Kevin & Justin
Peter Kamphuis
Initial Edit: 26 October 2000
Final Revision: 05 November 2000


All the usual disclaimers apply: please stop reading if you are underage or homophobic. Please note that this is a work of fiction - nothing is being implied about the sexuality of any of the people portrayed below.

Author's Notes:

Hey everyone.

Here's the 20th chapter of the story (didn't think I'd make it this far when I first started)! I'm so glad to actually be here at this incredible milestone.

Several things I need to get out of the way before we progress any further:

  • There will be several flashback scenes in this story - please note, though, that the flashbacks aren't told from any single person's point-of-view.

  • I'll be taking a bit of a break after this chapter, to think some things through. This is the final chapter of the current arc. As of the next chapter, I'll be starting to wind down the story to its conclusion, and I need to plan it out in a bit more detail. I'll try not to take too much time before posting the next chapter, but I can't promise anything I'm afraid.

  • I'd love to hear from any (and all!) of you still reading this story. I'm not getting a lot of feedback anymore, and I don't know if it's because everyone is content with what's happening/happened so far, or whether people have stopped reading. Even a quick 'hello peter' would be greatly appreciated. :)

  • Look out for a single-part story called 'Saturday Night Love' which I'll (hopefully) post within the next week. It's a boyband story, and only my third attempt at a story in this genre. I hope you'll all like it, anyway.

  • Finally, hello to all my online friends in the #boybands chat room - there are way too many of them to mention individually, but you all know who you are! <g>

Once again, many thanks to my co-editor, mh, for his sterling efforts (and I didn't even have to light a fire under him to finish it either, loveheart! <grin>)

Sorry for the longish 'Previously...' section below, but a lot happened in the last chapter which you'd probably need to refresh your memory of. And speaking of 'long', this is the longest chapter yet (I believe)... Hopefully it doesn't put you all to sleep! :)


Kevin comes face to face with his mother and brother in the arena's dressing room. In an attempt to get away from them, he almost punches A.J., who is standing in his escape path, coming to his senses just moments before he connects with his bandmate. He breaks down and A.J. consoles him, while the others in the dressing room try to recover from the shock.

Meanwhile, Justin decides that he cannot go home for fear of losing the euphoria that has claimed him since Kevin told him he loved him. He orders the chauffeur to change destination, and turns off his cell phone, effectively cutting himself off from his family and friends. In another part of town, Justin's mother, Lynn, finds that JC has fallen asleep while waiting for Justin's return. She worries about the damage done to JC's and Justin's friendship, but knows that they'll have to work it out themselves.

A.J. tries to convince Kevin that he needs to talk to his family, but Kevin is not willing to do so. In the end, Ann pleads for everyone to leave her and Kevin alone, and then tries to talk to her recalcitrant son. He tries to ignore her, but breaks down and asks her why she hurt him so badly. She honestly replies that she doesn't know why, and then starts weeping, shocking Kevin into comforting her.

Outside the dressing room, Howie notifies everyone that he's done his solo, and Nick is almost through with his. Brian volunteers to go on next, and A.J. suggests for him to perform two songs, giving Kevin as much time as possible to sort out the issues with his mother. Brian agrees and goes on stage, passing an unresponsive Nick on the way. Unbeknownst to Brian, Nick hangs around and hears him sing 'The Perfect Fan' for his first solo. Nick immediately realises the significance of the song, and rethinks his whole attitude about Brian, and what Brian did by bringing Ann and Jerald to Orlando.

Ann tries to compose herself, and asks for Kevin's forgiveness. Kevin refuses to believe he has anything to forgive her for, coming to the realisation that she didn't hurt him deliberately, or out of spite. She argues that regardless of the intentions, she did hurt him, and as such, required his forgiveness, which he reluctantly gives. Having made an effort to start patching up their broken relationship, Kevin and his mother comfort each other.

Nick, still battling with his thoughts, advises the group that Brian is almost done. His odd behaviour leads A.J. to ask what Brian sang, and Nick tells them. A.J., Howie, and even Jerald pick up on the significance of the song. A.J. finally heads off, and thanks a perplexed Brian when he passes by him.

A junior executive from The Firm is attending the concert, and realising that something is afoot, calls Michael (the managing director of the company) to fill him in.

When Brian finally reaches the hallway outside the dressing room, Nick realises he had to mend their strained friendship, and stuns a surprised Brian with a hug and an apology. Brian accepts the apology, happy to have things between himself and Nick getting back to normal.

Kevin advises his mother that he has to get ready for the concert, and after some further discussion agrees to fly out to Lexington, after the tour has ended, to speak to her properly. She leaves, and Kevin gets ready as quickly as he can. When he's dressed, the guys come in and look at him quizzically. He doesn't have time to explain anything, so he gets a quick rundown of what's happened so far in the concert, and then leaves to perform his solo. When he appears on the stage, much to A.J.'s surprise, the crowd cheers to see him. They were worried he wouldn't make an appearance at all.

Back in the dressing room, Kevin's phone rings, and Brian answers it. When he hears Michael's voice, he tries to shrug the MD off, saying that Kevin will call him back after the concert. Then worrying that Michael might try to call back again, he turns the phone off.

In a darkened corner of a restaurant, Justin tries calling Kevin, but the phone is now off. He leaves a message instead, praying that Kevin will get it soon.

The Backstreet Boys end up performing several extra songs at the end of the concert, in a conciliatory gesture to their audience. This pleases the audience no end, but causes the junior exec from The Firm to wonder what is going on with them, and Kevin in particular.

Across town at the Harless residence, JC finally wakes up to complete darkness and realises it's well past time for Justin to have gotten home. He rushes downstairs only to find his bandmates and Lynn waiting for Justin's return in silence. Lance advises him that they've tried Justin's phone, as well as both Kevin's home and cell phones, but to no avail. He tries to convince himself that Justin is okay, but Chris's worried question, 'Then where is he? His dinner with Kevin must have ended hours ago.' fills him with dread.

And now...

Kevin & Justin - Chapter 20

At a table recessed into the darkest corner of the restaurant, a lonesome young man contemplated his half-full cup of coffee absently.

Vying for attention inside his head, two scenes played out, alternately filling him with a sense of joy and guilt. The first, which made his heart skip faster in excitement and pleasure, was of the time he'd spent earlier that afternoon with his sweetheart, and the promise of the joy yet to come. The second, which filled him with sharp-edged guilt, was of his family and friends, worriedly waiting for his return home.

His gaze slid over the table to where his cell phone lay, and he hesitantly picked it up. He was on the verge of turning it back on when his heart overruled his head once more, and he let it drop back down to the table. He grimaced for a moment, before turning to absently contemplate his cold coffee once more...

Chris paused at the bottom of the staircase. He glanced back at the silent figure on the couch, and felt his concern building for the figure's well being. Everyone else had gone home, or to bed, finally exhausted with waiting for Justin. With the exception of the lone figure on the couch, Chris was the only person still awaiting his return, and even he had reached his limits.

On the couch, unaware of his friend's concerned gaze, JC stared blankly at the coffee table, his mind impossibly distant. He didn't even notice when Chris turned off all the lights and started wearily climbing the stairs to his bedroom.

He sat alone in the dark, almost impossibly still, as if waiting for a signal to revive him...

Justin looked across the slowly emptying restaurant, and felt a yawn building. A moment later he gave into the impulse, and immediately felt better for it.

He looked sleepily at his watch and noticed it was almost half past one in the morning. His eyelids more than confirmed the time, as they started to heavily droop in weariness. He looked back down at his half-finished cup of coffee, and even though it was stone cold by this time, he drank it in a couple of gulps. Cold or not, it would help him stay awake until he got home.


He felt the guilt spring back up at what he'd done, or rather, what he hadn't done. Not that he could do anything about it now, but nonetheless he felt extremely guilty for avoiding his family and friends all evening. But he just couldn't face them, and their thousands of questions, after the time he'd spent with Kevin. He didn't want to ruin what had happened with his angel, and though he wasn't entirely certain that JC or the others would do that, he didn't want to risk it either.

He just hoped they'd forgive him for his actions...

Picking up his cell phone from where it rested, he turned it back on. He had tried to call Kevin several times during the late evening, just to hear his voice, and had been disappointed and somewhat hurt to find that Kevin's phone was switched off. Not that he would have been able to speak to Kevin anyway, in the middle of a concert; but he was far from thinking rationally by that time. Nevertheless, earlier on in the evening he had mumbled a quick request for Kevin to call him back, and with foresight had left his cell phone number - remembering that Kevin didn't know it.

He would have left his own phone switched on, just in case Kevin returned his call, but he didn't want his parents or friends to reach him before he was ready.

As he stood up and prepared to leave the restaurant, his phone emitted the distinguishing sound which indicated he had received a message. He sat back down wearily, and dialled his messaging service. Soon, the computerised voice informed him that he had three new messages waiting. He patiently waited for the first message to play, and felt another pang of guilt as his mother's distressed voice issued into his ear.

He listened with mounting guilt while his mother anxiously asked him where he was, and pleaded with him to either call her, or return home as soon as possible. The tenor of anxiety in her voice almost had him ready to hang up and call her back, but the second message started playing before he could put thought into action. As soon as he recognised the voice, his heart started to pound faster and he forgot all about his mother's message.

"Justin? Hi, it's Kevin, here. I'm sorry sweetie, the guys switched off my phone during the concert. I didn't know that you had called until we got back on the bus. Please, if you get this message, call me back as soon as you can, okay? I don't care what time it is, I've gotta talk to you. I've got to hear your voice again. I... I already miss you, sweetie... like you wouldn't believe." There was a chuckle, which thankfully drowned out the disturbing tone in Kevin's voice - a thoroughly miserable note that had Justin on the verge of tears.

"What am I saying? You, of all people, probably know better than anyone else what I'm feeling right now." There was a shortish pause at that point, which had Justin wondering at his angel's thoughts and mood. "Anyway, Curly, please call me when you can. I'll try to stay awake as long as I can, but even if you wake me, I don't care. I just need to hear your voice again." A second pause, shorter this time, and then Kevin's voice continued. "See you, Curly. Take care. And don't forget that I love you. Bye."

Justin's arm dropped to the table, the strength having completely left it. The phone fell away from his ear in the process, and he didn't realise that the third message had started playing.

His mind replayed Kevin's message around and around, savouring both the words and his angel's voice. He was returned to the present when one of the serving staff came up to his table.

"Would you like anything else, sir?"

"Uh, no thanks. I'm just gonna go..." He didn't know what had prompted him to say that.

"Very well, sir. Thank you for visiting the Hard Rock Café, and please come back again soon." With that, the waiter nodded briefly and left, somewhat at a loss to explain the faraway tone in the young man's voice.

Justin glanced back at his cell phone and noticed it was still connected to his messaging service. He pressed the key to hang up the call, then dialled a number he had seemingly memorised without a degree of difficulty. As he waited for the phone to connect him to Kevin, he thanked his lucky stars for two things. The first being for remembering to quote his cell phone number in the message he'd left for Kevin, and the second being for having made himself known to the Hard Rock manager. With his particular credentials, he had been able to request a table in the back of the restaurant, away from all the other patrons. That forethought was about to pay off... now that he needed privacy.

His heart quickened again as he heard the familiar ringing tones down the line. After the fifth ring his nerves got the better of him, and he was on the point of hanging up when the call was answered.

Kevin blinked away the sleep from his eyes and automatically reached across the table to pick up his ringing phone. He was, or rather had been, lying awake on the couch in the living area of the bus, so as to not disturb his bandmates when Justin finally called. But at some point he had dropped off to sleep.

He glanced at his watch as he sat up, and was surprised to see that it was almost half past one in the morning.

"Hello? Justin, is that you?"

"Yeah, Kev. It's me. I hope I didn't wake you? Sorry, but I just turned on my phone only a minute ago, and though I didn't want to disturb you, I thought I'd better call you, seeing as you insisted. I hope you can forgive me - if I woke you, that is? Otherwise, I'm sorry I took so long to get back to you, and all."

There was a moment of silence, followed by a tentative, "Kevin? Boo, are you there?"

Kevin composed his features and gently replied, "I'm here, sweetie. I was just enjoying the sound of your voice."

"I'm sorry I rambled," Justin said, blushing furiously at the feelings Kevin's words had produced in him. "I guess I'm a bit nervous. Or hyper! Coffee does that to me."

"You're having coffee at this time of night?" Kevin asked softly, wanting to encourage his love to continue talking. He couldn't get enough of Justin's voice, and it soothed him after everything that had happened since they'd parted.

"Uh, sort of. Actually, I ordered it a couple of hours ago. I had some, but then got sidetracked thinking about everything." As he paused, he could almost hear Kevin silently nodding in understanding. "It went cold a long time ago, but seeing as I'm sleepy, I thought I'd better drink the rest of it before heading home."

It took Kevin a moment to float beyond the calming influence of Justin's voice. When his brain caught up with the words coming from Justin's mouth, it finally found voice. "You're not at home?"

"Umm... no," Justin replied, suddenly getting a sinking feeling in his stomach.

"Justin, have you been home yet? Since you dropped me off at the arena?"

"Uhh... no," he replied once again, softly.

"Why not?" Kevin asked in concern. "Your family and friends must be worried!"

"I guess so," Justin replied.

"Justin," Kevin said, feeling a sense of worry settle over him, "where are you? And please tell me why you haven't gone home yet?"

"I... I..."

"Sweetie, take your time. I'm not going to scold you; I'm just worried. You're not hurt are you? You're not in some kind of trouble?"

"No, Boo! Nothing like that," Justin replied, a tad more firmly than his previous attempts. "I just didn't want to spoil what happened today."

"Why would it have been spoiled if you'd gone home?"

Justin heard the confusion in his angel's voice, and realised he had to explain everything to Kevin. "Kev, I had a wonderful time today. In fact, it was the best day of my life." He glanced down at the table, trying to hide the film of moisture that had covered his eyes. "I've been in love with you for so long, and wishing to be with you for so long, that it felt like a miracle happened when you told me you felt the same. You can't begin to understand how I felt right then."

"I can, sweetheart," Kevin replied softly, not taking offence at Justin's thoughtless remark. "I felt exactly the same thing when you told me that you loved me, too, sweetie." Though separated by many miles, Kevin's eyes filmed over as well, as he emulated his love back in Orlando.

"I'm sorry, Kev. Of course you did..." Justin paused, obliquely apologising further for his thoughtlessness. "And knowing how I felt, I know you can appreciate how much I wanted to keep this feeling alive."

"Of course I do, sweetie. I understand only too well." The gentle smile that crossed his face seemed to fly through the conduit of digital energy that linked them together and copy itself onto Justin's face. All too soon, however, it disappeared from Justin's face.

"Well, I knew that as soon as I got home that I would've had to face everyone's questions..."

"I don't see what the problem is, Just. Why would that be bad?" Kevin's voice held a hint of confusion.

"It would be bad because..." Justin swallowed, trying to find the courage to tell Kevin the one thing he hadn't told him the previous day.

"Justin? You're scaring me, love. What's wrong?"

"Boo, I... I neglected to mention something to you earlier today."

"What's that?" Kevin asked slowly, after a few moments of thoughtful silence.

"Kev... not everyone's happy with me loving you. JC... JC is finding it hard to accept that I love you."

After a long pause, Kevin echoed, "JC?"

"Yeah. Josh is having a hard time with all this. It's nothing personal between him and me - like I told you before, he's straight and only loves me like a brother. It's just that..."

"Sweetie, I'm sorry. This is obviously painful for you. You don't need to say anything else. Whenever you feel up to it, we'll talk about it then."

"No, Kev, it's nothing like that. It's not that I don't feel comfortable about telling you this, it's just that it's long and complicated. I'd like to tell you, if you want to hear it, but I'm not sure that now's the best time. You're probably dead tired after the concert; I should really let you get some sleep."

"Nah," Kevin replied, chuckling softly. "I can sleep in all I like tomorrow. I'd like to hear what the problem is with JC, if you still want to tell me?"

"I do, Boo."

"Then go ahead, Justin; I'm all ears. And this way I can get to hear your voice for a long time too. God, I've missed you!"

"Me too, Boo. Me too."

"Don't you dare cry, Curly! You'll only set me off. And the last thing I want to do is cry anymore tonight."

"'Cry anymore'?" Justin repeated curiously. "You've been crying?"

Kevin sighed. "It's a long story, Curly. And one I'll tell you after you've told me yours. But just so you know, you aren't the only one who neglected to mention something."

"Oh," Justin replied, perplexed.

"Don't worry about it right now, Justin. You'll find out what happened to me after you've told me about JC."

"Okay, Kev," Justin acquiesced. Then taking a deep breath, he started telling Kevin everything that had happened, beginning with the moment JC had confronted him with the knowledge of his sexuality, right through to JC's breakdown after finding out that he'd gone to see Kevin in Lexington.

Kevin asked very few questions, letting the story penetrate his brain. When Justin was done, he wasn't the only one to sigh in resignation.

"Justin, don't hate JC for the way he feels. He loves you and he's only reacting out of hurt to what he sees as a direct attack on you. I'm sorry he feels that way about me, but he'll come around eventually. From what you've said, he may be doing so already. Give him a chance to prove it."

"I will, Boo; because I really treasure his friendship. But yesterday afternoon, when I thought about what he might say when I got home... I couldn't face losing what I was feeling. The only way I could think of keeping it alive was to stay away until I was ready to go back home." He paused, before asking Kevin with a pleading voice, "Please tell me you understand?"

"I understand, love; really I do. And I probably would have done the same thing. But... uh, Justin... didn't you feel just a tiny bit guilty about staying away?"

"Yes," Justin admitted softly. "And not just a little bit; I felt really bad. I still do, actually."

"I know, sweetie. That's the point I'm trying to make. Even though you stayed away to keep your happy feeling alive, at the same time your guilt was eating away at you. Somehow, I think you might have lost the happy feeling along the way. Did you?"

Justin's eyes misted over as he softly replied, "Yeah." Then feeling a burst of anger aimed at himself he said, "Damn! You're saying that I wasted my time, and I might as well have gone straight home?"

"No, sweetie. I'm not saying that. Like I said before, I probably would have done the same thing as you. And I do understand, sweetheart, really I do. I just know you; I know how much this is eating you up inside. You love your family and your friends so much, especially JC. And making them worry like that would make you feel so guilty inside. I know..." He paused, before gathering his thoughts; unwilling to admit how much his words related to his own situation. "Justin, there's not a lot you can do about it now. But tomorrow morning, when you see the guys and your parents, you should apologise to them and make sure they understand what you did and why you did it. I'm sure that they'll accept your apology, and they'll only be too understanding. I promise you!"

"I love you, Boo," Justin whispered, feeling his guilt easing at his love's words. "I love you so much, Kevin. Thank you. Thank you for everything."

"You're welcome, Curly. More than welcome," Kevin replied softly, smiling gently and patiently waiting for his angel to compose himself.

"Okay, your turn now," Justin said several minutes later, his voice back to normal. "What happened to you after I left? Why were you crying?"

"The thing I neglected to tell you Justin, was that while I was in Lexington a couple of days ago, I came out to my mother and brothers."

Justin's mind raced back to the day he had spent in Lexington with Kevin and the guys, and suddenly a couple of things that had worried and perplexed him, became perfectly clear. "Oh," he replied. "That's why..."

"Yes," Kevin said softly into the silence that settled over them after Justin trailed off. He suddenly felt weary again and slowly laid himself back down on the couch. "When you saw me that first time, Brian had been trying to convince me to tell my mom."

"Why were you crying though?" Justin asked tenderly, feeling the tingle behind his eyes. That scene still had the power to render him into tears.

"It just happened, sweetie. I guess a lot of things built up inside me, until I couldn't contain the pain anymore. Some of it, no, most of it, had to do with our situation. To be so much in love with you, and yet, at the same time believing I didn't have a chance in hell of being with you, really hurt. But when Brian started talking about my mom and family, and how the secret of my being gay was just adding to my problems, I kinda lost it."

"I remember," Justin whispered painfully.

"I'm sorry, Justin. I didn't mean to remind you of that painful time."

"Don't be silly, love. It's all in the past now," Justin replied, sighing softly and getting a tight rein on his emotions. "So, after you left the arena, you went and saw your mom?"

"Yeah, I did," Kevin replied, feeling his emotions come rushing back at the memory. He continued telling Justin what happened during his talk with his mother, and found that he wasn't the only one crying at the end.

"Oh, Boo. I'm so sorry. I didn't realise you'd gone through all that when you came back to the arena."

"That's okay, sweetie; no one knew except Brian. When I came back and asked you to leave the dressing room, I came out to the rest of the guys, and it really helped to lift my spirits. They understood and accepted me unconditionally; I love them so much for that."

"They're great friends, I know. And they love you too - I know that as well."

"Thanks for saying that, Justin."

"You're welcome, love. So... uh... what happened tonight? Why were you crying?"

Kevin became silent as he organised his thoughts, then finally started speaking. With minimal elaboration, he described everything that had occurred, including what he had nearly done to A.J. Justin remained silent throughout, apparently engrossed by his tale. Finally, when Kevin had relayed everything that had happened, including his post-concert conversation with The Firm's irate managing director - he paused to wait for Justin to comment. Hearing nothing from his love, he softly queried, "Justin?"

"Sorry, Kev. I'm still here. I'm just..." He trailed off, as if having lost the thread of his thoughts. "Kevin, are you sure you're okay?" Then without waiting for an answer, Justin continued, "I'm sorry, Boo... I shouldn't be doing this now; you must be positively exhausted after everything that happened. I should let you get back to sleep and call you some other time. Sorry to bother..."

"Don't you dare, Justin Randall Timberlake," Kevin said sharply, though with a loving ache in his voice. "I don't care how exhausted I am, I want to hear your voice. I want to talk to you, and tell you how much I love you. I want to be as close to you as I can possibly get, and right now that's by talking to you on the phone. I love you, Curly, and I'll never get tired of talking to you, or being with you. I... I need to be able to hear your voice, Justin. I need to know that you're there. I need to feel your presence. I... I need you, Justin."

"Me too, Boo," Justin replied, desperately trying to hold back his tears. "I don't want to spend a second apart from you. I want to hold you, and listen to you, and love you forever. I... I..."

Kevin swallowed his tears away as his sweet angel trailed off into a sobbing sound. "I know, love; I know. I love you so much, Justin. More than anything." His tears wouldn't have a bar of being denied any longer and seeped past his defences, temporarily blinding him. "I miss you, my angel... so badly. I just want to feel you next to me - feel the softness of your curls against my cheek; feel the sweetness of your lips pressed against mine; feel the smooth skin of your body under my fingers; and feel the beating of your heart against mine. I... I love you more than I'll ever be able to express. And deep down inside, I know you feel the same way, love."

"I do, Kevin. I do," Justin whispered, wiping the tears from his eyes. "I don't have the words to describe just how much I love you... I don't think there are any. But you are the most important thing in my life right now. I just wanted to let you know..." He trailed off as his voice became choked.

"I know, Curly. I know. I feel the same."

"Boo, I... I'm gonna go home now. I'm so tired. And you need to get some sleep before your next concert, too. But before I go, I want to say that I love you, Boo. And I miss you terribly. Please come back to me as soon as you can. I... I really need you here."

"I will, Justin. As soon as I can. I love you, too," Kevin replied. Then, with a voice that sounded barely audible across the line, he said, "Goodnight, Curly."

Justin wasn't able to find his voice to reply. A moment later there was silence, as Kevin hung up. He let his hand, the one holding up the phone, slide down until it came to rest in the palm of his other hand, and finally found his voice. "Goodnight, Boo."

The waiter who had attended the young man's table almost an hour earlier, found his gaze returning to him for some inexplicable reason. As he curiously gazed at him, he found his entire attention caught by the sight of a single tear dropping, as if in slow motion, to land on the cell phone in the young man's upturned hands. An overwhelming feeling of awe and sadness welled up inside him, which took an extremely long time to banish - even long after the young man had left...

On the bus, Nick and Brian watched helplessly as Kevin dissolved into a teary mess; his soft crying filled with the hurt and longing of being apart from the man he loved. They instinctively came together in a hug, seeking the comfort of one another, as tears sprang to their own eyes.

They remained hidden in the hallway - separating the living area from the sleeping area - until Kevin's crying dwindled away to nothingness, then slowly parted. With a nod of his head, Brian indicated that they should head back to their beds. Nick nodded in reply, but reached out to stall Brian's departure. Brian gave him a confused, questioning look, which he answered with his index finger - indicating 'hold on a minute'. Brian acquiesced, though his face continued to display confusion.

Nick quietly crept into the living room, taking deliberate care to make no sound, and approached the couch that Kevin was lying on. He looked down and felt his heart break as he saw Kevin lying on his side, his exhausted countenance betraying the sadness which had haunted him into sleep. The still-drying tear tracks on Kevin's face were almost enough to make him shed fresh tears, but he controlled himself with determination; knowing that the last thing that Kevin needed was to be awoken from the fatigued sleep he'd fallen into.

Taking a final look at the man who meant so much to him, Nick softly whispered, "Soon, Boo. Soon you and Justin can be together, and you'll be happy again. I can't wait to see you smile again, Kevvy; it's been so long. You'll be back with him soon, and then everyone will be happy again."

Sighing softly, he left the weary man to sleep and returned to Brian's side. "Let's go," he told Brian, leading the way back to their bunks.

Brian followed him silently, still slightly confused at what Nick had done, and what he had been whispering - which he hadn't been able to make out at all. But the combined emotional overload of what he had just witnessed, and everything else that had transpired earlier that day and night, had him almost reeling on his feet. He just wished that he'd been able to sleep through the cell phone's ringing, like A.J. and Howie had apparently done, but it wasn't to be.

As his head hit his pillow, he realised that he and Nick still had a lot to discuss, now that their friendship had been patched up... including the matter of the sketchbook...

Justin exited the cab and paid the driver, thanking him at the same time. The cabbie nodded and silently pulled away, leaving him standing outside his darkened house. He turned to the door and reached into his pocket to retrieve his keys. In the process, his hand brushed against his cell phone, which instantly reminded him that he hadn't listened to the third message.

Sighing, he sat down on the door ledge and dialled back into his messaging service. He deleted the first message, stored the second, and patiently waited for the third one to start playing.

"Justin?" He froze as he recognised JC's voice. "Justin, where are you? I'm worried. We're worried! Please call when you get this message. You've got us all scared, Curly. We tried calling Kevin, but he's not answering. I just hope you're with him, and safe. I couldn't bear it if something happened to you. Please, Just," JC's voice almost sobbed as he pleaded with him, "please come back home."

Justin was left speechless as his emotions took another tumble that night...

Chris drew back from his bedroom window. The light from the cab had been enough to rouse him from the half-awake-half-asleep state he'd been in. He didn't know why he couldn't sleep, but he suspected that his worry over Justin's safety was a large part of that.

Oh well, it looked like Justin was finally home. Now he had to decide whether he wanted to do anything about it right there and then, or wait until the morning...

The front door made a loud squeaking noise when he opened it, but no one seemed to notice. Justin softly padded inside, then gently pushed the squeaking door closed and locked it, whilst silently cursing the rusty hinges.

The house was completely dark, not that he'd expected it to be otherwise, but he still felt a sense of relief that his mother, his step-father, or worse still, his friends, weren't waiting up for him.

Who was he kidding? His biggest worry was that JC might still be up and waiting for his return. He wasn't sure what he would do if that was the case...

As he silently made his way to the stairs, he heard a low, indistinct sound coming from the direction of the living room. He stopped and waited, stretching out his senses as far as he could in the hopes of identifying it. The sound repeated itself, and he realised that it was a person speaking, although in an odd slurring way. He started walking again, this time heading over to where the voice was issuing from, and suddenly realised two things as he heard the voice for the third time: first, the voice was slurred because the person was talking in their sleep, and second, the voice belonged to JC.

He froze as that realisation penetrated his brain. His first instinct was to turn around and head to the safety of his bedroom as fast as he could - he just couldn't face JC right now. But after a moment's reflection, he calmed down and realised he would only be delaying the inevitable. Whether JC and he discussed everything now, or in the morning, was neither here nor there. Besides, by the sounds of it, JC was sound asleep anyway.

Taking several tentative steps, he approached the sleeping form of his one-time best friend. He walked around so that he was standing in front of the couch, towering over the sleeping figure lying there. He bent down slowly, so that he could see his friend's face clearly in the minimal light offered by the moonlight streaming through the windows, and noticed the worried expression still plaguing his friend - even in sleep.

JC mumbled once more, but, being right beside him, Justin made out every word. His breath caught in his throat as he heard: "Pleas... com... bac... Jus.. Please." The guilt, which had never completely left him during the past few hours, came back to hit him full force. Reaching over hesitantly, he brushed his hand across his friend's temple and down to his cheek, softly whispering, "I'm here, Josh. I'm back. You don't have to worry about me anymore. Rest now. I... I'll talk to you tomorrow."

Josh didn't stir, even at Justin's touch, but the lines of worry on his forehead eased. Soon, a sigh escaped his lips, and his face took on an appearance of total calm.

Justin slowly rose and made his way back to the staircase. Giving Josh one last loving look, he started climbing it wearily, replaying Josh's words in his mind again and again. A moment later he was startled to hear an irate voice issuing from the darkness before him.

"Welcome back, Justin. So glad you could make it home..."

On the BSB tour bus, currently hurtling down the darkened interstate highways of Florida, an exhausted Nickolas Gene Carter tried to relax his body into much needed sleep.

Try as he might though, his mind wouldn't let his body rest. He sighed, as he recalled the events of earlier that night...

Orlando Arena - earlier that night, after the final 'curtain call'


Hearing the voice calling out to him, Kevin stopped mid-jog and turned around to see who it was, noticing out of the corner of his eye that his bandmates did the same. He recognised the man after a few seconds of reflection, and felt a sigh building up. Brian had warned him during their second break that Michael had called while he was performing his solo. He had idly wondered how Michael could have known about the situation at the arena, but now that he saw Ross there, he knew who the informant was.

He had originally resigned himself to calling Michael back, but had thought better of it as the night had progressed. Though he hated lying or deceiving anyone, he was prepared to 'bend' the truth a little bit in this case, and say that he had been too tired to call him back. He was just too emotionally drained to have to explain everything to Michael that evening. But now that Ross was there, in his face, his chance had evaporated.

"Hi, Ross. What can I do for you?"

"Hi Kevin. Got a minute? Michael wants to talk to you."

Kevin took note of the cell phone being held out towards him, and guessed that Michael was already on the line - Ross must have dialled him while they were singing their last song of the evening.  'Damn!'

He composed his face and turned to apologetically smile at his bandmates. "Go on ahead. Y'all need to get your makeup off anyway. I'll join y'all on the bus." He watched them file away, all looking back at him with concerned sympathy, before transferring his attention back to Ross. He spared him a very shallow smile as he took the proffered phone and greeted Michael.

"Hi, Mike. It's Kevin here."

"Are you really okay, Kevin?" Michael asked him, foregoing the usual greeting and making Kevin blink in surprise. "Ross told me that you appear to be fine, and Brian said the same thing earlier, but Ross heard the guys tell the audience you were suffering some sort of stomach bug. How are you really feeling?"

Kevin blinked again at the concern in Michael's voice, even though at the same time he silently fumed that Mike had Ross there spying on them. He sighed, as he realised that the Orlando concert would be the one most likely to have a representative of their management company present, and that Mike wasn't really spying on them. Ross was just a bit overzealous in his duties. "I'm fine, Mike. Really."

"Then would you care to explain to me what the hell's happening?" Michael asked, all concern gone from his voice. "And I would appreciate the truth, Kevin. The full truth."

Kevin gulped as he realised he would have to tell Michael everything; there was no other option. But he couldn't do it in front of Ross. There were things that no one other than his family, bandmates, and the top executives at The Firm knew - Michael being one of them. But Ross wasn't...

"Can you hang on a second, Mike? I just need to do something first." A grudging reply came back down the line at him, and Kevin turned to face Ross. "Can I ask a really big favour, Ross? I need to speak with Michael in private..." As he half-hoped, Ross seemed to take the hint, though he looked indecisive about where to go to give Kevin the requisite privacy. "How about you wait for me on the bus? When I'm done talking with Mike, I'll meet you there and give you back your phone."

"Sure, Kevin. I'll see you later."

Kevin watched until Ross disappeared from sight, then turned his attention back to the phone in his hand. "Sorry about that, Mike. I had to ask Ross to leave, because what I have to tell you is for your ears only, okay? No one else, not even the other execs can know what I'm about to tell you, okay?"

A long pause followed, before Michael's voice replied, "I understand, Kevin. What you're about to tell me won't leave this office." Then, with a mellower tone, he asked, "What happened, Kevin?"

Kevin sighed again and briefly closed his eyes in exhaustion, before he started recounting everything - from his dinner with Justin right through to his family's unexpected appearance before the start of the concert and the encounter in the dressing room. He held back nothing; not even his suspicions that Brian had deliberately brought his family to Orlando. He had to calm and placate Michael at that point, and effectively defend his cousin's actions - something he wouldn't have willingly done only a few hours earlier.

The only thing he kept to himself, skirting around the issue as best he could, was what he and Justin had done after dinner. He still felt very strongly that that was his own private business, not The Firm's. Besides, telling Michael about what he and Justin had done would mean having to 'out' Justin to Michael - something he wasn't going to do if he could help it. Therefore, the necessary lie that he and Justin had just got sidetracked during dinner would have to do.

Michael listened to most of the narration with an air of disbelief and wonder. It was a fantastic tale, no doubt about it, but at the same time he couldn't help but feel anxious at some of the things he heard. Still, he could now appreciate how events had unfolded, and why it had been necessary for the guys to fabricate the story they had. He wasn't happy about it, by any means, but he could understand it.

Finally, realising that he couldn't really do anything to reprimand Kevin or his bandmates, not that he thought they needed to be, he wished Kevin a good night, and extracted a promise from him to keep his career and duty clearly in mind at all times. With a parting shot, he suggested that Kevin should suggest the same thing to Brian.

Kevin smiled wearily as he heard Michael's final mumbled words before the line went dead, unsure if the exec had meant him to hear them or not: "What was the boy thinking of, initiating a confrontation right before the start of a concert?"

Kevin had to agree with Michael's sentiments. Brian's timing had been atrocious; if it had been Brian who was responsible for his brother's and mother's appearance that day. But he also realised that he had forgiven Brian several hours ago after the tentative reconciliation he and his mother had forged.

Sighing, he headed off to the dressing room to remove his costume, thankful that for once he also didn't have to endure makeup as well.

Nick rolled over in his bunk, trying to get comfortable but not really succeeding. He sighed, wishing his pounding thoughts would cease long enough to allow him to sleep. But, they wouldn't let him forget what he had witnessed and heard over the past couple of hours. He remembered Kevin telling them about his conversation with Michael, and soon after, Howie had asked about his dinner with Justin.

A smile touched Nick's lips as he recalled the detailed account of the dinner, including the lightly hinted at sexual games that Kevin and Justin had played.

However, his smile quickly disappeared as he recalled what happened immediately after that...

BSB tour bus - approximately two hours earlier

Nick smirked at the embarrassment showing on Kevin's face as he almost let slip what he and Justin had done on the couch just before Brian's call. The others were smirking too, but with less than eager expressions on their faces.

Kevin seemed to think he had said enough (more than enough, in fact) - and changed the topic. "Anyone seen my cell phone? I couldn't find it in the dressing room."

"Sure, it's here, Kev," Howie replied, reaching into his trouser pocket to retrieve it. He handed it over to Kevin with a grin.

"Why is it off?" Kevin asked, looking up at Howie.

"Uh, B turned it off after talking to Michael."

Kevin turned to face his cousin, a questioning look on his face.

"I don't know why I did it. I guess I was scared he was gonna call back again. I did end the call rather abruptly, remember..."

Kevin shrugged off Brian's explanation, looking down at his phone to see if he had received any messages. He had powered it on while speaking to Howie, and was happy to hear it beep almost immediately after Brian finished speaking. Pressing the key to dial into his messaging service, he looked around at his bandmates.

The first message almost left him completely bloodless; his companions certainly noticed the loss of colour to his face. They were itching to know what was happening, but Kevin was still listening to the message so they didn't interfere.

Kevin's mind raced as he heard the anxious tone of his angel's voice, as it almost begged him to call him back. He silently wailed in frustration, as he realised he didn't know Justin's cell number, then felt a rush of relief as Justin's voice rattled it off at the end of the message. "Quick, I need a pen and paper," he told his concerned bandmates, as he pressed the key to replay the message. Nick jumped to his feet and raced to his bunk, pulling out his sketchbook and a couple of pencils from his overnight bag.

Kevin beamed at him in gratitude as Nick laid them down in front of him. Grabbing a pencil, he quickly flicked the sketchbook open, and started scribbling in an unoccupied space on the page it had opened to, avoiding the sketches already present there.

Nick froze as he looked down at the sketches and realised what, or rather, who, the subject was. A moment later his worst fears were confirmed when three sets of eyes looked up at him in startled amazement. Of them all, only A.J.'s contained a measure of sympathy, as well as some resignation. The other two, as they made contact with his eyes after scanning an entire page of portraits and profiles of Kevin, only seemed to contain shock.

Kevin, oblivious to everything, including the multitude of drawings on the page he'd scribbled on, hung up the phone. He looked back down at the number he'd scribbled down hurriedly, and started entering it on the keypad of his phone. As he waited for the connection to be made, he looked over at Nick, and smiled as he said, "Thanks, Blondie."

"That's okay, Kev," Nick said in return, almost stuttering in panic. He then hastily retrieved his sketchbook and closed it, pushing it firmly under his arm and clutched it for dear life. He pleaded silently with A.J. to do something and saw him nod imperceptibly. Taking his seat again, the pad still clutched tightly under his arm, he listened to two simultaneous conversations. The first one, Kevin's reply to Justin's call, left him feeling empty and sad, while at the same time giving him a sense of comfort and warmth. The second conversation, A.J.'s almost silent request to Brian and Howie to not say a word of what they'd seen to Kevin, left him feeling fearful of his bandmates' reactions.

As Kevin finished replying to Justin's message right then, nothing further was said.

Nick rolled around to settle on his back again, sighing once more in frustration at his overactive mind. He also sighed in resignation, as he prepared himself for the possible fallout from the 'sketchbook incident'. Not that Howie or Brian had said anything as yet. Brian hadn't even queried him moments ago when they'd gone back to bed after overhearing Kevin's and Justin's conversation. But he knew that it was only a matter of time before they did, and he wasn't looking forward to it.

His mind returned to contemplating what happened earlier that night...

A short time after Kevin had left his message on Justin's service, he had dialled back into his own, as there had been one other message awaiting him. Nick wasn't aware of the contents of that message, but he did know whom it was from - Kevin had turned to Brian briefly and said, "Tim," with a worried look in his eyes...

Nick wondered what Kevin and Tim had spoken about...

BSB tour bus - approximately two hours earlier, shortly after the sketchbook incident

Kevin felt another shock roll through him as he heard his brother's voice coming down the line. Somehow, tonight seemed to be the night for shocks...

"Kevin? It's Tim here. Listen bro, can you please call me back when you get the chance? Mom and Jer called me and told me what happened at the arena. I really need to speak to you, Kev. I want to know that you're really alright. So call me, okay, no matter what time you get this message. Love you, Kev. Bye."

Kevin sighed, hung up the phone, and turned to face Brian. "Tim," he said, and left it at that, knowing Brian would understand.

He pecked at the cell's keypad, pressed the 'Dial' key, and waited for the connection to be made. This was one call that he would've preferred to make in private, but he couldn't just order the others out of the room. He glanced down at the table, keeping his eyes lowered, as he waited for the phone at the other end to be picked up.

From the corner of his eye, he noticed his bandmates rising, and as he looked up at them in confusion, they waved to him and left the room, smiling understandingly at him.

He didn't have a chance to thank them, as his call was answered at that moment. He'd barely returned an answering wave in their direction, when he heard Tim's sleepy voice say, "Hello?"

He paused for a moment, suddenly feeling apprehensive again, before nervously replying, "Hi, Tim."

"Kevin? Is that you?"

"Yeah, it's me, bro. Sorry to wake you, but you did say to call when I got your message."

"That's right, I did. I just didn't expect it to be so late."

Kevin heard the humour in his brother's voice, and squelched the momentary feeling of guilt he'd experienced. "Sorry, Tim. Your message sounded kind of important, so I thought I'd better call you straight away. I didn't mean to wake you."

"Kevin, stop worrying. It's okay. I'm glad you called me back. Are you okay? Really okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine," he replied with a sigh, wishing everyone wouldn't keep asking him that.

"You're not just saying that, are you?"

"No, I'm not. It's been a pretty rough day, but I really am okay."

"Thank God," Tim said on the end of a sigh. "I was so worried about you when Mom and Jer left to meet you. I was hoping that a miracle would occur and that you would forgive Mom for hurting you. I'm so relieved to know that it finally happened. Mom was practically sick with worry before she left; she was crying and carrying on like you wouldn't believe. She was so worried you wouldn't speak to her, even when she was face-to-face with you." He sighed again, relief colouring his tone. "I'm so glad it worked out okay."

"Me too, Tim. Me too. For the past few days I've felt like I've been torn apart inside. And even though I was upset when I first saw her, it was what I needed. I really needed to hear her say that she still loved me, and accepted me for what, and who, I am. Just like I heard it from you and Jerald when we were in Lexington." He didn't bother to elaborate, Tim knew he was talking about the phone call that he'd made to him after coming out to Jerald.

"I'm glad you called that night, Kevin. I've known you were gay for a long time now, but I appreciated you calling me to let me know."

"I'm just sorry I couldn't tell you in person, Tim. But we didn't have enough time after the concert for me to come out and personally see you."

"I know, bro, I know. You've already explained that. I'm just glad you told me. Jer and I have been worried for a long time now about how that secret's been affecting you, and how much it's been eating away inside of you and hurting you. It took you a long time to come out, Kevin, but we couldn't force you to do it, no matter how much we saw you hurting."

Kevin could hear the deep sorrow in his brother's voice, and even though Tim had said exactly the same thing several nights ago, it still moved him to tears. "I know, Tim, I know. I'm sorry for hurting you, and Jer as well. I messed everything up."

"Hush, don't be silly, Kev. You haven't messed anything up. We love you, bro. We only want the best for you. And now that you've got this out in the open, and have forgiven Mom as well, there's nothing else which can hurt you. I'm so proud of you, Kevin. I want you to know that we all love you, and respect you, and are so proud of you. And we only want you to be happy, Kevin. You deserve a bit of happiness in your life."

"I love y'all too, Tim," Kevin said, barely above a whisper, struggling to keep his tears at bay. "I'm so thankful that y'all accepted me, even Ma. It means the world to me. I don't know what I would have done if Ma hadn't come and seen me today..."

"Oh, Kevvy," Tim sighed, wishing he could hold his brother tightly in a comforting embrace. "Never doubt we love you, okay? Even when she was struggling with what you told her, Mom still loved you. You're her baby, Kev, and she'll always love you. I..." Tim trailed off, forcing himself to take a deep breath to settle himself. "I love you, too, little bro. It took a lot of courage for you to come out to Mom, and even more to forgive her, and I'm so proud of you for that, Kevin."

"Thanks, Tim," Kevin replied, blinking away the tears. "I love you too, big bro."

Tim chuckled softly at hearing Kevin calling him that endearment. "Is A.J. okay?" he finally asked, wanting to know for sure that A.J. hadn't been hurt during the confrontation.

"Yeah, Alex is fine. He was a bit shaken up, but he's forgiven me for what I nearly did to him. Which I'm really thankful for; I'd never have forgiven myself if I'd hurt him."

"You didn't, Kevin. Stop worrying about it. I'm just glad that everything's back to normal now."

Kevin sighed in agreement.

"Kev, there was one other reason why I wanted to talk to you. Jer mentioned that you had dinner with Justin tonight, but he didn't manage to get any of the details, what with everything that happened..."

"Justin?" Kevin echoed, feeling his blood freeze in an instant. "How did Jer know I had dinner with Justin?"

"He was in the dressing room when Brian called you. He heard Brian asking about Justin, and Howie mentioned something about a dinner. He put two and two together."

"Oh," Kevin replied, completely lost for words.

"If you're worried, Kevin, don't be. He hasn't said anything to Mom. And even though Mom was there too, she didn't make the connection that Jerald did - she doesn't know anything about Justin."

"That's a relief," Kevin replied, meaning it. He knew that he would have to tell his mother about Justin some day, but not until she was more comfortable with the idea of him dating men. Then a thought struck him. "Uh, Tim?"

"Yes, Kevin?"

"I suppose that means that Jer told you about Justin and me, huh?"

"Yes, he did. Why? You don't mind do you? I thought he told me that you wouldn't mind?"

"I don't mind, bro!" Kevin replied quickly, hearing the worry in his brother's voice. "And, yes, I did tell him that he could tell you about Justin... but I guess I didn't expect him to have told you so soon."

"Sorry, Kev. I didn't know. Does it worry you that I know about your feelings for Justin?"

"No, Tim, not at all. I want you to know. I want everyone in the whole world to know, but I don't think that's possible for a while yet. And I want Ma to know as well, but only when I'm ready to tell her."

"I understand, Kevin. Neither Jerald nor I will say anything to Mom. Now, about your dinner... tell me all."

Kevin smiled at the gossipy tone in his oldest brother's voice, and told Tim what happened at dinner. He skipped the 'undressing' parts, not sure that his brother would appreciate them, being a minister and all.

"I'm so happy for you, Kevin. I'm thrilled that you and Justin are together. You really do deserve some happiness, and, from what I can tell, Justin is the person to give you just that." He sighed, happy that everything seemed to be going well with his youngest brother after the events of the previous few days. "Give Justin our love, okay? And we want to meet him, too. Make sure you bring him to Lexington when you get a chance."

"I will, Tim. And thanks... for everything. I... I gotta go, Tim. I left a message for Justin to call me, and I don't want to miss his call. But thanks again, and I love you, bro."

"I understand, Kevin. Give him our love. Good night, little bro. I love you too. Bye."

"Bye, Tim."

Nick sighed again, and felt his body starting to relax at last. 'About freakin' time,' he thought tiredly, conjuring up a small smile of relief. Moments later his body started to shut down, and he was soon snoring softly.


"Who were you expecting, the Sandman?" Chris asked, his voice still sounding upset, even though it was keyed low.

"I... What are you doing up?"

"I'm waiting for you, obviously," Chris replied, a little more loudly than he'd intended. "We were all waiting, for quite some time, I might add. Where the hell have you been?" He silently cursed as he realised his voice was loud enough to bring the entire household down upon them...

Justin sighed, then walked up a couple more steps so that he could better see Chris's shadowy figure. Sitting down, he sighed again. "I don't know where to start..."

"How about at the beginning?"

Justin grimaced, silently relieved that his face couldn't be seen clearly in the darkness. Chris's acerbic tone hurt him more than he cared to admit. "I... The reason I didn't come home earlier is because I had to think."


"Yeah, think," replied Justin, leaning his head back against the wall. "A lot happened today, Chris."

"Yesterday," Chris amended, his tone a little less rough.

"Sorry, yesterday," Justin acquiesced. "And I just needed to get away and think about it. I was at the Hard Rock."

"And you didn't think to call and let us know that you'd be gone for the evening? Or at least that you were alright?"

"Sorry, Chris, really I am. But I couldn't face you - any of you - just then. Especially JC." He turned his gaze back down to the darkened living room, knowing that Chris saw his movement.

Silence filled the darkness. Finally, Chris spoke, his anger almost depleted. "I think I understand, Curly, but you had us all worried. Even Paul was worried. He almost cancelled his business trip until your mom made him leave for the airport."

"I'm really sorry, Chris," Justin replied, turning to directly face him. "I really am. Kevin was right - I just worried y'all for no reason."



"Stop saying 'sorry', Curly. Just start back at the beginning. Tell me what happened, and I'll see if there's any way for me to help you get through this in the morning."

"T-thanks, Chris," Justin stuttered, feeling guilt and relief wash over him. Then without any further ado, he recounted what happened at Kevin's, and what he did after Kevin was dropped off at the arena.

Chris listened, taking in everything like a sponge, and keeping his thoughts to himself.

Nearby, also listening to every word being spoken, Josh cried silent tears at what he heard.

He had known ever since he'd seen Curly storm out of A.J.'s suite over 6 months ago, that Justin was in love with Kevin. He had known it all through the bittersweet assignations they'd had, where Justin cried his eyes out for a man he thought he could never have. He had known it through the bleak period after their joint tour had concluded, and each time he had seen Justin's devastated expression or Lynn's worried looks at dinner plates left untouched.

He had known, and had resisted it for so long, jealously wanting to keep his Curly for himself. But now... now there was only one thing left to do. Something he should have done a long time ago, when his friend really needed his love and support.

He rose noisily from the couch, just as Justin finished his story, and heard the rustling sounds coming from the staircase as the guys turned in his direction.

"Oh, shit," Justin whispered, as he realised that JC was awake.

"Justin?" JC croaked, making his way slowly to the staircase in the dark. He could hear Justin standing up, ready to escape past Chris into his bedroom. "Wait, Curly! Please, wait!" He started walking faster, wishing that he could see better in the dark. When his ears registered that Justin hadn't moved, he silently sighed in relief. "Where are you, Justin? I can't see..."

"Here, Josh," Justin replied tentatively, after a few moments of silent internal debate. He slowly descended the stairs, appearing almost in front of JC, then reached out and grabbed the fabric of JC's shirt. This close together, they could just about make out each other's shadowy expressions.

JC stopped dead, seeing his friend appear before him. He reached out to grab Justin's arms tightly, wanting - needing - to feel the flesh and blood of his friend under his fingers. "I... I... I'm so sorry, Curly. I don't deserve your friendship after everything I've done. I'm so sorry, Justin."

Justin felt his eyes tearing again as his friend broke down and sobbed, still clutching him tightly. He stepped forward until he was in JC's embrace, and reached out and held him tightly in return. "Oh, Josh. Please don't cry." He soothed his friend as best he could, whispering assurances that he still loved JC, and understood what JC had gone through. Over the space of the next few minutes, he didn't let go of JC once, absolving him of blame and forgiving him his hurtful actions.

Chris watched and listened in silence as the two friends cried, and as Justin tried to soothe JC. He loved them both, and was more than a little relieved that they seemed to have rebuilt their once-strained bond of friendship again.

He knew he was intruding, though, and turned to leave. As he climbed the stairs, another figure emerged out of the darkness. He stopped, as he saw Lynn sitting on the stairs, her hands over her mouth and her eyes shedding tears like a faucet. He sat down next to her and reached out to hug her, allowing her to press her face into his shoulder. He silently waited until she appeared to have recovered slightly, then gently whispered, "Let's leave them alone for tonight. We can talk to Justin in the morning, okay?"

Lynn nodded her head, though it was almost lost in the gloom of the staircase. Chris stood, and assisted her to rise, leading the way upstairs to their respective rooms.

He found it took him a long time to drop off to sleep that night, and he knew the same would hold true for the others. But thankfully, things were starting to look up again. JC and Justin were close friends once more, and the thing they'd all wished would come true - for Curly's sake - had: Kevin was just as much in love with Justin as he was with Kevin.

Even better, tomorrow would be a lot easier to get through - they only had to explain Curly's actions to Lance and Joey. He was thankful for Justin's sake that tomorrow morning would be less of a trial than they had all originally thought.

He sighed in relief once more, then lost the battle to stay awake - not that he was fighting really hard.

"Are you okay, Josh?"

JC looked up at Justin from his seat on the couch. "Yeah, Justin. I think I'm finally okay. It's been horrible these past few weeks... almost as if a big black cloud was following me around everywhere I went. And it made me say and think things I wish I hadn't. If I could take them back, I would. I hurt you more than..."

Justin cut him off sharply. "That's all in the past now, JC. I know you didn't mean it. I hated fighting with you. I'm just glad we're okay now; I really missed having my best friend around."

"Justin, I'm so sorry about everything."

"I know, Josh, I know. But I've already forgiven you, so don't think about it anymore, okay?"

"Okay," JC replied, trying to stop his recriminatory and self-pitying mood. "It sounded like you glossed over some things when you were talking to Chris. Care to disclose what they were?" The grin he turned up to his best friend, though still slightly hesitant, was genuine and impish.

"Oh, yeah? What makes you think that?" Justin asked, feeling his mood lightening by the second. He was on the verge of giggling.

"I know you, Curly. I know how you use certain words and tones of voice to skirt around things you don't want to talk about. So give!"

This time Justin giggled, before retelling the story with the bits he'd skipped before.

JC felt slightly awkward to hear him describe everything in detail, but not because he was jealous or homophobic. He realised something that he'd been avoiding for a long time now: Justin had grown up. And with his maturing, he had discovered the physical side of love. It was hard to relinquish his outdated mental image of Justin, but JC knew he had to. Once Justin and Kevin were finally together, their relationship would blossom to include more than just spiritual love for one another.

He smiled faintly, realising that the thought didn't hurt him as much as he thought it would. It looked like he'd finally accepted that he'd have to share Justin with others, and, in the case of Kevin, it would be in a way that he, himself, couldn't. Looking into his friend's shining moonlit eyes, he knew he was happy for him for the first time in a very long while.

Lynn turned in her bed once more, wishing she hadn't pushed Paul out of the house for his business trip - she needed his presence more than ever.

She'd heard almost everything that Justin and Chris said; Chris's angry voice being the trigger for her to get up and investigate. She almost spoke out loud when she recognised Justin's voice, but kept her mouth clamped shut as she realised he was telling Chris what had happened the previous day.

She was stunned as he recounted Kevin's proclamation of love. Kevin was in love with her baby! When he explained why he had kept away all night, she felt herself losing control. Her son was so terrified of their reactions that he was willing to spend hours alone in the back of some dark heartless restaurant, in preference to being with his family and friends. And what it implied about the state of his friendship with JC was even worse; Justin was close to losing his best friend for life.

She listened as he softly replayed the conversation he'd had with Kevin on his cell phone, and felt as if he'd deliberately omitted something important about their talk. But the heartache in his voice, as he talked about Kevin, was more than she could bear. If she hadn't heard the same tone in his voice countless other times since he'd parted from Kevin's company at the end of their joint tour, she would have immediately sensed and felt his love for Kevin by the sound of his voice right then; his voice carried his love for the other man with every resonance.

By this stage, she had slumped down to sit on the stairs. A moment later, when she witnessed JC's and Justin's reconciliation, she was glad she was sitting down, otherwise her knees would have given way. She cried silently at the love and devotion of the two friends, and didn't blink an eyelid as Chris joined her several moments later. She let him lead her away, and found herself back in her lonely bed, where she couldn't relax herself enough to drift off. She had a lot to think about before she saw her son again in the morning.

She sighed, knowing that sleep would take a long time to overtake her...

Across town, unaware that Justin had returned home, Lance and Joey lay in their respective beds, in their respective houses, fretting about him and his whereabouts.

Lance expected to be awake all night, knowing that his thoughts and fears for Justin's safety would prevent him from relaxing enough to sleep. However, his body rebelled several hours later and shut itself down, dragging him unwillingly into sleep.

At Joey's house, a slightly different scene played out. In Joey's case, though he dropped off to sleep much earlier than Lance, his body's store of nervous energy manifested itself in a night of endless tossing and turning...

And even in sleep Joey achieved no rest; his dreams haunted him with macabre and disturbing images of Justin's lifeless body.

In a darkened lounge room in the Harless residence, two friends talked to each other like old times; both happy, and extremely relieved, to have rediscovered their friendship once more...

When the younger of the two finally collapsed into an exhausted sleep, his older friend hugged him close and gently stroked his face tenderly, with a quivering half-smile on his lips and tears in his eyes.

End - Chapter 20

To be continued...

Hey all...

I'd appreciate any feedback you can give me about this chapter (or the series as a whole)... Without feedback, it is difficult to tell whether I'm achieving anything with this story or not, other than personal satisfaction. :) To those people who've consistently emailed me, my undying thanks - you've kept me encouraged to the point where I could reach this milestone. Thank you.

To all my 'silent' readers, my thanks to you too for keeping up with this story. I really appreciate the dedication you've shown, even if I don't know who you all are! <grin>

Finally, just a reminder that the next chapter will be delayed while I sketch out the ending to the story. My apologies to those of you who are keen to read what comes next... In the meantime, look out for 'Saturday Night Love' (coming soon), and keep up with the other great stories in the archive - I can't stress enough how many wonderful stories are out there! :)