It was dark.
Black as night. Though that wasn't exactly true; there was always a little bit of light at night. Whether from the moon, stars or just the streetlights outside, it was never this dark.
Now, there was no light at all. Just an all-encompassing blackness that seemed to smother him. He didn't think you could suffocate in nothing more than an absence of light, but if you could… this was the place it could happen.
He clamped his eyes closed and then opened them again, hoping that when he did he would be able to see something, anything. But only the fact that he could no longer feel his eyelashes on his cheek told him his eyes were actually open. There was no light. None at all.
If anything, he wished there was no sound. Or at least some other than sound than the rumble that echoed in his ears. Logically, he knew that it was a constant sound; just something left over from some very loud sound he'd heard recently, though for the life of him he couldn't remember what caused it. He just wished it would stop.
The more he thought about it; the dark and the sound… he started to worry. Should he be feeling those things? And if he was, why? He couldn't remember ever feeling like this before, and it sure wasn't anything to write home about. So maybe it was time for it all to STOP!
Well, that didn't work. If anything it just made his head throb.
Occasionally, then he was having a bad dream - which happened more often than he cared to admit - and he became aware of it, all he had to do was order his brain to stop. He'd either wake up or his mind would turn to something else. Sometimes he'd have to yell a few times, forcing himself awake, in order to get his brain to shut up. "Dreaming is the way your subconscious deals with things and helps you sort them out." He wasn't sure who had told him that; probably one of the shrinks he'd seen. He'd really like to tell them that dreaming was actually more trouble than it was worth; it didn't help you deal, it made you worry more. He'd really like to tell them that. When he woke up. If he could just wake up…
Moving might do it. He commanded his body to shift. Roll over or something. Nothing. He tried again but still his body didn't budge. Maybe it was one of those dreams… the ones where he was stuck in quicksand and couldn't move. He hated those ones. But usually he could see in those ones. Could see himself sinking inch by inch and being unable to save himself. Watery sand crawling up his body…putting a crushing weight on his chest and then surrounding his neck. Creeping over his chin, filling his mouth with grit, making it hard for him to scream, to breathe.
But usually a damn good shriek chased those dreams away. And all it did here was make his ears ring.
Well, at least they weren't echoing anymore.
He did another system check. Eyes: check. Open. But you wouldn't know it. Mouth: check, obviously working and loud as ever. Ears: check. Responding to his voice really quite well. Smell: well… things smelled dusty. And there was a sort of acrid smell that he didn't recognize. He didn't think too much of it; he was probably just smelling his feet. His running shoes were new and always smelled up the joint when he was breaking them in. Body: judging from the way it hurt, he had one. Just still couldn't seem to move it.
But was that important? Really. I mean, he knew he was basically okay. Stuck in some weird ass dream, but over all okay. And he was tired… maybe he was just sort of awake and stuck between dreams. Maybe if he just went back to sleep… gave in to the lack of consciousness that seemed to be creeping up on him… maybe everything would be okay again when morning came.
He opened his eyes… not that the act revealed anything to him.
"Nick? You okay?"
It was a voice he knew as well as his own. Though why he'd be hearing it here, in his weird assed dream… "Kevin?"
"Yeah. How you doing?"
Nick coughed. "Been better."
Kevin chuckled. "Me too. Can't say I'm enjoying this all that much."
"What happened? I mean, like, I don't think I'm dreaming, but I'm not sure what the hell is going on."
"You don't remember?"
Nick shook his head but then realized that if he couldn't see even half-an-inch in front of his face Kevin was probably in the same position. "Nope. Something happen?"
"There was an explosion. Some guy tried to blow up the casino." He chuckled wryly. "Did a pretty effective job of it."
"Holy fuck!" That explained the lack of light. And the inability to move. And that damned yucky smell.
"So what? We're dead or something?"
"Or something." Nick could hear the grin in Kevin's voice. "We're kind of trapped at the moment. Stuck under some rubble and stuff."
Strangely, he wasn't as scared as he was sure he should be. But he knew he had to ask the question. "Are we going to be okay?"
"So far, so good." Kevin replied. "It ain't much, but its home for right now."
Nick frowned. "Ah, Kev? That didn't make any sense."
Kevin chuckled. "Baby, we were in a building that blew up. I think I'm making pretty good sense considering that right now."
Nick smiled. After all, if Kevin wasn't worried then he wasn't going to be.
"How you doing over there?"
Kevin's question drew him out of his reverie. "Okay, I guess. I can't move. Normally that would really annoy me, but it isn't right now. Not really." The more he thought about it, he realized that his arm was hurting like crazy. "I think I hurt my arm, though. Stings like a sonofabitch." The more he thought about it the more it hurt. So did his back. And his legs. And his… hell, he pretty much hurt all over. Typical Kevin; one moment Nick was feeling fine and then Kevin had to remind him that all was not right in the world. And right now it fucking hurt!
"Gee, thanks. I think." Kevin's drawl let Nick know he'd said all of that out loud. Okay, inner monologue also broken in the whatever this is.
"It was an explosion. And now it's a 'surviving after the explosion'." Kevin chuckled.
Yep. His inner monologue was definitely broken.
"Does that mean I get to hear all those weird things that you think all the time? And not get a mute button?" In retaliation, Nick thought "asshole" to himself, really loudly. Kevin chuckled again.
"Look this has been a blast and all, but I'm really fucking hurting, Kev. Are you able to move? Can you help a little or are you, like, just gonna sit there?"
Kevin sighed. "Yeah, I can move. A little. Let me see if I can do anything."
Nick could hear him shuffling over, and then felt light touches all over his body. "Well, you are definitely stuck." Kevin ignored Nick's derisive snort. "You got a table or something on top of you. Anyway, it's way to big for me to move. And even if I did it might bring the whole roof down on us."
"Then don't do that."
"Thanks for the advice, baby," Kevin replied wryly. "You messed up your arm too. I'd tell you it's bleeding lots but then you'd get all woozy."
Nick groaned. "Thanks. You can shut up now, dumbass. You know I don't like to see my own blood."
He could hear Kevin's grin. "Why'd you think I told you? Here."
Nick could feel something being pulled around his arm and then pulled tight. WAY tight! He squealed in pain.
"Don't be a baby."
"Fuck you! That fucking hurt, Kev! What were you trying to do? Pull my arm off? Shit!"
"And clearly he is not going to stop being a baby."
"And clearly Kevin is lucky I am stuck here so I can't kick his ass," Nick replied with the same sardonic tone that Kevin had used. "Fuck! Seriously, man. That really hurt."
"Yeah, but what else hurts?"
"My fucking arm!" He was silent for a moment as he did another quick check. "Well, my legs and stuff. And this being stuck thing is getting real old. What about you?"
Kevin hummed quietly before responding. "My head hurts. Other than that I am doing okay."
"That's good, I guess. Not that your head hurts but that you are okay. But I tell you, the fact you can move around really fucking sucks."
Kevin laughed. "Not all it's cracked up to be, believe me. Still, I finally have you where I want you." He gave an evil laugh. "I can lecture you to my heart's content… and you can't run away."
"Oh God, no!"
"So, Nick, let's talk a little about your relationship choices."
"Kev! Please! Not that! Man, you never like a damn thing I do. Do I really have to sit here and listen to all this crap?"
"Want me to talk about how you went out and did a solo album when you promised us you wouldn't?"
"Yeah, and you managed to get back at me by making no one buy it. I really don't think I need to hear about that right now."
"Ah! Karma is a good thing, my young padawan," Kevin drawled.
"You're mixing your metaphors, my old dumbass." He could also hear Kevin's sudden blink. "Ha! See? I paid attention in school. I know what a metaphor is!"
"Nick," Kevin said softly. "When have I ever said you weren't smart?"
"Look, I know I've called you an idiot sometimes." Nick snorted, and Kevin quickly amended his comment. "Okay, so a lot. But, baby, I have never called you stupid. I've never, ever, thought that you were. I mean, you do dumbass things sometimes. We all do. And you say dumbass things too. But have you ever really listened to Howie? The guy is the king of making up words. Or screwing up the words he was going to say. You may never go to college or anything, but you are damn smart at the stuff you do know."
"I thought you weren't going to lecture me."
Kevin chuckled. "Actually, I thought I said I was going to lecture you."
Nick was quiet for a moment. "I appreciate it, Kev. You saying I'm not stupid. Sometimes… sometimes I really think I am. That everyone in the world knows better than me. And that no matter what I do I'll always be trying to catch up."
"Baby, everyone feels that way. Seriously though, you're a smart guy. You know what you want and have a good idea of how to get it. That's a hell of a lot more than some people know."
Nick blushed. "Thanks."
"Welcome. Now can we get back to discussing your choice of girlfriends?"
"Never let me have any fun," Kevin pouted.
Nick giggled. "Now who is the big baby?" He yawned widely, his jaw giving a little crack. "Is it okay if I go to sleep for a while?"
"I'd kind of prefer you didn't. Don't want to be alone."
He did say he had a headache, Nick thought. Probably afraid he'd go to sleep and not wake up. Which, in this situation was a pretty valid thought. "Your head okay?"
"Not really. I just… I'd rather talk, you know?"
Nick nodded. "I get that. So what do you think really happened out there? "
"Like I said, some guy with a bomb, I think. I remember him yelling something like that and then a big boom. Hindsight, I'd say it looks pretty much looks like that is what happened."
A thought occurred to him "What about AJ, Rok and D?" Nick asked worriedly. "Damn, why can't I remember any of this!"
"Chill, baby! Not surprising that you can't remember. Believe me, I wish I didn't know what was going on…" Kevin broke off. "The others are okay. I think. I mean Brian went up to his room to talk to Bay, and something tells me that if the whole building went down we wouldn't be doing as good as we are. AJ and D went over to that other place - the one with more craps tables. D lives for those things, and I think AJ said something about hotter chicks over there."
Nick smirked. "Does sound like Bone."
Nick thought quietly for a minute. "Nick?" Kevin's voice betrayed his concern.
"Just thinking. You think they are gonna come get us?" he asked quietly, a thread of fear in his voice.
"Nick!" Kevin laughed. "We're Backstreet Boys. As soon as word got out that we're in here I bet an army of hormonal teens formed and they are out there digging with their bare hands, trying to get to you."
"Oh God! Please tell me that's not happening."
Kevin chuckled. "Dunno, baby. But wouldn't be surprised. You are such the heartthrob."
"Dude, you throb more than enough hearts on your own. I bet they are all looking for your fine ass."
"Nah, they are after the 'ghetto booty.' Finding me would be a plus though. Get a two-for."
"Lay off my ass."
"Don't swing that way, baby. No matter how much you want me to," Kevin replied.
Nick grunted. "Been reading too much slash lately, Kev? That stuff'll rot your brain."
"You know I am fine hunk of man and you want me. Just admit it," Kevin retorted.
"Why? Why did I have to get stuck under a building with you? If AJ was here he'd be telling me dirty jokes," Nick sighed.
"I can tell jokes," Kevin protested. "I tell great jokes. Umm. Knock, knock."
"Dude, knock knock jokes are not funny."
"Fuck you! You try and come up with good jokes under pressure."
"Here's one: what did the milk say to the glass? 'I can see right through you.'"
"That is a stupid joke, Nick."
"Yeah, well, Fatone says it's Bri's favourite joke. I figured it was about your speed," Nick chortled.
"I am NOT a 2 year old," Kevin growled.
"Hey! Is it getting lighter in here? I swear, I can almost start seeing stuff now. Was dark as shit before."
"Maybe. Must be coming for us."
"Hello? Anyone there?"
It was muted, coming from what seemed like a long way away, but Nick could hear it and that was all that mattered.
"Yes! Help! We're stuck here. Get us out! Come on, Kev, you yell too."
"Who's there? Are you injured?" A male voice spoke loudly, closer than it had before.
"There are two of us. We're okay," Nick shouted back. "Banged up. And I can't move. Kev says his head's hurt. But we are okay. Kev, say something."
"We're almost there. Just hold on."
"Hear that, Kev? They are coming to get us! We're going to be okay."
"Yeah," Kev replied softly. "It's great. Look, Nick, I wanted to say something, okay? Before they come." He laughed lightly. "It's not like I'm ever going to get another chance when you are stuck and can't get away from me, right?"
Nick snorted. "Tell your cousin not to play with Krazy Glue then."
Kevin sniggered. "I'll let you do that. Look, I just wanted to say… I love you, man. I know I don't say it often but I do. You're one of the most amazing people I've ever met. You're smart and funny and talented and way determined. I never get the chance to tell you how much I respect you, you know? And I kind of feel like this is the time to do it."
"Dude, they are coming to get us. You don't need to get, like, all mushy now."
"I know. But I wanted to say it. So you'd know: that I care, and that I think a lot of you, baby. You've grown into a good man, Nick. I like to think I helped, but I know you did most of it on your own. So. Don't forget that. Okay?"
A large piece of the rubble above them was shoved aside, sending a trickle of plaster down on them. Nick blinked hard, shaking his head, tears rolling down his face as he tried to get the dust out of his eyes. The next thing he knew there were two men beside him asking him if he was okay. He answered their questions the best he could, glad that someone else was there, and glad also that the table that had pinned him down was being moved. He still couldn't feel much of his legs, but at least he was going to be free.
"Kev? See? We are going to be okay."
There was no response, but he figured Kevin was also surrounded by firemen asking him lots of questions, maybe even trying to gingerly slide some sort of board under him like they were doing to him.
"On the count of three!" The leader of his rescue team shouted. "One. Two. Three."
Nick was suddenly being raised up, tears of relief streaming down his face. "Kev? Kev? You okay? Answer me, man!"
The man nearest him shushed him, and as they carried him away, they turned slightly and Nick caught sight of Kevin as he rested against a beam. His white face still and his green eyes staring up at him without moving.
"No!" Nick screamed, as he tried unsuccessfully to move forward. Move towards Kevin. "No! Man! Kevin! No! Be okay! Please, God! Kevin!"
He looked over at the firemen who stood over Kevin, looking down. One shook his head, turning to his friend, and pulling out a sheet to cover Kevin with.
Nick saw the man's mouth move, and tried to read his lips as the gurney moved away briskly. He mouthed them over and over again to himself, trying to figure out what had been said.
It wasn't until he was in the hospital, a mask being put over his face so that they could operate, that he finally figured out what the man had been saying. "Died instantly."
How was that possible? The guy must have been wrong. It wasn't right. The look of confusion on Nick's face froze, a line of fuzz running through it before the screen went black as the VCR was turned off.
"That's it? THAT's the strangest case you've ever worked on?" Sarah asked in disbelief.
"It may seem ordinary, but the strangeness is in the details," Gil replied in a sotto zen-like voice.
"I remember that. It was last year; the explosion at that hotel. When that zealot psycho tried to blow the place up."
"Yeah," Warrick nodded. "Said Vegas was Sodom and Gomorrah and was going to take it down one place at a time. Lucky for us he took himself out in the first blast."
"Not so lucky for the people in the casino that night. Killed ten people." Gil shook his head. "Some people shouldn't be allowed to download bomb directions off the internet."
"Or be allowed to use those directions," Catherine chided.
Gil shrugged. "That was what I meant."
"So that was that Nick Carter. That Backstreet Boy, right?" Sarah asked.
"Yeah," Gil nodded. "The only singing, dancing pop superstar with a prosthetic toe." He grinned. "He probably didn't need it, but I guess it does help him balance better when he's doing those pirouettes."
"And his friend was one of the ones killed?"
Catherine nodded. "Kevin Richardson. Ceiling beam fell on him. Shaved off the back part of his head."
Sarah grimaced. "At least it was quick."
"I don't see anything weird there," Nick frowned as he brought their attention back to the subject at hand. "The guy was under rubble for a few hours, trapped with the body of a friend and his mind told him his buddy wasn't dead, but alive and comforting him. Nothing we haven't seen before."
"Ah, but you must not have listened to the details," Gil said cryptically.
Sarah, Nick and Warrick exchanged glances then turned back to Gil.
All heads turned to the spiky haired man in the corner. Greg shared a secret smile with Gil and Catherine. He leaned forward, putting his coffee cup on the table.
"When they found him, Nick's left foot was almost smashed to bits, which necessitated the amputation of his middle toe and replacement of said toe as Grissom mentioned. Fortunately - though some wouldn't think it - he was pinned under a pool table. It hadn't broken his back or anything, but it did bruise it. Badly. Which was also good, I guess, 'cause while he couldn't move he also couldn't feel how badly his foot was hurt. It was a few months until the foot healed and got used to wearing the fake toe. Once the nerve damage was better he could start walking again. Took a while but he was all okay from it."
"What could have cost him his life, though," he continued, "was that tear on his arm. It didn't sever the artery, but came close enough that it was bleeding bad. He could have bled out before the rescuers got to him if it hadn't been for the tourniquet."
Warrick shrugged. "So he managed to tie on a tourniquet. I still don't see why you rate it as one of your strangest cases, Gil."
Catherine was about to speak, but Greg grinned. "I did some investigating after the incident. Found out some stuff about the Backstreet Boys."
"Have fun with that?" Warrick teased. "Didn't realize you were into them."
"Their stuff is good," Greg protested and then blushed as he realized he'd admitted an interest.
Sitting down after refilling his coffee cup, Gil came to his rescue. "I asked Greg to check into them. Sign of a good investigator is to know all you can on a subject."
Sarah snorted. "Everyone knows about the Backstreet Boys. Kings of boy band pop. What does that have to do with anything?"
"Hear him out," Nick drawled, his imagination fully caught in the tale.
Greg glanced at Gil, arching his eyebrow subtly. Gil smiled and waved his hand indicating that Greg had the floor.
"See, the Boys got together way back. They were all pretty young - part of why they're called a boy band. Nick was the youngest - 12 - and Kevin the oldest at 20. Needless to say the two clashed. A lot. Nick went through puberty in the limelight and Kevin was his band mate, older brother and father figure all rolled into one. The two of 'em butted heads all the time. One of the other Boys, Howie, said that the two of them would have been best friends if they each hadn't been so stubborn.
"But one thing never changed throughout their whole relationship: Kevin always looked out for Nick. If Nick was in trouble he'd be there to help. Always."
"I'm still not getting it," Sarah said petulantly. If there was one thing she hated it was not being a step or two ahead of the others.
"Greg mentioned the foot, the table and tourniquet. What he didn't make clear was that the tourniquet was on Carter's upper arm," Catherine replied with a soft smile.
There was silence as the group tried to figure out the dynamics of that. "Would have been a feat for him to do himself. But not impossible," Warrick mused.
"True," Gil nodded. "Except for a few things. First, he was pinned. He couldn't have gotten his other arm around to help him pull it tight." He waved off Sarah's exclamation. "No, he couldn't have done it with an arm and his teeth. Physically impossible."
Catherine smiled mysteriously. "Also, where did he get the material? The tourniquet was made from a strip of Richardson's shirt. The sleeve had been torn off and pulled tight around Carter's arm. And Kevin was more than 4 feet away from Nick, who was pinned in position."
"So? Richardson obviously didn't die right away," Sarah said.
Catherine shook her head. "The beam came down on him as soon as the explosion happened. The whole back of his head was shaved off. The man died instantly."
Nick's eyes flicked between Gil, Greg and Catherine. "Then how did the tourniquet get on Carter's arm?"
Gil's mouth curved up and a flicker of amusement flashed in his eyes.
"That is what makes it a most unusual case."