by Zoicite

For Nyn. Happy Birthday.

It isn’t the first time. Not even the second. It happens quite a lot, though usually when they’re both drunk. This time it’s a release party. Howie goes to these things all the time, but not to see him. He’s just keeping up appearances. Howie and Kevin; it’s what they do. Nick plays with his little brother and his boat, Brian does whatever Brian does, AJ tries to stay sober, and Howie and Kevin make sure that the Backstreet Boys don’t drop off the face of the earth. Howie doesn’t mind. He likes the parties. He likes to mingle.

He never knows when they are going to show up. It’s hard to guess what events they are scheduled to appear at, but they go to most of them, so Howie sees him often. Howie doesn’t really drink at these things unless he’s there. As soon as he sees him walk in, an arm wrapped around Joey, Howie heads for the bar, leaving Kevin with his wife or Krystal.

A rum and coke or three later, and JC sits on the stool beside him.

“Howie,” he says and his hair is perfectly fanned about his face. He’s wearing something Howie’d never be caught dead in. At least not in public. Howie can’t even identify exactly what JC’s jacket is made out of. But it looks good. He always looks good, and Howie blushes when he thinks it, looking down into his drink. JC says it again, and Howie thinks that maybe JC doesn’t think Howie’s noticed him yet. Howie has, did the second JC walked into the crowded room, but he’s glad JC thinks that because it means that he probably didn’t notice Howie’s girlish blushing moment.

“How’s it going?” Howie asks after he’s recovered. It always starts out this way. Pleasantries. It’s like they both think it’s rude otherwise. It’s probably rude anyway.

“Fine, fine,” JC nods, “Lance is, you know, leaving for Russia soon or whatever. We have time off. I’m thinking of taking up boating.”

“Boating,” Howie repeats. It’s a strange image. Howie tends to associate boats with Nick, and Nick and JC are nothing alike.

“Yeah. How’s it going for you?”

“Okay. We’re recording and stuff like that. Nick is starting his solo project thing. We’re taking it slow.”

JC nods, leans in and whispers, “You look fucking hot tonight, man.” The pleasantries are over, and Howie twitches a little in his seat, sits on the hand that’s not holding his drink because he’ll excessively touch his hair if he doesn’t. Howie hates that, so he sticks the hand beneath his thigh.

This is what he’s been waiting for.

The next time is at a fund-raiser. Howie can’t remember what it is exactly, even though he knew a few hours earlier.

That was before the anticipation set in.

Now Howie’s ignoring Kevin, though not completely. He knows that Kevin’s talking about when he thinks Nick’s solo album should be released, he knows that Kevin thinks it should be after the next group album, and he agrees, but he isn’t really listening. Howie is sipping a glass of wine and looking past Kevin, past Kristen, who’s also idly sipping her drink and not really listening. *Nsync just arrived. Or some of them anyway. Joey is there, and his arm is slung over Chris’ shoulder. He’s wearing a lot of denim, which isn’t really unusual, and Chris is wearing an ugly hat and equally hideous tinted glasses, also of the norm. And behind them is JC.

His shirt is white and flowy and has embroidery around the neck and sleeves. It looks exactly like something Howie would have worn a year or so ago. He never would have dared wear it to an event like this, but yes, JC could have pulled it directly from Howie’s closet. It’s probably intentional, he thinks, and grins into his wineglass, through the red liquid at Kevin’s distorted shoes. Kevin’s chuckling a little, which means he must have said something he thinks is funny. At least he’ll think Howie’s smiling with him, at him.

Howie doesn’t go to the bar this time. It’s been weeks, almost three, and it might seem desperate if he rushes right over there. He is, but Howie has moderate acting skills, so he stays where he is and nods when Kevin’s pitch gets a tad higher. AJ taught him that trick and it works like a charm.

Howie’s still nodding when he feels the hand on his shoulder, warm even though the jacket, shirt, and vest. Kevin stops talking and smiles, not really a real smile, and Howie know it’s JC.

“Hey Kevin, Howie,” JC says, and he releases Howie’s shoulder to give Kristen a hug.

“JC,” Kevin nods, but he’s looking at Howie.

“Do you mind if I steal this one for a moment?” Warmth floods Howie’s face and he looks down, but JC’s hand is there and it just deepens the flush, “I need to speak with him about the theft of a certain choreographer-slash-songwriter.”

Kevin is still nodding, slipping an arm around his wife’s waist and preparing to leave, and Howie looks at him and rolls his eyes. JC’s excuse is lame, and Howie and Kevin both know it. He wrote one song with Wade Robson, it hardly qualifies as theft. The song won’t even make it to the album. Brian doesn’t think it’s their style. It’s not.

“I thought you needed saving,” JC grins after Kevin has disappeared in the crowd.

“Not really,” Howie says, mostly because he doesn’t want to give the impression that his band mate was boring him. JC laughs, high and carefree, and Howie wonders if he’s had anything to drink yet tonight. It’s Howie’s turn, he’s supposed to start it, but it’s been a long time, he’s forgotten what it’s like and his mind blanks. “God,” JC says finally, leaning in closer to Howie’s ear and lowering his voice, “It’s been so long. I want you in my mouth so bad.” He sought Howie out, he really should be the one to start it anyway.

“Please,” Howie whispers, his hand finding its way to JC’s thigh. They’re at the bar now and Howie hopes that it’s hidden. He’ll hear from Kevin later if it’s obvious, Howie knows he’s watching.

“We could. The bathrooms are right over there. So close. Do you know what I'd do once I had you there? You would't be able to think for a week.” Howie whimpers a little. He’s impossibly hard now. He’s been so hard at so many of these industry functions. People must notice. Longer coats, Howie thinks. JC is breathing on his neck, the sensation warm and arousing, and he’s about to continue, tell Howie exactly what he’ll do once he gets him in the bathroom in that low growly purr, but Chris is yelling. He’s standing across the room, staring at JC expectantly and his hand is trying to wave JC over. Howie frowns and releases JC’s thigh.

“Come and find me later,” JC whispers, slipping off his stool and heading over toward his guys. Howie orders another drink and watches Chris slap JC affectionately on the back thinking he will, he’ll find JC later and take him back. But when it’s time to call it a night, JC is engaged in a conversation with Moby.

Kevin is waiting for Howie by the door, and he thinks next time, next time he’ll do it, and he leaves alone.

“Again?” AJ is saying when Howie walks into the studio a few days later. Kevin is nodding and Nick and Brian aren’t really paying much attention to whatever they are talking about. Instead Nick is combing Brian’s hair straight up. Brian looks like an ass, but he’s smiling and laughing so Howie figures he must already know. “They’re never going to get around to it,” AJ adds and Kevin continues to nod, his legs crossed. His foot bounces, rhythmically hitting the table he’s sitting at.

Howie sits down, takes some papers off the table and starts leafing through them. AJ turns to him then, swats his arm to get Howie’s attention and says, “D. Hey, D. If you wanna hook up that badly you should just come to me.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Howie responds blandly.

So they haven’t actually gotten around to doing anything yet.

It’s not like they won’t. Eventually.

Howie isn’t some lovesick little girl, saving himself for JC Chasez and in the meantime fawning over his picture in Bop magazine. AJ can go fuck himself. Howie isn’t desperate. There was that guy a few weeks ago, the one Howie met when Nick sent him to pick up lunch. He was tall and thin and pretty and he fucked Howie twice, and Howie was only thinking about JC half of the time.

Besides, he can’t even remember the last time AJ got laid, it was so long ago. Oh, wait, actually he can, it was in April, towards the end, and they’d both laughed because her name was May. April was a long fucking time ago.

Howie stops thinking about it now that he’s worked out who the truly desperate one of the group is. Because it’s not Howie.

“Hey, D,” Brian says, dropping onto the couch beside Howie. Nick is in the booth, doing some whiny singing thing that sort of sounds like a moan, “remember when you lived with me and Kev?”

“Yeah,” Howie nods. It’s not like he’d forget something like that.

“And we went to the Sirloin Saloon, or Outback Steakhouse, or whatever it was? That steak place?"

Howie can guess where this is going. He ventures a hesitant, “yeah.”

“Chris Kirkpatrick was our waiter. You hadn’t seen him since college or whatever,” Brian pats Howie on the knee, “and you so obviously had the biggest crush ever. It was so cute.”

“You weren’t supposed to know about that. I wasn’t out to you guys yet,” Howie smiles.

“Yeah, well, you were out to AJ,” Brian says. AJ can’t keep his mouth shut. Not when it comes to the fellas. “Then we both went and got our cats a week later. Christopher,” Brian says, with a huge grin on his face.

Howie turns a little red. “Shut up. What’s wrong with that? You named your cat Quincy.”

“That’s my cat,” Kevin says from the soundboard. Howie rolls his eyes.

“I was just wondering why you don’t have a pet named JC,” Brian finishes. Howie’s face turns an even deeper shade of red. Brian claps, “Kev! Kev, lookit this. He does. I told you.” Kevin cranes his neck to look at Howie and smirks, shaking his head.

“You have a cat named JC?” AJ asks, looking up from his magazine, “You do not.”

“tropical fish,” Howie mumbles, “But I have a fish named AJ too.”

“You have a crush on me?”

“I have one named Brian too, so whatever guys, I’m just not original with names, I guess.”

Brian’s still laughing, and Nick is tapping on the glass, concerned that he’s missing all the fun. “Oh, Howard,” Brian says, smothering Howie in a hug that Howie tries to shake off, but fails miserably. Kevin isn’t too happy when Nick leaves the microphone to join in, shouting “Hey, group hug! Lemme in”, but he reluctantly joins, pulling AJ with him.

“Is he going to be there tonight?” Nick asks, pulling on his shirt. It’s another industry event. There are so many, Howie loses track. Nick is going this time, AJ too.

His voice is muffled by cloth so Howie says, “What?” and follows his hair stylist out of the room.

Turns out he is there, arrived before Howie even. He’s standing in the middle of a crowd of people, laughing with Justin and Nelly, and Nick points and says, “There he is.” Howie swats Nick’s hand and sort of wishes it was just Kevin with him.

AJ hates these things almost as much as Brian does. He didn’t, he used to love coming, but then he’d get wasted and act like an idiot and Kevin would freak, so probably he didn’t really like it all that much then either. He just had a way to deal with it. Now he and Nick sit beside Howie at a table. Howie fingers the napkins and smiles and they make fun of everyone that walks by. Howie isn’t really sure where Kevin disappeared to.

“Dude, J.Lo’s dress,” AJ says pointing, and Nick’s eyes widen at the sight. Howie looks, but he doesn’t think the fact that her dress is so low in the back that he can see her ass crack is anything particularly new or exciting.

Howie gets up and walks off, losing himself in the crowd for a moment. He only vaguely hears AJ saying something about his abrupt departure, and it’s easy enough to ignore. He finds himself approaching JC, who’s laughing with Lance, and he tells himself that he should let them alone, go find Kevin or something, but then he’s tapping JC on the shoulder and Lance is sort of half smiling at him.

“Hi,” Howie says with a smile he hopes is more genuine. He’s always found Lance to be a little cold and he suspects that maybe Lance just doesn’t like him.

JC turns around and grins, his eyes crinkling up, “Howie!” he says, pulling Howie into a hug. Howie laughs a little and pats JC’s back.

“I’m going to go check on Joey,” Lance says, waving a little at Howie over JC’s shoulder, “I’ll see you later, Jayce.”

JC nods and then smiles at Howie after Lance walks away, “Alone,” he says. Howie runs a hand over JC’s shoulders and JC arcs a little, hardly enough to be noticeable, but enough that Howie thinks they need to get out of there, now.

“Do you want to?” Howie asks and then JC is pulling him through the crowd, out of the ballroom area and into an empty hallway, heading towards some bathrooms. Howie clings to JC a little, his lips against the back of JC’s warm neck, and then he’s pushed against a wall and JC’s mouth, so warm and inviting, and Howie opens without any prodding. He can feel JC, hard against his hip, and he thinks, now, here, it’s going to happen. In this hallway and that’s fine, because JC’s hands are on him, on him everywhere over his clothes, and it’s not enough, Howie needs more, more than thrusting against JC’s open palm.

“JC, JC,” he breathes, “We need to. Somewhere.”

“Yes,” JC moans against Howie’s lips and Howie can feel it vibrate through him. They don’t move though, they can’t, and Howie runs a hand over the curve of JC’s back through the thin fabric of his shirt, bowed down toward Howie, into Howie.

“Um,” Howie hears, and it’s not JC, he can’t feel it, but he hears and it’s familiar, and he wants to do nothing more than ignore, “Howie? This might, um.”

JC moves away a little and Howie turns his head. It’s Nick, red faced and embarrassed, pointing toward the men’s room and shrugging. “I was just,” he says, and then he shrugs again and runs a hand through his hair.

“Nick,” Howie says, and it’s breathy still, lust filled.

“Just, I mean, if Kevin were to see, or anyone else from the party really would be worse, but you know, Kevin’ll kill you,” Nick mumbles and Howie looks around for the first time and realizes that the hallway is very public, the main route to the bathrooms, and he sighs because Nick is right.

“Howie,” JC says, running a hand over Howie’s chest, “I’m going to go find Lance and then we’ll get out of here. Wait for me. Right here. I’ll be back.” JC smiles at Nick and tries to fix his clothes a little before heading back into the main room.

“Howard,” Nick grins, reaching out to tousle Howie, but Howie ducks away, laughing and follows Nick back toward their table. He isn’t sure if JC ever finds Lance, or if JC shows up again at all, because Howie doesn’t wait.

Howie used to do crunches every morning, and more at night. He used to shave his chest and slick back his hair. Howie used to wink and smile.

Brian jokes about it and tells Howie that he’s let himself go. Howie laughs too, and smacks Brian when he pokes Howie’s belly, small, but definitely there. Howie’s hair is short. He doesn’t do so many crunches. And his smiles are real.

It took Howie a long time to get comfortable with himself. He thinks it was probably the same for JC.

“Hey, Howie,” Nick rushes to catch up with Howie as they head toward their respective cars one evening, “Howie.” The sun is just starting to set and the sky is on fire. Another gorgeous Florida sunset.

“Yeah?” Howie says, pressing the unlock button on his keychain.

“So I was thinking,” Nick starts, shoving his hands into the pockets of his shorts.

“Thinking,” Howie repeats and smiles.

“Yeah, about you know, you, and JC, and how you never want to finish the deal, and –“

“I want to finish –“

“-and AJ says you’re just really horny and desperate, and I was thinking, ya know, if you want, we could.” Nick smiles a little and then just shrugs. Howie nearly drops his bag.

“Nick,” he says, trying not to laugh, “Nicky, thank you so much, but, um. No.” He can’t keep the smirk off his face.

Nick shrugs again, mumbles a rejected “fine,” then pulls Howie in for an affectionate hug. “Well, good luck, D,” he says and jogs off to his own car.

Howie shakes his head in disbelief, tossing his bag into the back seat. He’s pretty sure it’s not normal to receive sexual propositions from friends as often as he does.

It’s a curse, Howie thinks. He has one night where he’s alone and horny and so he jerks off. Nothing unusual there. But he’s thinking about AJ, fleetingly about Nick, though that’s just wrong, so mostly about AJ. This is his punishment, he thinks after his fourth fucking party in a row with no sign of JC.

Howie goes anyway, because that’s what he and Kevin do when they’re on break. AJ comes to a few, Nick to one, maybe. Brian avoids as often as he possibly can. It’s a shame really; Brian hates the events so much that he actually ends up being a blast to have around at them.

Howie mopes a little, then sucks it up and starts a conversation with Gwen Stefani about Lupus and the What’s Goin’ On video shoot. She’s laughing and touching his arm when someone nudges him in the back, hard.

“Excuse me,” Howie says, turning to apologize to whoever he bumped into, and he frowns a little when he sees Kevin.

“Alex wants you to look over there,” Kevin says, nodding to where AJ is standing by a wall sipping a coke. Howie squints a little, but it’s just AJ, resting casually, a large cowboy hat pulled down a little too far on his forehead.

“Kev –“ Howie starts, but then AJ nonchalantly shoots a finger gun off somewhere to the right of where he’s standing. Cowboy dork, Howie thinks, but he follows the finger and smiles. It’s JC with Joey attached to his back, his chin hooked over JC’s thin shoulder. JC is tan, his skin a beautiful bronze. From boating, Howie thinks. Justin is there too, already dancing to the faint music, although everyone else is just standing around. “oh,” Howie says, and Kevin lifts his glass in a sort of salute.

“What are you doing?” AJ asks, incredulous, when Howie finds him talking to some girls from a pop group that Howie isn’t familiar with at the end of the night.

“I just came to see when you were ready to head out.” Howie says, smiling at the girls.

“What the. Excuse me, ladies,” AJ shakes his head, pulling Howie away. “What the hell are you talking about? You two have been at it all night. There’s no way in hell you’re going home with me.”

Howie shrugs, “Nothing’s gonna happen tonight.”

“What?! Why the hell not? Don’t you want him?”

“I do. It. He’s busy.” AJ scans the crowd for JC, finally spotting him chatting up some woman near the bar.

“He’s not busy, you ass,” AJ shoves Howie a little, “go. Get your boy. Leave me alone. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Offer still stands, man,” AJ comments in the van on the way back to the hotel. Kevin laughs, slapping his knee a little, and Howie crosses his arms over his chest.

“Assholes,” he mutters.

They rent a house in the Hamptons for a few days. A house right on the beaches along the south shore. Kevin, AJ, and Howie are there, technically writing songs, mostly just relaxing. They go to a party at Puff Daddy’s or P. Diddy’s or whatever and Howie’s excited because it seems just like the type of event Nsync would end up at. Especially after Kevin reminds him of who opened for them on their last tour.

“You’re really fucking boring tonight, D. What the fuck?” AJ comments early into the night, sipping his drink. Howie raises his eyebrows and notes that it doesn’t seem to be a great night for AJ either. AJ’s been really good about it, he doesn’t let the fact that everyone around him is drinking get under his skin. Howie doesn’t know how he does it, but really AJ’s been absolutely amazing the last year. There are some nights though, this one included, that the atmosphere leaves AJ on edge. They’ve all noticed, and they pay particular attention to their own actions on those nights as well as AJ’s, trying not to make it obvious. Kevin disappeared into the crowd about an hour ago, mumbling something neither Howie nor AJ could hear, so Howie pushes his drink aside.

“I need some water,” he says.

“I’ll get it,” and AJ’s gone, dodging drunken rappers and models. Howie watches him leave, turning back to the drink he pushed away, but doing a double take when something catches his eye. A glimpse of wild curls and form fitting clothing. Howie stands up and moves away from the table, keeping an eye out for any of the other guys. Chris, Chris will probably be there if JC is. Lance is gone, but Chris and JC still attend these things frequently.

Howie pushes through the crowd, keeping an eye on JC, but not moving too far from his table. He doesn’t want to lose AJ either. He’s hard suddenly, hard with anticipation and lust, and then JC turns and it isn’t JC at all, some club kid, probably a local even, or someone’s toy. Not JC, not at all.

“Damn,” Howie says and returns to his table, downing the rest of his drink. He shakes the ice in the bottom of his glass and thinks about going after the kid anyway. He forgot his resolution to wear long coats and his leather pants aren’t exactly comfortable anymore.

“I think I’m kind of pathetic. And a little desperate,” he admits when Kevin finally returns from wherever he ran off to.

“No shit.”

Howie hears AJ shut the sliding doors, singing a little as he heads down to the beach, toward Howie. Howie’s scribbling in a notebook, writing a love song, but mostly staring at the waves and thinking about things he’d promised he wouldn’t think about.

“Your back is burning. I brought iced tea,” AJ says, lowering himself to the blanket beside Howie and poking him, “Nestea, not Long Island,” he adds with a grin and drops a cold can beside Howie’s notebook.

Kevin left, intent on going to the Belmont races. He wanted AJ and Howie to join him but Howie hates horses and AJ just wants to relax. Plus, they’ve been there a week and haven’t written a word. Now Howie’s written a word, four or five even, but they’re still far from getting anything accomplished. He can’t concentrate, his mind is racing and he hates horses.

He turns to look at AJ, leaning his head on his arm. AJ’s watching the sea, the wind surfers gliding across the waves, crashing periodically with shouts of laughter. His lips are pinched a little, his mouth’s full of iced tea, Howie can tell. He watches AJ’s throat work as he swallows and picks up the can again.

“Nick just called,” AJ says, “Wanted to know where the hell we all were.”

“We told him we were coming up here. We invited him,” Howie says, muffled a little against his arm.

“I know,” AJ shrugs, and then pulls his tank over his head, stretching out on his back and pushing his shades off his forehead to shield his eyes. “He’s leaving for Sweden for a few days to record, so he was whining that we aren’t there to hang out with him before he goes.”

“Tell him to fly up.”

“I did, but I think he convinced Brian to drive down to Tampa and baby him.”

Howie nods, not at all surprised, and tosses AJ the sunscreen. Howie’s burnt, but AJ’ll be in pain if he sits out too long without it. AJ rubs some on his chest, his shoulders and his arm before lathering it thickly on his nose and turning to Howie with a wide grin.

“Sexy,” Howie says, and then, without thinking, “your offer still good?” AJ’s grin falters a bit and then he nods, watching Howie’s face from behind dark glasses.

“Why? You up for some action?”

“You’re hard to resist, I guess, with all that gunk on your nose.”

“Remember when you came out to me in Germany? I got drunk and kissed you?” AJ asks, wiping his nose along Howie’s arm and leaving a white trail.

“Yeah,” Howie smiles a little, “that was really stupid.”

“Kissing you?”

“No. That was just awkward. Stupid was being sixteen and drunk off your ass.” Howie rubs in the trail of sunscreen.

“Oh. Yeah. I know,” AJ swipes at his nose a little, then moves his hand to rest cool against Howie's sun burnt skin. "So you think it’ll be awkward this time?” AJ asks.

“Probably, yeah, but I think it’ll be good too.” Howie pops the can of iced tea open, tipping his head back to sip and he feels AJ’s fingers, soft against his neck.

“It’ll be good.”

It is good. “Fucking fantastic,” AJ grunts as he thrusts into Howie. Fucking Fantastic, Howie thinks, with capital F’s. Pretty much sums it up, his legs wrapped around AJ’s waist, AJ’s hips like liquid, his cock like fire. It’s even better when AJ unwraps Howie’s legs, flips Howie around and glides smoothly back in. Fucking Fantastic doesn’t even cut it anymore, but Howie’s mostly past the point of coherent thought by then, so Fucking Fantastic will have to do.

Everything is bright and white when Howie comes, so beautiful, so Fucking Fantastic.

“You want him,” AJ says later, pulling out a cigarette and propping some pillows behind his back, “he wants you. Why the hell haven’t you guys gotten it on?”

Howie shrugs, curled up on his side beneath the blankets. He shrugs again and looks up. AJ’s scratching his chin, but he stops when he notices Howie watching him, instead runs the hand through Howie’s hair, scratching a little. AJ grins.

AJ used to handle things with drugs, and alcohol, and sex. He used to hide behind his stage persona. He used to be cool and slick and sexy, when they all knew he was just a dorky theater kid.

AJ let his façade get out of control. But he’s fixed it now, mostly. The dork shows a lot more than it has in years.

It took Howie a long time to get comfortable with himself. It took AJ a lot of mistakes.

“You should wear this,” AJ says, pulling something shiny and brown from Howie’s bag. Howie scrunches his nose at the garment, which turns out to be a sleeveless shirt of supple brown leather, but he nods and accepts AJ’s choices. “How about mascara? Think JC goes for that?”

“Hm,” Howie says, pulling on the shirt, “I don’t think so.”

“He should. I sure as hell would. Bet it’d be fucking hot.”

“What is this event for tonight, anyway?”

“Cancer research thing? I don’t know,” AJ shrugs and picks something else out of Howie’s bag, holding it up against himself and turning sideways.

“AJ. I’m not wearing leather and no sleeves to a fund-raiser for cancer research,” Howie moves to take the shirt back off but AJ stops him, running a hand over his torso.

“You are,” he says, “don’t worry. It’s one of those hip charity events. It’s cool. And you look good.”

“If Kev comes in here wearing a suit, I’m changing.”

“Deal,” AJ nods, just as someone starts knocking, “speak of the devil.”

Howie laughs as AJ answers the door, but it’s not Kevin, it’s Brian that wanders in, loudly chewing gum. He whistles at Howie and sits on the edge of the bed. “You’re wearing that to a charity event?” Howie looks pointedly at AJ.

“No,” he says, and AJ says, “Yes. Do you think JC Chasez is into mascara, Rok?”

Brian laughs, “I have no idea. It’d probably look pretty on Howard though.”

“Gee, thanks.” Brian nods and displays his cheesiest cheesy grin, flopping back onto the bed.

“I hate these things,” Brian moans, “Don’t make me go.”

“Come on,” AJ says, “look what Howie’s wearing. And JC’s gonna be there too. Maybe there’ll actually be a little excitement for once.”

Brian turns to stare at Howie. “You guys. Still? What the fuck are you waiting for?!”

AJ and Howie’s mouths drop open in unison, their expressions shocked. Brian doesn’t swear often. Not unless he’s supremely pissed off, and he isn’t this time. Not really. AJ recovers first, pressing a hand over his heart, “Thank goodness Nickolas isn’t here. Such a foul mouth, young man.”

“I don’t believe it,” Brian says in the van later. Kevin and Kristen are asleep in the back, Kevin’s cheek pushed up against the window. He stirs a little at Brian’s tone before settling back with a small sigh. “You both are the biggest idiots I’ve ever met,” Brian announces, his voice hushed this time.

“Shut up,” Howie says, slouching beside AJ.

“Should have gone with the mascara,” AJ muses.

“Fuck you.”

“Promise?” AJ asks, running a hand slowly up Howie’s leg. Howie slouches lower and Brian laughs, slapping AJ’s hand off of Howie.

Howie presses a slick finger inside as AJ moans and arcs off the bed, thrusting a little deeper into Howie’s mouth. “Fuck, D, fuck,” he breaths, hand gripping in Howie’s short hair. A firm grip, but not too hard, not too forceful. Howie hums a little, swirls his tongue around before dragging it up the underside of AJ’s cock and twisting his fingers, just right there. “Fuck,” AJ says again, choked a little, and when Howie repeats the finger movement, it’s over.

“You’re sure you still want him?” AJ asks later, after Howie’s come hard, Fucking Fantastic, and they are both sprawled across AJ’s large bed. Howie sighs, because yes, he still wants JC. “I’m just sayin’,” AJ continues, “once you get some of this,” he trails fingers over his own stomach, skirting the tattoo that surrounds his belly button. “Once you get some of this, you might be disappointed with anything else.”

Howie watches AJ’s hand move over his body, then smiles a little and says, “I won’t be disappointed.”

Nick stops by Howie’s apartment while Howie is sprawled out in his pajama’s watching some coverage of *Nsync’s charity basketball game that he convinced Carlos to get for him. Bodyguards have all kinds of connections.

“Summer’s all about the charity, man,” Nick says, relaxing on the couch beside Howie.

“What’s up?” Howie asks, turning away from the television.

“Nothing. Bored. Did you go to that?” Howie smiles. Nick shows up at Howie’s often when he’s bored. It’s as though he lives twenty minutes away, rather than an hour or so. Nick points at the screen. “It was last week, wasn’t it? Here?”

“Yeah, no.” Howie says. He didn’t go. He was in California helping AJ look for a house. They didn’t find anything, but the sex was great.

“Good,” Nick says, getting up to get a drink from the kitchen. Nick’s so bizarre. Howie smiles as JC scores his first points of the game, laughing and waving his arms as Joey spins him around in circles. “So, you done with it? You settling down?” Nick asks when he returns, balancing two sodas in one hand and scratching his stomach with the other.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, you’re over this JC thing, right? You and AJ are, you know, right?” Nick waves his hand around on the ‘you know’ part, and Howie’s pretty sure that the gesture is supposed to mean something, but he can’t really translate and so he just shrugs and takes one of the sodas.

“AJ and I aren’t anything.”

“Oh,” Nick frowns, “I thought.”


“You should be.” Nick sips his drink, still frowning, and points at the television, “cause this, whatever that is, ain’t gonna happen.”

“Why not? It will.” Howie tries not to be indignant but he can’t help it. They all keep saying that like it’s not two-sided. Like Howie is the only one that wants it. It’s not. Not at all. JC wants it too, so Howie’s not sure why everyone makes him out to be the delusional one.

“You know what I think? I don’t think you want it to. Either of you,” Howie watches the screen and pretends that he doesn’t notice that Nick’s staring at him. Howie wants to make some witty come back, but all of his retorts are lame, so he frowns and doesn’t say anything. Nick shrugs and turns back to the television as Justin scores again, performing a cocky little victory shimmy below the hoop as Chris tries to break dance and fails miserably.

“Let’s get out of here,” JC says, and Howie nearly chokes on the fancy little cracker he’s eating. JC isn’t wasting any time. Not even a “hello”.

“Um, now?” Howie asks because they only got there about half an hour ago.

“Yeah, now, our hotel is just around the block,” and Howie nods because they are staying at the same one.

“Okay,” Howie says, grinning. He sets his wine down on the nearest table and JC reaches out to take his hand. Howie lets him, but then JC looks at it and realizes that it doesn’t get much more obvious than that so he lets it fall and smiles sheepishly. It’s the most adorable thing Howie’s ever seen.

“Come on,” JC says, heading for the exit. Howie follows close behind JC and only stops when he hears a high pitched whoop behind him. He turns and sees the guys, all four of them standing and clapping and being so incredibly inconspicuous that Howie can’t help but grin at them. Brian pretends to weep, wiping at his eyes while Kevin rubs his back, and Nick has his hands fisted together and is waving them in the air. AJ just grins and shoos Howie off. Howie waves back a little and follows JC out into the night.

“So,” Howie says as JC shuts the door behind them.

“So,” JC returns, slipping the locks into place.

“You getting a lot of slack from your guys about this?”

“No. Why would I be? Don’t the Backstreet Boys like me?” JC turns and approaches Howie, who’s sitting a bit stiffly on the edge of the large hotel bed. JC’s stuff is sort of scattered around one corner of the room, the rest of the room spotless. It’s actually a lot messier than Howie guessed JC would be.

He shrugs a little, turning back to JC and says, “The fellas didn’t think we’d ever, you know, get around to it.”

“Well, we have,” JC says, placing a knee on either side of Howie and straddling him on the edge of the bed, “you know, gotten around to it.”

“Yeah,” Howie breaths before JC’s lips meet his. Howie falls back against the bed, pulling JC with him, and grunts a little as JC’s hips grind against his. He thrusts his tongue up hard, suggestively, and JC mewls a little, twisting and grinding again, and Howie just hopes he lasts long enough to get out of his pants.

“It’s my birthday,” JC says, reaching down to undo Howie’s pants and Howie lifts his hips to help.

“Oh,” Howie replies as he pulls JC’s shirt over his head. “Happy Birthday,” he adds, sliding JC’s pants down off his hips, pulling JC up over him so he can tongue JC’s gorgeous cock.


It turns out that JC is quite the talker, practically carrying on a conversation even though Howie mostly only says “yeah” and “oh” and “Oh” and Howie just wants JC in him, wants it so bad, so he reaches for the lube that JC has set out beside the bed. JC sits back, watches Howie, and then smiles, a blinding smile.

“Are you top or bottom?” JC asks, already moving to lie on his back.

Howie wants to protest, because he’s versatile, he is, but he just really wants JC’s cock. He doesn’t, because Howie’s a nice guy and it’s pretty clear what JC wants. He’s spread out, open, hungry. Birthday boy, Howie thinks, maybe there’ll be a round two.

“How was it?” AJ asks later on the way to the airport.

“Fucking Fantastic,” Howie answers and AJ smiles, pushing his sunglasses up on his nose.

“You did it,” Nick says, dropping by late to show Howie the cover art he drew for his solo album. “I can’t believe you actually did it. Oh, and Brian’s mad at you for not telling him about AJ.”

“AJ told him,” Howie says, fingering the design between his fingers. It’s really cool, he thinks, Nick’s talented. He’ll be okay.

“Yeah, but not until after everyone else already knew,” Nick points out and Howie shrugs. He’ll call Brian later, offer to fly to Georgia and go golfing, and tell him all about the AJ thing. Brian never holds a grudge, and he’s probably just looking for an excuse to have someone come visit him anyway. “This is nice,” Howie taps the CD cover, “really cool.”

“Yeah?” Nick asks, “Kev says it’s too busy. He thinks I should take out the seascape all together.”

“Kevin’s just being contrary,” Howie says and Nick nods, “don’t change it because of Kevin.”

Nick grabs a bag of chips, waving it at Howie for approval, then opens it and sits on a stool at the kitchen table. “So,” he prompts, “JC.”

“It was fun,” Howie says, sitting across from Nick and fingering a fake flower arrangement that his mom gave John the last time she came over for dinner.

Nick waits for more, his eyebrows arced as he crunches on chips. “Was it worth the wait?” Nick asks.

“yeah,” Howie says. His phone starts ringing and Nick waits for him to answer it. Howie glances at the caller ID before turning back to Nick. “Yeah, it was.”

“Your phone,” Nick points.

“I hear it.”

Nick shrugs, but looks like he’s about to jump out of his seat and check Howie’s forehead for signs of a fever. “So are you going to do it again?” He asks instead.

“No,” Howie says, “I think we’re done.”

Howie’s ignoring JC’s phone calls, though he’s not sure why. It’s not in his nature to brush people off, and the whole thing is starting to keep him up at night. Also, JC never used to call him. He never leaves a real message, just a “JC. Call me.” Howie would think it was sort of amusing if he weren’t so torn up about the whole situation. JC’s messages always rhyme.

He’s mostly asleep, lying half beneath AJ when his phone rings. AJ grunts and reaches off the bed, digging through Howie’s pants and answers it before Howie even has time to think to tell him not too. “’lo?” AJ says, reaching for his glasses. “No, no. Just a second,” he grunts, handing the phone to Howie, “for you.”

“You’re a hard guy to track down,” JC says when Howie puts the phone to his ear. Howie can hear the smile in JC’s voice.

“yeah,” Howie mumbles, untangling his legs from AJ’s so that AJ can get up to use the bathroom. “been busy,” he lies, and it’s so obviously a lie that he cringes a little.

“Know how that goes,” JC says, then “listen, I know it’s late, I’ve just been trying to call to tell you –“


“I know we’ve sort of had this thing going on, for like, forever, like a year. And it’s fun, and it’s hot. And you’re really really great in bed, Howie. Really great. And the flirting, Howie. So great.”

“JC,” Howie says again, because he’s not sure he wants to know where this is going. He just wants JC to stop saying great.

“But, see. I’ve sort of been waiting for this other person, and he finally realized, and it’s great, Howie, it’s so great. So. so, yes. I’m just calling to, you know, tell you that I can’t anymore.”

Howie sighs, “JC, slow down. It’s okay.” AJ saunters back into the room, stretching, and Howie watches his body move, so graceful, like JC. It’s good, Howie thinks, it’s fabulous, and JC is so much like AJ, only with AJ there’s so much more. Howie thinks maybe it could even be love or something. Or just fantastic sex, but that’s good too, and really he thinks it’s probably more. AJ wraps a hand around Howie’s foot, rubbing his thumb over the arch, and Howie laughs a little, trying in vain to twist his foot away, and says into the phone, “It’s Joey, JC. It’s Joey, isn’t it?”

“How’d you? Yeah,” JC says.

“That’s so great,” Howie grins as AJ’s grip moves up his ankle, “that’s really great, JC. I’m happy for you.”

“Howie – “ JC says.

“I’ll see you at the next industry function, I guess,” Howie says, and hangs up as soon as JC will let him. AJ’s hands are fingering the backs of his knees.

“You waited too long,” AJ says, tickling a little, “you could have had him.”

“I don’t want him,” Howie shrugs, kicking a leg out a little as AJ crawls onto the bed. He glances at the clock above the fireplace. 12:03. “It’s my birthday.”

“I know,” AJ grins. “time for a birthday screw.” AJ’s level with Howie now, and Howie rolls his eyes, because AJ really has no sense of romance whatsoever. He pecks at AJ’s lips, small kisses that run away from AJ’s mouth and up his jaw. AJ thrusts against him, one smooth erotic motion.

“Fucking Fantastic,” Howie whispers, running sure fingers up AJ’s cock. AJ licks into Howie’s mouth, smiles against his teeth.

“Fucking Fantastic,” AJ repeats and playfully bites Howie’s lip.