Remember When

by Kenitra

Other Stories by Me!

(under boy-bands)
Love and Pleasure
Posted Feb 27/02

Millennium Love
Updated Feb 19/02

(Ended Oct 17/01)

Admitting the Truth
(Posted July 12/01)

What If
(Posted May 29/01)

Blissful Tears
(Ended Jan 28/01)
This is just a little song fic I wrote today. Every time I hear the song "How Did I Fall in Love With you", I think I should write a finally I did.

Not edited and NO sex.

P.S. More Millennium Love in a couple of days for those reading it!

A  Don't know them, never met them, never will!
B  Under age...don't tell me. I don't want either of us to get in trouble!

If you have any comments about this story, please email me at
I try to respond to every single email I get!

As always, thank you for reading!

Older Stories by Me!

(under boy-bands)
First Anniversary
(Posted Oct 31/00)

Fates Reason
(Ended Feb 6/00)

Ice Storm
(Posted May 8/00)

Set You Free
(Ended Apr 11/00)

Ten Guys, One Night
(Posted Apr 7/00)

(under College section)
(Posted Dec 16/00)

Remember when
We never needed each other
The best of friends
Like sister and brother

"L'il D? Is that you?" a loud voice said from behind Howie, making him jump.

He turned to see who had spoken, not quite believing what he had heard. There in front of him was the truth, all six feet, four inches of him. "Big D?" Howie asked still in disbelief. The man grinned and any doubts Howie had fled. "Raphael Delgado, I can't believe it!" Howie exclaimed.

The big man moved forward, intending to hug Howie, when another large man stepped in front of him. "D?" Rafe said hesitantly.

Howie stepped forward and put his hand on the other man's arm. "It's okay Andre. Rafe is an old friend," Howie explained.

Andre nodded and stepped aside. Howie stepped towards his old friend and Rafe grabbed him up in a bear hug. "I can't believe how long its been L'il D," Rafe said sincerely.

Howie smiled and returned the hug in earnest. Rafe finally set Howie down again and they looked at each other. "It's been ... what? Thirteen years?" Howie commented.

Rafe nodded. "Yeah, about that. You look great!"

Howie grinned. Before he could respond Andre stepped forward. "Howie? Can I suggest you guys move this back to the house or somewhere more private? We're attracting a crowd," he said calmly.

Howie looked around and noticed the increasing number of teenage fans. He looked back at Rafe and smiled ruefully. "You know what I do for a living?" he asked.

Rafe laughed. "How could I not?" He looked around at the growing crowd. "Can we go somewhere else and talk? I'd really love to catch up," he said.

Howie nodded then looked at Andre. "I guess the house would be the easiest?"

Andre nodded and stepped closer to Howie. "Okay. We'll go directly back to the car." He looked at Rafe. "You have any self-defense experience?" he asked.

Rafe nodded. "I can hold my own." He stepped to the other side of Howie and the two large men dwarfed the singer. "Just show me where to go."

The three men began to rapidly walk out of the shopping mall and through the parking lot. A few fans followed but a glance from either of the larger men was enough to keep them back. They reached the car and Andre flicked the remote allowing Howie to get directly into the back seat. Rafe stepped in behind him. Andre closed the back door and climbed into the driver side. By the time the men were in the car, most of the fans had given up and disappeared.

Andre quickly drove the car away from the mall, watching to ensure they didn't have anyone following them. After a few detours he drove directly to Howie's home. He pulled directly into the garage and parked before shutting off the motor. He turned to look at the two other men.

"Did you have a car at the mall?" he asked Rafe.

Rafe nodded, a little bewildered by the quickness of events. Andre nodded. "Okay. Howie can call me when you're ready to go and I'll drive you back, or you can get a cab. Whichever you prefer."

Howie smiled at his guard. "Thanks Andre. I always appreciate your help. I promise I'll give you a call later." He stepped out of the car and waited for Rafe. After a few seconds to collect his thoughts Rafe followed Howie. Andre watched them enter the house then exited the garage and drove the few blocks to his own home.

Howie flicked on the lights as he walked through the laundry room, and into the large kitchen. He turned to make sure Rafe was following him.

"Sorry about the cloak and dagger stuff," Howie apologized.

Rafe shrugged and smiled slightly. "I guess it comes with the territory huh?"

Howie sighed. They walked into the living room and Howie kicked off his shoes before flopping down on the couch. "Take a seat Rafe," he said. Rafe sat down in a large stuffed chair. Howie looked at him. "Man it is so good to see you," he said quietly. "I wondered where you disappeared to. You stopped writing letters when I was at college. Then when Backstreet got going, I thought maybe you'd get in contact with me," Howie said.

Rafe frowned and sat back. "I'm sorry D. I didn't intend to lose touch. But once my family settled in Bogotá, things became rough. It is not a pleasant city to live in with the drug wars a constant threat. I tried to keep writing, but after my brother was killed..." Rafe trailed off.

Howie sat up in surprise. "Oh Rafe! I'm sorry! I didn't know," he said sincerely.

Rafe shrugged. "He was killed in the crossfire of two drug dealers. That's the way life was and I guess it still is down there," he said softly.

"Are you back here to stay?" Howie asked quietly.

Rafe looked at him. "Honestly D, I'm not sure. I'm back for a few weeks to visit. But I haven't decided whether to stay or not."

Howie smiled tentatively. "Well, while you're here, at least we can catch up and spend some time together, right?"

Rafe smiled brightly. "I'd like that. If you have the time, Mr. Big-time Pop Super Star," he joked.

Howie laughed. "As luck would have it, we're taking a couple of months off so I just have my other business interests to look after. And I'm going to try to write some songs for our next CD," Howie explained.

We understood
We'd never be

The front door of the house banged and Howie jumped up. Rafe stood as well.

"Hey Howie, you here man?" AJ called.

Howie sighed. "In the living room J," he called back.

A few seconds later AJ and Nick walked into the room. Both men froze when they saw the stranger.

"You okay D?" Nick asked, looking at the other man suspiciously.

Howie grinned. "Yeah Nick, I'm fine. Guys, this is a very old friend of mine, Rafe Delgado," Howie introduced his childhood friend. "Rafe, two of my fellow singers, Nick Carter and AJ McLean."

AJ looked at the man intently. "You don't look that old," he commented with a straight face.

Rafe laughed, but Howie frowned. "AJ! I met Rafe when I was ten years old. We were best friends until I was fifteen and Rafe moved to Colombia," Howie explained. He had never told the other singers about his friend because it brought up painful memories of when Rafe left.

Rafe shook hands with Nick and then with AJ. He met AJ's intense gaze directly. "And in case you are wondering, I'm two years older than L'il D," Rafe said.

AJ cocked an eyebrow. "L'il D?"

Howie laughed. "Think about it J. Dorough and Delgado. Rafe was not only older than me, but obviously bigger. I got L'il D and Rafe was always Big D," Howie explained.

"How come we never heard about you?" Nick asked from his seat on the piano bench.

Howie sighed and sat heavily down on the couch. "Sorry about the interrogation D. The guys and I are like brothers and tend to over protect each other," Howie apologized. He looked at the other singers. "Guys, Rafe and I only ran into each other about an hour ago. We've barely had time to say more than hello. Do you need to know everything right now?" Howie asked.

Rafe grinned and sat down beside Howie. "I don't mind D," he said honestly. "Its good to know you have friends taking care of you." He looked back at Nick and AJ. "So what do you want to know?" he asked, prepared to answer their questions.

"So you two were good friends when you were kids?" AJ asked as he sat down on the chair.

Rafe looked at Howie and smiled. "The best. Howie's family moved into the neighborhood when he was ten. It was a pretty rough neighborhood too," he added.

Howie sighed and sat forward deciding to tell the guys the whole story. "It was a horrible neighborhood," he stated. "Drugs, guns, violence. I got beat up the first day I walked to school. I probably would have been killed if D and his brother hadn't come along," he admitted.

Nick and AJ looked shocked. Howie ignored them and continued. "They scared the gang away and walked with me the rest of the way to school. After school, I found D here waiting for me. We walked home together and talked." Howie glanced at Rafe and smiled slightly in remembrance.

Rafe just shrugged as though it hadn't been a big deal. "Howie was smart and funny. I thought he was cool. I didn't have too many of my own friends so I figured we could be friends," Rafe said simply.

Howie laughed. "Yeah right D. I know you just took pity on the little kid! But I sure appreciated the escort to and from school everyday." Howie looked at AJ and Nick. "It got easier when I reached high school, and grew a little. But Big D was always there for me."

Rafe smiled. "We hung around together so much that people started calling us L'il D and Big D. The names stuck."

"Well I for one am happy you were around or else we might never have met Howie," Nick said sincerely.

Rafe shrugged again. "What can I say. I liked him and he listened to me. Most of the guys I knew were dumb jocks or in gangs. I could talk to Howie about things like the future and what we hoped to become. It was a nice change." He turned to look at Howie. "And I see you have achieved one of your dreams in a big way!"

The guys laughed. "Yeah I guess I have." Howie looked at Nick and AJ. "So do you guys feel better now? You know I'm not about to be murdered in my bed tonight?" he asked with a little sarcasm.

AJ nodded and stood and Nick followed. "I guess I feel better," AJ admitted. Then he turned to Rafe. "One more question. Where do you live now and why are you here?"

Howie jumped to his feet. "AJ! Enough!"

Rafe stood and put his hand on Howie's arm. "Its okay D. I know they are just concerned about you." He looked directly at AJ. "I live and work in Bogota but still have some relatives here. I came back for a holiday although I'm considering moving back here. It was pure luck that I saw Howie at the mall today," he explained patiently.

AJ held his eyes for a moment then nodded. "Ok. I hope you have a good visit," he said sincerely and held out his hand. Rafe smiled and shook the hand.

Nick shook hands with Rafe too before following AJ out. Howie was furious with his band mates and followed them to the door. He made a point of slamming the door behind them, then putting the deadbolt on, something that their keys could not open.

Those days are gone
Now I want you so much
The night is long
And I need your touch
Don't know what to say
Never meant to feel this way
Don't wanna be alone tonight

He wandered into the kitchen and grabbed a couple of beers, trying to calm down. He carried the beer back to the living room and found Rafe wandering around looking at the numerous photos on the walls and the mantle.

"Beer?" he asked softly.

Rafe turned, smiled and nodded. "Thanks." He glanced back at a picture on the mantle. "Caroline?" he asked.

Howie smiled sadly. "Yeah. She died a few years ago," he said quietly.

"I'm sorry."

Howie could hear the sincerity in Rafe's voice. "Thanks. And I'm truly sorry for the guys," Howie added. "Sometimes AJ has absolutely no tact," he added ruefully.

Rafe shrugged and joined Howie on the couch. "It's really okay D. I meant what I said. I'm glad you have the guys to look out for you. It can be tough out there without someone at your back," he added quietly.

Howie glanced at him. Rafe sounded like he was talking from experience. Howie turned sideways on the couch so he was facing Rafe. "You okay?" he asked softly.

Rafe looked at Howie and sighed. "Yeah. Things have been rough lately and I really need this break. I'm glad I ran into you."

Howie nodded. "You never told me, what do you do?"

Rafe sat back against the soft couch. "After my brother was killed, the violence and drugs became unbearable. Mama had managed to invest the insurance money from Pop's death and had enough to send me to school. I went, glad to get away for a while. At school I was recruited, by the police," he said quietly.

Howie looked surprised. "You're a cop?"

Rafe nodded. "Yeah. But I'm not sure for how much longer." He turned to face Howie. "I don't know how many more little kids, babies really I can stand to see dead, caught in the crossfire, or beaten to death for not running the drugs. You can't imagine what its like D," he said softly, lowering his head.

Howie was stunned. He had had no idea that Rafe had become a cop. He couldn't imagine the horrors the man must have seen. He tentatively reached out and put his hand on Rafe's arm. "You're right Rafe, I can't imagine. I'm sorry it's been so bad for you," he said quietly. Rafe raised his head and Howie could see the pain and distress clearly written on his friend's face.

Without thinking about it, Howie moved closer and pulled Rafe into a hug, remembering back to the last time they'd hugged. Rafe's father had been killed in an accident at work when Rafe was seventeen. Rafe's mother made the decision to move her family back to her native Colombia. Rafe had come over to tell Howie the news. Both boys were distraught that they were going to be separated.

Rafe returned the hug vigorously, holding tightly to Howie. Howie wasn't sure what to say but simply ran his hands up and down Rafe's back, comforting him.

Eventually Rafe pulled back and swiped his hand over his face. Howie noticed the redness of Rafe's eyes but didn't say anything.

"Why don't we grab some food and relax in front of the TV?" Howie suggested. "You don't have anywhere you have to be tonight do you?" Rafe shook his head. "Good. Then you can stay here in one of my guest rooms," Howie declared.

Rafe was emotional spent and didn't argue. "Thanks D," he said softly.

Howie smiled and stood up. "Even though we haven't seen each other in years D, we're still friends. I'll always be here for you, I hope you know that," Howie said sincerely.

Rafe looked up at Howie and smiled. "I do." He stood up, towering over Howie. "Now lets eat!" he said, breaking the somber mood.

Howie smiled and the two friends walked into the kitchen. Howie whipped up a large chicken stir-fry with rice and homemade egg rolls. Rafe sat at the counter while Howie cooked. Before long it was as though the past thirteen years had disappeared, and they were back to being best friends.

After dinner, Howie called Andre to let him know Rafe was staying and they would get his car in the morning. The two friends crashed on the couch and large chair. Howie flicked on the TV but neither really watched the screen. Instead the two men continued to talk well into the early morning hours.

Finally Howie looked at the clock and stood up. "I don't know about you D, but I think its time to get some sleep."

Rafe agreed and stood. He followed Howie upstairs as Howie led him to one of the bedrooms.

"My room is across the hall. This bedroom has a small en-suite like the master bedroom, while the other two bedrooms share the bath in the hall," he explained.

Rafe looked around the nicely decorated room. "Very nice," he commented.

Howie smiled. "Good. Unfortunately, I don't think I have any clothes that would fit you," he added. "So you are on your own for that!"

Rafe nodded. "Not a problem." He looked at Howie seriously. "Thank you for listening D. I think we were meant to meet today cause I sure needed someone."

Howie smiled and squeezed Rafe's arm. "I'm glad I was there. Get some sleep and I'll see you in the morning...later in the morning," he amended.

Rafe grinned. "Night L'il D," he said softly.

Howie paused at the door. "Night Big D," he replied.

He closed the door behind him and walked across the hall to his bedroom. He closed his bedroom door and leaned against it, thinking about everything that had happened. He pictured Rafe in his mind and smiled. Rafe had been just as tall the last time Howie had seen him, but now he'd filled out the lanky frame. Now he was solid muscle, and gorgeous.

Howie made a face at that last thought and walked across the room. He stripped off his clothes and fell into the bed. 'Don't even think about it Howie,' he admonished himself. 'You've just renewed the friendship so don't do anything to screw it up.'

Despite the talk with himself, Howie couldn't stop himself from thinking about Rafe. The man was like a Greek god, tall and muscular. His chiseled cheeks and gorgeous hazel eyes stood out from the tanned skin and short black hair. As he drifted to sleep Howie imagined what it would feel like with Rafe's arms wrapped around him.

What can I do to make you mine
Falling so hard, so fast this time
What did I say, what did you do
How did I fall in love with you

When Howie woke the next morning it was to discover a distinctive wet spot on his boxers. He frowned and crawled off the bed, stripping the damp material as he walked to the bathroom. He put the stained boxers in the clothes hamper and stepped into the shower. Howie didn't have to think about what he'd been dreaming. It was an incredible, erotic dream about the man across the hall.

He scrubbed himself trying to erase the memories of the dream. Rafe would not be impressed if Howie got an erection while talking to him. Howie shut off the water and stepped out. After drying himself he found some casual, loose clothes to wear and headed downstairs.

It was almost noon by the time he reached the kitchen and he could smell food cooking. He walked in and found Rafe working around the kitchen wearing nothing but boxers. Howie swallowed his gasp at seeing the nearly naked body.

Rafe looked up and smiled. "Morning D," he greeted the singer. "hope you don't mind," he said indicating the cooking food with a swing of his bare arm. "But I slept great and woke up starving."

Howie smiled and shook his head. He walked over to the counter and poured a coffee before leaning against the counter. "Morning Rafe. And no I don't mind. Did you find everything okay?"

Rafe nodded. "Yup." He dished out scrambled eggs onto two plates then divided up numerous slices of cooked bacon before adding toast to each plate. "Breakfast is served," he announced with a flourish.

Howie grinned and followed Rafe to the set table. Howie sat down and dug into the food, trying not to look at the nearly naked body across from him.

"How is it?" Rafe asked after a couple of minutes.

Howie looked up and smiled. "Great!" his eyes roamed the bare chest. "Ever think of doing this for a living," Howie spoke the words before his brain could stop him. Rafe gave him a strange look. Howie quickly looked down at his plate.

"Do what for a living?" Rafe asked curiously.

Again Howie's mouth ran before his brain. "Naked houseboy." Howie froze and looked up. He tried to turn the comment into a joke. "You know I see all kinds of ads where people are looking for house help. Being naked could add to your value." He forced a laugh and to his relief Rafe laughed too.

"Well, it would be a definite career change," he commented.

Howie nodded and sipped his coffee. "So what are you doing today?" he asked casually.

Rafe swallowed and shrugged. "Not too sure. Don't have any set plans, but I was going to stop by and visit my cousins while I'm here," he replied.

Howie nodded. He knew that with his new feelings he was risking their friendship, but he wanted to spend time with Rafe. "Well, we could go pick up your car. It's a rental?" Rafe nodded. "Then we could just hang out together, maybe look at the old neighborhood? I could show you some of the things that have changed, for the better?" Howie suggested. He really just wanted to spend some time with Rafe since he didn't know if he would ever get the chance again.

Rafe looked at Howie intently. "You sure?"

Howie grinned. "Yup." He stood and took his plate to the sink. "We'll go get the car, come back here so you can change, then head out. My time is pretty free these days so I just want to enjoy it. Once we get back in the studio and on tour, I won't have time to even think."

"Okay. Sounds like a good plan," Rafe agreed.

"Great! I'll give Andre a call and he can come pick us up." Howie looked thoughtful. "If he knows you're a cop, he might let us go off alone. As long as we don't go any place where they will be hoards of teenagers," Howie added.

Rafe laughed. "I think we can avoid that. I'll go get dressed then."

Rafe went upstairs while Howie grabbed the phone and called his security man. Andre promised to be over in about fifteen minutes.

I hear your voice
And I start to tremble
Brings back the child
That I resemble
I cannot pretend
That we can still be friends
Don't wanna be alone tonight

They spent the day just as Howie had suggested. They drove through the old neighborhood remembering back to places they'd gone and things they'd done as kids. Howie had to acknowledge to himself that the more time he spent with Rafe the more he felt for him. It was a different feeling from when he was a teenager. He'd only been fifteen when Rafe had moved away. At that age Howie hadn't recognized his homosexuality. He'd idolized Rafe, and looking back he could see that maybe it was puppy love. But what he was feeling now was completely different. It was powerful and real.

Late in the afternoon they stopped to walk through the park they had played in as children.

"Well if it isn't the Backdoor Boy and his boytoy," a harsh voice said suddenly behind them.

Both Howie and Rafe turned to see one of the guys who had tormented Howie when he was younger. Life had obviously been rough on the man if his dirty, tattered clothes and strung out appearance indicated anything.

Before Howie could respond, Rafe stepped forward. "Well, well Tommy, glad to see you attained all your goals in life. Being a strung out bum, wasn't it?"

Tommy glared at them. "I see you're still defending the pussy-boy. I guess you give it to him up the ass huh? Does he scream like he did when we beat him?" he goaded.

Howie could tell Rafe was prepared to swing. He grabbed Rafe's arm and turned the larger man towards him. "Rafe don't. He's not worth it." He looked intently at Rafe until the rage faded from Rafe's eyes. "The only thing he has is his hate and anger. Let's just get out of here." The two men walked away, ignoring the vulgar shouts and obscenities the junkie threw at them.

As they drove away, Howie stared out the passenger window. He knew Tommy had just been baiting him, but it scared him how close the high man had got to the truth. He did want Rafe to make love to him.

"You okay D?" Rafe asked, breaking the silence.

Howie sighed. "Yeah. It's just sad, you know?"

"I know," Rafe responded quietly. "I think I'm going to go visit my cousins tonight," he said, changing the subject. Howie was bewildered by the sudden change. "I had fun today, but I really need to get someplace quiet and seriously think about what I'm going to do."

Howie nodded reluctantly. "Will you keep in touch?" he asked, nearly begging. He'd thought he would have more time to spend with Rafe.

Rafe glanced at him and smiled. "Yeah, I will. I promise."

Howie had to be satisfied with that. They reached Howie's house. Rafe followed Howie inside, but only stayed long enough to grab the suitcase he'd brought in that morning.

He turned to face Howie. "I've really enjoyed the last couple of days D. I'm glad we were able to pick up our friendship," he said sincerely.

Howie was afraid Rafe was basically saying goodbye and had to blink back tears. "I expect to hear from you at least once a week. Understand?" he instructed.

Rafe smiled and nodded. "I promise D. And this time I mean it. I won't go back to Colombia without seeing you first okay?" he vowed.

Howie had to accept that. "Okay." He smiled slightly. "It's only been a couple of days but I think I'm going to miss you just as much as I did the last time you left."

Rafe stepped forward and pulled Howie into a crushing hug. "You keep taking good care of yourself, okay? I'll talk to you in a few days," he added before letting go.

Howie stepped back and looked up into Rafe's hazel eyes. "You take care of yourself, alright? And if you ever need to talk, I will always listen," Howie said seriously.

Rafe grinned. "Okay. I'll see you L'il D," he said as he headed out to his car.

Howie watched him go. "See ya Big D," he said softly as Rafe backed the car out of the driveway. He paused on the road to wave, then drove away. Howie closed the door and slumped to the floor, letting the tears he'd held back, fall.

He still couldn't understand what had caused Rafe to suddenly decide to leave. It had been after the park, and Tommy. Maybe Rafe had figured out that some of what Tommy said was true. Maybe he'd figured out that Howie was gay.

Howie wiped the tears away and pushed himself to his feet. He forced himself to go into the kitchen and fix some dinner even though he wasn't hungry. The food was eaten without taste. Although it was early Howie locked up the house and went up to bed.

Once under the blankets he could sleep. His mind kept racing, trying to figure out what he could have done to get Rafe to stay. The ringing of the phone interrupted his thoughts. He debated not answering it, but decided he'd better.


"L'il D? I'm sorry."

Howie sat up in the bed upon hearing Rafe's voice. "D? You okay?" he asked in concern.

Rafe sighed. "I think so. I'm sorry I took off so fast earlier. It's just...seeing Tommy like that, all strung out, reminded me of what I'm running away from. It just really hit me," he explained.

"Oh D! You could have just explained that to me. You didn't have to leave," Howie said gently.

"I know. But I think this is best. I'm going to book into a hotel and go sit on the beach and think. I really need to decide what I'm going to do. I just wanted to apologize for taking off. You've been a true friend, as I knew you would be. Thanks Howie," he said sincerely.

Howie smiled. "You're welcome. And any time you want to come back, I'll be here."

"Okay. I'll let you go now D. I'll give you a call in a couple of days okay?"

"Alright. Be careful Rafe," Howie said before the connection was cut.

He hung up the phone and flopped back on the bed. It was a relief to know that Rafe wasn't angry with him, or knew that he was gay. It looked like their friendship would survive after all.

Over the next three weeks, Howie worked on writing songs, occasionally getting together with the four other singers as they tried to finalize the song list for their upcoming CD. Every other night, he would get a phone call from Rafe. They would talk for hours simply enjoying each other's company, even if it wasn't in person. And every night, Howie would dream about Rafe, about kissing him, making love with him, living with him. Very quickly Howie got into a routine, each morning changing the bedding and his boxers.

I want to say this right
And it has to be tonight
Just need you to know
I don't wanna live this lie
I don't wanna say goodbye
With you I wanna spend the rest of my life

Then one night, there was no phone call. Howie stayed up most of the night, waiting, hoping and praying Rafe would call. He didn't. Howie finally fell into a restless sleep. Only to waken a few minutes later when the door buzzer rang. He groggily climbed out of bed and made his way to the front door. He opened it and froze, staring at the man on the front step.

"Hey D!" Rafe greeted Howie.

Howie stood taking in the other man's appearance. He looked rough. His hair was scraggy, he hadn't shaved in a few days and he had dark circles under his eyes.

"Jesus Rafe!" Howie said softly and pulled the other man inside. Howie glanced at the clock to find it was after three in the morning. He led Rafe into the living room. "Are you drunk?" he asked looking intently at his friend.

Rafe shook his head. "No!" Rafe sank down onto the couch. "I've been doing a lot of thinking." He looked up at Howie. "I'm going to go back to Bogota," he announced.

Howie inhaled sharply. "When?" he asked quietly. "Why?"

Rafe closed his eyes and leaned back. "In the morning." He shrugged. "I don't have anything to stay for," he said softly, answering Howie's second question.

Howie stood for a moment watching his friend. He needed to think. "I'm going to make us some coffee," he said and walked into the kitchen. He couldn't believe Rafe was going to leave so suddenly. 'I have nothing to stay for.' The words echoed in Howie's ears. 'Would it be worth it to suggest that there was a reason for him to stay,' Howie wondered. 'He's planning on leaving, so what could it hurt to tell him how you feel?' he asked himself.

"L'il D?" Rafe said from behind him making him jump. He looked at the big man. "Sorry. You were a million miles away," he observed.

Howie nodded and grabbed two mugs. He filled them with coffee and cream then led the way back to the living room.

"Rafe," Howie began. He turned to see Rafe sitting on the couch, so he sat on the edge of the coffee table facing Rafe. "There is something I want to tell you, but I'm not sure where to begin."

Rafe could see how serious Howie was and sat up. "Try the beginning," he suggested lightly.

Howie smiled then looked down at the mug in his hand. "The beginning. I guess about a year after you left, I was getting ready to start college. I moved into residence. I had a roommate from New York. After a couple of weeks I noticed how cute he was," Howie said quietly then took a quick glance at Rafe. Rafe was watching him intently. Howie sighed. "I wasn't going to tell you this, but I decided that if you're leaving it won't matter. My college roommate Greg was my first boyfriend. I haven't had too many since then because of Backstreet, but I am gay. And seeing you again reminded me of when we were teenagers. I thought I loved you like a big brother, and maybe that's all it was then. But now, things are different. What I feel for you is different." Howie stood up and paced. "I know I'm not lucky enough for this to mean anything to you. But I realized that I've fallen for you, big time. I can only hope you won't hate me for it. I just wanted you to know that there is someone who wants you to stay here and not go back to Colombia." Howie stopped by the fireplace and turned to look at Rafe. "I don't want to say goodbye to you again," he whispered. "I love you."

What can I do to make you mine
Falling so hard, so fast this time

Howie waited and watched. Rafe stared at him blankly for a few seconds then stood up and walked towards Howie. Howie braced himself, afraid Rafe was going to hit him. Rafe stopped in front of Howie and looked down at him. In the limited light, Howie couldn't read Rafe's expression.

Rafe raised his hand and Howie closed his eyes, preparing for the pain. Suddenly long warm fingers cupped his cheek and his eyes flew open. Rafe was watching him closely.

"Do you know what I've been thinking these past few weeks?" he asked softly as his fingers absently stroked along Howie's jaw and down his throat. "I was thinking I was such a loser for coming here, renewing an old friendship, then screwing it up by falling for said friend," he said softly. Howie blinked, certain he'd heard wrong. "I had a boyfriend, but we broke up months ago when he cheated on me. I finally decided I needed a change and came here for a visit. I had no idea I would meet you again. And I didn't plan on falling in love. After we stopped writing letters, I figured that was the end of it. Then I started seeing your picture plastered all over the place. I couldn't believe it was you at first. Then I figured you would be better off if I didn't contact you. What did you need from a childhood friend who turned out to be gay? Guess I was wrong, huh?" he whispered, leaning closer to Howie.

Howie was stunned. Everything he'd secretly hoped for was coming true. Rafe's warm lips touched Howie's and Howie melted. Rafe wrapped his arms tightly around Howie, pulling him close as he devoured his mouth. Howie responded enthusiastically, kissing Rafe passionately, desperately.

They finally separated when the need to breathe overwhelmed them. Howie gazed up at Rafe still afraid to believe. He tentatively raised his hand and brushed the fingers down Rafe's cheek and across his red swollen lips.

" I can't quite believe this is real," he whispered.

Rafe's smile lit up the room. "Believe it, L'il D. After everything we've been through, together and apart, I guess this is where we were meant to be," he said tenderly, lightly kissing Howie's lips again. "I love you," he added softly, before lifting Howie up in his arms and carrying him up the stairs.

"I love you too, Big D," Howie said softly as Rafe carried him into the bedroom.

Everything's changed, we never knew
How did I fall in love with you

(Lyrics: How Did I Fall in Love With You, from Black & Blue, 2000.)

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