Alli busied herself packing up her personal items from the night
before. She knew from both the itinerary on the internet and the slip of paper that had been slid under her door that morning
that the guys would be leaving town after their show that night, and she wanted to be ready. Or, rather, that was her excuse
for remaining in her room while the others went down to breakfast. Truth to tell, she wasn't anxious to see Nick after the
Alli wouldn't dare admit it to anyone, but the mood change in Nick had scared her. Suddenly, he had
been the Nick she remembered, going so far as to remember their old routine. She shuddered at the thought. Her every hope
for him had come true in about ten minutes, just long enough for the alcohol to seep into his system. And the picture of her
handsome, grown-up Carter with his old values was enough to evoke tears, even in Alli. It was a dream of hers, and she wasn't
ready to surrender it to reality just yet. However, a soft knock on her door brought her out of her reverie, and she reluctantly
trudged to open it, praying to God that her blonde friend hadn't come to call. She sighed heavily when she saw who was on
the other side of the door and quickly opened it.
He frowned. "Don't sound too ecstatic, Al. What's
She shrugged and opened the door a little wider, offering a small smile in compensation. "Not sure, but it'll
pass. How're you?"
He shook his head and gave her a stern look. "Al, you know me. Do you actually think I'd let you
off that easy? Where's the Lacey wit and charm that we've all come to know and love? Come on, Spitfire. You got your nickname
somewhere, didn't you? And it ain't from your hair, girlie," he added, a mischievous twinkle in his eye. She cracked a more
genuine smile and managed a soft laugh.
"Stop it, AJ."
He smiled. "Come on, Al, what's up?"
AJ laughed heartily. "Now that's the Alli I know. Why so down, though?"
Alli laughed. "I guess
seeing Carter drunk like that last night really got to me," she admitted reluctantly, letting her voice trail off towards
the end. She wasn't really sure that she wanted to tell AJ that she had come undone that easily. Bristling at the idea of
exposing herself, she quickly became indifferent. "It's okay, though. Just kind of weirded me out, is all. Not to worry."
She tossed him a casual smile for extra emphasis, and AJ scrutinized her for a moment.
"Al," he began in a scolding
tone that she knew all too well. "You're doing it again..."
Alli groaned and turned to AJ with a frown. "Can we just
forget about all of this?" she begged. He shook his head, trying to hide the small smile that threatened to surface.
Alli, we can't. I know you. Quit trying to hide shit from me. I saw the way Carter acted last night, and I know that it threw
you for a loop," AJ said matter-of-factly. Alli sighed and went back to her packing.
"What's your point, McLean?"
AJ stifled a laugh. "Trying to figure the emotional damage on your part."
Alli turned to glare at him. "Yeah,
well, there's nothing to figure."
AJ arched an eyebrow. "Liar, liar, pants on fire."
Alli silenced him with
another glare. "Yeah, well, if you don't drop it, you're going to be the one with your pants on fire." She paused
a moment, then took up Nick's trademark whine. "Why aren't you hungover anyway?"
AJ burst out laughing. "Babe, if
you want hungover, I advise you go check on your blonde friend in the next room."
Alli rolled her eyes and shoved
her pajamas in her duffel bag. "Rather not, thanks. Maybe later, when I feel up to Florence Nightingale caliber."
laughed. "Aw, Alli's doing charity work..."
"Bite me, AJ."
AJ grinned. "Is that an invitation?" he asked cheekily.
Alli whirled around to face him.
"Maybe in a perfect world," she retorted, and he stifled another chuckle.
babe, much as I enjoy our rounds of verbal assault so early in the morning, I did want to ask you if you'd join me for breakfast,"
he admitted, and Alli smiled.
"Thought you'd never ask," she returned kindly, linking her arm in his. He rolled his
eyes and heaved an exaggerated sigh.
"Yeah, me too."
Alli's eyes went wide and she smacked him on the shoulder
lightly. "AJ! Behave!"
AJ grinned at her and wiggled his eyebrows. "Behave? Ha! When do I ever?"
innocently and grabbed her room key from the night table. "Well, Bone, you know what they say..."
AJ eyed his friend
suspiciously. "And what's that?"
She laughed and ushered him out the door, closing it behind her. "There's a first
time for everything."
AJ rolled his eyes. "Does that mean that your little Carter is actually going to be a decent
human being when we get downstairs?"
Alli's eyes widened and she backed slightly away form AJ. "You said he was in
the next room," she accused, though her tone wasn't quite as hostile as she had intended.
AJ shrugged. "Yeah, well,
it's a Backstreet breakfast. He'll be there."
Alli nodded and turned around. "Then I won't."
AJ rolled his
eyes and grabbed her wrist before she could walk off. "So you're going to let him win, just like that?"
at him. "I'm not letting him win."
AJ bit back a smile at her predictable reaction. "Yes, hon, you are. Think about
it. If you surrender to him and hole up in your room until it's time to leave, then you're bending over backwards to make
things easy for him to continue like he's been doing." He saw the fire in her eyes at the thought and gave himself a mental
pat on the back. "However, if you continue to talk to everyone and socialize, despite his attempts at being a jackass, then
you're showing him that you aren't easily torn down," he countered, and Alli sighed. AJ knew from her expression that she
didn't want to see Nick anytime soon, but he also knew that her own pride wouldn't allow him to keep her holed up. She finally
turned and took his hand.
"Fine, we'll go. But only because he deserves to know that the world does not revolve around
him," she returned, and AJ let loose with the laugh he had been holding.
"Go, Alli!" he teased.
her eyes as they reached the elevator. "Shut up and push the button, McLean."
He batted his eyelashes at her flirtatiously.
"And which buttons might those be, my dear?"
Alli's eyes widened. "AJ, you pervert! The elevator button,
you retard! God, don't you men ever think of anything but sex?"
AJ sighed and scratched his chin thoughtfully. "Hmm...let
me think..." He looked up at her with a grin and a wink. "No."
Alli sighed and stepped into the waiting elevator.
"Just my luck."
AJ giggled and cast another grin in her direction. "Lucky you."
Alli arched an eyebrow. "Lucky
me? You must have mistaken me for one of your teenyboppers again, Alex..."
He was ready for the comment, and he grinned
slyly as he set his shades in place. "Yeah, well, it's so easy to do, what with you being so short and all..."
groaned. "Yeah, yeah, midget Alli. We've been over this one WAY too many times for my liking..."
AJ chuckled. "We
could do it again.."
The elevator stopped and the door opened in reply. Alli stepped out and tossed AJ a smile over
her shoulder. "Wow...saved by the elevator."
AJ groaned. "Not quite, babe. Now you're headed into the mainstream fire
Alli arched an eyebrow. "Dude, what are you on?"
AJ frowned. "Why?"
Alli was going
to retort, but she burst out laughing. She continued to giggle until they reached the breakfast table, at which point she
finally began to breathe normally again. "AJ, that was classic, man."
Howie looked up curiously. "What was classic?"
Alli began giggling again. "See, I asked AJ what he was on, and as opposed to saying, 'girl, I'm not on anything,'
he goes, 'Why?'"
The other four looked to AJ, who simply shrugged. "Hey, man, she asked..."
and Howie tried to stifle their laughter, but Nick was nowhere near amused. He simply glared at Alli and AJ in turn, then
turned back to his coffee. "Guys, shut up. You're too damn loud."
Alli eyed him with a smirk. "Oh? Someone's hungover..."
Nick looked up at her. "Yeah, so? Not like you've never been drinking..."
Kevin laughed lightly. "Yeah, Al,
didn't you know? It's become an every morning thing now. We nurse black coffee, and Nick nurses a hangover."
grunted as the others laughed. "Yeah. Ha. Not funny."
Alli rolled her eyes and plopped down into the seat next to
him. "Maybe it would be a bit funnier if you had focused more on dancing last night and less on drinking."
up at her. "Who gives a shit what you think? And who the hell told you that you could sit there?"
Alli leveled him
with a stern glare. "I give a shit what I think, and a little birdie told me that this seat was empty." That said,
she turned politely to Brian. "Hey, Rok, where are the girls?"
Before Brian could answer, Nick's temper flared and
he slammed his cup down on the table in the private breakfast room. "Dammit, Alli, I will NOT let you take this attitude with
Alli batted a pair of innocent gray eyes in Nick's direction. "What attitude, sweetie?"
His blue eyes
burned a deeper red as he delivered his next line. "And don't fucking call me pet names! I'm not your little Carter anymore,
dammit! What the fuck is your problem?"
AJ watched Alli's reaction carefully, knowing how the night before had affected
her. He knew that she wouldn't let herself break down in front of him or any of the guys, but her eyes glistened with unshed
tears. He could tell that she was fighting the need to scream back at him. He saw the other guys turn to face her, one by
one, all anticipating an all-out dramatic reaction.
Instead, Alli cleared her throat, shrugged her shoulders, and
looked at the table indifferently. "Problem? I didn't know I had one. Hey, Howie, can you pass the toast?"
whose jaw was slightly opened in shock, simply handed Alli the platter of French toast. She smiled politely and thanked him
before dropping a few pieces on her plate. Nick, on the other hand, stood up and slammed the chair against the table. Alli
looked back up at him, obviously not amused.
"Aw, what a cute little boy!" she cooed sarcastically. "You can throw
a tempter tantrum!"
Nick gritted his teeth and glared at her. "You're being a bitch."
Alli shook her head
sadly. "No, no... That's a BAD word."
Nick, too frustrated to come up with an adequate comeback, raised a hand to
hit Alli. Fortunately for the both of them, she ducked under the table just before his hand came across in a whoosh of air.
He raised his eyebrows in shock, realizing slowly what he had just done, but Alli came crawling back up before he could say
anything. He expected her trademark sarcasm, but her eyes were blazing and her countenance astonished.
were going to hit me?" she asked incredulously. Nick blanched.
She shook her head. "You know what,
Carter? Save it. I've had just about enough of your shit. You're not someone that I want to deal with for a long time." She
shook her head. "And to think that last night, you were something close to a perfect gentleman." She let a bitter laugh escape.
"Ha! You, the self-absorbed dipshit that..." She halted and looked up at him with eyes that conveyed more sadness than anger.
"You know what? I shouldn't waste my time." She turned politely to the other four and grabbed a piece of toast off the plate.
"Guys, thanks for breakfast. I'll see you all on the bus later." She turned back to Nick as she began to exit the room. "And,
Carter, if you're smart, you'll make sure that you stay away from me for awhile."
Nick rubbed his hand over his eyes, one of the first signs of
emotion that he had shown in months. "Listen, Alli, I..."
She shook her head. "For once, Nick, 'sorry' only works
in the form of an adjective." That said, the door slammed behind her.