nsync in black and white

Fiction by Pen . . . . . not real, made up, purely intended for entertainment

It's Cool, It's Hot, It's a Relationship, It's Not

written for MTYG 2012

"It's great to be back on a bus," JC said. "Dude, what are you doing?"

AJ, crouching at the refrigerator, looked up in confusion. "I'm checking for the coldest soda. I always mean to have a system for this, but I always forget. And Nick never remembers either. You miss being on a bus?"

"Yeah." A lot of memories of being on tour buses, most of them good. "That rhythm'll rock you to sleep, just rolling the miles away. It's awesome."

AJ seemed to have figured out which can of Coke was chilled enough to offer his guest, but JC wasn't really interested in drinking soda right now. The instant AJ shut the refrigerator door, he pounced, draping himself over AJ's back and pinning him in place.

"Sleep, huh?" AJ said.

"Man, I love your voice," JC said into his ear. "You sound like the embodiment of sex." He pressed forward, and AJ braced his arms on top of the refrigerator. "Don't worry. I know you need your rest." JC slid his hands slowly down over AJs tensed arms, smoothing feather-light over the contours, loving the wiry musculature under his fingers. "Touring is hard work. Just think of me as a distraction. Stress relief. Your very own personal therapist."

AJ made a helpless noise and tried to wriggle free. JC slid one knee between AJ's legs, and when AJ obligingly spread his feet wider, rewarded him with a nip just below the ear, so that AJ arched and offered his neck and closed his eyes.

JC's left hand tugged AJ's black T-shirt upwards, then he sneakily closed his right hand around one of the chilled cans of Coke on top of the refrigerator, and as soon as his palm was properly cold, spread it over AJ's abs.

"Fuck! Fuck, your hand is like ice!" AJ protested.

JC chuckled. "Shouldn't have let on about that little temperature kink, should you," he whispered into AJ's ear.

"Fucker," AJ said, and squirmed.

"Mm, hmm," JC murmured, and nibbled more of AJ's neck while his hand circled over AJ's quivering belly. AJ's hips were incredible. JC was no slouch in the writhing department himself, but AJ could wriggle like he didn't even have bones in his pelvis. Though maybe a pelvis without bones wouldn't be able to wriggle? JC filed the thought. He'd look it up when he had nothing better to do. Right now…

He eased back a fraction, and AJ executed a perfect half-turn and was up against him, pressing their bodies together and pulling JC's mouth into a determined, no-holds-barred kiss. JC responded with enthusiasm, chasing that hot, eager tongue, pulling AJ's hips against his own. Greedy, greedy boy, he thought joyfully, and sucked on AJ's lower lip until he whimpered. He loved this, the anticipation. Holding off until they were both frantic with want. Grinding against one another, frustrated by the barrier of their clothes.

"C'mon, c'mon," AJ muttered. "Bed, yeah? Bed now." He grabbed JC's arm and hauled him towards the back of the bus.


AJ was relieved to see that he had remembered to tidy the bed. Not that he was going to give JC a chance to notice if there was anything lying around that shouldn't be. Shit, he was so turned on. How did JC manage to wrap himself around AJ the way he did? It wasn't like he was some huge guy, he wasn't that much bigger than AJ, but somehow he could take charge and take control and it kinda made AJ want to roll over and beg. And then, sometimes JC would smile that lazy, lovely smile of his and lie back and let AJ take the lead, and that was fucking amazing too.

JC moved past him to put something down on the tiny nightstand. He turned, and there was that smile, and AJ just had to kiss him again, had to slide his tongue against JC's, had to lick and bite JC's lips and gasp out a plea to take his clothes off now, please. And then JC was hauling AJ's T-shirt over his head and plucking at AJ's belt—why had he picked this one, the buckle was a bitch to undo, thank God for JC's capable fingers—and sliding his pants down. AJ more or less fell onto the bed and kicked his jeans the rest of the way off. He spread his legs shamelessly and tipped his hips up in invitation. He'd been waiting for this all day, thinking about it even before the show had started, and he was so ready, so ready.

Why wasn't JC naked too? AJ was about to protest when there was a click and a psssshhhtttt, and a trickle of icy liquid on his belly made him squeak with shock. And then, oh, oh, JC's hot velvet tongue on him, licking away the chilled Coke. The heat of it was so intense after the cold, and AJ squirmed against JC's legs, but he was pinned, and JC held his arms down on the bed and didn't let go except to reach for the Coke again, to trickle it over AJ's chest and then suck his nipples clean. And again, a meandering river of liquid down to AJ's happy trail. JC's mouth followed it, so fucking hot, and all AJ could do was arch and moan and plead for him not to stop.

AJ's eyes opened. He felt suddenly far too naked without JC's denim-clad legs rough against his thighs. "You stopped!" he said, accusingly.

JC laughed. "Not really. I'm just thinking this could get messy." He was stripping off his own clothes efficiently and dropping them in a neat pile.

"You've been working out," AJ grumbled, though he really wasn't complaining. He could look at JC naked all the time. In fact, if he had his way, JC would never wear clothes. He'd stay right here on AJ's bus, naked and ready…

"I'm not touring," JC said. "Gotta keep in shape somehow." His smile was quite wicked. "I got an idea. Hold still."

AJ was ready to do exactly what he was told, even if it meant watching JC take a long swallow from the Coke can. He could live with more of the soda torture, he really could, if JC wanted to lick it off his cock and balls he would—"Jesus fucking Christ!" JC's mouth, filled with fizzing soda, closed over the tip of AJ's cock and took him in. AJ screamed, astonished by the sensations—bubbles, and heat, and suction, and if JC hadn't been holding his hips to the bed he'd have been on the ceiling. AJ heard himself babbling, begging, and in reply, JC's quiet chuckles vibrated on his cock.

He didn't realize JC had found the lube until a warm, slippery finger slid into his ass, teasing back and forth through the tight ring of muscle even as JC's mouth kept working its magic. AJ bent his left leg obediently, and hooked his ankle over JC's shoulder, offering himself for more, and groaned with satisfaction as two strong fingers slid into him and curved over his prostate. JC's other hand was firm around his cock, pumping a relentless rhythm in time with his mouth, and AJ was going to die if, if, he was going to—"Please, please, gonna—I can't—" He plucked at his own nipples, and tried to keep his eyes open so that he could watch his cock disappear between JC's gorgeous lips.

The rhythm changed, harder, faster, tight grip, fingers pressing inside him, and his cock deep in JC's throat, and he shouted and bucked and came.

"Mmm, mm, wanna fuck you now," JC murmured, and AJ clutched at him, still outrageously turned on, and slid his other ankle up to JC's shoulder, and groaned with pleasure as JC's cock filled him, its pressure on his sensitized prostate so good it almost hurt, and as JC fucked hard into him everything rose to a peak and AJ shuddered into another orgasm that left him breathless, spent and astonished.

JC collapsed onto him, heavy and slick with sweat, and nuzzled at his neck. "That was awesome," he said. "Always wanted to see if you could come twice. Read about it somewhere…" JC was going to be sound asleep any second, AJ knew, so he shifted sideways just enough that he wouldn't be crushed in the night, and stroked JC's sweaty hair.

"Man, I think I'm gonna keep you around," AJ said, "because seriously. That was—I never—that was incredible."

"Plenty more where that came from, cat," JC said sleepily.

"You know," AJ said, "when this tour is over, I should come stay at your place."

"Mm, yeah. Sure. Sounds good."

"I should bring my stuff over," AJ suggested. "Or you could move in with me?"


"Was that a yes?"

JC was already asleep.

"I'll bring my stuff over," AJ whispered anyway, and closed his eyes.


AJ stared until the car carrying JC off to the airport was out of sight. Then he shuddered, as a large, heavy hand landed on his shoulder.

"C'mon, Bone," Nick said. "Time to get back to work. The guys are waiting for us."

Obediently, he followed Nick back inside, through the quiet back corridors to the stage. He did his best not to let his feelings show during soundcheck, but he wasn't really surprised that Brian gave him an extra big Brian-hug half-way through, that Kevin smacked him encouragingly on the butt, or that Howie was obviously trying extra hard to play up to the privileged fans watching them.

Once they were back in the Green Room, he apologized. "I'll be fine tonight, on stage," he said, and Brian nodded.

"And Nick gets to sleep in his own bunk," Howie said, with perhaps a bit more enthusiasm than he ought to have shown. Brian, behind him, was obviously trying not to laugh. Nick stuck his tongue out.

"Yeah, sorry about that," AJ said. "Thanks again for moving out while JC was here, Nick. I appreciate it."

"Didn't wanna be stuck on the Bus of Big Gay Sex," Nick said, grinning. "Oh, AJ! Oh, JC!" he falsettoed. "Who wants to listen to that all night? No way!"

"You should be so lucky!" AJ retorted.

"I get lucky enough," Nick began, but AJ wasn't going to let him get away with that.

"You never got lucky with anyone as good as JC," he said, and Nick opened his mouth to respond but reconsidered before he actually managed an answer. AJ smirked. It was true. JC was better looking than any of Nick's girlfriends, and—AJ was sure—way better at sex, too.

After the show, trundling their way onward through the night, AJ sighed over his Coke. It was much less fun to drink it straight from the can.

"You okay?"

"I miss him already," AJ said.

"Dude, he was just here for almost a week. That's, like, a month in non-touring time. That's dedication. I mean, sure, it's not like JC doesn't know how it goes when you're on tour, but still."

"Yeah, but it's going to be more than a month before I get to see him again. And I don't know about touring time being longer than normal time, I think it's shorter, with all the stuff we have to do with meet and greets and radio stations and all that. And now, he's going to be back in LA and I'm going to be on the road, and we'll call but it's just not enough."

"Eh, it's tough." Nick looked sympathetic, but he didn't really understand. How could he? Nick loved touring, and the chance to pick up fresh girls all the time. AJ was over that.

"I wish we could have arranged it better," AJ said. "I mean, Brian and Kevin bring their wives along, and Baylee. We could have had three buses, or one each. We did it before."

"Yeah, man, and you were always wanting to be over on my bus, or on Kevin's, or anyone's, your bus was rolling empty half the time."

"JC could stay for the whole tour," AJ muttered. "I mean, when we have time together we get along so well, we fit together so great, only just when things are in the right groove, I have to go off touring and he gets left behind, and a visit like this was great, only, it's not enough. Not any more."

"Maybe you can get your own bus next tour," Nick said. "We can get it painted pink." He roared with laughter as AJ shot a cushion over at him. "Or purple! With sparkles! The Big Bus of Luurve!"

"No wonder Howie and Brian wanted you off their bus," AJ said.

"Nah, I just brought a little excitement into their staid, married lives. Howie's practically married himself, he just settles down with his pipe and slippers. They need the Nick Carter touch to keep them from being totally boring."

AJ couldn't help but grin. "Don't even tell me you got him to go along with your stupid stunts!"

"It's fun trying!" Nick protested. "He can't hold out forever. One of these days I'll get him to stop being such a grownup all the time, and I'll get it on video, too."

"You wish." AJ hoped Nick would never stop trying, at least. It was always fun to watch. They wouldn't feel like Backstreet any more if Nick stopped pulling him and Brian into his stupid games.

"You can sleep with me tonight, if you want," Nick said, almost carelessly. Nick could be weirdly empathic sometimes. AJ had been dreading his empty bunk.

"Thanks," he said, gratefully.

He should probably have discussed the idea with someone before leaping right in to the situation, discussed it with someone sensible, someone not Nick Carter. Except AJ hadn't wanted to risk anyone throwing cold water over his plans. Brian would congratulate him on all sorts of decisions that hadn't actually been taken. Howie would frown that tiny, worried frown of his and start listing everything that could go wrong. Kevin—well. AJ didn't really want to talk to Kevin right now. He'd be making the Big Fucking Announcement any day, and AJ wasn't ready for that, didn't know if he'd ever be ready for it.

Anyway, JC had said it was okay for AJ to stay at his place. It'd be awesome. They'd spend every night together instead of having to wait until AJ got home from touring, and they could hang out during the day—when AJ wasn't in the studio—and just have a cool time together. JC would love it.

There was some promo party tonight, JC would be there, the two of them would go home together and AJ would just… stay.


"It's kinda funny how we never got photographed together, right?" AJ said as the two of them slid discreetly into the car out back.

JC grinned. "I can't believe we managed to avoid it happening, all the times we were actually in the same place," he agreed. "I guess we just weren't in front of photographers. We can blame Eric's paranoia, never sending us to the same events where photographers actually were."

"Yeah, he slipped up on this one," AJ agreed. "Man, I missed you!"

"Phone calls are not the same," said JC, although he privately thought they weren't a bad substitute, AJ's voice growling in his ear, groaning, telling him all the filthy, perfect things he was doing, and JC lying in the dark imagining his own hands were AJ's hands exploring him. He was okay with distance when he got to experience that.

But tonight, tonight he got AJ back in his bed. JC clamped his hands together in his lap. Mustn't start making out in the back seat, the driver would be shocked. He'd keep quiet, probably, because that was one of the things JC paid for, but this stuff had a way of getting out. So he slid the conversation back around to Eric's foibles and failings as a manager, and even surprised a sexy laugh out of AJ before they got back home.

He wasn't going to make it to the bedroom. Hell, he wasn't even going to try. Breathing carefully, keeping his fingers steady, JC switched on the lights and pressed the alarm code, and the second they were safely inside he had AJ backed up against the wall. AJ's ridiculously tight pants—and JC allowed for an instant that he was a fine one to talk—were a bit of an obstacle, but JC was determined and very soon had them open and was on his knees, taking AJ's cock into his mouth before it was fully hard, burying his nose in AJ's groin, relishing the hot scent of male, of his man. He sucked fiercely. AJ's hands twined in his hair, and yes, there were those gorgeous noises to turn him on even more.

"Fuck, JC, wait, wait, I can't—"

He pulled off for just long enough to say, "Don't wanna wait," and then his mouth was back, his tongue teasing over the swollen head of AJ's cock, and one hand curled firmly around its shaft. He took it deep, needing it, wanting all he could take. Faster, deeper, more, until he felt AJ stiffen and gasp, and there was a flood of warm salt in his throat. He licked AJ's cock clean, every last drop, and stood up, shoving his own jeans out of the way for AJ's hand, and it didn't take but a moment before he was coming so hard he saw stars.

"Jesus," AJ said after a few panting breaths. "Jesus, that—wow."

"Wanted you so much," JC muttered against AJ's beard. "Couldn't wait. Oh, ew. Sorry about the Lacoste shirt, man." AJ's shirt was smeared with come. "I'll, um, put it in the laundry."

"Wasn't planning on wearing any clothes tomorrow," AJ said lazily, but he hauled the soggy shirt off over his head to reveal a long-sleeved camo tee instead of his inked body.

"Sounds like my kind of plan," said JC, and ushered him upstairs.

They spent the whole of the next day in bed, except for bathroom breaks and occasional forays to the kitchen for fuel. JC's sex partners usually couldn't match him for stamina and variety, but with AJ it was different. AJ was ready for anything. It was amazing.

JC had put his phone on mute for the day, not wanting the outside world to intrude, but on the following morning there seemed to be a lot of texts flashing onto the little screen. He took the phone downstairs to the kitchen, set the coffee machine going and started to read his messages. He wasn't going to bother with voicemails, but somebody seemed awful keen to reach him.

Oh, sweet holy fuck.

He added cream lavishly to AJ's mug and went back upstairs.

"AJ," he began, wondering how to broach the subject. "Cat, are you okay? I just heard…"

AJ looked blearily up at him and reached for the coffee. JC prudently held onto it until AJ was actually sitting up. "You heard about Kevin?"

"Yeah. Man, that's—are you okay?"

AJ shrugged, and hunched over his coffee. "I'm—it's—I guess I'm okay. Known for a while."

JC knew the feeling. At least—"So, you guys. They seem to be saying, you're going on without him…"

"Yeah. Yeah, we are. We're gonna…" JC grabbed the mug and set it out of the way while AJ leaned into his shoulder and let his feelings flow. JC put his arms around AJ and wondered what the hell he was supposed to do to make this better. He tried to imagine how he'd have felt if, if Chris had decided to walk away from Nsync while they were still going strong, and he just couldn't see how anyone could deal with it. Better to just stop than to go on with one missing.

AJ sniffled a bit, and drew back. "Oh, man, I knew I should have tried harder with the eyeliner," he mumbled. "Guess I look like a zombie now."

"Yeah, kinda," said JC, smiling, and kissed him. "Lucky I'm weird, huh? I don't care."

They went to Eric's birthday bash together. It was breaking all the rules, but AJ was so damn miserable, and JC could see he was having a hard time as they waited their turn on the red carpet. It was easy to step up and put his arm over AJ's shoulder, and so fucking what if anyone had anything to say about it. JC kept him supplied with Dr Pepper and protected him from clueless questions as best he could. He was a bit worried when he spotted Kevin inside the venue, but somewhat to his surprise AJ was eager to go over and hug Kevin and his wife, and it obviously wasn't for the publicity angle. AJ was a bit emotional after that, but JC took him back home early, stripped the angry black T-shirt off him and urged him to fuck JC through the mattress.

It seemed to make him feel better.

"So, uh, I have studio time tomorrow," AJ said. "We have to get to work on the new album."

"That's cool, cat. I should do some studio time myself." JC hadn't wanted to head back to work while AJ was feeling so fragile, but he'd been feeling that itch, he needed to get his creative vibe going again, and it was a relief to know that AJ would be back with his guys for a while and they'd take care of each other. "We'll meet up after, right?" Yeah, a few days in his basement, make some progress with Kate and his new songs. JC wasn't going to tell AJ he was writing an album about a girl who didn't actually exist, not yet; it was a really cool concept, but he wasn't sure how AJ would feel about it. That kind of rapport could wait—they weren't in any hurry.

So AJ went off to the studio and JC went downstairs to get some serious work done. And to hide from the major boyband publicity going on in the outside world right now. Man, like Backstreet fissioning wasn't enough for the gossip media, now it was Lance on the cover of People magazine, right when Justin was breaking out his new album. He'd worked out and delivered a statement in support of Lance, and now he was going to keep out of sight and keep busy. And he wasn't going to answer Justin's infuriated voicemails, Chris's sarcastic ones, Joey's jokey ones or Lance's panicked ones. They were all big boys now, they could deal. Right now, JC just wanted the world to stay outside his house.

And he really needed some alone time with his music. He was feeling so twitchy, he knew the first couple of hours would be crap, but he needed to get it out of his system and settle in to do some serious work. It felt really good just getting to create something new, and whenever the flow seemed to stutter a bit, he switched to one of the more polished songs and tweaked the sound some more. At some point he came up to the kitchen for fuel and another bottle of water, his new melody buzzing in his head the whole time. He'd have to get together with Dallas at some point quite soon, but, hmm, no, yeah, that was, he could, and if he adjusted the bridge…


AJ was still fizzing when he got home not much before eleven that night, bearing Chinese food which he parked on the kitchen counter while he went to alert JC to the arrival of food.

It took him ten minutes, opening what felt like every door in the house and even exploring the yard before he realized where JC must be, but when he opened the studio door, JC was sitting there with his headphones on and his eyes closed, and didn't notice AJ at all,so AJ had to go right up and squeeze his thigh to get his attention.

It worked. Oh, boy. JC shouted in alarm, flailed his arms and fell over backwards with his chair.

"What the fuck, man?" he said.

"Sorry," AJ said, trying not to laugh. "I just, I brought Chinese food, you hungry?"

"Oh, right. Uh. Well, I already ate, so."

"Oh," said AJ, not quite sure what he was supposed to do now.

"Seriously, man, you just… I'm kinda busy. Did we arrange—I mean, was I expecting you?"

It felt like there was a stone in AJ's stomach.

"It's just, I'm working," JC said, "so…"

"Sorry," AJ managed, dry-mouthed. "I'll just, um."

"Cool," said JC, and turned back to his boards before AJ even left the room.

Sitting in the kitchen, AJ stared at the array of cartons, and had no appetite. What the fuck? He'd been so excited to be back in the studio, and excited to share how good it had been today. The four of them were definitely beginning to figure out how to work the new balance, how to fit together without Kevin in the mix. They were over the hump, no doubt about it. The songs were really coming together, and he'd thought JC would be pleased for him, for them, and interested to know who they were working with, and all the things he'd been looking forward to talking about. JC didn't seem like he was even interested in talking to him right now, and AJ just didn't get it. Didn't he care?

AJ didn't know what to do now. He hadn't expected this. He'd had a suspicion JC would get carried away in the studio and forget to eat, but he hadn't imagined JC would just want him to go away. Should he throw out the cartons? Should he… leave? No, that was stupid, JC would come to bed sooner or later. Maybe he just had something to finish. AJ had worked with producers who got so caught up they didn't want to stop, could be JC was like that.

In the end he put everything into the refrigerator and went upstairs to bed. He fell asleep eventually, but JC wasn't beside him.

When AJ's phone sounded and woke him up—Howie, being efficient and calling to make certain he was awake—JC was not in the room. AJ showered and dressed, but JC wasn't in the kitchen waiting with the coffee machine, or anywhere AJ had hoped he'd be, and he really, really didn't want to poke his head into the studio again in case JC was all cold and detached again like last night.

AJ didn't understand it, he truly didn't. What went wrong? Should he—what should he do? JC hadn't come to bed at all. Did he even want AJ there? Maybe AJ should leave the spare key where he'd found it, in the saucer by the front door. He stared at it for several minutes, unable to decide. And still, there was no sign of JC.

He slid the key into his jeans pocket. JC would just have to ask for it back. Then slunk out of the house and drove to the nearest Starbucks for breakfast.

"Hey, Bone, what's up? That handsome man of yours not keeping you satisfied?" Nick said, with a cheerful punch to AJ's arm.

"Ow! Don't fucking do that! You—Jesus, don't you know your own strength yet? Fucking caveman."

"AJ? Man, what's wrong?"

That was the trouble with living and working with people for thirteen years, they knew you too well, AJ thought. "It's just, I just, look, can we not talk about it right now? Can we just get on and sing?" Which sounded all right, except that Brian was first up, and with Nick on one side of him looking like a worried puppy and Howie with concerned-face on the other side, AJ soon found himself spilling out his worries and how great JC had been when he found out about Kevin leaving them and how they seemed to fit together so well and the sex was amazing and he'd really thought this was it except for when he got back last night and JC hadn't been even a little bit pleased to see him and what the hell did he do wrong?

"I could maybe call Chris Kirkpatrick and ask him if JC said anything?" Howie suggested, uncertainly.

"Chris is a good guy. I know he talks to JC sometimes, we hang out when I'm in Orlando," Nick said. "Call him, Howie, ask him."

"Are you okay with that?" Howie asked.

AJ nodded. It made sense. Chris was one of the people closest to JC, he'd know if this was how JC's relationships always went down.

But, it turned out, Chris did not know. JC hadn't been taking his calls for a while, nor Joey's, although this was apparently not surprising, as JC really didn't like being besieged by reporters, and since Lance came out there had been a lot of that shit to deal with.

"Oh, fuck, I didn't even—he never said!" AJ said, horrified. He'd been so preoccupied with his own problems, with his Boys and Kevin leaving, he'd never even asked JC if things were okay on the Lance front. He was such a shitty boyfriend. No wonder JC didn't want him around any more.

Brian emerged looking pleased with himself. "Nick, you're up," he said, and sat in the vacated spot on the couch. This cued Howie into a brief explanation of the situation, which AJ amplified into something way more accurate, with the additional detail about how he'd totally failed to be any help to JC, who had been so great with him when he'd been finding it hard to deal.

Brian looked a bit overwhelmed, and made a tentative suggestion that maybe AJ should have waited a while longer before moving into JC's place. "You do tend to fall headlong, you know? Maybe he moves more slowly."

"I thought he was okay with it," AJ said. "He seemed okay with it. Only I never actually said I was, like, I mean, I sorta moved in by stealth, you know, brought a few more of my things over every day and, like, didn't spend any time in my own place. I thought if we just spent all our time together, we'd kinda settle into it."

Howie was looking acutely uncomfortable, and Nick's re-emergence from the sound booth gave him a chance to escape, which he took at once.

"You want me to go beat him up for you?" Nick offered. He wasn't exactly serious, AJ knew, and he'd never want Nick to go and get all violent on JC's ass, but he was kinda grateful for the offer. It was nice, having someone be protective like that. Funny, a few years back that would have been Kevin, not that Kevin went around offering to beat people up, but… well. Suddenly, he wanted more than anything to go see Kevin, to ask his advice.

Oddly, the idea cheered him up. By the time he was ready to record his own tracks, he could do them without flinching.

When they took a break he went outside for a cigarette, and flipped open his phone. JC did not pick up. AJ snapped the phone shut in disgust, then thought better of it and redialled JC's number. "Hey, uh, JC, it's AJ. Can we talk? The thing is, I kind of meant to say, um, sorry if I…I, uh, look, gimme a call, okay?" He stared at his phone in frustration. How come a week ago he could tell JC his troubles and now he couldn't even leave a message that made sense? He was on the point of calling again to leave a better message, but he still didn't know what to say, so instead he called Kevin, who was still in LA and readily invited AJ over for dinner.

Kristen greeted him with a warm hug and an announcement that she was going out with a couple of girlfriends, so it was not long before AJ was curled up on the couch with Kevin and coffee and once more recounting his relationship with JC and his bewilderment now.

Kevin took in a deep breath, then let it out with a whoosh. When AJ looked up, Kevin was staring across the room and frowning just a little bit. AJ knew it was just a little frown, although most people would have backed up a bit, because the eyebrows did amplify that stuff kind of a lot.

"I bet you wanted to snuggle with Nick when JC left the tour and Nick was back on your bus again, am I right?"

AJ looked at him in surprise. "I—sure I did, but so what?"

Kevin smiled down at him and settled his arm around AJ's shoulders. "I've been able to see a lot of things more clearly since I separated from you guys," he said. "I expect it'll be clearer yet in a year or so. Brian tells me things are really starting to gel now. I'm real pleased to hear it."

"We had a good day yesterday. I wanted to tell JC all about it. I think that's where the trouble started."

"Hmm," said Kevin. AJ began to get a bad feeling about this. "You're the kind of person who gets his energy back from other people, am I right?"

"I don't think I get what you're saying."

"Okay. Um. Some people need to have other people around them."

"Doesn't everybody? I mean, I'd go crazy if I had to be alone all the time."

"Well, that's the thing. You know, one of my nephews was real clingy when he was little. He'd hold onto his momma's leg and she couldn't move without him there, hanging on to her. When my brother got home she'd peel the kid off her leg and hand him over and head right out of the house."

"Er, okay?"

"It wasn't because she didn't love her son, she adores him, but she just needed some time—okay, no, this isn't really going where I wanted it to go. Do you remember how I used to hate sharing hotel rooms, back when we started out and we always had to stay in shitty little places?"

"We all hated that," AJ said, although strictly speaking, it wasn't true. He'd always been able to sleep better knowing someone was right there, and sometimes it had been cold enough that he'd had an excuse to crawl in next to Nick or Brian, to share body heat. AJ was tactile, nothing wrong with that. He liked to have someone to cuddle with.

"Well, I needed my own space. There were times I just had to get out and go for a walk, and man, when we had to go everywhere with bodyguards that really sucked."

"We could afford our own hotel rooms by then," AJ pointed out.

"True. Okay. Well. We all have our own tolerance for being with other people. You like there to be someone around all the time. In fact, I—" Kevin stopped abruptly.


"I've been wondering if, when you… had your troubles, I think it was because we weren't always there for you, we didn't realize how much you needed somebody to be around all the time. The others are more extroverted than me, but even Brian needs alone time once in a while, and we didn't see that you needed more from us than we gave you. If we'd been more careful with you, if we'd tried harder to make sure you always had someone, maybe you wouldn't have needed—but I never saw it that way back then, I was always concerned that we each have our independence, 'cause of having to spend so much time together. See, I do need time on my own. I just assumed we all had that same need."

"It wasn't your fault, Kevin, it really wasn't. I know who fucked me up, and it wasn't you."

"I know we all make our own choices, AJ, but I just—I wish we'd done things different. I don't think I'll ever stop feeling bad about how we let you down. But it's done and there's no going back, and you're going forward and you know, I'm so proud of you, don't you?"

AJ couldn't speak, but he burrowed closer to Kevin's chest, and Kevin's arm held him tighter.

"And the thing is," Kevin went on, "you need someone around all the time, and I guess you're like the mirror image of me, you don't realize how other people need their space."

"But—" How could that make sense? Having someone else around was, was way better than being alone. Nobody liked to be alone.

"You're always looking for someone who'll be there for you all the time. And—"

"Yeah, I mean—isn't that why people have relationships? Isn't that why people get married? You're married, you always have Kristin, you never have to be alone."

"Do you see Kristin in the room with us? No, because she went out with her girlfriends tonight. If you hadn't called, I was all ready to spend the night by myself, watch a movie, read a book."

"Good thing I called then, 'cause that sounds really dull."

"No, not dull at all. I like being by myself sometimes. Not," Kevin said hurriedly, "that I mind you coming over. You can come to me anytime. And I love to spend time with you. But being on my own would have been cool, too."

"Okay," AJ said, slowly. He didn't get it, because seeing a movie on his own was just a sad and lonely thing to do—even porn was better when there was someone right there beside you to laugh at the stupid parts and mock the dialog and get all hot and heavy with after. And books were only fun if everybody else read the same one and you talked about it. "Are you saying, I should try to like being alone?"

Kevin sighed. "No, not exactly. Although, you do tend to fall really hard when you find someone new, and then it's devastating when they turn out not to be one hundred percent exactly what you wanted."

"Like JC," AJ said, and felt that sadness welling behind his eyelids again. He'd thought JC was exactly what he wanted.

"I think JC's one of those people who likes being on his own," said Kevin. "He was probably happy to go home to his own house and sleep in his own bed without anyone else there. I'm not saying he didn't miss you—although from what Howie said about your phone calls when he swapped back to our bus, I don't think either of you had cause to complain, am I right?"

AJ grinned into Kevin's chest. He kinda wished he'd recorded some of those calls.

"And, you know, maybe JC actually needs to have that time alone to recharge his batteries. We don't all work the same as you, AJ, we don't all thrive on company, and JC always seemed to me like a guy who's perfectly happy without other people around. Maybe… maybe you were too full-on for him. Maybe you didn't give him the space he needed."

"But—but he was happy to be with me. I thought things were really working. He never said anything about wanting his space."

Kevin coughed. "Brian said you, uh, moved in with him without telling him. Is it possible he didn't actually realize you did that? That he maybe expected you to go back to normal once you were over the, hmm, first blissful rapture of being able to share a proper bed without being interrupted by other people or having to go on stage? I mean, did he think you were going back to your own place eventually?"

AJ sat up. That suddenly seemed scarily possible. He tried to remember what he'd said, back when JC had been on tour with him, when he'd asked if he could move in with JC. JC hadn't exactly said yes— had he even been awake? JC had been so great when they'd all had the publicity flare because of Kevin leaving. Was he just letting AJ stay because he was still feeling kind of… gutted? Was that it?

"Something to think about," Kevin said, gently. "I don't know if things are well and truly over for you and JC, or if maybe you can work something out. But you have to remember, not everybody needs the same things you do. And you do have other people in your life—me, the guys, your mom. You don't have to have one person who's everything. Look at us—I don't know what Kristin's doing with her friends tonight. I dunno if they're getting their nails done or planning the revolution or going to see male strippers. Point is, she needs her friends for different things than she needs me for. Do you hear what I'm saying?"

"I… I think so," AJ said. "I mean, if JC wanted to go see his guys—except Howie said Chris said he wasn't even answering their calls. Do you really think he just wanted to be let alone?"

"I think you have to ask him that question."


JC bounded up the stairs from his studio, peeling his T-shirt over his head. He stuffed everything he was wearing straight into the machine, and trotted on upstairs to the shower, singing as he went. Aaaaah, hot water. Shampoo! Soap! He masturbated briskly, finished washing and sprayed down the shower wall to clear away the mess, stepped out to rub a towel over his head, tied another towel around his waist, and hastened downstairs to find something to eat.

There were several cartons of Chinese food in the refrigerator, which puzzled him, but hey, he was starving, so he picked out what looked like pot stickers and thrust them into the microwave while he investigated everything else. This was awesome, and just what he wanted. His cellphone caught his eye as he waited for the Moo Goo Gai Pan to finish heating up. Woah, way too many voicemails, should he—nah. He deleted them all. If anybody really needed to talk to him, they'd call back.

JC had worked his way through five of the cartons when it occurred to him that there was a call he ought to make.

"Hey, Howie," he said blithely as Howie opened the door. "Thanks for inviting me over. I wasn't sure if you'd be in the studio right now—" Belatedly it occurred to JC that he didn't even know what time it was.

"We wanted to talk to you," Howie said, opening the door to reveal Brian and Nick sitting at his kitchen table.

"Hi, guys!"

They stared at him, stonily.

"I'm not sure we really did," Nick said. "Want to talk to you, that is."

"Uh…" JC said, startled. "Is, um, AJ not here yet?"

"We didn't tell him," Brian said. "We didn't want him hurt any more."

"Hurt? What hap—"

"He's been real miserable since you broke up," Howie said. "So we—"

"Wait—broke up? We broke up?" JC said, astonished. "When? What—how? I mean, we broke up?" He couldn't possibly have forgotten AJ breaking up with him, no matter how caught up he'd been in the studio. Hell, if AJ had broken up with him, JC was pretty much certain he'd have written completely different songs...

There was a confused silence. The three Boys looked at one another, at JC, at one another, until Howie spoke up. "Are you saying you didn't break up with AJ?"

"Me? What? No!"

Nick began to laugh. Brian smacked him half-heartedly, but he was shaking his head and trying not to grin. Utterly bewildered, JC looked to Howie for some kind of explanation.

"AJ seems to think," Howie began, "that you didn't want him around anymore. He said he brought home takeout but you didn't wanna talk with him and you didn't come to bed… "

That sounded vaguely familiar. AJ, takeout… "Chinese food?" JC ventured.

"I don't know what kind of takeout," Howie said, sounding irritated. "He just told us you didn't want to talk to him and you didn't want him there. He was really upset."

"But I was in the studio," JC explained. He didn't remember telling AJ he didn't want to talk to him—though now he thought about it, he had a vague memory that AJ had come in and he'd fallen off his chair. He ran a few bars of You Ruined Me in his head, and rubbed his lumbar spine thoughtfully. Huh. He didn't think he'd said anything that might have sounded like, go away and get out of my life…

"Do you always get so caught up in the studio that you forget to go to bed?" Brian asked.

JC looked at him in bewilderment. "Yes," he said. It was one of the best things about having everything right there in his house—nobody would throw him out just because somebody else had time booked, he never had to stop until he was done. "I actually, that's why I called Eric, I wrote this—it has a sorta vocal group feel to it, like, it needs harmonies, and I thought maybe I could work with you guys, I know you're working on the next album…"

"I think we'd better get AJ over here," said Howie, picking up his phone.

"Um," said JC. "How about, I go over to his place and get this sorted out."

"I think that would be a good idea," said Brian.

"Yeah, we can scratch tomorrow's studio time," Nick said. "You know what those two are like, they'll be all—" and he made some very lewd gestures. JC watched his hips with appreciation.

"I'll make sure he gets to the studio tomorrow," he said with what he hoped was dignity, and pulled out his cell to set an alarm. Oops, yeah, better turn it on. "Uh, look, I brought—if you wanna listen, if you don't want to use it that's fine, but Eric thought you'd be interested, and I could produce it here in LA, and, um. So, here." He handed the CD to Brian. "I should go see AJ."

"You do that," said Brian. "JC?"


"Don't wear him out. We have an album to make."

JC stepped out of his car, walked up to AJ's front door, and braced himself to ring the doorbell. He'd been trying out phrases all the way here and he still didn't know what to say.

The door opened, and there was AJ.

They stared at one another for a frozen minute, then both spoke at the same time.

"I was just coming to see you."

"I didn't break up with you."



AJ grabbed JC by the wrist and pulled him inside. "I was just coming to see you, man. I think we need to talk."

"Yeah, we need to talk," JC said, but he was staring at AJ's hand around his wrist. Black fingernails, black tattoos up his arm, black T-shirt… "Talk. Definitely. Talk."

"Yeah, because, man, I think maybe I went a little too far, and—JC?"

JC raised his eyes from AJ's hand to AJ's face. "Uh," he said. "Talk later?"

"Later?" Oh, he was doing that thing with his voice, all rough and dark and sexy. JC had to get that into a recording studio, he just had to.

"Yeah," JC said, and kissed him.

They could talk later.


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