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I should have just opened the damn door when I got to the top of that first flight of stairs. I don't really know why I didn't except that it had that sign saying "Emergency Exit Only: Alarm Will Sound" on it. Thinking back on it, I imagine that my situation would have been considered an emergency. I could have opened the door and someone would have come to my rescue.

I lied. That's exactly the reason that I didn't open the stupid door when I had the chance. I didn't do the bright thing; I didn't do the obvious thing. What it all boiled down to was that I didn't want to be rescued. I wanted to get to safety on my own, prove to myself I could do it. Not the smoothest move or the best time to decide to prove that point, I admit. Especially considering how long it took me to even get to the point where I could stand up without losing my balance and falling back over.

Even if I hadn't gone out the Emergency Exit and brought help that way, I could have taken the next door and headed out to where the people were. But noooo, I had to be all paranoid about running into you-know-who instead of any one of over a hundred people who could have helped me get back to my room. So, I passed right by that door, too.

One and a half flights of stairs later I was regretting that tremendously. My left leg was still not bending. Surprisingly, it didn't really hurt all that much. It just wouldn't bend. My right leg, on the other hand, hurt. And it was complaining about having to do all the work getting me up the stairs. My arms weren't too happy about the whole situation, either, since I was doing some pretty heavy leaning on the railing. Least happy with my decision to make the climb by myself was my head. It was busy cursing me for being stupid and stubborn enough to even attempt to get upstairs on my own. It was also still throbbing, alternating moments of dull aching with sharp stabbing pains. And just to spite me it was also making the whole world spin every few steps, which made it all that much more fun to climb the stairs.

Throw in a little nausea and we had a whole party thing going on.

I had to move pretty slowly since I was afraid that if I didn't I would end up with a one-way ticket back to the bottom. Admittedly, I was also still moving slowly because it was taking a whole lot more concentration to move than it normally would. Walking usually comes naturally, but it just wasn't at the moment. Remind me never to get drunk ever again. Oh wait, wrong speech, I wasn't drunk. Remind me anyway.

But I was almost to my destination. Just a few more stairs and then the hallway and I'd be back to the room. And then I could lie down and the room could spin all it wanted. I'd sleep off the effect of the drug and things would be okay again.

Until stalker guy figured out that I was alive.

Damn it, still couldn't shake that thought. That's the problem of having a brain that follows you everywhere. Um. Yeah. Probably shouldn't complain too much about that, huh?

Finally I made it to the third floor. Without even once toppling back over and killing myself or anything. Yay me. I'm just glad that we didn't get the penthouse suites or something this trip. Then again I could have just gotten out on second floor and taken the elevator up. Oh geez. NOW I think of that.

As soon as I pushed open the door to our floor I could hear arguing coming from one of the rooms. "How long can they expect us to just sit here? It's been almost an hour!" It took me a moment to realize that it was Brian, the voice sounded so enraged. Almost an hour? It'd seemed so much longer than that.

"They're already doing all they can to find him," I heard Howie trying to reassure him.

"I knew I shouldn't have let him go down there," AJ bemoaned, sounding sick.

"Yeah, AJ, why did you let him? He wasn't ready! Anyone could have seen that!" Brian snapped and I cringed. Anyone could see it? Hey, I'd thought I was hiding it fairly well, thank you. Well, okay so the little scene before the conference would have given me away to everyone, but still, if it hadn't been for that, I thought I was doing pretty good.

"He said he had to go!" AJ bit right back. "I'm not his fucking keeper!" No, AJ, you're not. Sorry I put you in that position. I felt horrible.

"But you're supposed to be his friend!" I grimaced at Brian's insinuation. It wasn't his fault, Brian. I would have gone no matter what AJ'd said to try to stop me.

"I was being his friend. What would you have done, make him hide in a fucking closet for the rest of his life? He said he had to do it!"

"What I would have done was talk him into waiting until he was feeling better!"

Damn, I was really messing everyone up. This wasn't like Brian at all. He was usually so nice to everybody, and he was usually the last to lose his temper. Except maybe for Howie. That was a toss-up. But for him to lose it with AJ over something that wasn't even his fault? And of course AJ wasn't one to sit quietly when someone got in his face. I really didn't want to be the cause of their fighting.

I started limping toward the open door to Kevin's hotel room. The sooner I got there, the sooner they'd stop arguing. It just seemed too awkward to yell out to them from so far away. Besides, I wanted to gauge the situation rather than walk blindly into it.

"Guys, that's not helping anything," Howie tried again to calm them down.

"Yeah well neither is standing around here doing nothing!" Brian retorted angrily.

"Lay off him!" AJ growled.

"I'm going to go help look," Brian announced, sounding determined.

"Sorry, Bri, can't let you off this floor," I heard Ed stopping him.

"I know you want to help," Lon sympathized, "but they're already combing the building and have an APB out in the area. No vehicles have been allowed to leave the lot without being thoroughly checked out by security, so unless he's on foot he hasn't left the building. They're doing the best they can."

"Well it's pretty damn pathetic!" I had to agree with Brian, though I probably wouldn't have said it aloud. I mean I'd been in that damn stairwell for how long and no one had found me? Given, I'm thinking now that it probably wasn't the same stairwell that was right next to the theater thing or whoever turned the power back on probably would have found me, but still. You'd think someone would have checked the stairwells.

"Like you?" Oh, AJ, don't go there...

I really had to stop this before it got any worse.

I made it to the room and took a deep breath before stepping in. I wasn't sure whether to expect them to do the "just glad you're okay" thing (which was what I was hoping for) or if I should be prepared to get yelled at for not following orders and causing them all to worry again. I stepped into the doorway and peered in cautiously, trying to gauge current temperaments so I could do my own personal version of damage control.

I winced as I took in the scene. AJ and Brian were practically nose-to-nose and glaring daggers at each other with Howie looking on, trying to figure out how to get between them without getting killed in the crossfire. Lon and Ed were standing just a few feet away looking like they were trying to decide whether to let Brian and AJ go at it to get it out of their systems or whether to throw them both to the floor and sit on them until they both cooled off. The bodyguards were paid to keep others from harming us, but not really to keep us from harming each other. Maybe we'd have to add that into their contracts. Then again it didn't really come up that often.

Apart from all of that, Kevin was curled up on the bed, knees drawn up to where he was clutching a pillow to his chest. He didn't even seem to notice that the others were fighting. In fact he had the blank look on his face that he gets whenever he's really upset and doesn't want to let anyone in on what he's thinking. His variation of my "if you don't see it" theory, I guess. If he didn't show he was upset, no one would know. Not that I would ever try to do that, of course. [Insert innocent whistling here.] Sometimes I think we're too alike for our own goods. And if I said that aloud, Kevin would either kill me or die of embarrassment at being likened to me. We express things very differently--he hides behind a mask of perfection while I tend to flaunt my imperfections--but really, we aren't all that different. That's probably why we're the most likely to get into fights. Well, not counting AJ and Brian at the moment.

Ed was the first to see me and his eyes widened with surprise. Then he smiled slightly and shook his head with disbelief. "With all the people they got looking for you, you're gonna tell me you got up here on your own?" He pulled out his cellphone and called down to let the other security guys know to call off the search.

Brian immediately forgot about fighting with AJ and swung his attention to me. His expression changed quickly from anger to guilt then to concern. He stayed back, though, as Lon came over to check me out.

"You okay, kid?" he asked. "Had us worried, you know. Taking off and disappearing on us again."

"I'm sorry," I replied guiltily, finding the carpet suddenly interesting. It was kind of a weird greenish shag carpet (which by the way do NOT call it that when visiting Britain or Australia, it leads to quite embarrassing conversations...).

Lon shook his head and smiled. "It's okay, kid. Don't blame you for getting nervous. We just didn't realize you'd gotten out past us until the lights were back on. Just glad you're okay." Yes! Going that route instead of the lecturing! Lon's smile faded as he looked at me appraisingly. He made a face at what I assumed was probably a tell-tale sign of my close encounter with either the wall or the bottom of the stairs. Which reminded me, my head was still really pounding. I wanted to lie down. Unfortunately I didn't think that the others were going to just going to let this go without finding out what happened. "What happened?" See what I mean?

"We...I thought maybe that guy got you again," Brian said quietly as he moved in closer. All the previous anger was gone from his voice, and he sounded very tired. Guess I wasn't the only one that was running on pure adrenaline.

The carpet was really tacky; they really needed to think about updating it to something more...y2k-ish. I glanced up and noticed that both Lon and Brian were starting to look more concerned since I wasn't responding to that. "He did," I finally answered uncomfortably.

"What?!" AJ was immediately at Brian's side and gawking at me. "He did? What happened?"

I shook my head. Which started the spinning again. "Can I...lie down? I'm not feeling so good," I admitted, feeling nauseous again.

"Of course!" AJ immediately stepped out of the way and Brian took my arm and helped me over to the closer bed. My exaggerated limp did not go unnoticed.

"What's wrong with your leg?" Howie asked as he and AJ moved to the other side of the bed.

"Doesn't bend," I answered. Duh. Like they couldn't see that.

I spent a couple moments trying to figure out how to get into bed without killing myself before I finally just kind of flopped down and then resituated myself so that I'd be more comfortable. It really sucked not being able to bend my knee. I closed my eyes. On with my plan of sleeping until the drug fully wore off.

"So...what happened?" AJ asked again as he sat down on the edge of the bed. His voice was back to sounding kind of sickly. I looked over at him and saw that he looked guilty. Probably for "letting" me go to the conference. So much for my plan. I needed to get this straightened out. AJ shouldn't be feeling guilty over that. But man I wanted to sleep.

Sorry, AJ, it wasn't your fault. There, that would do it. Oh wait, I didn't actually say anything did I...? I should do that.

"Harris and Walters are on their way up," I heard Ed informing Lon. Oh boy. They were gonna be really ticked when they figured out that I didn't get any more details for them. I'd blown another chance at getting a description of the guy. Maybe I should tell them about the phone call just to give them something more to work with. Not that it'd be much. I wasn't supposed to tell them about it, but I figured that the guy'd probably only wanted me to keep quiet about it until after the conference anyway. I mean, it had been his way of getting me there, and I'd gone, it was over, so there was no reason not to tell anymore. Yeah, I'd give them that. Besides, it would get AJ off the hook with Brian.

"Good. Why don't you make a few calls and see if we can get a doctor over here to check Nickolas over. They'll need a portable x-ray to get some pictures of that knee." Yep, keep talking about me like I'm not here, Lon. Seriously. It'll save me from having to respond. Now that I was lying down it was getting harder to keep my eyes open.

I really shouldn't forget to call my family.

Maybe I'd just do that after I took a little nap.

I knew they were going to ask that, damn it.

"Um...he was big," I offered my pathetic answer, giving them an apologetic little smile. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the corners of Brian's mouth curve up a little.

Walters, however, wasn't amused and made his exasperated sighing noise again. I'd really missed that. But I had the feeling I'd hear it several more times before the day was out. At least I'd been able to tell them a little bit more about what happened this time than I had when they grilled me at the hospital.

"Can you tell us anything else about him?" Harris asked gently.

I bit back the "really big" line, and glanced over at AJ, who was silently sitting cross-legged next to Howie at the far end of the bed. He raised his eyebrows and nodded his head toward the hotel phone. Very subtle, AJ. Like I'd expect any less. But he was right and I knew it. Besides, I'd decided before my little nap (which lasted all of like two minutes, damn it) that I was going to tell anyway.

So I did. I told them almost everything the guy had said, but left out the threat against the other guys. I didn't want to freak them out unless I really had to. Everyone in the room but AJ was hearing about it for the first time, and I suspected that most if not all of them were pretty upset at me for not telling them before. Fortunately no one seemed to notice that AJ hadn't told them, either. Maybe they hadn't realized that AJ knew. I wouldn't tell on him, no point in us both being in trouble. Lon's expression was pretty guarded but I knew that I'd be getting a lecture from him later. I'd probably get one from Ed, too, since I'd promised him that I would tell him if any more threats were made against me and then less than an hour after that I'd broken that promise. He was trying to imitate Lon's guarded look, but I could tell from the look in his eyes that I'd messed up again.

"I didn't tell you guys about it because he threatened to kill me if I did," I offered, looking at Ed apologetically. He frowned slightly, but gave his little nod to show he understood.

Walters nodded. "Do you have a list of the people who know your cell phone number?"

I frowned. "Not like written out, no." Another irritated sigh from Walters. Right.

"Where is the phone now?" Walters asked.

"It's in my room," I informed him, "but it's kind of broken."

"I'd like to take a look at it," Walters informed me. Whatever whets your whistle, guy. He and Ed went across the hall to retrieve it while Harris stayed with me to try and get an idea of who all would have my cell number.

"Um. Pretty much just the guys, my family, a few other friends. A couple radio stations have it from interviews and stuff, I guess. And management has it..." I tried to think of anyone else who would have it, but came up blank.

"And it is unlisted?" Harris asked.

I nodded. I like to sleep. Having my number made public would probably lead to me getting very little of it, so yeah, unlisted was a good thing.

"We'll want to follow up on this, so if you could get us a list of the people who may have your number it would be very helpful. Are any of them likely to have given out your number to anyone else?"

I considered for a few moments, but got distracted as Ed came rushing back into the room, making a bee-line for Kevin. I tensed and looked over at Kevin. For the first time, I realized that he hadn't really moved since I'd first come into the room. He still had that same blank expression on his face. When I'd come in, I'd assumed it was because he was upset, but then wouldn't he have cheered up a little once he found out I was safe? What was going on?

I looked at Brian to see if he knew, but he looked just as confused and horrified by what was happening as I did. Something had been wrong with Kevin and no one had noticed? I felt horrible. Everyone had been too concerned with me to even notice something was wrong! If he wasn't okay, I was never going to forgive myself.

"What's going on?" Howie asked, springing from the bed and following Ed over to Kevin.

Brian bounded over the top of me and was over at the other bed immediately, his face paling. "Kev?"

"Kevin? Can you hear me?" Ed asked, slapping Kevin's face lightly. Kevin didn't even respond. SHIT!

I started trying to get up so I could go over there, too, but AJ grabbed hold of my good leg. I looked down at him questioningly. He'd paled considerably. "Just stay back, give them room," he said quietly.

"What happened?" I asked, but got no answer. I hadn't really expected one, since everyone seemed to be as clueless as me about the situation, except for Ed.

"What's wrong with him?" I heard Howie him. Ed only shook his head in response.

"I'm calling 911," Brian announced, pulling out his cell phone.

"We've already got a doctor on the way here to check Nickolas over. He should be here any minute. That'll be faster than getting an ambulance and getting him to the hospital," Ed informed him.

Brian scowled as he went ahead and dialed the numbers anyway, heading out to the hallway so that he could make the call where it was a little quieter. Lon moved to stand near the doorway to keep an eye on him. Ed frowned a little at being ignored, but quickly turned his attention back to Kevin.

I looked up as Walters came back in the room. He had a couple plastic bags in his hand and looked rather grim. One of the bags contained my cell phone, and I could see that there was some sort of photo in the other one. It was too far away to see what it was of, though. Somehow I had the feeling that it was the reason that Ed had suddenly come to check on Kevin. I tensed more, my stomach starting to do that 'want to turn inside out' thing again. I tried again to get up, but AJ, who had moved closer to me, pushed me back insistently, giving me a "stay put or else" look. I could tell he wanted to know what was going on, too, though. If they didn't tell us, I'd try again in a minute and he would be sure to give in and let me.

Walters handed the bagged photo to Harris, who looked at it, then looked over at me, frowning. I sat up straighter. What was going on? I glanced over to where Howie was clutching Kevin's hand. Oh God. Please, Kev, be okay. I looked back at Harris and Walters, hoping for answers.

Ignoring me, Walters moved over to check on Kevin. "How long has he been like this?" he questioned as he pushed Howie out of the way. He took hold of the arm that Howie'd been holding and began examining it.

Howie shook his head. "This whole time. We thought...thought he was just upset. He gets like this sometimes when he's upset. We just thought..." he trailed off as Walters gave him an impatient look. "About an hour?"

Apparently not finding what he was looking for, Walters dropped Kevin's arm then reached over and pulled Kev's shirt up a little bit. I heard him make a small hissing noise and he moved in closer for a few moments before backing away and pulling the shirt back down. "Make sure the doctor draws blood right away for a tox screen. We've got a needle mark," he announced.

I closed my eyes. This was all my fault. I hadn't warned anyone that the other guys were in danger. I'd believed the bastard when he said he wouldn't hurt any of the others if I went along with what he said. And now Kevin was hurt because of my gullibility. It was my fault.

"A needle mark? How'd he get it?" AJ asked. And I'm the one who always gets accused of asking dumb questions. I wondered if Kevin'd been given the same drug as me. Probably. Except he was a lot more out of it than I was. Maybe he'd been given a bigger dosage than me? I frowned at that idea. I hated thinking about how horrible feeling it was to not be able to move and wondered if Kevin was having the same helpless feeling I'd had. I hoped not. Then again, if he had been given the same thing as me at least we knew that it would wear off. But still. I didn't want to think about Kevin being attacked like I'd been and feeling so powerless to do anything about it.

"It's my fault." You might assume that was me talking, but seemed that someone else felt just as guilty as I did. Or at least as responsible. And he was now emotionlessly owning up to it. I looked over to where Ed was now backing away from Kevin. "I left to check on why the power was out," he informed Lon and the agents in a detached, toneless voice. Trying not to sound defeated, I supposed, but it just made him sound all that much more beaten. "That's the only time it could have happened. I was gone for a few minutes. Kevin was still asleep when I left, so I didn't think..." he trailed off, frowning. "I shouldn't have left. I'm sorry."

Lon didn't say anything, but he did have a sympathetic look on his face, so that counted for something. At least Ed wasn't in too much trouble. It was an honest mistake. One that could have been prevented if he'd known that Kevin was in danger, which he would have known if I'd told them about the threat. Which I still hadn't done.

I was such a coward. I didn't want to admit to them that this was my fault. I didn't want them to hate me for blowing it again. I sank down a little in the bed, feeling even worse than before. At least Ed was brave enough to admit he'd screwed up. And still I kept quiet.

"What time was it when you left?" Walters was asking Ed.

"Just a minute or so after the power went out. I was watching the conference from the other room, so when the power went out I stopped here to make sure Kevin was still asleep then went to check it out downstairs."

Walters looked at his watch. "And you were gone for how long?"

Ed frowned and took a deep breath, shaking his head. "I'm not sure. Probably about ten minutes or so." I noticed Lon frown and figured Ed was in for a lecture. "Maybe less." Good cover, Ed. I hoped Lon wasn't too hard on the guy for leaving his post. He hadn't known that Kevin was in any danger. Because I hadn't told anyone. I sank another notch lower.

"So that put the attack on Kevin at some time between approximately 4:15 and 4:25." I swore I could actually see the wheels turning in Walters' head. "Could it have been longer than ten minutes?"

"I don't think so." Ed's frown deepened. "But it might have been, I guess." He admitted that in a voice that was much too small for a man his size. I knew how he felt. And then some. And still I wasn't speaking up and taking any of the pressure off of him. What kind of asshole am I?

I looked away, ashamed.

Walters nodded. "Were the lights on or off when you got back to the room?"

"Still off. They came up a minute or so after I got back."

Walters made a small clicking noise with his tongue then nodded again. He looked over at me for a moment, his eyes narrowing. What was up with that? I got a little more nervous. He probably knew that I was keeping something from them. Several somethings, if we're being technical about it. I lowered my eyes, feeling even more guilty. Why couldn't I just make myself tell them? I owed them that much; I owed them more than that. I just didn't want them to hate me. I couldn't deal with that on top of everything else. But they needed to know.

Before I could make myself blurt out the information I'd been withholding, however, there was a knock on the door. The doctor guy. Thank god, he could help Kevin. I immediately forgot about what I was going to say because it was so much more important for them to focus on helping Kev at the moment. I'd tell them everything as soon as they took care of him.

I know it was an excuse, but it was a damn good one. Sue me.

The next several minutes were kind of a blur. The doctor checked Kevin over quickly, checking his heart-rate, his pulse, and all that good stuff. He also drew the blood sample that Walters requested. About the time he finished doing that, the paramedics that Brian had called for arrived on the scene. The doctor filled them in on his initial findings while Kevin was quickly bundled up and taken from the room. The other guys started after him, but then Brian stopped and looked back at me, obviously torn between going with his cousin or staying with me.

AJ and Howie paused in the door realizing Brian's hesitation. After a moment, Howie came back into the room. "You guys go ahead, I'll stay with Nick."

I had a better solution. I wanted to go, too. I even suggested that I share the ambulance with Kevin, but the doctor insisted on checking me over before letting me go anywhere. So the guys left without me. Lon followed after them insisting that they stop downstairs and have Jack and Ryan go with the guys for hospital security. He would bring Geo back up to help Ed in case we wanted to follow them to the hospital once I got the once over. As if we wouldn't go?

I wanted to go right away, to hell with the exam. Obviously I wasn't going to die or I would have done so already. I was far more concerned with Kevin, and it was a waste of time sitting around here. I suddenly understood why Brian had been so ticked off earlier. It's hard doing nothing while someone you care about is in trouble. I really hope that's not what it felt like for them the entire six days I was missing. I would have gone crazy. Patience is not among my virtues. I wanted to go with Kevin and the doctor probably wasn't going to tell me anything I didn't already know. My leg was injured, I had a concussion, and I was drugged. What do you bet that's all he would have to tell me? I'd just save them the time and declare it outright.

Unfortunately they didn't accept my diagnosis.

Ed assured me that as soon as the doctor gave me the "all clear" that he would drive Howie and I over there, so I reluctantly accepted the ruling and submitted to the exam. I was extremely nervous as the doctor approached me with a syringe, even though he was only getting a blood sample from me, not drugging me. I know it sounds weird, but I would have probably screamed bloody murder if he'd tried to inject me with anything. I knew he was a doctor and all, but I would have rather deal with pain than get injected with anything like that again. I never wanted to be out of control of my own body again. Ever. I didn't care how much pain I was in. No drugs. Period.

Ed and the two agents tactfully left the room when the doc instructed me to remove my shirt so he could check previous injuries for further damage, and to drop trou so he could examine my leg. Howie started to go with them, but I reached out and snagged his arm. Even though I wasn't thrilled about the idea of him seeing my battered body, I didn't want to be left alone with someone I didn't know. While the doctor wasn't a large enough man to be my attacker, I was still nervous about it. So I was glad Howie agreed to stay. Especially since it turned out that my coordination was still way out of whack and I needed a bit of help getting undressed. It was really embarrassing, but when he noticed I was having problems, he came to help without me even having to humiliate myself by asking, and without being all teasing about it like AJ or even Brian probably would have been. Once that was done, he sat over on the other bed and turned on the TV to make it less awkward for him to stick around.

I grimaced as I saw footage of Kevin being whisked through the hotel lobby on a gurney. Yep, there were still reporters in the building. Howie had the volume turned all the way down, though, so I couldn't hear what they were telling people about the situation. I bet Kevin would get to have his very own press conference later. Then again I'd probably be stuck going to it and explaining what happened when I disappeared during the blackout. I sighed and shifted so I couldn't see the TV anymore.

You don't want the gory details of the next few minutes, so I'll kindly skip over them. All I'll say is that I didn't freak out at all and was a wonderful completely obedient patient from beginning to end. Uh huh. Didn't freak me out at all to have some strange guy touching my bared skin. Nope. Didn't yell or try to fight my way out of it or anything like that until threatened with sedatives. I was completely calm and rational the entire time.

And if Howie ever tells you anything to the contrary, it's a complete lie.

Well, maybe not a complete one. Or technically one at all, but I don't want to discuss it. I'm just glad that there weren't any other witnesses to the spectacle. I'm kind of surprised that Ed didn't come in to protect the poor doctor from me at some point.

Once he was done with the exam, the doctor retreated to a distance of relative safety (heh) and gave me his verdict. I had a concussion (surprised?) and I'd dislocated my knee, likely in my fall down the steps. The reason it didn't hurt a whole lot, he informed me, was because my knee had done a spontaneous reduction. So I hadn't been too far off with my spontaneous combustion theory! HA! Okay so that had to do with my head, not my knee, but still. I wasn't sure what spontaneous reduction was supposed to mean, since my knee sure didn't look any smaller. It looked pretty swollen and gross actually, but he said it was reduced, so I took his word for it.

He pushed open the door and asked someone out there to go down the hall and grab a bucket of ice from the machine. In the meantime he cautiously approached me again so he could wrap my leg. As he did that, he explained to me that from his assessment I probably had some ligament and cartilage tearing but that there didn't seem to be any vascular damage. That was all pretty much Greek to me, but what it basically boiled down to, it seemed, was that there was a fairly bad injury, but it could have been a lot worse.

There was a possibility that I'd need surgery--he explained in detail about reattaching and tightening ligaments or something but it was kind of hard to pay attention. Especially since I had no idea what he meant by most of it. What I did pick up was that I'd have problems with our choreography for a while because my knee would be weak and prone to giving out, especially if I didn't have the surgery. As if I don't have enough trouble with choreography, anyway. The guys are always quick to laugh at me for missing steps during concerts. Oh well. At least now I'd have a really good excuse. The important part was that I should get full use back eventually.

Despite his diagnosis, the doctor indicated that I would need to get checked out by an orthopedic specialist to make sure that there weren't any complications that he'd missed. Assuming he was correct and there was no nerve damage (eek?), I would be spending the next several weeks with my leg encased in what he called an immobilizer. On the bright side, it sounded like would be able to walk around without crutches or anything as long as I took it easy.

I wondered if "taking it easy" would include running should I have another confrontation with stalker guy. Somehow I didn't think so. That could be a pretty major problem. I was in a lot of trouble. So far I'd learned that I couldn't fight the guy, so running had been my only defense. It hadn't really worked for me during the blackout, but still, it was better than nothing. And maybe it had only failed because I'd tried to hide rather than outrun him. But now I wouldn't even be able to do that. I wouldn't be able to run at all. If he came after me again, I'd be a sitting duck.

Once he made his assessment, the doctor called for another ambulance to come get me to get me in to the hospital. They should have just let me ride along with Kevin. I could have learned the same things there that I had here, plus I would have been able to find out what was going on with Kev. Maybe next time they'd listen to me. Somehow, I doubted it.

Lon returned to the room with a bucket full of ice, which was quickly packed around my knee to help reduce the swelling. The doctor left ahead of us, informing us that he would deliver the blood sample for a tox screen, and would have a specialist waiting for me when we got there.

And that specialist would be able to confirm that I was the most screwed individual on the planet.

Once he was gone, Lon sat down on the edge of the bed. "So. How're you doing, kid?" he asked, looking me over critically.

I raised my eyebrows and looked pointedly down at my leg. "Would you believe me if I said I've never better?" I asked, offering him the best smile I could. I suspected it wasn't a terribly convincing one, but it seemed to pass. He didn't need to know how freaked I really was. He'd think that I had no faith in his ability to protect me. It wasn't his fault that I'd run from his protection before. At least now I wouldn't be able to do that again.

I forgot, was that supposed to be a silver lining?

Lon gave me one of his looks, but I could see a hint of a smile hiding behind it, so he'd obviously bought my not-scared routine. "Cute. I meant in here though," he informed me, reaching up and swatting my head lightly.

He really didn't want the answer to that. Well, all right, he probably did, but I didn't want to give it to him, so I shrugged and looked away. I suppose that probably was an answer in and of itself, but it easier than telling him everything.

"Nick?" Howie's voice was overly concerned and he moved to sit over on the bed next to me. I couldn't look at him, either, so I closed my eyes. I felt him take hold of one of my hands and it took a lot of willpower on my part not to pull away. They didn't understand. No one could.

How did I feel?

I felt like ground zero. The enemy flew in under the radar, there was a bomb dropping, and it was aimed right at me. Missile defense hadn't been prepared for the onslaught, the escape route was blocked, and there was no denying that the final assault was looming on the horizon. There'd already been some ground fire, and casualties were starting to pile up, but the big one was still on its way. And with it would come mass destruction, the obliteration of everything in its path. And I was fucking ground zero.

It's hard to describe what that really felt like to anyone who'd never been there. For one thing, I felt profoundly alone. Sure, I had people all around me. At the moment only Howie and Lon were in the room, but I knew once we got to the hospital there would be the other guys and, of course, the ever present bodyguards. But even though they were physically there, they couldn't understand at all what it was like for me. Maybe Kevin would be able to a little. He must have felt the helplessness that came with the drug induced paralysis, and he'd been caught in the warzone, even if it'd just been for a brief time. That made me feel worse, though. If it hadn't been for me, Kevin wouldn't have been put in that danger.

So on top of the feeling of isolation, there was the guilt to deal with. And not just about Kevin. About anyone who was unlucky enough to be near me. Being near me made them all potential casualties. And I still hadn't even warned them. Why hadn't I warned them? I'll tell you why. Because I'm completely selfish and a coward. As long as they were near me, they'd be in danger of getting caught in the explosion. But if I told them, they'd leave me, and I'd be an even easier target. What kind of friend was I that I would rather them stay in the danger zone than to face the fallout alone? This should be my battle, and mine alone. Instead, I recruited unwitting troops to go into combat blind and unarmed.

"Kid, you don't want to shut us out right now," Lon informed me, his voice overly gentle. Wanna bet? If I had the strength to push them all away from me, I would do it. "I know you've got to be pretty scared right now," he continued.

Scared? I couldn't help it. I started to laugh. There was absolutely nothing funny about the whole situation, so I knew that it was probably the insanity kicking in. Guess he hadn't bought my fearless routine after all. Or maybe it was the fact that my eyes were squeezed shut and I was trying my damnedest not to let my pain show that gave me away. But he was right.

The worst part about being ground zero is the terror and the knowledge that you're powerless to stop it. The enemy has weakened your defenses and moved in for the kill. Everything around you is going to go down with you at the moment of detonation. And there's nothing you can do to stop it.

Unless you remove the target from the equation.