Comforting Lie
Chapter Thirty-Eight
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

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.

He'd 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.

At 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 things.

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's in!


Nick glanced warily at Theresa as the infectious pop music invaded his skull. "Hi. What the hell are y'all doing?"

"We found 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.

"Gone," Theresa answered. "Trent and Rob dragged him to breakfast and they haven't been back since."

"Trent and Rob?"

"John Utterson and Sir Danvers," Cara amended with a smile.

"Oh." Nick frowned down at his watch. "When did they head out to breakfast?"


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."

"And 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.

"Come 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 curiosity.



He rolled his eyes. "I don't even remember the dance."

"Bullshit," 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."

It was the first time he'd actually admitted to drug use in front of Theresa, and the younger woman smiled warmly at him.

"You'd 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."

"Then 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 gets back."

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."

Meanwhile, Theresa gave him the once-over with a gleam of approval in her eye. "I'm impressed, Pretty Boy. You're actually maturing."

Nick 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'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 of this.

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

He cringed. These days, the thought of him teaching Aaron anything was definitely laughable.

What? What's this you say?

His eyes widened at the raspy, high-pitched sound. God, my voice sounds terrible.

Just 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, know you're white, right?"

Nick flipped her off for good measure, and she giggled again.

Haha...dude, you can't have her

He couldn't. 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!"

Nick frowned. "Huh?"

"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.

"You're 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.

"What? I've 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.

One 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."

Fuck. He thinks I'm stealing his place.

He was about to open his mouth and apologize when a warning alto echoed in the empty space.


Aaron's shoulders slumped immediately at the sound of Cara's voice. "What."

"You're being obnoxious."

He turned around to glare at her, but his forehead crinkled in pain instead. "I know, I just...I'm tired."

Cara's brow furrowed with worry. "When was the last time you took some medicine?"

"I dunno. This morning."

"It's probably worn off by now," Cara sighed, lifting herself up off the floor. "Come on, let's get you some more."

Theresa 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."

"Gee, thaaaanks..."

"Seriously, 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's it?!"

"Well, that and it looked like fun."

A hint of a smile tugged at the corners of Aaron's mouth. "It is fun."

Cara smiled back and reached up to rub his shoulder as he swallowed the Robitussin she offered. "You want to come out and play with us?"

Aaron 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.

"That's mean."

"But justified," she chuckled.


"Apology 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 really dancing?"

Nick allowed a small, humble smile to grace his rugged features. "They made me do it."

"Bullshit," 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?"

"Depends on 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.

Ahem...attention, ladies and'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."

Nick 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."

"You 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?"

The 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 admitted.

"That's How I Fucked Shaq," Nick supplied with barely-concealed laughter. To their right, Cara covered her face with her hands.

"Oh Lord..."

"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..."

"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 added.

"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.

"I don't know about that," he answered quietly, his voice a dark whisper against the peppy background music.

Any other 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."

Aaron 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,'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.


"Yeah," 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..."

"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?"

"You little punk!"

Aaron grinned. "Get the ghetto booty in gear, Prickolas."

Nick shook his head. "Oh, no you didn't..."

"I 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?"

"Hell yeah!"

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."

Cara's eyebrows rose expectantly. "And if it's not just for an afternoon?"

Aaron sighed heavily. "I try to avoid thinking about that."

Cara frowned. "How?"

"Depends," Aaron sighed. "Right now, I'm just gonna watch him dance."

And he did.

* "She Wants Me"
performed by Nick and Aaron Carter