And now Howie wanted him to explain?
Life went on, didn’t it? It had gone on multiple times.
When management had betrayed them. When his mother had betrayed him. When his sister had died. When he had lost any civil contact with the majority of his family.
You just had to pack your shit together, take a deep breath and go on. Let go.
And in the back of his mind, he knew it was wrong. He knew what it looked like. It looked like he didn’t care. Nick Carter cared only for his own career. His friends? Just colleagues. He hadn’t cared in the past when bandmates were in the hospital, why should he start now?
That was what it looked like.
The truth was so much worse. The truth was that he was scared. Scared out of his mind. Backstreet Boys was all he had ever known, but now, for the first time in years, he didn’t see a future. How could he? And it was all because Brian had chosen to be in the front of the bus at exactly the wrong time.
That had ruined everything.
So he ran. He tried to be as far away from the tragedy as possible. Away from the weakness, the sickness, the dying hope. He ran to Jordan. The New Kid had given him a doubtful look when he’d shown up. Couldn’t he have called?
He didn’t tell Jordan anything. Their relationship was business, as great as the chemistry was, it couldn’t replace anything. Anyway, there were still three shows left of the Nick and Knight tour, which was his great excuse. He couldn’t let those fans down, right?
He shook his head slightly as he followed Howie out of the conference building. The older Backstreet Boy had made it pretty clear what he thought of Nick’s behavior. Nick should apologize for it.
Although he often pretended differently, he and Brian were strangers, co-workers at best. It had taken a long time, but he had eventually learnt to accept the fact that things would never be as they were before.
Brothers? Yes, they had been like brothers once. A time when Nick had been wide-eyed, new to everything. He had followed Brian around like a puppy, and Brian, on his turn, had taken him under his wing, showing him the ropes, as to speak. He’d been five years older, and therefore, so much more experienced, naturally. He’d shown Nick what it meant to have a family, what it meant to be cared for, protected, things Brian had been brought up with, but things Nick had never known before he joined the Backstreet Boys.
And that may be exactly where the problem lay.
They had grown up, boys turning into men. Walking similar paths, but so very different at the same time. Nick had always had the distinct feeling Brian was blaming him for something, although he had never figured out why.
So what exactly should he apologize for?
On the way to the hospital, Howie didn’t say a word.
Although Nick shot him a few glances, the older man never looked away from the window, staring out broodingly. The press conference hadn’t gone as he had planned, that was for sure. Nick had thought it had gone okay, but Howie was a perfectionist; if only one thing didn’t go as he had anticipated, his mood was ruined. The silence in the backseat of the blinded car was contrasted by the incessant drone of the driver’s voice. Although neither of the Backstreet Boys seemed to be listening to him, he went on and on.
“So, if you’re ever looking for a new driver, I have a bus license as well,” he opted.
Howie’s head suddenly shot up, his eyes narrowing as he contemplated the suggestion for a second. “Thanks, but we’re not looking into that yet, Jeffrey. I’ll pass it on to Jen though.”
“I’d appreciate that,” Jeffrey smiled into the rearview mirror, “you know, we were all real startled about Toby’s death. How long has he been driving you boys?”
“For about a year. He was Kevin’s driver, mostly,” Howie grumbled.
“Such a shame,” the driver sighed. “Anywho, let’s hope Brian recovers quickly, so we can leave this whole hassle behind us, huh?”
Nick saw Howie nod tightly as the older singer returned his gaze to the window. Nick clenched his jaw, shooting Jeffrey’s back a heated glare, “He’s not gonna recover quick,” he hissed slightly, “He lost a leg, you know that?”
“Nick!” Howie spat, his elbow connected roughly with the younger man’s ribs. Nick flinched only a little as he watched Jeffrey struggle to come up with a reply. He wasn’t supposed to mention the amputation to anyone.
Not until Brian himself had had time to adjust to it.
Great. Now Nick had given him another reason to blame him for something.
Howie continued his fast tempo as he marched over the crowded parking lot. Nick had to hurry to keep up with his pace, which was impressive, considering the older singer was nearly a head shorter than him. “I can’t believe this,” Howie grumbled.
“m Sorry,” Nick muttered.
“You cannot keep your mouth shut, can you? You had one job, Nick. Thank you for ruining it.”
“Look, I said I was sorry.”
“That’s not enough.”
“What else am I supposed to do?”
“You don’t get it, do you?” Howie sighed, turning around with a fuming expression on his face, “What? Are you new or something?”
Nick rolled his eyes, “Jeffrey isn’t gonna tell anyone.”
“Yeah, you should hope so. God, you’re worse than AJ!”
Nick rolled his eyes, following Howie into the building. He could feel his heartbeat quicken. He hated places like these. So full of uncertainty, despair and just general crappiness. Every inch of him told him to leave, but Howie would tear him a new one if he did.
Once they got into the elevator, he felt like he couldn’t breathe. Don’t start panicking now, he told himself, don’t be a baby.
Howie didn’t notice. He had no idea, didn’t understand.
He just thought Nick was being a stubborn idiot with too much pride, and although that might be true, it was so much more than that. His heart was beating in his throat, every voice in his head screamed alarm, danger, and the closer they were to their destination, the louder the voices became.
This wasn’t just stubborn fear, this was real fear. Grounded fear. He needed to get away, because the closer he got to Brian, the thinner the air became, the wilder his heart started to pound, the worse the fiery pain in his leg became.
He couldn’t go further, it wasn’t safe.
For six days, he’d been trying to create a distance, to will any thought of doom or pain that wasn’t necessarily his, out of his mind. He’d been fairly successful in doing that during the day, but ultimately succumbed at night. It was the same dream every time. A terribly cold, abandoned field, shrouded in mist. It always took a couple of minutes for him to start realizing that someone was following him. He would splash through the soppy grass without effort, unable to get tired. He would turn around when he finally understood who it was. And Brian would try to shut him out at first, he wouldn’t let him in as he sank further and further into the soggy terrain. Nick would scream, pounding his fists against the invisible wall. In the end, Brian would give in, every night. He would let the wall down, and let Nick drown in an ocean of pain, overwhelming, uncontrollable. He would reach out to him, but they would only touch briefly before it became too much. Brian would collapse, and Nick would wake up.
Every single night, Nick saw Brian and himself die.
Every single night, he would call Kevin in distress, demanding a status report. Kevin would calm him down, saying nothing had changed for the worst.
Not for the best either.
Nick didn’t realize that he had stopped walking until he felt Howie’s hands surrounding his upper arms, shaking him roughly.
“Hey, you with me?” Howie questioned, staring into Nick’s face in concern.
Nick stared back at him, fighting the urge to run.
Howie wouldn’t let him, anyway. He swallowed nervously, his gaze flying around the hallway, “I can’t do this,” he muttered in a tiny voice.
“Yes you can, come on,” Howie sighed, letting go of his arms, “I thought we’ve been over this. He needs all the support he can get right now, and that includes yours too.”
“He doesn’t need me,” Nick grumbled angrily, “He never did.”
Howie looked at him, his eyes narrowing as he took a step back, “Is this really what we’ve become?” he asked quietly, “Do we just… not care anymore now?”
“What does it matter?” Nick replied, his voice breaking, “What if we can’t save him? I can’t just sit by… I can’t.”
“It’s not about saving him! He’s not dead and he’s not going to die.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Stop being so negative! Just because something can go wrong, doesn’t mean it will!” Howie’s voice rose as he spoke.
“But what if it does?”
“Then you’re gonna regret not being there for the rest of your life,” Howie hissed, his eyes shooting venom at the younger man. “He’s a brother, Nick. He needs family in times like these.”
“I’m sorry,” Nick whispered, taking a step towards the elevator, “I can’t…”
“Don’t you dare walking away now!” Howie yelled and Nick saw a nurse look up at the end of the hallway, clearly disapproving of his volume, “Don’t you dare let him down because of your warped sense of family! He’d never do that to you if you were in there!”
“Don’t you understand, Howie?” Nick muttered, trying to keep the emotions in his voice under control, “He’s better off without me. Everybody always is.”
“This isn’t about you, goddamnit!” Howie exclaimed and for a second, Nick was sure the older singer was going to hit him. Howie’s clenched fist relaxed though and his shoulders slumped. “I am so disappointed.”
“I wouldn’t expect you to be anything else,” Nick sighed.
“Fine then, go. Just go,” Howie growled and Nick cringed at the hate in his bandmate’s voice as he turned around, “But for your sake, I hope you change your mind, just in case. Or were you planning on not going to his funeral either?”
Nick’s eyes widened and he halted abruptly, turning back to face him in a split second, “What?” he hissed.
“I-I’m sorry… I don’t know why I said that. I-I didn’t mean that,” Howie replied, regret dripping from his voice.
Nick felt all the energy suddenly draining out of him.
He sighed deeply, staring at the ground before nodding to himself, “Yeah you did. And you have every right,” he waited for Howie to say something, but when the older man stayed silent, he continued, “Alright, let’s just get this over with then.”