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God Doesn't Care About Your Make-Out Sessions, Nick Jonas

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The Disney Summer Concert Series is a little bit like a high school reunion. Only take your high school reunion and fill the entire thing with ex-girlfriends. And then, instead of just one night, take your high school reunion and stretch it out over an entire week of rehearsals. Imagine your high school reunion's worth of ex-girlfriends filling an entire floor of Disney's Dolphin Hotel. Imagine a solid week and a half of navigating ex-girlfriends night and day. And then the press. And the photo shoots. And the TV spots. The singing part is almost beside the point when faced with the endless gossip loop you'll be living in, but go ahead and add three concerts at Disney World. Then add a chartered flight to California, six hours but who's counting, on a plane entirely filled with ex-girlfriends. And just for fun, three more concerts at Disneyland. That's what the Disney Summer Concert Series is like.

 Nick is really looking forward to it.

*

Nick watches their luggage get loaded onto a massive fleet of valet carts. He can see Joe thinking about whether he'd be able to get away with riding on top of Kevin's bags. Nick grabs hold of his sleeve just in case. They exchange a look, hesitating in front of the hotel's big revolving door. It's a brace yourself look because this is it. Defcon one. Ex-girlfriend central.

"Behind door number one," Nick mutters.

Joe nudges him and says, "I hope it's the dinette set."

"I need one of those." Nick takes a deep breath and pushes through the door because whatever, he's not a coward. Also his dad is about to start telling them to get a move on in four seconds. Joe squeezes into the same revolving glass compartment with him, the two of them stumbling a little against each other's feet. He laughs and snorts through his nose, elbowing backward to nail Joe in the ribs when Joe doesn't let them stop at the lobby. They go all the way around twice before Nick's dad starts yelling.

"Yeah," Joe says right into his ear, while they do their best not to trip.  "Dining is not the same without a set."

"Do you even know what a dinette set is?" Nick asks.

"Not really," Joe says. "But I still want one."

"I don't know what it is either." They tumble out into the lobby. Nick feels a little disoriented and kind of like he's moving in slow motion, like he's waiting for something horrible to jump out at him or something. Like Attack of the Ex-Girlfriends. Not that all his Ex-Girlfriends are scary. If Selena jumps out at him, it'll be fine.

Nick and Selena are totally cool. They weren't for a little while. For a while every time they saw each other it was completely awkward, and every time she looked sad Nick felt guilty even though sometimes she was just sad that she hadn't had time to stop at Starbucks before her call time or whatever. They stopped talking and texting because their conversations always had these big empty holes with all the stuff they were trying to pretend didn't exist. It sucked. But it wasn't like she went around talking about him in magazines or making jerky myspace videos or dedicating songs about crappy boyfriends to him while he was sitting right there in the front row of the American Music Awards with cameras in his face so he couldn't do anything but smile.

After a while it just stopped sucking pretty much on its own. So now it's almost like they're still dating actually, except for they don't make out anymore and they don't call each other at 10pm every night to say good night, and she doesn't sign her texts with a little row of Xs and Os. She just puts one O, and an S for Selena. He always signs his to her with an (S)OS because he thinks it's funny. She only thought it was funny the first time, but whatever.

Taylor and Miley are a whole other thing. Taylor and Miley are why he's bracing himself haunted house style, and Joe is casing the lobby like he's planning the easiest escape route.

Luckily, Nick only sees two Cheetah Girls over by the check-in desk. And wait, no. There's another Cheetah Girl over by the elevator bank with Jordin Sparks and David Archuleta. Nick has never dated any of those people, thank God.

One of the Disney suits stops them right in the middle of the lobby, and starts handing over the room keys and going over itineraries with Nick's dad. Right in the middle of the lobby. Unbelievable. Everyone knows you don't stop moving in the middle of a public place. Being a Jonas Brother is like being a shark. You stop moving, you die. And dying by fangirl is not a pretty way to go.

Jordin turns and notices them. Of course, she and Sabrina both start squealing and jumping around. David Archuleta winces. They all ditch their bags with their parents, and start running over. Anyway the girls start running over. David Archuleta kind of stands there, until his dad says something to him. And then he walks over slowly like it's the last thing he wants to do.

Nick loses sight of him in the middle of the hugging and yelling. And of course the squealing and screaming has alerted like, the entire lobby, to the fact that there's a mash-up of teen idols in the middle of the floor. And this is exactly why you don't start working through scheduling and logistics in a crowded public area.

Amateurs.

They all end up running for the elevators because momentum saves lives. And the elevators are ridiculously slow so they get pinned down for a minute signing autographs and taking pictures. But nobody loses a limb or gets their clothes ripped off so there's that. Of course now that everyone knows where they're staying there's going to be a crowd down here every day, but that was probably inevitable anyway.

"Miley's not here yet," Sabrina says in the elevator, and Nick feels some of the tension in his back ease.

"Taylor is." Jordin bares her teeth in a "yikes" face.

"Great," Joe says. "Maybe I should give her a call. How many seconds do you-"

"No!" Everybody under the age of twenty shouts. Except David Archuleta, who is smiling a really fake smile that doesn't at all cover the fact that he has no idea what's going on. He looks like he's trying to blend into the upholstered elevator wall. Nick doesn't know Archuleta that well. Not like the others. They've met a couple times. The Jonas Brothers played the American Idol finale, but that was pretty much a mad house. And they talked for like five seconds at the Teen Choice Awards. The lasting impression he took away from it is that Archuleta's one weird kid. A kid who can sing ridiculously. Like unfairly awesome. But a total weirdo.

Nick kind of likes weirdos. Not scary stalker weirdos, just you know, harmless weirdos. Anyone can be normal. He leans over, and David Archuleta flinches a little. "Hey," Nick says.

"Hello." Archuleta blinks at him uneasily.

Nick grins, and Archuleta's fake smile wavers a little like he has no idea what Nick wants but he's pretty sure he won't like it. "Did you have a good flight?" Nick says. Archuleta's just about to say something, and Nick can't wait to hear it because he can already tell it's going to be a tangled up mess.

"It was fine," the man next to Archuleta says into the hesitation. "Of course it was delayed 45 minutes, but they all are these days."

Nick settles back against the wall of the elevator, kind of annoyed. He really wanted to hear the kid try to put a sentence together. But he smiles, and he's pretty sure his fake smile is better than Archuleta's. "Nick Jonas," Nick says.

"Jeff Archuleta." He shakes Nick's hand. "I guess you know my son, David."

"We've met." Nick says. "Briefly." His smile is still fake when he adds, "I'm a big fan." Archuleta completely blushes and shakes his head no, which makes Nick feel a little bad since he doesn't actually know anything about Archueta's music outside of the part where he sings like that. He resolves to visit iTunes later just so he's not a liar. Not exactly anyway.

The elevator door dings and everyone spills out in a jumble of luggage and a crush of girls talking way too loud. Okay strike that, it's the girls and Joe. Joe doesn't understand the concept of inside voice. Kevin says something he thinks is funny to Jordin, and when she doesn't laugh he says it louder. Kevin doesn't understand the concept of inside voice either. Or the concept of humor.

Nick rolls his eyes. He catches David Archuleta looking at him. "They're idiots," he says because he wants to say it out loud, and talking to yourself is one of the signs of insanity or something.

Archuleta laughs, a kind of choked off surprised hiccup of laugh. Nick remembers David laughed a lot at the Teen Choice Awards. But like, a creepy defensive laugh, not a real one. This is a real laugh. Nick grins at him, and he doesn't look as nervous this time.

"Do you have any brothers?" Nick asks as they head for the end of the hall. "Are they idiots?"

"One brother," Archuleta says. "Three sisters." He gets a little embarrassed looking. "They're all like- Well, they have you know, crushes on you and stuff."

"So they are idiots," Nick says.

David Archuleta looks stricken. "Oh no," he says. "They're just kids? They like- I mean you're really awesome so they-"

"He's just joking with you," Jeff Archuleta puts in, grabbing his son's suitcase and rolling it more quickly down the hall. Nick kind of wishes he would stop interrupting just when David is really getting on a roll. "Don't dawdle," Mr. Archuleta says over his shoulder.

"I'm not dawdling," Archuleta says, but he picks up the pace anyway. Nick walks faster too.

"I was kidding," he confirms.

"Oh," Archuleta says. "Okay." He kind of squints. "I don't- Why is that funny?"

"I-" Nick cracks up a little. "I guess it's not. Never mind."

Joe pokes his head out into the hall from the room he's sharing with Nick and yells, "Nick, they gave us extra shampoos!"

Nick throws him a mostly sarcastic thumbs up.

"I'm going to juggle them!" Joe ducks back inside the room.

"Joe doesn't actually use hotel shampoos," Nick is explaining to Archuleta. "He has some super expensive kind from France or something ridiculous."

Archuleta blinks at him. "Okay," he says. "Cool." He obviously doesn't know why Nick is telling him this, and Nick doesn't either.

"He just likes the little bottles. He likes to hold them." Nick keeps explaining, but he walks faster because he's almost at the door now and it seems like the only way he's going to stop talking is if he gets inside it. "They make him feel like a giant."

Archuleta laughs a little. "Okay," he says.

"Okay," Nick says, and he's smiling. It's not a fake smile.

Archuleta's room is right across the hall. He's not sure why he's glad.

*

The first thing Disney has them doing isn't rehearsals, it's photo shoots, which is so typical. Nick stares into the mirror and thinks about contractual obligations and tries to remember to be grateful to The Mouse for all the breaks it's given them while a woman puts something goopy and gross in his hair. His shirt is stupid and shiny, and he's not sure but he thinks it might be a little bit see-through. As soon as he's done in the chair, he's grabbing his own jacket to minimize the damage.

He closes his eyes when they start in with the brushes and the sponges and people talk about his oily T-zone above his head like he's not there. When he opens his eyes he thinks he looks exactly the same as before they put the make-up on, except now his face smells weird.

Joe is, of course, loving every second of this and putting different kinds of hair stuff on his hand to smell and talking to the makeup people about things Nick doesn't know the names of. Joe keeps looking at himself in the mirror through his eyelashes while they work on his hair, and Nick can see him trying out the expressions he's planning on making for the camera.

Joe catches Nick laughing at him in the mirror, and reaches over to push Nick's head with a wide open palm. Nick makes kissy faces at him, and folds his hands up under his chin. "Oh, Joe." He pitches his voice as high as he can. "You're so pretty."

Joe flicks his ear. Hard. Nick makes a grab for Joe's hair, but the stylist comes to Joe's aid, swatting Nick's hands away. So not fair.

"I'm working here," she says.

"Sorry," Nick grumbles sullenly.

Joe smirks at him in the mirror. "My hair is very important, Nicholas." He frames the top of his head with his hands. "This!"

"Your hair should start its own band," Nick says.

"My hair could start its own band," Joe says. "My hair is a better singer than you." He crosses his arms over his chest. He can't turn his head since they're still messing with his hair, but he smirks at Nick in the mirror. "And it can play the bass."

"Not lead guitar?" Nick asks sarcastically.

Joe looks at him like he's an idiot. "It's hair, Nick. Obviously it can't handle six strings." He makes a little "duh" face through the tangle of hands that are fussing around the two of them.

"But it can handle four?" Nick says.

"Um, yeah." Joe juts his jaw out. "You just don't know what hair is capable of because your hair is stupid."

The makeup artist finally finishes with Nick and takes the drape off his body. He really, really wants to lean over and give Joe a massive noogie, but the stylist is giving him the evil eye like she can read his mind so he jumps out of the chair instead.

"Not as stupid as your face," he says.

"Not as stupid as your mom," Joe says. No matter how many times Nick points out that your mom jokes don't work when you have the same mom, he still keeps making them.

Nick grabs his jacket and quickly covers up the shininess of his shirt before any of it can escape into the wild. He hovers for a second, considering waiting around for Joe to finish.  He doesn't really want to go on set by himself just in case Miley and Taylor are there and Demi and Selena aren't. It's not that he's afraid of Miley and Taylor. It's just that they are scary, scary girls.

The make-up artist is giving him the evil eye again though, like she still thinks he's going to pull something. And Joe is distracted, practicing his sexiness. Nick decides he's going to have to man up and drags himself outside.

He almost trips over David Archuleta in the hallway. He's sitting practically right in front of the door, and he's singing to himself. He has his head tipped back against the wall, and his eyes are kind of unfocused like his mind is completely somewhere else. He sounds perfect, of course. His voice is really soft. Nick's not sure if he even realizes he's singing. But it's still all smooth and like, four dimensional or something. Why does his voice sound like it's round, and Nick's sounds like it's flat?

Nick kicks his foot to get his attention. He kicks it possibly a tiny bit harder than he needs to. "Practicing for your new job as a doorstop?"

David Archuleta looks up and pops the iPod bud out of his ear. "Sorry," he says, flushing like he just got caught doing something naughty. Not that David Archuleta has ever done anything naughty in his life, probably. "What?"

"Nothing," Nick says. "It was stupid. What are you doing out here?"

"My dad had to take a call."

Nick squints at him. "Are you legally required to stay within 50 feet of him at all times or something?"

"Um," Archuleta says. "No?"

Nick shrugs at him. "So why aren't you over at the shoot?"

"He likes to be there for any photo things," Archuleta says. "So they don't do anything- Like I guess, inappropriate or anything? For my image?"

Nick cracks up. "Dude," he says. "Are you going to let someone talk you out of your shirt?"

"Oh my gosh," Archuleta says, appalled. "No."

"Exactly," Nick says. "Besides. This is Disney. I don't think they go for inappropriate."

Archuleta is wavering, Nick can see it. "He's going to expect me to be here though. When he gets back."

"So he can come find you," Nick says. "I mean, they really need us on the set. It's not cool to make everyone wait around for your dad."

Archuleta looks skeptical. "They're still going to have to wait for Joe and Jesse to finish make-up anyway," he points out. It is a fair point. Nick was kind of counting on him not thinking of that.

"Fine. You just sit here by yourself in the hallway until your daddy lets you get up." Ugh. He'll just have to go into the dragon's lair without a scary girl buffer. "I'll catch up with you later."

"Wait, um- " David starts to wrap the headphone cord around his iPod. "I'm- " He nods to himself like he's convincing himself of something. "I'm coming with you."

"Nice!"  Nick reaches over to give his shoulder a congratulatory squeeze. David flinches slightly, twitching like he's trying not to jerk completely away. Nick takes his hand back, not sure if he's insulted. He decides probably it's not his fault David Archuleta is a freak. "Don't worry," he says, feeling a little protective of the weirdo all of a sudden. "I'll be right there. I won't let them steal your clothes. Or put guyliner on you. Or drape you in a sheet."

David Archuleta laughs and climbs to his feet. "Why would they drape me in a sheet?"

"Sheets are sexy," Nick says.

"Sheets aren't sexy. Sheets are just ghost costumes before you cut the eyeholes in them."

Nick laughs, a little startled. "David Archuleta, did you just make a joke?"

He ducks his head a little and grins. "Kind of."

"Awesome," Nick says. "It was a little bit funny too. I bet if you keep practicing you could one day be hilarious."

David gets this deeply offended look on his face, and Nick cracks up.

"Oh," David says. "That was a joke too. Right?"

Nick nods, snorting through his nose too hard to talk. David shakes his head in prim disapproval, and takes off down the hall. Nick has to jog to keep up.

*

The Disney Summer Concert Series is all about unexpected duets and group sings and sometimes stupid choreographed dances like they're all starring in High School Musical Part 43. It's about Pay-Per-View and a different show every night and giving the fans stuff they can't get on the albums. It's like the Grammys except instead of playing with Stevie Wonder you get to play with Ashley Tisdale. No disrespect to Ashley, but dude... She's no Stevie Wonder.

And the way they organize the thing, it's like they're setting you up to give a crappy, underprepared performance. The set list changes every night so you have to learn a billion songs. And of course the rehearsals get cut down for all the promo stuff you have to do because if it's a choice between PR and quality music, Disney will always pick PR. There's no way for it to really gel like it should or to work out the kinks. There's just not enough time.

With their own tour, it's pretty much clockwork by now. The band knows what it's supposed to do. And he and Joe and Kev know what they're supposed to do. And it's kind of like, you don't even have to think about it anymore, your fingers remember and your voice remembers and you just go do it. Of course stuff can always happen like the monitors go out or somebody (Joe) falls down but most of time you don't even have to think.

Nick is not a big fan of being underprepared. Nick hates stepping out on stage knowing he's not ready. He can already feel the inevitability of screwing up just crushing down. And it's even worse thinking about the fact that they're putting the concerts on TV so everyone in the world can see him being crappy instead of just the ten thousand people at the show.

But the fans love it, and The Jonas Brothers love to give the fans what they want. They're doing this for the fans. And also because they're contractually obligated.

Of course this year the Disney suits have the brilliant idea, which they did not share until the very last possible minute, to make him do a duet with Miley. Not even The Jonas Brothers and Miley. Just Nick. Nick and Miley.

This is blatantly BS. He doesn't care what they say about demographics and blah blah marketing talk whatever, it's obviously because it'll get a bunch of free publicity and start all the gossip mills turning. And anyway, it's retarded and not fair. But it's, like, his job. So he says okay.

He's kind of hoping that Miley will be the irresponsible one and say no. But of course she has to pick now to be completely professional. So fine.

And it's not like he thinks she's going to do anything, like anything really messed up, or that they won't do an okay job on stage. They both know how to handle themselves on stage. It's not even so much about the break up. She has a new boyfriend, and it's been forever since they were even together, and it's not like they hate each other. Not exactly. It's just, it's Miley. Like even if they didn't have this thing, their thing, being around her would be exhausting. Miley is-

Nick just thinks you don't have to go around creating, like, situations all the time. Enough stuff is going to happen on its own.

But fine. They'll do this duet. And they'll do it right because it's going to be on television and everyone will see if they don't. It's only a couple weeks, and then they can go back to dodging reporters' questions about their relationship (Nick) or writing memoirs about how much their heart was broken (Miley) and just passing each other on the red carpet every now and then.

It's fine.

*

When you're a Jonas Brother alone time is not really a thing you get to have. Mostly that's a plus. When he's on stage leaning against Joe's sweaty back with a guitar in his hand. When he's bored on the tour bus, and there's always someone who's up for playing Who Can Fit the Most Grapes in Their Mouth. When he's sitting down for another kind of invasive interview, and he knows if he gets in trouble someone will be there to bail him out. When they're surrounded by so many fans it starts to feel like they might disappear into the crush and never come out. Like ninety percent of the time Nick is so glad not to be doing this alone.

Sometimes though, like now, he's just trying to get the chorus right on this new song; and Joe won't stop bouncing a tennis ball off the wall right by his head, and Kevin won't stop being cutesy on the phone to his girlfriend, and someone gave Frankie a Red Bull which is never, ever a good idea. Sometimes he wants out. Just for a few minutes he wants to be to be anywhere but here, all by himself.

Which is why he ends up wandering through the hallways of the rehearsal studios with his guitar looking for an empty room, preferably one with good acoustics. He finds two locked doors, a storage closet, and a couple of empty cleaning carts he reminds himself to tell Joe about later because they're totally big enough for a person to fit inside.

He follows the sound of piano down the hall, pushing open the door quietly to peek inside. David Archuleta sings softly to his own accompaniment. His fingers hit the keys a little harder than necessary as the light tripping of the melody devolves into the same chords repeated over and over. He stops abruptly, smashing his fingers down onto the keys in sudden discordant frustration.

"I know that sound," Nick says. "That's the sound of a song hitting the wall."

David jumps a little in his seat, whipping around to notice Nick in the doorway. He laughs nervously. "You heard that?" Nick nods, and David shakes his head in denial. "It was awful."

"It wasn't awful," Nick said. "You just haven't figured out where to take the bridge."

"It was horrible." He pulls the cover down over the keys with a careful, but definite clack.

"It happens to all of us. I'm stuck on this stupid chorus," Nick offers. He holds up the guitar in his hand. "Want to hear it?" He's not exactly sure why he says it. Usually he doesn't like anyone outside his family to hear his stuff until he has it pretty much locked down, until he's sure it's pretty great, and it's what he wants it to be. But he kind of- He actually really wants to know what David Archuleta will say about this one. Nick wants to know if he'll even be able to tell that there's something wrong with it, or if he'll just be like "Oh, that's so awesome. Yay!"

David nods, his hands drifting absently over the closed keyboard. Nick sits down on the other side of the piano bench, with his back to the keys. David turns on the bench a little, pulling his bent knee up between them so he can watch Nick play without straining. Nick strums a couple chords just to ground himself before he starts in on the verse. He hates that he feels a little self-conscious about his voice, stripped down with just a guitar and nothing to hide behind while this guy who has one of the best voices he's ever heard in person listens. At least he knows the verse is good. He lets it rip through the chorus even though the chorus is still wrong, and by the time he's halfway through the second verse David's humming harmony.

He grins a little, feeling the song start to pulse with life as their voices shift and twine together, as the sweet pure tone of David's singing wraps around the jagged edges of the unfinished melody. When the song is done, he repeats the chorus again because he doesn't want them to stop. The melody eventually falters to silence. He strums a few random chords absently, still clinging to the last echoes of how good they sounded together.

"Play it again," David says, flipping the cover of the piano back open. He picks out the melody after a little noodling around. He's got basically all the lyrics with one run through. Nick wants to be annoyed that David doesn't have to fumble around trying to remember the words for a little while, but he's having too much fun leaning into the chords. When they get to the chorus, David takes it a half octave higher, just testing it out, playing with it. It's still not there. They make faces at each other, and go back to the beginning again. David changes the harmony. Nick tweaks the phrasing. It's still not quite working, but Nick can feel they're close. They sing it again, and Nick changes up the tempo, David adjusting quickly on the piano. They look at each other, and laugh. David falls back a little from the keyboard. Nick puts down the guitar and spins around on the bench.

"It's really close," Nick says. "I think that's almost it."

Nick kicks his feet against the pedals, pressing them down and letting them up.

"I like it," David says. "It's um- Really catchy."

"Catchy is my specialty." Nick makes a face, and his fingers hover over the keys without touching down. "That's why no one takes us seriously. As musicians." He starts picking out the right handed side of Heart and Soul.

David immediately answers with the left handed side. "It doesn't really have anything to do with you." He sees the look on Nick's face, which is something close to "How Dare You, Sir" and rushes to explain. "I mean, people never take kids seriously."

"I'm not a kid." Nick can't help the defensiveness that creeps into his voice.

"I know." David looks at Nick like he's not the brightest bulb. "Hello?"

"Sorry," Nick says. "At least you're technically an adult."

"Yeah," David says a little sourly. "Maybe I should wear a sign or something so people can tell."

"I'm sure your fans know," Nick grins. "They probably had countdowns to your birthday." David looks at him blankly. Nick waits for him to get it, but he never does. "Because now you're legal?" he says finally. "To lust after?"

"Oh my gosh," David says, scandalized. "Gross."

Nick cracks up so hard he loses his place in the song, and switches over to playing the left handed side. They play in stereo for a while before David switches over the right-handed side. It sounds weird with the low keys and the high keys reversed. Nick reaches over David's arm, ignoring the quick flinch, and starts playing the left handed side an octave lower. David reaches under his arm, his shoulder almost pushing Nick's arm out of place. Nick grins, and speeds up. David follows, keeping up as they fight against each other's arms and reach for the keys faster and faster and faster until David's fingers finally stumble over the wrong note. They fall back, and Nick feels kind of tired and also totally jazzed like he just ran a marathon and won. He can tell from how David's grinning that his fingers are itching to get back on the keys.

Nick starts to pick out the melody David was playing when he came in. He doesn't get the whole thing since he only heard a little of it before, but David can tell what he's doing. David smiles a little at the keys, and starts to play it out slowly so Nick can follow.

"Sing it," Nick says.

David shakes his head no.

"Come on," Nick says. "I showed you mine."

"But yours was good," David says. "Mine is- Not good."

"I'll be the judge of that. Come on." He leans over to shove David with his shoulder. David's hands freeze up on the keys, his shoulder hunching defensively. Nick nudges him again, but slow this time, deliberate, gentle. David looks over at him, and then he nudges Nick back with an elbow. Nick keeps playing, and David picks the melody back up. He doesn't look at Nick as he opens his mouth and starts to sing. Nick has to fight that hot sick moment of jealousy when his voice pours out thick and rich and sweet. Has to force himself to listen to the lyrics and not get lost in the purity of the pitch.

He cocks his head a little, breaking the lyrics apart in his head, tracking the way the notes falter at the bridge. The lyrics are kind of retarded. They're all about like peace and love and rainbows and stuff only twelve year old girls think are cool. Nick has to remind himself that David Archuleta is eighteen, and a boy, because seriously. The melody's cool though. "Why don't you flip the chorus?" he asks. "Take the last two lines first." He decides not to point out that rainbows are lame.

David stops playing completely, sitting still with his hands curved in the air above the keyboard. He hums a little to himself with his eyes closed. Nick stops playing too. He sits back and lets David play the whole thing over again. The bridge falls almost magically into place as soon as David flips the chorus. David grins at him. It's not weird and stretchy and painful looking like his scary fake smile. It's big though, so huge his eyes get squinty. Nick grins back.

"That's um- " David shakes his head in a kind of wonderment. "I never would have figured that out."

Nick feels like the patron saint of song writing or something. His grin starts to get a little smug, but he tries not to let it. "You helped me too," he says even though David didn't help as much.

David blushes a little, ducking his head. "Not that much."

"No," Nick says, because even though he was just thinking that, for some reason it bugs him when David says it out loud. "You helped a lot."

David is shaking his head.

"We should play Heart and Soul on stage," Nick says. "It'd be a show stopper." He's kidding, but he's not too. Seriously, they're making him do a duet with Miley? When he and this kid could put something together that's actually awesome?

David laughs. "Right."

"It can't be worse than our group number to Boys of Summer," Nick says. "What the heck?"

"It's a good song."

"Yeah, but it's so corny. And they're making us dance."

David makes a little frowny face at him. "I don't think it's corny."

"That's just because you're really, really not cool."

David's mouth drops open a little, and then his lips press together. "A joke," he says. Nick nods confirmation. "I get it."

Nick wrinkles up his nose, and starts to play A Little Bit Longer. "Do you know this one?" he says.

"Some of it," David says, and his voice belts out thick and sweet wrapping all around Nick's words. The part of Nick that's small and mean and petty hates that he'll never, ever be able to sing like that no matter how hard he practices or how many instruments he learns or how many songs he writes or how many albums he sells. But the part of him that loves music shivers and clenches and sighs all through his insides when it hears his words come out of that throat, with that voice. It's like seeing something you sketched on a napkin get turned into a Rembrandt or something.

It sucks. It's awesome. Mostly it's more awesome than it sucks.

"You just got so many cool points for knowing this amazing, wonderful song," Nick says.

"You're kind of, um- " David's face twists a little like he's not sure he should say it but he's going to. "Full of yourself."

Nick bites his bottom lip to keep from laughing. "Oh," he says. "That's too bad. Now I have to take a few of your cool points away. And you just earned those too." David snorts, and opens his mouth to say something, and now there's not enough singing going on. "You," Nick says. "No talking. Just sing."

David closes his eyes, and his voice suddenly soars from I'm Just Joking Around in An Abandoned Rehearsal Room to Holy Crap, Are You Kidding Me? Nick has to look down at his fingers on the keys to force his own eyes to stay open because holy crap, dude. He lays into the harmony, and he doesn't even feel weird about putting his own voice up next to that, because he knows it's enough to carry him.

He's sung this song hundreds of times, so many times he's sort of stopped hearing it, stopped feeling it. But he can feel it right now. Feel it deep and wide awake like it's the first time. They're his words, and it's his music, and he made this. He made this, and it's beautiful. It's alive.

*

Joe is Nick's favorite person. Like, in the entire world. This is no offense to Nick's mom or dad or Frankie or Kevin or Garbo or Mother Theresa or Prince or Elvis or any of the other really awesomely amazing people who Nick totally admires, loves, cares about. It's just that if the whole world was about to explode like Krypton, and he could only save one person, he would pick Joe.

That's just how it is.

Which is why he freezes, completely shocked, with his leg halfway up on the bed when Joe asks if Nick is avoiding him.

"What?" he says. It doesn't even make sense.

"I'm just saying if you're mad at me-"

"That's retarded," Nick says. "I can't believe you even asked me that."

"Never mind," Joe says and turns over on his side with his back to Nick. "I don't know."

"What? Like if I'm not with you guys every minute of the day, I'm avoiding you?" Nick says. "I have to go sing duets with freaking Miley, man! I can't help it if, oh boo hoo, you had to play Halo with Kevin or something because I was too busy having Billy Ray Cyrus tell me my pitch was off." He shakes the sheets angrily before jamming himself under them.

"Okay, Nicky." Nick stares at Joe's back until he turns over and looks at Nick, squinting without his glasses. "Forget it," he says.

"I will forget it," Nick mutters. "Because it's stupid."

The silence sits thick and deep for a long horrible moment before Joe says, "Not as stupid as your face." He grins, and Nick feels the tight, anxious knot under his breastbone slip loose. He laughs once, a relieved huff.

"Not as stupid as your life."

"Not as stupid as your comeback." Joe clicks off the lamp on the bedside table between them. Nick listens to Joe's breathing in the dark until it evens out into deep, steady inhales and exhales. He matches his own breathing to them.

*

David Archuleta is sitting in the hallway outside the rehearsal room when Nick storms out. David looks up from the sheet music in his lap, eyebrows flying up at the door slam. He watches Nick kick the wall, and then finally speaks up. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," Nick says, the words clipped. Nick is not fine. Nick is pissed. Because if he has to listen to one more passive aggressive remark, and if he has to watch Miley laughing at him behind her hand with her stupid (ridiculously old) boyfriend, and if he has to hear any more criticism of his guitar playing, and if... He's just sick of it. All of it.

"Um," Archuleta says. "Are you sure? You look... Mad." Nick glares. "It's none of my business," Archuleta quickly corrects himself.

"I'm going to get some air."

"Okay."

Nick extends his hand. "Are you coming or not?"

"Oh. I'm supposed to-" David says, looking down at his lap. " My dad wanted me to-"

Nick makes a so what face and motions impatiently with his hand. It's just on the edge of too long before David shrugs and shuffles his sheet music into a neat stack. He taps it once against the floor and paperclips the pages together with precision before grabbing Nick's hand.

Outside, Nick takes a deep breath. The sun helps a little. David turns his face up into it, smiling. "Why do they always keep the air conditioning on so cold?" he says. "We're not, you know- It's like-" He waves his hands around and sing songs, "Refrigerator!"

"It's so we don't spoil," Nick says. "Gotta keep the meat fresh." He catches a couple girls eyeing them in a speculative way at the corner of the parking lot and grabs the sleeve of Archuleta's shirt. David looks down at his hand like he wants to say something about it, but he doesn't. He lets Nick drag him backward around the side of the building until they're hidden in the shade of a doorway. "Girls," Nick says, explaining. He slides down against the wall, scrubbing at his face. After a second of hesitation, during which he eyes the dirty asphalt dubiously, Archuleta slides down to join him. Nick rolls his head from side to side, listening to the pop. "Why are girls so stupid?" he says.

"They aren't all stupid."

Nick rolls his eyes. "You're supposed to agree with me, dude," he says. "We're guys. We're supposed to stick together."

"I- What?" Archuleta says. "They didn't even do anything though? They were just standing there?"

"It's not them." Nick plucks a loose piece of gravel off the ground and throws it as hard as he can against the building across the alley. "Never mind."

"This is about Miley?" Archuleta says.

"Obviously," Nick snaps. "Duh."

"So, do you want to talk about it or something?"

"No," Nick snorts. Except. "She keeps trying to hog the verses," he blurts. "And she knows if she makes me take the high harmonies I won't be able to hit them all. But when I try to call her on it, she acts like I'm being crazy and paranoid or something." He scuffs his heel against the ground, and angles a glance over at Archuleta. He's just sitting there. "You don't even know what I'm talking about do you?" he says. "Have you ever even had a girlfriend?" That's kind of mean, actually, and Nick feels a little bad for throwing it in his face.

Archuleta blushes. "Sort of," he says. Which means no. Nick looks at him skeptically.

"What do you mean sort of?"

Archuleta laughs, and it comes out all jittery. "Just it was kind of not like that um- Boyfriend-girlfriend thing. Like that normal thing where you go on dates to the movies or whatever, dinner or something, I don't know."

What Nick thinks is that Archuleta has never even been close to having a girlfriend. What he says is, "I just don't get why it has to be all dragged out and still matter. I mean, what? Did she think we were going to get married? We were fourteen."

"Yeah," David says. "I think you just- You should just enjoy the people that make you happy. And like, not get so life and death about it if things don't work out all the time."

"Yes!" Nick says, because even if Archuleta's probably never kissed a girl before at least he kind of gets it. "Don't take it so seriously when it's just dating."

"I don't think you can really fall in love until you're older anyway," he says. "Like old enough to know... More."

What? No. "That's not-" Nick shakes his head. "That's like ageism or something. Like you can't feel something just because you're young?"

"You feel something," David says. "It's just not what you think it is.

"That's so condescending," Nick says. "Just because you haven't been in love before."

"Have you?" David asks.

"Well, no. But that doesn't mean I can't do it." Nick really hates it when people try to tell him what he can and can't do. Especially when they try to tell him what he can and can't do because he's only 16. Especially when the kid who's telling him what he can and can't do knows about as much about girls and love and dating as your average eight year old. "Maybe you can't. I'm sure I could."

"Oh," David says. "I'm not daring you."

"I know," Nick says. "I just meant- Just because you haven't met the right person doesn't mean you're, like, not capable of love."

"I guess," David says. "I just think, like, sometimes you do meet the right person but that doesn't mean it has to work out. And if you're too young, you just end up not- Like, sometimes you have to wait for stuff. To happen in the right order. You have to do like, life stuff, before you're ready to do love stuff?"

Nick blinks at him. "So, what? Are you saying if Miley and I had dated when we were both twenty it would have worked out or something?"

David laughs. "I wasn't actually talking about you. Everyone isn't always um- Talking about you."

Nick laughs too. "That's- Fair. I guess. I still think you're wrong, but maybe when you meet someone..."

David smiles a little. "Maybe." Nick can tell David is humoring him, but whatever. The kid has a lot to learn is all.

*

David Archuleta sings all the time. Nick sings a lot too, that's totally normal. They're singers. But David Archuleta has this thing. It's like a reflex. He'll be just talking normally (or normal for him anyway) and someone will say something that's accidentally a little snip of a lyric, and he'll sing it. And yeah, Nick has done that too. Sure, everybody has. You get reminded of a song, you sing a little of it. But the thing is if Nick's doing an interview or talking to a suit or whatever then even if one of them says something completely obvious like "It's raining men" Nick isn't going to burst into song over it. Because Nick is a normal person. But with David, it's like he has to sing it, like he can't help himself at all. It doesn't matter where he is or who he's talking to or if it's a completely inappropriate thing to do, he just has to sing it. He has to.

Of course when Nick realizes this, he starts to seed their conversations with little lyrical bombs and wait for David to go off. It's sort of like a Name that Tune Game, except he's the only one who knows they're playing.

Which is why they're currently having this conversation.

"It's like time after time, over and-" Nick says.

"Time after time," David sings softly.

"-over.  I'm going Joe, we can't be late this morning. You have to make sure you wake me up."

"Wake me up before you go-go," David sings. Nick hides a smile, and David slips right back into the conversation. "Why don't you just use the alarm clock?" he asks.

"Alarm clocks don't work that great for me," he says. "They don't have arms."

David laughs. "They should invent that. Like a- " His arms flail around stiffly. "-robot or something."

"Yeah, but a robot would be a lot more expensive than a brother."

"But it would be a robot."

This is a good point. "Maybe in the distant future."

"The distant future. The year 2000," David sings. Nick's actually surprised he got that one. Awesome. "I want them to make one of those- Like that thing on Star Trek- The holodeck thing."

"Yes!" Nick says. "They should do that. And that transporter thing. Dude, touring would be so easy."

David nods, plinking out a melody on the piano. "It's kind of fun on the bus though."

"Sometimes," Nick agrees. "It's more fun in the beginning." Nick sighs and plays a little of Stop Dragging My Heart Around on his guitar. He still can't believe they're making him do this song with Miley. It's such complete BS. "I think," Nick says. "If they want me and Miley to do a duet so bad, we should do Where the Wild Roses Grow."

"That's about like, murdering people," David points out.

"Exactly," Nick agrees.

David looks disapproving. "That's not funny."

"It's a little bit funny."

"It's a little bit funny," David sings Elton John, and that was a good one. Nick didn't even do that one on purpose. David still looks disapproving. "It's really not," he says.

"There's no such thing as an original sin." Nick waits expectantly, but David doesn't get that one.  He just looks at Nick like he's crazy because that didn't actually make sense conversation-wise. This will not do. That was Elvis Costello. It's just not okay for him to not know Elvis. Nick makes a mental note to secretly put My Aim is True on David's iPod later.

David is picking out notes more purposefully on the piano, and Nick starts to recognize the melody. He plays along on the guitar while David softly slips into I'm Yours. He's really good with it. It's kind of sassier than some of the stuff on his album. Nick grins. "David Archuleta," he says. "Are you getting a little bit funky?"

While David's laughing, Nick turns the song into Love Bug and they switch off so David's singing back up for him. It's like- Really good. Really, really good.

"We should be doing a duet," Nick says. "You sing better than Miley anyway, and you're way less high maintenance."

"Um." David looks doubtful. "Thanks."

But the more Nick thinks about it, the more he actually means it. "No," he says. "I'm serious. We could really- " He shakes his head. "We should do this. These two songs like this. It would be awesome. We can jazz it up a little here." He puts a little roughness into the simple sweetness of Love Bug's chorus.

"I don't know," David says. "Aren't the set lists pretty finalized now?"

"I'll take care of it," Nick says confidently. If he threatens to pull out of the Miley thing, or offers to do it in more than just the first and last shows... He knows he can get them to agree. "Come on," he says when he sees David still wavering. "That was sick just now. And that was without any rehearsal! We haven't even really had a chance to play with it!"

David smiles a little. "It was pretty cool."

"Does that mean you'll do it?"

"I guess if you think..." David shrugs. "I mean if I can- If you don't think I'll, um- Mess it up really bad."

"Dude," Nick says. "Have you ever even heard yourself sing?"

"Um-" David says, his brow furrowing.

"You're not going to mess anything up."

David blushes. It's really kind of adorable.

*

Nick and David are sitting in the closed off dining room talking about whether it would be possible to hide inside a piano during a concerto and survive being hit with the hammers like a billion times. David points out that the piano wouldn't even play properly with a person inside and also all the strings would break from your weight so they'd stop playing right away anyway. David is not very good at games like this, but Nick likes the confused look he gets on his face when he asks him who would win in a fight: Stevie Wonder or Jerry Lee Lewis.

"Why would they have a fight?" David says. "This is stupid."

"Stevie's blind," Nick says. "But his other senses are heightened, so maybe he would have special kung fu powers for kung fu fighting."

David sings, "Everybody was Kung fu fighting," under his breath. He frowns. "I really don't think Stevie Wonder knows kung fu," David says. "And isn't Jerry Lee Lewis dead?"

"I've met Stevie Wonder," Nick says. "He could totally be a secret kung fu master."

David seems skeptical.

This is around the time that Nick notices Joe is piling extra waffles onto his breakfast plate at the counter. He has a really strong urge to duck under the table. Which is completely wrong, and he almost drops his fork because what the heck?

It's not that he's never wanted to avoid Joe before, because he totally has. Joe is the most fun person he knows. And the one who notices when he's tired or in a bad mood. And the only one who can always make him laugh even when he's tired or in a bad mood. He's also too loud. And tends to cause a lot of property damage and the occasional bodily injury. And sometimes he doesn't know when to just stop. Sometimes Joe is annoying, and sometimes they're fighting, and sometimes he doesn't want to see him like every second of the day. But they're not fighting right now, and Joe hasn't done anything especially stupid, and there is no reason for him to want to hide from Joe.

What the heck?

Joe sees them and starts making his way over to their table, and Nick is just dreading it and he doesn't know why. Joe drops his tray down on the table next to David, and immediately leans over, crooking a friendly elbow around David's neck. David, of course, flinches like somebody gave him an electric shock and then gets really still, the kind of still that a rabbit gets when it sees a snake.

And now Nick gets it.

He feels like a complete idiot because Joe asked him straight out if he was avoiding him, and he said no and he meant it. But no. All this time he's secretly been trying to make sure David and Joe never spent any time together, and he wishes his subconscious had told him what was going on. Because it is obviously not that good at plotting or scheming or whatever it was trying to do and maybe if he had known he could have kept this from happening. Because this is about to be a disaster.

Joe says, "David Archuleta. How's it going, man?"

"It's breakfast?" David says.

Joe laughs. And David laughs. But he clearly doesn't get the joke because he never gets the joke. Nick normally thinks it's hilarious when David doesn't get the joke, but somehow right now he doesn't find it that funny. He laughs anyway because sitting there silently would be weird.

Joe removes David from his almost headlock and pours like a gallon of syrup on his waffles. "Did you see what they're doing to the stage?" he asks. "The catwalk looks crazy with all the neon. I'm definitely doing a cartwheel down it tomorrow." He twirls his fork around his fingers like a magician.

David just watches him warily, with his awful fake smile that's so super incredibly fake right now because it gets faker the more nervous he is. And Nick is watching David to make sure he's not like, having a stress aneurysm. And Joe looks up, confused like "Why isn't anyone excited about how awesome I am and my wonderful acrobatics I am planning to do?"

"So," he says. "I still haven't heard you guys do your duet." He accidentally drops a waffle on the floor because he was trying to shove the entire thing in his mouth at once. He reaches under the table to grab it. When he re-emerges he has the waffle on his head like a hat, and Nick is laughing because it's hilarious. Joe dips his thumb in the top of the waffle, and licks syrup off it totally casually like this is how normal people eat waffles. And David is laughing too, but in a way that's like, "Possibly this person is actually insane."

"Do you want some?" Joe asks David super politely. He touches his head again to get more syrup and holds out his finger. David shrinks back, shaking his head. "It's so delicious."

David, of course, immediately sings the "It's so delicious" line from that Fergie song because he just cannot help it.

Joe's looking at Nick with a little half smile on his face like, "Is this kid for real?" And he starts to sing too. "T-t-t-t-t-Tasty. Tasty." Which if David were a normal kid, he would join in and they would all start goofing around and singing about working on their fitness and it would be awesome. But David blushes like, more than anyone has ever blushed, and he looks mortified. It's like he actually didn't notice he had sung anything, and now he realizes he did, and he wants to die.

"Wow," Joe says. "That is an interesting shade of purple your face just got, dude. I have a shirt that color."

And that just makes it worse. Joe is completely thrown because he was only kidding around, not trying to make the kid cry. He laughs, and it's mostly because he doesn't know what else to do. But he's looking at Nick with his eyebrows raised, and the part of it that's not confusion is him laughing at David. Which... Nick laughs at David all the time. Constantly. But when Joe laughs at him, Nick's face gets all tight and frozen and he feels really kind of... Mad.

And he can see Joe is just like, lost. He takes the waffle off his head, and he pokes at the rest of his waffles that haven't fallen on the floor. But he's not really eating, and no one's talking, and Joe's just shooting these little looks at David but mostly at Nick. Looks that are saying, "What is going on?" And Nick is staring at his plate so he doesn't have to see the looks, and he's eating even though he's not hungry because if he keeps his mouth full, he doesn't have to talk.

It's horrible.

Nick doesn't know what to do, so he doesn't do anything. And when Joe leaves because he has to go take another shower now that his head is covered in syrup, Nick's just relieved. And angry at himself for being relieved because it's Joe. But still relieved.

When Joe's gone, he leans over close to David so he can whisper, "I'm sorry that's Joe's so- " He shrugs. "Joe." The fact that David doesn't flinch away from him makes him so happy. Like really, sort of way too happy.

"Oh," David says. "No, it's not him. It's just- I'm weird." He smiles weakly, a kind of apology. "I'm really weird."

This is obviously true. But David looks like he thinks maybe he's a bad kind of weird, and he's not. "Dude," Nick says. "Joe is totally weird. He was wearing a waffle! I'm weird. You're weird. We're all pretty weird here."

"Yeah, but I'm-" David stops helplessly. "Whatever."

"You're totally whatever," Nick agrees. He shakes David gently by the nape of his neck, and David still doesn't flinch and it's so, so awesome. "That's what I like about you. I'm only friends with people who are at least a little bit whatever."

David laughs, and Nick feels really proud of him for getting the joke right away. And Nick feels really proud of himself for making David laugh because when he laughs he stops looking like he wants to apologize for like, existing. Nick hates that look. So much. He thinks maybe he'd do anything to make David never look like that again.

*

"Your friend is really weird," Joe says when he catches Nick alone in their dressing room.

"I know," Nick says.

"Everyone thinks so."

"I know."

"So?" Joe says. And he means, "Why are you hanging out with him all the time then?"  Nick doesn't answer, because he doesn't know why when he gets a free hour he wants to do extra rehearsal with David instead of play Halo or something. He doesn't know why, he just does. He just likes how David sounds, and how David makes him sound, and how David laughs when he's not faking it, and how David is. None of that seems like stuff he can say to Joe.

Joe steals the guitar from Nick's arms, and starts to sing. "David Archuleta is a weirdo. He's super, really weird. He doesn't have a beard. Why does he- " Nick yanks the guitar out of his arms, and Joe looks down in surprise at his empty hands. "What?" he says.

"Don't do that," Nick says. "It's- It's mean."

"We sing songs like that about Kevin all the time," Joe says. "And he's our brother."

"You sing songs like that about Kevin," Nick says, even though sometimes he does too.

"Nick..." Joe starts.

"I don't like it," Nick says. "When you make fun of him."

"Kevin?" Joe says incredulously.

"Not Kevin," Nick snaps. Geez.

"Oh." Joe jams his hands in his back pockets. "I was just joking around." He ducks his head, and he's got hair in his eyes. He looks like he doesn't understand what he's supposed to do, what Nick wants him to do, but like he's trying really hard to figure it out.

Nick feels awful all of a sudden, like a jerk. Because he doesn't know why it's not okay this time for Joe to just do the things he always does, that they always do. "Just don't make fun of him," he says to Joe. "I know he's weird, but he's like- Secretly cool too." He frowns. "And he doesn't like- " He stops, and starts again, trying to get close enough to what he means for Joe to understand. "Kevin gets that we're just kidding around, you know?"

Joe stares at him for a long, long minute. "Okay, Nicky," he says finally. His hand is rough and familiar in Nick's curls, and Nick swallows hard because he feels like he wants to cry. He won't because he's not a girl. But that's really- That's weird for a second. Nick pushes back at Joe, and the two of them tumble end over end on the sofa until they both fall off with a hard jolt. Joe is laughing underneath him, and Nick is laughing too, and Nick feels like maybe he was just imagining things because it's not weird at all.

*

The door to David's hotel room is locked, but Nick can still hear the voices as clearly as if it was made of peanut brittle instead of wood. Hotels are like, designed for accidentally overhearing stuff.

"I know he's a good kid," David's dad is saying. "And I'm glad you're making friends. But you need to keep your priorities in order, Dave. The last thing you need is a bunch of distractions."

Oh. Well, this is about him obviously. Because it's not like David has been making friends all over the place. There's really just Nick. "I'm not distracted," David says.

"Just keep your eye on the ball," his dad says. "These concerts are really important. Make or break type stuff here. You should be spending less time worrying about-"

"Our duet is- It's really important," David interrupts. "It's like, the most important song I'm doing." Nick smiles at that. Pretty hard actually.

"See you're already losing sight of things. The most important ones are your solo songs. That's where you have the chance to show off your own music without being overshadowed."

"What?" David says. "He's not-"

"I just think you need to spend less time on that one song. And less time with Nick Jonas."

There's a long silence. Nick feels like, sick. Like kind of angry, but mostly just shaky and weak and his stomach hurts. It's ridiculous. There is no reason for him to feel that bad just because maybe they'll have less rehearsal time. The song will be fine.

"Do you understand?" David's dad gets that stern sound in his voice that Nick recognizes from his own dad. The no arguments, I'm putting my foot down voice.

"Yeah."

"David-"

"I said okay!" David practically yells, and Nick doesn't think he's ever heard him raise his voice before. The door suddenly swings open, and Nick jumps back trying to act casual and not like he was blatantly eavesdropping.

"Heeeey," he says, really casually.

David doesn't answer, he just grabs him by the arm and marches them both away at super fast Olympic walking speeds until they're sitting in the stairwell with the door closed behind them.

"You heard that?" he says.

"I wasn't really listening," Nick tries to hedge. David does not seem to buy it. "I heard some of it." He clears his throat. He still feels really gross and like, anxious or something. "I don't want to get you into trouble with your dad or anything. We have the arrangement pretty much worked out and all, so if-"

"No way," David interrupts, and he looks more serious and determined than Nick has ever seen him look. "It's the most important one." He leans back a little against the wall, and looks up at the stairs rising above them. He hums a couple bars, and looks at Nick with the biggest smile on his face. "Check out these acoustics."

Nick feels awesome. Like all the weird twisting in his gut just stops, and instead he wants to laugh and laugh. Cause... The song. It's going to be awesome. That's why.

*

Nick and David are backstage. It's like four minutes until they go out to premiere their duet in front of a few thousand screaming girls. And a bunch of video cameras. Nick isn't exactly nervous, not in a stage fright way or anything. But he feels wound too tight, like everything in him is turned up to eleven and all his internal organs are squeezing into the middle of his body. He's just- He really, really wants this to go right.

He grabs both of David's hands, and David is grabbing back, and his hands are really warm in Nick's and a little bit sweaty, but Nick's are too. He squeezes tight to Nick's hands and shuts his eyes, and the two of them are mouthing words, prayers, that Nick can't hear over the sound of Demi and Selena working the crowd but he knows the words are getting where they're supposed to go. When he opens his eyes he grabs David by the front of his shirt, and pulls him close and says, "This is going to be amazing" like he can force it to be true by saying it. And maybe he can, because it is.

It's one of those times when everything fits, when it's like the Rock Gods are smiling down so hard it's just easy and you almost don't even have to try because it's just there. It's like the music flows through his body and out into the world, like it's not even him controlling it really. Like the music just takes over, moves him, fills him up all the way up so there's no room for anything but this and how amazing it feels.

He looks over at David like, "Dude, do you feel this?"  And David's got this smile on his face that's like exalted. David throws his head back and the lights paint his skin blue, the long line of his neck, the sheen of sweat on his face shining blue then green. His mouth is wide, wide open with music pouring out of it like water, clear and pure like that. Nick suddenly wants to kiss him. Put his mouth over that mouth and drink the notes down straight from his lips.

He sings harder instead, and presses as close as he can get to David, and David doesn't flinch at all when he leans his head down against the back of David's neck feeling just overcome. Overcome by his skin, by touching, by being as close to his body as his voice. Overcome with hearing the two of them rising, raising the song up. Nick can see Joe dancing offstage while wardrobe tries to get him to change his jacket. And the crowd roars like it's trying to drown them out, but they're still rising, still up above it so high. I'm Yours moves into Love Bug like magic, and even when the song gets quieter, it's still so, so loud inside his body.

It's his words and David's voice and he can hear himself in his ear piece and he's never sounded better in his entire life.

He has his arm tight around David's shoulders as they tumble, laughing, offstage. The sweaty inside of his elbow burns against the back of David's neck. And David leans his head in against Nick's head, sliding a little against the side of his face, his laughter loud in Nick's ear. And his eyes when he looks at Nick are so bright, and just filled up, filled up like Nick is filled up with music and with that song and with the crowd screaming for them and with the fact that they made that. The two of them.

Joe grabs them both in a sloppy, tight hug yelling, "Unbelievable!" before running out on stage to do the intro to their main set, and Nick needs to change his shirt because he has to be out there in exactly 45 seconds. But he doesn't want to let go of David. Of that moment on stage. Of any of it.

*

Nick Jonas takes his purity ring seriously. That doesn't mean he hasn't done, you know, stuff. He dated Miley Cyrus. Of course he's done some stuff. They hadn't done that, but it isn't like he was untouched by human hands or whatever. Anyway, he's completely sure that he's more experienced than David even though David's two years older. David flinches when you tap him on the back. There's no way he's done anything. Which is why it comes as kind of a shock that David is a really, really good kisser. The first time Nick kisses him, he ends up backed against the wall, breathless and halfway lost and clutching desperately onto the crook of David's elbow for balance because it feels like his legs aren't even attached to his body all the way.

Miley never kissed him like that.

The first thing he says when he has his breath back enough to talk is, "But you're a Mormon."

"Um- " David laughs like Nick made a joke. Which is weird because David never gets any of the jokes, and he's only ever funny intentionally like fifteen percent of the time. "Mormons are allowed to kiss, Nick."

"But I read in that Seventeen article-" The only explanation for those words is the fact that his head is really fuzzy and kind of dizzy, and he can't think right through how badly he wants David to kiss him again. He never would have admitted to reading magazines for little girls if his brain were, you know, working.

David smiles. Not his weird, I don't know what I'm supposed to say smile, a real smile. But not like his normal real smile either. Kind of a different smile, a dirty smile. And he says, "Nick Jonas, did you google me?"

Nick blushes. Which is so, so embarrassing because David is supposed to be the one who blushes at everything and doesn't know how to kiss, but here he is being like... Sexy. And here Nick is being like... Lame. And leaning towards him all pathetically like he can't even help it because he wants, wants, wants. Like, so much.

But David must not think he's too lame to live, even though he laughs a little more, because he leans too until his laughter is ghosting against Nick's lips in soft exhales. Nick is just about to get pissed at him because he hates it when people laugh at him more than anything, except then they're kissing again and oh- His mouth is so- And he's sucking hard on Nick's bottom lip. And one of his hands is curled wide around the back of Nick's head, just pulling a little. And his tongue- And Nick stops caring about anything but yes and yes and yes.

*

"That was so not your first kiss," Nick says later. He's sprawled out on the couch in his dressing room with his feet in David's lap.

David kind of ducks his head, and there's the familiar blush. Nick feels a little better actually, seeing that blush. Like he's back on more familiar ground. David shakes his head no, and there's this distance in his eyes like he's remembering whoever his kissing person is and the fond little smile on his lips makes Nick's gut twist with an ugly lurch.

"Where did you learn to kiss like that?" He tries to sound playful and not jealous. Because he's not jealous, he just- He kind of hates how that smile wasn't for him.

"Are you going to tell your next girlfriend about me, um- If she asks you where you learned?" David says.

"Screw you," Nick says. "I already knew how to kiss." David makes a little face at the cussing, which is exactly why Nick did it. He rolls his eyes defensively because it isn't a lie. He's kissed five girls before this, although he isn't sure if it's cheating a little bit to count Kelly Sheffeld since he was six at the time. It isn't like he's some kissing virgin. But it's also definitely not true that he hasn't picked up anything new in the last half hour. "I mean- " He shrugs helplessly. "Whatever. No. Obviously no."

David plucks at the hem of Nick's jeans. "So, um-" he says. "I'm not going to tell you where I learned either."

"Were they famous?" Nick says.

David laughs. "Not as famous as you." Nick can't decide if that makes it worse or better.

"Were they-"

"Oh my gosh! Stop fishing." Nick is pretty good at getting David to do stuff he doesn't necessarily want to do. You can get him to do a lot because he wants to make everyone happy all the time. But if he really means a no, forget it. He's never going to be rude about it or tell you off, and he'll keep laughing the whole time he's saying no, but he's not budging. When he means it, he digs in his very polite heels and that's the end.

He means this no.

Nick laughs, even though he doesn't really feel like it. "Sorry," he says. "Just curious." He drops his feet down off David's legs and sits up.

David asks if he wants to listen to this new half a song he's been working on. He nods and tries not to stare too much at David's mouth when he sings. It's just that his lips are still a little swollen. Nick touches his own lips with his fingertips. They're swollen too.

David catches him staring, and his lips stop moving. He cocks his head. "You aren't even listening, are you?" he asks.

"I'm trying?" Nick says. He clears his throat. "I'm distracted."

David laughs and curls his fingers under Nick's collar, pulling a little. "Me too," he says.

*

It's exactly 3:07am. Nick knows this because he's been watching the red numbers change on the alarm clock since 2:53am. Before that he was trying to sleep, but all closing his eyes did was make it that much easier to think about David and kissing David and what the fact that he liked it so much means. He doesn't want to think about what it means. He wants to be unconscious. Or he wants Joe to be awake. Or maybe he doesn't.

Anyway, Joe isn't. Joe is snoring a little, tiny snuffles and snorts, and even if Nick did wake him up, he's useless right after he's been sleeping. And Nick isn't sure he even wants to talk about it with Joe even though he does. It's just he tries to think how it would go if he did talk to Joe about it, and he can't think what he would say and he can't figure out what Joe's face would look like if he did say something. He's just- Not sure he wants to know what Joe's face would look like.

He crawls out of the bed, grabbing a room key and sliding it into his shorts. He picks up the guitar by the door and wanders barefoot out into the hall. There's a little dark corner over by the ice machine. He pads over into it and sits down with his back against the hum of the Coke machine. He has his guitar in his arms, but he's not playing. Not yet. The wood is really smooth under his fingers, against his arms. He looks down at it, and plucks the E string. It sounds kind of loud even though the ice machine is rattling pretty loud too. He starts to play anyway. Alison. It's one of the first songs he ever learned on the guitar. It's been with him a long time, kind of like a security blanket. He just plays and tries not to hear anything but the music, tries not to think.

"What are you doing?" Miley says. She has a dollar in her hand, and she's wearing an oversized Tweety Bird shirt. She pushes past him to the Coke machine, not exactly being careful to avoid him with her feet.

"Couldn't sleep," he says.

She gets a Diet Dr. Pepper. "You probably need the practice anyway," she says snidely. He sneers, but doesn't answer, his hand rubbing a little up and down the guitar's strings. He waits for her to go back to her room, but she just stands there looking at him.

"What?" he finally snaps.

She rolls her eyes and pulls the tab on her soda. "What's wrong?" she says.

"Nothing's wrong," he says. "I have insomnia."

"Bullshit." She takes a swig of her soda, and frowns at him. "What's wrong, Nicky?"

"What is this?" he says. "Are we suddenly friends now?"

"Whatever, dude," she says. "Just tell me what the problem is, and I'll tell you how to fix it, and then we can both go to bed." She slides down against the ice machine and offers him a sip of her soda. He shakes his head no. The ice machine rattles, and she knocks her bent knuckle against it in answer.

"Not that there's anything to tell," he says. "But if there were anything, I definitely wouldn't be talking about it with you."

"Yeah well, hearing about your pathetic problems isn't my first choice either. But obviously if you had someone to help you out, you'd be talking to them instead of crying into your guitar. Alone."

"I am not crying."

"You're crying on the inside." She keeps drinking her soda. He can feel her staring at him. He huffs and gets to his feet.

"I'm going to bed."

She reaches over and grabs his wrist, holding him in place. "I still care about what happens to you," she says. "It would be a lot easier if I didn't. I'd probably be a lot less mad at you."

She means it, and the resentment he always feels when he's around her shrinks down inside him enough for him to remember that once he actually did like her. Kind of a lot. "I never meant to like, hurt you." He feels like he's said it before, like he's said he's sorry a million times, and what else is he supposed to do. But maybe he just needs to say it one more time.

"I know that," she says. "But you still did."

He looks down at her fingers around his wrist. The dark green polish on her fingernails is chipping at the tips. "Do you really think I'm going to spill some dark secret for you and Taylor to giggle over in the corner?" Or leak to the tabloids. Not that he thinks she would actually do that. Probably.

She laughs. "I'm not the devil, Nick." When he doesn't laugh with her, she lets his wrist go. "Whatever. Never mind. I don't know why I bother." He wraps both his arms around the base of his guitar, hugging it close to his chest.

"Do you think people our age can fall in love?" he finally says.

"Um, yes." She looks at him like he's an idiot. "Of course."

"I don't mean a really intense crush or something," he says. "I'm talking about love. Like for real."

"I know the difference between a crush and love." She's still looking at him like he's an idiot.

"How do you know the difference? For sure."

Her forehead wrinkles up. "Um-" she says. "You just know?" The light goes off over her head and she smiles, the big brilliant smile that made millions of kids all over the world fall in love with her. "So," she says. "It finally happened."

He adjusts his grip on his guitar and shakes his head no. Because no. It really hasn't. And he's not. Not yet. It's just he thinks maybe he could be headed that direction. Possibly. She keeps shaking her head yes until he gives up. She laughs at him. "Little Nicky. All grown up." He flips her off, but that just makes her laugh harder. She claps her hands in glee.

He waits until she settles down, and that gives him plenty of time to think that he really shouldn't be talking to her about this. But he has to talk to someone. And she already halfway hates him. It's not like he can make her think less of him. "What if it's like- " He has to take a breath before he says, "Wrong." So that ends up hanging out there by itself, all weird and quiet.

She squints at him like she's trying to figure him out. "Is this about your ring?"

"Kind of."

"Nicky," she says. "That's just- " She shakes her head. "Not everything they tell you is wrong, is actually wrong. Okay?"

"I know that," he says. "But some of it is, so-"

"It's not wrong to love someone," she says. "And P.S. Sex is not wrong either. I don't care what anybody says. If more people had sex before they got married, there'd probably be a lot less divorces."

Nick giggles. He can't help it. "You should do a PSA."

"Shut up." She hits his leg. "I'm so serious. I mean, you can believe anything you want to believe. And God is totally awesome and everything. But seriously, like- Don't let other people tell you if you're doing something wrong. Okay? You decide." She hits him again, but her face is super serious. "Okay, Nicky?"

"Okay!" He kicks out at her with his foot. "Stop hitting me!"

"I hope you don't mind," she says, grinning. "I'm kind of going to enjoy this."

"Enjoy what?" He's still annoyed at her for hitting him a second time.

"Watching you get your heart broken."

What?

She stands up and pulls him into a hard hug, crushing his guitar between them. "It'll be good for you," she whispers fiercely into his ear, and he can tell that she means it for real and isn't just saying it to be a jerk. But um-

"What!" he says, kind of pissed because seriously, what? She kisses him on the cheek, suddenly sticking the hard point of her tongue out in the middle of her lips to make it wet and gross. He jerks away, slapping his hand to his face. He's about to start yelling, but she's already halfway back to her room, giggling like a maniac.

Nick stares after her. He seriously does not get girls. 

Like at all.

*

Everybody's flying out to California for the Disneyland leg of this marathon on the same flight so the entire plane is packed with singers and their managers and their bands and their instruments. And their parents.

Nick sits beside Joe of course. David is two rows back on the other side of the aisle next to his dad. Joe is hanging over the seat in front of them, teasing Kevin about the fact that they made him take off his belt at the security check.

Nick balls up a page he tears out of the magazine in the pocket in front of him and throws it at David's head. Joe, or even Kevin, would have thrown it back. David just kind of watches it bounce off his chest and into his lap. He tucks the ball neatly into the back of the seat in front of him and starts fiddling with his iPod, not even looking up to see who threw it or anything. Nick frowns and tears out a new page. This time he hits David right in the forehead. David looks up and sees Nick staring at him. Nick grins. David looks down at the paper in his lap. He tucks it into the pocket with the other one. Nick is just about to tear out another sheet because now he's a little bit annoyed, but David's dad comes back from the bathroom so he doesn't.

And then he gets distracted trying to keep Joe from stealing Demi's luggage out of the overhead compartment and replacing the contents of her bag with airplane blankets.

He kind of forgets about it until he wakes up halfway to California. He blinks for a second, disoriented.  He looks down at himself. He's covered in balled up papers. They've spilled out over onto Joe, who has his eyes closed and his face pressed up against the window. They've spilled out onto his feet under the blanket. They've rolled a little bit into the aisle. They're stuck in between him and the seat, and when he reaches up there are little strips of paper in his hair. He pulls one down and looks at it. He squints at Joe suspiciously, nudging him with an elbow. He barely shifts, his mouth wide open. Nick knows the difference between Joe pretending to sleep and Joe actually asleep. He's definitely asleep.

Nick turns in his seat, casting his eyes around, but everyone's curled up under their blankets except David Archuleta. He has his headphones in, and he's watching the screen in front of him. Nick narrows his eyes and stares until David glances up. Nick grabs more of the paper shreds from his hair and holds them out, cocking his head.

David smiles, and Nick hasn't seen this one before. It's a sweet smile, wide open sweet, so sweet it makes Nick's heart ache. But there's also a little bit of sneaky in there, and like pride maybe in being sneaky, which is so hilarious and awesome. And there's just the slightest bit of dirty too, which is also awesome but in a way that makes it a little bit hard for Nick to breathe.

Nick feels something twist inside, deep and sharp and all the way; and he thinks, oh.

Oh.

Miley was right. You just know.

end