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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.