Comforting Lie
Chapter Thirty-Nine
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

So let's bring on the men
Let's let the fun begin
A little touch of sin
Why wait another minute?
Step this way
It's time for us to play
They say we may not pass this way again
So let's waste no more time
Bring on the men! *

Cara stood center stage in black lace lingerie and stilettos, arms spread wide as she belted the last note with more conviction than ever before. Around her, the Dregs girls were doing an X-rated version of the can-can that involved more touching than kicking. However, they slid down into the splits as the last note came to a ringing halt, ending the number with a bang.

Confetti flew from either side of the stage, and Cara fought against the urge to flinch as she waited for Cal's critique.

"We're gonna play a little game..."

Every cast member in the auditorium looked up in surprise. After two and a half months of rigorous rehearsals, they had never seen Cal pass up an opportunity to light into one of his performers. Every number, every lyric, every line had to be assessed. Every mistake had to be recognized and appropriately reprimanded. He'd chosen many different ways to critique--there had been the yelling, the screaming, the one-on-one heart-to-hearts, the "you tell me what you think you did wrong," and then the ever-popular "what the hell were you thinking"--but he had never, ever turned it into a game.

"What game?" Cara asked uncertainly.

Cal ignored her and turned his gaze to the cast members in the audience. "I'd bet good money that Cara already knows what I'm going to say, and I'd bet that the rest of you could probably join her in imitating one of my rants. Unfortunately, that makes the critique more humorous than helpful. Instead, I want you all to tell Cara what you thought. Not what you think I thought, but what you walked away with. We'll start with Rob."

Rob, dressed in a full tux and top hat, scratched his chin in true Sir Danvers fashion and frowned. ", the notes were good, the attitude is a lot better, but you need to be less shy about spreading your legs in some of those dance moves. I know that sounds just GREAT coming from me, helps to make an ass out of yourself."

Cara nodded, chest still heaving.

"Kyle," Cal prompted.

"I love you, Cara," Kyle grinned. She laughed. "Seriously, though, I agree with Rob. Also, watch some of those high notes to make sure you're not going sharp. I know it's better to overdo it because they're a reach, but you were drifting up just a touch when you had to hold them for long periods of time. Breath support was awesome, though."


The aforementioned cast member furrowed her brow. "I'd like to see you work the facial expressions more on the breakdown."

Cal nodded his agreement. "Theresa."

"It was good," the blonde declared with a smile. "Although I'd like to see Aaron pick his tongue up off the floor..."

From his position onstage, Aaron whirled around and gave Theresa the finger.

"And on that note, I think we'll break for lunch," Cal muttered loudly. "Good criticism, guys. Cara, I hope you learned something from the rest of the cast. After sitting in the audience for two and a half months, they've got a pretty good handle on your strengths and weaknesses."

Cara nodded her understanding as she vaulted off the stage and into the audience. She wasn't really listening anymore. She was more focused on kicking some blonde butt.

With one fail swoop, she'd stuck both legs in sweatpants and managed to grab Theresa by the arm.

"What the hell were you thinking?"

Theresa turned around to grin at her roommate. "Oh, gosh, C. You should've seen the look on Aaron's face. Really. It was fantastic."

"As fantastic as your death is going to be?" Aaron growled, lifting her over his shoulder from behind. True to his word, he'd lost his voice the night before. Much to Cara's relief, though, he'd woken up feeling perfectly fine.

"Oh,'ve got it all wrong, kid. See, I don't die. That's YOU."

Aaron winked at Cara. "I don't know about you, C, but I'm getting pretty sick of Terry's character cracks."

"I second that opinion," Cara chuckled, yanking a sweatshirt over her head. The entire cast had agreed to go out to lunch that day, and she wasn't about to walk into Subway in a bustier and fishnets.

"Then stop setting yourselves up for them!" Theresa retorted. "And Aaron, you'd better put me down before I accidentally develop muscle spasms and end up kicking your face in."

Aaron returned Theresa to the ground immediately, and she brushed herself off with a glare.

"I can't believe you wrinkled my taffeta."

"I can't believe you're wearing your taffeta," Aaron shot back, grinning from ear-to-ear. For the first time in two weeks, he'd had a wonderful rehearsal.

"Yeah, well...'sometimes, it's necessary that we make sacrifices for the good of our characters,'" Theresa quoted with a roll of the eyes. "Take yourself, for example. When would you ever voluntarily wear a prosthetic ponytail?"

Aaron groaned at the mention of his polyester hairpiece. "Never. After seeing Nick with one, I know that long hair is a bad route for me to take."

Theresa giggled. "Whoever thought you'd be learning fashion lessons from Baby Backstreet?"

"I did," Cara muttered. "Nick is a walking poster board for fashion don'ts."

"Here, here," Aaron agreed. "Now, where the hell is the rest of our time warp? We need a big group if the nineteenth century is really going to invade the local Subway."

"We're coming," Trent muttered from behind, his arm wrapped securely around Tabitha's waist. "I had to put my top hat away, and the lady here had to find a safe place for her parasol."

"Wimps," Rob interjected, bringing up the rear. "I'm wearing my top hat."

"They didn't give me one," Kyle pouted as he reached for the street door.


They all whirled around at the loud soprano to see Larkin teetering towards the exit in stilettos and a bathrobe. When she finally caught up to them, her chest was heaving.

"Sorry, but I wasn't about to venture out looking like a rejected Victoria's Secret ad."

Cara grinned knowingly at her friend. "I understand completely."

"Yeah, Cara's cheating," Aaron chuckled. "She pulled out the whole sweatsuit."

"She would've been cold," Cara grumbled. "Lingerie may look pretty, but it doesn't do much in the way of coverage."

Aaron wrapped an arm around her and gave her waist a squeeze. "I would've offered you my jacket."

"Aw, look at you two," Rob teased. "Being all cute and shit..."

"No kidding," Kyle interjected. "When did this start? Usually, I can spot in-cast incest a mile away."

"By the time we figured shit out, I was sick," Aaron explained with a sigh.

"Speaking of," Trent began, "I'm really, really glad to see you feeling better. No offense, dude, but you scared the hell out of me yesterday morning."

Aaron chuckled. "Yeah, get worse before you get better, you know?" He grinned down at the brunette beside him and gave her a squeeze. "Cara helped me through it."

Cara smiled appropriately, trying to ignore the implications of his generalization. If he only knew how right he is...

"At any rate, we're glad you're better. It's nice to hear you singing again."

Aaron groaned. "Dude, it's nice to be singing again. I was going insane."

"Understandable," Theresa grinned.

"No shit. Not only did you have to stay silent, but you had your brother out there in the audience with you," Trent added. "That had to be weird."

"Honestly?" Aaron laughed. "It's kinda nice. He's been really, really good about everything. On Friday, when I was passed out on the seats in the back, he brought me lunch."

"Really?" Tabitha asked, her brow creased in concern.

"Wow," Larkin muttered. "Sounds like someone's taken a turn for the better."

"He really has," Aaron agreed. "I don't know what happened, but he's really cleaned up his act lately."

Theresa and Cara exchanged a look, but neither woman said anything.

"It frees me up to worry about other things," Aaron smiled, "like this one."

Cara's chest constricted beneath the warm weight of his arm on her shoulder. There was too much sincerity in his voice, and it killed her to think that she was betraying him when he was trying so hard to push their friendship to the next level. God, I hate lying to him...

She wasn't lying, really. She was omitting. She was being selectively truthful.

Her mother would tell her that she was lying. Theresa repeatedly told her that she was bullshitting. She would start to feel guilty, but then she'd remember the smile on Aaron's face the previous afternoon, the way Nick's eyes lit up when he realized that Aaron was joking with him again, and she remembered why the lying was necessary.

Sure, she wanted to get together with Aaron. She loved him. Unfortunately, she loved him enough to know that his relationship with his brother was more important than her desire for a romantic connection.

She just hated that she had to choose.

They reached the Subway as a dysfunctional group, and Aaron held the door open for her. He paid for her order, despite her protests. He pulled out her chair. He sat across from her and squeezed her hand under the table before tending to his super-sized sub.

"Man, can you believe Cal relinquished the right to critique this afternoon?"

Cara didn't have to look up to know that the incredulous voice was Theresa's, and she was more than thankful for an excuse to drop out of the conversation.

"It was cool, man. I think he's slowly getting used to the idea that it's all on us now."

"Yeah, he actually seems to have a little bit of faith in us."

"I think he's starting to come around."

"I doubt it. You just wait...we'll get to the final rehearsal before the actual performance, and he'll fucking flip out. He'll start cursing everyone, pointing out flaws, pointing out flubs in the lines, the whole nine yards. He'll go insane and give us the 'people are actually going to PAY to see this show' lecture a trillion times before he starts in with the Exorcist thing and his head spins."

Cara looked up at Larkin's longwinded comment and bit her lip to keep from smiling.

"Did you seriously just say that all in one breath? 'Cause if so, there's NO way you can't hold that note in 'Girls of the Night,'" Rob pointed out. "That's just..."

"Larkin's a talented girl," Kyle interrupted with a grin, and they all laughed. The banter continued back and forth for a bit, everyone doing their best Cal impression, and Cara tuned out. She had another date in the practice rooms with Nick that night, and she was trying to figure out how she was going to pass it off in front of Aaron.

"You know what I was thinking?"

She discreetly sucked in a breath and offered what she hoped was a convincing smile. "No. What were you thinking?"

He reached across the table and grabbed her hand, his warm brown eyes shining under the fluorescent lights of the fast food joint. "I was thinking that we should spend some quality time together, just the two of us. You know, like we used to before Nick got here and I got sick."

Her smile immediately grew genuine. "I'd like that."

"Me too," he grinned, his voice low. "Maybe we could even go on a date."

She knew she was blushing. "Maybe, yeah."

"What are you doing this evening?"

Fuck. Nick. She managed to keep the shy smile in place as she struggled to find an excuse for her absence. "Actually, I...I have plans tonight," she finished lamely. His brow furrowed in a frown.

"Are you and T going out?"

"Not exactly..."

"Okay." He paused a moment before the smile returned. "Sorry. That's none of my business anyway."

Cara groaned inwardly. Shit, now he thinks I'm avoiding him. "No, I'm sorry. How about tomorrow night?"

The warmth returned to his brown eyes, and the corners of his mouth tugged farther upward. "Sounds wonderful."

"We could go out," she began tentatively. She didn't really want to go anywhere, but she was up for sacrifice. Hell, I owe it to him to be flexible.

"Or we could stay in," he finished with a sigh. "We're always exhausted after rehearsal anyway. We could order Chinese and watch a movie and mellow out on the couch all night."

Cara grinned so hard that she could feel her cheeks contracting. "That sounds perfect. An at-home date."


She bit her lower lip to dim her smile, but to no avail. "I'd love to."

"It's a date, then," he grinned. "Do you have a movie preference?"

"Do you?"

He made a face. "No chick flicks..."

She laughed. See, it's just Aaron. Things are going to be okay. "I can work with that. Why don't you surprise me?"

He chuckled. "I could work with that."



"Okay," Theresa mimicked from her spot beside Cara. "What the hell are you two being cute about NOW?"

"Ask yourself this, T," Aaron chuckled. "Do you really want to know?"

She groaned. Beside her, the couple shared a secret smile before returning to the outside conversation.

*     *      *      *      *

Aaron jerked himself awake, his heart racing. He sat straight up in bed, mind reeling while his eyes darted nervously around the room. Finally, the whirring of the heater drowned out the blood that was rushing in his ears, and he started to relax when he realized that he was in Cara's room.

He'd stopped in when she got home. Theresa had gone out that evening, and he'd used the empty apartment as an excuse to call his family for the weekly check-up. The conversation with his father had been casual enough, but the conversation with his twin sister had been depressing at best. By the time he'd gotten off the phone, he'd been frustrated beyond belief and in need of a good heart-to-heart. Cara's timing had been impeccable, and he'd talked both her and himself to sleep. The entire evening had been mentally taxing, and he was positively exhausted.

Now, for whatever reason, he was positively hungry.

He leaned over to place a kiss on Cara's forehead and slid quietly off the bed and out of the room, hoping not to disturb her slumber. Once her bedroom door closed behind him, he stretched and padded into the kitchen for a late-night bowl of cereal.


For the second time that night, Aaron's head shot up in surprise. He relaxed only somewhat when he saw his brother leaning against the counter.

"Oh. Hey."

Nick smiled slightly, uncertainly. "Sorry. I didn't mean to scare you."

"It's cool. I'm just jumpy."

Nick nodded. "What are you doing up?"

Aaron reached into the cabinets and grabbed a cereal bowl. "I spazzed myself awake. I could ask you the same question, though."

"Couldn't sleep," the older man answered with a sigh.

"I'm sorry."

"Me too."

They shared a nervous chuckle while Aaron yanked a box of Chex from the top of the refrigerator. God, this is awkward. He poured himself a bowl and hopped up on the counter, making himself comfortable next to the toaster.


No, I'm just stuffing myself for the hell of it. "Yeah, a little."

"That's good," Nick mumbled absently. "You must be feeling better."

Aaron looked up to see his brother frowning into his mug, his hands shaking, and a bit of the awkwardness faded with the realization that Nick had been worried about him.

"I am, a lot. Thanks for helping me out this week."

Nick looked up with a tight-lipped smile. "Anytime, man. It's not like I did much."

Aaron shrugged. "Just the fact that you hung was cool of you."

"I'm glad I could help," he replied quietly. They were silent for a moment, Nick staring down into his cup while Aaron spooned Chex into his mouth. Nick blew on the liquid a bit and took a long sip. It was enough to prompt Aaron to make conversation.

"I hope you aren't drinking coffee..."

Nick cracked a smile. "No, caffeine wouldn't do much for that whole insomnia thing. It's just tea."

"Yeah? What kind?" Theresa and Cara had some obsession with tea that Aaron had never understood. They were connoisseurs of it, and they had an entire cabinet dedicated to their collection.

"Throat Coat."

Aaron flinched. "Aw,'re sick? I didn't give you my cold, did I?"

Nick chuckled lightly. "Nah, I'm not sick." He paused, wondering whether or not to tell Aaron about his "lessons" with Cara.

Aaron made a face. "You can't tell me you think that stuff tastes good."

Nick wrinkled his nose. "Not exactly. I, uh...I did a little singing tonight."

Aaron's eyebrows shot up to his hairline in surprise, and he leaned forward eagerly. "No way. Seriously?"

Nick's cheeks flushed slightly crimson. "Yeah."

"That's awesome! Where at?"

"The studio," Nick lied. "I was just goofing around, seemed like the natural thing to do, you know? I guess I got carried away."

Aaron grinned, really grinned at him. "It's easy to do, huh? Had Cal not yelled at me today, I probably would've gone too far."

Nick looked up with interest, glad to have the attention off him. He knew Cara wouldn't appreciate him divulging their secrets to Aaron, especially not after he'd asked her to keep it a secret. "That's right, you guys had rehearsal today. How'd it go?"

Aaron's eyes lit up. "Man, it was wonderful. Cal wouldn't let me sing full out because he wants to make sure that I'm in good shape, but I was in tune for the first time in days, and I didn't have any trouble running lines."

Nick sighed with relief. "That's great, man. After last night, you know, I was really worried about you."

Aaron grimaced. "Yeah, I can imagine. I think I scared the shit out of Cara. We were sitting on her bed talking and...bam."

"No voice?"

The younger man chuckled. "None. I expected it, because when I'm sick, that's always the last thing to go, but...she freaked out."

Nick frowned sympathetically. "But things were fine today?"

Aaron nodded affirmatively. "Things were great, man. I mean, I'm still coughing a little, but nothing like it was. I am SO glad to be rid of that stupid cold."

Nick smiled. "I bet it was nice to sing again."

"You have no idea," Aaron laughed. Seeing the expression on Nick's face, though, he paused with a frown. "Or maybe you do."

"I don't know," Nick answered softly, seriously. "I don't think I could ever sing like you can now."

"Bullshit," Aaron muttered. "First off, what you heard that day was a poor representation of the way I sing. Secondly, I heard you when you were in your prime, remember? I know what you sounded like. You could've blown me out of the water, easy."

Neither one of them was sure how they had arrived at this point. Maybe it was the hour, or the exhaustion, or a mixture of both, but the delicate line of communication had been completely obliterated, and neither one of them was uncomfortable enough to care. The silence that hung in the air reminded them, though, that they weren't that close anymore.

We aren't as close as we used to be, but we're definitely making progress. Nick swallowed the lump in his throat and sighed heavily.

"It doesn't matter, AC. The point is that I'm nowhere near that good anymore."

Aaron set down his bowl and stared pointedly at his older brother. He wasn't sure where his audacity had come from, but he liked his sudden ability to be straightforward. That, and he was sick of tiptoeing around Nick.

"You could be."

The older man laughed bitterly. "I don't know about that, man. I've smoked a lot of cigarettes since then."

"You've done more than that," Aaron pointed out, and it was the first time that he'd forced the acknowledgement of it, "but you can do anything you put your mind to."

Nick pondered his shaking hands, his sweating forehead, and the half-empty cup of tea. He considered his lesson with Cara that evening and the no-holds-barred conversation he was having with Aaron. He acknowledged his cold-turkey quitting of cocaine and alcohol in favor of the reconstruction of himself, and he sighed.

"I guess you're right."

* "Bring On The Men"
lyrics by Leslie Bricusse
music by Frank Wildhorn