AJ lit a cigarette and waited for Nick and his hulking bodyguard to get back with something decent to eat. Knowing Nick it was going to be salty and greasy and wonderful and all of that -- all of that -- was exactly what AJ wanted.
"It's okay, I'm cool," Nick was saying from somewhere nearby, then he appeared around the corner of the building and dropped a takeout bag at AJ's feet. "I'm back," he announced.
"I noticed," AJ drawled as he opened the bag. "Sit."
Nick squatted down and then fell back against the wall with a grunt and a sigh. "Oh that feels good," he said, tilting his head back and closing his eyes for a minute and soaking up the feel of the cool cinderblocks, just the way AJ had when he'd first stepped outside. "Not used to this."
"No?" said AJ, finding a treasure trove of french fries inside the bag. "I woulda thought the last few months of drama would've prepared you to be working again."
Nick gave him a dirty look and AJ wished he'd bit his tongue. "I meant about Paris, not your mom."
"I know," said Nick, pulling a fry right out of AJ's hand. He smiled as he ate it, and AJ thought he was forgiven. "Still not used to it." Sometimes AJ wondered if Nick ever had been.
"So I was thinking," AJ said, since they were already on the topic and all. "I should probably apologize or something, for that whole thing."
"What?" said Nick, leaning forward to stick his hand in the bag. "Not your fault she turned out to be as psycho as the rest." He pulled out a hamburger and bit into it with enthusiasm, a spot of mustard falling onto his chin. AJ wiped it off with a finger, before it dripped right down onto Nick's very white shirt.
"We probably should've noticed that before you dated her."
"We probably should've," Nick agreed, downing the burger as AJ took a drag of his neglected cigarette. "I'm occasionally struck dumb by fantastic sex."
"I'd offer to get her drunk and set her up with some sleazy guy and then tape the whole thing and broadcast it on the Internet," said AJ, "but someone beat me to it."
Nick let out a sharp laugh and looked for all the world like he wished AJ would do it anyway. "She'd probably like it too much," he said finally. "I need to stop letting you set me up with girls."
"You want me to set you up with guys instead?" joked AJ, finishing off the cigarette and stubbing it out on the cement.
"I don't know," said Nick, still grinning, probably at the thought of the continuing humiliation of Paris Hilton. "Is your taste any better?"
"Can't be any worse, right?" said AJ.
"I don't know," laughed Nick. "Remember that guy you pointed out to me in San Antonio? What a disaster. Maybe if you've got someone better in mind?"
AJ looked at Nick speculatively out of the corner of his eye, the way he did a lot. The way he did a lot more lately. His throat felt dry and not just because of the cigarettes, and maybe it would be a good time to stop for a drink or something, let the idea settle a bit in Nick's head.
When AJ reaches for his Gatorade, Nick will look up and see a young college student walking along the sidewalk nearby. She will catch her heel in a crack in the pavement and stumble to her knees and her books will go flying. Nick will jump to his feet and help her gather her things. He will introduce himself as Nick Carter and she will introduce herself as Angela Jacobi and a week later they will go on their first date.
Nick will become more interested in Art History with Angela than singing with the Backstreet Boys, and the album they finish recording two months after that first date, which Nick isn't much interested in touring to promote, will do such dismal sales that they will decide not to make another. Kevin will find work on Broadway and Howie will open a successful restaurant chain and Brian will make another three babies and AJ will fall off the wagon twice more before getting clean for good and becoming a motivational speaker.
Nick and Angela will not split up after a few months, and their relationship, while tabloid fodder at first, will eventually be left alone to flourish. Nick will go back to school, and they will marry three months after he graduates with a degree in Psychology. They will raise a son together who will go on to not be involved in show business. Their twentieth anniversary will be the next time the five of them get together in the same place at the same time.
Nick will be content with his life. AJ will be single.
But this had been building for a long time and AJ knew he needed to not give himself any more outs, no Gatorade, not another cigarette, not a french fry. No more delays.
"I've been kind of an idiot about the whole thing, really," he said. "Throwing girls at you when I know I want you for myself."
And then he grabbed the bottle. Because really, what else was there to say?
Nick choked on his pickle. AJ probably should've waited until he swallowed before making any kind of declaration.
"I, uh, oh," he said when he could breathe again, which through years of experience with Nick-speak AJ understood to mean 'gimme a few minutes to think about that, would you?'. So he did.
"I kind of suck at relationships," Nick said finally.
"What, you think I haven't witnessed every relationship you've had since you were thirteen years old?" AJ reminded him. "Besides, I kind of suck at relationships myself."
"Yeah, I kind of noticed that," agreed Nick. "You try not to fuck anyone over, though. By my standards, that's a pretty good start." AJ wisely didn't comment on Nick's standards. "And you have got those eyelashes."
"Eyelashes," said Nick, and reached out and very nearly touched them. "I... yeah. I think maybe we should give it a try."
AJ stared at his chipped nailpolish and tried not to smile too broadly. "Okay, good," he said.
Nick grinned at him again and grabbed a handful of french fries from the bag. AJ lit another cigarette.