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** BRIAN **

“ ... There is still no official word from the Backstreet Boys regarding the targeted shooting that took place during their sold-out show last night. The shooting spree injured twenty-three people, including band members AJ McLean and Brian Littrell. At this time, sources close to the band have confirmed that Littrell is still in critical condition. Charles Edwards of Florida has been charged with five counts of attempted murder and ...”

“Dude, turn that shit off.” AJ’s raspy voice interrupted the news report. “We already know what happened. Why do you want to know what the media has to say?”

“We need to make a statement.” Kevin ignored AJ’s request to turn the television off. “Jenn is supposed to be putting something together for us.”

The whole situation was so frustrating. I could hear everything that was going on around me, but I couldn’t respond. I couldn’t open my eyes. I couldn’t move my head. I couldn’t do anything. The most that I had managed to do so far was squeeze Howie’s hand. I had been so excited when I had felt the movement in my fingers, but the doctor had dismissed my victory as an ‘involuntary muscle spasm’. I had wanted to scream at him, but of course I hadn’t been able to get my body to cooperate.

To his credit, Nick didn’t believe that the movement had been involuntary. He had been by my side twenty-four seven; his fingers locked around mine. Every so often, he would lean over and whisper words of encouragement. It was as if he was more desperate for me to repeat the action then I was. The tone of his voice always made me want to cry; another thing that I couldn’t do.

“What’s it gonna say, Kev?” AJ sounded bitter. “Everyone piss off and leave us alone so we can deal with the fact that Brian’s dying.”

“Brian’s not dying!” Nick was crying again. He squeezed my hand even harder. “He moved! He’s gonna wake up.”

“I might have been wrong, Nick.” Howie mumbled. “Maybe I just imagined it. I – I just want so badly for him to be okay ...”

God, I needed to wake up. I couldn’t stand to hear Howie sound so sad, so guilty. I had heard his apology. I knew that he was regretting the way that he had behaved. I needed to let him know that I had heard him; that I accepted his apology. I wasn’t an idiot. I knew that Howie resented the fact that Nick had let me back into his life and that AJ always seemed to take my side. What Howie didn’t know is that I was just as surprised as he was when it came to the loyalty that Nick and AJ always expressed when it came to me. I didn’t deserve to have friends like them. I didn’t deserve to have a lot of the things that I had in life.

“He wasn’t wrong, Frick.” Nick leaned down so that he could whisper in my ear. “I know that you can hear me. I know that you’re fighting to let us know that you’re okay. I just kinda wish that you would hurry up.”

‘Come on, Brian! Come on!’ I tried to mentally psych myself up. ‘You can do this!’

I focused all of my efforts on moving my fingers. All I had to do was wiggle them a little bit and Nick would know for sure that I was still fighting. I have no idea how long I silently pleaded with myself, but suddenly my body started listening. I bashed my thumb clumsily against Nick’s clammy fingers, causing him to practically fall off the bed in excitement.

“Brian!” Nick screamed in my face. “Oh my God! Brian! Guys, he moved again! He moved!”

“Are you sure?” AJ scrambled to take hold of my other hand. “If you’re lying to me, Nick, I swear to God ...”

AJ fell silent as I squeezed his hand in mine. It was getting easier now; my body was finally beginning to respond. I could feel the excitement rising in my throat as I turned my attention to getting my body to open my eyes. I felt my eyelids flutter; almost there.

“Holy shit!” AJ screamed louder then Nick. “He’s gonna open his eyes. Come on, B! You can do it! Come on!”

My eyes flew open, and I immediately shut them again. The room was too bright. I tried again, more slowly this time, and finally allowed myself to squint into the assaulting florescent lights of the hospital.

“Brian!” Nick was practically on top of me. “Can you hear me? Can you see me?” He was crying as the questions spewed out of his mouth. “Are you okay?”

“Don’t ask him if he’s okay!” AJ shoved his way into my line of sight. “He probably can’t even fucking talk yet! Brian, blink twice if you understand what we’re saying.”

I blinked twice, wishing that I was able to smile. Even in a crisis, the two of them were ragging on each other. Some things would never change.

“Yes, yes, oh my God, yes!” Nick flung himself on top of me, hugging me so violently that I could hear the beeps from my monitors starting to amp up. “I knew that you were going to make it! I knew it!

All I wanted to do was return Nick’s crushing hug, but I had to settle for blinking away like an idiot. My throat felt tight, clogged. I didn’t think that I would be able to speak even if I could force myself to form the words.

“Nick, get off of him!” Kevin was yelling from somewhere outside of my field of vision. “Watch his breathing tube!”

Oh. So, that’s why I couldn’t talk. I had a tube down my throat. Nice.

No sooner were the words out of Kevin’s mouth then I was surrounded by doctors. The oldest of the group of men who had descended upon me, pushed Nick and AJ out of the way and began jamming his fingers against the machines that I could only assume had been keeping me alive. He began spewing a series of medical commands at his colleagues who all sprang into action; one of them, thankfully, removed the breathing tube from my throat with a series of swift tugs.

I gasped as the plastic left my airway, sucking in as much as air as I could. I sputtered at the sudden ability to breathe on my own; my throat was burning. The older man quickly positioned an oxygen mask over my face and looked down at me with a warm, crinkly smile.

“Breathe, Mr. Littrell, just breathe.”

I nodded viciously, my eyes swivelling to find Nick who was now lurking behind the group of medical staff. His eyes found mine, his face crumpling with the realization that I was finally responsive. I couldn’t remember a time when I had been so happy to see Nick cry.

“Mr. Littrell, can you hear me?” The older doctor was still peering into my face. “Do you feel any pain? Can you speak?”

“Throat.” I managed to croak the word out from underneath the mask that was still covering my face. “Sore.”

“That’s good, Mr. Littrell.” The doctor smiled, despite my admission of being in pain. “How about your chest? Does it hurt?”

My chest? I forced myself to focus on that part of my body, and noticed, for the first time, the dull ache that was radiating through my upper torso. “Hurts a bit.”

The doctor nodded. “You suffered a haemopneumothorax from damage to the lung and chest wall, which required a large chest drain. Unfortunately, you also went into cardiac arrest which demanded us to perform a prompt thoracotomy. I have to tell you, Mr. Littrell, that I’m very surprised to see that you’re awake; there was so much blood loss.”

“But he is awake.” Kevin pointed out the obvious. “So, he’s going to be okay?”

“He needs to take it easy for the next few weeks.” The doctor smiled warmly at me for the second time. “No dancing, no vigorous exercise, no stress, no sex ..”

AJ’s snort of laughter interrupted the doctor’s speech. “Knowing his wife that last one probably won’t be a problem. Unless he’s got some sexy lady on the side that none of us know about.”

“AJ!” Kevin snapped. “Can you shut up? Please.”

My eyes once again flickered to Nick. Had he mentioned something to AJ about what had happened with Ashley? I took a rather ragged breath as the possibilities of what would happen if Leighanne found out that I had been unfaithful began to invade my mind. I had just been given a new lease on life, and there was so much that I needed to consider. I didn’t want to be forced into making a life-altering choice. For once, I wanted to be the one who decided my future.

Nick shook his head ever so slightly and gave me a slow smile. I immediately relaxed. Nick had kept my secret, just like he had promised. It may have taken a tragedy to re-cement our friendship, but I didn’t care. All that mattered was that I was going to have the opportunity to start over with Nick by my side.

“You’ve got two scars now, Frick.” Nick grinned. “Think about how wild the ladies are gonna get the next time that you take off your shirt.”

“Jesus, Nick ...” Howie trailed off and looked to the ceiling for guidance. “You and AJ seriously need to give it a rest.”

“It’s okay, D.” I pulled the oxygen mask away from my face, eliciting a frown of disapproval from one of the doctors who was still checking me over. “I kinda missed it.”

Howie sighed and shook his head, suppressing a smile. “Well, we kinda missed you too, B.”

“I heard you all crying, acting like I wasn’t going to pull through.” I grinned. “You didn’t really think that I was going to give up, did you?”

“We had faith in you.” Howie finally allowed the smile to overtake his face. “We always have faith in you, Bri ... all of us.”