Amanda had gone to be alone to think. Brian had stayed on the riverbank, ankle deep in water, staring off toward the gorge. He was pretty sure he could see where the river ended suddenly, where the water became air, and the solidness below dropped away into an abyss.
Nick didn't notice the tear that was rolling down Brian's cheek when he initially approached.
"Hey Bri," he called, laughing, "Putting up tents is like super dangerous, I never realized. I almost belted myself a couple times in the shnoz with bungee cords." He reenacted pulling the cord and it snapping back in his face and laughed.
Brian smiled at Nick's enthusiasm and quickly composed himself, wiping the tear away with the heel of his hand. He turned to Nick his face broken into that smile still, and said, "You're a goof, Carter."
Nick grinned back. "Hey, where's Amanda?" he asked, looking around. "I thought she was chillin' with you?"
"She went for a walk," Brian said, shrugging.
Nick frowned at the trees. "Hope she doesn't get lost," he muttered.
"I don't think she went far," Brian answered.
"Isn't this great?" Nick asked, spreading his arms to indicate the campsite as well as the river and the rafts and everything. "Doesn't it make you feel like super alive?" he asked.
"Yeah," Brian said, "Alive."
Amanda had only just barely gotten out of the clearing when she heard the brush behind her part. She kept walking, knowing he would follow her. The trees got denser, and if she didn't know, too, that he was an expert hiker - and therefore would be able to find the way back - she would've been scared to go any further. But she didn't want to be overheard. Especially not now.
When she felt like she was far enough away, she stopped and allowed him to catch up with her.
"Well?" his voice was low.
"You need to leave," she said.
Tobias Benjamin Winterson stepped up to her and laid his hands gently on her shoulders. "Do you have any idea how much it pissed me off to hear that guy call you his girlfriend?" he spit the words out.
Amanda closed her eyes. "Toby, you need to go."
"Did you get the story?" he asked.
Amanda nodded. "And now you need to leave."
"Well," he said, "When are you writing it?"
She shook her head.
Tobias frowned and leaned forward, laying his mouth on her neck. "Come on, sexy," he whispered, kissing the crook of her shoulder an sucking on the skin there, "What good are you if you aren't writing the story?"
In one swift motion, she brought her elbow back, directly into the depth of his stomach as hard and as fast as she could. He let out a gasp of air, and she felt him double over, his chin hitting her shoulder and a groan of pain escaping him. "You little bitch! What the fuck was that for?" he gasped.
"Do not touch me," she growled.
Tobias' eyebrows knit together. "What is this about, Amanda, huh?" he snarled, suddenly angry. It had been a long time since she'd seen him angry, and it made her back away slightly. "What? Do you honestly think you have something with that scumbag?" he demanded.
Amanda looked back toward the camp.
"Do you seriously think he loves you?" he scoffed.
"Yes," she snapped.
Tobias laughed. "He doesn't know you," he said, "Not like I do. And if he knew you, really knew you, he wouldn't love you."
Amanda's hands felt clammy. "I'm different around him," she said, shaking her head.
"Yeah, that's because you're a lying sack of crap around him," he sneered. "If you ever told him what you are - he'd drop you so fast..."
Amanda's face was streaming with tears.
"You know it's true. Or if you doubt it, maybe if you need reminding of why you're really here, we should go tell him right now. Give him a chance to prove me wrong? To want you anyway?"
I can't lose them both in one night, she thought, her heart pounding with emotion and pain.
"C'mon, let's go see how much Nick Carter loves you." He grabbed her wrist so tight it hurt and she let out a shriek of pain and tried to pull back, but he kept his grip on her so that all it did was wrench her wrist.
"Stop it, stop it," she sobbed. She dropped to the ground, her wrist above her head in his hand and the tears poured across her face.
Tobias bent down and rubbed her back. The gesture normally would've been sweet, but she knew better now. "Oh, Amanda," he whispered. "What have we gotten ourselves into?"
"Please..." she cried, "Please leave."
"I can't leave without a story," he whispered.
Amanda's heart pounded so loudly, it echoed in her ears. "I'm working on the story," she said, "I'll write the story. Eric will get the story, okay?" she snapped. "But you need to leave."
"Why?" he asked. "Give me a good reason."
"Because they're on to you," she whispered, lying. "You're ruining my cover and if I lose my cover, we lose the story. I don't have all the details yet and until I do, I can't lose the cover, okay? You're going to blow it."
Tobias studied her. "You'll get the story?" he asked, uncertain.
"Yes," she gasped. "I'll get it."
He leaned down and kissed her mouth. She did not kiss back. "Good girl."
"Now leave," she demanded.
Amanda emerged from the woods and Nick descended on her like a swooping hawk. "Are you okay?" he asked, seeing the dirt stuck to her shorts and blood on her knees. Her face was blotchy and red.
"I'm fine," she said, shaking her head, "I don't feel well." She pushed past him, trembling, and headed for her tent.
Nick stood helplessly and watched as she crawled into the tent and zipped it shut behind her. The snap of a twig breaking made him turn around, and Ben came out of the same path in the woods that Amanda had just come from. Nick felt his muscles tighten, his stomach roll, and his fists balled.
Brian was coming up behind Nick and saw him tense up. "What's wrong?"
"He did something to her," Nick hissed.
"What?" Brian looked surprised.
Nick's face was livid, his eyes were practically red with anger. "That mother fucking --" he started walking toward Ben, who was oblivious to Nick's stare, but Brian stopped him, jumping in front of him and putting hands on each of his shoulders.
"Nick, what happened?" he asked.
"Amanda came out of the woods over there," Nick said, pointing, "Sobbing and shaking and covered in dirt and blood, and then he -"
Brian looked at Ben.
"Then he came out of the same place," Nick growled.
"And what do you think you're going to do about it?" Brian asked, his voice low. "Nick, you don't know what happened. Talk to Amanda about it before you haul off and beat the crap out of that guy, okay? Please? It could be a misunderstanding."
"Misunderstanding my ass--"
"Nick," Brian's voice was a warning bark. "Stop. Go talk to Amanda."
Nick set his jaw and felt frustration channel through him to every part of his body. "Fine," he hissed, "But if she says he hurt her..."
"Then I'll help you beat the shit out of him, okay?" Brian whispered. "But please, find out for sure something even happened first." He used his hands to twist Nick in the direction of Amanda's tent, away from Ben.