Comforting Lie
Chapter Forty-One
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

Oh, I can't decide
This tug-of-war
I'm feeling weak

The door to the dark apartment opened quietly as the two giggling cast members fell into the living room.

"I can't believe we managed to get away that quickly," Cara muttered incredulously, flipping on the light and shedding the overcoat that kept her warm against the quickly-approaching New York winter. "I mean, I don't even think Theresa saw us leave."

"It doesn't matter," Aaron chuckled, removing his own overcoat. "She's going out tonight. Remember? Her dad and sister are in town." He wiggled his eyebrows playfully. "She's going to have to endure the dreaded family dinner before her punk-ass sister drags her out for a night on the town."

"That's right. They're here looking at colleges, huh?" Cara inquired with a small smile. "Man, I remember those days..."

"I don't," Aaron laughed. "This musical is looking to be the extent of my higher education."

Cara rolled her eyes as memories of the day's rehearsal came flooding back. "Oh, God, you poor child." She cast a pitying glance in Aaron's direction. "You picked one hell of an instructor, you know that?"

Aaron flinched as a picture of Cal's angry face mentally presented itself. "Yeah, well...he was in rare form today."

"Understatement," Cara grumbled. "If Trent and I have to run that damn bedroom scene one more time tomorrow, I'm going to kill him."

"Not if Trent gets to him first," Aaron grinned. "You were annoyed, yeah, but Trent had been up there running lines since the very beginning of rehearsal. John Utterson had quite a day today."

Cara heaved a sigh and dropped her hat and scarf at the top of the coat rack. "At least John Utterson took the heat off of you for awhile."

Aaron shrugged. "I sang too much. It happens. At least Cal knew when to quit, right?"

"When to quit?" Cara groaned. "Between you and I, A, I really wish he'd just decided not to start today. We were nervous enough before rehearsal started, but I'm absolutely positive that my ego shrank at least three sizes between lunch and the last curtain call."

Aaron bit back the smile that threatened to surface at his friend's creative wording. "Like I said...rare form."

"I never thought I'd say this, but..." Cara sighed, "I just hope he's back to normal by tomorrow."

The two made their way to the kitchen with their brown bags of Chinese take-out, still mulling over the day's events. They'd just begun to remove the styrafoam boxes when Aaron finally spoke.

"Hey, speaking of rare form..."


He frowned down at the plastic silverware he'd unearthed. "What do you think was up with Nick today?"

Cara fought the urge to wince at the mention of Nick.

Shit. "Nick?" She worded the next sentences carefully, hoping to erase all traces of suspicion from them. "I don't know. He stopped by, right? I thought I saw him in the audience."

Aaron laughed lightly. "Oh, he stopped by all right. Scared the shit out of me while I was watching Cal tear you and Trent to shreds."

Cara grimaced. "Lovely."

"It was," Aaron assured her with a chuckle. "I'd been lying across the tops of the chairs again, and I fell over when he came up behind me."

Cara bit her bottom lip to keep from laughing. "Jumpy much?"

Aaron rolled his eyes good-naturedly. "Nick has a way of getting under my skin."

She frowned and forced herself to remain neutral. "You said he was acting strangely today?"

The greatly feared Carter frown returned. "Yeah. He was...I don't know. He seemed a little keyed-up."

Cara's eyebrows rose a fraction of an inch. "Really? What about?"

Aaron shrugged, helping himself to a large portion of steamed rice. "Well, he was really pissed about his studio session with Rhine. Said something or other about how he's a perfectionist and she wasn't doing her best, blah blah blah."

Cara imitated Aaron's noncommittal shrug. "That could've been it, A. You know how much he usually enjoys working with her."

Aaron shook his head slightly. "I don't know, C. There was something else about the way he was acting. He just..." He paused for a moment and decided against mentioning his suspicions about withdrawal. After all, Cara didn't know about Nick's former affinity for coke or his previous stint in rehab. "He's been really mellow lately, you know? I don't know what you did with him, but he's really chilled out, and today he was...much less chill than usual. He wasn't the same guy that was doing the Twister Moves dance in the living room a few days ago."

Cara smiled amusedly at the memory of Nick's dancing. "Maybe he just had a bad day in the studio." Whatever. Come on, Cara, you can come up with something better than that. She cleared her throat gently. "I bet he usually smokes when things go wrong, and he might've been craving a cigarette."

Aaron's eyebrows rose appreciatively at the thought. "I hadn't considered that," he admitted. "That would explain a lot, though." Like the shaking and the sweating and the perpetual anger.

"Yeah, know Nick," Cara chuckled, struggling to maintain a calm exterior. "He's probably never gone without his vices for this long." Especially vices that include weed and cocaine and a hell of a lot of alcohol.

Aaron glanced up from his dinner thoughtfully. "Do you think it's possible to suffer from nicotine withdrawal?"

Cara's eyes widened at the word "withdrawal," and she was suddenly thankful that Aaron couldn't see her face. "Of...of course. I mean, it's proven to be addictive, right?"

Aaron breathed a sigh of relief. "Right." I should still go to that meeting, though. Better safe than sorry.

Cara smiled shakily. "See? Nothing to worry about." Withdrawal? Man, I really need to talk to Nick...

Aaron returned her smile warmly. "Okay, enough about Nick. Are you ready for our first unofficial date?"

Cara's smile steadied immediately at the light in his eyes. "Definitely."

"Into the living room we go, then," Aaron told her with a wink. "I picked out a movie that I think you're going to like."

"Famous last words," Cara quipped, returning the wink. "Am I going to regret trusting you to find your own way through the video store?"

He rolled his eyes good-naturedly and reached out to tweak her nose. "No. I have three sisters, remember?"

Cara shook her head with a laugh. "Yeah, but how many of those sisters do you actually talk to, A?"

Aaron's brow furrowed petulantly. "That's not the point."

Cara bit her lip to keep from smiling at his annoyance. "What's the point then?"

"I grew up with girls," Aaron stated proudly. "I know what girls like."

"Yeah," Cara agreed coyly, "but do you know what this girl likes?"

Aaron gulped at the look in her eyes. He knew that she was playing Lucy, flirting with him like her character would, but he'd be damned if it wasn't the sexiest thing he'd seen in a long while.

"If I don't know yet," he began lowly, "I'd certainly like to find out."

*      *      *      *      *

Nick Carter heaved a nervous sigh and shoved his hands in his pockets as he entered into the smoky, swirling atmosphere. The club was alive with lights, music, and writhing bodies, but the scene didn't put him at ease like it used to. In fact, it made him downright uncomfortable.

He studied the dance floor for a few moment, trying unsuccessfully to muster the courage to make his way over. At long last, he decided that he needed a drink to help him mellow out a bit.

With a determined frown, he made his way towards the bar and dropped a few bills on the countertop. "Can I get a beer?" he hollered towards the bartender. The man nodded, swept up the money, and returned momentarily with an open bottle. Nick took it gratefully and swigged, wincing slightly when the alcohol burned his throat. He blinked in surprise at the sensation and realized just how long it'd been since he'd had anything to drink.

Too long. But I'm not drinking to get drunk this time. Just to relax. A couple of beers, a couple of dances, and then I'll go home and fall asleep.

He leaned back against the bar and surveyed the scene again, bringing the bottle back to his lips. He winced when he noticed the way his hand shook in the neon glow of the room.

At this rate, I just need to drink enough to stop shaking.

With that thought, he chugged the rest of the beer and dropped another few bills on the table. This time, the bartender noticed him immediately.


Nick nodded, reaching up to wipe the sweat from his brow. Damn, it's hot in here.

"Yeah, that'd be great."

The bartender handed him the bottle and cocked his head to the side curiously. "You look like hell, man. You sure you don't want something a little stronger?"

Nick nodded again. He was sure. He wanted to relax, yeah, but he also knew that he'd have to answer to Aaron, Cara, and Theresa at the end of the evening, and that was enough to keep him from getting trashed. He just wanted to be pleasantly buzzed. However, after three beers and a brief stint on the dance floor, it became clear that his hands weren't going to stop shaking.

Nick glanced anxiously at the bodies around him, all of which were moving to the bass beat that filled the club. He swayed slightly in the heat of the lights and gulped when he noticed that the bodies seemed distorted, blurry and unfocused to his bloodshot blue eyes. Suddenly, he was exhausted and way too buzzed to be out on the floor. He felt like the dancing throngs were closing in around him, and it was quickly getting more difficult to breathe.

He had to get out.

He began nudging his way to the edge of the dance floor, pushing through and between couples that seemed to move as one entity, ignoring the hands that grazed various parts of his anatomy. The roots of his hair were soaked with sweat, and he could feel the same moisture trickling down his back. He closed his eyes tightly for a moment, and all he could hear was the rushing of blood in his ears.

He barely made it off the dance floor before he had to sit down. His legs were shaking and his knees felt like Jell-o and his clothes were too close to his skin and his breathing was labored and he knew without a shadow of a doubt that he was having a panic attack.

He stood carefully and made his way towards the VIP room, hoping to find a quiet corner in which he could relax for a moment and get his bearings. He inched his way up the stairs, recognizing a few of the room's occupants from his previous clubbing expeditions. As soon as he entered the lounge, though, he knew he'd come the wrong way.
To his left, people were dancing and shouting excitedly. Directly in front of him, the neon green lights of the VIP bar nearly blinded him. To his right, however, a group was huddled around a small coffee table covered with neat lines of white powder.

Nick felt like he was going to throw up.

He was drawn towards the table, but he knew better than to act on it. Instead, he jogged quickly back down the stairs and into the bathroom area, sinking into one of the wooden chairs in the corner with a frown. His eyes darted wildly from side to side as he searched for a familiar face.

He was itching to go back upstairs and join the fun. Just one line. Not like it could hurt, right? No one would know.

His eyes immediately widened as the thought registered. No. Nonononono. Fuck. I can't do that again. I can't. Someone would notice. Even if they didn't notice, I would notice. I'd know. I can stay sober. I can do this. I can handle my life without white powder. I can...

His eyes drifted to his shaking fingers, and he realized that he didn't want to do it alone anymore. He was bordering on paranoid, and he needed a way out.

Without a second thought to it, he reached into his pocket, pulled out his cell phone, and began to dial semi-familiar digits with trembling fingers.

*      *       *       *       *

On the couch, Aaron and Cara were comfortably intertwined. Cara's hand rested gently on Aaron's chest, his hand had found her hip, and their legs were tangled at the bottom of the couch. To avoid immense teasing upon the arrival of their roommates, however, they were also covered by a large fleece blanket. Two empty cartons of Chinese take-out littered the coffee table, but neither was concerned with the mess. Instead, they were contentedly cuddling and deeply involved in the old, quirky comedy Benny & Joon.

Unfortunately, the tinny ring of Cara's cell phone shattered the tranquility of the moment. With an annoyed sigh, Cara removed her hand from Aaron's chest and fished the phone out of her pocket, wondering why Theresa was calling her at this hour. She knows we have a date. Hell, she certainly teased us enough about it.

As soon as Cara caught sight of the small screen, however, all thoughts of Theresa vanished.

"Don't answer it."

Cara laughed. "I really should."

"But it's Johnny Depp!" Aaron cried, mimicking Cara's recurring declaration. Throughout the movie, his attempts at idle conversation had been thwarted by his crush's affection for the older actor.

Cara smiled wanly. "I really need to answer this, though."

"Who is it?" Aaron asked quietly, recognizing the seriousness of her expression.

"It's..." Nick. Fuck. "My mom," she lied quickly.

Aaron frowned. "Why would your mom be calling this late at night?"

Cara blanched. "Um...I don't know, but it must be important. Let me take it in the other room." Reluctantly, she untangled herself from Aaron and headed towards her bedroom, quickly silencing the phone.

"I'll pause the movie," Aaron called with a smile. He knew Cara wouldn't want to miss a moment of Johnny Depp.

Cara winked at him over her shoulder and shut the bedroom door with a sigh. Man, this had better be good. As soon as she brought the phone to her ear, she could hear loud music in the background. Where in the hell is he?



She sighed heavily at the sound of Nick's tentative voice. "Hi, Nick."

Even over the music, she could hear his sigh of relief. "Thanks for picking up."

The sudden manners elicited a frown, and her harsh tone immediately softened. "No problem. What's up?"

"I...I kinda freaked myself out," he admitted. "I was dancing, but it was hot, so I left to go upstairs, but there was..." He swallowed forcefully, not wanting to say it. "There was a lot of bad stuff up there, and I couldn't handle it, so I had to leave, and..."

Cara's frown deepened at the quickness of his speech. "Whoa, hold up. Start from the beginning, Nick. Where are you?"

He heaved another sigh. "At a club."

"Why are you at a club?"

"I..." He trailed off, glancing uncertainly at what should have been familiar surroundings. "I just wanted to relax," he finally admitted. "This is where I used to go to relax."

Cara sighed heavily. "I take it that the club doesn't have the same effect anymore?"

"Understatement," Nick muttered. "I figured I could just get a drink or two and ease my nerves, you know? I've been really high-strung all day, and I wanted a way to mellow out before I had to show up at the apartment and deal with Aaron."

Cara's eyebrows rose in surprise at his wording. "Deal with Aaron? Why would you have to deal with Aaron?"

"He said some things when I stopped by rehearsal today that just...I don't know." Nick stared forlornly at the floor, wondering if there would ever come a time when he wouldn't have to hide the struggling part of himself from his younger brother. "He noticed some shit that I didn't ever think he'd notice."

"Like the fact that you're in withdrawal?" Cara prompted gently. Upon studying him at rehearsal, she'd had her suspicions, but hearing Nick's voice now confirmed them.

He was going to deny it. He was going to make up some stupid excuse that involved being overstressed at work, but he remembered at the last minute that he was among friends. "Yeah." His voice allowed that he was unpleasantly surprised by her intuition. "Yeah, like that. How'd you know?"

Cara sighed again and took up a seat on the bed, realizing that this was going to take longer than she'd originally anticipated. "He said some things to me tonight when we came home," she admitted.

Nick ran a hand over his sweaty ponytail in defeat. "Fuck."

"It's okay," Cara reassured him. "I think I managed to convince him that you were craving nicotine."

"You think he bought it?"

Even over the phone, she could hear the hope in his voice, and it made her smile. "Yeah. I think he's looking for any excuse to rule out cocaine as a factor. I think he wants to believe that you're long past that point."

"He's not the only one," Nick muttered dryly.

Cara's brow furrowed in confusion. "What do you mean?"

"I...I think that's part of the reason I came here tonight," Nick admitted thoughtfully. "I think I wanted to believe that I'm over it. Withdrawal..." He trailed off, unable to block out the painful memories that so willingly presented themselves. "I went through that the first time, Cara, and it sucked."

Cara nodded. She still had nightmares about Theresa in withdrawal. Even now, the memories were all too vivid for her liking.

When Nick spoke again, his voice was quiet. "I don't want to go through it again, but I really don't want Aaron to see me go through it again. If he knows I've been doing coke again..." He shook his head as his voice caught. His eyes were burning with unshed tears, and he hated that he suddenly had no control over the myriad of emotions that were threatening to surface. "It'll just be another way that I've failed him, you know? He worked so fucking hard to get me out of this situation the last time, and I went and fucked up again."

"But you're trying to get better," Cara pointed out.

"I know that," Nick grumbled, brushing angrily at his cheeks. "Trust me, I know that. It took every fucking shred of willpower I had to walk out of that VIP lounge when I saw those lines of white powder on the table. I wanted to do it so fucking bad."

"But you didn't." Cara's voice was firm with a resolve that Nick was insanely jealous of.

"No, I didn't," he agreed, "because all I could see was Aaron's face when the guys told him about everything the last time this happened, and it was enough to make me sick to my stomach."


Nick's eyes widened in surprise. "Good?"

"You walked away, right?" Cara prodded. "That's the first step, Nick. It doesn't matter how you make it or why you make it. It only matters that you make it."

He frowned. He hadn't really thought about it like that before.

By the silence, Cara recognized that she was finally getting somewhere with him, so she kept talking. "Look, withdrawal is a long process, right? It involves your body reluctantly letting go of the last traces of the drug and noticing the void those absent traces leave. It forces you to acknowledge the emptiness that you tried to
fill in the first place."

Nick dropped his head in his hand and tried to ignore how painfully logical Cara was starting to sound. He no longer had any doubt that she'd been through this before.

On the other end, Cara heaved a sigh and cleared her throat apprehensively. "Look, I know this is a long shot, but...maybe you should be honest with Aaron."

Nick's eyes shot open in white-hot fear, and he could feel his stomach churning again. "No!" When a few people turned to stare at him, he realized just how loud he'd been and lowered his voice. "I mean...God, Cara, I couldn't. Not yet. I...I've just gotten to the point where I feel like we're connecting again, and I cannot risk losing that. I need what little faith he has left in me. I mean, it sucks, but I know I can get through this because I've done it before. Without Aaron...I don't know if I could do it again. I don't know if I'd care enough to do it again."

"You don't mean that," Cara said firmly. She knew better than to entertain a budding pity party.

"I don't know," Nick sighed. "At this rate, I'm really fucking sick of disappointing people."

"And you've stopped!" Cara pointed out. "Look, Nick, I'm impressed with you, okay? I didn't think that you'd actually attempt to get your life back together. I wanted to believe it, but all the odds were against you...including Aaron." She shook her head incredulously. "But you know what?"

Nick leaned petulantly back into the chair he was occupying. "What?"

"You did it anyway. You're actually making an effort to change, and everyone around you both notices and appreciates it. You're inspiring people to have faith in you."

Nick cracked a tiny smile at the strength in Cara's words. "Really?"

She nodded, even though he couldn't see her. "Really."

He sucked in an apprehensive breath before posing his next, more important question. "Even Aaron?"

Cara smiled warmly at the thought of the man that was waiting for her on the couch outside. "Yes, Nick. Even Aaron."

His sigh of relief could be heard above the music. For a moment, they sat in silence, each digesting the information they'd acquired over the course of the conversation. At long last, Cara spoke.

"Are you going to be okay?"

Nick exhaled slowly and realized that his heart had returned to a normal rate. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm going to be fine." He paused for a moment. "Hey, Cara?"


He sighed again. "Look, I know I need to be honest with Aaron soon, but...I really just want to deal with this on my own for a little bit longer. I want to get through the worst of it before I dump my shit back on his doorstep, you know?"

Cara nodded. "Yeah, I know."

"But...but I know I need professional help," he admitted quietly. "It's going to get worse before it gets better, and I can't do this alone."

Cara was impressed by his honesty. "Do you need help finding a therapist?"

"No, I...I've got one in LA I can call," Nick replied. "I just...would you mind going to the next CAA meeting with me?"

Cara bit back a smile at the memories of the many meetings she'd attended with Theresa. "Not at all."

He breathed his last sigh of relief.

"And Nick?"


Cara grinned broadly. "I'm proud of you."

Nick swallowed the lump in his throat that the words inspired. He couldn't remember the last time someone had said that to him. "Thanks," he whispered. It wasn't coming from Aaron, but at the moment, it was more than enough to put him at ease.

"You're welcome." And then she was gone. With a sigh, he flipped his phone closed, slipped it back in his pocket, and made his way out of the restroom area. He didn't make it five feet, however, before he was accosted.


He groaned. It had been years since the Backstreet Boys broke up, but he was still subject to the occasional fan encounter. He was recognized a lot less with the long hair, but some fans were perceptive enough to notice him anyway.

He really wasn't in the mood to deal with a fan tonight.

"Yo, Pretty Boy! I'm talking to you!"

He whirled around in surprise at the nickname, and the muscles in his face immediately relaxed when he saw Theresa and another blonde moving towards him.

"Hey!" he called back over the music. She smiled, catching up with him.

"I wasn't sure if you were going to turn around for a minute there. You avoiding me?"

He snorted. "Avoiding everyone, more like."

Theresa nodded knowingly before dragging the accompanying blonde forward. "Nick, this is my sister Tracy."

Nick shook the hand the younger girl offered with a small smile, surprised at the firmness of her grip. "Nice to meet you."

"Likewise," she muttered, her gaze drifting back towards the dance floor. "Listen, Theresa, I'm gonna go dance. I'll find you later, okay?"

Theresa paused for a moment, considering the consequences of letting her rebel sister run free in a nightclub, but finally decided to watch her closely. "Fine. Stay towards the edge of the floor, though. If I can't see you, I'm going to come in and get you."

Tracy rolled her eyes and groaned in annoyance. "Why?"

Theresa arched a single eyebrow. "You want me to show the bouncer your real ID?"

Tracy expelled a loud sigh and shuddered. "Fine. What-fucking-ever."

"I'm serious!" Theresa called as her sister shimmied off towards the floor. When Tracy lifted a hand to flip her off, it was Theresa's turn to roll her eyes. "God, she drives me crazy."

"Seems like quite a charmer," Nick remarked with a wry smile. "Taking after her older sister?"

Theresa groaned loudly. "Man, I hope not. My parents are certainly living in fear of it, though." She frowned and leaned a bit closer to Nick so she could speak to him over the music. "Speaking of the past, though...I'm surprised to see you here
so soon after all of your shit."

Nick heaved a sigh at her brutal honesty. "Yeah, well...I'm starting to think I made a mistake in coming. There's just too much temptation, you know?"

Theresa laughed bitterly and folded her arms over her chest, keeping one eye on her sister's writhing form. "Yeah, I know. It took me a good year and a half before I could come to the club without feeling the need to party too hard." She shrugged. "I still can't go up to the VIP lounge, though. There's just too much shit there for me to handle."

Nick nodded his understanding. "Yeah, I made the mistake of heading up there earlier."

Theresa glanced up at him, impressed. "I'm surprised you made it back down."

"I couldn't do it," Nick told her truthfully, shaking his head. "All I could see was Aaron."

Theresa smiled knowingly and nodded.

Nick frowned. "What's the smile for?"

She laughed. "Nothing. You're just a hell of a lot more mature than I gave you credit for."

*      *      *      *      *

Cara entered the living room slowly, sliding her cell phone back into the pocket of her jeans. When she glanced up, Aaron was still lounging on the couch. He sat up when he noticed her entrance, his brow furrowed in a concerned frown.


"Hey," she smiled. "Sorry that took so long."

Aaron shrugged, holding out his arms to collect her as she sank back into the overstuffed corduroy. "It's no big deal. I took a bit of a nap," he admitted with a sheepish smile. "How was your mom?"

Cara looked up in surprise at the mention of her lie. Immediately, she began wracking her brain for an excuse. "Um...she was okay. One of the cats got sick today, so they had to take it to the hospital, and she was just a little shook up." She offered a small smile, hating that she had to lie to him. "You know how she is about her cats."

Aaron laughed lightly at the memory of Cara's doting mother. She'd been up to visit them on more than one occasion, and the southern woman was nothing if not maternal. "I don't, but I can definitely imagine. Your mom cracks me up."

"She cracks me up too," Cara admitted with a chuckle. She made a mental note to call her mother during the next day's lunch break. Aaron squeezed her gently, and she leaned further into him, sliding her legs down between his. "This is nice."

He smiled into her hair. "It is, isn't it? I was worried things were going to be weird, but..."

"They're not even awkward," Cara finished knowingly. "I had the same thought earlier this evening. Honestly, I'm surprised we didn't do this sooner."

Aaron chuckled, his taut abdomen shaking against her. "Yeah, well...we had a few distractions, what with my cold and Nick's entrance."

Cara expelled a heavy sigh at the mention of Nick. "I guess you're right."

"Speaking of Nick," Aaron began with a frown, "where do you think he is?"

Cara froze, her eyes widening. "I don't know," she answered, trying to keep her voice steady. Shit.

Aaron was quick to justify his question. "Not that I'm freaking out or anything. I mean, it's just kinda late, and he's been pretty good lately about coming home after work and not wreaking havoc on the apartment."

Cara smiled gently at Aaron's concern, thinking back to her conversation with his brother. "Yeah, he's been good lately, huh? He was really worried about you when you were sick."

"He still is," Aaron laughed. "He was all freaked out whenever I told him that I went flat this morning."

"He cares about you," Cara countered pointedly. She could feel Aaron's smile.

"Yeah, he does." He paused. "I care about him too, you know? I was worried about him today, C. He was acting really weird." There was another pregnant pause, and then... "Maybe that's why I'm wondering where he is. He was pretty keyed-up, and I don't want him to go out and do something stupid."

To say that Cara was surprised at Aaron's intuition would've been a grave understatement.

"He wouldn't," she answered softly. "He's past that point, I think."

Aaron didn't respond but to hug her more tightly to him, and the two sat in silence until it became unbearable for Cara's conscience.

"You want to watch the rest of the movie?"

Aaron sighed. "I don't know, C. I'm kinda tired..."

"But it's Johnny Depp!"

Her cry was enough to drag Aaron from his reverie, and he laughed at the pout she was sporting. "Okay, okay. Chill. Un-pause the movie, and we'll watch the rest of Johnny Depp."

Unfortunately, not even Johnny Depp's face could ease Cara's discomfort. She'd been stuck between the two Carter brothers for too long, and it was starting to take its toll on her. Between Nick's bouts with guilt and Aaron's perpetual disappointment, she was quickly approaching an emotional overload.

Aaron laughed heartily at something onscreen, and Cara sighed. Man, I need to find a way to get out of this before I lose them both.

"Dude, Nick used to do that!"

Or worse, before they lose each other.

"Comforting Lie"
music and lyrics by No Doubt