He felt an odd sense of accomplishment whenever he finished one, a kind of satisfaction. He’d told himself that if he could solve enough of them (and there certainly were enough of them), he didn’t have to worry anymore about anything else.
He was a fool.
AJ sighed a second time. Although there were two persons in the room, he felt alone. That wasn’t that strange, because Brian hadn’t done anything to acknowledge him. The older man nowadays kept to staring blankly ahead, too drugged and subdued to do much else.
And although AJ knew it was for the best, he didn’t like this lifeless version of Brian. Sure, it was better than having a panicked version rip all his stitches out as he tried to remove the tube from his mouth, but God, this was just torture.
And there didn’t seem to be an end to it.
AJ didn’t really know what he’d been expecting. He remembered the extreme feeling of relief that had washed over him when Brian had first woken up. He hadn’t been able to keep from smiling as his friend had watched him with large, confused eyes. At that point, he had believed that everything would turn out just fine after all. It would take time, sure, loads of time and patience; things would have to change drastically, but, considering the alternative, AJ had been close to fine with that.
He had always had the tendency to get ahead of things.
Dr. Ferris had been less excited and AJ should have taken notice from that. You could only laugh death in its face for so long before it would come back to bite you in the ass. And sure, after just three days: pneumonia, which had already been gloomily predicted from the start, really. He watched Brian blink sluggishly a few times and took his hand, which was remarkably warm.
Only Brian could do that, go from 75 to 104 within just one week. No questions asked.
“It’s alright, bro. Just go back to sleep. You don’t have to stay up for me, you know?” AJ mumbled absently.
He could hear the frightening rattle in his lungs with every forced, deep breath the older man took. Maybe he was just imagining things, but he could swear it was getting more pronounced each time. Great. Now he’d gotten himself all worried again. A sigh of relief escaped him when Brian’s eyes finally stayed closed. AJ didn’t know if he could handle that helpless, vacant stare for much longer. But what if it stayed like this?
He frowned; the unsettling thought slowly creeping to the surface. What if this was the best it got? What if, from here on out, all would be nothing but suffering and pain? And yeah, he knew he wasn’t much of a positive thinker, but what if? Deep down he knew he was being overdramatic. Brian was sick, and when someone was sick, you needed to give them time to heal.
But Jeez, AJ was not described as a patient man often.
And he didn’t want to think it, willed the dark thoughts out of his mind with everything he had, but he couldn’t help it. And he hated himself for letting the darkness back into his head, that lurking monster of depression he’d been fighting for over fifteen years.
You know it’s true though, it whispered softly, looking back now, you know it’s true. It would have always been better if he’d just died. Back there, in the field. In the cold. With Alex as his only company.
AJ bit his lip, taking a deep breath to steady himself as he felt tears forming in the corner of his eyes.
Over the years, he had learnt to deal with that dark, sinister voice that came from deep inside the dusty corners of his mind. But in times like these, when it was hard to find a beacon of light that could hold off the darkness, he let it overpower him.
Which would often eventually result in another month in rehab.
And he didn’t want to go back there. Not that it was an overly frightening experience to be in rehab –he found that he actually quite liked the serene atmosphere there- but he didn’t want to see all those disappointed faces of the people around him again. Because that was the absolute worst thing about all of it. Those
disillusioned, but accepting expressions as he laid out his problems in the open. And Brian was the worst. He somehow still had these stupid beliefs that the world was a just place where everyone got what they deserved.
Even after all the people that screwed him over, he still thought that blind faith was the best way to go through life.
This is what you get with your blind faith, AJ thought sourly as he threw a hateful look to the complicated framework that braced Brian’s left leg, somehow poorly trying to make up for the frightening absence of the right one. AJ shivered, still not used to the idea. At this point, he didn’t think he would ever be. The frame on the left leg was casually adorned with a paper that read: ‘under construction’, which was mostly Baylee’s contribution. That child had a dark sense of humor sometimes. He watched the silent clock with a frown. It was 8.30. Just thirty minutes before visiting hours would close. He’d probably go home tonight, back to life. Ava would look at him, accusingly asking where he’d been all day with most of the words she knew for that. Which weren’t much, considering her compromised two year old vocabulary.
Rochelle would hug him, ask him how the conference went and if there was any change. His answers would be short and guarded and she’d stop asking not long after that.
That’s how most days went anyway.
Damnit, even his girls couldn’t bring on the source of light he was waiting and hoping for.
His head suddenly shot upright as he snapped out of his referee at the sound of voices in the hallway. He could distinctly determine Howie’s as it took on an angry, loud tone. AJ frowned; the ICU was not keen on loud, yelling voices and Howie should certainly know better.
But AJ could immediately relate to Howie’s angry tone when he heard the much softer reply of Nick Carter.
That fucker had some balls, coming back here.
They’d all dealt differently with the situation, that was for sure. AJ tried to divide his time between sulkily staring ahead at home with his family, and sulkily staring ahead in this hospital room. There was not much between those two things, and for now, it seemed more than enough. Kevin had a similar tactic. He was mostly there when AJ, or anybody else for that matter, wasn’t. And after that, he would mostly engage himself in trying to manage the crumbling business, because for some reason, he didn’t believe Jen could save it by herself. And Howie, well Howie had grown utterly silent. Not that he was such an outspoken person by nature, but now he seemed to be extra guarded, reserved. His visits were usually short, silent and never on his own. He would go when AJ or Kevin was there and AJ could always clearly read the fear in his eyes, although he would never say a word about it. Howie had lost most resemblance of hope and because of that, AJ had begun to lose his as well.
Leighanne had resorted to a calm, composed manner when she was inside the room, attempting to be a beacon of comfort and support when she was close to her husband.
But when she wasn’t in the room, she most likely was taking her frustrations out on everything and everyone.
Right now, Jen was being slaughtered with a turmoil of accusations. Because how dare she talk about rescheduling already?
And Nick… that coward had run far away, like he was not a part of it. Maybe, in a way, he wasn’t, not really. Hadn’t been all along. From the moment he’d been left at the gas-station, Nick had been an outsider. AJ hadn’t seen him in six days before he showed up to the press conference. And to be perfectly honest, AJ hadn’t expected him to do that either. He’d been mildly surprised when he’d seen Nick’s stern, emotionless face that morning. Everything about him screamed that he did not want to be there, under the scrutinizing eyes of his bandmates and the rest of the world. He’d thrown AJ a fearful look every now and then, and AJ perfectly understood why. He’d been the one that had told Nick five days ago in a message, and in no uncertain terms that if he didn’t want to be there, he should stay the hell away. Be gone, stay gone.
And now the big hero was making his return.
The voices had died down and AJ sat frozen as he heard footsteps coming closer. It didn’t take long before he saw Howie’s pissed off face through the glass wall outside the room, followed by Nick’s uncertain appearance. AJ stood up and walked towards the door.
“You have nerve, showing up here,” AJ grumbled menacingly when the two others entered the room in silence. Nick took an actual step back, clearly not having expected AJ to be there. He glanced at the door wearily, then at Howie and finally back at AJ.
“I’m not here for you,” he mumbled quietly, brushing past the older man without looking back. His face had taken on a determined expression suddenly as he walked up to the bed. “I’m not gonna run anymore, Bri, and neither are you,” he said, completely ignoring the fact that Howie and AJ were still in the room, “We’re gonna do something about all this.”