Aaron slammed the door to the apartment angrily and stalked
towards the door of his bedroom. He had absolutely no intention of waiting. Hell, I've been waiting for five years, and
where has it gotten me? Fucking nowhere.
Seconds later, the door flew open again, and Nick and Cara rushed through.
They'd been chasing Aaron along the streets of New York City since the meeting ended, but Aaron had been moving far too quickly
for them to catch up. Nick knew that he was going to have an insane parking bill the next morning, but he didn't care. The
moment that he'd seen the shock and betrayal on Aaron's face, he hadn't been able to justify driving home. Not when Aaron
wouldn't even glance his way. He needed to know that his brother was going to speak to him again, and if that meant a block-by-block
plea for mercy, he was most definitely game.
He hadn't counted on Aaron outrunning him, but he should have. Apparently,
his chain-smoking habit had ruined more than his voice.
"Aaron, come on. Wait up!"
Nick had every intention
of chasing his brother into the bedroom. Instead, he collapsed against the nearest wall, chest heaving from the overexertion
he'd had to employ in his attempt to catch up with Aaron's angry strides.
Cara, meanwhile, was frozen just inside the
doorframe with something between fear and fervency. She hadn't said anything during the race for retribution, but she had
been just as vigorous in her attempt to reach the boy that was quickly becoming her significant other. Now, her face was a
mask of helplessness, but she was still too fearful to break the silence.
Nick was the only one dumb and desperate
enough to plead with his brother.
"Aaron, stop! I'm sorry, okay?" He paused to suck in another deep breath of air,
his lungs screaming in protest as the oxygen entered. When he spoke again, his voice was soft and sad. "I'm really, really
sorry. I know that's not anywhere near enough, but I don't know what else to say."
Aaron didn't even bother to turn
"Me neither. I'm done."
"But you're still angry!" Nick persisted. "Come on, AC. Talk to me."
chuckled bitterly. "I have absolutely nothing to say to you, Nick."
"That's a lie. You're fucking furious! For God's
sake, Aaron, talk to me! Yell at me, scream at me, whatever. Tell me what an asshole I am. Just...say something."
to tell, Aaron wanted nothing more than to scream at his brother until the sun rose, but screaming involved acknowledging
just how much his brother's betrayal had hurt him. It wasn't even Nick, though. It was Nick AND Cara. They both went behind
my back about this. They made a conscious fucking effort to shut me out. Of course I'm angry. How the hell could I not be?
now you want me to say something? Tell me this, Nick. What the hell good would it do?" Aaron snapped. "I've been talking to
you and calling you an asshole for years, Nick, and I have yet to see any fucking improvement."
The words stung more
than Nick cared to admit. He sighed dejectedly. "I'm trying, Aaron. I know I should've gotten better years ago, but I'm trying
to pick up the pieces now." He glanced hopefully up at his younger brother. "Better late than never, right?" He hated how
pathetic he sounded. He knew as soon as the words flew from his mouth that they weren't enough. If he hadn't known, the exasperated
look on Aaron's face certainly would've been a good indication.
"Better late than never? How the hell can you say that?
As far as I'm concerned, late hasn't even shown up yet! You're still fucking up!"
Nick frowned deeply. "That's not
fair, Aaron. I'm done with the drugs, and I'm trying to shoot straight with you, okay? I'm trying to come clean and own up
to all of the shit that I've been doing lately."
"Shoot straight? Come clean?" Aaron laughed bitterly. "Nick, don't
use big words if you don't know what they mean."
Something about the barely-controlled anger in Aaron's voice rubbed
Nick the wrong way. "I DO know what they mean, AC! For God's sake, I was honest with you!"
"No, Nick, you weren't,"
Aaron countered heatedly. "You were honest with a room full of people, and I just happened to be one of them. I found out
right along with everyone else. Every fucking average Joe in New York City that's ever snorted a line or two heard you right
along with me. And you know what REALLY sucks, Nick? If I hadn't been there, I might never have found out!"
what hurt the most. Through everything, Aaron had made a point to emphasize his presence in Nick's life. He didn't always
approve of his brother's choices--in fact, sometimes his brother downright exasperated him--but he refused to relinquish his
support. When everyone else had abandoned Nick, when everyone else had given up, Aaron had remained hopeful. He'd made a point
to let Nick know that he hadn't given up.
Obviously, Aaron hadn't made enough of a point, because he hadn't known any
of the story that Nick so carefully relayed during the session. He hadn't known about the revival of his cocaine habit or
the death of his newfound friend. He'd realized halfway through the story that he didn't know the man telling it, and the
thought that he didn't know his own brother, the thought that he was no more important than a room full of strangers...that
More than anything, he felt like Nick had betrayed him.
Aaron looked up with a
heavy sigh as his brother's voice trailed off, and brown eyes met blue in a blaze of anger and betrayal.
Nick said softly. He wasn't sure that there were any other words to describe exactly how badly he felt.
his fists in frustration. "Yeah? Well, I'm sorry too. I'm sorry I ever thought you were getting any better. I'm sorry I ever
hoped that you'd get over yourself and remember that you used to be surrounded by a bunch of people who love you. I'm sorry
I ever fucking thought that our love was enough to straighten you out."
"It IS enough!" Nick cried, pushing himself
to a standing position. "Don't you get it, Aaron? I went to the meeting tonight because your love IS enough to straighten
me out. I'm trying to get help because I want to be good enough again. I know I'm a fucking terrible brother to you, but I'm
trying to be better." His chest heaved with the force of his feeling, and he lowered his voice carefully, his eyes never straying
from his brother's. "You make me want to be better, AC."
Aaron could feel tears burning the backs of his eyes, but
he closed his eyes to fend them off. He refused to cry. Not now. Not in front of Nick. Definitely not in front of Cara.
"You have a hell of a way of showing it, then," he fired back quietly.
Nick's brow furrowed in confusion.
"What's that supposed to mean? I HAVE been better! I tried to take care of you while you were sick. I tried to show my support
by coming to rehearsals." He sucked in a deep breath, trying to maintain his composure. "Hell, Aaron, I'm making a pointed
effort to become a part of your life again."
"By keeping secrets from me?" Aaron exploded. "By doing drugs behind my
back and thinking that I was stupid and na´ve enough that I wouldn't notice? Forgive me for being a bit cynical, Nick, but
that doesn't exactly scream support and resolution to me. In fact, it kinda makes you a hypocrite."
Nick closed his
eyes against the force of Aaron's words and clenched his fists, willing his voice not to shake. "I know, and I'm sorry. I...they
say that sometimes you have to take a few steps backwards in order to go forwards again, and..." He trailed off and opened
his eyes to look pointedly at his brother. "I took a few too many steps backwards. I know that, Aaron, and I'm trying to change
it. I'm trying to move forward again."
"You're trying," Aaron scoffed. "That's all your argument is. I'm
trying, I'm trying, I'm trying. You know what, Nick? I'm trying too. In fact, I've BEEN trying for the past five years.
Forgive me if I'm a little sick of trying. Forgive me if I'm about ready to stop trying, because this thing you did?
This thing where you fucking lied to me and didn't tell me the truth until you'd been cornered by a room full of
strangers? That's a fucking shitty thing to do to someone whom you claim to love, and it's a REALLY shitty thing to do to
the only person who's loved you enough to stick by
Nick heaved a defeated sigh. "I know, Aaron, and I'm sorry. I'm SO sorry." He shook his head incredulously. "God,
there aren't even words for how sorry I am." He glanced tentatively at Aaron. "How else can I fix this? What more can I say?"
rolled his eyes in annoyance. "You know, Nick, that's the thing. I don't think there's anything you CAN say. I don't think
there are any words that are going to make this better." He laughed bitterly, his eyes blazing angrily as he stared at the
floor. "There was a time when your apology would have been enough, but you know what? You waited too fucking long. You kept
me waiting for too fucking long, and now it means absolutely nothing."
He turned on his heel, ready to resume
the trek to his bedroom, and Nick panicked.
"Aaron, wait! Don't leave like this. We were making progress, okay? Everything
that I talked about last night--that's in the past. It's done, okay? I'm done doing stupid shit."
Aaron rolled his
eyes again as he whirled back around. "No, Nick, you're not done doing stupid shit. If you were done doing stupid shit, tonight
never would've happened, because you would've told me about all of this AS IT WAS HAPPENING! You would've been fucking HONEST
with me, because that's what brothers are SUPPOSED to do."
Nick winced at the volume of his brother's voice. "I was
trying to protect you, okay? I didn't want to put you through all of that again."
"Then you shouldn't have done it!"
Aaron yelled angrily. "For heaven's sake, Nick, it's not fucking rocket science! If you really didn't want to hurt the people
who love you, then you wouldn't!"
Nick sighed dejectedly. "AC, it's not that easy, okay? There's a lot of pressure..."
shook his head in contradiction. "No, Nick, there's not a lot of pressure. When you were with the Backstreet Boys, there was
a lot of pressure because you had a job to do and you weren't in any condition to be doing it. There was a lot of pressure
because there were a lot of eyes on you all the time and you weren't living up to expectations. There's not ANY fucking pressure
now. You know why?"
Nick grimaced, but he couldn't seem to stop the question from spilling forth. "Why?"
you've driven so many people away that no one expects anything from you anymore! You've exasperated people to the point that
they don't care anymore! And it's not because they don't love you, Nick. It's not because you're a victim of someone's unreasonable
expectations. It's because they CAN'T care about you," Aaron hissed. "For the sake of their own sanity, they can't care."
words were hitting way too close to home. Aaron's face was starting to look a lot like Kevin's, and Aaron's tenor voice was
starting to sound a lot like AJ's baritone, and the fists clenched at Aaron's sides were starting to look a lot like Brian's.
wasn't until the walls of the apartment started to look like the walls of the hotel room so many years ago that Nick noticed
how much Cara's anxious, fearful expression reminded him of Howie. Suddenly, there were more tears in his eyes than he knew
what to do with, and his heart hurt so much that he felt like it was being ripped from his chest. My God, it's like I'm
losing them all over again.
He tried to blink the tears away, but it was no use. His usually dry eyes had finally
found a reason for a waterfall, and they weren't about to relinquish their right to a flood. With a sigh, he lifted his chin
to face his brother; his ears filled with the sound of his shattering dignity.
"Why the hell do you still care so much,
then?" he asked fervently. The question, meant as a yell, came out as a whisper. "If they can't care, why on earth are you
Aaron snorted. "You know, Nick, I ask myself that same question every fucking day, and I still don't have
"You don't mean that," Nick said quietly. He couldn't believe that Aaron didn't care.
softly, hollowly. "Yeah, I do. I hate that I do, but I mean it. I honestly have no idea why I've stuck around this long."
couldn't help it. He sniffled. "I thought things were getting better between us! I thought things were finally getting back
"I did too!" Aaron roared. "God, Nick, why do you think this pisses me off so much? I thought we'd finally
figured shit out!"
"So maybe we did," Nick began hopefully. "Maybe this doesn't have to be a setback."
Aaron groaned. "Of course
this has to be a setback! Which part of 'you lied to me' do you not understand?"
"I didn't lie to you," Nick said quietly.
"I just didn't tell you everything."
"Oh, you have GOT to be kidding me," Aaron muttered angrily, turning to face his
brother with an incredulous countenance. "How in the hell does that not count as lying?"
don't dig yourself a deeper hole," Aaron grumbled. "That's just stupid."
Nick sighed heavily. "What if there were good
intentions behind the whole lying thing?"
"The road to hell is paved with good intentions," Aaron snapped, "and if
you keep up like this, you're going to earn yourself a one-way trip without the hand basket."
Nick flinched. "Aaron,
I'm sorry. Really sorry." He sucked in a shaky breath, trying to swallow the tears that wouldn't stop coming. "Can we please
"NO!" Aaron hollered. "Obviously, I haven't done enough fighting. For God's sake, I defended you when
Theresa accused you of doing coke! Instead of fighting like I obviously should have, I gave you the benefit of the doubt,
Nick, and you know what? You betrayed my trust. You betrayed ME. How in the hell can you fault me for being angry about this?"
no one's faulting you for being angry."
Aaron almost jumped in surprise upon hearing Cara's gentle voice; he'd forgotten
she was there. Of course, the reminder of her presence prompted Aaron's rage to increase tenfold. He turned to her with blazing
"I don't want to hear a single fucking word out of you," he breathed. "As far as I'm concerned,
your betrayal is twice as bad. I'd expect something like this from Nick, Cara, but not from you."
Nick buried his face
helplessly in his hands. God, I've made a mess of things. "Aaron, this isn't Cara's fault; it's mine. I dragged her
into this, and there's a perfectly good explanation for her presence at the meeting."
Aaron had had enough reasons
for one evening. He whirled around, eyes ablaze with fury as he yanked his bag off of his shoulder and hurled it at the opposite
wall. The bag landed against the floor with a loud thud, and Cara blanched when she saw that it had dented the wall.
right, Nick. There IS a good explanation," he thundered. "You're still the same fuck-up that you always were."
Theresa, roused by the thud of the gym bag, emerged wild-eyed from her room just in time to see Nick's face fall
"Okay, enough of the yelling, people! What in the hell is going on out here?!"
Aaron gestured wildly
towards the two guilty parties. "I ran into Cara and my stupid-ass brother at the Cocaine Addicts Anonymous meeting."
eyes widened to twice their size, and her eyes strayed for a moment to Cara's dejected form before returning fearfully to
Aaron. "Fuck. You went to the meeting?"
Aaron's eyes widened equally as much when he saw the absence of surprise in
"You knew about this?!"
Theresa slammed a palm into her forehead and winced. "Shit."
buried her face in her hands and collapsed into one of the armchairs. Nick fell back against the wall, staring at the floor
In the far corner of the common room, Aaron stood, chest heaving with the force of his fury as his eyes
darted from one roommate to the other.
"Somebody better tell me what the hell is going on, and they'd better do it