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Track 10

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Nick watched AJ dance, playing with the crowd on the dance floor and grinning like a madman. Nick watched AJ a lot, but he couldn't help thinking he particularly heart-wrenchingly gorgeous tonight. Have It All was out today in Japan, he and Rochelle were doing the can’t-take-their-eyes-off-each-other thing of the recently engaged, and AJ looked like he was on top of the world. And Nick was happy for him, really, he was. He just couldn’t quite ignore that tight, wistful feeling in his chest, the one that whispered “I wish he would look at me like that” at awkward times. So that was why he was up here on the balcony overlooking the dance floor while everyone else was down below, celebrating.

Nick sighed. If there was one thing growing up singing cheesy pop ballads had taught him, it was the ability to recognize overwroughtness when he saw it, and this was getting pathetic.

He jumped as a hand clapped him on the back. “Hey, man,” JC said, coming to lean on the balcony railing beside him.

Nick took a deep breath and managed to collect himself enough to smile and congratulate JC for his work on “Teenage Wildlife”.

“Thanks, I had a good time doing it. AJ was great to work with.”

Nick smiled tightly and decided he needed to steer the conversation in another direction. “You working on anything of your own right now?”

JC shrugged. “Not really. I'm writing stuff, but mostly for other people. The producer thing works well for me. I just don't feel that need to put anything out there myself right now, you know?”

He cocked his head at Nick, who nodded and made what he hoped were vaguely affirmative sounds. Somehow, he always forgot quite how earnest JC could be.

“Besides, I really do love doing Dance Crew. The kids are amazing.” He smiled, his eyes crinkling up. “It's a lot of fun.”

JC bumped his shoulder against Nick's. “What about you? I think AJ mentioned you're working on another solo project.”

“Yeah.” Nick sighed, tilting his head back. “I'm trying to write, but I don't know how much of it's going anywhere.”

JC was quiet for a moment, glancing off across the club before turning back to Nick. “I don't want to want to be presumptuous, but if you wanted someone to listen to anything...”

Nick glanced at him and raised an eyebrow. “Yeah?”

“Sure.” JC straightened up, patting Nick on the back again “Give me a call sometime,” he said, as he turned and wandered back to the party.

Nick went back to watching AJ.

* * *

Nick growled and threw his pen across the room, where it hit the wall with a “thwack”.

He was trying to write something, anything, that wasn't about AJ. It wasn't going very well. So far he had one club track and six songs about pining over someone you can't have. And only two of those were actually any good.

It wasn't even like it was a new thing; it kind of felt like he had been in love with AJ forever. After a while, it had been something that Nick had gotten used to living with, a low level ache in back of his mind. He thought he had accepted that AJ had never and would never be into him like that. Then Rochelle came along, and Nick liked her, she was great, and she was perfect for AJ, but seeing him so in love with her must have hit pretty hard at some part of Nick that was still clinging to a belief that if he just waited long enough, AJ would eventually realize he loved Nick back as something other than a brother. Suddenly it hurt more than it had in years, and Nick couldn't get him off his mind. No matter how hard he tried, everything came back to AJ. It sucked and it was fucking up his album.

Fuck, he needed to get out of his own head.

He pulled out his phone and scrolled through his contacts. He hoped the number he had was still good. “Hey man, it's Nick. That offer to listen to some stuff still open?”

* * *

Nick arrived at JC's that evening with his laptop and his guitar. JC answered the door looking a little frazzled and covered in what appeared to be bits of fake fur. “Come on in,” he said, leading Nick into the house. “I found instructions for making these cute paw mitten things on the internet; I may have gotten a little carried away. I cannibalized that coat from the 2000 VMAs.”

It was all Nick could do not to burst out laughing when they got to the end of the hall. There was a sewing machine set up on the dining table, and the whole room kind of looked like a Build-A-Bear workshop had exploded in it. He valiantly offered to help clean up, but JC shook his head and said, “Nah, it'll just get messy again. I still have to do the left paw.”

JC took him down to the basement where his studio was set up and Nick looked around, impressed. “Nice, man.”

“Thanks,” JC said, flicking on the sound system and sitting down at the mixing board. “Now, let's hear what you've got.”

Nick played the club track for him, and the two half-decent unrequited love songs, then sang through a third that he thought could have potential if it wasn't so fucking depressing. When he was finished, he looked up to see JC nodding at him. JC only gave him a moment to breathe, and then he was jumping in with eight different ideas, talking a mile a minute.

By the time they called it quits, they had a new set of lyrics for the third song and had tweaked the chord progression so the whole thing sounded more upbeat, and they had started on the skeleton of something completely new.

“I have a meeting tomorrow morning,” JC said as he walked Nick back through the remains of the wardrobe massacre, “but why don't you come by again around three?”

Nick grinned. “Yeah, man. Sounds great.”

* * *

The next day went just as well, and the day after that, but on the fourth day they hit a wall. No matter what they did, neither of them could figure out how to get from the third verse, through the bridge, and back to the chorus. JC was getting increasingly nitpicky and Nick was getting increasingly frustrated.

Eventually, JC shut down his computer and asked hopefully, “Wanna go watch Star Trek?”

Nick paused with his hand on the synthesizer. “What the fuck? Why would I want to watch Star Trek?”

JC shrugged. “That's what I do when I get stuck on a song. I go and hang out in the 23rd century for a while and it, like, loosens up all the knots in my thought processes, you know? I've got the remastered DVDs of the original series.”

Nick stared at him for a moment. “Dude, that explains so much about Schizophrenic.”

JC just looked at him quizzically. “Huh?”

“Never mind,” Nick said, shaking his head. He got up and offered a hand to pull JC to his feet. “Sure, man, come on. Let go watch Kirk save some hot alien chick.”

* * *

They made it through all three seasons of the original series and had moved on to the movies by the time the album was done. Somehow, even during recording when Nick had to go into the studio and work with the producers he was actually paying, he ended up back at JC's afterwards most days, watching Star Trek and arguing over whose turn it was to order the takeout. Some nights they would fuck around in the studio, mostly making music that was as unlike work as possible, like working out five-part harmony covers of Marilyn Manson songs and writing a completely unsalable concept album they were tentatively calling The Ongoing Adventures of Blinky the Space (Pirate) Ostrich. (JC insisted that Nick way too pleased with himself over the line about Blinky escaping his problems by burying his head in the stars, but Nick knew he secretly agreed that it was totally genius.) Those nights usually ended with one of them realizing it was suddenly four in the morning and Nick crashing in JC's guestroom because it was closer to get back to the studio in the morning from JC's anyway.

Yet it wasn't until he sent the guys a preview of the final cut of the record and Howie called to tell him how happy he was that Nick was finally over AJ, that Nick realized it had been weeks since he last went to sleep with thoughts of AJ behind his eyelids. He also realized that he was pretty much an idiot.

“I'm practically living with JC, D. I am having this conversation with you right now from his kitchen.”

“And I take it from the panicked tone that you two are not already fucking? 'Cause I'd pretty much assumed you were.”

Nick sputtered. “What? Why would you think that?”

“Uh, because you're clearly crazy about him?”

“I am not. Well, okay, yeah, I guess I am, but I only just figured that out, like, a minute ago, so it can't actually be 'clearly'.”

“Well, now you know, and you can do something about it,” Howie said, in a tone that implied that he was not going to put up with Nick's whining if he chickened out on this one.

Nick had to admit that he had had enough of mooning over a close friend in silence, lately. “But what if it's not like that, for him? I mean, we've been working together for more than two months now, and he hasn't made anything like a move.”

He could practically hear Howie rolling his eyes. “So? Neither have you. Maybe he's an idiot, too. Plus, I can't imagine he'd have put up with you for this long if he wasn't interested.”

Nick stuck his tongue out at the phone. “Shut up. You put up with me, and you don't want to have sex with me.”

“Yes, but I have an extra putting-up-with-Nicky fee written into my contract,” Howie teased. “Just go for it.”

Howie hung up just as JC walked into the kitchen, his hair still damp from the shower. Nick stared at him; he was gorgeous first thing in the morning. How the hell did he miss that he was totally head over heals for this guy?

JC frowned at him. “You okay, man? Did I miss a spot shaving or something?”

“Oh, um, no? I-” Crap, he wasn't actually prepared to do this quite yet.

JC's frown deepened. “Seriously, Nick. Is everything alright.”

“Fuck,” Nick said, shaking his head to clear it. “Just, tell me if I've got this totally wrong, okay? Because I really like you and you've been amazing through this whole process and I don't want to mess this up.”

“I like you too, Nick.” JC said cautiously, coming over to stand by the island where Nick was perched on a stool.

“No, I mean, like-” He stopped talking and reached up to touched the side of JC's face.

JC's eyes went wide and he said, “Oh.”

Nick dropped his had and looked away. Shit. He knew this was a bad idea.

“Wait, wait,” JC said, grinning and stepping into Nick's space. “Me, too. I- Me, too.”

Nick looked back up, meeting JC's eyes hopefully. “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” JC said, and kissed him.