Chapter Seven
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

I've had a knack
From way back
For breaking the rules once I learned the game
Get up; life's too quick
I know some place sick
Where this chick'll dance in the flames

"This is not a club show. You can't just get onstage and play whatever you damn well please. You're under contract now, and your actions can reflect poorly on those for whom you work. It's very important that you turn in your ENTIRE set list. Not just a part of it. Mr. Carter needs to make sure that all of your songs will be appropriate for his audience of fourteen-year-old girls." Shane paused and took a deep breath, maintaining his angry expression for the sake of mimicry. "After all, we're a bunch of stodgy pricks who can't enjoy a good show because we're too busy trying to pick the tighty-whities out of our butt cracks. You try wearing a fucking suit all day and you'll see what I mean!"

The other three band members burst into laughter at the impression. Only moments earlier, Nick's tour management had engaged in quite a tirade over the surprise cover song. They didn't have a concrete complaint of any kind, but they were extremely frustrated by the loss of control over the set. Unfortunately for the suits, though, their eruption had little effect on Adia and her crew.

Keelia chuckled at the memory, set her glass of champagne on the coffee table with a thud, and leaned forward.

"Man, that was hilarious. They're so ridiculously anal about this stuff..."

"It almost makes you want to go onstage and play something like 'Nookie' just to piss 'em off," Jason laughed, taking a gulp from his own glass. "I mean, come on. How offensive can Cheap Trick possibly be?"

"Oh, but they could cause plenty of emotional damage to Nick Carter's prepubescent audience. Remember, they're tender souls."

Keelia rolled her eyes at Shane's obviously sarcastic interjection. "Good God..."

Adia bit her lip to keep from laughing. "Guys, we seriously should be careful. We don't want to piss off management too much just yet. It's still kind of early in the tour."

Jason pouted at her. "But it's so much fun! Admit it, Adia...you loved it."

She just shook her head, trying to keep her smile at bay.

"You're telling me that you didn't enjoy watching the composed, professional Irving Azoff turn purple?"

He had her and he knew it. She sighed heavily and prepared for a reluctant acquiescence. "Well, when you put it like that..."

"It's fucking hilarious," Keelia finished with a grin.

Jason lifted his glass in the air and chuckled. "Hell, I'll drink to that."

The group clinked glasses and drank, much to Adia's chagrin.

"Ani's going to kill us. You realize that, right?"

Shane snorted indignantly. "Bullshit. If I know Ani, she'll love it. In fact, she'll probably find it just as funny as we did."

"She might even rip them a new one for chewing us out without talking to her first," Keelia added with a grin. At long last, Adia laughed.

"Somehow, I doubt that Ani has that much power over Jive Records."

"Maybe not," Keelia agreed, "but she's got a hell of a lot more credibility. Whether they like it or not, they do have to listen to her."

"Thank God for small graces," Jason muttered with a roll of his eyes. "If they ban us from pulling anymore stunts like this, the tour's going to suck."

Shane snorted indignantly. "Like they could actually ban us from performing the traditional cover song..."

"Amen," Adia agreed, allowing herself a grin. "You know we'll find a way to work around the system. Maybe we can bribe Nick into quote-unquote pre-approving everything."

"That pompous ass?" Keelia groaned. "Yeah fucking right. We'd have a better chance of bribing Irving."

"I don't know," Adia laughed. "Onstage, Nick looked like he's broken a few record company rules in his lifetime."

"Because 'I Want It That Way' was such a controversial song," Shane returned in monotone. Adia threw a pillow at him.

"Shut up."

"Make me."

She stuck her tongue out to keep from smiling. "I can do you one better and make that our next cover."

"I'd rebel," Keelia laughed. "I'd make Nick Carter play bass."

"Yeah," Jason retorted, "but I'd give the drumsticks to Whittier. Take THAT."

Adia winced at the thought of Jive's uptight tour executive in Jason's drum box. "Okay, okay, I give."

"Damn straight!" Shane hooted. "She knows we're right. She loves that we break the rules."

Adia couldn't hold back her smile. "Guilty as charged."

Jason wasn't about to let it go, though. "Hell, I bet she wants to do it again!"

Adia finally burst out laughing. "Fine, you win! If I had my way, we'd do an entire set of covers next time."

Keelia giggled so hard that she snorted. "Jive would shit a brick."

Adia giggled with her. "Can you imagine how many people would pay to see that?"

"Jive would shit a brick all right," Jason acknowledged, "but Carter wouldn't be too far behind. He didn't say a single word to us when we walked off."

"Maybe they chewed him out too," Shane chuckled. "They seem like the kind of people that would do that."

"Wait, they're people?"

The laugh-ridden ridicule of Jive's upper staff was silenced by a knock on the dressing room door.

"Cover-friendly followers may enter!" Shane hollered. The rest of the group burst into champagne-induced giggles again. The door opened slowly nonetheless, and a blonde head peeked in.

"Mind if I join you guys for a minute?"

Keelia's eyebrows buried themselves somewhere in her hairline at the sight of their unexpected guest, but she managed to get her bearings before the other three.

"Not at all, man. Pull up a chair."

He shoved his hands in his pockets and shook his head. "Nah, no thanks. I kinda have to make this quick, because my bus leaves in about five minutes."

Jason frowned. "Man, they never tell us about that shit..."

Adia smiled amusedly. "We've got another half-hour, Jase. You can relax." That said, she turned her smile towards an oddly bashful Nick Carter. "What can we do for you, Mr. Carter?"

He sighed heavily and dropped his gaze to the floor. "Well, I'm supposed to chew you guys out for performing a cover without permission."

"Too late," Shane said with a grin. "Irving Asshole beat you to the punch."

Nick laughed nervously and reached a hand up to scratch the back of his head. "Yeah. Uh, sorry about that. He's kind of a control freak."

"Understatement," Keelia coughed, and Nick managed a small smile.

"Anyway, I'm supposed to remind you that all songs go through Irving or myself before you play them, and you're not encouraged to play songs with the f-word in them."

Keelia groaned. "You mean we can't say 'fuck'? How about 'fucking'? Are we allowed to say 'sex,' or is that banned as well? I mean, what the hell else are the kiddies calling it these days? Making love?"

Adia leveled her with a glare. "Keelia, enough."

Nick closed his eyes for a moment to get his bearings. It had been a good show, but he knew that he was nowhere near as musically talented as the four kids in front of him, and that alone had dealt a good blow to his ego. Looking at them now, though, he envied their nonchalance. They'd done a good deal to piss off the record company that evening, but even Adia seemed nonplussed by Irving's brutal lecturing.

He wanted to be that confident again.

Instead, Nick fought the urge to wince at the memory of the tongue-lashing that he'd received and opted to continue his conversation with his new favorite people.

"You're also not supposed to play songs that require us to search for copyright info."

"Except that covers don't require copyright material," Shane countered. "Next?"

"Umm..." He winced. "Honestly? You really should wait until Irving leaves to call him an asshole. When he hears you, it kinda sets him off."

When he looked up, all four were sporting guilty expressions.

"Sorry man," Jason laughed. "Didn't mean to turn a rabid dog over to you."

Nick cracked a small smile. "It's cool. I've dealt with him for a bit longer now, so I'm kinda used to it." That said, he heaved a sigh and tried to summon enough courage to break a few rules on his own. "Listen, all formalities aside...you guys really did an excellent job tonight."

"Cover included?"

Nick's surprised gaze shifted to Adia, who looked mildly amused by the situation. "Yeah, cover included. The whole show was excellent."

Jason's eyebrows rose considerably. "Wow. Thanks, man."

Keelia offered a lopsided grin. "Yeah, thanks. You know, you didn't do too badly either."

Nick laughed nervously, trying to hide his blush. "Good to know."

Adia smiled. "The cover of 'Just What I Needed' went really well."

Shane chuckled. "And our Dia is a pretty big 80s fan, so her approval holds a lot more weight than one might think."

Nick frowned in surprise, forgetting his hesitancy for a moment. "You're an 80s fan?"

Adia laughed lightly. "Guilty as charged."
Keelia chuckled.  "You mean the Letters to Cleo-slash-Cheap Trick cover didn't tip you off?"

Nick ignored her.  "For some reason, you don't strike me as an 80s rock kind of girl."

Shane smirked. "I'll bet she didn't strike you as a sexy stage goddess either, though."

Nick silently agreed. There wasn't much he could say to that that wouldn't sound somehow sexist or offensive, and he didn't want to set Keelia off. Jason gave a little snort at Shane's comment, though. Apparently, they'd discussed the transformation before.

Nick sighed and cast a shy smile towards the brunette on the counter. "Well, thanks for the compliment, at any rate. I'm glad you enjoyed the cover."

She chuckled. "I'm glad you enjoyed our show." She looked up meaningfully. "I hope we didn't get you into too much trouble."

He waved a hand dismissively, trying to look as nonchalant as Jason, who was drumming contentedly against the arm of the couch. "It's not a big deal. Irving just doesn't like to feel out of the loop, you know?"

Keelia groaned knowingly. "Can't stand to think he's not in control?"

Nick chuckled. "Something like that, yeah."

Shane rolled his eyes in annoyance. "Freaking suits always seem to think they know what's best for the music."

"Ain't that the truth," Jason muttered. "Of course, there's a reason they're in an office instead of a studio."

Adia laughed. "At least they can't destroy the creative process."

"That's up for debate," Nick retorted bitterly. As soon as the words left his lips, though, his eyes widened in surprise. Oh, shit...open book much, man? Now they're going to think you're a bitter, pompous pop star.

To his surprise, Jason looked up with a frown. "That's right, you're with Jive. I bet they're a little bit more controlling when you're laying down the tracks, huh?"

Nick heaved a sigh of relief and allowed a nervous smile. "Definitely. They're good with publicity, but sometimes they get a little bit overbearing."

Adia nodded her understanding. "That's why we're with Ani. She knows music better than anyone I've ever met, and she's much more interested in what's going on the CD than how it will be received."

Nick nodded. "You're lucky. There aren't too many label execs like that anymore."

"You're telling us," Keelia grumbled. "It took us freaking eons to find Ani."

Shane laughed. "She's exaggerating, but we certainly ran across a few assholes before Adia sent a demo to Righteous Babe."

"Smartest thing I ever did," Adia said with a shy smile. "We're not likely to find a more supportive label."

Nick sighed heavily. "Between you and I? I wish the fellas and I had shopped around more before we signed with Jive. They do promotion well, and I can't really complain because we've been so successful, but we're successful at the expense of creativity and experimentation."

It was the smartest thing he'd said all day, and he meant every word.

"Why can't you protest? Force Jive to listen to you," Keelia muttered. "They're assholes anyway."

Jason shook his head in amusement at the bassist before answering. "You're successful for a reason, man. You should use your success to your advantage and make yourself heard every once in awhile."

Nick was just about to reply when Elena breezed into the dressing room. "Time to trek to the bus, kids. We're got a long drive ahead of us." When she saw Nick, she grinned knowingly. "Irving's pissed, man. You're late."

Nick flinched, a premature reaction to the lecture that was sure to come. A hand clapped him on the back, and he looked up to find Jason winking at him.

"We'll talk musician's politics later, man. Good luck calming the asshole down."

"Thanks," Nick replied, offering a nervous smile. "I'll need it."

"Out Tonight"
music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson