Kevin & Justin
Peter Kamphuis
Initial Edit: 26 November 2000
Final Revision: 21 December 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.

Wow! The 21st chapter of the story... my baby's come of age! :)

If you haven't already noticed, this chapter celebrates the first anniversary of this story. A year ago, on the 21st (there's that number again!) of December 1999, Chapter 1 of Kevin & Justin was posted to the boy-bands section of the Nifty Archives. It seems like only yesterday, but I know some of my readers will be thinking the exact opposite! LOL!

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this chapter. :)

As always, many heartfelt thanks go out to my editor mh who continues to do a wonderful job. Oh, and mate, see if you can find the additional section I added after you returned the edit. :)


Justin delays his return home after spending the day with Kevin. When he's finally ready to go home, he turns on his cell phone and listens to two messages waiting for him in his messaging service. The first, from his mother, is a frantic and worried plea about his whereabouts. He's on the verge of calling home in guilt, when the second message, from Kevin, starts playing. He immediately returns Kevin's call, forgetting about his mother's worried call.

On the tour bus, Kevin is woken from a doze, but reassures Justin that he doesn't mind in the least. He wants to speak to his angel. Justin lets slip that he hasn't been home as yet, prompting Kevin to ask him why. Justin then tells him about the one thing he's kept hidden from him thus far: his family's (and, in particular, JC's) unacceptance of their relationship.

Kevin hears him out and tries to reassure him that JC is only doing it out of love and protection. Then he proceeds to tell Justin what happened earlier that day in the dressing room - his aborted punch at A.J. He goes on to relate the events leading up to that point, prompting Justin to apologise for disturbing him. Kevin immediately stops him from apologising, stating that no matter how tired he is, he wants - he needs - to speak to Justin right then.

A little while later they exchange goodbyes, and Kevin immediately breaks down crying at being apart from his angel.

Nick and Brian watch on silently from the hallway, until Kevin slips into a bone-weary sleep. Nick goes over to Kevin and quietly reassures the sleeping man that everything will be alright once they get back home. Putting aside his own feelings for Kevin, he prays for the day that Kevin and Justin can finally be together - knowing that that will make Kevin truly happy.

In Orlando, Justin is about to head into his house when he realises he hasn't heard the final message left for him on his service. He sits down on the doorstop and plays the message, feeling shock to hear JC's voice pleading with him to come home. Above him, Chris has noticed his arrival and decides to wait for him inside.

Justin enters the darkened house and is stopped by a noise. He follows it to its source and finds JC sleeping on the couch. As he's watching over JC, he hears JC talking in his sleep, asking Justin to come back home. Justin tries to reassure the sleeping man, then decides to go up to bed. He's climbing the stairs when he hears Chris's voice issuing from the darkness in front of him.

Back on the tour bus, Nick tries to sleep, only to have his mind keep him awake with images of what happened earlier that night. First he remembers the encounter between Kevin and the junior executive from The Firm. Shortly after, he recalls the sketchbook incident - where his affections for Kevin were unintentionally revealed to Brian and Howie. And finally, he recalls the call Kevin received from his brother Tim. Soon after, he drops off into sleep, worrying about what Howie and Brian will say about his secret.

In Orlando, Justin finally reveals to Chris what happened to him that day, unaware that both JC and his mother are hearing every word he utters. JC, who has come to the realisation that he has been less of a friend than he thought he'd been, gets up from the couch and approaches Justin. He apologises to Justin and they hug while Justin tries to comfort his suddenly distraught friend.

Chris taking that as his cue to leave, almost bumps into Justin's mother, Lynn. Lynn has heard everything and is quietly weeping at the emotions her son has for this other man. Chris urges her to leave the two friends alone that night and assists her to her bedroom, before heading off to his own. Both Lynn and Chris find it difficult to drop off to sleep.

Downstairs, Justin and JC have a heart-to-heart conversation, and mend their seriously strained relationship. For the first time in a long time, JC realises he is truly happy for Justin.

Across town, Joey and Lance fall into a restless sleep, unaware that Justin has returned home safely. Joey, in particular, has a rough night, as he experiences nightmares of Justin's murdered lifeless body.

Back at the Harless residence, Justin has fallen asleep against his friend. JC lovingly hugs him close, while tears fall from his eyes...

And now...

Kevin & Justin - Chapter 21

A.J. turned away from the floor-to-ceiling windows in the VIP lounge of the airport as Kevin's plane finally disappeared from sight. The other three were patiently looking up at him from their seats, used to this particular habit of his. He flashed them a chagrined smile for their tolerance and quietly resumed his place next to Nick. The others soon turned back to their own tasks, equally as silent as he.

A lot had happened in the past week, he quietly reflected. And all of it had led to a new calm and purpose in each member of his second family. He casually glanced over at Brian and studied him carefully, while Brian resumed reading the magazine he'd picked up earlier from the stockpile on the coffee table in front of them.

Brian looked a lot more carefree now, A.J. noticed. His face had lost a lot of the tenseness which A.J. now recognised as being an almost constant furtiveness at keeping Kevin's secret. Even the shock of finding out about Nick's carefully hidden feelings for Kevin had passed with minimal effort and fuss.

Nick... he was another one who'd lost a lot of his tenseness and worry.

As he turned his attention to Nick, who was now resting with his head bent over the back of his seat with his eyes closed, A.J. couldn't help but feel relieved that Brian and Howie had overcome their shock at Nick's secret. Nick had asked for his help the morning after the sketchbook incident, and A.J. had distracted Kevin with a trivial business matter while Nick explained everything to the other two. They took the news well, and readily agreed to keep it from Kevin, knowing that Kevin would just worry about it when he didn't need to.

His gaze slid over to Howie, and he realised that for all his closeness to the man, Howie was oftentimes the biggest enigma in their small family; even to him. There was a strangeness, almost a mysteriousness, in Howie's manner and thoughts that troubled him at times. But no matter how hard it was to fathom his friend, Howie was deeply loyal to his brethren and only wanted the best for them.

Take what happened when Nick explained about the sketchbook and his feelings for Kevin: Howie had seemed almost unfazed. And it wasn't until later that A.J. found out that Howie had come to the realisation, while he slept, that Nick was a strong person and that he would somehow be able to cope with Kevin's and Justin's relationship. When Nick finally came clean, Howie didn't know what the fuss was all about. Or at least, that's what he confided to A.J. a couple of days later.

Then there was Kevin...


Kevin was the happiest he'd ever seen; since well before their joint tour with 'N Sync all those many months ago. But at other times he appeared even worse off than at the height of his despair. None of them failed to notice that these bouts were always triggered by his talks with Justin, but they could only sigh and support their friend as best they could. They all knew there was only one thing that would make Kevin truly happy - being back with Justin, and knowing that he and his angel would spend every moment of every day together.

Though he had been reluctant to do so at first, A.J. had approached Kevin after one of the more emotional episodes and held him comfortingly while Kevin cried into his shirt. When Kevin's emotions were finally under control, A.J. spent several hours listening to him as he unburdened himself on his willing bandmate. A.J. listened while Kevin tried to explain his feelings, hopes, fears and desires. Kevin had been open with A.J., knowing that his friend deserved nothing less. Even his overwhelming desire to make love to Justin was related to A.J. in a frank and open manner.

A.J. had never been as impressed with Kevin as after that particular discussion. He'd laid open his soul for A.J.'s scrutiny, and A.J. couldn't help but feel honoured that Kevin had trusted him so completely. And with this newfound insight into his pseudo-father/brother, A.J. had done all in his power to reassure Kevin that everything would work out fine, and to try to calm his anxiety as the days dragged on slowly.

And now, it was almost over...

Their tour had finally ended, and they were only moments away from heading back home to Orlando. Kevin would join them in a day or so, after he met up with his family in Lexington. He had almost talked himself out of going, until A.J. reassured him that Justin would survive one more day apart from him. He secretly felt that Kevin had only acquiesced because of the guilt he felt at having almost punched him, but he wasn't about to correct that erroneous impression; it didn't matter why Kevin chose to go to Lexington, just that he did...

And Alex was perfectly willing to apologise to Kevin later and reassure him that his guilt was misplaced. The important thing was to get him to Lexington to right matters between he and his family once and for all.

And now... now they were only hours away from boarding their own flight back home.

Chris quietly closed and locked his bedroom door before heading over to sit on his bed. He had been nominated to make the call. The recipient of the call was left up to him; the other three didn't much care with whom he talked. The only thing they cared about was distracting Justin long enough for him to make the call.

He pulled out his cell phone and settled himself against the bed's headboard, as he pecked on the phone's keypad. A moment later it was ringing through to his intended target.


"Hey. It's Chris. Gotta minute?"

A.J. smiled as he recognised Chris's voice. "Sure. What's up, buddy?"

"I need to ask y'all a favour, but you can't tell Kevin," Chris replied.

A.J. frowned at the request. After the headway they'd all made over the past week to clear the air between them, acquiring another secret was extremely low on his list of priorities. Still, Chris was a very good and dear friend, and he knew it wouldn't hurt to hear him out.

"I can't promise you that we'll keep it from Kevin," he finally replied, noticing the rising of his bandmates' eyebrows, "but fire away. Or, at least, try to convince me why we need to keep it from him."

His bandmates were now watching him intently. They still didn't know who was on the other end of the line, but they knew that that person was asking A.J. to keep something - probably extremely important - from Kevin. And that was something they wouldn't willingly let happen.

Chris silently sighed, knowing he had his work cut out for him. He thought for a moment, then began talking. "Okay. Once upon a time there were two neighbouring kingdoms. One was called '*NSync' and the other 'BSB'. In each of these kingdoms, there were five princes. In the kingdom of *NSync, one of these princes, the youngest of the five brothers, was called Justin. In the other kingdom, the oldest prince was called Kevin.

"Now, it came to pass that in each of the kingdoms, the brothers formed a musical group, and they were very popular in their respective kingdoms. So much so, that the people of each kingdom hated the other kingdom's musical group with a passion...

"In the best of intentions, the two neighbouring kings decided that the best thing to do would be to send both groups on a joint tour of both kingdoms. This was done in hopes of reducing the rivalry between the two kingdoms' populace, and to promote unity between their two realms."

A.J.'s smile broadened with each passing second, as Chris' eccentric storytelling reminded him of their great times together during the tour. Though he was sorely tempted to speak, he kept silent, waiting to see where Chris was heading with this particular tale of his.

"Well, as fates would have it," Chris continued, "Prince Justin and Prince Kevin finally met each other face-to-face, and the whole world was changed by it. In the other, each found the person who completed them and complemented them. In short, they had found their soulmate. But tragically, through misfortune and missed opportunities, neither knew the other's feelings, and they remained separated, while slowly dying inside."

"I hope this is leading somewhere?" A.J. interrupted hesitantly. He was beginning to feel apprehensive at the turn of the story's mood.

"It is," Chris assured him.

"And where would that be?" A.J. persisted. Silence greeted his query, and he felt the first stirrings of real worry. "Chris," he noticed his bandmates dawning comprehension as he spoke the name, "what's going on?"

"Alexander, I don't think it's wise to explain it over the phone. When are you getting into town?"

A.J. looked across at his bandmates' curious expressions and spoke slowly. "We leave in a little over two hours. We'll be there around 7:30."

"Good," Chris replied. "When you've all settled in, ditch Kevin for a while and pop over to Lance's place. We need to talk."

"Kevin isn't coming back to O-Town with us. He's already on his way to Lexington to stay with his family for a day or so."

"Even better. You don't mind if I arrange transport for y'all to Lance's place directly from the airport? We really need to get together as soon as possible."

"Christopher," A.J. replied, frustration colouring his tone, "what the hell is going on? If you don't 'fess up right now, we're not going to give you the time of day, let alone meet y'all at Lance's!"

Chris sighed loudly before replying. "This concerns Kevin and Justin, Alexander. Justin won't be at this meeting either, but Joey, JC, Lance and I will. I can't say anything else right now, but it's important that you four meet us. There's something important we have to discuss, and it can't wait. Please, Alexander, I'm urging you to trust me on this. We have to meet. Otherwise everyone is not going to live happily ever after."

A.J. frowned as he considered Chris' words, struggling to decide whether he could trust him. If the meeting had been called for any reason other than Kevin's and Justin's relationship, or had it involved Kevin and Justin, he wouldn't have hesitated. But he wasn't sure it was a good idea to meet behind Kevin's and Justin's backs, especially as it appeared that the meeting concerned them.

In the end, it was the deadly seriousness of Chris' voice that decided him. "Hang on, Chris," he muttered softly into the phone. "I need to discuss it with the guys. Can I call you back about this?"

"Sure," Chris replied, hope flaring once again in his thoughts - for a moment, he'd thought that A.J. would flat out refuse their request.

"Okay, talk to you soon, old man."

"Okay. Bye, Alexander."

A.J. let his arm drop to his lap and turned to face his concerned bandmates. "We've got a problem."

"We've got a problem," Lance said sofly to Joey, who had just stepped out of the kitchen onto the back patio.

"What's that?"

"Justin suspects something," Lance replied, reaching over to pick up a cookie from the plate Joey held. The only reason he escaped a slap on his wrist was that Joey's other hand was also full, holding a glass of milk. "He's been asking awkward questions about why, and where, we're all going out tonight. I knew at least one of us should have dissembled."

"Dis...what?" Joey asked, smiling despite himself. He knew what the word meant, but he couldn't resist teasing Lance for the use of it.

"Oh, quiet you!" Lance affectionately snapped, reaching over to grab a second cookie.

"Hey! You haven't even bitten into the first! Why are you stealing my food?"

Lance smiled at his bandmate's whiny mock outrage and ignored the question. He nodded in the direction of a couple of sun lounges and started walking towards them, pleased that Joey took his hint and followed. As he sat down on one, he glanced out across the sprawling lawn at the garden setting where his bandmates were seated. Justin sat at a glass-topped table with his back to Lance and Joey, while across from him, and to his sides, JC, Lynn and Paul also sat around the circular table, sipping occasionally at their drinks as they talked.

Joey carefully folded himself onto the remaining lounge chair, then placed his glass of milk and plate of cookies on the low table between them, sighing disgustedly at himself when he realised he had done it the hard way. He turned slightly to his side on the chair, so that he could better see Lance, and casually asked, "So what are we gonna do about Justin?"

Lance bit into one of the purloined cookies, giving himself some time to think. "I don't know," he finally admitted.

Joey looked across at him, noticing the lines of worry plaguing his face. "You're really worried about him, huh?"

Lance turned to face him, not bothering to hide his worry. "Yes I am."

"Why?" Joey asked, though he already knew the answer.

Lance's gaze pierced his eyes, as he softly replied, "I don't know how he'll react when he finds out about the meeting. At best, he'll only be upset with us for a short while. At worst..."

Joey slowly dragged his eyes away from Lance's gaze, and turned to face the group sitting two dozen feet away. As he looked at the figure of his youngest bandmate, he couldn't help a shudder that passed through his frame. "At worst," he concluded for Lance, "he may never want to speak to any of us ever again."

Lance shivered as well.

A.J. looked at his bandmates as they awaited his decision...

He had told them what he and Chris had discussed, and as he'd expected, Brian was vehemently opposed to keeping anything from his cousin. He had reacted angrily to the request coming from the 'N Sync guys, surprising even himself at his total opposition to duping Kevin.

Howie and Nick had remained relatively quiet, surprised at Brian's outburst, but each had found his voice shortly after. Howie wanted to meet the others and find out what was happening, and why it was so important. Nick, after a lot of silent reflection, realised that they were effectively casting their votes, and that his vote was crucial. If he sided with Brian, then regardless of A.J.'s vote they'd have to refuse - stalemates meant automatic refusal.

But, even though he understood Brian's objections, he had to agree with Howie - until they had the meeting, they wouldn't know why it was so important, nor how it would affect Kevin. And besides, there wasn't any reason to support the 'N Sync guys if they didn't agree with them.

Brian's look, as he cast his vote in the affirmative, was almost more than he could take - the betrayal and hurt showing on his face was going to trouble him for a long time.

"Okay," A.J. had found himself saying, "I guess it's all down to me."

That had been over ten minutes ago. He hadn't said another word since, and none of the others had pressed him. He was allowed to take as much time as he needed to come to his decision and the others knew it wouldn't be made lightly.

Looking directly at Brian, he finally said, "We're going to meet them. Sorry, B."

Brian turned away, hiding the hurt, anger and betrayal that flooded his face. Long minutes passed before he turned around and nodded his acquiescence to the group's decision, though his face remained set in a mask of impassivity.

"Okay," A.J. said, "I'll let the old man know that we'll be attending their little shindig..."

Lance looked up as he caught a hint of movement around the patio doorway leading into the kitchen. He was relieved to see Chris standing there, looking out in Justin's direction.

"Penny for them," he asked, his deep voice carrying to the contemplative singer.

Chris turned and smiled sadly at him, "They're not worth a penny."

"No, you're right," Lance agreed. "The way you look, they'd be worth a couple of million."

Chris sighed and walked over to Joey's vacated lounger, sitting himself down on it. "Are we doing the right thing, Scoop?"

Lance frowned as he studied the worry-laden features of his friend. "I don't really know, Chris. Part of me thinks we should leave well enough alone; that we'll only end up hurting Curly more than ever. But another part wonders what will happen if we don't go through with this... and if Curly will end up being hurt even worse? And I don't want to see that. But to answer you truthfully, I don't have a damn clue."

Chris snorted gently in agreement. "Me either."

Silence settled over them as they gazed over to Justin's group. Justin seemed to be animated, laughing and joking with JC and his parents, and even quipping with Joey who was doing the honours of cooking their dinner on the nearby barbecue. Every once in a while, JC or Joey would look in their direction, and their smiles would falter for a moment.

None of them were completely comfortable about the idea of what they had to do, even though they couldn't see any alternative.

"What did the guys say?" Lance asked finally, bringing his companion out of his introspective mood.

"It was touch and go with Alexander," Chris replied after a quick sigh. "But he put it to a group vote and called me back after they made their decision. Tell you what, that was the longest twenty minutes of my life while I waited for his call."

Lance smiled and remained silent, waiting for Chris to continue.

"It looks like I must have said something right, 'cause Alex said that they'll meet us. It seems Brian was the only objector, but he'll come to the meeting too. And I think, even though Alexander didn't say so in so many words, that he himself was borderline most of the way."

Lance sighed along with Chris, knowing that on top of their own doubts, they would need to win over the other four - no easy feat by the sounds of it. "I just hope that we can convince them to back us up in this."

Chris silently agreed, nodding his head. He didn't need to voice Lance's unspoken thought that he hoped they, themselves, were making the right decision.

"He looks in a fairly good mood," Chris said softly, changing the topic.

Lance didn't require any qualification to know whom Chris was talking about. "Yeah, he does. Right about now, I think there's only one thought occupying his mind: seeing Kevin later tonight or tomorrow."

"Shit!" Chris exclaimed, suddenly remembering the one thing he'd forgotten to relay. "Kevin isn't coming here. He's heading off to Lexington to be with his family for a few days."

Lance stared at him, having turned at his exclamation. "Does Justin know about this?"

"I don't know... I really don't know."

They both looked back at the laughing figure and realised the answer to Lance's question. A sense of dread settled over them as they contemplated what would happen to Justin's mood when he finally found out.

Justin finished his steak, pushing the last forkful of meat into his mouth, and chewing it for several seconds before swallowing it.

Replete, he pushed his plate away and took a sip of his soda, noticing he was the first to finish. His stepfather was only a couple of bites behind him, and his mother still had about a dozen bite-sized pieces to go before she also finished her meal. But his bandmates... they were lagging woefully behind...

He contemplated what he had already seen and heard that afternoon, and on top of his friends' uncharacteristic pre-occupation at dinner, he realised his initial deduction was correct: something was bothering them, and it probably had to do with whatever they'd arranged to do later that night. But what? And why was he being kept out of it?

Try as he might though, he couldn't get a handle on what was happening, and he was on the verge of annoyance. He was just about to ask them outright what was bothering them, when his cell phone rang.

Four guilty expressions looked up at him, and he fumbled to understand why they looked like that, even as he answered his phone.


"Hi Curly. It's me."


Six faces regarded him in surprise, and he lowered his head to hide the crimson appearing over his face. But no matter how embarrassed he felt, he wasn't about to run away. They all knew about him and Kevin now, and he wasn't going to conduct his relationship with Kevin behind whispers and excuses. If they couldn't handle him talking to his angel in their presence, it was their problem, not his.

"Hey, sweetie. I've got some bad news. Or good news, depending on where you sit..."

Justin clearly heard the affection in his angel's voice and felt his spirits lift. But at the same time, he also heard an uncertain tone of worry as well, which he didn't like the sounds of.

"What is it, Kevin? And when will you be in? I'll come and pick you up."

His bandmates shared a complex look at his words, but it was as nothing compared to the private look that Lance and Chris exchanged. They knew what Kevin was about to tell him.

"That's partly what I wanted to talk to you about, Curly. I..."

"What is it, Boo?"

"I... I'm in Lexington."


"Yeah. I'm here to see my family. I promised my mom I'd come and see her as soon as the tour ended. Do you remember...?"

Justin felt numb all over. Even Kevin's voice trailing off couldn't rouse him from the sudden shock of realisation that his angel wouldn't be home tonight or tomorrow.


"Justin?" "Curly?" "Just?" "Baby?"

He barely heard Kevin's worried voice calling out his name, nor the echoed concern in his bandmates and parents' voices. It was a combination of being shaken by Chris, and hearing Kevin's frantic voice calling out "Curly? Curly? Justin, are you there? Justin, please speak to me! Please, Justin?" that brought him back to his senses.

His bandmates and parents watched as the tears started flooding out of his suddenly opaque eyes.

"I'm here, Kevin," he whispered, his mind only a hair's breadth away from becoming numb again.

"Curly! Oh my God, I'm so sorry! Justin, please don't hate me, I had to do this. I promised her. I wanted to come back home so badly, but A.J. forced me to come here. I'm so sorry, Curly. So sorry... I shouldn't have let him talk me into it... I'm so sorry, Curly... So sorry..."

Justin listened to the mounting recrimination in his angel's voice and felt his heart constrict.


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


The words stopped pouring out of Kevin's mouth as he heard the anxious tone in Justin's command.

"Boo," Justin continued into the silence, "just tell me one thing."

"Anything, love."

Justin fought to gain back his concentration as Kevin's almost inaudible voice sounded in his ear, bringing his heart close to a standstill with its lost and apologetic tone.

"Is it important? What you're doing in Lexington, is it important to you? And please be honest with yourself."

After what appeared to be a lifetime of waiting, he heard the answer he was expecting: "Yes, it's important to me, love. Otherwise I wouldn't have come here - I'd have been there with you right now..."

"I know, Boo. I know. Just come back to me as soon as you can, okay? I don't know how much longer I can stand... Just come back, Kevin."

Lynn turned to hide her face in her husband's shoulder, shedding tears at the love and hurt evident in her baby's trembling voice. Paul held her tightly, trying to come to terms with the raw emotions in Justin's voice. He'd never witnessed anything of the like before. Justin wore his emotions for the other man on his sleeve.

The others resumed their hastily vacated seats, fighting to control their own emotions, and convinced more than ever that they had to go through with their plan.

"I'm so sorry, Justin," Kevin whispered. "I shouldn't have come here. No matter how important it is, being there with you is more important."

"Hush," Justin replied past the lump in his throat. "Do what you need to do, then come back to me. I'll be waiting, Boo. Just hurry, okay?"

"Okay, Curly. Thank you for understanding. I've just got to talk to my mom about some things, and I'll be on the next flight to Orlando. I don't want to stay away from you any longer than I have to either. I'm sorry, Justin. I should have told you about this before, but I wasn't even sure I was going to do it until A.J. forced me onto the plane."

"I understand, Kevin. And I know that A.J.'s only looking out for you. I'll be waiting for you."

"Okay, Curly. I... I have to go. I'll call you later, okay?"

"Okay. I'll be waiting."

"Bye, Curly. I love you."

"Bye, Kevin."

Kevin hung up the phone and dropped it onto the passenger seat of the rental car with shaking hands. He pulled out of the airport carpark, and headed towards his mother's house, fighting to keep his calm.

But by the time he reached her house some forty-five minutes later, his eyes were stinging and red from all the crying he'd done. It was a wonder he hadn't driven the car off the interstate...

Justin shakily placed the phone on the table, and slowly looked up into six unreadable expressions.

Not a word was spoken as he rose from the table and walked to the patio door, entering the house's darkened interior. He held his emotions in check with an iron fist until he entered his room. Closing and locking the door behind him, he turned to walk to his bed and suddenly found himself unable to move. His iron control evaporated in an instant and his sobbing filled the room as he slumped against the door, sliding slowly down to the floor as his legs gave way.

He remained there, leaning against the cold wooden door, as his eyes cried out an ocean of hurt and despair.

Kevin peered out of the car's windshield at the house he'd grown up in, barely seeing it through the curtain of tears falling from his eyes.

Regardless of how much comfort it had brought him in the past, he couldn't find any comfort in being there now. Not even the chance of seeing his family again could ease the pain constricting his heart at what he'd done to Justin.

He replayed for the millionth time, since he'd hung up the phone, what Justin had said to him. There was no doubting the love and understanding in his angel's voice and words.

And yet, there was also no denying the hurt that Justin had experienced. Most telling of this had been his final words to Kevin. Though Kevin had told Justin that he loved him, Justin had not said the same words back to him...

The tightness in his heart continued to build until it was almost a physical sensation, and yet Kevin remained seated in the car, reliving the hurt he'd caused his angel...

A.J. and his bandmates disembarked from the plane and immediately spotted Joey's lone figure waiting for them.

Joey waved them over and took turns hugging each. However, his manner was so distracted and subdued that they all became aware that something was bothering him deeply.

"Are y'all ready to go?" he asked them, clapping his hands together nervously.

"Almost," Howie replied, looking at him curiously. "Just gotta collect our luggage first."

"Oh yeah," Joey said, slapping his forehead. He turned and walked off towards the baggage carousels, leaving a bewildered quartet behind.

"If this is any indication of what they're all gonna be like," A.J. said softly, "then I think I'm gonna re-cast my vote."

"Not before me you're not," Nick stated, looking at him with the same perplexed expression they all shared.

"Nor me," Howie agreed, before taking off after the retreating form of their host.

Brian trailed quietly behind them, still too upset with their decision to even tell them, "Told you so."

Chris paced in Lance's living room, becoming more agitated by the second. Joey and their guests would be here any moment, and his doubts were increasing in inverse proportion to the time left before their arrival.

Lance had long ago stopped watching Chris, knowing that he would either become hypnotised by the ceaseless pacing, or get a headache from watching it - neither of which he particularly cared for just then.

JC was lost in a world so far removed from them that he neither noticed Chris' pacing nor Lance's determined perusal of the muted television set, as if it was playing his all-time favourite movie. He didn't even hear the arrival of the quartet from the Backstreet Boys until he felt Chris' hand on his shoulder.

He looked up into the four most anxious and worried expressions he had ever seen in his life.

Jerald Richardson heard the doorbell ring and got up from the bureau he was working at to answer it. He was almost in the living room proper when he saw that his mother was already at the door, in the process of opening it.

They both stared in shock as a red-eyed Kevin stepped inside and collapsed into his mother's surprised embrace; sobbing uncontrollably before they'd even had the chance to utter a word.

Jerald was beside his mother in an instant, trying to assist her without luck. No matter what he tried, Kevin wouldn't let go of her, nor did he seem to be aware of what was happening around him - tears were falling from his eyes with abandon and sobs issued cruelly from his almost blue-tinged lips. In the end, Jerald had to resort to helping his mother move slowly to the couch, with Kevin hanging on the entire way, then helping them to sit down. At that point, Kevin changed position, laying down on the empty part of the couch in a foetal position, with his head in his mother's lap, and his arms still tightly entwined around her waist.

Jerald sighed as he perched himself on the coffee table in front of them. He looked up into his mother's face and wasn't surprised to see tears in her eyes as she tried to fathom what was causing her baby so much distress.

He couldn't stay in the room long; Kevin's heart-wrenching sobbing and endless rocking were more than he could cope with. His mother's quiet assurances and comforting caresses also added to the feeling of helplessness he was experiencing.

Deciding he had no better alternative, he left the living room, detouring to close the still open front door, before continuing into the kitchen. From there, he picked up the phone and dialled the number of the only person he could think of who could help.

When he ventured back into the living room fifteen minutes later, he was almost guiltily relieved to find that Kevin's sobbing had tapered off. He waited in silence for the next half hour while Kevin's crying completely petered out, and jumped up to answer the door at the sound of the doorbell.

Tim walked past him into the living room after the curtest of nods, and came to an abrupt halt as he took in the scene.

"What's going on, old man?" A.J.'s implacably toned question was directed at Chris, but his gaze never left the troubled expression on JC's face.

Chris sighed, knowing that everything hung in the balance. Their own reluctance to go ahead with this meeting, without Justin present, was obvious to the newcomers... which was not good. He only had one choice: he had to tell them the truth immediately, before they decided to walk out.

"We want to talk to you about the future of Justin's and Kevin's relationship."

Four sets of eyes narrowed as they bore into his own, and three other sets looked up at him in astonishment at his direct response to the newcomers. Chris had never felt as pressured as he did at that precise moment.

"Is he alright?" Tim murmured to his brother as he gazed down at the almost comatose figure of their youngest brother.

Jerald came to stand behind him and gazed down at the still figure of their brother, who was clutching his mother as if his life depended on it. She, in turn, stroked his hair and face, weeping softly all the while. Jerald shook his head in answer to Tim's question, but it went unnoticed by his eldest brother.

Tim broke his gaze from the comatose figure and walked over to crouch in front of his mother. Reaching out, he gently stroked his brother's back, while looking up into his mother's weeping countenance.

"Ma... are you okay?"

She nodded slowly, not able to tear her eyes from the distressingly haunted look on her baby's face. She continued to stroke his face, pausing only when his eyes closed in deeper pain every so often. At those times, her own tears flowed freer, and her breath caught in her throat.

Tim turned his attention to Kevin, even though he didn't believe for a second that his mother was telling the truth. "Kevin? It's me, Tim." He paused, unsure of what else to say, before continuing helplessly. "What's wrong, little bro? What happened?"

Kevin remained mute; eyes clenched tightly closed and tears falling to join those already soaking into the lap of his mother's dress.

"Kevvy, please... tell me what's wrong?" Tim pleadingly asked. He swallowed, feeling his own emotions coming close to the surface. "Please, Kevin. Tell us what's upset you so."

Silence settled over the room as Tim's words appeared to have fallen on deaf ears. Then, just as Tim was about to try once more, a small voice uttered a single word, before it dissolved into gut-wrenching sobs. "Justin..."

Tim looked up at his suddenly alert brother, Jerald, and they exchanged a look which Ann would have been hard pressed to miss, had she been looking at them. She wasn't though - she continued to gaze on the forlorn features of her youngest son, as he sobbed out his pain.

A moment later she found voice. "Honey, everything will be fine, you'll see." She resumed stroking his face, fighting to keep her lips from quivering at the effort to contain her own sobs. "Whatever it is that's happened between the two of you, you'll fix it. I have faith in you, my baby. I'm positive Justin does too. Have faith in your own love for him, honey, and his love for you."

Kevin's sobs became muffled as he buried his head in the folds of her dress, and clung even tighter to her. Jerald and Tim looked on in stunned amazement as their mother shocked them to their cores; she knew about Justin!

The eight men sat tensely on various couches, recliners and kitchen stools in Lance's living room.

It had taken an immense effort on the part of the four 'N Syncers to calm down their guests and keep them from walking out. In the end, it had been the seriousness of their expressions that had swayed the BSBers to stay.

While Lance fetched a couple of stools from the kitchen, Chris cajoled the BSBers into sitting down on the 4-seat leather couch, settling himself into one of the recliners, while JC took the other. Joey sat on one of the appropriated stools when Lance brought them in, and Lance settled on the remaining one. Though not meaning to, the two groups found themselves facing each other across the coffee table.

Brian looked as if he was ready to throttle someone, and his bandmates weren't far behind. "Okay," he said, having to control the urge to snap at everyone in the room - his bandmates included. "What's this all about? Why do we need to talk about this? And why do we have to do it behind Kevin's and Justin's backs?"

His three bandmates nodded in accord as they all stared at Chris. But it was JC who answered, in a tired voice.

"Because we're doing this for Justin's benefit. And if Kevin is going through half of what Justin is, then it's for his benefit too."

Four thunderstruck expressions regarded him back.


JC faced Howie directly and replied. "We need to talk about certain things; things that affect Curly's and Kevin's relationship, but which we can't discuss in front of them."

"Like what?" asked Nick, totally perplexed. "And why do we have to do it this way?"

"Because if they knew we were talking about this, they'd put a stop to it," Chris replied in an exasperated tone.

The four BSBers remained silent as they tried to understand the meaning of Chris' words.

Finally, A.J. replied, "You'd better tell us what this 'thing' is that we need to talk about. 'The future of their relationship' is too vague. We need to know more."

Chris nodded and silently sighed. "Before we explain, we need to relate a little story." He noted A.J.'s rising eyebrow, and hastily added, "No, not the one I was telling you before, Alexander. This one is much more important and personal."

A.J. swapped a quick glance with his bandmates before settling back into the couch and giving an assenting nod to Chris. "Okay, speak. But it had better be good, old man."

Chris nodded again, then started talking. His audience listened carefully with mounting worry, their expressions turning darker and more anxious by the second. Little by little, all other sounds ceased, and the room appeared to become appreciably darker, as Chris's story - with the occasional assistance from JC - changed the mood of everyone present.

It was almost an hour later...

The room was deathly silent. All three of them continued to gaze at Kevin's still curled figure as he lay silently on the couch, his head resting in his mother's lap.

For lack of a better reason, their tears had been expended over the course of the hour. Ann and Kevin were almost comatose from sheer mental exhaustion. Still, Ann continued to caress her youngest son's face and hair, her eyes never leaving his visage for more than a second.

Tim looked over at Jerald and motioned for him to follow. He led his younger brother into the kitchen, where he took a seat at the kitchen table, while his brother settled into another one tiredly.

"Does it make any sense to you?"

Jerald shook his head in the negative.

"What could have happened with Justin?" Tim asked rhetorically. "Only the other day they'd finally gotten together. What's happened now?"

"I don't know, Tim." Jerald rubbed his eyes, sighing softly at the same time. "Maybe we'd better call Justin and find out?"

Tim didn't immediately respond, being lost in thought. He also sighed, before nodding his head. "We may have to if Kevin doesn't tell us what happened." He shook his head and frowned as the other matter knocking about in his mind came to the forefront. "You didn't say anything to Mom about Kev and Justin, did you?"

Jerald's head jerked up and he stared into his brother's eyes reproachfully. "No." He shook his head in emphasis, to indicate his innocence, and in part at the accusing tone in his brother's voice. "I wouldn't betray Kevvy like that. I wouldn't have done it, even if you hadn't told me he wanted to keep it a secret from Ma."

"Sorry, Jer," Tim replied, rubbing his forehead and closing his eyes in weariness. "I know you wouldn't do that. Please forgive me?"

Jerald nodded understandingly, before saying, "So how did she find out about Justin?"

Tim shook his head. "I guess we underestimated her; she probably found out the same way you did."

Jerald shook his head, frowning in perplexity. "No, that can't be right. I only guessed about them getting together because I already knew of Kevin's feelings for Justin... Remember the concert they held here at the Arena about two weeks ago?"

Tim nodded, even though he hadn't attended the concert himself. That was the day that Kevin had come out to their mother, and then after the concert, to both of them as well. "Yeah, I remember. He came out to us that night."

Jerald nodded. "Yeah, he did. But you didn't see what I saw. I saw their performance, including the duet he sang with Justin, and how he acted after that. That was almost enough for me to guess about Kevin's feelings for Justin. But the clincher was what happened after the concert."

"What? What happened? I take it that this happened before he called me?"

"Yeah, it did. Their boss, Michael- Do you remember him?" Tim nodded and Jerald continued, "Well, Michael was at the concert that night, and he also noticed Kevin's scratchy performance. When he confronted Kevin, Kevin told him about his being gay, and once Michael reassured him that it was okay with him and The Firm, he left."

"So what happened?" Tim asked impatiently.

"Kevin and I talked for a while after Michael left, but Brian interrupted us."

"Brian? Our Brian?"

"Yeah, he was there too."

"What did our cuz say?"

"Well, earlier that day, Kevin also came out to A.J., Howie and Nick. Apparently, Justin was there as well, but Kevin asked him to leave before he told them."

"Okay, so what does this have to do with Brian?" Tim sounded like a man trying to juggle a hundred thoughts at once.

"Well, Brian wanted to know why Kevin didn't come out to Justin as well. And Kevin told him that that would have also meant telling Justin that he loved him. That's when I realised my hunch was right: Kevin was in love with Justin."

Tim let all the questions flooding through his mind pass, determined to hear the whole story later. Still, there was one question he was keen to find the answer for. "So, if you only found out about Kevin's feelings for Justin after the concert, how did Mom find out?"

Jer opened his mouth to speak but faltered as their mother's voice issued from the entrance to the kitchen. "Because I also saw what he felt for Justin that night."

A long, thoughtful silence filled the living room as Chris' story came to a halt. Chris had worn himself out relating it, and was not in any hurry to speak again. His bandmates, who were reliving the events as well, were mute with thoughts of their own. Their guests were sitting in a whirlwind of information overload, struggling with the onslaught of raw emotion as their brains whirled around and around trying to process all they'd heard.

Seven pairs of eyes swung over to Chris, as he got up to get a glass of water for his parched throat. Still, no one spoke, even when he got back from the kitchen.

Finally, after an unendurably long silence, Nick said, "A.J., I think they need to know our side too."

A.J. looked at him curiously for a moment before sighing and nodding once. "Yeah, I think you're right, Blondie." He turned to face the four men sitting opposite them, then said, "We've got our own little story to relate." Then turning to Brian, he asked, "I'll need your help in some parts, okay?"

Brian nodded, having lost all of his antagonistic attitude in light of what he'd heard.

A.J. turned to face his curious audience and started to speak. "It all started when..."

"How's Kevin?" Tim asked, ignoring her bombshell in favour of finding out about his brother's state of wellbeing.

Ann walked over and tiredly sat opposite Jerald, absently brushing at the large damp patch on her dress. "He's okay for the moment. He's finally asleep. He's so exhausted he didn't even feel me moving him to get up."

Tim nodded, while Jerald steadily gazed at her.

"And how are you, Ma?" Tim asked, his voice a no-nonsense request for an honest answer, even if it was keyed low.

"I'll be fine... once Kevin recovers."

Tim and Jerald shared a concerned look, before Tim spoke again. "How did you find out about Justin, Ma? And what do you know about their relationship?"

Ann sighed, pulling off her glasses and laying them on the table. She tiredly rubbed her eyes and face, while they waited for her response. When she finally replied, her voice sounded almost lifeless. "I went to the concert that night. I don't know what prompted me; maybe it was to see Kevin performing and reassure myself that he was as normal as I expected him to be." Both brothers cringed at her use of 'normal', but remained silent. "But as soon as I saw him singing with Justin, I knew the truth. I not only realised that he was gay, but that he was also in love with the person singing the duet with him.

"It... it hit me really hard. I felt as if I'd lost everything I held dearest, at that moment. My baby was not who I thought he was, and he was in love with someone who would take him away from me." Her mouth worked to produce more sounds, but none came out. She brushed away the newly formed tears and swallowed, before continuing. "I didn't stay long. I left as soon as the song finished, only stopping to ask the young girl next to me who the curly-haired boy was - I didn't remember his name when Kevin first introduced him. She told me his name, and I realised that I would lose out to this 'Justin Timberlake' for my baby's affections. I was devastated. I had hurt my baby, and found out that his love for me would come second to the love he felt for this boy, Justin."

She wiped at her eyes again, dislodging more tears, while staring down at the small damp patch steadily growing on the tablecloth.

"Ma," Tim said softly, "Kevin's love for you will never diminish, no matter what he feels for Justin. He loves you. You're his mother, and nothing can change that. Do you know how devastated he was after he came out to you?" He cursed himself for reminding her, as her eyes closed and her lips started to tremble. "If he didn't love you as much as he does, he wouldn't have felt that way. And when I talked to him after their Orlando concert, he told me how happy and relieved he was that you came to see him. He told me how much your love and acceptance meant to him. Ma, he will never stop loving you for a moment. Never doubt that!"

She nodded shakily, as Tim gripped her shoulder in comfort, and Jerald caressed her right hand in both of his. She looked up at her two eldest sons and essayed a smile, failing miserably. She patted Jerald's hands with her free hand, before reclaiming her other one. Gripping her eldest son's hand on her shoulder in a thankful squeeze, she gathered her glasses and stood and left.

Tim and Jerald shared a long, troubled look.

Ann approached the couch holding her youngest son's sleeping figure. She gazed down at his deeply-lined face, oddly divorced from his pain in sleep, and found her heart breaking again.

'Yes, I know you still love me, Kevin,' she thought sadly. 'But you love him even more. I know you'll grieve for me when I'm gone, honey, but you'll survive my passing. But if... when... you lose Justin... I know you'll die inside. He means more to you than life itself, and that terrifies me so much.'

She remained by his side for a long time, not noticing the occasional checks her two eldest sons performed on both of them.

JC sat mutely in stunned amazement as A.J. finished recounting his story. There was so much he had learned, possibly even more than Justin knew, and he couldn't help feeling a sense of dread settle over him.

His bandmates sat just as mutely as he, as they processed what they'd just heard. On more than one occasion they had almost physically flinched as A.J.'s retelling lashed them with emotions so raw they could almost feel them as if they were tangible.

A.J. wiped his eyes, having found it just as difficult to relate some of the events the second time around. He looked over at the curiously saddened expression on Chris' face, and quietly asked, "Where do we go from here? You haven't told us why we're having this meeting yet."

Chris looked up at him guiltily, his mouth gaping almost comically. "I think, in light of what we've all heard tonight, you know just as well as we do what we need to talk about."

A.J. glanced across at each of his bandmates, and saw the understanding in their eyes. "Yes, we do. And we can also appreciate why Kevin and Justin aren't here. If they knew about this, we'd never get them to agree. They'd just..."

"Yeah, they would," agreed Joey, resuming where A.J. left off. "So, who wants to go first?"

It was arbitrary who would speak first - no matter who elected to do it, the words would be the same. In the end, it was Brian who spoke up, feeling a wave of disaster pouring through his heart at what they were about to do to Kevin and Justin, and what they were about to do to themselves, as well...

Jerald came back into the kitchen and took his seat, grabbing the rapidly warming glass of water and downing the contents in a few quick gulps.

Tim looked at him patiently. "Did you get it?"

"Yeah, here it is," Jerald replied, reaching into his trouser pocket and retrieving the object contained within. He'd found it on the passenger seat of Kevin's rental car.

Tim reached out and took the proffered cell phone. After a bit of fumbling at the unfamiliar menu system, he scrolled through the list of names until he came across the entry 'Justin', then looked up into Jerald's neutral expression as he pressed the 'Dial' key.

Lynn jumped as she heard Justin's cell phone start to ring. Justin had left it outside after speaking to Kevin; one of the boys had thoughtfully brought it inside and left it on the kitchen counter.

Paul stood, reassuring her that he would handle it, then walked over to pick up the phone.

Lynn watched him, suddenly feeling lonely without his comforting presence right next to her.

"Hello? Paul Harless speaking."

"Hello. Is Justin there?"

"I'm afraid he's not available at the moment. May I ask who's calling?"

"Sorry, Paul, this is Tim Richardson. I'm Kevin's brother."

"Tim Richardson?" Paul repeated, noticing his wife's start at the surname. "What can I do for you, Tim?" He moved to sit back down on the couch, clutching Lynn's hand, and feeling the pressure returned almost painfully.

"I'm hoping, Paul, that you can tell me what's happened to my brother."

Paul remained motionless, trying to work out what he was being asked. "I'm sorry, I don't follow. What do you mean?"

"Kevin is here with us, in Lexington," Tim began to explain. "He arrived earlier this evening. As soon as he showed up at the house he broke down, and we've been trying to work out what happened. The only thing we know for certain is that he mentioned Justin's name, and nothing else. We were wondering if Justin could tell us what he did or said to Kevin, to reduce him to the state he's in now."

Paul listened, his anger mounting by the second. "What Justin did to Kevin? You mean what Kevin did to Justin, don't you? Don't blame any of this on my stepson - it's all Kevin's fault!"

Tim was taken aback. "Kevin? What did Kevin do? Is Justin okay?"

Paul sighed, as he realised that he was taking out his anger on the wrong person. It looked like this Tim character didn't know anything about what had happened earlier. "Your brother called my stepson and told him that his promise to come back here as soon as his tour finished had to be broken. He might as well have ripped Justin's heart out - it would have been more merciful that way. My stepson is barricaded in his room, crying uncontrollably, and not letting anyone in, or talking to anyone, and all because of your brother!"

Tim sighed as he covered his eyes with his free hand. "God, this is a mess."

"You're damn right it is!" Paul angrily replied, rapidly losing his cool as he saw his wife weeping again at the mention of Justin's actions. "Why would he do this to Justin? Doesn't he know how much Justin is missing him? How desperately he wants to be with him?"

"He knows, Paul," Tim reassured him, "God he knows. It certainly explains why Kevin's cried himself senseless. He was... is... inconsolable."

"What's he doing there?" Paul asked, settling down a fraction. "What's so important in Lexington that he couldn't wait a day or two before going, and hurting my stepson in the process?"

Tim sighed, frustrated at arguing with the other man. "What's so important is that he has to see our mother to set things right between them. My mom only recently reconciled with him after finding out about his sexuality. They didn't have much time to spend together, as she flew in to catch him before one of their concerts. But he promised her that he would come home and speak to her. I'm sorry if that upsets you, but family is important to my brother, just as I am sure it is to you when it comes to your family..."

Paul felt his antagonism disappearing, and scrubbed his face as he tried to compose his thoughts. "Is Kevin alright?" he found himself asking, genuinely interested in knowing his stepson's boyfriend's condition.

"I... I think so," Tim replied unsurely. "He's sleeping now, totally exhausted from his crying. I don't know if I'll ever get over seeing that... I've never seen my brother so heartbroken."

Paul contemplated his words, realising that Kevin had suffered as well. "I'm sorry to hear that. I know exactly what you mean though, because Justin's been the same."

"Paul, would it be possible to speak to Justin? Please?" Tim asked.

Paul hesitated, looking over at his wife, who returned his look curiously. "I can't promise anything," he finally replied, "but I'll try. Hang on a minute."

Standing, he beckoned his wife to her feet with a slight tugging of his hand, which still held hers. Then releasing her hand to wrap his arm around her waist, he walked them to the staircase, ignoring the inquisitive looks from his wife. As he walked down the hallway to Justin's room, he felt her stiffening as she realised what he was about to do. He released his hold and grasped her hand again, squeezing it tightly in reassurance, as they pulled up outside Justin's bedroom door.

Lynn composed her features, a mask settling over her face, though inside she was a maelstrom of emotions. Paul knew her well enough to know what was really happening inside her, but appreciated the tacit permission she was giving him. He knocked on the door, waiting a few seconds for the answer he didn't expect to receive, and, vindicated in his assumption, spoke through the doorway, hoping that his stepson was still awake.

"Justin, I have someone on the phone who would like to speak to you. His name is Tim Richardson; he's the brother of your... uh... of Kevin."

He looked down at the doorknob and patiently waited. Almost a minute and a half later, he heard a click from inside, and the doorknob started turning.

Paul and Lynn steeled themselves for the worst, and were not disappointed. Justin looked nothing like his normal self as he appeared framed in the doorway. His eyes were swollen red and puffy, with still more unshed tears; his nose was red and runny, the watery mucus flowing down over his top lip to drop onto his chin; his lips were puffy and quivering with emotions he had very little control over. All in all, it was enough to break his mother's heart, and despite her resolution to remain in control, Lynn found it hard to keep the tears at bay.

Justin lowered his glance from his stepfather's face and focussed on the cell phone in his hand. He slowly reached out for it and gathered it, before turning around and entering his room again; closing and locking the door behind him without a single word being spoken between them.

Lynn turned and buried her face in her husband's chest, terrified for her son's wellbeing, and heart-stricken to see him so dejected, vulnerable and unanimated. Paul comforted her as much as he could, knowing that she would take a long time to recover from what she had just seen. Stroking her back gently, he turned and silently led the way to their bedroom, hoping he could convince her to sleep.

Tim heard a great deal of the exchange over the line, but, with the exception of Paul's voice as he told Justin that Tim wanted to speak to him, not a lot of it made sense.

A minute or so later, he heard a quiet sniffle coming down the line, and realised that Justin must be holding the phone. "Justin? Are you there? This is Kevin's brother, Tim."

A small and devastated voice replied, "I'm here."

Tim sighed as he realised that Justin was in just as bad a state as Kevin. "Justin, I know you're not up to talking right now, so I'll do most of it, okay? You just listen, and when I'm done, if there's anything you want to ask me, I'll be here for you. Do you think you can manage that?"


Tim fought to ignore the emotions that welled up inside him at that barely spoken affirmative. "Justin, first off I've got to apologise for Kevin's behaviour. We didn't know that he'd promised that he'd come straight home to you. We weren't even aware of a problem until he showed up here and broke down crying in Mom's arms." A sob on the other end halted him for a moment, before he continued. "If we'd have known what he'd promised you, we would've made him keep it - you've got to believe us. I know it's important that Kevin and my mom clear up any misunderstandings they still have, but that can be done at any time - it doesn't have to be done now. We're so sorry he did this to you. We can't apologise enough for this. But please, if you love him, please forgive him."

Silence, punctuated by the occasional sniffle, greeted his imploring words. A moment later, as he was about to speak again, the phone was pulled out of his hand, and he swung around to find his mother placing it up against her ear.

"Justin, sweetheart?" Ann said shakily, noticing the sharp intake of his breath over the line. "This is Kevin's mother, Ann. Honey, I'm so sorry about what Kevin did to you. But please, if you have to blame someone, blame me, not him. He loves you so much he's going out of his mind with grief at what he's done, and I feel so guilty for that... and also for what you're going through right now. I'm sorry, sweetheart. I'm so sorry..." She trailed off into tears, fighting to keep her sobs from escaping.


She almost missed his voice, so softly was it pitched. "Y-yes, dear?"

"I... I don't blame you. And I don't blame Kevin, either. I love him too much to blame him for what he feels is right, and what he feels he needs to do. And I know how important it was for him to come and see you today. He probably hasn't told you, but you mean the world to him. He wants nothing more than to make things right with you. He'll never be happy otherwise."

Ann's tears flowed uncontrollably as she tried to fathom from where Justin got his wise-beyond-years insight. Finding her voice at last she softly replied, "You're almost right, honey. Yes, he wants to make things right between us, so that he can be truly content again, but there's only one thing that will make him happy. That one thing, funnily enough, is the one thing that means the world to him - and that happens to be a person he loves very much: you.

"I haven't spoken to Kevin yet, but the main reason I wanted to see him was to ask him about you, and to find out what he really feels for you. I was hoping to be proven right, in which case I would have given him my full and unconditional blessing to be with you. I know it doesn't matter in this day and age, but my baby is old fashioned enough to want his parents' approval in such matters. And dear, even before I started speaking to you, I was going to give him my blessings. I knew he loved you, Justin, but today proved to me just how much he does. I... I hope you take good care of him, Justin. Because otherwise... otherwise he'll..."

She thrust the phone back at Tim and almost ran out of the room, not bothering to hear anything that Justin might say in reply. Tim gazed at her departing figure, feeling the soft sting of tears in his eyes at her blessing and appeal. When he turned to face Jerald, he wasn't surprised to see moisture in his eyes too.

He brought the phone up to his ear and listened as Justin's sobbing was punctuated every now and then with, "I promise. I promise, Ann."

"Justin, are you going to be okay?"

Sniffles replaced the sobbing after a while, and Justin replied, "I think so, Tim. Please thank your mom for me."

"I will, Justin," Tim replied. Then a thought struck him. "Justin, how would you like to come out here for a few days? You and Kevin can have some time alone together, and the family can meet you - we're all dying to meet you in person. What do you say?"

Ignoring Jerald's gaping stare, Tim waited for the words he hoped to hear.

"You won't mind?"

He smiled broadly, hearing the hopeful and uplifting tone in the youngster's voice. "We won't mind in the slightest. I wouldn't have invited you otherwise."

"Umm, s-sure..."

"Great. Listen, get a flight out as soon as you can, and call and tell us your flight details so that we can meet you at the airport, okay?"

"Okay," Justin replied, feeling a tingle coming back into his body. "I'll let you know as soon as I've booked it. Thanks, Tim."

"Think nothing of it, Justin. I'm being a bit selfish, I have to admit... I want to meet the man who's claimed my brother's heart, but more importantly, I want Kevin to be happy again. And like Ma said, that'll only be when you two are together again."

Justin gulped back the lump in his throat and smiled, even though no one could see it. "I can live with those reasons." He sighed, as he put his mind into gear to arrange everything he needed to do. "I'll call you back in a bit, Tim, with that information. And thanks again."

"Not a problem, Justin. I'll be waiting for your call. Bye."

"Bye, Tim."

By the time he'd arranged everything, his parents were walking around in stunned confusion. He had appeared in his parents' bedroom, smiling broadly as if he hadn't been crying for the past three hours, and cried out where he'd been invited to go - his voice almost shrill in excitement. As his mother and stepfather looked at him in open-mouthed amazement, he raced away, running downstairs to the living room to find a phone book. He was on his third call when his parents staggered into view.

Lynn bent down to look at the hurriedly scribbled words and numbers on the pad he was using, and realised that they were departure times for various flights. One of them, the one right at the top of the page, had a departure time about an hour from the present time. Justin had circled that one, obviously marking that as the flight leaving for Lexington the soonest. She walked back to Paul and quietly recounted what she'd found out, hoping that he'd be able to come up with some reason to prevent Justin from leaving.

Paul listened to her, hearing the unasked request in her voice, but knew that regardless of what he and Lynn wanted or felt, it only mattered what Justin wanted right then - and that was to be with his 'Boo'. Justin needed to do this as badly as an addict needed a fix; maybe even moreso. He turned and gently shook his head, drawing Lynn close and kissing her forehead as he quietly whispered, "He needs to do this, love. He won't be happy otherwise." He looked down at her sparkling eyes, and felt torn between his heart, which was urging him to do all he could to help his wife, and his head, which was telling him that he shouldn't interfere or else Justin would never forgive them.

Justin, oblivious to their exchange, hung up and turned around to face them with a dazzling smile. "I have to go. My flight leaves in like 40 minutes. I need to leave right now!" He ran up to them and hugged them, giving his mother a kiss on the cheek, before disappearing up the stairs to his room.

He returned barely a moment later, an overnight bag constituting all of his luggage, and ran towards the front door.

"Hang on, Tiger!" Paul called. He looked down at his wife's suddenly acquiescing expression and kissed her quickly, before turning to look at his stepson. "I'll drive you to the airport."

Justin smiled again and flung the door open, almost running outside. Paul kissed his wife once more, happy to see the acceptance on her face and whispered, "I won't be long."

She nodded and rubbed his arm, as he walked past her to the door. A car horn from outside caused them both to smile in amusement at Justin's obvious rush. Then, a moment later, the door was closed and the car's engine noise quickly disappeared down the road, leaving her alone in her big, empty house.

Paul asked Justin to explain what was going on, and listened carefully as Justin excitedly related the offer made by Tim. He reminded his stepson about his promise to call the Richardsons back with the flight details, and Justin hurriedly complied, thanking Paul for the reminder.

Paul smiled as he listened to his stepson passing on the details, and then making small talk with Kevin's brother. Justin still appeared unsure of how to relate to his boyfriend's family, but Paul knew that after spending a few days with them, he would know them well enough to not feel so self-conscious around them.

Less than 20 minutes later, he pulled up outside the airport and got out of the car, following his stepson to the appropriate airline counter to collect and pay for his ticket. Before Justin disappeared down the ramp to the plane, he embraced him, feeling a mixture of worry and pride, tinged with love. He ruffled his stepson's hair, kissed his cheek and softly bade him farewell.

Justin returned his stepfather's farewell, then rushed down the air-bridge, anxious to depart.

Eight sets of eyes looked blankly around; the only movement in the silent room.

The resolution had been spoken. Debates had raged about whether they were within their rights to do what they proposed, and in the end, it was decided that they had to. Not that anyone was overjoyed at that decision. Regardless of how much sense it made to them, they still couldn't get over the feeling that they were doing something underhanded, or wrong. And the fact that it involved Kevin and Justin made them feel even worse.

Joey was the first one to come out of the introspective mood that had settled over them, and break the silence. "It's been a long night, fellas. Now that everything's been decided, I'm gonna head off home. I'm too tired to hang around here anymore."

The others wished him a good night, then using his departure as their cue, started getting ready to depart themselves. Howie helped Lance move the stools back to the kitchen, then joined his bandmates as they collected their luggage.

"How are we gonna do this?" JC asked, knowing that with Joey gone, their ride back to Justin's house had left.

Lance sighed and collected his spare keys. He tossed them towards JC and said, "You guys take the other car back to Justin's. I'll take these four home in the Durango."

JC nodded and tapped Chris on the arm, urging him to follow him out. Chris almost managed a smile in farewell at the others, but they didn't fault him when it came out slightly wrong.

Lance assisted the guys and their luggage into his Durango, locked up his house, then set off.

Jerald sat down on the couch next to his mother and hugged her. She allowed herself to be collected into his embrace, too tired and apathetic to either resist or assist.

Tim walked into the living room at that point and sat down in a chair, looking over at his mother and brother. "He didn't wake up even for a moment. The poor guy must've exhausted himself."

Jerald nodded understandingly. He had been worried that Kevin would wake up when Tim picked him up to carry him to his old bedroom.

"I've made up the spare bedroom for Justin. I'll have to leave shortly to collect him."

Jerald nodded again, loathe to speak.

"I also took the opportunity to call home and tell Tracy that I'll be delayed getting back. She knows I may end up staying here overnight."

Jerald just nodded again, turning to absently regard the space above the coffee table.

"I might head out now," Tim said, softly. "Just in case Justin's plane lands early..."

As he suspected, no one appeared to be paying him attention anymore. He silently got up and departed, knowing that he was likely to catch the gloomy introspection that had settled over his family if he stayed there for a moment longer.

A.J. lay on his bed, going through the events of the past several hours in his mind. Their collective decision hung heavily on his conscience, as he felt sure it did with the others. He sighed as he rolled over to his side, grabbing the other pillow and holding it against his body in a tight embrace. It was at moments like these that he wished he was in a loving relationship. Feeling the comforting embrace of the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with would have been just the anodyne he craved.

His mind returned to Chris' tale...

He shuddered involuntarily as he recalled everything he'd heard about Justin's headlong spiral into depression after their joint tour had ended. He knew, deep down, that Justin loved Kevin from the start, but the extent of Justin's love had shocked him to his core. The many parallels between Kevin's pain and Justin's, only made it easier for him to imagine in vivid detail what Justin had gone through.

Drop after drop, his tears rolled across his face to fall on the tightly clenched pillow in his arms. Moments later, he buried his face into the pillow and softly sobbed as he relived emotions and feelings he thought he'd left far behind.

It would have afforded him little comfort to know that the other seven were all reacting similarly.

JC rolled over and stared at the ceiling, brushing the tears from his eyes.

Though he and Curly appeared to have resolved their differences, he still felt slightly guilty for his antagonistic attitude towards his best friend's feelings for Kevin. And after what he'd heard that night, he knew that his guilt would be around for a long time to come.

He'd never appreciated what Kevin had gone through in all that time. Kevin had put up such a good front that JC had started hating him for his callous disregard of Curly's affections. But he hadn't known the truth behind the façade until this very night. Kevin had gone through as much agony as Curly, if not more - he'd thought that Justin and JC were a couple, a fact that would have torn him up inside every time he saw them together.

JC shook his head, ashamed all over again at his selfish attitude. He was only thankful that Curly and his parents had been asleep by the time he and Chris had gotten back - he couldn't have faced him tonight after everything he'd found out, let alone after the decision they'd reached.

He rolled over onto his other side, sighing as he tried to find a calm in the storm of his thoughts.

Tim and Justin discussed very little on the trip to the Richardson residence.

Tim knew it was a combination of nervousness and shyness, along with a fair helping of fatigue, which inhibited the youngster. He didn't force the conversation, but he did keep a deliberately light tone and asked enough questions to make the silence appear endurable.

They finally pulled up into the driveway of the house and Tim killed the engine. "Welcome to the Richardson abode."

Justin smiled, despite his weariness, and unbuckled himself. He picked up his overnight bag from the seat next to him, and got out of the car. He waited while Tim locked it, then followed him into the house.

Tim detoured by the living room, and wasn't surprised to see his brother and mother still sitting where he'd left them. "Ma, Jer, I'd like you to meet Justin."

Justin stared nervously while the two disengaged and turned to look up at him. Jerald smiled warmly but made no move to get up, surreptitiously looking for a reaction from his mother. Ann looked up at him almost blankly for a minute before her eyes focused.

She stood unsteadily and moved the necessary steps to place her directly in front of him. She looked up into his face, looking for something that she alone knew about, and seemed to find it.

Justin stood rock-still, afraid of the slight woman standing before him, knowing that a lot of his happiness, and especially Kevin's, rested with this woman.

Ann slowly reached out and embraced him, burying her left cheek against the place on his chest where his heart rested behind. She gently stroked his back, as her tears fell. "Justin, thank you for coming. Please make my baby happy again."

He almost missed her words, shocked as he was at her actions. But as they penetrated his brain, he relaxed into her hug, and bent to kiss the top of her head, whispering in turn, "I promise you, Ann. With all my heart and soul."

It was a long time later that Ann left to go to sleep, and Jerald followed suit. He was left, standing wobbily on his feet, with Tim close by.

"You look tired. Let's get you to bed. Can you follow me upstairs?"

Justin nodded, gratefully setting off after Tim. At the top of the stairs, he reached out and halted Tim. "I don't suppose I could see him... just for a moment?"

The love in Justin's voice was expected, but Tim was surprised by the undercurrent of hope and... fear?... clearly audible as well. He peered into Justin's tired but anxious eyes, and gave a quick nod, a small smile appearing on his face. Leading his guest over to the second door on the left, he gently opened it and stepped inside, motioning Justin to enter as well.

From the moment Justin's eyes rested on Kevin, nothing else existed in the world. Tim became aware of the power and intensity behind that gaze, even through the film of moisture that appeared out of nowhere in the youngster's eyes. He watched in wonder as Justin softly padded over to the bed and stood over Kevin's prone form. The lack of overt movement spoke volumes to him about the depth of Justin's feelings. Justin was thoroughly content just to stand there - all night if need be - gazing down at the man he was destined to be with.

Tim knew that he was intruding and wiped away the tears from his eyes as he left the room with a parting, "Goodnight, Justin."

Justin wasn't even aware that he'd left...

At one point in the night, Kevin awoke to find himself being held in his angel's arms. His eyes closed a moment later and he relaxed back into sleep, happy to be dreaming that he was in Curly's loving embrace.

Justin was asleep at the time and didn't realise what happened. But in his dreams he felt a sense of contentment spread throughout his body as his angel snuggled into him - not realising that a sleepy Kevin had done just that...

End - Chapter 21

To be continued...

Some musings...

This chapter was not what I had originally planned for Chapter 21... In fact, it came right out of nowhere one night when I started writing the intro in an attempt to set the style for the chapter. Four hours later, I had the chapter as outlined above (minus the edits mh and I have done). :)

The only reason I 'sat' on it for so long (and no, it wasn't because of the anniversary date <grin>) was because I was unsure I could trust something that came out of me so quickly (believe you me, I didn't set out to write such a long and complex chapter!) and because I had doubts about the direction the story was (suddenly) heading in.

This chapter represents a substantial detour to my original storyline. It was not envisaged by me at any point in my 'planning'. And because it contains several new plots, I was unsure if I wanted to run with it, or start from scratch. In the end, I decided that I had to run with it - it represents a detour that I'm keen to explore. :)

As for some of the content, though I didn't set out purposely to do it, it is very reminiscent of some of the earlier chapters. In a way, this is a blessing - it makes this chapter seem like a true 'anniversary' chapter, though again I must stress that it wasn't my intention. :)

Anyway, for better or worse, I hope you enjoyed it. Oh, and even though it's only mentioned in a couple of sentences right at the end, I did manage to get them in the same bed together for this special occasion! :) Not through planning, mind you, but I'm not about to 'diss' fate! :)

And finally, some quick hello's before I go :) Hi Sprout. Hi Andre. Hi Andrew (RAMBOY). Hey to Braan and Duckie (and thanks for letting me use you two in my other story!) :) Hey Lostintejas - Sorry I didn't email you and made you worry - I'm fine, really! *hugs* :) Everyone else on #boybands, it's always fun chatting with you guys and girls! :)

Have a Happy Christmas or Chanukah (hope I spelt that correctly...) :)

P.S. I realise that Tim's wife's name may not be Tracy, but I can't seem to find anything on the net which is remotely connected with her. :) So I've taken the 'liberty' of calling her Tracy. I hope that doesn't offend anyone.