Comforting Lie
Chapter Twenty-One
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

In front of them, Doctor Henry Jekyll and John Utterson were arguing the presence of Hyde and its benefits in terms of Henry's sanity while Cal rattled off his usual list of complaints. Behind them, the rest of the cast was involved in a highly competitive game of Uno. Amidst them, however, there was only silence as Cara chewed thoughtfully on her peanut butter and jelly sandwich. She swallowed soon after, still contemplating.

Finally, she spoke.

"So you think he was high."

It wasn't a question as much as a statement of incredulity, but Theresa answered it nonetheless.


"On cocaine." Her tone was skeptical, and Theresa sighed.

"Yeah. But it's more than think, Cara. All the signs were there. His pupils were dilated, his breathing was shallow, and he was talking a mile a minute."

Cara frowned. "T, that could mean a number of things."

"Sure, but how about this? He wasn't hungry."

"He could've had dinner before we got there."

"He was hot."

Cara chuckled. "From what I remember, he's always been hot..."

Theresa threw her head back in exasperation. "Dammit, Cara, this is serious! Quit joking around!"

Cara groaned. "Terry, I'm trying to be serious, okay? This is just...shit. Do you realize what you're accusing him of? Even more so, do you realize what happens if you're right and Aaron finds out? Something like that..."

Theresa nodded. "It could kill him. I know, and I hate it, but I can't let this one slide, Cara. Not after everything I went through. I was addicted, okay? I remember what it feels like to be that empowered. I remember how one little snort can make everything go away. Quite frankly, the position Nick's in calls for an escape, and coke is pretty perfect. It's got everything he needs, and it's not half as obnoxious as alcohol."

Cara rolled her eyes. "Yeah, not unless you get addicted. Geez, Theresa, you make the man sound like he's got no more sense than a tire iron."

Theresa shrugged. "Maybe he doesn't. Maybe stardom really did screw him up to the point that taking a few hits is okay in his mind."

"Do you really believe that?"

Theresa sighed. "Look, it's not about what I believe. I could care less how his childhood has affected him. What I care about is how his actions affect Aaron, and if he's screwing around with cocaine, I think Aaron's going to be pretty seriously affected."

"I know." Cara took a deep breath and ran a hand through her hair in frustration. "I know. I just...I really can't see Nick with cocaine."

Theresa expelled an exasperated breath. "Newsflash, Cara: Nick is not who you thought he was. He's not the angelic baby Backstreet anymore, and he's nowhere near the doting older brother that you used to fawn over. He's a borderline alcoholic, for God's sake, and what's worse is that he doesn't care enough to change his behavior. Now, would it surprise you if Nick the drunk decided to snort a line or two?"

Cara rolled her eyes. "Must you be so crude?"

"This is NOT the time to be giving me lectures about tact."

"Fine. Fine. I can see Nick the drunk snorting lines. Hell, I can see Nick the drunk smoking crack, Theresa, but that doesn't mean that he's done it."

"Oh, yeah? Then why did all the symptoms check out? Why was he so fucking tired this morning? There's something more than drinking going on in those bars, Cara."

Finally, the southern belle buried her face in her hands. "Shit. I know."

"You knew last night, too."

"No, I..."

"You what, Cara? You decided that it was okay because he's a Backstreet Boy?"

Cara's eyes snapped open incredulously. "No, dammit! Unlike you, I don't exactly like to believe the worst of people! I wasn't going to accuse him of anything until I had some decent evidence."

Theresa sighed heavily. "I just hope he doesn't OD before someone says something that gets through to him."

That got Cara's attention. "Shit. You think he'd overdose? God, Theresa..."


"That could kill him!"

Theresa feigned surprise. "Really? You don't say!"

"Shut up, okay? It's easy for you to be sarcastic about that, but you didn't have to watch your best friend fall into a fucking coma because she couldn't keep her nose out of the drugs."

"Funny how you're willing to throw that in my face, but you won't accept that the Backstreet Boy might be a druggie."

Cara shook her head. "One hit does not make you a druggie."

Theresa smirked. "Defending your honor?"

"Fuck you."

Theresa sucked in a breath at Cara's harsh wording. Inwardly, she acknowledged that the comment had been below the belt. While Cara's past was spotless compared to her own, the brunette had dabbled in her share of illegalities as well upon finding higher education. Cara knew what it was like to be under the influence, but she knew better what it was like to watch someone destroy themselves with cocaine, and Theresa knew that she owed her life to Cara in many ways. Despite everything, Cara had been there for her. She owed her friend more than the occasional insult.

"I'm sorry. You're right; that was uncalled for. I just...I don't like this, C. It took me two years to clean myself up, but it took a decade's supply of courage. I had a support system, and it was still a struggle for me. He doesn't know what he's getting himself into."

Cara shrugged. "Maybe he doesn't care."

Theresa snorted. "Well, shit, what a healthy way to look at things..."

Cara rolled her eyes. "Terry, it's not always about what's healthy or logical, okay? You should know that. I'm not saying he's making any sense right now. I'm just trying to understand things from his point of view."

Theresa groaned. "Why understand things from his point of view? It's a screwed-up angle. We need to set him right, not backtrack to his position."

"Maybe so, but how the hell can you fix something without understanding how it works?"

"Dammit. Fine. You win."

Cara sighed heavily and raked a hand through her deep brown locks. "Theresa..."

Theresa sighed in turn. "Look, I'm sorry. I know you're right. You're the expert here. It's just...that's a time in my life that I've spent years trying to forget, C. Not to be insensitive or anything, but I really don't want to deal with Nick right now because it makes me remember things I'm trying to bury."

Cara laid a supportive hand on her friend's shoulder. "I know."

"Do you really?"

Cara tensed visibly, bristling at the tone in Theresa's voice. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Theresa sucked in a breath. "Look, C, I know you understand what I went through. Hell, I wouldn't have gotten completely through it if it hadn't been for you. However, this situation with Nick is a bit different. You're not as close to him as you are to me, for one."

Cara frowned. "And why does that matter, exactly?"

"Because I know you're going to try and rescue him."

For a moment, neither woman said anything. They didn't have to. The reality in Theresa's words was enough to fill the silence.

Finally, Cara weakly attempted a recovery. "Look, Terry..."

Theresa shook her head. "It's nothing. C, I know you. Florence Nightingale is right up your alley. I'm not saying that's a bad thing either. I'm just saying that you need to be careful."

Cara's brow furrowed. "Why do I get the idea that there's more to that statement than just the usual 'Nick's a drunk former Backstreet Boy' lecture?"

"Because there is. I'm not talking about Nick this time. You're good with delicacy, and I know that you'll figure out a way to handle him." Cara began to protest, but Theresa shook her head. "Even if you don't, you know I couldn't care less. I'm worried about Aaron."

Cara's eyes closed tightly at the thought of the man she considered to be her best friend. "Shit, you aren't kidding. He's been badly affected by the situation already."

"Yeah, and he doesn't need to hurt anymore by having to watch Nick battle addiction," Theresa intoned carefully. "Cara, I don't know what you intend to do with Nick. I don't care, because I trust you to do the right thing. However, I really don't think Aaron needs to know about this."

Cara sighed and glanced up at the stage, where Aaron and Trent were engaged in a random battle of tug-of-war over Jekyll's tourniquet. "Are you sure?"

"In two words? Hell yes. He doesn't need that kind of stress right now."

Cara reluctantly removed her gaze from the amusing scene in front of her and arched a doubtful eyebrow at Theresa. "There's no way we can keep something like that from him. He's bound to notice. You know just as well as I do that Nick's just getting started."

Theresa shrugged. "We'll find a way. I just...I want to save him from going through what you went through, you know? Nick's done enough to his sanity already."

Cara snorted in agreement. "Amen to that."

"I think, much as Aaron cares for Nick, he's better off in the dark on this one."

Cara took another look at the stage and let loose with a giggle when she saw the boys wrestling on the floor, much to Cal's dismay. For the first time in a long time, Aaron seemed to be having fun, and she knew instinctively that the knowledge of Nick's new habit would bring back the seriousness that had haunted the younger man for so long.

"You're right."

Theresa breathed a sigh of relief. "So we're agreed on this one? Aaron stays out?"

Cara nodded. "Yeah, Aaron stays out." That said, the two fell silent as the boys returned to their places and rehearsal commenced again.

Aaron stays out, but something tells me I'm in for the ride of my life.

*      *      *      *      *

"This is SO what I needed tonight. I mean, after that hell of a rehearsal and these past few weeks--which, I might add, have been beyond stressful--this is paradise. I feel like everything else has been semi-worth it."

Theresa looked at Aaron in disbelief. "Paradise is popcorn and a free rental?"

"It is now," Aaron replied decisively. "I mean, hell, it doesn't get any better than this." Theresa's doubtful look remained, and so he arched a pointed eyebrow at her. "Come on, T. Can you honestly tell me that you aren't in the mood for a comedy?"

"No, but..."

"No! No buts. This is perfect. You, me, Cara, and Just Married. We're making a mockery of love with the aid of artery-clogging butter and salt. We're sticking our tongues out at every romantic couple that ever sat down to watch this movie. We're shattering the long-held belief that three is a crowd. We're..."

"Wondering when you decided to star in Queer Eye of the Straight Guy," Cara finished with a laugh. "A, what the hell got into you?"

"No shit," Theresa added. "If I didn't know any better, I'd think you'd gone and turned Robert Frost on us."

Aaron sighed. "Can't a guy just be happy to spend an evening alone with his two best friends?"

"Not when he's talking in those kind of dramatics," Theresa countered. "Explanation needed, bud."

Aaron's pout emerged slowly. "Okay, so I've spent too much time with Cal. Sue me."

"No thanks. That requires lawyers and money, neither of which are particularly prevalent in this apartment," Cara shot back. "But I've got a sneaking suspicion that Cal isn't the only reason you're so glad to have a night off."

"He is."

Cara didn't even have to look at him to know he was lying. "Is not."

"Is too."


Aaron flinched at the accusatory tone. "Maybe..."

"So what's the other reason?"

Aaron grimaced. "Don't make me say it..."

"If she doesn't, I will," Theresa warned.

Aaron sighed heavily. "Fine. I'm kinda glad that Nick's nowhere around. I'm sick of dealing with him on top of the crazy rehearsals we've been having."

Cara smiled sympathetically and offered her friend the bowl of popcorn. "Feeling overwhelmed?"

Aaron nodded, grabbing a handful. "Hell yes. I need to unwind."
"As long as we don't have to rewind," Theresa joked lamely. "Everyone ready to watch?"

The other two couch occupants nodded simultaneously.

"Press play," Aaron ordered, and Theresa obliged without argument. The previews had only just begun, however, when they heard the click of a key in the lock.

"Dammit," Aaron muttered. Cara leveled him with a frown.

"What's wrong?"

Theresa answered for him, however. "He wanted a night without Nick, remember?" She glanced at Aaron with something between a smirk and a sympathetic smile. "Spoke too soon, I guess."

Before the former Prince of Pop could comment, the door swung open and Nick's tall frame slid through the way. The door slammed shut as he caught sight of the three roommates on the couch, and Theresa took the liberty of pressing pause. This certainly looks to be an interesting conversation...

Nick's blue eyes were sunken and gray as he offered a tired smile to his audience. "Hey."

Cara was the only one to oblige him. "Hey yourself. You're home late."

He nodded. "Long day at the studio. We're trying to cut the last track of the record for an older artist, but we can't get the vocals right. We finally sent him home with a couple of Valium and an order to be back around nine tomorrow."

"Sounds like fun," Theresa remarked idly. Cara, however, seemed more surprised.


Aaron replied before Nick could, though his gaze stayed firmly on the screen in front of him. "He's kidding. There's a dulled down sleeping pill that they give sick singers. Everyone calls it Valium, but it's hardly even prescription caliber."

Nick's eyebrows climbed a bit on his forehead, and Cara gave him an expectant look. "Is that right?"

Nick nodded. "Yeah." He frowned in Aaron's direction, though his expression showed traces of impressments. "I'm surprised you remember that."

Aaron shrugged. "Cutting the album is always the most important thing. I took my fair share of that shit."

Theresa immediately recognized the maternal gleam in Cara's eye and cursed inwardly. The last thing anyone needed was a high-energy discussion about the ethics of the recording industry. That thought in mind, she interjected before Cara had the chance to continue the conversation.

"You got plans for tonight?"

Nick's eyebrows returned to their position above his frown line. "Who, me?"

Theresa rolled her baby blue eyes and groaned. "Nah, the Backstreet Boy behind you. Who else would I be talking to?"

He winced, but knew better than to acknowledge the Backstreet Boy comment after the previous evening's accusations. "No, no plans." He knew that he was skating on thin ice. Theresa had been plenty straightforward the night before, and he wasn't anywhere near jaded enough to test his luck. Esmerelda and her company could wait. He'd decided early that morning to take the evening without
cocaine. "Why?"

Cara, seeing where the sudden change of topic was headed, took up the conversation. "Well, it's been hell at rehearsal, so we decided to veg for the evening with some popcorn and a copy of Just Married. If you'd like, you're welcome to join us."

At first, it wasn't clear whether Nick or Aaron was more surprised at the sudden hospitality.

Fortunately for Cara, Nick spoke first. "Really? You wouldn't mind?" He knew that Cara's invitation was sincere, but he wasn't as sure about the other two. Theresa was a difficult character to read, but she didn't seem to be in the best of moods that evening. Aaron, on the other hand, had yet to glance in his direction.

To his surprise, Theresa shook her head. "Why the hell would we mind? The more the merrier." She took that opportunity to nudge Aaron. "Right, A?"

The teen shrugged. "Sure, whatever." He continued to study the images frozen onscreen, and an uncertain ache settled at the bottom of Nick's stomach when Aaron's ignorance registered.

Dammit, he's still pissed. Things aren't ever going to be the way they were before. He's never going to forgive me.

He couldn't help thinking that he didn't blame Aaron. And, as tempting as the invitation was, he knew he didn't have the heart to cause Aaron any more discomfort. He deserves to have a night with the girls. He needs it. And me? I'll just go to my room, alone, and attempt to get my fucking act together. Because I don't need any stupid substance to get through this. I can handle Aaron. I can handle guilt. I can be a better person.

He fought the urge to snort in disbelief at his inner affirmations.

That, and I refuse to let Theresa catch me in the act again.

"Nah, I think I'll pass. I really need to get some sleep if I'm going to finish this kid's album tomorrow." He offered a tired smile and hoped it looked remotely convincing. He could tell from the expression on Cara's face that she didn't buy it, but he was already sick of her overly maternal nature. "Thanks for the invite, though. We'll have to do it some other time."

The two girls nodded in unison as Aaron's eyes burned a hole through the television, and Nick made a swift exit. It wasn't until his door closed, however, that Aaron finally relaxed long enough to glare at Cara.

"Shit, C, what were you thinking?"

Cara flinched at the anger in Aaron's voice. "That he looked lonely, A. I'm sorry, but he IS our houseguest."

Aaron rubbed a tired hand over his face. "Whatever. I'm just glad he didn't decide to join us."

"Yeah, I second that," Theresa agreed. "Can we start the movie now?"

Aaron waved a hand at the screen. "By all means. It's about time I had a good laugh."

Cara smiled softly. "We definitely picked the right movie then."

That said, the three friends settled in for a night of laughter and lost love.