Aaron lost track of how many reporters and photographers he shoved as he raced through the hospital lobby. Jill had a tough time keeping up in her heels as he dragged her behind him. At the entrance of the ER, she finally grabbed his arm.
"Honey, Aaron, please, slow down." She gasped as cameras went off around them.
"No, I know he needs me. C'mon!" he encouraged as he plowed through the doors and into triage.
"Excuse me, sir?" a nurse said, coming up to him.
"I'm Aaron Carter, I'm Nick Carter's brother. Is he here? Where is he? Can you tell me how Lexie Dorough is?" he said to her.
"I'm sorry. . ." She stuttered, as Aaron continued to press his point.
"Nick Carter, where is he? Is he still here? Where's Lexie?" he demanded.
"Aaron, please!" Jill insisted, clutching his arm. "Please help us. My husband's brother was brought here with Lexie Dorough, please can you just tell us where he is?"
"I don't know. . ."
"Screw this!" he snapped, leaving Jill standing where she was as he headed down the hall. A guard and some hospital administrator stopped him from getting too far. "I'm Aaron Carter, tell me where my brother is!" he demanded.
"Mr. Carter is in the waiting room at the end of the hall. . ." The administrator pointed.
"C'mon Jill." Aaron said to her, holding out his hand. She went to his side, took his hand and followed him down the hall. Aaron threw open the door of the first room marked "Families", but turned on his heel quickly when he didn't see anyone. Jill whirled in past him.
"Aaron, wait. He's here." She said. Aaron turned back and looked where she was pointing.
All Aaron could see was the tip of Nick's shoes. He was sitting on the floor between the chairs so he couldn't be seen. His arms were wrapped around his knees as they were drawn up to his chest.
"Nick?" Aaron asked, walking to him.
Jill touched the top of his head, but he gave no reaction. He just kept his head down.
"Nick? Are you okay? Nick? Where's Lexie? Is she okay? What about the baby?" Aaron asked. Jill shushed him.
"Nick?" Jill asked.
"I don't know." He whispered.
"Why not?" Aaron asked.
"They won't tell me anything. We're not married and I'm not next of kin. . ."
"That's ridiculous, you're the baby's father. . ." Aaron began.
"Nick? Did you call anyone? Howie? AJ?"
"No. No one." He said.
"I'd better call Leah and Howie." Jill said, standing up.
"They probably already know." Aaron said, figuring they found out the same way he and Jill had. On TV.
Jill took the phone from her purse and dialed anyway. She reached the house, but got John Dorough. Yes, Howie and Leah knew. Howie drove over to AJ's house and told him. AJ was flying himself, Alex, Howie, Leah and little Caroline out. They left about two hours ago. John told Jill that he had called Kevin and Brian himself. Kevin was in the States and was going to meet Brian in Houston so they could fly to L.A. together. A doctor came in just as Jill was hanging up.
"Doctor?" Jill asked.
"Yes, I’m Doctor James Reynolds." The tall African-American man said.
"Why won't you tell us how she is? He's the baby's father!" Aaron demanded.
"Aaron, stop it!" Jill snapped. The doctor put up his hands.
"I'm sorry about that, it's hospital policy. Hear me out. I spoke with Lexie's father on the phone a few minutes ago and he told me to tell Nick how she was doing." He said. Nick looked up for the first time. "Lexie is in serious, but stable condition. She has a broken wrist, a couple of cracked ribs and torn ligaments in her right shoulder. We stabilized her neck injuries, she should recover from those just fine."
"What about the baby?" Nick asked from where he sat on the floor.
"We are going to have to wait and see. Unfortunately, Lexie's stomach and ribs took the brunt of the fall. She fell on those wheelbarrows with her abdomen first, although she landed on her back. They apparently came back down on her after they flipped. I'm afraid the fetus has taken a lot of trauma. . ."
"Is she okay? Will the baby live? Can I see her?" Nick asked.
"Lexie is stable and for now, so is the baby. You can't see her quite yet, she's still unconscious." He said, stuffing his hands in his lab coat. "I can't promise you anything, Nick. We're just going to have to wait and see. . ."
"Can't I see her, please?" he begged.
"I'm sorry, not yet. Her father said that you could be the first visitor if she wakes soon."
"That's big of him." Aaron muttered.
"Medically, I can't advise she have any visitors right now." He said softly.
"We understand." Aaron said. "Thank you. Could you let us know if anything changes?"
"Of course." He said, patting Aaron's arm. "See if you can get him to eat something."
Eat? Jill and Aaron couldn't get him up, much less eat anything. They sat with him for the next few hours, with Jill calling home to the nanny to see how the children were. In spite of everything, Nick did fall asleep, sitting right where he was on the floor. It was nearly 1 a.m. when Dr. Reynolds led Leah, Howie, AJ and the children into the waiting room.
Howie walked in first, seeing Nick asleep with his head in Jill's lap. Aaron was in the farthest chair from the door, his elbows resting on his knees as he stared at the floor.
"Nick? Nick, wake up." Jill whispered, gently shaking him. Aaron got up and kneeled beside him, touching his shoulder.
"Nick? Howie is here." Aaron said as Nick woke up and looked at him, confused. Nick looked up at Howie and the others and then scrambled to get to his feet.
"Please, everyone, sit down." Dr. Reynolds said, gesturing toward the row of chairs along the wall. Nick took Jill's old seat and Jill sat between him and Aaron. Aaron and Nick each held her hands.
"I'm glad you're all here." Dr. Reynolds began as he sat next to AJ. "Lexie has had a very serious accident. She's in serious condition, but is still stable."
"What's wrong with her? How's the baby?" Leah asked.
"She has a lot of soft tissue injuries, a broken wrist and a couple cracked ribs." He said. "As I told Nick earlier, unfortunately Lexie's abdomen took the brunt of the fall, including additional trauma when the wheelbarrows fell back on her stomach and chest."
"The baby?" Nick asked.
"The baby is starting show signs of distress. . ." he began. He put his hand on Nick's knee as Nick gasped. "We're doing everything we can. Labor has started a couple times, but we've been able to stop it."
"Can we see her?" Howie asked.
"She's still unconscious and because of the pregnancy she's still in ICU." He said gently. "I promise, the moment she comes to, I'll send someone for you."
"Thank you, Doctor." Howie said. Dr. Reynolds got up and left them all together.
Howie watched as Aaron put his arms around Jill and pulled her into his arms. He lovingly kissed her temple as she hung on to Nick's hand. Leah had Caroline still cradled in her arms asleep and AJ had Alex.
"I'm sorry, Howie. This is all my fault." Nick said quietly.
"Nick, no." Jill said.
"It is. He was right. . ." Nick began.
"No one blames you, Nick." Leah said. "It was an accident."
"An avoidable one." Nick groaned. He dropped his head into his hands. Howie wasn't going to disagree. "It's all my fault."
"This isn't going to help Lexie or the baby." AJ said. Howie got to his feet, walked over to the window, and stared out at the small press crowd still outside below.
"AJ's right." Jill said. "Nick, you can't start this now."
Nick just got to his feet and left the waiting room. Aaron stopped Jill from following him and went after him himself.
"Howie, you could've said something." Leah said.
"What, Leah?" Howie said, turning back to her. "What could I possibly say to him?"
"Howie, it's his child. . ."Jill began.
"She's my daughter." Howie snapped. "I know you’re his sister-in-law, but I do think it's his fault. What was she doing at the courthouse anyway? They could've videotaped her testimony, this didn't have to happen!"
"Nick's cases are very complex. . ." Jill began.
"You're a lawyer, why aren't you helping him!" Howie snapped.
"Howie, that's enough!" Leah snapped. "Don't yell at Jill, she's been here trying to help!"
Jill lowered her steely gaze on the older man and did her best to choose her words wisely. "I offered to help when this all began, but Nick chose to go with his management's and Jive's attorneys." She said. "I had three partners all lined up to take his cases, but he had made his decision and I respected that. Which is more than I can say for the rest of you."
"Don't you start on me!" Howie challenged her.
"I'll do whatever I damn feel like!" she snapped back. "Are you blind? Can't you see how much Nick loves her? She's the center of his entire universe and now she might lose their child. How can you stand there and blame him. . ."
"Lexie wouldn't be pregnant, wouldn't be here if he had stayed out of her life. . ." Howie yelled back.
"Excuse me! I forgot how difficult things could be for you when people fail at your expectations! God forbid someone not do what Howie Dorough thinks is best for them!"
"That's enough, both of you!" AJ said, getting to his feet.
"And you! Don't even get me started on what I think of you right now!" she yelled.
"Wait a second. . ."
"For what AJ? For you to get your shit straightened out? Hell, we've been waiting for that for years! I, personally, can't wait any longer! And neither can Lexie, Nick or that baby! You two make me sick!"
Jill was gone before Howie or AJ had a chance to retort. She found Aaron and Nick in the hospital's atrium staring at the night sky. She pulled Aaron aside and said she would be going home to see the children and take care of things there. He kissed her good night. She walked over and kissed Nick's forehead and he said goodnight to her as well. Aaron watched her walked away and he smiled gently. She was pissed at something, he just knew it. He shook the smile away and sat back down with Nick.
"I guess we should go back." Nick sighed.
"Oh, god. I never called CJ." Nick gasped.
"It's all right. BJ got the girls from school and she told them. They only know it was an accident, they don't know about when or how. . ." Aaron said.
"What am I going to tell her if the baby dies?" Nick asked. "She's already named her."
"You know it's a girl?"
"No, we asked not to know. . ." Nick said quietly. "I've got to see her, Aaron. Just once."
"I know, but it's not good for her to have visitors right now." Aaron said. "Let's go back, see if there is any news."
When Nick and Aaron returned to the waiting room, the others just looked at them. Nick was oblivious of their looks, but Aaron had a feeling that their silence had something to do with Jill. He could only hope she didn't have one of her tirades.
"What time is it here?" AJ asked, looking at his watch.
"It's 4:30." Aaron said, looking at his watch. "Have you heard anything?"
"No, not yet." Leah said. Just then Dr. Reynolds came in and asked them to sit down again.
"What is it?" Howie asked.
"Lexie is fine, she's resting comfortably." He said.
"What? What happened?" Nick asked.
"I’m sorry, Nick. We couldn't save the baby. It died in utero about 20 minutes ago. There was too much trauma. . ." he began.
"No." Nick whispered. His heart stopped and then choked on his next breath as he forced it in and out. Tears rose in his eyes and fell hurried down his cheeks. "No, why is this happening?"
"I'm sorry, Nick. She's gone into labor and should give birth in about an hour." He said.
"Is she awake?" Aaron asked, the only one who could speak.
"No, she hasn't regained consciousness. We have her under anesthesia right now to ease the birth." He said. "Lexie is going to be fine, she's going to come out of this all right."
Nick had begun to weep uncontrollably. He jerked himself away from Aaron's comfort and walked to the end of the room into a corner. With his face to the corner, he slid down the wall onto the floor and continued to sob. Leah handed Caroline to Howie, but Aaron stopped her from going to Nick. Nothing was going to console him now and Aaron knew that.
Lexie saw a crack of light. She tried to open her eyes fully, but she couldn't. She felt a touch on her hand, but she couldn't make them move. She tried to speak his name, but her lips moved and no sound came out.
Another time came and she could finally open her eyes, but she couldn't see or move her hands. Her lips moved again and the sound was a croak.
Yet another time came and she could see a distant dark shape and she spoke, "Nick?" Once a hand took hers, she knew by the feel of his bearded cheek on hers who it was. "Daddy?" She heard some other voices, but they didn't make sense, so she closed her eyes and surrendered to sleep.
Lexie woke from a pleasant dream. Her eyes opened and she saw her hospital room. Where was she? What happened? When her father walked in and smiled, she knew everything must be just fine.
"Lex?" he smiled at her.
"Daddy? Dad? Where am I?" she asked.
"You're at UCLA Medical Center." He said.
"What happened?" she asked.
"Don't you remember? There was an accident. . ." he began. She tried to envision a car accident, something to help give her a clue. She gave up.
"Where's Nick?" she asked.
"He's down the hall. . ."
"Can I see him? He must be worried about the baby and me. Go get him, okay?"
"Honey. . ."
"Why do my arms hurt so much? Damn my shoulder is sore. . .my wrist is broken?" she asked, looking at the cast. "God, I hurt." Her hand instantly went to her stomach, which was now barren and flat. She rubbed it in disbelief. "What's going on? Where's the baby?"
Leah and AJ watched through the glass as Nick rocked in the nursery with his little girl. They had wrapped the tiny little thing in a little blanket and let him sit with it. The doctor told them it was necessary to let him mourn his loss and he had asked to see her.
AJ slipped his arms around Leah and held her as they heard Nick start to sing through the glass. She cried into his shoulder as Nick's quiet voice carried to them. Aaron stood in the nursery with him, trying to stay out of the nurses' way. Soon Nick's voice and the lullaby faded, and Leah wiped her eyes. Nick had fallen asleep, his head bowed over the little baby. Aaron went to him and as he lifted the little bundle from him, he woke. He let Aaron take the baby and place her back into her bassinet. Aaron pulled the card from the cradle and handed it to Nick.
AJ turned Leah away and they returned to Lexie's room. AJ didn't need to stay and read the card. He had seen it earlier and knew what it said.
Devon Jennifer Carter.
The doctor came in just as Lexie started asking about the baby. He explained what had happened and how the baby had passed away. She was in shock and sat staring straight ahead, shaking her head 'no'. AJ came to the door in time to see Lexie stare at him, and furrowed her brow like she wasn't expecting to see him.
"What are you doing here?" she asked.
"I came to be with you." AJ said as he stood in the doorway.
"Where's Nick?" she asked him sternly.
"He's down the hall. . ." AJ said, startled.
"Where is he? Why isn't he here?!" she demanded, suddenly getting very agitated.
"Relax, honey. . ." Howie started. She jerked way from his comforting touch.
"No, Dad! I don't care what you and AJ want! Get Nick!" She demanded. AJ stepped back out into the hall and Lexie screamed at the top of her lungs, "Nick!"
Nick stared at the card, then slipped it into his jacket pocket. Another baby cried out in that tone that only newborns have. He relived all the fantasies he had had about his future with his new daughter and the past with his first daughter.
"You ready to go?" Aaron asked.
"Yes." He said after a heavy sigh. "I just wish I knew what I was going to tell her."
"The truth. How you feel. . ."
"What if she blames me too?"
"Nick, the only one who blames you is you."
"And Howie. . ."
"I don't think even Howie believes it's your fault." Aaron said. "Let's go. It sounds like she's starting to come around."
Nick let his brother lead him out of the nursery to the hallway. The doctor had visited him a little earlier and told them that she was having episodes of consciousness.
As they rounded the corner and headed toward her room, the hair on the back of Nick's neck rose up when he heard her scream his name. It sounded wounded and fearful. It was pure panic.
Lexie threw off her covers and started to get out of bed on the opposite side of the doctor and Howie. The sudden pain of her injuries threw her to the ground and Howie raced around to pick her up with the doctor. She fought them when they tried to get her back in the bed. Her open hand connected solidly with Howie's face several times. She was able to wrestle herself out of their grip, continuing to scream for Nick.
She stumbled forward with her IV's ripping from her arms. She flailed around to rid of herself of the hindrance. She continued to scream Nick's name until she got to the hall. AJ caught her as she fell into his arms, but she began to curse at him and swing her fists.
Howie made it to the hall in time to see Nick run down the hall toward her and go down on his knees before her and AJ. Nick turned her toward him, scooped her up in his arms, and got to his feet.
"Thank god! Oh, Nick!" she sobbed into his neck as she wrapped her arms around him.
Blood began to stain his rumpled suit from where her arms were torn from the IV's. He stood tall and defiant to AJ and Howie, using his massive size to intimidate them. He carried her back into the hospital room and sat on the bed with her.
"It's not true is it?" she asked him.
"Yes, it is. I'm so sorry, honey." He told her.
"Our baby is dead?" He could only nod in response.
She buried herself in his arms and pressed her face into his chest. She curled up her fists and pounded on his back in rage as he held her. She screamed, cried and cursed them all. All of them, but Nick. The nurses came and were able to get her back in bed and get her IV's reestablished.
"I'm so sorry. It was all my fault, Lexie. . ." he cried, pulling the card from his pocket. She took it from him and looked at the name.
"No, Nick. It's not your fault. I love you, please don't say that. . ." she said, shaking her head 'no'. She lifted the card between them and read it out loud. "Devon Jennifer Carter. It did have a nice ring to it." She smiled gently.
"I'm so sorry. . ." he sobbed, dropping his head on her shoulder. "I should've never had you there. . ."
She held him the best she could and looked past his shoulder to see Howie and AJ at the doorway. She laid her head on his shoulder, looking away. His arms drew her closer.
"I love you, Nick. Nothing is going to change that. I promise." She whispered. He lifted his head, but still couldn't look at her. She touched his cheek and turned his face to her. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry this happened. . .it's not your fault. Please don't blame yourself. I couldn’t bear it."
That early evening, Howie returned to the ward Lexie was in. He heard Nick's voice coming down the hall from her room. He was singing. He wasn't signing very loud; the entire ward was just very quiet. Listening to him as he sang softly to Lexie. He wasn't even singing the words, but some were songs Howie recognized as Backstreet songs. The nurses looked up from their desk as he stopped in front of it.
"He has a beautiful voice." The old charge nurse said quietly.
"Yes, he does." Howie nodded.
Lexie woke the next morning to see Nick in the chair asleep. She just lay there and stared at him. She remembered how he had held her, cried with her and sang for her. He had never sung for her before.
"Nick?" she called out. He woke up instantly with a start. He came quickly to her bedside and sat on the edge. She realized the clothes he was wearing were the same ones he had worn to court two days ago. He was rumpled and stained. He looked so tired and pained. "Sh, baby." She whispered as she took him in her arms.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
"I'll be fine. . ."
"When was the last time you ate?" she asked, but he didn't respond. "Did you make arrangements for DJ?"
"Yes. She'll be buried next to grandpa. . ."
"Thank you, thank you for doing that."
"I would've waited, but you said you didn't want to see her."
"I don't. I have all these memories." She said, rubbing her stomach. "Have you heard? When do I get to go home?"
"I don't know. The doctor is coming by after lunch to see you."
"I'll ask then." She said. "Nick?"
"Can I come and stay with you?"
"Of course, I want you there. You belong in that house with us."
"How's CJ? Have you seen her? Have you told her?" Lexie asked.
"I haven't seen her, but Mom and Dad told all the kids. Aaron and Jill told CJ." He said, not looking at her.
"You should go home. . ."
"No!" he protested.
"Nick, you look like hell. . . Besides, you're starting to smell bad too." She smiled.
He looked down at his destroyed suit. "Maybe I can get Aaron to bring me some new clothes. . ."
"Nick, I'll be all right. You need to go home."
"I can't." he said, his voice cracking.
"Sh-h." she said, taking him back into her arms.
"I can't go back without you." He sobbed. She began to cry too.
Three days later, Lexie was ready to go home. Nick only went home once in those three days. Brian, Kevin and Jake also came into town to see her and Nick. Brian was the one who brought CJ for a visit everyday.
CJ had cried when she first saw Lexie and Nick. They told her that they still loved her and her little sister. Nick promised to take her to visit the grave and surprised her by telling her they had named the baby just how she had wanted, with Jennifer as a middle name. That made CJ awfully proud. CJ was even more excited to know that Lexie was moving in when she came home from the hospital.
Howie, AJ and Leah also came for visits, but the conversations were polite at best. None of the closeness of family existed for any of them. She told them she would be moving in with Nick and they never offered an opinion. She gave no indication that she wanted one.
Howie was visited by Nick's voice again as he walked toward Lexie's room to help her out. Everyone else was downstairs waiting. He stood silently in the door as he watched them.
Lexie was dressed in jeans and a tee shirt in a chair at the window. Nick was standing behind her, slowly brushing out her hair into a straight ponytail. Her hair shone with each stroke of the brush.
"Nick?" she asked, interrupting Nick's musings with song.
"Did you bring any sunglasses? My head hurts." She said.
"Sure." He said, putting the elastic ponytail holder in her hair. He put the brush in the bag and pulled out some sunglasses. He handed them to her and she put them on against the morning sun. "Better?"
"Hmmm." She nodded.
He held out his hand and she slipped hers in it. Nick gently got her to her feet and into the wheelchair.
"Do I have to use this thing?" she asked.
"I hear those are the rules." He chuckled. She simply stuck her tongue out at him and he gave her a little laugh. Howie saw her smile. "C'mon. Everyone is waiting." Nick said, turning her chair toward the door. They both saw Howie.
"Dad." She said.
"Hi, honey." Howie smiled.
"Could you get my bag?" she asked.
"Sure." He nodded as he walked into the room and took it off the bed. He followed them out of the room and down the hall and they took the elevator down just three floors.
Everyone was waiting. Leah, Caroline, AJ, Alex, Kevin, Jake, Aaron, Jill and Brian. There was also a hospital administrator.
"Mr. Carter, we've made arrangements for you to leave out the back. . ." he said.
"No." Lexie said.
"What?" Howie asked.
"I’m not leaving like some kind of coward. Have them bring the cars out front, Nick." She said.
"Lexie. . ." Howie began.
"Please, Nick." She said, her voice cracking.
"Have them brought out front. Make sure the my daughter stays in the car." He said. Everyone followed them down to the front entrance where there was plenty of press.
"Stop, Nick." She said and he stopped the chair.
Lexie didn't look at anyone around her as she held out her left hand for Nick. She found AJ taking her hand, but Kevin came in behind him and took her elbow from him.
"I'll take her, AJ." Kevin said, using just his superior size to convince AJ that he was better suited to protect her. Kevin gently helped her to her feet and waited as she straightened herself up. Her injuries made walking slow and difficult, but she would improve with time. His strength seemed to just seep into her as she looked up at him. A silent tear ran out from under her glasses. He wiped it away quickly. "That's enough of that, little girl. Let's get a move on." She nodded at him and turned back to Nick at her right. Jake and Aaron took positions up in front of her at the door where the reporters were waiting.
"Everyone ready?" Kevin asked. "Good. Just like the old days guys. Heads down and straight to the car."