Bed of Roses
Chapter Thirty-Two
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

I cannot take this anymore
I'm saying everything I've said before
All these words, they make no sense
I've found bliss in ignorance
The less I hear, the less you'll say
You'll find that out anyway
Just like before
Everything you say to me
Takes me one step closer to the edge, and I'm about to break

"You know, it's funny. See, for a while there, I was actually starting to think you were a good guy. Now, of course, I'm beginning to think that you're the Spawn of Satan again." A pause. "Okay, either that, or the Spawn of Jack Daniels, and that's my fucking territory. Now, what the hell is up your ass?"

Nick growled petulantly and stared out at the dance floor. He wanted to be back in the arms of that pretty redhead that he'd found earlier, but AJ had found him too soon. Now, instead of getting kisses like fire, he was getting smacked upside the head by his annoying bandmate. He rolled his eyes and downed the rest of his drink, praying desperately for anyone to walk towards the bar and knock AJ out. Wait, we have a show tomorrow night

Okay, maybe the desired visitor shouldn't knock AJ out. But someone could at least distract him long enough for Nick to make an escape. He groaned aloud at the thought and waved the bartender over for another shot of something strong.

"Stop. You're drunk already--you don't need anymore alcohol."

Nick sighed belligerently. "I'm not dunk." He paused to shake his head. "Drunk. I'm not drunk."

AJ threw his hands up in exasperation. "And, finally, we learn why the kid isn't an actor. He's just ignorant enough to pull off an act."

Nick rolled his eyes for what had to be the infinite time that evening. "Okay, my head is fucking splitting open, so why don't you try being direct?"

AJ leveled a stern gaze at his friend. "I thought you weren't drunk."

"I'm not," Nick muttered. He cast a sideways glance at AJ. "You're a dick, you know that?"

AJ shrugged nonchalantly. "Takes one to know one."

"That is such bullshit."

AJ chortled. "Carter, you don't even know what it means."

The bartender arrived with the desired shot, and Nick accepted it gratefully. "Yes, I do." He drained the shot glass in one gulp. "And don't fushing call me Carter."

AJ raised an eyebrow skeptically. "'Fushing'?"

Nick groaned. "Why the hell are you here again? Don't you have someone else to bother tonight?"

AJ shook his head. "No. Amanda left so she could get back to work."

Nick snorted and gazed angrily down into the empty glass. "I miss her already."

AJ raised the other eyebrow and stared at the wooden bar carefully. "She's not the only one you miss..."

One look at Nick's reddening face told AJ all he needed to know. Of course, the obvious sound of a shot glass on the wooden table said plenty as well. Bingo.

"What the fuck is that supposed to mean?"

AJ grinned. "Hey, you said it right this time."

Nick's blue eyes blazed. "AJ, cut the bullshit and fucking answer me."

AJ did his best to pull off innocent. "I forgot the question."

Nick's eyes narrowed as he reached for the full glass that had just been placed within his reach. "Like hell you did, Alex..."

At the sound of his other name, AJ winced. Shit. "I was just saying that maybe there are other girls you're missing."

Nick looked up tiredly as he sipped the second shot. No use in letting it go to waste just because AJ was ticking him off. "Is that another pathetic crack at my love life?"

AJ chuckled. "Don't you mean your lust life, Nicky?"

Nick's response was an indignant snort, and AJ sighed heavily.

"Okay, bad choice of words. Maybe there's another girl that you're missing. You know, singular girl. One girl. Uno..."

Nick shot a disbelieving look in his friend's direction. "Yeah, AJ, I get the point. And, no, there's not another girl I'm missing."

AJ took a swig of his beer before firing his next question casually. "Not even Alli?"

Nick choked on his shot, and AJ smirked triumphantly.

"I'm not even gonna dignify that with a response," the younger man coughed out, and AJ shook his head.

"You know what's really sad?"

Nick groaned, trying desperately to regain the ability to breathe without sounding like a dying furnace. "I'm scared to ask."

AJ ignored him. "It's really fucking sad when people won't even acknowledge their feelings for another person."

Nick's doubtful look returned as he looked AJ over. "You know, if that was supposed to be an attempt at subtlety, it really sucked."

AJ rolled his eyes. "So I don't do subtle well. Would you rather I go for blunt?"

Nick chortled. "Yeah, like you'd listen if I said no."

"Okay then, here's blunt." AJ grabbed Nick by the shoulder and shook him. "You are in love with Alli."

Nick's eyes grew to twice their size. "W-w-what did you just say?"

AJ's gaze remained firmly fixed on Nick's wide eyes. "You. Are. In. Love. With. Alli."

Nick exhaled a large breath that he didn't even know he'd been holding. He hated the fact that his heart was suddenly beating in double-time. "That's what I thought you said." He shook his head incredulously and stared down into his drink. "Now I know you're fucking insane. I am NOT in love with Alli."

AJ nodded reluctantly, waving a hand. "Fine, fine. You're in like with Alli."

Nick peered curiously at AJ, suddenly filled with mock concern. "Are you on crack?"

AJ batted Nick's hand away from his face. "No."

"Then what the fuck gave you the idea that I'm"

AJ smiled smugly at Nick's stuttering. Could he be any more obvious? "Love?"

"Yeah, that," Nick agreed. "Why the hell would I be in that with Alli?!"

AJ groaned in disbelief. "Oh, so you're telling me that there's another reason that you're sitting at a bar halfway to piss-drunk and ticked?"

Nick sighed slowly. "Well, Brian is getting married..."

AJ rolled his eyes in exasperation. "Okay, I know I don't still have 'dumbass' written on my forehead."

Nick shrugged. "Maybe."

"You actually expect me to buy that shit?"

Nick frowned and began swirling his drink around. "For your information, Brian's plans of marriage ave haring a very trau...trau...BAD effect on me!"

AJ glanced doubtfully at his friend. "Oh, so the slurring and the messed-up brainwaves have nothing to do with those empty bottles on the counter next to you?"

Nick groaned. "I am upset about Brian. I love Brian. I don't want him to go away."

AJ sighed. "Nick, he's not going away. He just wants to get married. He hasn't even fucking proposed yet, though, so chill out." He stared intently at the younger man for a moment. "Besides, it's not like you didn't see this coming. He and Barbie are already attached at the hip."

Nick sighed heavily. "I hate you."

AJ managed a hopeful smile. "Does this mean you're going to stop kissing me?"

Nick frowned more deeply. "Maybe I'll just start throwing things at you instead."

AJ nodded thoughtfully. "It would definitely do some good to eliminate those gay rumors..."

Nick rolled his eyes. "AJ, either find a decent topic or shut the hell up and let me dance with Red-haired Chick."

AJ chuckled. "Okay, then, let's talk about Alli."

Nick drank the shot so quickly that it burned his throat even more than usual. He winced at the pain. "Fuck."

AJ's eyebrows shot up. "Is that really what you were planning to do with her?!"

"AJ, quit being a dumb shit."

AJ chuckled again. "Fine. When did you find out you liked her?"

Nick rolled his eyes. "Contrary to popular belief, I'm not stupid enough to fall for that."

"But you do like her?"

Nick sighed heavily. "Look, AJ, I really don't want to talk about Alli." However, another shot is really starting to sound good...

Far be it from AJ to actually take the hint. "Hey, what do you think of this David guy that she's gotten so close to?"

Nick forced himself to swallow down the odd feeling that always seemed to surface with the mention of David. "Why does it matter what I think of David? We all used to be pretty good friends."

AJ nodded in mock belief. "Yeah, didn't Alli used to date him at one point?"

He had to bite back a smile when he saw the muscles in Nick's jaw tighten.

"Yeah, they dated through high school."

AJ somehow managed to maintain an indifferent front. "That's pretty cool that they're still close after a break-up."

Nick frowned and waved to the bartender to serve him again. "They're not that close."

AJ shot a pointed look in Nick's general direction. "Well, they're close enough that Al felt comfortable kissing him, aren't they?"

Nick began searching the bar anxiously for another drink. He didn't even care what kind of drink, as long as it could make him forget, make him ignorant and foolish and strong and indifferent. He didn't want to have to fight back the uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach, and he really didn't want to keep up his side of AJ's twisted conversation anymore.

"She was upset."

AJ shrugged. "Maybe she still loves him."

Nick shook his head fervently. "Why the hell would she..." Nick paused, and his eyes widened again. "Wait, LOVE?!"

AJ bit his bottom lip to keep from laughing at Nick's cluelessness. "Okay, you're right. Not love, like."

Nick arched an eyebrow. "You really think she cares about him like that?"

AJ imitated Nick's expression perfectly. "Do you?"

Nick grabbed the drink from the bartender thankfully and drained it in one gulp. "I think the real question is not what I think, but whether or not I care."

AJ laughed lightly. "No, I already know the answer to that one."

Nick's head was spinning from the effects of the alcohol, and suddenly AJ had triplets. " must be really smarsh. How do you knoooooooow?"

AJ groaned inwardly, knowing that he was going to have to answer to Kevin for letting Nick get drunk. On the other hand, Nick wasn't drunk and occupied. He stared at the ceiling a moment and began trying to figure out how many bonus points he'd get for getting Nick drunk without letting him hang onto a pretty redhead the whole time.

" do you knooooow?!"

AJ cringed. "Hey, kid, silence is golden."

"Anshwer me" He knew he was slurring his words, but he didn't care anymore. As long as he was drunk, he wouldn't have to think about Alli. As far as he was concerned, she'd done enough to him already.

AJ sighed heavily. "First off, I've never seen you down a shot that quickly in my entire life. Secondly? You were starting to become a good guy again, and you were doing it for her."

Nick shook his head so forcefully that he got dizzy. "No. You're WRONG."

Before AJ could retort, Nick walked off (albeit a bit clumsily) into the crowd on the dance floor in search of the redhead. He continued to nurse his beer while he kept an eye on Nick, but he wasn't necessarily worried about the younger man anymore. He'd seen the look in Nick's eyes the moment Alli's name was mentioned, and that was enough for him. Even as he continued to play babysitter, he couldn't help the smile that played at his lips.

"Well, Panda, get ready for a week of mad, passionate sex, because that dumb shit is definitely in love."

*     *     *     *     *

"You're looking a little too happy tonight, you know? It's starting to scare me."

Alli pouted from her position by the stove. "I'm insulted! So, now that I've played damsel in distress, I'm not allowed to be happy?"

David winked at her. "Yeah, something like that."

Alli rolled her eyes and went back to stirring the Hamburger Helper on the stove. "You'd better stop teasing me, Doc. Remember, I have the power to leave you hungry."

David arched an eyebrow. "I'm trembling," he retorted in monotone, and Alli finally laughed.

"So you aren't even going to ask why I'm excited?"

David flinched. "You're acting all girly. I'm scared. Why would I want to know what's warped you?"

Alli ignored him. "Well, see, I got to talk to all of the girls today, and it seems that not only is Brian being weird and acting distant towards Leighanne, but Carter is back to his girl-a-night routine."

David's other eyebrow rose with the first. "So that's why he hasn't called you for the past four days?"

Alli groaned, and the saccharine smile finally crumbled. "Yes. Just when I think he's back to good, the pimp goes and screws it up."

David nodded his agreement. "Yeah, literally."

Alli shot him a glare. "You're not helping."

"What happened to the sunshine wedged up your ass?"

Alli groaned and abandoned the Hamburger Helper long enough to cover her face with her hands. "It flew out when I decided to quit ignoring that thunderstorm in my stomach."

David chuckled lightly and wrapped an arm around her shoulders soothingly. "The saddest thing about that is that I actually understood you."

"Shut up."

David frowned. "So isn't Nick coming back for Christmas? I mean, he's going to have a chance to break this habit."

Alli looked up doubtfully. "You actually think he'll take it?"

David gave her a pointed look. "Well, you seemed to think he would."

"I'm a naive idealist," Alli mumbled in retort. When David said nothing to the contrary, she frowned at him. "Aren't you going to play super-friend and reassure me now?"

David shook his head with a small smile. "Nah, I'm too busy acquiescing."

Alli tossed the Hamburger Helper box in his direction. "You suck."

David began teasing his fingers into her ringlets. "Yeah, well, so do you. You're even turning Betty Crocker against me!"

Alli chuckled lightly. "She wouldn't have liked you anyway."

David rolled his eyes. "Al, stop, please, you're flattering me..."

"Why can't I have normal friends?!"

David chuckled again at the melodramatic look on her face. "Because normal is boring, Al. Now, what's up with Leighanne and Brian?"

If Alli was upset that the subject had been directed away from her blonde best friend, she didn't show it. "Well, see, that's the thing--Leigh doesn't know. I was talking to Jesse today, and she said that Brian's been acting really secretive and that Leighanne's worried that the tour's getting to him."

David recognized the glint in her eye immediately. "What do you think?"

Alli grinned. "I think he's pondering marriage, actually. I mean, guys always get freaked out when they realize that they might be ready to commit."

David paused for a moment to think the theory over before twisting Alli's words. "So, do you think Nick might be ready to commit?"

Alli glanced skeptically at him. "I'm almost afraid to ask what the logic in that question is."

David rolled his eyes again. "No, listen...he's been freaking out, right? So, maybe he's realizing that he might be ready for commitment."

Alli burst out laughing. "Carter? Ready for commitment?! Who the hell with?"

She finally stopped laughing when she noticed that David wasn't laughing with her. When she looked up, however, and caught sight of his expression, she frowned deeply.

"Oh, no. No, no, no, and double no. I know what you're thinking, and you're totally wrong."

David bit back a smile of amusement as Alli began moving away from him. "How am I wrong?"

Alli chortled. "How are you wrong? Well, let's see...first off, Carter can't commit to anybody. Second, Carter doesn't like me that way. Third, Carter would rather shop around than settle down. Fourth..."

David interrupted her with a wave of his hand. "How do you know that he doesn't like you that way?"

Alli gave him a breadbox look. "This is Carter we're talking about. If he liked me, he would have tried to get me into bed already."

David shrugged. "Maybe he respects you enough to know that you're the real thing."

Alli snorted. "Yeah, and maybe you need to lay off the crack." That said, she returned to the Hamburger Helper.

"He could be in love with you," David countered. It was Alli's turn to roll her eyes.

"Yeah, and you could be clinically insane."

He laughed. "Well, Nick's coming for Christmas, isn't he? I guess we'll find out then."

Alli rolled her eyes again. "There isn't anything to find out."

David smirked knowingly. "We'll see about that, won't we?" He frowned when she began walking out of the kitchen. "Where do you think you're going?"

Alli whirled around to glare at him. "I think I'm going to find my Metallica CD. I figure that, if I'm listening to really loud, angry music, I won't have quite so great an urge to beat common sense into your head." She shook her head. "You know, you're as hopeless as Carter."

David grinned innocently. "Maybe he's just hopelessly in love."

Alli made a pained face. "I'm hopelessly in need of James Hetfield. Does that count?"

David sighed. "You're ignoring me, Al. You're ignoring the situation."

"There IS no situation!" she cried from somewhere inside her room. David had to laugh as he took up her position in front of the stove and began stirring.

"We'll see, Alli. Come Christmas, we'll see."

Unfortunately, his knowing laughter was interrupted by the opening chords to "Sad But True". *

"One Step Closer"
lyrics and music by Linkin Park
* "Sad But True"
lyrics and music by Metallica