Alli whistled happily to the tune of "Bring On The Men" as she strolled
down the hotel corridor. They'd been lucky enough to remain in the same city for three nights, and she had thoroughly enjoyed
being able to keep her stuff in one place and sleep in a bed that was large enough to move in and comfortable enough to actually
relax in. She loved the freedom of sleeping on the bus, but the bunks weren't exactly the model of comfort. She came to a
halt just outside of Nick's door and smiled as she checked the time. It was early morning, but they were leaving by mid-afternoon,
and she'd been instructed to wake him early enough that he'd have time to pack before the departure. For once, though, Alli
didn't have a problem with being in Nick's presence. His attitude throughout the week since their card game had been pleasant,
surprisingly enough, and she was almost convinced that he was actually beginning to change for the better. They'd spent the
night before watching movies on pay-per-view while the others went clubbing, and Alli had enjoyed the feeling of friendship.
The night had been Nick's idea, and she had willingly agreed. A small smile crossed her face at the memory of their familiar
banter, and she rapped her knuckles lightly against the door.
"Yo, Carter? Time to get up! The housekeeping fairy's
coming soon, and I can guarantee you that you don't want to scare her by jumping out of bed naked when she wakes you up..."
She wasn't sure if the sound that greeted her was a mumble or a snore, so she pressed her ear to the door and rapped
The response was definitely a groan. Alli's nostalgic smile grew to a devilish grin. She'd
been so careful around Nick lately in attempt to preserve his good mood that she hadn't had the chance to tease him, and she
was glad to finally have the opportunity. "Housekeeping!" she called a bit more loudly, biting back a snicker. "I can come
Something that sounded suspiciously like "no" filtered through the door, and Alli choked back a laugh. Nick's
ability to sleep through anything had amazed her for years. She pounded her fist against the door and tried to keep from grinning
as she delivered her next line.
"Housekeeping! I come in now!"
Alli began a mental countdown in her head and
made a large show of fumbling with the door handle, rattling it loudly enough to wake up the whole hallway. She'd counted
to three by the time the door flew open against the lock, revealing a very disheveled Nick.
"No, now's really not
a good..." he trailed off when he caught sight of Alli, who'd abandoned the idea of holding back her laughter. He immediately
rolled his eyes angrily and clenched the pillow he was using to cover up certain areas. "Dammit, Al, that's not funny! You're
such a fucking child sometimes, you know that?"
Alli's laughter died immediately at the tone of his voice. He sounded
furious, which definitely hadn't been her intention. Her wicked smile faded to a frown as she looked up at him cautiously.
"Carter, it's a joke. J-O-K-E. Remember those?"
Nick's blue eyes flared as he glared down at her. "Yes, Alli. Of course,
if you'd thought about it, you'd realize that jokes have an appropriate time and place. This wasn't it."
at him. He's been nice all week. We're finally getting back to where we used to be. There's no way he'd turn completely
around over a stupid prank. Hell, he pulls enough for the both of us. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a quarter,
handing it to Nick sweetly. "Here, Carter, have a quarter. Maybe you can buy yourself a sense of humor."
"If I give
it back will you go buy yourself some maturity, or is that too expensive for you to manage?" he sneered in return. Alli bristled
at his tone, forcing herself to ignore the feelings of disbelief and discouragement that washed over her when she realized
that their week of friendship had ended. I should've known it was too good to last. That's what I get for giving in to
hope, right? She groaned inwardly and pasted an expression of despair on her face.
"Aw, Carter, I'd do that,
but my Daddy always told me that it's better to give to the poor, and I think you might need that quarter more than I do,"
she said with mock solemnity. Nick growled, unchained the door long enough to pull her inside, and shut the door quickly behind
"Quit being a bitch," he snapped, disappearing into the closet for a moment before re-emerging with a tee-shirt
and boxers on. Alli arched an eyebrow pointedly.
"Quit being a prick. What happened to you, anyway? I thought we were
getting along," she said seriously, attempting to salvage something of the connection they'd had the night before. Nick shrugged.
"Not my fault if you have an overactive imagination," he returned nonchalantly. Alli's eyes widened in disbelief,
and anger got the best of her as she watched him disappear into the bathroom. Against her better judgment, she followed him
"Dammit, Carter! What's wrong with the idea of actually being friends with someone?"
"Well, nothing Alli,
but a big part of friendship is acceptance and understanding," he snapped in response. Alli groaned.
"Oh, well that
must be our problem then, because Lord knows I can't understand you," she retorted. "Half the time, I'm not even sure I want
Nick's eyebrows rose considerably high on his forehead, and Alli allowed herself to toy with the thought that
she might've actually gotten to him. Unfortunately, she was proven wrong almost immediately. "Then why are we even having
Alli glared at him, her gray eyes merely slits. "Because for some reason I don't even pretend
to fathom, I actually care about you, Carter, and I thought that our friendship might be worth salvaging."
it needs salvaging?" he cried incredulously. "You women are too damn dramatic, you know that? I'm in a fucking bad mood, Al,
and I don't need your sarcasm!"
Alli shot him a disbelieving look. "Oh, like I have some bizarre craving to converse
with assholes every day? Unless this somehow managed to pass by you and your little Backstreet world, we don't always get
what we want, Carter."
"Must be why you're still here," he shot back, mildly surprised when no sign of pain registered
on her face. He wasn't entirely sure why, but he wanted Alli to react to him. He wanted her to feel something that he'd caused,
be it hurt or anger. He never seemed to catch anything but the bad side of her temperament, and nothing he did ever seemed
to have much of an emotional effect on her, save for ticking her off.
"Carter, if you don't want me here, I'll find
the first flight back to Tampa," Alli hissed. Her face was flushed with fury, and her blood was boiling. When the hell
did he get to be such a jerk? To her surprise, his features seemed to soften the tiniest bit for a moment.
I didn't say that I didn't want you here..." he began, but he stopped in his plea to stare at her suspiciously. "And whatever
happened to you staying until you could get the best of me? Are you actually giving up?"
Alli's brow knitted in a
tight frown at his insinuation. "Hell no, Nickolas dear. I wouldn't give you the satisfaction."
of what? Knowing that I can finally live my life the way I see fit without you attempting to change me?"
to change you?" Alli scoffed. "Carter, I'm here to tell you that something's gotta give if you keep this up. I may be the
only one with enough patience, but I'm going to stick around until you get over yourself."
Nick smirked at her, enjoying
the fury that played across her pointed features. Alli had always been a lively character, and Nick couldn't deny that he
took strange pleasure in arguing with her every now and then, though the subject matter was one he would've rather avoided.
"Well, Alli, in the true nature of the 'get over yourself' subject, I've got one word for you."
Alli's mouth set in
a grim line as she folded her arms and waited for his retort. "And what might that be?"
"Goodbye!" Nick called cheekily,
slamming the bathroom door with force as he slipped inside. Alli was left to her own devices in the hotel room, boiling mad
and slightly wrought with defeat. There is no fucking way I'm going to let him win this. If it takes forever, I'm going
to find my best friend, just for the sake of proving that damn Nick Backstreet wrong.
With fists clenched in determination,
she strolled out of the hotel room and into her own, prepared to pack her suitcase and face the day ahead. And, even if it
killed her, she'd smile, just to prove to Nick that he didn't matter half as much as he thought he did.
this rate, he doesn't deserve to know how much he really does mean.
* * * * *
"Okay, what is it with people slamming doors today?" Howie muttered
in confusion as the door to Alli's hotel room caused the pictures on the walls to vibrate. Only seconds before, he'd heard
another door slam, and he had guessed it had come from Nick's room. With a sigh, he continued to balance two mugs of coffee
while he put two and two together. His brown eyes widened in disbelief.
"Oh, man, they'd better not be fighting again.
Things were just getting good, and Nick was actually starting to act normal..."
Just as Howie was reaching into his
pocket for his room key, another voice called to him from down the hall.
"What the hell do you mean by that?"
flinched at the tone in Nick's voice. Yeah, they definitely got into a fight. He's pissed.
okay? Just that you've been really uptight lately, and this past week you've actually started to relax. You've seemed more
Nick's eyes darkened at the thought that he was returning to his old ways. His thoughts immediately
went to Alli, however, and he cursed himself for being so soft. He didn't understand how or why, but Alli always managed to
make him feel relaxed and open, and he couldn't afford to be open. Dammit, Carter, I thought we agreed that you were trying
to grow up!
"Howie, I am myself! This is me, dammit! Why is that so hard for all of you to understand?"
sighed heavily, trying to maintain some sense of peace. He rarely fought with any of the other Boys; if anything, he usually
ended up mediating for the others. He wasn't anywhere near comfortable fighting with Nick, especially when the younger man
was already in a mood. He looked up pleadingly at Nick, praying that they wouldn't cause a scene.
"Nick, it's not
so much that it's difficult to understand, I just don't think you've honestly realized how much you've changed since we started
this tour. We're just trying to look out for you. I know how much you and Alli mean to each other, and I don't want either
of you getting hurt," he explained softly. He fought the urge to frown in discouragement when Nick's blue eyes blazed ash
"If Alli gets hurt, it'll be her own fault for sticking her nose where it doesn't belong," he snapped, and Howie
"Nick, do you really think that's fair to Alli? I mean, how long have you two been best friends?"
eyebrows rose considerably high, and his features darkened as he matched Howie's tone in mockery. "Do you really think I give
a damn if it's fair to Alli? I've warned her, and I've tried to put up with her childish behavior. She can do whatever the
hell she wants to do, D. I don't care anymore."
"You're lying," Howie returned pointedly. He hated to start fights,
but he wasn't about to let Nick get away without admitting how much Alli really meant to the five of them. Nick, who had started
for his hotel room, whirled around to face Howie angrily.
"I'm not lying, How, and I think that's what scares you."
"You care more than you think you do," Howie countered, and Nick shook his head slowly to emphasize his own contradiction.
"No, Howie, you think I care more than I really do, and so does Alli. That's not my fault."
doesn't help anybody!" Howie called after Nick's retreating back in a futile attempt to get his attention one last time. Nick
merely rolled his eyes and refrained from turning around, choosing to yell his response before he slammed the door to his
hotel room shut.
"I'm not here to help anybody, D."
"Obviously," Howie muttered and glared mildly at the door,
trying to fight the feelings of desperation that were rising inside of him. Suddenly, he was beginning to understand exactly
how hopeless Alli had been feeling. Nick was changing for the worse, and there didn't seem to be much he could do about it,
save for talking to the other guys. With a sigh of resignation, he turned in the direction of his own hotel room and opened
the door, smiling when he saw that Jessi was waiting for him.
She laughed, taking a
steaming mug from him. "Morning to you too. What happened out there?"
Howie's smile faded and he shook his head while
he set the breakfast tray on the desk. "Trust me when I say that you don't want to know."
Jessi arched an eyebrow
in surprise. "That bad, huh?"
Howie nodded gravely. "Worse."
"It's not getting any better, is it?" she asked,
sipping slowly on the warm liquid. Howie shook his head again.
"Nope, and it's not going to get any better. If anything,
"What do we do?" she asked quietly, leaning into his embrace. Jessi had been good friends with Alli since
she'd met the woman, and--while she had a lot of respect for Alli's ability to handle Nick in any mood, shape, or form--she
was truly worried about Alli and the way Nick had been treating her. Being the friend that she was, Jessi wanted to help in
any way she could, and Howie would most likely have suggestions. Unfortunately, her logic proved incorrect, as Howie seemed
almost as helpless as she did.
"Jess, I don't think there's a single thing we can do. If Nick won't be civil, we can't
make him. The best thing to do is stay away, and try to drag Al with you. Lord knows she doesn't need this."
argue that he need a friend," Jessi pointed out.
"In order to need a friend, you have to be a friend," Howie countered.
"I guess you're right."