He opened his eyes just in time to see a hand flying towards his shoulder. A flashlight was shining right into his face and blinking, he glared at the person behind it.
“What?” he rasped.
“You gotta stay awake,” Howie explained impatiently. Apparently, there was nothing subtle about him when he was cold and cranky. Well, at least he was warmer than him.
Brian had no idea how long he’d been lying on the frozen ground, but it was long enough for the cold to creep into depths he’d never even imagined possible. He was a bluegrass boy, and Kentucky was not exactly known for its harsh winters. And if anything, he wasn’t very used to lying around in the cold like this with nothing to do.
He’d stopped shivering, but the occasional tremors that wrecked his spine were enough to force him to bite his lip to keep from screaming out.
Everything hurt. Like hell.
And now Howie didn’t want him to sleep? What, was he afraid to get lonely? Didn’t Brian deserve some rest? The night had been eventful enough, hadn’t it?
“’m tired, lemme s-sleep,” he murmured and if he could, he would have turned his back on Howie to prove his point.
The bus on his legs made him fairly immobile though.
“You can’t fall asleep, it’s too cold,” Howie replied curtly.
“Oh yeah? W-watch me.”
“That’s not what I mean.”
“Shut up! J-jeez!”
“You just…” Howie paused mid-sentence. “Your lips are turning blue,” he stated seriously, shining the flashlight into Brian’s face again. “Listen, hypothermia makes you drowsy, okay? You don’t get to fall asleep, it’s dangerous.”
“I-I don’t n-need a lecture from y-you,” Brian said, his voice shaking from the cold, and maybe a little bit in fear of what Howie had just declared. Freezing underneath a broken bus wasn’t very high on his wishlist. But lying awake in the middle of a winter’s night in a cold field would drive him insane one way or another, he was convinced of that. The inability to do anything about his situation was making him crazy, and if that wasn’t yet enough, there was no sign that they were going to get help anytime soon.
“Too bad,” Howie muttered, frowning at the way Brian’s face twisted in pain, “You okay? You want some more Tylenol?”
“N-no thanks, Doctor Dorough,” the younger man attempted to smile, without much of a result. He’d convinced himself that if he didn’t move, it wouldn’t hurt so much. Besides, if he swallowed one more pill, he would most likely throw up. He didn’t tell Howie that. He didn’t tell Howie a lot of things. Not that he didn’t trust him. If anyone could be trusted, it was Howie. Brian just didn’t want him to worry, cause he could see that Howie was hurting too.
He was particularly glad that he wasn’t able to see his legs. They felt as if they weren’t a part of him anymore and he didn’t know if they actually still were. He quickly pushed that thought out of his mind. He had enough gruesome details to worry about. He’d pretty much figured one of his hips was dislocated, judging by the white hot pain that coursed through it every time he moved, and the awkward angle it was bended in underneath the metal frame.
Anything below his hips felt frozen and numb. He’d tried to experimentally wriggle his toes, but that hadn’t lead to anything. He’d thought about all those movies he’d seen with people pinned under a wreckage. They’d either walk away without a scratch, or had half their bodies amputated.
“…told you already you should stay here, you can’t just walk away all the time,” he heard Kevin’s voice echoing over the field. His older cousin had found it necessary to function as a mother hen tonight, venturing after the lost little kids that had a tendency to walk the wrong direction. Brian smiled to himself. If he could have, he would have acted the same as AJ did. Then Kevin would have double the stress he had now. Brian would have scoured the entire field for something useful. And for Nick. It made his blood boil beneath his frozen skin that everyone had practically given up on the youngest. What were they going to tell his family, his wife, when they got back home without him? Sorry, but we were too much of a bunch of chickens to even attempt finding him?
He watched Kevin march over to their own little camping spot with a surly expression. Behind him AJ reluctantly followed. He seemed to have a lot of trouble getting forward, but Brian couldn’t determine why. AJ grumbled unintelligibly, his face staring at the ground. It looked as if he was pulling something along with him and Brian narrowed his eyes to see what it was. He squeezed his eyes shut as Kevin’s flashlight glared into his eyes.
“How you holding up?” he asked the standard question without much emotion. Probably because he already knew the standard answer.
“I’ll be f-fine,” his cousin grumbled, shielding his eyes from the flashlight.
“Right,” Kevin scoffed, directing the beam of light towards Howie instead, “How is the fire going?”
“It’s not,” Howie spat, “I thought that was pretty obvious. Everything is wet.”
“Throw some of AJ’s clothes on the pile, they’ll burn like hell,” Kevin suggested, glaring his flashlight in AJ’s face now. He narrowed his eyes when the younger man stayed silent, “No comments?”
“I guess not.”
“Great. Glad we’ve got that settled,” Kevin stated as he threw a sweater towards the place where Howie was attempting to start a fire.
AJ watched silently when his sweater finally caught fire.
Oh well, a sacrifice made for the greater good, he thought. He knelt down, pulling at the rope he’d tied around his stomach. Kevin had eyed the rock suspiciously, but hadn’t made any comments on it so far. The older man had only gone on about the fact he had wandered off again.
Didn’t he understand that AJ was about the only one that was getting things done?
The rock was gigantic and perfect. Exactly what he’d been looking for. Sure, it was heavy, and he’d spent a while figuring out how to get it back to base camp, but now he felt proud he’d accomplished that much. And no one even cared.
“So,” he drawled, squinting as Kevin’s flashlight once again turned his way, “wanna know what I found?”
“You mean, when you took off again?” Kevin growled.
“Why won’t you just get over it, old man?” AJ muttered, “I’ve got a rock.”
“Congrats. That’s great.”
His eyes widened when he saw Howie and Kevin both turn their attention to the fire again. Darn, he did not just struggle half a mile without some recognition. “I don’t think you understand,” he interjected.
“W-why do you have a rock?” He turned at the sound of Brian’s voice. It was slurred and weak and although he couldn’t clearly see his face, he knew the older singer was looking worse than he did when AJ left. Out of the four of them, Brian was probably having the most problems with the cold. He wasn’t moving and it was impossible for him to wrap himself in a blanket.
Which was why it was great that AJ found a rock.
He proudly put his hands on his hips and announced, “I found a rock.”
“Yeah, we got that,” Howie grumbled, not turning away from the fire, “Find anything useful as well?”
“Screw you guys,” AJ hissed, “I’m gonna free Brian.”
This time they did turn around and Kevin’s flashlight was shining into his face once again. Then he directed it at Brian, who looked just as surprised.
“Excuse me?” Kevin demanded.
“Gosh, you guys are such empty-heads sometimes,” AJ sighed. “Listen, I’ll spell it out for you. We can try to pull the wreckage up far enough, then shove the rock underneath it, and haul our Rok out!”
A stunned silence began while the others contemplated AJ’s idea. It was fairly simple, and it might be effective, except for…
“B-brilliant,” Brian grumbled, “But my leg is s-stuck.”
AJ’s shoulders slumped and his face fell, “But… I thought…”
“Well, we gotta do something,” Howie spoke up, “I mean, at the very least, we might be able to get some of the weight off. Give you a little space. Maybe try to get your leg… you know… not stuck?”
In the beam of the flashlight, they saw Brian’s face darken in fear. He shivered at the thought of AJ’s idea, “I-I don’t k-know,” he stammered, looking from one Backstreet Boy to the other, “I mean… l-last time… i-it didn’t really… s-sit well with me.”
Howie nodded, remembering that as well. “We can take some precautions this time,” he tried, looking helplessly from AJ to Kevin. “I mean, we’ve got some more painkillers right?”
“Yeah, Tylenol,” Kevin muttered, “that’s not strong enough.”
Howie sighed and stared at the ground in a defeated silence. “Damnit…” he mumbled.
“It m-might work,” Brian said softly.
“Forget it, we are not going to torture you,” Kevin replied.
“I just want this thing off of m-me, alright?”
“No. You do not get to be the tragic hero this time, hear me?” Kevin’s voice was stern, his expression unwavering, and that usually worked with his cousin. But Brian was too cold for those kind of tricks this time. He needed something to be done.
“I would h-hardly call this h-heroic,” he countered, “I mean… I w-wet my pants.”
“That’s too much information.”
“F-felt kinda w-warm though, so I don’t m-mind.”
“You are really over-sharing, cuz.”
“Guys?” AJ suddenly spoke up, “can I suggest something?”
“What?” Both cousins stopped their debate and turned to look at him.
“I… I might have found something that works just as well as painkillers. Even better…”
Kevin incredulously turned to Howie with a questioning look, “Since when did he turn into our German Sheppard?” he asked.
Howie shrugged and looked at AJ, “Why didn’t you say anything, Alex?”
“Umm, it’s…er… kinda … controversial in this particular group of people.”
“It’s alcohol, isn’t it?” Brian asked after a short silence. AJ nodded almost unnoticeably.
“Where’d you get it?” Kevin demanded.
“I found it on the bus… or… whatever is left of it.”
“Well… whose is it?”
“Why are you always immediately looking at me?” AJ asked in an angry tone, “It’s not mine!”
“He didn’t say it was, Alex,” Brian sighed, “W-what is it? Is it strong?”
“I’ll do it.”
“Got a b-better idea, Kev?”
“N-no, I don’t know if…”
“It’ll still hurt, Brian.”
“B-but it’ll be a h-happy kinda pain. A warm pain.” Brian savoured the word like it was a delicacy, something he could only long for, but never quite reach.
“You’re a stubborn idiot, you know that?”
“Learnt that f-from the best.”