Reading the article, AJ didn't know whether to laugh or rage when he reached the paragraph circled in red. There went all his street cred. Now he almost did laugh out loud. Not that being a popstar afforded him much anyway. On second thought, he did know what to do and it involved cursing Nick out. He looked up at Johnny and the various label people and he changed his mind. The label reps looked like sharks circling a bloody corpse. He wasn't going to throw Nick to these predators. He shrugged and said, "So?"
They were in the L.A. office of the record label in a second floor conference room. Besides AJ and Johnny, there were three publicists from the label as well as their AR rep. There were sparkling glasses of water on the table and AJ took a sip of his calmly.
The nearest publicist turned purple, but the ringleader- a thin, sharp blonde in stilettos- just patted his arm and he remained silent. She then leaned forward and said, "Mr. McLean, I'm sure you value your reputation as much as we do. It is one thing having Lance Bass come out after the fact, but The Backstreet Boys are still a viable enterprise and you don't want to be an instrument of their decline, do you? Especially so soon after the departure of Mr. Richardson which still has not been fully vetted by the fans."
AJ gritted his teeth and said, "I don't see how one false report in the, what paper is this? The Oregonian? Is going to ruin our careers." While he had on occasion fucked guys, they had always been one night stands. He'd never dated one, let alone Lance Bass. He saw no reason to nitpick that point with these vultures, however.
"It's already been picked up by the wire services. This is a big deal, no matter how much you think it will just go away. We need firm denials and a course of action before it spreads any further," she replied. AJ ran a hand through his hair. He hadn't known about the wire services. Maybe this was serious.
No, he wasn't going to fall into their games. His life had always been an open book, sometimes much to his and The Boys regret. They had survived and they would weather this hiccup, even if it blew up. In a tone that brooked no argument he said, "We've survived worse. This is nothing but a joke gone wrong and that will be born out. There's nothing more to discuss."
Johnny started talking, smoothing things over, while still backing him up. AJ was glad to have him back in his corner. He tuned it out. Johnny knew his business and AJ could trust him. Besides, he didn't think they had any legal recourse, which was what the label rep was on about now.
That Oregonian reporter had been such an ass; AJ could believe he would do this. He had asked inane, teeny questions and when that didn't get a rise out of them, he had switched to out and out rude ones. When he had asked if they had a gay member considering NSYNC had harbored one for so long, Nick had joked that it was AJ and he was in fact dating Lance Bass. They had all laughed; they had needed the release from the awful interview. There was no way the reporter hadn't realized it was a joke. He apparently just wanted to continue being an asshole. AJ shook his head. What a mess.
He tuned back into the discussion around him just in time to hear Johnny say, "Okay, AJ?"
Getting a minuscule nod from Johnny, AJ said, "That'll be fine." They all rose and started shaking hands around the table and AJ and Johnny made a quick getaway.
"So what did I just agree to?" AJ asked, as they walked down the hallway to the stairwell.
Johnny said, "You just agreed to deny the rumor whenever asked about it."
AJ snorted. "Well, that's not a problem since it's a stupid joke."
Johnny nodded his head in commiseration and clapped AJ on the shoulder. "Just worry about the album and let me deal with them."
They parted ways at their cars and AJ drove home. He tried calling Nick to bitch him out, but his calls always went to voicemail. He left three irate messages saying that if Nick didn't call him back immediately, AJ would have his balls. There was no way AJ was going to be the only one taking the heat for this stupid mess.
As he was unlocking his door, his phone finally rang. AJ fumbled his phone open as he rushed to turn off the alarm and said, "You asshole. I hope you're happy with how your little joke turned out. Johnny and I just got our asses handed to us."
A deep rumble and not Nick's higher, thinner voice answered him. "Is that anyway to greet your lover?" AJ banged his head on the wall. This day just kept getting better and better.
"Bass. I guess you've read the paper." AJ tried to sound nonchalant, didn't think he pulled it off. The dogs came running up to him, barking like mad. He shushed them and petted them to quiet them down.
Still sounding amused, Lance said, "I haven't, but I've been fielding calls all day, so I finally sent my assistant out to get one. It wasn't me who started this."
"No, I know. I thought you were Nick calling me back." AJ threw his sunglasses and keys onto the table by the door and leaned on it.
"So I have Nick to thank for my supposedly intriguing sex life?"
AJ blinked. He blinked again. He smiled slowly and added a purr to his voice as he said, "I always knew you were hot for my bod, Bass." AJ never could resist flirting. Even though it had gotten him into trouble more often than not, particularly when it turned into more than flirting.
Apparently Lance Bass had grown into his own. Quickly and with composure he shot back, "Now's your chance to do something about it. I'll be at the Transformers premiere tonight." The phone disconnected with a click before AJ could respond. He was glad. He didn't know what he would have said. He still had the label's admonishments ringing in his ears, but he wasn't the type to run away from a challenge, especially an intriguing one. He thoughtfully clicked his phone shut and tapped it against his lips. How much more trouble could he really get into by meeting Lance?
His phone rang again, and wary this time, he checked the caller id. Seeing Nick's number he answered and said, "So, if you were invited out publicly by Lance Bass, would you go?"
"I'm so sor-, wait you're not mad any more?" Nick sounded ridiculously relieved. Maybe AJ's messages had been a little over the top. Driving always did bring out his aggressive side.
"I'll be mad later, answer the question." He wasn't going to completely let Nick off the hook, just put it on hold for awhile. He just couldn't multi-task worth shit.
Sounding cautious, Nick said, "I don't date boys, AJ."
"Nick! Pretend you did." Nick had a tendency to be overly literal at times and it drove AJ up a wall on the best of days, let alone days like this.
"Wait a minute, did he ask you out? No way!" Nick said in shock. And this was definitely real shock, not the pretend shock that he and Brian broke out with the least provocation. AJ would have preferred getting advice from Howie or even Kevin, but he worked with what he got.
He continued into his house and sat on the living room couch. The dogs came and settled next to him. "And why not? I'm hot, dude."
Nick just said, "The papers will have a field day." He didn't mention the other Boys reaction and AJ knew it was because they would support him through anything and everything. If he wanted to come out as flaming gay, they would be the first to join PFLAG. If the last couple of years had taught him anything, it had finally taught him that.
"I'm over caring about that." And now that he was out of the pressure cooker atmosphere of the label offices, he truly didn't care. They were manipulative bastards and he knew he shouldn't have been falling for their shtick, but it was so hard when they put on that concerned act.
Nick hummed into the phone and then quietly said, "Our reps aren't if I go by the voicemails you left." AJ understood that Nick was just playing devil's advocate, not objecting. Nick had always liked Lance. He had been very gracious about Nick's solo album.
"How big a deal do you think it will be?"
"Two weeks wonder." Nick sounded thrilled to be asked for his advice. The Boys didn't ask often and his siblings just argued with him, and AJ knew this bothered Nick. Nick valued being a big brother, and although calling Nick for advice wasn't his first impulse, he was now glad it had worked out that way. He continued, "You have a reputation for doing wild things. Still, it won't be easy."
AJ had stopped drinking, but he hadn't stopped taking risks. He wasn't going to be scared off by a little flak. All right, a lot of flak. Coming out wasn't something he had planned on, but found he wasn't frightened by the thought. "Thanks, Nick, you've helped a lot. Now about your big mouth..."
Nick started sputtering and AJ smiled and settled more comfortably into the couch. Getting Nick riled up was always entertaining, particularly when you had just cause.
AJ changed into tight black jeans and a tight t-shirt with a black suit vest over it. He put on a wide, white belt with a 'jack me off' buckle before refreshing the black nail polish on his nails. If he was going to meet Lance, he was going to look good doing it. He didn't believe in half measures.
He said good-bye to the dogs and drove to the theater. He wasn't sure how he was going to run into Lance, but he figured Lance would take care of that. Hoped so, anyway. He made his way through the red carpet talking about the upcoming album and Kevin. It was nice having something concrete to talk about, particularly since they were in the last few weeks of album production. While the label might object to him meeting Lance, they couldn't object to him voluntarily doing press.
He was sipping bottled water in the lobby, trying to look casual, as he heard that same tingle-inducing, deep voice say, "I didn't think you'd show." He turned around to see Lance standing there, also with a bottle of water, and a delighted smile on his face. Lance was dressed in a white embroidered button shirt and tight jeans. His skin looked golden and smooth.
AJ took a sip of water to clear his suddenly dry throat and said, "Never count me out."
"I'll keep that in mind." Looking unsure for a second, playing with the label on his bottle of water, Lance said, "You know what people are going to think."
Crossing his arms and smirking AJ simply said, "Let them."
Lance gave him a considering look and then smiled. "There's more to you than I ever suspected."
"I told you never to count me out." Deciding he didn't want things to get heavy so soon, AJ changed the topic. It might not be smooth, but this wasn't the place to talk about the politics of coming out and how it affected celebrity. There were too many curious ears around. Besides he didn't know if he was coming out or just daring people into thinking he was. "So, am I going to enjoy this movie or what?"
"Hopefully. I've heard good things, but I'm like Chris; I love great special affects." They began making their way into the theater. AJ ignored the whispers and out-right malicious glee expressed. He'd had years of practice. It used to be harder to do when sober, but he'd happily outgrown that.
He said, "How non-stereotypical of you."
"No sense in not being who you are just because people will make snap judgments." Lance sounded secure in himself. It looked good on him. Hell, it looked sexy as all get out on him. He radiated confidence and security and everyone around him seemed dimmer and more staid. AJ hadn't been this attracted to a guy in a long time, and he was glad his risk seemed worth it.
They found seats about half-way down in the middle and moved on to small talk about their dogs as people settled around them. Lance was very enthusiastic about his, and AJ found himself smiling and chuckling, captivated by Lance's devotion. They talked easily until the opening speeches. Afterwards, as the lights dimmed, AJ settled into his seat, letting his body lean into Lance's warmth. Lance leaned back.
After the premiere, Lance was honestly nice to the fans who asked for an autograph and it was one of the things that surprised AJ the most. Most of Hollywood seemed jaded these days, rushing the fans through their heartfelt stories, wary of the more judgmental ones. He was still grateful, beyond grateful, and he was thrilled to find someone else who still connected with the fans.
Lance let the nasty remarks roll off his back and his smile remained sincere for the other fans. AJ didn't know how he did it, but it was the thing that decided him in accepting Lance's offer to go back to his place. Everything Lance did fascinated AJ more.
AJ might be burning some bridges with this stunt with Lance, but he was positive that Lance wasn't playing him. That he wasn't just a notch in Lance's bedpost. Whatever Lance's true interest was, it was derived from a genuine place. And AJ would never have suspected it, but as it turned out, that was as sexy as Lance's confidence. AJ had been doing casual fucks for so long, judging them harshly for their ulterior motives and calculating looks, that the absence was intoxicating.
Having been driven to the premiere, Lance canceled his car service and AJ drove them to Lance's home. As AJ drove, Lance kept darting looks at him until finally AJ asked, "What?"
Lance coughed and turned so he was looking straight ahead. "Nothing."
Rolling his eyes, AJ took the next turn a little fast. He hated this kind of game. "You've been looking at me weird the whole drive. Spill, already." He waited impatiently as Lance nervously played with his hands.
Finally, Lance said, "Just. You're taking this fairly well."
"This?" AJ had no idea what he was talking about.
Now Lance turned again, this time to face him better. "Coming out to the world. Most people didn't even suspect anything, and now here you are just blazing through, creating talk and gossip, and you don't seem to care." When AJ glanced over, Lance smiled disparagingly. "I agonized for months."
AJ tapped his ring against the steering wheel and thought about it. He had jumped in with both feet. "It wasn't bravery." Lance snorted. "No, really, it was just stupidity. I thought I could treat all this as a game. As you said, no one suspected anything about me, so I figured nothing permanent would come of this evening. Nothing would stick to me. But you're not a temporary kind of guy, are you?"
Lance remained silent and eventually shook his head no.
AJ sighed. He was so screwed. Whatever he had been imagining this evening to be, it hadn't been the start of a relationship. But he didn't want it to end either. He liked Lance; hell, he was intrigued by Lance. And Lance was definitely playing for keeps. Oh, AJ didn't think Lance had started out that way, as he had said earlier he hadn't expected AJ to show, but now he was in as deep as AJ.
He figured the pictures of them from the premiere would already be on the web, so there was no point playing coy now. They wouldn't be able to hide a relationship and maybe it was still the stupidity of this whole stunt going to his head, but he was all right with it. He had weathered worse things than dating Lance Bass.
Deciding they had talked about enough serious things for one first date, AJ changed the topic. For the rest of the drive, they talked about the movie and dished about the other celebrities at the premiere. The drive passed quickly and before AJ knew it they were pulling up the driveway.
Lance asked, "Are you coming in?" and AJ knew this was the make or break moment.
He didn't hesitate as he said, "Of course." Stupid as the day is long, that was him.
They didn't touch as they walked up the steps, both too used to the prying eye of the media, but once the door closed behind them, Lance brushed close and said, "Do you kiss?"
Instead of answering, AJ grabbed the back of Lance's neck and gently pulled him into an open mouthed kiss. Lance was ready for it, although AJ caught the tail end of a smile before Lance started kissing back in earnest. Lance's hands gripped his hips and played with his belt, smoothing over the buckle and tugging on the belt loops. AJ let his hips sinuously follow the tugs and his clothed cock brush against Lance's.
Lance was a good kisser, and AJ let himself fall into it. His whole world became Lance's warm, wet mouth moving sensuously and the tongue dueling with his. Still, after long minutes of kissing, AJ found himself pulling back. He wasn't sure why, just that he didn't want this evening to only be about sex for either of them. He was in too deep for a casual fuck. Lance kept his eyes closed for an extra moment and when he opened them, he blinked repeatedly before smiling softly.
AJ didn't know how to take Lance's expression, but luckily he noticed Lance's dogs dancing around their feet, and he was happy for the obvious distraction. He bent down to pet and coo at them. Lance joined him and introduced him to the dogs individually. The dogs licked Lance's face and were ecstatic at the attention. All in all it was ridiculously cute and AJ had a hard time not grinning.
After the dogs were introduced Lance said, "Let me give you the grand tour." AJ just nodded and followed along. They toured the house. AJ like how it looked lived in and comfortable. He also liked how Lance didn't try something lame in the bedroom, just showing it as nonchalantly as the rest of the house. They ended up in the kitchen and Lance offered AJ a bottle of water.
Happily accepting the water, AJ continued the discussion they had started in the master bathroom. "Don't you feel weird writing a book? Revealing secrets?"
"I'm not dishing about the other guys, no matter what people expect. I do want to share my trials and hard-won happiness, though." Lance's gaze remained steady on his as he was speaking. He looked a little embarrassed by speaking so earnestly, but resolute in sharing the truth. "I know I still have a lot to give back and this is one of the ways I can do that. I'm excited about it, actually."
AJ shook his head and said, "I just don't think I could do that, man." And he didn't. It was still hard enough being upfront about his addictions and recovery and the break-up of his engagement. He mentally cringed each time he had to cover that ground again, particularly since he was so focused on moving ahead. Or trying to be, anyway.
Leading the way to the living room, over his shoulder Lance said, "Yeah, I get that. You're more like Chris. Hiding things away until they become too big to ignore. I tried that, but it's not really the way I'm made."
No need to guess what Lance had hidden for years. To hide his discomfit at Lance revealing so much about both of them, with a smirk AJ asked, "Do you always catalog the guys you date by who they remind you of in your group?" He settled onto the couch and Lance sat next to him.
Lance smiled knowingly, but he didn't push the issue. He leaned back on the couch, swirling his drink and looking at AJ from underneath his lashes. "Hell, I do it with everyone. Don't even think of telling me you don't do the same exact thing."
He just didn't dwell on how it was the similarities to Kevin's intensity or Nick's protectiveness or Brian's sense of humor or Howie's hotness that was always the factor that tipped him from just flirting into his one night stands. It didn't mean he lusted after his guys, just that he had discerning tastes. AJ ignored the small mocking voice in the back of his head. He'd had years of practice at it after all.
He did dwell on how much Lance reminded him of all the guys. He'd seen flashes of Brian's insight, Nick's sunniness, Kevin's southern charm, and Howie's quiet confidence at various times during the night. He wasn't blind enough to miss how much that attracted him. Still, one thing he had learned over the years was to just let things develop in their own time. Even the stupid things. This would be what it would be.
In the spirit of that, AJ simply said, "Maybe," and leaned in for their second kiss. It was as good as the first, better even as they now had some idea of the other's likes and favorite moves. They necked on the couch, Lance's hands smoothing down his back and under his shirt, AJ's hands already mapping out Lance's hips. AJ didn't feel rushed, despite his arousal and their kissing was unhurried.
When Lance pushed AJ back onto the plush couch, he went willingly. Although Lance nestled on top of him and lazily thrust down, their kissing remained leisurely and their hands remained in neutral places by unspoken agreement. AJ didn't know when the unspoken agreement had arisen, but it was pulsating around them now. This would not be the only chance they got to get it on. There would be dating and coming out and fighting and making up. AJ was looking forward to it.
He would have to call the Boys and his mother and Johnny. Face the wraith of the label reps. He didn't care. This was the most excited he'd felt about someone new in forever and he was going to run with it.
Lance came up for a breath of air and grinned at him. "I promise never to count you out again."
AJ said, "See that you don't," and pinched Lance on the ass. Lance squeaked and squirmed and AJ laughed delightedly. He'd worry about the future after the night was over; tonight he was going to concentrate on Lance.