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His hands were reaching for me. I had to get out of there. My head hurt and my limbs were useless, but there was no way I was just going to let him do...god only knows what to me. No way. I had to fight! My heart was racing and I thrashed my body with renewed effort as adrenaline seemed to kick me into overdrive. Unfortunately, even with the adrenaline bonus, I didn't seem to be getting anywhere.

"Shhh, son, calm down, everything is okay. Relax now, buddy," a soothing voice floated toward me. His voice. I felt his rough hand run across my forehead, gently brushing my hair away from my face. For some reason that just didn't sooth me (wonder why) but spurred me on all the more. I didn't want him talking to me, and I sure didn't want him touching me again. I had to get away. If only I weren't so tangled up in this stupid thing. "We've got you now, everything's going to be okay." We? My eyes flew open.

It took a few moments for me to orient myself enough to realize that I wasn't on the bathroom floor. For one thing, I wasn't on the floor. For another I seemed to be on a cot. A cot with straps holding me down. Straps, not hands, not a shower curtain. That was actually quite a bit of a relief, but that didn't change the fact that I was strapped down and defenseless. Or that there were people around me.

One of them--him?--was reaching toward my face. I tried to flinch away but there was nowhere to go. "Just take it easy now." I could see his lips moving and even could hear him, but he sounded a whole lot farther away than he looked.

A split second later he was a whole lot closer. Practically nose to nose with me. How did that happen? I don't remember him moving. He looked a lot different than I expected when he'd tackled me earlier. He wasn't as big as he'd seemed. Or maybe this was a different guy. Oh yeah, no way was it the same guy. The other guy was definitely bigger than this one.

There was suddenly a very bright light shining directly into my face. I closed my eyes to get away from it, but immediately felt fingers prying my right eye back open and shining the light directly into it. What kind of torture was this?! I wanted to yell at him to stop touching me, but my mouth wasn't cooperating with my brain at all.

I heard a woman talking in the distance about an unidentified male age 20 to 25. Something about multiple contusions but I couldn't really catch the whole thing. Her voice seemed to be fading in and out. Plus there was that really annoying light. Which was now shining into my left eye as someone held that open. When did that happen? I tried to close my eye again and was surrounded in darkness. No, not that, please not the dark. Oh yeah. My eyes were closed. Duh. Come on brain, even you're swifter than that. My eyes opened again and there was still a man leaning over me, but to my relief, not quite so close this time. I blinked a few times hoping he'd go away, but he didn't. I wanted to ask him who he was, but I couldn't seem to remember how to speak.

"Do you know where you are, son?" a different man was leaning over me and I could see his lips moving but they didn't seem quite in connection to the words I was hearing. I shook my head. Nothing was making any sense at all.

"Ready to roll," another voice called. And then I heard something like a van door opening and a really loud wailing sound that for a moment I thought was maybe me screaming since that's what I wanted to be doing right now, too, but then I realized that it was a siren. Like a police car. Or...an ambulance.


Now that kinda made sense. Things were starting to fall into place. I was in an ambulance. Or rather was now being taken out of an ambulance. Well, that was lots better a scenario than being attacked in a hotel bathroom. Much much better.

Except, of course, an ambulance probably meant I was hurt. And with that realization my whole body finally let my brain in on the fact that it was several minutes behind everything else and screamed out in agony. Right. Pain. I think I liked it better when my brain wasn't aware of that yet. But at least now they were rolling me into a building that in all likelihood was a hospital, and hospitals were generally pretty good about stopping pain. It's what they're there for after all.

I closed my eyes against the bright light of the hallway they were wheeling me through. And when they opened again I realized that I was no longer being moved and I seemed to be alone. Alone was good. Alone was not being poked, prodded, or punched. All good things to avoid. It seemed kinda weird that one moment I was surrounded and now I was alone, but not looking a gift horse in the mouth.

A moment later I made an even better discovery: I could move. No straps holding me down. I tried to sit up but the dizziness that struck the moment I lifted my head from my pillow convinced me that was perhaps not such a bright move and I lay back down flat.

"That's right, just lie still," an unfamiliar voice came from somewhere near my feet. Guess I wasn't alone after all. I struggled to sit up enough to see who was there. A woman in a white jacket was walking around the edge of the bed to stand at my side. She put a hand on my shoulder and gently pushed me back down. It didn't take a whole lot of her urging for me to obey. I felt a lot better when I was down. Nausea, not my friend.

"Do you know where you are?" the woman asked, looking down at me intently.

"The hospital," I heard my voice answering her before I even really thought about it. Guess my mouth was now a few seconds ahead of my brain.

She smiled. "That's right. You were brought into County General a few hours ago." Hours? But I was just on a gurney. How could hours have passed? I guess my eyes must've reflected the minor panic I was suddenly feeling because her smile became more sympathetic. "Don't worry, we've been taking good care of you." Well, that was a relief anyway. "Can you tell me your name?"

"Nick," I responded automatically. It was almost as if my mouth was working on autopilot or something, coming up with the answers before my brain even got a chance to start thinking. Then again, that was a pretty easy question. Though now that I was thinking about it, I probably should have used my pseudonym. Security would probably be mad at me for using my real name. Well, I'd do that when she asked for my last name.

She jotted my name down on the clipboard I hadn't noticed her holding, then looked back at me again. "And your last name?"

"Carter." So much for using my pseudonym.

"Okay, Nick, that's great." Yeah I can say my name. Always a bonus. "Do you have someone we should call for you?" This time I didn't have an automatic answer. Who should she call? "A parent maybe?" I nodded. Then shook my head as I realized that calling my parents would probably not be very helpful. They weren't here. Dad would probably be at home and I wasn't entirely sure what area of the country mom was in at the moment. Probably not anywhere near here, though.

"Brian," the answer finally popped out of nowhere.

"Terrific. Do you know Brian's number?"

I rattled off his cellphone number without even really thinking about it. Autopilots are pretty handy to have around.

"Okay, Nick. I'm going to go call Brian for you. Just hold tight, okay?"

I nodded and watched her until she moved out of my range of vision. Then I really was alone. Which for about the first 30 seconds seemed like a pretty good thing.

But then I started actually thinking. About how I'd gotten here, about what had happened. Someone had actually *attacked* me. And from the way I felt they'd done a pretty good job of beating the snot out of me. What I couldn't figure out was what happened after that. How had I gotten an ambulance?

Kevin. He'd probably found me and called for one. That thought made me relax a little bit until I realized that if that were the case, Kevin would probably be here at the hospital with me. Unless something had happened to him, too.

I squeezed my eyes shut as if that could somehow block that thought out. I wished I could remember exactly what had happened. Then again, considering what I did remember and the fact that things had obviously gotten worse after that maybe it was good that I couldn't remember. Except, not knowing left lots of room for the imagination to work overtime. That wasn't such a good thing either. Especially when I started imagining that the guy was there in the room with me again, ready to pounce. I felt my heart starting to race again.

I opened my eyes again and looked around to make sure that I was still alone. Seeing that I was I relaxed again. No one was going to attack me. That guy was in jail or something by now. No need to be afraid of him. He was gone. I was safe. And alone. Completely alone. I hoped that the doctor got a hold of Brian and he got here fast. I'd feel a whole lot better if he were here with me. And that he could assure me that Kevin was okay, too. What if something had happened to him? Back to these thoughts again. Aloneness definitely wasn't all it was cracked up to be.

* * *

I don't think I've ever been as happy to hear Brian's voice as when I heard him in the hallway asking someone where to find me. At last, I wouldn't be alone with all the horrible thoughts that kept going through my head. I'd been driving myself crazy for what seemed like hours but was likely only a matter of minutes.

I sat up quickly. Damn. Forgot about the splitting headache. But I didn't want to be lying down looking all feeble when he got here, so I ignored it. I reached behind me to turn the pillow up. Then I slid my body toward the head of the bed so that I could lean back and the pillow could help prop me up. My body protested the movement but I ignored it. Not gonna be a baby about the little (okay big) aches and pains. The pains that nobody had been around to tell me what was causing yet. Then again, I guess I knew what caused them, didn't I? But it just seemed weird to me that the doctors hadn't come in to tell me what the extent of the damage was. Maybe they were waiting for someone to be here with me before they told me that. That was a fairly creepy thought. See that's exactly why I didn't want to be alone. Thinking wasn't being my friend today.

I was still trying to get settled when I heard a small, strangled noise from the doorway. I looked quickly, worried by whatever had made it. And saw Brian standing there. He'd made that sound? Judging from the look on his face, that wasn't a completely far-fetched theory.

"Hey, Bri," I called out trying to sound like everything was normal. He just stood in the doorway staring at me for a moment, looking shocked. I actually wondered for a split second if maybe I'd grown a second nose or something weird. But then he was moving toward me. I saw AJ appear in the doorway behind him. That meant Howie and Kevin were probably close by too. Good. I'd be able to finally get the horrible thoughts about Kevin out of my head.

"Jeez, Nick," I heard Brian say in a really quiet voice. It could have been my imagination but he sounded even shakier than I felt. He looked really out of it, too. There wasn't even a trace of the normal humor in his face. Did I look that bad?

I forced myself to smile to reassure him that I was okay. "Hey," I repeated as he sat down on the edge of my bed and just stared at me. Again it could have been imagination but it looked like he had tears in the corners of his eyes. But then he blinked at they were gone. Or maybe they weren't ever there at all.

"Hey, Kaos," I heard AJ greet from where he still stood in the doorway. He sounded really subdued, and like he had no idea what to say. AJ tongue tied? Weird. I looked over at him and was stunned at his appearance. He looked like he hadn't slept in days. It wasn't all that uncommon for him not to sleep; he just usually didn't look that way. He lowered his head so I couldn't see his eyes beyond the rim of his hat. Something was really wrong here.

I became aware of the fact that there was a hand reaching toward my face and flinched before I realized that it was just Brian's. He quickly pulled back as if I'd slapped him or something. "Sorry," he whispered guiltily.

"It's okay. I just wasn't expecting it," I assured Brian carefully. What was going on? Why were they being so weird? Unless I looked really horrible or something. Which, I reminded myself, was entirely possible. I still didn't know the extent of the damage. Though I was fairly certain now that the pain I was feeling wasn't just all in my head.

I glanced back at AJ, who still hadn't moved from the doorway. I could see a couple more people behind him. Not Howie and Kevin though; instead it was Jack and Ed, two of the bodyguards that we usually had with us for shows and public appearances. Why were they here? They'd come with Brian and AJ, obviously, but that was weird since they didn't generally hang around when off duty. Something about not getting personal with us since that might affect their work if they somehow got emotionally involved or something. So then, again came the question of why they were here now. I tried to make sense out of it when I realized that the doctor had said something about me being here a few hours. So that probably meant that it was night. We had a concert scheduled. Had the guys come from there? Management had probably made them go on with just the four of them. It was too big a pain to reschedule at the last minute. I wondered if they'd like stopped in the middle of the show or something. That was really weird to think about. Oh well, we'd just have to reschedule after all.

Brian glanced to see who I was looking at then back at me and smiled slightly. "Permanent fixtures from now until..." he trailed off as if he seemed to realize that he was about to say something wrong. Something I wasn't supposed to know?

"Until?" I prompted, not entirely sure I wanted to know the answer.

Brian looked reluctant to elaborate, and he paused for a few moments as if he were choosing his words really carefully. "Until we know what happened to you," he finally answered, sounding miserable.

I nodded, not quite sure how to take that. They didn't know? Then again, I realized, if Kevin hadn't been the one to call an ambulance it made sense that they didn't know. But that led back to the same old 'what happened to Kevin and why wasn't he the one to call an ambulance?' thing. He'd been in the room just across the hall from mine, so it only made sense that he should've been there first. Brian hadn't said anything about not knowing what happened to Kevin. Just me. I had a really bad feeling. What if something *really* bad had happened to Kevin. I swallowed hard and stared at Brian, searching for answers. He looked exhausted, and more than a little sad. Oh no. My heart sank. No. "Kevin?" I asked, and was surprised by how small my voice suddenly sounded.

Brian looked confused for a moment but recovered quickly. "He's back at the hotel. He was afraid you wouldn't want to see him." What? That made no sense. Why wouldn't I want to see him? But at least Brian didn't seem all that concerned about him so that probably meant he was okay. That, at least, was a tremendous relief. But it was really weird that he didn't think I'd want to see him. Also couldn't be farther from the truth since I wasn't sure I'd completely believe he was okay until I saw him for myself. Brian could just be trying to protect me from the truth or something. "But he said to tell you he's glad you're okay. He's been really worried about you."

"Not the rest of us, though," AJ spoke up again. It was obvious he was trying to joke like we always do, but it sounded kinda forced. "Didn't have us worried at all," he added as he finally came into the room instead of lurking in the doorway. "You look like shit, dude," he suddenly announced as if he'd just come to that conclusion. I couldn't help it, I grinned. Brian, on the other hand, glared at him as he sank into the chair next to the bed.

"What about Howie?" I asked, wondering why he hadn't come with them, either. Did he think I didn't want to see him, too? I still couldn't figure that one out.

"Howie? Nah, man, he's looking fine. You're the one who needs work," AJ answered, a real smile forming on his face at last. Same old AJ after all. Good to know that some things will never change.

"He stayed with Kevin," Brian informed me seriously. He was still eyeing AJ incredulously. Like it was so unusual for AJ to be playin with me? Something weird was definitely going on with Brian. Maybe he hadn't figured out that I *wanted* everything to be like normal. I wasn't going to let some psycho attacking me change that.

I was about to tell Brian that when there was a knocking sound coming from near the door. I looked over to see two men in suits standing in the doorway. I looked at Brian questioningly, but he wasn't looking at me. He was nodding to them in greeting. He didn't seem all that surprised to see them.

"Sorry to bother you, Mr. Carter," one of the men apologized, even though he didn't really sound all that sorry. How did he know my name? Okay that was probably a stupid question. Good thing I hadn't asked aloud or AJ would have laughed at me.

"Uh...okay?" I replied, not sure how else I was supposed to respond.

"We just need to get your statement as soon as possible, before you forget anything."

I frowned. My statement? I looked back at the men and tried figure out if I'd seen them before. Reporters maybe? But how would they have known to come? No one at the hospital had seemed to indicate that they'd recognized me, and I know that the guys wouldn't have called the press.

"I'm Agent Harris, this is Agent Walters," the second guy introduced them, noting my confusion.

"Oh, sorry," Walters apologized, again not sounding terribly regretful. Agents?

I felt Brian's weight leaving the bed and looked back to him. He was watching me intently. "Want us to go?" he asked, stepping closer to AJ.

I shook my head quickly, suddenly feeling irrationally insecure. I didn't want them to leave me alone. Or with these two...agent guys. I didn't know them. I wanted Brian close by. "No. Stay."

Brian smiled slightly and stepped closer to the bed again, but he didn't sit back down.

"We need to talk to Mr. Carter alone," Walters informed us, looking at Brian pointedly.

I saw Brian's jaw squaring slightly and recognized his stubborn look. There was no way he was leaving until I okayed it. I relaxed and let him fight it out with the agent guys. "He wants me to stay. I'm staying. I'll be quiet."

Walters opened his mouth but Harris cut him off. "That'll be fine. We just want to get a statement while things are fresh in his mind."

AJ looked like he was torn, not sure if he should stay or leave. When Walters glared at him, he seemed to make up his mind. "I'm going to run down to the cafeteria. Want anything?" No one answered him, but he was out the door a few moments later anyway.

They wanted a statement. I had no idea what to tell them. I watched them warily as they approached the bed. Harris sat down in the chair that AJ had vacated but Walters moved closer and remained standing. I found myself tensing as I noticed how large a man he was. I didn't want him looming over me. I shifted uncomfortably and winced as the movement caused pain to shoot through my body. I still couldn't quite figure out what the origin of the pain was and wondered when someone would clue me in.

"You okay?" Brian asked immediately, concerned. "Need me to get your doc?"

I shook my head. I didn't want him leaving.

"All right, then. What can you tell us about what happened?" Walters asked. Swift and right to the point. I saw Brian scowling at him, but he didn't seem to notice. Or he didn't care.

I looked down, suddenly feeling very uncomfortable. I didn't really want to think about what had happened, and definitely didn't want to talk about it. Especially not in front of these strangers. So I looked instead at Brian. It would be easier if I were telling him about it. We usually tell each other everything anyway. He knew me better than just about anyone else.

"We--Kevin and I--" I started after taking a moment to collect my thoughts.

"That would be Kevin Richardson?" Walters cut me off.

Brian's scowl deepened slightly but he remained silent. I nodded. "Right. We went back to the hotel to shower and change..." I recounted the story to them, leaving out the fact that I'd stopped to watch TV for a few minutes. Not that they really would have cared but I figured that I didn't really want it getting back to Kevin. Old habits die hard. "And that's when I blacked out," I finished after I told them about how the guy had attacked me.

For a few moments it was silent in the room, then Walters spoke up again. "And then what happened?"

I couldn't help smirking. "I don't know, I was kind of unconscious."

Walters wasn't amused and he made an aggravated sigh. Harris moved forward in his chair, looking like he was deep in thought. His brow furrowed. "And when you woke up...?" he prompted, no sign of the irritation that his partner exuded.

"I was in the ambulance," I answered, not sure if there was another answer he was looking for. I looked at Brian, confused. He was watching me with a somewhat apprehensive look. What was that about?

"Nothing else?" Harris sounded surprised.

I shook my head slowly, my eyes still locked on Brian, whose eyes got just a little bit wider. "No. That's it," I thought back trying to figure out if I'd missed something. Other than leaving out the watching a few minutes of The Simpsons thing there really wasn't anything else. And that really didn't seem like it was any of their business. Nor did it seem like it would have any relevance to what had happened. "Nothing else happened. We went back to the hotel to clean up, so we could go back for the walk through this afternoon. I was attacked in the shower. I woke up in the ambulance," I summed the story up again. The room fell silent again. I could actually feel them all staring at me.

"Nick..." Brian spoke very slowly, glancing at the agents as if looking for their approval to speak.

"What?" I was getting that bad feeling again. Something was really wrong. I glanced at the agents to see if I could get some sort of clue from them. Harris nodded at Brian, so I turned my attention back to him. I don't think anything could have prepared me for the next words out of his mouth.

"You've been missing for six days."