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Nick didn't say much after he got off the phone with his mom. In fact, if he could've just avoided everybody and slept in the bathroom he would have. Kevin went back and forth all night between feeling sorry for the kid to being mad at him. Brian also wasn't helping, glaring at his cousin every chance he got.

AJ, who ended up spending the night, sat in a pair of borrowed shorts and sweatshirt from Brian. After he talked to his mom and Nick's own called, both he and Howie came back into the living room to the eager anticipation of Kevin and Brian.

"I need to use the john is he ever going to come out of there" AJ had said and as if on cue Nick opened the door and went into the bedroom.

Kevin was never good at this part of being the 'responsible' one because frankly in his real life he was the youngest. It was Kevin that was always the one chased after and consoled by his family.

"Did Jane say anything to you D"? Howie took a sip of iced tea and placed the glass down on the coffee table, "Not really she asked if he was hurt or anything so I said no. She immediately figured out he did something stupid then and angrily asked to talk to him. She was pissed!"

Kevin let out a sigh, knowing that most likely Nick was waiting for someone to go into that bedroom and talk to him. "Brian why don't you go talk to Nick" Brian turned around from his new position on the floor, arms cradled around a pillow. "If he wanted us to talk to him he would be out here don't you think?"

"If I knew what that kid thought he probably wouldn't have spent the whole night sleeping in my car Brian" AJ laughed but a quick glare from Kevin shut him up.

"Maybe you should go talk to him D. You are really good with the kid"

"And what do you suggest I say?"

"I don't know, I'm the youngest in my family. I never had to deal with this kind of crap before"

"Well so am I" Howie admitted a little annoyed that Kevin was trying to pawn off Nick once again.

Kevin nodded for the first time realizing the only one of them that wasn't the youngest in their families was Nick; ironically enough. He laughed when it dawned on him, "Maybe I should ask Nick what to do in a situation like this" Everyone laughed. "I have a feeling there are an awful lot of door slams over at the Carters" Once again everyone cracked up for AJ.

"They better own stock in a wood shop" Howie's lame attempt at humor.

"That family is completely messed up" Brian added not trying to be funny at all.

"We can't really say that Brian" Kevin defended even though he felt the same exact way.

"They treat their son like crap. I'm a little tired of it frankly" He wanted to argue but he couldn't. Brian was right. "I just think they aren't very good at the whole raising kids thing" Howie admitted.

"Then maybe they should stop having them like a couple of horny rabbits" That got another laugh out of everyone.

"Seriously Kevin, I would leave him be for now. He'll come out when he's ready to talk"

"We don't have time to wait for that to happen, we have a long day tomorrow and we need to be asleep like ten minutes ago" Kevin nodded in agreement and they all stood up to go to the bedroom. "I guess I should sleep out here?"

"I wouldn't do that man. If I were you, i'd drag Nick's ass out here otherwise he'll think that whenever he acts like a shithead he'll get what he wants" They looked at AJ surprised once again, "What? Okay i'm an only child but occasionally I am possessed by my mother"

He plopped himself on the couch, "He gets the floor"

The boys walked over to the bedroom door and weren't that surprised to see the light shut off. Howie clicked it on and there was Nick just sitting there on Brian's bed, Indian style staring at the wall. "Hey Nicky it's time to go to bed so..."

Nick didn't say anything just got up and walked out the door placing Brian's pillow down as he went. "oookay" Brian said slowly, pulling his comforter down and jumping inside.

Kevin just stood there once again torn as to what to do but he decided to opt for the easy way out so he shut off the light and they all went to sleep.


~*~*~*~*~*~*
He awoke earlier then anybody else even before the gray of day had given way to full on dawn. A small thread of sunlight made it's way through the curtains as he sat up and stretched. The sound of Howie snoring echoing through the entire room. How he managed to get any sleep in this place was beyond him he thought as he pulled on his tee-shirt and made his way into the kitchen to make some coffee.

Kevin absolutely hated it when he woke up before his alarm clock because once his eyes opened he was awake. He never had the luxury of looking at a clock and saying 'good I still have a few more hours' once he was awake ... he was awake.

Stumbling into the kitchen he was a bit surprised to see Nick already up and sitting at the table, drinking a cup of coffee? At first he wanted to just turn around and head back into his room, not ready to deal with the overly dramatic teen but when Nick looked up from reading the paper and smiled at him he had no choice but to go along with his original plan.

"You read the paper and drink coffee every morning lil man?" Kevin asked mildly amused at the sight before him.

"Nah...just looking for the comics" he held up the cup, "And this is chocolate milk. I couldn't find your regular glasses"

Kevin sat down across from him, "Oh..they're in the top cabinet next to the sink"

"Thanks" Once again Kevin stood up already forgetting his original plan to make coffee. He reached over to the coffeepot and went to work, "So why are you up so early?" He asked as he poured the water into the machine.

"I couldn't sleep. AJ kept kicking me"

"Oh right. I forgot he was still here"

"Do you always get up this early?" Kevin once again sitting down smirked, "No not often"

"Oh" Now an uneasy silence crept it's way to the table. Nick sitting there staring at the paper while Kevin tapped is fingers on the table impatiently waiting for his coffee to be done.

"So Nick....what do you want for Christmas?" It seemed like a fitting question to ask a 13 year old. Of course he answered with a shrug.

"Oh come on you have to have SOME idea"

"Why? Are you going to buy me something?"

"Maybe I have a connection to one of Santa's elves" The look Nick gave Kevin at that point was priceless kind of like a 'you've gotta be kidding me' look mixed with a 'this guy is nuts' look

"ooookay well...probably a video game or something" He finally answered after he tried his best to refrain from answering with a smart ass comment.

"A video game huh?" Nick nodded.

Kevin was so happy to see his coffee done he jumped up and grabbed himself a cup searching the shelves for some sugar. "Hey you hungry Nick? I can whip us up some eggs if you want"

"No thanks, i'm good"

"You sure? Because I don't offer to cook everyday"

"Yeah i'm really not hungry but thanks anyways" He went over to the fridge and decided to make himself a nice bowl of cereal instead.

Halfway through his bowl he found himself staring at Nick who had been on the same page of the newspaper since he walked in the room. "Is something on your mind?"

"No"

"You sure? I know you had a pretty rough night last night"

"I don't want to talk about it Kev. I was a stupid ass okay? No need to remind me"

"I wasn't trying to remind you of anything Nicky...I just..."

"I'm fine Kevin okay? Thanks for asking and thanks for being overly nice to me this morning but i'll live. I'm a big boy"

"Okay" Now Kevin found himself willing someone else to wake up no longer wanting to be the only one with Nick.

"I'm gonna go play my Gameboy" Nick said standing up and placing his cup in the sink.

"Okay...have fun"

The rest of the day pretty much went on as a normal one. They had an early dance rehearsal followed by a vocal one. Then a meeting with Lou and Johnny to run through their agenda for the next few week including Christmas.

Most of the time Nick acted like nothing at all had happened to which the rest of the boys were happy. After that meeting however everyone grew solemn maybe because the fact that they weren't going to be home for the holidays was thrown in their faces.

The way Lou had talked about Christmas he might as well have been saying Groundhog day. He didn't care at all that they would be missing out on such an important holiday. It was nothing to him, even though he made sure to mention he wouldn't be around because he was going to be with his family.

They all went back to their apartment just in time for a late dinner none of them really in the mood to do nothing more than eat and possibly go to bed to start another day as busy as this one had been.

"Do we want to order a pizza guys?" Howie said looking at the Dominoes flyer left for them in their mailbox.

"Sounds good to me" Brian said half hearted, Kevin walked over and sat next to his cousin.

"Bri you okay?"

"I am just bummed we aren't going home you know? I mean is it worth it Kev because sometimes i'm not sure myself"

Kevin wanted to give his cousin an honest answer but he didn't know if it was worth it. "I guess we just have to believe that eventually we'll get somewhere"

"Does pepperoni work for everyone?" Howie said now holding the phone in his hands.

They all nodded except for Nick who had his hands on his Gameboy oblivious to the world.

"Nick?"

"Huh?"

"Pepperoni work for you?"

"Yeah i'm not really hungry but whatever dude"

"Nick why aren't you eating?"

Nick ignored Kevin as he continued to play his game.

"Nick?"

"Huh?"

"I said why aren't you eating?"

"Uh huh"

"Nick that's not even an answer to my question" Kevin walked over and shut Nick's game off.

"Damn it!"

"You aren't listening to me"

"I was choosing NOT to listen to you"

"Here we go again folks round...what is it D like 10 or something?"

Howie shook his head at Brian.

"Okay then don't eat, I don't care. I was just wondering why you all of the sudden are on a little hunger strike"

"Who said anything about a hunger strike? I'll eat the damn pizza Kevin just give me back my Gameboy"

Kevin flung the game at Nick who missed it. The game hit the edge of the ceramic sink and fell to the floor cracking in two. Everyone gasped, even Howie who was still on the phone with the pizza place.

No one knew what to expect from Nick as he stood there staring in shock at his broken Gameboy. Kevin braced himself for the worst, ready to fend off the fists he was sure were coming his way. Instead the blonde walked over calmly and picked up the game. Making sure to get all the batteries that had spilled out. "Nick I'm sorry I didn't mean to break it. I'll buy you a new one I promise"

He took his broken Gameboy and threw it in the garbage then calmly walked away from everybody and into the living room. Kevin felt like a piece of crap, "Hey Brian feel like talking a drive to Toys R Us with me?"

"Only if you buy me something too"

"I don't even know if I can afford to buy him a Gameboy"

"Then don't" Came the detached voice of Nick from the other room.

Kevin walked into the living room and sat down on the coffee table, "I owe you a Gameboy Nick. I'll get one don't worry about it"

"It's my fault, I didn't catch it" His eyes were shiny, he was crying but trying not to.

"I shouldn't have thrown it to you"

"It's not important it's only a game" He said looking everywhere but at Kevin. The weird change in his demeanor threw Kevin for a loop. He almost wanted Nick to attack him, try to bite him or something.

"I'll go now, you want to come with me and Brian?"

Nick shook his head just staring at the infomercial that was on. "Okay" He said squeezing Nick's shoulder as he stood up. "I'm really sorry about that Nick"

"I'll live" The way he said it sounded like he wouldn't though. So sad and morose. The funny thing is if he HAD overreacted Kevin would have almost laughed at the absurdity of it but the way he was acting now was even worse.

"Keep the pizza warm for us, we'll be back" Kevin said nodding at Howie who looked like the last thing he wanted was to be left alone with a moody teen.

"Will do" Kevin went to grab his wallet and hand over a $20 when Howie stopped him, "Don't worry about it, I got the pizza"

"Thanks D"

Brian and Kevin talked some more on the way to and from the toy store about home and how much it sucked not to be going there for Christmas. They promised each other that even though they were away they would have a semi normal holiday. A nice cooked meal, Christmas carols, church and presents. As normal as possible.

Unfortunately they forgot that Christmas was about a week away so the store was busy and Gameboys, which were a hot item this year were sold out. They hated coming back empty handed but they had no choice. By the time they reached a second store it was already closed and both boys were exhausted.

They arrived home shortly after 9. The pizza boxes were sitting on the stove and both boys were starving. They opened them and grabbed 2 slices a piece and headed into the living room where Kevin prepared himself to tell Nick the bad news. To his great relief he saw Howie sitting on the couch with Nick lying down next to him. Nick's head on a pillow in his lap, sound asleep.

"Any luck?" Howie whispered.

"They were all sold out" Howie nodded in understanding.

"How were things after we left?"

"He lost it, started bawling his eyes out. Said he didn't want you to see him cry about a stupid Gameboy"

"Oh, i'm sorry D"

"Don't be. We talked about things. This is all about him missing his family Kevin"

"But his family not missing him" Brian added taking a blanket and covering his best friend.

Kevin nodded looking down at Nick knowing there was so much going on in that child's mind. Sometimes he wished he could go in there and rescue him.
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