Author's Note: Shortie in answer to the songfic challenge on . I chose "I'll Never Break Your Heart" for sentimental reasons - oh, being fifteen and slowdancing with my boyfriend again... (He's gay now, btw.) LOL

Howie decided that AJ was adorable when the latter was sixteen. It was not a conscious decision, more like a slow falling together of many small facts suddenly forming a bigger picture. And that picture clearly stated to Howie that AJ was one of the most adorable things on the planet.

Not that Howie planned to do anything about it, no way -- but still, he kind of liked seeing AJ that way, especially since most other people were not able to. Howie thought that everyone deserved someone who found them adorable, because all kinds of positive emotions went with that word and AJ deserved them all.

He didn't think it was necessary to tell AJ about his discovery -- on the contrary, that would completely defeat the purpose of Howie not planning to do anything about it, since AJ was always curious for new experiences, no matter how much he was not ready for them.

So Howie settled for being the best friend AJ could have wished for, and being openly gay (at least around the other guys) only worked to his advantage, since it allowed for a lot of personal contact AJ would have been uncomfortable with otherwise. AJ didn't mind Howie seeing him when he was weak -- be it ill, homesick, or lonely --, and Howie readily opened his arms when AJ needed physical closeness. It worked perfectly for them both.

Only then AJ fell in love for the first time, and the girl was so obviously not good enough for him that Howie could barely stand to talk to her. He just knew that she didn't see AJ as adorable at all, that she was only in it for his cool image and sexy dance moves. He just didn't know how to tell AJ this, so he kept quiet and hoped that it would blow over quickly.

Unfortunately it didn't. They went through several dramatic break-ups, always followed by intense making-up, and AJ's mood seemed to completely depend on the current state of his relationship. The whole thing put a bit strain on the whole group, just when they had enough pressure on them already because they were supposed to go to Europe soon.

Howie worried. He didn't know how to help AJ without being accused of meddling and consequently being shut out. He sighed -- sixteen year olds really were not easy to handle, no matter how adorable they were.

Luckily for Howie the girl decided that she didn't want a long distance relationship, so the whole thing came to an abrupt stop when they left for Europe. Howie, Kevin, Nick, and Brian all said silent prayers of thanksgiving at the news, before exchanging glances and leaving Howie to deal with AJ.

To Howie's surprise AJ seemed pretty much okay -- although for a while he was unusually silent and woke Howie in the night, silently asking for permission to slip into bed with him. But one morning Howie woke up without AJ's skinny body wrapped around himself like a human octopus, although he clearly remembered AJ climbing into bed with him around midnight.

That had never happened before -- no matter how long Howie slept (which was not very long usually, considering their strenuous schedule), AJ had never gotten up before him, seemingly enjoying their closeness just as much as Howie.

Howie even seemed to remember something hard poking into his stomach.


Howie sat up, pretty sure that he had found the reason for AJ's disappearance. A glance at the clock told him that he was late already, so he put these thoughts on the backburner, resolving to talk about it with AJ later. He just needed to be sure that AJ wasn't freaked out about it.

During the day Howie watched AJ closely for any sign of more-than-usual freakiness, but AJ seemed completely collected. And while he didn't seem to search Howie out, he also didn't appear to avoid him, so Howie was pretty sure that everything was okay.

He mentioned the incident anyway the next evening in their tiny room, but AJ only laughed and waved him off: "Oh D, no need to worry about me having a crisis of my sexuality -- I've been in puberty for long enough. Nothing in that department can shock me anymore, believe me!"

Howie looked at him closely and couldn't see any of the telltale signs that AJ was lying, so he decided to let it lie and let everything go back to normal.

Only that it didn't. Howie couldn't put his finger on what was wrong -- AJ seemed just the same as before. But he couldn't shake off the feeling that something had changed, that something was wrong, horribly wrong.

If only AJ would talk to him -- but although they still spent a lot of time together, there was now something about AJ that made talking impossible. Howie didn't know what it was, he just knew that it was there, between them, as if AJ had distanced himself from them.

But why? Howie simply couldn't figure out that part.

Then the girls started, one after the other, a new one at least once a week. Now Howie got really worried, but when he attempted talking to AJ, all he got was an easy grin and a "Just havin' fun, man!" Nothing to show that this was anything but AJ trying out his charm with the girls now that they were starting to be famous. Nothing to show that he was lying to Howie.

There seemed to be a whole new side to AJ, one that Howie hadn't noticed before -- at least not away from the cameras. But now Howie wondered if he'd just been blind, blinded by his feelings for AJ, if what he had perceived to be only a facade, a myth created for the public, had its root in AJ's actual personality.

Was AJ really wild and cool, bent on doing his own thing, a rebel? Howie just couldn't make himself believe it.

Sometimes he found himself watching AJ, trying to figure out what had happened to the adorable young man, a bit unsure of himself, and a lot goofy and fun to be with. He missed him, missed him a lot.

And he just couldn't rid himself of the feeling that there had to be something that he, Howie, could do to make that old AJ reappear, the one who had cuddled with Howie to forget his heartache.

Then AJ got sick, right in the middle of touring. He was a terrible patient, moaning and bitching except when he had to drag himself out of bed to go on stage. Soon no one was willing to spend any time around him -- not even the notoriously good-natured Brian could be convinced to keep his friend company anymore.

Howie watched AJ's bad temper for a while, trying to find out what was behind it. Really, he was pathetic -- AJ hadn't been the guy he'd gotten to know and love in about a year, and yet Howie was still watching and waiting for his chance to be there for him, to find him again.

Pathetic, yes. And just maybe head over heels in love.

Howie sighed and turned his eyes away from the sorry sight of AJ trying to sleep in the van from the arena. What a time to figure out his true feelings!
"Lousy timing, very lousy!" he muttered to himself, which earned him a questioning glance from Kevin and a stage whisper from Brian to Nick "Isn't talking to oneself the first sign of senility?"

Howie ignored them until they got to the hotel, where he quickly followed AJ, for once not stopping to sign autographs for the waiting fans. He was so close behind that he managed to squeeze into AJ's room before the latter had a chance to lock himself in for the night.

"What the fuck?!" was the less-than-gracious greeting, but Howie didn't pay this any heed, instead going with the newly formed battle plan in his head. He was not going to let AJ shut him out any longer -- and AJ's sickness might just give him the opening he needed.

"I'll stay here tonight, Aje," he announced calmly, setting water for tea to boil on the small cooker in the corner. AJ spluttered something about not needing a babysitter, but Howie simply smiled at him: "I know that -- but I also know that being sick on one's own sucks."

He sat down on the bed, not quite touching AJ, but close enough to feel the feverish heat of his newly muscled body. His voice was soft but decided: "It'd be better if your mom was here -- I know I still want my mom when I'm sick --but since she's not, I'm afraid you're stuck with me..."

AJ just looked at him with his eyes burning brightly from the fever and some of the hardness seemed to seep out of him as Howie mentioned Denise. Finally he looked away, moving towards the shower without a word -- but Howie saw the muscles in his shoulders relax and smiled to himself. So far so good...

Howie spent the next hours mothering AJ, who was still stubbornly silent but let it all happen without his usual bitching. He drank his tea and took his meds, let Howie change his sheets and cool his forehead when the fever rose.

They were silent, yes -- but they were also relaxed. It almost felt like before and Howie, who kept up an easy chatter about everything and nothing, had seldom felt so good. This was the way it was supposed to be, he was sure of it now -- he only needed to convince AJ of it, too.

He finally fell silent in the middle of a story about his grandmother's famous birthday cake when AJ's breathing evened out. He was lying on his side, his whole body turned towards Howie, who was sitting propped up against the headboard.

With a tender smile Howie noticed that AJ looked open and young like this, like the guy who had stood beside Howie's bed needing to be comforted. Without a thought about the fact that this had been quite some time ago and was maybe not appropriate anymore, Howie slipped under the blanket, feeling AJ's body curl around him instantly.

He fell asleep at once, holding AJ tightly in his arms.

When he woke up, AJ was shivering and they were both wet with his sweat. Worried Howie touched his forehead, but to his relief found it cool against his hand. The fever had obviously broken during the night, and AJ needed to get washed up and changed so he didn't get sick again right away.

AJ started into wakefulness as Howie gently tried to free himself out of his surprisingly strong grip. "Wha..." he mumbled, holding on to Howie as if he was a beloved teddy bear.

"Shhh," Howie whispered, "Everything's okay -- we just need to clean you up, then you can go back to sleep!"

AJ looked at him with wide eyes, as if he was looking for further reassurance. So Howie gave it to him: "I'm here for you, Aje -- and you know that I won't let anything happen to you, don't you?"

Still that strangely awake look, then AJ managed to rasp out in a weak voice: "You won't leave me?"

Somehow Howie knew that they were not talking about AJ's sickness anymore. He smiled down at AJ, whose arms were still wrapped around his middle, holding him with all the strength AJ's weakened body had left, and moved to gently smooth back the sweat slicked hair.

"Never, Aje -- you should know that! I could never leave you... I love you too much for that!"

"You do?" In the near darkness of the room it was difficult to see the blush on AJ's face, but Howie felt the skin heat up where his hands were still cradling AJ's face.

Howie felt hot joy spread all over his body. "Yes, you fool -- of course I do! How could I not? You're the most adorable person I know..."

"I am?"

It almost hurt how incredulous AJ sounded. How could he not know, not see? Trying to make him believe Howie kissed him gently, feeling his lips quiver and then respond eagerly.

When Howie pulled away after only a minute or two, not wanting to overtax AJ's strength, he felt AJ stiffen as if he expected rejection. Pulling him close, Howie held him tight until he felt him relax again.

"Please, Aje -- don't push me away again... It hurt to lose you like that!" he pleaded softly.

AJ looked up at him, as if trying to see inside of Howie, deciding whether or not to trust him.

Finally he spoke, his voice low, but Howie still heard the quiver in it: "When I woke up that morning, in your arms, hard -- I was scared. It hurt when she left me, Howie -- I'd really thought we would last, you know? So I decided not to let this happen again..."

A dry sob shook AJ's shoulders, and Howie held him even closer, if that was possible, until they were wrapped around each other. "I'm sorry, Howie -- I didn't want to hurt you."

Howie smiled gently and pressed a kiss to AJ's temple. "Just tell me that you won't pull away again in the morning. Just give me, give us, a chance..."

Muscles Howie had not even known he had relaxed as he felt AJ nod in agreement, burying his head deeper in Howie's shirt, still soaked with his sweat.

"And no more girls, okay?"

AJ laughed, the sound muffled by the cloth of Howie's shirt. It was a shaky laugh, but a real one.


I'll Never Break Your Heart
Baby, I know you're hurting
Right now you feel like you can never love again
Now all I ask is for a chance
To prove that I love you

From the first day
That I saw your smiling face
Honey, I knew that we would be together forever

Ooh, when I asked you out
You said no but I found out
Darling that you'd been hurt
You felt that you'd never love again
I deserve a try honey just once
Give me a chance and I'll prove this all wrong
You walked in, you were so quick to judge
But honey, he's nothing like me

chorus (2x)
I'll never break your heart
I'll never make you cry
I'd rather die than life without you
I'll give you all of me
Honey, that's no lie

As I walked by you
Will you get to know me
A little more better
Girl that's the way love goes
And I know you're afraid
To let your feelings show
And I understand
But girl it's time to let go
Girl, it's time to let go
I deserve a try, honey
Just once
Give me a chance and I'll prove this all wrong
You walked in, you were so quick to judge
But honey, he's nothing like me
Darling, why can't you see

chorus (2x)

bridge (2x)
No way, no how
I'll make you cry