Comforting Lie
Chapter Fourteen
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
Chapter Forty-Eight
Chapter Forty-Nine
Chapter Fifty
Chapter Fifty-One
Chapter Fifty-Two

But there's one thing I know
And I know it for sure
This disease that they've got
Has got no ready cure
And I'm certain
Life is terribly hard
When your life's a fašade

"Cut! Just fucking cut," Aaron called out dramatically, waving his arms in a perfect imitation of their beloved director. "What in the hell was that? Are you people even trying to pay attention?"

Theresa rolled her eyes and bit back her smile while the rest of the cast giggled in amusement. "Oh, God...he's not even in the freaking number, and he still manages to steal all the attention..."

Aaron stifled his own laughter at his antics and shot an innocent grin in Theresa's direction. "Have a little faith, T. Believe it or not, I actually stopped you guys for a reason that time."

Theresa rewarded him with a doubtful look. "Well, I don't believe it, but go ahead and justify yourself."

Somewhere in the background, one of the guys burst out with a snippet of Madonna's "Justify My Love". However, as with most of the inane songs that came during practice, it was thoroughly ignored.

Aaron turned his mischievous grin to the man sitting on the chair behind Theresa. "You were flat, dude."

Kyle, who had been cast as Simon (the man intent on stealing Lisa away from Henry Jekyll), crinkled his nose in disgust. "Was I really?"

Aaron nodded sadly. "Yeah, man. You want me to play the note for you?"

"Hell, yes!" Theresa piped up. "I mean, shit, A, I'm surprised you could tell. Usually you're the one who's flat."

"Of course," Cara added, smirking in Aaron's direction. "Takes one to know one, right?"

Larkin, an actress responsible for the role of Lucy's best friend at the Dregs (Nellie), shook her reddish mane and rolled her emerald eyes. "Oh, God, here we go again..."

Upon Larkin's remark, a booming voice interrupted the argument before it could get any further. "Children, children, about we drop the smartass remarks and play the note for Kyle, okay? I agree that he was flat, and I'm glad Aaron noticed it."

Theresa groaned. "Yes, Father dearest."

Rob, who served as Lisa's father in the musical, shot a belittling smile at the girl that played his daughter. "Something wrong, T?"

Theresa returned the smile with one of her own. "Never, Robby."

He nodded his black head, and his blue eyes flashed in amusement. "Good. Let's give it another go, shall we?"

Aaron nodded in agreement and played the correct note for Kyle, who matched it quickly. "Okay, I get it. Where do we start from?"

Cara shrugged and glanced back down at the music in her hands. "From where we left off, I guess."

Aaron gave the count-off, and the group began to sing again.

But there's one thing I know
And I know it for sure
This disease that they've got
Has got no ready cure
And I'm certain
Life is terribly hard
When your life's a fašade

Every night here one house
Or another is a fun house
'Cause of someone giving a party
As you see, sir
This one here tonight
Is rather special--am I right?
It's the betrothal
Of Sir Danver's daughter, Lisa!

"Hold up," Aaron called again, and Theresa immediately fell to the floor in despair.

"I'm sorry! It was just a tiny slip up, I swear! It won't happen again, okay?"

The "slip up" she was referring to had occurred towards the end of the second stanza when she had completely made up new words to the song. Cara, who was still stifling laughter at the incident, tossed an amused gaze in her friend's direction.

"T, no offense, but how can you miss the words? They're right in front of you!"

Rob reached over and patted a moping Theresa with a grin. "My little girl's just talented like that..."

Theresa glanced up at him with a glare. "Your little girl is going to smack you one if you don't quit patronizing her."

"Ooh, them be fighting words!" Larkin hooted. "Do I sense some upcoming family conflict?"

"Yes," Theresa spat. "I want a divorce."

Aaron chuckled at the thought. "I don't think you can divorce your parents, T. Trust me, I would've tried it already..."

Cara shot a sympathetic glance in Aaron's direction, but he brushed it off and gave her a reassuring smile to let her know that he was only kidding. Their silent exchange, however, was interrupted by Rob's cry of mock anguish.

"I'm so insulted! I don't think I'm ever going to recover..."

Kyle chuckled. "Don't worry, Rob, T's just bitter because she can't see shit without her glasses."

Theresa leveled a pained look in Kyle's direction. "Did you have to bring that up? I'm wearing contacts, for God's sake!"

Trent, who had been cast as Jekyll's best friend and lawyer, offered Aaron an amused smile. "Were we trying to rehearse or something?"

Aaron laughed easily, grateful for Trent's peacemaking abilities. "Yeah, I think we were." He raised his voice so as to be heard over the shouting match that was quickly picking up speed in the middle of the living room. "Um, guys? We really need to finish this number..."

Theresa halted in her screaming at Rob to give Aaron a breadbox look. "You've got to be kidding me. We know this! Heck, there's a reprise every five minutes. How could we not know the damn thing?"

Aaron's smile dissipated, and a stern look replaced it immediately. "Terry, you know the rules. Cal said we needed to have this ready by tomorrow, and we need to make sure it's perfect."

"No shit," Kyle muttered with a groan. "I'd like to do everything I can to avoid one of those extra practices..."

Cara winced at the thought. "Ugh. I so don't want to go next."

Larkin shot her a disbelieving look. "Like you've got anything to worry about? C, he'd bring me in there before you, trust me."

Cara laughed hollowly. "I'd like to think that..."

"Hello? People! We're trying to be productive here!"

Trent glanced amusedly down at his girlfriend Tabitha, who had the pleasure of playing the only female on the board of governors (Lady Beaconsfield) as well as the owner of the Dregs, Lucy's racy nightclub. "Did you hear what I just heard?"

"I don't know," Tabitha chuckled from Trent's lap. "But I thought I just heard Aaron trying to be productive."

Cara, who had picked up quickly on the conversation, looked to Aaron with a mischievous glint in her eye. "A, are you sure you aren't on drugs tonight?"

Aaron rolled his eyes in annoyance. "Okay, look...if I sing the first line, will you guys join in?"

"Whatever," Theresa intoned, sounding frustrated. "I just want to get through this so that we can finally rehearse 'Bitch, Bitch, Bitch'. If I didn't know any better, I'd swear you guys were trying to torture me."

"Oh, you know it, T," Aaron muttered sarcastically. "Because our main goal in life is to piss the shit out of you..."

"You know," Rob began, "I think I finally understand why you like 'Bitch, Bitch, Bitch' so much."

Theresa eyed him with suspicion, but fueled his fire nonetheless. "Why's that?"

"Because it's all you ever do!"

Her eyes widened before quickly narrowing in his direction. "Oh, you are so gonna get it, Sir Danver..."

His blue eyes twinkled. "And you think you can give it to me, little Lisa?" he taunted, knowing exactly what effect his words were having on her.

"Think?" she cried in disdain. "I know I can give it to you."

"Okay, this is crossing into the area of 'too much information'," Tabitha remarked, and Trent nodded his head agreeably. Thankfully, Aaron's deep voice boomed over the cast before the two "family" members could continue their bickering.

"I'm inclined to think..."

With weary sighs, but knowing smiles, the other cast joined him wholeheartedly.

Half mankind
Thinks the other half is blind
Wouldn't be surprised to find
They're all in cahoots!

At the end of the day
They don't mean what they say
They don't say what they mean
They don't ever come clean
And the answer
Is it's all a fašade

Call a walk "promenade"
Call a street "boulevard"
Grease your hair with "pomade"
You'll be held in regard
And I betcha
If you stay on your guard
They'll all say you're a "card"
People LOVE the fašade
What's behind the fašade?
Look behind the fašade! *

The last chord rang out with perfect clarity and intonation, and Aaron cut them off with a wide smile on his face. "Oh, we are SO going to blow Cal away tomorrow. He'll rue the day he ever called us anything but perfect!"

"You are such a drama queen," Theresa muttered with a shake of her head, but she was smiling.

"Yeah, A, I'm not sure I'd go that far," Cara added with a smile of her own. "Knowing Cal, he'll find some kind of imperfection to iron out before the day is over."

Larkin rolled her eyes in agreement. "Knowing Cal, we'll be lucky if he finds less than ten imperfections to iron out..."

Trent gave a wide smile to the rest of his cast. "Well, regardless of what Cal has to say, guys, that sounded great. Congratulations!"

Tabitha nodded. "Yeah, we finally nailed it."

"Nice to know we pleased the perfect couple," Kyle joked, and the two mentioned simply smiled up at each other. He rolled his eyes, however, when their lips met in a chaste kiss. "God, you two make me sick."

"I second that," Theresa fired, wrinkling her nose at the site. Instead of watching, she abandoned the image of Trent and Tabitha to give Aaron a hopeful smile. "Can we do 'Bitch, Bitch, Bitch' now? He said that we had to have it down if he was really going to add it in."

Aaron sighed reluctantly. "I guess we do need to go over that one..."

Theresa was quick to agree. "Of course we do! It's the best one!"

Cara's smile was unmistakeable as she shot her friend a knowing look. "Other than your solo, right?"

Theresa nodded affirmatively. "Of course. My solo is great, dammit."

"Yeah, and it's even better when you aren't sharp like you were today," Rob teased. Theresa opted to stick her tongue out at him instead of giving a verbal reply. She could see Aaron's patience quickly waning, and she wanted to finish rehearsal soon so they could all get to sleep.

"Can we sing the song now?"

Aaron laughed at Theresa's sudden enthusiasm. "Yes, Terry, we can sing the song now." He shifted his gaze to Tabitha, who was, thankfully, no longer attached to Trent. "I believe this is your cue, Tabs."

She nodded, took a deep breath, and began the song.

Lord and Lady Hare
Fighting over there
Darling, do beware
She's a bitch!

For the first time that entire evening, it was Cara who called a halt to the practice. "Wait a second, guys...who's going to sing the parts for the people who aren't here?"

Unfortunately, due to the inconvenient time of the rehearsal and the limited space in the living room of Aaron, Theresa, and Cara's apartment, only the elite members of the cast were scattered on the couch, chairs, and floor to practice. While it allowed them to have a more productive rehearsal, it also allowed for missing parts. However, all of the elite cast members loved to sing and were more than happy to take over for the characters that weren't in attendance.

"I'll sing Lord Savage's part," Trent offered with a smile, and Aaron nodded.

"I'll take the Butler. I mean, hell, I haven't really done anything tonight, seeing as I'm not in these scenes, so..."

"Heaven forbid we leave out the star," Theresa muttered with a roll of her eyes. "Can we get on with the song now?"

Cara laughed. "Yeah, let's hit it."

Tabitha frowned. "Am I starting over or not?"

Trent squeezed her in a hug for good measure and shook his head. "Nah, I'll just take over where you left off."

Lady Aberdare's
Having an affair
With the Butler there
Just her niche

The others had to chuckle at Theresa's positively giddy expression as she joined them in the chorus.

Fine party, divine party
A touch tarty but stinkin' rich

Tabitha shook her head at the absurdity of the lyrics for the countless time since she'd gotten the tune to practice and stared down at her part, taking the obligatory deep breath before delivering her next solo.

What a pretty smile, Mrs. Grenville-Heath
Pity they are not all her teeth...

Trent bit back a smile at his next lines and took his own deep breath, not only to prepare himself for the lines ahead, but also to compose himself. Of course, one glance at Theresa and he knew that no one else would be able to keep from laughing.

Lord Devere as well
He's as queer as hell
AND bi-sexuelle
Likes to switch

Sure enough, by the end of Trent's solo as Lord Savage, the entire cast was rolling with laughter. Even Theresa, who adored the song to pieces, was sprawled out on the floor, her abdomen shaking with bursts of giggles. Cara was the first to calm down.

"Man, I'm glad I'm not going to be onstage when you guys are singing this song."

"No joke," Aaron agreed. "Knowing C and I, there's no way in hell either one of us would be able to keep a straight face."

"This whole song is hilarious," Larkin chuckled. "Those of us who are on the floor are going to be lucky if we can still dance by the time we're done...we're going to be laughing too hard."

"Of course," Kyle began, "Cal would probably shit a brick if we even cracked a smile in the middle of this scene. You know how particular he is about the stupid engagement party."

"Especially this song," Aaron agreed. "I mean, we had to fight so that he'd keep it in here because it wasn't in the more modern versions."

"But it's the best one!" Theresa whined. "It's practically classic! Who wouldn't fight for it?"

"I'm beginning to wonder why we did," Rob said with a groan. "If we hadn't insisted on singing it, then we wouldn't be sitting here at eleven o'clock at night rehearsing on our off hours."

"Oh, we'd probably be sitting here," Trent chuckled to himself. "We'd just be rehearsing a different song."

"Like the stupid requiem that no one can ever keep in tune?" Theresa supplied with a sarcastic smile, and the rest of the group moaned at the mention of it.

"That song is horrible," Larkin cried, grimacing at the mere thought of it.

"You aren't kidding," Tabitha agreed with a sigh. "I hate to say it, but if any song should be taken out, it's that one."

"It doesn't even really have a point," Cara pointed out. Tabitha, however, sighed again and furrowed her brow in thought.

"Well, it does, and I can see why Cal wants it in there, but I don't really see how it benefits us as performers, you know?"

For some reason, Aaron burst out laughing at the end of Tabitha's comment. Anyone else would've been offended, but Tabitha was a gentle, well-tempered brunette with a bright smile and inquisitive blue eyes who merely watched him until he was calm enough to offer an explanation.

"Aaron...I think I missed the joke..."

Theresa waved Tabitha away with a wink. "Oh, don't worry. He's just a little nutty because C and I forgot to give him his medication."

Aaron rolled his eyes and gave Theresa a good glare before turning back to Tabitha. "Tabs, you know what cracks me up about you?"

Tabitha smiled uncertainly. She knew Aaron to be a nice kid, but she also knew him to be a relatively mischievous kid, and common sense had taught her that one could never be too careful when Aaron was within hearing range. "What's that?"

He chuckled to himself. "Well, you play a bitch in the musical, but you're as sweet as C in real life. It doesn't make so much sense."

"Yeah," Trent agreed, "but she's not the only one who would be mismatched if the roles weren't given on acting ability. I mean, Cara and Tabby here are like two peas in a pod when it comes to gentility, but Cara plays a whore."

Rob nodded. "And then there's Theresa, who plays a sweet, innocent wife-to-be, but is really anything but that." The rest of the cast disregarded the predictable smack that followed Rob's comment.

"Or Kyle," Tabitha added. "I mean, Simon's figure in the play isn't exactly admirable. He spends the whole time trying to get Lisa away from Jekyll."

"And then there's Aaron," Kyle pointed out, "who's well suited to Jekyll, but is absolutely nothing like Hyde the asshole."

"Eh, I'm not sure I'd go that far," Theresa laughed. "He used to be pretty close to Hyde's level."

"But those were the teenybopper days, I bet," Kyle countered. "Now, he's much more mellow. I mean, the guy's been living with you for quite some time now, and he hasn't gone insane yet."

"That's Cara's doing," Aaron said with a laugh, ignoring Theresa's middle finger in the air. "C's a pretty good buffer when Terry and I are in pissy moods."

Cara shrugged. "I'm just the less extreme one. Besides, you two aren't that bad..."

"Now she's just lying," Rob laughed. "Really, Care-bear, you don't have to hide anything from us. We see the two of them almost every day."

"That we do," Larkin agreed. "And, quite frankly, we're impressed that you're still standing."

Cara bowed dramatically, seeing that none of them were going to let up until she allowed some kind of response. "All in a day's work," she joked, eliciting laughter from the others in the process. "However, back to the subject of roles...I think the only one here who actually fits his or her character is Trent."

"Yeah, I agree," Aaron grinned. "Trent here is good candidate for the best friend and chief confidante of a madman."

"Or any man, for that matter," Kyle added with a smile. "Trent's the normalcy in this crazy bunch."

"He's good for this woman too," Tabitha added shyly, and the couple kissed again. Naturally the kiss was followed by groans from the rest of the cast as they fumbled for a subject that wouldn't lead to more romantic displays.

"Seriously, though," Rob began, acting somewhat solemn for the first time that evening. "It is kind of ironic that most of us are nothing like the people we're pretending to be."

"Yeah, Nick made that comment the first time he heard about our roles," Aaron informed them with a chuckle. "He couldn't believe that conservative little Cara would play someone as racy as Lucy."

"Ooh, I'd forgotten that the Backstreet brother was in town," Larkin said with a laugh. "How's he doing these days?"

Aaron's smile immediately became a frown as thoughts of his brother began to surface. "Better not to ask, Lark."

Cara eyed Aaron with surprise, then turned to Larkin to rectify his statement. "Actually, he hasn't been too bad. He was pretty close to a disaster when he first arrived, but he seems to be getting steadily better."

"Yeah," Theresa agreed sarcastically. "I mean, aside from the fact that he's got the world's biggest ego and can be annoying as all hell in the mornings, he's not TOO bad. Once he threw the cigarettes away and decided he wasn't going to have liquor with breakfast anymore, he started to show signs of underlying decency."

Cara stifled a smile. "Actually, Theresa's just bitter because he bugged her during a hangover." The comment elicited a glare from Theresa, but the rest of the cast laughed politely.

"So he's been generally decent?" Kyle clarified. "I mean, there were lots of rumors about his condition four years ago..." He trailed off and turned to Aaron with an apologetic expression. "No offense, A. It was all over the news, though."

Aaron laughed bitterly. "Yeah, that's kind of the first lesson you learn in our family. If you screw up, it will eventually land on television. Unfortunately, we all seem to be prone to screwing up...especially Nick."

"He was a jerk when he got here," Cara admitted. "But he and I had a talk about his behavior and the way it was affecting everybody, and I think that he's at least making an effort to be better."

"Yeah, well, we'll see how successful he is," Aaron interjected dryly. "Because, as nice as it is right now, I'm not going to trick myself into thinking that it'll actually last."

"I think it might," Cara replied quietly, but Rob was quick to contradict her.

"Cara, with you, hope tends to spring eternal."

"She's just good-natured like that," Tabitha defended, snuggling into Trent's embrace as she did so. "I mean, I don't think I've ever heard Cara be negative."

That comment received a full-blown laugh from Theresa. "Oh, God, should've seen C whenever Pretty Boy entered the place. I thought she was going to blow a gasket whenever he suggested that only women were supposed to cook and clean."

"He was being an asshole!" Cara retorted. "I think I had every right to be appalled!"

"Oh, you did," Theresa agreed with an amused smile. "I was just making sure everyone else understands that he's not the most gentle Backstreet Boy if he's sending you into the occasional hissy fit."

"Point made," Cara grumbled, and everyone laughed.

"Well, maybe things will improve soon," Trent offered helpfully. "I mean, from the sound of it, he's already getting a bit better."

"Is he as hot as he used to be?" Larkin asked with a grin, evoking the same grins in both Cara and Theresa.

"Not at all!" both girls responded in unison. Immediately, they looked at each other in surprise and started giggling.

"He let his hair get too long," Theresa offered by way of explanation.

"That, and he's got this rugged air about him now that really doesn't suit him so well," Cara added. "It's just...well...I think that Mr. Carter will always be hopeless where fashion is concerned."

Rob shrugged indifferently. "Well, at least we know he's not gay..."

Theresa's head quickly found the palms of her hands so that she could mourn her "father's" ignorance. "Good God...tell me you didn't really just say that..."

"And if I did?"

"You can count on me smacking you again," Theresa retorted dryly.

"Bitch, bitch, bitch," Rob muttered, shaking his head at his colleague's hostility. "Are you always like this?"

"No, you just tend to bring out the best in me," she answered sweetly. "Now, are we going to finish rehearsing or what?"

"I vote for 'or what'," Aaron laughed. "No offense, but I'm really getting sick of these chorus songs."

Tabitha looked up with a curious frown. "Was there anything else that Cal mentioned for tomorrow?"

"Not that I can remember," Kyle chuckled. "Of course, that's not saying much, because I was practically dead by the time he gave us our agenda."

"Yeah, he did work you pretty hard today," Trent agreed. "You and Theresa and that duet of yours..."

"Oh, God," Theresa groaned, dropping her head in her hands again. "Can we not talk about that song? `Cause, you know, if I never heard it again, I wouldn't exactly be disappointed or anything..."

"Yeah, I second that," Kyle muttered from the floor. "Because I wasn't fond of it to begin with."

"I actually kinda liked it..." Cara began, but she trailed off when she caught sight of the scowls that the others were sporting. "Or maybe not."

"I'd stick with 'maybe not'," Rob chuckled. "T here seemed to like that one better."

"Of course," Larkin grinned. "She'd like anything better than you, wouldn't she, Rob?"

Rob responded, quite juvenilely, by crossing his eyes at his friend.

"You know," Trent commented lightly, "I keep waiting for Cal to bring up 'His Work and Nothing More', seeing as that one's a big piece and a complicated piece."

"I have a theory on that one," Aaron began seriously. "I think he's holding off on it so that, by the time he finally brings it up, we will have already forgotten all the notes and all the words and then he'll REALLY get the chance to grill our asses."

"Aaron!" Cara cried in shock. "That's terrible!"

"Terrible, yes," Rob agreed, "but probably true. I mean, this is Cal we're talking about. He's not exactly known for his ability to be tactful."

Theresa snorted from in front of Rob. "Understatement of the century..."

Trent rolled his eyes good-naturedly at the group before him. "So, now that we've got the gossip on Aaron's new houseguest and have done all needed griping about Cal...are we sure that there's nothing else to rehearse?"

"I, for one, was not done with my griping," Theresa replied cheekily. Rob rolled his eyes in annoyance.

"T, all kidding aside, you know I love you like a sister...but you're NEVER done with your griping."

Theresa somehow managed to find a way to glare at him upside down. "I hate you."

"People," Aaron called warily. "I think Trent asked a pretty relevant question..."

"No, we don't have anything else to practice," Cara answered, stifling an amused grin. "However, it would probably serve us well to go ahead and finish with 'Bitch, Bitch, Bitch' just so that we're prepared."

"Yeah, maybe we can escape another lecture," Kyle agreed, and everyone looked down to their music with sudden motivation to perform.

"Where are we starting?" Tabitha asked. "'Cause I have one or two solos that I'd really rather not do again, if that's okay..."

"Let's go from the second chorus line," Aaron offered. "One, two, three..."

Delicious, and so vicious
Our one wish is to bitch, bitch, bitch

Thus the chorus ended, and the three dubbed the Butler, Lord Savage, and Lady Beaconsfield began their singsong gossip session as an excited Aaron took a breath and stared down at his music in complete concentration.

Lady Postlethwaite
God, she's put on weight!
Gives you more to hate
Mean old bitch

Lady Leopold
Looking really old
Poor Sir Leopold
She's a witch

Those who hadn't participated in the contrapuntal section exchanged knowing smiles before glancing back down at their music to prepare for the chorus lines.

Chic people, unique people
And freak people we quickly ditch

Aaron stood up and began to walk around the room haughtily, pretending to greet the imaginary guests of the engagement party as he began the second round of conversation.

Lady Delaware
Awful color hair
That's her lover there
With the twitch

Lord and Lady Biggs
What a pair of pigs
Wear each other's wigs
Itch, itch, itch

The rest of the cast was once again stifling a mess of giggles as they entered into what would be the last of the song together. As they sang, Aaron took the opportunity to end his promenade around the apartment so he could observe his friends in motion. All of them looked so alive when they sang, despite the fact that they were all staring at the music, and he couldn't help but smile as he realized how close they were all becoming. Of course, between the weekly cast dinners and Cal's rehearsals, it really shouldn't be much of a surprise. We spend a pretty good deal of time together.

"Stop! Just stop, okay? Do you realize what happens at the end of a piece? There's the climax! It ends with a beautiful, breathtaking chord that is the ONLY reason every layman that bought tickets to the damn show sat through the whole song. You have to make it perfect, okay? No mess-ups, no awkward tuning, and no bizarre facial expressions. I know this is a difficult concept for you people to grasp, but you can't just be good at the end of a song. Good is for the beginning. You have to be DAMN good by the end of the song, okay?" Rob let rip an exasperated sigh Ó la Calvert Holland, sending the entire group into another burst of laughter. "Go again, and don't make me want to scream this time. TUNE yourselves, dammit!"

That said, they all listened patiently to Rob's count-off, which gave Aaron a chance to thank God for the friends he had found through the music. Of course, on the count of three, they were all ready to begin the final chorus--the star included.

*      *      *      *      *

Tired and weary from a long day at the office, Nick trudged to the door of the little apartment and jiggled the key in the lock. From the moment he'd come up the stairs, he had heard voices, and he was finally certain that they were coming from under Aaron's door. Even as he turned the key, his perplexed countenance remained. In the three weeks he'd been living with Aaron and the girls, he had never known them to bring home friends. They had ventured out at night to go to dinner with the rest of the cast, but never had they brought anyone to the apartment. His perplexed expression changed to one of curiosity as the door finally swung open, however, and he took the opportunity to scan the room as voices rang out in the air.

His gaze moved first to Cara, who was snuggled amiably into one corner of the corduroy couch. From the look on her face, he knew that she was completely engrossed in the music she was singing, and he had to smile as he remembered her performance from the nights before. On the other corner of the couch, a man with black hair and bright blue eyes was sprawled out, with one foot on the floor and the second foot tucked securely under his knee. He was glancing alternately at the music and Theresa, who was sitting on the floor to his right.

Nick's smile widened when he caught the expression Theresa was sporting. She was clearly in love with the song they were singing, and her blue eyes flashed jovially as she sang. Just north of her in the leather armchair, a man with curly, honey-colored hair and green eyes was situated, singing with gusto and concentration all at once.

His eyes flew across the room to the armchair next to Cara, where a petite redhead seemed to be fully in character. She had a rather sour expression on her face, and she was gazing at the music with one eyebrow arched in condescention. Of course, her expression was soon mirrored on Nick's face when the former Backstreet Boy caught sight of the couple seated to the redhead's left. A tall man with a scruffy mop of brown hair and a goatee sat Indian-style, glancing at the music in his girlfriend's lap. His girlfriend sat directly in his lap, her raven waves brushing his cheek as she bounced her head in time to the music.

Finally, Nick's inquisitive gaze rested on Aaron, who stood towering over them all like the father he once been blessed with. The light bounced off Aaron's sandy blonde hair as he moved his head from side to side, clearly more in character than anyone else in the living room. He held the music with his left hand, and his right hand flitted from side to side with his head as he conducted the others in the a cappella version of the song that was clearly Theresa's favorite.

June wedding
The bride dreading
The leg-spreading
While London's rich
Come here and...

Bitch, bitch, bitch
, bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch! **

The last note ended with a flick of Aaron's wrist, and the cast dissolved from their focused demeanors into a mess of giggles and relieved sighs. The redhead in the armchair next to Cara spoke first.

"Yes! We are so finished!"

Cara glanced amusedly at her friend. "Anxious to get home, Larkin?"

Rob snorted from across the couch. "Yeah, right. Anxious to get to sleep is more like it. Keep in mind that we still have to be at rehearsal at seven tomorrow morning."

Kyle shook his honey-colored head with a frown. "You know, I'm really starting to miss sleeping in."

Trent offered a small smile over Tabitha's shoulder. "Look on the bright side, guys. At least tomorrow's looking to be a decent practice."

Aaron normally would've retorted with another jab at Cal's admirable work ethic, but his gaze remained fixed on his unmoving brother in the doorway.

"Hey, Nick."

The elder Carter looked up from his reverie with a decent half-smile. "Hey, AC." He moved his smile to the rest of the cast, who was suddenly staring at him with inquisitive eyes. "Sounds good, you guys. I'm impressed." He didn't dare tell them how much their session reminded him of his own performing days. Even the memory was too painful to acknowledge.

They all nodded their thanks, but Cara was the first to speak.

"Thanks. How was work?"

Nick shrugged, grateful for her friendly nature. "Eh. Work was work. I'm glad work is over. It took too long today. I'm about ready for bed, to tell you the truth."

Theresa arched an eyebrow in disbelief. "You aren't going out tonight?"

Nick shook his head sadly. "Nah, I think I'm going to stay in and try to get some rest."

She nodded appreciatively. "Cool."

Cara jumped when she realized that the rest of the elite cast was indeed sitting in the living room, watching their exchange. "Oh! Nick, I almost forgot. These people," she swept the room with her arm as a clarifying gesture, "are the rest of the cast. Kyle, Rob, Larkin, Trent, and Tabitha." Each member smiled when his/her name was called, and Nick returned their grins with a forced one.

"Nice to meet you all." He looked back to Cara, his eyes betraying his gratitude. "I'm off." That said, he disappeared into the designated guest room, closing the door tightly behind him. As soon as the slam had echoed throughout the tiny apartment, the living room shook with a collective sigh of relief.

Rob turned his friendly gaze on Aaron for clarification. "So that's the Backstreet Boy?"

Aaron laughed, grateful for his friends when family tension was too much to bear. "Yeah, that's the Backstreet Boy."

Theresa gave a snort. "Well, what's left of him, anyway."

Larkin stared at the closed door in disbelief. "You can say that again. Damn, he looks different."

"Didn't say much, either," Kyle observed, and Aaron shrugged.

"Yeah, well, that's Nick."

*      *      *      *      *

Nick, meanwhile, was standing calmly in his bedroom, his face lit by the light of a single lamp as he stared blankly at his reflection.

Funny how seeing them all together like that can remind me exactly of what I lost so many years ago. Dammit, I didn't need the reminder, but...well...

He shook his head fervently. When he looked deep into his eyes, he could see all of the years he'd spent with his so-called brothers, and all of the pieces of them that had remained embedded somewhere deep within him. He had thought, that afternoon with Cara, that calling forth those pieces again might prove to be beneficial, but, after seeing the rehearsal that still seemed to be taking place in the living room, he wasn't sure that he could survive the pain of knowing what he'd given up.

But I didn't give it up, dammit! SO much happened that kept it from going any further. It wasn't good anymore. It wasn't, and it doesn't matter, because it's over and it's been over, and what happens now holds no relevance where the past is concerned because there's no going back.

Still, though, watching Cara, Theresa, and their friends rehearse reminded him so much of all of the parts of himself that he had hoped to regain. And the look on Aaron's face when he'd walked through the door--the passion that his brother so obviously embodied when in the role of Jekyll and Hyde--was enough to make him want to be good again.

With a heavy sigh, he turned off the lamp and allowed the darkness the embrace him as he crept toward the inviting bed. As he folded himself into the cool, gentle cotton and found a spot on the ceiling to stare at until sleep called him forth, his expression darkened to one of determination.

From now on, dammit, I'm going to be good. I may trip, I may fall, and it may hurt like hell, but I'm going to try my hardest to be the person that Aaron wants to believe I am. Shit, I'm going to try my hardest to be the person that he wants me to me. Because, deep down, that kid that used to tackle Aaron in the driveway and sing with so much heart has to be there, right?

He wasn't sure, didn't know, and wasn't exactly enthusiastic about the pain he was sure to encounter while searching for the better side of him. He merely knew that he wanted to be good, and that was enough.

Hell, it has to be enough. Because, right now, that's all I've got.

With that thought, he closed his eyes and allowed sleep to take him at last.

* "Fašade" 
performed by the JEKYLL & HYDE Ensemble
lyrics by Leslie Bricusse
music by Frank Wildhorn,
taken from the musical JEKYLL & HYDE

** "Bitch, Bitch, Bitch" 
performed by the JEKYLL & HYDE Ensemble
lyrics by Leslie Bricusse
music by Frank Wildhorn
taken from the musical JEKYLL & HYDE