JC unwrapped a piece of spearmint gum and sighed as he looked at the Departures monitor in the Continental concourse of O'Hare Airport. The time of his flight had just moved back another hour. It was the third time that evening that had happened and, chancing a glance outside the large viewing windows at the raging snowfall, JC doubted he was going back to Orlando anytime soon.
Having exhausted all three of the book/newspaper stores in the concourse and bought food from two different places to eat and a drink from the bar, JC shifted his carry-on to the shoulder that hadn't been carrying it all along and started toward his gate.
When he got there, he settled into one of the uncomfortable chairs made for waiting in, attached the Sony headphones that nearly covered the entire side of his head to his ears and pressed play on his discman. He got caught up in Ryan Adams and nearly missed the announcement, lifting the phones in time to hear, "…can put those who need it up at the Marriott Courtyard. We apologize for the inconvenience. You will be booked on the first flights out. Again, all passengers on flight 812 leaving Chicago and arriving in Orlando, this flight has been cancelled."
JC heard muttered curses all around him and noticed as the man across from him picked up his cellphone. It reminded JC that he should probably call his parents and tell them he was coming back home. He was distracted, though, by the sound of the other man's voice.
"Hey, it's me. Don't have a car sent, I'm stuck here. I don't know, whenever the blizzard settles down. Yeah, I'll call. Later."
Curious, JC said the name "Brian" out loud with a question to it, just to see if the other man reacted. He almost didn't. It was evident that he had been well-trained not to in situations where it could cause him to be recognized. They had tried teaching JC the same thing, but he tended to get caught up in the things going on around him and forget. He spent a lot of time signing autographs. Brian's miniscule look in the direction from which his name was called gave him away. Of course, it also told him who was calling his name and that he was probably safe from the screaming hoards.
JC crossed over and sat down next to him. "What're you doing here?"
Brian looked as though he had gotten caught in a episode of The Twilight Zone. "I was doing some face time at a Healthy Heart fundraiser."
"How's that doing?"
"It's pretty successful. I kinda think that if you find a heart for one kid who can't afford it, that's a big accomplishment, but that's probably stupid in light of how many of those kids there are."
JC looked at him thoughtfully for a moment. "I think that's a nice way to think about things."
Brian smiled, mildly surprised not to have one of his more na´ve sentiments mocked. "Um, not that you're not a good conversationalist or anything, but we're both stuck in an airport with a plane that's not leaving until at least tomorrow evening. Shouldn't we be seeing about a hotel?"
"Oh," JC brought his palm up lightly against his forehead, "That's why I came over here. I'm here visiting my family. I'm just gonna go home until I can get out of here, I was thinking maybe you'd prefer that to staying at a hotel."
"Are you sure? I mean, it's not like we know each other that well, I've never met your parents, or anything-"
"Brian, you don't have to say yes."
"No, I mean, that's a great offer, it's just- Awfully nice."
JC reached down and picked up Brian's carry-on. "Thanks." He stood up. "You can help me pay for the cab home."
Brian was busy staring blindly at the unrelenting snowfall, so he didn't realize that JC had fallen asleep and was taken a bit aback when his question about how far JC lived from the airport didn't get a response. He turned to repeat the question, but noticed the tilt of JC's head and his soft, even breathing. "Oh."
To Brian, JC had always been somewhat overwhelming. When he wasn't sitting down or trying to stand still for an interview, he was busy looking everywhere and spouting off tangential thoughts to anyone who would listen with frantic motions to accompany his descriptions. It was even worse when he was on stage, the energy being concentrated into one task. People thought Chris was bad, but if caffeine had a human form, Brian had always thought it would have been JC.
It had never occurred to Brian that maybe he stored that kind of energy up. That JC when he wasn't busy being the C in NSYNC might be someone else completely.
Looking at JC, he thought that maybe he had missed a lot about the younger man. Brian had noticed his beauty, of course, but not the inherent sweetness in the slight upturn of his nose, the long eyelashes, the way his hair fell onto his face forming a wispy brown-gold frame. Brian reached out to touch one of the strands gently, not wanting to wake his soon-to-be host up. It was soft and fine between his fingers.
Ten minutes later, the cab pulled up outside a stately Victorian-style apartment complex and repeated the address. It sounded right, so Brian said, "Uh, yeah," and began to shake JC. "JC, hey, hey, JC." His voice got louder with each call but he wasn't getting any response, so he tried the trick that always worked on the other guys, tugging quickly on JC's earlobe. It worked and Brian was gifted with a dopey smile as JC's eyes opened but didn't focus. "Brian?"
"I think we're at your parent's place, that look right?" Brian pointed out the door he had opened.
"Oh." JC gave a half nod and attempted to sit up. "Yeah."
Brian noticed the problem JC was having and aided in his getting out of the cab. He paid the driver, since JC was far too gone to count anything and slung both their bags on the arm that wasn't keeping JC upright. To his credit, JC moved his feet enough to get himself up the stairs. Brian stared at the door for a moment before finding "Chasez" on the list of call-buttons and pressing it with a wince.
A sleepy voice came over the intercom, "Yes?"
"Hi, my name is Brian, I'm with JC."
There was a few moments of silence before a second buzz. "One second."
It was more like thirty seconds in the middle of rather intense snowfall before a man in a large robe came down and looked quizzically out the door. When he saw his son leaning on a smaller man he opened the door and ushered them in, taking both the bags.
Brian whispered. "Sorry, he fell asleep on the way back from the airport. Our flight was cancelled, he offered for me to stay over until we could get back to Orlando."
"What'd you say your name was? You don't have to whisper, he's slept through worse."
"Oh, I'm Brian Litrell."
"Backstreet, huh? I didn't know you guys were friends. I'm Roy, pleasure to have you staying with us."
Brian wondered if sweetness was a family trait.
After Roy had removed JC's shoes and tucked him under the covers in a way that made Brian grin, he took his guest to another room and made sure he had fresh towels and that the sheets were clean. Brian apologized for waking him and his wife up. Roy just shook his head fondly and told him to get some sleep. Brian was out within seconds of crawling into bed.
He woke up to an impossibly bright sun shining through the window. It took a moment before he remembered all the snow and realized that there must be a glare. He walked to the window and frowned a bit at noting that it was still coming down. He picked up the towels that had been placed on a chair in the room and wandered down to where Roy had told him a bathroom would be.
When he was showered and dressed he followed the scent of baking to the kitchen and found Mrs. Chasez in front of the stove, humming to herself in a way that he had seen JC doing before a performance once.
"Good morning." Brian ventured the words quietly.
She turned and smiled brightly. "You must be Brian. You scared us a little, we couldn't remember JC having any friends by that name."
"I'm sorry, ma'am. We're not really- We haven't spent that much time together, he was just being nice, offering me a place to stay instead of the hotel."
"It's Karen, and I'm glad to see that I raised him right. I wasn't expecting to get him for another day, and what looks like might be another couple of days, so I thought I'd make his favorite for breakfast."
"Where is he?"
"Still asleep. He stayed up late the night before last trying to spend all the time he could with us and then was busy all yesterday packing and being at the airport. He'll be up in a bit. You want a pancake? They're raspberry."
Brian's eyes widened minimally. "For real?"
Karen stole a glance at him. "Yeah. Why?"
"Oh, just. That's my favorite too."
Karen handed him a plate with four piled neatly on top of each other.
JC came stumbling in before Brian had finished with the pancakes, feet encased in large slippers that looked like kittens. He wrapped his mom in a big hug, careful not to burn her or himself, "'Morning."
Karen turned around and pecked him on the cheek. "'Morning honey."
JC looked over her shoulder and ended up squeezing her again, this time picking her up off the ground a bit and twirling. "My favorite."
Karen nodded. "Our guest's, too."
JC turned to notice Brian. "Hey, is that true?"
Brian's mouth was full, so he made a yes sign with his head. JC pulled a plate out of the cabinets and piled several pancakes on it, joining Brian at the table. "Great."
Brian chewed and swallowed. "Thanks again for putting me up."
JC shrugged, artfully carving into his pancakes with a fork. "You would've done it for me if we'd been stuck in Kentucky."
Brian watched JC eat for a moment, noticing the way he was graceful even in his least guarded moments. "What makes you think that?"
JC looked up from his plate and straight into Brian's eyes. "I'm a good judge of character."
Later, Brian called Kevin to tell him what was going on and where he was so that the guys wouldn't freak. He told Kevin about the conversation that morning. "It was kinda weird, I mean, he's always so spacey or pumped, I didn't think he had a clue of what was going on around him."
"JC?" Kevin's sounded half-amused, half-astounded. "Coz, JC is ten times as aware as any of us, he just has a better game face."
"I would say he's too nice for his own good, but he reads people well enough to know when he's being taken advantage of. Boy knows how to take care of himself. Shit, he gave me the heads up about Lou years before I ever listened, way back in Europe. Casually mentioned that he didn't trust him as far as he could throw him, and I shoulda known right then, because as long as he's been on the scene, he's never been wrong about anyone."
"Is he? What's the word on-"
"Single and of the persuasion." Kevin paused. "Just, Bri, um. Not in his house, okay? His parents are putting you up. Laws of being a houseguest."
"I'll be 27 years old in another week, I'm pretty sure I can handle basic etiquette, Kev."
"My only pleasure in life anymore is telling you what to do, don't take it away from me."
Brian rolled his eyes and pressed the end button.
Halfway through the day, JC lit the gas fireplace that the apartment's family room sported. He wrapped a large fleece blanket around his shoulders and tucked himself into a corner of the couch. He opened the book he had bought at the airport and was immediately lost to the world.
Brian came up behind him several minutes later, "Whatcha reading?"
JC nearly jumped off the couch, a startled squeak escaping his lips. When JC was settled back down, one hand over a rapidly beating heart, Brian apologized. "Sorry, thought you heard me."
JC laughed a little. "Chris once dumped three ice cubes down my shirt while I was reading and I didn't noticed until they started dripping down into my pants."
Brian shivered in mental sympathy. He flipped the book up so that he could see the title and pumped his fist in a gesture of victory. "Yes! Someone else who hasn't read that book!"
"Your guys giving you shit about it?"
"I told Nick if I had to hear one more thing about it, I'd tell Jane where Aaron learned how to perform oral sex."
JC blinked. "Did it work?" At Brian's affirmative, he sighed. "Maybe I should find a better policy than 'ignore Justin, he goes away.' Or Chris, for that matter. Sometimes even Joey."
"Well, Lance actually does go away. He hates to feel like he's wasting his time."
"Oh." Brian came and sat down just beyond where JC's feet were resting.
JC looked down at the pages. "Hey, I haven't gotten very far, and I wouldn't mind going back to the beginning. Want me to read to you?"
JC blushed. "I like reading out loud, I do it sometimes even when I'm by myself. Books, the rhythm of the words, can be very…um, musical."
"I know, Kevin used to read for us on the long bus rides in Europe when AJ and Nick were so young and it seemed like a comforting thing to do. I think I always enjoyed it more than them, though."
JC flipped back a couple of pages and took a breath. Brian knew he was probably being converted into a Tolkien fan for life.
Brian looked up to find out why JC had fallen silent when he noticed the burnt orange sky lighting JC from behind. "I used to think angels looked like you."
JC tilted his head. "I'm sorry?"
Brian hadn't been aware that he was thinking out loud and was somewhat startled by getting a response to his inner musings. He realized what his comment must have sounded like and stood up from the couch. "Nothing."
"That's the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me."
Brian ran a hand through his hair. "Um, sure."
"And possibly the most genuine. Although, you're competing with Chris and the time he told me people were starting to ask where I was getting my crack supply from."
"Yeah." Brian flinched. "That was a rumor for awhile."
"So, tell me, your angels have long noses and crazy hair?"
Brian squinted, the sun spraying out in blinding shards behind the silhouetted form of JC. "My angels are fire and grace and melody."
Brian woke up late that night to the sound of the apartment door closing. Curious, he slipped from under the covers and walked up to the front in the sliver of light filtering down the hallway. He got there to find JC unpeeling layers of snow gear from his body. Brian giggled and crossed over to help him. His fingers brushed JC's face.
"You're freezing," the whisper came out as something of a hiss.
JC's eyes were lit up, his breathing heavy. "It was worth it."
"What were you doing?"
"Watching the snow sparkle in the night. It's so clear out there, you wouldn't believe."
Brian rubbed at hands that had managed to get cold even encased in mittens and wondered how long JC had been out there. "Did you get lost?"
JC looked at him oddly. "I went all of five steps away from the building."
"I meant…inside here." Brian brought a finger to tap at JC's temple, but the tap ended in more of a mini-stroke.
JC caught the finger and kept it pressed against his face. "I was thinking about the things in my life that sparkle." He leaned in and kissed Brian, slow and deep, taking his time, applying all his concentration to the moment and the man whose hands he was holding.
When he let up, just barely removing his lips from Brian's, Brian spoke into his mouth. "Your parents."
"My mom thinks you're the cutest boy I've brought home in a long time and you had my dad at the carrying-me-up-the-stairs crossroad."
"You brought me home?"
"Well, not intentionally. I mean, I wasn't planning-"
Brian leaned in with his lips to stop the objection. He mumbled into the kiss, "You’re the cutest boy who's brought me home in a long time."
JC dragged Brian into the kitchen only when they were both shivering from the melted snow off of JC's boots having soaked into their socks. JC told Brian where he could find extra pairs while setting the tea kettle on the stove. When Brian returned, JC was holding up two canisters of tea leaves. "Lemon or peppermint?"
Brian sank down into a chair and thought of JC's tongue pressing urgently against his. "Peppermint."
Minutes later, JC settled into Brian's lap, setting two teacups on the table. Carefully, he lifted his and took a sip. He shifted slightly to kiss Brian again, warm and minty. Without waiting for Brian to come back to himself and respond, he rose and commandeered his own seat, lifting his legs to rest his feet in Brian's lap.
Brian, waiting for his tea to cool, brought his hands up to JC's feet. They were ice against his fingers. Cupping his hands around the teacup for a second he returned them to massage JC's feet, starting with the toes and slowly moving down to the heel, stopping sporadically to warm his hands on the cup again. When JC's feet had reached a temperature where Brian wasn't concerned about blood freezing in mid-flow, he unfolded the wool socks he had grabbed and slipped them on the other man.
JC smiled, his eyelids at half-mast in an expression of sleepy contentedness. Brian drank his tea and watched.
JC slept with a lot of covers. There was a layer of flannel sheets, covered by a thermal blanket under a down comforter which was topped by a large knit throw. JC ushered Brian in and climbed in behind him. Brian just managed to turn around in time to meet JC's lips.
Despite his haste in starting things out again, JC seemed to have no particular interest in rushing anything. He rolled onto his back, pulling Brian on top of him. Brian moaned and found the hem of JC's sweatshirt, pushing his hands beneath it, along the expanse of JC's ribs. JC retaliated by slipping his fingers just under the waist band of Brian's pajama pants and splaying them over finely-defined hipbones.
Brian panted against JC's mouth, moving his hands erratically over the man beneath him's breastbone, back, and abs. JC's skin was soft and the heat of the room made it silky with moisture. JC's hands traveled to cup Brian's ass.
Brian bucked against JC, losing contact with his mouth, but increasing the friction for both of them. JC whimpered and lifted his head to meet Brian's lips again. The two found a rhythm, their fingers tightening against skin with each thrust. JC sucked forcefully on Brian's lower lip, Brian's teeth scraping over his skin.
Brian came with a sob, shaking in JC's arms, and JC followed him. Afterwards, Brian lay there for a long time, unable to work up the coordinative ability to move. He was almost embarrassed -- it had been a long time since anything short of actual sex had made him react like that -- but it felt too good and JC didn't seem to be laughing. Eventually, Brian managed to fall off JC and tumble out of the bed. JC made a confused noise. "Where're you going?"
"Change my pants, you want a new pair?"
There was rustling and some movement from under the sheets. Suddenly the sheets had been thrown back and JC's clothes were on the floor, revealing a long-limbed, satisfied-looking naked JC on the bed. "No, but can you bring us back some washcloths?"
"Uh." Brian stopped, trying not to stare. "Um, are you going to-"
"What's the point of having flannel sheets if you're gonna put something in between you and them? Go get us the washcloths and join me, ok? Forget the new pants."
"JC, it's one thing for your parents to find us fully clothed and necking in the parlor, it's a little bit different for them to walk in on us naked in bed together."
"Necking in the parlor? How long ago did you leave Kentucky?"
"My parents began knocking before entering a long time ago."
The gleam of JC's teeth was brilliant against the darkness of the room. "Oh. So, yeah."
Brian left to swipe a couple of washcloths from the bathroom, wet them down and return with them. He threw them to JC who put them to use while Brian stripped quickly out of his pajamas. He approached the bed where JC grabbed ahold of Brian right above his hip with one hand and cleaned him with the other. JC tossed the washcloths onto the floor and used the hand that was still holding Brian to pull him onto the bed. Brian didn't resist; he settled with his face flush against JC's neck. The last thing he remembered was the strength of JC's arm around his torso and the velvet texture of JC's lips on his forehead.
Brian awoke to the sound of knocking. Not wanting to be the one to answer, he tightened the hold he had on JC and spoke directly into his ear. "JC, um. Mom, yours. At the door."
JC didn't open his eyes. "Huh?"
Brian grew desperate and shook him a little. "Answer your mom."
"Oh." There was no eye action, but his voice got louder. "Yeah?"
"Josh, the airlines called, you're both booked on a flight in three hours. Time to get up."
JC groaned quietly. "Thanks mom." He rolled over onto Brian, just heavy enough to feel good. "'Morning."
"Mm." Brian ran a hand through JC's tangled hair, gently working out a few of the knots.
"It'll save time to take a shower together."
"Only if we're both responsible adults."
"True. You up to the challenge?"
Brian took JC's head between his hands so as to look in his eyes. He didn't seem to be finding what he was looking for, so he asked, "Have you been talking to AJ and Nick?"
"Um. Not recently."
"Oh. Okay." Brian pushed JC off of him lightly and sat him up.
"Mind if I ask why?"
"That's how they always used to get me in trouble. I suck at passing up challenges."
"Oh." JC laughed a little. "Oh."
Brian sat up and laughed a little as well. "Yeah. C'mon, shower time."
JC made eggs and toast while Brian finished packing up the last of his stuff. Brian took over while JC threw the last few items in his bag and moved everything up to the front hall. They were silent at breakfast, each pretending that they were too busy chewing to say anything. Karen wandered in and put a hand on both their heads, ruffling their hair. "Good morning."
JC lifted his face to kiss her. "Thanks for waking us up."
Brian blushed at JC's choice of pronouns and he gave Karen a weak smile. "Thanks for everything."
"You're welcome, hon." Her voice changed minutely from easy-going and sweet to knowing and protective. "Am I gonna see you again?"
"Um." Brian flicked his eyes at JC, who was looking at him with a brand of removed curiosity. "I hope so." He thought the answer probably sounded more like a question than anything else, but it seemed to satisfy Karen, because she smiled and kissed him on the cheek.
JC stood up to hug her, burrowing his face in her shoulder and clinging tightly. "I'll miss you."
She lifted his face, soothed his hair back from his forehead and kissed him there. "Me and your dad too, baby. We always do. We'll see you in a couple of months, though, when we come out to visit."
They hugged again and she turned to leave. "Have a nice flight. Call me and tell me when you get in, okay?"
JC nodded and watched her leave. Brian looked up at him. "You okay?"
JC rubbed at his eyes. "Yeah, just, y'know. Leaving's always hard."
Brian reached out and squeezed his hand in sympathy. JC squeezed back. "Did you mean what you said, or were you just scared of my mom?"
"Way to make me feel manly."
JC giggled. "Mom's can be scary, I don't care how much testosterone you've got flowing through you."
Brian smiled in acknowledgement of the sentiment. "Yeah, I meant it. Last night was…something I'd been waiting for without knowing it." He watched JC's face, trying to ascertain whether he'd made any sense or not.
JC leaned down to kiss him. "So, does this mean that you wouldn't mind sitting next to me on the plane?"
JC dug out his cell phone and called home the moment they strode off the plane. Kristen had said she would meet Brian by the baggage carousel and JC had asked if he could bother them for a ride. Brian had pretended to consider it. "I dunno, do you think two nights in your house really merits a ride home?"
JC had come right back with, "No, but I think going down on you in the shower does."
Brian's eyes had widened and he'd mumbled to Kristen, "Uh, we have to drop JC off at home, too."
They were walking to meet her while JC chatted with his dad. "Yeah, we're both here. No, he's dropping me off. Yeah, I thought so too. Okay, I'll talk with you later. I'll tell him you said so. Bye, love you." He clicked the cell phone shut. "My dad says it was a pleasure to meet you."
"Your parents are great."
"Yep." JC's pride was nearly tangible, like his parents being great was the direct result of efforts on his part.
Brian saw Kristen. He walked over to her and hugged her, "Hey Kris. This is JC, I don't know if you two have met."
The two shook hands. They picked up their bags and headed for the car. The traffic was mild, making the trip to JC's house pretty short. He pointed out which house was his. Kristen brought the car to a stop in his driveway and he got out. He was surprised when he reached the trunk to find Brian already there, holding his bag out. JC took it, their hands brushing.
"So." JC set his bag on the ground and extended the handle.
Brian put his hands in his pocket. "So."
"You gonna call me, or do I have to call?"
"I could call you."
JC grinned. "Good, because normally, I hate delays."