- Text Size +
"Want to tell me what happened?" Brian asked as he sat next to me. He handed me a towel he'd grabbed from the noisy room with all the fans and windows. The laundry room. My memory of the room made sense now. I'd seen the laundry bins, but hadn't even questioned why they were there. It would also explain where my captor had found the towel he'd given me after he'd made me "shower". I wondered if what I'd assumed was a car trunk I'd been lifted out of in the beginning there had actually been one of those laundry bins. And what I'd thought was a breeze was probably the fans. I'd never been outside at all. I'd probably just been brought downstairs in a damn laundry cart. That's why nobody had noticed me being taken. It kind of made sense now that I thought about it.

I wiped my mouth and moved away from the mess on the floor, throwing the towel over it. I leaned back against the wall, not trusting myself to get up just yet.

"This is where I was," I explained to Brian in a shaky voice. That didn't seem to lessen his confusion. He only continued to stare at me as though he thought I was about to explode. Which was actually a preferable fate than telling him what I was talking about.

"You were here? When? During the blackout?" he asked, trying to clarify. He was really going to freak when I told him that the entire time I'd been missing--the entire time they'd worried themselves sick over what had happened to me--I had been just a few floors away.

I could only imagine what Kevin was going to do when he found *that* out. I mean...all that time, I'd been right there in the same building with them. And nobody had found me.

It really bothered me, actually. If I were there in the building the whole time, it meant that the FBI had obviously not done a thorough search of the entire place.

That didn't exactly make me feel any better about having them in charge of my case. They couldn't find me--who desperately wanted to be found--in one small (okay large, but still) building for six days? How, then, would they find my kidnapper--who obviously wouldn't want to be found--in a whole freaking world?

That didn't make me feel very confident of them ever finding the guy. There was little doubt that he'd find me first. I shuddered and Brian moved closer, looking even more worried.

I suppose that it makes sense that nobody seriously considered that I was still there in the hotel. I wouldn't think it that common that somebody be held prisoner in the same building they'd been abducted from--and the room had left no question that it was a kidnapping.

Even if they'd thought to search the building it would have been more likely to look in guestrooms or something, because nobody other than hotel staff would likely go down in the basement. It was also obvious that not even the hotel staff was really using the storage room. After all, there was a layer of dust over everything in there...except where my captor or me had disturbed it. So why would anyone think to look in there?

Still, these people were the FBI. They were supposed to think of things like that. That's what they were being paid for. Right?

I shook my head in answer to Brian's question. I looked over toward the storage room door for a few moments. "I was here," I repeated carefully, before turning back to look at him. "The entire time."

Brian's eyes widened. "When you were..."

I nodded and motioned toward the storage room door. "In there. That's where he...kept me."

Brian's face paled and he looked over at the door as if it were the doorway to Hell itself. I had to agree with the assessment.

"Here?" he asked incredulously.

I could only nod in response.

Brian got up and started moving toward the door. He was going to open it. I struggled to get up so I could stop him. "Don't, Bri...I don't want to see in there."

He stopped and looked back at me and nodded, looking somewhat relieved. Guess he didn't really want to look in there either. "Okay. We should get you back upstairs and call those agent guys to come look anyway. So we don't like disturb any evidence."

Yeah. Get me away from there. Far away. Like how about another state or two away from here? I turned back to the elevator and pressed the button.

And then I pressed it again to make the elevator come faster.

I heard Brian pulling something from his pocket and glanced over. His cell phone. He quickly punched in a number. One he had memorized. Probably security. Or maybe he was calling Kev to warn him that we were on our way up and I was about to flip out again.

Brian hit send and he leaned against the wall, waiting for someone to answer. I pressed the elevator button yet again. It had been a couple minutes. Surely everyone waiting in the lobby had finished using it and it should be returning. Why wasn't the elevator back yet? Something was wrong. Little alarm bells were going off in my mind. I swore I could actually hear them ringing. I closed my eyes and concentrated on my breathing. Just had to stay calm.

"Do you hear that?" Brian's tense voice broke my concentration.

I opened one eye and glanced at him. The blood was draining from his face. Great. If he was going to panic, where did that leave me? I was the one freaking out here! And what was it he was hearing? My little internal alarms? The way my heart was starting to pound?

Brian looked toward the storage room again. He hung up his phone.

The alarms stopped going off.

He hit redial.

A few moments later, they started again.

And I realized they weren't in my head after all. The ringing was coming from the storage room. From the phone Brian was trying to call.

The elevator doors slid open, but neither Brian or I made any movement to step on. We were both frozen in place.

My eyes widened and I stared at Brian's phone. Who was he trying to call? God, had he called the kidnapper? Was the guy just sitting down here waiting to come get me again? For one insane moment I felt my stomach clench as my mind asked the worst question yet: was Brian somehow in on it?

No. Anything but that! I heard a muffled whimper coming from somewhere and when Brian's gaze turned fully on me, I realized I'd made it. My eyes locked with his. He looked as freaked as I felt. Which was actually quite a relief. If he was freaked, that meant he wasn't in on it. I felt really guilty for even letting myself consider that! But then...who was he trying to call? Please don't let it be Kevin...No, Kevin wouldn't be involved in this any more than Brian would be. Stop thinking like that!

Brian hung up the phone again and the ringing stopped. We needed to get out of there. I pressed the elevator button again, cursing myself for not having gotten on the elevator when we'd had the chance.

I pressed the button several more times.

Then I realized that Brian was moving away from me. And heading toward the storage room door.

"No, Brian...don't go in there. He's in there..."

Brian glanced back at me, giving me a sympathetic look, but he kept moving toward the storage room door. He tried the knob. I flinched away, expecting someone to leap out and grab him.

Except that the door didn't open.

It was locked.

I frowned. If the door was locked, then how come the guy who'd grabbed me had been able to get in there? And how had someone's phone gotten in there? Was it one of the hotel staff who'd done it? Some whacked out housekeeper? Why would they pick me though? Had I left the room a mess once too often or something?

Maybe I was wrong. Maybe all those "memories" I'd been having weren't real after all. This was just all one huge mistake. I hadn't been here before at all.

That was just...stupid. Of course I'd been here. Otherwise how would I have "remembered" the place. And I bet I could describe the inside of that room pretty good without even opening the door.

But that's about the last thing I wanted to do. I didn't want to remember the room. Didn't want to remember the pipe I'd been chained to when he'd beaten me, didn't want to remember the corner where I'd huddled, trying unsuccessfully to protect myself.

Brian was dialing his phone again. I closed my eyes and leaned my head against the wall. I really just wanted to bang my head against the wall a few times, but past experience has taught me that doesn't really help anything and ends up giving me a nasty headache. So instead I just leaned against it.

"It's Brian. You might want to call the police and come down here..." Brian was telling whoever he'd called without any sort of introduction. I opened my eyes and looked over at him again. "Yeah the police...no, it's nothing like...yeah he's here. We're okay but..." He paused, listening to the person on the other side. "Just come down here, Lon. We're in the basement. There's something you should see..."

After a few more moments, Brian hung up his phone and came back over to me. "You doing okay?" he asked. Why wouldn't I be doing okay? Just because I was standing at the mouth of my own personal hell? What was he crazy? Of course I wasn't okay!

I shivered involuntarily. "I want to go back upstairs..." I informed him, unable to make myself speak much louder than a whisper. I wrapped my arms around myself, suddenly feeling cold. Of course that's why I was shaking. Couldn't be because I was freaked out beyond belief.

"We'll go in a minute. Lon's on his way down here, though, so we should wait for him. I don't want you wanderin' off by yourself."

I had to reluctantly agree with his logic. I didn't want to be alone either. God, I was constantly going back and forth on that! Why couldn't I make up my mind? It's like one moment I was upset and wanting to be far away from everyone, the next I'd be upset and wanting to cling to everyone. Well...at least I was consistent about the upset thing? I swear if it was this hard for me to figure out my mood swings, it must've been damn near impossible for everyone around me to figure them out.

As if to prove that, Brian was seemingly studying me looking as though he were trying to decide whether he should try to physically comfort me or not. He started to reach toward me only to let his hand hover there, not dropping down to touch my shoulder. He looked almost as frustrated as I felt. "Are you cold?" he asked finally, choosing the tactful way to ask about my shaking.

I nodded slightly, not quite able to look into his eyes, afraid to see the pity that would be there. He hesitated a moment then hurried down the hall back toward the laundry room. A few moments later he returned and placed a blanket around my shoulders.

My blanket.

No. That was being held for evidence, this was a different one. I pulled it tight around me anyway, never wanting to let go. God, I was like a little kid, like a blanket could protect me from anything? I knew better. But still, it's not like having a blanket would hurt any...

I let myself slide down the wall into a sitting position, my good leg drawn up with my knee against my chest. I leaned my head against my knee and closed my eyes, just focusing on breathing.

It seemed like an eternity of listening to Brian pacing before the elevator dinged and the door slid open again. I heard several people moving past me, but didn't look up. I was too afraid I would see my captor. My head was telling me that it was Lon with the other security guys, but that didn't help calm my nerves.

I could hear Brian talking with Lon and Jack, but wasn't really even paying attention to what was being said. I did, however, become aware of the fact that there were suddenly people on each side of me, kneeling down next to me. I glanced one direction and saw Howie. In the other, Kevin. I offered each a small smile to let them know I wasn't freaking out. Right.

"Are you sure you should go in there? The police will be here in a few minutes. Maybe you should wait for them?" Kevin suddenly spoke up. Unlike me, he'd obviously been paying attention to Brian and security.

I looked up and saw that one of the hotel security men was standing at the doorway of my former prison with an access card poised and ready to insert into the card entry thing. Don't open that. I don't want to see in there.

Yet I couldn't look away again. I held my breath and all noise faded away except the small click the lock made as the card was inserted.

"You want to go upstairs?" Howie's voice floated toward me from miles away.

I nodded, but made no move to get up. I did want to go but I was frozen. Like the after-effect of an explosion. You don't want to see the carnage but you just can't tear your eyes away.

The security guard was turning the knob.

I saw my body strung up with hands tied to a pipe overhead. Someone else's disgusting hands were violating it.

NO! That wasn't happening. I couldn't really see that. The door wasn't even open yet!

Howie had his hand on my arm and was pulling me to my feet.

Now the door was opening.

I saw my body sprawled on the storage room floor writhing to escape from the vile human maggot on top of it. My body's mouth was open as if trying to scream, but a hand was clenched around its throat, preventing so much as even a little noise. My attacker's masked face started turning toward me, a malevolent smirk spreading across his face as he saw me watching what he was doing to my body.

Kevin was calling my name from the vast distance between us. I couldn't turn my head to look for him.

A light was being turned on.


So much blood.


And the smell...

I was going to vomit again. Except my stomach was already empty. "Oh fuck!" AJ yelled. And then he was getting sick for me. Good. Now I didn't have to. The hotel security guy quickly whisked him away down the hall to the little bathroom, Howie following them. I'm not sure if he was going to make sure that AJ was okay or whether he was about to blow his lunch too.

Brian was swearing. Wait that couldn't be right; Brian doesn't cuss. But he was, and a fine old string of profanity it was, at that. His face had gone completely white, but like me he couldn't stop staring into the room. I wondered if he could see the atrocities being done to my body. Except, I realized that my body wasn't there anymore.

Someone else's was.

I couldn't see a face, only a hand. A few inches--just out of reach--from the hand was a cellphone. I stepped slightly to the right so I could see the arm attached to the hand. From there, I could see a puddle of blood...with a person's body lying crumpled within it. Even without seeing the face I recognized him. Agent Walters. God. I hadn't liked him much, I admit, but...he was dead.

"No." I shook my head. He couldn't be dead. He was a highly trained federal agent. "No." He was working on my case, and now he was dead. "No."

Lon was suddenly standing in front of me, blocking my view of the body.

"Get him out of here," Lon was saying to Kevin, his voice sounding higher than I've ever heard it. He didn't sound like his usual professional nothing-gets-to-him self. He sounded like he was fighting hard to stay in control of the situation, but was losing the battle.

"Come on, Nick. Let's go upstairs. You don't want to see this..." Kevin was saying softly.

I told them I didn't want to see it. I told them I told them I told them...

I pushed past Kevin and peered farther into the room. There was Harris, his lifeless eyes staring up at me unblinking. He almost looked as though he were made of wax. He couldn't be dead. I shook my head again. "No..."

"Nick, come on, little bro," Kevin put his arm around me, leading me away from the door. He pushed the elevator button. He shouldn't have bothered. The elevator never comes when I want it to. "It's okay. We're getting you out of here."

The door slid open.

How come it works for Kevin but not for me? He gently pulled me into the elevator then stood with his hand on the door to keep it open. "Brian, you should come, too, you don't want to stay here and look at that..."

Agreeing, Jack pushed Brian away from the doorway and guided him to the elevator as well. As soon as they were on the elevator, Kevin let the door shut and turned his attention on me.

He stepped closer...into my personal space. But I didn't make him back off. I was too numb to react.

People were dead.

Because of me.

His arms were around me, but I didn't have the strength to either push him off or return the hug. I wasn't sure which I wanted to do even if I did have the strength.

"God...Nick. You...we could have lost you..." he was saying.

That would have been better. Than nobody else would be dead. Walters and Harris would be alive. Maybe they'd be looking for me still, but they'd be alive. God, what if they had wives or kids...? Widows and orphans.

Because of ME.

Jack turned the security key so that it would bypass all the floors in between the basement and our floor.

The entire ride up, Kevin just kept blubbering about how sorry he was for what I must have gone through. It wasn't often that we got to see tough big brother Kevin blubbering, so I really wish I could enjoy it, but all I could think about was that those two men had been killed.

The elevator door slid open and Brian and Jack stepped off. A few moments later, Kevin seemed to realize that he was keeping me trapped there and he stepped off.

But I was still frozen in place. I didn't want to move. I stared at the key that Jack had left in the elevator to keep it from leaving. He was probably going back downstairs once we were "safe" in our rooms. I watched the others, who were still walking down the hall toward the rooms, not having noticed that I wasn't following.

Those men were dead. Caught in the crossfire. Casualties of my war.

I looked at the key again, a smile crossing my face. I knew what to do now. I pressed the button for the top floor and the door started to slide shut.

Just before it finished I saw Kevin turn. Our eyes connected for just a moment, but in that moment he saw everything. He knew what I was going to do.

"Nick, NO!" I heard him yelling and saw him turning to catch the elevator. But it was too late for him. The door was shut and I was on my way.

Nobody else was ever going to get killed because they were too close to ground zero. I wasn't going to let my friends die, like those men had. I wasn't worth it.

I closed my eyes and leaned back against the elevator wall, honestly relaxing for what seemed to be the first time in days. It was almost over. The elevator reached the top floor and I stepped out. Immediately I began walking down the hall, looking for the stairwell entrance. There it was, straight ahead. With just the sign I was looking for on it.

Roof Access.


I pushed open the door and started climbing. I could hear voices far below me.

"Nick. Stop!"

"Jesus, Frack, don't!"

"Damn it, Carter, get your ass back down here!"

Kevin. Brian. Even Jack. They didn't understand that I was doing this for them. For everyone, really. I had nothing left to lose other than them. But they could be saved. My pain would end and they would be free.

I practically flew to the top of that last set of steps and pushed the door open. Just a few more strides and I was standing on top of the world.

Well on top of a ledge, but that was as close as I was going to get.

The blanket I had wrapped around me was caught in the wind and was billowing around me as if it were a cape. The wind felt good against my cheeks and blowing through my hair. I tilted my head so I could look up at the sun and bathe in its glow one final time.

I closed my eyes, wishing I could feel the sun's warmth, but there was only cold left for me. This was the right thing to do.

Still clutching the blanket in my fists, I raised my arms. I imagined myself as a bird, the blanket my wings.

*I wonder if I'll really fly.*