Chapter 3

The Friday morning of Cassie's release from the hospital finally arrived. Bright sunshine flooded the room as nurses bustled in and out, helping box up all the cards and balloons and gifts to make it easier for Cassie to transport them all home. The huge cast on her leg had been replaced by a smaller one, much more manageable, and she had been only recently been shakily learning to thump around the room for brief spurts of time with a pair of heavily padded crutches.

Finally, all the cumbersome paperwork was completed, and the wheelchair arrived to take her downstairs.

Horatio gave her a warm kiss just before leaving the room to go pull the car around to the front of the building, she responded with a warm smile. Cassie settled herself into the wheelchair, and the heavyset male nurse began slowly navigating down the hall towards the elevators.

And that's when she felt it… a crushing wave of sheer panic.

It didn't come on gradually, it was horrifyingly sudden.

It felt like being totally relaxed in the middle of a quiet field of flowers, and then casually looking upwards, and seeing a cement truck falling out of the sky right on top of you…

Her chest tightened up, her vision narrowed, and she couldn't seem to get enough air into her lungs. Suddenly the thought of getting into a small claustrophobic elevator and leaving the calming sanctuary of this safe place absolutely terrified her. NO! No, no, no, no, no… Her mind began to wail.

"S-st-stop..stop…" she stammered, her hands beginning to shake. The big nurse pushing her halted and leaned around in front of her with a concerned look. He saw the look of sheer terror on this lovely woman's face and immediately tried to help calm her down. He knelt down and began to speak soothingly to her, trying to reassure her. But it did nothing to help. He could have easily overpowered her, but realizing that doing so would probably cause much more harm than good, he remained as non-threatening as he could and kept trying to get her to calm down. But he was rapidly losing that fight...

Cassie's head was spinning. She was gasping for air, nearly paralyzed with fear. Everything and everyone around her now seemed like a monstrous, immediate threat. Logic flew out the window, replaced by nothing but a core survival instinct. And rational thought as a whole was making a rapid exit as well...

Get away… Must… get… away. Somewhere... safe… Her thoughts screamed at her.

She was now completely gripped in the throes of a full-blown panic attack. With flailing arms, she shoved away the big hands of the nurse trying to help, and hauled herself down out of the wheelchair. The big orderly winced as he heard the heavy thump of her body making contact with the polished tile floor. He continued trying to calm her down, but she absolutely refused any assistance. She swiveled her head around looking for any kind of refuge, but saw only danger and deadly threats. She desperately wanted a place to curl up and hide...

Frantically looking around again, her panicked brain targeted a spot...

She was breathing rapidly and tears stung her eyes as she quickly began dragging her back side along the shiny floor towards the only safe haven she could see. Making pitiful sounds that were nothing more than whimpers, she scuttled herself across the floor, everyone watching and moving out of her way. She scurried around the corner, and proceeded to burrow herself under the wide nurse's station desk, in behind the wastebasket, and then became nearly hysterical. She wouldn't allow anyone to come anywhere near her.

Except for her casted leg which she had to keep straight, she curled herself into a tight little shivering ball and began rocking back and forth, while an unstoppable flow of tears coursed down her face. She melted into a sobbing heap on the floor.

HHHHH

Down in front of the hospital, Horatio gave an impatient sigh as he looked up at the side of the beige concrete building. He couldn't imagine what was taking so long.

His cell phone rang and grabbed for it, annoyed. Without even looking at the caller ID, he flipped it open. "Caine."

There were only a few words spoken, but the look on his face changed immediately. And seconds later, he had snapped his phone shut and was charging full bore through the hospital lobby like a crazed bull. He had one singular goal in his mind: the 4th floor. He had to get there as quickly as possible…

He charged across the lobby and was about to launch himself up the stairs, but heard the familiar 'ding' of the elevator just as he rounded that corner, and saw the green arrow pointing UP. He shoved the waiting riders out of his way, hearing a chorus of startled gasps. He lunged into the empty elevator car and stabbed the '4' button repeatedly. "Police," he said quickly, flashing the gold badge clipped to his belt. "Take the next one," he finished as the doors slid shut and the car swooshed upwards…

He had been right… The other shoe had finally dropped… And Cassie desperately needed him…

HHHHH

It didn't take him long to get there. Once the elevator doors had opened, he bolted into the hallway, and several nurses were showing the way, pointing to the nurse's station desk. There was a small crown of curious on-lookers gathered around, all peering at the spectacle huddled down behind the wastebasket. One of the Doctors was there, and had ordered up a syringe filled with a sedative, and was slowly approaching Cassie with it. Horatio stepped up and took control, stopping him.

"Hang on a minute, Doc," Horatio said sternly. "Let's not do anything extreme. Everybody just calm down. Let me talk to her."

The Doc capitulated and backed up.

Horatio slowly came around behind the desk, and felt his heart break at the sight of his terrified love.

He gently knelt down in front of her. "Cassie... Sweetheart…" and that's as far as he got.

Cassie heard his voice, and responded instantly.

"Horatio…" She choked out, and her head snapped up. She looked up at him through frightened bloodshot eyes, and then launched herselfstraight into his arms with startling ferocity, burying her face in his chest and nearly knocking him over.

Horatio wrapped his arms around her, and held her tightly as the chocking sobs shook her slender body.

"I.. I don't… want to… g-go…" she stammered, "go… out…side…"

"Shhhh…" he soothed, "it's OK. I'm here. There's nothing to be afraid of…."

Her breathing was coming in ragged shallow gasps. "P-p-please… not… outside…"

"OK, OK... Calm down Cassie," he cooed, "just calm down sweetheart. You're safe. No one is going to hurt you. And you don't have to go anywhere that you don't want to go."

She seemed to settle down just a little bit. He shifted slightly on the floor so he could hold her close and gently stroke her hair. Gradually, her sobs began to subside, and her breathing started to return to normal.

"That's my girl," he said, planting soft kisses on her hair. "Why don't we just stay right here for a little while. Until we can figure all this out. OK?"

His question was met with an enthusiastic nod of her head.

And they did. Horatio held her in his arms as the hospital around them slowly began to return to normal. Horatio's mind began working furiously. So this was how her trauma was apparently going to manifest itself...

His body stayed still, arms wrapped protectively and lovingly around the shivering woman clinging to him. But his mind was racing, wondering what he could do to help his beloved Cassie…