Chapter Twelve
His Prelude
Her Prelude
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

And all my armor's fallen down
In a pile at my feet
And my winter giving way to warm
As I'm singing him to sleep

"So I hear someone had an interesting time while we were all dead asleep last night," Jason began, dropping down on the couch next to Adia, who raised an eyebrow at him in amusement. Truth to tell, she'd anticipated the teasing. She was surprised it had taken them this long to get the information out of Ian. They were always begging him to tell them stories about life on the road with the rich and famous.

"Yeah, I got to listen to you all snoring all night," she retorted with a groan.

"Was this before or after you fed the Carter kid breakfast?" Keelia fired, launching herself into the opposite couch. Just as expected, Adia balked.

"I didn't feed him breakfast!"

"That's right," Jason chuckled. "He paid, huh? Now, I'm a bit lax on my definitions, but I do believe that qualifies as a date."

Adia shot Jason a glare that would've melted the polar ice caps, easy. "We split the bill. I wouldn't let him pay."

"Atta girl!" Keelia hollered. "Damn men, think they have to support us in every way, shape, and form..."

Jason flinched at the volume in the bassist's voice. "Easy on the feminism there, Keels. Some of us are just trying to be nice guys."

"They're never trying to be nice," Keelia told Adia matter-of-factly. "If they're nice, it's just a ploy to get you to have sex with them."

"Which you would know, because you've had an infinite number of guys use you for sex," Jason returned with a roll of his eyes.

"Nah, I'm smarter than that," Keelia winked. "Besides, I'm not interested in what your kind has to offer."

"We know, Keelia," Adia giggled, enjoying the indignant look on her friend's face. "Trust me, we know."

"So tell us about the Backstreet Boy," Shane drawled, falling onto the couch next to Keelia. "Is he as much of an asshole as we expected?"

"Not at all," Adia answered honestly. "He's actually quite nice."

Keelia's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Define nice..."

"No shit," Jason muttered. "If he's trying to get into your pants, I'll kick his ass. You're too damn good for him, Dia."

"That, and your brother would kick my ass if I let you bag a Backstreet Boy," Shane admitted with a chuckle. "I'm supposed to be protecting you from the evils of the commercial music industry, and that includes skeezy, charming pop stars."

Adia frowned. "Can someone really be skeezy and charming at the same time?"

"I bet Nick can be!" Jason piped up. Keelia and Shane burst into giggles.

"Guys," Adia whined. "Stop, okay? He's seriously not like that. He was actually kind of nervous."

"A Backstreet Boy? Nervous around our little Dia?" Jason cried. "I don't believe it!"

"I do," Shane muttered. "She's a much better musician than he'll ever be."

"So you think that it really is all about the music with him," Keelia leveled with a grin.

Shane flinched. "Good point. He's a pop act."

"Which means he has no integrity?" Adia fired back. The others flinched at the conviction in her tone. They knew better than to be music snobs around Adia. "Come on, kids. I want to hear this."

"We're just joking, Dia," Jason chuckled. "We know he can sing."

"Have you guys even listened to his whole set before?" Adia asked pointedly. "Do you have any idea which songs he wrote? Did you know that he plays the guitar? Did you know that he plays the drums? Did you know that the only reason he's not allowed to demonstrate these talents is because the label keeps him from doing it?"

Shane frowned immediately at the wealth of new information. "Where'd you hear all this?"

"Ani," Adia replied with a roll of her eyes. "Duh."

Keelia nodded. "So Ani likes him?"

"Ani feels sorry for him," Adia sighed. "She thinks he's a talented victim of a soulless industry."

"Which is true," Jason finished. "Hell, those few times he's managed a conversation with us, he always seems pretty bitter about the label."

"They've certainly done a number on him," Adia agreed with a frown. "He's...God, he's so worried about the way everyone perceives him that he barely has time to breathe without panicking about the impression he's leaving."

Shane's smug look faded to a frown that matched his tour mate's. "That's really, really sad."

"Isn't it, though?" Adia asked. "THAT'S what we talked about last night. That, and music."

"I'm assuming he thinks he knows something about music," Keelia scoffed. Adia leveled her with a glare immediately.

"He probably knows more than you do, seeing as he doesn't eliminate mainstream genres from his listening catalog."

"Yikes," Jason flinched. "Can we keep the barbs to a minimum, guys? Keels, lay off on Adia, okay? You know how she is about music snobbery, and you have to admit that the kid does a good job onstage."

Keelia grudgingly admitted that she'd been impressed by Nick's stage presence, and Adia concealed her victorious grin.

"So you guys bonded?" Jason asked Adia carefully. He knew he'd get details later, as he was closer to Adia than the other two, but he was honestly curious about the way things had turned out. Hell, he must have seriously impressed her if she's defending him to this extent.

"I don't know if I'd go that far," Adia sighed, "but I definitely enjoyed talking to him. Once he relaxes, he's a really intelligent guy."

"Did he inspire any cover ideas for this evening?" Shane asked carefully, hoping to steer the course of conversation back to the band. Adia's eyes lit up, and she nodded enthusiastically.

"I want to do Our Lady Peace."

The others exchanged shrugs. The band was inoffensive enough. They'd definitely enjoy a punk tune after a few nights of soft rock.

"What song?" Jason inquired.

"Made of Steel."

"Sounds good to me," Shane agreed. "I should probably go brush up on the guitar part, though. If you guys need me, I'll be in the bunk."

Keelia groaned. "That's my cue to print tabs, I guess."

The two headed towards the bunk area, leaving Adia and Jason alone on the couches.

"So 'Made of Steel,' huh? What the hell did you two talk about?"

Adia smiled softly at Jason. "He's...God, Jase, he's the sweetest guy, but he's so unsure of himself that it makes ME nervous. He spent the first five minutes stumbling over words like he'd never spoken English before, and he was so worried about offending me..."

"Did he?" Jason interrupted, eyebrow raised. He liked the Carter kid enough, but he'd been Adia's first friend and was therefore insanely protective of her.

"Not in the slightest," she assured him. "He's not always politically correct, but he's very earnest."

"So it's more shyness than arrogance?"

"It's all shyness," Adia admitted with a small smile. "I think we really do intimidate him. He kept making comments about how much better our songs were."

"You sure he wasn't just trying to flatter you?" Jason asked pointedly.

"Definitely," Adia sighed. "He blushed far too much for that."

"So you're hoping for a self-esteem boost."

"In essence, yeah. I know he pays close attention to the covers. He was amazed that we only practice them once before performance." She paused, sharing a grin with Jason. "I'm hoping he's willing to be friends."

"Because it's still making you uncomfortable that you don't really know him?" Jason questioned with a laugh. Adia shook her head sadly.

"No, because I think he needs one."

*      *      *      *      *

"All right, Portland, we're going to take some time out for a little music education. Is that all right with you guys?"

They screamed, and Nick had to smile at the wicked grin of delight that graced Adia's face at their cheers. She was quickly learning how to work the crowd, and he loved watching their reactions to her. Sometimes he felt like a voyeur, sitting backstage and watching them, but he felt somewhat justified after their intense conversation the night before. That, and the cover song was his favorite part of the show. He'd used his influence on tour to save that portion of the show, giving them one rule: no curse words. Anything else was game.

"Okay, this is a little ditty by a wonderful punk band, Our Lady Peace. If you've ever needed a hero, this one's for you."

She cued the band, which launched into a catchy, head-banging guitar riff. Adia bobbed her head in time to the music, backing up long enough to grin at Shane before yanking the microphone off its stand.

I can be anything
That you want me to be
A punching bag
A piece of string
That reminds you not to think

Jason leaned into the drumset, increasing the intensity of the pattern as Adia kneeled on the stage in front of the audience, allowing her short leather skirt to touch the stage as Shane joined her in singing the pre-chorus.

I found the note down in your car
And it's not your fault it gets this hard
Gets this hard...

She'd taken the song up an octave to suit her voice, which soared over the notes in true soprano form. He was impressed with her range, but he was more impressed by the lyrics to the song. He idly wondered what had inspired its choosing as Adia stood up for the chorus, which she addressed by bouncing on the heels of her combat boots in time to the music.

Hold your head high
Don't look down
I'm by your side
I won't back down
You wanted a hero tonight
Well, I'm not made of steel
I'm not made of steel
But your secret's safe with me

Shane dropped out entirely, bobbing his head to the beat that Jason pounded out as Keelia plunked out the notes of the bass. Adia strode across the stage in true rock star style, singing the lyrics to the appreciative masses with an earnest smile on her face.

I can be anything
That you want me to be
A holy cross
Some sympathy, oh
That reminds you not to bleed

She backed over to Shane and wrapped an arm around him, allowing him to lean into her mic so that they were singing the lyrics to each other.

I found the note down in your car
And you climbed up here to fall apart
To fall apart...

Shane let out a rip-roaring mini-solo as Adia moved forward, allowing them a few precious moments of readjustment before the next chorus. Adia set the mic back on its stand and gripped it with both hands, furrowing her eyebrows at the pain of the lyrics.

Hold your head high
Don't look down
I'm by your side
I won't back down
You wanted a hero tonight
Well, I'm not made of steel
I'm not made of steel
But your secret's safe with me

Jason fired a beautifully intense roll before dropping out of the song entirely, leaving it to Keelia and Adia to take charge of the bridge.

Nick didn't remember the breakdown being in the original song, but he was all too happy to listen to her voice wash over him as her breasts heaved in the white corset she'd chosen for the evening. God, she's beautiful onstage.

They knock you down
I'll pick you up
They laugh at you
I'll shut them up

Her voice rang out loudly as Shane and Jason nodded to each other, jumping in for the beat emphasis of the second bridge. Jason accented each word with a bang of the drums, and Shane switched chords with the drumbeat, creating a loud but haunting harmony.

But I'm not made of steel
But I'm not made of steel
No, I'm not made of steel

Something amazing happened then. Adia tossed her head to the side, dipping her chin until she was staring right at him with those gorgeous eyes, her long brown hair settling around her shoulders. She cracked a small smile and nodded at him ever so slightly.

But your secret's safe with me

Hold your head high
Don't look down
I'm by your side
I won't back down

The music descrescendoed with the vibrato in her voice, and Adia heaved a breath and quirked an eyebrow in Nick's direction. Anyone else would've thought she was merely working the left side of the stage, but he knew that she was singing directly at him. Considering their conversation the night before, the lyrics were all
too perfect.

My God, she picked the cover for me.

No, I won't back down

She spread her arms wide to the audience, backing away from the microphone to soften the last line.

You wanted a hero tonight

The audience burst into applause, but Nick was too stunned to join them. His gaze was fixed on the beautiful brunette that was taking her bows and hyping him up for a crowd of teenagers. His thoughts were fixed on the earnest tone with which she had spoken to him the previous evening. He couldn't believe she had chosen a song especially for him. He couldn't believe she'd managed to pick something so perfectly suited.

She cares.

Somehow, in that moment, it was more than enough.

* "Made of Steel"
lyrics and music by Our Lady Peace
"Pale September"
lyrics and music by Fiona Apple