“That’s the wrong way!”
“No, it’s NOT!”
“Yes, it IS!”
“Since when are your eyebrows compasses?” JC asked exasperated.
Kevin looked at JC annoyed. He’d been stuck with JC for the past six hours and
they hadn’t gotten anywhere. Manslaughter laws didn’t hold up on a deserted island, did they?
“You’re asking for it,” Kevin said, stepping up in JC’s face.
“Whatever I asked for, it wasn’t your bad breath,” JC said, waving away the smell with his hand.
Kevin narrowed his eyes at him.
“As much as you do that,” JC said, pointing at Kevin’s narrowed eyes, “I’d think
you were Chinese. Good thing I already know that that’s just your way of going into asshole mode.”
“What is your problem?!”
JC looked at Kevin like he should know. “You’re slower than I thought.”
“Damn it, JC!” Kevin yelled. “I’m tired of you! Just....shut....up!”
“If it finds me Justin, FINE, but you have to shut up, too!”
They both began to walk in silence. A silence that lasted all of ten seconds.
“I’m not shutting up for you, though.”
“Well, I’m not shutting up for you, either!” Kevin yelled angrily.
“You hate us for the wrong reason,” JC said out of nowhere.
Kevin stopped to turn around. “Don’t start with that again,” Kevin warned.
“Why not?!” JC yelled. “It’s the reason why we’re never gonna find Nick and
“What are you talking about?”
“We’ve stopped to fight more than we’ve looked. Get...over....IT,” JC yelled.
“So Lou helped us financially. He helped you financially, too. We didn’t copy you, we didn’t want to copy you, and if it looked that way, then TOO FUCKING BAD!”
Kevin’s eyes widened in surprise. He’d expected him to say that if it had looked
that way, then he was sorry.
“I’m tired of being sorry!” JC said, unwittingly reading Kevin’s mind. “I said it
once and I won’t say it again, especially when I have NOTHING to be sorry about, you prick!”
Kevin pushed JC against a tree and breathed all his bad breath in his face. “Listen, you asshole, there is only so much I can be pushed before I retaliate. If you’re looking for us to be friends, I don’t fucking think that’s gonna happen, JC.”
“I don’t want to be your friend,” JC said, roughly shoving Kevin’s hands off of
him. “I want you to stop acting like we stole candy from you. Grow up, already. You’re practically a fossil, yet you still act like a child.”
“Justin and Nick will become friends before we do,” Kevin said, spitting next to
JC’s shoe. But JC wasn’t even paying attention to him anymore. He was looking beyond him.
“Oh my God,” JC said, pushing Kevin aside.
Kevin turned around confused and couldn’t see whatever it was JC was so excited about. He pointed his flashlight in the direction JC had his pointed in and still couldn’t see what the big deal was about. Then JC stepped to the side to kneel down and he saw it.
“Nick?!” Kevin yelled, running after JC.
He stood over JC as JC kneeled down next to them. Kevin blinked, thinking the
image in front of him would disappear. It couldn’t be.
Nick’s arm was wrapped around Justin’s shoulder and Justin was leaning in on
Nick asleep. Nick was wearing a sweater that Kevin knew wasn’t his. Kevin’s eyes strayed to the open backpack and strewn orange peels and apple cores. Kevin pushed JC aside when he saw him inspecting Nick.
“Get the hell away from him,” Kevin growled.
JC looked at Kevin annoyed and crossed over Justin and Nick’s legs to get to
“I was just checking to see if he was okay and breathing,” JC said, rolling his eyes.
He knew right away Justin was breathing. His loud snoring made that apparent. JC smiled and shook his head. “This boy will never cease to surprise me,” JC said, looking through the backpack.
There was candy, fruit, a first aid kit, and an extra sweater. JC recognized the
sweater Nick was wearing as his own. Justin must have lent it to him.
“I don’t see any scratches,” JC smiled. “They didn’t kill each other.” He didn’t
smile directly at Kevin, though. He was still concentrating on the two sleeping faces in front of him.
“Why didn’t they leave already?” Kevin said.
JC looked at Kevin bored. “And I would know because....?”
“At least no imaginary lumps got to them,” Kevin said, waving his flashlight across the darkened woods.
Something tapped Kevin on his shoulder and Kevin turned around screaming,
smacking it with his flashlight.
“SHIT!” Steven yelled, grabbing his head. “What are you DOING?!”
JC laughed, shaking his head, and he smiled when Nick and Justin woke up.
Justin’s eyes focused on his grinning best friend and he immediately brought JC
into a hug and laughed. “I was wondering where the heck you were.”
JC laughed into Justin’s shoulder. “You’re gonna wish I hadn’t found you when
I’m done with you, kid. Don’t ever do something like this again.”
Kevin ignored Steven rubbing his head to bend down to Nick.
“Hey, Frack,” Kevin smiled, hugging Nick.
“Hey,” Nick smiled sleepily. “I’ve been waiting for you.”
“I know, man,” Kevin smiled, rustling Nick’s hair around.
“How did you find us?” Nick asked, looking up at Steven.
“From Justin’s transmitter. It took us awhile to realize that all of you had left, and when we saw how Justin’s transmitter wasn’t moving and was FAR away from camp, we only hoped that he hadn’t passed out or hurt himself. JC and Kevin were hard to find because they kept moving,” Steven explained. He sighed with relief that they’d all been found.
Nick looked at Kevin. “You and JC came looking for us?” Nick asked, surprised.
“No,” Kevin said. “We just unfortunately bumped into each other looking for you guys.” Kevin leaned into Nick. “If you ever get lost again, and I have to help look for you with HIM again, I’m killing you the next time I find you.”
Nick laughed and Kevin cracked a smile, bringing his little brother into his arms.
JC rolled his eyes. “It was only unbearable because you have to live with yourself 24 hours. I’d want a break, too,” JC said.
“Oh, I’ll give you a break,” Kevin said. “Which would you prefer? Your leg or
“How about my nose? At least then I wouldn’t have to smell that foul odor
coming out of your mouth anymore!” JC snapped.
Nick laughed and looked at Justin. Justin shook his head, realizing he’d just lost
“I’ll write you a check,” Justin said.
"What would Justin Timberlake be doing writing you a check? Is he finally trying to pay us back for all that money they stole from us?" Kevin asked as he and Nick walked back to their side of the island.
Because no one had "won" the last challenge, they had been instructed to go back to their side, pick up what they wanted to take back, and return to the main beach to settle everything once and for all.
Nick chuckled. "It was a dumb, little joke, Kev. That’s all."
Kevin eyed him. Nick seemed very different from that first day they stepped on the island. What if he had gotten bitten by some strange mosquito, or the lump had finally gotten the best of him?
"It was nothing," he laughed again. "Really. Whoops."
Kevin had to help him keep his balance because that wrenched ankle made walking back hard enough.
"You’d think after all we’ve been through, they would have driven us back or something," Kevin said. "I wonder what the hell we’re going to do now."
"Probably something stupid," Nick said. "I’m sure it won’t even matter, Kev. We came out here. We sweated. We worried. We freaked out voting ourselves off, and for what? When we go back it’s not like--."
"What do you mean, ‘For what’? For our lives, Frack. This is our lives, remember? I mean, I know we said that we’d stick together no matter what, but have you lost sight of what we learned here?"
He shook his head. "No. I think for the first time, I see it very clearly, Kev."
Some mosquito did bite him. And it gave him a strange island disease that kept him from thinking straight.
"And what do you see?"
Nick glanced up at the starry night and back at the ground so he could keep his balance. He didn’t think Kevin would ever understand it. Kevin was one of those short sighted people who saw everything as black or white. NSYNC stood for Negative Satanic Union of Naughty Creeps who were sent to destroy them. Not another band just trying to make their mark in an overly-saturated market where being different was the same as being unknown. Mandy was a mad scientist’s creation who’s only purpose was to make Nick miserable and not a young, confused girl who was trying to make the best of what she knew. And that wasn’t much. Lou Pearlman was the devil himself and not... Lou Pearlman was the devil himself.
"So?" Kevin asked exasperated.
"Oh," Nick came back to him, realizing he had gotten lost in his thoughts. "It’s just things aren’t as simple as they look, Kevin. I mean, Justin and me aren’t alike in the way you guys think we are, but we also have more stuff in common than we even realized." He glanced over at Kevin, who just looked confused and frustrated. "I guess you had to be there."
He shook his head. "Yeah. I had to be there to realize how you two ended up cuddling up together and falling asleep. How you two must have shared that food and talked. But about what? Nick, that guy would like nothing better than for us to fall off the face of the Earth right now."
Nick shook his head knowingly. "No, Kev, that’s not what he wants."
"Then? Then, what does he want?"
"To see Brit. Just like you want to see Kris. See? See how we’re not different. I mean, we are, and that’s why we can keep existing in the same market. But we’re the same, too, Kev. We are."
"Baby, I think you hit your head harder than you told those medics you did."
Nick just chuckled.
"I don’t want to keep anything from this God forsaken place," Justin said once he and JC had hobbled back to their side. Actually, Justin was the only one hobbling, but since he kept grabbing on to JC, both of them ended up limping their way back to camp.
"Why didn’t we just go on to the last challenge?"
"Because they’re giving us time together, don’t you see? We need to come up with a plan."
"A plan?" Justin shook his head. He was so tired. "A plan to do what? We don’t even know what the challenge is. Betcha’ they do something stupid like smear all of us with fresh blood and have some starving, wild animal come charging out of the jungle. Whoever he eats first loses."
JC had to laugh. "Um, I don’t think so. I just reminded them of how many lawsuits they’ve risked out here with us."
"Yeah. Do you have any idea how many times our lives have been in danger out here? I mean, besides those Backstreet death threats and Kevin’s ‘Rush Limbaugh’ attitude, we had to endure supernatural powers, freaky storms, getting lost in the middle of nowhere, among other things. I don’t remember any of that being in the contracts, and I’m sure Jive’s been keeping any eye on everything."
Justin was studying his best friend. He really was a really good guy. Being out in the sun and away from his girlfriend had brought out the strange, deranged, lawsuit happy mutant in him.
"Jayce, let’s just get home in one piece, okay?"
"’Course. That’s what I want, too. I wish they’d just flip a coin and be done with everything already."
"Really?" Justin asked surprised. "You think it could all come down to a coin toss? Jive would freak then. What are we gonna do if they win?"
JC heard the question come out so easily. It was one that he could barely ask himself.
"Huh?" Justin asked at his silence.
"Um,... well... JuJu, if we lose, we’re gonna deal. I mean, I guess we’ll have to sit down and think of something. We could get another name. Or we could sue Backstreet for ... for... for something."
He laughed. "You and your lawsuits, man. I think if we lose, I’m gonna go join their group."
JC was aghast. "What? What? What did Nick Carter do to you out there? Are you nuts? How could you even live with Howie winking at you all the time? Brian praying at every turn? AJ. AJ who is just a ... a ... a freak. And Kevin thinking that he created, wrote, directed and starred in The Only Boyband is the Backstreet Boys. Are you--?"
Justin was laughing too hard to hear the rest.
"What?" JC asked. "What are you thinking?"
"I’m thinking that if they win, they’ll still be out there singing, traveling and making people smile. That’s all I want."
He was such a kid.
"Hey," JC stood in front of him and took hold of his shoulders. "And that’s what they want to take away from you. Okay? Don’t you forget it."
Justin shook his head. "It’s not like that."
"Yes. Yes, it is. Why do you think we came out here? Why do you think they ever came up with an idea like this? It was their idea, remember? And I’m sure they thought it was going to be easy to wipe the floor with us and send us home. I’m sure they thought we wouldn’t last a day. Just like they thought that at the beginning. But here we are, JuJu, giving them nightmares. Giving them more competition than they ever thought possible."
"JC, I love you."
JC stared at the sincere expression on Justin’s face. He searched and searched for the smile that would show him he was just kidding.
But Justin was stony faced.
"I don’t care. I love you and the guys. And I’m not going to crawl into a hole just because the Backstreet Boys want me to. And you know what? We were all stupid to come out and let these people make money off us. We just ran out here acting all macho, but we didn’t realize one, simple thing."
"We exist because we want to. Not because Backstreet’s letting us."
JC bit his lip and released Justin. Right about then he would’ve given anything to have silly, immature Justin back. This all knowing, confident one was a little hard to manage.
He shook his head and turned around to start picking up their crap. The neat freak in him hadn’t gone away, and he didn’t want to leave anything important behind. Like Justin’s red dye shampoo.
"I love you!" he heard Justin shout again before he tackled him from behind, and they both landed on the ground with a thud.
"Hey! We’re goin’ home! We’re goin’ home!" Justin chanted happily as he sat harder and harder on JC’s stomach. "Home. Home. Home."
"Ugh... Umf... stop! Look! The lump!"
Justin stopped his bouncing and looked. "Where?"
JC had already taken the time to slip out from under him and get off the ground. "JuJu, either sit there and wait for me to finish, or get the hell up and help me pack up this shit."
Justin seemed to think really, really hard, and then he smiled. "Home. Home. Home. We’re goin’ home!"
"Brian!" Nick was more than happy to see his best friend again. It felt like ages since he last saw him. "Frick!"
"Frack, buddy," Brian greeted pulling him into a hug. "How are you? Man, you and Kev looked beat. Did you guys get to sleep at all?"
"Not much," Nick admitted. "But we’re okay. How are you? How’d you like being home?"
"It was great. It was what I needed, to see Leigh again, and Tyke." He sighed. "It’s almost over. You’re good?"
Nick nodded. "Not much else can go wrong."
"Hey," AJ greeted, putting out his cigarette in the sand. "Get over here, you freak. What is this sleeping with Justin stuff? Huh? Wanna finish giving us a bad rep?"
"Hey Bone," Nick greeted with a small smile. "What are you--."
"Nicky!" Howie came around last with his shoulder still in a sling. "How’re are you?"
"’D! I’m good, man. Kev and me are still here. We’re surviving."
Howie gave him the best hug he could manage. "Good. I’ve been watching back home. You sure have been through a lot of shit. Good thing I went home when I did. I could not live on an island with some horrendous lump."
"Kev’s not so bad," Nick said deadpan.
The guys cracked up just as Kevin joined the group. "Guys! Brian!"
And the hugs and greetings began all over again.
"What are you guys doing here?" Kevin asked.
"We were asked to come back for the last challenge," Howie said. "We’re supposed to cheer you guys on. Actually, we were supposed to be here to celebrate with you guys when you won the gun war thing."
"That was a joke," Kevin rolled his eyes. "I’m sure it’ll just get worse now."
Brian smiled and shook his head at his cousin. "I don’t think that’s really possible, Kevy Kev."
"Bri, everything’s fucking possible. I sure have learned that here."
"Gentlemen," Steven greeted. "It’s so nice to see all of you together again. NSYNC’s reuniting on the main beach as well. Why don’t we join them?"
"Why don’t you drop dead?" AJ asked. "I did not miss this guy one, fucking bit."
Nick threw his arm around him. "Really? Kev and me were thinking about giving him a life long membership to our online fan club. I think he’s an AJ fan myself. I heard him singing Lay Down Beside Me the other day."
"Funny, Frack. Real funny."
"He wants to be bad to the Bone," Nick insisted.
AJ pushed up. "Shut the hell up."
They made their way through the artificially illuminated island to find the five members of NSYNC back together again.
"... sure did miss you, man," Chris was saying.
"But you just left," JC was pointing out. "Like yesterday."
"Yeah, but I still really, really missed you."
"Aw Joey, we missed you," Justin was telling him. "I was stuck out here sooooooo long with these boring guys. They never wanted to do anything fun."
"Fun, like cook rats?" Joey laughed. "And you named that rat after me."
Justin smiled. "Chris did that."
"It was you. I saw you," Joey
said. "I saw you guys on TV. I saw you pull that shark stunt on Nick
Carter. I saw him running away from a ghost. I saw Chris pee his pants. I saw
it all." He laughed. "You guys look like major wieners to all of
"Well, you’re the wiener who saw it from his couch," Chris pointed out. "Remember?"
Joey smiled. "Yeah okay. I deserve that. But you guys still have one more challenge to go."
"And we’ll win," Justin said confidently. "Leave that to me."
JC started rolling his eyes but caught himself. Who was he? Kevin? "Justin, I think it’s going to take the two of us."
Justin winked at Joey and pointed at himself. "Me.”
"Welcome survivors to what will truly be your final challenge," Steven said.
"... crazy freak."
"... masochist. Or is that sadist?" Chris was mulling over. "I always get those two mixed up. And Amanda’s explained them to me so many times. So which is it, AJ?"
AJ looked up surprised but caught on fast. He pulled out his tiny cell phone. "I don’t know. Why don’t we call your mom and ask her? Last I heard she was out on the street offering to be either one."
Even Steven laughed. In some strange way, he’d missed them being jerks with each other. "Okay guys, this is it. We brought back your teammates because this is your last challenge, and we all know how important it is. We figured you could use all of the moral support you could get."
"What are we doing?" Kevin asked.
"Gentlemen, welcome to Last Man Standing," Steven said dramatically and stepped out of their line of sight.
About ten feet into the ocean was a strange balance beam. It looked narrow and even wobbly.
"One member from each team will take his place up on the platform and stand. The point is to remain upright as long as possible. Whoever drops first, loses? Simple enough?" Steven asked.
This time, he was greeted by silence and no wisecracks. Everyone seemed to realize this was the end for one of their groups.
"Kevin, think about it," Nick was saying.
"I did think about it. It’s fate. Leave it alone."
"It’s wrong," Nick said. "And you know it."
They had been left alone to prepare for the last challenge. Steven had picked the participant’s names out of a hat. Justin and Kevin were the "lucky" chosen. Nick had immediately started arguing that it was an uneven match.
"Nick, listen to me. A long time ago, you were freaked out about traveling alone. About getting on that airplane that was going to take you so far away from home that it would be winter for us and summer for your family. Remember? Remember that?”
"And you were scared. Remember, just for a second, being that scared little kid who saw how big the world was and thought he had to go through it on his own. Remember that we talked? Remember what I told you?"
He nodded again, but kept his gaze on the moist sand below. He remembered that like it was yesterday. "You told me it was our destiny."
"Exactly," Kevin said. "This is our destiny, Nick. Ours. Not theirs. And no one gets that I’m fighting for what belongs to us. I just look like jealous, unreasonable Kevin to everyone, but it’s because they haven’t seen what I see. They don’t remember the things I remember. They don’t remember how much it took for you to take your thirteen year old self out of the comfort of your home and follow us. It wasn’t easy, Nick. Don’t ever kid yourself."
"I know," Nick said softly. "I know."
"Then why are you fighting me on this? Why are you fighting the chance for us to take what’s ours? It’s our destiny. God is putting everything in place so that we keep what belongs to us."
"Well, if God wanted us to win this way, He wouldn’t have put these thoughts in my head."
Kevin winced. "What thoughts?"
"That it’s not fair, Kevin. You know what’s going to happen. Justin hurt his ankle going out there to find me. To unselfishly find ME. If he climbs on the platform, he won’t be able to balance for very long. You know he’s going to fall off. You know they’re going to lose."
"They’re supposed to lose," Kevin said.
Nick shook his head. "Not like that. That’s not fair. You’re the one always going on about how much Lou cheated us. How it’s not fair that he’s still making money off us, and he’s just sitting there getting fatter. And about how it’s not fair that NSYNC didn’t pay their dues the way we did. Well, this isn’t fair either. It’s not fair for Justin to have gotten picked. A fair fight would be you and JC."
Kevin shook his head like he was trying to make all of the information make sense his tired, muddled brain.
Nick smiled as he saw the uncertainty reach Kevin’s eyes.
"No. No, Nicky. C’mon. Please? Of course Justin’s going to fall off, but he was picked at random. It’s fair. It‘s his own fault for going to look for you. There was already a search party out doing just that. I was doing just that. He didn‘t have to go out there and hurt his stupid ankle. He brought it upon himself."
"He did it to help me. If this really was about destiny, then was my destiny to stay lost in that forest?” Nick asked, pointing out at the trees. Kevin was already shaking his head, but Nick cut him off before he could start talking again. “Well, Kevin, in case you missed it, Justin didn’t listen to destiny. HE ignored it and went out there to find me. If he hadn’t found me, who knows what would have happened? I was starving and freezing, but Justin was there to lend me a sweater and share his candy and fruit with me.”
Kevin sighed. This wasn’t happening. This wasn’t happening. This wasn’t happening.
Nick continued looking down. He knew what was right. There was no doubt in his mind about what he needed to do.
"So what?" Kevin asked with an even deeper sigh. "What is it? What do you want me to do? Wanna kick me? Even up the odds?"
"No," Nick said. "Of course not."
"Then? What’s gonna make this fair? You think they’ll let JC trade places with him?"
"Well, you’d better come up with something, little man. We have to be ready in less than five."
He finally looked up. "I’ll go."
"Kevin, it makes sense. I’ll go. I hurt my ankle out there, too. I can’t keep my balance any better than he can. And it would be a fair match."
"But Nick...," Kevin began then stopped when he realized there was no argument. He just made too much sense.
"Don’t worry, Kevin. I’m not going to screw this up. I still believe this is our destiny. Ours."
JC was helping Justin bandage up his slightly swollen ankle.
"You sure you’re up to this?"
"Yup," Justin said. "You leave this to me. Kevin’s big eyebrows are gonna throw him off balance, and he’s gonna sink. Just like the Titanic. They’ll call him the Ti-Kevin."
JC smiled nervously as he pinned the bandage. "Okay, bud. You ready?"
JC couldn’t help already feeling somewhat defeated. He knew Justin was in no shape to compete against Kevin. All he could hope for was that he had the heart to hang in there, and he doubted that as much as he doubted the fact that Kevin was an asshole.
"Guys, there’s been a change in plans," Steven said as soon as they stepped out.
Neither of them said anything. They just couldn’t.
"You won’t be competing against Kevin," Steven said. "We talked about it, and for this final challenge you’ll be competing against--."
"Me," Nick stepped past him with a smile. "Good luck, JuJu."
He had to laugh. "Good luck, Frack."
"What the...?" JC asked confused. "What sense does that make? They’re both hurt! They’re barely gonna be out there for five minutes. Are you crazy?"
JC felt a heavy hand pull him back.
"Let them be," Kevin said seriously. "I think for once, we’re going to have to trust their instincts instead of our own."
JC opened his mouth to protest again, but the look on Kevin’s face made him stop. He was right. This was going to be up to them.
"Fuck," he whispered instead.
"Heavenly Father," Brian’s prayer began as they held onto each other in a tight circle before Nick swam out to the beam. "We ask You once again that You guide and protect us, especially Frack. All this time You’ve known what’s right and wrong for us. We trust You once again to take us where we need to be. Amen."
"Amen," came the answer in unison, but they didn’t let go.
"You okay?" Brian asked his best friend who still had his eyes tightly shut.
Nick smiled and opened them. "Yup. I’m just asking for extra balance."
"You’ll do good, man," AJ said confidently.
"Yeah. Just think steady thoughts," Howie advised. "Your ankle hurt a lot?"
"Naw," he shook his head. "It was just sore, but it’s fine."
"Sun’s gonna rise," Kevin said quietly. "I can’t believe we’ve been up for so long. You sure you’re not too tired to do this?"
"I’m sure," Nick said confidently. "I’m not going to let you guys down. So take advantage of being together for the first time in a while and start writing some songs or something."
AJ chuckled. "Don’t go putting us back to work, Frack. After this, you’re gonna want a vacation."
"Are you kidding? After this, I’m never gonna want to quit. This has cost us way more than anything else ever," Nick said and looked up at his brothers. "And I’m not gonna lose it for you. I promise. Thanks for trusting me."
"I wouldn’t trust anyone else," Brian smiled.
"Me either," Howie said.
"Course, me either," AJ said.
They all looked at Kevin. "You’re the bomb, baby," he said in a flat tone then smiled. "You’re gonna be great."
Nick felt his smile grow. That’s all he needed to hear. The rush of newfound energy sped right through him.
"You guys ready?" Kevin said. "One. Two. Three."
Justin looked up at the sound of Backstreet breaking.
“Guys, I think it’s time for me to go.”
JC brought Justin into a hug. “I love you, too. As nutty as I thought you were screaming you loved me yesterday, I’m sorry for acting all macho or whatever and not just saying it back.” JC pulled back. “We all love that about you, you know? How you’re still young and honest enough to just say what you’re thinking without worrying about what anyone else thinks.”
“He’s right, JuJu,” Lance agreed. “And we trust you and we know you’re gonna go out there and kick ass.”
Justin smiled. “Thanks, you guys. Really, thank you.”
They all huddled together and JC counted them off.
“One, two, three!”
JC pulled away to see Kevin doing his regular roll of the eyes.
“Copying us again, Chasez?”
JC only laughed. “It would be you to think that something as unoriginal as that was something you did first.”
Nick smiled as he saw that Justin had that same goofy smile on his face after having received a huge dose of love and support from his team.
"This is it," Steven said just as the first rays of sun made their way over the ocean.
"You guys ready."
"Ready," Justin said.
"Okay. When I give the signal, you guys swim out to the beam. Climb up there, and you’ll have a minute to steady yourselves and find a position you feel comfortable in. After that, I’ll raise a red flag, and it’s on. Anyone falls, and that group disbands. Got it?"
Justin did, too.
"Okay," Steven said and noted how relaxed they were. The other eight young men seemed to be collectively holding their breaths. "Get set. Go."
"You go, JuJu!"
Kevin watched their heads rise and fall out of the waters as they swam out to the beam. Nick got there first and just climbed on. Justin started doing chin ups on the bar while Nick laughed.
But it wasn’t long before the two of them were standing there, the red flag rose, fell, and the sun made it’s way up over the waters.
"Is it just me, or does it look like Kevin’s head is gonna explode?"
Nick squinted his eyes and smiled once the vision of his best friend was clear.
"Yup, his head is gonna explode." Nick tilted his head to the side. "But I think JC’s gonna beat him to it."
Justin smiled at the perplexed and angry look his best friend had on his stony face. "Yeah, JC’s pretty close, too. Someone should tell them that they’re faces can freeze like that. Don’t they have mom’s?"
Nick laughed, shaking his head.
Nick looked at Justin surprised. "For what?"
"For doing this," Justin said, trying not to look down at the water he was trying to keep himself out of. "You didn’t have to. Kevin could have come up here and you guys would’ve won easily. You know I wouldn’t have stood a chance against Hitler with this ankle."
Nick let an easy smile cross his face. "Don’t insult Kevin. You don’t even know him."
"So we’re back to this?" Justin asked.
Nick shook his head. "Man, you ARE like Mandy. Always overreacting and reading more into my words."
And just like Nick knew he would, Justin crossed his arms and pouted.
"I just don’t want you insulting my bro like that. I love Kevin, and although he seems hardcore a lot of the time, he has a soft spot."
Nick smiled. "Yeah, me and tons of other things. Like his wife, his family, me and the guys, and our career. He’s protective and all he’s trying to do is keep it protected."
Justin shrugged. "I guess you’re right. JC’s the same way, but he doesn’t go around threatening to kill you."
Nick laughed at Justin’s over-exaggeration. "Kevin did NOT threaten to kill you."
"Just about!" Justin exclaimed.
Nick laughed, remembering the countless times Kevin got into Justin’s face over some fight that had nothing to do with him.
"I love him for that, though."
"I know," Justin smiled, looking back towards the island. "Do they not have anything better to do?"
Nick turned to see that all eight guys were just standing there, saying nothing, just watching them.
"I know," Nick smiled. "You’d think their careers depended on this or something."
Justin laughed and then stopped. "God, Nick. Our careers depend on this."
Nick stopped smiling and looked at the board he was still trying to steady himself on. "How easy it would have been to just let Kevin get on this board and win, Justin. To just let him beat you and secure our lives. But that’s just it. This isn’t our entire life. There’s more to life than our careers. Sure, we’ve worked close to a freakin’ decade to be where we are, but we’ve lived it already. I’m just as aware as Kevin is to what we have to lose, but that shouldn’t rule our life. If we didn’t continue to live it, we could just live normal lives and just be normal people for once."
"But that’s not what you want deep down inside," Justin said. "If I had a nickel for every time I’d said I wished I could be normal for just one day, I’d throw them all at Steven and put him into intensive care," Justin smiled. "As much as we say it, we know that we really mean it, but we mean it literally. We’d only want to be normal for a day. We live and breathe what we do, and you know as well as I do that we don’t want to lose it because we accidentally lost our balance and fell in the water."
Nick sighed, looking up at the blue sky. "That sky never changes. Since before I was born, it’s been the same. Sure, sometimes it’s cloudy, or stormy, or sometimes it’s just like today, bright and perfect, but it’s still the same beautiful sky."
"What’s your point?" Justin asked, squinting his own blue eyes to look up at Nick’s beautiful sky.
"That just because it may look different at night, or stormy other days, doesn’t mean it’s going to stay like that. It’s still the same sky, you’ve just caught it on an off day."
Justin looked at Nick, hoping he’d write the answer on his forehead or something because he still wasn’t getting it.
"Maybe it’s the sun, but I’m slow today," Justin smiled. "What are you trying to say, Nick?"
"That just because one of our careers may be taken away from us today, doesn’t mean we’re not the same person. We are. Our careers don’t make us, we made our careers. We did. We didn’t make yours and Lou didn’t make ours."
Justin smiled. He had just been telling JC the exact same thing.
Nick let a soft small crawl across his tanned face. "Just because we might not have the same career anymore, doesn’t mean the sun’s not gonna shine tomorrow. It always shines. Storms don’t last forever, and before you know it, the SAME beautiful sky is out there again. THAT’S what I’m saying, JuJu."
Justin smiled, shaking his head. "If Kevin could hear you right now-"
"I know, I know," Nick said, shaking his head. "His eyebrows would pop off or something."
Justin shook his head. "No, if he could hear you right now, he’d smile."
Nick looked at Justin surprised.
"He’d smile because that’s what proud people do. As much as Kevin and I don’t get along, I’ve gotta give him mad props with the person he’s helped you become."
Nick smiled a bright smile at Justin. Now he believed it. He’d heard Kevin say countless times how he’d grown up, but he never really took it in. Kevin was always trying to say the right things to make Nick feel better. Kevin always knew WHAT to say to make Nick feel better, and he loved him with his life for that.
But, Justin...Nick could count on Fro Boy to always told him the straight up truth. Flat out. They never needed to impress each other, and if anyone would know how immature or insensitive Nick could be, it would be the person who had been on the other side of that ugly attitude their entire time on the island: Justin.
But there he was, complimenting Nick. And it really meant a lot.
"Are you gay?" Justin suddenly asked.
"What?!" Nick yelled. Leave it to Justin to go from giving him awesome compliments to stupid insults. "Why in the HELL would you think that?"
"Dude, as inspiring as everything you said was, you were talking about the sun and beautiful sky and stuff."
Nick laughed. "Okay, so maybe the sky was a bit too....dramatical or whatever. Calling me gay," Nick muttered. "Sometimes you flail your hand around. What’s THAT about?"
"I do NOT!" Justin yelled.
"Yeah, you do, really," Nick said with a straight face.
"Like how?" Justin asked, laughing.
"Like this," Nick laughed, snapping his hand with femininity. Nick suddenly stopped laughing as he began to lopside on the board. "Shit," Nick muttered as he felt the indisputable pull of gravity bringing him to the right off the board. A strong grip suddenly steadied him and he looked up surprised to see a pair of blue eyes watching him.
"Are you okay?" Justin asked.
Nick bit his lip, trying to calm his breathing. "I almost fell."
Justin seemed to barely realize it. "Yeah, you almost did."
"And you stopped me."
Justin sighed, letting go of Nick’s arm once he was steady. "Yeah, I did." Justin looked out at the island and saw JC throwing a tantrum. "JC’s gonna kill me."
"I won’t let him."
Justin looked at Nick and smiled. "Thanks, but I don’t think smiling JC to death is gonna work."
"How long have we been up here?" Nick asked.
"And I would know because my imaginary watch tells me, right?"
Nick shot Justin an annoyed look and just shook his head. "I can’t believe that when we get back to that island, one of our careers will be over," Nick said sadly. "A career that we worked damn hard for, having to put up with loads of bullshit to get where we are, over. A career that means the world to us..." Nick’s head rose with every word and a small light re-entered his blue eyes as an idea etched itself across his already thinking head. "A career that DOESN’T have to end."
Justin looked at Nick confused. "Huh?"
"A career that doesn’t have to end," Nick said more excitedly, a huge smile suddenly crossing his face.
"What?" Justin asked. Maybe it was the throbbing in his ankle or lack of a pair of scissors, but he wasn’t getting Nick at all.
"We both jump."
Justin gaped at Nick. "What?"
"If no one wins, no one’s career is over," Nick said, talking more excitedly with every word that escaped his mouth.
Justin let out an uneasy laugh. "Are you nuts? I mean, .... I mean, what would Steven do? What if they made us do another challenge?"
Nick rolled his eyes. "This is our game, and we finish it the way we want to. He said so himself, this is the ‘last’ challenge. If it’s a tie, no one loses."
Though in the last few hours, Justin had come to see how soft-hearted Nick really was, he couldn’t believe it. He couldn’t believe the words that came out of someone he always considered a selfish, stupid, immature egomaniac.
He looked back out at his teammates. "They’re gonna freak."
"They sure are laughing a lot," Howie noted, watching the guys out on the beam.
"Well at least they aren’t sitting there hugging each other," Kevin said shaking his head.
Brian noted his cousin’s tired tone of voice. "What’s wrong, Kev?"
He just shook his head. "Nick’s a little lost right now. He thinks Justin Timberlake is some normal guy. I think he’s forgotten how much those guys have tried to take away from us. I think he’s forgotten about all the shit he’s been through because of him."
AJ chuckled. "Typical Nick."
"What does that mean? What do you mean?" Kevin asked confused. "Don’t you get it? If he’s out there making peace with Justin, then we’re sure to lose. That guy doesn’t care about making peace. He just wants to make Nicky think--."
"Kev, Nick’s an adult now," Brian said. "And if he’s out there making peace with Justin it’s because he knows what he’s doing. He must have finally seen that Justin’s really a kid just like him. That if anyone understands what it’s like, it’s him. He’s been through the same things Nick has."
"They aren’t alike," Kevin said shaking his head. "They’re nothing alike. Nick wouldn’t do what Justin did. He wouldn’t screw someone else’s girlfriend."
"We all want to think so," Brian said softly. "We wanna think we were all good influences on him, and that he’d make the right choice. But we have to see that we’re being influences now. It’s all up to him, Kev. It’s up to him to choose the right thing, and you have to admit he’s pretty good at doing that."
"Yeah, but he’s such a sap that he’s lost sight of what’s important. We didn’t come out here to make peace with NSYNC."
"Kev’s right," Howie said. "But I think we’re all gonna walk away with a lot more than what we came out here to do. I know all the time I was home watching you guys, I missed you. I mean, I missed the work, the singing, the touring, but I truly missed you. I was screaming at the TV when I thought Nicky was getting eaten by a shark. I was on my knees praying when Chris was in the shack with the lump. I was worried about losing you, not about losing the group."
"Me too," AJ admitted. "I was the same way."
"Same here," Brian said softly and nudged his cousin. "So it’s all the same. If we lose, we lose. We’re still us. If we win, we win. Let Nicky do whatever the hell he wants."
All Kevin could do was sigh. The kid was smart. He knew that. But he was also too kindhearted for his own good right now.
"He’s not gonna let NSYNC win. I’ll tell you that," Brian said. "I mean, Justin might have pulled him up, but I doubt Nick would do the same thing."
Kevin gave him a look.
"Right?" Brian looked for reassurance but got none from the other two. "Guys?"
"C’mon Frick, you know he’s a sap. ‘Course he’s gonna do the same thing," AJ said. "If we’re gonna trust him, then we trust him. Right?"
"Right," Howie said with a confident smile.
"What choice do we got?" Kevin asked and sat down in the sand.
The sun continued its path through the sky.
Nick felt his skin getting hot, and he knew he was going to have a good sun burn.
"This bites," Justin sighed. "I’m getting hungry."
"Hey, already told you what we could do," Nick said pulling up his shorts. He had lost weight. Being out on the island had been good for something.
"Yeah but, what if we can’t get away with it? What if it just keeps us out here longer?"
"I can’t be out here any longer," Nick said. "I’m ready to go home."
"Me too. By now Brit’s probably moved on to that Prince of England guy."
"What?" Nick shook his head. "No. That girl loves you. Besides, isn’t there a rule that royalty can’t marry white trash?"
Justin’s jaw dropped and gave Nick a look.
Nick was smiling as if saying, "Swish!"
"Either that or I think royal babies have to be breast fed, and unless those kids are gonna live off silicone--."
"Hey!" Justin turned to face him, and they both wobbled.
"Whoa!" Nick laughed, grabbing for Justin this time who held on too, and they waited until they were steady. "C’mon Justin. What have you got to lose? We can make it look like we’re arguing, and we both just fell if you want. I don’t think Steven wants to deal with us anymore. Let’s just call it a day."
Justin narrowed his eyes at him. "Is that what you were doing? Trying to get me to fight with you?"
Nick had to laugh. This guy was slower than Kevin. "Duh."
"Nick Carter, you are something else," Justin muttered and sucked in air. "Well, your band never shoulda been called Backstreet Boys."
Nick’s head turned in interest. "What should we have been called, Justin?"
Justin smiled. "Because take five gay idiots and put them together and you have Backstreet Boys."
Nick laughed really hard at that. "Hey, that name was Brian’s idea. I never--."
"Or you shoulda been in LFO," Justin said raising his voice.
"Justin, what are you talking--?"
"Because doesn’t LFO stand for Live For Oreos. And don’t you live for Oreos?"
Nick was laughing too hard to answer.
"Hey, we’re supposed to be fighting," Justin whispered. "How else are we gonna do this?"
"You serious?" Nick asked surprised. "Really?"
Justin nodded enthusiastically.
Nick cleared his throat. "You shoulda been in BBMAK," he said loudly.
"Because doesn't BBMAK stand for Big,
"You jerk," Justin muttered. "Well, you shoulda been in 98 degrees!"
"Because that’s how hot it’s gotta be for me to be delirious enough to like one of your stupid songs."
"That was lame," Nick said.
"Oh yeah?" Justin said even louder. "Well, you shoulda been in O-Town. Because--."
"Hey! Those are fighting words!" Nick said giving him a tiny push. "Take it back. No one would ever want to be in O-Town. You guys are the only ones who suck more than them!"
"Hands off, fat boy!" Justin shouted and returned with a bigger push.
"Make me, fro boy!"
"I can make you!!"
And the pushing began.
"Shit. Shit. Shit. I can’t look," JC said, covering his eyes when he realized what they were doing.
"They’re fighting?" Joey asked surprised. "They’re fucking pushing each other off. I thought you said they were friends now, Jayce."
Chris shook his head and silently stared at the sand for once.
Lance bit his lip. "They’ve lost it."
And almost immediately, all eight men were on their feet and hurrying toward the water not knowing what they’d do when they got there.
Nick and Justin were playing a game of chicken with their very lives.
Steven’s jaw had dropped when he realized what was happening.
"Shit!" he cursed and threw his clipboard on the ground in frustration. He was so tired of these idiots.
".... and you know what? Your brother sings worse than you do!" Justin was shouting. "No wait! He sings worse than Chris does, and that’s saying a lot."
"Fuck you!" Nick yelled. "You leave Aaron out of this. You’re just pissed because Brit’s made you listen to her little sister sing and that’s how you got tone deaf!"
"Argh... You!! You stupid, idiotic dough boy!"
"You retarded fro boy!"
And they were in each other’s clutches flaying, practically off the beam already.
"You ready?" Justin asked through clenched teeth.
"Yeah. And JuJu?" Nick smiled.
"If Brit’s mad at you, you can come stay with me. I’m all on my own anyway."
Justin had to smile. "Thanks, bro. Even if she’s not, I might take you up on it. On three, got it?"
"One," Nick counted.
"Two," Justin said.
The screams of their desperate teammates finally reached their ears. They both looked down, and that’s when they tumbled off.
The other eight were trying desperately to reach them when they came up fighting.
“... poor excuse for facial hair!” Justin was yelling.
“Stop talking about AJ!” Nick said through clenched teeth and dunked Justin back into the water. “At least everyone in my band has talent. Lance and Joey are dead weight.”
“That’s talent? And what does Kevin do?” Justin asked coming up and pushing him. “Oh yeah. His eyebrows have their own comedy routine.”
“Shut up, at least we’re all sane. When was the last time Chris went for his check up?”
"And how can you be so sure that your group has talent, you over-inflated bad excuse for a pop star!" Justin yelled, pushing Nick again.
"I can be as sure of that as I am that JC's social security number starts with 666!"
“You would know all about the devil,” Justin yelled over all the splashing they were causing. “I knew all that God stuff was a front. You are soooooooo going to hell.”
"Yeah," Nick straightened up and crossed his arms. "I’m just going to make sure you get back home safely. We wouldn’t want for the devil to start missing his favorite pop group. By the way, aren’t you guys gonna go sign another contract with him again?"
Justin’s eyes bulged, and Nick tried hard not to laugh.
"You asshole," Joey muttered. "You have a lot of nerve. We did not sign a contract with the devil--."
"No, but your mom did," AJ said. "Or how else could you explain your success?”
"Hard fucking work!" JC shouted. "Why the hell don’t you ever--?"
"Shut the hell up!" Kevin finally let himself yell at him. "Why do you have to say something about everything?"
"Because you have to stink up the air with your breath!"
Kevin was past thinking. He did not want to spend another minute on that island. He shoved JC hard into the water, and that’s when everyone started to fight.
Joey was already in AJ's face. "How are you gonna talk about MY mom when it was YOUR mom that worked a deal with the devil? Wasn't she the one who was supposed to be watching you guys on the road, AJ?! Shouldn’t she have been the first one to protect you from Lou?!"
"You son of a bitch-." AJ said, grabbing Joey.
Justin was busily dunking Nick’s head back into the water when he finally noticed what was going on.
He yanked Nick up.
“What?” Nick asked catching his breath.
“Look. Look at what you started.”
"What I started?! You helped!"
They both turned when they heard the sound of a hit being made, but through the chaos that was their friends, they couldn't tell who had hit who.
"We're gonna be in so much trouble," Justin said, burying his face into his hands.
"Guys, look! The lump!" Nick yelled, trying to stop their erratic behavior. But no one stopped to see what he was talking about.
"I coulda told you that wouldn't have worked," Justin said. "What idiot would fall for that?" Justin asked, conveniently forgetting that he was an idiot who HAD fallen for it.
“Shit,” Nick muttered and watch Kevin rear back with a fist pointed right at JC. “Kevin! Kevin, NOOOOOOO!”
He and Justin jumped in just in time to separate them.
“What... are you... doing??” Kevin muttered fighting Nick’s strong hold.
“Jus-TIN!” JC was struggling as well.
“Stop! Would you stop?” Justin cried. “Jayce, just quit.”
“Kev, calm down.”
"Arugh, this better be good, Carter," Kevin said putting his fists down. Nick gulped. He knew he was in trouble when Kevin started using his last name. "You better not have--."
“Look, just look, guys. Look at them!” Justin pointed at the other six fighting desperately in the water.
“This isn’t what we came here to do,” Nick said. “This isn’t what we wanted. This isn’t what you taught me.”
Kevin spotted even his little cousin exchanging blows with Lance. It wasn’t really a fair fight, but he was holding his own.
“JC, you and Kevin are supposed to be the MATURE ones,” Justin pointed out. “Do something!”
It only took a second for Kevin to spring and react. "Guys!" Kevin yelled. "Stop it! Bri!"
But they were ignoring him and Kevin knew he couldn't pull Brian back to only give Lance free reign to beat up on him more.
He looked at JC angrily and JC looked at him with the same look. They had to come together to break this up.
"You grab Brian, I've got Lance," JC said, reading his mind.
"No matter I'd rather swim with sharks than help you," Kevin muttered.
JC looked at him and shoved past him to Lance. "Good thing your friends are already in the water then."
Kevin ignored him and pulled back on Brian the same time JC grabbed Lance.
"Stop it, Brian!" Kevin yelled. It was taking all of Kevin's restraint not to punch Lance when he got a good look at Brian's bloody face.
Nick and Justin exchanged nervous glances as they wondered what was coming next.
Kevin looked up and saw that JC was giving
Brian the same look he was giving Lance, and that's when Kevin looked at Lance.
Lance wasn't looking like Miss
For a brief moment, the idea that he and JC could, in fact, be alike in many ways passed through his head before he noticed a strange look pass between Nick and Justin. Why did they all of a sudden stop fighting?
AJ's yell cut through Kevin's thoughts and he and Brian ran to AJ and Joey.
"This is NOT the WWF!" Brian yelled, pulling AJ off of Joey.
Joey burst himself forward to attack AJ when JC pulled him back. "Calm down, Joe. He's not worth it."
"And he's worth even less," Kevin said, holding AJ with Brian.
Justin nudged Nick. “They stopped. C’mon.”
They hurried to their bloodied bandmates, each trying to think of what to say or do to keep things peaceful and to walk out complete.
AJ was the first one to notice there was not a scratch or a bruise on either of them. "Hey! How come you guys weren't fighting?"
"Yeah," Chris agreed. "For all that shoving, Justin should have no hair and Nick should be crying by now. Or one of you should at least be the other’s bitch or something."
"We're done fighting," Nick announced. "It's done."
"Yeah, besides this is over. We're off the freaking balance beam," Justin said looking at all of them like they were dumb.
"Over?" Howie was still catching his balance. "But how can it be over if you guys both fell?"
"Yeah, who won?" Chris asked.
They all look back at Steven who looked ready to tear out what was left of his hair.
Nick smiled brightly. "No one!"
Everyone gaped at him.
"Uh, maybe those rush of hugs we were expecting are gonna take a little longer?" Justin asked.
"WHAT?!" they all yelled.
Justin and Nick sort of huddled together as everyone's screaming muddled into one huge yell.
"Great, Nick!" Justin said, elbowing him. "We shoulda left them fighting with each other. Now they're gonna beat OUR asses!"
“Well, this was your idea, genius,” Nick muttered.
“My idea? Are we back to that?”
“Yeah. I never would have thought up something like this on my own,” Nick said innocently. “I’m Mr. Short Attention Span.”
“Yeah, well. I’m...,” Justin stopped not finding anything to say. “Well, let’s just do something. My ears hurt.”
Nick shoved past him and whistled at the top of his lungs. "How 'bout it, Steve? Who won?"
Everyone stopped and looked at Steven, and Steven almost laughed at the pathetic faces Justin and Nick had. Then the pathetic faces were gone and the evil “they were up to something” faces suddenly took control of their features.
“Great,” Steven muttered. They were devils alone, so he could just imagine that
they were Armageddon together.
"Yeah, Steven. It's either over and no one wins, or we COULD just stay here
LONGER and leave you here to succumb to our every need," Nick smiled innocently.
Steven’s palms sweated. This decision was going to cost him his job, and he already knew that. But, then again, after everything the guys were convinced he’d put them through, they’d make sure that he got fired, anyway. He looked at them all, from Nick’s sly smile to JC’s angry face. To hell with them and whatever Nick and Justin had just pulled. He was all for just going home.
"It’s over. Let’s go home. No one wins," he said barely loud enough for all of them to hear.
Nick and Justin jumped up and down happily, turning to shine their bright smiles to their teammates, but they immediately stopped when they saw that not one of their teammates was as enthusiastic as they were.
“Uh, guys?” Nick asked.
Justin looked at Nick uncertainly and back at his friends. “We get to go home.”
“Did you plan this?” JC asked, slowly catching on. “You two do not just magically stop fighting. It’s always US breaking you two up.”
Kevin tilted his head to the side as he began to realize the same thing. “You little shits,” Kevin said.
And Nick widened his eyes. Did Kevin just call him a little shit?
“Why didn’t I click? One second you’re up there laughing like you’re long lost best friends and the next you’re just automatically fighting?! Carelessly enough to fall into the water at the EXACT same time?!”
Nick gulped and stepped back. Justin looked back to see Nick moving and quickly ran behind him.
“You get in front!” Nick said, pulling on Justin’s arm.
“ME?! YOU get in front! You’re the one Kevin loves!”
“Hello?! Kevin is NOT our only problem. Look at the guys who love you!”
Justin looked at JC, Chris, Lance, and Joey and they all wore the same exhausted, angry expression that Kevin wore.
“Shit,” Justin muttered.
“Yeah, shit,” JC said. “Do you realize what you two just did? You discredited
our ENTIRE stay on this island, the whole reason behind us coming out here and living like this!”
“What?” Nick asked.
Howie shook his head. “Nick, the ENTIRE reason of going through everything
we went through was to get rid of one us.”
Nick pounced on Howie’s statement. “Do you realize how you just categorized
NSYNC? As ‘us’.”
“I did not-” Howie started.
“Yes, you did!” Nick said. “You said, ‘to get rid of one of us’. We’re all in this
for the SAME reason! We love the music we create and sing, we love putting smiles on our fans’ faces, and we LOVE what we do! As many differences as there are, there are just as many similarities. EVERYONE is gonna have someone who they’re compared to! Didn’t the Rolling Stones have the Beatles?”
“Yeah,” Justin jumped in. “And look at how historically AWESOME those two
“Justin, I can’t believe you did this. We trusted you to go up and represent us to
the end,” JC said.
“And he did!” Nick yelled at JC. Kevin looked at Nick with his mouth hanging open as he jumped to Justin’s defense. “Hey, it took a lot for US, of all damn people, to get along. For us to come to the decision that we came to. Don’t you think it took more guts to put our egos aside and agree to just co-exist with each other? Because it took a lot of me swallowing shit down to jump in with Justin like that.”
“Shut up, Chris,” Justin said, knowing Chris was about to say something smart.
Everyone turned to look at Chris and he seemed to shrink.
“What?!” Chris asked, smiling innocently.
“I’m proud of what me and Nick did,” Justin said. “Whether we like it or not,
we’re a reminder that we can’t slack off,” Justin continued. “JC, you know you work twice as hard on the songs you’re writing when Backstreet releases a new album and I’m sure it’s the same way for you guys. Our groups are a reminder to the other that we need to keep doing better because we’re scared to death that the other group is going to just completely snub the other out. We can’t end that. It’s called competition, people.”
Kevin and JC were both shaking their heads, shooting their annoyed and un-understanding glares at Nick and Justin.
“This is bad,” Justin muttered. “Kevin and JC are BOTH pissed, and that’s worse than that time AJ tried that dreadlock look.”
“Hey!” Nick said. “What about Chris? Since when were pineapples in style?”
“You did this!” Kevin yelled, pointing at Justin.
Justin and Nick both looked up from their conversation surprised.
‘Me’? Justin mouthed, pointing at himself.
“Justin?!” JC yelled. “This was ALL Nick!”
“Like hell it was!” Kevin yelled, already turning to JC.
Nick sighed with relief when Brian got in between them.
“Guys! Guys!” Nick started uneasily. He sounded just like he did when in the Everybody video when he was trying to tell them about his dream. “Guys, c’mon! Think about it. This is so stupid. We are beyond retarded for doing this to each other--.”
“To ourselves,” Justin chimed in from behind him.
Nick grabbed his arm and pushed him forward. “Look, we’ve been here so long, and what have we proven? Who is better? Who the fans like more? Who’s tougher? Who’s not scared? We haven’t proven shit. We’ve just proven that we’re all bunch of guys who love what we do who are willing to die for it. One day, it’s all gonna be over anyway. Why should we be the ones to kill each other?”
“All we’re saying,” Justin said seriously. “Is give peace a chance.”
Nick shot him a look. “What? I hate peas. Gross.”
“No Carter!” Justin laughed. “Peace. Peace, you know? Like the Beatles song?”
“Oh!” Nick smiled. “Oh yeah.”
All eight guys watched with shock as Justin and Nick came together to prove their point and show them all that what really mattered had nothing to do with who won a survival challenge. Kevin couldn’t figure out if he was more shocked over the fact that they were doing this together or over the fact that they actually sounded like they knew what they were talking about.
“This was not a waste of time,” Nick said when no one said anything.
“Yeah, tell that to JC’s rash,” Chris mumbled. He gave JC the same, innocent
smile he was trademarked for when he was shot a glare from JC.
The guys all looked on dumbfounded. Could what Justin and Nick were saying really be as easy as that?
No one was ready to accept that it could be over without having one group disband.
"What?" Joey suddenly laughed. "Really? We can all just go home like that? No one loses?"
He was met silence.
“Guys, listen to them. They’re right,” AJ agreed. “We have enough people trying to bring us down. Why are we gonna help them?”
"Whoooo-hoo!" Brian howled.
Steven nodded. "No one loses. You guys want this too much. And I don’t think either of you ever wanted the other to stop existing. If the other group stopped existing, then you’d have no one to compare yourselves to, no one to feel superior to. In reality, you guys need each other...."
Kevin shook his head and grabbed Brian’s shoulders. "Let’s go," he told him. "C’mon."
"This guy’s full of hot air," JC said to Lance.
"... and if you think about it, you all are just a reflection of each other. Same lives. Same needs and wants. Same problems...," Steven continued.
AJ rolled his eyes and walked after Kevin and Brian. "You’re my only problem. C‘mon ‘D."
Howie shook his head and wiggled his shoulder. "I think my shoulder’s hurt again."
"Shut up already! Asshole!" Chris yelled rushing past Steven.
"What a bunch of crap," Joey muttered and glanced back at Justin. "JuJu, are you coming?"
Justin closed his mouth realizing that they had done it. It was over.
"I can’t believe it," he said softly. "I can’t believe we--."
Nick nudged him. "Hey, are you thinking what I’m thinking?"
His stomach sank. "No. No more ideas, Nick. You guys are full of crappy ideas. No."
Nick smiled and shook his head. "No Justin. Look." He pointed with his chin to Steven who was still going on. "Let’s get ‘im."
Justin grinned, and they both ran to grab the TV host, drag him far into the ocean, and dunked him hard under the water.
"Let’s see you survive this," Nick laughed.
"C’mon! Where’s that lump when you need it?" Justin asked.
“Ha!” Nick laughed. “Look, a shark!”
“What!?” Justin jumped.
Nick giggled some more and gave Steven one, last good dunk into the water.
“Kidding! Let’s go fro-boy, or the guys are gonna be so pissed that they’ll leave us.”
It was a matter of minutes for them to be ready to leave. The only person who got a goodbye was Alice Ashley, and she wasn’t even sure why.
“I can’t believe how happy I am to leave this place. Again,” AJ said. “If I had know the stunt those two were gonna pull, I never would have come back.”
Howie laughed. “I don’t know, Aje. You have to admit that it was fun to do this. I mean, this was your idea, and I had a good time.”
“Well, you did leave like right away,” AJ pointed out.
Howie laughed. “Aw, you voted me off, dude. So what? Are we doing this again next year.”
“Hell no,” Brian said hurrying past them toward the waiting helicopter. “Excuse my language.”
“So what are we doing now?” Chris asked a few feet behind them. “We’re not going back on tour, are we?”
“New record,” Lance said. “Joey and me worked on some stuff while you were gone.”
“You? You worked on some stuff?” Chris winced. “Ew. Scary.”
Joey pushed his shoulder. “Shut up.”
“Yeah. We were working,” Lance said. “Working. Not out here ghost-busting. Where the hell is Justin anyway?”
Chris gave him a look. “Where do you think? Hanging back there with his new girlfriend.”
The three of them turned to find Nick, Justin, JC, and Kevin walking slowly. Anyone would figure they’d be in a real hurry to get away.
"I still think you're a moron," Justin smiled, walking to the helicopter.
Nick smiled with him. "Yeah, well, I still think you're hair is a biohazard."
"MY hair?" Justin laughed. "What about your butt? It has it's own zip code!"
JC and Kevin laughed behind them. They just would NEVER quit.
"Yeah, well, my butt may have it's own zip code, but you're the one who's hair has a state named after him."
"Fro-ida," Justin laughed, remembering. "Whatever, Carter."
Nick looked at Justin and smiled. "You know, I STILL don't like you."
Justin looked back at Nick and laughed. "Well, I don't like you, either."
"Yeah, well, your hair's too big. If I give you money, will you go cut it?"
"If I give you BACK the money, will you go see Jenny Craig?"
"I wouldn’t take the money back. You need it more, with your hair owning it’s own county and everything."
"I was gonna trade with you," JC smiled, "because Nick seemed more mature, but, uh...I think I'll just stick with Justin. We have him more broken in, anyway."
Kevin laughed. "Tell me about it."
Kevin smiled at the two young men in front of him. Somewhere between him and JC's conversation, their arms had found their way around each other.
"Just when did they end up knowing more than us?" JC asked, watching them.
"I don't know," Kevin smiled, shaking his head. "Somewhere between the sinking ship and a blinking lump."
Nick buckled his seatbelt and looked over at Justin. “Maybe when we get back I can talk to you about Mandy over some basketball.”
Justin looked at Nick surprised, and smiled when he remembered their talk in the woods. Mandy wasn’t someone Nick talked about with anyone, unless they were close to him.
“Yeah, I’d like that,” Justin smiled. Maybe this place hadn’t been as bad as he’d thought.
JC stopped before getting into the helicopter and looked behind him at Kevin with what Kevin was surprised to see was a genuine smile.
"We're pretty lucky, huh?" JC yelled over the helicopter's noise.
Kevin looked at Nick and Justin in the helicopter playing 'Rock, Paper, Scissors' and back at JC. Surprising himself, he returned the genuine smile.
"Yeah, I think we are."