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Author's Chapter Notes:
Okay so three years later I'm finally getting around to moving this into the "New" archive. Okay so I've had some pretty good excuses, but still, how embarassing! Nothing really new here, just wanted to get it moved...
Brian's finger traced lightly along my jawbone. "It's dark through here. And around here," he held his hand up near my right eye and made a bit of a circular motion above the skin. Then his finger grazed lightly across an area at the corner of my mouth. "And there's kind of a scrape-y thing here." He was sitting cross-legged on the bed facing me as I sprawled out, propped up by the pillow again. My head didn't hurt as much this morning as it did last night, but it still pounded when I fully sat up. I hadn't gotten much sleep, and what little I had gotten wasn't terribly restful. I'm fairly sure that I had a nightmare, but I don't remember what it was. Imagine that, me not remembering something. Shocking isn't it? (Not gonna let it bother me, not gonna let it bother me...)

Brian didn't get more than half an hour more sleep than I did, but when he woke up he was back to his normal energetic self. Not that I'm jealous or anything. Well...maybe just a little. "Really it doesn't look so bad," he assured me for about the zillionth (okay, fine, the third) time since I'd started asking what I looked like. "Except for this kinda weird thing here," he added, tapping my nose lightly.

My eyes crossed as I tried to look down at my nose. I couldn't see what he was seeing. "What? Is it like a really bad bruise or something?" And then I looked up and noticed the gleam in his eye. Right. Fell for it again.

"No, Frack, it's your nose. Jeez," he chided me mockingly. I reached out and smacked the back of his head lightly. Jerk. But I couldn't help but grin anyway. He was joking with me again, which meant that things were going to be okay. It would all go back to how things were before and we could put the whole thing behind us. "So, you're good to go, then?" he asked.

Right. Bathroom. I really needed to go, but I'd been putting it off for several hours. I hadn't wanted to see myself in the mirror without knowing what to expect. I know it's kinda stupid and you're probably thinking it was me being vain or something, but it was more like...seeing all the bruises and stuff would make it that much more real. But it was getting to the point where either I was going to have to get up and face the bathroom or they were going to have to attach me to one of those catheter things. And that was so not happening. I have my limits. Plus I somehow don't see Dr. Lincoln being amused at me asking to be hooked up to one unnecessarily anyway, so even if there wasn't the really disturbing thought of a needle being inserted eh...nevermind not gonna even go there.

At least now I knew what to expect so it wouldn't be so bad. "Yeah. Thanks, Frick."

"No problem. Need help?"

"I think that'd be taking advantage of our friendship," I deadpanned.

He shook his head. "It's okay; you're hurt."

Duh, Bri, wasn't aware of that. "I meant you were taking advantage."

His jaw squared for a moment then he nodded, hiding a grin. He was obviously trying not to let me know I'd gotten him back for the nose thing. "You're warped, Frack."

Don't I know it?

I realized that I made a mistake in turning down Brian's offer of help as I slowly made my way across the room. Pain wasn't the only problem, though it was a pretty big factor. Every step I took sent pain racing throughout my body. The bigger problem, though, was that I felt inordinately weak, like my legs were going to collapse under me and I was going to end up flat on my face at any moment. But I didn't want to humble myself for asking for his help now. So I stubbornly shuffled my way into the room on my own.

At first I was just going to avoid looking in the mirror. Brian had told me exactly what to expect, but that didn't mean I really wanted to see it. But after I relieved myself and had stopped at the sink to wash my hands, curiosity won out again and I looked. It's a really good thing I'm not a cat or I'd probably be dead by now.

Brian had done a pretty accurate job at describing the injuries. Though I think he was being less than honest about it not looking so bad. Our makeup people would have their work cut out for them if we kept our schedule for the photo shoot tomorrow. Or wait. That was a few days ago. That's still going to take some getting used to. With any luck they'd just canceled or postponed that shoot indefinitely because I'd had enough of photo shoots to last me a while and I doubted that the photos the agents took of me this morning would be making any of the promotional posters.

One thing I'll have to say for the photographer they brought in for the job was that he was a lot faster than most of the photographers we usually work with. Maybe we should hire him for the next promotional shoot. Then again that was probably because he didn't have to worry about getting me at the best angle and didn't care if I had a goofy smile or if my eyes were crossed or something. Besides, he'd had very little regard for modesty when he'd made me take off the hospital gown so they could get pictures of the rest of my injuries. The others might not mind that so much, but I kinda prefer keeping my shirt on, thanks. Guess we'll stick with the regulars.

I could see what the agents had meant about the bruises on my neck. They were very distinctly finger-shaped. And they proved my statement that the man had large hands. I shuddered as I thought about those hands choking me hard enough to leave bruises like that.

The thing that worried me was that if my neck didn't really hurt and the bruises looked that bad, what did my back and my stomach look like? I reached behind me and tugged at the strings on my gown until it came untied. I must be a glutton for punishment. I slid out of the gown and let it drop to the floor and stood before the mirror, stunned by the reflection. That wasn't me. Couldn't be. For one thing I was at least fifteen pounds heavier than that guy. And I certainly didn't have marks all over my body like that blonde freak that looked vaguely like me did. Unfortunately when I blinked the reflection didn't change. Damn.

Why would someone do that to me? I'm not a bad person. I try to be nice to people. I'm a bit grouchy in the mornings, I admit it. When I'm really tired and just can't keep the smile pasted on any longer I confess have a bit of a temper. And I know I get on Kevin's nerves sometimes when we argue about a vocal arrangement or I don't act "adult" enough for his tastes, or on Howie's when I don't realize that I've teased him too much in too short a period of time. Maybe that's why they hadn't come to see me.

But I've never done anything that would deserve the beating I'd gotten. Had I? Maybe I'm just a little too biased on that one. But I still don't think I did. Did I?

I slid my hand across the dark purple--almost black--splotch that covered most of my right side from my chest to my hip. That wasn't the only mark by a longshot, but it was the worst one. There was another one that was almost as bad though--right where I'd been hit the very first time. The blow that had started it all. I wondered if that strike was what did all the damage or if I'd been hit there again later. It would probably be lighter in color if it were a week old. The rest of the marks probably would have normally bothered me, but when comparing them to those two it kind of made them seem unimportant.

What had I done? Why had someone hurt me like that? My legs suddenly felt even weaker so I leaned against the wall. My hand moved over the dark patch again and I winced at the tremor of pain that went through my body. What did I do that was so wrong? I couldn't understand it.

My legs didn't want to hold me up, which is okay because I really didn't want to be standing up anymore. And I really didn't want to be looking at that grotesque image in the mirror. I wanted this to all go away. I'd be happy if I suddenly woke up and found out this was some sort of horrible nightmare. It could be a nightmare, right? That's the only thing that makes sense. So, any moment now I was going to wake up gasping for air and sweating like I'd run twenty miles in my sleep. Any moment now.


Okay maybe not. It was a good try, though, wasn't it?

I closed my eyes and let myself slide down the wall until I was seated on the floor with my knees drawn up to my chest. It kind of hurt to be in that position, but I didn't care, I felt more secure. A smaller target. I wrapped my arms around my knees and tucked my head down so that I was as small a target as possible. If I were little, maybe, I wouldn't get hit again. Not gonna get hit again. Hurts. Leave me alone. Please leave me alone.

There was a soft knock on the door and I raised my head, staring at the knob, praying it wouldn't move. It didn't, but a moment later the knock came again. For a moment I was petrified with irrational fear of whatever was coming. What had I been thinking coming into the bathroom alone? Okay, that's really not a normal question, is it? The bathroom is usually safe. Just that one time it wasn't. It's safe now. Breathe. Inhale; exhale. Calm.

"Okay in there?" Brian's concerned voice came through the door. No. I'm not. I'm not okay. Help me. "Frack?" Oh, jeez he sounded upset. I had to answer him; I couldn't let him know how panicked I felt, he'd only worry more. I had to calm down. This was so stupid. I wasn't usually like this. Not that I'm the bravest guy in the world or anything, but I'm not usually that easily freaked out, either. And I'm not usually so dense that I wouldn't have guessed it was Brian knocking. He was, after all, just in the next room. I felt really idiotic for freaking out.

It took me a moment to find my voice. "Yeah, I'll be out in a minute," I called. My voice sounded shaky despite my best effort to sound normal. I hadn't realized that I'd started crying at some point, but my cheeks were wet. I wiped them dry with the back of my hand and started blinking to stop any further tears. I didn't want Brian to know what a wreck I was. He'd just go back to babying me and being overprotective. I didn't want that. Well, part of me did, but I didn't want to want that and that's what's important. Okay, that thought confused even me.

"I'm coming in." Brian sounded even more worried. Damn, Brian, I'm sorry.

I wanted to get back up on my feet before he came in, but I just didn't have the strength. I thought about telling him to go away, but the truth is, I did want him there. I wanted him to hold me and tell me that everything was okay. That I was okay. I'm twenty-one years old and I shouldn't need that. I'm a man now, not a little kid. I didn't want him to see me like this.

I tucked my head back down again. Oh yeah, that's the grown up thing to do.

The door opened slowly and I became aware that someone was towering over me. I felt my body start to tremble. How dumb could I be? I knew it was Brian, but still I was shaking like it was some monster coming to rip me to pieces.

"Hey," Brian's voice floated down to me and then a moment later I felt his hand on my shoulder. I knew it was him and that he'd never hurt me, but for some reason that's not the message that my reflexes were given. I jerked away from him and pressed myself back into the corner created by the counter and the wall. "It's okay, Nicky." His voice surprised me. He sounded almost as panicked as I felt.

I looked up at him finally. He looked frightened, and a little hurt. Oh no. I'm such a dork that I hurt his feelings. Of course I did, pulling away like that. What was I thinking? That was the problem. I wasn't thinking right at all. I don't know what was wrong with me. "I'm sorry," I apologized, my voice sounding incredibly small.

"Oh, hey, no," he soothed. "It's okay." He picked up my discarded hospital gown and moved very slowly toward me, as if he was afraid I'd freak out again. All right, so that was a perfectly valid fear, since I couldn't seem to control my own reactions. I hope that's just another effect of the drug or something.

I could feel myself tensing up as he dropped down beside me, but I forced myself not to flinch away. "You want me to go get your doc?" he asked. "Are you hurting?"

I shook my head. "I'm okay," I lied. "Just freaked out." That much was true anyway. "Sorry."

Brian nodded, as if he understood. I don't think it's possible to understand what I was feeling. I didn't even understand it, so how could he? He draped the gown over my shoulders, then very cautiously reached into the sleeve. He watched my eyes apprehensively, ready to pull back at the first sign that I was going to freak again. I was actually starting to feel normal again. Well, as normal as one could be while sitting in hospital issue boxers while his best friend dressed him. He helped me get my arms into the sleeves of the gown then sat down next to me, and reached his arm around me in sort of a half embrace.

For a moment I hesitated, but then I let myself lean against him.

"You're okay," he assured me again and held me just a little tighter. I let my head drop against his shoulder and closed my eyes. How did he always seem to know exactly what I needed to hear?

I'm a little embarrassed to admit that we sat in the bathroom for the better part of an hour before I felt ready to get up and resume normal life again. We didn't speak at all, which was just fine by me. I think that if either of us had spoken I only would have felt even more humiliated. I probably would have lost it again. I would have told him how scared I was that this had happened to me, or how terrified I was that it could happen again. I know he wouldn't make fun of me or anything like that; he probably already knew anyway. I don't know why I let myself get so freaked out. I can't even really tell you what I was thinking about that entire time. Mostly I think I just kind of numbed out. I was aware of Brian watching me and of him occasionally stroking my hair soothingly. A couple times he started to rub my back, but he'd stop that when I'd wince because he'd hit another bruise. I'm glad I couldn't see what my back looked like in the mirror.

When at last I was ready to get up and face things again, I slowly sat up straight again and smiled shyly at Brian. He hadn't had to comfort me like that since we were first on the road and I used to get homesick. But he definitely hadn't lost the touch.

"You okay?" he asked as he got to his feet and reached out his hand to help me up.

I nodded. "Thanks."


"Is three o'clock good for you?" I asked, trying to joke a little to let him know I really was okay again. Show's over folks, nothing to see here.

His face scrunched up as he pretended to consider. "I guess it could be penciled in," he agreed with mock reluctance.


I got released from the hospital about an hour after we finally emerged from the bathroom. Dr. Lincoln came in and checked me over one last time, gave me the "almost clean" bill of health, and sent me on my way with instructions of what to do should I have any sort of withdrawal symptoms. Thank you again, flunitrazawhatevertheheckitwas. She gave a copy of my instructions to Brian as well, just in case I couldn't read mine or something. And then we were free to go.

Except for the clothes factor.

Which led to another really discomforting discovery. I know I should have seen this coming a mile away, but again, I was blindsided. It makes sense. After all, I was abducted while I was taking a shower. My captor had apparently been kind enough to furnish me with a blanket--which they now were keeping as evidence, so at least I hadn't been found wandering the streets completely naked or something, but...well, I'd been found passed out in a city park clad in a blanket. Huh. I really hope nobody recognized me.

Fortunately, the nurses were able to scrounge up a nice set of scrubs for me to wear back to the hotel, so I wouldn't have to wear the hospital gown in public. I've always liked green, but somehow I think I'm going to burn the outfit first chance I get anyway. The fewer reminders I have about the whole thing, the better.

Lon, the bodyguard who had magically replaced Ed some time during the night, made me sit down so we could have a little talk before we made our exit. "When we're in the open, you will stay at my side at all times. Never more than two feet away," he lectured me. Two feet. That's pretty close. Not really crazy about anyone being in my personal space like that. We'd had this talk a few other times, but generally he said it in such a way that led me to believe that there was room for discussion on the matter. Today, there was no room. We were going to be attached at the hip. I suspect he would have put a leash on me if he could have. "If I say to get down, you drop without asking why, and you do so immediately." I nodded. "If something happens and you see me go down, do not stop to help me. You run. Get somewhere safe." Lon's lecture was starting to scare me again. Somehow when we'd been given the rules before, they hadn't seemed quite so serious. "We will not be stopping for autographs or photographs." I nodded. I was kind of glad he was making that non-negotiable today because I hate not stopping for the fans, but I really didn't want to face them looking like this. And really I just wanted to be left alone. Well, alone with the guys anyway. I don't think I'm ready to face alone alone.

"Are you ready?" Brian asked me after Lon had finished laying down the laws.

I was a bit uneasy about venturing back out into public for the first time, but it would be over quickly. I hoped. "People don't know I'm here, do they?" I asked.

Lon shook his head. "We've been lucky so far. As far as the public knows you are still MIA. It was decided that it would be in everyone's best interest to get you somewhere safe before making a public statement about your recovery." Not that I wanted people worrying about me or anything, but it was good to know that I wouldn't have to face a crowd just yet. I could handle this.

"Okay. I'm ready."

Brian put his hat on and handed me his sunglasses to put on. "Exit, stage left."

I started for the door only to feel Lon's hand grab the back of my shirt and pull me back. "Never more than two feet away, Nick," he reminded. I rolled my eyes and nodded miserably. This was going to take some getting used to. I wondered how long we were going to be on DEFCON 1. Not that I don't appreciate it, since it's because of me and all, but...doesn't mean it can't be annoying. I nodded obediently and waited for him to go. "Oh, and kid. In case I forget to tell you later. It's good to have you back with us." He didn't wait for me to answer before he headed out. I was careful to stay in the two-foot range. Brian strayed a little once and got the look of death from Lon so he quickly got back into the zone.

We were waiting for the elevator when one of the nurses caught up to us. Lon stepped protectively in front of me, which I thought was probably a little bit overboard considering she was a nurse and all, but then that's why he's a bodyguard and I'm the body being guarded.

"Someone left this for you at the nurses' station," she explained, holding out a teddy bear that had a card-shaped envelope taped to it. "I just wanted to make sure you got it before you left." She looked a little bit embarrassed. I wondered if the "someone" was maybe her. After all, as Lon said, nobody knew I was here.

Lon raised an eyebrow and eyed the bear then glanced at me with an amused look on his face. He nodded and I took the gift from her with a smile. "Thanks. It's really sweet."

She smiled back shyly, and nodded. "I hope you feel better!" She turned and practically fled back the other way.

Lon winked at me. "Still got the touch, kid."

As predicted, there weren't people waiting outside when we left, so we got to the car quick and easy. And since it was Lon's car, there was little to no chance that anyone would be watching it. So assuming that nobody had taken to hanging around the hotel, I would be left alone.

I was going to wait to get back to the hotel to read the nurse's card, but as soon as we were settled in Lon's Jeep Cherokee, Brian began eyeing it and grinning, looking up at me with a look that could only say "Open it! Open it!"

Okay. Twist my arm. I grinned and pulled the envelope loose. To taunt Brian I made a show of opening it veeeery slooowly. He looked as if he wanted to reach over, grab it, and rip it open himself. But of course he didn't.

I would have.

I finally pulled the card out. There was a cartoon picture of a bear lying in a hospital bed with its leg being suspended. Why is it that Hallmark(tm) seems to think injured animals are cute? Oh well, moving on. I flipped the card open.

It took a few moments for me to get over the shock. And then I was on the floor of Lon's Jeep emptying my stomach of the little content I'd managed to choke down for breakfast.

Lon swerved to the side of the road and was out of the car in a flash. He flung open my door and waited for me to stop retching. He and Brian exchanged looks. They hadn't seen it yet. I didn't want them to. But somehow I didn't think that they'd just take my barfing as me being suddenly carsick.

As soon as I thought I could handle it I sat back up slowly and found that both Lon and Brian were staring at me with terrified looks on their faces. "What did it say?" Brian asked gently.

It wasn't so much what it said. That was...kinda upsetting despite the fact that they were words I'd heard literally thousands of times now (well most of them anyway). Unfortunately the card had come with a little momento.

I handed the card to Brian, but held on to the other item.

Brian's brow furrowed as he read and he looked slightly disturbed but also confused. Lon gave him a questioning look.

"Looking back on the things I've done, I was trying to be someone. Played my part. Kept you in the dark. Now let me show you the shape of my heart." Lyrics. Not terribly appropriate for a get well soon card, but not disturbing. Well except for the kept in the dark part maybe. "You look so pretty in Black & Blue?" Brian read the added line with a look of distaste on his face. It could have been in reference to the photos in the cd booklet or something, but I knew better.

Lon noticed that I was still holding something. "Nick?" he asked softly, not wanting to upset me. I couldn't look at him. But I handed him the Polaroid that had been included.

Seeing my reflection in the mirror had nothing on seeing myself in that picture, my arms bound to a pipe that ran over my head, a gag in my mouth and my eyes wide with terror.

But it wasn't even the picture itself that had made me retch.

It was what was written below it.

"I'm a star with no light, a day with no night, if I don't have you. See you soon!"