The Return by  Janet and Sandy  CLICK HERE TO EMAIL THEM!

Sunnydale Community Hospital March 10, 1997 11:28pm

Four hours later Rachel was still in with the doctors taking care of Nick and all the others could do was wait. That and eavesdrop on Willow's conversation with her parents, who Mrs. Summers had insisted be notified. She'd been called when the authorities learned that Willow was in her care while her parents were away and had been convinced to let the girls stay until they knew something about Nick's condition.

Under any other circumstances the young girl's breathless rush would have been funny. Now, however, her plea for leniency only served to remind them that this time a demon wasn't their only problem. There was a very real possibility that unless the authorities could be convinced he was unbalanced, their friend would be facing serious criminal charges once he was freed from the demon's grasp. If he survives, that is. Derek pushed the grim thought aside, preferring to focus on the girl's conversation as she attempted to intercede on Nick's behalf.

"Please Daddy, you can't press charges, he really just needs our help right now! He's really a nice guy and kind of cute and you're always saying that the jails are too crowded." Willow rattled on, starting to sniffle from the tears running down her face. She was trying to get as much of her defense out as possible before her father could say anything. There was a pause for a moment.

I guess her father finally managed to get a word in somehow. The precept smiled sadly, thinking about what a feat that must have been.

"No, Daddy you don't need to come home. I'm fine. Nick's the only one who got hurt. Everyone here is scared he's not gonna make it." Willow pushed her point, trying to make her father see that Nick was a real person with people who cared about him and were just as frightened for him as her parents were for her. She kept her fingers tightly crossed as she skirted the fact that her kidnapper had hurt people. Three people were in the hospital because of him. He asked about what happened at the church and the only one hurt there was Nick. She justified to herself.

Derek left off listening and came to his feet as Rachel, wearing her worried doctor face, joined their small company in the corner of the open waiting area. The girl was right about their fears. Nick had looked like a ghost when he was brought into the emergency room. A very bloody ghost. Whatever news was coming he needed to meet it on his feet.

Seeing the tension in his face, Rachel took his hand comfortingly between her own as she surveyed the worried faces confronting her. It concerned her that Philip remained hunched over in his chair, his face buried in his hands. The young priest had been brought in by the police in a mild state of shock after witnessing the events at the church. Fortunately once the authorities saw that Willow knew him and found out what he was doing there they had decided not to file obstruction charges against him. They'd both been given mild tranquilizers in the ER to calm their nerves but she had a hunch Philip had ditched the pills so he could keep a clear head.

Willow said a hurried good-bye and hung up on her distraught father so she could rejoin the others. She informed the psychiatrist, "Buffy took her Mom to get some coffee to calm her down. Is Nick gonna be okay?"

"We think he will be. He suffered massive blood loss before they got him here but he's stabilized now. By some miracle none of the bullets hit anything vital and none remained lodged in his body so he didn't require surgery. He's got enough stitches in him to be a quilt though." She joked lamely, trying to lighten the mood before delivering the rest of her news. "They're still pumping blood into him. He's been placed in a locked psychiatric ward as an attempted suicide and probable psychotic. They've got him under heavy sedation for the rest of the night."

"How long do you think it will be before we can get him out of here and perform the exorcism." Derek asked, relieved that his young friend would survive and eager to get to work on what he considered the most serious problem.

"It's not going to be that easy, Derek. The police filed an involuntary hold on him. That means the law requires he stay here for three days while they evaluate his fitness to stand trial for what he did. If the doctor believes he's mentally ill and needs treatment, he can file an extension and keep him two more weeks. After that we should have no problem. The state has to either file conservatorship papers, declaring him mentally incompetent and assigning custody, or they have to release him. With the Warden in control they aren't likely to release him but I'm sure we can get medical custody after the fourteen day hold expires. Anything to save the state some money."

"Tha's not good enough." Philip informed her, lifting his head from his hands. "The longer we wait, the harder it'll be t'free him. Wait too long and there mightn't be anyone left inside his head t'save. Now that he knows he can't get away with his plans the Warden will try t'destroy Nick's soul so that he can keep the body. We have t'do it now."

"So.." Xander asked, glancing around to make sure he had everyone's attention. "Why don't we sneak him out someplace quiet, like the basement? You can do the thing and get him back before he's missed."

"Yeah, if we asked Dr. Hailey he'd probably let one of you sit with your friend. That way you could keep anyone from finding out he's gone before you get him back." A little color filled Willow's pale cheeks as she started to get excited about the idea. "Then he'll just have to pretend he's still crazy to stay out of jail."

"Excuse me." Derek broke in before the conversation could get away from him. "Who's Dr. Hailey and why would he want to help us?"

Xander was nearly bouncing in his seat with enthusiasm by now. "Sunnydale's Chief of Psychiatry. He comes by the school sometimes to talk to the health classes and make sure we're all healthy, maladjusted teenagers. Cool guy. He'll help."

"The man puts people ahead of rules." The school librarian clarified for the out of towners. "He does a great deal of charity work with the area youth and is well respected by most of the town. I'm sure he'll agree to allow one of you to stay."

The pounding in Derek's head faded a little at the prospect of finally taking some sort of action to help Nick. "This could work. Any ideas on how we make the switch itself?"

Seeing the flash of hope on everyone's faces, Rachel gave her precept's hand a last reassuring squeeze and announced, "If we're going to do this, I guess I'd better go find this Dr. Hailey while the rest of you work out the details."

They had been fortunate to find the Chief of Psychiatry working late and within a couple hours, Alex was installed in a chair beside her 'poor' friend's bed. She reached over to pull the corner of the blanket a little higher, trying to conceal the identity of the patient from anyone who happened to glance through the glass portal in the door.

"Hey! Bad enough I have to have my arms strapped to the bedrails. Do you have to smother me too?" Xander hissed in protest.

"Sorry! I was just trying to cover you up a little more. Your hair isn't much darker than Nick's but it's a lot longer. I really don't think anyone would believe it grew this fast. Now keep quiet before you get us in trouble." Alex couldn't help smiling at the boy's spirit. No matter how bad things got nothing seemed to phase these kids. Lucky for us Giles talked the parents into letting them stay. They're nearly as good as Nick at getting into places they don't belong. Besides it's hard to picture Derek and Philip breaking into a mental ward to switch patients.

She couldn't help but laugh at the mental picture this last thought conjured. They'd get caught. When a passing nurse unlocked the door and opened it a crack to check on the noise, Alex composed herself and raised a cool eyebrow, daring the woman to say anything.

"Who's gonna get us in trouble?" The blanket inquired disbelievingly after the door had fallen closed behind the woman.

No laughter broke the tension of the people huddled around Nick during the ride to the hospital's sub-basement. Unaccountably the demon had been able to surface past the chemicals in his host's body and had begun fighting them on the way down. Rachel and Giles were both white faced as they clung tightly to the struggling victim. The doctor was astonished that even a demon could find such strength in a body as weak and injured as Nick's and grateful for the straps that helped to hold him on the gurney. The librarian simply hoped the elevator wouldn't stop anywhere on the way down.

"You did disable the security camera's didn't you?" Giles asked the Slayer.

"Yes, Giles. Give me a little credit will you."

Overhead a light panel burst, showering them with broken shards from the light tubes and the plastic sheeting that covered them. Rachel quickly brushed them off of the blanket, checking carefully to make certain none of the sharp fragments had hurt Nick before she looked around to see if anyone else had been harmed. They hadn't.

The demon raised it's head and laughed at her. "Don't worry so, Doctor Corrigan. Believe me, he can't feel anything. Not unless I want him to, that is."

"We're here." Buffy informed the others a moment before the door slid open on the shadowy confines of the sub-basement. "Let's get this done and shut this creep up for good." She had barely gotten through the door when it slammed shut in her wake.

"I like it just fine in here now that she's gone. Let's stay a while." The Warden informed them as the doors began to slide crazily back and forth. Anyone who tried to leave, or come back in, risked getting smashed by the heavy metal panels.

"Well I don't!" Derek informed the monster before grabbing one of the panels as it swung open. Philip and Giles quickly moved to help before the doors could crush him, dragging them to a standstill. They were unable to force them open far enough though until the sixteen year old girl on the other side lent her considerable strength to the effort, yanking one side open and holding it there while the men used their combined efforts to pry open the other side. Once Rachel and Willow had maneuvered the gurney out into the corridor, the elevator quit fighting them.

"Take him out of sight around the corner." Derek told the doctor. He held out a hand to stop Willow from following. "Both of you girls should stay here to warn us if anyone is coming."

"I think you should stay with them, Derek." Rachel gave Giles a push on the shoulder to get him moving before the Warden thought of anything else to delay them with. "Nick's system has gone through quite a shock. It's left him weak and vulnerable. In his condition that bug of yours could be life threatening."

Derek looked a little deflated at his inability to help. "Very well then. You're the doctor." He turned away with a fresh burden on his heart, wondering what harm he may have already done to his wounded companion.

By the time she rounded the corner Philip had begun the exorcism. Giles was relieved when she took hold of their captive from the other side of the gurney. He was worried he wouldn't be able to give the proper responses to the priest's prayers without losing his grip.

He ducked as an old box of coat hangers, at the top of a pile of odds and ends left in the hall, flew up to attack them. Philip paused. At first, the librarian thought he'd been hit and looked up to see the Irish priest staring expectantly at him. Realizing what the man wanted, he gave the first response he'd memorized. It must have been the correct one, for the priest continued.

Nick stirred on the floor of the cavern, wondering why he was still alive after what had been done to him in the church. And who says I'm alive? Maybe I died in the fight in the gym and this is hell. He shivered, wishing it were that simple. Certain it wasn't. He could hear voices. He staggered to his feet, looking wildly around for the attack he thought was coming. It had been quiet for so long now that something big must be coming. It was time to pay for the respite he'd been given.

There was no one in sight, however, and none of those crazy shifts seemed ready to start. He listened, but the sound drifted just outside of his grasp. The clatter of a pebble being dislodged behind him made him whirl to find Richter there with a knife in his hand. He ignored the pain that filled his being and jumped out of the way as more of the apparitions closed in from the passages that had opened in the formerly solid walls of his prison. Nick could only try to keep them from getting behind him and get ready for a fight he didn't have a prayer of winning.

Rather difficult to remember a Latin exorcism and hang onto a demon at the same time. Just focus on what you're doing, Rupert. The sooner we get this right, the sooner he'll stop fighting. The Watcher kept up the running commentary in his head to encourage himself. The flying debris never seemed to end and his arms were going numb from hanging on so tight. It was a considerable shock when the struggling stopped.

The ex-SEAL's green eyes focused on the priest, glowing with an unholy glee at the maelstrom that surrounded him. "Even if you win, your precious Legacy will still lose him, you know." He informed them. "If he survives he'll be quite mad....and then there are the criminal charges to consider. Altogether a rather grim picture don't you think?"

The priest made no response. He merely raised his voice over the demon's taunts, determined to be strong for his brother. Enough people had been hurt because of his failures this trip. With all his stubborn Irish heart Philip Callaghan vowed that this one would be hurt no further.

The love he felt for his chosen brother filled his voice. It filled the demon with sudden fear as he felt the barriers he'd used to imprison Nick's soul weaken under the assault. This must be stopped and the captive soul destroyed. Now before it was too late.

The demon snarled angrily at his failure to provoke the man of God. Seeking to hurt them, he announced, "I'm afraid we'll have to cut this little chat short. My young pet is stirring and needs some attention to recall his place in all this. While he still has one that is."

The glowing eyes drifted closed as the body resumed it's restless thrashing. Neither the three performing the exorcism nor the two lookouts who had drawn near enough to listen knew whether to be relieved or terrified at how weak their subject's struggles had become. Even the barrage of loose objects had stopped as the Warden turned his attention inward.

The balance slid to terror when Willow pointed in silent horror to the fresh blood soaking the bandages. Despite their best efforts to hold him still, some stitches had clearly come open and Nick's body was fast losing blood he could ill afford.

"Take his head." Derek locked eyes with Willow as he lent his strength to holding his friend still and preventing further injury. It wouldn't matter if he caught the flu or not if he bled to death in this basement. He raised his voice to carry to the one lookout remaining near the entrance. "Miss Summers if you could keep him from kicking that would be helpful."

"Not now boss." Buffy irreverently informed him as she came around the corner. "I hear the elevator coming." She grabbed an empty cardboard carton, clearly labeled ‘syringes’, and thrust it at Willow before picking up a second carton for herself and flipping the hood of her sweatjacket over her head. "Put your hood on and follow me."

Even Philip was forced to lend a hand at trying to contain their struggling patient as the girls ran off down the hall toward the elevators, leaving the other four on their own. Soon they heard voices shouting for the kids to stop and footsteps pounding off in the other direction as hospital security gave chase to what appeared to be a pair of thieves. The priest was whispering the words now, his head resting against Nick's heart as they fought to hold his body still. Volume didn't matter. It was the intensity of his need that would tip the scales in this battle.

Within the mist filled cavern, angry phantoms circled their prey, backing the frightened, raging victim towards a darkened alcove. He could hear his parents fighting downstairs as he stumbled into the dark hallway outside his oldest sister's room.

"Noooo..." He wailed, turning to run from what he knew waited for him. The cold, dead hands of the apparitions dragged him back, forcing him to his knees just inside the doorway. Forcing him to confront what waited within.

It felt like he was five years old again. They no longer had to hold him as he stared at the body of his beloved seventeen year old sister lying blank eyed on the bloody bed. The long red slashes on her arms, so like those he'd watched cut into his own the last time he was allowed to look out his own eyes, still seeped blood onto the reddened sheets.

Nick couldn't look away when the dead eyes focused on him and the corpse spoke. "You were a fool to ever think you were better than me. Those marks will tell everyone who ever looks at you just how weak you really are, baby brother." Blood tears began to flow from the accusing eyes. "Where were you a couple hours ago when I needed someone."

"Asleep. You tucked me in yourself, remember?" He whispered, hoping for forgiveness. My fault. This was all my fault. The guilt he'd carried since that night squeezed his chest, making it hard to breath. "I woke up scared when they started to fight. I'm here now."

"Now's too late you stupid little brat! If I hadn't taken you along when I ran away they'd never have even bothered to look for me. This was the only escape you left me." The girl on the bed balled the bloody sheets up in her fists, screaming, as her previously beautiful face twisted with hate.

Her brother fell backwards on the floor, trying to pull away from the venom in her voice. Fell forever it seemed. He had clung to Jenny's love long after her death. With that too taken from him, and tarnished by the power that held him, there was nothing left to hang on to.

The blood soaked girl who had been very nearly another mother to Nick rose from the bed to join the angry army tightening around him. Once more, he curled into a tight ball, hoping to ride out the coming assault. He never registered the soft Irish voice whose desperate prayers had begun to penetrate the cavern. Never saw the phantoms fade, one by one, destroyed by the priest's love before they could harm him. He was a child again in his mind and could only cry, there on the empty floor, while the people who loved him fought for his soul.

Nick's muscles suddenly tensed, the battered body straining rigidly against the hands that held him. Philip was nearly lifted off his feet by the convulsive effort as a long wailing scream echoed from the concrete walls. The terrifying rigidity left Nick so quickly and completely that more than one pair of hands lost their grip in the ringing silence that followed.

Rachel pressed carefully against her patient's neck, searching for some sign that Nick was still with them. She was filled with giddy relief at the weak flutter she found there. "He's alive." She informed her frightened companions. "I'll need to fix a few stitches before we get him back to bed but he's hanging in there."

"Is that it then? It worked?" A soft British voice inquired.

"I think so." Philip sounded tired and depressed as he straightened up. He hoped it had worked. "We'll find out when he comes to. Fer now let's get him outta this cold before he gets sick on top o' everythin’ else."

In a firelit cavern beneath the quiet little town, the Master shrieked and began to throw anything that came to hand at the hapless vampire who had brought him news of the failure of his glorious plan to be free. "Don't just cower there! We have to start working on another idea now!"

He continued to throw things as he began to rummage through the bookshelves but they were no longer aimed at anyone in particular. In fact, he seemed to have already forgotten the Warden, the messenger and the failed plan. "Why can't I ever find the books I need anymore. Has anyone been getting into these shelves?" He whirled to glare at his followers.

"I'll find out Master." The dark haired beauty, Marissa, hastened to reassure him, hoping to make him forget this entire debacle had been her idea.

"See that you do."

The following afternoon, only Willow was able to join the Legacy members in their vigil. Giles had been called before the school board to discuss his future, or lack thereof, and the other kids had detention for skipping classes the day before to join in the search. They'd been lucky not to be caught by hospital security and jailed when the girls had decoyed them away from the exorcism going on in the sub-basement. The hospital was still buzzing with the story about how eight drug crazed gang members had been driven off by hospital security after they were caught trying to steal a truckload of medical supplies.

Willow had been astonished to learn how the small incident had snowballed by the time she got there. She'd been delayed by a quick lecture from Principal Snyder on the dangers of roaming the streets when she should be in class and then dismissed to go to the hospital. The school authorities had been forced to admit though, that Willow had a right to know the state of mind of the man who had tried to kill her. They had waived detention in her case so that she could be there when the doctor announced his findings.

This was the news they were awaiting now. Nick had regained consciousness late that morning, frightened and confused by his condition and surroundings, and they had all been exiled to the third floor waiting area while Dr. Hailey made his determination.

Rachel finally couldn't listen to the hopeful chatter of the other four any longer and broke into Derek's schemes to get Nick released as soon as possible. "You're making it sound like the exorcism was the end of the battle. We aren't even positive yet that it worked!" She pressed on, her temper heating up at the angry reprimand in her precept's eyes. "He's liable to have some serious problems coping with this, Derek, and you denying them won't help him any."

"Very well, Rachel. What are these problems you're so certain we'll have to deal with?" Derek couldn't help snapping at the woman. His entire body ached and no amount of medicine seemed able to clear his breathing anymore. He didn't need to be made any more miserable by her dire predictions.

"Well....there's bound to be some sense of violation, of helplessness over how the demon took control and used him without his being able to stop it. Probably nightmares. He'll need to be watched for depression. Knowing Nick, he'll feel guilty for the harm that was done with his body. Even before this, he fit a high risk profile for possible suicide attempts. Now that he's got those scars to make him think about it, that risk nearly doubles. He'd just be fulfilling people's new expectations of him if he tried to hurt himself." She tried to keep her own fears out of her voice, hoping calm professionalism would break through the wall of denial the precept was building around his heart.

Not ready to think yet about what her own experience as a social worker told her were serious possibilities, Alex nudged the priest beside her to get his attention. She needed more facts. "How much will Nick remember of what he did while the Warden was in control?"

"Not much. He'll have some flashes of memory from any moments he got close t'breakin free. More as time passes. Mostly he'll remember any mental imagery the demon used t'torment him. That would have been his world." The man was pale and grim in clerical black once more. "Makin' him see tha' that world was'n real is somethin’ Rachel can help more with than me. We all know how Nick feels about religious counsel. He's goin' t'need Rachel and he's goin t'need you, Derek." His pale eyes fastened on those of his precept, challenging the older man to deny his own importance to the people he considered his children.

"Thank you, Philip." The psychiatrist said, grateful for the unexpected support.

"How do we know he's even still in there?" Willow asked. She hurried on when they all turned to look at her. "I mean, you said the Warden would try to destroy his soul and there wouldn't be anyone left to save."

That made Philip smile just a little. He felt much better all of a sudden. "If his soul had been destroyed, his body would have died when the demon was expelled." He looked around at the others. "I don't care if he's stark raving mad. If the exorcism worked then he's still in there and that means we can still get him back."

"This is a little off subject," Willow apologized in a timid voice, "but I have a couple more questions. Would Nick really have been damned if he had died?"

"Yes, though there's little fear of that now." The priest rose to his feet, relieved to see Nick's doctor making his way towards them. He really didn't want to answer the next question that was probably on the girl's mind. She didn't need to know what would have become of her if the ritual had been completed.

The tall, silver haired man smiled at the young priest, resting a comforting hand on his shoulder while he looked over the rest of them. He'd been told by Dr. Corrigan last night that the two youngsters were close and that the priest was blaming himself for not seeing his friend's deterioration. All of these people are way too tense, but I suppose they have a right to be after last night. Best not keep them waiting.

"I'm already convinced your friend isn't fit to stand trial. He appears to have no memory of the violence or even much about the town itself and I'm inclined to believe him. My official report will state that he cannot be held accountable for any of his actions since arriving in Sunnydale." He didn't tell them how fragile and confused the boy had been. It had taken nearly an hour to get him talking at all and he'd had to tread very carefully with the questions the law required him to ask about the attacks. Bringing such traumatic memories to the surface too soon could be devastating.

Philip sagged with relief at this news and gratefully returned Alex's hug as she stood up and pulled him into her arms. Willow quickly came to her feet as well, flinging herself into the old doctor's arms to thank him over and over again. He simply folded his arms around the girl and patted her back, making no attempt to stop the muffled flow of words. It amazed him that she was so worried about a man she barely knew who had tried to murder her just the night before. And they say kids today have no hearts!

Rachel smiled, patting Derek's hand as he too sagged with relief. "How soon do you think we can get him transferred to private care?" She asked her colleague, despite her better judgment voicing the question she knew Derek wanted answered first. "I really think he'll recover more rapidly if he can be closer to home and his loved ones in a safe, familiar environment."

All their hearts sank when Chris Hailey frowned at the idea. "I think it's a little soon for that. He seems a lot calmer now but I'd like to be certain he isn't an immediate danger to himself or anyone else before I allow a transfer. This is only the first day. We need more time to find out just how serious his condition is."

"Of course, I understand." The Legacy doctor murmured, cursing herself for bringing up the subject prematurely.

He smiled again, hoping to ease the disappointment none of them could hide. "Don't worry about it. I just want to give him some more time to stabilize. Those ribs don't need to be jostled around right now. I promise he'll be released to you as soon as he's well enough. I've got a hunch Nick's going to need more one on one attention than we can give him here. And would I lie about something like that?" He asked the girl snuggled against his sweater.

"How soon until we can at least see him?" Philip asked. He needed to make his own determination to be certain Nick was really free. That his friend wasn't lost forever and a demon confined in the secure hospital room.

"I think it would be best if you waited until visiting hours tomorrow. We still have some tests to run, both medical and psychiatric, and he's going to need a rest after that." He felt terrible at the crushed look on the boy's face but had to do what was best for his patient. He tried to ease the disappointment for them a little bit. "I'll let the nurses know you can stay here as long as you need to tonight. You can look in on Nick all you like without entering the room. All I ask is that you don't disturb him."

"That's fair enough." Derek told him. "Thank you, doctor."

It was nearly eight o'clock when Chris Hailey found himself once again outside the private room that held the young man from San Francisco. He'd been on his way home at last after sedating that woman screaming about a vampire attack and sending her home with her husband. Too many vampires in this town. Is it any wonder we get two or three screamers in here every night? He grinned. I say something like that to one of my esteemed colleagues and I'm going to end up in one of my own rooms. He idly looked through the glass pane in the door and saw that Nick was wide awake and just staring up at the ceiling. That was pretty much all he could do with the restraints still on his arms. Dr. Hailey fumbled at the chain around his neck for the key card that would open the door. It's not as if there's anyone waiting at home anymore and God knows this kid needs all the time I can give him.

"Hey, Nick." He called softly, careful not to startle the youngster. "I thought you'd be asleep by now after everything we put you through today."

Nick let his head roll toward the sound as the tall, silver haired doctor stepped in, letting the door fall closed behind him. His eyes darkened a little with fresh pain at the soft snick of the lock reengaging but he didn't answer the greeting. He only watched as the old man came and took his coat off, settling himself in the bedside chair.

Chris hadn't missed the reaction. "That bothers you doesn't it?" He asked, keeping his voice gentle and nonjudgmental. "Being locked in here that is."

Nick flinched away from the question and returned to gazing at the ceiling. He'd finally started to believe this wasn't part of the dream world. He wasn't sure yet if it was someplace better or worse. He still felt like the little boy who had been curled up crying on the cavern floor. He hadn't seen anyone he knew yet and he still wasn't sure he could trust this man who claimed to want to help him. "Can my friends come in here yet?" He finally asked in the waiting silence.

"Not tonight. I told them you needed to rest. It looked like your boss needed to get some rest too. He's a very sick man right now. He's also very worried about you." He watched to see how the boy would react to what he'd said.

"Oh." Nick closed his eyes against the tears that threatened to fall all too easily. He knew Derek was sick and probably not allowed to see him but he wanted him here anyway. The strength of that wanting surprised him. So did the perceptiveness of the old man beside him.

"It's okay to cry, Nick." Chris watched sadly as the boy's eyes squeezed more tightly closed to hold back the pain in his heart. "Sometimes crying or just talking to somebody can keep the pain from building up inside until hurting yourself seems like the only way to let it out. You already tried hurting yourself and ended up here. Will you try to talk to me? You did for a while this morning."

"Talk about what?" Nick was stalling for time. Trying to think past the drugs he'd been forced to take after dinner. He didn't understand what they wanted from him. He didn't even know how he got here but it was a pretty safe guess they thought he'd tried to kill himself.

"How about what you were feeling when you first came to town? Can you sort any of that out for me?" Chris probed cautiously, trying to find a way to lead the kid the rest of the way back from the nightmare world he'd slipped into. The one he'd dragged too many others into with him during the psychotic episode he'd apparently suffered when reality became too much for him to handle.

Nick thought about that and shuddered. That was what he'd been trying to do when the doctor came in. All of his memories since coming to this town were a jumbled mess. Sometimes some lone image would jump out at him but that was all. Except for the cavern. That and everything that had occurred there he remembered all too clearly. "No!" He jerked his head away and balled his fists. The memory was still too close. His fingernails were drawing blood from his palms as he fought to deny what had been done to him by the Warden.

The doctor quickly reached out and used the pressure points on the backs of Nick's hands to force the fists open. "Calm down. We don't have to talk about anything you aren't ready for."

It went on like that for over an hour. The doctor bringing up questions Nick either couldn't answer or couldn't face and then backing off for a while to let the boy calm down. When the nurse finally arrived with medication to help the patient sleep, the two were swapping lies about the fish that had gotten away on boyhood camping trips. Chris was enjoying the childlike happiness Nick dove into the tall tales with. His sons and grandson were always too conscious of their roles as adults to just let go this way. Must've been their mother's influence.

The doctor snapped back into his professional side when he saw his patient's eyes darken with panic. Nick was watching the small medication cup like it was a poisonous snake.

"I'm fine. I don't need anything." He started to tug on the heavy straps that held him, trying to pull away from the nurse. He could feel the world slipping around him again. He'd fallen asleep earlier in the afternoon after the first long session with the doctor. He knew what was waiting for him in the depths of his mind and he wouldn't willingly go there again.

Chris stood up and tried to hold Nick still before he could hurt himself. "Take it easy Nick. It's just something to help you relax. Everybody gets them because of all the activity that goes on around here while people are trying to sleep." This only made the man fight harder. He didn't seem quite so much like a fragile child when he was fighting like this. More like a wounded tiger. "Get a needle to put him out!" He could see fresh blood already seeping through the bandages over the right arm and both wrists. He turned to call, over Nick's screams, to the departing nurse. "Get me a suture kit while you're at it. We've got stitches popping all over the place in here!"

It was nearly three hours before they had all his wounds resutured and were certain none of the broken ribs had punctured a lung in the struggle. The sedative had finally put him out after a ten minute battle that had sucked in, and injured, three orderlies and started half the ward shrieking. Now the kid had straps pinning his legs and waist to the bed as well as his arms so that he was completely immobilized. The orderly, who was in the ER now getting his jaw wired, had seen to those personally. Up until the nurse came in he had thought he was connecting with the kid. Earning his trust. Guess not. Altogether a thoroughly disheartening experience. He rubbed absentmindedly at his own bandaged forearm. He wouldn't have pegged the kid for a biter.

Dr. Hailey was so lost in his thoughts that he nearly bumped into Derek Rayne before he saw him. He stopped politely when the man put a hand on his arm to detain him. The man looked miserable. His eyes were red rimmed and running and his nose was nearly glowing red.

"How is Nick?" The voice was actually worse than it had been earlier. No wonder he let the others do most of the talking.

"Scared to death, but he's sleeping now." Chris stated frankly. He could see this wasn't a man who would tolerate being protected from the truth. "We had to strap him down and put him out with a needle. I'm afraid all of you have a long road ahead. That's if you plan to stick with him through this?"

"We do." The grim eloquence of the words was enough.

Dr. Hailey studied the white face and glassy eyes. "I'm assuming you came by to check on him because the fever wouldn't let you sleep. Have you been able to eat or drink anything today?"

Derek flushed with embarrassment at being queried like this outside the side entrance of the hospital. "So I'm the patient now, doctor?"

"You will be if you don't look after yourself better than this. If you really care about the kid, you'll check in with whoever's on duty tonight in the ER and get some antibiotics so you can shake this thing and really be there for him instead of just watching him through glass." The old man turned away. "Good-night, Dr. Rayne."

After going up to the third floor and watching Nick's haunted sleep for a while, Derek went downstairs and submitted himself to the indignities of the ER. His family had to take precedence over his pride.

Nick closed his eyes after the nurse left and tried to find something to focus his mind on to distract himself from the pain until the medication could take effect. It wouldn't work. Every time he tried to shift position, the straps pulled at him, holding him in place and reminding him of the way he had lost control the night before. The nurse had loosened them a little after he'd complained that they were hurting him but she'd said only the doctor could order them taken off. The shame he felt over the panic attack hurt almost as much as his wounds, only there weren't any drugs that could take this pain away from him.

"Nick? Are you awake?" The nurse who'd unlocked the door and opened it for them had said he was awake but she'd also said she'd just given him something for the pain that might have put him out again. Philip spoke quietly just in case. He didn't want to wake Nick if he was sleeping but he hoped he wasn't. He hoped he was still Nick.

The wary question inflicted a pain of it's own. It made Nick remember how cruel he'd been to Philip. He opened his eyes and turned his head to see both the priest and Rachel hovering in the doorway. Yesterday he'd wanted them all so desperately. Now he didn't know what to say to them. "Yeah. I'm sorry for the way I acted before." His voice began to shake as the words tumbled unexpectedly out of him. "I'm so sorry for everything."

Philip just stood there, stunned that Nick was apologizing to them after the way they had failed him. Rachel came forward and brushed away the tears that had started to slide down his face, kissing his forehead the way she would Kat's if her little girl was hurting. "Hey, none of that. You haven't done anything to be sorry for. Has he Philip?" She prompted.

He shook himself and came around to the other side of Nick's bed. "Of course not. That may not have even been you." He slid a hand through the railings and gently rested it on Nick's arm. The small gesture of affection was all he allowed himself before getting down to business. "We came to have a look at you and ask a few questions to be certain you're really free of any trace of possession." He ignored Rachel's reproachful look at diving into things so quickly. He had to know.

Nick understood the need that drove Philip. For what was left of this assignment he was a victim, not a friend, and his big brother had a job to do. At least he knew what was expected of him in this kind of situation. He wouldn't have to watch what he said the way he had to with the doctors either. Philip was Legacy. He didn't have to guard any secrets from him. That knowledge steadied him. "You can ask, but I don't have a lot of answers right now."

"Fair enough." Philip smiled, glad that Nick was taking things so well. "What's the last thing you really remember clearly before the scene in the gym?"

Nick's eyes closed and furrows cut deeply into his forehead as he tried to locate the last clear moment when he was sure he was really himself. "I remember you trying to make me take those stupid pain pills before bed the night after I got in the fight in the library."

"And what about the next day? What do you remember of that?" Philip asked quietly.

"I remember the things I said to you." Nick opened his eyes to watch Philip's face. It was composed and professional. He'd get nothing in the way of anger or forgiveness until the interview was over.

"What else?" This was almost as painful for him as he could see it was for Nick but he felt certain he was close to learning the actual moment Nick was taken from them. Anything he could learn now might be useful in the next case that presented itself. That was part of the reason behind such questions. The other being to force the victim to face their own helplessness and move on instead of battering themselves with useless what if's. He wasn't sure they'd ever get Nick over that hurdle.

Nick's eyes had grown glassy and drifted shut as the pain medication took effect and there was a long pause before he answered. Rachel was nearly ready to get up and motion the priest to leave when the green eyes snapped open. "In the shower, after I stormed off, it felt like someone was laughing at me. Someone inside my head. He took me that first night didn't he?"

"Probably." Philip watched sadly as Rachel wiped off the sweat that had broken out on Nick's face. "He got sneaky on us. We didn't know there was anythin' inside of you t'fight until he'd already secured his hold and taken you away where we couldn't find you."

"All that time he was in there then and I didn't even know. Laughing at the way he was making me treat you." Nick's eyes were dilated now and his chest heaving as he tried to draw breath past the horror that was smothering him. The other two could see the pulse pounding in his neck. "He might still be here and we wouldn't know!"

Rachel leaned over him and took hold of his shoulders so that he was forced to focus on her rather than his fears. "Take it easy Nick. He can't hurt you here. We aren't going to let anyone hurt you." She held the eye contact until she could see him relaxing a little. "Besides, that's what we're here for right now. To make sure he's really gone."

"How?!" Nick asked, frustrated nearly to tears now. The adrenaline rush of his fear had countered the drugs enough to leave him tensed for battle. He wanted to fight what might still be happening to him but he couldn't even move, tied to the bed like this.

Philip got out the vial of holy water he'd put in his pocket for this purpose. "I'm goin' t'perform a blessin’. If there's any trace of the Warden's influence in you this'll get a reaction out of him." Philip wet his fingertips and drew the shape of the cross on Nick's forehead while reciting a simple prayer for those afflicted by the devil's minions. There was no violent reaction that would have betrayed the presence of evil. There wasn't even any of Nick's usual irritation at anything spiritual. He finished quickly and sat down beside the bed while the doctor checked their friend's bandages.

"I think we need to go and get some breakfast now and let you rest for a while." Rachel spoke gently while leveling a hard stare at her healthy team mate. Come on Philip. He's not ready for more than this. Much to her relief the priest seemed to get the message and got up to leave.

"Alex should be here soon. She wanted t'wait at the motel until Derek was awake but then she was headin' down here. She'd be pretty mad at us if we tired you out before she could say hello." Philip told him, hoping the picture of Alex getting mad at them would make him smile. It didn't work. Nick's muscles were all tensed and he seemed to be growing whiter.

Nick could feel last night's panic rising at the thought of being left alone to fall asleep again. "No!" He flushed at the way they both stared at him. "I mean, couldn't one of you stay here until she gets here? I won't get tired just lying here. I promise."

Philip couldn't leave him here like this. He hadn't seen Nick this frightened or vulnerable since he was eight and spent the Fourth of July with Nick's family. He'd had nightmares for a week about what he'd seen Jonathan Boyle do to his son that weekend. He knew today that he should have told Derek what happened as soon as he got home, but all he'd known then was that the four year old had been frantic when he'd begged Philip not to tell. "I'll stay. There's one last thin' I have t'do and then after I've got some coffee I'm all yours." He carefully kept his eyes away from Rachel as he defied her suggestion to let Nick rest. She didn't know Nick the way he did. The man wouldn't rest if they left him now. He'd just make himself worse.

Rachel rounded on him as soon as the door was shut behind them. "Don't push him Philip. He's not up to it."

"I know. He's too quiet." He saw with relief that Rachel understood what he meant. "I'm not plannin' t'push him Rachel. I won't even talk about the case. I just couldn't leave him like that. He's scared t'death of bein' alone right now."

"I noticed that too." She smiled bitterly. "There have been a lot of times I wished he would just be quiet and listen instead of going off on something. Now that he is quiet it scares me." She looped her arm through Philip's and started down the hall to the nurse's station. "Come on. I want to find out why he's in four point restraints. He wasn't in them last night and those aren't exactly standard. We can go get some breakfast in the cafeteria once I've checked with the nurses about what went on here after we left."

Philip pulled back. "I have to go back. I promised."

"You have to get someone with a key first to let you back in, so you can at least get that coffee like you said you were going to. It might be a good idea to take a snack in there for later too if you're going to skip breakfast." She grinned as he realized he'd locked himself out and quit resisting her. He was probably going to camp out in there as much as they let him until Nick was released. She might as well make sure he'd be comfortable.

Alex was sitting alone by the window, leafing through an old magazine when Nick began to stir. He moaned softly in his sleep, his head turning a little. Thinking that another nightmare was about to begin, she got up and headed for the door. Nick's doctor was out in the hall talking with Derek and Rachel and if this dream was half as violent as the last one, she'd need some help in here very soon.

"Alex?" The somewhat blurry voice made her stop with her hand on the door. She'd just been ready to hit the panic button that was beside the doors of all of these rooms to summon help. "Don't go!"

Nick was wide awake and terrified by the time she turned back around. "I'm not going anywhere, Nick." She came back and leaned against the bedrails to stroke his cheek. She wished she could do more for him and hoped he couldn't see the tears she was holding back at the sight of her normally invincible seeming friend so frightened. "I'll be right here as long as you need me. I promise. You were moaning. Do you need the doctor?"

Nick frowned, trying to remember what he'd been dreaming just as he woke. He had a feeling he was better off if he didn't. "No. I'm okay. Just stay here, please?" He wished he could reach out to hold her hand and keep her here with him.

Just then the clicking of the lock signaled a new arrival. Philip slipped in, pale and holding one arm as though it were injured, and thanked the nurse as she went back to her work.

Nick was suddenly very aware that he was once again wearing the leg restraints they had removed during mid morning rounds. The nurse had wanted them put back when she came to give him a knockout shot after lunch but Philip had said no. He'd told her that he could restrain Nick for her. "Philip, your arm. The restraints...did I...." Nick didn't know how to ask the question that tortured him. He remembered being afraid to fall asleep and crying while Philip held him for the shot, wanting to struggle, but then things got fuzzy on him.

"No. Nothin' like that Nick." Philip came to the foot of the bed and showed him the small cotton ball taped to the inside of his elbow. "This is from givin' blood. The restraints are there because you had a bad dream. We had to put them back so you wouldn't hurt yourself, that's all."

"We all gave blood, even Giles and the kids. Everyone except Derek that is. They didn't want his. See?" Alex pushed up her sleeve to reveal the same thing on her arm. She teased her friend gently. "You wiped out their supply."

The teasing continued for a while with the visitors steering carefully clear of how their friend wound up here, despite the questions he'd begun to ask. When Rachel poked her head in, even Nick was smiling at some story Philip was telling about trying to get directions to the Vatican and all the strange places he'd ended up before he found his way there.

"I thought you'd want to know, Derek is heading back to San Francisco to take care of some business. I think he was feeling a bit useless spending all his time out in the hall." She wished she'd kept the news to herself when she saw how fast Nick's smile went away. I guess it was important to him just to know Derek was here even if he couldn't come in. Rachel hated being the newcomer to the team. Sometimes it was hard to remember how far back the tie that bound the others went or how strong it was. "Why don't you two go get some dinner while I keep this character entertained."

"Good idea! I'm starved." Alex informed them.

"No, I think I'll stay here a bit. I'm not very hungry." Philip told them just before his stomach grumbled a noisy protest to the contrary.

Alex grabbed his arm and headed toward the door. "Come on. You just gave blood, you have to replace it with something."

"I'll be all right. Go eat." Nick reassured him, seeing the anxious look his friend was still giving him as Alex dragged him off to be fed. "What are you doing?"

Rachel finished releasing his left arm and moved on to the legs as she came around the bed. "Unbuckling these things. Since you seem pretty calm when you're awake, Dr. Hailey thought it might be time to let you out of them. He said he knew how uncomfortable they were. That feel better?" By the time she finished speaking she'd worked her way back up and pulled the blankets back just enough to get at the last strap around his middle.

He moved around restlessly without answering and then started to play with the controls on the bed. Rachel kept quiet and waited in the chair for him to finish. He finally settled back in almost the same spot he had started from. "All done?" She asked, trying not to laugh.

"Yeah. It hurts too much to sit up." He poked an arm through the rails that kept him from falling out of the bed, enjoying the freedom of the gesture, and reached for her hand. "Thanks, Rachel."

"No problem." She patted his hand and kept hold of it while she got down to business. "I hear you gave them a pretty rough time last night. Want to tell me about it?"

"I didn't want to go to sleep. That's all. Then everybody pounced on me and I fought back." He tried to pull his hand away but she didn't allow it.

"Okay. We'll let that slide for now." Rachel didn't like the unsteady look in his eyes. His self control was a lot more tenuous right now than she'd thought. She quit wasting time with the minor stuff and got down to the important question. She had to sort out what he had done from what had been done to him if she was going to have a prayer of helping him come to terms with this. She turned his hand in her own, studying the heavy bandages around his wrist. "Did he do this to you or did you do it yourself to try and get him to leave you alone?"

Nick's lips moved soundlessly, robbed of the ability to speak by the unfair accusation from someone he trusted. He yanked his arm back and this time she let it go. With the physical contact broken, his voice returned. "I didn't try to kill myself! I couldn't do anything to stop him! Don't you get it? I wasn't in charge anymore!"

"Whoa, hold on a second. I believe you, but I had to ask." She watched without trying to touch him again until the hurt and anger started to subside a little and then approached the subject as a colleague instead of a therapist. "From what I've heard, you've been around the Legacy your entire life. You know the extremes people can be forced to by possession. I have to know what he did to you, and how you responded to it, if I'm going to help you deal with it."

"So I'm supposed to be in therapy after this, like I'm some kind of nut even though you know what really happened?" Bitterness filled his voice as he gazed up at the ceiling rather than look at her.

Nick wasn't taking this well. He was going into denial just like many patients she'd worked with who'd suffered abuse or violent assaults. Somehow she doubted he'd appreciate the comparison. Before she could frame a response, a nurse opened the door, pushing a cart in ahead of her.

"Dr. Corrigan? Your service called and said there was an emergency with one of your patients. They need you to call Dr. Ross at Mercy Hospital right away."

"Thank you. I'll be right out." Rachel gathered up her purse to leave but was stopped when Nick called her name. Fear was mingling with the anger on his face now and he was watching her again. She hated to do this to him but maybe leaving him alone with his fears for a while would make him realize he needed help. "I'll be back as soon as I can Nick but I can't ignore the people who do want my help just to argue with you." She didn't look back as she left the room and heard the lock snick behind her, imprisoning Nick with his fears. This had to be done for his own good and she had other patients to think about as well.

Derek Rayne tugged his jacket collar higher around his chin and ducked his head as he hurried past the news crew that had staked out the hospital lobby. A psychopath performing satanic rituals with local children was big news in such a small town and the tiny independent TV station was trying to turn the incident into a major scandal. Their take on the situation was that the suspect in custody was faking insanity to avoid prosecution and that the authorities were being paid off by the man's wealthy boss, namely him, to look the other way. They were putting pressure on the mayor's office to convict someone in the imaginary conspiracy.

If they could have seen Nick through the small viewing window the way he had last night, fighting frantically against the leather restraints, in the grip of a nightmare, they would know he was every bit as sick as they had been told. Rachel had been proven all too right about the nightmares and he had felt very old and helpless outside of the locked hospital room. His fortune could do little to calm Nick's fears.

He was abruptly seized by a fit of coughing that doubled him over and made his eyes start running again. I can't even be there to comfort him thanks to this damn bug! At least I should be thankful it's keeping these media vultures from getting near enough to recognize me. And that the fever's nearly gone. He smiled grimly as he fingered the bottle of antibiotics in his pocket. At least he'd be able to go in and see Nick by the time he got back. The doctor who had seen him had said it would only be a few days before he was no longer contagious. In the meantime Dr. Hailey had promised to call if there were any new developments with Nick.

Nick shifted slightly in the bed after Rachel left, trying to find a position that would ease both his aching ribs and the bullet torn right arm. In the process, he accidentally put too much pressure on the burning bullet groove in his left hip. He'd almost forgotten that one. Once the searing pain faded, he carefully slid back to where he'd started from. He hadn't realized how badly he still hurt until Rachel took off the restraints that had held him in one place, leaving him free to really shift position. It seemed as if every part of him was hurt in some way. The dinner that the nurse had left on the tray table over his bed definitely didn't look worth the pain it would cost him to sit up and eat it.

When the lock clicked, announcing a visitor, he closed his eyes pretending to be asleep. Hoping they weren't bringing more of the drugs that made it so hard to think clearly. So hard to avoid sleep and the terror it had brought with it ever since he woke up in this place. Please let it be Alex or Philip coming back from dinner or even Rachel from her phone call. The pain is a lot easier to handle than those dreams.

"I saw your eyes open through the window so let's not waste time with games here." A hard edged voice let him know the act wasn't working and Nick opened his eyes to find a man in an old suit standing by the bed with a folder in his hands. Something about the visitor's eyes made him grateful for the safety of the raised bedrails that separated them. This didn't look like another well meaning doctor come to ask questions he couldn't answer even if he wanted to.

When Nick simply lay there in silence, waiting for him to make the first move, the stranger spoke up. "You like playing games with people don't ya, kid? I'll bet it's got you out of trouble before. I'm Detective Krakas, Sunnydale Police, and I'm not playing your game."

This did not sound good. Some of the questions the doctor had asked had made him wonder what he'd done to get shot up. He'd asked his friends before they had gone to dinner, but Philip had only told him that the Warden was responsible for any harm done, not him. Alex had just looked like she might cry so he didn't ask again. The only clear memories he had were of the cavern and he'd just as soon not look too closely at those so he waited to see what the man wanted from him. He wished Derek could be here with him now, instead of on his way home.

Krakas had had enough of the silent treatment and raised his voice a few decibels. "Fine! This is a game to you! How's this for stakes? The rest of your life behind bars for kidnapping and four counts of attempted homicide. One of those a cop! Sorry no death penalty in this state." He dropped the folder he carried onto the chest of the man in the bed. "Here are my cards. Let's play. Go on look at them!"

The angry cop pushed the untouched tray table aside and used the controls to raise the head of the bed. He picked the folder back up and started yanking pictures out, tossing them onto Nick's lap. "You're gonna look at what you did to my partner and to the others and then you're gonna look me in the eye while you tell me whether you remember any of it or not."

The first picture that caught Nick's eye was a still shot from a security camera. He must have developed a hundred like it in his work for the Legacy. It was him. In the middle of a store with the 9mm in his hand. A man in running clothes was frozen forever by the camera as he slid down a wall, his hands clamped to his stomach. Another man, this one about Derek's age, was crumpled near his own feet under a dark stain that had to be blood on the shelf nearby.

He barely heard the detective rattling on about lesser charges like assault, robbery, arson and vandalism. There were more pictures fluttering down on his lap. Evidence photos of a man on an examining table covered with blood and bruises. More security footage showing him slamming the uniformed clerk's head into the shelves. The school gym burned and blood splattered. Pictures of a church that had been desecrated. The roaring in his head drowned everything else out now. He remembered the church. Watching his wrists being sliced open just like Jenny's. Not being able to stop it. He started to shake as he saw the monster he had become in these photos. In all of the security pictures he was smiling, reveling in the carnage he had created.

When Chris Hailey reached the room in answer to the summons from the nurse Krakas had bullied into letting him in, he was instantly furious. His patient, who should have been lying flat resting, was raised up in bed white and shaking. The graphic evidence of his violent breakdown was scattered over the blanket. He'd heard Krakas shouting at the kid from halfway down the hall, demanding to know if he remembered anything now. He'd warned the man about this sort of behavior before.

"Get out of here." He ordered, his voice low and deadly. "Take your pictures and leave. I swear, if you ever set foot in a patient's room without a warrant again I will have your badge for it."

Red faced with anger and embarrassment, the detective gathered his evidence and allowed hospital security to escort him out in silence. He'd lived in this town long enough to know the old man could make good on his threat.

Turning back to his patient, Chris could see immediately that he was starting to withdraw from a reality he hadn't been ready to face yet. He quickly sent Carla Jensen out of the room for a sedative before going to the bedside. Damage control time. Damn Krakas! I oughta really get his badge lifted for this stunt.

In just the time it had taken to order the sedative, Nick had begun rolling his head from side to side, his mouth working soundlessly to find some words for the chaos inside of him. The doctor reached out to stop the rolling motion and force his patient to look at him. When Nick jerked violently at the unexpected contact, he simply held on until the kid registered who he was. "Talk to me Nick. Are you okay?" Obviously he wasn't, but Chris had to try and stop him from withdrawing any further from the reality he'd only recently returned to.

"No! Those people in the pictures. The things I did...." The words trailed off in a sob as the boy in the bed started coming apart.

"Those people aren't holding anything against you, Nick. You didn't have any control over any of that." The doctor slowly lowered the bed flat again and reached across to resecure the restraints that had been left on the bedrails just in case they were needed again, buckling the heavy leather straps carefully over the bandages that swathed the injured wrists. "Let's get these back on for now, all right?" Best not take any chances here. At least the kid's verbalizing it instead of shutting down. We aren't quite back at square one here. Rule number one: If you can talk with them, you can work with them.

"I wanna go home. Please....just let me go home."

The whispered plea cut the old man to the bone as he slid the needle in that would calm the boy down and let him sleep. Hopefully when he wakes up, he'll think Krakas was just another bad dream. "It's all right son. Dr. Corrigan is going to take you home just as soon as you're strong enough for it." His voice was husky with emotion as he made the promise. There was still another 24 hours to go on the involuntary hold but if he put the screws to the administration he might get the paperwork processed for the transfer in under a week.

He murmured soft reassurances to the boy, calming him much as he'd done for his grandson when the child was small. This one needed the closer attention that was available only in the private practices. More importantly, he needed his family around him. And those people from the Luna Foundation are obviously his family in spirit if not in blood. No boss he'd ever met would stand by an employee through something like this. No, Derek Rayne had behaved more like a worried, frustrated father through all of this than like a boss. He wasn't looking forward to calling the man with this update.

Chris Hailey didn't turn to the waiting nurse until he was sure Nick had faded out on them. His voice was quietly resigned as he ordered a fresh suicide watch. "Keep the restraints on for now, too. We'll reevaluate the need for them tomorrow after we've got some idea of how he's handling this."

epilogue 1: Sunnydale Community Hospital March 16, 1997 6:37p.m.

The Legacy helicopter waited on the pad behind the hospital, it's rotors spinning lazily as the precept kept himself occupied rechecking the gauges. If the readings were correct, the new fuel line seemed to be holding up all right. He hadn't done much piloting since Nick was brought into the House five years ago and guiltily welcomed the excuse to wait outside while the others collected the ex-SEAL. Derek, himself, could not bear to see Nick in that place again, not if the set back he'd been told about over the phone had been as bad as it sounded.

He had returned alone to San Francisco, mobilizing his attorneys to head off any civil suits the locals might file and making sure the Legacy's active investigations were covered by other Houses. He had even made arrangements to have Nick's car brought back before flying back to Sunnydale to retrieve his people. It had made him feel so helpless standing around while the doctors whispered in the hallway that he'd had to get out. Helplessness was not a feeling this powerful man was accustomed to dealing with. This sort of thing is Rachel's strength not mine, Derek reminded himself, and a good leader knows when to step back and let his people do their jobs.

Inside the building, Dr. Hailey was still going over last minute details of the case with Rachel while Giles and the kids said their good-byes to their new friends. When it really mattered they came through like pros. Giles has a lot to be proud of in those three. He's done a good job. I just hope I can do mine half as well. The psychiatrist had her doubts looking at Nick's pale face and shadowed eyes where he lay near the door on a gurney. He hadn't really come back to them after that detective got ahold of him. He hadn't been able to believe their reassurances that he was safe now. After all, they'd told him that before and it hadn't been true.

The Ativan should have knocked him out by now but he was hanging onto Alex's hand as though he feared they'd leave him behind if he let go. She felt a hot flash of rage as the mother in her boiled up protectively in answer to the childlike fear in her patient's face. It's obvious he remembers a lot more of whatever that monster put him through than we expected. I just hope the Warden is suffering just as much wherever he is.

The slight cough at her elbow made Rachel realize she hadn't been listening to what her colleague had been saying. "With such an abrupt psychotic break you can never tell if they're gonna make it all the way back or not, but I always try to keep hoping. That's what you've still got to learn, Rachel. That kid doesn't have any hope left, you've got to have it for him." Dr. Hailey smiled apologetically. "Sorry, speech over. It's just that every now and then one comes through that really tugs at the old heart strings. He got mine. I can see he got hold of yours too. I'd appreciate it if you'd let me know how he does. He can bounce back from this if you just give him enough time and attention."

Rachel squeezed the old man's arm lightly. "I will Chris, thank you for all you've done to help get him released to us."

"Not a problem. Much as I hate to admit it I'm a little relieved to hand him off to you. I don't think we could have helped him here. He still won't open up to any of the staff about these nightmares he's been having. The nurses can't get him to sleep without either one of you holding him, or having him strapped down for a shot. He fights against the shots, and that keeps tearing his stitches open." He ran a large hand through his mop of silver hair, an old habit when something bothered the senior psychiatrist. "He just gets so damn scared whenever anyone tries to get him to close his eyes. His reactions are almost like what an instructor of mine from med school once described seeing in torture victims when he was in Korea."

You don't know how close you are! Rachel thought, groping for a graceful exit before this perceptive old man saw too much of the truth. "Right now, though, I think we'd better get moving before you have to give Philip a sedative too!" She joked. Noticing the way the young priest hovered watchfully at his friend's side, Sunnydale's Chief of Psychiatry couldn't help but agree and stepped back to let Dr. Corrigan get her patient loaded.

Nick struggled to keep his eyes open as he was lifted from the gurney into the waiting helicopter. It hadn't taken him long to learn that sleep was no longer a refuge but a place to be feared. A place where all the terrors in his own mind waited just behind his closed eyelids, freed by the Warden from the dark corners he'd shut them in. If they'd just stop pumping all the drugs into him he'd be fine. He could live without sleep if it meant keeping the monsters away. The SEALs had taught him that.

As he lost the battle against the powerful sedative he'd been given for the trip, Nick clung tightly to Alex and Philip's hands, trying to draw some of their strength with him as the dark tide sucked him down. Rachel's voice was the last thing he heard that night. "At least we won't have to worry about the flight. I think he's finally under. The sleep should do him some good." You are so wrong, Rachel, was the last coherent thought that crossed Nick's mind as the terror reached out to take him.

It was some twenty minutes later before Giles shepherded his charges into the underground parking garage where he'd left his car. They had insisted on watching until the helicopter was out of sight in the gathering darkness. Even though they hadn't been allowed to visit the ex-SEAL while he was in the hospital they had all come to care what happened to him and had insisted on coming to say good bye when they learned he was being released. He quickly reached for his handkerchief as a fit of sneezing overcame him. "I'm starting to wish Mr. Snyder hadn't reinstated me quite so quickly. I could have used some time off to get over this damned flu bug Derek brought with him."

"But now that you've got your job back you've got paid sick leave, right?" Xander looked questioningly at the others, feeling he was missing something, as usual.

"Just because he can't blame Giles for somebody else's nervous breakdown doesn't mean Mr. Snyder won't be out to get him." Willow responded for the teacher, who had started to cough too hard to talk. "Now is definitely not the time to ask for a few days off."

"Ooh, I don't think the principal is what you should be worried about here." Marissa cooed, stepping out of the shadows, flanked by two of the ugliest vampires to sport fangs.

Buffy bounded forward. "I'm so glad you're here." she informed them sweetly. "I was getting bored on the sidelines."

Her support crew took cover as the slayer tossed them her book bag and went to work. Willow and Xander began pulling fresh stakes out of the bag and laid them out on the asphalt, ready to grab whenever Buffy needed them. As soon as Giles could gather enough breath he called out, "Be careful! Remember there are three of them and only one of you, don't let them get behind you."

At that moment, a fourth vampire rose from behind a parked car, directly in back of the Watcher. Without seeming to give any consideration to what she was doing, the Slayer hurled a stake past her mentor. Turning to follow the progress of the errant missile, Giles was a bit dismayed to see a somewhat puny vampire crumble to dust directly behind him. He quickly found better cover between two parked cars, having decided it may be better to keep his head down than to critique the Slayer’s technique at this time.

"Relax, Giles." The girl called as she tossed one of the big uglies into a dumpster some fifteen yards away. "This I can deal with!" She turned her attention back to her opponents, driving a stake Xander tossed to her through the other male vampire. It felt good to have life back to normal again on the Hellmouth.

epilogue 2: San Francisco Legacy House March 29, 1997 1:47am

Derek leaned back from his desk, knotting his fingers behind his head as he stretched to release some of the tension that had crept into his neck. The stillness of the House had told him the others must be long asleep but it was still startling to note the clock said it was nearly two in the morning. Going by the book might be fine for Sloan. Sitting in his London office all he has to do is read and sign off on these reports. All this writing is more likely to be the death of me than any enemy I've ever had to face. He smiled in relief. However, for now it's over. The damage done in Sunnydale had all been settled out of court and Nick, still somewhat subdued by his ordeal, had been released to "private care" readily enough by the administrator of the overburdened public hospital he'd been placed in.

The specialist the Legacy had sent from Rome had confirmed Philip's assessment that his teammate was free of all vestiges of demonic influence and was fit for any duties his physical injuries would permit. He had even suggested resuming work would probably be the best therapy for the psychological wounds. According to his report these didn't seem too severe, though he noted the chance that his subject was simply very good at hiding his pain from strangers. I wonder what he would have said if he'd seen Nick in the hospital. Though being home seemed to help a great deal. The thought of the self important invader who had disrupted their attempt to get back to normal made the precept snort in disgust. The man had taken nearly a week to tell them what they already knew and had gone home just this evening after dropping his lengthy evaluation on Derek's desk.

It was going over the follow up report from Mexico City, however, that had kept him up so late. It had been good of Anna to step in on the San Diego possession during that first terrible week after it all fell apart in Sunnydale. If only they had been successful. He allowed the file to fall closed, hiding the photos of the woman's shattered body sprawled near the car she had dashed in front of after breaking free from the exorcism. Anna will likely never speak to me again, he thought, ruefully tossing his letter of apology onto the pile of outgoing mail. A letter wasn't going to go very far in smoothing the ruffled feathers caused when the police deported her operatives following the questionable death of Shannon Reiss, but it would have to do. Rising with a soft sigh of exhaustion, the precept snapped off the desk lamp and headed for his room, wishing the morning would hold off just a few extra hours today.

Unfortunately, it was sleep that would have to wait a while. As Derek crossed the landing, he could see light shining from beneath the living room door and faintly hear the sounds of the TV playing. Knowing he'd never get to sleep if he didn't investigate, Derek changed course. When no one responded to his gentle knock, he quietly stepped inside to find Nick sound asleep in one of the old armchairs, the remote control dangling from one limp hand.

True rest has been so rare for Nick lately, I really shouldn't wake him. Derek gently took the remote away and clicked off the TV. He hesitated for a moment, wondering if he should at least bring a blanket. Nighttime dampness tended to make the old house chilly. Before he could decide, the young man stirred uneasily, deep furrows creasing his brow as he began to whimper softly. Rapid movements beneath the closed eyelids reminded Derek of an animal seeking escape from some cruel trap. Concern settling more heavily upon his own features, the precept quickly reached out to clasp his friend's shoulders, pulling him from the grip of this latest in a string of night terrors. He kept a firm hold until the confusion of sleep cleared from Nick's eyes and he stopped struggling.

Now, in the night's strangest and most silent hour, Nick's defenses fell at last and he leaned his head quietly against the comfort of his mentor's shoulder until he had drawn enough strength to meet the pity he expected to find in the older man's eyes. There was none. Only the pain of a father watching his child suffer and the compassion of a man who has traveled nearly the same dark road. Such a depth of understanding overwhelmed him entirely.

"What are you doing down here at this hour?" Derek asked softly, aching from the desperate pain in Nick's eyes as the dam holding back his fears finally broke and he began to cry, clinging like a child to the shelter of the arms that drew him close.

No more secrets lay between them when Nick finally pulled away to rest against the back of the chair. All the horrors of the possession, all the nightmares he'd been unable to tell those assigned to help him had all been handed over to the one person he trusted with his very soul, leaving both men drained and quiet.

The simple act of sharing his pain with someone who understood instead of analyzed, made the ex-SEAL feel as if a stone had been lifted off his heart. When he spoke again, he almost sounded like the old Nick, trying to find the simplest way to state a complex problem. "It's as if he went through and found all of the scars inside of me then ripped them open, one by one, and left me to bleed to death."

Derek leaned forward in the chair he had moved to and tapped his steepled fingers against his chin. Sensing that this was a key point in the recovery process, he sought for words that might help the healing and decided to continue with his young friend's analogy. "Sometimes when poison is trapped inside a wound it has to be reopened and allowed to bleed clean before it can truly heal. Now might be the time to confront and explore the things that haunt you." Seeing the shields going back up behind Nick's eyes, he reinforced the analogy. "None of us are strong all of the time. Let the wounds bleed until they can heal cleanly. We need you to be whole." The precept sat back, quietly observing the effect of his words. When Nick nodded his acceptance of the idea, Derek rose with a tired smile. "Come on. If you stay in that chair much longer, you'll be too stiff to move for a week"

"Too late." Nick moaned, as he was hauled to his feet, his half-healed injuries protesting vigorously. He was forced to lean heavily on the other man's arm as they headed for the stairs

They paused when Alex commented from behind them, "You two are up awfully early." She attempted to frown sternly when they both started laughing instead of answering her, but she just couldn't hold the expression. It had been too long since she'd heard Nick laugh.

When Nick began clutching painfully at his ribs, Derek collected himself enough to steady the man. "No we're not. We haven't even gotten to bed yet." He replied before hustling them both up the stairs to their respective rooms.

Alex shook her head, grinning as she headed out for her run. It looks like something good happened between them at any rate, and it's about time. With her worries for her friend somewhat eased, this morning seemed even brighter than the weatherman had promised.

The End

The Philip/Derek background is used gratefully with the permission of it’s creator ~

:-) Thanks Deb T.!

E-Mail the Authors: Janet and Sandy at