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I didn't want to be there. I had to get out.

My heart was pounding. There was someone coming up behind me; I could feel it without even looking back over my shoulder. I felt the panic welling up and trying to take control again. My eyes closed and my body tensed as I tried to fight the fear enough to keep functioning. I was okay; I was safe; I was fine. No problems here. I just needed to keep breathing. Inhale. Exhale. Don't pass out. Concentrate.

I felt one hand clamp over my mouth as another grabbed me around the waist pulling me backward against a larger body. Instinct made me try to scream out, but it was easily muffled by the large hand that was clamped over my mouth. I felt my body starting to tremble uncontrollably again and tried to force myself to concentrate on keeping a level head. I could get out of this.

I stepped backward into to my attacker, digging my heel hard into the top of his foot. At the same time I turned slightly so that I could drive my elbow back into his solar plexus.


He let out a grunt and his grip loosened enough that I was able to twist my body out of his hold entirely. I felt him grabbing for me again and turned into the attack rather than trying to pull away. I lashed out, hitting my attacker at the base of the neck. He stumbled backward, gasping for air. YES! I was free!

"Go Nicky, go Nicky," my cheering squad of AJ and Brian called from the far side of the mat. I glared at them, barely containing my grin of satisfaction. Victory turned out to be short-lived, however, as suddenly I found myself on my back again as my assailant dove forward, tackling me and driving me to the ground. I winced as my arm struck the mat at a weird angle. I didn't break it did I? That'd be just what I needed. An arm to match the leg. Nah, not enough pain for that...oops shouldn't be thinking about that yet, need to get out of this first. Except during that moment of inattention, I got myself pinned again, unable to move at all. Damn.

This wasn't over. I wasn't going to go down this easy again. I could do this. I struggled for a few moments, trying not to go into full-scale panic at the sensation of being held down. My stomach twisted with fear of what was coming. I'd lost and been rendered helpless to protect myself from further attack. With that realization my body went slack, instinctively going into submissive mode. That seemed to make the inevitable beating less severe.

Not that there was going to be a beating this time, I reminded myself. I wasn't supposed to think like that anymore. I'm safe now. And this training was going to keep me from getting into a situation like that one again. No more getting all submissive when being attacked.

"Come on, Nicky, don't give up!" I heard AJ coaching from a few feet away and I grit my teeth. Damn it why couldn't I get this? I struggled futilely against my bodyguard-assailant. I stared up at his steel gray eyes for a moment and nearly screamed as I recognized them. Oh GOD! I closed my eyes for a moment then opened them again and found that the eyes were brown. Not gray.

I kept struggling, but my initial surrender had already taken its toll, and I was unable to get Geo off of me. I sighed and called out, "Stop," to signal that I was ready to admit defeat. At the sound of me calling out the safety word (creative weren't we?), Geo instantly relaxed his grip on me.

"Okay, let him up," I heard Lon saying quietly, obviously disappointed by my performance.

Geo complied and immediately he was off me, reaching down to give me a hand up. He wasn't even breathing hard, damn it. Way to make me look completely wimpy, Geo. "You okay?" he asked worriedly. "I didn't mean to take you down that hard." I nodded, but didn't answer. I was still trying to get my heart-rate to slow back down.

"So, what happened that time?" Lon asked encouraging me to dissect my performance again as Geo stepped back, still looking rather guilty. This was the eighth time we'd gone through this, and the eighth time I'd fouled things up. He had to be getting tired of getting socked in the gut.

"I got distracted," I answered, looking pointedly at Brian and AJ, who were suddenly quite occupied with *silently* watching Howie and Ryan going through some of the defense techniques we'd gone over in the past hour.

"You can't let yourself get distracted, Nick," Kevin informed me as he sauntered over from where he and Ed had been practicing. Thank you, Mr. Obvious. He was right, of course. He's almost always right it seems.

"I know. It's just hard with the cheerleaders over there."

"Go, Howie! Go Howie!" the two were currently cheering as if to emphasize my point. Unfortunately, Howie wasn't as easily distracted and he easily got out of Ryan's chokehold. That kind of undermined my excuse. Kevin, of course, noticed that too.

"You have to concentrate, Nick. Focus on the moves." Seemed to me I'd heard that about a zillion times in the past several years. Dance rehearsals and now this. And funny how it almost always came from Kevin. Of course the rest of them all seemed to pick this up really quickly. But not me. Damn it. And this wasn't like dance moves that were easy to practice alone somewhere without everyone watching.

"Okay, let's try again," Lon suggested. "Or do you need to stop for a while?"

What I needed was to start planning my escape again. This just wasn't working.

My escape attempt at the hospital had been quite pitiful. It was going to take a lot more planning than I'd expected. Especially now that Brian was on to me. Hell, he was on to me before I even managed to get off the damn floor. He knew what I was going to do before I even knew!

Okay not that I'd done anything particularly clever, I admit. I convinced the nurses to secure me a room to myself and had managed to convince Lon to let me be alone in there for a little while. So then I'd convinced Ryan (who'd been stationed outside my door) to run down the hall and get me a 'Dew and a sandwich. As soon as the hallway was clear, I'd made my move--only to find Brian waiting just around the corner. He'd scared the bejesus out of me when he'd grabbed my arm as I'd tried to breeze past him to get to the elevator.

"You're not leaving, Nick," Brian had informed me with not a trace of humor in his face. "It's not safe for you to go off on your own and you know it."

Problem was it wasn't safe for me to stay there with them, either, and I knew that, too. But of course he didn't mention that part.

"How'd you...?" I'd started to ask, bewildered how he'd known to be waiting for me around the corner.

He'd only grinned and answered, "Because I know you."

I hate being predictable.

So my escape was pathetic as ever, and now they were probably all on alert waiting for me to try again. Once again I was being kept against my will. Though I'm much rather be their prisoner than stalker guy's so, guess I can't complain that much. At least they weren't attacking me every time I turned around...well, not counting the defense-training thing we were doing now.

"I'm ready," I answered Lon. As ready as I was going to be, anyway. I wanted to get this down. Then maybe they'd let me go back to my room and leave me alone for a little while so I could plot my escape. Maybe I'd try again tomorrow night during the concert. Nobody would expect me to disappear during the concert.

"Are you sure you're okay doing this, Nick?" Ed asked. His hand dropped onto my shoulder and I did my best not to flinch away. He noticed it, though, and gave me a little reassuring smile.

"I'm fine," I answered for what seemed like the billionth time in the past couple days. I could tell that I sounded irritated, and felt a little guilty about that, but I was really getting tired of being asked that. Especially since I had to lie every time I answered.

Ed frowned a little and continued staring at me appraisingly. What did he want me to say? The truth? That even though I knew that they'd never purposely hurt me and that despite the fact that this was supposed to help me feel safer it was really just freaking me out to have them touching me? It's not like they were doing this for fun or something. This was to help me. So, I repeated myself with my complete lie. "It's all good. I'm ready to go." I forced a grin. "I can take you down," I declared with false confidence.

For a moment Ed just looked at me skeptically, but then he grinned back and nodded, accepting the challenge. He replaced Geo on the mat facing me.

I rolled my eyes as the others all gathered around the mat to watch. Had to be with an audience. I turned around so my back was to Ed and tried to make myself relax as I waited for him to strike.

"Okay, concentrate, Kid," Lon instructed. "I know you got it in you."

Yeah yeah.

I couldn't contain the yelp as Ed grabbed me suddenly. I'd known to expect it, but even that didn't help the panic much. I stepped back onto his foot as practiced and turned my body slightly so I could strike back with my elbow.

It didn't work, he didn't even let up slightly. Damn, Geo must've been going easy on me or something. I tried again, stomping down harder and driving my elbow back as hard as I could.

Ed let up slightly and I managed to squirm out of his grip a little bit. Then I turned into the attack with a punch toward his throat, like they'd shown me to do. He stumbled back, finally letting go. It was working.

"Yeah, Nick!" my cheering squad was yelling, but this time I paid them no attention. Not going to blow it that way again.

I turned to flee but felt myself being grabbed again. Damn. Again I turned into the attack so I could use his momentum against him. I grabbed his hair and using my braced leg to try and trip him up, I pulled him forward and he fell to the mat. It was actually working. HA!

I stepped over him and tried to go that direction so that he couldn't easily grab my legs. I did it! I actually did it. I got to the edge of the mat without him touching me. I won! I turned around to gloat (okay childish, I know, but hey, it was about damn time I won a round) and was surprised as Ed's hands closed on my shirt and dragged me back toward him. I hadn't realized he'd gotten up. Besides, I thought the "game" was supposed to be over once I made it off the mat! Apparently not.

I tried to step into the attack again, but this time Ed moved with me and I lost my balance and started falling face forward onto the mat. I reached out my hands to stop my fall, but Ed grabbed me again and lifted me before I hit the ground.

I thought that maybe he was doing that just so I didn't hurt myself but a moment later I realized that he was still "attacking" me. He flipped me onto my back. The moment I hit the mat I started scrambling to get up only to have Ed's suddenly barrel into me, driving me back to the ground. I gasped for breath as he landed his shoulder into my diaphragm, shoving me over onto my back. That hurt. Oh man. Right where that damn huge bruise was, he had to hit right there again. God. And now I couldn't breathe. Worse, I could feel the involuntary tears springing to my eyes. How embarrassing. I blinked them away quickly hoping nobody noticed.

I struggled the best I could but he definitely had the upper hand. Looks like I lost another round. I was *never* going to get this. Damn it, damn it, damn it! I couldn't breathe right. God, what if he like broke a rib or something and it was puncturing my lung and I was going to suffocate--

No, I'd just had the wind knocked out of me. I couldn't even call out for him to stop. I had to calm down. I let my body relax, surrendering the round. I couldn't fight while I couldn't breathe. Ed's full weight dropped onto me and I felt him grabbing my arms and pinning them to the mat. He'd already won; he didn't have to do that to prove his point. But he didn't seem to have realized that he'd won yet because he wasn't letting up at all. Couldn't he tell I wasn't fighting anymore? I know I hadn't said "stop", but I couldn't! Couldn't he tell?

I tried to call out, but still hadn't managed to get enough air in. Silently imploring him to stop, I stared straight up into his eyes.

His steel gray eyes. Staring down at me with pure malice. He had managed to get both my wrists pinned down with one of his hands, and his other hand was ripping at my blanket. No! I struggled with all my might, screaming as he tore the blanket away. A moment later his weight was dropping down on me, grinding my bare back against the cold concrete floor. Nogodplease. Stopthispleasegod.

I felt my legs roughly being forced apart so he could kneel between them. I squeezed my eyes shut, unable to stand the smug grin that showed through my attacker's mask. I couldn't breathe as I heard the sound of a snap and then a zipper being undone. The world stopped for a moment as the fear stopped my heart from beating entirely. This wasn't going to happen to me. Not to me. No. No. I'm not here, I'm not here, I'm not here. "No...stop...don't...don'ttouchme..." I gasped out.

My wrists were released and a moment later I felt his hands grip my hips, trying to force my body into an accessible position. No, damn it! I began beating at my attacker, but was aware that I barely had any strength to put behind my fists. It was useless. He was going to rape me and I couldn't stop it from happening.

My arms felt like lead weights and quickly grew too heavy for me to keep holding up and they dropped uselessly to the ground.


I opened my eyes and stared at my attacker praying that he would stop, that this was just another of his stupid games to make me more scared of him. I hated not being able to fight better, but I was so weakened by the drugs in my system. My fist started to close again, ready for one more pitiful attempt to strike back. My fingers bumped against something. Cold metal. A pipe. With some sticky substance on it. Blood. My blood. It must have been the pipe he'd used to hit me with before, I imagined, wanting to fling that pipe far away so it couldn't be used against me again. Wait. No. Better idea! Oh god, please let this work!

I struggled to get my fingers closed around the pipe as I felt his body shifting into place.

"NO!" I screamed as I managed to close my hand around the pipe and swung it as hard as I could, striking him across his back. He yelled out as I struck again. I swung yet again but this time he shifted his body so that he could grab my wrist to stop the blow. I'm not sure where the inspiration came from, but my body seemed to be moving on its own at that point. The moment his body shifted, I rolled over and scrambled to get up. I felt him grabbing at my leg and kicked out as hard as I could. Though I was still dizzy and overly weak, adrenaline had kicked in and I managed to knock him back a little bit. I turned on him, kicking violently at him, not caring where I hit as long as I hit. Maybe, just maybe, I'd get out of this yet.

I heard him scream as one of the blows apparently struck somewhere effective and he curled in on himself, obviously in extreme pain. I had a fairly good idea where that must've struck and barely controlled the insane impulse to laugh as I snatched up my discarded blanket and shuffled as fast as I could to the hallway. My body was in so much pain but I couldn't stop. This would probably be my last chance at escape.

I glanced toward the elevator but decided that it was too dangerous to wait for it. So I wrapped the blanket tight around me as I made my way to the noisy room as fast as my weak body allowed. My legs didn't want to hold me up, and I felt so lightheaded that I was afraid that I was going to pass out at any moment, but I forced myself to keep going.

I made it to the room. Now all I had to do was get to the windows. I felt tears streaking down my face but ignored them as I climbed toward the window. Freedom. So close. So close. I pushed the window out. It wasn't big enough! I'd never fit through that! I was too damn big. No. Please. I had to get out. I was well aware that I wouldn't get another chance. This was it.

I heard something behind me and turned to see my assailant in the doorway. NO! I didn't care if I wasn't going to fit. I'd *make* myself fit! I started trying to squeeze through the window. It worked a lot better than I expected it to. It was a tight fit, but not nearly as tight as I expected. I probably should have ditched the blanket before trying to go through, it was slowing me down.

I was halfway through the window, and if I reached out, I could probably actually touch the grass outside. I was so close!

I felt a hand closing around my ankle, trying to pull me back inside. I started thrashing my body, and threw my arms out wide so that I wouldn't be able to be pulled back through the window. Nononono. "Don't touch me! Let me go!" I kicked at my attacker and tried my best to not let myself get dragged back inside, but I could feel myself losing ground. For every inch I managed to haul myself forward, I was pulled two inches back. "NOOOO!" I screamed as loud as I could. It sounded weak to me, but I kept screaming anyway. I was almost outside. Maybe there someone could hear me out there? "Help me!"

I sucked in my breath and gave one more scream with everything I had. And then suddenly he let me go. I pulled myself the rest of the way through the window and grabbed the blanket tight around me as I scrambled to my feet. I could feel the grass between my toes! I was free! I limped across the lawn, never looking back. I was so dizzy and knew I was probably going to pass out shortly, but I was going to get as far away from there as I possibly could first.

I felt a hand on my shoulder and screamed. No! I was free! I was free, damn it!

I screamed and tried to pull away from whoever it was. I could feel someone shaking me and trying to turn me around. I continued to shriek wildly and flailed my arms trying to strike my attacker. Hands gripped my wrists, trying to still my arms, while another hand was rubbing my back and one was stroking my hair. Too many hands. Way too many hands!

"Shhhh. It's okay, you're safe," Brian's voice broke through my screams.

I stopped lashing out and turned to look at him. What was he doing here outside? Except we weren't outside. We were still in the gym.

It had happened again.

I stared at Brian for a few moments then let my eyes drift toward the others. Ed was standing just a few feet away, watching me intently with an odd expression on his face. "I'm sorry, Kid," he was saying, backing farther away from me. "I didn't realize..."

I hadn't meant to flip out on him. I didn't mean to do this. It just kept happening! I felt my eyes tearing up yet again and quickly turned away from them so they wouldn't be able to see it. Except Kevin was standing behind me. My eyes met his for a moment before I lowered mine, hoping he couldn't see how close I was to losing it.

He gave me an encouraging little smile and stepped closer, reaching out toward me. I could see his lips moving, but couldn't seem to hear him. Which was actually okay because I knew he was probably asking me if I was okay. Or if I wanted to talk to him, or tell them all what happened. Tell them all how the guy had nearly raped me.

God, he'd almost raped me. I felt my legs giving out and suddenly Kevin was holding me up. "You're okay," he told me as he wrapped his arms around my trembling body.

No. Don't touch me. Don't touch me! I nearly toppled over backward as I tried desperately to get away from him. He let go immediately, staring at me with wide apologetic eyes. Kev, I'm sorry; I'm sorry! I can't do this.

"Okay, I won't touch you," he whispered sadly. Oh god I'd said that aloud? I glanced around at the others. Did they know? They knew. It was obvious they knew. What they probably thought of me. Pathetic! I pushed past them without a word and fled toward the hall. I just needed out of there. Away from everybody. I don't want to be like this! I don't want them to see me shaking and crying and being so pitiful.

"Nick!" I heard Brian's voice sounding muffled as if he were speaking through water.

"Let him go," AJ's voice boomed. "He's freaked. Just give 'm a minute." That's right, I'm a freak. No, he didn't call me a freak, he said I was freaked. I'm a freak anyway.

"He shouldn't be alone." Cuz I can't protect myself.

"--ust need to make sure he's okay!" I'm not okay I'm not okay I'm not okay can't you see I'm not okay? Do I have to spell it out? Don't make me say it! If I don't say it, it didn't happen. It didn't happen.

I could barely see through the tears as I rushed down the hall as fast as I could, cursing my leg brace with every step. As if I could really outrun anyone with that stupid thing! I hurried toward the elevator, anyway.

I could hear footsteps pounding behind me, sounding like they were amplified about 20000 times. I wanted to scream with frustration and tell whoever it was to let me be. Just let me go up to my room, guys. Leave me alone! I slammed my fist against the elevator button as I reached it. Damn, have to learn not to give in to my temper like that. Or maybe I should give in to it more often? Then nobody would mess with me.

I clutched my hand and waited for the elevator to get there. Please get there before whoever's following me catches up.

The elevator door opened and I stepped on.

I looked up and saw Brian headed toward the elevator and just reached out to press one of the buttons--I didn't even care which one--hoping that the door would close before he caught up.

No such luck. He wasn't that far behind and he moved a lot faster than I did. He stepped onto the elevator, staring at me intently, but not saying a word. I closed my eyes and leaned back against the wall of the elevator pretending I was alone. I could hear Brian breathing, though, so it kinda ruined the illusion.

The elevator door closed and it started moving downward. Oh great, I'd managed to hit the basement button. Fitting. Sinking to all new lows in every respect. I sank to the floor of the elevator, burying my face in my hands. I heard Brian moving and the elevator stopped a few moments later. He sat down next to me, but thankfully was careful not to touch me. I could feel him staring at me, though, and turned my face away from his. Like he couldn't tell I was crying anyway? I tried not to feel guilty as I heard him sigh.

To Brian's credit, he stayed quiet long enough that I nearly forgot he was actually there. And he'd obviously pulled the stop button so I could have a few minutes without anyone else bothering me. As soon as I had the tears under control I turned my face back toward him. He was still watching me intently, obviously worried.

I offered a small smile, surprising myself as I realized that I actually was glad he was there watching over me.

"I know you don't want to talk about it," Brian finally broke the silence. "But you know, no matter what happened, we're all here for you, bro. And if you want to talk..." he looked at me pointedly.

So I could tell them all the horrifying details. And see the look of disgust on their faces when I told them what had happened. I started turning away.

Brian's hand fell lightly on my shoulder, pulling back quickly as I flinched. "No matter what happened, Nick," he stressed again. Did he really mean that? I could tell him *anything*? He probably already knew anyway. He'd been there when the doc told me about the drug. But the way he'd tensed up when she'd discussed the possibility. What if he--

"He tried to rape me," I blurted out. "I remember it." I actually said it. Out loud. That meant it really happened. I stared at Brian, waiting for him to tell me how gross I was or to ask me why I'd let it happen, what I'd done to make the guy do it. I didn't know how I was going to answer. I didn't know the answer.

Brian's eyes closed for a moment and he took a deep breath. I started moving farther away from him. I shouldn't have told him. I knew he wouldn't understand. I knew he wouldn't--

"--That bastard," Brian blurted out. I looked over at him and his face paled as he realized that he'd said that aloud. Welcome to my world, Bri. "Sorry. God, Nick...Are you okay?" I nodded out of habit. "Really?" No. I really wasn't. I shook my head, the tears spilling forth yet again. He wrapped his arms around me before I even realized he had started to move. My instinct was to pull away, but as Brian began apologizing and pulling back again, I changed my mind, sinking into his embrace. "Do you...want to talk about it?" Brian asked carefully after I'd calmed down again.

I shook my head. "Can't," I whispered my admission.

"It's okay," he said softly. "No matter what, Nick, you can talk to me. To any of us. You know that right?"

I stared at him for a few moments and could see the complete sincerity in his eyes. Even after what I'd already told him. And for the first time since I'd gotten back...I believed him. "I know. I will, Bri. Thanks...Just not yet, okay?"

He nodded. "You got it." He looked up at the elevator buttons. "Now...you ready to give the elevator back?" he grinned as he ruffled my hair a little. I grinned back and nodded, picturing a crowd of people standing around impatiently waiting for the elevator. Among them was Kev. And his eyebrows were growing scarier by the moment. Brian reached up and pushed the stop button back in. The elevator finished its decent. "We'll get out here and let people use it a couple minutes, huh?" Brian suggested as he stood up and reached down to pull me to my feet. "That way we won't have a lot of people getting in with us back on main floor," he explained.

I nodded and accepted his hand up as the door slid open.


No way.

I didn't even realize I was moving out of the elevator until I heard the door sliding shut behind me. I whirled around to try and catch it. No! Don't leave me here, don't leave me here! I fumbled as I tried to press the button. It was too late, the elevator was gone. No, don't leave me here!

"Nick?" Brian was a thousand miles away again. "Nick, what is it?"

But I couldn't answer.

I was too busy sprawling on my hands and knees and yarping on the floor. Sorry, housekeeping.


I looked up helplessly as he dropped down beside me, peering at me worriedly. He couldn't figure out what had set me off this time.

But why would he figure it out? He couldn't know. It never would have occurred to me, either.

After all, why would anyone guess that I'd been held prisoner right there in the damn hotel? Right under all of their noses? Who would have guessed that I'd been locked down here in the damn basement and tortured for six days? That they'd been so close, but unable to hear my screams.

That my attacker could still be hiding out somewhere here in the fucking hotel.