherwise did my best not to react. "You afraid? Hmm?" Hell yes I was afraid. I still didn't answer--couldn't have even if I'd wanted to, really--and his movements got rougher, his hands scraping against my skin as they moved back up my sides.

"I could fuck you if I wanted to," he hissed into my ear as one of his hands moved slowly down my chest. I shuddered violently at his words and began fighting with every last bit of my strength to pull away from him. So much for my resolve not to respond, but God, I couldn't let him...do that. That was the first time he'd actually spoken the threat aloud. He'd implied it a few times, but he hadn't ever spelled it out before. And the fact that he'd gotten bold enough to say it made me think that he was probably getting closer to actually doing it. I tried desperately to dislodge the wire that bound my wrists up over my head, but all that did was make my wrists and arms flare with pain. But still I fought, thrashing my body and trying frantically to get free. My captor only laughed and let me continue my futile struggles until I exhausted myself and had no choice but to stop. By then the tears I'd tried to hold back were rolling free. "What makes you think I'd want you?" he chided after I'd finally worn myself out and unwillingly collapsed back against him. "You're a disgusting, pathetic mess." Which was very true. He would be, too, if he'd been chained up for hours--possibly days--without the opportunity to shower or even go to the bathroom. Yeah, I was disgustingly filthy, and yeah I was humiliated beyond all belief about it, but hell, if it kept him from wanting to go through with *that*, I'd gladly never take a shower again.

Unfortunately, even as disgusting as I was, it didn't seem to make him want to stop touching me, or stop his verbal assault. When at last he tired of it, I was back to feeling about as low as whatever is about six steps lower than pond scum.

He reached up with one hand grabbed onto the gag and tugged on the cloth a few times until it loosened enough for him to pull it from my aching jaws and let it fall down around my neck. I expected to be forced to drink from the thermos, but instead, he moved around to face me and he put his hand under my chin, forcing me to lift my head. He moved closer, his face only inches from mine. God, he was going to kiss me. How gross was that? Bad enough thinking about another guy wanting to kiss me, but even grosser when factoring in my current state of hygiene. Or lack thereof. I squeezed my eyes shut and clenched my teeth as hard as I could. It hurt my already sore jaw, but no way was I going to let him do that.

I felt his breath against my lips and tried to turn my head away from him. "What's the matter, fag boy?" he hissed angrily as he (thankfully) stepped away. I found it somehow ironic that he was calling me a fag when he was the one trying to kiss me. I guess that it was a power/control sort of thing, but still. "Think you're too good for me?" No...well, yes actually, considering you're a psychotic bastard, but even if you weren't I just don't swing that way. Of course I didn't answer. I was too freaked out to even think clearly, let alone form words. I cried out as he struck me hard across the face.

As I was recovering from that, I felt my arms jerked upward, the muscles aching from the strain. He fiddled with the wire around my wrists and a moment later I was falling, completely unsupported again. My body was too exhausted to remain standing, so I collapsed to the floor in a heap.

"Get up," he demanded harshly.

I tried. I really did. But my body was just too exhausted from the strain that had been put on it and the lack of food. I managed to get to my hands and knees, but that took me a while. Apparently it took me too long because as soon as I managed that, I felt something strike my back hard and found myself flat on the floor again. With a nice new intense pain racing up and down my spine.

"I said get up."

I tried again; more desperate to obey him this time so that I could avoid getting hit like that again. Oh no, not pathetic and cowardly at all. I was faster that time, but still not fast enough, I guess. I was struck again and sent back to the floor, writhing in pain. He wasn't going to let me get up. This was an exercise in futility. I'm not sure how I suddenly knew that, but it struck me almost as hard as whatever it was that he was using to hit me.

He ordered me to get up a third time, but that time I just stayed down. I knew he was going to beat me no matter what I did, and I was just too tired to keep trying.

As predicted, this time when I failed to start moving, he began kicking me, berating me for not obeying. Again and again he drove his foot into my side. I tried to crawl away, but whenever I moved he would stomp down on my back and drive me to the floor in agony. So I just lay there and took it. Too tired to try to get up, too afraid to move.


Finally the assault ended and I felt myself being dragged along the floor by my legs. I wondered dimly where I was being taken, but by then consciousness was coming and going. My whole body hurt worse than I ever imagined possible. I was dimly aware of a light breeze in the hallway that grew stronger the farther down the hall we went. We were almost to the noisy room. Which was in a way kind of exciting, since that had been my goal before, but on the other hand, if he was willing to take me there, it probably meant that it wasn't going to be the great escape route I'd hoped for.

When we reached the room, he deposited me on the floor next to a large drain. A few moments later, there was a squeaking noise followed by a hard stream of cold water blasting at me.

A shower. God, he was letting me take a shower. Well, a hosing down anyway, since from the angle of the spray I figured it had to have been coming from a hose. Glancing around at my surroundings, I noticed that there were several large laundry machines, which were what was making all that noise. Beyond those, there was a row of large fans, which I suppose kept the room from getting too hot. And above and beyond the fans was nirvana. A row of open windows.

Now if only I could actually get to them.

Of course with my captor right there and my body in such horrible shape, odds weren't that good of me actually reaching them. And I couldn't take another beating. Freedom was so close, but still unattainable. I forced myself to look away from the windows.

"Clean yourself up," he ordered me.

I tensed, waiting for his retaliation as I refused to obey.

Of course I wanted to be clean. I felt dirty to the point of being disgusting. I knew that I had to absolutely reek. And more than anything I wanted to scrape away every bit of skin that his hands had touched. But thinking about his earlier words, "What makes you think I'd want you? You're a disgusting, pathetic mess," was a pretty good argument for me staying that way.

Unfortunately, my captor disagreed. He stepped closer to me, the force of the water hitting me harder as the distance closed. He grabbed me by my arm and pulled me up a little bit, spraying the water at close range. I noticed that the water that ran off me and went spiraling down the drain was tinged red and wondered what part of me was bleeding. It didn't really matter, though, I guess. Every part of me hurt, so what did it matter if it was a bruise or a cut? More than slightly dazed, I watched the water spiraling as I was subjected to this new humiliation. I felt his hand running through my hair and over my body as he continued to rinse the grime off me. Though personally I thought it was another exercise in futility since his hands were making me dirtier as the water tried to wash it away. It wasn't like he was even using soap. So I probably would smell a little better, but my hygiene would still be pretty gruesome.

At last he seemed satisfied with the shower and he moved away again. I heard the squeaking noise again and the water stopped. I looked up as he stepped over to a large cart and pulled a large towel from it. Since it wasn't folded and was being pulled from what was likely a laundry bin, it kind of followed that it was a used towel. Which he promptly threw at me and ordered me to dry myself off with. Oh yeah, that was even more hygienic. Using someone else's dirty towel. Ick.

Did that make me sound spoiled?

I did as I was told though. Then he took the towel back from me and tossed it back into the bin.

"Need to use the bathroom?" he asked.

I snorted. He couldn't have asked me that hours ago? Or days? Or however long it'd been? I didn't have to go anymore, thanks. I shook my head.

"You're not getting another chance."


I nodded, trying not to think too much about that.

Grabbing hold of my wrist, he began dragging me from the room. I tried to get up on my feet, but I couldn't quite get my balance enough to do so and ended up just letting him drag me across the hallway into a dingy little room. Nothing but a sink, a toilet, and a bigass garbage can.

"Go," he ordered, hauling me to my feet.

I scowled. I'd told him I didn't have to. And he hadn't exactly been feeding me or even letting me get much to drink. I just plain didn't have to go. Besides, you try going on demand with a creepy psychotic watching you. It just doesn't work.

So I stood there and stared dumbly at the toilet until he finally grumbled something about having warned me. He half-carried me half-walked me back through the dark hallway and into the storage room where I'd been held for who-knew how long. He shoved me roughly back to the floor. My blanket lay abandoned on the floor a few feet away. I carefully slunk toward it, expecting him to stop me, relieved when he didn't.

I wrapped the blanket around myself and moved back to my corner again, hoping he was done with me for the day and would leave me alone. Or better yet he was done with me forever and would let me leave. I wasn't holding my breath on that, though.

I drew my knees up to my chest and let my head rest against my upraised knees. I was trying not to let the despair get to me, but it was hard not to. I just wanted to go home. I didn't want to be trapped like this anymore. Okay, that was dumb. I never wanted it. Nobody would want it. Unless they were really warped.

I cringed as he returned, holding the dreaded thermos. I turned my head away from him. I didn't want any more of whatever that was. I wasn't going to drink it anymore. I had to get myself out of this, and the only way that was going to happen was if I could keep my head on straight and get my strength up. Neither of those things would happen if I drank.

I felt his hand grip my jaw and force my head back toward him. He pressed the thermos to my lips and started tipping it up, trying to get me to drink. I stubbornly clenched my teeth and refused to drink, letting it spill down my chin until he pulled the thermos back again. His fingers dug into my jaw trying to force my mouth open. "Come on, Nicky, drink it!" he growled in my ear, chilling me. But I shook my head, still resisting.

My captor shifted, standing over me. He grabbed me by the throat and shoved my head back against the wall. I cried out involuntarily and reached up, trying to claw his hands away from my throat. He took the opportunity to start trying to force me to drink. My mouth filled, but I refused to swallow. Instead I stared defiantly into his steely eyes. His expression darkened and he increased the pressure on my throat. If he was trying to make me down it, that was the wrong way to do it--I couldn't really breathe, let alone swallow. So I let it dribble out of my mouth, still trying to look bold, though I was losing my nerve again.

He slammed my head against the wall again, released my throat, then backhanded me hard across the face. He hit me again before I got over the shock of the first blow. I could feel my mouth fill with the coppery taste of blood. A moment later, I felt the thermos back at my lips.

I looked up at my captor again and knew that once again I was fighting a losing battle. He was going to win this battle of wills. He wins, I lose. How much did I really want to get another beating out of the deal? My heart sank with defeat. "Drink it!" he spat at me.

I lowered my eyes and opened my mouth, submitting yet again. He forced me to drink down several gulps, which is really not easy to do with tequila, even if it is in slammer form. Especially if it's stopped fizzing. But I managed to get enough down to make him back off again.

I leaned back against the wall and tried to keep my thoughts focused. Maybe if I concentrated on something it would keep me from losing my senses again. I just needed something to focus on. Nothing was coming to mind other than how much I wanted to go home. And how uncomfortable I was about the fact that my captor was now just standing a few feet away watching me.

I had to get out of this somehow. I had to find a way to get back to that room with the windows with enough of a head-start to get outside before he could grab me. If only I weren't so exhausted and weak. Maybe I could find something to hit him with. Or maybe I'd find a way to get myself free when he wasn't around to stop me. Yeah, that'd be better. Then I could just walk out. Oh wait, I'd tried that. Duh. I couldn't ever get myself free. That was the whole problem. That's why I was still here. What was I, stupid?

Don't answer that.

I dropped my head back down against my knees as the room started to spin slightly. I wasn't focusing hard enough. Oh yeah, hadn't really come up with anything to focus on.

I felt a hand on my shoulder and realized that my captor had come back over and was crouching next to me. I shivered, not wanting him to be that close. Especially not when I was feeling so out of whack. Everything was starting to get really foggy.

I tightened the blanket around myself again and tried to shy away from him, pressing farther back into the corner. I felt his hand run lightly down my cheek and my stomach clenched. *I could fuck you if I wanted to...* NO!

I tried to pull away, but he took hold of my shoulders and pulled me closer, and away from the safety of the corner. I tried to shove him away, but I didn't have enough strength to be even slightly effective against him. Within a few moments, I found myself pressed to the floor, his body straddling mine.

I felt his breath against my cheek. Don'tdon'tdon't. I felt him tugging at the blanket, trying to pull it away from me. I immediately forgot about trying to push him away and instead focused on keeping a tight grasp on the material. No. Please, just leave me alone, I begged him silently as I clutched the blanket and stared up at him fearfully. I flinched as I saw absolutely nothing but cruelty in his gray eyes.

"Don't touch me," I protested, my voice sounding as weak as I felt. "Don't..."

"It's okay, Nick," a familiar voice told me, soothingly. "You're safe now."

Safe? Hardly! I was about as far away from safe as you could get! I threw my head back and screamed, hoping against hope that someone was out there and would be able to hear me. And that they would help me.

"Shhh, Frack, it's okay, focus on me," the voice soothed again and I felt his hand running gently through my hair. "It's just me."

Nonononononono. That's the problem, damn it.

"You're safe. It's okay, it's okay, it's okay," the voice repeated over and over in time to the hand stroking my hair. For a moment, the voice stopped repeating that to ask, "What do I do? He's just not waking up," in a very frightened sounding voice. Frightened?

My eyes opened cautiously and I stared up into wide blue eyes. Bright blue, no longer pale. No longer threatening. Familiar. Safe. Brian. I blinked. Brian? I closed my eyes again, hoping that when they opened again it would still be Brian.

"That's right, Frack, wake up. It's okay, it's just me. You're safe."

It was still Brian. Oh, God, it was still Brian. All at once I was both immensely relieved and horribly confused. Relieved that I wasn't being...*attacked*, but...what the hell was happening to me? Was this real? Or was that real? Was I safe? Would I ever be safe again? What if this was the dream? What if I was still stuck in that storage room and I was only dreaming that I had somehow gotten out? Nothing made sense anymore.

"I've got a sedative," I heard an unfamiliar voice saying and looked over toward where someone was coming toward me. With a needle. NO!

I scrambled to get away from that damn needle. No. NO. NO! I felt Brian trying to grab me, but before he could I fell from the bed and landed on a heap on the floor. I tried to get up and realized that my leg wouldn't bend. It took a few moments for me to remember that it wouldn't bend because it had several metal rods strapped to it.

So, that much was real.

I flipped myself over and scooted back, trying to get to the corner. If I were in the corner, I could at least be protected from two sides at once. Now if only the chair were closer and I could use that to create a third wall...

"Get away from him with that," I heard Kevin's voice saying, in a quiet yet firm tone. "He...doesn't like needles." You think?

Kevin. Kevin was here. I had been waiting to see Kevin. Right? Except it was different then. I wasn't in a bed when I was waiting for Kevin. I tried to make sense of where I was. I didn't remember being in a bed. Then again, I couldn't remember what the last thing I remembered was. I was so damn confused. I couldn't think straight at all.

Last thing I remembered was being forced to the ground and...no, that part was a nightmare. What happened before that? Or was this a dream and I was really still stuck in the storage room? I started crying harder and buried my head in my hands, horrified by how screwed up I was.

"Nick?" I heard Brian's voice again and realized that he was standing just a few feet away. Assuming he was real.

I peeked up through my fingers at him, trying to decide for sure if he was genuine or wishful thinking on my part. "Brian?" I asked, pleading with him to be real.

"Yeah. It's okay. You're safe. You just fainted." I fainted? I lowered my hands a little and looked up at him questioningly. He smiled a little and nodded. "Yeah. I guess you had some sort of...um...panic attack?"

I closed my eyes. A panic attack. I vaguely remembered Jack telling me that. Right before he had come at me. Except that hadn't really happened. That was the nightmare. Damn it, why couldn't I make sense out of anything?

"You okay, Nick?" Kevin's voice called over to me. I looked toward his voice but couldn't see him beyond the bed that was blocking my view.

"Yeah..." Well, define 'Okay'. If 'Okay' meant confused as all hell, crying pathetically, scared half out of my head, but relatively safe, then I was okay. Somehow I didn't think all of that really fit the criteria for okayness though. "No? I don't know," I answered him honestly. "Nothing's making much sense."

"You should stay in bed," I heard Brian say. I wasn't sure whether Brian was talking to me or Kevin at first, but I decided that he'd meant Kevin when I saw that he was shuffling around the side of the bed and coming toward me. He stopped next to Brian and said something that I couldn't quite catch before continuing cautiously toward me. Brian stood there for a few moments, a worried look on his face. Kevin glanced back at him, and he nodded. "I'll be back in just a couple minutes, okay?" he told me, then turned to go, leaving Kevin and I alone.

Kevin approached me slowly, whether it was to be sure I wasn't going to freak out again or because he was still affected by the drug he'd been given, I wasn't sure. He slowly lowered himself to the floor a couple feet away and leaned back against the wall, looking over at me with sad green eyes.

"Tell me about the nightmare you just had?" he asked.

I shook my head. I didn't want to tell him what had happened to me. What maybe happened to me. I didn't want anyone to know. *I* didn't even want to know. I didn't want to think about it. I wrapped my arms around myself, suddenly feeling cold again. I looked over at him, feeling guilty that I didn't want to talk about it. He just nodded, understandingly.

For a few minutes we just sat quietly. I heard someone come into the room once, but Kevin waved whoever it was away, and we continued to just sit there. Every couple minutes I noticed that Kevin would inch a little bit closer to me. I almost smiled when I realized he was doing it that slowly thinking that I wouldn't notice and wouldn't get all freaked out by someone getting close to me. It was almost tempting to suddenly leap out at him and yell 'boo' or something at him. But of course I didn't. I wasn't feeling that secure about leaving the corner. Besides, that would be the bratty thing to do. And he was probably not feeling too safe either. When I had that thought, I was glad I hadn't acted on impulse and done it.

"I was scared, you know," he said suddenly, looking at me with a sideways glance.

I sat up a little. "When you couldn't move?"

He nodded. "Yeah. I-it was like I was there and not there at the same time."

I nodded. "Could see everything but couldn't react," I added to that assessment.

"Yeah. I felt so..." he stopped, trying to find the right words to describe it.

"Helpless?" I supplied.

He frowned a little but nodded. "Totally. And when the others came in the room and were talking about how you were missing and I *knew* that you were in trouble and I couldn't say anything. I kept trying to move, but it was like I was paralyzed. I couldn't tell them that anything was wrong." And nobody even noticed the hell he was going through.

"I was scared, too," I admitted.

Kevin smiled a wintery little smile and nodded.

"Do you...remember what happened?" I asked.

"Only sort of," he said. "I was sleeping and I woke up while I was being pinned down with a pillow over my face. I thought someone was trying to smother me at first. And then I felt the needle." He stopped and looked over at me as if trying to decide if he should be talking about it. "I feel stupid now, but I didn't even think about yelling out," he admitted, turning slightly red at that admission. "I thought I could just throw him off me. Except I got really weak really fast. By the time I even thought about yelling, I couldn't think clearly enough to do it. And then I couldn't even move at all."

He continued, telling me about all the things that had gone through his head during the time that he wasn't sure what was going on, whether the paralysis would stop, whether anyone would notice that he wasn't okay. Feeling helpless about knowing that my captor was in the building but unable to tell anyone about it or help me in any way.

The longer he talked, the more I became clear about three things. One, I felt better knowing that I wasn't completely alone anymore; Kevin understood. Two, Kevin shouldn't have had to go through that. And three, I was going to make damn sure that he and the others wouldn't have to go through anything like that because of me ever again.

"So..." Kevin said, after we'd drifted silent for a couple minutes. "Sure you don't want to talk about what happened to you?" he offered again. "It does help."

I smiled, but shook my head. "Not now. Later though?" I knew I wasn't going to be around to tell later, but didn't really want to tip him off to that.

Kevin nodded, but looked a little disappointed. "Okay. Just promise me you won't bottle it up like you usually do when you've got a problem?" he insisted.

I rolled my eyes but nodded.

"Okay, good then. Now, I'm really zonked, so I'm going to take a nap before they kick me out. Want me to go get Brian or anyone?"

I shook my head. "I just want to be alone for a bit," I replied.

"You got it," he stood up.

"Wait...isn't this your room?"

He grinned slightly. "So it is. Guess you're stuck with me."

I grinned back but shook my head. "No offense, but I need to think about some stuff...I'm going to see if they have a room where I could hide out for a little bit." I scowled as I realized that it was really not very easy standing up with the brace on my leg. Kevin watched me struggle with it for a few moments before he made an amused little chuckle then reached down to help me up.

Once I was on my feet I impulsively gave Kevin a little hug then headed for the hallway.

And ran straight into Lon, who was standing just outside the door. "How you feeling, kid?"

"I'm okay," I told him, sheepishly.

"Of course you are," he chuckled a little, shaking his head. "Got something for you," he informed me, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a weird little keychain/clip thing. It looked like a green blob. Almost like a cigarette lighter, but larger. And considering that I didn't smoke I doubted that it was just an oversized one. I looked at Lon questioningly.

He handed it to me and I noticed that it had a little spray thing like mouth spray. He was giving me mouth spray on a chain? How...nice?

"Be careful with that," he informed me, reaching out to stop me from spraying it. "It's strong stuff."

Huh? "My breath is that bad?"

Lon laughed. Really hard. I didn't get it. "It's pepper spray, kid. In case you get in trouble again." OH! I felt my face getting red. "Whatever you do, don't let it get in your own eyes when you use it. If you have to spray it, aim, turn your head, close your eyes if you can, and spray. Even if you don't hit the target right in the eyes, it will still hurt him like hell if he looks in that direction. You too, so you be careful," he warned.

I nodded, looking at the spray. I wondered what it was like. I almost sprayed just a little to find out, but decided that was probably not a great idea.

I lifted my shirt a little, intending to clip the spray to one of my beltloops, but Lon reached out again and stopped me. He took it back from me for a moment then reached out and tucked it into the top of my leg immobilizer with just the end of the chain sticking out. It was slightly uncomfortable, but would be easy to grab fast in an emergency. "Thanks."

He nodded seriously. "Tomorrow after you guys are all rested up, I thought it would be a good idea for us to go over some self defense tactics."

I blinked. And looked down at my leg, then back up Lon skeptically. Self defense? But I was injured. That wouldn't really make things easy. Not that I didn't appreciate the offer, I'd always wanted to learn some sort of martial arts type stuff, but it hardly seemed the right time to...Wait. That was what I wanted. I wanted to be able to fight back. And now that he was offering it I was going to turn it down? I frowned.

"Actually that might be to your advantage," he informed me, giving me an encouraging smile. It would be? That didn't seem right, somehow. "Seriously, kid, I think you'll feel a lot better if we do a little training." I nodded. Yeah, I probably would feel better.

Except that I wasn't planning on sticking around that long.