"Brian!" Nick greeted as he rushed across to meet his friend. "Brian, how's it going bud?"
Brian smiled and warmly embraced his friend. The plane ride had been bearable… just. He had stayed in his seat permanently and had kept his eyes focused on the seat in front of him, refusing to glance about at the rest of the passengers in case he became paranoid and panicked. His hands had tightly grasped the armrests either side of him and every time someone walked down the aisle beside him he would jerk slightly.
He told himself that the knot in his stomach was caused by his fear of heights, but he still had been unable to avoid jumping in fear as people pushed past him when they exited the plane.
"I'm okay," he said, but his voice seemed to croak slightly. He gulped and cleared his throat. 'Get a grip, Brian.'
"You don't look good," Nick said frowning at him in concern.
"I'll be fine," Brian replied offering a weak smile to reassure Nick, but he was not certain how successful it was.
"Let's get you back to mine," Nick said taking Brian's bag from him. "Or did you wanna stop and get some lunch on the way?"
"Nah," Brian replied, trying to make his voice appear casual. "Let's just eat at yours." The plane had been frightening enough and Brian was not certain how he would feel in a restaurant or café where anybody could be watching him. Nick's house was much safer. Being the most popular member of the group he had extra security features about his house to prevent the fans from breaking in. Brian only wished he had thought to install so many precautions himself. He would have to see about it when they returned from tour…
"Allrighty, how's about we order a pizza?" Nick suggested.
"Cool," Brian said, smiling.
Brian stayed close to Nick's side during the short walk to the bus terminal, his cap tilted slightly to hide his distinct, bright eyes and bleached hair. His eyes remained glued to the floor and he fought the urge to glance about him nervously in case they were being followed.
During the short bus ride to the car lot Brian still kept his eyes focused upon the floor, or the luggage rail or any other inanimate object not wanting to look around. He knew it was paranoia, but he could not fight it.
Finally they arrived at Nick's truck and Brian's bag was tossed onto the back seat before the two of them clambered inside. Brian could feel his heart thumping in relief as the end of the day drew near. He was with Nick now and he was safe. There was nobody here to watch them or to make him feel uncomfortable.
He smiled as he buckled his seat belt, proud that he had survived the trip to Nick's without any problems. Yes, he had been scared on the plane but he had kept control. Maybe now he could finally begin to get better… maybe.
"You gonna be okay in the spare room?" Nick asked as he shut the door behind them and firmly locked it much to Brian's relief.
"Either that or I sleep on the floor!" Brian pointed out, smiling at Nick.
"Nah, you'd make the place look untidy!"
"It already is untidy!"
"Watch it!" Nick said, tossing his bag at him. "You get that upstairs and I'll order the pizza, okay?"
"Sure," Brian replied. He swung the bag over his shoulder and began to clamber up the stars. "Oh, can I call Kevin and let him know that I arrived okay?" he asked as an after thought. He did not want Kevin to think he had freaked out on the way.
"Course ya can!" Nick called back.
Brian grinned and dragged his back up the stairs and into the bright yellow room that served as Nick's spare/guest room. He dropped the bag upon the newly made bed and then returned to the landing where the phone was. He dialled Kevin's number and drummed his fingers against the base while he waited for his cousin to pick up.
"Hey Kev, it's me!" he said cheerfully.
"Brian, you're okay?" Kevin asked and Brian could hear the relief in his voice and almost see the sparkle that would appear in his cousin's eyes after a long period of worrying.
"Yeah, I'm fine! I made the plane ride okay and Nick met me at the airport and now we're back at his!"
"It was a little scary," Brian confessed truthfully. "But I was fine with it. Actually, I feel much better for it because it feels like I've accomplished something."
"That's great then! I was kinda worried it would be a bit much for you…"
Over protective Kevin as usual…
"I'm not that much of a nervous wreck!" Brian replied. "Only get scared when I start drooling and talking to myself!"
"Talking to yourself is okay, it's when you hear answers that you get worried!" Kevin joked.
Brian laughed. "Seriously though, I made it okay and I'm feeling great."
"I'm glad. I just want you to feel better about yourself."
"I do and I'll be perfectly fine when we go back on tour."
"Uh huh. All right, you two have fun and don't do anything stupid! I know what you and Nick are like when you get together!"
"What's that supposed to mean?" Brian asked, feigning a hurt filled voice.
"You know exactly what I mean! Remember that time you two decided to go singing in the rain outside of the hotel and ended up catching colds?"
"It was fun though! Well, the singing part was!" Brian said, grinning as he remembered some of the prank himself and Nick had pulled over the years.
"I'll let you go then. See ya Brian!"
"Byee!" Brian replaced the receiver and then jumped back down the stairs and into the kitchen.
"Everything okay up there? I tried to tidy it this morning for you," Nick said, looking up as Brian entered.
"Fine," Brian said.
"Oh, just to remind you. If you come down here in the night remember to turn the alarm off or you'll wake up the entire neighbourhood. You remember the code?"
"Um… no," Brian replied. Nick's codes were always impossible long and Brian had no idea how Nick even remembered them himself.
"You can write it on your hand before you go sleep then," Nick said with a shrug.
Brian smiled at Nick. He knew exactly what he was doing. He had spotted Brian's unease at the airport and was determined to make him feel safe in his home, hence the reminder of the burglar alarm with the unbreakable code. "Thanks," he said.
"No problem. Pizza will be here soon. Want me to do some fries to go with it?" Nick asked
"If you want."
"Okay, why don't you pick a movie?"
Brian nodded and left Nick to sort out the food. He was already beginning to feel much better here than he had at Kevin's. He did not need to worry about invading a relationship because Nick had finished with his latest girlfriend a few weeks ago.
He chose a DVD at random and then jammed into the player before bouncing up onto the couch with the remote in his hand. He glanced about the room smiling at the untidiness that was Nick Carter's home.
Suddenly there was a small thump from outside. Brian jumped and spun round to stare at the window, just as a shadow passed across it.
"Nick!" he screamed. "Nick!" the remote control fell from his hands as he instinctively wrapped his arms about his body to hide himself.
"What's up?" Nick cried, dashing into the room and looking about him anxiously.
Brian's frightened eyes stared at the window in horror… until he saw a black cat walk back along the outside edge of the glass. He closed his eyes and placed a hand to his head. "God…"
"What was it?" Nick asked crouching down beside the couch in concern.
"I thought I saw someone at the window… but it was that stupid cat wasn't it? I'm such an idiot…" So much for thinking he might actually be recovering…
"You're not an idiot," Nick replied gently. "And I'd rather you called me because you saw a cat instead of a real person. That would be scary."
Nick sighed and crossed to the window where he pulled the curtains down. He flicked the light switch and the room lit up with a warm, cheerful glow. He picked up the remote and handed it back to Brian. "You start watching the movie and I'll get the grub. Don't worry about calling me for anything, okay?" He patted Brian's shoulder for a moment.
Brian miserably pushed the button to start the movie up and curled up on the couch. Why couldn't everything be normal again? Somehow he had changed into this frightened person who jumped at everything and he did not know how to change back into his own self. He buried his head in the cushions and shuddered as the memories returned to him…
"You know, I haven't killed someone in so long. The last person was a man and I delivered the fatal blow with this hand."
"I've always wanted to kill a famous person."
Brian wrapped his arms about his body and pulled himself up into a tiny ball, even though Liam was not here now. What had happened to Liam? Was he dead? Was Brian a murderer?
Like the note had said upon his wall. It was true, it had to be true. Someone had taken the body and now had returned to make Brian pay.
Brian jerked at the voice and his head snapped up, only to find Nick looking down at him in concern, two plates in his hand piled with fries and a pizza box.
Brian slowly sat up into a more normal position and avoided Nick's attempts to make eye contact. He was a baby being so frightened like this. He was a baby. He was a…
"The pizza just arrived," Nick said softly. "You hungry?"
Brian nodded. "Smells good," he whispered.
Nick said nothing else and handed Brian a plate full of fries before opening the pizza and leaving it on the table for both of them to help themselves. Brian forced his stomach to accept all of the food he swallowed, despite the way it wriggled threateningly within him. He did not want Nick to see his lost appetite.
After finishing, he placed the plate upon the floor ad curled up in a corner of the couch, his eyes glued on the TV screen, watching the pictures but not taking them into his mind.
Liam was dead and it was his fault. He was a killer. His fingers entwined nervously in his lap and he fought the urge to start at them like he had done that night when blood covered them.
"Brian… Are you sure you've been okay lately?" Nick asked gently.
"Yeah," Brian replied, but inside he could feel the drumming of his pounding heart. Were his fears showing so easily upon his face? "I'm fine."
'Keep your eyes on the screen and don't look at him…'
"You sure?" Nick pressed.
Out of the corner of his eyes he saw Nick tilting his head in concern, but he refused to meet his gaze. None of them could ever understand what it felt like to see a dead man upon the ground, a man he had killed. Accident? Self defence? If only it were that easy. If only there was one word that could alleviate the pain, guilt and fear that was consuming Brian's body from the inside out.
Brian found his head turning to face Nick, despite him telling himself that he wouldn't. He dropped his eyes away from Nick's.
"What's up?" Nick asked softly.
Brian's eyes closed for a moment. He had felt so free when he first arrived here, but the cat and his irrational fear had changed everything. He could try to ignore the pain, forget about it and pretend that his life was 'okay', but still that fear would find a way out of the box he had caged it within and bubble to the surface to terrify him and force him to remember everything that had happened.
A blood covered knife in his hand and a body at his feet…
'What have I done? What have I done!'
He felt a hand upon his shoulder and gasped slightly before jerking away and staring at Nick with wide eyes.
"Talk to me," Nick begged. "I'm not Kevin and I'm not going to smother you all the time, but I think you need to get everything off your chest."
"I'm just… scared."
"About what's gonna happen?"
Brian nodded. "I know what I did and I know what I saw. That man was dead. All you guys kept telling me that I was wrong and I wanted to believe you but I couldn't because in my heart I knew… Now, I've just had my worst fear confirmed with that note."
'Oh God, he's dead! I killed him! I killed him!'
"That I'm a murderer!" Brian whispered, trying to hold the tears back.
"No you're not!" Nick defended. "We don't even know if Liam is dead."
"You don't believe me do you?" Brian accused. "Why won't any of you listen? He was dead and I know he was dead! I wanted to believe that he wasn't and then I found that message! He's dead and that message proved it!"
"The police do not believe that you murdered Liam," Nick said. "There is still no evidence that he is dead. Brian, I believe that you believe what you're saying but you have to admit that you'd lost a lot of blood and you could have been mistaken. What if Liam saw how freaked out you were and know he wants to play games with you and your conscience?"
"Maybe," Brian replied after a pause. "I just can't stop feeling guilty though."
"Don't you dare feel guilty! Liam would have killed you and felt nothing! Besides, you didn't mean to hurt him! You would never even squish a fly, let alone kill somebody! It wasn't your fault!" Nick said fiercely.
"It's easy for you to say that! But to me, it was murder! And I feel like a murderer!" Brian snapped. They did not understand! How could they tell him what he was feeling when Brian had so many emotions within him that he couldn't even decide what he was experiencing. He suddenly felt a small tear sliding down his face as for a second Liam's face flashed into his mind with his glittering, malevolent eyes. He remembered the fear that had made him want to vomit and then there had been the agony as the knife had ripped through his skin.
"Brian." Nick looked at a loss. He was always uncomfortable when somebody cried and Brian felt even more guilty for putting in that position.
He wiped his eyes on a sleeve and then he felt an arm around him. He leaned into Nick's embrace for a moment. "I ' I'm sorry," he murmured.
"It's all right," Nick soothed. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have dragged it all back to you. You're right, it's easy for us to say things but it's harder for you. I'm sorry." Nick held him reassuringly.
"I'm just so scared about what's going to happen. I try not to think about it and I try to be normal but I can't… And I just keep remembering it all."
"It'll go away," Nick assured him. "But it won't happen overnight and it's bound to be hard to get through, but we're all going to be here to help you."
"The worst thing is that I don't know what's happening and I ahead no idea who wrote that message. Maybe it was Liam, but maybe it wasn't… who was it? And what if they try something else?" Brian whispered. Who knew what would come next in life…
"No one's going to hurt you, not without coming through me and Kev first!" Nick said determinedly. He glanced at Brian and rubbed his shoulder and grinned. "And the security guards… And lots of locked doors into the arenas… And the crowds of fans… and - "
"I get the picture!" Brian said, smiling as he wiped the tears away. "You're right, nothing is going to happen on tour."
' I hope not anyway,' he added silently. If anything ever happened to the others because of him…
"And by the time we've finished, you're stalker will probably have been caught or trampled by fans in his attempt to reach you or pummelled by a security guard or run over by one of our tour buses or trying to rob N*Sync instead!"
Brian laughed again and leaned against Nick's shoulder. "Yeah, stalking a Backstreet Boy is hard work."
"Hey, I know you're scared but I think you're really brave about it. I'd probably have been reduced to a gibbering wreck!" Nick said, nudging him slightly and crossing his eyes to make Brian smile.
"Reduced?" Brian questioned cheekily.
"Hey!" Nick protested. He suddenly grabbed a cushion and smacked Brian over the head with it.
"Ow!" Brian protested.
"Serves you right!" Nick said, throwing the cushion over to the other side of the room before Brian could snatch it and reciprocate Nick's actions.
Brian stuck his tongue out and crossed his eyes causing a spurt of laughter to come from Nick.
Nick grinned at him. "That's what I like to see, you happy and your usual abnormal self!"
"I feel better being here already. You're so much more laid back than Kevin is when it comes me," Brian said lounging back against the couch and closing his eyes.
"Yeah, just don't freak me out by having a panic attack or anything!" Nick said, playfully prodding his arm. "If you get scared, just tell me and we'll deal with it together."
Brian smiled warmly at him. "Thanks. "You're such a good friend, you know that Nick?"
Nick smiled playfully. "Where would you be without your faithful Frack?"