Nick headed up the stairs with a little bit of exhaustion and a whole lot of apprehension.
It wasn't late in the evening just yet, but he wasn't used to working on a Sunday, and he'd been in the office since seven
that morning listening to takes for Rhine's album. She was shaping up to be quite an amazing artist, and the casual curiosity
with which she greeted her music was refreshing for someone of his experience. Nonetheless, she was also incredibly intelligent,
and her stream-of-consciousness conversation exhausted his mental faculties to the nth degree.
He was mentally exhausted
and physically anxious and the last thing he wanted was to walk into the apartment and feel like Aaron didn't want him there.
arrived late last night to a darkened living room and the occasional snore. He'd nonchalantly flipped the light switch, thinking
that the other three were either out or under the covers. Either way, he hadn't expected to find Aaron and Cara tangled together
on the overstuffed sofa. He definitely hadn't expected to see his younger brother gripping her like a lifeline. Somehow, in
all of his counseling sessions with Cara, he'd forgotten that she was Aaron's best friend as well.
He'd known that
they were close. What he hadn't known was that Aaron was in love with her.
He wasn't entirely sure, but the expression
on Aaron's face last night had spoken of much more than a friendship; and Nick hated that his brother had fallen head over
heels without a single word about the matter.
He could remember very vividly Aaron's first real relationship. He could
remember the phone calls he'd gotten in the middle of the night from a thirteen-year-old Aaron who had just taped an episode
for a Disney sitcom and was positively besotted with the twelve-year-old Hilary Duff. The next morning, Nick had logged onto
the internet for pictures of the blonde bombshell, and he'd almost laughed out loud when he'd seen how well Aaron had described
her. The relationship had progressed quickly, but Aaron always called Nick for advice before going forward with anything.
the time, Nick had thought that his younger brother's dependency was cute. Now, he yearned for the same free-flowing conversation.
Because Aaron had adored Hilary, but Aaron was over-the-moon-and-into-orbit in love with Cara.
All of the signs had
been there. Nick just hadn't noticed them.
He hated that he no longer knew his brother well enough to expect those
He was already soaked in nostalgia as he turned the knob to the apartment. He didn't think his memories could
get any more powerful, but as he heard the music that had begun to pour through the speakers in their Manhattan home, he realized
how wrong he was.
Ahem...attention, ladies and gentlemen...school's in!
glanced warily at Theresa as the infectious pop music invaded his skull. "Hi. What the hell are y'all doing?"
this in the back of the storage closet," Cara answered with a grin. "Ring any bells?"
Nick groaned aloud as she held
up the cover of Twister Moves.
"I've certainly got something ringing in my head," Nick grumbled.
"Where's Aaron?" If he reacted this badly to that stupid game, he didn't want to imagine how Aaron would react to it.
Theresa answered. "Trent and Rob dragged him to breakfast and they haven't been back since."
"Trent and Rob?"
Utterson and Sir Danvers," Cara amended with a smile.
"Oh." Nick frowned down at his watch. "When did they head out
The girls erupted into senseless laughter as Nick removed his coat and scarf and stuck
them on the rack next to the door. "I think I'm going to grab my discman and go for a walk..."
"No, stay!" Cara called
with a grin. "Play with us!"
"Yeah," Theresa agreed. "You know you want to."
Nick leveled them each with a doubtful
look, but Cara merely rolled her eyes.
"Come on, you can teach us the dance."
Nick's eyebrows shot up in surprise.
"You mean, as a Backstreet fan, you never learned it?"
"Nope. I wasn't that coordinated."
He narrowed his eyes
suspiciously. "But you're in musical theater."
"That doesn't mean I dance," Cara chuckled. "I can memorize choreography
when I need to, but it takes me forever, and it never looks good."
Nick directed his suspicious gaze to Theresa, who
nodded in affirmation. "She's not kidding. She's cute, but she can't dance worth shit. That's more up my alley."
by dancing," Cara added, "she means having sex with clothes on." Try as he did to retain his bad mood, Nick couldn't help
but smile at the triumphant grin on Theresa's face.
"Hell yeah, baby!"
Nick shook his head in amusement.
on, you know you want to dance with us. Even if it is just to see Cara make a fool out of herself."
Cara winked at
him. "Consider it a fair exchange. I teach you to sing again, you teach me to dance."
Theresa's eyebrows climbed fairly
high at the notion of Nick singing again, but the look that passed between the other two prevented her from mentioning her
He rolled his eyes. "I don't even remember the dance."
Theresa fired. "I bet you could pound out 'Everybody' right now without even having to stop and think about it. Muscle memory's
a bitch, kid."
"I don't know," Nick countered. "I've taken enough illegal substances to kill my muscle memory."
was the first time he'd actually admitted to drug use in front of Theresa, and the younger woman smiled warmly at him.
be surprised at how much endurance muscle memory has. After half a year in the hospital, I could still remember the choreography
to a ballet I did in middle school."
"That's not muscle memory," Nick muttered. "That's just freakishly good memory."
we'll put yours to the test," she finished. "We've got four mat-things. That's enough for you, me, C, and Aaron whenever he
Nick's eyes bulged at the thought of Aaron doing the dance with him. He'd never go for it. Not even
on a cold day in hell. He and I both know that those days are over.
"Blast from the past," Cara spoke up. "Come
on, Nick. Just for shits and giggles."
One look at the two women allowed that he wasn't going to get out of it, so
he rolled his eyes, heaved a sigh, and nodded.
"Fine. One go-around. Give me my mat."
Cara let out a squeal
of delight and tossed him one of the plastic game boards. "Okay, set up shop and we'll start the CD over."
Theresa gave him the once-over with a gleam of approval in her eye. "I'm impressed, Pretty Boy. You're actually maturing."
arched an eyebrow. "Is that so?"
"Definitely. And it's a beautiful thing to see, baby."
He'd never received
a compliment from Theresa before. "Thanks, I think..."
"She means that in a good way," Cara offered, moving to her
mat. "You guys ready?"
Nick rolled his eyes again. "Ready as I'll ever be."
Theresa reached down and pushed
play on the disc.
Ahem...attention, ladies and gentlemen...school's in!
"Aww, listen to you,"
she tossed over her shoulder as she walked to her place.
Man, shut up
Nick sucked in a breath
as the puberty-stricken voice of a younger Aaron bled through the speakers. Fuck, I forgot about the dialogue in the beginning
Time to teach you a little somethin', bro
"Oh my God," Cara giggled. "Please
tell me this was scripted."
It was, but they'd had fun with it. Nick could clearly remember goofing off in the booth
with his younger brother, punching him in the shoulder and giving him noogies in between takes. He'd been addicted by then,
into the drugs, but having a sober day with Aaron had kept him in line for a week afterwards.
Haha! Yeah, right
cringed. These days, the thought of him teaching Aaron anything was definitely laughable.
What? What's this
His eyes widened at the raspy, high-pitched sound. God, my voice sounds terrible.
back off, dawg. She wants me.
Are you talkin' junk?
His gaze flew to Cara, who was staring at him with barely-concealed
amusement. Am I taking her away from him?
"Hey, Carter...you know you're white, right?"
her off for good measure, and she giggled again.
Haha...dude, you can't have her
He knew just by looking at Cara that he was completely unworthy of a woman that good, but he didn't want her in that way.
He just needed her friendship, needed her faith to keep him from relapsing while he tried to pick up the pieces of his fractured
existence. He hadn't thought that was unfair. Now, he wasn't so sure.
God, the last thing I want to do is keep
them from being together.
From the CD, the DJs started calling out moves and directions, and he abandoned all
thoughts of Cara to focus on the game. He could remember the Today Show, performing in front of Katie Couric and feeling like
an asshole for being hungover. He could remember Aaron teasing the hell out of him.
"Carter! You lie!"
"You remember the steps," Theresa grinned. "It's fucking obvious."
He watched her for a moment,
surprised by the fluidity with which she moved from one position to the next. Theresa was obviously a dancer.
not so bad yourself, you know. Are you sure you never played this?"
"Definitely," Theresa laughed. "I was too fucked
up to mess with this when Cara originally bought the damn thing."
His eyebrows rose at her honesty.
been there, Nick. There's no denying it. I know where I came from, but I also know that I'm never going back again. We are
who we are, you know?" To lessen the seriousness of her diatribe, she gestured towards a stumbling Cara. "Take C, for instance.
She's definitely NOT a dancer."
With a glare, Cara halted her steps and turned to give Theresa the finger. Nick, on
the other hand, had to cover his mouth to stifle his laughter.
"Oh, come on, C. It's okay. We love you despite the
fact that you shake your ass like a retarded poodle."
Nick couldn't help it. Between the disgusted look on Cara's face
and the triumphant look on Theresa's, he had to laugh. In fact, he started laughing so hard that he doubled over.
glance at Nick, and Cara decided that the chipping of her dignity was worth getting a belly laugh out of the youngest Backstreet
Boy. She hadn't heard him laugh since they'd been living together. One look at Theresa, though, and they were laughing too.
Laughter is contagious. Infectious, even, and so all three eventually ended
up on the floor and fighting back tears. They were laughing too hard to hear the door open, but they definitely noticed when
the music stopped.
"What in holy hell is going on around here?"
Aaron's voice was a low and grating as he stood
in the doorframe with Trent in tow. The others on the floor wiped their eyes and sighed through their remaining giggles, trying
to avoid each others' eyes so the outbursts wouldn't continue.
Trent chuckled and clapped Aaron on the back. "Listen,
bro, I'll see ya later. Feel better."
"Thanks." Aaron waved him off, his gaze still fixed on the three people in front
of him. "Well? Is someone going to answer me?"
Cara held up the cover of the Twister Moves box as though it held all
the answers in the world. "We roped Nick into playing with us."
Aaron's incredulous gaze moved immediately to his older
brother, who was attempting to regain composure. "They roped you into playing Twister Moves?" His voice faded from croak to
whisper and back again. Nick's eyes widened.
"Dude, you sound awful."
As soon as the words escaped, he knew
he'd crossed the wrong bridge. Listening to the dialogue at the beginning of the song had been a bad idea. Suddenly, he'd
slipped into the old, familiar vernacular. He'd forgotten that the two of them weren't that close anymore, but the flare behind
Aaron's brown eyes quickly reminded
"I'm also sick, remember?"
Nick's facial features softened a good
deal. "Are you feeling any better?"
Aaron rolled his eyes. "Not as well as you three are feeling, obviously."
He thinks I'm stealing his place.
He was about to open his mouth and apologize when a warning alto echoed in the
Aaron's shoulders slumped immediately at the sound of Cara's voice. "What."
He turned around to glare at her, but his forehead crinkled in pain instead. "I know, I just...I'm
Cara's brow furrowed with worry. "When was the last time you took some medicine?"
"I dunno. This morning."
probably worn off by now," Cara sighed, lifting herself up off the floor. "Come on, let's get you some more."
caught Nick's gaze and rolled her eyes exaggeratedly at Cara's maternal nature. Nick cracked a small smile in return, but
Theresa could see immediately that his eyes weren't in it. Damn.
The conversation in the kitchen filtered
over the bar-style counter.
"A, Nick's right. You really do sound awful."
hon, you were getting better yesterday. What happened?"
"I feel a whole hell of a lot better; I just sound worse. I'll
probably just lose my voice tonight and be fine in the morning."
In the living room, Nick cringed at the thought of
a voiceless Aaron.
"Are you sure? Maybe you should be in bed."
"Or maybe you should tell me what in God's name
possessed you to drag that piece of crap out of storage."
Cara shrugged. "We were bored."
that and it looked like fun."
A hint of a smile tugged at the corners of Aaron's mouth. "It is fun."
back and reached up to rub his shoulder as he swallowed the Robitussin she offered. "You want to come out and play with us?"
sighed. "Maybe I'll come out and watch. I probably shouldn't be dancing just yet."
Cara knew it was the best she was
going to get, so the two of them moved back into the living room.
"Feeling less like a prick?" Theresa asked with a
teasing grin. Aaron leveled her with a breadbox look.
"But justified," she chuckled.
accepted," she answered with a wink. "You gonna play with us or no?"
"Nah, I'd rather just sit here and watch you guys
attempt to dance," Aaron answered with a grin.
"HEY!" Theresa hollered. "I'm a good dancer!" She turned around to face
Nick. "Pretty Boy's not so bad either."
Aaron's eyebrows climbed so high that they hit his hairline. "Nick? You were
Nick allowed a small, humble smile to grace his rugged features. "They made me do it."
Aaron fired back. "You're too big for them to make you do anything."
The younger Carter looked
pointedly at the elder. "You know it's true."
Nick was about to protest when he caught sight of the gleam in Aaron's
dark brown eyes. Oh my God. He's kidding. He's actually teasing me. Holy shit.
His surprise was quickly overridden
by the need to come up with something witty. Quick, be smart.
"Careful, little brother. I'm also big enough
to beat you up."
A hint of a smile graced Aaron's features. "You mean you'd harass the sick kid?"
how much the sick kid pushes his luck," Nick fired back with a small smile. For a moment, blue locked brown, and the two silently
agreed to make peace for the time being.
The girls looked on in complete astonishment as Aaron leaned back against
the couch and waved an arm. "Well? Come on, old man. Let's see if you can still strut your stuff."
Cara flipped the
switch for the CD, and the three of them groaned into a standing position as they waited for the track to start.
ladies and gentlemen...school's in! *
Theresa was already grooving to the pop music, but the other two were
distracted by the barking, coughing, croaking laugh that ensued.
"Oh, fuck. I totally forgot about this."
grinned as the in-track banter continued. "Time to teach you a little somethin', bro," he recited.
Aaron rolled his
eyes. "Yeah fucking right."
"Now, Aaron," Cara began, eyes gleaming. "You know that's not PG enough for pop music."
don't have to tell me," Aaron muttered with a chuckle. "I'm the one who had to record a song called 'That's How I Beat Shaq'
to satisfy the sheltered teeny population."
Nick chuckled at the memory. "We made it bearable, though, didn't we?"
younger man groaned brokenly. "Did we ever..."
Theresa spun on the blue circle of her plastic mat so she was facing
the other three. "What the hell are you two talking about?"
"We recorded an alternate version of that song," Aaron
"That's How I Fucked Shaq," Nick supplied with barely-concealed laughter. To their right, Cara covered her
face with her hands.
"Damn straight," Aaron grinned. "It was fantastic. I thought the producer
was gonna pee his pants."
"Do you still have that recording?" Nick asked.
"Somewhere," Aaron laughed. He turned
towards Cara and Theresa. "We should play it for you guys sometime. It's fucking hilarious. In fact, I'd sing it for you,
"But then we'd have to kick your ass for singing when you're supposed to be healing," Theresa supplied with
a knowing smirk.
"Especially when we're going to so much trouble to pump you full of immune enhancing drugs," Cara
"Dude, they're gonna have you more doped up than I used to be," Nick chuckled. As soon as the words slipped
out, though, he realized his error. Unfortunately, he also looked up in time to see the laughter fade from Aaron's weary face.
don't know about that," he answered quietly, his voice a dark whisper against the peppy background music.
time, Nick would have taken Aaron's melancholy gaze as his excuse to exit, but after joking with his brother for nearly half
an hour, he wasn't nearly so eager to let the newfound rapport die.
"Aaron...look, man, I wasn't thinking."
recognized the remorse in his older brother's eyes and decided, just for the afternoon, to swallow the pain. Hell, this
is worth it. "It's okay, man. It's in the past, right?"
"Yeah," Nick agreed, looking meaningfully at his younger
brother. "All of it."
The carefully pronounced words provided an answer to Aaron's silent questions, and Cara sighed
with relief when Aaron's shoulders lifted a little.
"You know, bro...you've gotten lazy."
Nick frowned. He definitely
hadn't seen the transition coming, but he'd take it. He didn't want to talk to Aaron about his past problems anymore. While
he was finally beginning to joke about it, it was obvious that his brother had yet to reach that point.
Aaron fired. "You think I can't recognize stalling when I see it? I'm sick, man, but I'm not dumb."
Nick was still
confused, and the way Aaron's voice faded from croak to soundless was starting to worry him. "Stalling..."
Aaron confirmed. "I came to see some dancing, Pretty Boy, and you have yet to deliver."
Nick's brows lowered significantly
at the sound of Theresa's detestable nickname for him. "Pretty Boy?"
Aaron set his mouth in a line. "What, did I stutter?"
Aaron grinned. "Get the ghetto booty in gear, Prickolas."
Nick shook his head. "Oh, no you didn't..."
think I did."
Nick turned to Cara with a dark look, but the humor dancing in his blue eyes warmed her heart beyond
belief. "Cara, start the track, please. I think I need to show this youngun how it's done."
"And come join me on the
couch," Aaron pouted. "I'm lonely all the way over here."
Nick bit back a smile when he saw the smoldering look that
passed between Aaron and Cara. "Hey, T, you gonna dance with me?"
With that, Cara set the CD to
play and settled herself in Aaron's lap. The two watched in amusement as the two dancers set to work, obeying every command
that the pre-recorded DJ called out.
Suddenly, his nearly-silent voice was in her ear. "I don't know what the hell
happened this afternoon, but thank you."
Cara looked at him in confusion. "For what?"
He smiled softly, blinking
through the sheen of tears as he watched his older brother shake the infamous ghetto booty. "That cocky, joking asshole you
just saw? THAT's the older brother that I love. And even if it's just for an afternoon, it was nice to have him back."
eyebrows rose expectantly. "And if it's not just for an afternoon?"
Aaron sighed heavily. "I try to avoid thinking
Cara frowned. "How?"
"Depends," Aaron sighed. "Right now, I'm just gonna watch him dance."