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I heard the door from the stairs bang open. It was now or never. One little step and I'd be free. In all honesty, this really wasn't the way I wanted to go. If I had my choice, I'd rather be out on my boat and just drift endlessly into oblivion. But my boat is hundreds or maybe even thousands of miles away. I'm bad at geography; sue me. Maybe I should go home after all. Then I *could* go out on my boat. And nobody could get to me there. Of course that would mean facing my family. I didn't want them to see me like this but, if they've turned on a television in the past couple days they already have seen me like this. So, fuck it. What's the point?

Someone was coming up behind me; I could feel it.

Time to go.

I took a deep breath and inched my body forward, still not quite able to convince myself to actually jump. I wanted to, but I just couldn't seem to convince my feet of that. I just needed to move a couple more inches and everything would be fine. But I couldn't do it. Damn it, why couldn't I do this? It would make everything better if only I could end it! I wouldn't be in pain; my friends wouldn't be in danger and wouldn't have to worry about taking care of me and everything. There wouldn't be any more pain and humiliation. No more nightmares or visions of my body being violated. My soul would be free.

I closed my eyes, forcing myself forward another half inch. Maybe if I didn't look, it would be easier. I wanted to die. Didn't I? Wasn't that what I wanted? It was! I was sure of it!

So why couldn't I get my feet to move? I could do this. Raise one foot. Good, see, knew I could do it. Now just step forward. Damn it, step forward.

"NICKY, DON'T!!!!" I heard Brian's voice screaming.

My eyes flew open and I started to turn as I felt someone grabbing frantically at me from behind. Unfortunately, whoever it was set me off balance, sending my body twisting around to face them. I tried to compensate but in my haste, I stepped backward and toppled off the ledge.

For one insane moment I felt just like that coyote guy must have in those old Road Runner cartoons. You know that moment where he steps off the edge of the cliff and just hangs there for a few moments before he starts falling. That moment where suddenly he whips out that sign that says "Oops" or "Uh-oh". Talk about an understatement! I think my sign would be a lot more...colorful than that.

I know in reality I couldn't have actually been suspended there for even a second or two, but it sure seemed like it. It was like slow motion, or someone hit the pause button for a moment or something. There was nothing but air below me, but I wasn't falling. I just had that sick feeling in my stomach as I realized that I was about to go plummeting down a dozen stories to splat on the sidewalk below. And unlike Wile E., I probably wasn't gonna get up looking like an accordion--but otherwise okay--and get to start over.


In that moment I was frozen in the air, I saw Kevin's eyes wide with panic and his mouth rounded in a shocked little "o". His hands were still clinging to my blanket. He'd been the one grabbing me. And he would probably never forgive himself for this. I wished there were time for me to tell him that I didn't blame him, but of course there wasn't.

I heard Brian's voice screaming something, but didn't have time to decipher what it was. I was too busy falling. Someone had pressed the pause button again and things were starting to play out. There was nothing but air below me, and gravity was doing its job.

I didn't mean it! Well I did, but I was wrong! I didn't want to die! No! Please, God!

In an odd answer to my plea, I slammed hard into the side of the building. But suddenly I wasn't falling anymore. Why wasn't I falling? My feet were definitely not on solid ground. I was too afraid to move even a little in case whatever was holding me there decided to stop.

Whatever was holding me there, turned out to be Kevin. "Ohgodhelpme. NICK! Hold on! Don't let go! HELP ME!" How was I supposed to help him? I was way too busy clinging to my lifeline for dear life. My fingers were completely immobile; I couldn't have let go of the rope if I'd wanted to. Rope? Where'd that come from? No, not a rope; the blanket. See, I told you security blankets worked. Sorta.

I felt myself being dragged upward, scraping against the bricks. After being hauled up several feet I felt hands grabbing my wrists frantically. Hard enough I could feel the bones grating together, which hurt tremendously, but under the circumstances, it also was rather reassuring. Whoever it was wouldn't let me fall.

I looked up and saw that it was Brian and Jack hauling me back up. Each one had one of my wrists. My arms felt like they were being pulled out of their sockets, but still I couldn't let go of the blanket. I was completely frozen. But it didn't matter because a few moments later, I was on the right side of the ledge and my feet were back on solid ground. I was alive.

And for the moment anyway, relieved to be so. I never thought I'd feel that way again. I actually wanted to be alive. I turned to thank Kevin...and maybe make fun of him for knocking me off the ledge in the first place. Maybe not appropriate, but I hoped it would keep me from getting the inevitable guilt-inducing speech. I forgot about the teasing, though, the moment our eyes connected. He was still clinging to the blanket the same way I was. Like if either of us let go, I would instantly be plummeting to my death again.

"You stupid kid," Jack was swearing. "What the fuck do you think you were doing?"

Wasn't it obvious enough for you, Jack?

Of course I didn't say anything. I didn't need to. Everyone knew exactly what I'd been doing. It didn't need to be said aloud. I felt stupid enough, thanks.

"Nick..." Kevin was reaching toward me, but he didn't quite manage to touch me because something suddenly knocked me out of the way.

It took a moment to realize that Brian had pounced on me, knocking me over. And right as I realized that, I felt a harsh blow to my face. What the HELL? I tried to ask him, but he didn't give me a chance. His fist pulled back and was swinging toward my face again. Damn it wasn't one black eye enough?

And then he was being dragged off of me. I blinked, trying to get my bearings. Then immediately looked around for him. Jack was holding him back as he struggled wildly to get at me again. It took me a few moments to register that he was screaming at me. "You ever do anything like that again and I swear to GOD I will kill you myself." That's not a threat Brian would make lightly either. His words were angry, but when our eyes met, I saw that it wasn't rage that was driving him to attack me. I turned away quickly, unable to deal with the look of total devastation I had caused.

I wanted to apologize but I couldn't even find the words. That look alone was worse than any number of Kevin's speeches. Sorry, Brian! I didn't mean it! I wanted to tell him that, but I couldn't. I had meant it. At least until I'd actually started falling, I'd meant it.

Kevin was right there, immediately. "It's okay, Nicky. You just scared the hell out of him. He didn't mean to hit you." I could actually feel Kevin glaring at Brian as he said that. Brian did mean it, though; I could tell. He'd meant every punch. Not that I hold it against him; I'd probably do the same thing if our positions were reversed and I'd seen him nearly get himself killed. If he'd made me feel the way I'd made him feel. I knew the feeling of total helplessness and desolation all too well. And I'd caused it. As Kevin talked, I stared at Brian, who stared back at me with equal intensity, but neither of us said a word.

"Let's get you inside, okay?" Kevin continued, leading me away from the ledge quickly. He wrapped the end of the blanket he was still holding around me as we walked, but I still couldn't seem to bring myself to let go of my end. My fingers were still frozen, seemingly forever melded to the fabric. I felt like my body was turning to stone. Or considering how cold I felt, maybe one of those ice sculpture things. Could you imagine posing for one of those?

I was walking, but only because Kevin was prodding me along. Otherwise I don't know if I would ever have moved again. I was too busy realizing the enormity of what I had almost done.

I had almost killed myself. I'd nearly succeeded where my assailant had failed. And that scared me as much--if not more--than the flashes of memory that kept bombarding me. I didn't want to die like that. Going down without a fight wasn't my style. And especially I didn't ever want to cause Brian or anyone else to ever have that haunted look on their face again.

I don't remember going down the stairs. Or being led into one of the hotel rooms. Or even lying down in the bed. I was aware of Kevin gently trying to pry my fingers open to release the blanket but he gave up when I didn't relent. I couldn't. I wasn't ready to let go yet. He settled for pulling the blanket off the other bed and tucking it around me before gently tousling my hair and moving away from the bed. I was also aware of Brian sitting on the edge of the bed just staring at me, his expression a mixture of hurt and concern. At least he didn't have that same stricken look anymore.

I stared back at him, silently apologizing, wanting to promise him that I'd never do that again. I couldn't say the words, but I think he knew anyway because after a few moments he smiled a little, the worry fading as I smiled back.

I closed my eyes; too exhausted to keep them open any longer. But I didn't sleep. Instead I listened as everyone slowly gathered. I heard AJ asking what was going on and Kevin telling him, Howie, and who knew who all else all about it. I stopped listening to the words and focused instead on the sound of my heartbeat still pounding in my ears. Maybe if I listened to the steady rhythm long enough it would relax me. Because the indistinct whispering sounds were just making me feel sick. I knew it wasn't my attacker whispering, but it had the same effect. I shivered involuntarily.

"Shh. It's okay," Brian spoke in a low voice as he stroked my hair gently. He must've seen the minor quaking under the covers. I nodded, but didn't open my eyes. For several minutes I just lay there, trying to relax. Brian did his best to help, but the whispering was still getting into me. So why didn't I just ask them to go away or at least speak up or something? Come on, like I really would? It's embarrassing!

Finally I gave up on the idea of relaxing enough to sleep a little and started listening to what they were saying again. Maybe if I listened to the words instead of the hushed tones it wouldn't bother me so much.

"We have to cancel," I heard Kevin saying. Cancel? "He's not up to it. He needs some time off." Oh.

"Maybe it'd be better for him to get back into a routine, though," I heard a voice I couldn't place argue. Probably another of the management team.

"Damn it, he nearly killed himself today," Kevin sounded like he was barely containing his anger. Thanks for telling everyone, Kev. "He needs time to get himself back together. Last thing he needs is to worry about the tour and disappointing fans." Well actually I hadn't been worrying about that yet really, but now that he mentioned it... "We've rescheduled before. People will understand; they know what he's been through." No they don't. Not even I know what I've been through, and I sure as hell don't understand. "At least enough of it that they'll--"

"We think it will send the wrong message if we postpone more concerts. It will make things harder for him when he returns. I'm not asking that he performs tomorrow, but we shouldn't postpone any more shows. There's already a lot of speculation--"

Great. Speculation. Wonder what they're *speculating* about me now. You'd think I would be used to being *speculated* about by now. But it still makes me feel really weird. And in this case really humiliated since I bet I could guess a few of the rumors that were probably making the rounds. And many of them were probably at least close to being true. How was I supposed to face the fans after something like this? How was I supposed to deal with them wanting to touch me and hug me? I should just go home. My family has seen the damage by now anyway, what with every newspaper and television station plastering my rather pathetic new look all over the place. So there's really no point in not going home now. And it's not like the psycho would be able to follow me there. Right?

"I don't care about the *speculation*," Kevin shot back. I think everyone feels the need to emphasize that word for some reason. It's just one of those words, ya know? "I care about Nick getting through this. He should go home until they catch this guy." See, Kevin thinks I should go home too. So it's not just like me being all wimpy and running away. "And I don't think he'll leave the tour if we continue it. We should take a few weeks so he can rest. And he'll be safer at home. And he can maybe talk to somebody about this before he does anything drastic again. I think it'd be best for him--"

"Maybe what would be best for him is to get back into a normal routine. We can hire a therapist to travel with him if you would like."

Great, they were deciding what was best for me. And talking like I was crazy or something. Hiring someone for me to talk to--if I would like or if Kevin would like? Maybe they should ask me before they go making all these plans.

"Maybe you should ask him what he wants," Howie stepped in. Thanks, Howie. I'd been about to step in and mention that myself, but since he did, I just stayed quiet. I guess I was kind of curious where this was going to go.

"Kevin, I know you're all worried, and I don't blame you, but you're moving out first thing in the morning. We think it best that you guys continue the tour. The longer you stay off stage, the worse the fans are going to assume he is." Great. "Even if he's not there, the fans will be comforted by the fact that you guys are, which will mean that you're confident that he's going to be fine. So, no more discussion about it. You'll be in Phoenix by noon and they're expecting you guys--you, Howie, Brian, and AJ at any rate, Nick only if he's feeling up to it--at the arena by 3pm for light and sound checks." After a moment he added, "We all agree it will be good for him to get away from *here*, right?" That's what I've been saying (well, thinking anyway) all along. I never wanted to come back to the hotel. And once we were out of here, I wouldn't ever look back. I'd have to make sure we never scheduled any more concerts here. Sorry, local fans. "He can decide if he wants to come with us or if he wants to go home. Whichever way he chooses, we're behind him," Management Guy X said supportively. "We'll send Lon and Ed with him if he wants." There was a switch. Usually you could yarp up a kidney in the morning and they'd still expect you to perform that night. But of course I'm not bitter. "But we are continuing the tour." Now that's the Management Guy I don't know and love.

"What about the investigation? Shouldn't he stay here for that?" AJ asked. But I don't want to stay here, AJ!

"They've assigned the case to new agents," Management Guy informed us. I shifted a little so I could hear a little better. "They already have the information from Nick and are processing the crime scene downstairs. They do want to interview him one more time, but that can wait until he's rested a little." Great. Another interview. I sighed.

"I can go with you," Brian assured me quietly. "If you want."

"After that, they agree there's really nothing more he can do here until they have a solid suspect," Management Guy X continued. Damn, they still don't even have a good suspect? That's just wrong. Wasn't there that forensic stuff like on CSI that they were able to do to find the bad guy in an hour or so? Yeah, yeah I know that's TV time, not real, but still! "They'll want to interview all of us again as well."

"What?" AJ cut in. "Why do they need to interview us again?"

"Well, as you know, they ruled all of us out as suspects before because none of us left the hotel the entire time Nick was gone."

"So..." AJ prompted.

"Aje," Howie said quietly, "neither did Nick. That means it *could* have been one of us."

"That's bullshit."

"All they're going to do is interview us. I doubt we're really suspects," Howie assured him. "Are we?" he asked a moment later as if it were an afterthought.

"They're just covering all their bases. There's nothing to worry about. They don't really suspect you four," Mr. X. answered.

"So who do they suspect?"

"At this point, it's wide open again. They still think that it probably was a 'fan'. Especially considering the 'gifts'. But they want to talk to everyone on the crew to find out if anyone noticed anything out of the ordinary."

"Like what?"

"Well, since he was never removed from the hotel, they're looking into a few possibilities. They're cross referencing registered guests here at this hotel to the registered guests from our past several stops."

"That's messed up," AJ spoke the obvious. "They think this guy like was following us?"

"Not necessarily, but it is a possibility. The agents want to know about any interactions you guys had with any of the other guests here at the hotel before or after Nick's disappearance as well. There's a possibility that this man may have tried to initiate a conversation with you. He may have risked an interaction with Nick before taking him."

I thought back to that day. I hadn't really interacted with anyone. Well, no, that wasn't really true. I remembered the guy I'd literally run into in the lobby. I shuddered. What if it was that guy. He'd been creepy the way he'd glared at me. And, though I hadn't been watching where I'd been going, he might have been. What if he'd staged that? I tried to remember more clearly what he looked like. He was big, I do remember that. And he'd glared at me. I shuddered, imagining those steel grey eyes on me.

God it was him. That guy! It had to be. I bit my lip to keep from yelling that out. Cuz what if it wasn't him? They'd all laugh. Plus he wasn't the only possibility. There'd also been the guy in the elevator. What if it was one of those guys. They were big too. What if it was the guy I got milkshake on? Sort of like road rage, maybe he was the type to blow that sort of thing out of proportion. He got up to his meeting and noticed the milkshake and then come back for me to get revenge.

Okay, now who's the insane one? I'm getting paranoid. I know, I know, I was already paranoid, but I'm getting more so, okay? But I'd still mention both those possibilities to the agents when I had another interview.

I realized that Mr. X. was still talking. "Since he didn't take Nick out of the hotel, they think he may have wanted to be here to watch your reactions. He likely *enjoyed* being right under everyone's nose without getting caught."

"Do they think the guy is still here now?"

I held my breath and waited for the answer. Please say no, please say no.

"Yes." Damn. "And considering what happened earlier, they agree that it may be in Nick's best interest not to stay here any longer. They left this card to give to Nick in case he remembers anything more." Or decides to tell them what he has remembered. "And they can contact us if they need to ask any more questions or need to have him try to identify a suspect." If I could identify him, he'd be in jail already. Duh.

"They could call him at home, too," Kevin spoke up again. Even though I couldn't see him, I knew that Kevin was glaring daggers at the guy. I could picture the way his jaw was set, his eyes were almost bulging out, and his fists were clenching and unclenching. I could also picture the little funnel cloud thing forming above his head and the steam coming out of his ears.

"If that's where he wants to go, we'll get him there. Now, if you guys come with me, we'll go see if the agents are ready to talk to you. We can let Nick rest a little longer."

"I'm not leaving him here alone," Kevin admonished.

"Of course not," Management Guy X humored him. "There are guards right outside the door, but if you want, stay here and I'll come let you know when they're ready to talk to you. The rest of you, let's go."

The bed shifted as Brian got up. He gave my head one last pat before he obediently followed the others.

I heard the door closing and a few moments later Kevin sat down on the other bed, letting out a frazzled sigh. I finally opened my eyes and looked over at him.

"Hey, Little Brother," he greeted as he saw that he had my attention. His voice void of the anger he'd been letting out on Management Guy. Now he just looked tired. And old. Like he'd aged about 20 years in one day. "I thought you were asleep."


"Did you hear what we were talking about?"

I nodded.

"So...what do you think?"

I shrugged. I really didn't know. Going home sounded tempting. Very tempting. I could hide away for a while. My mom would totally pamper me. Hell, my sisters would probably totally pamper me. I would be getting my way forever. Well at least for a few weeks, but in my household that'd still be a record.

"I want to go home, Kev," I told him, embarrassed by the way my voice quivered a little.

Kevin smiled understandingly and patted my shoulder, tactfully ignoring the trembling. He nodded. "Okay. I'll see that they get you a flight out in the morning. Or do you want to go tonight? I'm sure they could get you a flight tonight if you want to."

"No," I replied quickly, even though that was tempting. I didn't want to seem like I was running away. Even if I was. "I'll stay with you guys tonight, if it's okay?"

Kevin reached forward and tousled my hair, grinning as I rolled my eyes at him. "Of course it's okay. We'll hang out in here or something and watch movies if you want."

I nodded. Movies. Can't go wrong with those. Unless they're like scary movies. Or they star Charlton Heston or something. (No offense to those of you who like the guy, but I just can't take the guy seriously after seeing Soylent Green. Okay after seeing the Saturday Night Live skit making fun of Soylent Green, but it's almost the same thing.)

Which fortunately the movie chosen was neither. And it had Sandra Bullock in it, so bonus even. Don't ask me how it ended though because I was asleep before it was even half way through. I'll have to rent it again some time, I guess. But it did take my mind off the interview that I'd had to give the agents. I told them everything. Well, almost everything. I didn't tell them that I remembered the attempted rape. I told them about the beatings and about the guy in the lobby and the guy in the elevator. They didn't seem all that impressed by it all, but then I think it's in the job description to not be easily impressed.

When I woke up I knew I'd been having another nightmare. I was soaking wet and freezing. Fortunately I couldn't remember anything of this nightmare. Though I could probably guess pretty easy what it was about. I glanced around and discovered that everyone else was still in the room and were asleep. Go figure. I sighed, realizing that I was fully awake and since it was only 3 in the morning, odds were that none of the others would really appreciate me waking them.

I carefully extracted myself from the bed, trying not to wake Brian who'd crashed next to me, or Kevin, who was on the floor. Somehow AJ and Howie had managed to snag the other bed instead of him. Kev could have gone back to his room and been comfortable, but then again that would have left him alone. Somehow I don't think it was entirely because of worry for me that they'd all stayed. Not after what happened earlier. As I stepped over Kevin, I noticed a piece of paper on the floor next to him. I reached down and picked it up. So I'm curious, okay?

From the offices of K. Richardson, MD, I read the top of the little paper. I smirked. Kevin a doctor? Riiiight. The smile faded as I read the rest of the page though. It was a prescription. For Ketamine. Signed by Kevin. I blinked. There was no mistaking the signature. I'd seen it thousands of times and knew it almost as well as I knew my own.

I looked down at Kevin, confused.


That's what AJ said that Kevin overdosed on. What the hell was going on?

I glanced at the prescription with Kevin's signature on it, then stared down at Kevin, chewing my lip nervously. Kevin had prescribed the Ketamine for himself? But why would he *do* that? It didn't make any sense.

Unless he did it so that he'd have an alib--no. Kevin wasn't the one who'd attacked me. I know he wasn't. That guy was bigger than Kevin. And had steel grey eyes. Plus Kevin wouldn't do that!

Would he?

I looked at the prescription in my hand again, noticing the way it was shaking. Of course that was only because my hand was shaking big time. "No," I insisted to myself. "He wouldn't." The guy was bigger than him, I reminded myself again. Or were my memories just that screwed up? "No!"

"Nick...?" I heard Howie mumble groggily.

"Sorry," I apologized quickly. I stepped over Kevin, feeling decidedly sick. I needed to get out of there. I needed to clear my head and get the crazy suspicions about Kevin out of my system. It wasn't Kevin. I know it wasn't. I crumpled the prescription into my fist. It wasn't going to get to me. It wasn't!

Okay, fine, I was.

I rushed for the door, needing out fast because I was going to completely lose it. I slipped out in the hall, unsure of where to go, but just needing to get out. Maybe the roof would be a--


I whirled around, surprised to be caught. I should have known that there would be someone guarding the room, but I guess I wasn't thinking straight.

"Where do you think you're going?" Ed asked with a slightly amused tone. The amusement left his face, though as he seemed to notice my trembling. "Are you okay, Nick?"

I started to nod, but then realized it was totally obvious I wasn't, so I shook my head instead.

"What's wrong?"

I couldn't say it. I couldn't tell him that I was suddenly very afraid of my "big brother". Over some stupid note that was probably just a prank. I mean, it's not like Kevin is a doctor and could write prescriptions. It was a sick joke.

I'd believe that a lot easier if it were from a Dr. McLean.

Kevin's just not the type to pull pranks like that. Especially not when he *knows* how freaked out I am.


I couldn't tell him. What if he told Lon? What if they called the police or the FBI? Would the arrest Kevin? I clutched the prescription tighter. I didn't want Kevin to go to jail. He wasn't the one; he wasn't involved at all. I felt my eyes starting to sting.

I hated doubting him.

I shook my head again, clutching the crumpled paper tighter in my fist. Which of course, drew Ed's attention, damn it.

"What've you got there?"

My heart sank. I didn't want to tell. "Please...Ed, don't."

He looked confused. "Don't what? Nick, what's going on?"

I sighed. "I don't..." I shook my head again.

"Will you show me?"

I bit my lip. "Ed, I...can't."

He immediately got even more serious. "Is it another threat? Let me see it," he reached out for it.

"No, it's not a threat," I protested, clutching it tighter.

Ed frowned. "Kid, if someone's threatening you, even if they've told you not to tell anyone, we need to know."

"It's not a threat!" I insisted.

Ed nodded. "Okay. I'm sorry. I just want to help, Nick," he said in a quiet voice.

He sounded so hurt. I felt terrible. Of course he wanted to help. I lowered my head, feeling ashamed. Besides, maybe if I told him about it he'd just reassure me that it was just some sort of prank or something. Maybe he could make me feel better about this. But what if he took it seriously and told Lon or something? I took a deep breath, not sure what my decision was going to be until I started to speak. "It's not a threat, but...Promise me that you won't tell *anyone* about this?" He nodded, so I dropped the prescription into his outstretched hand.

He quickly uncrumpled it and read it. For a moment he just stared at it, then looked up at me with an appraising look. "This is a joke, right?" I smiled. Thank god. He thought it was a joke, too. Okay. I'm glad I showed it to him. "Kevin wouldn't..." he trailed off, looking thoughtful.

Why didn't he complete that?

And why was he looking so worried all of a sudden?

"What?" I asked, afraid of the answer.

Ed shook his head. "It's probably nothing."

"Probably?" Ed looked like he was debating whether to tell me something or not.
"What don't you want to tell me?"

Ed frowned. "It's just that the day you disappeared..." He shook his head. "It's nothing."

"What? What about the day I disappeared?!" I snapped. I was getting a little pissed off at the way he wouldn't just tell me whatever it was. Okay so I'm a little hypocritical, who isn't?

Ed looked at me critically and I felt a little guilty for snapping at him. "It's just that Kevin...he was pretty mad at you. He...said some stuff."

I almost started to laugh. That was what Ed was so worried about telling me? I smiled. "Yeah, he told me about that. It didn't mean anything. He was pissed off and blowing off some steam, I know that."

But Ed shook his head, still obviously distressed. "You don't understand...I thought that too. In fact if you hadn't given me this, I would still be thinking that. But, Nick, he said that he was going to--"

The door to the room opened and Ed immediately shut up, giving me a look that he'd tell me whatever it was later. I nodded reluctantly and turned to see Howie coming out into the hall.

"Nick are you okay?" Howie peered at me with concern. He glanced at Ed, looking slightly suspicious. Probably because of the way he'd shut up so quick when Howie had opened the door.

I nodded. "Yeah. I'm okay...I just had a nightmare, that's all," I said quickly. I could tell Howie knew I wasn't telling him everything, but he didn't push it. "Sorry I woke you and all."

"It's okay, Kaos," Howie assured me. "I fell asleep early anyway. I swear one minute I was really into the movie and the next I couldn't keep my eyes open to save my life..."

It was like he'd been drugged or something. I closed my eyes, feeling sick. What if he had been? What if Kevin had--

"Anyway, we can both sleep on the bus if we want...why don't we watch the rest of the movie? Get your mind off the nightmare for a bit. I can grab it from here and we'll go in and watch it in the other room or something."

I glanced at Ed, still wanting to know what he was going to tell me. But the look on his face pretty much told me that it wasn't going to happen. At least not right now. Not with Howie around. Damn it. I nodded. "Yeah, that sounds good, D..."

Howie ducked back into the room to go grab the tape.

"Nick...promise me you'll be careful. And...don't be alone with Kevin," Ed warned me in a very quiet voice. Before I could respond to that at all, Howie was back and pulling me into Kevin's vacant room so we could watch the movie.

I tried to watch. I really did. But my mind was all over the place. Mainly on what Ed had started to tell me. And on the prescription. And on Kevin. He couldn't be involved in this. He just couldn't.

I didn't realize that Howie had stopped the movie until I felt his hand drop lightly onto my shoulder. He had knelt down next to me and was looking at me intently. And speaking to me. Oops, suppose I ought to pay attention. "Sorry, Howie. Guess I was kind of spacing there."

Howie grinned slightly. "Yeah, I could see that." He sat down next to me. "Now why don't you tell me what you were thinking about so hard you haven't heard a word I've said in the last five minutes?"

I felt my face turning red. He'd been trying to talk to me for five minutes? "I'm so--"

Howie raised his hand to stop me from apologizing and smiled. "It's okay. I'm just worried about you. Want to talk about...it?"

"About what?" I asked dumbly. I knew, of course, but...stalling was good.

Howie rolled his eyes. "If you don't want to, it's okay, but I want to help...we all do." I felt guilty again. It must have shown on my face because Howie started talking again. "It's okay, Nick. You've been so strong through all this. I don't know what I would do if I were you..." He paused a moment before continuing. "It's been hard enough...God, when you were missing..." he stopped abruptly. I looked over at him, my curiosity peaked. He looked over at me apologetically. "Sorry, it's not as bad as what *you* went through."

I felt myself blushing again. "No, it's okay. Tell me about it...?"

Howie sighed. "When you didn't show up at the arena for checks and everything we all were mad. At Kevin for not bringing you back with him. At Geo and Ed when they didn't bring you with them when they came over. At you..." He didn't elaborate, but he didn't need to. They were pissed that I was being my 'usual irresponsible self' as Kevin has put it so many times. I really don't think I'm that irresponsible, but...I admit I do have the tendency to be late now and then. But not when it's really important. "But then you didn't show up at all. And when we found out what had happened at the hotel we were all freaking. And then we couldn't do anything but wait. That was...I can't even tell you how scared we all were. Brian barely said anything to anyone. He spent most of the time over at St. Mary's. And AJ...he flipped. He practically destroyed everything in our room...And Kevin..."

I stiffened at the mention of Kevin's name. I didn't mean to, it just happened. And it didn't go unnoticed.

"Kevin was the worst of all of us, Nick. He felt so awful that he'd gotten mad and left you alone. He just locked himself in his room and wouldn't see or even talk to anyone. We had to have security check in on him now and then just to make sure that he was there and that he was alive."

So...he could have gone out at some point and nobody would have noticed. I felt my stomach clenching. What if my memory had substituted the unknown guy with Kevin...cuz it knew I couldn't deal with the thought that Kevin had been the one who hurt me? I'd heard of that sort of thing happening. I squeezed my eyes shut. It couldn't be.

"Nick?" I opened my eyes to find that Howie was staring at me with that concerned look again. "Kevin was mad, but he loves you, you know." Howie had obviously mistaken my reaction to his mentioning Kevin as being that I was afraid he hated me or something. Which maybe he really did. I was always messing up.

"I know," I replied, even though I wasn't so sure anymore. I hated that doubt, but I couldn't deny that it was there and getting stronger. I needed to know what Ed was going to tell me.

"Nick, he does. You should have seen him." Perhaps I did, Howie. "You're not...scared of him, are you?"

I guess I wasn't as good at hiding my thoughts as I hoped. I shook my head. "No, it's just that..." I took a deep breath. "I don't know what to think anymore. I don't know. Everything's just really messed up. I think Kevin..." I stopped. I couldn't say that. I looked away from Howie, not wanting him to see the fear in my eyes.

"You think Kevin what, Nick?"

I shook my head. "It's dumb. I mean my memories tell me that it was this big guy--bigger than Kevin and everything. And he had these like horrible grey eyes. Not green, grey. It couldn't have been Kevin...but..."

"Nick? You don't really think that Kevin...do you?" Howie sounded shocked.

"Of course not," I said too quickly.

"Oh...geez. Nick...Kevin wouldn't do anything like that. Why do you think he might?"

I said I didn't think that! So I'd been lying, but still! I shook my head. "I don't know. I hate this! Nothing makes sense! I know Kevin wouldn't...do that, but I can't help it. I found this prescription thing...for Ketamine."

Howie looked confused. "Isn't that what they said they found in Kevin's system?"

I nodded miserably. "Yeah...but...the prescription was like in Kevin's name. He like signed it and everything. And I thought maybe it was a prank or something but Ed..." I stopped, looking helplessly at Howie. "What if Kevin did have something to do with it?"

Howie smiled sympathetically. "He didn't. I'm sure of it...Why don't you tell me *everything* and we'll figure it out together, huh?"

Everything. I swallowed hard. How was I supposed to tell him everything? I didn't want anyone to know! I didn't want him to see how pathetic I really was. I didn't want to--

"Come on, Nick. It's okay...I know you don't want to talk about it, but I think it will really help. Would you rather talk to me, or to Brian?" He started getting up as if he were going to go get Brian right then.

I shook my head quickly, reaching up and grabbing his hand. "No, I'll talk to you...if it's okay."

Howie nodded. "Of course it is." He sat back down. "Tell me everything."

And I did.

Absolutely everything that I could remember. The shower. The beatings. My escape attempts. Every detail I could remember about the guy. My flashbacks. My near suicide on the roof. Everything. Right up to and including that damned prescription thingie.

Howie listened intently, interrupting me only a couple times to ask really dumb questions. Like was it dark out when he beat me and stuff like that. Like it really mattered? He also asked me some stuff about the guy, but at least those questions made sense.

When I was finally done talking, I was exhausted. I looked at Howie, trying to figure out what he was thinking about me by then. He smiled reassuringly. "So...do you think I could just be remembering the guy wrong? I mean...the prescription and everything. Maybe I just don't want to remember that it was...Kevin?"

Howie shook his head. "I'm sure it wasn't Kevin, Nick. Positive of it." He sounded *very* positive. I looked at him questioningly. He looked every bit as positive as he sounded. That made me feel a lot better. "And...I think they're going to find this guy. Soon."

"You really think so?"

Howie nodded. "Yeah, in fact--" He was interrupted by a knock on the door. Damn it, someone always interrupts right when someone's gonna tell me something really important. "Who's there?"

"It's me," I heard AJ on the other side of the door.

"Come on in," I called.

"We're loading the bus now," AJ announced as he bounded into the room. "You all are having a party and didn't invite me? What's up with that?" He continued without waiting for an answer. "Kevin thought you guys should get up. We've already packed your stuff, but figured you might want to get dressed and everything. And we'll do breakfast before Nick's flight."

Howie looked at me. "You're going home?"

I shrugged. "Yeah...I don't know. I think it might be safer there, you know?"

Howie nodded. "Yeah...I know that's what Kevin thought, too." I could just feel the 'but' hanging there.

"You don't think so?"

Howie smiled. "It doesn't matter what I think. You do what you think is right."

I hate it when he does that. "No, really. Do you think I should stay?"

"Well...I just think it'd be worse being at home. I'd be at home and afraid to go out anywhere. You'd have guards and everything but you'd be alone."

"I wouldn't be alone. My family would be there..."

"And you could deal with them all 24/7 for how long?" AJ broke in. On a good day, about half an hour.

Howie swatted him playfully. "Let him make up his own mind, Bone."

"Seriously. If you think Kevin's bad, just wait until your family gets to fawn all over you. They won't leave you alone for an instant. Hell, I bet your mama follows you into the bathroom."

God he was probably right. Okay maybe not about mom following me, but still. They'd pamper me like crazy, but that would get awful annoying real fast when they wouldn't just let me be alone. AJ had a point. I grinned back. "Yeah I know. I love my family, but they are a bit much..."

AJ nodded. "I know. It's a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there." Howie swatted him again and gave him a 'be nice' sort of look. I would miss this if I went home.

"Maybe..." They both looked at me expectantly. "I'll just go with you guys to Phoenix."