Comforting Lie
Chapter Thirty-Four
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

Preordained checklist of this awkward love
It's so sad

As usual, Cara was the first person up the next morning. Despite the dark rings around her eyes and the perpetual exhaustion that tugged at her eyelids, she was up from the first ding of the alarm clock, grumbling about early hours as she pulled the covers off her tall, tired frame.

Rubbing her eyes gingerly with her fist, she stumbled into the kitchen to start the coffee maker. Normally, she would've chosen tea over coffee, but her exhaustion was extensive enough that she needed as much caffeine as she could get. After a brief break to wash her face and brush her teeth, she returned with an eager, empty cup and a slightly heightened sense of consciousness. She was just securing her hair in a ponytail when an equally groggy Aaron padded across the kitchen tile. He glanced up long enough to make eye contact with Cara, and both of them froze.


His voice was hoarse, sleep-thick, and tinged with regret. She sighed and cracked a small smile for his benefit.


Aaron cleared his throat, tugged his blanket more tightly around him, and looked at his friend with pleading eyes. "Listen, about yesterday..." He trailed off, waiting for her response. He knew Cara well enough to know that she usually accepted his prompts.

She didn't say anything though, and he expelled the breath he'd been holding on two pain-stricken words.

"I'm sorry."

Cara's brown eyes widened in surprise, something Aaron took as a good sign. "You're sorry?"

"Well, yeah," the younger man admitted sheepishly. "I totally disregarded your boundaries, completely ignored your penchant for privacy..."

"Yeah," Cara interrupted with a laugh. "Yeah, you did. But I didn't exactly stop you."

Aaron's brow furrowed in confusion. "I didn't give you a choice. I was..."

"You were wonderful," Cara chuckled.

Aaron's bushy brown brows lowered on his tanned forehead. Huh? He was positive that the mass amounts of Robitussin had fried his more valuable brain cells.

"You mean you're not mad?"

Cara sipped her steaming mug with a small grin. "No, I'm not mad!" He heaved a sigh of relief. "Thank God."

"Why would I be mad?"

Aaron waved a hand in the air absently as he searched for a mug of his own. "Boundaries, privacy..."

"Here." Cara reached across the counter and handed him an NYU coffee cup. "And, A, you weren't at all disrespectful. You were in character."

Something flickered across the younger man's features that worried her. "Oh."


"I wasn't in character," he admitted lowly. "Not at the end of the song, anyway."

Her voice was sympathetic and whisper-soft as she placed her hand over his. "I know."

He looked up in surprise at the physical contact. "You know?"

She chuckled. "I know. And Aaron?"

He blinked. He was sure that his sinuses were screwing with the synapses in his brain. This is too good to be true. She...God, she's not even angry!

"I'm not sorry."

They locked gazes across the tiled island, studying each other more intimately than they had previously.

"Sorry about what?"

The moment ended abruptly as both turned towards the raspy voice at the other end of the kitchen.

"Nothing," they answered in unison.

Nick shrugged. He wanted to know, but he knew better than to pry. He was just glad that Aaron was talking to him again. "Okay. Hey, do you two mind if we make some toast?"

Cara flinched at the thought of the toaster, and Aaron stifled a smile.

"Not at all, man. Go for it."

Nick looked up at his younger brother in surprise. "Thanks." He reached above the refrigerator for the bread, turning his back to Aaron and Cara. Had he turned around in time, he would've seen them sharing a look that said that the previous conversation was far from over.

It had just begun.

*      *      *      *      *

The door to the auditorium creaked open, and a lone figure peaked out from behind the doorjam. With a deep breath of apprehension, the figure allowed the door to close behind him and directed all attention to the dialogue onstage. He had been worried about his entrance being a disturbance, but the sound did nothing to distract the professionals onstage.

Onstage, Tabitha's Lady Beaconsfield and Theresa's Lisa were engaged in a battle of verbal prowess and barely-disguised hatred, one that was apparently mediated by Rob's Sir Danvers.

"Lisa assures me that Henry Jekyll is impeccable husband material," Rob began in a paternal tone.

"Well, for a start, it is less than impeccable to be late to one's own engagement party," Tabitha sneered.  "It shows a remarkable lack of style."

"Yes, well..." Rob trailed off as he went to greet the other engagement party guests who had decided to make an entrance.

"Comments on style should never be made by those who have none," Theresa muttered. A laugh from stage left demanded her attention, and she turned willingly towards Trent's smile.

"Miss Carew."

She moved towards him, pulling him into a hug. "Mr. Utterson, thank you so much for being here."

Trent's John Utterson chuckled. "You're a graceful breath of fresh air," he replied kindly, releasing her towards Kyle's Simon.

Theresa turned again, stopping short when her character took notice of a very smug-looking Simon. Both actors immediately adopted surly expressions.

Lisa Carew, can this be you?
What kind of man is this you've taken?
Can you not see the kind of life that this would be?
You are mistaken
Time to awaken before it's too late
Before you forever determine your fate

Kyle grabbed her hand and arched a threatening eyebrow, but Theresa immediately retracted the hand and shook her head. Her strong soprano rang out in the auditorium as she responded.

Simon, you knew I had to be free
What I choose to do
Is decided by me...

"Nick?! What in the hell are you doing here?"

It took a moment for him to realize that the hiss wasn't part of the scripted onstage banter. He sighed heavily and offered a tentative smile in Cara's direction, never taking his eyes off the stage.

"I thought...I guess...I wanted to see," he finished lamely.

"See what?" she hissed, her voice dangerously low.

"Aaron," he answered quietly. "You, Theresa. I wanted to see the musical. I wanted to see what you guys go through."

Cara was impressed. "Seriously?"

Nick heaved another sigh, finally turning his attention away from the scene in front of him. "Cara, I really do want to turn things around, okay? I'm not fucking it up this time. I really want to be better, and that involves being supportive of Aaron."

The younger woman frowned uncertainly. "Okay..."

"So here I am."

Cara sucked in a breath. "Wow."


Both returned their gazes to the stage, where Lisa Carew and Simon Stride were engaged in a dance of elusion. When Cara spoke again, her voice was soft.

"What do you think so far?"

Nick laughed lightly. "Well, I've only been here for a few minutes, but I'm seriously surprised at how well Theresa plays a lovesick wife-to-be."

"Shocking transformation," Cara agreed with a smile. The conversation was interrupted by Theresa's gentle soprano and Aaron's accompanying entrance.

I'm not the weak young thing you're seeking, Simon
Someone seventeen, obedient, and sweet
I'm not the protégé to waste your time on
I'm complete...

She held the note in a measured vibrato as she caught Aaron's eyes across the stage.

In Henry's eyes I see
What I am meant to be

The touching scene between the two was interrupted immediately by the raucous laughter of two other cast members, both of whom seemed content to tease Henry Jekyll about his prolonged entrance.

Henry Jekyll, you're a devil
You have robbed us of London's most lovely girl

The other slapped Aaron on the back jovially as he took a breath.

I could turn to drink, when I stop to think
Lisa's marrying a doctor instead of an earl

Both of the guests looked at each other with remorse, singing the next line in perfect unison.

Poor girl **

Sir Danvers stepped out of the wings just as Dr. Jekyll managed to brush off the obnoxious men, and Nick sucked in a breath of anticipation from the audience when he realized that Aaron was about to recite his lines.

"Ah, the late Dr. Jekyll," Rob boomed.

Aaron looked up with a charming smile, and all signs of the flu vanished from his face. "My apologies, Sir Danvers."

Sir Danvers smiled easily, shaking the hand that Dr. Jekyll offered. "Forgiven. More like Lisa, I'm willing to anticipate you. But are you sure we oughtn't invite your wedding guests for the day after the ceremony, just to make sure the groom is in attendance?"
His expression spoke of stifled laughter and casual teasing, both of which Dr. Jekyll greeted with a knowing smile.

"Never fear, sir, I'll be there. The six weeks `til the wedding," he began with a grin and a wink, "will be the longest of my life."

Nick watched in amazement as the two continued to banter back and forth. He remembered all too well the previous evening's image of his brother doubled over in a hacking cough, and he was incredibly impressed at the transformation. He hardly recognized the calm, composed actor in front of him. Additionally, Aaron recited his lines with an ease that implied he was not only practiced, but naturally talented. He had a knack for timing and an impeccable delivery.

An elbow nudged him in the ribs, and he jumped at the unexpected contact.

"He's good, isn't he?" Cara asked with a grin.

"Really good," Nick agreed quietly. "He must be feeling better."

"Hardly," Cara scoffed. "He's just on a bunch of drugs."


"Cough meds," Cara amended. "That, and he's got enough tea in him to piss a river." She clapped Nick on the back gently, missing his surprised countenance entirely. "You'll hear the inconsistency when he sings, though."


Nick jumped at the loud baritone voice, but Cara remained calm and collected.

"What the..."

"Cal," Cara answered with a grin.

Nick closed his mouth long enough to listen to the forthcoming rant.

"Aaron, what the hell is going on up there? This is your girlfriend's FATHER, not your fucking frat buddy! You can't act like an ass in front of this guy, okay? Jekyll's determined, yes, but he's also in love with Lisa, and he's not enough of a dipshit to screw that up. And Rob? I know this is a whole different ball game for you, but you're a DAD. Fucking act like it, okay? You can't grin and giggle at the thought of your daughter having sex with this guy."

Onstage, Aaron and Rob nodded thoughtfully and re-positioned themselves. Out in the audience, Nick gulped.

"And Cara, get backstage. Lunch break's over, doll. It's time for you to be a whore again."

Cara laughed lightly from Nick's left. "That's my cue," and away she went.

"Start from the Lisa/Jekyll dialogue. I'm sick of this scene."

Nick watched in amazement as everyone but Theresa, Aaron, and a sitting observer cleared the stage. The sitting character leaned back on its hands and groaned. "Okay, go. And please, dear GOD, don't make us do this scene more than twice today."

Silence fell over the crowd as the scene commenced.

Aaron stepped tentatively away from the wings, a smirk playing on his tired features. "Miss Carew?"

Theresa turned with barely-concealed amusement on her face. "Dr. Jekyll!"

Aaron dipped his chin ever so slightly, playing the part of the embarrassed husband-to-be with deadly accuracy. His entire demeanor was that of a man in the doghouse. "Are you angry with me?"

Theresa's Lisa rolled her eyes good-naturedly. "No."

A smile tugged on the corner of Dr. Jekyll's mouth, but his tone was stern. "You should be."

Lisa's eyebrows rose in surprise. "I'm just happy you're here!"

Dr. Jekyll rolled his eyes. "Well, I try never to miss any social occasion attended by Lady Beaconsfield. Tell me, is there a Lord Beaconsfield?"

"He died thirty years ago," Lisa answered in a voice dripping with regret.

"Sensible fellow," Dr. Jekyll deadpanned. Lisa's laughter bubbled forth with a schoolgirl's ease. Dr. Jekyll grabbed her hands, adopting a pleading expression. "Dearest Lisa, you realize you're setting yourself up for a lifetime of these aggravations."

"Yes, I realize that."

He continued doggedly. "I cannot live by the same old clock other people do."

Theresa's Lisa arched a single eyebrow. "I realize that, too."

"And in all good conscience, I must advise you, I love you far too much to have you suffer the sort of life I have to offer," Aaron finished, wrapping a tender arm around Theresa's waist. The contact had initially been uncomfortable for the two friends, but they'd learned to tease each other with facial expressions.

Theresa's face offered no such humorous expression. Instead, her brow furrowed in concern as Aaron took a deep breath to sing and prayed that his voice worked in the ways he so desperately needed to.

I must go on with the work I'm committed to
How can I not when my theories are true?
And I will prove if I'm ever permitted to
Things are not wrong just because they are new

Theresa forced herself not to react at the painfully raspy baritone that bubbled forth, instead interrupting the tirade with her gentle soprano and, with her eyes, pleading Aaron to put an end to the song. He does NOT need to be singing.

Henry, I adore you
Always have done, always will do
And your dreams are mine
I will always understand, however hard the path we've planned
Our lives will intertwine

She held the note with a powerful vibrato, pulling away from his embrace long enough to look him in the eye. Aaron took a breath and frowned deeply, delivering the next line with a clearer tone, but lacking strength.

Who knows where my work will lead me?

Theresa interrupted again, returning to his arms with fervency.

Nowhere where you will not need me

Another deep breath, and Aaron was trying to ignore the urge to cough and the blinding glare from Cal.

Lisa, please, I beg you
Heed me

Theresa caught the concern on Cal's face and shot him a desperate look.

Just don't leave me on my own

Aaron closed his eyes and tightened his grip on Theresa's waist, hoping to summon enough energy to hold his next notes.

What, by God, am I supposed to do? ***

Nick had found a seat in his state of trance and was now watching in amazement at his brother's transformation. Gone were the days of kiddie rap and the occasional sappy tween ballad. Somewhere down the line, the little prince of pop had developed a voice that--even now, when he was so obviously ill--gave his brother chills. The clarity wasn't full force, but the expression was more than enough to make up for it.

Apparently, the director didn't share Nick's opinion, because the music ground to a halt.

Had Nick not been so concerned, he would've laughed at the way Theresa and Aaron immediately jumped apart.

"Carter, what are you doing to yourself?"

Both Carter brothers hung their heads, trying to ignore the accuracy of the question.

"No, man, I want an answer. What are you doing to yourself?"

Nick looked up in surprise when he heard the barking cough he knew to be Aaron's.

"Man...I have to do this. We have to do this. The performance..."

"Isn't going to happen if you don't shake this thing," Cal interjected pointedly. "Your co-star over there is shooting me looks of death because I've still got you on this stage, and I'm beginning to think she might have a point."

Nick's heart constricted when he saw Aaron's face fall.

"Don't get me wrong, Aaron. You're kicking ass out here, especially for someone with a fever, but I can't in good conscience let you go on singing this song. I know you're trying to put in your hours. I know how much this musical means to you, because it means equally as much, if not more, to me. I just..." Cal trailed off and shook his head. "I can't let you do this to yourself, man. I need you in top form for this thing, and while you're not doing a bad job, you're definitely not doing the job I know you can do."

Aaron groaned. Unfortunately, the groan turned quickly into a cough.

"Look, kid, you know your lines. You know your songs. For once, you and Theresa aren't acting like the other has cooties or something." A ripple of laughter went through the audience. "I know I'm a hardass, kid, but I have a heart, and listening to you sing like that is just ripping me to shreds."

"Cal," Aaron began quietly, "I need to be here. I don't..." He shook his head and rephrased. "I can't be at the apartment alone right now."

"No," Cal agreed, "because, like it or not, we have a show to put on, and it's a show that people are going to pay to see. You're going to go through the motions, put your arms back around Theresa, and let her finish this song. HOWEVER, you are NOT going to sing. If I so much as hear you humming, I'll have your ass in a taxi faster than you can say 'Take Me As I Am,' understood?"

Aaron rolled his eyes. "But that doesn't help us work..."

"Do you want me to have Cara talk to you?" Cal interrupted. The auditorium fell silent as everyone waited for Aaron's response. Finally, the younger man groaned.


"Fine, then," Cal finished. "We'll start from where we left off."

"Can I at least run lines?" Aaron grumbled. Cal sighed in frustration.

"Go ahead, kid, but the second I hear you cough, I'm sending you into the audience and the Dregs girls onto the stage."

Both men faced off for a moment, each glaring at the other. Not surprisingly, Aaron was the first to relent. Cal dutifully cued the music, and a perturbed younger Carter took his place behind his blonde roommate.

When this all began
We knew there'd be a price to pay
Too late now to turn away
We have come too far
I know we'll find a way

Aaron broke away and moved downstage for his own verse. He reached out a hand to the balcony, fully prepared to pantomime the song, when another voice rang out in the stillness.

Sometimes I see past the horizon
Sure of my way
Where I am going
But where's the prize I have my eyes on
Where there is just no knowing

The two cast members onstage froze when they saw that Cal was the one singing Aaron's part. They'd heard him do everything. They'd heard him yell, scream, cry, run lines in perfect sync with the group, but they'd never, ever heard him sing.

As Aaron made his way back towards Theresa, he grudgingly admitted that the director wasn't half-bad.

And when despair tears me in two
Who can I turn to but you?
You know who I am
Take me as I am

From the audience, Nick felt tears well in his eyes as his silent brother mouthed the words along with the director. Theresa and Aaron shared an embrace and a tender gaze, but the words of the song were enough for Nick to imagine that he himself was singing them to his brother.

Look in my eyes
Who do you see there?
Someone you know, or just a stranger
If you are wise
You will see me there
Love is the only danger

Theresa held Aaron in her arms with the patience of a mother as she sang her lines, trying desperately to comfort him in the only way she knew how. She couldn't help thinking that Cara would've done a better job, but she let the music flow through her anyway, hoping that it would serve as consolation for the hug she knew he'd rather be receiving.

Both were entirely unaware of their guest.

Love meaning me
Love meaning you
You'll make that one dream come true
You know who I am
Take me as I am

As the two-part harmony arrived, various other voices from the cast could be heard singing along.

We may not always do what we desire
Still we can set the world on fire
Give me your hand
Give me your heart
Swear to me we'll never part
You know who I am

Aaron sang his lines quietly along with everyone else, Theresa serving as a powerful echo.

This is who I am
This is who I am

The rest of the cast faded away, however, leaving Aaron and Theresa to finish the song in quiet but perfect harmony.

Take me as I am ****

The whole audience of cast members erupted into applause, whistling as Theresa squeezed Aaron tightly. Once the applause died down, though, Cal's voice boomed over the stage once again.

"Carter, that's it, man. You're done for the day. Into the audience."

Aaron grinned cheekily at the director, his arms still wrapped around his shorter friend. "And if I told you that I really, really enjoyed your singing?"

The unthinkable happened. Calvert Holland blushed.

"Flattery isn't going to keep you onstage, kid."

"Not even if it inspires that lovely shade of pink you're wearing?"

Theresa stifled giggles in his arms, and Cal himself looked to be stifling a smile.

"You're going to be wearing some black and blue if you don't clear the wings, kid."

Aaron chuckled. "Okay, okay, I'm going..." That said, he let go of Theresa and vaulted off the stage and into the orchestra pit. Cal stared threateningly down into the audience.

"While I'm up here, does anyone else want to get a dig in?"

No one dared to answer. They knew better than to tease him when prompted.

*      *      *      *      *

Aaron weaved his way through the seats slowly, searching for the familiar backpack he'd come to carry to and from rehearsals. He didn't immediately find the backpack, but he did run smack into a wall of chambray and leather.

"I'm so..." He looked up and choked on his apology. "Nick?!"
The older Carter swallowed forcefully and cracked a small, tight-lipped smile. "Hey."

"How'd you get here?"

Nick frowned. "I drove?" He tried to ignore the way Aaron's expression was turning his stomach.

"How long have you been here?"

"Since the engagement party," he answered truthfully. Aaron groaned.

"Fuck. So you saw everything."

"Yeah," Nick admitted quietly. However, his eyebrows rose in contradiction when he saw the crestfallen look on Aaron's face. "Wait, man, it wasn't like that. You''re really good up there."

His voice was soft enough that he sounded sincere, and it was Aaron's turn to raise his brow in surprise.


"Really," Nick affirmed. The brothers shared a small smile.

Aaron wiped his hands on his torn jeans. "You, want to go grab lunch or something?"

Nick shook his head sadly. "No. I mean, thanks, but I should probably be getting back. I've been gone over an hour."

"Wow, yeah," Aaron replied immediately. "You should definitely be getting back. I um..." He shook his head and looked directly at his older brother, locking brown with blue. "Thanks. For coming, I mean. means a lot."

Nick grinned, and for a moment, Aaron caught sight of the smile that once graced a thousand posters. "Sure thing, man. I can't wait until opening night." His expression turned serious. "I'll be here then, too."

Aaron smiled. It wasn't much, but it was a start.

"Comforting Lie"
lyrics and music by No Doubt
* "Lisa Carew"
** "Engagement Party"
*** "Possessed" (the onscreen version)
**** "Take Me As I Am"
lyrics by Leslie Bricusse
music by Frank Wildhorn
AUTHOR's NOTE:  All of the musical's dialogue in this chapter is taken directly from the musical and is copyrighted by Leslie Bricusse and Frank Wildhorn. :)