He shrugged listlessly. "Nothin'."
"Yeah right. You've been sitting there, channel surfing and grousing all morning."
"Nothing's on, you know. Just crappy daytime stuff. If it were afternoon at least there'd be soaps on. Or Rosie. This is just tacky tabloid junk. Crap. Crap. Crap." His finger clicked on the channel change button to punctuate each pronouncement.
The other grabbed the remote. "Then stop watching. Geez, Nick, you are starting to really bore me."
"Fuck you, too, AJ."
AJ went back to humming the new song softly, hands gesturing the changes in chords. He pointedly ignored Nick's petulant slumping his chair as well as the younger man's constant heavy sighs.
"What you doing?" Nick finally asked.
AJ rolled his eyes before turning back to Nick. "Practicing obviously. You know, album to record and all? I want to see if I can come up with some production stuff for this one."
"Want to be 'Happy' about it?" Nick snickered at his own wit.
"You really are a dumbass, sometimes, you know Nick?" AJ ruffled his short hair. Time for a color change he mused, but quickly shoved the thought aside. "Look, we got a lot riding on this one. Just want it to be perfect, you know?"
Nick shrugged. "If it ain't, no skin off my nose. I got my solo thing going so this doesn't matter."
AJ looked at him, stunned. "How can you say that? Shit, Nick, you wouldn't even be able to do a solo thing if it wasn't for the Boys. And any solo shit you do is gonna be seriously re-looked at if this album bombs."
"'Re-looked at' isn't a word. Who you think you are? Howie?"
AJ sighed. "You are in one fucked up mood, Carter. I am not going to talk to you when you are like this," he said before turning away and looking at the sheet music again.
"Well, I could have a solo album now even without the Boys," Nick pouted.
"Hell, if I had taken that Mickey Mouse shit, I'd be totally solo by now anyway. You all just kept me back."
AJ had never felt like slapping anyone the way he felt like doing now. But he resisted the urge: Nick was bigger than him and loved to use his fists. So he slapped him the only way he knew how. "If you had taken Mickey Mouse Club, you'd be a back up singer for Justin Timberlake now."
"Fuck you!" Nick erupted from his chair. "I've never been backup to Justin on anything."
"Fine, so you wouldn't be backup. Whatever. Look Nick, if you are so hot to leave us, just do it," Brian said as he leaved against the doorframe.
"Hey, Rok. How long you been here?" AJ grinned.
"Long enough." Brian looked at the scowl on his former best friend's face. What the hell had happened to him? He'd been acting like an asshole ever since he came back after their break. He knew that Nick was still embarrassed after the arrest and having to buy his dad that bloody boat. And he was pretty soon that his dad hadn't been the only one whining for more stuff. Jane had pulled more guilt trips on Nick than anyone should legally be allowed. If he didn't know better he'd think that Nick was back on drugs.
"So leave, Nick. If it's what you want," he repeated quietly.
"You couldn't keep going without me," Nick sneered, though the quiver in his voice made it clear he wasn't convinced.
Brian shrugged. "Maybe not, but at least we'd all be interested in working together. I think we'd rather have a cohesive team of four than a screwed-up one of five. You keep doing this, Nick. Trying to bust us up. And frankly it's getting tired. So if you think that solo is the way to go, just do it and get out of our face."
Nick sat back, stunned. He knew Brian well enough to know he was not kidding. He was actually handing him an ultimatum. Shit! How did he let it get so bad? He knew he'd been being a jerk lately, but he'd been angry. Angry at himself and at… But, damn, the last thing he wanted was to lose his Boys. He needed them. Desparately. Recording a solo album was one thing but releasing it and backing it up was another. He HAD to be with the Boys for his own sanity. He just wasn't ready to be alone yet.
"I…" he stuttered. "Brian…"
Brian cocked his head. "You going to tell us what is really bugging you or are you going to bug out? Your choice."
AJ looked down at his feet to hide his small smile. At first he'd been astounded when Brian had started talking, but trust him to know the best way to cut through Nick's bluster and get to the bottom of things.
Nick's mouth opened and closed several times before he finally dropped his head into his hands and started to cry.
"Holy shit," AJ dropped the music and sat down next to Nick, putting a comforting arm around him. "Oh man, Kaos, you okay? What happened?" he asked worriedly. Brian knelt down on Nick's other side, putting a soothing hand on Nick's knee.
"I… don't know how to. It's so…" Nick sobbed.
"Nick? Come on, man, tell us what's the matter," Brian begged.
Nick wiped his eyes. "It's Aaron. Fuck, the little bastard went after Aaron."
"Aaron? Who went after Aaron?"
"Justin. He went after my little bro. The bastard. I want to kill him," Nick replied shakily, not repressing the anger he felt.
"Nick, calm down," AJ ordered. "Tell us what happened."
Nick sniffled a little more and then accepted a tissue from Brian with a nod. "Well, it was me who… Oh shit. Look, you know I'm bi?"
The men nodded.
"And well, after this thing a little while ago, Justin and I sort off got together."
"You let Justin Timberlake fuck you?" AJ asked, his eyes almost popping out of his head.
"Hell, no. Little shit may think he's the tops, but he's bottom all the way." Nick replied, and then giggled. "I guess you were right: I can play back-up to him in some way. You know what I mean?"
Brian snorted. "No need to draw us a picture, Nick. You fucked him. So what does that have to do with Aaron?"
Nick's eyes misted over again. "Well, it was just a one time thing, right? I mean, I'm not into him, you know? But Justin said I had to do him some more. Said we had to go at it until he said stop. Said if he had to pretend he was with Britney 'cause she had him under her thumb he was going to have me too."
Nick looked at AJ. "Said if I didn't he was going to show Aaron 'around.' Said he was going to get one Carter or another."
"That little fucker," Alex exploded.
"He wouldn't…" Brian started nervously. "He didn't…"
Nick shook his head. "No. I told him to fuck off and when he started dropping hints to Aaron, AC told him where to go. But shit, I had to tell Aaron about me, you know. Before I was ready. Now, I'm just... I don't know what to do. Aaron is all weird around me and Justin keeps smirking at me and… it's all fucked up." Nick dropped his head in his hands.
"Hey," Brian said, lifting Nick's head up. His clear, blue eyes gazed into Nick's bloodshot ones. "So AC knows. You were going to tell him soon anyway. He hasn't rejected you, has he?" Nick shook his head. "So give him a little time to get used to it. To see you are still his big bro who loves him."
"And leave Justin to us," AJ growled.
"No!" Nick protested. "Don't do anything. Please. Leave it alone. I finally got him to back off. If you bring this up again…"
Brian put a comforting hand on Nick's. "It'll be our secret. We promise. Don't we, Age?" He elbowed the other man when he was slow to agree. AJ finally agreed. "What you have to do is talk to Aaron. Justin's just going to be an annoyance; that's what he does best. Ignore him. Little shit is too full of himself anyway. If we shun him no one is going to give a shit. AC's what matters."
Nick nodded then took a deep breath. "Thanks, guys. I'm sorry I've been an ass. I just… I didn't know what to do… And I…"
"Just wanted to hit something?" AJ asked. Nick nodded.
"Yeah well, no more of that. Last time you busted your hand. And the hotel wall." He grinned and gave Nick a tight hug. "And I thank you for it every day."
Brian chuckled. "Yeah well, clean and sober AJ is still pretty freaky."
AJ snorted at him and got up to pick up the music he dropped.
"AJ, you kind of looked like me in Shape of My Heart when you dropped those papers," Nick pointed out with a small grin.
AJ looked at Brian and rolled his eyes dramatically. "Oh great. Normal Nick is back."
"Lord help us," Brian laughed.
Nick smiled, less because they were and more because he was proud of his acting skills. Definitely had improved if he could fool them so well. He did feel kind of guilty lying to them, though. Justin hadn't done anything to Aaron and never would: he was a world-class asshole but he'd never play with AC. And as for their brief fling, well, it had been fun and all but it was over and neither really cared. But the little shit had given him the clap, and Nick was not going to forgive that. So freaking embarrassing… and he hated the way those penicillin pills made him feel. So if spreading nasty rumours about Timberlake was a way to get back at him; what the hell, he'd do it.
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