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.
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.
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?”
“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.”
“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?”
“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?