Dedication: This chapter is for Marcia C. : Happy Birthday!

"Dude, you're going to wear a track in the carpet." Seth and Ryan had arrived at the hospital and had themselves pointed in the direction that aircraft arrivals would enter from. The minutes had been counting down, and in any minute, Kirsten was going to come through the door.

"Look out." A bed was rolled past them, and Ryan stood hard against the wall to allow enough room. The nurses propelling it went straight out the door as the whump of helicopter blades could be heard overhead. Seth and Ryan shared a look as they both scrambled to follow the nurses outside.

The helicopter landed and it felt like an age before Kirsten was handed out, laid on the bed. Sandy jumped out straight after her, clutched the hand that was reaching out for him. Ryan and Seth broke away from the doorway and ran over to the bed. It was already moving when they got to it, and they walked fast to keep up with it.

"Kirsten, the boys are here," Sandy's tone was gentle, but he had to speak loudly to be heard over the departing chopper. Kirsten's eyes took a moment before they turned, rested on Seth and Ryan. Her pupils looked dilated, and there was a drip coming out of the back of one hand.

"Hey…" She spoke as if it was an effort, and the hand that reached out to them had broken and bloody fingers, the wrist circled with raw bleeding skin. Both boys paused before touching her, not wanting to hurt her, and before they could make the decision to risk the pain for the sake of making contact she was gone, wheeled into a lift, nurses shooing them out as the doors firmly shut. They watched as the patient elevator number stopped on the fifth floor. The door to the stairs was open, and Seth and Ryan bounded up to the fifth floor, arriving just to see Sandy and Kirsten disappearing into a private examination room.

"That's my Mom." Seth said to the nurse who blocked him. The stern expression was readjusted to one of empathy, but she still didn't let them in. A police photographer arrived, and was let in while Ryan and Seth loitered. A few minutes after that, Sandy came out.

"She didn't want me in there while he took the photos. God…" Sandy dropped to a crouch on the floor, rested his head in his hands.

"But, she's okay, right?"

"She'll get better." Sandy nodded, looking up to Seth and Ryan. He didn't want to tell them about the bruises on her chest, the livid purple that he'd caught sight of on her thighs as he left the room. They were Kirsten's bruises, her choice to reveal or keep a secret. Whatever she decided, she knew they were there for her. Sandy just hoped he'd never have to see those photos.

"Someone will be back to take a statement tomorrow, either here or at your house. She wants to go home tonight." The photographer nodded at them, left. Sandy, Seth and Ryan pushed open the door to the hospital room, tentatively walked in. She was perched on the edge of the bed, arguing weakly with the nurse who, despite her considerably better emotional and physical state, seemed to be losing.

"Well, get the doctor then. They can examine me now, then I can go."

"I don't think that's a good idea-."

"Why don't you let the doctor decide that?" Her voice was still recovering, still husky. Kirsten was still there though, and her eyes tracked the nurse out before resting on the three men standing in the doorway. Immediately her eyes brightened and they came further in, crowding around her. She kicked her legs gently, annoyed at not being able to get up. The nurse had given her an ultimatum; get up and try to walk out of here herself, and she was going to be in for a week, no arguments. The shackle was still on her ankle, and everyone's eyes looked down as it dragged across the floor, made a sound not unlike the clanking of bones. Kirsten tucked it behind her other ankle, out of sight. Her eyes told Sandy not to ask. He could tell she was just barely holding it together; probably mainly for the boys who were looking scared enough as it was at her the battered parts of her that weren't covered by the hospital gown she'd been hustled into.

"Glad you're back, Mom." Seth sat gingerly on the bed, letting her in on the understatement of the year. Days of trying not to think the worst had taken their toll; Seth knew his eyes would look as red rimmed as his Ryan's and his Dad's. How they looked, though, was nothing compared to Kirsten. Katy had mentioned to them all that when Kirsten was found, they might need to brace themselves.

"We brought you some clothes…" Ryan dropped the bag at the end of the bed, was rewarded with a small smile from Kirsten before she thought of something.

"Did they get Joni? Did they get her out of the house?" Kirsten suddenly grabbed Sandy's wrist, making herself wince. She released her grip a little but kept holding on, eyes questioning. He looked at her pupils. Before, they'd been large; now they'd shrunk down to a smaller size.

"They got her." A whispered phone conversation between Katy and her immediate boss had resulted in her requesting an ME van to transport Joni's body back to Newport, where an autopsy would be done. Sandy had looked questioningly at Katy, who'd shaken her head. Obviously Joni didn't make it. It had made him shiver, clutch Kirsten's hand tighter. If they hadn't found her…

"Mrs Cohen." A Doctor came in, lab coat impeccable. Kirsten dropped her grip on Sandy's wrist, nodded.

"I'm Dr. Sarah Smith. Here to do an exam; see if you can go home. We'll do a ra-." She paused, looked around at the family members gathered by the bed.

"It might be better if you wait outside." Kirsten nodded around at them again as they reluctantly left the room. The doctor waited until the door was shut behind them before she started talking again.

"The paramedics examined you in flight, but we're going to have to do some portable x-rays. We would like to keep you in tonight to monitor it, though."

"I just… I want to go home." Kirsten had laid back on the bed and she looked at the ceiling.

"Under the circumstances, home might be the best place for you. But I've got to do an exam to see that it would be safe to send you home." It was obvious why the nurse had sent for this doctor; she was soft spoken and seemed familiar, though Kirsten hadn't met her before.

"Did he rape you?" Sarah asked the question gently as she put on gloves. A nurse rolled a tray in, covered with a sterile cloth. Kirsten watched the nurse leave before she nodded, slowly.

"I'm going to have to do a rape kit. If you feel uncomfortable while I'm doing it, just tell me to stop. I'll also take some swabs so we can test for STDs. I'm going to cut that shackle off your ankle as well, with a bone saw. It might sound a little loud. Tell me to stop if it gets too much."

"I just want it off." Kirsten wished she hadn't drawn Seth and Ryan's attention to it. They didn't need to even imagine thoughts of what she'd been through.

"Okay. That first, then." Sarah put some protective goggles on and started the saw. Five minutes later, she had the shackle sealed in a plastic bag, ready to be sent to the police. Fifteen minutes after that, the rape kit was done. Sarah drew blood quickly and saw other needle marks on the pale, bruised skin.

"Did he inject you with anything?" She put the blood, in its vials, on a tray.

"Yes. I don't know what. It made me black out." Sarah wrote a note to go with the blood, asking that a tox screen be run. She sent it and the shackle outside with the same nurse who had brought the rape kit. Another nurse appeared, briefly, rolling with her a portable x-ray machine.

"Is there anywhere in particular that you need me to check?" Sarah had donned a heavy vest to shield her from the radiation the x-ray machine was putting out and was positioning the machine over Kirsten's abdomen.

"My fingers... Hurt. Maybe my feet. Ribs." Efficiently, Sarah snapped off several films. Kirsten coughed as the x-ray machine was being wheeled out so the films could be developed. Sarah looked concerned and held a stethoscope to her chest.

"Did you get water in your lungs at all?" Kirsten coughed again, remembered the sound of the bathwater she'd thrashed about in, the lungful of it that had been breathed in while she was seeking oxygen.

"Yes." She didn't want to offer details. Sarah wrote something else on the lengthy chart she'd already made notations on.

"I need to disinfect your wounds further and check the x-rays to see what needs to be done. Usually, you wouldn't take a shower before that, but under the circumstances..." Sarah raised her eyebrows and Kirsten nodded. She wanted the scent of the place off her, the scent of him.

Sarah snapped off her gloves and tossed them in the bin. She got a new hospital gown from the drawer and hung it in the bathroom. Coming back, she had to help Kirsten out of bed and into the shower, rolling her drip behind her, where there was a chair.

"Do you need help-?"

"No." Kirsten's answer was immediate, and Sarah nodded. She was a doctor; distancing herself was part of the job, but cases like this were so much harder. Sarah had winced when she'd seen the bruising on her thighs, the shackle hanging off her ankle, still dripping with blood.

"I'll be waiting in your room when you come out." Kirsten turned on the hot water almost before the door was shut. She left the shower curtain open; having it shut would make her want to watch for silhouettes outside, for Rob, coming to get her. Adjusting the water and taking off the hospital gown, Kirsten stepped under the spray and leant against the wall, watching as the water found its way down the plughole in a swirl of pale crimson.

"She had a... There was a fucking shackle on her ankle." Ryan, who had rarely sworn since moving in with the Cohens, was the first to speak in the hallway. His balled fists made it clear he wanted to hit something, in place of somebody. Sandy put a hand on his arm, waited until he felt the muscles under his hand lose some of their tension.

"How was it there?" Seth asked his question a few moments later, and Sandy, letting go of Ryan to sink into a chair, sighed.

"I didn't go into the house. She… We got her in the bush. She'd managed to get out, and he'd driven away, looking for her. The police followed him back, caught him as he got to the house." Inside the house was something Sandy would leave to his imagination. Most of the windows he could see had been boarded up, and the shackle on Kirsten's ankle as well as the cuts and bruises on her wrists told him she'd been tied up, probably in the dark, probably alone. He hoped she'd been alone.

"Joni?" Ryan asked. Sandy shook his head.

"Didn't make it." There was silence as they all considered the ramifications of this. None of them were going to admit it, but they were all glad it was Joni and not Kirsten.

"Hey." Katy arrived in the hallway, nodded to all of them. She was followed by a nurse who knocked on the exam door, was handed out a tray by Dr. Smith. She snagged the shackle off it, handed it to Katy.

"Right. Thanks." Katy put it in a pocket of her coat.

"How is she?" She was looking at Sandy, and he shrugged.

"We don't know." Katy walked from one side of the hallway to the other. It was obvious she wasn't good at waiting.

"We found who owns the house; a local man. He hasn't been seen for some time, but no one found that unusual. He was a hermit, apparently. Although we are now looking into signs of foul play." Katy checked her watch, paced again.

They all stood when the doctor came out of the room. Before they could ask, she started talking.

"I have to check the x-rays, but so far there's nothing to indicate to me that she can't go home tonight when her IV is finished." Sandy nodded as Sarah directed the last of this to him.

"I'm going to recommend she sees a psychiatrist. With something like this, it's usually easier for the patient to talk to someone distanced from the situation." Sarah dug in her pocket, came up with a card that she handed to Sandy.

"This is who I recommend. I have to check the x-rays, but I'll be back shortly to bandage her wounds. She's showering at the moment."

"You'll call me?" Katy asked Sarah. The Doctor nodded as she walked away.

"Sandy, I'll come around tomorrow to take a statement." Katy nodded her goodbye to the boys before she, too, walked away.

"I'll go check on her. Wait here." Sandy left Ryan and Seth in the hallway and entered the hospital room again. The sheet on the bed was slightly wrinkled and the door to the small bathroom was closed, the shower audible from where he stood.

When he opened the door, the shower curtain was open and he saw her sitting on the chair in the shower, her knees pulled up to her chest. Her hair was a stream of gold down her back, hiding the bruises he knew must lurk under there.

"Kirsten." Sandy said softly. He walked further into the bathroom, wanting her to look at him, not wanting to startle her.

"Baby..." He walked around to her front, turning the shower down to a manageable trickle. She reached out a hand and he took it, seeing the blood still on it. He reached for a wash cloth and gently kneaded it between her knuckles and over her delicate phalanges, washing away the evidence he could see until her skin was clear of blood. He unclipped the shower from the wall and trained the hot spray on her hand. Gently he washed her other hand, and then her arms. There were handprints on her, and other bruises that were shapes he couldn't make out. Her wrists he took care with, making sure he didn't touch the deep gouges in her skin. She'd been away long enough that they'd started to heal, where she hadn't reopened them, probably in struggle.

She moved her head numbly to each side so he could wash her throat. Her pulse beat steadily below the surface, and he was glad to see it, past the patina of bruises that outlined her windpipe.

He washed down her sides and pushed her hair aside to wash her back. Her breasts were bruised and looked so different to the pale, perfect mounds of flesh he'd caressed the night before she left.

Her feet he washed, the soles studded with wounds from her foray into the stick trailed floor of the bush. Her ankles were bloodied, and one still oozed slightly, the blood light pink, then lighter still until the water ran clear.

He washed her legs, and bit his lip as he saw the fading bruises there, the scrape marks that led higher on her thighs.

Finally, she looked up at him and he got a new washcloth from the supply on the sink edge, wet it under the shower's warm water. He dabbed at her lips, her perfect cheekbones and wiped away the tears that came. She hadn't met his eyes then, but now she did and he saw the trust in them. She'd laid herself out before him, making sure there were no secrets. They'd had secrets, and it had hurt them both. Now, when he could have easily let her go into lockdown for her own sake, let her keep this dark secrets to herself if it made her feel better; now more than ever he loved her for trusting him with this horrible reality, for letting him know this was something they were going to face together.

Finally, he turned the shower off. The sudden silence was surprising. Sandy dropped the washcloth in the sink and got a towel from the hook near the door. He wiped her down as best he could while she was sitting, towel dried her hair until it was only just damp. He tossed the towel aside and grabbed the fresh hospital gown. Gently manipulating her limbs into it, Sandy tied the back. Done, he ran a hand down Kirsten's face, drew her eyes up to him.

"I love you." He said simply. She half smiled, pulled herself up towards him and stood with him for a moment, letting his arms rest around her, roaming for a spot where they could embrace her without pushing on a bruise or cut.

"If you hadn't come home..." Sandy whispered in her ear. Kirsten ran a hand lightly up his neck until it was tangled in his hair, making him shiver.

"You kept me alive." She said. He didn't know what she meant but he dropped a kiss on her neck and drew her closer.

Sarah was waiting in the room when they came out of the bathroom. She waited while Kirsten eased herself back onto the bed and pulled on a pair of gloves.

"I checked the X-rays and, surprisingly, there isn't any internal bleeding. Looks like there was an injury to your kidneys but it appears to be on the way to healing itself. It won't require any surgery." She carefully pulled one of Kirsten's hands towards her and laid it on a sterile sheet on the tray.

"You have two broken fingers." Sarah was splinting and bandaging them together as she spoke. Her hands worked quickly. Sandy wondered whether there was usually a nurse assisting, whether Katy had asked the staff to have as few unfamiliar faces as possible in the room.

"Your wrists are badly bruised and the contusions on your ankle mean I need to give you a tetanus booster. Your blood work came back, and it looks like a veterinary tranquiliser was used on you. It appears the dose was small enough that it didn't affect your kidneys. You have three broken ribs and a badly bruised windpipe." Sarah had been bandaging and applying ointment the whole time she talked. She put an adhesive patch over a particularly bad scrape mark on Kirsten's elbow then turned to get the tetanus needle ready.

"Katy Rivers, the detective who has been running your case, asked me if I could call her and give her the details for her report. Do you have any objections to this?" Kirsten shook her head and turned on her side for Sarah to administer the needle.

"I also brought a morning after pill. You don't need to take it, but I thought you might want..." Sarah paused as she handed it over, along with a glass of water. Kirsten looked at Sandy, briefly, before she tipped the pill into her mouth and swallowed. She'd seen nothing but love, underlying the worry that was still evident in the lines around his eyes.

"Thanks." Kirsten said to Sarah. Sarah took off her gloves and gave her hand a squeeze.

"I've filled a prescription for you, and included the repeat in the box. It's just an antibiotic for the bronchitis. There's also prescriptions for antiseptic ointment, which I suggest you keep applying to the worst cuts, and pain killers which you might need for the ribs. I'll be back in about fifteen minutes to take your drip out, then you'll be free to go home."

"Thank you, Doctor." Sandy said. Sarah looked up at him and nodded before leaving the room.

Hesitantly, two heads peeked around the doorway, and Sandy motioned them in.

"Hey." Kirsten said. They nodded their replies. Seth started to grab her hand but stopped when he saw the wrapped fingers, the bandaged wrist, the broken fingernails.

"It's okay." Kirsten reached for him, grabbed his hand.

"Missed you," he said. She squeezed his hand, looked over at Ryan. He gave her a smile.

"I'm glad you're home," he said. She nodded, made room for him to sit on the bed.

"Me, too." She looked around at them all, the faces that she'd thought of in her darkest moments, the faces that she still had to conjure now, in her mind, when she shut her eyes for too long and was transported back to that house.

"Me, too."

I'm not sure if I'll do another chapter of Kirsten getting home, or if I'll leave it here. I would like to explore the psychological impact of her recounting the events, but who knows when that will be completed? Writing hasn't been on top of my list of things to do lately, unfortunately, so I apologise in advance if it takes some time to be completed. Meantime, thanks so much for reading; and if you've been there since the beginning, then I owe you a huge amount of gratitude.