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"It," Joey announced, as though it actually needed to be said, "is fucking cold here."

"And there are a lot of Mormons," Justin added, helpfully.

Chris laughed at Justin, more out of principle than actual amusement. Lance sniffled balefully in Joey's direction. "At least you grew up in a place where snow wasn't something you saw in movies."

JC patted Lance's shoulder sympathetically and handed him a traveler-size packet of Kleenex. Lance puckered his lips in obvious request and JC relented, kissing him without so much as a "If I get your cold…" JC was sweet like that.

Joey closed his eyes and rubbed futilely at his temples, trying to ward off the headache sneaking up on him. Most of the time he was happy for his two friends but of late, the urge to yell at them for being so damn cute was getting more and more urgent.

Joey felt a pair of fingertips that weren't his own massaging firmly at the bridge of his nose. He opened his eyes to peer directly into JC's. JC asked very quietly, "Headache, sweetie?"

Joey did his best not to cry. "Probably just the cold. I'll take a couple of Aleve, or something."

"Aleve!" Chris bounced a little. "Better than Jolt, my man."

Which was true, so even though it was a lie, because all Joey had actually wanted to do was find his room and go to bed, Joey told them, "Yeah, I was thinking about going out, seeing what there is to see. We've never done the Olympics before."

It was understood, between the five of them, that unless otherwise indicated, one of them going out was an invitation for the rest of them to join. Joey didn't have the heart to indicate otherwise. Chris was immediately responsive, "Sounds good, where're we going?"

Luckily, Lance and JC shared a glance and Lance sniffled a few more times, loudly, before bailing out, "I think I'm gonna crash." JC just smiled apologetically and followed.

Justin looked away before saying, "I have other plans," which meant that Justin would be on the phone with his mom for hours trying to understand the female psyche and salvage what was left of his relationship with Britney. The last time any of them had suggested this might not work, or teased him for being a momma's boy, Justin had literally stopped talking to them for days.

Joey, in a burst of sympathy for being just barely twenty-one and never having had your heart broken, hugged Justin tightly, "See ya in the morning. Tell Lynn she's still one of my top five ladies."

"I'm sure she'll appreciate that Fatone." Justin ambled off to his room.

"Just us then, huh?"

Joey turned to where Chris was standing. He smiled wryly.

Chris nodded, "I know the feeling. Let's get outta here."

*

Joey decided, when Chris was busy making weird flashing signs with his hands and shouting out numbers in some kind of odd looks-rating system that was loosely based on the Olympics judging schematic, that he was glad to have the company. Chris was a freak, but once you got past that, everything else about him made up for it.

Chris gave a loud, "Three!" before suddenly darting out into the crowd, only to reappear ten minutes later waving a napkin.

Joey forestalled the considerable amount of incoherent babbling that he was about to have spewed at him, "Hockey player?"

Chris babbled enthusiastically.

*

Chris was a little on the way-past-tipsy side when he began mumbling, "You have got to be kidding me." He mumbled this, or some variation thereof, several times for good measure. Or possibly because he didn't remember saying it. Chris turned Joey physically in the opposite direction of where he had been facing. Chris pointed. "Tell me thatsh not who I think it ish."

Unfortunately, Chris was pointing at a rather large group of people, so it took Joey some time to figure out if there might be anyone of interest milling inside of it. Then the item of Chris's fervor caught Joey's eye. He was to the side of the group, sipping something through a straw, people-watching. "I thought you and Howie were friends."

"We are." Chris formed his words slowly. "But if he'sh here-"

"Ah." Joey didn't want to wait for the end of the sentence. He knew where Chris was going with it anyway. Chris had a bit of an unrequited crush on AJ, and as such, preferred to stay as far away as humanly possible from said object of desire.

Joey pushed a glass of water in front of Chris with strict orders to, "Stay put, I'll be right back."

The place was packed and it took Joey a little longer than he could have strictly desired to make his way across the room to his destination. He walked up to the table Chris had spied, "Hey, mind if I join for a few?"

Howie looked up at his guest. "Oh. You found me. No, feel free."

Joey sat down. "We didn't know you guys were gonna be out here."

Howie shook his head. "No guys, just me. Wanted to see some of the new events."

Joey tried not to grin. "That's cool."

"I had heard you guys were performing, though. I don't envy you, I'm having a hard enough time trying to breathe regularly in this altitude."

"Yeah," Joey shrugged. "I'm doubting it's going to be one of our most shining moments."

"Kirkpatrick didn't wanna say hi?"

"I didn't wanna have to support Kirkpatrick's ass across the room."

Howie snorted softly, his eyes on the table. "You guys in rehearsal pretty much the whole time you're here?"

"Are you kidding, the only reason Chris agreed to what Justin and Lance call a 'North Pole Gig' was to see the hockey teams play."

"The rest of you going with him?"

"Justin probably will. JC wants to go see the slalom; he gets all hypnotized by the back and forth motion. Lance'll probably follow him out there and spend the whole time trying to network."

"You have plans?"

"Not really. I'm not hugely into sports. Still, it's the Olympics, which is pretty fucking cool, I'll decide on something to go gape at."

"I was gonna go watch people shoot themselves off high precipices while in skis and flip around in the air a couple of times before landing. Wanna join?"

"I really don't see how I could possibly pass up an offer like that. You have your cell on you?"

Howie did. Joey programmed his contact information into the phone. "Call me tomorrow, I gotta go make sure Chris isn't charming the pants off of someone whose pants definitely need to stay on."

*

Howie called.

Joey and him met up at the event, but to the untrained eye, all the flipping looked pretty much the same, and after an hour the two of them made eye-contact.

"I could use some hot chocolate," Howie admitted.

Joey nodded fervently. "Inside."

"With heat," Howie added, just in case it was unclear.

They were settled at a table. Joey gave the waitress one of his most patented charmer-smiles, "Two of the largest hot chocolates you have, you can charge us extra if you wanna put'em in bigger cups than you usually do and, um, extra whip cream, please."

She headed off. Howie looked across the table, his breathing still slightly harsher than normal. "What's your problem with my guys?"

Joey frowned. "I don't have one."

"Mm. So that's why you practically did a ritual dance of celebration when I told you I was alone last night?"

"Oh." Joey sighed. "That."

"Yeah, that."

"Would you believe me if I said it was because I'm trying desperately to get you in bed and the others would be a distraction?"

"No." The waitress came. Howie took his glass from her with an appreciative smile. It was huge. She left. "But I would inquire as to whether that offer was seriously open." He licked at the top of his mound of whip cream. There was chocolate sauce laced prettily along the top. "We need to tip her well."

Joey, not one to get flustered by a proposition, even an unexpected one, considered the situation. It was cold and Howie had fantastic eyes. Plus, it wasn't like the other man was going to run and tell the press hounds. "Sure, why not?"

"Okay. But I will find out what your problem with my best friends is."

*

Joey sat on top of Chris the next morning during breakfast and waited for the enraged shrieking to die down before he informed the guys, "In all fairness, you should know that I have a week of making sweet, sweet love planned." He scooted off Chris's lap and across the couch to where the breakfast cart sat.

"Good to know you can fit stuff like that into a week's time." Lance buttered his toast.

"You don't sound like you're speaking from afar anymore," Justin commented, having taken to ignoring three-quarters of life in general in an attempt to maintain his sanity.

Lance took a bite of toast and managed to say with perfect enunciation, "JC fed me about a bottle of Nyquil over a two day period. I don't even think the things that are supposed to be alive inside me still are."

"Speaking of, where is your boy toy?" Joey loved when he felt good enough to easily recognize and handle Lance and JC's relationship. It was pretty rare of late.

"Sleeping. He's stayed up with me for about a week, he's out."

"Yeah. So, the other important aspect of this sweet sweet love thing, that you might wanna know, is that it's with Howie." Joey had barely finished speaking when Chris's spoon hit him at full speed on the ear. "Ow! Shit, Chris!"

"Fucking traitor." Chris stole Lance's spoon, seeing as how he wasn't using it.

"I didn't tell him about your little problem, dipshit, and I'm not gonna."

Justin got up to leave. Joey hesitated, "Ju?"

Justin turned back to them, "You seem happy, at least, more than you have lately. And I trust you to be safe. Was there something else you needed?" He shut the door behind himself.

Lance sighed into his newspaper, trying to pass it off as worry over the NASDAQ. Chris got up without a word, but they all knew he was going to take care of Justin. Joey waited until he was gone to ask, "Am I being a fuckhead?" because Lance lied a lot, but never to them.

"As much as it feels like we do sometimes, we can't always live our lives for each other, babe. Have yourself a good time here. You've earned it."

*

Joey spent the night in Howie's room discovering that Howie's outer quiet said absolutely nothing about his inner sex demon. Howie was confident and knowing and creative in bed, and after awhile, Joey laid back and let him do most of the work.

Joey snuck out of bed early the next morning, having set his watch clock so that he could get up for rehearsal without waking Howie up. Howie was evidently a light sleeper though, and Joey nearly jumped straight into the tiled wall of the shower when Howie pulled back the curtain and nonchalantly stepped in. Howie put a hand over Joey's heart, looking repentant. "You okay?"

"Yeah, just thought you were still asleep."

"You have to be somewhere?"

Joey listened carefully for any sign of "you weren't there when I woke up" petulance or worry, but Howie's tone was only vaguely curious. "Rehearsal. We don't have many, but, y'know."

"Yeah." Howie reached for the soap. "How long have you got?" He made a quick swipe all the way up Joey's sternum.

"Half-an-hour. But I was really hoping to get breakfast in there." Joey wasn't thrilled about what he was turning down, especially not after learning that somewhere inside his mouth, Howie secretly hid an extra tongue or two, nonetheless, rehearsals on empty stomachs couldn't be made tolerable, even in the aftermath of a particularly good blowjob.

"I figured. Ordered room service before I got in. Hope you like your eggs scrambled." Howie was already on his knees by the time he finished talking, and Joey's dick was completely inside Howie's mouth before Joey could answer, "Who doesn't?"

*

Howie, at his own insistence, had taken care of himself in the shower while Joey got out and ate. Joey was heading out the door when Howie emerged, dressed in three layers. "Can I accompany or would that be bad?"

"You really wanna stand out there and watch us act like we can sing when all our internal organs, including our throat muscles, have frozen solid, into what, in some parts of the world, are probably delicacies?"

"Wow, before I just wanted to hang around you, but now I think this morning might actually hold some excitement." Howie kissed Joey. "Is there any coffee left?"

Joey nodded. "You ordered a whole pot."

Howie went over to his bags and rummaged for a bit. He sauntered back, a large thermostat dangling from one hand. "I'll just fill this up and follow you out."

"You gonna share?"

"I'll have to think about it. A frozen sex partner might be fun."

Joey took a step in and gave Howie's balls a firm caress through the material of his jeans and boxers. Howie didn't gasp, but Joey could tell it was only through an insane amount of control. "I bet I could convince you otherwise."

Howie looked Joey in the eyes. "Distinctly possible."

*

"Sadly enough," Lance murmured, rubbing his hands together and watching Justin work with the sound technician, "I actually don't get paid enough for this."

Joey snorted. "Asshole."

Lance grinned, or tried to, his face stiff from the cold. "Yeah. So." He didn't look away from Joey's eyes but there was something in Lance's expression that said he was acutely aware of the man standing off stage, very politely not laughing at their disaster of a rehearsal. "Do tell, Fatone."

JC, who seemed all mild-mannered, but was never one to miss out on the recounting of one of the guy's exploits was suddenly behind Lance, nodding eagerly.

Joey shoved Lance so that both of them stumbled back a bit. "He's standing right the fuck over there."

"The wind is blowing so hard we can barely hear ourselves, Joe. Unless the guy has super-hearing, I think we're safe." Lance peered more closely at Joey.

Joey moved around a bit, in lieu of warming up. "He's good. Hot. Which I could go for right now."

"That's all you've got for us?" Chris had joined the fray and was looking rather disgruntled.

"Look, this wasn't some fan or roadie, or something. We've all gotta, y'know, see Howie again. I just think it's safest if I exercise a little bit of caution in this particular instance."

"That good, eh?" Chris was checking Howie out, thoughtfully.

Joey jerked Chris's chin back. "Try your hardest not to be a fuckwad."

Justin joined them, having finished the particular lyric. "Leaving me out again?"

"You get the leads, we get group solidarity, you know how it works Timberlake." Chris attempted to give Justin a noogie through the wool hat he was wearing. Justin came back by trying to dislodge Chris's toque from his head. After that, it was a free for all.

*

Howie took Joey out for soup afterwards, ordering him three large bowls before Joey signaled that he'd had enough. Howie leaned back, having long finished lunch himself. "Feel better?"

Joey wiped his mouth, "I think we have successfully reversed the effects of cryogenic freezing upon my internal organs in time."

"Well," Howie snatched the bill from the waiter before Joey could and ignored Joey's glowering, "that's good."

"What are our plans today, Dorough?"

"JC asked if we wanted to join him and Lance. They've got extra tickets for the pairs skating competitions."

"When did he do that?" Joey had a feeling there was going to need to be a reprise of the conversation about being overprotective between him and JC.

"This morning, while you were giving Chris a piggy back ride and Justin was trying to climb on."

Joey chastised himself for not realizing something was going on when Lance and JC let the three of them get away with that much mayhem without so much as a word. "Is that what you wanna do?"

"I like ice skating, yeah. I mean, so long as you're fine with it. They do know that we're um," Howie bobbed his head a little, expressively, "right?"

"They know, I told them."

"Good, probably cuts the weirdness down by half."

"Really, JC just wants someone to go on double dates with."

Howie stopped in the middle of signing his name for a second before continuing straight on.

Joey bit the inside of his lip for a second and let go. "I thought you knew."

"Suspected, didn't expect you to tell me."

"It's a bit of an open secret. They stay in the closet for the three of us and we appreciate them for it and try to make it as big a closet as possible." Joey released a breath he hadn't known he was holding.

"Fair enough. And you?"

"Don't really feel strongly one way or the other, mostly because I feel like my sexual preferences are defined by the person that I'm with at that moment. So, I mean, for like three years I was pretty much Kelly-sexual. And then there was a whole slew of roadies and fans and tech people and pretty much anyone who came my way and caught my eye. And right now I suppose I'm Howie-sexual. But I don't really feel like explaining that to millions of people. My guys know. Some of the people I've slept with know. I'm pretty happy with that. Honestly, I don't think JC and Lance care to come out so much as just to be able to smile stupidly at each other and kiss without worrying about the camera around the corner." Joey smiled sheepishly. "You?"

"It wavers. Some days I feel like it's the only stance I should be making. Other days, I don't want it to interfere with my work with Lupus or the way people listen to our music, when they do." Howie's voice twisted bitterly, punctuating his last thought.

Under the table, Joey slid forward enough so that his knees were touching Howie's. "Now that I've ruined your day, wanna go see people slide around on ice?"

*

Joey and Howie disagreed on just about every pair on the ice. Joey liked the pairs wherein one of the partners spent most of the time in the air and Howie preferred those that concentrated on synchronized movement and fancy footwork. Lance took Joey's side and JC paired up with Howie and before long they were having to quiet themselves down from cheering for opposite pairs, as members of the audience started to approach them for their autographs. Nobody seemed to recognize Howie without his guys. Howie looked relieved. Joey felt slightly nauseated.

When the event was finished and JC was trying to explain something complex about the way he saw the last routine to Lance, Joey tried lamely to sound casual, "If I didn't have the two pretty boys with me they wouldn't have figured me out either, y'know."

Howie's expression was confused for a second before he laughed. "Oh, sometimes they do that when I'm out with the guys. It happened even at the height of Boy Mania. I'm the quiet one. The one nobody hears. Out of sight out of mind works with out of hearing range."

"And it doesn't upset you?"

Howie tucked a curl behind his ear thoughtfully. "With AJ and Nick, they were really young, so it was necessary to construct a personality because they were unknown quantities. Like, AJ had the makings of a computer geek, and that just wouldn't have been good for anyone. So we set him up with this persona and he fell into it, with a little shoving along the way." There was a catch in Howie's voice that Joey recognized as the kind of regret he felt when he worried about what kind of damage NSYNC might have done to Lance and Justin. "But, for the most part, Kevin and Brian and I knew who we were by that time, or at least, who we wanted to be. And I loved to sing. Loved it more than anything in the world. But I hated any other kind of performance, social interaction…shit, it took AJ months of coming up to me at different auditions to get me to talk to him for longer than a minute. One of the reasons I had a hard time getting a job was because I froze up in interviews. The guys helped me with that kind of stuff, the every-day-feeling-okay-talking-to-people-in-the-streets kind of stuff, because if not, I would have been a complete tool around the fans. But I was always just more comfortable allowing them to take center-stage, deal with the fans, the media, letting me just be part of them and sing. That was all I ever wanted. It's still all I want."

Joey knew he would hate himself for asking it, but made himself do it anyway. "Are you guys gonna, um. Well-"

"We've talked about it. Fought about it. AJ's with Sarah, which is great for him, but I still worry about him being on his own. I mean, not that we wouldn't be there, but I think, the idea that he's part of something keeps him okay most days. And Nick, Nick gets all uppity about wanting his solo album and to not be 'Nick of the Backstreet Boys' anymore, but then he wakes up from nightmares about us breaking up and has to call one of us in order to calm down. Brian just wants a family, thinks that's more important, I guess, and Kevin wants stability. We're working on an album with more of us, less of everyone else, I guess you know all about that. We'll see what happens."

The cab that JC and Lance had ushered the two of them into at some point during their conversation pulled up outside of NSYNC's hotel. Joey stepped out. "Listen, can I maybe buy you a drink?"

"Look like I need one?" Howie chuckled weakly at himself.

"There's that. There's also the fact that I want to take you upstairs and fuck you senseless and my innate sense of manners indicates that I should at least offer you expensive alcohol before doing so."

"Innate sense of manners, huh?"

"Not a word, Dorough."

*

Joey, who had gotten used to thinking of himself as slow on the uptake when it came to emotional matters, realized that he might be in this for something slightly more than a good fuck when Howie agreed to go out to dinner with the five of them that night and didn't so much as flinch when Chris tried to climb atop his head in the midst of recounting the hockey game. The way to most men's hearts may have been through their stomachs, and Joey certainly wasn't one to refuse good food, but for him, the quickest path to his heart was the easy acceptance of his guys for who they were. Granted, Howie had some experience with communal living and all the other things that they dealt with day in and day out, which gave him a bit of an edge over others in the past, but that experience did not, in any way, obligate him to sit and actually listen to JC explain his latest songwriting endeavors or to give Lance tips about the purchasing and running of a club or spend time considering Justin's 'curls versus shave' issue.

When Joey told him, later, "You're not…you don’t have to be accommodating for them. They're overwhelming to other people, a lot."

Howie shook his head, "Chris needs someone to take it, and I would imagine it gets tiring that it's always you guys, and JC just radiates and there's no way in the world I could be responsible for turning that off, and Lance is smart and easy to talk to, and Justin…is he okay?"

Joey sat down. "Yes. No. He will be. Probably."

"So, those rumors are true, too, huh?"

"Yeah. You should talk to him sometime when he's not like this. It's, well. You'd-"

Howie put a hand on Joey's shoulder. "I understand. I get it. We have Nick, remember?"

"They're not the same. Different guys, different problems."

"But both teenagers, all the same. I do get it."

"Okay." Joey could accept that.

Howie sat down beside Joey.

Joey fidgeted with his eyebrow piercing. "But um, back to the original point of this conversation, thanks for coming tonight and not being weirded, or anything. Just, going with it, I guess."

Howie licked his lips and peered slightly up at Joey. "Wanna screw like bunnies?"

And yeah, Joey was definitely three miles past gone.

*

After the concert, Justin and Chris raced each other back to the warmth of the dressing room, high off the performance vibe, but almost too cold to notice. Joey, JC and Lance weren't far behind.

Howie was waiting in the dressing room, having watched most of the show from off-stage. He massaged the tips of Joey's ears firmly, wincing at Joey's slight sounds of pain at the return of feeling. "Sorry."

"No, thanks. I'm a wuss."

"It was good."

Joey snorted. "No it wasn't, you liar."

Howie tilted his head, "Well, under the circumstances-"

"That may be."

"But really, I had fun watching you. And everyone else did, so, no big."

Joey sat down, clasping Howie's hands between his and bringing them up to his mouth for a kiss. "They braved Antarctic climates to see us tonight, I just wanted to give them better than our best."

"You did. It's just that your best in below-freezing temps isn't quite the same as your best in the middle of a Midwestern, or Northeastern or Southern summer."

Joey pulled Howie into his lap. "You're good for my ego."

"You're good for my sex-life."

"Glad to know we're both providing a necessary service here."

Howie smiled lazily. "You still have the closing ceremony, right?"

"Yeah. So that, you know, we can distort the National Anthem as much as humanly possible despite our best efforts."

"I was just making sure I had you for another couple of days."

Joey kissed Howie's jaw. "That too."

*

"So, tell me again, why is it that you hate my guys?"

Joey rolled over onto Howie and laughed huskily, "You just think that I'm gonna be stupid after sex and say something I shouldn't."

"It was a worth a try."

Joey fell onto his back, bringing Howie -- and most of the sheets -- with him. "I really don’t hate them. I kind of like'em , actually."

"Then, seriously, why were you so glad that I was the only one here? And I know that you had no intention of sleeping with me when you walked over to that table, even if things worked out rather nicely that way, so don't even bother trying to use that again."

Joey closed his eyes. "Look, honestly, I would tell you, but it isn't my secret, okay?"

"So someone else in your group hates them?"

"No, no, definitely not."

"Definitely not, huh?" Howie crossed his arms over Joey's chest and rested his chin on them.

"I'm not overcompensating, if that's what you're thinking."

Howie's voice slid into a seductive register. "The curiosity's going to kill me Fatone, then you won't have anybody to blow you."

Joey forced out, "Somehow, I think I would manage."

"You wouldn't have as much fun."

Joey opened his eyes and dragged Howie up for a kiss. "Of that, I have no doubt."

Howie considered Joey's expression for a second. "I wouldn't betray you. Or, by extension, them."

"Even for your guys?"

"Do you really think it would come down to that?"

Joey had to admit, "Probably not."

"Okay then, when you decide you wanna trust me-"

Joey kissed him again, in an effort to keep himself silent.

*

The guys of NSYNC weren't required to stick around after performing the anthem for closing ceremonies. Joey didn't, slipping out into the crowd to where Howie was watching the proceedings. "Did I miss anything good?"

"This is, without question, the most surreal thing I've seen in my entire life. That includes a handful of Dali paintings and AJ getting himself engaged."

"You're just trying to make me jealous."

"No. No, it was going along in an okay, if somewhat off-kilter, manner and then suddenly, Kristi Yamaguchi was skating in odd geometric forms around Kiss."

Joey scrutinized Howie's face. "You're not kidding."

"I couldn’t come up with something that outlandish if I sat and thought on it for hours," Howie admitted.

"Should we escape before our brains are permanently warped?"

"That would probably be best."

Joey and Howie moved quickly away from the strains of Earth, Wind and Fire bouncing harshly off the ice.

*

After midnight, the two of them snuck into the "closed" indoor hot tub. They slipped into the water, grinning at the permeating warmth. Howie sighed, "So good."

Joey made some unintelligible noises in agreement. After a few minutes, when his body had acclimated to the heat, he asked, "What time do you leave out tomorrow?"

"Noonish, you?" Howie's voice had an oddly echo sound, drifting over the water.

"Same." Joey imagined he sounded similar.

"You guys start touring again soon, yeah?"

"Just for a few months."

"You glad it's gonna be smaller than the last one?"

Joey nodded as firmly as his muscles would allow him to under the relaxing influence of the water. "I made it clear that we were never doing something like that again. Of course, pretty much everyone agreed, so it wasn't much of a fight."

"No, I don't imagine it would've been."

"Why are we engaging in small talk?"

"You started it." Howie tried to grin, managed more of a troubled smile.

"You okay?"

Howie dunked his head under for a moment and came up, steam rising off of his skin. "This is awkward."

"Evidently."

"I mean," Howie dipped a finger into the water, watching the viscous barrier alter its shape to accommodate the digit, "we knew it was only for a week going in."

"Right." Joey was equally entranced.

"And I'm generally pretty good with that-" Howie whipped his finger up, splashing Joey lightly.

Joey didn’t seem to notice. "Me too."

"But, it's just-"

"I really. Saying goodbye is gonna suck."

"Precisely."

Joey held his hand palm downward a few inches over the water and watched the steam thread through his fingers.

*

Joey lived his life spontaneously, but not usually in a dramatic way. He was willing to go along with things at the drop of a hat for his own or somebody else's benefit, but was generally cautious about knowing that the results would be beneficial. In this, it wasn't completely out of character for him to say, "Chris likes AJ," while he and Howie were taking a car to the airport together. Still, he hadn’t been expecting himself to say anything and wasn't all that surprised when all Howie could come up with in response was,

"I didn't really have reason to believe otherwise."

Joey scratched behind his ear, nervously. "I mean, um. That's why I was glad that they weren't here. Your guys."

Howie turned into Joey slightly.

Joey continued. "Chris likes likes AJ. Has for…since AJ started getting tattoos, I think, or at least, that's when Chris started talking about it, and he felt awful because even though AJ was legal -- he used to point that out at every possible moment -- he was still a kid, and Chris was nuts over him. Chris never really got over it, and lately, with the engagement and everything, he becomes a total freak for days after we meet up with you guys, so, it's just easier when there's no contact."

Howie leaned back against the stiff new leather of the car. "Wow. We had no clue."

"The plan was really for it to stay that way." Joey's Catholic guilt, which he refused to buy into and which plagued him all the same, came crashing down.

Howie smiled sympathetically at the look on Joey's face. "I'm not gonna squeal."

Joey smiled back, gratefully. "I just didn't want you thinking there was hatred. Anywhere. Because there isn't."

Howie dropped his eyes. "You wanted me to know you trusted me."

Joey panicked. The window presented itself to be looked out of. "There could have been that aspect to it. Yeah."

"Maybe if you trust me, we shouldn't say goodbye. I mean, obviously, on a superficial level, places to go, people to see, all that. But then we could call each other and plan for our next meeting and not pretend like this never happened."

"You should know I'm better at not sleeping around on the people I'm with than common opinion would make me out to be." Joey shrugged, "JC will vouch for me."

"Maybe, since you decided to trust me, I'll return the favor."

Joey looked back at Howie. "Really. That's-" he nodded. "Okay."

The car was nearing the airport. Howie took advantage of the tinted windows and the screen hiding them from the driver to kiss Joey. "I programmed all my numbers into your cell while you were in the shower this morning. I'm flying out to visit Brian and Leighanne after this, so pick the one that's labeled 'D Go Places.'"

Joey chuckled, "You're a geek."

"Yeah, but I'm the geek who's fucking the school's football captain." Howie smiled sardonically.

"I've seen that movie." Joey unhooked Howie's seat belt.

Howie slithered closer to Joey. "Yeah? How'd it end?"

Joey closed his hands over Howie's hipbones. "With them making out in the prom parking lot."

The car stopped. Howie wriggled out of Joey's grasp. "Sounds promising."


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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile