"A new visitor for you today."
The nurse is doing his best to sound enthusiastic. Nick doesn't care. He certainly isn't going to get excited over another visitor. One more person to smile the same damn artificial smile and talk about nothing and look at him with eyes that never make contact. He'd rather be alone.
"Shall I show him in, then? Anything you need? A little drink? Let me put your hands on the arms for you, there you go. All ready?"
"Okay," says Nick.
The nurse goes over to the door. He prefers to think of them as 'the nurse', though he knows there are several. This one's name is Angelo. But it's easier not to think of them as people. That way he can be alone, sometimes.
"Here he is. I'll leave you two to have a nice little talk. I'll just be outside. If you need anything—"
"Thank you," says the visitor. Deep voice, Southern accent, but not Kevin. His day is Thursday, and today is Tuesday.
What's Lance Bass doing here?
There's a pause. There usually is, because Nick doesn't bother to play polite. If Lance wants coffee, he can ask the nurse.
"Not much of a view from there," Lance says.
"Wouldn't you prefer to face the other way? So you can see the water?"
"Not very polite," Nick says. "Turning my back on you."
"Guess I can manage to sit somewhere else," says Lance.
Nick would shrug, but. "So what'd you bring me?" he asks instead. They always bring something. DVDs, music, whatever.
"What, you want grapes? Flowers? I got nothing."
"Nah. Grapes are for sick people. Flowers are for girls. I just brought you my fabulous self."
"Great," says Nick. Actually, he's kinda impressed. No props.
"Of course, if there's something you want, I can get it for you next time." The polite smile looks like a challenge. "The Pirates of the Caribbean sequel on DVD, maybe?"
Nick almost smiles. "I got four copies already."
"See, that's why I didn't bring you anything."
"So... you been getting the gossip from your steady visitors? When was Howie here last?"
Howie's the one for gossip, it's true. But Howie cried last time he visited. That was two weeks ago. Nick told the nurse not to let him in last week. "Not lately," Nick says.
"Well, then, you won't have heard this," says Lance slyly, and he's off into what turns out to be a major bitch session, and it's fun, it's incredibly fun to hear about other people's lives like this, Nick thought it would hurt to hear about other people doing those things, but Lance is the perfect gossip, he knows everybody's business and he picks out the ridiculous and tells it so deadpan funny, Nick actually finds himself laughing. Which is weird, because it doesn't sound like it used to, and when he realizes, he stops so that he can hear himself laugh, which isn't so clever because duh.
"So, anyway," says Lance. "What are you doing with yourself these days?"
That breaks the mood all right. Nick doesn't answer.
"Besides watching Johnny Depp in eyeliner more times than is honestly healthy?"
Nick says nothing.
"You must be doing something." Persistent bastard. What the fuck does he imagine Nick is doing? Playing golf? Dancing the night away with hot chicks? Working on his next solo album?
"They did mention," Nick says, leaning on that 'mention' so hard he has to stop for more breath, "that I can't move my arms and legs? You do know that, right?"
"Someone may have mentioned it. One or two, thousand, times. You have had publicity like you wouldn't believe," says Lance easily, leaning back into his chair. "I'm surprised your house wasn't buried under stuffed animals and tear-stained get-well cards. And I understand your albums are doing fantastically. Strange world we live in."
"Fuck the publicity."
"Well, sure. Is that why you're stuck inside on a glorious day like today, instead of sunning yourself out there? 'Cause I don't think there are cameras."
"There better not be."
"There won't be. Your brotherly band of Rottweilers has made sure of it. Don't know that it's doing you any favors, though. There'll be pictures, sooner or later. You might as well use it, while they're still interested."
"Right, 'cause I want everyone in the world," yeah, everyone, "to see me like this. Oh, poor Nick Carter," he can just hear them, "he used to be a singer."
"Yeah," says Lance. "Pity sucks. But it could be worse."
"Worse? Fuck you! Worse?" Nick is so angry he almost forgets to breathe deep. "I broke my fucking neck, you shithead, I'm stuck in this" he can barely get the words out, he's so furious, "fucking chair for the rest of my life, and you tell me it could be worse?"
"You could be five years old. You could be poor. You could have no-one in the world who cares. You could have had Aaron in that boat with you, and maybe not have a kid brother any more. Yeah, Nick. It could always be worse." Lance stands up, moves over to Nick's chair, puts a hand over Nick's hand. Nick doesn't feel it, of course, but he can see it's there. "So why are you sitting around whining when you could be doing something more interesting?"
"Whining?" Nobody speaks to Nick like this.
"Sounds like it to me."
"I can't fucking move! My life is over."
"Is everything all right?" It's Angelo, hovering at the door.
"Fine," Nick snarls. "Go away. Take a break." The nurse backs out. Nick probably ought to feel guilty about that. He's supposed to be polite and grateful. The nurses are there to help him, and boy, does he need to be helped. But he doesn't care. It's like having pity on tap, twenty-four hour round-the-clock pity.
Nick looks at Lance, tanned golden and shiny, easy in his beautiful skin and no problems he can't solve, and he could so very easily hate him. He'd never have envied Lance his life before, wouldn't have wanted whatever it is Lance does between photo ops, never thought twice about the procession of pretty young things wandering into Lance's range. He had his own life, and plenty of pretty in it. But now, now, Lance has everything, and Nick has nothing left except the inability to stop breathing.
* * *
Two days later, Lance walks in through the door again. Kevin was here this morning, but Nick made him leave before lunch. Nick hates people to see him being fed like a baby.
So Lance plunks himself down on the couch. "I got you something," he says.
Nick almost asks, but manages to look bored instead.
"Course, you may have it already."
Damn it, now Nick actually wants to know. But he isn't going to ask.
Lance grins, and gets to his feet again. He's got a canvas bag with him, and pulls out something which turns into a music stand when he unfolds it. Sets it up right in front of Nick's chair and adjusts the height. Then he puts some papers on it. Nick squints a bit, trying to focus.
"Do you need your glasses."
Lance spots them on the table next to Nick, but doesn't say anything as he fits them carefully onto Nick's nose.
Nick stares at the papers, and it turns out to be information on adapting computers for people who have severely limited mobility. Turns out you can do all kinds of stuff even if you can only blink. Nick's better off than that. It looks like maybe he could use some of this... When Nick looks up, Lance gets up and turns the pages without saying anything.
There's voice recognition software too. Nick begins to feel that maybe Lance is onto something.
* * *
"So, you've been websurfing?"
Lance hasn't been around since the new hardware arrived, but he emailed Nick to say he was coming, and Nick actually managed to send a reply without any help. First thing he's done for himself in... since it happened.
"Yeah," he says. "I was reading all the condolence stuff on the Backstreet sites. It feels like I died."
"Whatever turns you on, I guess," and Lance shrugs. "I thought you'd be downloading porn, like the rest of us."
Nick growls, his good mood gone. "What do I want to look at porn for?"
"Umm....naked people? Sex?"
"Don't be a shithead, Bass. I can't move my hands, remember? And even if I got turned on, I wouldn't be able to feel it. What the fuck's the point of watching porn? It's just one more thing I can't have. I'm never gonna have sex again."
"Why not? What the fuck—do you say that stuff to piss me off? Think it's funny, or something? I can't fucking move. I'm twenty-eight years old and I'm never going to have sex again for the rest of my fucking life."
"Yeah, yeah." Lance sounds unimpressed, which pisses Nick off even more, because he can't shout and rant like he used to, doesn't have the breath control, and isn't that a shitty place for a singer to be? "Seems I read somewhere that people in your situation can still get off, just differently."
"Have you been reading up on cripples, then?" Nick resents the idea. He doesn't know why.
"Nah. Most likely something I saw in my grandma's Reader's Digests, or maybe at the doctor's waiting room. I don't rightly know. It was a long time ago, I guess. But seems to me you shouldn't just decide you're never going to have sex again until you do some research for yourself."
"Yeah, right. So I get a hard-on that I can't even feel, how does that help? Who the hell's going to want to get sexy with a cripple? I don't even—I have bags for stuff. This body, it's disgusting." Nick shuts his eyes. He's too angry to look at Bass any more. He just wants the world to go away. He wants his life back.
"I will, if you want."
Nick's eyes open. "What did you say?"
"I said, I will, if you want." Lance is looking at him as if what he just said was, like, perfectly normal.
Nick can't begin to figure it out. It's the last thing he expected to hear. "Why?" he asks, helplessly.
"Always thought you were the prettiest. Of your guys, anyway—mine are much prettier, of course, but not exactly available."
"Your decision." Lance is just sitting there, butter wouldn't melt, and Nick really can't believe this is even something they're talking about. But hell, he's twenty-eight years old, and he isn't going to get a chance like this again.
"Okay," he says.
"A little enthusiasm would be nice," Lance mentions, but he's moving closer, sitting on the arm of the big leather couch, and leaning over to touch Nick's face with his hand. "Let's see how it feels, okay?"
And it feels—oh, God, a hand touching his face, it feels better than he could have imagined, and it's been so long since anyone touched him at all, skin to skin, not since Aaron was here. The guys don't touch him any more, they can't bring themselves to touch him now, and he didn't realize until this second how much he missed it, but there's a finger stroking down his cheek and round his jawbone, and it feels like a firework sparking on every nerve ending, it's wonderful.
Then Lance leans in, and touches his lips to Nick's mouth, and Nick thinks he might be going to cry, because it feels so—it feels so—it feels, and it's warm and human and not a spoon or a facecloth or a latex glove, it's a mouth. He closes his eyes and feels with all his might. The soft pressure of those lips, breath against his skin; a wet tongue-tip slides over the inside of his lower lip and it's amazing. Lance licks around the edges of Nick's mouth, and Nick whimpers from it. Then there are teeth, edges nipping his lower lip, and more licking, and Nick doesn't notice that he can't feel the rest of his body because every nerve ending in his mouth, in his face where Lance is touching him, every nerve is dancing.
* * *
"No, hey, no, that's not fair! I can't get away!" Nick loves this, every time.
"You want to get away?" Lance purrs. He really purrs, like a fucking enormous cat. Maybe a tiger. "Want me to stop?"
Nick nudges against Lance's cheek. No, don't stop. It's just, his ears are so sensitive, he doesn't know how much of this he can take. Well, he does, because Lance figured out his ear thing a while ago. And Lance starts again, with his teeth, with his tongue, with his purring, and Nick just focuses on breathing and lets it happen.
* * *
It's best when Angelo is the nurse on duty, because he doesn't even blink when Nick wants to go back to bed in the afternoon, just gets him in the hoist and takes his shoes off. Today, though, it's Tom, who gives off disapproving vibes, maybe he doesn't think cripples should have sex, but he can shut up and deal because Nick has a plan for today. And then go, take a walk, whatever, anything away from the prying little camera that's always watching Nick. For his own safety.
"I want to blow you," he says to Lance, after they've been kissing for twenty minutes or so. Lance is a phenomenal kisser, Nick's no slouch himself, so this is always good. And there's the whole thing with stroking his bare skin, which he loves. And the ear stuff. But today, something different!
"Nick, I—do you really think that's a good idea?"
"Hey, Bass, never refuse a blow job, remember?"
"I know, but I just—are you going to be able to breathe okay?"
"Reckon so." But Lance is looking doubtful. "I've thought it through. I have. I've been reading, too. There's this site for quadriplegics," and it's an eye-opener, it really is. So's the video. "If a guy can have a girl sit on his face, I can definitely suck you off." Nick grins. "You know you want to."
Lance looks at him carefully. He has the most incredible eyes, but Nick never really knows what he's thinking. He knows what he'd be thinking, though, which is, like, blow job, woo hoo! And Lance is a guy, so it's going to happen.
It does happen. Takes a bit of shuffling for Lance to get into a good position, kneeling over Nick's face, bracing his arms against the bed frame. Nick just lies there and admires the body straddling him, tense, almost quivering, and hard as can be. Yeah, there's something about the prospect of a blow job that overrides other considerations. Lance tried to blow Nick a few days ago, because Nick gets erections, but he couldn't feel what was happening down there, and he'd rather have the stimulation in the parts of him that are still complete.
But this, this is good. The heat and hard silkiness of Lance's cock against his lips. Taste of salt and sex on his tongue. Nick licks and sucks with relish, he can't take too much in, not for long, because it is a bit of a breathing issue, but he uses his imagination and every bit of technique he can think of, and soon Lance is making incredibly satisfying noises. It feels fucking fantastic, not just the sensations of what he's doing, but the knowledge that he can still make somebody moan like that. Even though Nick wants to use his hands, wants to be fierce and greedy, and can't, he's making Lance moan, and he feels better than he's felt in far too long.
"Nick," and Lance shifts a little. Nick whines a complaint. "I don't—I can't—don't want you to choke..."
"I want it," says Nick decisively. "I want you to come in my mouth." He goes back to the licking and sucking, because no man has the willpower to pull away from that, at least, he's never met one.
He's right, anyway, because Lance groans, and wraps one hand round his cock, and shifts a little bit on the bed, so Nick takes a deep breath and opens his mouth wide for Lance's cock, and Lance comes, hot sticky luxury spurting into him, and noisy praise ringing in his ears.
"Sweet Jesus," says Lance, once he's tucked himself back down alongside Nick, silky hair brushing over Nick's cheek. "That was... intense. God, look at me, I'm still shaking." He props himself up on one elbow, reaches over to stroke Nick's face with the other hand, and dips down for a slow, grateful kiss.
Nick feels like a king.
* * *
Lance usually shows up late in the afternoon, so as not to double up with Nick's other visitors. Not that they'd object to seeing him there, but Nick wants to have Lance to himself. Can't exactly spend their time making out when there's someone else around. Anyway, he prefers to have the visitors spread out, it gives him less alone time.
Alone time isn't what it was, though. Now he can use his computer, Nick spends a lot of hours online, wandering through websites following links and getting to the most unlikely places. He likes newsgroups best, mostly he just lurks but there are a couple where he likes to post. In a virtual bar, he's on equal terms with the rest of the patrons. He even joined a Backstreet fan forum, calls himself BriansBabee when he posts. It makes him laugh.
Brian comes to see him today. Nick tells him about some of the posters, and promises to diss the other Boys tomorrow. Brian's much more comfortable now, when he visits; everything was off for such a long time, and Nick's prepared to admit, now, that it was mostly his own fault. So today, as Brian gets up to leave, Nick demands a hug, and lands a big sloppy kiss on Brian's face before he can get away.
Lance, though, doesn't show.
* * *
There's an email, next day, claiming an emergency. Nick's puzzled. Something about it doesn't ring true. It sits at the back of his mind, making him uncomfortable while he browses on his computer, distracting him when Howie and AJ show up together. Why is Lance avoiding him? 'Cause that's how it feels.
Nick can't think of anything he did wrong. Hell, he thought he'd done something very much right. Lance can't be freaking out about getting a blowjob from a quad, can he? No. No. Not after all the kissing and making out they did before, it doesn't make sense. Nick sends a friendly, enquiring email.
But Lance still doesn't show.
* * *
Aaron has three days with him, and that's cool. Little-brotherly hugs aren't the same as what he's been getting from Lance, but they're pretty good. The kid bounces back out of his life again, always busy, but promising to call more often.
Then, much to his surprise, all four of the guys walk in together. Nick can't remember when that happened last.
They seem, though, to have gone back to not being able to look him in the eye, and he wishes they'd cut it out. Thinks about yelling, but there's a look in AJ's eyes that says anger, and Howie is pale and shaky, Brian looks stunned, and Kevin, Kevin is simmering.
"So what happened?" he says. "Did I miss the end of the world, or something?" Whatever the news is, he'd rather know than wonder.
"Nicky." Kevin gets his intense face on, the one that's slightly scarier than his relaxed face. "Is there anything—anything you need?"
"No," he says, because there isn't. He can order stuff online, and the rehab people are real good at keeping him updated, now he's apologized for throwing them out. Man, he did some dumb stuff.
"We thought, maybe, some kind of personal alarm?" Howie says, almost whispers.
"Something you can operate with your chin, maybe," AJ says.
Okay, Nick is officially lost now. Personal alarm? What the fuck for? When he has his very own round-the-clock nurse, and CC cameras all over the house linked to the nurse's desk, and the usual security set-up outside to stop people getting near his home?
"Like, sometimes you can't call out for help," Howie goes on, "and you can't fight back, if someone, if someone does something to you. And..." He gives up and looks desperately at Kevin.
"We know what happened." Kevin looks ready to blow. "We know what that—shit—did to you."
"Uh," says Nick. Is it April first?
"He won't be back, don't you worry. I took care of that. But it's you we're worried about."
Nick would like to hold up a hand and yell Whoa! but since that's not an option he tries to get a word in edgeways. Kevin, however, is on a roll and the words keep on coming out.
"It isn't possible to know for certain, I mean, we never imagined, so we want you to be safe. I've talked to the people who make the computer interface, you can wear the tag round your neck and just press it if you need to."
"Kevin!" Nick manages to say, at last, loud enough to stop the flow. "What the fuck are you talking about?"
There's a horrible silence, as the other four all look at one another. But this is Kevin's job, so he does it. "Lance Bass. What—what he did to you. Nurse Molihan saw it, and called me."
"Oh, he did, did he?" Nick gives vent to the worst curses he can think of, which given that he grew up around AJ takes him a while. Then he's out of breath, and the others all leap in with reassurances that they understand, that nothing like this will ever happen again, that they'll take out a contract on Lance if it'll make Nick feel better, and it takes him a few minutes to be able to shout at them to shut the fuck up.
"Am I twelve years old again?" he demands, furious. He stares at them. "Then stay the fuck away from my sex life! How—Jesus! I'm gonna fire" he gasps in more breath "that prick of a nurse, none of his goddamn business but he knew, shit," he has to calm down, speak softer, or this is going to take forever to get said. "Lance didn't rape me or abuse me or whatever the hell you think he did. He—fuck, Kevin, you got no business interfering! No wonder Lance hasn't come around lately, what'd you do, threaten to out him as a pervert on national tv?" Kevin looks guilty, but doesn't say anything.
"Nick, are you saying," AJ sounds very tentative, "that Lance Bass is... is your lover? Your boyfriend?"
"Hell, no," says Nick, "it's not like that. We just—he just sexes me up. You know? It's not like I can go out and pick up girls. He's damn good, too."
There's an astounded silence in the room.
* * *
Standing by the nurse's desk, Lance Bass, whose bruises have faded to respectability (though the ribs are going to be painful for a few weeks yet), turns away from the monitor with tears in his eyes.