He wondered if they would be surprised. Any of them. If they knew what he was really like. He wondered how many of them bought the image, how many of them believed all the rumors, how many thought he was something in between and how many people knew it for the bullshit it was.
He took off his shoes, took off his jeans, lay across the stained mattress in a pair of unflattering briefs and the Led Zeppelin T-shirt he'd paid a small fortune for in a vintage clothing store. Instead of the couple bucks it would have cost at a second hand shop. Because he could. Because Nick Carter wasn't poor anymore and didn't have to wear 'second-hand' anything.
"You're high," said AJ, master of the obvious, standing uninvited in the doorway.
"A little," agreed Nick, tapping his knuckles against the edge of the mattress, closing his eyes against the harsh, unfiltered light overhead. "You get off on stalking me these days? God knows I could always use one more, right?"
"I was bored," said AJ. His leather jacket squeaked and rustled as he shrugged. Nick didn't even open his eyes to see the way AJ was sliding his shades down his nose, and turning a now-untinted gaze on Nick's prone body. He didn't have to, he could see it happen in his head, the way it'd happened countless other times.
"I'm usually bored," said Nick. His voice sounded strange in his own ears, fading in and out, almost like he was talking in a dream. He spread his arms and legs wider, covering the whole bed, trying to stretch his body out further and further.
"Why here, anyway?" asked AJ, his eyes roaming the room critically, taking in the torn curtains, the water stains on the ceiling, the mattress that had been stripped of all its covers the moment Nick had entered the room.
"I've never been here before," said Nick simply. And, somehow, that did explain everything. He reached down for his crotch and adjusted himself indelicately before stretching out on the mattress again. He hands grasped at the empty air as his arms stretched, reaching to hold the ends of the earth.
AJ shut the door with a loud click, deadbolting it. "Mike's outside," he said. His voice sounded like there was fine sandpaper in his throat, roughening the edges of the words before they came out. "Tell him if you're going to take off again."
"Why?" asked Nick. "It's not as if I could ever disappear. Ever get lost. Ever be alone. Not even now, in a fleabag motel on the edge of nowhere." He opened his eyelids, but his eyes were rolled back in his head and only the whites showed.
"Because if it's all the same to you," said AJ, digging his cigarettes out of his jacket, "I'd rather not have you found by some starfucker who can't keep her mouth shut. You're too fucking easy to follow." He lit the cigarette. Nick rolled his eyes down and stared at the bright blue lighter, then at the yellow-orange flame, for a long, long time.
"Why not? It's just a fuck. It passes the time," he said finally, tearing his eyes away as the flame vanished. "She wouldn't learn anything about me that hadn't been spouted to the press a hundred times. She wouldn't bother to try."
"Would you want her to?" asked AJ, smoke drifting out of his mouth and toward the ceiling. He tilted his head back and blew it upwards and it was like a mushroom cloud over his head.
"No," said Nick, slipping a hand under his shirt and touching his stomach, caressing the soft, pale hairs. "But someone ought to know me. Just ... someone. That I don't fuck everything that moves. That I don't snort coke backstage. That I don't puke up dinner." He ran his tongue over his teeth as though he could catch those words, taste them, consume them and make them go away.
"I know you," said AJ, lifting the cigarette to his lip. The harsh light from the bare bulb glinted off his black fingernails. "You don't think I do, but you're wrong. I get it, Nick. I believe you when you say you don't do that shit anymore. Because it's old. It's done. And you're looking for new shit to do, now."
"Why's it so fucking hard to be happy, anyway?" asked Nick. "Fuck happy. I'd settle for numb. Why's it so fucking hard to stay numb?"
"Because you're alive," said AJ, taking another long drag. "And as long as you're alive, you're going to feel shit. And the best you can do is try and control some of the shit you feel."
"I don't control any of the shit I feel," said Nick, dipping a finger into his navel. "I'd like to. I like the sound of that. Control." Control, with clothes and contracts and looks and words and whips and handcuffs.
AJ stubbed his cigarette out on the scarred wood of the bedside table. The tiny sparks danced up into the air and then winked away. "You're touching yourself," he commented dryly, sitting on the edge of the mattress. It groaned and squeaked and tilted.
"Yeah," said Nick, rubbing and grabbing at himself through the white cotton until a small wet spot began to form at the front, at the peak of the bulge. His voice felt thick now, as though his throat was swelling and not his cock. "You mind?"
AJ shrugged, but Nick wasn't watching. His eyes were on his hand, fascinated by its motions and the way they matched the sparks in his groin and his brain. "Not if you don't," he said.
"You've never watched," he said, squeezing himself. He breathed in the smoky smell of AJ, sucked the tiny bits of ash into his lungs. Suddenly the fabric felt coarse against his skin, and he scrambled out of his underwear like they were burning him, tossing them across the room where the caught on the corner of the vanity like an ornament.
His cock was free now, stretching straight up toward his stomach, but the head was hidden by the edge of his T-shirt. That intrigued him. Underneath his shirt, suddenly his own body was a mystery again ... something it hadn't been in a very long time.
"He's hiding," he said delightedly, still staring and pointing at his crotch.
"I'm not looking," lied AJ blandly.
"He's anything but."
"Yeah," admitted Nick, staring down at the intricate folds of his T-shirt, wondering what might be hidden in them. "You're right. He's seen it all. Seen the inside of a thousand women, hands, mouths, pussies ... "
"I'm underestimating," he sighed, as memories of a thousand -- more -- bodies consumed him, but he couldn't call up a single face clearly. Remembered moans of passion -- his, theirs, real and faked -- filled his ears. He rubbed the heel of his hand against his cock and moaned, but not entirely in pleasure.
AJ sighed. "I know what you mean," he admitted, almost reluctantly, trying not to encourage him. "Well, go on then, get it over with."
"No," said Nick, stopping as soon as AJ's voice hit him. "I've done this before." His hand trailed up his chest, fingers like the legs of a spider creeping up his shirt. "Do you think I need a gun?"
"No," said AJ, lighting another cigarette with practiced ease. Nick closed his eyes against the now-menacing flame. "You don't. That's what we have bodyguards for. Besides, you'd probably end up shooting yourself in the nuts with it."
"I wouldn't," said Nick, his body shooting up to a right angle. "I would never shoot anything important." He rolled his eyes at AJ and watched the room spin. "Shooting always seemed so ... sexual, don't you think?" He watched the bullet in his mind propel itself slowly from the long, thick, solid gun, but stopped the image before impact.
"Shooting isn't sexual," protested AJ, flicking ash onto the floor, staring at Nick's body as it slowly slid down onto the bed again, writhing against the sheets. "Sex is sexual. You don't need a gun."
"But I've never shot a gun," said Nick with a sigh, reaching down to fondle his balls again, feeling their heat and weight in his hand, only vaguely aware of having an audience. "It would be new."
"Jerk off with your other hand, then. That'd be new."
"I could jerk off with a watermelon and it wouldn't be new," murmured Nick as he watched the lines of black seeds suddenly appear and dance past his eyes, out the open window. "I wonder what it would feel like to come and shoot a gun at the same time ... "
"Christ," muttered AJ, shaking his head. "If I make you feel something new, will you give up on the damn gun?"
"My dick's just a different kinda gun," giggled Nick, touching it with his fingertips.
AJ groaned and stabbed another cigarette onto the table. "Lie back," he said, pushing lightly on Nick's chest as he walked past him and into the bathroom. "And stay there," he called out through the open door.
Nick stayed put, pulling his knees up and planting his feet flat against the bed. Tension coiled in his body; he could spring up at any moment, spring off the bed and onto the floor and out that window. He closed his eyes and watched cats spring out from his body on the backs of his eyelids.
AJ returned and rested both palms on the insides of Nick's bare thighs, suddenly, kneeling on the bed between them. His hands were cold, and Nick was hot. "Lift up," he said, his voice hoarse from the smoke which crawled down his throat and clung to his vocal cords.
Nick lifted, pushing against the soles of his feet, and something nudged at the small of his back, supporting him, lifting his hips to the sky. He couldn't disobey AJ, he never could, AJ's word was law. AJ was law. AJ knew shit.
"Touch yourself," said AJ and Nick laughed because he was. He was touching himself and AJ was touching him and a half dozen pairs of hands caressed at him for a moment as he gripped his dick and held it. Held it like he thought he would hold a gun, maybe, if he had a gun that was this soft and this warm and this rigid.
And then something was touching him there, there where he hadn't let anyone go before and his eyes shot open and focused on the top of AJ's head. He thought 'no' and said "What?" and gripped himself even tighter. The something was moist and cool and slipped over his skin again and again.
It was slick as it slid into him, stretching him open in strange ways and he wasn't sure whether to squirm or fight it or cry out or take it in further. And then it twisted and curled and his dick got bigger in his hand.
"Shit," he said, stroking himself unashamedly now. This was new and different and strange and hot and ... hot. "Do you know what the fuck you're doing? You know what the fuck you're doing. How do you know what the fuck you're doing?"
"Maybe I'm feeling like somebody ought to know me, too," said AJ, and that was the only explanation he gave. "Close your eyes."
And so Nick did, he had to. AJ was law. And he was still law as he thrust his fingers in and out and bit the soft skin on the inside of Nick's thigh and clutched his waist with his other hand and murmured soft, hot things under his breath as he licked him.
And it was then Nick knew with a brief flash of clarity that whatever he needed, whenever he needed it, he didn't have to leave home to find it. And an accompanying flash reminded him that he'd learned that before, and that he'd forget it again by morning.
Nick choked as he came, he energy spurting out of him as he arched his back and thrust his hips and flew away. He hovered at the open window and watched the cats and the watermelon seeds and the smoke frolic in the wide night air, then went rushing back to the bed.
He opened his eyes as AJ pulled out of him and stood up.
"Where are you going?" he asked in a lost voice, his legs slowly slipping down the bed with no one there to hold them in place.
AJ paused to look at him, bemused, snorting. "I just had my hand in your ass, Carter. I'm going to wash." He turned away again, finished his trip into the bathroom and closed the door with a sound that seemed to echo for a long, long time. As though without him there, the room was hollow. Empty.
Nick closed this eyes and spread himself across the bed, ignoring the gnarled blanket beneath him, the clammy sheets soaked with sweat. He listened to the sound of the door ringing in his ears until it, and everything else, vanished.