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.”
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.”