A/N: Well, guys, it's been fun. Bear with me on this annoyingly long author's note.
I need to thank my loyal readers and reviewers. This story probably would not have gotten done without you. All your feedback has been much appreciated. It's true when I say that the completion of this story marks a major milestone in my life. It's sad to say goodbye and move my file to my completed fanfictions folder, but I am also saying hello to new ideas. Which leads me to my next thing. To those of you who enjoyed my writing, go ahead and subscribe to my author alert thing if you haven't already. I will definitely be posting more stories in the future! I have a poll on my profile that I encourage you all to vote on; it will help me decide what project to tackle next.
I can't believe this story has come to an end. There were points where I had my doubts that I would finish it. The beginning was the hardest. But, eight death threats later, it is done! Thank you guys so much. You're the ones who made this possible. I love you! :)
So, without further ado, here is the final chapter of 'Breakdown':
Kendall wasn't sure why there were tears stinging at his eyes.
He had prepared himself for this. He had known for about a week that the event would take place, but even with the warning, he found himself getting emotional.
He stood in front of the mirror in his room, hair neatly combed, shoes polished, suit looking sharp, and struggling to properly loop a tie around his neck. It was a tie he borrowed from Logan, since the only ties Kendall owned were out of date or stained. And he needed to look his best for Carlos.
There was a light knock on his bedroom door. "Come in," Kendall said hoarsely. He cleared his swollen throat as the door slowly pushed open.
"You almost ready?" said James. He too wore a black suit, complete with a striped blue tie. His hair looked great, as usual.
Kendall used his sore fingers to undo the knot in his tie. "Almost." He started over, crossing the wide end over the narrow end and bringing the wide end up through the opening. He hesitated.
"Now pull it back down," James said.
Kendall sighed, undoing the whole thing. He rotated his body to face James. "Wanna help me out?"
James obliged, walking into the room and grabbing both ends of the borrowed tie. Kendall watched as James skillfully went through the correct motions. A snug double Windsor knot was around Kendall's neck in no time.
"Thanks," he murmured, adjusting the tie to his liking.
James nodded and stepped back.
Kendall turned again to the mirror, checking himself one last time. He used his fingers to smooth out his hair, then buttoned up his suit jacket.
"Huh?" Deciding he looked decent enough, Kendall faced his friend for a second time.
James had his head down. "Are you… scared?"
For the longest time, Kendall had been so sure that the consequences would be dire if he told James or Logan that he was afraid. After all, Kendall was the leader. He shouldn't be so scared.
But things were different now. "Yeah. I am," Kendall comfortably admitted.
James didn't say anything, and Kendall put a hand on his shoulder. "But I don't think Carlos would want us to be so nervous."
A light smile danced over James's lips. "Yeah, you're right. He wouldn't."
A few brotherly slaps to the back later, and Logan was entering Kendall's bedroom as well.
"Mrs. Knight and Katie are getting ready to go to the car. You guys coming?" He also was handsomely dressed, with a navy colored tie fastened around his neck.
Kendall and James exchanged glances. "Ready to do this, Logan?" Kendall asked.
He shrugged his shoulders. "As I'll ever be, I guess."
There was a brief pause between the three. Logan looked a little jittery. "Are you going to say any words?" he inquired.
"I thought about it," replied Kendall, "but… I don't think I can handle it. The last thing I want to do is start crying in front of pretty much everyone I know."
"Okay." Logan swallowed, hard. He still looked uneasy. "Well, we better go. Don't want to be late."
Kendall and James started towards the door. Kendall put his arm around Logan's shoulder as the boys shuffled down the hall. "You going to be okay?"
Logan wiped away the tears brimming in his eyes. "Yeah. You?"
Kendall copied his action. "I think so."
Kendall, James and Logan entered the main room of apartment 2J where Mrs. Knight and Katie were waiting by the front door. Mrs. Knight was attempting to stuff a box of tissues into her purse incase she needed them later.
When the boys came in, she looked up and gave a gentle smile. But she was Kendall's mother, and he knew her well. The smile was a nervous one.
Without a word, Mrs. Knight held the door open for the boys and Katie, and the crew made their way down the hall and to the elevators. It was a silent ride down.
Not many bodies meandered about the lobby of the Palm Woods. The five walked out the side door of the building and piled into the van.
"I can't believe this is happening," Logan murmured.
Kendall couldn't, either. It seemed so unreal. He never really thought he would be about to do this.
Mrs. Knight pulled the vehicle out of the parking lot and began the short drive. She wore a long, dark dress and had her hair falling straight down her back. Even Katie was dressed in black.
The car ride was quiet. Logan was trembling again and had his head bowed, whereas James had his head turned and was gazing out the window. Just like the day the guys had said their final goodbyes to Carlos.
Well, not technically the final goodbyes.
Kendall shifted in his seat. He still couldn't believe where they were going. Everyone had helped with the arrangements. Carlos's parents and Mrs. Knight did most of the work, but, surprisingly, Gustavo and Kelly lent a hand as well. Even though Gustavo would never admit it, both of them loved Carlos. They wanted to make sure things went smoothly.
Kendall stuck a hand in his pocket to remind himself that his tissues were still there. He cried a lot more now. Before the accident, he couldn't remember the last time he had shed a tear. Now it seemed like crying was a regular thing.
But he was okay with that. He didn't need to hide his emotions for Logan and James. He knew that now. Kendall could still be the leader and still keep everyone under control and still make all the important decisions. A couple tears weren't going to hold him back.
Minutes later, the van stopped. Kendall took a long, deep breath, and exited the vehicle with his friends.
His eyes widened. Many people were filing into the building, the men wearing suits and the women sporting dresses or skirts. He didn't even recognize half the people.
"You go on ahead," Mrs. Knight said to the boys.
They did. Slowly, almost hesitantly, the three started up the walkway to the front of the building. Kendall felt like he was moving in slow motion. The people he passed all seemed to blur by. The buzz of their voices faded in his ears.
He couldn't help himself. He stepped forward and placed himself between Logan and James, clapping a hand on each of their shoulders as they crossed the threshold to the building's entrance. Kendall needed to make sure they were right beside him.
No one objected. James led the way, pushing through throngs of bodies. Many kids from the Palm Woods stuck out in the crowd, yet there were tons of strangers as well. Maybe Carlos knew them. Kendall wasn't sure.
Against one wall of the room was a long table, lined with flowers and plants and a basket for dropping off cards. The boys walked beyond it. Then they stopped, surveying the interior of the building.
Logan grabbed Kendall's arm. With his other hand, he pointed. "Over there."
Kendall gave Logan's back a friendly pat before starting forward. His heart beat a little faster and his throat felt dry.
The three boys sluggishly walked towards the area where Carlos laid, forcing their way through the crowd.
They halted. Kendall sighed, staring at his friend's closed eyes.
"He looks so peaceful," James murmured.
Carlos's suit was crisp and clean. His hands were folded delicately across his chest, and his hair had been neatly combed.
Out of the corner of his eye, Kendall noticed that Logan was sniffling. Kendall dug around in his pocket and handed Logan one of his tissues. As Logan accepted it, Kendall put his arm around Logan's shoulder and pulled him close for a one-armed hug.
"It's okay," Kendall said.
Logan wiped at his eyes with the tissue, then nodded.
Both boys looked back down. Kendall couldn't help but stare at Carlos for the longest time, mind whirling and heart aching with indescribable emotions. He could hear people behind him, their voices dwindling as they moved to the other part of the room as the event prepared to start.
"Are you boys ready?"
The three turned and saw a formally dressed, middle-aged man standing behind them.
"Almost," Kendall replied. He gestured to Carlos. "Can we have a couple more minutes?"
"Of course," said the man. He smiled gently, then turned back and began to usher members of the congregation to the other section of the building.
Kendall, James and Logan all took deep breaths, giving Carlos one last, long look.
Finally, Kendall clapped his hands together. "Well," he declared, "better wake him up."
Logan smirked and balled the tissue into his jacket pocket. He slapped Carlos on the chest with the back of his hand. "Dude, get up."
Carlos's eyes fluttered open. He frowned when he saw his friends. "Five more minutes," he groaned, rolling over on the couch.
Logan smacked him again. "You have to give your speech in five minutes. Don't you think you should rehearse it one more time?"
Carlos yawned and waved a hand in the air. "Relax, I know what I'm doing. Now let me get just a few… more minutes… of… sleep…" His eyes closed and his body went limp. A light snore emitted from his mouth.
Kendall raised his eyebrows in amusement. He looked to James, and then to Logan. "Boys?"
They smirked and nodded in confirmation. Logan grabbed an arm, and James and Kendall each seized a leg.
"Noooo," Carlos whined, effortlessly being lifted up from the tiny couch. He was placed on his feet before James and Logan began to brush off his suit and straighten his tie.
"Got your note cards?" asked Kendall.
Carlos patted his jacket pocket. "Got 'em right here." As James and Logan stepped back, Carlos's eyes scanned the crowd. "Wow… A lot of people are here, huh?"
"Yeah," James said. "Nervous?"
"Pfft… What? No, of course not. I'm not nervous. No way." He forced a laugh.
"You're the one who wanted to do this," Logan reminded.
"Well, yeah," Carlos said, "but I didn't think all these people would show up! Look." He pointed into the throng of bodies. "There's all sorts of kids from the Palm Woods here. And the company's investors, and CEOs, and reporters, and fans and other people I don't know." Carlos yawned once more. "And I also didn't know I'd have to get up at six in the morning for this."
Kendall laughed. "You'll be fine," he assured.
Carlos loosened his shoulders sucked in a large mouthful of air, preparing himself. He puffed out his chest and stuck his chin in the air, looking empowered and determined. "Let's do this." He held out his hand which each of the guys took turns slapping.
"We'll be right out front," said James, giving Carlos a push to get him to start walking. "Now go."
Kendall watched as Carlos proceeded towards the stage in the other room. Carlos removed his note cards from his pocket and clutched them tightly in his hand, suddenly not looking as ready as he claimed to be.
Tears leapt back into Kendall's eyes as he, Logan and James started towards the crowd, parting their way through all the people to get to the front of the audience. The tears were the same tears that had been in his eyes back at the apartment: tears of joy. He couldn't believe this was happening. He couldn't believe that all four were back together again, and Carlos was alright. For so long Kendall had feared and prepared himself for the worse. It was practically inevitable.
But no. Carlos was stubborn. As he had said after he woke up, "Come on, guys. Did you really think I would die? Jeez, I can't believe you thought I would just leave you here like that. And I thought I was the stupid one."
The boys arrived at the front of the crowd, right below the stage. They stood next to a few reporters who were eagerly setting up their tripods. Now, Kendall could see quite a few people he knew. Jo, Camille, Guitar Dude and the Jennifers and pretty much everyone from the Palm Woods were in the sea of bodies, as well as Griffin and his daughter, Mercedes, Gustavo and Kelly, Jett Stetson, Dak Zevon, Marcos DelPosey, and even Fabio. Kendall also saw his mom and sister standing off to the side.
The murmurs in the audience began to quiet as Carlos appeared on stage.
Kendall couldn't help but snicker at Carlos's awkwardness. Carlos gave a tiny, uncertain wave at the crowd before starting towards the podium at center stage. Suddenly, he tripped. The microphone screeched as Carlos reached out for the device to steady himself. Kendall hissed and covered his ears.
"Uh… S-Sorry," Carlos mumbled with a nervous laugh, straightening his posture. The audience waited patiently as he adjusted his tie and suit and cleared his throat.
"I don't think this is going to go well," James whispered.
"Shh," said Logan. "He'll be fine."
Carlos sneezed. His note cards flew out of his hand and scattered around the floor of the stage.
Logan cringed. "…Though I have been wrong before."
A few people laughed, and Carlos got to his hands and knees and scrambled around for the cards. He popped back up behind the podium, beaming brightly, though his cheeks were tinged red. "Um, hi," he said. He frantically began to sort through his cards and flip them around, attempting to put them back in the correct order. "I… um, I wanted to have this meeting to uh, discuss some things that… need discussing."
Carlos glanced up at the audience. Kendall waved and gave a thumbs up.
Carlos noticed and smiled, looking more relaxed. He peered back down at his note cards, then heaved a sigh and addressed the congregation. "My name is Carlos. Oh, wait, you probably knew that. Uh. Well, if you didn't, that's my name. So… I guess I'll just start then…" He cleared his throat yet again.
There was no other sound in the room.
"So… as you all probably know, I was recently in this accident." Carlos stopped for a moment, then continued, speaking slowly. "It was pretty bad."
James put a hand on Kendall's shoulder.
"And I have a lot to say, so I guess I'll start at the beginning. Well, the beginning for me, anyway. Which, I guess, is actually the end. Um… yeah, okay, I'll just start now." He hurriedly rifled through his note cards for a second time. "So, about four months ago, I woke up from this sixteen day coma. It was really weird, to know that sixteen days of my life had been pretty much wasted. But what was more weird was that when I woke up, I was still tired."
A few chuckles from the audience. Carlos chuckled with them, and he kept on. "So, the guys told me that - Oh! That's the guys, right down there, by the way." He pointed to his friends. "The one with the hair is James, the one with the eyebrows is Kendall, and the nerdy one is Logan."
Logan made a face, and everyone laughed.
"They told me that I had seen this trash chute thing at this construction site outside Rocque Records, and I thought it looked like a swirly slide and wanted to go down. But when I climbed the ladder thing to get up there, it collapsed and I got really hurt." He put a hand over his chest. "I broke six ribs, and punctured a lung, and broke a lot of other bones. Plus, my brain got blood in it or something. I don't know. I wasn't really listening when the doctors explained it to me."
Kendall rolled his eyes. He wondered how Carlos could talk about everything so nonchalantly.
"Anyway, I don't really remember any of that." He paused, examined his cards, then set them face down on the podium. His tone suddenly became serious, which was unusual, coming from Carlos. "About a month of my memory was wiped. I don't remember the accident or anything two weeks before it. I wish I could, but I can't. My friends explained to me every little detail that happened in the time I forgot, but it still doesn't ring a bell. I don't even remember the lyrics to the song we had been recording at the time.
"I was on life support while I was asleep. There was this long tube thingy that went down in my mouth and helped me breathe. They called it a ventilator, or a respirator, or something like that. Same thing, I think. After two weeks of no improvements, my parents decided they were going to end life support." He paused and looked up at the ceiling as he often did when deep in thought. "I don't really blame them, though. But, I mean, I don't remember anything about being in a coma. I don't remember hearing any voices, having any dreams, anything like that. But they didn't know that. I think my parents thought I was in pain or something so they wanted me to… you know, not be in pain anymore."
Kendall fingered the tissues in his pocket as all the horrible memories came rushing back to him. James squeezed Kendall's shoulder a little harder.
Meanwhile, the audience was dead silent. No one coughed, no one spoke, no one moved. Every pair of eyes was trained directly on the boy on stage, and every camera had a blinking red light that signaled the tape was rolling.
Carlos's continued speaking. "According to Kendall and James and Logan, they were, um, in my room, saying goodbye to me and stuff on the day I was supposed to be taken off the breathing machine thing. Then everything started going all haywire and they had to leave. Nobody knew what was happening. I guess the doctors ended up having to take the tube out of my throat and…" He paused briefly, and his expression wasn't so serious any more. "And I was breathing on my own again."
Kendall could feel the tension in the room lift.
Carlos started smiling again. He grabbed the microphone from the stand, stepped away from the podium and began to pace while he talked. He seemed much more comfortable in front of the people and cameras. "Then after that, of course, my parents changed their minds and kept me alive. Which I'm very happy about." The audience laughed again. "I was still in a coma though, but my friends told me I started responding to stimuluses and stuff."
"Stimuli," Logan corrected. Kendal nudged him in the side.
"And it turns out I was only in a coma for two more days. Then I woke up. And guess what? I actually remember waking up. But it wasn't as cool as you probably think. I felt really sick. My throat hurt so bad that I couldn't talk too much and I had a really bad migraine. But what stunk was that I couldn't talk much, anyway. I got all tongue-tied all the time and my words slurred together. It was pretty frustrating. I had to write what I wanted to say on a piece of paper. And I'm not a good speller, so sometimes people still couldn't understand me.
"So anyway, when I first opened my eyes, I was really confused, since I didn't remember the accident or anything. But a nice doctor was there, and he explained what had happened. Then my parents came in and my mom almost suffocated me because she was hugging me and kissing me and the doctor almost had to take her out of the room."
The audience chuckled once more, including Kendall, James and Logan.
"We talked for a while. Well, they talked, mostly. I couldn't really say much, even though I wanted to. Then the doctor said they needed to run some tests and stuff, so my parents had to leave and the doctor asked me all these stupid questions like who was the president and what's my name and what's two plus two. Then I was tired, which, like I said, is kinda weird. I still was really confused, but I knew that before I went to sleep I wanted to see my friends. Maybe James and Logan and Kendall could tell me more about what was happening. I mean, I knew I had just been in a coma and stuff, but I guess the reality of it all just hadn't registered with me yet, you know?"
Carlos maintained his pace back and fourth across the stage, using robust hand gestures as he spoke. But as he started his next words, he halted. His face became serious again. "They were crying. I'd never really seen my friends cry before, except when we were little. So then I was crying too, even though I still wasn't quite sure why I was crying. I had a hard time speaking, like I said before, but I tried to ask them some questions about what had happened. But they didn't say anything. We just kind of sat there together and they kept on crying and stuff." Carlos turned towards his friends in the crowd. "Oh… Sorry if I'm embarrassing you guys."
Kendall waved a hand in the air. He wasn't ashamed.
Carlos heaved a sigh. "Sooo… Let's see. Long story short, I had to stay in the hospital for forever, eat this gross food and do this stupid speech therapy stuff and it was so boring because all I could do was just sit there in the hospital bed and watch TV, and there wasn't ever anything on anyway. But luckily my friends and my parents visited me all the time, so that was good. Blah blah blah, anyway, after I could speak a tiny bit better, I asked the guys about the band. Which is probably what most of you here are expecting me to talk about. So I will. Right now."
There was a bottle of water on the floor next to the podium, and Carlos twisted open the cap and took a drink. He licked his lips. "Okay. About the band. The guys told me that while I was asleep, our record company's founder wanted to either keep Big Time Rush going without me or cancel the music division all together. And since my friends are so stubborn, they wouldn't let him do either of those things. So they came up with this plan, where they had kids from all over write in letters and emails and place phone calls to the RCM/CBT GlobalNet Sanyoid headquarters."
Carlos took a long pause and lowered his microphone. His eyes were trained down on the floor.
The audience began to whisper. Kendall turned to James and Logan, wondering what Carlos was doing.
Then, the Latino looked up, and the whispers ceased. "The reason I wanted to come up here and talk today was to let everyone know something." He pointed to Kendall, James and Logan and gestured for them to come up.
Logan shook his head, but James was already starting for the stage. Kendall gave Logan a push on the back, and the three were at Carlos's side in no time. It was a strange feeling to be in front of a crowd that they weren't performing for.
But from the stage, Kendall got a clear view of the audience. He saw Jo right away, and she waved at him. Kendall smiled at her.
"Big Time Rush has been like, on hold ever since my accident," Carlos explained. "With four months of not recording any songs or doing any concerts or anything, plenty of rumors have sprung up all over the place. Before, the headlines were talking about a miracle. How this boy started breathing on his own just hours before scheduled termination of life support. And how this kid from small-town Minnesota who moved to LA with his buds to be a band survived a terrible accident and a sixteen day coma. And that this kid was insanely lucky and ended up only suffering from some memory loss and a few nasty scars.
"Then, suddenly, the headlines changed, and everyone was talking about the future of the band. Would Big Time Rush continue? Would they still release their next album on time?"
Carlos turned away from the audience and faced his friends. He looked at each of them, brown eyes sparkling.
"So," Carlos told the audience. "I am here to tell you that I'm okay. We're okay. We're moving on from this, and it's going to become a thing in the past."
The audience erupted into cheers.
"Big Time Rush is back!" Carlos cried, pumping his fist in the air. "And we are here to stay!"
Kendall, James and Logan whooped and hollered along with the excited crowd. Carlos stepped back and put his arms around his friends, and the four held onto each other as the clapping and shouts of approval and camera flashes carried on.
Carlos gave the audience a final wave, and together the friends walked off the stage.
"Dude, that was awesome!" James exclaimed to Carlos, affectionately slapping his shoulder.
"You think so?" said Carlos as the audience slowly began to disperse.
"Yeah," Logan said. "You did a good job."
Carlos started to say something else, but a man with a camera stepped in front of them. "Los Angeles Times," he said. "Mind if I get a group shot?"
"Cool!" Carlos cried.
Kendall gasped in surprise as James put his arm around Kendall's shoulder and yanked him closer. Then Kendall laughed and returned the gesture.
Carlos stood on his tip-toes and struggled to reach his arms out so he could embrace all his friends.
The camera guy told the boys to smile, then snapped a few pictures. "Looks great," he said. "Thanks, guys."
"No problem," Kendall said. "So, Carlos, did you -"
Three girls pushed him out of the way and marched up to Carlos. "Well," Kendall huffed. James laughed.
"Um, hi," Carlos said to the girls, grinning lopsidedly.
The Jennifers exchanged glances, smirking. Then, one by one, they leaned forward and pressed their lips against Carlos's for half a second.
Carlos stood like a statue, eyes wide as saucers.
"Welcome back," the blonde Jennifer said.
"We promised we'd kiss you," reminded the curly-haired girl.
"But don't get used to it," the other added.
The snapped their fingers simultaneously, twirled around, and disappeared into the dissolving crowd.
Kendall raised his eyebrows. He didn't know the Jennifers had promised that. He figured it must have happened at the hospital when he wasn't around.
James chortled and shook Carlos's shoulders. "Dude! The Jennifers just kissed you!"
"Uh-huh," Carlos murmured, still grinning ear-to-ear. Suddenly, his body began to tilt backwards.
Logan and James reached out to catch him before he collapsed to the ground.
"Easy, buddy," Logan said, helping him back to his feet. "We don't need you knocking yourself out again."
Carlos scratched his head. "That was awesome! I wouldn't mind going into a coma again if that happened every time I woke up."
Kendall cherished their laughter more than he did before. He knew now how quickly it could be taken away from them. He knew that one day he could wake up and not have any of his friends. It was a horrible, chilling thought, but it was possible. Kendall was determined to keep his friends close and enjoy every second of their time together.
As the boys' laughter stopped, they stood in silence for a moment. They looked to each other, silently taking in the moment, thankful that they were there together.
Carlos cleared his throat. "Um, guys?" he said. "Look… I know it must have been really hard for you while I was hurt and everything. And, you know, after I woke up and I spent my days laying in that hospital bed bored out of my skull, I had a lot of time to think. And I realized that I was really lucky. Like, really, really lucky." He swallowed hard and lowered his voice. "I was so close to dying."
Tears were forming in Kendall's eyes again. This time, he didn't force them back. This time, he let them fall.
"And as I was sitting there wondering why I woke up from my coma when I was just going to die from boredom anyway, I realized that there were so many things I never told you guys that I wanted you to know and almost didn't get the chance to."
"Like what?" wondered Logan.
Carlos smiled softly. He looked each of his friends in the eyes. "Like you're my best buds ever. And I love you guys."
"Well, we love you too," said Kendall.
James and Logan nodded. And then, all four were exchanging wholehearted hugs and hand slaps, and they were laughing and smiling and their hearts were thumping with warmth.
Kendall wondered if Carlos truly understood how lucky he had been. Nobody was even sure how it happened. One doctor threw out the suggestion that Carlos began to breathe again because he had his three best friends by his side.
Kendall wasn't too sure about that. Regardless, he had a better understanding of everything now. He was the leader of Big Time Rush. And he still could be the leader, even if he was afraid or upset about something. His friends didn't expect him to be so unconcerned, anyway.
They would forever stick together. The promise was still unbroken: best friends, no matter what.
No matter what.
They had made it through their toughest challenge yet. They had moved on.
And as their individual signs of affection turned into one group hug, Big Time Rush knew - this time, for certain - that everything would be fine.