Bed of Roses
Chapter Thirty-Six
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

Then you came around me; the walls just disappeared
Nothing to surround me and keep me from my fears
I'm unprotected, see how I've opened up?
Oh, you made me trust
But I've never felt like this before
I'm naked around you
Does it show?
You see right through me and I can't hide
I'm naked around you
And it feels so right

"Oh, God," Nick muttered as he killed the engine and glanced at the scene before him. AJ's house was a mess of flashing lights, unfamiliar faces, blaring music and alcohol. Usually, he would've been thrilled at the upbeat scene around him, but after having spent the past four hours in traffic, he wasn't so certain that loud noises were best for the headache that was starting to surface. With a groan, he heaved the door open and crawled out of the car. "Well, here I go..."

Despite the lack of enthusiasm with which he crossed the lawn, he was thrilled that the party at AJ's was relatively private. It spared him the use of a bodyguard and the chance of getting mobbed by fans on his way to the door. Of course, it also meant that anything and everything that happened during the evening would be dramatic and uncensored. AJ had a flare for the unexpected, so Nick was especially wary of any surprises that might occur during the evening. With a heavy sigh, he grabbed the ornate brass knocker on the door and...well, knocked.

He shoved his hands in the pockets of his pants self-consciously and began whistling. He hated going anywhere dateless, but he wasn't terribly interested in finding a groupie for New Year's Eve. He had planned to take Alli with him, as she usually made for an interesting companion, but she had called at the last second and begged out of the car ride with him. He frowned again, recalling the conversation.



Nick groaned. Alli only used the pleading tone when she had bad news, and he was already fed up after having wrestled with his tux for half an hour. "Yeah?"

"You're going to shoot me..."

Nick sighed heavily. "It was bound to happen sooner or later. What do I get to use as an excuse?"

"You're going to have to head over to AJ's without me, kiddo. I got stuck in traffic on the way back from Hol's parents' place, so I'm still not ready, and it'll be awhile before I get there."

Nick groaned aloud. " promised we'd get to go together. How retarded am I going to look going into AJ's party without a date?"

Alli smiled lightly as she delicately pulled on her stockings, praying that they wouldn't rip. "About as retarded as you would look anyway, dude. It's not a big deal. I mean, I'll be there later, so it's not like you'll be stuck by the punch bowl all night. Find a nice, single lady and dance with her until I get there."

Nick gritted his teeth. "You have got to be kidding me. Isn't there any way you could hurry it up? I mean, when do you ever take time to primp?"

Alli rolled her eyes as she switched legs. "Oh, I don't know...maybe when I'm being forced to attend a black tie event at a Backstreet Boy's estate?"

Nick frowned. "Al, it's just AJ. It's not like he's going to care."

Alli smirked at his persistence. "No, but something tells me that his hundred or so other guests might have a thing or two to say about it..."

Nick smiled innocently. "I thought you liked being the center of attention?"

Alli just rolled her eyes a second time. "Carter, you're stalling. The faster you get off the phone, the faster I can get ready, and the less time you'll be spending alone. Besides, since when did you need me at your side in order to have a good time?"

Nick thought for a moment, letting Alli's words sink in, and cringing when his heart sunk with them.
This is not good. I didn't used to be this dependent on her. What the hell is wrong with me, anyway? Why am I this disappointed over Alli? "You're right, as usual."

Alli grinned triumphantly, stockings in place. "So nice of you to stroke my ego."

Nick groaned. "You'd better look really damn good if I'm going to walk into this thing alone, understand? I mean, I better see a lot of physical improvement. I hate looking retarded for no good reason."

Alli frowned amusedly. "So then why do you open your mouth?"

"You're not funny," Nick grunted, good mood gone for the evening. "I mean it, Al. You'd better look really fucking fantastic."

Alli laughed good-naturedly. "I'll sure try, Carter, but it's hard to improve on perfection."

Nick groaned again. There had to be something wrong with the fact that his subconscious didn't have the urge to argue with her.

"Nick, my man, good to see you! I was afraid you weren't going to make it!"

Nick smiled half-heartedly at AJ and decided against telling the man that he had driven around the block three times in hopes that Alli might show up when he did. "Yeah, well, I never miss a good party."

AJ grinned widely and slapped his friend on the back. "That's the spirit, dude! Now, go find yourself a lady for the evening. You look sad..." Just for emphasis, AJ put on his best frowny face, and Nick fought back the urge to groan. Great, it's obvious.

"I think I might have to do that, dude. Have you seen Alli anywhere?"

AJ laughed again. "Nah, I think she's avoiding me for the evening. Something about not wanting to listen to my love advice..."

Nick smiled sourly. "Gee, imagine that..."

AJ rolled his eyes, but the smile remained intact. "Real fucking funny, Carter. I know Alli loves me... Besides, I thought she was coming with you."

Nick shook his head. "Nah, she had to do the girl thing and take too long to get ready, so I had to leave her back in Tampa."

AJ frowned. "Man, she'd better show up, or she's going to miss the squeal-fest with Manda and Leighanne." He groaned and leaned in so as to be discreet. "I think I may have to invest in a diamond ring soon. Manda's got all of these ideas after hearing about Leigh and Brian."

Nick's expression did enough to convey his horror, but his tone didn't exactly dampen the effect. "Run, man, before she starts picking out baby names..."

AJ cackled. "Are you kidding? What could be better than me with a kid?"

Nick shrugged. "Oh, I don't know...Marilyn Manson in a gingham dress with sheep and a bonnet? It would probably have about the same effect on the mass population..."

AJ made a face. "I really hate it when Alli rubs off on you. Of course, that could mean one of two things. First, you could have spent the vast majority of the break with her or...oh, wait, I'm out of options."

Nick shrugged again. "We may have spent a lot of time together lately..."

AJ imitated Nick's careless expression. "We may be falling madly in love with each other..."

Nick took one terrified look at AJ and nodded knowingly. "Yeah, you've definitely had too much to drink."

AJ shook his head. "You can deny it all you want, Nicky, but we know the truth..."

Nick smiled. "And the truth, AJ, is that you are completely and totally insane. I think I'm going to go circulate." With that, Nick headed off into the crowd of people, hoping to escape AJ and his twisted notions.

AJ cackled gleefully again, drink in hand. "You can run, Nick, but you can't hide. No one can escape the Amazing AJ!"

Amanda smiled sadly, pulling an arm around his shoulders and leading him off in another direction. "Now, AJ, let's keep it down, okay? You're scaring the guests..."

AJ grinned lovingly at her. "So what else is new?"

Amanda just shook her head. "You're a nut, you know that? Did you have any luck with Nick?"

AJ shook his head. "Nope, nada. He did, however, say that Alli was on her way."

Amanda smiled. "Oh, good. He won't be dancing with the poor singletons for long."

AJ frowned. "As long as he doesn't try to take them to bed, exactly how is dancing with them a bad thing?"

Amanda continued to smile sweetly as she led AJ over to another group of friends. "AJ, darling, we've already got you here to frighten the guests. We don't want to give them nightmares."

*     *     *     *     *

He was bored. Extremely bored. Count-the-ceiling-tiles-and-pray-for-an-explosion bored. Even after one glass of champagne and an hour of dancing and chatting with random single ladies--in between jabs and jeers from his friends, of course--he was dazed and only seconds away from playing *NSYNC over the speakers, just to rouse someone's temper.

He wrinkled his nose slowly and conceded that maybe he wasn't that bored. One of the best things about the parties at AJ's house was that he could guarantee that he wouldn't hear any ridiculous imitations of himself and his four brothers. However, even if the evening's DJ had decided to play something cringe-worthy like O-Town, he wouldn't have heard the music. He glanced down into his second glass of champagne and began swirling the crystal liquid around in the glass. As he glanced through the picture window, he could see Kevin and Kristin dancing together and laughing.

Nick smirked to himself as he wondered exactly how angry Kevin would be if he decided to throw the older man into AJ's pool on a whim. As he glanced down at his own tux, however, and remembered exactly how long it had taken him to get ready that evening, he decided that Kevin's temper would be more than he could handle. Besides, having been forced to dress up, he knew better than to sabotage the older man's evening. It wasn't often that Kristin smiled at him that widely for more than a few minutes at a time.

With a sigh, he shook his head and looked out over the pool again. There weren't too many people lounging by the pool except for the occasional couple (who was far too engrossed in a steamy scene of their own creation to notice anyone or anything around them), and so he had little means of entertainment, but there was a certain tranquility in the backyard that he was becoming addicted to.

Of course, he was also bored, and he wasn't about to cure his boredom by chilling poolside on New Year's Eve. After taking a small sip of champagne, he turned towards the back door and walked back into the party. Of course, as soon as the door closed behind him, flashing lights and music invaded his senses.

"Nick! We were just talking about you!"

Nick managed a feeble smile in Leighanne's general direction.

"Leigh, don't tell him're going to inflate his ego all over again."

Nick's feeble smile grew to full wattage as he recognized Alli's voice. "You're so mean to me..."

Alli chuckled lightly. "Not too mean, though, because you still love me." She winked at him before twirling. "So, Carter, tell I pass inspection? Did I make the proper amount of improvement?"

Nick's eyes wandered appreciatively over his best friend's figure. A hunter green satin dress clung to her pale, freckled skin, accenting the red in her hair and the tiny green flecks in her gray eyes. The dress, which boasted a delicate flower pattern along the bottom hem, hung just below her collarbone in the front, but plunged to her tailbone as she twirled. As she lifted her arms, the muscles in her back rippled slightly, displaying her athleticism. His eyes trailed back up to the nape of her neck, where a few stray curls had escaped from her French twist. She had carefully tucked a clip of green rosettes along the edge of her hair, which complimented the dress further. As she made her way back around, Nick noticed that her eyes were lined in a glittering dark green and her face was perfectly framed by a few more tendrils that had managed to break free. Around her neck, a silver chain shone in the light, and Nick vaguely remembered giving it to her that Christmas. Her smile bloomed slowly until her eyes sparkled like the chain around her neck, and Nick swallowed forcefully. Good God, I am SO glad I had to walk into this place alone...


He looked up, completely flustered, to catch Alli quirking an eyebrow at him and tried to steady his smile. "Definitely an improvement," he managed to mutter, shaking his head slightly. Alli laughed lightly, and he slowly began to relax. That's it, Carter. It's just Alli. Just Alli. Just freaking Alli. It doesn't matter if she looks absolutely beautiful. I mean...

"So you're not going to be pissed for the rest of the night?"

Nick rolled his eyes. "No, I'm not going to be pissed for the rest of the night, thought I must say...nice of you to show up, chick. I was ready to go for a little swim, and then you would've completely missed my efforts at looking the part of the cute Backstreet Boy."

Alli allowed her gray eyes to trace his figure, just as he had done to her only moments before. She had conveniently forgotten how good Nick looked in a long jacket and a tux, but the image before her brought forth a ridiculous amount of memories. His blue eyes sparkled brightly in the dim light of AJ's living room, and his blonde locks, which had been carefully and extensively tousled, gave the formal attire a rugged, sexy look that she was definitely enjoying. As her eyes found his, her smile slowly faded until she was lost in the crystal blue depths before her. My God, have his eyes always been that blue?

"You can stop checking me out now. You're going to make me blush," Nick teased, swatting her lightly on the arm. Alli managed a nervous laugh.

"Nah, I was just appreciating your efforts at looking the part of the cute one and thanking those stars out tonight that you didn't decide to go for that swim."

Nick grinned cockily. "Ooh, praise. I could definitely get used to this."

Alli frowned lightly. "Don't, Carter. The ego totally dampens the whole sexy look you've got going."

Nick's grin faded to the shy smile that Alli knew so well. "So, if I keep practicing my humility, will you keep smiling at me like that?"

Alli laughed. "You got yourself a deal, Carter."

"Dude, you are such a flirt," Amanda muttered, shaking her head disdainfully at Nick's antics. "It's a wonder Alli hasn't run for the other side of the room by now."

Nick frowned. "Why, Manda, how rude...I happen to think that Alli likes being the envy of every female in the room, don't you?"

Amanda arched an eyebrow doubtfully while Alli rolled her eyes and smacked her best friend lightly in the chest. Nick's frown deepened immediately.

"Hey! What was that for?"

Alli clucked her tongue in disapproval. "Ego, babe, ego."

Her response came in the form of a sheepish smile before Howie's entrance distracted the group.

"Ladies, long time no see!"

With a wide smile of excitement, Alli turned away from Nick and wrapped her arms around Howie, delighted to be reunited with more of her old friends. Seeing as it had been about a month since she had last seen them, she had missed them all terribly.

"Howie!" Alli smiled warmly and held him at arm's length before whistling appreciatively. "Man, everyone looks good tonight. Where'd your girlfriend run off to?"

Howie rolled his eyes. "Well, gee, now I get it. Brushed off for the girlfriend, huh? Am I really that uninteresting?"

Amanda smiled sweetly. "If we say yes, will you tell us where Jessi is?"

Howie leveled a playful glare at AJ's girlfriend. "Manda, you'd better be really glad that us gentlemen aren't allowed to smack girls."

Nick laughed. "Nah, Howie, see...if you smack her really lightly, you can just call it a love tap and get away with it."

Leighanne shook her head in disagreement. "No, because girls can hit guys. You may be able to get away with it, but not without a bruise or two." Her nose wrinkled. "Trust me, gentle is NOT in Amanda's vocabulary."

Amanda smirked at her innocent friend. "Aw, Leigh, sure it is. Just ask AJ."

It was Alli's turn to wrinkle her nose. "I'd rather not, thanks. AJ has that uncanny ability to tell people WAY more than they ever cared to know."

Amanda shook her head sadly. "You'd think he'd just pull out the pictures..."

The whole group groaned before she could finish her thought, and Amanda smirked again, amusedly. "I swear, you guys gross out so easily..."

Nick winked at her. "Well, AJ does have that effect on people."

"AJ does have what effect on people?" A pause. "Do I even want to know?"

Howie shook his head at his girlfriend. "No, definitely not. I'd brace yourself, though."

Jessi frowned delicately. "Why?"


Almost immediately, Jessi was surrounded by the other four women of Backstreet, all of whom laughing and grinning as they reunited with their long-lost fifth member. She returned their hugs gratefully, managing also to wink at Howie and simply reply, "oh".

Nick leaned over to rest his elbow on Howie's shoulder and sighed heavily. "Well, man, it looks like the girls are together again."

Howie made a face and shrugged Nick's arm off. "Why does that scare me?"

Nick laughed and chose to wrap an arm around Howie's shoulder instead. "Dude, I think I'd be more worried if it didn't scare you."

Howie made a face and ducked out of Nick's hug. "Nicky, man, we really need to get you a girlfriend."

Nick smirked down at his older, shorter friend. "And Howie, pray tell, why is that?"

Howie made a face. "You're too damn affectionate, Nicky. As if we don't have enough trouble with the gay rumors already..."

Nick chuckled. "Aw, you're just jealous because I'm comfortable enough in my sexuality not to care."

Howie smiled sweetly at him. "Well, I'm sure that the woman in your bed each night serves as a great reminder."

Nick frowned. "Nah, I think I might be losing my touch. Lately, the only girl lying next to me each night has been Alli, fully clothed and snoring on the other side of the couch."

Howie smiled nostalgically at the scene his imagination had conjured. "You two are good for each other, though."

Nick laughed lightly, watching his best friend interact with the other girlfriends. "Yeah, we are, aren't we? I really did miss her this time around, man."

Howie laughed and clapped his younger friend on the back. "We know, Nicky. Trust me, we know."

Before either of the Boys could comment further, the DJ's voice rang out over the crowd and the music stopped.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the New Year...we have a little game for you to play. I'm sure, at one point, while eating Crayola crayons and bonding with Play-Doh, you all played music chairs. Now, unfortunately, you're older, and the only person here allowed to eat Crayons is AJ."

A ripple of laughter went through the crowd of people, and the DJ continued. "Anyway, in honor of growing older and more, um...mature? all get to play a little game that I like to call 'Musical Men'. Ladies, when I start the music, you are to find a dance partner. However, when I give the signal, you're going to change partners." A pause. "And, no, you're not allowed to spend the entire game with your significant other. If you guys are that attached, there are bedrooms upstairs. I happen to know from experience that AJ's guest beds are VERY comfortable." A mix of laughter and groans filtered through the crowd. "Anyway, without further ado, go find your partner, and I'll put on a bit of music for you to shake ass to, all right?"

The crowd laughed as Mystikal began to play, and Nick turned towards the group of girls to reach for Alli. She'd always been a wonderful dancer, although she would never tell him exactly where she'd picked up her skills. However, before he could grab Alli by the hand and drag her out to the dance floor, Jen had tapped him on the shoulder.

"Nick, dance with me? Tony and Brent are battling it out on the foosball thing in the basement, but I absolutely love this song..."

Nick smiled warmly at his friend and laughed. "Sure thing, girl." That said, he grabbed her hand and pulled her into him, allowing himself to get partially lost in the music while his eyes scanned the dance floor for Alli.

"So where's Al tonight?"

Nick shook his head in amusement and chuckled at Jen's ability to read his mind. "Not sure, believe it or not. I saw her earlier, but then the girls swept her away."

Jen nodded knowingly. "Yeah, she really missed them while she was in Tampa. She didn't get to see them, what with leaving the tour so she could be with her father."

Nick shrugged. "Yeah, I know. It's funny how close they are."

Jen grinned at him. "Well, Amanda's a trip. I don't know the others too well, because no one else lives in Florida, but they all seem pretty nice whenever AJ has one of these blow-outs."

Nick nodded. "Yeah, they're great." He trailed off and began scanning the floor again, frowning when he saw Alli and David grinding together on the other side of the room. God, does she really need to get that close to him?

"Did you see Alli?" Jen asked knowingly, seeing the spark in Nick's blue eyes. It was common knowledge among the group that Nick cared much more for the girl than he would ever let on. When he looked down at her in surprise, she had to bite her lip to keep from laughing. "She's with David, isn't she?"

Nick nodded, his brow furrowed in a frown. "Yeah, she is. How'd you know?"

Jen winked at him. "Dude, David can tear it up on the dance floor. Whenever we hit the clubs, those two have a tendency to bust a move together. I think it has something to do with the fact that Dave is the only guy that can keep up with Alli."

Nick rolled his eyes. "He's not the only guy..."

Jen's eyes glittered with the thought of gossip. "Oh, do I sense a sensitive subject?"

Nick playfully glared at her. "No, just the will to mess with Alli's head a bit." He smirked when the change in music and the instruction to switch partners interrupted her next comment. "Thanks for the dance, Jen."

She shook her head as he walked off to find another partner and went to grab her boyfriend. "Same to you, Carter."

Nick went directly towards Alli, determined to grab her close for the slow song that was starting to play, but was immediately intercepted by a very smug Amanda.

"Looking for Alli?"

Nick smiled sarcastically. "No, I was looking for the other redhead I know who dances up a storm."

Amanda laughed lightly. "Tough, kiddo, you're going to dance with me."

Nick rolled his eyes and pretended to scan the area again. "Don't you have a boyfriend somewhere around here who can keep you company?"

Amanda smirked. "He got the first dance, and the idea is to switch partners. Besides, he's occupying your other half right now."

Nick glared at her. "She's not my other half."

Amanda laughed again. "Shouldn't you be worried about the fact that you knew whom I was referring to?"

He opened his mouth to retort, but closed it just as quickly as other frightening thoughts began to fill his head. God, is she really my other half? I mean, I know we're a lot alike, and I know that we enjoy spending time together, but...

Amanda chuckled at his cluelessness and shook her head. "Dance with me, Carter."

Nick groaned aloud and pulled her into his arms, knowing that he had no other choice but to dance with her. "Fine, but I don't have to like it."

Amanda chuckled again. "I don't mind playing second fiddle to Alli, Nicky. Not when it comes to you."

"Don't call me Nicky," he grumbled as they began swaying back and forth, finding a comfortable rhythm between the two of them.

"She looks gorgeous tonight, doesn't she?"

Nick frowned. "Alli?"

Amanda rolled her eyes and smacked him lightly on the back of the head. "Yes, Alli. I love that color on her, don't you?"

It was Nick's turn to roll his eyes. "I don't have to answer that question." Even if she does look fucking gorgeous tonight. Dammit.

"Why not?"

"I'm not stupid."

Amanda arched an eyebrow skeptically. "Oh? You're stupid enough to deny the fact that you like her as more than a friend."

Nick ran a hand through his hair in frustration. "Man, what is it with you and AJ? Is your relationship lacking that loving feeling, or something? Because there's gotta be some reason that you think you have to pry into everyone else's love lives..."

Amanda shrugged innocently. "Only where prying is needed."

Nick quirked an eyebrow. "So why the hell aren't you prying on Alli's end?"

Amanda grinned knowingly. "Oh, we are."

"And how do you know that?"

Amanda winked at him. "Didn't I just say that Alex was dancing with her? We all know that AJ's a wonderful conversationalist..."

Nick's only response came in the form of a very loud, very perturbed groan.

*     *     *     *     *

"Are you having a good time?" AJ asked with a smirk as he twirled Alli around. She sighed heavily and laughed.

"Yes, AJ, I'm having a good time. It's been quite an eventful evening, but it's really nice to get to see everyone again."

AJ smiled gleefully. "Yes! Triumph at last! I knew she missed us..."

Alli frowned lightly. "Oh, Age, I'm sorry. Did I imply that you were included in that 'everyone'?"

AJ shook his head in mock sadness. "Cold, woman. Very cold."

Alli smiled sweetly and squeezed his lightly in an embrace. "Love me."

AJ chuckled to himself. "Oh, I do, sweets." Hi eyes narrowed towards the crows before he delivered a knowing look in her direction. "And I'm not the only one, either..."

Alli let out a groan that rivaled Nick's. "Oh, God, not this again..."

AJ laughed at her discomfort. "Yes, this again. Come now, Al, you know you think he looks hot tonight."

Alli arched an eyebrow doubtfully. "My newfound appreciation of tuxedos and blonde hair has nothing to do with whether or not my feelings for Carter are more than 'friendly', okay?"

AJ shook his head at her, laughing whole-heartedly. "Ooh, Nicky has his work cut out for him, doesn't he?"

Alli glared. "And what, pray tell, is that supposed to mean?"

AJ just continued to laugh. "Damn, Al, you're worse than he is, you know that?"

Alli frowned. "What? I can admit that he looks hot tonight, okay? I just don't feel anything more than primal attraction. He's Carter. Unlike the catrillion girls that follow you five around the globe, I know what he looks like when he wakes up in the morning, and I know what an asshole he can be when he hasn't had his morning coffee or his daily dose of common sense. I'm the least likely candidate to be swooning over the cute one, okay?"

AJ shook his head, smirking slightly. "Whatever you say, Al. Just be prepared to hear 'I told you so' when your willpower caves, okay?"

Alli looked at him inquisitively. "Hey, AJ?"

"Yes, Al?"

"Do you have an 'off' button somewhere? Or at least an enchanted washcloth..."

AJ's smirk faded to confusion. "An enchanted washcloth? What the hell?"

Alli smiled sweetly. "Oh, nevermind."

AJ's eyes narrowed in her direction, his curiosity having peaked. "No, what?"

Alli maintained the innocent expression. "I just wanted to wipe that smirk off your face. And, for your information, I'll be the only one saying 'I told you so' after Nick ends tonight with a big-breasted beauty from your pile of singletons hanging by the punchbowl."

AJ gave her a pointed look. "That still won't change how you feel about him, chica."

"Because I don't feel that way about him," Alli insisted, smiling triumphantly when the song changed. "Well, Age, thanks for the dance! I'm off to find another unsuspecting Backstreet Boy to frighten."

AJ grinned at her. "As long as it's Nick, I'm not complaining."

Alli shook her head. "Then prepare to display your whining skills, because Kevin looks relatively single right now..."

AJ shook his head as he watched Alli weave through the crowd to a very single-looking Kevin. "That girl is going to freak out when she realizes just how much she actually likes him."

"I couldn't agree more," Brian's fiance concurred, grinning up at him. "Care to dance, Mr. McLean?"

AJ smiled, still thinking about Nick and Alli. "I'd love to, Leigh."

*     *     *     *     *

"Finally! Good Lord, girl, I've been looking for you all night. Where in the hell have you been all evening, anyway? I thought you were supposed to be my date..."

Alli turned at the sound of Nick's voice and laughed. "Carter, it's close to midnight. Are you seriously telling me that you've stayed sober and single just to have a dance or two with little old me?"

Nick rolled his eyes. "I'm surprised you've stayed single tonight, Al. I saw you dancing with AJ earlier, grinding like there was no tomorrow. You're a damn tease, you know that?"

Alli winked at him. "Yeah, I've been told."

He sighed, grabbing her hands and swinging them playfully back and forth. "So, now that I've finally found you, do you think you could make some time to dance with me?"

Alli laughed and pulled him into a hug, hating the pleading look on his face. She wasn't used to Nick being sincere and flattering, and she wasn't exactly sure how to deal with him when his sarcasm wasn't clouding everything to come out of his mouth. "I'd be honored, dude. Besides, I totally love this song."

Nick shook his head as "The Bad Touch" by the Bloodhound Gang boomed through the speakers. "You would, Al."

Alli grinned at him over her shoulder. "Of course I would. But you would too, wouldn't you? It sounds a lot like your anthem, you know."

Nick laughed. "Nah, I've got more class than this."

Alli shrugged. "Could've fooled me."

He gave her a warning look. "Low blow, Al. I thought you were going to spend the night being nice to me. Do you really want to end the year on a bad note?"

Alli laughed. "You know I'm teasing. Deep down, I'm just another girl that can't resist that damn Carter charm."

Nick cheered, holding his hands up in the air in triumph. "I knew it! I told you that you'd be stroking my ego one of these days..."

Alli rolled her eyes good-naturedly. "You know what? I'm in a good mood tonight, so I'm going to let that one slide. Now, are you going to shut up and dance with me, or are we going to stand here and chat all night?"

Nick winked at her and pulled her close to him, closing his eyes when he felt her begin to grind against him. "Oh, Al...your wish is my command, babe. I think I'll take that dance now."

She shook her head and closed her eyes, leaning into him as her body took over. "So you honestly haven't done anything horrible tonight while waiting for me?"

He coughed, and Alli didn't even have to open her eyes to know that he was smiling sheepishly at her. "Well, I may have dragged one groupie off into the bathroom for a quick make-out session..."

"Or something a bit more x-rated?" Alli said with a laugh, and Nick sighed.

"Yeah, maybe. I've been trying to be better, though. I'm not a whore."

Alli shrugged. "I never said you were."

Nick gave her a pointed look, even though he knew she couldn't see him. "Al, I know you, okay? You didn't have to."

"So, do you think I can give those groupies something to work up to?" Alli asked, completely surprising her best friend in the process. He'd seen Alli in clubs before, and he knew that she became a bit of a different person, but he didn't at all expect for her to grind against him so closely that he moaned.

"Um...I'm not sure, but trying could be fun," he managed to squeak out. God, was she always this sexy and I never noticed?

The way her body had suddenly begun to move exactly in rhythm with the song served as a decent answer. However, her voice in his ear was enough to make him close his eyes and grasp for control.

"I never try, Carter. I succeed."

And so the games began. For a moment, the two were lost in their little dance of seduction, teasing each other competitively and putting their full concentration into each curve, each twist, and each position. Nick allowed his fingers to roam along the satin of her dress while her fingers massaged the back of his neck. When he dipped his chin and leaned down into her, her hair would tickle his cheek, creating erotic little chills up and down his spine. The song faded into Ludacris's "What's Your Fantasy?", but neither of them moved to separate. Instead, Alli changed pace to accommodate for the change in rhythm, and arched her back into Nick, making him moan again as his eyes fell shut. As a form of payback, he slid his hands down her sides until he reached her hips, at which point he pulled her close against him and began moving his own hips seductively to the music. When she sighed contentedly, he bit back the urge to chuckle, but her nails along his neck quickly erased all signs of rational thought. He was definitely enjoying Alli's dancing ability, though he was slightly fearful that certain organs of his might be betraying the extent to which he was enjoying it. They continued to dance that way throughout the song, until Nick dipped his chin again brought the side of his face close to Alli's mouth. His eyes opened and his lips curved in amusement when he realized that she was rapping along to the song quietly. With a deep-throated laugh, he brought his lips to her ear.

"I don't know what amuses me more...the fact that you know all of the words to this song, or the fact that you actually seem to be getting off on the lyrics."

Alli smiled at him. "Do you actually have to make a decision?"

Nick laughed. "Well, now that you mention"

"So why worry?"

He shrugged. "Beats me. I just had to tease you."

They pulled apart as the song came to a close, and Alli took the opportunity to smirk at him. "It looks like I succeeded in teasing you as well, Mr. Carter."

Nick shook his head at her antics. "Well, Ms. Lacey, how do you know that it isn't just a little bit hot in here?"

Alli chuckled. "Carter, you need a mirror. If a picture speaks a thousand words, then it got a LOT hot in here, to say the very least."

"You do have a way with those hips of yours," Nick conceded. Over the loudspeaker, a gentle piano filtered though, however, and a wide grin bloomed on Nick's boyish features. "Oh, but I'd much more prefer to dance with you like this..." He trailed off and allowed seriousness to take over for a moment. "Alli, may I have this dance?"

Alli sighed happily as Rod Stewart flowed from the sound system, and walked into Nick's open arms. "Absolutely, Carter. You sway better than any guy I've ever met."

Nick grinned and adjusted his arms so that he was loosely holding her waist. "What can I say? I got skills."

"That you do," Alli murmured, closing her eyes so as to get lost in the music. The song was one of her favorites, and she smiled as Rod's voice washed over her. She laid her head gently on Nick's shoulder and began to sway with the music, glad for the moment of peace on the otherwise chaotic night. Her lips curved into a small smile when she heard Nick's voice in her ear.

"Al, you really do look beautiful tonight. When I saw you standing with the I know we don't do the romance thing, and I know you don't usually spend much time on your appearance, but you honestly took my breath away."

Her smile widened, and she pulled away so that she could see the honesty in his bright blue eyes. When he flashed her the shy smile that she remembered so well from childhood, she smiled warmly at him in return. "Thanks, kiddo. Just so you know, you don't do too badly yourself."

Nick laughed lightly. "Really?"

Alli nodded solemnly. "Really. You look absolutely wonderful all dressed up like that." She winked at him. "I might just have to steal you away at midnight."

Nick chuckled. "I wouldn't be complaining. I like being the envy of the room."

Alli rolled her eyes good-naturedly. "Always the flatterer, aren't you?"
Nick just smiled. "Always." His eyes grew serious, however. "But, know when I'm being sincere. I don't give the good compliments unless I mean them."

Alli laughed lightly. "I know. But, Carter, you wouldn't be the envy of the room." She leaned her head on his shoulder again and closed her eyes, relishing in the feeling of normalcy she found in Nick's embrace. "I would be."

They continued to sway for a moment, lost in the music and the comfort of the arms of the other. Alli was close to dreams when she heard Nick singing softly in her ear along with the song.

"You fill my heart with gladness, you take away all my sadness. You ease my troubles, that's what you do..." *

Had she not been so comfortable, Alli would've shaken her head at the romance in her friend. Melting, dammit. He makes me melt. I'm freaking melting because he's singing in my ear. MY ear. Not some groupie's, or some excited teenybopper's, but mine. My God, this man should be illegal. Does he even know how wonderful he is? Does he even know what that voice does to people? Good God...I'm turning into the wicked witch of the west, and he didn't even need a bucket of water. Just a fucking romantic song...dammit. Must not cry. God, he can be so sweet...

She sighed happily as he continued to sing in her ear, moving them slowly back and forth. This is what dreams are made of. This is the Carter I remember. She was so blissfully lost in memory that she didn't even notice the song had ended until the couples around them began talking again and the distant strains of Auld Lang Syne began to play. However, Nick's breath on her cheek was a blissful reminder that her best friend hadn't gone anywhere.

"Ladies and gentlemen, grab your significant other and prepare to say good-bye to 1999. We're about to begin the countdown."

"Thanks for a wonderful year, Al."

Alli smiled warmly and pulled slightly away from Nick's chest so that she could look into his eyes again. "Same to you, Carter. It's been quite a ride, but I'm glad that you're still here."

Nick grinned at her. "I'm glad you're with me as well, you know that? There's a lot to be said for having the best friend in the world."

Alli rolled her eyes. "And corny-ness comes in a whole new form, people..."

Before he could retort, the crowd took up chanting as a huge image of Times Square lit up AJ's big-screen television.


Nick smirked down at Alli. "You know, I didn't bring a significant other with me this evening."

Alli rolled her eyes. "Something about how you don't have one?"

Nick chuckled lightly. "Yeah, something like that. Anyway, what happens when we get to midnight?"

Alli shrugged playfully. "Aw, gee, I don't know...the ball drops?"

Nick gave her a teasing smile. "Oh, you're just so funny, Al!"


Alli smiled. "Yeah, I thought so...apparently, I'm pretty romantic too, because you've been incredibly and unusually sweet this evening."

Nick smiled in return. "So I get bonus points?"

Alli laughed and reached up to ruffle his hair. "Yes, Carter, you definitely get bonus points."

Nick's nostalgic smile faded to a hopeful grin. "Enough bonus points for a kiss at midnight?"

"Three...two...ONE!  Happy New Year!"

Alli's response was to pull Nick's head gently down to her level and press her lips against his, caressing them gently. She continued to massage his lips with hers until she felt him respond, pulling her more solely to him to gain better access to her mouth. She used her bottom lip to part his lips gently, and her tongue slipped through the opening to greet his tongue in a dance that was both erotic and romantic, all at once. Her fingers tangled in his hair, and even through closed eyes, she could see the effect it had on him. She withdrew her tongue only to have Nick's tongue seek entrance, and she gladly allowed him access. When his tongue began to delicately caress hers, she let out a sigh, and the true extent of the pleasure she was feeling finally registered. She knew it was wrong, and forbidden, and everything else horrible and destructive, but it felt so right to finally have his lips on hers. She tried to believe that their friendship was strong enough to withstand the effects and continued to kiss him, lost in a world of romance, dreams, fairy tales, and Nick Carter. Damn, he can kiss. Damn, damn, damn...

Nick was completely and totally lost. His hands were on her neck, caressing the soft skin exposed there as his lips danced against those of his best friend. He was somewhere between ecstasy and Eden, caught in a land of forbidden fruit and endless pleasure. His lips against hers, his heart beating rapidly in his chest as his fingers toyed with the hem at the back of her dress...he was blissfully unaware of the new year that had suddenly arrived. He was, instead, aware of one kiss, one woman, two lips and a mountain of curls. It was daring, sexual, erotic...and yet it was everything he'd ever imagined from the fairy tale kiss of true love.

And, with that thought, even as he continued to kiss, his sense of logic suddenly chose to rear its ugly head.

Fuck. True love? Oh, God...this is Alli. This is Alli. The best friend, the confidante, the...damn, she can kiss. Shit. Damn., no obscenities. There is no romance in obscenity, but...shit, that was her tongue. This is what velvet feels like. Oh, God, this is never going to last, is it? I'm going to be doomed to remember this, this moment, this romance, this fucking paradise...God, she can kiss. Damn it all to hell.

And reality came crashing down in the form of a crowd of singing people, all raising their glasses to toast the New Year. With a sigh of contentment and more reluctance than either cared to admit, the two friends pulled away and smiled unsteadily at each other. However, one look at Alli's glassy, glittering eyes, and Nick couldn't help but smile. I did that. Just me. That thought in mind, he squeezed her lightly.

"Happy New Year, Al."

Alli laughed lightly, trying to clear her head. "Happy New Year, Carter."

And they continued to smile at each other, trying to ignore the insanity in their heads and the off-key singing in their ears. Finally, Alli took a chance at contribution, elbowed Nick, and began singing along. He shook his head with amusement and joined her, all the while thinking of the kiss that still lingered on his swollen lips and the stars in her eyes when she'd smiled at him.

I did that.

He shook his head. He'd had it right the first time.


lyrics and music by Avril Lavigne
* "Have I Told You Lately?"
performed by Rod Stewart
lyrics and music by Van Morrison