Matters of Style
by Jain


AJ was bored in the middle of a sex shop, which he really didn't think fair at all. It was just that he was already familiar with virtually every item in the store--much of it through firsthand experience--and he'd been wandering it for the better part of an hour. Considering that he'd had to persuade Howie to go into the shop with him in the first place... He readjusted his sunglasses and headed towards the front room once again.

Howie was still looking at toys--as he had been for the past fifteen minutes. Sometime while AJ had been trying to distract himself by mentally comparing himself to the vibrators in the decidedly S/M-themed back room, though, Howie had found a little friend.

AJ shrugged inwardly; JC Chasez was hardly the last person he'd have expected to find looking at sex toys. He propped a hip against a nearby table and watched the two of them browse earnestly, their shoulders brushing anytime they reached to examine a toy more closely.

"What are you two doing here?" Lance Bass's surprised voice asked in his ear. AJ just managed not to jump out of his skin--or yelp or fall off the table or otherwise disgrace himself--and turned to face him.

"I could ask you the same thing," AJ pointed out, then relented enough to say, "I thought we were just stopping in so I could make a quick purchase--this really isn't Howie's scene at all. It's just...that color, you know?"

He turned back to look at Howie and JC, standing side by side as they pawed through a rack of pastel dildos, Howie zeroing in on the purple ones.

"Well, this is JC's scene, totally and completely," Lance said, "but I think I know what you mean." JC had found a sparkly pink dildo of uncomfortable proportions and was clutching it to his chest, bouncing up and down happily.

Howie seemed both amused and appreciative, smiling to himself as he glanced covertly over at JC. AJ had to admit that JC looked pretty damned cute.

"Hmm," he said non-committedly. "Talk to me after you've spent half an hour staring at purple vibrators, purple butt plugs, purple beads, purple condoms, purple containers of lube, fucking purple corsets...are you getting the picture?"

Lance grinned. "JC wants one of those. A corset, I mean. That's ostensibly the reason for this shopping trip, though he seems to have gotten a little...distracted."

"Kinky freak."

"And Howie isn't? You just said he was looking at corsets, too."

"Looking, but definitely not buying. The fact that Howie's spent--" AJ checked his watch. "--an hour and fifteen minutes browsing in a sex shop is pretty impressive. And kind of weird. I mean, it's not that he doesn't like sex, or anything. He's just...a little conventional about it. I guess I shouldn't have underestimated the power of purple."

"At least he's not wearing it. Every time we turn around JC's wearing pink this, powder blue that. Our stylists are ready to murder him."

AJ nodded in sympathy. He snuck a quick look at Howie and JC, both of them still obviously absorbed, and leaned in closer to Lance. "We'd have problems with Howie, too," he confided quietly, "except that he thinks that Nick hasn't realized yet that Howie's gay. So Howie's still playing at least partially straight in front of the kid, and doesn't flame too hard."

"That's kind of mean, don't you think?" Lance asked. "Keeping Howie in the dark like that?"

AJ shrugged. "He's got his own reasons for not coming out to Nick. None of us is really sure what they are, but we know he's got them. If he knew that Nick knows, it might upset him. This way, Howie'll tell him when he feels it's right, Nick will say that he already knew but thanks for saying it, and everyone's happy."

"I guess so," Lance said doubtfully.

"Plus, it means the worst we have to deal with is the occasional girly blouse," AJ grinned. "We're none of us ready to give up that luxury."

"I thought the worst you had to deal with was usually whatever you were wearing."

"Bitch," AJ said, still smiling. "And I always look good."

"You do," Lance agreed. "Though how that's possible considering some of your outfits, I have no idea."

"I have fantastic taste in clothes."

"No, you just look good in anything," Lance said. "All you have to do is look at Kevin to see what happens when style goes wrong. You really should discourage him from recycling your fashion disasters."

"We tried to tell him that nobody from Kentucky should wear cornrows, but he didn't believe us."

"I feel your pain. At least Justin looked pretty good when he did it. And, anyway, I was thinking more of...the skirt."

"Oh, that," AJ said dismissively. "He just lost a bet. Not even Kevin would really consider a skirt on a guy high fashion."

"And what about when you did it?"

"I was trying to get in touch with my feminine side."

Lance snorted.

AJ shrugged. "At least that's what the guys said they wanted to happen. That was a lost bet, too."

"And they think we're juvenile," Lance said.

"You trying to tell me that you guys have never made the occasional stupid, late-night wager?"

"Actually, I was referring to the fact that you seem to consider cross-dressing to be the height of hilarity. Twice."

"We're men of simple pleasures," AJ said, and snuck a discreet glance at his watch. Fuck, how many hours were they going to spend there? He had plans for that afternoon--plans which unfortunately didn't include Lance Bass and a sex shop. "As pleasant as it's been chatting, I am so beyond ready to leave." He turned to let Howie know that, only to be confronted with an empty aisle where Howie and JC had been standing.

"Did you see where they went?" AJ demanded. Lance shook his head. As one they began to sweep the aisles in search of their missing bandmates. It was a fairly big store, but AJ and Lance were methodical, and it didn't take long to determine that Howie and JC weren't in it.

AJ was just opening his mouth to rant about Howie's fucking ditching him when Lance said, suddenly, "Dressing rooms."

The two tiny curtained rooms were in a little alcove towards the back of the store. Lance rapped on the divider between the two small cubicles.

"Just a minute," JC gasped from inside the first one.

"C?" Lance asked, poking his head inside the drawn curtain, then pulled it back out hastily, his face flaming. "Oh, Jesus," he muttered.

"What?" AJ said. He peeked around the curtain himself.

JC was leaning back against the mirror, a plum-colored satin corset cinching his waist impossibly small. As AJ watched, Howie, kneeling in front of him, nuzzled more purposefully at JC's crotch. JC's hands scrabbled for purchase on the slick glass.

"Okay, that's it," AJ said loudly. He strode into the changing room and found himself confronted by twin expressions of surprised dismay. "C'mon, D," he said, yanking Howie's fingers away from JC's fly and pulling him to his feet.

"But...AJ...what--" Howie began, sounding hurt and bewildered. JC looked like he wanted to say the same thing, only perhaps even less coherently.

"This is how it's gonna be," AJ said, overriding Howie's protests. "We're going to go to the counter, buy everything you've picked out, and then you two are going to go back to a hotel room to finish this. You may have missed this, Howard, but there are signs out front to let people know that these dressing rooms are fucking video monitored. I know that you and JC are practically in a fucking competition to see who gets outed by the public first, but let's not make it too easy for them, okay?"

Judging by Howie and JC's abashed faces, AJ wasn't about to get any further argument.

"Okay. You--" He pointed to Howie, "--grab your stuff and come with me. You--" He turned to face JC, who meeped quietly and then blushed, "--give everything to Lance and he can start getting it rung up while you get out of that corset."

"I can't...um...unlace it by myself," JC said. "That's why Howie had to come help me in the first place."

AJ sighed. "Right." He grabbed JC by the waist and turned him around so that he could start working at the knot. "Get going," he said to Howie, who seemed inclined to dawdle. "Don't even think that I'm going to leave you two alone in here together again."

Howie blushed a bit more for good measure, picked up a purple vibrator and assorted bottles of lube on the padded bench seat, and ducked out of the dressing room. Lance grabbed JC's considerably more sizable pile and followed, grinning at AJ on his way out.

"You really shouldn't have asked Howie to tie this while he was so excited," AJ muttered. "This knot's practically fucking welded together."

"Sorry," JC said faintly.

"I'm not hurting you, am I?"

"No," JC said, then gasped a little as AJ tugged on the knot. "It's just really tight."

"Yeah, you're telling me," AJ said under his breath, his gaze inadvertently slipping down the flexible, satin-encased curve of JC's spine to linger at the tiny waist and, just beneath that, the slight swell of JC's hips. His pants had ridden down a bit, and the small of his back was a palm-sized hollow of smooth, creamy skin.

AJ yanked harder at the knot.

JC squirmed a little. AJ slid one fingernail under a loop of the knot. JC squirmed again. "Hold still," AJ said, steadying JC's back with one hand.

"Um, listen," JC said quietly, then paused.

"Yeah?" AJ asked when nothing more seemed to be forthcoming.

"I don't want to go back with Howie to some hotel room. I want to take him home," JC said.

"That's right, you have a house out here," AJ remembered.

JC nodded. "So, do you think maybe you could give Lance a lift to Justin's, and Howie and I could go home together?" There was a moment of silence as AJ considered. "It's just...I really like him," JC said with a strange and quiet intensity. "And I'm trying to do anything I can think of to start things off right. So if you think that's a good thing, if you think there's a chance that any of this might actually matter to him, then I'd really appreciate your help."

"Why can't Lance just drop the two of you off?" AJ asked, stalling.

"No, cause, see, I don't know if Lance might say something in the car. And what if he scares Howie off, or something. Or makes him...not like me."

"If Howie's willing to give you a blowjob--in public, no less--then you can be pretty sure he likes you. Howie's not big on random hookups," AJ said. The goddamned knot finally loosened under his fingers and he started pulling the ends through.

"But what if he...stops?" JC asked.

"Does anyone else know you're this insecure? Because I'm thinking J-14 would lap this right up." AJ tugged the laces loose all down the length of JC's spine. "There, you're done."

"Thank you," JC said, turning around to look at AJ, his arms tight by his sides to keep the corset in place. He looked like a big-eyed waif out of Les Mis, or something, inexplicably dressed in $500 worth of purple satin.

AJ sighed. "Come here," he said, and helped pull the corset up over JC's head. "I'll take this out to Lance," he added, folding it neatly. "Join us in front as soon as you're dressed."

JC nodded and closed the curtain behind AJ as he left.

"We're waiting on you," Lance said when AJ dropped the corset on the counter. Everything else was already packed up. "What took so long?"

"Howie was a little enthusiastic with his knots," AJ said dryly. He tried to glare meaningfully at Howie, but he was standing near the door with his back to them, looking out the shop window. AJ smiled instead at the cashier, who was wearing a nose ring and what looked like one of the store's corsets. She smiled back and leaned a little closer. Very nice breasts.

"Are we ready?" JC asked, coming up behind them.

"Yes, thank God," Lance said. "I'm never going shopping with you again."

"You always say that," JC said, and kissed Lance on the cheek. AJ rolled his eyes.

"Have a nice day," the cashier said, wiggling her fingers at them.

After collecting Howie, the four of them stood on the sidewalk for a minute to regroup. JC and Howie held hands quietly; AJ and Lance pretended not to watch them.

"I've seen Chasez drive," AJ said to Lance, "so I'm guessing you guys came in your car?"

"Yeah," Lance said, smiling. JC pointedly ignored them. Or maybe he was just trying to concentrate on Howie's hand discreetly rubbing his ass.

Damn. AJ knew how Lance felt about people driving his car--namely, only slightly more psycho than AJ himself was about the same thing. And AJ'd driven a truly sweet little Porsche that day. He hoped someone was taking notice of what he was about to do.

"One second," he said, pulling out his cell phone and dialing quickly. "Hey, babe. Something's come up, 'kay? I'm gonna have to cancel on you." He paused to listen. "Yes, I'm sorry. I'll make it up to you, I promise." Another pause. "I love you, too, mom."

He hung up the phone to find Lance staring at him incredulously. "You call your mom 'babe'?"

"It's kind of a joke," he tried to explain, "Cause of the industry, you know? And everyone's pretending not to be fake, but my mom's real, only a lot of people don't seem to get that that whole...dichotomy exists. So we make fun of it. Plus, she's totally cute about me calling her that." Lance's look of dubious incomprehension deepened. "Okay, whatever, just forget it," he said.

"No, I get it," JC said, obviously less distracted than he appeared to be. "That totally makes sense."

Lance smirked. "A ringing endorsement from JC Chasez. Now you know you're being coherent, huh, AJ?"

"Shut up," AJ said. "You're about five seconds from spoiling my good deed for the week." He turned back to the happily self-absorbed couple. The two had inched together beyond the concept of personal space.

"Howie," he said. "Hey, D, listen up." Howie stopped gazing soulfully at JC and focused on him. "I'm about to do something unprecedented, so pay attention," AJ continued. He pressed his car keys into Howie's hand. "I want you to take the car and go home with JC. Watch the road and not him. If you get in an accident, I am going to be very pissed. And do not let JC drive my car."

"Thanks, AJ," Howie said, surprised. JC was glowing with happiness next to him.

"Yeah, whatever, have fun, be safe. Call me tomorrow. Or whenever you finally come up for air."

"AJ," Howie said, blushing, though he smiled. He hugged AJ quickly. "I'll give you a call tomorrow. And I promise to be careful with your car."

"Yeah, I might be a bit upset if anything happened to you, too," AJ said. "So, really, drive safe, okay?"

"Okay," Howie promised.

"Thank you," JC mouthed before the two of them set off across the parking lot, still holding hands. Bags of sex toys dangled from their free hands. At least AJ didn't have to worry that they'd run out of things to do.

He turned back to find Lance watching him carefully. "That was really nice," he said.

"It's Howie," AJ said. "He deserves almost anything I could think of to give him. So, anyway, you've got a couple of options now. One, you drop me off at my hotel. Two, we go out for lunch. Technically, there's also three, you ditch me here, but I really don't think that's your style."

"Nope," Lance agreed.

AJ smiled at him intimately. "Personally, I'd have to recommend option two. There's this fantastic little Italian place I know of, and I'd love to take you there."

"Sounds fabulous," Lance said. "Let's do lunch, babe."


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