"We have a night off!"
Alli looked up from her book, clearly
annoyed. "Super. And why would I care?"
Nick smirked knowingly down at her. "You're still pissed because you didn't
get enough beauty rest last night."
She groaned. "Yeah, gee, I wonder why? Maybe because this blonde freak started
jumping on my bed after he broke into my room at THREE IN THE DAMN MORNING!"
Nick rolled his eyes and plopped down
on the couch beside her. "Fine, fine! Would you hush? The whole bus is going to hear you, and they're trying to sleep up front."
Alli glared at him. "You know what? That's not a bad idea. I think I'll go join them."
"But you haven't heard
my news yet!"
As soon as she saw the boyish look on his face, she caved completely and the glare faded. "Fine, Carter,
what's your news?"
Nick eyed her expectantly. "Are you still pissed at me?" He saw her look of annoyance resurfacing
and quickly pulled a charming smile. "Alli...I know you love me. You couldn't stay mad at me..."
a hand over her face when she felt herself smiling back. "Damn you, Carter."
Nick grinned at her triumphantly as he
pried her fingers away from her face. "You're smiling! You're not pissed!" His grin of triumph grew immediately. "I am so
Alli laughed, relenting. "Okay, you're good. Now, what's this news that you couldn't wait to tell me?"
brow furrowed in confusion before his face lit up again, and Alli didn't even try to fight back the smile at seeing Nick look
"Oh! The news! Well, see, I'm actually getting kind of bored with going to clubs every night after the show..."
"Gee, you too?" Alli muttered sarcastically. Nick shot her a pointed look.
"Anyway, I did a little
research and found out that there's a concert tonight. Since we don't have anything to do, I figured it'd be kinda cool to
Alli's eyebrows rose appreciatively. "Seriously? You got tickets to a concert?"
Nick nodded happily.
"Yup! And, if you think you love me now, just wait 'til you hear who I got us tickets to go see..."
Alli's eyes widened
eagerly. Nick didn't share her taste in movies, so it was rare that he ever went to the trouble to take them to something
that she'd like to see, but he did share her taste in music. "Who?"
Nick's eyes flashed with excitement as
he held up the tickets, watching Alli carefully so that he wouldn't miss her reaction. She took them from him, and her eyes
grew even wider when she caught the name of the artists performing.
"You got us tickets to go see Linkin Park?!"
As much as he had tried to maintain the stoic, testosterone-induced approach to the situation, he found himself grinning
like a kid at Christmas when Alli's megawatt smile appeared. "Yup! Can you believe it?"
She didn't even bother to
answer his question before launching herself at him. Nick groaned underneath the sudden weight, but his arms quickly found
their way around her waist so that he wouldn't drop her. He was groping for air as her arms squeezed around his neck, but
he smiled in spite of everything. It had been way too long since he'd gotten a hug from Alli. At the thought, however, he
immediately frowned. Where the hell did that come from?
She let go of him before he could read too much into
it, and slid down his chest and back to her feet, still grinning wildly. "You're, like, my favorite person right now, you
know that? This is going to be so cool. Who're you taking with us?"
Nick laughed at her enthusiasm. He knew Alli loved
to watch him perform, but he also knew that she had a passionate penchant for punk rock. Truth to tell, he had wanted to do
something special for her, and he didn't entirely mind seeing Linkin Park either. He knew that some of his friends would
mind seeing Linkin Park, though, so he was still praying that he wouldn't regret his decision to keep the company to a minimum.
"Well, see, everyone else has couple stuff to do tonight, and I'm not into that kind of thing. We have to take a bodyguard
just in case any fans find us, but other than that, it'll just be us."
Alli's grin brightened even more at the prospect
of getting best friend time with Nick. "Seriously? It'll just be us? Like old times?"
Nick fought the urge to wince
at the comment. He didn't want her to get the wrong impression. He was still adamant about her accepting him for what he was,
and the look on her face didn't do much to alleviate his worry that he hadn't convinced her to accept him yet. He cleared
his throat nervously.
"Uh, yeah, like old times...but, Al, don't do anything to embarrass me, okay? Don't let this
be another thing like the movies."
Alli was too excited to reprimand him for the comment. "I'll be good. I mean, hello?
Linkin Park? Carter, you rock!"
Nick frowned, unable to ignore his uneasiness. He wasn't sure why he was uncomfortable
all of a sudden at seeing Alli so happy, but he didn't want her to misunderstand the gesture. God, I just wanted to make
it up to her. I didn't want her to go thinking that her little mission is actually starting to have some effect on me...
"Yeah, well, I didn't want to be bored tonight, and I didn't want to stick around and watch the other guys go through
with their romance shit," he muttered, and Alli's smile dimmed somewhat.
"Well, you picked a great alternative to
spending the evening watching the romance shit, then," she teased, and Nick offered a weak smile. Alli bit back a frown and
sighed inwardly. What the hell is up with him now?
"Listen, Al, I've got to go call the local radio station
for some phone interview promotion thing, so I'll see you later, okay?"
Alli gave him an odd look, knitting her brow
inquisitively. "I thought you came back here because you were bored and had nothing to do?"
Nick chuckled. "Yeah,
and you got pissed at me for annoying you, remember? I'm surprised you're not kicking me out. I honestly just forgot about
this phone interview..."
Alli rolled her eyes. "You do more phone interviews than anyone on the planet, you know that?"
She sighed and began waving her hand at him to shoo him out of the room while she opened her book again. "Go make your phone
call. I'm reading."
"Just be ready tonight when I come in to get you, okay?"
Alli rolled her eyes. "Like I
would miss out on seeing Linkin Park? Please, Carter! Now, go bother the radio station and leave me alone. What part of 'I'm
reading' did you not get?"
Nick sighed as the uneasy feeling passed and shook his head at her. She was deep in concentration
within minutes, and he slipped out of back room to go call the local radio station and surprise the DJ. A job was a job, and,
much as he disliked being asked about his love life again and again, he was content with the fact that he'd be listening to
Linkin Park that evening, jamming with Alli like he used to. But it's not like this is going to be a regular thing. I'm
just making it up to her, because she deserves to have some fun...
Satisfied with the thought, he grabbed his
cell phone and slid into his bunk.
* * * * *
"Alli! Tell me you're ready, girl, 'cause if you're a second later
than I am, I'm going to leave you..."
Alli emerged from her new hotel room with a smirk. "You know what? I think I
finally know what to get you for Christmas."
Nick arched an eyebrow expectantly. "Oh? What's that?"
Nick rolled his eyes. "Ha." They were both silent for a moment, and he took the opportunity to look Alli over skeptically.
She was wearing ripped jeans that flared at the bottom to allow room for her combat boots. Her black tee-shirt red "Punk"
in glittering red letters, and was still visible beneath the open leather jacket that she had chosen to wear. She had left
her auburn hair down for once, and it fell in ringlets to her mid-back. As always, she was wearing minimal make-up, but Nick
couldn't help arching his eyebrows in approval. Damn, she actually looks good. Maybe she'll take someone home with us
tonight. For some reason, that didn't make him quite as happy as he'd expected it to, but he smiled anyway. Al definitely
needs to get laid.
Alli fought the urge to groan when she saw Nick looking her up and down. To make a point,
she began looking him over in the exact same manner. He was dressed in pair of baggy jeans and a Linkin Park shirt, completing
the ensemble with sneakers and tousled hair. She bit back the urge to laugh and settled for a smirk instead. Minimal effort,
rock effect. Go figure. And he doesn't look too bad either... She let the thought trail off and sighed heavily. I
really hope he doesn't pick up any girls tonight. I miss just hanging out with him.
"You look decent," he acknowledged
with a half-grin. "Maybe you won't embarrass me after all."
Alli rolled her eyes and assumed a monotone voice. "Oh,
Carter, stop. You're charming the pants off me. I'm growing giddy."
Nick laughed and tossed an arm around her shoulder.
"Glad to know that I've still got it."
Alli groaned. "Still got what? Five thousand teenyboppers chasing after you?"
Before he could retort, she continued. "Speaking of whom, I really hope you're wearing a baseball cap tonight, because if,
by any chance, there are some BSB fans there, I don't want to have to listen to them scream and watch them point all night
Nick sighed. "Yeah, I'll wear a cap, but if there are any fans there, then we'll just leave. There's no point
in dealing with that."
Alli turned to him with arched eyebrows, shrugging his arm off in the process. "We'll leave?
Uh, speak for yourself, Heartthrob! If there are fans, I'm tossing your ass to them and staying put. You are NOT dragging
me out of Linkin Park early because some of your pre-pubescent disciples couldn't control themselves..."
his eyes at her and chuckled at the indignant look on her face. "Gee, thanks, Al. I'm definitely feeling the love here."
immediately, Alli's indignant look faded and she pulled him into a hug. "Carter, you are the coolest. Seriously, dude, I really
do appreciate this." She pulled back and gave him a megawatt smile before skipping down the hotel hallway and into the elevator
area. "Hey, where's Billy?"
Nick just shook his head at her craziness and prayed that she'd work off some of her energy
before they arrived at the show. He knew Alli could be wild, though, and he honestly didn't expect anything less from her
at a rock concert. She got wild enough at his concerts, and she was only dancing to smooth ballads and mid-tempos. "He's meeting
us downstairs so that we can make a break through the back door. I've got us a car all set."
Alli's grin bloomed as
Nick came around the corner and hurried into the elevator. "So we're actually riding in a car and not one of those ridiculously
extravagant limos that you guys love?"
Nick didn't bother to nod. Instead, he was looking at her in amazement. After
a few seconds, Alli grew a bit self-conscious and frowned. "What?"
Nick shook his head slightly as if to clear it.
"How can you have the vocabulary of a National Merit Scholar and act like a fourth-grader?"
Alli winked at him as
the elevator dinged, indicating their stop. "It's one of my many talents, Carter. I'm a woman of mystery and intrigue. Didn't
Nick gave her a grateful look. "I owe you one. 'Cause, had you not told me, I would've missed it."
only response was to stick her tongue out before Billy intercepted them and guided them through the few fans that were waiting
by the back exit of the hotel. Nick kindly signed a few autographs until the fans dispersed, and the three jogged over to
the car that they had rented for the evening. The friendly banter continued as they rode to the arena where Linkin Park was
planning to perform. The hi-light of the trip came when they opted to listen to the radio, and Alli began belting along with
one of the mainstream *NSYNC songs for Nick's benefit. By the time they finally arrived at the parking garage, Nick was sitting
with his fingers stuffed in his ears while Alli gleefully panted the chorus of O-Town's "Liquid Dreams". Billy eyed her in
amusement from the driver's seat.
"You know, Alli, I don't know what scares me more--the fact that you know the song,
or the fact that you sound better than whoever's singing it."
Nick chortled from the backseat. "Thank you! Someone
recognizes that O-Town can't sing!"
Alli laughed. "Oh, I knew that. It's more fun to watch you turn purple, though."
Nick glared at her immediately. "I did not turn purple."
Alli grinned. "Did too."
"Did not!" Nick
flinched as soon as the words came out, hating himself for allowing Alli to manipulate his maturity so easily. His embarrassment
increased when Billy winked at him, having just parked the car.
"Nick, man, trust me...you did."
as they piled out of the car, but Alli had already forgotten about Nick's complexion and was eagerly eyeing the stadium. "So
who's the opening act? Do we know?"
Nick, though still bitter, couldn't help but crack a small smile at her obvious
enthusiasm. "No, we don't."
Alli poked him in the side with a smile. "Aw, not even a guess? Come on, Carter, I know
you can be more upbeat than that. And the whole pouting thing just doesn't suit you, okay? I don't even think Aaron does that
Nick rolled his eyes good-naturedly. He knew that she was taunting him for the sake of getting him to
smile, and he would've been angry with her for her childish attitude, but the sparkle in her eyes made it difficult for him
to be hostile towards her. She was entirely too happy to be there for him to ruin her evening.
He finally relented,
and the three laughed together as they made their way into the arena and to their seats. Not long after they sat down, the
lights faded to black and a single blue light shone from the stage set.
"Hey, Al?" Nick yelled towards her, trying
to get her attention over the screams of the audience. He smiled when she yelled back.
"I think you're
about to find out who the opening act is!"
Though he couldn't see her, he could picture the sarcastic look on her
face as she shot back her retort. "No, you think? Hey, maybe you've got a few brains in there after all..."
his eyes, but he could't contain his smile. Someone had begun playing guitar riffs already, and he could feel Alli bouncing
with excitement. As the opening chords to an unfamiliar rock song echoed throughout the arena, he reached an arm out and pulled
her to his side in a hug.
"Thanks for coming with me, girl. This is gonna be a blast."
Alli was entirely surprised
by the gesture, but she didn't show it. Instead, she gave him squeeze around the waist and laughed in his ear. "Thanks for
bringing me along, Carter. I am so ready to rock..."
She trailed off, and she could feel him laughing against her.
They pulled away almost immediately and Alli began bobbing her head with the music, but Nick's touch still lingered, and she
shivered. It's been so long since he's done that... As soon as the thought registered, a smile spread across her
face and she let out a whoop of excitement. Oh, God...what if he's actually starting to get back to normal?
song was done almost as quickly as it had started, and the band introduced itself as Cypress Hill. Alli had heard of them
before, and she was mildly impressed by their hard-edged sound and intense lyrics. They played for a good twenty minutes before
their set finally closed, and Alli cheered loudly for them in the end. She had to admit, though, that regardless of how good
they were, she was even more eager to see Linkin Park on the stage. The lights went back on for a brief while, and Nick excused
himself to the bathroom. To keep herself entertained, Alli engaged in conversation with the couple to her right. They were
a sweet pair of rock fans that were celebrating their one-year anniversary (which Alli thought was adorable). When Nick finally
returned, he offered her a Coke and arched an eyebrow expectantly.
"Were you good?" he asked in a stern voice, eliciting
a chuckle from Alli's newfound friends. Alli gave him an innocent grin as she took the Coke.
"I was perfect! Well,
except for this one girl who wanted to tango with me...I told her it'd be okay as long as we didn't get in anyone's way, so
we went back and forth down the aisles a few times until the security guy told us we had to sit down."
contorted in horror until he caught sight of Billy laughing behind them, at which point his eyes narrowed. "Al, you're such
Alli rolled her eyes. "Right back atcha, Carter. And, FYI, I wouldn't have to be such a shit if you'd actually
trust me." She offered an odd smile to her friends, who laughed. "I was just talking to the nice people about how nice and
quiet it was without you." Her expression changed, and she glared at him maternally. "Were you good?"
He gave her
a wink as the lights dimmed again. "Baby, I'm always good."
She snorted indignantly, but it was too dark for her to
see Nick slipping a piece of paper in his back pocket. Immediately, her attention was drawn towards the stage, which was now
lit with an eerie green light. She could see the members of Linkin Park getting settled, and a scream of anticipation raced
through the audience. Alli grinned as Mike and Chester stepped up to the microphones, and a shiver raced down her spine.
Forfeit the game before somebody else
Takes you out of the frame
Puts your name to shame
Cover up your face
can't run the race
The pace is too fast
You just won't last*
Immediately, the opening riffs to "Points of Authority" screamed
out from the stage, and the audience went wild. Alli lost herself entirely in the music, too excited to notice how much the
lyrics seemed to relate to her relationship with the guy beside her. The entire concert was a mess of music and madness, and
she took it all in eagerly. With every song, her head tossed to the beat, sending her reddish curls askew. She didn't care
who was or wasn't watching; nothing mattered anymore but the music, and she was glad to escape her own life for a few hours
while the angst and anger of Linkin Park washed over her. When "In The End" began to play, she rapped along with everyone
around her, and even attempted to nudge Nick into dancing with her. He seemed lost in conversation with the woman next to
him, but she barely thought anything of it.
As far as Alli--and many other screaming fans, for that matter--was concerned,
the encore came all too soon, and she hung onto every beat of "Crawling" with a joyful longing, knowing that it couldn't last
forever. When the last chords rang out through the arena and the band yelled its thank-you's, she let out a sad but contented
sigh and turned to face Nick, ready to launch herself at him and thank him profusely for letting her go.
a quick smile with the couple beside her and whirled around to face Nick, but the sight before her wiped the giddy smile almost
completely off her face. He was still talking to that girl.
She waited patiently as the lights flickered on again
and the crowd began to disperse, calling good-bye to the couple she'd managed to talk to. She tried to entertain herself further
by chatting with Billy (who had been sitting behind them for the entire concert and had enjoyed it immensely), but fifteen
minutes later, she was growing impatient.
"Yo, Carter, party's over," she informed him loudly, tapping him on the
shoulder. He held up an index finger, indicating that she wait, but she was too annoyed to pay any heed. "Dude, I'm serious,
okay? It's time to go. Billy and I are going to leave you here to fend for your pretty boy self if you don't get a move on."
The comment certainly got his attention, but it didn't get Alli the answer she wanted to hear. Nick turned around
with an apologetic smile and patted her shoulder.
"Hey, Al?" he began tentatively, his voice slightly hoarse from
yelling to the girl over the crowd. "Listen, Bailey," he paused to gesture to said girl, "and I are gonna go get some coffee
at a place around here, so why don't you let Billy take you on back to the hotel? Bri and Leigh said that they'd probably
get back early, so the three of you could hang out or something."
Alli's jaw fell open in disbelief as she stared
at him with wide eyes. When it finally registered that he was serious, she began formulating an effective speech with which
to tell him off, but her ability to think clearly was somewhat hindered by a tiny, knowing pain in her chest. She groaned
with the recognition of defeat and sighed heavily. Despite her anger, she knew that nothing she could say to him would have
any sort of effect, and that hurt more than his eagerness to ditch her. She managed a bitter smile and sucked in a deep breath.
"Fine," she agreed in a low tone, and then she spun on her heel and began walking in the other direction while Billy
made plans to pick Nick up later. Though he was detained, it wasn't long before Nick's burly bodyguard caught up with her
and laid a friendly hand on her shoulder. For all of his ability to be intimidating, Billy truly was a nice guy, and he'd
been friends with Alli since he'd begun working for Nick. When she finally turned around to face him, he thought he could
see tears in her eyes, and his heart went out to her.
"Listen, Alli, I can't speak for Nick, but I know that..."
let loose with a bitter laugh and looked up at him. "You know what, Bill? Save it. I know you're just trying to defend him,
but I'm sick of pretending that he deserves it."
With that, she turned slowly around and began walking towards the
parking garage with Billy following closely behind.