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Awash in memories both disheartening and seductive, Nick sorts through his tumultuous emotions as he attempts to break off a bad relationship. Things do not go quite as he had planned, however. Based on the song "Blow Your Mind" from the Now or Never album. Written for the Backstreet Bauhaus "Now or Never" story contest.
Bare feet whispered against hardwood floors as Nick drifted aimlessly through the dark, moving from room to room, as silent and detached as a fading ghost. He knew his home well; could navigate with his eyes closed, in fact, and the night hovering outside his windows and creeping within his own walls made little difference. All things considered, the darkness was almost a good thing, now. He would rather not see anything more than he had to; not tonight.
It was odd, but he had expected more than this from himself, standing there in a house that was black and silent. He listened to the mantle clock measure away the seconds, and the occasional hum of cool air moving through the floor vents. Everything was gentle, as though nothing had ever dared to disturb the easy peace that night brought. Even he felt gentle, and that was wrong. He had expected to hurt, frankly. To ache deep inside as though he were bleeding, gashed open, but there was none of that. Anger had not welled inside his chest, and not even a ghost of sorrow had crept upon him.
At what point he had begun wandering his home, he didn't know.
Nothing changed. The rooms were the same.
It was just something to do.
When Nick snapped out of the odd daze that had come over him, he was not surprised to find himself back in the living room, where the games had begun and ended on this night. He placed his hands on the back of the couch; grabbed fistfuls of the soft white cushions. The only thing that remained in his body was a deep, cavernous emptiness, as though there had been something tangible in the wild, vivid emotions that had filled the air, and once they had left his lips to hang physical in the air, they had left his soul until there was no unhappiness, there was no joy, just a shadowed, foggy place where emotions once lay.
A kiss of cool November breeze caught his attention, and he looked up. Shard of glass were scattered on the floor from where his front picture window had been shattered. The bits had caught moonlight and there was something fascinating about how they glittered there in the dark air. Sparks of light in a world washed of its color.
He had no idea how long he stood there, staring. His home. His night.
His world, blowing hot and cold with the same breath.
At some point, he found the cordless phone in his hand. It felt good there, and he punched in a series of numbers while his skin absorbed the darkness and his mind took flight on that cool air and tumbled into memories that were achingly beautiful.
The voice startled him, and he jerked away from the phone while fighting through the fog in his body. He knew that voice, didn't he?
"Nick, is that you?"
"How did you know?" he whispered. It came out strained and rough around the edges.
There was a pause; a long one, and Nick almost forgot the phone in his hand.
"Nicky, you called me." Even a thousand miles away, Kevin's voice was strong in his ear; strong, and he wanted to crawl inside it and wrap himself up and not have to think anymore, or look where there was nothing to see; listen, when there was nothing to hear. On another day, a little voice might have poked him painfully and sneered at his childishness; at this twenty-one-year-old man crawling pathetically back to the arms of his big brother who put up with every late-night phone call; who could always make everything right. But on this night, tonight, everything had been shocked to silence.
"Yeah," he choked out.
"Whaths going on? Are you all right?" Tenderness, even.
"Kevin," he said, letting the relief seep through this time, and when his knees began to shake for reasons he couldn't grasp he managed to get himself in front of the couch, and sat down heavily upon it. "Kevin, I'm so glad to hear your voice."
"Where are you?"
"I'm home. It's late, isn't it?"
"It's… half-past twelve here, which means it's three-thirty where you are. What is--"
"I didn't wake Kristen, did I?"
"She sleeps like a log, Nick."
"Sorry for calling so late."
"I told you to, didn't I? Tell me what happened, Nicky. Did you do it?"
"I did it." He ran his fingers through his hair, so much shorter now. The words tasted bitter on his tongue.
"Gone," he finished, and when Kevin sighed like the weight of a hundred burdens had been lifted from his back, Nick smiled a little and could picture him there, cradling the phone between his shoulder and cheek, slipping into the hall to let Kristen sleep, moving through his own dark house on the coast of California but flicking on the lights as he passed them. Maybe pausing by the mirror and admiring how perfect his hair was, even in the middle of the night. That was the Kevin he knew.
"Are you all right, Nick?"
"Bad, huh?" he asked softly.
He sighed. "She broke the window."
"Did the police come?"
"No, the security system was off."
"Listen, don't touch any of the glass, okay?"
"I've got to clean up--"
"I'll call A.J. and have him come over."
Nick closed his eyes. "Kev, don't bother him. I shouldn't have even bothered you."
"This is about helping a friend," he said gently. "I'd be pissed if you hadn't called."
"I just feel… I should have known, Kevin. You saw it; you knew. So did the rest of the guys."
"We all trust the wrong people sometimes. Be glad it wasn't any worse."
"It's bad enough," he mumbled. "God, a blind man could have seen this coming. Everybody in the world but Nick Carter."
Kevin was speaking, but Nick could not hear him. His eyes had fallen upon the glass again, those glittering moonbits on the floor, whispering to him; eyes, bewitching and before he knew it the darkness around him was shot with colored lights and Kevin was not in his ear but by his side, pressing a Coors Light into his hand and offering an affectionate smile. They were in Orlando and exactly 26 hours into life, post-Black & Blue tour. Brian was off in a corner with Leighanne somewhere and Howie had dragged A.J. home with him to visit family; and with Kristen busy filming a commercial in Seattle, Kevin and Nick had someone wound up in one another's company, leaning against the bar in a trendy club almost too young for them anymore. They had both been quick to spot the beauty on the dance floor, dark tresses piled atop her head, an elegant curve to her neck and shoulder, and a slumbering fever in her dark eyes when she turned slowly towards them, as though she knew their gazes were upon her. The type of woman who was purely physical; who could make a man forget everything else in his world.
"You think I should go for her?" Nick had asked, supping at the beer in his hand as he perched on a barstool and enjoyed the view
"Up to you, man." Kevin was relaxed on the stool next to him. His eyes had not wandered far from the young woman, either. "What classic pick-up line are you going to use tonight?"
"Shut up," he replied pleasantly. "This one's receptive. She's been watching me since we came in." He glanced down at the rumpled T-shirt and jeans he wore. "Why, I'm not sure…"
"No, she's been looking at me," Kevin corrected with a smirk.
Nick laughed aloud, then stood. "Watch," he said, and moved slowly down to the opposite end of the bar to grab a napkin out of the dispenser. From the corner of his eye, he could see the beauty following each step he took, and the grin on his face was wide when he sat down next to Kevin again. "See?"
Kevin nodded and returned the smile. "So much the better," he said, raising his beer, and Nick did the same. The glass necks of the bottles clinked together.
"She's pretty hot. Don't you think?"
He shrugged. "Yeah, she's hot. But you've seen a lot of hot women, Nick."
"Come on," Nick protested. "She's worth it, don't you think?"
"Are you that hard-up for a girlfriend?"
"Shut up," he said again, not quite so pleasantly.
"It's worth a shot. Just don't expect the moon with her."
Nick smirked and turned to look at his beauty again, dancing with fire and freedom in her body. He might have been content to just watch the entire night; what it was that finally convinced him to go up to her, he wasn't sure. He was notoriously shy when it came to the opposite sex, despite the ease with which he came alive when the cameras were on. Perhaps it was the alcohol, helping to take the edge off his nerves. Maybe it was just the urge to approach something so uniquely beautiful; touch her to see if she was real. Edging over, he approached in his usual manner, chin tucked down and hands pushed bashfully into his pockets. He had never developed that sultry gaze that A.J. used, prowling over a woman's body as aggressively as though he had laid his very hands on her. Instead, he crept up as though she were the celebrity and he the one with her poster on the wall, and when she turned he caught the scent of strawberries in her hair and caramel on her breath. Her eyes were unnaturally large when he looked at them closely, and she drew her body up to his as though she had known him her entire life. "Um… hello," Nick whispered, and she listened. "I'm… a rock star."
There was a snort of muffled laughter behind him, and just as he had begun to wonder in annoyance why his bodyguard had made this his business anyway, her eyes glittered and snapped him back to reality, to her. When the next spin of emerald light drew past her face she parted her lips, as though to drink of it, and dropped upon him a whisper that was juicy and dripping with laughter. "I don't care who you are," she said sincerely, then rose up on her toes and leaned forward until her hands caressed his shoulders and her breath grazed his ear. "Just take me with you, and…" She paused, and he could hear her licking at her lips. He swallowed, and when she spoke again it was slowly, sounding out the roundness of every word. "…I will blow your mind."
And he was lost.
"What are you doing?"
"I… I'm sorry, Kev. I spaced out."
"Where are you right now?"
"At home. The living room."
"Go in the bathroom and splash some water on your face, okay?"
"I don't think that'll do much good."
So he had gone into the bathroom and poked at the red mark at the corner of his eye, rapidly darkening into a bruise. "I look like shit."
"But just think of what you accomplished tonight. You've gotten your life back."
"I never really lost it." His eyes trailed across the counter, at the makeup and hair ties that lingered as telltale reminders of a girl he'd thought loved him. Mascara. Lipstick. Other cosmetic products he didn't know the names of. Baby powder scattered across…
He looked closer.
"Damn," he muttered. "I told her not to bring this shit in my house."
"What was that?"
"Nothing." He cradled the phone against his shoulder and used a handful of toilet paper to collect the powder into his palm of his hand. Thank God there wasn't much of it. "Just mumbling, you know." Christ, he didn't even want to think about what would happen if Kevin knew the girl was a coke addict on top of everything else.
"She was bad for you, Nick. You can't deny that."
"But that's over now. She's gone."
"She'll be back."
"She left some of her shit here." He dropped the tissues in the toilet, wiped up what little bit remained, then flushed the whole mess. He watched with satisfaction as it disappeared.
"You're not using the bathroom while I'm right here talking to you on the phone, are you?" he asked, laughing a little as the toilet gurgled.
A smile flickered on his lips. "Nah," he said quietly, grabbing the soap. He turned the water up as hot as it would go, scrubbing at his hands. "Just cleaning up a little."
He listened to the silence as he rinsed the soap from his skin and grabbed a hand towel. "Nick…" Kevin finally hedged.
"You want to talk about it, maybe?"
"I'm not sure what's left to say." He braced one on the counter and looked at himself. He seemed paler than he remembered; more weary. Certainly drained. "I mean, I've talked to you about this so much I've lost count. My long-distance bill's gonna be murder… what can I say, Kev? She was gorgeous. She had no inhibitions, man. She set a room on fire when she walked into it."
"I've dated my share of those."
"Yeah, but yours – you could handle yours, Kevin. You could recognize the ones who wanted you for you, and the ones who wanted you for your fame and your money." He spat the words, and suddenly no longer could meet his reflection's gaze. It, apparently, felt the same way.
"Nick… no girls like that ever wanted me for who I was."
"Great. So I'm gullible and stupid both, huh?"
"Why?" He turned from the mirror, tucking his free arm around his ribs. "You were right. You warned me, and the guys did too. I just… I look at her, and… there's something about her, Kevin. All she had to do was tilt her head at me and I'd throw myself over hot coals for her."
An uncomfortable silence, and Nick smiled. "You can say it. Infatuation. Puppy love. I know."
"But you realized it."
"Yeah, with you guys helping me."
"What the hell's a friend for, anyway? You recognized it, and you broke through, and you ended it. Nick, you should be proud of that."
"Proud," he scoffed.
"It takes balls to do what you did."
"I feel like the world's biggest idiot, Kev. I let her string me along for four months; she leeched off me, bought shit on my money, used me. Made me believe she loved me. And God, Kevin, I am the world's biggest idiot because… I still feel something when I look at her, you know? And I shouldn't. God, I shouldn't." He gushed out the words.
"Nicky," he sighed. It wasn't pitying. It was just sad.
"I know. Puppy love."
"She broke your heart. It's nothing to be ashamed of."
"I never should have given her my heart."
"She's a bitch, Nick. Never be sorry for being one of the good guys."
He left the room, cutting the light as he did, and wandered back into the living room.
"So what happened? Did you ask her to come by?"
"About seven hours later. She was partying." He rubbed a hand over his eyes, collapsing back on the couch. He could almost see her even now as he related the scene to Kevin, seeing her in his mind as she strutted in the door like she owned the fucking place, hair loose and tumbling. God, she was gorgeous, and when he thought about all that beauty being his it was enough to melt his heart. But it was easier to turn a blind eye to her charms, now. Knowing what lay behind her easy smiles. Knowing that it was drugs that made her eyes blow up like they did. Painfully aware that she wasn't his, and never really had been.
Hell, maybe he'd never really loved her at all either. Take away the pretty face and there really wasn't much left.
He had stood in the foyer with his arms crossed and glowered at her. She looked at him, and then she laughed.
"You look ridiculous," she said, rubbing a finger beneath her nose. "You look like one of those bulls people chase over in Spain."
He focused on her voice. "Why didn't you come when I asked you to come? I needed to talk to you."
"Where were you?"
"You're not my father, Nick," she snorted, and started to brush past him. Even the cigarette smoke on her clothing was intoxicating, simply because it came from her. Damn, he WAS lost.
He grabbed her wrist. "Where are you going?"
"Let go," she warned, and her voice was so dangerous he released her immediately. He had already tried to convince himself that it was the drugs making her act as she did, and that if only he could get her clean, they would find together the love that he had prayed so desperately for. But she was a house of cards whether high or not. Besides, trying to break her of the habit would be like trying to stuff an elephant into a taxicab; some things just didn't work, no matter how hard you pushed. A person had to want to be cured, and that seemed to be the last thing on his beauty's mind.
"I need to talk to you," he pleaded, and noticed that his demeanor had gone from unmovable force to wilted tulip in the space of a heartbeat. "Please."
"I'm just here to grab some stuff I forgot. What do you want?" she asked impatiently, smoothing her black skirt over her hips.
He watched, transfixed. God, she was a hell of a thing. "Where have you been?"
She softened and crept closer, her arms suddenly twining about his neck. "Did you miss me, baby? Is that it? I was just out with some friends… but it was lonesome without you."
She brushed her lips over his, and when he caught the heavy smell of scotch he pushed her away. "You drove over here drunk? You could have killed someone!"
"I'm not drunk," she protested. "I can hold my liquor, unlike certain blondes I know."
He sneered at her, she matched it, and he wondered when exactly their relationship had gotten to this point.
"What do you want, Nick?" she demanded.
"I want - fuck!" He folded his arms again. "You must take me for quite the idiot, huh?"
"I'm done." He spoke flatly, and the words seemed to chill the very air around them from the way she trembled at the words, and goosebumps rose to Nick's flesh at simply hearing those words, finally, hanging tangible in the air.
"What?" she said again, but much of the malice had drained from her voice even as the ruddy color left her face.
"I'm done, okay? I'm tired of living this way, and I'm tired of you. I'm done. It's over."
She went tense all over and stared at him as though she had never seen him before. "What… did you just say to me?"
"You heard me the first time."
"It's ‘over?'" she repeated incredulously, and if only her face had shone with a wounded sadness… but when he looked down at her, her eyes flew daggers. "You son of a bitch! How dare you do this to me? I thought you loved me!"
"Don't turn this," he warned her. "You didn't love me; I was the one who loved you! Like a fool! I adored you, but all I ever was to you was easy money."
"Not true!" she said furiously. Her hands were clenched into tight fists. "I love you! I'm here for you!"
"You're here for this," he snapped, waving a hand at the house. "Living it up is what you love. Money. Fame. Parties with your friends. You never cared about me, so stop pretending."
"I do love you!"
"No, you don't," he said, peering into her face anyway only to be met by a feral glare. "You never did, babe. I know."
She swallowed hard, her eyes flinty. "If that's the way you want it," she finally managed, almost choking on the words. "Fine. I was too good for you anyway."
"Yeah, keep telling yourself that," he snapped. He was finally warming to the fight; hell, replace her head with A.J.'s and he could relive the bloody battles of most of his teenage years, right here in this foyer. "Whatever you want to believe, baby."
"I can go to the talk shows about you, Nick!" She pointed a finger at him, and it shook slightly. "Tell them what a pathetic loser you are! What a freak you are! How bad you are in bed!"
"Jerry Springer's the only one that'll have you," he replied, briefly relishing the shock scrawled across her beautiful features before a drink coaster came flying through the air like a ninja star and connected with his eye. He yelped in pain.
"I hope that hurt!" she screeched. "I hope it did! You're going to pay for this!"
"Get the hell out of here!" he yelled, keeping one hand protectively over his eye.
Eventually, she had, her epithets eventually disintegrating into wordless screams of rage. He had been vaguely thankful that there were no neighbors close enough to overhear; more so when one of the flat rocks that his landscaper had said would look so beautiful around the flowerbeds came sailing through his front window. She had left after that, in a scream of tires and outrage and expensive perfume that smelled like ammonia and would no doubt show up on his VISA bill next month.
By the time Nick had finished, Kevin was silent for several moments, and Nick was too, sprawling back on the couch. The light breeze drifting in through the broken window was actually rather refreshing. "I can't believe she hit you, man."
"It wasn't with her fist."
"I still can't believe it. Did it leave much of a mark?"
"Nah. I can cover it up if I have to go out."
"I told you, she left a bunch of shit here. I'm sure there's some makeup I can use."
Kevin sighed, and when he spoke again it was soft. "A.J.'s been there, you know."
He paused, mind flickering back over the endless parade of women that A.J. had brought through their lives in his younger years. Some were nice, some were not; some were pretty, some were trash. Some were sweet but most were mean; one of them had stolen A.J.'s wallet, and another had put the moves on Nick himself - he'd only been fifteen, and Kevin had nearly gone through the roof. "Yeah… he's been just about everywhere, hasn't he?"
"I'm going to call him, okay? I'd feel better if someone was there with you."
"Yeah… yeah, okay," he sighed. "If you think he'll come."
"You know he will," Kevin said. "I'll call you tomorrow. And… Nicky?"
"It's really okay. They can blow your mind, sometimes."
"I think she did."
"Well, maybe," he whispered, swallowing hard, and Kevin pressed no further.
He must have fallen asleep on the couch next, because suddenly he was groggy and hanging in the nowhere place between exhaustion and the real world, and A.J. was moving around in the room with him. He smiled sleepily; next to Kevin, A.J. was the only other person he'd want around right now. A.J. knew what it was like to wear high-heel scars on your heart.
He shifted, yawned a little and opened his mouth to speak.
A sniffle stopped him.
A sniffle over him. A female sniffle.
And suddenly her body was atop his, pressing against him with a desperate urgency, her hands gripping his body with desperation and her mouth sucking the air out of his body. For a moment, he forgot that he was actually much larger than she was, and he pushed her off and sat up. She looked much as before, sitting there on the coffee table, but there was real, raw fear in her eyes. "Nick," she whimpered. "I love you; more than anything."
"What the hell?" he gasped. It was all he could think to say. "What are you doing here?"
"Nick, I'm sorry. So sorry. For everything; you were right, baby. I'm going to fix this. I'll turn around for you, baby. I swear--"
Her hands were upon him again, and again he shoved her back. "Stop it! I'm tired of your games; we're done!"
"We can't be!" she wailed, and her shaking hands locked in her hair for a moment before her gaze met his. "No!"
If only she meant it. "Christ, you need more money, don't you? How much this time?"
"Nick…" She swallowed hard. "Please, Nick. I need your help. I don't owe a lot--"
"Don't even start," he said. "Jesus, you break my heart and now you're crawling back for drug money again? You can't even pretend to love me, can you?"
"I just…" Her voice faded. "I need help, Nick. I'm in trouble. Can't you help me? Just one time. Then you never have to see me again, I swear." She glanced up and tried to sound sultry, but it came out pathetic instead. "Not even we have a little fun?"
He threw an arm over his eyes. "Shit, it always comes back to that for you, doesn't it?"
"We're dead, dammit!"
Nick sat up then, and looked her square in her dark eyes. "Baby?" he said. "This is goodbye."
Maybe it had been there all along, but something changed in her face then… something desperate overtook her, something ugly. "One last thing before we die," she whispered back. "Please, close your eyes… and let me blow your mind."
He shook his head angrily, but damned if she didn't have a gun in her hand then, lying in her lap, her hand firmly on the handle. And it made sense, he supposed - there was no doubt she was high, and she always got crazy when she was high. And when she wasn't. Which was pretty much all the time. And now she was sitting on his coffee table, her knees pressed together, hair in a wild mess, a gun in her hand.
"This is a first," he said without thinking. What else could he say? It was amazing how life worked sometimes, and how everything he'd ever done in his life could come down to this one fucking moment that meant nothing, with a girl who was high and desperate and crazy and him in his T-shirt and boxers, and her with a gun. Boy meets girl. Girl goes crazy. Girl gets gun. Anybody want to guess how it ends? Shock had slapped him in the face and steamrolled right over him.
"I need you, Nicky," she whispered. "I love you."
Moonlight glittered and trembled along the barrel as she pointed the gun at his face. A splintered insanity had split her eyes open wide, and it was all he could do to lunge at her, terror warring with amazement, his stomach turning, before the muzzle flash shattered the darkness.
His last thought was how striking beautiful she was, even now.
And, perhaps, she blew his mind after all.