"I can't believe this!" Justin yelled, stretching a curl down his forehead to get a better look at the disaster area that was now on his head. "Those sons of bit-"
He was cut off by the loud laughter of his friends. Justin turned his angry glare from his bright hair to his friends' laughing faces.
"I am so glad that you find this amusing," Justin spat out.
JC opened his mouth to say something, but couldn't because of how hard he was laughing. Tears were strolling down his cheeks.
"Aw, man, they got you good," Lance finally got out. His lips sputtered as he started laughing again. "They got you so good!"
Chris walked up to Justin, laying a comforting hand on his shoulder.
"Hey, just look on the bright side-"
"Literally," JC cut in.
Chris giggled, starting over. "Look on the bright side, man. If we get lost out here, we can use your hair as a reflector to signal the aircraft."
Justin gave Chris a 'you're not funny look' as Chris tried his hardest to swallow down his laughter. It was bad enough that Justin's hair was red, there was no point in getting his face to turn that color, too. As much as he couldn't stand the Backstreet Boys, he had to give them credit for their joke.
As hard as Chris tried to hold down his laughter, he just couldn't anymore. The events of that morning came rushing back to him, forcing him into another fit of laughter.
JC had woken Chris and Lance up, the three of them quietly watching Justin surprised, trying to come up with reasons for his new hair color. Justin had woken up to find them all staring at him openmouthed. It was only a couple of seconds after the shock of what must have happened sunk in that they had burst out laughing. Poor Justin had just sat there staring at them like they were crazy, unaware of what was going on.
"They're going to pay!" Justin yelled angrily. "Just watch! I'm going to come up with something good!"
JC shook his head. "That's what you get. Don't be a hypocrite and get mad now, Justin. You did the same thing to them with that rat."
"Chris did it, too!" Justin whined, pointing to the older man standing next to him. "His hair isn't one of the colors off the rainbow!"
"Justin, it isn't a wonder they targeted you. You are the one who fights with most of them," Lance smiled.
"I don't fight with all of them," Justin pouted. "I only fight with Nick."
"So what makes you think it wasn't just Nick who did it?" JC asked.
Justin shrugged his shoulders. The truth was, he didn't know. But he had a feeling, and that was all he needed.
"They would do anything for that sumo wrestler," Justin simply said.
JC shook his head at the angry look on Justin's face. If he knew his little brother, he was thinking up ways to get Nick back. Another smile crawled onto JC's face as Justin sat there angrily pouting, his red, curly hair blowing with the breeze.
Justin bit his tongue to stop the flow of complaints he knew would only bring more laughter from his friends. Nick may have thought he won this one, but Justin wasn't done with Nick Carter. Not yet. Not by a freaking long shot. He had come up with another joke for him, already having completed stage one, but after the Mandy incident he had decided against it.
A slow smile spread across his clear face, lighting up his blue eyes. There was going to be no stopping him now.
It was soon going to be time to complete stage two.
The slimy fish slipped out of Nick's hands again, jumping back into the comforts of it's home. Nick peered into the water to see where it could have gone.
"I think that sucker's gone, Nicky," Brian smiled as he watched Nick concentrating on the water.
Brian sat down in the raft, tired. All he wanted was to get back to camp so that he could take a nap before another horrible note showed up. He was hoping that they wouldn't get anything that day. He just wanted to rest and bum around.
Nick bit his lower lip as he lowered his head closer over the raft. There had to be another fish in there somewhere.
A fish jumped up quickly, hitting Nick in the face. Nick fell back into the raft surprised, smiling as he heard Brian and Kevin's laughter.
"I guess he doesn't like me very much?" Nick asked, sitting up in a more comfortable position.
"Probably not, Frack. With you trying to kill him and all," Kevin smiled.
"Hey, guys. Do you think Justin's woken up, yet?" Brian smiled, his blue eyes sparkling mischievously.
Nick laughed. "I hope so."
"I hope he took a shower," Kevin laughed.
Brian suddenly started laughing uncontrollably. "I'm pretty sure he did."
Nick looked at Brian curiously. "What makes you think that?"
"Because," Brian smiled, continuing to laugh as his eyes still concentrated on the shore, "either Justin took a shower or Carrot Top is here to do a show for us."
Kevin and Nick followed Brian's gaze and burst out laughing. There, on shore, was someone waving at them crazily.
Although they couldn't make out their facial features, they instantly knew who it was. The only reason they were able to decipher that much was because below the flailing arms was a poof of big, curly, red hair.
"Guess we better row back in?" Nick asked, smiling.
"Oh, yeah," Kevin smiled. "I wouldn't want to miss this for the world."
"Those jerks," Justin muttered as they finally made it to shore.
He didn't know why, but he felt someone behind him. Justin turned around, letting an annoyed sigh escape his lips. He turned back around and rolled his eyes. Here came his three dorky sidekicks. Why couldn't they ever just leave him alone?
"I knew you were over here," JC said after reaching Justin. "Didn't I tell you to stay on our side of the island?"
"Yes, you did, but since when do I listen?"
"He's got a good point, JC," Chris smiled.
JC turned to give Chris look. That boy and his mouth.
"Good afternoon, Bozo."
Justin turned around to be greeted with Nick's full smile.
"Good afternoon my ass." Justin didn't even try to smile.
"If it isn't Stephen King's 'It'," Kevin smiled.
Justin turned his angry glare to Kevin. "What's the matter, Bert? Pissed because Ernie took off without you? One word, Kevin: tweezers. Then maybe he'll come back."
"Now, now, Justin," Brian smiled. "Why are you so upset?"
"Because," Justin said, turning to look Brian straight in the eye. "I got my Playboy this month and found out that Leighanne is no longer working, with you to support her and all."
The smile instantly vanished from Brian's happy face. Justin didn't know when to stop.
"I bet she's just counting her lucky pennies, or," Justin stopped, pretending to think, "her lucky millions. I bet she's already calculated how much you're worth, buddy. Man, and she thought she'd hit it big with Joe Pesci."
"Shut the hell up," Brian said, stepping up. Nick reached out his arm to keep Brian back.
Nick stepped in front of Brian to stand in front of Justin.
"Does insulting other people make you feel better?" Nick asked.
Justin reverted his gaze from Brian to Nick. "Seems to work for you. I thought we'd already squashed everything."
Nick shrugged, spitting next to Justin. "You thought wrong."
"Serves you right for trying to," Kevin smiled. "Thinking isn't your strong suit, Justin."
"Wow, he got that sentence out in less than five minutes," Chris marveled. He shot Kevin a thumbs up sign. "Impressive."
"What are you even doing over here, Mufaza?" Nick asked, smiling again. "Get lost?"
"In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lions sleeps tonight," Brian sang to himself, watching the waves crash on the shoreline. A smile played on his lips the entire time.
JC shook his head. He was hoping to not get involved, but there was no way he was going to stand there while retard, retarded, and more retarded picked on Justin.
"What do you know?" JC wondered. "We've got obese, shorty, and hairy. A whole new breed of the Three Stooges."
Kevin gave JC a look. "Stay out of this."
JC rolled his eyes and laughed, stepping up to stand next to Justin, placing himself directly in front of Kevin.
"You want me to stay out of this when you're one of the ones talking shit to Justin? What, are you stupid?" JC immediately raised his hand to signal him to stop. "Wait, don't answer that."
"We already know the answer," Chris added, stepping to the other side of Justin. He was now standing in front of Brian.
"Besides," Justin smiled. "It might take him a couple of hours to finally get the word out. 'You see'," Justin said, imitating Kevin, "I know how I can say the answer shorter and faster, but I don't want to. Don't you understand that they never let me sing? This is the only way I can get my voice heard, so instead of just saying 'no', I'm going to give you a longer version of 'no'. It's not that I talk a lot, I just like to over-explain things'," Justin stopped, laughing. "Without Nick and Brian, you guys would be BBMak."
Kevin bit the inside of his cheek to keep his fist from where he knew it belonged: Justin's face.
"But, I do have to give you some credit, Kevin," Lance smiled. "You seem to be the only one here who's at least somewhat stable." Lance was now standing next to JC.
JC smiled. "Yeah, I mean, Brian's got the silicone filled, money hungry, fake Leighanne stuck on his arm."
"What's sadder is he thinks she actually loves him," Justin said, pretending to pout.
"She does love me," Brian said, fighting everything inside of himself to keep himself planted in his spot. "If you want to talk about girlfriends, Justin, why don't we talk about Britney? There's silicone if I ever saw some."
Justin watched Brian angrily.
"I don't think she's ALL silicone," Nick smiled. "I think they had to take some of that crap in her head that she calls a brain to put in her breasts, too," Nick said. "That's the only logical thing I can come up with. I mean, no one can be that stupid, right?"
Brian laughed. "Yeah, I heard her in
an interview somewhere and I couldn't stop laughing." Brian pretended to
chew gum while he flipped his hair. " 'Yeah, I like to travel and go
places overseas, like
"No, the sad thing is," Lance said, "is that you will never have what Justin has with Britney," Lance said, raising his eyebrow to Brian for emphasis. "They truly love each other. They don't THINK that the other loves the other. They know. Whereas, poor stupid Leighanne probably thinks you love her," Lance said shaking his head.
"I do love her," Brian said. "What the hell do you know about how I feel?"
"Then what were you doing with Samantha?" Justin asked, reminding him of Mandy's tattle from yesterday. "Was that her name?"
"Yeah, that was her name," JC said. "Samantha, the high school sweetheart."
Chris smiled at Brian's suddenly embarrassed face. "We're only wondering because most people who are in love usually aren't out frolicking with past loves."
"Hey, Brian," Justin smiled. "Did you ever stop to think that maybe Leighanne already knows? All of this is recorded, remember? It's probably already aired and she's probably sitting at home crying her little eyes out."
"Shut the fuck up," Nick said, noticing that Brian was fighting to keep his eyes from watering. He knew the thought of Leighanne home alone with facts that he couldn't explain to her was killing her. Nick could tell that it was killing Brian, too.
"Oh, Nick wants a turn," Justin smiled, nudging JC.
"Well, baby," JC exaggerated, teasing Nick with the nickname he'd heard Kevin call him, "we could start with the weight problem. Tsk, tsk," JC said, shaking his head.
"Problems just getting to be too much?" Chris asked, reaching out to pat Nick's stomach. Kevin grabbed Chris' hand, shoving it back at him. "Ooooh," Chris teased. "Most people turn to food when their problems get to be too much," Justin agreed. "Mommy wants money, wants more money, can't get it from you because Mandy's taking it all, so she turns your little brother and sister into another money making factory. Where there's a Carter, there's a way."
"Then you've got Mandy," Lance sighed. "Mandy, Mandy, Mandy."
"Shut up!" Kevin yelled. He'd heard enough.
"Why don't you shut up?" Lance yelled back. "It's okay for you stand there yelling insults, but you can't take them in return?"
Kevin shoved JC aside and grabbed Lance by his collar. "Keep talking," Kevin breathed into his face. "I dare you to."
"Hoooooookay," Lance breathed into Kevin's face. If Kevin wanted to blow his bad breath in Lance's face, he was going to get a taste of Lance's, too.
JC pulled Lance back, surprising Kevin into letting him go. JC stood in front of Lance.
"Grab one of them again, and we're
really going to have trouble,
"That was to let him know that the thing with Mandy was squashed. I still can't stand his ass," Nick spoke up.
"You haven't let go of the Mandy thing," Justin interrupted. "That was the WHOLE reason for hating me, you overblown piece of lard." Justin continued to stare at Nick. "You've had no other reason to hate me. Every hateful word you've thrown at me has been because of your retarded, too stupid to get a GED, girlfriend." Nick opened his mouth to say something, but Justin continued talking. "And every hateful thing I've ever done to you is because of everything you've ever said or done to me. So you can hate me for everything I've said, done, or whatever, but fucking remember WHY it was all said and done to begin with."
"Justin, I don't think I would've liked you either way."
"Can't stand the competition?"
Nick shook his head, his blue eyes focusing on Justin's. "You aren't competition. You're our long lost twins. I've never seen better imitators."
"Don't worry, Nick," Kevin said. "With that hair, the only person Justin will be able to imitate is a clown. He belongs in a circus, anyway."
Nick smiled at the huge puff of curly, red hair on Justin's head. "Man, Justin. Your hair looks like it's going through withdrawal. Missing that gel?"
Brian laughed. "I don't know anyone who violates hair products more than you, Justin."
"Did you forget about AJ?" Chris laughed. "What does he think? That he's got peacock in his family?"
"Leave AJ out of this," Nick threatened.
"Or what?" Chris asked. "Your gonna booty bump us out of here?"
Kevin rolled his eyes. They just didn't get it. They would never be able to fathom why they would never be able to get along. Everything that the Backstreet Boys had worked hard for seemed to just rub off on NSYNC. They didn't have to do anything.
"Just get out of here," Kevin said, deciding to stop it before it got to where not even he could control it.
"They're probably just trying to steal another idea of ours," Brian said. "We keep those under lock and key now," Brian smiled sarcastically, sliding his index finger and thumb across his lips, twisting his hand at the end of his lips to signify that he'd locked his lips.
"If only he would stay like that," Lance said.
Justin stared at Nick annoyed. He didn't know anyone who could get under his skin more than the bleached wonder standing right in front of him.
"What are you doing?" Kevin asked Justin. "Trying to memorize Nick's looks so you can copy those, too?"
"Here we go again," JC said, rolling his eyes.
Kevin prayed for self control. "Yeah, here we go again," Kevin said. "When you've had to work half as hard as we've had to-"
"Not this stupid 'when you've walked a mile in our shoes' bullshit again!" Chris yelled.
"You could NEVER know what we've had to go through," Kevin said through his teeth.
"Kevin, what in the HELL do you know about what we've been through? Did you keep a daily log of our suffering or something?" JC yelled. Kevin looked at JC, annoyed. "Well?! Did you? Have you even bothered to ever ASK?"
"No, because I don't give a shit," Kevin answered.
JC eyes were blazing now and Chris, Justin, and Lance were all watching him surprised. JC never blew up like that.
"JC, man, maybe we should just go," Justin said, forgetting about his original reason for being there. JC was way more important to him than some red hair.
"NO! Of course you didn't ask!" JC yelled, ignoring Justin. "We NEVER followed you. We NEVER tried to be like you. So we had the same management. And? How many people share the same freakin' management?" JC continued to rant, not letting anyone get a word in. "What did you expect us to do? Huh?" JC stopped and pretended to go back in time. "Oh, guys wait! We can't pursue our hopes, our dreams. We can't let them come true. There's already another group out. The Backstreet Boys. So let's just stop what we love doing and find something else to dream about." JC stared at Kevin angrily. "Whatever, Kevin," JC spat.
"There were too many similarities, JC," Kevin said angrily. "Too many to be a coincidence."
JC laughed. "Like the coincidences between you and Take That? You even cut your hair like them! But, of course, you weren't following them around, were you? You weren't trying to copy them, but it sure did piss you off when people tried to imply that you were."
Brian looked at JC and Kevin's angry faces, and Justin, Lance, and Chris' worried ones. Nick seemed to be thinking at a hundred miles per hour. JC always seemed to be the calm one of them, Brian thought. It must've taken a lot of pent up frustrations to make him burst.
Brian shook his head. As much as he didn't want to hear any of what JC had to say, maybe it was time he did. Time they did. He had to admit that there was a lot about NSYNC that he didn't know, just like there was a lot about them that NSYNC didn't know.
"Had it been the other way around, had we been the first ones to come out, would you have stopped?" JC asked, staring at Kevin. He had always wanted to throw this question in their faces. "Would you have told that asshole of a man, 'Lou, we can't do this. Someone else is already out with the same sound.' Like hell you would have."
JC stopped, trying to keep the aggravated tears out of his eyes. Nick watched surprised as he heard the emotion in JC's voice and saw it in his eyes. He'd never looked at it that way before.
"As for us switching to Jive, we were NOT following you. You know damn well the shit we had to go through with Lou Pearlman because you went through it, too. Jive was the only record company willing to get mixed up in all the dirt to help us out. We don't wake up every morning and gather in a huddle and say 'Hey, guys. What do you think the Backstreet Boys are gonna do today? Okay! Let's go and do that!' The way I see it, you need to get a life because you are worrying way too much about what we're doing."
This wasn't about insults anymore. This was just about feelings that had never been spoken before.
"We've been through a lot,"
Kevin said. "We've had many personal battles, then with you guys becoming
popular around the same time we did, it was too much. Don't you understand how
we feel?" Kevin started. "We worked so hard over in
"We understood that," Justin countered quietly. Kevin looked at Justin surprised. He thought that Chia boy would have been yelling at the top of his lungs by now. "We sat and thought about what it would be like if we were in your shoes. That's why WE never threw an insult in your direction. We tried to be friends with you. You wouldn't have it, though."
Nick looked out at the ocean. He didn't like how Justin Timberlake, of all people, was making sense. He was wishing they'd stayed on their side of their island. It was easier to hate them that way.
Another voice fought with Nick's first one. But Nick hated hating anyone. And he knew well enough that although everything looked good in the spotlight, it wasn't always perfect. How many times had he stared at he and his friends smiling faces on the cover of a magazine, wishing that everything was as perfect and happy as the magazine made it seem?
Brian wanted to open his mouth and say something to defend them, but nothing was coming to his head. He had always thought about their problems and tribulations. He'd never considered NSYNC's problems.
Kevin didn't have any problems coming up with things to say, though.
"How do you expect us to react? We worked our butts off-"
"SO....DID......WE!" JC yelled, his face turning red. "We sang ANYWHERE we could! Restaurants, malls.....everywhere! We didn't hide in the bushes and wait to jump out when we saw that you got popular!"
"Don't try to play the wounded animal with me," Kevin said, shaking his head. "I saw my cousin almost die." Kevin's voice involuntarily broke, and he fought to keep it even. "And right when I think things can't get worse, they do."
JC shook his head. "I am SORRY for what happened to Brian. But you act like we're the ones who gave him a heart defect. I sent flowers and a letter that was never answered."
Kevin snapped his fingers. "Damn, with Brian in surgery and praying for his recovery, it's a wonder that answering Joshua Chasez's letter wasn't the first thing on my to do list."
Brian's and Nick's faces were drawn into confusion. They never knew about any letter.
"Everyone was too worried about Brian to answer letters from you. Especially when we had just found out about how Lou stabbed us in the back with you. We had NO idea the entire time that you were out that Lou was the one behind it all. I wasn't about to throw it in their faces even more with some condolence letter from you," Kevin said, shaking his head.
"Kevin, I know how personal things can hurt. How they can make things harder than they have to be, but EVERYONE has to go through them. Not just the Backstreet Boys. We're not immune to problems, you know," JC said. "Just because I don't find a reason to throw our personal problems in your face doesn't mean they don't exist. It means they're personal, meaning their none of your business. And I wouldn't use them as a reason to hate you. Now excuse us, Train," JC said, exaggerating the sound of Kevin's nickname. "Since we're on your side of the island, you can't very well choo choo your ass out of here, so we're leaving. I'm tired of talking to a wall."
JC turned to walk away from the reason of his newly formed headache. He tried desperately to calm his erratic breathing.
Lance and Chris were immediately at JC's side, but Justin lingered behind.
"Things aren't as clear cut as you thought they were, huh?" Justin asked. There was no malice or sarcasm in his voice.
He turned around to catch up with JC. Nick watched as Justin squeezed between Lance and JC, slinging his arm around JC. He seemed to be saying something comforting to JC.
They weren't much different from them. And the realization that he hated the most was that more and more everyday, he realized that Justin wasn't much different from him.
Nick shook his head. He hated it when he started thinking.
"Kev, you okay?"
Kevin turned his head halfway around at the sound of Nick's voice. He had taken off in the other direction after their long lost best friends had departed. Nick must've followed him.
Kevin took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. After a prolonged silence, he answered Nick.
"I will be."
Kevin not trying to talk. Nick shook his head. This was not good. Kevin loved to talk, and when he stopped it was time to pull out the stethoscope and make sure that he still had a heartbeat and pulse.
Another deep breath. "Yeah?"
Kevin turned around to look at his baby brother. He was greeted with a very worried looking Nick. Nick's forehead was creased with worry lines as his blue eyes focused on Kevin's unreadable green ones.
"What makes you think I'm lying?"
Nick sighed, raking his hand through his straight hair. "If you don't start 'fessing up, I'm gonna get back with Mandy."
Kevin smiled, letting a small laugh escape his lips. Nick smiled.
"I swear!" Nick threatened. "I'll do something really bad like impregnate her and then there'll be more little hers running around. Then where will our world be?"
Kevin gave Nick a serious look. "That's not even funny. That's scary."
Kevin turned back around to sit down on the sand. Nick watched his back for some sign of invitation. Not that he needed one. Nick didn't plan on going anywhere until Kevin broke down and told him what was going on inside of him. Or at least until Kevin had heard what he had to say. For once, he was going to be able to annoy Kevin the way Kevin loved to annoy Nick. In Backstreetland, this was called being a friend. They just had a more interesting way of doing it.
"Nick, why don't you-"
"Sit down and wait for you to tell me what's going on? Okay."
Nick sat down next to Kevin just in time to catch the rolled eyes and exasperated look on Kevin's face.
Nick began to talk in a deep, announcer-like voice. "Today the role of Kevin Richardson will be filled in by Nickolas Carter."
Kevin smiled, shaking his head. "This isn't a soap opera, Nicky."
"You're right. It's more like Jerry Springer."
Kevin laughed. "More like my worst nightmare."
"You're pissed off because you agree with JC."
Kevin had been avoiding eye contact with Nick since he sat down, but that made him turn to look his best friend in the eyes.
Damn. That was exactly what he didn't want to do, because the way Nick could be transparent sometimes, Kevin could be worse when he wasn't in control. And no one read him better than Nick.
"That's it, isn't it?"
Kevin turned away, shaking his head. "JC doesn't know what the hell he's talking about."
Nick shook his head. And they called him stubborn.
"I think he does," Nick admitted, throwing stray rocks and shells into the water. "You know, before today I'd never really thought about everything the way he explained it," Nick said, still trying to skip his newly found items against the water. For some reason, they were just sinking. "I understood the Jive transfer. I understood how hurt they must've been with the Pearlman thing."
Kevin almost glanced at Nick. Ever since they'd broken all ties with Lou, Nick refused to acknowledge him as such. He always called him Pearlman. It was impersonal that way. Besides, he had said, the man he thought was Lou was really someone else. So he was just Pearlman now. That was all he ever would be.
"Frack, don't feel sorry for them."
"Pisssshhh," Nick said, dismissing Kevin's comment with a wave of his hand. He had given up trying to throw rocks into the water. "I'll be the last one to feel sorry for them. But probably the first from this group to understand them."
Kevin shook his head. "There's nothing to understand."
Nick shook his head as well. "You hate admitting you're wrong."
"Do....too." Nick smiled, looking at Kevin. Kevin still refused to return his gaze. "Remember that time that you didn't try on your pants before one of the concerts because you said you knew they were going to fit? We all told you, 'Kevin, try them on.' But, nooooo, Kevin knew what he was doing. Or thought he knew what he was doing," Nick muttered. "Then, while we were flying they fell down. You refused to admit that it was your fault for not trying them on."
Kevin smiled. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Nah, nah, nah," Nick said, shaking his hand. "You remember. You tried to say it was because you lost weight that day." Nick began to laugh. "How much weight could you have lost in one day, Kev?"
Kevin shrugged. "I had worked out that morning."
"Still won't admit it was your fault." Nick's smile was now smaller. "That's why I'm not surprised that you won't admit that at least some of what JC said was true."
"There's nothing to admit because-"
"Because you're a bullheaded man. Train, I never thought I'd hear the day when you would whine."
"I am NOT whi-"
"Whining!" Nick finished. "That's my line, remember? I know a whine when I hear one. I am the king of whines."
"Nicky, go back with Bri, okay?"
"Oh, no. This is my chance to go into full Kevin mode. Maybe you'll back off next time I ask you to go away."
Kevin shook his head. Back off? Yeah, right. As much as Nick was getting to him now, he was only going to get worse the next time they had one of these talks, just to teach him a lesson.
"Thinking of some way to get back at me?"
Kevin's raised eyebrow made Nick smile. Right on the money.
"Fine, you don't want to admit anything, that's fine. But I'm just telling you that I see where JC's coming from. Do we really know about anything that they've been through?"
Nick took Kevin's silence as a no. Kevin surely always took Nick's silence for a no or a plain 'You're right and I'm not gonna say it'. He always said that it only meant that he wasn't ready to admit anything out loud.
"If it had been the other way around, would we have given everything up, Kev? Had NSYNC been out first, would we have just stopped? Gone to find the closest McDonald's to work at? Would you have been willing to just go back to Disney World to play Aladdin again?"
Kevin bit the inside of his cheek.
"I didn't think so," Nick said, squinting into the sun. Nick sighed again. "I hate admitting all of this, but stick boy's right. I still don't like them; I just don't like them a little less now."
Kevin continued to sit next to Nick in silence. If all it took to get Kevin this quiet was JC yelling at him, Nick was going to ask the show for a copy of JC's earlier screaming match so that he could play it every time he didn't feel like hearing Kevin.
"I guess they didn't have it as easy as I thought," Nick continued. "I mean, they do have Joey."
Kevin finally smiled. Nick patted his shoulder as he got up.
"Just think about what I said, k, man? I'm here if you want to talk. If you feel like yelling or something, just call on me." Nick looked at Kevin. "Or wait ten minutes. I'll eventually give you a reason to start yelling, anyway."
Nick began to walk away and Kevin turned around to watch his retreating back with a smile.
Nick was right. Damn the kid, but he was right. Kevin let out another breath. He just hated knowing that all of that resentment he'd had wasn't well placed. He knew very well the reason for the origination of his feelings for NSYNC.
With Kevin's own father gone, he had seen Lou as a second father. Lou had seen him as a dollar sign. Then to hear NSYNC talk about Lou the way they once had, well...it obviously hadn't sat well with him.
Kevin thought about Nick's words again. As much as he was hating to admit it, his baby bro had grown up. Kevin turned back around. Where the hell was he when it had happened? He sure would have loved to have seen it the very second it occurred.
Kevin smiled again. "Maybe it didn't just happen. Maybe it was something that gradually grew on him."
He was just glad that he was there to see it....period.
The Backstreet Boys and NSYNC were standing in front of each other for the second time that day. This time no one was making eye contact with anyone.
Steven watched both groups surprised. They hadn't even insulted each other. Steven shook his head. He wondered if there was anything in the tapioca roots.
He brightened a little. Or maybe his self control challenge had really worked. He could only hope. OR it could mean that it did the complete opposite and had just made them completely withdrawn from each other.
Steven shook his head again. And he thought women were hard to understand.
"Your next challenge is an immunity challenge," he started once given the signal that everything was ready.
Nick's head was the first to shoot up. "Another immunity challenge? We just had one yesterday."
Steven tried his hardest not to shrink back from the look on Nick's face. Angry was an understatement. The hatred in his voice was enough to make him blink more than he needed to.
"The producer's of the show think that prolonging your stay out here on the island isn't healthy. We're going to try to keep immunity challenges in pairs now. I thought you'd be happy," Steven said, trying to smile. "The more immunity challenges, the faster you're out of here and with your friends again."
"Yeah," Justin agreed. "The faster we're away from here is for the best." Justin bitterly laughed. "Here I thought the best thing about being on this crummy island was that we'd be away from scheming people using us for their own purposes, but it's not the first time I've been wrong. I mean, it's funny how you can't run from hypocritical people who hide behind masks, Steven," Justin said, staring directly at Steven, "even on a deserted island."
If making Steven feel like the dirt on the island was their plan, then their plan was working way beyond any of their dreams. Ever since the Mandy incident, it was getting harder and harder for Steven to keep his smile around these guys.
"Your next challenge is definitely something that's bound to get your spirits up."
"What is it?" Kevin asked. "The 'expose all of Steven's secrets and make him feel like crap' game?"
Steven's smile wavered. "No, it isn't."
"Figures," JC smiled. "That game's only meant for us, right?"
Steven bent down to open his black bag. If you can't answer, change the subject.
"Your challenge is a game of basketball. I take it everyone here has played the game before?"
"Ooh...do we get to use your head as the basketball?" Lance asked.
Steven's smile wavered even more. They were supposed to be every teenybopper's dream, not Steven's worst nightmare.
Justin seemed to know what Steven was thinking. "This is what happens when you cross and use us, Steven."
Steven pretended not to hear him. "There's a little twist to our version of basketball, though."
"Of course there is," Chris said. "Otherwise it would be so un-Steven like."
"Well, it's not really a twist," Steven said, trying to reword himself. "It's just a bit different. You're uneven, and everyone has to participate, so what we're going to do is it's going to be one on one. Someone from Backstreet will have to go twice."
Everyone from Backstreet immediately muttered Brian. He was the best they'd ever seen at basketball, aside from pro players.
"First person to score 2 points is given 1 point for the team, then the next two people will go up. Baskets count as 1 point, instead of the traditional 2. The 3 point line is considered the 2 point line. One made shot from there automatically wins you a point for the team. In the event that a tie-breaker is needed, two people's names will be drawn out of this box," Steven said, holding up a small black box, "to play one on one. First person to score 2 points wins the immunity challenge for the team. It's pretty simple. Everyone understand?" Everyone just stared at him. "Follow me."
The guys all followed Steven through a pre-set trail, coming upon a basketball court. There was a portable rim set up and fake Astroturf made up the basketball court.
"You have five minutes to choose the first person to compete."
JC smiled at the eager look on Justin's face. "Let me go first," Justin offered.
"Let's see who they pick, JuJu. I would really rather have you play Brian. The way they all muttered that Brian go twice pretty much showed that he's the basketball player of the group."
"They might have him go first so that he can rest before he has to go again," Lance said.
Sure enough, Brian emerged from the group and made his way to the basketball court.
"Go kick his ass, Bri," Nick smiled.
"His ass is grass and I'm the lawn mower," Brian smiled. He laughed. It'd been a long time since he'd said that. He felt like he was in high school again.
Kevin and Nick patted Brian on the back as he made his way to Justin.
"Good luck," Justin smiled. "You're gonna need it."
"Yeah, right," Brian snickered. "I'll be impressed if you can just see the hoop through all of that," Brian smiled, pointing to Justin's hair.
"Whatever, Mini-Me," Justin said, looking down at Brian.
"Don't worry about me, Raggedy Andy." Brian checked the basketball to Justin. Justin checked it back to him.
"I'm not," Justin smiled, backing up as Brian came forward. He kept close to Brian, reiterating the quick footwork that Brian made around the court.
Justin had to admit that Mini-Me was pretty good. It was hard for him to keep up with Brian's quick feet. Brian faked a right, quickly turning back to his presently unguarded left to make a shot for the hoop. Justin realized his mistake too late as he heard the basketball swish it's way through the net.
"That would be one point for me," Brian smiled, raising a finger.
"Can't say you're not educated, Brian. I'll be really impressed if you can count to two, but don't get all stressed. There won't be a reason to because you're not going to make that many points," Justin said, checking the basketball to Brian.
Brian bounced the ball back to Justin, immediately on Justin the second he stepped back onto the court. Justin quickly ran a circle around Brian, stopping at the '2' point line, shooting. His hand still hanging in the air, Justin whooped as the ball went in. He jumped up, shooting his arm in the air. Justin ran by Brian, holding up two fingers. "That's two." Brian watched disappointed as Justin ran into his friends open arms.
"Hey, don't worry about it, Frack. It's all good. All good," Nick said, clapping his hands to pep Brian back up.
Brian went back to his friends. "I'm sorry."
"Don't worry about it," Kevin smiled. "You're gonna go out there again and kick one of their asses. With Justin out of the way, they're dead."
Chris made his way to the court and Nick smiled. "Let me go. Look at how short he is. He won't be able to make a shot with me guarding him."
Kevin patted Nick's back as a signal to go.
Sure enough, Chris was unable to make one shot with Nick guarding him. On both of Chris' attempts, Nick had jumped to block the shot, grabbing the basketball and taking the shots himself. Nick ran back to his group victorious.
"1 for Backstreet. 1 for NSYNC," Steven called out. No one acknowledged that they'd heard him.
Lance and Kevin were next. Kevin easily towered over Lance. Lance smiled back at Kevin proudly; he wasn't going to let him know that Kevin's height intimidated him.
When Kevin wasn't looking, Lance looked worriedly at his teammates and they all shot him a thumbs up signs and cheers of encouragement. It wasn't that Lance was scared of Kevin, he was scared of the basketball. If there was a definition for most unathletic person in the world who could not play a sport if they're lives (or careers) depended on it in the dictionary, Lance's picture was right next to it.
He shook his head, praying for some sort of miracle.
The least Lance knew was that he had to bounce the ball to Kevin and wait for Kevin to bounce it back to him. He'd seen that much.
After the referee handed Lance the basketball, he bounced it to Kevin. So far so good. Kevin bounced the ball back to Lance, but Lance missed it, watching miserably as the ball fell behind him onto the grass.
Kevin rolled his eyes.
JC, Chris, and Justin tried their hardest to keep their mouths from dropping in stunned silence. They immediately started shouting words of encouragement to Lance.
"Don't worry about it!"
"It's nothing! Just concentrate! Have fun!"
"That's happened to me before!"
Lance knew without looking that that was Chris. Everything had happened to Chris at least once.
Kevin stared at Lance.
"What?" Lance asked.
"We have to switch places. You let it go out of bounds after it was checked. I get the ball."
"Oh, yeah, just kidding." And they were filming this. If people didn't think Lance was a dork before, they were gonna think he was gay now. It just got from bad to worse.
Kevin laughed, babying the ball with a small bounce to Lance. Lance caught it, and was getting ready to bounce it back.
Suddenly he heard Nick and Brian yelling out encouraging words to him. What? Nick and Brian? Lance turned confused.
"Way to go, Lance!"
"Wooo! Way to go!"
Lance continued to look at them as if their heads had suddenly merged together.
"He caught the ball! Yeah!"
"He didn't drop it! Go Lance, Go Lance!"
Lance rolled his eyes. He should've known they were just making fun of him.
He bounced the ball back to Kevin and tried to stay with him as he stepped onto the court. He easily dribbled past Lance. Lance ran as fast as he could to catch up to Kevin. He reached his hand out and surprisingly hit the ball. It bounced right into his hands. Lance stopped, staring at the ball. He got the ball!
"Do something!" Chris yelled.
Lance jumped as he shot his arm out to shoot the basketball. It flew over the backboard.
Justin dropped his face into his hands. "You think they would hire me back at Disney for a reunion of the Mickey Mouse Club?"
Backstreet was eating up Lance's incoordination. They were laughing, pointing, and making fun of Lance. Lance was beginning to feel even more uncomfortable and stupid. Suddenly a hand was on his shoulder and he turned around to see Chris.
"I already have them making fun of me, I don't need you, too," Lance said, disappointed in himself.
There wasn't even a smile on Chris' face. "You can do this, man. I know you can. I've seen you when you get determined. Pretend that ball is Kevin's face. Imagine how stupid he's gonna look to his friends if he loses to you!"
"Gee, thanks," Lance said.
Chris smiled, shaking his head. "Pretend this has been your plan of attack. To throw him off. He was already making fun of you by bouncing that ball all slow and easy into your hands. Play up on that, man," Chris smiled, patting his shoulder. He turned to run back to Justin and JC. "You can do it," he called back.
Lance felt re-energized. Of course he could do this. With renewed energy, Lance bounced the ball back to Kevin. He was quicker at following Kevin and didn't even let the shot that Kevin made keep him down.
It was Lance's turn to have the ball. After it was checked, Lance didn't even wait to cautiously come out on the court. He immediately ran out past Kevin, pausing a short distance from the basket. He aimed his arms and hands with the basket and shot.
"YES!" Lance screamed as it went in. He smiled proudly at Kevin, who stood staring at the basket shocked.
Kevin ended up winning the game, but Lance still ran happily to his teammates. They all drew him into a hug, laughing and congratulating him.
Lance had made a basket. Now the world could end peacefully.
It was now JC's turn. Brian made his way to the court again and knew he could beat JC.
"Backstreet has 2, NSYNC has 1. Brian if you get this, Backstreet wins. If JC wins, it's a tie and we go to the tie-breaker," Steven said.
Brian had the ball first and easily maneuvered his way past JC. He jumped in the air and easily shot for the basket. He smiled brightly as he heard his teammates screaming after the ball went in.
Brian could tell that JC was competitive because when he checked the ball to Brian, he bounced it roughly into Brian's hands. JC quickly made his way onto the court, swiftly moving past Brian. Brian was on JC's back, his arms stretched out to block any shot that JC would try to quickly throw once he turned around.
"Get off of me," JC grunted through his heavy breathing.
"Don't get too excited," Brian huffed. "It's all in the name of basketball-"
JC quickly ducked under one of Brian's arms and shot from the 2 pointer line. Damn. Brian should've known he was just trying to get him to talk to throw him off. Brian watched anxiously as the ball slowly danced around the rim. Brian closed his eyes when it looked like it was about to fall in.
A quick 'damn' from JC told him it hadn't. Once his eyes were opened, he saw that JC was already at the basket recovering the ball for the next shot. Brian got to him too late, though, because the ball was already finding it's way into the netted basket.
"One to one," Steven called. "Next made shot is the winner of the game."
"Thanks for clearing that up, Steven," JC said, wiping the sweat from his forehead. It must've been over a hundred degrees out there. "It's not like we can't count to 2 or anything."
Brian quickly checked the ball and made his way back out onto the court. JC was right on him, trying to talk to him again. Brian knew better this time and ignored him.
"I wonder what Leighanne is wearing right now," JC said. He knew it was low, but he was too close to losing the game.
An elbow suddenly shot out into JC's rib, forcing him to hunch over and take deep breaths to lessen the sharp pain that had found itself in his side.
"You crazy motherfuc-"
A whistle cut JC off.
"Foul!" someone called out.
JC realized that his friends were at his side, making sure he was okay. He looked up to see Justin in Brian's face. He looked over to see Kevin and Nick making their way to Justin. He forced himself back into an upright position and walked to Justin while gripping his side.
"It isn't worth it, Curly. I get a free shot now. It's as good as ours."
Justin didn't budge.
"C'mon. It's almost ours."
Justin finally turned his angry eyes to JC. The anger was immediately replaced with concern. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah," JC smiled. "He hits like Lance."
"Hey!" Lance called out. "I heard that!"
Justin finally laughed, shaking his head. "If he touches you again-"
"You'll stand there like a good boy and let me handle it. I wasn't so innocent myself, JuJu. I said something kinda mean."
"I don't care-" Justin began.
Another whistle shot through the air. "JC, take your position."
JC winked at his friends and trotted to the line a couple of feet away from the basket. He was handed the basketball and bounced it a couple of times in front of himself.
He bent his legs, positioning the ball in his hands in front of his eyes, making it peripheral with his now focused vision. He saw the basketball and the basket ahead of it. He jumped, letting the ball sail from his hands.
A couple of seconds later, he was jumping up and down, ignoring the pain in his side. He had just gotten the second point, winning the game and tying with the Backstreet Boys.
"Now for the tie-breaker," Steven called out, motioning for them to huddle around them. No one moved. "Ookay...for the tie breaker." Steven grabbed the box and retrieved two names. "Justin."
A huge sigh of relief floated through NSYNC and Justin laughed. "Guys, you aren't that bad."
"Yeah, right. Did you not see Cinderella out there?" Chris laughed, referring to Lance. "I thought he was going to start screaming for his Prince Charming to come rescue him."
"Nick," Steven said, calling out the other name.
Nick rolled his eyes. "It figures. It just figures."
"Go kick his butt, Frack," Brian smiled. "I know you can do it. I taught you everything you know."
"Modest much?" Nick smiled.
"Nope," Brian smiled back.
Kevin ruffled Nick's hair. "Imagine how great it's gonna feel once you kick his butt."
Nick smiled, jogging onto the court.
"Yo, what's up now?" Justin smiled confidently. "We gonna see who got the skills now, dawg."
"You're not black. You're white."
Justin rolled his eyes. "Whatev."
The whistle blew signaling the start of the game and the ball was immediately checked. Nick made his way onto the court and swiftly made his way past Justin. Before Justin knew it, the ball was no longer in Nick's hands. It was sailing through the air and into the basket.
Nick blew on his nails and rubbed them against his shirt. "I'll help you out since you couldn't bring your Hooked On Phonics kit. That's one," Nick said, raising a finger.
Justin rolled his eyes, catching the ball from the referee. He was soon on the court, dribbling the ball expertly between his legs. He faced Nick, noticing how Nick's eyes never left the ball.
"Hmm..." Nick said, guarding Justin. "A big ball full of air between your legs. It's like Britney never left."
Justin roughly bumped into Nick, pushing past him to the basket. He bounced the ball on the backboard, watching proudly as it slid into the basket.
Justin beamed at Nick, pretending the
Britney remark didn't get to him. "Actually," Justin said, smiling
even more, "the big ball of air in between my legs reminded me more of
Mandy. She's so much better at that. But, hey," Justin grinned, "it's
not like you and the rest of
The smile was gone from Nick's face and he was immediately striding across the court to Justin. Kevin's face was suddenly in front of Nick's.
"Let it go. Let it go. He's just trying to get you to lose your concentration. Remember what we're here to do."
Nick focused in on Kevin and blocked out Justin's laughter. "You're right. I'm sorry."
"No need to apologize, little man. Just kick his ass....with the game. Not physically."
Nick smiled. "Can I kick his ass after the game?"
"What do you think?" Kevin asked.
Kevin gave him a look.
"Fine, fine," Nick gave in. Right when he thought about giving NSYNC a chance, Justin had to open his mouth. So what else was new?
Nick looked at Justin and decided that Justin must've been Lucifer in a past life. He just knew it.
Nick began to dribble the ball on the court, thinking of ways on how to get past Justin. Nick suddenly smiled.
"Do you think that Britney's being faithful to you, Justy boy?"
Justin's face was red and Nick couldn't tell if it was because of him or because of the heat. "Yes, she's faithful. She doesn't have a case of Mandy-itis."
Nick tried his hardest to ignore his snide remarks. He only hoped that Justin didn't have the same patience to ignore his. "If you knew something, you might not agree."
Justin literally stopped and stared at Nick. "Knew what?"
Nick almost stopped with him when he saw the small fear in Justin's eyes. He cared more about Britney than Nick thought. He quickly shook himself out of Justin's stare and bounced the ball around Justin, scoring the point that won the Backstreet Boys the challenge.
"Oh, sorry, Justin!" Nick laughed. "Britney hasn't cheated on you....from what I know. I must've confused her with someone else."
"Probably with your ex-girlfriend."
But Nick wasn't hearing him. He was overjoyed that they had won. It had been too long since they'd won and he was screaming and slapping high fives with the two brothers that he had left on the island. Nothing, not even Justin Timberlake, could ruin that.
Justin, Lance, Chris, and JC all sat around the all too familiar bonfire. It had seemed like forever since they'd last been there to say farewell to Joey.
Lance and Chris were secretly freaking out. They knew they were going to be one of the ones to go. They knew it would be stupid to vote Justin or JC off. They were the most athletic of them and JC was also the most level headed. They needed him around to keep them from burying Nick alive and from shaving Kevin's eyebrows off.
The second Steven stepped out from the trees and stood at the pot that held the names, he began to reiterate the speech they had already been given once before, when they had first met there with Joey still there.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," JC said.
"Yadda, yadda, yadda," Chris added. "We get it. If you look inside the pot, we already voted. You took too freakin' long to get your ass out here."
Steven looked at them tiredly. He had been receiving the exact same treatment all day long. He didn't even try to justify his actions anymore. They wouldn't reasonably listen to one word that he had to say.
"First vote is for....Lance."
Justin recognized his handwriting and suddenly felt guilty.
"I'm sorry, Lance," Justin said, bravely fighting to lock his eyes with Lance's. He didn't want to stare at the ground like some coward.
"It's okay," Lance smiled, shaking his head. "We're even now, I guess."
Justin smiled at him, remembering the first time they had been to Tribal Council. Lance had been one of the ones who had voted for Justin to leave. Just like it had been Lance to scribble on the back of the bus to playfully try to get Justin into trouble. Justin almost didn't believe him when he said it was okay, but he remembered that he had held no contempt for Lance when he had recognized the handwriting. Justin let go of Lance's hand and slung his arm around his shoulder.
"Another vote for......Lance."
Lance smiled, trying to keep the tears from welling up in his eyes. He knew it was impossible. As much as he knew it was for the best, it still hurt to have some of the most important people in your life vote you out of their group.
"Another vote for Lance. I'm sorry, Lance. Please bring me your torch."
Justin stood up to grab Lance's torch for him. They were going to do this together. Chris, JC, and Justin walked on either side of Lance to Steven.
"We're together till the very end, bro," JC smiled. "And even then there is no escape from us."
"Yeah," Chris agreed. "When you're walking down the street and you think you see a moving bush, that's us, man. We're everywhere."
Justin smiled. "And if it isn't us, then run because then it's some crazy fan."
Lance laughed. As much as they drove him crazy, he was going to miss them.
"I love you guys," he smiled. "And JuJu..."
"Wear a bandanna."
Justin laughed. "Sure thing, man, sure thing."
"Tell Joey we said 'hi'! Tell him we miss his 'crazy in need of a fashion makeover' butt!"
Lance gave them a final wave before he disappeared behind the trees with Steven.
Everyone had immediately fallen asleep once back at camp. After their exhausting day, it was a miracle no one had dropped dead in the middle of the basketball game.
Something fell onto Nick's face, startling him awake. He quickly rubbed at his face, scared that it was a bug or spider. He saw that a leaf lay by his blanket. Nick picked it up, examining it. He was freaking out over a leaf?
Nick looked around to see that Kevin and Brian were peacefully sleeping. Nick yawned, remembering his tiredness. Before he could lay back down to sleep, he heard it.
Nick immediately sat up. "Not again."
Suddenly a green light illuminated from behind the trees. Nick jumped up, trying to focus his now wide awake eyes on the light. It was suddenly gone, making Nick second guess it's existence. Had he been seeing things?
"Maybe my eye boogers are making my vision blurry," Nick stupidly said. He knew he sounded ridiculous, but anything was better than admitting what he had actually seen. He suddenly thought of the Blair Witch Project.
"Man, if that movie wasn't fake....."
Nick stopped. Was something whispering? He even stopped breathing, straining his ears to pick up the undetectable.
"Shit." Nick really wanted to wake up Brian or Kevin, but he wasn't 12 years old anymore.
Nick took a step forward, but stopped. What was he thinking? Like hell he was going to go and investigate the strange sounds. By himself with no weapon? It was only the stupid blonde people in the movies who did that. 'Gee, what's that sound? I'm all alone in the dark in a strange place with nothing to protect myself with, so I might as well go and check on that weird noise anyway.' Next thing you knew Jason was slicing them up with his big knife.
Nick reached up to touch his hair when he realized it was always the blonde, dumb people who died.
"Hell, I dye my hair. I ain't dying."
Nick sat back down and decided to just to do a replay of the past night. Stay up and stay guard. Nick suddenly stiffened. He was finally able to make out the ghostly whisper.
"Things aren't always safe."
His ears tingled with the ghostly voice, and he actually shuddered.
"C'mon Nicky, you're hearing things," he told himself and glanced back at Brian and Kevin. They were asleep, weren't they? He couldn't be sure because all he saw was their bulky forms, but they weren't dead. He knew they weren't dead.
He squinted in the dark and felt a heaviness in his stomach he hadn't experienced since he was ten years old. That dread. That awful, all-encompassing dread of not knowing what is a few feet away from you in the dark. Not knowing if the next thing to reach out and touch you will be the wind or not of this world. Not knowing if you are the last survivor of some maniac's massacre.
He glanced back at Kevin and Brian and wished one of them would move, or snore or something. But they were deep in their sleep and did not stir.
"Shit," he muttered. "Shit."
He looked around himself surprised at the sudden silence. The wind wasn't even rustling the leaves anymore, and he hardly heard the ocean.
He looked back at his most favorite thing in the whole world, the thing that reassured him beyond any other person who he'd ever known.
But it was silent. For the first time in his life, Nick couldn't even hear the ocean over the hard, fast beating of his heart.
He reached over and grabbed the thick stick they used to stir the ashes of the cooking fire, just in case.