Nine days out of ten, when Joey has some free time, he wants to go out and find a party, find people to be around, find a good time. On that tenth day, though, on that tenth day he just wants that time to himself. Like cleansing the palate, it clears his head of the echoes of babies crying and ex-girlfriends shouting and music blasting and people screaming his name.
His friend Kenny has a place on the coast. Well, friend, ex-boyfriend, it's the same thing after a few years, if you're lucky. So when Joey decides that it's high time for that tenth day, he kisses his daughter good-bye and leaves his ex-girlfriend a terse note and heads east.
The beach near Kenny's house is shallow, almost vanishing at high tide, but Joey isn't there to sun himself on the sand. He drops his things in Kenny's guest room and leaves a note letting Kenny know that he's invited himself over, and heads out for the shore.
The sun is just starting to go down and the sky is an amazing red-peach-pink-grey roiling mass of colour at the horizon, light passing through clouds and reflecting off the water.
Joey takes his shoes off and walks barefoot through the wet sand, grateful that the beach is all but deserted, making his way to the crumbling stone seawall. Meant to protect something long since gone, it just stands there, waiting to be swallowed back by the sea.
It's only when Joey is almost there that he notices that someone is sitting on top of it, staring out at the ocean. It's such a peaceful pose that Joey doesn't want to disturb him, and almost turns back. But the lure is too great and he creeps up to the edge of the wall, leans against it and watches the waves come in. They whoosh against the sandy shore, over and over again.
The sun is almost gone before he decides to leave, everything casting long shadows on the sand. He looks up at the seawall again and his silent companion is still there, has hardly moved.
This time, though, despite the low light, Joey has a new angle and can see his face. Recognises Nick Carter despite the fisherman's cap on his head and the glasses on his face. He's always kind of known, in the back of his head, that Carter has a place around here somewhere but he's never known quite where. Now he does.
Joey still says nothing, just watches him for a few moments as the light gets lower and lower, then turns back and retraces his footsteps on the sand until he finds his shoes again. Maybe this is Nick's tenth day, too.
* * *
Kenny's a great host, really, and isn't fazed a bit when Joey gets back to the house. In fact, he's already set the table for two and they have a quiet night together, catching up on old times and each other and everything.
He works the next day so Joey has run of the house, but all he does with the privilege is wander around in his underwear and watch TV. He goes to the beach for a little while, but it's too hot and he's sweating and the sun is glaring in the sky. He'd much rather lounge in the cool rooms of Kenny's house than bake in the sun for too long.
Kenny is back by dark, geared up for the weekend and hell bent on taking Joey for the ride. "Well, I'm going out tonight," he says, stopping to look at his reflection in the microwave door and fixing his hair. His hairline is beginning to recede, but Joey doesn't comment. He isn't really one to talk. "You're welcome to keep lounging around here if you want, but you should come. You'd have fun."
"Have fun watching you preen for that geeky redhead you can't stop talking about?" says Joey. "I don't know about that..."
"Like you won't have enough attention of your own after all of five minutes," says Kenny. "You'll forget you even came with me. So, you in?"
"Sure, why not," says Joey, and really, it's already pretty much a foregone conclusion that he'll go. He's had his night of peace and quiet, and he's ready for people again.
The club is Kenny's favourite, the only gay bar in the area that's not all techno and sweaty bodies and short shorts. There are still sweaty bodies and short shorts, but there's also a live rock band playing and Joey thinks it might be his new favourite club, too.
Kenny candidly tells him that he slept with the lead singer of the band a month ago, and while he was pretty good in bed he's not exactly well endowed. Joey smirks, but he's not really looking at the lead singer -- he's looking at the drummer. Not that the lead singer isn't talented, isn't charismatic, isn't hot. But the drummer is Nick Carter.
"Hey, is that...?" he starts, pointing at the stage.
"What, Colin? You know him or something? You should've said--"
"No," says Joey, shaking his head. "Not him, the drummer. Is that--?"
"Oh!" says Kenny, understanding dawning. "Oh, right, of course you know him. Yeah... he plays here sometimes. Never makes any big deal about it, just drums for Colin all quiet-like."
Joey never imagined he would see Nick playing in a bar band, let alone in a gay bar, but there he is. Ball cap and glasses this time, but still unmistakably Nick, and he's in the zone, just drumming and pretty much unaware of anything but the music. Joey doesn't think he's ever seen him this unselfconscious before.
"Well I'll be damned," he whispers as he watches Nick. He couldn't care less about Clyde or Colin or whatever Kenny said his name is.
"No one hassles him," Kenny goes on. "They just let him do his thing. He's good, you know? And there's nothing we appreciate like good music. Except maybe a good manicure and a good haircut and abs of steel."
Joey pokes Kenny's slightly soft belly and grins at him when he tries to bat him away. "You know I always liked you just the way you are," he says, and goes back to watching the stage again.
He waits until the band has finished their last set, has started packing up their equipment. It's not that Nick looks unapproachable -- in fact, he's been friendly to everyone who he's spoken to, as far as Joey can tell -- but Joey feels like he wants some privacy. Doesn't want the meeting to be just a 'hi, nice job, bye' kind of thing.
The DJ starts up some canned music and the dance floor is full and Joey leaves Kenny at their table, trotting up the stairs onto the stage. Nick doesn't even look surprised to see him there, just gives him a smile and lets someone else take over packing up for him.
"I saw you yesterday, on the beach," Nick says.
Joey blinks in surprise, then just smiles back. "I saw you too," he says, but he thinks that maybe Nick already knows that. "You looked like you wanted to be alone."
"I did, thank you," says Nick, and that's all he say about it. "That your boyfriend?" He's nodding in Kenny's direction and Joey just shakes his head.
"Used to be," he says, all casual about since Nick is here too, and he seems cool. "Long time ago. Before Kelly."
"Ah," says Nick like he understands, which he can't completely, but that's okay. He doesn't need to. "Let me buy you a drink, then?"
Joey can't tell if it's flirtation or not, but his throat feels dry and his voice feels cautious and yeah, he can use that drink. "I can wait until you're done," he said, gesturing at the stage, but Nick shakes his head.
"It's taken care of," he said, and leads Joey through the crowds, back to the bar. Joey gives Kenny a little wave, but his much-talked-about redhead is sitting with him now and Joey doesn't think Kenny will mind at all if they go their separate ways for the evening.
Nick makes good on the drink and they sit down in a corner, table covered in empties but deserted by its occupants who either left or abandoned it for the dance floor. Someone will be around to collect the empties soon, but Joey doesn't really mind anyway.
"Do you love it?" he asks before his brain can censor the question. He doesn't have to nod at the stage for Nick to know what he's talking about.
And Joey thinks it really is too bad that he can't just do it forever. "I'm glad I got to see you," he says instead of that. "You really looked like you love it."
"As much as anything," says Nick, and drains his drink and gives Joey a slow smile. "So any chance you'd like to come home with me tonight?"
* * *
Nick's place is a lot softer than Joey's imagined it would be. It's big windows and pale colours and a view of the ocean from almost any room in the house. Like Nick needs all this tranquillity around him to keep himself from getting too hard.
"You want anything, before we go upstairs?" asks Nick, leading him toward the kitchen. "I have some liquor, top shelf where AJ can't see."
"No, I'm good," said Joey, staring out the window at the moon glinting off the ocean. "I've had enough. This is beautiful."
"This is home," says Nick, and watches with him for a moment.
"If I had a home like this, I'd never want to leave."
"I don't," says Nick, and he takes Joey's arm and turns him so they're facing and he kisses him. Joey came here on a whim, really, but Nick's lips are dry and soft and feel wonderful and he realises how much he wants this. Just something simple and uncomplicated and sweet.
"I thought you were on tour," says Joey as Nick leads him upstairs. "Off seeing the world again."
"Just taking a few days to clear my head," Nick tells him. "It's good for me. Keeps me from crashing and burning. You always need some time off, even if you're doing something you love. You know, to do the other stuff you love."
Nick's room is huge and the view is amazing. Joey stares out the window again for a moment until he feels Nick's arms come around him, slip up under his shirt, feels Nick's chin rest on his shoulder.
"I don't pick up much," he says, his voice soft in Joey's ear. "Almost never. I want you to know that."
"It's not important," Joey assures him.
"It is to me."
Nick leaves the curtains open and beams of moonlight fall into the room around them, reflecting off their bodies. He's slow and gentle when he strips them, and harder when he gets them into bed, and Joey likes both sides of him.
It goes on for hours, feels like, and by the end Joey isn't even worried about coming again, he just wants to feel the slide of Nick's body against his and know that they both want the same thing out of this, the same pleasure. That there are no hidden agendas.
It's something both of them get all too seldom.
* * *
Joey wakes up with his face smushed into a soft pillow and a warm body beside him. The pillowcase is a dingy white, not -- what was it Kenny called it? -- eggplant, so he knows he's gone home with someone else. And he didn't get drunk, so it should only take him a moment to remember.
Carter. Fucking sweet, sexy Carter. Joey rolls over and looks at Nick's sleeping body, all curled up with a pillow wrapped in his arms. He looks so young when he's sleeping, but everyone looks younger when they're sleeping. More innocent.
This is one situation Joey doesn't feel the need to sneak out of, so he just watches for a few minutes until Nick senses that someone is awake beside him and starts coming back to consciousness himself.
"Hey," he says, squinting at Joey before reaching behind him for his glasses. "Hey, good morning."
"It's a great morning," Joey agrees with him, tugging at the covers a little, then grinning and just leaning in for a kiss before things can get awkward. "Late, though. The sun's hot." It has, in fact, crept high enough to lay a bright beam of light across the bed, making the covers too warm.
"Going out on the boat this afternoon," Nick says, pushing his glasses up to rub his eyes, then yawning. "Perfect day for it, I think. You wanna come?"
"I'd love to," says Joey, squinting at the clock on the other side of the bed. "But I gotta... you know, back home. Back home to the rugrat and her mother."
"Another time then?" asks Nick.
"Absolutely," says Joey, kissing him again and laying his hand on Nick's cheek before finally getting out of the bed. "Next time I'm in town, you know?"
"If I'm here."
"Right, if you're here," says Joey. "Or the next time. Or the next." And he turns around to find his clothes.