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Author's Chapter Notes:
Today we reunite Howie and Nick at the cabin. Hope you enjoy!

The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand,
nor the kindly smile nor the joy of companionship;
it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when
he discovers that someone else believes in him and is
willing to trust him.

“The Glory of Friendship” by Ralph Waldo Emerson



~ 20 ~



As Howie sat on the bed, listening to the door being locked from the outside, his heart just broke. He didn’t even want to look at Nicky, he couldn’t face him. When Tim led him into the room and he saw his friend, eyes closed, cuts and a few bruises on his face and dried blood lining his hair almost making it look like he had crimson highlights, he wanted to cry. Before forcing himself to deal with Nick, he walked over to the mirror and decided to take a look at his own reflection. He gasped when he hardly recognized the person staring back at him. He was a mess, pure and simple. He had his own cuts and bruises on his face with a fair share of dried blood in and around his hair. His face also had a good deal of caked dirt on it.

He walked over to the basin which was still full of water and grabbed a towel. For some reason he wanted to look semi presentable when he woke up his friend. Dipping the towel into the water he tried his best to at least clean some of the grim off of himself. He was leaving tracks of mud wherever he walked in the room including a wet, muddy spot in the bed where he was just sitting.

He finally made his way back to that muddy spot and sat down beside Nick. He was alarmed to see that Nick hadn’t even stirred in the time he had been in the room. It’s not like he was trying to be quiet either. He was making a fair share of noise in hopes his friend would wake on his own. He gently grabbed Nick’s shoulder, “Nicky…wake up.” He whispered.

Once again, the blonde didn’t even stir. Nick wasn’t a heavy sleeper. He actually woke pretty easily which was ironic because even though he tended to wake at the drop of a hat, he was always the last one up and out of bed. Howie moved his hand from Nick’s shoulder and placed it on his forehead which was warm to the touch, “Nicky… It’s time to wake up, buddy.”

Finally Nick stirred a little, letting out a soft moan before half opening his eyes. When he realized it was Howie, sitting beside him, his eyes opened wide and he smiled weakly, “D? Is that really you?” His voice was hoarse as if he had been screaming his head off at a concert.

Howie nodded, never taking his hand off his friend’s head, “Yeah it’s really me.”

Nick closed his eyes for a second before speaking again, “You saved us. I knew you would save us.”

At that point, all of the emotions Howie had been holding in since this entire mess happened finally came out as he began uncontrollably sobbing, “I am so sorry Nicky…I tried, I really did. I got lost and…” He was so upset he had a hard time getting his words out. He looked at his friend and shook his head, “He caught me. I didn’t get help. I’m sorry.” He managed to finally say as he placed his head on Nick’s stomach and continued to cry.

He felt his friend’s hand on top of his head, “Its okay Howie…everything will be fine. Please stop crying you’re freaking me out.”

He sat himself up and wiped the tears from his eyes. “Sorry, it’s been a bad day.”

Nick smiled and tried to laugh, but he was too weak so no sound came out, “You think?”

“How are you feeling buddy?” D was trying so hard to keep it together but now that he had allowed himself the breathing room to cry, it’s all he wanted or seemed to be able to do.

Nick swallowed hard before continuing, “I’ve been better.”

“What hurts?”

He moved his hand down to his stomach, “Your tummy?”

Nick laughed, still hoarse and barely audible “Tummy, Howie…really?”

Howie gently went to lift Nick’s shirt, “I just want to take a look, okay?”

Nick closed his eyes and nodded. Howie wasn’t quite prepared for what he saw when he lifted up his friend’s shirt but a whole new wave of tears began to stream down his face as he looked at the huge bruise across his abdomen. It was almost black and looked nasty.

“Is it bad?”

Howie took a few deep breaths because he knew the words would not come out otherwise. “You’ll be okay Nicky…” Was all he could manage before he once again turned into a blubbering mess.

“Well that’s not very reassuring.”

“I’m so sorry Nick…I’ll get us out of this, I promise.” Nick grabbed for Howie’s arm and held it in his hand weakly.

“You tried your best, Howie…I’m glad you’re here. I didn’t want to be all alone when…” He stopped but Howie knew damn well what he was going to say and he didn’t like it one bit. Nick was giving up and he couldn’t let that happen.

“Nicky, you have to keep faith, okay?” Nick nodded and closed his eyes and winced once again. “What can I do to make you feel better? What do you need?”

“I can’t feel my legs anymore D.” tears were falling from Nick’s eyes which started Howie up again. “I am so tired. I just want to go to sleep, but I’m scared…ya know?”

Howie nodded as he stroked the top of Nick’s head, “Don’t be afraid, I’m not going to let anything happen.”

“How are you going to prevent it?”

“By not letting you sleep.”

Nick smiled again as best as he could, “Hey, that’s my job. I’m the one who doesn’t let you sleep, not the other way around.”

“I know, well consider it payback then.” Howie at that point decided he had to stop his crying and be strong for his friend. So he wiped the last of the tears from his eyes and buried his emotions back in the vault. “Here let’s sit you up so you don’t fall back to sleep.” He gingerly pulled Nick up as best as he could to a sitting position, while Nick let out a little moan. A shooting pain in his own arm, made him wince but he ignored it as he adjusted Nick’s pillow to help him sit. “Just in case you have a concussion, okay?”

Nick nodded, “I think I’m bleeding internally, Howie.”

He nodded and took another deep breath, “Maybe, it’s just heartburn.” He joked even though deep in his heart, he thought the same thing too.

Nick’s eyes closed for a second and then popped back open, “Where is Tim?” He asked.

“Making us dinner, apparently it’s his birthday.”

“I tried to escape.”

Howie nodded, “I know, he told me.”

“I guess we both kind of suck at that.”

“Yeah.” He moved next to Nick and allowed his younger friend to lie close to him as if he was a pillow, leaning his head into the crook of Howie’s neck. They looked like an old married couple.

“I must be in bad shape if you’re willing to cuddle with me.”

“You are never to speak those words ever again Nickolas. We are not cuddling. I’m just trying to make you more comfortable.”

“You just keep telling yourself that. You’ve just finally succumbed to my charm.”

“Yeah, that’s it. You’re a regular Prince Charming.”

There were a few moments of silence where Howie could tell that Nick was having some trouble breathing. He closed his eyes and tried not to let his emotions get the better of him, “I saw the guys.” Nick said in short gasps as if he was talking while running on a treadmill. “I convinced Tim to get supplies for them. We brought them stuff. They know about us, so maybe if they get rescued, they’ll get us help.”

Howie tightened his grip on his friend, “How did they look? Are they okay?”

“They looked okay. Kevin made it into the van and Brian and AJ were loose.” He took a few deep breaths and let out a small moan which made Howie tense up. The guilt he was feeling overwhelmed him at that moment. Guilt that what he had set out to do, he couldn’t accomplish yet, Nick who was really barely hanging on managed to help out his friends. “What are we going to do, D?”

He felt Nick’s body shift slightly as his hand tightened on Howie’s bad arm. He tried not to cry out in pain but he let out a small yelp which had Nick quickly let go. “I’m sorry, did I hurt you?”

“I’m okay.” He placed his arm around his friend, “No cuddly jokes…” He warned, “I’m just trying to get comfortable now.”

“You’re secret is safe with me.”

Howie laughed and shook his head and then looked up at the ceiling as he felt some more tears come from his eyes. Now he was getting mad at himself. He wiped the tears with his free hand and shifted his focus to Nick’s last question. “I don’t know what we can do Nick but I will get us out of here.” A new wave of emotion hit him this time but it wasn’t sadness, it was anger; anger at the man who was in the other room making pizzas as if nothing was wrong.

“I don’t know if I can do much to help you out, Howie.”

“I know kiddo.”

There was a sudden commotion outside the door as the sound of a key going into a padlock was heard. Howie shifted slightly just as Tim let himself inside. “Look at the two of you.” He said, “Too bad I don’t have a camera to capture the moment.”

He walked over to the bed and knelt beside Nick whose body tensed as a result. Howie’s grip on his younger friend tightened as if to say don’t worry, I won’t let him touch you. “How are you feeling, any better?”

“A little…” He said in a shaky voice. Howie could tell this guy scared the crap out of Nick which made him feel even worse for leaving.

Tim smiled at Nick and then motioned for Howie to follow him outside of the room for a second. When he tried to get up to leave, Nick wouldn’t let go of him. “Please don’t leave…” He begged.

Howie once more tried not to lose it, especially now with Tim standing there watching. “It’ll be okay, Nicky. I’ll be just outside the door.”

Nick nodded and let go of Howie’s arm. Right before leaving, he gave Nick another reassuring smile even though he was kind of scared to be pulled away.

“How is he feeling really? I think he might have been lying to me.” Tim asked once Howie was fully out of the room. The concern in his voice seemed almost surreal.

“He needs to be in a hospital.”

Tim shook his head, “I doubt that. I mean if we just give him some more aspirin...”

“I don’t think aspirin is enough, Tim. He’s hurt really bad.” He felt himself losing it again, just remembering what Nick’s stomach looked like. “He needs to be in a doctor’s care.”

“You know we can’t make that happen.”

“Look, I promise you if you get Nick help, I’ll stay here with you, okay? No one has to know I’m here or that you were the one who brought him to the hospital. You can drive there and just leave him outside.”

“Yeah, some aspirin, maybe I’ll give him four. You think four would work?” He seemed to ignore everything Howie just said as he went into the bathroom and grabbed a giant bottle from the medicine cabinet. “They had great deals at the Target, two for one on these huge bottles. I think I might shop there instead of Wal-Mart from now on.”

Howie followed him to the bathroom, “Tim, he’s going to die if you don’t get him help!”

Tim shook his head, “No he isn’t. You just want me to let him go, but I’m not. He’s my family now, you both are.”


After he said that, he actually placed his hand in front of his mouth as if to try to shut himself up, but the damage had already been done as Tim grabbed him by the collar and rammed him up against the wall.

“You ungrateful piece of….” When Howie saw the crazy look on Tim’s face he knew he made a terrible mistake. His eyes were wild.

“What’s going on out there?” Nick was heard in the background trying to yell.

“How DARE you say those things to me after all I have done for you and him! I should snap your neck in half right now!” Tim let go of Howie just long enough to move his hand to D’s neck which found Howie defensively grabbing with both of his hands to try to loosen the bigger man’s grip.

“Stop….” At the sound of Nick’s voice, Tim released his grip on Howie, who fell to the ground, gasping for air.

Holding his Neck and coughing, he looked over at Nick who was on the floor halfway out the bedroom door. He had obviously tried to run out to help but couldn’t get his legs to move so he had to resort to crawling like a toddler.

“Leave him alone…” Howie begged, worried that Tim would take out his anger on Nick.

But when he saw Nick on the ground he softened, “Now, what are you doing out of bed, little fella?” Tim asked, his demeanor suddenly changing back to calm and collected. “And look at you on the floor, my goodness, that can’t help matters any.”

Howie watched as Tim walked over to Nick and picked him up by the arm and then carried him to the table and placed him on a chair. The action obviously caused Nick a lot of pain as he closed his eyes and winced the entire time as his legs dragged behind him.

When Tim turned to walk towards Howie again, he braced himself to be attacked, but instead his assailant reached his hand down to help D up off the floor, “Sorry about that. Sometimes I lose my temper.”

He led Howie towards the bathroom, “I left some towels out for you and I bought you some clothes at Target. They are probably too big but I thought you’d probably like to take a shower and clean yourself up before dinner.” He acted as if nothing had just happened.  The entire discussion they had, never occurred. He walked past Nick and to the couch where there was a tee-shirt and a pair of sweats. “Here you go, buddy! Even though it’s me who should be getting presents and not you,” he winked at Howie, “Just playing with you.” He said as he playfully reached over and tousled Howie’s hair.

Tim walked over and sat across from Nick who was now staring at Howie as if to say, “Just do what he says but hurry back. Don’t leave me alone with him for too long.” And he had no intention of doing that. He nodded at them both, making sure his eyes stayed on Nick for a little longer so he knew everything would be okay, before he walked into the bathroom and shut the door.

“Try not to take too long, Howie! We’re hungry out here!” Tim shouted.

Howie crumbled to the floor in a shaking ball and cried, realizing what he had to do and knowing he didn’t have the strength to do it.


Chapter End Notes:
I'll be back tomorrow with Brian.