Sometimes you have to let go to find yourself again

The amber liquid swirled slowly in the glass. It was as though the whole world had slowed its spinning for a moment. He sighed at the thought and lifted the glass to his lips. The liquid burned his throat as it went down, and he prayed that it could set fire to everything that reality represented, if only for a minute. When the glass was level again, he began to swirl the liquid and looked through it. Sure enough, the world was colored a brownish-rose, as the glass had been earlier. The thought almost made him smile.

Rose-colored glasses. The idea that everything really was for the best. The idea that every change led to something better. Optimism, in a word. Or maybe it was just the act of holding onto that last bit of innocence with both hands in hopes of fighting off the truth. Because the truth was that nothing was that simple.

He lifted the glass to his lips again and downed the rest of the liquid.

If only life were that simple. If only everything were that simple.

If only...

But it wasn't. He looked down at the counter. The truth was still staring him in the face, mocking him. Not even the rose-colored alcohol had helped to blur the fine line between fact and fiction. The fact was that the smiling face on the cover of the magazine might belong to the flushed cheeks and glassy eyes of that night's visitor, but the two were hardly the same person. That was the truth of the matter; a truth he had yet to own up to but enough sense to acknowledge. The smiling face was fiction. He knew that much. He just wasn't ready to brush away the fiction and uncover the fact.

Look at me
You may think you see
Who I really am
But you'll never know me
Every day
It's as if I play
A part

He almost laughed at the irony of it, but he wasn't that drunk yet. Unfortunately, his high tolerance didn't allow him the luxury of blissful ignorance. His problems were still his problems, and they were just as apparent as ever. That night had been the last straw. He was sick of the stereotypes, sick of stepping offstage only to become an actor because his actual personality didn't fit the mold. He was tired of holding back just because the world wasn't ready to embrace a brooding young man as opposed to a happy-go-lucky teenager. He had come to the realization that night that even the old mask--the tattered but charming smile that spoke volumes upon volumes of lies in mere seconds--had cracks that allowed the real person to shine through. For a long time, he had tried to convince himself that the hidden no longer existed, but it kept resurfacing. He had broken off the relationship with her because it was another lie--another way of avoiding the inevitable. She hadn't been willing to accept him for who he was when the lights were out and the doors closed. But no matter. He knew that he had needed to get away from her. He was who he was, and he had come to the realization that no amount of smiling and pretending was ever going to change that. He couldn't wait until management got hold of his sudden revelations that night. They'd surely flip.

He shrugged and ordered another scotch. Not that it really mattered what management thought anyway. They had, after all, been the ones to help create the facade that was slowly destroying him. He just wanted to be free of it all, let the cracks widen until there was nothing left of the lies that had come to rule his life. He wanted control again.

Now I see
If I wear a mask
I can fool the world
But I cannot fool my heart

He sighed and poured a bit of water into his scotch to dilute it. He hadn't ever been a big drinker, but he had felt the overwhelming urge to numb himself that evening. His actions had shaken him up more than he wanted to admit. He honestly hadn't intended it. He hadn't intended to say as much as he did. It was, however, only proof that he couldn't go on the way he had been. The mask was fast fading, and he needed time to discover the person that would surface in its place before the pressure of the spotlight took over again.

Truth to tell, there were times when he didn't even know who he was or what he represented. He had been so caught up in the facade for so long that he had forgotten what it was like to be honest. And then there were the rare moments where he would emerge from the whole charade and cause a few jaws to drop. But the silent thuds had been enough to present the painful reminder of who he was supposed to be, and he had gone back to guarding himself.

Tonight, though, the walls had come tumbling down, and he was astonished to discover that he hadn't really cared. He was tired or fighting himself until he couldn't look in the mirror without being overwhelmed by confusion. He had admitted once in an interview that he didn't look in the mirror all that often. What he had neglected to admit was that he couldn't stand to look in a mirror and not see himself. He saw only a stranger, and he hated the feelings of fear, emptiness, and uncertainty that such a picture evoked.

He glanced back down at the cover of the magazine and then up to the mirror behind the bar. He didn't even remotely resemble the smiling face and crisp suit that mocked him from beneath the amber-colored scotch and water. Suddenly, he smiled at the mirror, letting the left side of his mouth curve upwards a little bit more than the right, and he watched the transformation occur.

From disgust to desire in three seconds flat, he thought dryly to himself, taking a sip of the alcohol. Carter, that's downright amazing. He continued to study his reflection as he took another sip. To his surprise, when he smiled, there wasn't a single sign of the desperation that was causing every inch of his body to scream out in agony. Not even the slightest sign, he thought incredulously, reaching for his drink again. The whole idea that he could fold his soul away and hide behind a smile was suddenly too much, but his gaze remained fixed on his reflection. It was almost as though if he stared long enough, he would be able to see through his own facade.

Who is that man I see
Staring straight back at me?
When will my reflection show
Who I am inside?

He sighed and let his mind wander to when it had all begun. It seemed like so long ago, looking back, but in reality it was only six, seven years. It had all started when he'd been about thirteen. It hadn't mattered then whom he was or what he stood for, just that he was the youngest and blondest of the five. He let loose with a bitter laugh and cursed fate and Ginger's peroxide. However, he was vaguely aware of the fact that they wouldn't have taken him seriously anyway. And so, as it was, they had automatically given him the stereotypical "blonde kid" image. Even now, after eight years of playing the part, the thought still disgusted him. The others had been fairly lucky with their selected images, all things considered. Howie had the "nice" image of the Latin Lover, a part that he very closely resembled anyway. Brian's choirboy image had served him well and allowed him to be blissfully unaware of the evils of the business. Finally, there was AJ. He had to laugh at that thought. AJ had the best stereotype, really. His "bad boy" image allowed him to do pretty much anything he pleased, and all with the excuse that it was in his nature. And it was, really. That was one of the things that annoyed Nick the most.

The accuracy ended at Kevin, however. The irony of the situation was extraordinary. While he had gotten the "baby" image, Kevin had been given the distinguished role of the responsible one. He didn't really resent Kevin for it, thought, because Kevin's label was about as fitting as his own. In reality, their personalities were nearly reversed. He had grown up as the responsible one, the older brother to four younger siblings. He was quiet and brooding, always protective of those that he had grown up with. Years of mistakes in the shoes of responsibility had left him wiser for the wear. Granted, he wasn't always sure of geographic location--as proven by the famous "Norway is in Sweden" episode that he had yet to hear the end of, both from the guys and the fans--but his instincts were keen and his wit was polished. He had learned how to keep his emotions in check so as not to upset others. He paused to dwell on that thought for a moment. Maybe that was why he had lived with the frustration for so long. It made him angry that he had snapped, despite the freedom that it had brought him. He had always been careful to keep his own feelings in check and the best interests of everyone else at heart.

He sighed and downed the rest of his second drink, wincing again as the scotch burned his throat. Of all the things he had learned growing up, selflessness was by far the most prominent.

It was also the greatest difference between himself and Kevin.

Although Kevin was the oldest Backstreet Boy--thus the image he upheld--he had grown up as the youngest. He often thought that all of his qualities were lost on Kevin for that reason alone. Whereas he had grown up as the protector, Kevin had been the protected. And, as a result, it was just as difficult for Kevin to jump into the role of the father figure as it was for himself to drop all of his usual caution and relax enough to let someone else take responsibility. He didn't resent Kevin for it at all--if anything, he understood the transformation that Kevin had to undergo in order to live the facade. And, in the actual Kevin fashion, he was a child again as soon as the door to the outside world closed behind them. It was, he reflected, another way in which they were different; he had never stopped living the facade. It was his job--his responsibility, even--and he saw no other options but to rise to the occasion. He had been another person, played the assigned part, since it had been assigned to him, and with little or no complaint.

Well, he had until tonight.

His boyish features (damn being the "cute one") lit up in a small hint of a smile. Kevin would blow a fuse when he saw the interview. Either that, or he would be too shocked by the revelation to compose a worthy lecture. Kevin was like that; when the cameras were on, he took his image seriously. And the responsible, big brother Kevin would be pissed.

His smile faded to a smirk. Kevin would be jealous that he had broken through.

Actually, he had the idea that Kevin's interview had gone badly as well. Kevin never had been able to master the art of keeping his emotions in check. And with Kristin and the love that they had, Kevin lived in fear that he'd screw it up. Behind closed doors, Kevin confided in him. Kevin wasn't the mature, responsible one and Kristin knew that. It just wasn't part of who Kevin was.

He sighed heavily and stared into the empty glass. It was who he was. But he was at square one again; trapped, because it wasn't the part of him that he was allowed to show.

I am now
In a world where I
Have to hide my heart
And what I believe in

He felt a growing sense of pride as he re-lived the evening. Pissed or not, even Kevin would be surprised. He was just hoping against hope that the older man would be pleasantly surprised. Truth to tell, it was about time that they dropped the image altogether. The right to be themselves was long overdue, and he felt that they had earned it.

He most certainly wasn't drunk, but he had no intention of getting there either, so he ordered a simple glass of water. His bartender gave him an odd look, but returned with the requested beverage quickly, explaining that there was no charge for water. He nodded his thanks. After taking a sip, his eyes drifted back to the mirror, and his thoughts drifted back to the end of the afternoon.

"Shape of My Heart" had been premiered on TRL that day. They had all been shocked at the reception by the fans. Well, mostly relieved. There was always the possibility that the pop wave had finally crashed into the shore, and they were only left to ride back into the mix of starving artists and start all over again. It was a fear that they had all admitted to, but he thought that it scared him more than the others. Performing was his lifeline. As AJ had once said, they were the business, and they truly knew nothing else.

He shook his head to clear it and thought back to the drive home from the TRL studios that evening. Well, the drive to the hotel. For the third time, they were going to be on the cover of 'Rolling Stone' magazine. At the third red light, the reporter and his mess of technology had exited Howie's limo and jumped into his, tape recorder safely turned on. He had turned to give the reporter a smile. They were all wary around journalists, but the 'Rolling Stone' writers weren't ones to lie about the group they were presenting. For that reason alone, he had been more relaxed than in a usual interview. He had been in his mode of reflection, one that involved staring out the window thoughtfully and rambling to the bodyguard beside him. Tonight, however, had not been a rambling night. His mind had been simply wandering, and he had been trying to remember every second of that afternoon in case they never felt the rush of the fans again. It was ridiculous, but he never wanted to forget that feeling. When the reporter had cleared his throat, he had turned to greet him.


The reporter had grinned back at him, obviously thankful for the tension-free reception. "Hey. Listen, um, earlier, the guys were talking about how you had grown up in the business, and really knew nothing else. What do you have to say to that? Are they right or wrong?"

He had sighed, thankful for the normal question. Most every reporter had asked about his childhood in the business, and he was used to answering the same way.

"Yeah, it's true. I really haven't been able to do the things that every normal kid gets to do. I don't regret it, because I love what I'm doing. But there's another side of me that wishes I could have experienced those things, 'cause I guess they are a really important part of everybody's life."

He had smiled inwardly and mentally patted himself on the back for the answer. It wasn't in any way awkward, but it had that hint of revelation that journalists reveled in. He had said it like it was a deep, dark secret, not as though it was an answer he had thought out years before. However, staring out into New York City had had that affect on him, and he hadn't stopped there. For some reason, everything had come tumbling forth.

"It's affected me to the point that I can't look at things normal. It's hard for me to get a grip on reality. When I'm in my room, it's like you almost feel like a king. But I can't go outside and do anything, you know? I tried the other day. It's not that things happened. It's just that in the back of your mind, you know there's always somebody watching you." He had paused to let it all sink in before the city lights had gotten to him again. He had seen a guy on the pavement, and in a vain attempt to get his point across, he had pointed the guy out. "That guy right over there. He doesn't have to worry about that. But I do. Sometimes I sit back and wonder what it would be like if it wasn't like this." He had been silent awhile. Now, looking back on it, he realized in glee that the reporter had probably thought that he had been talking about the pressures of fame. But, in all honesty, that wasn't it at all. He had been wondering about being himself. He had sighed, listening to the guy ramble about being in a bubble. It's true, he remembered thinking. We have to live like we're different people. Dammit, I wish I could be me. Not that I'd ever admit that to this guy, but I wish I could be me without the whole facade. Nobody knows me but the guys. That thought had sparked something in him that had driven the next answer.

"Like, I have other friends, but I can't really call them friends like the guys are to me. We love each other a lot. I mean, every part of what I am, it's a part of them. I'm a little bit of Howard, a little bit of AJ, a little bit of Brian and Kevin. You know what I'm saying?"

It was the next answer that made him cringe. Had he stopped after talking about the guys, he would've been fine, but he had been too far gone to think about what he would be doing.

"But another thing is, I've been in this business so much and seen so much that it's almost like my feelings are kind of numb. It takes a lot for me to cry. I don't cry. You know what I'm saying? The things I've gone through, some of them are surreal, so things don't seem real to me. My ex-girlfriend used to get really mad because I wouldn't cry." There, he'd said it. She wasn't a bitch, she just couldn't accept the real him. "I just have dried-up, dried-up tears, I guess you could say." And then he was silent again, having finally realized everything that he had just admitted to. He hadn't said much to the reporter after that but to thank him. He groaned at the thought.

No, Carter, that wasn't obvious at all. Dammit, what the hell were you thinking?

But if it had really been so bad, then why had it felt so good?

But somehow
I will show the world
What's inside my heart
And be loved for who I am

He stood up from the bar and grabbed the magazine, having had enough of the drinking atmosphere for one night. He wanted to leave before the fights broke out and he ended up on the front page of another tabloid. The group had enough in their collection as it was.

He slapped a few bills on the bar and headed towards the elevators to his room, all the while thinking about what he was going to say to Kevin. He couldn't leave the old man hanging, and he did need to prepare him so that Kevin didn't have a coronary upon seeing the interview. As he entered the elevator, thankful that he was alone in it, the doors closed and his own reflection stared back at him. His brow furrowed at the sight of the man before him. Is that really me?

Who is that man I see
Staring straight back at me?
Why is my reflection
Someone I don't know?

The elevator dinged, bringing him out of his awed reverie. He stepped out of the elevator and onto his floor, walking quietly down the hall so as not to disturb the other visitors. When he reached his room, he slid his keycard in, sighing heavily. He would have to go change before talking to Kevin; he knew it. The older man wouldn't have approved of his midnight visit to the hotel bar. That was more AJ's territory than his own. He frowned and opened the door, then walked into the posh hotel room. It was large and comfortable, but it wasn't home.

God, he missed home sometimes. There were times when he felt like he didn't have one because of the tension in his family, but it was always a safe place in the back of his mind. His family knew him. When he went home, he went home as Nick Carter, not Nick the Backstreet Boy.

He supposed that he missed the acceptance more than anything else.

"Nick, thank God you're here. Listen, man, I really need to talk to you..."

He looked up in alarm at the sound of Kevin's voice. The older man was sitting in one of the chairs at the opposite end of the room, propping his knee up on the coffee table. He'd injured it earlier, and Nick had been worried about him. Now, however, the older man seemed fine, so he frowned apprehensively and tried to quell the panic that was rising in him.

Shit, he knows. He knows about everything that happened tonight. Why else would he look so frustrated? Damn me for saying anything. I knew this would happen. It's too late to be ourselves. We screwed it up a long time ago, didn't we?

"Nick, I wanted to say that I'm sorry."

The younger man's eyebrows hiked considerably high on his forehead at Kevin's apology. He hadn't expected that, to say the least. Isn't it supposed to be my fault?

"What are you sorry for?"

Kevin took a deep breath and smiled tentatively at him. "The interview today, man. I don't know what happened, but I just...I don't know, snapped I guess. He asked about my father, and it all just came tumbling forth like you wouldn't believe." He cleared his throat then, obviously ashamed of his actions. "I cried, Nick. Dammit, I'm supposed to be the strong one! And I cried. Like a little kid, I just broke down. What the hell's gotten into me?"

His eyes widened in amazement as he watched Kevin run a frustrated hand through his blackish-brown hair. His own hand went to rake through his blonde locks and he almost laughed at the irony of the situation. Unable to control his relief, he sat in the chair across from Kevin and smiled warmly at the older man.

"Dude, it's okay. I flipped out too. I told the reporter that I couldn't cry. I told him how weird it was. I felt like I opened my soul to the guy," he said quietly, still somewhat unsure of what his friend's reaction would be. He looked up when he felt a pair of arms around him. He gratefully returned the embrace, then frowned.

"Sorry, man. We were talking about you, weren't we?"

Kevin laughed then, making Nick smile sheepishly. "Kid, listen to yourself! You're still the selfless guy you were then, aren't you?"

Nick laughed and looked at the floor, feeling a blush start to creep up his cheeks. Kevin knew him well, and the knowledge brought forth feelings of surprise and relief. He felt sometimes as though he didn't know himself, but Kevin obviously did.

The feeling hit him immediately, and his eyes widened, the smile fading quickly from his face.

"You've become the big brother. My God, Kevin, you are the facade."

Kevin frowned at his wording and arched an eyebrow inquisitively. "What do you mean?"

"The facade...the lie we've spent the past eight years living in? Don't tell me you don't think about it."

Kevin chuckled lightly. "Nick, of course I think about it. Why do you think I freaked out tonight? I spend so much time trying to live up to the role, trying to be what I'm supposed to be..."

He frowned. "But you've become it. You know me, Kev. You knew what I was thinking, what I was feeling...hell, you know who I am, and not what I'm supposed to be. And you respect that and nourish it. Kev, you are the damn father figure."

Kevin's mouth opened to contradict him, but he quickly shushed the older man. "No, Kev, listen for a second, okay? AJ's the rebel, though he drinks so much these days that it's a wonder he isn't anything more than that. Brian's the saintly, religious, down-to-earth one because he's always got his head screwed on right. Howie, on the other hand is the nice, funny, romantic one. He always has been. He takes it when I tease him, smiles and laughs when I act like a little kid, and ends every night with a beautiful woman." He sighed heavily, flopping into one of the chairs. "God, Kev, where does that leave me? I'm not the facade. I'm just..." He paused to shake his head, overwhelmed to the point of dizziness by the feeling of emptiness that suddenly seemed to consume him. His voice dropped to a hoarse whisper. "I don't even know who I am anymore."

Must I pretend that I'm
Someone else for all time
When will my reflection show
Who I am inside?

Kevin embraced him again, sighing heavily. "Nick, you don't need a definition. You're you, and that's enough."

He shook his head, unable to distinguish the sudden need to make Kevin understand. "No, it's not. Not anymore. I don't know myself. I know the rest of you like the back of my fucking hand, but I don't know myself." He shook his head as he felt his control slipping away. "I don't know what I am, who am I, or what the fuck I'm doing. I just sat at a bar for two hours and stared at a mirror trying to figure out why the person I saw didn't look anything like the person I felt like I'd become." He looked up into Kevin's green eyes with a hopelessness that he hated himself for feeling. Dammit, Nick, you're supposed to be the older, responsible one. What the hell's gotten into you? "What the hell is wrong with me?"

Kevin chuckled lightly, shaking his head in amazement. "Nick, that's a question that I must ask myself a hundred times a day, and I still don't have an answer. I guess that we are who we are, and we don't really have as much control as we'd like."

He felt his lower lip tremble and cursed himself for it. "I don't have any control anymore."

Kevin's laugh was bitter. "You have a hell of a lot more control than I do. I cried today in the interview, remember?"

His voice sounded tiny as he leaned back into the pillows and away from Kevin's embrace. "I wish I could cry," he confessed, surprising himself more so than Kevin. Where the hell did that come from?

There's a heart that must be free to fly
That burns with the need to know the reason why
Why must we all conceal
What we think, how we feel?
Must there be a secret me
I'm forced to hide?

"Nick, it's okay to cry," Kevin assured him, patting his arm gently. His tone was soft and paternal, and the sound provided more of a reality than he was willing to acknowledge. He shook with the force of holding the tears in, but he couldn't bring himself to cry. He was in the limousine all over again, confessing to the reporter things he honestly didn't know that he felt. He couldn't remember a time when he'd ever wanted to cry, but sitting on the couch next to Kevin--who looked so strong in comparison to himself--he couldn't help feeling the urge to finally release everything he'd spent so long holding in. He was moments away from giving it all up for good. He was tired of the role, tired of pretending to be someone that he wasn't. He thought he'd succeeded in fooling the world, but he'd been too caught up to notice that he'd begun to fool himself as well. And, suddenly, he was sitting down beside the person who knew him best, and he didn't have a clue who he was or who he was supposed to be.

"I know that," he admitted brokenly, lifting his dry, hopeless gaze to meet Kevin's bright green eyes. "I just can't."

Kevin's brow furrowed until his thick, bushy eyebrows were touching, and his green eyes shimmered with concern for his younger brother. "And why can't you, Nick?"

Looking into Kevin's eyes and seeing the concern that lay there, something snapped in him. When he closed his eyes, he could see the rest of the guys standing before him. In essence, that was his problem. He'd grown up with the four of them, all of them trying to be a figure that they weren't. However, somewhere along the road, it had stopped being a facade to everyone but him. Each of the other four had become men before his eyes, and he was still holding tight to whatever it was that he was pretending to be. Right then, however, looking in Kevin's eyes, he realized that the person he had become was so deeply rooted in each of his four brothers that he hadn't left room enough for his own identity. He couldn't remember a time when he wasn't forced to co-exist with them. His persona depended on theirs and, somewhere along the line, he had mistaken his persona for his identity until he needed his four brothers to exist at all.

Suddenly, he felt the overwhelming urge to break free. He was tired of struggling with himself, tired of trying to separate himself from the people that he had grown up with. And, in that frustration, he realized why he couldn't cry, and why he had such a hard time feeling at all. He was still holding onto any traces of the person that remained because to let go, to trust himself to be himself, would mean wiping the slate clean.

He looked down at his hands, unable to meet Kevin's eyes. Kevin would know immediately what was bothering him, and he wasn't sure he could handle that. "I can't let go," he managed to say quietly. He was gathering up the courage to say something more, however, when Kevin stood and rested a gentle hand on his shoulder.

"Actually, Nick...I think you can. If I can learn to hold on, then you can learn to let go."

Nick looked up to say something to his older brother. He wasn't sure exactly what he would've said, but he didn't want to leave so much unearthed. And yet there was a tiny part of him that felt guilty, because Kevin had obviously come into the room seeking comfort from him, and instead he had been forced to seek comfort from Kevin. He wasn't sure if he was supposed to be the strong one anymore.

As he continued to think about it, however, he realized that he didn't really care what he was supposed to do.

I won't pretend that I'm
Someone else for all time
When will my reflection show
Who I am inside?

With a quaking sense of tentative resolve, he stood from the couch and walked over to one of the ostentatious mirrors that lined the walls of the suite. He finally settled on a square mirror with gold trim and strode up to it, keeping his gaze on the floor until he was sure that he was close enough to the mirror that he wouldn't have to stare for too long to find what he was looking for. At long last, his gaze rose to meet his reflection.

When he first saw himself, his brow furrowed, and he saw Kevin. The critical, serious look on his face was one that he had seen Kevin wear many, many times, and he almost chuckled with the familiarity of it. At the same time, however, it scared him to see such a large part of Kevin so deeply embedded in his psyche. He heaved a huge sigh and developed a passive look, and he caught very vivid traces of Brian in his reflection. The more grounded Backstreet Boy had always been rather laid back and carefree, and it took something of great value to get Brian riled up. He blew out a stream of air between his lips, and the gesture reminded him so much of Brian that he choked on the breath and had to take a few shallow breaths before he could fully recover. A look of immense pain and passion spread over his face as he regained his breath, and he could see AJ staring back at him from his own features. AJ's impassioned natured had always been cause for speculation among the presses, but the others simply understood that AJ cared. To see the very same look of intense emotion displayed on his own face, however, was in dark contrast to the stoic expression he had grown so used to. In fact, the intensity scared him so much that he offered a tentative smile at the mirror instead, and Howie peeked out from behind his shy grin. Howie's easygoing nature and sense of humor kept the group in good spirits, and he realized that he had managed to soak up some of Howie's optimistic nature. He continued to study his shy smile until it hurt to appear cheerful, at which point he gave up studying his expressions and found himself studying his eyes.

He was shocked to find that not a single one of his brothers stared out at him from the two blue depths. Instead, there was something that seemed entirely foreign to him, yet strangely familiar, and he found himself leaning closer to the mirror to get a closer look. The close proximity did little good, however, because the scene bled together all too quickly and he felt something stinging in the back of his eyes. He was shocked when he brought a hand up to his eye to examine it and found tears. He wiped them quickly away and leaned into the mirror again just in time to catch the same foreign yet familiar sense. It took him only moments to realize that he was staring in wonder at his own pain, reflected deep into his blue eyes. Before he could look more closely, however, the scene bled together again, and no amount of rubbing could wipe the tears away.

He felt a tiny triumph at the knowledge, though, because he had let go. Or maybe he hadn't let go--maybe he'd simply found himself within the tangle of everyone else. And maybe he really was a part of Kevin, a part of Brian, a part of AJ, and a part of Howie. And maybe, among the four reflections of his friends, his brothers, there was something distinctly him that hadn't dissipated with the weight of the lie he had been forced to live.

As he considered the possibility, Nick found himself smiling through his tears. And it wasn't Howie's smile that time. It was his own.

When will my reflection show
Who I am inside?

lyrics slightly altered
performed by Christina Aguilera

*any and all quotes stated to be in Rolling Stone were in fact included in Rolling Stone, in the article that came out in November of 2000*