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There was something very wrong with this. I should have gone home. Damn Howie for not telling me that he thought I should go home. Damn Kevin for not insisting I get on that plane. Damn Brian for being all supportive...well okay just damn Brian on general principles.

And especially damn AJ for this really bad idea.

Just because I came along to Phoenix didn't mean I necessarily had to perform. Management Guy even said that. It was up to me. And stupidly, I'd decided to go on. Why, you ask? (You're supposed to ask why here, okay?) Why?! Um...well...actually it just seemed like a good idea at the time. I mean, it'd be a pretty good distraction from everything that's going on. And it'd give me a chance to feel like things were normal again. Plus it'd be an assured safe two and a half hours. No one would be insane enough to try to get to me in front of thousands of witnesses. Right? Right. So I not only agreed but insisted that I be part of the show.

Which unfortunately led to the realization that we'd have to do some major reblocking of the show since I couldn't move around as well as usual, which made it so that I couldn't cross the stage quickly and frequently as I usually do during the show. And if I couldn't move, that would mean that the other guys wouldn't be able to as much either because they'd keep running into me and stuff. So...we had to reblock. Or so we thought until AJ came up with his "brilliant" idea.

Why is it that his ideas usually end up with me nearly getting myself killed?

"Are you sure about this?" I asked, looking at Howie. If anyone was going to be sensible enough to put an end to this, it was Howie. Usually I'd say it was Kevin, but considering that I wasn't sure how much I should trust him, I wasn't counting on that. Then again, Howie was the one who stuck a knife in my back. Sure it was a dream, but they say something about how dreams are supposed to be unconscious--or subconscious (whatever)--thoughts. So what if that subconsciousness thing was trying to tell me something? Maybe I shouldn't trust Howie either? But surely *Howie* couldn't have had anything to do with my being kidnapped. I mean...come on, that was even more ridiculous than Kevin! He's like half my size! (Okay exaggeration, but the point is, even on my worst day and his best day...Howie can't overpower me--at least not that easily.) Still...the way he'd been so confident when he told me Kevin wasn't involved...it was like he knew something. I found myself eyeing Howie nervously. It had seemed reassuring at the time he'd said it, but now I wasn't so sure. Maybe he knew too much about what happened to me.

When Howie looked up, I quickly turned away and looked at Brian. I could trust Brian for sure. Couldn't I?

"If you don't want to do it, we could just have you sing from backstage or something," Brian suggested. "We could set up a mic back there..."

No way. I shook my head. I really didn't want to hide backstage. That would probably only make the fans think I'd been horribly disfigured or something. Okay, so I wasn't looking that great, and it was going to take a lot of time in the dreaded makeup chair to make me look reasonable, but at least the fans would be able to tell I wasn't like horribly scared and broken.

Besides, this might not be so bad. Sure, I hadn't really been on a skateboard since I was like eleven (okay seventeen, but don't tell management) but it's probably like riding a bike.

I pushed off and went sailing swiftly across the stage. Oops. Probably a little too swiftly, I realized as I caught Kevin's slightly frazzled expression as I glided past. Okay, fine. I shifted my balance and slowed, spinning to a stop on my mark. Oh yeah, I could still do this.

As we continued through the run-through, I got more confident and started having some fun at Kevin's expense. It was fun to see his eyes bulge out when I grinded off the platform and when I aired over a gap in the platforms. It really wasn't easy when I wasn't able to bend my knee but it was worth it to bug the hell out of Kev. I even forgot all about being scared of him for a while there. Like everything was normal and he wasn't possibly out to get me.

We only got a short break between the checks and the concert. I caught Ed watching me as we all hung out in the greenroom. I still hadn't gotten a chance to talk to him and find out what he was going to tell me about Kevin. Ed nodded at me once, and then tipped his head toward the hallway. I glanced around at the others. They were all busy doing their own things, so I figured I may as well go out and see what Ed had to tell me.

I got up and headed out after Ed.

"So..." I prompted as we headed out into the otherwise empty hallway.

"Walk with me," Ed said, heading farther from the greenroom. "I don't want Ke-anyone to overhear us." He glanced nervously toward the closed greenroom door. Kevin was asleep anyway, but still, I guess it would be really bad if he did overhear Ed talking about him. So after hesitating only a moment I nodded and followed after him. He was walking a little fast for me to keep up real well. It was obvious he was really nervous about what he wanted to tell me. Which made sense, since I was really nervous about hearing it.

We rounded the corner at the end of the greenroom's hallway. We were far enough away, I figured. Any farther and we'd be outside. So I stopped walking. Ed kept going...it seemed he fully intended to go outside. Except when he realized I wasn't following him, he turned to come back for me. "We should go out..." he informed me as he took hold of my arm. Instinctively, I jerked away. He looked at me with an expression of annoyance. I did it again. I didn't mean to keep pulling away. His expression changed quickly to an apologetic one. "Sorry. I didn't think..." he looked away as though ashamed.

"Nah," I forced myself to sound playful. "You know me, I'm just jumpy."

"Nick?!" I heard Howie's voice echo through the hall. Ed gripped my arm again, raising his other hand to his face and pressing his finger to his lips, signaling me to stay quiet. He looked very worried. His hold tightened as Howie called my name again. He sounded closer this time, and slightly panicky. "Nick!?"

Ed scowled. "Let's get outside. We need to talk."

I hesitated. "I should at least tell him where we're going to be. I don't want them thinking I got grabbed again or something." I shuddered at the idea. Of course if they were behind it, they would know if I was grabbed. But Kevin and Howie weren't the ones behind it, I reassured myself again. I had to get that completely out of my head. If they'd done it, why would they be all worried about me? Unless they were worried I figured it out. Damn it. I had to stop thinking that way. Even if the evidence was pointing in their direction.

"But you have to know what Kevin said...and I think that maybe How--"

I cut him off as Howie called out again, sounding even more freaked.

"I have to tell him where we're gonna be."

Ed looked fairly frazzled, and at first I thought he was going to tell me no, but then he nodded reluctantly. Of course that probably had something to do with the fact that Howie had just come skidding around the corner.

"Nick!" Howie stopped running, and looked at me with what appeared to be relief. "There you are. You had me worried," he admitted softly. "I was about to go get security to call the police..."

"That'd be overreacting a bit don't you think? I was gone for less than two minutes." I couldn't help but laugh. But I cut that short when I saw how serious he looked. Oh. Then again a lot could happen in just two minutes. Like I could pick pepperoni off two pizzas.

Howie glanced at Ed with a strange look on his face. Ed gave him an equally strange look in exchange. What was up with that? Howie looked away quickly and focused on me again. "We need to go back to the greenroom," he informed me.

"Okay. I'll be just a minute," I informed him. "I just have to talk to Ed a minute okay?"

Howie glanced at Ed again then back to me. "Can't it wait? We're on in just a few minutes and we need to discuss some last minute things...and last minute costume and mic checks and everything..." Ed's hold tightened on my arm again and I got annoyed. It kind of hurt he was gripping so hard. I pulled away from him again.

"Okay...I better go see what they want. We'll talk after the concert okay?" I suggested to Ed.

He looked very annoyed but he nodded. "Okay...but be careful out there tonight," he warned.

I grinned. "Yeah like anything is going to happen to me in front of thousands of fans?" I shook my head. "I don't think so."

Ed hesitated again, then nodded back. "Just...be on alert," he repeated, giving Howie another strange look. What was that about? He thought that Howie might be in on it too? He'd started to say something about Howie before we were interrupted, I realized. But I didn't have time to dwell on that. I had to go and make sure everything was in place for quick changes and everything, so whatever Ed had to say would just have to wait until after the concert. Until then, I had to be in performance mode, let my stage persona take over again. Nothing was wrong. Nothing scared me. I trusted my brothers completely. I'm in control. Everything would go smoothly.

And the concert did go smoothly through the first half. I got a few laughs and cheers for some of my skateboard stunts (I use that term loosely, others might use the term 'antics')--and Kevin got lots of laughs for yelling at me to be careful. Right in the middle of a song once even. Whoever says that we lip sync at concerts is now completely proved wrong.

It was good to be back in the spotlight in a good way. I forgot all about being frightened and hurt. The cheers pulled me right out of the depression I'd been fighting ever since my kidnapping. I love my life. I love the fans. Really I do.

I carefully positioned my skateboard over my lift as the song ended. Bye folks, see you at the back of the arena. The lift dropped quickly. As always my stomach stayed up top for a few moments, but I'm used to it and recovered quickly.

AJ clapped me on the back as he passed, ushered along by Ryan as Ed trailed along behind us, making sure the hallway stayed clear of arena employees and anyone else who might wander backstage. Kevin just shook his head as he passed by me. I could hear him muttering something that sounded suspiciously like "show-off".

I grinned at him, trying to act as if everything was normal between us. I pushed off and sailed past him. "It's why you love me," I teased.

Would you believe that Kevin actually gave me the finger?

Okay fine, he didn't, but he did shake his head disapprovingly and yelled at me to be careful again. He really is that predictable at times. I just wish he were completely predictable.

We ducked into our dressing room to make the costume change. There was a couple minute break while they showed that film clip thingie and then we'd pop up at the back of the arena.

I grabbed my costume from the rack and plopped down on the bench. It was a good thing we had a couple minutes for this because trust me, it is not fun to try and change quickly while wearing a leg brace. I ripped the velcro fasteners open and groaned as I heard the pepper spray container hit the floor and start rolling away. Damn, I forgot about that thing.

I quickly changed my pants and fastened the brace again, then threw on the new shirt. Everyone else was done getting changed, but they were waiting for me. How embarrassing. I got up and went back to the rack for my duster...it wasn't there. Shit! It had been there when we'd done the pre-show check. Hadn't it? I know I looked to make sure everything was there and I hadn't noticed it missing. But then I guess I couldn't specifically remember it being there. I would have noticed though. Wouldn't I? Damn it!

I looked around frantically. I needed that. It had my silly string in it. I couldn't go out there unarmed!

"Missing something?" Kevin asked, sounding slightly annoyed. We didn't have much time before we had to be in place.

"Yo! Nicky!" AJ called as he shoved something at me. "I think this is yours," he said with a grin. My duster.

I grinned and grabbed it from him. "Thanks, J." I put it on quickly and checked the inside pocket to make sure my silly string was in place. Perfect. Except...there was something else there, too.

I pulled whatever it was out.

A dead carnation. A very dead carnation. I think it might have been red at some point because I could see just a touch of that behind the blackened petals that started to crumble at my touch. How...nice? How long had that been rotting in there? I don't remember ever getting a flower while wearing the coat, but I guess I must have. There was a tag tied to it. "Tonight" it read on the side facing me. Tonight what?

I suddenly had a really really bad feeling about this. But I flipped the card over anyway. My feeling was right. More lyrics. "I've been watching you; You've been watching me; Let's stop playing games..." I dropped the flower and stumbled back away from it like it were poison.


This wasn't happening.

My stage persona was suddenly nowhere to be found. I was not in control. I probably never really was. That had all been an illusion. *He* was the one in charge. He was watching me.

He was here.

In Phoenix.

In the fucking concert venue.

My blood suddenly ran cold as I made the last realization: He’d been in our dressing room!

"Nick, let's go!" AJ called from the doorway.

They hadn't noticed there was anything wrong. Or they were choosing to ignore it. Or they already knew.

I could feel my body starting to shake as I stared at the dead flower on the floor. My eyes filled with tears. Damn it not now! I can't do this. I can't. I can't cry and then go out there. I blinked rapidly, trying to get myself under control. No. This wasn't happening.

Maybe the guy had put the flower in there before. Maybe it was referring to my kidnapping. What if he'd put it there before our last concert but then he'd seen his opportunity to grab me at the hotel so I'd never gotten it?

Please please let that be the case. That would explain why the flower was dead. Maybe it'd been there for a week and a half.

But...someone had to have moved my coat. I would have noticed if it were missing from the rack before the show. I know I would have. It’s not like we have *that* many costume changes, and the duster is pretty big, I would have noticed it missing.

I couldn't stop the shaking, and I knew that stopping the tears was a lost cause. I couldn't help it. I swiped at the tears quickly, trying to at least stop them from screwing with makeup.

"Nick?" Brian was suddenly right next to me. "Nick are you okay?" His eyes were wide. "Jesus...what's wrong?! You’re...shaking. What happened?"

"Sixty seconds to places!" called from down the hall. "Get your asses down here *now*!"

"Shit!" Brian actually swore. "We need to delay!" he yelled back.

"NO!" I protested quickly. "I'm okay. We have to go."

Brian looked at me as if I were crazy. "You can't go out there like--"

"I can't stay here!" I retorted quickly, pushing past him. I'd go onstage. That was the only damn place I would be safe. I swiped another round of tears. Damn it! I was going to look like an idiot out there. But at least I'd be a safe idiot.

The guy was in the dressing room. He'd put that in my pocket. He was there! Nobody could get to our dressing room. Except...the guys. Kevin. Howie. Either of the could have. Or...AJ was the one who had my duster. I could hear myself whimpering and felt like I was going to pass out. What if they were all in on it? Why were they doing this to me?

"Nick...you should sit down. Lie down maybe?" Brian was saying. "We can do the rest of the show without--"

"NO!" I protested again, practically shouting. He didn't understand. The stage was the only place I was safe. They couldn't hurt me there. They couldn't...not until the show was over. Then...I was so screwed. They were all in on it. And they were going to kill me. Tonight.

"Thirty seconds!" the crewman called again.

I hurried out of the dressing room, navigated the steps as best I could to get down under the back stage area, and used my board to get me to my spot with just a couple seconds or so to go before the platform started to rise. Going to the only place I was safe. The show must go on.

I noticed that the other guys were all watching me worriedly. Probably worried about me getting away somehow. I shivered as I closed my eyes and tried to talk myself into calming down. Where was my stage persona when I needed him?

"You don't have to do this," Brian whispered even as the platform was rising. What did he expect me to do, leap off now? It would save them the trouble of killing me later, I guess. But I shook my head and took one last swipe at the tears streaking my face. I probably had that mascara crap running down my cheeks. Great.

If I did, though, the audience didn't seem to care. They cheered hysterically as we rose into their view. I did my best to smile and waved at the fans, all the while still trembling uncontrollably. I know I sounded terrible as we started to sing, but apparently the fans didn't notice or care about that, either. Or maybe they just couldn't hear my weak trembling voice over the sound of their screaming. Possible.

The guys heard me, though. They were all stealing glances over at me the whole time. I just kept going, trying to pretend that I was okay. I was going to die tonight. They were going to kill me. They were all in on it and they were going to kill me. Oh god. I was going to be sick. Now *that* would be something the fans would never see coming.

I had to get myself under control. Nothing was wrong. We’re in a performance now. The Nick Carter with worries, insecurities, fears and a fucking stalker (or four) does not exist on stage. Remember? Cool, calm, and completely in control.

It wasn’t working.

It couldn't be the guys. They wouldn’t do that to me. They’re my brothers. Sure they get irritated with me from time to time, but nothing that serious that they’d want to hurt me like that. It was someone else. It had to be. Some random 'fan'. Please just some random fan. That's it. A random fan. Here at the arena tonight. Watching me. In which case, being on the back-of-the-audience platform was not a good place to be. The audience is a little too close and there was very little holding them back. Normally that didn't really bother me; I usually love the adrenaline that comes with being mobbed, I admit it. But knowing that my attacker could be out there somewhere...it made me nervous being so close to the audience. Sure, security was there to make sure nobody managed to actually get up on the platform or anything, but it didn't make me feel much better. Don't get me wrong. I wasn't kidding when I said I love the fans...I just prefer to admire them from afar right now, you know?

I was relieved when the bridge lowered and I began to cross back to the safety of the front stage. And away from the other guys a little bit. Maybe as soon as the last song was done I just wouldn't go offstage with them. Just in case. I'd wait there until security came and got me and then I'd just go lock myself in my hotel room. But they got into my hotel room before. Brian had the key to my room. He could have given it to Kevin.

I was so screwed.

I ignored my fear and tried to act normal. I moved to the railing a couple times and waved at the fans who were swarming the bridge like they always do. I tried to lean down to touch hands a little bit, but it wasn't working very well because it was slowing me down too much not to be able to bend my knee and ya gotta *really* lean over the rail a lot to even have a chance at reaching. Besides, I was the one who was usually expected to get my butt to the other side of the bridge first so I couldn’t really take the time anyway. We should have changed our order, but hey, I did have my skateboard so it wasn't too hard to get there and stop on my mark so that we were fairly evenly spaced across the bridge.

I stepped off the board and moved again to the railing, smiling out at the fans as they crowded around the bridge. I could take my time a little bit here since I didn't have to move along until the others started moving again and caught up to me. So I leaned my entire weight against the rail so I could lean down farther.

I think I knew it was going to happen a split second before it actually did because suddenly I was struck with an even more overwhelming fear than before. I was going to fall. And it was like I completely froze so there was not a thing that I could do about it. There was a loud creaking noise and before I could recover from my fear and pull back, the railing broke and dumped me into the crowd.

Cheers turned to screams as I toppled off the bridge and into the mob of teenage girls. I felt hands trying to grab me and keep me from falling, but it was a lost cause. I was too big and heavy for the girls that were trying to help. I involuntarily cried out as I struck the ground hard. Add a broken shoulder to the list of injuries. Ow. Fuck!

I must've yelled that last thing aloud because I could hear it echoing throughout the whole arena. Oops. Great time for my mic to be live. Maybe we should look into the lip syncing thing for future concerts. I'd never hear the end of that from AJ. Or from the parents who were probably now going to declare me as a horrible influence on their teenage daughters. Whoops. Oh who was I kidding, I would never live to be in a concert again. So swearing in front of an audience was the least of my worries.

"Nick!" I heard Brian's voice booming above the noise of the girls crowding around me. His mic was still live, too. "Nick, are you okay?"

"I fell off the bridge, what do you think?" I muttered, only to hear it amplified. I cried out involuntarily as I tried to get up and pain overwhelmed my body.

"Everybody move back!" AJ's panicked voice chimed in with Brian. Nobody paid attention and I became aware that lots of people were starting to crowd around me.

Damn it, someone turn off the mics! I knew I was about to lose it. Fortunately someone else had the same idea because I suddenly couldn't hear the high pitched whimpering echoing anymore.

I felt hands grabbing at me. Hands pulling at my arms, at my legs. Cloth was tearing. Hands in my hair. Hands. Ripping me to shreds. Tearing at my clothes. Ripping my blanket away from me. No. No blanket. My duster was gone, though. I tried to curl into a little ball but I couldn't. People had my arms and legs and I was being pulled in every direction at once. The wire was cutting into my wrists as my arms were lashed to the pipe over my head. No. No. No.

I began to scream as I felt my shirt being yanked really hard, nearly choking me before it suddenly gave way, ripping away from my skin. Leaving me exposed to his leering eyes. No. No. I was yanked roughly to my feet. My knee was throbbing with horrible pain--the brace had given way and was no longer supporting me. Every movement I made felt like a knife was slicing down the length of my leg.

"Everybody get back! Don't hurt him!" I could hear some fans yelling, but still the hands were still everywhere. Grabbing. Ripping. Clawing. "Get back!"

I began struggling with every last bit of strength I could find, getting my limbs free from my captors...no, not captors. Fans. They weren't trying to hurt me. Weren't trying to tear me apart. Oh god help me. I tried to move only to stumble. I felt hands against my bare back, pushing me. I stumbled and fell once again to the ground as more hands reached.

He dragged me back down the hall, not giving me a chance to get up and walk on my own. I knew what was coming. No. Please don’t. The tears were blinding me as I felt his hands violating my body. No. No. No, no, no. The weight of his body was pressing me to the floor. I was helpless to stop his intrusion.

don't touch me don't touch me don't touch me

I wasn’t pinned. He wasn’t here. It was just the fans. I tried to crawl through the maze of legs and hands that still grabbed for me. I could feel my leg convulsing sending waves of pure agony through my entire system. My vision was getting blurred by the tears that were by then running rampant again.

More hands grasped my body and pulled me back to my feet. I didn't know which way to go. Which way? I looked back up toward the bridge. AJ was yelling something that I couldn't hear and pointing over toward where I was. I couldn't see Brian at all. Where did Brian go? I looked the other way down the bridge and saw Howie and Kevin. Howie was tugging frantically on Kevin's arm and was obviously telling him something...while he was pointing over toward me.

For a moment it was like tunnelvision. I could see Kevin clearly. For that moment it was like there was nothing else in the arena but me and him. He was staring directly at me and our eyes locked. He looked...insane. Pure fury. Oh fuck. And then suddenly he was running the other direction, back across the bridge toward the back of the audience.

I had to get out of there. He was going to kill me. I struggled to get myself free from the hands that bound me.

"Let us through!" I heard a woman's voice from right behind me screaming and I felt someone pushing me forward. My knee tried to buckle, but someone else caught me and held me up. And then I was being half dragged down the row of seats. By then most of the fans were backing away and it'd gotten a lot quieter. Well a lot less loud, but it was hardly quiet. I think they'd finally realized that I was hurt and terrified. What gave it away? My shaking, or my tear-streaked cheeks? “You’re okay,” I heard the woman’s voice again as she and a few others helped me to the end of the row. “Your security guard’s right over here...”

And then suddenly someone else was there, grabbing me and throwing me over their shoulder. "Back away, let us through," a familiar voice bellowed. I was carried swiftly through the crowd and through a side door as arena security opened the door for us.

Once the door shut, the sound of the crowd was completely gone. Blocked by the soundproofed door. My rescuer set me down carefully. "Are you okay Nick? Are you hurt?"


I looked up at Ed. "My knee..." I heard myself whimpering. "I...lost my brace..." Oh gawd I was so pathetic. I felt myself shaking harder than ever. My shirt and coat had been completely torn away and I felt totally exposed. "Help me..." I felt myself sinking back to the ground, but Ed grabbed me before I fell.

He propped me against the wall for a moment before taking off his jacket and draping it around my shoulders. I clutched it tight in my fists, holding it closed. Pretending like it was holding me together.

“I’ve got Carter,” Ed radioed to the other security. “He’s safe, but needs some medical attention. I’m taking him out.”

“Jack is on his way over there, but it seems that somebody decided to chain the door over here. He’ll be there as soon as arena security gets over here to unlock it,” Lon’s voice came through on the handset.

“Sir?” Geo’s voice cut in. “We’ve lost Littrell. I think he’s in the audience. There’s a mob over near the left exit, but we can’t get over there. Someone chained the door here too. Arena security is enroute, but we need to get Brian out of there.”

“I’m on it,” Ed replied before shutting off the radio.

What? He was going to leave me? I heard myself make a really pathetic whimpering noise as I looked up at him pleadingly. Don’t leave me alone. Don’t leave me where they can get me.

“It’s okay, I’ve got you...” Ed said lowly as he picked me up again. Effortlessly placing me over his shoulder. Geez, it seemed like everyone was able to just carry me around these days. It wasn’t fair. It’s not like I’m a total lightweight here.

But wait, wasn’t he supposed to be going to get Brian?

“NICK!” I heard Brian yell out as the side door burst open again and he tumbled into the hallway. Well I guess that saves Ed having to go get him. “Oh God! Are you okay?” He rushed up to us. “Is he okay?” he asked Ed.

“He’s fine,” Ed assured him, sounding very irritated. So I wasn’t the only one who was tired of that question. “But I’m getting him out of here. I’ve got to get him to a hospital. His knee is out of place.” It is? That would explain the excruciating pain emanating from it.

“Okay, I’ll grab his clothes and come with you...” Brian said, hurrying ahead of us and ducking into the dressing room. Wait...wasn’t he supposed to still be onstage? And he’d come through the side door. He must’ve gone off the bridge too, which left AJ and Howie to keep the show going. Because Kevin was on his way to kill me.

Ed swore under his breath and started moving faster.

He wasn’t fast enough.

I saw Kevin burst around the corner, coming up from beneath the stage area. The image I’d gotten of him up on that bridge was nothing to what he looked like now. He came barreling down the hallway as if he were possessed by the devil. Which I guess he was.

I tried to open my mouth to warn Ed what was coming, but no sound would come out I was so terrified.

“You fucking bastard!” Kevin yelled at me with more fury than I’d ever heard *anyone* use before. I felt my heart breaking. It was true. He really hated me that much. I’d never imagined Kevin to get this out of control. And he’d pretend to be my friend. My brother. Why? Why did he hate me?

He dove at me, shoving Ed to the ground in the process. The large bodyguard landed on my leg funny and I found my voice at last, screaming in agony. I almost blacked out the pain. I became aware that Kevin was on top of Ed who was on top of me. He was punching Ed trying to get at me. I tried to squirm out from under the bodyguard but it was no use. I was flat on my back with the weight of two men on top of my wounded leg. Every punch that missed me and hit Ed sent waves of pain through me as his body crushed mine. Finally Ed managed to roll off of me and turned on Kevin.

Oh God...this couldn’t be happening. I watched for a few moments, stunned by the absolutely crazy way Kevin was swinging at the bodyguard. He’d gone completely off his rocker. Ed managed to get into a position to fight back. I couldn’t watch this. I rolled onto my stomach and began pulling myself along the floor, unable to even consider getting up, my leg hurt so bad.

“Fucking bastard, you...” Kevin’s yelling stopped as Ed managed to throw him against the wall. I glanced over my shoulder and saw Ed slam Kevin against the wall a second time. I saw Ed reach for the gun on his belt, but Kevin just kept fighting and managed to keep him from getting it into his grasp. Kevin was wild. Clawing and screaming. I hardly even recognized him. That wasn’t Kevin. It had to be an imposter. Kevin was a mild mannered hick, not a raving loony psychopath. Kevin managed to dodge another blow and then through a punch that sent Ed sprawling. Oh God. No. I felt guilty letting Ed fight my battle, but I couldn’t stay there. The way Kevin was fighting, I wouldn’t be shocked if he took Ed out. Ed had size and experience on his side, but Kevin had the insanity giving him strength.

I needed to get out of there. But...the exit was too far away. If Kevin overtook Ed, I’d never get there. I needed somewhere to hide. I got to the stairs leading into the arena’s storage basement and let myself tumble down them. I couldn’t help but scream the whole way down. So much for hiding. Kevin would know I came down here. But I couldn’t help it, I was in way too much pain.

“What...Kevin! Wha--" I heard Brian’s shocked voice. Oh no. No, Brian get out of there! Don’t let him hurt you! “No! Get off him!”

No! I looked back up the stairs. I had to go back. Brian was going to get hurt. He obviously hadn’t known that Kevin...he wasn’t a part of it. Oh thank god he wasn’t a part of it. We’d get through this. I had to get back up the stairs and help him.

“Get off! You--“ Brian’s yell was cut short. I could only imagine why. And the images that were coming to mind made me sick. Kevin began screaming obscenities again, finding his voice. I could just imagine him there on top of Brian...choking the life out of him...What had I done? Brian! I wanted to help him, but I was useless.

I heard Ed suddenly start screaming in pain for several moments and then it went silent. Oh god. What had Kevin done?

“Nick!” I heard Kevin yelling. “Nicky!?”

I shrank back. Oh no. Now he was coming for me.

I had to hide...

I dragged myself into the darkness of the basement. I needed somewhere to hide. Fast.

“Nick!?” Kevin yelled again, from the top of the stairs. “Come out, Nicky...” he sounded frantic. “It’s safe, Nick...”

Safe?! Fuck that! I bit my lip hard to keep myself from crying out with fear or pain as I continued to drag myself deeper into the shadows. There had to be somewhere to hide.

I flattened myself to the floor behind one of the crates. It was a pathetic hiding place and if Kevin managed to find the lightswitch I was screwed. But I was anyway. I was cornered. I was going to die. I may as well give myself up now. I closed my eyes.

Mom, Dad...I wish I had the chance to tell you guys one more time how much I love you. Thank you for supporting me. Thank you for going without so I could succeed. Angel, Les, Beej, Aaron...you were the best siblings a guy could ask for. I wish I’d told you more often...or at all, really. I hope you guys know. Brian...oh god Brian, you’re probably dead because of me. I’m so sorry Brian.

“Nick...please Nick, where are you? There’s not much time...”

I bit my lip harder for a moment. Then took a deep breath. I knew it was time to give myself out. There was no point in dragging it out. I was dead anyway. But there was one thing I needed to know.

“Why?” I called out, my voice barely loud enough to be heard. But somehow Kevin heard it.


“Why?” I asked again. “Why did you--"

And then suddenly there was another yell and loud banging as suddenly Kevin and Ed were crashing down the stairs. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry when Ed got up first. I could see his form standing over Kevin’s, a gun pointed down at my attacker.


You might have thought that was me. But this time it was Kevin.

The gun made a clicking sound as it was cocked.

My heart broke. “Don’t kill him...” I pleaded. “Please...” I don’t know why I cared. Kevin wanted me dead, but I couldn’t stand the thought of him dead. My heart hurt.

Ed looked over toward me.

In that moment Kevin made his move. His leg lashed out, striking Ed between the legs. The gun clattered to the floor as Ed dropped to his knees. Kevin was on him immediately.

I couldn’t tear my eyes away as Kevin started beating on the fallen bodyguard. I had to do something...the gun...I carefully dragged myself out from behind the crate and slid my body along the floor, seeking the gun. It was too dark to see it, but I felt around. It had to have ended up somewhere over here...

“Fucking bastard you fucking bastard...” Kevin was repeating over and over as he struggled to keep Ed from getting up again. Fortunately, Ed wasn’t down for the count yet. That was the only thing that gave me a chance. I had to get the gun before Ed passed out.

I kept feeling around the floor frantically. It had to be there.

There it was! I nearly knocked the gun away as I tried to grab it. My hands were shaking so badly. But I managed to get hold and pulled it in. I closed my eyes. I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t shoot him.

Kevin managed to get the upper hand again, pinning Ed to the ground. He raised his fist.

“Stop!” I called out, my voice raspy.

Kevin hesitated a moment, looking over at me.

“Please, stop...” I begged him. Don’t make me do this. Don’t make me kill you. I raised the gun shakily. “Just...stop,” I whispered.

Kevin’s jaw dropped. And I swear he had the most horrible look of shock and betrayal on his face. He felt betrayed? What about me? He’d tried to kill me. He’d turned my brothers against me. I felt my hands shake and was afraid I was going to lose hold of the gun.

Then Ed was up again, he slammed Kevin to the ground and rolled him onto his stomach. The fight seemed to have completely left Kevin. He didn’t even struggle as Ed pulled a set of handcuffs from his arsenal. I didn’t know our security carried those. But thank god they did.

After Ed had handcuffed Kevin he turned back to me. “It’s okay now, Nick,” he assured me softly. “He can’t hurt you anymore.”

“No...” I heard Kevin saying. “Nicky...”

“SHUT UP!” Ed bellowed, grabbing a fistful of Kevin’s hair and yanking his head up. “You’ve caused enough trouble.”

I winced at the way Ed was handling Kevin. I know I shouldn’t care. I know that. But I can’t help it. He’s been my *brother* for so many years.

I couldn’t watch. I closed my eyes, turning my head away, shivering. I was so cold. So cold. I felt like my soul would never warm up again. The look on Kevin’s face when I’d pointed the gun at him would haunt me forever. But it was over.

I lowered the gun. Ed had things under control.

I shivered again. I’d lost Ed’s coat at some point. Probably when Kevin had tackled us.

“Please...get me out of here,” I whispered.

Ed let go of Kevin and got up. He moved slowly over to me, reaching out and taking the gun from my hand. He put it back in his belt quickly then reached for me.

Once again I felt myself being slung over my bodyguard’s shoulder. I couldn’t stand being carried like this. I wanted to walk out on my own. Of course that was impossible considering how much pain I was in. So I tried to make myself accept it and relax.

As he carried me past Kevin, Ed drove his foot into Kevin’s side. I winced. He didn’t have to do that. It was obvious that Kevin was subdued. “Stay down.” Ed hissed at him. I closed my eyes, not wanting to see Kevin suffering. Why did I still care?!

We reached the top of the stairs and Ed started toward the exit. I spotted Brian unconscious on the floor. Oh God. Was he breathing? “Ed stop...” I called out. I felt Ed shift my weight on his shoulder. I winced as the movement jostled my injured leg. He just kept walking. “Ed!” I tried again.

“What?!” he snapped grouchily. I shivered at the harshness in his voice. It was just because he was hurt and it couldn’t be easy for him to carry me. But it was over now. He didn’t have to carry me. We could just wait here for the police and an ambulance.

“Brian...” I said hesitantly. “Take me to Brian. I need to know he’s okay.”

Ed cursed. But after a moment he turned and started back to where Brian was sprawled.

“Just set me down and go get help,” I suggested as we approached. “I’ll stay here with Brian.”

Ed dropped me down off his shoulder. I nearly blacked out as I struck the ground hard. Damn. He could have been a little more careful.

I slid myself closer to Brian’s prone form. “Brian?” I asked softly. “Brian wake up?” I shook him very lightly when he didn’t respond. He made a slight moaning noise, but his eyes stayed closed. I could see a horrible knot developing on his head. Damn, Kevin must have dashed his head against the wall or something. He probably had a concussion. What were you supposed to do for a concussion? I searched my brain but came up empty other than you were supposed to keep the victim awake. But Brian wasn’t awake. So what was I supposed to do? I shook him gently again. “Brian wake up...”

What else could I do? I had to make him comfortable until Ed got the ambulance here.

“Okay, I’ll get him out of here right away. Send someone over for Brian and Kevin,” I heard Ed say into his radio.

I reached over to grab Ed’s discarded coat to drape over Brian. “I want to stay here. I don’t want to leave Brian alone,” I protested.

Ed stared at me a moment. “Lon said to get you out of here. There still might be danger. They don’t think Kevin acted alone.”


And possibly AJ. I felt my heart tighten.

But I didn’t care about the danger. “We have to stay with Brian,” I insisted as I started folding the coat to place under Brian’s head.

“Lon’s orders. We’re out of here,” Ed spoke again. “He’ll be fine.”

“We have to stay with Brian,” I repeated, shaking my head stubbornly as I carefully eased the coat under Brian’s head. I frowned as I noticed a hard lump in the material. What was that? I reached into the coat pocket and felt a couple baggies. Pulling them out I saw that they contained a phone...and a photo of Kevin’s fearful face staring up at the camera as he lay sprawled in a hotel bed. There was something written on the bottom of the photo. I knew they were lyrics without even reading. I dropped the baggies. And blinked as I realized that the phone was my broken one.

The one that the agents had taken before they’d been killed.

How had Ed gotten it unless...

He was towering over me, reaching for me. His steel grey eyes blazing with anger.

I shook my head. This wasn’t happening. It couldn’t be. I blinked my eyes and looked again into Ed’s.

They were still steel grey.

“No...” I whimpered and started trying to scramble away before he could get a hold of me. I rolled onto my stomach and started crawling as fast as I could, knowing it was a lost cause.

“You just couldn’t come quietly could you?” Ed growled as he reached down and grabbed my injured leg. I screamed as he twisted it. “We could have just walked out of here.”

“Stop...” I gasped.

“But you have to have your own way. Spoiled little brat.” I screamed again as he let go of my leg and it flopped uselessly to the floor. “We have to stay with Brian,” he mimicked me scornfully. “We could have been out of here.” I looked around frantically, looking for something I could use to defend myself. “You could have just come quietly, and then I wouldn’t have to hurt you,” he continued. He reached down and grabbed me under my arms, hauling me to my feet. He shoved me against the wall, holding me there as he stared into my eyes for a few moments. “Now...are you going to come quietly?”

I glanced down as Brian moaned again. “N-nick?” he rasped out as his eyelids fluttered open. Oh Brian no...this is the worst time you could come to...

Ed cursed. “If you’d gone when I said to, I wouldn’t have to hurt him. Spoiled little brat, have to ruin everything.”

Holding me against the wall with one hand, he reached to his belt and pulled his gun out. No. This couldn’t happen.

“Nick?” Brian whispered, sounding completely disoriented.

Ed aimed the gun down at him.

NO! I screamed with fury and pushed off the wall, sending Ed off balance. The gun clattered to the floor as I caught him off guard enough to dislodge it from his grasp. With him no longer holding me up, I crumpled to the floor. I saw the gun spin to a stop a few yards away. I had to get to it first. Ed was still on his feet though. He started toward it.

I grabbed his leg and yanked, sending him crashing to the floor. I swallowed my pain and struggled to get past him to the gun.

Ed rolled us over, trying to pin me. I lashed out, striking his neck like Lon had taught me. His eyes bulged and he made a choking sound as he jerked back away from me for a few moments. Thank you, Lon!

I rolled over and started sliding my body closer to the gun.

Ed was on me again before I got far. He grabbed me by the hair and drew my head back, then slammed it against the floor. My head exploded. Guess that was going to be on my death certificate after all. Okay, so it didn’t really explode but it sure felt like it did. It was weird. Kind of like there were fireworks going off. Bursts of color clouded my vision.

I felt my body being rolled over again.

“..ou c...st...o...ietly...” Ed was saying something but only small bits of it were penetrating the fog. “C...’t...av...y...ightin...me.” What? Not that it mattered. I was dying anyway. I stopped struggling. It was over anyway. Death awaited. I stared up at him, waiting for him to make the final blow.

Instead I felt something sharp jab into my side. A needle. We were back at the beginning again. He was going to drug me. And I was going to wake up somewhere chained to a pipe. And then he’d torture and kill me slowly.

He pulled the needle out.

The syringe sounded like a grenade pin as it dropped from his fingers and hit he floor. All other sound was gone but for the echo of it bouncing. Just a few more moments and the grenade would explode.

Ed stayed on top of me, staring down at me. “That’s right. Just relax.” He reached up and brushed the sweat-soaked hair from my face. It was eerily gentle the way he stroked my cheek. I closed my eyes, not wanting to see the look on his face. “We weren’t finished,” he told me gruffly. I felt his breath against my neck as his body pressed down on mine. My stomach twisted as I realized where this was probably going.

“Get off him!” a voice growled. I twisted my head a little and saw Kevin stumbling toward us, his hands still cuffed behind his back. Oh god. How could I have thought he was the one? I’d pointed a gun at him. I’d betrayed him when all along he was my brother. Ed...I’d let Ed make me doubt my brother. And despite that, Kevin was here to rescue me. I’m so sorry, Kevin, I should have known you’d never hurt me.

“Fuck,” Ed swore. He looked down at me one more time then was off me. Headed down the hall to deal with Kevin. I tried to get up but found that my body wasn’t responding. The blow to my head had really taken its toll.

A moment later I felt a hand squeeze my good ankle gently. I looked down and saw Brian looking at me. “Hang in there,” he whispered. And then he was on his feet and moving swiftly down the hall to the others. He had something in his hand.

A large green vial of pepper spray. He must have grabbed it when he got my stuff from the dressing room.

I bit my lip and shifted my body to try and see what was going on. I felt horrible that I could do nothing to save myself, but was thankful my brothers were there to save me.

Ed had Kevin backed against the wall and was choking him. Brian raised the vial as he approached the pair. “Let him go,” Brian ordered as he aimed the spray. Ed and Kevin both looked over at Brian, but Ed made no move to release Kevin, who’s face was red, with just a tinge of blue around his lips. Oh God. Ed was killing him. I couldn’t let that happen. Not after everything he’d done to try and save me. “Let go NOW,” Brian demanded.

When Ed still didn’t let go, Brian pressed the button and let loose with the spray.

Ed screamed out, releasing Kevin raising his hands to cover his eyes. Kevin screamed too as he fell forward, the spray going directly into his eyes. Brian began coughing and stumbled back, also affected.

I remembered then what Lon had told me about how the spray would affect anyone in the area, not just the one it was aimed at. Oh no.

Ed grabbed Brian and threw him against the wall. He crumpled to the ground, the pepper spray falling from his grasp. This was all my fault. I had to do something. But I was helpless. I could hardly move. What was I supposed to do to help them? I couldn’t let Ed kill them. At the moment they were just as defenseless as I was. Brian was lying lifelessly (no he’s not dead he’s not dead) on the floor and Kevin was stumbling the wrong direction down the hall, screaming in pain but unable to do anything to get the stuff out of his eyes since his hands were chained behind his back. And Ed was swearing a long string of obscenities as he rubbed at his eyes.

And then he turned toward me. His eyes were puffy and red and he had tears on his cheeks. And he looked furious. “This is your fault, you spoiled little brat!” he bellowed as he started toward me.

I started to push myself back with my arms but then spotted the discarded gun. Always step into an attack, not away, I remembered the training. I don’t think this is exactly what that meant, but it was good advice. I slid forward and grabbed the gun. I rolled onto my back and sat up, aiming it at Ed who was still storming toward me.

My vision was clouding over with thousands of little black dots and the hall was spinning. The drug was about to take me. There was just one little thing I had to do first. I couldn’t let him kill my brothers.

I pulled the trigger.

I couldn’t scream as Ed’s weight came crashing down on me. I couldn’t even push him off of me. I could only lie trapped beneath him. I felt a warm liquid dribbling onto me. He was bleeding. I’d shot him. I’d killed him.

I smiled as I passed out.

It was over.