Second Toughest in the Infants

By Kai Wailbone

Author's note: for those of you who received teasers for this chapter, you may notice that the title for the chapter has changed. Do not panic. It's the same chapter as in the teasers I sent you. I just felt that the current title was more appropriate for the story at this stage.

For "Goddess Barbara" -- your story inspired me to actually finish this. Thanx so much!

And a note to all those FINALLY writing O-Town fan fictions -- you've got at least one fan here, whether it sucks or not ;-)


This isn't real. Leave if you're underage. I can't make it any simpler.

The title is from the Underworld album "Second Toughest in the Infants." The chapter headings are from lyrics or song titles.

p.s. -- i like e-mail and encouragement.

Second Toughest in the Infants

Chapter Five -- Silence is preserving


"Caught a light sneeze

Dreamed a little dream

Made my own pretty hate machine"


Dan took a deep breath, closing his eyes for a moment and forcing himself to calm down. Clearing his head of any thoughts, he focused only on Trevor's back in front of him. In the background, "Liquid Dreams" was playing for the umpteenth time, and the director was counting off orders loudly.

"Okay, and one-two-three Ashley!"

Dan ignored the sounds of Ashley jumping behind him and the splash he made in the shallow water. In his head, he began to count down.

Four... three...

"...two-three and Trevor!"

In front of him, Trevor dutifully jumped from the short platform and into the shallow pool of water.

Dan tensed in spite of himself, completely focused on the director's voice.


In a single fluid motion, Dan jumped sideways off of the platform, twisting to turn exactly ninety degrees to face the cameras, landing in the shallow pool and taking up position beside Trevor. The water he stood in barely covered the soles of his boots.

"And two-three Erik!"

Erik jumped into the pool with a splash, but as he shifted slightly to take up position beside Dan he slipped and fell on his back, barely missing hitting his head on the platform. Water splashed everywhere, leaving Erik laying helplessly in an inch and a half of water, his entire back soaked.

"Okay, cut!" David, their director, paused in thought for a moment, then shook his head as he stood up. "Fourth time's a charm, folks. Let's not try that again right away, shall we? Take a break."

Dan finally let himself relax, stretching luxuriously as he turned to see Erik still sitting in the water. Somewhere behind him he heard Jacob groan and mutter something quietly. Before he could go to Erik, Trevor stepped around him and helped Erik up. Speaking softly, he heard Trevor say, "Cameras were rolling, can't blame that one on Jake."

Erik smiled back. "Just watch me," he said.

Trevor seemed taken aback somewhat, then he smiled. "Yeah, cute man."

Erik looked at Trevor seriously. "Why, you don't think I can?"

Trevor's smile faltered slightly, but he still said, "Funny. Really, man," before walking away.

Dan watched as Trevor turned away, and Erik turned to roll his eyes at Dan. Dan laughed softly and came over.

"Straddle-man strikes again!" Erik whispered in Dan's ear.

Dan chuckled. "Yeah..." He and Erik had been joking for the past week or so about Trevor's obvious, and at times almost pathetic attempts to placate the obvious tension running through the group by not taking sides -- or "straddling the fence," as Erik put it. Which, idealistically, Dan respected him for doing. It just really got on his nerves in real life.

"So what's wrong with your shoes?" Dan asked as he took a water bottle from the cooler by one of the lights.

"Huh?" Erik looked down at his shoes, then grinned. "Oh, nothing. But I think there might be a patch of ice just where I'm supposed to jump..."

"Ice, yeah. As if the water was below boiling under those lights." Dan twisted the cap off his bottle and, after a quick glance around, threw it behind the large green screen.

"Hey, it could happen. Or it could be oil!" Erik took off his rose-colored sunglasses, the ones Dan thought looked ridiculous but that David let him wear, and dried them carefully on the front of his shirt. "It's hot enough. Oil... hot grease... Vaseline."

"Vaseline? I didn't think I saw Jacob fall down there..."

Erik laughed harshly at that. "Yeah, it was while you weren't looking, he fell on his ass..."

Dan laughed as well, but shook his head. "Stop it, man, that's disgusting. Too many images." Picking up his bag, he fell into step behind Erik as they headed to the dressing rooms. "So what're you doing tonight?"

Erik shrugged as he walked. "Probably nothing. I didn't get much sleep last night."

"Oh? What was her name?"

"Name? You think I remember these things?" Erik glanced back, winking.

"I guess not..." Dan's attention was momentarily distracted by one of the screens replaying the last take. "Hey, man, check it out."

Erik paused and glanced at the screen. "What's this?"

"The high point of your career."

Erik smirked as he brought his hand up to smack Dan on the back of the head. "Yeah, well, if it is, it's a shame they're deleting it."

Dan watched the screen as he jumped into the water. "See? Perfect execution. I give myself a ten-point-ten."

"Ten-point-ten?" Erik watched as he jumped, and slipped back into the water. "Well, I give myself a... eleven."

"An eleven, huh?" Dan pretended to motion for an invisible technician. "Oh, sir? This take has officially been classified as an `eleven.' Can we save this for the permanent O-Town archives?"

Erik laughed and gave Dan a shove. "Shut up! They can delete that and burn the tape... and never speak of it again."

"Oh, come on," a voice said behind them. "Save it for the TV show. Or better yet, save it for the new Fox special, `When Music Videos attack.'"

Dan whirled around to see a tall, familiar figure leaning against the door frame. "Jeremy?"

Jeremy grinned as he set the leather satchel he was holding on the ground and came into the room. "Brother Daniel... and the nefarious Dr. Love. How be things?"

Dan pulled Jeremy into a hug. "Oh, man, what're you doing here?"

"I told you, I had work to do in California. Apparently, some evil spies caught wind of my top-secret assignment, my people got a call from your people, and here I am." Jeremy looked at Erik, who smiled almost shyly from behind Dan but didn't come any closer. "Hey, E."


Jeremy looked questioningly at Erik for a moment, then nodded as if everything was okay. "So, where is everyone?"

Dan shrugged. "Not sure. Trevor's probably hanging around the crew guys, and Jacob and Ashley... well, they're probably hangin' out somewhere in back."

"Really?" Jeremy glanced around, as if he might see them suddenly arrive. "Well, groovy. I'm sure all the happy campers will be warm and fuzzy to hear of my arrival." Stepping closer to the screen, he watched the rest of the footage showing the guys slowly walked out of view of the camera. "When was this?"

"A couple minutes ago."

"Really? Jeez, you guys look like you've been through a war. What's been going on?"

"Not much... just a typical day of practicing, rehearsing, and video shoot."

"Typical, huh?" Jeremy made a point of looking at Erik's wet clothes. "Remind me never to come on an unusual day."

"Yeah... anyway, how have you been?"

"Eh..." Jeremy leaned back against the wall. "Alright, I guess. I mean, I am in California working on a movie..."


Jeremy, suitably interrupted, turned to see Jay approaching them. "Hey, Jay! Whaddya' say?"

Jay paused for a second, glanced at Dan and Erik, then gestured for Jeremy to come with him. "Jeremy, can we talk for a minute?"

"But I just got here. And I haven't said hi to the rest of the guys, yet."

"You'll have time."


"Jeremy?" Jay's voice had an edge to it. "Please."

Jeremy glanced back at the guys, his eyebrows raised. "Sorry, gentlemen, but teacher is calling. If I'm not back in five minutes... avenge my death." With a thin smile, he picked up his satchel again and followed Jay out.

Erik watched Jeremy follow Jay up the stairs to the observation rooms. Turning back to Dan, he asked, "Do you think he knows?"

"He's really good friends with Jacob. I think Jacob might have told him before he told us."

Erik shook his head and started walking to the dressing rooms again. "Great."


"Now, Jeremy, before we go in I need to tell you something."

"Certainly." Jeremy bounded up the stairs behind Jay. "Speak. Tell the Great and Mystical Jeremy everything."

"Well, we got a call from..."


Jay glanced back as Jeremy shrugged with a mild smile and opened his phone. "Speaking of getting calls... Sorry, old son, this'll just take a second." Into the phone, he said, "Hello? ...oh, hi, sweetie... Yeah, I'm here now, why?... No, I don't think so..."

Jay hesitated and glanced at the top of the stairs where Marc waited. Marc shrugged.

"Yeah... well, Jason didn't say anything about it... did you even check my notebook?... Hah, no." Jeremy followed Jay as he continued up the stairs. Together with Marc, they crossed a hallway to one of the observation rooms. Windows lined one wall, overlooking the studio floor. In front of the windows were various sound boards and intercom stations to talk to the ground below. In the middle of the room was a conference table, several wheeled office chairs positioned around it. "No, Jason is on vacation... Did you call Sudeep?, he just... oh, shit." Jeremy entered the room, still talking on his phone, but trailed off as he saw who was waiting for him. "Um... call you back later, dude? Okay...yeah, sure. Fine. Later." Jeremy closed his phone and stared. "What the hell is he doing here?"


"No, Jay, I know that tone. I don't want some drawn out public relations jargon that you don't think I'm going to understand." Jeremy pointed into the room. "Now, what the hell is he doing here?"

"Jeremy, we need you and Mike to put aside your differences for a while. We have a situation."

Jeremy glared at Jay for a moment, then turned back into the room. "Mike..." Jeremy walked past the table and chairs, purposely avoiding the dark-haired manager, to the soundboard and slumped into the leather swivel chair positioned to look out the window and over the studio floor. "I wish I could say it was a pleasure to see you again."

"Likewise." Mike sat looking, as he always did, almost irritatingly calm and emotionless, with a yellow legal pad on his lap.

"Other Mike couldn't come?"

"He had other things to do."

Jeremy stared out the clear plastic at the floor below, the music a soft litany in the background. After a moment, during which he casually fiddled with the various buttons on the sound board, turning it on and off again, he turned and faced Jay. "Okay, so I'm here. What's this... `situation' that's so important that you felt the need to drag me away from my regularly scheduled program?"

Mike looked up at Jay, who nodded to him. Clearing his throat, he said, "Okay, Jeremy? We've been having some... concerns about the group."

Jeremy didn't say anything, and didn't even look up at Mike, instead focusing on his fingers as he steepled them in front of his face, so Mike continued.

"We, uh... it has come to our attention that one of the guys might have a secret."

Jeremy snorted, but said nothing.

Mike looked to Jay for help.

Jay crossed his arms. "Jeremy, straight out. Is Jacob gay?"

Jeremy looked up, startled. "Wow, what a fascinating non sequitor."


Jeremy held up his hand. "Why are you asking me?"

"Because you know."

"I do?"

"You're the only one who could."

"Oh, I disagree. I think someone else knows... someone you don't need to call in from his regular job to ask, either. In fact, let's ask him right now." Jeremy leaned across the console and pressed the intercom button. "Oh, Jacob?"


Jeremy looked up at Jay, then turned back to the speaker. "Never mind, Grasshopper. Just a test." Letting go of the button, he smiled innocently. "Yes?"

Jay sighed in frustration and reached out to power down the sound board. "Jeremy, can you please behave? You of all people understand that we need a low profile on this one."

"Why? So you guys can just sit here with plausible deniability if it ever comes out?" Jeremy kicked at the sound board, pushing the wheeled chair back across the room. "No, that's the easy way out -- especially for a bunch of public liberals." Jeremy spun his chair around for a moment before facing the wall. "Okay, now it's time for you to be straight up. Tell me. Come clean. The real reason you brought me here was so I could have a little `talk' with Jacob, tell him he's just confused, he's been under a lot of stress, that he's really straight? That this can all go away with enough will power and prayer?"

There was a moment of silence.

Jeremy turned slowly around to face them. "Oh, God, you really did, didn't you? I was just kidding... I mean... oh, shit, you guys are dumb."

Mike spoke up again. "Look, we just need him to act a certain way in front of the camera and we think it would be more believable if he..."

"Don't you guys have an acting coach or something to help them with that?" Jeremy interrupted.

"The acting coach doesn't know about this."

"So... you need Jacob to act straight?"


"And to achieve that you need him to want to be straight... to think he might actually be straight."

"That's the ideal, yes."

"Oh. I see. Uh-huh... yeah... And exactly what the fuck did you think he's been doing his entire life? Doesn't he deserve a little reprieve?"

Jay broke in. "Of course, Jeremy, we have no desire to put any more stress on Jacob than he has already. After all, we always tell them that their personal lives are their own... we're just in a unique situation. And besides, recently he's been acting a little..."

"A little what? A little gay?"

"Temperamental, I was going to say."

Jeremy sighed as he reached into his shirt pocket, pulling out a pack of cigarettes. Carefully shaking one out, he proceeded to light it. "So?"

Mike glanced from the `No-Smoking' signs to Jay before saying, "So... you don't think this an understandable concern for us?"

"Oh, I think it's an absolute disaster from your perspective." Jeremy took a puff and tucked the pack away. "I just don't see myself doing anything near what you expect me to do."

Mike leaned forward. "Jeremy, I don't know what you told Jacob when he went to your place, but the damage has been done..."

"Damage?" Jeremy glared at Mike. "So being gay is damage now, is it?"

"That's not..."

"Oh, shut the fuck up, it's what you meant and you know it." Jeremy stood up and grabbed his satchel. "I am so out of here."

Jay rushed to block the door. "Jeremy, please..."



"What did I say? No. I'm too busy to play daddy to these kids. And even if I wasn't, I am so turned off of it now."

"But Jeremy..."

"No. No. No-no-no-no-no-no-no-no. Jay. Listen." Jeremy paused in front of the doorway, a few inches away from Jay himself. "I'm already upset at you. You know why, and I feel my reasons are justified. I'm not even going to go into my problems with him," He jerked a thumb towards Mike. "I just... this is too much. And besides, I really have too much work to do."

"So do we."

"It's your job. It isn't mine."

"What about the guys?"

"They're adults."

"They're not acting like it."

"That's not my problem."

"You're right, it's theirs. And I thought you were their friend."

Jeremy stared at Jay. "That was low, Jay." Jay just stared back at Jeremy until he turned to look out the window. Below them, the guys were dancing in front of the large green screen. "Okay, fine. You admit they have a problem?"

"Yes," Jay said immediately, motioning for Mike to stay quiet.

"And you want me to help solve it?"

"If you could, yes."

"Because I'm their friend."

"Of course."

"Can I leave after I solve it?"

Jay looked at Mike again before answering. "Sure."

"Okay." Jeremy stood quietly for a moment, cigarette burning in his hand. "Their problem is simple."

Mike snorted, but Jay silenced him with a look before he could say anything.

Jeremy didn't turn. Motioning through the glass at the floor, he said, "Look at them." His voice took on a musing, almost reflective tone. "You have five incredible young men who, under any other circumstance, would be strong and mature both mentally and emotionally, able to handle the pressures of life and growing up in each of their respective social circles and environments." Pausing for a moment, Jeremy took another puff from his cigarette. "Now, unfortunately, they are not acting like the strong and mature young men you and I both know they can be. Why? Because they're not in any other circumstance. They're here, and the environment they have been presented with is more taxing and stressful than you or I have ever known. There is a pressure on them to act both strong and mature, even when they're not -- except in cases where they are coached to act vulnerable and sensitive -- because of an unseen audience of millions who may or may not see any particular moment of their lives on national television. They don't have the luxury to act natural or relax."

Jay frowned, seeing where Jeremy was headed. "Wait..."

"Yes, that's right folks! The problem, as I've been saying all along... is the cameras!" Jeremy turned and smiled in mock triumph. "All you need to do is take away the cameras. Give them a week off. And what the hell, ship them off the Vegas or something. Guaranteed, a week later, they'll be right as rain."

"Jeremy, be serious," Mike said.

"I was being serious," Jeremy replied, never taking his eyes off of Jay. "They need to handle this one on their own, the way they would naturally. You can't force it on them, and as you well know they can't do it in front of the cameras. Give them some time off. I promise you, they'll be able to work it out."

Jay sighed. "You know we can't afford to..."

"Oh, you can't afford to give them a week off and take the cameras with you? I thought their state of mind was a priority. So much a priority, in fact, that you felt it necessary to call me off of a movie set -- incidentally, the highest paying gig I've had all year -- in order to help you out. You can't afford to do this?" Jeremy looked at his cigarette, burned down to the filter, and tossed it onto the floor. "It sounds to me, gentlemen, as if you can't afford not to."

Mike shook his head. "It would be so much easier for Jacob to just handle this on his own, and keep things on track..."

"You really have it out for that boy, don't you?" Jeremy turned his head ever so slightly, but still wouldn't look at Mike. "This is a group of people who need to interact, by contract, for several more years. If they get bad blood between them now, you'll loose out on your investment. And I'm not going to be held responsible if you don't take my advice." He looked at Jay. "Again."

Jay looked at Mike, then back at Jeremy. "Mike and I will need to discuss this."

"Of course you do." Jeremy glanced at the door, which Jay was still blocking. "So can I go now?"

"Yes, you may." Jay stepped aside. "But..."

Jeremy turned. "Yes?"

"Can you stick around for a while? You know, help David out?"

Jeremy sighed. "Do I have to?"

"It would be nice."

"Yeah, nice for me to be on call in case you need to talk to me again?" Jay didn't answer. Jeremy looked at the ground, obviously frustrated. "Okay, I'll talk to David. See what he has for me. But I'm not waiting around for you, deal?"

"Deal." Jay watched Jeremy walk away, then turned back to Mike.

"What did he mean?" Mike asked.

"About what?"

"You know... about not taking his advice `again.'"

"Oh, that." Jay sat down across from Mike and pulled his briefcase off the floor. "Jeremy's worked with other bands I've been associated with before."

"Like who?"

Jay opened his briefcase and started flipping through papers. "Not that it's important... but all of them." Looking back up, he said. "Now, are we talking business or ancient history?"



"Hey, Jeremy?"

No answer.

"Jeremy, it's Trevor!"

Still no answer.

"Jeremy?" Trevor opened the door a crack. "Jeremy, are you there?"

"What part of silence do you not understand?"

Trevor sighed in relief as he opened the door the rest of the way. "Jeremy, there you are. I've been looking all over for you."

Jeremy sat at a desk in the small studio work room, his back to the door, tapping keys on a laptop computer. Without turning, he said, "I was actually not answering you for a reason, you know."

Trevor smiled, unsure if Jeremy was joking. "Uh... okay. So what's up?"

"Not much..." Jeremy tapped a couple more keys. "How're you?"

"Okay, I guess."

Jeremy's eyes flicked over to Trevor, then back at the screen. "Sorry, dude, just let me finish this up and I'll be right with you."

Trevor nodded, and leaned across to look over Jeremy's shoulder. "So what're you doing?"

Jeremy sighed loudly and sat back. Taking off his glasses he looked at Trevor. "Doing a favor for David. Do you know what he wants me to do?"

"No, what?"

"He wants me to program this," with key tap Jeremy called up a picture of one of the female dancers, "into transparency. Then he wants me to have a shot of you guys dancing, seen through her."


"So nothing, that's easy. Except... he doesn't just want you seen just through her. He wants you seen -- get this -- through her ass."

Trevor laughed in spite of himself. "Really?"

Jeremy glared at him. "Yes, really. Such a straight boy fantasy clip... As if this job wasn't degrading and menial enough for me." Tapping another couple of keys, the screen went blank and Jeremy leaned back again. "So what did you want?"

Trevor came up and sat on the table. "Can't I stop in to see an old friend who just arrived and say hi?"


"Uh... yeah, hi. I also wanted to talk to you."



"About what?"

Trevor stared at the wall for a second. "You know what happened to Jacob?"

Jeremy leaned forward a bit. "Yeah, you told me."

"Well... it's been a couple weeks but I don't think it's getting any better."

"Really?" Jeremy sounded almost amused. "And why do you think that is?"

"What do you mean? Have you seen the rest of the guys yet?"

"Not really." Jeremy motioned to the door. "Jay and I were talking in one of the observation rooms, so I got to see you guys..."

"Yeah, what was with you calling to Jacob over the intercom?" Trevor asked with a grin.

"Oh... that..." Jeremy shrugged. "Just making a point. Anyway, I got to see you guys doing stuff, and I see nothing unusual or worrisome."

"Huh?" Trevor stared at Jeremy. "Erik's not talking to Jacob, Dan's all weird, and Ashley..."

"Ashley's giddy and hyperactive," Jeremy finished. "Why? I think he's excited by something, because he's acting like a kid with a new toy. Conversely Jacob seems very moody and withdrawn, which I wouldn't say is out of the ordinary except he's not channeling it into his work." He cocked his head to the side. "Shall I go on?"

"Uh... yeah."

"Erik and Dan seem to be on one side of the fence, while Ash and Jake are on the other. Erik's upset about something, and isn't very comfortable around anyone right now. Dan... well, Dan's a follower, and he's following Erik for some reason. And you..." Jeremy raised his eyebrows. "You, my good friend, are trying so hard to stay in the middle, and as a result are getting torn apart." Smiling, Jeremy sat back. "How did I do?"

"Okay, I guess..." Trevor bit his lower lip. "But how is that normal?"

"Ah, Trevor, Trevor, Trevor... I've worked with several different bands, with many different dynamics. This kinda stuff happens all the time."

Trevor stared at the floor. "Yeah... I guess..."

Jeremy rolled his eyes. "Alright... what now?"

Trevor shrugged limply. "It's my fault," he said softly.


"It's my fault," Trevor repeated, just as softly.


"If I just hadn't said anything, everything would be fine..."

"Trevor, this is so not productive..." Jeremy struggled to keep his voice level.

"I don't even deserve to be part of this group..."

Jeremy sighed loudly, lowering his head into his hands. "Trevor..."

Trevor finally looked up. "Yeah?"

"Shut up."

Trevor flinched, surprised. "What?"

"I said... shut up." Jeremy turned his head slightly. "Do you know how utterly irritatingly pathetic you're being?"


"I mean, c'mon... dress up in a mangy puppy costume and jump in the pool if you want to be pathetic. Don't come to me with this martyred Saint Trevor act." Jeremy's voice had a sharp edge to it Trevor hadn't ever heard before.

"Jeremy, I don't..."

"Don't what?" Jeremy raised his voice slightly. "Don't know what I'm talking about? As if. You come in here, talking about how this is all your fault. Your fault?" Jeremy threw his arms in the air and raised his voice even more. "Oh, yes, the Great and Powerful Trevor is capable of causing so much damage, all by speaking the unfathomable words of the Great Trevor. Please, let's all pity him!"

Trevor stared at Jeremy, his mouth opened in shock, unable to speak.

"Trevor. It wasn't your fucking fault! Okay? Jacob's gay. It's not his fault. It's not my fault. It's not his parents' fault, and it sure as hell isn't your fault. It isn't good, it isn't bad... it just is. Can we all just please accept that and move on?"

Trevor could only stare, speechless, as Jeremy glared back at him.


"WHAT?!?" Jeremy yelled at the door.

The door slowly opened. "Jer'?"

"Yeah?" Jeremy said, taking a deep breath.

Erik poked his head in. "Uh... they're calling for Trevor. And you."

"Oh." Jeremy glanced at Trevor, who was staring at the floor. "Uh... we're kinda in the middle of something, E. Could you give us a minute?"

"Yeah." Erik quickly left, closing the door behind him.

Jeremy took another deep breath and looked at Trevor. Trevor had turned to look at the far wall, not moving. "Trev..." No response. "Trevor, look, I... I'm sorry. I've been... I had... look, I shouldn't have said those things. I'm sorry."

Trevor didn't look up. "You really think I'm pathetic?"

"No, I..." Jeremy took another deep breath. "I actually think I'm so pathetic. I've been jerked around so much in the past couple of days... I just snapped and unloaded on you. You didn't deserve that." After a moment of thought, he said, "What're you doing tomorrow after the shoot?"

"Huh?" Trevor looked up, surprised.

"Tomorrow." Jeremy put his glasses back on. "I'm going back to the set tomorrow after the shoot. They've got a night scene they need to film... and I was wondering if you wanted to come with me. You know, we'll catch dinner at a nice place, I'll introduce you to the actors... I'll make it up to you."

"But... what..." Trevor was very confused by this point.

Jeremy glanced at Trevor and smiled thinly. "I think we all could use a change in scenery. Don't you?"


Jacob methodically dried himself off before wrapping the large white hotel-issue towel around his waist. He still felt a little tense, his muscles feeling slightly tight, the way they did after a long day of performing, but today he felt no real sense of accomplishment. The video shoot had been more-or-less successful, but he felt, as he had every day for a while now, as if he was being somehow held back from doing his best. Stepping out of the shower, he stepped up to the sink and wiped the steam off of the mirror.

He almost smiled at the irony of his position. How many times had he done this before, staring at his face, trying to see and accept what he was... but now that he had, he still couldn't recognize the person staring back at him.

Jacob sighed as he felt the wet ends of the dreads at the back of his head, and squeezed them in an attempt to get the water out. It was the one thing he found irritating about having dreads -- the shower. Turning his head back as far as it would go, he gathered as many of them as he could and squeezed them carefully. So focused was his concentration that he didn't hear the bathroom door opening, or notice that he wasn't alone until he felt the arm wrapped around his stomach.

"Ah-shit!" Jacob jumped at the sudden contact, and had to grab quickly at the towel before it slipped off of him. Turning, he saw Ashley giggling behind him. "Ash!" Jacob took a deep breath. "You scared me."

Ashley, still grinning, stepped back. "That was the idea."

Jacob sighed and leaned against the sink. He noticed that Ashley was dressed only in his gray boxer-briefs and a pair of mismatched socks. Without thinking, he glanced down at Ashley's crotch.

"What're you lookin' at?" Ashley asked suddenly, a wide grin on his face.

"Huh? Oh..." Jacob felt his face getting red. "Nothing. I just... you do know you're wearing two different socks, don't you?"

Ashley glanced down. "Yeah, as if that was really what you were looking at."

"It was!" Jacob giggled in spite of himself, Ashley's coy mood rubbing off on him.

"Yeah, right." Ashley sidled up against Jacob, his arms curling around Jacob's bare back. Leaning close to Jacob's ear, he whispered, "Have I ever told you how sexy you look in a towel?"

Jacob laughed again, pushing Ashley's face away. "Yeah, about every time I get out of the shower."

"Well, it's true." Ashley moved behind Jacob, his arms now clasped just below Jacob's navel. Resting his chin on Jacob's shoulder, he looked forward to the mirror. The small patch Jacob had cleared of steam reflected the quasi-erotic image of two near-naked young men in an intimate embrace. "See it?"

Jacob looked at their reflection. It was what he'd wanted for so long, an image he'd seen only in his dreams, and now it was a reality. Lifting his arms he put his hands on top of Ashley's and leaned back against Ashley's chest.

"Yeah," he said. "I guess."

"No, you don't." Ashley lowered his head to kiss Jacob's neck. "But that's okay, you're still sexy to me."

Jacob blushed and wiggled slightly as Ashley's lips touched the sensitive skin of his neck, but didn't pull away. With a mischievous smile, Ashley wiggled one of his fingers out from under Jacob's hand and started pushing it under Jacob's towel.

"So..." Ashley said as he plucked at the terry cloth. "Anyone else ready for bed?"

"Do I have a choice?"

"Not really." Ashley nuzzled Jacob's neck one more time then pulled away, heading for the door.

Jacob started to follow him, but Ashley turned and, spreading his legs and crossing his arms, effectively blocking the door.

"Sorry, sir," Ashley said in a deep voice, "you can't pass."

"Why not?"

"No towels allowed beyond this point, sir."

Jacob smirked. "Yes, sir," he said and unwrapped the towel, but held it so it covered his front. Turning slightly away, he said, "A little privacy here?"

"Why? No one here but us chickens."

"A girl needs her space, though."

Ashley smiled and backed away. "Okay, but hurry up," he said and went into the room.

Jacob waited a second to make sure Ashley didn't peek before hanging up the towel. He didn't know why, but he still felt a little self-conscious about being naked in front of Ashley. He'd always avoided being completely nude in front of the other guys, but this was different. Turning off the bathroom light, he went into the bedroom of their hotel suite.

As in each of the rooms, there were two single beds. In their room, however, only one was used for sleeping, the other covered in a crumpled assortment of clothes. Ashley, in the first day of rooming with Jacob, had tried to get him to stay neat, but Jacob had patently refused. Now, Ashley was finding himself throwing his clothes onto the unused bed rather than putting them away, and now, to his chagrin, he found it strangely liberating.

Jacob smiled when he saw Ashley, laying on the other bed, his hands laced behind his head, his legs spread wide on the bed. It was a position that Jacob found irresistibly arousing.

"Hey, cutie."

Ashley watched him approach. "Hey, yourself."

Jacob stopped at the edge of the bed. "So let me get this straight. I can't have my towel, but you can have your shorts?"

Ashley shrugged, but kept his hands behind his head. "I would take them off, but, as you can see... my hands are kinda tied up right now..."

"Oh... really?" Jacob grinned. "So you can't stop me from doing... this?" Reaching down, Jacob gripped Ashley's leg just below the knee. Relaxing his grip and pulling away until his fingers just barely brushed the thin, soft, and almost invisibly light hairs he slowly started moving his hand up Ashley's thigh. He knew how ticklish Ashley was, and had learned in the past couple of days just how sensitive the inside of his legs were.

Ashley bit his lower lip and shuddered, trying valiantly to keep from squirming under Jacob's hand. Jacob's smile widened as he moved his fingers up to the edge of Ashley's shorts, then moved to the other leg. Ashley arched his back, but tried to stay still. Jacob ran his fingers slowly down Ashley's other leg, then up again. He was about to switch legs again when Ashley jerked away and grabbed Jacob's hands in his own.

"Okay, okay, you win!" Ashley said, taking a deep breath.

"Oh, really?" Jacob kneeled on the bed. "And what do I win?"

Ashley looked up coyly. "What do you want?"

"Well, there was this matter of a certain pair of underwear..."

"They're gone."

"Good." Jacob smiled at Ashley, and leaned in to kiss him...

But Ashley turned away at the last second, leaving Jacob to kiss his cheek.

Jacob stared at Ashley for a moment before standing up.

Ashley, who had closed his eyes, opened them and looked at Jacob, surprised. "What?" he asked.

"I can't do this," Jacob said curtly. Crossing the room, he started pulling the clothes piled on the other bed.

"Can't do what? And what are you doing?"

"I'm clearing off my bed."

"Your bed? Your bed?" Ashley sat up and stared. "You're sleeping in the other bed?"

"Yes, I am." Jacob threw the last shirt into a pile against the wall and pulled the covers back.

"Because I wouldn't kiss you?" Ashley stood up. "C'mon, I'll kiss you now. It's no big deal! C'mon, I just..."

"No big deal?" Jacob glared at Ashley. "Obviously it was big enough a deal for you not to want to do it."

"No, no, no... it wasn't you!"

"Then what was it?" Jacob turned to find Ashley standing directly in front of him.

Ashley looked at Jacob, an expression of concern and sympathy on his face. "Jake..." Reaching out, he gently took Jacob's face in his hands. "Jake, please... this is all still kinda new to me."

Jacob stared at the ground. "I guess..."

"You just have to be patient with me."

"Okay..." Jacob looked up. "Just so you understand... I can't just be your sex toy..."

"`Sex toy'?" Ashley grinned. "Did you actually say that?"

Jacob looked at him sharply. "I'm being serious."

"Okay, okay." Ashley held up his hands. "I'll be serious." Pulling back a bit, he said, "You're not my sex toy. I just... I'm still working out my feelings about... you know, kissing and stuff."

Jacob looked away. "Really?"

"Yes." Ashley stepped closer again. "Really." Reaching out, he wrapped his arms around Jacob's shoulders. "Now, come back to bed? Please?"

Jacob didn't feel like it was over, as if things hadn't been completely resolved, but he allowed himself to be pulled back to the bed anyway. Maybe all his needs couldn't be met by a simple, carnal joining... but a lot of them could.


"I'm sorry about that."

Jeremy leaned against the studio wall, his eyes inscrutable behind his sunglasses, a lit cigarette in his hand. "About what?"

Jay glanced down at the ground, then back up. "Being so harsh on you yesterday."

Jeremy shrugged. "It's no big deal. I've always prided myself in understanding the reasons behind what you guys do every day, and this is no exception. You want these guys to have a good career, unmarred by any scandal or negativity. And, apparently, an American boy band with an openly gay member is a scandal in this part of the world."


"I'm being serious, Jay." Jeremy turned to face Jay. "I get bullheadedly idealistic, sometimes. Ben says it's one of my worst faults... but the bottom line is I often find myself being staggeringly irritating when I play the devil's advocate, especially when I know I'll loose. My career is different from theirs, and sometimes I forget that."

"Still, you had some good points."

"Of course I had some good points. I might be bullheaded, but I'm not full of crap." Jeremy smiled thinly. "However, I also know there are a lot of people who have their reputations and careers riding on this project's success. That's actually one of the reasons I'm here. I owe a lot of people favors, and if this helps them out, it helps me out."

"Gee," Jay said dryly. "How magnanimous of you."

Jeremy stared at Jay for a moment before smiling. "Don't think I don't know what that means."

"Oh, I know you do." Jay took a deep breath. "So... can we count on you to be a team player about this?"

"What, about Jacob?" Jeremy seemed almost startled. "Of course. Did you have any doubts?"

"Well, after yesterday..."

"Yesterday, yesterday..." Jeremy waved his hand in the air. "Yesterday was Monday, it was too hot, my computer wasn't working properly..."

"And Ben wasn't with you."

"Bingo." Jeremy grinned. "But that's all taken care of today. Of course... I could think of a million other things I would rather be doing on my day off. But, alas, that's what my menial existence has come down to."

"Yeah, whatever."

Jeremy shook his head. "So... what do you think about my idea?"

"That all depends... it's just for a couple of days, right?"

"Of course. Naturally, I'd like more, but I understand. Besides, my sister will be in town, she's a better cook than I am, so they'll be fed, a few other friends will be over, so there'll be a regular party... but I'd like some time alone with family, as well. But trust me, they'll be a lot better after a break."

Jay sighed. "Okay, I'll talk to Mike about it. He won't like it, but I can be convincing."

"Oh, I know you can." Jeremy looked down and noticed that his cigarette had burned down to the filter. "And I know you made me forget my cigarette on purpose."

"Oh, definitely." Jay smiled sweetly as he opened the door for Jeremy. "You really should quit, you know. It's a nasty habit."

"So's making artificial musicians into pop idols, but that doesn't seem to stop you, does it?" Jeremy asked, smiling sweetly back as he went inside.


"What're you doing?"

Ashley motioned for Jacob to be quiet, and leaned his head against the workroom door. Jacob put his head beside Ashley's, and heard the faint strains of guitar music... and the sound of laughter.

"Who's in there?" Jacob asked.


"Jeremy?" Jacob stood up. "When did he get here?"


"And you didn't tell me?"

Ashley stood up and shrugged. "You didn't ask." With a smile, Ashley knocked on the door, calling, "Jeremy? Hey, man, are you in there?"

There was a moment of silence, then, "Who is it?"

"Ashley and Jake."

"Oh... come in!"

Ashley opened the door and walked in, Jacob following behind him. Jeremy turned his head to smiled at them, Ben sitting in his lap.

"Ash! Jake... what's up, guys?"

"Not much... except you never said hi yesterday," Ashley said, pretending to be hurt.

Jeremy pushed Ben off his lap. "Well, I was put to work immediately upon my arrival. Programming strange heterosexual wet-dream fantasies for your video." Tapping a couple of keys on his laptop, he said, "Except, of course, for this.

Ashley looked over Jeremy's shoulder. "Why, what're you doing?"

Jeremy laughed. "Oh... nothing."

Ben giggled and whispered something to Jeremy, making him laugh again.

"Oh, come on," Ashley said. "You guys can't tell me it's something then not tell me! You can't keep secrets like that! It'll drive me crazy!"

"Aww, poor cutie..." Ben said as he sat on the table. Looking up at Jacob, he said, "Hey, Jake, how's it hangin'?"

Beside him Jeremy pretended to shudder. "Oh, please don't start saying that."


"The whole `how's it hanging' dumb blond surfer act."

"I was just asking Jake how he's doing."

"Then do that."

Ben sighed indulgently and smiled at Jacob. "He's in a bad mood."

Ashley came up and sat on the table. "Really? Then why was he laughing earlier?"

"He wasn't," Ben said, his eyes never leaving Jacob. "I was."

"What about?"

"Jer? Wanna show him?"

This whole time Jacob hadn't lifted his eyes from the floor. Now he slowly looked up to see Ben studying him with opened scrutiny. Uncomfortable, Jacob tried to smile and look away, but Ben didn't so much as flinch.

Before Jacob could break the silence Ashley laughed.

"What?" Jacob asked, coming up beside Ashley with an internal sigh of relief.

Ashley moved over for Jacob to see. "Look at this!"

Jeremy smiled and pressed a couple of buttons on the laptop. A silver apple logo appeared, then a square intended to look like an old-fashioned television blinked opened. A few seconds later, Trevor's form appeared in the square. Jacob recognized the scene from the individual sessions in the blue screen room, where Trevor was supposed to pretend a girl made of water was dancing in front of him. The green background had been replaced by off-white, and there was no sound as Trevor mouthed the words to the song. It was only a few seconds long, then the image blurred as if seen through water and faded out.

Jacob looked at Ashley. "What?"

Ashley giggled. "You didn't see it?"

"No... was I supposed to?"

"Play it again."

Jeremy shrugged and with the tapping of a couple of keys restarted the program. The sequence replayed itself, and this time Ashley touched the screen.

"Watch this..."

Jacob followed Ashley's finger, and felt his face getting red when he realized Ashley was pointing at Trevor's crotch. But both Jeremy and Ben were grinning, so he kept watching.

Nothing happened that Jacob noticed throughout the sequence. He was about to look away as the image blurred again, when he saw it.

As the image rippled, Trevor's form distorted, but not before one seemingly innocently-placed ripple over Trevor's crotch made it bulge out as if with a rather large erection for a moment before fading out.

Jacob stared at the screen for another second before he burst out laughing. "What the hell was that?"

Ben giggled as Jeremy rolled his eyes indulgently. "Germ got the idea last night."

"Hey!" Jeremy reached out and pretended to punch Ben. "Remember what I said about bedroom talk!"

Ashley laughed. "So... did you do anything to the rest of us?"

Jeremy shrugged. "The rest of you don't have nifty special effects that I can manipulate when I'm bored and need to amuse myself."

"Can you try?"

Jeremy chuckled. "Try? You want subtle sexual images inserted into your debut music video?" He thought for a moment. "Which reminds me... don't tell Trevor. Hell, don't tell anyone. I want at least one thing I've ever done with you guys to survive the censors and cutting room floor, cool?"

Ashley shook his head. "C'mon, man, you can't expect us to be quiet about this! This is... this is so cool!"

"Yes, it is," Jeremy agreed calmly as he closed his laptop. "But I want it to be so cool and in public circulation, then it will be coolness to the max, dig?"

"Yeah, I guess..." Ashley pouted.

Jeremy looked at Ashley, then to Ben, and shook his head. "Okay, fine, you can tell Trevor. But tell him I'm not changing it, either!" Raising his hand, he stopped Ashley from hugging him. "And no pretending to be a small child, either. I get enough of that at home."

"Fine, I'll just hug Ben." Ashley turned, as if jealous, and hugged Ben.

Jeremy watched them, then turned to Jacob. "So, Jacob, how about a hug?"

Ashley turned back quickly. "No fair! Everyone knows Jacob's your favorite."

Jeremy laughed. "Yeah, so shoot me, daddy plays favorites." Leaning back, Jeremy smiled. "Speaking of which, how would you two like to get out a little bit?"

"What do you mean?"

"Oh, I don't know... I mean, how much of the city have you guys been allowed to see since you got here?"

Ashley snorted. "Like, none of it... we've been working pretty hard."

"Ah, well... I'm taking Trevor out tonight. I'm supposed to be on the movie set to visit people for the night shoot, and we were going to go out to dinner somewhere nice." Jeremy spread his hands. "How would you guys like to come along?"

Jacob looked at Ashley. "I don't know..."

"Yes, definitely," Ashley said quickly.

Jeremy shook his head. "A little too eager, dude... I dunno..."

Ashley instantly got down on his knees. "Please, Jer? Pleeeeze?"

Jeremy laughed. "Okay, okay... I guess we have room for a cute boy begging in the back seat..." Glancing up, he noticed Jacob looking pensively at the floor. "Tell you what. Go tell Jay you're coming with us, cool?"

"Cool." Ashley jumped up. "Jake?"

Jeremy interrupted. "Jake and I have to talk about some things. We'll join you in a bit."

"Cool," Ashley said again, and left, bounding with a giddy energy that made him look like a small child.

Jacob felt a thrill of nervousness when Jeremy said he wanted to talk to him. Thinking quickly, he turned to Jeremy and said, "So what do you do on the set, anyway?"

"Oh, absolutely nothing. I sit around, annoy the director, distract the actors, and make a general nuisance of myself. Kinda like what you do here." Jeremy grinned, and turned back to his computer. "So... what's the deal with you and Ash?"

Jacob sighed. This was the subject he'd been afraid of, and wanted to avoid. Quietly, he started backing to the door. "It's a long... involved... complicated story."

"Okay, then tell me the short, concise, simplified version." Jeremy had opened his laptop and was staring intently at the screen. Ben was watching him and didn't see Jacob's hand on the door knob.

"Um... well... I had sex with Ashley. See ya'." Jacob turned the doorknob and stepped outside.

"You had sex? With Ashley?" Jeremy turned, about to say something else when he noticed Jacob's attempted escape. "Whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa!" Jumping up, Jeremy caught Jacob by the arm. "Long version! Long version!" Dragging Jacob back into the room, he pushed him into a chair. "Tell the long version. Like, now." In spite of his commanding tone, Jeremy was grinning in anticipation. Jacob glanced at Ben, who shrugged, a similar smile on his face.

"Okay... well..." Jacob smiled nervously. "Uh... well, do you remember that night I called?"

"The night you came out to the guys?"


"Yeah, go on."

"Well, remember someone came to the door?"

"Yeah, and made me wait for hours and hours for you to call back and you never did? Yeah, I remember."

Jacob took a deep breath. "Well, it... it was Ashley. He came in... he kissed me... and... we ended up in bed."

"Whoa... he kissed you?"


"Like... on the mouth?"

Jacob blushed. "Yeah."

Jeremy leaned back in his chair. "Was he drunk?"


"Wow. That's so incredible..." Jeremy's grin turned wicked. "You dog you!"


"You little minx!"

Jacob sighed and stood up. "This is why I didn't want to tell you. Or the other guys."

"You didn't tell the other guys?"

"No, and I'd prefer it if you didn't tell them."

Jeremy laughed. "I don't need to. Be-lieve me, they know."

Jacob turned to the door. "Look, if you're gonna just..."

Jeremy's smile disappeared. "Oh... a bit sensitive about it, hey?"

"Yes, and I'm not going to take any abuse about this."

Jeremy reached out and touched Jacob's arm again. "Abuse? Jake... Jacob, look, You know I wouldn't... I mean, I'm sorry. I didn't know... I mean, I still don't know..." He glanced to Ben, who hadn't moved his position the whole time. "You want to tell me what's going on?"

Jacob looked down at Jeremy for a moment, then shook his head. "No," he said, and pulled his arm out of Jeremy's grasp. Opening the door, he quickly disappeared.


"Oh, god this is so fake."

Ben poked Jeremy. "Shhh!" he hissed.

Jeremy glanced over at Ben. "Well, it is."

"And you need to be quiet!" Ben whispered. "David's getting pissed off at you, and I'd like to watch!"

Jeremy sighed and leaned back in his chair. "They really can do much better."

"I know."

"This is so not representative of what they can do."

"I know."

Jeremy crossed his legs and tapped the side of his chair. "So you think Jacob's really mad?"

"He seemed like it."

"Yeah..." Jeremy didn't turn to face Ben. "You think he'll stay mad for long?"

"I don't know," Ben said lightly. He knew Jeremy was upset, but didn't press it.

"Not that I care. I've got way too much to worry about."

"Of course you do."

Jeremy watched as the cameras focused on Ashley for a moment, then pulled back as the guys turned in unison, all while mouthing the words to the song being played in the background.

"How much do you want to bet they'll be so tired of this song by the end?"

Ben looked wryly at Jeremy. "How tired were you of `Days of Plenty' when you shot the video?"

"That was different!" Jeremy said. "I wrote that song, I liked that song... I can't imagine singing someone else's words..." trailing off, Jeremy half-stood. "Did they just..."

Ben grinned. "Yes."

"But they're catering to young audiences..."

"Apparently not quite so young."

Jeremy stared for another few seconds before sitting down again. "This is utterly disgraceful, you know."

"Yes, I know."

"I mean, this is almost painful."

"I expect it is."

"How pretentious and arrogant and... do I really want to be associated with something like... I did so much..."

"No one's doubting how much you've done."

"But this..."

"Isn't what you thought it would be."

"No." Jeremy sighed. "So you think he'll ever forgive me?"

"Is that what we're talking about?"

"What did you think we were talking about?"

"I'm not sure anymore."

Jeremy folded his hands on his lap. "I did a lot over the past year for all of them."

"Yeah, you did."

"Especially Jacob."

"Especially Jacob." Ben paused. "Jeremy... I know you like Jacob, but..."

As Ben expected, Jeremy found a way to interrupt by suddenly standing up. "Yeah, way to go Erik!" he yelled, clapping his hands.

Ben turned to see Erik smiling, embarrassed, standing up from where he'd fallen behind the raised stage area. Trevor was obviously trying to keep a smile off of his face, Ashley was saying something that couldn't be heard over the music, and Jacob was staring off into space. The director motioned for the music to be turned off, then turned.

"Jeremy," David said tersely. "It will be kind of hard to pretend you're not there if you keep talking."

Ben had to turn away to hide his giggling as Jeremy looked at David innocently. "Oh..." Jeremy said. "I'm sorry... forgot again."

David glared at Jeremy, then turned back to the guys. "Okay, people, that's it for the day. Same blank time, same blank place, tomorrow."

"Whew!" Jeremy stood up and stretched. "I expected a whole lot more condemnation, didn't you?"

Ben shrugged. "I guess."

Jeremy turned to the guys, who were headed his direction. "Okay, gentlemen... greetings and salutations, I must now be departing. And I am taking some of you with me, right? As of now, I only have Ash and Trev. Anyone else coming?" Jeremy looked at Erik. "Whaddya say, E? Come cruise the movie lots of L. A. with us?"

Erik smiled slightly. "Nah, thanks anyway."

"Okay... Danny boy?"

"I'm actually supposed to call Cindy tonight."

"Oh... right... Cindy..." Jeremy grinned wickedly. "Still carrying on your secret romance?"

"It's not secret..."

"Of course not. You just deny it publicly."

Dan shrugged. "So it's only a public secret."

"Of course... and that's so different from a normal secret." Jeremy turned to Jacob. "And... Jake's not coming. Okay... Trev, Ash... wagons east!"


Jeremy turned. "Yeah, Ben?"

"I'll meet you in the car, okay? I've got to go use the little boy's room."

"Sure, we'll be waiting. My guys? Shall we go? Other guys... laters!"


"You sure you don't want to come?"

"Yeah, I'm sure."

"Okay, man, we'll be back later tonight, okay?"


Ashley paused and studied Jacob's face. "You sure you're okay?"

Jacob smiled. "Yeah, man. You go and have fun."

"Okay..." Looking around, Ashley made sure no one was watching, then leaned in and kissed Jacob quickly. "See ya' tonight," he said, and ran to catch up with Trevor.

Jacob paused for a moment, watching Ashley and Trevor follow Jeremy out to the parking lot and silently cursed himself. Why did he feel this way? It was all so perfect... Ashley kissed him, cared for him... This was what he'd wanted for months... Ashley, sharing a room with him... sharing a bed with him...


Jacob looked up, startled, to find Ben standing behind him. "Yeah?"

"What's up?"

Jacob shrugged. "Changing."

Ben nodded and waited, but Jacob didn't say anything else. "So... I couldn't help but notice that don't seem to be very happy with Jeremy right now."

"Not really." Jacob peeled off his shirt and threw it into his bag.

"Any chance of getting over this anytime soon?"

"Not really," Jacob repeated.

Ben sighed. "Okay, I guess he deserves that. He was a bit insensitive back there."

Jacob shrugged again.

"Jacob? What exactly were you upset at, anyway?"

Jacob pulled out an old t-shirt and slipped it on. "With Jeremy?"

"That's who we're talking about, isn't it?"

Jacob sighed and sat down in a chair. "Yeah... I guess... I just don't need this right now."

Ben sat down in a chair across from him. "Need what?"

"Being reminded of what's going on."


"It's just... coming too fast, you know?" Jacob looked at Ben. "I mean, when you first met Jeremy, did you ever had this feeling that, even though you were getting what you wanted, it's just not the same as you always dreamed?"

"With Jeremy? No." Ben thought for a moment. "I had it once with this guy, Sean. I had a crush on him for the longest time, back home. He was, as far as I was concerned, perfect. He had these green eyes that just sparkled... really light blond hair..." Ben smiled slightly.

"Really?" Jacob smiled back. "I never knew you had a boyfriend before Jeremy."

"Well... I didn't."

"What?" Jacob asked, confused. "But what about..."

"Sean? Oh, Sean and I had lots of fun. We were together for about a year, carrying on behind our parents' backs, kissing in the bathroom stalls, staying overnight at each others houses... it was perfect for eleven months, one week, two days and thirteen hours." Ben smiled ruefully. "But then he broke it off. When he got a girlfriend."

Jacob thought for a moment, then shook his head. "I know what you're trying to say, that Ashley's straight and can't care for me. But this is different. He..."

"Let me guess," Ben said. "He's working out his feelings, he's confused. He's not sure how he feels about holding hands, or kissing, or saying `I love you.' Right?"

Jacob looked away.

"But he's not so confused about letting you suck his dick, is he?"

"He's just..."

"He's just a cute little straight boy you're infatuated with. But you know he can never love you. You can feel it. That's what doesn't feel right." Ben leaned forward. "Jacob? Can we just clarify here and say, whether or not I'm right, you're really upset about what's going on with Ashley, and Jeremy just got caught in the crossfire?"

Jacob shrugged, so Ben leaned a bit closer. "Jacob? We are talking about the guy who alienated himself from your entire management team because he didn't like how you were treated, right?" Jacob shrugged again. "Jacob, come on." Still no answer. "Okay, fine, I'll let you work it out with Jeremy on your own. Right now, I just want to say... dude, please don't fall in love with Ashley. You'll just end up getting hurt."

"But he..."

"He's straight. And you will always want more than he's willing to give."

Jacob looked up sharply. "What do you mean? He's already given me...."

"Sex," Ben said, cutting him off. "And if you were into just sex, you'd be fine with that. But you're not."

Jacob paused, then laughed bitterly. "You are such a hypocrite, you know that?"

Ben raised an eyebrow, a gesture that mimicked Jeremy so perfectly Jacob would have laughed had he noticed. "Oh?"

"Yeah. You and Jeremy sat there when I visited you, telling me I should go out and have fun and have sex with as many guys as I could before I got so popular that people would recognize me and talk. And now, you come up and say I shouldn't have had sex with the one guy I want to have sex with."

"Okay... I'll give you that. Jeremy and I did want you to go out and have fun. But," Ben raised his hand to stop Jacob from interrupting. "But we wanted you to have fun and have sex. Not fall in love with a straight boy."

Jacob stood up and got a bottle of water from the table. He took a moment to take a long drink. Turning back, he said, "Look, I know it's cliché and silly, but I'm just going to follow my heart on this one, okay? I appreciate your concern, but really... I think I'm doing the right thing."

Ben stood up, sighing in resignation. "Okay, fine," he said. "By all means, follow your heart. Just understand, Ashley's following something a lot more base, and not nearly as easy to break." With that, he turned and left.

Jacob watched Ben leave, and tried to organize his thoughts. On one hand, he knew that Ben had some valid points. On the other... Ashley...

Riiing... Riiing...

Jacob jumped slightly at the sound of his cell phone, jolted out of his reverie. Reaching into his bag he found his phone, wondering who could be calling him.


"Hey, Jake?"

"Yeah... Brian?"

"Yeah, who else would be calling you?"

"All my girls, man, who else?" Jacob relaxed and sat down in a chair. It had been a long time since his brother had called him, and he felt good at the familiar contact. "So, what's up, yo?"

"Not much... did you get my message?"

"Message? What message?"

"I left you a voice mail."

"Oh... must not have got it. Why, what's wrong?"

"Nothing, dude, just... something happened, thought you should know."

Jacob tensed up. "What happened?"

"Don't get like that, I know that tone... it's nothing, really. We got a phone message, that's all, probably from some conservative political freak who thinks rock'n'roll is the devil's work."

"Oh... okay. What did he say?"

"Not much, like I said. He just said something about you being gay, and he thought we should know."

Jacob felt his heart leap into his throat. "What?"

"Yeah, it was probably some sensationalist or anti-boy-band pop-idol cult guy. No big deal. Me and Dani had a pretty good laugh. He sounded so serious."

"Yeah..." Jacob's throat felt very dry, and his brain had frozen, making him speechless.

"Jake? You still there?"

"Huh? Oh... yeah, just... I wasn't expecting that."

Brian laughed. "Yeah, tell me about it. It was a little bit of a shock for us, too. Then it was like, `Who the fuck is this guy, anyway?' He didn't leave his name... probably some nut. I mean, how ridiculous can you get?"

Jacob managed to find a chuckle deep inside somewhere that he forced out and made it sound almost real. "Heh... yeah. How crazy is that?" Jacob bit his lower lip and closed his eyes. "Guy musta been real nuts."


Okay, sorry that took so long. If that seemed disjointed and a bit sub-standard (even for me) please forgive me... I have been swallowed by the games Myst and Riven. They are evil! Do not play them if you have ANYTHING better to do! Which you don't -- believe me. Also, I just want to say thanks to everyone who has actually read this far, whether you wrote to me or not. I just re-read the first chapter, and realized that the disclaimer was WAY too long... so everyone who made it past that is worthy of my thanks. ;-) --- Kai Wailbone