Bed of Roses
Chapter Twenty-Nine
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight
Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve
Chapter Thirteen
Chapter Fourteen
Chapter Fifteen
Chapter Sixteen
Chapter Seventeen
Chapter Eighteen
Chapter Nineteen
Chapter Twenty
Chapter Twenty-One
Chapter Twenty-Two
Chapter Twenty-Three
Chapter Twenty-Four
Chapter Twenty-Five
Chapter Twenty-Six
Chapter Twenty-Seven
Chapter Twenty-Eight
Chapter Twenty-Nine
Chapter Thirty
Chapter Thirty-One
Chapter Thirty-Two
Chapter Thirty-Three
Chapter Thirty-Four
Chapter Thirty-Five
Chapter Thirty-Six
Chapter Thirty-Seven
Chapter Thirty-Eight
Chapter Thirty-Nine
Chapter Forty
Chapter Forty-One
Chapter Forty-Two
Chapter Forty-Three
Chapter Forty-Four
Chapter Forty-Five
Chapter Forty-Six
Chapter Forty-Seven

There's something inside me that pulls beneath the surface
Consuming, confusing
This lack of self-control I fear is never-ending
Controlling, I can't seem
To find myself again, the walls are closing in
Without a sense of confidence
And I'm convinced that it's just too much pressure to take
I've felt this way before
So insecure

Dammit, dammit, dammit...

She wasn't sure if it was the rain or her tears clouding the windshield, but the road kept bleeding together. The sound of the engine roared in her ears as she sped down the highway, unsure of where she was going or what she was doing. She was only aware of one thing.

It hurt.

It wasn't supposed to hurt, but it hurt enough that her fingers were shaking and her knuckles were white as she gripped the steering wheel. It hurt enough that the lump in her throat was too large to swallow and her heart was too heavy to lift. It hurt enough that she was numb with it. All of her concentration was focused on staying on the road and staying sane.

She was doing a pretty good job of the former. She wasn't so sure about the latter, though.

She had run out of her father's house quickly, managing to keep her cool long enough to jump in the car and fill the car with Nick's voice. However, the burned CD hadn't done nearly as much good as she'd hoped. The first song to reach her ears had been "Heaven".

Sometime around then, she had discarded her solemn vow not to cry over her mother. Discarded? More like shot to shit.

Now, she wasn't really sure what she was crying about anymore. She just knew that it hurt.

It wasn't supposed to hurt.

She was used to control, used to cynicism and obvious power over her emotions. She had never been a woman of emotional breakdowns. Drama wasn't her forte. Truth to tell, she preferred the stoic approach that all of the men in her life seemed to take. She'd never felt any need to be dramatic and hysterical.

She was definitely outdoing herself tonight.

She wasn't sure where she was going or how far she'd driven. She just knew that she needed to get away. She wasn't even sure what she was running from, but she knew that she wasn't going fast enough. Even above Nick's passionate rendition of the Bryan Adams's classic, she could still hear herself thinking.

She really didn't want to think.

There was rain and there was a scream of agony and then there was a scream of anger. There was a frown that she would remember for the rest of her life and a strong arm that lifted her up and away from her safe place. There were tears that fell in her curls, angry words that echoed along the hallway as she was laid gently down on the bed. There was a door slamming, and then more angry words and another scream.

She closed her eyes a moment to try and stop the tears, but they only flowed more quickly.

She slammed her hand angrily down on the steering wheel, unable to see again. Dammit, I was NOT supposed to remember!

But she did. It was like knives and tears and blood and screams all at once, whirling inside her head. She could see the needle, hear Daddy screaming. "No, don't touch! It hurts, Al, don't touch. You'll get hurt."

She groaned aloud, not trusting herself to form any coherent words from outside the confines of her aching head. Why in the HELL does he always have to be so fucking right?

She hadn't touched the needle. So why does it hurt so much? Because I remember?

She could see white lights and greenish-blue objects whizzing by, see the neon green light in the left corner and the red in the right where she had bitten her fingernail below the quick. It hurt there, too, but she would've rather felt that pain than whatever was ripping her apart.

She swore aloud, knowing that she couldn't see clearly anymore, and drove to the shoulder of the road before hitting the hazard lights and leaning back into the seat, closing her eyes for a moment and letting the tears course down her cheeks.

It hurts it hurts it hurts it hurts it hurts it hurts it's not supposed to hurt be strong fight this you can win if you forget that losing is a possibility because it isn't she doesn't deserve your tears and you don't deserve her hurt why doesn't she hurt as much as I do she deserves it she hated us and God Daddy hurt more than I ever could but I think I don't want to feel anymore this is worse than forgetting no wonder he wouldn't let me remember...

She gasped at the rush of nonsense and clutched her head. She didn't need this. Not now.

Breathe, Al. In. Out. In. Out. In. Out.

For some reason, the sudden burst of oxygen only hurt that much more. She couldn't even see through the sheen of tears that clouded her vision, and she was physically shaking.

"Oh, once in your life you find someone...who will turn your world around...bring you up when you're feeling down..."

Before she even knew what she was doing, she had her cell phone in her hands, fingers trembling uncontrollably as she dialed the now-familiar number. She wasn't sure why she was calling him. She just knew that she didn't want to be alone. She was afraid of the thoughts that would come, afraid of the darkness and the tears and the pain.

Besides, there was always the chance that he would understand. Something warned her that she wouldn't be disappointed.

It didn't matter, even as she placed the phone to her ear and listened chokingly for the ringing tones. She was angry enough with herself.

She was angry enough to admit that she needed him.

Somehow, though, it still hurt.

*     *     *     *     *

He was absolutely furious. He had been in good spirits, but they had dissipated with the announcement that the Boys no longer had the scheduled day off the next day. Of course, the three-hour photo shoot that preceded the ten-minute phone interview about the length of a certain male organ of his certainly hadn't helped much. His nerves were shot, and his temper was already flared and ready to explode. What he needed was a good, stiff drink, but he had to be at the venue in half an hour and wasn't about to get tipsy before going onstage. He didn't need to corrupt any younger audience members with lousy behavior.

He really didn't feel like being responsible, though. He was tired of being understanding. He was tired of being tolerable. He was just tired of being tired.

He flopped back against the bed, prepared to doze for fifteen minutes or so, when his cell phone rang.

Damn it all to fucking hell! What on earth could they possibly want now?

With a groan and a frown, he snatched up the phone and pressed the "Talk" button without checking the caller ID. "Carter," he snapped, waiting impatiently for the person on the other end to say something. When he heard a sniffle, however, his features contorted in confusion.


Oh, shit.

He knew that voice. Despite the tears--where did those come from?--and the anguish, he knew exactly who his caller was. However, had the tears not given it away, the nickname would've. She'd only called him "Nicky" once before, and that was right after her faithful old golden retriever had been hit by a car.

He cringed. Something was terribly wrong. He kept his voice soft when he responded, though.


For some reason, the mention of her name seemed to bring more tears, and his heart went out to her. He wasn't sure why she was so upset, but he couldn't stand to hear her crying. Alli never cried, and so the sound was almost foreign to him. What kind of friend am I that I can't help her?

"Alli, honey, why don't you tell me what's wrong?"

Another sniffle. "Oh, God, Nicky...everything. Everything. She's like me, and I've treated her like complete and total shit, and..."

He sighed heavily, all previous anger forgotten. She was obviously in pain, and it killed him to hear her sound so defeated, but a tiny part of his heart soared in triumph at the thought that she had called him, of all people. Maybe a part of her does still trust me...

"Alli, hon, can you tell me who 'she' is?"

A shaky sigh emerged from the other end. "Holly."

He nodded slowly. "And who's Holly?"

"Dad's girlfriend."

Since when does John have a girlfriend? He wanted to ask, wanted to display the tactless, blunt nature of his that she knew so well, but it wasn't the time or place. She needed him to listen, needed him to understand, and he wasn't about to pepper his role as the counselor with questions. He had a feeling that she was too distraught to offer the majority of the answers he was looking for.

"So she's like you?"

Another sniffle and a suppressed sob. "Yes! God, Carter, I figured she was perfect! I mean, she's got these bright blue eyes and this cute blonde hair and she looks like something right out of the Barbie catalog and she loves him. She loves him and I hate it, but it's not fair to her and I don't like to hate anyone and..." She paused to gasp for breath and released a shaky sigh. "Nicky, she's not perfect. She's like me."

He leaned back against the headboard and settled between the pillows, preparing himself for the long conversation. His brow was furrowed in concern, and his blue eyes were surely shining with sympathy and sorrow. He hated hearing her cry, but somehow he knew that he needed it. She called me. She called ME, dammit, and I'm going to be there. I'm not going to screw it up this time. He took
a deep breath and closed his eyes.

"Al, hon, why don't you tell me what happened, okay?"

He could hear her uneven breathing through the phone as her bottom lip quivered from the force of her sobs. "O...okay."

He cracked a small, rueful smile. "How exactly did you find out that she's like you?"

He could hear the deep breath on the other end, and he sighed with her. She was sighing in despair, but he was sighing in relief, because the deep breath meant that she was finally starting to calm down.

"I...I was supposed to go over to Daddy's for dinner tonight because he's lonely and Holly's out of town and it started out fine, because he made spaghetti and things were back to normal and then I mentioned her name." She paused for another deep breath, and her tone dropped until she spoke barely above a whisper. "I mentioned her name, Carter, and he lit up. I hate that he lights up every time I say her name, even though I think I understand now. Every time she walks into the room his smiles from the inside out, and it hurts to see that and I don't know why because I'm his daughter and I should want him to be happy, right?"

He sighed. "Al, it's okay to be upset about it. It's always been just you and him, and you don't like change. No one expects you to jump right into it." He wasn't sure where the words were coming from, but it seemed like the right thing to say. He owed it to her to be honest, and he hated the feelings of guilt that weighed heavily in her voice.

"Right." That time, her voice was more of a reverent whisper. "You understand."

He hated that she sounded surprised, but he didn't exactly blame her. He was just thrilled that he was finally doing the job that he should have been doing all along.

"So, anyway..." She sniffled. "He lit up, and I got angry. He looked so happy, though! I mean, it was only fair to him that I engage in small talk about the woman because the truth is that he loves her and I don't know a damned thing about her and that bothers me and..." She shook her head, trying to keep the fresh wave of tears from falling. She could feel them pricking the backs of her eyes, feel the tip of her nose stinging, but she didn't want to lose control again. She hated losing control. "And I really think that maybe I didn't want to know anything about her because that makes her real and if she's real, then I have to get used to her."

"And you don't want to get used to her."

Her voice exploded in his ear. "NO! Can you fucking blame me? We went through enough shit with the last woman that Dad decided to go and fall in love with, and there are days when I wonder if he isn't still recovering. People shouldn't have that much power over people. People shouldn't be able to make other people hurt so much that they aren't even sure if they can get out of bed. People aren't supposed to be able to inspire so much fucking pain that their loved ones decide that it'd be better not to feel."

Nick flinched at the volume of her voice, but the anger didn't surprise him. He was one of the few who knew exactly what had caused Alli's mother to leave, and he understood the pain behind the anger, but he could also hear that Alli was fighting herself. She had always fought her mother inside of her, but she hadn't ever tried to fight her own feelings. However, he had an idea of what brought on the anger at herself.

"You don't think that Holly would inspire that kind of pain anymore, though. What changed your mind?"

Damn him. Damn him for putting me through hell and making me think he didn't care. Damn him for acting like an asshole and making me turn the other cheek. Damn him for letting me walk away, and DAMN him for coming back. Damn him for caring again. He's not supposed to still be able to read me. But he could, and it was oddly comforting.

She was quiet again when she spoke. "I told you. She's like me." Before he could ask any questions, she continued. "We were talking about her. He was smiling, dammit, and I was enduring it because I love him enough to sit there in that awkward place listening to that unfamiliar tension and make small talk about her. So he tells me that she went to visit her father in Orlando, and I'm retarded enough to ask if her parents are divorced. I don't really want to know, because at that point I don't really care, and yet there's still that part of me that needs the concrete proof that she's not perfect so I can let him know that she's going to leave and she's not worth his time because he doesn't need to get hurt again. But, dammit, it turns out that her mother died." She paused to let loose an ugly, bitter laugh that made Nick flinch on the other end. He could still hear her tears, but he hated the pain that crept into the normally beautiful sound of her laughter. "Guess what she died from, Carter?"

He could see the light bulb going on over his head as everything clicked into place, and he rubbed a tired hand over his features at the knowledge of what had finally made Alli snap. When he dared to answer her, his voice was gentle and fearful all at once.

"A drug overdose."

She groaned, but he could hear the tears falling again. When she sniffled, the usual sarcasm was dampened with reality, and he had the overwhelming urge to crawl through the phone so that he could take her in his arms and hold her, because she sounded like she needed a hug. It's been too damn long...

Another sniffle. "Pretend that I'm giving you a prize, okay?"

He cracked a small sad smile and inwardly cursed himself for his inability to be there. She didn't need the distance right then. "What drug, Al?"

"Morphine." Another sniffle, and he could hear her choking on the sobs that she refused to release. "She had cancer, and she couldn't take the pain anymore."

That time both hands found his face, and he dropped his head a moment. "Oh, God..."

She choked again on her tears. "Yeah, that was my reaction."

After a moment of silence, he opened one eye and sighed. "That's not the only thing bothering you, though."

"Nicky, he said that...he said that she understood. He said that she understood me. That we're like each other." In mere seconds, she was more hysterical than she'd been when she had first called. "Damn it, Carter, do you know how much I wanted to forget? I HAD forgotten! He fucking brought it all back up to the surface."

The one eye closed and his hands found his face again as his heart ached in understanding. "Your mother."

"No, that BITCH that married my father." She cried openly that time, tears running down her cheeks and in her hair and onto the phone clutched tight in her hands. "I don't have a mother, remember? She left."

He sighed heavily, trying to keep himself from acknowledging the few tears that he felt pricking his own eyes. Dammit, Carter, men don't cry. "What hurts, Al?"

Her voice was whisper-soft and tearstained. "I remember. God, Nicky, I don't want to be like her, ever, but I didn't want to remember either. He tried so hard to make me forget, but it didn't do one bit of difference. It still hurts."

He knew--well, he knew more than anyone else. Over the years, he had gotten bits and pieces of the story through Alli's trademark sarcasm until he could put everything together, but he'd never heard it in the emotionally painful burst that she was about to let loose with. He wasn't any less willing to listen, but he knew. In a way, he was glad that she had called him, because he wasn't sure that anyone else needed to hear the story. It made him angry enough. And then it made him want to quell the pain, because he knew that under the sarcasm, under the eye-rolls and shrugs, there was a river of pain that had yet to be acknowledged.

He hadn't ever expected to see it, though.


Dammit. Kevin.

"Nick, man, it's time to go!"

AJ. God, don't they see that I can't leave her now? This isn't fair! She had called him. She needed him, needed his friendship. Beneath it all, she still trusted him, and he was ready to be trusted.

But I can't be there. Fuck.

"Nicky? Who is that?" He could hear the suspicion in her voice, and it killed him.

"It's the guys. They..." Gulp. Way to go, Carter. She needs you, and the fucking career gets in the way.

God, I wish I could be there for her.
"They need me at the venue, Al. I am so sorry..."

She sighed heavily. "No, it's okay. You have a job to do."

He nodded. "You're right. I'm supposed to be your best friend."

Any hope of keeping her tears at bay vanished after that. He was being perfect. He was being absolutely wonderful, everything she'd hoped, but she was too upset to find the words to tell him.

She just hoped that he knew.

He cringed on the other line. He didn't want to do it, but he knew that he had to. It was only fair to her.

"Al, do me a favor okay?"

Sniffle. "O...okay."

He sighed. "Do you still have that CD that you burned?"

Cough. "Yeah."

"Can you turn on 'Heaven' really quickly?"

She choked on a sigh before answering. "It''s kinda on repeat right now."

He sighed again, this time with relief, and cracked a small smile. "Good. Look, Al, you really don't need to be alone right now, and you need someone who you can talk to. I wish to God that I could stay here and talk to you all night, because that's the only thing I want to do right now, but I have a job that doesn't let me make my own fucking decisions." He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. God, this is harder than it should be. I finally have her trust, and I have to hand her over to him. Why do I hate this so much? "Do you think you can drive to David's house? He'd let you talk, Al, and he'd let you get this out. He loves you just as much as I do." He knew that. He just wasn't so sure why he hated the idea of it.

"I..." Another sniffle. "I think I can."

He nodded. "Good. Al, I'm really glad you called me tonight. If anything else comes up, don't hesitate to call again, okay? I'm here for you, girl. We're still best friends."

When she spoke, her voice was barely audible. "Thanks, Nicky."

And, somehow, he knew that she was thanking him for much more than just that declaration.

"You don't have to thank me, Al. You've always been my shoulder. I'll sing you a song tonight, okay?"

He could hear the rush of tears that followed. "I miss you."

He smiled slightly at the statement and his heart swelled a bit with the knowledge. He just hated how soft his voice became when he finally had to reply. "I miss you, too."

*     *     *     *     *


He groaned aloud. He'd only fallen asleep an hour ago. It was raining, it was late, he was exhausted, and he could've sworn he'd just heard the doorbell ringing.

It was not looking to be a good night.


Dammit. I didn't dream that

With a sigh, he pulled the covers up over his head and prayed that whoever it was would get the message and go away. Unfortunately, his prayers didn't seem to be top priority that night.


With an exasperated burst of breath, he crawled out of bed and padded to the front door in his white tee-shirt and boxers, prepared to give his caller a verbal lashing for refusing to leave him alone. However, the second he finally swung the door open, any and all thoughts of anger vanished and all that registered in his mid was the shivering girl on his doorstep.


Her bottom lip quivered as she delivered her answer. "I'm s-sorry for waking you up. I k-know it's late, b-but I n-needed to talk and he said you wouldn't mind and..."

His features tightened in concern and he opened the door more widely, shooing her inside. "Good God, it's cold out there. Al, get in. You're going to catch a cold..."

She sniffled. "I'm dripping on your hardwood floor."

David rolled his eyes good-naturedly. "Do I look like I give a shit? Give me a second to get you a towel and some dry clothes, and we'll talk, okay?"


God, she's a mess.

He returned moments later with the promised items, handing them over gently while he studied her expression. Her teeth were chattering, her nose was red, and her face was white and wet with cold. However, by the looks of her puffy, reddened eyes, her face was wet with more than the furious rain outside.

She'd been crying. God, what the hell happened? Alli never cries...

While he pondered the matter, she disappeared to the bathroom to change. When she came back, wet clothes wrapped in the first towel and another draped around her shoulders and his sweat suit, he managed a small smile.

"So, what's up?"

She ignored the question. "I'm s-sorry."

He frowned, motioning for her to join him on the couch, which she did hesitantly. "What are you sorry for?"


He flinched inwardly, trying to keep his outward expression neutral. That didn't sound good. "Did something happen tonight?"

She was in no state to tell the whole story again, so she picked up where logical thought had left off last time she'd been able to think clearly. It had taken her three hours to drive to Orlando in the rain, and she hadn't been able to think of anything but Nick's voice and the images that floated through her mind that she had hoped to bury. "Doc...I remember. I didn't want to remember."

He pulled her back to his chest and wrapped his arms around her, hoping that the closeness would comfort her somehow. His voice was soft, just as Nick's had been only hours before. "What didn't you want to remember?"


He knew that she couldn't see his facial expression, so he didn't bother to hide his dread and disgust. The term was general to most, but it stood for a very specific person in Alli's eyes. He expelled a heavy breath and tried to quell the small feelings that rose in him when he realized exactly what Alli had been remembering.

Her mother.

Oh, shit.

Her mother had a name, but Alli never used it. If she didn't use it, it was more like the woman never existed, and she could pretend that her father hadn't been abandoned.

Unfortunately for Alli, the trust issue was still there, and David already had an idea of where the conversation was headed. After all, he had met Holly, and Alli was too reasonable to hate the woman forever. However, hating her would've probably been better for Alli's psyche.

"Do you want to talk about it?"

She sighed shakily. "No, I don't. Do I think I need to? Yeah. I'm so tired of carrying this around..."

David smiled gently. "Feel free to unload on me. I don't mind listening."

Neither did Nick. For some reason, she was still shaken by that encounter, though she was grateful for it. "Thanks."

They sat in silence for a moment, Alli still shivering in David's arms. She didn't necessarily want to talk, but at the same time she needed someone to listen. She hated the fact that everything had surfaced, but she didn't feel sane enough to deal with it on her own. Unfortunately, it was a story, and she needed to tell someone. The fact that Nick knew had made it easier because she already knew that he wouldn't judge. As for David...she wasn't as sure what his reaction would be, and it scared her.


Another sniffle. Dammit, I hate crying. "Yeah?"

She could hear his smile in his voice. "You're stalling."

Her tone held a slight bitterness as she responded. "No, I'm crying."

"Oh." What could he say to that?

Her voice was soft again. " you know how hard he tried to keep me from remembering? Do you know how much he did to help me forget? He tore up all of her pictures. I found them in a shoebox under his bed when I was about twelve, and it scared me because I didn't even know who she was. When I asked him, he was furious. He answered my questions, but the look in his eyes... He was mad at first, and then he started crying halfway through the explanation. At the time, I thought that was the first time I'd ever seen my father cry."

He frowned. "At the time?"

Alli bit her lip as more tears found their way down her cheeks. "He cried when she left too. I didn't remember then."

"But you remember now?"

She sighed. "Yes. And I feel like I've betrayed him in some way. I don't want to remember. When I remember, it hurts. She's a part of me, Doc. What if I start to act like her? What if I do something stupid that reminds him of her? What if I screw things up and end up just like she did? I don't ever want to make someone hurt like she made Daddy hurt. I hated her for so long because I could see all the pain in his eyes every time he talked about her."

David sighed heavily. "Al, I seriously doubt you remind your father of her."

She snorted. "I hope not. She stuck herself with needles and left them lying around for me to step on. She smoked weed out on the back porch every night and stubbed the cigarettes out in my sandbox. I thought they were bugs until I heard Daddy yelling at her for it."

His eyes closed as he tried to avoid imagining what kind of woman John Lacey had married. "Al, I'm sorry...that's not a childhood."

Her tone was bitterly sorrowful. "No, it's not. But I think she killed a part of him when she left."

David frowned. "Of course she did. He loved her."

A small sniffle. "She didn't deserve it."

"Does that matter?"

"YES!" Alli sat bolt upright and turned to face him, eyes blazing with anger. "Do you have any idea WHAT the hell she put him through? She was on so much shit that not even Daddy could keep track of her, and he blamed himself. He almost didn't have enough money to put me in school because she blew it all on drugs. Dammit, David, I was supposed to have fucking brain damage because she smoked the whole time she was pregnant! The day she left, she threw a fucking bottle at him, okay? She was piss-drunk and high on heroin, and she left the needle in my playpen. She slammed the door while he was pulling me out and telling me not to touch it. They were fighting about ME before she walked out. She didn't want a kid anymore, and she didn't like that he told her how to behave around me. She didn't WANT me, David! And it doesn't bother me, because I don't want her either, but it bugs the fucking shit out of me that she spent her death making him feel guilty for trying to be a good father. She left the place and drove the damn car into the lake because she was drunk. Her BAC was ridiculous when they finally found her. He had to go down to the flipping station to identify her because no one else cared enough to do it, and she was still wearing his ring. Do you have any idea what that must have done to him? That bitch put him through hell even after she died. I can't imagine what it's like to have to go home and tell your kid that Mommy killed herself because she was an idiot. I can't imagine what it's like to have your kid be GLAD that your wife died. She could've killed me, but she killed herself instead. She was the stupid one, but he felt guilty." Finally she fell back against the sofa and let the tears take over. "Sometimes, I'm glad he hates her. If he didn't, I'd feel really bad for doing it."

David sighed heavily. "I would tell you it's okay to hate her, but I think you know that."

Alli nodded. "Yeah, but it's not okay to hate Holly."

"Why would you hate Holly?"

Alli laughed bitterly and ended up choking on tears. "Doc, Holly's worse than being like Her. Holly's like me."

"How is that bad?"

"Hello? Holly never had a mother either, Doc. She doesn't know shit about children and taking care of them. Why do you think I want to be a teacher? I would be a mother, but I don't know how. As for love...all I know about wives is that they do indescribable amounts of emotional damage to their husbands. I don't know shit about being a girlfriend or a significant other. You remember."

David managed a tiny chuckle. "Al, you really weren't that bad."

Alli sighed heavily, all sarcasm gone. "Yeah, but you hadn't gone through all the shit that Dad's gone through."


"I really, really want to hate her, and I really, really want to find something to use as proof that she'll leave, but it scares me even more that she'll stay."

David's brow furrowed in curiosity. "Why?"

Alli groaned. "Because that would mean that I have to learn to trust her with Dad, and I'm not so sure I'm willing to do that just yet."

David sighed. "Maybe..." Oh, how to put this? "Maybe you don't have to trust her just yet. Maybe you have to be nice to her so that you can help her with him. Maybe you two can share him, and then you aren't really giving him away."

Her voice was barely a whisper when she spoke again, and the torn expression on her face was enough to break his heart. "But, Doc, what if she breaks his heart? What if she hurts him too?"

He smiled sadly at her. "Then you'll be there to pick up the pieces."

Her tears were falling more freely. God, where are they coming from? Why haven't they stopped yet? "I don't want to have pieces to pick up. He doesn't deserve to hurt."

David gave her a matter-of-fact look, trying to muster a small smile to keep her from crying. "Neither do you, Al. You can't let her get to you. She was a bitch, but she's gone."

She sniffled reluctantly. "I know."

David smiled sadly. "That means you have to let her go, Al."

She sighed. "I'm trying. It just hurts, because letting her go means that I had her in the first place, and that wasn't supposed to happen. Does that make sense?"

That time, David laughed. "You know, I think that's the first time you've ever asked me that question."

She managed to laugh through her tears, which were still flowing of their own free will. "Shut up."

They sat in silence for a few minutes after that. Alli was trying to regain her grip on emotional sanity, and David was trying to come to terms with everything he'd just heard. He wanted to hold her again, but it didn't seem as necessary anymore. With a sigh, he shook his head and leaned back into the leather of the over-stuffed couch, trying to relax. He was still exhausted. When he opened his eyes again, though, Alli was almost right in front of him.

"Listen, Doc...thanks for listening to me ramble tonight. I really needed that, and you're awesome for sitting through it. I know I woke you up, and I know you must be absolutely exhausted, but I appreciate it."

He gulped. Her lips were red and swollen from biting back her tears. Her eyelashes were still wet, and her eyes were slightly glassy from crying so much. Her curly hair was drying slowly, and the ringlets framed her face in a soft, feminine way that he couldn't describe. She looked so deliciously innocent, sitting there with an imploring but grateful expression on her face, and he felt his heart constrict as old feelings came rushing to the surface. Oh, God, of all times, not now...

"No problem."

Before either knew what was happening, their faces were inching closer and closer together, and David found himself closing his eyes in anticipation. Be it the emotion of the evening or Alli's fragile state, something seemed to have heightened the sexual tension in the room, and he suddenly had the overwhelming urge to kiss her. He hadn't intended to act on it--every bone in his body was screaming that it was wrong--but the fact that she was acting on it, that she had felt it too, rendered him speechless enough to refrain from movement. When her lips touched his, though, he seemed to melt into the kiss, and all logical thought flew out the window.

Oh, shit.

He seemed to be thinking that quite a lot that evening.

Her lips were like velvet. He'd forgotten how nice it was to kiss Alli, but was definitely grateful for the reminder. She was a harsh person by nature, but romance brought out her softer side, and he was often grateful for the change. He liked to know that he could calm her down. When her tongue grazed his bottom lip, he quickly opened his mouth to allow her entrance.

About that time, however, sanity was suddenly achieved and Alli's eyes popped open. When the two pulled away, both were breathless. His lips were swollen to match hers, and his eyes were glassy from the force of the kiss. Her eyes, however, were wide with fear. Despite the difference in feeling, though, both had the same thought running through their heads.


Alli was the first to speak as she ran a nervous hand through her hair. "Sorry, I shouldn't have done that. I were so sweet, and..."

He shook his head and hurried to his feet. "No, it's okay. I totally understand. It's been a long night. It's been a hard night."


God, she really hated that awkward feeling that was suddenly rearing its ugly head.

His eyebrows rose as he stared at the floor with one hand on his head. "Um, listen, it's still raining pretty hard..."

She nodded. "And it's pretty late..."

"And you really don't need to go out in that" He sighed and finally looked down at her. "Do you want to crash here on the sofa and just head home in the morning?"

She looked up hopefully. It would be awkward, but she was exhausted. The night's events had certainly taken their toll on her. "You wouldn't mind?"

He managed a nervous laugh. "Why would I mind?"

Bad question. At that moment, neither had the strength or the courage to answer it.

She looked up at him tentatively as she stood, his sweats hanging off her small frame. "Listen, doc, I really, really appreciate this. Are you sure it's no trouble?"

He smiled genuinely that time. "No trouble at all."

She returned the smile, and everything was fine again. "Thanks."

He chuckled. "Welcome. Now, I'll go grab you a blanket and a pillow, and then we can both get some well-needed sleep, okay?"

"Sounds good to me."

He turned and began walking quickly toward the door, taking the steps two at a time until he was back in his own bedroom. He sighed heavily and threw open the closet door, then brought a hand to his lips.

Hot damn, that woman can kiss.

He shook his head and grabbed a blanket and pillow as promised. They had smiled at each other. They were good friends. It had been a moment of awkwardness after a long night of emotional trauma. He was an adult now, and he could handle this. After all, it certainly didn't seem to be bothering Alli. Yeah, "seem" being the key word there. He really didn't want to give her something else to ignore. Of course, they'd smiled at each other, which meant that everything was fine again.

Fine. Right. Sure...

They didn't have much of a choice, though. Everything had to be fine. They were friends, and that mattered more. Besides, he had a feeling that the problems with Nick were partially a side effect of way too much sexual tension. He groaned aloud at the thought.

If he hurts her again, I'll...

He shook his head again and moved to go back downstairs. He owed Alli a blanket and a pillow, after all, and he needed sleep. He didn't need to think anymore that night. His brain hurt too much to sort through anything else.

He was too exhausted to think anymore. They both were.

It had been a long night.


lyrics and music by Linkin Park