Chapter Twelve

"Don't do this Darcy!" whisper-yelled Ackley, tugging on my arm. "Please don't. I'm begging you."

I turned quickly to Ackley. "Ackley – this is serious. They have to know!"

I was standing in the hallway, about to burst into Ackley and Milo's room.

"No!" He looked like he was about to break down. His eyes and nose were red, and his veins in his neck were popping out. "Darcy. Please."

"Have you seen them, Ackley? Have you honestly seen what you've done to yourself?"

Ackley ground his teeth together but said nothing.

"I want to do this to help you," I said softly.

Ackley swallowed. "Then help me by not letting them know. You know, being lead vocalist means everyone thinks you're the strongest, but I'm not, Darcy. I'm not strong. The pressure – it... it kills me. And the things people say about me..." He shook his head and looked away as his eyes filled. "At least it's not drugs or something, okay? Things could be a lot worse."

"Things could get a lot worse if you don't get help," I said.

Just then, I saw a couple people tumble around the corner. I panicked for a second, thinking it would be a few fans, but instead it was Aeden with his arm slung around Fran. Well, it looked like he was holding her up. She was giggling. Then I realized Aeden was holding Fran up. Her legs were like noodles beneath her.

"Oh my god," I said, rushing over. I grabbed Ackley's arm and dragged him along with me. I was not done talking to him yet. "What happened? Is she okay?"

"What?" asked Aeden, looking down at Fran like he'd forgotten she was there. "Oh. Yeah, she's fine. Just drunk."

"Drunk?" I repeated.

"Help," said Aeden, his hands slipping from her waist. I quickly went to Fran's other side and helped to hold her up. I handed the room key to Ackley.

I said quickly, "Open the door!" Ackley rushed to our room, opened the door, and held it wide for Aeden and me to fit through with Fran between us, dragging her legs lazily.

Ackley shut the door behind us and pulled the covers back on Fran's bed. Aeden and I dropped her down and placed the blankets over her body.

"Aeden," slurred Fran, "You're face is pretty. And your accent is hot."

Aeden smiled and shook his head. "Get some sleep, you crazy American."

Fran giggled and traced Aeden's jawline with her finger. "One day – I promise you – I will marry you."

Aeden took her hand from his face and placed it gently beside her. "And until that day, you will sleep. And never, ever drink again."

Fran turned over and Aeden stood straighter. He sighed and rubbed his face with his hands. "Wow."

"What the hell happened?" I asked my hands on my hips. Ackley was leaning against the wall with his arms crossed.

Aeden rubbed his neck. "Dunno. Just went for a couple drinks – and I mean a couple – and this girl gets totally wasted! I swear; she barely had two drinks."

"Well, she hasn't exactly had alcohol before! She's not twenty-one – the drinking age here, remember? So it's no wonder she's a lightweight." I sighed and shook my head, looking down at her. "You should go," I said to Aeden, "I'll watch her."

"No way," he replied, "I'm staying with her. I want to make sure she's okay. Besides, I'm beat and Jack's probably, I dunno, on the phone or something. I don't want to interrupt him."

I groaned quietly, so as to not wake up Fran. "Fine," I muttered. Ackley began to turn his back to walk out, but I quickly said, "Ackley – don't you dare walk out that door. I am not finished talking to you."

Aeden glanced at us, clearly confused. I put my hand up to him. "Nothing you need to worry about. Where, exactly, do you plan to sleep by the way?"

Aeden pointed to the bed, trying to look innocent. "I swear I just want to sleep. No funny business."

I eyed him and he shied into the bed, next to Fran who was snoring already. He made himself comfortable under the blankets and curled up, his back to Fran.

I looked up at Ackley. "You – me – hallway." I eyed Aeden one last time before following Ackley outside. I shut the door and leaned against it.

"Thank you," he said. He was fiddling with his hands again, looking down.

"For what?"

"For not telling Aeden."

I sighed and bit my lower lip for a second before replying, "If anyone should be the one to tell them, it's you."

"I can't," he said, sounding helpless. "I can't tell them. I can't tell anyone."

I shrugged. "You told me."

"Because you saw!" He spun in a circle frustrated. He put his hands on his head. "I don't know what to do, Darcy. I can't tell them. If I tell them, then they'll make me tell management. If management finds out, then the fans need to know. It's a never-ending spiral I just can't go down."

"What's the big deal if they find out?"

"Loss of ticket sales, loss of album sales, loss of fans – God, everything will go downhill because of a few mistakes that will never happen again."

"Yeah, see, you say it'll never happen again, but how do you know? How do you know you won't read something someone says about you, and you won't go moping off to a room alone and… do that again? How would you know? You haven't gotten professional help, and until then, you can never be sure it won't happen again."

"I won't get help because I don't need help!" Ackley fought back. He groaned and dropped his hands to his side. "Darcy, I swear it's over. It's been over."

"But how can you be sure?" I snapped.

"You saw! Did you happen to see any new ones? No. It's over, I promise."

We were quiet for a long time. I kept looking him up and down, wondering how someone as amazing and loved as he could ever do something like that to himself. I also wondered how no one had seen it before. I'd heard stories of him always running around their shared apartment naked. Maybe he hadn't started yet. Maybe it didn't start until the big, sold-out arena tours.

I finally groaned and said, "Fine. For now, we won't say anything. But you have to promise me, Ackley Edward Mitchell, that if you even feel remotely down or depressed, you come talk to me. Eventually, though, you will have to tell people – even if it's just Milo. Because I'm not going to be there at some point. You need someone to talk to about this."

Ackley nodded as I spoke. "Yeah. Okay. I can do that."

I looked at the time on my cell phone that I pulled out of my pocket. It was already one in the morning. "You need to get some sleep," I told him. I could see he was exhausted.

We walked back to the end of the hallway, where his room was. He stopped outside and took my hand in his.

"This is me," he said cheesily like they do in the movies. I let a small smile spread across my lips as I looked down at our linked hands. I could get used to this.

"Thank you," he muttered again, giving a small squeeze to my hands.

I looked up and kissed him on the cheek lightly. "I was serious – if you need anything, anything, come to me, okay?"

His face lit up as I kissed him. He nodded and gave me a half smile. He let one of his hands drop from mine as he reached into his pocket. His face fell as he searched for something. He let go of my other hand as well and shoved the other in his pocket.

"Crap," he muttered, feeling all over his body. "I think I forgot my key in the room."

He turned to the door and knocked. "Michael! Milo!" he whisper-yelled. "Hey, idiots, wake up!"

We waited outside for a minute, and when no one came to the door, he turned to me, his face full of bashfulness.

"Could I..." he started shyly, "Maybe, possibly... spend the night in yours and Fran's room?"

"Where would you sleep?" I shook my head. Not only would one member of Vacant Travelers be sleeping in my hotel room, but now the other might join in as well. Ackley's smile grew wider but he didn't say anything. I understood right away.

How could I honestly say no to him? Besides, I didn't want to say no to him.

"No funny business?" I said, repeating Aeden's words.

Ackley shook his head. "No funny business."

I rolled my eyes and groaned. "Yeah. Fine."

I turned and Ackley followed me back. I slid the key in and opened the door. "After you," I said, motioning him inside.

When we walked inside, the first thing we heard were two loud snores. I crawled into my bed, making sure not to make awkward eye contact with Ackley as I did, and pulled the blankets tightly over me. I turned my back and could feel the bed move as Ackley climbed in next to me. He flicked the light between the beds off and sighed. He fidgeted for a second then all went silent.

"Ackley?" I whispered, turning my head. Since it was dark, I knew I wouldn't fall under the spell of his beautiful face.

"Yeah?" he whispered back.

"You're going to be okay... right?" I swallowed.

I heard him chuckle a little. "I'll sure try."

I smiled. "Okay."

We went quiet for a while. I tried to close my eyes and sleep, but I couldn't. Not with Ackley Mitchell lying literally right next to me. My mind was going too crazy to even comprehend what was going on. Soon, I heard him snoring as well. Now there was definitely no way I was going to get much sleep tonight. It sounded like a jackhammer in my room with both him and Aeden.

I turned completely so I was facing Ackley. My eyes had adjusted by now, and I saw he was facing away from me. I guess he'd taken off his black v-neck before he got into bed, and I could see some of the scars poking through the thin fabric of his undershirt. I inched closer to get a better look. I peeled his shirt back just a bit to look at them. Ackley remained asleep and noisy as ever. As weird as it sounds, they looked like little caterpillars on his back, some bigger than others. The big ones scared me the most. They made me wonder what he was going through that made him dig so deep, compared to the others.

I leaned up on my elbow and leaned down to his shoulders. I breathed him in as I bent down, and lightly placed a kiss on his scars. He didn't even flinch.

I stayed for a moment, enjoying the feel of him being so close, and finally laid down and somehow managed to sleep.