by Chris J

They always tell our story wrong. I mean, sure, it's true, me and JC were on the MMC together, and it's true that I met Chris at an audition, and it's true that the three of us ran into Joey at a club one night. But they never mention the part about how it was a gay club. About how JC and Joey knew each other 'cause they'd been an item about four years earlier. About how Chris and Joey had already been casually dating ever since they met at Universal.

Funny how they forget about all that stuff come press time, huh.

Lance we found out about as soon as we met him. I mean, seriously, the guy couldn't be more out if he waved a rainbow flag around on stage and started belting out show tunes. So there we were, five gay guys (okay, Joey still says he's bi) trying to form a group.

Yeah, baby, we were gonna be huge.

So Joey and Chris went from casually dating to going steady to practically married over the next few years. They're not as all-over-each-other as they once were, but man, they're rock solid. It's really cool. It wasn't 'til we started hitting it big in the US that JC and Lance got together. The three of us had been dating a little--no, not each other, I mean other people--but it just doesn't work very well. So yeah, they got together and it's working out really well.

If you do the math now, you'll see that leaves me out in the cold.

I know they didn't mean it that way, but I was so young when we started out and that kinda put me in the off-limits category to them. Everyone's little brother and no one's lover. It sucked, and I definitely don't mean that in the hot-mouthed-so-good literal sense. If we'd gotten together now, with me my buff nineteen-year-old self, I bet I would have landed someone. But we hadn't, and I didn't.

The other big thing they blow all way out of proportion is the whole insane rivalry thing with the Backstreet Boys. I mean yeah, sure, we bust on each other on camera, but isn't that what we're supposed to do? Jeez, it's just a healthy competition. The guys are our buds. Even if they are, like, totally straight. And I mean totally as in get-married-or-have-a-girl-in-every-port kinda straight. Before we met them, I didn't know straight guys could dance like that!

I guess we're kinda like the Bizarro Backstreets. Huh. I should tell that to Joey; he'd get the joke.

We were just buds though. I didn't think we had any kinda close and meaningful friendship until one rainy afternoon I opened my front door to find Nick Carter standing there, his clothing soaked and tears mingling with the rainwater on his face.

"Can I come in?"

I handed Nick a second beer and sat down on my couch beside him.

"So," I said. "What's going on?" We'd already discussed the weather, the traffic, and last night's game. Now I wanted to know what brought him here, to me of all people.

"Oh, you mean this?" he asked, pointing at his flushed and tear-streaked face. He'd worn his glasses today which was good, because all those tears would have washed his contacts out ages ago. Come to think of it, that's probably exactly what happened, before he came.

"Yeah, that," I said, chuckling a bit and trying to lighten his mood. "Duh."

"Oh, well, uh, Kevin called this group meeting this morning. Well, actually, I asked him to call it. And I could have called it myself, but people take Kevin more seriously than they take me. Can we just watch TV?"

"Cable's out," I said shortly, even though it wasn't. "You came over here to watch TV?"

He shrugged. "Maybe I came over to hang out with someone my own age," he suggested.

"And if you hadn't been crying when you got to my door, I might even have believed that," I told him. "Come on, Nicky, you can spill. I'm a gay man, I'm supposed to be the sensitive and supportive type."

He snorted a little bit at that and looked away. Then his head popped back up and he looked me in the eye.

"Okay, so we all got together at Kevin's place at, oh, nine this morning and bonded a little over egg mcmuffins and too-strong coffee and we talked about our next tour and where we wanted to hit and then I told them I was gay and then all hell broke loose." He took a deep breath and then waited for my response.

"Hey, I thought all you guys were straight!"

"Yeah, er, so did they," admitted Nick.

"Well, hell, Nick, you're just in the wrong group. How about we trade you for Joey? He's bi, it'll be less of a shock to their systems."

"I think Chris might have something to say about that," he argued, laughing in spite of himself.

"Yeah, that's true. But then maybe I'll finally get some." I pouted for a moment, then put my serious face back on. "Nick?"


"What did they say to make you cry?"

He looked down again. "They just, um, didn't get it. Like they aren't totally prejudiced or anything cause, hell, we know all you guys and there's never been a problem there, but I guess I'm just like their little brother and I always have been and they just never saw this coming."

"Yeah, but they made you cry," I said again. "That really sucks, man." I put my arm around his shoulders and he practically fell into my arms, crying again. I didn't exactly have a nurturing instinct, but I did my awkward best to comfort him until he was quiet again. He sat up, then lifted his glasses and rubbed his eyes free of tears before looking at me again.

"I've known I was gay, like, forever," he said finally. "I hate being told that I'm wrong or mistaken or all that shit. Hell, I waited this long to tell them just so they couldn't use the whole 'you're a kid, it's just a phase' BS."

"Did they really say that?" He nodded. "Man, that's a real load."

He rolled his eyes. "Tell me about it. I should have just told them when I was fifteen and gotten this all over with then, so right about now I could be happily hooked up and still hangin' with the guys."

"Oh yeah, like it's so easy to go out and find a boyfriend," I said, rolling my own eyes.

"Well, why not?" said Nick. "It's not like I haven't slept with a few in the last few years. Haven't you?"

"Yeah, sure I have can you have slept with a bunch of guys and the rest of Backstreet had no idea you were gay?"

Nick sighed. "They totally see what they want to see. I mean, I was with this guy for, like, a month and let me tell you, we were not quiet, and I just told them it was my best friend's cousin or some shit like that and they bought it. Fuck, Brian even heard the bed thumping against the wall, and he believed me when I told him it was a pillow fight."

"God, they are so straight," I sighed. "Anyway, my point was that it's easy to find someone to sleep with and maybe for a month or maybe even two but then they're gone. I ain't never hooked up with anyone longer than three weeks before it fell apart cause of who I am. It really bites."

"I haven't tried," admitted Nick. "If I'd tried then I would have had to tell the guys and..." He shrugged. "You know what happened there."

"Well, no, not really," I told him. "I mean, dude, you were a wreck when you got here. Them being confused did all that?"

"They're not confused, exactly," he said, trying to put his thoughts together. "I think they're in denial. They were, like, telling me that I wasn't actually gay and stuff. And they were all really nice about it, but it was so fucked up. So I left."

"And came here."

"Well, yeah," he said. "Who else would I go to? Fuck, I should have at least told you guys ages ago. Maybe picked up some pointers or something. At least I'd've had someone to talk to."

"So why didn't you, then? It's not like you didn't have, you know, dozens of opportunities."

"I dunno. You know you guys don't have any secrets from each other. And I figured it'd somehow get back to the guys. I think, deep inside, I knew this was going to happen. I knew they were gonna freak in some way."

"Well, they didn't freak, exactly."

"Close enough," said Nick. "Can I stick around here for a while? I don't wanna go back."

"Yeah, of course," I said, picking up the remote and flipping the TV on without thinking.

"I thought the cable was out."

"Uh, I lied?" I confessed. Nick took the remote out of my hand and switched it off again. He gave me a significant look and then slid the remote out of our reach. Man, he definitely had something in mind, I just wasn't sure what it was.

"How long ago did you come out to the guys?"

I grinned at him. "I told JC when I was thirteen, after I caught him and his boyfriend kissing. After that," I just shrugged, "everyone just knew from the start. In the group I mean. I think I do a pretty good job playing it straight for the fans."

He laughed. "As good as I do. Actually, I think I do it better."

"Had me fooled," I snickered. "You know ... if you'd told me, I wouldn't have told anyone. I mean that. Not even the guys. Not if you didn't want me to."

"Well, hindsight and all that," he said. After wiping his eyes and moving out of my embrace, he'd tucked one knee up on the couch, facing me, and now stretched his arm out along the back, almost brushing his fingers against my shoulder. If I closed my eyes, I could feel them.

"You knew about me, though," I said. "All along. Did you ever think about what might have happened between us, if you'd told me? I mean ... you know what I mean."

"Every time I saw you," he said, grinning a little sheepishly. "I was a teenager, I was brimming with hormones, what can I say?"

"And now?"

He shrugged. "Notice where I ran to."

I smiled at him. No, I grinned foolishly at him. "I'm gonna take advantage of you, if you're not careful," I confessed. "You think the rest of the guys are gonna come looking for you?"

"Not unless I'm gone for, like, 24 hours or something," he said. "I bet they're all talking about me and stuff. Figuring out what to do with me, like I'm some sort of problem now. And how do you know I don't want to be taken advantage of, anyway?"

"Do you?" I asked him, cocking an eyebrow and trying not to crack a smile.

"Well, I need to do something to remind myself that -- know what? -- I am gay and nothing that any of those four say is going to change that," he said, sounding thoroughly exasperated. "I mean, that stuff really kind of fucked with my head. That's partly why I had to take off so bad."

I pulled him closer again -- more like pulled myself closer to him -- and toyed with his damp hair as I stared. I'd always thought he was cute, but somehow he was even cuter now that I knew he was gay. If that was possible. "I'm gonna kiss you now," I said. "Stop me if you don't want that."

He didn't stop me. In fact, he managed to kiss me first. Which was impressive, considering how determined I'd been. Nick's lips were sure and soft and wet and kissed mine for a long, long time before pulling away again. He rubbed his nose against mine until I opened my eyes, then smiled at me.

"We should have done that years ago," he said, and then he licked his lips and I totally agreed. "Too bad I was such a chickenshit, huh?"

Only I couldn't agree with that, even though I wished he hadn't been, because coming out wasn't something he should ever be forced to do. "At least it happened now," was what I said instead, which was apparently the right thing because he smiled and curled up against me and breathed hotly against my neck.

"I should face the music, huh," said Nick, switching off the TV again and staring out my picture window at the afternoon sky that should have been bright, but instead was dark with low-hanging clouds that still spattered water against my windows. "They'll be worried. They might even be looking for me."

"They probably are," I told him, wishing he wouldn't get up but knowing that he was right. He had his own band to get back to, his own other four guys that he thought of as brothers. The guys he belonged with.

"And I can't run away forever," he added. I supposed I should have been thankful that he'd run away at all. That he'd ended up here, of the million and one places he could have ended up. That we'd done the things we had.

"No one can run away forever," I agreed, because everyone's tried that at least once. Even me. "You gonna be all right, Nick? You need anything?"

"I'll be okay," he assured me, with more confidence that I would have liked. If he wasn't sure he'd be okay, then maybe he would have stayed a little longer. "Thanks. For everything, man. I feel tons better."

"Any time," I said, meaning it. Because I'd kinda been him once, only not. Only I'd had Joey and Chris and JC and then Lance and being gay had never been a bad thing, in my world. And Nick looked like he needed a world like that, once in a while.

I thought about what Joey and Chris might be doing as I walked Nick to the door, but remembered that they'd been planning to go over to Joey's parents' place for the day for a barbecue. A bunch of Joey's relatives were in town for the weekend so the happy couple had to put in their token appearance. They'd probably go clubbing after, just to remind themselves what it felt like to be able to look at each other with lust and not have to smile at every person they passed.

And JC and Lance had told me explicitly not to bother them, and that they were going to ignore the phone and doorbell even if I tried. It wasn't too hard to imagine what they were up to, something I hadn't been up to in quite a while now. Dammit.

So that left me maybe watching some TV again. Or playing a couple video games, maybe, if I got bored enough. Or going for a swim out back to try and keep my ass from spreading after sitting in front of the TV for hours. The odd man out, as always.

Nick leaned against the wall by the door for a moment, peering at me with half a smile on his face.

"What?" I said awkwardly, looking down to see if I'd spilled something on my shirt. "What are you looking at me like that for?"

He leaned forward and kissed me swiftly, not like before, just like ... casually. The way the other guys kissed, when they were in front of me, when they didn't have to prove anything or go anywhere with it and just wanted to kiss for kissing's sake.

"You wanna go out some time?" he asked as I opened the door for him, with a shyer grin than I have ever in my whole life seen grace his face.

"Go out or make out," I teased as I couldn't think of a single other, serious thing to say.

"Either," he said, more confidently. "Both. Call me, okay?" He kissed me again as he slipped out the door, turning around on the front step to see, hear, my answer.

"I will," I promised, feeling as giddy as a teenage girl who'd just been asked to the prom. "And you can show up here any time, Nick."

His grin widened as he backed down the stairs, waving to me as he dashed for his car through the pouring rain. I stood in the doorway way longer than I should have if I wanted him to think I was playing hard to get. Then again, why should I bother. He'd already gotten me.

And about damn time, too.

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