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I've been through the desert on a horse with no name, it felt good to be out of the rain... in the desert you can remember your name, 'cause there ain't no one for to give you no pain... In the desert.... oooo, the desert...



Nick rolled over and pulled Amanda closer, ignoring his cell phone, which vibed and sang from his pocket. She was still asleep, and he as trying to be, but the damn phone...

I've been through the desert on a horse with no name, it felt good to be out of the rain... in the desert you can remember your name, 'cause there ain't no one for to give you no pain... In the desert... oooo, the desert...



Besides, even if he was going to answer the phone right now... the last person in the world he wanted to talk to was...

I've been through the desert on a horse with no name...

Nick yanked the phone out of his pocket and flipped it opened, sitting up. Amanda rolled over with a groan and pulled the pillow they'd been sharing over her head. "Sorry," Nick whispered to her. He crawled out of the tent. The woods outside were dark.

"Nick?" the voice on the phone was tiny, coming from the speaker.

He wandered away from the tents, to the edge of the riverbank, where the thundering of the waterfall would drown out his voice should he feel the need to yell.

"Hi Kevin," he said, sitting down on a rock.

"Thanks for calling." Kevin's voice was flat, and Nick could tell he was really pissed. "I liked your note, that was great."

Nick frowned, "Well, you wouldn't have let us go."

"You're fucking right I wouldn't have. Look, I've kept my mouth shut long enough, but these pictures are too much. You need to come home before you end up fucking killing Brian, or yourself, for that matter."

Nick rubbed the back of his neck. "What pictures?" he asked.

"Bungee jumping, Nick? What the hell were you thinking?"

Nick blinked in surprise. "There's pictures of us bungee jumping already? What the hell? That wasn't even twelve hours ago..."

"I don't care when it was," Kevin snapped, "You're white water rafting? Nick, do you have any idea what it would mean if Brian came down with a cold right now? Any at all?"

Nick was squinting into the dark at the river, his mind racing, trying to put together pieces in his head. How the hell had a tabloid gotten pictures of the bungee jumping already? "What tabloid published the bungee jumping pictures, Kev?" Nick asked.

"If it even matters who published them, it was Pop Stuff Online, which I'm looking at right now," Kevin replied. "Nick, you guys have taken this way, way too far. I'm seriously worried about Brian. You need to bring him home to Leighanne and Baylee and get your ass back out here to LA."

"Pop Stuff Online?" Nick asked, "So that Tobias Winterson asshole took them?"

"Nick, are you even listening to me?" Kevin demanded.

"Did Tobias Winterson take the bungee jumping pictures?" Nick asked.

Kevin sighed, "Nick, come home."

"I can't Kevin," he answered. "Look, Brian did this 'cos he wanted to do this. It was Brian's idea."

"Heavily influenced by you, I'm sure," Kevin snapped. "Look, I remember us talking in the waiting room the night we canceled the tour. You were all bummed because we weren't going to get to go, and you said, 'even if Brian's sick we should do the tour anyway'. Remember that?"

Nick sighed, "Kev..."

"And I said he'd be too weak to do the tour, and you said that he'd probably want to go on the tour anyways? Remember that?"

Nick closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead. Yeah I remember that hellish night better than you could ever dream I remember it, thought Nick bitterly. The memory of the plastic waiting room chairs and the flourescent lights, and the doctors and everything... He'd been the only one with Brian originally, the one who had driven Brian to the hospital in the middle of the night. The incident spun in his head, dizzying him.

"It's time to come home," Kevin said.

Nick shook his head, even though Kevin couldn't see it, "I'm not bringing Brian home until he either wants to come home or we get there on the itinerary," he said firmly. "Brian's having a good time. Tell Leighanne we'll see her in Marietta as planned."

"Leighanne was in on this too?" Kevin asked.

"I gotta go, Kev." Nick hung up the phone.

So Tobias Winterson was there, somewhere, among the team. Nick looked around at the tents, his mind running over the entire group's faces, and landed on Ben's in his mind.

Of course, Nick thought, No wonder he was so interested in Amanda, Brian and I. He was a reporter. He probably followed Amanda on her walk trying to get some dirt on her. It all makes sense.

I've been through the desert on a horse with no name...

"What the fuck, Kevin!" Nick asked the phone, and without thinking, he threw it with all of his might. The phone flew through the air, and hit a rock in the river, shattering. He watched the pieces drop below the surface of the white caps.

Well, that takes care of that, Nick thought.

Anger swelling up inside him, he walked across the campsite to Brian's tent and unzipped the door. Brian was laying on his side reading, and looked up as Nick popped his head in. "I gotta talk to you," Nick said.

"Um, okay." Brian pulled a ribbon across his place and closed the Bible, sitting up and crossing his legs as Nick climbed into the tent and sat down facing him.

"I just hung up the phone with Kevin," Nick said slowly. Sort of, he added mentally, imagining the explosion of phone on rock.

"Uhoh," Brian frowned. "This was the first time you've talked to him, wasn't it? I just realized you've never mentioned calling him." He grimaced.

Nick shrugged, "I meant to call him before now, I just forgot. Anyways, he's pissed because he saw some pictures on Pop Stuff just now of Amanda and I bungee jumping."

Brian tilted his head, "What?!"

Nick nodded, "Yeah. That Tobias Winterson guy was here." Brian squinted, putting together the same pieces Nick had already done. "You know what I think?" Nick asked.

"Ben?" Brian asked.

Nick nodded. "So you think it makes sense, too?"

"Yeah," Brian said, "Freakishly so." He paused. "Except for one thing."

"What?" Nick asked.

"How did he find us? Ben was at the rafting place before we were."

"I dunno," Nick answered, frowning, "I didn't think of that."

"Unless he called around asking about reservations under your name?" Brian suggested.

Nick shrugged, "Maybe." Brian was still thinking. "Either way," Nick said, "He was here and he took pictures of me and Amanda and published them, and Kevin was all pissed off because the trip is too dangerous."

Brian sighed, "We knew he was going to do that."

"I know, I just... I wish he would relax a little, get on board, be excited for us, you know? Instead of being controlling and anal and stupid."

"He's just worried about us, that's all," Brian replied. He patted Nick's knee.

Nick looked up at Brian. "You wanted to come on the trip, right? I didn't make you."

"Of course I did," Brian answered.

"'Cos Kevin thinks I talked you into it."

"Kevin's wrong. I talked you into it, remember? You got pissed 'cos I took out my IV."

Nick nodded. "Okay."

Brian smiled, "Nick, you're doing so much for me, and I will never be able to thank you enough, no matter if I live six months or sixty-six years. You have been the very best friend I could have ever asked for. God blessed me so much when he made Kevin call me up to join the Backstreet Boys, in so many ways, but most of all by giving me you as my very best friend."

Nick nodded, staring at his fingers.

"Don't you ever forget that," Brian added, "I don't say it enough. This whole dying thing kind of makes you realize that." He put a hand on Nick's shoulder. "I don't want you to ever question whether you were good to me or not after I'm gone, okay?" he leaned down so he could see Nick's eyes. "Promise me no matter what anyone says about this trip or about us that you'll never doubt what a good friend you were, okay?"

Nick looked up, his eyes were pooling. He swallowed, trying to stay strong. "Fuck Bri," his voice shuddered.

Brian smiled and patted his back. "I love you, buddy."

Nick nodded.

"Go get some sleep," Brian commanded, waving Nick off.

Nick crawled out of the tent, his throat burning and constricting. He zipped up behind himself, staring at Brian as the canvas lifted and blocked his view of him. He dawdled across the campground. He hadn't expected that.

When he got back to his own tent, he climbed inside and laid down. Amanda was sitting up, painting her toenails. She looked at him. "Who on earth did you give that ringtone to?" she asked with a laugh. She looked at Nick, and realized something was wrong. "Nick?"

"He's really dying," Nick mumbled, his face crumpling.

Amanda closed the bottle of nail polish and laid back beside Nick, wrapping her arms around his chest and laying her head on his shoulder. "I'm sorry," she whispered.

The tears that fell from Nick's eyes were the first he'd shed on Brian's behalf.