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Lexie felt Nick stir early the next morning. She couldn't tell if the sun was up because all of the drapes were drawn. She turned slightly to look behind her to find him with his back to her, sitting on the edge of the bed. He got up and headed quietly to the bathroom and she waited for his return. When he came back, he got back under the covers, came to her side, and snuggled up to her from behind.


"Nick?" she asked.


"Hmmm?" he mumbled.


"Are you okay?" she asked.


"Of course I am."


"What time is it?"


"It's almost 4."


"In the morning?"


"Yes." He chuckled.


"Why are you up so early?"


"Nothing." He mumbled. She turned to him and propped herself up on her elbow.


"Nothing?" she quizzed, rubbing her eyes. He kissed her lightly on the lips. "Bad dreams?" she asked.


"No. . ."


"If they are anything like CJ's, I know they are pretty bad." She said. "Tell me."


"What kinds of dreams did she have?"


"Of you dying."


"What?! My poor baby. . ."


"Did the guys ever tell you that the last time you came home from the hospital, she asked my Dad if you were dead?"


"No! I had no idea. . ."


"That's why they were all sleeping in your room. She felt if they all stayed with you, you wouldn't want to leave."


Nick rolled onto his back and ran his hand over his face. "I had no idea she was so scared, so. . ."


"That's why I wouldn't bring her back." Lexie sighed, resting a hand on his chest. "So, what was your dream about?"


"Everything. I just had a dream about Howie and AJ, that's all." He sighed. He took her hand and brought it to his lips. "I meant it, Lexie. I won't change how I feel because of them or anything else. I have every intention of keeping you in my life."


"I have every intention of staying." She smiled, knowing that Nick's dream of her fathers had not been positive.


"You were meant to be here, in this house, with us."


"I felt that, too."


"It may take some time. I've got to get all of this shit wrapped up and get these people off my back. I don't want you in the middle of all this. . ." He began.


"I understand."


"I swear, I'm not putting you off." He said earnestly.


"I know, I understand, Nick." She smiled.


"I don't know how we're going to make it. After tonight, I doubt I'll be able to get you in and out of the house. It really isn't safe around me with all the threats. . ."


"How serious are they?"


"Very." He sighed. "Kevin has agreed to take CJ to London if anything gets too hairy. I don't want Aaron's family in danger, even if Aaron and Jill insist. Kevin has more resources and is more out of the limelight than us Carters."


"I can't believe this. What makes them think that once the lawsuits are over the threats will end?"


"Nothing."


"That's no way to grow up. She's supposed to start school next month."


"She's enrolled in the same private school as Aaron's kids."


"I can't imagine what it's been like, all these months." She sighed.


"It'll be better. It won't be like this forever." He smiled sadly.


Lexie reached up, touched his face, and he leaned in to kiss her. She pressed her body against him as invitation to make love to her again. He took her offer and gladly shared the rest of the very early morning with her.



Lexie had breakfast with the two of them and Nick took her to the van and saw her off in the garage. The guards kept her on the floor of the van and they took her back to the campus.


AJ came back to L.A. by the time Lexie was back at school and her internship. He stood by and supported Nick and she could see them becoming much closer. Brian also flew out a couple times for weekend stays, but Howie stayed home with Leah and the children. Kevin had returned to London, but kept in contact.


Lexie and Nick saw very little of each other during the next couple months. They spoke on the phone and shared as much as they could about their lives. Nick's biggest concern was that AJ would be angry with them for lying to him and they discussed telling him first, but there never seemed to be a good time.


Jillian and Aaron had AJ, Alex, Nick, CJ and Lexie over for Thanksgiving. AJ gave both Nick and CJ no choice in coming home and spending Christmas with him in Orlando. Nick tried to protest, since most of his family was in L.A., but AJ refused to take 'no' as an answer. Aaron encouraged Nick and CJ to go and he finally relented to the both of them. AJ made plans for them to meet up with Lexie to fly out on Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve would be spent here in L.A. AJ called Howie first and told them. Howie would be having his first New Year's Eve concert since the year he collapsed and made plans to keep Nick and CJ around in Orlando until then.


It was December 21, when the judge in one of his cases announced there would be court dates for him to attend after Christmas and before New Year's, and Nick spoke out of turn for the first time since this all began. He got to his feet with a large scrape and his chair almost toppled over. The entire room turned toward him.


"I'm sorry, Your Honor, but I won't be in L.A. during that time." He said.


"Nick, sit down." His lawyer hushed him.


"I’m sorry, Mr. Carter, but I'll have to fine you if you don't attend. . ." the judge began.


Nick reached behind him and pulled his checkbook out of his back pocket. He slapped it on the table in front of him and reached inside his jacket. The next thing the courtroom heard was the click of his pen. "Just tell how much the fine is and I'll pay it."


"Mr. Carter, do you know how serious this is. . ."


"Your Honor, do you understand how serious it is if I break my promise to my daughter?" Nick smiled.


"I'm sure you can stay here. . ."


"No, I'm sorry, Your Honor." He said. "I need to be with my daughter. It's going to be Christmas. I spent last New Year's alone, I don't want to do that again."


"I see."


"Your Honor, with the exceptions of when I was sick, I've been to every court proceeding, just as this same court has ordered me. Just tell me how much the fine is and I'll pay it. I'll return to court on January 3rd."


"Mr. Carter, you argue a good case." The judge said softly. "Court will be adjourned between December 23rd to January 3rd. No fine to Mr. Carter."

"Thank you, Your Honor."

"You're quite welcome, Mr. Carter." She smiled.



Lexie closed up her dorm room and drove over the Aaron's house for Christmas Eve. It was nearly midnight when Aaron had them all driven to the airport to board AJ's plane. They buckled CJ and themselves in for the flight back East. CJ fell asleep with her head in Nick's lap. He was nursing a small glass of whiskey, just to ease his nerves. She always thought it was strange how he hated to fly. He sighed heavily several times, taking sips and glancing back over his shoulder out the small window. He was so far away, that Lexie found herself staring at him over the book in her lap.


He looked so tired and run down. So different from the bright and happy man who had walked into her life at its darkest moments. His hand absently smoothed CJ's blonde curls down, as he continued to nurse his drink. His tan from the summer had long faded and the dark circles under his eyes had returned. His hair was dull, his eyes weary. He stood taller these days than he had previously, but there was still a slump in his stance.


"Not much to look at these days." He smiled half heartedly. When she had walked in to Aaron's that morning, it was the first time she had seen him in three weeks. It was all she could do not to run and take him in her arms. Hold him.


"Oh, I wouldn't say that." She smiled back.


"You look great." He smiled. "It's gonna kill me not being able to hold you for the next week and a half."


"Well, we'll find a way around that. How about this?" She got up, walked over kissed him passionately.


"Goddamn, woman." He groaned, taking her mouth again, careful not to wake CJ. His one hand had gone down her side onto her rear and he tightened his grip. He came up for air and moaned a sad sound, "God, I wish things were different."


"Do you still love me, Nick?" She asked softly.


"Of course." He answered, sounding puzzled.


"Nothing will change that, right?"


"Nothing, I swear." He said, more strongly.


"Not time, not distance."


"Nothing, I swear." He smiled.


"Okay, just making sure." She smiled. He gripped her rear and his fingers slipped down her thigh.


"Do you still love me?" He smiled.


"Yes." She nodded.


"Do you promise to always love me?" He laughed quietly.


"I promise." She winked.


"Are you sure?" He teased.


"I promise to always love you, Nick." She grinned in return.


"Good, just checking." He smiled. He gave her rump a playful slap. They looked down and CJ was looking right at them.


"I love you, too, Daddy." She whispered. "I promise, too."


Nick and Lexie's hearts caught in their throats, what had she seen and heard? What if she told?



Nick hailed them a cab and got them safely to Howie and Leah's for Christmas breakfast and presents. The children were all playing in the family room, while Leah and Lexie cleared the breakfast table.


"You look tired." Her mom said.


"I've been up all night. It was a long flight." Lexie sighed.


"Didn't you get any sleep?" she asked.


"Not really." Lexie said, snapping the dishwasher shut.


"It's good of you to keep an eye on Nick." Leah said.


"What?" Lexie asked puzzled.


"AJ was concerned about him and CJ traveling, that's all."


"AJ stocks enough liquor on that plane to keep Nick sedated." She chuckled.


"Does he still hate to fly?"


"Yes, I think when he's flying is the only time I've seen him drink." Lexie said.


"How are his cases going? AJ isn't very good with details." Leah asked, wiping down the counters.


"He's down to five. He lost that one appeal last month." Lexie said, cleaning up the stove.


"What do they hope to gain by doing this to him?" Leah sighed.


"I don't know, but he's pretty committed to fight to the bitter end." Lexie sighed, rinsing the sponge under water.


"Well." Leah began, throwing her sponge in the sink. "He's always been like this, even in the early days. He's got to do what he thinks is right. The funny thing is, he's usually the one who is right."



Howie drove CJ and Nick over to AJ's to get some sleep and Lexie retired to her old room to get some sleep herself. That only lasted until about noon, then the boys had her up and they were going to Grandma Dorough's for Christmas dinner.


They returned home late and Lexie settled down with Caroline and gave her last bottle for the night. Her parents tucked the boys in and Caroline was asleep in her arms when they came downstairs.


"She's just beautiful, Dad." She said, touching her soft little hair.


"Just like my other daughter." He smiled. Then he gave her a little frown.


"What?" she asked, watching him sit on the couch next to her.


"Are you going to do something about your hair?" he asked. "I can tell AJ hasn't seen it in a while."


"What?" she laughed. It had grown out quite a bit and the roots were really showing. The curl had gone flat ages ago and it was down past her shoulders again. "Well, I wasn't planning on staying a blonde forever. Who do I look like, Nick Carter?" she laughed. Howie laughed at that too.


"So, tell me, speaking of Nick, do you know who this woman is he's seeing?"


"Excuse me? What woman?" she asked.


"It's just a couple months ago, I heard him talking to this woman on the phone. It sounded pretty serious." He sighed, rubbing his eyes tiredly.


"I don't know, Dad."


"I just thought since you guys were still friends. . ."


"I only talk to him, but he hasn't mentioned anything to me." She said.


"Are you sure he hasn't. . ."


"Dad?! No!" she said, trying not to sound too nervous. Howie just gave her a shrug, getting up to take Caroline.


"I’m gonna put her to bed. We're all going over the AJ's in the morning." He said over his shoulder.


"Okay." She said to his back.


Oh, shit.



"Howie, I can't believe you asked Lexie about Nick's love life." Leah said, crawling into bed with him and shutting off the light. "He's hardly going to talk to her about it."


"Oh, I'm not trying to gossip, it's just to hear his side of the conversation. . .he was very passionate about this woman."


"Are you sure it was a woman?" she asked in the dark.


"Leah, now who's asking strange questions." He chuckled. He felt her shrug in his arms.


"I'm just trying to say it's none of your business. Besides, no one has seen any woman around Nick in years; 6 if I'm counting right. He hasn't loved anyone since CJ's mother and I think it will always be like that for him." Leah sighed.



Nick woke to CJ hauling Alex into his bedroom and Alex screaming with delight at the top of his lungs. AJ caught them both and told CJ that her Daddy needed his sleep. Nick said it was okay and the kids climbed in with him. AJ leaned up against the door jamb.


"Nick?"


"Hmmm?" he responded as both CJ and Alex settled down in his arms.


"If anything happens to me, will you take Alex?"


"Huh? Why would you ask that?" Nick said.


"I. . .you're doing a great job with CJ and I'd like him to be with you, if I can't be there for him." AJ said.


"Shouldn't you ask Howie and Leah?"


"No, I'm asking you."


"You know they'd do it."


"I know, but I'm asking you." AJ insisted.


"Uh, sure. I'd love to take care of him. . .are you expecting something?" Nick asked.


"No, I just got to thinking." AJ sighed, leaving them to go get breakfast.


"Daddy, is Alex going to come live with us?"


"No, he's going to stay here with his Daddy."


"Good, I wouldn't want a little brother."


"Well, good, because you probably won't get one." He laughed.


"I'd like a little sister. Daddy, are you and Lexie going to have a baby?" she asked.


"What?! Where did you get an idea like that?" he asked, trying not to react.


"Well, you love Lexie and Lexie loves you and when two people love one another they have babies together." She said plainly. "That's what we learned in school."


"Well, I love Lexie because she's our friend and we. . .uh. . .hm. . . uh. . .well. . .Lexie and I won't be having any babies together." He said.


"So, you love Lexie like a friend."


"Yes." He said cautiously.


"You kissed her like Uncle Howie and Aunt Leah kiss, right on the mouth." She said. Great, he thought, that's what I get for letting her stay at their house during the summer, a healthy look at a healthy relationship. "Daddy?"


"CJ, it's different with me and Lexie. . ."


"Don't you love her?"


"Well, yes, but. . ."


"And you kissed her on the mouth. . ."


"I know, but. . ."


"I think you love her more than you say you do." CJ said. "I love Lexie, too. I wish you would have another baby."


Jesus!


"Well, Lexie and I aren't going to be having any babies together. I don't want you talking about this to anyone either, you understand? It's private."


"Like a secret?"


"No, it's private. Sometimes things happen and it's not right to talk about it. Do you understand?" he asked.


"I guess. Can I tell Lexie?"


"No, Lord, don't do that." He sighed.



CJ's awareness shook him to his core and he was utterly terrified CJ would say something to AJ. The Doroughs all came over to AJ's that morning. He went up to Lexie in the kitchen and hissed in her ear, "We've got to talk." They met upstairs in her bedroom. Nick told her everything CJ had said. She stood there with a little smirk on her face, her arms crossed across her chest.


"It's not funny." He said.


"No, it's hysterical." She chuckled.


"What if she tells someone?"


"Then we'll just deal with it, besides she's not the only one with suspicions." She said.


"Who? Who else?"


"Dad."


"What? What does he know?"


"He asked me last night about some woman you were talking on the phone with."


"That was you!"


"I know that, but I wasn't about to tell him." She giggled.


"I wish you'd take this more serious." He whispered harshly.


"I'm sorry, Nick. We can't hide this forever. I love you and you love me and regardless of what other people think of our age difference or your relationship with either one of my fathers, we are going to be together." She said. "It's not going to be pretty, no matter how it happens. They will find out. I'll slip up, you'll slip up, Brian will slip up. . .CJ."


"I'm not ready." He pleaded.


"I know, I know. Don't be so scared, I'll be with you when it happens." She said, sitting on the bed next to him.


He went into her arms and laid his head on her shoulder. "Sh, it'll be just fine. I promise."


"I'll remind you of that one." He said quietly.


"You remind me of all my other ones." She joked.

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