[Nick] had never intended to go into the circle again, had never intended to dance for the demons again. As far as he was concerned, the marked ones could go to someone else for help.
Only this time the marked one was Alan, and it was different. (3.67)
And why is it different? Because Nick loves his brother, whether he realizes it or not. He may not have the words to say it, but his actions communicate it loud and clear.
"You can't trust them, not for a second, because they are so desperate to get into this world, but—some people think that not all their feelings are simulated to trick us. They are very different from us. It's hard to tell, but some people think…" Alan's voice softened, and he admitted, "I think—that they can love." (5.83)
Why do you think Alan believes that demons are capable of love? Would he think such a thing if all he'd ever felt from Nick was cool aloofness? We think not.
Mae walked in the door at that point. She pushed Jamie's hair out of his eyes as she went by, then took a proper look at his pale face. She stooped and kissed his forehead before she went to get her muesli.
They were always doing weird stuff like that, as if they thought it was normal. It made Nick uncomfortable. (7.72-73)
The gestures of love that pass between Mae and Jamie make Nick squirm because he doesn't understand what purpose they serve or what thoughts or feelings they are supposed to convey. But does that necessarily mean that Nick is incapable of feeling love? Do you know anyone who isn't big on forehead kisses or really hates hugs? Why might some people have an aversion to this kind of touch?
"You really don't understand why someone would want a family?"
"I have no idea!"
Alan clenched his fists around the damp material of his towel, looking like he wanted to throw it in Nick's face. He went dark red and snapped, "I want somebody to love me." (7.223-225)
Hmm—this kind of makes us wonder if Alan has experienced a deficit of love in his life. His dad died when he was eleven, he never really knew his mother, and he's been traveling around the country for eight years with a surly brother and a stepmom who spends most of her time locked in her room. What do you think? Is he starved for love, or is he just looking for a different kind of love than what he already has?
Nick kept his head bowed as Alan's hand settled on his neck, palm gun-callused, and rested there.
Nick had never seen the point of just touching people, but if this made Alan feel better, he supposed it wasn't so bad. (10.166-167)
Let's be clear: you should never feel pressured to do anything you don't want to do in the name of love, but that's not what's going on here. Nick's not crazy uncomfortable with Alan's hand on his neck, he just doesn't quite get the point. But because he knows it's a comfort for Alan, he tolerates it—even thinks that maybe it's not such a bad thing after all—and tolerance, dear Shmoopsters, is something you can offer a loved one.
[Nick] turned away from his mother and toward the door. He should not have come.
"I'm not him, you know," he said over his shoulder.
"I know," said Mum. "I loved him." (12.49-51)
Ouch—Arrow, meet Heart. This has got to be one of the most gut-wrenching lines Olivia delivers to Nick, and she has a few doozies. Demon or human, anyone would have trouble grasping the concept of love with a mother-child relationship like this.
Nick tilted his head to look at him from another angle. No matter how he looked at him, Alan still made no sense. "I hurt you," he said slowly. "Why would you want me to stay?"
"Oh God, Nick!" Alan said, his voice cracking. "Can't you even understand that much?" (12.172-173)
In some ways, this scene ventures into domestic violence territory. After all, one person in the relationship (Nick) has hit the other person in the relationship (Alan), and yet the hit-ee wants the hitter to stay in the name of "love." So what's the difference between what's going on with Alan and Nick here and what we would label domestic abuse in another situation? Hint: We do think there is a difference, and it has to do with the balance of power. Hint P.S.: You're welcome to have a different opinion.
[Nick] hadn't said much while the others were planning, but he had insisted on leaving the attic, and access to the roof, to Alan and Mae. That would give them the best chance of getting out. (13.41)
Again the guy who says he knows nothing of love puts the safety of two people he cares about ahead of his own. We think he might know more than he gives himself credit for.
"I love Livia," Arthur said calmly. "But you wouldn't be able to understand that, now would you?" (14.60)
Uh… Arthur? Considering what you did to Olivia and your son, we're not so sure you understand the concept of love.
"You don't even understand what love is. Do you? Human love. Do you know what it is?"
"No," Nick said quietly.
"Do you know anything about it?"
"I don't," Nick said, and swallowed. "I don't know." (15.78-81)
Yeah, yeah—we know what Nick said. But it seems quite clear to us that he does know a thing or two (or three) about love. So why—after risking his life for his brother, Mae, and Jamie—would he answer Arthur's question this way?