The music was soft in its opening notes, and there were stars in Lucy's eyes as
she gripped the edge of her rusted brass bed and allowed a nostalgic smile to cross her face.
A new life
I wouldn't give to have a new life
One thing I have learned as I go through life
Nothing is for free along the way
the back of the auditorium, a young man lay languidly across a group of chairs, trying to get comfortable as his head throbbed
and his cheeks burned with fever. He snored lightly in his state of half-consciousness, completely unaware of the blonde that
was quickly gaining on him.
The pursuer stopped when he arrived at the young man's head, and he reached out a tentative
hand to brush the bangs from the younger man's forehead. His brow creased with worry when the heat under his hand registered,
and he stepped over the row of chairs to sit beside his brother.
"Aaron? Wake up. I brought you lunch."
That's the thing I need to give me new heart
Half a chance in life to find a new part
Just a simple role
that I can play
Onstage, Lucy jumped off the bed and began to swing herself around the posts like a little
girl in a candy store. The years faded from her smile as the song quickened its pace, and she reached out her fingers in search
of freedom as the notes sailed through the auditorium.
In the audience, the musical's young star stretched his long
limbs and blinked in bleary-eyed confusion as his older brother's raspy whisper registered.
Nick offered, holding up the turkey sandwich and chicken noodle soup he'd brought.
Aaron's sandy blonde brows bumped
each other just above the bridge of his nose. "Why?"
Swallowing the guilt that threatened to surface, Nick allowed
himself a tight-lipped smile. "'Cause you're sick, Aaron. You need substance in your system so you can fight off this infection."
He reached into his pocket and fished out the bottle of Ibuprofen he'd brought. "Here, take some of this. It'll bring your
Aaron was too surprised to argue, and one glance at his watch allowed that he was due for another dose.
"Shouldn't you be at work?"
"I'm on photo shoot duty today. This is my lunch break."
A new hope
to convince me to renew hope
A new day
Bright enough to help me find my way
As much as he wanted to
deny it, he was flattered by his older brother's attention. "Oh."
Nick quickly filled what would've been an awkward
He wasn't, but he didn't want to destroy the feeble bridge his brother seemed to be building. "Sure."
unwrapped the sandwich carefully, handing the first half to his brother as the younger man struggled to sit upright. As soon
as Aaron's butt hit the chair, his nose started to run, and he sneezed heartily.
Nick was ready with a handful of Kleenex.
wiping his nose, Aaron cast a sheepish smile in his brother's direction. "Thanks."
One that maybe has a touch
"How long have you been here?"
"'Bout five minutes."
They sat in silence for a moment, sipping soup and listening intently to Cara's
Where can it be?
This chance for me
Nick cleared his throat awkwardly. "So
is Cal giving you a break today?"
Aaron chuckled hollowly. "Yeah, but not by choice. My singing sounds for shit, and
I'm too sick to project well. I'm out by default."
Aaron shrugged. "It's okay. I get to sleep, which
means I can get better. We start dress rehearsals soon, so..."
"It's good to rest," Nick finished quietly. Surprised,
Another awkward silence settled over the duo, one they both tried to fill with food.
Nick took the opportunity to follow Cara's tall figure across the stage. He was mesmerized by her command of the song, but
the lyrics were what truly drew his attention from the uncomfortable conversation he was attempting with Aaron. God, I
wish things could go back to normal with us. I wish he could talk to me like he used to.
I wish I could talk
A new dream
I have one I know that very few dream
I would like to see that overdue dream
though it never may come true
"She's good, huh?"
Nick jumped at the sound of his brother's voice. "Huh?"
Aaron answered with a small smile, his gaze never leaving the woman onstage. "She's good at what she does."
Real articulate, Nick. "I'm surprised she likes the stage, though. She always seemed so shy..."
"That's the beauty
of it," Aaron answered truthfully. "She's just...she totally lets go. When she's onstage, nothing else matters. She's so focused
on the songs and the lines and the essence of it all that she doesn't care what anyone else thinks of her anymore."
free," Nick added quietly, sounding almost resigned. To his right, his brother nodded emphatically.
it. She's free."
Nick knew the signs of freedom well. It was all he'd wanted since he'd gotten to New York.
I want to be that free, you know?"
Nick looked up in surprise. "Yeah. Yeah, I know."
He noticed for the first
time that his brother's gaze was still fixed on Cara.
A new love
Though I know there's no such thing as
Even so, although I never knew love
Still I feel that one dream is my due
"I take it back,"
Aaron finally muttered.
"Take what back?"
"What I said about rest," he sighed. "It's not good. It sucks."
bit his bottom lip to keep from laughing at his brother's petulant expression. "Why?"
"'Cause I miss singing. Seeing
people up there, knowing that I could be up there..." He groaned. "It sucks."
Nick couldn't think of anything
helpful to say, so he merely handed his brother another pack of saltine crackers.
A new world
This one thing
I want to ask of you world
Once, before it's time to say adieu world
One sweet chance to prove the cynics wrong
you ever miss it?"
The elder Carter froze at the personal question. It was the first time Aaron had made an attempt
to know more than his professional side, and the thought both warmed him and scared him stiff. He tried to keep his voice
steady, but his next question held a barely-there vibrato.
Aaron sucked in a nervous breath around
the knot in his stomach. God, I hate asking him the difficult questions.
Both boys knew
that the question contained more than that, but neither said a word.
A new life
More and more I know as
I go through life
Just to play the game and to pursue life
Just to share its pleasures and belong
That's what I've
been here for all along
Nick's chest constricted as he watched Cara grip the bedframe like her lifeline. Suddenly,
the stage was no longer hers. It was his, and Kevin's, and AJ's and Brian's and Howie's, and the lump in his throat grew tenfold
as he closed his eyes against the pain of the memory.
"Yeah, bro. I miss it."
Aaron reached over and tentatively
grabbed Nick's hand, squeezing it gently as he pointed at Cara onstage. "Check it out, man. Listen to the power in her tone.
She can hold this fucking note forever."
Each day's a brand new life
The note came and went,
but Aaron's hand remained.
* * *
The walls were yellow. The ivory keys were yellow. The carpet was an ugly brownish-yellow.
The fluorescent light overhead cast a yellow glow over the black upright with chipped paint and roughened edges.
Carter sucked in a deep breath and tried to avoid the age that screamed at him from every corner of the tiny NYU practice
room. The piano bench creaked loudly in the silence, and he jumped as Cara's lilting alto echoed against the faded walls.
He glanced apprehensively at the sheet music spread above the keys and decided that he wasn't sure. Standing
in the curve of the baby grand, he could remember days when he felt relaxed enough to lean against the wood, cracking jokes
and notes with four other people that he trusted more than life itself.
He didn't trust those people anymore. He didn't
even know those people anymore. He definitely didn't know the man that used to rest his elbows against the piano top.
thoughts drifted back to that afternoon's rehearsal, though, and he was reminded of how much Aaron wanted him to be that man
again. How much he wanted to be that man again.
"Yeah, I'm ready."
Cara chuckled warmly from the piano
bench. "Perfect. You wanna start with scales? I need to test your range anyway, just so I know how far to transpose this."
hands were shaking. Scales. Simple. Why the hell am I so nervous?
Cara arched an eyebrow
at him. "You okay?"
He swallowed forcefully. "Fine."
She shrugged. "Okay, we'll start on a low C."
went up to the fifth and came back down slowly. Then, with a nod in Nick's direction, she played the C again and signaled
for him to sing. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and exhaled on a raspy, flat version of the ten-note pattern. When
Cara didn't continue up the keys, his eyes opened in surprise, and his brows came together.
"Okay, so I'm flat, but..."
interrupted him firmly. "Hands on your stomach."
His chest rose, and he exhaled
on a groan when he realized what the problem was. "Chest breathing."
She smiled. "Bingo. Take another breath."
did, and his belly expanded into his open palms. He hissed the breath out, feeling the familiar muscles of his diaphragm contract
as the air left his lungs.
"Wanna try again?"
He nodded sheepishly, and Cara went back to her C. The next attempt
was as raspy as the first, but he was in tune that time. Cara continued up the keyboard, and Nick struggled to match the pitches
as she played them. She got to a middle G before his voice cracked, causing them both to stop as Nick's cheeks burned a deep
Cara smiled softly. "It's okay. That's why we warm up. Besides, your range isn't going to be
where it used to be."
He sucked in a breath and tried to ignore how many things about this particular scene weren't
like they used to be.
"Why don't we try going down?"
So they did. With every note, he became more scared, more
tentative, more disgusted with his own voice. By the time they'd examined his range a second time, his throat was sore and
he wanted to go home.
"Do you feel somewhat warmed up?" Cara asked gently.
"No," he grumbled. "This is...fuck."
swiveled around to face him. "What?"
"This sucks, Cara. I had a fucking four-octave range. Now, I'm hard pressed to
get two solid octaves. It doesn't feel natural, it hurts like hell..." Suddenly, he was blinking back tears. "This used to
be so much easier."
Her heart ached when she saw the expression on his face. "Oh, hon...I'm sorry. It's going to take
awhile for things to come so naturally again, but we can work on it."
He sighed. "I know. It just...it sucks that we
have to work on it, you know? This shit used to be effortless. I used to kick ass at scales."
Cara struggled to bite
back the smile that threatened to surface. "And now they're kicking your ass?"
"Exactly." He wasn't laughing. In fact,
he was dangerously close to crying like a baby.
Cara, sensing the waiting waterworks, reached for the sheet music they'd
come to conquer. "How about we go straight to the song, then? At the very least, you can sing some frustration out."
Nick seriously doubted that singing would do anything but cause frustration
at this point, but he nodded his agreement anyway.
Cara spread the pages out on the piano and began to play the introduction
slowly, counting on Nick's knowledge of the piece to carry him through the first verse. "Can you see the words?"
voice was whisper-soft when he responded. "I don't need them."
Look at me and tell me who I am
Why I am
what I am
Call me a fool and it's true, I am
No one knows who I am
It's such a shame
I'm such a sham
one knows who I am
The words were rough-edged and tinged with a lingering hoarseness, but there was no
denying the emotion in Nick's voice as he sang. For the first time in years, he really sang, letting go of his inhibitions
and the memories of what had been. He wasn't singing for Backstreet, or for Aaron, or for a crapload of fainting fanatics.
He was singing for himself.
He couldn't remember the last time he'd actually believed the words he was singing. The
entire experience was foreign to him, but he loving the haunting sound of the pedal in the hollows of the practice room.
there were sweet possibilities
I could see just for me
Now all my dreams are just memories
Fated never to be
not a friend
I wonder who am I?
He was so taken by the power of the music that he didn't
even notice when Cara's lilting alto joined in, coaxing him back onto the right pitches and forcing him to strengthen his
He was singing fear and hope and resentment. He was singing through a thousand cigarettes and a lottery of lonely
girls with long legs that had spent the night once or twice. He was singing betrayal--his own and that which he'd been forced
to endure--but he was mainly singing pain.
A single tear strolled down his cheek as he realized how much pain there
was to sing about.
Am I the face of the future?
Am I the face of the past?
Am I the one who must finish
Cara crescendoed appropriately, too impressed by the depth of her pupil's feeling to notice the inconsistencies
in pitch. Nick Carter no longer sounded like Nick Carter. The power that had fueled the bridge of "I Want It That Way" was
certainly long-gone. He sounded like a weather-worn shell of his former self, but the passion in his voice remained.
she launched into the second verse, she couldn't help but wish that Aaron could hear the private performance.
at me and tell me who I am
Why I am what I am
Will I survive--who will give a damn?
If no one knows who I am
a glance at her once-shy performer, Cara saw that Nick's eyes were squeezed shut and his knuckles were white as he gripped
the edge of the piano. As he brought the song to a gut-wrenching end, his voice was little more than a last breath.
Not even you
No one knows who I am *
Cara followed the notes perfectly, letting her expert fingers
glide of their own accord across the yellowed ivory. At the edge of the upright, Nick Carter opened his eyes and faced his
For the first time since his arrival in New York, he didn't flinch.
"That was nice," Cara intoned
quietly. Nick smiled softly.
"Yeah, it was."
"You were a bit flat, though."
He chuckled. "I know."
a bit more support," she remarked gently. When Nick finally faced her, his blue eyes were sparkling.
"Nothing a few
rehearsals won't fix."
Inside, Cara cheered.