Reaching JC on the phone was a dicey proposition, at best. He usually answered his cellphone, but only when he had it turned on. As for his home phone...in theory, he screened only as compulsively as the rest of them. In practice, however, Lance had seen JC cooking in the kitchen not three feet from the answering machine, and not even notice Johnny leaving a message for him.
So when Lance was out doing errands and heard the radio hosts discussing a piece of celebrity gossip that JC might actually know about, he didn't bother calling him. He just relegated the dry-cleaning to tomorrow's list of activities and swung the car around to go to JC's house.
Of course, JC's absentmindedness concerning phone calls pretty much extended to answering the door, as well. Lance didn't bother waiting; he tapped in the code, unlocked the door, and invited himself in.
"JC?" he called, wandering around the first floor. The front hall, TV room, living room, and dining room were all empty. Then he rounded the corner into the kitchen and almost jumped in surprise.
AJ was sitting at the kitchen table, chipping pale blue polish from his nails.
"What are you--" Lance began, startled. "--um..."
AJ didn't even look up. "Sarah didn't want me to wear black nailpolish for the wedding," he said, scraping carefully at one thumbnail. "We compromised."
That hadn't been what Lance was asking, but since what he was asking was more along the lines of what the hell are you doing here?, he thought he'd let it go. He watched AJ in silence for a few minutes. The little collection of blue flakes on the table got infinitesimally larger.
Finally, Lance couldn't stand it any longer. He went to the powder room, rummaged through the cabinet, and came back to the kitchen with a bottle of nailpolish remover and some cottonballs. "Here," he said, holding them out to AJ.
AJ stared at them for a long moment, then looked at Lance's face. "Thanks," he said carefully.
"No problem." Lance set the nailpolish remover and cottonballs on the table in front of AJ and sat down across from him. AJ started to remove his nailpolish rather more efficiently than he had been.
"So," Lance said after another moment of watching AJ and drumming his fingers against his thigh. "Why did you--"
"I called Howie and got him to pack some clothes and stuff for you," JC said, coming into the room just then. "I think he's bringing over a pizza, too. Hi, Lance."
"Hey," Lance said.
AJ didn't say anything.
"So, is that okay? He sounded worried. I think he thinks that I'm going to forget to feed you, or something."
AJ didn't smile, but he nodded. "That's fine. He's not bringing anyone else, is he?"
"Nope. Brian wanted to come, but I convinced him to give you a little more time."
"That's good. Baylee's teething, anyway. He probably wants to be home to help Leighanne as much as possible."
JC frowned slightly. "You know that that has nothing to do with it. The second you need him, I can call and Brian'll be here."
AJ turned back to his nails. "Yeah, okay, I know. Forget I said anything."
"Okay," JC murmured. "Hey, you want me to paint your nails black for you?"
"I can do it myself."
"I know you can. I'm just asking if you'd rather I do it."
AJ stared at his nails for a while, then looked up, disconcertingly, at Lance. "Sure," he said, finally.
"I'll be right back, then," JC said, scooping up the nailpolish remover and leftover cottonballs before leaving the room.
After another moment under AJ's silent scrutiny, Lance stood up. "Me, too," he said, and beat a hasty retreat.
He found JC sifting through his collection of nailpolish bottles in his bedroom. "Oh, hey," JC said. "You want to help? I know I've got black somewhere, but I'm having trouble finding it."
"I'm not surprised," Lance said, eyeing the jumble of pastel suspiciously. He walked over and started looking through the drawer with JC, though.
"Here it is," he said after another minute. He plucked the black nailpolish from a back corner of the drawer.
"Thanks," JC said, starting for the door.
Lance didn't move. "C?"
"Yeah?" JC turned to look at him.
"What's AJ doing here?"
"Oh, well...you heard about how...um...Sarah didn't show up for the wedding?"
"Well, he needed to get someplace that reporters wouldn't be able to find him, and, you know, we're friends and stuff, even if we don't really hang out that much, so Howie called and I said sure."
In JC's mind, Lance was sure it was just that simple.
"Why doesn't he stay with Howie? Or one of the other Backstreet Boys?"
JC shrugged. "He didn't want to. I know that Sarah used to hang out with all of them sometimes. Maybe he just doesn't want to be someplace that reminds him of her." There was a brief silence. "You staying for dinner?"
"I guess, sure. Is AJ going to want me around?"
"Why wouldn't he?"
Lance knew better than to try to answer.
Back in the kitchen, AJ had apparently gotten tired of waiting for them and started...doing housework? He dropped the sponge into the sink when they came in.
"Thanks for doing the dishes," JC chirped, while Lance was still blinking in disbelief.
"Sure," AJ said, sliding back into his seat at the table. His face went warily still as he watched JC shake the bottle of nailpolish, take AJ's slim hand in his own, and start carefully painting each nail.
Lance leaned against the counter, not wanting to disturb them.
The doorbell rang just as JC began to do AJ's left forefinger. "I'll get it," Lance said. JC nodded distractedly. AJ didn't even look up.
When he saw how overburdened Howie was, he almost wished he hadn't lingered that extra few seconds in the kitchen. "Jesus, Howie," Lance said, relieving him of four pizza boxes, "we're not exactly under siege, here."
"Not yet," Howie said darkly. "If any reporters find out where AJ's hiding..." He shrugged and smiled wryly. "And in the meantime--when AJ's upset, he can eat his own weight in one sitting. Or he won't eat for days. I figured this way we'd be prepared for either eventuality."
By then he'd finished dragging in two large duffel bags and rested them against the bottom step of the staircase. "So," he said, straightening up, "How's he doing?"
Lance shrugged, uncomfortable. "He and JC are in the kitchen. JC's painting his nails...or not," as AJ and JC both emerged.
"Hey, AJ," Howie said softly, reaching out to hug him.
AJ's black-tipped hands came up to fend him off, and he backed away. "Don't..." AJ cleared his throat. "Not yet, okay?"
"Oh, AJ, it's fine. You don't have to apologize to me."
There was half a moment's awkward silence. "Pizza?" JC said, and Lance realized suddenly that the boxes were burning his hands.
True to Howie's second prediction, AJ took maybe three bites of his pizza. He kept going back into the kitchen for more water, though--to the point where Lance wasn't sure if he were really thirsty, or just taking the opportunity for a brief time-out.
"And Joey says Brianna's talking in complete sentences all the time now," JC was saying to Howie, who nodded along as JC filled him in. Lance might have thought that it was callous of JC to babble on, seemingly without any regard for AJ's state of mind, except that AJ really did seem much happier to be ignored and let the conversation wash around him.
"I guess she must be pretty big by now, huh?" asked Howie.
"Yup." JC nodded vigorously. "You should come see her sometime, man. She misses you."
Howie tried to hide a smile. "JC, I doubt she remembers me at all. I've met her, like, three times."
"Even so," JC said stubbornly. "They keep doing these studies about, like, how much babies understand even really early on. She knows you're family."
Howie smiled indulgently. "Maybe. Still, it's not like I can just drop by Joey's to see her, so I guess she'll just have to miss me a little longer."
"No, no." JC was almost vibrating in excitement. "I'm having a party on Thursday. Very baby-friendly." He pulled up short, turning to look at AJ. "That is, if it's okay with you."
AJ shrugged. "Fine by me. It's your house, anyway."
"Well, yeah, but you're my guest. I want you to be comfortable."
"No worries. If I don't like it, I can just stay in my room. Speaking of which...I think I'm gonna turn in. See you later, Howie, C. Good night, Lance."
"Good night," Lance said, startled. It was the first time AJ'd talked to him all dinner.
"Leftovers will be in the fridge, in case you get hungry later," JC said.
AJ nodded and took his two bags upstairs. No one commented on the fact that it was just after seven thirty.
"So, you can come, right?" JC asked as soon as they'd all listened to AJ's door close quietly upstairs. "All of my guys are gonna be here, plus a couple other people."
Lance shook his head. "JC, I told you I might--"
"You're coming," JC said peremptorily. "Howie, you, too?"
"I wouldn't dare say no."
JC smiled angelically. "That's all settled then."
Despite a number of "reminder" messages from JC, Lance was still considering skipping the party to do some work when Thursday rolled around. After a bit more thought, though, he reconsidered. JC could be vicious when thwarted. Lance really didn't want to do anything that might make JC stage another intervention and take Lance's laptop away from him.
Just to be on the safe side, he brought a vegetable platter and a couple of bottles of root beer to JC's with him.
"Hey," JC said, answering the door. He eyed the brown paper bag. "Did you remember to leave any alcohol in the car? Which is not to make it sound that I'm advocating drinking and driving, because I'm totally not. But there's AJ and a bunch of little kids at the party, so really I just don't want it in the house, and I wanted to make sure..."
"JC," Lance interrupted. "It's okay; I remembered. All I've got is root beer."
"Oh, good. Come on in." A carload of people drove up just then, and Lance hurried inside before JC could repeat his spiel.
Lance had apparently arrived unfashionably on time--or maybe JC really had kept his guest list to the bare minimum, as he'd been promising. There was a cluster of people around Brianna in one corner of the room, a slightly larger cluster of people watching football in another corner, some older kids playing Monopoly on the coffee table, and that was it. No one hanging from the rafters, no one wandering up and down the stairs... Lance wished he'd brought his laptop. He could probably have gotten some work done.
He swallowed his regrets and carried the vegetable tray and bag of sodas carefully to the kitchen.
It must have been karma that brought him unexpectedly face to face with AJ for the second time that week in that very room. Lance had been sure that AJ would hide out in the guest room for the duration of the party. Obviously JC had been more than usually persuasive that evening.
"Hi," Lance said.
"Hey." AJ was leaning against the counter by the trays of food, but he didn't seem to be eating any. Considering his hollow gaze, it didn't look as though he'd eaten at all in the past week. Or maybe that was from lack of sleep. Lance made himself stop staring and put the sodas in the fridge.
"Anything good here?" he asked, coming over to set the vegetable tray next to AJ.
AJ looked at the counter. "Uh, people seemed to like those cheesy pastry things," he said, pointing. Lance glanced at them, but didn't take any. "I was actually about to go back upstairs. I figure forty-five minutes at this party is plenty, right?" Lance shrugged. "You want to join me?"
That was unexpected. "I guess. Why?"
Now it was AJ's turn to shrug. "You're good company." There was a pause. "And JC's less likely to get in a snit about my cutting out early if I'm actually socializing with somebody."
Lance grinned. "Good point. I wasn't too thrilled about this party, myself, so...that works doubly well for me. Just let me grab something to drink."
For the only time that Lance could remember, AJ looked something less than at ease with himself. "Would you mind not...um..."
"It looks like you're the only person JC hasn't hit over the head repeatedly about this," he interrupted. "It's a dry party. Totally."
AJ nodded in relief. "Cool."
"So, now that that's settled--root beer or Sprite?" he asked.
"Right." He grabbed a couple of bottles of Evian from the fridge. "Lead the way."
Once they were both ensconced on the sofa in the guestroom, Lance opened his water, took a sip, and rubbed one hand absently on his thigh. "So, what kind of good company were you looking for this evening?" he asked. "The kind that talks, or the kind that sits in a comfortable silence?"
"I was thinking, the kind that listens to good music." AJ reached out to tap the play button on the stereo, and Norah Jones filtered softly through the speakers. "And, maybe, the kind that does this."
He took Lance's hand in his, tilted his face towards him, and kissed him.
Lance's lips parted involuntarily. Soft, warm mouth on his, and AJ slid just the tip of his tongue between his lips before drawing back to look at him.
"Do you mind?" AJ asked.
Lance shook his head.
"Good." AJ slithered onto Lance's lap, straddling his thighs. "Because I don't want to stop."
This time his tongue slipped into Lance's mouth as though it were taking up residence there, sliding along his teeth and licking at his tongue. His hips rocked against Lance's body.
Lance held onto AJ's hips and only just managed to restrain himself from thrusting up against that warm, heavy, surging weight until he came.
"Were you wanting anything in particular tonight?" AJ asked a minute later, breathlessly. His hands left Lance's shoulders so that he could tease his nipples through the fabric of Lance's cotton T-shirt.
"Okay, then what if I said that I'm in the mood to get fucked. Would you be up for that?"
Lance bit back a moan. AJ's finger slid carefully around his navel. "Absolutely."
AJ laid another kiss on his lips and climbed off of Lance. "Great. Hold that thought." He crossed over to his bags, unzipped an outer pocket, and removed a condom from the box inside.
Lance, preoccupied in watching AJ slink gracefully across the room, did a doubletake. "Wait a second," he said disbelievingly. "You brought a box of condoms with you to hide out from reporters at JC's house?"
"Howie's the one who packed my stuff; take it up with him. Besides, it's not like we're not about to use them, right?"
He didn't give Lance a chance to reply, just tossed the condom packet on the side table and knelt in front of him. "This good, or are you one of those people who's obsessively bedbound?"
"This is fine." Lance's voice wavered minutely. He cleared his throat. "It's perfect."
AJ smiled up at him predatorily. "Good."
One slim, clever hand unbuttoned Lance's jeans and slowly drew the zipper down while the other rubbed the spot above Lance's right knee. Lance's legs spread, and AJ slid closer.
He leaned forward to mouth the gap of Lance's unzippered jeans, where Lance's erection pressed obscenely against his boxers. Lance gasped. "You are so fucking hot," AJ said against the thin layer of cloth, heating it with each small puff of breath. Lance shuddered into the feeling. Apparently uncaring of the taste and texture of cotton, AJ licked from the root of Lance's cock to the head, ending with a tight swirl where Lance had leaked pre-come on the fabric. "God," he mumbled, and sucked the fabric-covered tip into his mouth.
"Oh, fuck," Lance moaned, trying not to thrust upwards too hard. AJ let Lance's cock slip out of his mouth, and he almost moaned again, but then AJ was licking inside the flap of his boxers, and it was all Lance could do to keep breathing.
"Take off your shirt," AJ said suddenly. "I want you to touch your nipples while I'm doing this," and Lance hurried to obey.
AJ's tongue swiped wetly over the head of his cock and licked downward to curl around his balls. It seemed almost overkill at that point to do anything that might distract himself from the mindless pleasure of AJ sucking gently at his balls, but Lance finished yanking off his shirt, licked his fingers, and pinched his nipples. Two happy little jolts of sensation rushed down to his cock.
He rocked his hips upwards, straining for a release that couldn't arrive as long as AJ remained happily preoccupied with tonguing the base of his cock. AJ's fingers slipped under the waistband of his boxers, and Lance lifted so that AJ could pull them off, along with his jeans.
"Don't stop touching yourself," AJ said, his voice hoarse. He rose to his feet gracefully and started shucking off his clothes. Lance watched, eyes wide, fingers still twisting his nipples.
He barely had a chance to see AJ fully naked, all pale skin and dark tattoos and disproportionately long cock--he forgot, really, how tiny AJ was, until he saw how small his erection wasn't--before AJ was sliding the condom onto his dick and straddling him on the sofa.
AJ reached back behind himself to hold Lance's cock and lowered himself carefully. "Wait," Lance said, when it became obvious that AJ was just going to go for it. "Don't you need to--"
AJ shook his head. "The condom's lubricated, and I'm used to this."
"Yeah." Almost before Lance got the word out, AJ stopped hovering above Lance's erection and pressed himself down, down, down until he was flush against Lance's body.
A flicker of emotion chased across his face. "Can you give me a second?" he asked quietly.
"Sure," Lance gasped, reaching out to grasp AJ's hip in a further bid for control.
Just when he thought he couldn't take it any longer, AJ either had to get off of him or let him move, AJ nodded to him. "You ready?"
AJ chuckled, rose several inches, and slammed himself back down. Released from his injunction, Lance met him on the next thrust, and every one after that.
It only took them a few seconds to settle into an easy rhythm of give and take. AJ's whipcord body gleamed in the faint light from the bedside lamp, and Lance found himself reaching out to trace over the muscles of his chest and abdomen. Finally he let his hand settle on AJ's cock, pumping it in counterpoint to his thrusts.
"Fuck, yes," AJ muttered. His whole body was trembling, vibrating in Lance's arms.
Lance tried to hold it off, but AJ was tighttight around his dick, and he was hot and slick as he moved against him. He moaned in pleasure and frustration. "Sorry, I don't...I'm gonna..."
"'S fine," AJ gasped. "Go for it, go for it...shit." He came, and Lance wasted no time in following him after.
AJ collapsed against him in a sweaty sprawl that pressed him even harder against the back of the couch, but still felt pretty fucking fantastic.
"Bed?" AJ muttered after a while.
"Please." They separated carefully and walked on shaky legs to the bed. "I'm just gonna..." Lance gestured to the open bathroom door.
AJ nodded and lay back on the covers.
After quickly scrubbing himself with a wet washcloth, Lance rinsed it and brought it out for AJ. He was supine on the bed with one arm thrown over his face, and didn't even twitch when Lance sat on the mattress next to him, so Lance just started wiping him down gently.
It wasn't until he was nearly done that the tenseness of AJ's muscles really registered. Lance dropped the washcloth on the bedside table. "AJ?" he asked, pulling his arm away from his face.
AJ was crying.
"Shit," Lance said, horrified. "What...?" He lay down next to AJ and pulled him into his arms. "Are you okay? Did I hurt you?"
AJ shook his head. "I'm fine," he said hastily. "It's just...it feels like it's been a fuck of a long time since I... You're the first person I've had sex with since Sarah, and..."
"It's okay, I understand," Lance said, though his stomach twisted painfully. Sarah and AJ, right. He didn't know how he'd managed to almost forget in such a short time; the wedding ought to have taken place less than a week before. He rubbed soothing hands down AJ's back mechanically.
"I'm such a fucking girl," AJ said, laughing waterily.
"You're fine. Don't worry about it," Lance insisted. Fuck, how could he have been so stupid? "Do you want me to get JC for you?"
"No, no," AJ said quickly. "The fewer people to witness my humiliation, the better."
"Do you want me to go?"
There was a long pause. "Not if you don't want to," he said finally.
"No problem," Lance said. He kept stroking AJ's back in smooth sweeps. AJ curled into him with a soft sigh.
Twenty minutes later Lance slid carefully out from under AJ and tucked the covers up around his shoulders. Then he got dressed quietly, leaving his shoes off until he'd tiptoed out of the room and shut the door.
"Leaving already?" JC asked, intercepting him at the front door on his way out.
Lance smiled wearily. "Yeah, I'm kind of tired, I think I just want to go home and catch some sleep."
"Promise me you won't just end up doing work until two in the morning the way you usually do?"
"I promise." Lance snorted. "Trust me, the way I'm feeling right now, I don't even want to think about work for the rest of the week."
JC nodded sympathetically. "Okay, man. Take care, get some rest. At least tell me you enjoyed the party, though."
"It was pretty unbelievable, Jace," Lance said. He wondered if it were obvious to anyone else that his chest felt frozen.
JC smiled, satisfied. "I'm glad. Catch you later."
"Bye," Lance said. The door closed firmly behind him and he heard the lock turn. Fuck.
Hi, you've reached my answering machine. If you know who I am, who you are, and why you're calling me, leave a message at the sound of the tone. If you don't know one or more of those three things, do us both a favor and hang up now. Thanks. Beeep.
"Lance? Hey, this is AJ. JC gave me your number. You left last night before we could talk. So, first of all, I wanted to say thank you for a great evening. And I'm sorry I fell apart on you at the end, there. Usually I leave the histrionics to Nick; he's much better at them. Anyway, I'd like to see you sometime soon. Call me here, or just stop by--JC says to tell you you're welcome anytime. Like you weren't before, or something, I don't even know what he's thinking. Still, you're my witness, I delivered his freaky-ass message. Later." Click.
Lance stood over the phone, staring at the answering machine. As soon as the message had recorded, he replayed it. Then he played it again. When it finished playing the second time, he hit the erase button.
He walked back out of the room.
"Lance? AJ again. Listen, I'm not trying to stalk you or anything, so don't flip out on me. I really would like to talk to you, though. I don't know what I did to piss you off at me...well, actually, no, I've got a pretty good idea, but I swear, I'm usually a much better date than I was that night. Let me apologize to you for that in person, at least. Oh, and JC says that he misses you and that if you don't come visit him right now he's never going to let you step foot inside this house again, and the only reason I'm telling you all this is that he's threatening me with a butter knife as I speak.
"I'm gonna be here for the next week or so, and after that you can get my cellphone number from JC if you ever decide you want to talk. Otherwise...I guess I'll see you at the next awards show, or something. I'm sorry." Click.
This time, Lance didn't even listen to the message replay completely for the first time before erasing it. He pulled the phone cord from the jack right afterwards. AJ wouldn't be calling again, but he didn't want to talk to anyone else, either.
Even though he knew it was stupid and high-schoolish, Lance found himself driving by JC's house a couple of times a day, just because. And one day when AJ's car was gone from the driveway, he did something even stupider and knocked on JC's door.
"Hi," JC said, surprised.
"Hi. Can I come in?"
"Sure. Um, you know that AJ isn't here, right?"
He nodded. "That's the reason why I came to talk to you now."
JC's face turned more serious, but he didn't say anything, just opened the door wider for Lance.
"You never came," he said when they'd taken seats in the living room. "We were both hoping you would."
Lance grimaced. "I know. I couldn't."
"AJ's going home tomorrow."
JC nodded solemnly. "It's not like I think you can't ever make up and become friends again if you don't do it right now, but, on the other hand, I don't understand why both of you should keep feeling bad about something that you could resolve today."
"I mean, was whatever AJ did to you so bad that you can't just forgive him for it?"
Lance shook his head in confusion. "AJ didn't do anything wrong."
"Then what is the problem?"
"I was just stupid and fucked something up, that's all. And now I need some time for things to go back to normal before I can try and fix it."
"That's not what AJ said. He thinks you hate him for some reason, though he won't tell me what, and--"
"Jesus, I slept with him, all right?" Lance demanded. "That's it. That's all it ever was."
JC was quiet as he processed that. "So why's that a problem?" he asked finally.
"Maybe because his fiancée dumped him less than two weeks ago?" Lance said. "And I really don't think I can be rebound guy and have him dump me in a couple of months. I like him way too much for that, already."
"He started dating Sarah when he was on the rebound, and he was ready to marry her," JC pointed out. "If that's seriously your only reason for avoiding him--go ahead and start dating him, and don't be surprised if he asks you to pick out curtains in a few months."
"Sarah's a woman, I'm a guy. It makes a difference, JC--and don't try to tell me it doesn't." JC shut his mouth, looking injured.
Then he shook his head. "I can't promise you that it's exactly the same, because you know how the world works as well as I do. Probably a lot better. But I know AJ--he's been a close friend for going on five years, now--and I honestly think that it doesn't make a difference to him. In any case, avoiding him is only making both of you unhappy. Why can't you just talk to him and see what he has to say about it?"
"I'll think about it," Lance said, standing up. "I've got to go."
The next day he was back. This time AJ answered the door.
"Hey," AJ said. "I wasn't sure if I'd see you again." Lance didn't say anything. "Unless you're really here to see JC?"
Lance shook his head. "No, no, sorry. I came to talk to you."
"Okay." AJ paused just long enough to turn the deadbolt and led the way to the stairs. "JC's coming back here in a couple minutes with Bri, so it's probably best if we talked in my room."
The room smelled of AJ's cologne and, very faintly, of furniture polish. Rationally, Lance had known it couldn't possibly smell of sex after a week and a half, but he still blushed when he sat on the sofa.
"So," AJ said, "this would be the part where I apologize for having put you in a really awkward position. I'm sure the last thing you wanted was to babysit me for the evening--let alone have me cry all over you--and I'm sorry."
"That wasn't a problem." AJ looked at him skeptically. "No, really. It wasn't what I was expecting, but, then, I obviously wasn't thinking too clearly that night. I should've known that you were still far from over what had happened with Sarah. Hell, I should have been expecting what happened, and it's totally my fault that we got into that situation in the first place."
"'That situation' meaning me falling apart afterwards, or 'that situation' meaning the two of us having sex in the first place?"
"I really don't think that agreeing to--"
"I took advantage of you," Lance said tightly. "I didn't think things through, and...I should've told you in the beginning that I'm not interested in starting a relationship with you right now."
AJ held up his hands. "Hey, far be it for me to get in the way of your getting your rocks off without fear of commitment. I guess the fact that it happened with the friend of one of your bandmates is just another drawback."
"What? That has nothing to do with--"
"It's cool. I'm not going to try and tie down someone who doesn't want to be tied. I already gave that one a shot, right, and see what it got me...fuck." He wiped angrily at his eyes with one hand. "So, really, no awkward silences when we meet, no guilt trips, no trying to play JC against you. We'll just be good friends, and everything else doesn't matter."
"I think we're talking at cross-purposes, here," Lance said.
AJ shook his head. "I don't think so. I want to go out with you, and you want to play the field. Obviously we weren't meant for each other. So we'll keep being friends, and leave any memories of fucking fantastic sex behind us."
"It's not like it's that easy for me, either," Lance said, frustrated. "I don't want to play the field, I just don't want to date...um..." He realized suddenly just what he was about to say and stopped short.
AJ's eyes widened. "Right," he said. "Okay, then. So, am I correct in thinking that it sounds like you might want to rethink that whole 'friends' thing, too? Because that sounded supremely unflattering."
"That's not what I meant to say."
"All right. What did you mean, then?"
"The problem isn't you, the problem is with the 'now' part of the relationship. I...well, I think I've fallen in love with you."
"If you're serious about that--and I really hope you are--then I'm pretty sure there isn't any problem."
"There isn't yet, but if we started dating, then sooner or later you'd break up with me and I'd be destroyed." His voice cracked a little on the last word, but he refused to acknowledge that.
AJ's face cleared suddenly. "Lance...I don't do rebounds. And apparently I fall for people about as quickly as you do. If I had you, I'd never let you go if there were one single fucking thing I could do to convince you to stay."
Lance had to swallow hard around the lump in his throat, but, on the plus side, it finally felt like he could smile again. "I don't think I'm going to need much convincing."
Lance chuckled roughly; the relief in AJ's voice pretty much mirrored what he felt. "Yeah." He slid closer to AJ, who put a cautious arm around him. Lance took AJ's free hand in his own.
"You realize, of course, that we're going to have to seriously edit this story for future retelling?" AJ said conversationally.
"Consider the evidence. We sleep together, and I have a psychotic episode and cry on you. Then you refuse to talk to me for a week. And finally you come over to talk, I cry some more, and we hook up for real. Somehow I'm thinking this isn't the version I want to be sharing with, oh, Justin when he asks the two of us what the fuck we think we're doing together and why we ever considered doing it in the first place."
"I don't know. Except for the part where I come off sounding like a self-absorbed asshole, it sounds pretty perfect to me."
Lance nodded. "Or we could just tell everyone that we slept together and fell in love. Not necessarily in that order." He leaned closer.
"Perfect," AJ said, and kissed him.