When We Collide by freedomwriter
Summary:

A bumpy busride on a stormy cold night is often not a good idea. After a fateful, explosive collision, four Backstreet Boys are left stranded, struggling to get back to civilization and wondering where their fifth member has gone.


Categories: Fanfiction > Backstreet Boys Characters: Group
Genres: Action, Adventure, Angst, Drama
Warnings: Violence
Challenges:
Series: None
Chapters: 35 Completed: Yes Word count: 54776 Read: 36788 Published: 06/10/14 Updated: 05/20/15

1. 1. Collision by freedomwriter

2. 2. Search by freedomwriter

3. 3. Hell by freedomwriter

4. 4. Plans by freedomwriter

5. 5. Jackpot by freedomwriter

6. 6. Alone by freedomwriter

7. 7. Together by freedomwriter

8. 8. Delicacy by freedomwriter

9. 9. Breaking Bad by freedomwriter

10. 10. Cold by freedomwriter

11. 11. Dawn by freedomwriter

12. 12. OutCry by freedomwriter

13. 13. Help by freedomwriter

14. 14. Cradle by freedomwriter

15. 15. Time by freedomwriter

16. 16. Policy by freedomwriter

17. 17. Contact by freedomwriter

18. 18. Wait by freedomwriter

19. 19. GoodBye by freedomwriter

20. 20. Wishful Thinking by freedomwriter

21. 21. Breaking Point by freedomwriter

22. 22. Reckless by freedomwriter

23. 23. Try by freedomwriter

24. 24. Cowardice by freedomwriter

25. 25. Walk Away by freedomwriter

26. 26. Blind Faith by freedomwriter

27. 27. Storm by freedomwriter

28. 28. Choke by freedomwriter

29. 29. Shock by freedomwriter

30. 30. Positive by freedomwriter

31. 31. News by freedomwriter

32. 32. Anger by freedomwriter

33. 33. Weak by freedomwriter

34. Chapter 34 by freedomwriter

35. Chapter 35 by freedomwriter

1. Collision by freedomwriter
Author's Notes:
If you know me, you know where this is going ^^
Enjoy anyway
It took a long while to fully wake up. It went in stages, actually. One sense at a time.

First off, there was smell. Gasoline and smoke and a million other different things. It all blended all into one horrifying stench and made him wish he couldn’t smell for the moment. It was so intense and all around him, but it didn’t occur in his mind that the smell of smoke and gasoline meant you had to get the hell away.

Next was sound, or lack thereof. Sound was his job, his income, his dependency. His life. It was eerily silent this time. But if he strained real hard, he could hear a few crows in the distance. It probably meant he hadn’t gone deaf. That was good. There was no real business in the music industry if you were deaf. The wind was rustling through trees, he could hear that too. It probably meant he was outside somewhere. Good to know.

Along came sight. He finally decided to give it a shot and opened his eyes to splits. It didn’t help much, cause it was just as dark around him as it had been with his eyes closed. He squinted, agonizingly slowly turning his head to the other side and squeezed his eyes back closed at the bright light shining directly into his line of vision. So he hadn’t gone blind either. Good to know.

The final sense was pain. It slowly crept into his brain and set his head on fire. It felt a little like his skull had been cracked open and someone had found it a great idea to pick up a spoon to scramble his brain. After a lifetime of hangovers, he could definitely specify each headache with a clear description. This was on the top three of worst headaches he’d had experienced. That said a lot. It also meant he was alive, if he could feel pain.

Good to know.

With a great sigh, he tried to move, bringing his hand up to his head. He tried not to panic when he felt an unmistakable wetness there. Suddenly, his entire body started to hurt and he lay his hand back down with a stiffled moan. Moving was not a thing he wanted to try again.

“Alex?” An anxious voice drifted through the haze. No one ever called him Alex, unless it was really serious. With every little bit of strength he’d left, he lifted his head, seeing nothing but the silhouette of what could only be Howard Dorough’s face. “Alex, you okay?”

Howie shook him softly, but it still hurt and he made a whining noise from the back of his throat. “I d’nno,” he mumbled eventually.

“Can you move?” Howie questioned urgently, shaking him once again. AJ frowned, slightly annoyed by his friend’s tendency to speak really fast and really high pitched when he was panicking.

“Wh- happen’d?” he slurred again, trying to reconnect the two versions of Howie’s head that were drifting through his vision.

“We need to get away from here, another part might explode,” Howie mused as he pulled on AJ’s arm, indicating for him to get up. At the mention of explosions, the younger man’s eyes got wide and he struggled to his feet with a range of loud curses and grunts. Standing on wobbly legs, he shot a helpless look to the shorter singer, “What happened?” He questioned again.

“Come on!” Howie urged and pulled at his arm once more, dragging him along as he splashed through the rain into the dark. Funny, he hadn’t even noticed the rain before.

It streamed down his face as every part of AJ’s body screamed at him to stop moving. His head was spinning dangerously by the time they made it to the edge of the forest. He doubled over, panting in exertion, and tried with all that he had to stay on his feet. The rain irritatingly dripped into his eyes and he cursed the world around him for the sudden predicament he’d found himself in. The water had washed most of the blood away though, so there was a plus. Some of it had clotted, however, and stuck to his head, just above his brow. He winced, straightening up cautiously. Howie was next to him, watching the ravage they’d just run from, pressing a firm, bloodied hand to his side.

“You okay, D?” AJ asked tentatively.

“I’ll live,” Howie grunted moodily, slowly pulling his hand away from his wounded side and stared at it in dismay, “Damn.”

AJ shook his head in astonishment, always fascinated by his friend’s instinctive survival mode. “What happened?”
He asked for one last time.

“What do you remember?”

AJ shrugged helplessly, “I don’t know. Weren’t we supposed to be on the bus?”

His friend sighed deeply. “Yes, it’s over there,” he said, waving vaguely at the direction of the thick clouds of smoke that had accumulated near the spot they’d been not three minutes ago.

“The fuck?” AJ stared at the smoke, almost mesmerized. He could swear he saw distant flames accompanying the cloud, “Did we crash or something.”

“Yeah, I suppose you could call it that,” Howie nodded, trying not to cry out as he gently lowered himself to the ground and sat down. “We must have hit something. We must have hit it hard too. I think the bus actually took a swan dive down the hill over there.” He pointed to the edge of the hill were the empty country-road stretched out, way in the distance. “I’m just laying in bed, next thing I know, I’m on the ground, glass everywhere, including my side, and fire creeping up on me. How’s that for a day off?”

The sarcasm flew right past AJ as he calculated the distance the bus must have tumbled all the way down here. He frowned in confusion, “Where does the fire come from?”

“I think something in the front has exploded,” Howie muttered into his hands. He rubbed his forehead wearily and sighed. “God, that awful smell.”

“Do you ask the million dollar question or shall I?” AJ countered cautiously. Howie didn’t look up and sighed again.

“We need to find the others.”
2. Search by freedomwriter
After three failed attempts, Kevin Richardson grunted in satisfaction as he finally managed to stay on his feet. He swayed dangerously, grabbing behind him at the nearest thing. A jab of pain shot through his wounded arm and he stared at it sourly. Great, like his foot and shoulder weren't enough pain for one night.

The bus had crashed, that much was for certain. He’d told them. He’d told them not to go this particular night, but nobody ever listened to him anymore. He was an outsider, a paria in this group. It was his own fault, he supposed. He was the one who’d left eight years ago after all.

He sighed. Maybe if they hadn’t been so behind on schedule- because of him, mind you- they would have just departed tomorrow morning, in five busses instead of a single cramped one. It was a working formula after all: if you did not want to get on the other’s nerves, take five busses. It was less intimate, less chaotic, less waiting for a fight destined to happen. He remembered his cousin’s angry face, the narrowed eyes that clearly told Kevin that he was accountable for his torture. Of all people, Brian was especially fond of the privacy that the idea of five busses supplied. Of course, that was a lie, considering the five of them were constantly on each other’s busses.

It was hella expensive too. But oh well, whatever worked.

He should have probably stopped the meditation and start moving. The smoke seemed to be getting thicker. Something was on fire, and something would explode again. He did not want to be nearly caught in an explosion again. The burns on his shoulder were killing enough as it was, thank you very much. He straightened up, carefully letting his gaze wander over the dark field. A large part of it was filled with debris of what used to be a tourbus. Pieces of doors, stairs, baggage and… was that half a coffee machine he saw there? At least one part of the bus had exploded into little pieces, another half was to his right, laying uselessly on its side. He could make out a few other large parts of bus somewhere in the distance. The thing had broken in two on its way down the hill.

Fantastic, he could have been dead.

He scoffed at that realization, carefully placing his weight on his injured foot. It hurt like a bitch, but he stayed upright. That was a good sign. He slowly started walking, away from the smoke and debris and into the wet, snow filled field. He just started wondering what had happened to his fellow passengers when he heard a noise and cringed.

“Do you ask the million dollar question, or shall I?” AJ McLean’s gruff voice faintly drifted through the night. He was alive, and he was talking to someone, so that meant somebody else was alive as well. Good news.

“We need to find the others,” Howie Dorough replied and Kevin sighed in relief, glad that at least those two rascals had found a safe spot. He wondered if he should reveal himself. They weren’t all that far away, it seemed.

It was too dark to see everything properly and his eyes were still stinging from the smoke. He could follow their voices though. They had started walking towards the scene of the accident again and damn, they were faster than he was.

“Hey, hold up!” He yelled and heard the two voices mute simultaneously.

“That sounded like Kevin, did that sound like Kevin to you?” AJ said after a few seconds and Kevin rolled his eyes.

“I’m right here,” he stated, finally catching up on them.

“Kev!” Howie exclaimed, his eyes widening. “You look terrible!”

Raising his infamous eyebrows, Kevin scoffed, “You don’t look much better either. Are you bleeding?” He nodded at the red stain on Howie’s side.

“I’ll be fine,” the smaller man grunted.

“Yeah, I’ll bet.”

“How about you?” AJ inquired, “Are you hurt?”

The older singer shrugged, “I think I broke my wrist. And I definitely sprained my ankle. Oh, and then there’s this,” he said, showing the two younger men the burn on his shoulder. Their eyes got big and they fearfully stared at the wound. “But I’ll live.”

They nodded slowly. “We could have been dead,” AJ drawled nervously.

“Be glad we’re not,” Howie muttered. “Has anybody called 911?”

“You have a cellphone on you, dipshit?” AJ sneered.

“No, but there might be one in the wreckage,” Howie countered, “I mean, it’s still raining, right? It should keep the fire from spreading too quickly.”

“What makes you think we have any reception here?” Kevin asked incredulously.

“I don’t know, but it’s worth a shot, right?” Howie exclaimed.

“It’s a suicide mission, that’s what it is! That thing exploded once, so why do you suppose it won’t explode again?”

“Gosh, the two of you are a couple of defeatists,” Howie growled, “We gotta do something.”

“That’s right, we got to find Brian, Nick and Toby.”

AJ and Howie nodded in agreement, staring expectantly at him. Yes, Kevin was an outsider, except for when drastic things needed to happen. Then they suddenly all turned to him for instructions. He sighed, trying to think of a strategy to tackle the particular problem. “Alright, we need to determine where everyone was on the bus.”

“We were in the back, in the bunk area,” Howie quipped.
“Where were you? The front?”

“No,” Kevin shook his head, “I think I was upstairs, in the back. More towards the middle though,” he mused.

“So you weren’t in the front part?” Howie asked again, and Kevin frowned.

“No… I told you…” he hesitated, “Brian might have been though.”

AJ and Howie shared a meaningful glance and Kevin’s frown grew deeper, “What? Why does that matter?”

Howie shook his head, trying to compose himself properly.

“N-Nothing… what about Nick?”

Kevin stared back at the two singers, taken aback at the sudden change of subject. “I don’t… I don’t know about Nick. I don’t think I’ve seen him the entire ride.”

“He was on the bus, wasn’t he?” Howie asked, a little unsure.

“Yeah, he got in the same time as I did, I saw him,” AJ muttered back. Kevin had to strain to even hear him. Howie nodded, slowly turning his back towards Kevin. He leant closer towards AJ, muttering something Kevin clearly was not supposed to hear.

AJ frowned and nodded, “Let’s just hope he wasn’t in the front too,” he whispered a little too loud. Kevin’s eyes widened.

“Shht, AJ, jeez!” Howie hissed, but it was too late. Kevin quickly stomped closer, grabbing Howie’s arm.

“What? What’s up with the front?”

“N-Nothing,” Howie tried in a tiny voice.

“Don’t bullshit me, Howard!” the bigger man spat viciously, “You two are hiding something from me and I want to know what!”

“Let me go,” Howie replied monotonously, “It’s not going to help anybody if we get ourselves worked up like this.”

“Just tell me what happened with the front,” Kevin spoke slowly, releasing his grip on Howie’s arm.

“It- it was the part caught in the explosion. There’s not much of it left,” Howie gulped, shooting a helpless look at AJ, who nodded solemnly.

“Oh no,” Kevin whispered, instantly turning towards the burning scene, “No!”

AJ and Howie shared a glance again as they watched Kevin march of towards the wreckage, his sprained ankle completely forgotten. “We should go after him,” AJ suggested reluctantly.

“Yeah,” Howie sighed.

With a desperate note to his voice, Kevin called the names of the still missing passengers over and over again.

Before he even noticed it, he was running, sprinting through the cold field. The snow and the rain seeped through his tattered shoes and soaked his socks. He barely noticed. This was what complete and utter panic felt like, he realized. The shock from earlier was wearing off, replaced by an all-consuming fear. He’d been scared before, a thousand times actually, but never like this…

this was a special kind of fear.

The fear for someone’s life.

“Nick!” he yelled, “Toby!” he called, “Brian!” he screamed. His voice was giving in, but he didn’t give up.

He could vaguely hear the other two bandmembers following him closely, but paid them no mind. A sudden clap of thunder rendered him silent and he abruptly halted. He stared into the night, breathing hard, wildly looking around. The smoke hadn’t cleared a bit and was stinging his eyes.

“Nick!” he desperately cried out, “Bri… please…” he mumbled in defeat as his knees connected with the wet grass, “Somebody…”
End Notes:
Toby? Yes, Toby. You don't suppose those idjits drove that bus by themselves, right?
3. Hell by freedomwriter
He woke up sweating and with an incredible need to pee.

Around him, everything was wet and cold and he could clearly hear the roaring thunder above his head. A haunting memory flashed through his head and his eyes widened. Why was it so damn dark here?

He remembered being on the bus, pissed at Kevin for making them take a single bus to drive to Orlando. The prospect of four hundred miles with just the five of them had not gone over well with Brian. Of course, he didn’t hate their company, but lately, he just enjoyed being left alone, it worked better that way.

He winced; panic slowly creeping up as he recalled how he’d gone to talk to Toby, their bus driver, asking how much longer it would be to Orlando. He’d stared out of the front window, mesmerized with the loud thunderstorm outside. The rain had come down gallons at a time, it seemed. He’d asked Toby if it was really safe to drive in this type of weather. Before the older man had a chance to answer, it had happened. An incredible loud clap of thunder, followed by a terrible crunching noise, and then the tree had come down. The bus had swerved to avoid it and Brian had felt his body become completely weightless as the large vehicle collided with the base of the tree, toppling over and making a rapid, tumbling decent down the hill next to the road. He believed he’d screamed for his life as he bumped against every part of the front area in the bus, like he was nothing more than just a limp ragdoll. He’d tried to brace himself, curling up into a ball, waiting for the final blow. When the bus had finally stopped, he’d felt his whole body aching, but had breathed in relief.

That could have gone down so much worse, he’d thought. He hadn’t lost consciousness and his head seemed to be the only part that wasn’t dangerously bruised. Apparently curling up into a ball had been good thinking. He’d tried to slowly get up, smelling the awful stench of gasoline getting stronger and stronger.

Just when he’d slowly gotten to his feet, determined to find out how the other band members had fared, he saw the flames. There was no warning, no sound that preceded the explosion and he’d had just enough time to wonder if he should duck, run, or both when the fire suddenly had seemed all around him and he was thrown backwards violently. He may have gone through the already crystallized front window, he didn’t remember. All he remembered was telling himself that these were probably the last seconds of his life as he knew it and that he should be glad that at least, it would happen quickly.

They said you would see your entire life flash before your eyes when you were about to die. That didn’t happen. The only thing that flashed in his mind was his family, and he’d felt a quick stab of regret. Then he’d felt nothing anymore.

He still didn’t feel anything, and if this was heaven, it was darker than he’d imagined. Maybe it was hell, he wondered. What had he done to deserve hell? He’d been devote, hadn’t he?

Well damn!

He could feel the soft snow under his fingertips. It was still fresh, untouched. He could still smell the smoke and the gasoline, but that might just be his memories playing with him. He tried to move, but gave up after a few attempts.

He still needed to pee, though.

He carefully lifted his head and instantly panicked. He’d kind of felt the incredible pressure on his lower body, but hadn’t been expecting this. A large piece of front bus was crushing his legs, all the way up to his pelvis.

Without another thought, he planted his hands in the freezing snow, trying to pull himself from underneath the piece of debris that looked most like the underside and front wheel of the tourbus. It was then that he felt the tearing, searing, ripping and crunching pain soaring through every last part of him. This time, he was certain he screamed for his life. His stomach burnt and he gagged, leaning as much to his left as possible and spilling the contents of his dinner into the perfectly white snow. He coughed a few times, the unmistakable coppery taste of blood in his mouth.

God, he wanted to cry.

He lay back down, whimpering miserably like a sick dog. If he’d ever imagined an exploding bus accident, he’d thought it would have been more… spectacular. More final too. And maybe just a bit more heroic.

Damn those stupid Bruce Willis movies!

Just when he wondered if Bruce Willis would have experienced pain like this if his action movies were real, he heard a voice call out.

Maybe he wasn’t alone in hell.

He couldn’t quite make out where the voice came from and what it was yelling about. It was too far away to hear properly and by the sound of it, it was moving away from him. He couldn’t let that happen. He did not want to be alone.

“Hey!” he called, his voice hoarse and just a bit more than a whisper.

“Here!” he tried again, a little louder this time. “Hello!”

The voice stopped, but Brian kept screaming, coughing violently every few seconds. He’d propped himself up on his elbows the best he could, trying to see anything past the large piece of metal weighing down on him. “Help!”

“Anybody there?” the voice was back, closer now and he recognized it instantly.

“Kev?”

“Brian!” Kevin exclaimed, “Brian, where are you?”

“’m Here! I can’t move!” Brian yelled, a sob of relief invading his voice. He’d been so damn sure he was alone.

And now Kevin was there! Kevin would find him, Kevin would help.

“Brian! Keep talking, I can’t see you! I need to follow your voice!”

It was hard to breathe through the smoke, but it was clearing somewhat. He could hear Kevin coming closer, his feet crunching the snow beneath it. “The bus crashed,”
Brian commented, a bit dazed.

“I know, where the fuck are you?”

“’m Here,” he repeated softly, suddenly exhausted. Kevin was so close, he’d find him. Talking hurt like a bitch after all. He’d just wait for his cousin here.

“Brian? I can’t… I can’t see you, man! Where the hell are you?” Kevin yelled. He didn’t get a response. “Brian, answer me!”

It was completely silent for a few seconds and Kevin’s heart dropped about ten feet before he heard the weak reply, “’m Here, Kev… Jeez, just hurry up!”

In a flash, Kevin turned to his right, stumbling over a few pieces of metal, “Brian!”

The younger man looked up, into his cousin’s face and smiled slightly. “That was the worst hide and seek ever,” he commented with a cough.

“’s Not funny!” Kevin breathed, taking in the situation Brian had gotten himself in bit by bit.

“It’s a little funny,” Brian shrugged, trying to get upright a little bit more.

“Oh my God, Bri,” Kevin said, kneeling down beside his cousin. He was almost too afraid to look at the spot where Brian’s body was hidden from view by the enormous piece of metal. “Are you okay?” he asked anyway.

Brian sighed and stayed silent for a few moments, then shook his head, “I don’t know, Kev.”
4. Plans by freedomwriter
Author's Notes:
not every idea is a good one
Finally, he gently lowered himself to the ground. He was already completely soaked from head to toe, so he didn’t really feel the wet grass. The snow was melting, leaving murky, deep puddles of mud around the field. At least it had stopped raining.

Howie Dorough sighed, watching Kevin continue his desperate search across the field. They’d tried to keep up with him, but gave up fairly quickly. He didn’t have the energy to search an entire field for somebody that was already dead in all probability.

Now who was the defeatist?

A few feet behind him, AJ McLean was continuously cursing every little thing in the universe. Howie closed his eyes, wishing he’d stop. Yeah, he knew the bus crashed and that they were screwed, no need to keep repeating it over and over. Putting his face in his hands, he willed himself to stay calm. They needed a plan that didn’t include barging recklessly across the large field and calling out names every so often.

They needed a real plan.

He was good with plans. The other four may have been heart, body, blood and soul to this group, but he was the brain. If he could only get five minutes without Kevin’s desperate voice echoing over the field, or AJ’s blatant curses behind him, maybe he could think of a way to get them out of there. The smoke had cleared for the most part, thanks to the rain and the wind and he couldn’t detect fire anywhere. The chances of another explosion were fairly slim now. If they were going to try finding the remaining MIA members of their little group, they needed a structured search. Keeping an eye on Kevin, Howie decided that that was the example of an unstructured search.

“Could you shut up for five seconds and let me think?” he barked at AJ, who became instantly silent, looking at him in surprise. Howie knew why; he usually didn’t bark at people. In fact, he didn’t normally speak any of his frustrations out loud if there were other people in
earshot. You don’t get the nickname Sweet D for nothing.

He still didn’t like that one. He sighed when he saw AJ’s big, confused eyes.

“It’s just not going to help if we sit here, feeling sorry for ourselves by saying how fucked we are. We need a plan.”

“Are you suggesting we stomp into that minefield, like Kevin?” AJ commented sarcastically.

“Well no, but-”

He immediately shut up when he saw Kevin reemerge from a few parts of the bus in the distance. The tall bandmember ran clumsily over the field, sinking into the ground with every step, splashing water all over the place. There was a slight limp in his run, but he didn’t seem to notice as he came closer and closer to where they sat with a determined look on his face.

“Kev?” Howie stood up, trying to ignore the stab of pain in his side. It had stopped bleeding ten minutes earlier, but that didn’t mean it didn’t hurt.

“I…I…” Kevin panted in between breaths. He doubled over, trying to catch his breath after his mad run across the field.

“Woah, just slow down for a second,” Howie said, gently guiding the older member of the group to the ground.

“No! Brian!”

“What?”

“He’s… he’s over there, he needs help!” Kevin rushed, already getting on his feet again.

“You found him?” Howie asked incredulously. How could Kevin’s tactic of searching possibly lead to any results?

It didn’t make sense.

“Yeah, he’s trapped under the wreckage. We need to get the thing off of him!”

“But-”

“Come on!” Kevin growled as he pulled AJ up by his shirt to get him on his feet. “We gotta go!”

“But it’s dangerous out there!” Howie interjected.

“I don’t care! We can’t just leave him alone out there!”

Defeated, Howie hung his head. Nodding, he agreed to follow Kevin, running across the field not much unlike Kevin had done. It was close to impossible to be able to elegantly sprint through the tall, snowy grass. The cold was creeping into depths Howie had never thought possible.

If they didn’t die from another explosion, like he’d first expected, they’d probably freeze their asses to death.

After a few minutes of running, Kevin suddenly stopped dead in his tracks and Howie almost collided with the taller man’s back. Kevin cautiously walked around the large piece of debris and Howie bit his lip, wondering if he should follow. He could hear AJ finally catching up with them, as the splashing footsteps he heard were coming closer. The piece of bus was fairly large and if Brian was trapped underneath it, Howie was quite scared of what injuries the younger singer might have sustained. He slowly followed Kevin’s lead and saw the dark-haired singer kneeling beside his cousin.

Howie bit his lip, trying to stay calm as he looked at the scene. A big, heavy looking part of the tourbus was weighing down on almost half of Brian’s body. The black smears of grime on his face made it obvious he’d been caught in the explosion and Howie wondered if Brian would have the same kind of burns Kevin had.

“Holy shit!” AJ’s voice broke the heavy silence rather subtly. “You okay?”

Brian nodded slightly. He was breathing hard, wincing every other second, but seemed alert for the most part.

“Just get this… thing off me.”

Howie frowned, slowly kneeling opposite of Kevin. “I don’t know, Kev,” he said staring at the older man, “That thing must weigh hundreds of pounds. How are we just gonna… lift it off of him?”

“Damnit Howard, we need to do something!” Kevin growled.

Brian watched them both with growing confusion, but Howie ignored him.

“Like what? We can’t call 911, we can barely see a damn thing, it’s so dark, and Nick and Toby are still missing. We’re screwed bad,” AJ supplied.

Howie rolled his eyes, tired of AJ’s negativism. Placing a hand on Brian’s shoulder, he forced him to look into his eyes, “How are your legs? You think they’re broken?”

The younger man looked down, hesitating slightly, “I- I don’t know. I can’t really feel them. Is that bad?”

Howie sighed, “It doesn’t have to be,” he lied, avoiding Brian’s stare, “What about the rest, anything hurt?”

Brian scoffed, “Well duh, Einstein. Stupid bus exploded on me.”

“No need to get sarcastic,” Howie mumbled, but smiled nonetheless. If Brian could still joke in a situation like this, it might not be as hopeless as it seemed, “Any burns from the explosion?”

“Are you interrogating me?”

“Just answer the question, Brian,” Kevin interfered, a concerned expression on his face that clearly told his cousin to stop joking. “We need to know how badly you’re hurt before we even attempt to get you out from underneath it.”

Brian rolled his eyes, sighing in annoyance, but cast his look downwards, “I don’t know, alright?” he muttered, almost inaudibly, “It freaking hurts everywhere, what do you want me to say?”

“Alright, alright, it’s gonna be okay,” Kevin tried to reassure. “We’ll just try to lift it, won’t we?” He stared meaningfully at AJ and Howie, who both nodded obediently.

“We could try,” Howie admitted.

“Right. AJ, go stand on the other side, and Howie, whenever we’re able to lift it even an inch, I want you to try and pull Brian backwards, okay?”

Howie clenched his jaw. He didn’t like this plan… at all.

The wreckage looked heavy and if, and that was a big if, they were able to lift it, chances were big it would slip and cause even more damage. He could now clearly read the fear on Brian’s face, as the younger man had turned a new shade of pale. Nevertheless, he got behind Brian, gripping his armpits tight.

“This is gonna hurt, isn’t it?” Brian whispered softly.

“Likely,” Howie muttered. Brian bit his lip, nodding slowly.

“Let’s just do it,” he breathed.


Howie looked up, nodding at Kevin, who curled his fingers under the piece of debris. AJ followed the example and grunting, they pulled with all the strength he had. Howie heard Kevin cry out in pain from the weight of the bus on his hurt wrist, but when the bus actually started moving a little, he couldn’t hear Kevin over Brian’s agonized, raw screams anymore.

“No, no! Stop, just stop!” the blond singer cried out in between panting breaths. “My leg is stuck, just stop, please!”

“We can’t stop now! It will fall right back on you!” AJ yelled, panic evident in his voice. The straining muscles in his arms betrayed the fact that he wouldn’t be able to hold on much longer anyway.

“Oh fuck!” Brian gasped, arching his back against the relentless pain, almost causing Howie to lose his grip and drop him, “Can’t you just… knock me out or something?”

“There’s no time!” Kevin yelled.

“This is the stupidest plan ever!” AJ angrily announced, his face twisted in pain as the heavy wreckage slipped from his fingers more and more.

“Okay, okay, we just gotta…” Kevin hesitated, looking around him helplessly, “Just lower it slowly back down… damn it, I’m so sorry Brian.”

Brian’s eyes widened even more and he wildly grabbed at anything he could squeeze to a pulp. Howie noticed the tension in his bandmate’s body as they both waited for what was going to happen. Clenching his jaw, AJ threw a glance at Kevin, seeing that his arms were shaking violently too. They wouldn’t be able to hold on much longer and he didn’t dare looking at Brian’s frightened face. Kevin nodded almost unnoticeably, the cue for AJ to start releasing his tight grip on the metal piece of bus.

As he felt the pressure increasing on his legs, Brian was lost in a world of pain. He didn’t really know what he screamed, or how long the torture lasted. All he knew was the white hot bolts of unimaginable agony continuously shooting up and down his legs, all the way up to his chest, it seemed. He’d never felt something so extreme, so terrible before. The pain was maddening and he savagely flailed his arms backwards, writhing in Howie’s firm grasp.

Howie didn’t move, didn’t say a word. All he could do was keep a hold of feverishly struggling Backstreet Boy in his arms. He kept screaming long after AJ and Kevin were done.

Howie had felt this helpless only once in his life. On a plane to a hospital in 1998. That had been terrible. This was almost just as bad.

“It’s okay,” he mumbled softly, putting his chin on top of Brian’s damp hair. “It’s over,” he spoke quietly, knowing fully well that it had only just begun.
5. Jackpot by freedomwriter
AJ felt like he hadn’t moved in hours and the cold was creeping into the very depths of his soul. A hundred different scenarios of how they could possibly die that night had crossed his mind, and right now, hypothermia was highest on the list. He had stopped shivering a long time ago and was sure that that wasn’t a good thing. It was like your body saying: Fuck it, I’m not even trying anymore.

Pulling his knees up to his chest, he wrapped his arms around them. He had heard once that if it was really cold, you should try to become as small as possible. It made sense, he supposed. He took a deep breath, shifting slightly in the wet grass. The storm was over, but the damage was done. His head had stopped bleeding a long time ago, and he should be lucky that he didn’t get hurt worse than that, but damn, did the situation suck. And why was he left here with Brian, while the other two had set out on a rescue mission? He wanted to be part of the action as well, and if anything, it might help to warm him up some.

But because Kevin felt responsible for everything, he had immediately declared that he and Howie should be the ones to look for Nick. They’d left the younger two in the melting snow and had quickly disappeared into the night.

Another bad idea.

Brian snapped him out of his thoughts as he groaned quietly and slowly opened his eyes. He had eventually pretty much passed out after the whole bus lifting thing and AJ hoped he didn’t necessarily remember the particular ordeal.

“How you doing?” he whispered urgently.

Brian gave him an exasperated look and rolled his eyes, “Still trapped underneath this frikkin thing, how’s it look like I’m doing?”

AJ nodded perplexed, but figured that if Brian was able to get snappy with him, it wouldn’t be so bad. “How are your legs?”

“Pretty much frozen by now,” the older singer sighed and shifted uncomfortably. That wasn’t such a surprise, considering everything about him looked uncomfortable. “They find Nick yet?”

And there went his confidence again, thanks a lot, Littrell. He looked down and shook his head, knowing very well that Brian couldn’t see him in the dark. Once again scenarios of Nick blown to a million different pieces flooded his mind and he bit his lip to keep control.

“You sure he wasn’t with you in the front?” AJ asked for the umpteenth time.

“Yes, AJ, I’m sure, believe me, I would have remembered,” Brian said, his voice wavering slightly, indicating he may not have been so sure after all. It was weird how nobody remembered where Nick had been on the bus. Once he had figured out they had to ride a bus together, the youngest member had pretty much hidden himself in a little corner he never came out. No one had bothered to check on him the entire trip; with the result that now no one knew where he could be. Still, if he hadn’t been blown to pieces in the front, if he had had the luck of being in the back when it all happened, then where the hell was he?

AJ stood up stiffly, and walked around the wreckage a few times to get a little warmer. He wished Brian could do the same. He’d told AJ he felt fine as long as he didn’t move.

AJ didn’t believe him. Sure, the cold was pretty much numbing everything in its grasp, but the constantly pained expression on the older man’s face told him everything he needed to know. From what he could see without touching Brian, there were some pretty ugly burns decorating his back, shoulders and chest. Brian was involved in most of the doom scenarios in his mind. He hoped Howie and Kevin came back soon.

“Would you please sit down, you’re making me dizzy,” Brian grumbled and AJ slowly lowered himself back down with a sigh.

“Just trying to keep warm,” he mumbled and ignored Brian’s glare, “God, I need something to do, I’m going crazy.”

“How do you think I feel?”

“Touché,” AJ sighed again and shivered, “Why is it so goddamn cold here?”

“Leave God out of it,” Brian muttered, closing his eyes, “He’s got nothing to do with this.’’

“Yeah, but still…”

“What’s that?” Brian interrupted, vaguely pointing into the distance, “They find us?”

AJ blinked, squinting his eyes as the beams of light hit his eyes. At first he thought it was a car. Right. A car in the middle of a field. Because cars did that, of course. Then he sighed.

“Nah, it’s just them,” he grumbled.

The beams of light slowly came closer, revealing a disappointed Kevin and an exhausted Howie. AJ didn’t even have to ask. He could practically read on their faces that they hadn’t found what they were looking for.

“Well, Nick is exactly… nowhere,” Howie announced nevertheless and AJ felt his heart drop.

“We found Toby though,” Kevin whispered and shook his head, “He… he didn’t make it.”

There was a heavy silence. Everybody looked at the ground, trying to fathom what Kevin’s words meant.

“But… but I was standing right next to him…” Brian frowned.
“We did find flashlights though,” Howie stated, ignoring Brian’s gloomy comment. “And a whole bunch of stuff. We tried to haul as much over to this place, but there’s still a lot left.”

“Right,” Kevin said, “Thank the heavens, there’s a lot of blankets and stuff, we don’t necessarily have to freeze our butts of anymore.”

Howie had begun unloading the large backpack he’d brought.

“Whoever thought we were going to Alaska instead of Orlando when he packed, I owe you my life.”

“That would be me,” AJ smirked, quickly wrapping himself in one of the blankets he’d packed in his suitcase that morning. “I always pack for all kinds of weather, don’t you guys know that by now?”

Kevin shook his head, “I’m just glad they didn’t get caught in the fire.”

The others nodded their agreement, “Oh, and jackpot!” Howie cried out, triumphantly holding up an assortment of candy and other snacks. “Apparently there was also one among us that thought we were gonna starve on our trip.”

“I’ll put my money on Nick,” AJ said, his smile faltering as he muttered the name of his bandmate. “Do you think we’ll find him?”

Kevin looked at him for a few seconds before answering, “I don’t know. We’ll have to do it soon, though.”

AJ swallowed and nodded. He was still cold. His clothes were wet and he could see the others were soaked as well.

He wrapped the blanket a little tighter around his frame, watching as Howie did his best to get a blanket around Brian without hurting him. It only worked half, as Brian’s legs were still trapped under the wreckage and soaking in the cold from the ground below. Observing Howie’s stiff movements, AJ frowned at the way the older member favored his right side, wincing every now and then.

For a moment, he’d believed that it was going to work out after all. They’d just stay there, like a bunch of campers with a campfire and marshmallows and scary stories. But at least two out of four needed doctors, and one was still missing without a trace.

But they’d make a plan later.
6. Alone by freedomwriter
This had not been his day, to put it mildly. First Kevin made him and the others ride a bus through a hellish thunderstorm in the middle of the night. Then he’d needed to pee badly, and because someone managed to clog the only clean toilet on board, he’d had to ask Toby to make a stop at the nearest pumpstation. That had been embarrassing and he’d felt like he was sixteen again, barely able to stand still and practically begging Toby to stop the bus. He’d seen the shameless amusement in the bus driver’s eyes and he’d glared back.

Like he never needed to pee.

As soon as the bus had halted, he’d jumped out, not caring to give the other members of the group heads about what he was going to do. His bladder had been burning way too much for that kind of stuff. He’d all but sprinted like a madman towards the side of the rest stop, ignoring the few surprised stares as he yanked open the door to the closest toilet.

When he was done, a dazed smile of relief covered his face and he decided to wash his hands for good measure. It was then that he remembered that he owed AJ a coke. The smile on his face widened as he carefully sneaked around the small building, cautious to stay out of sight of the large tourbus parked just a couple of feet away. He could see Toby had decided to fill the tank, probably just cause it gave him something useful to do.

Creeping on his toes for no particular reason now that he was in the tiny store, Nick smiled at the few teenagers that were clearly having a vicious debate on whether to take smarties or M&Ms as a snack. He was glad that at least teenagers weren’t his main concern anymore when it came to crazy fans. Because fans could be bad, but their parents were so much worse. And now that most people that came to their concerts didn’t need permission of any kind to do whatever they wanted, Nick had found that the stuffy craziness had actually slowed down a bit. Now it was more of a… controlled craziness.

Nick liked it that way.

Grabbing two cokes out of the fridge, he felt something brush against his arm. He turned, but didn’t see anything.

Shrugging, he marched towards the bored looking cashier, who would probably fall asleep on the spot if that wouldn’t cost him his job. Nick planted the two cans on the counter, not bothering to plaster a fake smile on his face. As it turned out, he was just as exhausted as the cashier before him. Stupid Kevin that made them ride the bus at midnight. They could have gone this morning, but no, mister ControlFreak needed to take care of his bank-account right on that moment, which had eventually taken up most of the day. Nick had made sure to throw him a few exasperated looks during the drive, and as he’d expected, he’d seen Brian do the same.

The cashier was taking his sweet time and just before Nick got really impatient and wanted to say something, the boy finally punched in a few buttons on the register.

“That’ll be three dollars, sir,” he stated in a monotonous voice.

Nick sighed, reaching his hand to the back of his pants to retrieve his wallet. Frowning, he came up with nothing. He hadn’t left it on the bus, had he? That would actually be so typical. But he was almost sure that he’d had the thing with him when he’d gone to the bathroom. Well, like ninety percent sure.

The bathroom!

Grinning awkwardly, Nick took a deep breath, “Er, could you like… maybe… hold on to those cokes for a sec? I think I left my wallet somewhere else.”

Before the kid could answer, Nick turned around instantly and left the shop. It had been a long while since he’d felt so embarrassed. He paid the raging storm above him no mind as he hurried out of the store, seeing the cashier shake his head out of the corner of his eye. Determined, and fairly pissed at himself, he rounded the corner and instantly halted.

The thought of his wallet disappeared suddenly when he looked at the spot where there should be a bus waiting for him.

Should.

He clenched his jaw and stared hard at the empty space that had been occupied by a black tourbus only ten minutes earlier. The rain was coming down on him like a cold shower, but he barely felt it. He did feel the anger and confusion gradually building up.

Did they just… leave?

He felt like yelling, screaming, growling and cursing, but he did neither of those things. A lot had happened on tourbusses over the years. They’d left AJ behind once, but that had been a prank. He hadn’t even told anyone he’d left the bus this night. Toby had just… taken off without him.

He clenched his fists, breathing heavily as he finally broke his glare. He contemplated briefly if he should call anyone. He quickly decided against that. He didn’t need them. He wasn’t a baby anymore, he’d make sure he’d get to Orlando. All by himself, thank you very much. And if anything, maybe he’d even get there faster than they would.
7. Together by freedomwriter
The smell of smoke had nearly left the air. Kevin figured that that was a good thing. Only two hours ago, he’d been on the bus, on the phone with his wife. Would she be worried sick about now? He kind of hoped so. His head felt heavy and his entire body was sore. He had no clue about the time that had passed since the bus had tumbled down the hill. He shivered slightly, pulling AJs blanket a little closer around him. The man’s over-ability to pack properly had probably saved their lives tonight. It had taken away the risk of death by hypothermia, at least.

No, not really.

He watched helplessly as his cousin trembled and groaned in earnest. The cold was keeping the pain at bay, numbing everything and taking the edge of the worst agony. It slowed the heartbeat, and therefore the blood flow, making it close to impossible to die from blood loss. Kevin had carefully taken some of the melting snow, and put it on his flaming shoulder. The relief had been beyond words, and he’d felt close to fine as he sat on the ground, on another blanket they’d spread over the wet snow.

Like a picnic.

“Where’s AJ?” he grumbled suddenly, finally realizing the bearded man was missing from his sight. Kevin didn’t like that. He needed control, he needed for everyone to stay together, so they could figure out what to do without everyone wandering off by themselves.

Howie looked up from the map he’d been studying for what seemed like hours, “I don’t know,” he said perplexed, “He was here a minute ago, wasn’t he?”

“Jesus!” Kevin stood up on unsteady legs, balancing his weight as much as he could on his left foot. His right seemed to protest with every movement he made as he walked over to Howie, “This is just like I said! We need to stay together!”

“You think I don’t know that?” Howie questioned angrily, “You don’t need to tell me what to do, Kev! And AJ is a grown ass man, he can make his own decisions. I’m sure he can’t be far.”

Kevin frowned, his eyebrows furrowing together as he listened to Howie’s words. How could they be so careless?

They didn’t have a clue about survival, none of them did.

Sure, they’d all watched Discovery channel every now and then, but this was a whole lot different. But Kevin had grown up in the Kentucky mountains. He knew nature. And it wasn't as fun as Discovery Channel made it seem.

“No, I don’t think you understand, Howard,” he stated, trying to sound calm, “We can’t stay here forever, you know.”

“I know,” Howie answered, slowly getting to his feet, groaning in pain.

Kevin’s frown grew deeper, “You okay?”

“Yes, I’m fine. Why do you keep asking me that?” Howie muttered as he slowly began to walk away from Kevin.

“Where are you going?”

“I’mma go put some snow on Brian, if you must know.”

“I can put snow on myself, thank you very much,” came the grumbled reply a few feet away from them. Kevin sighed in annoyance. Brian seemed very intend on refusing to let anyone help him. He could be stupidly stubborn at exactly the wrong times. He’d spent a good amount of time trying to convince everyone that- aside from the chunk of bus covering nearly half of him- he was absolutely, perfectly fine.

Moron.

Kevin felt that he was rather afraid to know what his cousin’s legs must look like underneath the heavy metal frame. And if the nasty burns on his torso and back were anything to go by, Brian would be in for a very special kind of hell. His shirt was mostly torn and burnt to shreds, while some of the fabric seemed to have melted into his skin. Without the snow to ease the pain, Brian’s façade would have been very difficult to maintain.

“You guys are gonna love me forever!” An excited voice came through the darkness, along with the bright beam of a flashlight. Kevin whirled around on his heels, only able to make out AJ’s silhouette against the dark background.

“How did you get it into your head to walk away like this?” he shouted, angrily marching over to the shorter man, “Aren’t we in enough shit already? I don’t want to lose…”

He stopped right there. He didn’t want to say those words aloud, but could see that AJ understood. His face went from excited to serious in a split second. To lose another one of us. AJ sighed and dropped whatever he’d held in his hands in front of Kevin’s feet.

“Just thought you’d appreciate this,” he shrugged.
Reluctantly, Kevin shifted his angry gaze from AJ to the box at his feet. AJ’s flashlight revealed a bright red cross against a stark white background. Kevin’s eyes widened and his mouth dropped open. “Where’d you get this?”

“A couple of hundred feet that way,” AJ waved his hand about vaguely, “It still seems intact too.”

“This is great. I can’t believe our luck,” Howie breathed, coming over towards them slowly. He’d given up trying to put snow on Brian when the younger man had told him in no uncertain terms that it was cold enough as it was.

“Well, I wouldn’t exactly call getting into a bus crash and being left behind on our own, luck per say,” Kevin supplied, “But yeah, this might help.”

Slowly, almost solemnly, AJ bent down, sitting cross-legged on the ragged blanket on the ground. Taking a deep breath, he opened the first-aid kit and smiled. They weren’t doctors of any sorts, but the kit seemed to be stocked quite expertly and Kevin thanked the heavens for whoever had equipped the bus’ first-aid kit.

“Hallelujah,” he muttered as he rummaged through the medical objects. There were bandages, gauze, scissors, tape, antibiotics and above all, a small supply of pain killers. Not believing their luck, Howie grabbed a small bottle of iodine and held it up triumphantly.

“Here, put this on your skin!” he rushed, “It’ll keep it from getting infected!”

Kevin stared at him questioningly, but accepted the bottle, be it a little hesitatingly. He screwed the cap of and winced at the smell, “The hell?”

“Just do it,” Howie coached, “It’ll sting like a bitch, but you’ll be fine. Didn’t your mom ever put iodine on any of your scrapes?”

Kevin watched him thoughtfully for a few seconds before shrugging, deciding to just go for it. Cautiously he dropped some of the stuff onto his aching shoulder and cringed from the sharp sting it caused. He bit down hard on his bottom lip to keep from yelling out. He was surprised he couldn’t see the flesh sizzling, cause it felt like it was doing that. When the stinging feeling subsided, he gave the bottle back to Howie, “I’m not saying anything negative,” he grunted through clenched teeth and saw Howie smile back at him.

“The sting means it’s working,” The smaller man reassured Kevin, “Now we’ll just have to bandage it, and you’ll be as good as new.”

Kevin nodded, finally relaxing somewhat as he let Howie have his way with the bandages and gauze, “You could have been a doctor, D.”

“Doctor D,” Howie smiled, “I took a first aid class as a kid. My dad insisted.”

“I’m glad he did.”

“There! I think it looks pretty,” Howie stated seriously.

“Thanks Howard,” Kevin said as he stood up. For the first time since the crash, he felt somewhat clean and healthy.

He watched, suppressing a smile as AJ cursed out loud when he poured some of the iodine on the gash across his brow.

Glaring at the bottle, AJ reached for a clean patch out of the kit and pressed it against his forehead.

“I’m done,” he muttered, “Who’s next?”

“Howie,” Kevin quipped, grabbing the bottle and turning towards Howie, who took a step back.

“Oh damn,” the younger man mumbled. “Well alright, just get it over with.”

The cut in Howie’s side was quite deep, but fortunately, there wasn’t any glass left stuck in it. Kevin had to give his bandmate credit when Howie managed to stay perfectly still as Kevin dropped the iodine into the wound. He watched Howie squeeze his eyes shut tightly, grimacing as the stinging pain shot through him. A low grunt was all that escaped the short man’s throat and he quickly lowered his shirt back down after Kevin had dressed the wound the best he could.

“Bri? It’s your turn, honey,” Howie grinned wickedly as he turned towards Brian, who had been watching the others uncertainly.

He groaned and stared fearfully at the iodine, “I don’t think I’m gonna like that.”

“Oh doubtlessly, but it needs to be done. We’ll do it quick, I promise.”

Licking his lips, he hurriedly tried to think of something to say that would change their minds, but couldn’t come up with anything. He released a shaky breath and nodded, watching Howie get closer. Kevin swiftly grabbed one of his cousin’s arms and motioned for AJ to grab the other one. Holding him down, Kevin felt Brian jerk against his grip as Howie carefully poured the liquid iodine on his burnt chest. His cousin screamed a few profanities and stared hard and angrily at Howie, panting as the pain finally eased to a dull pounding. Howie held his hands up defensively.

“All done.”

“You guys are trying to kill me,” Brian snorted in disgust.

“Yes, that is exactly what we intend to do,” Kevin sighed, letting go of his cousin. He helped Howie carefully wet some of the patches of gauze to put on the worst looking burnt areas of Brian’s body. The melted pieces of cloth prevented them from being able to bandage everything properly and Kevin sighed as he watched their clumsy handiwork when they were done. He was glad his shoulder had been bare when it had come in contact with the heat of the explosion. He’d worn a sleeveless shirt that had been part of his PJ’s, to be honest. But as it turned out, it saved him a lot of trouble.

He shook his head, trying not to listen to the countless imprecations Brian was still muttering. He looked around, frowning suddenly.

“Where’s AJ?” he questioned.

“I don’t know,” Howie replied, “He was here a minute ago, wasn’t he?”

Kevin sighed.
8. Delicacy by freedomwriter
“Hey!”

He opened his eyes just in time to see a hand flying towards his shoulder. A flashlight was shining right into his face and blinking, he glared at the person behind it.
“What?” he rasped.

“You gotta stay awake,” Howie explained impatiently. Apparently, there was nothing subtle about him when he was cold and cranky. Well, at least he was warmer than him.

Brian had no idea how long he’d been lying on the frozen ground, but it was long enough for the cold to creep into depths he’d never even imagined possible. He was a bluegrass boy, and Kentucky was not exactly known for its harsh winters. And if anything, he wasn’t very used to lying around in the cold like this with nothing to do.

He’d stopped shivering, but the occasional tremors that wrecked his spine were enough to force him to bite his lip to keep from screaming out.

Everything hurt. Like hell.

And now Howie didn’t want him to sleep? What, was he afraid to get lonely? Didn’t Brian deserve some rest? The night had been eventful enough, hadn’t it?

“’m tired, lemme s-sleep,” he murmured and if he could, he would have turned his back on Howie to prove his point.

The bus on his legs made him fairly immobile though.

“You can’t fall asleep, it’s too cold,” Howie replied curtly.

“Oh yeah? W-watch me.”

“That’s not what I mean.”

“Whatever.”

“Brian!”

“Shut up! J-jeez!”

“You just…” Howie paused mid-sentence. “Your lips are turning blue,” he stated seriously, shining the flashlight into Brian’s face again. “Listen, hypothermia makes you drowsy, okay? You don’t get to fall asleep, it’s dangerous.”

“I-I don’t n-need a lecture from y-you,” Brian said, his voice shaking from the cold, and maybe a little bit in fear of what Howie had just declared. Freezing underneath a broken bus wasn’t very high on his wishlist. But lying awake in the middle of a winter’s night in a cold field would drive him insane one way or another, he was convinced of that. The inability to do anything about his situation was making him crazy, and if that wasn’t yet enough, there was no sign that they were going to get help anytime soon.

“Too bad,” Howie muttered, frowning at the way Brian’s face twisted in pain, “You okay? You want some more Tylenol?”

“N-no thanks, Doctor Dorough,” the younger man attempted to smile, without much of a result. He’d convinced himself that if he didn’t move, it wouldn’t hurt so much. Besides, if he swallowed one more pill, he would most likely throw up. He didn’t tell Howie that. He didn’t tell Howie a lot of things. Not that he didn’t trust him. If anyone could be trusted, it was Howie. Brian just didn’t want him to worry, cause he could see that Howie was hurting too.

He was particularly glad that he wasn’t able to see his legs. They felt as if they weren’t a part of him anymore and he didn’t know if they actually still were. He quickly pushed that thought out of his mind. He had enough gruesome details to worry about. He’d pretty much figured one of his hips was dislocated, judging by the white hot pain that coursed through it every time he moved, and the awkward angle it was bended in underneath the metal frame.

Anything below his hips felt frozen and numb. He’d tried to experimentally wriggle his toes, but that hadn’t lead to anything. He’d thought about all those movies he’d seen with people pinned under a wreckage. They’d either walk away without a scratch, or had half their bodies amputated.

He shivered.

“…told you already you should stay here, you can’t just walk away all the time,” he heard Kevin’s voice echoing over the field. His older cousin had found it necessary to function as a mother hen tonight, venturing after the lost little kids that had a tendency to walk the wrong direction. Brian smiled to himself. If he could have, he would have acted the same as AJ did. Then Kevin would have double the stress he had now. Brian would have scoured the entire field for something useful. And for Nick. It made his blood boil beneath his frozen skin that everyone had practically given up on the youngest. What were they going to tell his family, his wife, when they got back home without him? Sorry, but we were too much of a bunch of chickens to even attempt finding him?

He watched Kevin march over to their own little camping spot with a surly expression. Behind him AJ reluctantly followed. He seemed to have a lot of trouble getting forward, but Brian couldn’t determine why. AJ grumbled unintelligibly, his face staring at the ground. It looked as if he was pulling something along with him and Brian narrowed his eyes to see what it was. He squeezed his eyes shut as Kevin’s flashlight glared into his eyes.

“How you holding up?” he asked the standard question without much emotion. Probably because he already knew the standard answer.

“I’ll be f-fine,” his cousin grumbled, shielding his eyes from the flashlight.

“Right,” Kevin scoffed, directing the beam of light towards Howie instead, “How is the fire going?”

“It’s not,” Howie spat, “I thought that was pretty obvious. Everything is wet.”

“Throw some of AJ’s clothes on the pile, they’ll burn like hell,” Kevin suggested, glaring his flashlight in AJ’s face now. He narrowed his eyes when the younger man stayed silent, “No comments?”

“I guess not.”
“Great. Glad we’ve got that settled,” Kevin stated as he threw a sweater towards the place where Howie was attempting to start a fire.

AJ watched silently when his sweater finally caught fire.

Oh well, a sacrifice made for the greater good, he thought. He knelt down, pulling at the rope he’d tied around his stomach. Kevin had eyed the rock suspiciously, but hadn’t made any comments on it so far. The older man had only gone on about the fact he had wandered off again.

Didn’t he understand that AJ was about the only one that was getting things done?

The rock was gigantic and perfect. Exactly what he’d been looking for. Sure, it was heavy, and he’d spent a while figuring out how to get it back to base camp, but now he felt proud he’d accomplished that much. And no one even cared.

“So,” he drawled, squinting as Kevin’s flashlight once again turned his way, “wanna know what I found?”

“You mean, when you took off again?” Kevin growled.

“Why won’t you just get over it, old man?” AJ muttered, “I’ve got a rock.”

“Congrats. That’s great.”

His eyes widened when he saw Howie and Kevin both turn their attention to the fire again. Darn, he did not just struggle half a mile without some recognition. “I don’t think you understand,” he interjected.

“W-why do you have a rock?” He turned at the sound of Brian’s voice. It was slurred and weak and although he couldn’t clearly see his face, he knew the older singer was looking worse than he did when AJ left. Out of the four of them, Brian was probably having the most problems with the cold. He wasn’t moving and it was impossible for him to wrap himself in a blanket.

Which was why it was great that AJ found a rock.

He proudly put his hands on his hips and announced, “I found a rock.”

“Yeah, we got that,” Howie grumbled, not turning away from the fire, “Find anything useful as well?”

“Screw you guys,” AJ hissed, “I’m gonna free Brian.”

This time they did turn around and Kevin’s flashlight was shining into his face once again. Then he directed it at Brian, who looked just as surprised.

“Excuse me?” Kevin demanded.

“Gosh, you guys are such empty-heads sometimes,” AJ sighed. “Listen, I’ll spell it out for you. We can try to pull the wreckage up far enough, then shove the rock underneath it, and haul our Rok out!”

A stunned silence began while the others contemplated AJ’s idea. It was fairly simple, and it might be effective, except for…

“B-brilliant,” Brian grumbled, “But my leg is s-stuck.”

AJ’s shoulders slumped and his face fell, “But… I thought…”

“Well, we gotta do something,” Howie spoke up, “I mean, at the very least, we might be able to get some of the weight off. Give you a little space. Maybe try to get your leg… you know… not stuck?”

In the beam of the flashlight, they saw Brian’s face darken in fear. He shivered at the thought of AJ’s idea, “I-I don’t k-know,” he stammered, looking from one Backstreet Boy to the other, “I mean… l-last time… i-it didn’t really… s-sit well with me.”

Howie nodded, remembering that as well. “We can take some precautions this time,” he tried, looking helplessly from AJ to Kevin. “I mean, we’ve got some more painkillers right?”

“Yeah, Tylenol,” Kevin muttered, “that’s not strong enough.”

Howie sighed and stared at the ground in a defeated silence. “Damnit…” he mumbled.

“It m-might work,” Brian said softly.

“Forget it, we are not going to torture you,” Kevin replied.

“I just want this thing off of m-me, alright?”

“No. You do not get to be the tragic hero this time, hear me?” Kevin’s voice was stern, his expression unwavering, and that usually worked with his cousin. But Brian was too cold for those kind of tricks this time. He needed something to be done.

“I would h-hardly call this h-heroic,” he countered, “I mean… I w-wet my pants.”

“That’s too much information.”

“F-felt kinda w-warm though, so I don’t m-mind.”

“You are really over-sharing, cuz.”

“Guys?” AJ suddenly spoke up, “can I suggest something?”

“What?” Both cousins stopped their debate and turned to look at him.

“I… I might have found something that works just as well as painkillers. Even better…”

Kevin incredulously turned to Howie with a questioning look, “Since when did he turn into our German Sheppard?” he asked.

Howie shrugged and looked at AJ, “Why didn’t you say anything, Alex?”

“Umm, it’s…er… kinda … controversial in this particular group of people.”

“It’s alcohol, isn’t it?” Brian asked after a short silence. AJ nodded almost unnoticeably.

“Where’d you get it?” Kevin demanded.

“I found it on the bus… or… whatever is left of it.”

“Well… whose is it?”

“Why are you always immediately looking at me?” AJ asked in an angry tone, “It’s not mine!”

“He didn’t say it was, Alex,” Brian sighed, “W-what is it? Is it strong?”

“Looks like.”

“I’ll do it.”

“Brian…”

“Got a b-better idea, Kev?”

“N-no, I don’t know if…”

“T-thought so.”

“It’ll still hurt, Brian.”

“B-but it’ll be a h-happy kinda pain. A warm pain.” Brian savoured the word like it was a delicacy, something he could only long for, but never quite reach.

“You’re a stubborn idiot, you know that?”

“Learnt that f-from the best.”
9. Breaking Bad by freedomwriter
“What do you mean they haven’t checked in yet?” Nick demanded impatiently, looking the clerk at the desk of the hotel in the eyes defiantly.

“I mean that they have not arrived yet, sir.”

Nick whirled around, amazed. He stared at the entrance incredulously. He was pretty sure he’d been behind the bus the entire time. Although he may have driven a little faster, there was no way he could have caught up with them. He’d had to call for a taxi in the pouring rain at the gas station. Then he’d gone into town to find a car rent that was still open at midnight. It was about an hour later that he’d finally found a car – for which he’d had to pay triple to get the car-park’s owner to rent it to him – and got on his way to Orlando. He’d been driving for about another two hours before arriving at the hotel. The bus should have been there over an hour ago.

Karma.

Nick grinned to himself. He’d wait up for them. He’d give them hell for leaving him at the pump station. He’d throw it right into their faces that their little joke hadn’t worked, that he’d been there earlier than them after all.

But after more than an hour, he got impatient. He’d already called his wife, who was meant to arrive in Orlando late in the morning, three times. He’d complained and whined about what the others had done. She’d laughed really hard at first, said it was fairly typical behavior for the five of them anyway.

True.

But after the third phone call, she’d asked if they shouldn’t have been there by now.

Also true.

It was then that he, although with a heavy heart, decided to call AJ. He’d gotten nothing but voice-mail, even after the fifth time. He’d shrugged and gone over to Howie.

Howie always picked up his phone, no matter what.

You’ve reached Howard Dorough, please leave a message after the tone and I’ll get back to you. Thanks.

Nick didn’t even know Howie had voicemail. It seemed so unnatural for him. Normally, when Nick called, Howie always picked up. An uneasy feeling settled in his stomach as he pressed his thumb down on Kevin’s picture in his contact list.

You’ve reached phone-number 555-068…

Nick ended the call with a snarl. Maybe they were all huddled up together, bonding over the incredible prank they’d pulled on their youngest band member. Snickering whenever one of their phones rang, telling each other not to pick up, like a bunch of ten year old school girls on a pajama party.

The thought of AJ as a ten year old girl was quite unsettling and Nick threw his phone on the empty half of the lobby’s sofa. Was his confusion and misery really worth so much, that they didn’t mind coming two hours late for it?

0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000

“Okay Bri, how many fingers am I holding up?” Howie waved a bunch of fingers in front of his face and he smiled.
“However the m-many you w-want,” he slurred, not understanding the sentence even seconds after he said it.

He felt a comfortable warmth inside where the alcohol burned in his stomach. He could not remember ever being this drunk and he grinned deviously up at the other three.

They were watching him with seriously concerned expressions and Brian briefly wondered what on earth could give them the reason for such concern. Then he just shrugged to himself. Why should he care?

“I think it’s starting to work,” Howie declared, rising to a standing position next to Kevin. AJ eyed the half-empty bottle of whiskey suspiciously.

“It better start working,” he grumbled, “I mean, he downed half the bottle in like… what? Twenty minutes?”

Kevin nodded slowly. He didn’t really like to think about that now. “Let’s just do this,” he mumbled.

“Hold on!” Howie said, disappearing briefly, only to return with something that looked like a leather belt, “Bite down on this. Don’t ask me why, but it works,” he stated as he gave it to Brian. The younger man smiled warmly at him and meekly did what he was told. He watched as the others got into position, yawning from the alcohol that rose quickly to his head. Would it really be so bad if he closed his eyes for a few minutes? The world was finally warm again, so what harm could it do if…

OH DEAR LORD!

He bit down hard on the leather and forgot to scream. It felt like he was being ripped apart from the middle.

Instinctively, he tried to get away, his fingernails scraping against the frozen, soggy ground as he fought to find a grip. He barely noticed the pair of firm hands clamping down on his shoulders. He arched back in a blind panic, his head colliding with Kevin’s chest, which almost caused the older Kentuckian to lose his balance.

“Keep him still!” Brian heard someone yell urgently. He couldn’t see what they were doing, but, despite half the bottle of whiskey coursing through his system, he felt the sparking fire burn through his legs. He hadn’t been wrong; it was a warm kind of pain. But pain nevertheless.

He was drunk, but apparently he wasn’t drunk enough for this.

“Just hold on,” Kevin’s voice drifted through the haze, “They’ve almost got it, just hold on.”



0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000
He’d eventually given up waiting for them in the lobby. He’d checked about a dozen times if he even got the right hotel, cause that would be just like him. He’d waited for two hours, while his anger had slowly turned into concern.

An incredible uneasiness had settled in his stomach as he lay on his pillow with his eyes wide open. Every few minutes, he’d sit upright, and grabbed his phone, checking it for messages.

It remained still.

When he sat up for the sixth time that night, he sighed.

There was no way he would get any sleep tonight. Had that been part of their as well? Cause you could say a lot about them and their pranks, but not that they weren’t elaborative. Especially Howie’s. God, Nick hated Howie’s pranks. The short Hispanic didn’t prank a lot, but when he did, all hell would break loose. It was kind of a payback for all those small, but irritating jokes Nick used to pull on him.

This had probably been his idea in the first place.

He rubbed absently at his right leg, which had, for no reason at all, been bugging him almost all night. It was incredibly stiff and a dull pain would course through it from time to time. Yet another reason why he wouldn’t catch any sleep. He’d stood up, walked around to ease the nagging ache, but nothing worked.

He stood up again, walking around with his phone in his hands, trying to decide who to call at five am in the morning. Of course, he could always call his wife, no matter what, but what could she possibly do? He’d tried the other women, but –naturally- none of them had picked up at this hour.

Damn, this sucked.


0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000
“Okay, okay,” Howie panted, his arms straining under the weight of the metal frame. They had been able to lift it a few inches, which was nearly enough for AJ to shove the rock underneath it. He tried to focus on the task at hand; drowning out Brian’s muffled cries that mindlessly begged them to stop what they were doing. “Aje, are you ready?”
He asked the struggling man across from him.

“Just a little bit more, D,” he answered, grunting with the effort of raising the metal construction that used to be a bus.

Howie took a deep breath, digging his heels into the dirt while he tried not to scream in pain as he raised the wreckage a few inches higher. Not that it would have mattered. Nobody could have heard him over the raw, agonized cries coming from Brian anyway. It almost sounded like somebody was murdering him and Howie wondered briefly just how much worse it would have been if they didn’t down half a bottle of alcohol in him first. He tried to remember that they were trying to save him, instead of killing him, while he pulled the metal construction just a little higher. He heard AJ grumble roughly on the other side.

Then he felt the wreckage suddenly slip.

He jumped instinctively to catch the metal frame and felt his shoulders nearly pop out of their sockets. Brian gave one last scream before he fell silent and Kevin started to yell at AJ.

“I’ve got it!” AJ yelled suddenly, holding his hands up to show the wreckage was standing on its own now. Howie’s first thought was to immediately let go, now that AJ fulfilled his task. His arm muscles had gone sour and he was rapidly losing his strength. He could even feel the sweat on his forehead, although it wasn’t more than thirty-five degrees outside. Before he even noticed what happened, AJ was beside him, halving the burden. Together, they lowered the wreckage slowly, trying not to pay any mind to the silence that was suddenly coming from the other side.


0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000


“Ah!” Nick suddenly fell to one knee, clutching his leg as a white hot pain travelled up and down his muscles. After massaging his thigh for a minute, he stood up on wobbly legs and took a shaky breath.

There was definitely something not right here.

Carefully, he walked across the room, grabbed his jacket and his cell phone, and opened the door. He didn’t look back as he slammed it closed and with a frown on his face, he walked through the hallways. It had been three hours since they should have arrived and Nick was past thinking that they were trying to screw with him. With his phone to his ear he stepped into the deserted lobby of the hotel, nodding at the clerk at the front desk.

“Heard anything from them yet?” he questioned, without much hope in his voice.

“No sir,” the young man answered with a grim smile.

Nick nodded again, listening to his phone trying to connect with Howie’s. He was under the impression that it took longer than it had before and he felt his heart jump slightly when he heard Howie’s voice:

You’ve reached Howard Dorough, please leave a message after the tone and I’ll get back to you. Thanks.

“Howie? Where the hell are you guys, man? I’ve been waiting for like… three hours.” He barked into the phone, “If you don’t call me right now, I…”

He wasn’t really sure what he was going to do. He had waited long enough, right? They had to go to work in two hours anyway. No way this was still part of that stupid prank. He should go look for them.

Yes.
10. Cold by freedomwriter
AJ had no idea what time it was. Just a minute before he thought he saw the dawn breaking, but that might have been his imagination. It was in the middle of winter, sun didn’t rise until eight o’clock. They had not been there for seven hours.

Impossible.

The field was utterly quiet and there was nothing that could keep him from wallowing in his thoughts. Not now that Howie and Kevin had gone and left him and Brian here. It was becoming a regular thing now. He scoffed at that thought. Of course he and Brian hadn’t been included in the heated discussion between the oldest two. Just like they never were. Kevin and Howie always tended to decide things between the two of them first before laying it out in front of the other three.

The children.

AJ felt a warm anger burning in his chest. He was thirty-six, damnit. Sometimes it was like twenty years had never passed, like they hadn’t grown up, like nothing had ever changed. Sometimes, they were still those snotty-nosed teenagers they had been in the beginning. As far as Kevin and Howie were concerned, that is.

Right after they’d lifted the bus, right after Brian passed out, right after AJ had managed to actually get one of Brian’s legs free, Kevin had grabbed Howie by the shoulder and the two of them had disappeared a few minutes, only to return with two identical grim faces.

Kevin had said that they didn’t think help was gonna come anytime soon and that it might be a good idea to try and get it themselves. AJ had laughed, cause the idea was ridiculous. In fact, it wasn’t an idea at all.

How were they going to get help? They could barely stand up straight.

But of course, Howie and Kevin wouldn’t be Howie and Kevin if they weren’t actually convinced of what they were doing. Howie had always been the brains behind the operation, and naturally, he’d already had a detailed plan of approach. Two should try to get to the road, one should stay with Brian.

And AJ had volunteered to stay.

Not because he didn’t want to be the hero. Not because he thought Kevin and Howie could probably handle it on their own. In fact, AJ didn’t really have a clear idea on why he’d wanted to stay, but deep down he knew. It was because he, Nick and Brian had cliqued together, just like Kevin and Howie had done.

They were the children. The three little piglets. The rambunctious brothers. The three that were not to be trusted.

Two.

AJ swallowed thickly, but let the tears run freely. He felt alone and cold and so much unlike anything he’d ever felt before. He felt like a ten year old who’d got abandoned by everything and everyone.

And he was thirsty.

He eyed the half empty bottle of whiskey with a strong craving that he hadn’t felt in a long, long while. Not since he’d become a father. Just the thought of alcohol usually got eliminated by the thought of Ava. She didn’t talk much yet, but he wanted her to be proud of him. Just like he would be proud of her, no matter what. Being an alcoholic did not fit into that picture; it was as simple as that.

But Ava was far away, in her little crib, warm and secure with her mother just around the corner. She wouldn’t know. Nobody would. It couldn’t hurt. There wasn’t even that much left anyway.

His fingers shook, either from the freezing cold, or anticipation. They closed around the bottleneck.

Experimentally, he shook the bottle, watching the drink sloshing around in the glass. The fading light of the flashlight made it seem like liquid gold. Just one sip?

“No,” he murmured. He had other things to do. More important things.

Brian had significantly worsened after AJ had shoved a rock under the construction that held him trapped. He was still pretty much trapped, but the weight had been lifted and one leg was out. It actually looked better than AJ had expected. Or that was what he told himself.

It still looked like a leg. More or less. And it was still attached. That had been basically his criteria for an ‘okay’ leg. Although AJ didn’t really like looking at it, he didn’t have a choice. He’d been the one to wrench it from out underneath the wreckage. That would have been another hell on earth if Brian hadn’t already been unconscious.

His flashlight blinked a few times and AJ frowned.

Howie and Kevin had pretty much taken all the other ones. There was one more, but he suspected that one was halfway dead as well. He tapped the back of the flashlight, in the hope it would just magically start working again. But this wasn’t a movie, where things just magically turn out okay.

This was reality, as unreal as it seemed.

He froze when he heard a rustling through the trees.

The wind was pulling up again, making it even colder.

He thanked the heavens that it hadn’t started raining again. They would have been doomed, he thought wryly as he heard the breath hitch in Brian’s throat. Now that the flashlight had given up, he could only see a silhouette of his bandmate’s face, created by the dying fire in between them. His dark blue lips made a stark contrast with his ashen white face in the dim light. AJ though he was cold, but Brian was experiencing a whole new level of cold. He carefully leaned forward, shaking the older man’s shoulder gently, when he saw Brian’s body slump more and more.

“Hey, you gotta stay with me, bro,” Alex whispered softly. Brian gave a muffled moan, but didn’t open his eyes. AJ shook him a little harder.

“Listen, you gotta stay awake… Howie said…” AJ trailed off, knowing it didn’t make much sense to Brian. He hadn’t really been awake anyway. He’d been drifting somewhere between awake and unconscious. It was hopeless.

And AJ felt like crying.

And just like that, he forgot about all calmness and caution. Inching closer, he shook Brian again, begging him to wake up, to say something, anything. Just to not have to be alone. Wasn’t that selfish?

“Justleavemealone…” AJ’s eyes grew big when he heard Brian’s slurring voice. He gave a choked laugh. Brian’s eyes were still closed, but his expression had turned from deadly still to annoyed.

“No way, you gotta wake up,” AJ nudged him again, receiving another groan.

“K-Kev?” Brian asked, opening his eyes to splits.

“Nah, it’s just me. Alex.” AJ smiled.

“Hmmm…” was the only response and AJ jumped as he saw Brian closing his eyes again.

“No, no, no, you stay awake, you hear me?”

“Wher’s Kev?”

“He’ll be back in a sec, okay?” AJ rambled quickly, “I mean, he and Howie went to see what was up on the road, but they’ll be back before you know it. With help. Just hang on. A little longer. Please.”

As scared as he had been in the beginning of the ordeal, now it seemed ridiculous for one of the survivors not to make it through the night. Of all the numerous ways they could have died or would die, either in the past or in the future, a bus crash seemed rather meaningless and irrelevant. That they’d already lost two of the bus’ occupants that night, was still a little beyond AJ’s comprehending. But darn it if he would let another one befall the same fate.

Not on his watch.

“Hey, you stubborn bastard, keep your eyes open!” AJ barked, jabbing one finger into Brian’s stomach, “This ain’t no lazy hour!”

Brian snapped his eyes open and gave him the I-am-so-darn-tired-of-your-bullshit-again-McLean look. AJ smiled to himself, knowing that it was for his bandmate’s own good. Brian would die some day. When he was eighty-five and no longer knew his front from his rear. He would die surrounded by friends, three grandchildren, his son, and two dogs. That was how AJ imagined it anyway. He would die long after AJ did.

That was just the natural order.

Not when he was just two months shy of forty.

“Wha’ya wanfrom m-me?”

“Just hang in there. And don’t fall asleep.”

“Where’s N-Nick?”

“Huh?”

“Y-you said Kevin and H-Howie went away… but y-you didn’t mention N-Nick… So w-where is he?”

AJ bit his lip. Brian knew what happened. What was he trying to do, make him feel even more miserable? “You… I… He’s not here, Bri.”

“’s He okay?” Brian frowned and looked at him, almost innocently. And then it just occurred to AJ that the older Backstreet Boy was not pretending, he just really didn’t know what happened to Nick, or to himself for that matter. AJ even dared to assume Brian had no idea where he was, or how he got there. He felt himself grow even colder inside as he stared back at the other man.

Brian’s eyes were unnaturally bright, but glazed over at the same time. They reminded him of the way Ava’s eyes had looked when she had been sporting a 105 degrees fever. Kids could do that, go from perfectly fine to a point where it wouldn’t take much for them to spontaneously burst into flames in a matter of hours.

AJ had been scared as hell, feeling the heat radiating off of his one year old daughter in waves. They’d spent the night in the hospital, only to leave the next day with a close-to-perfectly-fine-again Ava the next day.

Brian didn’t have a fever though. Not even a little.

But he had the same detached-from-reality look in his eyes.

“AJ?” He rasped, his voice nearly gone.

“He’s… he’s fine,” AJ said, trying hard to keep his voice from breaking. “He’s not here, but he’s fine.”

“Kay…” Brian sighed, his focus drifting as his eyes slowly closed again.

“No!” AJ growled. This was not working. He needed a different tactic to keep Brian alert. He thought for a second before he got behind the shorter man, carefully wrapping an arm around his waist as he gently propped Brian up against him. He was cautious not the jostle the nauseating looking leg too much. From his position, he could already clearly see at least two locations where it would be broken and he did not want to cause any more damage than already had been done. By now, he was sure that he didn’t want to know what the other leg looked like that was still stuck underneath the chunk of bus.

Probably frozen solid.

AJ shook his head, willing the depressing and pessimistic thoughts away from his mind. He could feel Brian’s heartbeat against his palm. It was slow, but fairly steady, and wasn’t that what mattered?

“K-Kev?” Brian moved a little, trying to see who was behind him.

“No… it’s me, AJ… remember?” AJ grumbled and felt Brian slowly nod against him.

“It’s cold… Kev.” He heard the older man whisper and closed his eyes, feeling the tears stinging. The feeling that he was about to lose another one of his friends kept getting stronger and stronger. He growled in frustration, clenching his fists in the remnants of Brian’s shirt.

“I know, Bri,” he finally answered, “It’ll be okay, just hold on.”

Brian took a ragged breath, “Kev?”

AJ sighed, thinking for a second before answering, “Yeah?”

“Are w-we… going home?”

“Yeah,” he replied, “Very soon, alright? But you gotta stay awake, otherwise we can’t go.”

Brian frowned slightly, trying to understand, “But… I’m so t-tired, Kevin.”

“I know, but you gotta fight it, alright?” AJ said, not waiting for an answer as he continued, ”Now, what’s the first thing you’re gonna do when ya get home?”

“I-I don’t…kn-”

“Yes, you do! The first thing you’ll do when you get home! Come on!”

“Turn up… the central… h-heating.”

AJ nodded furiously, “Good choice! What else?”

He felt Brian shrug a little against him, “Kiss… my w-wife, prob’ly.”

“You betcha!” AJ replied loudly, thinking about how he’d kiss Rochelle when they’d finally get home. He’d never missed someone as much as he did at that exact moment. “Hey! What else?” he asked, shaking Brian’s shoulder gently.

“S-sleep… for a m-month.”

“Same here,” AJ smiled. “And after that?” He was being annoying now, he knew that, but told himself that it was for the best.

“I don’t…know,” Brian moaned, “I’m s-so… cold, Kev.”

AJ bit his lip, gripping Brian a little tighter, as if that could preserve some warmth. “They’ll be right here, just you wait. Just a little longer. It’ll be alright. I promise. Just… just don’t go anywhere funny, okay? Please?”

“’m So tired…”

“They’re on their way! You know they are, come on.” AJ rambled, trying hard not to think about the fact that they hadn’t heard a single car on the road ever since the crash. That was just a coincidence. Help was on the way, wasn’t it?
11. Dawn by freedomwriter
Howard Dorough cursed and grumbled as he tripped over yet another branch in the damp field. Although a strip of daylight had appeared on the horizon, he still couldn’t see a damn thing. His feet hurt, his side was throbbing and his head was begging for sleep. A few feet behind him, he could hear Kevin’s slow steps as he too, made his way through the bushes on the side of the field.

Howie felt like he was in one of those survival documentaries on National Geographic. He did not feel like a Backstreet Boy at all. Being a Backstreet Boy was a life full of having people do all kinds of things for you. They got your coffee, your clothes, managed your schedule, drove you to your destinations and made reservations at your favorite restaurants. Basically, the only thing you really had to do yourself was learn the moves and lyrics, and stay in shape.

And how he’d kill to be in his favorite restaurant right now. Or just get a coffee at StarBucks, for that matter.

“Is it just me, or is that daylight?” He heard Kevin grumble behind him.

“That is not just you,” Howie sighed. Daylight meant they had been in the stupid field for over six hours without anyone finding them.

Were they the Backstreet Boys or what?

Howie scoffed to himself. If this had happened fifteen years earlier, there would be helicopters everywhere by now. They would arrive thirty minutes later at a hotel, and whole management would shit their pants. The media would even know they were lost before they themselves did. He used to think that was ridiculous, but would it not be convenient now, that type of popularity?

Had anyone even noticed they weren’t where they were supposed to be? Had to be. By now someone must have noticed, right?

Right.

He could already see the abandoned road at the end of the field. The road they had been on a few hours before, well on their way to Orlando. He had been looking forward to a quick check in at the hotel and subsequently slamming his head into a pillow to pass out. It didn’t usually take much for him to fall asleep. He knew Kevin and Brian always whined about the hard, rigid beds in hotels, while they had six-thousand dollar mattresses at home. Howie didn’t mind hotel beds. He could sleep anywhere.

How he longed for a hard and rigid hotel bed right now, as he splashed through the mud in the darkened grass.

The snow had nearly melted, only a few remnants of white remaining. He’d felt the water eventually seeping through his expensive shoes, freezing his feet to a point where they felt completely numb. He’d figured they would all be suffering from the cold on some level. But for him, it wouldn’t be something that a night with warm tea and a dozen of blankets couldn’t fix.

He was a bit more concerned about Brian, though.

He’d felt really bad when he and Kevin had to leave him and AJ behind. He’d left AJ with a bunch of instructions on first aid care, but that didn’t make him feel much better. The feeling that he should have been the one that stayed kept getting stronger the further they walked away from the other two. For the umpteenth time, he tried to list the symptoms of hypothermia as they progressed. Shivering, slow movements, no more shivering, confusion, slowing heart rate, sluggish thinking, blue skin, organ failure, heart arrhythmias, death. He’d read it in one of the books when he’d taken the first aid course. He usually remembered most things he read. It was just one of his qualities. And just as he was trying hard not to connect them to one of his bandmates, Kevin seemed to read his mind.

“How long does it actually take for the cold to become like… you know… really dangerous?”

Howie sighed, feeling his foot disappear into a particularly deep puddle of mud and cursed under his breath, “Depends,” he murmured, trying to pull his shoe out of the dirt. God, this sucked.

“On what?” Kevin asked.

Howie gave another sigh, indicating he really did not want to think about it, “Exposure.”

“What?”

“Do I really have to spell it out for you?” He exclaimed, turning around angrily.

Kevin threw his hands up in defense, an offended expression on his face, “Dude…”

“I’m sorry,” Howie mumbled, turning again as he walked on, “We should have stayed.”

“It was your idea, remember?”

“Yeah, a stupid idea.”

“Well, we’re almost there,” Kevin stated, accelerating his pace to prove his point. “And just like you said, help’s not gonna come by itself.”

“Figures.” Howie nodded, running a little to keep up with the taller man. He often hated walking with Kevin or Nick. They had these incredibly long legs that would carry them in half the amount of time as Howie’s own legs. They would make fun of his and Brian’s shortness all the time, but then Brian would make a remark about leg space on airplanes and they would shut up for a while again.

Howie smiled at that thought, remembering when Nick had first introduced Lauren and wasted no time in making sure they knew she was taller than both Howie and Brian. He felt his smile faltering as he thought about how they were going to tell Lauren about what happened tonight.

“This is going to be a PR-nightmare,” he grumbled and raised his eyebrows when he noticed Kevin had stopped walking. “What?” he asked as he came up beside the older man.

Kevin scoffed, “I forgot you do that.”

“Do what?”

“You’re so… so emotionless, like… all the time!”

“Excuse me?”

“Would it really be so hard to just stop thinking about the business for a while and start showing that you give a crap?”

Howie took a step back, surprised at Kevin’s sudden anger, “What are you talking about?”

“It’s not all just about money and management, Howard!” Kevin exclaimed furiously, stepping closer as Howie took another step back, “I mean… Brian is freezing over there, and Nick is dead! Nick is dead. There is no more business!”

Howie stared at him, feeling his own anger burn as well. How dare he? Just because he wasn’t emotional all the time like Kevin, did that mean he didn’t feel anything? Just because he didn’t like to think or talk about Nick too much at this particular moment, did that mean he didn’t care? He wanted to scream all that at his older friend, but instead muttered, “Asshole,” and walked past him.

He pretended he didn’t hear Kevin’s snort of disgust as he finally planted his foot on the worn asphalt. The road was as forsaken as it seemed. In the far stretch of land it covered, there were no headlights or any other signs of life to be seen. Trying to push past his disappointment, Howie surly started walking in the direction the bus had been heading when it crashed. He had no idea how long this road was and when it would finally be joined with a road that was a little more occupied. It could be miles. It could be tens of miles.

Howie was not sure if his legs could carry him for tens of miles. He took a deep breath, firmly planting one hand on his painful side, and fastened his pace. He heard Kevin grumble something behind him, but didn’t look back, knowing the older man would follow no matter what.

They walked like that for a while, knowing fully well that there would be no way back now. It all depended on them and their quest for help. Howie tried to keep that in mind as he stumbled and flinched, pressing his hand deeper onto the wound in his left side. It hurt. A lot.

But it wouldn’t kill him. No. This night wouldn’t kill him. Not like it had killed Nick. Not like it might kill Brian. Howie swallowed thickly as he squeezed his eyes shut.

So God help me, don’t let another one of us die. I will not let you let another one of us die. Not tonight and not tomorrow. I can not bear that thought.

He didn’t realize his step had slowed until he noticed Kevin walking beside him, instead of behind him. The oldest Backstreet Boy seemed to have somewhat of a limp in his walk, but it didn’t keep him from carrying a stern, determined expression.

“It’s almost like we’re the only ones left on this planet,” Kevin sighed, waving the beam of his flashlight over the sides of the road. “There aren’t even streetlights here.”

Howie nodded slightly, “I’m going to cry if it turns out it’s a dead end road.”

“Nah,” Kevin smiled wryly, “Then the bus wouldn’t have been on it.”

“We could have missed a turn or an exit.”

“Don’t be like that.”

“Like what? Realistic?”

“No, such a pessimist! The road will lead somewhere,” Kevin nodded to himself, “It has to.”

“Sure.”

They continued to walk in silence. Kevin suggested to take a break and eat something, but Howie refused. They could eat while they walked, he stated. He did not want to waste anymore time. It was like one of those stupid racing games Nick used to play with him, in which you had to reach a certain checkpoint before the time ran out. He could almost see the time-clock above his head, slowly ticking away to an unknown number. He shivered as he accepted one of the chocolate bars in Kevin’s hand. They were going too slow.

“Is that a crossroad over there?” Kevin asked with his mouthful, pointing straight ahead as he concentrated his flashlight on the road ahead.

Howie squinted and took a second before answering. “I think it is!”

He felt his pace quickening with renewed hope as they reached the crossroad. Before them were fields, behind them were fields, and beside them were fields. But crossroads meant that there would likely be a road sign. Something that told them where they were, or where they should go.

Kevin’s flashlight wildly shone around the asphalt, searching for a sign. “There!” Howie pointed excitedly.

Kevin quickly flashed the beam in the direction he’d pointed.

Orlando: 25 miles

“Yeah!” Howie exclaimed, feeling the pain in his body subside and a warm relief replace it. They were on the right path. Soon they’d be close to the city, soon there would be cars and trucks and people and whatnot.

Soon they’d be saved.

"Told you it lead somewhere!" Kevin smiled.

"Yeah, I was being negative, I'm sorry."

"I'm sorry for yelling at you too."

Howie nodded, "Thanks."
12. OutCry by freedomwriter
Nick Carter wasn’t sure what made him eventually step into his rental car and head out onto the busy streets of Orlando to go back to the gas-station where he’d last seen his friends. Later, much later, he would say it was the fierce pain in his right leg that made him go, although it didn’t make much sense at that time. Later, much later, he would say it had been a warning, a foreboding cry for help.

He’d called everybody he could think of first, of course. They’d all pretty much freaked out when he’d mentioned the fact the others hadn’t shown up yet. He’d told them not to worry, though he didn’t know why. Why shouldn’t they? He’d first called Jen, their manager, for some reason. Maybe because she was supposed to manage things in the group. She was supposed to be with them on the bus, but couldn’t find a babysitter at the last minute, so she’d scheduled a flight to Orlando early in the morning. She’d told him not to worry, that she would be there in a few hours.

But Nick found that he couldn’t wait for that much longer. Secondly, he’d called the women. He’d just asked if they’d heard anything from the other four, that was all, but they immediately got concerned, and Nick did not deal well with concerned women.

Not really certain why he went alone, Nick drove the semi-busy streets of Orlando. He knew the roads and turns very well; after all, this is where he’d finally learnt to drive all those years back. The roads had slightly changed since then, but Nick didn’t really mind; he could still find his way around.

You’ve reached Howard Dorough, please leave a message after the tone and I’ll get back to you. Thanks.

With an exasperated sigh, he threw his phone on the passenger seat for the fifth time since he’d begun to drive. True, it wasn’t unlike them to not hear from each other for days, and still be fine with one another. But that was when they had no other work to do. For crying out loud, they were supposed to do an interview in an hour! And if something hadn’t gone horribly wrong on their drive over to Orlando, if they really were just playing with him for no reason at all, Nick considered that highly unprofessional.

Highly.

0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000

He didn’t mind the cold as much anymore. If you couldn’t fight something, he’d figured a long time ago, you had to try and make friends with it. The cold was like a warm blanket now, as weird as that seemed, enveloping him, keeping him safe from the pain his broken legs would cause.

On the other side, he could still hear AJ McLean constantly. It seemed like the younger man was talking just for the sake of talking. And although Brian Littrell couldn’t really understand what he was talking about, he knew AJ was just trying to keep him awake, as annoying as that was. He squeezed AJ’s hand every now and then to pretend he was listening- and not sleeping- to keep the bearded guy from shaking him again.

That hurt.

“Brian!” A lone voice echoed over the damp grassland and Brian could feel his slow heart beat just a bit quicker. It sounded extremely far away and just a tiny bit surreal, but it was one of the sounds he’d hoped to hear the entire night.

“Nick!” he rasped, his voice scorching along his dry throat as he began to struggle against whatever was holding him tight from behind. “Nick! Where are you?”
As numb as he was, he could still feel a flash of panic wash over him as he heard the voice desperately call out to him, “Brian! Help me!”

Brian’s struggle intensified when he decided he’d been useless enough in the course of the night. His body was stiff and uncooperative, however and it protested with every move he made. One leg was still trapped and the other seemed foreign, as if it wasn’t really a part of him at the time. How was he supposed to help Nick?

“Hold on!” he yelled, although it sounded more like a rough whisper than a yell. He blindly grabbed at the freezing grass underneath him, attempting to get a well enough grip to get himself freed once and for all.

No matter what the cost.

00000000000000000000000000000000000

Kevin Richardson shivered in earnest as he stumbled along the empty road. The excitement he’d felt when he’d seen the road sign was slowly fading away, replaced by the now learnt fact that they had still about 25 miles to go before reaching civilization.

Walking 25 miles would take hours, and in their condition, he wasn’t sure how much longer they could keep it up.

“Look,” Howie Dorough grumbled beside him and Kevin turned to where he was pointing.

“Wow,” he sighed, figuring he probably would have cared a lot more about the stunning sunrise if he wasn’t exhausted, starving and freezing. Its light casted long shadows over the road and he watched Howie as he walked beside him. The younger man looked like he’d been to hell and back and Kevin figured he himself didn’t look much different. If anyone could see them right now, they would have a hard time recognizing them as two Backstreet Boys, that was for sure. “I would definitely murder for a hot bathtub and soap right now,” Kevin grunted.

Howie made a noncommittal sound that sounded somewhat approving, “My haircut is fucked beyond repair,” he stated sadly.

Kevin couldn’t help but laugh, the sound echoing roughly around them. Leave it to Howie Dorough to worry about something irrelevant like his hair at times like this. Poor Howie, who –admitted- did spend more time in front of a mirror worrying about his hair than the average male equivalent. Only to have it disturbed once more by one of them, usually Nick, a little while later, just for fun.

He tried to swallow the sudden lump in his throat. He knew it would probably take a while before the whole concept of Nick’s death got through to him. And then, he figured, true hell would begin. Cause hell, he realized, wasn’t being caught in an explosive collision and stranded in the fields for hours. Hell wasn’t a bus rolling down a hill with little hope of survival. Hell wasn’t even trying to find his friends when most odds told him that they were either terribly hurt, or dead.

Hell was getting back to life and trying to live with the consequences of what happened.

000000000000000000000000000000000000000000
AJ felt Brian violently jerk against him and had only time to frown before the struggle began. For someone who had motionlessly lain under a bus for so long, Brian possessed a surprising amount of strength still.

Alex wasn’t sure what caused his sudden movements, but they seemed panicked and frantic as if his older friend was scared that something was coming to eat him.

And then he heard it, the hoarse, rasped cry spilling from Brian’s bluish lips. “Nick!”

His own panic grew as he tightened his hold on the smaller man, “The Hell?” he muttered as he felt his heart hammering in his chest.

“Nick! Where are you?” Brian called out again, his head roughly colliding with AJ’s chest, sending AJ’s speeding heartbeat up into his throat.

Maybe he’s dreaming, the thought lingered for a second before he dismissed it. Brian’s eyes were wide open, frantically searching his surroundings, supposedly for a sign of the youngest Backstreet Boy.

His movements suddenly became fiercer and AJ almost got knocked to the ground when Brian shoved an elbow into his stomach.

“Stop it!” AJ called, not caring about how childish it sounded. He didn’t think his friend heard him anyway.

“Hold on!” Brian’s raspy voice exclaimed. The older man dug the heels of his hands into the wet grass and before AJ fully realized what was happening, Brian began to pull himself backwards.

“No!” AJ bellowed, trying to keep the frantic singer from moving, “No! Hey! Stop it!” He kept his voice stern and even as he tried not to hurt Brian when he roughly grabbed his shoulder to steady him.

“Nick,” Brian whispered, his breath erratically rasping in his lungs.

“Listen to me!” AJ commanded, “Just calm down!” It sounded a bit weird as he felt his own fastening pulse inside his head. Brian was still pulling against his burden, most likely screwing up his trapped right leg even more. AJ knew that his older bandmate wasn’t thinking straight, but he would be damned if he let Brian continue this form of self harm.

“No Nick!”

“He’s dead, Brian! Nick’s dead!” AJ screamed and suddenly, all movement ceased. He could see Brian’s confused eyes running over the field.

“You’re w-wrong,” the dazed man whispered, panting in exertion. “He’s here. I can hear him, and he n-needs help.”

“No he’s not.” AJ said, his voice breaking, “I’m so sorry, Bri.”

“Y-you’re wrong.”

“It’s not real.”

0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000

“Nick!”

He gasped as he heard a distant voice call out, almost unnoticeably. It sounded strange, as if nothing but the wind had carried it on. His sight on the country road blackened and for a long moment, he couldn’t see anything, before he turned back to reality once more.

Firing pain, originating from his right leg, coursed through his body and he slowed the car to a stop, staring out of the windshield with round eyes, not really able to see anything.

He didn’t know how long it took before he dared to start the car again. Not once in his life had he experienced such a thing. The fear of another blackout was eating at his mind as he slowly drove along the misty fields. The sun had almost fully risen in the east, spreading breathtaking colors across the sky, but Nick didn’t pay it any attention. His thundering heartbeat pounded in his chest. He squinted and grunted as he massaged his painful leg.

Maybe something was wrong with him? He tried to think of any medical explanation that connected leg-pain and blackouts but couldn’t come up with anything. It had started rather suddenly, he figured. As if four missing friends weren’t enough to deal with at a time. He remembered the first time he’d felt the pain in his leg had been on his way to the hotel. He’d shrugged it off, pinning its existence on the fact that he’d been working out an awful lot lately to try and stay in shape for the special winter shows. He’d probably pulled a muscle during his time at the gym a day before.

This, he realized now, was in no way a pulled muscle.

“Nick! Where are you?”

He swerved the car dangerously to the side. For a split-second, he could swear he distinguished somewhat of Brian’s voice in the sound. It sounded deformed though, inhuman. He cried out, slamming the breaks as his focus once again turned dark and the cold crept up from his toes, venturing quickly over his entire body.

He smelled a hint of gasoline right before his vision exploded in a world of flames and heat.

What was wrong with him?
13. Help by freedomwriter
Author's Notes:
humpty, dumpty and grunty back together again
Howard Dorough squinted, his eyebrows furrowing together as he stared into the mist. He swallowed thickly, feeling a spark of adrenaline in his chest.

“Are those… headlights?” he exclaimed high pitched, turning towards his companion in a flash with wide eyes.

Kevin Richardson squinted too, slowly distinguishing two separate beams of light far off in the distance.

Howie saw him return the same expression he himself was carrying. “Holy fuck,” the oldest Backstreet Boy breathed slowly.

Normally, Howie would be surprised at the blatant foul word that escaped Kevin’s mouth. The singer didn’t normally curse at all, let alone this pronounced. But Howie figured these were special circumstances.

Circumstances in which you could say whatever the hell you pleased.

Without really noticing, he fastened his pace to the point where he was almost running. Kevin hobbled along beside him, just as eager to get forward. Could it be, that after almost seven hours, they would finally find their rescue? He almost couldn’t believe it. One moment ago, he’d wondered if the two of them were the only existing life-forms left on the planet, and now, an unfading set of headlights beamed their way, almost welcomingly.

In the back of his head, a voice said to be careful, there could be anyone behind the wheel, especially at this hour, but the rest of his mind didn’t pay that thought any attention. His side had been hurting for long enough. He’d gone without a shower long enough.

He’d been starving long enough.

As they got closer, they noticed the car wasn’t actually moving, and for a moment, Howie’s heart sank in his chest. What if the car was abandoned? What if they got excited, once again, for entirely nothing?

Just as he began to wonder what the lights were still doing on then, he could make out the dark figure slumped across the steering wheel of the vehicle. Howie halted abruptly, pointing to the car again. “You see that?”

Kevin stopped too, panting from the mad run and leaning his hands on his knees as he glanced up in the direction Howie was pointing. “See what?”

Howie didn’t answer, instead he slow and cautiously got closer, studying the car intently. The driver seemed lifeless, creepily enough. They didn’t move as Howie’s feet scraped across the asphalt and he swallowed uncertainly as he made it a little closer to the hood of the car.

“Hello?” He called out to the hooded driver, his voice wavering with unease. This was exactly the prologue of any horror movie in existence. But just as characters in those movies never gave the idea of making a run for it any thought, so didn’t he. He slowly moved around the car, sensing Kevin lagging further and further behind as Howie tried to open the door.

It opened.

And the person behind the wheel gasped and shot upright.

The driver stared at Howie, and Howie stared back, instantly recognizing him. He heard his ears rushing and his head felt lighter than it should. He noticed his vision darkening as he took in the driver’s appearance. Then his knees buckled.

This was definitely a horror movie.

000000000000000000000000000000000000000

Nick Carter yelped as he saw Howie’s posture collapse before his eyes. Before he knew what he was doing, he reached out and grabbed the older man by his arm, almost falling out of his seat. He didn’t have time to contemplate why Howie and Kevin, who he could distinguish now too, had suddenly appeared right before his rental.

This day continued to get weirder and weirder as it got older.

Howie’s head shot back up, his eyes just as round as a second before. He seemed to willing to say something, but all he seemed able to do was gasp for air in Nick’s grasp and Nick quickly let go of him, causing the shorter singer to stumble back.

“You!” Howie pointed, his face a mask of utter and pure confusion, “You’re dead!”

Nick’s eyebrows shot up as fast as they could at that statement. What on earth had happened to make Howie think he was dead? Only then Nick got a closer look at the two who had appeared in front of the car all of a sudden. They seemed worn and filthy, as if they’d been rolling over the ground most of the night. Their faces were smeared with dirt and black smudges he couldn’t identify. Kevin stood nailed to the ground, his tense face covered in scratches and cuts and bruises. Howie didn’t look much better either. “What the fuck happened to you?” Nick exclaimed, ignoring the dull pulsing pain in his leg once more.

“W-What happened to us?” Howie frowned in confusion, “What happened to you?!”

“I asked you first!”

“Are you gonna let us in or not?” Kevin asked gruffly, having snapped out of his initial shock. Nick nodded slowly. Sure, he’d hoped to find out where his friends had been the entire night, but actually bumping into them had been beyond his expectations. When the two had entered the car, almost identical, dazed smiles spread across their faces.

“What?” Nick asked uncertainly.

“The heat,” whispered Howie, who had taken the passenger seat next to him, “It’s amazing.”

“You guys are starting to freak me out.”

“That feeling is mutual,” Kevin grumbled from the backseat.

“Where are AJ and Brian?” Nick questioned, for the first time wondering why only Howie and Kevin had shown up in the middle of the road.

But Kevin ignored his question altogether, instead leaning forward as he grumbled, “Where’d you get this car?”

Nick frowned, a spark of his previous resentment with the others returning, “I was required to get a rental after you guys left me at the gas-station. Remember that stunt?”

He saw a million and one emotions flashing across Howie’s face, before the older singer swiftly turned his head towards the windshields, mouth open. After a few seconds, Kevin’s roaring, and slightly unsettling laugh filled the car and Nick had a hard time deciding whether he should look at Kevin or Howie.

“I don’t see what’s funny!” Nick exclaimed, temporarily forgetting he’d just picked up two of his bandmates, who looked like they had just barely won a fight with a grizzly.

The whole thing was too surreal to be true.

“This!” Kevin roared, “This is priceless!”

And just when Nick started to believe that maybe, after all, this was nothing more than a very elaborate prank, Howie’s face turned dead serious. “We thought you were dead. We thought you were on the bus with us!”

The feeling of unease in his stomach intensified at Howie’s words. The two of them hadn’t really seemed willing to explain their haphazard looks, or their sudden appearance in front of his car on an abandoned country-road. “Where are the other ones?” Nick asked again, a little sterner this time.

“There still in the field, we split up,” Howie mumbled, “Do you have phone? 911 might be a could start.”

“What the hell happened to you guys?” Nick demanded, frustration taking up most parts of his voice. He winced at the sharp stab of agony in his right thigh.

“You okay?” Kevin asked although it sounded rather distracted and impatient.

“I’m fine!” Nick barked, “What’s going on? Why is this day so freaking weird?”

“Look, we’ll explain everything, but first we need to call for help. Brian and AJ are still out there, they need all the help they can get, so give me your phone,” Howie stated, his voice stern and even, like it always was when he tried to give Nick a direct order.

Staring at the various scrapes and smears of dirt on Howie’s face, Nick’s resistance quickly crumbled at the urgent tone in his friend’s voice. Reaching inside his pocket, he retrieved his phone, wordlessly handing it over to Howie. The feeling that something truly terrifying had happened to his four bandmates was crushing his mind as he absently massaged his leg. The fact that they hadn’t asked about the way he’d been slumped over the wheel before they had arrived attested to that feeling. The blackouts had finally ceased and Nick figured that it had something to do with having his attention fully focused on the other two.

He was glad for that, as terrified as he’d been of the feelings the blackout had left him with. It was both terrifying and oddly amazing. He remembered the smell of gasoline as if the car he sat in was actually leaking and when he closed his eyes, he could see the dancing flames that threatened to envelop him in their scorching embrace. He only barely noticed Howie’s surprised remark on having reception out here. The older man quickly dialed the alarm number and Nick saw an entire burden visibly being lifted from Howie’s shoulders as he chattered the details of the night’s events into the phone.

Nick listened to the urgent tone in Howie’s voice, feeling himself getting paler by every word the older singer spoke. Something about a collision, explosions, entrapment and hypothermia. It was almost dizzying.

“W-where?” Howie stammered suddenly and looked at Nick with wide eyes, “Where are we?” he whispered, covering the phone with his hand.

Nick blinked, looking from Howie to Kevin and back, then pointed at the GPS in front of the dashboard, “About twenty miles north of Orlando,” he uttered with a frown. The fact that both Howie and Kevin had no idea where they were was alarming. Howie nodded and repeated it into the phone, before snapping it closed.

“They’re probably gonna send a helicopter,” he sighed and Nick could almost see the relief radiating off of him. “We should get going.”

“W-where?” Nick muttered in confusion.

“Back,” Kevin nodded, looking at Howie for confirmation. The shorter singer nodded too, “We weren’t planning on just leaving them out there to freeze, we promised we’d go back once we found help.”

“You call finding me, help?” Nick asked incredulously.

Howie smirked, “We had a chance to call 911. As for you… you’ll have to do.“
14. Cradle by freedomwriter
AJ McLean absently rocked himself and the smaller man in his arms back and forth, while humming a long forgotten melody that had somehow found its way into his mind. He didn’t care about the soft light of dawn steadily spreading over the field, nor did he care about the smoldering remains of the fire next to them.

It was cold, and for some reason, that seemed the only condition compatible with his state of mind.

Ice cold.

In another life, a life he had lived months, years ago, his wife was probably freaking out over the phone as she was informed about him being missing.

AJ couldn’t really care about that either.

He took a calm, steady breath, burying his tearstained face in the crook of Brian’s neck, still softly rocking both of them. He hadn’t always been so calm. He remembered that horrifying and excruciatingly slow moment in which Brian’s eyes had rolled back and his body had gone completely limp. There hadn’t been a warning; there were no soft spoken, dying words. One moment he’d been raving about Nick, and then his eyes had closed. AJ had screamed at him for a good, solid three minutes after that.

Yet, he didn’t dare to let him go.

Not that he was dead, no. AJ made sure to keep his hand firmly splayed across Brian’s chest, carefully keeping track of the hesitating, unsteady and slow heartbeat he felt there. He realized, not for the first time, that if it stopped, there would be absolutely nothing he could do about it. And although he was not particularly okay with that, he didn’t think he could muster up the energy to panic about it either.

Instead he just sat there, waiting for whatever was going to happen next, as he felt, almost guided the faltering, shallow breaths rattling the older singer’s lungs. AJ didn’t remember the last time he’d been so close to another human being. Sure, he and his wife were close, and they were absolutely close at certain moments, but this felt so much more different, so much more important, final. He swallowed, tasting the word.

Final. It wasn’t like he had fully surrendered to the possibility that he would lose not only one, but two of his friends in one single night, but honestly, what hope was there? Brian was slowly dying in his arms and there was not a single sign of help coming anytime soon. And this time, unlike with Nick, AJ got to experience every single detail of his friend’s fading moments that slowly came to an end.

Abandon all Hope. He’d often wondered what that truly meant. A saying they used to describe hell or the apocalypse. He’d always pictured hell as a place of fire and pain and torture. But true hell was the saying of Abandon all Hope. It was a cold, empty feeling of helplessness, of letting go of any spark of hope you had left.

That was hell. And AJ figured it probably hurt worse than all the fire, pain and torture ever could.

And it made him thirsty again.

The half empty bottle of whiskey was just out of his reach from where he was sitting, but if he shifted just slightly, he’d be able to grab it. He hadn’t had a taste of alcohol in months, but remembered what it did crystal clearly. It would numb him. It would make him stop thinking about all the bad things and would put him in a dazed stupor until he didn’t know where he was or what he was doing.

He hesitated only a second before making a decision.

Shifting ever so carefully, he leaned towards the bottle, removing his hand from the weakening heartbeat to let it peek out from underneath the thick layer of blanket and clothes he’d piled upon Brian and himself.

Although he couldn’t see much of what he was doing, he only needed a few seconds of blindly grabbing around in the snow before his fingers encircled the cold bottleneck.

Ceremoniously, he raised the treasure in the air, then, without another thought, flung it away with an animalistic scream, hearing the glass finally breaking as it hit the muddy, but frozen ground a few feet from where they were sitting.

“No!” he screamed in frustration, panting from the anger that coursed through his veins. “No! Not like this! You hear me?”

Brian remained as still as ever, but AJ was not finished yet, “Wake up!” he yelled, his breath forming little clouds of smoke as it escaped his mouth, “You don’t get to do this, Brian! You don’t get to leave!”

AJ let a sob escape his throat as he cradled the smaller singer just a bit more tight. Tears dropped into Brian’s already wet hair as AJ lowered his head and cried out in desperation. He couldn’t remember when the last time was that he had cried like this. He knew the last time he actually had cried, had been of joy, probably because Ava had done something she hadn’t done before or something like that.

This, however, came from deep within him. The sobs wrecked his whole body, rocking both him and Brian shockingly. He didn’t know if he had actually ever felt this horrible before. “You don’t get to do this,” he whispered brokenly into the older man’s ear, “You know, that young boy back home is counting on you. God, Bri, that kid looks up to you so much, you don’t get to let him down, that’s the burden of being a dad, remember that?” AJ rambled on, recalling the time Brian had pulled him apart right after he’d become a father to a beautiful daughter, and telling him in earnest that it now meant that he could never, not once, let his kid down. That was the burden of being a parent, in fact that was the whole idea.

And AJ considered dying before your kid’s thirteenth birthday in clear violation of that rule.

He swallowed, his breath shaking and his voice faltering, “Please,” he spoke softly, “Just, don’t die… please.”

Nothing happened. Brian didn’t magically open his eyes to announce he felt fine all of a sudden. He didn’t suddenly turn around to embrace and comfort AJ. He didn’t move at all. Instead, AJ could still feel his friend’s heartbeat. He still noticed the slight jerks of Brian’s chest that accompanied every rasping, labored breath he took.

And he tried to hold on to that. Tried to focus on nothing else but those small signs of life.

Which is why he almost didn’t hear the blades of the helicopter approaching at first.
End Notes:
yay
15. Time by freedomwriter
Nick Carter drove the car in a hidden state of panic. By now, Howie and Kevin had pretty much filled him in about the crash and it made him freak out on the inside. He was glad that the pain in his leg had all but ceased. It was a bit weird though. One moment, it had been killing him, the next, it was completely gone.

It was replaced by a different kind of feeling though.

Something he couldn’t quite identify.

He decided not to worry about it.

The site of the accident was hard to miss. Nick drove towards it, the three occupants of the car staring out of the windows with their mouths open. The youngest band member felt the car swerve a bit when the wheels came in contact with the muddy grass of the misty field. The closer they got to the place, the more scared he got.

In the contrasting light of the early morning, he could see scattered pieces of tourbus adorning nearly half of the field and swallowed. Somewhere, he could still smell a hint of smoke in the air. It looked like a plane had crashed here, rather than a bus.

He saw a whirling amount of activity to the far right of the grassland. A helicopter was parked neatly next to a particular large part of debris. He heard people screaming, saw them running and saw the serious, tense expressions on their faces.

He started to be glad that he’d been left at the gas station.

A few feet away from the scurry, Nick could distinguish AJ’s features. The older man’s shoulders were slumped and he didn’t move at all as he stood there, watching the paramedics work with a far-away look in his eyes.

Nick put the car in park a couple of dozen feet from the place of activity and almost didn’t notice Howie and Kevin getting out.

“You coming?” Howie asked softly.

Nick wasn’t sure if he wanted to, but he nodded anyway, shutting down the engine and crawling out of the door.

He was more than a little surprised when he found out that his leg could actually support his weight. He took a tentative step forward, and when that didn’t cause any problems, he sighed in relief. Maybe it wasn’t so bad after all.

Maybe it was just in his mind.

“You hear that?” Kevin questioned, but before anyone could answer, he said, “Sirens.”

“Yep,” Howie nodded, “They’re sending us the whole package.”

“Good.”

The two of them kept talking like that as they made their way over to AJ. Nick listened in disbelief. How could they not be freaked out about all of this? But then he figured that they probably already had done so before he’d even had a chance to know about what had happened.

He felt like an outsider.

“Alex?” Howie lay a cautious hand on AJ’s shoulder, how tensed considerably before turning around. “We’re here. We did it.”

But AJ didn’t answer, instead he vacantly stared at Nick for a good ten seconds before returning his gaze to Howie. Then, he abruptly pointed a finger towards Nick, almost poking his eye out.

“Where’d you find him?!” He exclaimed at Howie in disbelief.

“Listen, it’s a pretty long story, let’s just say that Nick’s fine and has pretty much no idea what happened tonight.”

AJ stared at him for a little while longer, the anger seemingly radiating off of him in waves. If he’d been thinking he was dead, and had missed him at all, Nick figured this was a poor way to show it. He’d expected a bit more hugging, of anybody, and maybe a bit more ‘I’m glad you’re alive.’ But well, the others were too preoccupied with other things to really pay any mind to the returned prodigal son. It was more like ‘Oh great, you’re fine, that’s one thing less to worry about.’

“Where’s Brian?” Nick asked, trying to tear his eyes away from AJ’s heated stare. On the way over there, he’d noticed both Kevin and Howie seemed pretty reluctant to talk about the middle Backstreet Boy. He watched AJ’s face slacken into an unreadable expression. The older member shook his head slightly.

“They’re having… trouble… getting him free,” AJ stuttered quietly. “They won’t let us near him.”

“What do you mean, trouble?” Nick barked, watching Howie and Kevin’s gazes drop to the ground in defeat.

“His leg’s stuck under the bus. Has been all night,” AJ muttered, “Because it’s bended underneath the bloody thing, they think it’s damaged pretty bad.”

“Oh God,” Howie groaned and Nick looked at him in bewilderment. Why did they talk with so much resignation? They hadn’t given up already, had they?

“There’s not enough time to get him out.” AJ concluded silently.

Nick stared at him for a few seconds, feeling the cold morning air suddenly dropping a few degrees around him.

“No!” he finally screamed.

Before he knew what he was doing, he was running, feet slipping and sliding on the frozen, muddy ground. His legs carried him without much of an effort, weeks of gym training paying off, as he thundered towards the helicopter. He didn’t know what he would see when he got there, and although the fear gripped him tighter with every bouncing step he made, he kept running.

“Sorry sir, you’re not supposed to be here,” someone said while he ran past him, his speed too great for the guy to be able to stop him. He didn’t slow down at the warning, didn’t even look back.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. Why did this always happen? Every time he’d just gotten his life back on the rails, something terrible happened. They had to get ready for the Christmas shows, they had a documentary coming out next month, for crying out loud. This was not a good time! Two days ago, he was happy, now, he was devastated.

He skidded to an abrupt halt at the sight of the hassle. People were yelling things at each other and although Nick didn’t really understand what they were saying, it sounded serious and urgent. He cautiously got closer, hoping nobody would notice him before he saw what he was looking for.

The wreckage was large, almost a quarter of the original bus, Nick figured. And although he had yet to see him, the thought of Brian lying underneath it made him sick to his stomach. He saw some people working on the metal construction, probably people from the fire department. Their faces were tense with concentration as they pushed against the wreckage with all their might.

“Not so rough, Joe!” Someone yelled angrily from the other side, “I can almost hear it crunching from here!”

Nick swallowed, his heart taking a leap into his throat. “Brian,” he gasped silently when he saw him, “Oh no…”

He noticed the pale blue skin first; it seemed so unnatural, so… well unhealthy. If only judged by the color, Nick would declare him dead. “No,” he moaned, a little louder. The guy called Joe looked up and frowned.

“What are you doing here? What is he doing here?” he demanded, looking at his partner.

The other guy shrugged, letting go of the metal as he walked towards Nick, “I’m really sorry son, you can’t be here right now.”

“Is he okay?” Nick asked instead, ignoring the man’s warning.

“We’re doing what we can.”

“That doesn’t answer anything!” Nick shot back, “Is he okay?”

The older man studied him for a second, then sighed, “It’s… more difficult than we initially thought.”

“What’s that mean?” AJ questioned behind him and Nick turned around. It seemed the dark haired singer had caught up with him.

“Listen, I really don’t have time for this right now.”
“Tough!” AJ barked, frowning. Nick noticed he was shaking, breathing hard. He wondered what impact this night would have on the older Backstreet Boy. He wondered what impact this night would have on he himself too. Probably nothing good.

The man sighed again and nodded, his shoulder slacking, “Okay,” he said, “There’s not enough time, that’s basically the problem. We can’t move the bus without risking more damage to the leg and we don’t have time to break the wreckage apart. It’s not looking good. He’s been under there for a long time.”

The feeling that had replaced the pain in his leg grew a bit stronger at that. A sinking, nameless feeling of fear, dark and cold and so much worse than anything he’d known. “S-so?” he asked, almost whispered. “What.. What are you gonna do?”

“Well, we can continue to try and move the construction, see if we can get it off and get him out, but his leg is stuck pretty bad, and we don’t have time, like I said.”

“What did he say?” Howie questioned, panting as he put a hand on Nick’s shoulder for support.

“There is another option, something that would go a bit faster,” the paramedic continued, looking hesitatingly from one Backstreet Boy to another, “We have to decide quickly though.”

“What?” AJ asked, “Be specific man!”

“There’s no way of knowing how much of the circulation is intact, given the amount of time he’s been stuck and the temperature… it can’t be much.”

“Hold on… you’re not…” Howie trailed, his eyes widening. “No! No way!”

“It might be our only option.”

“What?” Kevin asked, the last one to arrive. “What’s going on?”

“They wanna cut off his leg!”

Nick gasped, staring at the paramedic with round eyes, “You can’t do that!”

“Don’t you need consent for that?” AJ added.

“Look, we’re here to try and save his life. His heart rate’s very unstable and there are some severe arrhythmias. He’s hanging on, but he won’t be able to do that for long. He could lose more than his leg here, do you understand?”

“Doesn’t that take a lot of time too though, in the middle of a farm field?” Kevin asked uncertainly.

“We can do it pretty quick,” the man assured him, “It won’t be pretty, but once we’re at a hospital, they can clean him up in surgery.”

“Do it,” Kevin spoke, his voice steady and determined.

Nick watched him with open mouth. “Just do it.”
End Notes:
there wasnt much hope for a rosy, pretty, happy little outcome was there?
16. Policy by freedomwriter
Dr. Jonah Ferris looked around the Emergency Room wearily. He’d been working here for over forty years, and in just twelve hours, it would be over. Hospital policy. Darn, he hated that word.

“Last day, huh?” Martha Stenner smiled when she popped up next to him. He smiled back. Although she had been married for almost a year now, she still continued to flirt with him every day. She was also half his age.

“This might sound corny, but I’m really gonna miss it here,” Jonah sighed.

“You know, only doctors can say they’re gonna miss a place such as a hospital.”

“Head nurses can’t?”

“No, that sounds too corny,” she winked and he scoffed, rolling his eyes. He was already sure he would spend the rest of the day in a melodramatic kind of state, and it wasn’t even seven a.m. yet.

Oh well, not like there was much to do around here for someone who’d already had wrapped up most of his cases before retirement.

“How about one last trauma case though?” Martha smirked.

“Trauma? Are you serious?” Jonah asked, failing to keep the excitement out of his voice.

“Yeah. Don’t look like that, I was just as surprised as you, but I’m starting to think Henry personally flew it over here just for you.”

Jonah nodded, that did sound like something the paramedic would do. “Mercy’s got a bigger trauma department, though.”

“Too bad, we’re specialized in trauma too, you know.”

“Often doesn’t seem like it.”

Martha shrugged. They both knew it was true. North Mercy Hospital was considerably new and updated when it came to trauma cases, leaving the smaller hospitals in the city to pick up the bloody fingers and snotty noses. It had been that way for over two years. The trauma cases only came their way when Mercy was full, which almost never happened.

“Might have something to do with the fact that the guy’s pretty high profile too. You know, that way it will take the press and stuff a while to figure out where he’s located, cause they’ll all be running to Mercy first,” she explained as she handed him the chart.

Jonah scanned through it quickly, raising his eyebrows as he whistled softly, “Six hours?”

“Apparently.”

“When will they get here?” he asked, a little bit of the old excitement that came with severe trauma cases returning.

“Any moment, they had some delay, but I guess we really should get up on the roof.” Martha turned and walked through the doors. Jonah followed her after a second.

For some reason he couldn’t explain, he felt like a young ER doctor again. Hypothermia cases weren’t rare in winter, but six hours… that could proof interesting.

Up on the roof, it was cold. The wind blew every which way when the helicopter was trying to land. Jonah ducked and ran, like he had done a thousand times before, but this time, he knew would be his last.

Henry Dulas was the first to climb out, quickly rattling off the report, “Forty year old male, severe hypothermia. Was trapped under the wreckage of a bus crash for over six hours.” He grabbed the stretcher, skillfully taking it out of the helicopter.

“Temperature is at 78, heart rate’s 31, pulse is weak and unsteady. BP is fifty over forty.”

“Get him inside.”

Henry nodded and waved at the other two paramedics to start moving, “He coded once on the way over here. We had to intubate him after that.”

“Did you shock him?”

“Yeah.”

“How many times?”

“Three, Jonah, I’m not an idiot. I know the procedure. We were lucky he came back,” Henry answered as he ran alongside the gurney. “They tell you about the emergency amputation?”

“Yeah, Henry, it’s on the chart,” Jonah sighed as they got into the elevator.

“Damn, they make those charts quick these days. That’s fantastic.”

“Oh yeah.”

“Gotta tell you, it’s been a while since I had to do one. And in a farm field? Man, you don’t see that anymore these days.”

“You’re getting old Henry,” Jonah smiled as the elevator arrived on the ground floor, they hurried out, rushing through the hallways. The new lady at the front desk, whose name Jonah couldn’t seem to remember, pointed to the first trauma room.

“Last time I checked, Jo, you’re the one getting retired.”

Jonah ignored his comment, instead clearing his throat as he raised his voice, “Alright people, on three.” He counted as they transported the in blankets wrapped man from the stretcher to the table. “Let’s see what we got here.”

Although they hadn’t had a real trauma patient in quite a while, everyone in the room seemed to know exactly what they were doing. Jonah appreciated that, more than anything, about the hospital. There were no clueless interns wandering around with wide eyes, no burnt out nurses, everyone was right where they should be, always.

“Damn, he’s blue,” Maria McNally stated as she walked in and Jonah rolled his eyes.

“Great observation, doctor,” he said dryly before turning around, “Martha? I need some heated IVs right away. We gotta get this guy warmed up, it’s our first priority.”

Martha nodded as she put two bags in the microwave, “Just thirty seconds.”

“Pupils are dilated,” McNally stated as she shone a penlight into the man’s eyes.

Jonah nodded, looking sternly around the table as the others worked, “We have to keep his heart beating, Mr. Dulas over here already shocked him to the max, and we can’t do it again, that’s policy with hypothermia cases.”

A few heads looked up, annoyed. They didn’t have to be told about policy, Jonah knew that, but it was also policy that he told them about policy.

He hated policy with a passion sometimes.

“I’ll call ortho about that leg,” McNally opted and whirled around.

“He’ll be lucky if he gets to keep his other leg,” Henry muttered with a grim expression. “His friends almost didn’t let me go through with it.”

“That’s people,” Jonah answered absently, “You did pretty well, though. Looks neat for a… you know, field amputation.” He commented as he examined the wound.

Usually, when amputations needed to be done quickly on the scene, it looked nasty, like someone had just ripped the limb off. Instead, this looked fairly clean, in comparison to things Jonah had seen in the past.

Henry nodded, a hint of pride in his smile, “Yeah. The cold worked too though. Guess there’s something good about it.”

Jonah scoffed, “Lose any blood?”

“Not more than a unit.”

“Impressive,” he mumbled, looking up, “What’s his temperature?”

“Stuck at 80,” Martha said with a glint of worry in her eyes, “He’s not warming up fast enough and his oxygen levels are dropping fast.”

“Damnit,” Jonah muttered, “That’s little more than room temperature.”

“He’s crashing!”

He let out a frustrated sigh. This was his last trauma case, it would really be a bummer if it went this way.

“Well, what are you waiting for?” he questioned, “Start CPR.”

The activity in the room heightened, urgent commands flew across the table, as it was lowered and McNally started compressions. “He’s got a history of heart problems,” Martha informed.

“At forty?” McNally questioned.

“He’s 39,” Martha interjected, which caused most eyes in the room to stare at her for a second. “What? It was only a VSD.”

“I’m not gonna ask how you know that,” Jonah stated, “Can I get one shot of bretylium here please? Hurry up!”

“Did you actually read the chart?” Martha asked as she handed him the injection.

“Yeah, it said he was forty, which apparently, is wrong,” Jonah muttered as he plunged the needle into his patient’s skin. “Be careful with those burns, Maria!” he instructed the other doctor as she continued to press her hands into the man’s chest. Looking up at the monitors, he cursed inwardly, “Any change?”

“No sir,” a younger nurse replied as she another heated IV to the pole.

“It’s a Backstreet Boy,” Martha muttered meanwhile, “that’s how I know.”

“What? You’re a fan of those kids?” Jonah asked as he took another amp of bretylium.

“No! No, of course not!” Martha countered, “I was… way back... It’s just. It was my generation, you know? It’s a phase, I guess. You either get infected by it, or you don’t.”

“Yet you know this kid’s exact age.” Jonah shrugged.

“I would hardly call those guys ‘kids’ anymore, at their forties.”

“My kid is forty,” Jonah stated dryly. “How long have we been at it?”

“Seven minutes, doctor,” McNally answered, her furious actions on the singers chest not lessening for a second. “He’s still in v-fib. We’re losing him.”

“No we’re not!” Jonah replied sternly, “I need another amp.”

“Ferris…” McNally warned.

Jonah didn’t listen as he administered the third dose.

He turned his tense expression to the monitors, frowning when he didn’t see a change. “Damnit, get the crash cart.”

“W-we can’t, it’s…”

“We might be able to save this kid!”

“That’s highly debatable, Ferris!” McNally countered, “And I do not want the board on my ass, just cause you don’t want to have a disappointing final case!”

“I’m responsible, Maria. It’s my ass. Martha, get the crash cart.”

Martha hesitatingly looked from one doctor to the other, and then grunted in frustration, “Why do I always get caught in the middle of you two?” she muttered when she left the room.

“Damnit Jonah, you never knew how to follow policy, did you?” McNally growled. “Oh well, why should you care, right? You’ll be gone by tomorrow. It’s not like they can fire you.”

Jonah narrowed his eyes, but didn’t take the bait. Instead he took the paddles from Martha. “Charge to 200... Clear!” he ordered, ignoring McNally’s heated stare. Without a further thought, he pressed the electrodes to the singer’s chest, sending his body into the air.
End Notes:
I'm mean like that

also, doctor Ferris to the possible rescue!
17. Contact by freedomwriter
Howie Dorough lay on the gurney with his arms crossed over his chest. He was pissed. He would be fine; he did not need to lie down on a freaking stretcher to be brought to the hospital.

To hell with ambulance policies.

Beside him, Nick Carter was incessantly tapping his foot on the vehicles floor. There was an absent expression on his face and his skin was pale. The paramedic sitting next to him gave him an annoyed look, clearly telling him to stop moving. Howie sighed, they had only been in the ambulance for fifteen minutes and Nick couldn’t sit still.

“Shouldn’t the sirens be on?” Nick asked for the second time.

“This isn’t an emergency,” the woman next to him explained again.

“But you’ve been in an accident for Christ’s sake!” Nick exclaimed as he jumped up, looking at Howie, ignoring the paramedic’s statement, “You deserve sirens!”

Howie shook his head, “You just wanna make a grand entrance, don’t you?”

“You could be bleeding to death!” Nick persisted, turning to the young paramedic, “He could be bleeding to death!”

“I highly doubt that,” Howie muttered, unconsciously pressing a hand to his wounded side nevertheless.

“Fine.” Nick sat back down, shaking his head and watched the ground, his face sullen, “I’m sorry. I’m just… worried, I guess.”

“That’s perfectly understandable, you don’t need to apologize for that,” the woman’s face softened.

“It’s gonna be okay,” Howie said softly.

“No, it’s not,” Nick rolled his eyes, “They cut off his freakin’ leg! I saw them doing it! How can it be okay?”

Howie turned his eyes to the ambulance’s ceiling. “I don’t know,” he mumbled. The world was cruel like that.

He’d never been willing to be a witness to such a horrible operation, but at the same time, he hadn’t been able to keep his eyes off of it. He was quite sure that he would never forget the images of Henry carving into Brian’s discolored skin, just above the knee, in precise, but fast slices with a knife that would haunt him forever. It made him feel sick thinking about it.

Henry had assured them that it had been the school example of a perfect emergency amputation, but that didn’t make the fact that Brian’s leg was gone any less horrible.

“Still can’t believe Kevin told them to do it,” Nick said sourly, a flash of anger burning in his eyes.

“He would have died,” Howie replied softly.

“You don’t know that!” Nick shot back, massaging his leg with a grimace on his face.

“Nick, come on… you know it.”

“Whatever,” Nick mumbled, and Howie could swear the younger singer paled even further, “Can we hurry the hell up? It’s getting cold here.”

“It’s not cold…” Howie trailed, watching his friend with concerned eyes, “Are you feeling okay?”

“F-fine… just p-perfect,” Nick stammered and Howie felt his heart speed up with worry.

“Nick? What’s wrong?” he asked, shooting upright on the stretcher. The paramedic, whose name Howie couldn’t remember, already started hovering over the younger Backstreet Boy.

“I’m fine! J-just… cold,” Nick declared stubbornly, his hand tightening around his leg as a painful expression crossed over his face.

Howie was not convinced.

Then the strangest thing happened. Nick stiffened as a tremor coursed through his body, he grabbed at his chest as he yelled something. Then he keeled over, completely motionless.

“What the hell is happening?” Howie screamed in a high voice, panic immediately taking over at the sight of Nick’s suddenly limp form. The paramedic –Helen, that was her name- felt for a pulse and nodded in relief.

“I’m not sure, it looked most like some sort of episode,” she said, her voice annoyingly calm, “Did he ever have one before?”

“No!” Howie rushed, but then he gasped. He’d almost forgotten how he and Kevin had encountered Nick, lying limply over the steering wheel of the rental car. “I-I.. I don’t think so,” he stammered. For some reason, he couldn’t get his mind off of what Nick had yelled right before he’d toppled over.

Brian, no!

As if waking up from a bad nightmare, Nick suddenly gasped as his eyes flew open, darting wildly around the cabin of the ambulance. He cautiously sat upright again, leaning against the vehicle’s wall. “We there yet?” He rasped.

Howie stared at him, his eyes round in shock, not moving a muscle. He opened his mouth, closed it again and looked at Helen, who seemed just as bewildered.

“What?” Nick asked tiredly.

“Y-… You just passed out, like… thirty seconds ago!” Howie exclaimed, panting from the adrenaline that still coursed through him. “What the hell happened?”

Nick looked at the ground, clearly trying to think of an excuse, then sighed, “I don’t know. I felt cold, my leg hurt and then my chest exploded. What do you want from me?” He asked, stretching his painful leg.

Howie gave him an incredulous look. Nick hadn’t been in the accident. Nick had been at a gas-station, then at a hotel, and eventually ended up in a rental car with Howie and Kevin. He hadn’t been through fire and flames; hadn’t been tossed about in a crashing tour bus; hadn’t spent the majority of the night in a freezing farm field. Yet he had all but passed out right before Howie’s eyes.

There was definitely something incredibly strange in that.

“This isn’t the first time that happened, is it?” Howie demanded, looking straight into his friend’s eyes.

Nick tried to look away, but gave in after just two seconds, “No…” he muttered, “Never felt like this though.”

“What’s happening to you?” Howie asked softly.

Nick shook his head and bit his lip, “I don’t know,” he said, his voice breaking slightly, “It scares the hell out of me.”

“You and me both, how are you feeling?” Howie questioned sternly.

“I’m fine now… really,” he assured as Helen tried to shine a penlight into his eyes.

“He’s right,” Helen mumbled, “There’s no indication something was wrong in the first place. It’s like it never even happened.”

“See?” Nick gave a wavering smile. The ambulance suddenly stopped and Helen stood up, opening the double doors. She pulled at Howie’s stretcher, but he stopped her.

“I can walk,” he said, a little more harshly than he intended. He carefully swung his legs over the edge of the stretcher, experimentally putting his weight on his legs. He swayed for a second before grabbing Nick’s shoulder.

“Yeah, like hell you can,” Nick grumbled, “Get on that thing, you idiot.”

“I’ll be fine,” Howie snapped.

“Yeah, we’re all fine, it’s just one big night of rainbows and unicorns, isn’t it?” Nick hissed, carefully pushing him back on the gurney.

Howie narrowed his eyes, but didn’t protest anymore. He felt the humiliation coloring his face red as they rolled him into the ER. He squeezed his eyes shut, groaning ‘Oh God,’ under his breath as Helen started recalling his vitals.

“Male, 41 years old, involved in a bus accident.”

Howie shook his head slightly as they rushed him through the halls with what he considered a lot of drama.

“Temperature is at 96, Heart rate’s 97. Pulse is strong and steady. BP is a hundred over ninety. Mildly hypothermic. Signs of dehydration and exhaustion. Possible mild concussion. Superficial stabbing wound on the side.”

“Wow, you get quite the list,” Nick whispered as he kept a steady pace beside him. There was no trace of the previous pain in his leg. Like it never had existed.

Howie snorted, “Now this…” he shook his head, “… is so unnecessary.”

“He with the others?” A tall woman with a white coat asked, walking up to them, before grabbing the stretcher and joining the team.

“Are they here already?” Helen asked, turning to look behind her, “Damn, Damien, you drive too slow,” she informed the ambulance driver, who just shrugged.

“Get him to exam room three,” the woman in the lab coat commanded, “Hi, I’m doctor Maria McNally,” she introduced, “Don’t worry, we’ll take good care of you.”

She gave him a warm smile and he smiled back, awkwardly. Then she turned to Nick, “I’m sorry. I’m gonna have to ask you to wait outside while we examine him.”

Nick stared at her for a second before he scoffed, “That sounds dirty.”

“Let him stay,” Howie said, mainly because he didn’t want to lose his friend out of his sight after what happened on the way over. And maybe partly because he didn’t want to be alone.

“Great,” doctor McNally muttered, “Fine, but make sure you don’t get in the way.”

“Are the others okay?” Howie asked.

“Should be,” McNally mumbled, diving an IV needle in his arm, “I think one of them has already been released. He’s in the waiting room.”

“AJ?”

“I don’t know, he has a pretty thick beard and a lot of tattoos.”

“AJ.” Howie and Nick said in unison.

“If you sit still, maybe you can join him in half an hour.”

“What about Brian?” Nick quipped.

“Brian?”

“Yeah, he… they amputated his leg out in the field?”

The doctor’s face tensed, her movements slowing. She pressed a sterile bandage against Howie’s side tightly and he winced. “Ah yes, the amputation,” she mumbled, “I can’t tell you too much about it, they’re still working on him.”

“But…” Howie trailed, frowning, “But… he’ll be okay… right?” At the time, he’d found Nick’s sudden return one big cosmic joke. Maybe the whole night had just been a cosmic joke. Parts of it seemed so surreal, he was sure he’d seen them in a movie, instead of experiencing them first hand. They were the Backstreet Boys, for God’s sake. Together for almost 22 years.

Years of highs and lows, that was true, but they’d always been able to figure out how to deal with things.

The death of a member.

Howie wasn’t sure he could deal with that.

“I’m not his doctor,” McNally sighed, “I can only tell you they’re trying to stabilize him enough for surgery, but it doesn’t look good His heart stopped in the ER. But you’re not family.”

“We’re practically family!” Nick protested from the other side of the room, leaning against the sink. “Kevin is family.”

“Yeah… Martha mentioned you guys were in a… band?”

“Yeah,” Howie said, leaning his head back. He suddenly felt exhausted. From the corner of his eye, he saw Nick nod vigorously.

The doctor shook her head, smiling slightly. “Alright. Who cares about policy anymore these days, right?” she stood up, “You’re all patched up for now; I’ll go see if I can get any update on your friend, I’ll be right back.”

“Thank you,” Howie mumbled, watching her leave the room with a frown on his face.

“Well, she definitely knows more than she wants to admit. God. That means it’s really bad, doesn’t it?” Nick groaned behind him.

Howie grunted noncommittally. He was lost in thought for a long moment before he turned his head, “Nick?”

“What?”

“When you… you know… when you passed out, back in the ambulance?”

Nick rolled his eyes, “What about it, Howie?” He asked, annoyed.

“Why did you call out Brian’s name?”

Nick shot him a confused look, “I-I didn’t. Did I?”

Howie nodded, “Yeah, it was really weird.”

“I don’t… I don’t know. I don’t remember.”

“Think about it though… The pain in your leg, the cold. Doesn’t that sound awfully familiar?” Howie questioned, feeling his heartbeat quicken. He was on to something, he could feel it.

“I can’t follow you,” Nick stated.

“Think, Nick!” Howie urged, sitting up straight, waving his arms about in an excited manner, “They amputated his leg… his temperature was about 78… I mean… his heart stopped, for crying out loud! I bet it must have been right around the time you passed out!”

“Yeah, okay!” Nick exclaimed, pushing himself away from the counter as he started to pace around the room, “I mean… I’ll admit that it’s hella weird! But there should be a logical explanation for this! Something that actually… you know… makes sense!”

He stared at Howie with wide eyes that were begging him for an explanation that actually made sense, but Howie shook his head. “I don’t know how to explain it Nick. It’s not like I’ve ever heard of it before. But there’s a connection. You know it too.”
18. Wait by freedomwriter
In the end, it didn’t matter.

AJ dully stared at his hands, sighing in resignation.

He’d thought that it would be better once he was relieved of his burden. He’d thought it would feel better, knowing his friend’s fate wasn’t entirely in his hands anymore.

Honestly, this felt so much worse.

He’d taken the ride to the hospital with Kevin. They hadn’t spoken the entire trip. AJ resented the fact that the oldest of their group had consented to amputation in a heartbeat. Had all his efforts in that Godforsaken field been for nothing then? He’d found a rock, damnit! He would’ve gotten Brian free, if only…

He shook his head, glancing at the blinded trauma room.

He wasn’t able to see what they were doing in there, but that didn’t keep him from staring like a hawk.

He only looked up slightly when Nick collapsed in the seat next to him. He sighed dramatically and planted his long legs on the seat opposite from him, “I think Howie is going crazy.”

AJ only nodded as he kept his eyes on the closed doors.

He didn’t feel like having a conversation at the particular moment. He’d seen Nick and Howie come in fifteen minutes before, but hadn’t paid them much attention. After entering the hospital, he and Kevin had immediately parted. Kevin was in his own, private room with people fussing over the burn on his shoulder, while AJ was send to the waiting room after just ten minutes.

“They tell you anything? At all?” Nick asked quietly.
AJ shook his head slightly, feeling tears closing up his throat. Had he not cried enough for one night? He remembered how he’d felt back in the farm field, only about an hour ago, when all seemed to come to a crashing halt. But at least then, he’d known what was happening. Now, he had no idea.

“He’ll be okay,” Nick muttered, his voice thick. It was like he not only tried to convince AJ, but himself as well.

AJ scoffed incredulously, “How could you possibly know that? You weren’t even there. You have no idea what it was like.” His voice sounded calm.

Emotionless.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t there, okay?” Nick said softly.
The older man just shrugged, continuing to stare. Nick leaned his head back against the wall, sighing deeply again. “This is gonna take forever, isn’t it?”

AJ didn’t answer. Instead, he squeezed his eyes shut and took a shuddering breath, “I wasn’t supposed to let him fall asleep.”

“What?”

“It’s what Howie said,” AJ continued, his voice flooding with emotion, “He was too cold, he wasn’t supposed to fall asleep.”

“AJ…”

“I failed, Nick,” AJ said, feeling like he couldn’t stop, even if he wanted too, “I let him slip away. I couldn’t keep him awake.”

“I’m sure you did everything you could,” Nick mumbled quietly, nodding to himself.

“You don’t know that!” AJ stated, a bit louder than he intended, “You weren’t there Nick! I should have tried harder! I should have done something… anything…”

“Don’t talk like that.”

“Like what?”

“Like he’s dead. He’s not dead,” Nick said, clenching his jaw. “He’s not dead.”

“You’re right,” AJ whispered, “But I would never forgive myself if… you know…”

“Shut up,” The youngest answered, “We should be calling people. Let them know what’s happening. Lauren has been clogging my voicemail with messages.” He retrieved his cell phone from his pocket, skimming through his message box. “You know, when I didn’t know where you guys were, I kinda called everybody to ask if they knew. They must be worried out of their shit by now.”

“You only thinking of that now?” AJ questioned.

“Well, yeah. I was kinda busy finding you guys before,” Nick muttered, suddenly sucking in a breath through clenched teeth, “Oh God. Jen has been calling like crazy. She seems sorta pissed that we didn’t show up at the appointment.”

“Too bad for her.”

“I’ll call Lauren. I’ll be right back, okay?”

“You should call Leighanne first,” AJ stated sulkily.

“You kidding me?” Nick protested, “I ain’t calling Leighanne!”

“She should know.”

“Yeah? And what do I tell her? I don’t even know! Nobody knows a damn thing, because nobody is telling us a damn thing! Kevin should call her! He’s the one that let them cut it off in the first place!”

AJ rubbed his temples wearily, trying to ease the pain in his pounding head. “Fine,” he muttered, “Be that way. Call your wife. Don’t worry about the rest.”

Nick stared at him for a couple of seconds, and then stood up without a word. AJ watched him leave, his mouth twisting in anger.

Selfish jerk.

Just when he’d let himself sink back into his sullen reverie, the doors suddenly smashed open, a flood of activity rushing the hallway. AJ jumped up with wide eyes, trying to take in all that was flooding past him in a matter of seconds. They were fast; he had to give them that. White coats swarming around a stretcher in the middle. AJ had little chance of catching an actual glimpse of the man on it, but he heard the urgent yelling and saw the grim faces as they ran past. He couldn’t pretend he hadn’t seen the guy sitting on top on his knees, who was constantly pressing his palms into Brian’s chest, his face a mask of pure concentration.

AJ stared into the hallway, not moving. He couldn’t hear anything besides his own pounding heartbeat, his own shallow, panicked breathing. He stiffened considerably when he felt a hand on his shoulder.

“Are you alright?” A man, unmistakably a doctor, asked.

AJ shook his head slightly, not trusting his voice enough to speak.

“Come, sit down, you seem exhausted, boy,” the man said, guiding him back into his former seat.

“I’m not having a very good day,” AJ mumbled, almost smiling maniacally at the understatement.

The man nodded. He seemed to be somewhere in his sixties, with a friendly, but serious face. “Were you in that bus accident?”

AJ shrugged, “You Brian’s doctor?”

“For the next ten hours, yes I am,” the man spoke softly, “Doctor Jonah Ferris.”

He stuck out his hand and AJ studied him for a moment, before asking, “Is he gonna die?”

Ferris looked back at him, thoughtfully, “You are not his immediate family, are you?”

AJ scoffed and narrowed his eyes, trying to keep his voice steady, “Not officially, no. But practically, he’s my brother. I was… I was in the field… with him.”

A few feet away, Nick shot him a look, almost dropping his phone when he saw AJ talking to a doctor. AJ ignored him. “Just tell me what’s gonna happen, please?”

Doctor Ferris nodded, sighing as he took the seat next to AJ, “It’s not good news.”

AJ bit his lip. He’d known he was a fool for hoping that lying under a broken bus in the snow for six hours wouldn’t cause any serious damage. He’d wanted to believe it though, cause the alternative seemed… hopeless. He kept on ignoring Nick as the younger singer quietly shuffled in and sank into an unclaimed plastic chair. Ferris raised his eyebrows, questioningly looking at AJ, who rolled his eyes.

“He’s with me,” he nodded reluctantly.

The doctor looked at the younger man for a moment before nodding, “Okay. You have to understand that when your friend arrived at the hospital, his temperature was very low.”

AJ nodded wordlessly. No surprises there. He’d sat behind Brian for two hours, noticing the older man get colder and colder by the second. Hearing the doctor confirm it seemed nothing more than a formality.

“When we tried to re-warm him in the ER, his heart stopped,” the doctor continued softly, sighing when he saw the alarm on AJ’s face, “when your core temperature drops below a certain point, it’s not uncommon for cardiac arrest to occur. We were able to bring him back after ten minutes, but he coded again five minutes ago.”

AJ gradually found the air around him getting thinner and thinner. He heard the blood rushing through his ears as he squeezed his eyes shut. A few moments later, he heard Nick clear his throat. “W-What does that mean? What are you gonna do now? Why aren’t you working on him?”

Ferris’ face softened, ‘We are going to try to warm him up by putting him on a bypass. It will regulate circulation, warming his blood. Basically, it takes over heart and lung functions.”

AJ barely heard it. He wanted to scream and run, but at the same time, he felt an incredible sense of exhaustion weighing down on him like a… like a freakin’ piece of bus’ debris. Next to him, Nick sighed, relaxing just a tiny bit, “Well, then… he’ll just have to warm up again, right? Can’t be that hard…”

“I’m afraid there’s a bit more to it than just that, son,” Ferris said quietly, “Severe hypothermia usually comes with a range of complications. He’s already showing signs of liver and heart failure and there’s a considerable amount of fluid in his lungs. Even if he makes it through the next few hours, it’s not likely that he will make a full recovery. There is a chance, but it’s not usual.”

“No…” Nick scoffed incredulously, “You’re wrong. He’ll be fine. He will.”

“I’m very sorry.”

“C-can… can we… God… can we see him?” AJ stammered, his voice breaking.

“In a little while, yes. I’m sorry, I have to go to him now.”

AJ nodded stupidly, numbly watching the doctor leave.

Maybe, if Nick had decided to leave the hotel that night half an hour earlier, the paramedics would have been on time. Maybe, if AJ had found a bigger rock, Brian could have been freed and warmed by the fire. Maybe, if Howie and Kevin hadn’t left, they could have helped him keeping Brian awake.

And maybe, in the end, it would have mattered.
End Notes:
reviews on this chapter will be greatly appreciated
19. GoodBye by freedomwriter
“Will he… Will he be able to hear me?” Kevin mumbled, not able to swallow the gigantic lump in his throat. It had been two hours. Two slow, torturous hours. He’d tried to sleep, and when that didn’t work, he’d tried to read a magazine. He’d even tried to solve the crossword puzzle in there, but nothing really worked. There was no possible way to keep his mind from wandering off to ponder over all that had happened.

“Probably not, dear, but don’t be afraid to talk to him, he might sense you’re there,” the nurse replied.

Kevin nodded, biting his bottom lip so hard he could taste blood. He stared through the glass, not really able to see much besides the gigantic pile of blankets and what seemed like thousands of tubes and wires. It was hard to believe there was actually a human being underneath all.

For some reason, he was the only one allowed into the room, possibly because he was Brian’s only real relative present at the time. AJ had shot him a murderous look when Dr. Ferris had announced he could go to see his cousin. Just another thing the others would soon hate him for.

They probably felt like they did not get a fair chance to say goodbye.

Kevin gasped when the word came to mind. It was almost impossible to think about it. He felt the stone in his stomach dropping another few inches. He felt sick.

Martha’s encouraging smile lead him forward automatically. He stepped into the room, immediately feeling the warmth enveloping him like a blanket. It was like stepping out of your car on a sunny day, after you spent a few hours on the road with air conditioning. Like a wall of heat suddenly slammed into your face. He felt oddly reluctant to take another step. While they had been waiting earlier, he would have given everything to be able to see his cousin. But this… this reminded him of another time of hospitals and dying relatives a little too much.

“Oh God,” he moaned softly. Come on, his mind screamed, don’t be a baby now. Taking a deep breath to steel himself, he quickly got closer, staring down as he held his breath. Then he frowned in confusion.

It was incredibly difficult to actually be able to find a person on the bed through all the blankets and machinery. Kevin felt his stomach doing somersaults when he could finally make out half of his cousin’s face beneath what looked like six feet of blankets. He stared, temporarily forgetting how to breathe. Although the bluish hue had disappeared somewhat, Brian’s face was practically the same color as the snow-white sheets surrounding him. There was no movement, at all. It was so uncharacteristic; Kevin actually gave a short, incredulous laugh. Years of watching his younger cousin bounce and jump and dance onstage, as well as offstage flashed through his mind and his face scrunched up in grief as he slowly lowered himself into a chair. He knew that even if Brian made it through, the bouncing, jumping and dancing would all but disappear. He also knew that he would partially, and maybe unfairly, be blamed for that. But God, he would take that blame gladly.

He’d told himself not to get too much hope, but couldn’t really help it in the end. He knew that the outcome would probably be terrible. He knew Brian was barely alive, no scratch that, he wasn’t even alive. He wasn’t breathing; he didn’t even have a heartbeat. The only thing that could distantly describe him as being alive were the mechanical hisses and beeps, regulating his life outside his own body.

It seemed inhuman.

He carefully laid his hand on top of Brian’s head, running his thumb across his brow. It was the only kind of physical contact he could offer, and for now, it would have to do.

He didn’t talk for a while. He just sat there and watched, trying to remind himself that he was there to say goodbye, but not able to get a word past the lump in his throat. He didn’t want to say goodbye to dying friends. He didn’t want to see how the last bits of life slowly faded away. He didn’t want to say goodbye, so he tried to think of something else to say.

“So, I called your wife,” he said after half an hour.

His voice sounded foreign, way too steady in comparison to how he felt. “She sounded pretty upset, but she should be here in about two hours. Don’t you try and do anything funny until then, alright? She’ll have our heads.”

He smiled sadly. Why was he even doing this? Brian couldn’t hear him. He wouldn’t understand what he was saying. Still, it felt right to talk to him, even if it felt like he was talking to a tree. “Oh and get this, Nick’s actually alive and well. Yeah. We ran into him while we were following the road. Most amazing thing. Turns out the moron wasn’t even on the bust in the first place. It’s… it’s kind of a long story. I bet you’ll enjoy it when you wake up.”

He sighed, looking aimlessly around the room, the one-way conversation playing on his nerves. “They covered you up pretty good, didn’t they?” he commented with a sorrowful smile, “Gonna get you warm again in no time, you’ll see. Just… keep fighting.”

Kevin nodded firmly, “You know, the doctor said that if they can get you off life-support and stable enough, they might start surgery on your legs. You’ll go back to jumping off the stage to break them again before you know it.”

He flinched at the obvious lie. There was probably no harm in not telling Brian about the amputation at this point, but it felt so wrong to promise things that couldn’t be. It wasn’t entirely a lie though. Ferris had said that if Brian could get through the process of rewarming and if they could start his heart and stabilize it enough, he could be taken of the bypass.

Those were big ifs, though. His heart was incredibly weak and there were signs of other organs that started to fail as well. But despite all that, Kevin tried to hold on to the last straw of hope he had left.

Brian had slipped through the cracks of nature’s rules once before, he may just as well do it again.

“I know what you would say,” Kevin muttered with a small smile, “’Don’t worry, Kev. You worry too much.’ You’d promise me you got this, and I would pretend I didn’t believe you. But… you’ve gotten so far, Bri. It’s so pointless to let one stupid tour bus get in the way of everything. And yeah, I know it’s my fault. I’m the one that made us ride that stupid bus together after all. And you will have all the time in the world to hate me for that if you just… don’t let it end like this, Brian. Don’t.”

Kevin didn’t say goodbye. Period.
20. Wishful Thinking by freedomwriter
Author's Notes:
but yes I did
“Damn, that is a mess,” Phil Michaels commented as he squinted at the light board.

Jonah Ferris nodded, chewing his bottom lip thoughtfully. “You think you can fix it?”

Phil took a deep breath and raised his eyebrows, “Not sure. Look at this,” he said pointing at the x-ray with a frown, “Bone’s shattered all over the place. You can see at least four complex fractures. He’s gonna be in pain for the rest of his life.”

“Come on Phil, kid already lost one leg,” Jonah muttered, removing the picture from the screen.

“The hell did he do? Jump off a building or something?”

“Nope,” Jonah answered, “Six hundred pounds of metal will do that to your legs.”

“Wait a minute; is this the hypothermia case they’re all talking about?” Phil watched him with a frown.

Jonah scoffed, since it was the first trauma case in three weeks, everyone seemed to be interested. That and the fact that it was a Backstreet Boy caught people’s attention. “How’s he doing?”

“He’s on CPB,” Jonah answered, placing another picture on the screen, “How about this one?”

“Hold on, are we discussing orthopedics on a CPB patient? Are you insane?”

“Yes we are, and yes, maybe I am. Also, I am incredibly bored. I only have one patient,” Jonah said, rolling his eyes.

“Oh yeah, I forgot! This is your last shift, isn’t it?”
Phil asked, not waiting for an answer, “You do realize the survival rate of hypothermia cases requiring bypass, right? I thought you’ve been a doctor long enough.”

“The kid’s holding himself pretty well. It’s impressive. So just humor me, okay?” the older doctor pointed at the screen impatiently.

“Alright,” Phil sighed, studying the picture for a minute. “This the amputation?”

“Yeah,” Jonah answered, “I thought you’ve been in orthopedics long enough to be able to see that.”

“You’re funny,” Phil commented annoyed, “Looks very neat, shouldn’t be hard to clean up. You know; if he actually will be stable enough for surgery.”

“I’ve got a good feeling about this,” Jonah nodded.

“You just want your last case to have a positive outcome. It doesn’t work like that, Jo.”

“Always the pessimist.”

“Or realist.”

“Excuse me? Doctor Ferris?” Jonah turned around to see Martha Stenner in the doorway.

He raised his eyebrows questioningly, “Yes?”

“Brian… I mean, the hypothermia patient, he’s reached the temperature that we were aiming for…”

“Really?” Jonah commented, smirking meaningfully at the orthopedist next to him, “Already?”

Martha nodded, looking from Phil back to Jonah uneasily. “Yeah, he’s… they’re gonna get him off the bypass. It’s the moment of truth, so to speak.”

Jonah kept grinning as he followed the nurse out of the x-ray room, turning at the doorway to meet Phil’s gaze, “Like I said… Always the pessimist.”

The smile lingered all the way down to the ICU. The room was flooded with hospital staff. Jonah could distinctively hear the whining, continuous sound of a heart monitor and frowned. Maybe it had been wishful thinking to hope for another sound than a flat line after all. “How’s it going?”

“Not good,” Maria McNally answered, irritated, “How’s it look like it’s going? We can’t get a pulse.”

“How long has he been off the machine?” Jonah asked, stepping closer in order to help.

“Almost five minutes. He’s pushing it,” McNally mumbled. Henry was rapidly giving chest compression, his face reddened in concentration.
“Did you give him adrenaline?” Jonah questioned, a sinking feeling of hopelessness in his stomach.

“Two amps, no change,” McNally sighed.

“What about epinephrine?”

“This isn’t my first day, Ferris. I know what I’m doing,” the younger doctor answered.

Jonah sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose to be able to think clearly, “Did you shock him?”

McNally rolled her eyes, “Yes, twice.”

“Do it again, charge to one-fifty.” Dr. Ferris said sternly.

Henry looked up and nodded, taking the paddles from Martha’s waiting hands and pressing them to the singer’s chest. “One-fifty. Clear.”

Jonah held his breath as he saw the patient’s body jump slightly. He immediately turned his attention to the monitors, studying them intently. From the corner of his eye, he saw McNally shaking her head, as she was also watching the screen. There was a single beep, then the whining alarm continued.

“Damnit, do it again. At two hundred this time.”

He sensed the hesitation in Henry’s gaze as the paramedic threw McNally a look before complying.

“Charging two hundred. Clear.”

The singer’s body jumped again, a bit higher this time and Jonah waited, his own heart beating fast. He wasn’t sure if it was the fact that this would be his last case, or something else entirely, but he found it incredibly hard to let go. Maybe because letting go would mean that he would let go of the entire world of medicine.

He wasn’t ready for that, no matter what hospital policy said.

His shoulders slumped when there was no change on the monitors. He felt McNally watching him intently and swallowed as he cleared his throat, “Alright, let’s give him another dose of epi.”

“We could be doing this for hours and it wouldn’t change anything, Ferris, you know it! What is it with you today?” McNally snorted.

He ignored her, taking the amp from Martha before he inserted the needle in the singer’s upper arm. “Damnit kid, come on…” he grumbled, more to himself than to anyone else, “Don’t do this now, come on.”

“You should call it, Jonah,” Henry said softly.

“Not yet, charge to two-fifty, Henry.”

“Jonah…”

“I said, not yet! Two-fifty!”

Henry shook his head, but did what he was told, “Charging to two-fifty,” he said in a monotonous voice, “Clear.”

The man’s body jerked up from the mattress, only to fall back a split-second later. A beep. Then a flat line. “Damnit.”

“It’s over. Call it, Ferris. Now.”

Jonah sighed, letting his head hang in defeat. He stayed silent for a moment, listening to the unstoppable high whine of the monitor. Then he nodded.

“Fine. That’s it,” he mumbled, watching the clock, “Time of death, 10.25 am.”
End Notes:
ohnoes
21. Breaking Point by freedomwriter
It was cold.

Which wasn’t remarkable, or new in any way, because it had been cold forever. But it was the only thing he noticed at the time. It was the only thing he ever noticed, it seemed. He couldn’t remember a time when it hadn’t been cold. And he had stopped caring a long time ago.

What he did care about, however, were three things. The first was the feeling of scorching fire in his right leg. It seemed strange, contrasting with the everlasting numb feeling of ice in his veins. It was odd.

Unnatural.

The second thing was that he seemed to be completely and utterly alone. He vaguely remembered someone rocking him and their desperate cries in his ears.

Something about the burden of being a father. He had contemplated that for a while, although he couldn’t possibly figure out what it meant. But soon enough, the dizzying rocking had stopped and he was actually glad for that.

Until he figured out that it now meant that he was alone.

He looked around the field. The burden on his legs was gone. That may have been considered as strange, but Brian did not have enough energy left to figure out the meaning behind that. He didn’t try to get up.

The last thing was that it was slowly getting darker. His world was getting blurry, fading around the edges, drowning in a surreal kind of dream world. He’d tried to move, but found that it was nearly impossible. He’d tried to scream, but no sound could penetrate the deafening silence. There was nothing here, he realized, besides grass and dirt and snow, and even those things seemed unreal.

Yet, he had no idea how to leave.




They lay together, curled up in the warm hotel bed. He felt her soft, comforting kisses on his head.

Normally, that would make it seem better, if only just a little. Now, it just made him feel number. He didn’t want that, although it was probably better than letting his feelings go.

How and when they had decided to go back to the hotel, he didn’t know. It must have been when the other women showed up, which had marked the absolute and complete meltdown for that morning. He could still see Leighanne freaking out, her shocked expression, the wild look in her eyes. He’d never seen anything quite like that.

“I can’t do this, Lauren,” he whispered, taking a shaky breath, “Not again.”

Lauren nodded. She could understand to some degree.

Although she’d known he hadn’t been directly involved in the accident, it had still come as a shock when she found out the whole story about what happened. She hadn’t known Brian that well, but in the six years she’d been with Nick, she knew he’d meant a lot to her husband. Watching a friend die slowly took everything out of him.

“It’ll be okay,” she mumbled softly, her lips only an inch from his ear.

Nick suddenly shook his head wildly, pulling away slightly, “Don’t say that! You don’t know!” he choked, then his features softened and he laid his head on her shoulder wearily, “You know, last time with… with Les… that nearly killed me. I can’t go through that again. I just can’t.”

Lauren sat up a little, touching his face, “Hey,” she said, “Let’s not get ahead of things, alright? He’s still alive. You don’t know what’s going to happen.”

“I do!” Nick exclaimed, feeling the breath hitch in his throat, “I can feel it. He’s fading, I can feel him dying. It’s awful.”

His wife frowned slightly, guiding his head back to her shoulder, “Oh honey…” she whispered, “Don’t think like that. You’re only working yourself up like this.”

Nick decided not to say anything after that. They lay together. In silence.





There was a strange feeling of anticipation, a hovering fear deep inside him, although he had no idea what for.

The world was dark, too dark, he realized. It wasn’t a very good place to be in right now. He didn’t know what was happening, or if there was anything happening at all. He didn’t know why he was alone, or why his leg felt like it was on fire, while the rest of him was cold as stone. He only knew the field was getting blurry as it was fading into darkness, and that wasn’t supposed to happen.

The meaning was a word that floated around in his mind, though he couldn’t quite grasp onto it. Why was he still here? Why couldn’t he just get up and leave? Why did it have to hurt so much?

Where was everybody?

He shivered violently, looking around the misty field for the thousandth time. There was nothing notable around him, except for maybe the smoldering ashes of the dying fire beside him.

Dying.

He tasted the word, repeating it a few times in his head. His eyes widened and a strange, uncomfortable feeling deep within him grew large. Was that what was happening? Was that why he was alone? Desperately trying to remember the last clear thing that could come to mind, he struggled and screamed, his painful leg scraping across the frozen ground. He’d been with AJ, he remembered now. And Nick…

Nick had called for his help. And Brian had been stuck.

He had fought to get free, but had instead landed in this blurry waste-land. There was nothing here, no AJ, no Nick, no life.

He was shaking uncontrollably now, still trying to fold his legs under him in order to get up. Scrambling, his fingers failed to get a good grip, and he fell a few times before finally steadying himself. Crouching, he tried to keep his balance as he slowly stood up. His vision wavered, blackening every few seconds. He was breathing hard, fear crushing his mind and paralyzing his muscles.

Dying.

The idea seemed absurd, but was the only real explanation for his faltering surroundings and the surreal loneliness he felt. The cold flashed inside him, choking his thoughts, weakening his strength. He desperately scoured the vague land around him, taking a careful step and cringing when his weight was moved to his right leg.

He screamed and cried and soon, he was running, not knowing where to go. The field seemed to be never ending, repeating itself every few moments as he ran.

His bare feet sank into the soppy ground, which made it all that much harder to get forward.

He abruptly halted when he saw something moving. It was far away and almost unnoticeable. He took a deep breath, coughing as he slowly inched closer, willing his aching feet to move. Soon, he could see that it wasn’t something.

It was someone. It was Nick.

He gasped as he recognized the features. Maybe he wasn’t dying. Maybe he was already dead. Nick was dead, wasn’t he?

At least he wasn’t alone anymore.






It didn’t take long for Nick to figure out he was dreaming. The field was windy, a cold breeze penetrating his very soul. The cold was unknown, beyond anything he’d ever felt. There was a slight burn in his leg, but he chose to ignore it as he looked around, amazed at the dreamscape.

This didn’t feel like a normal dream.

He stiffened as he heard a cry in the distance. It seemed wild, animalistic. He searched the farmland frantically, but couldn’t for the life of him distinguish what had made the sound. It was like he was nothing more than a witness, a spectator, unable to do anything. There was another cry, closer this time, more desperate too. It was coming for him.

This wasn’t a normal dream.

Nick breathed in sharply, making a decision. He turned around in a split second before he began to run, his feet effortlessly guiding him through the soft grass.

It seemed like he could run forever. He wasn’t getting tired and there didn’t seem to be an end to the wide-open field. Time didn’t exist. The land was barren and he was completely alone, except for whatever seemed to be chasing him from behind. He felt his heart pounding in his chest as another cry echoed over the dark grass.

And that’s when he realized something important.

This wasn’t his dream.

He gasped at the realization and turned around, halting completely. He could see him now, struggling to get forward, legs sinking into the cold ground where Nick had so easily treaded not a minute before. He seemed to be drowning, weakening before his very eyes. Nick wasted no time as he leapt forward, only to be thrown back again by a strong, invisible force.

“Brian!” he screamed.

The older man watched him with large, fear-filled eyes. His face was twisted in pain and he was breathing hard, in shallow, unmeasured gasps. He looked like he had gone ten rounds with an freight train. Nick quickly scrambled to his feet, reaching out his hand. To his surprise, Brian didn’t accept it, but only stared suspiciously. “Brian, come on!”

The injured singer frowned, shrinking back a little.

Nick watched the deformed, mangled legs sink a little deeper into the mud, and wondered how Brian had made it this far. “Come on! Let me help you!”

The other man shook his head, fear radiating from his eyes. He seemed to want to say something, but no sound came from his mouth. He struggled backwards a little more, like a scared, wounded animal, crying out in pain once more.

Nick felt warm tears gliding over his cold cheeks, carefully inching closer. It was like there was an invisible wall between him and Brian. A wall that he couldn’t break, no matter what he tried. There was only one person that could.

“Brian, please… I wanna help.”

“Leave me alone!” Brian choked out finally. Nick felt his own knees weaken as Brian’s fear and confusion was overpowering his own. His feet were sinking into the malicious dirt now as well, drowning both of them.

“Let me save you!” He yelled.

“You can’t save me! You couldn’t even save yourself!” Brian spat and Nick could almost feel the anger as if it were his own. The cryptic words buzzed around in his mind like a swarm of insects.

This wasn’t just a dream, this was so much more important than that.

He inched forward, jerking his feet out of the soppy mud, pressing against the wall that Brian had carefully build up between the two of them. “Please,” he whispered, “Let me through.”

“I don’t wanna die,” Brian choked and closed his eyes, “God, please don’t let me die.”

“You’re not gonna die,” Nick spoke quickly, pounding the strong, invisible wall in between them in frustration, “I’m right here, I won’t let you die.”

“You can’t help me,” Brian said, his voice just above a whisper, “You’re already dead.”

Nick’s eyes widened and he pounded his fist against the wall once more, “I’m not dead! I’m right here, I can help you. Nobody’s gonna die.”

He saw the uncertainty in his friend’s expression, saw the light slowly fading from his eyes and felt the emptiness deep within him growing. “It hurts so much,” Brian gasped.

“I know, I know, alright? But you… you have to hold on. You gotta let me through.”

“I can’t,” Brian rasped, taking a faltering breath as to prove his point, “I’m so cold.”

“No!” Nick yelled, “No! You can get through this, we both can. It’ll be alright, you’ll see. Just let me help you.”

Brian shook his head and shut his eyes tightly, “I’m sorry Nick. I’m just so tired.”

“No!” Nick hissed, slamming his entire weight against the wall, “No, don’t do this! I will never forgive you if you do this! You hear me? You understand? I can help you, Brian! I can get you out! Now break it down!”

Brian screamed. The field was gone for a second.

Nick gasped as the fierce pain fired through his entire body, invading his soul and tearing it to shreds. He panted, willing the agony to lessen. It didn’t. Through his tears, he could still see Brian. A cold resignation undisguised on his face. The wall was gone. It had been protection. Not for Brian though, for Nick. Closing his eyes, Nick felt the pain maddening his senses, felt it penetrating his deepest core. Was this how Brian had felt? How was he supposed to help when this was what it felt like? He blindly reached out his hand. He heard Brian scream something. He tried to concentrate, but it was hard, so hard. Brian screamed again, his cry ringing through the thick air.

“Nick, help!” he yelled, reaching out his hand, finally grasping Nick’s fingers with his own.

Then it was quiet, the pain gone in an instant. Nick gasped and opened his eyes. Scrambling back, until his back hit the bed’s headboard. He panted and looked around, seeing Lauren’s anxious eyes meeting his own.

He shuddered as the remnants of his nightmare quickly faded into the obscurity of his memory. He nodded wordlessly at his wife, trying to let her know that he was okay. He didn’t trust his voice though. And somewhere, in the back of his mind, he could still hear Brian’s cry for help.
22. Reckless by freedomwriter
She had told him thirty-thousand times not to be so reckless on stage. Always jumping off high platforms and pretending to stumble and fall. He would literally break a leg one day, she had warned, and maybe, she had said, that would be the only way for him to learn.

Because he didn’t listen, he liked being reckless. He’d always assured her that he knew precisely what he was doing. No worries.

Yeah right.

And although this might not be the same, she still should have seen it coming. But she hadn’t, she didn’t.

She had all but freaked out when Nick had called in the middle of the night. Not only because Nick never called in the middle of the night –he actually didn’t call period- but mostly because of the fact that he had asked her, of all people, if she knew where everybody else was. He’d said something about a stupid prank, but it was too late. She was already in a state of panic.

If she could have, she would have flown to Orlando right after the call. But God, try to find a flight and babysitter at two-thirty in the morning. So she had waited, for excruciatingly long hours she had waited.

The phone didn’t ring until daylight had broken through. Kevin had sounded so broken, it had made her shiver. But I wasn’t his voice that made her freak out.

It were two, almost insignificantly small words.

Come quick.

That had been the moment for all other thoughts to fly out of her mind. She had packed her stuff in a mad haze, not caring or thinking about anything else until Baylee had come downstairs with a confused frown. He’d eyed her for a moment, like only twelve year olds could eye someone. With that bored, unsympathetic expression all pre-teens seemed to master. He’d asked what she was doing after five minutes and she had stood up, sighing, and told him to go to Raymond’s house down the street.

If it were only that easy.

The questions had started. Why was she being so stressed out? Why couldn’t she just tell him, for once in his life, what was going on? What? Did she think he was five? He could tell something serious was up, he could handle it. Did someone get arrested or something?

Did anyone die?

Oh, twelve year olds and their sense of drama.

She knew she did a poor job of assuring him that everything was fine, that there was nothing to worry about, but that she needed to go and that she would call his grandparents to come pick him up. Until then, she told him, it would be great if he could crash at Raymond’s. He was friends with Raymond, wasn’t he?

He had narrowed his eyes, which clearly told her that he was going to tell his Dad about all this. He had a way of saying that just with his eyes. And he would do it too. And Brian would take his side, no matter what.

But right then, that didn’t matter in the least.

He’d gone out the door without another word, obviously pissed. She had taken a deep breath, realizing she hadn’t handled that conversation very well. But Baylee would get over it… eventually.

Only three and a half hours after Kevin’s call, she was in the waiting room. She had gotten mad. Why had they decided to take a single bus, in the middle of the night, through a Godforsaken thunderstorm? Did they have a death wish? And where was that doctor? Weren’t they supposed to get an update once in a while? She’d fallen silent when she’d gotten a good look at their faces. They looked like they had gone to Hell and back.

Howie and AJ looked ready to pass out from exhaustion and Kevin had eyed her with a weary, defeated look on his face. The only one who seemed relatively unharmed didn’t dare looking her in the eyes. Nick decided to leave not long after, heading back to the hotel with his wife.

He couldn’t deal, he was a coward.

And now she waited. She’d gone in just briefly, right before they would take him off the terrifying machines and bring him back to life. She’d had a hard time believing it was him though. He’d seemed like a strange, lifeless copy of the man she’d been married to for fourteen years. This was a joke.

She wanted her husband back.

Of course, she’d done her best to talk through the tears, telling him about Christmas in two weeks, because he liked Christmas, didn’t he? It hadn’t come to mind to say goodbye. Goodbye was for people that went away. Goodbye was forever. Just the thought was nearly unbearable. In the seventeen years she had known him he had scared the hell out of her a great couple of times, but he was always fine.

But this…

They had ushered her out pretty quick. He’d reached the temperature they had been aiming for, which was good, they assured her. They would go get the doctor and they would get him off CPB. That was the plan. She hadn’t protested, she’d let them lead her out of the room, looking back only once at the great pile of blankets.

But she knew.

People on CPB weren’t actually alive per say, it was just a technique to keep them a little further away from death. She’d done the homework, back in ’97. She had wanted to be prepared then; she had dug up any and every complication that could accompany open-heart surgery. It had been a bad idea; it had only made her more anxious, of course. And it had been completely unnecessary too. But she had wanted to know what would happen if anything and everything would go wrong.

And now she knew.

She’d been put in the waiting room again. Kevin and Kristen hadn’t moved, clinging at each other for invisible comfort. She felt so alone. She should have brought someone; what was she thinking coming here all on her own? If anything happened, she would have no one to lean on besides three Backstreet Boys and their wives.

“Did they say how long it was gonna take?” AJ asked in a gruff voice, his tired and bloodshot eyes fixed upon her face.

She shook her head numbly. In her mind, and surely in his mind too, it took forever. She watched Howie attempting to read a magazine, but could tell from his posture that he was just as tense as the rest of them.

Jen the Manager- Leighanne could never remember her last name- had come and gone a couple of times, always on the phone. She seemed busy, talking in a rapid and urgent voice to God knows who. Her voice echoed through what seemed to be the entire hospital and it gave Leighanne a headache. Didn’t Jen realize that this was not a right place to take care of management business?

Just when she was about to say something about it, Jen silenced and Leighanne turned to see the aged doctor standing in the doorway with what could only be described as a serious, but fairly surprised expression.

And although it seemed highly irrelevant, Leighanne couldn’t help but remember all the thirty thousand times she had told her husband not to be so reckless on stage.
End Notes:
I'm kinda stalling, aren't I?

Next chapter is better, I promise.
23. Try by freedomwriter
The first time he woke up, he felt nothing. He couldn’t think and around him was only bright whiteness. It took a whole of six seconds before he faded into darkness again. Nobody noticed.

----------------------------------
The second time, the bright light was back. Shining into his eyes without mercy. Only this time, it was followed by someone’s face. He could tell the man was smiling, even despite the mask in front of the guy’s face. He was talking to him, but the muffled sound and the rapid tempo of the words made it hard to understand. It took a whole of two minutes before he gave up and closed his eyes again. Brian didn’t recognize AJ.

------------------------------
The third time was only thirty minutes later. He felt warm. It was a foreign kind of feeling, something he could remember from a pretty long while ago. Before he knew what was happening, a blinding kind of flashlight was glaring into his eyes. He tried to glare back, but God, it hurt.

“Sorry about that,” someone mumbled, who couldn’t be anything else than a doctor.

Terrific.

“I gotta tell you, you have a way of knowing how to build up the suspense,” Doctor said, as he took a step back, “We thought we lost you there for a while. You gave everybody quite a scare.” Brian just blinked. The words didn’t make sense to him, but it was nice to hear somebody talking to him.

“Brian?” He tried to turn his head at the sound of his name, but it was hard, so hard. The guy with the mask from earlier was standing behind Doctor- who apparently also had a mask- and his smile was greater than ever.

Brian just blinked again. His eyelids were getting heavier by the second, it seemed. It took a whole of four minutes before he succumbed to unconsciousness.

-----------------------------
The fourth time, his leg was itching. His whole body had been taken over by a comfortable kind of numbness, except for his lower right leg. It didn’t take long before Doctor was back with his flashlight. Brian gave him an angry stare after the light-in-the-eyes routine.

Doctor just smiled.

“That’s the spirit,” he muttered, “My name is Doctor Jonah Ferris, you’re in the hospital. Can you understand me? Just blink.” After a confused second, he blinked, carefully watching the doctor’s every move.

“Good,” Ferris nodded, “Do you remember you’ve been in an accident?”

Oh yes, that was it! He had so many questions to ask, but in the end, he only blinked again. The doctor seemed satisfied with his reaction, though, “Alright, that was four days ago. You’ve been hurt pretty bad, and with the current condition of your lungs and liver, you’re definitely not out of the woods yet. That’s why you’re on a respirator right now. But we’re gonna take good care of you, alright? You’ve come a long way, considering where you came from, so let’s just take it easy from here on out.”

Brian pressed his eyes shut, trying to process the information. It wasn’t very easy when your head felt like it could explode at any moment. Doctor looked at him for a moment, frowning. “I’m talking too fast, aren’t I?” He nodded when Brian blinked again, “I’m sorry. I have a tendency to do that sometimes. Can you squeeze my hand? Good, very good.” Doctor kept talking and Brian slowly tuned out, his vision blurring a few times before sharpening. The irritating itch in his lower right leg was gradually turning into a nagging kind of pain. He wanted to inform Doctor about that, but actually letting the man know seemed like a task way beyond him. To his relief, the pain stopped when he slowly welcomed the darkness that was creeping up on him. Brian didn’t know that there was no lower right leg.

---------------------------
The fifth time he woke up, he panicked. The light was too bright, the voices too loud, the pain too much. But above all, he couldn’t breathe. Before he knew what he was doing, he was squirming, thrashing weakly against all the things that seemed to hold him down. But the more he moved, the more the burden seemed to weigh down on him.

He was trapped. And if there was anything he hated, it was being trapped.

He could feel strong hands, heard loud voices. They were dizzying him and he couldn’t see anything besides faded colors and shapes. Someone let go of his arm and he reached up to his face, to the thing that was successfully blocking his airway. He grabbed blindly, trying to pull it away from his mouth before someone got a hold of his arm again. He gasped and wanted to scream. He couldn’t possibly make a sound though.

Would he die this way? Unable to breathe while people held him down? Were they trying to kill him?

“Hey! Brian! Look at me!” someone yelled, close to his face, “Come on, look at me!”

He blinked, twice, three times before The Smiling Man with the Mask swam into his line of sight. The Man wasn’t smiling now though, and his mask was gone. AJ grabbed his arm and squeezed it, “You gotta calm down, alright? You can breathe, it’s just the machine. You gotta try and work with it, it’ll be alright.”

Brian gave him a confused glare, still gasping for oxygen that didn’t seem to be there. His legs hurt and fire and ice seemed to be shooting through his body both at the same time. AJ’s face became blurry again, dark spots dancing in front of Brian’s vision. He didn’t want to die like this. So…so helpless. He could feel himself quickly running out of energy and felt his head swimming. Someone yelled something and there was a sharp pinch in his arm before everything went dark all of a sudden.

---------------------------
The sixth time, he could only wake up half. He couldn’t open his eyes; his eyelids were too heavy and could only flutter at best. He could feel the tube in his throat though, but now knew better than to try and pull it out. He felt his lungs rattle with every deep, painful breath he was forced to take.

How pathetic was that?

A total numbness had embraced him and he had gladly accepted that. People were speaking softly and he had to put all his efforts in to be able to make out what they were saying.

“This is… so unfair… didn’t do… nothing wrong. No need… sedate him,” somebody that sounded a lot like AJ, grumbled.

“For… the best… tear… stitches out again?” another voice, Kevin’s was his best guess, answered.

“Wouldn’t… have those stitches… wasn’t for you,” AJ spat angrily.

A short pause, then a third voice, closer to him, female and soft, “Alex, don’t talk like that.’’ She sounded tired, as if she had said those words a thousand times already, “We all know what would have happened if Kevin hadn’t done what he did. I’m glad he did it.” He only wondered briefly what Kevin could have done that had AJ pissed off so greatly. He could feel her hand on his, her touch reassuring and familiar.

Kevin and AJ were silent, and for a moment it was just him and her. She squeezed his hand and he did his best to squeeze back.

“Hey sweetie, you can hear me, can’t you?” The smile in her voice was audible and he squeezed again, feeling that that was the only currently available way to communicate. His eyelids fluttered wildly as he tried to open them. It was hard though, so hard. Then he felt her soft lips on his brow, her hair tickling his forehead, her hand running through his hair. With a sigh, he leaned into her touch, trying to make it last.

It had been a long time since he’d felt this helpless.

Her voice sounded far away and a floating kind of feeling took over. She kissed him again, whispering soothing words into his ear. He stopped trying to open his eyes.
24. Cowardice by freedomwriter
Howie Dorough stared into the crowd, scraping his throat, which had gone completely dry. He felt his left eye twitch nervously every now and then. He hated when that happened, it was embarrassing. He didn’t like public speaking. He usually left that part to Kevin, or Brian. He often felt that anything he said sounded corny or cheesy. But Brian wasn’t here, and Kevin wouldn’t speak until later.

And there was nothing corny or cheesy about this.

His eyes flew over the countless curious and questioning faces. Ever since AJ had accidently posted something about the whole adventure on Twitter, people had gone crazy. Bus crashes happened all the time, but apparently, when a bus full of Backstreet Boys crashed, it was front page news. The statement they had announced on the official site had been short and unexpressive. The accident had happened on the back road, an unknown period of time for recovery was needed, all tour dates were cancelled, but might be rescheduled in time.

And Howie was told to stick to that. To not let any unnecessary information slip, because reporters ate every detail, conforming it to fit their own theories and beliefs about the night. Making up the rest of the stories as they went.

Do not be suggestive.

Howie should know that, he’d been in the situation a few times before. People were staring at him, impatiently waiting until he would start the conference. It reminded him slightly of a similar setting thirteen years ago; announcing AJ’s departure to rehab, which had been a wake up call for all of them. He remembered how defeated he’d felt, how disillusioned, realizing they weren’t as indestructible as they though. It had so many similarities to what he was facing now. The conference even started the same way.

“As you may, or may not have noticed, one of us is missing here today,” he spoke, his voice higher than he had intended. He cleared his throat again, noticing his hands shaking on the desk in front of him, “Brian’s condition is currently stable, but still critical.”

Next to him, he noticed AJ clenching his fist and he saw a few women, supposedly fans, wince at the word ‘critical.’ The same women had stared at them in shock for most of the half hour they had been here; taking in the various scrapes and bruises on their faces, the ones that couldn’t be hidden with ten tons of makeup.

Howie had, more than ever, felt like a monkey in a zoo.

And although Brian had more or less given them his consent to share what had happened with the world, saying it out loud seemed to make it too official. Howie didn’t tell the crowd everything, in fact, he only spoke about current events, and leaving out the whole six hours they’d spent in the field, waiting for rescue. The world didn’t need to know that, that was personal. He didn’t tell them about the first three days in the hospital and the fear he’d felt when he’d been almost certain that one of his best friends wouldn’t make it to the end of the week. He didn’t tell them about the nauseating feeling of watching an emergency amputation in the middle of a farm field. He didn’t mention the amputation period. And if he didn’t have to, he wouldn’t tell them about current medical conditions either. He wouldn’t tell them that Brian’s future was so uncertain. He wouldn’t tell them that his lungs were still a big concern. He wouldn’t tell them that he wasn’t responding to medication well enough.

But he had to. It was the truth.

His voice shook the entire time, but to his own surprise, he kept talking. The room grew more quiet, faces grew more intend as the crowd listened to his grim story. He sighed, trying not to notice the fans in the audience, who had –for a large part- covered their mouths in shock and stared at him with large, watery eyes. “For any further questions, I will refer to Dr. Jonah Ferris over there. He’ll be answering questions later.”

Letting out a deep breath, he finally sat down, seeing Kevin nod his approval from the corner of his eye. He didn’t really listen as Jen started about cancelled tour dates and refunds. He shook his head slightly when she mentioned possible rescheduling. That seemed so illogical, considering what was happening. Howie couldn’t imagine being on stage again. Not as it used to be, that was for certain. How would they ever be a unity of five again after this? They said that tragedy could make stronger bonds; that overcoming a traumatic shared event would make relationships better than ever.

Howie didn’t feel that way. Right now, he hated everyone and everything. He hated AJ for letting the news leak, he hated Nick for not caring enough and only showing up because he had to, he hated Kevin for arranging a conference meeting, he hated Jen for talking about rescheduling, he hated Brian for getting pneumonia on top of all things–which, in retrospective, was kind of inevitable- and he hated himself for hating so much. But most of all, he hated the stupid God who had let all of this happen. Were they never allowed to be just happy? To have success without everything crumbling off to the sides? Was that too much to ask?

Had they really gone on too long without any major problems?

Did it matter?

The conference was over before he knew it. The questions were fierce, spewed their way like an unstoppable waterfall. Howie would never get used to that. Kevin had, apparently. His expression didn’t change as he answered question after question, dodging the bullets expertly. AJ stayed silent and Howie gave him a menacing look, clearly stating that if he could tweet about this, he should be the one talking about it too.

He noticed Nick struggling with the questions. He had, unlike the rest, no trace of injuries to be seen, which raised a lot of questions. Howie knew it was quite difficult to explain why Nick hadn’t been on the bus in the first place. It had been a misunderstanding, a screw-up. So accidental, but so crucial that it seemed like a lie, a weird story to cover up what really happened. Why wasn’t Nick on the bus? Why was he the one to find the rest of the guys? What made him turn back? And most of all, why was he working again so soon after the accident?

Howie decided not to help Nick with those questions. The youngest of the group seemed kind of alienated from the rest of them. Howie had seen him last six days ago, right before he and Lauren decided to head back to the hotel and leaving the rest of them in the waiting room.

Nick hadn’t come back to the hospital after that. Howie wasn’t sure why. He knew Nick often acted like a coward in times like these, running away from serious problems rather than facing it. He had done it countless times before. In the period of open-heart surgery, in the period Howie’s sister had died. In the period management had betrayed them. In the period AJ had to go to rehab. When Kevin left. Even when his own sister died. Nick had run, as far as he could and had drowned himself with work, or alcohol, or both.

Making up his mind, Howie left the room when the barrage of questioned seemed to finally have ceased. It didn’t take long before he found the youngest Backstreet Boy. He grabbed Nick’s shoulder and turned him around, looking him in the eyes sternly. “You’re coming with me.”

Nick looked at him with a frown, “Excuse me?”

“You and me, we are going to the hospital, now. You’re gonna explain to your friend what you’ve been doing for the past six days,” Howie said evenly, leaving no room for doubt.
25. Walk Away by freedomwriter
Explain. What did Howie know? He didn’t understand. His life barely ever went to shit. Nick was seasoned, Nick knew what should be done. He’d been there, done that.

And now Howie wanted him to explain?

Huh.

Life went on, didn’t it? It had gone on multiple times.

When management had betrayed them. When his mother had betrayed him. When his sister had died. When he had lost any civil contact with the majority of his family.

You just had to pack your shit together, take a deep breath and go on. Let go.

And in the back of his mind, he knew it was wrong. He knew what it looked like. It looked like he didn’t care. Nick Carter cared only for his own career. His friends? Just colleagues. He hadn’t cared in the past when bandmates were in the hospital, why should he start now?

That was what it looked like.

The truth was so much worse. The truth was that he was scared. Scared out of his mind. Backstreet Boys was all he had ever known, but now, for the first time in years, he didn’t see a future. How could he? And it was all because Brian had chosen to be in the front of the bus at exactly the wrong time.

That had ruined everything.

So he ran. He tried to be as far away from the tragedy as possible. Away from the weakness, the sickness, the dying hope. He ran to Jordan. The New Kid had given him a doubtful look when he’d shown up. Couldn’t he have called?

Yeah, maybe.

He didn’t tell Jordan anything. Their relationship was business, as great as the chemistry was, it couldn’t replace anything. Anyway, there were still three shows left of the Nick and Knight tour, which was his great excuse. He couldn’t let those fans down, right?

Right.

He shook his head slightly as he followed Howie out of the conference building. The older Backstreet Boy had made it pretty clear what he thought of Nick’s behavior. Nick should apologize for it.

Huh.

Although he often pretended differently, he and Brian were strangers, co-workers at best. It had taken a long time, but he had eventually learnt to accept the fact that things would never be as they were before.

Brothers? Yes, they had been like brothers once. A time when Nick had been wide-eyed, new to everything. He had followed Brian around like a puppy, and Brian, on his turn, had taken him under his wing, showing him the ropes, as to speak. He’d been five years older, and therefore, so much more experienced, naturally. He’d shown Nick what it meant to have a family, what it meant to be cared for, protected, things Brian had been brought up with, but things Nick had never known before he joined the Backstreet Boys.

And that may be exactly where the problem lay.

They had grown up, boys turning into men. Walking similar paths, but so very different at the same time. Nick had always had the distinct feeling Brian was blaming him for something, although he had never figured out why.

So what exactly should he apologize for?

On the way to the hospital, Howie didn’t say a word.

Although Nick shot him a few glances, the older man never looked away from the window, staring out broodingly. The press conference hadn’t gone as he had planned, that was for sure. Nick had thought it had gone okay, but Howie was a perfectionist; if only one thing didn’t go as he had anticipated, his mood was ruined. The silence in the backseat of the blinded car was contrasted by the incessant drone of the driver’s voice. Although neither of the Backstreet Boys seemed to be listening to him, he went on and on.

“So, if you’re ever looking for a new driver, I have a bus license as well,” he opted.

Howie’s head suddenly shot up, his eyes narrowing as he contemplated the suggestion for a second. “Thanks, but we’re not looking into that yet, Jeffrey. I’ll pass it on to Jen though.”

“I’d appreciate that,” Jeffrey smiled into the rearview mirror, “you know, we were all real startled about Toby’s death. How long has he been driving you boys?”

“For about a year. He was Kevin’s driver, mostly,” Howie grumbled.

“Such a shame,” the driver sighed. “Anywho, let’s hope Brian recovers quickly, so we can leave this whole hassle behind us, huh?”

Nick saw Howie nod tightly as the older singer returned his gaze to the window. Nick clenched his jaw, shooting Jeffrey’s back a heated glare, “He’s not gonna recover quick,” he hissed slightly, “He lost a leg, you know that?”

“Nick!” Howie spat, his elbow connected roughly with the younger man’s ribs. Nick flinched only a little as he watched Jeffrey struggle to come up with a reply. He wasn’t supposed to mention the amputation to anyone.

Not until Brian himself had had time to adjust to it.

Great. Now Nick had given him another reason to blame him for something.

Howie continued his fast tempo as he marched over the crowded parking lot. Nick had to hurry to keep up with his pace, which was impressive, considering the older singer was nearly a head shorter than him. “I can’t believe this,” Howie grumbled.

“m Sorry,” Nick muttered.

“You cannot keep your mouth shut, can you? You had one job, Nick. Thank you for ruining it.”

“Look, I said I was sorry.”

“That’s not enough.”

“What else am I supposed to do?”

“You don’t get it, do you?” Howie sighed, turning around with a fuming expression on his face, “What? Are you new or something?”

Nick rolled his eyes, “Jeffrey isn’t gonna tell anyone.”

“Yeah, you should hope so. God, you’re worse than AJ!”

Nick rolled his eyes, following Howie into the building. He could feel his heartbeat quicken. He hated places like these. So full of uncertainty, despair and just general crappiness. Every inch of him told him to leave, but Howie would tear him a new one if he did.

Once they got into the elevator, he felt like he couldn’t breathe. Don’t start panicking now, he told himself, don’t be a baby.

Howie didn’t notice. He had no idea, didn’t understand.

He just thought Nick was being a stubborn idiot with too much pride, and although that might be true, it was so much more than that. His heart was beating in his throat, every voice in his head screamed alarm, danger, and the closer they were to their destination, the louder the voices became.

This wasn’t just stubborn fear, this was real fear. Grounded fear. He needed to get away, because the closer he got to Brian, the thinner the air became, the wilder his heart started to pound, the worse the fiery pain in his leg became.

He couldn’t go further, it wasn’t safe.

For six days, he’d been trying to create a distance, to will any thought of doom or pain that wasn’t necessarily his, out of his mind. He’d been fairly successful in doing that during the day, but ultimately succumbed at night. It was the same dream every time. A terribly cold, abandoned field, shrouded in mist. It always took a couple of minutes for him to start realizing that someone was following him. He would splash through the soppy grass without effort, unable to get tired. He would turn around when he finally understood who it was. And Brian would try to shut him out at first, he wouldn’t let him in as he sank further and further into the soggy terrain. Nick would scream, pounding his fists against the invisible wall. In the end, Brian would give in, every night. He would let the wall down, and let Nick drown in an ocean of pain, overwhelming, uncontrollable. He would reach out to him, but they would only touch briefly before it became too much. Brian would collapse, and Nick would wake up.

Every single night, Nick saw Brian and himself die.

Every single night, he would call Kevin in distress, demanding a status report. Kevin would calm him down, saying nothing had changed for the worst.

Not for the best either.

Nick didn’t realize that he had stopped walking until he felt Howie’s hands surrounding his upper arms, shaking him roughly.

“Hey, you with me?” Howie questioned, staring into Nick’s face in concern.

Nick stared back at him, fighting the urge to run.

Howie wouldn’t let him, anyway. He swallowed nervously, his gaze flying around the hallway, “I can’t do this,” he muttered in a tiny voice.

“Yes you can, come on,” Howie sighed, letting go of his arms, “I thought we’ve been over this. He needs all the support he can get right now, and that includes yours too.”

“He doesn’t need me,” Nick grumbled angrily, “He never did.”

Howie looked at him, his eyes narrowing as he took a step back, “Is this really what we’ve become?” he asked quietly, “Do we just… not care anymore now?”

“What does it matter?” Nick replied, his voice breaking, “What if we can’t save him? I can’t just sit by… I can’t.”

“It’s not about saving him! He’s not dead and he’s not going to die.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Stop being so negative! Just because something can go wrong, doesn’t mean it will!” Howie’s voice rose as he spoke.

“But what if it does?”

“Then you’re gonna regret not being there for the rest of your life,” Howie hissed, his eyes shooting venom at the younger man. “He’s a brother, Nick. He needs family in times like these.”

“I’m sorry,” Nick whispered, taking a step towards the elevator, “I can’t…”

“Don’t you dare walking away now!” Howie yelled and Nick saw a nurse look up at the end of the hallway, clearly disapproving of his volume, “Don’t you dare let him down because of your warped sense of family! He’d never do that to you if you were in there!”

“Don’t you understand, Howie?” Nick muttered, trying to keep the emotions in his voice under control, “He’s better off without me. Everybody always is.”

“This isn’t about you, goddamnit!” Howie exclaimed and for a second, Nick was sure the older singer was going to hit him. Howie’s clenched fist relaxed though and his shoulders slumped. “I am so disappointed.”

“I wouldn’t expect you to be anything else,” Nick sighed.

“Fine then, go. Just go,” Howie growled and Nick cringed at the hate in his bandmate’s voice as he turned around, “But for your sake, I hope you change your mind, just in case. Or were you planning on not going to his funeral either?”

Nick’s eyes widened and he halted abruptly, turning back to face him in a split second, “What?” he hissed.

“I-I’m sorry… I don’t know why I said that. I-I didn’t mean that,” Howie replied, regret dripping from his voice.

Nick felt all the energy suddenly draining out of him.

He sighed deeply, staring at the ground before nodding to himself, “Yeah you did. And you have every right,” he waited for Howie to say something, but when the older man stayed silent, he continued, “Alright, let’s just get this over with then.”
26. Blind Faith by freedomwriter
Author's Notes:
Well hello, it's been a while :)
“Say, you don’t happen to know another word for ‘solace’, do you?” AJ murmured, looking up from the magazine’s crossword. For just a fraction of a second, he could swear he saw Brian’s eyes focusing on his, before glazing over again and staring off to some invisible point in the distance. AJ sighed. That was his life now, waiting while making stupid word puzzles.

He felt an odd sense of accomplishment whenever he finished one, a kind of satisfaction. He’d told himself that if he could solve enough of them (and there certainly were enough of them), he didn’t have to worry anymore about anything else.

He was a fool.

AJ sighed a second time. Although there were two persons in the room, he felt alone. That wasn’t that strange, because Brian hadn’t done anything to acknowledge him. The older man nowadays kept to staring blankly ahead, too drugged and subdued to do much else.

And although AJ knew it was for the best, he didn’t like this lifeless version of Brian. Sure, it was better than having a panicked version rip all his stitches out as he tried to remove the tube from his mouth, but God, this was just torture.

And there didn’t seem to be an end to it.

AJ didn’t really know what he’d been expecting. He remembered the extreme feeling of relief that had washed over him when Brian had first woken up. He hadn’t been able to keep from smiling as his friend had watched him with large, confused eyes. At that point, he had believed that everything would turn out just fine after all. It would take time, sure, loads of time and patience; things would have to change drastically, but, considering the alternative, AJ had been close to fine with that.

He had always had the tendency to get ahead of things.

Dr. Ferris had been less excited and AJ should have taken notice from that. You could only laugh death in its face for so long before it would come back to bite you in the ass. And sure, after just three days: pneumonia, which had already been gloomily predicted from the start, really. He watched Brian blink sluggishly a few times and took his hand, which was remarkably warm.

Only Brian could do that, go from 75 to 104 within just one week. No questions asked.

“It’s alright, bro. Just go back to sleep. You don’t have to stay up for me, you know?” AJ mumbled absently.

He could hear the frightening rattle in his lungs with every forced, deep breath the older man took. Maybe he was just imagining things, but he could swear it was getting more pronounced each time. Great. Now he’d gotten himself all worried again. A sigh of relief escaped him when Brian’s eyes finally stayed closed. AJ didn’t know if he could handle that helpless, vacant stare for much longer. But what if it stayed like this?

He frowned; the unsettling thought slowly creeping to the surface. What if this was the best it got? What if, from here on out, all would be nothing but suffering and pain? And yeah, he knew he wasn’t much of a positive thinker, but what if? Deep down he knew he was being overdramatic. Brian was sick, and when someone was sick, you needed to give them time to heal.

But Jeez, AJ was not described as a patient man often.

And he didn’t want to think it, willed the dark thoughts out of his mind with everything he had, but he couldn’t help it. And he hated himself for letting the darkness back into his head, that lurking monster of depression he’d been fighting for over fifteen years.

You know it’s true though, it whispered softly, looking back now, you know it’s true. It would have always been better if he’d just died. Back there, in the field. In the cold. With Alex as his only company.

Poor him.


AJ bit his lip, taking a deep breath to steady himself as he felt tears forming in the corner of his eyes.

Over the years, he had learnt to deal with that dark, sinister voice that came from deep inside the dusty corners of his mind. But in times like these, when it was hard to find a beacon of light that could hold off the darkness, he let it overpower him.

Which would often eventually result in another month in rehab.

And he didn’t want to go back there. Not that it was an overly frightening experience to be in rehab –he found that he actually quite liked the serene atmosphere there- but he didn’t want to see all those disappointed faces of the people around him again. Because that was the absolute worst thing about all of it. Those
disillusioned, but accepting expressions as he laid out his problems in the open. And Brian was the worst. He somehow still had these stupid beliefs that the world was a just place where everyone got what they deserved.

Even after all the people that screwed him over, he still thought that blind faith was the best way to go through life.

Idiot.

This is what you get with your blind faith, AJ thought sourly as he threw a hateful look to the complicated framework that braced Brian’s left leg, somehow poorly trying to make up for the frightening absence of the right one. AJ shivered, still not used to the idea. At this point, he didn’t think he would ever be. The frame on the left leg was casually adorned with a paper that read: ‘under construction’, which was mostly Baylee’s contribution. That child had a dark sense of humor sometimes. He watched the silent clock with a frown. It was 8.30. Just thirty minutes before visiting hours would close. He’d probably go home tonight, back to life. Ava would look at him, accusingly asking where he’d been all day with most of the words she knew for that. Which weren’t much, considering her compromised two year old vocabulary.

Rochelle would hug him, ask him how the conference went and if there was any change. His answers would be short and guarded and she’d stop asking not long after that.

That’s how most days went anyway.

Damnit, even his girls couldn’t bring on the source of light he was waiting and hoping for.

His head suddenly shot upright as he snapped out of his referee at the sound of voices in the hallway. He could distinctly determine Howie’s as it took on an angry, loud tone. AJ frowned; the ICU was not keen on loud, yelling voices and Howie should certainly know better.

But AJ could immediately relate to Howie’s angry tone when he heard the much softer reply of Nick Carter.

That fucker had some balls, coming back here.

They’d all dealt differently with the situation, that was for sure. AJ tried to divide his time between sulkily staring ahead at home with his family, and sulkily staring ahead in this hospital room. There was not much between those two things, and for now, it seemed more than enough. Kevin had a similar tactic. He was mostly there when AJ, or anybody else for that matter, wasn’t. And after that, he would mostly engage himself in trying to manage the crumbling business, because for some reason, he didn’t believe Jen could save it by herself. And Howie, well Howie had grown utterly silent. Not that he was such an outspoken person by nature, but now he seemed to be extra guarded, reserved. His visits were usually short, silent and never on his own. He would go when AJ or Kevin was there and AJ could always clearly read the fear in his eyes, although he would never say a word about it. Howie had lost most resemblance of hope and because of that, AJ had begun to lose his as well.

Leighanne had resorted to a calm, composed manner when she was inside the room, attempting to be a beacon of comfort and support when she was close to her husband.

But when she wasn’t in the room, she most likely was taking her frustrations out on everything and everyone.

Right now, Jen was being slaughtered with a turmoil of accusations. Because how dare she talk about rescheduling already?

And Nick… that coward had run far away, like he was not a part of it. Maybe, in a way, he wasn’t, not really. Hadn’t been all along. From the moment he’d been left at the gas-station, Nick had been an outsider. AJ hadn’t seen him in six days before he showed up to the press conference. And to be perfectly honest, AJ hadn’t expected him to do that either. He’d been mildly surprised when he’d seen Nick’s stern, emotionless face that morning. Everything about him screamed that he did not want to be there, under the scrutinizing eyes of his bandmates and the rest of the world. He’d thrown AJ a fearful look every now and then, and AJ perfectly understood why. He’d been the one that had told Nick five days ago in a message, and in no uncertain terms that if he didn’t want to be there, he should stay the hell away. Be gone, stay gone.

And now the big hero was making his return.

The voices had died down and AJ sat frozen as he heard footsteps coming closer. It didn’t take long before he saw Howie’s pissed off face through the glass wall outside the room, followed by Nick’s uncertain appearance. AJ stood up and walked towards the door.

“You have nerve, showing up here,” AJ grumbled menacingly when the two others entered the room in silence. Nick took an actual step back, clearly not having expected AJ to be there. He glanced at the door wearily, then at Howie and finally back at AJ.

“I’m not here for you,” he mumbled quietly, brushing past the older man without looking back. His face had taken on a determined expression suddenly as he walked up to the bed. “I’m not gonna run anymore, Bri, and neither are you,” he said, completely ignoring the fact that Howie and AJ were still in the room, “We’re gonna do something about all this.”
27. Storm by freedomwriter
Author's Notes:
This took forever
He tried to take a deep breath. Which wasn’t easy, mind you, considering his lungs felt like they were filled with buckets of ice water. He took another breath, calming himself gradually. His world consisted of shapes and colors which he wasn’t able to identify. That wasn’t so bad; it made the world less complicated.

He could hear AJ’s soft voice and threw his gaze in his general direction. Although he couldn’t necessarily figure out what his friend was saying, the sound of his voice was comfortable, a sign that he wasn’t alone.

Because whenever he was alone, the noisy static in his head would usually take over. He didn’t exactly like that.

He blinked slowly a few times, his eyelids becoming heavier. AJ’s droning voice was the perfect thing to fall asleep to. He didn’t necessarily understand why he was so tired all the time. His dreams were hellish, the fever wreaking havoc on his imagination and his senses.

He would dream to be drowning, sinking further and further away into the cold water, screaming for help.

But help would never come. He wanted to move on, he wanted to get better, he wanted more than this confusing world of blurry shapes and sounds. But the feeling of fading away overwhelmed the strength to carry on. He felt himself slipping, heard the sounds becoming softer, further away. Could see the shapes and colors become duller, and even less defined.

AJs voice was a whisper, a droning lullaby. Brian was drifting further and further away, and wondered helplessly if he would be able to make it back this time.

“and neither are you.”

The harsh, painful sound sliced through his mind. The voice grasping his focus and squeezing it tight. He could feel every last bit of his mind as if it were on fire. The sound caused a scale of flashing lights and stabs of pain behind his closed eyelids.

‘We’re gonna do something about all this.’

He silently begged the voice to stop. Earlier, he hadn’t been able to understand AJs voice, had relied on the calm tones of comfort and security. This voice, however, he heard crystal clear, louder than anything he ever remembered. It was taking control, trying to push him to his limits. It hurt too much, and it wouldn’t stop.


0000000000000000000

‘We’re gonna do something about all this.’ Nick had whispered. Brian hadn’t visibly reacted. He lay as still as ever, his face pale and the painful sound of his lungs rattling as he took a breath. Nick winced, a slight headache starting to form as he stared at his band mate. He’d been so sure five seconds ago. He would reach out to Brian, and somehow, everything would be magically okay. He inched closer, nervously watching Brian’s brow furrow as his breathing sped up. Nick wasn’t sure why, but his friend seemed distressed. He could sense AJ lurking behind him, watching him like a hawk. One wrong move and the older man would burst, that was for sure. He couldn’t see Howie anymore, but Nick knew he was still there.

“Bri, can you hear me?” He muttered softly, frowning in concern when he noticed the older singer shaking like a leaf. He swallowed thickly, wondering if the other two in the room had noticed it as well.

Without any further thought, he reached out his hand and grasped Brian’s. He gasped as the room around him suddenly disappeared. He felt himself falling, felt his heart hammering in his chest as the sudden sensations of colors and sounds whirled all around him. He fell down, like Alice down a rabbit hole, or up, like Dorothy in a hurricane. He couldn’t really tell.

He hadn’t anticipated this.

Then, as soon as the colors and flashes and sounds had started, it was over. Everything was dark and he felt a shiver run down his spine. He wasn’t sure if he was still in the hospital or not and the feeling of the wind picking up was terrifying. Soon, it was all he could hear and feel. The deafening stream of the wind blowing in his ears. He wanted to scream and yell for help, but his voice was easily drowned by the overwhelming storm.

Storm.

His eyes grew large as the first drop of rain hit his skin. Was he outside? When had that happened? The ground was wet and slippery beneath him and he slowly got to his feet, swaying only slightly before steadying himself. He noticed the smell of gasoline and smoke in the air and frantically searched for a ray of light in the darkness.

A sudden flash of lightning blinded him, the clap of thunder deafening his ears. He whirled around, panicked as he noticed the ground becoming somewhat unstable.

Another flash, he saw a pale face just a few feet away from him. He gasped, almost losing his footing as he stumbled backwards. He thought he had been alone. He hadn’t been alone.

The lightning became wilder, more frequent. The grumbling thunder menacing as it roared above his head.

In the quick flashes of light, he saw that he was standing on top of a cliff, and there, close the very edge, was Brian. In each flash, Brian was a little bit further away, a little bit closer and closer to the edge. His features were expressionless, his eyes unmoving. The haunting stillness of his face shook Nick to his very core and he screamed at Brian, trying to be heard over the consuming wind.

This was a nightmare. One of those again. Just like he needed.

It had never been like this though. This was a whole new level of scary. He felt the rain slowly soaking him through and through. He saw his friend was wet as well, but he didn’t seem to mind. Another flash had Brian stumbling, his arms flailing and his stoic expression in a state of alarm as he was losing his balance.

“No!” Nick growled, leaping forward as he grasped his friend’s arm. Unlike all the other times in his dreams, there was no wall this time. There was no sudden, overwhelming pain that accompanied him whenever he tried to make physical contact with Brian. There was only the threatening flash of anger in his friend’s eyes as he stared directly into Nick’s.

“Let me go,” Brian mouthed, his piercing stare causing the pit in Nick’s stomach to grow heavier. This wasn’t his friend. He had no idea who this was. Yes, he looked like him, but there was something so ultimately uncharacteristic about him, that he couldn’t truly be Brian.

He didn’t let go though. Not when growled that he didn’t want to be saved, not when the ground slowly began to crumble underneath him. He stood there, straining as he found it impossible to pull his friend back onto the safe side of the cliff, and even more impossible to just let him go. Brian would fall if Nick let him go. Down into the dark, frightening abyss that surrounded the cliff. He would be lost forever.

He couldn’t let that happen. The sudden realization that he was the only factor that kept the older singer from disappearing into a deep, final blackness hit him hard. He stumbled for a second, his grip loosening around Brian. He knew he could wake up from this without so much as a scratch. He would chalk it up as a bad dream, would take a few deep breaths to calm his flailing mind and would go on with his day. But it wasn’t like that for Brian. These moments were defining, as if his life depended on them. And maybe it did. Nick felt the crushing weight on his shoulders when he realized that this could be his last chance.

“Come on!” He roared, for once managing to raise his voice above the thunderclaps above them.

“You cannot save me!” Brian hissed back, “It’s too late!”

Nick set his jaw, throwing his friend a stubborn expression as he yanked him backwards with all his might. Brian didn’t move an inch. “Why won’t you just cooperate?”

“I can’t,” Brian shook his head, a sudden tiredness lacing his voice as the anger disappeared.

“I’ll help you,” Nick offered desperately, “It won’t be so bad, if you just try! Why won’t you just try?”

“I have! It’s not working. I can’t do it. You wouldn’t understand!”

“What wouldn’t I understand?”

“Forget it!”

“No! You are being a stupid idiot! I can help you. I can get you out of here. You just have to fight,” Nick concluded, sternly staring back at his older friend.

A soft, sad smile appeared on Brian’s lips and he averted his gaze before the ground finally gave way beneath him and caused Nick to fall to his knees to be able to keep a hold of Brian, whose was now dangerously dangling over the edge of the cliff. Nick felt the tears freely streaming over his cheeks, indicating the helplessness he felt as he looked at his friend.

“I’ve been fighting my whole life, Nick,” Brian said softly, somehow still audible over the ravaging storm, “I’m done. I’m tired. It’s time. You have to let me go.”

“No…” Nick repeated, this time much more quiet. “Please… it’s just pneumonia, man, it’s not… it wasn’t supposed to be like this.”

“Maybe it was,” Brian said. ‘You can’t possibly tell.’

“I can save you,” Nick gasped.

“I’m sorry,” Brian whispered, shaking his head.

“Come on, just hold on. I’ll pull you up, just hold on,” Nick said, planting one foot on the wet ground again as he pulled with all his might. “Just work with me here.”

“Let go.”

“No! No, I won’t let you do this! So many people would be fucking devastated if you do this! You can’t just give up like this, man!” Nick felt his own anger spark suddenly as he realized the ridiculousness of it all.

Since when had he known Brian to be a quitter?

“You can’t save me,” Brian repeated, and Nick wasn’t completely sure, but he thought he heard a bit of hesitation in the older man’s voice.

“I can sure as hell try!” He said, slowly getting up off his knees and onto his feet, dragging Brian backwards with him.

“What are you doing?” Brian gasped, his face twisting in pain as he was pulled back upon solid ground again.
Nick was just as amazed. He felt his muscles straining with the effort it took to pull them both back up. The storm had suddenly died down, the silence seemingly just as deafening as the thunder had been. He studied his older friend’s legs with a hopeless feeling of despair, realizing they barely even looked like legs anymore.

He took a deep breath, watching Brian’s painful expression as the older singer lay on the grassy, dry ground, panting and exhausted. Nick nodded as he made the decision. If Brian couldn’t make it out of here by himself, he would just have to carry him.
28. Choke by freedomwriter
“Howie, do something!” AJ shrieked, not realizing how ridiculous the command sounded. He stood nailed to the spot, staring with shock-filled eyes at the sight before him. He’d watched in amazement as Nick had suddenly slumped down in one of the chairs like a ragdoll, completely lifeless. He’d wanted to rush to his side, but Howie had stopped him without offering any words of explanation.

“Don’t!” was the only thing he’d hissed.

AJ had frowned, unable to make a lick of sense of the situation. Howie was watching with growing interest and a tiny bit of apprehension. In truth; there was more than one reason he’d dragged Nick back to the hospital after all. The strange, unnamed connection between his two bandmates had fascinated him from the first moment he had found out about it in the ambulance. Of course, he had no idea what it was or if it served a purpose, but if anyone could reach Brian, it was Nick.

Desperate times asked for desperate measures.

Howie watched the two like a hawk, not paying attention to AJ, who had sprinted out of the room to go and get help. He clenched his jaw, feeling the tension grow in the pit of his stomach. Nick’s head was bowed, his brow furrowed in concentration, seemingly in trance. His right hand was clasped in Brian’s with a death-like grip. Howie didn’t know what was going on between them, or if anything even was going on.

It was one of the strangest things he had ever witnessed in his life.

At first, Brian didn’t react at all, but after a minute or so, the injured singer began to move slightly. Howie bit his lip and wondered if he should interfere, if this was even remotely safe. Nick remained as still as before, only wincing slightly when Brian’s grip tightened around his hand. Brian, on the other hand, seemed to get more and more agitated as the seconds ticked by; his breathing speeding to rattling, shallow gasps and his eyelids fluttering wildly. His heart was beating too fast and Howie watched the monitors nervously as he heard the younger man moan in distress around the tube in his mouth.

And just when Howie decided that he had to do something to stop it, it ended. Nick’s head shot up and the youngest band member gasped as if he was waking up from a bad dream. At that moment, AJ rushed back into the room, panting and his face revealing his absolute state of panic. He was closely followed by doctor Ferris, who seemed just as tense.

“Wh-?” AJ gasped, out of breath.

Howie looked at him for one more second before turning his attention back to the bed. Nick sat there, motionless with a dazed and exhausted expression on his face, his hand still trapped in Brian’s. The wounded singer on the bed had calmed down in a matter of seconds, and for a moment, it was like nothing had ever happened at all.

“What is going on here?” Doctor Ferris grumbled.

“They were… we were… and then…” AJ panted, still panicked and unable to decide if he should focus on Brian, Nick or Howie as he pointed his finger in their directions.

“We didn’t do anything,” Howie hissed, “Right Nick?”

“Uhh-,” Nick slowly turned his head as he realized he was being addressed.

“I saw-,” AJ rushed.

“You didn’t see anything!” Howie interrupted.

“I’m not crazy!”

“People, calm down!” Ferris interfered as he raised his hands, “Now, someone tell me why this young man was running through the ICU in complete panic mode,” he demanded, gesturing at AJ.

“Well, we-” Howie began, but was silenced by a sudden choking sound coming from the bed.

He instantly turned around. Brian’s eyes were wide-open; confusion and distress clearly written out in his expression as he gasped for breath in choking coughs.

Nick, who was closest, jumped up from his chair and hovered over his friend, not knowing what to do, other than squeezing their still connected hands and calling out Brian’s name to get him to focus.

AJs face paled as he remembered a similar situation from a few days prior. His bandmate had woken up in panic and tried to pull the breathing tube out of his mouth that was causing him to feel like he was being suffocated. AJ and a few nurses had prevented him from doing that, but hadn’t been able to keep the flailing singer from ripping out the stitches in his leg. AJ shivered as he remembered the blood that had suddenly been soaking the covers on the spot where Brian’s leg…

He shook his head, realizing that it was different now.

Nick and Howie were successful in calming Brian down considerably, while doctor Ferris studied the monitors with a confused frown. He began to talk in a hushed tone and AJ saw Brian nod in understanding a few times.

He felt slightly left out when he saw smiles appearing on both Howie and Nick’s faces.

“What?” AJ called out and stepped closer, suddenly remembering he could move. The other four ignored him completely.

“You,” Ferris pointed at Howie, “I want you to help him sit up as straight as possible, can you do that?”

Howie nodded eagerly, quickly wrapping his left arm around Brian’s shoulders and he propped he younger singer up against him as he sat on the head of the bed.

Brian winced and squeezed his eyes closed at the pain that flared through his body with the sudden movements.

“Alright, Brian?” Ferris stated, trying to get the attention of his patient. Brian opened his eyes and stared back at him questioningly.

Ferris nodded in confirmation, clasping his hand around the breathing tube. “Okay, now I need you to take a deep breath and blow out as hard as you can, alright? Breathing will feel pretty awful the first few minutes, but it will gradually become easier, trust me.”

AJ watched intently as Brian nodded. The older man took a deep breath and Ferris pulled. The first few minutes, Brian was barely able to breath and AJ bit his lip in desperation as he saw his friend gasp and choke and double over in coughing fits. The awful, rattling sounds that accompanied the pneumonia seemed even more pronounced now that the tube was out and AJ could hear Brian wheeze with every breath he took. Then, to his relief, his friend gradually stopped choking and coughing and fell back against Howie, completely exhausted.

Ferris nodded in satisfaction and took a step back.

“You did well, kid,” he said with a smile, “Very impressive. Welcome back.”
29. Shock by freedomwriter
Brian sighed deeply in his sleep and moved his head to the side. Kevin smiled slightly before returning his gaze to the book he wasn’t really reading anyway. He wasn’t sure what had caused the sudden change of events, but he was mighty glad it did. For the first time in seven days, he dared to have a positive outlook on things. It was the most liberating feeling in the world.

Howie had called him in excitement a few hours earlier, telling him a rather unhinged story about what had happened. Kevin hadn’t exactly been able to make sense of it, but the message was still the same. Brian was healing; they were finally out of the woods. The fever had begun to go down and his lungs were slowly but surely starting to clear.

He felt the tears stinging as he recalled how only yesterday, there had been almost no hope at all. He was a sentimentalist, he knew that. He wasn’t ashamed of it. Still, he frowned as a tear left a wet stain on the page he was on. He ran a hand down his face and took a deep, shuddering breath, the smile of relief still plastered on his face.

He hadn’t been ready to lose a cousin, a brother, like that. Maybe, just maybe, he had to start believing in miracles again.

“Kev?” He looked up, surprised to hear the hoarse and weak voice. He hadn’t heard it since he and Howie had left that fateful field to try and find help, not knowing if he would ever hear it again.

“Hey,” he said softly, swallowing the tears as he leaned closer towards his cousin, his smile slowly growing. Brian blinked at him a few times in confusion.

He had fallen asleep right after he’d been taking off the ventilator, clearly exhausted. Nobody had told him anything yet and Kevin felt a little bit anxious when he realized that this was probably going to be the time that his cousin would start asking questions. “How are you feeling?”

Brian thought for a minute as he sank back into the soft pillows and stared at the ceiling. “Kinda really tired,” he muttered eventually, “But I guess that’s the way I should be feeling, huh?” He started to cough; a deep, hacking noise that Kevin had to remind himself the sound was normal for someone that was recovering from this sort of case of pneumonia.

He nodded slightly, “Yeah, I guess.”

“Where’s Leigh?”

Kevin studied him for a second, seeing the million questions burning in Brian’s eyes. But of course he would ask for his wife first. “I told her to get some rest. I told everybody to go get some rest, actually. She’s with Baylee. I think they’re at Howie’s place, but I’m not too sure.”

Brian nodded slowly and Kevin saw a hint of disappointment on his face at his wife’s absence. Kevin could understand; he’d be bummed too if he woke up in a hospital and Kristin wasn’t there. “I can call her right now if you like,” he suggested, raising his eyebrows.

Brian thought about that for a second, but then shook his head, “Nah, she probably really needs her sleep.

Cause if I know her well enough, and I think I do, she’s most likely been here all the time, right?”

“Yeah,” Kevin smiled, nodding, “How’s your leg?” he asked, quickly changing the subject.

His cousin stayed silent for a moment and averted his gaze, contemplating his answer. He’d purposely been avoiding having to look at his legs the whole time; he was more than a little scared to find out in what condition he might find them. He shrugged slightly, but decided to be honest, “I don’t know. It kinda hurts pretty badly.”

Kevin frowned at that. With the amount of painkillers they’d been pumping into his IV, he had expected Brian to pretty much be numb all over. Hearing him admit to the pain was very… un- Brian-like. He eyed the complicated framework that covered almost all of his cousin’s left leg and sighed. “Makes sense,” he concluded, “I mean, you pretty much shattered most of your tibia, and the femur isn’t in much better shape either,” he said, repeating the doctor’s words he’d heard a few days ago. At this point, they weren’t sure if Brian would ever be able to walk normally again, but no way in hell he was going to tell him that yet. He would leave that up to the doctor.

Brian looked at him and narrowed his eyes, slightly confused, “No,” he mumbled, gesturing to his right, “I meant the other leg. Feels like it’s on fire.” He frowned as he saw Kevin close his eyes for a moment, “Kev?”

Kevin took a deep breath and shook his head. He wished he didn’t have to do this. He wished Brian would have just slept until the doctor was back to explain it all.

“What’s the last thing you remember? From the field, I mean?”

“Not sure. Everything’s pretty vague. I mean, I woke up with a freaking bus on my legs. Then you guys tried to lift it, then AJ shoved a rock under it. And then you and Howie left. That’s pretty much it. I think I heard AJ smash the bottle of whiskey, but more than that… no. Why, what happened?”

Kevin sighed again, avoiding his band mate’s burning stare as he stared at the blankets on the bed, “Brian…” he began, then cleared his throat.

“W-what? Why are you acting so weird?” Brian asked, interrupting him. His gaze was full of apprehension as he kept his eyes on the side of Kevin’s head, burning holes right through it. Something in Kevin suggested that Brian already knew what was coming.

“Cuz, listen,” he said, his voice low and barely audible, “you… you were barely alive when we finally did find help. I mean, your temp was like, 75, and your heart was barely beating,” he said, finally looking at Brian, who nodded slightly and gestured for him to continue. “We… They… They wouldn’t have been able to move the bus off your leg fast enough, Bri. You were too cold, the thing was too heavy. They weren’t even sure if there was any circulation left at all…”

“No,” Brian said, his voice a low, warning, grumble, “don’t say it.”

“They had to,” Kevin muttered, staring down at his hands. “There was no other option.”

“And you guys just let it happen?” Brian asked, his voice rising in pitch.

“You would have died, Brian,” Kevin said helplessly, “I had to…”

Brian’s eyes widened and he stared at his cousin for a moment longer, then looked down at his legs. Now that he noticed it, the form of the sheets did look a bit strange. Clenching his jaw, he took a hold of the blankets and removed them in one swift motion before gasping in shock.

“No…” he whispered, not able to take his eyes off the horrifying sight before him. His eyes traveled down his heavily bruised thigh, which somehow ended at the point where he supposed his knee had once begun. The thick bandages left only little up to the imagination.

Suddenly, he felt strangely light-headed and gasped for air as he scrambled back on the bed in horror. He turned his panicked gaze back to his cousin, who was looking at him with a weird expression. He was saying something, but Brian couldn’t hear a word of what he said over the insistent ringing in his ears. He felt like things were happening in slow motion as he tried to move, to get up.

He barely noticed Kevin jumping into action and gripping his shoulders to keep him from falling off the bed. The panic was only rising and Brian found himself gasping for precious oxygen that seemed to have suddenly vanished from the room. He heard Kevin yell in that slow motion voice of his and struggled to get free of his cousin’s strong hold. Coughing and gasping, he tried to tell Kevin to leave him the fuck alone. The room was spinning around him and no matter how he tried; he couldn’t draw a single proper breath into his lungs.

Kevin cursed himself over and over again for letting Brian so worked up. He yelled for help again, keeping a strong hold of his squirming relative. At this point, Brian’s breathing had turned into sure hyperventilation and Kevin could feel him shaking in his arms. He hadn’t expected Brian’s reaction to be this bad and berated himself for not waiting for doctor Ferris to break the news. That would have been such a better option. He also knew that Brian would have kept asking, or find it out by himself anyway instead of waiting for tomorrow morning.

Finally, Martha ran in with a tense face. She rushed to the other side of the bed, grapping an oxygen mask and covering half of Brian’s face with it. “Listen to me,” the nurse instructed in a stern, but calm voice. “Just focus on breathing right now, alright?”

Brian shook his head wildly, still gasping, “I c-can’t!”

“Yes you can,” Martha said reassuringly, “You have to calm down, just listen to my voice, okay? Deep breaths, that’s it. You’re doing great,” she coached, readjusting the blankets to cover his legs once more.

Brian squeezed his eyes shut, his hands curling into fists around the sheets as he tried to regain his composure. It took agonizingly long to be able to draw a decent enough breath again. Eventually, he nodded at Martha’s questioning look, indicating he was going to be okay.

“Alright, try not to get yourself worked up like this, okay? Your lungs can’t handle that, I’ll go get some pain meds,” Martha instructed as she left the room.

Kevin watched her leave, feeling his own pounding heartbeat return to normal again. Nevertheless, it leapt right back into his throat as he turned and looked at Brian. His younger cousin was looking at him with a look of pure resentment, his nostrils flaring as he did his best to keep from screaming. Kevin took a step back at the intensity of Brian’s gaze. Though he knew fully well that Brian couldn’t do anything from his position, he was still taken aback by the sheer amount of anger he found in those eyes.

“Bri-,” he began.

“Leave,” Brian said in a monotonous voice.

“Look, I didn’t-,” Kevin said calmly, before being interrupted again.

“Fuck you! Just get. The hell. Out,” Brian hissed, his eyes almost forcefully shoving Kevin out of the room himself.

Kevin nodded and stared at the ground for a few moments before turning around, “Fine,” he muttered. Everybody was already blaming him for what happened to Brian’s leg, what did it matter if Brian himself did too? A lot, he reminded himself, it mattered a lot.

Brian watched Kevin leave before he fell back against the pillows. He took a shaking breath, coughing slightly as he stared up at the ceiling. He bit his bottom lip, but felt the tears falling down anyway. He didn’t really know why he had expected to just be able to escape that horrible bus crash with just a few bruises, while everything had indicated that that wouldn’t be the case. He didn’t know why he was holding his cousin responsible for this fate.

He stared with unconcealed hatred at the strange shape of his legs under the covers. This wasn’t his life.

This shouldn’t have happened to him. Anyone but him.

“Why me?” he grunted with a sad sigh, looking up, but not expecting an answer.
30. Positive by freedomwriter
“Jesus Kev, why do you always come at six thirty in the morning?” Howie asked with a tired look, opening the door just slightly to keep the cold wind from coming into his house. “Everyone is asleep.”

Kevin didn’t answer his question, instead looked at him with a serious expression, “He knows.”

Howie sighed, opening the door a little wider, “You might as well come in.”

“Did you not hear me? He knows. He knows about his leg.”

“He was gonna find out pretty soon anyway, you know, it being his leg and all,” Howie muttered as he turned away from the door and walked into the house. “I had no delusions that we were gonna keep it from him, did you?”

Kevin let out a frustrated sigh as he followed Howie into the kitchen. The younger man planted a cup under the espresso machine and sat down at the dining table, propping his hand under his chin. “How did he take it?” He asked after a minute.

“Not well,” Kevin rushed in a hushed tone, “He freaked the hell out. It required a nurse and an oxygen mask to calm him down. That’s how he took it.”

Howie nodded before turning and grabbing the cup of coffee from under the machine, “He’ll be fine,” he said softly, “You know he will.”

“Oh yeah?” Kevin scoffed incredulously, “Cause you weren’t there, Howard. He was like… this completely different person.”

“Did you tell him you were the one that let them cut it off in the first place?” A voice resounded from the hallway and Howie closed his eyes in resignation. Just what he needed on this early morning. An angry AJ. Sure enough, AJ marched into the kitchen and planted himself on the other side of the table. “Well, did you?”

“I might have… insinuated it,” Kevin admitted quietly and Howie shook his head.

“Good job,” he muttered, taking another sip from his coffee. He felt like he could fall asleep then and there. So what if Brian knew now? He was going to find out anyway. What was the big deal?

“This is such a shitty situation,” Kevin stated the obvious.

“Oh come on, he’ll get over it,” Howie replied and he set his cup down.

“Are we talking about the same guy here?” AJ grumbled grimly, “Did you not see him bouncing off the walls for the past twenty years? This is going to crush him.”

Howie sighed and got up, tired of the negativity brought to his house, “Okay, I know AJ likes to be a downer sometimes, but you,” he said, pointing at Kevin, “You used to be a positive thinker, right? There are millions of people that have gone through what Brian is going through, and a lot of them turned out just fine. He’ll just have to get used to it. You’ll just have to get used to it.”

“Yeah, but-,” Kevin started.

“No. I do not want you guys to bring this air of negativity into the situation. Not at all if Brian is there to see it. If we are going to be supportive, which is what I intend, we are going to be an obnoxiously force of positivity, got it?”

AJ’s mouth hung open and Kevin looked at him with a stunned expression. It wasn’t often that Howie took charge like this and gave them a number. He was right; of course he was right. AJ sighed and Kevin nodded reluctantly. “Right, okay,” Kevin mumbled.

“Right,” Howie confirmed, “So we’ll just have to drag him through this, he’ll be fine. And then maybe he will eventually appreciate the fact that you saved his life with that decision you made. Maybe, eventually, we will all appreciate it,” he said, looking pointedly at AJ.

“Fine,” the younger man grumbled.

“Good,” Howie muttered and sank back into his chair.

“So where is everybody?” he asked. The past week, he’d gotten used to everybody hanging around his house, as his was closest to the hospital. It had become a bit crowded with all the families staying there. It seemed awfully quiet now with just AJ and Kevin there.

“At this hour, I’d say they’re asleep,” AJ grumbled, throwing Kevin a pissed off look, “though I saw Leighanne and Baylee leave for the hospital ten minutes ago. Said they were gonna meet up with Nick.”

Howie and Kevin stared at him in silence and he threw up his hands in defense, “Hey, don’t look at me, I was just as surprised as you are. You know, considering he hasn’t been in touch for six days and now all of a sudden, he is.”

Kevin shrugged, not knowing what to make out of it, “Well, let’s just hope they don’t get yelled at.”
31. News by freedomwriter
Brian nodded, smiling as he tried to keep up with Baylee’s story. The kid talked incredibly fast and with the amount of painkillers in his system, Brian couldn’t entirely figure out what the point of the story was.

Something about a mistaken order at a reststop.

Still, he laughed when he was supposed to and turned serious when it was necessary. Of all the people around him, Baylee seemed to be coping with the situation best. It had more or less just turned into a routine for him to spend the day at Howie’s home and then going with his mother to visit his father in the hospital for a few hours. It made Brian wonder if anybody had told the young boy what was really going on.

Probably not. Baylee sat on the bed, entirely oblivious he was sitting right on the spot where Brian’s leg would have been if…

Brian shook his head slightly. He had to focus on his son’s story now, and not dwell on stupid things like that. He did his best to keep his expression light as he listened to his son describe how his coke was not supposed to be coke at all, but whatever.

“Yeah, so?” Nick’s voice came from the opposite side of Baylee, “You took it anyway.”

“Well, they already made it, so… I mean, you would have taken it too, right Dad?”

Brian blinked, pausing just a second too long before he answered, “Uh… yeah. I guess.”

Baylee looked at him with narrowed eyes for a moment, but then continued his story. Brian smiled at him before leaning back, feeling his wife squeeze his shoulder as she sat on the bed behind him. “You okay?” she whispered softly.

He nodded tightly. He just wanted people to stop worrying about everything. He caught Nick’s suspicious look as well and gave him a reassuring smile too. Nick was less easily fooled as he couldn’t help but notice the built up tension in his friend’s demeanor. He’d known Brian long enough to know that he could be a ticking time bomb sometimes. He was about to say something when the door opened and a hasty looking doctor walked in. The conversation suddenly non-existent, all heads in the room turned to look at the doctor.

The young physician stared back for a second before springing into action, “I’m very sorry, I meant to be here earlier, but there was an emergency on the way over. Hi, my name is Phillip Michaels. We haven’t officially met, but I have been your orthopedist since you’ve been here. I would like to discuss the options at hand, if that’s alright with you.”

Nick noticed the slightest twitch in Brian’s face as the older man nodded stiffly. The doctor looked at Baylee for a few seconds and the twelve-year old stared back, challengingly. Nick took the hint quickly and stood up, motioning for Baylee to do the same.

“Come on, let’s see if we can get anything substantial to eat in the canteen.”

“I never get to stay,” Baylee grumbled, indignant.

“Maybe we can bring your parents something too,” Nick continued, ignoring Baylee’s remark.

Baylee was about to protest, then thought about it for a second and eventually nodded, sighing dramatically.

“Fine.”

Doctor Michaels waited until the two had left, then took a seat at the end of the bed, spreading out some files on top of the blankets, “He seems like a handful.”

“Baylee’s alright,” Brian mumbled, staring at the doctor intently, “Nick… definitely a handful.”

He heard Leighanne laugh softly behind him and saw a grin appear on the doctor’s face as well, but couldn’t bring himself to smile too. He waited anxiously for the orthopedist to start the conversation, although he knew the man did not have anything to say that he wanted to hear. He watched silently as the doctor hooked some X-rays onto the light board and wished that his wife would stop squeezing his shoulders like he was about to fall off the bed or something. Like he was even able to do that.

“Alright,” Michaels said, facing the board, “So, as you can see,” he pointed at the screen at various points, “there are some very severe fractures. I would have recommended surgery directly after the accident, but unfortunately, your condition did not allow it.”

Brian nodded, pressing his mouth into a thin line when he felt his wife squeeze him again. It was steadily becoming a main source of irritation. When he didn’t say anything, the doctor continued, “Okay, I think the best plan of action at this point is to plan the surgery within two days to repair some of the damage.”

Doctor Michaels looked at him for a reaction. Brian stared back at him, expressionless. After a few seconds, he took a breath and raised his eyebrows, “You don’t have to sugarcoat it,” he grumbled in a low voice, “I know it’s a mess.” He stiffened as he felt Leighanne’s squeezing again, and tried to keep from snapping at her.

Michaels nodded in agreement, “Yeah,” he admitted, “I’ll be honest here, it doesn’t look very promising. The left leg is our main concern. The fractures seem quite complicated and some of the bones have splintered quite badly and there seems to be a significant amount of scar tissue already. I can almost guarantee that one surgery won’t be enough. At this point, we can try to set the bones as well as possible. We are still very apprehensive of Deep Vein Thrombosis, which is a blood clot in the…”

Brian knew he should be feeling angry or sad, but couldn’t feel anything beyond the numb emptiness that had settled in his stomach. He felt like shrugging the entire time the doctor was talking about surgery and shattered bones. Fact was; it wouldn’t bring them anywhere anyway. He wanted to yell that at the doctor.

He wanted to assure him that he was wasting his time.

What did it matter if you were patching up one leg? It wouldn’t make the other grow back.

Yeah, like Brian didn’t notice they were strictly avoiding the amputation at this point. He clenched his jaw and folded his arms across his chest as he studied the young doctor’s lively movements thoughtfully. The guy talked with his hands. Interesting.

“What about the other leg?” Brian interrupted the string of jargon that was spewed over them in the explanation of what was going to be done during surgery, “Are you going to grow it back?”

Michaels silenced immediately and gave him an uncertain look, probably trying to figure out whether his patient was serious or not. “Though the bruising may seem very alarming, fortunately… the femur was not broken in the accident.”

“Fortunately,” Brian snorted sarcastically.

“Yes,” the orthopedist answered, a bit annoyed, “All we can do about the right leg is monitor the healing of the wound. It hasn’t caused any problems up until now.

I understand it’s not easy to accept, but I’m afraid there’s nothing more we can do right now.”

Brian took a shaky breath to steady himself and keep his calm. He shook his head slightly, but didn’t say anything. The doctor studied him for a few moments, then sighed and moved to sit down in a chair. “Look. I know it seems like the end of the world at this moment,” he said softly, trying to ignore Brian’s eye roll as the wounded singer looked away, “But I can assure you, it’s not. It’s going to take a lot of time, certainly. But I have had a lot of patients that have gone through similar situations; you are not the only one with this fate.”

Brian sniffled and bit his lip as he stared at the window, refusing to say anything at first. Leighanne continued to squeeze his shoulders and he grabbed her hand, putting it down. He turned to look at the doctor once more with a stern expression on his face, “Just tell me this; how many of those patients have been able to walk properly again, like nothing happened?”

He felt his heart sinking as Michaels took his time to answer his question. The orthopedist looked away, seemingly studying the files on the bed. “Some of them,” he sighed after a few seconds.

Brian nodded slowly, feeling an annoying pounding ache start to form in his left leg as a reminder, “Some of them,” he repeated, defeated.

“I’m afraid I cannot give you any satisfying answers right now, I’m very sorry. We have to take this one step at a time,” Michaels said, cringing at the word ‘step’. “I can recommend a few excellent physical therapists, that have had a few very surprising results. We can only do so much though, mr. Littrell, I’m sorry.” He stood up slowly, “If you will excuse me, I have to continue my rounds now.”

Nodding absently, Brian watched him leave; trying to fathom the news he’d just been given. He jumped slightly when he felt his wife move behind him. “Hey,” she whispered, laying her hand on his shoulder again, “It’s going to be okay.”

“Don’t!” he snapped and she shrank back immediately. “Just… don’t.”

Leighanne nodded in understanding, “I’m sorry,” she mumbled.

“Can you… could you…” Brian stammered, desperately trying to keep the tears from falling as he bit his lip until he could taste blood, “Would you leave me alone for a second?”

“Brian, I-” she protested softly.

“No, just go… please. I’ll be okay, I just need to… to think.”

“You sure?”

He nodded stiffly, not moving as she kissed his head, “I’ll be back in thirty minutes,” she muttered.

He sighed, watching her walk to the door. Right when she opened it, Nick and Baylee poured back in and Brian had to suppress a frustrated sigh. Could he never have a moment of peace here? Leighanne knew immediately what was coming and to avoid it, she grabbed Baylee’s arm and muttered something in his ear. Baylee’s eyes grew wide and a flash of anger surged through them. Still, he followed his mother out into the hallway. “I never get to stay,” Brian heard him mutter before the door closed.
32. Anger by freedomwriter
AJ was very pissed off. Three weeks later, and everything was falling apart again. How could that happen so consistently? He should have seen it happen, probably. But he didn’t. He hadn’t necessarily been in Orlando the last few weeks. Sure, he wanted to stay and support his friend, but life goes on. He had other commitments, other things to finish.

A Backstreet Life never stood still.

He’d spent Christmas at home, with his family. And for the first time in years, he’d been able to really appreciate the quality time with his wife and daughter.

That’s what bus crashes did with you, he figured. They made you value the little things all that much more. But all the while, he’d been thinking about Brian and how he was forced to spend Christmas in the hospital; the one place he hated more than anything on the planet.

He’d only had time to visit once, right before Christmas. It had been fairly awkward and he remembered he was actually glad to leave. Although the explanation was quite understandable, it was still unsettling to experience Brian in the mood he was in constantly these days. He blatantly refused to listen to anyone and didn’t accept help. Actually, he didn’t accept a lot of things.

And it pissed AJ off.

He squinted angrily, standing in the hallway, snorting as he saw Leighanne leave the room with a sad expression. He rolled his eyes, not having to guess what happened.

“Did he yell?” he grumbled, looking at her straightly.

She shrugged, watching the floor. AJ could see her thinking of an excuse and was quite disappointed when all she had to offer was, “Well, you know. He’s going through a tough period.”

“That doesn’t give him the right, Leighanne,” he snorted.

She didn’t answer, just looked at him for a minute longer before brushing past. He sighed. People that went into that roomed either got ignored, or yelled at.

He was sick and tired of it. Of seeing Leighanne slowly crack under the pressure. Brian, on the other hand, seemingly had no idea of what he was doing to her, to everybody.

And although this was definitely not the right time to enter, considering Brian had just yelled at his wife to leave him the hell alone, AJ went in anyway. If Brian was going to continue feeling sorry for himself all day, he could do it while AJ was there. He made a mental note not to let Brian send him off. He did not take time out of his schedule for that.

The room was fairly cold and AJ felt a shiver go down his spine. He felt his heart sink further down his stomach as he saw Brian sitting in bed, staring at the window with the same unreadable expression he’d been wearing for the past three weeks. Although the pneumonia had gone away for the most part, AJ thought his friend looked worse than ever.

Brian’s eyes shot his way for just a second when he entered, before returning their stare to the window. AJ sat down on a chair at the far end of the bed. He took a deep breath, copying Brian’s stubborn behavior.

They sat in silence for a long time, while AJ studied the patterns on the ceiling, on the wall, on the floor and even on the bed sheets. All the time, Brian pretended he didn’t even know AJ was there. AJ felt the anger slowly boiling inside him. What was he supposed to do? Yell? Beg his friend to finally look at him and tell him what was going on in that stubborn head of his? Was he supposed to get on his knees and ask Brian not to give up like this? Was that his job?

Maybe.

He remembered what his job had been a month ago, in that cold, dark, hellish field. His only job had been to keep Brian alive, even if Brian himself didn’t want that. That had been his job. He’d valued his friend’s life, maybe even more than his own at that point. He’d done everything he could. He’d hold him in his arms, he’d shook him awake, he’d kept track of his heartbeat and his breathing. He’d talked to him about anything and everything, just so he knew that Brian was listening and not dying.

And now here they were. The worst was over. They had all survived the ordeal. The surgery went as well as could be expected. They could continue with their lives now, even if it was not in the way they used to be.

And Brian downright refused.

It pissed AJ off more than anything ever could.

“So are we ever going to talk, or what?” AJ grumbled lowly, watching with slight satisfaction when Brian jumped at the sudden sound of his voice. The older man’s face twitched slightly, but he kept his firm gaze on the window, not acknowledging the other presence in the room.

“Dude come on,” AJ said, leaning forward, a little closer to the other singer, “It’s been three weeks, you gotta get out of bed eventually.”

Brian’s eyes narrowed and he slowly turned his head towards AJ. AJ smirked; mission accomplished. He saw Brian clench his jaw and prepared for the oncoming wave of yelling. People in this room would either leave voluntarily after tiring of being ignored, or Brian would eventually yell at them until they left. He would say all the things that he knew would hurt them most.

He was a dick like that. He could be very nice most of the time, but would get ultimately venomous sometimes.

AJ had experienced the last quite a few times actually. Whenever Brian wanted you to back off when you got too close, he would just create this giant gap between you by only using his words. They were often mean, poisonous and exactly hitting the sore spots that you never wanted to notice. It was a defense mechanism that was worse than anything else. The doctor’s labeled it as depression. Not very uncommon in cases like this.

But AJ was prepared.

“Get out?” Brian growled in a slow voice, his nostrils flaring dangerously, “How?” He looked at him with fiery eyes, daring him to say the unsaid words that hung in the air.

“Well, you could give it a try,” AJ explained, “I mean, the wheel chair is right there, I can go along, if you like.”

Brian looked at him as if that was the most ridiculous idea he’d ever heard, “Fuck you,” he spat and AJ’s eyebrows shot up in surprise; he’d expected yelling at this point.

“No! No, of course. You just keep sitting there Brian. Just keep feeling sorry for yourself. Meanwhile, the world moves on,” AJ said, throwing his hands up as he stood up from his chair. Who was the one yelling now?

“Fuck the world too,” Brian mumbled, returning his stare to the window.

“You sound like a fucking teenager,” AJ hissed, “What are you gonna do, huh? Stay here for the rest of your life? What about all those other people? Ever think about them? No. No, you just stay here, think about the crap you’re going through.”

Brian scoffed, “You telling me you’re going through the same thing? Last time I checked, you walked on two legs. You have no idea what I’m going through.”

AJ shook his head. This was déjà vu all over again, really. He remembered a similar situation when they had eventually been forced to talk about Brian’s voice issues after Nick had blown up about it. Brian had made sure that they knew that they had no idea what it was like. That they wouldn’t understand, no matter how much he talked to them about it.

And that was the problem.

He didn’t talk about it.

AJ sighed, sitting down again. “I may not know what it’s like, but nobody ever will if you keep shutting everybody out. It doesn’t work like that, Rok.”

Brian looked at him as he used the old nickname, his eyes fuming. “I’ll decide if it works or not,” he grumbled lowly.

AJ scoffed incredulously, “No you don’t. It’s not your decision. You have responsibilities, Brian. There are people that count on you. People that would love to help you if you give them a chance. Don’t you even care anymore?” Brian shrugged, once again turning his gaze to the window, trying to block everything out. AJ stood up, deciding he’d had enough.

“Fine,” he growled, “Be like that. Be the stubborn fuck you always are. There’s a meeting tomorrow. Cause the rest of us do have to look to the future. Maybe we’ll just continue as a foursome then.”

“Fuck you.”

“What do you care?”

“I don’t!”

“Good! Me neither!” AJ said loudly as he walked out.

Breathing heavily he marched down the hallways, realizing he’d let himself be send away after all.

AJ was very pissed off.
33. Weak by freedomwriter
He was trembling, the anger pulsing through his veins like a living being. He fisted his hands, digging the nails into the skin and growled furiously.

Foursome? Seriously?

They couldn’t do that, right? They couldn’t just throw him out like that. There were contracts and legal bindings and everything. He had made pretty sure of that when his voice had first started acting up.

AJ was just messing with him, right?

Right.

Right?

Uncertain, Brian bit his lip as he let his eyes fly across the suffocating confines of his room. He suddenly felt very much like a prisoner. A stab of panic raced through him and it was almost like it became harder and harder to breathe the longer he stayed here.

But he couldn’t leave.

Or could he?

He eyed the wheelchair thoughtfully, contemplating his actions. He could make it, he was certain of that. It wasn’t a big deal. But dear Lord, he hated those things. They made people seem weak and fragile.

And he was not weak.

Taking a deep breath, he grabbed the blankets and removed the in one motion. He groaned as he felt the courage dropping a few inches when he studied his legs.

The scars were fresh and vulnerable looking on the left. The right was as absent as ever. How was he ever going to make it out of bed?

He nodded to himself, stubbornly planting his hands on either side of him. He would get out of bed, into that chair and tell AJ exactly how he thought about things.

Slowly, he moved to the edge of the bed, squeezing his eyes shut as a small, but fiery pain shot through his broken leg. He let out the breath he was holding as he felt the edge and biting his lip in determination, he grabbed a hold of the numb limb and swung it over the edge.

“Mother of f-,”

He bit down hard on the inside of his cheek to keep from swearing out loud. For something so numb and seemingly lifeless, the pain was incredible. It wasn’t a great idea to move when you shattered your leg. He made a mental note of that. Sitting on the edge of the bed now, he moved the other leg, which was surprisingly painless in comparison. Regaining a bit of courage, he eyed his goal intently. He could do it, it wasn’t that hard. Sure, it hurt a little bit here and there, but what goal wasn’t ever achieved with a little bit of pain? And most importantly: he could do it alone.

He was not weak.

With one last bit of self-motivation, he reached out and grabbed one of the wheelchairs handles. There.

That wasn’t hard.

Now came a bit of a difficult part though. How was he going to shift his weight without letting go of the chair or the bed? Frowning, he shoved the chair a few times, testing its stability. Grinning slightly, he glanced over at the door. If anyone could see what he was trying to do, they would certainly freak out.

Slowly, he leaned over and took hold of one armrest. He cautiously shifted his weight until all of it was supported by his arms. He felt them tremble and for a split second, he was certain that this was not the greatest idea after all. He was half off the bed now and half in the chair. His smile faltered, as did his arms and he grabbed hold of whatever he could to keep his balance. The chair moved when it was released from the brakes and Brian felt himself falling to the floor.
Chapter 34 by freedomwriter
He didn’t find quite what he had expected when he walked into the room. And that was putting it mildly.

First of all, the bed was empty.

For a second, Nick frowned in confusion. Then he saw the figure lying on the ground next to the bed and he inhaled sharply, rushing to his side.

“Oh my God, are you okay?” Nick questioned in a rush.

Brian groaned miserably, squirming on the carpet as he tried to grab a hold of anything that could pull him up. “Do I look… freaking… okay to you?” he growled angrily.

Nick took a step back and frowned. Brian was obviously in pain, given the awkward position he’d managed to get himself in. “What the hell happened?”

The older man shot him a fuming glare from off the ground and finally managed to sit up, his face twisting in pain as he protectively clutched his broken leg. “I thought the ground looked nice,” he grumbled slowly through gritted teeth, breathing hard as he tried not to scream from the fierce pain that shot up and down his left leg. “Thought I’d… study it more closely… what the hell do you think happened?”

Nick shut his mouth, watching his angry friend try to pull himself up. He scoffed incredulously when Brian immediately swatted his hand away when he tried to help. “Well, you don’t have to be so condescending,” Nick mumbled, folding his arms across his chest and taking another step away from the struggling singer on the ground.

“I don’t need your fucking help,” Brian spat loudly and Nick flinched, looking around to see if anyone had heard him.

Typical.

He already figured that things didn’t add up when he’d found his friend lying on the floor instead of in bed, with no nurses around to get him back under the sheets.

He felt a wave of disbelief when he realized that Brian was actually too stubborn to get help.

So typical.

He sighed, knowing exactly that forcing his help wouldn’t do anything but make it worse, so he took a seat on the edge of the bed, studying his friend closely. “You know,” he commented, “you’re gonna tear those stitches out again if you keep moving it like that.”

“Oh shut up,” Brian growled, grunting as he curled his fingers around the wheelchair once more. So far, so good. Maybe, if he could get on his knees… well, knee, maybe he could climb up into the chair. He could do it all by himself and Nick could see that he wasn’t weak.

Cause he wasn’t weak.

And even if there was the slightest possibility that he was indeed weak, he did not want Nick Carter of all persons to know it. With a lot of effort, he actually managed to slip his leg underneath him. He bit his lip as a surge of pain rushed through him.

Nick sighed, wondering just how long he would let Brian keep this act up. He leaned forward, his arms still crossed, “Want me to get you some help?” he mumbled in an even voice.

“I got it!” Brian hissed between clenched teeth, slowly straightening himself, using the wheelchair as support.

“Aha! See, I don’t n-”

Nick flinched as Brian lost his balanced and slipped. Before long, he was in the same position as he started.

Shaking his head, Nick scoffed, “Should I just keep letting you hurt yourself, or what?” He grumbled, knowing all too well that his friend was being as stubborn as he could ever be. On the other hand, Brian hadn’t sent him away yet either.

“Just get out.”

Oh well, there it was.

“Why do I even bother? You’re such a fucking, little, stubborn idiot.”

“Ow!” Brian cried out and Nick rolled his eyes at yet another failed attempt. He had to give it to his friend: he did not know how to give up.

“Whenever you’re ready, dude…” Nick mumbled under his breath, deciding that he wouldn’t help his friend unless he asked him to. It was probably the only way to break that freaking stubbornness.

Brian felt his arms tremble more and more under his weight, slowly but surely he became exhausted, finding it hard to even move anymore. With a loud sigh, he eventually sank against the wall, finally giving up.

Leaning his head back against the wall, he took a few slow, even breaths and closed his eyes, willing the firing and warning pain in his legs to lessen. What was he going to do?

He really was weak.

Nick noticed the change immediately and moved to get up. “Don’t!” Brian snapped, his eyes flying open and glaring at the younger singer.

“Oh, you have got to be kidding!” Nick exclaimed in disbelief.

“I’m… it’s…” Brian stammered, having trouble finding his words. It used to be different. Everything used to be different. He used to be the strongest. He used to carry everything on his shoulders and still be relatively fine with it. And now he couldn’t even get up into a wheelchair alone. “Just… please… just don’t…”

Nick felt his heart break into a thousand different pieces. Ignoring his friend’s words, he got off the bed and took a few steps closer. The image of dragging a struggling Brian through a muddy field flashed through his mind and he suddenly stopped, blinking in confusion, a sharp stab of pain traveling through his leg.

He could feel Brian’s heated glare burning right through him and suddenly an idea sprang to mind. What if these strange pains and visions and feelings were not a coincidence? What if the connection was not entirely involuntary? What if Brian was doing it?

“Stop it!” Nick hissed.

Brian broke eye contact and the pain disappeared like it had never existed. Nick stared at him, speechlessly.

He had no idea how Brian did it or why it was even possible, or if the older singer even knew he was doing it. His friend looked down, his whole body shaking and Nick put a hand on his arm when he finally reached him.

To his surprise, Brian didn’t move away or scream at him. It seemed like he’d finally given in.

Brian could almost feel Nick’s pitiful stare burning through him, and he kept his gaze down, trying to conceal the sudden involuntary sobs from taking over.

His life was over. Couldn’t everybody just leave him alone?

Instead, Nick bent down and crawled over next to Brian, leaning back against the wall as well. He sighed, wondering how to get through to his friend, vaguely remembering the last time he’d pulled him away from the edge. That had been weird.

“Why are you even still here?” Brian’s broken voice snapped him out of his thoughts.

“What?”

Brian looked at him, but not with the fierce glare he had before. Nick saw the barely concealed pain and exhaustion. The absent look on his friend’s face scared him a little. The obvious depression was persistent, and on some level, Nick could relate. He knew what it was like to feel stuck in the middle of life.

The circumstances were fairly different though.

“I’m useless, Nick,” Brian breathed, tears finally streaming down now, “I can’t sing, I can’t perform, heck, now I can’t even walk. Why do you even still bother?”

Nick frowned in confusion, “Because… you’re my friend…”

“I wouldn’t do the same for you.”

“Yeah, you would,” Nick stated, a bit of hesitation climbing into that little spot in his mind that used to tell him that he was not worth anyone’s time. “Y-you are just saying that so I would go.”

Brian didn’t answer him, but flinched as he shifted his position. “What am I gonna do?”

“Physical therapy would be a great start,” Nick mumbled.

“But what about the group? What about the foursome?”

Brian asked, a little panicked. “What’s gonna happen if I can never get back to who I was?”

“You don’t have to, man. No one expects you to.”

“But AJ said…”

“Yeah, we don’t listen to AJ. That’s rule number one, remember?” Nick said with an uncertain laugh. He wasn’t sure what AJ had said, but he would find out later.

“Why did you save me?” Brian asked quietly, looking back to the floor again.

Nick clenched his jaw and looked away, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“It was the strangest dream I’ve ever had, Nick, and you were there. You brought me back. Why did you do that?”

“I didn’t. It was your dream. What do I have to do with it. If someone saved you in a dream, that could only have been you, Brian,” Nick muttered. It wasn’t entirely a lie. Yes, he’d been there, but if his suspicion that Brian was controlling it was right, then it was Brian that had reached out to him all those times. A cry for help, desperate and pure. Just like it was Brian that had tried to push him away a few minutes ago.

Fascinating.

Brian frowned, thinking about Nick’s answer and then shook his head, “that doesn’t make sense.”

“Makes more sense than you and me inside your head, dog.”

“Right.”

“Right. So are you gonna try and get back into bed?” Nick finally sighed, seeing as his friend had calmed down at last.

Brian let his head fall back against the wall and looked at him pointedly, “I can’t,” he muttered through his teeth.

“I’m sorry,” Nick asked, amused, with a little smile. ”What was that?”

“I can’t get up on my own,” Brian grumbled.

“Oh! Would you like me to help you?” Nick questioned, his smile growing wider. He could almost see Brian’s pride being crushed and beaten on the ground.

“Yes,” Brian hissed through clenched teeth.

“Well, you could have said so before, then we wouldn’t have had this talk from the floor.”

“Don’t push it.”

“Alright,” Nick grunted, getting up on his feet, wrapping one arm around Brian’s shoulders and hooking the other under his knee. It seemed very weird for a moment, not to feel another leg there, but Nick pushed that thought out of his head quickly, deciding that he didn’t mind one bit. “Good Lord, you’re heavy.”

“It’s called muscle, you should try it sometime.”

“Yeah, whatever.”
Chapter 35 by freedomwriter
epilogue


"Eighteen months of physical therapy?! Can you believe it?" The tone in Brian's voice is disbelieving as he twists around in his seat to stare at the front desk, waving the discharge papers around for good measure.

"Well, those are the consequences whenever you decide to get stuck underneath a bus," his wife chides lightly, pushing him further towards the entrance, "Now if you could just sign those papers, I want to get out of here."

"Oh excuse me," Brian grumbles, bending over the papers in his lap, already hating the squeaking of the wheelchair whenever he moves, "I have to know what I sign before I sign it."

Leighanne sighs, flopping down in a waiting chair.

Making eye contact with Martha, who's smiling amusedly at them just a few feet away, she rolls her eyes and shakes her head. "Every time," she mouths, causing the ER nurse to nearly burst out in laughter.

"If you're making fun of me behind my back, I'll come and kick your asses, I don't care if you're women, I'm handicapped here, so you'll have no excuse," Brian mutters without looking up from the paperwork.

"I wouldn't dare," Leighanne smiles sweetly.

Brian looks up, studies her for a second to determine if he should believe that or not, but then just shrugs, returning his attention to the sheets once more. "Oh come on, I have to see a doctor twice a week? I don't have time for that!"

"You have nothing but time, honey," his wife comments with a sigh.

Brian looks up and raises his eyebrows as he looks straight forward, "I do have time."

The thought is almost scary. He can't remember the last time his schedule has been this blank. No crazy plane flights, no rushed interviews, no running around with suitcases and backpacks, no exhausting tour shows. No commitments outside doctor's appointments. How long hasn't he craved for that kind of freedom? How much didn't he want to just be home without feeling like he had to sleep for three months? To just sit outside by the pool, sipping a cocktail, completely relaxed and stress free? Dear Lord, that sounded great... heavenly almost.

"Mom! Dad! I just saw a guy with his chest completely ripped open! It was wickedly awesome!" his son's excited voice resounds through the small waiting room, effectively snapping Brian out of his thoughts. He frowns and twists his face in disgust, looking behind the young pre-teen at AJ, who seems utterly unfazed.

"I thought you were watching him," Brian comments monotonously, looking at his friend questioningly.

"I am watching him," AJ answers, pointing at Baylee to prove his point.

"A guy with his chest ripped open?" Leighanne questions, jumping in on the subject.

"Is it my fault that they just bring those in, in the open?" AJ counters with a shrug, "Before I could do anything, he'd already seen it. It's the harsh reality of life, kids gotta learn it."

"Not when they're twelve, Alex," Brian says, glaring.

"Oh what are you gonna do? Kick me?" AJ asks with with a challenging grin.

"You are hilarious. If you make that joke one more time, I will kick you. I'll find a way."

AJ scoffs, leaning forward, "You done with those papers yet?"

"You of all people should know not to sign just anything without reading carefully, what is wrong with people here?" Brian repeats, annoyed. AJ laughs when he sees Leighanne shrugging at him. It was so typical.

Whenever they had to sign something as a group, Brian and Howie would take about a week to make sure there were no legal bindings that could strangle them in the future, picking apart every little detail mentioned in the contracts. It was probably a good trait, but could also be extremely annoying when you were in a hurry.

But anything to make sure never to make a Pearlman mistake again, right?

"I'm just saying," Alex spoke slowly, "even my mom reads faster than you do."

"Are you in a hurry?" Brian mutters, gripping the pen as he turns to the last page.

"Well, it would be a shame to have to call the people at the surprise party to wait for a little while longer again."

Brian stares at him in shock, "You didnt..."

"I may have," AJ grins.

"AJ..."

"Oh, come on, it'll be fun!" AJ exclaims excitedly, "Just like old times, right?"

Brian closes his eyes in exasperation, remembering the old times all too vividly, "No," he grumbles warningly.

"I'm kidding!" AJ replies quickly, "It's nothing like old times, I promise. It's all very mature and dull and quiet, happy?"

"No naked women," Brian hisses, careful not to let his wife or son hear.

"Fine. Whatever. You old party pooper," AJ confirms, shaking his head.

"I'm not a... You cannot... Ugh, forget it," Brian mutters, "Here, I signed it, let's go home."

"Sounds like a marvelous idea," AJ comments, the fake English accent overly thick in his voice.

"Just shut up," Brian grumbles with a smile.

"Make me," AJ replies happily as he grabs the handles of the wheelchair, pushing Brian towards the exit.




The End
End Notes:
If this ending seems rather abrupt, I'll tell you there is a sequel in the makings ^^
This story archived at http://absolutechaos.net/viewstory.php?sid=11282