This story is a work of fiction and is not intended to imply anything about the sexuality of any actual person or persons.This story should only be read by those of legal age who do not have anobjection to homosexual relations between consenting adults. My apologies for taking so long to get this chapter out. I've been very busy the past few months but I hope to get back to more frequent releases. Once again, I am grateful to those of you who have expressed your encouragement to me. Special thanks go to Luckylou and R C for their patience and assistance to me in this effort. Please direct any commentary to

Bring Your Own BSB

By Cory J

Part 10

Kevin Richardson leaned back on the large couch in Nick's living room and stretched. He mentally chided himself for staying up so late. The group was on what amounted to a vacation, it was true, but staying up late was a hard habit to break. It was going to be harder to get back on track for the tour.

Looking around the large room, Kevin permitted himself a small smile at the sight of the guys around the room. Only he and Howie were still awake. AJ was sprawled in an old chair, his feet perched on the edge of the coffee table. Nick and Brian were asleep in each others arms at the other end of the couch.

Kevin remembered that there was a time when he wasn't very comfortable with the idea of them as a couple. He never did have anything particular against gay people, but it had been something of a shock to learn that not one but two of the group were gay. The part of him that always thought of business had been very quick to realize how much damage that information could have done to the group if it had ever gotten out.

They had all worked so hard to build something together. The early years had been a struggle, especially considering how badly they had been taken advantage of by their previous manager. Kevin knew that all of the guys still felt the same anger as he over that whole business--getting paid next to nothing while they brought in millions in revenues. That wouldn't happen again, though, he'd seen to that.

At any rate, when Nick and Brian had come to him the first time and told him, he had been touched by their trust in him. He could only imagine how difficult it had been to talk about it. They had been terrified that he and the rest of the guys wouldn't accept them. Though Kevin had some doubts at the time, he cared about Nick and Brian too much to turn his back on them. It had been a joy to him to watch the two move from boyish puppy love to adults fully committed to one another. Kevin turned toward the chair next to him as Howie spoke.

"So, that guy Alex is going to come back, huh?" Howie's eyes were intense for a moment.

"Yeah, that's what Nick said." Kevin paused and looked at Howie thoughtfully for a moment. "That's not a problem, is it, D?"

Howie put up his hands briefly. "No, not a problem. He's ok I guess. Besides, it's Nick's place. If Nick wants him here that's good enough for me." He stood and stretched. "I'm going to hit the sack, I'm beat."

"Sounds like a plan, do me a favor and get AJ up before you go."

"What about the lovebirds?" Howie said with a chuckle.

"I'll wake them up before I turn in, it's cool." Kevin was pleased at the genuine fondness in Howie's voice. He had been the hardest sell when the couple had come out to the group. Fortunately, the group had developed more or less into family, and Howie seemed ok with it these days. He laughed along with Howie as AJ woke up with a lurch while being shaken. AJ had gotten adjusted to the whole gay thing more easily than any of the rest of them. Kevin had envied his friend's seemingly unshakeable calm more than once. He used to joke that you'd have to set AJ on fire to get him upset.

Howie and AJ muttered a goodnight and headed up the nearby stairs. Kevin stood up and walked around the living room for a few minutes. It was a nice place, and one that was very important to Nick and Brian. They had both sunk nearly every penny they had at the time in putting it together. It was a relief for all of them that things were looking up. Kevin wanted to be successful himself, of course. More than that though, he wanted it for the guys. They'd all worked so hard, stuck together even though it had meant passing up individual opportunities. They trusted him a lot of the time to keep an eye on the bottom line. That meant a lot. The guys were as close to him as his own brothers. Maybe more so, in some ways. They deserved to reap some rewards out of all of that hard work. Fame was a fine thing, but Kevin wanted his friends to be secure against the day that he feared - the day that their fame faded away. He was working on maturing the group's sound and image in the hopes of keeping an audience when they weren't fresh-faced kids anymore. In addition to rivals such as N'Sync, other groups like 98 Degrees had been popping up more and more. There were a seemingly endless number of fresh faces appearing. Talent was what made performers endure, not looks or flash. Fortunately, the guys had talent, lots of it. He worked them hard sometimes, but Kevin would put BSB up against any group on the basis of talent, without fear.

Looking around the room, Kevin's eyes settled on Brian's cell phone where it lay on the coffee table. Just a few hours earlier, Alex had called to say that his business in L.A. was finished and that he would be back the next morning to take them up on the offer to come hang out for a while. Kevin had viewed the matter with mixed feelings at the time. Alex was quite a guy, it seemed. Kevin admired the discipline that had gone into Alex's body, based on his own experiences. Even more than that, Kevin respected Alex as a singer. The guy had seemed a bit embarrassed about having the guys hear his music, but he was definitely a strong talent. The only down side seemed to be that this was a very special, very personal time for the guys. They so rarely got to be together without being on tour or in the middle of an appearance. It was clear that Alex was already a friend to Nick and Brian, but he was still an outsider. It didn't really bother him, and nothing seemed to bother AJ, but he had been a bit worried about Howie. He had seemed annoyed by Alex the last time, and Howie was very stubborn most of the time. However, Kevin had seen Howie's expression when he had spoken on the phone with Alex before, and just now Howie had looked rather strange for a moment. It was almost like Howie was looking forward to Alex being here.

Kevin sighed. Maybe things would be ok. Though he was the group's loner some times, Howie had shown over the years that he cared about the rest of the guys as much as anyone. Kevin knew that he wouldn't want to spoil the vacation for anyone else. At least, Kevin thought, they wouldn't have to worry about Alex turning out to be a hanger-on of some kind. The guy already had more money than any sane person could ever spend. Almost certainly more money than Kevin himself or any of the guys would ever see.

There was the whole gay thing, of course. Kevin had long known, as had all the guys, that BSB had a solid gay following. Some of those posters, t-shirts and so on weren't in the possession of teenage girls. Kevin had sometimes wondered just how many walls he and the other guys were up on. Surely Nick and Brian were the biggest targets of lust in the group, but it was clear that all of them were getting plenty of attention from the fans, female and male alike. Kevin didn't have a problem with that - fans were fans. He regretted that the image they needed to maintain kept BSB from being more in touch with their gay fans. Certainly knowing about Brian and Nick would strengthen ties, there had been rampant speculation on the internet and elsewhere about the sexuality of the group. Maybe someday they would be able to be more open about it - but that would not be for awhile yet.

Kevin stretched again. Iit was time to get to bed. He walked over to the couch where Nick and Brian were dozing together and shook Brian's shoulder lightly. It took a few shakes before he awoke with a grumble.

"Kev? Hey what's up?" Brian said.

"Time to go to bed, cuz."

Brian yawned and stretching, glancing at his watch. "Geez, you're right, its late." He turned to Nick, who was still soundly asleep and snoring slightly. Smiling, he reached out and smoothed Nick's hair back from his face. "I don't think we are going to get him awake any time soon."

"Are you going to need a hand with him?" Kevin asked.

Brian looked Nick over slowly. "Nah, I think I can manage." He scooped Nick up and carefully put him over a shoulder. "I'll take him upstairs and put him to bed. G'night, cuz." He turned and started across the room toward the stairs, then paused and turned again. "Kev, it is ok for Alex to stay here a while isn't it?" Brian looked a bit concerned.

"Sure thing, Brian, I think everyone is cool with it. Alex seems like a great guy."

Brian smiled with apparent relief. "He is, Kev, he really is. He's something special. Well, let me get this one upstairs before I drop him. He's not a skinny kid anymore." He turned again and headed slowly up the stairs. After a few minutes, Kevin followed him up and went to his own room.

Brian managed somehow to get Nick up to the bedroom that they shared without banging his head too many times on the wall or door. He was as always amazed at Nick's ability to sleep through just about anything. Brian remembered vividly one time on tour when Nick had fallen out of his top-level bunk on the bus. Horrified at first that he had been injured, Brian and AJ had laughed themselves silly when they realized that he was actually just asleep. He hadn't even awakened when they chucked him back onto his bunk. They had gotten a lot of mileage out of that incident.

Setting Nick down on the bed, Brian managed with some difficulty to remove his snoring lover's clothes and ease him under the cool sheets. "That's right girls, see what a fun date Mr. Carter is?" Slipping a soft pillow under Nick's head, Brian leaned back next to him and watched his smooth chest rise and fall slowly under the covers. After a few minutes, Brian got up and stripped his own clothes off. Slipping under the covers, he cuddled up against Nick's deliciously warm body. Even in his sleep, Nick sighed as Brian pressed against him. Less than a minute later, Brian was also deeply asleep.


AJ was rudely awakened by his alarm clock the next morning. He silenced it with the customary fumbling for the switch and subsequently managed to knock it off the nightstand entirely. Sitting up wearily, he forced himself to get out of bed, slip into his robe and head for the bathroom. He hated getting up early but he was trying to get back into the habit so that the upcoming tour wouldn't be such a pain. Besides, getting up early was his best shot at getting some bathroom time without being rushed. There were three bathrooms in the house, but it had still been kind of crowded sometimes, especially when everyone was scrambling to get ready all at once. He treated himself to the long hot shower that he liked best and was pleased that there wasn't so much as a single thump on the door. No doubt the other guys wouldn't be up for a while.

After showering and carefully shaving, AJ went back into his room and got dressed. Not long after, he was downstairs in the kitchen getting breakfast started. It had become a tradition that, when the group was together, the first person up would start breakfast for everyone. Supposedly he would get help from the other guys as they came down. The reality was that AJ and Kevin did the majority of the work. They were both up earlier than the rest of the bunch most of the time. AJ grumbled about it sometimes, but the reality was that he sort of enjoyed cooking. It was also fun when he got to go and wake the others up if they slept in too late. In the old days, this meant bursting in and making a lot of noise.

Once Nick and Brian had become a couple, though, everyone had learned to knock before entering. Most of the time they locked the door, but all of the guys had at one point or another gone in without thinking and gotten an eyeful. AJ didn't have a problem with the guys being gay, but he didn't want to see them going at it just the same. Fortunately for the group, the two had matured in recent years and weren't nearly as likely to do much frolicking out in the open as when they were younger.

AJ moved around the kitchen, getting dishes and food together. After a brief search for a skillet, he opened the dishwasher and retrieved it. AJ mentally gave Howie a whack - the guy never could seem to unload the dishwasher. Oh well, at least this time the dishes were actually clean. By the time Kevin came down the stairs, the smells of breakfast were already filling the kitchen. They talked quietly for a while about the upcoming tour and all the arrangements that had been made. A short while later, Howie joined them.

"Hey guys, what's up?" Howie said.

"Not much, D, just going over the tour again." Kevin said.

Howie made a face. "C'mon, Kev, we are supposed to be taking a break, right?"

"I know, I know. This tour is a big one, though, and I don't want us to go off unprepared for it."

"Relax, Kev, we'll do fine." AJ said.

"Yeah, its always a pain in the ass to get going, but we always pull together when we need to." Howie said.

"Alright, I get the message. It's not like we haven't toured before. You know me, I'm a worrier." Kevin said.

AJ cast a look toward the stairs. "Should we go wake them?"

Howie shook his head, grinning. "I think that they are already up, so to speak. I saw Brian coming out of the shower when I came down."

His grin was infectious, and quickly spread around the table.

"I guess we should let them have some quality time." AJ said.

"Yeah, what with Nick heading out to meet his family today." Kevin said. "Brian is going to be moping around the place, I'll bet."

"Why doesn't he just go with Nick?" Howie said. "Afraid that they'll get busted by his folks?"

"Something like that." Kevin said. "To tell the truth, though, I think Nick just wants to spend some time alone with them."

"I can understand that." AJ said. "He doesn't get to see his folks much, and Aaron hardly ever anymore. Did I hear him say that he was bringing Aaron back for a while?"

"Yeah, that's what he said." Kevin said.

"Good, it will be cool to have the little guy around again for a while." Howie said.

AJ and Kevin looked at Howie in mild surprise.

"I know, I know. I used to get annoyed because he seemed like he was underfoot a lot of the time, but the little guy kind of grows on you. Besides, it will be good for Nick to have him around."

"That's true. I'm glad your ok with Aaron, D, I know how much of a handful he can be." Kevin said.

"Nah, just put him in front of a TV and he'll be fine." AJ said with a laugh.

"Is Alex going to stay in the house too?" Howie said.

"I don't know, I guess we need to sort that out." Kevin said. "I'm guessing that Aaron will stay in Brian's room once he gets here. That will just leave the couch if Alex is still here."

"I'm sure he'll want to stay and see Nick. Maybe he will just get a hotel room." AJ said. "The guy is loaded, right?"

"Oh, yeah, Brian said he has money to burn.." Kevin said.

"Geez, must be nice to have all that dough." Howie said.

"No doubt. At least we don't have to worry about him wanting money out of us." AJ said.

"Or fame. Apparently he turned down most of the publicity that the Olympic wins could have given him." Howie said.

"Yeah, it's nice to meet someone that we don't have to wonder about." Kevin said.

"I don't know if I would say that." Howie said.

"What do you mean, D?" Kevin said.

AJ didn't say anything, but looked at Howie with a slight frown.

"Well, it sounds to me like this guy can have whatever he wants. So why is he coming all the way out here just to hang out?" Howie said.

"Hey, man, maybe he just wants to relax and make some friends? Is that such a reach?" AJ said.

Kevin was slightly surprised - there were audible traces of irritation in AJ's voice and his frown had deepened. Howie picked up on it immediately as well, getting slightly pale and raising his hands defensively.

"Hey, I'm sorry. I didn't mean that the way it came out. Of course its cool if that's what he wants." Howie looked down at his plate for a moment. "I guess I'm just a little suspicious of new people. Can you really blame me, after all the crap we've gone through over the years?"

AJ frowned at him for a moment longer, then relaxed and sighed. "No, I guess I can't. I'm just saying that we should give Alex a chance. He seemed like a cool guy and Nick and Brian both swear by him as a friend. I don't know about you, but I haven't made that many real friends since this whole thing took off. I just don't want him to get a hard time out of us, ok?"

"I hear you. Believe me, I'm not going to give him a hard time." Howie said. "I haven't made that many friends myself."

"I don't think any of us have, D." Kevin said. "That's part of the deal, I guess." He looked at his watch. "It's getting on, do you think we should go get them?"

They all looked upward at the ceiling for a moment

"Hmm, maybe not." Kevin said, after a few seconds of silence.


Upstairs in the room they shared, Nick and Brian lay next to one another on the large soft bed. Nick let his eyes roam lovingly over Brian. Fresh from the shower, Brian had discarded his robe and lay with his eyes closed. Nick watched the rise and fall of his smooth chest, faint wisps of steam rising as he slowly dried in the cool morning air.

"My god, you are so beautiful." Nick whispered. He almost gasped when Brian's hand clasped his own. The contact sent a flush of heat through his body.

Brian opened his eyes, a shock of blue against the white sheets, and smiled.

"If I'm so damn beautiful, why are you leaving me today?" He teased.

Nick pulled Brian close, his hands slipping slowly up and down Brian's naked body as he nuzzled Brian's neck. Brian sighed and slipped his arms around to caress Nick's back.

"How am I going to make it even a day without you?" Nick groaned. "You do understand, don't you?"

"Of course I do, Nicky." Brian replied. He held Nick to him. "I know how important it is that you spend some time with your family. I would never stand in the way of that."

"Maybe you could come with me, we'd be ok, wouldn't we?" Nick had pulled back and there was such a look of pleading in his eyes that Brian was tempted for a moment to take the chance.

Shaking his head slowly, Brian slipped a hand down Nick's front, very quickly encountering his erection. Nick gasped as Brian's fingers curled around him in a certain way.

"You see?" Brian said. "I don't think it would be safe to try it. Not until we are ready to tell them."

Nick sighed in defeat. "You're right. It would be too hard to resist temptation." He looked down at Brian's own pulsing organ, and then looked back up into his smiling face.

"Of course, you didn't think that I was any more in control, did you?" Brian said.

Nick grinned and slipped his own hand down to gently fondle Brian. Looking into each others eyes, they brought one another to intense climaxes in very short order. After a few minutes, Brian got up and returned with a damp cloth and began to wipe them both clean. Then he pulled Nick close again.

"I guess you're right." Nick said. "It would be too risky."

"Yes. Besides, it will be good for you to spend to personal time with your family. I'll still be here when you get back tomorrow, believe me." Brian said.

"Well, you'd better be, because I love you." Nick said.

"You do? You mean it isn't just the great sex?" Brian said. He kept a straight face, but there was a delighted sparkle in his eyes.

"Hmm, well, the sex is really great, its true." Nick said. He appeared to consider the thought, and Brian jabbed him in the stomach with an elbow, causing him to gasp and then start laughing.

"You'd better come up with the right answer pronto, blondie, or I'll kick your butt out of this bed." Brian said, fighting with his own laughter.

"Ok, ok. I love you ok? I love you a whole lot." Nick said, twitching as Brian began to tickle him.

Brian stopped tickling and pulled Nick tightly to him. "Hurry back, Nicky, I can't do without you for very long." He whispered.

"It's just a day, baby, just a day." Nick said.

They just held each other in silence for several minutes. Then, they got dressed and headed downstairs to see about getting some breakfast.


The rest of the guys looked up as Brian and Nick trudged down the stairs. They had since finished their own breakfasts but were still at the table. They all exchanged a 'good morning' and Brian and Nick joined them at the large table.

"You guys are up kind of late." AJ said.

"Not to worry, I am packed and ready to go. There's plenty of time to get to the airport yet." Nick said.

"Brian, are you going to drive him in?" Kevin said.

"Yeah. Alex's plane should be getting here less than an hour after Nick's leaves." Brian said.

"You're right. No sense in making two trips." Howie grinned for a moment. "Now, you guys aren't going to have a tearful parting scene at the airport, are you?"

The guys all laughed lightly at that.

"Nah, don't worry." Brian said. "It will be good to have the bed all to myself - blondie here always hogs the sheets."

"Yeah, well at least I'm not the one with cold feet." Nick said. "Those things can freeze a guy's butt right off."

"Nick, please, I really don't want to here any more about your ass." AJ said. He was looking down into his coffee with a straight face.

There was total silence at the table for a few seconds, and then AJ looked up and winked. Nick turned an astonishing shade of red as the other guys collapsed into laughter.

"So, Nick's ass notwithstanding, when do you need to get going?" Kevin said.

"Fairly soon, but like he said, Nick's all packed and ready." Brian said. "Thanks to me, of course."

Brian ducked as Nick lunged playfully for him.

"We were talking before about Alex's arrival." Howie said.

"What about it?" Brian said.

"Just wondering if he was going to stay here or get a hotel." AJ said, with a firm but brief glance at Howie.

"Well, those three bags arrived here for him this morning, so I'd guess he plans to stay here." Kevin said.

"Yeah, those are clothes, I bet." Brian said. "Kevin, you are going to love this when you see it."

"Is that the clothing bags you mentioned before?" Kevin looked very interested. Brian and Nick nodded.

"Brian is right--you may have met your match for clothes, Kevin." Nick said. "I assumed Alex would be staying here. Of course, there's just Brian's bed and we'll have Aaron to consider too."

"I don't think it will be a problem." Brian said. "Remember, Alex has that weird sleep condition. He only sleeps about an hour a night. If he wants to stay here, we can set him up on the couch or he can share with Aaron. I'm sure neither of them would mind."

"Are you serious?" Howie said incredulously. "A guy that rich is going to be ok with sleeping on someone's couch?"

"Alex isn't what you might expect, Howie." Brian said.

"He didn't seem to be into his money, D." Kevin said.

"What's up with this sleep condition of his?" AJ said. "I've never heard of anything like it. It is like insomnia or something?"

"He didn't talk a whole lot about it, but I gather that it is a very rare condition." Brian said.

"That's right. He's apparently just like anyone else, except that he just sleeps an hour a night instead of six or eight like everyone else." Nick said.

Kevin rubbed his eyes a bit. "Well, that must come in handy sometimes. God knows I've wished for a few more hours in the day more than once."

"Yeah, Kev, that's exactly what you need. More of a chance to be a workaholic." AJ said.

"You got that right, AJ" Nick said. "Seriously, though, I think that Alex stays busy nearly all the time."

"Well, he's got a lot to do, I'm sure." Brian said. "All that stuff about getting ready to take over the company when he turns 21 in a few months. I mean, just look at him running off to L.A. like that to handle business."

"I bet he's looking forward to some down time." Kevin said. "That's probably why he's coming here, just to get away from work for awhile."

"Which is what WE are supposed to be doing, right Kev?" Howie said.

"Right, right. Geez, you guys are going to get spoiled and lazy on me. Just remember this when you are dragging ass on the tour." Kevin said. He tried to keep a stern expression, but broke into laughter after a few seconds.

Brian glanced at his watch. "Well, it's time - we should get going."

The guys said quick farewells, and Nick and Brian were out the door a few minutes later. Kevin headed upstairs to get cleaned up. After a minute, AJ got up and started clearing the table.

"Here, AJ, let me give you hand." Howie said.

"Thanks, Howie. I'll unload the dishwasher, go ahead and start scraping the dishes into the garbage." AJ replied.

Howie flushed slightly, remembering that he had forgotten to empty the dishwasher the previous night.

"Sorry about that, AJ" He said quietly.

"It's ok, D, nothing to get worked up about."

They spent the next few minutes working in silence. Howie wondered what was bothering AJ. He was hard for most people to read, but they had been friends for a long time, and Howie had learned to read AJ's signals pretty well.

"Something on your mind, AJ?"

AJ continued to work for a few more seconds, then looked over at him. "Is there going to be a problem with you and Alex, Howie?"

"No, of course not. What makes you say that?"

AJ glanced at the stairs for a moment, and stepped closer, lowering his voice. "You're attracted to him, aren't you?"

Howie started to protest, but AJ silenced him with a hard stare.

"No bullshit, Howie, this guy is a good friend to Nick and Brian. I don't want things getting messed up, ok?"

Howie gave AJ a glare of his own. "Look, I'm not going to mess anything up. Yeah, the guy's kind of good looking, if you like that type."

"That type, huh? You mean the blond, muscular, rich type, right?" AJ said.

Howie sighed. "Ok, ok. So the guy's got it going on. Look, I won't deny that I'm attracted to him, but I'm not out to mess anything up. Nick and Brian are my friends too, you know."

AJ sighed as well. "I know. I'm sorry, Howie. You're my friend and I trust you, ok?"

Howie squeezed AJ's shoulder lightly. "Thanks, AJ, that means a lot. Now, let's get this finished and get out of here before the day's gone."


Brian sat quietly in an airport lounge. He had managed to get Nick onto his plane without too much more drama. Sitting there, he felt rather empty, and more than a little silly. Nick was only going to be gone for one day, and here he sat, feeling like he'd lost an arm or something. He periodically watched the screens showing arriving flights. Alex's plane would be arriving soon, that would give him something to think about other than how much he missed Nick already. Brian went and looked around the small bookshop in the airport for a few more minutes, noticing that Alex's plane had apparently arrived after he returned. He went to the area outside the gate indicated and waited.

A few minutes later, Brian picked Alex out of the small crowd of people coming through the gate. Walking forward to meet him, Brian was shocked as he got closer and had a better look at Alex. His friend looked as though he hadn't slept for days, and he moved slowly and with obvious effort. He smiled wearily when he saw Brian and waved with is free hand as the two came together.

Brian tried to keep his concern from showing in his face and moved to hug Alex. He was surprised again when Alex flinched away from him and instead offered his hand to Brian. Brian slowly took the hand and shook it as they moved over to be seated again.

"So, how was your flight?" Brian said.

"Oh, it was fine, just fine." Alex said.

"Alex, are you ok?" Brian said. "You look really tired, was there a lot of work to do in L.A.?"

Alex smiled, sadly Brian thought. "Yeah, yeah, a lot of work. I haven't gotten much sleep lately, even for me." He said up in his seat and seemed to gather himself. "Don't worry about me. I'll be fine. Shall we go? I'm looking forward to seeing the guys again."

Brian stood up. "Yeah, we should probably go ahead, they'll be wondering where we are." He offered Alex a hand up, but his friend ignored it and struggled to his feet on his own.

The ride back to the house was quiet and increasingly tense. Brian was worried about Alex, but couldn't think of anything to say in order to get past the shell that Alex seemed to have formed around himself. The conversation was halting and there were frequent silences. Alex seemed to have some trouble staying focused. To make matters worse, the headset cell phone that Alex always carried with him rang repeatedly. Alex perked up each time he had to talk on the phone, in various languages, but sagged visibly when each call was over. Apart from the signs of his fatigue, he seemed physically ok. Brian felt guilty when he realized that he was deliberately glancing at Alex's bare arms and trying to tell if his friend had been drinking. There were no traces of booze on Alex's breath as far as Brian could tell, and no trace of needle marks on his arms. No, Brian wouldn't believe that his friend would ever abuse drugs or alcohol. Alex was just too level-headed and strong for that. No, the body sitting next to him was still in outstanding physical condition by the look of things. Perhaps it was just too much work, and not enough sleep. Brian resolved that Alex would have a chance to relax while he was here, if it was at all possible. He would have to speak to the guys about this. Maybe together they could help Alex recover.

"So, Nick's gone?" Alex said.

"Yes, he's visiting his family today, but he'll be back tomorrow with Aaron." Brian said.

Alex smiled slightly. "I'm looking forward to meeting Aaron. I bet you miss Nick already, don't you?"

Brian blushed a bit and nodded. "Yeah, it's always like this, even after all the time that we've been together. It's always hard to be apart, even for a little while."

Alex looked at him for a moment. "It's ok, he'll be back soon. What you guys have, it is so beautiful. I wish I could find someone like that." He turned away and looked out the window.

"I'm sure that you will, Alex." Brian said. "You've got a lot going for you."

"I hope so, I hope so." Alex said.

The rest of the trip to the house passed in silence. Alex had leaned his head against the window in a way that made Brian think that he might be dozing off a little. About that time, though, they arrived at the house and Alex sat back up. They went inside, finding Kevin in the living room. Kevin got up and came over to shake Alex's hand. Brian thought that he caught just a moment of Kevin reacting to Alex's exhausted appearance, and then he was all smiles as he greeted them.

"Hey, welcome back, guys." Kevin said. "How was your flight, Alex? You look a little beat."

"It was ok, Kevin. Yeah, I'm kind of tired. You know how busy things can get. Could I maybe use your shower, guys? That would be a big help." Alex said.

"Sure thing, Alex." Brian said. "There are two, but the one up stairs is better. Just on the right, you can't miss it. Oh, we are going to put you in my room for now. Well work out something else if we need to when Nick and Aaron get here. My room's to the right of the bathroom upstairs."

"Thanks. Oh, did the bags arrive?" Alex said. "I hope it's ok for me to have sent them on ahead - I'm sorry I didn't think to ask first."

"Hey, that's ok, Alex." Kevin said. "Actually, I'm looking forward to having a look, if you don't mind. Brian told us about it, it sounds really cool how that is set up."

Alex smiled, his fatigue fading for a moment. "Yeah, I've heard that you are the man for clothes in this bunch. Though Brian admitted that he likes the outfits."

Kevin laughed as Brian blushed slightly. "Hey, I didn't say that you could tell anyone about that."

"Hey, cuz, don't think I didn't know that already." Kevin said. "I've seen you preening in front of the mirror too many times. Yeah, Alex, this guy is a real peacock when he doesn't think anyone is watching."

Kevin resumed laughing and Alex joined in - Brian was becoming so red that it was impossible to keep a straight face. As they leaned closer to each other, Kevin slipped an arm around Alex's shoulders. It was a casual movement, but Alex flinched noticeably and pulled away. The room was silent for several awkward seconds.

"I'm sorry, Alex." Kevin said.

"No, no, I'm sorry. I'm just twitchy from work and stuff." Alex said hurriedly. "Listen, I'll go ahead a get that shower, ok? I'll be better after."

Brian quietly directed Alex to the clothing bags and he and Kevin watched as he headed up the stairs with one of them in hand. After they heard the bathroom door close, Kevin turned back to Brian.

"There's something wrong with him." Kevin said. "Something serious."

"Well, maybe it is just stress and fatigue. He's involved in so many things, what with his birthday coming up and all." Brian said, looking doubtful.

Kevin shook his head. "Nope. I know what stress is like, and so do you. We've seen it in ourselves and each other. You saw how he flinched away. He's afraid of something."

Brian swallowed, his throat suddenly dry. "He pulled away from me at the airport too. I've thought before that maybe he was uncomfortable touching me because Nick and I are together. He's attracted to me - to both of us."

Kevin looked at him closely for a moment. "There's something else, isn't there?"

Brian looked at floor for a moment. "Yes. Nick and I - we nearly slept with him."

Kevin nodded slowly. "What happened?"

"He stopped us. He knew that it would have been a mistake." Brian rubbed at his eyes. "He's so lonely, Kevin. I know that he wanted to - we all wanted to be together. But he cared too much about us to put what Nick and I have at risk. Or to take a risk with our friendship with him. He was right and he protected us. How many guys would have just taken what was offered?"

"He's a good friend, I can tell." Kevin said.

"He's like family already, Kevin. We have to help him somehow, whatever this is." Brian said. "We just have to."

"We'll work something out. For now, I don't think we should press him about it." Kevin said.

"You're probably right. I think that his independence is very important to him." Brian said.

"I could see that. After all, he doesn't have any family anymore, does he?" Kevin said.

"Not is far as I know, his parents were killed years ago and he doesn't have any brothers or sisters." Brian said.

"Ok, then. So, let's be here for him, but not push him about anything." Kevin said.

"Sounds good to me. Oh, and I don't think that we should talk to the other guys yet about this." Brian said. "Let's not have everyone talking about it - it might make things awkward if everyone's on edge."

"Ok, I hear what you're saying." Kevin said. "We'll keep it quiet for now."


Upstairs, Alex had placed the clothing bag in Brian's room and headed into the bathroom. Slipping out of his clothes, he looked in the mirror. He was a wreck - his eyes were heavy with fatigue. He looked like he could drop at any moment. He flexed his arms slowly. At least his body was still in good shape. He stepped into the shower and made the water as hot as he could stand. It helped, as much as anything could. He emerged several minutes later, feeling somewhat renewed. Enough of this stupid moping, he thought. What was done, was done. He had a million things to do. More importantly, he wouldn't allow anything to spoil this visit with his new friends. His resolve renewed, Alex slipped the large towel around his waist, gathering up his discarded clothes, and went back into Brian's room.

Kevin and Brian had finished talking and were watching TV in the living room with AJ and Howie. They were all talking about what to do with the rest of the day when Alex came down. He was wearing all white, sweatpants and a light jacket over a tank top. He also wore a thin silvery necklace which was tucked into the front of the tank top. The guys just stared at him for a second.

"So, does it pass inspection?" Alex said, turning around slowly.

The guys burst into assorted laughs, whistles and catcalls, managing to make Alex blush deeply.

"It's a little on the plain side, but sharp." Kevin said.

Alex absently pulled the drawstring in the sweatpants snug and tied it. "I hate these drawstrings, I'll have to ask them just to use ones with elastic from now on."

"Hey, man, that's what you get for letting someone else pick your clothes." AJ teased.

"Oh, you mean you guys never have anyone hand you something to wear for a show?" Alex said.

"He's got you there, AJ Actually, Alex, you look like one of us in that outfit." Kevin said.

"You're right, he does. Guess its all that white." Brian said.

Alex turned to Howie, who was staring at him in silence. "What's up, Howie? Is something wrong?"

Howie looked embarrassed for a moment and then shook his head. "No, nothing wrong."

"Don't worry about it. What do you think of the outfit?"

"Its looks pretty cool." Howie said, smiling shyly. "I like it - it suits you."

Alex slipped the jacket off. "Well, I do sort of like it - it reminds me of the stuff I used to wear around the time of the Games. Except for the logos of course." He indicated the small but unmistakable "TIC" patches on each piece of clothing.

"They've got you labeled like a mascot, don't they?" Kevin said.

"Oh, yeah, its even worse than that - look at this." Alex said. He lifted the chain around his neck and displayed the small medallion hanging from it - yet another "TIC".

"What is that, silver?" AJ said.

"Nope, its platinum. Only the most expensive for the heir to the throne." Alex sighed and tucked the medallion away again.

"Why not just tell them to stop giving you the stuff?" Brian said.

"Well, I guess I'm trying to respect the good of the company. Actually, my own plans for the future sort of tie in to this kind of thing." Alex said.

"How do you mean? Some kind of new PR for the company?" Kevin said.

"Oh, yes. Very ambitious stuff - I've really put myself on the hot seat." Alex said.

"What kind of stuff are you going to do?" AJ said.

"I'll leave most of it as a surprise for later. One thing though, is that I going to start recording again." Alex said.

Alex was gratified by the immediate and obvious approval from all the guys.

"That's cool, Alex. You've got a great voice." Brian said.

"Yeah, you've got real talent, man." Kevin said. "I bet you'll do well."

"What sort of material are you going to work with?" AJ said.

"Well, I have this idea for an album of international folk songs. Maybe mix some pop into it too. Unfortunately I don't have much talent as song writer. I'll have to work with someone else if I want to do anything original." Alex said.

"I can see that. There's only so much that can be done with covers." Kevin said. "It will go over better if you have some original stuff too. I'm sure you won't have any trouble getting connected with some good writers. You've certainly got the resources to attract talent."

"Kev's right." Howie said. "I've gotta ask - why are you bothering to go through all the work yourself? I mean, if it is just PR for the company, you could hire just about anyone you wanted to do music or just get more advertising. You have to know how much work you are getting into."

Alex smiled and sat down on the couch before replying. The other guys also seated themselves.

"Believe me, I know only too well how much work I am getting myself into. Remember, my mother and I used to record a while back. I know it isn't the same scale as pros like you guys, but I'm not completely in the dark either." Alex paused, placing his hands together and studying them for a moment.

"There are several reasons for doing it myself. I've got enough of a mix of talent and looks to have a decent chance for one. For another, doing all of the songs from different cultures in different languages is going to be a lot easier for me than for most individuals because I know several languages already and my mother saw to it that I had a background in various cultures and their music. Those are the practical reasons. The most important reason is that the company and all it represents was very important to my parents. They put a lot of themselves into making it the kind of organization of which they could be proud. Their lives were an example of how someone could be very successful without getting all of the baggage that the wealthy and powerful seem to get. I loved my parents, I still do. Even though they are gone, the need for the good work that they did is still very real. I think that the best way I can carry on their ideals and goals is to become an example myself. This isn't just about wooing the media or making money, its about getting everyone's attention so that good ideas about how people should live with and help one another can be heard. I need to do this, its the only thing I can do for them now."

While he was speaking, Alex had a faraway look in his eyes, a mixture of sadness and hope.

Brian cringed inside as Howie leaned over and put his hand on Alex's shoulder. To his surprise, Alex didn't flinch away as he had earlier.

"Alex, I hear what you are saying, and I think that it's great that you want to honor your parents like this." Howie said. "But, I don't think that they would want you to do this if it was going to make you unhappy."

AJ just looked at Howie for a few seconds, his voice was warm and compassionate. It was unusual for Howie to warm to someone so quickly. AJ hid his smile behind a hand.

The other guys expressed their agreement with Howie.

"Yeah, you're right, Howie." Alex said. "My parents always cared a lot about me - they always wanted me to be happy. I want to do this for them though, and because I want it for myself too. I want to take what I've been given and do some good. It will be a lot of work, but it's what I want."

They talked for a while about the various experiences that the guys had been through. The more than he heard, the more a mixture of excitement and dread filled Alex. This was going to be quite a wild ride, from the sound of things. Even so, he found that his spirits were lifted just by talking with the guys. It was clearly a good choice to visit.

The rest of the afternoon was spend hanging out around the house, watching TV and generally relaxing. Alex's phone rang frequently of course, but it didn't seem quite as disturbing as it had been lately. They got pizza and rented a few movies to watch for evening. When things finally started winding down, the other guys headed to bed, leaving Alex and Brian alone on the couch.

"So, how was the first day?" Brian said. He had been watching Alex all evening, trying to read his mood.

"Oh, its been great. I'm really glad that I've been able to come out and get to know the guys a bit better." Alex said. He leaned back and stretched. His energy was beginning to run low again.

"I'm glad to hear it - it's been good having you here." Brian said. "How long will be you able to stay?"

"A few days, I think." Alex said. "I've got some time left before things take off."

"Cool, I know that Nick would be sad to miss you, and of course Aaron's coming with him." Brian said.

"I wouldn't want to miss seeing either of them." Alex said. "Does Aaron know that I'm gay?"

"We hadn't told him previously, though Nick might mention it to him." Brian said. "I'm sure that he wouldn't have any problem with it."

"Yeah, I remember you guys telling me how cool he was about it when you told him about yourselves." Alex said. "He sounds like a great kid."

"Yeah, Nick loves him a lot - we all do." Brian said. "We were going to put him in Brian's room when he got here, we are kind of tight on space."

"Oh, don't worry about that. I'm not getting much sleep these days anyway - I'll crash on the couch after tonight." Alex said.

"Are you sure that's ok?" Brian said. "I feel bad about sticking you on the couch."

Alex smiled. "Why, because I'm a spoiled rich boy who's used to fancy hotels?"

They both laughed at that.

"Don't worry about me - like I said, I'm not getting much sleep anyway. Besides, being down here will be more convenient. I'll be less likely to disturbing anyone with my late night activities."

Brian started to put a hand on Alex's shoulder, but stopped as Alex pulled away. He let his hand drop slowly. "Alex, is there something wrong? You seemed so sad at the airport."

Alex remained silent and immobile.

"I want to help you if I can, Alex. You're important to me, to all of us. Please talk to me."

Alex still didn't move or speak, but after a moment he began to cry quietly.

"What happened?" Brian said. He wanted to hug Alex, but his friend was like a statue. He clearly didn't want to be touched and wouldn't even look at Brian.

Alex didn't answer at first, but after another minute began to speak haltingly. He told Brian about how he had met the Lawrence brothers in a club, and how he had actually been asked out on a date by Joey. Unfortunately, the date had turned out to be a disaster. They didn't seem to have anything in common, and Alex had been disturbed by his own very physical reaction to the celebrity.

"The next night, I decided to go out again. I hadn't been able to sleep at all that night, and I thought that maybe meeting more people would help me feel better. I ended up in the same club. At the time I told myself that it was the nicest place I had found. I guess the real reason was that I was hoping to see Joey again, maybe have another chance to make things right. I had dreamed of meeting Joey for so long. I guess I had a bad crush on him. Anyway, he wasn't there that night. I didn't have a number or anything and I guess I knew that I had ruined any chance I had with him that first night. I should have just gone home then, but I was so tired and so lonely. There were lots of attractive guys in the club, and some of them were interested in me too. So, I went over to this one guy who caught my attention. He was tall and very muscular. Attractive in a rough sort of way, you know? Anyway, I talked to him and was pretty blunt about wanting to go somewhere with him. He seemed to like me and I went with him to a hotel room."

"Once we were in the hotel room, we were all over each other. We basically tore each others clothes off. I don't really remember how we got there, but all of a sudden, I was face down on the bed and he was on top of me. Then it happened...he was inside of me. It hurt so much. He was very strong and it hurt."

Alex held up his hand when Brian reached out to him.

"After he was...finished, he pulled out of me and left. He said I was 'good'. I felt so filthy, like the dirty condom he pulled off himself and threw into the garbage."

Brian took Alex more firmly by the shoulders, but Alex was far stronger and pulled away easily. He stood up and walked away from the couch, turning to face Brian. The quiet intensity of despair in his eyes scared Brian - it was chilling to see.

"Don't touch me, Brian." Alex said. "Just don't."

"Alex, you said he wore a condom?" Brian said.

"Yeah, he did. I'm going to get tested anyway, but I don't think he gave me anything." Alex said.

Brian stood and walked over to his friend.

"Why don't you want me to touch you?" Brian said. "I mean, if you don't think he gave you anything. You don't think I'd hurt you - do you?" He tentatively reached out with hand.

Alex caught his wrist quickly. "I don't want you to touch me because I'm filthy. I went out and fucked a stranger - don't you get it? All my talking about saving myself for love was bullshit." His grip on Brian's wrist grew harder until Brian gasped in pain. Alex released him quickly.

"Brian, I'm so sorry - I didn't mean to hurt you." He reached out to Brian hesitantly, touching the sore wrist. "Please forgive me - please."

Brian stepped forward and put his arms around Alex. He resisted for several seconds but then shakily returned the embrace. Brian struggled under Alex's weight but managed to get them both back to the couch. Alex had fallen silent again but Brian could feel him shaking.

"It's ok, Alex, it's ok. I'm fine, you didn't hurt me." Brian said. "I don't want to hear anymore of this nonsense about how I shouldn't touch you. You had needs and made a mistake. You shouldn't be ashamed, it happens to a lot of people, you know."

"You wouldn't have done it. Nick wouldn't have either." Alex said. "How can you stand to touch me? I'm so ashamed."

"Nick and I are very lucky to have each other." Brian said. "If I hadn't found him, if he hadn't loved me, then I couldn't say that I wouldn't have gone out and done the same thing that you did."

"I don't believe that - you wouldn't do that." Alex said.

"You don't think so? Hey, I have needs just like everyone else. You had a crush on Joey and just felt really lonely when that didn't work out. You didn't ask that guy to hurt you. What's important is that you're ok. Everything will be ok - trust me."

"I'm not ok, Brian. I can't sleep." Alex said.

"What do you mean? I know that you only sleep an hour a night, right?" Brian said.

"I mean I can't sleep - at all." Alex said. "I haven't been able to sleep since the date with Joey. That was four days ago."

Brian pulled back to look at Alex's face. It would certainly explain the terrible weariness in his friend's eyes.

"Alex, you should go to a doctor. You can't go on like this." Brian said. "Can you take something to help you sleep? We have some sleeping pills around here somewhere. Some times we need them on tour."

Alex shook his head slowly. "This happened to me when my parents died. There's nothing anyone can do. I just have to get through it somehow."

"Look, do you want me to stay with you?" Brian said. "I will, if you want."

"No, there's no sense in keeping you up too. I'll be alright." Alex said. He reached out and touched Brian's face hesitantly. "Brian, please don't tell the guys about this. I couldn't face them if they knew."

"Alex, we're your friends, let us help you. We've all made mistakes, believe me. But we always stand by each other. The guys won't think less of you, believe me." Brian said.

"Maybe - I'm just not ready to face them all. Please?" Alex said.

"Alright, alright. Can I at least tell Nick?" Brian said. "He's going to know something is wrong."

"Ok, you can tell Nick." Alex said. "You should get to bed. You look tired."

Brian stretched. "Yeah, I'm tired. Come with me."

Brian led Alex upstairs to the room that was officially Brian's. A few minutes later Alex was undressed and under the covers.

Brian leaned over him. "Try to relax and get some rest. Just remember, you're surrounded by friends here. We won't turn our backs on you, no matter want. Good night now."

Alex didn't say anything, but softly took Brian's hand and held it for a moment. After Brian had turned out the light and closed the door behind him, Alex closed his eyes and tried to relax. Though sleep did not come, he felt a certain sense of peace come over him. Maybe Brian was right, maybe the other guys would understand.

Brian returned to the room and he and Nick shared. Stripping, he climbed into the bed and hugged Nick's pillow. He hoped that they could help Alex come to terms with what had happened. Though Alex clearly didn't think of it that way, Brian knew that what he had heard sounded like at least the elements of a rape. It was a huge relief that the guy had used a condom. Alex would at least be spared that horror. Nick would know what to do. He hugged the pillow close and eventually managed to drift off to sleep.


The next morning when Kevin headed downstairs to get breakfast started, Alex was already sitting in the kitchen. Kevin was a bit surprised, but also pleased to note that Alex didn't seem to be as exhausted as he had been the previous day.

"Good morning, Kevin, how did you sleep?" Alex said.

"Pretty well, and you?" Kevin said.

"Well, I'm sure you've heard from Brian and Nick that I don't sleep much. I do feel more relaxed this morning, though." Alex said. "Brian mentioned how you guys do breakfast when you're together. I thought I might lend a hand if that's ok."

"Sure, that would be cool. Usually AJ and I get stuck with most of the drill. Howie hasn't ever been an early riser, and Nick and Brian are usually busy in the morning, if you know what I mean." Kevin said.

Alex looked strange for a moment, and then smiled. "Yes - they are really in love, aren't they?"

"Oh, yeah. They've been like this for a couple of years, and they just seem to get closer as time goes by. It's been something to see. I'll admit I've been envious some times." Kevin said. He laughed at Alex's startled look. "No, not like that. I'm not gay. I mean I envy them having such a good relationship. I haven't found the right person yet."

"Oh, I see. Yeah, I feel that way too." Alex said. "It's a shame that they have to hide it."

Kevin looked sad for a moment. "Yes, it is. I hope that we can reach a point where they can come out if they want to - I don't like them having to hide it either."

They began to move about the kitchen, getting breakfast together. They worked quickly, and had everything ready by the time AJ came down the stairs. They talked about the upcoming BSB tour for a while. Howie and Brian came down a little while later and joined them.

"So, who is going to the airport to get Nick and Aaron?" Kevin said.

"I'll go, of course." Brian said.

"Let's all go, and give them a good welcome." AJ said.

"Yeah, that's cool." Howie said. "You're coming too, right Alex?"

"Sure, I wouldn't miss it." Alex said.

When the time came, they all got together and drove out to the airport.

"Hey, shouldn't you guys put on disguises or something?" Alex said.

"We'll put on hats when we get there." Kevin said.

"Yeah, Nick's the one who is the most recognized, and that's mostly the hair." AJ said.

"Guys, I don't believe that for a second." Alex said. "I spend a fair amount of time online and each and every one of you has shrines out there. Plus, with you all together, won't people be more likely to put it together?"

"He's got a point." Brian said. "Shouldn't you be in disguise too, Alex?"

"Me?" Alex said. "Hey, you guys are the stars, not me."

"Oh, yeah?" Brian said. "I seem to remember a certain pair of girls in a hotel in Atlanta."

"That was one in a million. I'm still amazed that they picked me out like that." Alex said.

"I'm not, they remembered you from the games. You've still got the body, after all." Brian said.

"If anything, you look better now than then." Howie said suddenly. He feel silent as the others turned to look at him.

"You saw me in the games, Howie?" Alex said.

"Yeah, I did. You were great." Howie said, looking sheepish.

"Hey, thanks, man. That means a lot to me. I have tried to keep in shape." Alex said.

"You've done a great job, Alex." Kevin said. "You'll have to share some of your workout tips with us."

"Well, I did pick some things up from training for the Games all those years, sure." Alex said. "The dance moves you guys do must be great exercise."

"Tell ya what, Alex. You show us how you keep those abs and we'll show you how to dance." AJ said.

"Sounds like a fair deal to me." Alex said.

"You're on then - we need to work on some new moves for the tour anyway." Kevin said.

The other guys groaned at that - it was going to be rough getting ready for the tour.

They arrived at the airport in due course and went to the terminal where Nick and Aaron's flight would arrive. The flight was a little late, and couple of times it looked like people might be sort of recognizing the guys, but no one approached them.

Brian, of course, was the one who first picked Nick out of the incoming stream of people. He was wearing a hat and sunglasses, but Brian spotted him immediately. Aaron scampered around near him and ran over to the guys as soon as he saw them. The little guy was clearly delighted to see his brother's friends again, hugging each of them in turn. When he came Alex, Brian introduced them to each other. Aaron smiled and shook Alex's hand when it was offered.

Nick came over and said hi to the guys. He went over to stand next to Brian but managed to behave himself. After collecting their luggage, the guys left the terminal and headed back to the van. Nick, Brian and Alex brought up the rear, with Aaron running around nearby.

As they were crossing the street to get to the parking lot, Alex noticed that Aaron had run behind them. As he turned to look over his shoulder for the boy, Alex heard the squealing of tires and a terrified yelp. Whirling, he saw to his horror that Aaron was standing out in the middle of the road frozen in terror as a large truck headed directly for him. Almost without his volition, Alex found himself charging madly toward the road. The world seemed to slow to a crawl, the terrible sound of the tires and the poor boy's scream drawing out into an endless roar. He could hear the sounds of the guys behind them as they turned and saw. Nick's voice shrieking his brother's name and the sound of desperate footsteps following. Alex seemed to see Aaron's frightened face as from a great distance for a long time. Then, things jarred back to normal. Alex found himself gasping for breath on the other side of the road, a sobbing Aaron held firmly in his arms. His legs were burning from exertion and he slumped to the ground weakly. A few seconds later, the guys charged across the road and surrounded them. After several seconds of terrified examination, they realized that both Alex and Aaron were ok. It took a little longer to calm Aaron enough to pry him out of his tight grip on Alex. Nick held his brother close and tried to comfort him. At Kevin's suggestion, the rest of the guys worked together to get the three overwhelmed guys into the van and back to the house.

Alex sat in stunned silence during the return trip. He had acted instinctively at the time, but the realization of what had happened was now catching up with him. He realized now that he had barely made it. A second later and both he and Aaron would have been hit. He noticed that the rest of the guys seemed to be watching him on and off. Aaron stopped crying very quickly, though he still held on to Nick and appeared very shaken. Nick held his brother, murmuring quiet reassurances and looking very pale himself. For a long moment, he and Alex looked at each other. Nothing was said, but Alex could read the profound gratitude in his eyes. Alex was grateful as well, grateful that he had been close enough to react in time. For those few instants, he had been willing to give his life to save Aaron. In the midst of all of the turmoil he had felt in the last few days, he found some of the weight leaving him. Looking over at Aaron, he began to feel better about the future, about his chances of carrying on his parents' good works. Nodding at Nick, he turned back to see that Brian was looking at him as though he had read Alex's mind. The handsome star had a huge grin on his face. It was infectious, and Alex found himself smiling in response.

He was still smiling when they got back to the house, laughing outright when his phone rang. The rest of the day was very full. Nick and Brian disappeared for a while with Aaron. Howie and AJ spent the day playing pool and hanging out. Alex and Kevin were tied up on their respective phones almost constantly, talking business with each other between calls. The day gradually wound down and after dinner the guys all got together once again in the living room. Aaron looked much calmer and sat quietly watching TV.

"So, what are you guys up to tomorrow?" Alex said.

"Well, we've got some work to get done." Kevin said.

"Yeah, unfortunately Kevin's right." Brian said. "We've got to work on some of the new dance material."

"I thought you guys were on vacation?" Alex said.

"We are, but there's always some work to do." AJ said.

"If we don't get the routines polished before the tour, it's a nightmare trying to get caught up." Howie said.

"You guys must have learned a lot from all the performing you've done." Alex said. "I recorded a couple of albums with my mother, but didn't do any actual performing."

"Well, there was that bit in the club that you pulled on us." Nick said.

Alex laughed. "That was a lot of fun. I knew we could pull it off without getting into trouble."

"Well, we did have to high tail it out of there, but that's not the first time." Brian said.

"Did you three know - that made the news." Kevin said.

"No way - where?" Nick said.

"Yeah, where? I did sort of keep an eye out, but I didn't see anything." Alex said.

"It was in the entertainment section of one of the Atlanta papers that weekend. It was brief, but a good showing. Apparently people were wondering about the new member." Kevin said.

Everyone laughed at that.

"Nah, I bet they just thought it was AJ after another chemistry accident." Howie said.

"Hey, don't give me attitude, that wasn't my fault. Nick and I just can't share bottles, that's all." AJ said.

"What, you mean Nicky isn't a natural blond?" Brian said with mock surprise. "I'm shocked."

"Hey, Brian, if you don't know by now, you must be doing something wrong." Howie said.

"I keep telling him he should go with something cool, like blue." AJ said.

"Hey, gimme a break guys." Nick said. "It's not my fault that my hair darkened on me. Lot's of guys are blond and turn brown when they get older."

"Hey, what about you, Alex?" Howie said. "Is there a bottle in those suitcases somewhere?"

"Nope, I'm the real deal." Alex said, grinning. "Just ask Nick and Brian."

They all turned to the couple, who were rapidly growing red.

"What do you mean, ask them?" Howie said.

"Well, they've seen everything I've got at this point." Alex said.

Brian and Nick were quite red at this point.

"Hmm, I think that's more information that I want." Kevin said, laughing.

Alex suddenly noticed Aaron again and turned red himself. "Oops, maybe I shouldn't have said that."

Aaron smiled and shook his head before looking back at the TV.

"It's ok, Alex." Nick said. "Just don't get between him and the TV, and you'll be fine." He reached over and tousled Aaron's hair playfully.

"Hey, cut it out." Aaron said with a giggle. He swatted at Nick's hand and before long Nick was tickling him without mercy.

Eventually it grew late and the guys began to turn in. It was decided to put Aaron in Brian's room as planned, and Alex would take the couch.

"Are you sure this is ok?" Nick said. "I wish that we had more room - I hate putting you on the couch."

"It's fine, really." Alex said. "I am going to be up most of the night anyway - down here I won't disturb the rest of you."

Nick stepped closer and lowered his voice. "Brian told me what you two talked about earlier. Is there anything I can do?"

"No, thanks, it's ok. I'll just have to work through it I guess." Alex said. "I'll be ok, believe me."

"Just remember, you aren't alone." Nick said. He paused, his eyes intense. "Thank you for saving Aaron. I'll never be able to repay you."

"I'm just thankful that I was close enough to make it in time." Alex said. "Is he going to be alright?"

"I think so." Nick said. "He's pretty tough, really. He just needs a little time to get past it. Have a good night, let us know if you need anything."

Without further words, they hugged and Nick headed upstairs.


Nick took a quick shower and headed to the room that he and Brian shared. He stepped inside and pulled the door closed behind. Turning, he paused as he saw Brian. His love lay on his stomach on the large bed and was starkly, gloriously naked. His head was lying on his crossed arms at the foot of the bed and he seemed to be asleep. Nick just stood and looked for a long minute, drinking in the sight. He slipped off his bathrobe and moved over to lay next to Brian. Nick touched Brian lightly on the back, delighting in the sensation of the contact. Brian stirred at the touch also, looking over at Nick and smiling.

"So, there you are and all nice and clean too." Brian said. He ran his own hand along Nick's arm, both guys feeling a flush of sudden heat. "Let's talk about Aaron."

"You can read me so easily." Nick said with a sigh. "I love you so much."

"I know." Brian said, smiling. "Nick, I think Aaron's going to be ok."

"Yeah, you're right. It just scared the crap out of me. To think I almost lost him." Nick felt a chill at the thought.

"But you didn't. He's going to be fine." Brian said. "We'll all look after him and make sure, I promise."

They both slipped under the covers and into each others arms. As always, Nick found that it was impossible to think of anything but Brian when they were together like this. Peace came, and with it, sleep.


Alex went to the couch and stripped down to his briefs. Then he began to work on his laptop. He installed some new items that had been shipped to him and logged on to catch up on the last few days of work. A few hours had passed when he heard someone coming down the stairs. Turning, he saw that it was Aaron. The boy came slowly down the stairs and crossed over towards the couch.

"Hey, Aaron, what are you doing up?" Alex said. "I thought you went to bed."

"Well, yeah, I did." Aaron said. "I couldn't sleep, so I thought I might watch some more TV, if that's ok?"

"Sure, that's fine with me." Alex said. "I don't think there's anything on this late, though."

"Yeah, I guess not." Aaron said. He sat down on the other end of the couch from Alex.

Alex looked more closely at Aaron. His eyes were red as if he had been crying again. Alex closed down his laptop and set it aside.

"Are you ok, Aaron?" Alex said.

Aaron looked down at his shoes. "I couldn't sleep - I had a bad dream."

"You dreamed about the truck, didn't you?" Alex said. He saw that Aaron was trying hard to keep from crying and he moved over to sit next to his young friend.

"Aaron, it's ok if you're afraid - it's normal that you would be. What happened was very scary." Alex said. We were all afraid too, you know."

Aaron looked up slowly. "You were afraid too?"

"Yes, I was very afraid." Alex said. "I was afraid of the truck and afraid that we would be hurt."

"But you weren't in front of it." Aaron said. "You ran in front of it to save me - I couldn't move, how could you run in front of it?"

"We were all running toward you, Aaron." Alex said. "I guess I was more afraid that you would be hurt. I know how much Nick and the guys care about you, I'm sure they were more afraid for you than themselves, too."

At this point, Aaron lost control and started bawling. Alex pulled the shaking boy into a hug, feeling the boy cling to him much as he had just after the near miss. He stroked Aaron's hair and tried to soothe him.

"It's ok, Aaron, it's ok. I'm here, we're all here for you. Go ahead and let it out. It's ok to cry."

For several minutes, he held Aaron without either of them saying anything further. After the boy cried himself out, Alex eased him back and wiped his face gently. The boy was clearly exhausted.

"Do you think you can sleep now?" Alex said.

Aaron nodded. "Could you come up and stay with me for a while?" He said shyly.

"Sure, I can do that." Alex said. "Let's go." They both stood and Alex followed Aaron up the stairs to Brian's room. Aaron climbed back into the bed and Alex pulled up a chair after moving to close the door. He didn't notice that the door did not quite close. Aaron lay there for a while with his eyes closed, but sat up after a while.

"This isn't working, I still can't sleep." Aaron said.

"Well, we could talk for a while, maybe that would help." Alex said.

"What should we talk about?" Aaron said.

"Well, we could talk about you. It must be very exciting to be out performing like you do. You know, I envy you." Alex said.

"You do?" Aaron said. "Why, it must be cool to be so rich and stuff, and Nick told me about all those medals that you won."

"That stuff is nice, yeah." Alex said. "But you've got parents that love, and a great brother like Nick."

"You don't have any family?" Aaron said, with a sad look at Alex.

"Not anymore, no. I don't have any brothers or sisters, and my parents died a few years ago." Alex said. Aaron seemed about to cry again, and Alex climbed onto the bed next to him and hugged him. "It's ok, Aaron. They loved me a lot, and I know that they would want me to be happy, not sad."

"Do you still miss them?" Aaron said.

"Oh yes, everyday. I think about them a lot, and sometimes I get really lonely." Alex said. "I wish I had a brother like Nick, or one like you." He smoothed Aaron's hair back from his face. The boy smiled broadly at that. "What is it?"

"Nick pushes my hair back just like that." Aaron said. Alex smiled also at that.

"He loves you so much, Aaron." Alex said. "He was so glad that you were ok. I could see it in his face in the van."

"Yeah, he's great." Aaron said. "I love him too, he always looks out for me." He looked up and Alex shyly. "Thank you for saving me."

"I'm glad I could help." Alex said, hugging Aaron close.

"My mother used to sing to me at night when I was your age. We could try that if you want - it used to help me sleep." Alex said.

"Ok, what are you going to sing?" Aaron said.

"Well, there's an old Irish traveling song that I used to sing with my mother. You won't understand the words, but its very relaxing and nice sounding." Alex said.

Aaron nodded and lay back on the bed. Alex smoothed the covers over him and began to sing the song slowly.

He felt himself slipping away into the song as he had so often in the past. As the song came to a close, he looked down and saw that Aaron's eyes were closed and he appeared to be peacefully asleep. Alex smiled and lay back on the bed himself. He felt a special closeness to Aaron. Being able to help him had meant a lot. It was almost like getting some of his own innocence back. He felt better. The song had finished, but he continued to hear it in his mind. The memory of his mother's voice was strong and it was almost as if she was with him again, singing him to sleep. He slipped under the covers next to Aaron. He felt all of the stress of the last few days flow away from him like water, and his body became heavy with weariness. At long last, he fell asleep.


Nick awoke with a slight jerk. He lay there for a moment, trying to figure out what had awakened him. Brian was warm and wonderful nearby. Nick lay pressed against his smooth back. Nick was about to lose himself in Brian's delicious neck when he heard what he thought was singing coming from somewhere in the house. He reluctantly slipped away from Brian, put on his robe and went to investigate. Once in the hall, he quickly realized that it was coming from Brian's room. In another moment, he recognized the voice as Alex's. He couldn't understand the words, it didn't sound like English. Nick moved quietly over the to the door to the room, which was already slightly open. After a few minutes, the singing stopped and the light was turned off. Nick very carefully peeked in and saw Alex and Aaron lying in bed together. They both appeared to be asleep.

Nick smiled. Alex must have been singing to Aaron. Nick and Brian had been worried that Aaron wouldn't be able to sleep. He was still very scared though he had tried to hide it. Nick and Aaron were very close, but one of the problems they had was that Aaron never wanted to appear weak in front of Nick. It was the down side of Aaron looking up to his older brother so much. Of course, there was also Alex. Brian had told Nick about how their new friend had not been able to sleep. They had both worried about how long it would go on and what could be done to help him. Stepping into the room cautiously, Nick was struck by how similar the faces of both sleepers looked. Smiling, he quietly left the room and pulled the door closed behind him.

He returned to his own room and found Brian awake and sitting up in bed. Nick took off his robe and slipped back into bed.

"Hey, what's up? Where did you go?" Brian said.

"I heard a noise and went to check it out." Nick said. He briefly described what he had seen.

"They are both asleep now?" Brian said. "That's great - I was really worried that Alex was going to end up in the hospital or something. Of course, I didn't think Aaron would sleep very well, either. What was he was singing - was it something on the album?"

"I'm not sure, but I don't think so." Nick said. "It was a little hard to make out."

Brian looked disturbed for a moment. "What is it, Brian?" Nick said.

"Do you think they are going to be ok together?" He looked embarrassed. "Someone is going to ask the question."

Nick thought for a long moment. "I know then both and I trust them. Alex risked his life to save Aaron's. I can't imagine him ever doing anything to hurt Aaron."

"Me neither. Especially after what he's been through. I'm sorry, I just thought it should be said." Brian said.

Nick nuzzled his neck. "You're right - its ok. I love you, Brian."

"I love you so much, Nick" Brian said.

They cuddled for a long while and then gradually fell asleep once again.